• June 16, 2015

    James Fenton

    James Fenton

    Rachel Dolezal, an NAACP leader who has been accused of posing as African-American, stepped down yesterday, and will today give several TV interviews. In the New York Times magazine, a historian explores earlier examples of such “reverse passing;” and on his blog, Lenin’s Tomb, Richard Seymour asks “the interesting question”: “Why is race so resilient despite being so malleable, and despite having no fundamental reality outside of power?”

    The poet James Fenton has won this year’s PEN Pinter Prize, set up in memory of Harold Pinter in 2009. The judges included the playwright’s widow, Antonia Fraser, who praised Fenton’s “brilliant political poetry,” and were chaired by Maureen Freely, who said that “in this age of privatised art, it is increasingly rare for writers to retain this degree of public commitment.”

    Durga Chew-Bose, Jazmine Hughes, and the others behind www.writersofcolor.org—a new database where you can search for writers by area of expertise and by location—are tired of editors’ excuses: “We don’t want to hear ‘I can’t find any’ ever again, okay?”       

    Today is Bloomsday, which, according to Robert Berry, illustrator of a digital graphic novel version of Joyce’s Ulysses, who’s celebrating it in Hong Kong this year, is  “still the only holiday to celebrate a single work of fiction.”

    The Observer is amused by Apple’s attempt to recruit journalists for its news app—what’s required, as so often in the contemporary workplace, seems to be “the mind of a human with the reliability of a machine.”

    At the Los Angeles Review of Books, an interview with Jessica Hopper about Courtney Love investing in her fanzine when she was in the eleventh grade, and about her new book, which bears the not-entirely-accurate-but-still-accurate-enough-to-be-dispiriting title The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic.

  • June 15, 2015

    Gawker Media is preparing for its legal battle with Hulk Hogan, who is asking that the media company give him $100 million for posting a sex-tape featuring the legendary wrestler. The trial begins on July 6 in Florida, and pivots on Gawker’s argument that the tape was “newsworthy.” Most legal experts expect Gawker to win, but the fact that the trial is taking place in Hogan’s hometown could affect the results. As Fortune points out: “The case is important not only because Hogan wants $100 million, which could ruin Gawker, but also because it highlights how Gawker is alone among new media companies in waging the sort of public interest legal fights that were once second nature for traditional media.” Nick Denton, the founder and chief executive of Gawker, writes: “I should make it clear: we would have settled too, in the interest of fighting another day, if Hogan’s demands were reasonable and the story flawed in any way. But now that the trial is on, we intend to fight it as far as we need to and we can.”

    Kelly Marcel, who wrote the screenplay for Fifty Shades of Grey, says she is so “heartbroken” by the studio’s changes to her script that she won’t watch the movie.

    Alina Simone

    Alina Simone

    In a New Statesman feature titled “What Can’t You Say?,” guest editors Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman asked artists and other public figures to reveal the thoughts they normally leave unspoken. Writers including Roxane Gay, Alina Simone, Geeta Dayal, Suki Kim, and Elif Shafak are among those who responded.

    At Fusion, Felix Salmon argues that “the New York Times should buy Bloomberg.” “This seems, on its face, to be insane,” Salmon writes. “After all, Bloomberg LP is worth somewhere in the region of $40 billion; the New York Times Company is worth about $2 billion. (That’s so small that it will easily pass any anti-trust concerns.) How can something so small buy something so big? Easy: the New York Times Company would simply issue new shares of stock.”

    “In ninth grade English Mrs X required us to memorise and recite a poem and so I asked the Topeka High librarian to direct me to the shortest poem she knew.” Ben Lerner, author of the novel 10:04 and the poetry collection Mean Free Path, has an excellent Diary about poetry (and why some people hate it) at the London Review of Books.

    At the Paris Review, critic and fiction writer Damion Searls details the challenges and pleasures of translating Norwegian author Jon Fosse into English.

  • June 12, 2015

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Joyce Carol Oates

    The Huffington Post has dug up Jeb Bush’s 1995 book Profiles in Character, and quotes extensively from a chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame.” There, the former Florida governor and likely presidential candidate argued that “public humiliations” might help deter women from having children “out of wedlock.” In the course of his argument, Bush cites an American literary classic: “Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.”

    In response to author Kamila Shamsie’s article about gender bias in the publishing industry, the independent press And Other Stories has vowed to publish only books by women in 2018.

