• June 4, 2015

    The in-progress takeover of AOL by Verizon has left the future of the Huffington Post in doubt. AOL is HuffPo’s parent company, and while Arianna Huffington has unveiled ambitious plans for the site’s future, she is currently between contracts and, according to New York Times sources, isn’t sure if her plans can be realized under the Verizon banner. As an anonymous Huffpo staffer writes at Gawker, words like demoralized are now frequently used to describe the mood in Arianna-land, but, really, it has always been that way: “To anyone who has worked at the site for any period of time, as I have, it’s a little bizarre that people could be more demoralized now than at any point in the past, because the Huffington Post has always been an essentially miserable place.”

    At the New Yorker, Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel consider the poetry of jihadists.

    Scottish reporter Andrew Jennings has been doggedly investigating corruption at FIFA for more than a decade, helping to set in motion the investigation that resulted in the arrest of top FIFA officials and the resignation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter this week. Jennings told the Washington Post that exposing this kind of malfeasance is actually not very difficult: “This journalism business is easy, you know. You just find some disgraceful, disgustingly corrupt people and you work on it! You have to. That’s what we do. The rest of the media gets far too cozy with them. . . .  Our job is to investigate, acquire evidence.”

    James Hannaham

    James Hannaham

    PEN has announced the presenters for next Monday’s PEN Literary Awards ceremony, which author and artist James Hannaham will host.

    At the Times magazine, Adrian Chen reports on the Internet Research Agency, a large, professional organization in St. Petersburg, Russia, that spreads propaganda, hoaxes, and misinformation online. As Chen writes of this form of “industrialized trolling,” it is about far more than the small thrill of posting an anonymous nasty comment: “Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space.”

  • June 3, 2015

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson

    The Windham-Campbell Prize and Yale University Press have announced a new book series titles “Why I Write,” which will commence with books by Hilton Als and Patti Smith. Als will also give the keynote speech at this year’s awards ceremony, which will take place on September 28 and will honor Teju Cole, Jackie Sibblies Drury, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Helon Habila, Ivan Vladislavic, and others.

    As the USA Freedom Act expires, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald reflects on the future of the NSA’s surveillance policy and techniques.

    Gawker has posted an article about Fusion, the online magazine owned by ABC and Univision, claiming that the site is woefully under-read: “In the middle of a workday, virtually no one is reading anything [Fusion] publishes. The number of ‘concurrents’ (people reading the same thing simultaneously) is unbelievably low for a website that’s been around for two years and employs some of the most widely known digital journalists around.” (You can read Felix Salmon’s explanation of why he joined the Fusion staff here.)

    In a blog post titled “Up the Amazon with the BS Machine,” Ursula K. Le Guin continues to request that readers stop buying books from the online superstore.

    Harper Lee’s forthcoming Go Set a Watchman has become “the most pre-ordered book” in its publisher HarperCollins’s history.

    At Bookforum.com, Sarah Nicole Prickett interviews Maggie Nelson about her new book, The Argonauts (which also features prominently in our summer issue’s cover story): “As with all my books, I worried about having to identify with this one too much, the same way that when I was writing about cruelty, or about my aunt’s murder, I was thinking, ‘Do I want to be the go-to person for cruelty? Do I want to be the go-to person for murder?’ So while I wanted to write about mothering and gender and sexuality because they were on my mind, I really didn’t want to re-inscribe—or be re-inscribed by—any boring ways of thinking about those issues. But that isn’t really within one’s control. Only the writing is within one’s control (and even that is debatable). So there was a part of me that was like, Okay, you can write this, but do. not. publish it.”

  • June 2, 2015

    Jennifer Cody Epstein

    Jennifer Cody Epstein

    Novelist Jennifer Cody Epstein says she regrets signing the recent letter condemning PEN’s award in honor of Charlie Hebdo magazine.

    Two students at Northwestern University recently filed Title IX complaints against Laura Kipnis, after the author published an article about “sexual paranoia” on university campuses. This weekend, Kipnis was “cleared of wrongdoing” by a law firm that found that the ”preponderance of evidence does not support the complaint allegations.”

    EL James has announced that she’s writing a sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey.

    The Atlantic has posted an article suggesting that Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life is the “great gay novel” we’ve been waiting for.

