October 29, 2004
Sam Harris is interviewed at Amazon about his new book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
Never have I been so hungry. From the opening chapter detailing the Escoffier-based menus prepared for the Certified Master Chef examination at the Culinary Institute of America, to the book’s middle, where Michael Symon concocted magical tastes and textures in his kitchen at Cleveland’s Lola Bistro, my stomach grumbled and begged for days. It was fun reading, too—I nodded my head and laughed in recognition at the descriptions of kitchen life, remembering my own brief time in checked pants and cook whites. But mostly, I just salivated. The flavors flew about my head, Ruhlman’s prose pushing shrimp and cilantro and lime and cayenne and pork and cream off the page and into my poor, hollow, hungry head.
I will not be reading Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib by Seymour Hersh. It's difficult enough for me to get through a full issue of Atlantic Monthly without losing all faith in our current state and sticking my head in the oven. But I can read this spunky interview with Hersh. To the first question he responds, "Oh, c'mon. You can ask a better question than that." Later he accuses the interviewer of "over-intellectualizing," and answers another question with "Do you really think I'm going to get into a discussion of this?" Let's hope the interviewer didn't have to stick his head in the oven, either.
The Boston Phoenix claims there is a horror renaissance and profiles some of the best contemporary writers (with a local focus). Chuck Palahniuk is mentioned, Dean Koontz mercifully is not, and The Phoenix alerts us to the Christian horror sub-genre, books where "you can’t swear and you can’t have sex, but you can kill as many people in your book as you want." God won't mind.
Some dispatches from the world of poetry: Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes (eyes of a boy, lips of a man) will have his work featured on iTunes. The Sacramento Bee interviews poet and translator Dos Nguyen. And Justin Oren of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter skillfully profiles one of America's greatest poets, Galway Kinnell (The Book of Nightmares).
Vladislav worries about his town's culture. After unsuccessfully trying to form a book club with the first meeting a discussion about Kurt Vonnegut, he has decided Moscow has lost its love of books. Damn capitalism.
We posted about Solon, Iowa, teacher Sue Protheroe on Tuesday. She was criticized for teaching short stories with gay characters to her middle school language arts classes. Good news: She's won her battle. Courage pays off.
Great! Another Hannibal Lecter book! Now we can all continue our lives normally, and Thomas Harris can light another cigar with a thousand dollar bill.
October 28, 2004
Do you love hockey? Do you love literature? Then you just might ah, fuck it, here's an article about hockey and literature.
Canada-based online used-book marketplace Abebooks has announced the acquisition of Iberlibro.com, a Spain-based platform for used and antiquarian books sales in the global Spanish-speaking community.
Man, I love Abebooks. Though I'm not sure about their motto: "Because you read."
I know some people feel Christian bookstores are a waste of space and should be burned to the ground as some sort of physical act of worship. Others believe it is the only place for certain artists, writers and musicians to exist without either “selling out to the world” or being ignored by nonreligious venues. You could also define a third group that may not question the idea of Christian bookstores, but they would question the practical application of that idea.
Depending on a number of factors including how much coffee I’ve had, how many evil customers have entered the store or how many pieces of “art” I’ve sold, I could fit into any one of these categories. After talking to Don, I wonder if I have too easily written off Christian bookstores? Let’s be honest, I have an entire blog devoted to mocking the very thing that helps pay my rent. That’s not a very grateful thing to do. Maybe there is something there. (Link from the Morning News.)
Just say it. Cunt.
Jeff Vandermeer might be a familiar name for those of us in love with the darker, weirder genre writers, but he is now celebrating being added to the ranks of "the midlist." Tor will be releasing new editions of his books Veniss Underground and City of Saints & Madmen (previously available from small presses). In this look back at his career, Vandermeer explains how he got to this point. There were definitely some down moments.
Then I happened upon Invisible Cities Press, who liked the work and began to dance around the idea of publishing an Ambergris volume. This seemed to be more and more of a possibility, until the night I received an email from my editor contact at the press. She asked if I would consider rewriting the stories and setting them in Paris around 1900.
Terryworld (Taschen) and the limited-edition Kibosh (Damiani) were both recently released in conjunction with a savagely attended opening at the Zeitgeist-central Deitch Projects in Soho, during which thousands of rabid downtown kids gleefully braved a human stampede and near-inhuman temperatures for a glimpse of Mr. Richardson’s latest photographic foray into a land where the photographer’s own penis acts as a kind of sword/torch guiding him through the sometimes troubling and oftentimes hilarious wilderness of his unrepentant sexual psyche.
I can't believe it either. At least Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King, authors of the forthcoming Faithful, will be happy. In an article published before the Red Sox took the Series, USA Today takes a cursory look at books about the Sox and the Cardinals.
Not to be missed: An Alternative Comic Soundtrack.
Restaurateur Charlie Trotter, whose unnamed seafood restaurant has yet to open in the Time Warner Center due to several postponements, endured the final blow of the food fight. "He has his waiters wear double-sided tape on their shoes so they’ll tidy up the carpet as they work," Mr. [Anthony] Bourdain revealed. "And the guy cooks like he’s never been fucked properly in his life."
Wal-Mart just can't take a joke, apparently, even if it's sort of a lame, obvious joke written by a comedian who used to be kind of funny twenty years ago. The retail chain is returning 3,500 copies of George Carlin's newest book, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
October 27, 2004
Chow Magazine is set to do something new! Like be "mostly serious about having fun." You know, like Olive. Also to not be "sanctimonious and predictable." Just like Calvin Trillin and Jeffrey Steingarten. They are for "people who are passionate about food but have fairly primitive cooking skills." You know. Like Everyday Food. "But where else will you find out how to score delicious raw milk cheese?" Pretty sure I read that in Gourmet. Three years ago.
Another Dispatch from a Public Librarian is up. This time it's an interview with Josh, a library page.
Stephen Elliott is interviewed at Salon about his new book Looking Forward To It: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the American Electoral Process.
(Two little asides: STOP IT WITH THE DR. STRANGELOVE REFERENCES. No more books with subtitles of "How I learned to stop worrying and _______." Type that phrase into Amazon and you get The Book of Webmin: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love UNIX, Beetle Mania Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bug, Oh, for a Minute There: Radiohead Helped Me Lose Myself or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Interpret the Bends, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Micah Pearson: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sheep and a thousand others. Fucking stop it. Second aside: The fact that John Edwards introduced Dr. Strangelove on Turner Classic Movies only made me love him more.)
Once again, fiction is not holding my attention, and so the nonfiction spree begins again. Only this time, it's very specific. My brain wants serial killer books. I've always had a weakness for serial killer programming. Some people watch Civil War marathons on the History Channel, I'll watch anything where the victims line up across the screen.
It probably started with the reading of In Cold Blood in freshman English. The only book our class ever enjoyed reading for the evil Ms. Wright, the whole Kansas connection was a little freaky. It also didn't help that rural Kansas can be a scary place with men killing their entire families, frequent suicides, and enough "rural" legends to make you wet yourself alone out on a country road. But since then, I dropped my books about ghosts and spontaneous human combustion as my guilty pleasure freak out books and started hiding true crime books in my lap instead.
Right now, it's Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule and The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer. The thing that surprised me the most about Green River was Rule's compassion. These were mostly prostitutes being killed, and the public for the most part didn't mind. Rule interviewed the families and wrote of their childhoods and the hard lives they had instead of just focusing on the salacious details of their lives on the street. The book has gotten mixed reviews with a major complaint being "too many victims to keep track of." There were a lot of people to follow, but I think she did an excellent job of keeping it simple and linear. She answers a few questions about true crime writing and this book in particular in Annabelle Magazine.
Of course, I'm not going to say anything about The Executioner's Song that hasn't been said better elsewhere, especially since I'm only halfway through. So I went looking for a crazy Amazon.com review to amuse myself. I didn't have to look very hard. "Arrogant windbag, Norman Mailer, is at his most self-indulgent in this one. Why don't you go and stab your wife again."
And speaking of the Crescent City, the New Orleans Gambit Weekly interviews Jonathan Lethem.
If you're in New Orleans, make time this weekend to go to the New Orleans Bookfair, which sounds like it could be one of the most interesting such gatherings in the country. Organized by G.K. Darby of Garrett County Press and author Abram Shalom Himelstein, the Bookfair is profiled in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Well, the Norman Mailer appearance on the Gilmore Girls was not as exciting as it could have been. He did call other American writers "bastards," but that was about the extent of it. Before the episode aired yesterday, Slate ran this piece on GG being the most literary show on television.
Literary references are to the women of this show what pop-music references are to the teenage boys of The O.C.: a badge of identity, a cultural currency that symbolizes the young characters' emerging sense of selfhood. Borrowed, traded, or earnestly pressed upon others, books are a way of concretizing the teenager's secret conviction that if only someone could truly understand them, everything would be all right.
