So I’m not sure anyone can dispute the fact that there’s no money in book review sections…if that were a genuine argument to be made, basically every book review section in every major paper but the New York Times wouldn’t have shut down. That said, there’s something I really dislike about the tone in “The New York Times Book Review’s Retirement Plan.” Is it that Michael Wolff reports having suggested to a former New York Times Book Review editor that the editor should only review books by publishers who advertise in the section, and then Wolff cites the editor thinking this was “blackmail” as though…uh…as though there was any other appropriate response, or as though his question was in any way legit to begin with? Maybe Wolff has a lot of (hard to face) points here. But I don’t think any of them include that somehow book reviews editors should have lost all their integrity to make a buck. This strikes me, in some ways, as the literary equivalent of the Patriot Act or something. Sometimes it’s important to take the high road on principle. Sometimes it’s better to go down with the ship than do what would have been “necessary” for survival. Remember what happened when Kirkus started charging people for reviews? If being a slimy used car salesman is the only way to save literary journalism, then there already wasn’t a future for literary journalism. I do not, for the record, subscribe to the New York Times. Or let’s put it this way: I didn’t before Wolff’s piece…
Journalism. Wow, that’s a complex topic, isn’t it? Time Out Chicago just folded its print edition and laid off a bunch of people. The Chicago Reader underwent major changes awhile back that made it a pretty different beast from the one I came of age with. I used to write occasional cover stories for the Reader that would pay about as much as I’d make back then teaching a 15 week college course as an adjunct. It was good money is what I’m saying. Those days are dead. But what I really mean is that there are few forums anymore for the kind of longer form writing that journalism used to include under its umbrella. There are a handful of publications that are specifically dedicated to trying to preserve that form…but at one time, that form was everywhere, as a matter of course. I wrote pieces like this, about adopting my daughters, for the Reader, and I’m not sure any newspaper would publish this anymore. I should add that, at the time, I was a little pissy at poor Martha Bayne, my editor at the Reader, for “dumbing down” my sentences. Of course with the hindsight of 20/20, I now see how much room Martha gave me to roam. These days, this would be glossed down to a two-page how-to or something. Even most of the online mags don’t let you roll. I recently had to work through four revisions on an essay with a writer who’s used to doing nonfiction for HuffPo, and had to be basically re-trained not to hand the reader the pithy/cute–to allow the piece to mess itself up instead and complicate itself and ask itself questions it doesn’t answer. That used to be journalism. Remember that?
Richard Thomas expands the concept of neo-noir with this awesome list of 10 essential authors of the genre, on Flavorwire, including The Rumpus’ own Roxane Gay, and other fab writers like Craig Clevenger and Lindsay Hunter.
I didn’t know about Karen Green’s memoir, Bough Down, about losing her husband, David Foster Wallace, to suicide until I read this review. I want to read the book immediately now.
There are a lot of books lately about grief. Or maybe all books have always been about grief.
Speaking of this, Sarah Manguso, author of the lumiously spare memoir, The Guardians, offers advice to young writers.
So as part of my efforts to pimp Other Voices Books’ latest author, Rob Roberge, I lined up a Six Question Sex Interview for him on The Nervous Breakdown. This is a popular series on the site; it’s been going on for years. Once, when I interviewed the writer Jessica Blau, the interview was accompanied by a drawing from The Joy of Sex (or at least that’s where I remember it being from) featuring one woman going down on another. It’s a pretty blunt series is what I’m saying. It’s included people like Junot Diaz, and also not-yet-known writers, none of whom have pulled many punches. Yet apparently Rob raised the bluntness bar because his interviewer insisted on publishing the piece anonymously. Yes, really. This absolutely made my month. Anything else that happens now in my promotion of Rob’s novel, The Cost of Living, is just gravy.
Gloria Harrison’s classic TNB piece, “Let’s See How Fast This Baby Will Go,” was just picked up by This American Life. If the anonymous sex interview hadn’t made my month, this would have.