• August 18, 2015

    Renata Adler

    Renata Adler

    Renata Adler expressed her solidarity with Buzzfeed writers when she went to their HQ for an interview earlier this year: “The embarrassing part about writing something, and having it published, is the part right after when you’re thinking, Oh my god, what are people going to think? If you’re having one piece every three years, that’s it, it’s done. But if you have to write three times a week, the only way to get rid of the embarrassment is to try the next piece, and hope it will be better, and erase the last piece. Which is probably what you want. You want to just keep going forward. Is that what happens with you?” (She also explained how to know when you’ve finished a story that has no conventional ending: “When the deadline happens, that’s when it’s over. Otherwise, you can keep changing everything, and it becomes like an action painting—which is not good. You don’t want that.”)

    Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan also has something helpful to say to the Buzzfeeders about their boss and about unions.

    And Flavorwire ends up saying pretty much the same thing to Jeff Bezos’s beleaguered “Amazonians.” (The rest of us are advised to consider a boycott, but make a complaint to Amazon customer service—1-888-280-4331—on our way out.)

    There are still a few people managing to do well out of Amazon, though—the first self-published author to reach the top of their charts is a linguist and behavioral psychologist whose winning sales strategy for his twenty-six-page children’s book was to make sure it would send people straight to sleep.

    Even the most old-fashioned publishing types like nothing better than a listicle. But if you want to put in a book what should normally be confined to the internet, there are probably better ways to go.

  • August 17, 2015

    Robert Christgau

    Robert Christgau

    Robert Christgau—the rock critic whose memoir Going into the City was released earlier this year—recently learned that Medium, where he had been a regular columnist, was no longer going to pay its music writers. But his weekly column, “Expert Witness,” is back, and it has a new home: Vice.

    A number of digital-media editorial staffs—including those at Gawker and Vice—have recently unionized. Now, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti is making it clear that he does not want his staff to join the trend. In a memo sent to staffers late last week, the Buzzfeed CEO wrote that organized labor leads to a “more adversarial” relationship between the union and management, and that in the case of Buzzfeed it would hurt the company’s strong benefits and overall vision. “For a flexible, dynamic company, it isn’t something [that] I think would be great for the company,” he wrote in the memo.

    The New York Times’s long article about Amazon this weekend provided ample evidence of the company’s ruthless business culture. Many rebuttals have been issued, including one by employee Nick Ciubotariu, who refutes many points in the Times article (and vouches adamantly for his employer’s and his employer’s and his own decency) by  “us[ing] data, and provid[ing] you with actual facts, starting now.”

    Between 1960 and the early 1970s, the FBI assembled a file on author James Baldwin that contains 1,884 pages.

    Dan Duray recently re-read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and was reminded that Patrick Bateman, the titular character, worshipped  Donald Trump.

  • August 14, 2015

    Lucia Berlin

    Lucia Berlin

    “What did people do before Prozac?” Lucia Berlin wrote in a letter to Lydia Davis. “Beat up horses I guess.” You can read a version of Davis’s foreword to Berlin’s stories on the New Yorker site (so do).

    Better to read Moby-Dick on your phone than not to read it at all.

    Jay Parini writes about Gore Vidal’s greatest feuds and the “effort, strenuous at times” to stay friends with him.

    And poor David Foster Wallace has been dragged into an arcane argument about who counts as a bro in the literary world.

    Still, Joan Didion has a related problem. At the Atlantic, Meghan Daum reads the new biography and considers Didion-ness: Didion may be a white girl to whom generations of white girls have been disproportionately drawn, but she’s one we—and all kinds of readers—have desperately needed.”

  • August 13, 2015

    You may remember the UK’s former PM, Tony Blair. Judging by recent polls, his once-progressive party, Labour, may soon return to something like its pre-Blair roots, as left-wing social democrat Jeremy Corbyn seems poised to win the leadership. Now, at the ready with metaphors mixed—are Labour Party members playing sports? Sleepwalking outside? Scripting a horror film?—Blair has published what might be the op-ed of the year: “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. . . . It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible. . . . We know where this ends. We have been here before. But this sequel will be a lot scarier than the original. So write it if you want to. Go over the edge if you want.”

    Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, it’s nice to see that the President still has time to write letters to the editor.

    Patti Smith

    Patti Smith

    Showtime is turning Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir of her adventures with Robert Mapplethorpe, into a mini-series.

    Ukraine has banned a whole list of books published in Russia, while in Moscow, the publishing house Algoritm may face legal action from several Western writers who have found out that they’re the unwitting authors of Russian-language books in a series called Project Putin.

    Always fun to find out what other people spend their money on: Gawker has got hold of Buzzfeed’s internal financial documents.

    In Japan, Haruki Murakami has just published an eight-volume e-book of his answers to some of the forty thousand questions submitted to him by fans online earlier this year: One asked if he’d ever wanted to be a cat, to which the answer, inexplicably, was no.


  • August 12, 2015

    The Intercept turns the surveillance tables on an NSA analyst, the so-called “Socrates of SIGINT,” who, it turns out, also writes fiction.

