Keith Gessen

Via the Casual Optimist: Design consulting firm IDEO offers three visions for the future of the book, and, unsurprisingly, print isn't on the agenda. IDEO's video outlining their ideas is so blithe and whimsical that we we were swept up for a moment in their somewhat surreal concepts, such as "Alice," an interactive e-book that aims to "[blur] the lines between reality and fiction." As the narrator cheerfully intones, "stories unfold and develop through reader's active participation . . . unexpectedly the reader stumbles upon plot twists and turns, embeded in the stories that are unlocked by performing certain actions, such as being at specific geographic locations, communicating with the characters in the stories, or contributing to the stories themselves." When the spell was broken, we suddenly remembered that perhaps GPS, an iPhone, and an iPad weren't necessarily crucial for engaging with a story.

Why is Lady Gaga wearing meat? Tom Payne, author of Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity, looks to the ancient Aztecs and Greeks for answers.

Forbes wonders: Why does Ron Burkle even care about Barnes & Noble? (Via Pwxyz.)

Tao Lin, Great American Novelist.

At the New York Times Magazine, Elif Batuman gives the definitive report on the ongoing and bizarre trial over boxes of Franz Kafka's unpublished work, which is currently (and controversially) owned by two women in Tel Aviv, one of whom by all accounts has too many cats. A question that Batuman raises early on: Can anyone own Kafka?

Novelist and editor Keith Gessen goes on YouTube to apologize to all readers who were offended by the backwards apostrophes in N1FRn+1's film review magazine.

Jessica Duffin Wolfe, photo by Liz Clayton


Print book reviews have been having a tough time in the past decade, but there are grounds for optimism in the online world. And though the web makes it easy to cross borders, there is still a case to be made for grounding a publication in a specific locale. One example of both that has been getting a lot of attention is the new Los Angeles Review of Books, which is scheduled to launch in early 2011. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, editor Tom Lutz says “The majority of our contributing editors live on the West Coast, and yes—without entering into any of the LA-NY rivalry, a kind of high culture version of Lakers-Celtics—I think our perch is a little different, we see things a bit differently. But we hope to be of national and international interest, and to cover the national and international book scene.”

This same spirit inspires Jessica Duffin Wolfe, editor of the forthcoming Toronto Review of Books. Its homepage is still in development, but as she points out in the following interview, the TRB will “take online media as seriously as print media—and will do so from an exuberantly Torontonian home base.” The TRB plans to publish its first issue this fall. We recently caught up with Ms. Duffin Wolfe via email to discuss the Canadian book reviewing landscape, what motivated her to start the TRB, and their plans for the first issue.

The name Toronto Review of Books parallels the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Are you aiming to create a Canadian equivalent?

I think the Literary Review of Canada aims to be the Canadian equivalent of those publications—but that's not really our goal, especially since those are pointedly city-based rather than nation-based publications. By self-consciously mirroring the names of the NYRB and the LRB we'd like to be a Toronto tribute to their traditions of excellent writing on ideas, but we're pursuing a fairly different structure.

Can you give us a sense of what Canadian book review publications are out there, and where you see the TRB fitting in? Why did you decide to start the Toronto Review?

The Literary Review of Canada fills the role of a more traditional reviews publication, but it only reviews Canadian books and doesn't really attend to culture online. In contrast, the TRB plans to take online media as seriously as print media—and will do so from an exuberantly Torontonian home base.

As for other publications with reviews, I actually edit the reviews section in one of them, Spacing, a magazine that considers public space and the city, and which has been at the forefront of articulating the new impression of Toronto that has grown here over the last decade. It was partly that experience that made me think it might be time to create a forum for a broader take on culture from this new Toronto perspective.

Really though, as for why—rumor has it that Canadian publishers have been griping of late about the lack of good review organs in this country, but I would never say there is actually a specific need for the TRB. We're doing this because we like books and ideas, and because we think Toronto abounds with interesting and talented writers—and mainly because we think it would be fun to do.

How much of the Toronto Review will be focused on Canadian works? Or is the name only an indication of where it is produced?

