• April 8, 2014

    Barbara Ehrenreich

    Barbara Ehrenreich

    At Salon, Thomas Frank talks to Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book, Living With a Wild God, “a memoir with a point,” as Frank dubs it, that is both intellectual autobiography and spiritual inquiry—unusual, maybe, for a self-described atheist. In an interview with Harper’s, Ehrenreich explains the evolution of her reaction to an experience she now describes as mystical: “It took me decades to say, ‘No, I saw something. There was something other than myself there. And I’m going to take that seriously as some sort of empirical evidence, or clue, or glimpse.’” If you’re in New York tonight, visit the Union Square Barnes & Noble to celebrate the book’s release and see Ehrenreich in conversation with John Hockenberry.

    Sarah Leonard and Kate Losse introduce the new issue of Dissent, which is all about technology: “It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between digital and non-digital activities. . . . The universal digital turn does not mean our communications have become false, but they are shaped by motives that are often hidden.”

    Speaking of technology, the historic Library of Alexandria is digitizing ancient texts.

    Still speaking of technology, The New York Times is very excited about its new mobile app, which Capital New York describes as offering a “carefully curated feed of select Times content plucked by a team of more than a dozen journalists.”

    The Academy of American Poets is bringing poetry back to magazines and newspapers. The eighty-year-old organization has made a deal with the Hearst Corporation’s King Features to syndicate its Poem-a-Day feature, starting April 14.

  • April 7, 2014

    Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has sold his forthcoming book to OR Books. When Google Met Wikileaks will not only recount the 2011 meeting between Assange and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, it will also “outline a potential future for the Internet that would make it faster and much more difficult to censor.”

    Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer  and Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston are both writing their memoirs.

    Peter Matthiessen

    Peter Matthiessen

    Peter Matthiessen died this weekend at age 86, three days before the publication date of his final novel, In Paradise. Matthiessen was, among other things, a founding editor of the Paris Review, a naturalist and world traveler whose work regularly appeared in the New Yorker, a Zen Buddhist, and an employee of the CIA.

    At the New Republic, Adam Thirwell considers the career of Gottfreid Benn, the “greatest ex-Nazi writer.”

    Laura Miller interviews Matthew Kahn about what he’s learned by reading bestsellers of the past 100 years.

  • April 4, 2014

    Yahya Hassan

    Yahya Hassan

    A first book of poems by an eighteen-year-old Danish-Palestinian poet, Yahya  Hassan, has sold more than a hundred thousand copies since last fall. The poems, written only in uppercase, criticize the Danish government, the poet’s family, and “Danish Muslims at large for hypocrisy, cheating and failure to adapt.” About the right-wing Danish People’s Party having taken a shine to him, “It’s all the same to me,” Hassan says. “I have the responsibility for my poems. I don’t have any responsibility for what others do with them.” Hassan has received numerous death threats, and been assaulted in a railway station.

    Turkey has lifted a two-week ban on Twitter in accord with a ruling by the constitutional court. The ban was instituted during the run-up to last Sunday’s election in order to obstruct the dissemination of leaked wiretapped recordings of officials.

    David Letterman plans to retire in 2015.

    OR Books has acquired a new book by Julian Assange, When Google Met WikiLeaks, which includes the transcript of a conversation between Assange and Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, as well as Assange’s proposal for “a radical overhaul of the naming structure of the internet” that would make it “faster and much more difficult to censor.”

    James Camp considers the promise of Spritz, a start-up that claims to hold the key to speed-reading.

    An old friend of the late Kurt Vonnegut has put together a book titled If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young, a collection of extracts from Vonnegut’s many commencement speeches.


  • April 3, 2014

    Texas senator and Tea Partier Ted Cruz has sold a book to HarperCollins for close to $1.5 million. Cruz has yet to write the book, but apparently it will be “part memoir and part Cruz’s view of how to get Washington to work again as well as his vision of the future for the country.” At Salon, Alex Pareene explains “why liberals should cheer Cruz’s absurd book deal.”

    John Ashbery

    John Ashbery

    If you’re in New York tonight, we recommend going to what promises to be a delightful discussion between Mark Ford and John Ashbery.

    A story Beckett wrote in 1933, “Echo’s Bones,” will be released this month for the first time by Britain’s Faber & Faber. “Echo’s Bones” was slated to be included in Beckett’s 1934 collection, More Pricks Than Kicks, but the publisher found it “a nightmare” and held it back: “People will shudder and be puzzled and confused,” he insisted, “and they won’t be keen on analyzing the shudder.” To a friend, Beckett wrote that the rejection of the story, “into which I put all I knew and plenty that I was better still aware of,” had profoundly discouraged him.

    Karen Joy Fowler has won the Pen/Faulkner award for her novel about a family who adopts a chimpanzee, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

    Buzzfeed kicks off its new section, “Ideas,” with a note from section editor Ayesha Siddiqi. Ideas is “for a culture no longer invested in diluting topics for the comfort, and from the perspective, of the few,” she explains: “We’re here to trigger the empathies we have the least practice in. We’re here to offer essays and articles that don’t mistake distance for objectivity. We’re here to laugh at the fear of a PC police.”

    The New Inquiry launches its April issue, “Money,” which includes pieces on paid surrogates, Amazon’s MTurk service, and alternative currencies.


  • April 2, 2014

    Jonah Lehrer, who resigned from the New Yorker in 2012 after it was revealed that he had made up quotes, has virtuously turned down a speaking fee for a talk he’ll give this week at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. According to William Payne, head of UMD’s School of Fine Arts, Lehrer plans to discuss “the mistakes he’s made”; the talk’s moderator agrees that “no question is off the table for his entire visit.”

    In the wake of a recent New York Times article about bookstores fleeing Manhattan, Dustin Kurtz considers bookstores’ role in gentrification.

    Salman Rushdie with Patti Smith

    Salman Rushdie with Patti Smith

    Yesterday, The Paris Review announced a new issue that includes an interview with Thomas Pynchon (“being called paranoid seems preferable to any number of things a guy can be called”) and a spread of selfies by Salman Rushdie. And yes, it was an April Fool’s joke. Penguin in the U.K. was also in the prankster spirit, announcing that they would be launching a new imprint of classic books “repackaged” for today’s generation, in which all periods would be replaced by exclamation points. The new first lines of The Stranger: “Mother died today! Or yesterday, I don’t know!” And in a so-called plagiarism scandal, Lemony Snickett accuses Malcolm Gladwell of stealing ideas from his latest children’s book. Oh la, book-world hilarity.

    Glenn Greenwald has been awarded the University of Georgia’s McGill Medal for journalistic excellence.

    The judges for the National Book Awards have been announced. The fiction panel will include Geraldine Brooks, Sheryl Cotleur, Michael Gorra, Adam Johnson, and Lily Tuck. The nonfiction panel consists of Robert Atwan, Gretel Ehrlich, Tom Reiss, Ruth J. Simmons, and Alan Taylor. Poetry will be judged by Eileen Myles, Katie Peterson, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Robert Polito, and Paisley Rekdal. And young people’s literature will be judged by Sharon M. Draper, Starr LaTronica, Dave Shallenberger, Sherri L. Smith, and Rebecca Stead.

    The New Yorker’s April books preview namechecks Leslie Jamison’s essay collection, The Empathy Exams (reviewed by Jenny Davidson in Bookforum’s current issue); Peter Matthiessen’s novel In Paradise, about a 1996 retreat at Auschwitz; and Lost and Found in Johannesburg, Mark Gevisser’s memoir of growing up gay in South Africa.

  • April 1, 2014

    According to the New York Times, the Ted Hughes estate has denied a biographer access to the poet’s archives. The Hughes estate has gone far to derail Jonathan Bate’s biography, even withdrawing permission to quote the poet at length. The Times speculates that these abrupt actions renew “suggestions that there may be secrets the family still wishes to keep hidden.”

    Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Gerard Manley Hopkins

    In honor of Poetry Month, read Helen Vendler in the LRB on Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Even in profound depression, Hopkins remained immutably honest in aesthetic judgment, a great and rare virtue . . . counterbalancing to the end his anxious fears and his recurrent sorrows.”

    Joyce Carol Oates reviews Lorrie Moore’s new collection for the New York Review of Books.

    In “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons,” Zadie Smith writes about climate change, “You can’t fail to detect in the elegists a fatalist liberal consciousness that has, when you get right down to it, as much of a perverse desire for the apocalypse as the evangelicals we supposedly scorn.”

    Tomorrow, the New York Times is releasing two new digital products: an $8-a-month iPhone app, NYT Now, that offers a selections from the paper; and Times Premium, a luxe $45-a-month digital subscription option that offers perks such as behind-the-scenes looks at the Times newsroom and free e-books.

    The new Bookforum is among us.

  • March 30, 2014

    Jake Silverstein

    Jake Silverstein

    The New York Times asks whether Marx was right. Doug Henwood and a handful of others respond. Henwood reviewed Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century for the April/May issue of Bookforum. (Spoiler: Henwood says yes.)

    Jake Silverstein, currently the editor of Texas Monthly, has been hired to be the new editor of the New York Times Magazine. According to Times managing editor Dean Baquet, Silverstein will help the magazine build a stronger relationship with the rest of the paper; closer ties with the newsroom, Baquet argues, will give the magazine “a greater sense of urgency.”

    At the LRB, Geoff Dyer’s eloquent and moving account of his recent stroke.

    A fourteen-year-old has encouraged the federal government to switch to Garamond, a change  that could save one hundred and thirty-six million dollars in printing costs annually. Speaking of printing: it would take more than a million pages to print a copy of Wikipedia entire, or a thousand volumes at twelve hundred pages each. A group called PediaPress is trying to raise the money to do so, with the intent of displaying the books at an August Wikimania conference in London. They promise they’ll plant trees to make up for all the paper.

    Leo Robson on a recent crop of wearyingly boosterish books about reading.

    Do book editors edit? An editor at Harper insists, on the New Yorker‘s blog, that they do, and blames insecure writers for spreading any idea to the contrary: “The myth of the non-editing book editor provides a comforting frame of mind for the M.F.A. writer with an unpublished manuscript.” A senior editor at Holt agrees: “No one thinks anyone does their job. It’s the prevailing and instinctual accusation of anyone who feels, within a particular context, powerless.”

  • March 28, 2014

    Manhattan has lost forty-four bookstores in twelve years—among them, Spring Street Books, Coliseum Books, Shakespeare and Company, Endicott Booksellers, and Murder Ink. Sarah McNally, of Manhattan’s McNally Jackson, plans to open her store’s second location in Brooklyn. In the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead points to Brooklyn’s thriving independent-bookstore culture, only to lament “a certain kind of book-buying innocence—a time when where one bought a book did not constitute a political statement, and reading it did not feel like participating in a requiem.”

    Shirley Jackson

    Shirley Jackson

    The Morning News Tournament of Books enters the championship round, with the entire panel of judges weighing in on the two final contestants, James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

    Malcolm Harris on what’s wrong with data journalism.

    Ruth Franklin has compiled a playlist of music important to Shirley Jackson: Paganini, Wagner, lots of Bessie Smith.

    Girls protagonist Hannah Horvath may go to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Here’s what awaits her there.

    ASME has announced their National Magazine award nominees for 2014.

    Jim Sleeper remembers Jonathan Schell.


  • March 27, 2014

    The New York Public Library has announced the finalists for their 2014 Young Lions Fiction award: Matt Bell, Paul Yoon, Anthony Marra, Chinelo Okparanta, and Jennifer duBois. The winner will be presented with the prize at the library on June 9th.

    Alice Munro coin, CanadaThe Royal Canadian Mint honors Alice Munro with a silver coin that shows “an ethereal female figure emerging from a pen.”

    V. V. Ganeshananthan remembers her friend Matthew Power (a young journalist who died while on assignment in Uganda earlier this month), by taking a close look at one of Power’s stories for Harper’s Magazine, “Mississippi Drift,” and trying to figure out exactly what makes it so good.

    At the New Yorker, Stacey D’Erasmo writes about how great women artists and writers restlessly change their artistic form and style over the course of their careers and considers why this may be: “There’s a doubt, a shadow, a friction between the inner world and the perception or the shape of the exterior container. That shadow between feeling and form, which may begin in gender, releases artistic energy all one’s life.”

    The Fulbright Program faces a budget cut of thirty million dollars, or thirteen percent. Slate’s Rebecca Schulman argues that we can’t afford to lose the “soft diplomacy” the program offers: “As tensions escalate with countries that were once touchy allies, what we need are more Fulbright grantees in the world, not fewer.”

    Buzzfeed lists the six little magazines you ought to be reading: The New Inquiry, The American Reader, Hazlitt, Worn Journal, Scratch, and Dissent.


  • March 26, 2014

    Jonathan Schell

    Jonathan Schell

    The American writer Jonathan Schell died last night, of cancer, in his home in Brooklyn. From his early work as a young Vietnam War correspondent for the New Yorker, through his meticulous yet sweeping case for nuclear disarmament in The Fate of the Earth, to his magisterial rethinking of state and popular power in The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, Schell embodied the best of a distinctively American, progressive civic-republican tradition—and of a WASP cultural sensibility about which he was ambivalent and humorously self-deprecating. Schell set a powerful example of dissent while showing defenders of conventional wisdom that they, too, have good intentions that they ought to live up to. Our future is dimmed by the loss of what would have been Schell’s continuing insight, magnanimity, and love.  — Jim Sleeper

    Here is Schell in Bookforum on Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke.