• January 14, 2015

    The American Dialect Society, an organization of linguists, academics, and other word lovers, has named #blacklivesmatter its “Word of the Year.” It is the first time in the society’s 125 year history that a hashtag has won the award (though the word hashtag was the 2012 winner). Language aficionado Ben Zimmer, who chairs the society’s committee on new words, said of their choice: ”While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message. . . . Language scholars are paying attention to the innovative linguistic force of hashtags, and #blacklivesmatter was certainly a forceful example of this in 2014.”

    Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt will star in the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, which chronicled the 2007 financial crisis.

    Reporter James Risen will not have to testify at the trial of former CIA official, Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking confidential information about US operations in Iran. Risen was first subpoenaed in 2008 and has held fast to the principle that he should not—and would not—reveal the identity of his sources.

    The Times is reporting that the latest Charlie Hebdo cover, published today, “could ignite dangerous new passions.”

    Ed Park

    Ed Park

    Believer cofounder, Penguin Press executive editor, and Bookforum contributor Ed Park has sold his second novel, Same Bed, Different Dreams, and a story collection, An Oral History of Atlantis, to Random House. Park’s first novel, Personal Days, is considered a classic of office-malaise, which generates both comedy and chaos. The new novel “is the story of Soon Sheen, a stalled-out Korean-American author employed as an ‘acronym writer’ at GLOAT, an Oz-like social media company in upstate New York,” whose life is changed after a drunken encounter with a mysterious South Korean literary celebrity known as “the scourge of Seoul.”


  • January 13, 2015

    Sasha Frere-Jones

    Sasha Frere-Jones

    Sasha Frere-Jones has quit his job as the New Yorker’s pop music critic and is heading to Genius.com; his last New Yorker column is a piece about Northwest rock heroines Sleater-Kinney. Foster Kamer considers Frere-Jones’s move, writing that it really isn’t all that surprising, while at Gawker, Leah Finnegan pleads with trailblazing start-ups to stop giving Old Guard journalists so much money.

    Charlie Hebdo’s new issue will have a cartoon of a crying Prophet Muhammad on the cover.

    The Nation has hired David Hajdu to be its music critic. Hajdu’s books include Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn and Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina.

    Three journalists who left the New Republic during the Guy Vidra–stoked editorial flameout late last year have been hired at the Huffington Post, as Arianna Huffington aims to get HuffPo into the longform game. (Meanwhile, Cathy Park Hong, the author of Engine Empire and other books of poetry, has been named TNR’s new poetry editor.)

    The Story Prize has named its three finalists for the 2014: Francesca Marciano (author of The Other Language), Elizabeth McCracken (Thunderstruck), and Lorrie Moore (Bark). The winner of the “spotlight award” is Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk.

    In a post about presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s act of plagiarism (his 2012 memoir lifted passages from a website called socialismsucks.net), Mark Krotov points out: “a politician plagiarizing his or her book just isn’t that big a deal. This is not to say that plagiarism is okay—it isn’t—or that we should hold politicians to standards different from those we demand of hack pop-science reporters. We shouldn’t. But the fact is that politicians’ books—especially their campaign memoirs—are a banal and hopeless publishing category, and no one really cares about them.”

    The hackers who took over the US Central Command’s Twitter account on Monday and posted “I love you ISIS” at the top of the page are probably not actually affiliated with ISIS.

  • January 12, 2015

    Robert Stone

    Robert Stone

    Novelist Robert Stone died on Saturday. He was the author of numerous novels, including the National Book Award-winning Dog Soldiers, which updated Graham Greene’s international thrillers for the Vietnam War era and paved the way for Denis Johnson’s counterculture classic Already Dead.

    Michel Houellebecq—the subject of a Charlie Hebdo cover story titled “The predictions of the Great Houellebecq,” published on the day that terrorists killed twelve people at the satirical newspaper—has stopped promoting his novel Submission. The novel, which was released on Wednesday, is about a radical Muslim politician who is elected president in 2022 France.

    On Friday, Rupert Murdoch Tweeted: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” J.K. Rowling has posted a number of responses, including: “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.”

    The Believer, which has been monthly since it was founded in 2003, has released its first bimonthly issue.

    Politico reporter Maggie Haberman has joined the New York Times, where she will cover the upcoming presidential campaigns. And Jack Shafer has joined Politico to cover the media and politics.

    Gawker asks: “Dear God, What Have They Done to Joan Didion Now?”

  • January 9, 2015

    The Charlie Hebdo staff members who survived Wednesday’s attack will publish an issue of the paper next week. They are planning to increase its print run from around sixty thousand to one million copies, with donations helping to defray the costs.

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine’s Citizen—which concerns, among other things, racism and police brutality—was published in October 2014, but subsequent printings of the book, a finalist for the National Book Award, have already included changes that reflect the deaths of new victims, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

    David Haglund, who edits Slate’s Brow Beat blog, has been named the new literary editor of newyorker.com. He will start his new position later this month.

