• May 19, 2016

    Elizabeth Spayd, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, will soon replace the intrepid Margaret Sullivan as the New York Times’s public editor.

    As Jeff Bezos confirms his intention to build more physical Amazon bookstores, the writer Sarah Boxer, in The Atlantic, makes an oddly convincing case for reading Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu on a cellphone (in her case, the HTC Incredible, whose screen isabout two by three inches”): “Your cellphone screen is like a tiny glass-bottomed boat moving slowly over a vast and glowing ocean of words in the night. There is no shore. There is nothing beyond the words in front of you. It’s a voyage for one in the nighttime. Pure romance.”

    Amid ongoing turmoil, it seems that the Guardian is breaking up its award-winning team of investigative reporters.

    Rivka Galchen

    Rivka Galchen

    In conversation with an old writing-workshop friend, the writer Rivka Galchen describes the genesis of her new book, Little Labors: “I originally turned in an almost no space-breaks long associative essay that resembled most, I would say, the cramped handwritten notes sent to planetariums and other sorts of authoritative institutions, notes you can tell the writer feels bear an important message, but that are basically unreadable, no message gets across.”

    In the New York Times Book Review, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn reviews Emma Thompson’s audio version of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” which she calls “a story strangely suited for the age of anxious helicopter parenting. It preys on the determination to keep children safe, to watch their every move, to know their inner lives.

  • May 18, 2016

    Elissa Schappell

    Elissa Schappell

    After more than twenty years as Vanity Fair’s “Hot Type” columnist, Elissa Schappell has announced on Facebook that she is bidding the magazine “a fond farewell.” Schappell, whose books include the story collection Blueprints for Building Better Girls, plans to devote more time to her own writing.

    Restless former New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones has left his latest gig at the Los Angeles Times after less than a year.

    Brian Evenson has an eerie new piece up on People Holding (which publishes short fiction prompted by found photographs of people holding things): “No matter which way we turned the girl, she didn’t have a face. There was hair in front and hair in the back—only saying which was the front and which was the back was impossible.”

    Unlike Wayne Barrett’s, Harry Hurt III’s 1993 unauthorized biography of Donald Trump will apparently not be reissued because its publisher, Norton, feels it would be “very dangerous” to do so (Hurt’s reaction to the news, according to Page Six: “Boy, wow! That is really chickens sh-t!”). Hurt will now have the right to take it elsewhere, if he can find a publisher who doesn’t fear legal action. He told Page Six he feels that “The American public needs to know the truth about The Donald’s life history before they cast their ballots.”

    Whit Stillman, director of The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan, talks about his new film, Love & Friendship, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s early epistolary novella Lady Susan: “Lots of comic gold, which sometimes seem to be more Oscar Wildean than Austenian, but she was decades ahead of him.”

    This is the week of the three-day Norwegian-American Literary Festival (cohosted by The Paris Review), which opens on Thursday with readings at Black Bear Bar by Rachel Kushner, Ben Lerner, Ben Marcus, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, and continues with Friday’s discussion at 192 Books between the Norwegian writers Helga Flatland, Johan Harstad, and Maja Lunde.

  • May 17, 2016

    The Intercept announced yesterday that it would begin publishing large chunks of the material provided to it by Edward Snowden, and that it would collaborate with outside journalists to explore and report on the rest of the archive. The documents they’re releasing include a trove of internal NSA newsletters from 2003 onward, which have already yielded insight into the agency’s involvement in interrogations at Guantánamo and in Iraq, and which are also fascinating simply for their tone.

    Han Kang

    Han Kang

    The Man Booker International prize was awarded to Han Kang (and translator Deborah Smith) for her novel The Vegetarian. Despite its title, the book is no gentle tale of a protagonist and her plant-based diet, as Porochista Khakpour noted in a review earlier this year:All the trigger warnings on earth cannot prepare a reader for the traumas of this Korean author’s translated debut in the Anglophone world.”

