• July 21, 2015

    Nick Denton

    Nick Denton

    Whatever else one says about Gawker, they really know how to make themselves the story. (But should you only have time for one of those links, make it the one in which resigning executive editor Tommy Craggs calls this latest incident “Nick’s Reichstag fire.”)

    If you missed Jonathan Franzen’s sometime protégée Nell Zink reviewing the new Jonathan Franzen (and as we’ve said before, what could be better than a review by someone who really knows you?), it looks as if you’re still out of luck. (A real shame, because one possible answer to the previous question is “a review preceded by the words: ‘On average I hate all books.’”)

    Meanwhile the Fales Library and Special Collection at NYU struck a blow against web transience by acquiring the archive of the digital journal Triple Canopy—always a thing of beauty, now (probably) a joy forever.

    In conjunction with By the Book, a group show about the influence of literature in contemporary art that runs till the end of the month, FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi will read from his first novel, Muse, at Sean Kelly Gallery on Wednesday night at 6pm. And next Wednesday—same time, same place—the novelist Jami Attenberg will be reading from Saint Mazie, which is based on the life of one of Joseph Mitchell’s most memorable New Yorker characters.

    Plus, Jill Lepore digs deeper into another legendary Mitchell subject, Joe Gould and his vast, lost “Oral History of Our Time.”

  • July 20, 2015

    On Friday afternoon, Gawker management removed its controversial item outing a Conde Nast CFO. Outcry against the post seemed to be almost unanimous. Glenn Greenwald called it “reprehensible beyond belief” and Lena Dunham deemed it “cruel and unnecessary.” According to Gawker CEO Nick Denton, “It was an editorial call, a close call around which there were more internal disagreements than usual. And it is a decision I regret.” But editor Max Read continues to defend the piece: “given the chance gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies fucking around on their wives.”

    Since May 2014, Rohit Chopra has run @RushdieExplains, a parodic Twitter account that “affected a faux [Salman Rushdie] persona” to “poke fun at the pompous expertise of our assorted Indian pundits.” He now has more than 30,000 followers, but he has decided to change the name of the account to @IndiaExplained, due to pressure from Rushdie himself, who informed Chopra that “the joke has worn thin.”

    Michel Houellebecq

    Michel Houellebecq

    Publisher’s Weekly has given a starred review to Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel Submission, which will be published in the US in October. “This novel is not a paranoid political fantasy; it merely contains one.”

    Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel The Watchmen, has stated that he believes that adults’ current fascination with superheroes is “culturally catastrophic.”  “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics.”

  • July 17, 2015

    Kathryn Schulz

    Kathryn Schulz

    Kathryn Schulz may wish that Condé Nast hadn’t been so savvy about securing its cut of journalists’ film deals, because her latest New Yorker piece has the makings of a blockbuster disaster movie. Schulz describes in nightmarish detail what will happen when, quite possibly in the next few decades, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the (woefully underprepared) Pacific Northwest. People can’t stop talking about the piece this week. Vox provided numbers and graphics and timelines, while Seattle’s The Stranger picked out for its readers the five scariest bits (on that front, this paragraph seems hard to beat: “A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. . . . It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.”) Earthquake experts weighed in on Reddit and elsewhere, and someone even asked celebrity physicist Michio Kaku for his take. But perhaps the most heartwarming response came from Schulz’s former colleagues at the Grist in Seattle, who made a list of all the potential benefits should the big quake finally hit. No more gentrification, no more traffic, Amazon will suffer, and then of course there’s this: “You know who’s going to get it worse than Seattle? Portland!

    Over in D.C., the National Journal is giving up on print altogether.

    Always good to bring out the big guns in a slanging match: on Facebook, Cornel West objected to those comparing Ta-Nehisi Coates (whose book just came out early) to James Baldwin. While “we all hunger for the literary genius and political engagement of Baldwin,” West writes, Coates is simply “a clever wordsmith with journalistic talent who avoids any critique of the Black president in power.” (While patently unfair, West’s is probably not the oddest response to Coates you’ll read this week.) Reached for comment by the Observer, Michael Eric Dyson, calling the Facebook post an “acrimonious dirge,” saw West’s James Baldwin and raised him “the great Ludwig Wittgenstein”: Whereof West cannot speak, thereof he must be silent.

