• November 13, 2015

    Mexican author Fernando del Paso, who has described himself as “a baroque writer, extravagant and immoderate,” has won the coveted $135,000 Cervantes Prize.

    George Saunders

    George Saunders

    The New York Times magazine asked George Saunders and Jennifer Egan to discuss writing about the future, which they did, by phone and email. Here’s Egan: “I learned you have to move fast, writing futuristic satire in America: Before you know it, you’re a realist!” And Saunders: “There are some parallels between writing about the future and writing about the past. Neither interests me at all, if the intention is just to ‘get it right.’ It’s nearly impossible to recreate a past mind-set, and also, why bother? That mind-set already existed, if you see what I mean. The goal of a work of fiction is, in my view, to say something, about how life is for us, not at any particular historical moment (past or present or future) but at every single moment.”

    A previously unpublished Edith Wharton story from toward the end of World War I has been found.

    The New York Times has extended the application deadline for its David Carr Fellowship (which will support a journalist for two years on the Times’s media desk) until December 1st.

    In an interview, Johari Osayi Idusuyi, the woman who wouldn’t stop reading her book at a Donald Trump rally, explains how she came to be in such a visible spot in the first place: “I think we were chosen for obvious reasons. We are minorities and there weren’t a lot of minorities there.” Feeling put off by the behavior of the Donald and his supporters, she began reading to pass the time, and then thought: “I’m in the middle, I’m on camera, so why not use the opportunity to promote a great book?” She’d considered bringing Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist with her, but it seems for the best that instead Claudia Rankine’s Citizen got yet another boost.

    New York magazine’s book critic Christian Lorentzen (who delved into Trump lit for a forthcoming issue of Bookforum), reviews the first lines of several new books. Vladimir Nabokov and Mary Gaitskill (who’s also, incidentally, featured in the next Bookforum) both come off well; Rick Moody and Patrick Modiano, less so.

  • November 12, 2015

    The Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction was awarded to Kevin Barry for Beatlebone, a novel in which John Lennon goes to Ireland for a course of primal scream therapy.

    “Like the hub at the center of a wheel”: Molly McArdle profiles Rachel Fershleiser, Tumblr’s director of literary outreach. “I want to be a rich crazy lady who patronizes writers,” Fershleiser says. “I can’t actually be that, so I try to do it in baby steps.”

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Joyce Carol Oates

    The best thing about The Atlantic’s piece on why writers often love running is the suggestion that Joyce Carol Oates (author of scores of books under her own name and others) may experience “writing blocks.”

    It’s good to know we’re not the only ones still recovering from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s review of Michel Houellebecq.

    Likewise, still musing on Harriet Walter’s thoughts about Shakespeare and “write what you know,” as expressed in an interview about the all-female production of Henry IV she’s starring in this month (set in a women’s prison). “In one way, he’s very honest,” she said of how few parts the bard wrote that she could usually play, “he didn’t know much about women at that age. But he didn’t know much about so many things, and he could get into the Moor of Venice, so why couldn’t he understand an older woman?”

    Tomorrow night at 7 at the the Village Community School on West 10th Street in NYC, you can celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Pushcart Prize with Zadie Smith, Colum McCann, Ben Marcus, Sharon Olds, and Mary Karr.

    On the other hand, you might not want to miss a crucial chapter of Melville’s Moby-Dick—to coincide with its Frank Stella retrospective, which includes work from his “Moby Dick” series, the Whitney will host a marathon reading of the novel by writers and artists, beginning Friday morning.

  • November 11, 2015

    CTa1SC5WIAAeYjlAt a Donald Trump rally in Springfield, IL, on Monday, a woman read from Citizen, Claudia Rankine’s award-winning book about racism and “microaggressions” in contemporary America, while Trump gave his speech. Apparently some Trump supporters were so bothered that they asked her to stop.

