November 30, 2004
A manuscript of Truman Capote's unpublished first novel, which the author abandoned and claimed to have destroyed, has been found in a box of papers and will be auctioned this week at Sotheby's.
It's called Summer Crossing, and it probably won't be published.
For reasons that I have long since forgotten, the Pogues were my favorite band in high school. I still love them. But I really identified with them in those halcyon years from 1991 to 1995, despite the fact that I didn't drink or do (very many) drugs then. I am part Irish, but that doesn't explain much. They might have been the most literary band to come out of punk rock, even putting James Joyce (among others) on the original cover of their greatest album, If I Should Fall from Grace with God. (James no longer graces the cover, but he once did. Trust me.)
At any rate, Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan talks to the Guardian about their upcoming (sort of) reunion and his favorite authors (Hemingway, Wilde, Behan). Reporter Dave Simpson also reveals that Sinead O'Connor once turned MacGowan into the police for using heroin, which has nothing to do with books but is interesting nonetheless.
Feel free to celebrate the reunion by reading MacGowan's memoir, A Drink with Shane MacGowan, or Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy, which significantly influenced MacGowan's career. Or better yet, buy Fall from Grace or the equally brilliant Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. And yeah, I know the connection to literature here is tenuous at best, but you'd do the same thing for the guys who got you through high school.
(Thanks to Maud for the link, and the concomitant trip down memory lane.)
That's going to take a lot of cleaning up. But it's a good start, I guess.
The Christian Science Monitor dubs Michael Chabon "the coolest writer in America."
China Mieville lists some things that he knows at the Guardian.
I still remember the day when someone in the playground realised China rhymed with vagina.
What is the point of Books of the Year, that seasonal ritual which is as much part of Christmas as cheese footballs? Every year, literary editors feel that there is nothing their readers want more than a group of superannuated literary types telling them what they have enjoyed during the previous 12 months. There is no evidence that anyone reads these self-satisfied musings, but the papers persist anyway, competing desperately for the glitziest names.
Can comics make you a better writer? Let's hope comics can also make you a better illustrator, because what the hell is up with that purple guy?
Every year when the Best of! madness begins, it's amusing to see which publications actually read some comic books. Amazon seems to think The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker is a graphic novel, and made some decisions in their list that makes you realize they probably didn't read very many comics. Barnes and Noble chose two books that weren't even comics. So it's a relief to see that at least one person at Publisher's Weekly knew what they were doing when they compiled their list of the best comics of the year. Even if I still don't understand the allure of Seth.
November 29, 2004
Soft Skull has responded to Megan Kelso's comments about the anthology she edited, Scheherazade. (Read my initial post on this subject from Friday here.) The forum comments of which he speaks are here.
First off, Richard Nash should know listening to anything on online forums is a mistake. The comments are not coming from TCJ itself, so don't feel obligated to defend yourself against them. Now, I have not seen the book myself. I don't know if the work is "unreadable" like Kelso claims, or if like Nash says, the average reader won't even notice. But all of this is made much more complicated by the fact that Soft Skull is a small, independent press. Pantheon might have been able to scrap 3,000 copies of a graphic novel, but Soft Skull cannot.
What I would have liked to see in Nash's response is a scan of the artwork in question. Will readers really not notice? Show us. The problem is so many of Soft Skull's readers are very loyal, read the website, and now know the first run of this book is fucked. If a second run happens, I will probably buy it, but without proof that it's not unreadable, I wouldn't buy the first run. It's disappointing this happened, it's disappointing the printer itself did not catch the problems, and it's disappointing that there are so many fingers being pointed when there doesn't seem to be on culprit.
So here's to a second run. Soft Skull has been doing some good things in comix publishing, and I hope this doesn't discourage them in any way.
I'm linking to these reviews of Jimmy Buffett's novel A Salty Piece of Land not because they're particularly interesting, but because of the headlines: "Wasting away in lousy novel-ville" (The Oregonian) and "Like a boat party where you're the only one sober" (Orlando Sentinel).
Almost eight months ago, (Black Images Book Bazaar owners) Emma Rodgers and Ashira Tosihwe announced plans to take down their shingle when their lease expires next summer. They say the little shop can no longer compete with chain bookstores, discount department stores and online retailers.
Customers fear losing more than a place to shop. Through its 27 years, the store has been as much a gathering place for the black community as it has been a rich source of literature and literacy, a place to meet guest authors and swap business cards or catch up on the latest in the neighborhood.
Man, how many books by former blues singers about German clothing during World War II, and the Nazis' attempts to use fashion to reinforce their ideas of race and gender, are going to be released this year? Oh, just one? OK. The Houston Chronicle profiles Irene Guenther, author of Nazi Chic?: Fashioning Women in the Third Reich.
What the Nazis hoped to do, Guenther explains, was to come up with a fashion and style that both "included and excluded." It includes their ideal of blue-eyed, blond Aryan women, whether it be a farm girl or a woman in uniform. And it excluded Jewish women.
"They constructed these images. A 'good' German woman looked one way," she said. "And a 'degenerate' Jewish woman wore too much makeup, jewelry and looked 'cheap.' In the anti-Semitic newspapers you read that over and over again."
Dee Mondschein writes an appropriately deferential, affectionate review of the late Alistair Cooke's Letter from America, 1946-2004. A Briton who loved America, Cooke explains a lot when he writes "Americans who have not been in Europe tend to imagine what is best about her, Europeans who have not been to America tend to imagine what is worst."
In Salon, Karen Maroda publishes her 1998 interview with the ailing Dr. Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse Beuscher, Sylvia Plath's therapist and dear friend. Now that everyone involved in Plath's life and death has been interviewed, written about, poked and prodded, can we please move on to the next dead writer?
George Saunders has a plan to save Iraq.
This means that there are approximately twelve Americans for every Iraqi. This means that, if we all go, each American will be responsible for one-twelfth of an Iraqi. An Iraqi family of five will thus be attended by sixty Americans. We will come, this second wave of three hundred million of us, unarmed. We will bring nothing but ourselves. We will simply show up, saying, “What would you like for dinner?” While we cook, our Iraqis can just relax. God knows they have had a terrible couple of years. We will encourage them to sit on their couches, if they still have couches, while we clean up after dinner. We will bring them coffee, tea, dessert, whatever they like. All these months, we have winced from over here, imagining their pain. Once we are there, we will do what we can to say, “We like you, and want the best for you. We’re sorry. This was not what we intended. No matter what it might have looked like to you, we have always wished you well.”
After dinner, our Iraqis will smile, whispering among themselves. “Not so bad, these unarmed ones,” they will say. “That coffee was super.”
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh is planning to direct a film when work finishes on his next movie, Meat Trade.
Canada averages almost one literary festival a week. Whether or not this rise in literary readings is a good thing is debatable.
At the Contra Costa Times, which should know better, a rather shallow review of Peter Laufer's Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border. Reviewer Jack Chang writes:
The other fundamental problem is Laufer treats advocates for less immigration largely with contempt, dismissing their words as the invective of angry cranks. Such advocates seem to always spit out their words in Laufer's book, while pro-immigration activists simply say them.
Which, I think, says more about immigration opponents than about Laufer. To be fair, I have an opinion about this too. And since this is a blog and I don't hae to worry about equal time: Boycott Taco Bell.
New Guardian quiz: books into film.
The libraries of Buffalo and Erie County are having a serious budget crisis. "The proposed $19 million cut represents an 80% reduction from the $24 million in library property tax received from Erie County in 2004. The loss of these local funds triggers a reduction of an additional $2.8 million in State Library Aid as well as the loss of other library operating revenue. All 52 libraries across Erie County WILL CLOSE!" (Thanks to Scott for the link.)
Sarah Vowell is interviewed by Nick Hornby at the Independent about her books Take the Cannoli and The Partly Cloudy Patriot, her upcoming book about the tourist industry's love of political assassinations and how she got the Pixar gig.
Then I got an email from the producer. It was just the sort of left-field - that's a baseball term, so insert some crickety British phrase if you'd like when you go back and start putting a bunch of extra letter U's in my words - offer I turn down without blinking. But it was from Pixar. They're the best at what they do, the most universally culturally revered. It's like if Nelson Mandela showed up asking for your help to fight racism. Maybe fighting racism isn't normally your thing. Maybe you're more of an armchair racism hater. But if Mandela was standing at your door asking you to get on the bus, you'd just start putting on your shoes, right?
Dylan Thomas died not from drinking too much, but from pneumonia that initially went undiagnosed so says a new biography of the Welsh poet and playwright. It also appears that Thomas didn't drink eighteen whiskeys, as his famous last words would indicate, but instead only downed about eight. That's good. Eighteen would mean he had a problem, but eight yeah, eight's fine.
Silver Bullet Comic Books reviews a few comic book blogs.
The world is full of brilliant writers who don't have the widespread recognition they deserve, but very few are as good as Percival Everett. James Sallis at the Boston Globe presents an overview of the novelist's career, and finds him to be "too smart for the house." He's right. (Check out next month's issue of Bookslut, up next week, for a review of A History of the African-American People [Proposed] by Strom Thurmond: A Novel, which Everett co-authored.)
November 26, 2004
If this had been X: The Last Woman, and a mysterious plague had killed all of the females, the men of that world would have started lobbing nukes at each other three seconds after it happened. And if any of those males survived this nuclear holocaust, they'd probably spend the rest of their lives raping cockroaches and hitting each other with sticks. The unmanned world of Y is a lot more complex and interesting, I hope.
Hayao Miyazaki's latest film Howl's Moving Castle is based on Dianna Wynne Jones's book of the same name and is breaking box office records in Japan. You can read more about the movie, including a production diary, here.
The artwork in 8 of the 23 stories is all but unreadable. 84 pages, comprising more than a third of the book were printed wrong. The publisher, Richard Nash, mistakenly authorized a production change that the printers requested in the final hour---which led to the misprint. I had done all the production work on the book, but was never consulted about this change. Ironically, if the printers had correctly executed the changes they proposed, the book would have come out fine-but in fact, they screwed it up. This is not a matter of the artwork looking too dark or too light or less than perfect. The affected stories have lost all their gray shading, background detail, and in some cases, faces and text are unreadable. Readers know that in comics, images and text are equal partners; comics need clear images as much as words to be understood.
Kelso attempted to have the run of books destroyed, but Soft Skull released the damaged books anyway. This is a huge disappointment, as the lineup of comic writers and artists is very impressive, and it would have been a great book. Soft Skull's website is still listing the book as "forthcoming" with no mention of the problems.