    The new issue of Bookforum is out now, with cover stories by Parul Sehgal (about domesticity, creativivity, Maggie Nelson, Sarah Manguso, Ben Lerner, Audre Lorde, Jenny Offill, Zadie Smith, and more) and by Stephanie Coontz (about the Moynihan Report and the misdiagnosis of America’s family ills).


  • June 1, 2015

    Stacy Schiff

    Stacy Schiff

    According to Publishers Weekly, the 2015 Book Expo America, which wrapped up this weekend in New York, was “lively.” The “most talked about books” were, the magazine reports, Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire (Stacy Schiff’s The Witches was also in the spotlight). China did, as PW points out, feature prominently in this year’s BEA, occupying a large area front and center as attendees entered the convention center. But the area seemed, for the most part, free of traffic. PEN America, for one, questioned the focus on China, issuing a report titled “Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship.” PEN also launched a campaign titled “Governments Make Bad Editors,” which “countered the aggressive propaganda presented by the state-sponsored delegation in its China-focused events.”

    James Frey, best known for his book A Million Little Pieces (and for annoying Oprah), has a new project: a “science fiction space franchise” that has publishers “hot and bothered,” and Fox 2000 reportedly backing a film adaptation rumored to be directed by Joe and Anthony Russo.

    Esther Kaplan has won the 2015 MOLLY National Journalism Award for her article “Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity,” which appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

    Natasha Vargas-Cooper reports on the Title IX charges that graduate students have filed against author Laura Kipnis after she wrote an essay titled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe.” Kipnis herself has described her difficulties in determining just what she is being charged with, and how she can defend herself: “I wrote to the Title IX coordinator asking for clarification: When would I learn the specifics of these complaints, which, I pointed out, appeared to violate my academic freedom? And what about my rights—was I entitled to a lawyer? I received a polite response with a link to another website. No, I could not have an attorney present during the investigation, unless I’d been charged with sexual violence. I was, however, allowed to have a ‘support person’ from the university community there, though that person couldn’t speak.” Vargas-Cooper calls the situation “a stunning example of feminism devouring itself.”

    Novelist Chuck Palahniuk says that director David Fincher is hoping to transform the novel Fight Club into a rock opera.

  • May 29, 2015

    Sasha Frere-Jones

    Sasha Frere-Jones

    One of new media’s bigger coups over old seems not to be lasting: Gawker notes that only a few months after abandoning the New Yorker for the start-up Genius, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones is already backing away from his full-time commitment to “the annotation website that sticks bad jokes next to your favorite rap lyrics.”

    First Look Media offers us its code—if you wanted help redacting documents or getting around gag orders, look no further.

    Gawker writers discuss which way they’ll vote on unionizing as part of Writers Guild of America, in the comments section (“We like to do these things out in the open.”) But apparently the whole question is causing “a galactic amount of acrimony” among staff.

    If you worry that the 2016 presidential campaign may become a fact-free he-said-she-said, Buzzfeed has come up with an admittedly labor-intensive solution—a dedicated in-house “independent research organization” to dig up dirt on the candidates.

    Slate’s Amanda Hess explains her goodbye to all that “ladyblogging.” She notes a general “thirst for opinion but dearth of reporting on female concerns” online, so that the “ladyblogger beat is propelled by opinions and opinions on opinions.” “That makes a ladyblog an interesting place for a writer to hone her rhetorical tools,” Hess continues. “But once they get sharp enough, she may begin to fantasize about impaling herself with them.”

  • May 28, 2015

    Jenny Erpenbeck

    Jenny Erpenbeck

    Jenny Erpenbeck and her translator Susan Bernofsky have won the £10,000 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The End of Days, which looks at the twentieth century through one woman’s several possible fates. Erpenbeck is the first living German writer to receive the prize (W.G. Sebald got it posthumously for Austerlitz, as did Gert Hofmann for The Film Explainer).

    Chelsea Manning has a piece in the Guardian marking five years since she was first locked up for releasing the Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries.”

    Gawker writers will hold a June 3 vote on whether to unionize. CEO Nick Denton is taking it rather well so far. Hamilton Nolan, who has been leading the drive for a union, suggests that if Gawker Media “can be the first big company in this industry, new media-ish kind of thing” to organize in this way, that’s “good for Nick’s legacy. It’s good for Nick as a leader. It’s something good that Nick could do, I think, for the whole industry.” Buzzfeed and Vice, take note.