In preparation for the Texas Book Festival, the Austin American-Statesman has been printing "one question interviews" with authors. (Yesterday, it was U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who apparently counts as an author these days.) Monday, the subject was Joyce Carol Oates. It's a pain in the ass to find anything archived on the Statesman site, so here it is.
Statesman: A recent article in the New Yorker mentioned that some people resent your productivity ... Why do people seem so obsessed with your prolificacy?
Oates: Well, I think there are certain American targets of humor or satire, and I'm probably just one of them. I don't think I'm anything that special. I'm not more prolific than Stephen King or John Updike or, you know, Dickens or Trollope. But, of course, I'm a woman. I guess that makes me a little more vulnerable.
Yeah, you know that old sexist chestnut about female authors being more prolific than male authors. That'll get you every time. At any rate, according to this Joyce Carol Oates bibliography, she's written 106 books, not counting plays or books she's edited. Various bibliographies of Stephen King and John Updike indicate they've each written about 56 books each and that's actually a pretty generous count. Why can't Oates just admit she writes books at the same rate that most people take a shower? It reminds me of a joke on Mystery Science Theater 3000 when a character talked about reading "Joyce Carol Oates' first book in well over a month."
Hell, I have trouble finishing two 1,500-word columns a month. But then, I'm a man.
October 26, 2004
The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has been described as "the intellectual equivalent of the Millennium Dome" after the discovery that it is riddled with errors.
A number of amateur historians have noticed glaring inaccuracies in several entries and say that the lax editorial process makes a mockery of the £7,500 retail price.
Speaking of Graham Greene, Eric Weinberger writes about Greene's relevance in "the age of Bush." I promise to blog about authors who are still living. Eventually.
This account of a Billy Corgan poetry reading is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. It's at Choriamb, a wonderful poetry blog that a Bookslut reader was kind enough to tell me about. (Thanks, Debbie!) I've been reading it for two weeks now, and it's already become one of the few sites I check daily. They do a brilliant job. If you have any interest at all in contemporary poetry, Choriamb needs to be on your bookmark list. I recommend it very, very highly.
Sue Protheroe deserves some kind of award. The Solon, Iowa, middle school language arts teacher is refusing to back down from a curriculum that includes stories with gay characters.
"I'm trying to teach tolerance and respect for all people," Protheroe said of her goal with the roughly 95 students taking her class. "And I can't do that and ignore a whole group of people. Furthermore, I wouldn't present a curriculum that ignored women or African-Americans or Hispanics. How can I possible teach my students to embrace diversity if I systematically exclude an entire group from my literature?"
That's courage. Iowa should be proud of her.
This is depressing. It would be nice if the next book this murderer writes is from jail.
The New Yorker has made the first political endorsement in its 80-year history, backing U.S. Sen. John Kerry in next week's presidential election.
In related news, Maxim magazine shocked the publishing world with their brave endorsement of alcohol and large breasts.
Man, do people ever like to hold grudges. I was shocked to read there are still people upset about America getting involved in World War II, according to the reader reviews for The Plot Against America. People are evidently also still upset about Graham Greene's commentary on America's imperialism.
Graham Greene was a typically anti-American British expatriate. British expatriates often have the arrogance to vilify any American foray overseas. The British were after all the world's master colonizers, subjugating more peoples around the globe than any other nation in history, imposing their system of government and lifestyle by force. The world is their oyster, not ours. The cynical British struck out overseas to stay put in the countries they invaded. Americans have struck out with the naive notion of wanting to make the world a better place, then to get back home in one piece. Whatever the case, Graham Greene is an irrelevant dinosaur.
Daniel Menaker, Random House executive editor in chief, showed up in Ohio to try to influence the voting. I have a feeling a upper class New Yorker in the Midwest is going to be about as successful as the British e-mail experiment.
Ghost-writing is not new. It might almost qualify as the oldest profession if prostitution had not laid prior claim. And there is more than a random connection between the two: they both operate in rather murky worlds, a fee is agreed in advance and given "for services rendered", and those who admit to being involved, either as client or service-provider, can expect negative reactions - anything from mild shock and disapproval to outright revulsion. A professor at my old university, a distinguished classicist with feminist leanings, was appalled when she heard what I did for a living and pronounced me "no better than a common whore".
I love college football, and since I'm an Aggie fan, this season has been pretty good to me (so far). Fellow football fan Sean Callahan seems unimpressed with two new college football books, Every Week a Season: A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football and The Only Game That Matters: The Harvard/Yale Rivalry. Harvard and Yale play football? I was thinking more like cucumber sandwich making contests or something. (Just kidding! Kind of.)
Designer rock star Chip Kidd gets another profile, this time in the Globe and Mail. Fans of book cover design also might want to take a look at Granta's 2005 desk calendar. Filled with some of the most classic book designs, Chip Kidd also gets some love there.
USA Today interviews Bloom County cartoonist Berkeley Breathed about his new book Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best, thus getting a chance to use that "Magnum Opus" headline pun they've probably been saving up for two decades.
The New York Review of Books asks fourteen of its contributors for their thoughts on next week's election. Novelist and new Gilmore Girls heartthrob Norman Mailer weighs in thusly:
"The sorriest thing to be said about the US, as we sidle up to fascism (which can become our fate if we plunge into a major depression, or suffer a set of dirty-bomb catastrophes), is that we expect disasters. We await them. We have become a guilty nation. Somewhere in the moil of the national conscience is the knowledge that we are caught in the little contradiction of loving Jesus on Sunday, while lusting the rest of the week for mega-money. How can we not be in need of someone to tell us that we are good and pure and he will seek to make us secure? For Bush-and-Rove, 9/11 was the jackpot."
October 25, 2004
Norman Mailer talks (very, very briefly) with New York magazine about his guest-starring stint on Gilmore Girls. The episode airs tomorrow, opposite Game 3 of the World Series. That's some great scheduling!
"The e-commerce company that shines at recommendation software is, of course, Amazon." Amazon is looking to expand into Netflix's territory, and The Seattle Times seems to think this is a good thing. But the above statement makes me wonder. Let's take a walk through Amazon's recommendations for me.
There are the big name books that get thrown on everyone's recommendations, like Plan of Attack and Against All Enemies. I once made the mistake of ordering a Stephen King book from Amazon, now no matter how many of his books I mark as "not interested," every other book he's ever written keeps showing up. There are books, oddly enough, that I have already bought through Amazon in hardback form, so the paperback is now recommended to me. Every single book by John le Carre appears to be on the list, even though I have never owned a book by him, never read one, have no intention to, and in general flee from that genre. And to top it all off, He's Just Not That Into You. I can only imagine the horror of the recommendations if I switch over to Amazon from Netflix. (I love my Netflix. No one can take it away from me.)
The Guardian has an exhaustive profile of American satirist and crime novelist Carl Hiaasen (whose latest is Skinny Dip). Because Hiaasen is a Florida Democrat, and the British are understandably confused by and obsessed with the electoral college, much attention is paid to the upcoming election.
He is angry about the war, angry about political failures, angry about the upcoming election and, most of all, as ever, angry about the destruction of Florida. He still sees it as his "responsibility" to tell people about this stuff. "I do believe the system will out the bastards."
Dennis LeHane responds to Anne Rice's hissy fit: "I'd be more worried if I impressed a moron than if I made one unhappy. And on Amazon... it's usually clear within a sentence or two which side of the intelligence fence the commentators fall on."
I would imagine authors would have nightmares about showing up to a radio or television program, just wanting to plug their book a bit, but instead, they're ambushed and told not only is their book bad, but it hurts children/Asians/women/puppies/America. Gwendolyn Zepeda lived through this nightmare when she went on a radio program to promote To the Last Man I Slept with and All the Jerks Just Like Him. Not only was she accused of hurting assorted demographics (women in general and Latinas specifically), she also had the joy of dealing with a crying host and her tale of woe. (My favorite moment was when Zepeda asked if she was being confronted, and the radio host replied that she was doing the nice thing by not cancelling the interview and instead attacking her on air.) Admirably, Zepeda managed to turn it around without any yelling (probably would have been my response) or storming out (Bill O'Reilly's). Read Zepeda's account, and download the show for yourself. (Her segment starts about 30 minutes in.) (Link from Poundy.)
October 22, 2004
Anthony Hecht, one of America's most distinguished poets of the past half-century, whose musically exquisite verse expressed dark observations about mankind, died Oct. 20 of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at his home in Washington.
He matches the objects with the presidential personalities. George W. Bush, the first president to have owned a baseball team (the Texas Rangers), has a hot dog for a nose, buns for eyebrows and a baseball for a mouth. My kids call him, for better or worse, "the hot dog president." ... Richard Nixon comes off the worst, made of telephone cords for hair and an answering machine for a face. Based on the art alone, my kids call him "the mean president."
I hate Ann Coulter just as much as the next guy, but I really wish these pie-throwing morons would go away. Or at least practice their aim.
