• June 9, 2015

    Wednesday Martin

    Wednesday Martin

    Alexis Madrigal writes about a new book titled Iterating Grace, a satire of tech startup culture that has been circulating around San Francisco. The question is: who wrote it? “No one knows who wrote the story or created the book,” Madrigal writes. “No one knows what the person who did it all wants. Most people I know who’ve received the book, who are all either journalists or authors, think it is some sort of dark-arts marketing scheme. They think Microsoft or Google or some startup is behind this whole production, and that the commercial purpose of this thing will soon be revealed to us.” One thing that Madrigal is sure of: the book “is brilliant.”

    On Wednesday of this week, novelist Rachel Kushner will discuss her work with Paris Review editor Lorin Stein at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

    On May 12, Facebook launched its “instant articles” feature, which is designed to help media outlets post articles directly on the social-networking site’s iOS app, which means that readers could access the articles on Facebook without actually going to the publishers’ sites. According to an article at Business Insider, “The media industry threw a tizzy around the launch. Much of the conversation focused on whether it came as a blessing or curse to online news.” On the plus side, Facebook—which launched “instant articles” in a partnership with publishers including BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, the New York Times, and National Geographic—is providing publishers with ad revenue generated by the stories. Critics, however, worried that the feature would diminish visitors at the media outlets’ sites. Business Insider writes that “for all the initial panic and industry buzz, the actual launch has been much slower and less dramatic than anyone expected.” (No articles have been posted as “instant articles” since May 13.) The Wall Street Journal reports that “publishers expect more Facebook Instant Articles later this month.”

    At its WWDC event yesterday, Apple announced its new iOS news app called, simply, “news.”

    The New York Post reports that The Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin’s just-published expose of the ruthless lives of rich moms on the Upper East Side, is “full of lies,” and that a “review of the best seller found holes big enough to drive an Escalade through.” According to the article, Simon and Schuster, Martin’s publisher, announced on Sunday that they will now add a disclaimer to the book.

  • June 8, 2015

    The stage adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home won the Tony for Best Musical.

    Ha Jin

    Ha Jin

    In response to Book Expo America’s spotlight on China, Jonathan Franzen, Ha Jin, Francine Prose, Murong Xuecun, and A.M. Homes staged a protest on the steps of the New York Public Library, reading works by Chinese authors who had been imprisoned and censored, and holding pictures of artist Ai Weiwei and the Tibetan writer Woeser. At the New Yorker, Christopher Beam reports on the dissent, and reaffirms what many noticed when walking by the large, front-and-center China section at BEA: that it did not receive many visitors. Of the China events, Beam writes: “If anything, the China-themed events highlighted the failure of Chinese publishers to sell books abroad, and reflected the challenges the country faces as it tries to improve its public image and export its culture around the world.”

    The PressGazette gives an overview of Alan Rusbridger’s just-concluded twenty-year tenure as the head of The Guardian, giving special attention to the paper’s coverage of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, and also dwelling on Rusbridger’s approach to digital media. As the publication’s daily print circulation has dropped from 400,000 to 180,000, and daily digital visits have reached 7,000,000, Guardian media has lost £300 million over the past decade. But Rusbridger “clearly sees the huge losses as a price worth paying to secure the future of The Guardian.” He says: “We made £80m in digital last year and I think we are budgeting to make £100m in digital this year. That would be roughly the transition point at which digital was earning more than non-digital.”

    When P.T. Anderson’s adaptation of Inherent Vice came out late last year, some cinephilic sleuths thought they had spotted the notorious media-shunning and photograph-phobic Thomas Pynchon himself in the film, following a statement from star Josh Brolin that the author had made a cameo. But the person some have said bears an uncanny resemblance to what Pynchon is now supposed to look like is not, in fact, Pynchon. He is the actor Charley Morgan, who has appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street and Lincoln, among other movies.

    The Atlantic sheds light on Jeb Bush’s and Hillary Clinton’s favorite books.

    At The Guardian, Marta Bausells gives an overview of books that got their start on Kickstarter—and picks “ten of the best crowdfunded literary projects,” which includes a special edition of Don Quixote and a self-published illustrated book about black cats.

