• July 31, 2014


    Margot Adler

    Margot Adler

    NPR correspondent Margot Adler died on Tuesday at age 68. She had worked as a general-assignment reporter, as New York bureau chief,  and as a political and cultural correspondent, and for nine years was the host of “Justice Talking,” a show about public policy. She identified as pagan. In 1979, she wrote Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.

    PEN has announced its 2014 literary award-winners. Notably, Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Critical Mass, and Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog won the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry—a fine opportunity to revisit Bookforum’s review of the “deeply personal, vigorously intellectual, and remarkably unsimple” collection.

    David Frum apologizes for casting doubt, last week on Twitter, on the authenticity of photographs from Gaza.

    Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch, has been optioned by Warner Brothers and will be produced by Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment. Warner Brothers also owns the films rights to Tartt’s 1992 novel, The Secret History. Bookforum happened to cast the film back in February.

    At seventeen, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier explained her feelings to her Harvard boyfriend like so: “I’ve always thought of being in love as being willing to do anything for the other person—starve to buy them bread and not mind living in Siberia with them—and I’ve always thought that every minute away from them would be hell—so looking at it that [way] I guess I’m not in love with you.” She’d been losing interest for a while: Three months earlier, she’d written, “”I do love you though—and can love you without kissing you every time I see you and I hope you understand that.” It was her birthday on Monday. She would have been eighty-five.

    T.C. Boyle’s East is East includes a character called “La Dershowitz,” a young writer of high ambitions and meager talent who writes restaurant reviews. At the Paris Review blog, Michelle Huneven reveals that the character was clearly based on her: She knew Boyle, who called her “La Huneven”; she wrote restaurant reviews; she was an aspiring novelist. Huneven describes the pain of recognizing herself in the “talentless airhead poseur trying to break into the hallowed world of literature,” the ”sense of powerlessness and an utter lack of recourse.” And yet people who recognize themselves in their friends’ work should remember that  “‘You’ve been fictionalized’ actually means, ‘You’ve been exaggerated!’ (Or downplayed!).”

  • July 30, 2014

    Christian Rudder

    Christian Rudder

    OkCupid’s popular blog, OkTrends, is back after a three-year hiatus. Written by Christian Rudder, a co-founder of the dating website, the blog returns with a post mocking Facebook’s recent data-collection scandal—not making fun of Facebook, as you might think, but rather what Rudder considers the naive outrage of its users: “Guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.” OkTrends, after all, is built on data gathered from OkCupid users. Rudder describes one experiment in which they gave people a faulty “match percentage” to see if they were more likely like each other when told by the app that they should. (They were.) Rudder has a book on data, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), forthcoming from Crown in September.

    First Look owner Pierre Omidyar provides an “update” to readers. The nine-month-old media company has hired twenty-five journalists, and plans to hire twenty-five more by the end of the year. They’ll stay in the “planning, startup and experimental mode for at least the next few years,” Omidyar says.

    Thirty-two thousand digital-only subscribers joined the Times in the second quarter of 2014, for a total of 831,000 online subscriptions.

    On the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Abigail Deutsch investigates the origins of a mysterious unsigned poem on a sign in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. And editors provide a roundup of New Yorker stories about New York, including one by John Cheever. The magazine’s entire archive is temporarily free online, and will likely remain that way into the fall.

    Christopher Kempf considers Amtrak’s attempt to rebrand with an artist’s residency: “Amtrak’s conception of writers’ work . . . remains just as romanticized as the ideal of rail travel it’s attempting to promote.”

  • July 29, 2014

    In the UK, nine million fewer books were given as gifts in 2013. In the United States, gifts counted for 22 percent of book sales, a drop from 24 percent the year prior. Digital e-books counted for a quarter of all book purchases.

    Forty-four states plus Washington DC have poet laureates or writer in residence positions, many of these dating from the past twenty years. Certain cities, including Boston and Los Angeles, have created similar posts. The roles of the poet laureates vary. Some have taken an activist role: Joseph Brodsky tried to get poetry books in every hotel room in the country; Rita Dove brought young poets from Washington to read their work at the Library of Congress. Sometimes they’re commissioned by the state to write commemorative poems. Billy Collins, asked to write a poem to be read before a joint session of Congress on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he had to resist the pressure to write a certain kind of poem, one mentioning “the first responders and their heroic job” and “something positive about the future of the country.”

    Sarah Palin is launching a TV channel online—according to her, “a news channel that really is a lot more than news.”

