• October 16, 2015

    Last night, the Kirkus Prize, one of the most lucrative book awards in the world at $50,000 for each winner, went to Hanya Yanagihara, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Pam Muñoz Ryan.

    In the New York Times magazine, Jonathan Mahler revisits the strange tale of Osama bin Laden’s killing—”not only a victory for the U.S. military but also for the American storytelling machine”—and the official statements, reporting, and other accounts of it (including Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, which she rather grandly called “the first rough cut of history”). Mahler interviews Seymour Hersh, whose LRB story challenging the official version of events drew so much (often negative) attention, but he also speaks to a Pakistani journalist named Aamir Latif, who reported in Abbottabad in the days after the US raid and maintains there was indeed “coordination and cooperation” on it between the US and Pakistani authorities. Latif’s piece on the subject was actually published (without a byline) on GlobalPost all the way back in 2011.

    Jennifer Clement

    Jennifer Clement

    The Mexican-American writer Jennifer Clement has become the first woman to be elected leader of PEN International.

    Buzzfeed has been hiring more foreign correspondents, even as other outlets are having to close their bureaus abroad. Buzzfeed’s editor Ben Smith told Erik Wemple about its strategy for covering the globe more cheaply than old-time papers did—one thing that helps is that this generation of reporters “grew up as really aggressive, thrifty freelancers.”

    Esther Leslie, a translator of Walter Benjamin, has a piece about Benjamin and the current plight of migrants in Europe that’s well worth reading.

    Deborah Friedell’s LRB essay on Donald Trump is full of insights about what he is and isn’t good at, not least this one: “Bloomberg puts Trump’s current net worth at $2.9 billion, Forbes at $4.1 billion. The National Journal has worked out that if Trump had just put his father’s money in a mutual fund that tracked the S&P 500 and spent his career finger-painting, he’d have $8 billion.”

  • October 15, 2015

    Hanya Yanagihara

    Hanya Yanagihara

    The shortlist for the National Book Award is out, and some helpful soul has collected free samples of most of the books in question, including the memoirs by Sally Mann and Ta-Nehisi Coates, fiction by Lauren Groff and Hanya Yanagihara, and poetry by Terrance Hayes and Ada Limón.

    In a “leap-out-of-the-bathtub moment,” as he told the New York Times, an American scholar has found the earliest draft of the King James Bible, a notebook from the early seventeenth century in which one of the translators seems to have puzzled out his allotted section and then taken over someone else’s: “Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it,” Professor Miller said, with a laugh. “It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

    The artist Ai Weiwei has sold his memoirs (which also promise to be a “cultural history of China over the past 100 years”), due out in 2017.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, newspaper reporting made it onto a list of the “most endangered” jobs for the second year running—the list is compiled by CareerCast, which also established this year that it’s better to be a lumberjack than a reporter.

    Tonight, the Albertine book club, led by Antonin Baudry, will discuss Jean-Paul Sarte’s weird and wonderful autobiographical novel Les Mots.

  • October 14, 2015

    Marlon James

    Marlon James

    Marlon James—who once deleted the manuscript of his first novel after having it rejected seventy-eight times—yesterday became the first Jamaican writer to win the Booker Prize, for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

    It seems some of the bigger magazines have been feeling the lack of “a very passionate audience of millennial males,” but never fear, Condé Nast has solved the problem by buying Pitchfork Media, owner of the independent music site. If you hadn’t been feeling especially worried lately about how to please male millennials, the Atlantic notes that this might bea reminder that larger discussions around pop culture aren’t always in sync with the business practices shaping pop culture.”

    And in other strange-bedfellows news, Gloria Steinem is to host a regular video segment for Vice.

    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, like so many of us, could use an editor, and after the release of his memo on the imminent firing of several hundred employees, it looks as if he’s found one.

    If you haven’t yet seen Colum McCann’s statement about the attack he suffered while writing Thirteen Ways of Looking (a man who had assaulted his wife in the street beat McCann up after he tried to intervene), it’s worth reading.

