• May 13, 2014

    It’s now possible to avoid people on Twitter without actually un-following them: Witness the “mute” function, ye conflict-averse, and rejoice.

    Of sixty-six obituaries recently published in the Times, only seven of them were for women, according to an unofficial count done by the poet Lynne Melnick.

    Zia Haider Rahman

    Zia Haider Rahman

    James Wood celebrates Zia Haider Rahman’s debut novel, a book “unashamed by many varieties of knowledge” that “takes for granted a capacity for both abstract and worldly thinking.” As Wood observes, “it wears its knowledge heavily, as a burden, a crisis, an injury,” asking “who gets to be called ‘educated,’ and why?”

    Jessica Loudis, a former Bookforum editor, made an appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show to talk about a new book she edited, Should I Go to Grad School? Joining her were two contributors to the collection, the artist David Levine and the writer Michelle Orange. Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote about Should I Go to Grad School? for our April/May issue.

    Marilynne Robinson explains why she doesn’t write about “contemporary culture”: I’d have to educate myself about what contemporary culture is, because all of these words are essentially meaningless to me. Then if I used them they would be passé by the time I had learned everything about them. So I might as well just write about 1956.”

    At the New York Review of Books, Jerome Groopman on a phalanx of books about memory.

  • May 12, 2014

    Salon reports that Amazon has been delaying shipments of books published by Hachette, claiming that readily available bestsellers by authors such as Stephen Colbert and Malcolm Gladwell will take two to three weeks to ship. As the Times explains: “Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author.” Amazon has yet to explain the slowdown, but most agree that the online megastore is attempting to assert their power and weaken publishers: “The company has a variety of tactics it can unleash to get publishers to discount their prices, and delay fronting the bill, which include algorithms that can bury books or publishers.”

    At a private reception following his reading at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday, Philip Roth, who announced his retirement from writing fiction last year, declared that he will give no more public readings.

    Gawker is hiring bloggers. “All over the internet, in and out of traditional media, talented writers are overlooked and underused. If you’re trapped by the bureaucracy, inertia, or institutional fear of your current employer, we can help you break free (and accelerate).”

    A page collected by Book Traces

    A page collected by Book Traces

    Alexis Madrigal writes about BookTraces, a project that collects images of how readers have marked copies of books published before 1923. “Marginalia, inscriptions, photos, original manuscripts, letters, drawings, and many other unique pieces of historical data can be found in individual copies.”

    The Guardian offers a cunning visual guide to the gothic novel that points out, among other things, that the villain usually usually has scary eyes, on a spectrum from “spine-tingling” to “can actually kill you,” while the heroine is a “pious, virginal orphan, prone to fainting.” On one end there’s Dracula‘s Mina, who faints once, or Agnes, in The Monk, who faints twice. Then there’s Emily, who in The Mysteries of Udolpho faints no fewer than ten times. The data is good, and so is its graphic presentation. Franco Moretti would be proud.

  • May 9, 2014

    Russell Edson

    Russell Edson

    Sarah Nicole Prickett interviews Nona Willis Aronowitz about her mother, Ellen Willis, and a new anthology of her mother’s writing, The Essential Ellen Willis. A music critic at the New Yorker and later a cultural critic at the Village Voice, Willis died in 2006, but a new generation of writers—including Sara Marcus, Sasha Frere Jones, Cord Jefferson, and Prickett—is championing her work.

    Politico reports that the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, is planning to launch a news service geared toward a conservative audience.

    The poet Russell Edson has died.

    In Bookforum, Dave Hickey, the author of Air Guitar, writes about poker, Vegas, and Colson Whitehead’s The Noble Hustle: “The more you know about your opponents, the less you know about their play, because poker is not self-expression. It’s all hustle and dazzle. Every poker player has a deceptive poker persona and an even more deceptive game. I know hard-ass wise guys who play like anxious librarians, and anxious librarians who will whack you off at the knees.”

    At the Observer, Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke asks how and why Adelle Waldman’s debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., became the sensation that it did.

    Reddit has revised the the privileges granted its volunteer moderators. Now, no single moderator can control the front page—which 110 million people visit every month—to the extent that used to be possible.

  • May 8, 2014

    The New York Public Library

    The New York Public Library

    In response to public outcry, the New York Public Library has abandoned its plans to redo the 42nd Street building. The renovation, which would have eliminated the book stacks under the main reading room and sent them to an off-site location, had a price tag of $150 million, and many critics. No fewer than four lawsuits had been filed against it.

    The Daily Mail has apologized to J.K. Rowling and paid her “substantial damages” for an article that she claimed mischaracterized a piece she wrote.

    With the American Scholar’s “Next Line, Please” project, the public is invited to build a sonnet line by line, beginning with this one: “How like a prison is my cubicle.”

    In the next month, Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner, two of President Obama’s top first-term advisers, will release memoirs shedding light on the administration’s handling of the economy and foreign affairs. Geithner has not, apparently, shown the White House an advance manuscript of his book Stress Test. But “drafts of Clinton’s book, Hard Choices, have been circulating for months among a small number of officials in Obama’s National Security Council.”

