• September 20, 2013

    Finalists for the National Book Award in fiction have been announced. They are Pacific by Tom Drury, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, Someone by Alice McDermott, Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon, Tenth of December by George Saunders, and Fools by Joan Silber.

    In lieu of teaching sex education in schools, Russian government officials are instructing children to look to literature for advice on love: “The best sex education that exists is Russian literature,” Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman told a news channel. “In fact, literature in general. Everything is there, about love and about relationships between sexes. Schools should raise children chastely and with an understanding of family values.”

    Speaking of Russia, a cat has been named assistant librarian at the local library in Novorossiysk.

    Russia's cat librarian

    Russia’s cat librarian

    After news broke last week that Morrissey’s memoir had been canceled due to a dispute with Penguin, NME reports that the book might come out after all. The music site posted a statement that is supposedly from Penguin—the Atlantic Wire was unable to confirm the source—saying, “The publication of Morrissey’s Autobiography remains with Penguin Books. This is a deal for the UK and Europe, but Morrissey has no contract with a publisher for the U.S. or any other territory. As of 13 September, Morrissey and Penguin (UK) remain determined to publish within the next few weeks.” The Atlantic Wire adds that Morrissey finished the 660-page book in 2011.

    It’s a big week for books in New York City: In addition to the Brooklyn Book Festival and the Art Book Fair, the Lit Crawl is taking over the boroughs.

    Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is often referred to disparagingly as a chick-lit icon, but a New York Times profile notes that “the abiding oddity of her career is that she began it as one of the boys”: “She traveled to China for Spin and filed a story about the Three Gorges Dam that read like a dispatch from Hunter S. Thompson’s kid sister: sad, funny and surreal. Gilbert soon joined GQ, becoming one of the few women on staff, an arrangement that suited her. She thought nothing of plopping down next to Art Cooper, GQ’s famously macho editor, to pitch him stories as he downed his 5 o’clock vodka. The body of work she amassed—profiles of rebels and daredevils, mostly—composed a sustained investigation of masculinity. She went so far as to dress in drag and live as a man for a week.”

  • September 19, 2013

    The National Book Foundation has released their longlist for National Book Award in Nonfiction. The nominees are T.D. Allman’s Finding Florida, Gretel Ehrlich’s Face the Wave, Scott C. Johnson’s The Wolf and the Watchman, Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages, Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies, James Oakes’s Freedom National, George Packer’s The Unwinding, Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy, Terry Teachout’s Duke, and Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear. The finalists will be announced on Oct. 16, and the winner will be named on Nov. 20.

    At Vice, Marilynne Robinson talks with former student Thessaly La Force about her writing, religion, and her ideal day: “It’s generally when I have no demands being made of me—of any kind. And then I can sit on my couch and worry over a paragraph until lunch. And then sit back down on the couch and worry about the paragraph until supper. Sometimes I like to work in my very neglected garden. In any case, that’s basically it.”

    Random House announced this week that to get younger readers interested in Norman Mailer, the

    Marshall Berman

    Marshall Berman

    publisher will re-release eight of his books in digital form, as well as repackaging his paperbacks and publishing an entirely new Mailer essay collection.

    A fun new online game asks players to distinguish between “real Franzen gripes about technology” and “randomly chosen YouTube comments condemning saggy pants.” It’s harder than you think.

    At n+1, former Dissent editor David Marcus writes a lovely remembrance to Marshall Berman, the radical social critic who passed away last week.

    In the New York Times’s new Bookends column, Pankaj Mishra and Jennifer Szalai deal with the question of how well contemporary fiction addresses radical politics. And meanwhile, at the Baffler, Rhian Sasseen criticizes Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens for offering “nothing particularly revolutionary in its story about a family peopled by revolutionaries.”

  • September 18, 2013

    Terrible news from England this week: Former Smiths frontman Morrissey has cancelled his forthcoming autobiography with Penguin after a conflict with the publisher. According to a statement posted on a fan website: “Although Morrissey’s autobiography was set to be available throughout the UK on September 16th, a last-minute content disagreement between Penguin Books and Morrissey has caused the venture to collapse. No review copies were printed, and Morrissey is now in search of a new publisher.” At least we still have his music.

    IFC Films has bought the U.S. rights to Liza Johnson’s Hateship Friendship, an adaptation of a story by Alice Munro. The movie stars Kristen Wiig, who plays a quiet housekeeper, and Nick Nolte.

