Wait, we almost forgot: It’s Valentine’s Day! Over at The Independent, John Walsh wonders if we’ve “lost the art of writing love letters”? And at FiveChapters.com, Lynne Tillman offers part one of her story “Love Sentences,” which (so far) examines the evolution of love letters, and introduces us to a character who seems especially attuned to the gap between feeling and text: “I want ecstasy, not evidence.”
Ahmed Fouad Negm, photo by Dana Smillie/Polaris, for the New York Times
The Paris Review’s poetry editor Robyn Creswell has a fascinating essay in yesterday’s Times about the role of authors in Egyptian society and in the January 25th revolution. Creswell notes that “for the crowds in Tahrir, now is above all a time for poetry, and the muse of the moment may be Ahmed Fouad Negm,” the dissident poet who has spent many years in jail, and wrote this oft-chanted poem: “They are the rich, and the government is on their side. / We are the poor, the governed. / Think about it, use your head. / See which one of us rules the other.”
The much-anticipated Los Angeles Review of Books has a new launch date (April), a bigger budget, and a strong lineup of writers.
Novelist Tao Lin on bad press: “Extreme negative reviews are helpful and fun.”
At the Book Bench, Macy Halford explains why Zadie Smith, the new book critic at Harper’s, “will help to create a brave new world of reviewing.”
After a long stretch of living in and writing about Brooklyn, where he was a fixture of the borough’s literary scene, Jonathan Lethem is settling into his new teaching gig at Pomona college in southern California (where David Foster Wallace taught). Lethem is at work on what he calls a “big crazy” book entitled the Ecstasy of Influence (named after his notorious Harper’s piece), which will be published this fall. Is it a novel, a collection of essays, or something else? All of the above, and more, as Lethem describes the new volume to Jacket Copy’s Carolyn Kellogg: “it has fiction and nonfiction, and even a poem, and then lots of new interstitial material. Some of it provocative, bragging, self-flagellating—this is going to be a very messy collection of stuff.”
Thomas Sayers Ellis
At The Paris Review, Blair Fuller recounts a night in 1952 when he had drinks with J.D. Salinger, who discussed Buddhism, dissed Harvard, and pledged his love to a young woman he had just met.
Poet Thomas Sayers Ellis has stolen a life-sized cardboard cutout of Langston Hughes from a Washington, DC, restaurant and poetry venue called Busboys and Poets, in protest of the low rates poets receive for reading there.
The New York Times, they are a changin’: The gray lady debuts their e-book bestsellers list today.
On channel Thirteen’s Bookish blog, there’s an article with many choice quotes from Zadie Smith’s fascinating recent talk at NYU. Among our favorites: “The novelist has to cultivate the filthy, stupidity, awkwardness . . . things that seem beneath contempt, like love, the tediousness of love.”
Daniel Nester—a poet and the high priest of inappropriateness—analyzes data about the survival rates of literary magazines.
The Paris Review announces its Spring issue, which will feature an interview with Janet Malcolm, fiction by Joshua Cohen, and the first installment of a serialized novel by Roberto Bolano.
At Guernica magazine, former Harper’s editor Robert D. Hodge says, “I despair for the future of Harper’s Magazine.” To survive, he argues, the magazine will have to “exploit the full resources of its non-profit status; the magazine must raise funds on the web, it must hold galas and auctions and conferences. It must make use of the enormous reservoir of good will that liberal-minded Americans . . . feel for this institution.”
Flavorwire has posted its list of top literary outlaws. Does James Frey really deserve to be in the same category as Oscar Wilde? Discuss.
Mima Simic, photo © Jelena Topcic
Croatian author Mima Simić was thrilled when she heard that her story “My Girlfriend” (translated into English by the author) was selected for Dalkey Archive Press’s Best European Fiction 2011 anthology. However, she was “shocked, appalled and flabbergasted” when she received the book and found egregious errors introduced by an editor of the story (one character, whose gender is intentionally ambiguous in the original, becomes a man in the edited version). So Simić did what any angry author looking to start a tempest in the literature-in-translation world would do: She wrote an open letter to Dalkey rival publisher Open Letter’s Three Percent blog (run by ex-Dalkey Archiver Chad Post). The Literary Saloon has a roundup of the fallout, including a response from Dalkey, Post’s explanation of why he published Simić’s letter, and Maitresse blogger (and Bookforum contributor) Lauren Elkin’s smart take on the “Politics of Translation.”
Author Jeffrey Eugenides publishes a novel only about once a decade, and they’re always worth the wait. The nineties brought us the mesmerizing The Virgin Suicides (later made into a film by Sophia Coppola), the aughts saw the Pulitzer-prize winning (and Oprah book club pick) Middlesex, and (mark your calendars) his new novel, The Marriage Plot, will be released by FSG in October. No word yet on what the book is about, but the title suggests a Phillip Roth-Curtis Sittenfeld mash-up.
