• October 6, 2015

    Henning Mankell

    Henning Mankell

    Best-selling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, who created the character of Kurt Wallander, died yesterday at age sixty-seven. The Guardian noted that he “took the existing Swedish tradition of crime writing as a form of leftwing social criticism and gave it international recognition,” and the Los Angeles Times looked back at its own reviews of Mankell over the years, including one from 2006 that rather winningly admired his resistance to the “tendency among some Scandinavian writers (think Ibsen, Strindberg) to cast a sense of gloom over their works.”

    A Mother Jones reporter charged with trespassing at a Louisiana prison is to be tried this week.

    The Rumpus gathered a number of useful responses to the New Yorker’s Kenneth Goldsmith profile, prefacing the links with an apology: “We ran a blog post earlier today about Alec Wilkinson’s pretty crap piece about Kenny Goldsmith in the New Yorker which we characterized as ‘refreshingly even-handed.’ That description is only accurate if you define even-handed as a several-thousand-word tongue-bath in the pages of a huge magazine which both ignored and dismissed many of Goldsmith’s critics.”

    After the death of Carmen Balcells, the godmother of twentieth-century Latin American literature known as La Mamá Grande, it remains uncertain what will happen to her literary agency—“as much a cult of personality as an institution,” writes Rachel Donadio in the New York Times—which still represents everyone from Isabel Allende to the estate of Gabriel García Márquez. Balcells’s merger talks with Andrew Wylie (whom she claimed did not have “the flexibility and sensibility of a woman”) seem not to have worked out. “Clearly this marriage had not been consummated,” the London agent Andrew Nurnberg told the Times, saying that he had been in talks with Balcells himself very recently. Now Donadio predicts “a land grab involving some of the biggest personalities in world publishing.”

    It’s worth revisiting (or visiting) ten of the best pieces produced by independent multimedia organization Novara, who are raising money this month: There are interviews with Jacqueline Rose (also reviewed in the fall Bookforum) and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as segments that explain when white people were invented, and what neoliberalism actually is.

  • October 5, 2015

    Ira Silverberg

    Ira Silverberg

    Ira Silverberg—who has been the editor in chief of Grove Press, an agent at Donadio & Olson and at Sterling Lord Literistic, and the Literature Director of the National Endowment of for the Arts—has started a new position as senior editor at Simon & Schuster.

    In a new essay, author Jedediah Purdy dwells on the similarities between Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels: “They are representative work for a time when representation—politically, aesthetically—is at its most fraught, in speaking for others and also in putting forward one’s self.”

    When a journalist recently asked Patti Smith, whose new memoir, M Train, was published last week, if she’s single, the singer-writer responded: “I don’t think that’s any of your business.

    Discussing the mass shooting in Oregon last week, a Fox News correspondent pondered the suspect’s name, Chris Harper Mercer, and claimed: “I mean, his name doesn’t bring anything to mind, where he be—he doesn’t sound like he’s Muslim.” This, says the Washington Post, points to another reason that media outlets should name the killer: “It may serve to expose certain presumptions and prejudices.” At Poynter, Kelly McBride agrees that it’s important to name the shooter, and offers a list of reasons that journalists should do so. The Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting site remains skeptical, saying that media coverage of such shootings is “a sort of advertisement to mass murder.”

    The online betting site Ladbrokes has given Haruki Murakami 6-1 odds to win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, which puts him slightly behind the frontrunner, Svetlana Alexievich, who has been given 5-1 odds. Alexievich is from Belarus, and is best known in the US for her oral history Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, which was translated by Keith Gessen.

    At the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove says that Josh Tyrangiel’s departure as editor in chief of Bloomberg Businessweek and as chief content officer of Bloomberg Media is evidence that former mayor Michael Bloomberg is “reasserting total control over his privately held empire.”

  • October 2, 2015

    In the wake of another mass shooting, this time at a college campus in Oregon, there has been disagreement over how journalists should proceed in reporting such events immediately after the fact, especially when using social media. In responding to the events in Oregon, the president made a statement that Vox calls “as angry as Obama publicly gets”: “We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. . . . So we know there are ways to prevent it. And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue.  Well, this is something we should politicize.”