    Little, Brown has announced that it plans to publish a posthumous manifesto by Stéphane Charbonnier, the Charlie Hebdo editor in chief who was killed earlier this year. Charbonnier finished the book, Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia and the True Enemies of Free Expression, two days before his death.

    US author Laird Hunt has won the first Grand Prix de la Littérature Américaine for his novel Nevermore.

    Nate Silver—the statistician, author, and founder of FiveThirtyEight.com—said in a recent interview that Vox publishes too much, and that the website bases some of its content on Wikipedia entries.

    Justin Taylor reviews The Hand That Feeds You, the “page-turning, genre-bending, resonantly disturbing mystery” by A. J. Rich, who turns out to be the nom de plume of writers Jill Ciment and Amy Hempel.

    The Home School—the John Ashbery-sponsored conference for writers and artists in Hudson, New York—is now accepting applications for its weeklong gathering in August. This session’s faculty will include Rebecca Wolff, Dorothea Lasky, Geoffrey G. O’Brien, Kate Durbin, Ann Lauterbach, and Cynthia Cruz.

  • November 10, 2015

    The New York Times has a piece about whether activists like those at the University of Missouri should allow reporters more access to their encampments. The university is in the spotlight this week as its president and a chancellor have both been forced to step down over their failure to adequately address “persistent racism” on campus: The decisive moment seems to have come when the college football team refused to play over the weekend, announcing that they would strike until the president was gone.

    Mallory Ortberg

    Mallory Ortberg

    After nearly a decade, Slate’s Emily Yoffe is stepping down from the Dear Prudence column this week to become a contributing editor at the Atlantic, and the Toast’s Mallory Ortberg is taking over what must surely be one of the internet’s most rewarding jobs—giving solicited advice to strangers.

    The fallout continues from Rolling Stone’s discredited 2014 story “A Rape on Campus,” as the University of Virginia fraternity named in it has now filed a $25 million lawsuit against the magazine.

    The New York Post and New York Daily News report on recent troubles at the Feminist Press, which is also facing a lawsuit, this one from a former staffer who claims she and others were forced out after management decided the press was “too lesbian” and needed to focus on books with more “mainstream appeal.”

    In the New York Times, a report on the wildly popular “Instapoets” flourishing on social media, one of whose new collection “recently hit No. 3 on Nielsen’s top 10 best-selling poetry titles, ahead of Dante, Homer, Seamus Heaney and Khalil Gibran.”

    The New Yorker reviews Vladimir Nabokov’s letters to his wife, Véra—who meticulously destroyed hers to him—as a kind of mystery story.

    There’s still time to support the delightful Bluestockings bookstore, whose fall funding drive ends on November 16.


  • November 9, 2015

    Jenny Diski

    Jenny Diski

    This weekend, Ben Carson continued to defend himself from media scrutiny: In response to claims that his 1990 autobiography, Gifted Hands, contains inaccuracies, Carson said he is not entirely responsible and shifted the blame to his co-author, Cecil Murphey.

    The official story of Pablo Neruda’s death is that the Nobel laureate died in a hospital due to complications caused by cancer. But recently, questions about the Chilean poet’s true cause of death have been raised—some wondered if he, like many other Chileans during Pinochet’s dictatorship, was murdered. In 2013, the government agreed to exhume his corpse to determine if he was killed. Now, Chile’s interior ministry has released a document admitting that “it’s clearly possible and highly probable that a third party” caused Neruda’s death.

    Lincoln Michel—whose debut story collection, Upright Beasts, is out now—has written “the ultimate guide to getting published in a literary magazine.”

    Vanity Fair has posted an excerpt from Robert Hughes’s posthumous memoir, The Spectacle of Skill, in which he recalls being Time’s art critic in the 1970s, and waxes nostalgic for the era of apparently endless magazine expense accounts.

