paper trail

Why Be a Critic?

John Edgar Wideman

In an article published in Milan’s Corriere della Sera, the Italian writer and professor Marco Santagata claims that he has determined the true identity of Elena Ferrante. He writes that Ferrante is the pen name of Marcella Marmo, a professor at a Neapolitan university. According to Slate, Marmo has denied Santagata’s claim, and has pointed out that she is too “timid and reserved” to be such an bold writer. Ferrante’s Italian publisher has also denied that Marmo is Ferrante.

Harper Lee’s estate will no longer allow the printing of inexpensive, mass-market editions of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Author and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler argues that the shocking story about the Republican presidential campaigns isn’t “the rise of Donald Trump but how the GOP slowly morphed into a party of hate and obstruction.” Trump isn’t a surprise, says Gabler; he’s the fulfillment of the Republican Party’s increasingly hostile wishes. Novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has also weighed in on the Donald, writing at The Guardian: “His supposed implausibility as a candidate actually sheltered him for months from scrutiny by the press, who nevertheless have showered him with attention. He is alarming as well as absurd, stirring and stoking the worst impulses in the electorate. But then this is only a darkening of the atmosphere we have lived in since Nixon, as fear and resentment began to be commodified very profitably by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.”

Novelists John Edgar Wideman and Peter Carey and poet Billy Collins were among those elected into the Academy of Arts this year.

Music writer Jon Caramanica has devoted the latest installment of Popcast to two new books by New York Times critics: Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever and A. O. Scott’s Better Living through Criticism. The three authors talk about the books and raise questions about the meaningfulness of their trade: “Why be a critic? What good are critics? What’s the future for a critic, and for criticism?”

With the help of a new Grove Press edition of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, the managers of the author’s estate are hoping to market the cult classic novel to millennials. The introduction was written by Simon Doonan. Apparently, the publisher first offered this honor to Liza Minnelli, but she declined. Minnelli’s publicist explains: “Liza’s mother was famously fired from the movie of Valley, causing her a lot of stress.”