• October 31, 2013

    Literary circles have been abuzz this week about an essay in the New York Times in which Tim Kreider laments the fact that it’s now culturally acceptable to ask writers to write for free. “I’ve been trying to understand,” Kreider muses, “the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.” Responding to the piece in the New Republic, Luke O’Neill calls working for free “a necessary evil,” and argues that “young writers entering the marketplace for the first time would be doing themselves a disservice to take a hard line against it.” Elsewhere, the Observer profiles Scratch, a new magazine about “the business of writing.”

    Graywolf Press rings in Halloween with a scary audio recording of Benjamin Percy reading Goodnight, Moon.

    A Jane Austen biographer has publicly criticized the Bank of England for “airbrushing” the image of Austen that will go on the new £10 note. “They’ve made her look like a doll, with big eyes,” The Real Jane Austen author Paula Byrne complained. “Jane Austen was a supreme social satirist, and some of her writing was quite dark, but they’ve chosen a picture that makes her look a really cosy, middle-class writer.”

    Neil Gaiman

    Neil Gaiman

    Neil Gaiman is going to Bard. The acclaimed sci-fi author will be joining the theater department next spring, and will teach classes on “the history of the fantastic, approaches to fantasy fiction, and the meaning of fantasy today.”

    Garth Risk Hallberg hasn’t yet secured a book deal for his 900-page novel-in-progress about 1970s New York, but that didn’t stop Hollywood producer Scott Rudin from purchasing the film rights to the book. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Rudin bought the manuscript—tentatively titled City of Fire—after reading the whole thing in one night.

    The New York Public Library has announced the launch of the online Shelley-Godwin Archive, featuring original manuscripts and writing from Percy Bysshe Shelley and his second wife Mary Shelley, as well as from Mary’s parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. The Archive grew out of collaboration between the NYPL and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, and will debut on Thursday night. The archive’s crown jewel is the original manuscript of Frankenstein, which was written by Shelley over the summer of 1816, and, according to one of the project heads, “is itself a sort of patched-together monster.”

  • October 30, 2013

    The Los Angeles Review of Books launches a new section, “Around the World,” which is dedicated to profiling “thinkers, writers, artists, and activists in countries all over the world, whose work transcends national borders and boundaries, whether it be in painting, music, poetry, or fiction, journalism, public service, or advocacy in the public interest.”


    If you’ve been curious about which books New Yorkers have been checking out of public libraries, wonder no longer: The NYPL has been releasing lists of the most-checked out books, both electronic and physical. Last September, the most checked-out fiction book was Dan Brown’s Inferno, followed by Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Lauren Weisberger’s Revenge Wears Prada, while the most in-demand non-fiction books were Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World.

    The Economist considers the delicate ecosystems of university presses and their prospects for survival: While many university presses are under intense amounts of financial pressure—after all, “academic monographs are considered a splash today if they sell just 800 copies in their first year”—the magazine argues that “the machinations of the university system” will keep many presses afloat. This is because “to win tenure, academics need to publish their research, and university presses are hungry outlets. However, no press wants to be mistaken for a vanity publisher, so most of them try to publish academics from other institutions.”

    Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, is shopping around a memoir.

    River of Fundament, Matthew Barney’s five-hour adaptation of Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings, will premiere in full at Australia’s 2014 Adelaide Festival next year. The festival runs from Feb. 28 to March 16, and the film will debut in the U.S. at the Brooklyn Academy of Music not long after.

    New Yorkers, if you have no plans tonight (or even if you do) we encourage you to stop by the Community Bookstore in Brooklyn to hear Bookforum contributor Eric Banks discuss the life and legacy of Susan Sontag with Sigrid Nunez, author of Sempre Susan; Jeff Seroy, who works at FSG, and Moe Angelos, who performed in the New York Theater Workshop production of Sontag: Reborn. The panel coincides with the Library of America’s release of Susan Sontag: Essays of the 1960s & 70s.

  • October 29, 2013

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    A year ago this week, after tearing through the Caribbean and up the Eastern Seaboard, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, and worked its way on to New York City and beyond. The storm flooded subways, destroyed homes, knocked out power grids, left at least ninety people dead in New York and New Jersey, and became one of the costliest natural disasters in American history (second only to Katrina). In New York, the storm did extensive damage to the sleepy residential communities of the Rockaways, a thin peninsula that runs along the south shore of Long Island Sound. In a matter of days, thousands of  homes were demolished. Residents were displaced, and some have yet to return.