    Joshua Cohen’s live-written online serialized novel is approaching its halfway point, so you might want to catch up on the opening chapters before he and the internet commenters get back to work early this afternoon (or, of course, you may wish to wait until it’s all live again—as well as seeing the text itself emerge, this could be your first opportunity to watch an author work in close-up, via webcam).

  • October 13, 2015

    The winner of this year’s Booker Prize will be announced in a few hours’ time—meanwhile, you can hear from both the candidates and the judges.

    For T magazine, Rachel Kushner goes to Santa Cruz for a conversation with her friend Jonathan Franzen (whom, “for the record,” she considers “principally a comic writer”) about Edward Snowden, Faust, and the rivalry between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

    Marilynne Robinson

    Marilynne Robinson

    And if that doesn’t seem quite stately enough, for the New York Review of Books, President Obama goes to Des Moines, Iowa, for a long chat with Marilynne Robinson (you can only read the first half, so far).

    There are to be no more naked women in Playboy, whose chief executive, Scott Flanders has been considering just what the desired readers (mostly city-dwelling young men) may want instead: “The difference between us and Vice,” he told the New York Times, “is that we’re going after the guy with a job.”

    The quiet reappearance of Brazenhead Books: “Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.”

  • October 12, 2015

    Andrew Sullivan

    Andrew Sullivan

    Author and blogger Andrew Sullivan says he’s currently working on a book about Christianity.

    Today is is the day that Joshua Cohen—the Harper’s book reviewer and the author, most recently, of the novel Book of Numbers—will begin rewriting Charles Dickens’s debut novel, The Pickwick Papers. Cohen will write his book, PCKWCK, online, for five hours a day, and visitors to the site will be able to watch his writing appear in real time. Visitors will also be able to offer feedback. Cohen’s fiction has been suspicious of online “crowds,” and the author’s interactions with his audience will be, we predict, both interesting and entertaining.

    In a recent memo, Gawker executive editor John Cook told staffers that they need to work harder: “I don’t want to see Facebook viral garbage, but I do want more speed, more strength, and more desire on our sites. … And right now I’m seeing too many first posts of the day going up at 9:40 a.m., too many posts with takes on stories that other sites addressed the day before, too many two-hour posts taking six-hours to write, too many posts that betray no attempt to add new information, research, reporting, or ideas to the topics they address.”

    Poet, novelist, and critic Eileen Myles—who sold out the Poetry Project at last week’s celebration of her novel Chelsea Girls and her new book of selected and new poems—has received the 2015 Clark Prize for excellence in arts writing.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles the atypical career of George Scialabba, a “critic’s critic” whom James Wood has called “one of America’s best all-round intellects.”

  • October 9, 2015

    Keith Gessen

    Keith Gessen

    Two of Svetlana Alexievich’s translators responded in the Guardian to yesterday’s announcement that she had won the Nobel Prize in Literature: Bela Shayevich, who’s at work on an English version of Second-hand Time, her “collection of oral histories from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the anti-Putin protests of 2012,” quoted from Alexievich’s introduction: “History’s sole concern is the facts; emotions are outside of its realm of interest. . . . But I look at the world as a writer, and not strictly an historian.” And Keith Gessen (who translated Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster in 2004) reflected on the politics of her win: “When a critic of the Russian (as well as, in this case, Belarusian) regime receives a prize, it’s hard not to read it as a rebuke to the Kremlin. . . . But Alexievich’s work is also very much the opposite of most rebukes coming at Russia from the west. The people she talks to, the co-authors of her books, are working people, women and elderly people – precisely those who are left behind when we bring the former USSR our IMF-tailored ‘reforms,’ our sharp-looking investment bankers, our latest anti-tank weapons. Alexievich’s voices are those of the people no one cares about, but the ones whose lives constitute the vast majority of what history actually is.”

    If you missed this profile of “critic’s critic” and all-round delight George Scialabba, it’s time to remedy that.

    Mother Jones has an intriguing account of the protracted legal battle it just won after being sued by Frank VanderSloot, a major Republican donor—in fact, “one of the megadonors who will help determine who wins the 2016 GOP nomination”—over an article they published during the 2012 presidential primaries: “Had he been successful, it would have been a chilling indicator that the 0.01 percent can control not only the financing of political campaigns, but also media coverage of those campaigns.”

