• September 23, 2014

    David Graeber

    David Graeber

    Last week, The Baffler sponsored a debate between David Graeber and Peter Thiel that Thiel’s team called “objectively, a waste of time,” according to the New York Times, which covered the event in Monday’s edition. Baffler editor John Summers was charmed: “I’m thinking we should embrace the tagline for our next event.”

    Politico reports that the Times is considering a round of buyouts that would cut fifty jobs from the paper. A company spokesperson refused to comment, dismissing the claim as “rumors and speculation.” Further rumor and speculation (via Capital New York) has it that executive editor Dean Baquet will soon reveal his new masthead. Baquet may promote four existing staffers—Susan Chira,  Ian Fisher, Matt Purdy, and Janet Elder—to a team of “top deputies.”

    The New York Review of Books excerpts Robert Darnton’s book Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. Censorship, Darnton explains, “is essentially political; it is wielded by the state”—usually, with great care. “To dismiss censorship as crude repression by ignorant bureaucrats is to get it wrong. Although it varied enormously, it usually was a complex process that required talent and training and that extended deep into the social order.”

    At the New Inquiry, Sabrina Alli criticizes “re-entry” programs, which attempt to induct people back into the workforce after they’ve been in jail, in ATIs (alternatives to incarceration), or on probation or parole. The programs do the opposite of what they’re intended to do, Alli writes: “Regardless of effective and well-intentioned teachers, re-entry education, like schools in economically disenfranchised neighborhoods, are designed to continue the coercive disciplinary technology of the carceral network its students are supposed to learn how to escape or transcend.”

    Chris Beha recently finished reading the works of Henry James in toto. The point of the marathon was to have fun, he says on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog—not, as his friends sometimes insinuated, to impress people or self-flagellate. For Beha, there’s something wrong with the way the debates about “fun” vs. “difficult” literature have been framed, a fallacy that becomes especially clear in conversations about YA lit. James did more than anyone to “refine the popular form of the novel into a work of high art,” and yet James’s point was still, was always, the fun: He thought a writer ought always “to intensify his whole chance of pleasure.” For the reader, Beha writes, “putting down Harry Potter for Henry James is not one of adulthood’s obligations, like flossing and mortgage payments; it’s one of its rewards, like autonomy and sex.”

  • September 22, 2014

    Sarah Kendzior has announced that she is leaving her position as an op-ed columnist at Al Jazeera English, due to what she calls “new rules,” which allow “no room for freedom of thought.” “Writing for AJ English has been great,” she writes. “I will always be grateful to them for running work on poverty, race, and other controversial topics.” You can find an archive of her columns, the most recent of which focused on the murder of Michael Brown and racial discrimination in St. Louis, here.

    Scott Stossel

    Scott Stossel

    At Neiman Reports, Scott Stossel—author and editor of The Atlantic—talks about the challenges of keeping a print magazine and a website relevant, and about the importance of publishing good cover stories, maintaining gender and racial parity, and paying writers.

    The New York Times reports on Campfire, Amazon’s “literary weekend” retreat for writers and artists that takes place near Santa Fe every year. Past attendees include Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon, Moby, and Werner Herzog. But don’t expect any of them to talk about it. Amazon has asked participants to keep quiet about the affair, and so far writers are following the request, leading the Times to write: “Whether or not fear of Amazon is legitimate, it exists.”

    The Guardian has published a short story by Hilary Mantel that features an assassin whose target is Margaret Thatcher. “Hilary Mantel: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher–August 6th 1983″ appears in Mantel’s new collection. The Telegraph was originally slated to publish the excerpt, but declined after an editor “decided they were too offensive for the its Tory-supporting readers,” the Independent reports

    Weirdly dispiriting and irrelevant”: This is how Flavorwire describes the longlist of nonfiction books nominated for the 2014 National Book Award. “It is replete with every new book that you would maybe get your dad for the holidays.”

  • September 19, 2014

    On Tuesday the Guardian’s weekday paper launched a new longreads section, headed up by Jonathan Shainin, previously at the New Yorker. The “Journal,” as it is called, will include opinion and reviews together with features of three to five thousand words. Among the section’s first pieces is a profile of the Uruguayan president, José Mujica, an adherent of what the writer, Giles Tremlett, calls a “soft, pragmatic socialism.”