The name is an indication of where the editors live—a city we all feel excited about—so I think Canadian perspectives will emerge quite strongly by default, but we're not planning on having any rigid quotas and will publish whatever interests our editors and writers. Most of us have some kind of international affiliation or experience—that seems to be part of what it means to be from Toronto. (More than fifty-percent of Torontonians were born in other countries.) I hope that characteristic internationalism will infuse the TRB.

You mentioned in our initial communication that the Toronto Review will include a "heavy podcasting component." Can you elaborate?

We are planning to podcast public lectures in Toronto, as well as the essays we publish. It seems to me that audiences seek out book-review publications for access to sophisticated ideas put in easily consumable formats. Since many people seem to have more time for podcasts than for reading in-depth articles, exploring different delivery formats is a way to stay true to the spirit of traditional book review rags while catering to contemporary preferences.

Do you have the initial set of reviews already commissioned or written, and do you have a set of contributors who will write regularly for the TRB?

We're still putting the first issue together—so it's still too early for me to say in too much detail, however, I can say now that the celebrated Toronto columnist and author Shawn Micallef will be writing a review of the Toronto Twitter scene. Other contributors include filmmaker and Shakespeare scholar Holger Schott Syme, and Damian Rogers, a poet and former assistant editor at Poetry magazine.

Can you tell us about the TRB’s other editors?

Our editors are:

Karim Bardeesy, an editorial writer at the Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper), who holds a masters of public policy from the Kennedy school at Harvard.

Claire Battershill, who is also doing her PhD in English Literature and Book History at U of T, and who won Canada's prestigious CBC Literary Award last year.

Marc Glassman, who founded and ran Pages Books & Magazines—arguably Canada's most famous independent book store—for the thirty years it presided on Queen Street West in Toronto. He now continues to direct its incredibly popular book series This Is Not A Reading Series (TINARS), and run its offshoot sales organ Pages Beyond Bricks & Mortar. He is also a prolific film critic and edits two film magazines—Montage and POV.

Artist and business reporter Rachel Pulfer, who is currently International Programs Director at Journalists for Human Rights, while working on an MFA at the Ontario College of Art & Design.

You also mentioned before that you are "working to solidify a collaboration with the University of Toronto". What does that entail?

Basically, we have a small start-up grant from the University, but in the long run our collaboration with the U of T promises to be fairly multi-faceted. 

One of our ambitions is to function as an interface between Torontonians and the U of T. To that end, we've recruited about forty-five U of T graduate-student volunteers who will be helping us podcast lectures as well as blog about local events and U of T research. We hope that this division of the TRB can become a training ground for young writers that is sort of halfway between professional and student journalism.

Meanwhile, by soliciting contributions from both professors and journalists we also want to help critics working inside and outside of academic institutions learn about and collaborate with each other. That motive is very much indebted to the fabled, charming, and sometimes strange U of T-affiliate Massey College, which has brought together graduate students, journalists, academics, and engaged Torontonians ever since the tenure of its Founding Master, the novelist Robertson Davies. Most of our editors met at the College, and Massey continues to be an unofficial home of the TRB.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what motivated you to start the TRB?

As I mentioned earlier, being the reviews editor of Spacing magazine showed me how the TRB could work. Meanwhile, as both an arts journalist and humanities scholar I could see huge imbalances between the resources available to professors writing about culture, and experts working outside of institutions, but I also felt that scholarly expertise had too few public outlets. Situating an outward-looking cultural publication within a university seemed like a way to create avenues for communication among scholars, journalists, readers, and enthusiasts in general, while allowing academics to contribute some of their energy and salaried time to the public celebration and discussion of culture.

Another contributing motivation has been starting and running the graduate-student speaking series WIDEN (Workshops for Inter-Discipline Exchange and Novelty). WIDEN is sort of like a This American Life episode about academic research instead of stories—at every workshop three graduate students from different disciplines present their research on a common theme. One of the excitements of WIDEN is how it challenges presenters to make their (often arcane) work accessible and engaging. For me that same objective—to make complex ideas public in simple language—is behind the deliciousness of the NYRB and the LRB, and is very much a motive of the TRB.

Final point—on ancient history—when I was a kid my grandfather—who I thought was the smartest and funniest person I'd ever meet—seemed to be constantly reading the New York Review of Books, so this whole enterprise may be motivated by my childhood (and ongoing) desire to meet smart and funny people.


