• January 15, 2014

    Maria Alyokhina Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich of Pussy Riot

    Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich

    At the LA Times, Sara Marcus reviews Masha Gessen’s new book, Words Will Break Cement, about the musicians, activist, and feminists who make up the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot: “Gessen is not just asking how these women came to form Pussy Riot, or how they came to be punished so severely for making protest art. She’s also asking what makes great political art, and proposing that art and truth-telling have the power to defeat oppressive regimes.”

    The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, has added another major acquisition to its horde of literary treasures. In addition to the papers of James Agee, William Faulkner, Anne Sexton, Walt Whitman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the center, which is housed at the University of Texas, has a substantial collection of material from the estate of J. D. Salinger. This week, it acquired twenty-one previously unknown and unpublished letters, most of them exchanged between Salinger and his great friend Ruth Smith Maier, with whom he shared ideas about work, life, marriage, fatherhood, and his withdrawal from public life over the course of a forty-year correspondence.

    On the perils of an ill-conceived tweet.

    In Demon Camp, Jennifer Percy follows a soldier as he battles PTSD and tries to exorcise his demons by joining a Christian “deliverance” cult. In Vogue, Percy explains part of her process: “I went through with the exorcism as a journalist seeking to better understand Caleb’s story. I thought the experience might provide more opportunities for empathy. Of course, researching a cult has its problems. You know, since their main goal is to brainwash you.”

    bell hooks on the “faux feminism” of Lean In.

  • January 14, 2014

    anthony marra

    Anthony Marra

    Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, has won the first-ever John Leonard Prize, the National Book Critics Circle announced yesterday. Marra’s novel, set in war-torn Chechnya, was singled out for the new award, created this year to honor a debut work in any genre. The organization also named thirty finalists in six additional categories, from criticism to fiction. Among the contenders are Alexander Hemon, Rebecca Solnit, Jesmyn Ward, Hilton Als, Jonathan Franzen, Janet Malcolm, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Javier Marías, Donna Tartt, George Packer, and Lawrence Wright. The awards ceremony will be held on March 13 at the New School in New York.

    On the topic of honors, George Saunders, Rebecca Lee, and Andrea Barrett are the finalists for this year’s Story Prize, a ten-year-old award that recognizes excellence in short fiction.

    At The Nation poetry editor Ange Mlinko considers Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings and the Emily Dickinson Archive, which reproduces many of Dickinson manuscripts for online perusal.

    Gillian Flynn’s gothic blockbuster novel Gone Girl is set to become movie this fall, and Flynn has reportedly rewritten the ending to make it more Hollywood friendly. When asked about the changes, Flynn says, “There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its eight million Lego pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie.”

    Previously written off for confusing fact and fiction in his memoir A Million Little Pieces, James Frey has reportedly sold a new book (for young adults) and landed a film deal (for which he will write a screenplay) worth more than $2 million.

  • January 13, 2014

    antonio lobo antunes

    Antonio Lobo Antunes

    The Portuguese novelist Antonio Lobo Antunes, the Palestinian writer Suad Amiry, the Italian psychiatrist Guiseppe dell’Acqua, and the French philosophy Michel Serres are the winners of Italy’s thirty-ninth annual Nonino Prizes. V. S. Naipaul presided over this year’s jury, which included Peter Brook, John Banville, and the Syrian poet Adonis, among others.

    Roger Ailes once said to his client, Senator Al D’Amato: “Jesus, nobody likes you. Your own mother wouldn’t vote for you. Do you even have a mother?” The New Republic highlights Roger Ailes’s most outrageous comments from Off Camera, the new biography of the godfather of Fox News.

    Hugo Lindgren, who stepped down from his position at the New York Times Magazine in November, has been named acting editor of the Hollywood Reporter. In other Times news, the paper’s executive editor Jill Abramson has discussed some of her plans for the paper in 2014: “a deep look at the global rich,” continued coverage of China, rethinking the NYT Magazine, and more multimedia journalism.

