In what could be the biggest literary catfight since Lillian Hellman versus Mary McCarthy, The New Yorker's Janet Malcolm has taken on New Yorker television critic Nancy Franklin, right there in the very pages of the magazine. The subject of their contretemps is a text we can all agree is one of extreme literary consequence: The Gossip Girl series.
You may remember that back in November, when Franklin reviewed the Greatest Show of Our Time in The New Yorker, she callously dismissed the original text, as crafted by Nightingale graduate author Cecily von Ziegesar. "I’ve been told that some kids in Manhattan’s private-school population resent the way they’ve been depicted in the show," she wrote at the time, adding parenthetically, and cattily, ‘Or maybe they just want to distance themselves from a Nightingale graduate who can write a paragraph like this: “There was a box of orange Tic Tacs in her pocket with only one Tic Tac left. Serena fished the Tic Tac out and put it on her tongue, but she was so worried about her future, she could barely taste it.’”
Now, Janet Malcolm has revisited the series, and her review carries none of Franklin's snideness. In fact, quite the opposite. The prose, she declares, is Nabokovian. The character of Nate "is a kind of Vronsky manqué." Von Ziegesar's "designated reader is an adolescent girl, but the reader she seems to have firmly in mind as she writes is a literate, even literary, adult."
"Only someone very hard-hearted wouldn’t laugh" at the situations the characters find themselves in, she writes. "The way von Ziegesar implicates us in her empathic examination of youth’s callousness is the Waughish achievement of these strange, complicated books."
Then, like any sharp-tongued lady of letters, she smoothes things over with her colleague, only to plunge the knife straight into her back.
The New Yorker’s “Tables for Two” reviews have generally been mordant little affairs, short on criticism and long on wry descriptions of restaurant culture. Not this week. Nick Paumgarten comes down hard on Fiamma, describing “FEMA-like” service, cold food, a martini made without vermouth, and, in general, the very picture of a major ripoff operation, subsisting on “a strong euro and the proximity of the Soho Grand hotel.” It’s a wild departure from the usual “Tables for Two” mold, and though it may or may not be reflective of Fiamma (practically all of the reviews have been very positive, including Adam Platt’s two-star job), it’s certainly a lot more fun to read. Something tells us Paumgarten had a lot of fun writing it.
Tables for Two: Fiamma [NYer]
• At least 75 Time Warner layoffs are expected to be announced today. The layoffs are among CEO Jeff Bewkes's first public tasks since taking the helm of the company from Dick Parsons last month. Earlier today, Time Warner announced a 41 percent decline in fourth-quarter earnings. [MSNBC & AdAge]
• Maybe some of those Time Warner folks can hang their hats over at Condé Nast. The Observer evaluates Portfolio's recent spending spree, during which it recruited top talent from The New Yorker, the Post, and the Times. [NYO]
• (Product)Red, the love child of Bono, iPod, and the Gap, has raised more than $22 million for fighting HIV and AIDS in Africa. But considering the big advertising bucks spent during the Super Bowl and elsewhere, some are arguing that it's not enough. [NYT]
• Courtenay Semel's dad, Terry, is out at Yahoo. And Microsoft's $44.6 billion bid for the company might just be déjà vu. [NYT, Deal Journal/WSJ]
• Recession-has-already-started watch: The economy lost 17,000 jobs in January, the first time since the lovely tech-crash days of 2003 that total payrolls have shrunk. [Reuters via NYT]
• One of the few lucky bankers with a bonus burning a hole in your pocket? Try London restaurant Vivat Bacchus' new "Bonus Tasting Menu" for a mere £1,000. [DealBook/NYT]
• Anna Wintour took Hillary Clinton to task for backing out of her Vogue photo shoot because she feared looking "too feminine." Wintour: "The notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying." Ouch. [WWD]
• The Directors Guild showed up the writers in striking, heh, fashion: After just one week of negotiations, the directors struck a deal with the studios that includes the all-important online-video money. The writers are cautious, though, since the last time they followed the directors' lead they got screwed on the home-video market. [WP]
• Wal-Mart, responsible for 20 percent of all "newsstand" magazine sales, announced it would dump more than 1,000 titles from its shelves. Shocking twist: The New Yorker stays, but Boar Hunter Magazine is out! [NYP]
Have you noticed that all of the news about the Great Condé Nast Reshuffling of 2008 has emerged from Women's Wear Daily? It's becoming the mouthpiece of the company's HR department. (Or maybe the news is all a little too boring for anyone else to care about.) After a week of updates about shifts and firings on the business side at Condé titles Vogue, Golf Digest, Lucky, Teen Vogue, and The New Yorker, WWD today tells us about Portfolio (this month's cover pictured here). Apparently the business mag's editor, Joanne Lipman, tapped recently departed Post metro editor, Dan Colarusso, to run its growing Website. Also, to fill new Portfolio publisher William Li's absence at Men's Vogue, Condé looked within its walls to Details associate publisher, Marc Berger. We'd walk you through all of the changes that came last week, but the most telling detail is already above: While the rest of Condé Nast continues to recruit talent only from inside the company, Portfolio continues to look outside for fresh ideas!