    Responding to a rigid new criminal code introduced by the Sultan of Brunei, which will punish “indecent behavior” (drinking, pregnancy outside of marriage, the failure to attend Friday prayers), the West Coast branch of PEN has canceled its plans to host its 2014 benefit at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan.

    Last night on Fox News, Lynne Cheney presented a theory for why Vanity Fair has chosen to publish a much-discussed essay by Monica Lewinsky in its June issue: “I really wonder if this isn’t an effort on the Clintons’ part to get that story out of the way. Would Vanity Fair publish anything about Monica Lewinsky that Hillary Clinton didn’t want in Vanity Fair?” Beth Kseniak, the magazine’s executive director of public relations, has this response: “Seriously?”

    At Salon, Elon Green presents Bloomberg News’ hiring of political journalists John Heilemann, formerly of New York, and Mark Halperin, formerly of Time, as a “hack nightmare.” “What do Heilemann and Halperin bring to the table? Well, says Justin Smith, chief executive of Bloomberg Media Group, they’re the ‘epitome of the type of quality journalistic talent that moves seamlessly between different kinds of platforms.’ This word salad is a fancy-talk for ‘they’re good on television,’ which isn’t exactly true.”

  • May 7, 2014

    Rivka Galchen

    Rivka Galchen

    Rivka Galchen will be appearing tonight at 192 Books in celebration of her new story collection, American Innovations (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Reviewing the book for us, Chloé Cooper Jones calls Galchen’s approach to life and death “an epistemological one.”

    The Poetry Foundation has awarded this year’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to Nathaniel Mackey, and have posted an interview with Mackey, and a podcast of him reading and talking about his work. The Foundation also announced their award for poetry criticism to the University of California Press for their recent Robert Duncan books, with John Ashbery’s Collected French Translations, Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings, and Linda Leavell’s biography of Marianne Moore among the finalists.

    At the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Jessica Loudis talks to Sheila Heti about the question of whether to go to grad school. The interview is an excerpt from the anthology Should I Go to Grad School, out this week from Bloomsbury and co-edited by Loudis. “I have known a lot of people in grad school and no one seems very happy about it,” Heti says.

    The long list for the PEN literary awards—more than eighty titles selected by fifty judges—has been released.

    This Saturday at the Elizabeth Street Garden in New York, an exhibition of fifty artists responding to the work of Robert Walser opens, with events, performances, and screenings all weekend long.

  • May 6, 2014

    Salon mourns the closure of the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country, Philadelphia’s Giovanni’s Room.

    Tim Parks asks why the people who attend book events pose such stupid questions. “The irony perhaps is that what’s mysterious to them is even more mysterious to you.”

    George Prochnik will speak tonight at the New York Public Library about Austrian novelist and biographer Stefan Zweig, who in the 1920s and ’30s was the bestselling author in the world. Prochnik’s new book, The Impossible Exile (Other Press), is a study of Zweig’s final years in the US and Brazil, where he lived after fleeing Nazi Europe.

    Over at The Awl, founders Choire Sicha and Alex Balk are stepping aside as two new editors, Matt Buchanan and John Herrman, take over the day-to-day blogging. There’s also word of a redesign coming soon, but nothing too drastic, Sicha assures us: “Certainly we are trying to keep some elements of ‘jankiness’ and ‘terribleness,’ our visual trademark, but also it might actually be mildly attractive. We know.

    John Jeremiah Sullivan has won the James Beard Foundation food writing award for his essay “I Placed a Jar in Tennessee.”

    Lynne Segal

    Lynne Segal

    One of our favorite LRB writers, Jenny Diski, reviews Out of Time, Lynne Segal’s book about aging, which Verso put out last year (the LRB, endearingly, has never been too concerned with pub dates). “I can’t think of anything about the reality of aging which improves a person’s life,” Diski writes with characteristic dryness. “The wisdom people speak of that is supposed to come to us in old age seems to be in much shorter supply than I imagined, and apart from that, it’s a matter of how self-deceptively, or stoically, you are able or prepared to put up with the depletions, dependency and indignities of getting old.”

  • May 5, 2014

    The novel is dead (again). It will still be “be written and read,” Will Self argues in the the Guardian, “but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse.”

    Hassan Blasim

    Hassan Blasim

    Twitter is dead too, the Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer held last week: “Its users are less active than they were before.” Twitter says that this reflects “a more streamlined experience”; LaFrance and Meyer think its a sign of Twitter’s “twilight.” Maybe the problem with Twitter was that the idea was “so good, and so perfectly fit such a large market, that they never needed to go through the process of achieving product market fit”? Either way, Will Oremus at Slate isn’t worried. Twitter is more like YouTube than Facebook, he suggests, and is only likely to become more that way: “Don’t be surprised to see Twitter…[turn] its home page into a real-time news platform accessible to anyone, whether they’re logged in or not. That would expand its potential user base to include, for the first time, the majority of Americans. . . . If and when that happens, I doubt we’ll be hearing much about Twitter’s growth problem—let alone its demise.” Shares of Twitter ended on Friday at $39.01, and could drop toward $30. But it’s still over-priced, Reuters points out.