    The Man Booker Prize committee stunned writers around the world this week with the news that starting next year its fiction prize, considered to be the most prestigious UK literary award, would be open to Americans.

    A Netflix for e-books has arrived: It’s called Oyster, and for $9.99 a month, users get unlimited access to over 10,000 digital books. At Salon, Laura Miller reviews the new service.

    The National Book Foundation has released a poetry longlist for the National Book Award—its first ever. The list includes Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog, Roger Bonair-Agard’s Bury My Clothes, Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion, Andrei Codrescu’s So Recently Rent a World, New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012, Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke, Diane Raptosh’s American Amnesiac, Matt Rasmussen’s Black Aperture, Martha Ronk’s Transfer of Qualities, and Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine: Poems.

    Over the next year, bestselling writer James Patterson will donate $1 million to independent bookstores around the country. Speaking on a radio show this week, Patterson remarked that “we’re making this transition to e-books, and that’s fine and good and terrific and wonderful, but we’re not doing it in an organized, sane, civilized way. So what’s happening right now is a lot of bookstores are disappearing.”

    In 1924, Ernest Hemingway submitted a story to Vanity Fair and was rejected. Now, the tables have turned: Vanity Fair approached the Hemingway estate earlier this year about publishing the story, “My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart,” and was shot down on the grounds that the estate would prefer to have it “relegated to a scholarly examination of how a writer was developing.” Too boot, Hemingway’s son noted that he’s “not a great fan of Vanity Fair.”

  • September 17, 2013

    In the New York Times, author Joyce Maynard reflects on the years she spent with J.D. Salinger (having dropped out of college in order to live with him) and casts a cool eye on his relationships with with much younger women. What troubles Maynard most about how the public has reacted to news of Salinger’s affairs is “the quiet acceptance, apparently alive and well in our culture, of the notion that genius justifies cruel or abusive treatment of those who serve the artist and his art.”

    Five years after publishing The Family, a journalistic investigation into a “self-described invisible network dedicated to a religion of power for the powerful,” Jeff Sharlet is back with an essay about Westmont College, a religious school that supplies many of the movement’s devotees.

    JD Salinger Portrait SessionNew books by Naomi Alderman, Richard Beard, Philip Pullman, and Colm Toibin indicate that “Jesus is having a moment in literary fiction.”

    The Brooklyn Institute has released its fall lineup of classes: The offerings include courses on Nietzsche and Wagner, postwar avant-garde art, and one called “Gender and Revolutions: Rethinking the ‘Women Question’ in the Modern Middle East.”

    The man who invented banner ads worries to David Carr that native advertising—defined as ”advertising wearing the uniform of journalism, mimicking the storytelling aesthetic of the host site”—is going to ruin journalism.

    In southern Russia, a recent argument over Kant’s 18th-century treatise A Critique of Pure Reason resulted very unreasonably in a man getting shot in a grocery store.

  • September 16, 2013

    Public intellectual, writer, Times Square expert, and longtime Dissent contributor Marshall Berman died in New York last week at the age of 72. Todd Gitlin summed up Berman, whose books include All That Is Solid Melts into Air, as a “master lyric-analytic Marxist, defiant chronicler of cities, activist, sage, dear friend.”

    Harper’s will never, ever post its content for free on the internet, says publisher John MacArthur in a three-page statement in the latest issue of the magazine.

    David Mitchell’s next book is “about an immortal being that gets reincarnated as different men and women.”

    In his book Into the Wild, about a young man’s fateful journey into the Alaskan wilderness, Jon Krakauer speculated that Christopher McCandless died in 1993 after mistakenly eating the poisonous seeds of the wild sweet pea. The debate over whether this is true continues, and at the New Yorker’s Pageturner blog, Krakauer himself weighs in.

    How did mass-market fiction go from Harold Robbins and Mario Puzo to James Patterson and Dean Koontz? Mark Brand considers the declining quality of supermarket fiction over the past several decades.url

    Jonathan Franzen goes after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in an essay for the Guardian about the corrosive effects of the internet on literary culture: “In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion.”

    Elissa Schappel says that the thing she likes least about being a writer is the fact that so many writers feel entitled to complain about their job: “This tendency to whine is one I share with many of my people. Writers seem to think that by virtue of intellect or sensitivity that we suffer more than others, that the work we do is more necessary than other work. This idea is not only ridiculous, it’s shameful.”

