• December 8, 2015

    After the UK government decided to go ahead with airstrikes against Syria, the writer Michael Faber, in a Swiftian satirical gesture, sent Prime Minister David Cameron a copy of his latest novel with a note suggesting that “a book cannot compete with a bomb in its ability to cause death and misery, but each of us must make whatever small contribution we can, and I figure that if you drop my novel from a plane, it might hit a Syrian on the head.” He concluded: “With luck, we might even kill a child: their skulls are quite soft.”

    Readers of Time magazine apparently favor Bernie Sanders for “Person of the Year,” but he didn’t make the cut for the editors’ shortlist, unlike you-know-who.

    Mary-Kay Wilmers

    Mary-Kay Wilmers

    If you haven’t yet read the essay on Marianne Moore (and her mother) in the LRB by its editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers—soon to be played on TV by Helena Bonham-Carter—we hereby give you permission to put aside whatever you’re working on and do so.

    Chris Ware has made an animated cover for this week’s New Yorker with the help of This American Life’s Ira Glass, whom he callsprobably one of the few people alive making a living with a semiotics degree.

    You may have heard all you want to hear by now about the contested border between fiction and nonfiction, but in case not, Geoff Dyer seems unusually well qualified to talk to you about it.

    The New York Times’s Modern Love column—which can, it seems, be romantic about anything, even journalism—is becoming a (star-studded) podcast.

    And First Look Media, which has had its share of image problems, now wants to help keep journalism glamorous by making entertainment along the lines of Spotlight (which it co-produced).

    At Lincoln Center tomorrow night, Dennis Lim will discuss his new book on David Lynch (seven of whose films will be showing this month as part of the Lynch/Rivette double retrospective) with Bookforum contributor and Village Voice movie critic Melissa Anderson.

  • December 7, 2015

    Sonny Mehta

    Sonny Mehta

    On Saturday, the New York Times ran an op-ed on page one, above the fold. “End the Gun Epidemic in America” points out the obvious necessity for better regulation of firearms. “It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment,” the editorial reads. “No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.” In another Saturday print-edition article (not on page one) titled “Gun Debate Yields Page One Editorial,” the Times provides us with some of its own history: notably, the paper has not run an editorial on page one since 1920, when it bemoaned the Republican party’s nomination of Warren G. Harding as its presidential candidate. Speaking of the gun-control op-ed, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. noted that the print version of the paper still has a particular effectiveness: “Even in this digital age, the front page remains an incredibly strong and powerful way to surface issues that demand attention.”

    Oprah Winfrey’s memoir, The Life You Want, will be published by Flatiron Books, a division of MacMillan publishers, in January 2017. The book will be the first title in Winfrey’s new imprint with Flatiron, which will release several nonfiction titles each year.

    Knopf EIC Sonny Mehta has been named Person of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly. Says PW: “Mehta has seen to it that Knopf hasn’t simply rested on its reputation—he’s cemented its place as one of the most successful literary imprints in the business.”

    In Al Jazeera America, Scott Beauchamp turns to Don Delillo’s work in order to understand terrorism’s insidious “war on the imagination.” In Delillo’s prescient 1991 book Mao II—one of many Delillo fictions concerned with public plots and rampant paranoia—the novelist narrator muses on how terrorists have supplanted writers in shaping society: “I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bombmakers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness.”

    Novelist Teddy Wayne makes the case for why having a shelf full of (print) books is the best thing parents can do for their children’s development: “Poking through physical artifacts . . . is archival and curatorial; it forces you to examine each object slowly, perhaps sample it and come across a serendipitous discovery. Scrolling through file names on a device, on the other hand, is what we do all day long, often mindlessly, in our quest to find whatever it is we’re already looking for.”

  • December 4, 2015

    There has been much discussion of the New York Daily News cover about the California mass shooting this week, though it doesn’t seem all that controversial under the circumstances.

    The French Booksellers’ Association has provided a reading list for the public in the wake of the November attacks in Paris.

    Melissa Anderson

    Melissa Anderson

    Bookforum contributor Melissa Anderson has been named senior film critic at the Village Voice, where, as well as reviewing new movies, she’ll have a weekly column on New York’s arthouse and repertory scene.

    A seventeenth-century biography of Walatta Petros, an Ethiopian noblewoman and religious leader, has now been translated into English: It’s thought to be the earliest book about the life of an African woman, not to mention the first known account of same-sex desire between African women.

    Marina Warner has written an obituary of the historian and philosopher John Forrester, who did important work on the history of psychoanalysis. He called it his “life’s ambition. . . to reconcile Freud, the doctor of the soul, with Michel Foucault, the critic of medical regimes of all kinds.” (The piece also includes this detail for those who enjoy a good intellectual love story: “His home was in north London with Lisa, whom he met in 1984 when, as deputy director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, she invited him, presciently, to take part in a series about Desire. They married in 2013.”)

