• January 30, 2015

    John Leggett, who directed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for sixteen years (1971 to 1987), has died at the age of ninety-seven. Among the students he admitted during his long tenure at the program were T. C. Boyle, Michael Cunningham, Denis Johnson, and Jane Smiley.

    The director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, says he welcomes the recent leaks about the organization’s coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack. “I would like to state that our style guide and our editorial discussion is no secret,” he wrote in an email to the staff. “These so called ‘leaks’ don’t in my opinion prove anything sinister within the newsrooms of Al Jazeera Media Network.”

    The cover story of the New Republic’s first issue post-staff-exodus is about the magazine’s history in terms of race. “How can this magazine,” Jeet Heer asks, “come to terms with a blighted legacy on race and transcend it?” He answers with a survey of the magazine’s achievements and missteps, explaining that “any reformation program should start by honestly acknowledging the past.” The overview, predictably, is heavily apologetic about the magazine’s distant wrongs and rather less self-critical about its more recent doings.

    We noted a while back that plans were in the work for the Associated Press to begin publishing articles written by robots. That dystopic eventuality has arrived. In place of a byline, a line at the bottom of the articles reads “This story was generated by Automated Insights.” The AP assures everyone that the system is logging fewer errors than the humans who used to do the job, and says that no one has been fired to make place for a robot. Instead, writers will be more free to do the interesting rather than the tedious stuff: “That’s the goal,” says the assistant business editor who was in charge of putting the system in place, “to write smarter pieces.”

    Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh is soon the cometh to BAM.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Nathan gives “a performance that will stay with you for as long as you live.” Read: The play is almost five hours long. In the LRB, read John Lahr on the “melancholy core” in O’Neill’s work.

    Anne Enright is Ireland’s first fiction laureate, a position that comes with a €150,000 award. Colm Tóibín, due to his previous involvement with the Art Council of Ireland, chose to withdraw himself from the running.

  • January 29, 2015

    Stieg Larsson is dead, but his character Lisbeth Salander is not. Larsson’s family negotiated with the publisher to choose someone to carry on the book franchise, and together they chose David Lagercrantz, who’s previously co-written a memoir by a soccer star. The new novel will “obviously build on the previous book,” the publisher has said, but it isn’t connected to the unfinished manuscript that Larsson left when he died. That Which Does Not Kill will be out in August in thirty-five countries.

    The new Chipotle cups will feature the work of Aziz Ansari, Julia Alvarez, Walter Isaacson, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Coelho, and Augusten Burroughs, a lineup that could only have been assembled by the generous mastermind who originally conceived of this service to humanity: Jonathan Safran Foer. If you just can’t wait till you get to Chipotle to read your next Chipotle-cup story, Vanity Fair has kindly published them in their entirety.

    After fifteen years of blogging, Andrew Sullivan is giving it up. He’s been doing it long enough, he says—“There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen”—and he wants to do some other things instead:  “I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms.”

    Jonathan Chait

    Jonathan Chait

    The Internet is aflame after Jonathan Chait’s recent New York magazine piece on political correctness. At Vox, Amanda Taub says  that political correctness “doesn’t exist,” at least not as any sort of creed: It’s a “catch-all term we apply to people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we’re willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them.” The Atlantic’s Megan Garber says that what Chait calls “p.c. culture” should be thought of as “empathy culture,” and “doesn’t impede progress.” At Gawker, Alex Pareene argues that Chait “is used to writing off left-wing critics and reserving his real writerly firepower for (frequently deserving) right-wingers. That was, for years, how things worked at the center-left opinion journalism shops.” Now, however, “the destruction of the magazine industry and the growth of the open-forum internet have amplified formerly marginal voices. . . . writers of color can be just as condescending and dismissive of Chait as he always was toward the left. And he hates it.” At In These Times, David Sessions says that the problem with Chait’s article isn’t that he’s wrong about how social media works on the left—Sessions thinks he’s right—“the problem is that he has turned that critique into a sweeping, self-righteous parable about the philosophical superiority of his own brand of liberalism.” The comedian John Hodgman responded to Chait in a series of tweets. In a live interview with the Huffington Post, Chait says he isn’t too disturbed by everyone’s reaction; after all, he’s a “chill guy.”

    n+1 has a series of articles about labor and publishing written by the current or former employees of a handful of magazines: Maxine Phillips on Dissent, Daniel Menaker on the New Yorker, Keith Gessen on n+1; and Gemma Sieff on Harper’s, where, as Sieff recounts, the editors tried unsuccessfully to unionize: “The staff was united behind literature, not the most concrete of common causes.”

  • January 28, 2015

    In this week’s New York magazine, Jonathan Chait sounds the old alarm of “political correctness.” For Chait, trigger warnings and the idea of “mansplaining,” among other Internet-centric phenomena,  amount to a grave hazard to free-speech and liberalism. The Internet, in other words, has given the p.c. cops more reach. “Political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression,” he argues. “Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.” At Jezebel, Jia Tolentino responds, pointing out that “what this whole article is railing against as the American Tone Gestapo Prepared to Destroy the Free Market of Ideas may in actuality just be the new, social-media-enlarged voices of minorities, women, and the people who value them finally daring to disagree.”

    On This American Life, Jezebel writer Lindy West tells the story of an Internet troll who came clean and apologized for tormenting her online.

    Conde Nast is launching “23 Stories by Conde Nast,” a branded-content division that will grant advertisers access to editors, who will help craft marketing campaigns.

    Cate Blanchett in "Carol," an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel

    Cate Blanchett in the movie “Carol,” a forthcoming adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel

    Jack Shafer’s advice to the New Republic editor, Gabriel Snyder: “Kill the institution so a genuinely new institution can be built. No more anniversary issues. No more ‘20 years ago in the New Republic’ featurettes. Unless Snyder indulges his inner destroyer, his magazine will only invite comparison to the old magazine that so few people read anyway!”

    Among the many books that will be turned into movies in 2015—since moviemakers seem to have run out of their own ideas—are Fifty Shades of Gray; Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (the movie version will be called Carol); Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places; Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation; and, of course, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.

  • January 27, 2015

    Dean Baquet. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

    Dean Baquet. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

    At Spiegel, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet says the paper largely “failed” readers in the post-9/11 years, explains why the paper declined to run cartoons of Muhammad during the Charlie Hebdo story, and argues that the next Edward Snowden should bring his story to the Times, since the paper has the “guts” to publish it.

    In the LARB, Roy Scranton writes about the “trauma hero myth” in war literature and in movies like American Sniper, which foreground the suffering of individual soldiers at the expense of the big picture: “We allow the psychological suffering endured by those we sent to kill for us displace and erase the innocents killed in our name.”

    The Times Literary Supplement chastises Salman Rushdie over the word medieval, setting up the novelist to perfectly deploy a Pulp Fiction quote.

    New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow writes about a phone call he received from his son, a student at Yale, whom campus police had stopped at gunpoint while he was leaving the library. “I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious ‘club.’”

    Adam Thirlwell considers whether art can still shock, and presents a gallery of scandales, including Manet’s Olympia, Pussy Riot, and Michel Houellebecq. “Shock, it has to be admitted, is not chic,” Thirlwell writes. “It is so often seen as juvenile, meretricious, boring. Even in 1865, shock was passé.”

  • January 26, 2015

    The diary of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged with being a top level Al Qaeda recruiter, was just published (in heavily redacted form) after a seven-year legal fight. The Times recounts that one of the redacted passages is Slahi writing “I couldn’t help breaking in [redacted].” As the book’s editor explains, “It seems possible, if incredible, that the U.S. government may have here redacted the word ‘tears.’ ”

     Alice K. Turner, Playboy’s fiction editor for two decades, died on January 17 at the age of 75. Over the years, Turner published Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, and David Foster Wallace, among others. She characterized working as an editor as like being in the middle of a web, “with lines of interest and appreciation and often real affection reaching out all over the country, often to writers you’ve never published, and possibly never will.”

     On The Believer website, writers discuss the writers of this generation that have been most influential to them. The list began at A and is now at E, which means you’ll find discussions of Jennifer Egan, Deborah Eisenberg, Louise Erdrich, and Percival Everett, as well as Dave Eggers and Jeffrey Eugenides.

    Vivian Gornick

    Vivian Gornick

    At the Paris Review, read an excerpt of Elaine Blair’s interview with Vivian Gornick, whose new memoir, The Old Woman and the City, is expected in May. Gornick’s independence and severity are in full display in the conversation. “My editor and my agent kept urging me to write more about myself and love,” she says. “But I’ve always known that, for me, love is not really to the point. I’ve never seen how love made people better, stronger, more real to themselves. On the other hand, if I had to live without work, life would be intolerable.”
    Theodore Ross, who work at Harper’s for seven years, is joining the New Republic as features editor.

  • January 23, 2015

    The Economist has hired Zanny Minton Beddoes as editor. Formerly the business affairs editor, she’s the first woman to be in charge at the magazine.

    The New Yorker rounds up its coverage of authors named as 2014 NBCC award finalists (announced Monday), including work by Blake Bailey, Roz Chast, and Elizabeth Kolbert; reviews of Claudia Rankine, Marilynne Robinson, and John Lahr; and criticism by Alexandra Schwartz.

    The NYPD is more closely monitoring the city’s media outlets in the wake of recent attacks in Paris.

    At Artforum, John Ashbery remembers the painter Jane Freilicher, who died last month at the age of 90. Jane was the first person Ashbery met in New York. “Her pictures seem to have come into being all by themselves—almost. The painter sort of showed them how to do it and then returned to her other work—fixing lunch, maybe, opening the mail, and coming back to check on the picture and make sure it hasn’t gone off the rails. The resulting creations look unfinished and incredibly strong.”

    Barrett Brown

    Barrett Brown

    ISIS is supposedly working on a TV channel, to broadcast news 24/7. An Arabic-language teaser appeared last week advertising a channel called the Islamic Caliphate Broadcast. It has since disappeared.

    The journalist Barrett Brown has been sentenced to sixty-three months in prison, after pleading guilty to a variety of charges related to his involvement with the hacking group Anonymous. In a statement to the court, Brown said he regretted having hidden computers from FBI agents and having made videos that threatened an agent who was investigating him. He said he had compromised his role as a journalist when he got in touch with a security firm with an offer to redact material from a 2011 hack, in order to distract the focus from the hacker Jeremy Hammond. But Brown’s expressions of regret, The Intercept reports, came alongside “sharp rebukes of the federal government and the private security firms targeted by the hacks.”

  • January 22, 2015

    Thomas Pynchon, 1953

    Thomas Pynchon, 1953

    Does Thomas Pynchon make a cameo in the movie version of Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice? Josh Brolin said so; Paul Thomas Anderson wouldn’t confirm. But take a look at this clip, which includes a scene in a hospital for recovering drug addicts. At 00:57, you’ll see an older male patient being served soup. Now look at Pynchon’s 1953 yearbook photo, to the right. The angle perfectly reveals the resemblance: There’s the overbite, the receding chin . . .  Hi Tom.

    Five more high-level New Republic  employees—including the design director, the production director, and the communications director—resigned from the magazine over the past week. Meanwhile, TNR is one by one filling the positions abandoned during December’s mass exodus. Jamil Smith and Elspeth Reeve have been named as senior editors, Bijan Stephen as associate editor, and Cathy Park Hong as poetry editor.

    Buzzfeed, king of the listicles, recommends that its staff use the word list instead.

    Phillippe Lançon, a witness and survivor of the attacks, describes “the horribly silent minute that came after the departure of the killers with the black legs.” In a statement to the French magazine Libération, translated and reprinted on the New York Review of Books blog, Lançon recalls that day’s editorial meeting: “It so happens that at that last meeting the subject of debate was none other than French jihadists. Tignous [one of the murdered cartoonists] was by no means defending them but, true kid of the banlieues and survivor of poverty that he was, he wondered just what France had actually done to avoid creating these furious monsters, and launched into a magnificent rant on behalf of these latter-day misérables.”

    Genius collaborated with PolitiFact to annotate Tuesday’s State of the Union address, rating Obama’s statements for their factuality.



  • January 21, 2015

    At n+1, Alicia Garza, one of the organizers (along with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi) behind #blacklivesmatter, talks about how the hashtag was born and where the movement is heading. Garza recounts her reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin: “A lot of what I was hearing and seeing on social media was that they were never going to charge somebody and convict somebody of killing a black child. My thing was: I’m not satisfied with that. I’m not satisfied with the ‘I told you so’ and I’m not satisfied with the nihilistic ‘it’ll never happen’ kind of thing.”

    The National Book Critics Circle has announced its finalists in six categories, along with its three annual awards, with Toni Morrison picking up the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Alexandra Schwartz winning the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and Phil Klay earning the Leonard Prize for an outstanding first book, awarded for his short-story collection Redeployment. Notable finalists include Claudia Rankine for Citizen: An American Lyric, nominated in both the “Poetry” and “Criticism” category (the first time a book has been considered in two genres); Lynne Tillman for her collection of essays, What Would Lynne TIllman Do?; Marlon James for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings; Thomas Piketty for his economics tome, Capital in the Twenty-First Century; and Marilynne Robinson for her novel Lila.