    If you’ve now had more than enough Harper Lee for one lifetime, the New Republic reckons it won’t be hard to find the next “lost” masterwork by J. D. Salinger, Joan Didion, Marilynne Robinson (who hates her own early unpublished novel “as if worms had popped out of it”), or really almost any writer you care to name: We can start opening those drawers any time.

    Anyone who’s about to make an adorable William Carlos Williams joke, take a minute to read everybody else’s first.

  • July 16, 2015

    Whether just because he made such a fuss about being left off the last time, or because that fuss drew the attention of readers who then went out and bought his book, Ted Cruz has now made it on to the New York Times bestseller list. But Team Cruz wants more—a campaign spokesperson insists that the Times’s initial decision to keep A Time for Truth off the list (they’d essentially suggested that Cruz was bulk-buying it himself to rig sales) was “partisan” and “raises troubling questions that should concern any author. . . . The New York Times has a responsibility to authors and readers to have the Public Editor Margaret Sullivan examine its methodology—and I join others in calling for the Times to do just that.”

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

    Fascinating new insights into the espionage trial and execution of the Rosenbergs have emerged with the release of David Greenglass’s secret grand jury testimony (Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, was a key part of the case against her, which now looks a lot shakier).

    If you thought the UK phone-hacking scandal was over, another journalist (apparently the 66th) just got arrested at his office, at the Daily Mirror.

    As for tabloids closer to home, the New York Post must know it’s gone too far when it starts looking bad next to the NYPD.

    Luckily, some journalists are still making themselves useful: The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, and Bloomberg managed to get some crucial video footage of a police shooting in California released after the city authorities had paid to suppress it.

    The Awl launches a new podcast with the words: “We don’t really know how to make podcasts.” It’s not likely to reach the heights of that episode of “Mystery Show” in which Starlee Kine helps an unsuccessful author investigate why Britney Spears was photographed with a copy of her obscure second book, but then few things could.

    Suddenly everyone wants to know why we call it nonfiction (and whether it deserves a more upbeat name).

  • July 15, 2015

    Last night at a McNally Jackson event, a woman explained to the critic James Wood that the character of Atticus Finch had always read as false and creepy to her, and that his emergence as a racist in Go Set a Watchman just shows Harper Lee only ever rewrote him in heroic, sentimental mode for commercial reasons: She’s apparently not the only one for whom a racist Atticus hasn’t come as much of a shock. Meanwhile, someone has gone so far as to give the novel the track-changes treatment, and show you where the text overlaps with To Kill a Mockingbird word for word. And for anyone now thoroughly sick of this story, the Onion has published what seems like a fitting coda.

    Maybe you can print Wikipedia, but can you archive the whole of Twitter? Looks as if the Library of Congress jumped the gun on that one just a little bit.

    It’s worth reading Jacobin’s long and involved interview with a member of Syriza’s central committee, if you want to understand what’s going on in Greece and what might happen next.

    Just because Politico seems to be making it work in Europe, doesn’t mean anyone can: Newsweek is ditching its London-based print operation after fifteen months. On the other hand, you have to hope the French appreciated Gawker’s Bastille Day experiment yesterday.

    Confirming that it really is all change over there, the new New Republic gives intersectionality its very own podcast, “Intersection” (starting July 28). Host and senior editor Jamil Smith says: “We’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time in our cultural conversations.”

    It’s not just counting: VIDA is funding a fellowship to the Home School writing conference for poets next year in Miami, with applications due August 15—core faculty includes the delightful Maggie Nelson.

  • July 14, 2015

    Worms turn? This week the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and a few others have teamed up against the twenty-year-old bullies Amazon, telling on them to the Justice Department.

