• June 9, 2014

    At the New Republic, Isaac Chotiner uses Michiko Kakutani’s write-up of Hillary Clinton’s new memoir as a “good lesson in how not to write a review.”

    Robert Silvers

    Robert Silvers

    Robert Silvers recalls how The New York Review of Books became the subject of Martin Scorsese’s latest documentary.

    “The price of a year at college has increased by more than 1,200 percent over the last 30 years, far outpacing any other price the government tracks: food, housing, cars, gasoline, TVs, you name it.” At Salon, Thomas Frank charts the alarming surge in college tuition, which is leaving generations in debt, and which no one seems to be trying to stop.

    Ruth Graham’s new Slate article, which is pegged to the new movie adaptation of John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, argues that adults should be embarrassed to read fiction geared toward teenagers. A barrage of of pro-YA responses quickly followed, with Flavorpill declaring Slate “condescending,” and the New Republic urging you to not let “Slate make you feel ashamed for reading books you love.”

    Tonight, Poets House is hosting a fundraiser, which involves walking across the Brooklyn Bridge; hearing readings by Mark Doty, Thomas Lux, and Vijay Seshadri, and Naomi Shihab Nye; and dinner.

  • June 6, 2014

    Joshua Rothman introduces a new “blog about ideas” at the New Yorker.

    Simon Critchley

    Simon Critchley

    Never mind books, it’s time for the World Cup! Some vaguely literary world cup coverage ahead of the tournament next week: John Cassidy at the New Yorker, and Simon Critchley at Roads & Kingdoms.

    Capital New York reports that the law firm Outten & Golden, which has sued Condé Nast, Hearst, and other media companies for using unpaid interns, may be filing a class action lawsuit against Vice. A few former interns received letters from the firm notifying them of the investigation. Vice began paying interns $10 per hour last year.

    @Everyword, an automated Twitter feed that since 2007 has been dutifully tweeting every word in the English language, has come to the end of the road.

    On Wednesday, Stephen Colbert sent thousands of people to the Powell’s Books website to buy a debut novel by Edan Lepucki. The plug pushed the book, California, to the top of the independent bookstore’s bestseller list, and briefly caused the website to shut down. “I don’t think historically we’ve ever had one single moment in time when this many people have arrived at the site to shop,” the store’s marketing manager said. Colbert’s publisher is Hachette, the company that has been in a dispute with Amazon. Salon approvingly crowned Colbert “the next Oprah.”

    Tests confirm that a copy of Arsène Houssaye’s Des destinées de lame, owned by the Houghton Library, is bound in human skin. The catalogue note describes the binding as “taken from the back of the unclaimed body of a woman patient in a French mental hospital who died suddenly of apoplexy.”


  • June 5, 2014

    Jonathan Shainin

    Jonathan Shainin

    Jonathan Shainin, an editor of the New Yorker website, is moving to London to edit a new section in the Guardian’s print and online editions.

    The McSweeney’s archive, which the Ransom Center in Texas acquired last year, is now open for research.

    Prizes, prizes everywhere: The New York Press Club awards have been announced, with Stephen Brill winning the Gold Keyboard, the most prestigious honor. In England, the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction recognizes Eimear McBride for her first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing; and in Spain, John Banville takes home the Prince of Asturias award for literature.

    The New York Times has created a new “sin and vice” beat, and put the ideally named Mosi Secret on the task. (Secret’s first piece? On a secret strip club.) City Editor David Chang, who came up with the idea for the beat, “is figuring out how to direct the coverage of sin without encroaching on other beats at the paper,” the Observer reports. After all, “murder is a sin but it’s also a crime…so it’s likely that that would be covered by our other beat reporters.”

    A Times editorial excoriates Amazon for its recent dealings with Hachette: “What seems clear is that Amazon is using its market power — the company accounts for about 40 percent of new books, print and digital, sold in the United States and more than 50 percent in Germany — to get the best deal for itself while it squeezes publishers, annoys its customers and hurts authors by limiting their sales.”

    A short animated video re-stages a poignant conversation about happiness between Simon Critchley and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, held at the Rubin Museum of Art in 2012. “There is no pleasure that I haven’t actually made myself sick on,” Hoffman says.

  • June 4, 2014

    The New Yorker’s love-themed summer fiction issue includes stories by Rachel Kushner, David Gilbert, Karen Russell, and Ramona Ausubel. The lineup looks good, but the video “preview” is twee and pointless.

    James Joyce’s eyesight worsened because he had syphilis, a scholar claims. The smoking gun is apparently a medication he was prescribed, galyl, a combination of arsenic and phosphorus that was exclusively used to treat the disease.

