• April 24, 2015

    Nightmare lunch date Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Nightmare lunch date Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Without direct reference to the New Republic or its attack on him, Cornel West has responded on Facebook, noting the many reasons aside from sour grapes that one might have for criticising an American president (see today’s headlines for one example), and writing that “character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo.

    In his review of the latest Knausgaard installment, which will run in this Sunday’s New York Times, Jeffrey Eugenides brings some special expertise to bear, not just as a novelist, but as a man. Knausgaard’s travel saga for the NYT magazine included a paragraph about an excruciatingly awkward lunch with “a well-known American writer” in which the Norwegian barely spoke. Knausgaard didn’t reveal the name of his unfortunate lunch date, Eugenides writes: “But I will: It was me.” (Observers will note that these two don’t seem to have trouble thinking of things to say to each other as long as it’s in public.) Eugenides speculates that he “may be the first reviewer of Knausgaard’s autobiographical works who has appeared in one of them. Therefore, I’m in a perfect position to judge how he uses the stuff of his life to fashion his stories.” Spoiler: he’s still a KOK fan.

    Like so many authors, Eugenides seems to empathize in particular with one aspect of the fictionalized Knausgaard’s titular ”struggle,” the effort to write “something exceptional”, which is “hard to do right now because the world is awash in stories.” The Brooklyn writer Jonathan Basile is feeling this problem ever more keenly since he decided to build a version of Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel in the form of a website (confusing for people who’ve been reading the Borges version as a precursor to the Internet all along). Basile told Flavorwire he still sees himself mainly as a writer of fiction, “but I sometimes wonder what the point is now. I’ve already published every possible story I could write.” Still, coding the site “really increased my desire to permute things”—his Twitter account attempting all possible permutations of 140 characters is called Permuda Triangle.

    If all that makes you long for your analogue days, Miranda July has just released Somebody 2.0, the new version of her app that allows users to send real-life messages via passing strangers.

    M.H. Abrams, distinguished scholar of Romanticism and editor of the first seven editions of that stalwart, the Norton Anthology of English Literature, has died at 102. When the anthology turned 50, Abrams told an interviewer that he loved meeting middle-aged readers who said: “I still have the Norton Anthology that I used 20 years ago. I have it at my bed’s head, and I read it at night, and I enjoy it.

    Those in the market for some soothing bedtime reading will be glad to know that Reese Witherspoon is to record the audiobook for Harper Lee’s long delayed and much debated Go Set a Watchman.

    On the other hand, you might want to stay up for tonight’s twenty-four-hour orgy of philosophizing on Fifth Avenue. (The event has proved controversial, though, so it may be that the promised all-night coffee and morning croissants won’t be tempting enough.)

  • April 23, 2015

    Toni Morrison

    Toni Morrison

    BuzzFeed News has added two new reporters: the Financial Times’ Borzou Daragahi (as a Middle East correspondent) and the Washington Post’s Anup Kaphle (covering world news). Additionally, their current Middle East correspondent, Sheera Frenkel, will begin covering cybersecurity. Meanwhile, as Gawker grilled Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief and its CEO on the “church and state” deletion of posts about their advertisers, they seemed keen to measure up as a new paper of record. Wouldn’t the New York Times think twice about reporting on its own ads, Jonah Peretti wondered? And Ben Smith called it “both scary and flattering that we have replaced the Times as the number one target for Gawker.”

    At NPR Books, Saeed Jones reviews Toni Morrison’s new novel: “Not only is God Help The Child about its own characters, it is about the conversation Morrison has been having with her readers for decades.” Jones wonders if she has been forced to carry more symbolic weight in the culture than anyone should: “Have we asked her to save us from ourselves one time too many?” Over at Fresh Air, though, Morrison talks about the freedom she finds in writing: “Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing. It is dangerous because I’m thinking up dangerous, difficult things, but it is also extremely safe for me to be in that place.”

    The first winners of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship have been announced. The new annual award (worth up to $200,000 to each recipient) is intended “to support research in the beleaguered humanities and social sciences”; as the head of the selection panel noted, “science and technology alone cannot solve the world’s most pressing problems.” Anyone still in doubt as to the social usefulness of the humanities may want to consult the medievalist who has offered some crib notes on religious history to readers of Dan Savage’s sex advice column.

    Joshua Ferris—author of the first-person-plural office satire Then We Came to the End and the acidic story of online impersonation To Rise Again at a Decent Hour—is writing a series of articles for Popular Mechanics, in which he describes his experiences flying a single-prop plane. Part One: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Fly the Damn Plane.”

    Vulture persuaded Ta-Nehisi Coates to “take a timeout from kicking off national conversations about race and politics” and “don his fanboy cape” to talk about comic books. And elsewhere on the political spectrum, Rand Paul is starring in one.

  • April 22, 2015

    Stephen Elliott

    Stephen Elliott

    Turns out there was backstage drama at the Pulitzers this year. The WSJ reports that the board expressed “some worry” about the three fiction finalists being considered, and requested an extra submission from the jury to avoid a flashback to 2012, when nobody won.

    At Vulture, Stephen Elliott notes that he is grateful director Pamela Romanowsky adapted his memoir, The Adderall Diaries, for the screen. But the author’s gratitude became mixed with disappointment when he went to see the film, which stars James Franco. “What I saw was a very different Stephen Elliott than the person I believe myself to be, and it made me question some of my fundamental beliefs about art,” the author writes. As Elliott admits, his book is, in many ways, a meditation on bending the truth, on the fallibility of memory. That said: “Almost nothing in the movie is ‘true’—in terms of both the source material, as it was published, and my life, as it has been lived. . . . I kept wondering, Why did they use my name?” We’re curious to see if Romanowsky (or Franco) will respond.

