• June 4, 2014

    The New Yorker’s love-themed summer fiction issue includes stories by Rachel Kushner, David Gilbert, Karen Russell, and Ramona Ausubel. The lineup looks good, but the video “preview” is twee and pointless.

    James Joyce’s eyesight worsened because he had syphilis, a scholar claims. The smoking gun is apparently a medication he was prescribed, galyl, a combination of arsenic and phosphorus that was exclusively used to treat the disease.

    Rebecca Solnit celebrates the #yesallwomen hashtag, and connects it to a handful of recently coined terms describing elements of women’s experience. The new language marks a turning point in feminism, she argues: “Domestic violence, mansplaining, rape culture, and sexual entitlement are among the linguistic tools that redefine the world many women encounter daily and open the way to begin to change it.” Meanwhile, Mallory Ortberg explains “how not to review women’s writing.” A few things to avoid: denying that the work at hand is art or arguing that it’s “immodest”; claiming that one set of experience is more valuable than another; referring to women artists as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists; asserting that the woman in question is “eccentric or atypical”; and claiming that only one work among a whole ouevre is any good.

    Darcey Steinke

    Darcey Steinke

    Darcey Steinke remembers meeting Kurt Cobain twenty years ago, when she interviewed him for Spin: “Listening to the six hours of interview tapes, 20 years later, I can’t help noticing that it’s not only Kurt who seems fragmented. It is distressing how rootless and superficial I sound. I ask music-biz questions, I laugh a lot, but I am incapable of connecting with either Kurt’s anxiety or his interest in fatherhood.”

    Reddit, Imgur, and BoingBoing are coordinating on a day of action against NSA surveillance. They will argue for“more direct action,” and encourage people to “install privacy and encryption tools.”

  • June 3, 2014

    The New Inquiry announces that Ayesha Siddiqi, who recently left Buzzfeed Ideas, will be succeeding Rachel Rosenfelt as the online magazine’s new editor in chief.

    Ayesha Siddiqi

    Ayesha Siddiqi

    The Supreme Court has refused an appeal by the New York Times reporter James Risen, who was subpoenaed to testify in a criminal case against a former CIA officer. Risen is resisting on the grounds that he has the right to protect his sources’ identities.

    At the Guardian, James Camp explains BookCon: “BEA is for the book people: for three days, identified by booth or badge, they had sat or milled and done business, or seemed to. BookCon was for the people who like books. The idea was to interact.”

    Two owners of the tiny Australian e-book publisher that originally published Fifty Shades of Grayare suing for a share in the profits.

    Oliver Stone has announced that he will direct a movie adaptation of The Snowden Files. The movie about the NSA whistleblower will be in competition with another, similar project, No Place to Hide, adapted from Glenn Greenwald’s book on Snowden.

    At the London Review of Books, Zoë Heller on Jennifer Senior’s book about parenting, All Joy and No Fun. Senior has limited her definition of parenthood to include the kind done by “American, middle-class, heterosexual, married” people, Heller points out. “She has deliberately excluded the poor because the problems they encounter as parents are hard to separate from their more general money problems. She has also left out the rich because they can afford to outsource the arduous or tedious parts of child-rearing.” But why has she left out single people? “Given that the marriage rate in the US is the lowest it’s been in more than a century and that in 2013 nearly half of the first-time births in the US were to unmarried women, her focus on the nuclear family seems a bit quaint.”

  • June 2, 2014

    For those of you who missed BookExpo America (or who were there but fear you missed something), Publisher’s Weekly has rounded up the 2014 convention’s big books.

    At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad wonders if Seymour Hirsh aided Syria with “unprofessional journalism.”

    Ruth Franklin

    Ruth Franklin

    If you’re in New York tonight, the Housing Works bookstore is hosting what promises to be an interesting roundtable, organized by VIDA, on literary biography. Participants include Jill Lepore (author of Jane Franklin), Rebecca Mead (who has written about George Eliot and Middlemarch), Ruth Franklin (who is working on a biography of Shirley Jackson), and Salamishah Tillet (Nina Simone). Poet and biographer Diane Mehta moderates.

    Vice Magazine lashes out at Gawker’s “garbage click-bait journalism,” which includes a recent “inaccurate and irresponsible story about VICE’s workplace.”

    If you haven’t exhausted yourself with stories about Amazon’s fight with Hachette, here’s a quick tour of the latest batch: Amazon might be delaying its delivery of Hachette titles because the Internet retailer needs money, or maybe Amazon just “doesn’t care.” Michael Pietsch, famous for his acquisition of Infinite Jest and now chief executive of Hachette, is leading his company and other publishers in the fight against Amazon, and author James Patterson attacked Amazon’s practices at a Book Expo America appearance. Writer Jack Shafer announces that he’s quitting Amazon, Huff Post says it’s almost impossible to ditch Amazon, and Bob Kohn explains how publishers “can beat Amazon.”

  • May 30, 2014

    A young Maya Angelou

    A young Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou died on Wednesday at the age of 86. An obituary in the New York Times praises her “directness of voice.” The Wall Street Journal says she will be “remembered above all as the ‘people’s poet.’”  The LA Times calls her “a diva of American culture.” At the Poetry Foundation, read a sampling of her poems.

