• January 31, 2014

    Author Alain de Botton is leading a new news organization—run entirely by philosophers. The Philosopher’s Mail claims to have bureaus in London, Amsterdam, and Melbourne, and is “committed to bringing you the latest, biggest stories, as interpreted by philosophers rather than journalists.” Check out the homepage, which currently offers philosophical takes on tabloid-ready topics such as “Anne Hathaway takes her chocolate labrador Esmeralda for a walk.”

    Susan Sontag

    Susan Sontag

    Susan Sontag wrote 17,198 emails. Benjamin Moser, who is writing a biography of Sontag, recently read them. At the New Yorker, he describes the “feeling of creepiness and voyeurism” he experienced while going through the e-mails—a feeling that “struggled the unstoppable curiosity that I feel about Sontag’s life.”

    In Portland, Oregon, a federal judge has sentenced arsonist Rebecca Rubin to read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants“in order to teach her more about nonviolent protest.”

    The Harvard Kennedy School has announced the six finalists for the 2014 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Journalism. The prize has a $10,000 reward for finalists and $25,000 for the winner.

    Rae Armantrout

    Rae Armantrout

    For those of you in New York, we recommend two poetry events this weekend: Rae Armantrout (Just Saying) and Mark Bibbins (poetry editor at the Awl and the author of the excellent new collection They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full) read at NYU tonight; and on Saturday, Daniel Nester will launch his new anthology The Incredible Sestina at Poets House.

    The second annual Los Angeles Art Book Fair starts this weekend.

  • January 30, 2014

    Following the Washington Post’s decision to not fun Ezra Klein’s new online venture (a decision that publisher Katharine Weymouth has defended), the paper has announced in a memo to staffers that it plans to hire a new bloggers and redesign the website.

    Sappho Poem

    Poetry by Sappho

    Oxford papyrologist Dirk Obbink has determined that two poems written on a tattered piece of papyrus were written by Sappho. One of the poems refers to the author’s family; the other is addressed to the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

    Since it launched 13 years ago, Inside.com has been “part of a Steve Brill mashup, a dead domain, a planned flagship brand that didn’t happen, and a dormant asset waiting to be exploited.” For years, publishing entrepreneur Jason Calacanis has wanted the site himself. Now that he has acquired it from Guardian News & Media, he hopes to revolutionize the way we get news on our mobile devices. “I see this as the next CNN,” Calacanis says of his new mobile app.

    Billionaire entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar has released a video explaining the goals of First Look Media, which will cover politics, foreign policy, sports, and entertainment. The venture is set to launch later this year.

    Blogging is now 20 years old. To mark the occasion, Guardian has asked three blogger trailblazers to reflect on the early days and the evolution of the medium.


  • January 29, 2014

    Jimmy Carter

    Jimmy Carter

    Former US president Jimmy Carter is writing “an impassioned account of the human rights abuses against women and girls around the world, particularly in religious societies,” according to Simon & Schuster, which is planning to publish the book in late March.

    The MIT Media Lab is teaching a class this semester that aims to make science fiction real. Emphasizing “pataphysics,” or the science of imaginary solutions, the class is taught by Sophia Brueckner and Dan Novy and features William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on the syllabus, alongside films such as The Matrix, an essay by Donna Haraway, and short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, J. G. Ballard, Samuel Delaney, and Ray Bradbury, among others. Students are encouraged to use science fiction as the inspiration for “the ethical and thoughtful design of new technologies.”

    According to an annual survey, first editions of Madonna’s 1992, spiral-bound, metal-covered book of erotica, Sex, topped the list of the one hundred most sought after out-of-print publications for 2013. Also in demand and hard to find: Stephen King’s My Pretty Pony (illustrated by the artist Barbara Kruger), Salvador Dali’s The Jerusalem Bible, Gary Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful, and Nora Roberts’s Promise Me Tomorrow (a book said to be so bad that its author once promised it would never be reprinted).

    Employees are apparently readying themselves for an imminent round of layoffs at Time Inc.

    It’s not exactly The Wolf of Wall Street, but the subject of Martin Scorsese’s next film is…the New York Review of Books.

    Bookslut has launched a new prize for old books. The first round of the Daphne will be awarded not to the best of 2013 but to an unjustly overlooked title published fifty years ago, in 1963.

  • January 28, 2014

    kathy acker

    Kathy Acker

    Four out of twelve writers named the late, great Kathy Acker among the authors of “books that changed my life,” for a project by n+1 that grew out of an index for the magazine’s “No Regrets” series. Acker is cited for the novels The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by The Black Tarantula (1973), Kathy Goes to Haiti (1978), Great Expectations (1983), and Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream (1986). Dennis Cooper, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, and Frank O’Hara also received multiple mentions.

