• November 25, 2014

    Last night, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown. The demonstrations against the decision are righteous and angry and ongoing. Here’s Raven Rakia on what gets called a protest and what gets called a riot. The key difference? Who is protesting and where, not what they’re doing. “Violence is a realistic factor, and sometimes, a tactic, in all of these protests. Resisting is never peaceful. If the State fears you, it will crack down on you violently.”

    Color of Change, an online civil rights organization started in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has released a memo to reporters covering the protests in Ferguson.

    For years, David Harvey has been teaching a course on Marx’s Capital at CUNY. Harvey’s well-loved and eminently helpful lectures on Volume 1 have been available for a while; now Volume 2 and part of Volume 3 is available as well.

    Allan Kornblum

    Allan Kornblum

    Allan Kornblum, the founder of the excellent Coffee House Press, has died of leukemia. He was 65. Kornblum launched Coffee House in 1984, after moving to Minneapolis with his wife, Cinda. Kornblum’s colleague Chris Fischbach remembers him as wise and tireless. The press has published Ben Lerner, Ron Padgett, and Karen Tei Yamashita, among many others—in thirty years, it has put out more than four hundred books.

    In the Times, David Carr admonishes journalists who knew of Cosby’s reputation as a serial abuser but said nothing. That list includes Cosby’s biographer, Mark Whitaker, as well as writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kelefa T. Sanneh, and Carr himself:  “We all have our excuses, but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer.”

    The University of Texas Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Gabriel García Márquez. The collection has more than two thousand letters, but very few are personal, and most are from other writers—Márquez rarely made copies of the letters he sent, and kept in touch with his family mainly over the phone. A possibly apocryphal story has it that when he got engaged to his wife he offered to buy back the love letters he’d written to her. There is little relating to his political life either, or his friendship with Castro: Again—unusually for a writer?—he was a “phone person,” his son has said. The Ransom Center also holds the archives of Joyce, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Borges.

    How does the Strand stay in business? It only buys books it thinks it can sell. It sells more new books than used. It buys review copies from editorial assistants at a fraction of the wholesale price and sells them as new (which they essentially are). It has a below-market lease (which the business rents from the owners of the store, Fred Bass and his daughter Nancy). It subleases out the offices above the store. The main thing, says Vulture, is that it’s owned and run by a family who care about it.

  • November 24, 2014

    The passwords we use say a great deal about us and often have elaborate histories. At the New York Times, a story about these “tchotchkes of our inner lives” that commemorate what is important to us—“a motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar.”

    Laura Poitras

    Laura Poitras

    Laura Poitras has received the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence for her reporting on the NSA and Edward Snowden. Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now!,”  received a lifetime achievement award.

    New York Magazine has rolled out a series of “pop-up blogs” that run for a month on a specific topic—like, say, relationships or the art world. The blogs are funded by a single source who approves the theme but doesn’t have any oversight over content. A recent pop-up, “It’s Complicated,” was funded by the TV show “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

    Starting in January 2017, all recipients of funding from the Gates Foundation will be required to publish their research in open-access journals. The point, the Foundation says, is to “enable the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research.”

    Ordinarily, URLs are made with keywords so that they will show up on Internet searches. Most of Buzzfeed’s traffic, however, comes from social sharing. Buzzfeed’s most recent trick to get people to share their posts is the “social URL”—custom URLS made by Buzzfeed writers and embedded with jokes or puns.  

    In a profile of Arundhati Roy, the Guardian gives a lot of airtime to criticisms of the writer—that she is a “dilettante,” a “literary tourist”; that her latest book is “shrill.” But, as always, she comes off as self-possessed and impassioned. Bookforum published a conversation between Roy and Siddhartha Deb earlier this year.


  • November 21, 2014

    Daniel Handler made some flat-footed and racist jokes while hosting Wednesday’s National Book Awards event. It’s no fun to watch. He apologized yesterday on Twitter, but the bad taste lingers. As Roxane Gay put it: “It’s not one off color joke, it’s the sum of all of them, everywhere, from the people you are most inclined to like and love.”

    Recover from the embarrassment of watching Handler by watching Louise Glück, who accepted her award with endearing emotion. She thanked her colleagues in poetry, “who have more times than I can say astonished me and moved me and filled me with the envy that becomes gratitude.”

    Recover further by reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s wonderful remarks:  “Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.” Le Guin won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

    Clancy Martin becoming a karate dad

    Clancy Martin becoming a karate dad

    Jack Shafer has been laid off at Reuters, and, in an interview with Capital New York, is unusually forgiving about it. “The job belongs to Slate or the job belongs to Reuters, not to me. . . . We know this going in. We’re mercenaries.” The Washington Post says Reuters’ removal of Shafer marks the end of the company’s web strategy of a few years ago, which was to hire a gang of “big-name opinionators.”

    Scribner is launching an online magazine it has imaginatively called Scribner.

    Clancy Martin wants to be a better person. His first step is karate.

  • November 20, 2014

    The National Book Awards were announced last night in Manhattan. Phil Klay won for his short-story collection Redeployment (beating out our favorite, Marilynne Robinson), Louise Glück won for her poetry collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, and Evan Osnos won for his nonfiction book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. Ursula K. Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In her speech, Le Guin was critical: The literary community should take science fiction and fantasy more seriously, and writers and editors should stop blindly trying to make books make more money. William Vollmann wrote about Klay in our summer issue.

    Also last night, a black-tie event in Washington celebrated the New Republic’s one-hundredth birthday. But the fate of the magazine looks uncertain. The owner, Chris Hughes, has been pushing it in a more commercial direction, and likes to refer to the operation as a “digital media company.” In September, Hughes brought in Yahoo News’s Guy Vidra as chief executive. The two have said that they mean to bring in millions more visitors by publishing stories that “travel well” on the Internet. Politico points out that TNR may soon look less like the magazine celebrated last night and “a little more like BuzzFeed.”

    The second Moby-Dick marathon lasted twenty-four nonconsecutive hours this weekend and included around a hundred and fifty readers.

    Emily Gould is looking forward to Jonathan Franzen’s new novel. Why is everyone else so bad-tempered about it? “OK, so he hates the internet and thinks iPhones are the devil. So he’s published some personal writing that has a weird mix of unsparing, highly attuned observation and gaping blind spots about his own failings and culpability—who hasn’t? For every false note he hits, Franzen has written at least one deathless perfect sentence or sketched an indelible character.”

    The Paris Review Daily has exhumed a 1964 television segment in which  John Betjeman interviews Philip Larkin. You can watch here.


  • November 19, 2014

    Emil Michael

    Emil Michael

    On Monday, at a dinner at the Waverly Inn, an executive of Uber suggested that the company ought to hire people to smear journalists—PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy was the example—who have criticized their practices. (Lacy had recently written about the sexism in the company’s corporate culture.) Unfortunately for Uber, a Buzzfeed editor was at the dinner. In the aftermath of the story, written by Ben Smith, Uber’s CEO apologized for the company and on behalf of the executive, Emil Michael, in a series of tweets that is especially amusing, as the Awl pointed out, when accompanied by a Twitter avatar that is “literally a picture of money.” Lacy responded in a horrified post yesterday. “There is a line someone can cross, even amid an era where the Valley believes founders can never be fired.”

    Hendrik Hertzberg writes about his time as editor of the New Republic in the ’80s and early ’90s, a charmed era of unceasing argument both in the magazine’s offices and on its pages: “What The New Republic did best, had always done best, was opinion. Its politics were polemical, its art was the art of argument. The divided staff became, in effect, a kind of murder board.”

    The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year is vape”to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.”

    Tonight, the National Book Awards will be announced, with the ceremony livestreaming at the National Book Foundation site beginning at 7:40pm. Our hopes are with Marilynne Robinson for fiction (she’s the master), Camille Rankine for poetry (same), and Roz Chast for nonfiction. You can read Michelle Orange on Robinson’s Lila here; and Parul Sehgal has a review of the Rankine in our upcoming issue, which comes out December 1. On Monday, the Foundation’s “5 under 35” winners, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, Alex Gilvarry, Phil Klay, Valeria Luiselli, and Kirstin Valdez Quade, were celebrated at an event in Brooklyn. We interviewed Akhtiorskaya this summer.

    At The Toast, Roxane Gay has launched her new vertical, Butter.

    James Wood on Hermione Lee’s biography of the late-blooming English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, who “proceeds with utmost confidence that she will be heard and that we will listen, even to her reticence.”

  • November 18, 2014

    Tonight, at Book Court in Brooklyn, join Laura Kipnis for a launch party for her new book, Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation.

    Jonathan Franzen’s next novel, Purity, will be released in September of next year. Franzen’s editor, Jonathan Galassi, says the book has a fabulist element, a “mythic undertone.” The story follows a young woman in search of her father’s identity, and describes her relationship to a hacker and whistleblower. An authorized biography of Franzen—Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage, by Swarthmore professor Philip Weinsteinarrives next year as well. Anti-Franzen feeling has reached real heights since Freedom: Will it be interesting or merely wearying to watch people go at it?

    Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s memoir, Do No Harm, has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s first-book award (10,000 pounds offered to debut works in any genre).” Other shortlisted titles include American journalist Evan Osnos’ s Age of Ambition, Australian novelist Fiona MacFarlane’s The Night Guest, Irish writer Colin Barrett’s collection of short stories, Young Skins, and Chinese writer May-Lan Tan’s collection of short stories,Things to Make and Break.

    On Thursday night, a Ditmas Park writers group was literally robbed of their words: An armed thief broke in and stole the members’ three laptops and an iPad.

    Pléiade has released a four-volume collection of Marguerite Duras’s complete works to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth. At the Times Literary Supplement, Dan Gun recalls his initial review of Duras’s account of her early life, L’Amant. It was a work told “not as a continuum but as a series of pulsations. . . . Love, in Duras, is never comfortably in the present, but is in anticipation or after-shock—the après-coup.”

    Airbnb is starting a print magazine called Pineapple. Eighteen thousand copies will be distributed to eager hosts around the world.


  • November 17, 2014

    On Friday, a federal appeals court decided in a two-to-one vote that Michael Lewis did not a libel a money manager in the bestselling book The Big Short, about the 2007–2008 financial crisis. The suit focused on Lewis’s chapter “Spider-Man at the Venetian,” which detailed a 2007 conversation between Wing Chau and hedge-fund manager Steven Eisman. Chau and his firm, Harding Advisory LLC, sued Lewis, Eisman, and publisher W. W. Norton, saying that the book made him and other CDOs look like “crooks or morons.”

    At the Awl, Jacqui Shine offers an impressive essay on the New York Times’s much-loathed Style section, once characterized by New York magazine as “loaded with attitude, big pictures, white space—and undemanding copy.” The Style section’s history has certainly been dotted with moments of flat-footed trend-spotting, e.g. “the Grunge debacle,” in which the paper of record credulously reprinted lingo that scenesters made up as a hoax on reporters. But as much as people love to hate the Style section, Shine reflects on a more complicated history, “which encompasses the long effort of women in journalism to be taken seriously as reporters and as readers, the development of New Journalism, large-scale social changes that have brought gay culture into the mainstream, shifts in the way news is delivered and consumed, and economic consolidations and disruptions that the section has, sometimes in spite of itself, thoroughly documented and cataloged.”

    Leslie Jamison

    Leslie Jamison

    Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, is interviewed at the Rumpus: “We are so hardwired to not want to be alone in what we feel, but also have a deep hunger to be exceptional and different.”

    The Miami Book Fair is now under way, and its schedule of events suggests that it is quickly becoming one of the strongest literary festivals in the country, one that includes bestselling novelist, political journalists, literature in translation, and talented poets. The fair looks so promising, in fact, that PBS will be live streaming footage of the event later this week, providing what one producer calls “Olympic-style coverage.”

    Margaret Atwood—who has spent her fair share of time contemplating catastrophic scenarios—gives pointers on how to survive a zombie invasion.

    Media blogger Jim Romenesko reports that his former employer, the Poynter Institute, lost $3.5 million in 2013 and anticipates losses again this year.

  • November 14, 2014

    Amazon and Hachette have announced that they’ve reached an agreement following their months-long dispute: Hachette will now be allowed to decide its own e-book prices. Michael Pietsch, the CEO, sounded satisfied with the outcome, calling it “great news for writers.” But the New Republic argues that Hachette ought to have kept up the fight for longer: What was getting fought over was bigger than e-book pricing, and the consequences of Amazon’s strong-arming of Hachette will continue to reverberate: “If Amazon continues to interfere in publishers’ pricing decisions, publishers will be forced to produce more and more high-revenue yielding books, which means decisions about who gets published and who doesn’t will trend even further toward who can sell a lot of books and who can’t.”

    John Cook

    John Cook

    The editor in chief of The Intercept, John Cook, will soon leave the newsmagazine to return to Gawker, where he’ll be deputy editor of investigations. The position will give him oversight over all eight of Gawker Media’s sites, including Jezebel, Lifehacker, Deadspin, and Gizmodo. Glenn Greenwald said, in an Intercept post yesterday, that the search for a replacement for Cook is “already underway.” But the loss of Cook—whom Greenwald recognizes for “tripling” the number of staff staff and “significantly increasing” the number of pieces they publish—is a blow for First Look, The Intercept’s parent company, which has lately been struggling. Matt Taibbi, who was to head up the as-yet unlaunched political satire site Racket, left last month after management disputes.

