• March 07, 2012

    Ellen Willis Roundtable with Sasha Frere-Jones, Emily Gould, and Sara Marcus

    Last Spring, the University of Minnesota Press published Out of the Vinyl Deeps, a collection of critic Ellen Willis’s music writings. Willis became the first pop music critic for the New Yorker in 1968, earning the post on the strength of an essay about Bob Dylan she wrote for Commentary,which caught the eye of William Shawn. She held the post until 1975, filing deeply insightful articles about the Velvet Underground, Elvis in Vegas, Woodstock, and her beloved Rolling Stones.

    She was a force in the nascent field of pop criticism, setting precedents that music critics still look to today. But

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  • February 22, 2012

    Bookforum talks with Geoff Dyer

    A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Geoff Dyer on the phone about—well, what, exactly? The idea was to discuss his new book, Zona, but we ended up drifting over so many other topics that I never even bothered to ask him why he wanted to write about Tarkovsky’s The Stalker in the first place. Before the actual interview began we chatted about his review of Richard Bradford’s Martin Amis: the Biography, and by the end he was giving me advice about which David Markson book I should read first. Our interview, in other words, assumed the shape of a Geoff Dyer book. But even though we never made it

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  • Sergio González Rodríguez
    February 17, 2012

    Bookforum talks with Sergio González Rodríguez

    American readers may not be familiar with Sergio González Rodríguez by name, but fans of Spanish-language fiction are likely aware of him. One of Mexico’s leading writers and political agitators, González Rodríguez has been featured in the novels of Roberto Bolaño (2666) and Javier Marias (Dark Back of Time) for his research into the more than three hundred female homicides in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez. In 2002, González Rodríguez published Bones in the Desert, an investigative account of the homicides that set out to prove that in Mexico, “the rule of law... is fiction.” Despite being banned from

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  • February 10, 2012

    Bookforum talks to John Jeremiah Sullivan

    Whether there’s any doubt about whether John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead was one of the best books of 2011 (which, for my money, there shouldn’t be), it was certainly one of the most highly praised. The debut essay collection received soaring reviews in the national media (the New York Times gave it one in the Book Review and another in the paper); it was the subject of a four-page essay by James Wood in the New Yorker, and, in Bookforum, it prompted J. C. Gabel to describe Sullivan as “among the best of his generation’s essayists.” A contributing editor to GQ, Harper’s, the New York Times

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  • February 03, 2012

    Bookforum talks with Jeannette Seaver

    In 2009, Jeannette Seaver faced two life-altering problems. Her husband of over half a century, publishing giant Richard Seaver—known for legal triumphs over censorship and for helping to introduce Beckett, Duras, Robbe-Grillet and a number of other literary heavyweights to the American market—suffered a fatal heart attack. His company, Arcade Publishing, was in a state of financial irresolution, and Jeannette was forced to file for Chapter 11. But just as confounding were the nine hundred pages of an uncompleted autobiography that Richard left behind. Both problems, however, were eventually

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  • Greil Marcus, by Thierry Arditti
    January 04, 2012

    Bookforum talks with Greil Marcus

    In the introduction to his 1975 book Mystery Train, Greil Marcus set forth a challenge: to start taking rock and roll music seriously, to approach pop music “not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture.” For the past forty years, he has done just that, looking at rock music not just as entertainment but as part of American mythology. Reading Marcus is to witness a stray musical note become the spine of an essay, or a growl connect Billboard hits to civil war customs. In his latest book, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, Marcus explains what he

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  • December 23, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Alexander Theroux

    I first encountered Alexander Theroux’s writing—the style of which is grandiloquently lyrical, dizzyingly erudite, and often acerbic—through his books on colors: taxonomies of the spectrum we think we’ve seen but that Theroux, attentive observer that he is, suggests we haven’t really seen at all. I followed up these readings with savoring every word of three of his novels, beginning with Darconville’s Cat, his second novel, a book that satisfies syntactically, texturally, and structurally, reminding me at once of Henry James (because of the novel’s sentential convolutions and its paragraphic

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  • December 15, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Ha Jin

    Ha Jin’s writing shares something of his biography. Born in 1956 in northeast China, Jin volunteered in the People’s Liberation Army before venturing stateside in 1985 to study American literature at Brandeis University. Spanning four short story collections and six novels, his oeuvre confronts events in China’s recent past—the Korean War, the Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Square—head-on, with a bluntness that verges on deadpan. His prose has a similar effect to that of poetry: spare and unadorned, it traces, evokes, but refuses to spell out. This style befits the worlds that Jin renders:

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  • Susan Bernofsky
    November 10, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Susan Bernofsky

    Chances are you’ve read Susan Bernofsky. If, like John Ashbery, Benjamin Kunkel, J.M. Coetzee, or a number of other writers and readers, you’ve been delighted by the renaissance of Robert Walser’s writing in English, then you’ve most certainly read Susan Bernofsky. Bernofsky's celebrated translations of the elusive Swiss writer have, like Peter Constantine’s comprehensive translations of Isaac Babel, revived and boosted the reputation of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and original writers. Bernofsky has brought The Robber (2000), The Assistant (2007), The Tanners (2009) and

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  • Colson Whitehead
    October 17, 2011

    Bookforum talks with Colson Whitehead

    Colson Whitehead is not a difficult writer in the way that a Thomas Pynchon is. His syntax is standard, and his sentences make sense on first inspection. Nonetheless, beginning with his brilliant first book, The Intuitionist, which followed the travails of an elevator repairwoman, Whitehead has consistently invoked complex alternative realities, infusing his settings with a subtle, Buñuel-like surrealism.

    The main character of his latest novel, Zone One, is named Mark Spitz, a mediocre young man who has always pulled a B at best. In the book, Spitz is assigned to a cleanup detail in lower

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  • Grant Gee, director of Patience (After Sebald)
    October 03, 2011

    Grant Gee on Sebald and Cinema

    In Patience (After Sebald), a former publisher of the late author W.G. Sebald shares an anecdote about the difficulty he had assigning a genre to The Rings of Saturn. Is it fiction, non-fiction, travel, or history? The work, ultimately, is unclassifiable. The same can be said of the film, a meditation on Sebald’s walking tour of the Suffolk coast. Directed by Grant Gee, best known for his documentary Joy Division, the film explores Sebald’s work through landscape, image, and atmosphere.

    A few days before Patience's premiere at the New York Film Festival, Gee took some time to speak to Bookforum

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  • Helen DeWitt
    September 22, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Helen DeWitt

    One of the most exciting literary events this fall is the publication of Helen DeWitt’s long-anticipated second novel, Lightning Rods. DeWitt, a Maryland-born polymath, is best known as the author of The Last Samurai, the story of a boy genius who sets off in search of his missing father. Sam Anderson called that book “the most exciting debut novel of the decade." Lightning Rods promises to generate even more emphatic responses: It is, among other things, a satire in which a businessman develops a service that will end sexual harassment.

    BOOKFORUM: Lightning Rods, your new novel, is not actually

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