A former aficionado of the vintage girl-power anime series Sailor Moon, the twenty-six-year-old Michigan illustrator known as Pluto has a new passion. She now spends her days drawing hot young men who cruise, pursue and inevitably fuck the bejesus out of each other. In collaboration with a friend, she has been working on a story titled Bottled Up; the plot involves a hapless dreamboat who seeks help from a male spirit for a "performance" problem. As treatment, the spirit (who resembles a willowy Heath Ledger) unzips the boy's pants, drops to his knees and introduces the young hero to pleasures hitherto unknown.
Nerve profiles yaoi comics, a gay manga subgenre.
Boy, Alternet is a buzzkill. Their choice of articles to post on Thanksgiving? "The bountiful feast on our holiday tables conceals the growing corporate stranglehold on our food system – and what it's doing to our bodies and the planet." and "If the worst is yet to come from this administration, it's going to be hard to save room for all the outrage and indignation that's coming our way." Exactly what I want to be thinking about on Thanksgiving, how my sweet potatoes are killing me.
Luckily, they also have an interview with Dan Clowes, so I can forgive them. Clowes talks mostly about his upcoming feature film Art School Confidential with Terry Zwigoff. My only complaint: get someone other than a fan boy to write the article. "If the cinematic adaptation of “Art School Confidential” is as rich as Clowes' latest issue of "Eightball," then we'll all be lottery winners when it's over." I mean, really.
Algonquin has put Larry Brown's obituary on their website.
November 24, 2004
Neal Pollack presents his top five books of 2004.
"The notion that chefs are sexy is pretty funny. We smell of smoked salmon. We have peppercorns stuck under our fingernails. We have drinking problems. And we like to hang out with other chefs talking about cooking 'til 4 in the morning. If that sounds like a dream date to you ..." Coming from Anthony Bourdain? Good God yes, it does.
It's family time, so let's read about families more fucked up than yours. Sure, you have to cook an extravagant meal and clean the apartment until it's spotless in a vain attempt to make your parents accept you as an adult, presenting a pile of your clippings hoping that your dad will stop asking you when you're going to get a real job, and your plan is to start drinking... oh, fuck it, pretty much now. But at least you're not one of the people interviewed for Growing Up Fast! Read this excellent interview with author Joanna Lipper at the Boston Phoenix, and feel a little bit better about your holiday at home.
Smoking is a wonderful thing; even quite unattractive people look sexy doing it and they don't just look good, they actually feel good too.
Alexander Waugh is nonplussed by Smoke: A Global History of Smoking, and stakes out his claim as a non-smoker who's not necessarily anti-smoking. I'm a smoker who might have quit a long time ago if it weren't for those obnoxious public service announcements telling me what a moron I am to even think about buying a pack of cigarettes. In the words of comedian Bill Hicks: "I'll smoke, I'll cough, I'll get the tumors, I'll die. Deal?"
Nuala O'Faolain was rather indiscreet in her memoirs about her former lover Nell McCafferty. McCafferty, the famous and very important feminist and social activist, responded with her own memoir Nell, a book I'll probably have to import from the UK.
I bet this story will make you feel a bit sheepish! In fact, you might say that this poetry was written on the lamb! After reading this, you should flock to Northumberland, and let mutton stand in your way! Huh? Huh?
You know what? I don't have to fucking entertain you.
The Borders in Minneapolis is allowing its employees to unionize.
November 23, 2004
This textbook contains material on gravity. Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding a force that cannot be directly seen. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
(Link via Political Wire.)
More on my home state's tireless efforts to indoctrinate schoolchildren with Christian right-wing bigotry. Susan Pagani of the San Antonio Current reports on the Texas textbook controversy.
The other downside is that Texas' teens are now stuck with a textbook that focuses so much on excluding various sexual orientations that it provides only the narrowest definition of family. "What's disappointing to me is not just that a definition that will demean or discourage gay teens is in the books," explains [Jennifer] Bilbrey [of Planned Parenthood]. "But that it also demeans all kinds of other Texans who parent in different ways. We have kids in school who are the products of single moms and all kinds of different family relationships, who will look at that definition and think - that's not where I come from."
Poet Sarah Gambito, founder of the writer's retreat Kundiman and author of the forthcoming Matadora, never forgot the 1982 hate crime that took the life of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American draftsman, in Michigan. This year, Kundiman and literary journal Manoa introduce the Vincent Chin Memorial Chapbook Prize. Desiree Cooper at the Detroit Free Press writes a moving column about Chin, Gambito, and the new prize. The deadline for submissions is December 15.
It's only November, but I feel safe in awarding the annual Most Useless Book Review of the Year award to Knight Ridder, for their trenchant, penetrating, and above all brave reflection on wait for it Guinness World Records 2005. The long-awaited verdict: It's "fun to include in your home library."
Steel Claw. Robot Archie. Cursitor Doom. Hardcore comic book historians might recognize these British superheroes, dormant since the 1970s, but the rest of us will probably greet the names with blank stares. That's all going to change the titles will be brought back by British magazine publisher IPC in a six-part series called Albion. The most exciting news for comic fans:
Alan Moore is best-known for a pair of graphic novels, Watchmen and From Hell, and is revered for creating gritty, realistic strips with superheroes who bleed, get injured and die. His vision for Albion, which he is writing with his daughter Leah, is thought unlikely to be a cheery portrayal of contemporary Britain.
If you missed this summer's presentation of Ira Glass's and Chris Ware's Lost Buildings, they are releasing the show on DVD for the WBEZ pledge drive. The DVD comes with a 96-page booklet with previously unpublished pictures of Louis Sullivan buildings, and the DVD itself is full of extras. However, the only way you can get it is to pledge your support.
Michiko might be shying away from the word "limn," but here's hoping she uses the phrase "hoity-toity toffs" in every review from now on. She looks at Booker winner The Line of Beauty in today's Times.
Alexa led me to the bed in the middle of the enormous room and pulled me down beside her. I kissed her breasts and ran my hand between her thighs. She gripped my shoulders tightly. Unlike the first time I made love to Alexa, when the ecstasy had been eroded by a sense of anxiety and uncertainty, I was sucked into this moment as quickly and completely as if I had placed my feet in quicksand. Memories from years ago blended with intense physical excitement in a driving, pounding torrent of passion.
Posting might be a bit off and on this week, depending on how desperately Mike or I may need to get away from our families. Just a warning.
November 22, 2004
It would be so easy to link to this story with a pithy sentence like "Michigan librarians want jail time for overdue book offenders," but the real story is much more complex, and much less sensational, than that. Nevertheless:
I bet Jay Leno is having a fucking field day with this one.
That's Joseph Bottum at the Weekly Standard. I haven't yet read I Am Charlotte Simmons, and I don't think Wolfe is America's greatest living novelist, but I think he's certainly one of them. The Bonfire of the Vanities is one of my favorite novels, and before I get a thousand angry messages from the idiot "fuck the South" blue-state crowd, I'll point out that I'm a proud red-state progressive Democrat and I'll put my liberal bona fides against anybody's. (That came out more suggestive than I'd planned.)
(Link from Kevin at Collected Miscellany, a conservative who is not a Wolfe fan. Take that, literary stereotypes.)
Worthy short-story anthologies spring up by the hundreds every year, but South Africa's most esteemed literary light has marshaled the talents of 20 of her peers throughout the world to produce a most unusual one as a benefit for the fight against AIDS.
And why don't we just go ahead and make this working class day at Bookslut. Between Featherstone and Ehrenreich interviews, a few words about Peter Kuper's adaptation of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle will fit right in. The more I have read it and the more I have stared at the artwork, the more I love it. In fact, I'm hoping and praying someone buys me this print of the strike scene for Christmas. It was a little startling how much Kuper cut out of The Jungle, but he managed to distill it down to its core, changing the focus from "Oh, slaughterhouse conditions were gross" to its original purpose as a scathing criticism of society. Buy it for the crazy anarchist on your Christmas list.
Superman is too good a role model. Fans of the man from Krypton unwittingly compare themselves to the superhero, and realise they do not measure up. And as a result, they are less likely to help other people.
Barbara Ehrenreich has been awarded the $100,000 2004 Puffin/Nation Prize for "exposing truths largely ignored by the media, most notably the day-to-day indignities endured by the nation's working poor.” MSNBC interviews Ehrenreich about what she's going to do with the money, and her upcoming book on unemployment.
The Sunday Times presents a poetry hat trick. Poet Brad Leithauser (The Mail from Anywhere) reflects on Richard Howard's Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003. Terrence Rafferty reviews the brilliant Breath: Poems, the latest by the indispensable Philip Levine. Best of all, Leon Wieseltier presents unpublished fragments from the late Yehuda Amichai, Israel's greatest poet, and one of the greatest of the 20th century. Even if you don't care much about poetry, Amichai's verse (start with Open Closed Open) will take your breath away.
Lit Idol begins. God help us all.
The Washington Post publishes a thoughtful review of four recently released graphic novels among them, Rent Girl and Bighead. It's a great article, but why is the Post letting a girl review comic books?
I know it's very hip to like Peanuts right now. The first two volumes of The Complete Peanuts are out and every comic book writer in the world talks about how influential Charles Schultz was. Well, I don't get it. Don't think it's funny. Right up there with The Family Circus. Reading Jonathan Franzen trying to explain why it Changed His Life FOREVER is certainly not helping. (So, is he out of his Al Gore phase now? No more beard, fat, and reclusiveness? 'Cause that phase helped me like him. If he's going to be around, writing his wacky articles, it's going to be difficult to remember that I liked The Corrections.)
Over at Nextbook, Daniel Oppenheimer is writing about Jewish science fiction. Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison are Jewish, but you'd never know it from their writing. Any science fiction not published in Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction lacks a strong Jewish identity. So, the question remains. How the hell do you make an SF story Jewish.
"On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi" can be read as a projection of contemporary American anxieties about Jewishness. David Brin has said that his novel Kiln People (2002), in which people can transfer their consciousnesses to and from expendable clay doppelgängers, is a gloss on the story of the Golem. The Devil's Arithmetic (1988), a young-adult novel by Jane Yolen, uses a magical Passover seder to send a girl back to a Jewish village in Poland in 1942. The short story "Lifeblood" (2003), by Michael Burstein, has a cantor rescue a Jewish family threatened by a vampire. "I think every Jewish fantasy writer wants to write a scene," says Burstein, "where somebody holds up a Star of David to scare away a vampire."
November 19, 2004
Nonetheless, the day after the most recent Tuesday the Earth Stood Still, Salon.com treated us to a "What Now?" roundtable featuring the comments of several young writers who are easy to reach via e-mail. Heidi Julavits, a very nice person, was among them, having qualified because her magazine, the Believer, endorsed John Kerry, thereby clinching him the "people who think graphic novels are art" vote. Julavits [informs] us that her "Italian friend" believes America is now "medieval"--as opposed to Italy? The personal fiefdom of an unscrupulous media baron? The country that enjoys a rail strike every 15 minutes?
