• 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.”

  • May 5, 2016

    Yuri Herrera

    Yuri Herrera

    Jeff Sharlet, the author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between, has been covering right-wing movements in the US for years, so he knows what he’s talking about when he writes, of Donald Trump’s rise to become the Republican candidate, that “this is so much worse than most people understand.” In an article for Esquire, he gives thirteen reasons that most people are “underestimating the problem.”

    The winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Awards have been announced. Mexican author Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman, won for best novel. And Brazilian writer Angélica Freitas’s Rilke Shake, translated from Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan, won for best book of poems.

    Sonya Ross, the AP’s Race and Ethnicity Editor, has sued her employer for race, sex, and age discrimination.

    The Awl’s Alex Balk asks: “Do all the political analysts get fired now?” And then answers: probably not! “As it is these same puffed-up ‘analysts’ are going to get another bite at the apple with a series of ‘I was wrong about Trump—here’s why’ pieces and then pivot so quickly to issuing predictions once more that you will forget they apologized in the first place.” Meanwhile, Callum Borchers at the Washington Post writes, in the preface to a list of things many reporters got wrong in their coverage of Trump: “So now seems like a good moment to remember some of the many, many times we in the news media said this day would never come. The media folks on this list shouldn’t feel too badly; almost everyone else was wrong, too.”

    Laura Miller ponders the annoying tendency to judge novelists based on their appearance, but also notes that the public, in failing to pay attention to less mediagenic authors, plays a role in the trend. “It’s hard enough to find someone who not only can write well but can also reliably produce a book that people want to read. The need for authors to be mediagenic in some fashion is nothing but an additional nuisance,” she writes. “And yet that’s often what it takes to get us, the public, to pay any attention to them at all. The way an author looks can affect how big an advance she gets, because it affects how much coverage her book gets, and that coverage affects its sales.”

    New Yorkers: Tonight, Brenda Shaughnessy reads from her new book of poems, So Much Synth, at NYU.

  • May 4, 2016

    Adam Haslett

    Adam Haslett

    In its most recent quarterly report, the New York Times announced that it now has 1.4 million digital-only subscribers. The paper has gained 67,000 digital subscribers since the beginning of 2016.

    We were deeply entertained by the breadth of the index of cultural critic Chuck Klosterman’s forthcoming book, What If We’re Wrong: Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past, which will be published in June. Skimming the A and B entries, we found: ABBA, AC/DC, Renata Adler, Aristotle, Jane Austen, Ballers, Baudrillard, the Bee Gees, blogging, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Budweiser.  

    TOR Publishing has announced that consulting editor Ann VanderMeer has acquired a new novella, titled The Warren, by the prolific and stylish horror writer Brian Evenson.

    After Jessa Crispin announced her plans to discontinue her web zine Bookslut, she granted an interview to New York magazine, telling them that her feelings about the publishing industry are far from enthusiastic. She explains her decision to stop Bookslut: “Part of the reason why I disengaged from it is I just don’t find American literature interesting. I find MFA culture terrible. Everyone is super-cheerful because they’re trying to sell you something, and I find it really repulsive. There seems to be less and less underground. And what it’s replaced by is this very professional, shiny, happy plastic version of literature.” She’s not a fan of much online books coverage, either, because, she claims, it has essentially mimicked the mainstream. “It’s just taking the print template and moving it online. I see the Millions used on book blurbs now. They’re so professional, and I mean that as an insult.”

    Adam Haslett, the author of the recent novel Imagine Me Gone, notes in a new essay that a psychiatrist once told him that “psychosis is a fixed belief in an imaginary world lasting months or years, which no one but the patient himself is able to perceive.” The psychiatrist then “wondered if this wasn’t also a decent definition of a novelist.”

    On Thursday and Friday this week, the CUNY Graduate Center will host an interdisciplinary conference on translation and critical theory.

