• 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.”

  • August 21, 2015

    Jonathan Franzen tells the Guardian about how “he once considered adopting an Iraqi war orphan to help him understand young people better, but was persuaded against it by his editor.”

    Politico has confirmed that labor reporter Mike Elk no longer works there, and has denied that that’s anything to do with Elk’s attempts to unionize the newsroom.

    MFA-land tries to think more and better about race.

    Screen-Shot-2015-06-01-at-4.58.15-PMCarli Lloyd, who captained the US national women’s soccer team at this year’s World Cup, is publishing a memoir. Too bad David Foster Wallace isn’t around to review it.

    And, apparently one primary function of the DFW film has been to make magazine-profile writers feel like a bunch of creeps.

    People still can’t decide how to feel about H. P. Lovecraft.

    Someone has translated the dream journal of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, discoverer of neurons, who wrote down his dreams from 1918 and his death in 1934 in an attempt to disprove Freud’s theories.

    “Writing novels seemed like the most boring possible thing you could do”: Sheila Heti talks on video for the Paris Review about writing her first book.

  • August 20, 2015

    At the New York Times magazine, Steven Johnson has crunched the numbers and says, contra years of post-Napster scaremongering about what the digital economy would do to artists and writers, that creative types are still mostly doing fine.

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump celebrates himself and sings himself on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter. Asked when he last apologized for something, he says: “It was too many years ago to remember. I have one of the great memories of all time, but it was too long ago.” On the competition: Hillary Clinton’s email debacle was “Watergate on steroids”; Jeb Bush, though a nice guy is “very low energy. And you need a person with great energy, enthusiasm and brainpower to straighten out our country.”

    The archbishop of Lima has been caught plagiarizing his right-wing op-eds from the writings of not one but two former popes. (Though presumably his thoughts on the perils of WhatsApp are all his own: “How many families have broken up through WhatsApp? You will say that I am exaggerating, or a retrograde, but no, someone has to say the truth.”)

    Another year, another Jane Austen romcom.

  • August 19, 2015

    The New York Times searches its soul over whether its Amazon story was fair. Meanwhile, the Onion, not for the first time, struggles to preserve the distinction between its satire and straight reporting.

    Joan Didion

    Joan Didion

    Mostly ignoring the chic starriness that clings to Joan Didion in so much of the coverage of her, Louis Menand traces the significant change in Didion’s work and worldview through the decades. Plus there’s a nice nod to the art of the disclaimer: “(Full disclosure: you are reading this piece in The New Yorker).”

    Who’d be Gawker’s lawyer? Only the brave.

    The Center for Fiction announced the shortlist for its $10,000 First Novel Prize—those in the running include Ben Metcalf and Viet Thanh Nguyen.

    Apparently a painstakingly simplified version of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (it took the adapter well over a decade) has been threatening to overtake E. L. James on the Spanish best-seller list. One sensitive professor told reporters it was “a crime against literature”: “I ask the booksellers in Madrid and they tell me no one buys Cervantes’s original novel anymore because readers prefer the ‘light’ version.

    Tonight at Book Culture, Benjamin Moser launches Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories.

  • August 18, 2015

    Renata Adler

    Renata Adler

    Renata Adler expressed her solidarity with Buzzfeed writers when she went to their HQ for an interview earlier this year: “The embarrassing part about writing something, and having it published, is the part right after when you’re thinking, Oh my god, what are people going to think? If you’re having one piece every three years, that’s it, it’s done. But if you have to write three times a week, the only way to get rid of the embarrassment is to try the next piece, and hope it will be better, and erase the last piece. Which is probably what you want. You want to just keep going forward. Is that what happens with you?” (She also explained how to know when you’ve finished a story that has no conventional ending: “When the deadline happens, that’s when it’s over. Otherwise, you can keep changing everything, and it becomes like an action painting—which is not good. You don’t want that.”)

    Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan also has something helpful to say to the Buzzfeeders about their boss and about unions.

    And Flavorwire ends up saying pretty much the same thing to Jeff Bezos’s beleaguered “Amazonians.” (The rest of us are advised to consider a boycott, but make a complaint to Amazon customer service—1-888-280-4331—on our way out.)

    There are still a few people managing to do well out of Amazon, though—the first self-published author to reach the top of their charts is a linguist and behavioral psychologist whose winning sales strategy for his twenty-six-page children’s book was to make sure it would send people straight to sleep.

    Even the most old-fashioned publishing types like nothing better than a listicle. But if you want to put in a book what should normally be confined to the internet, there are probably better ways to go.

  • August 17, 2015

    Robert Christgau

    Robert Christgau

    Robert Christgau—the rock critic whose memoir Going into the City was released earlier this year—recently learned that Medium, where he had been a regular columnist, was no longer going to pay its music writers. But his weekly column, “Expert Witness,” is back, and it has a new home: Vice.

    A number of digital-media editorial staffs—including those at Gawker and Vice—have recently unionized. Now, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti is making it clear that he does not want his staff to join the trend. In a memo sent to staffers late last week, the Buzzfeed CEO wrote that organized labor leads to a “more adversarial” relationship between the union and management, and that in the case of Buzzfeed it would hurt the company’s strong benefits and overall vision. “For a flexible, dynamic company, it isn’t something [that] I think would be great for the company,” he wrote in the memo.

    The New York Times’s long article about Amazon this weekend provided ample evidence of the company’s ruthless business culture. Many rebuttals have been issued, including one by employee Nick Ciubotariu, who refutes many points in the Times article (and vouches adamantly for his employer’s and his employer’s and his own decency) by  “us[ing] data, and provid[ing] you with actual facts, starting now.”

    Between 1960 and the early 1970s, the FBI assembled a file on author James Baldwin that contains 1,884 pages.

    Dan Duray recently re-read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and was reminded that Patrick Bateman, the titular character, worshipped  Donald Trump.

  • August 14, 2015

    Lucia Berlin

    Lucia Berlin

    “What did people do before Prozac?” Lucia Berlin wrote in a letter to Lydia Davis. “Beat up horses I guess.” You can read a version of Davis’s foreword to Berlin’s stories on the New Yorker site (so do).

    Better to read Moby-Dick on your phone than not to read it at all.

    Jay Parini writes about Gore Vidal’s greatest feuds and the “effort, strenuous at times” to stay friends with him.

    And poor David Foster Wallace has been dragged into an arcane argument about who counts as a bro in the literary world.

    Still, Joan Didion has a related problem. At the Atlantic, Meghan Daum reads the new biography and considers Didion-ness: Didion may be a white girl to whom generations of white girls have been disproportionately drawn, but she’s one we—and all kinds of readers—have desperately needed.”

  • August 13, 2015

    You may remember the UK’s former PM, Tony Blair. Judging by recent polls, his once-progressive party, Labour, may soon return to something like its pre-Blair roots, as left-wing social democrat Jeremy Corbyn seems poised to win the leadership. Now, at the ready with metaphors mixed—are Labour Party members playing sports? Sleepwalking outside? Scripting a horror film?—Blair has published what might be the op-ed of the year: “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. . . . It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible. . . . We know where this ends. We have been here before. But this sequel will be a lot scarier than the original. So write it if you want to. Go over the edge if you want.”

    Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, it’s nice to see that the President still has time to write letters to the editor.

    Patti Smith

    Patti Smith

    Showtime is turning Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir of her adventures with Robert Mapplethorpe, into a mini-series.

    Ukraine has banned a whole list of books published in Russia, while in Moscow, the publishing house Algoritm may face legal action from several Western writers who have found out that they’re the unwitting authors of Russian-language books in a series called Project Putin.

    Always fun to find out what other people spend their money on: Gawker has got hold of Buzzfeed’s internal financial documents.

    In Japan, Haruki Murakami has just published an eight-volume e-book of his answers to some of the forty thousand questions submitted to him by fans online earlier this year: One asked if he’d ever wanted to be a cat, to which the answer, inexplicably, was no.


  • August 12, 2015

    The Intercept turns the surveillance tables on an NSA analyst, the so-called “Socrates of SIGINT,” who, it turns out, also writes fiction.

    Jonathan Franzen

    Jonathan Franzen

    At the Atlantic, Caleb Crain reviews the new Jonathan Franzen. Surely it must be nearly time for Nell Zink to share her thoughts too.

    The still-newish New Republic is redesigning itself, more or less eliminating any distinction between the print and web versions along the way. No matter what they do, former literary editor Leon Wieseltier is predictably unimpressed.

    Electric Literature and Black Balloon Publishing are going to publish books together—Catapult will be open for submissions (no agent required) between April and October every year.

    Meanwhile, we’re finally getting round to replacing fiction writers with something more efficient—as of this year there’s even a short-story prize for algorithms. The Guardian quotes William Chamberlain, who was involved with an early version of computer-program fiction in the 1980s, as saying: “I find intriguing the possibility that we human beings, whose very consciousness is a faculty completely interwoven with experience, may relate in some way to a form of ‘sentence’ that has no experiential grounding.” (Though of course, you don’t have to be a bot to produce one of those.)

    Elena Ferrante’s “small bet with myself . . . that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors,” which she explained to her publishers in 1991, before her first novel was published, has been paying off for a long time now (and other novelists are starting to express their envy in the comments section).

  • August 11, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Yesterday a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson after another police shooting. Meanwhile, in an interview about his book Between the World and MeRoxane Gay asks Ta-Nehisi Coates whether it ever feels “all too much,” when seemingly “every week, if not every day, we have a new tragedy to mourn.” He responds: “Never. This has always been life. . . . I know we’re in this new moment where it seems like the police have suddenly gone crazy. But police violence is not new and it is only the most spectacular end of a range of violence black people live under.”

    And, describing his reading preferences for the New York Times Book Review, Coates recalls his response to Macbeth in school: “‘And I another \ So weary with disasters, tugged with fortune, \ That I would set my life on any chance, \ To mend it, or be rid on ’t.’ I mean I was like, ‘Yoooooooo!!!’ I was done. That was black people to me right there. That was Nat. That was Harriet. That was Malcolm. That was Ida. That was my mother and father. That was my Baltimore.”

    People eager for more Harper Lee can always just write it themselves. The novel Tru & Nelle, out next year, will tell the story of Lee’s childhood friendship with Truman Capote, and it sounds more Mockingbird than Watchman: There’s a tomboy fighting off bullies, and even a scene in which her father, A. C. Lee, stands up to some Klan members at a Halloween party.

    Getting out of the media business: After offloading the Financial Times not long ago, the education giant Pearson is about to sell its stake in the Economist Group for more than six hundred million dollars.

    Stephen Colbert is hoping Donald Trump keeps on happening until he can get back on television in the fall.