Your Destiny and Ours: How Readers of The Millions Are Changing Our Story

A year ago, I invited readers to join us in supporting The Millions. It was something we'd thought about for years, always hoping to put it off as we supported the site through other means. But in the end it was also a decision made in a hurry, as the editorial staff of The Millions had something like a collective premonition that a major shift was occurring, and reader participation would be essential if The Millions was to survive. I'm glad we did. We can now see a path whereby our readers might one day insulate us from the forces being unleashed by massive companies. But we aren't there yet. Today, we are again asking our readers to support the site, not because we are in dire straits but because we believe it is time for you and us to take our destiny into our own hands as much as is possible. Please visit our Membership page, sign up now, and become a part of our story. It’s a very quick and simple process, and we have a number of tiers that should be manageable for any budget. The three main tiers are annual recurring donations. There is also a monthly option. We are also excited to announce that members now receive an exclusive monthly newsletter in which our venerable staffers let you know what they’re reading right now. It’s a great way to find new books to read! The Millions is a unique place. Over the last nearly 14 years, we have helped launch many great writers, and we have improved the reading lives of many thousands. We have helped countless books, small and large, find their audiences. The Millions is also home to curious, thoughtful, sometimes long and untimely pieces that might not find a home elsewhere but that are important to our readers. We have various costs as well. Aside from fees for hosting and other services, we pay our staff writers. We also have a paid editorial staff. None of our staff is full time, but we believe that paying them is an essential part of the project. They are the beating heart of The Millions. As founder and publisher, I forwent payment in 2017 and will likely do so again in 2018. On the other side of the ledger, 2017 was a very complicated year. Amazon, long our largest source of revenue, sharply cut the fees it pays to members of its program. Facebook, once a large source of traffic, increasingly narrowed its algorithm to deliver traffic to us and sites like us in dribs and drabs. Twitter, with an increasingly algorithmic timeline, is headed in the same direction. The bottom line is that we see a path forward but we need you to join us on that path. As I wrote when announcing our recent redesign: I am now quite certain that the ONLY way that The Millions will be here five years from now is if our readers support us. Rather than ask for your support at some future moment, when The Millions is under duress, it has become clear to us that it makes much more sense to ask for your support now, when we are doing well, producing great work, and hopeful about our big plans for the future. Finally, you will see that we offer what we call the Sponsor tier for corporations and institutions as well as for individuals in the books and publishing ecosystem who are thriving. We know that The Millions is important to the literary ecosystem, and this tier is for members of that ecosystem - corporate or individual - who have the means to ensure a future for small but essential places like The Millions. We were very lucky to have two Sponsors at that level in 2016. Having more Sponsors in 2017 would go a long way. Learn more here. And thank you to ALL of our Members over the last year. You helped make The Millions possible in 2017. We hope you'll decided to renew your Membership again this year.

The Millions Has a New Look!

Welcome to the new look of themillions.com! This is our first top-to-bottom redesign since way back in 2009 (has it been that long?) A redesign is always a big risk - change is hard for you and for us - but we recognized that as The Millions has evolved over the last eight years, there were things we wanted the site to convey that it wasn't conveying. The redesign is going to do two things: First, it's going to better showcase our excellent, longform pieces that we publish daily. You'll see that our article pages (like this one) are far freer of distractions. The articles are also better showcased on the front page, and - as before - you will always be able to find our most recent pieces at the top. Right now, items from our Curiosities link blog are in the main stream, and we are analyzing how well that flow works. Second, it's going to make it easier for you to find new books to read. We know that Millions readers often visit the site when they want to know what books are being talked about and when they are looking for a book recommendation. With that in mind, we now have a new section called "Find Books". It will collect Lists, Prizes, our Top Ten and other ideas for what to read next, in addition to a little serendipity (my last reload of the page suggested Ann Packer, Ocean Vuong and Alice McDermott - I'm intrigued!). Next time you need a new book to read, go right there and find one fast! What I love about this section is that it takes all the best ways to find a new book and puts them in one place. Want to see what your smart fellow readers are reading? Check out the Top 10 or Year in Reading. Want to see which books are getting a lot of buzz? Check out Prizes and our Previews and New Releases. Want to see a deep dive before you dive in? Read our excellent Reviews. Want something random? Check out our Lists or go crazy and click on Surprise Me! Please let us know what you think or if you encounter anything that appears not to be working as it should. (And remember that you can also get all of our content via RSS, Facebook, and Twitter if you'd rather.) Also and very important: We would not have had the confidence to undertake a time-consuming and costly redesign without our members. So a THANK YOU to them. I will write more in depth about our membership program in the coming weeks, but I want to get a pitch in here too, and I hope that you will consider joining. 2017 has been an especially difficult year for sites like The Millions as the big companies that we rely on for revenue-generating opportunities have increasingly squeezed independent sites. Josh Marshall was not wrong when he wrote recently that we are in the middle of a digital media crash. The Millions is feeling that intensely right now. I am now quite certain that the ONLY way that The Millions will be here five years from now is if our readers support us. If we can get to a place where we are covering our annual budget with recurring annual donations from readers, we will never again have to worry about the whims of Google, Facebook, and Amazon again. In order to make supporting us more attractive to you, we have recently rolled out an email newsletter that is just for members. In this monthly newsletter, our venerable staffers tell us what books they're reading right now - it's a very cool look into the reading lives of some of my most favorite writers. Please consider joining. The newsletter also includes special updates and sneak peeks. Our Members heard about this redesign in our newsletter first. Finally, a big thank you to our designers and developers at The Present Group, who were patient and thorough and inventive throughout.

Counting Down to the Second-Half Preview

First, the answer to the question you want answered: When will you publish your second-half preview? The answer: tomorrow! By this time tomorrow, you will be diving into our unparalleled preview encompassing dozens of the most hotly anticipated titles coming in the next six months. The preview is a big effort with many people spending many hours to make it happen. And that's also true of The Millions as a whole. If you love our two annual previews -- if they inform your reading month after month -- please consider supporting The Millions today so that there will be many, many previews to come. The Millions has been around for more than 14 years and has never made a living for anyone, but it has thrived. For a while there, it seemed to thrive almost against all odds. Even as economic realities closed in on other online magazines, The Millions had stayed a couple of steps ahead. Last fall, however, we saw that these realities might soon catch up with us, as we became concerned that The Millions was becoming increasingly reliant on fewer and fewer revenue streams. Like everyone else, we saw that we were at the mercy of the usual suspects: Amazon, Google, Facebook. One small change from any of these giants could send The Millions hurtling to oblivion. So we decided that we had to try something new: to protect our future, we invited our readers to supports us. Many did, and we are deeply grateful, but we know that many more have not. Since we wrote in November 2016, the revenue situation has become that much trickier, as changes to the programs we rely on have further eroded the revenue picture and we have scrambled to make up the shortfall. The more we can get our readers to contribute, the more stable our footing will be. So, for the previews, for The Millions, please consider supporting us today. It’s a very quick and simple process and we have a number of tiers that should be manageable for any budget. The three main tiers are annual recurring donations. There is also a monthly option. And please note that we have a Sponsor tier on our Support page that allows for contributions at a higher level. This tier is for corporations and institutions as well as for individuals in the books and publishing ecosystem who are thriving. We rely on their support especially. Thank you.

The Millions Membership Drive: Update

Late last year, we tried something new: we asked Millions readers for support. The response has been very positive and it's a thrill to see that so many of you value what we're doing here. We are grateful that many readers have decided to contribute to The Millions since November. A very special thank-you goes to our two Sponsors at the $500-per-year level. Our Sponsors have the opportunity to dedicate their support to anything or anyone they wish, and we've created an acknowledgment area on the membership page. The amount we've raised so far provides us with some helpful breathing room as we look to become less reliant upon the internet giants who, as sources of revenue, tend to control the destinies of places like The Millions. It also helps The Millions produce the big features that are highly valued by readers: Year in Reading and our Most Anticipated list. If you'd like to learn more, see my original post, and here's our member page if you've been thinking about participating but haven't yet had the chance. And thank you, as always, for reading.

The Best of The Millions: 2016

As the year winds down, it's a great opportunity for readers to catch up on some of the most-read pieces from The Millions during the year. We’ll divide the most popular posts on The Millions into two categories, beginning with the 20 most popular pieces published on the site in 2016. 1. Our pair of Most Anticipated posts were popular among readers looking for something new to read. We also ran not one but two non-fiction previews. Our 2017 book preview is coming soon. 2. An Invitation to Hesitate: John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’ at 70: Christian Kriticos brought our attention to the 70th anniversary of a watershed moment in 20th-century journalism, the New Yorker's devotion of an entire issue to John Hersey's powerful recounting of what happened in Hiroshima on the day the bomb fell. "In our current age, in which every refresh of the Web browser brings a new story of tragedy, to be forgotten as quickly as it appeared, it seems that 'Hiroshima' is as relevant as ever." 3. Dear Any Soldier: Vonnegut during Wartime: Odie Lindsey penned a powerful reflection on discovering fiction -- becoming a reader in a war zone -- through a box of Kurt Vonnegut novels shipped in an "Any Soldier" care package to Operation Desert Storm, 1991. 4. Are you a planner or a pantser? Akilesh Ayyar broke down the two ways to write a novel: plot it all out meticulously or fly by the seat of your pants. Virginia Woolf? Planner. Mark Twain? Pantser. Vladimir Nabokov? Planner. James Joyce? Pantser of course. 5. In July, the literary set was buzzing about (and rolling their eyes over) The New York Times T Magazine's publication of a series of emails between Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer. Our own Jacob Lambert then uncovered Portman's correspondence with none other than Cormac McCarthy. 6. Somehow, your typical summer escapist reading didn't feel right for 2016. Our own Claire Cameron took stock of things - and some great new books on offer - and crafted A Summer Reading List for Wretched Assholes Who Prefer to Wallow in Someone Else’s Misery. (Spoiler alert: this list works any time of year, as it turns out.) 7. Attention all poetry haters: Our own Nick Ripatrazone made this list just for you. 8. Ernest Hemingway: Middlebrow Revolutionary: Our own Michael Bourne penned a compelling and provocative reconsideration of Papa Hemingway that feels even more relevant today. "Like many men who pride themselves on their toughness and self-reliance, Hemingway was almost comically insecure and prone to betray anyone who had the effrontery to do him a favor." 9. Infinite Jest in the Age of Addiction: We continue to plumb the depths of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In July, Mike Broida wrote about Wallace's masterpiece as a "grand overture on humans and addiction." 10. The Private Library: What Books Reveal About Their Readers: As Millions readers surely know, there is little more illuminating about a person than that person's library. With that in mind, Andrew Pippos looked for treasures in the libraries of history's greatest literary minds, from Gustave Flaubert to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Flannery O’Connor. 11. Only partway done as I compile this list, our star-studded Year in Reading has been a big hit across the internet. 12. In February, Gerald Howard, vice president and executive editor of Doubleday, took us into the halls and history of New York publishing. In this clubby world, much has changed since Alfred Knopf published Thomas Mann. But there are constants: ego, insecurity, irrational exuberance... 13. An Essential Human Respect: Reading Walt Whitman During Troubled Times: E. Thomas Finan's piece is one I have returned to more than once since we published it in September. "Rather than succumbing to self-righteous demonization, Whitman illustrated the power of a human empathy that transcends ideological bellicosity." 14. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Amateur Auction Theorist: In this curious bit of history, Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan relate how Goethe invented a new kind of auction to avoid being swindled by his publisher. Alas, Goethe's agent had other plans. 15. You can call yourself a planner or a pantser (see above), but the fact remains that there is no handbook for being a writer. In June, Marcia DeSanctis tried to make sense of the unbounded but messy life of the writer. 16. Books Should Send Us Into Therapy: On The Paradox of Bibliotherapy: Books are often recommended for therapeutic purposes: Read this book and it will help you solve this problem. In November, James McWilliams argued that instead, "We should allow books to cause more trouble in our lives." 17. Do you notice what characters are wearing in novels? Do you notice how often authors get this wrong? Rosa Lyster does. 18. Look, it probably wasn't you who wiped boogers on Jacob Lambert's library book, but we can't be sure, right? Just read this. 19. "Literature about sex, no matter who has written it, is almost always terrible, and everybody knows it," writes Drew Nellins Smith. And yet authors keep churning out sex scenes. 20. I'll be de'ed. In What the Deuce: The Curse Words of Charles Dickens, Brian Kozlowski instructs on how the giant of the Victorian era was able to channel his more impolitic urges with a clever -- and uniquely Dickensian -- array of invented epithets. Next we'll look at a number of older pieces that Millions readers return to again and again. This list of top “evergreens” comprises pieces that went up before 2016 but continued to find new readers. 1. Dickens’s Best Novel? Six Experts Share Their Opinions: Our own Kevin Hartnett polled the experts to discover the best on offer from the prolific 19th century master. 2. The Starting Six: On the Remarkable Glory Days of Iowa Girls Basketball: Lawrence Tabak's lovely longform on the basketball variant that was once an Iowa obsession. 3. Readers of Laurent Binet's HHhH have been turning up to read the story of the section he excised from the novel as well as the missing pages themselves, which we published exclusively. 4. Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? 8 Experts on Who’s Greater: Readers also returned to Kevin Hartnett's Russian lit throwdown, for which he asked eight scholars and avid lay readers to present their cases for Tolstoy or Dostoevsky as the king of Russian literature. 5. Shakespeare’s Greatest Play? 5 Experts Share Their Opinions: Yet another of Hartnett's roundtables asked five experts to name the greatest of Shakespeare's plays. 6. A Year in Reading 2015: 2015’s series stayed popular in 2016. 7. Pansexual Free-for-All: My Time As A Writer of Kindle Erotica: It's a brave new world for writers on the make. Matthew Morgan tried his hand in the weird, wild world of self-published erotica and in the process introduced us to "shape-shifter sex creatures that could be anything from dolphins to bears to whales" and other oddities. 8. How To Introduce an Author: We've all seen them -- awkward, long-winded, irrelevant. Bad author introductions mar readings every day in this great country of ours. For four years now, would be emcees have been turning to Janet Potter's guide on how to not screw up the reading before it even starts. 9. We Cast The Goldfinch Movie so Hollywood Doesn’t Have To: Word of a film adaptation gave us all the excuse we needed to keep talking about Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Our own Janet Potter and Edan Lepucki saved everyone a lot of trouble and went ahead and put together a cast for the movie. 10. Sam Anderson and David Rees decided, for science, to do a deep dive on Dan Brown's thriller Inferno. The result was Dumbest Thing Ever: Scribbling in the Margins of Dan Brown’s Inferno and some of the funniest marginalia you'll ever read.

Now More Than Ever: Support The Millions Today

Millions Readers: Max here. When I last wrote in these pages, I was introducing our talented new editor, Lydia Kiesling. Since then, we have added a number of new staff writers (Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Zoë Ruiz, Il’ja Rákoš, Ismail Muhammad, Chigozie Obioma) and a new social media editor (Kirstin Butler). We also have exciting projects in the works that we hope will usher in a new era at The Millions. As is likely not news to anyone reading this, it is very challenging to maintain an independent, culture-focused online magazine. Today, we are asking our readers to support the site, not because we are in dire straits but because now, more than ever, we believe it is time for you and us to take our destiny into our own hands as much as is possible. Please visit our new Membership page and sign up now. It’s a very quick and simple process and we have a number of tiers that should be manageable for any budget. The three main tiers are annual recurring donations. There is also a monthly option. The Millions is a unique place. Over the last nearly 14 years, we have helped launch many great writers, and we have improved the reading lives of many thousands. We have helped countless books, small and large, find their audiences. The Millions is home to curious, thoughtful, sometimes long and untimely pieces that might not find a home elsewhere but that are important to our readers. It is likely an accident or an anomaly that The Millions grew to occupy its current role and has survived as other independent sites have failed. One truism that has emerged over the last decade on line is that sites and services that are not supported by readers and users are destined to fail. The Millions has managed to avoid this fate thus far. We have never had a source of outside funding -- no quiet benefactor or behind-the-scenes corporate sponsor -- nor, before today, have we asked the readers to support the site monetarily in any meaningful way.  Instead, the site has survived on various forms of online advertising, options that seem to grow more constrained by the month, and we have increasingly relied upon Amazon's affiliate program. And while Amazon's program has been a good fit for The Millions, many an online business has failed when an online giant changed the rules. It is not inconceivable that Amazon could alter or even eliminate its program without warning. Such an event would effectively shut down The Millions overnight. The bottom line is that The Millions, under its current model, could one day need to shut down unexpectedly. A reader-supported Millions won’t ever have to worry about that.  Rather than ask for your support at some future moment, when The Millions is under duress, it has become clear to us that it makes much more sense to ask for your support now, when we are doing well, producing great work, and hopeful about our big plans for the future. What will we do with your money? First and foremost we'll ensure that we can stick around for many years to come. But we'll also use it to get better. One way to do that is to keep paying our staff writers and make The Millions an attractive place for them to write. Financial stability would also enable The Millions to take more risks and expand what we do. Some final notes: We have been thinking of taking this step for quite a while, but, frankly, have been nervous about how best to present the idea and execute it. Jason Kottke's recent decision to go this route helped us shake off some of these concerns and take this step (please read Jason and support him as well!). Also - to be clear - we are not putting the site behind a paywall, nor will we ever. For those who subscribe, we'll look at offering site-related updates and perhaps a more robust newsletter at some point down the line, though the plans on that are not firmed up at this time. Finally, a small number of you have supported us in an ongoing fashion via Paypal. We are going to cancel those "subscriptions" and will email you with instructions for subscribing via this new system, should you be interested.

James Salter (1925-2015)

Writer James Salter died on Friday. We interviewed him in 2012 and he reflected on memory and on his long life as a writer. He said, "Everything you know, nobody else knows, and everything you imagine or see belongs to you alone. What you write comes out of that, both in the trivial and deepest sense." Prior to that, in 2010, Sonya Chung wrote about Salter's legacy and how he finally seemed to be getting his due as more than just "a writer's writer."

2014 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list is an eclectic five, in keeping with what is typically one of the more well-rounded fiction shortlists out there. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. In addition to the Fiction finalists, the John Leonard Prize, which goes to a debut work, was awarded to Phil Klay for Redeployment. Charles Finch was among the finalists for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. In October, Finch published "The Truce Between Fabulism and Realism: On Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Modern Novel" at The Millions. Fiction Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Alameddine's Year in Reading) Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (The Book Report: Episode 5) Lily King, Euphoria (Celeste Ng's Year in Reading) Chang-Rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (Bill Morris's Year in Reading) Marilynne Robinson, Lila ("Marilynne Robinson’s Singular Vision") Nonfiction David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (excerpt) Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book (excerpt) Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction ("Extinction Stories: The Ecological True-Crime Genre") Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (excerpt) Hector Tobar, Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free (excerpt) For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit the NBCC.

Judging Books by Their Covers 2015: US Vs. UK

As we've done for several years now, we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year's Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover art is an interesting element of the literary world -- sometimes fixated upon, sometimes ignored -- but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. And, while some of us no longer do all of our reading on physical books with physical covers, those same cover images now beckon us from their grids in the various online bookstores. From my days as a bookseller, when import titles would sometimes find their way into our store, I've always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another. This would seem to suggest that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side. The American covers are on the left, and the UK are on the right. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.   Neither of these is especially appealing to my eye. The U.S. version uses a travel poster-type image, but at least the bold font and title placement are intriguing. The U.K. goes for realism and the result is pretty dull.       Another pair that I don't love, though the U.S. version has an appealing painterly quality to it. The U.K. version feels a bit slapped together.       I like both of these a lot. The U.S version is bold and somehow feels both vintage and very current. The LP label motif in the U.K. version is clever, yet subtle enough to avoid being gimmicky.       The U.S. version does a great job of setting a mood, but my nod goes to the U.K. version. The black dog is eerie and sculptural and the receding landscape is haunting.       These covers are very different and I have loved them both since I first saw them. The tents on the U.S. cover are both magical and, in the context of the subject matter, unnerving. But I love the bold, poster-art aesthetic of the U.K. cover too.       Sometimes simpler is better. I like the mesmerizing quality of the U.S. cover, with the tantalizing golden apple peeking from its center. The U.K. version is clearly trying to capture the mad tumult of the book's plot but it is somehow too literal.       The U.S. cover is clever and intriguing, with those circular windows on repeated words, but I love the U.K. cover and the subtle suggestion of madness in its Jenga/Tetris puzzle. Update: I had initially posted the paperback U.S. cover, but looking now at the hardcover design, I agree with our commenter Bernie below that it is very striking.       The cropping of the sculpture gives the U.S. cover a compelling look. I like the U.K. cover but it doesn't feel quite fully realized.