    Ginger Strand revisits Kurt Vonnegut’s writing career as a rather touching case of cherchez la femme.

    Oprah being Oprah, her forthcoming memoir (due out January 2017 from Macmillan’s Flatiron Books) is not just a memoir, but the opening salvo of a whole new nonfiction imprint that’ll publish titles of her choosing.

    Lincoln Michel commits the unpardonable sin of deploying some actual facts in a think-piece about popularity in literary and genre fiction. He also has some views on what the powerful are reading: “Even the idea that literary fiction is favored by the actual elites of society is highly suspect. You are far more likely to find John Grisham and Dan Brown novels in the houses of politicians, lawyers, and hedge fund managers than the works of Lydia Davis and William Gaddis.” Disappointing if true—nothing like a ruler who reads Lydia Davis to make you feel you’re in safe hands.

    Playboy’s last nude issue will feature Pamela Anderson (now their cover star fourteen times over). And who better to interview her than multimedia sensation James Franco?

    Zadie Smith provides self-help for people who want to get off the internet and write the next NW.

  • December 3, 2015

    It’s hard to know what to say after the latest mass shooting, which killed at least fourteen yesterday in California. That’s partly because people have been saying so much about this for so long, and it keeps on happening: NBC News notes that there have been more mass shootings than days in the calendar year so far, and that the US accounts for nearly a third of these incidents worldwide. It might be time to reread Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann’s piece on gun violence, written after Sandy Hook (this latest shooting is reportedly the deadliest we’ve seen since).

    Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe

    The Paris Review has appointed a new Paris editor, Antonin Baudry, who sends a dispatch from there that touches on the spike in sales of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Michel Houellebecq’s New York Times op-ed, and perhaps more surprisingly, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which “begins by imagining exactly that—the worst and most horrible murder ever committed in Paris.”

    In the first year that a self-published book made the Washington Post’s “Best of” list, IndieReader compiles its own roundup of nothing but self-published titles.

    The copyright is running out on Hitler’s Mein Kampf at the end of the year, and the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich seems confident that someone will want to buy an annotated critical edition.

    Meanwhile, teenagers in Sweden are being love-bombed with copies of a translation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.

    Samuel G. Freedman has produced a book and radio documentary on Jeff Schmalz, his late friend and professional mentor at the New York Times, that is also a kind of oral history of the AIDS crisis and how it was reported. In the Columbia Journalism Review, Freedman recalls his own experiences at the Times and how he got to observe up close Schmalz’s efforts to change the paper’s coverage of gay issues.

    And there’s some disagreement in Japan over whether the public has a right to know which books someone (in this case Haruki Marukami) used to check out of his high school library: “It is not right,” someone from the Japan Library Association said, “if people cannot use a library free from anxiety.”

  • December 2, 2015



    Morrissey has won the UK’s annual Bad Sex Award with his otherwise un-garlanded first novel, List of the Lost. The scene that helped him beat out competition from the likes of Joshua Cohen and Erica Jong involves “a giggling snowball of full-figured copulation,” a “clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation”, and a “bulbous salutation,” though it’s unclear whether these were so arranged as to take full advantage of the rhyme.

    There’s some more likable rhyming to be found near the end of Susan Bernofsky’s lovely tribute to Christopher Middleton, the poet and translator of Robert Walser, among others, who died late last week.

    And Mikhail Baryshnikov declaims lines from his late friend Joseph Brodsky’s poetry in his new one-man show (which has been called an “anti-ballet”), Brodsky / Baryshnikov.

    Vogue asked Hilton Als to curate a show of photographs for its Gallery, and he chose to take as his starting point Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still, which, as he says, “describes those forces—parents, nanny, landscape—that contributed to the making of Mann’s eye, the hard romance that informs the pictures.”

    Editorial staffers at the Huffington Post are asking their bosses to recognize their union.

    Next week at Columbia, philosopher Alain Badiou will be giving a talk in English entitled “Identity and Universality: A Lecture in Light of Contemporary Tragic Events in Paris and Elsewhere.”

