• December 19, 2013

    Eliot Higgins

    Eliot Higgins

    Eliot Higgins, the blogger best known as Brown Moses, is launching a new web site in early 2014, devoted to his specific and resourceful brand of investigative journalism, which relies heavily on public data, social media, user-generated content, and open-source technology. Higgins has been tracking the Syrian civil war since 2012, with an eye toward munitions and the movement of weapons. The new, as-yet-unnamed web site, however, is set to pursue a broader mission, melding classical reporting skills with the most up-to-date fact-finding tools: “I don’t want it to be old journalism vs new journalism,” Higgins says. “I want them to work together because this new stuff, investigations using open sources, can inform traditional methods.”

    Political satirist and author P.J. O’Rourke (Eat the RichHolidays in Heck) has joined the staff of the Daily Beast, for which he will write a weekly column titled “Up to a Point.” The Daily Beast is “not predictable in its politics,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “And even though I’m pretty politically conservative, the whole idea of having to be constantly predictable on your politics is just exhausting and stupid, because you’re leaving out half of the stupid things that people do—you know, the half you agree with.”

    On Point has posted an interview with New York Times writer and memoirist David Carr, who discusses Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post, Edward Snowden’s leaks, Time magazine’s decision to name the pope the latest “person of the year,” and other big media stories of 2013.

    On the New Yorker’s book blog, Rachel Syme considers our reading habits with regard to history, lurching from, say, the months required to plow through the brick-sized volumes of Robert Caro to the fleeting seconds of distraction with a Twitter feed. “For better or worse, this is how we interact with the past now,” she writes. “The lists of nostalgic curiosities compete with thousand-page tomes.” In the work of the British historian Richard Holmes, Syme discovers an alternative.

    Why do fans of the Hunger Games series tend to avoid the Twilight books and vice versa? Ben Blatt tries to answer this question by doing a “comprehensive textual analysis” (and throws in Harry Potter for good measure). He finds that Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, and J.K. Rowling favor very different adjectives.

  • December 18, 2013

    Samuel Beckett

    Samuel Beckett

    Only around five recordings of Samuel Beckett’s voice are known to exist. This forthcoming documentary—about the making of Beckett’s first and only feature film, starring Buston Keaton and usefully titled Film—includes one of them. Directed by Ross Lipman, a filmmaker and restoration specialist, the documentary, cleverly titled NotFilm, features a wealth of archival material, including photographs from location scouts, film footage, and rare bits of dialogue between Beckett and the director Alan Schneider.

    Quercus, publisher of the late Stieg Larsson’s astronomically bestselling Millenium trilogy, has announced plans to continue to the series. Apparently, Larsson had mapped out a total of ten books starring the cyber-sleuth Lisbeth Salander, and was at work on the fourth at the time of his death. Quercus has now hired David Lagercrantz, a journalist and the author of a biography about a Swedish soccer star, to write the next installment, scheduled to be released in the summer of 2015.

    Sixty-three years ago, Lillian Ross wrote a New Yorker profile about Ernest Hemingway, which many of her peers and colleagues characterized as a “hatchet job.” Hemingway loved it, the two writers became friends, and his prose style eventually grew on her. Here, Ross returns to annotate the piece: “I don’t judge,” she writes. “There was one Hemingway, one and only. Just as there was only one J.D. Salinger. I was privileged to know both men, and to eventually write about both of them…. These men are just themselves. I love and respect that. Everything they said was of interest to me, and a joy.”

    The New York Times debates whether Bob Dylan was a musician or poet.

    The fretting has begun about a forthcoming movie about David Foster Wallace, which will star Jason Segel.

    Shia LaBeouf has admitted that he’s “embarrassed that [he] failed to credit” Daniel Clowes in a new film that bears many similarities to Clowes’s 2007 comic “Justin M. Damiano.”