    At Salon, Jim Sleeper is annoyed by the hypocrisy of magazines who mainly employ the Ivy-educated but nonetheless join William Deresiewicz—whose book, Excellent Sheep, is forthcoming next month—in dismissing the Ivies. Sleeper wrote about Excellent Sheep for our summer issue. At In These Times, Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann also reviews the book, which offers a surprising amount of advice to would-be students. As the “small-bore counsel piles up . . . you realize that, for all his declamations, Deresiewicz remains obsessed with the fine-tuning of elite experience.” Instead, Lehmann advises, we should nationalize the Ivy League.

    Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, explains how he works—including the notebooks he uses, the process by which he writes the show, and some of the software and hardware used in its production. Except for living a few blocks from where he works, he has “no time-saving tricks at all,” he insisted. The most challenging part of his work is moving among various tasks: “The new task is like icy water you have to dive into. The old task is a warm bath.”

  • July 28, 2014

    On Friday, Buzzfeed fired its editor and writer Benny Johnson for plagiarism, after learning from Twitter users that Johnson had been lifting passages from other stories, sometimes word for word, without attribution in his own work. Upon reviewing Johnson’s work, Buzzfeed found 41 cases of plagiarism in 500 of Johnson’s posts. Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith has issued an apology to the site’s readers.

    Roxane Gay, author of the recent novel An Untamed State and the new essay collection Bad Feminist, is stepping down as the essay editor at The Rumpus. She has been replaced by Mary-Kim Arnold.

    Dazed and Confused magazine has assembled an extensive series of articles in a package called “States of Independence: A Celebration of American Radicalism, Youth, and Pop Culture.” Weighing in on the state of American writing—and advising young writers on the best ways to succeed (or, in the language of Dazed, “take over”) now—are an impressive group of writers and editors including Sarah Mangusso, David Shields, Giancarolo Ditrapano, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Gabby Bess. A refreshing look away from the endless Amazon conversation, the articles offer up apothegms such as: “Straightforward Sci-Fi Won’t Cut it Anymore,” “Bow Down to Beckett,” “Girls Should Read Other Girls,” and “Novels Shouldn’t Protect Us from Ourselves.”

    “I Eat Truisms and Exude Cliches”: Jedediah Purdy, the legal scholar and author of Tolerable Anarchy, comes up with headlines for the seven most “truthy” New York Times columnists.

    Politico points to a passage in a recent New York Times article to remind us of the lasting popularity of ultraconservative writer and commentator Dinesh D’Souza. The article, by Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning author Jonathan Mahler, points out that D’Souza’s new book, America: Imagine a World Without Her, is a bestseller, and that his anti-Obama film 2016 is the second-highest grossing political documentary of all time, after Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.

    Cory Arcangel

    Cory Arcangel

    “After an impressively long power nap, I am working on my novel again. Looks like it’s taking shape!” Cory Arcangel’s latest art project is a book titled Working on My Novel, which reprints Tweets in which authors, author manques, and author impostors share despairing, unintentionally humorous, and sometimes gratingly self-aggrandizing news about their works in progress. The book is due out this week.

    WMFT Radio and the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History are collaborating to collaborating to create a comprehensive online Studs Terkel Radio Archive. It will include 9,000 hours of interviews, with more than 5,000 interviewees. Terkel, the author of oral-history classics such as Hard Times and Working, hosted a daily hour-long radio show in Chicago from 1952 until 1997, in which he spoke with “jazz, blues, folk, classical and world musicians; novelists; scientists; historians; visual artists; actors; political theorists and activists; poets; dancers; film-makers; sociologists and anthropologists; architects and urban planners; civil rights leaders; philosophers; folklorists and, of course, many fascinating, non-famous working people.”

  • July 25, 2014

    An interactive graph allows you to track the usage of particular words in New York Times articles over time. “Famously,” for example, appeared in five articles in 1966 and 1332 articles in 2012.

    Gawker lists the ten “worst New Yorker ‘longreads’”: among them, Adam Gopnik on baking bread; Tad Friend on apartment-hunting; Anthony Lane on Scarlett Johansson; Susan Orlean on walking; John Updike on losing his hat; Malcolm Gladwell on basketball; David Remnick, the boss of the magazine, on the Boss; and Janet Malcolm on Eileen Fisher. Seems a little unfair to put Malcolm on the list, but the Fisher isn’t her best, we agree. We’ll save you from temptation and not even link to the pieces.