  • December 1, 2015

    Hanya Yanagihara

    Hanya Yanagihara

    In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, there’s an intriguing exchange between the editor of Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life and Daniel Mendelsohn, one of the critics Jennifer Weiner recently accused of “Goldfinching” (delegitimizing even literary fiction if it’s popular with large numbers of women) for his critical review of Yanagihara’s book. Howard seems to agree with Weiner: “Mendelsohn seems to have decided that A Little Life just appeals to the wrong kind of reader. That’s an invidious distinction unworthy of a critic of his usually fine discernment.” Mendelsohn replies, citing an account in Kirkus Reviews of Howard’s early suggestions (not taken) for cuts to Yanagihara’s manuscript, that: “It can be neither pleasant nor easy for Gerald Howard to have to defend his author’s now popular and acclaimed book against a complaint that he himself made as it was being written: that the preposterous excess of humiliation and suffering heaped on the protagonist by its author (along with the character’s improbable array of compensatory expertises) both defies verisimilitude and alienates the sensible reader.”

    Booker winner Marlon James, incidentally, sees the question of a certain kind of woman reader differently from Weiner, noting on Facebook recently that “we writers of colour spend way too much of our lives pandering to the white woman. . . . The last contest I judged, the initial favourite was yet again, ‘bored suburban white woman in the middle of ennui, experiences keenly observed epiphany.’ And though we’ll never admit it, every writer of colour knows that they stand a higher chance of getting published if they write this kind of story. We just do.”

    James recently had a conversation about writing with Jeanette Winterson for The Guardian. Where, incidentally, you can also read Arundhati Roy’s strange account (with pictures) of her meeting with Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, and the actor John Cusack.

    n+1 has an interesting appraisal of the poet Michael Robbins.

    There is now an awful lot of interest in what it’s like to be Ta-Nehisi Coates, whether it’s analysis of attempts to hire him away from the Atlantic or a session of audio soul-searching, on the This American Life podcast, between Coates and an old friend who fears his success might change him.

    Dani Shapiro rereads Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights: “Action, Aristotle once wrote, is not plot, but merely the result of pathos. And pathos is what forms Sleepless Nights. Pathos does not exist in a temporal reality. Nor is it linear. It moves along a poetic circuitry that creates itself, much the same way consciousness does. ‘If I want a plot,’ Hardwick once commented in a Paris Review interview, ‘I’ll watch Dallas.’”

    And speaking of Paris Review interviews, you can read a tantalizing snippet from Christian Lorentzen’s conversation with Gordon Lish (“I saw in Carver’s pieces something I could fuck around with”), to be published in the next issue.

    America, perhaps distracted by Kobe Bryant’s poetic farewell to basketball, seems to have overlooked another poet right under its nose: Thanks to Hart Seely, we can all soon read the words of Donald Trump as they were meant to be read, in verse (it was Seely who, a few years back, did the same for Donald Rumsfeld). Bard of the Deal will be out Dec 15.

  • November 30, 2015

    Alexander Chee

    Alexander Chee

    A Buzzfeed profile of Turkish journalist Can Dundar points out that more than one thousand reporters have been pushed out of their jobs since the reelection of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has cracked down on the press. Dundar himself was imprisoned last week. The charge is espionage, and it is based on a report Dundar published in May that “included photos and videos alleging Turkish intelligence officials were smuggling weapons to Syrian rebel fighters described as jihadis in January 2014.”

    PEN America has announced the winners of its annual Prison Writing Awards.

    Business Insider weighs in on Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice, a book that Aziz Ansari cites as an major influence on his show Master of None. “I had just been obsessed with this notion of The Paradox Of Choice, this Barry Schwartz book where it talks about how when you have so many options, it’s harder to make a choice. The instinct is that when you have more options in your life, it’s better. But in actuality, it’s harder to make a decision and when you do make the decision, you’re often left unsatisfied because you’re worried you picked the wrong thing.”

    Composer Stefan Wiesman and Librettist David Cote are planning to adapt Alexander Chee’s first novel, Edinburgh, into an opera. Chee’s second novel, The Queen of the Night, will be released in February 2016.

    The New York Times has posted its list of this year’s 100 Notable Books.

    A video of James Schuyler’s first public reading, which took place at the DIA Art Foundation in 1988, has just been uploaded to YouTube. John Ashbery introduces.

    Leo, the protagonist of Jeanette Winterson’s novel The Gap of Time, is “the head of the Sicilia hedge fund. He dresses in Hugo Boss, drives a Porsche, and uses a Webcam to spy on his wife, MiMi. After he leverages too many assets, he plops onto the sofa of his analyst, Dr. Wartz, to talk about his mother.” Sound familiar? It’s a modernization of (and a psychoanalytical take on) Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, part of a new series of novels that update Shakespeare’s dramatic works.

    Mark your calendars: On Tuesday this week, Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio will host the latest installment of the Apexart series, which will feature film scholars Noah Isenberg and Molly Haskell, who will “return to Casablanca,” and music writers Gene Seymour, who will recall how he fell for The Beatles, and David Yaffe, who will trace the history of his love of Joni Mitchell. On Wednesday, Joy Williams and Don DeLillo will join forces at Symphony Space.

