Kevin Morrissey

The Virginia Quarterly Review has just published its Fall 2010 issue, closing a painful chapter in the magazine’s history. The issue is dedicated to managing editor Kevin Morrissey, who committed suicide on July 30th. A subsequent investigation by the University of Virginia cleared editor Ted Genoways of allegations of workplace bullying, though it became clear that the office had become unpleasant and unduly stressful, with the audit recommending “appropriate corrective action should be taken with regards to [Genoways]." The VQR’s remembrance of Morrissey notes his key role in the magazine’s recent success: “The quality of the magazine was what [Morrissey] took most pride in. He was absolutely devoted to VQR. An unassuming man, he did not seek personal attention or glory. But without him—and we’re not sure many people know this—VQR would not be the magazine it is today.”

A stellar literary line-up is throwing “The Most Literary Rent Party Ever” early next year to benefit author Charles Bock and his family, who are facing financial trouble as Charles’s wife Diana battles Leukemia. If you can’t make the party, you can still donate.

The London Review of Books’ personal ads have always been among our favorite features of the magazine; a window into the soul of lonely British intellectuals, written with wry wit and a dash of poignant longing (e.g. “Attractive 40 something F seeks solid, suited, salaried M. Fortunately I am none of these.”) We are dismayed to hear that the LRB is discontinuing the randy and droll personals and we agree with The Guardian’s John Sutherland, who makes the case that the section should not be dropped.

Do we spy writer and editor extraordinaire (and Bookforum contributor) Ed Park in the just-posted photos from Open City magazine’s holiday party? Indeed, Ed can be seen reading his work along with Alissa Quart, to a crowd that includes such luminaries as Edmund White, Colm Toibin, and Open City editors Thomas Beller and Joanna Yas.


Alain de Botton

In the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein hired a calligrapher to write out the entire Qur’an in Hussein's blood as a proof of his piety (it took two years, and more than fifty pints of blood extracted by a nurse). Now, authorities in Iraq are wondering what they’re supposed to do with the thing.

News that Julian Assange is publishing a memoir with Knopf in 2011 has been leaked.

For The Awl’s “Best Women Writers that You’ve Maybe Never Read” series, Emily Gould writes about British fiction writer Barbara Comyn, finding that after reading her work “contemporary novels, with their over-deliberate virtuosity and self-referential tricks, are unreadable for a time. Ordinary experience, however, is overlaid with a degree of dazzle.”

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton has long been concerned with the practical application of philosophy, literature, and art. In the Wall Street Journal he writes about the current state of higher education: “To judge by what they do rather than what they airily declaim, universities are in the business of turning out tightly focused professionals and a minority of culturally well-informed but ethically confused arts graduates, who have limited prospects for employment.” As an alternative, de Botton and “a group of similarly disaffected academics” have started the School of Life in London, which teaches humanities courses such as “How to Make Love Last,” (on the syllabus: Anna Karenina and Erich Fromm), “How to Face Death” (Samuel Johnson, Luis Bunuel, Joan Didion), and “How to Fill the God Shaped Hole” (Augustine, Hume, Dickinson). De Botton declaims that “it is time for humanistic education to outgrow its fears of irrelevance and to engage directly with our most pressing personal and spiritual needs.”


Francine Prose

There’s been a flood of year-end best books lists lately, and we don’t blame you if you’ve stopped paying attention (especially since they mostly feature the same few books). However, there is one more list that may come in handy as you prepare for the holidays: 2010's Best Nonfiction For Winning Family Arguments.

On Sunday, Housing Works Bookstore cafe hosted a heartwarming three-hour marathon reading of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, featuring thirty authors including Mary Gaitskill (“I think people who think [Dickens is] corny just can’t read”), Francine Prose (“Here are all these people who could be out shopping for useless presents, and they’re sitting here, listening to Dickens”), and Patrick McGrath (“Dickens’s rhythms seem made to be read aloud . . . especially when he gets quite soppy—you can be bombastic with it”), whose mastery of English accents proved especially handy.

Author Larry Eisenberg has contributed more than eight thousand comments to the New York Timess website, on subjects ranging from Sarah Palin to Kool-Aid pickles. The best part? Many of them are Limericks.

