• November 25, 2013

    The snazzy new Buenos Aires Review has launched with interviews and fiction and poetry by Juan Alvarez, Mario Bellatin, Vincent Toro, and Kenneth Goldsmith, among others.

    More and more people are getting to their news through Facebook. Between August and October, there was a 69 percent increase in traffic referrals from Facebook to partner sites via the BuzzFeed Network, which includes outlets like The Huffington Post, The Onion, and Slate. In other words, ”Facebook appears to have broadly shifted its algorithms and to create formidable new traffic streams that simply weren’t there just weeks earlier.”

    Literary detective J. Edgar Hoover

    Literary detective J. Edgar Hoover

    How much longer will college bookstores keep stocking trade books? Rapidly declining trade and textbook sales indicate that the days might be numbered.

    In the mid-1940s, the FBI took an interest in French philosophy. Specifically, in the work of Camus and Sartre—writers who FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover spent several decades spying on in a misguided attempt to discover whether “Existentialism and Absurdism were some kind of front for Communism.” At the Prospect, Andy Martin pores over the FBI files on these men, and marvels at how intelligence officers found themselves acting as “philosophical policemen;” “studying scholarly works and attending lectures.”

    In 1963, a sixteen-year-old high school student who was fed up with arguing with his English teacher, so he mailed a survey to 150 prominent writers asking whether they deliberately used symbolism in their work. Seventy-five responded—including Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, and Joseph Heller—and the responses are up at Mental Floss.

    Temperatures are dropping on the East Coast, and at Flavorwire, Michelle Dean has a suggestion for how to warm up: erotic fiction. Before the Thanksgiving snowstorm hits, you might want to pick up The Swimming-Pool Library, Ada, Belle du Jour, or any of the other books on her list of “great, nearly-great, or at the very least significant erotic fiction of the last several centuries.”

  • November 22, 2013

    The creative team behind the theatrical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home talks to the Times about the process of turning a cartoon into a musical, and the difficulties of presenting themes like suicide and coming out of the closet.

    The New York Public Library has bought 83-year-old writer Tom Wolfe’s archives for $2.15 million. The archive contains 190 boxes of Wolfe’s writing, including his research, drafts, outlines of novels, unpublished work, and more than 10,000 letters to literary friends such as Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, and William F. Buckley. There are also, the New York Times notes, “letters from Mr. Wolfe’s tailor, complete with fabric swatches.”

    The dapper Tom Wolfe

    The dapper Tom Wolfe

    Here’s good news for wealthy and unsuccessful writers: It is possible to buy your way on to the New York Times bestseller list. For tens of thousands of dollars, Forbes reports that authors can hire ResultSource, a San Diego-based marketing company, to break up bulk sales “into more organic-looking individual purchases, defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to ‘buy’ bestseller status.”

    Twenty-one authors—including Heidi Julavits, Chuck Klosterman, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Rachel Kushner, and Meg Wolitzer—talk to Buzzfeed about how they got over their respective hang-ups and problems and published their first books.

    At The Nation, Miriam Markowitz examines the skewed gender ratios of magazine and book publishing, and turns to the publishing industry to tease out some explanations for the state of affairs.

    In an auction in London this week, the private art collection of T.S. Eliot’s widow Valerie Eliot sold for more than seven million pounds—money that will go toward supporting the work of young writers and artists. The most highly priced item in the collection was a pencil and water color sketch by John Constable, which went for £662,500, nearly twice the expected amount. Valerie, who died in 2012, built her art collection through royalties from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which was based off her husband’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

  • November 21, 2013

    James McBride, considered an “underdog” contestant, has won this years National Book Award for fiction. Other winners are George Packer (for nonfiction), Mary Szybist (poetry), and Cynthia Kadohata (young people’s literature).

    A week ago, Wyoming senatorial candidate Liz Cheney made news by publicly breaking with her sister over gay marriage (Liz opposes it; Mary Cheney is gay and in a same-sex marriage). In the wake of the controversy, Elaine Showalter took the opportunity to revisit Lynne Cheney’s frontier novel Sisters, which is “both a pulpy murder mystery, with cattle barons and homesteaders; and an astoundingly sympathetic treatment of Wyoming women’s culture in 1886.”

    sistersFive years ago this month saw the publication of Robert Bolaño’s sprawling opus 2666 in the US, precipitating “one of those rare moments when you could walk into a coffee shop, step onto a bus, or enter a bookstore and find someone raving about or devouring an ambitious novel that topped a thousand pages. ” At Flavorwire, Jason Diamond selects the fifty novels that define the past five years in literature.

