Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with President Obama

Landing at the same time as a White House plan to trim $3 billion from the deficit is a new exposé that purports to explain why, for the past three years, passing these kinds of policy proposals has been nearly impossible. Confidence Men, Ron Suskind’s 500-plus-page look at the infighting and palace intrigue behind the Obama White House, has quickly become what Daniel Yergin in our Fall issue calls a “Washington Read”—a book adopted by the inside-the-beltway crowd that’s generally more discussed than read. Judging by the recent explosion of media attention for Suskind, however, he seems to have found plenty of readers.

“Book portrays dysfunction in the Obama White House,” read last week’s Washington Post headline, while reviewing the book in today's New York Times, Michiko Kakutani describes Obama as an “oddly passive chief executive,” saying Suskind sketches him as a “young, inexperienced president lacking the leadership and managerial skills to deal effectively with the cascading economic problems he inherited.” The book has also spawned debate over whether, as former communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying, the White House is a “genuinely hostile workplace for women.” Emphasizing the point, Suskind cites Christina Romer, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, as saying she “felt like a piece of meat” after a meeting with fellow ex-economic advisor Larry Summers.

To write Confidence Men, Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winning former Wall Street Journal reporter, interviewed over two hundred people, including current and former administration members. (Some of whom, Kakutani notes, have political reasons to distance themselves from an administration widely perceived as on the rocks). Talking points include Suskind quoting Larry Summers complaining about the handling of the debt crisis, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s refusal to come up with contingency plans for the dissolution of Citigroup. Other senior economic advisors are described as “systematically undermining” the president. “We’re home alone,” Suskind cites Summers as saying. “There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”

Advance copies were sent to the media last week, and although the book isn’t scheduled for public release until tomorrow, the White House is already on the defensive. Romer, Summers, and Dunn have denied Suskind’s explosive quotes, and Geithner remarked this week that "the reports I've read about this book bear no resemblance to the reality." To counteract more negative press, the White House has granted the author an interview with Obama “to clear up a lot of bad reporting and theories that Suskind had developed." Excerpts from that interview are available here, and at New York Magazine, Frank Rich and Adam Moss discuss whether the book is really revelatory, or if it's just more media sensationalism.


Sylvia Plath: now with her own postal stamp.

Sylvia Plath, e.e. cummings, Joseph Brodsky, and Elizabeth Bishop are four of the nine poets who will be commemorated on a new series of US postal stamps.

Christian bookstores, apparently suceptible to the same problems plaguing their secular counterparts, aren't doing so well.

Christopher Hitchens weighs in on Blue Nights, Joan Didion’s forthcoming memoir about the deaths of her husband and daughter.

Remarking on the publication of Joe McGinniss’s book on Sarah Palin, New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus argues that political nonfiction, "a form of journalism that once emphasized narrative, analysis or both, seems to have devolved into a subspecies of celebrity exposé." For those keeping score, McGinniss is also the author of Fatal Vision, the book that inspired the lawsuit that inspired Janet Malcolm's amazing and psychological piercing book The Journalist and the Murderer.

A very talented vandal has been leaving ornate book sculptures in Scottish libraries.

Taking a cue from Netflix, Goodreads now has a recommendation feature.

Leymah Gbowee wasn’t expecting to go on tour to promote her memoir about working as a peace activist in Liberia. Until, that is, the chairman of Barnes and Noble decided to sponsor it.

New York readers! If you haven’t yet figured out a plan of attack for the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend, don’t worry: we’re here to help. With dozens of events on the roster (not to mention parties, after-parties, and other miscellaneous Bookend events) scheduling a successful Book Festival can be a literary choose-your-own-adventure. So here are a selection of our top picks for the weekend, including a few featuring Bookforum editors Michael Miller, Chris Lehmann, and Albert Mobilio.


At 11 A.M.:

The New India. Bharati Mukherjee (Miss New India), Amitava Kumar (A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb) and Siddhartha Deb (The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India) discuss the challenges facing the Indian subcontinent in the 21st Century as tradition clashes with rapid modernization against the backdrop of an ever-globalizing world. At the Borough Hall Community Room (209 Joralemon Street), moderated by Jonah Straus.

