James Joyce, sensation in China.
Forget sock puppet reviews—writers are now actively soliciting bad Amazon reviews. After his novel Short Bus got an especially excoriating Amazon write-up, Brian Allen Carr decided that rather than getting angry, he’d run with the bad press. The author has announced his “Lone Star” contest, inviting readers to submit their own one-star reviews of his work.
Reports that Islamist insurgents had destroyed thousands of 14th-, 15th-, and 16th-century manuscripts in the Malian city of Timbuktu may have been exaggerated. Although Timbuktu mayor Hallé Ousmane Cissé told the media earlier this week that roughly 40,000 rare manuscripts in the city’s Ahmed Baba Institute had been burned, TIME magazine reports that “a large-scale rescue operation” was undertaken early last year in anticipation of violence in the city. “The documents which had been there are safe, they were not burned,” Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs told TIME. “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”
"Ask yourself: Is Tom Bissell an objective journalist, or a propagandist?" King Wenclas posts another attack against the literary establishment.
At Dissent, Jeffrey J. Williams weighs in on the neoliberal novel: “Since around 1990, a new wave of American fiction has emerged that focuses on the dominance of finance, the political power of the super-rich, and the decline of the middle class.”
Finnegans Wake is a bestseller in China.
After a gloom-and-doom report in the Wall Street Journal quoting Barnes & Noble retail group CEO Mitchell Klipper as saying up to a third of all Barnes & Noble stores could close within the next decade, the bookseller has issued a statement reassuring investors (and readers) that the brick-and-mortar model is still intact. The company is “fully committed to the retail concept,” and plans to test several new “prototype” stores this year.
Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies wins the 2012 Costa "best book" prize with a unanimous vote.
Poet Cara Benson has started a campaign to launch a 21st-century Works Projects Administration and get the government to hire artists for large-scale arts projects.
Literary website The Millions has published its first e-book. Mark O’Connell’s Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever is a consideration of the “worst things” that fill our inboxes and crowd our Facebook feeds. In the first in a series of “original ebooks on a variety of unusual topics,” O’Connell reflects on what “our seemingly insatiable appetite for the ‘succès d’incompetence’” says about us.
Following in the proud literary tradition of Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler is the latest comedienne to land a book deal. The as-of-yet untitled book is scheduled to come out with HarperCollins in 2014, and is “inspired in part by Poehler’s interest in helping young women navigate the adult world.”
A new biography of J.D. Salinger will be published by Simon & Schuster in September. The Private War of J.D. Salinger, according to the publisher, is an "oral biography," written and edited by David Shields and Shane Salerno.
Young Joan Didion.
Joan Didion’s novel A Book of Common Prayer, the story of “two American women whose paths cross in a fictional Central American country on the verge of revolution,” is going to be adapted into the movie. The film will be directed by Campbell Scott—who also stars—and filming starts this Fall in Puerto Rico.
In anticipation of his forthcoming book, The Democracy Project, anarchist David Graeber held a reddit "ask me anything"—and ended up getting nearly a thousand comments. For more, read Bookforum’s 2012 interview with Graeber.
Kudos to Gawker for continuing to publish first-person accounts of the effects of long-term unemployment. Their second batch of twelve “unemployment stories,” which included writing by a stay-at-home-dad, an “at-will” employee, and an unemployed therapist with an MA from Columbia, ran on Monday.
And speaking of long-term unemployment, n+1 publishes notes on the Modern Language Association’s annual conference for job-seeking academics.
The status of hundreds of thousands of rare Islamic manuscripts dating back to the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries are unknown since Islamist radicals in Timbuktu reportedly torched the library where the manuscripts were being held. According to the Guardian, radicals had been using the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Islamic Studies and Research as a base until French troops stormed the Malian city on Monday. When the French arrived, the insurgents set the library, the town hall, and the governor’s office on fire, and fled before the town was captured. The manuscripts “cover areas such as medicine and astronomy, as well as poetry, literature and Islamic law,” and denote the “legacy of [Timbuktu’s] medieval status as an African equivalent to Oxford or Cambridge.”
Steven King has published an e-book essay on guns and the culture of gun violence in America. The issue has been a freighted one for King since 1997, when he published Rages, a novel about a high school student who holds his math class hostage at gunpoint. (The book’s tagline: “His twisted mind turned a quiet classroom into a dangerous world of terror.”) According to the New York Daily News, Rages “is seen to have been an inspiration for several school shootings up until King pulled the printing of the book in 1996, after a copy of the novel was found in school-shooter Michael Carneal’s locker.”
California readers who bought copies of Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts have filed a class-action lawsuit against the cycler for failing to come clean about his drug use. The case contends that “Armstrong duped them into believing the books were inspirational true accounts of the cyclist's accomplishments done without performance-enhancing drugs.”
Emily Stokes interviews the New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers.
Welcome to the new New Republic: The 102-year-old magazine has unveiled its redesign.
In the era of Big Data, literary analysis is increasingly done by computers.
On the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, Gail Collins considers the impact and legacy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, “a very specific cry of rage about the way intelligent, well-educated women were kept out of the mainstream of American professional life and regarded as little more than a set of reproductive organs in heels.”
Jezebel laments the “hideous makeovers” of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day.
The shortlist has been announced for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. Of the ten nominees, three write in English, and only three—Marilynne Robinson, Lydia Davis, and the French novelist Marie NDiaye—are women. Along with China's Yan Lianke and Russia's Vladimir Sorokin, who have both been censored in their home countries, the other nominees are UR Ananthamurthy (India), Aharon Appelfeld (Israel), Intizar Husain (Pakistan), Josip Novakovich (Canada) and Peter Stamm (Switzerland). The prize will be announced in London at the end of May.
