• August 21, 2014

    Ken Chen

    Ken Chen

    The second part of a series by NPR’s Lynn Neary, on diversity in the writing world, has aired. Publishing is “overwhelmingly white,” the writer Daniel José Older says. “That’s not a controversial fact, but sometimes to point it out becomes a controversial thing.” Publishing companies often say that they would publish books by more diverse writers if there were a market for them. It’s not that there isn’t a market, says poet Ken Chen, it’s that publishers can’t “imagine” it: “That’s not just about a company corporate diversity policy; it’s about actually knowing what’s going on in communities of color.”

    Detroit’s Write a House program is underway. The nonprofit is buying houses on the foreclosure market, renovating them, and giving them to writers. It will give away one house in its inaugural year, and in subsequent years give away three annually. Applicants must be published writers, but do not need to do work as writers full-time. They must earn no more than $39,750 a person.

    Long-time New York bookstore Shakespeare & Company may be forced to close permanently. At the end of August, they will close their Broadway store, which has been operating without a lease for a year. A Brooklyn outpost closed this spring; the Upper West Side location closed in 1996, after a Barnes and Noble moved in a block away. Apparently the Lexington location is also in lease negotiations.

    Stephen King, Jeff Bezos, and Stephen Colbert have all taken the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which entails a bucket of ice water getting dumped on the participant, who then nominates others. If you refuse, you’re encouraged to donate to a charity that supports research on the disease. ALS research is important, but it hasn’t been so fun to see Facebook littered with videos of people self-congratulatingly dousing themselves.

    J.D. Salinger’s home in Cornish, New Hampshire is on the market. The writer purchased the 1939 Dutch Colonial, which is on twelve acres of land, when he left New York in 1953. He sold it to the current owner in the early 1960s. Among the works that he may have worked on in the house are “Franny,” “Zooey,” “Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters,” and “Seymour: An Introduction.”

  • August 20, 2014

    Journalists in Ferguson are “learning as they go,” writes Paul Farhi for the Washington Post: “It’s not just the rioters you have to worry about, say reporters; the authorities can be difficult—and dangerous—too.” You don’t say! Something Farhi might consider learning himself is not to use the term “rioters” to describe impassioned protesters facing a hostile police force. As one of Farhi’s own sources, Wesley Lowery, points out, during “ninety percent” of the time he has spent in Ferguson, the threat has been not from protesters but from the police.

    Facebook has been fairly useless for following Ferguson news, in spite of having five times as many users as Twitter. This is partly because Facebook is bad for getting news, period. Does it face a “moral imperative” to change that? At Poynter, Sam Kirkland describes the possible “Facebookification” of Twitter and the possible “Twitterfication” of Facebook.

    Speaking of Twitter: Paper Trail has been following Sheila Heti’s Twitter series at the Believer Logger since it began. In the final installment, Heti interviews Kenneth Goldsmith, founder of UbuWeb. “Twitter is not art,” Goldsmith says. “But it inspires me in the way that art used to inspire me. Art used to make me see the world differently, think about things in a new way—it rarely does that for me anymore, but technology does that for me on a daily basis.”

    Justin Torres

    Justin Torres

    NPR’s Lynn Neary talks to Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers Workshop, about the challenges faced by students of color in MFA programs. Chang, herself a graduate of Iowa, has worked to attract a diverse student body. Among the students she has brought is Justin Torres, whose novel We the Animals came out in 2011 (reviewing it for Bookforum, Andrew Martin called the book “carefully carved”). Torres persuaded a friend to accompany him to Iowa when he moved. “Sometimes it’s just exhausting if you’re going to go into a class of middle-class, straight, white people,” he told Neary. “You’re just automatically that ‘other.’ ”

    The entire Loeb Classical Library—those books with the unchanging attractive green or red spines—will be available online come fall. The print books will remain. (Harvard University Press wants to avoid making anyone feel that the hardcover books are “obsolete”: they’re going to revise both print and online works “in tandem,”  the series’ editor said.)

    In the Times’s “Bookends” feature, Zoe Heller and Rivka Galchen answer the question of whether they think writing can be taught. The obvious answer, for both, is yes. We don’t consider science impossible to teach, Galchen says, yet great scientists were no more taught their genius than great writers. But this doesn’t mean instruction isn’t necessary. “In most every intellectual endeavor, the extremes of its work come from an unteachable dark. A discipline like mathematics, known especially for its young prodigies who have less to offer as they get older, seems more dominated by the dark than writing does, yet there’s still a substantial teachable remainder.” 

