• September 30, 2015

    Poets and wits may lose their advantage on Twitter if people no longer have to abide by the 140-character limit (it could well happen).

    The German publisher Axel Springer, which earlier this year teamed up with Politico on its make-Brussels-sexy European operation and recently lost out on a deal for the Financial Times, has just bought Business Insider for $343 million.

    Speaking of Politico, you may have missed its plan to save or eat journalism over the next five years. See the founders’ memo to staff: “Our dream is a Politico journalistic presence in every capital of every state and country of consequence by 2020. With each passing month, we grow more confident our model can save journalism in state capitals and spread it in new countries.”

    Julie Schumacher

    Julie Schumacher

    This week the Thurber prize for American humor went to a woman, Julie Schumacher, for the first time in its history. A small victory, too, for beleaguered academics, whose plight is illuminated by Schumacher’s winning book, Dear Committee Members, an epistolary novel told through the recommendation letters a professor must write for almost everyone he’s ever met.

    Digital staff at Al Jazeera America voted yesterday on whether to go ahead and unionize after management there refused to recognize their efforts voluntarily. The results will be out on October 6, but meanwhile the bosses at AJAM look tougher than those at VICE or Salon, or even Gawker’s “intensely relaxed” Nick Denton, all of whom have conceded “at least de facto union recognition.”    

    Amid the latest Republican efforts to remove Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler and his wife Lisa Brown gave a million-dollar donation to the organization, which Brown noted had “gone through a series of unfortunate events” this year.

    Tonight at McNally Jackson, don’t miss Lydia Davis, August Kleinzahler, and others reading from Lucia Berlin’s story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women, which Joy Williams will review in the next Bookforum.

  • September 29, 2015

    Ben Lerner

    Ben Lerner

    The latest MacArthur “genius grants” have been announced, and the twenty-four new fellows include the writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ben Lerner, who told a reporter that getting the no-strings award, which pays out $625,000 over the course of five years, “takes away all your excuses to not be doing the most ambitious work.”

    The New York Times mourns the end of “tabloid culture”: After massive layoffs, which came on September 16 “with the swiftness of a Soviet-era purge” the Daily News is completing its transformation from, as former News columnist Michael Daly put it, “a New York paper for New York people” to a mostly digital creature that will “read the same from Brooklyn to Bahrain.” One longtime reporter told the Times: “I can’t remember the last time someone on the staff sent a note saying, ‘Hey, good piece.’ What they say now is, ‘Hey, we broke the March record for page views!’”

    Claudia Rankine’s Citizen received another honor in the form of the £10,000 Forward Poetry Prize.

    As his “blazing blue streak of a literary memoir” I Can Give You Anything But Love appears, and some of his out-of-print novels are due to be republished, the New Republic asks if this will be “Gary Indiana’s year.”

    Some are asking if we still need Banned Books Week (that’s this week, so feel free to skip straight to Friday if you’d like).

  • September 28, 2015


    Lucia Berlin

    Lucia Berlin

    A new NPR article about book blurbs points out that they aren’t “exactly meant for readers,” and that by the time a book is actually published, the blurbs have “already done most of the work [they’re] supposed to do.” Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette, says that agents get potential publishers to look at a manuscript by listing endorsements “from authors you’ve heard of. That’s the way the agent is getting the publishing community to read this book ahead of all the other thousands of books on submission at that time.” The article also interviews novelist Gary Shteyngart, who has written more than 150 blurbs, about his criteria for endorsement. “I’ll look at a first sentence [of a galley], I’ll look at the cover and it just comes to me,” he says. “Reading randomly from a book is also very helpful. Sometimes I try to read further—but you know, how far can you get? Does anyone even read these books anymore?”

    In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, M Train, Patti Smith explains how she gained admittance into the Continental Drift Club, “an obscure society serving as an independent branch of the earth-science community.” She was invited to join the society, much to her surprise, after sending written requests to photograph the boots of the CDC’s founder, the explorer Alfred Wegener. “I am certain I didn’t quite meet their criteria, but I suspect that after some deliberation they welcomed me due to my abundance of romantic enthusiasm. I became an official member in 2006.”

    The winners of the fifteenth annual Online Journalism Awards have been announced. The top honors in the breaking-news category went to recent start-up reported.ly for its coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, The Baltimore Sun for its reporting on the Baltimore riots and the Freddy Gray case, and to the Globe and Mail for its reports on the shootings in Ottawa. The winners of the general-excellence category were the Missouri public-radio station’s website KBIA, Quartz, and the Washington Post.

