• May 26, 2015

    Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was the paper’s Tehran bureau chief, was arrested on espionage charges last July. His, trial, which starts today, is closed to the public, and to his family. The Post sought a visa to send an editor to attend the trial, but the request was ignored. In a statement released just before the trial started, executive editor Martin Baron stated: “[Rezaian] was imprisoned in Iran’s worst prison. He was placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed. His case was assigned to a judge internationally notorious for human rights violations. He could not select the lawyer of his choosing. He was given only an hour and a half to meet with a lawyer approved by the court. No evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors or the court to support these absurd charges.” Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, is being held on related charges.

    “The effect,” Dan Chiasson writes of John Ashbery’s new collection of poems, Breezeway, “is sometimes unnerving, as though somebody had given you your own garbage back as a gift, cheerfully wrapped.” He means this, of course, as a compliment. Ashbery “has gone farther from literature within literature than any poet alive. His game is to make an intentionally frivolous style express the full range of human feeling, and he remains funnier and better at it, a game he invented, than his many imitators.”

    The finalists for the 2015 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Award have been announced.

    Clarice Lispector

    Clarice Lispector

    The latest issue of Harper’s includes Clarice Lispector’s final story, left unfinished at the time of her death. As Rachel Kushner wrote in the pages of Bookforum: Lispector “had a diamond-hard intelligence, a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. She wrote novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative (unless you count as plot a woman standing in her maid’s room gazing at a closet for nearly two hundred pages). And yet she became quite famous, a national icon of Brazil whose face adorned postage stamps.”

    The sci-fi writer John Scalzi has signed a thirteen-book, $3.4 million deal with the publisher Tor. At his blog Whatever, Scalzi interviews himself. “Dude, that’s like… a lot of money.” “It is. Mind you, it’s spread out over a decade and thirteen books. And I only get the money if I actually, you know, write the books. But, yeah.”

    Amazon’s contract with Penguin Random House UK is set to expire, and according to “industry insiders,” the publisher may block sales of its titles on Amazon if a new contract agreement is not reached.

    Janine Gibson, who edited the Guardian‘s Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks, has announced her departure from the paper.


  • May 22, 2015

    The novelist James Meek has won the Orwell Prize for Private Island, a study of privatization (of the railways, the water, the electricity, social housing, healthcare) in Britain: Gillian Slovo, the chair of judges, said Meek’s book “more than passed the Orwell test of political writing as art.”

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    And here’s this year’s list of O. Henry Prize winners, short stories chosen in cloak-and-dagger fashion by jurors who must not consult one another and who see only “a blind manuscript,” with no names of authors or the magazines they appear in. “Although the jurors write their essays without knowl­edge of the authors’ names,” Laura Furman, the prize’s editor, writes, “the names are inserted into the essay later for the sake of clarity.” (Having said all that, some of the winners, such as Lydia Davis, wouldn’t seem so easy to mistake for anyone else.)

    In what he describes as “a pivot”, former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio fires pretty much everyone at his recently launched tabloidish local news site Ratter.

    More on the Science study that spawned a thousand retractions (or at least five)—the Chronicle of Higher Education speaks to one of the grad students who uncovered the fraud, and Vox takes a broader view, looking into how much this sort of thing actually goes on, with the help of a fascinating Nautilus essay on a champion fabricator who faked 183 papers before getting caught.

    The pains of translation: Izidora Angel describes wrestling into English a book by Hristo Karastoyanov “written entirely in the inferential mood,” which we don’t have. (In Bulgarian, a verb “can be conjugated in such a way as to portray an inferential tense—an alleged happening, not yet completed, which has occurred in the past, in which the teller, who hasn’t witnessed the not yet finished event, is retelling it.”) “Breaking the Bulgarian structure out of the sentence,” she writes, “and turning it into an equally strong and evocative phrase in English is a lot like doing 50 pushups.” Incidentally, it’s worth reading this essay on translation by another 2015 O. Henry Prize winner, Dina Nayeri.

    And if you missed this piece on Larry Kramer and The American People, it might be time to un-miss it again.

  • May 21, 2015

    Bob Woodward

    Bob Woodward

    A list of English-language books from Osama bin Laden’s private library in his compound in Pakistan has just been declassified. Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward is on it, as is Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival. Foreign Policy notes that on this evidence bin Laden appears to have been a Francophile (“Among the materials acquired in the 2011 raid were the 245-page clunker Economic and Social Conditions in France during the 18th Century”), while Politico asks several of the authors on the list to imagine what he might have got out of reading their books.

    Several outlets have had to retract stories based on research, published in the academic journal Science, which now appears to have been elaborately faked by one of its authors (the other, Columbia political scientist Donald Green, appears mystified: “All that effort that went in to confecting the data,” he told This American Life, “you could’ve gotten the data”).

