• January 6, 2016

    It seems that Lee Bo, the latest of five Hong Kong booksellers to have gone missing recently, may be being held by authorities in mainland China. CNN cites one source as suggesting that a publisher Lee and the others are connected to “had been planning on publishing a book about the ‘love affairs’ of China’s President Xi Jinping during his time working ‘in the provinces.’”

    To make amends for its infamous “80 Books Every Man Should Read” list—”What can we say? We messed up”—Esquire greets the new year with a new list, selected by women including Roxane Gay, Lauren Groff, Anna Holmes, and Sloane Crosley.

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles

    And Vulture asked authors which books had changed their lives: Among the highlights are Alexander Chee, who named Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, Celeste Ng (Anne Sexton’s Transformations), and Eileen Myles (Violette Leduc’s La Bâtarde).

    Yet more drama at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whose manager, Michael E. Schroeder, has now been removed. Schroeder has issued a bizarre apology to readers of a pseudonymous piece that appeared in two local Connecticut newspapers he publishes: The offending article attacked a Nevada judge presiding over a case that involves the casino interests of GOP donor and new Review-Journal owner Sheldon Adelson. Meanwhile in the Las Vegas newsroom, staffers have been being briefed on how to cover stories about their own boss.

    Now that the requisite fifty years are up, we get to find out what went on behind the scenes of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Literature, which was awarded to Mikhail Sholokhov: The list of those who lost out includes first-time nominees Theodor Adorno, Anna Akhmatova, Alejo Carpentier, Alan Sillitoe, and Marguerite Yourcenar.

    Gabriel García Márquez’s vast archives are to be made available online.

    At long last, someone has used data to determine that most books really are better (or at least better liked) than their movie adaptations: Comparing IMDB and Goodreads scores for the same titles, Vocativ researchers found that the original books did better 74 per cent of the time. It’s unclear just how Hollywood fared in cases (like Pride and Prejudice) where there have been multiple adaptations of the same material, but perhaps that should merit extra points for effort.

  • January 5, 2016

    Only a couple of years after winning the Costa novel award for Life After Life, Kate Atkinson has received it again for the sequel, A God in Ruins, making her the first writer ever to win three Costa prizes.

    Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin adds her voice to the conversation about Claire Vaye Watkins’s “On Pandering” and Marlon James’s assertion that white women’s tastes shape the publishing industry: “It is easier to complain about the power you don’t have than to think about how you are exerting the power you do have. And fighting for your own rights is not the same as fighting for equality. Women working for gender equality, rather than the equality of everyone, are not heroes.”

    Mark Zuckerberg recently bade farewell to his Year of Books, having made it through two books a month in 2015: “Reading has given me more perspective on a number of topics,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “from science to religion, from poverty to prosperity, from health to energy to social justice, from political philosophy to foreign policy, and from history to futuristic fiction. This challenge has been intellectually fulfilling, and I come away with a greater sense of hope and optimism that our society can make greater progress in all of these areas.” If you’re wondering how he reached that conclusion, you can explore his reading list further here.

    Meanwhile, it seems another tech billionaire has had a still greater influence on America’s reading habits lately: The New York Times draws our attention to “the Bill Gates bump”—which has been enjoyed this year by books such as Eula Biss’s On Immunity—and interviews Gates about his sideline as a book critic.

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    And the Millions has previewed the year in fiction, which will include new works by Don DeLillo, Julian Barnes, Annie Proulx, Dana Spiotta, Darryl Pinckney, and Curtis Sittenfeld, poems by Dana Gioia, and the debut novel of short-story writer David Means, as well as translations of Herta Müller, Javier Marías, Álvaro Enrigue, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

    Roxane Gay’s book Hunger, about food and the body, will also be out later this year: “Soon, you realize that the whole world might be your apartment, because there’s no room for you out in the world.” And in a conversation with the LA Review of Books, Gay named some of her “favorite, realest writers,” including Merritt Tierce, Randa Jarrar, and xTx.