Leon Wieseltier

FSG publicity and marketing vice-president Jeff Seroy is pals with the New Republic's literary editor Leon Wieseltier—the two seem compelled to inform people that they went to Columbia together. But when Seroy dismissed TNR's less-than-fawning review (by Ruth Franklin) of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom by saying that Wieseltier "specializes in drawing attention to his pages through consistently negative reviews," the old collegial spirit quickly dissipated. Wieseltier has responded to the charge by penning a rousing defense of the value of negative reviews in a literary world "that is amiable, bland, clubby, pious, careerist, relentlessly cheerful, desperate for numbers, suavely relativizing, and awash in worthless praise." Wieseltier writes, "I was not aware that it is a heresy to hold that Freedom is not a masterpiece. There is something churlish about my friend’s insistence upon critical unanimity. . . . No culture, no literature, ever advanced by niceness."

Civilians will have to wait until next week to read Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars, but the New York Times has managed to get a copy (Woodward's newspaper, the Washington Post, also has an early review). The Times notes that though the book's revelations of differing opinons within the administration over the war in Afghanistan "have become public, the book suggests that they were even more intense and disparate than previously known." Also: "The United States has intelligence showing that manic-depression has been diagnosed in President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan." For readers puzzled by this bombshell, the Times offers a helpful bit of context: "Mr. Karzai’s mood swings have been a challenge for the Obama administration."

Tonight at the New School, the editors of The Best American Poetry 2010 present a reading from the anthology featuring John AshberyThomas Sayers EllisEileen Myles, and more. 

In 1980, Gilbert Rogin, an editor at Sports Illustrated and a well-respected novelist, had already published 33 pieces of short fiction in The New Yorker. Then, the magazine's fiction editor Roger Angell accused Rogin of repeating himself. Rogin hasn't written a word of fiction since then ("That motherfucker literally demoralized me," Rogin says of the Angell episode), but the author is having something of a renaissance, now that indie publisher Verse Chorus Press is bringing him back into print. This week, the Observer delivers a fun, expletive-spiked profile of Rogin, "one of the most irascible (often intemperately so) characters in the history of New York publishing." 

Valerie Martin and Margaret Atwood, photo by Nancy Crampton.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood read from her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, at Monday’s opening night of the 92Y Reading Series, an evening one-on-one discussion series entering its 72nd season.

During the introduction, longtime friend and colleague Valerie Martin said Atwood was so prolific that she’s not sure who writes all of Atwood’s books. (“It might be a Sasquatch double,” deadpanned Martin, a wink at Atwood’s Canadian heritage). When Atwood is not writing, Martin said, the 70-year-old Ontario native is tweeting, blogging, or “on a carbon-neutral, around-the world tour” promoting not only her book, but environmental conservation and Bird Life International. “She’s maybe finishing a new novel backstage,” Martin quipped.

Arriving onstage to applause from the full house, Atwood told the story of a book tour a few years earlier. She was afraid she’d have no audience for the event due to a “terrible promoter,” but was able to fill the seats thanks to her following on Twitter. When asked how it felt to embrace technology, Atwood responded: “I haven’t embraced technology. I was more embraced by it.”

Following a reading of selections from Flood, the second novel in Atwood’s dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, the conversation between the old friends was entertaining and often comical—although many of the topics discussed were unsettling (e.g. eating maggots and antibiotics made from cockroach brains to survive the coming apocalypse). The MaddAddam trilogy’s theme of an “almost annihilation of the human race” was the starting point for the night’s most compelling and revelatory dialogue. Many of the speculative ideas raised in Atwood’s trilogy are, if not contemporary, then on the brink of happening. When asked by readers how she foresees these ideas playing out during the next twenty years, Atwood’s response was frank: “I don’t know. I won’t be around in 20 years, that’s your problem.” —Tynan Kogane 


Tonight at 192 Books, Frederic Tuten will read from his new book Self-Portrait: Fictions. Recently, Bookforum's Peter Trachtenberg caught up with Tuten to ask him about cinema, his friendship with Roy Lichtenstein, and his "painterly prose."