    Large chunks of an unfinished autobiography by Orson Welles have been discovered by University of Michigan archivists among papers recently bought from Welles’s last partner, Oja Kodar. He’d apparently been working on “Confessions of a One-Man Band” since the 1970s, but it’s not yet clear if what’s there is complete enough to publish.

    As Janet Maslin steps back a bit as book critic for the New York Times (“I’ve been a full-time critic since 1977,” she told Capital, “which is why the announcement uses ‘grueling,’ ‘grind,’ and ‘frantic’ in its first few lines”), the Observer speculates about possible replacements: the longish list includes several Bookforum contributors and ends with movie critic A.O. Scott, who “must be a little tired of spending his days in screening rooms staring at subpar films.”

    Newsweek profiles Thought Catalog, interviewing the banned contributor Gavin McInnes among others, and in the process reveals that with writers, the site plays a lot harder to get than you’d think.

    And the New York Times magazine profiles a tap-dancing Judy Blume, who still gets 1,000 letters a month from her mostly young readers, and after 17 years is about to bring out a new book for adults. “It’s because of what I represent,” she says to fans who feel overwhelmed at meeting her. “I’m your childhood.”

    There’s one day left to bid on First Ark Edition, a handmade “book object” with two removable spines, which comprises Paul Auster’s “Alone,” a previously unpublished short novel from 1969 that’s thought to be his earliest work, and “Becoming the Other in Translation”, an accompanying essay by Siri Hustvedt. The authors had donated both texts to the tiny independent bookstore Ark Books in Nørrebro, Copenhagen.

  • May 20, 2015

    László Krasznahorkai

    László Krasznahorkai

    The Hungarian author of Satantango, László Krasznahorkai, has won the biennial Man Booker International Prize in recognition of his body of work. Just as ”now we say, ‘it’s just like being in a Kafka story,’” Marina Warner, the chair of judges, said, “I believe that soon we will say it’s like being in a Krasznahorkai story.” As well as the £60,000 award, there is a £15,000 translators’ prize that will be split between Krasznahorkai’s translators, Ottilie Mulzet and the poet George Szirtes.

    Daily Mail North America’s CEO, Jon Steinberg, tells us who he thinks is really “killing the news”: advertisers who don’t want to be seen next to it (wars and the like are apparently “not brand safe”).

    At The Millions, Jonathan Clarke makes six observations about Renata Adler, beginning with her self-conception as “perennially Will Kane in High Noon, flinging her press pass into the dirt” (nowadays, Clarke adds of Adler’s ferocious editorial independence and its cost to her career, “a journalist can want her autonomy, or she can want health insurance, but she had better not want both”).

    Poet Melissa Broder has come out as the author of the avidly read Twitter feed @sosadtoday, making a concession to Grand Central Publishing, who will bring out a So Sad Today collection of essays next year. Regarding the loss of anonymity, she tells Rolling Stone that she wondered, “Am I ever going to be respected as a poet again?”: “But then, as I was hemming and hawing, I got this text message from someone who had just put out yet another self-published chapbook, and it was called Flowers or something and he sent it with flower emojis. So then I was like, ‘Fuck it.'”

    Justin Marozzi’s history of Baghdad has won the £10,000 Ondaatje prize.

    The journal Music & Literature, which publishes three portfolios of the work of artists, writers, and musicians in each issue, has just launched its sixth, and it’s full of treasures. Alongside Dubravka Ugrešić, the Croatian author of The Ministry of Pain, the new issue champions the Ukrainian composer Victoria Polevá, and the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik—as well as previously untranslated prose, diary entries, and letters, there are pieces on Pizarnik by Enrique Vila-Matas, César Aira, and Julio Cortázar, and here you can read part of an interview with her, translated by Bookforum contributor Emily Cooke.

  • May 19, 2015

    Finalist Maryse Condé

    Finalist Maryse Condé

    After much anticipation, the winner of the Man Booker International Prize will be announced today.

    The New Yorker publishes a letter from Norway: Karl Ove Knausgaard on Anders Behring Breivik.

    AWP has removed Vanessa Place from its 2016 Los Angeles subcommittee in response to outrage over her use of text from Gone With the Wind and a picture of Hattie McDaniel as Mammy on Twitter (this is apparently part of a long-term project for Place). Coming just months after Ken Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown”, which reappropriated parts of Brown’s autopsy report, drew similar accusations of racism, Place’s latest work has prompted some to call the entire approach of this kind of conceptual poetry into question.

    Speaking of troubled lit scenes, Gawker announces the return of Tao Lin. He has a new story out this week and will publish Selected Tweets with Mira Gonzalez next month.

    Publishing pundits feel mixed as Selfish, Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies, makes a break for best-sellerdom.