Radical Fictions, presented by Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. Jennifer Gilmore (Something Red), David Goodwillie (American Subversive), and Bookforum contributor Justin Taylor (Gospel of Anarchy) read from their work and discuss the extremist ideologies and cultish communities their characters find themselves entangled in. At the Brooklyn Historical Society Main Hall (128 Pierrepont Street), moderated by Marcela Landres.

At 1 P.M.:

Fact, Memory and the Evolution of a Story. Three NYC writers, David Rakoff (Half Empty), Sigrid Nunez (Sempre Susan) and Adrian Tomine (Scenes from and Impending Marriage) reflect on the context that inspires their work. At the Brooklyn Historical Society Main Hall (128 Pierrepont Street), moderated by Bookforum editor Michael Miller.

Art in the Mix: Inspiration, Reception and How Art Makes Meaning. This panel explores the relationship between creative inspiration and art’s eventual life in the world. Kurt Andersen (Reset, Heyday), and Kenneth Goldsmith (Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age) talk with artist Simon Dinnerstein. At the Main Stage (Borough Hall Plaza), moderated by Julie Burstein.

From Wisconsin With Love. With labor unrest experiencing a major resurgence today, it’s important to understand the up and down struggle for workers’ rights over the past several decades. Three historians—Clarence Taylor (Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights and the NYC Teachers Union), William Adler (The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon) and Brian Purnell (Black Power at Work: Community Control, Affirmative Action, and the Construction Industry) - look at the American left and the role unions and workers’ movements have played in forcing social change here and across the country. At the St. Francis Volpe Library (180 Remsen Street), moderated by Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times.

At 2 P.M.:

Dangerous Laughter. Karen Russell (Swamplandia), Elissa Schappell (Blueprints for Building Better Girls), and Jim Shepard (You Think That's Bad) push writing into dark and darkly funny places in their award-winning fiction. At the St. Francis McArdle Hall (180 Remsen Street), reading and Q&A introduced by Tin House editor Rob Spillman.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Music is often the voice of a generation-a touchstone for issues both personal and political, and a way for its fans to understand themselves. Mark Yarm, (Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge), Marisa Meltzer (Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music) and Marcus Reeves (Somebody Scream: Rap Music's Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power) - look at the impact of punk, hip hop, riot grrrl, and more on the lives of its fans. At the St. Francis Volpe Library (180 Remsen Street), moderated by Will Hermes.

At 3 P.M.:

Lifestyles of the Rich and Richer. We are living in an almost comic enactment of Marx’s predictions about class and labor: Marx foresaw the decline of small business and the middle class at the hands of unrestrained capitalism more than 100 years ago. With a gimlet eye and wry outlook, Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann (Rich People Things) and David Graeber (Debt: The First 5,000 Years...) discuss the current state of our economy and where we’re headed. At the Brooklyn Historical Society Library (128 Pierrepont Street), moderated by Stacey Vanek-Smith.

Starring: the City. Looking at Atlanta, Manhattan, and Baltimore, three authors explore how urban landscapes not only shape their inhabitants but how a city functions as a character itself reflecting the complex emotions of isolation and identity of its residents. Tayari Jones (Silver Sparrow), Lynne Tillman (Someday This Will Be Funny) and Edmund White (City Boy). At the St Francis Screening Room (180 Remsen Street), moderated by Felicia Pride.

At 5 P.M.:

New Works: A Poetry Reading. Poet and Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio (Touch Wood), joins Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Lucky Fish), and Matthew Rohrer (Destroyer and Preserver) to read from their recently published volumes of poetry. At the Brooklyn Historical Society Library (128 Pierrepont Street), introduced by Joseph O. Legaspi of Kundiman.

Moving Pictures. From B Movies to the Art House, film is possibly the most powerful broadcast medium of the past century—taking us on flights of fancy as often as it brings us face-to-face with the more unpleasant nature of the contemporary world. J. Hoberman (Army of Phantoms), Jason Zinoman (Shock Value), and Roberta Seret (World Affairs in Foreign Films) discuss the role of movies in understanding our world and ourselves. At the St. Francis Screening Room (180 Remsen Street), moderated by film critic and Light Industry founder, Ed Halter.


