September 30, 2004
The new Ruth Reichl-edited Gourmet Cookbook is causing serious buzz among those who love to cook, and Laura Shapiro explains why. I don't cook, but reading about the Reichl book makes me want to learn. (I was lucky enough to be at the BookExpo when Jessa got to meet Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom she loves more than anyone except maybe Salman Rushdie. I thought she might die from excitement. It was awesome.)
New Zealand cops break up a rare book theft ring. Here's the weird part:
Graham Ottaway, 60, retired, faces two charges of receiving books worth $75 each and seven counts of unlawfully possessing firearms.
I thought that rare book thieves would be the wimps of the criminal world. I mean, you expect drug dealers to have guns. But book thieves? I bet they get mocked in prison by the hardcore criminals. Though I'm not sure what hardcore criminals in New Zealand are like. Probably people who steal sheep and bootleg Lord of the Rings DVDs. (Just kidding, Kiwis. You know I love you.)
In a savage reversal of roles, children in Mahatma Gandhi's home state Gujarat are studying the "negative aspects" of his non-cooperation movement, while their texts glorify Hitler and Mussolini as leaders who instilled strong national pride.
Is Andrea Dworkin, as John Berger suggested, "the most misrepresented writer in the western world"? She's been accused of being incurably misandrist, and her critics have (falsely, she claims) accused her of stating that "all sex is rape." She inspired draconian anti-pornography legislation in Indianapolis and Minneapolis. And four years ago, she accused an unnamed European bartender of raping her, and was met with skepticism and disbelief, even from her life partner.
The Guardian talks with Dworkin about her two recent books, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Militant Feminist and Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation.
But something like the trucker hat was just unavoidable. One day you walked out on the street and everybody had a stupid-looking trucker hat. There are other people who are more observant on what's [fashionable] than me, but the trucker hat was something that you just couldn't miss.
Ayelet Waldman looks at Madonna's allegedly Kabbalah-inspired children's books, and is somewhat unimpressed.
September 29, 2004
Words fail me. Anyone up for a road trip to Emory University?
Asked which fictional character they'd most like to go on a date with, women "across the generations" chose Mr. Darcy. I can't really speak to this, as I've never read Pride and Prejudice or seen any of the 837 film adaptations. The Guardian's Cherry Potter is worried, though:
What message is this Darcy fixation sending to men? On the one hand, women say they want men who are emotionally intelligent, sensitive, flexible, who enjoy sharing equally and are fun to be with. But these same women are swooning over a fictional character who is the epitome of the dominant patriarchal male. No wonder men are confused.
The writer who lectured millions of women on "time-tested secrets for capturing the heart of Mr. Right" has now blamed the break-up of her marriage on her dentist.
With all the book clubs forming out there on a regular basis, it was only a matter of time before there was one for Canadian prostitutes. Oh, wait -- no, it wasn't.
September 28, 2004
Norman Mailer will guest star on the WB show Gilmore Girls, in an episode called "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" Hopefully, this will go better than Kurt Vonnegut's ill-fated appearance on Reba. (Link from Maud Newton.)
The U.S. Treasury Department celebrates Banned Books Week.
OK, this is officially getting ridiculous.
Another Harvard Law School professor has been accused of plagiarism, and the same group of self-righteous conservatives are tripping over themselves to condemn him. This time it's Laurence Tribe, who apparently lifted material for his book God Save This Honorable Court from Henry J. Abraham's 1974 book Justices and Presidents (which has since been revised, and published as Justices, Presidents and Senators). If you're easily shocked, you might want to skip this part:
One 19-word phrase is exactly the same in both books: "Taft publicly pronounced Pitney to be a 'weak member' of the Court to whom he could 'not assign cases.'"
Good God! How will academia survive? Is this the end of American jurisprudence? Will the university system crumble into nothing? Look, everyone knows that plagiarism is bad. But isn't it possible that this is more of an oversight than a deliberate act of academic dishonesty? Isn't it possible that these kinds of mistakes are inevitable in academic writing, where it's really easy to forget to include a footnote? Abraham's reaction to the controversy is, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic:
"I felt betrayed at the time I became aware of Professor Tribe's plagiarism, and I still feel that way," Abraham wrote. "But I never contacted him when I became aware of his inexcusable actions now almost 20 years ago."
Jesus. He obviously didn't feel betrayed enough to tell anybody about it 20 years ago. Abraham was wronged, there's no doubt, but it's not like he was beaten and robbed. It sounds like he could do with some perspective. Maybe the rest of the academic world could, too. This is how Tribe defended Charles J. Ogletree, Harvard Law professor and author of All Deliberate Speed, who was also recently accused of plagiarism:
In an interview with the Globe about Ogletree's book earlier this month, Tribe said people who "get on a high horse" about inadvertent plagiarism are "probably revealing more about their lack of self-knowledge than their high scholarly standards."
"I have a feeling that more than a few people who would not want to admit it have in the course of their careers accidentally found something in their own work -- a paragraph, a sentence, a line -- that they had intended to take down as a research note, but that ended up, not on the cutting room floor, but instead being sent by an assistant to a publisher," Tribe said.