  • August 19, 2014

    Ann Leckie

    Ann Leckie

    The 2014 Hugo Awards, which honor science fiction, have been announced. The award for best novel goes to Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK). This year Hugo nominees were more likely to be women and people of color than has historically been true, the Daily Dot reports.

    The Telegraph profiles Jennifer Weiner, who complains that she was “devastated” when she heard that Jennifer Egan had advised women not to write chick lit. About Lena Dunham, who has said that she loathed “airport chick lit,” Weiner says, “I’m sure she has just no clue that these books she’s reviled may have in some teeny, tiny way made her show possible.”

    And the Guardian profiles Phyllis Rose, whose book, The Shelf, was published earlier this year. About the rise of the “bibliomemoir,” Rose acknowledges that such books are perhaps evidence of a sad state of affairs. “There is this movement to cherish what we have before it is lost,” she says. “‘Crisis’ would sound melodramatic. But certainly, we are taking it less for granted; we’re trying to hold on to something before it disappears.” Diane Mehta interviewed Rose for Bookforum.

    One of the metrics that Time Inc. uses to evaluate writers is how “beneficial” their work is to the company’s relationship with advertisers, Gawker reports. A union representative claims that writers have been terminated based on this criterion, including four writer-editors on whose behalf the Newspaper Guild has filed an arbitration demand.

    The letters to Amazon continue: A thousand writers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have signed a statement protesting the company’s practices. “Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon. Apparently that is not the case,” the letter reads. “Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper [e-book] discounts.” Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek (from Austria) was among the signers.

  • August 18, 2014

    Al Gore has sued Al Jazeera, claiming that the news provider, owned by the Qatari Royal family, has failed to pay the full amount agreed upon in the purchase of Gore’s network, Current TV.

    Medium, the website of “stories and ideas” and serious journalism founded by Twitter cofounder Ev Williams, has announced that it will make public its followers and what articles they read at the site. “Medium is in a grey area between platform and publishing,” Selena Larson writes, and goes on to argue that revealing what people read is an infringement on readers’ sense of privacy and curiosity.

    The Awl has announced that it has hired Haley Mlotek, a writer and the publisher of the fashion journal Worn, to edit the Hairpin.

    Rembert Browne

    Rembert Browne

    Rembert Browne—a staff writer for Grantland—has written an evocative, firsthand report of the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown. “A man sitting near me was the first person I saw start to run. Then, suddenly, we were all running. I remember looking over my shoulder as my legs churned beneath me. The police were shooting flares and I didn’t want to get hit in the back. But I didn’t stop running, because I didn’t want the smoke to catch up. There was also the sound of weapons firing. And this siren. This terrible, terrible siren…” At the Times, David Carr writes: “Ferguson, Missouri, was just a place—a working-class suburb of St. Louis—before an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by the police, before protests and looting erupted, before local forces responded with armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets, and Ferguson became #Ferguson.” And at the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb files a report titled “A Movement Grows in Ferguson.”

    Reading a recent Guardian article that explains why the British love to hate Martin Amis, Emily Temple felt envy. Why, she wonders, can’t American writers inspire such strong feelings? Are they too nice?

  • August 15, 2014

    Anonymous promised to ID the cop who killed unarmed, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last Saturday. Then they outed the wrong man. In response, Twitter silenced @TheAnonMessage, the account that tweeted the false information.

    At a McDonald’s in Ferguson, a SWAT team assaulted and arrested two reporters—Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Posttrying to cover the story of the Brown shooting, then released both without charges or paperwork and without providing the names of the officers involved. Representatives from both news outlets released outraged statements. HuffPost DC bureau chief Ryan Grim writes that Reilly, who has reported from Guantanamo Bay, said the police treated McDonald’s patrons as “enemy combatants”: “Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time, and it is now beginning to affect press freedom.”

    At the LRB, Nicholas Blincoe on the Palestinian Authority: “Today, Palestinians in the Diaspora run protests, organise boycotts, publish blogs and journals but do so without maintaining a connection to the leadership under occupation. It is a process of give and take, of course, and the leadership needs to recognise the disaffection of the Diaspora. But for all the energy, intelligence and creativity shown by Palestinians living outside the 1948 borders, if there is no connection to the leadership under occupation, they remain far from the real Palestine.”

