• August 29, 2017

    Paul Farhi explores press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s tendency to deflect questions with a promise to “get back to” reporters with an answer later—and her habit of breaking that promise. In one briefing last week, Sanders’s used the deflection ten times, on issues ranging from the ban on transgender soldiers to “the White House’s reaction to federal approval of Amazon.com’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market.” Farhi asked Sanders directly about her rate of reply, to which she responded that she gets back to reporters whenever possible. “Asked in a subsequent email if she avoids inconvenient questions by declining to follow up,” Farhi notes, “Sanders didn’t follow up with an answer.”

    After investigations by The Stranger and the Los Angeles Times, PEN has rescinded John Smelcer’s nomination for the 2017 Literary Award.

    The Washington Post details five itineraries for the National Book Festival next weekend.

    Miranda July. Photo: Todd Cole

    Miranda July talks to the New Yorker about short stories, marriage, and why everyone assumes that her narrators are autobiographical. “Women writers are often conflated with their narrators—as if we can’t consciously construct fictional worlds from the ground up and can only write diary entries,” she said. “So I think this would be happening anyway, but, from all reports, the fact that I appeared in my first two feature films compounds the problem.”

    Neil Brown, Editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times, has been named president of the Poynter Institute. During Brown’s eight years at the paper, the Tampa Bay Times has won six Pulitzer Prizes for reporting.

    At Electric Literature, Emily O’Neill looks at the resurgence of acrostics in resignation letters from members of the Trump administration. “Elucidating where you stand in relation to Trump, with his shall we say singularly lyric way of regurgitating his own rhetoric, is probably a poetic form unto itself at this point,” she explains. “The resignation letters engage in his game of coded buzzwords, reinforcing and re-contextualizing their own content via their employment of the acrostic.”

    At The Atlantic, Rosie Gray examines what Steve Bannon’s return to Breitbart might mean for the Trump administration.

    Yashar Ali profiles Kathy Griffin. Since posing with a fake blood–covered Donald Trump mask, Griffin has lost her job hosting the CNN New Year’s Eve broadcast and had numerous US tour dates canceled due to threats. But Ali writes that “moving on doesn’t seem to be on Griffin’s mind,” as evidenced by the poster for her international Laugh Your Head Off tour, in which Griffin wears the same clothing as she did in the Trump photo, but holds a globe instead. “President Trump just pardoned Joe Arpaio, who was essentially running a concentration camp in the Arizona desert,” she told Ali. “He said there are some good Nazis, and he’s kicking out young adults who were brought here as kids by their parents, and I’m the one who has to continue to apologize?”

  • August 28, 2017

    Hilary Mantel explains why, two decades after her death, people are still talking about Princess Diana “as if she had just left the room.” “Royal people exist in a place beyond fact-correction, in a mystical realm with rules that, as individuals, they may not see,” she writes. “They exist apart from utility, and by virtue of our unexamined and irrational needs. You can’t write or speak about the princess without explicating and embellishing her myth. She no longer exists as herself, only as what we made of her.”

    Rebecca Solnit. Photo: Jim Herrington

    Rebecca Solnit talks to The Guardian about Trump, modern families, and her latest essay collection, The Mother of All Questions. In a separate essay for the paper, Solnit imagines how her life might have turned out differently had she been born male. “Perhaps as a girl, I was liberated by expectations that I’d be some variation on a failure,” she writes. “I could rebel by succeeding, while a lot of white middle-class men of my era seemed to rebel by failing, because the expectations had been set so very high for them.”

    Facebook has hired former New York Times public editor Liz Spayd to consult on the company’s efforts to be more transparent to users.

    At Wired, Nick Stockton reports on a new type of FOMO: the fear of missing breaking news. “Since the election, every iota of news has somehow come to seem more urgent, with each newsbreak, tweet, press conference, and cable news countdown clock hurtling toward … impeachment? War? The end of net neutrality? Climate chaos?” he writes. “And while information overload is nothing new, the stakes of all this new information feel exponentially higher—feel being the operative word here—and processing it has therefore become that much more burdensome.”

