• October 1, 2013

    Philip Roth was awarded a Commander of the Legion of Honor award at the French embassy in New York last week for his contributions to literature and longstanding relationship with France. In a speech, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabuis attributed Roth’s “immense success in France” to his “art of storytelling, your irony and self-depreciation, which is not typically French.”


    The good news in a new National Endowment for the Arts survey is that more than half of all Americans read for pleasure in 2012; the bad news is that the number of people reading what the NEA calls “literature”—i.e. novels, short stories, poetry, or plays—dropped to the lowest levels in ten years.

    Did Dr. Seuss or Bret Easton Ellis write it? A quiz from The Awl.

    How does Ladbrokes predict who’s going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and get it right half the time? By applying “ a numerical value to things like industry chatter, an author’s nationality, historical precedent”—and then simply deciding who’s likely to win. This tends to create a snowball effect and generate even more media for the candidate they think should win.

    Felix Salmon has some thoughts about what Dave Eggers gets wrong in The Circle, his new novel about a dystopian Google-like company that forces its employees to constantly be plugged into social media and sharing every detail of their every waking hour: “The thing about the Valley that Eggers misses is that it’s populated by people who consider themselves above the rest of the country—intellectually, culturally, financially. They consider themselves the cognitive elite; the rest of us are the puppets dancing on the end of their strings of code.”

    In an interview with pandoDaily, New Republic owner Chris Hughes remarked that he doesn’t believe in the division between editorial and advertising: “I knew that in buying a content and media company, the idea that business sits over here and lets a newsroom do whatever it wants over there is anachronistic.”

  • September 29, 2013

    The Collaboration, Ben Urwand’s new book about Hollywood’s “pact with Hitler,” was published last month and has already, unsurprisingly, stirred up all kinds of controversy. In a review of Urwand’s book, The New Yorker‘s David Denby wondered why Harvard University Press had chosen to publish the book, citing what he deemed its many “omissions and blunders.” Denby also urged Harvard UP to “acknowledge these problems and correct them in a revised edition that is better informed, if less sensational.” In response to the review, Harvard UP issued a statement supporting Urwand’s work, and directing critics to “nearly 60 pages of notes and documentation [that] enable readers to judge for themselves the strength and validity of his presentation.”

    At The New Republic, Geoff Dyer writes about one of Franco Pagetti’s photograph from a series of war photos taken in Syria.

    In the new issue of the Mark Twain Journal,  a rare-book dealer argues that Samuel Clemens’s came up with his pseudonym, Mark Twain, after seeing the name “in a popular humor journal.” Twain liked to say that he borrowed the name from a Mississippi riverboat captain, but new evidence suggests that he adopted the name, “then invented the riverboat story to promote his Missouri roots.”


    Fun fact, courtesy of Casey N. Cep at the Paris Review: The inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s book Green Eggs and Ham was a bet between Seuss and Random House editor Bennett Cerf that Seuss couldn’t write a book with only fifty words in it. Seuss won that bet. Of the 681 words in Green Eggs, the majority of them are repetitions.

    If the government does shut down this week, the Library of Congress will go with it. The library announced the news in a statement posted on their website: “In the event of a temporary shutdown of the federal government, beginning Tuesday, Oct. 1, all Library of Congress buildings will close to the public and researchers. All public events will be cancelled and web sites will be inaccessible.”

  • September 27, 2013

    In an essay for Page Turner, critic Lee Siegel reflects on the state of contemporary critical culture, the increasingly “social” (and positive) tone in reviewing, and why he’s done writing negative book reviews. One reason for the changing climate is, of course, the internet: “Authority is a slippery thing, and its nature is going through yet another permutation in literary life. There are plenty of young, gifted critics writing fiercely and argumentatively in relatively obscure Web publications. But they are keenly aware that, along with the target of their scrutiny, the source of their own authority is also an object of examination.” Meanwhile, at the New Republic, Isaac Chotiner makes a case for why a “world without negative book reviews would be a terrible place to live.”

    Fifty Shades of Gray author E.L. James is venturing into winemaking. Observing that “wine plays an important role in “Fifty Shades of Gray,” James announced this week that she’s coming out with two Fifty Shades-themed wines: Red Satin and White Silk.

