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  • Posted 5/26/17 at 8:47 PM
  • Obits

Remembering Denis Johnson

It’s difficult to write about being fucked-up on drugs because the point for the user is the experience of the derangement not the telling of it. The high, the comedown, the forgetting. Then the getting on with life, which for the addict means the next high, but even so. It’s not what people want to hear about, and any attempt to romanticize it courts embarrassment. That’s why there’s so very little great drug writing in our literature. You can count it out on your hand: Nelson Algren’s The Man With the Golden Arm; the early novels of William S. Burroughs; Bruce J. Friedman’s cocaine story “Lady”; all the addicts in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, especially Madame Psychosis in the bathroom; the relentless cataloguing of powders and pills in Tao Lin’s Taipei. Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City is more memorable for the narrator’s failing marriage and his lousy job as a fact-checker at a fictionalized New Yorker than for the Bolivian marching powder — it’s a sideshow, an occasion for him to ask if he’s really that kind of person. Nobody is until they are. You learn the same thing from two exemplary recent books about heroin addiction: Michael W. Clune’s memoir White Out and Jade Sharma’s Problems. But we haven’t seen anything lately that approaches the work of Denis Johnson, who died on Wednesday of liver cancer at age 67, and we aren’t likely to anytime soon. As Fuckhead, the narrator of the stories in Jesus’ Son, the 1992 collection that’s Johnson’s masterpiece, says of his days as a pill-popping hospital orderly given to misadventures on the highway: “That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?”

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  • Posted 5/25/17 at 1:38 PM on The Cut

Finally, a Teen-Disease Romance for People Who Don’t Look Like Mandy Moore

Like any other young adult reader, I had a phase in which the only thing that interested me was teen-disease porn. I loved those novels about beautiful young women who suddenly contracted some sort of rare terminal illness and had to learn how to really live and fall in love before expiring, too soon. Too soon.

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  • Posted 5/19/17 at 6:00 AM

Watch Al Franken Talk You Through His Sumptuous Book Cover

Go ahead — judge this book by its luxurious, richly painted cover. The trailer for Al Franken’s book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, fakes a behind-the-scenes look at his glamorous book-cover photo shoot, complete with signs and signifiers Franken used to convey the text’s deep intellectualism: a globe, a leather chair, and a stoic, strong facial expression. There’s even a fireplace, which signifies “the fact that I can get an office with a fireplace,” Franken offers. The Minnesota senator’s book Al Franken: Giant of the Senate is out May 30; catch him in conversation with Robert Smigel at 12 p.m. this Saturday at Vulture Festival.

5 Loose Ends From the Twin Peaks Finale That Mark Frost Ties Up in His New Novel

This post originally ran on Oct. 18, 2016. We are re-running it ahead of the Twin Peaks revival. Spoilers ahead for the series finale of Twin Peaks, as well as Mark Frost’s new novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks.

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Television’s Best Shows Are Taking Their Cues From Literature

Over the past decade, there’s been a continual debate about whether TV is, in one sense or another, “the new movies.” This lively argument has drowned out another, more fascinating development: scripted television’s raiding of literature for devices that it places in service of its own storytelling, then transforms into something that’s part literature, part cinema, but ultimately and distinctively television.

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  • Posted 5/16/17 at 11:25 AM

Why Playing Maura on Transparent Makes Jeffrey Tambor ‘Cranky’

Jeffrey Tambor has played the role of Maura, Transparent’s anxious matriarch, to much critical acclaim, but the transformation doesn’t come easy to the veteran actor. In the following excerpt from his new memoir Are You Anybody?, out today, Tambor describes how he painstakingly prepares to take on the groundbreaking character.

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How Much Juice Can Joshua Ferris Squeeze Out of Male Ugliness?

