• February 24, 2014

    Writer Alexander Chee recently said that he found trains to be great places to write. “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers,” Chee remarked. Amtrak is now granting his wish. Amtrak has plans to offer some writers free round-trip tickets. In fact, the program has already started: Jessica Gross has taken the “test run” residency.

    Jessica Gross

    Jessica Gross

    When New York magazine announced that it would become a biweekly last December, a press release promised a more “ambitious” print publication. At the New Republic, Isaac Chotiner takes a look at the first issue of the new New York, and finds it more or less the same.

    “Is it possible to read a piece of literary writing without imagining that the author has a gender (perhaps an unusual gender, or maybe two gender or three genders, but at least one)?” In an open letter to VIDA, critic and poet Stephen Burt poses thirty-one thoughtful questions about gender and identity.

    Two longform pieces of note: At the LRB, Andrew O’Hagan’s publishes an epic and engrossing essay on Julian Assange; at the Oxford American, John Jeremiah Sullivan considers the life and legend of Junior Braithwaite.

    Tonight at McNally Jackson books, Jenny Offill reads from her new novel, Dept. of Speculation.

  • February 21, 2014

    Matt Taibbi

    Matt Taibbi

    First Look Media, the online journalism company funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, has hired Matt Taibbi to head a new magazine about politics and finance. Earlier this month, First Look founded its first digital publication, The Intercept, which will produce stories based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

    The Wikipedia Books Project is raising money in hopes of printing the online encyclopedia in book form, a project that will reach 1,000 volumes of roughly 1,200 pages each.

    Over the weekend, Anne Rice, the bestselling author of vampire novels and books about Jesus Christ, used Facebook to congratulate Ellen Page for coming out as a lesbian. When others started posting nasty comments, Rice “smacked the homophobes down.”

    Joyce Carol Oates says that Twitter is characterized by a “lynch mob mentality.”

    At Bomb, Dodie Bellamy discusses two new projects, Cunt Norton, and TV Sutras: “One of the things I learned by being involved in the avant-garde is that you don’t need realism to move people. Think of Kathy Acker. Her stuff can be boring as hell, but when it comes together, it is so intense. It’s like your mouth is gaping open by her weird manipulations. No one is trying to make this believable, but we are still moved by it.”

    The AWP conference in Seattle will now be open to the public after an outcry from exhibitors.  

    Tonight in Silver Lake, Triple Canopy and the LA Review of Books are hosting a party, “Are you Sure You Want to Unsubscribe?”

  • February 20, 2014

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of Americanah, has penned an essay speaking out against the anti-gay law in Nigeria, calling for its repeal: “We cannot legislate into existence a world that does not exist: the truth of our human condition is that we are a diverse, multi-faceted species. The measure of our humanity lies, in part, in how we think of those different from us.”

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Rick Perlstein has just announced a new book to be published this summer, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, the third volume in his history of American Conservatism.

    Juan Tomás Avila Laurel, one of Equatorial Guinea’s most important living writers and most outspoken activists, has gone into hiding to avoid persecution by the official government. Laurel angered government officials after requesting a permit to stage a sit-in protesting police brutality.

    James Patterson has declared, “Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we’ve known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake.” It’s not the first time we’ve heard this, but Patterson is going beyond complaint and taking action, giving a million dollars of his own money to fifty indie bookstores across the country.

    The LA Times Book Prize finalists have been announced, with fifty books across ten categories being nominated, as well as a lifetime achievement award for Susan Straight.

    Plans are already underway for Obama’s presidential library, which will most likely be in Chicago (or possibly Honolulu). In the Times, architecture critic and author Witold Rybczynski makes the case that the president should “go small.”

  • February 19, 2014

    Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant, who spent much of her adult life in Paris, died on Tuesday morning at the age of 91. Gallant was best-known in the US for stories published in the New Yorker (she wrote more than one hundred tales for them over the years). In 2013, the magazine’s fiction podcast featured Margaret Atwood reading and discussing Gallant’s story “Voices Lost in Snow,” and in 2007, Antonya Nelson read “When We Were Nearly Young.” Gallant’s work was collected in one volume in 1996, and the New York Review of Books have published several collections in recent years. Fellow Canadian author Michael Ondaatje said of Gallant: “She was our great writer. My hero.”