    The critic and author Jenny Diski offers some remarks on the state of fiction: “Are the characters believable? Or is the plot good? The mediocrity of fiction is really to do with feeling cosy, and that you’ve got a nice friend sitting in your lap telling you a nice story. I’ve never been a nice friend sitting in anyone’s lap. I just wanted to write stuff down in shapes, really.”

  • November 6, 2015

    Ben Carson

    Ben Carson

    In the field of Republican lit this week: George H. W. Bush has decided to weigh in on his son’s presidency: Donald Rumsfeld, he felt, according to his new book, “served the president badly. . . . There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers.” Dick Cheney has responded to the elder Bush’s characterization of him as an “iron-ass” by claiming it as “a mark of pride.” Meanwhile, several journalists have been shouldering the burden of reading the current presidential candidates’ books and letting us know what’s in them: Donald Trump’s new one is apparently full of assertions like: “I have proven everybody wrong. EVERYBODY.” (Here’s a helpful ranking of the rest of his oeuvre by quality of cover.) And Ben Carson’s story, according to a man who’s just read five books by him, “is a nearly uninterrupted string of being proved right and smart.” Smart enough, some have suggested, to be leading the race for the GOP nomination simply as a ruse to sell even more books like these.

    Arundhati Roy has become one of many writers in India over the past couple of months to give back their national awards in protest at the violent rightwing attacks against intellectuals that have been taking place under Modi’s government.  

    One of the less discussed pains of authorship is quitting your job and spending years on a book, only to find your story and sources used without credit on television. (Or: when pitching 60 Minutes, do it in the vaguest possible terms).

    To comfort those of us who never get the chance to talk to Karl Ove Knausgaard at parties, Bookforum contributor Kaitlin Phillips paints a dispiriting picture of what it’s like (Zadie Smith, on the other hand, comes off unsurprisingly well).

    Restless Books begins its online Don Quixote book group today at 1 pm EST, with a two-hour open discussion led by Quixote scholar Ilan Stavans.

  • November 5, 2015

    Everyone is enjoying the delicious irony of Amazon’s new show, Good Girls Revolt, being “fundamentally premised on the championing of employees’ rights.”

    Fear and loathing, meanwhile, greets the judge who recently decided to let Hulk Hogan dig through Gawker’s e-mail, a move that is, in the words of the New York Observer’s editors, “scaring the hell out of lots of publishers.”

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    Veteran editor John Freeman offers a somewhat breathless account (and who can blame him?) of his experience publishing Lydia Davis.

    In the New York Times, a brief interview with the formidable Roberto Calasso, whose memoir, The Art of the Publisher, is coming out in English.

    And, from Meghan Daum’s reprinted essay collection, My Misspent Youth, a different view of publishing, from the bottom.

    If you missed this rereading of John Williams’s Stoner and its portrayal of academia from a lecturer at Harvard, it’s worth a look: “The gap between our academic climate and the world Williams describes is what gives Stoner its peculiar poignancy. Both the highpoints and crises of Stoner’s teaching career seem nearly unimaginable from our current vantage point. Consider Stoner’s practice of meeting with students in his off-hours, in his study at home or in his office at the university. Today, as U.S. News reported, an equally dedicated adjunct might meet with students in a parking lot, where she’ll pull relevant papers and books from the trunk of her car (few adjuncts have offices at the institutions where they teach).”

    Tomorrow night, Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio will be hosting a discussion of humor in fiction and the darker explorations it can make possible.

  • November 4, 2015

    Mathias Énard

    Mathias Énard

    Mathias Énard, the author, most famously, of Zone, a novel in a single sentence, has won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award (its seriousness is heavily underlined by its $10 prize money).

    Steve Silberman discusses his book on autism, Neurotribes, which just became the first work of popular science to win the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction.

    And if you’d like to feel drunk with power for once, voting is now open for this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards, “the only major book awards decided by readers.”

    You can now read what Margaret Atwood and her students discovered about gender bias in Canadian book reviewing back in 1971.

    These are scary times at National Geographic.