    At the LRB, Jenny Diski—one of our personal-favorite reviewers—uses the occasion of a review of Cubed, Nikil Saval’s recent history of the office, for a glorious riff on the office’s “secret beating heart,” i.e. “the stationery cupboard.” Is there any more wondrous place? “It’s fully stocked with more than one of everything and plenty to spare. Sundries. In bulk. A dozen of; assorted; multi-buys; bumper bundles. Paper in quires and reams, flimsy, economy and letter quality, neatly contained in perfectly folded paper packets. Boxes of carbon paper. (Children, you interleave a crispy dark-blue onion skin between each sheet of paper, you align them bottom edge and long side, tapping the long and short sides sharply together on the surface of your desk, and if you type sharply you can get as many as six or eight copies, each slightly fainter than the one before.) Refills and spares. A cornucopia of everything you would never run out of. Paper glued into pads or notebooks. Lined and unlined. Spiral, perfect bound, reporter. Envelopes with and without windows. Ring binders. Snap binders. Box files. Sticky white circles to reinforce the holes made by paper punches. Paper punches. Green string tags to go through the holes. Labels. So many blank labels. White, coloured, all shapes and sizes. And a mechanical labeller with plastic tape to emboss. More than enough supplies so that if a thing is done wrongly, spoiled or not quite right, mistyped, misspelled, holes punched in the wrong place, pencil broken, you throw it away and get a fresh one from the stationery cupboard that never runs out because it is there always to provide more.” The piece concludes with another endless paragraph, an impressive 624 words long. Jerry Stahl coveredCubed for Bookforum.

    Lydia Davis has “translated” Bob, Son of Battle, an obscure British children’s book.

    With Reddit Live, anyone can create their own live blog.

    Google almost bought Spotify, and then decided that, at more than $10 billion, the online music service was slightly too expensive.

  • July 24, 2014

    On the Believer website, Sheila Heti interviews Patricia Lockwood as part of a new ongoing series of conversations about Twitter. “The only thing that dictates whether I respond to someone is whether I have something interesting to say in return,” Lockwood says of her Twitter habits. “I respond to people I don’t know at all, when their tweet hauls a nice fresh bucket of water up out of me, but if it comes up empty then I just stay quiet.”

    Scott Esposito, editor of the Quarterly Conversation, takes issue with Tim Parks’s recent New York Review of Books blog piece on Knausgaard. Parks suggests that critics have manufactured a “huge international following” for the Norwegian writer where sincere praise would suffice. Esposito dissents: “Let’s not pretend Dan Brown’s ‘titanic’ sales are an apples to apples comparison with a literary writer.”

    The Great English Novel is dead; long live the Twitter short story. The New Statesman, insisting that “fiction isn’t dying—but it is changing,” defends “The Right Sort,” a tale in tweets by the English novelist David Mitchell. Mitchell’s most recent novel, The Bone Clocks, has made the Man Booker longlist.

    Jack White’s Nashville-based Third Man Records will officially launch a publishing wing, Third Man Books, with the August 5th release of Language Lessons: Volume 1. The box set will include two vinyl LPs, five posters, and a 321-page hardcover book featuring pieces by “punk godfather” Richard Hell, Pulitzer-nominee Dale Ray Phillips, and National Book Critics Circle winner in poetry, C.D. Wright.

    At the New Republic, Tom Bissell recalls the morning in 2000 when William T. Vollmann’s 3,800 page Rising Up and Rising Down manuscript landed on his desk at Henry Holt. Fourteen years later, Bissell interviews the notoriously “uncorrupted literary mind” at his studio in Sacramento. They discuss Vollmann’s fascination with sex workers, and his refusal to use the Internet, carry a cell phone, or drive. That refusal makes sense if you’ve seen the Harper’s piece about his 785-page FBI file. Vollmann’s book of short stories, Last Stories and Other Stories was released this month by Viking. Bookforum recently interviewed him.

  • July 23, 2014

    Jeb Lund picks on Ed Klein’s new book about the Clintons, Blood Feud—specifically, Klein’s calling attention to Hillary’s swearing: “Utilizing someone’s occasional profanity as the basis of a character attack is up there with a sinister ad voiceover saying, Candidate John Cussbrother uses toilets.

    Former judge Stuart Kelly makes predictions for the Man Booker prize longlist, and wonders if an American writer will make the cut.

    The Washington Post has launched Storyline, a new online vertical devoted to policy journalism. The site vows to distinguish itself with data journalism and daily posts of people-focused stories.

    Chuck Palahniuk is planning a graphic novel sequel to the cult classic Fight Club. Picking up ten years after the first book, the sequel will describe the frustrations of middle age. “If you suppress that wild, creative part of you — that Tyler part of you — do you lose the best part of you?” Palahniuk asks. “Your life is more stable and safe, but is it a better life?” Rhetorical questions, obviously.

    Introducing a poetry reading in Chicago, James Franco said his own poems were “trying to say something in addition to what’s on the surface.” The Telegraph holds its nose and reviews Franco’s debut.

    The Awl voices concern over “misleading” satirical posts from the Borowitz Report, a humor blog that accounts for six percent of the New Yorker’s total traffic.