    At The New York Times, Daniel Mendelsohn and Jen Szalai consider “whom or what” literary prizes are for.

    One of the country’s first public libraries of culinary literature is now open for business. The library is based in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans and contains “more than 11,000 volumes, as well as archival documents, menus, and assorted culinary ephemera.”

    Can bleak books actually be motivational? Stanford comparative literature professor Amir Eshel thinks so. In a paper that looks at works of art featuring “characters swamped by titanic historical forces” Eshel makes the case that depictions of trauma prompt us to “remain optimistic about shaping the future.”

    A survey conducted by UK website bookcareers.com looks at starting salaries in British publishing, and, big surprise, finds that the situation is pretty grim: “One of the things that comes out from the data immediately is that entry-level jobs are still paying the same amount they were five years ago. Middle and senior managers are doing slightly better, but there is quite a disparity with those just starting in the industry.” As a result, the world of British publishing is pretty homogenous—those who can’t afford to work for peanuts are priced out of going into the profession.


  • November 20, 2013

    After shooting to the top of the UK bestseller list, Penguin Classics has announced that it’s going to release a hardcover version of the Morissey’s Autobiography seven weeks after the initial release of the paperback. The book will go on sale in the UK on December 5 for 30 pounds (roughly $48) and will be printed in color, with a “number of new images chosen by Morrissey and… a complete discography of his work.”

    Here’s the trailer for the forthcoming Lifetime adaptation of incest classic Flowers in the Attic. The Paris Review describes it as “appropriately lurid.” We agree.

    We’re not quite sure why this is news, but the New York Times reports that famously reclusive author Thomas Pynchon will not be at the National Book Awards tonight.

    The Archives for American Art at the Smithsonian has put an entire collaborative book between poet Robert Duncan and artist Jess Collins online. According to Poetry, “Scrapbook for Patricia Jordan, 1959″ includes a couple of pieces from O! Tricky Cad, but there’s also much more–collages, line drawings, Nouveau gestures, poems, sketches, notes.

    Here are fourteen ways to infuriate a writer, courtesy of Ploughshares. Our favorite: “Approach her at a book festival with no introduction, wearing a backpack large enough to be full of explosives. Explain that you’re trying to find an agent, and no one here has been any help at all. Ask if you might give her your manuscript so she can pass it on to her agent. Then just stand there staring. Be sure your pupils are dilated.”

    HBO has signed up to adapt The Love of the Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished Hollywood novel, as a five-part miniseries. Elia Kazan last tried adapting the novel in the late 1970s. This version will be written by Billy Ray, the screenwriter behind Shattered Glass, Breach, and the first Hunger Games movie.

  • November 19, 2013

    Bloomberg News is cutting arts coverage, and very unfortunately, that includes books: The company let go of books editor and National Book Critics Circle president Laurie Muchnick on Monday.

    The New York Times talks with William T. Vollmann about The Book of Dolores, a creative account of Vollmann’s female alter-ego. Vollmann started cross-dressing seriously about five years ago, and he tells the Times that after a lifetime of dodging land mines and Afghan warlords, presenting himself as a woman introduced a series of new challenges: “A lot of friends who could always handle the prostitutes and the drugs felt that I had somehow degraded myself,” he said. “The idea of stepping down from the dominant male class really disgusts a lot of people, including women.”

    William T. Vollmann

    William T. Vollmann

    Is a rejection letter always just a rejection letter? Columnist Edan Lepucki at the Millions queries the editors of a handful of literary magazines about the “tiers of rejection” at their respective publications, and what an encouraging note from an editor might mean for future pitches.

    From Bibles in the bedside table to entire lending libraries—The New York Times chronicles the ascent of “literary-minded hotels.”

    Cowboy poetry is thought to have originated sometime after the Civil War, and while most people are unaware of it, the genre is still alive and well today. “Everyone perceives cowboy culture as being this testosterone-driven thing,” says photographer Jay B Sauceda. “It’s surprising to people when they find out there’s this soft side of cowboys that involves heartache and girls and friends who died.” Slate features a slideshow of Sauceda’s images of cowboy poets.