Donald Rumsfeld's memoir, Known and Unknown, will be released on January 25. The book has been embargoed, so we won't be able to read Rummy's rhetorical twists, revelations about the events leading up to the Iraq War, or recollections of meeting Elvis until the book is in stores. In the meantime, can someone please cook up a book trailer?

The Rumpus presents its second "Culture Death Match"—this one between Tom Bissell (who is represented here by author Salvatore Pane) and Sarah Vowell (Amy Whipple). The battle is in part between Bissell's and Vowell's obsessions—video games and history, respectively—but also about men and women writers. "Think of the guys here on The Rumpus or over at HTMLGiant," Whipple writes. "You get to say what you want to say when you want to say it and it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re right—just so long as you act like you are."

Meanwhile, Franzenfreude lives on. Katha Pollitt offers a good analysis at The Nation. And Salon wonders: Which Freedom character is Franzen?

Laura Kipnis's latest book attempts to help you become better not just at scandalizing people, but at being scandalized.

Frederic Tuten


Since dropping out of high school at the age of sixteen with dreams of becoming a painter, Frederic Tuten has lived in Paris; traveled through Mexico and South America; earned a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century American literature; acted in a short film by Alain Resnais; conducted summer writing workshops in Tangiers with Paul Bowles; and written fictions and essays for the artist’s catalogues of Eric Fischl, David Salle, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, and Roy Lichtenstein. He has also written some of the slyest and most beguiling fiction ever to be described as experimental. His five novels include The Adventures of Mao on the Long March (1971), Tallien: A Brief Romance (1988), Tintin in the New World: A Romance (1993), Van Gogh’s Bad Café (1997), and The Green Hour (2002). Recently Bookforum contacted him to ask about his latest book, Self Portraits: Fictions (Norton), a collection of mysterious, funny, sexy, and ineffably melancholy short stories.—Peter Trachtenberg

BOOKFORUM: Your new book has a recurring narrator named Louie who’s in love with a woman named Marie. Do you think of these as separate stories or as episodes in the unfolding story of a single character or set of characters?

FREDERIC TUTEN: The stories seem to revolve around a single love story that recurs eternally; the two lovers appear in different guises, in different places, at different times, before and after death even, and sometimes as different people. It’s perhaps more accurate to describe the book as having principal souls than principal characters, as they are not literally the same persons in each. My characters are transformations of the people I’ve known in my own life—that’s why each story is separately dedicated—and in each story there are traces of these people, including and especially me, in fact and in fantasy. That’s why I began the book with an essay about storytelling and going to the movies with my grandmother. In a sense, all my novels are self-portraits. I am now engaged in an ongoing memoir project and think of this book of interrelated stories as part one in my autobiography.

My recollection is that your early work—and that of your contemporaries like Harry Mathews and Donald Barthelme—tended to be quite cool, une ecriture blanche. Do you think some kind of shift has occurred within your own writing and maybe within literature as a whole?

Let’s just say that in the late sixties and seventies, many of us shunned adjectives and liked our sentences trim. I wanted to be sure that in my first novel nothing of the autobiographical surfaced, but now I see it is everywhere rising to the surface. In any case, there are many ways and many different voices with which to tell a story. I’m still exploring, but I’m glad to be mentioned in the company of Harry Mathews and Donald Barthelme. Some people mistake Realism with emotion and the writing of the writers you cite as “cool” or without fire. Barthelme is a passionate writer. He just doesn’t announce it. I think of Poussin and Roy Lichtenstein in the same way. They burn with a cool flame and a lasting one.

The cover of Self Portraits has a painting by Roy Lichtenstein, who also did original covers for The Adventures of Mao on the Long March and Tintin in the New World. He was your best friend.

I have never enjoyed a friend’s company or learned as much as I did with Roy. Our friendship covered more than thirty years. It was a friendship of mutual esteem and good will and humor. Roy once said to me, when an artist goes to make a painting, he or she already has in mind what a work of art should look like. And that, he said was the problem. It is the same problem for writers when they start a novel or a story. Hence, we produce the same novels and stories. Roy was a seeker, an original, and his work inspired me to approach my writing with questions.