    The Onion posts the whole of Moby Dick: “The Time I Spent On A Commercial Whaling Ship Totally Changed My Perspective On The World.”

    The Oxford dictionary adds some new words. “We don’t mean to humblebrag,” they say, “but the August update to OxfordDictionaries.com is bare good and nailed on to interest and impress you.” Notable words include “sentiment analysis,” “neckbeard,” and “mansplain,” which they dictionarysplain like so: “(Of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”

    Chris Adrian—named one of the New Yorker’s “20 under 40”—has released a digital novel about memory and grief called The New Worldon Atavist. It’s the fifth book Atavist has published

  • August 14, 2014

    The Associated Press reports that on Wednesday, an AP video journalist, Simone Camilli, and a Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were killed in Gaza.

    In its cover story this month, Wired calls Edward Snowden the most wanted man in the world.

    Mary Beard

    Mary Beard

    The LARB talks to the classicist and wonderful critic Mary Beard, whose most recent book, Laughter in Ancient Rome, came out in July. Beard has been unruffled by (classy about?) the negative attention she’s received in Britain for something entirely unrelated to her formidable career: appearing on television with undyed hair. “It’s not like I’m a Stalinist about grey hair,” she told Annalisa Quinn. “In fact, I’d quite like to go pink. But I don’t like women feeling like they’re forced to dye their hair. It raises the broader question: how can women age without falling into the old crone trap? I mean, we’re back with the bloody Greeks and Romans.”

    A few days ago, Jezebel wrote an open letter to its parent company, Gawker, complaining about Gawker’s failure to address the violent and disturbing gifs that have been repeatedly posted to the comments sections of the website. For months, they said, they had been petitioning boss Joel Johnson to do something about the problem, and nothing happened. Happily, a short-term solution—preventing all media uploads— is now in place. A long-term solution, a “pending comments” system, is in the works.

    Buzzfeed interviews thirteen editors about how their publications—including the New York Observer, Politico, the Guardian, New York Magazine, the New Republic, the New Yorker, and Buzzfeed itself—handle diversity. “It’s important to hire in a way that doesn’t oblige people to represent their own identity internally or externally,” the editor of Buzzfeed, Ben Smith, said. “Ideally, that means that you have enough, say, black or Hispanic or Mormon staff writers that, far from representing some monolithic viewpoint, they can disagree with one another about any given thing.”


  • August 13, 2014

    The much-maligned app Yo—which allows users to say “Yo” to one another—should not be dismissed as a novelty, the Wall Street Journal says. When the app’s monosyllabic greeting pops up in your smartphone’s notifications tray (and a tiny voice repeats the word) the app is exploiting push notifications, “the most valuable property in the entire media universe, considering how often the average smartphone owner glances at his or her phone.” Future iterations of Yo will allow users to send links along with the greeting and to connect the app to RSS feeds. Soon, “every blogger, website and media outlet on earth” will be using Yo to send notifications and links.

    How many Twitter users aren’t real people? Approximately 23 million of the the 271 million monthly active users, or about 8.5 percent.

    Tim Parks, who lately has been on the reading beat at the New York Review of Books blog, discusses the argument that people reading anything is better than people reading not at all. Is reading really a gateway drug? Do people “pass from the genre to the literary up our neo-Platonic ladder? Do they discover Stieg Larsson and move on to Pamuk?” Nope: Different kinds of narratives offer “different experiences that mesh with readers’ psyches and requirements in quite different ways.” Reading literary fiction isn’t a necessary element of a “full, responsible, and even wise life,” and such readers don’t possess “an essential tool for self-realization or the key to protecting civilization from decadence and collapse.” (Not even readers of Pamuk? Quelle horreur.)

    How well you understand what you read, genre or not, depends on whether the book is in a print or digital format.  Researchers studying 10th graders found that those who read print books responded better to tests measuring comprehension than those who read on a computer. Apparently, “reading print texts helps the brain form mental maps.”

    A young-adult imprint at MacMillan, Swoon Reads, is relying on readers to choose its titles. The publisher of Swoon Reads, Jean Feiwel, explains that “readers are more in touch with what can sell.” She has acquired six of the 237 manuscripts posted to the Swoon website.

  • August 12, 2014

    Maureen Dowd

    Maureen Dowd

    Maureen Dowd has been named a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine. She will continue to write her op-ed column for the Sunday edition of the paper.

