• January 17, 2014

    St. Martin’s Press has agreed to pay an eight-figure advance for romance writer Sylvia Day’s next two books.

    The “largest free literary festival on earth” gets underway today in Jaipur, one of more than sixty such events taking place every year across India. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2014 edition is a masala chai latte (substantive, spicy) compared to 2013, which was mostly a cappuccino (frothy). Here’s the New York Times’s guide to the highlights of the five-day festival, which is now in its ninth year.

    Flavorwire’s new list of “25 Women Poised to Lead the Culture in 2014” includes numerous writers, among them Roxane Gay, Masha Gessen, and Lynne Tillman.

    Jonathan Wright and William Hutchins are the joint winners of the annual Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize, for their work on Syrian writer Youssef Zeidan’s Azazeel and Yemeni novelist Wajdi al-Ahdal’s A Land Without Jasmine, respectively. The prize, worth £3,000, honors the translation of Arabic literature into English.

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel

    According to The Guardian, Hilary Mantel is publishing a collection of short stories in September, titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

    The British books’ blog known as the Omnivore (no relation to Bookforum’s Omnivore) has issued the short list for its annual Hatchet Job of the Year Award, for the angriest/funniest piece of criticism published in the past twelve months. In the running are Peter Kemp’s review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (“a turkey,” “melodrama and sentimentality abounds”) and AA Gill’s takedown of Morrissey’s Autobiography (“were an editor to start, there would be no stopping,” “utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability,” a “firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness”), both of which ran in the Sunday Times.

  • January 16, 2014

    Judy Blume and Lena Dunham trade notes on reading for a new, pocket-sized volume published by The Believer.

    anton chekhov

    Anton Chekhov

    If you’ve already faltered on your New Year’s resolutions, Brendan Mathews suggests reading Chekhov for a better 2014, albeit with a few caveats: “Before embarking on a self-help tour of late-Czarist Russia, be advised that Chekhov doesn’t provide easy answers to becoming a kinder, more caring person,” he writes, in an essay for the Millions. “There’s no five-step solution, no short prayer that will increase your fortunes and lay waste to the fields of your enemies…. Chekhov doesn’t make us better people by restoring our faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity or by charming us with the bright hope of a happy ending.”

    At the Jewish Daily Forward, Joshua Furst has published a thoughtful obituary of the author Amiri Baraka, who has been portrayed as “a hateful, irredeemable anti-Semite.”

    Susan Bernovsky’s new translation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, with an introduction by filmmaker David Cronenberg, is now available. Bookforum contributor Andrew Hultkrans writes: “In our present era, marked by a ferment of genetic engineering and hybridization (not to mention isolation and economic hardship), revisiting this text seems not only appropriate but necessary.” And at The Atlantic, Ben Marcus ponders the true meaning of “Kafkaesque.”

    On the heels of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, The Guardian reports on the rise of the marriage thriller.

    This spring, New York Live Arts is hosting a festival honoring James Baldwin, including visual art, theater, dance, and lectures about the legendary author’s work.

    In the London Review of Books, Christian Lorentzen delves into the perils of knowing your namesake.

  • January 15, 2014

    Maria Alyokhina Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich of Pussy Riot

    Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich

    At the LA Times, Sara Marcus reviews Masha Gessen’s new book, Words Will Break Cement, about the musicians, activist, and feminists who make up the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot: “Gessen is not just asking how these women came to form Pussy Riot, or how they came to be punished so severely for making protest art. She’s also asking what makes great political art, and proposing that art and truth-telling have the power to defeat oppressive regimes.”

    The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, has added another major acquisition to its horde of literary treasures. In addition to the papers of James Agee, William Faulkner, Anne Sexton, Walt Whitman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the center, which is housed at the University of Texas, has a substantial collection of material from the estate of J. D. Salinger. This week, it acquired twenty-one previously unknown and unpublished letters, most of them exchanged between Salinger and his great friend Ruth Smith Maier, with whom he shared ideas about work, life, marriage, fatherhood, and his withdrawal from public life over the course of a forty-year correspondence.

