• November 6, 2015

    Ben Carson

    Ben Carson

    In the field of Republican lit this week: George H. W. Bush has decided to weigh in on his son’s presidency: Donald Rumsfeld, he felt, according to his new book, “served the president badly. . . . There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers.” Dick Cheney has responded to the elder Bush’s characterization of him as an “iron-ass” by claiming it as “a mark of pride.” Meanwhile, several journalists have been shouldering the burden of reading the current presidential candidates’ books and letting us know what’s in them: Donald Trump’s new one is apparently full of assertions like: “I have proven everybody wrong. EVERYBODY.” (Here’s a helpful ranking of the rest of his oeuvre by quality of cover.) And Ben Carson’s story, according to a man who’s just read five books by him, “is a nearly uninterrupted string of being proved right and smart.” Smart enough, some have suggested, to be leading the race for the GOP nomination simply as a ruse to sell even more books like these.

    Arundhati Roy has become one of many writers in India over the past couple of months to give back their national awards in protest at the violent rightwing attacks against intellectuals that have been taking place under Modi’s government.  

    One of the less discussed pains of authorship is quitting your job and spending years on a book, only to find your story and sources used without credit on television. (Or: when pitching 60 Minutes, do it in the vaguest possible terms).

    To comfort those of us who never get the chance to talk to Karl Ove Knausgaard at parties, Bookforum contributor Kaitlin Phillips paints a dispiriting picture of what it’s like (Zadie Smith, on the other hand, comes off unsurprisingly well).

    Restless Books begins its online Don Quixote book group today at 1 pm EST, with a two-hour open discussion led by Quixote scholar Ilan Stavans.

  • November 5, 2015

    Everyone is enjoying the delicious irony of Amazon’s new show, Good Girls Revolt, being “fundamentally premised on the championing of employees’ rights.”

    Fear and loathing, meanwhile, greets the judge who recently decided to let Hulk Hogan dig through Gawker’s e-mail, a move that is, in the words of the New York Observer’s editors, “scaring the hell out of lots of publishers.”

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    Veteran editor John Freeman offers a somewhat breathless account (and who can blame him?) of his experience publishing Lydia Davis.

    In the New York Times, a brief interview with the formidable Roberto Calasso, whose memoir, The Art of the Publisher, is coming out in English.

    And, from Meghan Daum’s reprinted essay collection, My Misspent Youth, a different view of publishing, from the bottom.

    If you missed this rereading of John Williams’s Stoner and its portrayal of academia from a lecturer at Harvard, it’s worth a look: “The gap between our academic climate and the world Williams describes is what gives Stoner its peculiar poignancy. Both the highpoints and crises of Stoner’s teaching career seem nearly unimaginable from our current vantage point. Consider Stoner’s practice of meeting with students in his off-hours, in his study at home or in his office at the university. Today, as U.S. News reported, an equally dedicated adjunct might meet with students in a parking lot, where she’ll pull relevant papers and books from the trunk of her car (few adjuncts have offices at the institutions where they teach).”

    Tomorrow night, Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio will be hosting a discussion of humor in fiction and the darker explorations it can make possible.

  • November 4, 2015

    Mathias Énard

    Mathias Énard

    Mathias Énard, the author, most famously, of Zone, a novel in a single sentence, has won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award (its seriousness is heavily underlined by its $10 prize money).

    Steve Silberman discusses his book on autism, Neurotribes, which just became the first work of popular science to win the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction.

    And if you’d like to feel drunk with power for once, voting is now open for this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards, “the only major book awards decided by readers.”

    You can now read what Margaret Atwood and her students discovered about gender bias in Canadian book reviewing back in 1971.

    These are scary times at National Geographic.

    “This culture is like a chimera before which I stand agog”: Mary Gaitskill talks to The Millions.

    Turns out Jon Stewart isn’t tired of satirizing the news after all, and will now be doing so for HBO.

    If you missed the launch of Ada Calhoun’s book St Marks is Dead, you appear to have made a mistake—Kathleen Hanna and her former Beastie Boy husband, Ad-Rock, played every song about St Marks Place they could come up with.

  • November 3, 2015

    Both ways is the only way they want it: After helping put who knows how many others out of business, Amazon open their own physical bookstore.

    Mary Gaitskill

    Mary Gaitskill

    For the New York Times magazine, Parul Sehgal profiles Mary Gaitskill, whose new novel, The Mare, is reviewed in the next issue of Bookforum. In person, Sehgal describes her as “wary in the way of habitually truthful people trying to stay out of trouble. . . . She feels misunderstood, which, of course, she is.” No easy feat to interview a writer who specializes in evoking “the hidden life, the life unseen, the life we don’t even know we are living.” Occasionally, you wonder how the profile got written at all (but lucky for us that it did): “At some point in our conversation, I discovered that Gaitskill had figured out how to turn off my recorder, which was lying between us on the table. She’s fond of talking off the record, and she batted at the machine with a quick, sure motion, like a cat. Only then would she talk about her family, say, or go deeper into her past.”

