After years of archival research, Lawrence Wright’s long-awaited book on Scientology will be coming out with Knopf this January. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief includes more than two hundred interviews with Scientologists, and will expand on the explosive article Wright published about the religion in the New Yorker.
College students be warned: Digital textbooks can now track whether you’re doing your reading.
“Not surprisingly, Professor Thurston J. Moore gave no final examination”: At the Poetry Foundation, Logan K. Young recalls what it was like to study at Naropa with Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore.
In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Janet Malcolm writes a follow-up piece to Iphigenia in Forest Hills, in which she returns to Queens to check in on the girl who was then four years old (and is now nine) when her mother was convicted of hiring a hit man to assassinate her husband.
Will the New York Public Library’s flagship building become a “glorified Starbucks”? Architectural critic Paul Goldberger considers the $300 million renovation, and what the Norman Foster redesign might mean for the library.
Terry Eagleton reviews a “superb” new biography of Jacques Derrida, in which he posits that “one reason Derrida enjoyed travelling the world so much was because it allowed him some respite from the bitchy, sectarian, backstabbing, backscratching climate of Parisian intellectual life.”
New Yorkers: Tonight (at PowerHouse Arena) and tomorrow night (at KGB Bar) the writer Lydia Millet—whose novels "touch down on ... lives at critical, transformative moments"—will read from her latest, Magnificence.
Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012
Award-winning poet Jack Gilbert, whose Collected Poems was published in March of this year, has died at the age of 87.
With a list of guests that includes not just publishers but also Molly Ringwald and DJ Rabbi Darkside, the organizers of this year's National Book Awards dinner—which will be held tonight at Cipriani Wall Street—hope "to add more sex appeal to an industry that’s not exactly known for it."
While the merger between Penguin and Random House has mostly been met with cynicism and dismay, the consolidation of big publishing might actually be good news for smaller presses, which are becoming far better equipped to publish poetry, books in translation, and literary fiction. But even so, how will indie presses ever compete against the large advances that big houses offer? One solution, Salon argues, is to instate a national policy that would help smaller presses compete in an increasingly harsh open market. (Meanwhile, business journalist Adam Davidson reflects on the Penguin-Random House merger, the fight with Amazon, and how the publishing industry resembles the envelope industry circa 1900.)
At the Paris Review blog, Julian Tepper recalls Philip Roth’s reaction upon handing Roth a copy of his novel. “Yeah, this is great," said Roth. "But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.” Two weeks later, Roth announced his retirement from writing.
How many biographers have fallen for their subjects? “Plenty,” says Slate. “But few act on it.”
"More than most literary phenomena, names in fiction seem very straightforward until you start to think about them. The simple question, ‘why does a name sound right?’ leads to a whole range of questions. Are there rules about how names are given to characters? Do naming practices differ in different periods? Are they specific to particular genres?" Colin Burrow reviews Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature.
Four days ago, Paula Broadwell’s biography of General David Petraeus was No. 126,995 on Amazon. Now, after the two were revealed to be having an affair, All In has jumped to No. 111 overall on Amazon, and is No. 3 in the categories history/Middle East/Iraq and history/military/Iraq war, and No. 6 in biographies & memoirs/leaders & notable people/military. The hardcover came out in January, and to ride the media wave surrounding the affair, Penguin has pushed the publication date for the paperback edition up to November 21.
At Dissent, Andrew Ross and Seth Ackerman consider the Strike Debt movement, and ask whether debt—as opposed to class or profession—can be the category around which the left can organize.
After a fifteen-year feud that originated in the letters pages of TheGuardian, Salman Rushdie and John le Carre have buried the hatchet. "I wish we hadn't done it," Rushdie said of the feud at the Cheltenham literature festival last month. "I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britain."
November 11 marked the beginning of the annual University Press Week. At the Stanford University Press blog, Washington Post Book World editor Steve Levingston shares his thoughts on "Why University Presses Matter," while at Duke’s blog, Jack Halberstam observes, “Honestly, without university presses, we would have few venues left for big ideas and bookstores would be filled with hundreds of books on Yoga for Pets, Who Killed JFK, 50 Shades of Gray and Was Lincoln Gay? Not to mention 50 Shades of Gay, Who Killed Your Pet? and Yoga for Presidents.”