    In the New York Times, Margaret Sullivan asks how close a book reviewer should ever be to his or her subject. It’s a good question: Should you review a book you’ve blurbed? What about one by a friend, a disappointing lunch companion, or even an ex-husband?

  • May 18, 2015

    Sarah Ellison

    Sarah Ellison

    According to recent article in Variety, the Times is actively searching for a new media columnist to replace the recently deceased David Carr, and has put together a list of leading candidates that includes Jonathan Mahler (a Times writer and the author of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning), David Folkenflik of NPR, and Sarah Ellison, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. Meanwhile, Matthew Kassel at the Observer has put together a list of seventeen more writers he thinks would do a good job.

    Jillian Goodman, an associate editor at Fast Company, has started a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for Mary Review, which she says will be a magazine created “by women, for everyone.” “Mary will be written by women, edited by women, photographed by women, laid out by women, designed by women, but not for women or about women solely,” says Goodman, 28, in a video.

    The Wall Street Journal interviews Tunisian author Shukri Mabkhout, whose novel The Italian recently won the International Prize for Arab Fiction. Mabkhout says that he was inspired to write the book after the deposition of Tunisian ruler Zine El Abedine Ben Ali.

    Paul Ford—a former Harper’s editor, an online prankster, and the author of Gary Benchley: Rock Star—has been hired as a contributing editor at The New Republic, for which he will write a monthly column focusing on technology.

    The poet Franz Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his collection Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, died late last week, at age sixty-two. According to the the New York Times obituary, a teenage Franz mailed his first poem to his father James Wright, who also won the Pulitzer for poetry. “I’ll be damned,” the elder Wright responded. “You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.”


  • May 15, 2015

    Anton Chekhov

    Anton Chekhov

    Buyers of Peter Schweizer’s much discussed Clinton Cash on Kindle have been alerted to a new version of the book, now available with several “significant revisions” to correct factual errors.

    Online life becomes a little less of a free-for-all—after its influx of investor cash last year, Reddit had already tightened up its rules on nude photos, and now it introduces an explicit anti-harrassment policy, allowing users to report other Redditors and the things they post to staff who can have them removed. The announcement has been seen as interim CEO Ellen Pao’s move to make the site less cozy for Gamergaters and revenge-porn aficionados.

    Meanwhile, zombie-like, the discussion about trigger warnings in literature returns; Ovid and his Metamorphoses provide the excuse this time. (Roxane Gay may be worth re-reading here.)

    It’s just about not too late to catch this year’s #twitterfiction Festival, which ends today.

    A different side of Chekhov, “always a writer, like Kafka,” Jonathan Sturgeon writes at Flavorwire, “whose stealthy humor evades his own fans”: The Prank, a book of his early parodies, sketches, and short stories, is coming out from NYRB. The selection (and the title) is Chekhov’s own; in 1882 he tried to publish this book, with illustrations by his artist brother Nikolay, but couldn’t get it past the censor.

    And tonight at Albertine, a conversation about the late author Hervé Guibert and his fittingly named journals, The Mausoleum of Lovers, with his translator, Nathanaël, and Wayne Koestenbaum.

  • May 14, 2015

    PEN has just dispensed more honors: winners include Saeed Jones in poetry, for Prelude to Bruise, Sheri Fink in nonfiction, for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, and Rob Spillman, who was given a magazine editor’s award for his work at Tin House.

    The Awl weighs in on the so far very short history of Facebook’s “Instant Articles”, analyzing what we can learn about the institutional anxieties of the New York Times et al. from what they choose to publish in the social network’s news feed: “Print publishers are jumping straight in with the long-formiest longform they have, as if to say, ‘look, Facebook will not interfere with our goal of publishing many very long and Very Good things.’” (Some commentators have been quick to soothe, saying that in all likelihood nothing bad will happen here.) There are apparently insecurities on the other side of this particular aisle too. The Awl’s John Herrman wants to reassure “the various Facebook employees who have expressed surprise and disappointment, in public and to me directly, at the constant criticism their company receives” that people’s fears about the new arrangement are nothing personal: “It’s not about you”. Still, the Awl’s detailed notes are accompanied by some very fetching ravenous-giant-blob gifs.

    Meanwhile, the Times’s Dean Baquet answers some questions on his first year as executive editor, offering a vivid image of his accountability to his staff. “If I ever let the numbers start to dictate our journalism,” he says of the current emphasis on analytics and “audience development”, the “reporters would open a window in the newsroom and throw me out.”

    Baquet also discusses the use of anonymous sources, which brings us to Seymour Hersh. NBC News has backed off somewhat from its initial confirmation of some key aspects of Hersh’s LRB story on the killing of bin Laden. For his part, Hersh granted Slate a pleasingly characterful interview about the whole situation: “I don’t mean to yell at you,” he tells Isaac Chotiner, “but I feel good doing it.”