    Meanwhile, fans of Gaitskill’s earlier novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin may be interested to know that a veteran producer (after trying and failing in person “while sitting on a small couch in New York” in the 1970s) has finally got the rights to make Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for television.

    On Novara Wire, an essential first-person account of homelessness, policing, and public space in London.

    Max Read, formerly of Gawker, introduces New York magazine’s new temporary offshoot about internet culture.

    Among the many recent books by musicians are Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl and The Hollow of the Hand, P. J. Harvey’s first book of poetry, a collaboration with the photographer Seamus Murphy, with whom she traveled to Kosovo and Afghanistan.

    The latest issue of the Lana Turner journal is now available, and includes work by Jorie Graham and Anne Boyer, as well as new translations of César Vallejo.

  • November 2, 2015

    Lou Reed

    Lou Reed

    ESPN has pulled the plug on its sports, pop-culture, and news website Grantland. This comes about a month after editors Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin, and Chris Ryan left Grantland to work on an unknown project led by Grantland founder Bill Simmons. Many have mourned the loss of the site. As for ESPN, the company itself did not seem have its heart in Grantland: “We’re getting out of the pop culture business,” a senior ESPN source told CNN.

    Howard Sounes’s biography of Lou Reed was released in the UK on October 22. Reed was always considered to be cantankerous, difficult, drug-addled, erratic. But according to Sounes, he could also be far worse—paranoid, racist, and emotionally and physically abusive. Now, Reed’s former wife Sylvia Reed (now Ramos) has broken eighteen years of media silence to rebut Sounes’s book. Many of the people interviewed for the book, Ramos says, “were not capable of remembering anything they did in any given six-month period during that time, much less come back all these years later and say, ‘Oh, yes, I was there, this is what was going on.’ ” For those who are hoping for a less sensationalized portrait of Reed, both Luc Sante and Will Hermes are currently at work on biographies of the musician.

    Editors Haley Mlotek and Alexandra Molotkow have announced that they are leaving the Hairpin, the website launched by the Awl in 2010.

    The New York Times announced a $9 million profit in its third-quarter annual report—a profit driven significantly by digital subscriptions.

    On Tuesday, November 2, at Cambridge’s Brattle Theatre, A. S. Hamrah will be introducing a screening of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons. We are particularly excited about this event after Hamrah’s September Bookforum essay, which challenges the Hollywood mythology that has cast Welles as an example of failure. “That Welles pursued his original vision, even as he worked in a state of hand-to-mouth auteur financing, into the ’80s looks from our vantage point like a sign of strength and integrity,” Hamrah writes.

  • October 30, 2015

    Raif Badawi

    Raif Badawi

    Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger imprisoned for the past few years and soon to be flogged again as part of his sentence, has been awarded the European Union’s Sakharov prize for human rights.

    This week in conflicts of interest: There seems to be some disagreement as to whether it’s acceptable to assign a piece on tech entrepreneurs, including Airbnb, to a writer whose husband is one of Airbnb’s biggest investors. T magazine’s Deborah Needleman tells New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan she doesn’t regret commissioning Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, though perhaps there ought to have been some disclosure of the connection. Needleman also says: “I say this not as an excuse, but she is, separately from her husband, a billionaire (making her through marriage a billionaire twice over) and for that reason I think I failed to consider any monetary conflict in her case.” Isn’t this the same reasoning that suggests a billionaire is usually the best and least corruptible candidate for public office?

    NPR suffers a suitably genteel, understated plagiarism scandal in its music coverage with the resignation of WQXR reporter and online editor Brian Wise.

    In the UK, the publisher Virago and the New Statesman are together launching a literary prize for women writing about politics or economics.

    Who can afford a pseudonym nowadays? Sloane Crosley, author of the new novel The Clasp (and the popular essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake), has just outed herself as the coauthor of another book published this year: The hope is that more people will buy Read Bottom Up, a digital-age epistolary novel, now that they know its provenance.

    A 688-page book of previously unpublished writings by Frantz Fanon has come out this week in Paris, including political texts, theoretical work on psychiatry, and two plays.

    You may not yet have experienced Jonathan Franzen reading Stephen Colbert a hard-hitting bedtime story about the book business.

  • October 29, 2015

    For those who couldn’t bear to watch, CNN names “winners and losers” in last night’s Republican presidential debate.

    In the age of the internet, your juvenilia often comes back to haunt you. So you’re well placed to sympathize with Truman Capote, whose stories for his high-school newspaper, after languishing for years in the archives of the New York Public Library, are now reappearing for all to see.

    Marlon James

    Marlon James

    A bit of glory for writers is always welcome: You may not have known, but yesterday was proclaimed Marlon James Day by both the mayor of Minneapolis and the governor of Minnesota, in honor of the Booker-winning novelist who usually teaches there, at Macalester College.