Any questions? We should absolutely punish plagiarism and academic carelessness. I have no doubt about that. But let's stop pretending that incidents like these are anything more than relatively minor mistakes, and for God's sake, let's move on.
The MacArthur Foundation announces the recipients of its annual genius awards today. Winners include novelists Edward P. Jones (The Known World) and Aleksandar Hemon (Nowhere Man), poet C. D. Wright (Steal Away), and barber Rueben Martinez, who owns California bookstore Libreria Martinez. The AP has a story about Martinez, who has also been profiled by the Orange County Weekly.
September 27, 2004
The Detroit Free Press reviews Chris Handyside's Fell in Love with a Band: The Story of the White Stripes. I posted this once before, but it bears repeating.
During the 2003-2004 fiscal year, 32 books were challenged in writing by library patrons across the state who found them inappropriate for a variety of reasons. Of those 32 titles, three were banned from circulation. Five more were restricted, which means they require parental permission to be checked out by minors. Four books were moved to more age-appropriate library sections, four of the challenges were withdrawn, and nine book titles remained unchanged after committee review.
Twelve books were officially censored to some degree in Colorado in 2003/2004. Seven more are in library limbo, their fate's undecided, according to the CLA. But several prominent Colorado librarians insist the figure is extremely misleading because most challenges are undisclosed.
Ernest Hemingway was into bullfighting? You're fucking kidding me.
An excellent article in the Guardian about America's greatest living writer.
Maybe my recent stomach problems have been caused by the constant feeling of impending dread about the upcoming election between good and evil. Michael Beschloss of the Washington Post recommends four books about the American election process, just in case your blood pressure isn't high enough already. The only one I can vouch for personally is Richard Ben Cramer's excellent (and lengthy) What It Takes: The Way to the White House.
My apologies for the late posting. Perhaps angered by my recent post about Che Guevara, my stomach staged a violent revolution and attempted to escape from my body. Luckily, I have a secret weapon. That shit is soothing.
September 24, 2004
This is fucking hilarious. Something Positive takes on Anne Rice for her recent Amazon.com contretemps. (Thanks for the link, Jeremy.)
Writers who don't keep blogs often cite lack of interest or lack of time.
"No," says author A.M. Homes, when asked if she would start a blog. "Without a doubt. No. I'm too busy writing to do a blog."
Which is too bad. I would actually pay a lot of money to read an A.M. Homes blog. (Link from the brilliant Largehearted Boy, who is my new hero.)
Caryn James at the Times explores how writers are using comedy to deal with terrorism.
The Independent profiles Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin.
I have a feeling I'm never going to inherit anything this cool.
Prove me wrong, Mom and Dad...
In an article that's bound to raise the hackles of the far left, Paul Berman (author of the excellent Terror and Liberalism) challenges the idea that Ernesto Che Guevara was a hero for our times. Berman is afraid that the new film adaptation of Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries will spawn yet another generation of middle-class white liberal kids sporting Che t-shirts, but not understanding what Guevara's real legacy was:
Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination.
September 23, 2004
Johnny Cash is the coolest man who ever lived, and I will seriously fight anybody who says differently. Jonathan Yardley at the Post reviews three new books about the Man in Black. (Public service announcement: If you don't have it already, buy Unearthed, the best CD box set ever produced. Also, I'm serious about that fighting thing.)
"The problem is that most people don't know about it," Boylan says. "And one reason is that people who make the transition frequently vanish off the radar and go about the business of living normal lives. I mean, who is there in the public eye who's transgendered? Michael Jackson? David Spade?"
With regards to the Birmingham newspaper's book giveaway (see below), a reader points out that the New York Times sponsored such a program during the summer, and the New York Post is sponsoring one now. I'm not sure I consider the Post a "newspaper," but whatever.
So much for American pluralism and tolerance. Under the current administration, you can be barred from the United States because of your religion. Will someone explain to me how the fuck Bush is leading in the polls?
My 2004 nominee for best opening line of a book review:
Do you wish that you’d found the time to have sex with Frank Sinatra?
A British newspaper gave away a free book (Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows) to anyone who bought yesterday's edition of the paper. Can you imagine an American paper doing that? Me neither. But it made some Birmingham residents (who are evidently called "Brummies") very happy:
Part-time teacher Valerie Reynolds was asked to pick up the book for her 83-year-old mother May.
"Mum loves The Wind In The Willows and when she saw the offer in the Evening Mail she told me I had to get it as she can't wait to read it again," said the 63-year-old, from Somerdale Road, Bournville.
You've got to admit, it's a pretty wonderful idea. Next week's selection: Kipling's The Jungle Book.
September 22, 2004
A Democrat running for a U.S. House seat in Pennsylvania wrote a 1991 book that calls for government sterilization of some mental patients, welfare recipients, alcoholics and parents of diseased or deformed children.
September 21, 2004
Happy 70th birthday, Maestro.
Slate: Depression isn't cool anymore. America: Depression was cool?
In this context, emotional paralysis loses much of its glamour. To the extent that angst, anomie, alienation, and ambivalence have a bad name, the vehement passions will have a good one. My impression is that books like Exuberance signal a turn in direction — a change in tastes and values — away from modern ideals of longing and brooding and toward post-postmodern (which is to say antique) ideals of fulfillment and adventure.