  • May 3, 2016

    Roxane Gay

    Roxane Gay

    Gawker’s tax returns for 2011 through 2013 were recently unsealed as part of Hulk Hogan’s invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the company, in which a Florida court awarded Hogan $140 million. Tax records show that the company’s largest expense has been employee salaries. But another expense—fees sent to Gawker’s sister company in Hungary—have led Hogan’s lawyers to suggest that the company is “hiding money overseas.” Meanwhile, Hogan is suing Gawker again—not, this time, for releasing one of his private sex tapes, but for “allegedly leaking sealed court documents to the National Enquirer that quoted him making racist remarks.”

    Roxane Gay gave the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture that closed this year’s PEN World Voices Festival in New York, a talk that in the past has been given by Sonia Sotomayor, Colm Toibin, and Christopher Hitchens. She discussed her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, which was scheduled for release next month, but which she still has not finished. Gay, a prolific writer who has published two books (the novel An Untamed State and the essay collection Bad Feminist) noted that the memoir—which concerns, among other things, her own body image—has taken longer than she expected because she is wary of the “vulnerabilities she is exposing in herself.” But she has found a new inspiration to finish: Beyonce. “In Lemonade, Beyoncé is saying here is my truth, here is my life, my love, here is my blackness, here is my history … here is my heart, what’s left of it.” Gay also inspired loud applause when she called on publishers to bring more diversity to the industry: “Publishers need to hire people of color and pay them a living wage,”

    Daniel Aaron—who helped create the academic field known as American Studies—has died. A professor at Harvard, he was the founding president of the Library of America, and his books include the 2007 memoir The Americanist.

    The journalism organization ProPublica has taken over two databases started by the New York Times, which will provide users with detailed information about members of Congress—”their latest votes, legislation they support, and statistics about their voting.”

    As has become custom, on the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling said she was sorry for killing off one her her characters. “As promised, I shall apologise for a death. This year: Remus Lupin,” she wrote in a tweet. And then: “In the interest of total honesty I’d also like to confess that I didn’t decide to kill Lupin until I wrote Order of the Phoenix.”

    The latest installment (number 162) of the online literary magazine Bookslut—edited by The Dead Ladies Project author Jessa Crispin—has been published, and according to the homepage, it is the final issue.

  • May 2, 2016

    Dana Spiotta

    Dana Spiotta

    Former Grantland writer Jonathan Abrams—whose books include Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution—has announced that he is at work on an oral history of the TV show The Wire.

    Don DeLillo, whose Zero K was published last week, granted a rare interview to Los Angeles Times writer Carolyn Kellogg. “I’m not sure how a sentence or a paragraph extends itself,” he says of his writing. “I can’t say it’s automatic, but it all seems to happen in a kind of intuitive way.” If you’re in New York, you can see him live tonight: He will be making a rare appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York, along with Innocents and Others author Dana Spiotta.

    Writers are celebrating the life and work of critic-memoirist-novelist Jenny Diski, who died last week. Kate Kellaway says that Diski “was a writer for whom no subject was taboo.” Laura Marsh points out: “Jenny Diski understood things about the world I grew up in that no one else seemed able to begin to explain: like Princess Diana…”

    In an interview with re/code, Jenna Wortham discusses her job as a technology and culture writer for the New York Times Magazine and explains why she thinks that Amazon Prime “is the devil.”

    Zachary Turpin, a doctoral student at the University of Houston, has found “a lost book, and a most unusual one, by Walt Whitman himself.” Published under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, he book is a thirteen-part guide to “manly training,” which teaches “the science of a sound and beautiful body,” and points out, among many other things, that a beard is “a great sanitary protection for the throat.” The guide is almost 50,000 words in its entirety, and you can read it all here.

    On the occasion of Saturday Night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Critic Gene Seymour has written an appreciation of President Obama’s humor. “Take a picture,” he urges, “because we won’t be seeing this kind of high-quality presidential comedy again anytime soon.”


