• November 6, 2013

    While her Facebook-founding brother continues to spread the gospel of social media, Randi Zuckerberg is making a name for herself by writing cautionary books about the dangers of living online. Her first book, Dot Complicated, is a “cross between memoir and how-to guide” about navigating the social internet, and her latest effort is a children’s book about “about a young girl called Dot who discovers the fun of playing outside when her mother takes away her tablet, laptop, cellphone, and desktop computer. “

    One of Robert Walser's microscipts

    One of Robert Walser’s microscipts

    Moby Lives reprints the totally charming form letter Margaret Atwood sends out when declining to blurb a book. Explaining why she no longer blurbs, Atwood writes on her website: “Publishers and writers often send me manuscripts with a request that I read the book and give them a quotable quote to use on the back cover. It takes four to six hours to read the book, and I get 10 or so of these requests a week. Multiply 5 hours times 10 requests and you get a 50-hour a week job.”

    The music website Pitchfork is about to launch a magazine-style mobile app called “Pitchfork Weekly.”

    On November 15th, a new exhibit on the handwritten works of Emily Dickinson and Robert Walser will open at the Drawing Center in New York. While Walser, the younger of the two, was likely unaware of Dickinson’s work, they had a lot in common: “Walser wrote in tiny, inscrutable script on narrow strips of paper using an antiquated German alphabet that was long considered indecipherable. Similarly, Dickinson fitted her multifarious poetic fragments to carefully torn pieces of envelope or stationery, which were discovered among her posthumous papers.” This is the first time that Dickinson’s manuscripts and Walser’s microscripts will be displayed in a museum.

    Courtesy of The Toast—with a hat tip to Emily Gould—here are some delightful jokes about male novelists.

    Minnesota indie press Graywolf talks to the New York Times about the press’s history, the difficulty of publishing poetry, and what the editors look for in unsolicited manuscripts.

  • November 5, 2013

    Brad Stone, author of the new book The Everything Store, has made a new enemy in Mackenzie Bezos—the Amazon founder’s wife. In a 900-word, one-star review on Amazon, Mackenzie Bezos criticized the book for inaccuracy, bias, and failing to include accounts of the “supportive and inspiring culture” that exists at Amazon. For a more impartial take, read Astra Taylor’s review of The Everything Store in the Dec/Jan issue of Bookforum.

    Relatedly, in a long, thoughtful post on Reuters, Felix Salmon interrogates the belief that Amazon is a mortal threat to books, and ends up arguing that what the company is mostly shifting power away from publishers and towards booksellers.

    Zola Books, a new startup that is angling to be a “bookseller, curator, and social-networking site all in one,” is distinguishing itself by offering e-versions of Joan Didion books that up until now have not been available digitally. In addition to Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Zola is also offering The White Album, Play It as It Lays, Miami, and After Henry, as well as a number of books by Didion’s late husband, John Gregory Dunne.

    Douglas Coupland

    Douglas Coupland

    Sci-fi author Douglas Coupland is going to serialize his next novel in the free subway paper Metro. The novel, Temp, will run in installments between November 4th and 29th, and is about a temp named Shannon. Here’s the first sentence of the book: “Greetings. My name is Shannon. I’m a temp, but more than that, I’m the future of employment in the Western world. Sure, you may have a job right now, but one day you’ll be me.”

    Ninety-eight small British publishers went out of business last year—a 42 percent increase from the year before.

    The audiobook of Morrissey’s autobiography will be read by Morrissey—but not the man you think. The narrator of the memoir will not be the singer, but actor David Morrissey, who has appeared on a number of high-profile TV series, including State of Play, Red Riding, and The Walking Dead.


  • November 4, 2013

    Harper Lee is bringing suit against a local museum in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, for allegedly exploiting her fame and the prestige of To Kill a Mockingbird without compensating her for it. The lawsuit has divided the small town, reports the Guardian, and left many residents wondering whether Lee, who is deaf and blind, is being manipulated by lawyers. Lee’s lawyers filed a trademark application last August, and sued the Monroe County Heritage Museum two weeks ago, after receiving an opposition. The suit accuses the the museum of ““palming off its goods,’ including t-shirts, coffee mugs, other various trinkets with Mockingbird brands.”