  • December 17, 2013

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    When Lolita was first published by an obscure French publisher of erotica in 1955, it came packaged in a plain green wrapper. Since then, the book’s had many evocative covers, most of which ignore Nabokov’s ardent art direction: “No girls.” There’ve been knocked-kneed legs in schoolgirl skirts, lollipop-licking seductresses, and button-nosed cuties smiling wanly. In Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl editors John Bertram and Yuri Leving examine the ways in which Nabokov’s most famous book has been portrayed, and commission new takes on the book’s cover from eighty artists and designers, along with essays by Mary Gaitskill, Barbara Bloom, and Leland de la Durantaye, among others. We see textual treatments, the most successful of which uses the famous opening enunciation of the nymphet’s name (“Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps . . . ”), and another that illustrates a tongue taking those three steps. There’s a cover that pictures Humbert Humbert in a sweaty reverie, as well as a school-girlish notebook page, and some sexualized bobby socks (and scrunchies). Looking at the covers on display here one can sense the difficulty of the designers’ task: How to even hint at the devilish and unstable mix of beauty and cruelty in Nabokov’s most shocking work of art? Perhaps the book would be best served by a simple warning: “Contents may be combustible.”

  • Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman

    Looking back on the year in fiction may not be the usual purview of an op-ed columnist, but the New York Times’s Ross Douthat appears to have launched the last literary feud of 2013 by doing so. Over the weekend, he used Adelle Waldman’s debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., to make a somewhat specious point about social conservativism, premarital sex, and the chaotic romantic lives of the book’s characters. In an interview with the New Republic, Waldman responds with admirable thanks-but-no-so-fast nuance. “Douthat makes the classic . . . conservative mistake,” writes Marc Tracy, “of assuming that rigid social conventions must do the work that we cannot trust young adults to do themselves.”

    Looking ahead to the next twelve months, Wired predicts that 2014 may be the year the tech bubble bursts, again, while the Los Angeles Times’s book blog sees a viable (if counterintuitive) future in print, with online-only ventures such as Pitchfork, Jezebel, the New Inquiry, and the Los Angeles Review of Books getting into the publishing game with books, journals, and magazines.

    In a deal reportedly worth six figures, Random House has acquired the rights to publish The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, or the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison, a recently discovered nineteenth-century manuscript said to be the first prison memoir ever penned by an African American writer.

    Al Jazeera America may be hemorrhaging money and viewers but the network’s owners in Qatar apparently don’t care: For now, reports Buzzfeed, “[they] would rather accumulate prestige than profit.”

    Despite the lingering controversy over Lara Logan and Max McClellan’s retracted report for 60 Minutes about the attack, in 2012, on a US compound in Benghazi, says Politico, both reporters are allegedly returning to the program after taking temporary leaves of absence.

    American Zoetrope has bought the screen rights to Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, a memoir about growing up with Steve Abbott, a prominent writer in the New Narrative movement. Sofia Coppola is set to adapt the book and produce the film.

  • December 16, 2013


    Beyoncé on tour in 2013

    On her new track “Flawless,” Beyoncé samples Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, most recently, of Americanah. The sample, taken from Adichie’s Ted talk, states: “We should all be feminists,” and makes up most of the song’s second verse.

    As the deluge of end-of-year best-of lists continues, it becomes easy to wonder if we should care about any of them. At the New Yorker, Elif Batuman helpfully explains, in convenient list form, that we should.

    Hate-reading our way through 2013: Obamacare is Obama’s Katrina, Iraq; Hipsturbia; Mr. 300 Sandwiches; etc.

    Gallerist reports on a dust-up over sacked freelancers at Blouin Media, publisher of Art + Auction, Modern Painters, and Artinfo.com.

    Toronto’s Globe and Mail profiles a new series of slim books by Melville House, the Neversink Library, inspired by “Lawrence Weschler’s call for ‘investigative poets’ and ‘lyrical journalists’ to create nonfiction with the imaginative dexterity of a novel.”

  • December 13, 2013

    The New York Observer is ditching its iconic salmon tint and moving to plain white paper. If New York magazine’s decision to bail on its weekly publishing schedule isn’t enough to jolt the print-media landscape, come February, the Observer will lose its classic pink look as part of a larger effort, according to Capital New York, to transform the weekly newspaper’s format and give it a major image overhaul.


    Robert Levinson, last seen in a video addressed to his family

    After reporting a story for three years and delaying its publication three times (at the request of the US government), the Associated Press finally breaks the news: Robert Levinson, an American man who disappeared in Iran seven years ago, was working for the CIA. But his mission was never approved, and it broke many of the spy agency’s most basic rules: “The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts [by the US government to bring Levinson home to his family] have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years.”