    In June, Publisher’s Weekly reported that Hachette had acquired Perseus Books. But now, according to a letter sent out to Perseus employees, the deal has been canceled.

    At the Times, David Carr devotes his column to the recent decisions by Gannett, the Tribune Company, and E.W. Scripps to spin off their newspaper properties. The optimism people felt for print media when Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post is now pretty much gone, Carr writes. “The recent flurry of divestitures scanned as one of those movies about global warming where icebergs calve huge chunks into churning waters.”

    The 50 Year Argument, a documentary about the New York Review of Books, will premiere September 29th on HBO. Martin Scorsese, who co-directs it with David Tedeschi, says he was drawn to the “adventure of thought and the sensuality of ideas” that the magazine represents.

    Amazon responds to an open letter—signed by 900 authors supporting Hachette—by releasing an official statement on a newly launched website called readersunited.com. The LA Times thinks this may be the publishing industry’s first AstroTurf campaign.

  • August 11, 2014

    Jim Frederick

    Jim Frederick

    The New York Times reports that journalist Jim Frederick—the author of Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent Into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death—has died. The Times obituary describes Black Hearts as documenting “the intense and withering experience of a group of men who were poorly commanded, overwhelmed with stress and witness to myriad bloody calamities, including the deaths of comrades.”

    Politico reports that Amazon has hired a group of lobbyists and wooed members of Congress in an attempt to build its political influence: “Amazon’s aggressive tactics were on display in July, when the Federal Trade Commission prepared to sue it for allowing kids to rack up big bills in its app store. The company went on the offensive, pre-emptively releasing details of the lawsuit while writing FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez with a pledge to fight in court. Amazon even recruited support on Capitol Hill, getting Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) to slam the agency’s approach.”

    Django Gold’s New Yorker story “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words”—in which he writes “jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with”—was satire (Gold is on staff at the Onion), but many readers are taking it very seriously. Rollins himself has responded, saying that the piece would have worked in MAD magazine, but that in the New Yorker, the humor was out of context. (“It hurt me,” he claimed.) Now Justin Moyer at the Washington Post has weighed in with an article titled “All that Jazz Isn’t All that Great,” which seems to be satire (“Improvisation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”), but, unfortunately, is not.

    Paul Berman’s “The Rise and Fall of a Radical Journalist” (at the New Republic) is a snide appraisal of Alexander Cockburn, the Village Voice and Nation columnist who died in 2012. Berman’s condescending piece—in part a review of Cockburn’s A Colossal Wreck—has inspired some thoughtful conversation, particularly George Scialabba’s response: “The Assassin’s Fate: Paul Berman Shoots and Misses (Again).”

    More than nine hundred authors, including Stephen King, have signed an open letter from author Douglas Preston to readers, asking them to challenge Jeff Bezos’s tactics against Hachette.


  • August 8, 2014

    Yelena Akhtiorskaya

    Yelena Akhtiorskaya

    “The permanent retainer behind Liza’s uninsured upper front teeth had endured some irremediable catastrophe, leaving her bowl of cereal unchomped for the first time in decades.” So begins “Sentimental Driftwood,” a story by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, whose first book, Panic in a Suitcase, has just been released by Riverhead. The story begins: Carla Blumenkranz recently interviewed Akhtiorskaya for Bookforum.

    At the LRB, the novelist Helen DeWitt describes being stalked at her family cottage in Vermont. When her stalker is finally, after many months, arrested, the sentence he receives is minimal. He has been punished for a single incident, a break-in, and not the months of harassment DeWitt endured. The victim advocate explains that DeWitt had “weakened the case” by not seeming intimidated or fearful in her deposition. In other words, she “had failed to convince as damsel in distress.”

    At Slate, Laura Miller praises Haruki Murakami’s avoidance of the “coyness and elision that plagues so much American literary fiction.”

    Russia has granted Edward Snowden a three-year permit—not asylum, but a “normal residential permit”— to live in the country.

    “Novel” once described a work of fiction. Now people use it to describe…just about any book.

    The saga of Amazon continues. A long list of writers—including Maxine Hong Kingston, ZZ Packer, Michael Pollan, Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Claire Messud, Ann Patchett, and Cheryl Strayed—scold the company in an open letter. And the New York Times looks into an alliance between Google and Barnes & Noble against their mutual rival.