    The staff of Atavist magazine explains why they’re “discontinuing our native mobile apps to place all of our focus on the web.”

    New York’s McNally Jackson bookstore is hosting two highly recommended author events this week: On Tuesday, Choire Sicha interviews Eileen Myles, who has just seen the re-release of her classic novel-in-stories Chelsea Girls and the publication of her collected poetry collection, I Must Be Living Twice; and on Wednesday, Lydia Davis and August Kleinzahler discuss the stories of Lucia Berlin, recently collected in A Manual for Cleaning Women.

  • September 25, 2015

    Roberto Saviano

    Roberto Saviano

    Michael Moynihan, the man who caught Jonah Lehrer fabricating quotes, has a new target in Roberto Saviano, best-selling author of the mafia exposé Gomorrah. According to Moynihan, his latest book, ZeroZeroZero, on the international cocaine trade, “is stuffed with reporting and writing plundered from lesser-known journalists; it includes interviews with ‘sources’ who may not exist. . . and it contains numerous instances of unambiguous plagiarism.” Moynihan lays out whole chunks of Saviano prose next to near-identical passages from other journalists’ work, or from Wikipedia, and points out that an Italian court recently found he had plagiarized in Gomorrah too—but the most striking parts of the piece are those that quote Saviano on Saviano. When he’s not invoking Truman Capote and the nonfiction novel to defend the liberties taken in his reporting, he’s telling Moynihan that it’s all down to enemies trying to undermine him, because “in Italy I am not perceived simply as a writer, but as someone who, even though separate and distant from parliament, has the power to engage even the highest political offices in conversation. If a camorra [mafia] feud causes deaths in Naples, the prime minister makes a promise to me to give more attention to southern Italy.”

    While we’re on the subject of ego and bombast, Morrissey has written a novel, and no one seems very happy about it (except perhaps those critics who got to single out its “most Morrissey lines” for ridicule). From the Guardian: “Do not read this book; do not sully yourself with it, no matter how temptingly brief it seems. All those who shepherded it to print should hang their heads in shame, for it’s hard to imagine anything this bad has been put between covers by anyone other than a vanity publisher.”

    You can tell that Jorge Luis Borges never had the pleasure of crossing paths with Morrissey. In an extract from newly translated radio conversations between Borges and the poet Osvaldo Ferrari from the 1980s, he remarks that “one regards Shakespeare as typically English. However, none of the typical characteristics of the English are found in Shakespeare. The English tend to be reserved, reticent, but Shakespeare flows like a great river, he abounds in hyperbole and metaphor—he’s the complete opposite of an English person. . . . It’s as if each country looks for a form of antidote in the author it chooses.”

    When is a TV star’s memoir not just a TV star’s memoir? Perhaps when it’s about getting out of Scientology.

    Tonight at Pioneer Works, an outdoor launch party for n+1’s new issue.

  • September 24, 2015

    The two Al Jazeera journalists who were imprisoned in Egypt for over a year have been pardoned and released.

    Turns out bookish people still like books: Print sales seem to be recovering and, as one bookstore owner tells the New York Times, “The e-book terror has kind of subsided.” The e-reading subscription service Oyster, which is shutting down, its staff apparently moving to Google, nonetheless maintains that “the phone will be the primary reading device globally over the next decade.” Whoever is right, as László Krasznahorkai pointed out last weekend at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Devices are not dangerous for literature. . . . People can be dangerous for literature. People, for example, who do not read.”

    Less cheering news from the American Reader, which made the leap to print-only when most were going the other way—the magazine is closing down for lack of funds. The issue due out in October will be the last, though a full digital archive is to be made available soon. Meanwhile, the editors have put out a statement thanking readers “for your attention, support, and fidelity.”

    James Patterson

    James Patterson

    The novelist James Patterson is to receive the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, for his efforts to help improve people’s access to books and reading—as well as donating millions of dollars to various grants and scholarships, he’s given hundreds of thousands of books to the military and to American children. “I don’t want Harold Bloom to have a coronary,” Patterson told Time, “so let’s be clear that this [award] has nothing to do with Alex Cross or The Women’s Murder Club or Maximum Ride, this is just that I’m a nice little do-gooder.”

    You may not have known that you wanted to read the novelist Siri Hustvedt’s thoughts on hair, excerpted from a new collection on the subject.

