Young John Ashbery

Readers! Update your bookmarks! Paper Trail is now here: http://blogs.bookforum.com/paper/

What’s Jonathan Lethem reading? “Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary and Edward St. Aubyn’s Melrose books and Lydia Millet’s Magnificence just now, while at the bedside table and on trains and airplanes I’m grinding away at monsters over a period of months, if not years: Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.”

In our age of “entrepreneurial journalism,” when writers are under pressure to be their own brands, what happens when business and journalism collide? At the Atlantic Wire, Alexander Nazaryan reports on the ongoing lawsuit between Zealot author Reza Aslan and his former fiancee and business partner Amanda Fortini, who, in the mid-2000s, co-founded a company called Aslan, Inc. Last year, Fortini filed suit against Aslan (who recently became a bestselling author with Zealot, his account of the life of Jesus), claiming that she deserves a cut of the profits for having “contributed so much, in all respects, to where he is today.” With more and more people navigating the “treacherous, oft-combustile mixture of business, the media and personal relationships,” Nazaryan writes, this sort of dispute is becoming more and more common.

At The Nation, Scott Sherman looks at the renovation of the New York Public Library and wonders, “Why did one of the world’s greatest libraries adopt a $300 million transformation without any real public debate?”

A new collection of John Ashbery’s translations of French poetry is forthcoming from FSG. Edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie, the collection will include his versions of work by Pierre Reverdy, Max Jacob, and Arthur Rimbaud, among others.

With everybody from journalists to their sources away on August holiday, French newspapers have become more inventive about how to fill space. When there’s no news, they often just make things up: “Articles on offer this summer starred the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire and that most golden of monarchs, Louis XIV, as well as a series of ‘interviews’ with long-dead composers, and ventures into somewhat esoteric historical fiction like ‘what if the oil embargo of 1973 had gone on longer?’”

Since it is the last week of August, we recommend you read Jenny Diski’s essay in the New Statesman about learning to enjoy free time and how to respond to the odious question: “What do you do?”


In response to widespread opposition over a plan to scrap centuries-old book stacks at the New York Public Library’s flagship 42nd Street branch, NYPL President Anthony Marx has come up with a new proposal, which he unveiled this week to the Wall Street Journal. Instead of getting rid of the stacks to make room for a new circulating library, the revised design will incorporate the stacks “as a prominent feature” into the library. According to the Journal, the new design will also “make a section of the historic stacks accessible to the public for the first time.”

In a review of two memoirs—one by musician-writer Ed Sanders, the other by sci-fi writer Samuel Delany—former Village Voice writer-editor Robert Christgau (a/k/a the Dean of Rock Criticism) praises what he likes about autobiographies (thoughtful writing about sex, for one thing), and reveals that he’s writing a memoir of his own.

When Japanese gangsters aren’t extorting businesses or engaging in other shady activities, some of them are contributing to Yamaguchi-gumi Shinpo, the Yakuza’s official magazine. Though it’s a new publication, Yamaguchi-gumi Shinpo has a circulation of 27,000, in part because every Yakuza member gets an issue. The magazine debuted not long after a slew of bad publicity for the Yakuza: A number of civilians were recently killed during a protracted turf war with a rival gang, and the organization has suffered from a decline in members and new anti-gang legislation.

Mary McCarthy’s The Group turns fifty this week, and at Flavorwire, Michelle Dean hails it as a “pioneer of the young-ladies-come-to-New-York-and-get-jobs-and-date genre that sustains women’s narratives from Sylvia Plath to Lena Dunham.”

In an essay on Andrea Barrett at the New Republic, Juliet Lapidos poses the question of whether fiction writers, like reporters, can have a beat.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, has acquired the archive of the Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez. Alvarez is a poet, essayist, and the author of a number of novels including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. The archive, which sold for $400,000, includes manuscripts and drafts of her work, and correspondence with writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Edwidge Danticat, Dana Gioia, and Marilyn Hacker.


The Shanghai metro (AP)

Contrary to claims that an excerpt of Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens in the New York Times’ T Magazine marked the first time that the Gray Lady had included the f-word in print, Jim Romenesko points out that the paper runs the expletive all the fucking time.

A Shanghai metro line has introduced its own library that allows riders to take out a book when they get on the train and return it when they’ve reached their destination. From the Los Angeles Times: “Special bookshelves are installed at the metro stations, containing rows books for the taking. There's no registration necessary, and no fee; readers are simply encouraged to make a small charitable donation when taking a book.”

