• February 23, 2016

    Umberto Eco’s final book, Pape Satàn Aleppe: Chronicles of a Liquid Society, will be published this weekend in Italy. The book was originally slated to come out in May, but the date was changed after Eco passed away this past Friday. Pape Satàn Aleppe is a collection of Eco’s essays for the magazine L’Espresso dating back to 2000. At The Guardian, Elisabetta Sgarbi, Eco’s Italian publisher, calls the new volume “an ironic book, as withering as he was.” There is no word yet about when the book will be released in English.

    In the wake of Jeb Bush’s announcement that he’s suspending his presidential campaign, journalist Ashley Parker writes that reporters will miss him: “He was your goofy dad, your awkward uncle. He bungled a policy rollout in Nevada when he called ‘Supergirl’ ‘hot’ (c’mon, Dad!), he was delightfully befuddled when his Apple Watch began ringing during a meeting with an Iowa newspaper. . . . Jeb almost seemed to think aloud in real time, and we got to watch him muddle and bumble through, just like any real person.”

    Hamilton, the hip-hop musical based on Ron Chernow’s biography of the founding father, has won the The Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.

    Magaret Sullivan

    Magaret Sullivan

    Margaret Sullivan is leaving her post as the New York Times public editor to become a media columnist for the Washington Post. Sullivan has held the job since 2012 and was not shy about criticizing her employers. In December 2015, Sullivan wrote a scathing column criticizing an erroneous Times story about the San Bernardino shooters’ use of social media. On the paper’s Op-Ed page, Sullivan called for systemic change in the way the paper handles anonymous sources, and said the story was “wrong” and that it “involved a failure of sufficient skepticism at every level of the reporting and editing process” (she quoted her colleagues, including executive editor Dean Baquet, agreeing with her assessment). As Michael Calderone writes at Huffpost Media, Sullivan was the first public editor at the Times to fully embrace social media and the immediacy of the web, writing quick reactions to stories online and creating features such as the Monocle Meter, which allowed readers to send in examples of unintentionally hilarious—or possibly fake—trend pieces.  

    Tonight at the Center for Fiction in New York, Richard Price will discuss his work and lead a master class in writing.

  • February 22, 2016

    At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin, whose most recent book is the Supreme Court study The Nine, looks back at the career of Antonin Scalia. Toobin points out that Scalia—unlike “the great Justices of the Supreme Court,” who “have always looked forward”—always “looked backward.” The author has some advice for Obama as he considers who might fill the empty seat: “Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor.”

    Colm Toibin explains how Henry James’s family “tried to keep him in the closet.”

    Rob Sheffield, the Rolling Stone regular and the author of Love Is a Mix Tape, wrote one of the most powerful tributes to David Bowie following his death. Apparently he didn’t stop there. On Twitter, Sheffield writes: “over the past month I’ve written a book on David Bowie. ‘On Bowie’ will be published in June by Dey Street Books.”

    “James Franco wants to buy the rights to your memoir.” Those are the first words of the very funny trailer for author-director Stephen Elliott’s new movie, After Adderall, which stars Elliott and is loosely based on the author’s experiences after his memoir, The Adderall Diaries, was optioned by James Franco, who gave the film project to director Pamela Romanowsky. Elliott has not been shy about his feelings regarding the film version of The Adderall Diaries, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and will be in theaters this Spring. At New York magazine, he wrote: “Almost nothing in the movie is ‘true’—in terms of both the source material, as it was published, and my life, as it has been lived.”

    Punctuation in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and in Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (right)

    Punctuation in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and in Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (right)

    At Medium, Adam J. Calhoun has posted a fun and fascinating look at punctuation in novels. “I wondered,” he writes, “what did my favorite books look like without words. Can you tell them apart or are they all a-mush?” As it turns out, you can. He presents graphs that show how often authors such as Jane Austen, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, and others use commas, periods, question marks, etc. In the most striking visual, he removes all the words, but leaves the quotation marks, from passages in Blood Meridian and Absalom, Absalom! The resulting pages, as you’ll see, look radically different.


    In what is probably his final column for Al Jazeera America, Chris Lehmann notes that “Al Jazeera America’s pending closure is but one dismal entry in a long-running journalistic dance of the dead.” Equally alarming, he points out, are the ways that the pockets of journalism that have survived are compromising and “adapting to new market conditions.” Lehmann writes: “The polite euphemism for such rampant self-prostitution in our brave new digital media world is ‘sponsored content’—i.e., writing that’s made to look, feel and read like actual journalism while promoting a paid-for commercial agenda.”

