• October 21, 2015

    Henry David Thoreau

    Henry David Thoreau

    Responding to what he calls Kathryn Schulz’s “devastation of Thoreau’s character, style, and mental health” in her latest New Yorker essay (which is also fun to read: “No feature of the natural landscape is more humble than a pond,” she writes, “but, on the evidence of Thoreau, the quality is not contagious”), Jedediah Purdy mounts a spirited defense of “a genuine American weirdo.”

    Futuristically enough, we’ll all soon be able to experience New York Times stories through virtual reality.

    Meanwhile, Twitter has hired a Times editor at large as editorial director of its currently-not-compelling-enough Moments section.

    And Gawker hones its Spiderman sensibility: John Cook, now officially hired as executive editor of Gawker Media, where he’d been acting as interim chief after this summer’s troubles, feels bound “to operate this place in a way that is cognizant of the power it has, and uses it judiciously.”

    Advice for writers: Prolific freelancer (and author of the forthcoming A Floating Chinaman) Hua Hsu reports that he rewrites his assignments constantly till the last minute, often at night. “I’ve tried to alter my approach over the years,” he tells Full Stop, “but the only seemingly useful advice I’ve ever gotten about becoming a highly efficient, daytime writer is to have a child.”

    Likewise, Jill Bialosky, novelist, poet, and executive editor at W. W. Norton, finds it “incredibly sustaining . . . to carry on a full-time job and also be a writer. My books build over time. I sometimes work on two or three projects at once, different forms, and this takes the pressure off each project.” It’s almost as if writing gets easier the less time you have to actually do it.

    Tonight the bookish carnival that is Lit Crawl NYC will take over Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. There’ll be games of Exquisite Corpse and Nerd Jeopardy (the latter run by BOMB magazine), and music will be provided by the Farrar, Straus and Giroux house band—yes, they have one, and it features Sarah Crichton, publisher of Sarah Crichton Books, on lead vocals.

  • October 20, 2015

    Jay Carney

    Jay Carney

    Behold a small parable of journalism and the workplace in the twenty-first century. Amazon’s spokesman (that’s Jay Carney, ex-White House Press Secretary to you) says on Medium that Amazon is much nicer than the New York Times would have you think, and that the Times reporters got one of their most colorful quotes, about Amazonians weeping at their desks, from an untrustworthy, disgruntled former employee who’d been caught perpetrating a fraud. The Times’s executive editor (also on Medium) stands by the story, in detail, and notes that, “Several other people in other divisions also described people crying publicly in very similar terms.” And the last word should go to the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who points out, with regard to the named employee, that “if the retail giant is willing to slime this fellow solely to attack the New York Times,” then that in itself “shores up the depiction in the newspaper of a no-holds-barred work environment” at Amazon.

    Oral historians seem excited that for once they’ve beaten the novelists to the Nobel Prize. Svetlana Alexievich, though, is apparently keen to emphasize that she is “a writer,” not a journalist or anything else. She spoke to Masha Gessen for the New Yorker about her work: “We live in an environment of banality. For most people, that’s enough. But how do you get through? How do you rip off that coating of banality? You have to make people descend into the depths of themselves.”  

    The Sacramento News & Review will be getting a $15,000 grant from First Look Media’s Press Freedom Litigation Fund, to help deal with a lawsuit filed against them by Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento (and one-time NBA star).

    When you write the novel live, you might as well do the press junket right afterward—The Believer interviews Joshua Cohen about PCKWCK, and being a writer nowadays: “I used to support myself as a journalist, and then the internet devalued that and I had to write more pieces for less money. The economic pressures attendant on being a culture producer: these all play into it. Writing a novel was always the life aside from that. There was always a church-state wall. And writing a real novel was the church, by the way.”

    In New York, brows are apparently still fevered: Tonight at McNally Jackson, n+1’s Dayna Tortorici and the New Yorker’s Joan Acocella will discuss Elena Ferrante with her translator Ann Goldstein.

  • October 19, 2015

    Dale Peck

    Dale Peck

    The Evergreen Review, the legendary literary publication that is currently being revived by Dale Peck and John Oakes, is throwing a party at Le Poisson Rouge on November 2. The event will be emceed by Peck, and will feature Heather Abel, Calvin Baker, Alex Chee, Mark Doten, and John Keene. There will be “literary outrages, parodies of beloved icons, and a performance/happening.” They are making it clear that this will be no ordinary literary event: “No readings!”  

