• April 16, 2015

    The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

    The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

    The EU accuses Google of breaking antitrust laws by abusing its enviable position atop the internet. But some say that by vanquishing one monster, you may help create more.

    Is sweetness and light emerging as some sort of publishing micro-trend? First David Brooks lets us all in on the secret that “the résumé virtues” are less important than “the eulogy virtues”, like bravery, kindness, and so on (better to look good at your own funeral than at work); and now the Bookseller reports that the Dalai Lama is collaborating with Desmond Tutu on The Book of Joy: Finding Enduring Happiness in an Uncertain World, which was snapped up during a “very spirited” 12-publisher auction. (Apparently, the book will consist of answers to questions people have put to each of them on Facebook; they plan to hang this weekend and start work on it.) Still, at least the contrarianists at Melville House seem to be siding with darker forces.

    From a forthcoming issue of Slice magazine, a conversation with Porochista Khakpour and Geek Love author Katherine Dunn—on stalkers, Moby-Dick and why there’s “something fundamentally interesting about a book that reverses the values of society.”

    Self-published novelist Peter Gallagher is seeking $10 million in damages from Joss Whedon, Lionsgate, and the rest of the gang behind the satirical horror flick The Cabin in the Woods, which he claims ripped off his 2006 book. Among other things, the complaint compares the movie’s tagline (“You think you know the story”) to that for Gallagher’s novel: “A different way of telling a story you think you’ve heard before.” Seems that with advertising as with schlock horror, it’s all in the way you say it.

    More dispiriting news for authors: Poets & Writers has analyzed its own listings section to produce an account of the changing state of writing contests over the last decade, and guess what—the number of contests has grown, total prize money has shrunk, there are ever fewer no-fee contests and the average entry fee has gone up. Higher up the chain, things look a bit more encouraging. Winners of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, an unusually magnanimous prize that gathers its vast longlist via nominations from hundreds of libraries, get €100,000: IMPAC just announced its ten shortlisted contenders for 2015, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Colum McCann and Roxana Robinson. And in nonfiction, Susana Ferreira won the first annual Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award, a $12,500 grant set up in memory of the journalist who died last year while on assignment in Uganda.

  • April 15, 2015

    patti coverHarperCollins has agreed to terms with Amazon on a new e-book deal, dispelling a rumor that the publisher was refusing to sign the contract. Like other major publishers, HarperCollins will set their own e-book prices, with Amazon appending a passive-aggressive note to the listing.

    Rights to Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, have been sold in twenty-five countries so far, but foreign publishers must contend with strict security to get a look at the book. Lee’s agent, Andrew Nurnberg, is asking these publishers to travel to his London office and read the manuscript, saying, “We don’t wish to sell this book blind . . . Not least because there has been a fair amount of nonsense in the press by a few people who seem determined to question the motivation of selling it, and to belittle its literary merits, without having read a single word.”

    The American Library Association released its annual list of Frequently Challenged Books (the ones people have tried most often to ban or restrict in schools and libraries), and apparently what the majority of this year’s have in common is “diverse content”. Vice looks on the bright side, wondering if the increase in those kinds of complaints might just mean more Americans are reading diversely: “Maybe more cool kids are reading Persepolis (number-two challenged) and more uptight parents are writing in to ban it. Is that too hopeful?”

    Patti Smith, whose memoir Just Kids won a 2010 National Book Award, has written a sequel, which will be published by Knopf in October. Whereas Just Kids, which recounted the author’s relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, captured Smith’s life as she was becoming an artist, the new book, M Train, appears to be a rangier set of reflections on art. According to a press release, the book moves “from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; from the ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith buys just before Hurricane Sandy hits, to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima.”

    At the Daily Dot, a look behind the self-declared “front page of the internet”: are power-hungry Reddit mods ruining it for the rest of us, and if so, will the site eventually go the way of Digg? Meanwhile, the Ezra Klein-Nate Silver spat may be set to continue as they nestle side by side at the top of a new list of Twitter’s most influential political journalists. It’s a pretty long list: if you want to know if you’ve made it, Dylan Byers of Politico says you can check in with him by email.

