February 29, 2004
Bookslut's own Tom Bernard, author of the Cookslut column, has a little literary side project going on called Inkberry. There are events and workshops and all sorts of activity. Go look.
We, the undersigned, urge the editors of PoynterOnline to replace the so-called "Book Babes" as your book columnists of record. They are mediocre, intellectually shallow and obsequious in the worst Leno tradition. They mar an otherwise valuable site and we urge you - strongly - to replace them with a more vibrant, engaged, intelligent voice on contemporary literary affairs.
February 27, 2004
Next week I'll be taking a break and letting a guest blogger take my place. I'm very happy to say that guest blogger will be the one, the only Ms. Jennifer Howard. She works for the books section of the Washington Post (and yes, is the author of the infamous blogging article), and she also happens to be a lovely person. So play nice and I'll see you in a week.
You might not believe me, but Optic Nerve is back. It's been, what? Two years? For those of you who have stopped checking for new issues out of a lack of positive reinforcement, you should go get the new issue. It's the first part of a multi-issue story and Tomine promises he won't make us wait two years for the next installment. (Plus, it's really, really good. In my opinion, as good as his work in 32 Stories, which may sound like hyperbole at this point.) He also has Scrapbook coming out, a collection of random artwork and small stories he's done for other publications. And he's interviewed at SF Gate.
The buzz for David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas just keeps growing. This interview at the Telegraph isn't wildly different or more interesting than the other two I've linked to this week, but as we Americans have to wait until AUGUST for Cloud Atlas to be released, I'll take what I can get. I might have to go reread Ghostwritten in anticipation.
Mr. Weschler is attempting to raise about $300,000 to launch the publication, which would sell for less than $20 a copy and come out twice a year, and later as many as four times annually. The magazine’s working motto: “Hopelessly utopian. Desperately needed.”
$20 an issue, comes out twice a year... Isn't that McSweeney's? Do we "desperately need" another?
February 26, 2004
Nerve.com interviews Hanif Kureishi about his new book The Body and this revelation: "I don't understand anything about women whatsoever." (No bukkake references, unfortunately. I was hoping today could be bukkake day, but really, there aren't references in modern literature. One is all you get.)
It's probably too early in the morning for this, but Susannah Breslin (author of the dirty You're a Bad Man, Aren't You?) has written a comic. About bukkake. You might want to bookmark that and come back to it after you've had some coffee.
The new book Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 is claiming what happened that night could not be classified as a war crime and was justified as a military target. (Interesting that this book was published after the release of the documentary The Fog of War, in which McNamara admits the firebombing of Japan could be classified as a war crime.)
Botched abortions as a mystery plot line? Evidently so. That would be Stone Cribs, and Salon includes it in a round up of mystery novels. Just the other day I was thinking there weren't enough botched abortions used as plot devices.
Blah blah blah Naomi Wolf thing blah blah blah
Neal Pollack has been showing up on Salon.com lately. (Neal, didn't you say you would come back to blogging for the election? We miss you. Come back sooner.) Now he's giving a lecture in Austin for them, "THE PROFESSIONAL SATIRIST'S GUIDE TO THE PERFECT ORGASM." You save a whole $5 if you're a subscriber. I'm still waiting for my subscription to run out.
February 25, 2004
When he turned his diaries into a manuscript for a light-hearted book on the life of a food judge, he said, Michelin struck back. Mr. Remy claims that Michelin turned down an offer to publish the book itself and offered him a promotion and a 30 percent raise to suppress it in November, fired him in December when he refused and has worked behind the scenes to prevent its publication ever since.
Every time you grumble about the one city, one book programs that encourage you to read the same overrated classic as everyone else, just remember: it's not as bad as Canada. The entire country is supposed to read the same book. This year's choice is The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaege and there is some grousing, some defending, some rebelling. Zsuzsi Gartner, a judge on this year's panel, offers advice for those choosing next year's book.
2.) Beware of Politics: This one is a no-brainer. If a French Canadian feminist is on the panel, avoid books by Mordecai Richler.
On the same website is Vanderhaege's reaction to his book being selected.
Several years ago, Rolf Degerlund, the director of the Ice Globe Theatre, had a vision. Returning to Sweden from London and a visit to the newly restored Globe, he thought, why not recreate the theater in snow and ice? "What I imagined was actors playing Hamlet with clouds of frost coming from their mouths," he told me.
Unfortunately, no one gave him a drug test at the time, and his vision is now a reality.
