• 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.

  • November 21, 2013

    James McBride, considered an “underdog” contestant, has won this years National Book Award for fiction. Other winners are George Packer (for nonfiction), Mary Szybist (poetry), and Cynthia Kadohata (young people’s literature).

    A week ago, Wyoming senatorial candidate Liz Cheney made news by publicly breaking with her sister over gay marriage (Liz opposes it; Mary Cheney is gay and in a same-sex marriage). In the wake of the controversy, Elaine Showalter took the opportunity to revisit Lynne Cheney’s frontier novel Sisters, which is “both a pulpy murder mystery, with cattle barons and homesteaders; and an astoundingly sympathetic treatment of Wyoming women’s culture in 1886.”

    sistersFive years ago this month saw the publication of Robert Bolaño’s sprawling opus 2666 in the US, precipitating “one of those rare moments when you could walk into a coffee shop, step onto a bus, or enter a bookstore and find someone raving about or devouring an ambitious novel that topped a thousand pages. ” At Flavorwire, Jason Diamond selects the fifty novels that define the past five years in literature.

    At The New York Times, Daniel Mendelsohn and Jen Szalai consider “whom or what” literary prizes are for.

    One of the country’s first public libraries of culinary literature is now open for business. The library is based in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans and contains “more than 11,000 volumes, as well as archival documents, menus, and assorted culinary ephemera.”

    Can bleak books actually be motivational? Stanford comparative literature professor Amir Eshel thinks so. In a paper that looks at works of art featuring “characters swamped by titanic historical forces” Eshel makes the case that depictions of trauma prompt us to “remain optimistic about shaping the future.”

    A survey conducted by UK website bookcareers.com looks at starting salaries in British publishing, and, big surprise, finds that the situation is pretty grim: “One of the things that comes out from the data immediately is that entry-level jobs are still paying the same amount they were five years ago. Middle and senior managers are doing slightly better, but there is quite a disparity with those just starting in the industry.” As a result, the world of British publishing is pretty homogenous—those who can’t afford to work for peanuts are priced out of going into the profession.


  • November 20, 2013

    After shooting to the top of the UK bestseller list, Penguin Classics has announced that it’s going to release a hardcover version of the Morissey’s Autobiography seven weeks after the initial release of the paperback. The book will go on sale in the UK on December 5 for 30 pounds (roughly $48) and will be printed in color, with a “number of new images chosen by Morrissey and… a complete discography of his work.”

    Here’s the trailer for the forthcoming Lifetime adaptation of incest classic Flowers in the Attic. The Paris Review describes it as “appropriately lurid.” We agree.

    We’re not quite sure why this is news, but the New York Times reports that famously reclusive author Thomas Pynchon will not be at the National Book Awards tonight.

    The Archives for American Art at the Smithsonian has put an entire collaborative book between poet Robert Duncan and artist Jess Collins online. According to Poetry, “Scrapbook for Patricia Jordan, 1959″ includes a couple of pieces from O! Tricky Cad, but there’s also much more–collages, line drawings, Nouveau gestures, poems, sketches, notes.

    Here are fourteen ways to infuriate a writer, courtesy of Ploughshares. Our favorite: “Approach her at a book festival with no introduction, wearing a backpack large enough to be full of explosives. Explain that you’re trying to find an agent, and no one here has been any help at all. Ask if you might give her your manuscript so she can pass it on to her agent. Then just stand there staring. Be sure your pupils are dilated.”

    HBO has signed up to adapt The Love of the Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished Hollywood novel, as a five-part miniseries. Elia Kazan last tried adapting the novel in the late 1970s. This version will be written by Billy Ray, the screenwriter behind Shattered Glass, Breach, and the first Hunger Games movie.

  • November 19, 2013

    Bloomberg News is cutting arts coverage, and very unfortunately, that includes books: The company let go of books editor and National Book Critics Circle president Laurie Muchnick on Monday.

    The New York Times talks with William T. Vollmann about The Book of Dolores, a creative account of Vollmann’s female alter-ego. Vollmann started cross-dressing seriously about five years ago, and he tells the Times that after a lifetime of dodging land mines and Afghan warlords, presenting himself as a woman introduced a series of new challenges: “A lot of friends who could always handle the prostitutes and the drugs felt that I had somehow degraded myself,” he said. “The idea of stepping down from the dominant male class really disgusts a lot of people, including women.”