    Egypt’s National Library and Archives, in Cairo’s Bab al-Khalq neighborhood, suffered structural damage on Friday when a car bomb tore through the city’s central police station, located across the street. It was one of four explosions in Cairo on the third anniversary of the protest movement that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Rare manuscripts and scientific scrolls were damaged, along with furniture, lighting, and ventilation systems.

    The demolition, recycling, and salvage tycoon Chen Guanbiao arrived in New York recently declaring himself “the most influential person of China” and announcing: “I Intend to Buy the New York Times, Please Don’t Take It As a Joke.” New York Magazine on the man who badly wants a media property.

    Was Emily Dickinson radical or restrained? The New York Review of Books on the divisions in her oeuvre, her estate, and a new online archive of her work.

    Al Jazeera America is moving to better real estate in the Time Warner neighborhood of cable news channels.

    Pierre Omidyar of First Look Media is planning to launch a family of digital magazines to “bring back to journalism what’s been lost—the critical but expensive support that’s often neglected in the digital age,” he says. “We’ll give our journalists everything they need to do their jobs well.”

  • January 27, 2014

    As Jonathan Mahler points out, our current journalistic environment is one that fetishizes longer articles—“even high-metabolism sites like BuzzFeed and Politico are producing their own long-form content.” But does a higher word-count mean higher quality? Mahler’s assessment of the latest long-form trend is too measured to say that it’s all bad, but he does note what’s missing from a lot of immersive journalism today: empathy.

    Nixon didn’t talk much about contemporary American authors, but as Jon Wiener writes, he anxiously wanted to discuss Philip Roth. “Roth is a bad man,” the president told Charles Colson in 1971. “He’s a horrible moral leper.”

    Philip Roth

    Philip Roth

    Media Matters considers the controversial New York Times Magazine “Planet Hillary” cover image by comparing it to the magazine’s past cover images of politicians such as Biden, Cuomo, Bill Clinton.

    Jarhead author Anthony Swofford will judge this year’s Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans, a creative-writing contest open to all veterans and active-duty soldiers.

    In an article about Ezra Klein’s departure from the Washington Post, John Cassidy, a staff writer at The New Yorker, wrote that “BuzzFeed and Upworthy aren’t really news sites.” He later backpedaled, admitting that sites such as Buzzfeed do have news, but still claiming that lists and shorter celebrity items drive most of their traffic. As Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon points out, this statement applies to most publications: “‘Lighter fare’ drives a lot of Internet traffic at publications like The New York Times, where a quiz on accents published at the end of last December was the most-viewed story of the year, attracting more readers than news coverage from months before.”

    Bavaria has just ended its legal block on publications of Mein Kampf.


  • January 24, 2014

    richard nash

    Richard Nash

    Richard Nash has joined the staff of Byliner, the digital reading service that delivers long-form journalism and fiction to subscribers. Nash, once the publisher of Soft Skull Press and currently the publisher of Red Lemonade, is leaving his position as VP at Small Demons, the company that indexed every cultural reference in Infinite Jest. Last fall, Small Demons reported that without a buyer, it would have to close shop.

    According to the Financial Times, CNN has laid off forty senior staff members, “including a pregnant producer who was two weeks away from giving birth to twins.”

    Another day, another interesting defection: Matt Yglesias is leaving Slate to join Ezra Klein’s new media venture.

    As interest in high-literary thrillers, mysteries, detective fiction, and suspense continues to rise, Penguin Books and Penguin UK announced this week that they are jointly publishing new English-language translations of the French writer George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series. There are seventy-five books in all; eight are set to be released this year.

    In an interview with Aljazeera.com, Jill Abramson describes the world view and reportorial style of the New York Times as “cosmopolitan” as opposed to “left-wing” or “liberal.”

    After all the noise of #readwomen2014—the many recent New Year’s resolution-like efforts to make 2014 a year of reading women—two bloggers have weighed in with their own respective wish lists for twelve months of books by Arab and South Asian writers (who, yes, happen to be female).

  • January 23, 2014

    Binyavanga Wainaina

    Binyavanga Wainaina

    In response to anti-gay laws recently passed in Nigeria and Uganda, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina, author of books such as One Day I Will Write About This Place and editor of the Nairobi-based journal Kwani, has revealed that he is gay.

    Triple Canopy has announced the lineup for its third annual marathon reading of Gertrude Stein’s novel The Making of Americans. The event will start this Friday at 5pm and conclude sometime Sunday night, and readers will include Amy Sillman, Lynne Tillman, Charles Bernstein, and many others. If you can’t make it to Triple Canopy’s Brooklyn space, you can tune in to the livestream here.

