• 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.

  • December 6, 2013

    At the New Yorker, South African novelist and Nobel–winner Nadine Gordimer remembers Nelson Mandela: “Not a figure carved in stone but a tall man, of flesh and blood, whose suffering had made him not vengeful but still more human.”

    The New York Times reports on a recent trip President Obama took to Politics and Prose bookstore in DC, where he bought nearly two dozen books. The Times reporter writes that the titles offer “a rare window into the president’s mind,” and notes, “unlike many of his predecessors, who devoured American history and biographies, Mr. Obama’s tastes lean toward the literary.” So, what can we learn by the president’s choice of, say, James Salter’s All That Is, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, or Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland? Lahiri offers this observation: “He has a sort of double vision of America as I do, as many people do, many people who have been both brought up and bred within America but also have a different perspective of the country,” Ms. Lahiri says. “In a sense, part of him comes from outside America and he embodies both that contradiction and that richness.”

    Are you a Joan Didion expert? The Los Angeles Times tests your knowledge with a quiz.

    Joan Didion

    Joan Didion

    Tom Scocca has written a thoughtful essay about what he calls a defining quality of our time: smarm. “What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.”

    Triple Canopy, which has always thought deeply about the ways that publishing can evolve in the digital age, has announced its new publishing platform. “Each issue will address specific questions or prompts and will emerge from research by editors—as well as, essentially, conversations with artists, writers, researchers, designers, technologists. Triple Canopy will collaborate with contributors not just on their own projects, but on the development of coherent (if variegated) bodies of knowledge.”

    This saturday in Los Angeles, the 356 Mission gallery will host an event for the release of Artforum contributing editor Bruce Hainley’s new book about the artist Sturtevant, Under the Sign of [sic]. Hainley will be in conversation with Lisa Lapinski and Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, and Sturtevant’s work is on display in the gallery.

    Black Francis, one of the founders of The Pixies, is working on a graphic novel titled The Good Inn. The book will be “a fantastical piece of illustrated fiction based on a yet-to-be-written soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t yet exist,” and will follow a teenage boy as he navigates “past homicidal gypsies, combative soldiers and porn-peddling peasants, he takes refuge in a secluded inn, where he finds himself centre stage in the making of the world’s first narrative pornographic film.”

    “It was the Best of Times…But You Won’t Believe What Other Kinds of Times It Is, Too.”

  • December 5, 2013

    According to Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, the British newspaper has met with US and English government agencies more than one hundred times since it obtained (and started publishing) documents on surveillance from NSA contractor Edward Snowden. National security, he suggests, has come to threaten freedom of the press.

    The online auction organized to help raise money for St. Marks Bookshop is now underway, and will run through December 15. Among the books for sale are The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (signed and “lightly annotated”), Anne Carson’s Antignoick (with a cover hand-drawn by the author), and an autographed first edition of Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

    The New York Times has announced its picks for the ten best books of the year.

    Laurie Penny recently took the “Bad Sex in Fiction Award” to task for being “dated” and “priggish.” But that didn’t stop readers from checking to find out this year’s winner: Manil Suri, for his novel The City of Devi. (The Gurardian has a brief excerpt.)


    George Saunders

    The Page-Turner blog has a chat with George Saunders at his Syracuse University office, where he was once a graduate student and now teaches in the MFA program. Saunders talks about how he begins writing: “There’s a mysterious element, a magical element, right? And it’s not reducible. A lot of the process is positioning yourself to receive the moment of magic when it deigns to come to you.”

    Samuel R. Delany has been named the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, a lifetime achievement award for science fiction/fantasy authors. For more about Delany, check out the Paris Review’s Art of the Interview from the summer of 2011.

    Tonight, NYU will celebrate the poetry of activist and writer Muriel Rukeyser. Participants include: Carol Gilligan, Kate Clinton, Jan Freeman, Gerald Stern, Jennifer Benka, and Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

  • December 4, 2013

    Eight cultural figures from the Dominican Republic have written an open letter condemning Junot Diaz, who is currently visiting the country to participate in talks about immigration, writing, and what it means to be a Dominican. The letter attacks the Pulitzer-winning Diaz for, among other things, “a scarce capacity for reflection and a disrespectful and mediocre use of the written word.”

    At MobyLives, Dennis Johnson explains why Andre Schiffrin would have hated his Times obituary, and offers some context and further details about the great editor and publisher’s life.

    Romenesko reports that on Tuesday morning, Gawker Media employees received a memo from head honcho Nick Denton: “The bad news . . . We got overtaken by Buzzfeed in November. They surged to 133m global uniques. Damn. That’s impressive. And Upworthy—even smarmier than Buzzfeed—is nipping at our heels.” But Denton plans to regain the lead soon with Kinja, a new Gawker Media discussion platform, “which enlists readers as contributors to listicles as well as other collaborative editorial projects.”