    “This culture is like a chimera before which I stand agog”: Mary Gaitskill talks to The Millions.

    Turns out Jon Stewart isn’t tired of satirizing the news after all, and will now be doing so for HBO.

    If you missed the launch of Ada Calhoun’s book St Marks is Dead, you appear to have made a mistake—Kathleen Hanna and her former Beastie Boy husband, Ad-Rock, played every song about St Marks Place they could come up with.

  • November 3, 2015

    Both ways is the only way they want it: After helping put who knows how many others out of business, Amazon open their own physical bookstore.

    Mary Gaitskill

    Mary Gaitskill

    For the New York Times magazine, Parul Sehgal profiles Mary Gaitskill, whose new novel, The Mare, is reviewed in the next issue of Bookforum. In person, Sehgal describes her as “wary in the way of habitually truthful people trying to stay out of trouble. . . . She feels misunderstood, which, of course, she is.” No easy feat to interview a writer who specializes in evoking “the hidden life, the life unseen, the life we don’t even know we are living.” Occasionally, you wonder how the profile got written at all (but lucky for us that it did): “At some point in our conversation, I discovered that Gaitskill had figured out how to turn off my recorder, which was lying between us on the table. She’s fond of talking off the record, and she batted at the machine with a quick, sure motion, like a cat. Only then would she talk about her family, say, or go deeper into her past.”

    Meanwhile, fans of Gaitskill’s earlier novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin may be interested to know that a veteran producer (after trying and failing in person “while sitting on a small couch in New York” in the 1970s) has finally got the rights to make Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for television.

    On Novara Wire, an essential first-person account of homelessness, policing, and public space in London.

    Max Read, formerly of Gawker, introduces New York magazine’s new temporary offshoot about internet culture.

    Among the many recent books by musicians are Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl and The Hollow of the Hand, P. J. Harvey’s first book of poetry, a collaboration with the photographer Seamus Murphy, with whom she traveled to Kosovo and Afghanistan.

    The latest issue of the Lana Turner journal is now available, and includes work by Jorie Graham and Anne Boyer, as well as new translations of César Vallejo.

  • November 2, 2015

    Lou Reed

    Lou Reed

    ESPN has pulled the plug on its sports, pop-culture, and news website Grantland. This comes about a month after editors Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin, and Chris Ryan left Grantland to work on an unknown project led by Grantland founder Bill Simmons. Many have mourned the loss of the site. As for ESPN, the company itself did not seem have its heart in Grantland: “We’re getting out of the pop culture business,” a senior ESPN source told CNN.

    Howard Sounes’s biography of Lou Reed was released in the UK on October 22. Reed was always considered to be cantankerous, difficult, drug-addled, erratic. But according to Sounes, he could also be far worse—paranoid, racist, and emotionally and physically abusive. Now, Reed’s former wife Sylvia Reed (now Ramos) has broken eighteen years of media silence to rebut Sounes’s book. Many of the people interviewed for the book, Ramos says, “were not capable of remembering anything they did in any given six-month period during that time, much less come back all these years later and say, ‘Oh, yes, I was there, this is what was going on.’ ” For those who are hoping for a less sensationalized portrait of Reed, both Luc Sante and Will Hermes are currently at work on biographies of the musician.

    Editors Haley Mlotek and Alexandra Molotkow have announced that they are leaving the Hairpin, the website launched by the Awl in 2010.

    The New York Times announced a $9 million profit in its third-quarter annual report—a profit driven significantly by digital subscriptions.

    On Tuesday, November 2, at Cambridge’s Brattle Theatre, A. S. Hamrah will be introducing a screening of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons. We are particularly excited about this event after Hamrah’s September Bookforum essay, which challenges the Hollywood mythology that has cast Welles as an example of failure. “That Welles pursued his original vision, even as he worked in a state of hand-to-mouth auteur financing, into the ’80s looks from our vantage point like a sign of strength and integrity,” Hamrah writes.