• May 19, 2014

    Politico reports that New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger fired executive editor Jill Abramson last week after concluding that she had give him misleading information about her decision to hire a new co-managing editor. According to sources, Abramson led Sulzberger to believe that she had consulted with other editors about the candidate she wanted to hire. Many have called the dismissal graceless (and some, such as Salon’s Daniel D’Addario, have said that she was fired for seeking a salary equal to that of her male predecessor, Bill Keller). It certainly has shaken up the newsroom—one staffer leaked (to Buzzfeed) a 96-page internal “innovation” report, which the Neiman Journalism Lab says is “one of the key documents of this media age.” Buzzfeed goes far, headlining one post about the leaked document “The End of the Print New York Times.” 

    Dan Kois

    Dan Kois

    At Slate, two editors, Dan Kois and Laura Helmuth, debate their very different editorial methods. Says Kois: “I want writers to walk away bruised but invigorated and wanting more. Like they just ran Tough Mudder or something.”

    If you read the new anthologies MFA vs. NYC and Should I Go to Grad School? and you still want to get an advanced degree in writing, Publisher’s Weekly has published its first MFA survey, with quotes from writers, teachers, and agents.

    Chipotle plans to start running short original works fiction on its drink cups, by authors including Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and Jonathan Safran Foer. The Daily Dot has an exclusive excerpt of George Saunders’s new fast-food fiction.

    For and against Karl Ove Knausgaard: In the Nation, William Deresiewicz asks why My Struggle has gotten so much attention; in the LRB, Ben Lerner answers that it has something to do with the quality of Knausgaard’s attention. Obviously, “Knausgaard couldn’t remember his past in the degree of detail the books provide. . . . But the cumulative effect of his descriptions is to suggest the possibility of total recall, a past citable in all its moments: each cornflake, each snowflake.”

  • May 16, 2014

    The conversation continues apace about Wednesday’s firing of Jill Abramson from her post as executive editor of the New York Times, which may have been tied to Abramson’s complaints about her compensation. At the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen is cheered by the generally feminist tone of the response to the incident—“Not too long ago, a reader would have had to head to feminist websites (or, longer ago, zines) to find the sort of thinking now represented at some of America’s most mainstream news publications”—and at New York Magazine, Ann Friedman reflects on the difficulty of being a woman in the newsroom: “It’s hard to be sure what’s sexism and what’s you.” Meanwhile, Olga Khazan points out that the story is likely more complicated than the “social-justice-resonant narrative that gained traction on Twitter,” and notes that the Times has said that Abramson’s compensation was not less than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta crunches the numbers: “Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes.” The Times’s insistence that Abramson wasn’t making significantly less than Keller was likely based on her total compensation package, Auletta explains, “which includes . . . any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives.” But it’s hard to evaluate this without more information from the paper. Finally, the New Republic’s Rebecca Traister laments the lack of women and people and color in positions of greatest power, which “makes each one of the representatives come to mean so much more—both when they rise and when they fall.”

    Natalie Nougayrède

    Natalie Nougayrède

    On the other side of the ocean, an oddly similar story: LeMonde’s first female editor in chief, Natalie Nougayrède, has left the paper “after a power struggle with top staff.”

    Michelle Dean snippily advises Joyce Carol Oates to delete her Twitter account.

    Rebecca Mead considers George Eliot’s choice to write books instead of have children.

    Francine Prose and Mohsin Hamid discuss the drawbacks of commercial success in literature. The trouble with public acknowledgment, Prose argues, is “the ease with which the public can seep into the private and poison the writer’s work, like some kind of toxic spill.”

    Jonathan Safran Foer + Chipotle cups = all the more reason to avoid the burrito chain.

  • May 15, 2014

    Jill Abramson

    Jill Abramson

    The New York Times announced yesterday that its executive editor, Jill Abramson, is leaving. She will be replaced by her managing editor, Dean Baquet. The publisher didn’t go into detail about the reasons for the change, saying that it was “an issue of newsroom management,” but Ken Auletta reports at the New Yorker‘s blog that there’s rumor that it may have had to do with Abramson’s dissatisfaction over her pay and pension benefits, which were significantly lower than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. Abramson, who was the first female executive editor of the paper, has been described—controversially—as difficult to work with. Last year, a POLITICO article quoted anonymous sources complaining about Abramson’s management style; one person called her “impossible.”

    At the Nation, Scott Sherman examines the reasons for the beleaguered state of university presses.

    Depressingly, readers of the Times spend as much time reading paid advertising as they do news stories.

    A handful of news organizations and digital publications—including Vice, Mother Jones, Mashable, and Digg—have joined forces to report on Ukraine. So far, the cooperation consists of agreeing to use the hashtag #Ukrainedesk on all Ukraine stories.

    The Observer identifies the 128 people in Brooklyn it considers most influential. On the literary front, the list namechecks Garth Risk Hallberg, who sold his debut novel to Knopf last year for nearly two million dollars, and Colson Whitehead, who’s apparently on the list because he lives in Brooklyn and is a “literary pillar,” whatever that means.

    Sony Pictures has bought the film rights to No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald’s book about Edward Snowden.

  • May 14, 2014

    Sylvère Lotringer

    Sylvère Lotringer

    The data protection office in the German state of Hamburg is challenging Google on its data collection practices, which the agency says violate German rules.

    Tonight, at Artist Space in New York, see Sylvère Lotringer discuss “Schizo-Culture.” The event will open with Lodovico Pignatti Morano reading from Nicola, Milan, a novel soon to be published by Semiotext(e). Penny Arcade, Jim Fletcher, and Gary Indiana will also be in attendance.

    At the New Inquiry, Nathan Jurgenson revisits the recent Vivian Maier documentary as a way of discussing modern street photography and consent: “The street photographer’s practice is a powerful force today, pursued [by] . . . the masses of smartphone-carrying camera flâneurs, as well as by the corporate and governmental surveillance apparatuses surrounding us. . . . Street photography is not just a photographic process any longer but a cultural ethos, an obsessive way of seeing the world as always possessable, to be acquired, collected, managed, and ultimately sold.”

    Now that plans to renovate the New York Public Library have been canceled, its fate is unclear. Most of the research collection has been moved off-site. “Are empty stacks going to be the permanent and visible sign of the library’s recent misadventure?” wonders Caleb Crain at the New Yorker. “A few years ago, the library spent fifty million dollars restoring its façade. It’s painful to think that the money can’t be found to repair its heart.”

    Forbes lampoons Vox—the newish website whose mandate is to condense and distill complex news—by explaining the website in its own style. Matt Saccaro of the Daily Dot points to several recent embarrassments for the website, which he says “almost immediately abandoned its ‘the smartest thinkers and the toughest questions’ mantra for drones rather than thinkers, and sharebait instead of questions.”

    The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, has yet to report on the Amazon/Hachette dispute (i.e., the fact that Amazon appears to be delaying shipments of Hachette books).

  • 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.”