    Visiting the Rockaways a day after the storm, Magnum photographer Gilles Peress wrote, “The devastation is on such a scale… that I really have a feeling of having entered another dimension.” This surreal dimension is chronicled in The Rockaways, a new book that includes Peress’s photos alongside essays about Sandy’s impact by local journalists and high school students. Published by the Concord Free Press, the book is indeed free—three thousand copies will be given to bookstores, museums, and readers—though recipients are asked to donate to a Sandy relief foundation. The press will start taking requests for the book on October 30. Until then, here’s a selection of Peress’s photos, all taken in Breezy Point, Queens.

  • Goodnight, Goodnight, Moon? Per the New York Times, some contemporary toddlers have highbrow (and expensive) sensibilities that go beyond mere children’s classics. “Today’s babies and toddlers are treated to board books that are miniature works of literary art: classics like Romeo and Juliet, Sense and Sensibility and Les Misérables; luxuriously produced counting primers with complex graphic elements; and even an Art for Baby book featuring images by the contemporary artists Damien Hirst and Paul Morrison.”

    Lou Reed

    Lou Reed

    David Bowie and Morrissey comment on the passing of rock star and icon Lou Reed, who died on Sunday at the age of 71. Here’s an obituary of Reed, and a conversation he had in July with The Talkhouse about the music and vision of Kanye West.

    Australian feminist and The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer has donated her lifetime archive to the University of Melbourne. The archive, which spans more than fifty years and 150 filing cabinets, includes diaries, letters, and correspondence between Greer and other major intellectuals of the past several decades. Greer has said she will donate the proceeds to organizations dedicated to rehabilitating the Australian rainforest.

    Congratulations to Dissent magazine for sixty years of fine work. The New York Times has an article about the lefty stalwart—and the rejuvenating influence of younger editors Sarah Leonard and Nick Serpe—in the weekend arts section. Read Leonard’s essay on Occupy Wall Street from the Dec/Jan 2012 issue of Bookforum.

    Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, within three years Boston may be home to “what’s believed to be the nation’s first literary cultural district.”

    As more English-language books are being brought into the Chinese market, many authors are faced with a conundrum: Submit to censorship (often perpetrated by editors at Chinese publishing houses), or forego access to the booming marketplace?

  • October 28, 2013

    Less than three years as taking over as the head of Amazon’s publishing division (which now has 11 imprints and 27 editors), Larry Kirshbaum is leaving the company to once again work as a literary agent. Publishers Weekly wonders if this is a sign of trouble for Amazon’s publishing arm:“Amazon’s genre publishing program will not be affected by Kirshbaum’s departure although the future of the trade operation is uncertain. Among the issues confronting the publishing program has been poor distribution into bookstores.”

    In a statement to a fan site, Morrissey has made it clear that he was not part of legal efforts to take down This Charming Charlie, a Smiths/Peanuts blog that juxtaposes Smiths lyrics with Peanuts cartoons. On the contrary, the singer is “delighted and flattered by the Peanuts comic strip,” and he “hopes that the strips remain.”

    tumblr_mudj2dffKa1seji43o1_500Langston Hughes’ childhood home in Cleveland is on the market for $85,000.

    The New York Times has published an article about the Washington-state-based Copper Canyon Press, a small publisher of poetry that over the course of its forty-year history has published Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Rabindranath Tagore, W.S. Merwin, Hayden Carruth, C.D. Wright, Dean Young, Arthur Sze, and Lucia Perillo, among others.

    In an essay about the link between investigative journalism and political responses, Jay Rosen argues that in order for reporting to make a difference, there need to be a number of other factors, for instance an “organizing personality” (like Edward Snowden), evidence of government lying and deliberate secrecy, and the support of other media outlets.



  • October 25, 2013

    In a move befitting the maestro himself, Observer reporter Nate Freeman gets into a fistfight at the book party for J. Michael Lennon’s new Norman Mailer biography.

