The Last Magazine: journalist Michael Hastings’ posthumously published novel
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The publication of the late Michael Hastings’ previously unpublished novel The Last Magazine: A Novel has become a must-read for many in the media business. Written by a journalist, about our business, the book is being seen as a peak behind the curtain by a writer never accused of holding back.
Hastings, who died in an auto accident in 2013 at the age of 33, worked for Newsweek magazine at the time of the run-up for the war in Iraq, and the novel is a thinly veiled account of that period of time at the failing news magazine. Hastings gained notoriety, however, for his piece for Rolling Stone called ‘The Runaway General’ which profiled U.S. Army general Stanley McChrystal. The interview, if you recall, led to McChrystal’s sacking.
The Last Magazine, though, is not a polished piece of journalism, but a working journalist’s attempt to write a novel about his experiences working for “The Magazine” – as it is called here – during some of the worst times in American journalism history (not counting the present time, of course). Discovered in Hastings papers and laptops, The Last Magazine is not a completed work, yet it has gathered excellent reviews.
James Rosen writes for The Washington Post that “The Last Magazine is tender and brutal, worldly and inbred, high-minded and gross, smartly rendered and rough around the edges — and quite often hilarious.”
David Carr in the NYT writes “The milieu of the book paints a picture of a treehouse where like minds connive and look for an opening. But far below them, there is the sound of sawing — steady and implacable. The tree will fall. The insurgents — in media, in Iraq, in the world at large — are on the march and a privileged perch is no longer assured.”
“The emperors, as it turned out, had no clothes, and now they have no kingdom. Newsweek withered, was sold for a dollar, was revived, sold, revived again, all while hemorrhaging money,” Carr writes.
Carr also bravely links back to an article he wrote shortly after the fall of Baghdad where he lambasts “the left” – a term always used to signify the superiority of thinking by opponents – for their opposition to the Iraq War. One thinks of that link as the action of a flagellant, still remorseful for their naive belief that the Bush administration had any clue what it was doing.
The Last Magazine, for me, points to the future of a portion of the future book industry – a portion that will feel very much like the magazine industry where long form journalism and fiction will be published on the fly, with the feeling of real time writing. No doubt The Last Magazine could have been published in Hasting’s lifetime had he pushed it, but I’m sure he either wanted to refine his first novel, or stow it away forever.
But written fast, like a long form blog, the novel has a freshness and urgency that I’m sure would have been lost after the editing process. Most authors who write novels don’t like the idea of a half-edited work being published, yet there is value in it and I think eBooks are the perfect platform for such works. The Last Magazine was published in print form, of course, but I couldn’t imagine this book in hardbound form – I might feel ripped off. But as an eBook, even a plain jane ePub such as this one, one feels that is marries the best parts of the web, journalism, digital book and magazine publishing, and the novel all in one form.
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