  • February 20, 2016

    Harper Lee, author of the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, has died. The Times obituary revisits, among other things, her life in the south, her friendship with Truman Capote, the the controversy surrounding her second novel, Go Tell a Watchman.

  • Umberto Eco

    Umberto Eco

    Umberto Eco has died at the age of 84. The author, best known for his 1980 novel, The Name of the Rose, once described his library to the Paris Review, revealing the habit of mind that made him a genius: “I own a total of about fifty thousand books. But as a rare books collector I am fascinated by the human propensity for deviating thought. So I collect books about subjects in which I don’t believe, like kabbalah, alchemy, magic, invented languages. Books that lie, albeit unwittingly. I have Ptolemy, not Galileo, because Galileo told the truth. I prefer lunatic science.” Eco had a favorite branch of lunatic science—list making, the subject of his 2009 book, The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay. This encyclopedic tour of Western civilization was also an investigation into how we try to tame the universe (and our own spiraling thoughts), and face our mortality, as Eco put it: “How, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. . . . We like lists because we don’t want to die.” He was deeply interested in language, telling Minna Proctor in a 2002 Bookforum interview: “I wrote a book about the search for the perfect language. I examined all the attempts throughout history to create perfect languages. My paternoster is a combination of real paternosters in several universal languages from the last three or four centuries, including Esperanto, plus, if I remember correctly, a piece from Gulliver’s Travels.” It makes sense, then, that he was also a fierce defender of free speech in Italy: “Imagine a United States where Bush owns the New York Times, theWashington Post, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, plus Hollywood, too. Wouldn’t this monopolistic concentration concern American citizens? You’re upset by the mere fact that Bill Gates runs Windows and Internet Explorer. Well, that’s our situation.” For more wise words from Eco, listen to his 2005 interview on Bookworm, and watch this charming video, “Advice to the Young,” filmed last year: “Don’t pretend immediately to receive the Nobel Prize.”  

  • February 19, 2016

    Jill Soloway

    Jill Soloway

    Transparent creator Jill Soloway is adapting Chris Kraus’s novel I Love Dick for television. Amazon has ordered a pilot episode of the show, which is being billed as a comedy, but if the industry press is any guide, Hollywood’s idea of what the book actually is remains fuzzy (“sex-comedy,” “pyscho-sexual novel,” “Rashomon-style”). We’re intrigued to see how the Emmy Award–winning Soloway handles the source material, which is mainly made up of letters (and faxes!) between the protagonist, her husband, and the all-powerful character “Dick,” or, as Deadline Hollywood describes him, the “off-putting but charismatic professor.”

    Facebook has announced that it will open up its Instant Articles publishing platform to all writers, and will share the ad revenue that a freelancer’s post makes with the author.  

    After the Pope declared that Donald Trump was not a Christian, the presidential candidate quickly responded, in a statement, that “for a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” The New Yorker was apparently not impressed with Trump’s answer, and the magazine unleashed one of their most formidable weapons against the Donald: They turned a copy editor loose on his statement.

    Maria Bustillos visits the New Directions offices and chats with the publisher Barbara Epler, who reveals part of her pitch to prospective authors: “I can totally guarantee you that we will get lots of reviews, because I will chew on people until they review it. I’ll just personally chew on people.”

    Ben Ratliff, whose book Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways of Listening in An Age of Musical Plenty proposes a clever, genre-averse strategy for music appreciation online, recently sat down with critic Alex Ross to discuss musical taste and listening habits in the age of Pandora and Spotify.  

  • February 18, 2016

    Choire Sicha, who is on hiatus from his site, The Awl, has taken a job with Vox media as the director of partner platforms.

    Meanwhile, one of those platforms is getting significantly smaller: Yahoo is killing off seven of its “content verticals” (i.e. digital magazines), leaving just four remaining. Visitors to the site will still find “news,” “sports,” “finance,” and “lifestyle,” but subjects like “parenting” and “health” have failed to make the cut.

