• September 23, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    It’s been announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates, hailed by Toni Morrison as an intellectual heir to James Baldwin, will continue to use his powers for good—a longtime comic-book fan, Coates is to write a new Black Panther series for Marvel, starting next spring. The character, created in 1966, was the first black superhero, and this assignment doesn’t strike Coates as a departure from his previous work: “I don’t experience the stuff I write about as weighty,” he told the New York Times. “I feel a strong need to express something. The writing usually lifts the weight. I expect to be doing the same thing for Marvel.”

    Carmen Balcells, the literary agent who helped make the careers of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, has died. Vargas Llosa has published a tribute to her (whose accompanying illustration, incidentally, is something to see), and Xavi Ayen, author of The Boom Years, told the New York Times: “Without her, the Latin American boom would not have been what it was. . . . She created the first generation of writers who could support themselves as novelists.” Balcells had been in merger talks with the New York agent Andrew Wylie—as well as Vargas Llosa and the García Márquez estate, her agency represents everyone from Isabel Allende to the estates of Clarice Lispector and Pablo Neruda.

    A judge has ruled that Warner/Chappell has no valid copyright in the lyrics to “Happy Birthday,” meaning that filmmakers will no longer have to pay the company to feature the song (which they’ve reportedly been doing to the tune of $2 million a year). If it seems a little odd that anyone has been cashing in on “Happy Birthday” for so long, recall that Ava DuVernay was forced to paraphrase Martin Luther King’s speeches for her film Selma, for copyright reasons—and indeed, the foundation that put up the King memorial in D.C. had to pay his estate more than $700,000 to use his words and image on it.

    Every era gets the universal New Yorker caption it deserves, and after a few false starts, it’s safe to say that we have found ours.

    The comedian Amy Schumer now has a book deal worth somewhere between $8 million and $10 million. Flavorwire estimates that Schumer is receiving an advance worth “approximately 2.5 Aziz Ansari or Lena Dunham advances and 1.5 Tina Fey advances,” or perhaps eighty memoir advances of a kind granted to civilians (non-Schumers).

    Such success can be a poisoned chalice, of course. In an interview, Erica Jong notes the impact of her “zipless” hit on her poetry career: “I had won all the poetry prizes when I was a young poet. I won the Bess Hokin Prize, which W.S. Merwin and Sylvia Plath won, and then I wrote Fear of Flying and I was the Happy Hooker of literature. Poets disowned me. I didn’t disown them. I would have happily stayed reading and teaching, and I have done a lot of teaching and writing seminars, but I was shunned because I had a bestseller.”

    At the New Republic, an annotated piece on literary annotation. And at the Washington Post, an annotated cease-and-desist letter from Team Trump.


  • September 22, 2015

    David Cameron

    David Cameron

    An unauthorized biography of British Prime Minister David Cameron, Call Me Dave, is continuing to dominate headlines in the UK. Cowritten by Lord Ashcroft, a former Conservative Party treasurer and major party donor who is apparently sad about not getting the government job he was promised, the book is the source of the so-called Prosciutto Affair, which has spawned countless memes over the last couple of days. On this side of the Atlantic, some are already attempting to take the #piggate scandal seriously, and understand what it might tell us about today’s politics: “It’s a community of mutual self-interest and reliance, bonded together by a Mexican standoff over embarrassing private information. The structure survives and is passed down to successive generations of elite young men precisely because it is self-policing, self-sustaining, and remarkably effective.”

    From the makers of The Onion and ClickHole comes a parody celebrity gossip website that will probably be hard to distinguish from the real ones.

    And from the man behind Thought Catalog, a consideration of the digital media landscape, which he feels hasn’t changed in the last five years as much as you might think. Indeed, he doesn’t think much has changed fundamentally in media for far longer than that—Vice’s Shane Smith, he points out, in some ways resembles a mogul of the old school: “Like William Hearst or Condé Montrose Nast (or even Marc Eckō of Complex Media), Shane Smith has built a media empire after a decade of drilling away to build a meaningful cultural brand while still balancing business interests. Is there really that much difference between Vice’s elaborate parties and those that happened at Hearst Castle? It’s the same approach, slowly and steadily through big cultural acts and a strong editorial vision building a great media brand.” Declinists, take note.

