• October 23, 2014

    Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the Washington Post, died on Tuesday. He was ninety-three. Bradlee was in charge of the Post for twenty-six years, during which time the paper broke Watergate and won seventeen Pulitzers.

    Vogue has an exclusive preview of Griffin Dunne’s new documentary about Joan Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. A Kickstarter supporting the film has already raised more than half of its $80,000 goal. A $35 donation will be reciprocated with a handwritten list of Didion’s twelve favorite books. A $50 donation comes with a PDF of her handwritten recipe book, and $2500 gets you a pair of her sunglasses.

    The New York Times‘s recent buyout offer was aimed at encouraging about a hundred people on staff to leave; more than three times that have submitted requests. Employees who belong to the Guild are eligible for three weeks of pay for every year worked. Those who have worked for the paper for twenty years or more are also eligible for a bonus equal to 35 percent of their salary.

    JSTOR is launching a daily publication online, with the intention of introducing general readers to its cache of academic journals.

    Ben Bradlee

    Ben Bradlee

    Google is developing a new email interface called Inbox. Yesterday the first version was released, available by invitation only. The interface resembles a social-networking program, offering previews of messages on the home screen and allowing you to see photos without opening the messages containing them. It also automatically sorts messages, and is designed to integrate to-do lists and calendar items.

    On Tuesday, Amazon and Simon & Schuster confirmed that they had reached an agreement about e-book pricing, one that Amazon said “creates a financial incentive for Simon & Schuster to deliver lower prices for readers.”


  • October 22, 2014

    Music & Literature No. 5 is out, with portfolios of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, the Norwegian writer Stig Sæterbakken, and the Chinese writer Can Xue. Each issue of the journal, which appears in print, celebrates three under-recognized artists, featuring work by and about them. Saariaho will present a concert on November 20 at the Scandinavia House to mark the issue launch. Past issues have profiled Clarice Lispector, László Krasznahorkai, Bela Tarr, Arvo Pärt, Mary Ruefle, and Vladimír Godár, among others. Read an interview with the journal’s editors, Taylor Davis Van-Atta and Daniel Medin, here.

    The Pew Research Center releases the results of a study measuring levels of trust for various publications, broken down by ideological group. Buzzfeed is only publication that is equally mistrusted across all ideological backgrounds. The Wall Street Journal shows a similarly uniform response: It is equally trusted by people of all political persuasion. The New York Times is trusted by liberals, distrusted by conservatives, and Al Jazeera America gets the opposite treatment (distrusted by liberals, trusted by conservatives).

    Vice News and the New York Review of Books are collaborating on a video series—called ”Talking Heads”—that will animate NYRB essays. The first episode aired last week, and features the journalist Orville Schell on his piece about US-China relations.

    A previously unpublished 1959 essay by Isaac Asimov asks how people “get new ideas,” and concludes that it’s best to be “a person of good background in the field of interest” as well as of “unconventional” habits.Isolation is important, because “creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.” The essay was written for an MIT spinoff called Allied Research Associates, which had been contracted by the government to work on creative approaches to the development of a ballistic missile defense system. After writing this essay Asimov declined to participate any further, arguing that his participation in the project would limit his own creative freedom.

    Joan Didion and Vanessa Redgrave

    Joan Didion and Vanessa Redgrave

    On November 17, Vanessa Redgrave will perform selections from Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. Redgrave played Didion in an adaptation of Didion’s earlier book, The Year of Magical Thinking, as well. The show will be staged in Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and is scheduled for one night only.

  • October 21, 2014

    At Poynter, Andrew Beaujon has posted an opinion piece about three journalism schools that have rescinded invitations to journalists due to fears of Ebola. After quoting the statements explaining the cancellations, Beaujon writes: “‘Caution,’ ‘questions,’ ‘sensitive’—these are all apparently synonyms for willful disregard for facts, which is a curious fit for journalism schools, institutions that purportedly train people how to report what they know.”

    After Margo Howard’s new book Eat, Drink, and Remarry received bad reviews from Amazon’s Vine Community, an “elite” group of reviewers who weigh in on books before their publication, the author accused the online critics of sabotage. The reviews were “all rotten,” she said at the New Republic. “I mean inaccurate, insulting, and demonstrably written by dim bulbs.” Now, Jennifer Weiner has weighed in. She empathizes (“I can feel Howard’s pain”), but also inveighs: “Everything from [Howard’s] name-dropping (both a MacArthur genius and a long-time Vanity Fair staff writer loved her book!) to her solution to the problem (it turns out that Howard knows two members of Amazon’s board of directors!) smacks of barely-examined privilege.”