    The New York Times reports that David Lynch will write, with the help of journalist Kristine McKenna, a memoir-biography hybrid titled Life and Work, tentatively scheduled to be released by Grand Central in 2017. “I want to get all the right information in one place,” Mr. Lynch says, “so if someone wants to know something, they can find it here.” The Guardian presents a slightly more contentious side of the story: Lynch has said through his British publisher, Canongate, that “There’s a lot of bullshit out there about me, in books and all over the Internet.” He continues: “I wouldn’t do it with anyone other than Kristine; she and I go way back, and she gets it right.”

    Donald Trump and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter have long history of antagonism, dating back to the years when Carter was an editor at Spy, which ran a series of pieces skewering the real-estate tycoon, calling him, most famously, a “short-fingered vulgarian.” Apparently the hard feelings persist: On Friday evening, Trump Tweeted that there are rumors that Carter is about to be fired from Vanity Fair

    As Ben Carson prepares to take a break from the campaign to promote his new book, A More Perfect Union, Philip Bump at the Washington Post notes that since the year 2000, presidential candidates have written at least 172 books. But while running for president might help book sales, a book doesn’t often help one’s chances when running for president: “Very few authors actually go on to win.”

    Sports columnist T. J. Simmers is suing the Los Angeles Times for discrimination, and according to Politico, his legal team includes the famously discredited New Republic writer Stephen Glass. (In other Glass news, the ex-journalist has reportedly paid Harper’s $10,000 for a now-discredited article he published in that magazine in 1998.)

    Garth Greenwell—a student at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop whose What Belongs to You will be published by FSG in January—writes about his experience of selling a novel while he’s still getting his MFA. Were his fellow students resentful of his success? “There was some of that, some of it painful,” Greenwell states, but mostly there was generosity: “I’m not sure how I would have weathered the anxiety of edits, the anxiety of marketing and promotion, the anxiety of waiting for reviews, without my circle of friends here.” Has the book deal given him more confidence as a writer? No. “I think I had a fantasy, maybe many writers do, that once the book found a home there would be some fundamental assuaging of the anxiety I suppose all artists feel, the constant buzz of doubt inherent in making things with no obvious purpose or sure measure of success. But of course that hasn’t happened.”

  • October 16, 2015

    Last night, the Kirkus Prize, one of the most lucrative book awards in the world at $50,000 for each winner, went to Hanya Yanagihara, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Pam Muñoz Ryan.

    In the New York Times magazine, Jonathan Mahler revisits the strange tale of Osama bin Laden’s killing—”not only a victory for the U.S. military but also for the American storytelling machine”—and the official statements, reporting, and other accounts of it (including Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, which she rather grandly called “the first rough cut of history”). Mahler interviews Seymour Hersh, whose LRB story challenging the official version of events drew so much (often negative) attention, but he also speaks to a Pakistani journalist named Aamir Latif, who reported in Abbottabad in the days after the US raid and maintains there was indeed “coordination and cooperation” on it between the US and Pakistani authorities. Latif’s piece on the subject was actually published (without a byline) on GlobalPost all the way back in 2011.

    Jennifer Clement

    Jennifer Clement

    The Mexican-American writer Jennifer Clement has become the first woman to be elected leader of PEN International.

    Buzzfeed has been hiring more foreign correspondents, even as other outlets are having to close their bureaus abroad. Buzzfeed’s editor Ben Smith told Erik Wemple about its strategy for covering the globe more cheaply than old-time papers did—one thing that helps is that this generation of reporters “grew up as really aggressive, thrifty freelancers.”

    Esther Leslie, a translator of Walter Benjamin, has a piece about Benjamin and the current plight of migrants in Europe that’s well worth reading.

    Deborah Friedell’s LRB essay on Donald Trump is full of insights about what he is and isn’t good at, not least this one: “Bloomberg puts Trump’s current net worth at $2.9 billion, Forbes at $4.1 billion. The National Journal has worked out that if Trump had just put his father’s money in a mutual fund that tracked the S&P 500 and spent his career finger-painting, he’d have $8 billion.”

  • October 15, 2015

    Hanya Yanagihara

    Hanya Yanagihara

    The shortlist for the National Book Award is out, and some helpful soul has collected free samples of most of the books in question, including the memoirs by Sally Mann and Ta-Nehisi Coates, fiction by Lauren Groff and Hanya Yanagihara, and poetry by Terrance Hayes and Ada Limón.

