• May 23, 2014

    Time Magazine is moving to Lower Manhattan and breaking a long-standing industry taboo by beginning to sell ads on its cover.

    Eudora Welty

    Eudora Welty

    In March of 1933, a twenty-three-year-old Eudora Welty wrote a winning letter to the New Yorker asking for a job: “How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning—a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.” Also: “I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works—quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.” They didn’t hire her.

    Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Bishop both disliked J.D. Salinger’s novels. “I don’t like Salinger, not at all,” McCarthy sniffed. “That last thing isn’t a novel anyway, whatever it is. I don’t like it. Not at all. It suffers from this terrible sort of metropolitan sentimentality and it’s so narcissistic. And to me, also, it seemed so false, so calculated. Combining the plain man with an absolutely megalomaniac egotism. I simply can’t stand it.” Norman Mailer disliked Salinger too, but also McCarthy . . . and Kerouac, and Gore Vidal; while Vidal had it in for Hemingway, who had it in for Faulkner, who had it in for Twain. The Huffington Post maps the aesthetic grudges of twenty-five writers.

    Philip Roth, as we know, is finished with the whole shebang: writing books, giving readings, doing interviews—except, well, that “extended interview” that the Colbert Report has scheduled for July.

    Vellum turns your Twitter feed into a reading list, ranking the articles according to those most shared (and, we hope, read?) by the people you follow.

  • May 22, 2014

    Two reviewers, Christopher T. Fan at the New Inquiry and Diane Johnson at the New York Review of Books, discuss Chang-Rae Lee’s January novel, On Such a Full Sea, a few months after the rest of the crew. Johnson wonders why writers are attracted to dystopic fiction, “an unlovable genre with an inevitably hectoring tone.”

    At The Cut, Kat Stoeffel defends the use of trigger warnings, writing from the point of view of someone who used to dislike them: “I publicly joked that sappy songs required trigger warnings, and I privately complained that they were as infantilizing as spoiler alerts.”  But lately she’s changed her mind. “When it comes to what’s helpful for, say, survivors of sexual assault, shouldn’t we defer to survivors of sexual assault?”

    Laura Miller explains why she “quit” Amazon, and where she finds her books instead: “I’ve bought e-books for my iPad from four different non-Amazon vendors (Apple, Google, Barnes and Noble and Kobo), easy as pie, and I buy used print books from AbeBooks and Powells.com. I subscribe to Oyster, a new Netflix-for-books service. I also belong to Paperbackswap.com, a site that, for a small fee, enables its members to trade in their used books for credits that can be redeemed for the used books of other members.” Bookforum recommends Emily Books, a subscription to which delivers a curated selection of excellent, off-beat novels, one novel per month.

    Simon & Schuster has become the second of the big five publishers to offer titles on Oyster and Scribd, two services that allow users unlimited access to their e-books collection for a monthly fee.

    Stefan Zweig

    Stefan Zweig

    Tonight in New York, two literary events worth your time: In Brooklyn, Eric Banks chats with George Prochnik about his Stefan Zweig biography; in Manhattan, Porochista Khakpour talks about her new novel, The Last Illusion.

  • May 21, 2014

    Geoff Dyer

    Geoff Dyer

    At Vulture, Kathryn Schultz praises Geoff Dyer’s uncanny success with books “based on dubious ideas”—say, the unpromising “scene-by-scene analysis of a three-hour Russian film,” or the annoying-sounding book about “the author’s inability to write it.” But Dyer is a master: “The essential fact about [his] nonfiction is that it works beautifully when it shouldn’t work at all.” Another Great Day at Sea came out yesterday.

    Publishers Weekly is debuting a new site, “BookLife,” devoted to self-publishing. BookLife will launch in late May, during BookExpo America. BookWriters sans BookPublishers, take note.

    Speaking of the BookExpo—or BEA, as it’s known—a good twenty thousand “industry folk” are expected to attend this year’s convention, which will be held May 28-31 at the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

    The New York Review of Books offers a grim new poem by Frederick Seidel, “Robespierre”:  “There’s a wishing well in hell / Where every wish is granted. / Decapitation gets decanted. / Suppose you have the chance / To guillotine the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France?”