I’m struck by how painterly these stories are. They seem to take place before a series of vivid backdrops: the corrida in Madrid, a circus trailer, a cafe across from the Metropolitan. Can you talk about the influence painting has had on your writing?

I was in love with painting and when I was sixteen I dropped out of high school. I wanted to go to Paris and become a painter, though I did not know French and neither my family nor I had a centime. This was in the Bronx, in the early fifties, when mostly delinquents dropped out of school. I guess in some sense, I, too, was a delinquent. Most of all, I think I wanted to escape the Bronx and live in a bohemian paradise. I worked and read and wrote in my free time and tried to paint on the kitchen table. Then by some wild luck I was introduced to John Resko, an artist who had been in Dannemora prison for twenty years and who had transformed his life there. He became the father I never had, and he tried to help me with my painting, but he ended up being more of a help by introducing me to books I had never heard of, like The Sheltering Sky and Kafka’s The Trial.

Slowly the desire to be a painter disappeared and the passion for writing took over, but all of my life I have always had artist friends like Roy, and I have written essays and reviews about artists. My idea of a great adventure is to check into a hotel close to a museum I love—like the Prado—and spend days in the galleries, revisiting the Poussins, mainly. In this sense, I take after some of the characters in my fiction.

Many of these stories are exquisitely sad. Yet they’re also often very funny, and even the saddest ones are suffused with what I can only call gaiety. Do you see yourself as a tragic writer? A comic one?

I love your question, but I can only answer it with great difficulty because it is obvious that I feel, as I show through my characters, that life is at once sad and comical. For example, I found it very funny and sad that when my character in “Self Portrait with Sicily” visits the spirit of a girl he loved, who tells him it is chilly in the other world, he thinks of returning home and coming back to bring her a sweater. The one he used to give her when as teenagers they went to freezing-cold movie theaters.

Counterpoised against the exotic and romantic locales of many of these stories are evocations of the Bronx—not the squalid, torched wasteland of the seventies and eighties, but a place that seems almost as exotic as the other settings. What role does the Bronx play in your work? In your memory and imagination?

The Bronx is the grim and golden, sad and magical place of my childhood. It haunts two stories in this book, appearing as a place of sanctuary and sexual heaven. But also as a mirage and twin of Sicily, from whose poverty and danger my mother’s parents fled. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up and we all kept the poverty as a souvenir.

I know you’ve lived in Mexico, Brazil, France, Italy and Morocco. Your work seems to belong to what I think of as the continental or European tradition. Yet I know you wrote your doctoral dissertation on the ur-American writer James Fenimore Cooper. Do you see yourself as working in the American literary tradition? Or in the European one?

I don’t know what you mean by the two different traditions. Is it that I write about artists and revolutionaries and intellectuals, and that most of the books have been set in France or China and South America? Cooper, by the way, lived in Europe for seven years and wrote three novels located there. My thesis was on his novel, The Bravo, set in eighteenth-century Venice. A great dark book, an allegory for the oligarchy Cooper feared America would become. Hemingway’s books are set in Spain, France, Africa, and Cuba, and he is an American writer. In any case, it’s a good question. I really think its underpinnings are about literature that is either cooked or raw. For myself, I go toward the cooked but without the sauces.

I really wonder what the question means, finally. The French have Naturalism and Realism and so do we—we got it from them. They have experimental writers, and so do we. But maybe only we could have a Cooper, a Melville, a Faulkner and a Whitman here. Something in our soil and our space. But maybe only the French could have created Proust and Queneau, maybe something about Paris, the steamy cafes in winter. I love all engaging writers, wherever the source.

The stories also have a cinematic character. I’m thinking of the gallant, snappy patter of your men and women, the dramatic settings and the sly or blustering villainy of the antagonists. It’s not realistic cinema. I’m thinking of Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin and Renoir and even of Georges Meliés. I know you’ve written screenplays and were friendly with Godard.

Godard and I were not friends, but I had dinner with him a few times when he came to New York. I had written a praising review of his film Weekend for Vogue magazine, so we met on agreeable grounds. I thought him the master of the interrupted narrative, and I loved his interjecting texts and quotes into his films—everything I tried to do in my first novel The Adventures of Mao on the Long March. He thought Mao should be made into a movie. I said only he could do it. The idea, as so many in the film world, went nowhere.