I never thought I'd read the words "value-adding" and "poetry" in the same headline, but here you go. Australian poet Beth Spencer has started offering free downloads of her collection Things in a Glass Box on her website.
Damn The Atlantic for only allowing subscribers to access their Books section online. But if you can make friends with a subscriber and get their login information, or perhaps subscribe to one of the best magazines out there, you should read their interview with Marilynne Robinson about her new book Gilead.
Good news from a red state. North Liberty, Iowa, librarian Jennie Garner invited young adult fiction author Chris Crutcher to speak at a community center. Crutcher's story "In the Time I Get" (which is included in his book Athletic Shorts) which deals with a gay man who has AIDS, was challenged by right-wing parents in nearby Solon, Iowa.
West High junior Stephanie Wu said she disagreed with recent criticism of Crutcher's work.
"It's sort of ridiculous that they were contemplating banning anyone at all. That's censorship," said Wu, 16. "If we're able to talk about the Holocaust and slavery we should be able to teach about homosexuality."
It's both sad and encouraging that kids like Stephanie can discuss this matter so much more intelligently than the middle-aged homophobes who challenged Crutcher's story in the first place. The good news: Stephanie will be able to vote in two years. If I were a Republican, I wouldn't get too used to winning in Iowa.
The family of society killer Matthew Wales yesterday urged the public not to support his new tell-all book. Wales' brother-in-law yesterday described Warts and All, penned by one of Wales' prison mates, as hurtful and inaccurate.
The best way to get the public to boycott a book, apparently, is to contact the major newspapers and give the author as much free publicity as humaly possible.
Comic books! In the libraries! Spreading filth and, uh, words in balloons! Michelle Gillespie was shocked, shocked! to discover her seventh grader reading an X-Men comic that had come from her school library. (Granted, it is a Grant Morrison comic.) Gillespie goes on to say she can't believe the library would stock something other than E. B. White. E. B. White, folks. Author of Charlotte's Web. For a seventh grader.
Gillespie was also upset that her daughter had been allowed to bring a book home from the library. She said she had signed a paper at the beginning of the school year to that effect because she didn't think Ashley was responsible enough.
Bookslut should start a new charity: Books for kids with crazy parents. Of course we'll also have to get them a chest or box of some sort with a false bottom to hide them in. Based on the news reports lately, the demand will surely be high.
Dayvid Figler comments on the Nevada poet laureate mess in the Las Vegas Mercury.
Norman Kaye may be an 82-year-old real estate agent who gave up the showbiz life more than 40 years ago. He may be completely ignorant of poetic sensibility and device. He may be unable to travel, to communicate with the kiddies about the importance or even the structure of poetry. But Norman Kaye is rightfully a legendary Nevadan who, in desperately clinging to some modicum of past glory by fighting for his right to stay poet laureate, embodies the poetry of this place. I don't know if it's a metaphor, a simile or merely a lovely allusion, but if the powers that be want to find an ideal representation of what it means to dream, achieve and be forgotten like a Nevadan; to struggle with success, change and legacy like Las Vegas itself--they should not replace Norman Kaye, but strive to elevate him to a more visible role.
The Detroit Free Press profiles Kevin Boyle, the Ohio State history professor who won the nonfiction NBA for Arc of Justice : A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age.
Each season, Knopf will offer you the chance to read—and review—books before they hit stores. The titles on offer will usually be fiction, but we'll certainly throw in a few true stories for good measure. The common thread between all of the picks is that they are titles that have us talking, books we expect to break out and become tomorrow's bestsellers.
To get involved, sign up using the form below. For each title offered, we'll choose up to 50 participants to receive the book. If you're chosen, we'll send a follow up e-mail to solicit your reviews of the book. At our discretion, many of your reviews will be posted right here on The Borzoi Reader.
"There’s a dearth of beer-drinking journalists these days," notes [Ken] Wells. "It’s something that I think is missing." The Boston Phoenix follows Wells around, drinking beer and talking about his new book Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America.
There is a book out there like The Ring. After reading it, you either die or become a senseless blowhard.
Narrated by an ethnically ambiguous "cock sucker," Hogg relays 72 hours wherein the 11-year-old hooks up with a burly, nail-gnawing, one-shoed trucker, Hogg, and accompanies him as a willing sex slave with a motley crew of rape artists to victimize women (and some men). Eventually, one of the younger crew members, a compulsive masturbator named Denny, goes on a killing spree, and the orgy shifts to cum-stained detective story. Besides suggesting more interesting ideas for body fluids than Guyotat's Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers—a cinched foreskin creates curdled cum and a mouth of shit offers a warm bull's-eye—the book can be read as Hogg's coming-of-middle-age love story.
November 18, 2004
Lynn Walterick corrects some misperceptions about The Women's Review of Books' hiatus at MobyLives.
But readers who have no familiarity with, or only passing awareness of, the Review's situation could come away from the Chronicle article—though this is not to fault its reporting—thinking that an admixture of circumstances in the academic and publishing worlds, indeed in the society overall, has, in these years of change and hard decisions, simply led to the inevitable end of the road. Too bad, but so it goes: a lament for our times.
Canada has a new poet laureate. Pauline Michel is a Francophone who lives in Montreal, but she says, "I'm very happy and hope to represent poetry well in both languages."
President Bush awarded the National Medal of Arts to SF novelist Ray Bradbury and poet Anthony Hecht yesterday. (Hecht's widow Helen Hecht accepted the award on his behalf.) Missing from the lineup were Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine Bruner, authors of "The Pet Goat." (Link via Bookninja.)
Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski is afraid that his favorite obscure writers are all going to disappear, and the thought of all the lost geniuses out of print keeps him up at night, on the Internet.
In a review titled "Leaves of Ass," John Freeman of City Pages asks, "Why won't anyone finish publishing Walt Whitman's letters?" It's part of the newsweekly's special books issue, which also includes the mandatory review of I Am Charlotte Simmons (and yeah, we'll probably review it too, eventually). Best of all, Dylan Hicks (fast becoming one of my favorite book journalists in the country) has a profile of vigilante cab driver-cum-writer James "Jaws" Newberg, author of Two Fisted Cab Driving Tales. Man, if more alternative newsweeklies published special book issues rather than running three-page editorials about the lack of adequate bike trails, I would be a happy man indeed.
David Mitchell admits he was "deflated" after he didn't win the Booker Prize for Cloud Atlas. He also challenged Alan Hollinghurst to a fight to the death "to settle this thing once and for all." Not really. But wouldn't that be cool?
The authors of The Nanny Diaries are one-hit wonders? Who would've thought? In a hilariously mean review, Carol Memmott of USA Today reports that she wasn't blown away by Citizen Girl, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus' follow-up to the 2002 bestseller.
Sadly, having to read this brain-numbing book from start to finish for review purposes was the visual equivalent of a chokehold. You want the miserable experience to come to an end but there's nothing you can do until it's actually over.
The BBC profiles storyteller Kevin Kling.
Ben from They Will Know Us By Our T-Shirts offers an addition to the line of The Gospel According to... books: The Gospel According to the OC.
Chapter 5: Marissa Cooper – Spiritual Warfare or Mental Illness?
She throws furniture in swimming pools, drinks like an unemployed Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day, sleeps with the yard guy, and spends time in a mental hospital. The church has spent years inappropriately labeling mental illness as spiritual warfare. Why stop now?
The Daily Show's website has archived their interview with Tom Wolfe.
Melvin Jules Bukiet is one of my favorite short story writers (he also writes very good novels, but I mostly read and reread his stories). He's a little obscure, so I get excited when I see his name anywhere, even if he's just reviewing books. This week he's reviewing Imre Kertesz's Liquidation and Michael Chabon's The Final Solution for the Washington Post.
November 17, 2004
Alana Semuels of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes a wonderful story about Chinese dissident poet Huang Xiang, who now lives in Pittsburgh. He's one of the writers who has come to the U.S. via the City of Asylum project. Pittsburgh is the fourth American city to join the project the others are Las Vegas, Ithaca, and Santa Fe. (Post-Gazette link via Choriamb.)
Frieda Hughes says that her father omitted from the original Ariel only those poems that he thought would hurt other people, alienate readers or damage Plath's literary standing. He told her: "I simply wanted to make it the best book I could."
Far from being a controlling figure, Ted Hughes was the "victim" of Plath's poetic "mastery", their daughter concludes. Her explanations, however, do not account for all the poems – almost a third of the total – that he withheld in 1965 (the astonishing The Rabbit Catcher, for instance). But even if Hughes was trying to protect himself, he was protecting his two children, too.
But I saw that movie Sylvia, and it wasn't like that at all!
A decaying industrial building in Hoboken, N.J., isn't where you'd look for the offices of the American publisher for France's literary and political elite. Yet it is where Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians, founders of Melville House Books, have set up shop.
The New York Sun profiles one of the best small presses in the world, Melville House. Johnson, who Jessa interviewed for Bookslut two months ago, also runs Moby Lives, the godfather of all book blogs. If you're not familiar with either Melville House or Moby Lives, go get acquainted. Johnson is a true American genius, and the world of literature is much richer for his, and Valerie Merians', efforts.
I took this class because of Prof. Wallace's reputation as an author. What a mistake! This guy just likes to hear himself talk, and he won't shut up. He knows how to play the part of a enigmatic "genius" all right.
Tonight's the night. Drunken authors and literary groupies will stalk the streets of Manhattan. Garrison Keillor will say lots of folksy shit. And the five women from New York will be narrowed down to one woman from New York. It's the National Book Awards, y'all.
(In other NBA news, my San Antonio Spurs continue their march to the world championship tomorrow night in Philadelphia. Last night, they humiliated the Knicks, or as I like to call them, "five women from New York.")
We tend to take it for granted, but the alphabet was a human invention. Without it, we wouldn't read books and newspapers or write shopping lists and e-mails. We would have to rely on recitations and recordings to transmit language. But as vital and visible as the letters of the alphabet are, they usually go unappreciated.
Next week's column: it's especially nice to have oxygen in the air, followed by, how about that fire thing?
Crime fiction writer James Patterson's ex-girlfriend Christina Sharp is suing him for copyright infringement and breach of contract, claiming he plagiarized scenes from Cat and Mouse from her letters to him. (Sarah Weinman, of the wonderful Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, has been following this story since it started.)
(Sharp's) suggestions included the following, which reportedly appeared in a 1996 letter to Patterson: "With graceful moonlit choreography, he rocked her back and forth, then forward, to and from then forward, forward, forward -- a sensuous cha-cha-cha to the window."
Patterson's version: "We slowly rocked back and forth, back and forth, a sensuous cha-cha-cha next to the broad picture window."
Plagiarism aside, someone really should go to jail for that.
Bookslut's own Banned Bookslut, Chris Zammarelli, has started Censoround, a blog of books challenged at schools and libraries.