After I read The Botany of Desire, I started eating only organic potatoes. Now there's a new book, Against the Grain, trying to convince me to do the same with grains. I'll have to go on food stamps just to afford the basics. Can you use food stamps at the natural food store?
This week's Literary Life is all about the unsuccessful book signing.
As the release of Jayson Blair's Burning Down My Masters' House: My Life at the New York Times nears, he is, unfortunately, coming back into the spotlight. Now Blair says he wants to donate money from his book advance to mental health organizations. The original rumor was that he wanted to establish a journalism scholarship, a prospect that terrified the colleges. The associate dean from the journalism college Blair attended responded, "I received an e-mail on Friday that said it was from him, but I didn't open it. I saw the name, and I deleted it."
Also, the New York Times Book Review has not decided whether or not to review the book.
The Smoking Gun has the Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey book proposal for Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey's Secrets for a Happy (and Sexy!) Marriage.
"I know what you're thinking. 'What does Jessica Simpson know about books?' I mean, anyone who has ever seen my show, Newlyweds, probably thinks I wouldn't know a book if one fell on my head. But let me let you in on a little secret: I am not as dumb as I look."
The world awaits the proof.
February 24, 2004
Over at I Love Books folks are summarizing novels in 25 words or less. VermontGirl is on a fucking roll.
Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.
Heroin and diet pills are all fun and games until someone loses an arm.
A random generator is trying to see if monkeys banging on keyboards can really come out with Hamlet. (Didn't I see a story about this a while back, though? The monkeys just ate keys and defecated on the typewriters I think.) So far the best they've come up with is 13 letters in a row from Measure for Measure.
Will Eisner returns with another comic, this one concentrating on a Jewish world domination conspiracy.
You can now vote at StorySouth for your favorite online fiction of the year. (Thanks to Ernie for e-mailing the link.)
Carolyn See is right. If I came across the book Every Night is Ladies' Night, I wouldn't pick it up. But, she assures us, it's great, just a really bad title. There's also a story with romance novelists discussing titles. The Bride Price is picked for one book, even though there is no bride in the book. Someone should now write a story on covers that give you false hope.
I can't imagine having a better job. I get to work with the First Amendment on behalf of a field I am deeply interested in. I get to work with dozens and dozens of fascinating, creative people. I get to travel and meet our members around the country. I get to write. I get to initiate fundraisers for a cause I believe in. It's very gratifying work.
The ULA is acting up again, this time over the Paris Review.
I promise not to spend any more time on the ethics of blogging. It's the most boring topic ever. I heart Alex Good, and he is always more articulate than my rambling attempts. Back to books.
February 23, 2004
Better David Mitchell interview at the Guardian. (Thanks to Justine for e-mailing the link.)
I'm not sure who Terry Teachout thought appointed him schoolmaster of the blogs, but this really pisses me off.
This isn't merely a matter of common courtesy, or even collegiality. OGIC and I don’t give credit to such fellow bloggers as Supermaud, Sarah, Lizzie, Cinetrix, and Chicha just to be chummy (though that's part of the fun). We do it because we want you to read them, too. The potential audience for litblogs and arts blogs is infinitely larger than the number of people currently reading them. The more such blogs you visit on a regular basis, the more interested you’ll become in the larger phenomenon of blogging, and—we hope—the more often you’ll come back to dance with the one who brung you.
Repeat after me: Giving credit to blogsources for borrowed links is good for everybody in the blogosphere.
Not all bloggers feel this way. Certain of our colleagues are bad—a few notoriously so—about giving credit to other bloggers. I’ll name no names, but I will say that the stingy practice of link-poaching has lately come in for quite a bit of backstage criticism.
I have a bad habit of not crediting every link, but that's mostly because I also bookmark half of the links and then forget where they came from. But I've also been attacked by other bloggers who e-mail me asking why the hell I didn't credit them for a link when I don't even read their blog. But I think it's damn near ridiculous that Teachout thinks he can scold those of us who aren't his favorites.
I dislike the blogging community, the in-jokes and the sly winking at one another. But Mr. Teachout declaring himself the police of blogging etiquette really pisses me off. He won't "name names", he'll just insinuate his disapproval. Instead of making blogging more interesting, this artificial community and Teachout's laying down the law has only made it much more boring.
Turning your blog into a book? Dear god, someone stop them.
