• December 6, 2013

    At the New Yorker, South African novelist and Nobel–winner Nadine Gordimer remembers Nelson Mandela: “Not a figure carved in stone but a tall man, of flesh and blood, whose suffering had made him not vengeful but still more human.”

    The New York Times reports on a recent trip President Obama took to Politics and Prose bookstore in DC, where he bought nearly two dozen books. The Times reporter writes that the titles offer “a rare window into the president’s mind,” and notes, “unlike many of his predecessors, who devoured American history and biographies, Mr. Obama’s tastes lean toward the literary.” So, what can we learn by the president’s choice of, say, James Salter’s All That Is, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, or Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland? Lahiri offers this observation: “He has a sort of double vision of America as I do, as many people do, many people who have been both brought up and bred within America but also have a different perspective of the country,” Ms. Lahiri says. “In a sense, part of him comes from outside America and he embodies both that contradiction and that richness.”

    Are you a Joan Didion expert? The Los Angeles Times tests your knowledge with a quiz.

    Joan Didion

    Joan Didion

    Tom Scocca has written a thoughtful essay about what he calls a defining quality of our time: smarm. “What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.”

    Triple Canopy, which has always thought deeply about the ways that publishing can evolve in the digital age, has announced its new publishing platform. “Each issue will address specific questions or prompts and will emerge from research by editors—as well as, essentially, conversations with artists, writers, researchers, designers, technologists. Triple Canopy will collaborate with contributors not just on their own projects, but on the development of coherent (if variegated) bodies of knowledge.”

    This saturday in Los Angeles, the 356 Mission gallery will host an event for the release of Artforum contributing editor Bruce Hainley’s new book about the artist Sturtevant, Under the Sign of [sic]. Hainley will be in conversation with Lisa Lapinski and Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, and Sturtevant’s work is on display in the gallery.

    Black Francis, one of the founders of The Pixies, is working on a graphic novel titled The Good Inn. The book will be “a fantastical piece of illustrated fiction based on a yet-to-be-written soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t yet exist,” and will follow a teenage boy as he navigates “past homicidal gypsies, combative soldiers and porn-peddling peasants, he takes refuge in a secluded inn, where he finds himself centre stage in the making of the world’s first narrative pornographic film.”

    “It was the Best of Times…But You Won’t Believe What Other Kinds of Times It Is, Too.”

  • December 5, 2013

    According to Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, the British newspaper has met with US and English government agencies more than one hundred times since it obtained (and started publishing) documents on surveillance from NSA contractor Edward Snowden. National security, he suggests, has come to threaten freedom of the press.

    The online auction organized to help raise money for St. Marks Bookshop is now underway, and will run through December 15. Among the books for sale are The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (signed and “lightly annotated”), Anne Carson’s Antignoick (with a cover hand-drawn by the author), and an autographed first edition of Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

    The New York Times has announced its picks for the ten best books of the year.

    Laurie Penny recently took the “Bad Sex in Fiction Award” to task for being “dated” and “priggish.” But that didn’t stop readers from checking to find out this year’s winner: Manil Suri, for his novel The City of Devi. (The Gurardian has a brief excerpt.)

    images

    George Saunders

    The Page-Turner blog has a chat with George Saunders at his Syracuse University office, where he was once a graduate student and now teaches in the MFA program. Saunders talks about how he begins writing: “There’s a mysterious element, a magical element, right? And it’s not reducible. A lot of the process is positioning yourself to receive the moment of magic when it deigns to come to you.”

    Samuel R. Delany has been named the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, a lifetime achievement award for science fiction/fantasy authors. For more about Delany, check out the Paris Review’s Art of the Interview from the summer of 2011.

    Tonight, NYU will celebrate the poetry of activist and writer Muriel Rukeyser. Participants include: Carol Gilligan, Kate Clinton, Jan Freeman, Gerald Stern, Jennifer Benka, and Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

  • December 4, 2013

    Eight cultural figures from the Dominican Republic have written an open letter condemning Junot Diaz, who is currently visiting the country to participate in talks about immigration, writing, and what it means to be a Dominican. The letter attacks the Pulitzer-winning Diaz for, among other things, “a scarce capacity for reflection and a disrespectful and mediocre use of the written word.”

    At MobyLives, Dennis Johnson explains why Andre Schiffrin would have hated his Times obituary, and offers some context and further details about the great editor and publisher’s life.