    At the New York Times Magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan profiles Donald Antrim, whose new collection of stories, The Emerald Light in the Air, just came out. What distinguishes Antrim from the school of writers he’s usually associated with (DFW, George Saunders, the Jonathans Lethem and Franzen, David Means, Jeffrey Eugenides), Sullivan argues, is the unredeemed nature of his characters. “Antrim’s fictional universe is different. It doesn’t bend toward justice, not even the kind that knows there is none but sort of hopes art can provide absolution. His universe bends — it is defi­nitely bent — but always toward greater absurdity (in both funny and frightening guises).” Amie Barrodale interviewed Antrim for Bookforum back in 2012.

    Over at the LRB, Andrew O’Hagan reviews Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, in which, O’Hagan reports, “Greenwald hops from anxiety to anxiety, and spends quite a bit of time objecting to the Guardian’s ideas.” O’Hagan notes some “glory-hunting” on Greenwald’s part, but he is on the whole admiring: Greenwald “emerges from his own book as a very necessary kind of reporter in these times, someone who, no matter what his motivations, was able to withstand the hostile fire coming at him from members of his own profession.”

    Ariana Reines

    Ariana Reines

    An interview with the pseudonymous translator of a new translation of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s A Sentimental Novel, which the interviewer describes as “a compendium of . . . sadistic fantasies”—to be more precise, two hundred and thirty-nine numbered paragraphs describing a fourteen-year-old girl’s violent sexual initiation—explains the translator’s decision to remain anonymous as “unrelated to the possible reactions it might elicit in the United States or other English-speaking countries. It was, rather, necessitated by personal reasons having to do with my travels to parts of the world where association with the material could put me at risk.” Dalkey published the book earlier this year.

    Ben Lerner calls the poet Ariana Reines a “go-for-broke artist who honors her traditions by being like no one else.” Of Lerner, Reines says that whenever she hangs out with him she wishes “it could go on for infinity.” At Bomb, the two converse.


  • September 18, 2014


    Alison Bechdel

    Alison Bechdel

    The MacArthur awards have been announced. Among the writers are Alison Bechdel, author of the illustrated memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother?; Samuel D. Hunter, who wrote the play The Whale; and Terrance Hayes, a poet.

    The 2014 National Book Awards nonfiction longlist names Anand Gopal, Walter Isaacson, Edward O. Wilson, Evan Osnos, and John Lahr, among others. Notably, only one book written by a woman makes the list of ten: Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?. Chast’s nomination is notable for another reason too: This is the first time a cartoonist has been among the nonfiction selections.

    Scottish people are voting today on a referendum that could lead to Scotland becoming an independent country. J.K. Rowling and Denise Mina are against the referendum, the LA Times reports. Rowling explains: “If we leave, though, there will be no going back. This separation will not be quick and clean: it will take microsurgery to disentangle three centuries of close interdependence, after which we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours.” A. L. Kennedy, Irvine Welsh, and Val McDermid, on the other hand, are all in favor: “Yes is the progressive vote,” Kennedy says. “It continues the vast expression of disillusion that produced a landslide protest vote for Scotland’s only non-Westminster party.”

    The HarperCollins imprint Ecco has acquired the forthcoming book ISIS: The State of Terror, coauthored by Jessica Stern (Denial: A Memoir of Terror,Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill) and J.M. Berger (Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam). The book—which will not only report on ISIS’s history but also explore international responses to the group—will be published in January of 2015.

    Three months after becoming SPIN’s editor in chief, Craig Marks has parted ways with the publication.

    In another change of the guard, the editor in chief of the New Republic, Chris Hughes, has announced that he is stepping down. Hughes will become executive chairman instead, and stay on as publisher. No one will be appointed editor in chief in his place; instead, Franklin Foer will handle editorial content and strategy in his current capacity as editor. Hughes has hired Guy Vidra as the magazine’s first CEO.


  • September 17, 2014

    The Nieman Journalism Lab considers n+1’s history, on the occasion of the magazine’s tenth anniversary. n+1 has survived for a decade through a variety of strategies, the editors report, including “a model for parties that we’ve never changed.”

    Cara Parks joins Modern Farmer as executive editor. Parks has been freelancing since 2013; before that, she worked at the Huffington Post and Foreign Policy. Modern Farmer is based in Hudson, New York; Parks is in the process of moving.

