Keith Gessen

Via the Casual Optimist: Design consulting firm IDEO offers three visions for the future of the book, and, unsurprisingly, print isn't on the agenda. IDEO's video outlining their ideas is so blithe and whimsical that we we were swept up for a moment in their somewhat surreal concepts, such as "Alice," an interactive e-book that aims to "[blur] the lines between reality and fiction." As the narrator cheerfully intones, "stories unfold and develop through reader's active participation . . . unexpectedly the reader stumbles upon plot twists and turns, embeded in the stories that are unlocked by performing certain actions, such as being at specific geographic locations, communicating with the characters in the stories, or contributing to the stories themselves." When the spell was broken, we suddenly remembered that perhaps GPS, an iPhone, and an iPad weren't necessarily crucial for engaging with a story.

Why is Lady Gaga wearing meat? Tom Payne, author of Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity, looks to the ancient Aztecs and Greeks for answers.

Forbes wonders: Why does Ron Burkle even care about Barnes & Noble? (Via Pwxyz.)

Tao Lin, Great American Novelist.

At the New York Times Magazine, Elif Batuman gives the definitive report on the ongoing and bizarre trial over boxes of Franz Kafka's unpublished work, which is currently (and controversially) owned by two women in Tel Aviv, one of whom by all accounts has too many cats. A question that Batuman raises early on: Can anyone own Kafka?

Novelist and editor Keith Gessen goes on YouTube to apologize to all readers who were offended by the backwards apostrophes in N1FRn+1's film review magazine.


Jessica Duffin Wolfe, photo by Liz Clayton

AN INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA DUFFIN WOLFE, AN EDITOR OF THE FORTHCOMING TORONTO REVIEW OF BOOKS

Print book reviews have been having a tough time in the past decade, but there are grounds for optimism in the online world. And though the web makes it easy to cross borders, there is still a case to be made for grounding a publication in a specific locale. One example of both that has been getting a lot of attention is the new Los Angeles Review of Books, which is scheduled to launch in early 2011. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, editor Tom Lutz says “The majority of our contributing editors live on the West Coast, and yes—without entering into any of the LA-NY rivalry, a kind of high culture version of Lakers-Celtics—I think our perch is a little different, we see things a bit differently. But we hope to be of national and international interest, and to cover the national and international book scene.”

This same spirit inspires Jessica Duffin Wolfe, editor of the forthcoming Toronto Review of Books. Its homepage is still in development, but as she points out in the following interview, the TRB will “take online media as seriously as print media—and will do so from an exuberantly Torontonian home base.” The TRB plans to publish its first issue this fall. We recently caught up with Ms. Duffin Wolfe via email to discuss the Canadian book reviewing landscape, what motivated her to start the TRB, and their plans for the first issue.

The name Toronto Review of Books parallels the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Are you aiming to create a Canadian equivalent?

I think the Literary Review of Canada aims to be the Canadian equivalent of those publications—but that's not really our goal, especially since those are pointedly city-based rather than nation-based publications. By self-consciously mirroring the names of the NYRB and the LRB we'd like to be a Toronto tribute to their traditions of excellent writing on ideas, but we're pursuing a fairly different structure.

Leon Wieseltier

FSG publicity and marketing vice-president Jeff Seroy is pals with the New Republic's literary editor Leon Wieseltier—the two seem compelled to inform people that they went to Columbia together. But when Seroy dismissed TNR's less-than-fawning review (by Ruth Franklin) of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom by saying that Wieseltier "specializes in drawing attention to his pages through consistently negative reviews," the old collegial spirit quickly dissipated. Wieseltier has responded to the charge by penning a rousing defense of the value of negative reviews in a literary world "that is amiable, bland, clubby, pious, careerist, relentlessly cheerful, desperate for numbers, suavely relativizing, and awash in worthless praise." Wieseltier writes, "I was not aware that it is a heresy to hold that Freedom is not a masterpiece. There is something churlish about my friend’s insistence upon critical unanimity. . . . No culture, no literature, ever advanced by niceness."

Civilians will have to wait until next week to read Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars, but the New York Times has managed to get a copy (Woodward's newspaper, the Washington Post, also has an early review). The Times notes that though the book's revelations of differing opinons within the administration over the war in Afghanistan "have become public, the book suggests that they were even more intense and disparate than previously known." Also: "The United States has intelligence showing that manic-depression has been diagnosed in President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan." For readers puzzled by this bombshell, the Times offers a helpful bit of context: "Mr. Karzai’s mood swings have been a challenge for the Obama administration."

Tonight at the New School, the editors of The Best American Poetry 2010 present a reading from the anthology featuring John AshberyThomas Sayers EllisEileen Myles, and more. 

