The old joke has it that reading Playboy for the articles is a dodge — a way to deflect clucking tongues of disapproval for the shy reader’s appreciation of nubile females. That old joke became a cruel one in the late winter of 2016 when the magazine published its first ever non-nude issue. Cooper Hefner, the 27-year-old owner and editor of Playboy, initially told readers that the legendary publication would cease publishing buxom models in their birthday suits for good. That promise did not last. The sadistic joke was over.

Back when Playboy was actually groundbreaking, daring, and (dare I say it) titillating, the magazine not only featured some of the world’s most beautiful women, but also some of the world’s best writers. Much of this literary greatness came courtesy of one editor — Ray Russell. Ironically, Russell, who managed the magazine’s fiction department during the early 1950s to early 1970s, was a Victorian thorough and thorough. Or at least he wrote like a Victorian English gentleman with a deep taste for the weird. More… “Conte Cruel”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.


I was elated. By an act of fate, this year’s Associated Writing Programs’ (AWP) Conference was scheduled to be held in Washington, DC. I’d been attending the conference for over 20 years, but this would be the first time that the conference would be located in the eye of an American political storm of this magnitude. Participants from all 50 states would find themselves in Washington during Trump’s first 100 days.

When AWP organized its first conference in 1973, it became “an essential annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers.” Since then, the conference has grown in size to over 12,000 attendees. It runs four days with formal presentations scheduled from eight a.m. to eight p.m. and informal, off-site events at nearby restaurants and bars. Attending the conference is akin to a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. How will you as a writer react when confronted with 12,000 others, many with national reputations? Believe me, you arrive at a dark place, unsullied by your own success. Still, others feel differently, “Being at AWP inspires you to do more,” the novelist Elizabeth L. Silver told me as we walked the book fair together. “It reminds you of what you aspire to be, no matter where you fall in the literary world.” More… “Reading, Writing, Chanting”

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.


Loose cannon Pete Townshend of The Who gives a fascinating interview to Rolling Stone. Supporting his group’s latest last tour, a marketing fiction the guitarist himself has a hard time taking seriously, Townshend talks about his Sixties contemporaries Robert Plant and Bob Dylan as well as offering this moving death bed fantasy:

More… “Pete Townshend’s last wish, The Bloom (Harold), and more”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at


In the week it takes me to read five different books on how to be a writer, approximately 30 books are delivered to my Berlin apartment. This is a decline from the 15 to 30 that used to be delivered every day, and I’m grateful for the barrier of costly international postage that keeps these numbers down. I will immediately discard about three-quarters of the books. Some of these, I would say maybe eight percent of the books I receive, are self-published. Under their bios the writers dutifully list the writing programs they attended. Now they have landed here, with a clip-art book cover, a cheap binding, and a $12 stamp to send it to a book critic who doesn’t even really review fiction anymore. I feel bad for these writers, and the years of effort and money they spent on a writing education, and all of that boundless optimism… More…

These are days of crisis for the publishing industry in general and for journalism in particular. The grand newspapers of record — like the New York Times, the London Times, Le Monde — have been slashing budgets and trying to figure out ways to survive in the transformed media environment that the Internet and financial instability have wrought.

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at

September 15, 2009. The day publishing died. Or was saved. It’s really hard to tell which, but everyone agrees on one thing: That Dan Brown cat sure did something major to the book industry with the release of his new novel The Lost Symbol.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett. 288 pages. Riverhead. $24.95.

Outside the talk about whether the monstrous sales (one million copies sold in the first 24 hours — a record for adult hardcover fiction) will save reading, or destroy independent bookstores through the competitive discounts of their rivals, one thing is for sure: People are going to overreact to the fact that Amazon is reporting more e-book sales and than sales of physical copies of The… More…


Frankfurt by Day

America loves to think of itself as the center of the literary world. Every year we expect the Nobel Prize to go to Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates, despite all the evidence to the contrary. We don’t need to import and translate literature, we guffaw. They should be translating us! And when the Nobel permanent secretary chastises us for being insular and irrelevant, our columnists declare that we should separate ourselves from the international community even more. Reject us, will you? We gave you Eat Pray Love, which continues to be a worldwide sensation, you ungrateful bastards.

OK, so maybe it’s not quite so blunt, but the Frankfurt Book Fair, where publishers from around the world come together to do business, does highlight just how little we engage with the whole of literature. America’s… More…

After one too many scenarios like this one, I decided to do a little investigating on whether cookbooks were tested before being slapped with a $35 price tag and shipped off to bookstores. Turns out, no. A cookbook editor at Doubleday-Broadway told me that the authors are trusted that they know what they are doing.

“Someone should really field test these things,” I grumbled as a “cold, refreshing white gazpacho” came out tasting weirdly like hummus — runny hummus that took me four hours to make. “Someone with a slight obsessive compulsive disorder. Someone who likes it when her surly butcher growls at her.” Strangely, someone took me up on my offer.

Which is how I found myself drunk at the Hispanic grocery store, looking for hominy. I had been seduced by John Thorne’s easy writing style in Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite. Everything sounded effortless, and… More…



Is the world a stale and weary place, now that George Plimpton (1927-2003) is no longer in it? Hardly. But if it still seems fresh with possibility, Plimpton deserves his share of credit for making it so. His legacy is the magazine he edited — The Paris Review — but he is known best for his larks: quarterbacking the Detroit Lions, playing the triangle in Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic, boxing against Sugar Ray Robinson, tending goal for the Bruins, playing piano at an Apollo talent show. (He won second prize, narrowly edging out a guy who played a watering can.) He appeared in so many films that they called him “the Prince of Cameos.” In a way, the denial phase in grieving Plimpton’s death is prolonged by the suspicion that he’s secretly just on temporary assignment… More…


One of the unfortunate side effects of being female is the constant marketing of products as specifically “for women.” It’s not just deodorant and cheap pink razors. There are books, and then there are books for women.

Seal Press calls itself the publisher of “Groundbreaking Books For Women, By Women,” but theirs is a very specific definition of “women.” Their idea of womanhood is no less narrow than that of the We Channel: Television for Women. The We Channel may define women as those creatures who believe happiness lies in finding the right wedding planner and pilates instructor, but Seal Press defines women as tattooed 20- and 30-somethings who use alternative menstrual products and think that working in the sex industry imbues you with Wisdom.

A large percentage of the books Seal publishes are how-to guides. How to… More…