    Romenesko reports that on Tuesday morning, Gawker Media employees received a memo from head honcho Nick Denton: “The bad news . . . We got overtaken by Buzzfeed in November. They surged to 133m global uniques. Damn. That’s impressive. And Upworthy—even smarmier than Buzzfeed—is nipping at our heels.” But Denton plans to regain the lead soon with Kinja, a new Gawker Media discussion platform, “which enlists readers as contributors to listicles as well as other collaborative editorial projects.”

    Norman Rockwell’s family is “waging a fierce campaign” against a new biography of him, American Mirror, written by New York Times critic Deborah Solomon. The Rockwell family cooperated with Solomon as she was researching the book. But upon reading American Mirror, many family members were “shocked” by the book’s “suggestions . . . that Rockwell could have been secretly gay.” 

  • December 3, 2013

    Beginning in March, New York magazine is going to come out every other week, becoming the latest publication to give up on weekly publication. As the Times points out, “The punishing economics of being a stand-alone weekly can be explained in one word: Newsweek.” Muckrack has a roundup of media responses. At the Awl, Choire Sicha argues that the magazine is still making money—some 3 million dollars a week, by his estimate.

    Joyce Carol Oates and Mike Tyson in 1986

    Joyce Carol Oates and Mike Tyson in 1986

    In the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates weighs in on Mike Tyson’s eager-to-please new autobiography: “To the extent that Tyson has a predominant tone in Undisputed Truth it’s that of a Vegas stand-up comic, alternately self-loathing and self-aggrandizing, sometimes funny, sometimes merely crude.”

    The editors of Jacket Copy have asked novelists, critics, and readers to recommend their favorite book written by an author the opposite gender, an exercise, which, at the very least, adds a bit of novelty to the notable-books lists now proliferating online. As far as straightforward guides to the best books of 2013, you can’t do much better than The Millions ongoing “year in reading” series, which has a stellar lineup of contributors, and notes many worthwhile books that might otherwise be easy to overlook.

    Amazon is working on a drone delivery service called Amazon Prime Air, “a new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.” We’re sure Dave Eggers wishes he’d thought of for his dystopian tale, The Circle. Amazon’s kingpin Jeff Bezos is lauded in a reverential new biography, The Everything Story, which Astra Taylor reviews in the new Bookforum: “It is both depressing and unsettling to read a book about the absolute triumph of a man who cares about nothing but winning.” As if on cue, Bezos recently told Charlie Rose, “You gotta earn your keep in this world . . .  Amazon is not happening to bookselling; the future is happening to bookselling.”

    Andre Schiffrin—the longtime editor, author, and founder of the New Press—has died at age 78. Schiffrin championed many authors, among them Jean-Paul Sartre, Günter Grass, Studs Terkel, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Noam Chomsky, Julio Cortázar, and Anita Brookner. A longtime critic of publishing mergers, he was the author The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read.

  • December 2, 2013

    Peter Kaplan

    Peter Kaplan

    Longtime New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan died on Friday at the age of 59. In a New Republic profile from last fall, Nathan Heller said of Kaplan, “Much of New York’s journalism world has come to regard Kaplan as a distant but endearing uncle—quirky, steeped in lore, and something of a daemon of the trade.” Longform has a nice selection of articles by and about Kaplan, including an oral history of the Kaplan era of the Observer, written when Kaplan left the paper in 2009.

    As the sale of the Bay Psalms book for $14.2 million last week reveals, the rare-book business is a lucrative one. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Marino Massimo De Caro, the former director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, has been accused of stealing thousands of volumes from the collection, including editions of Aristotle, Descartes, and Machiavelli. De Caro himself is a character worthy of fictional treatment: A self-taught librarian without a college degree, he came, through political connections, to be in charge of some of the world’s most valuable books. He argues that he stole in part to “raise money to restore the library.” He has also admitted to creating several fake copies of Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius, and cites Borges when explaining the quality of his forgeries.

    Three previously unpublished J.D. Salinger stories—”The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” “Paula,” and “Birthday Boy”—have been leaked online.

    The Dutch writer Arnon Grunberg is currently writing a novella while wearing electrodes that measure his brain waves, as well as sensors tracking his facial expressions and measuring other vital signs. After the book is published next fall, some readers will measure their physical responses, and researchers will comb through the data in hopes of making sense of it all. Literature, meet the “quantified self” movement.

