Skip to main content

Jacob Silverman

Jacob Silverman is a Los Angeles–based writer and contributing online editor for VQR. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Asian Geographic.


The Activist Novelist

Fall 2010 | Criticism

In thirteen books of fiction and nonfiction, including the groundbreaking The Yellow Wind, an investigation into Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories that arguably predicted the First Intifada, the celebrated Israeli writer David Grossman has employed his emotional intelligence and formidable imagination to reach out to the Other, those marginalized by society—whether it’s Holocaust survivors, street children, illegal Palestinian laborers, or the victims and perpetrators of the occupation.

How to Market a Novel

July 26, 2010 | Articles

Indie publisher Melville House does it right. Their marketing of Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone is a prime example.

Robert Walser, Thief

July 19, 2010 | Essays

Like all good writers, he was an inveterate borrower, at times wearing his influences openly.

What Good are Authors’ Estates?

June 7, 2010 | Essays

You will die, and if your writing is any good, and thereby profitable to concerned parties, a melodramatic and legalistic morass may appear sooner than any volumes of collected works.

A Week of Redesigns

May 6, 2010 | Articles

Newsweek might be up for sale, but a half dozen prominent publications have unveiled new website designs this week.

Letters of Note

April 1, 2010 | Essays

The website devoted to "correspondence deserving of a wider audience" is fascinating.

Some Kind of Liberation

February 23, 2010 | Criticism

Made voiceless and infirm, Roger Ebert appears more prolific than ever, writing endlessly about his life, his politics, his passions, and more.

The Cocaine Coast

January 28, 2010 | Reporting

South American cocaine is ferried to Europe through West Africa. Along the way, FARC, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda all get a cut.

Folding Paper

December 30, 2009 | Criticism

Vanessa Gould's documentary casts origami as an art form coming of age with a wide range of immensely complex constructions.

Dmitri Nabokov’s Little Con

December 7, 2009 | Criticism

The Original of Laura is an obviously incomplete work, shepherded and huckstered into the marketplace by Nabokov's greedy son.

Week’s Highlights: Last Writes

October 14, 2009 | Criticism

Trying to make a living as a book reviewer, the $200 spare-parts book scanner, TriQuarterly's future, behind the scenes at the Nobel Foundation, and more.

Week’s Highlights: Litigation Nation

October 6, 2009 | Criticism

The Google Books settlement grinds onward, Amazon faces a class-action lawsuit for pushing their BookSurge POD service, great writers posthumous works raise questions, and more.

Week’s Highlights: Inventing Myth

September 30, 2009 | Criticism

The reality of Bolaño's outlaw image, The Daily Beast gets into books, the Google books settlement's collapse, Bill Murray's support of poetry, and more.

“I Have Decided Not to Die”

Fall 2009 | Criticism

Armenian Golgotha, by Grigoris Balakian. Knopf, March 2009. $35 Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir, by Peter Balakian. Basic Books, February 2009. $16.95 paper In April 24, 1915, someone knocked on Grigoris Balakian’s door in Constantinople (as the [...]

Does Every Book Deserve a Review?

July 4, 2009 | Criticism

275,232 books were published in the US last year. Don't publications have an obligation to review only those books that warrant serious consideration?

The New Ludditism in Literature

June 26, 2009 | Criticism

In a recent essay in n+1, Benjamin Kunkel, in a wide-ranging consideration of technology's effects on contemporary culture and daily life, writes that the internet and its products feel forced upon us. For anyone who goes online daily—and increasingly that is most of us—there is a never-ending barrage of e-mail, articles of note (for their vulgarity or supposed profundity), amusing videos, invitations, profiles, photos, blog posts, news feeds, figurative "gifts," and the like—and most of it is free, available to be guzzled down with a click. It is nigh impossible to simply dip into the internet; the irony is that if you have any awareness of how to navigate it, this endless stream of content, digital companions, and e-communiques becomes more numerous and oppressive, its depths cavernous and alluring, rather than simpler and streamlined.