    Jonathan Franzen

    Jonathan Franzen

    At the Atlantic, Caleb Crain reviews the new Jonathan Franzen. Surely it must be nearly time for Nell Zink to share her thoughts too.

    The still-newish New Republic is redesigning itself, more or less eliminating any distinction between the print and web versions along the way. No matter what they do, former literary editor Leon Wieseltier is predictably unimpressed.

    Electric Literature and Black Balloon Publishing are going to publish books together—Catapult will be open for submissions (no agent required) between April and October every year.

    Meanwhile, we’re finally getting round to replacing fiction writers with something more efficient—as of this year there’s even a short-story prize for algorithms. The Guardian quotes William Chamberlain, who was involved with an early version of computer-program fiction in the 1980s, as saying: “I find intriguing the possibility that we human beings, whose very consciousness is a faculty completely interwoven with experience, may relate in some way to a form of ‘sentence’ that has no experiential grounding.” (Though of course, you don’t have to be a bot to produce one of those.)

    Elena Ferrante’s “small bet with myself . . . that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors,” which she explained to her publishers in 1991, before her first novel was published, has been paying off for a long time now (and other novelists are starting to express their envy in the comments section).

  • August 11, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Yesterday a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson after another police shooting. Meanwhile, in an interview about his book Between the World and MeRoxane Gay asks Ta-Nehisi Coates whether it ever feels “all too much,” when seemingly “every week, if not every day, we have a new tragedy to mourn.” He responds: “Never. This has always been life. . . . I know we’re in this new moment where it seems like the police have suddenly gone crazy. But police violence is not new and it is only the most spectacular end of a range of violence black people live under.”

    And, describing his reading preferences for the New York Times Book Review, Coates recalls his response to Macbeth in school: “‘And I another \ So weary with disasters, tugged with fortune, \ That I would set my life on any chance, \ To mend it, or be rid on ’t.’ I mean I was like, ‘Yoooooooo!!!’ I was done. That was black people to me right there. That was Nat. That was Harriet. That was Malcolm. That was Ida. That was my mother and father. That was my Baltimore.”

    People eager for more Harper Lee can always just write it themselves. The novel Tru & Nelle, out next year, will tell the story of Lee’s childhood friendship with Truman Capote, and it sounds more Mockingbird than Watchman: There’s a tomboy fighting off bullies, and even a scene in which her father, A. C. Lee, stands up to some Klan members at a Halloween party.

    Getting out of the media business: After offloading the Financial Times not long ago, the education giant Pearson is about to sell its stake in the Economist Group for more than six hundred million dollars.

    Stephen Colbert is hoping Donald Trump keeps on happening until he can get back on television in the fall.  

  • August 10, 2015

    Vice’s editorial staff has voted to unionize, following quickly in the footsteps of writers and editors at Gawker media and Salon. In a statement, Vice CEO Shane Smith responded to the vote with grandiose paternal affection: “I’m so proud of all my perfect diamonds here at Vice. Every single day your ideas and work continue to blow me away. I am proud to support all of you—and as an old grey-haired man all I want is for my beautiful Vice family to be happy—those writers who voted to unionize and those who did not. I love you all, and together we will conquer the world.” The Writers Guild of America will represent the Vice editorial staff.

    John Darnielle

    John Darnielle

    The Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced that it will soon restart its “Print Screen” series, which invites authors to introduce films that have influenced their work. First up on the schedule is John Darnielle—the singer-songwriter mastermind behind the Mountain Goats and the author of the novel Wolf in White Van—who will appear at a screening of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Medea on August 31. Other authors who will appear in the series include novelists James Hannaham (Delicious Foods) and Garth Risk Hallberg (the forthcoming City on Fire) and essayist-poet Susan Howe (My Emily Dickinson).

    We know that Esquire is a men’s magazine, but do they really think that men don’t read books by women? Their new list of “80 Books Every Man Should Read” suggests as much: It includes only one title by a woman author, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Did they pick that one because it has “man” in the title?

    The New York Times currently has more than 1 million paid online-only digital subscribers. This figure should help reduce the worries expressed when the paper put up its paywall in 2011. But according to Wired’s Julia Greenberg, the paper of record still has a way to go. “The question remains for the Times, as print advertising revenue and print copies sold continue to drop, whether the gains in digital subscriptions will be enough to offset its traditional revenue base.” The majority of online readers still do not pay, and the paper recently reported that only a third of its ad revenue comes from digital advertisements. “Even if one million is a nice number,” says Greenberg, “the Times still needs millions more.”

    Carol Brown Janeway, a longtime editor and executive at Knopf, has died. In addition to her accomplishments as an editor, Janeway was also a lauded translator who produced English translations of books including Bernard Schlink’s The Reader, Thomas Bernhard’s My Prizes, and Daniel Kehlmann’s F.

