• June 23, 2015

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine

    From the New York Times Magazine, a devastating essay by Claudia Rankine: “The truth, as I see it, is that if black men and women, black boys and girls, mattered, if we were seen as living, we would not be dying simply because whites don’t like us.”

    So far the doxxing of Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem to have produced any major surprises, but at the Washington Post, Marc Lynch suggests that the materials published by Wikileaks and the Beirut paper al-Akhbar on Friday (the first batch, with many more to come) will matter more than you might think—as with the earlier leak of US diplomatic cables, even when it’s something everyone knows about, there’s a lot to be said for documented proof.

    Peter Wayner reminisces in the Atlantic about the editor who “looked at my one of my book proposals and said something along the lines of, ‘It feels like you’ve only got 20,000 words of material. You need at least 80,000 words for a book. Can you pad it?’” No such leniency from Amazon, who as of July plan to start paying royalties based on how many pages are actually read—authors who publish directly on Kindle may soon long to return to being judged by their covers.

    And poor beleaguered authors have to compete with the amateurs too: By the time E.L. James came out with the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel her fans had been clamoring for, one Gillian Griffin of Surrey had already posted her own rewrite of the first three novels from Christian Grey’s viewpoint, and got 8.8 million hits. (But lest your heart bleed for James, herself a fanfic graduate, her own version, Grey, has sold a million copies in its first week.)

    Amy Chozick told Cosmopolitan the oddly compelling tale of her life in journalism so far, from fetching prosciutto and melon at Condé Nast (“I’m from Texas, we call that ‘ham’”) to the Wall Street Journal’s frumpy, sweaty newsroom, all the way to the Clinton beat.

  • June 22, 2015

    Jess Row

    Jess Row

    At the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb points out that Dylann Roof’s alleged murder of six black women and three black men during a Bible-study class in Charleston last week “was nothing less than an act of terror.” David Remnick calls the merciful responses by relatives of the victims a “superhuman form of endurance and pity.”

    Jess Row’s novel Your Face in Mine, which came out last August, tells the story of a white man who has undergone “racial reassignment surgery” in order to become black. This character, Martin, “has diagnosed himself with what he calls Racial Identity Dysphoria Syndrome, and claims that he has always been black—that he was born in the wrong body.” Last week, with the Rachel Dolezal story in full force, Row found “a version of my novel was leaving the realm of the imaginary and becoming news.” Row compares the news and his novel in a new essay, noting the “nefarious” nature of Martin’s project, but also offering a complicated view of the fantasies around racial reassignment: “There are some people born into positions of power and privilege who are driven to, for lack of a better word, vacate themselves. This can originate in a deep political commitment, in radical feelings of empathy, in the trauma of feeling complicit in acts of violence, in what the critic Anne Cheng calls ‘racial melancholia,’ or even, perhaps, simply in a feeling that they were born in the wrong body. This impulse-to-vacate is problematic, to say the least, and dangerous at worst. But it exists. I’ve felt it myself. I believe it’s much more widespread than most of us imagine.”

    The novelist James Salter, who was called a “writer’s writer’s writer,” died on Friday.

    The Wall Street Journal wonders who will publish Pope Francis’s statement on global warming, which will soon “be up for grabs.” Apparently, Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House Press has contacted the US Conference of Bishops to express his interest. “We’d be excited and honored to publish it,” he said. “This kind of activist publishing is exactly what Melville House is all about.”

    Vanessa Grigoriadis has been hired as a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine.

    Geoff Dyer remembers Ornette Coleman.

  • June 19, 2015

    After the killings in Charleston this week, Ta-Nehisi Coates says the Confederate flag must at long last be taken down: “Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol.”

    At the Guardian, Gideon Lewis-Kraus has a long and entertaining account of Politico’s recent expansion into the famously stuffy, unglamorous world of the EU: “Can Politico make Brussels sexy?” It seems a tall order, though certainly “an experiment with far-reaching implications, not only for the future of journalism but, perhaps, for the European self-image.” As one of Politico’s new reporters, Tara Palmeri, tells Lewis-Kraus “after obtaining for me in two minutes the commission press accreditation that can take others weeks: ‘They hired a gutsy girl who worked at Page Six to come through and destroy this town.’”

    And in a similar spirit—Lewis-Kraus characterizes Politico’s mission as “accelerating the news cycle’s ‘metabolism’ which, depending on your perspective on their approach, recalls either the quickening of the pulse or the churning of the bowels”—Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame is helping launch Brigade, an app for people who want to discover and debate their political views. “If we want to build a platform to disrupt democracy,” Parker rather mystifyingly says, “we can’t ignore politics.”