    Tonight at Housing Works bookstore in New York, authors Mike Albo, Choire Sicha, Emily Gould and others answer the age-old New York question: Is living in the city worth it?

  • November 29, 2013

    Laurie Penny explains what’s wrong about the Bad Sex Award, the annual British award granted to the worst erotic fiction: Not only is the award dated, it’s also priggish.

    At the TLS, John Ashbery, Michael Dirda, Marjorie Perloff, and others pick their favorite books of the year.

    Jynne Dilling Martin

    Jynne Dilling Martin

    We’ve been enjoying the recent reports and photographs from Jynne Dilling Martin, a poet, a publicist, and currently the 2013 Artist in Residence in Antarctica.

    Bookriot has compiled a list of the worst fictional families to spend Thanksgiving with. We were somewhat surprised not to find the Pollits, from Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loves Children, or any family from an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel.

    At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, novelist Teju Cole considers the great photographer Saul Leiter, who died on Tuesday. “The content of Saul Leiter’s photographs arrives on a sort of delay: it takes a moment after the first glance to know what the picture is about. You don’t so much see the image as let it dissolve into your consciousness, like a tablet in a glass of water.”

    Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart has won The Guardian’s first book award.

  • November 27, 2013

    metal catsThe US Justice Department has concluded that it will most likely not bring charges against Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange for publishing classified documents. According to the Washington Post, Assange published rather than leaked the classified documents, and therefore government lawyers cannot press charges “without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists.”

    A book of awesome heavy metal bands and their adorable feline friends? Yes, please

    Yesterday, Sotheby’s auctioned one of the first English-language books published in America, The Whole Booke of Psalmes, for just under $14.2 million—a record for an auctioned book. The small translation of the Psalms, also known as the Bay Psalm Book, was printed by Puritan settlers in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book was purchased by businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein, “who plans to lend it to libraries around the country.”

    Last week, legendary feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Accepting the award, she acknowledged her fellow feminists, saying, “I’d be crazy if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement.” But at Dangerous Minds, Amber Frost rejects the notion of a united feminist front. To prove her point, she invites anti-capitalist feminists to recall that Steinem used to work for the CIA, and reported to the organization, in 1959, on a Communist World Youth Festival. “Some of us worked for the CIA for four years, others of us want to smash capitalism,” Frost writes. “Guess which ones get medals from the President?”

    Moby Lives reports that Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s “dissident novel,” The Colonel, which has long been banned in his native Iran, may soon be officially printed in the country, thanks in part to support from the new Deputy Cultural Minister Seyyed Abbas Salehi.

    The BBC interviews Patti Smith about her frequent visits to Charleston House, the country home of painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and a gathering place for Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and other members of the Bloomsbury Group.

     

  • November 26, 2013

    Graywolf Press has announced that it will publish Maggie Nelson’s next book, The Argonauts, which is “a hybrid personal account and theoretical exploration of language and art, “good enough” mothering, queer identity, love, sex, and family.” Hybrid is a good word for Nelson: A poet, memoirist, and cultural critic, she is best known for her rangy study The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning and Bluets, a poetic and personal meditation on the color blue. (You can read her Bookforum Syllabus on Books about Color here.) The Argonauts was acquired by editor Ethan Nosowsky, who has recently edited writers such as Geoff Dyer and (at McSweeney’s) Hilton Als.

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson

    Recently, Kari Wagner-Peck, who authors the blog A Typical Son, took Chuck Klosterman, who writes the Ethicist column for the New York Times Magazine, to task for having used the word retard in his early work. Klosterman has written a thoughtful response, and says: “I’m very sorry.” He has offered to donate $25,000 to a charity of Wagner-Peck’s choice.

    Tonight there are two great author events in New York: Ben Lerner and Goeff Dyer in conversation at McNally Jackson, while Rachel Kushner and Robert Stone speak at The Strand.

    New York magazine tells the strange tale of Dorothy Parker’s “Lolita.” A few weeks before Nabokov’s novel was  released in Paris, Parker published a story of the same name in the New Yorker. It’s possible that the seed for the story had been planted by some of Parker’s friends: A manuscript of Nabokov’s book had been making the rounds, crossing the desk of New Yorker editors and great literary gossips like Edmund Wilson. Soon after, Parker raved about Nabokov’s masterpiece in Esquire, calling it “a work of art” and “a great book.”

