Media-savvy readers! I’m really excited to share with you some recent press mentions. The first was in Jennifer B. McDonald’s NYBTR review of The Lifespan of a Fact, a book I keep wondering whether or not to read. On the plus side, it sounds super-interesting (“An innovative essayist and his fact-checker do battle about the use of truth and the definition of nonfiction”). On the minus side, it apparently looks like this:


McDonald takes particular issue with D’Agata’s claim that “artistic” writing should not be subject to rigorous fact-checking:

Superb literary artists have managed to do their work while remaining precise about details D’Agata would dismiss as frivolous. What of Updike’s criticism and E. B. White’s essays and Joan Didion’s sociopolitical dispatches? More recently, what of the narrative journalism of Katherine Boo, Elif Batuman and Philip Gourevitch, or the essays and criticism of Jonathan Franzen, Pankaj Mishra and Zadie Smith?

I wish I had more time to comment on the actual issues, but you know me (super-efficient self-promotion machine), all I will say is how honored I felt to appear on the side of the truth. Big shout-out to all my fact-checkers – I love you guys!!

Many thanks also to Dave Lull, for alerting me to Richard Warnica’s recent essay in Maclean’s on John Jeremiah Sullivan (who has apparently decided to renounce the first person!):

In some ways, Sullivan is not unlike his fellow GQ writer George Saunders—whose 2007 collection The Braindead Megaphone had a similar mix of stranger-in-a-strange-world reported essays. Along with other writers like Elif Batuman, they’re forming a new breed of American essayists. In the tradition of Norman Mailer, Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace, they write deeply observational and distinctively first-person work. But there’s also an interesting sense of insecure irony to each of them.

So thrilled to be one of the insecure ironists! I guess! Whatever that means! JJ, we’ll miss you!!

Lastly I’m delighted to report that the ideas of The Possessed have permeated the cold hard world of political analysischeck out Thomas de Waal’s new essay in Foreign Policy on Russian literature and post-Soviet politics:

In her surprising 2010 bestseller, The Possessed, Elif Batuman makes the case for why Russian literature can be a guide to most of life’s questions, big and small. “Tatyana and Onegin, Anna and Vronsky,” she writes, recalling some of the Russian canon’s most famous characters, “at every step, the riddle of human behavior and the nature of love appeared bound up with Russian.”

My idea here is a little more modest: a brief sketch of how three great works of Russian literature can be mapped onto the stories of the three post-Soviet countries in which Western commentators take the keenest interest: Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia.

Read it and weep. I mean it – it’s really sad!!

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18 Responses to “IN THE PRESS”

  1. Ray2718 Says:

    Let’s not get carried away…. it’s Winnie the Pooh and its sequel The House at Pooh Corner which are the key fictional works essential to the explanation of our embattled and complex lives. I think. But more seriously, Elif, have you read the casebook of casebooks, the searing exposé of literary criticism ” The Pooh Perplex” by the critics critic Frederick C. Crews??

    I thought not. For the advanced reader is his sequel, ” Postmodern Pooh” …. I bet you haven’t read either of these seminal texts.

    Currently I am re-reading ” Learn Greek in 25 years”…. you would love it.

    Anyway, best wishes from Ray….. I suppose you didn’t believe any of that but it’s all truer than true.

  2. Dave Lull Says:

    Current issue: June/July/Aug 2012
    Special Section
    [. . .]
    [. . .]

  3. Dave Lull Says:

    For “The Money Plot” see here:

  4. Dave Lull Says:

    May 21, 2013
    Two Rivers: A Journey Through Central Asia
    Posted by Elissa Curtis

    “Two Rivers,” Carolyn Drake’s upcoming book, is a photographic record of the area in Central Asia that follows the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, the region’s major rivers. Elif Batuman, a staff writer for The New Yorker, who wrote the introduction and the captions, explains, “Drake’s Central Asia is a place where political allegiances, ethnic bonds, national borders, and even physical geography are in such flux as to seem, at times, like fictions.”
    [. . .]
    “Two Rivers,” comes out next month. Here’s a look at photographs from the book, with captions by Batuman. Click on the red arrows for a full-screen view.

  5. Dave Lull Says:

    June/July/Aug 2012
    The Money Plot
    Sam Lipsyte, Elif Batuman, Mary Gaitskill, and Mike Albo

    [. . .]

    No writer moves rubles—or numbers, for that matter—more effectively than short-story master Isaac Babel. In “The Story of My Dovecote,” the magic number is five. The story is set just before the 1905 pogrom. [. . .]
    —Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed

    [. . .]

  6. Dave Lull Says:

    Two Rivers by Carolyn Drake – review

    The vast mass of central Asia is the source for this lavish self-published book of stunning images
    Sean O’Hagan
    The Observer, Saturday 3 August 2013

    [. . .]

    Likewise Elif Batuman’s essay and accompanying fragmented narrative that comes in a separate pamphlet, lending another layer of understanding to what is an ambitious, and never less that visually arresting, undertaking.

    [. . .]

  7. Dave Lull Says:

    AUGUST 8, 2013

    In this week’s issue of the magazine, Elif Batuman writes about travelling with her father, a nephrologist who has been studying a mysterious, fatal kidney disease known as Balkan endemic nephropathy, or BEN.

    [. . .]

    Carolyn Drake, a photographer whose work, from her book, “Two Rivers,” was featured by the magazine in a recent portfolio, traced Batuman’s steps in Croatia and Bosnia for this piece.

    [. . .]

  8. Dave Lull Says:

    Two Rivers
    Glenna Gordon interviews Carolyn Drake, with text by Elif Batuman
    October 1, 2013

    The photographer’s new book defies borders and conventions in central Asia.

    [. . .]

    The text below is a combination of email correspondence, Skype conversations, and excerpts from Drake’s book. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

    —Glenna Gordon for Guernica

    “The national borders in Central Asia, which didn’t make a lot of sense at the time they were drawn, make even less sense now, and everyone who goes there must make or discover her own map. In Two Rivers, seven geographically and thematically determined chapters follow the rivers upstream, from the sea to the mountains.”
    —Elif Batuman

    [. . .]

    “Every aspect of this book, down to the way the photographs run over the edge of each page, belies a radical mistrust of borders.”

    [. . .]

    “Drake’s pictures blur the line between us and them, here and elsewhere, implicit in all travel photography. The two categories unfold and disappear into a rich spectrum. In one photograph, a Tajik shaman sits on the floor, holding a dagger over the body of a sleeping girl; spread before them are a box of sugar cubes, a plate of yellow apples, two flat loaves of Central Asian bread. The women’s luminous faces, the still life of symbolic edible objects, are reminiscent less of a National Geographic spread than of a Vermeer interior. They suggest not anthropology but mimesis: the representation of daily life.”

  9. Dave Lull Says:

    Most Anticipated: The Great 2014 Book Preview

    [. . .]

    MFA vs. NYC: Two Cultures of American Fiction edited by Chad Harbach:

    [. . .]

    The book will feature contributions from writers, editors, and teachers at various stages of their careers, including George Saunders, Elif Batuman, Keith Gessen, Maria Adelmann, Emily Gould, and Alexander Chee. (Lydia)

    [. . .]

  10. Dave Lull Says:

    5 Books to Take on Your Travels
    New York Times
    by Dwight Garner

  11. Dave Lull Says:

    The Perils of Reading While Female – In These Times
    Alienated by sexism in ‘Great Books’ (cough, Kerouac), some women create a secret canon.
    BY Sady Doyle

    [. . .]

    Elsewhere, the conversation turns to Henry Miller (Elif Batuman: “he compared women to soup” ) [. . .]

    [. . .]

  12. Dave Lull Says:

    Nathan Deuel

    Reading These 5 Writers Will Make You a Better Person
    Posted: 05/16/2014 2:58 pm EDT Updated: 4 hours ago

    [. . .]

    After Saudi Arabia, my wife moved to Iraq to cover the end of the war and I moved with our daughter to Istanbul. Spend a few days in that majestic city and I guarantee you that delight and dazzle will coincide with your viewing of seven of the world’s most majestic mosques, a place that straddles east and west, a warren of ancient streets, and a series of lively public squares. But living in Turkey’s cultural capital was an altogether more bewildering experience. The same apparatus than can deliver a tourist happily through a brief itinerary groaned with reluctance at making the long-term expat feel at home. The government bureaucracy was cruel and slow, illegal construction pounded day and night, the language was difficult and elusive, and the sprawling metropolis of 15 million people made getting a sense of its scale a gargantuan task.