    Online troublemaker Charles C. Johnson is suing Gawker (also Politico, CNN) for libel: “On the whole,” he told reporter Betsy Rothstein, “ it’s nice to team up with Hulk Hogan and his people should call my people… If I can be the straw that breaks Gawker’s back, I’m quite pleased.” Rothstein also asked Gawker’s J.K. Trotter for comment and received this link.

    Brian Williams makes a comeback: He’s sorry he “said things that weren’t true”, and now he’s ready to be the breaking news anchor on MSNBC. Some were not persuaded by the claim from NBC News that Williams “for the most part” didn’t tell his tales from the anchor’s chair (he waited a while and told them on late-night talk shows)—and if Williams can no longer be trusted with the Nightly News, “what does this say about how NBC News views the ethics and standards of MSNBC”?

  • June 18, 2015

    Roger Ailes

    Roger Ailes

    Could 2016 mark the end of Fox News as we know it? Its chairman, Roger Ailes, a man so powerful, as Gabriel Sherman puts it, “that he has been able to run a right-wing political operation under the auspices of a news channel,” appears to be struggling. At the Daily Intelligencer, Sherman gives an intriguing account of Ailes’s troubled relationship with James Murdoch, who is about to take over from his father as CEO of Fox (in private, Ailes has apparently referred to James as a “fucking dope” and “Fredo”). The failure of Ailes’s public attempt to keep reporting directly to Rupert Murdoch has been seen as a demotion, and his contract will be up for renewal next year. Sherman asks if we’re about to find out what “a post-Ailes era” will look like.

    Journalists who enjoy chasing their own tails can speed up the hunt with the latest iteration of Google Trends, which helps you monitor what people are searching for where at any given moment, assessing what is going viral, and just how viral it’s going, in real time. Google News Lab’s data editor, Simon Rogers, is calling it “a news detection system.” What could be better than knowing which stories “news consumers” want to read before you’ve actually spent the time writing them?

    Book publishers, on the other hand, sometimes prefer to lead readers rather than follow them. Julia Fleischaker, director of publicity at Melville House, has announced that each of the presidential candidates (Donald Trump included) will soon receive a box of books with a note attached: “Please accept the enclosed copies of The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, compliments of Melville House. We hope… that they will help you clarify your position on the legality, morality, and efficacy of torture.”

    The Rumpus has published a hypertext interview with novelist Maya Lang that, among other things, delightfully recalls the late-1990s moment when using technology to make readers work harder seemed like a good idea.

    “From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!”, part of the artist Michael Mandiberg’s “Print Wikipedia” project, opens today at the Denny Gallery on the Lower East Side. The entire contents of Wikipedia as of April 7 will begin uploading to a print-on-demand site, where in theory you’ll be able to purchase a full set of volumes for $500,000 (once the uploading is complete, which will take a couple of weeks). “Everyone knows that Wikipedia is huge,” as Jennifer Schuessler writes in the New York Times, “but it takes the physical book — still a ‘cognitively useful’ unit of measure, Mr. Mandiberg said — to grasp just how huge.”

  • June 17, 2015

    Tom Harper on CNN

    Tom Harper on CNN

    In the Dominican Republic, after today’s deadline to register with government authorities, hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly of Haitian origin, will face deportation; Harper’s has just removed the paywall from Rachel Nolan’s frightening and essential account of the context, which appeared in its May 2015 issue.

    It’s worth watching this weekend’s bizarre appearance on CNN by Tom Harper of the Sunday Times (UK), which had just published an evidence-free lead story titled “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Even the most basic questions about the story were met with “don’t know”s. “That’s not something that we’re clear on,” Harper said at one point, “so we don’t go into that level of detail in the story. We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment.” Relying on quotes from unnamed British officials to the effect that Edward Snowden may have “blood on his hands,” the report itself is odd enough (at The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald takes it apart in detail and calls it “a self-negating joke” that “reads like a parody I might quickly whip up in order to illustrate the core sickness of Western journalism”), but Harper’s attempt to back it up on television is truly not to be missed.

    Whatever the inaccuracies in Wednesday Martin’s “anthropological memoir” Primates of Park Avenue, they haven’t deterred Hollywood: MGM just won the rights after a bidding war.