    St. Martin’s Press executive editors Elizabeth Beier and Michael Flamini discuss Macmillan’s decision to leave the Flatiron building. While Beier mourns the loss of prestige and history that comes with the move—”Walk into a gin joint anywhere in the world, mention that Macmillan’s offices are in the Flatiron Building, and eyes light up”—Flamini is already over his “Flatironic existence.” “True, the Flatiron is a historical landmark,” he says, “but so is Grant’s Tomb.”

  • August 25, 2017

    Claire Messud remembers the fiction of her mother’s library, and how it formed her literary life. “For a long time I believed that the books I read were more or less universally known,” she writes. “It didn’t occur to me that by borrowing and devouring books selected by my mother, I was being shaped by her predilections, thoughts and desires.”

    The Stranger’s Rich Smith looks into the controversy behind PEN Literary Award nominee John Smelcer, who Marlon James recently referred to as a “living con job” due to his falsified credentials and questionable claims of Native American heritage.

    At The Millions, Chris Kraus and Jarett Kobek discuss their respective new books, After Kathy Acker and The Future Won’t Be Long.

    Jesmyn Ward

    Time talks to Jesmyn Ward about Faulkner, family, and her new book, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Ward says that the election of Trump and the increase in hate crimes that followed have difficult experiences for the residents of DeLisle, Mississippi, where Ward grew up and now lives with her family. “We’ve been reminded once again that we live in the South,” she said, “that we live in a place where throughout the centuries and throughout the decades, our lives have been considered worthless.”

    In the New York Times, Adam Kirsch and Francine Prose reflect on the right to free speech. Kirsh feels that the right to free speech is necessary for a functioning democracy. “Without it,” he writes, “politics becomes a war of all against all, and as we have learned since last November, there is no guarantee that the right side will win.” Prose argues that “the law doesn’t ban words that wound egos or hurt feelings,” but it does protect citizens from speech that incites violence.

    After defending the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in court, the ACLU is internally debating whether all speech is worth defending. After Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist, members of the group are questioning whether a line should be drawn at defending groups that plan to protest while armed. But the ACLU will continue protecting the right to free speech for citizens on all sides. “If you can’t stomach respecting the First Amendment rights of people you despise, you don’t work here,” said associate director Stacy Sullivan.

  • August 24, 2017

    Variety reports that the recent firing of four top Los Angeles Times editors “was the result of a month of newsroom turmoil.” Paul Pringle, an investigative reporter at the paper, had filed a human resources complaint about the delay of a story about USC, which Pringle alleged was “due to cozy relations between the editors and USC officials.” Although an investigation didn’t prove Pringle’s claims, the incident prompted “additional newsroom grievances against the paper’s leadership.” Nieman Lab reflects on former editor Davan Maharaj’s time at the paper, “a remarkable run as a tightrope walker on one of the highest wires of American journalism.”

    Nadeem Aslam

    Rafia Zakaria talks to Nadeem Aslam about politics, fiction, and how the two interact in his new book, The Golden Legend. Aslam, who “did not set out to write a timely book,” says that his novel came out of his increasing frustration at the lies told about regular citizens by the powerful. “Against this reality, kindness has become a political act; to be decent has become a political act,” Aslam said. “I wanted to bring these political lies down to the level of everyday life and show that people are behaving in the opposite manner, that the idea that everyone wants to get ahead is not true of everyone or even most people.”  

    Mashable explains why coal company CEO Robert Murray’s lawsuit against John Oliver could be the next Gawker case. The suit is being tried in West Virginia, a state that, like Florida, does not have an anti-SLAPP law, which is aimed at preventing lawsuits that stifle free speech. “It’s a perfect recipe for a pissed off billionaire to go after someone he doesn’t like and do his best to cause financial burden,” Jason Abbruzzese writes, “even if the case doesn’t end up going the billionaire’s way.”

    Anelise Chen talks to Electric Literature about sports, life, and failure in her recent book, So Many Olympic Exertions.  

    At The Baffler, Kyle Paoletta examines the “transformation of The New Yorker’s style from a topic of niche interest to a content-generation machine . . . of the most calculating sort.”

    Adrianne Jeffries looks at the collapse of Mic, the latest website to pivot to video. Current and former employees told Jeffries that founders Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz “seemed to embrace the idea of being an activist website without really understanding the issues,” and only as long as it was profitable. Now, the site is attempting to be more neutral, but former employees said that this has happened before. “Mic has attempted to reinvent itself as ‘real journalism’ multiple times,” Jeffries notes, “only to get spooked when traffic dropped.”