Billy Corgan talks about his book of poetry, Blinking With Fists. The book is "like a good mix tape," he says. "Each poem adds its own sound to a bigger thing. There are individual poems that are like the hit songs, that are really strong." (Link from Large Hearted Boy.)
Washingtonienne may be long gone, and no one is talking about her anymore, but there's still that book, looming in the future. Juliet Eastland examines Washingtonienne's "work" and the talk of her book, and she believes it all seems a little too familiar. The short lived blog reminds her a lot of her own 8th grade diary. Without the fucking, of course.
Squirming with embarrassment, I recognized the hallmarks of myself at age 14 – the self-conscious coquetry ("Item! A new contender for my fair hand"), the supreme self-confidence ("I know I'm hot and everything") juxtaposed with adolescent gawkiness ("I got nervous and acted weird. Shit!").
"So you'd like to... Break out of Oppressive Enlightenment Thought Structures." Well, now you can with the help of a college student and Amazon.com. (Link from Crabwalk.)
The Independent interviews Ben Schott, author of the delightful Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany. His follow up, Schott's Sporting, Gaming and Idling Miscellany, has just been released in the UK. Schott is rather press shy, and he explains why in the interview.
"I don't think that I have anything particularly interesting to say about the world. There's a bizarre journalistic compulsion to find out The Man Behind the Book. But there's nothing here to find. This book is really a design phenomenon. Do you like Philippe Starck? What he does is an expression of himself, but you don't go and try and find out more. With poets and novelists, there's always a sense of the person behind the words. In my case, I'm more like a designer or an artist - and if you love the painting, does it really matter where the artist went to school?"
The New York Times has a new book critic.
October 21, 2004
At the Austin Chronicle, Nora Ankrum reports on Harlequin's new Bombshell imprint, "the first-ever fully realized line of action-adventure books for women."
This is just beautiful. The Greater Houston Restaurant Association has released a cookbook called Culinary Capital: Signature Dishes from America's Premier Restaurant City. (Houston is now apparently America's premier restaurant city. New York, Chicago and San Francisco must be surprised.)
Among the 75 "top chefs" profiled in its glossy pages, for example, are employees of the global food wholesaler Sysco; the food marketer Institutional Sales Association; and restaurant chains such as the Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse, neither of which is based in Houston.
This begins to make more sense when you read who GHRA Director Juli Salvagio's former employer was. That's right: Enron.
Want to act like you've read The Da Vinci Code when you really haven't? Or maybe you just want to spoil the ending for everyone you see carrying it around? Go to The Book Spoiler and start ruining endings. (Thanks to Fuzzy for the link.)
"Last September, the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) ruled that manuscripts from countries such as Iran, Syria and others with which the U.S. is under a trade embargo cannot be edited, translated or published." This has seriously affected the work of The Translation Project, whose mission is to collect, translate, and publish Persian poetry in the Diaspora written after the 1979 revolution. Alternet profiles the woman behind the movement, Niloufar Talebi and her struggles with the Project.
Philip Kerr writes about the nuanced differences between book tours for his thrillers and book tours for his children's book.
But nothing prepared me for the rigours of a three-week tour of the United States, as a first-time children's author. Three weeks without uttering a single profanity and without once getting drunk; three weeks of politeness and diplomacy that would have exhausted Kofi Annan.
Also in the Village Voice, continuing their struggle to publish the Shortest Author Interviews Ever, is this "interview" with Stephen Elliott about Looking Forward To It. By not distinguishing which quotes are from the interview and which are from the book he's promoting, we have what could be a two-sentence response from Elliott. Congratulations, Village Voice. That is the shortest author interview ever.
The Village Voice reports on the revival of Greek tragedies on stage.
This from Japan:
An old man has been arrested for stabbing a librarian because he told him to be quiet, police said.
Megan K. Stack looks at the influence of poetry in Yemen.
Tribes craft poems to settle quarrels over grazing rights, land boundaries and the honor of women. When tribesmen make their way to mediations, they come chanting odes to advertise their stance on the issue at hand. Listening to the singsong of the various tribes' poets helps the sheiks gauge the mood before starting negotiations that may stretch for days.
Latin American literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez has won the last laugh on book pirates by finely tuning the ending of his latest novel.
The launch of the Spanish-language version of the book, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores", was brought forward a week to Wednesday because bootleg copies have begun appearing on the streets of his native Colombia.
But the pirate copies are not the same as the final version of the book, 77-year-old Garcia Marquez's first novel in 10 years, editor Braulio Peralta said.
Jim Lewis experienced a little bit of The Plot Against America in Austin while voting.
Austin, where I live, allows for early voting. This afternoon I stopped by the mall to cast my ballot, in a little roped-off area in the atrium outside the JC Penney. They're using those new electronic voting machines, and as I stood in line, a volunteer gave me a sheet of instructions for how to use them. A pretty straightforward process, as you can see; nothing to make you raise your eyebrows.
Until you take a close look at the sample ballot, right there under "3. Make Choices." For State Rep. District 36, you're invited to contemplate a hypothetical choice between Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, and … Can it be? Is it possible? Yes, it's Charles A. Lindbergh. Look again: It really does say that. What's more, it's Lindbergh for whom, in this little mock election, the vote is cast.
I have to say I do miss early voting in Austin. Go out to the grocery store, pick up some milk, vote in the parking lot, be on my way. When I worked at Planned Parenthood, we'd all pile in a van and vote together, as you don't even have to know your precinct for early voting. Now all the waiting for the actual day has caused various nightmares about forgetting to vote, much screaming when politics are on the television, and a general inability to picture life after the election. But if anyone needs a little Election Day support group, we'll be here, drinking whiskey and eating cheesecake, watching Jon Stewart give us election results. Just give me a ring.
Neal Stephenson answers questions on Slashdot about his new book The System of the World (part three of the Baroque Cycle), the protection of hackers, and who would win in a fight between him and William Gibson. But he's most interesting when talking about the science fiction ghetto most genre writers get assigned to.
Mind you, much of the authority and seniority in that world is benevolent, or at least well-intentioned. If you are trying to become a writer by taking expensive classes in that subject, you want your teacher to know more about it than you and to behave like a teacher. And so you might hear advice along the lines of "I don't think you're ready to tackle Y yet, you need to spend a few more years honing your skills with X" and the like. All perfectly reasonable. But people on the Beowulf ("commercial") side may never have taken a writing class in their life. They just tend to lunge at whatever looks interesting to them, write whatever they please, and let the chips fall where they may. So we may seem not merely arrogant, but completely unhinged. It reminds me somewhat of the split between Christians and Faeries depicted in Susannah Clarke's wonderful book "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." The faeries do whatever they want and strike the Christians (humans) as ludicrously irresponsible and "barely sane." They don't seem to deserve or appreciate their freedom.
Later at the writer's conference, I introduced myself to someone who was responsible for organizing it, and she looked at me keenly and said, "Ah, yes, you're the one who's going to bring in our males 18-32." And sure enough, when we got to the venue, there were the males 18-32, looking quite out of place compared to the baseline lit-festival crowd. They stood at long lines at the microphones and asked me one question after another while ignoring the Dante writers sitting at the table with me. Some of the males 18-32 were so out of place that they seemed to have warped in from the Land of Faerie, and had the organizers wondering whether they should summon the police. But in the end they were more or less reasonable people who just wanted to talk about books and were as mystified by the literary people as the literary people were by them.
October 20, 2004
Frank McCourt issued a scathing attack against a group of Catholic bishops for declaring that "a vote for Kerry is a vote for abortion, and a vote for abortion is a sin," during a Writers and Artists Speak Out for Change event in New York last Wednesday.
Does anybody remember when John McCain played Frank McCourt on a Saturday Night Live sketch? Man, that is one guy who should never attempt an Irish accent. Ever.
Stewart's show on Comedy Central might mention Wal-Mart's decision Wednesday or Thursday, (executive producer Ben) Karlin says, in a story "about an exciting new store Wal-Mart is planning in the shadow of Mexico's oldest and most revered ruins."
It is a strange, uneasy feeling reading a book about one's father so soon after his death - he died in 1997. The first shock, oddly, was a knock to the amour-propre. Most of us regard ourselves as the world's leading authority on our parents. We've known them since we were born, after all.
The writers of Flak are trying to determine which is more innovative and vital: fiction or film? James Norton used to be a fiction freak, but gave it up for the love of film. Joshua Adams points out that Hollywood is so desperate for new material half of the films are adaptations of books. Stephen Himes rails against the "literati" who look down on film.
The Boston Globe reports on the further decline of translated literature in America.
Radovan Karadzic was once a minor celebrity in the literary world of the Balkans. That was in the 1980s before he was catapulted to notoriety over his role as president of the Bosnian Serbs as the Yugoslav Federation fell apart. These days he is on the run from Nato peacekeepers somewhere in the remote mountains of eastern Bosnia or his native Montenegro, which is why he was unable to be present at the launch of his new novel in Belgrade on Monday.
How do you begin to describe Kinky Friedman? He's a country musician who once sang the lines "They ain't makin' Jews like Jesus anymore / They ain't makin' carpenters who know what nails are for." He's a mystery novelist who just wrote a book of essays called 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out. He's also a friend of Laura Bush (and a somehwat liberal independent) who's running for Texas governor in 2006 and he's more serious about it than you might think. (I really want a "My Governor Is a Jewish Cowboy" bumper sticker.)
Nerve talks to the Kinkster about pretty much everything.
What's the difference between sex in the world of publishing, sex in the world of country music, and sex in the world of politics?
Well, there is such a thing as literary pussy.
But how does it compare to the other kinds?
First of all, in the world of literature, you don't get a tour bus. The tour bus is a big magnet for pussy.
Thomas T. Huang is looking for the answer to stopping the drop-off rate of newspaper readers, and he's looking to Oprah to help him.
More and more readers are leaving their newspapers on their doorsteps, unopened and unread. Many other folks no longer even subscribe. How do we win them back? There's no silver bullet. But Ms. O, I think you've got some of the answers, particularly when it comes to attracting women and minority readers.
Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty became the first gay-themed novel to win the Booker Prize. Also covering the story: The New York Times, BBC, The Scotsman and The Telegraph. The Guardian also has an excerpt.
So did anyone see this coming?
October 19, 2004
Pat Holt gives the background of Tim LaHaye and his organization to fight "secular humanism." While LaHaye enjoyed success under the Reagan administration, he fell out of favor after calling the Pope "archpriest of Satan." But you can't keep a good anti-Semite, pro-life, conspiracy theorist down for long! The success of his Left Behind series has meant those "secular humanists" are all clamoring to give him huge book deals.
The thriller aspect of "Left Behind" has made it easy to overlook LaHaye's nonfiction polemics, such as "The Battle for the Mind," "The Unhappy Gays, "Mind Siege," "Rapture Under Attack" and others. Here and elsewhere, LeHaye not only blames "secular humanists" for the evils of the world, he calls for the Christian Right to go on the attack - "to take back America" (thank you, Newt Gingrich), to fight against global socialism in the "New World Order" (thank you, George H. W. Bush), to interpret and quote the bible widely and remind everyone that the founding fathers intended "faith-based" politics to *join* churc and state in "one nation under God" (thank you, Mr. President).
This whole "decent original content" thing at Amazon is creeping me out. In support of his new novel (at least to America) Light, M. John Harrison has a new short story "tourism" up. David Rees writes about Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus being an influential book. Hell, even my Gold Box had a few things in it I might want. Bring back the wacky "Because you bought this book, we thought you might be interested in these gardening shears!" Amazon that I know and love.
In These Times has a conversation between Kurt Vonnegut and Kilgore Trout.
KV: Look, when you put a piece of paper in your typewriter, don’t you try to make it exactly what it should be?
TROUT: No, I just effing write.
KV: What are you effing writing now?
TROUT: It’s about how the future has as much to do with the present as the past does. Giraffes can only have come from the future. There’s no way evolution in the past would have let something that defenseless and impractical live for 15 minutes.
Fox News Channel's star host Bill O'Reilly has canceled a series of TV interviews to promote his new children's book days after a former producer accused him in a lawsuit of sexual harassment, his publisher said on Monday.
I guess one of the chapters in the book is about running away from your problems. It's probably after the vibrator chapter.
One comic you should not miss is the DC/Humanoids release of Enki Bilal's The Beast Trilogy: Chapters 1 & 2. Bilal, born in Yugoslavia who moved to France at age ten, hasn't gotten much press here in the States, so when I did a Google search for his name, I found mostly interviews in assorted languages or interviews in English from 15 years ago. But here are three to read.
I find the term science fiction slightly irritating. I am against all kinds of labels, codifications and classifications in literature. I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast boundary between the worlds of Jules Verne, George Orwell and H.P. Lovecraft and those of Baudelaire, Kafka and Poe. I think the boundaries between genres are fading away. More and more authors are weaving the future into their works, whether they are writing novels or philosophy. That said, I have loved science fiction since I was a teenager. Science fiction enabled me to observe the world in its cosmic dimension, to have a global vision of the Earth which influences the questions I ask about the existence of other life forms and about the human condition.
I love Jonathan Yardley. I really do. And I'm a sucker for the series of articles in the Post where he "reconsiders notable and/or neglected books from the past." I'm just not sure what the hell he was thinking when he wrote this piece about The Catcher in the Rye.
Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as "a symbol of purity and sensitivity" (as "The Oxford Companion to American Literature" puts it) when he's merely self-regarding and callow? Why do English teachers, whose responsibility is to teach good writing, repeatedly and reflexively require students to read a book as badly written as this one?
Of course Holden Caulfield is self-regarding and callow. But Jonathan Yardley isn't the only one who realizes this. Salinger knew this; I think the majority of the book's admirers know this. And God, what about being pure and sensitive precludes also being self-regarding and callow? Yardley can't possibly have a view of human nature this starkly dichotomous. As for the last question, which reads as unbearably snobby and needlessly insulting, I wonder if Yardley has ever tried to teach high school English himself. If so, what went wrong? If not, maybe he should lay off the teachers. I have a feeling he makes more money than them.
What most struck me upon reading it for a second time was how sentimental how outright squishy it is. ... Indeed a case can be made that The Catcher in the Rye created adolescence as we now know it, a condition that barely existed until Salinger defined it. He established whining rebellion as essential to adolescence and it has remained such ever since.
"Sentimental" is a book reviewer's favorite word when confronted with emotion he can't understand. It implies that the emotion is either insincere or immature, and makes the reviewer feel better about himself for just not getting it. What the hell is wrong with sentiment, anyway? What would literature be without it? What's also remarkable is that Yardley seems to give Salinger credit for creating adolescence, not heretofore regarded as one of the novelist's great accomplishments. And "whining rebellion," huh? Damn kids these days with their rock music and video games. I'd take Salinger's whiny teenage rebellion over the 50-plus boys club's whiny middle-aged "I'm impotent and can't understand why the kids wear baggy pants" conformity anyday.
The Catcher in the Rye is a maladroit, mawkish novel, but there can be no question about its popularity or influence. My own hunch is that the reason is the utter, innocent sincerity with which it was written. It may be manipulative, but it's not phony. A better, more cynical writer than Salinger easily could write a book about a troubled yet appealing teenager, but its artifice and insincerity would be self-evident and readers would reject it as false.
In other words, it's impossible for a good author to write a book about "troubled yet appealing" kids. Salinger can't win for losing. Because he's such a clumsy writer, the book works on its own terms, Yardley seems to imply. I agree with Yardley on one point this is not a phony book. The difference: I think this is one of America's great books, and I think Salinger is one of America's great authors. Is it manipulative? Yeah, it is. All literature manipulates; that's what literature does. I'd argue that the very fact that this book means so much to so many people is proof (inasmuch as these things can be proved) of its worth. Here's to sentiment, rebellion, and not being ashamed of being young and troubled.
(I still love you, Jonathan. Call me.)
October 18, 2004
I'm not sure how the Complicite theatre company managed to pull this off, but they've adapted Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes for the stage and, according to Time Asia, the results are "dazzling."
Using projected images, video footage, crisp sound effects, dazzling lighting and an acrobatic cast that flits around on wires, McBurney melds the three stories into a meditation on anxiety and loss amid the placid routines of life in urban Japan.
Stephanie Merritt at the Guardian reviews Neil LaBute's recently released short story collection, Seconds of Pleasure. LaBute has written a few acclaimed plays, and made some brilliant movies (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, and the underappreciated Nurse Betty), but what the fuck was up with Possession?
In Welcome to the Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up, A Memoir, Barbara Feinberg compares young adult literature, specifically "problem lit," to a beating.
Alex's required reading is seen almost as a household chore. "Just do it," Feinberg tells him. "I meant it in the same way someone might have once said, 'Just drink your milk,' or 'Just take your cod liver oil,' or, I realized suddenly, the way someone might believe that a child ought to endure a beating, because even though it hurt, it was 'a good beating,' would make him better, build character. Was this kind of reading akin to a 'good beating'?"
SF Gate profiles AK Comics, "the first homegrown comic book superheroes from the Middle East." The man behind the publisher is Ayman Kandeel, an economics professor at Cairo University. He got involved to help present "positive role models" and his comics include empowered women and peace between the Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Jalila, for instance, is a Wonder Woman-like hero who defends the City of All Faiths, where Jews, Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully. It is threatened, however, by the terrorist United Liberation Front and the Army of Zios, which the comic book describes as "still clinging to their extreme views, both wanting to solely control the City of All Faiths."
Jalila gained her super powers when she was exposed to radiation from a nuclear blast at Dimondona -- a name that echoes Dimona, the site of Israel's nuclear weapons facility.