David Mitchell was on the Granta young writers list, but he's gotten considerably less coverage than the Alis and the Smiths. He has two books published in the US, Ghostwritten and Number9Dream, and his talent surpasses that of Ali and Smith. His new book Cloud Atlas is released in the UK in March and will hopefully find quick publication here as well. Mitchell is interviewed at the Independent, a publication that spends more time describing what the subject is wearing and eating than they do interviewing the goddamn person. (Link from Sarah.)
Naomi Wolf's accusation that Harold Bloom sexually harassed her is now available on the New York website. There are a lot of responses, a lot of denials and pointing of fingers. But does anybody really care? I mean, two public figures going at one another, dredging up ancient history that should have been addressed perhaps when it was happening. Now it just seems petty and "look at me!", even if it does disturb me any time I agree with Camille Paglia.
February 20, 2004
McSweeney's has a new dispatch from the public librarian.
Andrew Arnold reviews a bundle of Japanese manga targeting female readers.
The future of literary fiction is probably not in hardcover. I really hate to say it, but the days of literary novels in hardcover may be waning. The economics of hardcover books makes them a huge risk for most publishers. That's because the average cost of a hardcover novel is around $25-30, while the average cost of a trade paperback is around $15. Is it any wonder that many people wait until the book comes out in softcover? (Link from New Pages.)
Stuck in a town with nothing to read, I picked up the first book that looked interesting at the bookstore. (A Lawrence store that has passed on, unfortunately, but I will always remember dearly for introducing me to many, many authors and giving me my first Lawrence sighting of William Burroughs.) I ended up with Mefisto by John Banville. I liked it and passed it on to a few friends, but it wasn't until a class on Irish literature assigned Birchwood that I completely fell in love. Even when you're utterly confused (like I was reading Ghosts the first time; the second time made more sense), his books just sing. The Boston Review has an extensive article on Banville and his works, which makes me want to read the two books of his I own but have not yet read. (Link from the Literary Saloon.)
Maisonneuve is evidently very proud to bring the world Dale Peck's last negative review ever. The victim has been chosen (Sven Birkets), and the date of delivery is March 12th. What I want to know is who will sponsor Dale Peck's re-entry into negative reviewing after he realizes no one gives a fuck about him unless he's saying stupid things?
February 19, 2004
Lastly on my mind is -- christ on a stick, why the hell are Christians reading my fellatio book, and even stranger, what unholy ghost possesses them to write bad reviews about it on Amazon? Like, duh -- my book is about a very dirty sex act (the dirtier the better) and the content is... offending them! I can only guess that the book was recommended on some Christian messageboard, the ladies thought, well I spend a lot of time on my knees, why not make Jesus a happy man, and bought the book (I'll take that money, thank you very much. No, no -- don't give it to the Family Values Coalition, give it to the cute girl with glasses who likes to write about sucking cock). (Permalinks not working. Scroll to 2/17. Link from TEV.)
Reason #42 I very rarely read biographies: How do you trust the biographer? The Observer thinks the author of My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson--His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous was a tad too sympathetic to the book's subject.
Can one drop acid and still claim sobriety? Can one proselytize for a hallucinogen—"Bill urged everyone he knew to try it"—and still claim to be on "The Path"? Instead of aggressively pursuing such questions, Ms. Cheever bends over backward to overcontextualize his behavior, if such a thing is possible. "In the early 1960s the substance called LSD was still mysterious as well as being completely legal," she writes, apparently unaware of how that "completely" threatens to erode her credibility.
Eventually I'll stop posting Caitlin Flanagan links, but she's everywhere this week. She's on Slate, discussing nannies and such with Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickle & Dimed) and Sara Mosle, a New Yorker writer.
So if you point out that the jaw of every male in the room dropped when a woman walked in, it's neither necessary nor helpful to describe her as "beautiful."
This article on adjectives is missing the point. You should describe a woman as beautiful before you say a man's jaw dropped. Because it didn't. At best, he might have to squirm a bit to hide a growing erection. The adjective is not the enemy, it's stupid expressions like "his jaw dropped," "her eyes widened," or J.K. Rowling refusing to say a character went for a walk and instead insisted each time they were going out "to stretch their legs."
Boris Pasternak's complete works, which includes Doctor Zhivago, will finally be published in Russia after being banned for 30 years.
February 18, 2004
Panos Karnezis writes his books (the short story collection Little Infamies and the new novel The Maze) in English, his second language. The Independent has an interview with Karnezis, worth reading for his interesting description of the labor of writing in English.
God damn it. I don't want to have to subscribe to the New Yorker. (Last item.)
It's probably an odd thing that I like Caitlin Flanagan so much. In many ways, she's the polar opposite of me. She is a stay-at-home mom and revels in it. I hate to be around children, even in small doses. She loves keeping house. I leave clothes in the dryer for days until I actually need a shirt that might be in there. (And, of course, she has a high profile, well paying job at The Atlantic. I bitch here for free because no one will pay me.) But I love her. And even this interview with her declarations of love for watching The View and taking care of knee-biters doesn't change my opinion of her. She will still be the first thing I read in each issue of the Atlantic.
Prospect Magazine has an article on contemporary Australian literature's birth.
Voila: the Dr. Seuss stamp.
Apple has an interview with Dave McKean. He is a collaborator with Neil Gaiman on books like Wolves in the Walls and Mr. Punch. He's also the creator of Cages, which really is worth the $50 or whatever they're charging. And afterwards, it makes a good bludgeoning tool.
February 17, 2004
The April choice for book group (we're choosing books two months in advance to help those like me who see single book purchases as an excuse to buy $25 worth at Amazon and get free shipping) is 1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray. (My choice. People are shy on voting for books, so I'm being a tyrant until people start speaking up.)
The Seattle Times has an article about Fantagraphics publishing the complete Peanuts collection. The first book, The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952 will be released in April to be followed by 24 more volumes.
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order became a surprise bestseller in Israel this year, eight years after it was originally published. The book predicts a worldwide struggle of the West against China and Muslim civilizations. Happy, happy stuff. Make sure your neocon has his own copy!
"A reformed Italian terrorist turned successful crime writer has been arrested and faces extradition from France, despite a longstanding promise that Paris would always provide a safe haven for one-time Red Brigades militants."
February 16, 2004
Dave Pelzer, the Oprah darling who wrote A Child Called It and subsequent memoirs, has yet another memoir out, The Privilege of Youth. He's interviewed at the Guardian, and the interviewer dotes on him, never asking interesting questions. Pelzer is allowed to call his brother (the one who accused Dave in the New York Times of fictionalizing the abuse stories) "semi-retarded," without verifying whether he is handicapped in any way. It's journalism at its finest. If you didn't read the piece on Pelzer in the New York Times, however, it might be worth digging in the archives for. You'll have to pay, but it's a very interesting read.
If for whatever reason you'd want to know, I was asked to give my desert island music picks. Yes, I am a boring white girl, why do you ask?
While I appreciate the effort put into responding to the latest Book Babes nonsense, you have to wonder why anyone would waste their energy anymore? They like "airport" fiction and wrinkle their cute little noses when someone brings up serious literature. It's like attacking John Grisham for being formulaic.
Joyce's descendant is threatening to sue if any public recitations of Ulysses take place on Bloomsday. After all, his work is not yet in public domain (fucking copyright laws). Stephen Joyce, 70-something and living in Paris, "has made millions of pounds from the proceeds of copyright of Joyce’s work and from suing for its infringement." In 1991, Joyce's work did enter the public domain in Ireland until EU's laws (*not* to come in line with the US, as I was schooled) extended copyright from 50 to 70 years after the author's death. Which means you won't be able to read Ulysses in public until 2011. As a result, Stephen gets to decide on things like refusing "an Irish composer permission to use 18 words from Finnegans Wake because 'to put it politely and mildly, my wife and I don’t like your music'." (Fucking copyright laws.)
For David Shanks, CEO of Penguin Group (USA), the logic is simple: If a potential customer is surfing the publisher's Web site, why wait for that person to buy from a store? Just sell the book right away, directly from the site.
But for many retailers, the logic is equally as simple: When publishers sell straight to the public, bookstores lose.
Enter a lot of bitching by booksellers that publishers are stealing their business. As someone who has only bought books directly from the publishers once (NYRB was having a sale), it seems a little overdramatic on the part of the booksellers.
Julie Myerson, I'm guessing the same one who wrote Something Might Happen although it never says for sure, used heroines in books to assure herself everything would turn out okay as she was growing up. Family had to leave her father and start all over again without any money? Why, that would be A Little Princess. Having to cope with everything on her own? She would turn to The Railway Children, also one of my favorites as a kid. I like this conversation Myerson has with her husband:
"It's simple," says my husband with a shrug. "Boys read books in order to learn how to practise dealing with risk, to control and master the world, whereas girls read books…"
"In order to understand it," I chip in.
"In order to believe that whatever they feel is right."
"Actually, they just want to be able to empathise."
"Only if 'empathise' means always having the most wonderful hindsight."