    The Undefeated, ESPN’s site covering the intersection of sports and race, will finally be launching in 2016.

  • January 4, 2016

    Tom Clancy

    Tom Clancy

    A British intelligence file kept secret until last week reveals that President Reagan boned up for his meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1986 nuclear-disarmament talks in Iceland by reading Tom Clancy’s novel Red Storm Rising. The president thought Clancy’s Cold War thriller, which imagines events leading up to World War III, explained the Soviet Union so well that he strongly urged Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to read it too. 

    Tired of home-delivery problems, editors and reporters at the Boston Globe decided to deliver thousands of copies of the paper themselves on Sunday. The paper says that it was a “small gesture to show our Globe customers that we are working hard” to fix the recent problems in delivery service.

    George R. R. Martin has been working closely with the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones series, which is based on his novels, sharing with them the plots of his forthcoming books. This year, the TV series will, for the first time, reveal plot points of Martin’s next novel, The Winds of Winter, before the novel actually comes out. “I blew the Halloween deadline, and I’ve now blown the end of the year deadline,” Martin says. “And that almost certainly means that no, The Winds of Winter will not be published before the sixth season of Game of Thrones premieres in April.”  

    The National Book Critics Circle has released the results for the election to fill eight open spots on its board.

    According to Chartbeat, the “most engaging” digital story in 2015 was Graeme Wood’s “What ISIS Really Wants,” which appeared in The Atlantic. Second place went to Wired’s “The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress.”

    Pamela Paul answers some of the “most frequently asked questions” about the New York Times Book Review, where she is the top editor. How does one become a book reviewer? Do editors at the NYTBR ever commission reviews that they expect will be harsh? Do reviewers cover their friends’ books?  

    Luc Sante, the author of Low Life, discusses his new book, The Other Paris, and talks about what capitalism does to cities.  

    The West Hollywood house once owned by Nathanael West—author of The Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts—is for sale.

  • December 30, 2015

    Reporters without Borders has published one of the bleaker year-end reports, pointing out that 110 journalists were killed in 2015. The reasons for some of the deaths remain unknown, but it has been confirmed that at least sixty-seven of the journalists “were targeted because of their work or were killed while reporting.”

    At Variety, Thelma Adams looks at the problem of gender disparity in film criticism.

    Joanna Walsh

    Joanna Walsh

    The Barnes and Noble Review hasn’t been sending its regular newsletters this month, which has apparently caused some to wonder if the online publication is on the rocks. But Mary Ellen Keating, a senior VP of communications for the company, has assured readers that nothing is wrong: “We have no plans at this time to discontinue the BN Review. Weekly marketing emails were suspended only due to the holidays.”

    At the New Yorker, science writer Maria Konnikova explores “How Stories Deceive.”

    An interview with writer Joanna Walsh, author of a new story collection, Vertigo. “I like the idea that my stories are external to me, and that I ‘make contact’ with them. This image suits my process more than the ‘building’ metaphors I often hear, or Sontag’s thing about writing being like trying to shove a large piece of furniture through a doorway.”

  • December 29, 2015

    2015 was an eventful year in media that saw the death of David Carr, the introduction of the New York Times’s virtual-reality app, the groundbreaking Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover, and Jon Stewart’s departure from The Daily Show. The Observer rounds up the year’s biggest media stories, and looks ahead to the stories we’ll be hearing about in the new year.

    A Barnes and Noble in New York is applying for a liquor license. Perhaps they are celebrating the news that print is not dead?

    Amitav Ghosh

    Amitav Ghosh

    The New York Times Magazine’s The Lives They Lived” feature, which offers remembrances of notable people who have died in the past year, is a moving tribute to great artists, writers, and thinkers. But what happens if they die after the magazine’s deadline, which is generally about a week before the year ends? Editor Jake Silverstein says the publication will start including late-December deaths in the following year’s round-up: “This could be a news flash: It’s safe to die at the end of December now.”  