    On the perils of an ill-conceived tweet.

    In Demon Camp, Jennifer Percy follows a soldier as he battles PTSD and tries to exorcise his demons by joining a Christian “deliverance” cult. In Vogue, Percy explains part of her process: “I went through with the exorcism as a journalist seeking to better understand Caleb’s story. I thought the experience might provide more opportunities for empathy. Of course, researching a cult has its problems. You know, since their main goal is to brainwash you.”

    bell hooks on the “faux feminism” of Lean In.

  • January 14, 2014

    anthony marra

    Anthony Marra

    Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, has won the first-ever John Leonard Prize, the National Book Critics Circle announced yesterday. Marra’s novel, set in war-torn Chechnya, was singled out for the new award, created this year to honor a debut work in any genre. The organization also named thirty finalists in six additional categories, from criticism to fiction. Among the contenders are Alexander Hemon, Rebecca Solnit, Jesmyn Ward, Hilton Als, Jonathan Franzen, Janet Malcolm, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Javier Marías, Donna Tartt, George Packer, and Lawrence Wright. The awards ceremony will be held on March 13 at the New School in New York.

    On the topic of honors, George Saunders, Rebecca Lee, and Andrea Barrett are the finalists for this year’s Story Prize, a ten-year-old award that recognizes excellence in short fiction.

    At The Nation poetry editor Ange Mlinko considers Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings and the Emily Dickinson Archive, which reproduces many of Dickinson manuscripts for online perusal.

    Gillian Flynn’s gothic blockbuster novel Gone Girl is set to become movie this fall, and Flynn has reportedly rewritten the ending to make it more Hollywood friendly. When asked about the changes, Flynn says, “There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its eight million Lego pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie.”

    Previously written off for confusing fact and fiction in his memoir A Million Little Pieces, James Frey has reportedly sold a new book (for young adults) and landed a film deal (for which he will write a screenplay) worth more than $2 million.

  • January 13, 2014

    antonio lobo antunes

    Antonio Lobo Antunes

    The Portuguese novelist Antonio Lobo Antunes, the Palestinian writer Suad Amiry, the Italian psychiatrist Guiseppe dell’Acqua, and the French philosophy Michel Serres are the winners of Italy’s thirty-ninth annual Nonino Prizes. V. S. Naipaul presided over this year’s jury, which included Peter Brook, John Banville, and the Syrian poet Adonis, among others.

    Roger Ailes once said to his client, Senator Al D’Amato: “Jesus, nobody likes you. Your own mother wouldn’t vote for you. Do you even have a mother?” The New Republic highlights Roger Ailes’s most outrageous comments from Off Camera, the new biography of the godfather of Fox News.

    Hugo Lindgren, who stepped down from his position at the New York Times Magazine in November, has been named acting editor of the Hollywood Reporter. In other Times news, the paper’s executive editor Jill Abramson has discussed some of her plans for the paper in 2014: “a deep look at the global rich,” continued coverage of China, rethinking the NYT Magazine, and more multimedia journalism.

    What happens when the winner of a mystery-novel contest turns out to be in prison, serving a minimum of 30 years for murder?

    As a child, Hilton Als did not know Amiri Baraka “as a famous poet who initiated the powerful Black Arts Movement in 1965, or as the man whose groundbreaking plays, ranging from 1964’s Dutchman, to 1969’s Four Black Revolutionary Plays, changed what was possible on the American stage.” He knew him as a father, a former husband, and a force at the top of the stairs of an East Village walk-up. On the New Yorker’s books blog, Als gives a thoughtful reflection on the life of a man and the legacy of his work.

  • January 10, 2014

    amiri baraka

    Amiri Baraka

    The provocative, award-winning poet, playwright, and political activist Amiri Baraka has died. Born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934, he grew up in New Jersey and later became the state’s second poet laureate. In his long and eventful life, he was associated with the Beats and the Black Arts Movement, though he eventually broke with them both. He wrote beautifully about the blues and jazz and caused considerable controversy with his poem about 9/11, titled “Somebody Blew Up America.” He was 79 and had recently been suffering from an unknown illness.