  • November 25, 2015

    John Oliver

    John Oliver

    Thanksgiving week seems an especially appropriate time to think about citizenship (e.g. Sarah Matthews on what it takes to get a green card), statelessness (e.g. an interview with Atossa Araxia Abrahamian about her intriguing new book The Cosmopolites), migration, and refugees. The last word should perhaps go to John Oliver, from his final show of the year, this past weekend: “Every generation has had its own ugly reaction to refugees, whether they are the Irish, the Vietnamese, the Cubans or the Haitians, and those fears have been broadly unfounded. In fact there was only one time in American history when the fear of refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true—and we’ll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday.”

    Meanwhile, not much turkey-pardoning going on at the LA Times.

    For Jacobin, Grey Anderson traces the history of the “state of emergency” in France.

    Pope Francis’s Italian publishers have just released the cover for what’s being billed as the first book of his papacy (but tell that to Melville House or, for that matter, Verso).

    Newly nicer Gawker thinks its newfound rivals on the political beat (like Mike Allen of Politico) are a little too nice, especially to the great and good.

    Miranda July is interviewed in The Believer, about, among other things, The First Bad Man, her first novel: “I have kind of a resistance to people who talk about their ‘practice’ and who are just so professional. Someone like Lydia Davis is as much of an insider as you could be in, like, the literary world, and yet her work maintains this outsider quality, so that when you read it you get a hint of, Oh right, there’s not any rules. You could do anything and call it your work. I’m drawn to that quality in children, nonartists, and really great established artists.”

    And talk of firsts reminds us of one of the more heartwarming things to have appeared on the internet recently, Donald Antrim discussing his own first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.  

  • November 24, 2015

    In a preview from the next issue of Bookforum, Jeff Sharlet writes about “imperial joking” and the November 13 attacks in Paris.

    Susan Sontag

    Susan Sontag

    And on n+1’s website, Pankaj Mishra powerfully echoes Susan Sontag’s plea from September 2001: “Let’s by all means grieve together, but let’s not be stupid together.”

    The writer Claire Vaye Watkins has an essay (originally a lecture) on literary misogyny, pandering, and “punching up.”

    The artist and actress Adele Mailer (née Morales) died on Sunday, age ninety. A New York Times obituary quotes from her memoir: “I decided I was going to be that beautiful temptress who ate men alive, flossed her teeth and spit out the bones, wearing an endless supply of costumes by Frederick’s of Hollywood.” It also notes, of the infamous night in 1960 when her then husband Norman Mailer stabbed her with a penknife at a party, that “Some guests recalled that the point of no return came when she told her husband that he was not as good as Dostoyevsky.”  

    As we move into the holiday season, everybody’s doing what they can. Glenn Greenwald is trying to make CNN better . . .

    . . . And Donald Trump is doing his bit for poetry. (Plus, he even seems to be trying to ensure that you won’t have to see so much Trump in the press.)

    Journalists may get to see themselves represented at the movies and on high-end TV almost as often as cops or doctors, but the humble book publisher must take what he or she can get.

    You may have missed this heartfelt tribute to one of the internet’s most devoted David Foster Wallace fans, the redditor jeremy1122: “Eventually, he comes to expose the weird insulation and monomania of reading itself—a motif worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges or Enrique Vila-Matas.”

  • November 23, 2015

    Patricia Highsmith

    Patricia Highsmith

    David Remnick reports on the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, “a kind of underground journalistic-activist enterprise that, under the threat of grisly execution, smuggles images and reports on ISIS from Raqqa to its allies abroad.”

    Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy discusses her screenplay for Todd Haynes’s Carol, his new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 “cult lesbian classic” The Price of Salt. How did Highsmith “get to the fundamentals of love?” Says Nagy: “Part of this is Pat Highsmith’s own peculiar psyche, which was obsessional. All the great novels about love—Madame Bovary, all sorts of things like that—are really obsessional. I mean that in the largest sense possible. There are elements of The Price of Salt that are fairly stalker-esque, which fits in very nicely with Pat’s general body of work.”

    Asked by the New York Times which three writers she would invite to a dinner party, Mary Gaitskill remarks: “Three writers together would be a nightmare of obstreperous self-consciousness. Somewhere in heaven I can visualize Nabokov and Woolf deep in illuminating conversation or bonding over a celestial game of something.”

    Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., poet and critic Stephen Burt (Close Calls with Nonsense) will be the first participant in the National Book Critics Circle’s new series of literary talks, “Making the Case,” which will address the role of criticism in contemporary culture.  

    The New Yorker has started a new, online-only feature titled New Yorker Novella, which will showcase longform fiction. The first piece is “In Hindsight,” by Callan Wink.