    As of November 1, Chris Cox, who has worked at Harper’s since 2010, will take over from Ellen Rosenbush as its editor.

    In the New Republic, Cathy Park Hong offers a corrective to the recent focus on Kenneth Goldsmith, writing that “the poetry world has been riven by a crisis where the old guard—epitomized by Goldsmith—has collapsed.” She writes about the new American poetry, “a movement galvanized by the activism of Black Lives Matter, spearheaded by writers of color who are at home in social media activism and print magazines; some poets are redefining the avant-garde while others are fueling a raw politics into the personal lyric. Their aesthetic may be divergent, but they share a common belief that as poets, they must engage in social practice.”

    The winner of this year’s Nobel Prize is likely to be announced soon. Cue the annual Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth speculations (“I wonder,” Roth winningly remarked last year, “if I had called ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ ‘The Orgasm Under Rapacious Capitalism,’ if I would thereby have earned the favor of the Swedish Academy”). Other current bookies’ favorites apparently include Svetlana Alexievich, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Haruki Murakami.

    Jonathan Bate’s new book on Ted Hughes, which was to have been an “authorized” biography before access was withdrawn, nonetheless looks to offer new insight into both Hughes and Plath.

    For the Guardian, Michelle Dean interviews Eileen Myles.

  • October 1, 2015

    You can read Andrew Roberts’s review of Niall Ferguson’s authorized Henry Kissinger biography in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. But you might want to prepare first by reading this review of the review by Greg Grandin, author of a more critical Kissinger biography. He points out that the Times’s usual rules on conflicts of interest ought to preclude assigning this one to Roberts, an old friend of both the book’s author and its subject (Kissinger, in fact, originally asked Roberts to write the biography himself): “The Times might as well have asked Kissinger to review his own biography. Or, better, Ferguson himself.”

    Valeria Luiselli

    Valeria Luiselli

    Ta-Nehisi Coates and Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, are among the finalists for this year’s $50,000 Kirkus prize for nonfiction. Nominees for the fiction prize include Valeria Luiselli, Hanya Yanagihara, and the late Lucia Berlin.

    Yet another alt-weekly, the Philadelphia City Paper, will close next week.

    Newspapers may be suffering, but their old staple the crossword puzzle seems to be thriving. The Wall Street Journal started a daily puzzle recently, and now BuzzFeed is launching one too: The Observer has an interview with its twenty-two-year-old puzzles editor.  

    Emily Books is publishing a collection of work by the writer and poet Jenny Zhang, because, as Ruth Curry puts it, “You get the feeling that she loves being gross. She puts the grossness in service of something powerful.”

    Tonight at the Columbus Avenue branch of Book Culture, there will be a live recording of the Books & Authors podcast: Cary Barbor will be interviewing Eileen Myles about her new collection, I Must Be Living Twice.  

  • September 30, 2015

    Poets and wits may lose their advantage on Twitter if people no longer have to abide by the 140-character limit (it could well happen).

    The German publisher Axel Springer, which earlier this year teamed up with Politico on its make-Brussels-sexy European operation and recently lost out on a deal for the Financial Times, has just bought Business Insider for $343 million.

    Speaking of Politico, you may have missed its plan to save or eat journalism over the next five years. See the founders’ memo to staff: “Our dream is a Politico journalistic presence in every capital of every state and country of consequence by 2020. With each passing month, we grow more confident our model can save journalism in state capitals and spread it in new countries.”

    Julie Schumacher

    Julie Schumacher

    This week the Thurber prize for American humor went to a woman, Julie Schumacher, for the first time in its history. A small victory, too, for beleaguered academics, whose plight is illuminated by Schumacher’s winning book, Dear Committee Members, an epistolary novel told through the recommendation letters a professor must write for almost everyone he’s ever met.