    This Friday on the BBC, Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Love, Nina, a nonfiction nanny’s-eye-view of 1980s literary London, will begin airing. You can get a couple of early glimpses online of Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as (a renamed but still recognizable) London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. Bonham Carter visited the LRB offices in Bloomsbury as part of her research for the role.

    When former Village Voice news reporter Wayne Barrett’s Trump: The Deals and the Downfalls, his unauthorized biography of Donald Trump, was released in 1991, it was, in the author’s words, a “total flop.” “Nobody took him seriously when the book came out, so nobody was interested in reading it,” Barrett says in an article at CNN (which also recalls a story in which Trump had Barrett handcuffed after the reporter crashed the billionaire’s birthday party). In recent months, Barrett’s book has been hard to find and in high demand (selling for hundreds of dollars), but last week, the book was rereleased as an e-book with a longer subtitle (The Greatest Show on Earth) and a new nine-thousand-word introduction by Barrett.

    Bookslut creator Jessa Crispin, who recently announced the site’s closure, continues to bemoan what she sees as the deterioration of online book culture and the lack of attention paid to more experimental work in America.

  • May 16, 2016

    Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is convening a meeting of conservative media figures this week to address recent stories that the social media site has suppressed right-wing news sources from its “Trending Topics” section. Glenn Beck, one of the invitees, phrased his concerns with typical acumen: “If [Facebook] is to be as ubiquitous as Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, it must remain as unbiased as the telephone, otherwise it too will fracture or fall apart over time due to competitors who will carve out their own place without agenda.” As Zuckerberg says, and spending ten minutes on Facebook reading a stream of comments like Beck’s always confirms, “the world is better when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas all have the power to share their thoughts and experiences.”

    Beck et al. might want to pick up a copy of Rochelle Kopp and Steven Ganz’s Valley Speak: Deciphering the Jargon of Silicon Valley on their way to Facebook HQ. This Kickstarter-funded book is a guide to the “cool, geeky, and often inane words” used by tech startups. Unicorns and dogfooding, growth hacking and viral loops—it isn’t just the book’s quaint print presentation that makes us nostalgic for another California valley’s gnarly idiom.

    The arduous search for “one boy to laugh with, joke with, have a Coke with:” Reviews of Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating in Harper’s Magazine and the New Yorker consider the idea that courtship has always been just another job, especially for women.


    Max Porter

    The Toast, Nicole Cliffe and Mallory Ortberg’s Internet corner of comedy genius, is ending on July 1st. Slate picks some favorites from the publication’s three-year run including “Liberal Dude Erotica,” by Charlotte Shane, “Let’s Make Meat Loaf a Lesbian Icon,” by Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart, and “Emails Where Shit Got Real” by Michelle Dean.

    This Saturday, Max Porter won the Dylan Thomas Prize for his book Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a meditation on mourning featuring a grieving father, two children, and a bird imported from the Ted Hughes poetry book Crow. Porter’s novella has received rave reviews in the UK and will be published in the US in early June.

  • May 13, 2016

    Next Friday at Greenlight Books, New Directions will celebrate its eightieth birthday with a party featuring not just champagne but also readings by an amazing group of authors: Anne Carson, László Krasznahorkai, Rivka Galchen, Forrest Gander, John Keene, Bernadette Mayer, and Eliot Weinberger.

    Timothy L. O’Brien—a journalist who edited a Pulitzer-winning series about war veterans—was sued by Donald Trump for libel following the publication of O’Brien’s book TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald. Before the suit was dismissed, O’Brien and his legal team were allowed to see Trump’s tax returns. A court order stops him from saying what he saw in those returns, but in a new article, he strongly suggests that the American public would learn a good deal if Trump made his tax filings public.

    Katherine Dunn

    Katherine Dunn

    Katherine Dunn—author of the cult novel Geek Love, a “carnivalesque reversal of ‘traditional’ family values”—has died. Dunn wrote for many publications (The New York Times, Playboy, Vogue) and was a longtime columnist for Portland, Oregon’s Willamette Week. “For nearly 10 years, Katherine Dunn’s brilliant prose graced the pages of Willamette Week,” says editor and publisher Mark Zusman. “Her boxing coverage, her weekly column and her reportage on the underbelly of Portland were without parallel.” (In 2010, Dunn reviewed a biography of Sugar Ray Robinson for Bookforum.)