    The director Ari Folman, who was nominated for an Oscar five years ago for Waltz with Bashir, is turning the diary of Anne Frank into an animated film.

    Margaret Wrinkle has won the Center for Fiction’s 2013 Flaherty-Dunnam First Novel Prize. Set in nineteenth-century Tennessee, Wrinkle’s debut novel, Wash (Grove), delves into the relationship between a troubled American Revolutionary War veteran and a young man born into slavery. In her acceptance speech at the Union League Club on Wednesday night, Wrinkle said her book was born of her own experience, growing up in Alabama: “In a still-segregated world,” she said, “these profound relationships were not supposed to be acknowledged, so I grew up crossing racial boundaries carrying divided loyalties. And I think I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to capture the whole of that particular story.”

    A Russian designer is developing a Franz Kafka video game, which is set to be released next year. According to NBC News, Denis Galanin, who turned Hamlet into a video game two years ago, is working on “a puzzle-based adventure game inspired by some of Kafka’s best-known works including The Castle, The Metamorphosis, and Amerika.”

    The Millions reports that The Paris Review and the 92nd Street Y have a new collaboration going, publishing footage of their onstage author interviews online. The series kicks off with Garrison Keillor, Iris Murdoch, and William Styron. It follows an initiative by the 92nd Street Y to digitize its collection, including audio interview footage, dating back to the 60s and 70s, with Nadine Gordimer, Kurt Vonnegut, and many more.

  • December 12, 2013

    Thirteen news organizations, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the Associated Press, have written a letter asking all parties to the conflict in Syria to stop kidnapping journalists on the job. More than thirty journalists have been abducted in 2013, seven in the past two months alone.

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, Jonathan Ames, Sheila Heti, and Lawrence Weschler will appear for an evening of reading and discussion celebrating The Best of McSweeney’s, an anthology covering the influential lit mag’s first fifteen years.

    Gerald and Sara Murphy on a beach in East Hampton, circa 1915

    Gerald and Sara Murphy on a beach in East Hampton, circa 1915

    MoMA is reissuing Calvin Tomkins’s classic book Living Well is the Best Revenge, about the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, American expats who were living in France in the 1920s, and served as the models for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s main characters in Tender is the Night. First in Paris and later in Antibes, the Murphys entertained Picasso, Hemingway, Cole Porter, and Fernand Léger, among others. Tomkins’s text, written for the New Yorker in 1962 and published as a book in 1974, is illustrated by more than seventy photographs from the Murphy’s family albums. Next month, MoMA is also reissuing Tomkins’s much-admired biography of Marcel Duchamp.

    The Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa has won the annual Naguib Mahfouz medal. But he failed to secure an Egyptian visa to attend the ceremony last night, so he sent a letter instead: “For once I ask in shock about the purpose of writing, and confess that my illusions ended when I discovered that we are so weak, unable to help a child refugee in the camps and return him to the warmth of his house, or the body of a man shot by a sniper for passing wrongly in the wrong place at that wrong time, but, at the same time, it has removed from my eyes a haze I dared not confess before. We work in fragility because we produce beauty.”

    Scholars at Yale University believe that an 1858 manuscript that it has acquired is the “first recovered memoir written in prison by an African-American.” In the book, The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, Austin Reed describes his experiences at a state prison in upstate New York.

    Jason Segel has been cast to play the part of David Foster Wallace in the film The End of the Tour. The screenplay is based on transcripts of the novelist’s conversations, shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest, with Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky.

  • December 11, 2013

    More than 500 authors (including Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, and Ian McEwan) have signed a petition for the UN demanding an end to government and corporate surveillance of individuals online.

    Elif Batuman

    Elif Batuman

    n+1 just published No Regrets: Three Discussions, a collection of conversations about the perils and joys of reading while female, featuring Elif Batuman, Astra Taylor, Emily Witt, Sara Marcus, and many more. Editor Dayna Tortorici writes, “I knew that women speak to one another differently in rooms without men. Not better, not more honestly, not more or less intelligently—just differently, and in a way one doesn’t see portrayed as often as one might like.”

