• January 19, 2016

    C. L. R. James

    C. L. R. James

    At an event yesterday in Harlem marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Chris Rock read from James Baldwin’s famous letter to his nephew. And Viewpoint magazine has reproduced a fascinating letter by C. L. R. James, author of the landmark study of the Haitian Revolution The Black Jacobins, about his 1957 meeting with King, their discussion of tactics in the Montgomery bus boycott, and “the always unsuspected power of the mass movement.”

    The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards have been announced, including Vivian Gornick and Margo Jefferson in autobiography, Colm Tóibín, Maggie Nelson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates in criticism, and Paul Beatty, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Valeria Luiselli in fiction. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to the Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada, and Wendell Berry, the Kentucky novelist, poet, essayist, and environmental activist, received a lifetime achievement award.

    Penguin Random House is the latest company to announce that, in an attempt to improve its record on diversity, it will no longer require its job candidates to hold a university degree.

    Among the minor consequences of the thaw in US relations with Cuba, apparently, is a move to help preserve a trove of Hemingway’s books and papers that have deteriorated over “years of hot, humid Caribbean weather” in the writer’s house near Havana.

    Tomorrow night at Book Culture, Doug Henwood will launch My Turn, his book on Hillary Clinton.

  • January 18, 2016

    Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman

    In “The World’s Longest Out-of-Office Message,” Choire Sicha explains why he’s taking a sabbatical from The Awl. One reason: “I’ve taken on various roles and learned a lot about small businesses. But small businesses do things eccentrically. Independent media definitely does things eccentrically. I’d like to go look at how other people do things, maybe try on new ways of being. Then I’m going to steal all these ideas and use them here. :)” While on leave, Sicha will continue to share (with Alex Balk) the company’s voting rights, so he will “maintain the  privilege of weighing in on the big decisions” at the site.

    Adelle Waldman, author of the novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., has written an essay considering the ways that fiction writers depict love in their work. Novelists, she writes, “seem to lean to one or the other of two poles: the notion of love as a profound, mysterious attraction, or the idea of it as a partnership with a like soul, a person uniquely capable of understanding one’s inner life.” There are, she points out, “many reasons that women might have gravitated more toward the latter.”

    In China, five booksellers have recently disappeared, and each of them was part of a company called Open, which has  published books critical of the country’s communist government. Now, Open has decided to halt its publication of dissident Yu Jie’s Xi Jinping’s Nightmare, which is deeply critical of the Xi regime.

    Selections of Dave Hickey’s Facebook posts have been published as a book of aphorisms titled Dust Bunnies.

    An interview with Lee Boudreaux, the editor of a new self-titled imprint at Little, Brown. “Books can be long, with tangents, strange interludes, a weird backstory. There are no rules. But when I go in and edit I read to make sure whatever that strange thing is we have done it with the right balance. Things have to add up, the velocity needs to be there, you’ve got to have that quality of language and some forward movement at every stage even if it’s not what we think of as ‘plot.’”

    Early last fall, the Huffington Post learned that the US was secretly negotiating with Iran to exchange prisoners. But they waited to publish the story until now. Ryan Grim, the site’s Washington bureau chief, explains why: “For years, a journalistic convention has held, more or less, that hostage and prisoner swap talks ought not to be reported on if doing so risks upending the negotiations. When a member of the media is involved, especially a well-respected one like Rezaian, the pressure to stay quiet becomes much greater.”

    Bestselling author Philip Pullman has resigned from his position at the Oxford Literary Festival, complaining that the festival doesn’t pay the writers who participate. Says Pullman: “The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?”

  • January 15, 2016

    C. D. Wright

    C. D. Wright

    The poet C. D. Wright—whose books include Cooling Time (2005) and the award-winning One with Others (2010)—died earlier this week. Her book Shallcross is scheduled for publication in April. At the New Yorker, Ben Lerner reflects on Wright’s “peculiar brilliance,” and writes that “she was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization.” And at the Awl, poet Mark Bibbins posts Wright’s “only the crossing counts”: “It’s not how we leave one’s life. How go off / the air. You never know, do you. You think you’re ready / for anything; then it happens, and you’re not.”