I'm not sure I buy the implication that depression was a yellow wristband-style trend that the literati are, like, so over now. Nevertheless, it's an interesting article, and if Jamison's book is anything like her last few, it should be great.
The 2004 Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced. And the finalists are:
Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor
The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Master by Colm Toibin
I'll Go to Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward
Last year came A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance by Jane Juska, a retired American divorcee who placed the following advertisement in The New York Review of Books: "Before I turn 67 next March I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me."
There was an avalanche of respondents and she did indeed have sex with several of them, including a man exactly half her age whose first postcoital words were, "I think your book just got more interesting".
So if you're a huge nerd who's listened to all of the commentary tracks on the Simpsons DVDs, you know who Mike Reiss is. It turns out he's not just a writer/producer for the best show in television history, he's a bestselling author of children's books. Here he finds himself in hot water with a bunch of right-wing prudes who seem to think there's a dick joke in his latest kid's book, The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln.
It had to happen: Christian chick lit. Joshua Kurlantzick of the Times manages to keep a straight face:
...(S)everal leading publishers, both Christian and secular romance houses, are rolling out what they call "Christian chick lit" lines. These novels typically feature Bridget Jones types looking for the right man, the right chocolate, the right friends - and the right relationship with God.
TMFTML is dead; long live TMFTML.
September 20, 2004
Toni Morrison is interviewed in the Guardian:
Right now, she is taking a mid-interview cigarette break. She smokes with blithe enthusiasm and, between sips of Earl Grey tea, cracks one wheezy joke after another about American Presidents, past and present (she can be pretty dirty when she puts her mind to it).
I'm not sure how one smokes with blithe enthusiasm, but it's a great interview nonetheless.
Even though we witness him gardening in the nude and, later on, inserting a toothbrush into his urethra, Boyle's Kinsey is curiously lacking the vividness that would make him as memorable and complex a character in fiction as he clearly was in life.
The Boston Globe becomes the first newspaper in the history of time to address whether graphic novels are real literature. Seriously, no journalist in the world has ever covered this one before. Ever.
Like fiction that is all text, graphic novels tackle all sorts of issues, treating even the most serious in a fresh, unconventional way. Now that they've gained legitimacy through features in major newspapers and magazines, these marriages of pictures and words are striking ever deeper, spanning the political and the personal in unexpectedly resonant ways.
It took "major newspapers and magazines" to legitimize graphic novels? News to me. At least the article has not unkind things to say about Birth of a Nation.
September 17, 2004
Next week you'll be entertained by illustrious guest blogger Michael Schaub. I'll be recovering from my move this weekend and slowly going out of my mind as I wait for the cable modem man to show up. I'm not sure how long Mike will be blogging, but if not before, I'll see you in October.
Attention everyone who sends me books: please send books here now.
My nominee for worst book title ever: Who Let the Blogs Out by Biz Stone.
Forget the Democrats and the Republicans: The country's sternest line may be the one between readers of fiction and nonfiction. How rarely they overlap! To fiction devotees, the other side lacks soul and imagination; to the nonfiction faction, fiction is frivolous and, worse, fake—stuff the writer made up. And nonfiction preferences hold sway even within fiction. Novelists can't just make up stuff at will; they're expected to obey the rules of what's called the Real World. If they don't, they risk getting bundled off onto the genre shelves. The truer a story is, the more respectable somehow: A novel about a lawyer getting a divorce beats one about a wizard battling a demon.
Well, that's an odd way to start a review. I know it's sometimes difficult to figure out an opening paragraph, but perhaps Polly Shulman should stay away from sweeping generalizations about what people will and will not read.
1) What are ANGSTY books Charlotte's reading in the sunshine (p 88)? 2) Is Littlewoods a shop (p 95)? 3) What are Charlotte's Hello Kitty socks and kitten-heeled shoes (p 95)?
I suppose Hello Kitty socks are white socks with little pictures of kittens on them, but I'm lost when it comes to KITTEN-heeled shoes.
Slate tries to figure out what's wrong with Harper's Magazine.
Keith Blanchard, the former head of Maxim, responds to Lads: "I've never been able to understand this whole, 'boo-hoo, my father won't talk to me and girls won't sleep with me' branch of literature. I guess I prefer a book with something more of a story line rather than just random diary entries."
S. Sinceč Callahan envisioned an exclusive quarterly magazine, big and glossy like the old Life or Look, to be called The Alpharetta Social Registrar.
The letter to advertisers said it would document Alpharetta's "A" list and report on the country-club set and on rich eligible singles. A limousine would deliver 5,000 copies free to the million-dollar homes around this northern suburb of Atlanta.
But The Alpharetta Social Registrar shut down in June without ever publishing, 10 months after the first issue, laid out with advertisements, pictures and articles, was supposed to appear.
"Christianity is not about forgiveness to the point of insulting Jesus Christ." The Da Vinci Code has been banned in Lebanon.
September 16, 2004
Michael Crowley at Slate wonders why we like Kitty Kelley's "bioporns" so much. (I think I stole that from Tina Brown.) It states a lot of the obvious. Kelley is a gossip-monger, not a biographer. Sometimes her sources are shady. It's kind of like reading Star magazine, but with fewer pictures of the Olson twins. Slate also reads the book so that you don't have to, picking out the juiciest bits with page numbers.