  • August 23, 2017

    The Village Voice will discontinue its weekly print edition. “The most powerful thing about the Voice wasn’t that it was printed on newsprint or that it came out every week,” owner Peter Barbey said in a statement. “It was that the Village Voice was alive, and that it changed in step with and reflected the times and the ever-evolving world around it. I want the Village Voice brand to represent that for a new generation of people—and for generations to come.”

    Publishing platform Medium has finally explained its new system for paying writers. The $5-per-month reader memberships will be doled out proportionally to writers whose articles receive the most “claps.” “These are just the early days of what we consider a grand experiment,” product head Michael Sippey writes. “Imagine a day when anyone with the skills and willingness to put in the effort can write something useful, insightful, or moving and be compensated based on its value to others.”

    At the Washington Post, Michael J. Socolow remembers the one year anniversary of Gawker’s closure. “Gawker might have been foolhardy, reckless and ultimately self-destructive, but it was also, above all, courageous,” he writes. “With the hindsight of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, we should all recognize that courage in the media is needed now more than ever.”

    Mark Bray

    Mark Bray talks about his new book, Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook, which publisher Melville House rushed to print after Trump’s comments on Charlottesville. Bray explains that while the movement does condone violence in response to right-wing attacks, the group’s activities include “educational campaigns, working with communities, monitoring fascist individuals,” as well as physical confrontations. “Though this last facet of anti-fascism gets the most attention,” Bray said, “it is actually only a small fraction of the thankless drudgery that is committing oneself to tracking the scum of the earth.”

    At Politico, Andrew Feinberg reflects on his five months as Sputnik News Service’s White House reporter. Feinberg writes that while he knew the company was state-owned, he didn’t see his work as any different than reporting for BBC, Al-Jazeera, or other state-sponsored news agency. But he quickly learned that “Sputnik’s mission statement—‘Telling the Untold’—means that Sputnik’s content should reflect the Russian side of any news story, whether it lines up with reality or not.” Feinberg writes that he was increasingly pressured to ask questions at White House news briefings that supported Russian propaganda, like whether budget cuts to foreign aid spending in Ukraine were related to the country’s “corrupt” government, and that he was fired for refusing to question the press secretary about murdered DNC aide Seth Rich. “I thought Sputnik wanted me for my skills as a journalist,” he writes, “but what they wanted was to use the veneer of journalism to push their own agenda.”

  • August 22, 2017

    Beyonce is working on a 600-page book about the making of Lemonade. How to Make Lemonade “shows the inspiration and themes behind some of the film’s most provocative and cryptic moments,” and includes a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson. The limited-edition version of the book includes two LPs, and is available on Beyonce’s website for $300.

    Adweek lists the online publishers who have chosen to “pivot to video” in the last few months. “Check in later to see what, exactly, they have headed toward.”

    Pamela Paul

    Publisher’s Weekly visits the offices of the New York Times’s book review, which was recently combined into one department and is going through a redesign. Although restructuring is often a precursor to downsizing, “this is one of those cases in which centralizing and consolidating is not reduction,” editor Pamela Paul said. “It’s expansion. Obviously, we need the staff to be able to carry that out.”

    The Outline reports on the closure of media start-up Fresco News. In one effort to boost morale, the company invited investor Ashton Kutcher to speak. After a pep talk about the site’s mission of empowering “citizen journalists,” Kutcher broke the news that the staff would not be paid on time. Founder John Meyer had given Kutcher some Fresco-branded merchandise, which the actor then offered to the staff. “Kutcher looked at me and said, ‘I don’t need this,’” one employee remembered. “‘If you want it, you can sell this on eBay and pay your rent.’”

    In anticipation of the president’s announcement that he plans to send more US troops to Afghanistan, Axios has collected six years-worth of tweets in which Trump called for the US to leave the country.

    John Herrman looks at the recent purge of right-wing media and social network users in response to Charlottesville, and explains why these groups proliferated for so long on the internet. “Despite their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces than democratic ones,” Herrman writes. “It makes some sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to take advantage of them.”