New Titles All Around [WWD]
Late last week, we received a very nice invitation to a luncheon sponsored by the Magazine Publisher's Association and the American Society of Magazine Editors. It was their annual lifetime achievement awards, and guess who is being honored? Tina Brown. Apparently the former editor of Tatler, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the ill-fated Talk is at that point in her career when the final retrospective is in order. You know, the point in her career that comes at the end. We feel a little bad for Tina. Getting a lifetime achievement award when you are 54 is a little bit like getting the "Most Improved GPA" certificate at college graduation or a magazine cover with the tagline "Sexy at ANY Age": It's an honor and an insult at once. Surely, we thought, Tina must be up to something. She's a legend! For example, there's that HBO development deal that we heard about but HBO exec Sheila Nevins apparently didn't. And after finishing her book The Diana Chronicles in late 2006, she went on to write Um Well, we're not sure, exactly. An insider tells us that she's shopping around two or three new projects. But we haven't heard about them. Does anybody know what Tina's been up to? Or should we start assembling a clip reel for her memorial service award-ceremony montage right now? We'll set it to the tune of "Candle in the Wind."
Related:HBO's Sheila Nevins Is Confused by Tina Brown, Bored by Hillary
• Bush acknowledges slower economy, but he stops short of warning about recession. Still, will he go for another round of tax cuts? [NYT, NYT]
• Financial titans Warren Buffett and Maurice Greenberg came under attack in the Gen Re trial. Neither stands as a defendant, but both were accused of being intimately involved in a fraudulent transaction worth $500 million. [NYT]
• Now that Jimmy Cayne's out of the picture, which hedge fund will step in to buy Bear Stearns? [Deal Journal/WSJ]
This is a big week for office holiday parties, and it kicked off last night with events for Curbed, Gothamist, and The New Yorker. Both Web parties took place downtown, both had open bars, but only one was kind enough to actually invite us — we stopped by both nonetheless. For the New Yorker party, a spy sent us a brief report to slake our endless thirst for weak specialty cocktails. After the jump, our continuing coverage of your most revealing moments, honest conversations, and miscalculated flirtations. For what is an office holiday party but the corporate equivalent of overhearing someone you know having sex?
Thank God for leisurely winter weekends. It took us two days to absorb the two massive, competing Condé Nast profiles of Eliot Spitzer: one in Vanity Fair (8,577 words) and one in The New Yorker (11,938). Have we learned anything new, other than the fact that if David Margolick and Nick Paumgarten got together, they'd have a book the size of On the Road between them? Yes, in fact: Spitzer apparently likes The New Yorker better than Vanity Fair, and thus The New Yorker likes Spitzer more, too. As the genre of the political portrait edges closer to the celebrity profile, access becomes a measure of quality; whoever gets more wins. In this case, while VF’s Margolick gets a quickie with the Gov in a “utilitarian skyscraper” on Third Avenue, The New Yorker’s Paumgarten literally gets to fly with Spitzer in his turboprop built for eight, surveying the fiefdom below and pondering the vastness of the state. Is it any surprise that his profile is friendlier?
• OMG, plagiarism in The New Yorker's cartoon issue? [Gelf]
• Washington Post chief Don Graham has 300 Facebook friends. Poke away! [Washingtonian]
• Fox 9's license is up for renewal, and a bunch of incensed New Jerseyans are fighting the station for failing to live up to its Jersey-side obligations. After all, the channel is based out of Secaucus but bills itself as "My9 New York." [NYT]
Me-ow! Maybe she's just being funny, but in her Gossip Girl think piece this week, the New Yorker's Nancy Franklin displays a Blair-worthy level of cattiness regarding Cecily von Ziegesar, the creator of the books on which the CW show is based.
I’ve been told that some kids in Manhattan’s private-school population resent the way they’ve been depicted in the show, but that tells me that there’s some accuracy to von Ziegesar’s portrait. (Or maybe they just want to distance themselves from a Nightingale graduate who can write a paragraph like this: “There was a box of orange Tic Tacs in her pocket with only one Tic Tac left. Serena fished the Tic Tac out and put it on her tongue, but she was so worried about her future, she could barely taste it.”)
• Will Aaron Charney ever have to work again? More than likely — he may not have gotten more than $100,000 in his sexual-harassment settlement with Sullivan & Cromwell. [PrawfsBlawg via Above the Law]
• Should law schools be more like business schools? One law prof thinks so, and he looks a little like Justin Timberlake, so he must be right. [Law Blog/WSJ]
• Do Cravath's two rounds of bonuses signal Big Law strength and more money for associates, or is the firm just hedging so they aren't locked in to paying the same amount next year? [NYT]