• August 31, 2015

    Oliver Sacks

    Oliver Sacks

    Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author, died on Sunday at age 82. Sacks announced in February that he had late-stage cancer. Sacks’s books, which include Hallucinations and Awakenings and the recent memoir On the Move, captured the mysterious workings of the human brain. In his 1985 book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, he wrote about a patient with a parietal-lobe tumor, who tried “to kick his own left leg out of bed under the mistaken impression that someone has placed a cold cadaver limb beside him as a practical joke.”

    Jeb Bush likes bestsellers such as Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, Marco Rubio favors the books of “Reformicon” Yuval Levin, Scott Walker has dropped references to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence: What the Republican presidential candidates are reading.

    Three Al Jazeera journalists have been sentenced by an Egyptian judge to three years in prison. The jounalists—Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste—all worked for Al Jazeera’s English news channel, and had been accused of broadcasting “false news” about Egypt.

    It is rumored that the mysterious novelist Elena Ferrante is granting only one interview per country to publicize her new novel, The Story of the Lost Child, which concludes her series of four Neapolitan novels. In the US, that honor went to Vanity Fair. You can read part one of a two-part interview (conducted by Elissa Schappell) here. “Friendship is a crucible of positive and negative feelings that are in a permanent state of ebullition.”

    Scarlett Johansson has failed to halt the English publication of Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, a French novel that features a character who resembles her. In the book, “a French village mechanic’s quiet life is interrupted when a woman who appears to be Scarlett Johansson shows up at his house. As it turns out, she is an imposter.” Johansson and her lawyer claimed that the book is “defamatory,” but their demands to stop publication were rejected, and the English-language publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson will release the book, which came out in France in 2013, on September 10.

  • August 28, 2015

    In a New York Times op-ed, Stephen King defends prolific novelists—Alexandre Dumas, Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Asimov, himself—from the “snobbish, inane, and demonstrably untrue” suspicion that fewer books make for better books.

    Shulamith Firestone

    Shulamith Firestone

    The ubiquitous yet elusive Elena Ferrante tells Vanity Fair about some of her literary influences: “Today I read everything that emerges out of so-called postfeminist thought. It helps me look critically at the world, at us, our bodies, our subjectivity. But it also fires my imagination, it pushes me to reflect on the use of literature. I’ll name some women to whom I owe a great deal: Firestone, Lonzi, Irigaray, Muraro, Caverero, Gagliasso, Haraway, Butler, Braidotti.”

    It’s not every week that AWP (the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) finds itself mired in scandal, but the discussions about diversity and access at its annual conferences have grown increasingly heated.

    DailyMail.com has hired the political reporter and D.C. gossip veteran Nikki Schwab to cover the US presidential campaign. Leaving the US News and World Report (where she did “Washington Whispers”), Schwab told FishbowlDC that: “Obviously because they [The Daily Mail] are a British tabloid they appreciate all sorts of political news.”   

    Buzzfeed spoke to Claudia Rankine: “I wanted the book to exist in the space of the white liberal. Because people like to say ‘oh, it’s the South,’ ‘it’s ignorance,’ ‘it’s white supremacist Fox News.’ And I’m like, no, no, no. It’s white alliance with all of those things.”

    Someone’s trying to revamp books and publishing again—if you know how to do that, you’re invited to send in your manifesto.

  • August 27, 2015

    Jonathan Franzen

    Jonathan Franzen

    At New York, Christian Lorentzen has an essay on Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, in which he joins Elaine Blair in bringing “some skepticism to the dizzy proceedings,” and also considers the Franzen phenomenon more generally: “Do you love Jonathan Franzen? Does America? Does the world? These questions sound ridiculous, but they’re the ones Franzen has been posing over the past two decades, as he has, against long odds, made himself the kind of public figure about whom they aren’t entirely ridiculous or even unusual.”

    After two journalists were killed while on a routine assignment in Virginia, Poynter has some suggested guidelines for what should and shouldn’t be shown in coverage of such events.

    The Awl predicts “a bloodbath” at Condé Nast, where employees are being asked to account for their activities task by task, hour by hour.

    Disappointingly, it seems as if Cormac McCarthy does not tweet.