    The total number of books in print in English reached twenty-eight million in  2013, as counted by tallying up ISBNs issued.

    The short story in this week’s New Yorker is by Tom Hanks (“Alan Bean Plus Four“), and it’s a comedy about space travel. (Alan Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon.) “My mind went berserk when Ed White did his space walk,” Hanks told fiction editor Deborah Treisman in an interview about the story. 

    Tim Parks suggests that fiction no longer has the effect of protecting its writer—as readers we are too skilled, too “canny.” “Reflecting on the disguising effects of a story,” he writes, “on the way a certain set of preoccupations has been shifted from reality to fiction, has become, partly thanks to literary criticism and popular psychology, one of the main pleasures of reading certain authors.”  The turn to autobiography and confessional writing has been one response to this mode of reading. Has fiction, then, outlived one of its main purposes? Parks thinks maybe: Perhaps writers will find it “increasingly irrelevant to embark on another long work of fiction that elaborately reformulates conflicts and concerns that the reader anyway assumes are autobiographical.” 


  • October 20, 2014

    Mark Sarvas’s Elegant Variation, started in 2003, was one of the original and most popular book blogs. After his novel Harry, Revised was published in 2008, Sarvas stepped away from the blog, but according to a new post, TEV is back, in a slightly different format. “I’ve been attracted to and inspired by the intimacy and samizdat feel of the newsletter form, and thought I’d try a little experiment,” Sarvas writes. “I’m leaving the form open to revision (and feedback—please), but I envision an email digest (perhaps weekly, perhaps bi-weekly) for my friends, former students and perhaps interested strangers, of literary matters that interest or excite me.” You can sign up for it here.

    Alan Moore

    Alan Moore

    Alan Moore, the author of the comics cult classics like The Watchmen and V Is for Vendetta, has written a million-word novel called Jerusalem. One of the concepts behind the mammoth tome is eternalism. “What it’s saying is, everything is eternal,” he recently told an interviewer. “Every person, every dog turd, every flattened beer can—there’s usually some hypodermics and condoms and a couple of ripped-open handbags along here as well—nothing is lost. No person, no speck or molecule is lost. No event. It’s all there for ever.”

    For the upcoming holiday-shopping season, Amazon is planning two pop-up stores in California and, according to rumors, one in midtown Manhattan. Though these will be brick-and-mortar stores, no one is expecting many paper-and-glue products. The stores, say many in the industry, are “all about drawing consumers to [Amazon] hardware.”

    Poets and Writers profiles Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts: “Our nonprofit, independent structure creates a culture. We’re absolutely a mission-driven organization. That allows us to make editorial decisions that are often deemed risky, because we have a safety net of support underneath those decisions in a way that other presses don’t.”

    Conde Nast has reportedly laid off 50 staffers. According to Media Bistro, a meeting between publishers and company president Bob Sauerberg is scheduled for Tuesday, and if budgets aren’t being met, “more cuts are likely on their way.”

    After Tweets by Gawker writer Sam Biddle hurt the feelings of some readers last week, resulting in an apology, Gawker Media Editorial Director Joel Johnson sent out a memo on Friday, stating: “I don’t want to tell you what to tweet. But I do want you to think about how your tweets can be perceived without context. I’m as guilty as anyone about using Twitter as a place for absurdity and trolling among friends, but the last couple of days have made it clear how people are willing to conflate personal tweets as official company statements.” Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs declared the memo “shitty”: “I understand that a certain amount of realpolitik is necessary for maintaining cordial relationships with our advertisers, and that it’s easy for me to be righteous when for the most part I’m cosseted from any hard considerations, but the memo and the apology—over what amounted to a few half-assed jokes of the kind my site specializes in—seemed to cross some sort of editorial Rubicon.”

  • October 17, 2014

    The University of South Carolina has acquired Elmore Leonard’s papers, one hundred and fifty boxes of them, plus a stash of his Hawaiian shirts.

    Robots are writing fiction. A sample written by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s “Scheherezade”: “John took another deep breath as he wondered if this was really a good idea, and entered the bank. John stepped into line behind the last person and waited his turn. When the person before John had finished, John slowly walked up to Sally. The teller said, “Hello, my name is Sally, how can I help you?” Sally got scared when John approached because he looked suspicious. John pulled out a handgun that was concealed in his jacket pocket. John wore a stern stare as he pointed the gun at Sally. Sally was very scared and screamed out of fear for her life. In a rough, coarse voice, John demanded the money.”