This Saturday, come help Brooklyn’s powerHouse Books get back on its feet after Sandy by attending the Hurricane Release Fundraiser. The event takes place from noon to nine at the powerHouse Arena, and will feature readings by Joseph O’Neill, Rick Moody, Tea Obreht, Jonathan Franzen, Teju Cole, Jennifer Egan, and others.
Philip Roth: ex-novelist
In an interview with the French magazine Les InRocks, Philip Roth announced that he’s done writing novels. “To tell you the truth, I’m done,” Roth remarked. “Nemesis will be my last book.” Roth, now 79, has given biographer Blake Bailey access to his letters and papers. But Roth does not plan to grant this privilege to anyone else: The novelist says that he has instructed his executors to destroy his archives after his death.
It has been a busy year for the Oxford American. First, two of the Southern magazine’s editors were fired after being implicated in a bizarre sexual-harassment scandal. Then former Harper’s editor Roger Hodge was hired to take over the magazine last September. Now, there's news that Oxford American is taking on a new challenge: fine Southern dining. Arkansas Business reports that Oxford American is opening a restaurant in the same building as its Little Rock offices. The restaurant, South and Main, will be “essentially an extension of the magazine," chef Matt Bell told the paper.
Valerie Eliot, the widow of T.S. Eliot, died in London on Friday at the age of 86. The couple met in the 1950s through the English publisher Faber and Faber. Despite the forty-year difference between them, they were happily married until the poet's death in 1965.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has acquired two arms of publisher John Wiley & Sons: cookbooks and reference titles.
The Los Angeles Review of Books surveys the literary history of hockey, starting with Sports Illustrated’s 1955 decision to send William Faulkner to report on a game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.
The Rumpus is hosting a fundraiser for the film adaptation of Stephen Elliott's novel Happy Baby, and you should get tickets now, while they’re still available. The party will be held on November 29 at Public Assembly in Brooklyn, and will feature readings and appearances by Jami Attenberg, Melissa Febos, Rick Moody, Eugene Mirman, and many others TBA.
What kind of books will emerge from the 2012 presidential election? The Los Angeles Times wagers that in addition to narratives about the race itself, the internal collapse to the Republican party, and emergence of Latinos as a major voting bloc, “there’s also a good biography waiting to emerge from the second big story of last night’s election: how gay marriage and gay rights moved to the mainstream of American politics.”
At the New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross celebrates this election's gay-rights victories in an addendum to his excellent and eloquent essay on gay rights and culture, which we strongly recommend. (Also, at the magazine's Culture Desk blog: Ross discusses gay culture and assimilation with Hilton Als.
Tom Robbins, the author who brought us novels such as Jitterbug Perfume and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, is writing his memoir, which will be published by Ecco in 2014. From the press release: “Tibetan Peach Pie isn’t exactly your normal memoir, but from the worn hills of Appalachia to the heights of the best-seller lists; from America’s psychedelic underground to the backstreets of Asia, the savannas of Africa, and the studios of the art world, it does lift the curtain on a succession of highly personal magical mystery peep shows.”
Michael Dirda, Bookforum contributor and “the best-read man in America,” reveals his habits as a book-buyer.
“Why is it that in YA literature—a genre generated entirely to describe the transition to adulthood—there is so much fear and ambivalence surrounding manhood?” Sarah Mesle investigates at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Statistician and author Nate Silver proved his aptitude for political forecasting again on Tuesday after correctly predicting how all state races would turn out in the presidential election. Silver was off the mark by a mere 19 electoral college votes (only pundit Josh Putnam was closer). As Rachel Maddow quipped on MSNBC, "You know who won the election tonight? Nate Silver." Silver’s book, which Chris Wilson reviewed in our last issue, has spent the past month in the Amazon Top 100 rankings, but in light of the election, it’s climbing the ranks. It’s currently the top book in Amazon’s “Mathematics,” “Popular Economics,” and “Social Sciences” categories, and number-three in books sales overall.