    September 10th has been named George Scialabba Day by Cambridge City Council, and the Baffler is organizing a party that night at the Brattle Theatre (Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich and others will be there) to celebrate Scialabba’s “retirement” from his work at Harvard and “entry into the uncertain world of writing for his supper.” That sounds like good news for editors—and for anyone in Cambridge on the 10th, too.

  • August 26, 2015

    Roz Chast

    Roz Chast

    Nearly twenty years into its history, the Thurber Prize for American Humor will finally be going to a woman (either Annabelle Gurwitch, Roz Chast, or Julie Schumacher) on September 28.

    Donald Trump and Fox News CEO Roger Ailes are continuing to do battle (for one thing, Trump revived his attack on Megyn Kelly last night). Ailes means well, according to an unnamed source who talked to Gabriel Sherman: “Roger says Trump is unelectable. His goal here is to save the country.”

    Music critic David Hajdu has gone out on a limb and made his own album. Being interviewed about it by The Observer also gave him the opportunity to share “something I’ve wanted to say, but nobody’s asked me so I can finally say it.” Here are his thoughts on leaving the New Republic with the rest of the old guard, and going to The Nation: “Writing for The Nation after writing for The New Republic for twelve years is like, your wife dies so you marry her sister. But then you start to realize that you sort of always had a crush on her the whole time, you know? Because I’m really happy there.”

    Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home has proved too much for some of Duke’s fainter-hearted freshmen.

    Not content with just whining about the dominance of Amazon et al., a Japanese bookstore chain is buying up ninety percent of the print run of Haruki Murakami’s new essay collection (about being a writer) to sell themselves and distribute to other bookstores.

  • August 25, 2015

    Mario Vargas Llosa

    Mario Vargas Llosa

    After announcing the death of culture in his new book, Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa finds yet more evidence of it in a New York Times review (quite a trenchant and perceptive one, if you ask us) by Joshua Cohen. Vargas Llosa’s objection to some “slanderous and perfidious . . . gossip” originally included in the piece has prompted a long and delightful NYT correction. (Note to fact-checkers: the Daily Mail doesn’t count as a source.)

    The anti-diversity (or pro-”quality”) faction at sci-fi’s legendary Hugo Awards appears to have lost this round.

    Amid a “dystopian landscape” for magazines, the younger Wenner is gradually taking over a still-old-fashioned Rolling Stone.

    As editors and staff writers unionize, Forbes pities the freelancer.

    Another blow for those of us who enjoy reading the deleted tweets of politicians: after cutting off Politwoops at home a while back, Twitter has now done the same to equivalents abroad.

  • August 24, 2015



    Morrissey, whose Autobiography was published by Penguin Classics in 2014, has announced that his first novel, List of the Lost, will be released in late September. The author and his publisher are offering up no other information. According to the Independent: “There are no details yet about what the novel will be about.”

    If commentators are attributing “megalomaniacal billionaire” Donald Trump’s political success to populism, what does that say about our definition of populism? Not much, says Rich People Things author and Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann. “The Beltway definition of populism is disdainful.” Trump’s success at tapping into a populist current is founded on a contradiction: “He has so far masterfully exploited a broad animus against self-infatuated elites across the media and political landscape—even as he loudly advertises his own ultra-elite membership in America’s owning class.”

    The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas—which has recently acquired the papers of David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, and J.M. Coetze—has reportedly offered $1.1 million for the archives of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. The university is still awaiting approval of the sale.

    Since essayist, poet, and TV personality Clive James’s leukemia diagnosis five years ago, “there have been so many interviews and appreciations that the speak-with-Clive-James-before-he-dies piece has become a kind of genre unto itself.” The Observer points out one of the finest, in which Australian broadcaster Mark Colvin talks with James about his new book, Latest Readings.

    Newly released top-secret files reveal that the British intelligence agency MI5 spied on novelist Doris Lessing for twenty years, “listening to her phone conversations, opening her mail and closely monitoring her movements.”

  • August 21, 2015

    Jonathan Franzen tells the Guardian about how “he once considered adopting an Iraqi war orphan to help him understand young people better, but was persuaded against it by his editor.”

    Politico has confirmed that labor reporter Mike Elk no longer works there, and has denied that that’s anything to do with Elk’s attempts to unionize the newsroom.

