Charles McGrath reports on a question that literary journalists and editors have been asking for years: Who will replace Robert Silvers as the editor of the New York Review of Books? The answer probably won't be coming anytime soon: According to Silvers, the question of who will succeed him is “not one that is presenting itself.”
The recent fact/fiction/journalism debates have focused mostly on John D’Agata’s book About a Mountain, but it also hit radio waves last week after it was revealed that This American Life’s most popular episode ever—about the conditions of workers at an Apple factory in China—was partially fabricated by its creator, monologist Mike Daisey. TAL dedicated an entire episode to retracting the story on Sunday, and host Ira Glass apologized in a statement: “Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story,” Glass said. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.” Daisey, who is currently starring in the one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” took a more mealy-mouthed approach: “This American Life is essentially a journalistic—not a theatrical—enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations,” Daisey wrote. “For this reason, I regret that I allowed This American Life to air an excerpt from my monologue. What I do is not journalism.”
The Baffler returns: copies of the revived journal were sent to subscribers last week.
Is the literary establishment a myth? Geoff Dyer says it is. “I don't detect anything monolithic or impregnable about this literary establishment,” he writes, “except a belief in the importance of spelling and punctuation.”
At the Los Angeles Review of Books, a writer reflects on the difficulties of getting self-published books reviewed by mainstream publications.
The Morning News’ annual Tournament of Books proceeds apace. In this round, The Hairpin editor Edith Zimmerman didn’t like The Marriage Plot. But she does like it better than Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl.
Amanda Knox, the American student who was accused of murdering her British roommate in Italy, has signed a seven-figure book deal with HarperCollins, but she won’t have the first word. Raffaele Sollecito, Knox’s former boyfriend, has sold his own book about the murder trial and acquittal, the not-so-subtly titled Presumed Guilty: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox, to Simon & Schuster. Sollecito’s book will appear this fall, clearly looking to get a jump on Knox’s title, due out sometime next year.
Congratulations to Artforum on releasing its fantastic new iPhone app! Everybody should download it immediately.
A new collection of David Foster Wallace essays, Of Flesh and Not, will be released this fall.
November 13 is the release date for the next “new” Bola˝o, notes blogger and critic Scott Esposito. Bola˝o’s work features a number of recurring characters (including the author’s stand-in Arturo Belano), and Woes of the True Policeman—his final, unfinished novel—focues on two figures from 2666: Amalfitano and Arcimboldi.
Tin House attempts to answer a somewhat loaded question: “Why do we hate short stories?”.
John Barr, the current and inaugural president of the super-wealthy Poetry Foundation, has announced his plans to retire.
Before there was John D’Agata, there was Truman Capote. Jack Shafer writes: “Both love ‘real’ facts, but when blocked by journalistic convention from the literary effects they desire, they willingly leapt that fence to create whatever rules they needed to enhance their work.” The difference between them, however, is that while Capote steadfastly resisted suggestions that some of his journalism was fictionalized (despite ample evidence to the contrary), D’Agata is up front about blurring genres, and gets around the problem of fact-bending by calling himself an “essayist.”
Amazon has renewed its $25,000 grant to the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, which will be held this summer in Lost Angeles.
The striking similarities between Marilynne Robinson and Terrence Malick.
Writer and psychic Amie Barrodale offers some hilarious, tarot-tinged advice to writer and philosopher Clancy Martin.
An Italian human-rights group is protesting Dante’s Divine Comedy for being “racist, antisemetic, and Islamophobic,” and demanding that it be removed from classrooms.
Ever wondered what’s in New York Times reporter (and Night of the Smoking Gun author) David Carr’s backpack?
Here’s a list of seventeen books that Ernest Hemingway said he would rather read again for the first time than have a yearly income of a million dollars.
Christopher Walken, audiobook reader for "Where the Wild Things Are."
Consider the interrobang. When ad executive Martin Speckter debuted the half question mark-half exclamation point in 1962, the punctuation point earned write-ups in the Wall Street Journal and Time, and was canonized in several American dictionaries. And then it disappeared. The Millions met up with Speckter’s widow to discuss its rise and fall in popularity, and address the question—what happened to the interrobang‽
There’s no point in finishing bad books, but should we feel obligated to finish good ones?
“The Internet,” Harper’s publisher John MacArthur claims in an op-ed, is basically “a gigantic Xerox machine (albeit with inhuman ‘memory’), and [so poses] the same old threat to copyright and to the livelihoods of writers and publishers alike.” Well, not exactly... Alexis Madrigal responds.
Excerpts from Urban Dictionary’s guide to literature—“Chaucer: The end of a joint;” “Eggers: One who often steals golf carts and random cans of soda;” “Seuss: Name affectionately given to dogs believed to be reincarnated versions of other dogs.”