    The Huffington Post has decided it will voluntarily recognize its employees’ union representation, the Writers Guild of America, East. WGAE has held union drives at many media companies over the past year, including Salon, Vice Media, and Gawker. An internal survey of Gawker employees taken by the union gives a glimpse of what contract negotiations at the site might look like. According to the document (which was leaked to the International Business Times), Gawker employees value editorial freedom above all other priorities, and have shown little interest in arguing for a “just cause” provision in their contract.

    The American Society of Magazine Editors has announced its finalists for the 2016 National Magazine Awards. Some of the notable nominees are Patrick Radden Keefe for his New Yorker story about Gerry Adams and the IRA, “Where the Bodies Are Buried” (this the third consecutive year that Radden Keefe has been nominated); three columns by the imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown for the Intercept, including “Stop Sending Me Jonathan Franzen Novels”; Rebecca Solnit’s Easy Chair column for Harper’s Magazine, including “Abolish High School”; and Slate’s incredible multimedia feature, “The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes,” by Andrew Kahn and Jamelle Bouie. With so many outstanding stories to choose from, we can’t pick a favorite, but we will say this: Kathryn Schulz’s terrifying story about the inevitable big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest still keeps us up some nights.     

    Susan Glasser, Politico’s editor, is reportedly talking with the New York Times about becoming a contributor.

    LaVoy Finicum, one of the members of the Oregon militia that has taken over a national wildlife refuge, is the author of the post apocalyptic novel, Only by Blood and Suffering, which the author describes as “a stirring, fast-paced novel about what matters most in the face of devastating end-times chaos.”

    The Library of America has just published two of Henry James’s memoirs in a new volume, Henry James: Autobiographies. In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik makes an interesting comparison between the labyrinthine (and occasionally exhausting) sentences of James and those of David Foster Wallace: “Wallace . . . mentions James not at all in his critical writings, and though one might take his qualifications and circlings back as Jamesian, they are employed to discriminate not more finely but to discriminate not at all—to get it in, rather than to pare it down. In a time of linguistic overkill, like the nineteen-forties, we look to literature for a language of emotional caution; in an age of irony, we look for emotional authenticity.” (For more on James’s memoirs, see Andrew Solomon’s 2002 review in Bookforum.)

  • January 14, 2016

    In the second media surprise of the week, Al Jazeera America, which employs hundreds of people, has abruptly announced that it will close down all operations in April.

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles

    “As things get worse,” Eileen Myles says to Ana Marie Cox in an interview, “poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary.” Myles also notes that “if the voters rose up with a write-in campaign, then of course” she would make a second run for the presidency. Seems fair to say we need her more than ever.

    The shortlist is up for this year’s “moronic, informative, all-consuming, fascinating, weirdly fun” Tournament of Books.

    The Los Angeles Times has appointed Carolyn Kellogg, a longtime contributor who launched its Jacket Copy blog, as its new books editor.

    And anyone still weeping over the demise of ESPN’s Grantland should cheer up: Its founding editorial director had already made the leap to MTV News (who knew?) and is apparently hiring at least five erstwhile Grantlanders there, as well as others including Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper.

    “When the politics of representation have become so fraught, who gets to write about whom?”, asks Gideon Lewis-Kraus in his New York Times magazine portrait of Alice Goffman, the (white) sociologist whose book On the Run, about a group of young black men in West Philadelphia became the center of an acrimonious controversy last year.

  • January 13, 2016

    You can read the text of last night’s State of the Union address here.

    After considering candidates for nearly a year, the New York Times has chosen Jim Rutenberg (currently chief political correspondent for the Times magazine) as the successor to its beloved media columnist David Carr.

    And the new owner of the Village Voice is rehiring editor in chief Will Bourne, who quit a couple of years ago after only a few months because he was unwilling to fire more good people.

    Parul Sehgal

    Parul Sehgal

    Critic and Bookforum contributor Parul Sehgal has a new column in the New York Times Book Review, and begins with a piece on the delightful provocations of Bohumil Hrabal: “Virginia Woolf wrote that if a writer were free, ‘if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style.’ Is there a better description of the work of Bohumil ­Hrabal?”

    At Vox, Matthew Yglesias has a detailed account of the causes and significance of “TNRmageddon” under Chris Hughes, which includes this entertaining disclaimer: “The world of Washington, DC-based magazines and websites is incredibly incestuous, so I have no way of writing about this without stepping all over too many conflicts of interest to count. But some noteworthy ones include the fact that I applied for a job with the Peter Beinart–era TNR and didn’t get it after a disastrous job interview. I was recruited for jobs in both the first and second Foer eras. I used to work closely with Richard Just (who was editor between Foer stints) before he worked at TNR. I dated a TNR staffer for a while, was roommates with Spencer Ackerman at the time Foer fired him from TNR, and am very close friends with a current staffer at TNR. I also lived in the same dorm with Hughes for a year in college. All of which is to say that while my coverage of this can hardly be objective, it’s also pretty well-informed.”