    Gideon Lewis-Kraus has written a thoughtful article about the quest for computerized translation, and the questions it raises. As Susan Bernofsky—who has published English translations of Kafka, Robert Walser, and others—tells him, “They create the impression that translation is not an art.”

  • June 5, 2015

    In the wake of yesterday’s announcement that Gawker’s editorial employees have voted to unionize—joining the Writers Guild of America, East—a Politico staffer has asked his colleagues to redouble their efforts to unionize as well. As Erik Wemple pointed out on his blog earlier this year, it may be a tough sell.

    Ali Smith. Photo by Tim Duncan.

    Ali Smith. Photo by Tim Duncan.

    Ali Smith has been awarded the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel How to Be Both.

    At Vanity Fair, a profile of power couple Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge includes new details about the mass exodus at the New Republic a few years after Hughes took charge.

    The Paris Review has made their Spring issue’s interviews—with Hilary Mantel, Lydia Davis, and Elena Ferrante—free online. The reclusive Ferrante granted the Review her first in-person interview (she writes under a pseudonym and makes no public appearances), and tells the magazine that her reasons for avoiding the public eye have changed since she first made the decision in the early ’90s: “Back then, I was frightened at the thought of having to come out of my shell. Timidity prevailed. Later, I came to feel hostility toward the media, which doesn’t pay attention to books themselves and values a work according to the author’s reputation.”

    Karl Ove Knausgaard appeared on Charlie Rose for an in-depth interview, which turned out to be a bit of a struggle between the two men as they tried to understand each other. At one point, a pretty exasperated Rose asks Knausgaard if he is happy now, to which the author replies: “I’m really not looking for happiness . . . occasionally I am happy.”

  • June 4, 2015

    The in-progress takeover of AOL by Verizon has left the future of the Huffington Post in doubt. AOL is HuffPo’s parent company, and while Arianna Huffington has unveiled ambitious plans for the site’s future, she is currently between contracts and, according to New York Times sources, isn’t sure if her plans can be realized under the Verizon banner. As an anonymous Huffpo staffer writes at Gawker, words like demoralized are now frequently used to describe the mood in Arianna-land, but, really, it has always been that way: “To anyone who has worked at the site for any period of time, as I have, it’s a little bizarre that people could be more demoralized now than at any point in the past, because the Huffington Post has always been an essentially miserable place.”

    At the New Yorker, Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel consider the poetry of jihadists.

    Scottish reporter Andrew Jennings has been doggedly investigating corruption at FIFA for more than a decade, helping to set in motion the investigation that resulted in the arrest of top FIFA officials and the resignation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter this week. Jennings told the Washington Post that exposing this kind of malfeasance is actually not very difficult: “This journalism business is easy, you know. You just find some disgraceful, disgustingly corrupt people and you work on it! You have to. That’s what we do. The rest of the media gets far too cozy with them. . . .  Our job is to investigate, acquire evidence.”

    James Hannaham

    James Hannaham

    PEN has announced the presenters for next Monday’s PEN Literary Awards ceremony, which author and artist James Hannaham will host.

    At the Times magazine, Adrian Chen reports on the Internet Research Agency, a large, professional organization in St. Petersburg, Russia, that spreads propaganda, hoaxes, and misinformation online. As Chen writes of this form of “industrialized trolling,” it is about far more than the small thrill of posting an anonymous nasty comment: “Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space.”

  • June 3, 2015

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson

    The Windham-Campbell Prize and Yale University Press have announced a new book series titles “Why I Write,” which will commence with books by Hilton Als and Patti Smith. Als will also give the keynote speech at this year’s awards ceremony, which will take place on September 28 and will honor Teju Cole, Jackie Sibblies Drury, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Helon Habila, Ivan Vladislavic, and others.

    As the USA Freedom Act expires, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald reflects on the future of the NSA’s surveillance policy and techniques.

    Gawker has posted an article about Fusion, the online magazine owned by ABC and Univision, claiming that the site is woefully under-read: “In the middle of a workday, virtually no one is reading anything [Fusion] publishes. The number of ‘concurrents’ (people reading the same thing simultaneously) is unbelievably low for a website that’s been around for two years and employs some of the most widely known digital journalists around.” (You can read Felix Salmon’s explanation of why he joined the Fusion staff here.)

