It took author John D’Agata and fact-checker Jim Fingal five years to comb through D’Agata’s 5,000-word essay about a teenager’s suicide in Las Vegas (published in the Believer), and even more time before the two decided to capitalize on their back-and-forth, carping correspondence—it has just been released as a book, The Lifespan of a Fact. Salon’s Laura Miller writes, “the book itself is a travesty of the fact-checking process,” an “ever-burgeoning pissing match” between the wisecracking checker and the “preening and self-important” author. At the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, New Yorker checker Hannah Goldfield takes a more sympathetic view towards Fingal: “Much of the book’s meta-text consists of Fingal’s notes, which detail his careful, often interesting research. But D’Agata’s responses are, rather than thoughtful and collaborative, hostile and delusional.” Readers can judge for themselves: An excerpt of the book is online at Harper’s website. (If anything, the book is a strong counterpoint to the fact-checking utopia detailed in John McPhee’s classic New Yorker essay “Checkpoints.”)
Six months after announcing plans to act in an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, James Franco is already on location with co-star Tim Blake Nelson in West Virginia.
Lev Grossman writes about the chipping away of the literary canon, as classic books are judged online like rainboots or MP3 players. “We have the benefit of the 94 one-star reviews that The Great Gatsby has received on Amazon. (‘I found this book to be very boring and not very informative.’ ‘Honestly, he had it coming.’ Etc.) Not to mention the 28,966 one-star reviews it has on GoodReads.” (For more disparagement of Amazon reviews, meet Least Helpful, a blog dedicated to the site’s most useless user commentary.)
Ithys Press is releasing a limited run of James Joyce’s previously unpublished children’s story, “The Cats of Copenhagen,” which Joyce originally wrote in a letter to his four-year-old nephew. "For an adult reader (and no doubt for a very clever child),” Ithys publisher Anastasia Herbert explained, “'Cats reads as an anti-establishment text, critical of fat-cats and some authority figures, and it champions the exercise of common sense, individuality and free will."
Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann talks with Full Stop about Christopher Lasch, the state of the media, and what the Occupy movement got right.
Author Michael Cunningham
Digital Book World puts Random House at the top of its list of “best publishing companies to work for,” but also includes a “sample negative employee review” for each firm surveyed. For example, according to a disgruntled worker at second-place John Wiley & Sons, “You get the impression that the company is run by automatons.”
The Millions judges UK vs. US books by their covers.
Following Felix Salmon’s complaints about the new New York Observer, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Spiers reports that the salmon-tinted publication has hit numerous milestones in the past year, including profitability (for the first time ever) and increased web traffic.
Today in bookstore porn: Flavorwire rounds up the twenty most beautiful bookstores around the world.
Tonight, Granta’s new issue, “Exit Strategies,” will be feted at 192 Books.
New York magazine has named author Kathryn Schulz as their new book critic, filling a position that opened more than a year ago when Sam Anderson left for the New York Times Magazine. Schulz is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, and, apparently not to any professional detriment, refers to herself as the world’s “leading wrongologist.”
Katherine Boo’s highly anticipated and already highly praised account of “life and death in a Mumbai undercity,” Behind the Beautiful Forevers, hits shelves this week. In our Feb/March issue, Jonathan Shainin praised Boo’s first book as “a testimony to the transcendent power of reportorial humility,” and applauded her ability “to merge her eyes almost completely with those of her characters.” But prior to going to India, Boo deployed her considerable reportorial powers in overlooked parts of the U.S., covering poverty, race, and crumbling welfare systems for the Washington Post and later for the New Yorker. Before picking up the book, these longform pieces are worth checking out. An archive of Boo’s New Yorker pieces are available here and here. ("The Marriage Cure," a 2003 piece on whether marriage actually helps people escape poverty, is a good place to start.) And from the Washington Post, here is a link to "Invisible Lives, Invisible Deaths," Boo’s 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning expose on how social services failed the mentally disabled in Washington, D.C.
Being a bookseller in France is one of the least profitable professions to go into, and with budget cuts bearing down, it just got a little harder. To chip away at the deficit, President Nicolas Sarkozy recently raised the value-added tax on books from 5.5 to 7 percent. The move has enraged booksellers and prompted rumors of a protest. According to the Guardian, “some booksellers have hinted at a possible ‘labelling strike’ where they simply refuse to stick on new price tags.”
Were you wondering who wrote the Walt Whitman-esque, Clint Eastwood-featuring, two-and-a-half-minute Chrysler commercial that aired during the Superbowl last weekend? It was a team of copywriters from the Portland, Oregon, firm Weiden & Kennedy that included Smith Henderson, a writer who recently won a PEN award for his novel-in-progress, and Tin House poetry editor Matthew Dickman, who has written for Narrative and Ploughshares and was the subject of a 2009 New Yorker profile with his twin brother Michael (who’s also a poet).