    Media tycoon of media tycoons Rupert Murdoch plans to marry Jerry Hall.

    New York magazine asked a lot of people, including the writers Sheila Heti and Ta-Nehisi Coates, about their early breakthroughs.

    Tonight at Ace Hotel, there’s a reading party for the new issue of n+1.

  • January 12, 2016

    David Bowie, American Library Association

    David Bowie, American Library Association

    Writers from Hilton Als to Marlon James responded yesterday to the loss of the inimitable David Bowie, and many recalled the books he loved most. (In a 1998 Proust questionnaire, Bowie’s answers, respectively, to “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” and “What is the quality you most like in a man?” were “Reading,” and ”The ability to return books.”)

    Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes has announced that running a magazine (or finding “a workable business model” for one) is a lot harder than he’d hoped: “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million,” he wrote yesterday in a memo to staff, he is giving up on the New Republic and plans to sell it.Vox, Vice, the Texas Tribune, Buzzfeed, ProPublica, and Mic embody a new generation of promising organizations — some for-profit, others non-profit — that have put serious, high-quality journalism at the core of their identities. The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other traditional outlets seem to have found business models that work for them. I hope that this institution will one day be part of that list. To get there The New Republic needs a new vision that only a new owner can bring.” The Wall Street Journal noted that TNR’s web traffic had dropped by more than fifty percent after the mass walkout of the old guard late last year, and hadn’t really recovered since, but it also quoted former editor Franklin Foer as saying that the magazine “has spent 100 years cheating death,” and may keep on doing so.

    Meanwhile, after five years at the helm of the Paris Review, Lorin Stein—who recalls thatWhen I told my sister I was quitting my job as a book editor to edit a magazine of stories and poems, she looked as if I’d said I was running away to join the circus: a tiny, doomed, irrelevant circus”—appears to be going strong.

    It seems Sean Penn may not have been Chapo Guzmán’s first choice to write about him: The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe has an interesting piece about the El Chapo saga, in which he mentions his own (tactful) refusal of an offer to collaborate on the drug lord’s memoirs. As well as putting him on dubious legal footing, Keefe “worried that the whole scenario felt like Act I of a thriller in which the hapless magazine writer, blinded by his desire for a scoop, does not necessarily survive Act III.”

    In the UK, the Daily Telegraph apparently installed heat and motion sensors to monitor how much time its journalists spend at their desks—but then removed the devices again a few hours later after staff complaints and a report about the incident on Buzzfeed. It’s nice to keep tabs on your employees, perhaps, but less fun once someone else starts keeping tabs on the tabs you’re keeping.

  • January 11, 2016

    Aside from everything else you could say about David Bowie—surely one of the greatest shapeshifting pop stars in history—he also had excellent taste in literature. Via Electric Lit, here’s a list of Bowie’s one hundred favorite books. And from the 2011 volume David Bowie: Any Day Now, The London Years 1947–1974, a few images of the starman from his late 1960s and early ’70s heyday:

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  • Meera Subramanian

    Meera Subramanian

    Glancing back: In 2015, Amazon’s stock prices went up 117 percent and the Educational Development Corp’s stock prices went up 128 percent, creating a jump in publishing-industry share prices. Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble’s stocks fell 26 percent. Looking ahead: the News & Observer offers predictions for 2016—“Paper is popular, science fiction rises, long-form nonfiction dips.”

    The New York Times does not call Sean Penn’s meeting with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, unethical, but it does raise the question. Penn’s article about the drug lord was published this weekend in Rolling Stone (just after El Chapo’s recapture). The Times says: “It was not immediately clear what the ethical and legal considerations of the article might be. In a disclosure that ran with the story, Rolling Stone said it had changed some names and withheld some locations. An understanding was reached with Mr. Guzmán, it said, that the story would be submitted for his approval, but he did not request any changes. The magazine declined to comment further Saturday.”

