Category: Books

The Atlantic publishes a sponsored Scientology post

Update: That was quick. Alexis Madrigal points out that the post is down and now leads to a page that says the following: “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.”

Earlier: The Atlantic is getting into the Sponsored Content game, publishing this sponsored ode to Scientology. And on a completely unrelated subject, Jeffrey Goldberg (of The Atlantic) posted a note tonight reminding his readers that “Going Clear,” Lawrence Wright’s book about Scientology, comes out this week.

Wright is the highly-respected author of “The Looming Tower,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of Al-Qaeda. His new book grew out of “The Apostate,” Wright’s 2011 story about Paul Haggis defecting from the church (a story that required 971 fact-checking queries). Janet Maslin calls the book “a hotly compelling read.” Paul Elie says the book “isn’t fascinating reading, but it is a feat of reporting” (he also extols the book as an example of something people devoted lots of time and money to, despite the fact that it lacks “direct pertinence” to the lives of many readers, which is a really nice point in favor of stories and books tackling difficult, oblique subjects).

Unstreamlined Strength

[H]is almost religious belief that the novelist’s imagination can never rival reality’s force results in weak fiction and forceful facts. His books suffer from what he defines, in “Back to Blood,” as “information compulsion—the compulsion to impress people with information you have and they would love to have but don’t.”

— James Wood reviewed “Back to Blood,” Tom Wolfe’s Miami-set new novel. The book comes out next week (and I feel like there has been a decidedly muted response to this, considering how rare a new novel from Wolfe is, but maybe that’s just me). Wood spends some of the review dealing with Wolfe’s exhaustingly excitable prose, but he also devotes time to Wolfe’s long-held belief that reporting is essential to writing a good novel. (See here for one of many times Wolfe expressed/defended that belief.)

“How tall is this guy?”

Holed up in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Osama bin Laden sat at a computer and set down his thoughts in a long letter dated April 26, 2011, to Atiyah Abdul al-Rahman, his third-in-command and the link to his far-flung and beleaguered followers—the man he addressed as Sheikh Mahmud. It was the al-Qaeda leader’s sixth spring of confinement in Abbottabad. His hair and beard had grown white. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden’s life had shrunk to the cramped and crowded space of the upper two floors of a house behind high walls.

— Mark Bowden’s “The Finish,” an account of the hunt for and killing of Osama Bin Laden, hits bookstores on Tuesday. Vanity Fair has a very Mark Bowden-y excerpt online, if you are interested in giving that a read.

J.K. Rowling profiled

J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy,” a novel actually meant for adults (unlike the “Harry Potter” books, which plenty of teenagers and young adults and actual adults read and they feel no shame about that because those books were captivating, okay?), comes out this month. Ian Parker profiles the writer in this week’s New Yorker.

In an interesting and semi-related note, Andrew Beaujon at Poynter mentions that Rowling wanted quote approval (which has been in the news quite a bit recently, and which was just banned by the Times) and was denied. Beaujon also points us to some other examples highlighting the difficulties of dealing with publishers w/r/t certain books, something I imagine is particularly heightened when dealing with someone on Rowling’s level.

David Foster Wallace died four years ago today

There were other things to focus on today, but I did want to note that it was the fourth anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. It feels like there’s been quite a lot of D.F.W. love online recently — even moreso than usual, or at least coming in a more concentrated period of time due to the publication of D.T. Max’s recent biography of the late writer. All of the excerpts, related articles and other discussions this has spurred are like catnip to someone like me. (The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog has hosted some great, engaging stuff.) I’ve previously posted some of my favorite Wallace stories here, so you can dig through these archives if you are so inclined.

An Excerpt from D.T. Max’s David Foster Wallace biography

This week’s edition of Newsweek is drawing quite a bit of criticism, mostly because of that error-ridden, comically incorrect cover story by Niall Ferguson. But apparently there are other things in the magazine, stories that aren’t riddled with mistakes and intentional obfuscations.

One such story: An excerpt from D.T. Max’s forthcoming David Foster Wallace biography. That’s a worthwhile story! It’s just a shame it had to run in Newsweek during one of Tina Brown’s more successful “How can we get attention this week, and remember I will accept any and all suggestions, no matter how journalistically flawed?” gambits. (Another example: David Ansen’s story about “The Master.” That is also a story worth reading.)

Max wrote about DFW for the New Yorker following the author’s 2008 suicide. His book, “Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story,” comes out on Aug. 30.

Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

Gore Vidal, the author/essayist/actor/playwright/screenwriter/arguer, died Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills.

Vidal was a prolific essayist. Some of his more notable longer works are “The Best Man,” which he wrote for the stage and screen; the novel “Myra Breckinridge,” and “Ben-Hur,” which he rewrote. Vidal’s 1948 novel “The City and the Pillar” is considered something of a literary breakthrough for being among the first major American books to truly highlight gay characters.

His argumentativeness might be his defining characteristic. I can’t speak for everyone, but the first thing that comes to my mind about Vidal is “Didn’t he get into a big public tiff with…?”. The answer is yes, by the way: He feuded with Norman Mailer (who headbutted him while in the green room of Dick Cavett’s show), William F. Buckley, Truman Capote and others. And many of his political and personal opinions were quite unpleasant (see: this 2009 interview where he shares his thoughts on Roman Polanski or his writing on Timothy McVeigh, among other examples). UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens lamented Vidal’s shift to general crackpot-ness in 2010, for what that’s worth.

Vidal’s official site posted word on Tuesday; multiple outlets reported that he died from complications of pneumonia. Vidal was 86.

The New Yorker will tweet a new Jennifer Egan story

Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” has written a short story that will appear in the next edition of the New Yorker. Oh, you can’t wait that long? You just want to read the story now, and you don’t even care if you have to read it in tiny increments slowly trickling out over the next 10 nights? In that case, I have good news!

The New Yorker will publish “Black Box,” the new story, by tweeting each of the paragraphs one by one. They begin tweeting it out tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. and they will keep on doing it from 8 to 9 p.m. for the next nine nights. They will be tweeting from @NYerFiction, in case you want to follow along. Or you could just visit Page-Turner, the New Yorker‘s literary blog, to read everything that was tweeted. Or you could just wait until the new issue of the New Yorker arrives next week. It’s really up to you.

Aaron Sorkin Will Adapt Steve Jobs biography

Remember how Sony bought the rights to Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs biography (titled “Steve Jobs”) so they could turn it into a movie? And remember how they wanted Aaron Sorkin to adapt the book for the big screen? And remember how Sorkin said he was “strongly considering” it? And then remember how that was last fall and it’s been several months and so you’ve probably forgotten all about that other movie, because you have turned your attention to the Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, which is obviously going to be the best biopic ever made and you can’t even understand why anyone else would even bother, even if it is Oscar-winning doyenne of dialogue Aaron Sorkin?

Wait, where was I? Right, Sorkin, Jobs. Anyway, Sorkin finally signed on to adapt the book. That’s the news here.