    What happens when the winner of a mystery-novel contest turns out to be in prison, serving a minimum of 30 years for murder?

    As a child, Hilton Als did not know Amiri Baraka “as a famous poet who initiated the powerful Black Arts Movement in 1965, or as the man whose groundbreaking plays, ranging from 1964’s Dutchman, to 1969’s Four Black Revolutionary Plays, changed what was possible on the American stage.” He knew him as a father, a former husband, and a force at the top of the stairs of an East Village walk-up. On the New Yorker’s books blog, Als gives a thoughtful reflection on the life of a man and the legacy of his work.

  • January 10, 2014

    amiri baraka

    Amiri Baraka

    The provocative, award-winning poet, playwright, and political activist Amiri Baraka has died. Born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934, he grew up in New Jersey and later became the state’s second poet laureate. In his long and eventful life, he was associated with the Beats and the Black Arts Movement, though he eventually broke with them both. He wrote beautifully about the blues and jazz and caused considerable controversy with his poem about 9/11, titled “Somebody Blew Up America.” He was 79 and had recently been suffering from an unknown illness.

    Is crowd-testing fiction on the agenda for big data’s future? “There is an art (well, maybe a craft) to successful genre publishing, and much of it has been rooted in the intuition of editors and publishers about what readers want,” writes Salon’s Laura Miller. “New e-book subscription services like Oyster and Scribd…are well-suited to such readers. You can’t get The Goldfinch or Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries…but you can gorge on a seemingly infinite array of erotic romances patterned after 50 Shades of Grey, many of them self-published by writers who are eager both to know what readers want and to give it to them.”

    Ursula Lindsey of The Arabist reports on a chorus of uncomfortable questions in Cairo: Why is Sonallah Ibrahim, one of Egypt’s most respected avant-garde writers, defending police brutality? Why is Alaa al-Aswany, the best-selling novelist, siding with an army that has turned on its own people?

    The Morning News has announced its tenth annual “tournament of books,” in which critics ranging from novelist Jami Attenberg to lead Mountain Goat John Darnielle will judge competitions between 16 finalists.

    Adam Kirsch reviews Claudia Roth Pierpont’s book about Philip Roth, who still hasn’t won the Nobel Prize but has seen his reputation shift “from bete noire to laureate.” She accepts his argument that “that to portray individual Jews as absurd or flawed … does not constitute stereotyping a whole group”: “He noted that people read Anna Karenina without concluding that adultery was a Russian trait; Madame Bovary did not lead readers to condemn the morals of French provincial women en masse. He was writing literature, not sociology or—Bellow’s helpful phrase—public relations.”

    In a very short period of time, the TED talk has become almost disturbingly familiar as a cultural form. Now the backlash begins, as one writer calls it a recipe for civilizational disaster.

  • January 9, 2014

    The New York Times’s redesign, unveiled yesterday, has lots of white space, minimal clutter, and embedded multimedia and comments. The Times also now features sponsored articles (“advertorials”), which are conspicuously marked (the public editor has posted info about how these “native ads” work). Behind the scenes, the new site has an advanced analytics system, which will track and tag data about readers, and Times’s web designers are said to be monitoring users’ reaction to the site and making adjustments.

    christopher isherwood and dan bachardy

    Christopher Isherwood and Dan Bachardy, circa 1976

    A new book of love letters by Christopher Isherwood and his boyfriend Dan Bachardy is sweet, gossipy, and, as the TLS notes, more than a little twee: “When Kitty [Bachardy] signs off a letter to Dobbin [Isherwood] ‘with basketfuls of furred love and musical purrs’ your response may be a shudder, or a snort, or something more emphatic. But archness aside (and there’s archness aplenty), this volume is rewarding in all sorts of unexpected ways.”

    The British National Archives has for the first time posted online the last wills and testaments of a number of famous writers, including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and William Wordsworth, who was careful to specify that the entire content of his liquor cabinet should go “absolutely” to his widow. However, as The Guardian points out, “Not every writer gets his or her way in death: literary history would be the poorer without the disobedience of Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who couldn’t bring himself to burn his friend’s work, or Hemingway’s widow, who ignored her husband’s request, in a document written three years before his death, that none of his letters should be made public.”