    Digital staff at Al Jazeera America voted yesterday on whether to go ahead and unionize after management there refused to recognize their efforts voluntarily. The results will be out on October 6, but meanwhile the bosses at AJAM look tougher than those at VICE or Salon, or even Gawker’s “intensely relaxed” Nick Denton, all of whom have conceded “at least de facto union recognition.”    

    Amid the latest Republican efforts to remove Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler and his wife Lisa Brown gave a million-dollar donation to the organization, which Brown noted had “gone through a series of unfortunate events” this year.

    Tonight at McNally Jackson, don’t miss Lydia Davis, August Kleinzahler, and others reading from Lucia Berlin’s story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women, which Joy Williams will review in the next Bookforum.

  • September 29, 2015

    Ben Lerner

    Ben Lerner

    The latest MacArthur “genius grants” have been announced, and the twenty-four new fellows include the writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ben Lerner, who told a reporter that getting the no-strings award, which pays out $625,000 over the course of five years, “takes away all your excuses to not be doing the most ambitious work.”

    The New York Times mourns the end of “tabloid culture”: After massive layoffs, which came on September 16 “with the swiftness of a Soviet-era purge” the Daily News is completing its transformation from, as former News columnist Michael Daly put it, “a New York paper for New York people” to a mostly digital creature that will “read the same from Brooklyn to Bahrain.” One longtime reporter told the Times: “I can’t remember the last time someone on the staff sent a note saying, ‘Hey, good piece.’ What they say now is, ‘Hey, we broke the March record for page views!’”

    Claudia Rankine’s Citizen received another honor in the form of the £10,000 Forward Poetry Prize.

    As his “blazing blue streak of a literary memoir” I Can Give You Anything But Love appears, and some of his out-of-print novels are due to be republished, the New Republic asks if this will be “Gary Indiana’s year.”

    Some are asking if we still need Banned Books Week (that’s this week, so feel free to skip straight to Friday if you’d like).

  • September 28, 2015


    Lucia Berlin

    Lucia Berlin

    A new NPR article about book blurbs points out that they aren’t “exactly meant for readers,” and that by the time a book is actually published, the blurbs have “already done most of the work [they’re] supposed to do.” Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette, says that agents get potential publishers to look at a manuscript by listing endorsements “from authors you’ve heard of. That’s the way the agent is getting the publishing community to read this book ahead of all the other thousands of books on submission at that time.” The article also interviews novelist Gary Shteyngart, who has written more than 150 blurbs, about his criteria for endorsement. “I’ll look at a first sentence [of a galley], I’ll look at the cover and it just comes to me,” he says. “Reading randomly from a book is also very helpful. Sometimes I try to read further—but you know, how far can you get? Does anyone even read these books anymore?”

    In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, M Train, Patti Smith explains how she gained admittance into the Continental Drift Club, “an obscure society serving as an independent branch of the earth-science community.” She was invited to join the society, much to her surprise, after sending written requests to photograph the boots of the CDC’s founder, the explorer Alfred Wegener. “I am certain I didn’t quite meet their criteria, but I suspect that after some deliberation they welcomed me due to my abundance of romantic enthusiasm. I became an official member in 2006.”

    The winners of the fifteenth annual Online Journalism Awards have been announced. The top honors in the breaking-news category went to recent start-up reported.ly for its coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, The Baltimore Sun for its reporting on the Baltimore riots and the Freddy Gray case, and to the Globe and Mail for its reports on the shootings in Ottawa. The winners of the general-excellence category were the Missouri public-radio station’s website KBIA, Quartz, and the Washington Post.

    The staff of Atavist magazine explains why they’re “discontinuing our native mobile apps to place all of our focus on the web.”

    New York’s McNally Jackson bookstore is hosting two highly recommended author events this week: On Tuesday, Choire Sicha interviews Eileen Myles, who has just seen the re-release of her classic novel-in-stories Chelsea Girls and the publication of her collected poetry collection, I Must Be Living Twice; and on Wednesday, Lydia Davis and August Kleinzahler discuss the stories of Lucia Berlin, recently collected in A Manual for Cleaning Women.