    I want to say to you that you are graduating at a difficult time, when everything you might have taken for granted in a capitalist democracy, including certification by institutions of higher education and consequent stable employment, is more problematic than ever.” The Baffler has reprinted author Siddhartha Deb‘s New School commencement speech.

    A new stage work titled The Source, which is inspired by WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning, will premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. The Source will feature music composed by Ted Hearne with a libretto by Mark Doten, whose anticipated debut novel, The Infernal, will be published by Graywolf in February 2015.

    Capital New York reports that The American Prospect, which is now published bimonthly, will likely reinvent itself as a quarterly for financial reasons.

    Electric Literature launched a new website this week, and has hired a new online editor, Lincoln Michel, formerly of the Minus Times and the author of Upright Beasts, a story collection forthcoming from Coffee House Press.

    James Patterson has donated $268,000 to independent bookstores, including San Francisco’s Green Apple Books and Moe’s Books in Berkeley. This is the second round of gifts this year; all told, he’s spent more than $535,000. He plans to give a total of $1 million.

    Salon explores Amazon’s relationship to literary nonprofits, many of which rely on the company for key funding. A number of the organizations that Salon asked for comment declined to respond—a “scary sign of Amazon’s massive power.”

  • May 29, 2014

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    A blogger points out that the New York Times’s characterization of Eduardo Galeano as having “renounced” his anticapitalist, anticolonialist classic, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America), doesn’t hold water. When you look at the evidence the paper itself provides, it’s hard to see Galeano’s comments as a “disavowal,” (as the Times sensationally called them); rather, “Galeano offered a critique of [his book] and its young author, with the benefit of hindsight and forty-plus years of experience.”

    Gillian Flynn, the author of the much-celebrated Gone Girl, has announced that her next novel will be based on Hamlet. The book will be put out by Hogarth Shakespeare, “a project to retell the Bard’s plays for contemporary readers by well-known writers.”

    The Washingtonian profiles journalist Andrew Sullivan, who has returned to D.C. after an unhappy stint in New York.

    According to the Times, BookExpo America, which opened yesterday at Manhattan’s Javits Center, is trying to be seen as “more welcoming and fun,” by featuring “consumer-friendly attractions like the ‘Hunger Games’ quiz.”

    At a BookExpo event, Kirkus Reviews revealed that it will be sponsoring three $50,000 book prizes, one each in fiction, nonfiction, and YA.

  • May 28, 2014

    Mahbod Moghadam, one of the co-founders of Rap Genius (a website that lets users annotate rap lyrics), has resigned over annotations he made to a memoir written by Elliot Rodger, the alleged shooter of six UCSB students. Tom Lehman, the company CEO, said in a statement that Moghadam’s comments “not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.”

    Edward St. Aubyn

    Edward St. Aubyn

    The New Yorker‘s Ian Parker profiles Edward St. Aubyn, the author of the five-book Patrick Melrose series—”in which extremes of familial cruelty and social snobbery are described with a tart precision that is not quite free of cruelty and snobbery”—and a new novel, Lost for Words. “St. Aubyn has been careful to protect his own life from the dull tarnish of remembrance-and-release; it would pain him if readers mistook a twenty-year literary project for a therapeutic one,” Parker observes. “But the awkward fact is that writing saved St. Aubyn’s life.”  Alexander Benaim reviewed Lost for Words for Bookforum last week.

    At the Huffington Post, a look at why Amazon can play hardball with book publishers: “Hachette needs Amazon a lot more than Amazon needs Hachette.”

    Ken Auletta reports that Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, refused to sign a nondisparagement agreement after being fired from her post. Auletta has been covering the story for the New Yorker since it broke.

    Texas state senator Wendy Davis’s memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid, will be published this fall by Blue Rider Press. Davis, who is best known for her eleven-hour filibuster to prevent a senate bill that would restrict access to abortion, is also running for governor in November.

    The New Yorker has made selections of Jack Kerouac’s diaries available to the public.

  • May 27, 2014

    Margaret Atwood’s debut opera, Pauline, has opened in Vancouver. The libretto describes the life and last days of Pauline Johnson, a Canadian writer of Mohawk and British descent who died in 1913.

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    Since its publication 43 years ago, Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of the Continent has been an anticolonialist and anticapitalist classic. Recently, the Uruguayan author reflected on the book’s limitations. “Open Veins tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn’t yet have the necessary training or preparation,” Mr. Galeano said.

    John Wray reflects that working under a pen name has allowed him to be less inhibited as a writer. “John Wray isn’t so different from poor, nebbishy John P. Henderson from Buffalo, New York. He’s just slightly better company—at least when the work is going well. When it isn’t, needless to say, he’s insufferable; but that’s when I remind myself, with a physical rush of relief, that John Wray doesn’t actually exist.”

    David Carr of the Times covers Medium, a hybrid blogging platform that doubles as a publisher.