    Bloomberg takes a close look at Steve Bannon’s descent. Joshua Green writes that while Bannon’s “attack dog” style was an asset during the campaign, his “aggressive instincts and sharp elbows didn’t translate to the White House.” American Prospect editor Bob Kuttner tells Poynter that he can only take partial credit for Bannon’s firing. “My conversation may have been the last straw but he was in the process of doing himself in,” Kuttner said. “I’m honored that he chose me for his final self-immolation.”

  • August 21, 2017

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Protesting President Trump’s equivocal remarks about white supremacists in Charlottesville last week, his Committee on the Arts and Humanities has resigned en masse. The committee, which was created in 1982 to advise the president on cultural issues, has sixteen members. Under Trump, those members included artist Chuck Close and author Jhumpa Lahiri. In their letter of resignation, the committee stated: “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville,” the letter says. “The false equivalencies you push cannot stand.” According to Politico, the White House responsed by issuing a statement that “it had planned to disband the arts and humanities committee anyway.”

    A number of writers have wondered what kind of effect Trump will have on contemporary fiction. Jonathan Freedland wondered how anyone could write a political thriller that could compete with the bizarre reality of the current presidency (“How to top an American president patrolling the late-night corridors of the White House in his bathrobe, casting aside the detailed briefings of the intelligence agencies in preference for the nuggets he can glean from Fox News?”) Others have wondered if perhaps we will now see a resurgence in the dystopian novel. Now, at the Los Angeles Times, novelist and critic John Scazli, the author of The Collapsing Empire, has this to say: “2017 is making it really hard to be a science-fiction writer.” Good sci-fi, he argues, reflects on the present, but also “breathes life into today’s anxieties and aspirations in … clever and [subtle] ways.” But, he continues, “nothing about our days today is subtle, and the challenge of making science fiction not seem like a bald ripoff of current headlines is much more of a task than it’s been in a while.”

    In a letter to his unborn child, novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard dwells on what “makes life worth living.” A partial list: apples, plastic bags, loneliness, and pissing.

    At Playboy, novelist and critic Tom Carson weighs in on Tina Fey’s cake-eating SNL skit. “We’ll never know how anyone could watch her stuffing her face until her lips were covered in goo as she tried to spit out anti-Trump, anti-Nazi venom while choking down another bite—even Lucille Ball was never crueler to herself for a joke’s sake—and imagine that Fey was earnestly proposing this as a good coping strategy,” he writes. “Not only was it satire, but it was pretty damn brutal satire in the bargain.”

    Susan Bernofsky—who has translated Franz Kafka, Robert Walser, Jenny Erpenbeck, and many others—offers tips for aspiring translators.

  • August 18, 2017

    Michael Chabon

    Novelist Michael Chabon has written “an open letter to our fellow Jews,” stating that, although some Jews have not opposed President Trump because he seems to be a friend to Israel, it is no longer acceptable, or even safe, to remain quiet. “Now he’s coming after you,” Chabon notes. “The question is: what are you going to do about it?”

    “On the floor by my bed there are heaps of books I want to read, books I have to read and books I believe I need to read. So we are talking about id, ego and superego books.” Karl Ove Knausgaard talks to the New York Times about what he’s reading.

    T magazine has announced that Thessaly La Force will be joining the magazine as the features director and Kurt Sollers has been hired as an articles editor.

    The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research is offering a class on Proust’s Swann’s Way, which will run from September 11 through October 2.

    The Poynter Institute has revamped their ethics policy, in part because of criticism they received earlier this year for taking funding from a group called FAAR (Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility), which is supported by the alcohol industry. Poynter has now posted a list of all their largest donors, which include the Charles Koch Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Of crafting the new guidelines, Poynter vice president Kelly McBride said, “It was time-consuming, tedious work—and a reminder of why so many news organizations struggle to create and maintain relevant ethics guidelines.”

    At FSG’s Works in Progress blog, Sam Stephenson discusses his new book, Gene Smith’s Sink, a biography of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. Smith was best known for his midcentury Life magazine photo essays, but he was also an avid jazz fan who made more than four-thousand hours of audio recordings, what Stephenson calls “post-war urban field work.” The biography took twenty-plus years to complete, and Stephenson describes how tricky it was to capture his elusive subject: “I’ve been through a lot of therapy in my life. I know firsthand how difficult it is to get things right, even things about myself. Memory is dubious, though also more powerful than anything else. If you can’t get yourself right, then how can you get someone else right, especially someone as complex as Smith?”