If you are having trouble with your sperm count, why don't you let the world know it and subscribe to Conceive Magazine!
Laurenn McCubbin is interviewed at Movie Poop Shoot about her work with Michelle Tea for the graphic novel Rent Girl, one of my favorite comics of the year. McCubbin talks about the Art Institute in Chicago, her next graphic novel with Tea, and how a book about sex turned out so unerotic.
Jane Sullivan talks to Thorn Birds author Colleen McCullough, who sounds quite charming indeed. It's too bad she seems to be coming down on the side of the Pitcairn Island rapists, though, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that "it’s Polynesian to break your girls in at 12." Karen Willis, a rape crisis counselor, doesn't agree:
“This is just one of those myths,” she said. “It’s not a cultural thing. It’s about patriarchy and male power.”
I should never leave my apartment. I was in Minneapolis for a short vacation/long weekend, and when I returned I was greeted with toppling piles of packages and an inbox it will take me weeks to catch up with. But the good thing about returning was the final additions to my Thanksgiving magazine collection waiting in my mailbox.
So today debuts a new series on the blog, a look at what's good and what's freakishly bad in magazines. This month is on the Thanksgiving issues of cooking magazines. I have to say, I was disappointed. Usually Cook's Illustrated has an outstanding issue, but their "The Last Word on Roast Turkey" was pretty much replicated in every other cooking magazine. And their turkey recipe -- pretty much "brine, then rub with butter and shove in oven" -- left much to be desired. Eating Well on the other hand decided to ignore Thanksgiving all together.
Geared towards: Rich housewives with a personal chef and kitchen assistants.
Number of Thanksgiving menus offered: 1
Vegetarian options: 1
Levels of difficulty: 10. One side dish instructs you to make twenty “purses” of sausage wrapped in Swiss chard leaves. They even demand you make your own “Parmesan cloaks” for your poached pears with quince paste. Gourmet doesn’t even bother to help out with a detailed timeline or a pull out grocery list. And if you’re planning on making their menu, be prepared to shell out some money. You’ll need a lot of specialty items and expensive ingredients.
The vegetarian option is not much more approachable, with its main dish of Roasted Delicata Squash and Mushrooms with Thyme. They do not, by the way, offer a substitution for those who have never heard of Delicata squash.
Recipes I might consider using: Roasted Beet Risotto
Most helpful feature: The taste test of chicken stocks.
Most unreasonable request: Gourmet does love to complicate the simple. Their two page spread on mashed potatoes managed to make the most simple dish on the menu a lot more time consuming. Don’t boil the potatoes, they instruct. Wrap them in foil and bake them. Do not just add butter, milk or chicken stock. Anything you add to the potatoes must be preheated. And don’t even read the gravy article unless you want to spend a week perfecting your browning technique.
Recipes for leftovers: none
Wine coverage: Pairing advice for both traditional menu and vegetarian menu, price ranging from $9 to $32.
Other items they think you need: a $200 tablecloth from France.
Overall: As usual, the photography is top-notch and the writing is a delight – including Ruth Reichl’s remembrances of a mother who couldn’t cook a turkey to save her life. But the food seems about as cozy as a roped off room in a museum. This is an issue to sigh over and look at, but not cook from.
Geared towards: People who can watch Rachel Ray’s shows on the Food Network without wanting to punch her in the face. Also, people really into yoga.
Number of Thanksgiving menus offered: 2
Vegetarian options: 1
Levels of difficulty: 6. Cooking Light tends to be more reasonable than the other cooking magazines. The recipes are straightforward, with little mention of garnish and no superfluous flourishes. The recipes are also conscious of time issues, calling for canned beans instead of dried and mentioning when dishes can be made in the microwave to save valuable oven and stovetop space.
In contrast, the vegetarian option sounds a little crazy. The main dish is Phyllo Purses with Roasted Squash, Peppers, and Artichokes. Until you have mastered phyllo, it will make you want to die. The dessert -- instead of pumpkin pie, which is vegetarian last I heard -- is a Chile-Lime Pineapple with Cardamom-Lime Ice Cream, possibly the least autumnal dessert in all of the magazines.
Wine coverage: No wine information other than perpetuating the myth that really expensive wine glasses will make wine taste even better.
Recipes I might consider using: Herbed Bread Stuffing with Mushrooms and Sausage
Most helpful feature: Interview with Rick Rogers, author of Thanksgiving 101.
Most unreasonable request: That I cook for family not only on Thanksgiving, but also have dinner for them on Wednesday night and leftovers prepared on Friday, a “casual dinner” of three courses on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. And that I do yoga.
Recipes for leftovers: If you once used chicken in a recipe, why not just use turkey now?
Other items they think you need: yoga
Overall: Once you get to the recipes, they’re usually very good. But Cooking Light is more of a lifestyle magazine, and it can be frustrating to flip through a hundred pages of yoga, herbal nonsense, finding the perfect “green” bed for your dog, and “I’m sad. Is it my snack choice?” articles to get to the food.
Geared towards: People intimidated by Gourmet and frightened by Cooking Light’s intended audience.
Number of Thanksgiving menus offered: 5
Vegetarian options: 1 (Surprisingly, it’s positioned right up front, not hidden in the back like most of the other magazines.)
Levels of difficulty: 5 – 8. The large number of menus and the wide range of styles means you can mix and match to find the perfect menu for you. You can either go super fancy, small scale, or family-oriented.
The vegetarian option is the best I’ve seen this year. Simple, but well rounded, and not so obsessed with being arty that it no longer sounds like a Thanksgiving meal. It even suggests pumpkin pie as dessert.
Wine coverage: Suggests a range of Rieslings, none of them over $15.
Recipes I might consider using: Potato and Wild Mushroom Gratin, Thyme-Roasted Turkey with Fresh Thyme Gravy
Most helpful feature: Cranberry Daiquiri recipe. I’ll need about ten before the family gets here.
Most unreasonable request: A coconut dessert on Thanksgiving?
Recipes for leftovers: Making me look forward to the day after.
Other items they think you need: $90 mushrooms
Overall: The Thanksgiving issue is always their best, but Bon Appetit really outdid themselves this year. They have significantly cleaned up their designs, their recipes are enticing, and the variety is excellent. The magazine’s writing could be better, but when I want to flip through back issues to find something for dinner, I always reach for Bon Appetit before Gourmet or Cooking Light.
Geared towards: People who have never cooked in their lives. Ever.
Number of Thanksgiving menus offered: 1
Vegetarian options: none.
Levels of difficulty: 2. They have turned their promise of “simple steps to a delicious (and doable) holiday” into “we’re going to talk to you like you’re five.” Their tips include “store [butter] in the refrigerator” and “check temperature periodically” to determine when the turkey is done. They don’t even take into consideration that you might not own a food processor, and their piecrust recipe (so simple!) does not include alternate instructions for making it by hand.
Wine coverage: Revelations like, “Before serving [white wine], chill for about an hour in the refrigerator.” No specifics on pairings.
Recipes I might consider using: none.
Most helpful feature: Detailed shopping list and timeline.
Most unreasonable request: That I be an idiot.
Recipes for leftovers: two
Other items they think you need: For a magazine for people who can’t cook, they sure do expect you to have every appliance known to man.
Overall: I know this is Martha Stewart’s magazine for people who are scared of cooking, but you could get better recipes off the backs of condensed soup cans. There has to be some middle ground between this and Stewart telling us how to make Christmas decorations out of our Thanksgiving turkey bones. Find some middle ground. Please.
Geared towards: California residents with very large wine cellars
Number of Thanksgiving menus offered: 4
Vegetarian options: none
Levels of difficulty: 8. While F&W do provide a nice range of options for Thanksgiving dinner, each recipe seems like someone asked, “Yes, but can we just add one more step?” There are side dishes that call for making your own herbed butter, desserts with more than one ingredient that explains “Recipe follows.”
Wine coverage: A defense of chardonnay as a Thanksgiving wine, also a wine pairing for almost every dish.
Recipes I might consider using: Spicy kale chowder with Andouille Sausage
Most helpful feature: The division of the dishes. Each dish is categorized as a starter, side dish, turkey, or dessert, and then each of those categories is broken into “Five Days Ahead,” “Two Days Ahead,” and “Thanksgiving Day,” allowing the reader to plan out their menu based on how much advance work they want to do, or how much time they’ll have on Thanksgiving.
Most unreasonable request: The dessert options are Pumpkin Pudding with Candied Ginger Whipped Cream, White Chocolate Cake with Orange Marmalade Filling, and Frozen Hazelnut Mousse Cakes with Armagnac. No thanks.
Recipes for leftovers: none.
Other items they think you need: a brand new, redesigned kitchen
Overall: Food & Wine tries too hard to be Gourmet without having the quality writers when it should be aspiring to have quality recipes like Bon Appetit. However, they do offer the smartest information on pairing wine with your food, but manage to do it in an unsnobby way. Their series on the makings of an oenophile has been very good, and highlights their approach: less guy-from-Sideways, more the nicest guy who has ever worked at your neighborhood wine shop. If only the Food half of their magazine was like that.
November 16, 2004
It's difficult to predict which group of parents are worth more ridicule: the parents that will eventually call for the banning of It's Just a Plant, or the parents who will want the book available to explain why it's perfectly all right for mommy and daddy to get high once and a while.
Related: Photoshop users make children's books dirty.
When I got out of rehab, I had to go to ninety meetings in ninety days for AA. And one of the things they tell you is that you have to surrender to a higher power. But I was sort of agnostic, so I conjured this image of Little Baby Jesus in his manger, all shiny and gold, and for some reason, I imagined a cow right nearby, and I decided I'm not going to make any decisions whatsoever. I'm just going to hand everything over to Little Baby Jesus.
Augusten Burroughs is interviewed at Nerve about his new memoir Magical Thinking and reveals his next book will be yet another fucking memoir, even though he also admits he's been repeating himself already.
Since I already posted about Madonna today, I might as well just go ahead and post this Britney Spears item.
A sample stanza from “Honeymoon Poem” which Spears has posted for fans: “A meal, a shower and some ice cream / Then I threw my man down, you know what I mean!”
What? I don't know what she means. Oh, wait! She's talking about sex! When she says "I threw my man down," she means that she had sexual intercourse with him! I get it! Britney Spears likes to have sex with her husband. They are probably having sex right now!
So wait, there are other National Book Awards besides fiction? Lost in the "five women from New York" controversy has been the very strong list of poetry finalists. The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the nominated books, which are:
Jesus Christ, everything about this story is so fucking hilarious. But I think the best part is the mention of Madonna's forthcoming children's book, Lotsa de Casha, about "a wealthy dog who is still unhappy." Some parental groups are concerned about the book's ending, though, when the dog finds true happiness after fucking Warren Beatty, Sean Penn and Dennis Rodman, and pretending to believe in a form of Jewish mysticism about which it knows basically nothing. Nevertheless, sales are expected to be brisk.
