• September 4, 2015

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Several writers are to be awarded the National Humanities Medal, including Jhumpa Lahiri, Larry McMurtry, and Annie Dillard.

    You’d think the Daily Mail would have grown a thicker skin by now, but in fact, DailyMail.com is suing Gawker for publishing some mean things about its editorial model (in the words of James King, a former freelance news writer for them, it involveslittle more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication”).

    And still they come: More digital journalists announce their intention to unionize, this time at Al Jazeera America. Complaining in a statement of “a troubling lack of transparency, inconsistent management and lack of clear redress” (some of which we’ve heard about before) the staff wrote: “We who are tasked with communicating the voice of the voiceless must retain a voice ourselves. . . . We call upon Al Jazeera’s leaders to uphold its mission, not just to its audience but also to its employees.”

    More tidbits are being found among the Hillary Clinton e-mails released by the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act—Sidney Blumenthal sent Clinton a link to a piece about Israel in the (old) New Republic, identifying it as propaganda, “the fully articulated view of the Netanyahu government and Likud about ‘the crisis’.”

    Two Vice News journalists have been released from a Turkish jail after they were charged last week in the course of their reporting with aiding a terrorist organisation.” A third, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, is still in custody.

    The actor Jesse Eisenberg, author of a new story collection, answers some questions about his reading. He says he’d like to join “a book club run by the C.S.I. unit, where they come to the house and dust the pages for fingerprints, or the secret police, where they drill a hole in the wall to make sure I’m reading.”

  • September 3, 2015

    Don DeLillo will receive this year’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. He took the opportunity (via the Associated Press) to offer some career advice to other novelists: “It’s true that some of us become better writers by living long enough. But this is also how we become worse writers. The trick is to die in between.”

    Joy Williams

    Joy Williams

    The New York Times magazine has a profile of Joy Williams, whose collected stories are about to be published—although she tells Dan Kois that most of them “aren’t getting close to what I’m trying to accomplish.” (Her expectations for the story form are high: Reading one, she wants “to be devastated in some way.”) Williams, Kois writes, “talks like a Joy Williams character”: “The rhythms of our conversation—chitchat punctuated by silence interrupted by exclamations of despair and rage—were like none I’d ever had before.”

    More trouble in magazine paradise: The National Labor Relations Board just filed a complaint against Time Inc. for allegedly breaking federal labor laws.

    With the publication of the last novel in the Neapolitan series, The Story of the Lost Child, “Ferrante fever” returns.

    “Scoop machine” Dylan Byers is leaving Politico to work for CNN.

    The LRB letters page goes from strength to strength. This fortnight, among other things, we learn where the writer Elizabeth Hardwick stood on the subject of abandoning one’s children, and that Oulipian constraints are not so arbitrary after all (that last point courtesy of Lauren Elkin, who reviewed Sphinx, a “genderless” novel by the female Oulipian Anne Garréta, for Bookforum’s website).

  • September 2, 2015

    Idris Elba

    Idris Elba

    The author of the latest James Bond novel, Trigger Mortishas had to apologize for his bizarre suggestion that Idris Elba was not suave enough to be the next 007.

    In France, the authors of a book critical of the Moroccan monarchy (originally set to come out in 2016) have been arrested and dropped by their publisher after they were caught accepting a $2.3 million bribe from one of the king’s representatives. “It’s human, no?” one of the writers, Catherine Graciet, told a French newspaper about her decision to take the money. “Everyone wonders what one could do with their life with two million euros. Try to imagine the situation. And it was to forgo publication of a book, not to kill someone.”

    Cash for poets (for once): $25,800 fellowships were handed out yesterday by the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine to five young US poets.

    Apple apparently plans to start producing original programming, and if the idea of that company taking even more of your time and attention than it already does strikes you as a little threatening, Variety seems to agree it’s an aggressive move: It “would sharpen a double-edged sword” that Netflix and Amazon are “already swinging at Hollywood.”

    Tomorrow night at Greenlight, Amitav Ghosh will launch Flood of Fire, the last book in his Opium War trilogy, which Eric Banks reviews in Bookforum‘s Fall issue, on the stands now.


  • September 1, 2015

    Günter Grass

    Günter Grass

    As the death toll rises for people seeking refuge in Europe, Steidl has published the last book by Günter Grass, who died in April: The book contains an exhortation to his fellow Germans to display greater compassion towards refugees.