  • September 13, 2013

    People may be reading less individually, but at Flavorwire, Jason Diamond claims that we’re in a “golden age of online book clubs.”

    The 2009 publication of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland  seems to have struck a chord: This fall will see the release of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland, Stephen King’s Joyland, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland, Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland, Christopher Steward’s Jungleland, and Amy Sohn’s Motherland. And what’s with the overuse of “land” in contemporary book titles? “‘Land’ is the new ‘Nation,’ a modifier that hints at larger zeitgeisty themes while also intriguing the reader,” Amy Sohn tells the New York Times.


    In this week’s depressing study about changing cultural reading habits, a new survey finds that fewer and fewer parents are reading their kids bedtime stories. According to the Littlewoods study, “In a poll of 2,000 British parents with children under the age of seven, only one in five said they read a book to their child every night. In fact, 36 percent of parents don’t read bedtime stories to their children at all.”

    Mario Vargas Llosa’s next novel, The Discreet Hero, will be set in his native Peru. The Nobel Prize-winning author announced this week “that the plot centers on a small business owner from [the Peruvian city of] Piura who is an extortion victim, and a rich Lima entrepreneur whose children want to kill him.”

    The National Book Foundation has unveiled this year’s list of the “5 Under 35,” an annual award that honors five of the top writers under 35, and this year’s list is all women. The winners are Molly Antopol, NoViolet Bulawayo, Amanda Coplin, Daisy Hildyard, and Merritt Tierce.

    People have started to talk more about the gender disparity in publishing, but the near total lack of people of color in the literary world is a topic that often goes unmentioned. Roxane Gay is now making an effort to make it a bigger issue: She recently started blogging at The Nation about writers of color, and launched a series at Salon about feminists of color.

  • September 11, 2013

    How has Catcher in the Rye been received in Russia? “First introduced to readers during Khrushchev’s thaw, Salinger’s novel became an instant sensation among Soviet readers in the nineteen-sixties, and it has remained a classic. The Party authorized the novel’s translation believing that it exposed the rotting core of American capitalism, but Soviet readers were more likely to see the novel in broader terms, as a psychologically nuanced and universally appealing portrait of a misfit who rebels against the pieties of a conformist society.”

    ResizeImageHow do betting houses successfully pick who will win big book awards? By focusing on the reviews rather than the actual books.

    When one of the first flights after 9/11 departed from New York to California, Joan Didion was on it. Twelve years later, Didion talks with the Los Angeles Review of Books about that trip, her books, and whether America is “losing its innocence.”

    On a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread, the editors of the Paris Review revealed what they don’t like in fiction. Topics included “speculative fiction,” “suburban malaise,” and “the obvious specter of childhood sexual abuse hanging over domestic stories.”

    Annie Proulx has finished the libretto for Charles Wuorinen’s opera adaptation of Brokeback Mountain, which is based on Proulx’s story about two male cowboys who fall in love. In writing the libretto, Proulx said that she wanted to “preserve the dry and laconic western tone” of the original. The opera will premiere next January in Madrid.

    Tina Brown will be leaving the Daily Beast when her contract expires in January, Politico reports. Brown plans to start her own company called Tina Brown Live Media.

  • The shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize has been announced. The nominees are NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, Jim Crace’s Harvest, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary. The winner of the $80,000 prize will be announced in London on October 15.

    Jimmy Carter

    Jimmy Carter

    The New York Times reports that former president Jimmy Carter is currently shopping around a book about the unfair treatment of women around the world and “the use of religious texts to justify discrimination.” In the proposal, which is being circulated by agent Lynn Nesbit, Carter writes, “I am convinced that discrimination against women and girls is one of the world’s most serious, all-pervasive, and largely ignored violations of basic human rights.” He adds: “It is disturbing to realize that women are treated most equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion.”

    This is what Shakespeare plays sounded like when they were originally performed at the Globe Theater.