If you're still cursing the fact that you missed Book Expo in Chicago this year, there are now (finally) clips of some of the events online, including Jon Stewart's and Art Spiegelman's presentations.
Mexican professor and poet Sergio Witz Rodriguez will be tried by the Supreme Court of Mexico for "insulting national symbols."
Sergio Witz Rodriguez was one ticked-off poet. He thought nobody was solving Mexico's social and economic problems, least of all its politicians. So he worked himself into a righteous, lyrical lather and wrote a 21-line poem, saying, among other things, that he would like to use the Mexican flag as toilet paper.
Chicagoans, save yourself five bucks and buy your tickets for the Dead Authors Party now. (Scroll down to the October 23rd event.) Come dressed as your favorite dead author or character to support the Chicago Guild Complex and a chance to win best dressed. To reserve tickets, call 773.227.6117 x16.
Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of the five finalists for the fiction National Book Award pretty much nobody has. Edward Wyatt at the Times reports that four of the nominated books have sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
Nextbook.com has two essays on Philip Roth. David Greenberg revisits Roth's Our Gang and his satirical response to the Nixon administration. Naama Goldstein writes about Roth's historical reconstructions.
October 15, 2004
What did Bob Dylan ever do to deserve Christopher Ricks? No artist should be subjected to this much wanton affection: it's unseemly, like being hugged by a stranger who won't let go. In Dylan's Visions of Sin, Ricks gloms on to the guitar poet as if trying to dissolve the boundary where Dylan ends and he begins.
Thanks to Chris at Intelligent Life for the link. And be sure to check out his October 6 post about the new Salman Rushdie novel, which I didn't even know was in the works.
Gaper's Block has an audio roundtable with some members of the Chicago comix scene. The choice of participants is not exactly prime considering the huge wealth of independent comics talent Chicago has, and the introduction takes up a good third of the piece, but it's worth a listen.
Days before he was due to move house, he gathered a one-foot-high heap of yellowing papers in his arms and flung the sheets into the flames. But as he warmed his hands by the pyre and studied the words on the scattering sheets of paper, he realised with great alarm that he had accidentally burnt the original manuscripts for his best-selling thrillers, Shadowmancer and Wormwood, as well as the only updated draft of his unpublished work, Tersias...
The manuscript for Shadowmancer, which was a number one bestseller in Britain and the US, selling one million copies in the UK alone, was the "editing" draft on which the author had made amendments in his own hand. It had been valued at £250,000 before it was published last June but an independent bookseller offered Mr Taylor a "six figure sum" for it, weeks after it hit the shelves.
"My Sept. 11 oath 'You should have made more comics, schmuck,' is about using this particular language and what it can make," Spiegelman said. "Even though cartoonists are punished for sort of being able to draw and sort of being able to write ... there are things that can only happen in comics."
Dozens of pirate copies of the new book by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez are being sold in Bogota before the novel's release, publishers say.
The rerelease of H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights to coincide with the movie is drawing some attention. Perseus Books is hoping to sell a million copies by the year's end, and plans on doing this by releasing the book in three different formats: mass market paperbacks for airports, trade paperback with a movie tie-in cover for bookstores, and hardbacks for, uh, people who like to spend a lot of money on their books.
More about Toni Bentley's The Surrender, this time from the New York Times. For those unfamiliar with the controversial memoir, it is to anal sex what The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women is to...uh...all right, that analogy kind of fell apart there.
When shelving Phoebe Gloeckner's A Child's Life at Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library, evidently attention was paid only to the fact that it was a comic book and its disturbing content was ignored. An 11-year-old was allowed to leave with the book, and, justifiably, people became upset. The mayor of the city called it a "how-to book for pedophiles," and the book has been removed. All it would take is to shelve the book in the adult area, and for librarians to treat it the same way they would, say, The Joy of Sex. (Link from Egonlabs.)
Canongate -- the indispensable publisher who has published Yann Martel, DBC Pierre, Alasdair Gray, Dan Rhodes, and Steven Sherrill -- is feeling financially secure after a few rounds of Booker prize winners.
The novel is dead, says acclaimed writer Sir V. S. Naipaul, and his forthcoming book Magic Seeds will be his last. Use this announcement as a reason to check out his brilliant collection of essays, The Writer and the World.
October 14, 2004
Can liberals learn to love Pat Buchanan? Probably not, but Knute Berger at the Seattle Weekly finds that not everything in his new book, Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency, is crazy. Just most of it.
While saying that President Bush is a "decent" man, Stewart lampooned him for saying during a presidential debate that he couldn't name one of his mistakes.
"He can't think of one?" Stewart asked. "I got a list."
I don't know what to say. If there are any Bookslut readers in Winnipeg, you have to go and report back.
Literary scholars announced Monday that they have unearthed a 33-page handwritten manuscript of "The Camera-Phone," a short story believed to have been written in 1874 by French novelist Jules Verne, the man often considered to be the originator of modern science fiction.
If all you know about Godzilla is that horrible Matthew Broderick movie, Jim Knipfel suggests you check out University of Kansas professor William Tsutsui's new book Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters. It's the perfect gift for that Gojira-obsessed family member in your life.
The United Nations is today to name Edinburgh the world's first city of literature, following the success of the ambitious campaign for the Scottish capital which was presented in Paris yesterday.
Phoebe Hoban at the Times discusses Mark Rothko's The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art, the first and only book by the late artist. The book was shepherded into print by his son, Christopher Rothko:
"I'd be trying to sort through something," he said, "and he'd just have written the most convoluted sentence known to mankind, and it's like, 'Oh Dad, come on.' Believe me, it shocked me - I'd never had a second-person utterance in his direction since I was 6 years old, but here I was addressing a ghost. But it wasn't a ghost, because he was in my hands in some strange way."
October 13, 2004
When the National Book Award nominees are discussed, you're bound to hear a lot of the same things said when the Booker longlist was announced. "Who?" "What the fuck?" "Where the hell is _______?" But let's just pretend for a minute that this wasn't the year The Plot Against America was released, nor America (The Book), In the Shadow of No Towers or An Unfinished Season... let's just stop there before I go into sputtering mode. But suffice to say that the nominees were shocking, and books I would have considered shoo-ins are nowhere to be seen. In their place are writers I have never heard of. Maybe I should be embarrassed about that, or pretend that I have, but let's just get this over with before I get too pissy.
Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age
David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing
Jennifer Gonnerman, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
The 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States-Authorized Edition
Angela Dombroski of Boston's Weekly Dig talks to well, tries to talk to Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean about her new book My Kind of Place (which has the most fucked up cover photo ever) and the out-of-print Red Sox and Bluefish.
Thirty-five years after his death, the fight over Jack Kerouac's estate continues.
When the legal fight began in 1994, much was at stake. Those who idolize the author are willing to pay big money for any piece of memorabilia. They include Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who two years ago bought the original manuscript scroll of "On the Road" for $2.43 million, and actor Johnny Depp, who once paid $15,000 for Kerouac's raincoat.
In related news, an umbrella once owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti just sold for 75 cents at a Salem, Oregon, thrift store.
I need help finding smell in contemporary fiction—please help me. It's odd that it's difficult to find the olfactory in American literature when all the other senses seem to be flourishing on the page.
OK, I tried. I really tried to understand Vendela Vida's piece about American literature and the sense of smell. But seriously, what the fuck?
Yet of all the senses, smell is perhaps the most powerful and overwhelming.
Or perhaps not. There are five senses, right? Unless you're the creepy kid who sees dead people in that Bruce Willis movie? So saying that any one is "perhaps the most powerful" is really a pretty meaningless sentiment. I've been lucky enough (so far) not to be vision- or hearing-impaired, but I imagine it's a bit tougher to get around without those senses than it is with bum olfactory glands. Then again, I'm a smoker, so my sense of smell is below average anyway. Which comes in handy whenever I have to go to Houston.
As I mentioned, I started this quest for smell a few months ago. Recently, when I began to notice the publication of a spate of novels incorporating, to various degrees, the events of 9/11, I searched them for scent. It's there.
Is Vendela Vida really so bored that she'd embark on a months-long "quest for smell"? I mean, how does one finance such a quest? With a MacArthur genius grant? The leisure class is different from you and I.
OK, I'm done, except to mention that my office currently smells like burnt popcorn. Someone should write a fucking Slate article about that.
In her speech on the festival's State of the Nation theme, (writer Beatrix Campbell) asked: "What has feminism achieved for women over the last quarter of a century?" In her answers, Campbell revealed her feelings: that "women have always had a talent for disappointment"; that Britney Spears is a "counter-revolutionary" and that "the inexhaustible capacity of football to dominate the national horizon is absolutely spectacularly breathtaking".
Edinburgh wants to be the world's first World City of Literature, and the Scots have published a "dossier" to prove that they're deserving. Makes sense to me. If they get the title and Heart of Midlothian wins the Scottish cup, they will never stop drinking in the Athens of the North.
