• January 12, 2016

    David Bowie, American Library Association

    David Bowie, American Library Association

    Writers from Hilton Als to Marlon James responded yesterday to the loss of the inimitable David Bowie, and many recalled the books he loved most. (In a 1998 Proust questionnaire, Bowie’s answers, respectively, to “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” and “What is the quality you most like in a man?” were “Reading,” and ”The ability to return books.”)

    Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes has announced that running a magazine (or finding “a workable business model” for one) is a lot harder than he’d hoped: “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million,” he wrote yesterday in a memo to staff, he is giving up on the New Republic and plans to sell it.Vox, Vice, the Texas Tribune, Buzzfeed, ProPublica, and Mic embody a new generation of promising organizations — some for-profit, others non-profit — that have put serious, high-quality journalism at the core of their identities. The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other traditional outlets seem to have found business models that work for them. I hope that this institution will one day be part of that list. To get there The New Republic needs a new vision that only a new owner can bring.” The Wall Street Journal noted that TNR’s web traffic had dropped by more than fifty percent after the mass walkout of the old guard late last year, and hadn’t really recovered since, but it also quoted former editor Franklin Foer as saying that the magazine “has spent 100 years cheating death,” and may keep on doing so.

    Meanwhile, after five years at the helm of the Paris Review, Lorin Stein—who recalls thatWhen I told my sister I was quitting my job as a book editor to edit a magazine of stories and poems, she looked as if I’d said I was running away to join the circus: a tiny, doomed, irrelevant circus”—appears to be going strong.

    It seems Sean Penn may not have been Chapo Guzmán’s first choice to write about him: The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe has an interesting piece about the El Chapo saga, in which he mentions his own (tactful) refusal of an offer to collaborate on the drug lord’s memoirs. As well as putting him on dubious legal footing, Keefe “worried that the whole scenario felt like Act I of a thriller in which the hapless magazine writer, blinded by his desire for a scoop, does not necessarily survive Act III.”

    In the UK, the Daily Telegraph apparently installed heat and motion sensors to monitor how much time its journalists spend at their desks—but then removed the devices again a few hours later after staff complaints and a report about the incident on Buzzfeed. It’s nice to keep tabs on your employees, perhaps, but less fun once someone else starts keeping tabs on the tabs you’re keeping.

  • January 11, 2016

    Aside from everything else you could say about David Bowie—surely one of the greatest shapeshifting pop stars in history—he also had excellent taste in literature. Via Electric Lit, here’s a list of Bowie’s one hundred favorite books. And from the 2011 volume David Bowie: Any Day Now, The London Years 1947–1974, a few images of the starman from his late 1960s and early ’70s heyday:

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  • Meera Subramanian

    Meera Subramanian

    Glancing back: In 2015, Amazon’s stock prices went up 117 percent and the Educational Development Corp’s stock prices went up 128 percent, creating a jump in publishing-industry share prices. Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble’s stocks fell 26 percent. Looking ahead: the News & Observer offers predictions for 2016—“Paper is popular, science fiction rises, long-form nonfiction dips.”

    The New York Times does not call Sean Penn’s meeting with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, unethical, but it does raise the question. Penn’s article about the drug lord was published this weekend in Rolling Stone (just after El Chapo’s recapture). The Times says: “It was not immediately clear what the ethical and legal considerations of the article might be. In a disclosure that ran with the story, Rolling Stone said it had changed some names and withheld some locations. An understanding was reached with Mr. Guzmán, it said, that the story would be submitted for his approval, but he did not request any changes. The magazine declined to comment further Saturday.”

    Alanis Morissette, who two decades ago inspired thousands of English majors (and even Weird Al) to critique her use of the word “ironic,” has written a self-help memoir, Perpetual Becoming (to be published by HarperOne in October), and is about to become an advice columnist for The Guardian. Her first column will appear on January 16.

    Morissette isn’t the only ’90s pop star who’s been working on an autobiography. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins says he has written more than 1,000 pages of his memoir. And he’s not done yet.

    The Virginia Quarterly Review has launched a new “literary experiment” called #VQRTrueStory on Instagram. For the next year, the literary magazine will be publishing photographs with short, nonfiction essays attached. The first posts are by author Meera Subramanian (A River Runs Again), who has been documenting changes in India. According to VQR deputy editor Paul Reyes, each Instagram post will “receive the same editorial treatment as all other magazine content.” Many of the posts will be collected and published on the website or in the magazine.

    Maxim magazine is suing two former employees for defamation after they spoke to the New York Post for a “controversial” article about Maxim’s millionaire owner Sardar Bilgari (who recently named himself the magazine’s EIC) and his alleged behavior at a recent cover shoot.

  • January 8, 2016

    Chris Kraus

    Chris Kraus

    The Fales Library & Special Collections at NYU, known for its unique materials on Riot Grrrl and the Downtown New York scene, has acquired Chris Kraus’s papers, including her personal diaries—the source material for novels that ingeniously combined theory, fiction, and autobiography—and her correspondence as founding editor of Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents imprint, as well as film and video footage from her time as a filmmaker in New York in the 1980s and ‘90s. “Dear Dick,” Kraus wrote, in her groundbreaking 1997 epistolary novel I Love Dick, “I guess in a sense I’ve killed you. You’ve become Dear Diary.” For readers, it seemed more than worth the sacrifice—and now we might get a chance to see just how it was done.

    Author and economic analyst Doug Henwood has responded to Katha Pollitt’s piece in The Nation on his book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency, noting an unwillingness on the part of Clinton’s supporters to engage with her actual record. There’s a nice Allen Ginsberg reference in there, too.

    Like the rest of us, Jonathan Sturgeon of Flavorwire has been paying attention lately to the public reading habits of our political and business leaders. And he’s drawn a few helpful conclusions, not least this one: “The urge to review books goes unsatisfied even when your every material and altruistic need is met.”

    Meanwhile, for the old-fashioned among you who still long to read anonymously and in private, it will soon be possible to get more of your news on the dark web: ProPublica is apparently the first major media organization to offer an untraceable version of itself, via the Tor network.

    Kelly Luce offers a treat at Electric Literature: One of the Lucia Berlin stories not included in A Manual for Cleaning Women.

  • January 7, 2016

    Anne Carson

    Anne Carson

    The celebrated poet Anne Carson is branching out into short stories—there’s one in the New Yorker this week, and another in Harper’s Magazine.

    As writers struggle to make anything you might call a living, Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy and current president of the UK’s Society of Authors, has asked British publishers to offer fairer contractual terms: “We authors see a landscape occupied by several large interests, some of them gathering profits in the billions, some of them displaying a questionable attitude to paying tax, some of them colonising the internet with projects whose reach is limitless and whose attitude to creators’ rights is roughly that of the steamroller to the ant,” he writes. “One thing hasn’t changed, which is the ignored, unacknowledged, but complete dependence of those great interests on us and on our talents and on the work we do in the quiet of our solitude. They have enormous financial and political power, but no creative power whatsoever.”

    And over here, the Authors Guild has taken its case against Google for “copyright infringement on an epic scale” to the Supreme Court (though it’s unlikely to get anywhere).

    Edward Mendelson, scholar, critic, and literary executor of W. H. Auden’s estate, praises Barack Obama for the quality of his youthful thoughts on T. S. Eliot—”This is what the finest literary criticism has always done”—but wonders what else they might tell us about the president: “Like everyone, I imagine, who was moved and hopeful after the 2008 elections,” he writes, “I have mixed feelings about Barack Obama’s presidency, and I doubt that ‘a fatalism I share with the western tradition’ is desirable in a practical politician.

    Kelsey Osgood visits the remaining members of a commune inspired by the thought of Leo Tolstoy.

    Michael Dirda finds the new memoir by the hundred-year-old novelist Herman Wouk, author of The Caine Mutiny and Marjorie Morningstar, a bit lacking in revelations, but it does hint that more might be forthcoming from “a frank private diary” that runs to over a hundred volumes.

  • January 6, 2016

    It seems that Lee Bo, the latest of five Hong Kong booksellers to have gone missing recently, may be being held by authorities in mainland China. CNN cites one source as suggesting that a publisher Lee and the others are connected to “had been planning on publishing a book about the ‘love affairs’ of China’s President Xi Jinping during his time working ‘in the provinces.’”

    To make amends for its infamous “80 Books Every Man Should Read” list—”What can we say? We messed up”—Esquire greets the new year with a new list, selected by women including Roxane Gay, Lauren Groff, Anna Holmes, and Sloane Crosley.

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles

    And Vulture asked authors which books had changed their lives: Among the highlights are Alexander Chee, who named Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, Celeste Ng (Anne Sexton’s Transformations), and Eileen Myles (Violette Leduc’s La Bâtarde).

    Yet more drama at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whose manager, Michael E. Schroeder, has now been removed. Schroeder has issued a bizarre apology to readers of a pseudonymous piece that appeared in two local Connecticut newspapers he publishes: The offending article attacked a Nevada judge presiding over a case that involves the casino interests of GOP donor and new Review-Journal owner Sheldon Adelson. Meanwhile in the Las Vegas newsroom, staffers have been being briefed on how to cover stories about their own boss.