    Norman Rockwell’s family is “waging a fierce campaign” against a new biography of him, American Mirror, written by New York Times critic Deborah Solomon. The Rockwell family cooperated with Solomon as she was researching the book. But upon reading American Mirror, many family members were “shocked” by the book’s “suggestions . . . that Rockwell could have been secretly gay.” 

  • December 3, 2013

    Beginning in March, New York magazine is going to come out every other week, becoming the latest publication to give up on weekly publication. As the Times points out, “The punishing economics of being a stand-alone weekly can be explained in one word: Newsweek.” Muckrack has a roundup of media responses. At the Awl, Choire Sicha argues that the magazine is still making money—some 3 million dollars a week, by his estimate.

    Joyce Carol Oates and Mike Tyson in 1986

    Joyce Carol Oates and Mike Tyson in 1986

    In the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates weighs in on Mike Tyson’s eager-to-please new autobiography: “To the extent that Tyson has a predominant tone in Undisputed Truth it’s that of a Vegas stand-up comic, alternately self-loathing and self-aggrandizing, sometimes funny, sometimes merely crude.”

    The editors of Jacket Copy have asked novelists, critics, and readers to recommend their favorite book written by an author the opposite gender, an exercise, which, at the very least, adds a bit of novelty to the notable-books lists now proliferating online. As far as straightforward guides to the best books of 2013, you can’t do much better than The Millions ongoing “year in reading” series, which has a stellar lineup of contributors, and notes many worthwhile books that might otherwise be easy to overlook.

    Amazon is working on a drone delivery service called Amazon Prime Air, “a new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.” We’re sure Dave Eggers wishes he’d thought of for his dystopian tale, The Circle. Amazon’s kingpin Jeff Bezos is lauded in a reverential new biography, The Everything Story, which Astra Taylor reviews in the new Bookforum: “It is both depressing and unsettling to read a book about the absolute triumph of a man who cares about nothing but winning.” As if on cue, Bezos recently told Charlie Rose, “You gotta earn your keep in this world . . .  Amazon is not happening to bookselling; the future is happening to bookselling.”

    Andre Schiffrin—the longtime editor, author, and founder of the New Press—has died at age 78. Schiffrin championed many authors, among them Jean-Paul Sartre, Günter Grass, Studs Terkel, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Noam Chomsky, Julio Cortázar, and Anita Brookner. A longtime critic of publishing mergers, he was the author The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read.

  • December 2, 2013

    Peter Kaplan

    Peter Kaplan

    Longtime New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan died on Friday at the age of 59. In a New Republic profile from last fall, Nathan Heller said of Kaplan, “Much of New York’s journalism world has come to regard Kaplan as a distant but endearing uncle—quirky, steeped in lore, and something of a daemon of the trade.” Longform has a nice selection of articles by and about Kaplan, including an oral history of the Kaplan era of the Observer, written when Kaplan left the paper in 2009.

    As the sale of the Bay Psalms book for $14.2 million last week reveals, the rare-book business is a lucrative one. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Marino Massimo De Caro, the former director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, has been accused of stealing thousands of volumes from the collection, including editions of Aristotle, Descartes, and Machiavelli. De Caro himself is a character worthy of fictional treatment: A self-taught librarian without a college degree, he came, through political connections, to be in charge of some of the world’s most valuable books. He argues that he stole in part to “raise money to restore the library.” He has also admitted to creating several fake copies of Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius, and cites Borges when explaining the quality of his forgeries.

    Three previously unpublished J.D. Salinger stories—”The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” “Paula,” and “Birthday Boy”—have been leaked online.

    The Dutch writer Arnon Grunberg is currently writing a novella while wearing electrodes that measure his brain waves, as well as sensors tracking his facial expressions and measuring other vital signs. After the book is published next fall, some readers will measure their physical responses, and researchers will comb through the data in hopes of making sense of it all. Literature, meet the “quantified self” movement.

    Tonight at Housing Works bookstore in New York, authors Mike Albo, Choire Sicha, Emily Gould and others answer the age-old New York question: Is living in the city worth it?

  • November 29, 2013

    Laurie Penny explains what’s wrong about the Bad Sex Award, the annual British award granted to the worst erotic fiction: Not only is the award dated, it’s also priggish.

    At the TLS, John Ashbery, Michael Dirda, Marjorie Perloff, and others pick their favorite books of the year.

    Jynne Dilling Martin

    Jynne Dilling Martin

    We’ve been enjoying the recent reports and photographs from Jynne Dilling Martin, a poet, a publicist, and currently the 2013 Artist in Residence in Antarctica.

    Bookriot has compiled a list of the worst fictional families to spend Thanksgiving with. We were somewhat surprised not to find the Pollits, from Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loves Children, or any family from an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel.

    At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, novelist Teju Cole considers the great photographer Saul Leiter, who died on Tuesday. “The content of Saul Leiter’s photographs arrives on a sort of delay: it takes a moment after the first glance to know what the picture is about. You don’t so much see the image as let it dissolve into your consciousness, like a tablet in a glass of water.”

    Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart has won The Guardian’s first book award.