It’s inevitable in New York literary circles to hear someone talk of quitting the daily grind and moving to the city “where young people go to retire,” Portland, Oregon. For those heading to the City of Roses, here’s a guide to Portland’s literary presses and a theme song to keep your spirits high as your employment opportunities dwindle.


Amy Hempel

From the Vice fiction issue, an interview with Amy Hempel: “I never liked the term 'minimalism.' I prefer Raymond Carver’s term. He called Mary Robison and myself 'precisionists.' And that’s what he was doing too, of course.”

It has been only a few days since Google announced their Books NGram Viewer, a tool that allows you to graph word usage over the years, drawn from millions of digitized books, and there’s already been a bit of NGram fever. Some of the most interesting inquiries have been posed by Slate’s Tom Scocca, who’s discovered when television became more popular than the bible (around 1967), and when anxiety overtook shame (1942), as well as other watershed moments in American vocabulary (1992: The year jeans surpassed trousers). But does the F-word reveal inaccuracies in the underlying data, causing skewed results?

If you haven’t picked up your copy of the new Paris Review yet, they have an irresistible new video trailer featuring monster truck-vocals, flashy graphics, and hilariously gaudy pyrotechnics; if that doesn’t convince you, they’ve also put together an Oprah/Franzen video that captures the epic scale of that recent reunion (Franzen is interviewed in the new issue).

At The Millions, New York magazine’s Sam Anderson gives us his Year in Marginalia, which he describes as “spontaneous bursts of pure, private response to whatever book happens to be in front of me. It’s the most intimate, complete, and honest form of criticism possible,” including candid off-the-cuff takes on passages from Point Omega (“right on the border of stoner existentialism”), The Lacuna (“I like this ending—don’t ruin it!”), and Freedom (“OMG! Rolling eyes so hard!”), among others. It’s the perfect capstone for the blog’s superb Year in Reading series, which we return to every day, despite our end-of-the-year-list fatigue. And, Melville House likes the idea so much they’re holding a Marginalia Contest.


Sheila Heti, photo from apostrophecast.com

The Observer investigates the curious lack of stateside interest in Toronto author Sheila Heti’s second novel, How Should a Person Be? (recently excerpted in n+1’s new issue, and only available from the Canadian indie-publisher House of Anansi Press.) n+1 co-editor Mark Greif wonders if the sex scenes in the novel are too frank, and adds: "If I had a publishing house, the first thing I would do is publish How Should a Person Be? . . . If a book like this, that is so visibly of our moment, can't be published in America, it makes me wonder, what do we even bother with literature for?"

Google’s Books Ngram Viewer allows users to search a collection of millions of digitized books to trace how words and phrases have moved in and out of favor over the years. For example, use of the word tofu saw a sharp uptick in the late 1970s and has died off considerably since 2001, while use of fascinating has remained fairly steady aside from a brief vogue in the 1930s. Wow! The greatest finding thus far, as Jacket Copy has discovered: “Love conquers all.”

Is your e-reader snooping on you? Most e-book devices can keep track of what you read, and (thanks to GPS) where you read it, but many of the devices’ manufacturers will not answer questions about how the data is used. The companies that will talk about privacy issues—such as Apple—offer unsettling answers, saying the data is sent to the company to “understand customers and customer behavior.”

An all-star chorus of authors, including Mary Gaitskill, Jonathan Ames, Francine Prose, Sam Lipsyte, and others will be reading at “What the Dickens: A Christmas Carol Marathon” at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe this Sunday. Drop in any time after 1pm to get your requisite dose of Dickens’s holiday tale read by a cadre of cheery literati.


Melissa Franklin

The New York Times has published a short, vaguely squeamish profile of Jaimy Gordon, whose novel Lord of Misrule was the underdog winner of a 2010 National Book Award. “Ms. Gordon, who has a graduate degree in writing from Brown but also spent time working at a racetrack and briefly lived with an ex-convict who set fire to their apartment, has never been very conventional.”

Novelist Rick Moody—who we believe is the author of the best outer-space sex scene ever—and physicist Melissa Franklin recently participated in the Rubin Museum’s “Talk About Nothing” series, discussing Samuel Beckett (and black holes) from a slightly Buddhist perspective.

Peter Handke, the Austrian novelist best-known for his innovative fiction and for his admiration of Slobodan Milosevic, complains about contemporary American novelists and their “knitting pattern” fiction.

Andrew Shaffer recycles the “13 Most Obnoxious Publishing Stories of 2010.”

Last September, the Defense Department spent almost $50,000 to destroy copies of former Defence Intelligence Agency officer Anthony A. Shaffer’s memoir, Operation Dark Heart. Now, Shaffer is filing a lawsuit.


Deb Olin Unferth

The new Vice fiction issue is out now, featuring new stories by Sam McPheeters, Deb Olin Unferth, and the late Terry Southern, plus interviews with graphic novelist Charles Burns, fiction writers Amy Hempel and Sam Lypsite, as well as many other literary treats.

The Awl (which currently has a good story in which five authors talk about their Book Editors) will start paying its writers in January.

A profile of Rumpus Editor and Adderall Diaries author Stephen Elliott shares his tips on self-promotion.

Today at 3pm Caleb Crain will be live chatting on the New Yorker website, answering questions regarding his recent article about the original Tea Party and the American Revolution, “Tea and Antipathy.”

MFA vs. NYC: Is indie publishing the bridge?


George Saunders

The incomparable George Saunders, the poet laureate of theme parks, has a new short story, “Escape from Spiderhead,” and an interview on the New Yorker’s website.

The New York Times reports that The Atlantic is set to make a profit this year for the first time in at least a decade—how did they pull it off? The president of the Atlantic Media Company, Justin B. Smith, explains: “We imagined ourselves as a venture-capital-backed start-up in Silicon Valley whose mission was to attack and disrupt The Atlantic.”

(Via Biblioklept) Most writers will tell you that they don’t read reviews of their work—or, at the very least, that they’ve learned to shrug off criticism. But Robert Bolano didn’t perpetuate this ruse. He told an interviewer from Mexican Playboy how he really felt when critics attacked his work: “I begin to cry, I drag myself across the floor, I scratch myself, I stop writing indefinitely, I lose my appetite, I smoke less, I engage in sport, I go for walks on the edge of the sea . . . and I ask the seagulls, whose ancestors ate the fish who ate Ulysses: Why me? Why? I’ve done you no harm.”

Up to now, books have been blissfully free of commercial interruption, but this may soon change, as marketers anticipate the inevitable—placing advertisements (customized just for you!) in e-books.

The new issue of PEN America has just been published, and it's a stellar volume, featuring fiction by Don Delillo, a conversation about Rimbaud between newly minted National Book award winner Patti Smith and novelist Jonathan Lethem, a poem by John Ashbery (whose new translation of Rimbaud will be out in April), and much more.


Harper’s has announced a digital version of the magazine is now available for the iPad, but unlike its redoubtable competitor, the New Yorker (which only allows users to purchase the iPad edition one issue at a time), Harper’s e-version is available as a yearly subscription.

Jonathan Franzen and family, circa 1975. From the Paris Review.

If you've ever registered on Gawker or one of its sister sites, you may have had your username, email, and password stolen. Gawker assures users that the irony has not been lost on them.

The Onion’s AV club has apologized for running a review written by an author who clearly didn’t bother to read the book.

Tariq Ali writes that the “neo-con” Liu Xiaobo shouldn’t have received the Nobel Peace prize this year because Liu has supported the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Korea.

The Daily Beast has posted a few choice excerpts from the Paris Review’s interview with Jonathan Franzen, which will be on newsstands this week. On the eminent critic James Wood, Franzen offers this dismissive squawk: “I stopped reading my reviews after James Woods' piece on The Corrections . . . what he wrote was a quibbling and carping and narrowly censorious thing, with a willfully dense misreading of my Harper’s essay.”

If your author friends seem especially distracted lately, it is probably because they’re wondering why their book isn’t selling in Wichita, as Amazon has recently granted authors access to Nielsen BookScan’s weekly geographic sales figures.

Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, New Yorker stalwarts Ian Frazier and John McPhee discuss their recent work with Mark Singer.

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