    Back to school: Fall enrolment is open at the Brooklyn Institute, which offers liberal arts classes to all. You can study Marx, Freud, Herodotus, European avant-gardes, James Baldwin’s New York, math, cyborgs, and who knows what else.

  • September 23, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    It’s been announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates, hailed by Toni Morrison as an intellectual heir to James Baldwin, will continue to use his powers for good—a longtime comic-book fan, Coates is to write a new Black Panther series for Marvel, starting next spring. The character, created in 1966, was the first black superhero, and this assignment doesn’t strike Coates as a departure from his previous work: “I don’t experience the stuff I write about as weighty,” he told the New York Times. “I feel a strong need to express something. The writing usually lifts the weight. I expect to be doing the same thing for Marvel.”

    Carmen Balcells, the literary agent who helped make the careers of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, has died. Vargas Llosa has published a tribute to her (whose accompanying illustration, incidentally, is something to see), and Xavi Ayen, author of The Boom Years, told the New York Times: “Without her, the Latin American boom would not have been what it was. . . . She created the first generation of writers who could support themselves as novelists.” Balcells had been in merger talks with the New York agent Andrew Wylie—as well as Vargas Llosa and the García Márquez estate, her agency represents everyone from Isabel Allende to the estates of Clarice Lispector and Pablo Neruda.

    A judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell has no valid copyright in the lyrics to “Happy Birthday,” meaning that filmmakers will no longer have to pay the company to feature the song (which they’ve reportedly been doing to the tune of $2 million a year). If it seems a little odd that anyone has been cashing in on “Happy Birthday” for so long, recall that Ava DuVernay was forced to paraphrase Martin Luther King’s speeches for her film Selma, for copyright reasons—and indeed, the foundation that put up the King memorial in D.C. had to pay his estate more than $700,000 to use his words and image on it.

    Every era gets the universal New Yorker caption it deserves, and after a few false starts, it’s safe to say that we have found ours.

    The comedian Amy Schumer now has a book deal worth somewhere between $8 million and $10 million. Flavorwire estimates that Schumer is receiving an advance worth “approximately 2.5 Aziz Ansari or Lena Dunham advances and 1.5 Tina Fey advances,” or perhaps eighty memoir advances of a kind granted to civilians (non-Schumers).

    Such success can be a poisoned chalice, of course. In an interview, Erica Jong notes the impact of her “zipless” hit on her poetry career: “I had won all the poetry prizes when I was a young poet. I won the Bess Hokin Prize, which W.S. Merwin and Sylvia Plath won, and then I wrote Fear of Flying and I was the Happy Hooker of literature. Poets disowned me. I didn’t disown them. I would have happily stayed reading and teaching, and I have done a lot of teaching and writing seminars, but I was shunned because I had a bestseller.”

    At the New Republic, an annotated piece on literary annotation. And at the Washington Post, an annotated cease-and-desist letter from Team Trump.


  • September 22, 2015

    David Cameron

    David Cameron

    An unauthorized biography of British Prime Minister David Cameron, Call Me Dave, is continuing to dominate headlines in the UK. Cowritten by Lord Ashcroft, a former Conservative Party treasurer and major party donor who is apparently sad about not getting the government job he was promised, the book is the source of the so-called Prosciutto Affair, which has spawned countless memes over the last couple of days. On this side of the Atlantic, some are already attempting to take the #piggate scandal seriously, and understand what it might tell us about today’s politics: “It’s a community of mutual self-interest and reliance, bonded together by a Mexican standoff over embarrassing private information. The structure survives and is passed down to successive generations of elite young men precisely because it is self-policing, self-sustaining, and remarkably effective.”

    From the makers of The Onion and ClickHole comes a parody celebrity gossip website that will probably be hard to distinguish from the real ones.

    And from the man behind Thought Catalog, a consideration of the digital media landscape, which he feels hasn’t changed in the last five years as much as you might think. Indeed, he doesn’t think much has changed fundamentally in media for far longer than that—Vice’s Shane Smith, he points out, in some ways resembles a mogul of the old school: “Like William Hearst or Condé Montrose Nast (or even Marc Eckō of Complex Media), Shane Smith has built a media empire after a decade of drilling away to build a meaningful cultural brand while still balancing business interests. Is there really that much difference between Vice’s elaborate parties and those that happened at Hearst Castle? It’s the same approach, slowly and steadily through big cultural acts and a strong editorial vision building a great media brand.” Declinists, take note.