    Martin Amis’s new novel, Zone of Interest, is a comedy set in a concentration camp in
    World War II, and, according to the New York Times, European publishers are feeling weird about it. Amis’s usual German publisher, Carl Hanser Verlag, said that the main character was too sympathetic to Nazism. (Never mind that the character is an SS officer.) The French publisher Gallimard, who also refused the book, claims they did so on literary grounds—the novel simply “wasn’t convincing.”

    Gawker has signed a fifteen-year lease on a large office on 5th Avenue in Manhattan (a $75 million commitment over the life of the lease, assuming they don’t back out in year ten, which the lease agreement gives them an opportunity to do). The company will occupy two floors of the building and sublet a third to another business until it’s ready to take it over.


    Laura Poitras

    Laura Poitras

    Mark Ruffalo is hanging out at the Boston Globe in preparation for his role as an investigative reporter in the movie Spotlight.

    Laura Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden, Citizenfour, has debuted at the New York Film Festival.

  • September 16, 2014

    White dudes

    White dudes

    At New York Magazine’s blog, Annie Lowrey criticizes the tendency to imagine “media disruptors” as always white and male. Why does it happen? “First, founders are disproportionately white dudes. Second, white dudes are disproportionately encouraged to become founders. Third, white dudes are disproportionately recognized as founders.” We seem to associate management with maleness; whiteness, too. Lowrey suggests combating the problem from the bottom up, by sourcing a more diverse pool of people when hiring interns and populating panels. (While we’re at it, can we stop calling people, male and female alike, “media disruptors”?)

    In the 98.33 hours it would take to read Game of Thrones, you could read The Age of Innocence (5.62 hours), The Odyssey (6.62 hours), Madame Bovary (8.43 hours), Anna Karenina (19.43 hours), Don Quixote (21.72 hours), and War and Peace (32.63 hours). An infographic illustrates the time it takes to read popular books.

    E-books of poetry are finally better able to preserve the formatting of printed books. John Ashbery, upon learning three years ago that four e-book versions of his poetry had lost the appropriate formatting, withdrew the titles. Now he’s giving digital publishing another shot: Last week, Open Road published seventeen of his titles electronically. Ashbery says they are “very faithful” to the original layouts.

    Ben Lerner will be appearing tonight at the New York Public Library. Christian Lorentzen reviewed Lerner’s new book, 10:04, in the fall issue of Bookforum; Alexander Benaim recently interviewed the writer. “I’m increasingly aware that the story I tell about how a book comes to be is just another fiction,” Lerner told Benaim. “I mean it’s something I invent, however involuntarily, alongside the book or after it.”

    It’s difficult to organize an event for a writer who insists on staying anonymous, as the celebrated Elena Ferrante has. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the most recent installment in the Italian writer’s Neapolitan series, has just come out. Manhattan’s Center for Fiction brings Ann Goldstein, Roxana Robinson, and Stacey D’Erasmo together to discuss Ferrante’s work.

    At the NYRB blog, Tim Parks describes being driven mad by the task of preparing footnotes for the book he is working on. Footnotes are still necessary for books that only exist in paper (and about which no information appears online), but such books are now few and far between. “Why not wipe the slate clean, start again, and find the simplest possible protocol for ensuring that a reader can check a quotation,” he pleads. “Doing so we would probably free up three or four days a year in every academic’s life.”

  • September 15, 2014

    Slavoj Zizek

    Slavoj Zizek

    Last week, the New York Times issued a letter claiming that Slavoj Zizek plagiarized himself in his Op-Ed “ISIS Is a True Disgrace to Fundamentalism,” which ran in the paper on September 3. According the the Times retraction, the Op-Ed recycles entire passages from Zizek’s 2008 book Violence. But now it seems the Times has withdrawn the retraction: It’s nowhere to be found on the paper’s website.

    The dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism has proposed that students pay $10,250 a year in addition to their annual tuition, which is approximately $15K for in-state students and $31K for out-of-staters. “Our students will pay more,” writes dean Ed Wasserman in a memo, “but they’ll benefit as well.”

    Geoff Dyer wishes the Man Booker Prize had been open to American writers in 1982. If it had, he argues, the prize certainly would have gone to Don DeLillo’s “prophetic, pre-9/11 masterpiece,” The Names. Martin Amis thinks DeLillo would have won yet another Booker had he been eligible: with White Noise (1985).

    Today, the Financial Times will unveil its first redesign in seven years. “Between the lines,” writes Tom McGeveran at Capital New York, “it’s possible to read an idea that’s been inching forward among quality broadsheet newspapers in recent years: the primacy of digital for delivering hard news.” Meanwhile, this weekend, the Guardian unveiled its own new format, which includes a completely redesigned Weekend magazine, a brand new ‘Journal’ section featuring long reads, and a generally refreshed look and feel.”

    Digital First Media is in the process of deciding the strategies for its future, which could involve the sale of “some or all of the company’s news products, which include 76 daily papers and 160 weekly publications,” including the Denver Post and the San Jose Mercury News.

  • September 12, 2014

    Alan Moore

    Alan Moore

    Alan Moore, the author of V for Vendetta, has finished a million-word novel. “I’m not averse to some kind of ebook, eventually,” he said. “As long as I get my huge, cripplingly heavy book to put on my shelf and gloat over, I’ll be happy.”

    Spin Media laid off nineteen employees and ended the print magazine Vibe, which it acquired last year.

    James Franco’s latest book, Hollywood Dreaming, drops this month. It’s a collection of poems, short stories, and paintings that describe the evolution of his career in Hollywood.

    Guernica has a new column about politics and fiction. The first columnist is Rob Spillman of Tin House, who discusses David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Spillman is hard on Mitchell: “There are so many compelling characters and wonderful turns of phrase, yet they are lost in a self-indulgent stew.” James Camp reviewed Mitchell for Bookforum

    At the New York Review of Books, Michael Gorra on Michel Pastoureau’s book about the color green. The meaning of the color depends on its use, Pastoureau argues. As Gorra explains, for Pastoureau “the history of color is indeed a history and not a kind of allegory in which each hue carries a fixed and single burden.” Pastoureau has previously written on blue and black.

  • September 11, 2014

    Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both made into plays in London, may come to the New York stage as well. Broadway producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel are in talks with producers in London, with plans to mount Wolf Hall: Parts 1 and 2 in the spring.

    The New Inquiry’s September issue is called “Back to School.” Read the editor’s note here.


    Rahel Aima

    Rahel Aima

    Rahel Aima has joined TNI as a contributing editor.

    At the New Yorker’s Page-Turner, Elif Batuman considers the shift, over the past decade, from irony to awkwardness, and decides that all awkwardness is at bottom familial. “Awkward moments remind us that we are never isolated individuals, and that we are seldom correct when we say, ‘Not in my name.’ Awkward moments are, by definition, relatable.

    Poynter adds a handful of names to Vanity Fair’s unnecessarily white and male list of “media disruptors”—a “new breed of journo-entrepreneurs” that “strike out on their own.” Poynter suggests Shani Hilton, of Buzzfeed, Raju Narisetti of NewsCorp, Nitasha Tiku of ValleyWag, and Melissa Bell of Vox, among others.

    At the Millions, Cathy Day describes advising a deluded prospective creative writing major about her future. “If what you love is reading,” Day says to the student, “why don’t you major in literature?”  “Because creative writing is more practical.”

  • September 10, 2014

    Forbes has compiled a list of the highest-earning writers this year. James Patterson is in first place, earning $90 million. Gillian Flynn, the author of the “literary thriller” Gone Girl, is in 12th place, at $9 million.

    The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize has been announced, and includes Joshua Ferris, Richard Flanagan, Karen Joy Fowler, Howard Jacobson, Neel Mukherjee, and Ali Smith.

    A hacker claims to have taken over the email account of Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto, and is promises to release Nakamoto’s “secrets” if someone will pay him 25 bitcoins, or $12,000. A head administrator at Bitcoin says the hacker is likely just “some troll in it for the laughs.”

    John Cheever's house

    John Cheever’s house

    Susan Cheever, John Cheever’s daughter, takes A.N. Devers on a walk through her father’s house in Ossining, New York. John Cheever bought the house—which was built in 1795 and rebuilt in the 1930s—in 1961. It is the only house he ever owned. “I pray that our life in the new house will be peaceful and full,” Cheever wrote soon after. “I pray to be absolved of my foolishness and to be returned to the liveliness, the acuteness of feeling, that seems to be my best approach to things.” The house is now for sale for $450,000.

    McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is holding a contest to find new columnists for the website. Submissions should a description of the writer’s vision for the column, a sample column, brief descriptions of additional columns, and a biographical note.