• March 18, 2014

    TED-Ed educates the masses on the debate over the Oxford (or “serial”) comma—via video, a medium in which you can avoid the issue altogether. Bookforum, it should go without saying, is pro-Oxford.

    At Moby Lives, Dustin Kurtz writes that China’s publishing industry, which is “becoming more venal,” “seems to have a rather gross case of the Franzens, and the attention brought by Mo Yan’s Nobel win might be to blame.”

    NoViolet Bulawayo

    NoViolet Bulawayo

    The Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo has won the Pen-Hemingway Award for her first novel, We Need New Names.

    James Franco’s debut collection of poems, Directing Herbert White, is forthcoming from Graywolf in April. On The Tonight Show, Franco reassures anyone who might fear for his poetry-writing abilities that he “has a master’s degree in poetry.”

    The journals of Lawrence Ferlinghetti will be published by Liveright in 2015. Covering the years 1950–2013, the diaries were written while the poet travelled to Mexico, North Africa, Russia, and Cuba, among other places.

    Steven Moore has released the second installment of his mammoth “alternative history” of the novel.

  • March 17, 2014

    At Vanity Fair, James Wolcott looks at rise of “name-brand journalists” like Arianna Huffington, Malcolm Gladwell, Ezra Klein, and Nate Silver, and wonders if their enterprises are sustainable: “The demands of being a byline superhero can spread a journalist’s time and focus so thin—all those honoraria to collect!—that he or she may start serving up skimpily researched quickies or, worse, sloppy seconds.”

    A report on the lack of persons of color in children’s books.

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    The Quarterly Conversation’s spring issue is dedicated to Lydia Davis, including articles and reviews of the American short short-story writer and translator. Among many excellent articles on Davis is Lynne Tillman’s look at the story “A Mown Lawn”: “The reader is made aware, as the narrative unfolds, that Davis is shaking words loose from their moorings, even exhuming them, to knock the stuffing or deadness out of them. To expose them.”

    Wes Anderson talks about the influence of novelist Stefan Zweig’s work on his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

    At the Nation, Michelle Goldberg weighs in on Columbia’s firing of Kim Hopper and Carole Vance (author of Pleasure and Danger) because they had not won the university enough grant money.

    The National Book Critics Circle has posted a video of Friday night’s award ceremony, which saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pick up the fiction honor, and Sheri Fink win the non fiction prize (the full list of awards can be found here.) At the Washington Post, critic Ron Charles picks three of his favorite moments from the night.

  • March 14, 2014

    The National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night. The winners are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (fiction), Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (nonfiction), Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog (poetry),  Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading (criticism), Amy Wilentz’s Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti (autobiography), and Leo Damrosch’s Jonathan Swift (biography).

    Nate Silver talks about the relaunch of his FiveThirtyEight blog, which goes live Monday afternoon.

    Bill Knott

    Bill Knott

    The poet Bill Knott has died. The author of numerous collections and chapbooks, many of them hand-made, Knott often shunned mainstream recognition: Though he was once published by FSG, he quickly sabotaged his relationship with the house; another anecdote has him refusing to be published in the Best American Poetry anthology. But he won a devoted following and inspired writers of all types: Denis Johnson, to give just one impressive example, based the plot of his “California Gothic” Already Dead on Knott’s “Poem Noir.”

    Soho Press has launched a new column on its website called The Consolation Prize with Mark Doten: Enthusing about Literature and Bitching about Publishing. “The idea here is interviews with folks in the biz, poking the proverbial poking stick at sales reps, writers, booksellers, editors—anyone, really, who can both enthuse about literature and bitch about publishing.” Their first guest is Emily Gould, the author of And the Heart Says Whatever and the forthcoming novel Friendship, who talks about the Heather Lewis’s stunning and sad (and woefully underrecognized) novel Notice.

    At the LRB, Christian Lorentzen imagines writing a bibliomemoir on Kafka, My Friend Franz: Chronicle of a Life Not a Little Kafkaesque. A sample from the proposed book: “Chapter 2: At university I read The Trial. Lifelong persecution complex begins.”

    Laura Miller likes plenty of fiction written by MFAs, but she points out that writing programs fail to teach many students a crucial lesson: That they must earn their readership. “MFA programs create a bubble for the writers who enroll in them, but what these writers are protected from isn’t either the blistering reader reviews of Amazon or the swashbuckling critical crusaders of the legit press. Instead, pretty much by definition, the workshop world fails to prepare writers for what they will almost certainly face outside it: indifference and silence.