    Rebecca Solnit celebrates the #yesallwomen hashtag, and connects it to a handful of recently coined terms describing elements of women’s experience. The new language marks a turning point in feminism, she argues: “Domestic violence, mansplaining, rape culture, and sexual entitlement are among the linguistic tools that redefine the world many women encounter daily and open the way to begin to change it.” Meanwhile, Mallory Ortberg explains “how not to review women’s writing.” A few things to avoid: denying that the work at hand is art or arguing that it’s “immodest”; claiming that one set of experience is more valuable than another; referring to women artists as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists; asserting that the woman in question is “eccentric or atypical”; and claiming that only one work among a whole ouevre is any good.

    Darcey Steinke

    Darcey Steinke

    Darcey Steinke remembers meeting Kurt Cobain twenty years ago, when she interviewed him for Spin: “Listening to the six hours of interview tapes, 20 years later, I can’t help noticing that it’s not only Kurt who seems fragmented. It is distressing how rootless and superficial I sound. I ask music-biz questions, I laugh a lot, but I am incapable of connecting with either Kurt’s anxiety or his interest in fatherhood.”

    Reddit, Imgur, and BoingBoing are coordinating on a day of action against NSA surveillance. They will argue for“more direct action,” and encourage people to “install privacy and encryption tools.”

  • June 3, 2014

    The New Inquiry announces that Ayesha Siddiqi, who recently left Buzzfeed Ideas, will be succeeding Rachel Rosenfelt as the online magazine’s new editor in chief.

    Ayesha Siddiqi

    Ayesha Siddiqi

    The Supreme Court has refused an appeal by the New York Times reporter James Risen, who was subpoenaed to testify in a criminal case against a former CIA officer. Risen is resisting on the grounds that he has the right to protect his sources’ identities.

    At the Guardian, James Camp explains BookCon: “BEA is for the book people: for three days, identified by booth or badge, they had sat or milled and done business, or seemed to. BookCon was for the people who like books. The idea was to interact.”

    Two owners of the tiny Australian e-book publisher that originally published Fifty Shades of Grayare suing for a share in the profits.

    Oliver Stone has announced that he will direct a movie adaptation of The Snowden Files. The movie about the NSA whistleblower will be in competition with another, similar project, No Place to Hide, adapted from Glenn Greenwald’s book on Snowden.

    At the London Review of Books, Zoë Heller on Jennifer Senior’s book about parenting, All Joy and No Fun. Senior has limited her definition of parenthood to include the kind done by “American, middle-class, heterosexual, married” people, Heller points out. “She has deliberately excluded the poor because the problems they encounter as parents are hard to separate from their more general money problems. She has also left out the rich because they can afford to outsource the arduous or tedious parts of child-rearing.” But why has she left out single people? “Given that the marriage rate in the US is the lowest it’s been in more than a century and that in 2013 nearly half of the first-time births in the US were to unmarried women, her focus on the nuclear family seems a bit quaint.”

  • June 2, 2014

    For those of you who missed BookExpo America (or who were there but fear you missed something), Publisher’s Weekly has rounded up the 2014 convention’s big books.

    At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad wonders if Seymour Hirsh aided Syria with “unprofessional journalism.”

    Ruth Franklin

    Ruth Franklin

    If you’re in New York tonight, the Housing Works bookstore is hosting what promises to be an interesting roundtable, organized by VIDA, on literary biography. Participants include Jill Lepore (author of Jane Franklin), Rebecca Mead (who has written about George Eliot and Middlemarch), Ruth Franklin (who is working on a biography of Shirley Jackson), and Salamishah Tillet (Nina Simone). Poet and biographer Diane Mehta moderates.

    Vice Magazine lashes out at Gawker’s “garbage click-bait journalism,” which includes a recent “inaccurate and irresponsible story about VICE’s workplace.”

    If you haven’t exhausted yourself with stories about Amazon’s fight with Hachette, here’s a quick tour of the latest batch: Amazon might be delaying its delivery of Hachette titles because the Internet retailer needs money, or maybe Amazon just “doesn’t care.” Michael Pietsch, famous for his acquisition of Infinite Jest and now chief executive of Hachette, is leading his company and other publishers in the fight against Amazon, and author James Patterson attacked Amazon’s practices at a Book Expo America appearance. Writer Jack Shafer announces that he’s quitting Amazon, Huff Post says it’s almost impossible to ditch Amazon, and Bob Kohn explains how publishers “can beat Amazon.”

  • May 30, 2014

    A young Maya Angelou

    A young Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou died on Wednesday at the age of 86. An obituary in the New York Times praises her “directness of voice.” The Wall Street Journal says she will be “remembered above all as the ‘people’s poet.’”  The LA Times calls her “a diva of American culture.” At the Poetry Foundation, read a sampling of her poems.

    I want to say to you that you are graduating at a difficult time, when everything you might have taken for granted in a capitalist democracy, including certification by institutions of higher education and consequent stable employment, is more problematic than ever.” The Baffler has reprinted author Siddhartha Deb‘s New School commencement speech.

