• December 17, 2018

    The Morning News is getting ready for its annual literary competition the Tournament of Books, in which a group of critics pit books directly against each other, with the winners moving ahead, bracket-style, until the final book is left standing. Competitions start in March, but the eighteen finalists that will compete, along with the judges, are listed here.

    Sam Lipsyte

    Sam Lipsyte

    The Paris Review has posted an entertaining and insightful Art of Fiction interview with Sam Lipsyte, author of the novels The Ask (2010) and Hark (which will be published in January). “I failed a lot. As a kid I experienced a sense of failure about many things, whether it was sports or even certain academic pursuits. I got shitty grades in every subject but English and history. And I see so much that is fascinating in failure.”

    France has recently seen a series of protests by the gilets jaunes, a leaderless group whose members are furious with the ways the government has mistreated and abandoned them. At the New Yorker, Alexadra Schwartz interviews Édouard Louis, whose novel The End of Eddy follows a young gay man living in a region that itself has been deeply neglected by the French government. Louis, who attended a recent gilets jaunes protest, is unhappy with the ways that the group has been treated: “Something about the extreme violence and class contempt that is being unleashed on this movement paralyzes me.”

    Notorious button-pusher Michel Houellebecq, author of Submission and The Elementary Particles, claims that Trump is “one of the best American presidents.”

    In a pre-emptive deal, Morrow paid seven figures for Kate Russell’s debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, which is narrated by a fifteen-year-old who has an affair with her middle-aged English teacher. The novel, which according to the publisher is “a Lolita story for the #MeToo era,” has already sold in twenty-two countries. The book is scheduled to be released in 2020. In other book news, Penguin Press has bought the rights to Thomas Meyer’s biography of Hannah Arendt.

  • December 14, 2018

    In a letter posted on Literary Hub, Tin House publisher and editor in chief Win McCormack announced that the magazine will discontinue print editions after its twentieth anniversary issue is published next June. McCormack writes that the magazine will continue to publish online, and that money previously used for printing costs will be shifted to Tin House Books and the Tin House Workshop. “Twenty years feels like the right time to be stepping away and moving on to new adventures,” said editor Rob Spillman in a statement. “I look forward to focusing on other opportunities at the intersection of art and activism.”

    Tommy Orange

    Tommy Orange’s There There has won this year’s Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.

    The New York Times talks to Sigrid Nunez about fame, Susan Sontag, and why she became a writer. Nunez said that the attention paid to writers like Sontag never appealed to her. “It was very clear to me that even if I wanted something like that, I could never handle it,” she explained. “I became a writer because it was something I could do alone and hidden in my room.”

    Columbia Journalism Review’s Andrew McCormick looks at the inner workings of Jones Day, a law firm which has “become a go-to for media executives facing union drives.”

    Medium owner Ev Williams is looking to buy more media properties, Bloomberg reports.

    Facebook fact checkers are speaking out against the company, The Guardian reports. The company had partnered with Snopes and other fact checking organizations after being criticized for spreading fake news during the 2016 election, but the fact checkers say their work has made no discernable impact on the problem. “They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said former Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck.”

  • December 13, 2018

    New York magazine is unionizing with NewsGuild New York, joining other high-profile publications—including the New Yorker, Vice, and The Guardian—that have organized in recent years. Rebecca Traister, one of New York’s most popular writers, was happy about the effort: “The fact that the industry itself is moving back to collective bargaining is thrilling to me. This is what creates more stability and security for workers.” One of the magazine’s other marquee writers, Jonathan Chait, isn’t convinced it is a good idea, tweeting, “I spent hours talking to unions representatives. I came away from those conversations more, not less, concerned. I don’t know how it will go and I hope I am pleasantly surprised.”

    The New York Times writes about the big boost that an appearance on late-night TV can give a novelist. The article notes that Seth Meyers is particularly interested in bringing lesser-known literary authors onto the show, quoting Meyers as saying, “As much as I love having Stephen King or Jonathan Franzen or George Saunders, we also saw it as an opportunity to have diverse writers and writers who are publishing their first or second novel, because this will probably mean more for them than people who are already established.” Myers is not the only host helping the literary cause: When Kevin Young appeared on Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, his book of poetry, Brown, jumped from 2,712 to 335 in the Amazon rankings.  