  • March 13, 2014

    Hugh Eakin reports on the Lahore LitFest in Pakistan. Lahore is a city “under siege.” Terrorist attacks led many intellectuals to leave, and security threats have caused international diplomats to abandon the area. “Checkpoints have become common, blackouts are frequent. And so it was that a group of Lahori intellectuals decided to fight back in the way they best know how: with words and books and open debate.”

    Author Joe McGinnis died on Monday at the age of 71. McGinnis was the author of The Selling of the President and, perhaps most famously, the true-crime blockbuster Fatal Vision, about the murder trial of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald. While researching the latter book, McGinnis gained access to MacDonald by pretending to believe that the doctor was innocent; but the book argued that Macdonald was a killer and a sociopath. MacDonald’s efforts to sue McGinnis became the inspiration for Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer, which features the famous line: “”Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”

    Jessica Valenti

    Jessica Valenti

    The Guardian has hired author and Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti as a columnist for the publication’s US branch—and several more op-ed page hires are said to be imminent.

    Tonight, the National Book Critics Circle will announce the winners of its annual award.

    At the New Republic, David Remnick talks with Isaac Chotiner about “difficult writers, Obama’s shortcomings, and learning from Anna Wintour.”


  • March 12, 2014

    The Moth has announced that it will honor Zadie Smith with the 2014 Moth Award at its 13th annual gala on May 13.

    Journalist Matthew Power has died at age 39 while on assignment in Uganda. The Times reports that the cause of death was probably heat stroke. Harper’s Magazine has granted free access to all of Power’s work for that publication; his work can also be found at Men’s Journal; the VQR; and Longreads.

    Benjamin Kunkel

    Benjamin Kunkel

    In a New York magazine profile, n+1 editor and author Benjamin Kunkel discusses his forthcoming book essays, Utopia or Bust, his move from novelist to lefty public intellectual, and his love/hate relationship with the Denver Broncos: “I was thinking today about what I would want to happen: I hope the Broncos win, and then I hope football is banned next year. I’ll have my Sundays back, and we won’t be involved in this barbaric practice.”

    Color Force, the production company behind the Hunger Games movies, is set to adapt Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch into a television series or possibly a movie. For ideas about who should star in the production, see Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s “How I’d Cast The Goldfinch.”

    You can now read an excerpt from The Haunted Life, the Jack Kerouac novella that was supposedly lost in an NYC taxi. Written in 1944 when Kerouac was 22, the semi-autobiographical story is being published for the first time by Penguin Classics.

  • March 11, 2014

    John Cook is leaving his post as editor of chief of Gawker to head The Intercept, a digital magazine founded by eBay guru Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar’s First Look Media company has scooped up a number of high-profile journalists lately, including Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras.

    The New York Times is launching a new blog, The Upshot, to replace Nate Silver’s popular Times site of stats-based political reporting. The Upshot will have about 15 journalists, with an aim of, “Trying to help readers get to the essence of issues and understand them in a contextual and conversational way . . . Obviously, we will be using data a lot to do that, not because data is some secret code, but because it’s a particularly effective way, when used in moderate doses, of explaining reality to people,” according to the site’s managing editor, David Leonhardt.

    Andrew Solomon

    Andrew Solomon

    In the New Yorker, Andrew Solomon talks to Peter Lanza, the father of the Sandy Hook elementary school gunman, Adam Lanza, who killed twenty-six people at the school, his mother, and himself. Solomon has explored this territory before: In his award-winning Far from the Tree, he interviewed the parents of school shooters such as Dylan Klebold.

    Copyediting pop culture.

    Jennifer Schuessler revisits the scandal that erupted when it was discovered that literary critic Paul de Man had, as a young man living in Nazi-occupied Belgium, written some 200 articles for a collaborationist newspaper.

    Amtrak’s so-called “residency program,” which provides authors with a free train ticket so they can get some work done, is perhaps not as great as it sounds, if you look at the terms and conditions. As novelist James Hannaham quipped: “Seems like it would be cheaper in the long run to buy a ticket and hold onto your artistic freedom.”


  • March 10, 2014

    Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog will relaunch next week under the ESPN umbrella. Silver, a statistician known for his election predictions and great fantasy baseball cheat-sheets, recently left the New York Times after his three-year contract expired.

    Nate Silver

    Nate Silver

    In a Guardian profile, Mary-Kay Wimers, the editor of the London Review of Books, talks about the magazine’s growing influence (and its most controversial pieces), the importance of artful long-form essays, and the lack of female bylines at her publication.

    Teju Cole on his “guilty” reading pleasures: “No guilt. I read many kinds of things, but my deepest happiness is in reading poetry.”