Nerve.com interviews Philip Roth.
I think the core of serious readers still exists, but it’s not huge. I think that talking about books has absolutely disappeared. I remember back in the '50s and '60s among my friends that if you were in a group of people and if someone brought up a book, you could be sure that maybe half the people had read it. Now, I find that no one ever does that. If they talk about a book it’s a comment and then that’s the end of that. Movies, people can talk about endlessly. And they can bank on the fact that people have seen the movie.
Although that might change just a little with Roth's book. Everyone I know is either reading it, wanting to read it, or waiting to be convinced it's as good as people are saying. (It is.) I'm sending copies out to family and friends and lending my copy out. It's so refreshing to have the book-to-talk-about be a really good book, unlike, say, last year's The Fortress of Solitude. (Good, but just okay.)
"The controversial philosopher Jacques Derrida died last week. But does anyone actually understand him?" The Guardian asks writers, professors, philosophers, critics and others if they ever understood Derrida.
And speaking of Slate, they have launched a new feature called The Book Blitz, "a look at this fall's notable novels, as well as issues surrounding contemporary fiction." It's mostly coverage of The Plot Against America thus far (including a week-long discussion of the book between Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker and Judith Shulevitz, formerly of the New York Times Book Review. And then there's this baffling piece on odors in American literature, written by one Vendela Vida.
The biggest problem is -- and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle -- is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie. And they require balance, which is often just not justified by reality. The classic thing is the Swift Boats. If you follow what all the papers say, they inch close to saying what they really think by saying, "it's controversial," or "many have challenged it," euphemisms like that. And then they always need to pair it with something else. "Candidate X murdered three people at a rally yesterday, and candidate Y sneezed without using a Kleenex. This is why many people are saying this is the roughest campaign ever."
October 12, 2004
Who are America's novelists voting for? You might be surprised. Actually, you won't.
Here's an exercise for him: Re-read "Huckleberry Finn" and write a critique blasting Twain for his blatant failure to address the greatest crime against humanity then being perpetrated -- the genocide of the Native Americans -- while concentrating his efforts on the "lesser sin" of slavery.
Norman Sherry spent 30 years as Graham Greene's biographer, and when the third volume was released, the critics were not kind. Sherry talks to the Guardian about what took so long, his relationship to Greene, and why his unconventional biography inspired the reaction it received.
Playwright and actor Charles Gordone, who died in 1995 in College Station, Texas, is remembered at Texas A&M University, where he was a theater professor. The Bryan-College Station Eagle pays tribute to the writer, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his (sadly out-of-print) play No Place to Be Somebody. And at The Battalion, the Texas A&M student newspaper (and my former employer), Kendra Kingsley writes a beautiful profile of the late writer. Gordone died a few weeks after I started classes at A&M, so I never met him. Kingsley's fine profile makes me wish I had.
The newest Philip Pullman book is Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp. In this profile at the Guardian, Pullman states, "You're not there to demonstrate how clever you are or your literary style. Children are only interested in what you're telling them."
Graphic novels are being taught in high schools, and this alarms all kinds of people who don't really know what graphic novels are.
"Once kids know how to read, there is no good reason to continue to use dumbed-down materials," writes Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University, in an e-mail. "They should be able to read poems, novels, essays, books that inform them, enlighten them, broaden their horizons."
Today graphic novels, tomorrow hardcore pornography. Will someone please think of the children?
I don't have my copy yet due to the mail forwarding system, but the Washington Post is excited about the new issue of Atlantic Monthly. William Langewiesche, who is one of the few writers who can make me read the Atlantic the minute it arrives, is the author of "Welcome to the Green Zone" in the November issue. The Green Zone is "the International Zone, where American officials and the new Iraqi government are headquartered." (Also worth reading are Langewiesche's books Cutting for Sign and Sahara Unveiled.)
October 11, 2004
When we arrived, Heinz Hall security forces and a city cop were insisting that the French journalists (in America for a multimedia project retracing de Tocqueville's 1831 travels) had to turn over their videotape or erase their footage.
American Citizen Hitch put up a fight, arguing that this act of thuggish censorship was despicable and probably unconstitutional. It was futile, and the incident ended civilly and without bloodshed, as most fights do when the French are involved. The tape of Kissinger's nearly indecipherable mumblings was erased.
Copyright be damned, but it's Entertainment Weekly's fault for not putting this on their website:
A LITERARY LEGEND PAYS A VISIT TO 'GILMORE GIRLS'
"I said, 'I hate sitcoms -- I don't wanna go near 'em.'" That was the response of Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer, 81, who's written more novels and great books of cultural criticism than we have space to list, when his actor son Stephen asked if he'd like to appear in an episode of The WB's Gilmore Girls. Yet there Mailer is, playing himself as a "cantankerous curmudgeon" (his phrase) on the Oct. 26 episode of the fast-talking dramedy. So... how'd this happen?
Explains show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino: "We're not really a stunt-casty show, and The WB, they love their stunt casting. So we're sitting around the writers' room and I'm joking, saying, 'Y'know, we should get Tony Kushner, Stephen Sondheim, and Norman Mailer, and have our own Algonquin Round Table at Lorelai's inn.'" The writers narrowed their ambitions to Mailer -- since one of them was friends with Stephen -- and, says Sherman-Palladino, "we sent him the outline. He calls and goes, 'I like the story, I think it's very cute. I like the Luke and Lorelai bit.' I'm like, Oh my God, Norman Mailer is saying 'I like the Luke and Lorelai bit!' So God help us, we had a legend for two days in Stars Hollow."
In the episode, Mailer chooses Lorelai's Dragonfly Inn to give an interview to a journalist (played by Stephen, natch). "We had him ad-lib a little bit," says Sherman-Palladino, "and he started talking about his favorite writers -- apparently it's Tolstoy, James Joyce, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and that's it." For the record, Mailer has a different recollection about the amount of dialogue that was off-the-cuff: "Oh, I'd say [except for] a couple of necessary transitional lines, 95% was improvised."
While this casting coup may not register with much of The WB's core audience, Sherman-Palladino thinks Mailer fits perfectly in the Gilmore universe. "This is a series where we've said, implicitly, 'Read a book, read the classics; I know you're cute, but you can still wear lipstick and read Dickens.' So having someone like Mailer on was a blast." Mailer's version of "a blast" is to say, "I was not miserable."
OK, I may be tipping my hand as a rock fan here, but I don't understand why this is even a debate. Of course Bob Dylan is a poet; of course his work will endure. Anyone who disagrees should immediately read the lyrics to "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Desolation Row" and compare them to some of America's university-approved contemporary poets, whose work can range from shallow to obscurantist.
Oxford Professor Christopher Ricks fights the good fight. His new book is Dylan's Visions of Sin.
Oh, I almost forgot about "Foot of Pride." Check out those lyrics to that one, too.
Who knew George W. Bush had a taste for Turkish literature? Yet there he was in Istanbul last June, quoting Turkey's most famous novelist, Orhan Pamuk.
Anne Rice expands on her Amazon.com statement that she does not need an editor (and is horrified at the very thought of an editor) in the New York Times.
"People who find fault and problems with my books tend to say, 'She needs an editor,' '' Ms. Rice said. "When a person writes with such care and goes over and over a manuscript and wants every word to be perfect, it's very frustrating.''
She added: "When you take home a CD of Pavarotti or Marilyn Horne, you don't want to hear another voice blended in. I feel the same way about Hemingway. If I read it, I don't want to read a new edited version.''
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what's wrong with every bloated Rowling, King, and Rice book: they think they're above having editors.
The Advocate profiles comic book artist Kody Chamberlin.
How desperate does Salon have to be to publish this? "It'll create some controversy, so who cares if it's batshit crazy?" One factor is the essay's author: Stanley Crouch. The other is this thesis:
His new novel moves along as though that bestial level of social bigotry was not a highly visible fact of American life at the time that "The Plot Against America" is imagined to have taken place, between 1940 and 1942. "Boo!" some will automatically say because the book has been so vastly praised, but they would not leap so quickly into that camp if they realized just how much the novel is now part of the ongoing complaint that Ralph Ellison raised to the level of masterpiece in "Invisible Man." Roth expects us to believe that the very deep hostility that white Southerners had toward black Americans, a hostility that had been supported by white Northerners either after the end of Reconstruction in 1877 or soon thereafter, would suddenly dissolve and transform itself into anti-Semitism because Lucky Lindy defeated Franklin Roosevelt in 1940.
Really, Mr. Crouch? Is that what the theme of the book is? That there is only room for one bigotry at a time? You know what, you're right. Obviously Roth should have included racism against black Americans. Not to mention racism against Asians. I'm sure there were some gay men and women getting married and living a secret. He should have put some of them in there, too. And abortion was illegal! Women were dying from illegal, unsafe abortions. Throw in a couple of them. Let's make sure we chronicle every single injustice in our books.