"That's so untrue," I tell him. "Boys want to get their way and have an effect. Girls just want to feel that things are going to work out."
There you go. An explanation of the differences of reading habits of boys and girls as well as some self-help "Men are from Mars..." thrown in.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of The Giving Tree (not to mention the "anniversary" edition of the book that comes with a CD of some sort), I post the following from Irony Central's Story About the Baby:
Speaking of Shel Silverstein, I only just reread my copy of the children's classic The Giving Tree. It's the first time I've read it since I became a parent.
For the unfamiliar, it's about this boy and the tree (read: parent) who loves him. And the boy takes everything from the tree, little by little, and leaves it with NOTHING. He plays in its branches, and he takes its apples, and he carves his initials into its trunk, and eventually he gets an axe and lops off its ARMS.
No way, man. Now that I read this story as a parent, I know what it truly means. It means that, one day, Cordelia is going to come into my room with a hacksaw and go "Give 'em up, dad. I need to buy a house." And don't get me wrong. I love my little girl as much as any parent loves its sprog. But the day she comes after my limbs, I'm takin' her out.
As you've probably read by now, a glitch at Amazon revealed the identities of the anonymous reviewers. It seems even Dave Eggers was one of those anonymous reviewers.
February 15, 2004
The PO Box is going away, so please check the contact page for our new address. If you send something to the PO Box, we won't get it.
February 13, 2004
Journalista! is going on hiatus as its owner has been promoted and must focus on his new position for a while. Congratulations, and we look forward to your return.
Sasha Cagen would like the word "quirkyalone" to become commonplace. (Really, she couldn't throw in a hyphen or something? Looking at that makes me cringe.) It's her word for single and happy, and she has written a book about it, of course.
Quirkyalones, she wrote, are "romantics, idealists, eccentrics [who] inhabit singledom as our natural resting state. In a world where proms and marriage define the social order, we are, by force of our personalities and inner strength, rebels ... being alone is understood as a wellspring of feeling and experience. There is a bittersweet fondness for silence. All those nights alone — they bring insight."
Oh dear god.
It's take-a-piss-on-James-Joyce month. Evidently Dale Peck wasn't getting enough attention lately, because he wants to join in, too.
It all went wrong with Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is less a Bildungsroman than the chapter by chapter unravelling of a talent which, if "The Dead" is any indication, could have been formidable, while Ulysses is nothing more than a hoax upon literature, a joint shenanigan of the author and the critical establishment predicated on two admirable, even beautiful fallacies that were hopelessly contingent upon the historical circumstances that produced them: William James's late-Victorian metaphor of the stream of consciousness, which today seems closer to phrenology than modern notions of psychology and neurology; and TS Eliot's early modern fantasy of a textual stockpile of intellectual history that would form an allusive network of bridges to the cultural triumphs of the ages, a Venice without the smell of sewage, or mustard gas.
It took an imagination as literal as Joyce's, a temperament as dogged, an ambition as lacking in nuance, to turn a book as lively as The Odyssey into a stale monument to everything that had so recently failed the world. That the book was so enthusiastically embraced represents less a return to the right path that so many wishful readers – including Virginia Woolf – hoped it would be, but rather a wilful assumption of blinkers to the ways in which a blending of the storied and historical notions of progress had led the world so recently astray.
Another interview with Will Self about his short story collection Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe. Too bad the interviewer can't seem to stand Self. Perhaps next time they can ask around, maybe find someone who liked his books?
America's ridiculous copyright laws are now affecting Australia's laws, and Australian libraries are paying the price.
Foxnews.com: Where did you think we’d be by today, by the turn of the millennium, in terms of space exploration?
Bradbury: Well, when I was younger, I thought it would be the end of the century before we landed on the moon. Well, we did it much sooner. I was only 49 years old when we did it. But now I’m 83, and they’re lagging behind, so I’ve got to kick their butts, don’t I?
Jun Nagai translates the trashier side of American publishing into Japanese, and he's profiled in Daily Yomiuri.
February 12, 2004
Why is it so dead at I Love Books today? Someone go liven it up.
In order to keep Bookslut's hosting fees and my rent paid, both at the same time (has been a problem lately), I asked some designers and illustrators for artwork for CafePress. So far, Danny Gregory (creator of the lovely book Everyday Matters) and Spike have generously responded with beautiful artwork. (More are coming.) Go see what they have created, and if you're feeling flush with cash, consider buying something. And if you're an illustrator or designer, perhaps you would consider donating an image.