    Jesse Peretz, a director and producer of the TV show Girls, will direct the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel Juliet, Naked.

    FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, author of The Signal and the Noise, blasted the New York Times and its media columnist Jim Rutenberg earlier this week. Rutenberg recently wrote about the many errors the media has made in its predictions about the 2016 presidential race, and singled out Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog for its mistakes in particular primaries. Silver says: “Jim Rutenberg and I were colleagues in 2012 when FiveThirtyEight was part of The New York Times. They were incredibly hostile and incredibly unhelpful to FiveThirtyEight, particularly when FiveThirtyEight tried to do things that blended reporting with kinda more classic techniques of data journalism. When we went to New Hampshire, for example, to go to The New York Times filing center … the political desk is literally giving us the cold shoulder like it’s some high school lunchroom.”

  • May 12, 2016

    Jenny Diski

    Jenny Diski

    Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, has published a remembrance of her friend, the writer Jenny Diski, whose “cancer diary” first appeared in instalments in the LRB (“So—we’d better get cooking the meth,” Diski told her partner, Ian Patterson, known to her readers as the Poet, after her diagnosis). The two friends were alike “in the things we found funny and the value we attached to that; and in the words we used and how our sentences ran.” Diski, Wilmers writes, “said she didn’t do narrative, and that also seems true: she didn’t have the patience or what her dodgy father had called the ‘stickability’. (I was going to say that maybe he wasn’t that bad after all, but then I remembered that he made a living that way – by charming old ladies.)” The piece is a fitting tribute to the inimitable Diski—and don’t miss the last paragraph.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates and his family have decided not to move into their newly purchased Brooklyn brownstone, as too much publicity about the house has made them feel unsafe. “The world is real,” Coates writes in The Atlantic. “And you can’t really be a black writer in this country, take certain positions, and not think about your personal safety. That’s just the history.”

    The works of Philip K. Dick, which have already inspired many movie adaptations including Blade Runner, Total Recall, and A Scanner Darkly, are to be the basis for a new television series starring Bryan Cranston, who will also be one of its executive producers.

    And the New York Post’s Page Six, that venerable gossip institution, will now have its own TV show, on Fox.

    On Page Turner, there’s a piece about the fascinating Betty Hester, a file clerk referred to by Iris Murdoch as “my crazy Atlanta fan,” who corresponded with Murdoch and, for years, with Flannery O’Connor—“I would like to know who this is who understands my stories,” O’Connor wrote in the first of their many exchanges.

    This Saturday in Cabinet‘s gallery space on Nevins Street in Brooklyn, the artist David Scher will be making a book from scratch in twenty-four hours (it goes to the printer on Sunday morning at 10), and for six of those hours, you are invited to watch.


  • May 11, 2016

    The controversy over Facebook’s “Trending Topics” feature continues: After a former Facebook staffer claimed that the site routinely suppresses stories from conservative news outlets, a GOP senator on the commerce committee has written to Mark Zuckerberg requesting a hearing on the matter. Facebook has said it will address the committee’s questions and will continue to investigate “whether any violations took place.”     

    Prince provides the soundtrack to the dance scene in Kevin Young’s new poem “Little Red Corvette.”

    Olivier Bourdeaut

    Olivier Bourdeaut

    Olivier Bourdeaut’s debut novel En Attendant bojangles (Waiting for Bojangles) is poised to become the next international mega-best-seller. Since its publication in France earlier this year, the novel has sold more than 160,000 copies. Thirty-five additional countries have plans to publish the book. Simon & Schuster will release an English translation in 2018. Not long ago, the author considered his career to be “a complete failure.”