  • April 14, 2015

    Günter Grass

    Günter Grass

    At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Salman Rushdie says goodbye to Günter Grass, who died yesterday. In 1982, after making his “genuflections” before the great man in a village near Hamburg, Rushdie recalls getting drunk on schnapps with Grass and then singing his praises to the German press—”they would have preferred something cattier, but I had nothing catty to say,” Rushdie reports. And he still doesn’t: regardless of Grass’s war record, Rushdie defends him as the author of “the greatest anti-Nazi masterpieces ever written, containing passages about Germans’ chosen blindness towards the Holocaust that no anti-Semite could ever write.” Also respectfully remembered yesterday, despite his own modesty about his most famous book, The Open Veins of Latin America, was Eduardo Galeano.

    After Hillary Clinton at long last declared her candidacy (she doesn’t appear till a minute and a half into the video), some wondered what likably spontaneous hi-jinks would be coming next. Marco Rubio announced his own run as a quantum leap into the future, but the Fix dug up a fetching shot of him striving to unseat an earlier Clinton back in 1996.

    It’s tempting to reproduce some time-lapse graphics showing social media’s Hillary-fest, but that kind of thing can land you in trouble nowadays. Whether or not it’s been swiping Nate Silver’s charticles, though, Vox.com also spends time pondering the ethics of reporting on pseudoscience: “The doubt industry knows that journalists actually do want to get things right and reflect nuance,” says doctor, writer, and optimist Ivan Oransky, “and they have figured out how to craft their messages and arguments in such a way that they seem like honest academic questions.” How to talk about Food Babes or anti-vaxxers without stirring up fake controversies or “turning cranks into martyrs”? Undeterred, later this week a host of writers will take part in a marathon reading of Eula Biss’s On Immunity.

    A debut novel about a dystopian beehive got its author Laline Paull onto the shortlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (the Orange Prize that was) alongside some more familiar contenders, including Sarah Waters (the British bookies’ favorite), Ali Smith, and Rachel Cusk.

    The United States Telecom Association just struck the first blow against net neutrality with a lawsuit claiming the rules were “arbitrary and capricious”; après USTA, the pile-on. Meanwhile, at the Columbia Journalism Review, a dark vision of the Facebook-NYT-Buzzfeed future: “News organizations have always been at risk of bending to the will of their advertisers,” writes Trevor Timm, but “Standard Oil or Pfizer or General Motors never had the power to ensure millions of New York Times subscribers would not get their paper the next day. Yet with one click, Facebook could pull off the modern-day equivalent.” Still, if you thought there was no standing up to this kind of censorship, Arabelle Sicardi, whose anti-Dove soap post was briefly suppressed, has a parting message for you (and Buzzfeed).

  • April 13, 2015

    Zainub Priya Dala

    Zainub Priya Dala

    South African psychologist and novelist Zainub Priya Dala (ZP Dala) has been violently attacked, and is now being held in a mental institution—punishment, many allege, for a recent speech in which she praised Salman Rushdie. PEN America is demanding her immediate release.

    Vice has posted an excerpt from Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi’s forthcoming novel, Muse. The excerpt is, among other things, a portrait of the aggressive deal-making that takes place at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Galassi’s novel was bought by Knopf in 2013. “Rights directors were the most visible players under the Frankfurt bell jar,” writes Galassi, “and the acknowledged queen of them all was Cora Blamesly, Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s mace-wielding Iron Maiden, who hailed from the arbor-draped hills of Carinthia and was a past master at brandishing her picked-up Sloane Ranger accent, with its ineradicable Germanic undertone, and her S/M selling techniques to extract outrageous contracts from her desperate European ‘friends.’”