    Poor Harper Lee continues to be milked for all she’s worth: With spectacular timing, it now transpires that yet another novel may have turned up, perhaps one “bridging” the gap between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

    Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens

    Less suspect, perhaps, is the discovery by an antiquarian book dealer of Charles Dickens’s annotations on a collection of the periodical he edited, All the Year Round, which reveal that previously anonymous poems, stories and articles can in fact be credited to Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, and Lewis Carroll.

    There’s now a vast backlog of more than 200,000 unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests: One of them is from Laura Poitras, the Oscar-winning director of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour, asking why she was detained and interrogated so many times while traveling between 2006 and 2012 (naturally, she says, she’s not the only one to suffer “years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders”)—with no answer forthcoming, she’s now decided to sue the US government instead.

    Both in print and on digital platforms, African sci-fi seems to be thriving.

    The author of the classic 1980s comic strip “Bloom County” has started publishing it again, on his Facebook page, apparently because he feels America’s dark days are fading now that Donald Trump is running for president: “Silliness suddenly seems safe now. Trump’s merely a sparkling symptom of a renewed national ridiculousness. We’re back baby.”

  • July 13, 2015

    Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    An early review (and excerpt) of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which will be published tomorrow, has shocked Lee’s fans by revealing that the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, crusading lawyer Atticus Finch, is a racist in the new novel. Go Set a Watchman, which some are calling a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of a grown-up Scout Finch (now known as Jean Louise) returning to Alabama to visit Atticus in the 1950s. We learn that Atticus has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, and he has some unkind things to say about desegregation, the NAACP, and “negroes” in general. There have long been questions about whether Lee was taken advantage of in order to publish Watchman (she suffered a stroke in 2007 and now lives in an assisted-living facility), and it now seems clear the the book was a kind of trial run for Mockingbird rather than a novel that was meant to be published in its own right (there are still conflicting stories about how it was found). Some critics and scholars are welcoming the new, more-complex version of Atticus, but since he was written before the Mockingbird version, perhaps the flawed Atticus was  simply a rough draft.

    Gawker head Nick Denton provides an exhaustive account of the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker lawsuit so far.

    A new book, A Time for Truth by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, has been left off the New York Times bestseller list because the paper says it has found evidence of “strategic bulk buying” meant to pump up the stats. As Philip Bump points out in the Washington Post, this is a “win-win” for Cruz, because he can now freely stoke outrage over the “liberal media” (etc.) and get lots of publicity for his book, which, so far, has sold about eleven-thousand copies.

    At Reddit, CEO Ellen Pao has resigned and will be replaced by the site’s original CEO, Steve Huffman. Pao has endured harassment, revolt, and a petition to oust her that garnered more than 200,000 signatures. She wrote of her departure, “In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”

  • July 10, 2015

    go set a watchmanSince Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman comes out next week (and you can read the first chapter, or indeed have Reese Witherspoon read it to you, here), a reporter for Bloomberg Business headed to Monroeville to try to untangle the whole strange story of its provenance.

    Apparently some people are only just discovering the Awl. At the Verge, there’s an admiring profile of the site, and especially of its redheaded media/tech savants Matt Buchanan and John Herrman (formerly of Gizmodo and then Buzzfeed, they seem to come as a package deal). The Awl is presented as understanding the new realities of the web without needing to pander them—what helps with that, it seems, is to be very small and very wry. They plan one day to be the cockroach after the “content apocalypse.” “I think John tends to be ahead of these things,” Buchanan says, “because he reads them as science fiction of the present.” “That’s a lot of what the Awl does now,” Herrman chimes in. “Our entire economy is just a giant science fiction writing prompt.”

    Vice has started releasing material for its woman-focused channel, Broadly, ahead of an official launch later this summer. Its beat is announced as “sex, politics, culture, witchcraft” (guess that about covers it) and if you’re wondering what happens when Vice meets feminism, its first piece is enticingly headlined “Why Satanists are Fighting America’s Restrictive Abortion Laws.”