    Now that the requisite fifty years are up, we get to find out what went on behind the scenes of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Literature, which was awarded to Mikhail Sholokhov: The list of those who lost out includes first-time nominees Theodor Adorno, Anna Akhmatova, Alejo Carpentier, Alan Sillitoe, and Marguerite Yourcenar.

    Gabriel García Márquez’s vast archives are to be made available online.

    At long last, someone has used data to determine that most books really are better (or at least better liked) than their movie adaptations: Comparing IMDB and Goodreads scores for the same titles, Vocativ researchers found that the original books did better 74 per cent of the time. It’s unclear just how Hollywood fared in cases (like Pride and Prejudice) where there have been multiple adaptations of the same material, but perhaps that should merit extra points for effort.

  • January 5, 2016

    Only a couple of years after winning the Costa novel award for Life After Life, Kate Atkinson has received it again for the sequel, A God in Ruins, making her the first writer ever to win three Costa prizes.

    Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin adds her voice to the conversation about Claire Vaye Watkins’s “On Pandering” and Marlon James’s assertion that white women’s tastes shape the publishing industry: “It is easier to complain about the power you don’t have than to think about how you are exerting the power you do have. And fighting for your own rights is not the same as fighting for equality. Women working for gender equality, rather than the equality of everyone, are not heroes.”

    Mark Zuckerberg recently bade farewell to his Year of Books, having made it through two books a month in 2015: “Reading has given me more perspective on a number of topics,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “from science to religion, from poverty to prosperity, from health to energy to social justice, from political philosophy to foreign policy, and from history to futuristic fiction. This challenge has been intellectually fulfilling, and I come away with a greater sense of hope and optimism that our society can make greater progress in all of these areas.” If you’re wondering how he reached that conclusion, you can explore his reading list further here.

    Meanwhile, it seems another tech billionaire has had a still greater influence on America’s reading habits lately: The New York Times draws our attention to “the Bill Gates bump”—which has been enjoyed this year by books such as Eula Biss’s On Immunity—and interviews Gates about his sideline as a book critic.

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    And the Millions has previewed the year in fiction, which will include new works by Don DeLillo, Julian Barnes, Annie Proulx, Dana Spiotta, Darryl Pinckney, and Curtis Sittenfeld, poems by Dana Gioia, and the debut novel of short-story writer David Means, as well as translations of Herta Müller, Javier Marías, Álvaro Enrigue, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

    Roxane Gay’s book Hunger, about food and the body, will also be out later this year: “Soon, you realize that the whole world might be your apartment, because there’s no room for you out in the world.” And in a conversation with the LA Review of Books, Gay named some of her “favorite, realest writers,” including Merritt Tierce, Randa Jarrar, and xTx.

    The Undefeated, ESPN’s site covering the intersection of sports and race, will finally be launching in 2016.

  • January 4, 2016

    Tom Clancy

    Tom Clancy

    A British intelligence file kept secret until last week reveals that President Reagan boned up for his meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1986 nuclear-disarmament talks in Iceland by reading Tom Clancy’s novel Red Storm Rising. The president thought Clancy’s Cold War thriller, which imagines events leading up to World War III, explained the Soviet Union so well that he strongly urged Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to read it too. 

    Tired of home-delivery problems, editors and reporters at the Boston Globe decided to deliver thousands of copies of the paper themselves on Sunday. The paper says that it was a “small gesture to show our Globe customers that we are working hard” to fix the recent problems in delivery service.

    George R. R. Martin has been working closely with the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones series, which is based on his novels, sharing with them the plots of his forthcoming books. This year, the TV series will, for the first time, reveal plot points of Martin’s next novel, The Winds of Winter, before the novel actually comes out. “I blew the Halloween deadline, and I’ve now blown the end of the year deadline,” Martin says. “And that almost certainly means that no, The Winds of Winter will not be published before the sixth season of Game of Thrones premieres in April.”  

    The National Book Critics Circle has released the results for the election to fill eight open spots on its board.

    According to Chartbeat, the “most engaging” digital story in 2015 was Graeme Wood’s “What ISIS Really Wants,” which appeared in The Atlantic. Second place went to Wired’s “The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress.”

    Pamela Paul answers some of the “most frequently asked questions” about the New York Times Book Review, where she is the top editor. How does one become a book reviewer? Do editors at the NYTBR ever commission reviews that they expect will be harsh? Do reviewers cover their friends’ books?  

    Luc Sante, the author of Low Life, discusses his new book, The Other Paris, and talks about what capitalism does to cities.  

    The West Hollywood house once owned by Nathanael West—author of The Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts—is for sale.