The snappy patter, as you call the dialogue in some of these stories, is influenced by noir, like The Big Sleep, where men and women get to the point of each other with verve and bite and wit. I love the total beauty of Renoir’s Rules of the Game. But for me, Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad is a perfect work of art, not one superfluous line of dialogue or a second of wasted time. A great impervious and mysterious film. The recurring motifs in my book are in some ways an echo of that film, whose sculpture of the man, woman, and the dog was modeled after a Poussin painting. By the way, I’ve dedicated my book of stories to Alain Resnais, my dear friend for forty years.

While we’re on the subject of friendships, what about your relationships with Hergé? Raymond Queneau?

We were friends. Hergé and Raymond Queneau were both kind, witty, and with charm and grace and without an ounce of self-importance. I was crazy for their art. They had admired each other’s work but had never met until I brought them together, along with Resnais, for a lunch in Paris in 1975, for the publication of The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, in French.

Queneau had chosen my book for Gallimard, where he was an editor. After he died, his family let me live in his apartment in Neuilly for a few years. I thought of him every day in that large empty apartment and I missed his warmth and his hectoring me—to be a “good boy.” As a prank and to teach me a lesson for drinking all night and showing up a bit late with a hangover and a tongue so dry I could hardly speak, he sent in a bottle of scotch instead of the water I had asked for when I was being interviewed at the Gallimard office a few doors from his.

I met Hergé—Georges Remi—in 1972 or maybe '73. I was late in coming to know his Tintin books, but when I did I could not get enough of them. Not all were easily available in New York in English, and the French versions were also hard to find. One day in Paris, I bought every [volume] in the shop and sat in my hotel room devouring them. The second thing Hergé asked me when we first met was why I liked his books. There were so many reasons, his wondrous, compelling characters and the swift, economical editing of the images so that the story moves with a sense of inevitability—everything I myself wished to accomplish. But in a kind of confusion at so direct a question, I merely said: “I love the blue of your night sky.” He gave me a big smile: “My wife was the colorist for that,” he said. He loved his wife.

The world, my world, has shrunk without Georges, Raymond and Roy. I miss them. I love them.

Of course, we know the dismal state of publishing today—not just literary publishing but all publishing—and it often seems that reading itself has a tenuous, embattled status. What do you see as the future of literature in a world cluttered with new electronic media?

Literature has survived plagues, wars, state and religious censorship, the loathing of moralists, and general ignorance. Its value is as deep as life. Without literature, how airless and diminished our world would be. I can’t breathe without it and would not wish to. Forgive the piety, but I’m sure that literature will survive and even flourish, maybe in ways we cannot yet foresee.


Zadie Smith

We know where we'll be tonight: At the FSG Reading Series, the semi-regular literary event held upstairs at the Russian Samovar. You know the drill: The Samovar will start serving vodka around 6:30. David Bezmozgis and Rahul Bhattacharya will start reading their work at 7. 

Zadie Smith takes over the "New Books" column at Harper's.

The Paris Review has just launched its redesigned website, which looks as elegant as their new print issue. You'll want to free up the next several days to peruse their interview archives spanning the 1950s to the present, listen to audio clips, and subscribe to their blog, including an intriguing post by Lydia Davis on translations of Madame Bovary.

Barnes and Noble chairman Leonard Riggio was dealt a setback in his fight with investor Ron Burkle for the company's future, as the influential advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services has backed Burkle's slate of candidates for the Barnes and Noble Board of Directors. According to the Times, Burkle says he is not seeking control of Barnes and Noble, just a more independent Board, or as he put it: “I want someone in there who doesn’t say, ‘That’s the most amazing thing I ever heard’ every time Len opens his mouth.” Riggio, who bought the company nearly forty years ago, told the Times that the battle was more than just business: “Lots of people have an emotional stake in books . . . It’s not like what they have with their haberdashers.”

Lee Rourke, author of the Not the Booker Prize-nominated novel The Canalchats with Tom McCarthy, author of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel C.