    In October, Gloria Steinem will publish My Life on the Road, her first full book in 20 years. But for anyone else who’s written or is currently working on a memoir, Jezebel suggests you have mercy and just hold down the delete key for 45 minutes.

    Margaret Atwood takes her manuscript “Scribbler Moon” to a forest in Oslo as part of a project called Future Library: It won’t be read until the trees planted there last year are cut down in 2114 for paper on which to print it. A hundred years, a hundred writers—David Mitchell is up next.

    And while we’re on the subject of nostalgic futurism, if you missed this Douglas Adams fan’s tribute from the International Space Station earlier in the week, go back in time and watch.

  • May 27, 2015

    Philip Larkin

    Philip Larkin

    The Times Literary Supplement drew gleeful scorn online after publishing, with extended and enthusiastic commentary, a lost Philip Larkin poem that, in fact, wasn’t one (it’s by Frank Redpath, one of Hull’s less famous poets, and appeared in a 1982 anthology).

    No more free e-books? Publishers have won a High Court ruling in London that will force British internet service providers to block access to seven pirate e-book sites, including LibGen and AvaxHome. First they came for the mp3s…

    The land of digital media start-ups is a large and frightening one nowadays: Vox just bought the 18-month-old tech site Re/code, run by veteran Wall Street Journal writers Kara Swisher and Walter Mossberg. “Everybody is bigger than us,” Swisher told the New York Times. “It’s not a secret that being a smaller fish is really hard.” (Buzzfeed, incidentally, has hired more than a dozen reporters in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in its bid to rule the tech-news beat.)

    New York’s Daily Intelligencer identifies a new way to make it in journalism. Recent Columbia J-School grad Ben Taub used his NBC stipend from appearing on the reality show The Voice to fund a trip to the Syrian border and win his very first New Yorker byline.

    The Paris Review goes Hollywood, supplementing its legendary interviews with a new video series called “My First Time”, in which authors discuss writing their first books: the trailer features Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner, Akhil Sharma and Tao Lin.

    It appears that everybody spoke too soon in mourning the death of SkyMall, which, after being quietly purchased at auction for $1.9 million, is back.

  • May 26, 2015

    Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was the paper’s Tehran bureau chief, was arrested on espionage charges last July. His, trial, which starts today, is closed to the public, and to his family. The Post sought a visa to send an editor to attend the trial, but the request was ignored. In a statement released just before the trial started, executive editor Martin Baron stated: “[Rezaian] was imprisoned in Iran’s worst prison. He was placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed. His case was assigned to a judge internationally notorious for human rights violations. He could not select the lawyer of his choosing. He was given only an hour and a half to meet with a lawyer approved by the court. No evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors or the court to support these absurd charges.” Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, is being held on related charges.

    “The effect,” Dan Chiasson writes of John Ashbery’s new collection of poems, Breezeway, “is sometimes unnerving, as though somebody had given you your own garbage back as a gift, cheerfully wrapped.” He means this, of course, as a compliment. Ashbery “has gone farther from literature within literature than any poet alive. His game is to make an intentionally frivolous style express the full range of human feeling, and he remains funnier and better at it, a game he invented, than his many imitators.”

    The finalists for the 2015 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Award have been announced.

    Clarice Lispector

    Clarice Lispector

    The latest issue of Harper’s includes Clarice Lispector’s final story, left unfinished at the time of her death. As Rachel Kushner wrote in the pages of Bookforum: Lispector “had a diamond-hard intelligence, a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. She wrote novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative (unless you count as plot a woman standing in her maid’s room gazing at a closet for nearly two hundred pages). And yet she became quite famous, a national icon of Brazil whose face adorned postage stamps.”

    The sci-fi writer John Scalzi has signed a thirteen-book, $3.4 million deal with the publisher Tor. At his blog Whatever, Scalzi interviews himself. “Dude, that’s like… a lot of money.” “It is. Mind you, it’s spread out over a decade and thirteen books. And I only get the money if I actually, you know, write the books. But, yeah.”

    Amazon’s contract with Penguin Random House UK is set to expire, and according to “industry insiders,” the publisher may block sales of its titles on Amazon if a new contract agreement is not reached.