    At the Times Literary Supplement, Eleanor Margolies explores the link between Rimbaud and puppetry: “How did Charleville-Mézières, best known as Arthur Rimbaud’s ville natale but reviled by the poet as “the stupidest of small provincial towns”, become the international centre of puppetry?”

    In an interview on 60 Minutes, Bill O’Reilly explained that he wrote his latest book, Killing Jesus: A History, because God told him to.

    Jennifer Lawrence has signed on to play “psychotic monster” Cathy Ames in a new adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Genesis saga East of Eden. The novel, an epic family drama set in the Salinas, California during the Depression, was last adapted by Elia Kazan in 1955. Here’s a trailer for Kazan’s film:

    Dissent on the rise of “cli-fi”: “Perhaps climate change had once seemed too large-scale, or too abstract, for the minutely human landscape of fiction. But the threat seems to have become too pressing to ignore, and less abstract, thanks to a nonstop succession of mega-storms and record-shattering temperatures. In addition to Paul Theroux, major novelists including Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, and Jennifer Egan have published books that touch on climate change.”


  • September 26, 2013

    The decision of Goodreads to enforce a policy prohibiting users from commenting on authors’ behavior—only their books—has already generated seventy pages of comments and cries of censorship from angry users.

    Mayor Bloomberg

    Simon and Schuster has signed journalist Eleanor Randolph to write a “major biography” of outgoing mayor Bloomberg. According to the press release, the book will be about the “extraordinary career and legacy of Bloomberg, who revolutionized business reporting, who has been a powerful and innovative mayor of New York City for the last 12 years, and who has become a public figure of national significance.”

    Novelists Donald Antrim and Karen Russell were among this year’s crop of winners of the MacArthur “Genius” grant. (See Justin Taylor’s Bookforum essay on Antrim’s three novels.)

    Why was Dante so obsessed with sleep in the Inferno? A scientist at the University of Bologna believes it’s because the Italian author was an insomniac. In an article for Sleep Medicine Journal, Giuseppe Piazzi argues that Dante “depicted narcolepsy with cataplexy (NC) in his literary works as an autobiographical trait… It appears to be a plausible hypothesis that Dante’s sleep, dreams, hallucinations and falls are all clues to a lifelong pathologic trait, and that Dante either knew of or had this rare central nervous system hypersomnia.”

    In an interview with Hazlitt, novelist David Gilmour detailed the kinds of books he won’t be teaching to his University of Toronto students: anything by Canadians, women, or Chinese writers. Instead, he said that “what I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”

    At the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead writes about how a Lena Dunham tweet spurred interest in George Eliot’s sexual proclivities.

  • September 25, 2013

    Columbus, Ohio publisher Two Dollar Radio is branching into the world of movies with their own “micro-budget film division,” Two Dollar Radio Movie Pictures. The division has already optioned two movies and plans to bring in more with money raised through crowdsourcing and incentives from authors like Grace Krilanovich, Scott McClanahan, Barbara Browning, and Joshua Mohr. Here’s a trailer for the project:

    Is it a fact that Amazon is killing off independent booksellers? Perhaps not, argues Nate Hoffeider at “The Digital Reader” blog. Hoffeider crunched the membership numbers for the indie-friendly nonprofit the American Booksellers Association and found that numbers had been steadily increasing since 2009. In 2012, they had 1,567 members, up from 1,401 in 2009. To explain the increase, Hoffeider contends that indie bookstores have “regained and/or relearned the abilities that Amazon can’t match,” such as in-store readings, promoting small publishers, and helping people learn about new authors.

    A scholar at a university in England has discovered a lost short story that Ian McEwan wrote in the 1970s. According to the Guardian, “Untitled” is “about a doctor who specializes in maiming men at the behest of their wives.”

    A copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass owned by Breaking Bad character Walter White is up for auction now that the show has ended. The book is inscribed with the phrase “To my other favorite WW,” and the auction catalog notes that “the inscription leads to some serious consequences when Walt’s brother-in-law, DEA Agent Hank Schrader, reads it (oddly enough, while sitting in the bathroom at Walt’s house). Walt mentions the book several times in the series, and searches frantically for it in the 9th episode of the final season.” Bids start at three thousand dollars.