I'm so glad people have found something about the war in Iraq to protest. I just wish it wasn't just so fucking bafflingly stupid.
The worst part of the election being over (besides, you know, the results) is that we'll no longer be treated to 37 new political books a day. No more All Liberals Want to Give Child Rapists Welfare by Ann Coulter, or Why Won't These Idiots Vote For Us?: A Guide for Condescending, Self-Defeating Liberals by the editors of The Nation.
Luckily for us, though, USA Today reports that "the issues and the books about them aren't about to disappear." On tap for next year is another book about "character" by John McCain, who's beginning to sound like he's going to trademark the word, and new books from Mona Charen and Christie Whitman.
Dennis Johnson demands answers from Rick Moody about the NBA womyn scandal: "Exactly. What's more, you picked five women with a short story aesthetic. I mean, were you drunk? Women, with an eye toward concision, poetry, thoughtful observation—sweet Jesus, were you trying to just kill Mother Literature?"
And with that, if I hear "five women from New York" one more time...
Earlier this month, we posted about the experiment at San Francisco's Adobe Bookshop, where artist Chris Cobb reclassified all the books in the store by color, "changing Adobe from a neighborhood bookshop into a magical library" for a week. Unfortunately, I couldn't go, because I live 1500 miles away. But Tito Perez went, and took pictures, which you can see on his blog, Black Market Kidneys.
November 15, 2004
After publishing their 579th consecutive article titled "Whither Fallujah?", Slate says "Ah, fuck it, here's two articles about orgasms." (A rundown for those pressed for time: Thomas Laqueur finds O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm to be "ill informed, hyperbolic, contradictory, and silly all at the same time," and Dan Chiasson is bemused by She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, which has the least subtle metaphorical cover ever.)
Also in Slate is a profile of right-wing Christian nutcase James Dobson, whose Preparing for Adolescence I was forced to read in Catholic middle school. One hundred and eighty-six pages, and not one chapter on cunnilingus. Thanks for ruining my life, Dobson.
The 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award longlist is out, and it includes every book ever written ever. The weirdest thing about the longlist is that of the over 140 books nominated, all are by women living in New York.
So very many people have urged me to read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, but I somehow never got around to it. Maybe I can get to Gilead, Robinson's first book in twenty-three years, a little more quickly. The Boston Globe interviews Robinson about God, war and literature. You know, the lighter subjects.
I'm sure Karl Rove is behind this. But how?
If John Kerry came across as stiff and awkward during his bid for the White House, then a very different picture of him is emerging as a silver-tongued womaniser in a book to go on sale this month.
The author of this particular roman-a-sleaze would be Lee Whitnum, whose new book Hedge Fund Mistress is written under the name Lee Roystone. Whitnum's website notes, either endearingly or pathetically, "I sent out two review copies of Hedge Fund Mistress to press members. I am hoping for good reviews." But if you've ever wanted to know what sex with John Kerry would be like, this might be your only chance:
"We were sitting at one end of the long dining room table and suddenly we were feeding each other and kissing, and all over each other, and undressing each other and plates were falling on the floor, food was everywhere, you know, our usual combustible frenzy, and then he carried me to the bedroom," she writes. Asked by her friend what happened next, Nikki [Whitnum's alter ego in the book] says: "We made mad, passionate love and he immediately fell asleep." The unfortunate Nikki, however, almost dies as the senator lies snoring while she goes into anaphylactic shock from eating shellfish.
I don't mean to sound too harsh about Whitnum. God knows I feel her pain. Michael, why won't you call?
To a new generation of Irish writers, Hogan has become, in his ascetic but romantic way, a fine example of a writer sacrificing everything to his art. His implicit rejection of Eurocentric consumerism in a society groaning with EU handouts is seen as an honourable, even inspirational, model.
I guess we all knew, deep inside, that there would be a film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. And I guess we all knew, equally deep inside, that it would be directed by Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks. Get ready for some crappy, crappy cinema, America! (Columbia Pictures is welcome to use that as the movie's tag line if they want.)
In the Times, Jonathan Franzen writes 950,000 words about Alice Munro, who just won the Giller Prize for Runaway. In a list of possible reasons why she's not as famous as she deserves to be, Franzen slaps down Moody, Roth and Ellis, Oprah-style:
She doesn't give her books grand titles like "Canadian Pastoral," "Canadian Psycho," "Purple Canada," "In Canada" or "The Plot Against Canada." Also, she refuses to render vital dramatic moments in convenient discursive summary. Also, her rhetorical restraint and her excellent ear for dialogue and her almost pathological empathy for her characters have the costly effect of obscuring her authorial ego for many pages at a stretch. Also, her jacket photos show her smiling pleasantly, as if the reader were a friend, rather than wearing the kind of woeful scowl that signifies really serious literary intent.
November 12, 2004
Meet Natalie Biz, author of New Zealand weblog, Bizgirl: International Librarian of Mystery. Despite the gorgeous photo on her site, "she" is actually a happily married man living somewhere south of Auckland.
CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, the formerly anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, has resigned from the intelligence agency.
In a statement, Scheuer said the CIA had not forced him to resign, "but I have concluded that there has not been adequate national debate over the nature of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and the forces he leads and inspires, and the nature and dimensions of intelligence reform needed to address that threat."
Link via Political Wire.
Pretty much every blogger on the planet has responded to the Caryn James piece on the NBA fiction finalists, with James being accused of misogyny, short-sightedness, and general bad taste. GalleyCat has a good rundown of bloggers' reactions. It's enough to make you think that James personally killed all their pets while setting fire to their cars and ruining their credit ratings. In a comment on Tingle Alley, Scott of Conversational Reading writes:
And while I’m ranting, enough of this “5 women from New York” garbage. Do these people realize the diversity of ethnicities and cultures in Brooklyn, to say nothing of all of New York City? And, yes, they’re all women. So? Do you have a point? If so, please make it.
With respect to Scott, I'm not sure this comment really is, as GalleyCat calls it, "a bravura performance" it strikes me as rather angry and petulant. James' problem with the nominees seems to be the lack of diversity, and that would be a problem whether the nominees were five women from New York or five men from Texas. Of course New York is diverse. So is my apartment complex. As Scott might put it: So?
Contrast that with the original post on Tingle Alley to which Scott responded:
I was heartened by the James piece this morning, not because I necessarily agree with its conclusions, but because it was a trenchant, well-argued piece of criticism written by a woman about five pieces of literature by women. It didn’t devolve into descriptions of the authors’ clothing or compliments on their figures. It took them and their art seriously, and the critic took herself seriously enough to not hold any punches.
Exactly. Look, I didn't agree with James' conclusions either, although I'm happy to be added to the chorus of voices upset that The Plot Against America was excluded. But it's one thing to disagree, and another thing entirely to accuse James of an intellectual felony. I thought the article was well-executed and reasonable. And some of the responses have been, too but too many have devolved into weird, shrill personal attacks. That's not fair criticism; that's street crime.
It looks like The 9/11 Commission Report won't be getting Benjamin DeMott's vote for the nonfiction NBA. The Harper's writer makes some compelling points about the report's action-movie tone and reluctance to blame President Bush for oversights that were clearly the fault of his administration.
The plain, sad reality—I report this following four full days studying the work—is that The 9/11 Commission Report, despite the vast quantity of labor behind it, is a cheat and a fraud. It stands as a series of evasive maneuvers that infantilize the audience, transform candor into iniquity, and conceal realities that demand immediate inspection and confrontation.
The Independent takes a loving (not really) look at crap books.
Every pre-Christmas season witnesses an avalanche of throwaway toilet titles aimed at last-gasp present purchasers seeking a dose of proxy wit. Sadly, the Nordic forests die in vain for worthless and mirthless ephemera. The charms of most comic Christmas books melt like snowballs in the sun.
November 11, 2004
I don't know how I feel quite yet about this Amazon Theater business.
Hold me closer, tiny ninjas, count the headlights on the highway...
Orson Scott Card is interviewed in the MIT student newspaper about Israel, Noam Chomsky, and the military. (And he clarifies that there's no incest in Ender's Game, so you can rest easy.) He also explains what he says to people who like his writing, but not his (conservative) politics.
All I tell them is, I hate every word that Barbra Streisand has said about politics and I love her singing and I listen to her songs. I disagree with a lot of people and I still respect their art and find value in it.
Does anyone else find it ironic that someone as virulently homophobic as Card likes Barbra Streisand? Just asking.
At best, this tiny tome should've been a Cosmo article—and a dopey one, at that. Once again, women are portrayed as the neurotic yet well-meaning victims of big bad men who only want to get into their panties and do them wrong. Snore. Guess what? Assholes come in both sexes.
The Guardian reports on a slew of books about the French paradox (they eat, they're not disgustingly fat like Americans): French Women Don't Get Fat, Chic & Slim: How Those Chic French Women Eat All That Rich Food and Stay Slim, Secrets of the French Diet, etc.
More fun with Texas textbooks! Want to know the best way to prevent herpes? Naps.
"When you're tired, it's hard to think clearly," the text continues. "Don't put yourself in a situation in which you have to make a tough choice when you're tired."
God bless Texas and its high teen pregnancy rates.
If you're complaining that you can't find a good man, don't bother looking in the comic book shops. The men in there, they like comic books.
Typocrat Press is a new independent comics publisher specializing in putting out the best contemporary European comics and graphic novels in high quality English editions. Europe is home to some of the most inventive and exciting artists in the world, and our goal is to make them more available to English-speaking readers. We will be publishing around three or four books a year by the best European artists, as well as a regular anthology series featuring a host of outstanding talents from across the continent.
Caryn James considers the NBA fiction nominees, and finds their similarities go beyond the fact that the authors are all obscure New York women.
But the minor resemblances of sex and city are nothing next to what really makes this one of the least varied lists of nominees in recent years: a short-story aesthetic. Not one of these books is big and sprawling. And not one has much of a sense of humor.
So far, we have "The Year's Best" in just about everything. Short stories, science writing, music writing, magazine writing, science fiction, recipes, even the Dave Eggers "whatever my friends wrote" collection. Next year, St. Martin's will be adding "Comics and Manga" to that collection, and bless them for it.
The Boston Phoenix interviews Seth Mnookin, author of the new book Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media.
President Bush's new family dog is named for a character in a children's book written by an unabashed liberal, the AP reports. Miss Beazley, a Scottish terrier, gets her name from Oliver Butterworth's The Enormous Egg.
"I'm not sure my father would be rolling over in his grave," said Tim Butterworth of Chesterfield, a Democrat and the late author's son. "But he'd probably be smiling quite a bit, because he liked irony."
The Hemingway house disaster continues. When we last left off, there was word of the embargo against Cuba being tweaked, and there was promise of cooperation. That evidently didn't work, as Hemingway's Cuban house is still falling apart, high profile actors are still trying to force the government to do something, and nothing is still being done.
Best-selling US author Iris Chang has been found dead at the age of 36. The writer was discovered in her car on a highway near Los Gatos in California and had a gunshot wound to her head.
The Chronicle of Higher Education gives more information on the closing of The Women's Review of Books.
November 10, 2004
Our own Jessa Crispin, Bookslut founder and literary blog pioneer, is interviewed on NPR's Day to Day about the influence of blogs on the literary scene. Reporter Karen Grigsby Bates also talks to blogger Mark Sarvas and New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus.
It always amazes me how articulate Jessa sounds on these things. Every time I've been interviewed by a reporter for something, I end up saying things like "ME LIKE BOOK. READ GOOD." Although, to be fair, me really do like book.
Free speech battles are always pretty tough when there's no clear good guy. Last week, a Massachusetts judge acquitted high school teacher Richard J. Melpignano of disseminating harmful material to a minor. Melpignano was brought up on the charge because he gave sexually suggestive poems he wrote to a horrified female student.
"His fingers trailing lightly over my breasts...Turn my body into liquid fire...That ignites my soul and turns my heart to love," lines from the poem "A Woman's Viewpoint" read.
It goes on to say, "I die a little when he leaves my body; The warmth of his essence remains in me."
An untitled poem reads, "When I place my lips on your smooth thigh; I inhale all the sweet aroma of a thousand fields of lavender and roses."
Clearly, if writing crappy poetry were a crime, this guy would be in jail. And I don't think anyone doubts that the teacher is basically a sad, pathetic guy who clearly was sexually interested in his student. But how could prosecutors possibly think the poems were obscene or "harmful"? Melpignano might be guilty of extremely poor judgement, but the decision to charge him with disseminating harmful materials has to be one of the stupidest legal calls of the year.
Melpignano has resigned, and to the chagrin of some outraged parents and students, he'll keep his pension. If I had a kid, I don't think I'd want her or him in this guy's class. But it's undeniably clear that he didn't break the law he was charged with breaking. It might be frustrating to consider, but there's no doubt about it: Melpignano's legal victory is a victory for all of us who care about free speech.
Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe will be speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival this evening, and I'll be introducing both of them. So if these two powerhouses are not enough of a draw, the possibility of witnessing me humiliating myself in front of a large group of people should be.
Artbomb is leaving? The world wide web and comics geeks everywhere mourn.
It was an odd sort of notice, packed with unlooked-for information about the 18th-century coffee house, as well as more straightforward stuff about the building having been taken over by a company called Quite Interesting, QI for short. A television quiz show of that name was researched and written in offices at the top of the building; a members' club, a bookshop and a bar were taking shape on the floors below. The idea of the shop, explained the notice, was to stock interesting books only. "Are you interested?" asked the notice, again. I was hooked.
I met John I the next day. I confessed my retail virginity and pitched for total power. "Consider yourself in charge," replied the barman turned bookseller turned publisher turned writer turned pig-keeper on the side.
Somehow this woman stole my dream.
Star Trek fans - aping the ultra-rational Mr. Spock - may not think it's logical, but the Baltimore Science Fiction Society is having trouble convincing the legal world that it fits the definition of an educational organization.
(Parent Karen Krueger) also has examined some of the other books on the course's list and found five more that she said contain objectionable material. They include Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan.
The books "are filled with suicide and things that don't reflect the standards of the community," Krueger said.
I wonder if these people realize that there's suicide, torture, rape and mutilation in the fucking Bible.
I hope their children grow up to be gay porn actors.
Wilco have indeed evolved—but into something too serious, too esoteric. Songwriter Jeff Tweedy used to buy fans waiting in line for his shows boxes of Dunkin Donuts....That was before firing half the band, checking himself into rehab and hiring literary stiffs like (novelist Rick) Moody to deconstruct his songs. (Do I need the etymology of the word "ajar" to appreciate "She's a Jar"?) Now we're treated to banal statements from his new book like "all art is political in the sense that [there's a] choice to make, rather than destroy," which have a Miss America tinge to them. Pass me a Kleenex, Jeff.
If you want to hear what Jeff Tweedy is really capable of, check out Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne or Wilco's Summerteeth. But I'd avoid his collection of poetry. And Wilco's last two albums. And, frankly, this book.
Metafilter wants to know: "Can books make a difference? What books have influenced you and how?"
They Stole My Kidney: Future international bestseller?
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is back with a sequel called, naturally, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. (The 8th habit, if you're curious, is "Find your voice, and inspire others to find theirs.") Del Jones profiles the author, who comes across as a little charming and a little scary, in USA Today.
Ask the Coveys to confess the most rebellious thing any of their kids did, and they come up with the time youngest son, Josh, dyed his hair blond. Did he get permission? Of course.
Lest you think them perfect parents, at least two Covey children remember being forgotten at a gas station and left for hours.
The Whitbread shortlist has been announced:
It's hard to be a book lover in Atlanta. Yesterday we reported on a textbook lawsuit over evolution and creation, today we bring you the story of parents descending upon a school board meeting to complain about their fifth graders' reading materials. The books in question contained the word "hell." "Parents aren't aware that these words are in their books," said Melissa Sims, whose son also read the books at R.M. Moore Elementary School. "What else are they letting through?" Obviously satan worship and sodomy.
November 9, 2004
Captain James Cook wrote, in 1777, about a canoe-surfer at Tahiti's Matavai Point. Herman Melville wrote, in 1849, about the surf board, indispensable when gamboling in the surf. Mark Twain wrote, in 1872, about his own failed attempt at surf-bathing. Jack London wrote, in 1907, about the royal sport of surfing and the regal, almost mythological stature of the surfer. Allston James wrote, in 1972, about the waves of regret and doubt in a young Vietnam veteran, navigating his way out of his hospital bed and back onto the board.
Allston James talks to the Monterey County Herald about surfing and literature, and his inclusion in the new anthology Zero Break: An Illustrated Collection of Surf Writing, 1777-2004, which sounds surprisingly interesting.
The Wall Street Journal profiles Scott Brick, the voice behind many audio books. The article also gives some information about the Cloud Atlas audio book: "Since each chapter is written in a different voice -- from a 1930s composer to the survivor of a distant apocalypse -- the producers had taken the unusual step of hiring six audio actors for the job. Mr. Brick's assignment for the day: navigating the journal of a fictional 19th-century American notary sailing the South Seas, whose prose is sprinkled with Polynesian, Latin and archaic English phrases."
The report is exemplary in two ways—its literary style and its allegiance to the truth. Both offer a lesson to narrative journalists.
A suburban American school board found itself in court yesterday after it tried to placate Christian fundamentalist parents by placing a sticker on its science textbooks saying evolution was "a theory, not a fact".
Atlanta's Cobb County school board, the second largest board in Georgia, added the sticker two years ago after a 2,300 strong petition attacked the presentation of "Darwinism unchallenged". Some parents wanted creationism - the theory that God created humans according to the Bible version - to be taught alongside evolution.
Shortly after the stickers were put on the books, six parents launched a legal challenge, with the support of the the American Civil Liberties Union. It started yesterday.
Amazon.com has released its Best of 2004 list. The list is pretty much what you'd expect, although there are a few surprises. Among them are the reviews they chose to highlight how much people love the book. Each book either comes with a few sentences of description, or a few sentences from a reader review.
From The Radioactive Boy Scout, #6 on the Nonfiction list: "This was a BIG missed opportunity to tell a great story. Instead, the author felt the need to inject his own anti-nuclear, anti-boy scout views into what should have been a non-political story. It's still a decent read, but I give it 2 stars for the missed opportunity." From Tracks, #4 on the Magazine list: "Do not subscribe! Fraudulent business practices!" Maybe they should have stuck with the descriptions.
Didn't “Bloom County” start in 1980? How do you figure 25 years? Sounds like fuzzy math.
Buy the book Jan. 1 of next year if these things bother you, and sleep at night with a safe 25 years. Listen, (President) Bush has raised the bar with getting comfortable with fuzzy everything. On his terms, I should have been able to call this the Centennial Opus Collection.
L.A. Times profiles Utne Magazine and calls it "a serious, earnest read for the Birkenstock generation."
3 a.m. Magazine debuted MP3AM, and hopefully this July edition is the first in a series. Download readings from Gavin Inglis and Mary Biddinger, as well as musical accompaniment from Flowers in the Dustbin.
November 8, 2004
Sister Karol Jackowski might be the coolest nun ever:
In 2000 she wrote a book titled, Ten Fun Things to Do Before you Die. That launched her into the limelight and she helped herself along by giving spicy answers to questions like the one Bryant Gumbel asked about what she planned to give up for Lent.
"Sex," Jackowski said without blinking.
Her latest book is The Silence We Keep: A Nun's View of the Catholic Priest Scandal. It can get pretty lonely being a progressive Catholic, so I'm especially grateful for nuns like Sister Karol. Plus, she's funny:
"I wasn't sure I could tackle this subject," Jackowski says, "but when I was told I would be paid $2.50 a word, my doubts were lifted." She has turned over all the money she was paid from her books to charities in accordance with her vow of poverty.
Did you hear about the controversy surrounding the poet laureate of Nevada? Sure you did.
Maybe the governor wants an actual poet who actually publishes poetry. But Iwill go on record in complete support of retaining (lounge songwriter Norman) Kaye as Nevada's poet laureate, despite the fact that nobody I know has ever read any of his poetry, if indeed he is a published poet.
Lahontan Valley News editor Steve F. Lyon loses his mind. In print. Seriously, I think he needs help.
Senator-elect Barack Obama might be negotiating a deal for another book. His first, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, received critical acclaim even before Obama stole the show at this year's Democratic convention.
I'm jealous of the folks in Illinois who get to have this guy as their senator. (Damn you, Jessa. I want to live in a blue state too.) I live in Texas, among the reddest of states. And to answer Jessa's question below, there's not much I can do about the fundamentalist idiots on the Texas State Board of Education, though maybe I should consider running in 2006. I think I can take the SBOE member that represents my district. Hmmmm...maybe I need to set up one of those exploratory committees.
Mike, can't you do something about this? The Texas Board of Education has approved a health textbook that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Danforth Review interviews the editors of websites that publish short stories, like small.spiral.notebook, Pindeldyboz, and Word Riot.