    Guernica, which has published online for a decade, is coming out with a print magazine. The 255-page issue (or “book,” a some people were calling it) was released last week; another one will appear, the publisher said, “next year, roughly the same time, maybe.” The magazine remains a nonprofit. 

    The High Times is celebrating its fortieth anniversary.

    McSweeney’s is becoming a nonprofit“We’ve always been a hand-to-mouth operation,” Dave Eggers said. “Every year it gets just a little harder to be an independent publisher,”

    Memories of Karl Miller, the former editor of the London Review of Books, from Neal Ascherson, Andrew O’Hagan, and John Lanchester. O’Hagan: “Some people look at you and only see what you don’t have, and for them there is no such thing as you at your best. I know some people found Karl disapproving, but I never did. For all the lampoons and the teasing, his grip was warm. He really liked to see funniness in other people, which not all funny people do. He put more effort into being your friend than many people half as grand, and that was one of the things that made him unforgettable to many of us who felt a bit easier in the world because of Karl.”

  • October 16, 2014

    This year’s Alice Award—an annual $25,000 prize for illustrated art books—goes to the Whitney Museum of American Art for Hopper Drawing, which was published in conjunction with last year’s Edward Hopper exhibit.

    Former child star Mara Wilson, who starred in ’90s hits Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, has made a deal with Penguin Books for a book of personal essays about “being young, female, and a little out of place.”

    Who is Elena Ferrante, anyway?

    Sarah Brouillette at Jacobin argues that it’s impossible for the Nobel Prize to separate literature from politics.

    Here’s a guide to the 2014 National Book Award Finalists, courtesy of NPR. (The winners will be announced on November 19.)

    Amy O’Leary has been named the deputy international editor at the New York Times. O’Leary, who was formerly the deputy editor of digital operations, was one of the authors of a recent report assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the paper’s digital presence.

    The Boston Review has hired Valerie Cortés as publisher. The magazine, which began a relaunch process in 2010, will celebrate its fortieth anniversary in 2015. (The relaunch has so far involved changing the print format from newsprint broadside to glossy full-color and redesigning the website.) Formerly the circulation and marketing director at Bookforum and Artforum, Cortés is the Review’s first full-time publisher. Valerie, we miss you!

  • October 15, 2014

    Richard Flanagan

    Richard Flanagan

    The Australian writer Richard Flanagan collected the Man Booker Prize yesterday for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

    The forty-eight-year-old San Francisco Bay Guardian has abruptly stopped publication; its owner, the San Francisco Media Company, is pulling funding. Today’s issue will be the last.

    At Buzzfeed, Dao Nguyen has been named publisher, which means, CEO Jonah Peretti says, overseeing “tech, product, data and everything related to our publishing platform.”  Nguyen has been in charge of “growth” at the website for some time, and has done very well: Buzzfeed claims to be attracting 150 million users per month. Read Peretti’s letter announcing the hire here.

    At Granta, an email conversation between Sam Lipsyte and Diane Cook, who was his student. “Just writing whatever wasn’t really being a writer,” Cook says, about her early approach to her work. A writer is “someone with a creative or intellectual project that lasted not the length of a story but over years of writing many different things.”

    The New York Times is releasing a digital archive of old ads, and has requested that viewers help to identify them. (The program housing the ads can’t recognize their content, so viewers will be providing the information to tag and sort them.) The first iteration of the archive holds ads from from the 1960s; subsequent decades will appear soon.

    The finalists for the inaugural Kirkus Prize have been announced. Among the novels listed are Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World, Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names, Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon, and Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests.

  • October 14, 2014

    Cornel West

    Cornel West

    Cornel West was among those arrested yesterday at a protest outside the police department in Ferguson, Missouri.

    The Washington Post has announced that Carlos Lozada, currently an editor at the paper’s Outlook section, will become its new nonfiction-book critic. “This summer, Carlos developed a detailed proposal on how to reimagine the role of the nonfiction book critic for a digital age—and proceeded to pitch himself for the role,” the Post says in an announcement of the hire. “He had a great idea, and we agreed that he’d be perfect for it.”

    The Man Booker Prize was opened this year to American writers, and Peter Carey, who is among the few people to have won it twice (with his novels Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang) isn’t happy. “The old Booker had a particular cultural flavour,” he said. “The Pulitzer and the National Book awards have their sorts of flavours. I suppose I’m not generally in love with the notion of global marketing.” The shortlist includes two Americans: Karen Joy Fowler and Joshua Ferris. Others on the list include the Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan, and the British writers Ali Smith, Howard Jacobson, and Neel Mukherjee. The winner will be announced this evening.