    In case your fall reading list is still lacking that certain something, Donald Trump is “excited to announce that work on my new bestseller is almost done.” (Meanwhile, some have enjoyed parsing the words of Scott Walker, who just dropped out of the race.)

    Tonight at 7 at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, n+1 will be holding a reading party (not a contradiction in terms) for their new issue.

  • September 21, 2015

    Geoff Dyer

    Geoff Dyer

    The Brooklyn Book Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary yesterday with a full day of author panels and other events—all of which concluded with a Ping Pong tournament, of course. Contestants included Jonathan Lethem, Fiona Maazel, PEN’s Paul Morris, Pico Iyer, Robert Christgau, Marlon James, David Simon, and Geoff Dyer, who reached the final round to play New York Public Library’s Paul Holdengraber, who had earlier in the day interviewed Salman Rushdie. Dyer won.

    The poet C.K. Williams, whose many honors include a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, died yesterday. He was seventy-eight.

    Author Richard Dawkins, whose book Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science will be released in the US this week, has been criticizing Ahmed Mohamed, the fourteen-year-old Texas student who was recently arrested at his school for building a clock. Why is Dawkins so bent out of shape about the teen? “Because he disassembled & reassembled a clock (which is fine) & then claimed it was his ‘invention’ (which is fraud),” Dawkins writes.

    Olive Kitteridge, the HBO miniseries that was based on the book by Elizabeth Strout, won six Emmys last night, while Game of Thrones, based on the novel series by George R.R. Martin, won twelve, more than any other show has won in a single year.

  • September 18, 2015

    Nell Zink

    Nell Zink

    As of yesterday, the fiction longlist for the National Book Award is out, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life made it, as did Nell Zink’s Mislaid.

    Layoffs, layoffs, everywhere (at the Daily News, the Post reports, quoting an “insider,” it’s no longer like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic so much as being “ripped in two like the Titanic just before it sank”).

    If you’re looking to do a reverse Michael Derrick Hudson, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop can help.

    Meanwhile, the writer Mira Jacob gave a speech at a Publishers Weekly event on Wednesday, but not enough publishers actually heard it, so she put it up at Buzzfeed too: “White Americans can care about more than just themselves. They really can. And the rest of us? We are DYING to see ourselves anywhere. To be clear: I’m not asking for altruism here. I worked in corporate America for 20 years before I put my book out; I know the stakes, the economics. What I am saying makes solid, actual business sense: There is a vast, untapped audience out there. . . there’s a huge gap between the many American experiences and the books that speak to them. . . . You will ignore us at your own peril—to the industry’s peril.”

    Renaissance man James Franco has started a biweekly film column at Indiewire—or two columns, if you count the two Franco personae (James and Semaj) who will be on show. The gimmick is nominally intended to help the movie star get away with moonlighting as a critic, because “a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review.” “As someone in the industry,” runs part of the intro to the first column, “it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry—where writers review other writer’s books—the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems.”

    After its relaunch a few months ago, the New York Times Magazine seems ready to settle down—Ana Marie Cox (founder of Wonkette) will be its regular interviewer with a weekly Talk feature, and philosophy and law professor Kwame Anthony Appiah will become its sole Ethicist (that’s “advice columnist” to you).

    But we all know the real joy of reading the Times is in the art of the headline.

  • September 17, 2015

    The perks of being owned by Jeff Bezos: Amazon Prime members will now be automatic digital subscribers to the Washington Post (for an initial six-month period). That promises a big leap in readership, which, the Washingtonian notes, “plays into the Post’s grander plan of trying to become the newspaper brand for a national—and perhaps international—audience, a fight it’s in with the New York Times and USA Today.”

    The Post, incidentally, has an annotated transcript of last night’s Republican debate, if you like that sort of thing.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Amid much authorial nail-biting, the New Yorker will today announce the longlist for the National Book Award in Fiction. The Nonfiction list, which came out yesterday, includes Sally Mann’s Hold Still and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

    The LRB has a (strongly worded) dissenting view on Booker Prize favorite A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara.  

    A history professor is claiming that a crucial chunk of Thomas Paine’s foundational 1791 work Rights of Man is not, in fact, by Thomas Paine.

    The New Yorker weighs in on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that Facebook will soon at long last have a “dislike” button as “a quick way to emote” about friends’ bad news.

