And yet again, we’ve reached the end of a long, bad year. For the sake of posterity, and probably because we’re masochists, here’s the second installment of the 50 biggest literary stories of 2023, so you can remember the good, the bad, and all the literary cool girls we met along the way. Have fun:
The End of an Era for the Old Guard of Publishing
One of the many knock-on effects of Penguin Random House’s failed attempt to acquire Simon & Schuster was the acceleration of departures by a legendary generation of editors, the final act in an era of publishing upheaval that began with the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matters protests of 2020.
Gone now are the likes of Daniel Halpern (founder of Ecco Press), Victoria Wilson (who worked with Anne Rice and Lorrie Moore), Ann Close (editor of Lawrence Wright, Alice Munro, and Norman Rush), Shelley Wanger (Edward Said, John Richardson, Joan Didion), Jonathan Segal (seven of his books have won Pulitzers), Kathy Hourigan (who worked closely with Robert Caro for decades), Wendy Wolf (Nathaniel Philbrick, John Barry, and Steven Pinker), Rick Kot (Barbra Streisand, Andrew Ross Sorkin, and Ray Kurzweil), and Paul Slovak (Amor Towles, Elizabeth Gilbert, and David Byrne).
Most of these editors and publishers took generous buyout packages from a company eager to trim its expenses. And as this expansive New York Magazine feature points out:
One thing that’s making it slightly easier for the old guard to say good-bye is their hatred of the work-from-home era. “It infuriates me to no end,” says one person who reluctantly accepted the buyout. The PRH offices in midtown remain empty as ever. “If you go in there, it’s quite shocking,” says an exec who dropped by recently. “You walk on to one of those floors and there’s literally no one there. Just books in boxes piled up. It looks like a storage house.”
Many of those listed above had versions of the kind of old fashioned publishing careers that remain dominant in the public imagination (three-martini lunches, extravagant expense accounts, glamorous book parties), a professional way of life largely unrecognizable to the majority of the thousands of lower level workers that actually get books published.
Nonetheless, the loss of so much brilliant institutional knowledge—and the well funded editorial risk-taking that so often went along with it—is a sad moment for literary culture. –JD
Reading became . . . cool?
Odds are that, if you’re reading this list, you know that reading is cool and probably have since LeVar Burton told you so when you were a child. But 2023 was the year that reading became Cool Again, according to the culture. LA is hosting pop-up readings in parking lots, “Literary It Girls” are now throwing the most exclusive of book launch parties, the Look Book photographed the attendees at Catherine Lacey’s launch event, you can buy a hat plastered with the name of your favorite (dead) author (they got rid of the living-author hats, which was probably for the best), Chris Pine keeps being spotted with bags of books in seemingly every city he visits…
Honestly, if you want a hot tip, we’re betting that next year’s big trends will be everybody ditching their phones to carry around battered Penguin paperbacks in their back pockets, from which they can and will read aloud at the slightest provocation. Also there might be more hats. Watch this space. –DB
Caroline Calloway and Natalie Beach published dueling books.
Say what you will about Caroline Calloway: The woman knows how to capture a headline. Or, in the case of the well-timed release of her self-published memoir, Scammer, wrest the headlines from her best friend-turned-very public bad art friend, Natalie Beach. Beach’s memoir-in-essays, Adult Drama, which sprang from her viral essay “I Was Caroline Calloway,” was released on June 20 by Hanover Square. Calloway’s—originally slated for publication (by her, at the steep price of $65) in 2020, shipped that same month, guaranteeing that it would garner mention (at the very least) in any bit of publicity for Beach’s book.
Becca Rothfeld at The Washington Post had this to say of the dueling memoirs: “Beach is a talented essayist with a promising career ahead of her. Calloway is a lunatic who has already written a masterpiece.” Tyler Foggatt at The New Yorker came to a similar conclusion, writing “Beach’s book is less meandering than Calloway’s, and yet it is also slower and more unsure of itself.”
As you might expect from someone who built an identity from the fetishization of aristocracy, Calloway is an expert at dueling. She doesn’t even need a second. –JG
World’s largest and worst bookstore, Amazon, gets sued by the FTC.
In what is probably the largest suit every brought against the world’s largest distributor of stuff we generally don’t need, the FTC—specifically chairwoman Lina Khan—is accusing Amazon of
…exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them.
That sounds about right. But why is this literary news? Most of you probably know that Jeff Bezos began his little experiment in online shopping with books, a gambit that turned him into the overwritten evil genius caricature he is today, and changed forever the way we buy books—for the worse.
Will this suit change anything? Probably not, but this is likely just the beginning of a protracted effort to rein in the company’s world historical monopoly on what people buy. –JD
Haruki Murakami published a novel (but English speakers did not get to read it).
In March we reported that there would be a new novel by Haruki Murakami but, alas and alack, English readers wouldn’t get to read it. The Japanese publisher pitched the 1,200 page book as: “Must go to the city. No matter what happens. A locked up ‘story’ starts to move quietly as if ‘old dreams’ are woken up and unraveled in a secluded archive.” OK! In April, The City and Its Uncertain Walls (Machi to Sono Futashikana Kabe) was published.
The Japan Times described the book as a novel told in three parts: the “first of which is based on Murakami’s 1980 short story of the same title, which he considered a failed work and had hoped to return to one day. In it, a male narrator seeks out a girlfriend from his teenage years, and moves between the real world and a fantasy city surrounded by a very high wall. In part two, the protagonist leaves his job to work in the library of a new town, and in part three, the story returns to the walled city.”
Trolling Reddit threads and Japanese discussion boards via Google Translate, it seems the book treads similar ground as Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World but has been appreciated by fans for being a good example of Murakami’s signature style. According to distributors, the novel is the top-selling book across genres for the first half of 2023, beating out a guidebook for the latest Pokemon game on Nintendo Switch. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the English translation before too long. –EF
Wired published a pretty mean profile of Brandon Sanderson . . . and Sanderson responded.
Perhaps the fact that Mormon fantasy author Brandon Sanderson made $55 million in 2022 started things off on the wrong foot. For Wired senior editor Jason Kehe, that was the peg on which to hang a profile of the author, “Brandon Sanderson Is Your God,” which was published to . . . quite a bit of drama, it turned out, in March.
“How’d he do it? Why now? Is Brandon Sanderson even a good writer?” he asked, embarking on a quest to Utah to find out.
The result is an author profile that is either incredibly mean or lightly elitist, depending on your interpretation of Kehe’s text, and your personal stance on the quality (Stanley Fish? Are you out there?) of Wheel of Time (Sanderson authored three books, and the series was adapted by Netflix), and his dozens of other works from the “Cosmere” and “Cytoverse” (worlds in which he is much richer than a magazine writer).
Does Kehe insult Sanderson’s writing, or Sanderson, or Sanderson’s Mormonism in this piece? Yes. All of those things. Some grabs from which you can make your own assessment:
“Sanderson is extremely Mormon. What makes less sense is why there’s a hole the size of Utah where the man’s literary reputation should be.”
“…none of his self-analysis is, for my purposes, exciting. In fact, at that first dinner, over flopsy Utah Chinese—this being days before I’d meet his extended family, and attend his fan convention, and take his son to a theme park, and cry in his basement—I find Sanderson depressingly, story-killingly lame.”
“My god. Here’s a sample sentence: ‘It was going to be very bad this time.’ Another one: ‘She felt a feeling of dread.’”
This goes on and on. Kehe’s chief criticism of Sanderson is that the author is simply too prolific to be good (he notes a diagnosis of graphomania; a manic compulsion to put words down).
Breaking every rule in the author’s handbook (apparently, according to Kehe, not for the first time), Sanderson responded via Reddit, home turf for Wheel of Time fans, in a well-written and occasionally VERY SHARP yet kind response (this feels like the most “extremely Mormon” thing I can identify, if you wish to allow such rhetoric, and the best rebuttal, thank you Emily Temple, of Kehe’s critiques of Sanderson’s keyboard skills). Sanderson’s best “take” on the profile:[Kehe] seems to be a sincere man who tried very hard to find a story, discovered that there wasn’t one that interested him, then floundered in trying to figure out what he could say to make deadline.
I would argue this was deadlier than anything in Kehe’s profile. So what was Kehe trying to do? Part of me wants to read the piece as a meta-commentary on the kind of immersive latter-day gonzo journalism that places the cynical journalist in the center of the story and the subject as the sidekick (“The Full Tatum”; “Can You Say … Hero?” (I liked both of these, but you know)), or perhaps it’s a meta example of the lamestream media ignoring, then “discovering” a story years later, or an intellectual look at the geography of power in late-capitalist America (San Francisco may have corporate campuses, but Utah has Goblin Valley!).
Or maybe we can take Kehe at face value and assume he pitched a story, went on assignment, then found very little to string together while standing at his desk in San Francisco in his Patagonia vest. (Still, the Dragonsteel conference sounds like something!)
Negative reviews and profiles are vanishingly rare these days, because, as people have noted, those trying to sell books and solicit blurbs are the same people writing reviews for the most part, so you can understand the thrill of publishing something willing to go against the grain (and to court those lucrative hate clicks).
Finally, I am sorry that Salt Lake City’s dim sum received such a beating, surely not deserved. –JM
A romance writer who faked her own death returned to the Facebook group where it all began.
It’s a story worthy of a romance novel, or at least a soap opera: a self-published romance author who reportedly committed suicide in 2020 after being bullied in a Facebook group announced in January (on that same Facebook group!) that she had not in fact taken her own life! The story has plenty more twists (apparently she created a fake account and used that account to ultimately take over moderation of the Facebook group) and unsurprisingly the community didn’t take any of them terribly well. In the wake of these revelations, Laura Miller at Slate coined Meachen’s Law: “The longer a tightly-knit internet community exists, the more the likelihood that someone will fake their death approaches one.”
It’s easy to make light of this story (and certainly we expect to see some of its details powering the engines of pulpy plots for years to come) but once you push past the lurid details, it’s hard not to think poorly of everyone involved. The Internet, it seems, continues to bring out people’s worst behavior — whether that’s bullying, faking your own death, or otherwise trying to serve up what folks believe to be karmic retribution for perceived slights. And to think, this was the year I decided to start reading romance novels because everybody told me the community was incredibly supportive and kind! (Which, to be fair, they mostly are!) –DB
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 at any time day or night to speak with trained counselors.
The Internet was convinced that Taylor Swift had written a book.
In May, the Internet was in a furor over a certain, then-forthcoming nonfiction book, a 544-page memoir (including 40 full-color photographs) that was slated to be published by Flatiron on July 9th. Why? Because The Internet thought it was probably written by Taylor Swift.
It all started when the owner of indie bookshop Good Neighbor Bookstore posted a video on TikTok reporting that a major publisher had informed them of a secret book coming in July, and speculated that it might be by the singer, citing various Easter eggs and clues. The publisher quickly asked the bookseller to take the video down, but of course, nothing can truly be deleted anymore.
A screenshot originally posted to Reddit showed notes from sales rep Anne Hellman on Edelweiss indicating a few more hints: that the book had an announced first print run of 1 million copies, that it was “fun and NOT political,” and the title would be announced on June 13. Hellman also pointed out that July 9th—the worldwide pub date—was a Sunday, an unusual day for a book to be published, and that booksellers who wanted copies in advance had to sign an affidavit.
The Swifties, unsurprisingly, went deep. Some even theorized that that not only would Taylor be publishing a memoir, she’d be using it to come out. Alas (?), once actual publishing people got wind of the rumors, it was quickly confirmed not to be a Taylor Swift book, but rather, a BTS book. (July 9 being, apparently, Army Day.)
Did it sell like hotcakes, even though Taylor didn’t write it? It did indeed. –ET
James Daunt puts the books back into Barnes & Noble, and it’s working.
I’m old enough to remember when Barnes & Noble was the big bad enemy box store, muscling into our charming little neighborhoods, taking all the business away from our delightful indie bookstores and our mom-and-pop coffee shops (I mean, they even made a famous documentary about it).
But then came the internet, and Amazon (see 27 above). So we realized that Barnes & Noble wasn’t exactly the enemy, and that for a lot of communities outside those charming, gentrified little urban neighborhoods, it served as both meeting place and starting point, for seniors in need of a place to read the newspaper, and for awkward teens looking for something—anything—to reveal a bit more of the world.
So now I find myself rooting for Barnes & Noble, and for former Waterstones CEO and bookstore whisperer James Daunt, whose tenure thus far as Barnes & Noble head honcho has surpassed expectations. The key to a successful bookstore, it turns out, is books. As Daunt told The Guardian in April:
[Now] you’re not seeing much beyond books. I mean, there are other things, but it’s unequivocally book-driven. Amazon doesn’t care about books … a book is just another thing in a warehouse. Whereas bookstores are places of discovery. They’re just really nice spaces.
This revolutionary focus on… books in bookstores has yielded very positive results. After having closed nearly 400 of its 1,000 US stores over the last decade, Daunt’s leadership has seen nearly 30 new stores open in 2023.
The margins for bookselling will always be tight, and there’s no guarantee Daunt’s initial successes can be sustained over time, but in a business accustomed to bad news, this is a nice change. –JD
Spotify makes its big move into audiobooks.
As I wrote way, way back in August, 2020, when it first became clear Spotify was going to move into the audiobooks space:
The biggest question (for me, anyway, as an audiobook reader and Spotify user) is how the hell Spotify plans to bring the one-price-for-infinite-songs subscription model to books. On the one hand, I imagine publishers are glad to see a potential and legitimate competitor enter the playing field to provide an alternative to Amazon’s incredibly aggressive contract stipulations (look, I love these guys, but I don’t think Bezos and co. are all that worried); on the other… UNLIMITED BOOKS WHAT NOW?!
Well, as of September 2023, Spotify is officially in the game, offering over 300,000 titles for purchase, a la carte. But here’s the scary new part: as of last month in the US, nearly 150,000 titles are available on-demand for premium members, just like songs or podcasts. And if you know anything about what Spotify has done to the livelihoods of musicians, this has to be scary as hell for writers. Maybe having everything you could ever possibly want available at any moment isn’t such a great idea? –JD
BookTok moved into publishing.
BookTok, eh? What’s it’s all about? How does it work? Why are its users so obsessed with Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles? I, a hapless luddite, still don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I do know that the subcommunity is a powerful new player in the literary landscape, and woe betide anyone (me) who doubts its ability to move copies and shake up our dusty old industry. Case in point: in July, the New York Times reported that ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) had recently filed a trademark for a publisher (8th Note Press), hired a romance industry veteran as an acquisitions editor, and begun courting self-published romance writers to join its stable. Given that ByteDance has direct access to an audience larger than any traditional publisher could ever dream of and therefore could, in theory, boost its own authors at the expense of all others, the question must now be asked: is it only a matter of time before the Knopf Borzoi, the Random House penguin, and the Simon & Schuster guy with hat are each forced to bend the knee in supplication to publishing’s new overlord? –DS
When Winnie-the-Pooh entered the public domain, horror followed.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as intellectual property hits the public domain, it will be immediately twisted far beyond the creator’s wildest dreams. It’s hard to imagine how A. A. Milne would react upon seeing even just the trailer for Blood and Honey, wherein a forgotten Pooh, Piglet, and co. have gone feral in Christopher Robin’s absence and are… *checks notes* now slasher villains hunting Christopher, his girlfriend, and their friends. It sounds absurd, and it is! But honestly, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun! Proper B-movie slasher silliness, as opposed to the increasingly ponderous and altogether un-fun vibe coming off of basically every other long-running franchise that keeps going back to the same well instead of getting strange with their IP.
Combined with a burgeoning wider acceptance for fan-fiction in general, there’s palpable joy out there at seeing artists go to the mat with wild ideas that play in established sandboxes. Obviously it can go too far (the director of Blood and Honey has expressed interest in a childhood-horror ‘shared universe’ involving the Hundred-Acre Wood characters as well as at least Bambi and Peter Pan) but honestly, if Sherlock Holmes can fight Dracula, why can’t Eeyore take his rightful place upon a throne of skulls and cover all the lands in a second darkness? –DB
Jon Fosse won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
After a decade near the top of Ladbrokes’ list of odds, 2023 was finally Jon Fosse’s year, with the 64-year-old Norwegian receiving his call from the Swedish Academy, rather fittingly, while walking alongside a fjord. Perhaps best known to Anglophone readers for Septology, a single-sentence, seven part, 672-page novel (deftly translated by Damion Searls) that combines the domestic and spiritual in incantatory prose, Fosse is possibly more famous abroad as a playwright, with over 1000 productions of his work to his name.
Interestingly, Fosse writes in Nynorsk—a standard form of Norwegian based on Norwegian dialects, as opposed to Bokmål, which is based on the written grammar of Danish. Between 10-15% of Norway’s 5.4 million citizens use Nynorsk as their official language, or roughly 800,000 people, meaning that this is the first time in several decades that the Nobel hasn’t gone to an author writing in one of the “major” languages. The Nobel might be the biggest literary prize Fosse can aspire to in this life, but there might be something greater waiting for him in the next. In 2012, Fosse quit booze and converted to Catholicism, something the Vatican itself seems to have noticed, with the Pope writing to Fosse in December and invoking upon him “an abundance of divine blessings.” –SR
Michael Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side, filed a suit against the Tuohy family.
I’m not going to say anything here about Sandra Bullock and her acting chops, because my opinion on that matter tends to cause friction, but if you can remember the 2010 Oscars, the film The Blind Side was a big winner on the night, netting Bullock a statuette for best actress while the film itself won best picture. In broad strokes, it was a feelgood true story about how a white family (the Tuohys) adopt a young Black man (Michael Oher) from an impoverished background, helping him attend Ole Miss and eventually make it to the NFL.
But in court filings in Shelby County, Tennessee earlier this year, Michael Oher alleged that in February 2023 he discovered that he had never been adopted, but instead placed in a conservatorship, which allowed, and continues to allow, the Tuohy family to make financial decisions on his behalf. For their part, the Tuohy family maintain they never claimed to have adopted Oher—he was over 18 at the time the agreement came into effect, meaning adoption was no longer an option—and that the conservatorship was the most legally practical option at the time. As with Britney, a conservatorship is usually put in place when an adult individual has mental or physical disabilities, which was never the case with Oher. Oher asked the judge to end the conservatorship with immediate effect and asked for a forensic accounting of how the profits from his life story—developed by Hollywood into film that went on to make over $330 million—were dispersed. The matter remains before the courts.
So, how is this a literary story? Well, you have to wonder how much Michael Lewis, author of the book, knew about the finer details of this story, and perhaps also how much he stood to profit from the wheeling and dealing and percentages granted once his book was optioned. The story broke at around the same time Lewis’s highly-anticipated biography of Sam Bankman-Fried, the now-convicted founder of crypto platform FTX, was ramping up its publicity cycle. There were angles of interest for those into biography-as-form and crypto-as-real in this book, as Lewis had been granted unprecedented access to Bankman-Fried’s Bahamas compound, and it had been reported that Lewis’s approach to biography was in fact something more like hagiography. To top it all off, the book (Going Infinite) was embargoed lest it affect the court case. Fast forward a couple of months, you have reports of Lewis sitting on the Bankman-Fried family’s side of the courtroom through the trial, but when the book came out, it received middling reviews, with Zeke Faux’s Numbers Go Up rating several mentions during the trial and emerging as the more authoritative SBF bio. –SR
Everyone realized (finally, again) that Goodreads is terrible.
Goodreads is terrible. Everyone knows this. Amazon owns it! But because there’s no viable alternative, people just keep using it. Still, every once in a while, everyone remembers that Goodreads is terrible at the same time—this year it was because of the Elizabeth Gilbert thing, which you’ll find a little further down our list—and then we get a bunch of articles about it.
“The terrible power of Goodreads is an open secret in the publishing industry,” wrote Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. It can help a book succeed, or it can, possibly, destroy a book before it has even been published (that is, before anyone has actually read it).
What tends to happen is that one influential voice on Instagram or TikTok deems a book to be “problematic,” and then dozens of that person’s followers head over to Goodreads to make the writer’s offense more widely known. . . . When the complaints are more numerous and more serious, it’s known as “review-bombing” or “brigading.” A Goodreads blitzkrieg can derail an entire publication schedule, freak out commercial book clubs that planned to discuss the release, or even prompt nervous publishers to cut the marketing budget for controversial titles.
Over at Shondaland, Greta Rainbow called the site “beige in every sense of the word” and wrote: “A San Francisco couple initially built it for their friends to compare the popularity of Dune versus Pride and Prejudice. Now, ads for Prime shows splash on the home page. The algorithm gives Ferrante fans links to textbooks in Italian.” Useful!
“It is, in fact, possible to have a decent time on Goodreads,” wrote Tajja Isen in The Walrus. “You just have to ignore everything about the way the site is designed and how you’re supposed to use it.”
Cool. But why bother, when it seems to bring out the worst in people—as evidenced by this recent story, in which a debut fantasy author with a two book deal admitted to “review bombing” other debuts and making fake accounts to give her own (unpublished) book five stars. She was then dropped by her publisher.
By the way, if you find yourself unable to understand why your favorite book has three stars on Goodreads, we have the answers for you. –ET
Everyone realized (finally, again) that blurbs are terrible.
You know what’s worse than Goodreads? Blurbs. For some reason, 2023 was also the year we all remembered that.
“On their surface, book blurbs seem fairly innocuous, but in reality, they’re a small piece of the puzzle with a big impact—one that represents so much of what’s broken within the traditional publishing establishment,” wrote Sophie Vershbow in Esquire. “Blurbs expose this ecosystem for what it really is: a nepotism-filled system that everyone endures for a chance of ‘making it’ in an impossible industry for most. To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare enthusiast Cher Horowitz, ‘Blurbs are a full-on Monet. From far away, they’re okay, but up close, they’re a big old mess.’”
It’s true. Everyone hates them—but authors especially, who are often either groveling for them or being groveled at for them, neither of which is remotely pleasant. And then there’s the fact that they’ve become more divorced from reality—and therefore pointless—than ever.
“Blurbs have always been controversial—too clichéd, too subject to cronyism—but lately, as review space shrinks and the noise level of the marketplace increases, the pursuit of ever more fawning praise from luminaries has become absurd,” writes Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. “Even the most minor title now comes garlanded with quotes hailing it as the most important book since the Bible, while authors report getting so many requests that some are opting out of the practice altogether.”
“Within the blurb ecosystem it is generally understood (perhaps cynically) that ‘blurbspeak’ is, as [David Foster] Wallace noted, ‘literally meaningless,’” wrote G.D. Dess in The Millions. “(And the jury is still out as to how much they actually help increase book sales.)”
Who will save us, then, from the tyranny of the blurb? (No one. The answer is no one. See you again in a couple of years.) –ET
It was the Year of Judy Blume.
To be fair, it’s always sort of the Year of Judy Blume, because Judy Blume is eternal. But at the very beginning of 2023, we were treated to the first trailer for the long-overdue adaptation of beloved Blume classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and it was clear things were going to be turned up a notch this year. Not only did we get Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (which turned out to be wonderful) in April, but also Judy Blume Forever, a documentary about the life and legacy of the 85-year-old writer, in addition to a healthy number of contemporary authors reflecting on the importance of her work, both personally and, you know, to the world.
“Judy’s writing helped me to honestly play a teenage girl because her books helped me become one,” wrote Molly Ringwald in her citation for Blume in TIME‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2023.
At a time when no one was chronicling the monumental minutiae occupying a young person’s brain—body shame, bullying, grief—there was no subject that Judy wasn’t up for exploring in her books. Even the most taboo subjects of the time—menstruation and masturbation—were examined, helping millions of young women to enter young adulthood a lot more informed and a little less afraid. Her books have been banned many times in various places over the years, since there are always people for whom the thought of an empowered young woman’s autonomy over her mind and body is objectionable. But good books will find their way into kids’ hands, and I’m so grateful they found mine.
So many beloved literary magazines closed. . .
Let’s hope this isn’t a story we have to run every year. In recent times we’ve seen the shuttering and resurrection of The Believer, the loss of Astra Magazine and Gawker, and unfortunately 2023 was no different.
Across the pond, The White Review, founded across the pond in 2011 by Ben Eastham and Jacques Testard (who would go on to e-Flux and Fitzcarraldo Editions, respectively) finally reached the end of its financial tether, reportedly due to a combination of factors, including a declining appetite for literary philanthropy, and the non-granting of government funds on which the magazine had been reliant. It leaves a giant hole in the English literary scene, as a publication where many, many contributors were discovered by British publishers, and which from its inception had a commitment to authors beyond the anglosphere. Their last hurrah will be an anthology of translations by writers previously unpublished in English, to come out next year.
Here in the US, The Gettysburg Review fell victim to the ongoing (never-ending?) corporatization of American universities. Founded in 1988, the magazine had published writers like Rita Dove and Jeffrey Eugenides, but, according to Gettysburg College president Robert Iuliano, the $200 000 per year the college spent on it (Endowment: $409 million) can’t be justified because “its purpose is not the education of students.”
What are magazines for? –SR
. . . but Bookforum rose from the dead.
But it wasn’t all bleak. At the end of 2022 when Penske Media added Artforum to its portfolio, the changes were swift and devastating. Beloved newsprint publication Bookforum was shuttered, and the publishing world lost its best outlet for long-form reviewing. There was quite a bit of manoeuvring behind the scenes, though, and in the end the mag was bought by The Nation and the entire enterprise returned in August 2023 to much fanfare. What can be great about one magazine acquiring another, as opposed to say, a hedge fund, is that you can reasonably hope that they understand the “business,” so to speak, of magazines. Bookforum was able to relaunch in the same format, with almost the same staff and list of contributors. That’s in stark contrast to parent pub Artforum, where longtime EIC David Velasco was fired for posting a pro-Palestine Open Letter on the magazine’s website, despite that month’s issue carrying an image by Emory Douglas for Black Panther magazine on its cover.
You can help keep Bookforum strong with a lifetime subscription, for only $500—which if you break it down, is pretty good value?
And, in breaking news at the time of writing, it seems Jezebel is to be resurrected by Paste Magazine. From the ashes! –SR
Elizabeth Koch shuts down half of Catapult in aid of her “Perception Box.”
If this story didn’t involve a lot of good people losing their livelihoods, it would be funny as hell. Billionaire* heiress Elizabeth Koch, who up until February of this year was essentially the silent money behind the publisher Catapult, finally decided to step into the spotlight.
On the heels of shuttering the popular Catapult Magazine site, along with the organization’s online classes (a great side hustle for many a writer I know), Koch made the press rounds with something right out of Arrested Development: The Perception Box. Per this credulous, borderline sycophantic profile in the New York Times, Koch describes the box thusly:
We all live inside an invisible but ever-present mental box — a Perception Box. This box distorts our perceptions of everything and everyone around us. It distorts our ability to understand other people, to see them clearly, to connect with them. And it distorts our ability to really even know ourselves.
Most of the external conflict, messiness and miscommunication in the world — in corporations, in relationships, in families, in every aspect of our lives — is caused by internal conflict. And most of the internal conflict is caused by unconscious beliefs that we have been carrying around since we are very young — like zero to 5 — and that we project on everyone around us.
I’m not sure if this meaningless dorm room lunge at basic epistemic curiosity is worth breaking down, but I would suggest that the great majority of the “conflict, messiness, and miscommunication in the world” is, in fact, caused by the megalomaniacal greed of people like the Kochs.
Koch, who of course describes herself as “apolitical,” would most likely blame this assertion on the limitations of my own perception box. To which I say boooooo.
*All billionaires, by definition, are bad, but the Kochs are a particular level of evil reserved for only for the most special of billionaires. –JD