August 31, 2003
Okay so. It's Sunday and not Monday, so I'm probably getting ahead of myself but I figured I had time to kill so here I am. The first day in what is a week of Book(Munch)Slut, I guess. I should probably tell you that I'm English. And live in the UK. So the old 'Slut may be a touch more anglophile this week. I hope that's okay.
You can also read an interview with Tibor Fischer (who is the kind of guy who writes books called Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid, and I kind of respect that), the man who savaged Yellow Dog recently. The interview is here
Last but not least for now. I'm interviewing Douglas Coupland tomorrow afternoon at a little hotel in Covent Garden. If there is anything you want me to ask Coupland by proxy, mail me and I'll put it to him.
August 29, 2003
If you're not reading Bookmunch, you're missing out on some of the most engaging and incisive book commentary in the language. Go there now, then come back here Monday when Bookmunch editor Peter Wild will be guest blogging for Bookslut.
Ever wonder how certain authors' names are pronounced? The Village Voice presents a handy guide.
Safran Foer: Saffron [pause] Fore!
Kim Campbell writes about playwrights ditching the stage for movies and TV:
Even so, with the economy not exactly booming, now is not a great time (if there is one) to be trying to earn a living from the theater, note observers - making Hollywood look all the more appealing. In New York, for example, several theaters that focus on new works are doing fewer plays than they did 30 years ago, dropping from two dozen a year on average to six or eight today.
Elena Lappin thinks Americans should be eligible for the Booker Prize. U.S. writers who want to win the award would be well-advised to move to Zimbabwe if they want a fighting chance. (Link via ArtsJournal.)
Louise Gluck, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris, will be the next U.S. Poet Laureate. I was hoping for Carolyn Forche, or maybe Naomi Shihab Nye. But Gluck is good. She'll replace Billy Collins, who is not, contrary to popular opinion, the Scottish comedian from Head of the Class. (Joke unrepentantly stolen from Tim Walker.)
August 28, 2003
Jason Steger reports from the Melbourne Writers' Festival.
The San Francisco Chronicle has a puff piece about Vendela Vida, co-editor of The Believer and author of the well-reviewed novel And Now You Can Go. She's also married to Dave Eggers, but we're instructed not to care about that. Of course, reporter Joshunda Sanders can't resist taking a swipe at those who take a dim view of The Believer's manifesto:
Accurately pegged by an Internet blogger as "beautiful and very smart," Vida is a part of a coterie of writers -- Heidi Julavits, Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon, to name a few -- who are young, gifted and both blessed and cursed. While they are admired for their work and for leading a renaissance of literature, publishing and philanthropy in San Francisco, they are also major snark targets, annoying others for seeming to have so much brilliance, youth and charm.
What the fuck? I'm not denying these writers are talented -- in fact, Michael Chabon might be my favorite living American novelist. But there is no way in hell that Eggers and Julavits are "leading a renaissance" of any kind. Maybe the real source of resentment here is the smug, preachy attitude that only one kind of book reviewing is acceptable. The Believer does not have all the answers. Don't let anyone tell you that they do.
In fairness, Vida's book sounds great. You can read the excellent first chapter at the New York Times.
The Daily Telegraph offers an interesting look at the fine art of rejection letters:
So what about the rejection letters themselves? These documents, coming as they do between the publisher's feelings and the author's, must mute the former to spare the latter. After all, they also come between a book's existence and non-existence. (Sometimes, too, they come between a person's life and death: the endless rejections of John Kennedy Toole's The Confederacy of Dunces are widely believed to have led to the author's suicide.) The letters publishers end up sending to authors are almost always lovely.
(Link via The Literary Saloon.)
Jack Shafer takes Al Franken and Joe Conason to task for using the traditionally conservative tactic of name-calling:
But in excavating conservative bullshit, these writers begin to resemble their colleagues on the right: Their primary mission isn't to uncover lies and reveal the truth. If it were, they'd chart the deceptions and propaganda emanating from both political wings. Their only goal is to win one for their side.
Michael Smith responds to yesterday's post about the Seattle library closings:
(I)t's not that the city government is "trying to save money," it's that like every other municipality in a tough economy, they have a budget that needs to be met. Everything needs to give a little. As a weekly patron of the Seattle library and someone who supports them with cash contributions, I think closing them for a week rather than cutting even more staff or more acquisitions is probably the best of several unpleasant solutions.
It's easy to say that public libraries are not a luxury, but of the many lines in the budget they are probably more of a luxury than, say, public transportation or emergency services.
He makes some important points. I love going to the public library, but I also like someone answering the phone when I call 911. And the problem isn't confined to Seattle. The same thing is happening in Minneapolis, and, I'm sure, countless other cities.
The Guardian has announced the longlist for their First Book Award. Yes, Brick Lane is on there. So is DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, Jason Webster's Duende, and a novel written by a collective of Italian leftists. I wonder if they hang out with Chumbawamba?
August 27, 2003
The Seattle public library is closed for the week, over the protests of librarians and staffers. It's an attempt by the city government to save money by screwing over library patrons and employees. Public libraries are not a luxury. Be sure to let the folks in your local city government know that. (Link via LISNews.)