    Dave Eggers, a Knopf author, has interviewed Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta for Vanity Fair about how his is still “the best job in the world.”

  • September 16, 2015

    Hanya Yanagihara

    Hanya Yanagihara

    After yesterday’s announcement of the Booker Prize shortlist, the bookies’ favorite is Hanya Yanagihara’s harrowing A Little Life (reviewed in Bookforum’s summer issue). It’s an interesting list: Marilynne Robinson didn’t make it, and Tom McCarthy is the only previously shortlisted writer who did; the others are Marlon James, Chigozie Obioma, Sunjeev Sahota, and Anne Tyler.

    Trouble at the L.A. Times: The owner, Tribune Publishing, after firing the paper’s publisher last week over a host of internal disputes, apparently plans to save around $10 million in editorial expenses, cutting some eighty newsroom jobs.

    Mary Karr has just published her tough-love advice for memoirists, and appeared on Fresh Air to mark the occasion (though if audio is not enough, you can also watch Karr—and Lena Dunham, and Gary Shteyngart—talking on the subject). Among other things, she debunks the notion that David Foster Wallace disliked his own fame: “I had to talk David out of doing a Gap commercial at one point because I said, ‘Would Cormac McCarthy do it? Would Toni Morrison do it?’”

    Writers should cheat more (turns out only suckers follow the submission guidelines)…

    … and so should readers (Tilly Minute, of the New Yorker Minute newsletter, which goes out Wednesday nights, has “recently learned many people get the print edition earlier than Thursday; I apologize to them for having to let the magazine sit for a few days before knowing what they need to read.”).

    Hal Foster will be reading tonight at the Kitchen to launch his book Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency, which looks at Western art of the last twenty-five years and its relationship to “the general condition of emergency instilled by neoliberalism and the war on terror.” More than three thousand people claim to be attending on Facebook, though, so you may want to be early, or resign yourself to catching the livestream instead.

  • September 15, 2015

    For readers, there’s a bright side to the Best American Poetry debacle—a flood of recommendations for “actual Asian poets” (and a somewhat chilling insight into the experience of non-white writers in prestigious MFA programs).  

    Joan Didion

    Joan Didion

    At New York, Christian Lorentzen mounts a masterful defense of Joan Didion from the current tendency to split her into separate Didions (and dismiss some of her best work). Lorentzen, incidentally, presents his credentials early on: “Having read that Didion used to type out Hemingway to learn how to write, in my 20s I did the same. Then I just switched to Didion. I would type out ‘The White Album.’ I would type out ‘Goodbye to All That,’ skipping the epigraph.” He also reminds us that you don’t need to aspire to wear Céline in order to admire her: “I don’t know what jasmine smells like. I can’t distinguish organdy from other forms of cotton. Even if I read Didion, as Nabokov stipulated all literature should be read, with a dictionary at hand, many of the details about clothes and household objects are lost on me. ‘Loving’ a writer, for me, is a matter of returning to her sentences over and over again, not a matter of identification, aspiration, emotion, or taking her words as Gospel truth, but an attraction of attention. Perhaps that’s a defective — because it’s heartless — definition of love.

    In memory of David Carr, the New York Times is offering a two-year media reporting fellowship for an early-career journalist to work in its newsroom: Applications are open until November 14.

    There are fewer and fewer places an American can go without the risk of hearing from Jonathan Franzen.

    Is religious faith required in order to believe that journalism can survive without paywalls? It can only help.

    Bookforum contributors Christine Smallwood and Namara Smith will be reading tonight in Williamsburg as part of the Animal Farm series, as will Mark Sussman, who collaborated with Smallwood on a new book, ScarJo, launching this weekend.

  • September 14, 2015

    Mark Bittman

    Mark Bittman

    How to Cook Everything author Mark Bittman announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the New York Times, where he has been a food columnist for almost five years. The author, whose work for the Times has helped Americans eat food that is better for their health and for the environment, says that he will be taking “a central role in a year-old food company, to do what I’ve been writing about these many years: to make it easier for people to eat more plants.” He does not reveal the name of his new employer.

