January 30, 2004
Julie Doucet is one of those writers I don't recommend very much. I adore her, but if you tell the wrong person to read it, they could suddenly start looking at you funny. But I do love My New York Diary. Broken Frontier looks back on her career and deems her "somewhat scary." (Temporary link. May change by the time you read it.) Link from Journalista.
"I was looking at pornography on the Internet, which is not a healthy thing for anyone to do because it’s addictive. Exposing myself to risk by throwing that money into the market got the blood pumping again. With Cathy having left, I needed that adrenaline pumping, to feel like I wasn’t recessing or dying in some way. It’s all there in Dostoyevsky’s little novel The Gambler: the guy isn’t fully alive until he’s on the verge of falling into the abyss. I was acting out my grief in a way that made me feel alive. It brought me out of my cave."
That would be Denby. There's more, if you can stomach it.
The Committee for Truth in Psychiatry, a group linked to the "Church" of Scientology, has sued Houghton Mifflin for $20 million over the book The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002. The book included this article from The Atlantic on Electroconvulsive Therapy. CTIP is against electroshock, comparing the doctors who perform it to Nazis and claiming it causes breast cancer. (Of course, just about everything is blamed for causing breast cancer.) It seems odd that CTIP is suing Houghton Mifflin instead of The Atlantic. After all, they're merely reprinting the article. Perhaps Houghton Mifflin has more money than The Atlantic?
Sensitive stars would be wise to steer clear of "Cause Celeb!," a weekly series of readings on Mondays at a downtown performance space called Fez. There, before mostly young audiences, show business meets schadenfreude as actors recite embarrassing, touching, salacious or jaw-droppingly clueless passages excerpted from celebrity autobiographies. From the A-list down, no one is safe.
Perhaps it's just me, but why would anyone name a cookbook Booty Food? "Yes, I will cook from this book that reminds me about my big ass." Really, unless it's changed to Booty Reducing Food, I'm not sure how they can fix this.
It is hard not to conclude that Monica Ali shied away from the tough truth because opening the narrative to the troubled reality of British multiculturalism would have violated the basic dictate of the Zadie Phenomenon as seen by the publishing industry: the financial pull of the potential bestseller demands that a writer beset her characters with such familiar, mainstream problems as adultery rather than engage with the unfamiliar, distasteful, dark side of multiculturalism—the real multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural society that the majority of us do not want to see. This is where the cheat of the successful commercial “multicultural novel” is laid bare: for all its multicultural packaging, Brick Lane is a strictly monocultural, “see-they-are-just-like-us” affair.
January 29, 2004
During the research phase for the novel in the late '90s, [Tom] Wolfe, who turns 73 in March, ended up at "a lot of frat parties" at the University of Florida.
Could this article be edited any less? Got the year wrong, spelled "lose" as "loose" (nothing drives me crazier), fucks up the year Ghost World was released as well as which movie it lost the writing award to, uses an apostrophe-s to make a word plural... Honestly, how difficult is "American Splendor receives an Oscar nomination" to write?
Then I realized that I'd gone out with a guy who reminded me a little of Gollum, too. And one who somewhat resembled the dwarf. And there's definitely a Hobbit or two in my past. This cheered me up, because it made me realize how much I get around. I also realized that while others have picked up on other subtexts in Tolkien's work, like his anti-war themes, I might be the first to interpret the whole enchilada as a dating manual.
January 28, 2004
Film critics David Edleson and A. O. Scott discuss two new books about movies, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film and The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.
Above all, I want to discuss why neither critics nor audiences seem to engage with movies the way they did in the '60s and '70s. Is it that the blockbuster mentality of the media ends up marginalizing films that, on the basis of their grosses, would have been the focus of much excited debate back then? Or is it that film criticism has been hijacked by bottom-line industry watchers and the Oscar fetishists? Is it that all the taboos have been broken in movies and that the aesthetic breakthroughs (and fall-backs) are now happening on television—spurred by the rise of cable and relaxation of network censorship?
This is what they'll be discussing all week.
The Observer has a short list of New York Times Book Review editor candidates and guesses at how they could change the section.
The Elegant Variation asks, how can we make the serious novel culturally relevant again? His answers mirror those of Jonathan Franzen's essay on the same subject. Perhaps you could go give him some better ideas.
The bearded Russian master, now 85, again has published works that criticize Carlisle and others in the West who reportedly helped him. And the 73-year-old Carlisle, charming but unflinching, is fighting back with her own memoir detailing her dealings with Solzhenitsyn, to be published this spring on the master's home turf.
It's a shame that one of the few literary brawls is taking place with old people.
January 27, 2004
If you need an excuse to read more this year, you could join up with the 50 book challenge. Read 50 books in 2004 and blog about them. I think I may do a variation on this: read 50 books that are in no way review books. I need to catch up on my peripheral reading. I do believe I'll start with The Walking Tour by Kathryn Davis. Right after I finish my book group book.
(If you don't have a blog, you can always write about your participation here.)
One pictures Steele frantically scanning the dial looking for news -- country music, hip-hop, oldies, adult contemporary -- trying to find an "all-news" station in order to learn more about a global phenomenon bringing catastrophe, shock and sorrow to every corner of the globe.