Novelist Christopher Bollen recalls the four years he spent in a grimy Williamsburg apartment, working on the novel he never ended up writing.
The most recent VIDA report proved that not only are venerable magazines (Harper’s, The London Review of Books, The New Republic, etc.) reviewing fewer female authors, but that they’re also using fewer female reviewers. Does the problem start there, or does gender discrimination trace back to book publishers? The Huffington Post looked at books published by a handful of literary publishing houses—Knopf, Crown; Little, Brown; and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux—and found that “the gender ratios of books published by these imprints are in a few cases almost identical to those of the publications cited in Vida's survey.”
Here’s Christopher Walken reading Where the Wild Things Are.
At htmlgiant, Lily Hoang asks: Is the NEA punishing writers who have published books at BlazeVox, which in some cases has required authors to pay a percentage of their own publishing costs?
A twelve-hundred-page erotic novel some are calling “mommy porn” has landed at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for combined print and ebook fiction. Fifty Shades of Gray, which originated as Twilight fan fiction, reimagines “the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington, with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections.” So far, the book has been hard to find in print: published by a small press in Australia, it has sold 90 percent of its copies to ebook readers. But this week, it’s everywhere: Vintage Books is publishing the book after buying it for a reported seven figures.
Slate close-reads the trailer for the first movie adaptation of Kerouac’s On the Road.
Fifty hours in the life of a book critic: The Los Angeles Times’ Carolyn Kellogg gives an insider’s look at the National Book Critics Circle: the meetings, the dinners, the awards ceremony.
Publishing used to be a closed-off and enigmatic world . . . until Twitter arrived. Ceri Radford on how online feuds and publising hashtags are changing the nature of literary conversation.
Literary magazine Hoot keeps it short and sweet. Very short, in fact—the newly launched monthly magazine fits entirely on a postcard.
Launched this week, Random House’s new Author Portal allows writers to obtain more information about their book sales. The portal, which is open to RH authors, “allows access to weekly consumer purchase data, as well as copies shipped into the marketplace over the last 10 years, broken [down] by sales channel and publishing format.” Unless you're a best-seller, it sounds like torture...
Twenty-eight-year-old Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has just bought The New Republic, and has assumed the dual role of the magazine’s publisher and editor-in-chief. Hughes plans to bring the ninety-eight-year-old magazine into the digital age, the New York Times reports, and wants to focus on “distributing the magazine’s long-form journalism through tablet computers like the iPad.”
Gawker chief Nick Denton has a new approach to the “problem” of nasty online comments, he announced today during a panel at South by Southwest. Gawker commenters are notoriously snarky, and reining in “hateful behavior” has long been a problem for the site. But the “core of the Gawker idea that we're building,” Denton said of the new and improved site, which is to be introduced in six weeks, “is that everyone owns the thread they start.”
At the National Book Critics Circle ceremony last Thursday night, author Daniel Mendelsohn presented New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers with an Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. Pointing out Silvers’s intense devotion to the magazine, he recalled how the editor once tracked him down on a boat, in the middle of the ocean, to discuss a semicolon.
Jonathan Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Michael Chabon have just been named to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
If the previous entry just made you shudder, take note: Bret Easton Ellis is sick of all the Franzen haters. “The Corrections and Freedom are the two best novels that came out of my generation, so man-up and deal with it, guys.”
At htmlgiant, Blake Butler offers a breakdown of the typical Murakami novel.
In Bookforum, Christopher Sorrentino reviews Hari Kunzru's novel Gods without Men.
The National Book Critics Circle presented its awards for the best books of 2011 at a ceremony in Manhattan last night. The fiction prize went to Edith Pearlman for her short story collection Binocular Vision; Maya Jasanoff won in the nonfiction category for Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World; Laura Kasischke won in poetry for Space, in Chains; John Lewis Gaddis's George F. Kennan won best biography; autobiography went to Mira Bartˇk for The Memory Palace; and the award for criticism went to Geoff Dyer for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews.
In honor of National Proofreading Day (which was Wednesday, did you celebrate?) GalleyCat is directing readers to EditMinion, a robotic copy editor that spots mistakes in emails. But if you’re the kind of person who enjoys enforcing the finer points of grammar without the help of a computer, we recommend Ed Park’s meditation on the Chicago Manual of Style.
How low can e-books go? Google is currently selling Michael Lewis’s Boomerang for $3.99. Not to be outdone, Amazon is matching the price.
Jim Romenesko looks into why the redesigned Chicago Reader website looks like, in the words of NYTimes digital design director Ian Adelman, "a crappy version of the nymag.com & vulture.com sites."
Tonight at BookCourt, Patrick DeWitt reads from his novel The Sisters Brothers.
The Rumpus's Elissa Bassist exhorts women to "join the girls' club," and disrupt the gender disparity in writing and publishing.