    One voice emerged from the murmur to give — if not hope I’d ever love Turkey — at least a glimmer of a great writer who did. To follow New Yorker staff writer Elif Batuman on Twitter remains a delightful experience. But I caught her first at the tail end of her fabulous and now dormant blog, where she’d let her wit and intelligence gather in a more intimate space. I remember her first aggressive use of Twitter; with writing about everything from literature to her cat to Turkish politics, the feed was instantly wise, hilarious, perceptive — nourishment I was so hungry to find. If you’re going to move to a new country, it doesn’t hurt to have for your guide one of our generation’s best writers, just about to explode onto the scene.

    [. . .]

  13. Dave Lull Says:

    Exquisite Corpse
    Taking their cue from the Surrealist parlor game, 15 renowned authors take turns contributing to an original short story.

    From left: Zadie Smith, Rebecca Curtis, Mohsin Hamid, R.L. Stine, Rivka Galchen, Nicholson Baker, Anthony Marra, David Baldacci, Elif Batuman, James Patterson.

    To see the story unfold, click on the authors’ names below to reveal more.

  14. Dave Lull Says:

    The top 10 books about reading
    Books about books, where literature is integral to life, are a genre in themselves, as terrific titles by authors from Nicholson Baker to Geoff Dyer very readably show
    Rebecca Mead
    Wednesday 12 November 2014 12.12 EST
    [. . .]

    4. The Possessed by Elif Batuman

    Batuman tackles a syllabus-full of Russian heavyweights – Babel, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky – and in so doing provides a winning, comic memoir of graduate student life and its discontents.

    [. . .]

  15. Dave Lull Says:

    28 Pieces From 2014 That Should Be Required Reading For Women
    The Huffington Post | By Emma Gray & Nina Bahadur

    [. . .]

    “Marriage Is an Abduction”
    Elif Batuman, The New Yorker
    There were many excellent thinkpieces written about Gillian Flynn’s gripping thriller Gone Girl and David Fincher’s film adaptation, but Batuman’s is the smartest we’ve seen. Batuman reads Flynn’s story as dark cultural commentary on the deeply flawed institution of heterosexual marriage, one that casts wives as “people who disappear,” and creates expectations that hurt both the men and women who cannot live up to them.

    [. . .]

  16. Dave Lull Says:

    The Best of Literary Criticism in 2014
    By Jonathon Sturgeon on Jan 2, 2015 9:00am

    [. . .]

    Elif Batuman, “Marriage is an Abduction,” The New Yorker

    The best piece on one of the most talked about novels of the last two years.

    [. . .]

  17. Dave Lull Says:

    The Millions
    Most Anticipated: The Great 2015 Book Preview
    By Editor posted at 6:00 am on January 5, 2015

    [. . .]

    B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman: Nicholson Baker’s characteristically idiosyncratic biography of John Updike, U and I, has become a literary classic. Now J.C. Hallman, himself a gifted practitioner of eclectic non-fiction with books on topics ranging from chess to Utopia, turns the lens on Baker. Publisher Simon & Schuster calls it “literary self-archaeology” and offers up comparisons to Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage and Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, two books that have helped carve out a new genre of memoir that arrives refracted through the lens of the writers’ literary obsessions. (Max)

    [. . .]

  18. Dave Lull Says:

    Hotel Rooms Of Their Own: These 12 Writers Will Sleep At The Ace And Pen Letters To Guests

    “It’s a kind of living anthology,” says author Alexander Chee, who invited the writers to the hotel’s NYC location for a literary overnight

    By Elizabeth Segran

    [. . .]

    The list of 12 Dear Reader writers is as follows:

    Elif Batuman
    Catherine Chung
    Chelsea Hodson
    Saeed Jones
    Kiese Laymon
    Atticus Lish
    Lucas Mann
    Sigrid Nunez
    Chinelo Okparanta
    Daniel Jose Older
    Dale Peck

    [. . .]

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