What does it take to separate us from these omnipresent digital phenomena, and will that separation one day be impossible, when gadgets, screens, and Wi-Fi are everywhere? Even now, the term "going off the grid" is often used as a jesting hypothetical, something done by eccentrics and believers in an impending apocalypse. As a regular feature of electronic social discourse, waiting a day or two to answer an e-mail requires an explanation, if not an apology. "You don't have a 3G-enabled phone with e-mail?" my friend asked me a few months ago (an eternity, in technological terms). He was joking, of course, but there was also some truth there, a frustrating and niggling feeling that with my once-cutting-edge Motorola, I was somehow missing out. To my irritation, it took a moment to focus, pull back, and realize that no, I didn't need that.

Kunkel is correct that self-discipline is one of the great casualties of the internet age, but as thinking, independent beings, we only have ourselves to blame, and it is up each individual to recover what might be lost. Not every technology is inherently neutral—consider Monsanto's "Terminator" seeds—but our laptops and e-mail clearly are. "No one is stopping you from stopping yourself," Kunkel writes. "It's just that many users of digital communications technology can't stop. An inability to log off is hardly the most destructive habit you could acquire, but it seems unlikely there is any more widespread compulsion among the professional middle-class and their children than lingering online."

The fear, as Kunkel attests, is that our willpower is inadequate, that, like in Infinite Jest or other visions of death-by-technology (it is no coincidence that many of these scenarios are found in books), we cannot resist our own creations. Technology is our reflecting pool, and each one of us is a potential Narcissus—isn't a social networking profile or a YouTube video gone viral proof of such? What else to account for my Facebook friend, someone I barely know in fact, who has more than 2,200 pictures of herself online? The victims of this mania are—we are variously told—genuine emotional connection, privacy, attention spans, novel reading, and serious culture.

But not everyone is like this. Not everyone is as interconnected and digitally astute as those described in the previous paragraph, though a recent poll shows that only 14 percent of American adults don't use a cell phone or the internet. Yet if we don't consider the demographic, financial, and even geographic elements of the technology gap, we risk succumbing to the solipsism commonly attributed to our culture. After all, many of the elderly or the poor aren't regular computer users. A kid living in poverty in East L.A. or East Timor may not have access to a cell phone or internet-connected computer, though he might have a library card or a few books (hence some of the recent arguments that widespread adoption of e-readers could impinge on book access for the poor). However, the hopes of the digital age—and those techno-evangelists who abet it, from Steve Jobs's iPhone to President Obama's plan to bring broadband to rural communities—are tied up, at least in part, in leveling this technological gap. Perhaps it's not spoken of much because the proliferation of high technology seems assured; or, on the other hand, we may simply neglect those who don't have the means to connect. Because if you're not online today, can you be part of the conversation?


Summer Reading Roundup

June 11, 2009 | Criticism

June 21 begets reading lists. These are some of the better ones that have been put together this year.

D-Day 65 Years On

June 6, 2009 | Essays

This weekend I will be taking a journey into the heart of America and Americana with my grandfather to attend a D-Day commemoration at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Previewing The Road Film Adaptation

May 22, 2009 | Criticism

The film may end up being far different than the novel, or the film may simply be marketed conventionally: via promises of explosions, endangered children, gunplay, and gory death scenes.

When Do We Look Away?

April 28, 2009 | Criticism

The references to suicide in Wallace's work have been made more potent by his own suicide, but it is a mistake to excise such passages.

How Strong Is Brevity’s Pull?

April 10, 2009 | Criticism

The short-story-­collection-as-­debut-work has a lot of possibility, heightened by the prospect of buying a short story on your Kindle for a dollar.

Judging Covers

January 29, 2009 | Criticism

Book covers do matter. There's a whole blog dedicated to the topic.

Working to Write

December 15, 2008 | Essays

The economics of writing have required some of the most celebrated authors to maintain a 9 to 5 job.