    In this week’s edition of the New York Times Book Review’s new Bookends feature—which asks authors to take on a controversial question—Mohsin Hamid and Zoe Heller weigh in on whether our culture is too obsessed with the idea that characters “be likable.”

    February 5, 2014 is the centennial of William S. Burroughs birth, and Burroughs 100 kicks off the celebration with a fittingly loopy essay by Burroughs’s friend, editor, and literary executor James W. Gruerholz. Over the next year, the site will continue to post essays, artwork, and news about the Beat forefather.

  • September 24, 2013

    Kate Losse, author of The Boy Kings, has accused Dave Eggers of “rewriting” her book in his forthcoming novel The Circle, which will be published in October. The Boy Kings is Losse’s nonfiction account of her time as one of the early employees of Facebook. The Circle is also about a young woman who moves up the ranks of a company that bears a strong resemblance to Google, and gradually becomes disenchanted with the company’s ethos of transparency and information gathering. Losse admits that she has not yet read Eggers’s novel.

    The Jane Austen’s House Museum has raised nearly $250,000 in a successful effort to thwart American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson from purchasing a ring that once belonged to Jane Austen. Clarkson bought the ring at a Sotheby’s auction in 2012, but England’s culture minister imposed a temporary export ban on the sale, giving the museum time to fundraise and outbid the singer.

    The Jane Austen ring.

    The Jane Austen ring.

    Goodreads apparently does not believe that a book should be judged by the behavior of its author: The company announced this week that it will “delete content focused on author behavior.”

    At the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Awl asked Jennifer Gilmore, Nicholson Baker, Claire Messud, Meg Wolitzer, and others what “youngsters” they’re reading these days.

    Electric Literature has launched their new travel blog, “Drink, Grovel, Fuck,” with a post about a boozy trip to London. The MO of the blog is to be “like Eat, Pray, Love, only less ambitious.”

    Ghanaian poet and former diplomat Kofi Awoonor was killed during the Westgate mall attacks in Nairobi this weekend. He was in Kenya for a literary festival, and had been shopping with his son.

  • September 23, 2013

    The anonymously authored Elimination Night is billed as a novel, with the standard disclaimer that “Any similarities to any persons…is coincidental.” Still, many readers have found it hard not to notice the significant similarities between the book and the TV show American Idol. Page Six has offered up some roman-a-clef speculations, with characters Bibi Vasquez and Joey Lovecraft—both rendered in broad strokes of ridiculousness—standing in for Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.

    After shooting down Vanity Fair, the Hemingway estate has agreed to let Harper’s run a previously unpublished Hemingway story, “My Life in the Bull Ring with David Ogden Stewart.” Hemingway originally submitted the story to Vanity Fair in 1924, but was rejected at the time.

    Paris is trying to recapture its status as the literary capital of the world with a new international writing festival that kicks off this week with 28 writers from 18 countries, and will feature Salman Rushdie, John Banville, Richard Ford, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, David Grossman, Ma Jian and Michael Ondaatje, among others. A number of major French institutions are hosting the events, but ironically, the festival is being organized by two Americans, and is funded largely by Columbia University.

    The trailer has been released for the adaptation of yet another Jack Kerouac novel, Big Sur. The film is directed by Michael Polish and stars Jean-Marc Barr as Kerouac alter-ego Jack Duluoz.

    The Weinstein Company has announced plans to release an “extended” version of their widely-panned documentary Salinger, which will include bonus material about J.D. Salinger and “his complex relationships with young women.” Until then, we recommend you read Joyce Maynard’s account of her relationship with the author across a decades-wide age difference.

    At Dissent, Michael Walzer, Mark Levinson, Andy Merrifield, David Marcus, Todd Gitlin and Robert Christgau remember the late, great, Marshall Berman.

    In an extended interview with the Guardian, Stephen King notes his distaste for the Kubrick adaptation of The Shining, and shares his thoughts on contemporary mass fiction: “I read Twilight and didn’t feel any urge to go on with her,” King said. “I read The Hunger Games and didn’t feel an urge to go on…I read Fifty Shades of Grey and felt no urge to go on. They call it mommy porn, but it’s not really mommy porn. It is highly charged, sexually driven fiction for women who are, say, between 18 and 25.”


  • 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.”