    It’s not just Upworthy: An AJ+ staffer (AJ+, for the uninitiated, is a digital news wing of the Al Jazeera network) describes exactly how her team planned to make their post-Charleston video go viral. They chose the topic of Southern racism after ruling out gun control “because we perceived it to be the third ranked among those talking about Charleston (and it had been done countless times before).” The video was indeed “a hit,” partly because “‘It had the N-word in the first seconds,’ one of our audience development experts pointed out.”

    Amazon will stop at nothing to make sure you don’t get to review your friends.

  • July 9, 2015

    Ben Marcus discusses the new anthology of American stories he has edited: “There is an awful set of questions around the short story and its accepted irrelevance (against the novel) and its commercial inferiority. I just fucking hate it all. I hate that it’s even a conversation.”

    At Politico, Dylan Byers has a report on whether, if we all stopped paying attention to Donald Trump, he would go away.

    Under the leadership of their editorial director Amy O’Leary, a recent New York Times escapee, Upworthy has been moving away from clickbait headlines and toward more original stories. That means hiring more writers and fewer “curators,” but it also means getting more manipulative, not less: Going through the “user data,” their staffers try “to understand things such as how emotions impact how users consume stories, what motivates people to take action around content they find meaningful, and what is the best way to structure stories to take advantage of different platforms.” After the fact, they “go through the metrics of every story” to figure out exactly the places where it started losing readers’ attention—the point where someone commits to reading the whole piece, O’Leary says, is “a very interesting narrative moment”; if you went to make a snack halfway through, she wants to know that too. In the future, we’ll no doubt write books this way.

    Meanwhile, a letter from a writer of the old school, Jack Kerouac, is being sold at auction—bids opened today. There’s some discussion of his unfinished novel, Spotlight, and also some useful reminders for authors: Success, Kerouac writes, is “when you cant enjoy your food any more in peace. Ow.”

    After being played by Reese Witherspoon in the film of her memoir Wild, Cheryl Strayed is still diversifying: You can already catch the audio version of her “Dear Sugar” advice column, which has been going for a few months, and as of this fall you can stop tattooing inspirational quotations from her work on yourself and just buy a whole book of them.

    And the novelist Chuck Palahniuk plans to start appearing as a character in the Fight Club 2 comic-book series, followed by his whole writing group: “Literary critics claim that Ken Kesey’s mental hospital in Cuckoo’s Nest and Toni Morrison’s plantation in Beloved represent those authors’ post-graduate writing workshops. To prevent anyone from thinking my own workshop is either a support group for the terminally ill or a bare-knuckle mosh pit, I’ve included it in Fight Club 2.”

  • July 8, 2015

    For authors, few things ever seem to go in this direction. As of next year, the Man Booker International Prize is merging with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to create one annual award for a translated work of literary fiction. When the Man Booker International was awarded every two years for a whole body of work, you had to be Lydia Davis or László Krasznahorkai to get your hands on the £60,000 (c. $90,000), but now you could get it for a single book—though, of course, you’d have to split it with your translator.

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump

    Somebody really went deep in fact-checking Donald Trump’s claim to have written the biggest selling business book “of all time.” And at Buzzfeed, they’ve looked up the Nielsen BookScan figures to compare sales in the mini-field of Republican candidate lit—Trump’s not winning there either; Ben Carson comes out ahead by a very long way.

    At Flavorwire, Jonathan Sturgeon briefly considers a new William Gaddis biography, tracing the novelist’s odd legacy along the way, from the 2002 New Yorker essay in which Jonathan Franzen “calls Gaddis ‘Mr. Difficult,’ but he should have just called him ‘Daddy’,” to the post-financial crash phenomenon that was Occupy Gaddis.

    Why do people still start literary magazines? Bookforum contributor Stephen Burt asks on the New Yorker’s website. “You won’t get rich, or even very famous,” he writes. Whether in print or online, where many of the newer “litmags” establish themselves, your journal “will wing its way into a world already full of journals, like a paper airplane into a recycling bin.” And still they come.

    Turns out a lot more people than you might expect want to read 38,000 words about coding.