    The evergreen genre of anti-Clinton books is blossoming again. And as the Hillary-bashing ramps up, it’s worth revisiting Laura Kipnis’s piece about the men who hate her.

    Courtney Maum takes us inside the mind of the debut author, “a nasty, lonely, seedy place to be”. Suddenly all your so-called friends are the competition, people around you seem to be reading every other book but yours, and you’re “nipple deep in a mudpit of despair”.

    Rob Kuznia, a reporter for the small California paper the Daily Breeze, was surprised to win a Pulitzer this week for his work on an investigation into school corruption. Kuznia, however, has since had to leave journalism and become a publicist, because award-winning reporting just doesn’t pay the bills anymore.

  • April 21, 2015

    Tin House's winning tote

    Tin House’s winning tote

    The Washington Post‘s Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, who’s been in prison in Iran since July, is now facing formal charges, including espionage.

    Pulitzers were just announced—winners include Elizabeth Kolbert for The Sixth Extinction and Anthony Doerr for All the Light We Cannot See.

    Michael Eric Dyson has attempted a demolition job on Cornel West in the New Republic, presenting West’s criticisms of the Obama presidency as the whining of a “spurned” and “embittered” political lover who “should have understood that Obama had had similar trysts with many others.” West’s intellectual trajectory, Dyson writes, has been in steep decline for years: Where once he “rode the beast of philosophy with linguistic panache as he snagged deep concepts and big thinkers in his theoretical lasso,” he now resembles a washed-up Mike Tyson, “given to biting our ears with personal attacks rather than bending our minds with fresh and powerful scholarship.” Not Tyson but Ali, Dave Zirin rejoins in the Nation, further noting that Dyson’s feelings toward West seem uncannily like those he attributes to West in relation to Obama, and that “Dyson never forgoes taking a roundhouse punch, even when just a jab will do.”

    In the final of Game of Totes at Housing Works last night, Tin House prevailed over several formidable opponents, including The New Inquiry‘s bronze winner, the misandry tote. Less tangible treasures were available from the Library of Congress, which has posted some of its Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature online. There’s Audre Lorde and Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Bishop, and we could go on…

    “More of a ‘backside story’ than an ‘inside story'”: Julian Assange turns book critic, attacking Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files—which apparently fetched $700,000 as the basis of an upcoming Oliver Stone movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt—as a “walloping fraud”, a vehicle for the Guardian‘s “institutional narcissism”, a “thriller without thrills by the man who wasn’t there”.

  • April 20, 2015

    The Pulitzer Prizes awards will be announced today, starting at 3pm. You can watch the announcements live here. 

    An internal review has revealed that Buzzfeed editors have, on three occasions, deleted articles on the site that criticized the products major advertisers. According to a memo sent to staff members, the posts took aim at Pepsi, Microsoft, and Axe body spray. Gawker has been following this story closely, and has long questioned Buzzfeed EIC Ben Smith’s assertion that deletions of posts in the past have been based on editorial standards and not advertiser pressure. Gawker’s J.K. Trotter prints the new Buzzfeed memo, and writes: “Smith’s admirable desire to preserve the Chinese wall between BuzzFeed’s editorial and advertising departments appears to have fallen short on more than one occasion.” The Columbia Journalism Review has also weighed in, submitting a report on “Buzzfeed’s censorship problem.”

    enhanced-5429-1429126324-1Meanwhile, Buzzfeed gives an exclusive sneak peak of the cover of Salman Rushdie’s forthcoming novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which will be published by Random House in September.

    The Los Angeles Times has named the winners of its annual book prizes.

    Jennifer Weiner, the bestselling author who is also known for her feuds with Jonathan Franzen, has announced the publication of her new novel, Who Do You Love, which will go on sale August 11.


  • April 17, 2015

    Rebecca Solnit

    Rebecca Solnit

    Editorial staffers at Gawker Media are trying to unionize: “The online media industry makes real money. It’s now possible to find a career in this industry, rather than just a fleeting job. An organized work force is part of growing up.” Asked for a response by Capital, Gawker owner and CEO Nick Denton was “intensely relaxed”.

    Simon & Schuster has signed a deal with the digital-media streaming company Playster, which offers subscribers access to books, games, movies and music. The agreement will give Playster unlimited access to some of the publisher’s backlist, including The Great Gatsby and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Meanwhile, Tim Parks stays cheerful even though there’s too much to read.

    Rebecca Solnit has a recommendation for her left-wing allies in the US: “stop your grousing!” Constantly fixating on problems is, says the author, poisonous to progress. “All that complaining is a form of defeatism, a premature surrender, or an excuse for not really doing much.”

    The PEN American Center has announced the shortlist and judges for thier 2015 literary awards.

    Time magazine has deemed two novelists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and Haruki Murakami, important enough to make their hundred most influential people list. Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century also made the cut in the “icons” category, which features Taylor Swift and the Pope, among others.

    The Los Angeles Times festival of books is this weekend at the University of Southern California, with panels and literary conversations, many vendors hawking their literary wares, and the presentation of the LA Times book prizes on Saturday night.

    Post-AWP, Buzzfeed delivers a message (or 23 of them) from writers to “straight white male publishing” that not everyone wants to hear. And Gillian Anderson announces she’ll be co-writing a “revolutionary self-help guide” for women.

  • 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.”