  • April 29, 2016

    The New York Times and its CEO Mark Thompson have been hit with a class-action lawsuit that alleges “deplorable discrimination” in matters of hiring and pay. Claiming that “not only does the Times have an ideal customer (young, white, wealthy), but also an ideal staffer (young, white, unencumbered with a family),” the suit takes particular aim at Thompson, who while head of the BBC was also forced to address concerns about the treatment of older women, and who is accused of bringing “his misogynistic and ageist attitudes across the Atlantic to New York City.”

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine

    The poet Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen, will begin teaching English and African-American Studies at Yale this fall.

    This Saturday marks the third annual Independent Bookstore Day, which means among other things that Greenlight will be offering free doughnuts, and Community Bookstore in Park Slope will provide both Paul Auster and free beer.

    The Huffington Post seems a little less keen to run stories critical of Uber now that its editor in chief has joined the company’s board.

    It may come as no surprise that anonymous Wall Street blogs offer as frightening a work environment as Wall Street itself, as far as one can tell from the tale of Fight Club-themed finance site Zero Hedge.

    The Lahore Literary Festival will take place this weekend at the Asia Society in New York, including a Sunday morning roundtable on Pakistan’s literary scene in which Bapsi Sidhwa, Bilal Tanweer, Rafia Zakaria, and Tasneem Zehra Husain will be in conversation with Hugh Eakin.

  • April 28, 2016

    Jenny Diski

    Jenny Diski

    Writer Jenny Diski died this morning at the age of sixty-eight. She was the author of numerous books, including Skating to Antarctica: A Journey to the End of the World, The Sixties, and What I Don’t Know about Animals. Her book In Gratitude is scheduled for release later this month. Diski had been writing a cancer diary for the London Review of Books since 2014, when she learned of her diagnosis. The LRB has made all of her work for the magazine—more than two-hundred articles dating back to 1992—freely available. As Giles Harvey writes in his moving profile of Diski from last year, she was acutely aware of how difficult it is to talk about cancer without resorting to cliches, saying: “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.” Of her decision to chronicle her life with the disease, Diski told Harvey: “Because I’m a writer, I could either shut up, that’s the end, get on with dying. Or, get gripped, which is what happened.”

    Joy Williams—author of, most recently, The Visiting Privilege: New and Selected Stories—has been named the winner of the 2016 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. The award will be presented to her in December at a ceremony held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

    What is your greatest fear? Being baked in a pie and eaten. Which living person do you most admire? The queen is okay.” The Proust Questionnaire with . . . William Shakespeare.

    Digiday’s new print magazine, Pulse, which will concern itself with the “modernization of media,” features a profile of Choire Sicha, who is, among other things, the cofounder of the Awl and the author of Very Recent History. Most recently, he started working for Vox Media, helping the company develop its relationship with platforms (such as Facebook). And Vox is growing fast: Its eight publications reached 62.5 million unique readers in February. Sicha is, in the words of former Awl publisher John Shankman, in a good position to help determine the quality of the material that is reaching all those people. “These aren’t really content organizations,” he says. “They’ve built the pipes. But ultimately the pipes are only interesting in what comes over them. He’s going to be able to influence what sort of stuff comes over them.”

    Leonard Riggio, the founder and executive chairman of Barnes and Noble Inc., has announced that he will retire in September. When Riggio bought the company in 1971, it consisted of a single store in Manhattan.

    Hilton Als (White Girls, The Women) has written a short essay on Prince, Cecil Taylor, Beyonce, and Octavia Butler.

    New Directions publisher Barbara Epler on literature in translation today: “There’s a huge generational shift toward interest in books from around the world. Maybe because we’ve fucked the world up, or because what’s going on in America right now isn’t so great, so you’ve got to look outwards when you’re faced with that. There are plenty of great English-language writers but by and large foreign fiction is more interesting, for me, and for many.”