    BBC News has written an open letter to Egyptian authorities about Australian correspondent Peter Greste, who is currently in prison in Cairo and about to be tried for writing news reports that were “damaging to national security.”

    Mavis Gallant

    Mavis Gallant

    A trailer for Matt Wolf’s new film Teenage, based on Jon Savage’s book about the emergence of the teenager as a cultural identity.

    Authors and small press publishers are upset that the AWP conference, held this year in Seattle, won’t have a day that is open to the public, and, worst of all, that this disappointing news is just being announced now—a little over a week before it opens.

    Billy Corgan is planning an eight-hour ambient-music performance influenced by Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.

    Recently, after President Obama made a dismissive remark about students of art history, a professor of art history at the University of Texas wrote a letter of complaint. The president, in turn, penned a personal apology. Hyperallergic reproduces the hand-written missive.

     Haruki Murakami has a new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years or Pilgrimage, coming out in the US this summer. When the book was released in Japan last April, it reportedly sold more than a million copies in its first week.

  • February 18, 2014

    Facebook has tweaked its algorithm it uses to determine what appears in its news feeds, and it’s geared to encourage readers to share more “high-quality news content.”

    The George Polk Awards in Journalism were announced on Sunday, with Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman winning for their NSA stories, which used documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Other winners included Andrea Elliott, for her heartbreaking five-part portrait of a homeless child in New York, and Pete Hamill, who won a career-achievement prize.

    Laura Poitras

    Laura Poitras

    At the New York Review of Books, Geoffrey O’Brien considers David O. Russell’s new film, American Hustle.

    The Saudi Gazette has appointed Somayya Jabarti to be its editor in chief, making her the first woman to hold this position in Saudi Arabia.

    Paper Monument’s 2012 anthology Draw it With Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment has been expanded into a website, which features assignments from contributors like Mira Schor, John Baldessari, Amy Sillman, and many others, as well as ones submitted by the site’s visitors.

    Yale University Press has announced that it will publish a new book about Marcel Proust, by Benjamin Taylor, in its “Jewish Lives” series.

  • February 17, 2014

    Could the CIA  be the most literary government agency? Consider its possible ties to the Paris Review, and to the Iowa Writers Workshop.

    Robert W. Chambers’s 1895 story collection The King in Yellow features a play that is so full of terrible truths that it drives viewers insane. The book has been an influence on many writers: H.P. Lovecraft, and now Nic Pizzolatto, the author behind HBO’s True Detective. The vivid miniseries is littered with references to Chambers’s work, hinting that the moody drama may get even darker—and more supernatural. For more on the show, see Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s take, “True Detective: A Pure Visual Novel.”

    At the Financial Times, Geoff Dyer reports on his lunch with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who collaborated with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and who is now working for the soon-to-launch First Look Media, the $250m project of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

    Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman has written a brief scene featuring the main character from her hit novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., which considers what the Brooklyn-based cad would do for Valentine’s Day.

    New Yorker editor David Remnick has just returned from a brief stint as a TV commentator at the Olympics, saying of his work at the opening ceremony: “This is not a televised document, a scholarly documentary. After all, it is Cirque du Soleil.” Remnick, who has written extensively on Russia, is rumored to be writing a piece on the Games.

  • February 14, 2014

    Arundhati Roy, William Dalrymple, and Neil Gaiman are among the writers who have condemned Penguin’s decision to collect and destroy Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus in India. Penguin decided to pull the book from shelves in response to legal threats, based on the assertion that Doniger’s study, published in 2009, “hurts the feelings of millions of Hindus.”

    The shortlist for the Folio Prize, the first major literary award to consider English-language fiction and poetry from all over the world, has been announced. Five of the eight nominees are American: Bookforum contributor Rachel Kushner, Amity Gaige, Kent Haruf, George Saunders, and Sergio De La Plava (whose novel was originally self-published). Eimear McBride, Jane Gardam, and Anne Carson are also on the shortlist.

    Anne Carson

    Anne Carson

    The New York Times Magazine is wrapping up its search for an editor, and Capital New York has posted a story naming the four final candidates.

    An app called “Hemingway” aims to help you revise your work in the image of the great writer by highlighting cuttable adverbs, words or sentences that could be shortened, and instances of the passive voice. At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Ian Crouch experimented with feeding some of Papa’s work into the app, and found that certain classic passages, like the opening of “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,” were judged to be merely “OK;” too complex, really, for the app’s liking.