    Choire Sicha talked to Capital New York about the Awl’s redesign, which took effect the day before yesterday. The editors care more about how well the site works, he said, than how it looks, but they knew they didn’t want it to look precious: no “fussy fussbudget garbage” or “magazine-ing.” The main purpose of the new design is prosaic—i.e., to “make more money.”

    Louise Troh was engaged to be married to Thomas Eric Duncan, the only Ebola victim to die in the United States. Now Troh has agreed write a memoir for Weinstein Books about what happened.

    Are writers less likely to publicly feud today than they used to? At Prospect, Elaine Showalter thinks so. It’s a pity: Literary feuds are more interesting than literary friendships.

    Kenneth Goldsmith is teaching a course called “Wasting Time on the Internet,” if you feel like wasting time by reading about it.

  • November 13, 2014

    Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn has written a comic, Masks, about a mother who retaliates against her son’s bully. It will be released by Dark Horse in February.

    Lynne Tillman on cynicism at Frieze: “I’m not a cynic. I prefer irony, which depends on the ability to hold contradictory ideas, which probably springs from ambivalence. People confuse and conflate irony with insincerity and dishonesty; they believe an ironist isn’t serious. But saying the opposite of what is meant allows for at least two meanings to fly.”

    Adrian Chen

    Adrian Chen

    Ed Park is leaving Amazon and the Little A imprint he helped to launch to become executive editor of Penguin Press. At Vulture, Boris Kaschka says that Park’s departure will make it hard for Amazon to retain any literary credibility. The company has, however, beat out competitors for the right to use the .book and .pay domains.

    Time Magazine is asking you to vote on the worst words of the year. Fine—except they can’t figure out the difference between a word and a phrase, and they’re trying ban the word feminist.

    Adrian Chen has won a Sidney award from the Hillman Foundation for his Wired story about the Facebook workers—known as “content moderators”—who protect users from seeing certain images (read: dick pics and beheading videos).


  • November 12, 2014

    The Awl announces a redesign and asks for submissions. They’re looking for stuff about “architecture; urbanism (but not the dull, aggravating kind); interesting pieces or works of criticism about movies, books, television, or music that are not simply reviews or recaps or RED HOT TAKES; observed non-fiction; offbeat works about fashion and style; stories about places and cities and towns that aren’t New York (and also that are) and the people living in them that would work wonderfully in an alt-weekly; labor and capital and activism(!);videogames because why not; food and drink; history, personal or otherwise; c r i m e; genderand race and sex (just not from white men); THE MEDIA and writing too; science, death,your breakup, spacetime and/or faith, dogs, bears, whatever.”

    At the New Yorker, Richard Brody praises a newly released John Coltrane album, Offering: Live at Temple University, which was recorded in 1966, a few months before Coltrane died, and on which the saxophonist plays in his late period, free-jazz style. Brody has no patience for those Coltrane fans, like Geoff Dyer, who prefer Trane’s more accessible playing. As Brody puts it, “Dyer is so bound to his own idea of what jazz is, and to its popular and classical roots, that he can’t hear the ideas of one of its greatest creator.” Dyer, for his part, hears in Coltrane’s free explorations not a yearning spirituality, as it is often described, but rather “the momentum of what he’d done before—and a situation he’d helped to create—carrying him towards a terminus, a brick wall, a dead-end or, in the cosmic scheme of things, some kind of interstellar void.”

    Tonight, at Housing Works in Manhattan, Bomb launches its new anthology, The Author Interviews. The book features a great number of interesting conversational pairings, including Sharon Olds and Amy Hempel, Paula Fox and Lynne Tillman, andRachel Kushner and Hari Kunzru. At least a few of these writers, we assume, will be in attendance.

    Jonah Lehrer

    Jonah Lehrer

    Jonah Lehrer, disgraced in 2012 for self-plagiarism and the apparent invention of a handful of quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan, has a new book deal. The Penguin Random House imprint Portfolio has announced it will publish The Digital Mind: How We Think and Behave Differently on Screens, which Lehrer will co-write with Shlomo Benartzi, a UCLA professor who studies behavior and decision-making. Of his decision to collaborate with Lehrer, Benartzi said, “I am sympathetic toward people who make mistakes.” Lehrer is also working on a book about love for Simon & Schuster.

    Tim Parks’s ongoing series of posts about reading, on the NYRB blog, sounds dull but isn’t. In his latest, he asks why we ought to read new books.

    New Yorker editor Nicholas Thompson explains how the magazine arrived at the number six when deciding the number of articles readers would see for free with the new paywall system.