    James Alan McPherson

    The San Diego Union Tribune lists the highest-paid authors of 2018. James Patterson topped the list at eighty-six million dollars last year while Michael Wolff joined the elite earners for the first time, making thirteen million dollars for Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

    Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, has sold three million copies since its publication four weeks ago. Obama is extending her book tour into 2019.

    At LitHub, Marcus Burke remembers his mentor James Alan McPherson on the fortieth anniversary of his Pulitzer Prize win. “Jim’s concerns were global in scope, while remaining connected to an individual’s humanity and truth,” he writes. “In carving out and illustrating the idiosyncrasies of his characters, Jim’s use of floating narration gives full and unflinching consideration to the good, the bad, and the ugly that exists in us all, making the panoramic concern that much more compelling.”

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, Claudia Rankine talks to Juliana Spahr about her new book, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment.

  • December 12, 2018

    “In its highest forms, influence . . . derives from courage,” Time magazine editor Edward Felsenthal writes in his announcement of “The Guardians” as 2018’s Person of the Year. “Like all human gifts, courage comes to us at varying levels and at varying moments. This year we are recognizing four journalists and one news organization who have paid a terrible price to seize the challenge of this moment: Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md. They are representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world—as of Dec. 10, at least 52 journalists have been murdered in 2018—who risk all to tell the story of our time.”

    Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Photo: Sue Kwon

    At Columbia Journalism Review, Mia Shuang Li details the many ways that Google’s Dragonfly project, a proposed “censorship-compliant search engine” in China, would harm journalists and “embolden other authoritarian states.”

    PEN America has announced the judges and nominees for their 2019 Literary Awards. Nominees include Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s The Circuit, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, Jabari Asim’s We Can’t Breathe, and Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds. Winners will be announced in February.

    Next year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction judges have been chosen. Peter Florence, Liz Calder, Guo Xiaolu, Afua Hirsch, and Joanna MacGregor will choose next year’s winner.

    Indie pop duo Tegan and Sara are writing a joint memoir. High School will be published by MCD (part of Farrar, Straus and Giroux) next fall.

    Members of Slate’s editorial union have voted to allow a strike if necessary, Bloomberg reports. On Twitter, writer Jordan Weissmann explained that the vote came after the company refused to remove “right-to-work” language from employee contracts. “Slate is not ideologically rigid. But we are, overall, a progressive publication,” he wrote. “I think our audience expects the whole magazine to reflect those values, not just what we write.”

  • December 11, 2018

    R.O. Kwon. Photo: Smeeta Mahanti

    The National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for this year’s John Leonard Award for Best First Book. Nominees include Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black, Jamel Brinkely’s A Lucky Man, Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River, Tommy Orange’s There There, Tara Westover’s Educated, R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, and Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry. The winner will be selected in January.

    John le Carré is working on a new novel, the New York Times reports. Agent Running in the Field will be published by Viking next October. Little is known about the new book’s plot, but the Times asserts that “it does sound sure to include the political turmoil and interpersonal twists and turns that have been le Carré’s trademarks.

    Tracy Morgan is working on a cookbook based on his TBS sitcom, The Last O.G. “This project is really special to me,” Morgan said. “I want this book to not only inspire mad culinary skills, but give back to the Brooklyn community where I grew up.” A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to Fortune Society, a non-profit that supports people returning to their communities after incarceration.

    “Political poetry [does] much more than vent,” writes poet laureate Tracy K. Smith at the Times. “It has become a means of owning up to the complexity of our problems, of accepting the likelihood that even we the righteous might be implicated by or complicit in some facet of the very wrongs we decry.”

    At the New Yorker, Osita Nwanevu examines the misplaced mourning for the “old WASP aristocracy.”

    Teju Cole and Rowan Ricardo Phillips discuss tennis, talent, and Phillips’s new book, The Circuit. “Tennis is the perfect sport for late capitalism,” Phillips said. “I think people think that they’re escaping politics when they embrace Roger Federer. But they’re totally rooting for capitalism, right? There’s such a commodified way to be a Roger Federer fan. . . . It comes with all the accessories, and they’re expensive.”