    At the Paris Review Daily, Ted Trautman reports from Austin’s O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. In the “Punslingers” portion of the event, contestants compete to come up with as many puns as possible on a given theme, a game that “rewards a contestant for the quantity of her puns rather than their quality.” The going wasn’t easy: “As the moderators explained several times, in a refrain later echoed by desperate contestants defending their ripostes, ‘It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be a pun.’”

    Lisa Darms, an archivist at the Fales Library, interviews Hedi El Kholti of Semiotext(e) about the independent publisher’s inclusion in the Whitney Biennial. “I am not sure if a press belongs in a museum show,” El Kholti says, but “there is a tradition of reading rooms in museums.” And “a lot of things end up in the art world because it’s the last remaining place that offers some kind of freedom and a context.”

  • May 20, 2014

    Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary now includes the words “hashtag,” “selfie,” “tweep,” “gamification,” and, rather belatedly, “social networking.”

    The New York Times reports on the increasing use of trigger warnings, which flag upsetting content that may “trigger” a post-traumatic stress reaction. At UC Santa Barbara, the student government made a formal request asking that trigger warnings be used on course material, and similar requests have been made at Oberlin, Rutgers, the University of Michigan, and George Washington University. The suggestion that classic works of literature need warnings has been particularly controversial. Two examples: The Merchant of Venice, because it contains anti-Semitism, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, because it addresses suicide.Times readers were triggered into leaving a slew of comments.

    The Atlantic lists a hundred examples from the past year of “fantastic” journalism.

    Maude Newton

    Maude Newton

    The critic Maude Newton has announced that Random House will publish her first book, a study of genealogy that grew out of a piece she wrote for the current issue of Harper’s, “America’s Ancestry Craze.”

    Poynter reports that since 2006, Buzzfeed has published 22,500 pieces about cats, 12,500 of those since 2012. Never enough, we say, never enough.

    A new book maps the proliferation of allusions—including references to Ovid, Virgil, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells, and self-help books—in Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.

  • May 19, 2014

    Politico reports that New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger fired executive editor Jill Abramson last week after concluding that she had give him misleading information about her decision to hire a new co-managing editor. According to sources, Abramson led Sulzberger to believe that she had consulted with other editors about the candidate she wanted to hire. Many have called the dismissal graceless (and some, such as Salon’s Daniel D’Addario, have said that she was fired for seeking a salary equal to that of her male predecessor, Bill Keller). It certainly has shaken up the newsroom—one staffer leaked (to Buzzfeed) a 96-page internal “innovation” report, which the Neiman Journalism Lab says is “one of the key documents of this media age.” Buzzfeed goes far, headlining one post about the leaked document “The End of the Print New York Times.” 

    Dan Kois

    Dan Kois

    At Slate, two editors, Dan Kois and Laura Helmuth, debate their very different editorial methods. Says Kois: “I want writers to walk away bruised but invigorated and wanting more. Like they just ran Tough Mudder or something.”

    If you read the new anthologies MFA vs. NYC and Should I Go to Grad School? and you still want to get an advanced degree in writing, Publisher’s Weekly has published its first MFA survey, with quotes from writers, teachers, and agents.

    Chipotle plans to start running short original works fiction on its drink cups, by authors including Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and Jonathan Safran Foer. The Daily Dot has an exclusive excerpt of George Saunders’s new fast-food fiction.

    For and against Karl Ove Knausgaard: In the Nation, William Deresiewicz asks why My Struggle has gotten so much attention; in the LRB, Ben Lerner answers that it has something to do with the quality of Knausgaard’s attention. Obviously, “Knausgaard couldn’t remember his past in the degree of detail the books provide. . . . But the cumulative effect of his descriptions is to suggest the possibility of total recall, a past citable in all its moments: each cornflake, each snowflake.”

