• 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.”

  • September 6, 2013

    A handful of German publishers took the fight against book piracy to a new level last week when they collectively filed suit against two newspapers simply for printing the name of a website that sells pirated copies of e-books.

    Jennifer Weiner, who not long ago took the New York Times Book Review to task for not publishing enough women, is after the paper again, this time for its new Bookends column. In a series of tweets, Weiner lambasted the NYTBR for being too “literary” (that is, for excluding commercial writers), and characterized the first column as being “toothless, tepid, engineered.”

    “Can you recite the dictionary definition of peruse from memory? Do you have the etymology of short-lived stored in the recesses of your brain, available at a moment’s notice for impromptu punctuation lesson purposes? Are you an expert on the difference between rebut and refute?” Slate offers a primer on how to spot a language bully.

    The Guardian explains how the Kindle Single has fixed a problem that has existed in publishing for 500 years.

    Though Edgar Allan Poe lived and died in Baltimore (and went to college in Virginia), he was born in Boston, and his hometown wants to make sure that more people know it. The city is inching towards its goal of raising $200,000 to construct a statue entitled “Poe Returning to Boston.”

    At the Awl, “Mr. Adam Plunkett Freelance Writer” looks at the ridiculous rhetoric of online book marketing and wonders if anybody has ever been drawn in by offers of a “new breed of an erotic novel,” “based heavily on sexting and mysterious hotel encounters,” or anything “with a striking afterword by Jesse Ventura.”

  • September 5, 2013

    It’s pre-Nobel Prize speculation time, and British betting establishment Ladbrokes has Haruki Murakami at 3-1 odds to win the Nobel Prize in Literature this year.

    The trajectory of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymously written book The Cuckoo’s Nest—it was ignored and then became a bestseller after the author’s true identity was revealed—reflects how hard it is for a first-time author to get any attention… even if they deserve it.

    Jason Kottke describes the trailer for Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge as “either brilliant or the dumbest thing ever.” We’re inclined to agree with the latter.

    Here’s the trailer for the Alan Ginsberg biopic Kill Your Darlings, about the early years of the Beats in New York, and Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs’ time at Columbia.

    An actor named Benedict Cumberbatch who is apparently very busy has signed on to play Percy Fawcett in the adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 book The Lost City of Z. Fawcett was “a twenties British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon while searching for an ancient lost city.”

    Agatha Christie died in 1976, but the next fall, we can expect a new book by the crime writer. The new Christie won’t be a lost manuscript—it’ll be an entirely new novel written by British crime writer Sophie Hannah at the behest of the Christie estate. The book will “feature recurring Christie character Hercule Poirot, the fictional Belgian detective who first appeared in her 1920 debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.”

  • September 4, 2013

    The new Bookforum is among us. Available online: Ed Park’s review of Thomas Pynchon’s new novel of Uptown Manhattan and the Deep Web, and Mary Gaitskill’s meditation on what’s truly disturbing about Gone Girl.

    In the olden days, public intellectuals would hold court in magazines and newspapers, and scholars would publish in scholarly journals and with university presses. Today, Jill Lepore notes in the Chronicle of Higher Education,”‘writing for the public’ is … a fairly meaningless thing to say. Everyone who tweets ‘writes for the public.’ Lectures are posted online. So are papers. Most of what academics produce can be found, by anyone who wants to find it, by searching Google. These shifts have made exchanging ideas easier, faster, cheaper, and less dependent on publishers—and even less accountable to readers.” Lepore considers the implications of this “new economy of letters.”

    Sergio de la Pava talks with the New York Daily News about the unexpected success of his recent novel A Naked Singularity, which he originally published through XLibris and was later picked up by the University of Chicago Press.

    Jeff Bezos is paying his first visit to the Washington Post, a day after told the paper what was on his mind for the future: “We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient,” he said. “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at The Post, too.'”

    New WaPo owner Jeff Bezos

    Have you ever wondered why e-books aren’t included with the purchase of a physical book? Amazon, apparently has, and on Tuesday, they rolled out Matchbooks, a new feature that gives shoppers the opportunity to get a free e-book (or buy it at a discounted price) with the purchase of a print book. But as the Atlantic Wire points out, when you crunch the numbers, it’s often cheaper just to buy the e-book alone.

    Rivka Galchen, Mohsin Hamid, Zoë Heller, Anna Holmes, Adam Kirsch, Daniel Mendelsohn, Pankaj Mishra, Francine Prose, Dana Stevens, and Jennifer Szalai: The New York Times Book Review unveils an all-star team of columnists for their new Bookends feature, which features pairs of writers contributing essays about different topics.

    In the latest issue of Harvard Magazine, Nathan Heller profiles Arion, a high-end letterpress that produces books worth at thousands of dollars. At the Boston Globe, Kevin Harnett muses about “how to situate” Arion’s wares: “Is a $4,000 version of Don Quixote, bound in three-piece goatskin, a luxury commodity like a Rolex, or a work of art whose price tag is just a vulgar proxy for its real value?”