Joshua Ferris achieved something of a pop-lit crossover hit ten years ago with his first novel, Then We Came to the End. The title was borrowed from the opening line of Don DeLillo’s first book, Americana, and like the first half of that book it was a comedy about life in a corporate office — a Chicago advertising firm where DeLillo had a New York TV network. As with Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, the narration was first-person plural, a device used to channel the dwindling collective of cubicle-bound bottom-feeders through successive massacres of downsizing. In The New York Times Book Review, James Poniewozik, then TV critic for Time, greeted it warmly with a comparison to The Office (American and British versions). There were both screen-ready set pieces — an office attack by a disgruntled laid-off co-worker armed with a paintball rifle — and characters perhaps a little too easy to sympathize with: The workaholic boss, who’s sacrificed her youth to get to the executive rung on the corporate ladder, is finally ready to start living a little when she learns she’s been diagnosed with cancer. With its lightly worn blend of hard-to-miss recent influences, its lively assemblage of familiar tropes, and its oddly romantic vision of corporate life — usually the object of acid satire in American fiction, not gauzy slapstick elegy — the novel was nominated for a National Book Award, and in 2010 Ferris was named to The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list. A film adaptation hasn’t yet passed the development stage.

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  • Posted 5/12/17 at 10:16 AM
  • Theft

J.K. Rowling Asks Fans To Help Find Stolen Harry Potter Prequel

Evanesco! A Harry Potter manuscript has disappeared. An 800-word manuscript J.K. Rowling scribbled on the back of a postcard has been stolen, according to the New York Times. The manuscript, a prequel to the Potter series set three years before Harry’s birth, was never published; it was auctioned in 2008 for £25,000 to benefit charity. It was stolen three weeks ago, West Midlands Police said, during burglary in Birmingham, England. Rowling asked fans online not to purchase the manuscript from the thieves should they come across it:

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Large Animals: A Maggie Nelson–Approved Book for Wild Creatures

It’s easy to get sentimental about animals. There’s a fantasy, explains writer Jess Arndt, that they will “somehow redeem us, or return us to our sinless selves. I don’t think I buy it. I listened to my cat torment a giant bug all night.”

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23 Mother’s Day Books You Can Order on Amazon Prime Right Now

If your mom’s a reader, you may be looking for a Mother’s Day book to buy right now. While there’s a certain genre to choose from (one unfairly termed “mom lit” — female-centric novels by Ann Patchett or Elena Ferrante that get snatched up for book clubs or beach reading), there’s a whole wide world of books out there that mom would love, like Gina Kolata’s investigation into one family’s battle with illness, or Colm Tóibín’s latest take on a classic Greek tragedy. We’ve put together a list of the 23 best Mother’s Day books — some coffee-table books (this would be helpful, too), some literary nonfiction, and some mom lit (which we still love) — that’ll arrive in time with two-day shipping.

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Summer Books Preview: Eddie Izzard, Arundhati Roy, and 8 More Books We Can’t Wait to Read

New season, new reading list. Whether you’ll be spending the next three months lounging on the beach or soaking up air-conditioning on the couch (or let’s be real, squeezing between sweaty commuters on the subway) we’ve got the right book for you. Straight ahead, the ten best books to read this summer.

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  • Posted 5/8/17 at 12:59 PM
  • Books

Bill Clinton and James Patterson Are Writing a Suspense Novel About a Certain President Going Missing

Guessing the plot of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s co-authored new novel might just be more amusing than the announcement itself, but first things first: Bill Clinton and James Patterson are writing a book. Together. It’s Clinton’s first-ever fictional novel and Patterson’s millionth, but the real news here is it’s called The President Is Missing. A press release would have you believe said “sitting president” is a “completely fictional invention” and not an actual president, and adds that the novel will dive into a “unique amalgam of intrigue, suspense, and behind-the-scenes global drama from the highest corridors of power.” Which is presidential-speak for describing a fantasy about Hillary staging a coup that results in Donald Trump’s disappearance and her usurping his title. (Well, we can dream — let’s not forget Patterson tried to fictionally kill off Stephen King.) The book is slated for June 2018, by which point, hey, maybe they’ll have to call it nonfiction.

7 New Books You Need to Read This May

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

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  • Posted 5/4/17 at 8:00 AM
  • Books

Dennis Lehane Can Relate to His Restless Characters

Dennis Lehane moved from Boston to Southern California “three years, nine months, and two days ago,” he says, and the specificity of his answer gives him away. He knows it; he’s not hiding anything. But he is feeling a bit unsettled. It’s a brisk Friday afternoon in Santa Monica, and he has no obvious reason to be at loose ends: His 14th novel, Since We Fell, is due out any minute; he’s working with David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Big Little Lies) on a ten-episode adaptation of Stephen King’s 2014 novel Mr. Mercedes; he’s got a vacation to Hawaii coming up, and he has nothing pressing he needs to finish. And yet that’s the problem, or one of them. “I have a very hard time not working,” he concedes, in a voice that bears a trace of Boston, where he was born and where nearly all his most-celebrated books, such as Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, take place. “You don’t want to be around me if I’m not working. I start to lose my identity fast.”

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J.K. Rowling, a Monster, Has Finally Apologized For Her Most Egregious Harry Potter Death

We guess, in some ways, Severus Snape always had to die. He was mischaracterized as the villain second only to Voldemort throughout the series, rather than the unknowingly heartbroken guardian to Harry Potter that was always his truth. And so, his vicious death by Nagini could not be avoided. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less! Because after learning of Snape’s true motives — he was in love with Harry’s mom, Lily Potter, and swore to protect Harry by any means necessary after Voldemort murdered her, but told no one of this plan except Dumbledore — we all felt like monsters for wishing him dead. Well, just imagine how wracked with guilt J.K. Rowling, mastermind of this trickery, must feel.

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Caitlyn Jenner Says She Knew O.J. Simpson Was Guilty, and So Did Robert Kardashian

Caitlyn Jenner is on the road promoting her new memoir, The Secrets of My Life, and she’s got a lot to say. Earlier this week on Tucker Carlson’s show, she weighed in on Donald Trump, somehow managing to defend his support of the LGBT community while saying his first 100 days have been disappointing, and now she’s opening up to everyone’s favorite confidante Andy Cohen about O.J. Simpson.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: The Biggest Changes From the Book

The TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has finally brought Margaret Atwood’s tale of near-future totalitarianism to the small screen, and while the first three episodes of the Hulu series remain largely faithful to the original novel, there are some key differences. If you’re curious how the show departs from the book, read on. Spoilers follow, of course.

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  • Posted 4/22/17 at 1:37 PM

Elisabeth Moss Isn’t Convinced The Handmaid’s Tale Is Feminist

In our current political climate, many people have looked forward to this month’s premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale, which stars Elisabeth Moss as a forced reproductive concubine living in a misogynistic dystopia, on Hulu. Naturally, that topic was bound to come up at the show’s panel at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday evening, but the conversation soon took an abrupt turn when a discussion about feminism was tossed around instead. Per the AV Club, when asked if she considered the story, like that of Peggy Olson in Mad Men, to be feminist in nature, Moss was dismissive of such a reading. “I mean, they’re both human beings. They’re the same height,” she said. “Honestly, for me it’s not a feminist story — it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights. I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist; I never intended to play Offred as a feminist. They’re women and they are humans. Offred’s a wife, a mother, a best friend. She has a job, and she is a person who is not supposed to be a hero. She falls into it and she kind of does what she has to do to survive to find her daughter. It’s about love, honestly, so much of this story. For me, I never approach anything with any sort of political agenda. I approach it from a very human place, I hope.”

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Let’s Revisit Bill O’Reilly’s ’90s Novel About a Villainous TV Newsman Who Murders His Colleagues

Owing to numerous sexual-harassment allegations filed against him by women at Fox News, it was announced yesterday that Bill O’Reilly has been let go from the cable-news channel and his popular talk show The O’Reilly Factor. While Fox announced Tucker Carlson will be taking over O’Reilly’s time slot starting Monday, the rest of the media hasn’t yet let go of its fascination with O’Reilly’s rise and subsequent fall from grace, and there’s one particularly eerie bit of information that’s resurfaced. While you may know that O’Reilly has penned the historical Killing series, his first book was a fictional thriller titled Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Television and Murder. The book is a suspenseful psychodrama that chronicles the life of a newsman named Shannon Michaels at the “Global News Network” who begins murdering his former colleagues when he’s fired from the network. Here’s the plot description:

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