    Judith Miller, the former New York Times journalist and author of a series of later-debunked stories arguing that Iraq possessed or was closed to possessing weapons of mass destruction, celebrated the release of her new book, The Story, last week at the Harvard Club. When asked about  Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer of the widely discredited Rolling Stone story about rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, Miller commented: “I’m glad she wasn’t fired. Everybody is entitled to a misstep. What she’s gone through is very painful and will make her a better journalist.” Meanwhile, at Politico, Jack Shafer explains the “real problem” with Miller: It’s not that she “got Iraq wrong,” but that in her new memoir she continues to make excuses, and doesn’t try to correct her mistakes.

    Virginia Jackson dwells on the work of Lauren Berlant in an essay on “the function of criticism at the present time.” Berlant is, Jackson writes, “a critic’s critic, a feminist’s feminist, and a thinker’s friend.”

    Last week, Buzzfeed ran a story critiquing a Dove Soap video ad. Soon, the story was pulled. “We pulled this post because it is not consistent with the tone of BuzzFeed Life,” claimed editors at the site. As Gawker points out, Dove is in fact a Buzzfeed advertiser. Gawker has also reported that Buzzfeed removed editorial content that criticized the game Monopoly after signing a deal with the board game’s manufacturer, Hasbro. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed is denying that the stories were removed due to advertiser pressure. “You also have a right to ask about whether we did this because of advertiser pressure, as Gawker suggested,” says Buzzfeed EIC Ben Smith. “The answer is no.”


  • April 10, 2015

    Jeffery Renard Allen

    Jeffery Renard Allen

    The 2015 Guggenheim Fellows have been announced; winners include Jeffery Renard Allen, Meghan Daum, Alex Ross, Cathy Park Hong, Percival Everett, Rivka Galchen, and Kevin Powers.

    At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Leslie Jamison considers Chris Kraus’s work and how Kraus has resisted the idea that her novels are confessional (Kraus’s 2006 novel Torpor was reissued by Semiotext(e) earlier this year). Jamison quotes Kraus saying that she wants to address vulnerability “at some remove,” and looks at the ways in which Kraus’s genre-resistant writings use scenes from her real life as a way to seek larger truths: “Kraus insists that all sorts of experience—even romantic obsession, dependence, and desperate pursuit, stereotypically ‘female’ states of abjection—hold universal significance. . . . She wants to push back against the limited ways in which vulnerability and self-exposure are read.”

    At AWP, Claudia Rankine read a poem for Walter Scott. On Matter this week, a list of those killed by police in 2015; so far, they’ve only found one day with no names to record.

    Heidi Julavits talks about her new book, The Folded Clock: “There’s a lot of mortality contemplation in this book . . . in an unserious, lighthearted manner. We’d never want to take mortality too seriously.”

    Verso Books might assume that development expert Jeffrey Sachs’s favorite novel would be the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but Sachs has now revealed to economist Tyler Cowen that in fact he’s a “complete sucker for Doctor Zhivago”.

    Rafa Fernandez De Castro writes that UNAM, Mexico’s vast public university, is trying to sex up reading with a promotional video and the hashtag #PerreaUnLibro (#GrindABook).

  • April 9, 2015

    Toni Morrison

    Toni Morrison

    The New York Times Magazine has a profile of Toni Morrison, who says of the journalists who constantly phone her: “They are just calling to see when I’m going to die. . . . So I’ll play it up a bit and say, ‘Oh, today my arms hurt, my chest is sore.’ Because, me? I’m not going anywhere soon.”

    At Cosmopolitan, an interview with Chelsea Manning, the Army private who was convicted of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010.

    Oyster, the e-book service known as “the Netflix for books,” is starting an e-book store in addition to their monthly subscription service. They will sell individual titles from the big five publishers, and are looking to beat Amazon at the e-book game, as cofounder Willem Van Lancker says: “We want to be the Amazon of the next 10 years. We want to build the company that takes e-books into the next wave.” Since Amazon is reportedly in tough contract talks with HarperCollins (after last years feud with Hachette), book publishers will welcome a new outlet for their digital wares.

