The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose incendiary blog rants were recently published in the US, was seized by police in Beijing last Sunday. Anyone wondering why he’s being held by the government should go directly to this video of a 2009 talk he gave in Shanghai; it captures one of the many occasions that Weiwei has insistently spoken out against modern China’s corruption and totalitarianism. “Because we’re talking about designing China, I think we need to start from the questions of basic fairness, human rights, and freedom,” he says through his translator. “These are concepts which China, for all its economic development and success, has still not come to a basic understanding of.”

Joshua Cohen, photo by Ilan Jacobsohn for the New York Observer.

Yesterday Borders executives tried to persuade publishers that the company was on track for growth again after filing for bankruptcy; the plan was deemed “unrealistic.”

How much did it cost the New York Times to build its pay-wall?

National Poetry Month in in full swing, with events and activities across America, and—of course—an iPhone app and a poets’ tweet-a-thon.

Andrew Hultkrans reports on a reading for the Review of Contemporary Fiction’s “Failure Issue,” edited by novelist Joshua Cohen, and featuring authors such as Triple Canopy’s Sam Frank, n+1’s Keith Gessen, and poet Eileen Myles, recently held at MoMA’s PS 1: “The gold standard of literary failure is lack of response. . . . This event, while diverting, failed only at that.”

Twenty years after originally asking, UK songwriter Kate Bush has finally received permission to use lyrics taken from James Joyce’s Ulysses on her forthcoming album. The Guardian has neatly assembled all the talking points in the latest edition of its droll “Pass Notes” series.


Paul Muldoon

Time magazine has hired critic and editor Jessica Winter to be Arts Editor for the print publication and website.

The late David Foster Wallace’s annotated self-help books are a minor but revealing component of the Harry Ransom Center’s impressive Wallace collection. What can we learn about Wallace from studying his marginalia in books like The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller? The Awl’s Maria Bustillo visits the Ransom archives and finds many telling clues, including this underlined passage in Miller’s volume, marked “Amherst [19]80-85” by Wallace: “Such a [gifted] person is usually able to ward off threatening depression with increased displays of brilliance, thereby deceiving both himself and those around him.”

Tonight at the Russian Samovar, the FSG Reading Series continues, celebrating national poetry month with an event featuring former poet laureate Robert Pinsky and Irish poet Paul Muldoon.

More than one hundred letters by Franz Kafka have been jointly purchased by the Bodleian Library and a rival institution, the German Literary Archive in Marbach. The arrangement governing how the correspondence will be shared between the two institutions has not been announced: We can only hope that researchers will not feel like the protagonist in The Castle while trying to gain access to the materials.


Javier Marias

Bookstores used to put frequently stolen books (Abbie Hoffman, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, et. al.) behind the front counter, but what will publishers do to stop e-book piracy? At the Boston Globe, Alex Beam investigates, finding that filching a new book is as easy as illegally downloading an album. He reports that publishers are “not too worried. Allow me to worry on their behalf. Free is still a price that is hard to beat.”

From the Electronic Book Review, Lydia Davis interviews Lynne Tillman.

The Huffington Post Union of Bloggers, which is made up of HP contributors past and present, has launched a website. Highlights include “Why Huffington Post ‘Fired’ Me.”

For a series of articles on the New Europe, The Guardian has asked editors at papers from France, Germany, Spain, and Poland to write about what people are reading in those countries today. Most of the articles nod to a thriving literary culture (in Poland, a biography of Ryszard Kapuscinski; in Spain, the forthcoming novel by Javier Marias). But some of the bestsellers look pretty familiar: Proving that the appeal of vampires and teenagers cuts across cultures, Germany’s top-five-selling books includes a title by Stephanie Meyer.

The New York Observer recaps the recent ascension of Cary Goldstein, the new publisher of Twelve Books.

Advice from fiction writers. Martin Amis: “You have to be slightly innocent to be a novelist. You can't have too much nous. It gets in the way, somehow.” Jennifer Egan (who just won the Morning News’s book tournament): “All that matters, and the hardest thing, is to do some decent work, and to keep getting better.”


The final round of the Morning News's 2011 Tournament of Books saw Jonathan Franzen's Freedom compete with Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Good Squad. The latter won by a hair.

Dorothea Lasky

Jessa Crispin: “Publishing isn't dead. Smart publishing, well, that's a different story.”

Some editions of the New York Times Book Review failed to put a marquee-worthy (and controversial) name on the marquee. Here’s the paper’s somewhat squeamish correction: “Because of a production error, a review on the cover of the Book Review, about Bismarck: A Life, by Jonathan Steinberg, omits the byline in some copies. As noted in the table of contents and in the contributor’s biographical note, the review is by Henry A. Kissinger.”

“Publishing guru” Jason Epstein shares his high hopes for print-on-demand machines.

A Public Space has announced the first English-language issue of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan. The inaugural English issue will showcase some of the best writing from the Japanese magazine, and will include work by Yoko Ogawa, Barry Yourgrau, and many others. Twenty-five percent of profits will go to earthquake- and tsunami-relief aid funds.

For poetry month, the Poetry Society is handing over its Twitter duties to the poets. It’s a great lineup: D.A. Powell started things off asking what poem first seduced you. Others include Richard Siken, Joshua Clover, CAConrad, Amy King, and Dorothea Lasky.


Sigrid Nunez

OK, here comes the flood: Reviews of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King are rushing in—a full two weeks before its tax-day publication date.

Billy Joel’s memoir, The Book of Joel, was scheduled to come out with HarperCollins in June, but no more: The author has decided to not release the book. “It took working on writing a book to make me realize that I'm not all that interested in talking about the past.”

Chipp Kidd discusses how he came up with the cover design for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.

The Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, has assembled an excellent lineup of poets to post during National Poetry Month, which begins today.

Fiction writer Jon Raymond writes of his sole visit to the set of Mildred Pierce, Todd Haynes's HBO series based on the James Cain’s novel, for which Rayond cowrote the script: “Thus, my triumphant visit mostly consisted of sitting in [a] hangar, listening to the sounds of Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce simulating passionate first-time sex. . . It was a good afternoon.”

Sigrid Nunez talks about her new Susan Sontag memoir with Emily Gould, recalling Sontag’s matchmaking skills, her gifts as a mentor, and her fondness for saying “Don’t be so servile.”


Reif Larsen

Harper Perennial has just published the anthology Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work, edited by Richard Ford, which contains many of the authors you might expect, such as Russell Banks and John Cheever, and some you might not, like Donald Barthelme and Jeffrey Eugenides. There’s one author, though, that seems to be a particularly conspicuous omission: Raymond Carver. Not only is Carver a working-class literary icon, he’s also one of Ford’s favorites. An editor’s note at the end of the text explains that the Carver estate declined to allow his story “Elephant” to be included in the volume. Still, those interested in the ways that work is portrayed in fiction should pick up Ford’s anthology, and read Gerald Howard’s excellent Tin House essay “Never Give an Inch.”

Media Bistro offers up a group of editors you can follow on Twitter. Just don’t pitch them your great unfinished manuscript in a tweet.

The Penguin Group has created an app for Reif Larsen's The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet.

What was the New York Times Magazine like 100 years ago?

John la Carre asks to be removed from the shortlist for the Man Booker prize.

New York to-do list: the Triple Canopy launch party, the Paris Review’s Spring party, the 12th Street reading. Go!


Ron Silliman

The schedule for the 2011 PEN World Voices festival has been posted.

Poet Ron Silliman is ending his influential blog after an eight-year run (though he leaves the possibility of returning open). Silliman writes, “what was once the newest thing on the block has by now become normative, even predictable. Blogs continue to have their uses, but in web time nothing stands still as a form,” writing that he plans to spend more time on his own writing, and using Twitter to share links; if you’re following him there, prepare for a deluge of updates.

What is the New York Times’s policy on potentially offensive tweets? From Poynter, a fascinating exchange on the subject.

Just in time for National Poetry Month, poetry gets the Oprah treatment: “Modeling the latest looks, eight rising poets express their dynamic personal styles—and show you how to cultivate your own.”

Tonight at McNally Jackson Books, this year’s National Book Award winner for fiction, Jaimy Gordon, will appear with novelist Jayne Anne Phillips.


Suzan-Lori Parks

The Onion offers some much-needed perspective on the debate over the New York Times’s pay wall.

At the New York Review blog, Robert Darnton gives six reasons for the "failure" of Google Books.

One of the most engrossing sections of the new Paris Review is a portfolio of collages curated by Pavel Zoubok, whose New York gallery is solely dedicated to cut-and-paste art. At the Review’s Daily blog, senior editor David Wallace-Wells interviews Zoubok, who notes the works’ affinity with poetry: “Collage is an inherently literary medium. It’s associative, and collagists use images and objects to produce meaning through context.”

Tonight at the Public Theater, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks performs “Watch Me Work,” allowing the audience to see a real live writer in action—and perhaps get some of their own writing done.

“Waitressing is hard.” And: “No good sex goes unpunished.” Carolyn Kellogg recaps the first installment of Todd Haynes’s Mildred Pierce, a TV miniseries based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel.

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