  • July 22, 2014

    The Baffler debuts a sleek new website this week, for the first time collecting its full digital archive from 1988 to the current issue, which includes: “25 issues, 432 contributors, 277 salvos, 450 graphics, 172 poems, 73 stories, 3,396 pages made of 1,342,785 words.” There’s something for every cheerful pessimist: Nicholson Baker’s “Dallas Killers Club,” say, or Eileen Myles’s story “Springs,” or the savage caricatures of Ralph Steadman.

    The New Inquiry considers two books by civilians about veterans who commit suicide: David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service and Jen Percy’s Demon Camp, “the most unusual and beautiful portrait of human trauma to come out of the last thirteen years.” Meehan Crist recently interviewed Jen Percy for Bookforum.

    In Norway, “Knausgaard-free days had been instituted so that workers would be more productive.” Or so repeated The Guardian, The Economist, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other credible, fact-checked literary sources. But it’s not true, or at least impossible to verify, according to Pacific Standard. And over at the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks wonders: “Wouldn’t it be enough to praise Knausgaard without trying to create the impression that there is a huge international following behind the book?”

    After serving North Carolina as the state’s poet laureate for less than a week, Valerie Macon has stepped down. Her resignation followed intense scrutiny of Gov. Pat McCrory for personally appointing the state disability examiner and self-published poet, “rather than allowing a committee of writers appointed by the state’s arts council to make the selection” based on “literary merit.”

    At the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova asks, why don’t we “read the same way online as we do on paper?” Maryanne Wolf decided to take up this question after receiving hundreds of letters from readers of her scientific history of the reading brain, Proust and the Squid, many concerned that “the more reading moved online, the less students seemed to understand.” Presently, Wolf has “ensconced herself in a small village in France with shaky mobile reception and shakier Internet” to finish her book. Here is Bookforum’s review of Wolf’s Proust and the Squid, as a primer.




  • July 21, 2014

    Robert Stein, an editor at magazines such as McCall’s and Redbook, died last week at age 90. In its obituary, the Times points out that McCall’s (known as a “women’s magazine”) evolved rapidly under Stein’s innovative leadership: “He led in-depth coverage of the civil rights movement in its early days, interviewed President John F. Kennedy on nuclear weapons, polled seminarians in 1961 on their religious beliefs.” Stein brought a number of boldface names to his magazines: Gloria Steinam, Margaret Mead, Harper Lee, and Martin Luther King Jr. He not only hired Pauline Kael, but also fired her.

    Judith Butler

    Judith Butler

    At the LRB, Judith Butler reviews a new book based on Jacques Derrida’s seminar on the death penalty.

    The Times public editor Margaret Sullivan writes about The Upshot, the paper’s newish blog (which also appears in print) that uses Nate Silver–style number-crunching to convey “what the evidence tells us” about policy issues. But, Sullivan reports, some readers are confused and angry at the way the site sometimes blurs the line between reporting and opinion. Sullivan writes, “editors have some kinks to work out as the clear-cut boundaries long associated with print newspapers become murkier on the web. I would like to see its work better labeled and explained, especially in print. Transparency with readers, when it’s done with directness, is the answer to many new-media issues.”

    At the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson has posted a long-view analysis of the Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. “One of the games being played in the region is an old and dangerous one: the proxy war. For a power that wants to meddle in another country, the great thing about fielding surrogates is that they give you deniability. The bad thing is that you can’t ever fully control them.”

    “We get to see director’s cuts of our favorite movies. Why not an ‘author’s cut’ for books?”

  • July 18, 2014

    Fifteen early stories by Elmore Leonard have been acquired by the British publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson, to appear in the fall of 2015. HarperCollins will publish the American edition.

    Pinterest is “untapped” as a driver of traffic, Buzzfeed’s vice president of growth and data tells Forbes. You can pin anything—not just photos of attractive sofas. If Twitter use is slowing, as has been ominously hinted, the opposite seems to be happening with Pinterest, which has more female users and possibly more users overall.

    Gawker looks askance at the new “editorial standards” by which Buzzfeed is justifying the removal of old posts.

    Jacques Lezra, one of the translators of the Dictionary of Untranslatables, reflects on the project, which has been controversial, he says, “in at least three ways.” One question he and the other translators struggled with: “If we succeed, won’t we have failed, or at least shown that the original idea, that these terms are untranslatable in some important way, was off base?”

    Norman Mailer liked to draw.

    Google is working on creating the “perfect” font for Android devices, one that will look good at almost any size or resolution—a sort of “visual lingua franca” for the company’s countless applications and phones. The new version of Roboto will ideally not call attention to itself: “The goal of a good font,” writes New York’s Kevin Roose, “is to be silently useful.”