    Need advice? Write to Haruki Murakami.

    In 2014, writers and publishers raised $21.8 million through Kickstarter, and comics artists raised another $9.61 million. The company has issued an end-of-the-year chart, showing dollars donated to projects from a variety of categories.

    In her latest column, The Unspeakable author Meghan Daum wonders if “mansplaining” is as widespread a phenomenon as certain critics have made it out to be. “The reality is that ‘splaining is everywhere, and it’s ultimately not gender specific.”


  • January 8, 2015

    Stéphane Charbonnier

    Stéphane Charbonnier

    How publications are responding to the attack on Charlie Hebdo: from solidarity to censorship.  And, at the Times, a profile of Stéphane Charbonnier (aka Charb), the paper’s editorial director, one of twelve people killed in the attack.

    The New Republic has announced the first new hires since the magazine’s disastrous editorial reboot this fall, which culminated with many prominent staff members leaving. Charged with righting the ship are two new senior editors, Jamil Smith and Elspeth Reeve; an associate editor, Bijan Stephen; and a poetry editor, Cathy Park Hong. TNR’s editor, Gabriel Snyder, promises more “exciting updates” in the coming days.

    Meanwhile, over at Gawker, Alex Pareene is returning to the staff as a “special projects editor” after a hiatus at The Intercept. Gawker editor John Cook says that among Pareene’s key duties will be “to work with all the sites on developing and executing pranks, capers, hijinks, and long cons—not merely juvenile stunts (though some will no doubt be), but strategically articulated operations designed to puncture sanctimony and undermine authority.”

    Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and potential Republican presidential candidate, is being accused of plagiarizing sources such as Socialismsucks.net in his book America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made this Nation Great, which extols, among other things, the virtues of hard work and academic excellence. Carson’s publisher, Zondervan, is said to be reviewing the allegations, while his agent says Carson (and his wife and co-author, Candy Carson), didn’t mean it: “The Carsons, in writing this book, did everything that they thought they were supposed to do to provide the source material for their book.”

  • January 7, 2015

    Nicholas and Cathy Sparks

    Nicholas and Cathy Sparks

    Nicholas Sparks and his wife, Cathy, have declared everything Sparks ever wrote null and void by divorcing, and Twitter has consequently lost hope in the power of love.

    The National Book Critics Circle has elected its board for the coming year, and among the eight is our own Michael Miller.

    There’s been a lot of hiring and firing lately. Amy O’Leary, formerly the Times’ digital deputy editor for the international desk, is moving to Upworthy to act as editorial director. (The Observer wonders if the hire signals “a more serious direction” for the company.) Lois Romano is leaving Politico to return to the Washington Post, and Marilyn Thompson, currently the Washington bureau chief for Reuters, is joining Politico as deputy editor. Buzzfeed has named Melissa Segura as its first investigative fellow and Joshua Hirsh as its reporting fellow. Finally, at The Atlantic, Yoni Applebaum will become the new politics editor and Sophie Gilbert the new culture editor.

    At the Chronicle of Higher Education, an article about the “new modesty” in literary criticism.

    The Morning News’ Tournament of Books has announced the judges and shortlist for this year’s contest. The list includes Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun, Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests, and twelve others novels.

    n+1’s winter issue is out. The theme is labor and magazines, with pieces by Daniel Menaker, Gemma Sieff, Keith Gessen, and Maxine Phillips.

  • January 6, 2015

    Leon Wieseltier, formerly of the New Republic, has joined the staff of The Atlantic. Wieseltier was one of the first to announce his departure from TNR amid the general exodus in early December.

    The editor in chief of the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ralph Eubanks, will leave when his contract expires at the end of the summer.

    Forbes has announced its list of “30 under 30” in media. It includes Questlove; Peter Thiel, of Paypal and Palantir; Lauren Bush; Monica Lewinsky; and Tinder’s Sean Rad.

    On the NYRB blog, Geoffrey O’Brien writes about Inherent Vice. “If everything is at first sight a dream, a hallucination, a doper’s paranoid exaggeration, we are always looking at faces that say more than even Pynchon’s baroquely elaborating dialogue can. We seem to watch at least two quite different movies at the same time, one exhilaratingly fast and funny, the other unaccountably jagged and sad.”

    The Millions has published its annual preview of upcoming fiction. Next year will see books by Nell Zink, Aleksandr Hemon, Vivian Gornick, Joshua Cohen, Jonathan Galassi, Jesse Ball, Mia Couto, Ann Beattie, Garth Risk Hallberg, Jonathan Franzen, Amelia Gray, Kate Atkinson, Milan Kundera, and many, many others.

    James Risen

    James Risen

    New York Times reporter James Risen, the author of State of War (2006), continues to resist pressure to reveal his sources. Yesterday, on the witness stand in federal court, Risen refused to help prosecutors in their case against former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, who will soon be tried for providing classified information to the journalist for his book.