    Politico’s Joe Cirincione digs into David Samuels’s controversial New York Times Magazine article “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” a profile of Obama adviser Ben Rhodes. Samuels, who is the literary editor of Tablet and whose books include Only Love Can Break Your Heart, asserts that Obama was “actively misleading” in the days leading up to the Iran nuclear deal. Cirincione remarks: “Every element of [Samuels’s] thesis falls apart under scrutiny.” At the Washington Post, Erik Wemple wonders “why the White House did such extensive business with Samuels in the first place,” considering Samuels’s easy-to-find criticisms of the administration’s Iran deal. Carlos Lozada weighs in with an article bearing the subheadline “Why the Ben Rhodes profile in the New York Times Magazine is just gross.” And at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, claims, among other things, that Samuels advocated, “as early as 2009, for the bombing of Iran. This doesn’t disqualify him from writing about Rhodes—if anything, this disclosure would have made the article more interesting, if he had leveled with the readers about his actual views.”

    A recent issue of the Antioch Review included Daniel Harris’s essay about what he called the transgender “debate,” which has sparked fierce criticism and a petition denouncing the piece as transphobic. (For a far more thoughtful examination of issues around trans identity, see Jacqueline Rose’s recent piece in the LRB.) Since then, Antioch has released a series of increasingly apologetic responses. The first was tepid: “Antioch College does not condone or always agree with the ideas and viewpoints expressed in the Review. We do, however, have confidence in the Review’s editor and editorial process.” The next one, from the editor of the Review said, “I sincerely regret any pain and hurt that the publishing of this piece has caused.” The latest, posted by the college, finally seems to acknowledge the deep flaws in the piece and the harm it could cause: “We recognize that statements similar to those made in the essay have historically been used to justify physical and psychological violence against members of the LGBTQ communities and their allies. These references also perpetuate a culture that devalues trans people and depersonalizes their experiences.” The blog Sundress has begun collecting responses to Harris’s piece from trans writers, while Harris himself still seems glibly unapologetic: “I regret that the discussion has been so uncivil, devolving into what seems to be a flame war. It is difficult to answer specific criticisms when they rarely amount to much more that I am transphobic and that my essay was an example of hate speech. I am neither hateful nor transphobic. I am tolerant of all people, save Republicans.”

  • May 10, 2016

    Joan Didion

    Joan Didion

    Farrar, Straus, and Giroux has announced that Sean McDonald, a senior editor at the publisher, will become the editor in chief of a new imprint called MCD/FSG. According to FSG publisher Jonathan Galassi, the new imprint will aim “to create a space to publish work and experiment with publishing styles, forms, and genres that are at the edges of FSG’s traditions.” Former Amazon staffer Daphne Durham will be the executive editor.

    At the Believer Logger, Maggie Nelson discusses buddhism, memoir, autotheory, and the self-exposure of her work: “When people say things to me like, ‘What does it feel like to put such personal material out into the world?,’ it isn’t a question that lands on a map I’m thinking about. I’m so focused on what experiences would be the best illustrations or ways in to the issues I want to talk about. I feel so confident that the task is about how best to get at the things that are interesting to me rather than think about a discourse of secrets or revelation or exposure.”

    The New York Review of Books has published Joan Didion’s notes from a 1976 trip to San Francisco, during which she was planning to cover the Patty Hearst trial. She didn’t end up writing the piece, because, as she puts it, “I thought the trial had some meaning for me—because I was from California. This didn’t turn out to be true.” Still, the notes are a fascinating glimpse into Didion’s habits of mind, and contain many intriguing and evocative fragments: “How could it have come to this. I am trying to place myself in history. I have been looking all my life for history and have yet to find it. The resolutely “colorful,” anecdotal quality of San Francisco history. ‘Characters’ abound. It puts one off.”

    A former Facebook “news curator” claims that the site routinely barred stories written by conservative new outlets from appearing on Facebook’s “trending” section. The former employee, one of several sources for an article in Gizmodo, says the bias was the result of the curators’ individual preferences rather than a company policy. Facebook has responded to the article, saying that they “take allegations of bias very seriously.”