“Poor Edgar Allen Poe!” Salon’s Laura Miller inventories the cliches and ludicrous plot lines of The Following, the new Fox TV thriller in which a serial killer takes his cues from the author of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Homer and Stein and Melville, oh my: the growing popularity of marathon readings.
In the 1970s a young artist named Gary Panter posed the question, “What kind of comics would we read after underground comics?” His answer was Dal Tokyo, “a black-and-white strip that radically redefined the elements of the form and proposed new modes of comics storytelling.” The strip, which Mike Kelley once described as "word salad," is now being collected by Fantagraphics Books.
How does a 29-year-old director convince a famously film-averse writer to let him adapt one of his short stories? Polite persistence. After attempting to contact David Sedaris through his publicists about adapting “‘C.O.G.,’ a fish-out-of-water tale that finds a young Mr. Sedaris working on an apple farm in the Pacific Northwest,” Kyle Patrick Alvarez decided to approach Sedaris at a reading and give him a copy of his debut film. Sedaris liked the film, wrote Alvarez back, and long story short, C.O.G. premieres this week at Sundance.
Joseph Brodsky, with cat.
The Chicago-based Poetry Foundation has appointed Robert Polito as its new president. Polito, currently the director of creative writing at the New School, is an accomplished editor (The Manny Farber Reader) and the author of many books, including the poetry collection Hollywood & God and the Jim Thompson biography Savage Art, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Leanne Shapton, Sheila Heti, and Heidi Julavits have sold their book, Women in Clothes, which collects interviews, artwork, and essays by Miranda July, Zadie Smith, Rivka Galchen, Eileen Myles, and others. The book—which will “explore ideas about beauty, style, and how women decide to put themselves together”—was acquired by Sarah Hochman at Blue Rider Press, and is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2014.
What’s the worst that could happen on a book tour? Adam Mansbach considers the possibilities.
“I have no principles, I have only nerves.” Tin House has posted an amazing, previously unpublished interview with Joseph Brodsky.
During the ten years she lived in France, Anne Korkeakivi was consistently surprised to discover which American books earned a lot of attention, and which ones were consistently neglected. At the Millions, she puts these observations to good use with a list of the American authors you might not have heard of but who are a big deal in France.
Students who took W.G. Sebald's final fiction class have compiled a list of the Austerlitz author's "writing tips."
Due to a surplus of women, Housing Works is offering a discount to dudes who want to participate in their February 13th literary speed-dating event.
We’re not normally interested in athletes’ personal essays, but after his breathtaking letter attacking a Maryland politician for homophobia, we’re very much looking forward to Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s forthcoming collection of "uncensored" writings.
Given that the French find Fifty Shades of Gray sadly lacking in the sadomaschocism department, it’s no surprise that the country’s national library is willing to pay more than $5 million for the original manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom. “The document is Sade’s most atrocious, extreme, radical work,” Bibliothèque Nationale de France director Bruno Racine remarked. “But we make no moral judgment about it.”
The Brazilian government has greenlighted an eight-year, $35 million initiative to promote Brazilian literature beyond the country’s borders. The money will go to “promote new works in translation, grants for publishers outside of Brazil to support Brazilian publications, and funding for Brazilian authors on world book tours.” It is also, as MobyLives notes, timed to coincide with Brazil’s role as a guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, and Amazon’s arrival in Brazil.
At the New York Times, Ken Johnson reviews a new show of Allen Ginsberg’s photography.
Poet Richard Blanco
Bookstores and libraries have started moving Lance Armstrong’s books to the fiction sections.
Following a glowing profile of the lefty political magazine Jacobin in the New York Times Books section, Jezebel wonders why young political magazines run by women—such as the New Inquiry—are often relegated to the Styles section, while their male-run counterparts frequently get more serious coverage.
New books used to fade into obsolescence by being ignored, but thanks to the power of Amazon, they can now be killed by “attack reviews.”
Are the academic objections to Wikipedia as a non-trustworthy source on the decline? It looks that way in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library just appointed its first Wikipedian in Residence. The job, which went to a master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, entails “increasing and enhancing the library’s presence on Wikipedia.” For more on how the people’s encyclopedia manages to keep its facts straight, here’s a profile of Justin Knapp—the first person ever to make one million Wikipedia edits.
Barack Obama has been sworn in to a second term in office, and poet Richard Blanco was on hand to commemorate the inauguration with an original poem. Here’s the full transcript of Blanco’s “One Today.”
Internet activist Aaron Swartz.
The memorial service for internet activist and wunderkind programmer Aaron Swartz will take place this weekend in New York. Swartz took his own life last week after months of being aggressively targeted by federal prosecutors for downloading millions of JSTOR articles. (Which he never distributed.) More about the case is available here, and those unfamiliar with Swartz should check out remembrances by Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig.
We’re psyched about Apology, the new magazine by former Vice magazine editor Jesse Pearson. Inspired “in equal measure by the golden ages of The New Yorker and...by 1980s punk zines like Sick Teen,” the inaugural issue contains writing and art by John Ashbery, Bill Callahan, Johanna Fateman, Rivka Galchen, Paul Maliszewski, Sam McPheeters, Ryan McGinley, and Terry Richardson, among others.
Philip Roth names Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral the best of his thirty-one books, even though he admits that “a lot of people” hate the former.
Exciting news: The Onion has taken the liberty of ghostwriting an autobiography of Joe Biden. The President of Vice was released this morning as a Kindle Single. If you haven’t been following the paper’s excellent—and extensive—coverage of the charismatic veep, we recommend starting here.
T.S. Eliot was very good at being a banker, and didn’t seem to have any problem with holding down a rather mundane 9-5. So why is it, asks Robert Fay at Full Stop, that most contemporary writers and poets are so embarrassed about their non-literary day jobs?
Apple is looking for a writer to give Siri more “personality.”