  • December 10, 2018

    Tyehimba Jess

    Tyehimba Jess

    Poet, memoirist, and critic Meghan O’Rourke has been named the new editor of the Yale Review.

    Molly Stern—who edited Michelle Obama’s Becoming, among many other successful titles—is leaving her job as publisher of Crown Books, apparently in response to the recent merging of Crown and Random House. David Drake, Crown’s executive VP, will fill Stern’s position.

    Jon Krakauer has sued playwrights Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard over their musical adaptation of his book Into the Wild. Krakauer originally granted the writers the right to use the title in their adaptation, but has now changed his mind after reading the play, and has requested that the writers not attach his book’s title or his name to their musical.

    We are excited to learn the official publication dates of Benjamin Moser’s new biography of Susan Sontag (September 3, 2019) and of Caleb Crain’s second novel, Overthrow (August 27, 2019).

    Novelist Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings and the much-anticipated Black Leopard, Red Wolf, names his favorite books of 2018.

    Serbian-American author Téa Obreht—whose debut, The Tiger’s Wife (2009), was a finalist for the National Book Award—has sold her novel Inland to Random House. According to the publisher, Inland is set in 1893 “in the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory.”

    Novelist Karan Mahajan (The Association of Small Bombs) interviews doctor and author Siddhartha Mukherjee, whose book The Emperor of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize, about art, Indian identity, and the challenges of writing about medical science, about what we know and what we don’t know.

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, Tyehimba Jess, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his book Olio, will introduce readings by three of his favorite poets—LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Douglas Kearney, and Tracie Morris—and read his own work. The event will culminate in a musical performance of Jess’s poetry.

  • December 7, 2018

    In their annual state of the media column, Mother Jones examines “the toxic combination of Facebook’s anti-democratic effect, Donald Trump’s authoritarian presidency, and the rise of a bolder class of propagandists,” which they write “is the story that in many ways defined this year, and will probably define the next two years too.”

    Michelle Obama Becoming

    Michelle Obama

    At Columbia Journalism Review, Jack Crosbie looks at the Charle Koch Institute’s Media and Journalism Fellowship, part of the Koch family’s attempt to rebrand “as a friend of the Fourth Estate.”

    In her “By the Book” interview, Michelle Obama discusses the Obama family book club, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and her unlikely childhood hero, Pippi Longstocking.

    LitHub talks to Meghan O’Rourke, who was recently named editor of the Yale Review.

    Josephine Livingstone talks to Tavi Gevinson about her decision to close her website, Rookie.

    The Guardian’s Laura Waddell considers the pros and cons of tow recently-announced literary sequels. “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as a dissection of authoritarian attitudes to women’s freedom, has never felt more relevant in the era of Trump,” she writes approvingly. But Waddell feels that André Aciman’s sequel to Call Me By Your Name might detract from the original. “It seems a shame to take a work that is a masterclass in nostalgia and repackage it as the first instalment of an ongoing story,” she explains. “Letting the reader glimpse adults who have never forgotten one another at the end of the first book perfectly captures the sense of life passing, special people left lingering in the heart ever after.”

  • December 6, 2018

    Denis Johnson

    At The Point, Aaron Thier examines the themes of addiction, recovery, and god in Denis Johnson’s work. “Whatever ‘God’ meant to Johnson in his private life, ‘God’ in his fiction is a way of referring to those aspects of human experience that seem excessive or out of scale,” he writes. “It is the extra something—the charge that passes between a human being and the universe.”

    UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for an international investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    New Republic editor J.J. Gould is leaving the magazine.

    Vulture’s Lila Shapiro looks at the publishing world’s uneasiness about the industry’s financial dependence on books about Trump in 2018. “On the one hand, there was a sense of relief that, in a relatively flat sales environment where no fiction had sold more than a million copies since 2015 (when Trump descended the golden escalator), a few nonfiction chronicles had tent-poled the industry,” she writes. “But there was also an unmistakable air of embarrassment over these riches—and a sense of loss for the sleeper hits that might have been, if there had just been a little more media oxygen in the world.”