    An interview with Hassan Blasim, author of The Corpse Exhibition, a collection of stories about Iraq. “I still write in literary Arabic but I try to rid it of the rhetoric, the symbolism, and the stuff that ordinary people don’t understand,” Blasim says of his style.

    The new magazine Modern Farmer is getting a lot of attention after winning a National Magazine Award.

    What was it like having Philip Roth as a professor?

  • May 2, 2014

    Buzzfeed took down a post after Maria Popova complained that the site had reposted images that Popova had herself scanned for one of her own articles, about a rare 1995 edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. According to Popova, Buzzfeed had represented the images out of context, leading her to call the site “the vermin on of the internet–or, for a more context-appropriate metaphor, the pigs of the internet.”

    The musician and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein has been cast to perform with Cate Blanchett in Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Carol. Published in 1952, just two years after the release of Highsmith’s debut novel Strangers on a Train (famously adapted by Hitchcock), Carol was originally titled The Price of Salt. The book’s lesbian love story was considered controversial enough at the time that Highsmith used a pseudonym: Claire Morgan.

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles

    We’re excited to attend “Eileen Myles and Friends” at the Poetry Project on Saturday, which will feature poet-novelist Myles, novelist Sheila Heti, critic and essayist Hilton Als, and the music duo Body/Head (a k a Kim Gordon’s new band).

    An anonymous poster on Pastebin claimed yesterday that Google has been encouraging its employees for five years to steal money from publishers through AdSense. Gawker points out that the leak offers no evidence of the alleged theft, however, “aside from the lengthy description.”

    Another Ellen Willis essay from the new volume of her collected essays is available online, this one (“Up From Radicalism”) at Guernica. Willis was, among many other things, the first rock critic for the New Yorker. Bookforum also has an excerpt. (We can’t get enough.)

  • May 1, 2014

    Rebecca Lee

    Rebecca Lee

    The 2013 Believer Book Award goes to Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories. Karen Green’s Bough Down wins for poetry.

    The Academy of American Poets has a new website, which highlights their refurbished Poem-A-Day feature and has the nice option of isolating the poem on the page, uncrowded by boxes or menus or sidebars. Yesterday’s poem was Catie Rosemurgy’s “Star in the Throat, Fire in the Cupboard.”

    The PEN World Voices festival opened on Monday in New York with a lineup of short, politically focused talks by Noam Chomsky, the Tanzanian political cartoonist Gado, the Syrian poet Adonis, and Judith Butler, among others. This evening at 7 p.m., Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio will be speaking on a PEN panel at the New School about war writing, along with Phil Klay, Nadifa Mohamed, Roxana Robinson, and Joanna Scutts. Our next issue, as it happens, takes a special look at war.

    Salon has hired Jim Newell to blog about politics full-time for the site. We look forward to seeing more Newell, whose most recent piece for Bookforum was about Malcolm Gladwell and Amy Chua: “What gap in the rubble-strewn culture of the American meritocracy is the Gladwell franchise filling? For starters, his appeal seems to be existential. In much the same way that he defends his slipshod intellectual method as mere storytelling, with a self-evident and universal allure, he tells readers that their stories matter.”

    Here’s the trailer for a documentary about the late internet activist Aaron Schwartz.

    The Onion offers a sneak preview of Clickhole.com, a new site that will take on the eminently take-onable Buzzfeed and Upworthy. The New York Business Journal gives the details.

  • April 30, 2014

    A survey of 2,234 adults, published yesterday, finds that not much has changed since the poll was last conducted in 2008: apparently our favorite book is still the Bible and we still like Gone with the Wind second-best. There’s some good news: Atlas Shrugged has disappeared from the top ten.

    Alex Pareene, formerly of Gawker and Salon, joins First Look’s still-unnamed second vertical as executive editor. Pareene will oversee political content for the new magazine, which will focus on politics and finance.

    Martin Heidegger

    Martin Heidegger

    Heidegger’s recently published notebooks reveal an anti-Semitism more deeply seated than suspected. At the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Joshua Rothman reflects on the flaws of the philosopher he loves. “It’s . . .  impossible to set aside Heidegger’s sins—and they cannot help but reduce the ardency with which his readers relate to him. . . . Even if his philosophy isn’t contaminated by Nazism, our relationship with him is.” But Heidegger’s own philosophy provides an out, as Rothman notes: after all, “being wrong” is an “irreducible part of being a person”: “human beings are not calculators, but conjecturers.”

    The Webby awards honor Lawrence Lessig for “lifetime achievement.” The new publishing website Medium wins for Best User Experience and Best Visual Design.

    The Wellcome prize goes to Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree.