This afternoon, the New York Observer reported that 02138 was suspended by Manhattan Media. Editor David Blum assigned me to write a Books column, which I turned in a week ago.
This was a shame for many reasons, and they extend beyond my own involvement with the magazine. There seems to have been a lot of snark from the Gawker crowd that this version of 02138 was going to be a trivial magazine, a vanity project, a bauble. I can assure you that this wasn’t the case at all. Blum and his staff were going out of their way to reinvent this magazine and make it something that mattered. When I asked them specific questions about their audience, and when I queried them on very specific ideas, they had specific answers. They were hiring contributors who could spice things up with intelligent commentary, and one of their sticking points — and this cannot be overstated as we see long-form cultural journalism vanish from magazines — was lengthy and meaningful cultural coverage. Had my column continued, it most certainly would have continued along this trajectory.
I modeled my column partly on John Leonard’s monthly offering in Harper’s, but took it upon myself to emphasize small presses and overlooked books. I also attempted to look at books from an entirely different vantage point. (Of the four books I reviewed, one was devoted to a major item of pop culture. But I examined the larger educational and societal impact that arose from this seemingly frivolous subject — indeed, pointing to a very specific Harvard connection that happened to crop up.) I devoted 1,300 words to a mammoth and ambitious novel that I knew would require that kind of space, and that would probably not be granted it by The New York Times Book Review and other outlets. (I will be very surprised if The New York Review of Books covers this novel, for it certainly warrants 2,000 words.) I had very little time to assemble the first essay, but I’m always a workhorse under pressure and we managed to get a piece that was taut, meaningful, and variegated under the circumstances. I had great ambitions for future books coming up the pipeline. (Had it continued, I most certainly would have made a case for Vollmann’s Imperial and its relationship to other historical books making the same inquiries.) And I should also note that, although I ended up turning in a 2,700 word piece (I was contracted to write 2,000 words), Blum ensured me that I would get the space I needed.
I want to thank Mr. Blum for trusting me with the assignment, which I was greatly honored to have, and for giving me a chance to improve my critical writing. I certainly hope that the good people at 02138 land on their feet in some capacity. I’m very sorry that Blum’s great plans didn’t quite materialize, and that this relaunch never saw the light of day. But hopefully, we’ll get some sense of it, should it emerge online. I will most certainly link to the column if it becomes available.