    At Harper’s Magazine, Janine di Giovanni reflects on life as a female war reporter, the late Marie Colvin, and Matt Heineman’s new movie about Colvin’s life, A Private War. “Since I began reporting from conflict zones in the early 1990s, I had been asked dozens of times whether women reported war differently from men. ‘No,’ I would bristle, annoyed by the question,” di Giovanni remembers. “I went to the front lines with soldiers and embedded with rebel armies. I lived for months in the field or the bush; I did not wash; I carried the dead and wounded out of trenches. I did everything my male colleagues did, and tried to mirror their emotions. At least I thought I did.”

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, Jonathan Lethem and Lauren Groff read from their recent books.

  • December 5, 2018

    Literary magazine A Public Space is starting a book publishing imprint. “If you’ve encountered any of the writers that have been published in the magazine, you know that it’s a place for discovery,” said founder Brigid Hughes “and the books are going to have that kind of identity as well.” A Public Space Books will release its first book next year.

    Tana French. Photo: Kathrin Baumbach

    Call Me By Your Name author André Aciman is working on a sequel to the book.

    At BOMB, Francisco Cantú talks to John Moore about violence, storytelling, and his new photography book, Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border.  

    A report released by Reporters Without Borders this week has found that dozens of journalists have been killed by organized crime syndicates since last year. “As opposed to Syria or Afghanistan, where the press is often killed by terrorist groups, this report shows the link when government and corrupt organizations work in tandem to silence the work of journalists in a really covert way,” said Reporters Without Borders spokesperson Noni Ghani. “These things don’t just happen in conflict zones or countries at war. They really happen everywhere.”

    The first two novels of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series are being developed for TV. An eight-episode adaptation of In the Woods and The Likeness will premiere on Starz next year.

    HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg contacted Washington Post employees to find out “what they would say about Amazon if they weren’t worried it might cost them their jobs.” Responses ranged from uneasiness about how Amazon treats its workers to hatred for the company’s website and products. “Bezos has so much money, he is publicly mulling throwing it into a trash can in outer space while his employees have to donate vacation time to each other when they get cancer,” said one anonymous Post employee. “Literally he would rather launch money into space for no purpose than give it to the people who work for him. I love working at the Post, but Amazon sucks.”

  • December 4, 2018

    The City of New York has proposed designating the Strand bookstore’s building as a historical landmark. But current owner Nancy Bass Wyden is asking the city to reconsider their plans. Wyden says that the designation would strain the stores finances by making renovations and upkeep more costly, and that she has no plans to sell the building to developers. “The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Wyden said, referencing Amazon’s planned headquarters in Queens. “Just leave me alone.”

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts have announced the recipients of this year’s Arts Writers Grants.

    Margo Jefferson

    In The Believer, Zinzi Clemmons talks to Margo Jefferson about intersectionality, feminism, and her experience as a Newsweek journalist in the 1970s. I wanted to write about everything that white male critics were not writing about,” she said. “I remember once at the books meeting at Newsweek, we were picking books and I decided I was going to write about Toni Cade Bambara’s The Sea Birds Are Still Alive. This particularly snide editor was leafing through it and said, ‘The Sea Birds Are Still Alive—does anybody care?’ Those kinds of possibly genuinely offhand remarks sent you screaming into a black colleague’s office, or would just plunge the heart and surround you with that kind of angry defensiveness as you did your work.”

    At The Atlantic, Rachel Donadio investigates the person—or people—behind the figure of Elena Ferrante. “Writing as Elena Ferrante seems to me a metafictional project, a literary game of the highest order. But it’s also a far-reaching exploration of what it means to write as a woman, to be perceived as a woman writer—and what expansive possibilities may emerge when our assumptions about the author’s identity are subverted,” she writes. “Perhaps you, the construct that is Elena Ferrante, aspire to break down the categories that too often constrain or pigeonhole a complex literary project.”

    James Frey has won the 2018 award for bad sex in fiction for his novel Katerina. “Frey prevailed against a strong all-male shortlist by virtue of the sheer number and length of dubious erotic passages in his book,” the judges explained in a statement. “The multiple scenes of sustained fantasy in Katerina could have won Frey the award many times over.”

    “I needed a protagonist who could do things only males could have done in their era,” says Unsheltered author Barbara Kingsolver on why she sometimes writes from a male point-of-view. “In creating male characters I draw on what I know well (for example, Thatcher’s scientific curiosity) and steer clear of what I don’t (for example, how it feels to have an erection).”