Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s hard stand against book discounting in 2010 was the first salvo in the war of Amazon versus Big Publishing (and led eventually to the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the latter). Today he announced a multi-year truce of sorts, becoming the latest to make a deal with the etailer to regain at least some control over the price of the company’s books. (Simon & Schuster made a deal in October, and Hachette, whose books Amazon had been deliberately underselling, came to terms last month.)
Unexpectedly but unmistakably, 2014 was a pivotal year for comics. For starters, the industry had its best sales month in 17 years. What's more, sales rose for both digital and physical purchases. The unending boom of licensed comics properties reached an insane critical mass: Warner Bros. and Disney unveiled slates of DC and Marvel superhero movies running all the way to 2020, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier demolished the box office, five comics-adaptation TV shows were on the air in primetime (with many more to come), and it seems like we can't go more than a few days without some kind of superhero casting announcement.
“What I remember,” John Cleese says as he peers outward from center stage at the Schoenfeld Theatre, “is, during our first rehearsal, a lot of people in the very back, moving around.” It was exactly 50 years ago, in the fall of 1964, and the Schoenfeld was called the Plymouth. Cleese and six university friends had staged a comedy revue that had gone on tour; renamed Cambridge Circus, it was transferring to Broadway. Those people agitatedly milling around “were the investors. And after the first rehearsal, they told us they wanted us to change about 20 percent of the show.” Never mind that it had toured to New Zealand and back; it was rewritten, “and was better for it,” Cleese admits. When it opened, it received good reviews in nearly every paper except the New York Times (“a series of irrelevancies that fall flat”). Cleese recalls watching the opening-night party disintegrate as that review came in. The show closed in three weeks, reappearing briefly in an Off Broadway house. But before long, Cleese was getting regular work on the BBC; within five years came the premiere of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in which he and five friends sicced dead parrots and the Ministry of Silly Walks upon the world.
Just like her partner in two initials George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling is releasing 12 days of digital Christmas gifts for fans. Today's Pottermore update: a story on vampires, which Rowling admits she didn't include in Harry Potter because "there was little I could add to the tradition." Besides, she says, vampires are an Eastern-European thing, and she tried to draw more from British and Celtic mysticism when creating Harry's world. Still, one bloodsucker does make a brief appearance in The Half-Blood Prince, and Rowling admits she had plans for another: a vampire teacher named Trocar, who would have presumably only taught night classes. Rowling adds that, despite appearances, Severus Snape was not a vampire either, making this the latest Pottermore update to come back to Snape in the end. We've previously learned why he became a Potions teacher and all about the drab industrial town in which he grew up, though Rowling has yet to confirm whether or not Snape was based on Antonin Scalia.
In his rollicking, insightful new book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, author Peter Bebergal delves deep into the weird connections between popular music and the occult, and how the former has so often utilized the mystique of the latter. In this excerpt, Bebergal looks at the rumors that have long circulated about Jay Z's involvement with the mysterious Illuminati cabal, and what those rumors signify about how we think of the rap superstar.
I knew I was not a collector when I dropped that Charlie Patton 78 of “Pony Blues” on the floor. Recorded at the Gennet studio in Richmond, Indiana, on June 14, 1929, the disc came to me from a friend who, as any real collector would, had wrapped it in several layers of bubble wrap for safe travels through the U.S. Postal Service. Now the record lay about my feet, 50 shards of blackened shellac, the famous Paramount label split down the middle. All these years, through who knew how many owners, stored in uncounted garages and basements, across time and space, the neo-sacred object had persisted. Less than 60 seconds into my custodianship, its journey was at an end. There was nothing left to do but to stare in disbelief, cry in mortification. I was a slob. I could not be trusted with the past.
Beloved menstrual guru Judy Blume has revealed some details for her upcoming novel for adults: In the Unlikely Event will come out in June, she announced in People. The book is set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where Blume herself grew up, and takes place in 1951 and '52, using three real-life plane crashes as a "backdrop" for a story that crosses three generations. This marks Blume's first book for grown-ups since 1999's Summer Sisters, though she's released three other books for young readers since then. The author said on Twitter that she's been researching Unlikely since 2009, and that it's "almost ready." Meanwhile, readers have been ready for about 15 years.
When Vulture critic Matt Zoller Seitz released his exhaustively researched Wes Anderson Collection last fall, he had to leave out The Grand Budapest Hotel for one very understandable reason: The film hadn't been released yet. Now that it has, and is being nominated for a bunch of awards, Seitz luckily has a follow-up. He's penned a new guide to the film, out February 10!
Thirty years ago this fall, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC, and its star was catapulted into the comedic stratosphere. The timing is prime, then, for the release of a sprawling biography. Written by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, Cosby: His Life and Times documents the man’s rise from the Philadelphia projects, while also detailing the creation of his family sitcom and the murder of his son Ennis in 1997.
The book is notable, however, for its complete avoidance of sexual abuse allegations that have dogged Cosby for more than a decade. In a statement to Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur, Whitaker says, "I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently." Regardless, their absence is glaring. Consider the following timeline an appendix to the book.
The Harry Potter universe didn't end with the publication of the Deathly Hallows in 2007. Since 2011, J.K. Rowling has hidden new updates to the wizarding world on Pottermore, her website that explains and enriches the history, technology, and lineages of the characters we've come to love. Before J.K. Rowling releases another feature on Pottermore tomorrow, catch up on these highlights of the material she's already unveiled.
This week, Vulture will be publishing our critics' year-end lists.
1. Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
“Who in the world could need help with a chair?” This is what the protagonist of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel wonders when her husband pulls out her seat at the table. So much of Lila is present in that sentence: her pride, her self-reliance, her mistrust of kindness, and the way that — in her feral, gifted, autodidact’s mind — a profound alienation from society turns anthropologically keen.
Readers of Robinson’s 2004 Gilead have met this character before, through the eyes of that husband, the Reverend John Ames. Now, in Lila, we hear her story directly. Born into poverty and neglect, abandoned by her meager community in the worst of the Dust Bowl years, Lila would be as low and aimless as dust itself — but for her mind, and her huge and startling will. She yearns for love, and she yearns to understand “why things happen the way they do.” Ames helps on both fronts, and she helps him. Still, the nature of life troubles her, and her love for her husband does daily battle with incomprehension and shame.
After news broke about another Lena Dunham book kerfuffle, the author penned a lengthy response to all of the journalists, readers, and conservatives who picked apart her sexual-assault story. Her claim that she was raped by a Republican Oberlin student almost a decade ago prompted one blog to investigate her story and many other outlets and online commenters to question its validity. The essay is featured in her book Not That Kind of Girl but hadn't made anyone bristle until recently, when another former Oberlin student said he'd been mistaken for her attacker. In her BuzzFeed piece, Dunham underlines that the book's name for her rapist, "Barry," is a pseudonym, apologizes to the Oberlin alum of the same name, and encourages readers to be more empathetic toward rape survivors.
Random House has told the Wrap that it will alter future versions of Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl because the author's description of being raped in college has caused problems for another former Oberlin student. In her memoir, Dunham says she was assaulted by "Barry," a fellow student with a flamboyant mustache, deep voice, and purple cowboy boots who was the token Republican on campus. The problem is there's an Oberlin alumnus named Barry who fits that description, but he insists he's never even met Dunham. "We have put the change in process," the publisher said. "The digital edition of Not That Kind of Girl will reflect that 'Barry’ is a pseudonym. Future printings of the physical book will also have that change."
A little over a month ago, J.K. Rowling shared six new Harry Potter stories, including a deep dive into Dolores Umbridge. Now she’s about to look deeper into Potter antagonist/bully Draco Malfoy. It’s a part of a seasonal celebration in which Rowling will be offering a “festive surprise” every day from December 12 through 23. Best Christmas ever! Or at least since Harry got Ron a Chudley Cannons hat.
Yikes. A Sons of Anarchy collector's edition book accidentally got sent out too early — to the dismay of showrunner Kurt Sutter, who tweeted an apology about the embarrassing mistake: "It's a smart, well-conceived book that I was very excited for the fans to have. AFTER the motherfucking finale." Gotcha. So if you would like to not be called a "cunt" by the apologetic Kurt Sutter, don't share any damning plot details. Or else.
Midway on her life’s journey, Cheryl Strayed found herself in dark woods. Or a quarter-way, really: At the age of 26, motherless, divorced, dabbling in heroin, adrift from her stepfather and siblings and her own former self, Strayed made her way to California, hoisted a backpack, and set off to hike 1,100 miles in the wilderness, from the Mojave Desert to a place on the Oregon-Washington border called Bridge of the Gods.
Nine days after she finished, she met a man in a Tex-Mex joint in Portland. They got married. They had two kids. Strayed wrote Torch, a semi-autobiographical novel that was quietly but kindly received. She wrote essays. She wrote, anonymously, “Dear Sugar,” the cult-favorite advice column of the online literary magazine The Rumpus. Then, in 2012, 17 years after she stepped back into civilization, she published a memoir about her time in the wilderness: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Walk into the Strand Book Store, at East 12th and Broadway, and the retail experience you’ll have is unexpectedly contemporary. The walls are white, the lighting bright; crisp red signage is visible at every turn. The main floor is bustling, and the store now employs merchandising experts to refine its traffic flow and make sure that prime display space goes to stuff that’s selling. Whereas you can leave a Barnes & Noble feeling numbed, particularly if a clerk directs you to Gardening when you ask for Leaves of Grass, the Strand is simply a warmer place for readers.
In the middle of the room, though, is a big concrete column holding up the building, and it looks … wrong. It’s painted gray, and not a soft designer gray but some dead color like you’d see on a basement floor. Crudely stenciled signs reading BOOKS SHIPPED ANYWHERE are tacked to it. Bookcases surround the column, and they’re beat to hell, their finish nearly black with age.
This tableau was left intact when the store was renovated in 2003. Until then, the Strand had been a beloved, indispensable, and physically grim place. Like a lot of businesses that had hung on through the FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD years, it looked broken-down and patched-up. The bathroom was even dirtier than the one in the Astor Place subway. You got the feeling that a lot of books had been on the shelves for years. The ceiling was dark with the exhalations from a million Chesterfields. There were mice. People arriving with review copies to sell received an escort to the basement after a guard’s bellow: “Books to go down!” It was an experience that, once you adjusted to its sourness, you might appreciate and even enjoy. Maybe.
Not since 1974, the year a disheveled comic pretended to be Thomas Pynchon and a streaker ran across the stage, has the National Book Awards ceremony felt as radical-chic as it did last night. Some of it had to do with the best emcee in years, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), whose edges were as sharp as his timing. Maybe too sharp: His joke about African-American children’s-lit winner Jacqueline Woodson’s actual allergy to watermelon was roundly castigated today, and he’s issued an apology.