The pages appeared one at a time, mostly in European newspapers, since America's news sources had pretty much shut down (my third trauma, the fourth estate becoming a fifth column, made me especially for my German, French, Italian, "coalition of the willing" outlet). But there, I was just seen as a kind of locale Michael Moore, slightly less on message, but offering relatively mainstream opinions while here, if seen at all, I was thought of as shrill, paranoid and out of touch with the mainstream. (Though I actually think, as an Onion headline had it, most American are out of touch with the mainstream.)
Regret the Error is a new blog devoted to newspaper mistakes.
Something tells me that Joyce Carol Oates isn't going to be too happy about this interview with the Daily Texan, the University of Texas' student newspaper.
At the end of the interview, I thanked her, afraid to shake her hand for fear of crushing it, and turned to put my books in my bag as I heard her tell me goodbye. When I turned back, Oates had disappeared from the lobby without a trace of her signature curly black hair or spooky pale skin. Well, what else could I expect from fiction's queen of creepy on the eve of Halloween?
From Bookslut in November:
Caitlin R. Kiernan talks to Geoffrey H. Goodwin about finally receiving mainstream crossover success, why Murder of Angels was such a difficult book to write, and her alter ego. Jennifer Weiner's new book Little Earthquakes is about a new mother. So when she sat down to talk with Gena Anderson, babies were on the brain. Arthur Phillips talked with Laura Leichum about anagrams, why Nabokov blows his mind, and why his new novel is set in Egypt. Gordon McAlpin continues his coverage of the Chicago lit scene with this latest Stripped Books: Jon and Lane go to Barnes and Noble. Judging a Book By Its Cover returns to the familiar subject of the Fall Release Bonanza. Colleen Mondor finds the new object of her affection with the U.K. magazine Slightly Foxed. And finally, Amy Sohn answers a quick Q&A from Janine Armin about Jung, God, and sex.
In columns, the triumphant return of Cookslut! The Hollywood Madam shares her annual Holiday Movie Guide. The Propagandist gives you a list of which authors to blame for whichever election result you may have disagreed with. And also on the political side is Banned Bookslut's list of the most challenged books of 2004.
November 7, 2004
Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are—they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.
Ah, yes. It's time for "Blame the Red Staters!" They're a bunch of ignorant fuckers who don't know what they really need. It's not because, say, the Democrats had no way of appealing to the Red States, other than "You're unemployed, and the unemployed always vote for the Democrats, so let's keep that going, shall we?" Kerry had a plan for family farms, but never once discussed it during the debates. If you don't talk to these people, why would you expect them to vote for you?
It's shocking, because if you look at the vote spreads in some of these "Red States," they're not very large margins. But they were written off as being Red, so no one bothered to try to swing them.
First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question.
Not everyone in Red States are Evangelicals! They are there, believe me, I know. Half of my family is crazy about The Jesus. But the other half is not, and they voted for Bush, too. They're not ignorant, and they're not stupid, either, thank you very much, Jane Smiley. They're conflicted about abortion, they don't think gays are immoral. But when the other guy's campaign is entirely about things that do not pertain to you, what do you expect?
Lots of Americans like and admire them because lots of Americans, even those who don't share those same qualities, don't know which end is up. Can the Democrats appeal to such voters? Do they want to?
Yes, God Damn It. I, too, laughed when I saw the United States of Canada/Jesus Land map, but this Let's Divide Up the Country attitude is bullshit. It's like every liberal is doing exactly what lost them the election in the first place: leaving. Liberals are like vegetarians. (Stay with me on this one.) (Some/Most that I know) vegetarians do not eat meat because they do not believe in the inhumane practices of factory farming. Instead of eating only free range, organic humane meat, they just drop out of the market. When was the last time you heard of the meat industry being scared of vegetarians? They're not. They're not even a factor. But people who demand to know where their meat came from, how the animals were treated, what they were fed, those people do influence the market. Several years ago, you couldn't find cage-free eggs except for in the major cities. Now the grocery store in my hometown (tiny little Kansas) carries a wide variety of cruelty-free products.
(And seriously, vegetarians, don't e-mail. I was one for eight years. Just trying to make a point.)
It seems to me that many liberals are the same way. Your church starts getting a little too radical, so instead of staying and running for a position of power within the church, they go find one that has their political sensibilities. Live in a red state? Move to a blue one. Kids' school suddenly wanting to teach creationism alongside evolution? Yank 'em and put them in private. I am guilty of this as well, but lately this mess has made me want to move back to Kansas. It has made me sign up for theology classes at the Unitarian Church. Liberals are never going to win with a Fuck the Red States attitude. The Midwest is not evil, just neglected. When liberals start letting the Right frame the debate and in four years time we run to the Midwest and say, "We didn't mean it, what we said after the last election? Vote for our guy, even though he won't do one god damn thing for you," we're going to get our asses handed to us yet again.
Fuck the Red States? Fuck the Blue States. Fuck you, Jane Smiley, and Janet Sullivan, and Bill Maher who completely overreacted to some criticism by a man who knew what he was talking about, and to the bloggers and commentators who have never once lived in a Red State, have maybe flown over a couple, but suddenly knew just what these people think and believe, and it's all Jesus, all the time. This is not how we win. You're just wasting our time.
November 5, 2004
Wow. That was fast. Gene Stone has written the first instant book about Tuesday's election the amusingly titled The Bush Survival Guide: 200 Ways to Make it Through the Next Four Years Without Misunderestimating the Dangers Ahead, and Other Subliminable Stategeries. (From Taegan Goddard's Political Wire.)
For one amazing week in November, Adobe Bookshop in San Francisco has agreed to allow its estimated 20,000 books to be reclassified by color. Shifting from red to orange to yellow to green, the books will follow the spectrum continuously, changing Adobe from a neighborhood bookshop into a magical library—but only for one week.
That is so cool. I wish I could go.
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein answers a few questions about how another four years of Bush can hurt free speech.
I also am concerned that we'll see legal action involving provisions of the PROTECT Act dictating that content depicting minors engaged in sexual conduct, even if no actual minor is involved, can be prosecuted as actual child pornography. This bodes dangerously for works by authors such as Phoebe Gloeckner, whose books have been challenged, and in some cases actually banned from libraries; Ariel Schrag, who creates autobiographical comics that frankly address a teenager's sexual coming of age; as well as Craig Thompson, Will Eisner, and others whose work treads similar territory. I don't think that A Contract With God is going to be first on the censors' list, but I fear that the possibility exists. Beyond that, I have fears that certain manga will be prosecuted for similar reasons.
Steve Almond would like to issue a few apologies.
I would like to apologize to George W. Bush for calling him "a draft-dodging, cokehead retard with the moral compass of a serial killer." I further would like to apologize for implying that his "rush to war against Iraq" was the result of his having "a really small penis."
The salacious ads by hip-hop clothing line Akademiks declare: "Read Books, Get Brain."
But kids say "get brain" does not mean smarts. It's slang for oral sex. And the company behind the ads told the Daily News the slogan choice was no mistake...
"That's too sexy to be talking about some book," her classmate Melissa Medina agreed.
We missed Hans Christian Andersen's 200th birthday. There was much jubilation around the world, including "a Danish fashion show based on his stories." If you haven't read him since childhood, perhaps you should find a copy of The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish. It's a beautiful book.
A new issue of Indy Magazine is up, this issue being devoted to politics in comics. They have the text to Art Spiegelman's speech at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, a critique of Peter Bagge's work for Reason Online, as well as a comic by Joe Sacco. There's plenty to read, but here's to wishing they published more often than quarterly.
Some encouraging news from Tehran, where Librarian of Congress James Billington met with Iranian officials.
Billington, a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate, is the highest-level U.S. official to visit Iran and meet openly with Iranian officials since relations between the two countries were severed in 1980 after militant students took over the U.S. Embassy in the wake of the Islamic revolution.
He's the highest-level official to visit Iran? The Librarian of Congress? Still, at this point, I'll take any good news I can get. The article mentions that Billington visited with Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, a wonderful writer and author of A Cup of Sin.
Pretty much every year, another book comes out claiming that some historical figure was secretly gay. This time, apparently, it's Abraham Lincoln. Free Press will publish The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, by the late psychologist C. A. Tripp, in 2005.
Tripp writes that Lincoln was fond of lewd stories, involving anal references. When a friend suggested to Lincoln he bring his personal stories to a book, Lincoln replied that he could not, for "such a book would stink like a thousand privies."
Oh yeah. Gay.
"Bush has this baying certainty and has imposed this fervent zealotry," said Pullman whose books have been condemned by church groups for attacking organized religion.
"The Christian right in America is the mirror image of the Islamic fundamentalists," he added.
For the month of November, poets.org is featuring one online poetry resource a day. Those featured thus far are Artsjournal.com, Poets & Writers online, Poetry Daily, and Modern & Contemporary Poetry.
David Frum, author and pure concentrated evil, is spreading a rumor that Arafat is dying of AIDS. Which he got from gay orgies, because we know that's the only way to contract HIV. Gay orgies. "We know he has a blood disease that is depressing his immune system. We know that he has suddenly dropped considerable weight – possibly as much as 1/3 of all his body weight. We know that he is suffering intermittent mental dysfunction. What does this sound like?" It sounds like he's OLD, motherfucker.
The New Yorker compares The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson and Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods. They share similar plot lines (during a war, a soldier killed his best friend in a terrible accident. They attempt to cope after returning home), but with an important difference. The character in Flannel Suit quickly recovers and is more traumatized from having cheated on his wife, while the character in Lake wakes up at night screaming. O'Brien's book has been given more respect as being "realistic," but now that might not be the case.
Instead, Bonanno found a wide range of responses. Some people went through a long and painful grieving process; others a period of debilitating depression. But by far the most common response was resilience: the majority of those who had just suffered from one of the most painful experiences of their lives never lapsed into serious depression, experienced a relatively brief period of grief symptoms, and soon returned to normal functioning. These people were not necessarily the hardiest or the healthiest. They just managed, by one means or another, to muddle through.
“Most people just plain cope well,” Bonanno says. “The vast majority of people get over traumatic events, and get over them remarkably well. Only a small subset—five to fifteen per cent—struggle in a way that says they need help.”
November 4, 2004
In a desperate attempt to make it look like Dan Brown actually knows what he's talking about, the documentary The Da Vinci Code Decoded has been released on DVD. Instead, why don't you read the list of authors who supposedly influenced Brown, and just read their books instead? Start with Holy Blood, Holy Grail. It's much more fun.
At LA Weekly, Steven Mikulan interviews The Good Doctor.
You know why everything in the world is bad? Women work. Kids bringing guns to school, obesity running rampant, herpes, and quite possibly terrorism are all caused by women. Just ask Mary Eberstadt.
Bookninja lists ten works of fiction that might help Americans deal with the prospect of four more years of Bush. (Since this is the first time we actually elected Bush, does that mean he can run again in 2008? Does the first term not count toward the two-term limit since the 2004 election was stolen and wholly illegitimate? Constitutional lawyers, get back to me on that.)