    In a “leap-out-of-the-bathtub moment,” as he told the New York Times, an American scholar has found the earliest draft of the King James Bible, a notebook from the early seventeenth century in which one of the translators seems to have puzzled out his allotted section and then taken over someone else’s: “Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it,” Professor Miller said, with a laugh. “It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

    The artist Ai Weiwei has sold his memoirs (which also promise to be a “cultural history of China over the past 100 years”), due out in 2017.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, newspaper reporting made it onto a list of the “most endangered” jobs for the second year running—the list is compiled by CareerCast, which also established this year that it’s better to be a lumberjack than a reporter.

    Tonight, the Albertine book club, led by Antonin Baudry, will discuss Jean-Paul Sarte’s weird and wonderful autobiographical novel Les Mots.

  • October 14, 2015

    Marlon James

    Marlon James

    Marlon James—who once deleted the manuscript of his first novel after having it rejected seventy-eight times—yesterday became the first Jamaican writer to win the Booker Prize, for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

    It seems some of the bigger magazines have been feeling the lack of “a very passionate audience of millennial males,” but never fear, Condé Nast has solved the problem by buying Pitchfork Media, owner of the independent music site. If you hadn’t been feeling especially worried lately about how to please male millennials, the Atlantic notes that this might bea reminder that larger discussions around pop culture aren’t always in sync with the business practices shaping pop culture.”

    And in other strange-bedfellows news, Gloria Steinem is to host a regular video segment for Vice.

    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, like so many of us, could use an editor, and after the release of his memo on the imminent firing of several hundred employees, it looks as if he’s found one.

    If you haven’t yet seen Colum McCann’s statement about the attack he suffered while writing Thirteen Ways of Looking (a man who had assaulted his wife in the street beat McCann up after he tried to intervene), it’s worth reading.

    Joshua Cohen’s live-written online serialized novel is approaching its halfway point, so you might want to catch up on the opening chapters before he and the internet commenters get back to work early this afternoon (or, of course, you may wish to wait until it’s all live again—as well as seeing the text itself emerge, this could be your first opportunity to watch an author work in close-up, via webcam).

  • October 13, 2015

    The winner of this year’s Booker Prize will be announced in a few hours’ time—meanwhile, you can hear from both the candidates and the judges.

    For T magazine, Rachel Kushner goes to Santa Cruz for a conversation with her friend Jonathan Franzen (whom, “for the record,” she considers “principally a comic writer”) about Edward Snowden, Faust, and the rivalry between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

    Marilynne Robinson

    Marilynne Robinson

    And if that doesn’t seem quite stately enough, for the New York Review of Books, President Obama goes to Des Moines, Iowa, for a long chat with Marilynne Robinson (you can only read the first half, so far).

    There are to be no more naked women in Playboy, whose chief executive, Scott Flanders has been considering just what the desired readers (mostly city-dwelling young men) may want instead: “The difference between us and Vice,” he told the New York Times, “is that we’re going after the guy with a job.”

    The quiet reappearance of Brazenhead Books: “Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.”

  • October 12, 2015

    Andrew Sullivan

    Andrew Sullivan

    Author and blogger Andrew Sullivan says he’s currently working on a book about Christianity.

    Today is is the day that Joshua Cohen—the Harper’s book reviewer and the author, most recently, of the novel Book of Numbers—will begin rewriting Charles Dickens’s debut novel, The Pickwick Papers. Cohen will write his book, PCKWCK, online, for five hours a day, and visitors to the site will be able to watch his writing appear in real time. Visitors will also be able to offer feedback. Cohen’s fiction has been suspicious of online “crowds,” and the author’s interactions with his audience will be, we predict, both interesting and entertaining.

    In a recent memo, Gawker executive editor John Cook told staffers that they need to work harder: “I don’t want to see Facebook viral garbage, but I do want more speed, more strength, and more desire on our sites. … And right now I’m seeing too many first posts of the day going up at 9:40 a.m., too many posts with takes on stories that other sites addressed the day before, too many two-hour posts taking six-hours to write, too many posts that betray no attempt to add new information, research, reporting, or ideas to the topics they address.”