    Is crowd-testing fiction on the agenda for big data’s future? “There is an art (well, maybe a craft) to successful genre publishing, and much of it has been rooted in the intuition of editors and publishers about what readers want,” writes Salon’s Laura Miller. “New e-book subscription services like Oyster and Scribd…are well-suited to such readers. You can’t get The Goldfinch or Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries…but you can gorge on a seemingly infinite array of erotic romances patterned after 50 Shades of Grey, many of them self-published by writers who are eager both to know what readers want and to give it to them.”

    Ursula Lindsey of The Arabist reports on a chorus of uncomfortable questions in Cairo: Why is Sonallah Ibrahim, one of Egypt’s most respected avant-garde writers, defending police brutality? Why is Alaa al-Aswany, the best-selling novelist, siding with an army that has turned on its own people?

    The Morning News has announced its tenth annual “tournament of books,” in which critics ranging from novelist Jami Attenberg to lead Mountain Goat John Darnielle will judge competitions between 16 finalists.

    Adam Kirsch reviews Claudia Roth Pierpont’s book about Philip Roth, who still hasn’t won the Nobel Prize but has seen his reputation shift “from bete noire to laureate.” She accepts his argument that “that to portray individual Jews as absurd or flawed … does not constitute stereotyping a whole group”: “He noted that people read Anna Karenina without concluding that adultery was a Russian trait; Madame Bovary did not lead readers to condemn the morals of French provincial women en masse. He was writing literature, not sociology or—Bellow’s helpful phrase—public relations.”

    In a very short period of time, the TED talk has become almost disturbingly familiar as a cultural form. Now the backlash begins, as one writer calls it a recipe for civilizational disaster.

  • January 9, 2014

    The New York Times’s redesign, unveiled yesterday, has lots of white space, minimal clutter, and embedded multimedia and comments. The Times also now features sponsored articles (“advertorials”), which are conspicuously marked (the public editor has posted info about how these “native ads” work). Behind the scenes, the new site has an advanced analytics system, which will track and tag data about readers, and Times’s web designers are said to be monitoring users’ reaction to the site and making adjustments.

    christopher isherwood and dan bachardy

    Christopher Isherwood and Dan Bachardy, circa 1976

    A new book of love letters by Christopher Isherwood and his boyfriend Dan Bachardy is sweet, gossipy, and, as the TLS notes, more than a little twee: “When Kitty [Bachardy] signs off a letter to Dobbin [Isherwood] ‘with basketfuls of furred love and musical purrs’ your response may be a shudder, or a snort, or something more emphatic. But archness aside (and there’s archness aplenty), this volume is rewarding in all sorts of unexpected ways.”

    The British National Archives has for the first time posted online the last wills and testaments of a number of famous writers, including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and William Wordsworth, who was careful to specify that the entire content of his liquor cabinet should go “absolutely” to his widow. However, as The Guardian points out, “Not every writer gets his or her way in death: literary history would be the poorer without the disobedience of Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who couldn’t bring himself to burn his friend’s work, or Hemingway’s widow, who ignored her husband’s request, in a document written three years before his death, that none of his letters should be made public.”

    Like a cross between a trainwreck and internet porn, the New York Observer has issued its annual list of media power couples, replete with stats, stories, and a slide show.

    Sixteen novels from Morocco to Iraq have made it to the long list of the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, otherwise known as the Arabic Booker. Three Percent, the University of Rochester’s blog about international literature, has synopses of them all, from Ibrahim Abdelmeguid’s Clouds Over Alexandria, set in the 1970s, to Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in this City’s Kitchens, about the breakdown of the state in Syria, as told through the story of a single family.

  • January 8, 2014

    amelia gray

    Amelia Gray

    When a reader wrote to Amelia Gray to complain that nothing happened in her novel Threats, she wrote back with spy-worthy instructions, a story, and a check.