Here, LaHaye and Jenkins may have stumbled onto an oddly accurate piece of prognostication. In the future, when Clear Channel's conquest of the airwaves is near complete, most radio stations probably will be playing a nonstop loop of the same 10 songs on a continuous feed from the home office. These fully automated stations will have no local human personnel to break in with news when disaster strikes -- as was demonstrated when Clear Channel's stations failed to broadcast flood warnings in North Dakota. And in the story of Left Behind, it's safe to assume that none of the executives at Clear Channel's central office will have been "raptured," so they would likely keep cranking out the Britney and Celine, unaware that anything was happening.
Is there anything more ridiculous than a discussion of the word "fuck" in a newspaper that can't use swear words?
There are two types of writer -- those for whom plot is paramount, and those who, like Amis, place language on parade instead. I'm with Amis, and so although in "Voyage" I do have laughs at the expense of foreigners -- so did Shakespeare -- I also allow characters for whom English is not their first language to express dismay when someone British doesn't know an arcane piece of English vocabulary: "It's your language," they say.
Man, you can really smell the desperation.
This is the response the New York Times is giving to people who inquire about Bill Keller's remarks to the "Book Babes":
"I can't claim that I was misquoted, but I do think the interview has been misread, to the extent people think there is a groundswell of opinion for dumbing down the Review, or abandoning new, literary fiction. What I was describing was not a secret blueprint for the review. None exists. But there is a pretty clear consensus, among the dozen or so candidates [for the editor's job] who wrote up their ideas about the Review, and within the paper, on the need for a serious rejuvenation of book coverage, aimed at injecting more variety, more argument, more life.
"Those who are angry or anxious about anticipated changes in our book coverage should know that any proposal I make will include an expansion of the space devoted to this subject -- both in the Book Review itself, and in the arts section of the daily paper. Thus the idea that I want to cover 'the book industry more and individual titles less' is wrong. It's not a zero sum game.
"I do think we should be more discriminating and less formulaic in our coverage of new fiction, but that does not mean we intend to 'demote literary fiction.' It means we do not have to give 800 words to every first novel, built around an extensive plot summary. Some we can cover at greater length. Some we can cover in briefs (and a brief does not have to be dismissive). Some we can cover in essays that may span several new novels. Make no mistake, I want us to be the place readers come to discover exciting new writers in all genres...
" We're not going to ignore the next Zadie Smith in favor of Dennis Lehane. We'll [report on] both."
I hope this sets your mind at ease, as it has mine. Thanks for writing.
N.B.: Any opinions expressed here, unless otherwise attributed, are solely my own
(Much thanks to Laura Pearle...)
Gordon Rugg believes he has figured out the Voynich document.
I am a little bit obsessed with stories about Left Behind. I will probably one day read the books, but I still have just a tad too much faith in humanity to do so now. Now we're up to number 12: Glorious Appearing, and they are still really, really popular.
It's hokum, of course, a feeble Manichean thriller populated by identikit characters. It's a mélange of Boys' Own derring-do, a bit of James Bond (sans the hanky-panky) combined with attacks on abortion, gay rights and incorrect religious belief (all others), and biblical-prophetic lectures from the likes of Tsion Ben-Judah, a rabbi who has accepted Jesus.
I mean, come on. Doesn't that sound like fun?
January 26, 2004
We cannot just sit back and allow Bill Keller and his puppet NTYBR editor to have their way. We must let the Times know that such a move will destroy the Sunday Times reading experience. We must flood Keller with letters, with phone calls, tell this bonehead that he is eviscerating an institution and that he will face hard consequences if he tampers with something that ain't that broke to begin with.
Its adaptation, by David Hare (“The Hours,” “The Blue Room”), a veteran screenwriter, director and playwright, is a translation by subtraction. Hare, displaying not even an ounce of understanding for the original work, melts down Franzen’s plot, hacks at large sections of it, keeps the basic spine, and presents a work as hollow, emotionless and impersonal as the book was vibrant, involving and vigorous.
Film Jerk reviews the screenplay to the adaptation of The Corrections. Of course anyone could have written that paragraph just from hearing it's been written by the man who brought us The Hours. I'm still wishing I had those two hours of my life back. (Link from Old Hag.)
At the ALA's annual midwinter meeting this month in San Diego, Karen Schneider, a member of the ALA's governing council, wanted to amend a final report on the meeting to call for their immediate release. In proposing her amendment, Schneider told her colleagues that Castro's police had confiscated and burned books and other materials at the independent libraries.
The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated by the 182-member council. The report was swept through by a raising of hands.
More on Cuba's incarceration of librarians and the American Library Association's failure to give a fuck.
This story about Seattle libraries in malls isn't actually anything new. When I lived in Dallas suburbs, I would go to the library in a Fort Worth mall. It was always busier than the other libraries and had books geared to younger adults. (Link from Maud.)
The latest Joyce Carol Oates book is Rape: A Love Story. If you miss this one, don't worry. There'll be another six months from now. (Hasn't anyone ever told her she doesn't actually have to publish everything she writes?) She's interviewed at MSNBC.
Since her debut in 1963, Oates has written more than 40 novels, 26 story collections, eight poetry compilations, five drama collections, nine books of essays, a children's book, and an opera libretto (which works out to an average of more than two works per year).
Copyright laws are confusing and messy, and most of the time I have no idea what's illegal and what's "fair use." A lawyerly friend has tried to explain it more than once, only to have me stick my fingers in my ears and sing loudly about ten minutes into the conversation. So while I find this article "The Tyranny of Copyright" interesting, it will probably take me a week to finish it. Something about Copyright laws makes my brain want to shut off.