    Fifty Shades of Gray is not only only dirty, it’s downright unhygienic. Toxicologists at the Catholic University in Leuven in Belgium ran chemical tests on the top-ten most checked-out books at the local library in Antwerp and found that all of the books tested positive for traces of cocaine. The copy of Fifty Shades of Gray, however, one-upped the rest, also testing positive for traces of the herpes virus.



  • November 18, 2013

    Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing passed away last weekend at her home in London. She was 94. Over the course of her career, Lessing wrote more than fifty novels, and won virtually every major literary award available in Europe. Accepting the Nobel in 2007, the year before she published her last novel, Lessing quipped, “I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.” For more on Lessing, read her 2002 interview with Bookforum.

    New Yorkers, if you’re free tonight, we recommend a celebration of Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, on the 150 anniversary of his birth. The event is hosted by the PEN American Center, and “combines performances, personal and scholarly reflections, onstage interviews, ‘live translations,’ musical numbers, and a live dance performance and video works by Greek choreographer/stage director Dimitris Papaioannou, based on Cavafy’s signature poems.” Among those involved will be Andre Aciman, Michael Cunningham, Mark Doty, Olympia Dukakis, Daniel Mendelsohn, Orhan Pamuk, and Kathleen Turner.

    C.P. Cavafy

    C.P. Cavafy

    The New York Times previews this year’s Miami Book Fair, which, although it started in an neighborhood known for “prostitutes and vagrants” in a city not known for literary culture, has managed to become “the largest and by nearly all accounts the most diverse public literary event in the United States.”

    Salon explains why Philip Roth is wrong in his depictions of elderly sex.

    New York Magazine excerpts Daniel Menaker’s memoir about his career in publishing, which carries the revealing title My Mistake.

    Prolific Italian translator William Weaver died on Sunday at his home in Rhinebeck, New York, at the age of ninety. In addition to translating the works of Italo Calvino, Weaver translated Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Eugenio Montale, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Svevo, and numerous other well-known writers.


  • November 15, 2013

    A New York court has ruled in favor of Google’s argument that scanning more than twenty million books and posting snippets of them online without permission from the authors does not violate the terms of fair use. The ruling is a major victory for Google, and against the group of authors and publishers who filed the class action suit in 2005. The plaintiff, led by the Authors Guild, had been demanding a payment of $750 for each book scanned.

    Simon and Schuster is restructuring its production and manufacturing division to “further integrate the design and creation of e-books into the earliest stages of our overall production process.”

    The Saturday after Thanksgiving, authors will volunteer at their local bookstores at more than one hundred shops around the country in honor of Small Business Saturday.

    Slate catalogs New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani’s overuse of her new favorite phrase, “deeply felt,” with a list of the forty times she’s used it in her columns since 1984.


    Michiko Kakutani

    Some novelists work for years without ever being acknowledged, but in Italy, others might just go on TV. This Sunday will see the premiere of Masterpiece, a new reality TV show in which aspiring authors “vie at literary challenges until one contestant wins a major book deal—and a level of publicity that few novelists achieve over a lifetime of quiet toil.”

    Susan Choi, Woody Guthrie, Matthew Reynolds, and Manil Suri are among the seven novelists shortlisted for this year’s “Bad Sex” award. The prize, now in its 21st year, celebrates the “the most embarrassing passage of sexual description in a novel.” The winner will be named on December 3.

  • November 13, 2013

    At Page Turner, Maria Bustillos weighs in on the controversy surrounding Isaac Fitzgerald’s hiring as Buzzfeed’s books editor—and his declaration to publish only positive reviews—with a bit of background context: “It bears mentioning that Fitzgerald’s views are very much in line with those of the San Francisco literary establishment whence he hails. The influential essay by Heidi Julavits, published more than a decade ago in the Believer, ‘Rejoice! Believe! Be Strong and Read Hard!‘ was written explicitly against ‘snark’ and in favor of more positive book reviewing.”

    Joseph Brodsky dropped out of school after finishing seventh grade, but he famously held his poetry students to high academic standards, forcing them to memorize and transcribe up to four pages of 19th-century Russian poetry overnight. If you aspire to Brodsky’s level of rigor, you can check out his reading list for having an “intelligent conversation.”