(If you're not interested in t-shirts, but would still like to help in some way, you can click through the Amazon.com links on the bottom of the main page. Bookslut gets a percentage of each sale, even if you're buying a blender or a pair of socks.)
Although the only books I remember reading by Isaac Bashevis Singer are Enemies: A Love Story in college and a short story collection in grade school, that whole Nobel Prize thing is probably an endorsement of his writing abilities. There is also a brand new, handsome website brought to you by The Library of America to celebrate his centennial.
But the Nannies—as everyone calls Ms. McLaughlin and Ms. Kraus—are different: After a very modest $25K advance, they earned well over a million from their first book, which was published by St. Martin’s, and this second book was a high-profile, high-priced buy. What’s more, it was purchased by the old regime at Random House—Ann Godoff, who was soon fired and is now the head of Penguin Press—for a price that seemed particularly outrageous, given that the 18-page proposal was "all over the place," as its kinder readers put it. The less generous might have called it "barely written in English."
"The latest novel of Germany's hot young writer Thor Kunkel exposes the Nazis' previously unknown trade in pornographic films. Sounds like a guaranteed bestseller." It does? Nazis and porn? The whole holocaust thing was nothing, but wait until you hear about their porn! Who wants to read about Nazi Germans having sex?
Is your sofa new enough? Are your teeth white enough? Is there enough fat in your arse to inflate your head in case of emergency? And are you spending enough? Because if you're only spending what you've got, that's not enough - you need to be IN DEBT. Not just a little bit overdrawn, I mean proper, wake up screaming, selling your underwear, Russian roulette in Soho basements to win back your kidneys debt.
February 11, 2004
Joyce Carol Oates writes faster than I can read. She writes novels and story collections. She writes mysteries and children's books. She writes poetry, essays and non-fiction. She writes thoughtful long book reviews, edits anthologies. She writes as herself and she writes pseudonymously. Here, for instance, is her booklist for 2003: The Tattooed Girl (a novel); The Garden of Earthly Delights, a novel from 1967, revised and substantially rewritten; Small Avalanches and Other Stories, a collection; The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, on the making of narrative; Freaky Green Eyes, a novel for young adults; and for children, Where Is Little Reynard? Not to mention three short stories, a short play, an essay on Robert Lowell and several book reviews. Oh, yes, and she teaches at Princeton, as well.
Yes, please, someone make her stop.
If you're looking for a new book to fall in love with, Pillow Talk in Europe and Other Places by Deborah Levy might be a place to start. I finished reading it the other day, and it's just beautiful. There is a story in there I wish I had written, but as I'm no writer, I'm glad someone did. This is love on par with Lanark, which I will eventually inflict on the book group. So get ready folks. Now I just have to manage a review of Pillow Talk for a newspaper without drooling all over myself in praise.
Carried aloft by robust Christmas sales in 2003, many American publishing houses seem, as of this writing, to have had respectable years, but the wild success of a few mega bestsellers does not obscure the dire condition of literary fiction, not to mention poetry. While scribblers like Dan Brown or James Patterson can, with one novel, rack up sales in the millions, it is not uncommon for noted literary novelists to sell between 3,000 and 6,000 copies of their latest work. Selling 10,000 books in this climate would be a resplendent success. These kinds of alarming sales figures are prompting more publishers to weigh whether they should concentrate on "airport books" alone.
The Washington Post ponders the state of publishing. Ain't too pretty, but if things were going well, there would be no need for a column.
The next Chicago book group meeting will be Wednesday, March 3rd. We haven't decided on a location yet. As it turns out, we're too big for the Bourgeois Pig. The book for March is As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem. If you're interested in joining, send me an e-mail and I'll add you to the mailing list.
Could it possibly be? Salon? Reviewing "indie literature"? (But I can't be all happy about it, not with this cold, cynical nature of mine. First, the graphic? Oh dear god. Secondly, can't they just review it? Do they have to draw attention to the fact they're reviewing small press lit? Sadly, it's not going to be enough to make me resubscribe when June rolls around.)
Ursula K. Le Guin answers some readers' questions at the Guardian. They range from the incredibly geeky and specific (One of the most memorable images of the Earthsea books is that of the "wall of stones" and the grey world of the dead beyond...) to the "I wonder if this person knows who Le Guin is" (Do you have a favourite TV programme?). She handles it all with grace, even when asked about Harry Potter.
February 10, 2004
Perhaps even more entertaining that watching Paris Hilton's sex tape is reading her book proposal. And aww, isn't that sweet? She used a curly font! To show how girly she is! The sad thing is someone will probably publish this.