Salon, seriously. After the Jane Austen Doe, your continued insistence on allowing Charles Taylor to review things while you let Cintra Wilson go, your killing of interesting series just as they were getting started, this is hardly the way to rebuild your Books section.
Remember Maria Alquilar? We posted about her last Wednesday:
The artist who misspelled the names of famous people in world history on a large ceramic mosaic outside Livermore's new library can spell one word with ease: N-O. That's Maria Alquilar's new position on fixing the typos.
According to the AP, the misspellings included leaving out an "N" in "Einstein" and putting an extra "A" in "Michelangelo."
In addition to enjoying the physical act itself -- which she finds "unwinds" the lower bowels -- the atheist Bentley insists that she found a spiritual ecstasy in buggery. She has been to the mountain and seen God; and apparently, He likes it from behind. Despite her mad love for A-Man -- evidenced in no small part by the fact that she keeps the condoms-and-K-Y detritus of their unions and a baggy-full of his pubic hair in a little memory box -- Bentley staunchly resists a traditional commitment to him. The lovers do not meet outside the bedroom: no monogamy, no dating, no shared friends, no movies or meals. In fact, the only food they consume together is the occasional restorative snack between back-door intrusions. By the end of the book, A-Man is history, and leveled Bentley is left to sort out her altered body, desires and devotions.
Some books you just can't believe exist. The Surrender is high on that list.
Postmodern Barney hates Manga fans.
It's a peculiar form of Japanaphilia, less creepy than the anglo-American men who obsess over J-Pop singers, but annoying nonetheless. It's the people who complained incessantly about manga not being presented in the "authentic" format when most publishers were still flipping and touching up artwork to present it in a left-to-right format. The fact that English is read left-to-right and presenting manga in that format might make it easier for people to read it was irrelevant. Now that most manga is presented in the original right-to-left format, their major concern is that the translations aren't sufficiently "faithful." "By changing the 'san' suffix to 'Mr.' they've completely changed the author's intent!" they cry, weeping into their first edition copies of Manga! Manga!.
October 10, 2004
World-renowned thinker Jacques Derrida, a charismatic philosopher who founded the school known as deconstructionism, has died, the French president's office said Saturday. He was 74.
October 8, 2004
The Education Department this summer destroyed more than 300,000 copies of a booklet designed for parents to help their children learn history after the office of Vice President Dick Cheney's wife complained that it mentioned the National Standards for History, which she has long opposed.
In June, during a routine update, the Education Department began distributing a new edition of a 10-year-old how-to guide called "Helping Your Child Learn History." Aimed at parents of children from preschool through fifth grade, the 73-page booklet presented an assortment of advice, including taking children to museums and visiting historical sites.
The booklet included several brief references to the National Standards for History, which were developed at UCLA in the mid-1990s with federal support. Created by scholars and educators to help school officials design better history courses, they are voluntary benchmarks, not mandatory requirements.
More on new Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek: She's profiled by The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, NPR, The Guardian, and probably your neighborhood association's newsletter. Meanwhile, Jelinek's The Piano Teacher and Lust have shot up to 10 and 19 respectively in Amazon's sales rankings.
Who's a bigger loser: Stephen King or the Boston Red Sox? There's a Zen koan for you. Go Astros. (Sorry about the Cubs, Jessa.)
As Assistant Professor of Art at the esteemed University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, I hereby welcome suggestions and donations as I begin the job of building a comics library. This library will be a part of the permanent collection at the University.
Nominees for the Canadian Giller Prize:
Hey, anyone want to give me several hundred thousand dollars and a ticket to Australia? Please? The Age reports on the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers' congress and book fair, held this year in Melbourne.
(Book dealer Rick Gekoski) does not really expect that anyone will snap up his copy of James Joyce's Ulysses, inscribed by the author and priced at $450,000 - or D. H. Lawrence's own copy of The Rainbow at $120,000, or T. S. Eliot's first American book of poetry inscribed to Virginia Woolf, a snip at $27,000 - but you never know.
If any of our readers are there, feel free to bring me back a souvenir. But don't spend more than $50,000. I'd feel bad.
October 7, 2004
How can an article about "a forgotten writer from Minnesota who never really did that much" be so interesting? Perhaps because it's in the City Pages, America's best alternative newsweekly. Dylan Hicks' profile of Charles Macomb Flandrau (the largely forgotten author of Viva Mexico! and Harvard Episodes) and Larry Haeg, author of Flandrau's biography (In Gatsby's Shadow: The Story of Charles Macomb Flandrau) is one of the best book-related pieces I've read in a long time. Why is sloth a mortal sin?
Salon has unveiled a new series "of interviews with authors who, while admired by their peers, haven't quite found the audience they deserve." I wouldn't get too excited. Remember their series of columns about comics? That had one, two entries. Remember their series on small press books? That monthly column hasn't been seen since the first week of August. I'm going to put my money on "three installments." Then we'll never see it again.
For many, Southern rock conjures up images of beer drinking, hell-raising and flapping Confederate flags.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But for those of us who don't buy into the Southern stereotype, there's Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South by journalist Mark Kemp. The AP talks to Kemp about racism, rock, and Lynyrd Skynyrd's famous smackdown (but not really) of Neil Young.
Poetry Magazine has finally figured out what to do with the $100 million.
When the Blankets parade started with its release, I bought the book, read about thirty pages, thought "Oh, that's nice," and then put it on my shelf and forgot about it. When I was sick much later, however, I grabbed a large stack of comics and forced myself to read Blankets. People love it! They say it's great! Gotta love it, too! But I didn't. The artwork, which looked lovely on first glance, became annoying as each emotion created the exact same facial expressions. The character of Craig Thompson became every emo-boy stereotype ever created. (And, unfortunately, it seems to have created this sub-genre of "I'm so sensitive and I can't get laid!" in comics.) The storyline skimmed over the interesting stuff (the loss of faith) to focus more on how deeply sensitive Thompson is. The Comics Journal recently called it a Young Adult novel, and when I read that, I understood what about the book bugged me so much. It was masquerading as adult literature, but without the depth to back it up.
But people still love it, and it won Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Graphic Novel at the Ignatz Awards. (Thanks to Egonlabs.com for help finding the winner list.) If it hadn't been nominated against Joe Sacco's The Fixer in both categories, I probably wouldn't have cared much. But not only is The Fixer probably the best comic of the year, and not only has Joe Sacco never been better, it makes Blankets look like the adolescent rambling that it is.
Go to the comic book store, and open Blankets and The Fixer to random pages. The art in Blankets is probably swirly, romantic, yet not helping the story along at all. You may even be confusing some of the characters because the faces are drawn so similarly. Now look at The Fixer. The artwork carries its half of the work. The details in the background speak volumes, and even if you don't read the text, through the drawings you feel like you really know the characters.
So we have mediocre self-indulgence on one hand, and acclaimed journalism on the other. Why is Craig Thompson being held up as the savior of comics instead of Joe Sacco? I have no answer for you. I obviously don't understand it. But this happens frequently in comics. They get so excited about the crossover appeal of one artist, they don't notice the better work being done in the margins.
Ah yes, Elfriede Jelinek. Love her work. Okay, let's put aside the fact that it's obvious at this point she was picked to fill some woman quota, and that the Swedes would probably never give the Nobel to a woman unless someone asked at a meeting, "Uh, has it been ten years since the last chick?" Forget all of that. My big question is, they couldn't find a better headshot to be published across the world?
October 6, 2004
In a new book, two French journalists allege that American intelligence agencies, under the direction of the Bush administration, tapped French President Jacques Chirac's telephone. The BBC reports on the story as well, which is guaranteed to do wonders for America's image overseas.
Random book criticism from the woman in the cashmere sweater and sunglasses that cost more than my entire outfit at the bookstore today: "Have you read The Nanny Diaries? It's so low class."
I've been trying to think of a way to comment on this without sounding like a total snobby asshole, but I can't. So here.
Sarah author JT LeRoy (who Litsa Dremousis expertly interviewed for Bookslut last year) talks to Ted Naifeh and Tristan Crane, authors of the graphic novel How Loathsome. Discussed: gender identity, bisexuality, and why Robin Wright Penn is an asshole.
Where I wish I could have been: Small Press Expo. You can find coverage of the event at USA Today. (Why the hell can't I find any other coverage of SPX? Why the hell can't I find the list of Ignatz Award winners either? It's like the expo took place in another dimension.)
The film version of Buzz Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights opens this week. The movie actually looks pretty good, but you should really check out the book, which might be the best sports book ever written. (Full disclosure: I am a native Texan and a huge football fan. But the book is amazing, I promise.)
The I Love Books board has been boring and dead again, but this thread on I Love Everything makes up for it: Describe the plot of a novel with the same title as a Red Hot Chili Peppers album or song. The brilliant minds come up with Californication by Bret Easton Ellis, Scar Tissue by J.G. Ballard, and my personal favorite:
-e e cummings
October 5, 2004
I was scared to read Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" -- scared I wasn't up to the task. Not the task of reviewing it, mind you -- the task of reading it. The copy sat on my desk as if bordered by an electric fence: Achtung! For weeks I dug into the lightest fare on my bookshelf rather than face the crackling energy this book promised. What, I shuddered to think, would he write about now?