    Joseph Brodsky

    Joseph Brodsky

    Are smartphones ruining fiction? Writer Robert Lanham thinks so: “I find it impossible to write fiction that’s set after 2002. Not because I’m a Gen-X-er waxing nostalgic… It’s just that it’s inconceivable to depict contemporary times authentically without including interludes where characters stare at their cell phones instead of advancing their plotlines—their lives—towards some conclusion. Which is, as a thing to read, mind-numbingly dull. Unless I write ‘and then his Galaxy 4’s battery died,’no one can ever get lost, forget an important fact, meet a partner outside of a dating site, or do anything that doesn’t eventually have them picking up a phone.”

    The New York Times profiles Daniel Alarcon, a young Peruvian writer who writes in English, and whose new novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, is out this month.

    And speaking of the Times, the paper has named staffer Tanzina Vega as its first beat reporter on race and ethnicity.

    The New Yorker’s Mary Norris sits in on a round of Literary Jeopardy at McNally Jackson, with editors Lorin Stein and Edwin Frank facing off against Bookforum contributor Ruth Franklin and former Bookforum editor Eric Banks.

  • Tuesday was a big day for professional shake-ups in journalism. Following news that reporters Matt Bai and Brian Stelter were leaving the New York Times (for Yahoo! News and CNN, respectively), the big story was that New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren is on the way out—and apparently not at his own volition. At the Awl, Choire Sicha names fourteen people who could fill Lindgren’s shoes.

    Ernest Hemingway put in a word for Ballantine Ale, Frederick Forsyth for Rolex, Mark Twain for Campbell’s soup: vintage advertisements starring famous authors.hemingway

    At n+1, Ben Kunkel responds to news of Twitter going public with a manifesto arguing that social media is “basically non-economic and non-productive” and therefore should be administered like a public good. “The time has come,” Kunkel writes, “to socialize social media.”

    Graphic novelist Allison Bechdel talks with the Atlantic about what it was like to see her graphic memoir Fun Home adapted for the stage.

    Texas state senator Wendy Davis, the woman who became a national media sensation earlier this year for holding an eleven-hour-filibuster to block legislation that would have banned abortions in Texas after twenty weeks of pregnancy, has signed a deal to write an autobiography. The book will come out in 2014 with Blue Rider Press.

    A new survey of members of the PEN American Center about government surveillance shows that it’s a topic that many writers are deeply concerned about. Out of the 528 members questioned, 73 percent said that they have “never been as worried about privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today,” and 28 percent said they had “curtailed or avoided activities on social media.”

  • November 12, 2013

    Morrissey’s Autobiography offers very little first-hand insight into the Smiths, but fans can still learn a great deal about the Mozzer’s singing by noting the many songs he mentions throughout the book. The Manhattanchester blog has compiled a playlist of them all, complete with links to most of the tunes on Spotify. In addition to well-known Morrissey favorites like the New York Dolls, David Bowie, and T. Rex, there are some deep cuts (The Paper DollsBlue Mink, and The Pioneers), as well as hits (Diana Ross’s “Reflections”). To hear more about some of his sonic obsessions, check out Morrissey’s Desert Island picks from BBC radio.

    Film critic, author, and Bookforum contributor J. Hoberman has been named the video columnist at the New York Times.

    The family of Malcolm X has filed suit to stop publication of a diary recounting the activist’s trips to the Middle East and Africa in the year leading up to his assassination. The book is set to be published this week by the Chicago-based Third World Press, but many of Malcolm X’s heirs say the press does not have the right to do so.

    A group of NYU students have adapted Tar, a 1983 book of poems by C.K. Williams, into a feature-length film that will be released in December. The book covers Williams’s life from the 1940s to the 1980s, and a number of different actors play the poet—including, unsurprisingly, former NYU film student James Franco.

    There is “a very real possibility” that developers will break ground on a theme park based on the Hunger Games series in the next few years. Moby Lives advises on how to make it as awesome as possible.

    Knopf has paid nearly $2 million for a 900-page debut novel by Millions contributor Garth Risk Hallberg. The manuscript, City of Fire, received rapturous reviews from early readers—including Knopf’s Sonny Mehta—and according to Hallberg’s agent, “revolve[s] around a central mystery: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse in the East Village, and what might it have to do with the shooting in Central Park in the novel’s opening act?” No publication date has been set.