    Drink coasters are shown for sale in the gift shop of the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama October 23, 2013. Harper Lee, the 87-year-old author of the still-popular 1960 bestseller, "To Kill a Mockingbird", recently filed a lawsuit against the museum dedicated to her novel in a dispute over a merchandising trademark. Photo taken October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Verna Gates

    Drink coasters are shown for sale in the gift shop of the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Verna Gates

    Macmillan is expanding it’s in-house books-to-film division. Whereas Macmillan Entertainment used to focus only on titles published by its Thomas Dunne imprint, it will now include the entire company.

    Margaret Atwood, Dana Spiotta, Tom McCarthy, Victor LaValle, Tao Lin and others talk to the Times about the effect that technology has has on their writing.

    What are the best-selling book genres? Self-help, kid lit, and erotica, says a new study by USA Today.

    Slate reprints a term paper assignment that Kurt Vonnegut gave to his class at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story,” he writes. “Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others. Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.”

    The Gambler, On the Road, As I Lay Dying, and A Clockwork Orange: a short list of classic novels written in six weeks or less.


  • November 1, 2013

    Cue the collective sigh of relief: Morrissey’s autobiography will be released in the U.S. after all. Only weeks after becoming the fastest-selling music memoir of all time in the UK, the powers-that-be announced that the Moz’s memoir—a Penguin Classic—will go on sale on this side of the Atlantic on Dec. 3.

    Amazon is starting a literary magazine. Day One is a weekly digital magazine that features poetry and short stories with a focus on “new and undiscovered” writers. Issues are delivered directly to subscribers’ Kindles, and an annual subscription is $20.

    At the Virginia Quarterly Review, Robert Birnbaum reviews a swath of new books about the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington and John Coltrane to Charlies Parker and Mingus.

    New York Times Book Review editor, Bookforum contributor, and award-winning critic Parul Sehgal delivers a TED talk praising envy—as the emotion is understood through the works of Proust and Highsmith.

    At the New York Times, Adam Kirsch and Anna Holmes take on the question of whether Twitter has changed the role of the literary critic.

    Conveying irony in writing is a delicate process. Go too far, and it can come across as over-the-top and mean-spirited. Don’t go far enough, and people won’t be able to tell that you’re kidding. But what if there were punctuation that designated irony? Over the centuries, many attempts have been made to come up with just such a punctuation mark, from the upside-down exclamation point to the one shaped like a Christmas tree to the reversed question mark. The New Statesman surveys the five-hundred-year history of the irony mark.

  • October 31, 2013

    Literary circles have been abuzz this week about an essay in the New York Times in which Tim Kreider laments the fact that it’s now culturally acceptable to ask writers to write for free. “I’ve been trying to understand,” Kreider muses, “the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.” Responding to the piece in the New Republic, Luke O’Neill calls working for free “a necessary evil,” and argues that “young writers entering the marketplace for the first time would be doing themselves a disservice to take a hard line against it.” Elsewhere, the Observer profiles Scratch, a new magazine about “the business of writing.”

    Graywolf Press rings in Halloween with a scary audio recording of Benjamin Percy reading Goodnight, Moon.

    A Jane Austen biographer has publicly criticized the Bank of England for “airbrushing” the image of Austen that will go on the new £10 note. “They’ve made her look like a doll, with big eyes,” The Real Jane Austen author Paula Byrne complained. “Jane Austen was a supreme social satirist, and some of her writing was quite dark, but they’ve chosen a picture that makes her look a really cosy, middle-class writer.”

    Neil Gaiman

    Neil Gaiman

    Neil Gaiman is going to Bard. The acclaimed sci-fi author will be joining the theater department next spring, and will teach classes on “the history of the fantastic, approaches to fantasy fiction, and the meaning of fantasy today.”

    Garth Risk Hallberg hasn’t yet secured a book deal for his 900-page novel-in-progress about 1970s New York, but that didn’t stop Hollywood producer Scott Rudin from purchasing the film rights to the book. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Rudin bought the manuscript—tentatively titled City of Fire—after reading the whole thing in one night.