    Janine Gibson, who edited the Guardian‘s Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks, has announced her departure from the paper.


  • May 22, 2015

    The novelist James Meek has won the Orwell Prize for Private Island, a study of privatization (of the railways, the water, the electricity, social housing, healthcare) in Britain: Gillian Slovo, the chair of judges, said Meek’s book “more than passed the Orwell test of political writing as art.”

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    And here’s this year’s list of O. Henry Prize winners, short stories chosen in cloak-and-dagger fashion by jurors who must not consult one another and who see only “a blind manuscript,” with no names of authors or the magazines they appear in. “Although the jurors write their essays without knowl­edge of the authors’ names,” Laura Furman, the prize’s editor, writes, “the names are inserted into the essay later for the sake of clarity.” (Having said all that, some of the winners, such as Lydia Davis, wouldn’t seem so easy to mistake for anyone else.)

    In what he describes as “a pivot”, former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio fires pretty much everyone at his recently launched tabloidish local news site Ratter.

    More on the Science study that spawned a thousand retractions (or at least five)—the Chronicle of Higher Education speaks to one of the grad students who uncovered the fraud, and Vox takes a broader view, looking into how much this sort of thing actually goes on, with the help of a fascinating Nautilus essay on a champion fabricator who faked 183 papers before getting caught.

    The pains of translation: Izidora Angel describes wrestling into English a book by Hristo Karastoyanov “written entirely in the inferential mood,” which we don’t have. (In Bulgarian, a verb “can be conjugated in such a way as to portray an inferential tense—an alleged happening, not yet completed, which has occurred in the past, in which the teller, who hasn’t witnessed the not yet finished event, is retelling it.”) “Breaking the Bulgarian structure out of the sentence,” she writes, “and turning it into an equally strong and evocative phrase in English is a lot like doing 50 pushups.” Incidentally, it’s worth reading this essay on translation by another 2015 O. Henry Prize winner, Dina Nayeri.

    And if you missed this piece on Larry Kramer and The American People, it might be time to un-miss it again.

  • May 21, 2015

    Bob Woodward

    Bob Woodward

    A list of English-language books from Osama bin Laden’s private library in his compound in Pakistan has just been declassified. Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward is on it, as is Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival. Foreign Policy notes that on this evidence bin Laden appears to have been a Francophile (“Among the materials acquired in the 2011 raid were the 245-page clunker Economic and Social Conditions in France during the 18th Century”), while Politico asks several of the authors on the list to imagine what he might have got out of reading their books.

    Several outlets have had to retract stories based on research, published in the academic journal Science, which now appears to have been elaborately faked by one of its authors (the other, Columbia political scientist Donald Green, appears mystified: “All that effort that went in to confecting the data,” he told This American Life, “you could’ve gotten the data”).

    Large chunks of an unfinished autobiography by Orson Welles have been discovered by University of Michigan archivists among papers recently bought from Welles’s last partner, Oja Kodar. He’d apparently been working on “Confessions of a One-Man Band” since the 1970s, but it’s not yet clear if what’s there is complete enough to publish.

    As Janet Maslin steps back a bit as book critic for the New York Times (“I’ve been a full-time critic since 1977,” she told Capital, “which is why the announcement uses ‘grueling,’ ‘grind,’ and ‘frantic’ in its first few lines”), the Observer speculates about possible replacements: the longish list includes several Bookforum contributors and ends with movie critic A.O. Scott, who “must be a little tired of spending his days in screening rooms staring at subpar films.”

    Newsweek profiles Thought Catalog, interviewing the banned contributor Gavin McInnes among others, and in the process reveals that with writers, the site plays a lot harder to get than you’d think.

    And the New York Times magazine profiles a tap-dancing Judy Blume, who still gets 1,000 letters a month from her mostly young readers, and after 17 years is about to bring out a new book for adults. “It’s because of what I represent,” she says to fans who feel overwhelmed at meeting her. “I’m your childhood.”

    There’s one day left to bid on First Ark Edition, a handmade “book object” with two removable spines, which comprises Paul Auster’s “Alone,” a previously unpublished short novel from 1969 that’s thought to be his earliest work, and “Becoming the Other in Translation”, an accompanying essay by Siri Hustvedt. The authors had donated both texts to the tiny independent bookstore Ark Books in Nørrebro, Copenhagen.