  • May 16, 2014

    The conversation continues apace about Wednesday’s firing of Jill Abramson from her post as executive editor of the New York Times, which may have been tied to Abramson’s complaints about her compensation. At the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen is cheered by the generally feminist tone of the response to the incident—“Not too long ago, a reader would have had to head to feminist websites (or, longer ago, zines) to find the sort of thinking now represented at some of America’s most mainstream news publications”—and at New York Magazine, Ann Friedman reflects on the difficulty of being a woman in the newsroom: “It’s hard to be sure what’s sexism and what’s you.” Meanwhile, Olga Khazan points out that the story is likely more complicated than the “social-justice-resonant narrative that gained traction on Twitter,” and notes that the Times has said that Abramson’s compensation was not less than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta crunches the numbers: “Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes.” The Times’s insistence that Abramson wasn’t making significantly less than Keller was likely based on her total compensation package, Auletta explains, “which includes . . . any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives.” But it’s hard to evaluate this without more information from the paper. Finally, the New Republic’s Rebecca Traister laments the lack of women and people and color in positions of greatest power, which “makes each one of the representatives come to mean so much more—both when they rise and when they fall.”

    Natalie Nougayrède

    Natalie Nougayrède

    On the other side of the ocean, an oddly similar story: LeMonde’s first female editor in chief, Natalie Nougayrède, has left the paper “after a power struggle with top staff.”

    Michelle Dean snippily advises Joyce Carol Oates to delete her Twitter account.

    Rebecca Mead considers George Eliot’s choice to write books instead of have children.

    Francine Prose and Mohsin Hamid discuss the drawbacks of commercial success in literature. The trouble with public acknowledgment, Prose argues, is “the ease with which the public can seep into the private and poison the writer’s work, like some kind of toxic spill.”

    Jonathan Safran Foer + Chipotle cups = all the more reason to avoid the burrito chain.

  • May 15, 2014

    Jill Abramson

    Jill Abramson

    The New York Times announced yesterday that its executive editor, Jill Abramson, is leaving. She will be replaced by her managing editor, Dean Baquet. The publisher didn’t go into detail about the reasons for the change, saying that it was “an issue of newsroom management,” but Ken Auletta reports at the New Yorker‘s blog that there’s rumor that it may have had to do with Abramson’s dissatisfaction over her pay and pension benefits, which were significantly lower than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. Abramson, who was the first female executive editor of the paper, has been described—controversially—as difficult to work with. Last year, a POLITICO article quoted anonymous sources complaining about Abramson’s management style; one person called her “impossible.”

    At the Nation, Scott Sherman examines the reasons for the beleaguered state of university presses.

    Depressingly, readers of the Times spend as much time reading paid advertising as they do news stories.

    A handful of news organizations and digital publications—including Vice, Mother Jones, Mashable, and Digg—have joined forces to report on Ukraine. So far, the cooperation consists of agreeing to use the hashtag #Ukrainedesk on all Ukraine stories.

    The Observer identifies the 128 people in Brooklyn it considers most influential. On the literary front, the list namechecks Garth Risk Hallberg, who sold his debut novel to Knopf last year for nearly two million dollars, and Colson Whitehead, who’s apparently on the list because he lives in Brooklyn and is a “literary pillar,” whatever that means.

    Sony Pictures has bought the film rights to No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald’s book about Edward Snowden.

  • May 14, 2014

    Sylvère Lotringer

    Sylvère Lotringer

    The data protection office in the German state of Hamburg is challenging Google on its data collection practices, which the agency says violate German rules.

    Tonight, at Artist Space in New York, see Sylvère Lotringer discuss “Schizo-Culture.” The event will open with Lodovico Pignatti Morano reading from Nicola, Milan, a novel soon to be published by Semiotext(e). Penny Arcade, Jim Fletcher, and Gary Indiana will also be in attendance.