On Friday:

The Brooklyn Indie Party! With A Public Space, Akashic Books, Archipelago Books, Black Balloon, BOMB Magazine, Electric Literature, Ig Publishing, Litmus Press, Melville House, powerhouse Books, Tin House, Ugly Duckling Presse, Umbrage Editions, Vulgar Marsala and others. Brooklyn’s best independent book and magazine publishers throw a Brooklyn-sized kickoff party celebrating the spirit of literary independence in Brooklyn! Food and drinks will be provided, along with music courtesy of DJ Johnny Temple (musician, publisher of Akashic Books, and chair of the Brooklyn Book Festival Council).

At Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street (corner of South Portland)
at 7:30 pm.

On Saturday:

Beer is Culture: Join Slice Magazine and give a toast to the joining of beer and culture! Sixpoint’s new line of cans sport literary quotes, adding a cerebral flair to a night filled with drink specials and literary prizes.

At Franklin Park, 618 St. John's Place (btw Classon and Franklin Aves.)
from 8:00 pm – 12:00 am.

On Sunday:

Brooklyn Book Festival Closing Night Party: Celebrate the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival Closing Night Party with author DJs Kevin Young, Colson Whitehead and others. Plus, The Tokens will lead a group sing-along of their classic hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The fun continues with literary cocktails and, of course, great conversations after the festival's panels, discussions, and readings, and maybe even a lucky strike on the side for a festive end to a memorable weekend?

At Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue, from 8:00 pm – til!


End of the week roundup:

This week on, Andrew Hulktrans reviewed influential alt-rocker Bob Mould’s memoir of "rage and melody."

Andrew Martin praised the “volatile mingling of sex, play, and violence” in Justin Torres’ debut novel, We the Animals, a surreal, episodic story of three Puerto Rican brothers growing up in upstate New York.

“Ruins have for several centuries been objects of literary and artistic veneration, reminders of real and imaginary catastrophe, images of historical hubris and souvenirs from dashed futures,” Brian Dillon writes in the introduction to his syllabus, an assessment of ruins in literature.

And finally, Bookforum spoke with poet Ben Lerner about his excellent first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station.


Polly Courtney

Michel Houellebecq, French novelist, and more recently, international man of mystery, has been located after failing to show up for a book tour. Turns out, he forgot.

Barry Duncan, master palindromist.

Novelist Polly Courtney has decided that she’d rather self-publish her third novel than see it marketed as chick-lit.

Slate explains why Poets & Writers’ MFA rankings are a sham; HTML Giant explains why Slate’s article is wrong.

Next week, Crown will release muckracking author Joe McGuinness’s The Rogue, his years-in-the-making Sarah Palin book that McGuinness researched by moving in next door to chez Palin in Wasilla. Not surprisingly, McGuinness, who readers may remember as a leading character in Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer, has already fallen into the media spotlight. Earlier this week, several national newspapers, including Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, refused to run a syndicated Doonesbury comic featuring text from The Rogue. Today, things got even more heated when New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin accused McGuinness of intellectual dishonesty for including thinly sourced details about Palin’s drug use and a “fetish” for black guys, and for basing his reporting on leading questions. Does all this, Libby Copeland wonders at Double XX, have the sum effect of making Sarah Palin look good?

Readers! Join us tonight for our fall issue launch party at BookCourt in Brooklyn, featuring Bookforum friends Justin Taylor, Laura Kipnis, and Joshua Cohen. Festivities kick off with short readings around 7, and of course, free wine and beer will be flowing.

More details available here.

The missing Michel Houellebecq, by Thierry Ehrmann

After failing to show up for scheduled appearances in the Netherlands and Belguim, Michel Houellebecq's publishers say that the French writer has gone missing.

Two authors were told that their post-apocalpytic young adult novel would not be published unless they agreed to "straighten" out a gay character.

Tao Lin cleans up his Facebook friend list: “i'm deleting some friends so i can add some friends that i want to add, in case you wonder why i have deleted you (just going to go through my wall and delete people who've openly shit-talked me on my wall first).”

Will Shortz explains how to make a New York Times crossword puzzle.

Here's a good Christmas present for someone you secretly dislike: Atlas Shrugged is now available as an iPad app.

The Quarterly Conversation publishes its 25th issue, featuring essays on Per Petterson, Antonio Lobo Antunes, and what Philip Roth suggests about the state of publishing.