Matthew Carter is the Michael Jordan of fonts.
Ignore the stupid headline ("Straight Eye on the Queer Spine"). Publishers Weekly has a fascinating piece on the future of gay literature, with input from The Hours author Michael Cunningham, and my own personal publishing hero, Johnny Temple of the always-excellent Akashic Books. I've never been a huge fan of Cunningham, but I love him on the basis of this quote alone:
"What I do look forward to," he says, "is the day when the notion of gay and lesbian books or a gay and lesbian section in a bookstore will seem as strange and old-fashioned as a section devoted to books by women or books by people of color. I'm more than ready for books to be on the shelves all together and for readers to be trusted to decide for themselves what books they want. For me and my friends, whether gay or straight, it's never a question whether or not a book is by a gay writer or if it's a story about gay people. We just read books."
PW also has a list of new and forthcoming GLBT books. Vintage is reissuing Mary Renault's The Charioteer and Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar. Some other titles look interesting, particularly Felicia Luna Lemus' Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties and Benjamin Weissman's Headless.
Chuck Palahniuk responds to the Laura Miller review. Salon also publishes a letter from one Eugenia Williamson, who places herself squarely in Miller's shrill amen corner.
Thinking about what Salon has become is giving me a headache. It is my fondest hope that Laura Miller gets stuck in an elevator with Dale Peck and Michiko Kakutani.
Forces ranging from the civil rights movement to the rise of video games and the death of Victorian values have pushed the book off public school reading lists, leaving it to face an uncertain future.
August 26, 2003
The New York Times explores the controversy over the assault on Martin Amis' latest novel, Yellow Dog. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst offers the theory that Tibor Fischer's now infamous review really wasn't negative at all, but rather "an elaborate literary in-joke."
Book Magazine offers a look at upcoming literary movies. It's worth reading if only for Sylvia star Gwyneth Paltrow's razor-sharp comments about Sylvia Plath and the world of literature:
"[Plath and Ted Hughes] were incredibly in love. I think that he loved her always. It was one of those relationships that was so full of passion. ... I love literature. I have great respect for it. I don't get a lot of time to read, but whenever I do I read as much as I can."
Huh. That should be ... something. There's also a short item about the film version of Philip Roth's The Human Stain, which is one of my very favorite books. I'm regarding the movie with equal parts hope and suspicion. It could be great, like the adaptation of Wonder Boys. Or it could be dreadful, like the adaptation of Rabbit, Run -- a film about which star James Caan said, "It wasn't released. It escaped."
Our long national nightmare is over. Fox news has dropped their comically meritless lawsuit against Al Franken:
“It’s time to return Al Franken to the obscurity that he’s normally accustomed to,” Fox News spokeswoman Irena Steffen said.
Ah, yes, the obscurity of being a bestselling author and respected entertainer. 'Tis a lonely existence, to be sure.
Franken also does a short Q&A with Time.
Proving once again that he is the coolest book critic alive, Jonathan Yardley fondly recalls the 1948 children's book Cheaper by the Dozen. It was one of my favorite books as a kid. I'm not sure what that says about me. I also liked Rascal, which is heartbreaking and involves a raccoon. Everyone should read it.
This is depressing. It's getting even harder to be a young poet. It was never that easy to begin with.
It’s a dense, dark star of a novel, seemingly eccentric, secretly shapely, with Faulknerian passions and Nabokovian layers of lies and misdirection, the 19th-century device of a disputed will and some 20th-century social history—and with Morrison, now 72, writing at the top of her game.
August 25, 2003
The Antic Muse takes on The Believer manifesto and Laura Miller's vicious attack on Chuck Palahniuk's novel -- and gets it right on both counts.
Did Fox News sue Al Franken just to pacify Bill O'Reilly? Ben McGrath thinks so, and he makes a very convincing argument. I have no trouble believing O'Reilly is a huge prima donna. And I have no trouble believing anything bad about Fox News.
Andrew Anthony catches up with Douglas Coupland in Canada:
"Vancouver is the square root of negative one," [Coupland] told me. "Technically it shouldn't exist but it does. I can't imagine living anywhere else."
Harvey Pekar, author of American Splendor, reviews Richard Cook's Blue Note Records: The Biography in the Boston Phoenix.
The newest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is out, and it's making some interesting changes. (Well, interesting if you happen to be a grammar fetishist or punctuation aficionado.) Here's an out-of-context quote from the article which I present for my own amusement:
"You want to use a hyphen there? Ooooo, that's very naughty!"
The last gay bookstore in the Twin Cities has closed. It sounds like it wasn't much of a bookstore at all:
By this day in late May, A Brother's Touch has been pretty well cleared out. A few customers pick over the remnants of Hertz's inventory: a few rainbow flags and gay-pride trinkets, some posters, a stack of porno mags, a corkscrew statuette with the screw coming out of the pelvis (a "cockscrew").