A new biography of J.D. Salinger co-authored by Shane Salerno and David Shields (and set to coincide with the forthcoming Salinger biography) gets its first dismissive review in the New York Times. Michiko Kakutani says that the book’s decision to mix interviews and excerpts creates a “Rashomon-like portrait of Salinger, but it also makes for a loosey-goosey, Internet-age narrative with diminished authorial responsibility. Instead of assiduously sifting fact from conjecture and trying to sort out discrepancies, Mr. Salerno and Mr. Shields are often content to lay back and simply let sources speak for themselves.”

At the time of his death, Elmore Leonard was working on a novel, tentatively titled Blue Dreams. Now there’s talk that his son, Peter, might finish it.

What does what you read say about you? This Daily News headline says it all: “Bradley Cooper Reads Lolita Alongside Much Younger Girlfriend.”

Even though Saul Bellow, Nabokov, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ursula Le Guin and Joyce Carol Oates were all repeat contributors to Playboy, Amy Grace Lloyd says that she still found herself defending the magazine to basically everybody after she took the job as literary editor there.


From Is Sex Necessary? by E.B. White and James Thurber

At Outward, Slate’s new LGBT blog, Masha Gessen explains why Putin’s crackdown on gay families prompted her to leave Russia.

Parks and Rec star Aziz Ansari has signed a $3.5 million deal with Penguin Press to write an “investigation” into modern romance and online dating. In a statement, Ansari said the book would address the “entirely new era for singles, in which the basic issues facing a single person—whom we meet, how we meet them, and what happens next—have been radically altered by new technologies."

Congratulations to Jonathan Lethem for eroding the Gray Lady’s veneer of formality and getting the word “fuck” into the New York Times. While it wasn’t the first time that the expletive has made it into the notoriously curse-adverse paper (in 1998, the Times reproduced the entire Starr report, which included a use of the expletive by Monica Lewinsky), it is one of the first times the word has been permitted. The moment comes on page 86 of the most recent issue of T, the Times’ fashion supplement, which included an excerpt of Lethem’s forthcoming novel, Dissident Gardens.

In the latest issue of New York, Boris Kachka goes hunting for legendary literary recluse Thomas Pynchon. While Kachka doesn’t find him, he does get pretty close: “Now Pynchon hides in plain sight, on the Upper West Side, with a family and a history of contradictions: a child of the postwar Establishment determined to reject it; a postmodernist master who’s called himself a 'classicist'; a workaholic stoner; a polymath who revels in dirty puns; a literary outsider who’s married to a literary agent; a scourge of capitalism who sent his son to private school and lives in a $1.7 million prewar classic six.”

The New York Public Library is installing photobooths at several of its branches, including the flagship 42nd Street branch, and the entrance of the mid-Manhattan Library. The arrangement is simple: “The visitor gets a photo of themselves with their word of choice emblazoned in red and white on the bottom of the photo, and the New York Public Library quite literally gets to put a bright, new face on gathering data from visitor satisfaction surveys.”

At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova unearths “vintage sexology” by E.B. White and James Thurber. In 1929, two years after White helped Thurber get hired as an editor at the New Yorker, the pair collaborated on Is Sex Necessary?: Or Why You Feel the Way You Do, which became White’s first prose publication.


Sergio de la Pava

A forthcoming documentary on J.D. Salinger has so far been shrouded in secrecy, but with the film coming out soon, details are starting to emerge. Among them, one “big reveal” is that before he died Salinger “instructed his estate to publish at least five additional books — some of them entirely new, some extending past work — in a sequence that he intended to begin as early as 2015.” Included are new stories about the Glass and Caulfield families. The film also elaborates on Salinger’s personal relationships, including his marriage to his first wife, who was suspected of being a Gestapo agent, and his relationship to a fourteen-year-old girl he met on a beach in Florida and corresponded with for years afterwards.

Faced with dwindling numbers of tourists, Parisian hotels are playing up their literary heritages (or imagined literary heritages) to attract new guests.

At the New York Review of Books blog, Bookforum contributor Suzy Hansen talks about how anti-government activism in Turkey has been heavily driven by female protestors, and how over the past decade, the conservative Erdogan government has systematically brought down the standards of living for Turkish women.

Now that Amazon has removed the barriers to entry for aspiring authors, traditional publishers are being cast as the villains. One publisher, Cargo Books’ Mark Buckland, faced off against self-published authors at the Edinburgh International Book Fair.