    An interview with novelist Amitav Ghosh, author of the Ibis Trilogy (recently reviewed by Eric Banks in Bookforum): “For me, the novel is an overarching form that can provide a unified field, if you like, where you can have emotions as well as cuisines as well as trade. All of that can come together in a novel, and, historically, they have. If you think of Balzac, or Melville, or Dickens, or Zola, that is what the novel did; it was this great synthetic form that drew in all these aspects of life.”

  • December 28, 2015

    Lauren Groff

    Lauren Groff

    In an interview with the Guardian, Claudia Rankine talks about Serena Williams, the reception of her book Citizen, and the difficulties one faces when calling out racism. “When white men are shooting black people, some of it is malice and some an out-of-control image of blackness in their minds. Darren Wilson told the jury that he shot Michael Brown because he looked ‘like a demon.’ And I don’t disbelieve it. Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people.”

    Rolling Stone weighs in on the year’s best music books.

    After parents successfully campaigned to remove Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian from a high-school’s curriculum, a local bookstore started a crowdfunding project to buy copies of the book for 350 students. When Hachette, the book’s publisher, heard of the project to distribute the book to students, it sent another 350 copies to the store, free of charge.

    Laura Miller explains how Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies became one of the most talked-about books of 2015. President Obama’s shout-out didn’t hurt. But Miller argues that Fates and Furies has won readers primarily with its portrait of a marriage riddled with secrets and power struggles, much as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl did in 2012. Miller does not see much subtlety in either novel: “These are both tales of female puppet masters, geniuses who invisibly engineer their marriages to appear to best advantage to outsiders.” Nonetheless, many women readers identify with the books’ heroines, who “resemble every working mum who wonders if her husband has any notion of how much effort she puts into the administration of their family life.”

    The Washington Post reports that “in the age of Amazon, used bookstores are making an unlikely comeback.”

  • December 24, 2015

    Langston Hughes

    Langston Hughes

    Charles F. Harris, an editor and publisher at Doubleday, Random House, and Howard University Press who consistently championed black writing and published Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Nikki Giovanni, has died.

    David Foster Wallace fans (notorious for the strength of their devotion) have been given the chance to redesign the cover of Infinite Jest for its twentieth anniversary next year. The Millions asked his publishers, “What would David have made of that decision?”, but they wisely elected not to guess.

    It’s time for the New York Times magazine’s feature on those who died this year, including James Salter, Philip Levine, and the typographer Hermann Zapf, who invented Dingbats, as well as Optima, the font used on both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the September 11 Memorial. “Does the new technology mean the serious lettering artist will be dispensable?” Zapf said of the rise of computing. “No. The alphabet remains.”

    New York magazine profiles the makers of Serial, who decided on a new direction for Season Two, lest they “become a sort of public-radio Law & Order.”

    When is erotic fiction appropriate for the holidays? Perhaps when it stars a presidential candidate, like Lacey Noonan’s A Cruzmas Carol: Enjoy.

  • December 23, 2015

    Just two weeks after Sheldon Adelson bought The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the editor, Michael Hengel, has resigned. Hengel told a reporter, “I think my resignation probably comes as a relief to the new owners.”

    While you’re waiting for Hilary Mantel to finish her third Thomas Cromwell novel, this new short story from the London Review of Books should tide you over.

    Flavorwire’s Jonathon Sturgeon rounds up the best literary criticism of 2015, including more than a few of our favorites: Dayna Tortorici on Elena Ferrante from n+1, Christian Lorentzen on Jonathan Franzen from New York magazine, an ensemble cast of critics on Lolita in the New Republic, and Ben Lerner on poetry from the LRB.