    A former congresswoman has described having to remove all references to WikiLeaks documents she used in her PhD thesis, which had caused a university librarian to “completely, totally freak,” fearing she might be subpoenaed.

    As part of Dissent’s monthly interview series, Booked, Timothy Shenk has a fascinating conversation about politics and environmentalism with Jedediah Purdy.

    Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the New York Times magazine, on its relaunch earlier this year, and on giving up writing for editing: “What I always loved about writing was just putting on a show for the reader. I always thought about writing in a theatrical way, like you’re essentially staging a performance for the reader. And I think about the magazine that way. I think about putting on a performance.”

    It seems possible that a small rip will appear in literary space-time should too many Janeites contract “Ferrante fever.”

  • October 8, 2015

    Svetlana Alexievich

    Svetlana Alexievich

    The Belarusian writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich, the bookies’ favorite, has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature for her “polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage.” “Life offers so many versions and interpretations of the same events that neither fiction nor document alone can keep up with its variety,” she told an interviewer when her oral history Voices from Chernobyl was published. “I felt compelled to find a different narrative strategy. I decided to collect the voices from the street, the material lying about around me. Each person offers a text of his or her own. And realized I could make a book out of them. Life moves on much too fast—only collectively can we create a single, many-sided picture. I wrote all five of my books in this way.”

    Revenge of the fact-checkers: Buzzfeed has gone through a 1998 book by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, identifying all the quotations falsely credited (so it seems) to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the like. Huckabee, Buzzfeed notes, isn’t alone among Republican candidates in attributing “fake quotes to America’s founders. Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and former candidate Scott Walker have all done so.”

    As it is with movie stars, so too with writers of fiction—more of them are Canadian than you think. Take Rachel Cusk, whose strange, deft novel Outline has been shortlisted for two major Canadian awards in the last few days: the Scotiabank Giller Prize, worth $100,000, and the Governor-General’s Literary Awards, $25,000 (let’s assume that’s Canadian money).

    Investigations are still going on into the death, in 1973, of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and whether or not he was poisoned by the Pinochet regime.

    Pedro J. Ramirez, the notorious Spanish journalist and editor, has just launched a well-funded digital start-up called El Espanol, for which more than 10,000 subscribers apparently signed up sight unseen. Ramirez, who has often specialized in covering political scandals and corruption, has hired seventy-two journalists so far and promises “scoops every day.”

    Patti Smith will be reading and signing copies of her second volume of memoir, M Train, tonight at St. Joseph’s College, though it’s safe to say that anyone without a ticket by now won’t be getting in.

  • October 7, 2015

    Joshua Cohen

    Joshua Cohen

    If the premise of Stephen King’s Misery always struck you as an appealing one, now—or next week—is your moment. Starting Monday, the publishers of the newborn Useless Press (which aims to make “internet things” more interesting than the usual) will be metaphorically chaining the novelist Joshua Cohen to his desk, where he’ll spend his afternoons writing a novel live online for a week, subjected to feedback from readers every morning as the text emerges. If Charles Dickens had had an anxiety dream while writing the Pickwick Papers, it might have looked something like this: For five hours every day, you can watch, and comment. Mark your calendars (October 12) and bookmark pckwck.com.

    At this point, you may not have room in your life for one more Franzen piece, but just in case: Here’s the journalist Barrett Brown on reading Purity in federal prison.

    Yet more digital media workers are organizing: Al Jazeera America staff just voted to unionize, Arianna Huffington recently said she wouldn’t oppose plans to do so at the Huffington Post, and there’s a conference this weekend (starting tomorrow) in Kentucky to discuss a nationwide coalition. 

    All of which is somewhat cheering as we head into “media layoff season.” The Awl has gathered data on recent and rumored-to-be-upcoming job cuts, listed by publication and illustrated with a mildly disturbing meat-slicing stock photo (and they welcome further updates from anyone in the know).