    An illuminating film about the late internet activist Aaron Swartz premiered at Sundance this week. At the New Yorker, Tim Wu considers what makes The Internet’s Own Boy, by Brian Knappenberger, so revealing: “The film confirms what everyone has said about Swartz,” writes Wu, “that he was difficult, foolish, and self-important in a way that is particular to smart young men, and that he was smart, idealistic, and vulnerable.”

    Library Journal suggests a dozen books we should read this spring.

    For the first time in twenty years, the venerable Oxford English Dictionary has a new editor. Read what he has to say about his neo-Victorian enterprise here.

    Speaking of Gertrude Stein, a new translation of an old novel by Hassan Najmi considers the lives of Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, from a Moroccan perspective, upending some of the myths of Tangiers (think Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs) along the way.

  • January 22, 2014

    ezra klein

    Ezra Klein

    Journalist and policy analyst Ezra Klein is leaving the Washington Post to “start his own venture.” The Times reports that Klein, who runs the paper’s Wonkblog, recently approached publisher Katharine Weymouth to discuss launching a new, WaPo-backed website “dedicated to explanatory journalism on a wide range of topics beyond political policy.” Weymouth and the the paper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, decided not to support the venture, so Klein is setting out to start the site elsewhere—and taking two Wonkblog staffers with him. As Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann quips: “At last—a Buzzfeed for smug wonk meritocrats!”

    Not to be outdone, the Washington Post has meanwhile announced that it will partner with the Volokh Conspiracy, a blog about law and public policy.

     At the New York Times India Ink blog: a chat with Jonathan Shainin about subcontinental foreign correspondence.

    About four years ago, a journalism professor named Ted Gup found a first edition of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (1890) in a used bookshop in Washington DC. He bought it, read it, wrote about it, and now he has donated it to the New-York Historical Society.

    Writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo to Jaipur festival: American literature is “massively overrated.”

    The German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel is scaling back its English edition.

  • January 21, 2014

    Michael Kinsley is leaving his position as editor at large of The New Republic to become a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, for which he will write a monthly column. He plans write about “what I’ve written about most of the time: politics, in one form or another.”

    Walter Isaacson, author of the bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, is putting together a new encyclopedia of innovators. For some entries, he is trying out some unorthodox methods: He’s crowdsourcing the edits.

    The Paris Review has reprinted filmmaker David Cronenberg’s introduction to Susan Bernofsky’s new translation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. At Bookforum, Andrew Hultkrans notes: “In our present era, marked by a ferment of genetic engineering and hybridization (not to mention alienation and economic hardship), revisiting Kafka’s totemic novella seems not only appropriate but necessary.” (In other vaguely Cronenberg-ish news, today marks the release of Call Me Burroughs, Barry Miles’s biography of the author of Naked Lunch, a novel that Cronenberg adapted for the screen.)

    Matthew Derby

    Matthew Derby

    FSG editor Sean McDonald was drawn to the forthcoming book The Silent History—which originated as an app—“because of its unique origins as a nonbook, and because of its ‘literary sensibility.’” The book, by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffat, is part of FSG’s “Originals” series, which focuses on paperbacks (notably John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead) and e-books: formats that cost less to produce and therefore allow “editors to take chances on books that are more experimental.”

    Kathryn Schulz lists the five best uses of punctuation marks in literature.

  • January 20, 2014

    A federal court in San Francisco ruled on Friday that bloggers are entitled to the same free speech protections as a traditional journalists. “As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable,” wrote Andrew Hurwitz, one of the three judges in a federal appeals court panel, which ruled that Crystal Cox, a blogger who lost a defamation case three years ago after writing a post accusing a financial services firm of tax fraud, deserved a new trial and could only be found liable for defamation if she had acted negligently, by the same standards applied, say, to newspaper reporters.

    vladimir nabokov

    Vladimir Nabokov

    “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three,” and other fine examples (beyond that one, from Nabokov’s Lolita) of great punctuation in literature, including parentheses, em dashes, ellipses, and more.

    Wendy Lesser reflects on the joys of literary destruction and writers who break the rules: “Literature that tells lies is not worth the paper it is written on, but a lie is not the same as a fantasy, an invention, an allegory, a myth, a dream. Fiction, drama, poetry, and even essays can be made up and also truthful.”

    Not quite breaking news, but still noteworthy nonetheless: According to The Guardian, most writers are making virtually no money at all, less than $1,000 a year from their work.

    At the New Yorker, Elias Muhanna writes beautifully about the antiquarian bookshop that burned in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, while Jon Michaud remembers his days working as a clerk at Rizzoli, the midtown Manhattan bookstore that is now running, once again, from a wrecking ball.