  • August 17, 2017

    Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald

    Isaac Fitzgerald is leaving his post at Buzzfeed Books to start a new “morning show” with poet and Buzzfeed culture editor Saeed Jones. The show, called AM to DM, is part of Buzzfeed, and will be livestreamed through Twitter daily from 8-9am. It begins on September 25, and is, according to Fitzgerald, “a one-of-a-kind morning show … connecting an up-to-date audience with stories happening now, right from inside the news cycle.”

    Jonathan Chait—the author of Audacity, a book about the Obama administration—has written an article that shows how Trump’s aides have tried to conceal the president’s racist ideas from the country.

    Barack Obama’s series of Tweets about racism, which were issued following the recent events in Charlottesville, have broken a record, with more than 3 million likes.  

    Lena Dunham talks about Lenny Books, the new Random House imprint that she is launching with Jenni Konner. Lenny, which grew out of a newsletter Dunham produced with Konner, is releasing its first book this week: Jenny Zhang’s story collection Sour Heart. “It was essential to Jenni and me that we use the gift of our platform to give voice to a diverse group of women who need to be heard,” Dunham says in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly. “It has never been more important that we hear from every kind of woman and understand the specificities of her experience—and that happens to be the goal of Lenny.”

    Penguin Press has released the cover image for Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, The Female Persuasion, which will be released next April.

    Novelist Amit Chaudhuri—whose books include The Immortals and Odysseus Abroad—argues in The Guardian that the Booker Prize is bad for authors. The reason: writers who hope to win it acquiesce to the values of capitalism. “I’m not saying that the Booker shouldn’t exist. I’m saying that it requires an alternative, and the alternative isn’t another prize,” Chaudhuri writes. “It has to do instead with writers reclaiming agency. The meaning of a writer’s work must be created, and argued for, by writers themselves, and not by some extraneous source of endorsement.”

  • August 16, 2017

    Michiko Kakutani

    At New York magazine, Boris Kachka reports on what led the New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani to take a buyout last month, and the book that Kakutani is working on now. Sources say that Kakutani felt at odds with the new direction of the book review under Pamela Paul. “Lone wolves hurling thunderbolts from their garrets gave way to affable co-critics doing online chats . . . writing personal essays and exploring their own biases,” Kachka writes. “For a very long time, Michi got her way,” one anonymous source said, “until very recently people started pushing back in a big way, and I think that was part of her leaving.’ She could be a diva, says this source, ‘but in a way I fucking admire it. The world would be a sorrier place without divas.’” Currently, Kakutani is working on a book with Tim Duggan. “A cultural history of ‘alternative facts,’” The Death of Truth will be published next year.

    Former deputy prime minister of the UK Nick Clegg is writing a book. How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again) will explain “precisely how this historic mistake can be reversed and how the country can be reunited in the process.” How to Stop Brexit will be published by Bodley Head in October.

    The Verge looks at how the right-wing violence in Charlottesville is changing tech companies’ commitment to content neutrality. “In the aftermath of public violence by explicitly white supremacist groups,” writes Russell Brandom, concerns over free speech and neutrality “have less sway than ever before. The result is newfound scrutiny among platforms and service providers, and new questions about what that scrutiny will mean outside of hate groups.”

    n+1 previews Jarett Kobek’s The Future Won’t Be Long, which will be published in August by Viking.

    At the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian profiles Julian Assange. Although Assange has been unable to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the last five years, his social life is still active. One regular visitor who stopped by while Khatchadourian was there was Pamela Anderson. “Assange led her to the conference room, and they spoke for about an hour—their conversation disguised by white noise, though Assange’s voice dominated, in long soliloquies. (‘I’m being persecuted!’ he declared at one point, loud enough to be audible through the walls,)” Khatchadourian recalls. “After their meeting, the two emerged. Anderson held a notebook and a pen. ‘Hours go by, and I take a lot of notes,’ she later told me.”