Harry Potter has been translated into Ancient Greek. Because, you know, that's an important thing to do with your time and money.
Roddy Doyle is making a kill-your-father statement about Ulysses. David Norris, a Joycean scholar, responds, "A lot of people now try to make a reputation by attacking Joyce ... These are people of medium talent who feel they can attack and challenge a global reputation. A lot of Irish writers of talent have felt threatened by Joyce. I think that's part of it." Other writers also respond, and mostly say Doyle is talking nonsense.
Fantagraphics is having a sale on all of their 2003 releases. If you buy $100 worth, you receive free shipping. Need help getting to $100? Perhaps I could make a few suggestions:
There is a new issue. Usually here would be a rundown of sorts, letting you know what things we have. Instead, there is only this. I had a job interview all morning, now I just want to drink some tea and ooh and aah over the box of comics that came today. So you'll have to figure it all out yourselves. I'm sure you'll be fine.
February 9, 2004
The authors of The Nanny Diaries have seen their follow-up book dropped by Random House. Evidently the introduction begins:
"In New York City, if you are of any age, denomination, or race, and own a penis, you can say anything that comes into your penis-owning head to anyone, of any age, denomination, or race, who does not own a penis."
"But [Poet Laureate Andrew] Motion says the government should do more to stop important literary papers, often belonging to the country's most distinguished writers, going abroad." Yes, but did he say it in a rap?
February 7, 2004
Steve at Spike Magazine, a site you should have bookmarked by now, responds to The Elegant Variation's question regarding why important literature seems so irrelevant. (Permalinks not working well, scroll down to Thursday, January 29th.)
If, for whatever reason, you wanted to know my opinion on a handful of recently released comics, you could read this review for the Washington Post.
February 6, 2004
Bill Broadway writes about the rise of religious comic books for the Washington Post.
One of the oddest offerings is "Spells: Black Christmas," a dark cartoon featuring three witches who travel back in time to play a practical joke on baby Jesus. On seeing the child in the manger, they are transformed and return home to do good in the world. The comic book was created by Chris Yambar and Levi Krause, who remind readers at the end "that Jesus loves you in spite of your stupid self."
A new edition of T E Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom has kinky sex.
The original 1922 edition of the wartime masterpiece to be published next month includes a lengthy account of Lawrence of Arabia's rape by Turkish forces which scholars believe may have been invented for his own "delectation".
Much of Lawrence's life is the subject of debate but signs of his alleged sexual deviancy first emerged when letters showed he paid a man to beat him with birches. Philip Knightley, a Lawrence expert, believes the rape scene in the latest version, which is 200 pages longer than the 1926 original, bears the hallmarks of a fantasist.
The first time I read that second paragraph, I thought he meant the rape scene is 200 pages longer. Maybe I should go back to bed.
For you crazy writer types who are trying to get a book deal, maybe you're going about it the wrong way. Take your inspiration from Anna Nicole Smith, not Jonathan Franzen.
If only I had known about this website a few months ago, I could have kept a scorecard of typos while reading Stranger in a Strange Land. I am rather surprised, however, that the book with the most errors in it is a 2000 edition of Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. Usually the "classics" are given a closer run through.
Well, there's nothing like receiving incoherent, bizarre hate mail first thing in the morning to make you want to go straight back to bed.
February 5, 2004
Readerville has an absolutely fascinating forum going on right now with Gabriel Zaid (So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance), Dubravka Ugresic (Thank You for Not Reading: Essays on Literary Trivia) and Nicholas Basbanes (A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World) and Ellen Heltzel and Margo Hammond ("The Book Babes").
A few comments:
There are many people who are still bitching and moaning that "Print is dead." Or dying. I'm sick of this argument because, really, nobody knows. I doubt ebooks will take over anytime soon, because the technology is poor and it makes it difficult to read. And if the publishing industry won't even embrace Bookscan, do you really think they'll be lining up to release books exclusively in digital format? It's a boring discussion, and it has been written and talked to death.
The readers have figured out the New York Times Book Review nonsense faster than the journalists. Their discussions have been much more interesting than any of the articles I've read on the matter.
Dubravka Ugresic's book is a blessing. Anyone who cares about literature should read it.
Erick Hogan gives a brief history of the black comic book superhero at Comic Book Resources.
An English class in Britain followed a reading of Ulysses with some porn. There was uproar.