For readers who don’t have time for book clubs, the Wall Street Journal suggests an alternative: the reading group dedicated to book-review magazines.
Today marks the re-release of William Gaddis’s classics The Recognitions and J R, published in 1955 and 1975, respectively. Once described by Cynthia Ozick as “the most overlooked important work of the last several literary generations,” The Recognitions was a commercial flop when it first came out, prompting a book (Jack Green’s Fire the Bastards!) bemoaning the novel’s weak critical reception. It was only upon the publication of J R, Gaddis’s novel about an eleven-year-old boy “motivated only by good-natured greed,” that Gaddis came into wider success. Still, despite rapturous reviews and two National Book Awards, Gaddis never found a popular readership. The title of his 1998 New York Times obituary read as follows: ”William Gaddis, 75, Innovative Author of Complex, Demanding Novels, Is Dead.”
Is Amazon planning to expand into brick-and-mortar stores? According to Gawker, “the e-tailer turned tablet maker turned publisher is said to be planning a physical store in Seattle with an eye toward building a national chain.”
Reuters blogger Felix Salmon has some harsh words about the “reinvented” New York Observer one year after editor Elizabeth Spier’s appointment: “The Observer’s inimitable voice is gone, replaced by a barrage of bloggish posts by a group of writers so young that many of them can’t even remember a time before Gawker.”
We’re nerdishly excited about Lexicon Valley, Slate’s new language podcast that will cover topics ranging from “linguistic pet peeves, syntax, and etymology to sociolinguistics, neurolinguistics, and the death of languages.”
“Football isn’t thuggish,” Susan Orlean explained to the New York Times during a chat with fellow writers Chad Harbach and Donald Antrim about the appeal of sports. “It’s just very bone-crunching and physical. In other words, a lot like eating chicken wings.”
Mimi Alford was nineteen years old when she started interning at the JFK White House in 1962. Four days into the internship, she went swimming with the president, and later that day, Kennedy “‘took her virginity in Mrs. Kennedy’s room.” This is one of the more lurid anecdotes that emerge from Alford’s tell-all about her relationship with the president, which will officially be released on Wednesday, but details of which have already been leaked by the New York Post after they found an early copy in a Manhattan bookstore. Interspersed between Alford’s more scandalous claims—she says Kennedy once forced her to perform oral sex on an aide—are more mundane recollections. When they weren’t having sex, the pair spent an “inordinate amount of time taking baths,” and, Alford says, Kennedy taught her how to make scrambled eggs.
A letter detailing how Virginia Woolf and five members of the Bloomsbury group managed to con the British Navy into throwing them a red-carpet reception on the navy’s premier battleship, the HMS Dreadnought, by dressing as a gang of Abyssinian princes and diplomats, is now on sale in London.
Cuba-watchers who have been wondering why Fidel Castro has been so conspicuously absent from the public eye over the past several years now have their answer: el presidente has apparently been holed up working on a memoir. A big one. This weekend, Cuban state-run media announced the release of Fidel Castro Ruz: Guerrilla of Time, a 1,000-page tome based on Castro’s conversations with journalist Katiuska Blanco. And if reading the book doesn’t sound like enough of a slog, consider this: according to Cuban media, the book’s launch party at the Havana Convention Center lasted more than six hours.
They read them so you don’t have to: The Millions rolls out its guide to the best literary Tumblrs.
Riverhead has bought Anton DiSclafani’s “buzzed-about Depression-era debut novel” for a reported seven-figure deal. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is about “a 16-year-old named Thea Atwell [who] is cast out of her upstanding Florida family after a scandal” and sent to an equestrian boarding school in North Carolina.
“Sometimes an actor performs a character, but sometimes an actor just performs. With writing, I don’t think it’s performing a character, really, if the character you’re performing is yourself. I don’t see that as playing a role. It’s just appearing in public.” The full transcript of Sheila Heti’s interview with Joan Didion is now online.
If the blog network Tumblr were a city, it would have 42 million residents. And cities, of course, need newspapers. To accommodate their growing population, Tumblr is creating a “news site for the things that happen in the Tumblrverse,” and has already hired two media vets to edit it.
A former Harper’s Bazaar intern has filed suit against the magazine for allegedly forcing her to work forty to fifty-five hours a week without pay. “The case poses philosophic and economic challenges not just for the publishing industry but for an overall economy in which more and more businesses are using interns,” writes PaidContent’s Jeff Roberts. In other news, the Associated Press has reinstated its internship program after a yearlong hiatus.