More on the VIDA survey, from Poetry magazine, one of the publications counted. They confirm what many have been saying: Men pitch to editors more often than women (last year, Poetry’s submission rate was 65% men and 35% women). Still, Poetry isn’t making excuses, writing “it’s not equal, and it ought to be. The VIDA results seem to us a useful and necessary warning. For our part, we’re going to begin trying even harder.”
Tonight at the New School, Jennifer Egan—author of the novel of music and bad memories, A Visit from the Goon Squad—will appear as the guest of University’s Fiction Forum.
At the New Republic, Ruth Franklin answers some of the questions raised by VIDA’s recent survey, which shows an alarming disparity in the number of women reviewed or published in literary magazines. Franklin finds that the problem begins with the fact that book publishers release many more titles by men than women, and so actually, “magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year.” And at Bookslut, Alizah Salario offers an engaging first-person commentary on the issue: “Twenty-Three Short Thoughts About Women and Criticism.”
In a nearly unprecedented technological breakthrough, Kindle e-books now have “Real Page Numbers.”
Do bad reviews matter? Emily St. John Mandel, a novelist who has had the traumatic experience of having her work publicly panned (and lived to tell the tale), considers the question at The Millions, recounting Norman Mailer's instructive example: "Norman Mailer received countless laudatory reviews; but we’ll remember these less vividly, I think, than we’ll remember his decades-long feud with Michiko Kakutani."
Poet Elizabeth Bishop would have been 100 years old today. In honor Bishop's birth, Bookforum surveys three recently published collections of her work, and tonight, Cooper Union will host a free event where twenty contemporary poets, including John Ashbery, Jonathan Galassi, and Katha Pollit (among others), will read their favorite Bishop poem.
We were excited to learn that the venerable independent press 2 Dollar Radio—which has brought out deeply original contemporary classics such as Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Drop Edge of Yonder—has announced its latest acquisition: Baby Geisha, by the consistently fascinating author, journalist, and editor Trinie Dalton, whose books include the excellent collection of So-Cal fantasia and horror Wide-Eyed. The new story collection will come out in January 2012.
Magazine editor, radio host, and novelist Kurt Andersen might be able to add another skill to his resume: urban planning. He wants to turn part of his Brooklyn neighborhood’s Carroll Park into a piazza. We think it’s a good idea.
A few highlights from this year’s AWP: We saw the chaotic and charismatic Blake Butler thrown out of a bar on Thursday night (awesome!). We bought a coffee mug from the people who bring you the Rumpus, which bears the caption: “Write like a motherfucker!” We picked up a galley of Us by the underrated novelist Michael Kimball. And we got a sneak preview of “Save the World,” an mp3 of a poem by Ariana Reines (The Cow), read by actor Lili Taylor, which will soon be available at the Fence Books website.
Gordon Lish—the infamous former Knopf editor who made Raymond Carver Raymond Carver and taught writers including Amy Hempel, Gary Lutz, and Sam Lipsyte—pays homage to novelist Eugene Marten’s Firework on Youtube.
Elizabeth Spiers has taken over The New York Observer.
Editor Hugo Lindgren continues to remake the Sunday Times Magazine, with Q and A maestro Deborah Solomon out (she’s planning to devote her time to writing a Norman Rockwell biography), and columnist Ariel Kaminer reportedly replacing Randy Cohen as the house Ethicist.
From the New York Times Arts Beat blog (the new home of their book blog Paper Cuts), here’s a reading list for the crisis in Egypt. Meanwhile, Atlantic contributing editor and Bookforum regular Graeme Wood continues to file blog posts from Cairo; in his most recent dispatch, he describes being dragged down the street by an Egyptian mob.
The New York Times previews its e-books bestsellers list, slated to appear in print next weekend.
The literary arts website VIDA has released a 2010 count of how often women are published and reviewed in a variety of large and small literary magazines, and the charts show that women are vastly underrepresented in nearly every category at every publication (an informal count shows that Bookforum is not an exception to the trend). As Meghan O’Rourke writes in Slate, “Even if you might have expected the gender ratios to be skewed, the results are a little surprising. After all, writing isn't a field historically dominated by men, like theoretical physics; women in the United States have long had pens in hand.” On blogs such as the Rumpus, people are disputing the way the stats are tallied; they're asking if women publish less books, or submit less material to magazines, which might skew the results. Yes, by all means, get more data and clarify these queries, but as Jim Behrle writes at the Hairpin blog: “The pressure to defend counting pales in comparison to the pressure that ought to be put on these publications going forward.” Perhaps magazines can learn from Wikipedia: Though a recent survey shows that women write less than fifteen percent of articles in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia is now actively recruiting women writers.