    At the New Inquiry, Nathan Jurgenson revisits the recent Vivian Maier documentary as a way of discussing modern street photography and consent: “The street photographer’s practice is a powerful force today, pursued [by] . . . the masses of smartphone-carrying camera flâneurs, as well as by the corporate and governmental surveillance apparatuses surrounding us. . . . Street photography is not just a photographic process any longer but a cultural ethos, an obsessive way of seeing the world as always possessable, to be acquired, collected, managed, and ultimately sold.”

    Now that plans to renovate the New York Public Library have been canceled, its fate is unclear. Most of the research collection has been moved off-site. “Are empty stacks going to be the permanent and visible sign of the library’s recent misadventure?” wonders Caleb Crain at the New Yorker. “A few years ago, the library spent fifty million dollars restoring its façade. It’s painful to think that the money can’t be found to repair its heart.”

    Forbes lampoons Vox—the newish website whose mandate is to condense and distill complex news—by explaining the website in its own style. Matt Saccaro of the Daily Dot points to several recent embarrassments for the website, which he says “almost immediately abandoned its ‘the smartest thinkers and the toughest questions’ mantra for drones rather than thinkers, and sharebait instead of questions.”

    The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, has yet to report on the Amazon/Hachette dispute (i.e., the fact that Amazon appears to be delaying shipments of Hachette books).

  • May 13, 2014

    It’s now possible to avoid people on Twitter without actually un-following them: Witness the “mute” function, ye conflict-averse, and rejoice.

    Of sixty-six obituaries recently published in the Times, only seven of them were for women, according to an unofficial count done by the poet Lynne Melnick.

    Zia Haider Rahman

    Zia Haider Rahman

    James Wood celebrates Zia Haider Rahman’s debut novel, a book “unashamed by many varieties of knowledge” that “takes for granted a capacity for both abstract and worldly thinking.” As Wood observes, “it wears its knowledge heavily, as a burden, a crisis, an injury,” asking “who gets to be called ‘educated,’ and why?”

    Jessica Loudis, a former Bookforum editor, made an appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show to talk about a new book she edited, Should I Go to Grad School? Joining her were two contributors to the collection, the artist David Levine and the writer Michelle Orange. Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote about Should I Go to Grad School? for our April/May issue.

    Marilynne Robinson explains why she doesn’t write about “contemporary culture”: I’d have to educate myself about what contemporary culture is, because all of these words are essentially meaningless to me. Then if I used them they would be passé by the time I had learned everything about them. So I might as well just write about 1956.”

    At the New York Review of Books, Jerome Groopman on a phalanx of books about memory.

  • May 12, 2014

    Salon reports that Amazon has been delaying shipments of books published by Hachette, claiming that readily available bestsellers by authors such as Stephen Colbert and Malcolm Gladwell will take two to three weeks to ship. As the Times explains: “Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author.” Amazon has yet to explain the slowdown, but most agree that the online megastore is attempting to assert their power and weaken publishers: “The company has a variety of tactics it can unleash to get publishers to discount their prices, and delay fronting the bill, which include algorithms that can bury books or publishers.”

    At a private reception following his reading at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday, Philip Roth, who announced his retirement from writing fiction last year, declared that he will give no more public readings.

    Gawker is hiring bloggers. “All over the internet, in and out of traditional media, talented writers are overlooked and underused. If you’re trapped by the bureaucracy, inertia, or institutional fear of your current employer, we can help you break free (and accelerate).”

    A page collected by Book Traces

    A page collected by Book Traces

    Alexis Madrigal writes about BookTraces, a project that collects images of how readers have marked copies of books published before 1923. “Marginalia, inscriptions, photos, original manuscripts, letters, drawings, and many other unique pieces of historical data can be found in individual copies.”

    The Guardian offers a cunning visual guide to the gothic novel that points out, among other things, that the villain usually usually has scary eyes, on a spectrum from “spine-tingling” to “can actually kill you,” while the heroine is a “pious, virginal orphan, prone to fainting.” On one end there’s Dracula‘s Mina, who faints once, or Agnes, in The Monk, who faints twice. Then there’s Emily, who in The Mysteries of Udolpho faints no fewer than ten times. The data is good, and so is its graphic presentation. Franco Moretti would be proud.