    Bereft fans of HTMLGIANT need weep no more: Blake Butler returns to take sports back from the jocks at ballballballball.com.

    More bad news in this year’s VIDA count, but several of the old guard came in for tentative praise: At the New Republic (even pre-walkout) the proportion of female reviewers jumped from 7 to 29 percent, and the numbers were also inching upwards at Harper’s Magazine, Granta, and the New York Times Book Review. (AWP-goers can enjoy #VIDACount pies at Booth 1008.) The brand-new Women of Color count, which had hoped to “complicate the conversation” by surveying female writers about their racial identity, is so far suffering something of a data drought. “What are some of the reasons [writers] may choose to opt out?” VIDA’s Amy King wonders. Jamia Wilson of WAM asks: “Are white writers published in gross disproportion to writers of color?” Two questions that might seem to answer each other.

    An exciting new episode of the New Yorker’s Comma Queen series, starring the magazine resident grammar goddess Mary Norris, has been posted online.

  • April 8, 2015

    John Freeman

    John Freeman

    Today is the official launch date of Literary Hub, “a new home for book lovers” that is supported by more than 125 industry partners. “Each day the site—led by editor in chief Jonny Diamond and executive editor John Freeman—will have a main feature from a partner, an exclusive book excerpt, and original content,” says the press release. Because it’s a books site supported by publishers, we will be interested to see if coverage will be uniformly positive, a la Buzzfeed and The Believer.

    Beirut-based Kaelen Wilson-Goldie has written a deeply thoughtful and eloquent article about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, looking not just at the events themselves but at how we have attempted to “explain it, assign it meaning, and make it fit within the wider story we tell ourselves about the worlds in which we live.”

    Awards report: Three Percent has announced the longlist for this year’s Best Translated Book prize. And Atticus Lish has won the PEN/Faulker Award for his first novel, Preparation for the Next Life.

    In the words of Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann‏ “Tech-utopian Clay Shirky preaching the virtues of skepticism is very much like Charlie Sheen extolling sobriety.”

    At Slate, Jordan Weissman responds to a New York Times op-ed on about why tuition has become so expensive—”one of the most confused op-eds on the price of higher education that I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading.”

    Vani Hari, also known as the Food Babe, has been widely profiled, has been named the 30th most influential person by Time, and has written a bestselling book called The Food Babe Way. She is also, says Yvette d’Entremont at Gawker, “utterly full of shit.”

  • April 7, 2015

    The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s report on the discredited Rolling Stone story, “A Rape on Campus,” concludes that the piece’s mistakes were systemic and could have been avoided, noting “the failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.” Rolling Stone has retracted the article and replaced it with the Columbia report, calling it “an anatomy of journalistic failure,” while Gawker says the problem was “pathological conflict-avoidance.” At The Guardian, Jessica Valenti writes that the magazine’s response to the crisis will cause more harm, as the staff tries to shift the blame to Jackie, the story’s subject: “In the midst of an all-out backlash against so-called PC culture and anti-rape activism, they shirked their real responsibility both to Jackie and to all the victims of sexual assault, and it will have a resounding impact on those working to end sexual violence.” On Twitter, journalists look for lessons from the debacle, while Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post laments that no one lost their job in the wake of the scandal. (At The Observer, a story on something that actually has led to someone getting fired from Rolling Stone: negatively reviewing Hootie and the Blowfish during the height of their popularity in the mid-’90s.) For more on the case and its aftermath, see New York magazine’s round up.

    Jacques Derrida

    Jacques Derrida

    Princeton University has acquired Jacques Derrida’s personal library of more than 13,000 annotated books.