    Sally Mann discusses her approach to both photography and writing (that of “some ungodly cross between a hummingbird and bulldozer”) in the New York Times. While working on her new memoir Hold Still, she recalls telling her editor, “People are going to hate me when they read this; they’re going to think I’m a horrible person.” And at Omnivoracious, Amazon’s Book Review, Mann describes the painstaking process of capturing the images of her children that once caused such opprobrium in the press, such as “The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude”, which “made me feel a bit like a demented terrier in unswerving pursuit of her quarry.”

  • May 13, 2015

    After long drawn out, semi-shadowy negotiations, the New York Times will today begin a partnership with Facebook to publish stories directly into its news feed. NBC News and others apparently plan to follow suit. “How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism,” asks Gabriel Sherman, “say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook?” As the late David Carr wrote last year when the social network was holding talks with publishers about how best to work together, “Facebook is a bit like that big dog galloping toward you in the park. More often than not, it’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you.”

    Sabrina Rubin Erdely

    Sabrina Rubin Erdely

    In case you thought things couldn’t get worse for Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone over the discredited story “A Rape on Campus”, they (and parent company Wenner Media) are now facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from Nicole Eramo, an associate dean of students at UVA, which objects to their use of her as the article’s “chief villain”, disclaims the statements they attributed to her in it, and calls them “a wanton journalist” and “a malicious publisher” whose main concern was not the facts but the need “to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine.” It’s not yet entirely clear what Eramo would need to prove (negligence or active malice) to prevail in the case.

    Peter Gay, the historian and biographer of Sigmund Freud, has died.

    The New Yorker is celebrating its “Innovators issue” with a series of essays about life-changing innovations. Nicholson Baker’s “Suction” is an affecting evocation of “the sudden thrilling thump of fabric and the whine of the motor… the melon-sized orb of condensed house dust that grew in the machine’s interior—warm and squeezable.” He was so enamored of the “Panasonic three-wheeled bagless vacuum cleaner” that it made it into his first novel. “You could walk it by the hose like a puppy,” he writes.

    At lunchtime today, as part of the New York Public Library’s Books at Noon program, renowned photographer Sally Mann will discuss her new and often startling memoir Hold Still.

  • May 12, 2015

    A 10,000-word piece by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books has caused a major stir—it tells a story about the killing of Osama bin Laden four years ago by Navy SEALs that has little in common with the version espoused by the US government. Among other things, the piece, which uses several anonymous sources, asserts that Pakistani authorities knew bin Laden’s whereabouts all along, that the US got the information from a Pakistani informant rather than through the work of CIA analysts in tracking his couriers, that the operation that killed him was a stage-managed collaboration between both countries, that taking him alive was never a possibility they considered, and that no cache of useful intelligence was recovered in the raid. This would imply a vast cover-up stretching from President Obama on down, and already there have been denials (a CIA official derided Hersh’s account as “utter nonsense” in the Washington Post, while White House spokesman Ned Price claimed it had “too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions” to check each one) and various attacks on the piece. That Hersh published in the LRB rather than the New Yorker, where he’s long been a contributor, also attracted notice: did the New Yorker’s reluctance imply problems with Hersh’s story, or was it, in Gabriel Sherman’s words, a sign that “Hersh’s relationship with the New Yorker has soured over Hersh’s sustained critique of the Obama national-security apparatus and Remnick’s reluctance to challenge it?” Either way, some of the major claims in Hersh’s reporting (about what Pakistani intelligence knew when and how the US found out where bin Laden was) were backed up late yesterday by NBC News.

    From the cover of the first US edition of Hard to be a God

    From the cover of Hard to be a God, first US edition

    The Strugatsky brothers, who for “at least three decades” from the 1950s onward were “the most popular science-fiction writers in Russia, and the most influential Russian science-fiction writers in the world,” are having another moment. New translations are appearing, plus new editions of their novels Roadside Picnic (1972), the source material for Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and Hard to be a God (1964), which is now a film (not for the faint of heart or stomach) by the late Aleksei German.

    Mark Halperin, co-author of Game Change and highly paid co-host of Bloomberg Television’s “With All Due Respect”, has said sorry to Ted Cruz for badgering him about his Cuban heritage in an interview. ThinkProgress declared Halperin the winner of a prize for most racist interview of a 2016 candidate.

    The New Yorker profiles the belatedly famous writer Nell Zink, who survived her difficult childhood “by pitching my tent outside the folds of humanity.”

    A Digiday profile of Meredith Kopit Levien makes clear that the New York Times invites its advertisers to attend the daily Page One meetings, in which editors decide what goes on the front page. “Talk about native advertising,” Ben Winkler of OMD said. “To get behind the wall and see how the sausage has been made, that’s pretty special.”

    Ezra Klein suggests that the real reason cable news is losing viewers is because the actual news just isn’t as exciting as it used to be.