    A new stage work titled The Source, which is inspired by WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning, will premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. The Source will feature music composed by Ted Hearne with a libretto by Mark Doten, whose anticipated debut novel, The Infernal, will be published by Graywolf in February 2015.

    Capital New York reports that The American Prospect, which is now published bimonthly, will likely reinvent itself as a quarterly for financial reasons.

    Electric Literature launched a new website this week, and has hired a new online editor, Lincoln Michel, formerly of the Minus Times and the author of Upright Beasts, a story collection forthcoming from Coffee House Press.

    James Patterson has donated $268,000 to independent bookstores, including San Francisco’s Green Apple Books and Moe’s Books in Berkeley. This is the second round of gifts this year; all told, he’s spent more than $535,000. He plans to give a total of $1 million.

    Salon explores Amazon’s relationship to literary nonprofits, many of which rely on the company for key funding. A number of the organizations that Salon asked for comment declined to respond—a “scary sign of Amazon’s massive power.”

  • May 29, 2014

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    A blogger points out that the New York Times’s characterization of Eduardo Galeano as having “renounced” his anticapitalist, anticolonialist classic, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America), doesn’t hold water. When you look at the evidence the paper itself provides, it’s hard to see Galeano’s comments as a “disavowal,” (as the Times sensationally called them); rather, “Galeano offered a critique of [his book] and its young author, with the benefit of hindsight and forty-plus years of experience.”

    Gillian Flynn, the author of the much-celebrated Gone Girl, has announced that her next novel will be based on Hamlet. The book will be put out by Hogarth Shakespeare, “a project to retell the Bard’s plays for contemporary readers by well-known writers.”

    The Washingtonian profiles journalist Andrew Sullivan, who has returned to D.C. after an unhappy stint in New York.

    According to the Times, BookExpo America, which opened yesterday at Manhattan’s Javits Center, is trying to be seen as “more welcoming and fun,” by featuring “consumer-friendly attractions like the ‘Hunger Games’ quiz.”

    At a BookExpo event, Kirkus Reviews revealed that it will be sponsoring three $50,000 book prizes, one each in fiction, nonfiction, and YA.

  • May 28, 2014

    Mahbod Moghadam, one of the co-founders of Rap Genius (a website that lets users annotate rap lyrics), has resigned over annotations he made to a memoir written by Elliot Rodger, the alleged shooter of six UCSB students. Tom Lehman, the company CEO, said in a statement that Moghadam’s comments “not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.”

    Edward St. Aubyn

    Edward St. Aubyn

    The New Yorker‘s Ian Parker profiles Edward St. Aubyn, the author of the five-book Patrick Melrose series—”in which extremes of familial cruelty and social snobbery are described with a tart precision that is not quite free of cruelty and snobbery”—and a new novel, Lost for Words. “St. Aubyn has been careful to protect his own life from the dull tarnish of remembrance-and-release; it would pain him if readers mistook a twenty-year literary project for a therapeutic one,” Parker observes. “But the awkward fact is that writing saved St. Aubyn’s life.”  Alexander Benaim reviewed Lost for Words for Bookforum last week.

    At the Huffington Post, a look at why Amazon can play hardball with book publishers: “Hachette needs Amazon a lot more than Amazon needs Hachette.”

    Ken Auletta reports that Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, refused to sign a nondisparagement agreement after being fired from her post. Auletta has been covering the story for the New Yorker since it broke.

    Texas state senator Wendy Davis’s memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid, will be published this fall by Blue Rider Press. Davis, who is best known for her eleven-hour filibuster to prevent a senate bill that would restrict access to abortion, is also running for governor in November.

    The New Yorker has made selections of Jack Kerouac’s diaries available to the public.

  • May 27, 2014

    Margaret Atwood’s debut opera, Pauline, has opened in Vancouver. The libretto describes the life and last days of Pauline Johnson, a Canadian writer of Mohawk and British descent who died in 1913.

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    Since its publication 43 years ago, Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of the Continent has been an anticolonialist and anticapitalist classic. Recently, the Uruguayan author reflected on the book’s limitations. “Open Veins tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn’t yet have the necessary training or preparation,” Mr. Galeano said.

    John Wray reflects that working under a pen name has allowed him to be less inhibited as a writer. “John Wray isn’t so different from poor, nebbishy John P. Henderson from Buffalo, New York. He’s just slightly better company—at least when the work is going well. When it isn’t, needless to say, he’s insufferable; but that’s when I remind myself, with a physical rush of relief, that John Wray doesn’t actually exist.”

    David Carr of the Times covers Medium, a hybrid blogging platform that doubles as a publisher.

    Amazon’s tactics against other publishers are undermining the qualities that made the company successful in the first place, writes Farhad Manjoo:  “To win a corporate battle, Amazon is ruining its customer experience”—i.e., “raising prices, removing ordering buttons, lengthening shipping times and monkeying with recommendation algorithms.”