    Norman Mailer

    Norman Mailer

    Though it’s only been out for a week, Morrissey’s autobiography has rocketed to the top of the UK bestseller list, making it one of the fastest-selling memoirs ever. Morrissey’s Penguin Classic has already sold around 35,000 copies in Britain. (Only Kate McCann’s 2011 memoir Madeleine, about the disappearance of her daughter, did better, selling 72,500 copies the first week.) Mysteriously, there’s still no sign that it will be released in the US.

    Here are three “idiot-proof formulas” for building your own best-seller.

    George Packer wishes Dissent a happy sixtieth birthday.

    We’ve already highlighted Scratch Magazine’s interview with web editors about how much they pay their writers, but it turns out there’s a lot of other good stuff in the magazine’s inaugural issue, including an essay by Bookforum contributor Cord Jefferson and an interview with writer and professional curmudgeon Jonathan Franzen.

    Did you know that during the government shutdown, Congress and a number of federal agencies temporarily (and quietly) replaced employees with unpaid interns? It’s true! The Awl talks with Intern Nation author Ross Perlin about the seedy underbelly of the volunteer economy. Relatedly, now that that Conde Nast has ended their internship program, the Atlantic is challenging readers to see whether they can tell the difference between “sorority sister” and “Conde Nast intern.”

    Also, if you’re free tonight and in New York, come hear Norman Rush in conversation with The Paris Review’s Josh Pashman at McNally Jackson Books at 7.

  • October 24, 2013

    The digitization of the world’s great writers continues apace: Thanks to a new open-access website, thousands of manuscripts by Emily Dickinson will be available for the first time in a single place. The site will pool the holdings of Amherst, Harvard, the Boston Public Library, and five other institutions, and will include facsimiles of Dickinson’s handwritten poems, scraps of paper, used envelopes, and other materials. The New York Times notes that the creation of the Emily Dickinson Archive has also revived “decades-old tensions between Harvard and Amherst, which hold the two largest Dickinson collections.” If you want a preview of what will be included in the archive, check out our slideshow of Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems.


    The American Psycho movie came out thirteen years ago, but it wasn’t until last week that somebody finally noticed the typos in the infamous business card scene. When Patrick Bateman and the boys from mergers and acquisitions whip out their cards, their titles are all misspelled, omitting the ‘c’ in acquisitions.

    What would have happened if Hitler had won the war, or if Alaska were established as a Jewish state? At the Guardian, DJ Taylor rounds up his favorite novels that operate in “the historical subjunctive.”

    Courtney Love is writing a memoir, and the book will reportedly come out this December with William Morrow. And what’s in it, you ask? According to promo material: “Nothing is off limits, not her relationship with Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor, nor her engagement to Ed Norton, and for the first time her marriage to Kurt Cobain will be revealed as the tragic romance it really was.”

    In an essay for Page Turner, Kenneth Goldsmith considers “the writer as meme machine,” looking at the theories of Canadian media scholar Darren Wershler, and the unexpectedly poetic works of people who don’t think of themselves as poets.

    The New Yorker has published a new story by Haruki Murakami that riffs on Kafka’s Metamorphosis, beginning with the sentence, “He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.” “Samsa in Love” is available to read online. In other New Yorker news, the magazine is no longer accepting interns. 

  • October 23, 2013

    Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio pays a visit to John Ashbery’s Hudson, New York, home—as it has been reproduced in the city for a new show at the Loretta Howard Gallery. In addition to “a selection of Ashbery’s own paintings, prints, collages, bric-a-brac, and furniture,” the exhibition includes “kitschy figurines, VHS tapes, … bawdy toys,” all of which “evoke the multifariousness of consciousness” and create the impression of “standing inside one of Ashbery’s poems.”

    John Ashbery, photo by Bill Hayward

    John Ashbery, photo by Bill Hayward

    From October 18 to 25, indie publisher OR Books will be running a pop-up bookshop at Alexandra, a restaurant in the West Village. OR authors will be dining at the restORrant (get it?) throughout the week, and free e-books will be distributed with each meal.

    The world’s oldest university press, Oxford University Press, is gearing up to publish a lavish, five-volume history of itself. The first volume will span the press’s beginnings, from 1478 to 1780; the next, which covers 1780-1896, will look at the way books were printed and distributed; and the third will examine the globalization of the press. Further volumes will come out in 2014.

    How much do online magazines pay their writers? And how do editors decide what to pay? A roundtable with editors from The Toast, Slate, and The Atlantic.

