• February 17, 2014

    Could the CIA  be the most literary government agency? Consider its possible ties to the Paris Review, and to the Iowa Writers Workshop.

    Robert W. Chambers’s 1895 story collection The King in Yellow features a play that is so full of terrible truths that it drives viewers insane. The book has been an influence on many writers: H.P. Lovecraft, and now Nic Pizzolatto, the author behind HBO’s True Detective. The vivid miniseries is littered with references to Chambers’s work, hinting that the moody drama may get even darker—and more supernatural. For more on the show, see Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s take, “True Detective: A Pure Visual Novel.”

    At the Financial Times, Geoff Dyer reports on his lunch with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who collaborated with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and who is now working for the soon-to-launch First Look Media, the $250m project of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

    Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman has written a brief scene featuring the main character from her hit novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., which considers what the Brooklyn-based cad would do for Valentine’s Day.

    New Yorker editor David Remnick has just returned from a brief stint as a TV commentator at the Olympics, saying of his work at the opening ceremony: “This is not a televised document, a scholarly documentary. After all, it is Cirque du Soleil.” Remnick, who has written extensively on Russia, is rumored to be writing a piece on the Games.

  • February 14, 2014

    Arundhati Roy, William Dalrymple, and Neil Gaiman are among the writers who have condemned Penguin’s decision to collect and destroy Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus in India. Penguin decided to pull the book from shelves in response to legal threats, based on the assertion that Doniger’s study, published in 2009, “hurts the feelings of millions of Hindus.”

    The shortlist for the Folio Prize, the first major literary award to consider English-language fiction and poetry from all over the world, has been announced. Five of the eight nominees are American: Bookforum contributor Rachel Kushner, Amity Gaige, Kent Haruf, George Saunders, and Sergio De La Plava (whose novel was originally self-published). Eimear McBride, Jane Gardam, and Anne Carson are also on the shortlist.

    Anne Carson

    Anne Carson

    The New York Times Magazine is wrapping up its search for an editor, and Capital New York has posted a story naming the four final candidates.

    An app called “Hemingway” aims to help you revise your work in the image of the great writer by highlighting cuttable adverbs, words or sentences that could be shortened, and instances of the passive voice. At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Ian Crouch experimented with feeding some of Papa’s work into the app, and found that certain classic passages, like the opening of “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,” were judged to be merely “OK;” too complex, really, for the app’s liking.

    Citizenship for sale: Atossa Araxia Abrahamian on buying a passport in Malta.

    Joe Gould, the colorful New York character made famous by Joseph Mitchell’s legendary New Yorker pieces received money from an anonymous donor during the ‘40s. At Vanity Fair, Joshua Prager reveals the identity of the woman Gould called “Madame X,” but finds that her reasons for supporting Gould—and then suddenly withdrawing her stipend—remain a mystery.

    Tim Parks wonders why literary biographers turn their subjects into saints.


  • February 13, 2014

    Wendy Doniger

    Wendy Doniger

    Penguin India is planning to recall and destroy all copies of scholar Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History that are currently for sale in India. This measure is the publisher’s response to legal threats made by Hindu nationalists, who have decried the book for “inaccurately representing the religion and offering an overly sexual interpretation of Hindu texts.” The lawsuit against the book, filed by Dina Nath Batra, the head of a Hindu education group in New Delhi, claims that the book has “has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus,” and therefore violates a section of the Indian Penal Code known as 295A. In the out-of-court settlement, Penguin India agreed to destroy all remaining copies within six months (pirated versions of the e-book are apparently already on the rise). Doniger’s book was met with critical acclaim as well as protest when it was released in 2009. The National Book Critics Circle named it a finalist for its award in nonfiction, and the organization has also written an open letter speaking out against Penguin India’s decision to pulp the book. Doniger herself has issued a statement, saying that she doesn’t blame her publisher for caving in to the threats, but that she is “deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate.”

    At the Times, Zoe Heller and Francine Prose take up the topic of negative book reviews: would it be better just to ignore the bad books of the world? Prose thinks not: “If something bothers me that much, life is too short not to say so.” And Heller agrees: “Banning ‘negativity’ is not just bad for the culture; it is unfair to authors.”

    What does it feel like to be hired by the New Yorker? According to Ariel Levy, it’s like gaining admittance to a secret treehouse.

    Christopher Lyon considers the work of poet Robert Duncan and his partner, Jess.

    Astra Taylor discusses her forthcoming book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, and makes the case that print books are still the most interesting and innovative medium for authors: “I’m standing by books because they offer writers the space to dig in, to see if formal innovations and experiments can hold up, and provide the space for authors to take ideas to their limits.”