The editors of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible will be making two appearances in Chicago this week.
January 26th Transitions -- reading and signing, 7:00pm
January 27th Beatkitchen -- reading and signing (with Peter Trachtenberg), 7:00pm
You should consider going. The book itself is worth reading simply for Peter Trachtenberg's essay on Job, not to mention A.L. Kennedy's essay on Genesis and Melvin Jules Bukiet's short story. KtB has a lot of book tour left, and you can find the rest of the dates here.
Hitomi Kanehara, a 20-year-old high school dropout, has become one of the youngest ever winners of the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's most prestigious literary award. Kanehara's winning novel "Hebi ni Piasu (Snakes and Earrings)" tells the story of Rui, a 19-year-old part-time worker who meets up with a guy called Ama, whose forked tongue sparks an interest in Rui to re-shape her own body. Rui pierces her tongue and tries to make it forked like a snake's, while also adorning her body with elaborate tattoos.
There are jokes here, I know it. I just haven't had enough caffeine yet this morning.
January 23, 2004
The ACLU of Northern California have handsome posters regarding the PATRIOT Act available for download on their website. Damn, I need a printer.
I'm getting kind of tired of writing about my movie experiences, but if that's what the editors want from me, I don't see how I can refuse them. Now I'm told a lot of people want to know what it's like going from a nobody to the protagonist of a successful film. It's happened to others before me, I guess, but I would think each would've reacted differently. For me the movies were basically a one-shot opportunity to make some extra money.
Harvey Pekar talks one more time about the American Splendor movie. The movie didn't increase his sales figures much, and his next book deal is for less money than his first deal. So go buy American Splendor comics.
I think with this article we can all agree that the New York Times Book Review is dead. Bill Keller wants to remove the focus of the Book Review away from fiction. "The most compelling ideas tend to be in the non-fiction world. Because we are a newspaper, we should be more skewed toward non-fiction." And when they do review fiction, "More attention will be paid to the potboilers."
Bullshit bullshit bullshit. This is what happens when people who don't read control book reviews. Nonfiction is easy to review. Books that are all plot are easy to review. It's just laziness mixed with an obvious contempt for literature.
But what really pisses me off is that the "Book Babes" who are supposed to care about books, are just nodding along to Keller's madness. "Oh yes, Mr. Keller. Brilliant, Mr. Keller. Have you seen my resume on your desk, Mr. Keller?" Not that you expect much from the Book Babes. They are, after all, 50-some year old women who call themselves "Babes" and have used the word "Yo" unironically.
So can we agree that NYTBR is worthless now? I only read it for the fun of yelling at Laura Miller through my monitor and feeding my hatred for Michiko. Okay, Washington Post. It's up to you now.
January 22, 2004
There is another article about Hesperus Press, a publisher who reprints the more obscure works of classic authors. Every time I read about Hesperus, I have to wonder, where's all the press for Persephone?
A book for all children who know they are loved by someone, somewhere, at all times, even if it doesn't seem like it at the moment, what with all the fighting and guilt-traps and deadly compromises that must be made in order for a child to be raised properly.
Slate is not too impressed with the Atlantic's "State of the Union" section of the most recent issue. Note to Slate: You're just supposed to put it on your coffee table to let people think you read it. It's 40 pages without pictures, for godsake. Complaining that it's dull is like complaining Steven Spielberg ruined his latest movie with the ending. Everyone knows it instinctively. You don't actually have to sit through it.
When Lingua Franca freelance writers were sued and ordered to return their last paychecks from the magazine, every freelance writer in America shuddered. But freelancing is a rough gig.
And yeah, I know I got the article about Henry James wrong. Didn't actually read it, and the introduction lied. It happens.
Just another article about the "tortured writer," which is pretty much the same article as the "alcoholic writer" with a few words changed out. This time it's sparked by Spalding Gray, and this is probably only the beginning. Do we have to? Can't someone just say Gray's Anatomy and Swimming to Cambodia are really, really good and should be bought? I'd rather not use Gray's disappearance to let lazy writers get 1,000 easy words in.
January 21, 2004
It is 2:30 in the afternoon in scenic Chicago, Illinois, and I am enjoying the day in my pajamas. Yesterday I got called into my boss's office. "Honestly, we just couldn't get you as excited about internet payment processing as you were about Bookslut.com." I think at that point I tried not to giggle. (There was another point I tried not to throw my legal pad at him.) Alas, Bookslut is now collecting unemployment and about to go watch Buffy on FX. Here's hoping this time my unemployment will allow me to get the next issue in on the deadline. Oh, the perils of your boss knowing where your heart really is...
Seamus Heaney's top hip hop picks.
“She is – let this be said – a sort of goddess. I speak here not of the antiquated muck of procreation, the spongy mechanisms of birth, but of the words rising from her throat like steam from rain-soaked humus.”
There are many things to hate about the movie Sylvia. Many, many, many things. The Telegraph offers one more reason: the reduction of Ted Hughes to husband and secondary poet. Of course the writer throws in the line, "Like many women writers, she preferred to write about the outside world through the filter of her own emotions." I have a feeling some editor changed the "many" from "most", but I'm not in the mood to get into a female vs. male author rant right now. If you're up for it, however, feel free.
"The Scarlet Letter" revealed to me the ancient literary axiom of "plot, plot, plot" can be flawed; somewhere along the line there needs to be a buffoon, a drunken quack, or a dirty joke.
Tobias Seamon lists what literature has taught him.
To revisit the novel 20 years later was, for me, to read a different story entirely. The memorable scenes remain the same - the first sight of Madame Merle at the piano; the courtship of Gilbert and Isabel, and his unexpected appearance in Rome; the extraordinary solitary evening in which Isabel comes to realise the gravity of her situation; the veiled tenderness between Isabel and her cousin Ralph; and so on - but their import was, with the experience of life's years, rather altered.
Another word in Shelley Jackson's Skin story gets their tattoo.
Canada may claim to be all inclusive and accepting, but many of the exiled writers living there can't get a Canadian publisher.
January 20, 2004
"Comic books and graphic novels aren't just for adolescent geeks anymore." Good to know.
In this article at the Hartford Courant (login: bookslut, password: bookslut), Carole Goldberg attempts to direct mourners of the defunct Book Magazine towards substitutions. I realized, however, that her helpful suggestions needed some helpful suggestions. Allow me.
Avid readers know they can see reviews from the major publishing trade journals via online booksellers' websites, such as Amazon's or Barnes & Noble's. Under the titles of specific books, they may find reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and the American Library Association's Booklist Magazine.
Well, that's not much help, is it? You have to know what book you want to read the reviews of to actually read the reviews, which doesn't allow for coming across something new. Unless she expects us to hear of new books from the Amazon.com recommendations. If that's the case, I guess it's Piers Anthony for me! But she still has many bullet points left. Perhaps she can tell us where to hear of new books.
Most major newspapers nationwide offer books sections, available through their websites, and none is more major than The New York Times Book Review.
Ah yes, the recommendations of Michiko and Laura Miller. Not to mention the other newspapers throughout America that have systematically chopped their book sections into bits.
If you liked Book, you will probably also like Pages, which calls itself "the magazine for people who love books." Published six times a year ($3.95 per issue or $15.95 annually), it offers easy-to-follow stories on authors - the latest issue includes mystery writer Linda Fairstein, novelists Anchee Min and Pat Barker and a look at new books on African American history.
"Easy-to-follow stories" should actually be replaced by "stories that seem to be written by people who couldn't even get a job at Reader's Digest." What I never understood about magazines like Pages and Bookmarks is, do they know their intended audience reads? Because they write for them as if they have a third grade reading level. They could logically assume their audience is a fan of sentences, so perhaps they should try writing some.
There are good suggestions in this article, such as Speakeasy Magazine. But no mention of Readerville, no McSweeney's. No mention of the thriving online book culture. No Granta, Tin House, or Land Grant. Not even a mention of Fresh Air, even though it pains me to refer to Terry Gross without swear words. The good citizens of Hartford will never know the book world that lies outside their doors. If only someone would tell them the good news...
Gunter Grass has filed a petition with a Korean court regarding the trial of Korean-German professor Song Du-yul. "Grass wrote to state 'it is a shock and a disappointment that Song faces trial due to some of his writings'." The story is reported by The Korean Times, who receives the award for Use of the Most Outdated Picture of a Public Figure of All Time. Man. Look at that hat. Perhaps they think his participation is bogus and would like to discredit him. "No one can take him seriously with that hat on!" (Link from the Elegant Variation.)
To the people of Scotland, welcome. I would just like to clarify. The logo is not me. My brother-in-law did not draw me naked. That would be just another thing made up by Mr. Shawn Badgley. I would like to put an end to that rumor now. Thank you.
Around 95% of books published in America are printed on virgin fiber paper. Not even J.K. Rowling could get Scholastic to print on post-consumer recycled paper (her Canadian publisher did) when requested.
These days if you get a deal with one of the major publishers, you disappear. They spend no time or money on you unless you're young, attractive, and photograph well with a bowl of cherries in Entertainment Weekly. But authors still long to be signed to Random House when a publisher like Algonquin might suit them better. Poets and Writers says it's all about status.
This is the way we think. We are a status-oriented people living in a country fast transforming itself into an omni-entertainment state, in which brand identity sometimes seems our last, best hope for stability. We may say we wouldn't mind being published by Steerforth Press or Akashic Books, but secretly we crave a few moments of fame under the auspices of Rupert Murdoch. It's not a dirty thing to admit; it's just a fact.
The Herald has a long profile of the ULA and their annoying, nonsensical ways.
Soon there will be a new Y: The Last Man trade paperback and all will be right with the world. Until then, I'll have to console myself by reading this interview with Brian Vaughan, the writer and co-creator.
Yorick is really an asshole. When I started writing him he was a younger version of me so I thought he was a terrific character. Its sort of disheartening when people came up to me and said stuff like, its so cool that the last guy on earth isn’t a great guy but that you made him this total douche bag.
Someone nominated me for a Bloggie. Vote. I could spend that $40 on more books.
January 19, 2004
According to the Amazon reader reviews of Kiss My Left Behind (in reference to the Left Behind series), the book is "a clever political satire, as George W. appears as the Antichrist, Nickelay Dubyah the Younger, the "Fearless Leader" of the former Soviet Republik of Texrectumstan."
Uncle Frank writes about the FBI's recent statement that terrorists might be carrying almanacs.
It’s a pretty impressive bit of caterwauling that manages to be simultaneously sophist, tautological, often fabricated (or at least unsupported) and, to get to the point (something they seem to have great problems with), flat-out altogether stunningly wrong-headedly foolish and I daresay idiotic.
Tony Blair's wife is writing her memoirs, The Goldfish Bowl.
In the past six years as a politician's wife in Downing Street, Cherie Blair has placed great emphasis on her professional independence and protecting her privacy.
Well, at least until there are royalties involved.
John Perry Barlow writes about his missing friend Spalding Gray. (Linked from many places.)
I'm a little agog at the number of friends and acquaintances who still respond with blank looks when I start babbling about the bounty that is Book TV, even though it celebrated its fifth anniversary last fall. There is intelligent life on television, I assure them, and its name is Book TV.
Where the hell is the punchline? Book TV, the most boring television on the most boring cable channel ever, is "intelligent life" on TV? For some reason, the entire programming is based around nonfiction books, only nonfiction authors interviewed for BookNotes. It's like programming decided by Civil War reenactors.
For those of you playing along at home, the Bookslut book group will be reading Desperate Characters by Paula Fox for the first book. For those of you in Chicago, thinking about joining, we're meeting at the Bourgeois Pig February 9th at 7:30. You can e-mail me for directions, or just show up.
January 16, 2004
The ire towards Caitlin Flanagan continues. Perhaps over the weekend I'll get involved, but until then, The Fold Drop scathingly responds to her latest review. (She also has another response to a Flanagan review here, "Whatever helps you sleep at night in your sexless marital bed, Caitlin.") Maud also gives a rundown of other responses.
January 15, 2004
The South African response to J. M. Coetzee's win has not been overwhelmingly positive. Robyn Sassen at Popmatters attempts to determine what is different between Coetzee's win (which caused grumbling among newspapers) and Nadine Gordimer (a win that mostly pleased the newspapers). (Link from Ed.)
Colin Bower, a journalist whose feature on Coetzee appeared in the Sunday Times a little before the announcement of the Nobel, tagged the then two times Booker Prize recipient a "charlatan". That's an interesting pejorative that possibly marks the journalist more clearly than the labelled, given the change of events, but also, more patently, given the quality of Coetzee's published writing. In a contentiously formed article, Bower goes on to lay into Coetzee's style of writing, focus and narrative, condemning the fact that he currently lives out of South Africa, loudly proclaiming Coetzee as con.
The Christian Science Monitor interviews Edith Grossman, the translator of the impressive (so I'm told; it's still in the stack of books I need to read) new edition of Don Quixote. It's always surprising to see recognition of translators, a mostly thankless profession.
One of Salman Rushdie's short stories will be adapted into a film, but no matter what you think, the story is not autobiographical. You hear that? Has absolutely nothing to do with his life, even if the parallels are obvious and his girlfriend is playing the part of the girlfriend in the movie.
"The Firebird's Nest" explores a romance between an older man and a younger woman, but the director said the first celluloid version of any work by the Booker Prize-winner was not based on Rushdie's life.
Padma Lakshmi, the companion of the 56-year-old Bombay-born writer, is at least 20 years younger than he is.
Lakshmi, a model turned actress, will play the lead role in the English film, whose screenplay is to be written by Rushdie.
"It is an interesting cross-cultural love story," Bollywood director Apoorva Lakhia told Reuters. "But the story is not about Mr. Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi."
God, I don't know why anyone would think it was...
When the coffee was ready, I poured it into a mug (one with an Australian Museum logo: something I bought in Sydney), carried it to my study, sat at my desk, switched on my Apple Mac, put a Telemann concerto for woodwinds on the stereo at low volume and started the day's work. It was still dark outside. The day was just beginning. It was a special day in the year, but at the same time it was an absolutely ordinary day. I was working at my computer. Maybe one of these years I would have the kind of dramatic birthday when I would want to sail a boat out to the middle of Tokyo Bay and set off a massive firework display. And should such a birthday ever come, I would charter the boat without hesitation, no matter what anybody might say, and I would head out to Tokyo Bay in the depths of winter with an armload of fireworks. But today, at least, was not such a day. This year's birthday was not such a birthday. I would just be sitting at my desk as always, quietly putting in a day's work.
Haruki Murakami ponders his birthday.
While Maud Newton doesn't appreciate my fondness for Caitlin Flanagan, Old Hag tries to explain what it is about her she likes.
Financial Times asks of Girl with a Pearl Earring, "Surely this is a joke?" By the way, whoever wrote that headline is probably much too proud of himself right now.
Nothing wrong with serious style of course, except when married to a stupefying triviality of content. As an exploration of art's pains and processes, Girl with a Pearl Earring has all the profundity of a Mills and Boon novel.
The Christian Science Monitor profiles Grove/Atlantic head Morgan Entrekin. This is the man who brought us Cold Mountain (and evidently didn't demand Frazier change that stupid, stupid ending). While an interesting man, people seem to have a hard time describing him.
"Morgan is from the South," says longtime friend Richard Howorth, who owns the independent bookstore Square Books in Oxford, Miss., where he is also the mayor. "But it's not like he grew up in overalls or plowing behind a mule. He's a sophisticated person who comes from a sophisticated family."
Gee, thanks for clearing that up.
January 14, 2004
Caitlin Flanagan's review of Dr. Laura's new book is now online.
Scott Douglas imagines a bookless world.
January 13, 2004
Japan, the country that has brought us manga with little schoolgirls raped by demons and anime with schoolgirls raped by tree roots, has finally labeled something obscene. Normally, I'd be offended, but I'd like to take a moment and just be glad someone over there has a sense of decency. Okay. Offended again. (Link from Ed.)
God damn it, somebody go find him. This is depressing the shit out of me.
And, of course, Scotland today is justly renowned as a land entirely without poverty and crime. No one who lives here is ever lonely, or upset, ill, or worried, no one loses their job, raises their voice, swears, dislikes the weather or has a mild headache for a while. Our local and national government are not inefficient and corrupt and our executive's Holyrood premises won't eventually cost more than building a Scottish embassy on Mars. In short, we have no reason whatsoever to write anything other than lovely, slightly dusty histories, or fables involving Africa and Nice Ladies.
You are yet again standing in the doorway of Schiller's at 4PM on a Saturday afternoon. You wish that you could say that your return was entirely accidental, but let's face it, you live on Essex and Rivington and just couldn't make it any further up the block. You head to the bathroom because the tiny Bolivians in your head have forsaken marching for a more aggressive variation of a Justin Timberlake breakdancing routine and it's not even dark yet.
The Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg is broke.
I love 2 Blowhards, but it's like The Atlantic. I feel I'm always trying to catch up. So this entry from a few days back that I'm just now getting to should be read immediately. Michael discusses the difference between movie people and book people, particularly dealing with how the two different worlds approach high and low culture. As always, be sure to read the comment section.
The new Holt Uncensored is up, and she has a list of her wishes for 2004 in publishing.
Come on, you guys, where's your heart? Take a leadership role in the book industry by at least pretending you have one. Here's all you have to do: pay authors just a few pennies for every used-book sale.
Not this again.
January 12, 2004
The folks at Readerville are discussing the "news" that New York Times Book Review is sexist. The discussion has gotten pretty heated, and they've gone so far as to do a breakdown of how many men v. how many women are published by various publishers. The results are pretty surprising.
It's difficult for me to formulate a response as my own reading habits are pretty damn sexist, too. In fact, just a woman's name on the spine means I'm more likely to pass it up. My own inherent sexism, I suppose. (Although nothing in the world makes me pass up a book faster than a woman protagonist written by a man.) But tell me, "Just how sexist are your reading habits?"
The question is, did Woody Allen really think Harper Collins wanted his memoirs about just his movies, or is he being clever and scamming them out of $2 million? Either way, it's pretty funny.
You should really be on I Love Books, even if it's just to read headlines like, "Waugh! What is He Good For?"
Two completely different reactions to Dr. Laura's Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. First is Jennifer Howard's offended reaction in the Washington Post. She takes the usual feminist reaction to Dr. Laura, who admonishes women for having careers and children and not being the good little wife. The more interesting piece, unfortunately, is not online yet. Caitlin Flanagan (again, the first thing I read in the Atlantic was her review) takes a more surprising approach. It seems Flanagan has recently become addicted to Dr. Laura's show and tries to separate the crazy from the rational. She's persuasive. The article should be here soon. Or just go buy the magazine. It's exceptionally good this month.
Rimbaud was a whiny little bitch.
This took place 40 years ago in Africa, and still I ponder it - the opportunity, the self-deception, the sex, the power, the fear, the confrontation, the foolishness, all the wrongness...
Actual Comments Overheard In A Poetry Workshop By A Fiction Student In An MFA Program That He, In Order To Fulfill All Degree Requirements, Is Forced to Take: “This poem reminded my of an infant playing with an insane toy, and we were the infant. Or the insane toy. It actually seems to work both ways, and that is what makes this poem simply delicious.” (Link from Maud.)
While estimates suggest that in the next 100 years perhaps five per cent of species will be wiped out, Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages argues that it is languages that are really under threat. The consensus seems to be that on current trends, between 50 and 90 per cent of the world's 6,000 or so languages will cease to exist over the next century.
"But I think we made really serious missteps in 2000 and 2001, and we’ve really turned our backs on a world that could have been pleasant, delight-ful, peaceful, and technocratic. Now we face a world that is religious, narrow-minded, fundamentalist, and violent." A couple of Bruce Sterling links this morning. First is this interview with Reason Magazine, where he discusses forseeing the rise in terrorism, global warming, and porn on the Internet. There is also "the state of the world, the future, and everything" discussion that takes place annually with Sterling. It's extremely long, but fascinating. You didn't really plan on getting work done today, did you? He also has a new book coming out, The Zenith Angle. And that has been your Bruce Sterling update.
I just got around to reading this, "Good to Hear You" by Holiday Reinhorn.
January 10, 2004
One of the less reported stories has been Castro's imprisonment for dissent of 10 independent librarians in Cuba. The Village Voice has written a few columns about the matter, asking why the American Library Association hasn't protested these arrests. Now librarian Ann Sparanese has written in support of Castro's decision, and the Village Voice responds.
Sara Steffens writes a love letter to East Bay libraries.
Librarian extraordinaire Jessamyn West adds a bookplate exhibit to her website. Lots of naked ladies.
The Economist writes about the Voynich manuscript, a 234-page book with beautiful illustrations, naked ladies, and an unknown language or code. It currently lives at Yale where cryptographers have tried for 30 years to read it, as well as countless linguists. But no one tell Tracy Chevalier. She'll try to write a goddamn novel telling its "story".
In order to promote Seth Flynn Barkan's new book of poetry Blue Wizard Is About to Die, Rusty Immelman Press is developing a special game of Counter Strike called Kill the Authors. You can register now for the March tournament. (Thanks to Jarret for the link.)