Page 309: At Harvard Business School, which W. attends from 1973 to 1975, a professor screens The Grapes of Wrath. Bush asks him, "Why are you going to show us that Commie movie?" W.'s take on the film: "Look. People are poor because they are lazy."
Jessica Lee Jernigan is celebrating Emma Donoghue week on her blog. Only one of Donoghue's books has ever interested me enough to read it, but I was completely smitten by The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Donoghue's new book is Life Mask, a story of rumors of a lesbian relationship during the French Revolution.
Jernigan's Emma Donoghue week includes a review of her scholarly text Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801, a recent interview about Life Mask, and an older interview from when her novel Slammerkin was published.
Seattle Weekly has a great article about the history of Fantagraphics -- from the sometimes controversial The Comics Journal to the recent financial troubles to the Peanuts collections that might save them.
I'm not sure how I missed this, but Salman Rushdie pissed a few people off again, this time by saying pornography is a measure of freedom. The essay, "The East is Blue," is part of the upcoming book XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits.
September 15, 2004
Sequential Tart goes behind the scenes of the "Heroes, Heart-throbs and Horrors" exhibit at Connecticut Historical Society.
At the New York Times, William Grimes examines those books and television shows promising delicious meals in 30 minutes or less.
It is worth stating at the outset that there is good fast food and bad fast food, and speed has nothing to do with the difference between the two. Canned onion rings over canned green beans, a casserole dish I recall from childhood, may be the bad fast dish par excellence. At the opposite end of the scale I might place veal chops in sage-butter sauce spiked with a little vermouth, a simple Italian entree I have made many times. Both dishes take about 10 minutes to prepare. One is satisfying and delicious. The other is a crime against nature.
At the sexual health library I worked at, we had many copies and many editions of the ultimate hippy book, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Not that it isn't an important book that, frankly, every woman should read and maybe own a copy of. It's just that whenever it was checked out, it was by a woman in a flowy skirt smelling like a Grateful Dead concert. But this I did not know: the book is now available in 17 languages, including Braille and there are different editions for 15 different countries. "In Asia, it teaches Buddhist nuns how to ease muscle cramps caused by hours of sitting meditation... In Latin America, it urges women to rethink the anti-choice stance of the region's Roman Catholic Church." Women's News profiles the book and the Boston Women's Health Collective that started it all.
While at Maxim, Mr. Itzkoff managed to dabble in potent drugs, interview many seemingly available starlets and drink prodigiously, but the sexual conquests that are the leitmotif of the magazine he worked at constantly eluded him. At one particularly pathetic moment, he calls an escort service, making sure to take down his Princeton diploma from the wall before the prostitute arrives. He is a cartoon, but a dark one.
So now that we've had books about Vogue and Maxim, I wonder which magazines will be next. "The Year I Stopped Shaving: My Life at Ms"? "Christopher Hitchens Is a Drunk Bastard: An Internship at The Nation"?
The Guardian wants to see how well you know the spelling of some tricky words. I admit. I briefly forgot how to spell broccoli.
September 14, 2004
The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty is doing very well, even with allegations that Kitty Kelley invented the cocaine anecdote. Kelley is interviewed at Salon.com about the book and Bush's attack dogs.
A.M. Homes is the guest editor of Nerve.com's Fall Fiction issue. She starts out her introduction with, "I have always been fascinated by sex," but considering her books, the sentence may have needed an adjective like "weird" or "disturbing." The Fiction issue will eventually include stories by Homes, Julia Slavin, Heather Lewis, and others, but for now the only one online is "Stalin's Mustache" by Will Heinrich.
Also at Nerve, an interview with Meika Loe, author of The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America. There is talk about the prospect of a female Viagra.
I've been interested in seeing what they come up with. Many of these conferences are focused on animal slides and rat vaginas, and I wonder if I'm the only one thinking to myself, "Is that really going to tell us a lot about women's lives? By knowing that this product helps a rat?" And actually I just read an article today online about a new product that works on rats. It's a nasal spray.
Jimmy Breslin has written a goodbye letter to Catholism with his new book The Church That Forgot Christ. He's interviewed at Salon about why he wants to start his own church, how the split started, and the obvious bitterness in his book.
Over at KillingtheBuddha.com is a new essay by Steve Almond, "The Gospel According to Dubya."
In the Book of Luke, Christ comes off, in his lust for Armageddon, as somewhere between Dick Cheney and Dr. Strangelove. “I have come to light a fire on the earth,” he announces. “How I wish the blaze were ignited! … Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? I assure you, the contrary is true: I have come for division.” (12, 49-51)
In these moments, it becomes much easier to see how George W. Bush might view his policy of pre-emptive war as a fulfillment of his savior’s wishes -- particularly a holy war against what both he and Christ call “the evildoers.” There is, in both figures, an eschatological hunger. Judgment Day becomes a revenge fantasy.
September 13, 2004
My favorite thread on I Love Books right now: Favorite author photos and portraits.
What kind of book marks a watershed in a woman's life? That was the question I was asked to address when the Orange prize for fiction, in association with Radio 4's Woman's Hour, commissioned a piece of research to establish a list of books read by women at formative moments in their lives - books they return to again and again.
When I first heard about this project, I started making my own list of books that changed the way I read. I grew up in a town with hardly any books. We had a Carnegie library (and may god bless Carnegie's soul) that was not very well stocked and a high school library that did not even have a copy of The Bell Jar. You're surrounded by teenage girls with existential angst and broken hearts, and you don't find it necessary to stock some Sylvia Plath? Anyway.
I read my way through the town libraries, which were even short on classics. I believe they had one Faulkner between them, one Tolstoy, only two Brontes, but a whole lot of Robert Ludlum. This was a farming community, after all. The town had 1,200 people in it, and not even the five and dime sold books. (Yes, we called it the five and dime. We were so very country.) The closest town was 45 miles away, and it had a Waldenbooks. They had all of the Christopher Pikes, however, so I stayed content for a while.
But then came the Hastings. It was built in the "nearby" town of Salina, where luckily my family went often to eat at someplace other than Pizza Hut, or to actually see a movie in the theaters. Hastings became a necessary stop. Now, of course, the selection seems lame, but to a 15-year-old who grew up in rural Kansas, it was Mecca. They sold Jeanette Winterson. Salman Rushdie. And, of course, a full stocked classics section.
Ever since I've felt like I've been playing catch up, but the list of those life-changing novels was fun to write. It was nice remembering when an e-mail pal from Dallas-Ft. Worth started sending me my first comics. Or reading Ulysses in a James Joyce course in Ireland. These were all books that changed the books I was interested in, that shot me off in a different direction. They're not even my list of favorite books ever, just the ones that changed something. The list starts with the books read to me as a child, and then on to the books I started reading on my own and on through life.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Robot Novels by Isaac Asimov
Curious Little Kitten by Lynda Hayword
Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day by Donald J. Sobol
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Remember Me by Christopher Pike
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Love and Other Infectious Diseases by Molly Haskell
Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Pussycat Fever by Kathy Acker
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Birchwood by John Banville
Ulysses by James Joyce
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
If you like comics, you should be reading The Johnny Bacardi Show. The last couple times I went to Comix Revolution, I felt a bit lost and nothing was jumping out at me. Now that I've been reading JBS, however, I know what I should have been buying.
September 10, 2004
I stopped reading those "Not just for kids anymore!" articles about comics in newspapers, but every once and a while, one is so strikingly dumb, it begs for attention and response. Jeff Danziger, a political cartoonist, does not like graphic novels much. So of course the newspaper asked him to review some.
My complaint about the graphic novel is that it attempts to illustrate what most readers should imagine on their own.
"Should," huh? (This is the second sentence, so you know it's just downhill from here.) Graphic novels make the reader, what? Lazy? I suppose it never occured to him that comics are not just novels with pictures. But if Danziger is getting tripped up on something so entry level, the rest of the article has got to be a joyride, huh?
First, the oddest piece of publishing in many moons is In the Shadow of No Towers, Art Spiegelman's consideration of 9/11.
You can't just use a word like "odd" and not explain why the book is so. Danziger, perhaps a little intimidated by the oddity of Spiegelman's book, refuses to critique it anymore and only offers a synopsis. He also lays this on us: "It was printed in China, where, sad to say, all quality work seems to be done these days." I'm just going to leave that alone.
But you'd think that if he'd read In the Shadow of No Towers, he'd notice you can't read it like a novel. Spiegelman doesn't help you much in figuring out how to read his book. It doesn't go from left to right, and it is not just a linear story with illustrations. The artwork hardly simplifies the book, it complicates and expands it. There is so much going on, hidden between the panels and only visible when you step back, that it seems ridiculous Danziger believes this is stunted adolescence writing. Certainly many of his complaints are valid for the worst of the medium. But it's not like Bergdorf Blondes is headed for the canon, either.
In publishing, nothing succeeds like excess, so we now have a glut of these books, the long form of something that starts out as a comic strip and can't stop. They have an audience, however, who were once kids raised on superheroes and now want the comfort of the familiar in life's long, hard, dull stretches.
I love the "these books" and the dismissal of every comics reader. "Oh, they got hooked on it as kids. They're just regressing." As someone who read her first non-Archie comic at 16, that's a tough argument. In fact, most female comic readers I know started reading as teens or adults. Explain that, Danziger.
I do not read comics because I'd like to shut my brain off for a while, or because I need some childish comfort. (I reread Jane Eyre for that.) I read comics the same reason I read novels, nonfiction, short stories, magazines, the back of the damn cereal box. Because I want to read something good, or I love the author, or I have twenty minutes to kill.
Comics and novels are different mediums, something Danziger seems to have missed completely. It's like the difference betweeen prose and poetry. You don't read poetry like you read a novel, and complaining about a graphic novel's pictures is like complaining that poetry isn't linear. He has a real sense of superiority over comics readers, writers, and artists, which makes me wonder how he could possibly sit down and read these books without fainting with disgust.
One of the drawbacks to the graphic novel is the endless redrawing of the same character in panel after panel. It would drive a normal artist crazy, but comic artists don't seem to mind.
Note the "normal artist." God knows those comic artists are braindead, untalented hacks, completely willing to submit themselves to repetition and boredom. But Danziger completely loses his mind in a minute:
Not in the public domain but now available in graphic form is Paul Auster's City of Glass, a mystery tale set in New York and the first of his enjoyable New York trilogy. It did not need to be illustrated, because it is written almost exclusively for Manhattan residents.
Someone get this gentleman a copy of Understanding Comics before he reviews again. (Thanks to Derik for the link.)
Dan Brown: killing culture one country at a time.
September 9, 2004
The "Reading at Risk" NEA report that no one was reading anymore created some hysteria among the literary community. Paul Collins is here to calm everyone down.
But now (ahem) read the wording of the question: "The survey asked respondents if, during the previous twelve months, they had read any novels, short stories, plays, or poetry in their leisure time (not for work or school)." It will come as news to historians and memoirists, working in the two most vibrantly evolving genres of the last decade, that what they create does not constitute "reading." Nor, for that matter, do essays or graphic narratives.
See, Bergdorf Blondes is literature; Persepolis is not.
It is no surprise to find that Gutfeld is a great fan of Viz magazine and that he grew up reading Mad. But Maxim has always sold to more regular guys - and lots of them are not laughing with Gutfeld. Robert Silvester of Southampton writes to complain: "I have just read the worst jokes ever printed. I'm sorry if I've missed something, but I would appreciate someone sending me a description of the punchlines and why they're funny." Another reader, Geoff Hughes of Herts, asks: "Are you playing some sort of mind games with us?"
Gutfeld even took the trouble to phone KM Parker of Newark, who had been confused by an item on "picking up" women that advised readers to visit their local morgue. Gutfeld, who published the ensuing phone conversation in Maxim's letters page, told Mr Parker: "We took the typical 'easiest places to get women' and did it literally." Mr Parker was apparently apologetic for not appreciating the irony.
September 8, 2004
Slate reviews Persepolis 2 in slideshow format. They mention the similarities in artwork style between Persepolis and David B.'s Epileptic, but fail to explain why Satrapi's artwork detracts from the work while David B.'s is perfectly chosen.
In the slideshow, you'll see examples of each, and they do look startlingly similar. Stark black and white, no gray, a childlike and simplistic style. But while Satrapi sticks to that style throughout the book, David B.'s drawings become intricate and beautiful when drawing the children's demons and wild imaginations. The stark drawings depict the stark reality the family is stuck in: their child, their brother is very sick and nothing they do can fix him. And as it is told from the perspective of a child, the artwork fits. But when the narrator is imagining ghosts or becomes obsessed with drawing violent battlescenes, the artwork changes. The artwork in Persepolis, however, is static. I agree with the Slate reviewer. It didn't bother me much when I read the first volume, but by the second volume, I was getting bored. While the story is compelling, I think Epileptic is the superior work. Now if only the sequels would hurry up and be published in the US.
But kudos to Slate to finding a very practical way to review graphic novels, with the artwork right alongside the review. It makes a lot more sense than those reviews that try to describe the artwork style without any images.
Bridge Magazine is having a release party tonight for issue #11. If you're in Chicago, you should go.
Smell being the most evocative of the senses, it is not surprising that literature is full of aromas. Now an Italian per fumičre, Laura Tonnato, has tried to do justice to the olfactory imagination of some of her favourite authors, concocting five scents to match five odorous moments in classic novels.
The five books are:
"It's one of the worst books I've ever read." This time it's Will Booker, associate professor of communications at Richmond University, doing the hating, and he's hating Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars. It's a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and, oh goody, it's the first in a trilogy.
The Graydon Carter that I came to know—the seditious cutup, the cynical insider, the guy who knows where all the skeletons are buried—is nowhere in evidence. The prose has a lifeless, bureaucratic, impersonal quality, which is odd given Graydon’s force of personality. It’s almost as if it had been written by someone else—and for all I know, it was. When I first joined Vanity Fair, I remember being baffled by the air of self-importance emanating from one particular member of the staff. I later discovered that she was responsible for writing the monthly "Editor’s Letter."
Suzi Feay wonders about the point of the Booker longlist and points out others left off.
This has been a very strong year for fiction, yet you will look in vain on the list for Roddy Doyle, A L Kennedy, Jonathan Coe, Hari Kunzru or Justin Cartwright, whose The Promise of Happiness has received rapturous reviews. Less obvious, but no less worthy, is Gwendoline Riley, with the superb Sick Notes; also Andrew Crumey's dazzling Mobius Dick. David Lodge, like Doyle, has been snubbed before he's even had his launch party. What about Andrea Levy's wonderful Small Island? It won the Orange Prize - yet it's already been swept aside.
One of the publishing events of the fall will hopefully be Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. She's been away from fiction for a long time -- twenty-three years since her last novel, to be exact. She's interviewed briefly at the New Yorker about the gap, her monumental novel Housekeeping, and her fascination with John Calvin.
September 7, 2004
Why can't Laura Miller just admit it's okay to like comics and genre? She has reviewed a Neil Gaiman book with the introduction "Comics are crap, but Gaiman is okay to read," and now in her review of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell she once again seems paranoid that someone will accuse her of thinking genre is literature.