    In Dissent’s spring issue, Francesca Mari looks at the assistant economy, “the main artery into creative or elite work—highly pressurized, poorly recompensed, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes menial secretarial assistance.” On April 23, n+1 will host a symposium about labor in publishing, following their recent series about magazine workers, including Keith Gessen’s remembrance of n+1’s early days: “Was the magazine exploiting everyone? It sure felt like it. Those years were a constant exercise in begging, cajoling, subtly threatening, and otherwise getting people to do things they didn’t necessarily want to do.”

    Tonight at McNally Jackson Books in New York, Renata Adler will talk about her new book of collected non-fiction, After the Tall Timber.

  • April 6, 2015

    It’s been ten years since Judith Miller left the New York Times, after her reports that Saddam Hussein had built or acquired weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were discredited. On Friday, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, she sought to correct what she calls “false narratives” about her Iraq coverage. “The newsworthy claims of some of my prewar WMD stories were wrong,” Miller wrote. “But so is the enduring, pernicious accusation that the Bush administration fabricated WMD intelligence to take the country to war.” The timing of this article is probably no coincidence: Miller’s new book, The Story: A Reporter’s Journey, will be published tomorrow by Simon & Schuster.

    In the latest New Yorker, well-known bird-lover Jonathan Franzen denounces decisions made in the construction of the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium: The stadium’s glass exterior is expected to result in the death of thousands of birds each year, and sponsors have refused to use a patterned glass that would result in fewer bird deaths. The article is also critical of the Audubon Society: “In recent decades, it’s been better known for its holiday cards and its plush-toy cardinals and bluebirds, which sing when you squeeze them.” Now, the Audubon Society is calling Franzen’s article “an act of extreme intellectual dishonesty.”

    Amber Tamblyn

    Amber Tamblyn

    Tonight, Yo La Tengo performs and Dorothy Lasky MCs at the book party for Amber Tamblyn’s new poetry collection, Dark Sparkler.

    Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who wrote the now-discredited Rolling Stone feature about an alleged gang rape at a UVA fraternity house, has apologized for her report. “I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”

    Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her release of confidential government documents, is now Tweeting from prison.



  • April 3, 2015

    BuzzFeed is starting a fellowship for young writers. The site’s new literary editor, poet Saeed Jones, is also planning what he calls a whole “literary movement” that involves a magazine, readings, and a salon series. Jones says, “I think it’s fair to say there were a few skeptics initially about the idea of book culture and BuzzFeed culture coming together, but it totally works. I’m excited to push us even further and publish new fiction, poems and lyric essays by writers we adore.”

    Saeed Jones

    Saeed Jones

    At Publishers Weekly, some reactions to this week’s Business Insider story about the breakdown in negotiations between HarperCollins and Amazon. Since Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider, PW says it’s possible that the Insider’s story is a negotiating tactic—the source is left unnamed in the report. Publishers Weekly also notes that HarperCollins is equipped to handle the kind of delays in stocking and shipping that Hachette suffered last year when they ran afoul of Amazon.

    George R. R. Martin has posted an excerpt from the next book in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, as his fans not-so-patiently wait for the new season of Game of Thrones to start.

    In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh visited My Lai, the site of an American massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968 that Hersh exposed in a series of landmark articles the next year (he reported the piece from the States). At the Columbia Journalism Review, Hersh talks about the article and discusses what he makes of the current media landscape, praising younger media companies like Gawker and BuzzFeed: “The mainstream press is driving itself out of business and it’s probably going to be okay, because some of the younger stuff, once they get their feet on the ground and get a little more money, a little more success, a little more security, and a little more confidence, they’ll fill the gap.”

    The New York Times is planning to make NYT Now, it’s streamlined mobile app, free. The app picks highlights from the Times, as well as articles from around the web, and presents them in an image-heavy feed with prominent social-media sharing buttons. The free version would be ad supported and provide fewer articles from the Times proper. The app is meant to draw in younger readers—who, the Times hope, may subscribe to the full digital package one day—and broaden the Times’s advertising base.