    “Why change a winning team?” asked Eula Biss’s literary agent, after they turned down a six-figure offer from a commercial house to take the paperback of On Immunity away from Graywolf Press. Boris Kachka (who notes that Graywolf authors have collected “four NBCC awards, a National Book Award, two Pulitzers, and a Nobel Prize” in the last six years) spoke to Fiona McCrae, publisher of the small press that’s helped make the lyric essay form a big, unlikely popular hit: “I think of success as being able to say yes to something that doesn’t necessarily look like a commercial winner,” she says. “Knowing something is good and having to say no, that seems to me the bigger failure.”

    In a fascinating essay in n+1’s Fall issue, Emily Bass writes about what has happened to HIV/AIDs activism in the years when the mainstream LGBTQ movement has thrived.

    The Financial Times had lunch with the LRB’s Mary-Kay Wilmers—possibly the only literary-magazine editor to be played on television by Helena Bonham-Carter.

    Starting today in Philadelphia, you can go and see the oldest American book, Doctrina breve, from 1544, by the first bishop of Mexico.

    Or if that doesn’t sound like enough fun, Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia will be going on book tour soon.

  • August 31, 2015

    Oliver Sacks

    Oliver Sacks

    Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author, died on Sunday at age 82. Sacks announced in February that he had late-stage cancer. Sacks’s books, which include Hallucinations and Awakenings and the recent memoir On the Move, captured the mysterious workings of the human brain. In his 1985 book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, he wrote about a patient with a parietal-lobe tumor, who tried “to kick his own left leg out of bed under the mistaken impression that someone has placed a cold cadaver limb beside him as a practical joke.”

    Jeb Bush likes bestsellers such as Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, Marco Rubio favors the books of “Reformicon” Yuval Levin, Scott Walker has dropped references to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence: What the Republican presidential candidates are reading.

    Three Al Jazeera journalists have been sentenced by an Egyptian judge to three years in prison. The jounalists—Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste—all worked for Al Jazeera’s English news channel, and had been accused of broadcasting “false news” about Egypt.

    It is rumored that the mysterious novelist Elena Ferrante is granting only one interview per country to publicize her new novel, The Story of the Lost Child, which concludes her series of four Neapolitan novels. In the US, that honor went to Vanity Fair. You can read part one of a two-part interview (conducted by Elissa Schappell) here. “Friendship is a crucible of positive and negative feelings that are in a permanent state of ebullition.”

    Scarlett Johansson has failed to halt the English publication of Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, a French novel that features a character who resembles her. In the book, “a French village mechanic’s quiet life is interrupted when a woman who appears to be Scarlett Johansson shows up at his house. As it turns out, she is an imposter.” Johansson and her lawyer claimed that the book is “defamatory,” but their demands to stop publication were rejected, and the English-language publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson will release the book, which came out in France in 2013, on September 10.

  • August 28, 2015

    In a New York Times op-ed, Stephen King defends prolific novelists—Alexandre Dumas, Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Asimov, himself—from the “snobbish, inane, and demonstrably untrue” suspicion that fewer books make for better books.

    Shulamith Firestone

    Shulamith Firestone

    The ubiquitous yet elusive Elena Ferrante tells Vanity Fair about some of her literary influences: “Today I read everything that emerges out of so-called postfeminist thought. It helps me look critically at the world, at us, our bodies, our subjectivity. But it also fires my imagination, it pushes me to reflect on the use of literature. I’ll name some women to whom I owe a great deal: Firestone, Lonzi, Irigaray, Muraro, Caverero, Gagliasso, Haraway, Butler, Braidotti.”

    It’s not every week that AWP (the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) finds itself mired in scandal, but the discussions about diversity and access at its annual conferences have grown increasingly heated.

    DailyMail.com has hired the political reporter and D.C. gossip veteran Nikki Schwab to cover the US presidential campaign. Leaving the US News and World Report (where she did “Washington Whispers”), Schwab told FishbowlDC that: “Obviously because they [The Daily Mail] are a British tabloid they appreciate all sorts of political news.”   

    Buzzfeed spoke to Claudia Rankine: “I wanted the book to exist in the space of the white liberal. Because people like to say ‘oh, it’s the South,’ ‘it’s ignorance,’ ‘it’s white supremacist Fox News.’ And I’m like, no, no, no. It’s white alliance with all of those things.”

    Someone’s trying to revamp books and publishing again—if you know how to do that, you’re invited to send in your manifesto.

  • August 27, 2015

    Jonathan Franzen

    Jonathan Franzen

    At New York, Christian Lorentzen has an essay on Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, in which he joins Elaine Blair in bringing “some skepticism to the dizzy proceedings,” and also considers the Franzen phenomenon more generally: “Do you love Jonathan Franzen? Does America? Does the world? These questions sound ridiculous, but they’re the ones Franzen has been posing over the past two decades, as he has, against long odds, made himself the kind of public figure about whom they aren’t entirely ridiculous or even unusual.”