    Michelle Obama is helping edit the July/August issue of More magazine.

    When Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, in response to the killing of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, that it is “so barbaric that this should still be allowed,” many people wondered if she was losing her sense of reality. The comment, Oates has assured her readers, was “meant as a joke.”

    Amazon’s e-book business practices are being reviewed by European antitrust regulators.

    Paul Bacon, who designed iconic book covers for novels including Catch-22 and Portnoy’s Complaint, has died at 91.

  • June 11, 2015

    Juan Felipe Herrera

    Juan Felipe Herrera

    Juan Felipe Herrera, a Mexican-American who was raised by migrant farm workers, has been named the new United States Poet Laureate. Herrera’s work includes Border-Crosser With a Lamborghini Dream and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border, and the Library of Congress points out that his poetry, in the spirit of Walt Whitman, captures “our larger American identity.”

    You have to wing it. If you don’t then it seems like it’s written from an outline. And the idea is to start to set yourself some impossible kind of place to get to, and it becomes an adventure.” FSG has published Laura Miller’s talk with Jonathan Franzen at the 2015 Book Expo America. Franzen’s Purity, due out in September, was one of the BEA’s most talked about titles.

    This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine will feature Giles Harvey’s profile of the author Jenny Diski, a regular contributor to the London Review of Books, who learned in July that she has inoperable lung cancer. “A death sentence, by all accounts, sets off in people a free-for-all of conflicting emotion, but by the time Diski, who is 67, returned home that afternoon, she had already resigned herself to one thing: She was going to write about it.”

    Chris Lehmann, the author of Rich People Things and a Bookforum editor, ponders the race for the 2016 Republican nomination. “Of the dozen or so people who have declared or are thought likely to declare, every one can be described as a full-blown adult failure,” Lehmann writes of the Republicans who have their eyes on the presidency. “These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.”

    Bestselling novelists Mhairi McFarlane and Jojo Moyes are asking that we stop using the term “chick lit” to describe popular fiction by women.

    At the Library of America blog, Maggie Nelson names six works that influenced her latest book, The Argonauts.

  • June 10, 2015

    Nisid Hajari

    Nisid Hajari

    At The Guardian, Sophie Elmhirst profiles author and biologist Richard Dawkins, who is on a “global quest to broadcast the wonder of science and the nonexistence of God.” The article presents Dawkins—whose books include The God Delusion and An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist—as a seemingly tireless and increasingly divisive scholar. “For some, his controversial positions have started to undermine both his reputation as a scientist and his own anti-religious crusade. Friends who vigorously defend both his cause and his character worry that Dawkins might be at risk of self-sabotage.”

    Rebecca Traister (the author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women) has announced that she is leaving the New Republic to become a writer at New York magazine.

    The PEN Foundation has announced the winners of its 2015 awards: Ian Buruma’s Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadow of War, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Jack Livings’s The Dog, and others.

    Evan Hughes ponders the “strange rise of the writers’ space” at the Page Turner blog. “At these urban oddities, members get access to a quiet room or two full of desks, often with an adjacent eat-in kitchen, perhaps a couch—in other words, an office. But without a boss. And you pay them, instead of the other way around.”

    Yesterday in the Washington Post, Ben Terris wrote a mostly positive story about Benny Johnson, who, less than a year after he was fired from BuzzFeed amid multiple accusations of plagiarism, has found a new job as a content director for the fast-growing conservative website IJReview. But the Post story left one thing out, says Gawker: Johnson and Terris seem to be friends.

    Slate has an excerpt from Nisid Hajari’s Midnight Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition. In the excerpt, Hajari explains the events that took place over a few days in 1947 that “turned Pakistan and India into sworn enemies.”

  • June 9, 2015

    Wednesday Martin

    Wednesday Martin

    Alexis Madrigal writes about a new book titled Iterating Grace, a satire of tech startup culture that has been circulating around San Francisco. The question is: who wrote it? “No one knows who wrote the story or created the book,” Madrigal writes. “No one knows what the person who did it all wants. Most people I know who’ve received the book, who are all either journalists or authors, think it is some sort of dark-arts marketing scheme. They think Microsoft or Google or some startup is behind this whole production, and that the commercial purpose of this thing will soon be revealed to us.” One thing that Madrigal is sure of: the book “is brilliant.”