“They’re calling him New York’s Dostoevsky:” The London Times profiles Naked Singularity author Sergio De La Pava. The piece begins describing De La Pava as “small and fiery... an exploding fireworks factory of laughter, street talk, curse words and insatiable ≠erudition.”

In the New York Times Opinion pages, novelist Mark Slouka argues that the fastest way to lose a friend who’s a writer is to ask them what they’re working on before they’ve finished it:“If writers agree on anything — which is unlikely — it’s that nothing can damage a novel in embryo as quickly and effectively as trying to describe it before it’s ready.”


William Vollman: Not the Unabomber.

In the recent issue of Harper’s, William Vollmann talks about getting ahold of his FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request, and learning that he was suspected both of being the Unabomber and the anthrax mailer. Vollmann was dubbed "Unabomber Suspect Number S-2047" after an anonymous tipster sent his name to the FBI, telling the Bureau that the author "owns many guns and a flame-thrower." And that wasn’t the only thing the feds found suspicious: "UNABOMBER, not unlike VOLLMANN has pride of authorship and insists his book be published without editing," the file states, also noting that "anti-growth and anti-progress themes persist throughout each VOLLMANN work." Judge for yourself by reading Vollmann’s essay on whether it’s possible to go off the grid in the summer issue of Bookforum.

The Atlantic pokes fun at Playboy’s profile of Junot Diaz, which reads like “a bromantic love letter.”

After getting called out by VIDA for failing to publish enough pieces by women, the New York Review of Books courted even more controversy by responding with a letter that simply named all the recent female contributors. As VIDA spokeswoman Erin Belieu notes, the letter is strange partly because it reads "as if we didn't already have this information.” In the past year, the NYRB published forty pieces by women, and 215 by men.

n+1 introduces “The Help Desk”: A new advice column by Kristen Dombek. (If you’re into advice columns, you should read the one Bookforum columnist Heather Havrilesky writes for The Awl.

Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench will star in an upcoming BBC adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, Esio Trot. According to the Guardian, Hoffman “will play the role of Mr Hoppy, a retired bachelor who has a secret passion for his neighbour Mrs Silver, played by Dench.”

The New York Daily News does a “cultural analysis” of the New York Times bestseller list, and offers some thoughts about what the bestselling books would suggest to somebody who’s been stranded on a desert island.


Viktoriya Degtyareva's GAYS. They Changed the World

"What ever happened to the Best Music Writing series?" As Vice reports, the 2012 issue, which was supposed to be edited by ?uestlove, was never published, although $17,733 was donated towards the book via Kickstarter. Where's the money? Series editor Daphne Carr says, "I have no comment."

Jonathan Lethem has put together an annotated playlist of songs that inspired his forthcoming novel, Dissident Gardens. Gang of Four, Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan all make appearances.

Only seven months after Barnes and Noble founder Leonard S. Riggio announced his intent to buy 675 Barnes and Noble stores, Riggio abandoned the plan this week in light of the store’s declining profits. Barnes and Noble has also stopped conversations with Microsoft over whether to sell the company Barnes and Noble’s Nook media arm, which includes the company’s e-reader.

A twenty-two year old would-be author has decided not to self-publish her book after getting violent feedback to a question she posted on Goodreads. Before Lauren Howard’s book, Learning to Love, was released, “people started to rate 1-star to prove ‘we can rate whatever the hell we want.’ My book was added to shelves named ‘author should be sodomized’ and ‘should be raped in prison’ and other violent offensive things.” At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams considers how to police message boards when the line between a negative review and a physical threat is increasingly thin.

The Independent takes a close look at Dave Egger’s new novel, The Circle, about the “world’s most powerful internet company,” and weighs whether the book is actually based on Google.

An official in the Saratov region of Russia has called for the removal of Viktoriya Degtyareva’s GAYS. They Changed the World—a book that celebrates LGBT icons from Elton John to Oscar Wilde—from bookstores in Saratov, characterizing the book as “gay propaganda.”

Introducing “bookshelfies”: A Tumblr (and hopefully before long, a term) in which people take pictures of themselves in front of their bookshelves.


A Hogarth Press edition of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland."

The Columbia Journalism Review has run an article about The New Inquiry and praises their $2-a-month subscription plan, which has been called a “model that might save the little magazine for the Internet era.”

A stalemate that has lasted most of the year between Barnes and Noble and Simon and Schuster came to a close this week after the companies released a statement saying that they had “resolved their outstanding business issues.” The problems began earlier this year, when Barnes and Noble “sharply increased its demands on publishers” and stocked significantly fewer Simon and Schuster books when the publisher refused to comply. According to the New York Times, talks picked up again in July after Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch abruptly resigned.