    William T. Vollmann

    William T. Vollmann

    Is a rejection letter always just a rejection letter? Columnist Edan Lepucki at the Millions queries the editors of a handful of literary magazines about the “tiers of rejection” at their respective publications, and what an encouraging note from an editor might mean for future pitches.

    From Bibles in the bedside table to entire lending libraries—The New York Times chronicles the ascent of “literary-minded hotels.”

    Cowboy poetry is thought to have originated sometime after the Civil War, and while most people are unaware of it, the genre is still alive and well today. “Everyone perceives cowboy culture as being this testosterone-driven thing,” says photographer Jay B Sauceda. “It’s surprising to people when they find out there’s this soft side of cowboys that involves heartache and girls and friends who died.” Slate features a slideshow of Sauceda’s images of cowboy poets.

    Fifty Shades of Gray is not only only dirty, it’s downright unhygienic. Toxicologists at the Catholic University in Leuven in Belgium ran chemical tests on the top-ten most checked-out books at the local library in Antwerp and found that all of the books tested positive for traces of cocaine. The copy of Fifty Shades of Gray, however, one-upped the rest, also testing positive for traces of the herpes virus.



  • November 18, 2013

    Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing passed away last weekend at her home in London. She was 94. Over the course of her career, Lessing wrote more than fifty novels, and won virtually every major literary award available in Europe. Accepting the Nobel in 2007, the year before she published her last novel, Lessing quipped, “I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.” For more on Lessing, read her 2002 interview with Bookforum.

    New Yorkers, if you’re free tonight, we recommend a celebration of Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, on the 150 anniversary of his birth. The event is hosted by the PEN American Center, and “combines performances, personal and scholarly reflections, onstage interviews, ‘live translations,’ musical numbers, and a live dance performance and video works by Greek choreographer/stage director Dimitris Papaioannou, based on Cavafy’s signature poems.” Among those involved will be Andre Aciman, Michael Cunningham, Mark Doty, Olympia Dukakis, Daniel Mendelsohn, Orhan Pamuk, and Kathleen Turner.

    C.P. Cavafy

    C.P. Cavafy

    The New York Times previews this year’s Miami Book Fair, which, although it started in an neighborhood known for “prostitutes and vagrants” in a city not known for literary culture, has managed to become “the largest and by nearly all accounts the most diverse public literary event in the United States.”

    Salon explains why Philip Roth is wrong in his depictions of elderly sex.

    New York Magazine excerpts Daniel Menaker’s memoir about his career in publishing, which carries the revealing title My Mistake.

    Prolific Italian translator William Weaver died on Sunday at his home in Rhinebeck, New York, at the age of ninety. In addition to translating the works of Italo Calvino, Weaver translated Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Eugenio Montale, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Svevo, and numerous other well-known writers.


  • November 15, 2013

    A New York court has ruled in favor of Google’s argument that scanning more than twenty million books and posting snippets of them online without permission from the authors does not violate the terms of fair use. The ruling is a major victory for Google, and against the group of authors and publishers who filed the class action suit in 2005. The plaintiff, led by the Authors Guild, had been demanding a payment of $750 for each book scanned.

    Simon and Schuster is restructuring its production and manufacturing division to “further integrate the design and creation of e-books into the earliest stages of our overall production process.”

    The Saturday after Thanksgiving, authors will volunteer at their local bookstores at more than one hundred shops around the country in honor of Small Business Saturday.

    Slate catalogs New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani’s overuse of her new favorite phrase, “deeply felt,” with a list of the forty times she’s used it in her columns since 1984.


    Michiko Kakutani

    Some novelists work for years without ever being acknowledged, but in Italy, others might just go on TV. This Sunday will see the premiere of Masterpiece, a new reality TV show in which aspiring authors “vie at literary challenges until one contestant wins a major book deal—and a level of publicity that few novelists achieve over a lifetime of quiet toil.”

    Susan Choi, Woody Guthrie, Matthew Reynolds, and Manil Suri are among the seven novelists shortlisted for this year’s “Bad Sex” award. The prize, now in its 21st year, celebrates the “the most embarrassing passage of sexual description in a novel.” The winner will be named on December 3.