In 1980, Gilbert Rogin, an editor at Sports Illustrated and a well-respected novelist, had already published 33 pieces of short fiction in The New Yorker. Then, the magazine's fiction editor Roger Angell accused Rogin of repeating himself. Rogin hasn't written a word of fiction since then ("That motherfucker literally demoralized me," Rogin says of the Angell episode), but the author is having something of a renaissance, now that indie publisher Verse Chorus Press is bringing him back into print. This week, the Observer delivers a fun, expletive-spiked profile of Rogin, "one of the most irascible (often intemperately so) characters in the history of New York publishing." 


Valerie Martin and Margaret Atwood, photo by Nancy Crampton.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood read from her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, at Monday’s opening night of the 92Y Reading Series, an evening one-on-one discussion series entering its 72nd season.

During the introduction, longtime friend and colleague Valerie Martin said Atwood was so prolific that she’s not sure who writes all of Atwood’s books. (“It might be a Sasquatch double,” deadpanned Martin, a wink at Atwood’s Canadian heritage). When Atwood is not writing, Martin said, the 70-year-old Ontario native is tweeting, blogging, or “on a carbon-neutral, around-the world tour” promoting not only her book, but environmental conservation and Bird Life International. “She’s maybe finishing a new novel backstage,” Martin quipped.

Tonight at 192 Books, Frederic Tuten will read from his new book Self-Portrait: Fictions. Recently, Bookforum's Peter Trachtenberg caught up with Tuten to ask him about cinema, his friendship with Roy Lichtenstein, and his "painterly prose."

Donald Rumsfeld's memoir, Known and Unknown, will be released on January 25. The book has been embargoed, so we won't be able to read Rummy's rhetorical twists, revelations about the events leading up to the Iraq War, or recollections of meeting Elvis until the book is in stores. In the meantime, can someone please cook up a book trailer?

The Rumpus presents its second "Culture Death Match"—this one between Tom Bissell (who is represented here by author Salvatore Pane) and Sarah Vowell (Amy Whipple). The battle is in part between Bissell's and Vowell's obsessions—video games and history, respectively—but also about men and women writers. "Think of the guys here on The Rumpus or over at HTMLGiant," Whipple writes. "You get to say what you want to say when you want to say it and it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re right—just so long as you act like you are."

Meanwhile, Franzenfreude lives on. Katha Pollitt offers a good analysis at The Nation. And Salon wonders: Which Freedom character is Franzen?

Laura Kipnis's latest book attempts to help you become better not just at scandalizing people, but at being scandalized.


Frederic Tuten

AN INTERVIEW WITH FREDERIC TUTEN

Since dropping out of high school at the age of sixteen with dreams of becoming a painter, Frederic Tuten has lived in Paris; traveled through Mexico and South America; earned a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century American literature; acted in a short film by Alain Resnais; conducted summer writing workshops in Tangiers with Paul Bowles; and written fictions and essays for the artist’s catalogues of Eric Fischl, David Salle, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, and Roy Lichtenstein. He has also written some of the slyest and most beguiling fiction ever to be described as experimental. His five novels include The Adventures of Mao on the Long March (1971), Tallien: A Brief Romance (1988), Tintin in the New World: A Romance (1993), Van Gogh’s Bad Café (1997), and The Green Hour (2002). Recently Bookforum contacted him to ask about his latest book, Self Portraits: Fictions (Norton), a collection of mysterious, funny, sexy, and ineffably melancholy short stories.—Peter Trachtenberg

BOOKFORUM: Your new book has a recurring narrator named Louie who’s in love with a woman named Marie. Do you think of these as separate stories or as episodes in the unfolding story of a single character or set of characters?

FREDERIC TUTEN: The stories seem to revolve around a single love story that recurs eternally; the two lovers appear in different guises, in different places, at different times, before and after death even, and sometimes as different people. It’s perhaps more accurate to describe the book as having principal souls than principal characters, as they are not literally the same persons in each. My characters are transformations of the people I’ve known in my own life—that’s why each story is separately dedicated—and in each story there are traces of these people, including and especially me, in fact and in fantasy. That’s why I began the book with an essay about storytelling and going to the movies with my grandmother. In a sense, all my novels are self-portraits. I am now engaged in an ongoing memoir project and think of this book of interrelated stories as part one in my autobiography.

Zadie Smith

We know where we'll be tonight: At the FSG Reading Series, the semi-regular literary event held upstairs at the Russian Samovar. You know the drill: The Samovar will start serving vodka around 6:30. David Bezmozgis and Rahul Bhattacharya will start reading their work at 7. 

Zadie Smith takes over the "New Books" column at Harper's.

The Paris Review has just launched its redesigned website, which looks as elegant as their new print issue. You'll want to free up the next several days to peruse their interview archives spanning the 1950s to the present, listen to audio clips, and subscribe to their blog, including an intriguing post by Lydia Davis on translations of Madame Bovary.

