• 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.

  • November 20, 2015

    Michel Houellebecq

    Michel Houellebecq

    Michel Houellebecq (whose novel Submission is reviewed in a forthcoming issue of Bookforum) has weighed in on the situation in France with a rather strange op-ed.

    Turns out writers of literary fiction can still get rich! Just only a few of them at a time. The Wall Street Journal blames that catch-all villain social media: “Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.” (And note that if you get a still-huge-but-less-so book advance, it may not last you as long as you’d think.)

    Especially important to make sure that publishing that novel will be worth your while if you’re going to put people you know into it: “It’s a violent thing to do,” Karl Ove Knausgaard noted recently. “It’s taking something from them. I didn’t realize how powerful writing is. It fixes something in place, and it’s always a reduction. My mother is treated very well in the books, but she was angry, it’s so hard to be reduced.”

    It looks as if journalists at the Financial Times will soon go on strike.

    New Yorkers, isn’t there something pleasingly perverse about the idea of traveling all the way to Miami for a book fair? You could even hear Brooklyn’s beloved Ben Lerner speak out there in the sunshine. Go!

    Or if you’d rather stay closer to home, Todd Haynes’s Carol, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, opens this weekend.

  • November 19, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    The National Book Award last night went to Adam Johnson for his story collection Fortune Smiles, and to the seemingly unstoppable Ta-Nehisi Coates, MacArthur Genius, for Between the World and Me.  

    Meanwhile, what Toni Morrison did for Coates, CNN’s Don Lemon is happy to do for himself: If he weren’t a journalist, he tells Ana Marie Cox, he’d “probably be a writer like James Baldwin.” (Or failing that, an activist: “But not like Dr. King, even though I admire him. I’d probably be more of a Malcolm X. I believe the best way to improve yourself is to improve yourself.”)

    Roundup season is in full swing, but alongside this year’s best-of lists, you may want to consult these: the tri-state area’s richest writers and, inspired by Esquire, Rebecca Solnit’s not-to-read list for women.

    Just try enjoying this week’s New Yorker now that you know David Remnick thinks he’s too cool to play a Katy Perry song in public.

    (That said, it’s still very much worth reading Raffi Khatchadourian’s AI piece.)

    Yet more on the changes at Gawker, plus a word from Wonkette.

    Thanks to George Saunders, the Wall Street Journal book club will be reading Tolstoy’s brilliant and not-read-enough Hadji Murad.

  • November 18, 2015

    It seems to make sense to give Don DeLillo a medal, so tonight at Cipriani, the National Book Foundation plans to go ahead and do that.

    Erica Jong

    Erica Jong

    The shortlist for the UK’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction award has been announced: Several American writers made it, including Erica Jong, Lauren Groff, and Joshua Cohen, as well as, for the first time, an author published by Penguin Classics (though, admittedly, that author is Morrissey, for his first novel). Call Me Dave, the biography of David Cameron that spawned the #piggate scandal, lost out for what the judges called “insufficient literary brio” (fans of Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up! will recall the fateful printing error by which its protagonist derided a nemesis’s book for lacking “the necessary biro”).

    Pity Germaine Greer. What’s more embarrassing than having one of your (very long) old love letters found and published without your consent? Answer: When the letter is to Martin Amis.

    This really does seem to be the end of Gawker as we know it: it’s abandoning New York media gossip to cover politics. Oh, and quite a few people have been fired (in more or less the professional equivalent of breaking up with someone via text).

    Presumably on the theory that a spoonful of sugar makes the wonkish medicine go down, legal scholar and former White House official Cass Sunstein is writing a book about Star Wars, due sometime around May 4th.

    You can still just about catch the “mobile opera” Hopscotch, taking place along different routes around LA this month. It’s named after the episodic Julio Cortázar novel, and was to be based on it, except that the author’s estate refused permission.