    Simon & Schuster will soon be offering online video courses for a fee, taught by authors who have an established following and, as the New York Times puts it, a “well-defined philosophy or message.”

    Paris wants to sue Fox News for comments it made about Muslim “no-go” zones in the city. The network is undoubtedly deserving of a good lawsuit of some sort, but this one will be unlikely to get very far. In the US, governmental bodies can’t sue for defamation; Paris has no jurisdiction over American news outlets; and of course the First Amendment.

    The (controversial and really bad if occasionally funny) movie The Interview made $40 million dollars in online revenue, Sony reports, though it’s not clear whether it will be profitable, as it cost $75 million to market and produce.

  • January 20, 2015

    Genius (formerly Rap Genius) has introduced a tool that will let people annotate anything on the internet. Add genius.com/ to the beginning of any URL and you’ll be able to access a version of the page on which you can correct, comment on, or interpret anything you please. The project is still in beta, so at the moment only a handful of people have permission to annotate, but anyone can view their annotations. The company recently brought on a number of new people, including music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, formerly of the New Yorker,  and Emily Segal of K-Hole, the artist collective most famous for coining the term “normcore.”

    Sheila Heti’s debut play, All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, opens February 19 at the Kitchen, in a production directed by Jordan Tannahill and Erin Brubacher, with music by Dan Bejar of the New Pornographers and Destroyer. First commissioned in 2001, the work wasn’t produced until last year—a state of affairs that the narrator of Heti’s novel How Should a Person Be?, who spends a lot of time not writing a play, may know something about.

    Amazon is going to start making twelve movies a year, starting with the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The company promises that the movies will be available on Amazon Instant Prime a mere month after they debut in theaters.

    Yesterday, Democracy Now!  unearthed a lost 1964 speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Dr. King applauds the approaching end of legal segregation, but warns of the dangers of de facto discrimination and economic disparity.  Meanwhile, across the US, protesters marched to “Reclaim MLK.”

    Teju Cole visits Selma, Alabama: “In the hot sunshine of a Sunday, it was stunned and quiet, with the fable-like air of a crumbling movie set. Selma is named for an Ossianic poem; to me it melds ‘soul’ and its Spanish cognate, ‘alma,’ into a single moody word.”

    Steven Pinker

    Steven Pinker

    Mark Zuckerberg has chosen Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, as the next pick for his online book club. And while Zuckerberg may not have the book-club clout of Oprah just yet, his first pick, Moises Naim’s The End of Power, did enjoy a big uptick in sales. Reading a few of Zuckerberg’s observations on Naim’s work make us wonder if the reviews are really written by a not-quite-perfected algorithm: “I have a strong emphasis on portability of power and redefining the areas where power should be concentrated, from the governments to the people. In addition to that, I hold that empowerment of the people will come from making sure that power is not concentrated but rather diffused.”


  • January 19, 2015

    Philip K Dick

    Philip K. Dick

    The New Yorker has posted a trailer for its new video series on Amazon, The New Yorker Presents, which will include a film by Jonathan Demme based on an article by contributor Rachel Aviv; Ariel Levy’s interview with artist Marina Abramovic; and a short based on a Simon Rich story, in which Alan Cumming stars as God. (The pilot Amazon’s other literary TV series The Man in the High Castle—directed by Ridley Scott and based on the Philip K. Dick novel—is now available, and receiving strong reviews.)

    Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen is currently on the New York Times best-seller list—a rare accomplishment for a work of poetry.

    Last week, startups Scribd and Oyster announced that MacMillan had agreed to become a part of their e-book subscription services, which allow subscribers to read an unlimited number of books for a monthly fee. HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster had already agreed to participate, which means that three of the Big Five publishers are on board. As Wired points out: “while the addition of another publisher is an obvious win for the startups, what’s less clear is why publishers want in.” One reason some big publishers are agreeing to the “Netflix for Books” is, likely, that the new model will provide them with more detailed information about readers’ tastes and activity.

    Polish filmmaker and novelist Tadeusz Konwicki, whose books include The Dreambook of Our Time (1963), about the wartime generation’s postwar experiences, and The Polish Complex (1977), died earlier this month at eighty-eight.

    At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Noah Berlatsky explains how expertise can limit critics.

    Hilary Mantel reflects on the TV series based on her Thomas Cromwell novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which begins this week, and explains why these historical figures “live on in our psyche.”