    Poet, novelist, and critic Eileen Myles—who sold out the Poetry Project at last week’s celebration of her novel Chelsea Girls and her new book of selected and new poems—has received the 2015 Clark Prize for excellence in arts writing.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles the atypical career of George Scialabba, a “critic’s critic” whom James Wood has called “one of America’s best all-round intellects.”

  • October 9, 2015

    Keith Gessen

    Keith Gessen

    Two of Svetlana Alexievich’s translators responded in the Guardian to yesterday’s announcement that she had won the Nobel Prize in Literature: Bela Shayevich, who’s at work on an English version of Second-hand Time, her “collection of oral histories from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the anti-Putin protests of 2012,” quoted from Alexievich’s introduction: “History’s sole concern is the facts; emotions are outside of its realm of interest. . . . But I look at the world as a writer, and not strictly an historian.” And Keith Gessen (who translated Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster in 2004) reflected on the politics of her win: “When a critic of the Russian (as well as, in this case, Belarusian) regime receives a prize, it’s hard not to read it as a rebuke to the Kremlin. . . . But Alexievich’s work is also very much the opposite of most rebukes coming at Russia from the west. The people she talks to, the co-authors of her books, are working people, women and elderly people – precisely those who are left behind when we bring the former USSR our IMF-tailored ‘reforms,’ our sharp-looking investment bankers, our latest anti-tank weapons. Alexievich’s voices are those of the people no one cares about, but the ones whose lives constitute the vast majority of what history actually is.”

    If you missed this profile of “critic’s critic” and all-round delight George Scialabba, it’s time to remedy that.

    Mother Jones has an intriguing account of the protracted legal battle it just won after being sued by Frank VanderSloot, a major Republican donor—in fact, “one of the megadonors who will help determine who wins the 2016 GOP nomination”—over an article they published during the 2012 presidential primaries: “Had he been successful, it would have been a chilling indicator that the 0.01 percent can control not only the financing of political campaigns, but also media coverage of those campaigns.”

    A former congresswoman has described having to remove all references to WikiLeaks documents she used in her PhD thesis, which had caused a university librarian to “completely, totally freak,” fearing she might be subpoenaed.

    As part of Dissent’s monthly interview series, Booked, Timothy Shenk has a fascinating conversation about politics and environmentalism with Jedediah Purdy.

    Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the New York Times magazine, on its relaunch earlier this year, and on giving up writing for editing: “What I always loved about writing was just putting on a show for the reader. I always thought about writing in a theatrical way, like you’re essentially staging a performance for the reader. And I think about the magazine that way. I think about putting on a performance.”

    It seems possible that a small rip will appear in literary space-time should too many Janeites contract “Ferrante fever.”

  • October 8, 2015

    Svetlana Alexievich

    Svetlana Alexievich

    The Belarusian writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich, the bookies’ favorite, has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature for her “polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage.” “Life offers so many versions and interpretations of the same events that neither fiction nor document alone can keep up with its variety,” she told an interviewer when her oral history Voices from Chernobyl was published. “I felt compelled to find a different narrative strategy. I decided to collect the voices from the street, the material lying about around me. Each person offers a text of his or her own. And realized I could make a book out of them. Life moves on much too fast—only collectively can we create a single, many-sided picture. I wrote all five of my books in this way.”

    Revenge of the fact-checkers: Buzzfeed has gone through a 1998 book by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, identifying all the quotations falsely credited (so it seems) to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the like. Huckabee, Buzzfeed notes, isn’t alone among Republican candidates in attributing “fake quotes to America’s founders. Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and former candidate Scott Walker have all done so.”

    As it is with movie stars, so too with writers of fiction—more of them are Canadian than you think. Take Rachel Cusk, whose strange, deft novel Outline has been shortlisted for two major Canadian awards in the last few days: the Scotiabank Giller Prize, worth $100,000, and the Governor-General’s Literary Awards, $25,000 (let’s assume that’s Canadian money).

    Investigations are still going on into the death, in 1973, of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and whether or not he was poisoned by the Pinochet regime.

    Pedro J. Ramirez, the notorious Spanish journalist and editor, has just launched a well-funded digital start-up called El Espanol, for which more than 10,000 subscribers apparently signed up sight unseen. Ramirez, who has often specialized in covering political scandals and corruption, has hired seventy-two journalists so far and promises “scoops every day.”

    Patti Smith will be reading and signing copies of her second volume of memoir, M Train, tonight at St. Joseph’s College, though it’s safe to say that anyone without a ticket by now won’t be getting in.