    The New York Public Library has announced the launch of the online Shelley-Godwin Archive, featuring original manuscripts and writing from Percy Bysshe Shelley and his second wife Mary Shelley, as well as from Mary’s parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. The Archive grew out of collaboration between the NYPL and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, and will debut on Thursday night. The archive’s crown jewel is the original manuscript of Frankenstein, which was written by Shelley over the summer of 1816, and, according to one of the project heads, “is itself a sort of patched-together monster.”

  • October 30, 2013

    The Los Angeles Review of Books launches a new section, “Around the World,” which is dedicated to profiling “thinkers, writers, artists, and activists in countries all over the world, whose work transcends national borders and boundaries, whether it be in painting, music, poetry, or fiction, journalism, public service, or advocacy in the public interest.”


    If you’ve been curious about which books New Yorkers have been checking out of public libraries, wonder no longer: The NYPL has been releasing lists of the most-checked out books, both electronic and physical. Last September, the most checked-out fiction book was Dan Brown’s Inferno, followed by Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Lauren Weisberger’s Revenge Wears Prada, while the most in-demand non-fiction books were Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World.

    The Economist considers the delicate ecosystems of university presses and their prospects for survival: While many university presses are under intense amounts of financial pressure—after all, “academic monographs are considered a splash today if they sell just 800 copies in their first year”—the magazine argues that “the machinations of the university system” will keep many presses afloat. This is because “to win tenure, academics need to publish their research, and university presses are hungry outlets. However, no press wants to be mistaken for a vanity publisher, so most of them try to publish academics from other institutions.”

    Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, is shopping around a memoir.

    River of Fundament, Matthew Barney’s five-hour adaptation of Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings, will premiere in full at Australia’s 2014 Adelaide Festival next year. The festival runs from Feb. 28 to March 16, and the film will debut in the U.S. at the Brooklyn Academy of Music not long after.

    New Yorkers, if you have no plans tonight (or even if you do) we encourage you to stop by the Community Bookstore in Brooklyn to hear Bookforum contributor Eric Banks discuss the life and legacy of Susan Sontag with Sigrid Nunez, author of Sempre Susan; Jeff Seroy, who works at FSG, and Moe Angelos, who performed in the New York Theater Workshop production of Sontag: Reborn. The panel coincides with the Library of America’s release of Susan Sontag: Essays of the 1960s & 70s.

  • October 29, 2013

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    A year ago this week, after tearing through the Caribbean and up the Eastern Seaboard, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, and worked its way on to New York City and beyond. The storm flooded subways, destroyed homes, knocked out power grids, left at least ninety people dead in New York and New Jersey, and became one of the costliest natural disasters in American history (second only to Katrina). In New York, the storm did extensive damage to the sleepy residential communities of the Rockaways, a thin peninsula that runs along the south shore of Long Island Sound. In a matter of days, thousands of  homes were demolished. Residents were displaced, and some have yet to return.

    Visiting the Rockaways a day after the storm, Magnum photographer Gilles Peress wrote, “The devastation is on such a scale… that I really have a feeling of having entered another dimension.” This surreal dimension is chronicled in The Rockaways, a new book that includes Peress’s photos alongside essays about Sandy’s impact by local journalists and high school students. Published by the Concord Free Press, the book is indeed free—three thousand copies will be given to bookstores, museums, and readers—though recipients are asked to donate to a Sandy relief foundation. The press will start taking requests for the book on October 30. Until then, here’s a selection of Peress’s photos, all taken in Breezy Point, Queens.

  • Goodnight, Goodnight, Moon? Per the New York Times, some contemporary toddlers have highbrow (and expensive) sensibilities that go beyond mere children’s classics. “Today’s babies and toddlers are treated to board books that are miniature works of literary art: classics like Romeo and Juliet, Sense and Sensibility and Les Misérables; luxuriously produced counting primers with complex graphic elements; and even an Art for Baby book featuring images by the contemporary artists Damien Hirst and Paul Morrison.”

    Lou Reed

    Lou Reed

    David Bowie and Morrissey comment on the passing of rock star and icon Lou Reed, who died on Sunday at the age of 71. Here’s an obituary of Reed, and a conversation he had in July with The Talkhouse about the music and vision of Kanye West.