    And Gawker is once more offering to help freelance writers take revenge on publications who have failed to cough up the money they owe them.

    Writers are sticking up for other people, too: after the New York Times stopped crediting anyone but directors, writers, and cast members in its theater reviews (leaving set and costume designers and the rest out in the cold), a group of eighty playwrights, including Tony Kushner, Tracy Letts, Sarah Ruhl, Annie Baker, and John Guare, wrote to ask them to reconsider.  

  • October 28, 2015

    Alex Pareene

    Alex Pareene

    Gawker has a new editor-in-chief, and “despite talk of making [the site] ‘20 percent nicer,’” as Re/Code puts it, they’ve picked one of their old guard, Alex Pareene, former editor of Wonkette and a survivor of First Look Media’s ill-fated Racket. John Cook, Gawker Media’s executive editor, proclaimed his excitement that Pareene would take over in time to make the most of a 2016 presidential race that “promises to be nothing short of a terrifying circus.”

    Vox and Buzzfeed have seemingly helped embarrass the SXSW festival’s organizers into reinstating and expanding its planned discussions about online harassment (which they’d tried to cancel after a brief burst of targeted online harassment).

    A writer explains why “experience” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be (after all, staying in bed and writing was good enough for Proust).

    Blob-like, The Atlantic is expanding and taking over National Journal’s former turf in Washington, DC. Among other things, this news gave Erik Wemple the chance to journey down memory lane, recalling the good old days of Washington political coverage, when cash was everywhere. National Journal was once one of several subscription services, and an employee of one such told Wemple that, in the late 1990s, “Everyone at Roll Call got $20,000-plus bonuses. People were crying in the hallways.”

    Things sound pretty bad for both literary journals and the floods of writers who now pay for the privilege of submitting work to them.

    McNally Jackson Live, a regular “highbrow variety show,” begins tomorrow night, when Jeanette Winterson and Vivian Gornick will be on hand to entertain you—and every week from now on promises “someone unexpected doing some unexpected thing.”  

  • October 27, 2015

    Lisa Jardine, “the leading British female public intellectual of our times,” is the subject of an impressive and very moving collaborative obituary that honors her as a scholar, teacher, and friend: She showed “generations of women who came after her that it was both possible to succeed at work and at many other things as well.”

    Junot Díaz

    Junot Díaz

    The Dominican Consul General has stripped the writer Junot Díaz of his Order of Merit award for speaking out against what the Dominican Republic has been doing to Haitians and those of Haitian descent.

    PEN’s website has hosted an unusually thoughtful and detailed roundtable discussion between editors (many of whom are also writers) about publishing, followed by a collection of useful resources: “What I dislike about so much of the way people deal with diversity,” Alexander Chee says, “is that they treat these explorations as hygiene, when it is about finding new and exciting work that blows down the doors of your mind.

    Scholars are still fighting over Sylvia Plath and her personal life.

    You can now read the second half of President Obama’s conversation with Marilynne Robinson (or listen to a recording): “I think that in our earlier history—the Gettysburg Address or something—there was the conscious sense that democracy was an achievement,” Robinson says. “It was not simply the most efficient modern system or something. It was something that people collectively made and they understood that they held it together by valuing it.”

    On her nightstand alongside Edward P. Jones, Anthony Marra, Mary Karr, and Saul Bellow, Stacy Schiff has Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist, which she says “it’s time to reread”—and indeed, it almost always is.

    It’s nearly time for this year’s NaNoWriMo to begin.

  • October 26, 2015

    Germaine Greer

    Germaine Greer

    Why did Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign recently pay HarperCollins $122,252.62? According to the New Republic, the candidate (whose literary agent, Keith Urbahn, was Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff) was probably buying up copies of his new book, A Time for Truth. (The bulk purchases led the Times to leave the book off of its best-seller list.) He’s not the only candidate who is boosting his own sales: Earlier this year Ben Carson spent $150,000 buying up copies of his book A More Perfect Union, the centerpiece of his recent author tour.

    Harriet Klausner—a former librarian who wrote more than 31,000 reviews for Amazon and was at one time that site’s “#1 reviewer”—died last week, just three days after the appearance of her final online writings.

    Students at Cardiff University are collecting signatures for a petition to cancel an upcoming lecture by the author Germaine Greer (who wrote The Female Eunuch). The protesters are attempting to block Greer’s appearance because of comments she has made about trans people (“Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so”). But Cardiff says that, despite student resistance, the lecture will take place.   

    Neil Strauss, who celebrated pickup artists in his bestselling book The Game, has a new book The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book about Relationships. He’s not so enthralled by the pickup-artist scene anymore: “But now I am in the camp that any manipulation is not a good thing. And anytime you’re trying to get esteem or validation from outside yourself is not a good thing.”

    Slate has created an interactive, annotated “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”