    The Capital New York staff speculates that New York Times editor Jill Abramson will announce the replacement of NYT Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren “in the next several days.” Michael Wolff explains how the Times’s fashion magazine, T, “sucked up all the richest advertising pages from the Magazine.” Wolff adds: “T looks like a modern magazine. … The Times Magazine, although it has tried to add modern details, still seems old fashioned.”

    In New York magazine’s year-end profile of Rachel Kushner, Boris Kachka trails the novelist through the Christopher Wool show at the Guggenheim and to the National Book Award ceremony; talks to friends, family, and colleagues; and traces her development as a writer from her childhood until today: “Writing is a way of living,” Kushner says. “It doesn’t quite matter that there are too many books for the number of readers in the world to read them. It’s a way of being alive, for the writer.”

    President Obama delivered one of the emotional knockouts of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in Johannesburg yesterday when he quoted the late South African leader’s most famous speech, from the Rivonia Trial in 1964: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

    The Guardian, meanwhile, considered Mandela’s literary legacy from a different direction, looking at how he inspired generations of South African writers—including Nadine Gordimer, J M Coetzee, Lauren Beukes, Amchat Dangor, André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Njabulo Ndebele, and Thomas Mofolo—to confront not only the conditions of apartheid but also the persistence of social inequities that continue to this day.

    Ursula Lindsey, writing for Egypt’s Mada Masr, weighs in on two new books about political upheaval and urban change in the megacity that is Cairo.

  • December 10, 2013

    Vladimir Putin has unexpectedly closed RIA Novosti, a state news agency. According to agency insiders, the move “appear[s] to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”

    Claire Messud

    Claire Messud

    Claire Messud takes an interviewer to task for dwelling on the unlikable qualities of her latest protagonist. Harper Lee sues a museum in Alabama for trying to cash in on her legacy. Lauren Sandler tells women writers that if they want to be successful, they should stick to having just one child. At the New Yorker, Rachel Arons reviews the year in literary feuds. But on the whole, the world of arts and letters appears almost comically gentle here. “If you’re reading to find friends,” Messud remarks, when a reporter tells her that her character is grim, “you’re in deep trouble.”

    This Saturday, Pitchfork.com is launching the Pitchfork Review, its new print magazine, with an event in Brooklyn, featuring bands, DJs, and a panel discussion led by Michael Azerrad (Our Band Could Be Your Life) on music journalism in the internet era.

    Washington Post writer Richard Cohen is working on an authorized biography of Nora Ephron.

    The Center for Fiction is hosting its annual First Novel Fête on Tuesday evening, a prelude to the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, which will be announced at a gala dinner at the Union League Club on Wednesday. All of the eight finalists for this year’s award, which honors excellence in a debut work of fiction, are lined up to read, including Anthony Marra (author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena), Lea Carpenter (author of Eleven Days), and Taiye Selasi (author of Ghana Must Go).

    Short attention span? Huffington Post recommends 23 classics under 200 pages, including books by Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, and Raymond Chandler.

  • December 9, 2013

    This year, the traditional Nobel Lecture in Literature has been replaced with a video of the 2013 prizewinner, Alice Munro, talking about her work. “Alice Munro: In Her Own Words” was shown at the Swedish Academy on Saturday, and is now available online.

    David Remnick

    David Remnick

    On Sunday, New Yorker editor David Remnick told a conference on digital media that he didn’t think New York magazine’s recent move to a bi-weekly was a good sign for the magazine. He was also politely skeptical about New York editor Adam Moss’s comment that he was “pretty excited” about the online opportunities that New York’s print cutback would allow: “I don’t think that Adam, who is an editor I respect enormously, enormously, is happy about this.” Remnick said. He also revealed that in 1998, when the New Yorker was cash strapped, he considered making it a bi-weekly, but decided against it, because, he  “felt that we would lose our place in terms of currency.”

    David L. Ulin remembers Nelson Mandela through his books.

    We’ve just heard from Sheila Heti about a new project. She’s wrapping up her collaboration with Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, Women in Clothes, and is turning her attention from the closet to the bookshelf. She is soliciting readers to open up about the books they live with, and is hoping to discover an unacknowledged canon. To participate, readers can send a list of every author on their bookshelf (but not on their e-readers!) to booksonbookshelves@gmail.com.