Can someone explain the idea behind Vintage Murakami to me? I saw it at a bookstore the other day, and it seems to be chapters from different books. Why would someone pay the same price as a full length book by Murakami for this? There is also a Vintage Amis, and god knows how many others.
Ever since the end of the year, you've been checking Salon.com, thinking, "Please, Laura Miller. Give us your best books of 2003. We feel lost without your wise guidance." Wait no longer! Today she gives it up, and it's pretty much what you'd expect. The Curious Incident. The Fortress of Solitude. Old School. It's an extremely predictible list.
January 9, 2004
Nerve.com has a new short story by A.M. Homes, titled "The Weather Outside is Shiny and Bright."
It seems Alexander McCall Smith thinks his comments about Irvine Welsh have been "misinterpreted." Alas. One more literary feud squashed before I could really enjoy it. What is it going to take? I want Jonathan Safran Foer swinging a broken beer bottle at the New Yorker literary festival by the end of the year.
And for those outraged that the low-rated Doonesbury survived while Boondocks didn't, we made the decision to drop Boondocks because we did not want to keep publishing a comic that we regularly needed to censor. During the past year, Boondocks was substituted a number of times because it was deemed inappropriate for a family newspaper. And not just this family newspaper. Editors across the country were making the same decisions.
I'm with Liz. Bunch of pussies.
The Salon Life section is mentioned among others for the worst web writing in 2003.
January 8, 2004
The Seattle Times profiles new London publisher Hesperus Press. They work in the same vein as NYRB and Persephone, concentrating on "literary curiosities" such as Faust by Turgenev and The King of Pirates by Daniel Dafoe. The good news is Herperus's books are available in the United States as well.
Howard Hampton responds to Curtis White's The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think For Themselves.
Outing Fresh Air hostess Terry Gross as a "morbid, perverse, and voyeuristic" dominatrix of the mind, White sees National Public Radio's semi-elevated inanity as the intellectually pornographic, Big Brother-like suppression of all things sacred. By the lights of The Middle Mind, Gross's rink-a-dink salon of the airwaves is more than Oprah-esque trivialization, it's a genuine threat to the sanctity of art, holding the national imagination hostage. At least the awareness of anyone who matters— all piddly 2 million of 'em. Imagine, we're asked to shudder, the whole country wired to Terry Gross's bourgeois ass!
January 7, 2004
RB: What is your evidence that mainstream literary culture is flat? What do you mean by flat?
NP: The events are really dull. A writer appears onstage, is introduced as some god of American prose. Jonathan Safran Foer, for instance. Young Mr. Safran Foer—the merits of his book aside, the way he is presented as a writer and the way he presents himself, to me is antithetical to what I think the literary culture should be—his book aside.
It's not a real Neal Pollack interview until he trashes Jonathan Safran Foer.
Sexism at the New York Times Book Review? Nooo....
Back when I worked at Austin's Planned Parenthood, we were a bit obsessed with the goings on of the Bush twins. Everyone had a Jenna Bush story in that town. And if there's one thing I miss about pre-September 11th media coverage, it's the regular updates on the girls. (I wonder if the Bush twins blog is still around...) But this excerpt from The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush almost makes up for it.
The opening sentence is essential to a great suspense novel, as it lets the reader know what the story's going to be about. I've included a sample opening sentence below, to show you how it's done right:
John crossed over to the living room and lit a cigarette.
Note how I have successfully introduced a character, a location, and an action. Now let's crank up the suspense:
John crossed over to the living room and lit a cigarette. Or did he?
"Alexander McCall Smith, one of the most popular Scottish authors, has launched an outspoken attack on fellow writer Irvine Welsh, labelling him a 'travesty for Scotland.'" Smith, as you may or may not know, is the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which was something of a surprise hit. I love a good brawl, but Smith's criticisms are a bit odd. He calls Welsh's use of swear words "vulgar" and "debased." He says nobody in Scotland behaves they way they do in Welsh's books. Really? Not a one? You mean Scotland hasn't had a drug problem? Poverty issues? Restless youth? And of course no one there uses the word "fuck." Brawls are much less fun when one of them is a prude.
It's a very good thing one of my New Year's Resolutions was not updating Bookslut on time. Day seven is too soon to start failing for the year. This year's Guardian First Book Award winner Robert Macfarlane spoke to James Purdon about his book Mountains of the Mind, the pressure of a follow-up, and odd fan letters. Bear v. Shark author Chris Bachelder also talks about the pain of the sophomore slump, as well as the death of Johnny Cash and modern satire. And Warren Ellis agreed to answer four questions from Comicbookslut Karin Kross.
In reviews we have the new Stephen King (we really couldn't resist), Liz Miller uncovers the '60s (and wishes they'd cover themselves up again) in her review of Naked Came the Stranger, and there are diseases from corpses and a high profile suicide in our nonfiction reviews. We aim to please.
And because there's a law out there somewhere, we have a few year end wrap ups. Propaganda examines the books by "the insane, stupid, and just plain evil" from 2003. Comicbookslut tries to look on the bright side of the year. Hollywood Madam writes an open letter to Oscar (honey, you know he never listens).
An Indian mob has destroyed 30,000 ancient manuscripts and rioted in retaliation for Oxford University Press publishing a book about a Hindu king.
January 6, 2004
Mark Alan Stamaty has drawn a scammed author comic for the New York Times.