  • January 5, 2015

    Mark Zuckerberberg is starting what could become the biggest book club in history. The Facebook founder has written that his “challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week—with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.” This will not be a solitary endeavor: Zuckerberg has created a Facebook page called A Year of Books, where he will name the books he’s reading, and invite others to discuss the titles. There are some basic rules for those who join the club: “We ask that everyone who participates read the books and we will moderate the discussions and group membership to keep us on topic.” The first book to be discussed will be Moises Naim’s The End of Power.

    Michel Houellebecq defends his controversial new novel, Submission. In the book, set in France in 2022, a member of a Muslim political party wins the presidency.

    In 2014, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos lost $7.4 billion due to his company’s poorly performing stock. It was the online superstore’s worst year since 2008. But Bezos remains one of the wealthiest Americans. As the WSJ points out, “Bezos’ 84 million shares, equal to 18.3% of the company, will ring in the New Year with a value of roughly $26.1 billion.”

    Ben Lerner

    Ben Lerner

    “I think a lot of the time the book is talked about, like, ‘Oh here’s another Brooklyn novel by a guy with glasses.’” Ben Lerner talks with Emily Witt about octopi, friendships between men and women, political engagement in a consumerist culture, and his recent novel 10:04.

    Flavorwire has posted a roundup of the best literary criticism of 2014, which includes a shoutout to LRB editor and regular Bookforum contributor Christian Lorentzen.

  • January 2, 2015

    Since this past summer, the London Review of Books has been serially publishing Jenny Diski’s memoirs. In this installment, Diski describes listening, as a teenager, to Doris Lessing (Diski’s guardian) and her friends: “To start with, I couldn’t understand how it was so easy for them to have a point of view, to know how and why things ‘worked’. ‘Working’, the pivotal valuation, was never defined. There seemed to be too much to learn. I picked up quickly that having opinions wasn’t enough and that it was necessary to have a basis – from reading, from study, from hard conscious thought – from which the opinions were formed. But more important than all the theory, behind and beyond it, there was some ineffable taste or intuitive understanding implicitly agreed on by these talking, always talking, people. I couldn’t imagine ever acquiring the all-important taste. Did you have it or not, from birth? Could you acquire it with diligent study? Many people were dismissed as stupid, especially academics, who apparently lacked good judgment, yet who seemed at least as learned as Doris and her friends. How could they be stupid?”

    Patton Oswalt

    Patton Oswalt

    Patton Oswalt wants to invite Heather Havrilesky, Neal Gaiman, and Cintra Wilson to dinner.

    Twitter is putting ads into the lists of who we follow, making it look like you’re following Mastercard when you’re not. The ads are marked as promoted, but their location is exceedingly misleading. Blocking the account will prevent the ad from showing up, but another brand inevitably shows up to take its place.

    The science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock, whose seventieth novel will be released in January, celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday this month. Moorcock “shook the fantasy and science-fiction establishment and made it possible for writers to step outside the long shadow of Tolkien and other fantasy devices,” says the New Yorker.

    Most people who work in bookbinding are fifty-five or older.

    Over the years, countless fans have rewritten the end of “Brokeback Mountain” to do away with the tragedy. “The implication is that because they’re men they understand much better than I how these people would have behaved,” Annie Proulx says.  “And maybe they do. But that’s not the story I wrote. Those are not their characters. The characters belong to me by law.”  Proulx finds it so maddening, she says, that she wishes she’d never written the story.

  • December 31, 2014

    At the Intercept, Natasha Vargas-Cooper has a multipart interview with Jay Wilds, who figures prominently in Sarah Koenig’s twelve-episode documentary podcast, Serial, and who was a key witness in the case against Adnan Syed. (Syed was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but has maintained his innocence; Serial suggests he may be telling the truth and casts doubt on Wilds.) The Observer talks to Vargas-Cooper about her decision to do the interview.“I think [Wilds is] a really complicated guy and I think I’m dealing with somebody who has like been really traumatized. [This interview] has intensified and further armed the pro-Adnan people, which I feel like at this point anything would. But I think for people who are not as partisan it created a more fleshed out human being.”

    Melville House has already ordered a reprint of its edition of The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, which officially went on sale yesterday. The publisher has sold out of all 50,000 copies of its initial run of 50,000.

    Gawker IDs Lena Dunham’s alleged rapist, in response to accusations that she fabricated the rape and the character who raped her.

    Pankaj Mishra and Benjamin Moser wonder whether writers can still “make it new,” as Ezra Pound famously suggested we must. “Literary modernism has culminated in a canon of a few great but inimitable texts,” Mishra reflects. “Avant-garde painting, originally a mode of rebellion, now moves tamely in industrial capitalism’s circuits of production and consumption. The once potent notions of revolution, progress and future that inspired much artistic innovation have lost their imaginative appeal.”

    Four more staffers have left the depleted New Republic, including managing editor Linda Kinstler, deputy editor Amanda Silverman, assistant literary editor Becca Rothfeld, and reporter Yishai Schwartz.