Will dictionaries soon go the way of the telephone book? Following the lead of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the editors of Macmillan dictionaries say that this year’s editions will be the last ever in print. "The traditional book format is very limiting for any kind of reference work," editor Michael Rundell said of the decision. "Books are out of date as soon as they're printed, and the space constraints they impose often compromise our goals of clarity and completeness. There is so much more we can do for our users in digital media."
Reuters opinion editor James Ledbetter, whose books include Starving to Death on $200 Million: The Short, Absurd Life of The Industry Standard, has sold his latest title, Our Money, Ourselves, to Liveright. A study of currency-valuation battles in America, the book is scheduled to be released in 2014.
New Yorkers, if you're looking for something fun to do tonight, head to apexart at 7 for Double Take, a series in which writers read original work about shared experiences. Tonight features Stacey D'Erasmo and Maud Casey on Quay Brothers' Street of Crocodiles; Ben Anastas and Ed Park on grandmothers, and Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio and Alan Gilbert on Pink Floyd's album The Wall.
Children’s literature authored by athletes is a booming new genre, according to Forbes. In addition to Dennis Rodman’s loosely autobiographical book Dennis the Wild Bull, the genre includes contributions by Alex Rodriguez, Mia Hamm, and George Foreman. If that isn't convincing enough, New York Giants player Tiki Barber has published eight children’s books, and Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is putting out two in 2014.
A new episode of NPR's Fresh Air features Oliver Sacks talking about hallucinations and his own experiences with mind-altering drugs. For more on Sacks’s latest book, Hallucinations, check out Jenny Davidson’s review in our Dec/Jan issue.
Liam Callahan is the author of The Cloud Atlas. Which should not be confused with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. But confusion there is, especially in the wake of the recent film adaptation.
President Obama and Elie Weisel are co-authoring a book, the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor told Haaretz last week. What the book’s about is anybody’s guess: Weisel has been tight-lipped about the project, calling it only “a book of two friends.”
To commemorate superstorm Sandy, n+1 has reposted Chad Harbach’s essay on the post-catastrophe novel. These novels “liberate the violent potential of technology (and its enemy, nature) to create an altered world whose chief characteristic is a bewildering lack of technology... Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel.”
Since the mid-1950s, presidential races have come down to political narratives. This year, Obama’s poor performance in the first debate, the onset of superstorm Sandy, and the employment statistics provided the fodder, while the narrative itself was carefully managed by teams of political operatives. Reporter Joe McGuinness first started tracking this phenomenon in 1969 through his book The Selling of the President 1968, which tracked Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for president, and has just been rereleased as a Byliner e-book. Writing about the book for the Los Angeles Times, critic David Ulin notes that while many of McGuinness’s original observations remain more relevant than ever, “in the 43 years since The Selling of the President, the dynamics have irrevocably shifted — the manufactured narrative is all we get.”
Meanwhile, in the New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai wonders what happened to Obama’s narrative mojo.
Lest we forget, the people who brought us Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot now return with Binders Full of Women’s Poems. According to their website, for four pounds (they’re British) readers get “a binder, full of outspoken poems by writers who identify as female, trans, intersex, or gender-neutral.” All proceeds will go to Rape Crisis UK.
Actor Paul Dano will be kicking off the first-ever Moby Dick reading marathon at Word Books in Brooklyn on November 16. The event isn’t for the faint of heart—it will be running until November 18.
Amazon may be creating the future of bookselling, but it doesn’t have much control over it. The latest sign of the company’s troubles comes in the figure of Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, who signed with Amazon for his latest book, The 4-Hour Chef. So far, Barnes and Noble has refused to carry the book, others major stores have followed suit, and indies who feel betrayed by Ferriss have decided to blacklist him.
It competed against Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, and J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, but the 1962 National Book Award ultimately went to the unknown Southern writer Walker Percy for his book The Moviegoer. “50 years later, it remains one of the great upsets in the history of the National Book Awards,” writes Benjamin Hedlin. “But was the fix in?”