    In a new interview, novelist and essayist Aleksandar Hemon, who was visiting the US when his native Sarajevo erupted in war in 1992, reflects on the current refugee crisis in Europe: “There are so many instances in history where Europe, and other countries too, shut their doors to refugees, somehow hoping that they would die or vanish. The saddest thing is that the tragedy of people having to risk their lives, and losing their lives crossing the sea or half of Europe, is seen as a desire to steal from us what we have, this wonderful privilege of living in a democracy and having a stable life. And that we must protect it from them, and the only danger for us is their coming—it’s another variation of the zombie fantasy.”

    In the Times, historian Timothy Snyder, whose most recent book is Black Earth, notes that the Holocaust “may seem a distant horror whose lessons have already been learned,” but warns that “contemporary environmental stresses could encourage new variations on Hitler’s ideas, especially in countries anxious about feeding their growing populations or maintaining a rising standard of living.”

    Justin Taylor has written an obsessive and compelling analysis of Sam Lipsyte’s prose, dwelling on two short stories and their general themes, their syntax, and the particular sounds of their words.

    At Bookforum, Gene Seymour reviews Margo Jefferson’s new memoir, Negroland, alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. “Coates’s book and Jefferson’s overlap most chillingly in the knowledge of a certain kind of death awaiting African Americans seeking release from the constricting demands of Difference.”

  • September 11, 2015

    Michael Eric Dyson

    Michael Eric Dyson

    At the New Republic, Michael Eric Dyson traces the development of the “black digital intelligentsia.”

    On the Harper’s blog this week, Art Winslow claimed to have discovered the new Thomas Pynchon—or rather, the old one, using a pseudonym to publish Cow Country, a long and until now unsung novel that came out earlier this year. But now the spoilsports at New York magazine’s Vulture blog have gone and asked Penguin, who said: “We are Thomas Pynchon’s publisher and this is not a book by Thomas Pynchon.”

    Wayne Koestenbaum talked to Sarah Gerard about “sexualized formalist curiosity” and his forthcoming Pink Trance Notebooks. And about the pains of writing his Andy Warhol biography, because “I couldn’t make things up, and I had to go kind of in order.”

    Pity the professional gossip: “No longer,” Erik Wemple notes, “do beat reporters covering politics, diplomacy and national security leave juicy trimmings for their resident gossip columnist; they write them up for themselves.”

    Grace Jones’s memoir, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, out later this month and excerpted in next week’s Time Out, sounds not to be missed.

    Also worth reading: the Baffler piece on Amish romance novels.

    In Interview magazine, Choire Sicha asks Ursula K. Le Guin about being a poet: “It really doesn’t seem that rewarding. Is that a terrible thing to say?” (Le Guin has some helpful thoughts to share, too.)

  • September 10, 2015

    Rupert Murdoch

    Rupert Murdoch

    The National Geographic Society has teamed up with Fox on a new for-profit media venture that will include its existing cable television channels and the famous magazine (Fox paid $725 million and will own 73 percent of the new company; the Society itself will remain a nonprofit, with a larger endowment). Rupert Murdoch isn’t fazed by those who object to the idea of a “climate-change denier” having such a major stake in the National Geographic—in any case, he prefers the term “skeptic.”

    Padgett Powell talks to Powells.com about Cries For Help, Various: Stories. “Well, it’s not the original subtitle,” he says. “The original subtitle, which I have discovered made the publisher nervous, was ‘45 Failed Novels.’” Flannery O’Connor, Powell goes on, can be said to have written short stories: “The rest of us . . . sit down and have some accidents.”

    After the fuss over Michael Derrick Hudson making it into the Best American Poetry 2015 anthology under a fake Asian name, Buzzfeed reproduces an e-mail from the guest editor Sherman Alexie, apologizing to the rest of the poets he chose: “I am sorry that this Pseudonym Bullshit has taken so much attention away from all of your great poems.”

    Perseus Books, which was almost bought by Hachette last year, is looking into a possible sale again.

    The Observer has an interview with Greil Marcus about his forthcoming book, Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations. When Matthew Kassel asks if he listens more to songs and snippets than albums now, Marcus says he prefers to let things play and see what strikes him, rather than go looking for a particular kind of thing: “You don’t go up to one of your friends and say, Tell me something really profound today that I’m going to remember and want to tell other people about. Your friend is going to say, What? And that’s going to be the end of the conversation. So when you approach a song, and you say, in essence, Tell me something profound, it won’t.”