Barnes and Noble chairman Leonard Riggio was dealt a setback in his fight with investor Ron Burkle for the company's future, as the influential advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services has backed Burkle's slate of candidates for the Barnes and Noble Board of Directors. According to the Times, Burkle says he is not seeking control of Barnes and Noble, just a more independent Board, or as he put it: “I want someone in there who doesn’t say, ‘That’s the most amazing thing I ever heard’ every time Len opens his mouth.” Riggio, who bought the company nearly forty years ago, told the Times that the battle was more than just business: “Lots of people have an emotional stake in books . . . It’s not like what they have with their haberdashers.”

Lee Rourke, author of the Not the Booker Prize-nominated novel The Canalchats with Tom McCarthy, author of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel C.


Tonight at Film Forum, there's a must-see screening of Stanley Kubrick's harrowing 1957 film, Paths of Glory, introduced by The Wire's creator David Simon. Humphrey Cobb's 1935 novel, on which the film was based, was recently reissued by Penguin classics with a new introduction by Simon, who will sign copies of the book after the film. Simon has cited the movie as a key influence on his work, saying, "If anyone wants to look at Paths of Glory and think it doesn't speak to the essential triumph of institutions over individuals and doesn't speak to the fundamental inhumanity of the 20th century and beyond, then they weren't watching the same film as the rest of us.” The "essential triumph of institutions over individuals" is as good a summary of The Wire as we've ever heard. 

Journalist Howard Fineman is leaving Newsweek after a thirty-year career at the magazine for the greener pastures of The Huffington Post, where, he reports, "the action is." HuffPo founder Arianna H. spoke re Fineman in terms that make it sound as if she'd just purchased a particularly fine wine: "From the day we launched, it was our belief that the mission of The Huffington Post should be to bring together the best of the old and the best of the new. Bringing in the best of the old involved more money than we had when we launched. But now that our website is growing, we’re able to bring in the best of the old."

Via Arts & Letters Daily: The galling incivility of online debate

Not long ago, book publisher's websites were mostly bland promotional fare: author photos, catalog copy, and—if you were lucky—perhaps a reading group guide. But lately, we've been spending more time on the snazzy websites of publishers like FSG, Phaidon, and Verso, which include interviews, multimedia, and blogs. FSG has just updated its very literary Works in Progress site including a chat between novelists Chris Adrian and Rivka Galchen, a feature on book and album pairings by The Thermals' drummer Westin Glass, and a riveting video of Lydia Davis from a recent reading. Phaidon's redesigned site includes interviews with tastemakers like London Design Festival director Ben Evans, galleries featuring Phaidon artists like Jeff Wall, a video interview with Stephen Shore, as well the blog Edit. The indie publisher Verso's site has some of the best radical political reading on the web, with its booksauthors, and events presented in an engaging format, as well as a blog and discussion forum.


Steve Almond

It's official: Oprah Winfrey has chosen Jonathan Franzen's new novel for her book club.

Here's a trailer for Chris Lehmann's Rich People Things, which hilariously uses a scene from Fellini's La Dolce Vita (watch for the cameo from Nico).

Steve Almond takes writerly self-humiliation to glorious heights in a column for The Rumpus, in which he lampoons poems he wrote in his youth. Sample line: "The geese yank his pants with cheddar beaks."

Futurebook offers a crash course on how to use—and not use—Twitter to promote books.

The watchdog group Media Matters has examined how The Wall Street Journal handles conflicts of interest in its books coverage. One easy way to avoid all those disclaimers: Come up with a warning label to put on all questionable reviews.


Elif Batuman

It has been almost nine years since Jonathan Franzen hemmed and hawed about Oprah Winfrey's selection of his novel The Corrections for her book club, but is that long enough for hurt feelings to heal? According to rumors, it is. Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson has reported that Oprah is going to make Franzen's Freedom her latest pick on Friday. Johnson has also posted a photo that seems to prove him right. That Oprah sticker might still make Franzen fairly itch with ambivalence, but he'll be scratching his all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, the Franzenfreude will surely increase, and with good reason: As Meghan O'Rourke writes in Slate, the underlying issue is an important one: "Namely, why women are so infrequently heralded as great novelists."

Susan Lehman (no relation to Bookforum's Chris Lehmann) has been selected to become Jonathan Karp's replacement as the publisher of Twelve books, which has brought us titles such as Sebastian Junger's War and Christopher Hitchens's Hitch-22.

David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel, The Pale King, now has a cover design and a release date. Excited yet?

Letters written by Oscar Wilde to a magazine editor have been discovered. Though the quotes we've seen don't quite merit the term "love letters," they are sweet, and certainly flirtatious: "Afterwards we will smoke cigarettes and Talk over the Journalistic article, could we go to your rooms, I am so far off, and clubs are difficult to Talk in."

Via the Poetry Foundation: Elif Batuman has written an excellent review of Mark McGurl's The Program Era, which studies how MFA writing programs have changed postwar literature.

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