• December 28, 2015

    Lauren Groff

    Lauren Groff

    In an interview with the Guardian, Claudia Rankine talks about Serena Williams, the reception of her book Citizen, and the difficulties one faces when calling out racism. “When white men are shooting black people, some of it is malice and some an out-of-control image of blackness in their minds. Darren Wilson told the jury that he shot Michael Brown because he looked ‘like a demon.’ And I don’t disbelieve it. Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people.”

    Rolling Stone weighs in on the year’s best music books.

    After parents successfully campaigned to remove Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian from a high-school’s curriculum, a local bookstore started a crowdfunding project to buy copies of the book for 350 students. When Hachette, the book’s publisher, heard of the project to distribute the book to students, it sent another 350 copies to the store, free of charge.

    Laura Miller explains how Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies became one of the most talked-about books of 2015. President Obama’s shout-out didn’t hurt. But Miller argues that Fates and Furies has won readers primarily with its portrait of a marriage riddled with secrets and power struggles, much as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl did in 2012. Miller does not see much subtlety in either novel: “These are both tales of female puppet masters, geniuses who invisibly engineer their marriages to appear to best advantage to outsiders.” Nonetheless, many women readers identify with the books’ heroines, who “resemble every working mum who wonders if her husband has any notion of how much effort she puts into the administration of their family life.”

    The Washington Post reports that “in the age of Amazon, used bookstores are making an unlikely comeback.”

  • December 24, 2015

    Langston Hughes

    Langston Hughes

    Charles F. Harris, an editor and publisher at Doubleday, Random House, and Howard University Press who consistently championed black writing and published Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Nikki Giovanni, has died.

    David Foster Wallace fans (notorious for the strength of their devotion) have been given the chance to redesign the cover of Infinite Jest for its twentieth anniversary next year. The Millions asked his publishers, “What would David have made of that decision?”, but they wisely elected not to guess.

    It’s time for the New York Times magazine’s feature on those who died this year, including James Salter, Philip Levine, and the typographer Hermann Zapf, who invented Dingbats, as well as Optima, the font used on both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the September 11 Memorial. “Does the new technology mean the serious lettering artist will be dispensable?” Zapf said of the rise of computing. “No. The alphabet remains.”

    New York magazine profiles the makers of Serial, who decided on a new direction for Season Two, lest they “become a sort of public-radio Law & Order.”

    When is erotic fiction appropriate for the holidays? Perhaps when it stars a presidential candidate, like Lacey Noonan’s A Cruzmas Carol: Enjoy.

  • December 23, 2015

    Just two weeks after Sheldon Adelson bought The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the editor, Michael Hengel, has resigned. Hengel told a reporter, “I think my resignation probably comes as a relief to the new owners.”

    While you’re waiting for Hilary Mantel to finish her third Thomas Cromwell novel, this new short story from the London Review of Books should tide you over.

    Flavorwire’s Jonathon Sturgeon rounds up the best literary criticism of 2015, including more than a few of our favorites: Dayna Tortorici on Elena Ferrante from n+1, Christian Lorentzen on Jonathan Franzen from New York magazine, an ensemble cast of critics on Lolita in the New Republic, and Ben Lerner on poetry from the LRB.

    Ben Lerner

    Ben Lerner

    And if you’re not convinced by Ben Lerner’s assertion that all poems are essentially failures (or if you’re looking for more evidence that he’s right), the New York Times has a round-up of favorite poems from the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elizabeth Kolbert, Donna Tartt, and John Waters.  

    Clover Hope writes about the rise of the gushing celebrity profile: “As we found out this year, the fan-on-celebrity profile is difficult to execute in a way that feels meaningful to anyone outside that fandom: more often it feels evasive, soft, full of fluff quotes, empty commentary, uncritical drooling.”

  • December 22, 2015

    Meghan Daum

    Meghan Daum

    The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded $25,000 fellowships to thirty-seven writers, both “emerging and established” (the list includes Meghan Daum, Téa Obreht, Celeste Ng, and Peter Ho Davies). They’ll be propping up the poets next: Applications are due March 9 for the 2017 fellowships.

    If you didn’t like the sound of working for Amazon, beware the inside of the Washington Post: Jeff Bezos, it seems, is hands-on in his approach there, as in all things.

    CNN congratulates two reporters on managing to play nicely together after they discovered they were working on the same (very interesting) story: “I can think of a lot of different reporters put together through a shotgun marriage who wouldn’t have worked as well,” the Marshall Project’s Bill Keller (formerly of the New York Times) noted. “I sort of had the sense that we had not only two great reporters, but also grown-ups.”

    Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is paying close attention to a (slightly one-sided) blurbing contest that’s been quietly playing out for years: After claiming the prolific-blurber crown in a piece in the New York Times several years ago, A. J. Jacobs has been forced to cede it to someone he quoted in that very piece, Malcolm Gladwell, whose name apparently can make bestsellers of even the books he doesn’t actually write. Back in 2012, Jacobs noted that Gladwell had told him the blurber is one who “draws attention to himself while seeming to draw attention to something else.” And it’s clear that Jacobs took the message to heart: “It’s hard to compete with Malcolm Gladwell,” he is now quoted as saying. “He is always going to get the front cover. I get the back cover or, maybe, inside.” Gary Shteyngart, of course, announced his retirement from the blurbing fray more than a year ago, and we can only assume he’s been thriving ever since.

  • December 21, 2015

    celine-joan-didion-spring-2015-holdingThe Washington Post has canceled its “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week” column. According to Caitlin Dewey, when the paper inaugurated the column in 2014, the goal was to correct misinformation that Internet readers had accepted due to “honest ignorance or misinformation.” This, the paper says, has become impossible—rumors now circulate at a much faster pace, and are therefore difficult to correct. Dewey says that readers, too, have become less interested in the truth, because they are driven by “schadenfreude—even hate.”

    The Knight Foundation is donating $140,000 to the publishing platform Medium, with the agreement that the money will be used to fact-check political posts leading up to the presidential election. Among other things, this means that Medium will scrutinize all of the publications that presidential candidates (including Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Marco Rubio) post on the site. The fact-checking will be handled by Politifact, and corrections will be posted on the Medium site. One imagines that the politicians, knowing of this safeguard at Medium, will save their misinformation for other outlets.

    At the New York Times, Matthew Schneier reflects on the “most discussed fashion model of 2015,” namely Joan Didion. Did her much-discussed appearance in ads for Celine affect her career as a writer? It seems so: “According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales of print books, sales of her work in 2015 to date are up nearly 55 percent over the comparable period the previous year.”

    The Chronicle of Higher Education has bestowed author Laura Kipnis with a new title—“Troublemaker”—for her efforts to “push back on a culture of victimization.”

    A new study has revealed that bestselling books are getting longer. The average length of a bestseller in 1999 was 320 pages; in 2014, the average length jumped to 407 pages. If you trust Amazon reviews, then novels are also apparently getting better.

    Tickets are on sale for the Poetry Project’s 42nd Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Reading. The list of this year’s performers includes Christian Hawkey, Dorothea Laskey, Eileen Myles, Patricia Spears Jones, and many others.

  • December 18, 2015

    In the wake of the news that Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson was the man behind the secretive purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, many questions still remain. At Politico, Ken Doctor considers why Adelson paid so much for the paper (a reported $140 million in cash, which is three times what the paper was valued at in March), and what the impact of the sale could be on the news business. The new partnership has not gotten off to an auspicious start: An in-house story about the sale was halted last week by the paper’s publisher so he could remove quotes, including one by the Journal’s editor questioning who the new owners are and what their expectations are for the paper.

    James Laughlin

    James Laughlin

    The New York Times has corrected a front-page story about the San Bernardino shooters. The paper had mistakenly reported that Tashfeen Malik has posted messages supporting jihad on social media, though the FBI later clarified that the missives were actually sent on private messaging platforms and on a dating site. This small error has big consequences for the story: Originally, the piece was a pointed and powerful critique of how the background check process for a US visa does not include checking public social media sites; now it is a somewhat garbled report about how the visa process had missed Malik’s “online zealotry.”  

    Dwight Garner looks back at a year of reading, but rather than make a “best of” list (you can find that here), Garner recounts his favorite lines and the most memorable moments from books published in 2015. There are many gems on the list, including witticisms from Joy Williams, Paul Beatty, and Rachel Cusk, but our favorite quip comes from legendary New Directions publisher James Laughlin, as reported in the biography Literchoor Is My Beat. When asked if he feared dying, Laughlin replied, “I fear death because I can’t recall that Dante mentions any book in hell.”

  • December 17, 2015

    Molly Crabapple

    Molly Crabapple

    Writer and artist Molly Crabapple, whose just-published memoir Drawing Blood describes her experiences reporting at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, has published new drawings of Syrian refugees in the Domiz camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    Morrissey has belatedly commented on his debut novel’s victory in this year’s Bad Sex Award, noting that he has “many enemies” of the kind who “try to use all your achievements against you,” and that “there are too many good things in life to let these repulsive horrors pull you down.” There are indeed many good things, and a “giggling snowball of full-figured copulation,” as featured in Morrissey’s List of the Lost, is just one of them.

    More good news for journalists: Staffers at The Nation have secured a new contract that provides for pay increases and up to four months’ paid parental leave.

    And even better news, it seems, for those involved in the UK’s phone-hacking scandal: It looks as if you really have got away with it.