    After two journalists were killed while on a routine assignment in Virginia, Poynter has some suggested guidelines for what should and shouldn’t be shown in coverage of such events.

    The Awl predicts “a bloodbath” at Condé Nast, where employees are being asked to account for their activities task by task, hour by hour.

    Disappointingly, it seems as if Cormac McCarthy does not tweet.

    September 10th has been named George Scialabba Day by Cambridge City Council, and the Baffler is organizing a party that night at the Brattle Theatre (Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich and others will be there) to celebrate Scialabba’s “retirement” from his work at Harvard and “entry into the uncertain world of writing for his supper.” That sounds like good news for editors—and for anyone in Cambridge on the 10th, too.

  • August 26, 2015

    Roz Chast

    Roz Chast

    Nearly twenty years into its history, the Thurber Prize for American Humor will finally be going to a woman (either Annabelle Gurwitch, Roz Chast, or Julie Schumacher) on September 28.

    Donald Trump and Fox News CEO Roger Ailes are continuing to do battle (for one thing, Trump revived his attack on Megyn Kelly last night). Ailes means well, according to an unnamed source who talked to Gabriel Sherman: “Roger says Trump is unelectable. His goal here is to save the country.”

    Music critic David Hajdu has gone out on a limb and made his own album. Being interviewed about it by The Observer also gave him the opportunity to share “something I’ve wanted to say, but nobody’s asked me so I can finally say it.” Here are his thoughts on leaving the New Republic with the rest of the old guard, and going to The Nation: “Writing for The Nation after writing for The New Republic for twelve years is like, your wife dies so you marry her sister. But then you start to realize that you sort of always had a crush on her the whole time, you know? Because I’m really happy there.”

    Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home has proved too much for some of Duke’s fainter-hearted freshmen.

    Not content with just whining about the dominance of Amazon et al., a Japanese bookstore chain is buying up ninety percent of the print run of Haruki Murakami’s new essay collection (about being a writer) to sell themselves and distribute to other bookstores.

  • August 25, 2015

    Mario Vargas Llosa

    Mario Vargas Llosa

    After announcing the death of culture in his new book, Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa finds yet more evidence of it in a New York Times review (quite a trenchant and perceptive one, if you ask us) by Joshua Cohen. Vargas Llosa’s objection to some “slanderous and perfidious . . . gossip” originally included in the piece has prompted a long and delightful NYT correction. (Note to fact-checkers: the Daily Mail doesn’t count as a source.)

    The anti-diversity (or pro-”quality”) faction at sci-fi’s legendary Hugo Awards appears to have lost this round.

    Amid a “dystopian landscape” for magazines, the younger Wenner is gradually taking over a still-old-fashioned Rolling Stone.

    As editors and staff writers unionize, Forbes pities the freelancer.

    Another blow for those of us who enjoy reading the deleted tweets of politicians: after cutting off Politwoops at home a while back, Twitter has now done the same to equivalents abroad.

  • August 24, 2015



    Morrissey, whose Autobiography was published by Penguin Classics in 2014, has announced that his first novel, List of the Lost, will be released in late September. The author and his publisher are offering up no other information. According to the Independent: “There are no details yet about what the novel will be about.”

    If commentators are attributing “megalomaniacal billionaire” Donald Trump’s political success to populism, what does that say about our definition of populism? Not much, says Rich People Things author and Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann. “The Beltway definition of populism is disdainful.” Trump’s success at tapping into a populist current is founded on a contradiction: “He has so far masterfully exploited a broad animus against self-infatuated elites across the media and political landscape—even as he loudly advertises his own ultra-elite membership in America’s owning class.”

    The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas—which has recently acquired the papers of David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, and J.M. Coetze—has reportedly offered $1.1 million for the archives of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. The university is still awaiting approval of the sale.

    Since essayist, poet, and TV personality Clive James’s leukemia diagnosis five years ago, “there have been so many interviews and appreciations that the speak-with-Clive-James-before-he-dies piece has become a kind of genre unto itself.” The Observer points out one of the finest, in which Australian broadcaster Mark Colvin talks with James about his new book, Latest Readings.

    Newly released top-secret files reveal that the British intelligence agency MI5 spied on novelist Doris Lessing for twenty years, “listening to her phone conversations, opening her mail and closely monitoring her movements.”