    In case your fall reading list is still lacking that certain something, Donald Trump is “excited to announce that work on my new bestseller is almost done.” (Meanwhile, some have enjoyed parsing the words of Scott Walker, who just dropped out of the race.)

    Tonight at 7 at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, n+1 will be holding a reading party (not a contradiction in terms) for their new issue.

  • September 21, 2015

    Geoff Dyer

    Geoff Dyer

    The Brooklyn Book Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary yesterday with a full day of author panels and other events—all of which concluded with a Ping Pong tournament, of course. Contestants included Jonathan Lethem, Fiona Maazel, PEN’s Paul Morris, Pico Iyer, Robert Christgau, Marlon James, David Simon, and Geoff Dyer, who reached the final round to play New York Public Library’s Paul Holdengraber, who had earlier in the day interviewed Salman Rushdie. Dyer won.

    The poet C.K. Williams, whose many honors include a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, died yesterday. He was seventy-eight.

    Author Richard Dawkins, whose book Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science will be released in the US this week, has been criticizing Ahmed Mohamed, the fourteen-year-old Texas student who was recently arrested at his school for building a clock. Why is Dawkins so bent out of shape about the teen? “Because he disassembled & reassembled a clock (which is fine) & then claimed it was his ‘invention’ (which is fraud),” Dawkins writes.

    Olive Kitteridge, the HBO miniseries that was based on the book by Elizabeth Strout, won six Emmys last night, while Game of Thrones, based on the novel series by George R.R. Martin, won twelve, more than any other show has won in a single year.

  • September 18, 2015

    Nell Zink

    Nell Zink

    As of yesterday, the fiction longlist for the National Book Award is out, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life made it, as did Nell Zink’s Mislaid.

    Layoffs, layoffs, everywhere (at the Daily News, the Post reports, quoting an “insider,” it’s no longer like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic so much as being “ripped in two like the Titanic just before it sank”).

    If you’re looking to do a reverse Michael Derrick Hudson, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop can help.

    Meanwhile, the writer Mira Jacob gave a speech at a Publishers Weekly event on Wednesday, but not enough publishers actually heard it, so she put it up at Buzzfeed too: “White Americans can care about more than just themselves. They really can. And the rest of us? We are DYING to see ourselves anywhere. To be clear: I’m not asking for altruism here. I worked in corporate America for 20 years before I put my book out; I know the stakes, the economics. What I am saying makes solid, actual business sense: There is a vast, untapped audience out there. . . there’s a huge gap between the many American experiences and the books that speak to them. . . . You will ignore us at your own peril—to the industry’s peril.”

    Renaissance man James Franco has started a biweekly film column at Indiewire—or two columns, if you count the two Franco personae (James and Semaj) who will be on show. The gimmick is nominally intended to help the movie star get away with moonlighting as a critic, because “a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review.” “As someone in the industry,” runs part of the intro to the first column, “it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry—where writers review other writer’s books—the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems.”

    After its relaunch a few months ago, the New York Times Magazine seems ready to settle down—Ana Marie Cox (founder of Wonkette) will be its regular interviewer with a weekly Talk feature, and philosophy and law professor Kwame Anthony Appiah will become its sole Ethicist (that’s “advice columnist” to you).

    But we all know the real joy of reading the Times is in the art of the headline.

  • September 17, 2015

    The perks of being owned by Jeff Bezos: Amazon Prime members will now be automatic digital subscribers to the Washington Post (for an initial six-month period). That promises a big leap in readership, which, the Washingtonian notes, “plays into the Post’s grander plan of trying to become the newspaper brand for a national—and perhaps international—audience, a fight it’s in with the New York Times and USA Today.”

    The Post, incidentally, has an annotated transcript of last night’s Republican debate, if you like that sort of thing.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Amid much authorial nail-biting, the New Yorker will today announce the longlist for the National Book Award in Fiction. The Nonfiction list, which came out yesterday, includes Sally Mann’s Hold Still and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

    The LRB has a (strongly worded) dissenting view on Booker Prize favorite A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara.  

    A history professor is claiming that a crucial chunk of Thomas Paine’s foundational 1791 work Rights of Man is not, in fact, by Thomas Paine.

    The New Yorker weighs in on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that Facebook will soon at long last have a “dislike” button as “a quick way to emote” about friends’ bad news.

    Dave Eggers, a Knopf author, has interviewed Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta for Vanity Fair about how his is still “the best job in the world.”