    The cover of this week’s New Yorker poignantly depicts the Bookforum offices.

    The New York Times has halted the chess column. The last installment ran on Sunday.

    Lena Dunham will direct a film adaptation of the YA novel Catherine, Called Birdy, a book that is, according to her, “hyper realistic and really pretty and . . . full of incest and beatings.”

  • October 13, 2014

    Juergen Boos

    Juergen Boos

    According to Publisher’s Weekly, professional attendance was down at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but general enthusiasm was up, and “business was brisk.” HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, who spoke at the fair’s opening ceremony, proclaimed it a time for digital experimentation. Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos suggested that the fair itself is planning many changes, announcing that in 2015, English-language publishers will move to a more central location. “We know that digital is going to stay, print is going to stay, Amazon is going to stay,” Boos said. “But it is not the end of the world. I am not scared to change.”

    David Plotz, who left his position as editor in chief at Slate in July, has announced that he has taken a job as the chief executive of Atlas Obscura. The website, cofounded in 2009 by Joshua Foer (author of Moonwalking with Einstein) and Dylan Thuras, focuses on “extraordinary, weird, and fascinating places—both around the world and around the corner.” Plotz, the author of The Genius Factory, calls the site “Nice Vice,” and is seeking investors to help him add new staff and relaunch the site next year.

    At Women’s Wear Daily, David Remnick talks up this year’s New Yorkerfestival, reflects on the evolving role of the editor, and takes a firm stand on “native advertising”: “What I object to is tricking the reader  and blurring the lines so that unsuspecting readers, thinking that they are getting something that is assigned and edited by the editorial side, are getting something quite different. They are getting an advertisement.”

    According to the Guardian, a well-known British performer (whose name is withheld) has been banned from publishing a memoir that details his childhood experiences of sexual abuse. Using an obscure Victorian law, the performer’s ex-wife obtained a legal injunction, arguing that she did not want their child to read the book. The book has been shelved, and the case will now go to trial.

    Salman Rushdie is attacking the “hate-filled rhetoric” that is currently persuading “hundreds, perhaps thousands of British Muslims to join the decapitating barbarians of Isis.” He points out that he “may not have survived if The Satanic Verses had been published today.”

  • October 10, 2014

    Paul Budnitz

    Paul Budnitz

    The New York Observer profiles the social-media network Ello, known as Facebook’s new competitor. Ello insists that it is not trying to take over Facebook, but rather offer “a small alternative.” “Success to us just means that Ello works and that people use it,” says Paul Budnitz, a co-founder of the website. “There’s no way we’re not going to survive.” Right now, people are joining at a rate of 40,000 per hour. 

    A member of the Nobel Prize committee, Horace Engdahl, has suggested that writers’ increasing “professionalization” has been detrimental to their art. “Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard—but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.” It’s been pointed out that Engdahl—an editor, critic, and professor—does not feel so strongly about his view that he drives a taxi himself. Meanwhile, French writer Patrick Modiano, who was just awarded the Nobel, was reportedly “happy” about it but found the whole thing “weird.” The committee was unable to contact Modiano before the public announcement, so he found out along with everybody else.

    Vivian Schiller has stepped down from her position as head of news at Twitter. Schiller, who has been CEO of NPR and the chief digital officer at NBC, joined the company last October.

    A cache of previously unpublished stories by Truman Capote has been found by a Swiss publisher. Four of the stories, which are believed to have been written between 1935 and 1943 (when Capote was between the ages of eleven and nineteen), appear this week in a German magazine. Random House will publish the full collection next year.

    A recent CNN segment on Ebola ran a headline calling Ebola “the ISIS of Biological Agents.” At the New Yorker blog, Teju Cole asks if that quite captures the situation. “Is Ebola the Boko Haram of AIDS? Is Ebola the al-Shabaab of dengue fever? Some say Ebola is the Milosevic of West Nile virus. Others say Ebola is the Ku Klux Klan of paper cuts. It’s obvious that Ebola is the MH370 of MH17. But at some point the question must be asked whether Ebola isn’t also the Narendra Modi of sleeping sickness.”

    Jon-Jon Goulian on his friend Wade, why New York is “a hundred times better than anywhere else” (mainly all the free stuff:”free movies, free concerts, free hors d’oeuvres at Fairway and Zabar’s, so much stuff here is free!”) and the one thing that Los Angeles has over New York, which we won’t spoil by telling you about. The piece is excerpted from Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York.