    While publishing has traditionally relied on editors to predict which which books might strike it big, in the age of the internet, the public has often already voted, and their demands can be ugly. At The New Republic, Noreen Malone profiles Simon and Schuster editor Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, whose authors include a number of blog-to-book writers, and such literary giants as Tucker Max and Snooki.

    If you’re looking to read the really dirty stuff, a good place to find it is in the world of self-published books. A new study of “tens of thousands of books” conducted through the Book Genome Project found that self-published books contain more depictions of illegal sexual acts (like incest and bestiality) than traditionally published books “by a ratio of nearly 10 to 1.” While erotica makes up only 1.1. percent of traditional publishers’ catalogs, 28.6 percent of all self-published books fall into that category.

  • October 22, 2013

    At the Guardian, Jim Crace digests Morrissey’s sweeping new biography into a much more manageable six hundred words: “At school, I am the futile pupil brutalised by neo-fascist inquisitors who do not understand the subtleties of sublime rhyme. My only valent talent is for athletics, my event the 20-kilometre walk on water. Blood laced with disgrace flows from my hands, feet and side. ‘Oh, Steven,’ says my Mother Mary. ‘What have you done to yourself now?’”

    The notion that in order to write you must “kill all your darlings” has been attributed to Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, G.K. Chesterton, Anton Chekov, Stephen King, and, of course, William Faulkner. But as Slate reports, the earliest purveyor of the phrase may have been one Arthur Quiller-Couch.

    Carol Burnett was awarded the 2013 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. last weekend.

    Literary magazines are often thought to exist in an insular universe of writers and publishing-types, but occasionally, they do make cameo appearances in mainstream culture. At The Millions, Nick Ripatrazone chronicles the appearances of “small magazines” everywhere from episodes of Cheers and Mad Men to films like Wonder Boys and The Squid and the Whale.

    Donna Tartt

    Donna Tartt

    In a conversation between Donna Tartt and her editor, Michael Pietsch, the two discuss the delicacies of editing, developing a writer’s voice, and Tartt’s aversion to  “the ever-growing tendency to standardized and prescriptive usage… to say nothing of automatic computer functions like Spellcheck and AutoCorrect.”

    How will the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act (AKA Obamacare) affect freelance writers? Here’s a quick primer.


  • October 21, 2013

    Junot Diaz and Maya Angelou were among the writers honored at the fifth annual Norman Mailer Center Benefit Gala this week. The awards celebrate authors at various stages of their career, not all of whom were particularly fond of the event’s namesake: “I am still at odds with Mr. Mailer,” said Angelou. “If we had talked together, we would not agree. But he writes so well.” And Junot Diaz, when asked what Mailer’s work means to him, said: “It depends on what Mailer we’re talking about.”

    When the Leo Tolstoy State Museum put out a call for volunteers to proofread 46,800 pages of the master’s work, it got an overwhelming response: three thousand Russians volunteered their services. The readers finished in two weeks, and now, almost all of Tolstoy’s work, including “novels, diaries, letters, religious tracts, philosophical treatises, travelogues, and childhood memories,” will soon be available online.

    Alice Munro

    Alice Munro

    On his blog, sci-fi writer Charlie Stross conducts a thought exper­i­ment: “what would be the con­se­quences if a large inter­net cor­po­ra­tion such as Google were to buy the entire pub­lish­ing industry?” He considers that for around $10 billion a year, Apple or Google could “pro­vide free pub­lic access to [about 300,000 commercial-quality e-books per year] in return for a roy­alty pay­ment to authors based on a for­mula extrap­o­lat­ing from the known paper sales, or a flat fee per down­load; or they could even put the authors on pay­roll.” What would that do to the publishing industry?

    Bloomsbury is launching a new imprint dedicated to popular science. Sigma will release fifteen books a year on topics from robotics to evolutionary biology, and will be edited by Jim Martin.

    What does Alan Greenspan have in common with Michel Houellebecq? A book title.

    Alice Munro is too sick to travel to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced this week. “Her health is simply not good enough,” Academy head Peter Englund wrote in a blog post. “All involved, including Mrs. Munro herself, regret this.” At 82, Munro no longer writes but did say earlier this year that she’s “becoming more sociable.”