    The writer Tao Lin has weighed in on the merits of MFAs in his characteristically deadpan fashion. He’s also updated his useful map of the contemporary American short story.

    The last McNally Jackson variety show of the year is tonight, which means you may get to spend the evening with Annie Baker and Lynne Tillman.

  • December 16, 2015

    In what is perhaps an ominous sign of the times, Merriam Webster has named the suffix ”-ism” as the word of the year. The dictionary reports that words such as racism, fascism, and socialism were often looked up this year, beating out also-rans such as marriage, respect, and inspiration. Meanwhile, Google has posted its “Year in Search” offering a deeper look into the queries on everyone’s mind.

    After last night’s Republican debate, it might be a good time to revisit Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which Harper’s Magazine has helpfully placed in front of its paywall. Hofstadter writes,  “The paranoid spokesman . . . traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization.” Sound familiar?

    Marco Rubio

    Marco Rubio

    Meanwhile, for those who feel there’s too much money sloshing around political campaigns, look at it this way: It’s always nice when a writer gets paid.

    We know that Obama was reading Lauren Groff this year, but what was Lauren Groff reading?

    For Karl Ove Knausgaard, after the magnum opus comes the listicle: “I ended up writing about ten things that made life worth living and ten things that made me want to shoot myself. The editor quit and the project was canceled before I turned it in, but in that brief form I’d found something that appealed to me. So I continued writing.”

    Businessweek makes its staffers compile a list of every piece they wish they’d written this year. If only more magazine writers would make lists of those they wish they hadn’t! We might try it in 2016.

    Artist Mary Ramsden and novelist Adam Thirlwell have a created a digital artist’s book, “RadioPaper,” with five new “super-short stories” by Thirlwell.  

  • December 15, 2015

    At the New Republic this week, in two shifts a day from Monday to Friday, ten writers (all women, incidentally) reread Nabokov’s Lolita on the occasion of its sixtieth birthday.

    Gabriel García Márquez

    Gabriel García Márquez

    The late and formidable literary agent Carmen Balcells and her late and formidable client Gabriel García Márquez get the Vanity Fair treatment.

    And the New York Times profiles Ian Hislop, impish editor of Private Eye, the UK magazine that “combines very funny jokes, many of them unashamedly adolescent, with serious investigative journalism of the kind most British papers no longer do.”

    Meanwhile, it looks as if a lot of other British journalists are off the hook, as prosecutors drop their four-year phone-hacking inquiry.

    A striking detail from one of the obituaries for the great scholar Benedict Anderson: “Anderson’s linguistic fluency was almost superhuman. Perry Anderson could read all the major European languages but once ruefully declared his big brother was the true polyglot of the family: Benedict could read Dutch, German, Spanish, Russian, and French and was fully conversant in Indonesian, Javanese, Tagalog, and Thai; he claimed he often thought in Indonesian.”

    If you haven’t yet read the current issue of the New York Review of Books, you’re missing Colm Tóibín on Clarice Lispector.

    A writer for the Economist sits through a performance of a forgotten Arthur Miller play, written for a cash prize when Miller was a twenty-year-old sophomore, and wonders how many of these “lost” works (which seem to be sloshing around all over the place this year) really need finding again: Our sympathies.

    In a pairing so obvious that you feel it may already have happened, Neil Gaiman plans to adapt Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels for the big screen.

    Vindication once again (courtesy of the Globe and Mail) for all those who still take punctuation seriously.

    You know you’ve made it as a magazine writer when you can flog an old article as a book for $200 a copy—but then if you’re Gay Talese, you probably already knew (that’s right, “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” is now a book).

  • December 14, 2015

    Author and scholar Benedict Anderson died yesterday in Batu, Malang, East Java. Best known for his influential 1983 study Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, he also wrote many other books, including Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (2005) and The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand (2012). Next summer, Verso will publish Anderson’s memoir A Life Beyond the Boundaries.

    PEN has announced the longlist for its annual translation prize. And in other awards news, Salman Rushdie has been awarded the Mailer Prize for lifetime achievement

    László Krasznahorkai

    László Krasznahorkai

    Elusive novelist Elena Ferrante grants a rare interview to the Financial Times: “I believe that, today, failing to protect writing by guaranteeing it an autonomous space, far from the demands of the media and the marketplace, is a mistake. . . . I think authors should be sought in the books they put their names to, not in the physical person who is writing or in his or her private life. Outside the texts and their expressive techniques, there is only idle gossip.” 

    Poet and basketball columnist Rowan Ricardo Phillips reflects on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the Paris Review.

    Tonight in New York, László Krasznahorkai, the author of Satantango, among other novels, and the winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, will make a rare US appearance, discussing his work with Salman Rushdie and Valeria Luiselli.