    Alanis Morissette, who two decades ago inspired thousands of English majors (and even Weird Al) to critique her use of the word “ironic,” has written a self-help memoir, Perpetual Becoming (to be published by HarperOne in October), and is about to become an advice columnist for The Guardian. Her first column will appear on January 16.

    Morissette isn’t the only ’90s pop star who’s been working on an autobiography. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins says he has written more than 1,000 pages of his memoir. And he’s not done yet.

    The Virginia Quarterly Review has launched a new “literary experiment” called #VQRTrueStory on Instagram. For the next year, the literary magazine will be publishing photographs with short, nonfiction essays attached. The first posts are by author Meera Subramanian (A River Runs Again), who has been documenting changes in India. According to VQR deputy editor Paul Reyes, each Instagram post will “receive the same editorial treatment as all other magazine content.” Many of the posts will be collected and published on the website or in the magazine.

    Maxim magazine is suing two former employees for defamation after they spoke to the New York Post for a “controversial” article about Maxim’s millionaire owner Sardar Bilgari (who recently named himself the magazine’s EIC) and his alleged behavior at a recent cover shoot.

  • January 8, 2016

    Chris Kraus

    Chris Kraus

    The Fales Library & Special Collections at NYU, known for its unique materials on Riot Grrrl and the Downtown New York scene, has acquired Chris Kraus’s papers, including her personal diaries—the source material for novels that ingeniously combined theory, fiction, and autobiography—and her correspondence as founding editor of Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents imprint, as well as film and video footage from her time as a filmmaker in New York in the 1980s and ‘90s. “Dear Dick,” Kraus wrote, in her groundbreaking 1997 epistolary novel I Love Dick, “I guess in a sense I’ve killed you. You’ve become Dear Diary.” For readers, it seemed more than worth the sacrifice—and now we might get a chance to see just how it was done.

    Author and economic analyst Doug Henwood has responded to Katha Pollitt’s piece in The Nation on his book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency, noting an unwillingness on the part of Clinton’s supporters to engage with her actual record. There’s a nice Allen Ginsberg reference in there, too.

    Like the rest of us, Jonathan Sturgeon of Flavorwire has been paying attention lately to the public reading habits of our political and business leaders. And he’s drawn a few helpful conclusions, not least this one: “The urge to review books goes unsatisfied even when your every material and altruistic need is met.”

    Meanwhile, for the old-fashioned among you who still long to read anonymously and in private, it will soon be possible to get more of your news on the dark web: ProPublica is apparently the first major media organization to offer an untraceable version of itself, via the Tor network.

    Kelly Luce offers a treat at Electric Literature: One of the Lucia Berlin stories not included in A Manual for Cleaning Women.

  • January 7, 2016

    Anne Carson

    Anne Carson

    The celebrated poet Anne Carson is branching out into short stories—there’s one in the New Yorker this week, and another in Harper’s Magazine.

    As writers struggle to make anything you might call a living, Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy and current president of the UK’s Society of Authors, has asked British publishers to offer fairer contractual terms: “We authors see a landscape occupied by several large interests, some of them gathering profits in the billions, some of them displaying a questionable attitude to paying tax, some of them colonising the internet with projects whose reach is limitless and whose attitude to creators’ rights is roughly that of the steamroller to the ant,” he writes. “One thing hasn’t changed, which is the ignored, unacknowledged, but complete dependence of those great interests on us and on our talents and on the work we do in the quiet of our solitude. They have enormous financial and political power, but no creative power whatsoever.”

    And over here, the Authors Guild has taken its case against Google for “copyright infringement on an epic scale” to the Supreme Court (though it’s unlikely to get anywhere).

    Edward Mendelson, scholar, critic, and literary executor of W. H. Auden’s estate, praises Barack Obama for the quality of his youthful thoughts on T. S. Eliot—”This is what the finest literary criticism has always done”—but wonders what else they might tell us about the president: “Like everyone, I imagine, who was moved and hopeful after the 2008 elections,” he writes, “I have mixed feelings about Barack Obama’s presidency, and I doubt that ‘a fatalism I share with the western tradition’ is desirable in a practical politician.

    Kelsey Osgood visits the remaining members of a commune inspired by the thought of Leo Tolstoy.

    Michael Dirda finds the new memoir by the hundred-year-old novelist Herman Wouk, author of The Caine Mutiny and Marjorie Morningstar, a bit lacking in revelations, but it does hint that more might be forthcoming from “a frank private diary” that runs to over a hundred volumes.