    In a blog post titled “Up the Amazon with the BS Machine,” Ursula K. Le Guin continues to request that readers stop buying books from the online superstore.

    Harper Lee’s forthcoming Go Set a Watchman has become “the most pre-ordered book” in its publisher HarperCollins’s history.

    At Bookforum.com, Sarah Nicole Prickett interviews Maggie Nelson about her new book, The Argonauts (which also features prominently in our summer issue’s cover story): “As with all my books, I worried about having to identify with this one too much, the same way that when I was writing about cruelty, or about my aunt’s murder, I was thinking, ‘Do I want to be the go-to person for cruelty? Do I want to be the go-to person for murder?’ So while I wanted to write about mothering and gender and sexuality because they were on my mind, I really didn’t want to re-inscribe—or be re-inscribed by—any boring ways of thinking about those issues. But that isn’t really within one’s control. Only the writing is within one’s control (and even that is debatable). So there was a part of me that was like, Okay, you can write this, but do. not. publish it.”

  • June 2, 2015

    Jennifer Cody Epstein

    Jennifer Cody Epstein

    Novelist Jennifer Cody Epstein says she regrets signing the recent letter condemning PEN’s award in honor of Charlie Hebdo magazine.

    Two students at Northwestern University recently filed Title IX complaints against Laura Kipnis, after the author published an article about “sexual paranoia” on university campuses. This weekend, Kipnis was “cleared of wrongdoing” by a law firm that found that the ”preponderance of evidence does not support the complaint allegations.”

    EL James has announced that she’s writing a sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey.

    The Atlantic has posted an article suggesting that Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life is the “great gay novel” we’ve been waiting for.

    The new issue of Bookforum is out now, with cover stories by Parul Sehgal (about domesticity, creativivity, Maggie Nelson, Sarah Manguso, Ben Lerner, Audre Lorde, Jenny Offill, Zadie Smith, and more) and by Stephanie Coontz (about the Moynihan Report and the misdiagnosis of America’s family ills).


  • June 1, 2015

    Stacy Schiff

    Stacy Schiff

    According to Publishers Weekly, the 2015 Book Expo America, which wrapped up this weekend in New York, was “lively.” The “most talked about books” were, the magazine reports, Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire (Stacy Schiff’s The Witches was also in the spotlight). China did, as PW points out, feature prominently in this year’s BEA, occupying a large area front and center as attendees entered the convention center. But the area seemed, for the most part, free of traffic. PEN America, for one, questioned the focus on China, issuing a report titled “Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship.” PEN also launched a campaign titled “Governments Make Bad Editors,” which “countered the aggressive propaganda presented by the state-sponsored delegation in its China-focused events.”

    James Frey, best known for his book A Million Little Pieces (and for annoying Oprah), has a new project: a “science fiction space franchise” that has publishers “hot and bothered,” and Fox 2000 reportedly backing a film adaptation rumored to be directed by Joe and Anthony Russo.

    Esther Kaplan has won the 2015 MOLLY National Journalism Award for her article “Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity,” which appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

    Natasha Vargas-Cooper reports on the Title IX charges that graduate students have filed against author Laura Kipnis after she wrote an essay titled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe.” Kipnis herself has described her difficulties in determining just what she is being charged with, and how she can defend herself: “I wrote to the Title IX coordinator asking for clarification: When would I learn the specifics of these complaints, which, I pointed out, appeared to violate my academic freedom? And what about my rights—was I entitled to a lawyer? I received a polite response with a link to another website. No, I could not have an attorney present during the investigation, unless I’d been charged with sexual violence. I was, however, allowed to have a ‘support person’ from the university community there, though that person couldn’t speak.” Vargas-Cooper calls the situation “a stunning example of feminism devouring itself.”

    Novelist Chuck Palahniuk says that director David Fincher is hoping to transform the novel Fight Club into a rock opera.

  • May 29, 2015

    Sasha Frere-Jones

    Sasha Frere-Jones

    One of new media’s bigger coups over old seems not to be lasting: Gawker notes that only a few months after abandoning the New Yorker for the start-up Genius, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones is already backing away from his full-time commitment to “the annotation website that sticks bad jokes next to your favorite rap lyrics.”