    Álvaro Enrigue

    Álvaro Enrigue

    Apple is refusing to create a key for the FBI to unlock iPhones. This may be a principled decision, but it’s also a marketing move

    The Goodman theater in Chicago has staged an ambitious five-and-a-half-hour adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666. In a Times review, Charles Isherwood admires the spirit and enterprise of the stage version but writes that it ultimately falls short: “As is always the case when a doorstop novel is heaved onto the stage, the inevitable shortcuts drain Bolaño’s tale of its shimmering, mysterious layers, so that we seem to be watching a literal-minded sketch of events, not entering into them.” (To be fair, Isherwood doesn’t seem to care for the novel much either.)
    Tonight in New York, there are literary events galore, all well-worth attending: At McNally Jackson, Hannah Tennant-Moore will perform with Sara Majka and Brigid Hughes; at the Community Bookstore, Álvaro Enrigue will read from his forthcoming novel, Sudden Death; at CUNY, Paul Krugman will discuss inequality with Mayor Bill de Blasio; and at BookCourt, chef Deuki Hong and author Matt Rodbard will talk about their cookbook, Koreatown.  

  • February 17, 2016

    Dana Spiotta. Photo by Jessica Marx

    Dana Spiotta, photo by Jessica Marx

    The New York Times magazine has a profile of the novelist Dana Spiotta, whose new book Innocents and Others, is out next month. At one point, Spiotta recalls some early advice she got from Gordon Lish, which she does appear to have taken on board in her work: ‘‘Whatever you’re trying to hide is what you need to write from. . . . Whatever you’re trying to hide is what makes you an interesting writer.’’

    As the South Carolina primary approaches, it’s well worth reading Christian Lorentzen’s report from New Hampshire, if you haven’t already: “We woke before dawn and drove through the snow to Manchester, where we saw Carly Fiorina complain to supporters in a basement about her exclusion from the next night’s GOP debate due to insufficient poll numbers. She went on for some time about holding national referendums via smartphone, an idea that I (a flip-phone user) find anti-democratic.”

    And Stephen King has also recently weighed in on the race.

    Isaac Chotiner interviewed Jill Abramson about her firing from the New York Times as executive editor in 2014. (Along the way, she notes how few in-depth pieces have been written about Donald Trump, considering the amount of overall coverage, and recommends this one from the Washington Post.)

    Meanwhile, the Times is being sued for gender discrimination by another former employee, Arielle Davies.

    A man named Matt Steel has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his new edition of Thoreau’s Walden, which adapts the language to increase its “accessibility”: “Having gone through a period of career burnout, followed by radical lifestyle change, I could see that Thoreau’s ideas around simplicity, consumerism, and busy-ness had an uncanny relevance to the challenges we face today. I shared my enthusiasm for the book with anyone willing to listen. But I kept having to couch my recommendations: ‘This is an incredible book, but the 19th-century language is hard to digest at times. But stick with it, and you’ll be glad you did!’ This situation bothered me.”

  • February 16, 2016

    The New Yorker’s vast tome on the inner workings of the website TMZ is worth reading, if only for its portrait of a celebrity-gossip rag as a last bastion of old-school investigative reporting: Nicholas Schmidle writes that founder Harvey Levin “has trained many employees in the art of court reporting. Ben Presnell, who worked at ‘Celebrity Justice’ and, later, at TMZ, told me he spent most of his days at the Los Angeles County Municipal Courthouse, searching for new filings and trying to charm clerks into giving him information. Currently, TMZ has three reporters stationed full-time at the courthouse; the Los Angeles Times has one court reporter.” (Less salubrious methods, of course, are also documented in the piece.)

    Louise Mensch

    Louise Mensch

    Right-wing media can only get livelier now that novelist and former UK Conservative MP Louise Mensch, a Twitter stalwart, is launching a new website, Heat Street, for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Understand, it will not be for the faint of heart: A spokesperson is quoted as promising “a spirit of free speech and no ‘safe spaces.’”

    Much to the chagrin of the British press, Daniel Craig, who has already expressed a certain weariness about the idea of continuing to play James Bond, is now set to star in a TV adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.

    And John Micklethwait, former editor of The Economist and now editor in chief of Bloomberg, confides in the New York Times about the delicate complexities his job has involved in recent weeks, as Michael Bloomberg has flirted with a presidential run: It seems Micklethwait has been made to feel like “a character in a Graham Greene novel.”

    The Guardian has an obituary of Michael Sheringham, the great scholar of French literature who died earlier this year.