    Likewise, the bestselling pundit David Brooks apparently doesn’t let the facts hold him back: David Zweig, a writer and former magazine fact-checker, details his “journey down the Brooks rabbit hole”, tracing the mysteriously sourced and ever-shifting statistics Brooks uses and reuses from book to book to TV appearance, and wondering how the humility expert gets away with it.

    Gawker’s impassioned but flailing attack on Jonathan Safran Foer as “his own genre of bankable awful” begins with a note of mourning for the time of New Yorker short stories by J.D. Salinger and John O’Hara: “These days, the New Yorker fiction issue is so bad it’s hard to imagine anyone liking it who wasn’t told to.”

    Anyone feeling similarly jaded may be cheered by the launch tomorrow of “Read Paper Republic”—in an effort to bring readers more Chinese literature, a free short story, essay, or poem will be made available every week, starting with an original translation by Michelle Deeter of a story by A Yi.

  • June 16, 2015

    James Fenton

    James Fenton

    Rachel Dolezal, an NAACP leader who has been accused of posing as African-American, stepped down yesterday, and will today give several TV interviews. In the New York Times magazine, a historian explores earlier examples of such “reverse passing;” and on his blog, Lenin’s Tomb, Richard Seymour asks “the interesting question”: “Why is race so resilient despite being so malleable, and despite having no fundamental reality outside of power?”

    The poet James Fenton has won this year’s PEN Pinter Prize, set up in memory of Harold Pinter in 2009. The judges included the playwright’s widow, Antonia Fraser, who praised Fenton’s “brilliant political poetry,” and were chaired by Maureen Freely, who said that “in this age of privatised art, it is increasingly rare for writers to retain this degree of public commitment.”

    Durga Chew-Bose, Jazmine Hughes, and the others behind www.writersofcolor.org—a new database where you can search for writers by area of expertise and by location—are tired of editors’ excuses: “We don’t want to hear ‘I can’t find any’ ever again, okay?”       

    Today is Bloomsday, which, according to Robert Berry, illustrator of a digital graphic novel version of Joyce’s Ulysses, who’s celebrating it in Hong Kong this year, is  “still the only holiday to celebrate a single work of fiction.”

    The Observer is amused by Apple’s attempt to recruit journalists for its news app—what’s required, as so often in the contemporary workplace, seems to be “the mind of a human with the reliability of a machine.”

    At the Los Angeles Review of Books, an interview with Jessica Hopper about Courtney Love investing in her fanzine when she was in the eleventh grade, and about her new book, which bears the not-entirely-accurate-but-still-accurate-enough-to-be-dispiriting title The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic.

  • June 15, 2015

    Gawker Media is preparing for its legal battle with Hulk Hogan, who is asking that the media company give him $100 million for posting a sex-tape featuring the legendary wrestler. The trial begins on July 6 in Florida, and pivots on Gawker’s argument that the tape was “newsworthy.” Most legal experts expect Gawker to win, but the fact that the trial is taking place in Hogan’s hometown could affect the results. As Fortune points out: “The case is important not only because Hogan wants $100 million, which could ruin Gawker, but also because it highlights how Gawker is alone among new media companies in waging the sort of public interest legal fights that were once second nature for traditional media.” Nick Denton, the founder and chief executive of Gawker, writes: “I should make it clear: we would have settled too, in the interest of fighting another day, if Hogan’s demands were reasonable and the story flawed in any way. But now that the trial is on, we intend to fight it as far as we need to and we can.”

    Kelly Marcel, who wrote the screenplay for Fifty Shades of Grey, says she is so “heartbroken” by the studio’s changes to her script that she won’t watch the movie.

    Alina Simone

    Alina Simone

    In a New Statesman feature titled “What Can’t You Say?,” guest editors Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman asked artists and other public figures to reveal the thoughts they normally leave unspoken. Writers including Roxane Gay, Alina Simone, Geeta Dayal, Suki Kim, and Elif Shafak are among those who responded.

    At Fusion, Felix Salmon argues that “the New York Times should buy Bloomberg.” “This seems, on its face, to be insane,” Salmon writes. “After all, Bloomberg LP is worth somewhere in the region of $40 billion; the New York Times Company is worth about $2 billion. (That’s so small that it will easily pass any anti-trust concerns.) How can something so small buy something so big? Easy: the New York Times Company would simply issue new shares of stock.”

    “In ninth grade English Mrs X required us to memorise and recite a poem and so I asked the Topeka High librarian to direct me to the shortest poem she knew.” Ben Lerner, author of the novel 10:04 and the poetry collection Mean Free Path, has an excellent Diary about poetry (and why some people hate it) at the London Review of Books.