    At Flavorwire, Michelle Dean argues against the bizarre new trend of telling readers how long it will take to finish the thing they’re reading. Timestamps announcing predicted reading time first started showing up on online journalism outlets like Longform and Medium, and now they’ve made it onto a book: Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s forthcoming Without Their Permission, which allegedly takes five hours to read. Dean writes: “I understand that we live in the kind of culture where we are scheduled down to the minute, where reading is a thing you fit into your spare time, which is typically the one hour you spend on the subway each day. So I understand needing to organize your time. But what I don’t understand is, as Ohanian evidently does, finding this kind of hectic overscheduling fun.” We completely agree.

    Geoff Dyer has incurred the wrath of Norman Rush fans by using a review of Rush’s new book, Subtle Bodies, to take swipes at the author’s earlier novels. A number of authors—including Emily Gould, Adam Wilson, and Elliott Holt—came to Rush’s defense after Dyer remarked that “reading Mating felt at times like drinking sand.”

    What’s with the persistent appeal of books about a single year?

  • September 10, 2013

    The FBI file on Charles Bukowski reveals that the life of the self-described “dirty old man” and poet laureate of American barflies wasn’t quite as risque as his work might have suggested. Last week, Open Culture published pages of the government’s 1968 Bukowski file on bukowski.com, and “it seems that the Feds had a hard time getting any dirt on the poet; some of the entries into his file primarily involve his neighbors admitting that they didn’t know much about the reserved but ribald postal worker … and that he was a quiet man who seldom had visitors.”

    Slant is not impressed with Il Futuro, a movie adaptation about an as-of-yet-untranslated novella by Roberto Bolano.

    Tonight in New York, poet Anne Carson will read “59 Paragraphs About Albertine,” a new work inspired by a Proust character.

    In addition to releasing the debut album of her new band, Head/Body, and having a cameo on Girls, former Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon has been writing: She’s currently working on both a memoir and a collection of essays. The essay collection, about “1980s art and culture,” will be out “soon” with Sternberg Press, and the memoir, which will be published by HarperCollins, doesn’t have a release date yet.

    If New York City is so great, wonders Bookforum columnist Choire Sicha, then why does it suck so much?

    Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobsen have agreed to rewrite contemporary versions of Shakespeare’s plays in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death. Atwood will be taking on The Taming of the Shrew, while Jacobsen has committed to The Merchant of Venice. Both will be published by the Hogarth imprint of Penguin Random House.

    The dream of capitalism was supposed to be that the system would eventually be perfected to the extent that members of the workforce would only have to work 15 hours a week. But something else has happened, writes David Graeber: “Rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations.” To defray these “bullshit jobs,” Graeber calls for a return to the dream of a 15-hour-workweek.

  • September 9, 2013

    A new UK survey finds that 62 percent of the British public has lied about reading classic novels, with George Orwell’s 1984 being the novel that most Britons have falsely claimed to have read, followed by War and Peace and Great Expectations. According to the Daily Mail, “women are more likely than men to bluff that they are well read when they have often only seen literary classics dramatised in films or on TV.”

    Matthew Shear, the publisher of St. Martin’s Press, died of complications arising from lung cancer last week at his home in Manhattan. He was 57.

    Harper Lee has dropped a lawsuit against her former agent Samuel Pinkus after claiming that Pinkus convinced the author to transfer the copyrights of her novel To Kill a Mockingbird to him while she was recovering from a stroke in an assisted-living facility. The suit said that after acquiring the copyright, Pinkus “moved the copyright around through various companies he created, making it hard for Lee to track.” Without going into details, Pinkus’s lawyer told the New York Daily News that the dispute has been resolved: “We have reached a mutually satisfactory resolution.”


    Giovanni’s Room, the country’s oldest LGBT bookstore, might close in January unless the 73-year-old owner finds a buyer. Ed Hermance has run the Philadelphia store, named after a James Baldwin novel, for four decades, and hasn’t collected a salary since he started working at the bookstore. “It just can’t go on like this,” he told Publishers Weekly.

    Irvine Welsh reviews a new book about Britain in the nineties: “the Nineties were a celebration but also a requiem mass for British culture, pulling it all together in a big party, before selling it off to the global market place. It was probably the last decade where being British constituted something unique and distinctive.”

    Tolstoy’s great-great granddaughter has made all of the author’s collected works—roughly 90 volumes’ worth of material—free and available to the public at a new website, Tolstoy.ru. All of Tolstoy’s novels, essays, letters, and other writing will be downloadable in PDF format, and the site “will feature the 90-volume edition that was scanned and proofread three times by more than 3,000 volunteers from 49 countries.”