    The New York Times has published an obituary of Donald W. Duncan, an ex-Green Beret who became a prominent protestor of the Vietnam War after returning from combat in 1965. Although the obit ran yesterday, Duncan died seven years ago, “an all-but-forgotten soldier.”

  • May 9, 2016

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Late last week, it was announced that James Franco would be directing a film adaptation of his favorite novel, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Russell Crowe would star, and Scott Rudin would be among the producers. But within minutes, it was revealed that the filmmakers had not obtained the rights to the novel, and the project “fell apart.” Lincoln Michel, the author of the story collection Upright Beasts, respects Franco’s literary tastes (he has already created film versions of McCarthy’s City of God, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Steve Erickson’s Zeroville), but also seems relieved at Franco’s failure, pointing out that Blood Meridian is probably unfilmable (both Tommy Lee Jones and Ridley Scott have abandoned attempts to adapt the book), and that “none of [Franco’s] literary adaptations have earned a score above 41 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.”

    In Men’s Journal, Karl Ove Knausgaard tells an interviewer about one of his favorite contemporary writers: “I was reading Maggie Nelson when you came, and I just bought four books by her before we met. She’s so much better than anything I’ve read for a long, long time.”

    Greg Milner, the author of 2009’s Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, is back with a new book, Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds. The book cites recent breakthroughs in neuroscience suggesting that our brains come equipped with the ability to navigate space. “If we do indeed have a kind of innate GPS,” Milner writes in an excerpt, “what happens to our brains as we transition into a world where these kinds of calculations are unnecessary, when GPS does it all for us?”

    Novelist Lydia Millet pays homage to Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax: “What makes The Lorax such a powerful fable is partly its shamelessness. It pulls no punches; it wears its teacher heart on its sleeve.”

    Slate has asked readers to vote on which book should be the next focus of its Year of Great Books club. The shortlist is: My Antonia, Swann’s Way, Mrs. Dalloway, and War and Peace. You can vote here.

    Jean Stein’s Edie, Tom Spanbauer’s The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays: Ten books that influenced performer and Tango author Justin Vivian Bond.

    Tonight in New York, at the Kitchen, Cecilia Corrigan, Lynne Tillman, and Jackie Wang will read from their contributions to the new chapbook anthology Say Bye to Reason and Hi to Everything.

  • May 6, 2016

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Random House imprint One World has announced that it will release two new books—one fiction, and one nonfiction—by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  

    Daniel Harris—whose books include The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture and Cute, Quaint, and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism—has outraged many readers with his essay “The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate,” published in the Winter issue of the Antioch Review. “While I fervently support TGs’ rights to transition and to do so without fear of reprisal,” Harris writes, “I believe that the whole phenomenon of switching one’s gender is a mass delusion.” Yesterday, Antioch College, where the publication is based, released a statement: “Antioch College does not condone or always agree with the ideas and viewpoints expressed in the Review. We do, however, have confidence in the Review’s editor and editorial process, and support a key Antiochian value—the free expression of ideas and opinions, even when they run counter to our own.” Meanwhile, a petition titled “Antioch Review: No More Transphobia in the Literary Community” is circulating among editors and writers; at press time, it had more than 1,000 signatures.  

    The UK publisher Harvill Secker will publish J. M. Coetzee’s next novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, in September. The book is the sequel to Coetzee’s 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus.

    The statistician Nate Silver—predictor of elections and baseball games, founder and editor of FiveThirtyEight, and the author of The Signal and the Noise—refutes the common assertion that Trump has been carried forward by a “working-class rebellion”: “As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off,” he writes. “The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.”

    The Brooklyn Rail has a new interview with John Ashbery, who talks about translation, his decision to become a poet, his stint as an art critic, his childhood, his “first love,” and more. “Did your mom commonly go through your things as a child?” the interviewer asks at one point. Ashbery responds: “Oh, sure; that’s why I wrote in French in my diary.”