November 28, 2003
J. Robert Lennon is not one of those authors who got a seven figure advance on his book. Mailman may be critically acclaimed, but it's not raking in the dough. He's the subject of a news story on Yahoo discussing the finances of your typical midlist author. (By the way, do yourself and Lennon a favor and buy the book. It's really good.)
Attention all authors: The hip thing is to reject your awards. The latest is poet Benjamin Zephaniah who rejected the OBE from the Queen. I mean, look at Stephen King. He accepts the award he's given and he ends up with pneumonia. Best to snub.
It is reported that Eleanor Roosevelt said whenever everyone is thinking alike, no one is thinking very well. This simple but profound truth is applicable in every field except book reviewing. Book reviewers are encouraged to think well, but must limit themselves so as to “never write a review in such a way that you’d be afraid to face the author at a party the next day.” This is the appalling conclusion, in any event, reached by Annabel Lyon in a recent issue of The Malahat Review dedicated entirely to the subject of reviewing. The decorum of book reviewing, according to Lyon, demands the reviewer become the guardian of the author’s feelings; book reviewing is somewhere between flirting and nursing. On the other hand, perhaps it isn’t the author’s feelings that need protection. Lyon says reviews must be written so that THE REVIEWER is not “afraid to face the author.” Book reviews should be written to ensure literary parties maintain their joie de vivre.
And it must be a very good week for literary news in Slate this week, because they also have an article on the new Hans Christian Andersen translation. (My interest in the writer has been renewed by the reading of The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, which was inspired by the fairy tale of the same name.)
When Where the Wild Things Are was originally released, some librarians fretted over whether children should actually be allowed to read it. But now it's so mainstream that it's about to be slaughtered into a movie. (Oh, I'm sorry, I meant "adapted.") But for those of us who would like to appreciate Maurice Sendak without having to see Jim Carrey or Mike Myers or whoever they cast in a ridiculous costume, using old comedy routines instead of actually creating a character, we have two opportunities. Sendak collaborates with Tony Kushner for the new book Brundibar and Kushner edits the new collection The Art of Maurice Sendak. Slate gives a nice overview to the influence Sendak has had on children's literature.
Slate examines how the strict rules of newspapers kept The Washington Post from defending itself in its own pages. The writers had to look for other outlets to respond to false attacks.
November 26, 2003
Louis Menand tries really hard to tell us why John Updike writing short stories (he has a new collection called The Early Stories) is like Tiger Woods. Especially with the breaking down of racial barriers thing.
Isn't there some kind of law for the number of truly dumbass things you can pull as poet laureate (like, say, writing a rap for a prince's birthday) before someone pulls you out? Learn from America, England. It only took one bad poem for Amiri Baraka.
All we ask is that you don't go griping that the "snobs" are keeping poor little Johnny Grisham from his true props. He has a mansion, maybe even a jet. He'll be okay.
November 25, 2003
It's official: Ang Lee is adapting an Annie Proulx story about cowhands in love to the big screen. Hopefully he'll leave Jewel out of it this time.
The Christian Science Monitor may have the best article about Stephen King winning the National Book Award yet. It's not Bloom sputtering all over himself, and it's not the publishing industry bending over backwards for the man who made them all rich. It's just an evenheaded look at where King stands in the canon and why this decision may have been made. They also bring up a point no one else did -- Oprah won that same award just a few years back. There was some controversy, but nothing compared to the Stephen King award.
Caryl Phillips, who has a new book out called A Distant Shore, writes about the American immigration policy for the Guardian. Phillips immigrated to America pre-September 11th, and he has been disturbed by America's new policy towards foreigners.
The Guardian has more information on the ban on Taslima Nasrin's new book in India and Bangladesh. The original article said a man claimed he was "defamed." Now it seems Nasrin wrote about a colleague's sexual habits in her second volume of memoirs.
The New York Times profiles Marvel head Joe Quesada.
November 24, 2003
The Guardian interviews the literary agent for Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer: Andrew Wylie.