    Like a cross between a trainwreck and internet porn, the New York Observer has issued its annual list of media power couples, replete with stats, stories, and a slide show.

    Sixteen novels from Morocco to Iraq have made it to the long list of the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, otherwise known as the Arabic Booker. Three Percent, the University of Rochester’s blog about international literature, has synopses of them all, from Ibrahim Abdelmeguid’s Clouds Over Alexandria, set in the 1970s, to Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in this City’s Kitchens, about the breakdown of the state in Syria, as told through the story of a single family.

  • January 8, 2014

    amelia gray

    Amelia Gray

    When a reader wrote to Amelia Gray to complain that nothing happened in her novel Threats, she wrote back with spy-worthy instructions, a story, and a check.

    The category winners of the Costa Book Awards have been announced, and the winners include Kate Atkinson (for Life After Life), Nathan Filer (for The Shock of the Fall), and Lucy Hughes-Hallet (for her biography of Gabriele D’Annunizo). All of these authors are now in the running for the grand prize, which will be announced on January 28.

    “The things that the tech boom’s golden boys said last year,” writes Rebecca Solnit in response to a takedown on Grist, “are examples of privilege at its most reprehensible.”

    Of all the controversies that have clung to the Jaipur Literature Festival, the lack of participating writers from the surrounding state of Rajasthan is an issue that organizers and critics tend to agree on. Perhaps for that reason, this year’s event, running January 17-21, includes numerous panels on Rajasthani writing, music, and folklore. “The festival is rooted in the vibrant local culture of the state, its rich oral traditions, its joyous music, its poetic and balladic traditions,” says festival co-director Namita Gokhale in the Times of India. Among the many writers lined up to speak this year are Amartya Sen, Geoff Dyer, Jonathan Franzen, Rivka Galchen, Jhumpa Lahiri, and more.

    A trove of historical documents from the Civil War and the Reconstruction era have been destroyed in North Carolina. Here’s a theory as to why.

    Say hello to the new Ms. Marvel, a 16-year-old Muslim superhero from New Jersey, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and scripted by G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen.

  • January 7, 2014

    jorge luis borges

    Jorge Luis Borges

    As a boy, Jorge Luis Borges carried a small dagger, a gift from his father, who told him to use it against his bullies to prove he was a man. For years thereafter, writes Michael Greeenberg in the New York Review of Books, Borges “prowled the obscure barrios of Buenos Aires, seeking the company of cuchilleros, knife fighters, who represented to him a form of authentic criollo nativism that he wished to know and absorb.”

    Can anyone step up to compete with Amazon? Two contenders have just consolidated, as Zola, an independent website, buys Bookish, an online portal formed by Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette.

    Kingsley Amis harbored such bitterness for his ex-wife Elizabeth Jane Howard that he refused her request to visit him on his death bed. Clearly, his son saw things differently. Here, Martin Amis pays surprisingly loving tribute to his late stepmother, who saved him from another life: “I was a semi-literate truant and waster,” he says, “whose main interest was hanging around in betting shops.”

    Forbes’s list of the 30 under 30, who are “building the media companies of tomorrow” contains many fresh-faced entrepreneurs and leaders of companies like Mashable, Circa, and other digest of content on the go, as well as Tavi Gevinson of Rookie and Rachel Rosenfelt of the New Inquiry.

    At the Paris Review, Sadie Stein is leaving her post editing the magazine’s blog, The Daily, to become a contributing editor and writer, with Dan Piepenbring taking over blog-editing duties from her.

    Rare criticism on the heels of a well-known fortnightly’s golden anniversary: “For 50 years,” writes Russell Jacoby in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Review of Books “withdrew from the cultural bank while making few deposits.”

  • January 6, 2014



    Morrissey is at work on a novel and a new album (in that order). In a recent interview, Moz says he’s lost faith in pop music and wants to write instead, claiming that his memoir, Autobiography, “was more successful than any record I’ve ever released.”