  • September 25, 2015

    Roberto Saviano

    Roberto Saviano

    Michael Moynihan, the man who caught Jonah Lehrer fabricating quotes, has a new target in Roberto Saviano, best-selling author of the mafia exposé Gomorrah. According to Moynihan, his latest book, ZeroZeroZero, on the international cocaine trade, “is stuffed with reporting and writing plundered from lesser-known journalists; it includes interviews with ‘sources’ who may not exist. . . and it contains numerous instances of unambiguous plagiarism.” Moynihan lays out whole chunks of Saviano prose next to near-identical passages from other journalists’ work, or from Wikipedia, and points out that an Italian court recently found he had plagiarized in Gomorrah too—but the most striking parts of the piece are those that quote Saviano on Saviano. When he’s not invoking Truman Capote and the nonfiction novel to defend the liberties taken in his reporting, he’s telling Moynihan that it’s all down to enemies trying to undermine him, because “in Italy I am not perceived simply as a writer, but as someone who, even though separate and distant from parliament, has the power to engage even the highest political offices in conversation. If a camorra [mafia] feud causes deaths in Naples, the prime minister makes a promise to me to give more attention to southern Italy.”

    While we’re on the subject of ego and bombast, Morrissey has written a novel, and no one seems very happy about it (except perhaps those critics who got to single out its “most Morrissey lines” for ridicule). From the Guardian: “Do not read this book; do not sully yourself with it, no matter how temptingly brief it seems. All those who shepherded it to print should hang their heads in shame, for it’s hard to imagine anything this bad has been put between covers by anyone other than a vanity publisher.”

    You can tell that Jorge Luis Borges never had the pleasure of crossing paths with Morrissey. In an extract from newly translated radio conversations between Borges and the poet Osvaldo Ferrari from the 1980s, he remarks that “one regards Shakespeare as typically English. However, none of the typical characteristics of the English are found in Shakespeare. The English tend to be reserved, reticent, but Shakespeare flows like a great river, he abounds in hyperbole and metaphor—he’s the complete opposite of an English person. . . . It’s as if each country looks for a form of antidote in the author it chooses.”

    When is a TV star’s memoir not just a TV star’s memoir? Perhaps when it’s about getting out of Scientology.

    Tonight at Pioneer Works, an outdoor launch party for n+1’s new issue.

  • September 24, 2015

    The two Al Jazeera journalists who were imprisoned in Egypt for over a year have been pardoned and released.

    Turns out bookish people still like books: Print sales seem to be recovering and, as one bookstore owner tells the New York Times, “The e-book terror has kind of subsided.” The e-reading subscription service Oyster, which is shutting down, its staff apparently moving to Google, nonetheless maintains that “the phone will be the primary reading device globally over the next decade.” Whoever is right, as László Krasznahorkai pointed out last weekend at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Devices are not dangerous for literature. . . . People can be dangerous for literature. People, for example, who do not read.”

    Less cheering news from the American Reader, which made the leap to print-only when most were going the other way—the magazine is closing down for lack of funds. The issue due out in October will be the last, though a full digital archive is to be made available soon. Meanwhile, the editors have put out a statement thanking readers “for your attention, support, and fidelity.”

    James Patterson

    James Patterson

    The novelist James Patterson is to receive the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, for his efforts to help improve people’s access to books and reading—as well as donating millions of dollars to various grants and scholarships, he’s given hundreds of thousands of books to the military and to American children. “I don’t want Harold Bloom to have a coronary,” Patterson told Time, “so let’s be clear that this [award] has nothing to do with Alex Cross or The Women’s Murder Club or Maximum Ride, this is just that I’m a nice little do-gooder.”

    You may not have known that you wanted to read the novelist Siri Hustvedt’s thoughts on hair, excerpted from a new collection on the subject.

    Back to school: Fall enrolment is open at the Brooklyn Institute, which offers liberal arts classes to all. You can study Marx, Freud, Herodotus, European avant-gardes, James Baldwin’s New York, math, cyborgs, and who knows what else.

  • 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.