    The “best of” season has begun, and over at The Guardian, Hilary Mantel (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee), Richard Ford (All That Is by James Salter), Jonathan Franzen (Command and Control by Eric Schossler), and Moshin Hamid (Tenth of December by George Saunders) have named their favorite books of 2013.

    At the New Republic, Ben Crair traces the recent evolution of the period, from a neutral punctuation mark to a signifier of aggression.

    The owners of the St. Marks Bookshop, which has long struggled to keep up with the rent at its location at Third Avenue and 9th Street, is hoping to move to a new, smaller location. To prepare for the move, the bookstore will host a fundraiser on December 5, both in the store and at the website. Items up for auction included signed first editions by Anne Carson, Lydia Davis, and Paul Auster.

  • November 25, 2013

    The snazzy new Buenos Aires Review has launched with interviews and fiction and poetry by Juan Alvarez, Mario Bellatin, Vincent Toro, and Kenneth Goldsmith, among others.

    More and more people are getting to their news through Facebook. Between August and October, there was a 69 percent increase in traffic referrals from Facebook to partner sites via the BuzzFeed Network, which includes outlets like The Huffington Post, The Onion, and Slate. In other words, ”Facebook appears to have broadly shifted its algorithms and to create formidable new traffic streams that simply weren’t there just weeks earlier.”

    Literary detective J. Edgar Hoover

    Literary detective J. Edgar Hoover

    How much longer will college bookstores keep stocking trade books? Rapidly declining trade and textbook sales indicate that the days might be numbered.

    In the mid-1940s, the FBI took an interest in French philosophy. Specifically, in the work of Camus and Sartre—writers who FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover spent several decades spying on in a misguided attempt to discover whether “Existentialism and Absurdism were some kind of front for Communism.” At the Prospect, Andy Martin pores over the FBI files on these men, and marvels at how intelligence officers found themselves acting as “philosophical policemen;” “studying scholarly works and attending lectures.”

    In 1963, a sixteen-year-old high school student who was fed up with arguing with his English teacher, so he mailed a survey to 150 prominent writers asking whether they deliberately used symbolism in their work. Seventy-five responded—including Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, and Joseph Heller—and the responses are up at Mental Floss.

    Temperatures are dropping on the East Coast, and at Flavorwire, Michelle Dean has a suggestion for how to warm up: erotic fiction. Before the Thanksgiving snowstorm hits, you might want to pick up The Swimming-Pool Library, Ada, Belle du Jour, or any of the other books on her list of “great, nearly-great, or at the very least significant erotic fiction of the last several centuries.”

  • November 22, 2013

    The creative team behind the theatrical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home talks to the Times about the process of turning a cartoon into a musical, and the difficulties of presenting themes like suicide and coming out of the closet.

    The New York Public Library has bought 83-year-old writer Tom Wolfe’s archives for $2.15 million. The archive contains 190 boxes of Wolfe’s writing, including his research, drafts, outlines of novels, unpublished work, and more than 10,000 letters to literary friends such as Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, and William F. Buckley. There are also, the New York Times notes, “letters from Mr. Wolfe’s tailor, complete with fabric swatches.”

    The dapper Tom Wolfe

    The dapper Tom Wolfe

    Here’s good news for wealthy and unsuccessful writers: It is possible to buy your way on to the New York Times bestseller list. For tens of thousands of dollars, Forbes reports that authors can hire ResultSource, a San Diego-based marketing company, to break up bulk sales “into more organic-looking individual purchases, defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to ‘buy’ bestseller status.”

    Twenty-one authors—including Heidi Julavits, Chuck Klosterman, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Rachel Kushner, and Meg Wolitzer—talk to Buzzfeed about how they got over their respective hang-ups and problems and published their first books.

    At The Nation, Miriam Markowitz examines the skewed gender ratios of magazine and book publishing, and turns to the publishing industry to tease out some explanations for the state of affairs.

    In an auction in London this week, the private art collection of T.S. Eliot’s widow Valerie Eliot sold for more than seven million pounds—money that will go toward supporting the work of young writers and artists. The most highly priced item in the collection was a pencil and water color sketch by John Constable, which went for £662,500, nearly twice the expected amount. Valerie, who died in 2012, built her art collection through royalties from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which was based off her husband’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

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