    Essayist and novelist Tim Parks, author of the new book Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books, was recently asked, “Do writers—and readers—overstate the importance of literature?” Parks responded: “Of course they do…. Needless to say, I love literature and feel it offers all kinds of opportunities for heightening and refining mental life. But it’s worth remembering that for thousands of years the vast majority of humanity neither read nor wrote. We have no proof that this made them stupid or unhappy.”

  • August 7, 2015

    Rand Paul

    Rand Paul

    It’s not easy to out-drama-queen Donald Trump (whose unexpected success in the presidential race has inspired publisher Thomas Dunne to hurry a new biography into print), but Rand Paul and Chris Christie seem to have managed it at last night’s debate.

    You probably noticed that Melville House has brought out the Pope’s encyclical on climate change as a book. But you may not know that Pope Francis is now also a Verso author. You can get hold of his latest work, hailed as “an urgent call to action,” here for free—and you won’t want to miss it.

    Clickbait with a cause: Gaza gets the Buzzfeed treatment.

    Ilan Stavans, author and publisher of Restless Books, which recently launched an annual prize for New Immigrant Writing (fiction submissions will be open September through December), describes his ambitions for the venture: “I’m not just looking for realistic, socially conscious literature. That would be a mistake. I’m hoping for a David Foster Wallace with an accent.”

    Ninety-nine-year-old George Braziller, of the eponymous publishing company, has written a memoir-in-vignettes, mostly about writers, books, and so on (though he does also manage to make out with Marilyn).

    The University of East Anglia (whose Creative Writing MA is the UK’s answer to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop) has created a new archive. You can see some of the Doris Lessing material online, and you may also be able to profit from her agent’s advice (given while Lessing was trying to publish her first novel): “Don’t be a prima donna till you are one.”

    Authors worried about lackluster book sales should simply go back in time and marry Jon Stewart. His brief plug for his wife’s book apparently took its Amazon ranking from 244,740 to seven (above Ta-Nehisi Coates; only just below Dr. Seuss and Harper Lee) within a couple of days.

    Joanna Coles, the editor under whom Cosmopolitan has somewhat changed direction, is deftly handling a recent attack on the magazine from Victoria Hearst (heiress to the company that owns it), who wants to protect America’s children from its corrupting cover lines.

    Everybody’s sad about Brazenhead Books, evicted at last not long ago—but it looks like there might be a new secret location come September.

  • August 6, 2015

    Thanks to a lawsuit by the Guardian, more information has now emerged about the “off-the-books interrogation compound” in Chicago’s Homan Square—we now know that more than 3,500 people have been detained there, “82% of whom a Guardian independent investigation found to be black,” and there have been “only three documented visits from lawyers to the building since September 2004.”

    The New Yorker seems to be bringing out the big guns on TMZ, with a long report by Nicholas Schmidle, better known for his pieces on bin Laden and war crimes in Kosovo. TMZ employees (former and current) were warned not to talk to him, although it seems fair to say discretion isn’t exactly TMZ’s USP.

    Only one more dose of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to go.

    The Coen Brothers have signed on to write and possibly direct an adaptation of Black Money, one of Ross Macdonald’s celebrated California crime novels.

    Reddit’s new “content policy” just went into effect. Lots of denizens of unnameable-here subreddits will be sad, and presumably on the lookout for a new online lair.

    In the UK, where there is increasing pressure on teachers to report on any students they feel may be at risk of “being drawn into terrorism,” Homegrown, a National Youth Theatre production exploring why young people join ISIS, has been cancelled just before its opening. The director had been told beforehand that police wanted to look at the script and place plainclothes officers in the audience at the east London school where it was to be staged.


  • August 5, 2015

    Robert Conquest

    Robert Conquest

    The historian Robert Conquest has died. Best known for his work on Stalin’s purges, he was also a Movement poet who edited sci-fi anthologies and collaborated on a novel with his friend Kingsley Amis—and apparently now and then got credit for one of Amis’s “jokes.”

    The political cartoonist Ted Rall, dropped by the Los Angeles Times after the LAPD disputed his account of being “roughed up” by an officer in 2001, has had an audio recording of the incident cleaned up and is considering a lawsuit (against both the Times and the police).

    Note to redditors: Apparently doxxing is OK as long as you do it to Donald Trump.

    Gather around and shudder at the tale of the female novelist who decided to try posing as a man when sending manuscript queries. She began to fear she was being “conditioned like a lab animal against ambition,” because agents doubted she could pull off the big book she had in mind. Oh, and she discovered her male alter ego was “eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”

    Elle.com, as part of the magazine’s “Shame” issue, is publishing some true confessions, including that of a recovering clickbait writer.

    Meanwhile, the Guardian seems to be hemorrhaging journalists (now including their head of news, Stuart Millar) to Buzzfeed UK.

    Is it just us or does the following seem unbearably poignant? From the man who runs BooksbytheFoot.com (which is pretty much what it sounds like), on people who buy books based on spine color, to decorate their homes: “We had many books that nobody would buy to read. This re-purposes books we can’t sell for reading or collecting. This gives a lot of books one more chance; many would otherwise be sent to a pulper.”