    MFA-land tries to think more and better about race.

    Screen-Shot-2015-06-01-at-4.58.15-PMCarli Lloyd, who captained the US national women’s soccer team at this year’s World Cup, is publishing a memoir. Too bad David Foster Wallace isn’t around to review it.

    And, apparently one primary function of the DFW film has been to make magazine-profile writers feel like a bunch of creeps.

    People still can’t decide how to feel about H. P. Lovecraft.

    Someone has translated the dream journal of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, discoverer of neurons, who wrote down his dreams from 1918 and his death in 1934 in an attempt to disprove Freud’s theories.

    “Writing novels seemed like the most boring possible thing you could do”: Sheila Heti talks on video for the Paris Review about writing her first book.

  • August 20, 2015

    At the New York Times magazine, Steven Johnson has crunched the numbers and says, contra years of post-Napster scaremongering about what the digital economy would do to artists and writers, that creative types are still mostly doing fine.

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump celebrates himself and sings himself on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter. Asked when he last apologized for something, he says: “It was too many years ago to remember. I have one of the great memories of all time, but it was too long ago.” On the competition: Hillary Clinton’s email debacle was “Watergate on steroids”; Jeb Bush, though a nice guy is “very low energy. And you need a person with great energy, enthusiasm and brainpower to straighten out our country.”

    The archbishop of Lima has been caught plagiarizing his right-wing op-eds from the writings of not one but two former popes. (Though presumably his thoughts on the perils of WhatsApp are all his own: “How many families have broken up through WhatsApp? You will say that I am exaggerating, or a retrograde, but no, someone has to say the truth.”)

    Another year, another Jane Austen romcom.

  • August 19, 2015

    The New York Times searches its soul over whether its Amazon story was fair. Meanwhile, the Onion, not for the first time, struggles to preserve the distinction between its satire and straight reporting.

    Joan Didion

    Joan Didion

    Mostly ignoring the chic starriness that clings to Joan Didion in so much of the coverage of her, Louis Menand traces the significant change in Didion’s work and worldview through the decades. Plus there’s a nice nod to the art of the disclaimer: “(Full disclosure: you are reading this piece in The New Yorker).”

    Who’d be Gawker’s lawyer? Only the brave.

    The Center for Fiction announced the shortlist for its $10,000 First Novel Prize—those in the running include Ben Metcalf and Viet Thanh Nguyen.

    Apparently a painstakingly simplified version of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (it took the adapter well over a decade) has been threatening to overtake E. L. James on the Spanish best-seller list. One sensitive professor told reporters it was “a crime against literature”: “I ask the booksellers in Madrid and they tell me no one buys Cervantes’s original novel anymore because readers prefer the ‘light’ version.

    Tonight at Book Culture, Benjamin Moser launches Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories.

  • August 18, 2015

    Renata Adler

    Renata Adler

    Renata Adler expressed her solidarity with Buzzfeed writers when she went to their HQ for an interview earlier this year: “The embarrassing part about writing something, and having it published, is the part right after when you’re thinking, Oh my god, what are people going to think? If you’re having one piece every three years, that’s it, it’s done. But if you have to write three times a week, the only way to get rid of the embarrassment is to try the next piece, and hope it will be better, and erase the last piece. Which is probably what you want. You want to just keep going forward. Is that what happens with you?” (She also explained how to know when you’ve finished a story that has no conventional ending: “When the deadline happens, that’s when it’s over. Otherwise, you can keep changing everything, and it becomes like an action painting—which is not good. You don’t want that.”)

    Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan also has something helpful to say to the Buzzfeeders about their boss and about unions.

    And Flavorwire ends up saying pretty much the same thing to Jeff Bezos’s beleaguered “Amazonians.” (The rest of us are advised to consider a boycott, but make a complaint to Amazon customer service—1-888-280-4331—on our way out.)

    There are still a few people managing to do well out of Amazon, though—the first self-published author to reach the top of their charts is a linguist and behavioral psychologist whose winning sales strategy for his twenty-six-page children’s book was to make sure it would send people straight to sleep.

    Even the most old-fashioned publishing types like nothing better than a listicle. But if you want to put in a book what should normally be confined to the internet, there are probably better ways to go.