    And as if journalists hadn’t been through enough lately, it’s going to be that much harder to find scoops via Twitter and Reddit, now that both are planning to keep those stories for themselves: Twitter staffers will be curating tweets into little narratives, and Reddit’s launching Upvoted, its very own news site (which, in a decidedly un-Reddit-like move, will not allow comments).  

    The poet James Fenton has chosen imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to share the PEN Pinter prize with him.

  • October 6, 2015

    Henning Mankell

    Henning Mankell

    Best-selling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, who created the character of Kurt Wallander, died yesterday at age sixty-seven. The Guardian noted that he “took the existing Swedish tradition of crime writing as a form of leftwing social criticism and gave it international recognition,” and the Los Angeles Times looked back at its own reviews of Mankell over the years, including one from 2006 that rather winningly admired his resistance to the “tendency among some Scandinavian writers (think Ibsen, Strindberg) to cast a sense of gloom over their works.”

    A Mother Jones reporter charged with trespassing at a Louisiana prison is to be tried this week.

    The Rumpus gathered a number of useful responses to the New Yorker’s Kenneth Goldsmith profile, prefacing the links with an apology: “We ran a blog post earlier today about Alec Wilkinson’s pretty crap piece about Kenny Goldsmith in the New Yorker which we characterized as ‘refreshingly even-handed.’ That description is only accurate if you define even-handed as a several-thousand-word tongue-bath in the pages of a huge magazine which both ignored and dismissed many of Goldsmith’s critics.”

    After the death of Carmen Balcells, the godmother of twentieth-century Latin American literature known as La Mamá Grande, it remains uncertain what will happen to her literary agency—“as much a cult of personality as an institution,” writes Rachel Donadio in the New York Times—which still represents everyone from Isabel Allende to the estate of Gabriel García Márquez. Balcells’s merger talks with Andrew Wylie (whom she claimed did not have “the flexibility and sensibility of a woman”) seem not to have worked out. “Clearly this marriage had not been consummated,” the London agent Andrew Nurnberg told the Times, saying that he had been in talks with Balcells himself very recently. Now Donadio predicts “a land grab involving some of the biggest personalities in world publishing.”

    It’s worth revisiting (or visiting) ten of the best pieces produced by independent multimedia organization Novara, who are raising money this month: There are interviews with Jacqueline Rose (also reviewed in the fall Bookforum) and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as segments that explain when white people were invented, and what neoliberalism actually is.

  • October 5, 2015

    Ira Silverberg

    Ira Silverberg

    Ira Silverberg—who has been the editor in chief of Grove Press, an agent at Donadio & Olson and at Sterling Lord Literistic, and the Literature Director of the National Endowment of for the Arts—has started a new position as senior editor at Simon & Schuster.

    In a new essay, author Jedediah Purdy dwells on the similarities between Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels: “They are representative work for a time when representation—politically, aesthetically—is at its most fraught, in speaking for others and also in putting forward one’s self.”

    When a journalist recently asked Patti Smith, whose new memoir, M Train, was published last week, if she’s single, the singer-writer responded: “I don’t think that’s any of your business.

    Discussing the mass shooting in Oregon last week, a Fox News correspondent pondered the suspect’s name, Chris Harper Mercer, and claimed: “I mean, his name doesn’t bring anything to mind, where he be—he doesn’t sound like he’s Muslim.” This, says the Washington Post, points to another reason that media outlets should name the killer: “It may serve to expose certain presumptions and prejudices.” At Poynter, Kelly McBride agrees that it’s important to name the shooter, and offers a list of reasons that journalists should do so. The Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting site remains skeptical, saying that media coverage of such shootings is “a sort of advertisement to mass murder.”

    The online betting site Ladbrokes has given Haruki Murakami 6-1 odds to win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, which puts him slightly behind the frontrunner, Svetlana Alexievich, who has been given 5-1 odds. Alexievich is from Belarus, and is best known in the US for her oral history Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, which was translated by Keith Gessen.

    At the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove says that Josh Tyrangiel’s departure as editor in chief of Bloomberg Businessweek and as chief content officer of Bloomberg Media is evidence that former mayor Michael Bloomberg is “reasserting total control over his privately held empire.”