    First Look Media offers us its code—if you wanted help redacting documents or getting around gag orders, look no further.

    Gawker writers discuss which way they’ll vote on unionizing as part of Writers Guild of America, in the comments section (“We like to do these things out in the open.”) But apparently the whole question is causing “a galactic amount of acrimony” among staff.

    If you worry that the 2016 presidential campaign may become a fact-free he-said-she-said, Buzzfeed has come up with an admittedly labor-intensive solution—a dedicated in-house “independent research organization” to dig up dirt on the candidates.

    Slate’s Amanda Hess explains her goodbye to all that “ladyblogging.” She notes a general “thirst for opinion but dearth of reporting on female concerns” online, so that the “ladyblogger beat is propelled by opinions and opinions on opinions.” “That makes a ladyblog an interesting place for a writer to hone her rhetorical tools,” Hess continues. “But once they get sharp enough, she may begin to fantasize about impaling herself with them.”

  • May 28, 2015

    Jenny Erpenbeck

    Jenny Erpenbeck

    Jenny Erpenbeck and her translator Susan Bernofsky have won the £10,000 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The End of Days, which looks at the twentieth century through one woman’s several possible fates. Erpenbeck is the first living German writer to receive the prize (W.G. Sebald got it posthumously for Austerlitz, as did Gert Hofmann for The Film Explainer).

    Chelsea Manning has a piece in the Guardian marking five years since she was first locked up for releasing the Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries.”

    Gawker writers will hold a June 3 vote on whether to unionize. CEO Nick Denton is taking it rather well so far. Hamilton Nolan, who has been leading the drive for a union, suggests that if Gawker Media “can be the first big company in this industry, new media-ish kind of thing” to organize in this way, that’s “good for Nick’s legacy. It’s good for Nick as a leader. It’s something good that Nick could do, I think, for the whole industry.” Buzzfeed and Vice, take note.

    In October, Gloria Steinem will publish My Life on the Road, her first full book in 20 years. But for anyone else who’s written or is currently working on a memoir, Jezebel suggests you have mercy and just hold down the delete key for 45 minutes.

    Margaret Atwood takes her manuscript “Scribbler Moon” to a forest in Oslo as part of a project called Future Library: It won’t be read until the trees planted there last year are cut down in 2114 for paper on which to print it. A hundred years, a hundred writers—David Mitchell is up next.

    And while we’re on the subject of nostalgic futurism, if you missed this Douglas Adams fan’s tribute from the International Space Station earlier in the week, go back in time and watch.

  • May 27, 2015

    Philip Larkin

    Philip Larkin

    The Times Literary Supplement drew gleeful scorn online after publishing, with extended and enthusiastic commentary, a lost Philip Larkin poem that, in fact, wasn’t one (it’s by Frank Redpath, one of Hull’s less famous poets, and appeared in a 1982 anthology).

    No more free e-books? Publishers have won a High Court ruling in London that will force British internet service providers to block access to seven pirate e-book sites, including LibGen and AvaxHome. First they came for the mp3s…

    The land of digital media start-ups is a large and frightening one nowadays: Vox just bought the 18-month-old tech site Re/code, run by veteran Wall Street Journal writers Kara Swisher and Walter Mossberg. “Everybody is bigger than us,” Swisher told the New York Times. “It’s not a secret that being a smaller fish is really hard.” (Buzzfeed, incidentally, has hired more than a dozen reporters in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in its bid to rule the tech-news beat.)

    New York’s Daily Intelligencer identifies a new way to make it in journalism. Recent Columbia J-School grad Ben Taub used his NBC stipend from appearing on the reality show The Voice to fund a trip to the Syrian border and win his very first New Yorker byline.

    The Paris Review goes Hollywood, supplementing its legendary interviews with a new video series called “My First Time”, in which authors discuss writing their first books: the trailer features Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner, Akhil Sharma and Tao Lin.

    It appears that everybody spoke too soon in mourning the death of SkyMall, which, after being quietly purchased at auction for $1.9 million, is back.