I'm honored that Jessa Crispin has entrusted me with her blog for the week. Because of my great respect for Jessa as an editor and a friend, I promise to do my best to avoid getting us sued. That being said, Arthur Miller is a serial arsonist.
August 22, 2003
And I now bid you farewell for the next four weeks. We leave for Chicago on Thursday, and then we'll be without e-mail for a week or so after that. I can still, however, be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want updates on guest bloggers and reminders on when the next issue will be up (remember, the webzine is taking September off), send a blank e-mail to email@example.com.
If you want to shower us with letters, postcards, and mail bombs in Chicago, feel free to mail us at:
P.O. Box 578669
Chicago, IL 60657
And hell, I have no shame. You can send gifts from Amazon. After losing five huge boxes of books to the used book store in order to get our moving fees down, our shelves look pathetically empty. The books will greet us at our new Chicago address. See? No shame.
Starting on Monday, our guest blogger will be Michael Schaub, Propagandist. So don't forget about us.
I'll see you all in four weeks. All the best.
Dan Kennedy gives us some behind the scenes information about the Fox-Franken lawsuit. It seems that Bill O'Reilly lobbied heavily for the lawsuit, and he has been shrilly defending the suit ever since. He even fights over the meaning of the word "satire."
"Stop reading here if you wish to avoid words of questionable taste." It's an article about the controversy about letting the word "sucks" into comic strips. "And the lack of protest at its appearance Aug. 7 is perhaps a sign that readers have come to see the word as more slang than vulgarity." I had a teacher that used to yell at us if she heard us use the word "sucks," but even my father doesn't sniff when I say it. And he has frequently glared at me when the word "damn" slipped out of my mouth. (Phone calls home take a lot of restraint on my part.) Reading the article feels a bit surreal.
August 21, 2003
Alex of Broken Type has written a great response to the Laura Miller review.
Neil Gaiman responds to Steven Grant's column that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is "pro-pornography" and badly run. You can read the entire column here, but the important excerpts are on Neil Gaiman's blog.
Stephen Glass is evidently upset about the movie Shattered Glass which is based on his time spent lying/writing for The New Republic.
Edrants.com comments on the Chuck Palahniuk review. He also suggested to me that perhaps we should deluge them with faxes. Their fax numbers are (415) 645-9204 and (212) 905-6138. Deluge away, people.
The Boston Globe profiles Dogs of Babel author Carolyn Parkhurst. It's kind of, um, odd. If I had been given one more "Now imagine that..." scenario, I may have smashed my computer monitor, but I liked the book.
I'm beginning to understand what an odd upbringing I had. One of my favorite books was The Robot Novels. And I was also reading all of the Amelia Bedelia books. The basic premise was Amelia Bedelia was a klutz and tended to fuck everything up. I related. Amelia Bedelia is now turning 40, and there's a new book, Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm.
When I first read this, I was pretty sure it was a joke. But it's not. Jack Nicklaus is going to way of Oprah and starting a magazine about himself, named Nicklaus. The premiere issue has 26 pictures of him. There's even a website.
There's a story on how Jack met Muhammad Ali and Billy Crystal at the ninth annual Celebrity Fight Night. And a story on how Jack has agreed to appear in ads for the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. And a story on how Jack and Barbara won the Greater Columbus Hospitality Award, which is awarded by the Greater Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau to folks who have "greatly contributed to tourism development" in the Greater Columbus, Ohio, area, which is, as every schoolchild knows, the home of the Jack Nicklaus Museum. And in the Barbara's Kitchen column, Jack's wife reveals her recipe for Chinese cabbage salad.
Stephany Aulenback is guest blogging for Maud Newton, and she writes about the Believer Manifesto (now online) and also mentions the Salon Palahniuk review. She's evidently not a fan, but wants to know people's opinions on whether it was snarky. To me, snarky has to be funny or witty. I don't think Miller's review qualifies.
It turns out there are three Dan Kennedys. There's McSweeney's writer Dan Kennedy. There's "How to Make Millions!" Dan Kennedy. And there's Boston Phoenix Dan Kennedy with a new book coming out. It's all very confusing.
I'm really disappointed that Salon did not print my letter to the editor. Bastards. They did print letters from others under the patronizing header, "Chuck Palahniuk Fans Fight Back!" One letter was a little bit odd, though. "Laura Miller's attitude is typical of the female response to Palahniuk's work. A simple "stupid men" attempt to shrug off real ideas and complaints about the modern world and the bullshit that gets shoved down our throats on a daily basis from chain stores to the feminization of men by the ultrafeminists." Whoa, boy. I know a dozen women (and I actually don't know a whole lot of women) who worship Palahniuk. Just because we have a vagina doesn't mean we automatically don't get it.
I noticed that the letters that did not get printed were those that pointed out Salon has a nasty habit of using reviewers who hate the material. I know I was not the only one to write this kind of letter because some of you sent me what you wrote them. (And thanks for that. I was giggling in my cubicle all day long.) So the only solution? More letters to the editor! Perhaps together we can stop their cycle of dumb ass reviews. Oh, and send me copies. If Salon won't post them, I will.