    Amazon’s tactics against other publishers are undermining the qualities that made the company successful in the first place, writes Farhad Manjoo:  “To win a corporate battle, Amazon is ruining its customer experience”—i.e., “raising prices, removing ordering buttons, lengthening shipping times and monkeying with recommendation algorithms.”

  • May 23, 2014

    Time Magazine is moving to Lower Manhattan and breaking a long-standing industry taboo by beginning to sell ads on its cover.

    Eudora Welty

    Eudora Welty

    In March of 1933, a twenty-three-year-old Eudora Welty wrote a winning letter to the New Yorker asking for a job: “How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning—a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.” Also: “I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works—quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.” They didn’t hire her.

    Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Bishop both disliked J.D. Salinger’s novels. “I don’t like Salinger, not at all,” McCarthy sniffed. “That last thing isn’t a novel anyway, whatever it is. I don’t like it. Not at all. It suffers from this terrible sort of metropolitan sentimentality and it’s so narcissistic. And to me, also, it seemed so false, so calculated. Combining the plain man with an absolutely megalomaniac egotism. I simply can’t stand it.” Norman Mailer disliked Salinger too, but also McCarthy . . . and Kerouac, and Gore Vidal; while Vidal had it in for Hemingway, who had it in for Faulkner, who had it in for Twain. The Huffington Post maps the aesthetic grudges of twenty-five writers.

    Philip Roth, as we know, is finished with the whole shebang: writing books, giving readings, doing interviews—except, well, that “extended interview” that the Colbert Report has scheduled for July.

    Vellum turns your Twitter feed into a reading list, ranking the articles according to those most shared (and, we hope, read?) by the people you follow.

  • May 22, 2014

    Two reviewers, Christopher T. Fan at the New Inquiry and Diane Johnson at the New York Review of Books, discuss Chang-Rae Lee’s January novel, On Such a Full Sea, a few months after the rest of the crew. Johnson wonders why writers are attracted to dystopic fiction, “an unlovable genre with an inevitably hectoring tone.”

    At The Cut, Kat Stoeffel defends the use of trigger warnings, writing from the point of view of someone who used to dislike them: “I publicly joked that sappy songs required trigger warnings, and I privately complained that they were as infantilizing as spoiler alerts.”  But lately she’s changed her mind. “When it comes to what’s helpful for, say, survivors of sexual assault, shouldn’t we defer to survivors of sexual assault?”

    Laura Miller explains why she “quit” Amazon, and where she finds her books instead: “I’ve bought e-books for my iPad from four different non-Amazon vendors (Apple, Google, Barnes and Noble and Kobo), easy as pie, and I buy used print books from AbeBooks and Powells.com. I subscribe to Oyster, a new Netflix-for-books service. I also belong to Paperbackswap.com, a site that, for a small fee, enables its members to trade in their used books for credits that can be redeemed for the used books of other members.” Bookforum recommends Emily Books, a subscription to which delivers a curated selection of excellent, off-beat novels, one novel per month.

    Simon & Schuster has become the second of the big five publishers to offer titles on Oyster and Scribd, two services that allow users unlimited access to their e-books collection for a monthly fee.

    Stefan Zweig

    Stefan Zweig

    Tonight in New York, two literary events worth your time: In Brooklyn, Eric Banks chats with George Prochnik about his Stefan Zweig biography; in Manhattan, Porochista Khakpour talks about her new novel, The Last Illusion.

  • May 21, 2014

    Geoff Dyer

    Geoff Dyer

    At Vulture, Kathryn Schultz praises Geoff Dyer’s uncanny success with books “based on dubious ideas”—say, the unpromising “scene-by-scene analysis of a three-hour Russian film,” or the annoying-sounding book about “the author’s inability to write it.” But Dyer is a master: “The essential fact about [his] nonfiction is that it works beautifully when it shouldn’t work at all.” Another Great Day at Sea came out yesterday.

    Publishers Weekly is debuting a new site, “BookLife,” devoted to self-publishing. BookLife will launch in late May, during BookExpo America. BookWriters sans BookPublishers, take note.

    Speaking of the BookExpo—or BEA, as it’s known—a good twenty thousand “industry folk” are expected to attend this year’s convention, which will be held May 28-31 at the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

    The New York Review of Books offers a grim new poem by Frederick Seidel, “Robespierre”:  “There’s a wishing well in hell / Where every wish is granted. / Decapitation gets decanted. / Suppose you have the chance / To guillotine the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France?”

    At the Paris Review Daily, Ted Trautman reports from Austin’s O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. In the “Punslingers” portion of the event, contestants compete to come up with as many puns as possible on a given theme, a game that “rewards a contestant for the quantity of her puns rather than their quality.” The going wasn’t easy: “As the moderators explained several times, in a refrain later echoed by desperate contestants defending their ripostes, ‘It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be a pun.’”

    Lisa Darms, an archivist at the Fales Library, interviews Hedi El Kholti of Semiotext(e) about the independent publisher’s inclusion in the Whitney Biennial. “I am not sure if a press belongs in a museum show,” El Kholti says, but “there is a tradition of reading rooms in museums.” And “a lot of things end up in the art world because it’s the last remaining place that offers some kind of freedom and a context.”