February 4, 2004
Christopher Dreher writes about the Bill Keller mess some more. (My interview with him was evidently cut out of the piece. But look! No grudge! Linking anyway! [I can't say the same thing about grudges to the blogger who recently posted my picture on her site.])
Stephen Vider writes about the two groups of food books on the bestseller list: the diet books and the fatty, bad-for-you cookbooks by Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver.
The Village Voice has an update on Lingua Franca's lawsuit against its own freelance writers.
French kids love manga, and the usual "Comic books will destroy our children's minds!" hysteria is being thrown around. "The generation that grew up watching Japanese cartoons on television in the 1980s now reads manga, not Molière." Kids used to read Molière? Really?
I wanted to know if literature could be created out of ha-matzav, and indeed whether any of the Israeli writers I knew were intending to create a fiction of the intifada years. If there was anyone who could, it was Appelfeld, whose masterpiece, Badenheim 1939, is the greatest novel of the Holocaust, largely because it deals with it indirectly, through allegory and even satire.
Begin Hollywood Animal by turning to Page 4. Read about how producer Bob Evans, finding himself enamored with an Eszterhas script, sent the writer a woman with a congratulatory note tucked into her vagina. Stop reading after Eszterhas admits, "The note smelled fantastic."
February 3, 2004
If you read the article first, you'd be shocked to see the picture of the man profiled. When you hear "Chinese poetry translator," the image that comes to mind is not one of bushy white beard, untucked flannel shirt, and teddy bear body type. I'm not sure what does come to mind, but it's nice to have your expectations shattered sometimes. (Nice profile, by the way.)
The Arthur C. Clarke award short list has been announced:
The one thing these books have in common? Painfully bad cover art.
It's the aftermath of Bill Keller's statements.
February 2, 2004
Yankee Pot Roast envisions The New York Times Book Review eXtreme!
Now, right off the bat, I'd like to lay some fears to rest: We are not dumbening down the book review, and we are not stupiding it up. We are merely shifting our focus, because our marketing department tells us we're not reaching the youth of America. And the youth of America is tomorrow's today people. So, to cater to Generation: Next, we've stricken all 2-dollar words from our reviews! Also, I've filled the mint bowl on my desk with tabs of Ecstasy. Michiko Kakutani-1 has been reading ad copy aloud in the hallway, pantsless. And Laura Miller Mz. Millz has been sitting Indian-style in front of the elevator doors, watching the numbers light up, and yelling, "Shiny, shiny, shiny!" Yes, it's fun times here at NYTBR: Miami.
The upcoming book Let Them Eat Prozac was written by one of the first psychiatrists to prescribe antidepressants. It's not exactly a glowing report on the mental health industry. But now the book and his criticism of SSRIs have been hurting David Healy's career.
A day after he was sensationally cleared of murder, Germany's self-confessed cannibal Armin Meiwes was last night considering lucrative offers for film and book rights to his gruesome story.
A 20-YEAR investigation into the Scottish murder mystery which has become one of the country’s most shocking episodes and inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped has cleared the Jacobite hanged for the crime.
The results of the investigation by the late Dr Lee Holcombe, an emeritus professor of history at the University of South Carolina, are about to be published in a book claiming to offer the definitive answer to the mystery of the infamous Appin murder of 1752.
Even though we all know what happened last time someone published the "definitive answer" to a murder mystery, it is a little bit more reassuring that this is written by an actual historian instead of a trashy book writer.
Peter Benchley talks about the origins of Jaws and how he'd now like to apologize for writing the book. As any good fan of Shark Week can tell you, Jaws the book and the movie sparked off a string of shark slaughters. After all, they're bad and they kill people, right? People are stupid.
Anne Rice heads off to the suburbs. (Thanks to Kathleen for the link.)
Okay, I'm just going to quote from the article and leave my opinion out of it.
The backlash reached its nadir last March in Heidi Julavits's Believer manifesto, in which she called for an end to "snarky" book reviewing. I suspect, then, that it will please Julavits (if not Moody) to know that this author, at least, is following her advice. In June, I will publish Hatchet Jobs (New Press) in the UK, after which I am throwing away my red pen. I will no longer write negative reviews.
Mark Alan Stamaty sees a sign of the apocalypse in the publication of the Left Behind books.
First it was Jewel. Then the plague of Billy Corgan was visited upon the poetry world. Now the wrath of god comes in the figure of Jeff Tweedy and his collection of poetry, Adult Head. Our god is a vengeful god.
I have never been yachting
or on a boat
I imagine it
a passionate bath
with an older brother
gentle then turning
as he studies
for the bar