• December 11, 2015

    Lucia Berlin

    Lucia Berlin

    The New York Times book critics picked their favorite books of the year, and while Michiko Kakutani’s and Janet Maslin’s lists are billed as “roughly in order of preference,” Dwight Garner’s is alphabetized by author: We’d like to think it’s because he couldn’t quite bring himself to choose between the inimitable Joy Williams and the inimitable Lucia Berlin (whom Williams reviews in the latest Bookforum).

    A new season of Serial—the podcast that put podcasts on the radar for millions of new listeners—has begun, focusing on Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who left his post and spent several years in captivity with the Taliban. Unlike the first season, about Adnan Syed, who was convicted for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee (and whose friend is now writing a book about him, due out next September), this one is not primarily concerned with finding out what happened: “The basic facts in the case of Bergdahl are known,” writes Sarah Larson on the New Yorker site, “and most parties involved agree on what they are. But what those facts mean, what Bergdahl actually experienced in the Army, his motivations for leaving his platoon, and the many terrible consequences of that decision are more complex, even existential.” So that’s a relief for anyone who felt let down when the first season’s ending turned out to be some variation of a “contemplation on the nature of the truth” after all.

    The new editor of Harper’s, Christopher Cox, introduces the latest issue, and makes some staff-writer announcements ahead of the magazine’s relaunch next spring: There will be regular essays from Rivka Galchen, A. S. Hamrah, and Emily Witt, while Christine Smallwood (who will write on the state of the American short story in a forthcoming issue of Bookforum) is taking over the New Books column full time, after the departure of her comrade, the novelist Joshua Cohen.

    You know it’s a good week when George Saunders is on Colbert.

    And on Monday, philosopher Alain Badiou will be at Columbia, speaking onRadical Grace: The Role of Art in Response to Present Tragic Circumstances.”

  • December 10, 2015

    Time magazine has an excerpt from Open Letter, the posthumously published manifesto by Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Stéphane Charbonnier, who was killed in the January attack. In this controversial passage from the book, due out in English next month, Charbonnier lays out his objections to the term Islamophobia, which he claims obscures the underlying problems of racism and discrimination against the poor.

    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

    Jane Hu looks around the archive of the great queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (kept in her Manhattan apartment until an institution decides to acquire it),  and talks to Sedgwick’s husband, Hal, who maintains it: “I know that there is enormous generative power in her work,” he says, “and I don’t want that ever to be lost.”

    As round-up season begins to wind down, there are still a few more revelations to be had: People magazine, for instance, shares with us President Barack Obama’s book of the year—he chose Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.

    Meanwhile, the longlist is out for the next Tournament of Books, to take place in March, and you can apply to be a judge.

    BuzzFeed’s ethics guidelines apparently preclude any expressions of political partisanship by its writers and editors, but its chief, Ben Smith, has announced in a memo that they should feel free to attack Donald Trump (and certain parties at Time magazine have evidently felt the same).

    Anyone who hasn’t yet read Ariel Levy’s New Yorker piece on Transparent creator Jill Soloway is missing out on both a portrait of the poet Eileen Myles and the most appealing depiction of a TV writers’ room we’ve encountered: “The writers Soloway assembled for ‘Transparent’ . . . are her playmates and her propaganda squad. Only one of them, Bridget Bedard, had experience in television before joining the show, as a writer on ‘Mad Men.’ Soloway culled the rest of her staff from academia, fiction, queer activism, film, and musical theatre.”

  • December 9, 2015

    Svetlana Alexievich

    Svetlana Alexievich

    Svetlana Alexievich (”Flaubert called himself a human pen; I would say that I am a human ear”) delivered the annual Nobel lecture in Sweden, quoting extensively from her own diaries and from the other voices her work makes space for. And in light of her observation that “I am often told, even now, that what I write isn’t literature, it’s a document,” Jonathon Sturgeon reads her as the most contemporary of writers.

    Novelist Bret Easton Ellis has an op-ed about how we’re all too eager to be liked nowadays. Offering the experiences of his controversial youth as self-help for those he sees as cowed by life online, he writes: “I was liked as often as I was disliked, and that was OK because I didn’t get emotionally involved. Being reviewed negatively never changed the way I wrote or the topics I wanted to explore, no matter how offended some readers were by my descriptions of violence and sexuality. As a member of Generation X, rejecting, or more likely ignoring, the status quo came easily to me.”

    And, from the Baffler, a piece on literature as a tool for empathy as a tool for business—or, why and how they teach literature to aspiring MBAs. Merve Emre sits in on a seminar called “Leadership Through Fiction.”

    Sarah Weinman writes about Hughes Allison, the “first black member of Mystery Writers of America,” and why he and his black detective character, Joe Hill, didn’t get the success they deserved.

    The new issue of n+1 is up online (and it’s worth subscribing for Sarah Resnick’s essay on heroin alone).

  • 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.