NBCC award fiction finalist Teju Cole.
For his next project, Bret Easton Ellis is tapping into the lewder side of Hollywood. The American Psycho author is casting boy-next-door porn star James Deen as the lead of his “micro-budget noir movie,” titled The Canyons.
J. Hoberman, recently laid off by the Village Voice, has become a columnist at Tablet.
At Flavorwire, novelist Adam Wilson—author of the bleak suburban comedy Flatscreen—picks the top ten slacker novels, including Iris Owen’s After Claude, Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land, and the New Testament. In Wilson’s view, Jesus was not just a fictional character but also the first literary slacker: “He drank a lot of wine and never wore pants; he was into holistic healing; he could be preachy and moralistic, but was a good guy deep down. And to think they strung him up for it. Society’s attitude toward slackers hasn’t softened much.”
In Time’s Ideas section, Bookforum contributor Jessica Winter asks: “Are Women People?”
The Morning News is prepping for its eighth annual Tournament of Books with a pre-game primer. The literary bloodsport kicks off tomorrow, when author Emma Straub will deliberate the first bracket: Julian Barnes’s Sense of an Ending vs. Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time.
The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik dwells on “what makes a great essayist,” and names five masters of the form.
The National Book Critics Circle’s annual awards will be announced tonight in New York; all month NBCC board members have been writing about the thirty finalists. A few highlights: David Haglund on Teju Cole’s Open City; David Ulin on Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia; and Benjamin Moser on Amanda Foreman’s A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. Bookforum recently hosted a roundtable about one of the finalists in nonfiction, the late Ellen Willis, who is being nominated for her posthumously published collection of music criticism, Out of the Vinyl Deeps.
Amazon has hired James Atlas—who wrote the definitive biography of Saul Bellow—to edit a new series of biographies called Amazon Lives, with titles scheduled to start appearing in June 2013. Amazon has been steadily preparing to become a powerful publishing presence. The company is clearly set up to sell its own titles online, but how do you sell books published by Amazon in the competition's bookstores (in Barnes and Nobles, for example)? You change the publisher’s name from Amazon Books to New Harvest Books, and you distribute them through another publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Home Depot has announced that it will stop selling books. The news—for us, at least—was that Home Depot sold books in the first place.
Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Book prize was not awarded this year because none of the one hundred and forty-eight books nominated met the Arabic book prize’s “stringent norms.”
Jonathan Franzen recently called Twitter “unspeakably irritating” spawning the hashtag #JonathanFranzenHates, and inspiring htmlgiant’s Roxane Gay to write a convincing argument for Twitter (or for doing what you want to do, as long as you do it with passion). Still, Franzen’s not a total technophobe. In a 2011 address to graduating students at Kenyon College (to be published in the forthcoming essay collection Farther Away), he waxed poetic about the beauty of his BlackBerry Bold: “I [want] to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its tiny track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.” (True to form, he went on to complain about the "Like" button on Facebook.)
Publishers Weekly has crunched the numbers and found that the average length of a book is 64,000 words.
The National Book Critics Circle will hold its annual awards ceremony on Thursday evening. Tonight at the New School, they'll gear up with a reading by the finalists, who include John Jeremiah Sullivan, Forest Gander, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Dana Spiotta.
Alexander Star, formerly an editor at Lingua Franca and the New York Times Magazine, is leaving his current position at the New York Times Book Review to become a senior editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
The Awl recounts how in the late 1950s Saul Bellow helped his closest friend get a teaching job—without realizing this so-called friend was sleeping with his wife.
Canada’s National Post is taking a fast and dirty approach to e-books, publishing as many (and as many different kinds) as possible to see what sells.
Timothy McSweeney—after whom Dave Eggers named his notorious literary magazine and publishing company—was not a whimsical invention but a real person. As Eggers tells the Sacramento Bee, the late McSweeney was an artist who was institutionalized for mental illness. “From there, he mailed odd letters to strangers who shared his last name, believing they were relatives.” One of the recipients was Eggers's mother, whose maiden name was McSweeney.
An Internet archivist who has preserved more than 150 billion webpages now wants to do the same for print. Each week, upwards of twenty thousand books arrive at a warehouse in Redmond, California, to be saved for the ages. “We want to collect one copy of every book,” owner Brewster Kahle tells the New York Times. “You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture.”
Tonight in Brooklyn, n+1 has invited sociologist Eric Klinenberg and writers Kate Bolick and Daniel Smith to discuss Going Solo, Klinenberg’s new book about “the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone.”
We really enjoyed this meditation on the metaphor.
Jesse Ball’s The Curfew, Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods, Lars Iyer’s Spurious, Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, and Michelle Latiolai’s Widow make up the shortlist of the Believer’s book award. The winner will be announced in the May issue.