    On Wednesday of this week, novelist Rachel Kushner will discuss her work with Paris Review editor Lorin Stein at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

    On May 12, Facebook launched its “instant articles” feature, which is designed to help media outlets post articles directly on the social-networking site’s iOS app, which means that readers could access the articles on Facebook without actually going to the publishers’ sites. According to an article at Business Insider, “The media industry threw a tizzy around the launch. Much of the conversation focused on whether it came as a blessing or curse to online news.” On the plus side, Facebook—which launched “instant articles” in a partnership with publishers including BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, the New York Times, and National Geographic—is providing publishers with ad revenue generated by the stories. Critics, however, worried that the feature would diminish visitors at the media outlets’ sites. Business Insider writes that “for all the initial panic and industry buzz, the actual launch has been much slower and less dramatic than anyone expected.” (No articles have been posted as “instant articles” since May 13.) The Wall Street Journal reports that “publishers expect more Facebook Instant Articles later this month.”

    At its WWDC event yesterday, Apple announced its new iOS news app called, simply, “news.”

    The New York Post reports that The Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin’s just-published expose of the ruthless lives of rich moms on the Upper East Side, is “full of lies,” and that a “review of the best seller found holes big enough to drive an Escalade through.” According to the article, Simon and Schuster, Martin’s publisher, announced on Sunday that they will now add a disclaimer to the book.

  • June 8, 2015

    The stage adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home won the Tony for Best Musical.

    Ha Jin

    Ha Jin

    In response to Book Expo America’s spotlight on China, Jonathan Franzen, Ha Jin, Francine Prose, Murong Xuecun, and A.M. Homes staged a protest on the steps of the New York Public Library, reading works by Chinese authors who had been imprisoned and censored, and holding pictures of artist Ai Weiwei and the Tibetan writer Woeser. At the New Yorker, Christopher Beam reports on the dissent, and reaffirms what many noticed when walking by the large, front-and-center China section at BEA: that it did not receive many visitors. Of the China events, Beam writes: “If anything, the China-themed events highlighted the failure of Chinese publishers to sell books abroad, and reflected the challenges the country faces as it tries to improve its public image and export its culture around the world.”

    The PressGazette gives an overview of Alan Rusbridger’s just-concluded twenty-year tenure as the head of The Guardian, giving special attention to the paper’s coverage of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, and also dwelling on Rusbridger’s approach to digital media. As the publication’s daily print circulation has dropped from 400,000 to 180,000, and daily digital visits have reached 7,000,000, Guardian media has lost £300 million over the past decade. But Rusbridger “clearly sees the huge losses as a price worth paying to secure the future of The Guardian.” He says: “We made £80m in digital last year and I think we are budgeting to make £100m in digital this year. That would be roughly the transition point at which digital was earning more than non-digital.”

    When P.T. Anderson’s adaptation of Inherent Vice came out late last year, some cinephilic sleuths thought they had spotted the notorious media-shunning and photograph-phobic Thomas Pynchon himself in the film, following a statement from star Josh Brolin that the author had made a cameo. But the person some have said bears an uncanny resemblance to what Pynchon is now supposed to look like is not, in fact, Pynchon. He is the actor Charley Morgan, who has appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street and Lincoln, among other movies.

    The Atlantic sheds light on Jeb Bush’s and Hillary Clinton’s favorite books.

    At The Guardian, Marta Bausells gives an overview of books that got their start on Kickstarter—and picks “ten of the best crowdfunded literary projects,” which includes a special edition of Don Quixote and a self-published illustrated book about black cats.

    Gideon Lewis-Kraus has written a thoughtful article about the quest for computerized translation, and the questions it raises. As Susan Bernofsky—who has published English translations of Kafka, Robert Walser, and others—tells him, “They create the impression that translation is not an art.”

  • June 5, 2015

    In the wake of yesterday’s announcement that Gawker’s editorial employees have voted to unionize—joining the Writers Guild of America, East—a Politico staffer has asked his colleagues to redouble their efforts to unionize as well. As Erik Wemple pointed out on his blog earlier this year, it may be a tough sell.

    Ali Smith. Photo by Tim Duncan.

    Ali Smith. Photo by Tim Duncan.

    Ali Smith has been awarded the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel How to Be Both.

    At Vanity Fair, a profile of power couple Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge includes new details about the mass exodus at the New Republic a few years after Hughes took charge.

