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Book News: VICE Draws Ire By Staging Female Author Suicides

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • VICE magazine has a reputation for using provocative content to draw an audience — Dennis Rodman's North Korean tour comes to mind — but a spread in the magazine's recent fiction issue has sparked particular fury. Next to short stories by Mary Gaitskill and Joyce Carol Oates is a fashion spread featuring models posing as female writers such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf on the brink of committing suicide. One photo in the shoot titled "Last Words" shows a model impersonating the poet Elise Cowen, who died after jumping out of a window, lying prostrate on the sidewalk. The writer Michele Filgate responded to the spread in an essay for Salon: "Art can and at times should be provocative — there's no doubt about that. Yet this isn't art. This is an editorial decision to get more pageviews." And the comedian and author Caitlin Moran tweeted, "In the interest of balancing Vice's "female writers commit suicide" fashion shoot, I'd like to report I'm eating breakfast & am immortal."
  • The mysterious Edinburgh book sculptor, who leaves anonymous, delicate artworks made from books all over the city, has struck again. A sculpture of a bird's nest, complete with hungry baby birds, materialized in the city's Leith Library. It bears a quote from Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne: "It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like 'What about lunch?"
  • Jonathan Franzen, the austerely spectacled novelist and avian enthusiast, contacted The New York Times in response to a Frank Bruni column on sexism. He writes: "There may still be gender imbalances in the world of books, but very strong numbers of women are writing, editing, publishing and reviewing novels. The world most glaringly dominated by male sexism is one that Mr. Bruni neglects to mention: New York City theater." Franzen has been in the center of a spirited debate on gender bias ever since he called Edith Wharton ugly in a New Yorker essay and referred to Times critic Michiko Kakutani as "the stupidest person in New York" during a panel on literary criticism.
  • The poet Ange Mlinko speaks to The Paris Review about the writing process: "I grew up listening to languages my immigrant parents didn't want to teach me, so I get a regressive pleasure out of feeling my way through sounds to their possible meanings. Not "getting" a word, or a line, or a poem at first read was never an obstacle for me — in fact, it was a seduction."
  • The Vault, Slate's history blog, features the childhood drawings of the poet E.E. Cummings. One shows a soldier and a rhinoceros telling each other stories. Another is a poster for the "Estlin Cummings Wild West Show." (It brings to mind Cummings' Buffalo Bill, "who used to ride a watersmooth-silver stallion and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat.")
  • It seems that Apple has at least one advantage over the Department of Justice in the ebook price-fixing case: basic computer skills. The New York Times reports (with admirable restraint): "Apple's legal team used a MacBook to shuffle between evidence documents, stacking them side by side in split screens and zooming in on specific paragraphs. By contrast, the Justice Department's lawyers could show only one piece of evidence at a time. One video that Mr. Buterman played as evidence failed to produce the audio commentary needed to make his point."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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