Tonight at Film Forum, there's a must-see screening of Stanley Kubrick's harrowing 1957 film, Paths of Glory, introduced by The Wire's creator David Simon. Humphrey Cobb's 1935 novel, on which the film was based, was recently reissued by Penguin classics with a new introduction by Simon, who will sign copies of the book after the film. Simon has cited the movie as a key influence on his work, saying, "If anyone wants to look at Paths of Glory and think it doesn't speak to the essential triumph of institutions over individuals and doesn't speak to the fundamental inhumanity of the 20th century and beyond, then they weren't watching the same film as the rest of us.” The "essential triumph of institutions over individuals" is as good a summary of The Wire as we've ever heard. 

Journalist Howard Fineman is leaving Newsweek after a thirty-year career at the magazine for the greener pastures of The Huffington Post, where, he reports, "the action is." HuffPo founder Arianna H. spoke re Fineman in terms that make it sound as if she'd just purchased a particularly fine wine: "From the day we launched, it was our belief that the mission of The Huffington Post should be to bring together the best of the old and the best of the new. Bringing in the best of the old involved more money than we had when we launched. But now that our website is growing, we’re able to bring in the best of the old."

Via Arts & Letters Daily: The galling incivility of online debate

Not long ago, book publisher's websites were mostly bland promotional fare: author photos, catalog copy, and—if you were lucky—perhaps a reading group guide. But lately, we've been spending more time on the snazzy websites of publishers like FSG, Phaidon, and Verso, which include interviews, multimedia, and blogs. FSG has just updated its very literary Works in Progress site including a chat between novelists Chris Adrian and Rivka Galchen, a feature on book and album pairings by The Thermals' drummer Westin Glass, and a riveting video of Lydia Davis from a recent reading. Phaidon's redesigned site includes interviews with tastemakers like London Design Festival director Ben Evans, galleries featuring Phaidon artists like Jeff Wall, a video interview with Stephen Shore, as well the blog Edit. The indie publisher Verso's site has some of the best radical political reading on the web, with its booksauthors, and events presented in an engaging format, as well as a blog and discussion forum.

Steve Almond

It's official: Oprah Winfrey has chosen Jonathan Franzen's new novel for her book club.

Here's a trailer for Chris Lehmann's Rich People Things, which hilariously uses a scene from Fellini's La Dolce Vita (watch for the cameo from Nico).

Steve Almond takes writerly self-humiliation to glorious heights in a column for The Rumpus, in which he lampoons poems he wrote in his youth. Sample line: "The geese yank his pants with cheddar beaks."

Futurebook offers a crash course on how to use—and not use—Twitter to promote books.

The watchdog group Media Matters has examined how The Wall Street Journal handles conflicts of interest in its books coverage. One easy way to avoid all those disclaimers: Come up with a warning label to put on all questionable reviews.

Elif Batuman

It has been almost nine years since Jonathan Franzen hemmed and hawed about Oprah Winfrey's selection of his novel The Corrections for her book club, but is that long enough for hurt feelings to heal? According to rumors, it is. Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson has reported that Oprah is going to make Franzen's Freedom her latest pick on Friday. Johnson has also posted a photo that seems to prove him right. That Oprah sticker might still make Franzen fairly itch with ambivalence, but he'll be scratching his all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, the Franzenfreude will surely increase, and with good reason: As Meghan O'Rourke writes in Slate, the underlying issue is an important one: "Namely, why women are so infrequently heralded as great novelists."

Susan Lehman (no relation to Bookforum's Chris Lehmann) has been selected to become Jonathan Karp's replacement as the publisher of Twelve books, which has brought us titles such as Sebastian Junger's War and Christopher Hitchens's Hitch-22.

David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel, The Pale King, now has a cover design and a release date. Excited yet?

Letters written by Oscar Wilde to a magazine editor have been discovered. Though the quotes we've seen don't quite merit the term "love letters," they are sweet, and certainly flirtatious: "Afterwards we will smoke cigarettes and Talk over the Journalistic article, could we go to your rooms, I am so far off, and clubs are difficult to Talk in."

Via the Poetry Foundation: Elif Batuman has written an excellent review of Mark McGurl's The Program Era, which studies how MFA writing programs have changed postwar literature.