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  • Posted 2/5/16 at 4:53 PM

Samuel L. Jackson, Mad Max, and Susan Sontag: My Road Trip With A.O. Scott

One day in the spring of 1998, I tagged along with a friend of mine who was making a covert pilgrimage to the New England headquarters of the Church of Scientology. Her purpose was research. She was writing a paper on its then-disputed legal status as a religion. I was along on a lark. We both took the Scientology personality test, which I sensed was meant to measure some combination of self-confidence and non-fuck-up-ness, and presumably to find some exploitable deficit. I’m proud to say that, in all but one column, my scores were very high. In that column, I hit near rock bottom.

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8 Books You Need to Read This February

Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations. You should read as many of them as possible.

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  • Posted 2/1/16 at 12:17 PM

Revisiting the Sleaziest O.J. Simpson Book: Our Critic Reviews O.J.’s ‘Exact Opposite of a Classic,’ If I Did It

In the annals of unreliability, there has never been a narrator less reliable than the I who governs the text of If I Did It. In fiction, an unreliable narrator is the product of an author’s design, a persona behind whose words the reader has to glimpse a deliberately obscured fictional state of things. In the case of O.J. Simpson’s 2007 memoir, we have instead an unstable mix of variously cynical narrative forces that combined to produce what was briefly a best seller and what is now a lost exact opposite of a classic.

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Danielle Staub Has All the Receipts on Andy Cohen and She’s Publishing a Tell-All

The Sally Bowles of the New Jersey Turnpike, Danielle Staub, will go silently into that good night no longer. Staub took to Twitter to announce that her "silence" is over and she plans to spill all the details on Andy Cohen, Bravo, and Real Housewives of New Jersey's effect on her life. What becomes of a dream that has a table flipped at it? Does it dry up like being engaged 19 times? Does it fester like being called a "prostitution whore" on television — then run? Staub is a caged bird no longer; she's Nora Helmer and she's leaving Torvald behind and slamming that door defiantly.

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Diane Williams: Avant-Garde Master of Miniature Fiction

It’s hard to summarize any of Diane Williams’s stories, and it may be beside the point. But let’s try. “Greed” opens with mention of an inheritance from the narrator’s paternal grandmother: “a pile of jewels.” It’s claimed by her father, so her mother comes into possession of two gem-set rings that late in life she “amalgamated” into one: “the diamonds and the sapphires were impressively bulked together.” It’s a striking image; the narrator calls it a “phantasmagoria” and says she wanted the hybrid ring to be a reminder of her mother. Then comes the story’s last line: “It’s hard to believe that our affair was so long ago.” I’ve made an assumption here that could be incorrect: that the narrator is female. We don’t know, and we don’t know who the other half of that our is, and what the jewelry, or just the amalgamated rings, had to do with the affair. And that title — who is the greedy one? The father? The narrator? The narrator’s lover?

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That Was Fast! Trevor Noah Is Publishing a Book of Personal Essays

Just like his Daily Show papa, Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah is wasting no time inking that book deal: Noah has announced he's publishing his first book of personal essays in November with Spiegel & Grau, a Penguin Random House imprint. The essays will detail Noah's life in South Africa "during the last gasps of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that came with its demise," experiences he often inserts into his comedy. But if it seems a little premature to be shelling out millions ($3 million, reportedly) for more words from a guy who's been in the Daily Show chair less than six months, well, hey, Stewart published his first collection of essays (1998's Naked Pictures of Famous People) a year before his TDS tenure even began. So take that, Noah! Why the need to commit his life story to paper? "I couldn't find a good book about myself so I decided to write one. And just like me this book doesn't have an appendix," Noah said in a statement. Touché. Fingers crossed his essays have better editing than his old tweets ever did.

Ken Kratz, the Making a Murderer Prosecutor, Is Writing a Book Now

Action 2 News reports Ken Kratz, the prosecutor of Making a Murderer infamy, will now write a book to share his side of the case behind the Netflix series. "Finally grateful to tell the whole story," Kratz told WBAY-TV on Sunday, adding that "the one voice forgotten to this point is Teresa Halbach." Kratz's announcement follows a rough Yelp appraisal, as well as criticism calling Netflix and MaM's filmmakers biased in favor of the show's subject, Steven Avery. The ten-part docuseries revolves around Avery's contentious conviction for Halbach's murder. Kratz, who won against Avery, wants to stand up for Halbach and her family following MaM's massive popularity, which has generated no dearth of support for Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey — both of whom many viewers want pardoned and freed because of how the trial was handled.

"If I was spoon-fed only what the Netflix documentary wanted me to see, I’d come to exactly the same conclusion. I’d be outraged." »

  • Posted 1/20/16 at 12:31 PM

Garth Greenwell’s Exquisite, Humorless New Novel

Perhaps like me you recall first encountering the poetry of Walt Whitman as a high-school student and reacting to certain lines with adolescent giggles. It’s an experience shared by the narrator of Garth Greenwell’s exquisite first novel What Belongs to You, an English teacher at the American College in Sofia, a midwestern stranger in Bulgaria feeling often thrilled and threatened by its foreignness. Early on he recalls walking in the mountain village of Blagoevgrad, chaperoning some students to a conference on mathematical linguistics, “a field in which I had little interest and no expertise” — a flash of offhand candor that inspires steady faith in his telling. Walking along a path between mountain and river, he does a great deal of seeing: “The air was thick with movement, butterflies and day moths and also, hanging iridescent in the sun, tiny ephemerae shining and embalmed, pushed helplessly here and there by the light breeze. The grasses and trees were releasing in a great exhalation pods of seeds, the tiny grains each sheltered and propelled by a tuft of hair like a parachute or umbrella.” The scene has him thinking of Whitman: “There were lines in Whitman’s poems that had always struck me as exaggerated in their enthusiasm, their unhinged eroticism; they embarrassed me a little, though my students read them each year with delighted laughter.”

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  • Posted 1/19/16 at 4:00 PM
  • Books

Chuck Klosterman Is Writing a Book About the Possibility of Us Being Wrong About, Well, Everything

At various points in human history, Herman Melville was a middling novelist, Shakespeare was a pretty good romance writer, and the sun was a big bright thing that revolved around the Earth. Which ideas that we take for granted today will be disproven in the years ahead? That's the premise of Chuck Klosterman's new book, What If We're Wrong: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, an attempt to imagine what the textbooks of 100, 300, or even 1,000 years from now will say about American culture at the start of the 21st century. We spoke to Klosterman about the book ahead of an exclusive reveal of its cover, which you can see below.

"We live in a period of extremely high certitude about what we believe, and we're completely obsessed with the present tense, as if the present will always be this way," Klosterman says. But any study of human history will tell you that's never been the case, and the book is Klosterman's effort to explore what our current standards of thought might be overlooking. He spoke to Richard Linklater about dreams, once considered the most important window into the human psyche. He spoke to Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Greene about the possibility of our basic understanding of gravity being overturned one day, as Aristotle's was. And he looked at the changing reputations of various authors in an attempt to understand what makes literature get "remembered." As Klosterman put it to us, "Could the most famous American novelist of this period be completely unknown, in the case of Kafka, or known but not respected, like Melville?" (Or even a blogger at a well-regarded pop-culture site? Hmmm.)

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An Exclusive Guided Look Inside the Upcoming Hamilton Book

In 2007, Jeremy McCarter, at the time a theater critic for New York, wrote a glowing review of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Off Broadway production In the Heights, praising it as “a musical that owes more to Big Pun than to Bernstein." The following year, having moved on to Broadway, the show was nominated for 13 Tony awards, winning four, including Best Musical.

Despite that dizzying success, Miranda remembered McCarter’s early review, and the two eventually met to talk about their shared interest in theater and hip-hop. But Miranda also had an idea: “He mentioned to me in our very first conversation that he was interested in doing something about Alexander Hamilton, which at first I thought was a really funny joke,” says McCarter. “Turns out it wasn’t a joke.”

McCarter later left the magazine business to run Public Forum, a performance and conversation series at the Public Theater centered on politics, media, and the arts. (Disclosure: I worked with McCarter at the Public.) It was there that the Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, asked him to recommend artists for potential projects, and the first person he could think of was Miranda. McCarter introduced Lin to the Public in the summer of 2011, and, well, you know the rest.

Hamilton is now one of the most sought-after tickets in town, and next up, the show is preparing to go national. Come April, there will also be a book, Hamilton: The Revolution, co-authored by McCarter, who wrote the chapters, and Miranda, who provides detailed annotation to his libretto. It includes profiles of all 11 principals, as well as over 40 different interviews, including several with Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow.

“When Lin told me that there was going to be a book about the show and proposed that he and I do it together, I wasn’t sure what the book could be until I thought about the fact that Hamilton tells the story of a revolution, but it is itself a revolution, and the book could be a way for readers to watch those two revolutions happen in tandem.”

Miranda wrote most of the songs from Hamilton in sequence, so the book follows its creation and its plot in chronological order, beginning in the White House, where the world got its first look at the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” and ending on Broadway opening night with “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”

“I got lucky,” says McCarter. “One of the fortunate, unexpected things about this book is that I’ve been around the show since before it was a show, and I didn’t have a thought in my head about writing a book about it with its author until he proposed it very late in the process. So a lot of the book is based on things that I got to see firsthand that haven’t been reported elsewhere because nobody else was there.”

Below, McCarter talks about putting Hamilton: The Revolution together, the clever chapter titles found in the table of contents — premiering exclusively on Vulture — and the stories behind some of the book's standout chapters.

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  • Posted 1/14/16 at 9:00 AM

Is Restraint the Same Thing As Subtlety? Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton

It’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for the narrator of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. She is confined, for most of the book’s action, to a hospital bed. Complications have arisen from an appendectomy. Lucy might need further surgery. Over nine weeks, she loses so much weight that her shoes no longer fit. She worries about dying. But we know the episode won’t prove fatal because the novel is narrated from the present, and Lucy’s hospitalization occurred in the 1980s.

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  • Posted 1/13/16 at 10:58 AM

Elliott Chaze’s Black Wings Has My Angel Is a Perfect Crime Novel

Gold Medal Books emerged in 1950 as a publisher of paperback originals that cost 35 cents and featured deliciously trashy illustrated covers and titles like Meanwhile Back at the Morgue, Make My Coffin Strong, Let Them Eat Bullets, Death Takes the Bus, and One Monday We Killed Them All. It was still the golden age of pulp fiction in America, but Gold Medal’s enormous success would be among the forces that started to put the pulp magazines out of business. These books aren’t much read any more, and, of course, literary quality wasn’t the main criterion for publication, but on the evidence of Black Wings Has My Angel, a flawless 1953 heist novel by Elliott Chaze reprinted this month by New York Review Classics, it wasn’t disqualifying either. On a technical level, it is possible to write a perfect crime novel. You might say Black Wings Has My Angel is beyond perfection.

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Chuck Palahniuk Recalls David Bowie’s Hand in Selling Fight Club: He Was My Hero and Savior

In a tribute published via Rolling Stone on Tuesday, Chuck Palahniuk explained how David Bowie helped jump-start the author's career. Intense fondness for the late rock idol's work had reached new heights when, in the summer of 86, the writer heard Bowie doing sound checks for a tour stop in Portland, virtually right outside his apartment window. "He'd sing most of 'Young Americans' and stop. Then begin from the beginning. Over and over," wrote Palahniuk, who, at the time, lived near Civic Stadium as a newly graduated, loan-plagued newspaper reporter. "All afternoon, my friends and I were in a music video, dancing on our perfect Hollywood backlot street, drinking beer and enjoying a concert none of us could afford to attend. The repetition of the song, the beer and the sunshine were hypnotic." Palahniuk tapped that same blissful repetition a decade later to nab a meeting with the person who would eventually buy Fight Club:

Read more of Palahniuk's piece here: »

  • Posted 1/12/16 at 5:40 PM

A Rare Conversation With Pulitzer Prize–Winning Writer Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk has never been one for half-measures. His two-volume World War II saga, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, ran to nearly 2,000 pages and was adapted into a corresponding pair of TV miniseries. His third novel, The Caine Mutiny, won a Pulitzer, spawned a Broadway play, and gave Humphrey Bogart a defining role of his career. Wouk’s meaty, breezy fiction (on the Navy, the Holocaust, Israel, Nixon, a starry-eyed Jewish girl who called herself Marjorie Morningstar) earned him millions of readers but precious few glowing reviews. Still, even as he aged out of both the cultural center and the typical human lifespan, the strict Orthodox Jew kept on writing.

Last week, at the age of 100, he finally published a memoir — of sorts. Sailor and Fiddler skims his life story in two parts: “Sailor,” devoted to work and show business, and “Fiddler,” on Israel and religion. At 160 pages it’s shockingly brief by Woukian standards but, given his privacy, unusually candid. He writes for the first time about the early death of his firstborn son, but mostly sticks to the genesis of his novels and his distracting dalliances with pop entertainment (Broadway, Jimmy Buffett). Wouk used to decline all interviews, but old age seems to have loosened his tongue. He spoke to us via video Skype — why not? — from his book-lined office, wearing a loose shirt, a large yarmulke, a long and sparse beard, and a wide grin.

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‘Unlike George’ R.R. Martin, Outlander’s Diana Gabaldon Meets Her Deadlines

Writers each have their own creative processes, but some might be better suited for the pace of the internet. Diana Gabaldon, the author of the Outlander series, was at the Television Critics Association winter press tour when she was asked when readers might expect the ninth installment of her series. One audience member asked Gabaldon if she would meet her deadline for her book, pointing out that fellow fantasy writer George R.R. Martin has had trouble finishing the sixth book of his Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, confessing to "blowing" multiple deadlines. "Unlike George, I write no matter where I am or what else I’m doing," she said to murmurs from the audience. "He admits it himself, he likes to travel and he can't write when he travels. That's just the way he works." While Gabaldon concedes that "everybody's got their own writing mechanisms," she describes herself as someone who is constantly compelled to write:

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  • Posted 1/8/16 at 12:15 PM
  • Books

Mein Kampf Published in Germany for the First Time in 70 Years

Mein Kampf, the 1925 memoir by Adolf Hitler that outlines the future dictator's genocidal vision, hits bookstores in Germany on Friday for the first time since the end of World War II. Though the Nazi insignia and other symbols of the fascist regime have been banned in the country since the war, Mein Kampf was never officially put on the blacklist. Instead, the government of Bavaria, which held the copyright, simply refrained from publishing it. With the close of 2015 — 70 years after its author's death — the book now enters the public domain in Germany, with a new annotated edition from the country's Institute for Contemporary History going on sale just days after the copyright lapsed.

The new Mein Kamf attempts to place the book in the context of the larger history of European anti-Semitism, and includes numerous footnotes critiquing Hitler's arguments. Its publishers see the publication as a necessary step in fighting the continent's rising tide of right-wing nationalism, with the Institute's director, Andres Wirsching, telling the AP, "At a time when the well-known formulae of far-right xenophobia are threatening to become ... socially acceptable again in Europe, it is necessary to research and critically present the appalling driving forces of National Socialism and its deadly racism."

  • Posted 1/7/16 at 8:00 AM

Can Short Stories Still Shock?

It seems a quaint idea now, but there was once such a thing as a celebrity anthologist. Edward J. O’Brien was a pale and sickly young poet and playwright who’d graduated from high school at 16, attended Boston College and Harvard, but dropped out, resolving “to educate myself as long as life lasted.” He became the protégé of William Stanley Braithwaite, a poet and critic who in 1906 began publishing an annual survey of American poetry in the Boston Evening Transcript. When Braithwaite’s editor suggested the paper run a companion survey of short stories, the task fell to O’Brien, who solicited complimentary copies of all the going magazines publishing fiction, several of which had circulations in excess of 500,000, not to mention the little ones that were about to become busy launching modernism. O’Brien proposed an annual anthology to a Boston publisher, and so in 1915, there appeared the first volume of the Best American Short Stories franchise that still, along with its many cousins (Essays, Travel Writing, Non-Required Reading, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery Stories, Infographics, etc.), persists today. O’Brien, whose frail heart kept him out of World War I, became a sought-after and well-compensated public speaker; moved to England and began a parallel project in the Best British Stories; became a correspondent of Pound and Joyce, among other modernists; gave Hemingway one of his first big breaks by anthologizing his early story “My Old Man” before it appeared in a periodical (a violation of one of his own rules); and, by the end of his life, was working for Hollywood and confining his literary efforts to two nights a week.

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28 Authors on the Books That Changed Their Lives

The right book, it’s said, can change your life. Some books can alter perceptions of the world, or let a reader see life from a perspective they may never have considered before. Others expand the sense of what’s possible within the confines of a narrative; still others tell stories that the reader might not have ever expected to find themselves hearing. With a New Year just beginning, it’s an ideal time to seek out books that have a track record of changing your life. So we asked a number of writers across the board — from Eileen Myles to David Mitchell to Chuck Palahniuk to Alexander Chee to leading genre authors — about the books that changed their lives. Here’s what they had to say, in their own words.

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7 Books You Need to Read This January

Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations. You should read as many of them as possible.

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  • Posted 12/30/15 at 10:47 AM
  • Primer

A Timeline of the Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby [Updated]

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.

"Tamara Green, a lawyer, alleges that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in the 1970s." »

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