The Authors Guild urges people to keep a close eye on the Random House-Penguin Merger. Scott Turow writes: “Although Random House has said that the combination would control 25% of the book market, that appears to significantly understate things. The companies’ share of the U.S. trade book market for fiction and narrative non-fiction likely exceeds 35%. Their share in certain submarkets is no doubt even higher. The merger merits close scrutiny from antitrust officials at the Justice Department or the FTC.”
A new issue of the Slate Book Review is out.
Franz Kafka and Max Brod, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, Syliva Plath and Ted Hughes: Flavorwire rounds up its favorite editor/author pairs.
Rumor has it that Britney Spears is writing a novel: According to the Hollywood Reporter, the pop star is in talks with publisher It Books.
Amazon has settled with the state of Arizona over unpaid sales taxes from 2006 to 2010. Last year, Arizona sued Amazon for million, claiming that the company had neglected to pay taxes that would have been standard for brick-and-mortar establishments. The amount of the settlement wasn’t disclose, but the agreement is similar to ones reached in California and Virginia. While the ruling is a victory for the states, many consumers aren’t so pleased: starting next July, Arizona shoppers will pay a 6.6 percent sales tax for their online purchases.
Some things we’re reading: (1) “I tend to believe that, before total annihilation, this clever/dumb species will design ingenious devices to ameliorate the poisonous effects of previous ones.” Novelist and critic Lynne Tillman reflects on current events and how people—artists in particular—might respond to them. (2) “Bookended by aerial shots of Manhattan and a demented, wordless lullaby, the film unfolds as a malevolent fairy tale of New York.” Bookforum contributor and novelist Ed Park’s essay on Rosemary’s Baby. (3) “The New York art business has been a speeding train for so long that it began to seem as if nothing could stop it, or even slow it down. Then came Hurricane Sandy.” Novelist and Artforum contributor Linda Yablonsky visits Chelsea galleries after the storm.
At Page Turner, Alexander Naryazan makes a case for writers learning math: “What ballet is to football players, mathematics is to writers, a discipline so beguiling and foreign, so close to a taboo, that it actually attracts a few intrepid souls by virtue of its impregnability.”
More Amazon news: The company is now taking a hard (if untenable) stance against authors reviewing other authors. After positively reviewing a friend’s book, author Steve Weddie received an email from Amazon notifying him that his review had been removed: “We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.”
And finally, the Washington Post reports that many independent bookstores in the D.C. area are refusing to stock Amazon imprint books.
Six pages of Truman Capote’s unfinished novel Answered Prayers, which consists partly of stories published in Esquire in 1975 and 1976, has been discovered among his papers in the New York Public Library. The story, “Yachts and Things,” features characters loosely modeled on Capote and former Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, and has been described as “vintage Truman.” “Yachts” will be published in the December issue of Vanity Fair.
“You have to be a terrible monster to write,” Colm Toibin recalls telling a class of aspiring novelists. “I said, ‘Someone might have told you something they shouldn’t have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it because it will make a great story. You have to use it even though the person is identifiable. If you can’t do it then writing isn’t for you. You’ve no right to be here. If there is any way I can help you get into law school then I will. Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom.’”
On a possibly related note, the first meeting of the David Foster Wallace Appreciation Society has convened in Brooklyn.
After his offer of $1.6 billion for Penguin was rebuffed, Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the company’s merger with Random House: “Bertelsmann-Penguin faux merger disaster. Two publishers trying to contract while saying opposite. Let’s hear from authors and agents!” At Moby Lives, Kelly Burdick notes that while the merger might produce layoffs, “it’s hard to see how a News Corp takeover of Penguin would have been any different.”
July was a strong month for book sales. According to new figures, hardback sales rose 18.2 percent, trade paperback sales jumped nearly 50 percent, and e-book sales were up by more than 47 percent. Despite this, July wasn’t the best month for quality book sales: most of the uptick was driven by the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy.
Poetry Magazine flags a bizarre profile of Taylor Swift that begins, with all things, of a meditation on Pablo Neruda.