  • February 15, 2016

    Justice Antonin Scalia’s death inspired quick, informative, and eloquent responses from Supreme Court scholar Ian Millhiser (austhor of Injustices), who looks at how Scalia’s absence could affect the Court’s docket; Jonathan Chait, who argues that Scalia’s death will change “everything”; and Dave Holmes, who writes, in response to Scalia’s aggressively antigay stances: “It is a curious feeling when a man who devoted a significant chunk of his career to your oppression dies.” Some of those paying homage to Scalia—the man who provided the title “Irreparable Harm” to Renata Adler’s analysis of Bush v. Gore—have done so perhaps a bit too quickly: On Twitter, former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann calls him “Anthony Scalia,” and likens Scalia’s written dissents to Shakespeare’s sonnets.

    Speaking of Shakespeare, the Oscar-winning actress Glenda Jackson has been cast as King Lear, “considered one of the crowning roles in any actor’s career,” in a new production of the play.

    Ada Calhoun

    Ada Calhoun

    Ada Calhoun is the author the 2015 book St. Marks Is Dead, a history of the fabled East Village throughway. This week at the New Yorker, she writes about the demise of another historical part of St. Marks Place—St. Mark’s Bookshop. The bookstore has been struggling for years (in 2014, it moved to its fourth and latest location in attempt to survive in the increasingly high-rent neighborhood), and last week it seemed to be on the verge of permanent closure (the store owes more than $60,000 in back rent, for starters). Calhoun, a longtime customer, pays tribute to the bookstore, “a polished jewel in the scuzzy crown of the East Village,” a place where “smart if sometimes snooty clerks could talk your ear off about Roland Barthes” and where “the zine collection was impeccably curated.” But she also points out that the store “has also seemed frustratingly unwilling to seek out new streams of revenue. The former employees I’ve spoken to have mentioned various innovations that were floated over the years by friends of the store: offering deeper discounts, as the thriving Strand does; investing in advertising, or opening an in-store café like McNally Jackson.”

    Laynie Browne offers a heartfelt tribute to the recently deceased poet C. D. Wright.

    Rolling Stone is looking for new ways to reach a larger audience and generate revenue: The magazine is reportedly developing a docu-series with the Showtime network. “The magazine, like its rivals, is in the process of trying to ramp up its digital and live events business under heir apparent Gus Wenner,” WWD reports.  “But insiders said that drumming up new advertisers for Rolling Stone has been a challenge in light of recent controversies,” such as its discredited article on rape at the University of Virginia and Sean Penn’s extended report on his meeting with El Chapo.

    “Ferrante fever” has caused in a surge in tourism in Naples, as The Guardian reports in an article about Elena Ferrante’s popularity (which has also resulted in a new television series based on her Neapolitan novels).

  • February 12, 2016

    MTV News is relaunching with some big-name new hires from both old- and new-media, including Grantland’s former editorial director Dan Fierman, longtime Spin author Charles Aaron, Pitchfork Review editor Jessica Hopper, political author Ana Marie Cox, and the New Republic’s Jamil Smith (among others).

    The UK newspaper The Independent will publish its last print edition next month.

    Gawker’s executive editor John Cook has given his writers the go-ahead to make political donations (and to write about the candidates they give to) as long as they disclose their gift. In a memo to Gawker staff, Cook says:  “Writing about political candidates to whom one has donated money or time is often described, inaccurately, as a ‘conflict of interest.’ It’s really more a confluence of interest—as long as you make no claims to objectivity, there is no reason to believe that the fact of a political donation could somehow compromise the authenticity of the views you are expressing.” At the Washington Post, Erik Wemple disagrees with Cook’s position, writing that “the discipline of a donation ban is a painless way to ensure that coverage is as fair and flexible as possible.”   

    Darryl Pinckney

    Darryl Pinckney

    The forthcoming book, Is That Kafka: 99 Finds, is a volume of Kafka ephemera collected by Reiner Stach in the course of assembling his three-volume biography. An excerpt at The Nation finds Kafka contemplating his desk, in a passage that any writer can relate to: ”Now I’ve taken a closer look at my desk and realized that nothing good can be produced on it. There’s so much lying around here, it creates disorder without regularity, and with none of that agreeableness of disorderly things that otherwise makes every disorder bearable.”

    On Saturday at the Brooklyn Public Library, frequent New York Review of Books contributor Darryl Pinckney will discuss his new novel, Black Deutschland.