Gilbert High School librarian Tally Satterthwaite, who I criticized in a recent post, wants to set the record straight about the removal of a book from her library:
The article to which he refers, thinking that I banned a book, was a shortened one. The full one, which ran in the community version of the same paper, included a less jazzy discussion of my method of selecting the book: from a "quick picks for young adult reluctant readers" list of ALA, I proceeded to a Library Journal review of the book. The excellent qualities of the book were enumerated, but the very explicit discussion of sex techniques was not mentioned. When I heard there was a problem in one of our other schools, I examined the book (the content--not just the Table of Contents--the article was incorrect in that detail) and decided that it was not appropriate for our collection.
Had the mother in the article taken her complaint to the appropriate parties, this would have been a non-story. Of course, she did choose to use the media...hmmm. As it is, the book has not been "banned" in our community; it is not available at my library nor, if the story is correct, at the others. It is flying off the shelves at our local bookstores, naturally, and I imagine it is probably available through other libraries that serve a wider, older community of users.
Will a woman win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year?
Libraries are moving toward radio frequency identification (RFID) to help manage inventory and prevent theft. Privacy advocates are unhappy, but John Ashcroft is probably stroking his chin, thinking of the possibilities:
As RFID technology becomes more advanced, (privacy advocates) warn, it could allow both the tracking of books borrowed by a reader and the tracking of the reader via his library books. This could permit the government or other interested parties to compile a list of readers who have checked out books on particular topics - a potential invasion of privacy that civil-rights advocates find troubling.
Oh, Michel Basilières's column on SF makes my brain hurt. Where to begin?
"Perhaps the most admired and influential American SF writer is Robert A. Heinlein." Really? After I read that, I asked some hardcore geeks who they thought the most influential American SF writer was, and no one replied Heinlein. When I asked if they thought he was admired, the standard answer was, "Well, he wrote some good stuff, but most of it is just fascist pulp." (Their answers on who is? Ellison, Dick, and Asimov were mentioned most often.)
He goes on to quote from a Heinlein short story (not one that is held up as even being groundbreaking or influential) and concludes, "The above is an example of the kind of stupidity (or, let’s be generous and say Error of Common Sense) that turns many people away from science fiction." This is about as ridiculous as the Globe & Mail article that concluded people don't read SF anymore because the book 2001 didn't come true. There are reasons people don't read SF. They're probably along the lines of "Nobody in the mainstream media writes intelligently about SF on a regular basis, leaving readers to fend for themselves, and when they do write about it, they write crap like this."
Of course, he is right about a few things. SF needs to open itself up a bit. It has the same problems as the comic book industry: it's not so nice to the newbie readers. (Of course, Basilières also wrote: "Critical histories and encyclopedias insist on completeness in their listings instead of importance, to the point of wasting time on television shows and comic books.") But the problem seems to be that this column treats SF as if it's precious (and not in the good definition of the word), and as if SF is so much more different than any other genre. Just replace some names (Stephen King for a column on horror; Nora Roberts for a column on romance; Steve Niles for a column on comics; Zadie Smith for a column on literary fiction) and you've got yourself a year's worth of columns. Of course the hacks outsell the quality. Of course many talented writers tend to write a lot of crappy filler in order to pay the bills. Blah blah blah, we've heard it all before.
So just a note to magazine and newspaper editors: can you please hire people who are knowledgable about a genre and actually like the goddamn genre to write about it? You've found some for mysteries. Now find some for SF and comics.
Nerve really knows how to grab the audience's attention. "If you consider the tale of a teenage girl fucking a married man in the ass with a vinyl dildo a raunchy one, then Melissa Panarello, author of 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed (translated from Italian by Lawrence Venuti), has written a veritably raunchy book." So starts out their interview with Panarello.
"Announcing the most significant publishing event in the history of Chicago." Well, I don't know about that, but The Encyclopedia of Chicago is making me drool. It's released tomorrow with a trivia contest and celebration at the Harold Washington Library.
Bookslut issue #29 went up yesterday. Marjane Satrapi sat down with Annie Tully to talk about how she answers the question "Where are you from?", the political situation in France, and her cringing at being compared to Maus. Satrapi is also the subject of the first installment of Stripped Books, Gordon McAlpin's comic chronicle of literary life in Chicago, IL. He reports on Satrapi's reading and signing at Women and Children First, drawn in Satrapi's style. David Rees was kind enough to talk with Sharon Adarlo about New York City radio, why the strip might be ending, and why the hell he's using clip art. Sharon Adarlo also turns in her latest installment of Judging a Book By Its Cover, and this month she looks at the deluge of the fall publishing season.
In reviews, we have the latest by Meredith Brosnan, Kim Harrison, McSweeney's, Philip Roth, Adrian Tomine, Susan Orlean, and more.
October 4, 2004
"I wanted to tell the story from the inside, not to be analytical," said Satrapi, 34, during her recent U.S. book tour. Instead of "reducing (Iran) to an abstract notion," she brings it to life through the specifics of her life and a tart, rebellious point of view.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is one of the better graphic novels I've read. You should check it out.
Looking for a gift for the short story fan in your life? Look no further.
Speaking of Turner Classic Movies, they're having a Graham Greene fest on October 11th to celebrate his 100th birthday. They'll be showing seven films, from The Third Man to Travels With My Aunt. Maybe not as good as Evil Children night, but close.
Under the auspices of Just Folks - described by the Office for American Absorption as a "volunteer programme for city youth to reconnect with the American heartland" - Sandy was sent to live in Kentucky for a month. He came back having eaten bacon and extolling the virtues of the Christian South. My father was horrified. I was fascinated. Aunt Evelyn was delighted. She had married Rabbi Bengelsdorf and was thrilled to have been invited to the White House to meet General von Ribbentrop.
Current copyright law: destroying families and making descendents look like assholes.
Michael Bérubé recently finished up Thomas Frank week on his blog. He responds to Frank's attacks on the "cultural studies" and false arguments in his books, articles, and interviews. Read the prequel first, then his post on Frank's comments on media consolidation, and his final post on cultural wars.
Whoa, whoa, whoa Oscar Wilde was gay?
People who read the Da Vinci Code: STOP TRAVELING TO OTHER COUNTRIES. Your crazy antics are making us all look crazy. Even if we get rid of George W. Bush, our reputation will never recover if you guys keep going to France and invading people's farms, or going to Italy and insisting you know more about the art and the supposed conspiracies behind it than the tour guides.
Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves is interviewed at Salon. She discusses the strange origins of the tests, the personality tests she's taken online, and the "I lie sometimes: true or false" question you see on job applications. (She should have used the place I applied to last year as a case study. I was asked to take two hours of personality tests just during the introductory interview. Evidently I passed, but I probably lied on the "I lie sometimes" question.)
The new issue of Bookslut will be up this afternoon. (Could have been up last night, but it was Evil Children night on Turner Classic Movies.) You can either try back then, or join our notification list and an e-mail will be sent out. We're changing up our notification list a bit, adding a giveaway to each month's newsletter. This month we're giving away copies of Killing the Buddha, so subscribe by sending a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in winning.
The other major change around here is Michael Schaub will be my co-blogger for a while. He's smarter than me, reads more of those big, important books, and if the New York Times readers are going to stick around, we're going to have to class the joint up a bit.
October 1, 2004
Do you really like sex? Do you really like libraries? Do you really like sex in libraries? Then you should move to Decatur, Illinois.
Do you like sex? Do you like libraries? Do you like sex in libraries? Francine Fialkoff is torn.
The British Library has resolved a crime that took place 500 years ago in medieval Italy by buying an illuminated page and reuniting it with the book from which it was removed by a light-fingered monk in the 1490s.
Heartening news for progressives in my hometown. The Current profiles Char Miller, author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas.
Comic book fans and Dr. Who enthusiasts, take note: Cary Tennis wants to save you from a lifetime of "fat, sweaty, bald virginhood."
As Banned Books Week comes to a close, it's good to see more people getting in the spirit. Let's hear it for the high school librarians and administrators of Gilbert, Arizona, who pulled Deal with It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a gURL from their shelves. In fairness, the book discusses sex, and it's absolutely vital we protect the minds of high school students, none of whom have ever heard of sex before.
"I turned right to the table of contents and went, 'No, no, no. This has too much specific sexual information for my library,'" (Gilbert High School librarian Tally) Satterthwaite said.
You know what would have been a good time to make that decision, Tally Satterthwaite? Before you ordered the fucking book for your library.
Albom’s earlier book, Tuesdays with Morrie, may have been hailed as “uplifting,” but it only made me want to die, alone and quickly.