    The Paris Review has made their Spring issue’s interviews—with Hilary Mantel, Lydia Davis, and Elena Ferrante—free online. The reclusive Ferrante granted the Review her first in-person interview (she writes under a pseudonym and makes no public appearances), and tells the magazine that her reasons for avoiding the public eye have changed since she first made the decision in the early ’90s: “Back then, I was frightened at the thought of having to come out of my shell. Timidity prevailed. Later, I came to feel hostility toward the media, which doesn’t pay attention to books themselves and values a work according to the author’s reputation.”

    Karl Ove Knausgaard appeared on Charlie Rose for an in-depth interview, which turned out to be a bit of a struggle between the two men as they tried to understand each other. At one point, a pretty exasperated Rose asks Knausgaard if he is happy now, to which the author replies: “I’m really not looking for happiness . . . occasionally I am happy.”

  • June 4, 2015

    The in-progress takeover of AOL by Verizon has left the future of the Huffington Post in doubt. AOL is HuffPo’s parent company, and while Arianna Huffington has unveiled ambitious plans for the site’s future, she is currently between contracts and, according to New York Times sources, isn’t sure if her plans can be realized under the Verizon banner. As an anonymous Huffpo staffer writes at Gawker, words like demoralized are now frequently used to describe the mood in Arianna-land, but, really, it has always been that way: “To anyone who has worked at the site for any period of time, as I have, it’s a little bizarre that people could be more demoralized now than at any point in the past, because the Huffington Post has always been an essentially miserable place.”

    At the New Yorker, Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel consider the poetry of jihadists.

    Scottish reporter Andrew Jennings has been doggedly investigating corruption at FIFA for more than a decade, helping to set in motion the investigation that resulted in the arrest of top FIFA officials and the resignation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter this week. Jennings told the Washington Post that exposing this kind of malfeasance is actually not very difficult: “This journalism business is easy, you know. You just find some disgraceful, disgustingly corrupt people and you work on it! You have to. That’s what we do. The rest of the media gets far too cozy with them. . . .  Our job is to investigate, acquire evidence.”

    James Hannaham

    James Hannaham

    PEN has announced the presenters for next Monday’s PEN Literary Awards ceremony, which author and artist James Hannaham will host.

    At the Times magazine, Adrian Chen reports on the Internet Research Agency, a large, professional organization in St. Petersburg, Russia, that spreads propaganda, hoaxes, and misinformation online. As Chen writes of this form of “industrialized trolling,” it is about far more than the small thrill of posting an anonymous nasty comment: “Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space.”

  • June 3, 2015

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson

    The Windham-Campbell Prize and Yale University Press have announced a new book series titles “Why I Write,” which will commence with books by Hilton Als and Patti Smith. Als will also give the keynote speech at this year’s awards ceremony, which will take place on September 28 and will honor Teju Cole, Jackie Sibblies Drury, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Helon Habila, Ivan Vladislavic, and others.

    As the USA Freedom Act expires, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald reflects on the future of the NSA’s surveillance policy and techniques.

    Gawker has posted an article about Fusion, the online magazine owned by ABC and Univision, claiming that the site is woefully under-read: “In the middle of a workday, virtually no one is reading anything [Fusion] publishes. The number of ‘concurrents’ (people reading the same thing simultaneously) is unbelievably low for a website that’s been around for two years and employs some of the most widely known digital journalists around.” (You can read Felix Salmon’s explanation of why he joined the Fusion staff here.)

    In a blog post titled “Up the Amazon with the BS Machine,” Ursula K. Le Guin continues to request that readers stop buying books from the online superstore.

    Harper Lee’s forthcoming Go Set a Watchman has become “the most pre-ordered book” in its publisher HarperCollins’s history.

    At Bookforum.com, Sarah Nicole Prickett interviews Maggie Nelson about her new book, The Argonauts (which also features prominently in our summer issue’s cover story): “As with all my books, I worried about having to identify with this one too much, the same way that when I was writing about cruelty, or about my aunt’s murder, I was thinking, ‘Do I want to be the go-to person for cruelty? Do I want to be the go-to person for murder?’ So while I wanted to write about mothering and gender and sexuality because they were on my mind, I really didn’t want to re-inscribe—or be re-inscribed by—any boring ways of thinking about those issues. But that isn’t really within one’s control. Only the writing is within one’s control (and even that is debatable). So there was a part of me that was like, Okay, you can write this, but do. not. publish it.”