It's set in a world very much like the England of the early 1800s, only in Clarke's version magic was once a daily presence and has since been lost or perhaps merely misplaced. In other words, this world resembles the world of our own reading, for most of us can remember a time when stepping into a book was like entering into an enchantment.
Even if, as adults, we have learned to read differently and to appreciate other books that don't necessarily cast the same spell, most of us continue to yearn for that magic and to cherish the rare book that can still work it. We may admire those other, possibly greater books, but the ones that enchant us -- "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" is destined to join that company -- are the books we love. Some people might call this regressive, and perhaps it is. But the nature of love is to be regressive and irrational and irresponsible, and life without it would be a drab thing indeed.
Laura, it's okay. You can like fantasy. You don't have to explain anymore.
The Hugos have been announced:
Best Novel: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
Best Novella: The Cookie Monster, by Vernor Vinge
Best Novelette: Legions in Time, by Michael Swanwick
Best Short Story: A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman
Next week will see the release of Jennifer Weiner's new book Little Earthquakes. She's interviewed at Jewish Woman Magazine about the In Her Shoes movie, being a new mom, and that dreaded phrase "chick lit."
Media Bistro has an excerpt from Dave Itzkoff's Lads: A Memoir of Manhood. The excerpt lets you know about the important decisions made at Maxim every month. Like, which is more offensive? "Clusterfuck" or "gangbang"? How can you turn a benign article into a hostile-to-women, frat boy fantasy through the use of headlines? We really are so lucky to have this book. God bless Maxim Magazine.
The Portland Mercury profiles the local comics scene.
What Oleksyk immediately intuited about Portland took me two years of living here to figure out: besides being home to larger comic book publishers like Dark Horse and Top Shelf Productions, Portland has a fiercely strong, astonishingly creative, and fanatically devoted independent comic book scene--one that somehow remains just under the city's cultural radar.
Bookslut issue #28 is up. Poppy Z. Brite discusses why she's been moving away from horror novels lately, the best of New Orleans food, and the fear of the gay literature ghetto. And while Mobylives.com may be gone for now, Dennis Loy Johnson's attentions are focused on Melville House Publishing. He talks about his new book, the technical aspect of running a small, independent press, and the guilt-inducing slush pile. Cintra Wilson discusses her new book Colors Insulting to Nature, the Oscars and why she prefers taking kill fees. This month's Judging a Book by Its Cover focuses on controversial books. Bookslut loves Persephone Books, and Colleen Mondor explains why. Mark Simpson might be just a bit obsessed with Morrissey. He explains why he's written two books about him, and how he thinks Morrissey is like Jean Genet.
In reviews, we have the latest by Pedro Lemebel, Jenny McPhee, Kim Stanley Robinson, Joshua Beckman, and more. Hollywood Madam is feeling a little pessimistic, and 21st Century Fox wonders if feminism has progressed much in the last 100 years.
September 3, 2004
Not to get too political, but did anyone notice this in the Republican party platform:
Our Party believes, as does the President, that reading is the new civil right.
I'm not even sure what that means. This, from the party that brought us the surveilance of your library records? Somebody please explain to me what the fuck that means.
7. Make it long.
The important thing about an epic fantasy novel is that the reader must be exhausted at the end of it. They must feel that they have overcome as many obstacles in getting through the book as the heroes have in fulfilling the quest. So the book must be as difficult to read as possible. To do this:
(a) Tell the story in incredible detail. Describe every day of the journey, how far they walked, what they ate, the weather, where they slept, especially days where nothing happens.
(b) Fill every dramatic situation with lengthy introspection. At every moment of crisis the hero must minutely examine his feelings, perceptions, identity, whether he left the gas on etc.
(c) Never take the easy way out of a crisis. For example, if the Wizard Guide holds great power, he will never use it to solve a situation.
FC2 pays tribute to co-founder Ron Sukenick, who died this July from inclusion body myositis.
Oh, thank god Greg Behrendt has come along to put our pretty little heads in order. He just doesn't like us? That helps so much, and really, we never would have figured that out had Behrendt not written He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys.
The women all reassured her that she was fabulous and that he must be scared or really busy. Behrendt knew no morning meeting will keep an attracted man from a midnight mambo. "My first thought was, 'I don't care if I'm flying the space shuttle tomorrow, I'm coming up.' "
He broke the news: The guy wasn't into her.
The writers gasped. "We were horrified," remembers Liz Tuccillo. "It was like we were all punched in the stomach. Then we started laughing." The cruel reality descended on the room. Each woman grilled Behrendt about her own relationship, and each time he shot down all the sympathetic excuses. The bottom line: If these men were truly interested, they would call, be faithful, commit, and more. It was just common sense to him, but a revelation -- like cracking an ancient, secret code -- to the women.
Granted, these are the women writing Sex and the City, but seriously? If this book sells, I'm going to be so embarrassed for my gender.
While A.L. Kennedy's Paradise is not yet available in the States -- and doesn't seem to even have a release date yet -- she's one of those writers I like enough to perhaps buy her books from Amazon.co.uk. Of course, the release of a new book also means profiles like this one, which manages to tell us next to nothing about Kennedy.
My motive in these questions is my immoderate love of books, and if this be idolatry, I am guilty. Collectively we may stand—as Marshall McLuhan suggested years ago—at an exit from the time when the book, with its writing, its publication, and its reception, was central to human flourishing. We owe it to ourselves, then, to figure out what it was we, as members of the human species, most valued about the book, so we can try to preserve it.
The humanities must now take steps to preserve and protect the independence of their activities, such as the writing of books and articles, before the market becomes our prison and the value of the book becomes undermined. It was not always so. John Milton once wrote that good books are "the precious lifeblood of a master spirit." Today the humanist should look back to such expressions of illuminated belief. The task is to engage in constant re-examination.
Good Reports comments on Penguin's Good Booking program.
September 2, 2004
"Ask a Librarian" answers "Where are the Chicago poets?"
The company developing the 100 Bullets video game has shut down.
Writer and scholar Tariq Ramadan was deemed a threat by the US government, and his work visa was revoked. The US Patriot Act has a provision that can revoke visas to those with high standings in communities, afraid that they might (notice it doesn't say "has in the past") suddenly come over here and start preaching terrorism. Ramadan is a curious subject of their distrust, as Alternet points out:
a brilliant philosopher of Islam and its evolving place in the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, who argues for a modernized Islam that favors pluralism, tolerance, feminism, and educational achievement. His work is rooted in Islamic traditions, but fully aware of the demands, challenges, and opportunities presented by the contemporary Western world.
His book Western Muslims and the Future of Islam was published less than a year ago. Evidently the homeland security force didn't get their copy.
Ground Water by Matthew Hollis
A Chance Meeting by Rachel Cohen
Natasha by David Bezmozgis
The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
High Tide: News from a Warming World by Mark Lynas
Becoming Strangers by Louise Dean
Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi
Cosa Nostra by John Dickie
The Flood (Known as The Preservationist in the US) by David Maine
As usual, the Guardian has a wealth of information about the nominees, including extracts and reviews.
It's hard to hate Sammy, despite her penchant for exposition. And Gore wants to make extra-double-sure you like her by piling on quirk after charming quirk: Sammy's fatalistic attachment to Shackleton, a Japanese fighting fish perpetually at death's door; her morbidly extensive knowledge of rare and fatal maladies, any of which might carry her off any minute; her devotion to telemarketers, whom she'll call to ask for advice about her love life; a klutziness that would make a heroine of screwball comedies green with envy; and her devotion to celebrating obscure anniversaries, such as "the fourteenth anniversary of the publication of Deepak Chopra's first book, and the subsequent birth of his self-help empire."
September 1, 2004
Dear Comix Revolution:
Thank you for having In the Shadow of No Towers for sale when I went in today, a full week ahead of the listed publication date. You turned a boring, kind of crap day into a sit-my-ass-down-and-marvel-at-the-beauty kind of day.
(So for those of you in the Chicagoland area, head up to Evanston and get off at the Davis Purple Line stop.)
When I was a young girl I dreamed of having a red dress. Well, I might have done, and if I didn't then it makes the link between me, Babs and Margaret in the tail end of the book even more tenuous than it is already. So let's just say I did.
Liberals read only liberal books and conservatives only conservative ones. Their authors were not just preaching to the converted, they were marketing their works specifically at the converted.
Is this surprising enough to someone to warrant a whole article about it?
According to Penguin, you’re not good looking—or Good Booking—unless you’re holding a book.
“What women really want is a man with a Penguin,” reads the publisher’s promotional Web site at www.goodbooking.com. “You may not even need to read it, just bend the covers, let it stick out of your pocket and the book will do the talking!”
Penguin says it has the scientific proof to back up the assertion that books make good props. In a study commissioned by the publisher, one in three women claimed she would find a bookless gent less attractive than a man reading a book. Eight of every ten people polled said they believe book readers “are likely to be much better in bed.”
I want a more exhaustive study. Does it still work if the book has elves in it? What if you laugh to yourself while reading it... Does it make you look more attractive, or slightly psychotic? Also, just a note to every reading man I've encountered on the El: I wasn't trying to make eye contact, I was just trying to figure out what you were reading. Sorry for the confusion.
Christopher Hitchens writes about Czeslaw Milosz's politics for Slate.
There really should be a button on my keyboard that spills out my usual love for Calvin Trillin. It'd save time. Buy The Tummy Trilogy. It's a brilliant, hysterical book. Also, read this New Yorker piece from the latest issue.
Both seem to be entirely out of their element: Anderson in a book store at all, Carter stepping into a real topic.
Anderson used a ghost writer, but not only does she actively admit and name the writer, she takes him on tour with her. Carter's book -- which is mainly lists of information, not so much prose -- used nine researchers on the book, and there are now grumblings he did not give sufficient credit.
They both seem like desperate attempts to be taken seriously. Well, at least with Graydon Carter.
Wired loves Dear Valued Customer, You are a Loser.
Then there's the story of the German couple who carefully followed the driving directions given by their car's satellite navigation system -- right up until it guided them into a river. But Loser is not all fun and games. For every story that makes you laugh out loud, there is another that leaves you with the unsettling feeling that, when it comes to technology, humans are no better than monkeys monkeying with an unexploded bomb.