    The Ukranian poet and novelist Serhiy Zhadan was involved in a violent clash with police, leaving him bruised and bloody, the New Yorker reports, quoting a Slavic-language professor who puts the event into context: “It may sound like an old-fashioned ‘poet stands up to tyranny’ story, like something out of ‘Les Miz’—‘Can you hear the people sing?’—but it’s really kind of like that.”

    Tonight at the New School’s fiction forum, a free discussion with author David Grand, author of the just-released Mount Terminus, a novel about Hollywood, the birth of film technology, and more.

  • March 7, 2014

    Last week, the Times revealed that the author behind the anonymous Twitter account GSElevator, which purported to print conversations overheard on the elevator at Goldman Sachs, was one John LeFevre, who has never worked at Goldman Sachs and currently lives in Texas. Many wondered what would become of the author’s forthcoming book Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance and Excess in the World of Investment Banking, which was recently purchased by Simon & Schuster for a six-figure sum. Wonder no more: Simon & Schuster has dropped the book. And what about the advance? In an email to Publishers Weekly, LeFevry states that he would “rather give [it] to the North Shore Animal League than return it,” and that if Simon & Schuster tries to reclaim the money he will sue the house “100 times over.” (See more on LeFevre and his plans for the future here.)

    Scott McClanahan

    Scott McClanahan

    In the opening round of the Morning News Tournament of Books, Scott McClanahan’s Hill William beat Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (which recently won the Booker Prize). Earlier this week, McClanahan posted on Facebook that he wanted the Morning News remove his book from the competition. The tournament’s organizers denied his request.

    The pilot issue of Mehmet Oz’s magazine The Good Life has sold out on newsstands.

    Jack Griffin—who was forced out of his position as chief executive of Time Inc in 2011—has been hired as the head of Tribune Publishing. Griffin will oversee the difficult separation of the Tribune Company’s eight newspapers (which include the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune) from its owners’ more lucrative broadcast-media outlets.

    The Believer has released the shortlist of finalists for its annual book award.


  • March 6, 2014

    The n+1 editors weigh in on Ukraine, Putin, and the West: “There’s a reason Ukraine is at the heart of the most significant geopolitical crisis yet to appear in the post-Soviet space. There is no post-Soviet state like it.”

    Fifteen years ago, John le Carre revealed that his recurring character George Smiley was based on John Bingham, who, like leCarre, was a real-life spy who worked for Britain’s intelligence agency MI5 and later went on to become a writer. A critic recently claimed that “Bingham detested Mr. le Carre’s opinions of the espionage game.” In a letter to the Telegraph, le Carre has expresses his admiration for Bingham, and then admits that Bingham “may indeed have detested” his own attitude toward MI5. “Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies.”

    After best-picture Academy Award went to 12 Years a Slave, which is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, the New York Times corrected an 1853 article, which misspelled Northup’s name.

    This week’s New Yorker features an excellent short story by National Book Award winner Denis Johnson. Johnson says that “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” took him “seven or eight years” to finish, and that his new novel (due out this fall) is still under way, adding, “I believe it falls into the category of ‘literary thriller.’” (Elsewhere, he has said that the book is in the tradition of Graham Greene.)

    Heather Havrilesky

    Heather Havrilesky

    What’s wrong with Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Heather Havrilesky explains on the occasion of a new edition.

    XIndex has announced the nominees for its 2014 Freedom of Expression Award, who include the journalists Abdulelah Haider Shaye, Dina Meza, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald.

  • March 5, 2014

    Matt Buchanan

    Matt Buchanan

    The Awl has hired two editors—John Herrman, who currently works at Buzzfeed, and  Matt Buchanan, who currently works at the New Yorker—to run the site. “We’ll introduce them in more detail down the road, but they’re really lovely, thoughtful, curious and smart—and also they’re total weirdos.”

    Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader, has been hired as a columnist by the Washington Times.

    Listen to Jennifer Egan read Mary Gaitskill’s story “The Other Place” in this month’s New Yorker fiction podcast.

    Brian Eno has put together a reading list of his “20 Essential Books for sustaining civilization.” Along with War and Peace is The Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern Europe.

    For the first time in almost 20 years, Calvin & Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, has drawn a new cartoon. Web cartoonist Dave Kellett commissioned Waterson to draw the poster art for Stripped, his forthcoming comics documentary; “Dave sent me a rough cut of the film and I dusted the cobwebs off my ink bottle,” said Watterson.

    The Tribeca Film Festival announced the first half of its 2014 lineup on Tuesday, including Nancy Kates’s in-depth documentary Regarding Susan Sontag.