    Ben Lerner

    Ben Lerner

    And if you’re not convinced by Ben Lerner’s assertion that all poems are essentially failures (or if you’re looking for more evidence that he’s right), the New York Times has a round-up of favorite poems from the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elizabeth Kolbert, Donna Tartt, and John Waters.  

    Clover Hope writes about the rise of the gushing celebrity profile: “As we found out this year, the fan-on-celebrity profile is difficult to execute in a way that feels meaningful to anyone outside that fandom: more often it feels evasive, soft, full of fluff quotes, empty commentary, uncritical drooling.”

  • December 22, 2015

    Meghan Daum

    Meghan Daum

    The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded $25,000 fellowships to thirty-seven writers, both “emerging and established” (the list includes Meghan Daum, Téa Obreht, Celeste Ng, and Peter Ho Davies). They’ll be propping up the poets next: Applications are due March 9 for the 2017 fellowships.

    If you didn’t like the sound of working for Amazon, beware the inside of the Washington Post: Jeff Bezos, it seems, is hands-on in his approach there, as in all things.

    CNN congratulates two reporters on managing to play nicely together after they discovered they were working on the same (very interesting) story: “I can think of a lot of different reporters put together through a shotgun marriage who wouldn’t have worked as well,” the Marshall Project’s Bill Keller (formerly of the New York Times) noted. “I sort of had the sense that we had not only two great reporters, but also grown-ups.”

    Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is paying close attention to a (slightly one-sided) blurbing contest that’s been quietly playing out for years: After claiming the prolific-blurber crown in a piece in the New York Times several years ago, A. J. Jacobs has been forced to cede it to someone he quoted in that very piece, Malcolm Gladwell, whose name apparently can make bestsellers of even the books he doesn’t actually write. Back in 2012, Jacobs noted that Gladwell had told him the blurber is one who “draws attention to himself while seeming to draw attention to something else.” And it’s clear that Jacobs took the message to heart: “It’s hard to compete with Malcolm Gladwell,” he is now quoted as saying. “He is always going to get the front cover. I get the back cover or, maybe, inside.” Gary Shteyngart, of course, announced his retirement from the blurbing fray more than a year ago, and we can only assume he’s been thriving ever since.

  • December 21, 2015

    celine-joan-didion-spring-2015-holdingThe Washington Post has canceled its “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week” column. According to Caitlin Dewey, when the paper inaugurated the column in 2014, the goal was to correct misinformation that Internet readers had accepted due to “honest ignorance or misinformation.” This, the paper says, has become impossible—rumors now circulate at a much faster pace, and are therefore difficult to correct. Dewey says that readers, too, have become less interested in the truth, because they are driven by “schadenfreude—even hate.”

    The Knight Foundation is donating $140,000 to the publishing platform Medium, with the agreement that the money will be used to fact-check political posts leading up to the presidential election. Among other things, this means that Medium will scrutinize all of the publications that presidential candidates (including Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Marco Rubio) post on the site. The fact-checking will be handled by Politifact, and corrections will be posted on the Medium site. One imagines that the politicians, knowing of this safeguard at Medium, will save their misinformation for other outlets.

    At the New York Times, Matthew Schneier reflects on the “most discussed fashion model of 2015,” namely Joan Didion. Did her much-discussed appearance in ads for Celine affect her career as a writer? It seems so: “According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales of print books, sales of her work in 2015 to date are up nearly 55 percent over the comparable period the previous year.”

    The Chronicle of Higher Education has bestowed author Laura Kipnis with a new title—“Troublemaker”—for her efforts to “push back on a culture of victimization.”

    A new study has revealed that bestselling books are getting longer. The average length of a bestseller in 1999 was 320 pages; in 2014, the average length jumped to 407 pages. If you trust Amazon reviews, then novels are also apparently getting better.

    Tickets are on sale for the Poetry Project’s 42nd Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Reading. The list of this year’s performers includes Christian Hawkey, Dorothea Laskey, Eileen Myles, Patricia Spears Jones, and many others.