He divides his fellow agents into two categories: the fancy ones who expect their clients to come to them, and the hustlers, like him. Key to the success of his poaching strategy has been to flatter an author by "popping over to Bengal" as he puts it and wooing them in person. Other spry moves include employing an author's family in his office (he hired a cousin of Amis's, prior to poaching him), signing authors he has no interest in to impress the ones he does (Benazir Bhutto, prior to poaching Rushdie), and that old chestnut, promising the prospective client a huge advance if they come over to his side - the dark side, as some call it.
How the assassination of JFK affected film, literature, theatre, and music.
One of the ugliest developments in recent British political life has been the emergence of the "asylum seeker" as a bogeyman for middle England. I have spent some years feeling depressed about the extraordinary media hostility towards refugees, those claiming asylum and those (oh most horrific!) "economic migrants" whose crime it is to sneak into a rich country looking for a better quality of life.
This point of view does, of course, sell papers. There is a sector of the British public more than willing to buy tall tales of scrounging, criminality, disease and vice. The Mail has always been quick to cash in on prejudice, and its cynical promotion of ignorance over tolerance has always made me angry. The Mail's campaign to persuade its readers that they live in dangerous times, that the white cliffs of Dover are about to be "swamped" or "overrun" by swan-eating Kosovans or HIV positive central Africans would, in isolation, be merely amusing.
Time Magazine has a "best of" list with 25 graphic novels from the last 25 years. I was rather impressed. They didn't go with some of the more obvious (and overhyped) choices, and included some small press stuff. I was delighted to see Berlin, The Dark Knight Returns, and From Hell all made it. If there was any complaint, it's that the list is too heavy on recent releases.
Dubravka Ugresic gives a very interesting (and much too short) interview with the Boston Globe about her new book Thank You For Not Reading. TYFNR is published by Dalkey Archive Press, one of the best publishers in America. Readers in America should think of their country as a "book paradise," but instead no one knows what to read. "In exactly the same way that we slowly become Ikea-people, we also become Booker Prize-people, Harry Potter-people, Stephen King-people." And just wait until you get to the part where she links Snarkwatch to Stalinism. Julavitis's head is going to start spinning around.
Hoa Nguyen and Dale Smith -- two of my favorite people -- are featured poets on Chris Murray's Tex File.
November 21, 2003
I sure as hell don't have the brain power to read this article on Sartre's legacy, but perhaps you do.
Want to admit you hate War and Peace? Never read Dickens? Read Ulysses and wept at the futility of a lost six months? Now is your chance.
It's a Dale Peck review of his day.
Drove by PS 42 and thought about childhood. There's a certain sophistry to hopscotch, at least the way today's generation plays it, the bleak recherche of patterns distorted for their own sake, as if this irreverence was soothing somehow, and not simply a flailing of sneakers and hooded jackets wasting away in the failing light. I wept for twenty minutes.
Terry Teachout writes about the National Book Award ceremony.
What the story didn't say is that Hazzard was chiding Stephen King—politely, but by name, and she made no bones about it—for telling the NBA judges what they ought to be reading. My guess is that she is more accustomed to weighing her words than speaking off the top of her head, for her remarks, though brief, weren’t nearly as pointed as they seemed, and you could tell she was torn between her obligation to be tactful and her desire to tear a piece off King.
It is extraordinary to think that not so long ago a child described as a "bookworm" was assumed to have a problem. "Take your head out of that book," was the caring parent's command, "and get outside while the sun's shining."
Is this a Britain thing? Although, I guess not, as the "sun's shining" reference wouldn't really work over there. I thought the problem was more "Help! My son is an idiot," but perhaps I just come from a strange family. Anyway, it's an incredibly silly lead in to a story about how to convince children to read something other than Harry Potter.
At a celebration of childhood reading next week, organised by PEN, Harold Pinter will reveal that his favourite book as a child was Ulysses: an unusual choice, although Joyce's dialogue links closely with some of Pinter's own writing. Apparently, Pinter bought his copy of Ulysses in 1943, when he was 13. He had, he says, no money whatsoever but, when he had his bar mitzvah, kind aunts and uncles gave him some cash, as was customary, and he went straight out to buy Ulysses.