A copy of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” hand-set by Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press has sold at auction for £4,500. Only 460 copies of the poem were originally published in 1923.

Many novelists and journalists would love to see their writing optioned for a film, but most don’t have the first idea of how to do it, which is why Universal Studios has launched a fellowship for emerging screenwriters. The program will accept five hundred applications, and the studio will eventually “hire up to five screenwriters ‘who have the potential to thrive, but don’t have access to or visibility within the industry.’”

A writing tip from Sebastian Junger: "I try to edit my work in different states of mind. So I’ll go running on a really hot day and then read the 2,000 words I just wrote. Or if I’m upset, or really sleepy, or if I’m drunk, I’ll read this stuff. If you’re sleepy and you find yourself skipping over a paragraph because you’re bored by it and just want to get to the interesting part, it comes out. Those different states of mind are a really interesting filter."

The New York Times is definitely, definitely not for sale, but that hasn’t stopped Graydon Carter, Tina Brown, Nick Denton, and Elizabeth Spiers from weighing in on who should buy it in the latest issue of the New Republic.


A still from "Black Crown."

Three months after releasing Black Crown—a book-cum-video game that “puts you in the role of a clerk working for the Widsith Institute, a mysterious organisation undergoing a digitization project”—Random House says that nearly six thousand people have signed up to play Rob Sherman’s interactive novel. The book is free, but users can pay small amounts to get early access to story branches—Random House releases new content every week, and about 65% of it has already been made available. At the Atlantic Wire, Alexander Abad-Santos says that although the book has not ”gone viral, it is being embraced by a large enough audience to make experiential online novels viable for the publishing industry.” The book is scheduled to be “completed” in September.

Crime novelist Elmore Leonard has died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.

Shalom Auslander, Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel are the finalists for the 2013 Thurber Prize, which awards $5,000 to a work of American humor writing. Previous winners include David Sedaris, David Rakoff and Ian Frazier, as well as the Onion and Daily Show staffs for compilation books. This year’s winner will be announced on September 30 in New York.

In one of the stranger profiles we’ve read lately, the New York Times charts the winding career of James Truman from “the publishing world’s It boy and... Condť Nast’s editorial director at age 35” to a part-time record producer and wine entrepreneur. (Adding to his list of impressive credentials, it should also be noted that Thurber is Mr. Leanne Shapton). The piece ends, oddly enough, with him consoling a distressed cow.

At New York, Lionel Shriver writes about being overweight, and how weight factors into the development of her fiction: “As a novelist, I may appreciate that the body can both affect and, to a degree, reflect character. Yet as a person, I philosophically reject a linear relationship between this mortal coil and the soul it houses.”

Courtesy of the New York Public Library blog, here is a video that combines the Beastie Boys and librarians.

HTMLGiant on the art of acquiring books through casual sex.


A shirt with the entire text of "Hamlet" printed on it.

Since publishing his first book of short stories three years ago, James Franco has released poetry collections and memoir. He has a novel coming out this fall. And he's been in various graduate programs and movies. So upon hearing the news that Franco is writing the foreword to a new Damion Searls translation of Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian, David Ulin at the Los Angeles Times says that it’s time for Franco to give it a rest. “Let’s be honest,” Ulin writes, "he’s in over his head.”

Flavorwire rounds up the most unreliable narrators in literature, from Humbert Humbert to Patrick Bateman to Nick Carraway.

Courtesy of McSweeney’s, an excerpt from the “Field Guide to Rare Punctuation”: “The Royal Ampersand, a species hunted to near-extinction for its characteristic twisted beak, is now only found in captivity. A regular point of discussion for sort-of-cute graduate students, the Royal Ampersand prides itself on being an alternative form of its twin—with which it has a complicated and largely parasitic relationship—the word ‘and.’”

A company called Litographs is selling shirts that feature designs made out of the entire printed text of a book in the public domain.

The Paris Review’s Sadie Stein sits in on a class on literary architecture at Columbia, “a multimedia workshop in which writing students, quite literally, create architectural models of literary texts.” Artist Matteo Pericoli tells Stein: “‘One student chose ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again’ and thought she would just make a ship,’ he explains, referring to David Foster Wallace’s cruise-ship odyssey. But then they learned the class’s mantra: ‘Literary, not literal.’”

And speaking of the overlap between art and literature, the New Republic highlights eleven works of art made out of books.

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