    Citizenship for sale: Atossa Araxia Abrahamian on buying a passport in Malta.

    Joe Gould, the colorful New York character made famous by Joseph Mitchell’s legendary New Yorker pieces received money from an anonymous donor during the ‘40s. At Vanity Fair, Joshua Prager reveals the identity of the woman Gould called “Madame X,” but finds that her reasons for supporting Gould—and then suddenly withdrawing her stipend—remain a mystery.

    Tim Parks wonders why literary biographers turn their subjects into saints.


  • February 13, 2014

    Wendy Doniger

    Wendy Doniger

    Penguin India is planning to recall and destroy all copies of scholar Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History that are currently for sale in India. This measure is the publisher’s response to legal threats made by Hindu nationalists, who have decried the book for “inaccurately representing the religion and offering an overly sexual interpretation of Hindu texts.” The lawsuit against the book, filed by Dina Nath Batra, the head of a Hindu education group in New Delhi, claims that the book has “has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus,” and therefore violates a section of the Indian Penal Code known as 295A. In the out-of-court settlement, Penguin India agreed to destroy all remaining copies within six months (pirated versions of the e-book are apparently already on the rise). Doniger’s book was met with critical acclaim as well as protest when it was released in 2009. The National Book Critics Circle named it a finalist for its award in nonfiction, and the organization has also written an open letter speaking out against Penguin India’s decision to pulp the book. Doniger herself has issued a statement, saying that she doesn’t blame her publisher for caving in to the threats, but that she is “deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate.”

    At the Times, Zoe Heller and Francine Prose take up the topic of negative book reviews: would it be better just to ignore the bad books of the world? Prose thinks not: “If something bothers me that much, life is too short not to say so.” And Heller agrees: “Banning ‘negativity’ is not just bad for the culture; it is unfair to authors.”

    What does it feel like to be hired by the New Yorker? According to Ariel Levy, it’s like gaining admittance to a secret treehouse.

    Christopher Lyon considers the work of poet Robert Duncan and his partner, Jess.

    Astra Taylor discusses her forthcoming book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, and makes the case that print books are still the most interesting and innovative medium for authors: “I’m standing by books because they offer writers the space to dig in, to see if formal innovations and experiments can hold up, and provide the space for authors to take ideas to their limits.”

  • February 12, 2014

    According to the blog EV Grieve, novelist and performer Maggie Estep died earlier this week. In the early ’90s, Estep was a vital presence in the East Village spoken-word scene. She appeared regularly on MTV and toured with the Lallapalooza festival in 1994. She has written seven novels, including Diary of an Emotional Idiot (1997) and, more recently, the horsetrack noirs Hex (2003) and Flamethrower (2010).

  • Ursula Lindsey reports on the 2014 Cairo International Book Fair.

    At the New Yorker, George Packer has written a thorough history of Amazon, and asks if the superstore is “bad for books.” Packer writes: “Amazon is not just the ‘Everything Store,’ to quote the title of Brad Stone’s rich chronicle of Bezos and his company; it’s more like the Everything. What remains constant is ambition, and the search for new things to be ambitious about.”

    AA Gill has received the annual Hatchet Job Award for his acerbic review of Morrissey’s Autobiography, which the critic called “a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words … a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.” According to the Guardian, the award ceremony will be held next Tuesday at London’s Coach and Horses pub, where Gill will be presented with a golden hatchet and a year’s supply of potted shrimp. This is not the first time Gill has been recognized for his barbed commentary: One headline from the London Evening Standard reads “Chef attacked kitchen worker after critic AA Gill called food ‘disgusting.'”

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel—the author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies—will be the first living novelist to have her portrait in the British Library.

    Howell Raines wrote a memoir about fly fishing. Joseph Lelyveld wrote a biography of Ghandi. And Max Frankel wrote a memoir about his years at the New York Times. Following Bill Keller’s announcement that he will leave his position at the Times, Poynter looks at what other executive editors have done after leaving their positions at the Gray Lady.

    According to Search Engine Journal, Google has announced its plans to launch a new content-recommendation system for publishers. According to an email sent out by Google sales representatives: “Our engineers are working on a content recommendation beta that will present users relevant internal articles on your site after they read a page. This is a great way to drive loyal users and more pageviews.”