  • February 12, 2014

    According to the blog EV Grieve, novelist and performer Maggie Estep died earlier this week. In the early ’90s, Estep was a vital presence in the East Village spoken-word scene. She appeared regularly on MTV and toured with the Lallapalooza festival in 1994. She has written seven novels, including Diary of an Emotional Idiot (1997) and, more recently, the horsetrack noirs Hex (2003) and Flamethrower (2010).

  • Ursula Lindsey reports on the 2014 Cairo International Book Fair.

    At the New Yorker, George Packer has written a thorough history of Amazon, and asks if the superstore is “bad for books.” Packer writes: “Amazon is not just the ‘Everything Store,’ to quote the title of Brad Stone’s rich chronicle of Bezos and his company; it’s more like the Everything. What remains constant is ambition, and the search for new things to be ambitious about.”

    AA Gill has received the annual Hatchet Job Award for his acerbic review of Morrissey’s Autobiography, which the critic called “a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words … a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.” According to the Guardian, the award ceremony will be held next Tuesday at London’s Coach and Horses pub, where Gill will be presented with a golden hatchet and a year’s supply of potted shrimp. This is not the first time Gill has been recognized for his barbed commentary: One headline from the London Evening Standard reads “Chef attacked kitchen worker after critic AA Gill called food ‘disgusting.'”

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel—the author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies—will be the first living novelist to have her portrait in the British Library.

    Howell Raines wrote a memoir about fly fishing. Joseph Lelyveld wrote a biography of Ghandi. And Max Frankel wrote a memoir about his years at the New York Times. Following Bill Keller’s announcement that he will leave his position at the Times, Poynter looks at what other executive editors have done after leaving their positions at the Gray Lady.

    According to Search Engine Journal, Google has announced its plans to launch a new content-recommendation system for publishers. According to an email sent out by Google sales representatives: “Our engineers are working on a content recommendation beta that will present users relevant internal articles on your site after they read a page. This is a great way to drive loyal users and more pageviews.”

  • February 11, 2014

    The Wilson Quarterly has drastically cut its staff and will likely cease publication after four decades of distinguished journalism. Paul Maliszewski, a longtime reader and occasional contributor to the quarterly, reflects on the magazine’s past and tries to get answers about its future.

    Influential cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82.

    Stuart Hall

    Stuart Hall

    The conservative imprint Threshold Editions is planning a biography of Chris Christie, which is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2015. The book’s author, Matt Katz, has reported on the governor for his blog, the Christie Chronicles, as well as for WNYC and elsewhere.

    Will a new volume of Robert Frost’s letters change our image of the poet? Frost’s authorized biographer, Lawrance Thompson, depicted a cold, cruel man, but scholars are promising a more nuanced picture will emerge with the fullest ever publication of Frost’s correspondence.

    Author Walter Kirn expresses his admiration, hopes, and fears in an open letter (in video form) to Gary Shteyngart.

  • February 10, 2014

    Novelist Alexander Chee has written a thoughtful and eloquent essay about Twitter outrage, Twitter apologies, and how they reflect the world we live in now. “Who knows what we thought we’d get when we let the Internet into our lives,” Chee states, “but whatever it was, what we have now is paper tigers burning in the hot wind of the 4G network—and we are racing after them to watch them burn.”

    Alexander Chee

    Alexander Chee

    In a recently translated essay, W. G. Sebald considers his long fascination with Robert Walser, the endlessly enigmatic Swiss writer: “Who and what Robert Walser really was is a question to which, despite my strangely close relationship with him, I am unable to give any reliable answer.”

    In an essay that will appear in the forthcoming book MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, literary agent Melissa Flashman dwells on her fixation with “popularity as a process and a phenomenon.” Why, she asks, “are certain people, ideas, or stories popular at any given moment?”

    Olivia Laing talks about her book The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, a study of six American alcoholic writers. “Encountering the damage that alcoholics do, both to their own lives and to those around them, is grim, particularly if you have personal experience of it. There were definitely moments when I felt like I’d happily never read about Hemingway again.” For more on Laing’s book, see Gerald Howard’s review in the current Bookforum.

    In anticipation of the Olympics in Sochi, Jeff Sharlet, author of Sweet Heaven When I Die and a frequent Bookforum contributor, traveled to Russia to report on the widespread persecution of gays and lesbians there.

    Haruki Murakami says he regrets his description of the small Japanese town Nakatonbetsu in his story “Drive My Car—Men without Women.” Nakatonbetsu residents have expressed outrage over the story’s portrays of the town’s inhabitants as litterbugs who throw cigarette buts out of their car windows while driving.

    At TLS, Dirk Obbink explains how experts know that two recently found poems were written by Sappho—and what the poems say about the author herself.

  • February 7, 2014

    According to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, First Look will launch its first digital magazine next week. The new site will be run by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, and it will kick off with a number of reported pieces on the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden. First look is also announcing three new hires, journalists Marcy Wheeler, Ryan Gallagher, and Peter Maass, who recently wrote a very interesting article about Poitras and the Snowden leaks for the New York Times Magazine.

    Earlier this week, The New York Observer published a scathing critique of the Times editorial page, including many quotes from unnamed sources inside the newsroom who resented, disliked, or just didn’t respect the op-ed page’s editor Andrew Rosenthal. Now the Washington Post is weighing in, taking down the takedown, with “17 Problems with the New York Observer’s Hit Piece . . . ,” mainly emphasizing that it is bad form to publish ad hominem attacks (or simply negative quotes) from anonymous sources, and noting that “one person’s pettiness and tyranny are another person’s exacting editorial standards.”

    Haruki Murakami

    Haruki Murakami

    The town council of Nakatonbetsu is demanding that novelist Haruki Murakami apologize for suggesting in a story that the city’s residents are inveterate litterbugs.

    At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick considers how the Woody Allen v. Dylan Farrow case is playing out in the “Court of Public Opinion.” And the Times is considering taking the unusual step of publishing a rebuttal by Woody Allen to Dylan Farrow’s now infamous open letter, published on the op-ed page last week.

    Francine Prose and Dana Stevens on the marriage plot’s relevance in 2014.

    New York cinefiles: We strongly recommend an event this evening at NYU’s Deutsches Haus, where Noah Isenberg and Geoffrey O’Brien—two excellent cultural critics who frequently write about film—will discuss the work of director Edgar G. Ulmer. The occasion is the publication of Isenberg’s Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, and coincides with Lincoln Center’s tribute to Ulmer’s often-bizarre work, which includes Detour, The Man from Planet X, and The Amazing Transparent Man.

    The Millions highlights the best literary tweets since 2010.

  • February 6, 2014

    GayPropaganda_CVR_GIF_020414This week, OR Books is launching Gay Propaganda, a collection of LGBT stories from Russia, edited by journalist Masha Gessen (author of many books, including Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot) and American activist Joseph Huff-Hannon. Gay Propaganda’s release is timed to coincide with the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a country where not only is violence against gays and lesbians rampant, but being out makes you a de facto enemy of the Putin regime. For more on what it is like to be LGBT in Russia, see Jeff Sharlet’s recent GQ article, “Inside the Iron Closet.”

    Residents of Nakatonbetsu, Japan, are outraged by Haruki Murakami’s portrayal of townspeople throwing lit cigarettes on the ground, resenting their portrayal as litterbugs by Japan’s most famous author.

    At Bomb, director Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void) interviews Matthew Barney about his new five-and-a-half-hour film opera River of Fundament, which is based on Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings.

    At Electric Literature, Heidi Julavits recommends Adam Wilson’s story, “The Long In-Between,” noting that the tale “reads like a psychological and sociological study of contemporary plumage strategies. It is also incredibly funny.”

  • February 5, 2014

    Roxane Gay has sold her forthcoming book, Hunger: A Weight Memoir, to Harper.

    Andrew Rosenthal

    Andrew Rosenthal

    The Observer has a juicy story about how much reporters at the New York Times resent the paper’s opinion pages, with particular scorn saved for editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal (“He runs the show and is lazy as all get out,” said one reporter), and leading op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman: “We really are embarrassed by what goes on with Friedman. I mean anybody who knows anything about most of what he’s writing about understands that he’s, like, literally mailing it in from wherever he is on the globe. He’s a travel reporter. A joke.”

    Zoe Carpenter reports at The Nation that Republican Representative Mike Rogers is attempting “to silence reporters responsible for stories he considers threatening to national security.” In a hearing with FBI director James Comey, Rogers suggested that reporters who write stories based on stolen documents—such as those leaked by Edward Snowden—have committed crimes.

    This Valentine’s Day, Martin Scorsese’s untitled and unfinished documentary about the New York Review of Books and its history will debut at the Berlin International Film Festival.

    Amazon’s latest publishing imprint, Waterfall Press, will focus on Christian books, both fiction and nonfiction. “Waterfall Press nonfiction will aim to provide spiritual refreshment and inspiration to today’s Christian reader, while fiction will include stories in the romance, mystery, and suspense genres,” Amazon said in a press release.

    A Charlie Chaplin novella from 1948, Footlights, has just been published.

    On Monday night, the 92nd Street Y hosted a discussion between Gary Shteyngart and Elif Batuman. Shteyngart joked about the extensive travel he’s undertaken for his latest book tour: “The things I’ve seen outside of New York, you don’t want to even know. It’s not just Canada. I’m never leaving this island again, I think.” Later, he spoke more seriously about life outside of New York—particularly his experience growing up in Soviet Russia, the subject of his new memoir, Little Failure. He recalls his childhood battle with asthma, which ultimately made his parents decide to move to the US: “In 1974, we didn’t have any [steroid inhalers]. You really got to see mortality up close as a child ’cause you were always about to die.”