    Researchers at Emory University have discovered that reading novels exercises the brain. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense,” says neuroscientist Gregory Berns. “Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

    At the Times, OR books publisher Colin Robinson weighs in on the state of publishing today, particularly the worrying trend of the disappearing midlist, “the space where interesting things happen in the book world, where the obscure or the offbeat can spring to prominence, where new writers can make their mark.”

    A journalist for Guns & Ammo magazine has been fired for using too much nuance on the topic of gun control.

    A gang of extremists in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli has torched a library of rare and ancient reading material, burning some 78,000 books.

    George Saunders on genius, irony, and allowing a little bit of light into a story: “How’s life been? It’s been a lot of things, but one thing it’s been predominantly is beautiful, pleasurable. So I want that to have a place at the table that isn’t sentimental or schmaltzy. It’s earned.”

  • January 3, 2014

    The lawyer who outed J.K. Rowling as the author of detective novel published under a pseudonym last year has been fined in the UK for breaking client confidentiality rules. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling under the name Robert Galbraith in April 2013. The lawyer, Chris Gossage, told his wife, who told a friend, who in turn told a newspaper columnist.

    The villa in Egypt’s second largest city, where Lawrence Durrell lived and was inspired to write “The Alexandria Quartet,” is slated for demolition, reports The Guardian. “If bulldozed, Durrell’s crumbling former home would become the 36th listed building from Alexandria’s fin-de-siècle heyday to be demolished in five years,” writes Patrick Kingsley. “But the businessman who owns it says it may soon make way for a high-rise apartment block.”

    David Simon—creator of The Wire, author of Homicide: A Year of Killing on the Streets, and former Baltimore Sun reporter—has reportedly finished a draft of a musical about the Pogues.

    Edwidge Danticat

    Edwidge Danticat

    Edwidge Danticat delves into the form and power of the short story, in an interview with the Rumpus: “The short story is like an exquisite painting,” she says, “and you might, when looking at this painting, be wondering what came before or after, but you are fully absorbed in what you’re seeing. Your gaze is fixed, and you are fully engaged.”

    How was your Public Domain Day doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue as nicely as Happy New Year’s, but if you live in the US and desire the end of copyright restrictions, it was bad. Virtually no published works entered the public domain on January 1, 2014, due to the extension of copyright laws. What could have been, under an older body of laws from the 1970s? Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love.

  • January 2, 2014

    Ralph Ellison

    Ralph Ellison

    Shall we begin? The Guardian’s guide to the coming year runs through the likely literary landmarks of 2014: Hanif Kureishi on a fading writer being vexed by his young biographer, Alain de Botton on the news, Masha Gessen on the passion of Pussy Riot, retracing E.M. Forster’s travels in India, the third and final installment in Karl Ove Knausgård’s autobiographical trilogy, Ralph Ellison’s centenary, and more.

    Danielle Steel has been awarded the French Legion of Honor, making her the latest American to win France’s most prestigious prize. Steel, a writer of thrillers who is considered the bestselling author alive, joins a list of compatriots that ranges wildly from Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and Toni Morrison to Alan Greenspan, David Petraeus, and Bruce Willis. In reporting the award, the New York Times tracked down some comments Steel once made to The Telegraph, outlinging her influences: “Well, I always go back to the classics,” she said. “I love French literature. Colette is a special favorite of mine.”

    The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is launching a new online magazine. Could it be the future of music journalism?

    The Millions reports on the long, slow death of Blockbuster: “I remember when my family got our first VCR in the mid-1980s. The first time we entered the florescent-lit jungle of a video store, I was instantly enamored,” writes Jeff Martin. “The mere fact that these memories are still rattling around my head nearly thirty years later must have some significance, right?”

    Egypt may be in a big political mess, but the Cairo book fair is carrying on.

    At Salon, Laura Miller admits to giving up on eight books she couldn’t bear to finish, including Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed and Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles.