• February 11, 2015

    Five years ago, Peter Thiel gave twenty-four young people (twenty-two men and two women—never mind Title IX) a hundred thousand dollars each to leave college. The Chronicle of Higher Education checks in with nine of them to see what the former students did with the funding. More than a few went back to college, but with an altered perspective on its value. One of the women returned to Princeton and left again just one credit shy of her degree. “The only thing I haven’t done is fulfill the arbitrary requirements,” she says. The most important aspect of the fellowship, most report, wasn’t the money or the freedom but the connections. Seems like a distinction without a difference: Having money usually leads to connections, doesn’t it? And it’s rather harder to get them without it.

    Rupert Murdoch and his new puppy PHOTO: Murdoch Here/Tumblr

    Rupert Murdoch and his new puppy                        (Photo: Murdoch Here/Tumblr)

    Rupert Murdoch got a new puppy. (For the record, Bookforum does not endorse the anti-cat comment at the bottom of this article.)

    At the London Review of Books, Elaine Blair writes about Ben Lerner, who, she says, “uses standard comic situations (drunkenness, lechery, lies and misunderstandings, ineffectual strutting and preening) to portray a particular kind of contemporary clown: the extensively educated man with all the advantages who has stretched his youth into his twenties, then his thirties, evading conventional professional responsibilities and deferring personal ones.”

    Tablet has announced they’ll start charging people to comment on their stories. Editor Alana Newhouse explains: “Instead of shutting off comments altogether (as some outlets are starting to do), we are going to try something else: Ask those of you who’d like to comment on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation.”

    CyberCaliphate, a group claiming to have ties to ISIS, hacked Newsweek’s Twitter yesterday. The hack only lasted fifteen minutes, but the group tweeted several times. The group has also hacked the Twitter accounts of the United States Central Command, the International Business Times, and Taylor Swift.

    At Slate, members of the magazine’s audio book club—Parul Seghal, David Haglund, and Katy Waldman—discuss the wide appeal of Elena Ferrante. Bookforum associate editor Emily Cooke wrote about Ferrante in our Dec/Jan issue.

    In the “spirit of transparency,” The Verge reports, Jeb Bush has published the names, emails, and private messages—some of which contained home addresses and social security numbers—of thousand of constituents who contacted him while he was in office.

  • February 10, 2015

    The New York Times looks into allegations that Harper Lee was pressured into publishing Go Set A Watchman, the “parent” novel, written in the mid-1950s, of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, has persistently denied the rumors. Her story is corroborated by some, including a friend of Lee’s who visited her last summer. “Tonja has the full confidence of Nelle,” the friend told the Times. “And I can say with confidence that Tonja would not do anything that Nelle would not want her to do.” Isn’t it fishy, though, that all communications of Lee’s feelings about the book come through Carter?

    VIDA, which publishes an annual report describing the representation of women in the media, is expanding its count this year to include women of color. The organization will email all the women it counts with a survey asking them to self-identity, if they so choose, and describe whether they consider themselves to be “aided or impeded” by their race or ethnicity.

    Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

    Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

    The shortlist for the Folio Prize, which is based in England but doesn’t require the writers it judges to be from there, names Ali Smith, Ben Lerner, Colm Tóibín, Rachel Cusk, Jenny Offill, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Akhil Sharma, and Miriam Toews.

    The final Sunday issue of the Wall Street Journal appeared last weekend. The section is closing for financial reasons, explained the editor, David Crook, in an announcement on Saturday: “Advertisers are abandoning broad, middle-market media.”

    Vox and Buzzfeed are both publishing their first interviews with President Obama. Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias conducted Vox’s interview, which appeared yesterday. The editor in chief of Buzzfeed, Ben Smith, will talk to the president today.


  • February 9, 2015

    Joe Klein has asked us to accept Brian Williams’s apology, saying that pundits demanding his dismissal are “self-righteous and gagging.” Klein comes at the topic from a unique perspective, having been criticized for his early denials that he was the anonymous author behind the bestselling campaign roman-a-clef Primary Colors.

    Sarah Koenig

    Sarah Koenig

    The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has agreed to reopen the appeal of Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction was the subject of the hit podcast Serial. Last week, Sarah Koenig discussed podcasts at a New School roundtable moderated by the New York Times’s David Carr. (Carr leads off with the question: “Do you think podcasting is the best thing that ever happened to public radio or the worst?”)

    Grove Press has partnered with the online publisher Electric Literature to create the Literary Hub, which will organize literary content from a number of sources (and publish some original content too). “We need a go-to site for literary culture, but no one can create it alone,” notes Morgan Entrekin, President and Publisher of Grove Atlantic. The website’s staff will include editor in chief Jonny Diamond and executive editor John Freeman, and confirmed partners include Bomb, the Paris Review, Knopf, FSG, and City Lights. The site will launch on April 8 at the AWP conference.

    Book deals this week: PW reports that former Simon & Schuster EIC Michael Korda has sold Alone, his new work of nonfiction about European politics in 1940, to Liveright; Ebola survivor Kent Brantly has sold a memoir to Penguin Random House’s WaterBrook Multnomah imprint; and novelist and editor Ed Park has purchased author Shawn Vestal’s debut novel, Daredevils, for Penguin Press.

    Arthur Bradford published his story collection Dogwalker in 2001 to much acclaim, winning the praise of, among others, David Foster Wallace and J. T. Leroy (whoever that was). Now, as his second book, Turtle Face, is about to come out, the author answers the question: What have you been doing for the past fourteen years?

  • February 6, 2015

    The Times has a story on the death of Google Glass, the wearable-computing flop that at least gave us this amusing New Yorker feature by Gary Shteyngart, in which Shteyngart deploys the Glass’s full capabilities: causing motion sickness, taking many photos and videos, and translating the word hamburger into Korean.

    Cory Doctorow on David Graeber’s new book, The Utopia of Rules: “bureaucracies are supposed to be meritocracies where people are hired and promoted based on talent, not because of birth or personal connections. But we all know that’s bullshit—and we also all know that the only way to rise in the Bureaucratic Utopia is to pretend that it isn’t bullshit.”

    In the New York Times Magazine, Wesley Yang profiles Eddie Huang, whose 2013 memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, has recently been made into an ABC sitcom. Huang is ambivalent about the show, which he feels performs “a kind of ‘reverse yellow­face’—telling white American stories with Chinese faces.”

    Haruki Murakami has an advice column in which he gives very little advice. (““I have no effective answers for your questions,” begins one response.)

    Harper Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, has published a statement in response to allegations that the decision to publish Lee’s second book has been made without Lee’s full consent. According to Carter, Lee has said that she is “happy as hell” that Go Set a Watchman is going to be published. Never mind that the person issuing the statement that Lee is definitely not being exploited is the person allegedly exploiting  her.

  • February 5, 2015

    People have been raising questions about the conditions under which Harper Lee agreed to have her second book published. Did she really agree? (She’s historically said she opposed publishing a second book.) Is she being exploited by her lawyer and others who want to profit from what will undoubtedly be the novel’s wildly successful sales figures? Mallory Ortberg thinks this might be the case. At New York, Boris Kachka reviews Lee’s history, particularly her decline in recent years, and quotes a letter that her sister Alice Lee wrote to a biographer about the Lees’ lawyer, Tonja: “I learned that without my knowledge she had typed out the statement, carried it to [Nelle’s apartment], and had Nelle Harper sign it . . . Poor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence. Now she has no memory of the incident . . . I am humiliated, embarrassed, and upset about the suggestion of lack of integrity at my office.”

    At Medium, a profile of a Wikipedia editor on a mission to eradicate all instances of incorrect usage of “comprised of.” He made his first “comprised of” edit in 2006. Since 2007, he’s made 42,000 edits.

    Tim Parks sets out to answer how to define authenticity in literature: “However many ways the author reworks his material,” he concludes, “it is recognizably his. We might say he or she is obedient to a need, or an inspiration, even when setting out to work in a different genre.”

    Recently, numerous newspapers have been doing away with the comment function for their stories. The Guardian’s executive editor for digital says this is a mistake. Also: “We need to understand a whole lot more about how Buzzfeed does what it does.”

    Speaking of Buzzfeed, Kat Stoeffel is moving there to be their deputy ideas editor.  Stoeffel has done a lot of great work at New York’s The Cut.

    Andrew Sullivan, who recently announced that he’s leaving his influential blog, The Dish, explains why it won’t be continuing without him, as readers have requested it do: “All three co-owners of the site, me, Patrick Appel and Chris Bodenner, have come to the conclusion that the practical, financial and editorial challenges of continuing on are simply too great for us to bear as we are, let alone without me.”

  • February 4, 2015

    Harper Lee, circa 1962

    Harper Lee, circa 1962

    A novel Harper Lee wrote in the mid-1950s, before To Kill a Mockingbird, is going to be published this summer in a run of no fewer than two million copies. Go Set a Watchman, as the book is called, follows Mockingbird’s Scout as an adult. It was out of flashback scenes to Scout’s childhood that Mockingbird was born, on the advice of Lee’s editor.