Where's a longform journalist to go when they can't find space in print magazines? E-publishers like Atavist and Byliner are emerging as viable options.

Slate Double X editor Jessica Grose sells her debut novel, Sad Desk Salad, to William Morrow. According to The Awl, the book is "told from the voice of a popular blogger who chronicles the rise and fall of her big scoop, where she must reconcile her values with the growing (ruthless) demands of a gossip- and reality-obsessed culture."

The inside of Roald Dahl's storied writing shed.

Rapper Nas has signed a deal with HarperCollins to write a memoir, tentatively titled It Ain’t Hard to Tell. The book will be co-authored with journalist and TV host Touré, and is slated to come out next year. Meanwhile, Sean (Diddy) Combs is preparing to release his own book, Culo by Mazzucco, a 248-page “photographic coffee-table collection of women’s backsides.”

Triple Canopy debuts its fourteenth issue (and first literary one!), titled Counterfactuals.

A very cheesy trailer for Haruki Murakmi’s novel 1Q84.

Roald Dahl’s family is trying to raise over $790,000 to relocate the late author’s writing shed from his backyard in Great Missenden to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, England; commenters aren’t happy that the public is being asked to pay.

Buchpreisbindung, a German law that enforces standard pricing on all new books—whether they’re sold online or in stores—is what's responsible for the German publishing industry's surprising success, Bill Morris reports at The Millions.

The following J. D. Salinger “autograph letter,” written in “nearly illegible cursive,” and dated March 12, 1989, is going for $50,000 on eBay: “Dear Mary—Please make sure all the errands are done before you go on vacation, as I do not want to be bothered with insignificant things. Thank you. J. D. Salinger”.

Who wants to be the New Yorker's next TV critic?

Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan has refused to be paid for his role in Baz Luhrmann’s forthcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Bachchan will be playing Meyer Wolfsheim, the crooked businessman who Gatsby claims fixed the World Series.

Bob Mould

Anthony Bourdain, the author of Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, has made a deal with Dan Halpern, the publisher of HarperCollins imprint Ecco Press, to start an eponymous line of books. The tough-talking chef and adventurous diner will acquire three to five books a year—and not just about food. “We look forward to publishing an unusual mix of new authors, existing works, neglected or under-appreciated masterworks, and translations of people from elsewhere who we think are just too damned brilliant not to be available in English,” says Bourdain. “We're presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians, and dead essayists.”

Andrew Hultkrans reviews Bob Mould’s new memoir about indie rock, pro wrestling, and overcoming self-hatred. (For more Mould, see his interview at the Sound of Yound America.)

Amazon is considering an e-book rental service that will allow readers to borrow digital books, a la Netflix.

Campaigns to digitize old newspapers are offering scholars new avenues for historical research, which, the New York Times speculates, could mean that “evidence of illicit trysts, business deals gone bad and scandals forgotten will likely surface somewhere, somehow.”

More than a year in the making, the Toronto Review of Books will finally launch on September 20. To get a sense of what’s in store, check out Bookforum’s 2010 interview with founding editor Jessica Duffin Wolfe.

Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn continues to defy the publishing downturn: the Ft. Greene shop (and local bookstore to several of our editors) has announced plans to add a cafe and events area, as well as additional office space. Just as implausibly, they also plan to start selling e-books.

Does the demise of Ikea’s Billy bookshelf mean that people are no longer buying books?

Keith Richards, in his younger days.

If you only read one 9/11 piece this weekend (not as if there’s a paucity to choose from) our vote is for David Rieff’s Harper’s cover story on the limits of remembrance.

Linguist Ben Zimmer parses the vocabulary of 9/11; Ponyter considers how Americans' news consumption has changed since the attacks.

Keith Richards’s memoir, Life, is going to be made into a movie. But who will play Keith?

An exceptional number of off-beat, off-Broadway plays have taken their inspiration from literature, as the New Yorker notes: from “Sleep No More,” a loose adaptation of Macbeth; to Elevator Repair Service’s “The Select,” based on Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem,” whose title comes from a William Blake poem.

Bookstores will stay open late on October 18 to meet demand for Haruki Murakami’s forthcoming blockbuster novel, 1Q84.