That ridiculous little poem Laura Bush said her husband wrote? He didn't write it. Now, someone else might make a joke about Bush not being able to string that many words together coherently, but I'm trying to be a moderate.
I thought this article about modern mysteries was interesting until I saw the man who wrote it was in fact a writer. The writer of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. That fact alone allows you to disregard everything he says.
Today's publishing world is overwhelmingly confessional. It seems the most popular memoirs are by those who haven't done a damn thing spectacular with their lives. Everyone's first book is autobiographical; even Jonathan Safran Foer named his goddamn narrator after himself. So when you trot out your first book, everyone assumes it's about you. When Danny Leigh talks about his book The Greatest Gift, assumptions are made.
I understand the logic only too well. This is, after all, what writers do - however much veiling and flimflam is applied to the material. Just not me. In fact, it was the fear of doing this that had me dallying for years before I started to write seriously. What was I going to produce otherwise? Yet another preening missive from a university-educated twentysomething (then), living in London, working as a journalist and... Do you see what I mean? I've lost interest already.
I've been in Britain a year now, and for the first time in my life I find myself in a community where people of my colour are numerically in the minority; for the first time diasporic literature (Afro-American and black British) begins to have more meaning for me in its treatment of racial issues. Now I understand fully what Toni Morrison meant when she said that for her literature has to be political, has to be beautiful, has to be rooted in a particular culture, a particular point of view. Would a Caucasian author, for instance, feel that kind of necessity?
Mobylives has gone on hiatus.
January 5, 2004
Leigh Ann bravely offers up her list of books bought in 2003 but not read, including "an entire year of McSweeney's Journals. Amen. She even writes out her list of books sitting on her shelves unread for five years and ten years.
Yourdictionary.com has a list of the 100 most commonly misspelled words. I'm glad to see I'm not the only idiot who spells out "existence" a couple different ways before getting it right.
Seduction and romance are not always easy for writers and academics. Their occupations are solitary, their interests cerebral, and there are limits to the amorous possibilities offered by libraries and warm-riesling-fuelled poetry readings. So just over five years ago, the London Review of Books began running personal advertisements, in the hope they would provide a platform for like-minded people to find love, or sex, or at least a suitable reading group.
One might have expected the advertisements to be more literary and erudite than the norm, but no one was quite prepared for the first ad, which read: "67-year-old disaffiliated flaneur, jacked-up on Viagra and looking for a contortionist trumpeter." A cult phenomenon was born.
The New York Observer profiles Brigid Hughes, the new editor of Paris Review.
This: "Research by The Bookseller magazine has found that leading publishers are set to cut new adult titles by up to 20 per cent over the next three years to try to boost profits." would have been good news had it not been preceded with this: "Publishers are reducing the number of books they release to concentrate on "big name" authors or "good-looking" first-time novelists who are more marketable." Slash. For the love of god, please slash. But slash the "good looking" first-time novelists, not the literary midlist.
Evidently there is a war being waged. It seems to me the writer is trying to make a big deal out of a small one. The article may have seemed more relevant if it had been published soon after the National Book Awards ceremony. I thought this had already been talked out. Stephen King was not the most gracious recipient the award had ever seen, Shirley Hazzard seemed uncomfortable responding, and supporters of each side have said some silly things.
It seems a matter of common sense. I think anyone who reads King's comment that the new Peter Straub book lost boy lost girl deserves the National Book Award knows it is ridiculous. Unfortunately for King, the National Book Awards are not run like the Oscars where big and dumb rules, giving The Titanic the award over L.A. Confidential. (Yes, I'm still fuming.) And not that Straub is big and dumb, but it is a matter of storytelling vs. writing.
But this is a matter that should die down again quickly. I doubt we'll see King up on that podium ever again.
Some quick housecleaning this morning:
I am no longer accepting applications for the SF columnist position. Sorry.
If anyone in Chicago is interested in forming a book group, reading the kinds of books I mention on this blog, please e-mail me.
And although Kenan spends his entire day on I Love Music, I just now discovered I Love Books. Just what this procrastinator needs. People complain that Bookslut doesn't have a forum, so go here instead. I'll probably be addicted soon.
January 2, 2004
And because the 2003 just wouldn't be complete without it, Alex Good provides another installment of the Puffies, the award for the most outrageous and incoherent blurbs of the year.
When Lorna Crozier tells us that Florence Treadwell's Cleaving "arrives like a blue sweater filling the doorway and nothing is the same again" I pull a blank.
ReadersVoice: A lot of your comics, like Lloyd Llewellyn, have a 'fifties and early 'sixties influence. Why is that?
Daniel Clowes: It was a response to having come of age in the 70s & early 80s; a desire to go back to a time before the hippies made everything ugly.
Warren Ellis is talking about retiring from American comics.
January 1, 2004
The USA PATRIOT Act is as despotic as anything Hitler came up with – even using much of the same language. In one of my earlier books, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, I show how the language used by the Clinton people to frighten Americans into going after terrorists like Timothy McVeigh – how their rights were going to be suspended only for a brief time – was precisely the language used by Hitler after the Reichstag fire.
The list of banned words for 2004 includes: "metrosexual", "bling bling", "punked", and "shock and awe".
Slate gives a rundown on the best and worst of criticism in 2003. You can relive all the most eye-rolling moments, from James Frey to Ian Spiegelman, from the Believer to Stephen King.