    The Financial Times will soon begin paying interns minimum wage for the first time in its history, the result of a deal brokered with Britain’s National Union of Journalists. The union promises that they will take on other employers over the issue as well: “It is vital that a modern, democratic nation has a media that reflects all its citizens and is not a redoubt of the privileged classes. The management of the mainstream media is also the loser if it is not prepared to look for talent beyond a cohort of people who looks like it.”

    In the 1870s, cats were written about mainly as pests; by the 1970s, people were concerned with how they were being treated. A survey of the New York Times’ cat coverage found nearly seven hundred articles since the late nineteenth century, among them “cats versus birds, cats and women, cats as urban symbols . . . cats getting stuck and then usually extracted from almost every conceivable place—including trees, ledges, chimneys, piers, sewers, packing crates and airplane cargo holds.”

    The New Left Review has an interview with Evgeny Morozov, who’s written for Bookforum in the past (on Astra Taylor). Morozov describes the evolution of his politics over the course of the years that he’s been studying the Internet. Originally, he says, he regarded himself as a social democrat, at the “pragmatic centre” of the spectrum, “content to search for better, more effective ways to regulate the likes of Google and Facebook.” But now:  “I am questioning who should run and own both the infrastructure and the data running through it, since I no longer believe that we can accept that all these services ought to be delivered by the market and regulated only after the fact.”

    The next issue of Charlie Hebdo will be released February 25.

    At Bookends, Anna Holmes and James Parker consider whether book reviewing should be considered a public service or an art. Both come down in favor of public service. We vehemently disagree.

  • February 3, 2015

    The Huffington Post aims to take better advantage of Facebook by increasing the quantity of “feel-good” stories it publishes. In a recent memo to the staff, Arianna Huffington describes “What’s Working,” a new editorial initiative that, in her words,  will “double down” on “positive stories and solutions to major challenges the media too often overlook.” HuffPo will still cover the bad stuff, but—as she also announced “last week in Davos”—it wants to start a “positive contagion by relentlessly telling the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds, and facing real challenges with perseverance, creativity, and grace.”

    The New York Times has a feature on the New Republic, which lately has been trying to dispel suspicions that its recent cover article—in the first issue after December’s staff exodus—was a cynical P.R. move. The article itself, a fairly anodyne assessment of the magazine’s racial history, doesn’t do a lot to contradict the idea. At Capital New York, TNR staff writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is optimistic about where things at the publication are headed.

    Nathaniel Mackey

    Nathaniel Mackey

    Nathaniel Mackey has won Yale’s Bollingen Prize for poetry. You can read a few of Mackey’s poems at the National Poetry Foundation—including “Eye on the Scarecrow,” which starts like this: “The way we lay / we mimed a body / of water. It was / this or that way / with / the dead and we / were them. No / one / worried which…”

    Ta-nehisi Coates appreciates Andrew Sullivan in the wake of Sullivan’s recent retirement from blogging: “Andrew has never been a prophet, so much as a joyous heretic. Andrew taught me that you do not have to pretend to be smarter than you are. And when you have made the error of pretending to be smarter, or when you simply have been wrong, you can say so and you can say it straight—without self-apology, without self-justifying garnish, without ‘if I have offended.’”

    At Matter—which is the normal-magazine part of Medium, a publishing platform that anyone can use (in case you’re as confused by the site as we are)—Emily Witt describes Chaturbate, a live-cam sex website, investigating the category (or is it orientation?) of “internet sexual.”


  • February 2, 2015

    Mohamedou Ould Slahi

    Mohamedou Ould Slahi

    Christian Lorentzen reviews Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diary, “a relentless catalogue of grotesque abuses.” Mark Danner covers the heavily redacted book for the New York Times. The Intercept provides some information about how the book got published.

    Frances McDormand, who recently starred in the adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, has joined the cast of the adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Wife.

    The Los Angeles Review of Books has inaugurated a new series titled No Crisis, “a look at the state of critical thinking and writing—literary interpretation, art history, and cultural studies—in the 21st century.”

    A tech writer at Business Insider urges Michael Bloomberg to buy the New York Times. “How could Bloomberg buy the New York Times if it isn’t for sale? By taking a page out of Rupert Murdoch’s book.”

  • January 30, 2015

    John Leggett, who directed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for sixteen years (1971 to 1987), has died at the age of ninety-seven. Among the students he admitted during his long tenure at the program were T. C. Boyle, Michael Cunningham, Denis Johnson, and Jane Smiley.

    The director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, says he welcomes the recent leaks about the organization’s coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack. “I would like to state that our style guide and our editorial discussion is no secret,” he wrote in an email to the staff. “These so called ‘leaks’ don’t in my opinion prove anything sinister within the newsrooms of Al Jazeera Media Network.”

    The cover story of the New Republic’s first issue post-staff-exodus is about the magazine’s history in terms of race. “How can this magazine,” Jeet Heer asks, “come to terms with a blighted legacy on race and transcend it?” He answers with a survey of the magazine’s achievements and missteps, explaining that “any reformation program should start by honestly acknowledging the past.” The overview, predictably, is heavily apologetic about the magazine’s distant wrongs and rather less self-critical about its more recent doings.

    We noted a while back that plans were in the work for the Associated Press to begin publishing articles written by robots. That dystopic eventuality has arrived. In place of a byline, a line at the bottom of the articles reads “This story was generated by Automated Insights.” The AP assures everyone that the system is logging fewer errors than the humans who used to do the job, and says that no one has been fired to make place for a robot. Instead, writers will be more free to do the interesting rather than the tedious stuff: “That’s the goal,” says the assistant business editor who was in charge of putting the system in place, “to write smarter pieces.”

    Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh is soon the cometh to BAM.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Nathan gives “a performance that will stay with you for as long as you live.” Read: The play is almost five hours long. In the LRB, read John Lahr on the “melancholy core” in O’Neill’s work.

    Anne Enright is Ireland’s first fiction laureate, a position that comes with a €150,000 award. Colm Tóibín, due to his previous involvement with the Art Council of Ireland, chose to withdraw himself from the running.

  • January 29, 2015

    Stieg Larsson is dead, but his character Lisbeth Salander is not. Larsson’s family negotiated with the publisher to choose someone to carry on the book franchise, and together they chose David Lagercrantz, who’s previously co-written a memoir by a soccer star. The new novel will “obviously build on the previous book,” the publisher has said, but it isn’t connected to the unfinished manuscript that Larsson left when he died. That Which Does Not Kill will be out in August in thirty-five countries.

    The new Chipotle cups will feature the work of Aziz Ansari, Julia Alvarez, Walter Isaacson, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Coelho, and Augusten Burroughs, a lineup that could only have been assembled by the generous mastermind who originally conceived of this service to humanity: Jonathan Safran Foer. If you just can’t wait till you get to Chipotle to read your next Chipotle-cup story, Vanity Fair has kindly published them in their entirety.

    After fifteen years of blogging, Andrew Sullivan is giving it up. He’s been doing it long enough, he says—“There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen”—and he wants to do some other things instead:  “I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms.”

    Jonathan Chait

    Jonathan Chait

    The Internet is aflame after Jonathan Chait’s recent New York magazine piece on political correctness. At Vox, Amanda Taub says  that political correctness “doesn’t exist,” at least not as any sort of creed: It’s a “catch-all term we apply to people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we’re willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them.” The Atlantic’s Megan Garber says that what Chait calls “p.c. culture” should be thought of as “empathy culture,” and “doesn’t impede progress.” At Gawker, Alex Pareene argues that Chait “is used to writing off left-wing critics and reserving his real writerly firepower for (frequently deserving) right-wingers. That was, for years, how things worked at the center-left opinion journalism shops.” Now, however, “the destruction of the magazine industry and the growth of the open-forum internet have amplified formerly marginal voices. . . . writers of color can be just as condescending and dismissive of Chait as he always was toward the left. And he hates it.” At In These Times, David Sessions says that the problem with Chait’s article isn’t that he’s wrong about how social media works on the left—Sessions thinks he’s right—“the problem is that he has turned that critique into a sweeping, self-righteous parable about the philosophical superiority of his own brand of liberalism.” The comedian John Hodgman responded to Chait in a series of tweets. In a live interview with the Huffington Post, Chait says he isn’t too disturbed by everyone’s reaction; after all, he’s a “chill guy.”

    n+1 has a series of articles about labor and publishing written by the current or former employees of a handful of magazines: Maxine Phillips on Dissent, Daniel Menaker on the New Yorker, Keith Gessen on n+1; and Gemma Sieff on Harper’s, where, as Sieff recounts, the editors tried unsuccessfully to unionize: “The staff was united behind literature, not the most concrete of common causes.”