    Australian feminist and The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer has donated her lifetime archive to the University of Melbourne. The archive, which spans more than fifty years and 150 filing cabinets, includes diaries, letters, and correspondence between Greer and other major intellectuals of the past several decades. Greer has said she will donate the proceeds to organizations dedicated to rehabilitating the Australian rainforest.

    Congratulations to Dissent magazine for sixty years of fine work. The New York Times has an article about the lefty stalwart—and the rejuvenating influence of younger editors Sarah Leonard and Nick Serpe—in the weekend arts section. Read Leonard’s essay on Occupy Wall Street from the Dec/Jan 2012 issue of Bookforum.

    Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, within three years Boston may be home to “what’s believed to be the nation’s first literary cultural district.”

    As more English-language books are being brought into the Chinese market, many authors are faced with a conundrum: Submit to censorship (often perpetrated by editors at Chinese publishing houses), or forego access to the booming marketplace?

  • October 28, 2013

    Less than three years as taking over as the head of Amazon’s publishing division (which now has 11 imprints and 27 editors), Larry Kirshbaum is leaving the company to once again work as a literary agent. Publishers Weekly wonders if this is a sign of trouble for Amazon’s publishing arm:“Amazon’s genre publishing program will not be affected by Kirshbaum’s departure although the future of the trade operation is uncertain. Among the issues confronting the publishing program has been poor distribution into bookstores.”

    In a statement to a fan site, Morrissey has made it clear that he was not part of legal efforts to take down This Charming Charlie, a Smiths/Peanuts blog that juxtaposes Smiths lyrics with Peanuts cartoons. On the contrary, the singer is “delighted and flattered by the Peanuts comic strip,” and he “hopes that the strips remain.”

    tumblr_mudj2dffKa1seji43o1_500Langston Hughes’ childhood home in Cleveland is on the market for $85,000.

    The New York Times has published an article about the Washington-state-based Copper Canyon Press, a small publisher of poetry that over the course of its forty-year history has published Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Rabindranath Tagore, W.S. Merwin, Hayden Carruth, C.D. Wright, Dean Young, Arthur Sze, and Lucia Perillo, among others.

    In an essay about the link between investigative journalism and political responses, Jay Rosen argues that in order for reporting to make a difference, there need to be a number of other factors, for instance an “organizing personality” (like Edward Snowden), evidence of government lying and deliberate secrecy, and the support of other media outlets.



  • October 25, 2013

    In a move befitting the maestro himself, Observer reporter Nate Freeman gets into a fistfight at the book party for J. Michael Lennon’s new Norman Mailer biography.

    Norman Mailer

    Norman Mailer

    Though it’s only been out for a week, Morrissey’s autobiography has rocketed to the top of the UK bestseller list, making it one of the fastest-selling memoirs ever. Morrissey’s Penguin Classic has already sold around 35,000 copies in Britain. (Only Kate McCann’s 2011 memoir Madeleine, about the disappearance of her daughter, did better, selling 72,500 copies the first week.) Mysteriously, there’s still no sign that it will be released in the US.

    Here are three “idiot-proof formulas” for building your own best-seller.

    George Packer wishes Dissent a happy sixtieth birthday.

    We’ve already highlighted Scratch Magazine’s interview with web editors about how much they pay their writers, but it turns out there’s a lot of other good stuff in the magazine’s inaugural issue, including an essay by Bookforum contributor Cord Jefferson and an interview with writer and professional curmudgeon Jonathan Franzen.

    Did you know that during the government shutdown, Congress and a number of federal agencies temporarily (and quietly) replaced employees with unpaid interns? It’s true! The Awl talks with Intern Nation author Ross Perlin about the seedy underbelly of the volunteer economy. Relatedly, now that that Conde Nast has ended their internship program, the Atlantic is challenging readers to see whether they can tell the difference between “sorority sister” and “Conde Nast intern.”

    Also, if you’re free tonight and in New York, come hear Norman Rush in conversation with The Paris Review’s Josh Pashman at McNally Jackson Books at 7.