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Comments: Week of November 29, 2010


1. In last week’s issue, Suzanne Mozes drew back the veil on James Frey’s new publishing venture, Full Fathom Five, where inexperienced writers are hired to produce young-adult novels anonymously for roughly $250 up front and 30 or 40 percent of Frey’s take down the road (“James Frey’s Fiction Mill,” November 22). Twitter lit up within hours of the article’s publication (some tweets: “excuse me while I vomit”; “this just made my brain explode”; “does anyone in the literary world have more chutzpah?”). Online, Frey came in for his full share of abuse. The Paris Review’s blog recommended the story as “sinister,” and the Daily Beast as a “must read,” noting, “Oprah famously made James Frey apologize to her; now maybe Oprah should apologize to us, for unleashing Frey on the world.” “The article is a fine exploration of the principle that the number-one way to make it in this life is to be as full of shit as possible,” Tom Scocca wrote at Slate. “And [Frey] has not lost his gift for telling stories about himself that are so remarkable one almost doubts they could be true.” Not everyone was uniformly scolding. “Fascinating story,” wrote Choire Sicha at the Awl. “Honestly, I sort of love [Frey’s venture]. It’s brutal and Randian and hilarious and full of mayhem, just like book publishing itself. And it really is kinda like Warhol’s Factory, except everyone’s trying to get rich instead of famous and/or high. Parties probably aren’t as good I guess though.” “Mr. Frey is not the first person to dream up such an arrangement with budding authors,” noted Dan Duray at the New York Observer. “James Patterson has detailed his fiction factory in the past.” And some just wanted to take the longer view. “This opens up a larger question,” wrote Rose Fox at Publishers Weekly’s Genreville blog. “How can the system of publishing be improved so it’s less of a haven for the unscrupulous? This community should be a pleasant place where people want to settle down, not a gritty, dangerous industry where we all earn little more than pennies and clutch them constantly for fear of pickpockets.”

2. Gabriel Sherman detailed the pitched battle between NYU administrators eager to expand the school and Greenwich Village residents looking to preserve their neighborhood (“The School That Ate New York,” November 22). “Epic telling of the NYU expansion controversy,” applauded the blog Curbed. “The scariest examination into NYU’s plans for world domination yet.” Others joined the opponents in denouncing NYU’s plans. “John Sexton at NYU and Donald Trump on the far west river side are worse than slum landlords,” wrote the writer and activist Larry Kramer. “At least you can tear down slums and rebuild them. We have to live with the Sexton/Trump monstrosities for our lifetimes. Neither man would know a good architect if Frank Gehry were their son.” Not everyone saw the university as a bastion of evil. “The magazine does an admirable job of putting the seemingly endless antagonism between the school and its neighbors into perspective,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Metropolis blog. “The university and its allies frame their interests as aligned with the economic best interests of New York City—and it’s not a difficult case to make.” “If NYU is to expand, expanding upwards is preferable to swallowing large chunks of land,” opined an commenter. “A high-rise doesn’t take over more than a certain patch of land. That way the university is part of the city rather than eating the city. If someone can’t stand a high-rise near their condo, that someone lives in the wrong city.” “Condemn NYU if you must but then condemn everything that has been built between 14th and Canal over the last 30 years,” added another. “NYU is an evolving presence in an evolving neighborhood. Change doesn’t mean complete acquiescence. Being in NYC and specifically being in the Village still means something. It isn’t what it once was, but what part of NYC is?”

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