Never mind the literary luminaries: Stephen King, Erica Jong, and Tom Clancy populate David Foster Wallace’s list of his top ten favorite writers.
“As if we need you! Who cares if you come or not? Would Turkey lose any grandeur?” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in response to Paul Auster’s announcement that he will not visit Turkey to protest the country’s recent persecution of journalists.
Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet Wislawa Syzmborska died on Wednesday at home in Krakow. The eighty-eight year old published her first book of poems in 1952, and her most recent collection, Home, was released in the U.S. in 2008. “I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems,” Syzmborska once told an interviewer.
The Reader author Bernard Schlink
According to the New York Daily News, GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has written dozens of Amazon user reviews over the past eight years—enough to earn a “Top Reviewer” rating. And what do the reviews teach us about his tastes? “For one, he really hates the Clintons,” the Daily News says. “He loves a good mystery. He's fascinated with World War II, as well as the Civil War, with a special appreciation for the ‘automatic aggressiveness’ of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.”
German author Bernard Schlink is taking the Weinstein Company to court for not paying him royalties from the film adaptation of his novel, The Reader. Schlink, it is worth noting, has been a judge and a professor of law.
In other magazines: Triple Canopy has released a new Occupy Wall Street issue. Also, new issues of Open Letters Monthly and Words Without Borders are now up online.
We’re looking forward to the new New Inquiry. The magazine relaunching its website (it’ll go live on February 6), and for $2 a month, subscribers will receive a “e-reader-compatible PDF on the first Monday of every month.” And though we can’t tell if it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the theme of their next issue is precarity.
“Blurbs, like bullshit, existed long before the term coined to describe them,” Alan Levinovitz writes in a brief history of the book blurb, which traces its origin back to at least 1516.
Barnes & Noble has refused to stock titles from Amazon’s publishing imprint. According to a statement from B&N, the move "is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent," which the bookstore claims prevents them from “offering certain e-books to our customers.” However, Barnes & Noble’s website will continue to sell books published by Amazon.
The Center for the Art of Translation has posted a video of a Lydia Davis lecture on her translation of Madame Bovary, where she explains how she used Nabokov’s marginalia from one of his copies of the book (found at the New York Public Library): “He was quite helpful, but then I trusted him too much. And I found that he wasn't really always right, so I had to back off a little bit from my utter trust.” However, Nabokov was certainly right about at least one thing: Flies walk, they do not crawl. (The audio of the entire Davis’s talk is available here.)
The New York Times profiles FSG publisher and poet Jonathan Galassi, and interviews him about his forthcoming poetry collection, Left Handed.
The Occupy Wall Street Library and Occupy Tuscon are teaming up to flood the Tucson Unified Public School District with books that were banned last year under an ordinance prohibiting school curricula “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” The Occupy Wall Street library’s press release says: “Acting in solidarity with OccupyTucson and the students, parents, and teachers of the Tucson Unified School District we are going send copies of the banned texts to Tucson for distribution. Lots of copies. As many copies as we can find and buy.”
The upcoming March election in Russia was, until recently, deemed a sure victory for Vladimir Putin, John Lloyd writes in a multi-book review for the Financial Times. He enjoys strong popular support, stronger KGB ties, and is a “master of nostalgia, with a fine ability to render the Soviet period as one in which, granted, mistakes were made but greatness was achieved.” These days, though Putin is still the likely winner, his political future isn’t quite so clear. “Even among allies,” Lloyd writes, “the mix of policies, attitudes and enmities that has sustained the Putin regime is losing its potency."
Today in shameful procrastination memes: “shit agents and editors say.”
"Jonathan Franzen: e-books are damaging society."
At the Paris Review Daily, Avi Steinberg considers the relationship between libraries and pornography, and how the library, “once a hothouse of Eros and a laboratory of realism, has become a burial site.”
Open City author Teju Cole has been appointed the distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Bard College.
NYRB Classic’s blog has posted “Good Morning, Giantess!,” the first story from Robert Walser’s new collection, Berlin Stories.
Investigative journalism organization ProPublica presents its new (and very timely) Tumblr: “Officials Say the Darndest Things.”
What’s the difference between literary and genre fiction? (Aside from success on the New York Times bestseller list?) A literary agent explains.
In Madrid, an art exhibition about French avant-garde writer Raymond Roussel, “Locus Solus,” includes work by Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dali, and Cristina Iglesias, but, sadly, not Roussel’s “land yacht.”
Tonight at 192 Books, Adam Johnson reads from his new book, The Orphan Master’s Son, which Wyatt Mason praises in this week’s New Yorker. Mason writes, Johnson does “a superb job of conjuring the almost surreal physical particularities of the country, its cities that go dark at nightfall, as the nation’s generators go silent until dawn.”