    The category winners of the Costa Book Awards have been announced, and the winners include Kate Atkinson (for Life After Life), Nathan Filer (for The Shock of the Fall), and Lucy Hughes-Hallet (for her biography of Gabriele D’Annunizo). All of these authors are now in the running for the grand prize, which will be announced on January 28.

    “The things that the tech boom’s golden boys said last year,” writes Rebecca Solnit in response to a takedown on Grist, “are examples of privilege at its most reprehensible.”

    Of all the controversies that have clung to the Jaipur Literature Festival, the lack of participating writers from the surrounding state of Rajasthan is an issue that organizers and critics tend to agree on. Perhaps for that reason, this year’s event, running January 17-21, includes numerous panels on Rajasthani writing, music, and folklore. “The festival is rooted in the vibrant local culture of the state, its rich oral traditions, its joyous music, its poetic and balladic traditions,” says festival co-director Namita Gokhale in the Times of India. Among the many writers lined up to speak this year are Amartya Sen, Geoff Dyer, Jonathan Franzen, Rivka Galchen, Jhumpa Lahiri, and more.

    A trove of historical documents from the Civil War and the Reconstruction era have been destroyed in North Carolina. Here’s a theory as to why.

    Say hello to the new Ms. Marvel, a 16-year-old Muslim superhero from New Jersey, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and scripted by G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen.

  • January 7, 2014

    jorge luis borges

    Jorge Luis Borges

    As a boy, Jorge Luis Borges carried a small dagger, a gift from his father, who told him to use it against his bullies to prove he was a man. For years thereafter, writes Michael Greeenberg in the New York Review of Books, Borges “prowled the obscure barrios of Buenos Aires, seeking the company of cuchilleros, knife fighters, who represented to him a form of authentic criollo nativism that he wished to know and absorb.”

    Can anyone step up to compete with Amazon? Two contenders have just consolidated, as Zola, an independent website, buys Bookish, an online portal formed by Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette.

    Kingsley Amis harbored such bitterness for his ex-wife Elizabeth Jane Howard that he refused her request to visit him on his death bed. Clearly, his son saw things differently. Here, Martin Amis pays surprisingly loving tribute to his late stepmother, who saved him from another life: “I was a semi-literate truant and waster,” he says, “whose main interest was hanging around in betting shops.”

    Forbes’s list of the 30 under 30, who are “building the media companies of tomorrow” contains many fresh-faced entrepreneurs and leaders of companies like Mashable, Circa, and other digest of content on the go, as well as Tavi Gevinson of Rookie and Rachel Rosenfelt of the New Inquiry.

    At the Paris Review, Sadie Stein is leaving her post editing the magazine’s blog, The Daily, to become a contributing editor and writer, with Dan Piepenbring taking over blog-editing duties from her.

    Rare criticism on the heels of a well-known fortnightly’s golden anniversary: “For 50 years,” writes Russell Jacoby in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Review of Books “withdrew from the cultural bank while making few deposits.”

  • January 6, 2014

    Morrissey

    Morrissey

    Morrissey is at work on a novel and a new album (in that order). In a recent interview, Moz says he’s lost faith in pop music and wants to write instead, claiming that his memoir, Autobiography, “was more successful than any record I’ve ever released.”

    Researchers at Emory University have discovered that reading novels exercises the brain. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense,” says neuroscientist Gregory Berns. “Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

    At the Times, OR books publisher Colin Robinson weighs in on the state of publishing today, particularly the worrying trend of the disappearing midlist, “the space where interesting things happen in the book world, where the obscure or the offbeat can spring to prominence, where new writers can make their mark.”

    A journalist for Guns & Ammo magazine has been fired for using too much nuance on the topic of gun control.

    A gang of extremists in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli has torched a library of rare and ancient reading material, burning some 78,000 books.

    George Saunders on genius, irony, and allowing a little bit of light into a story: “How’s life been? It’s been a lot of things, but one thing it’s been predominantly is beautiful, pleasurable. So I want that to have a place at the table that isn’t sentimental or schmaltzy. It’s earned.”

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