Oh yeah, that's the way to get a kid to read. Hand him Ulysses. That seems more to be the move of a father from the first paragraph. "No son of mine will grow up to be a literate sissy!" It's like letting your kid smoke at 6 so he'll get sick off of it. This may be the oddest column I've read all week.
I leave for one day and people wonder if I'm still alive, Shirley Hazzard wins the National Book Award for The Great Fire and disses Stephen King in the process, and King then goes nuts at the ceremony. Bad day to leave. By the way, if you happen to live and/or work in a northern suburb of Chicago, I need to talk to you.
November 19, 2003
From what I've read, two of my favorite authors have a weird history together. Stanislaw Lem (What do you mean you haven't read any of his books? Hospital of the Transfiguration is his first, and widely available used. Start there and stop embarrassing yourself.) was a fan of Philip K. Dick's, but Dick was in one of his paranoia phases when Lem was nominated for an award Dick was judging. Dick became convinced Lem was somehow stealing his money (don't ask me how), and snubbed his book. (He also later accused Lem of trying to kidnap him.) Ah, drug induced delusions. You don't get enough stories like that in the literary world. If only Franzen would go on a bender and start talking shit about DeLillo... My job would be so much more entertaining.
Anyway, Pete (a fantastic man from Chicago who runs a fantastic Hitchens website and who is also singlehandedly making sure I don't have to spend my unemployment sober) pointed me to this article about Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem. (You could also read one of the Ijon Tichy books; they're like science fiction done by the Marx brothers.)
Probably by now everyone has heard how writer Scott Turow served as an advisor to Illinois Governor George Ryan in his decision to suspend the death penalty in his state. But I was as surprised as anyone to learn that his book about the death penalty Ultimate Punishment was really quite good. Short, but good. Turow is interviewed at AlterNet.
"Uncle Sam represents the government," Ross says, "and our current government is giving us the finger. But you can turn that around and see the true spirit of the nation giving it back to a government that is telling its citizens, 'We know what's best—don't question us.' That finger is definitely a fuck-you back at this government."
Michael Chabon gives some information about his next novel.
November 18, 2003
Arthur Schnitzler may have written the book Eyes Wide Shut was adapted from (Dream Story), but that doesn't mean you should disregard him. Dream Story really is better than you would expect after seeing the movie. Michael Hofmann writes a really lovely profile of Schnitzler.
Everyone seems worked up about the job of editor of the New York Times Book Review being open. I'm not really paying any attention. I hardly ever read the NYTBR unless I want to read Michiko or Laura Miller for a good laugh. It's just boring and predictible these days. It's almost certain that whoever takes over will keep things just as boring and predictible. And Michiko and Laura Miller will probably keep their jobs. So I don't care.
But this is still funny. Publisher's Weekly shows some rare spunk in their predictions for who could get the job.
Heidi Julavitz: Peck's unlikely successor, she makes history when she becomes the first Times editor to score a Nobel Peace Prize, for a Bookends column called "Books: Can't We Just Pretend to Like All of Them?"
Authors and other folks write letters of welcome to George W. Bush on his visit to Britain.
Look out! Behind you!!
Hahahahahahahaha, only kidding.
Over at Context is an article about literary magazines and their place in book culture.
The Dublin IMPAC Award gets the Bookslut award for the most boring list of nominees ever. Umberto Eco, AS Byatt, John Updike, Annie Proulx, Zadie Smith, JM Coetzee, Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt... These are the authors listed as favorites to win. They certainly don't need the money or the press. Last year Orhan Pamuk won, and there's still a chance for an outsider to win, but it's just so dull to see this list of bloated fiction nominated.
Beacon Press is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and the Boston Globe looks back on its history. Beacon originally published James Baldwin and The Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, it leaves out one of the publisher's most recent additions, What Would Jesus Drive?
Gaper's Block reports on Bitch Magazine's recent trip to Chicago.
November 17, 2003
The Library of America is publishing a special edition of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Bellow is only the second living author to have this honor bestowed upon him. However, Gordon Burn believes this book was the turning point in American literature, and it was all downhill from there.
Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson noticed 150 books were missing from the collection of Governor-General's Award winners. After searching through used bookstores and online, the number of missing books is down to 11, all of them out of print. There is a list of the missing books and an e-mail address in case you have the book and are interested in selling.
Poetry Magazine (a publication I am trying really hard not to hold a grudge against as they wouldn't give me an interview for a job I was completely qualified for -- bastards) is revisited one year after the $100 million gift. And you know what the one year anniversary means. It's going to take another $100 million gift for the rest of the world to ever care about them again.
The Jessica Lynch book isn't selling so well. Perhaps a movie/book/press nightmare/constant television interviews of everyone who ever knew her/a dozen book leaks/60 Minutes telling us she wasn't much of a hero after all wasn't the best press schedule to go with.
Out with the Robinson Crusoes! Out with the Updike trilogies!
In with the iMacs!
This article is just so wrong headed, I nearly sputtered. Yes, who needs books when you have computers? And libraries? Nobody actually goes to libraries to check out books anymore. So just get rid of all books, fire the librarians (they can work at McDonald's), and bring on the computers. Because now that we have Amazon's Search Inside the Book feature, we'll never need to read an entire book again!
All of us bookworms, freed from our obsession. We can search romance books to instantly access sex scenes. Instead of reading an entire nonfiction book to get the entire perspective, we can only read a few paragraphs of "facts" and immediately jump to conclusions. And, best of all, we can do all of our reading on a fucking computer, because that's comfortable.
Remember a few years back, the "The Book is dead! Long live the E-Book!" nonsense. Everyone was predicting the public would switch over to the e-book readers and download their novels. Except no one did. I don't know a single person who bought one of those clunky things. I imagine all of this will help students with research. And that's nice. I was a lazy student, too. But I hope I'm dead before what's predicting in this article takes place.
Literature is dead! Nice to know. Now I can stop wasting my time with this reading nonsense.
Shelley Jackson discusses the "Skin" project. It seems she still needs 1,000 words. So if you ever wanted to get "and" tattooed on your ass, this is the time to sign up.
Paul F. Tompkins believes once you hit 22, you should stop liking the work of Charles Bukowski. Not just stop admitting it, or stop reading it, you should look at it with disgust. (I have a similar theory with the book On the Road.)
See, it’s just not for adults. It’s okay for those crucial years when you are trying to form what you think is a cool personality. Bukowski will not let you down then. Talking about him lends you some whiff of non-suburbanity, which I know you desperately want and need at this point in your still-formative years. This is the time to drink off-brand bourbon and discover Tom Waits’s early catalogue, when he was singing in a phony Louie Armstrong voice and was pretty much just as pretentious as you now aspire to be.
"Everyone has dreams of one day alphabetising but it's never going to happen." Douglas Coupland discusses his personal library.
November 14, 2003
The production of Taslima Nasreen's book Ka has been halted as a fellow author claims he was "defamed" by it. "In his petition, Haque said Nasreen wrote that he took two women to a guesthouse and was seen throwing up the next day after getting drunk."
Strange Horizons needs your cash.
This article makes me sad. I don't think the comic book boys know the reporter is making fun of them.
November 13, 2003
Whenever I see a picture with bookshelves in the background, I squint and look closely to see if I recognize any of the spines. Today the Chicago Reader came out with me on the cover, in front of stacks of my books. I immediately said, "Oh crap, you can see the Tolkien and the Stephen King." Kenan rolled his eyes and said, "It's blurry. No one will see that." Well, it's only 7 p.m. and I've already gotten two e-mails from people saying, "I see you have City Sister Silver," a rather obscure (but great) book I was sure no one else owned, and, "I have And the Ass Saw the Angel, too."
A. N. Wilson writes about Elizabeth Bowen, one of those authors most people know they should have read by now but never get around to. I recommend starting with The Last September. I had to read it for a class and it started a kind of obsession with Bowen.
Yet another Comics Are Literature, Too!
It's possible that Dr. John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus isn't a doctor, in fact may not have gone to college at all. Of course, this news doesn't affect the book much. What's more troublesome is that Gray established centers to train counselors on his theories.