    At the Paris Review, critic and fiction writer Damion Searls details the challenges and pleasures of translating Norwegian author Jon Fosse into English.

  • June 12, 2015

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Joyce Carol Oates

    The Huffington Post has dug up Jeb Bush’s 1995 book Profiles in Character, and quotes extensively from a chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame.” There, the former Florida governor and likely presidential candidate argued that “public humiliations” might help deter women from having children “out of wedlock.” In the course of his argument, Bush cites an American literary classic: “Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.”

    In response to author Kamila Shamsie’s article about gender bias in the publishing industry, the independent press And Other Stories has vowed to publish only books by women in 2018.

    Michelle Obama is helping edit the July/August issue of More magazine.

    When Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, in response to the killing of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, that it is “so barbaric that this should still be allowed,” many people wondered if she was losing her sense of reality. The comment, Oates has assured her readers, was “meant as a joke.”

    Amazon’s e-book business practices are being reviewed by European antitrust regulators.

    Paul Bacon, who designed iconic book covers for novels including Catch-22 and Portnoy’s Complaint, has died at 91.

  • June 11, 2015

    Juan Felipe Herrera

    Juan Felipe Herrera

    Juan Felipe Herrera, a Mexican-American who was raised by migrant farm workers, has been named the new United States Poet Laureate. Herrera’s work includes Border-Crosser With a Lamborghini Dream and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border, and the Library of Congress points out that his poetry, in the spirit of Walt Whitman, captures “our larger American identity.”

    You have to wing it. If you don’t then it seems like it’s written from an outline. And the idea is to start to set yourself some impossible kind of place to get to, and it becomes an adventure.” FSG has published Laura Miller’s talk with Jonathan Franzen at the 2015 Book Expo America. Franzen’s Purity, due out in September, was one of the BEA’s most talked about titles.

    This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine will feature Giles Harvey’s profile of the author Jenny Diski, a regular contributor to the London Review of Books, who learned in July that she has inoperable lung cancer. “A death sentence, by all accounts, sets off in people a free-for-all of conflicting emotion, but by the time Diski, who is 67, returned home that afternoon, she had already resigned herself to one thing: She was going to write about it.”

    Chris Lehmann, the author of Rich People Things and a Bookforum editor, ponders the race for the 2016 Republican nomination. “Of the dozen or so people who have declared or are thought likely to declare, every one can be described as a full-blown adult failure,” Lehmann writes of the Republicans who have their eyes on the presidency. “These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.”

    Bestselling novelists Mhairi McFarlane and Jojo Moyes are asking that we stop using the term “chick lit” to describe popular fiction by women.

    At the Library of America blog, Maggie Nelson names six works that influenced her latest book, The Argonauts.

  • June 10, 2015

    Nisid Hajari

    Nisid Hajari

    At The Guardian, Sophie Elmhirst profiles author and biologist Richard Dawkins, who is on a “global quest to broadcast the wonder of science and the nonexistence of God.” The article presents Dawkins—whose books include The God Delusion and An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist—as a seemingly tireless and increasingly divisive scholar. “For some, his controversial positions have started to undermine both his reputation as a scientist and his own anti-religious crusade. Friends who vigorously defend both his cause and his character worry that Dawkins might be at risk of self-sabotage.”

    Rebecca Traister (the author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women) has announced that she is leaving the New Republic to become a writer at New York magazine.

    The PEN Foundation has announced the winners of its 2015 awards: Ian Buruma’s Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadow of War, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Jack Livings’s The Dog, and others.

    Evan Hughes ponders the “strange rise of the writers’ space” at the Page Turner blog. “At these urban oddities, members get access to a quiet room or two full of desks, often with an adjacent eat-in kitchen, perhaps a couch—in other words, an office. But without a boss. And you pay them, instead of the other way around.”

    Yesterday in the Washington Post, Ben Terris wrote a mostly positive story about Benny Johnson, who, less than a year after he was fired from BuzzFeed amid multiple accusations of plagiarism, has found a new job as a content director for the fast-growing conservative website IJReview. But the Post story left one thing out, says Gawker: Johnson and Terris seem to be friends.

    Slate has an excerpt from Nisid Hajari’s Midnight Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition. In the excerpt, Hajari explains the events that took place over a few days in 1947 that “turned Pakistan and India into sworn enemies.”