• Eve Babitz.
    March 31, 2020

    “I never thought of myself as an ‘influencer.’”

    JULIA PAGNAMENTA: In the preface to your first book, Eve’s Hollywood, you write, “I believe that places should be capitalized . . . West, especially, is a serious place that should ALWAYS be capitalized. It also sounds more adventurous to go West than to go west.” The spirit and sense of a place—genius loci—are such prominent parts of your writing. How does sense of place influence your writing?

    EVE BABITZ: I was a visual artist first, my collages and drawings, and I really like the way certain words look, like West rather than west.

    I love reading descriptions of places. It’s how a reader

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  • Emily Nemens. Photo: James Emmerman
    March 19, 2020

    Fielding Questions

    Emily Nemens, the editor in chief of the Paris Review, is also an accomplished illustrator: Her cartoons have appeared in publications like the New Yorker, and in 2011 she started a multiyear series of watercolor portraits of every woman in the 112th, 113th, and 114th Congresses. Nemens also happens to know a lot about baseball, thanks to a childhood spent watching Mariners games with her father in her native Seattle.

    Each of these skills comes into play in Nemens’s new novel, The Cactus League, a propulsive debut set in the highly competitive world of professional baseball. At the center of

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  • Fanny Howe. Photo: Lynn Christoffers
    February 17, 2020

    Bookforum talks with Fanny Howe about fragmentary narratives and recapitulation

    Born in 1940 during a lunar eclipse, the poet and novelist Fanny Howe is the black sheep of her blue-blooded Boston family. Daughter of Mark DeWolfe Howe, a Harvard law professor and civil rights activist, and Mary Manning, an Irish-born actress and playwright, Howe grew up as part of a powerful and gifted artistic pantheon. Breaking with tradition, she moved West, became a communist and later a Catholic, and dropped out of college three times. (Howe attended but never graduated from Stanford.) She eloped with a conservative microbiologist but left him in the febrile days following JFK’s

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  • Carson McCullers. Photo: Carl Van Vechten, 1959. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection.
    February 04, 2020

    Queering the Archive

    In 2012, Jenn Shapland was an intern at the University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center. While working there, she discovered the archives of Carson McCullers, the inspiration for Shapland’s new book. She had never read any of McCullers’s work, but the titles, Shapland writes in the first pages of My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, “always struck a chord with me. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Like, same.” One day, as Shapland was answering queries from researchers and scholars, she came across a request for correspondence between McCullers and Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach, a Swiss writer and

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  • Anna Wiener. Photo: Russell Perkins
    January 30, 2020

    “These companies can really infiltrate your identity”

    Silicon Valley has mostly been chronicled by founders, investors, and tech-utopian true believers. By that measure, Anna Wiener’s new memoir of working for start-ups, Uncanny Valley, in not really an insider's account. True, Wiener worked for a variety of tech companies beginning in 2013, but her customer-support jobs were viewed as superfluous to the “real” work of CEOs and engineers. This position of insider-outsider allowed Wiener to impartially observe the hidden workings of companies that have taken over virtually every aspect of the economy and transformed our public and private lives.

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  • Photograph from This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers by Jeff Sharlet. Copyright © 2020 by Jeff Sharlet. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

    How the Light Gets In

    DAVID O’NEILL: Your new volume of photos and writing, This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers (Norton, $25), is bookended by two medical emergencies. It begins with your father having a heart attack—you started taking these pictures shortly afterward—and, two years later, as you were finishing up the project, you had a heart attack, too. You write about this in the first pages. I can’t help but see what follows as being about mortality, solitude, and a reckoning with “darkness.” But the book is not morbid—it’s about that darkness, but also connection, empathy, and the vividness of any

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  • Sarah Bernhardt c. 1860. Photo: Jean Racine
    January 21, 2020

    Fame Game

    Sharon Marcus has made her reputation as a careful and ingenious scholar of historical and literary texts, complicating categories by attending to the world-building that individuals enact in plain sight. With Apartment Stories, her first academic book, she explored the sociohistorical terrain of the apartment building in nineteenth-century Paris and London, a middle ground between the urban landscape of the flâneur and the intimate domesticity of the home; in her next, she examined the relationships of same-sex friendship, desire, and commitment that defined female experience in Victorian

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  • The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery by Mary Cregan
    January 15, 2020

    “How does one not write a depressing book about depression?”

    Mary Cregan’s debut work of nonfiction, The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery, is likely shelved in the bookshop’s memoir section. And The Scar does present—with remarkable clarity, candor and narrative presence—the author’s own history with the illness; in particular, a descent into suicidal depression after the death of her newborn daughter, Anna, and the hospitalization and treatment, including electroshock therapy, medication and talk therapy, that followed. But this book is far more than a memoir: it is the result of decades of research on the medical history of the

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  • Ariana Reines. Photo: Nicolas Amato
    December 03, 2019

    Sasha Frere-Jones talks with poet Ariana Reines

    Ariana Reines’s A Sand Book was published in June of 2019 and longlisted for the National Book Award in September. It’s almost four hundred pages long, generous and radiant and brutal and patient and punishingly good. It pivots to truth, as Alice Notley once defined it: “a working active beingness.” A Sand Book lived in my bag all summer, nothing like an obligation and everything like a friend. The twelve sections could easily be free-standing volumes, but they churn in tandem, smoothly, inducing various states: ecstatic neutrality, detailed refusal, unworried celebration. The narrator studies

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  • James Polchin. Photo: Greg Salvatori; Carley Moore. Photo: Amy Touchette
    November 15, 2019

    Carley Moore and James Polchin in conversation

    James Polchin’s new book, Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, uncovers queer true-crime stories from a time when newspapers often wouldn’t print the word homosexual. Polchin recently met with Carley Moore, the author of The Not Wives, a new novel about queer intimacy set in Occupy-era New York, to talk sex and politics. Not long after the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings, the two authors reflected on narratives that don’t fit the usual categories, nodding to writers who have devised innovative ways to portray how power and pleasure

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  • Susan Sontag, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ca. 1970s. Photo: Donald Dietz.
    November 07, 2019

    “She said she needed writing as a weapon”

    JULIA PAGNAMENTA: Was writing Susan Sontag’s biography an exercise in deconstructing the image of “Susan Sontag”?

    BENJAMIN MOSER: I think it became that. I wouldn’t say it started out that way. I didn’t have a set image I wanted to convey of her because I didn’t know enough about her at the beginning to have even that much of a preconceived notion. I’d read a lot of her but definitely not all. Susan’s work is very vast and very extensive, and her world is also vast and extensive. Her political world. Her social world. Her sexual world. There is a lot of it, and it’s hard to have an impression

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  • Fiona Alison Duncan. Photo: Stefan Schwartzman
    November 04, 2019

    “I want a full refund.”

    The first page of Exquisite Mariposa, the debut novel of Canadian-American artist, writer, and organizer Fiona Alison Duncan, finds the narrator, also named Fiona, pitching a reality TV show about her new housemates (“It’s like The Real World meets Instagram.”). But it’s a nonstarter: Fiona respects and admires her fellow subletters, and soon realizes that packaging their image for profit is no way to treat people one respects and admires. At this point, she’s known them all for about a week, but they have a Connection. Reality is, the show never gets made, and Fiona’s impulse to sell out fuels

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