David McKie at the Guardian (See? I'm already over it. I just can't stay mad at them.) explores why people can't seem to connect with poetry.
That's not to say that people don't have a place in their lives for poetry. No funeral after a tragic death, particularly the violent death of a child, seems complete nowadays without one of her classmates reading a verse she has written. Death announcements in local newspapers often have verses attached to them - chosen, I guess from the repetitions, from a catalogue supplied by the newspaper. In moments of trouble, stress or extreme emotion people tend to reach for some form of poetry much as we do for some form of religion.
In an enviable hat trick of book criticism, The New York Press somehow reviews Jacques Derrida's Writing and Difference, Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse, and Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries in the same article.
I love The Guardian. But their recent campaign urging British citizens to write letters to Ohio voters was probably the worst idea to come out of a newspaper since the New York Times hired Jayson Blair. Now the BBC is asking "Did The Guardian turn Ohio to Bush?" Probably not, but I'm guessing it did a lot more harm than good. I hope they remember this the next time they print an editorial critical of American foreign policy. Next time we Americans need help in an election, we'll ask for it, OK?
"The fucking fuckers will fuck you every fucking time!" announces a raging-mad cat in a Malcolm X cap. Think about it: the fucking fuckers will fuck you every fucking time. This pretty much sums things up. But the interesting question is not whether we're getting fucked, but whether the fuckers will always fuck us. You know who I'm talking about -- "The fuckers [who] think they can fuck whoever the fuck they want!" Kuper, by which I mean the raging cat, has "fucking had it up to fuckin' here with fuckers who fucking think they're big fucks!" Which is why he wants to "teach the meaning of the word fuck... fuck the fucking fuckers!"
A Nobel Prize-winning author from Iran, praised by President George W. Bush for her commitment to democracy, is suing the U.S. government over restrictions that could block the publication of her memoir in America.
Russia's Orthodox church is protesting a film adaptation of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. For lovers of the book, the article offers some highs and lows, the high being the film will be a 10 hour miniseries, the low being a few statements by the director: "As Bulgakov did, we speak about Yeshua, not Jesus; about Ershalaim, not Jerusalem; and so on. The film has nothing to do with a religious subject." Some 1.5 million people were executed by crucifixion, and he could not "see any basis to associate the crucifixion of Yeshua with Christ's passion".
The new Guardian quiz: US Presidents in Fiction.
Ground Water, by Matthew Hollis
Natasha, by David Bezmozgis
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart
Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body, by Armand Marie Leroi
More and more, though, the Nobel Prize has gone to a person who has the correct sex, geographical address, ethnic origin, and political profile—“correct” being determined by the commissars at the Swedish Academy. So it was no surprise when a distinct mediocrity like Toni Morrison got the prize in 1993: an American, yes, which was a drawback, but at least Morrison was the right sex, the right color, and spouted the right opinions.
Nerve reveals "the best book pitch we've seen in some time."
It is a literary fiction novel about the relationship between a college student and a dolphin in Florida. This human's encounter with a non-human intelligence is made possible when the man and the dolphin start talking without words allowing the author to take the reader on fantastic voyages into the mind of an utterly alien yet sympathetic character, the dolphin Ruby.
Howard Wolinsky has some bittersweet memories of the Chicago Sun-Times building. As the newspaper was moving out of its building, they go hunting for the time capsule it's rumored the walls are hiding.
A few writers with blogs have responded to Election Day.
Neal Pollack: Here, in today's Salon, is Heidi Julavits, a very nice person upon whom I wish no ill. Nevertheless, I will now make fun of her. She informs us that her "Italian friend" believes that our country is now "medieval" Yeah, he would know. Now I quote her directly:
"I realize that we have to treat our own country as a foreign country, with whom our relations are strained beyond the point of communication. Do we compose for that 51 percent, our alienated brethren, novels or poems to mend this rift and sway their minds? My cynical guess is that Roth's "The Plot Against America," for example, didn't experience soaring sales in Mississippi -- which is not to discount the importance of writing politically engaged and evocative fiction."
Yes, Heidi, it IS to discount the importance of writing politically engaged and evocative fiction. If a novel doesn't feature a conspiracy theory involving the Knights Templars and a Renaissance cultural figure, a fat girl finding love, or the Apocalypse, it will not find an audience among your "foreign country." Also, I would venture that Roth's novel did pretty well in Oxford, MS, one of the most literate and sophisticated towns in the United States.
Jeff VanderMeer: Politics today takes advantage of the fact that many of us in America apparently have what I would call deformed imaginations, in that they are not tied to the real world or real people in any meaningful way. In a sense, what is happening is that a bunch of bad writers are writing an ugly reality for this country, using the worst attributes of our imaginations to do so. A high capacity for belief, a high capacity for imagining, is not at issue. But the ability to dream well, to see beyond rhetoric and deception into the real world, where facts exist with cold, sharp edges...this ability has been dulled in some of us, for whatever reason. And as a result, the ability to reach toward some kind of truth has also been dulled.
Danny Gregory: The Bushies feel that knee-weakening sense of purpose. The rest of us just threw in our lots with hatred and nihilism. Our strategy was the same as the neo-cons going into Baghdad. Kill the fucker and we'll worry about what to do later. All that matters is to destroy the enemy.
That's not a liberal impulse and we're not very good at it.
William Gibson: Virgil, as ever, has it down: "Dis aliter visum."
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!" - Mario Savio
November 2, 2004
If you're an American and you're 18 or older, vote. If you're not an American, pray for us.
I don't know how many people have seen the preview for the upcoming movie adaptation of The Polar Express, but it is some creepy shit. The animation is unbelievably unsettling. I can't imagine kids seeing this and not having nightmares. The Grand Rapids Press (Swing state! Vote or die, Michiganders!) interviews the book's author, Chris Van Allsburg, about the film. Van Allsburg is quite gracious, though it's pretty obvious that he's not completely happy with the result. He probably had nightmares, too.
John Feinstein is the best writer of sports books in America today, which might not mean much to you if you don't care about, say, college basketball. Feinstein talks with the Daily News Tribune about his latest book, co-authored with basketball legend Red Auerbach, Let Me Tell You a Story.
A Vatican-sanctioned sex guide is encouraging churchgoers to make love more often in an effort to offset "impotence and frigidity" and address papal concerns over declining birth-rates among Italian Roman Catholics.
Anyone who's ever worked in retail should relate to Anthony Bonanza's "Tales of a book-monkey." Remember, be nice to your local bookstore employees. If you're not, those of us who work in customer service will be forced to hunt you down and kill you.
I really do believe that America (The Book) deserves to win the Pulitzer. But it won't be taught in schools anytime soon, reports Greg Toppo. Much better the school boards stick with the boring-ass textbooks we used as kids, with 13 pages on the Teapot Dome scandal and "discussion questions" that end with "Explain."
Teachers say they often bring in spoofs or unorthodox treatments of history to get students interested. Altoff remembers reading her students excerpts from a book called One-Night Stands With American History. "It's full of phenomenal stories, and it's fairly well-documented," she says.
But she adds, "I never took the book and held it up in class."
That reminds me of seventh grade, when my earth science teacher used to supplement our lessons with a book called It's Geology, Motherfucker. Sadly, it appears to be out of print.
I don't care if he's a conservative; I still love Tom Wolfe. There. I said it.
It's the Bookslut Election Month* Survival Guide!
*We all know this is not going to end today. Cute of you to initially think so, however. There'll be recounts and lawsuits for at least a month.
1. Remember to take a book in line with you. You are going to be there a long goddamn time. But Stay There. Stay and Vote. Where do you have to go, back to work? Bring something good and slutty so that the time will pass. If you want your thoughts to remain sweet and light, perhaps pick up An Almost Perfect Moment. If however, you're voting because Eminem told you to, and you want to remain pumped and vicious, perhaps The Dead Zone. It might give you hope in a different kind of way, the kind of way that could get me put on a list if I publish it on the blog.
2. Tonight, you should not be alone. You're probably going to need a lot of alcohol to survive, and drinking alone is bad. Gather people together, watch the Jon Stewart Daily Show live coverage, and develop some sort of drinking game. Just remember the most important drinking game rule of all: "Finish bottle when George W. Bush realizes he's losing and declares martial law."
3. Go to bed at some point. If you declare "I'm not going to bed until I have a new President!" you'll be driven insane from sleep deprivation.
4. When the recount starts, you'll have questions, and there are some books to help. The Road to Illegitimacy and Hanging Chads will give you background on the last recount. If you're still desperate for answers, try 2004 Essential Guide to Voting and Elections with Comprehensive Coverage of Federal Elections, Laws, and Procedures, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the Federal Election Commission, Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights and Disenfranchisement, Provisional Ballots, Voter Fraud and Intimidation, Military and Overseas Ballots, Electoral College, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold), Presidential Elections, PACs, Hatch Act, and the Florida 2000 Recount and Supreme Court Cases. It comes with a DVD!
5. At this point, you might still be able to laugh and our ridiculous culture that brought us to this point. Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best (with Halliburton jokes! Made in the 80's!) will make you nostalgic for the good ole days when our biggest enemy was Reagan. Don't forget America (The Book), especially if you don't have cable. We liberals turn to The Daily Show as being the only beacon of light during the dark election times, and you'll need something of Stewart's if you can't watch the show on a daily basis.
6. About three weeks in, you'll start making statements like, "I give up. I'm fucking moving to Canada!" or wearing the America is Scary t-shirt. Instead, stay, and just try to understand our fucked up country a little better. There are some books you might want to read:
American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon by Stephen Prothero.
What's the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank (flawed as it is, it does outline some of the clearest explanations for why the Republicans won the Bible Belt)
Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture by Michael A. Bellesiles (Yes, I know it's controversial. That's what a finely tuned sense of skepticism is for.)
If you're looking for answers on why people still support the war in Iraq even though every motivation for it has been proven false, search me. No idea.
7. At some point, you'll lose faith in God. Bertrand Russell will be there to help.
I'll be voting and doing voting-related activity for the rest of the day, so I'll leave you in Mike's capable hands. Now get out there and vote. Or Puffy will break into your house and kill you.
November 1, 2004
When Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, President Bush congratulated the Iranian lawyer and children's advocate for "her lifetime championing human rights and democracy."
When Ms. Ebadi sought to publish her memoirs in the U.S., she was startled to discover that doing so would be illegal, under a trade embargo intended to punish repressive governments such as the regime in Tehran that once sent her to jail.
Susannah Clarke has a new short story in the New York Times.
The Readerville Journal was a great magazine. It folded. They made some noise about regrouping, but it never happened. The website has always been very slim on content, built around a forum. The forum is better than most, either blissfully troll-free or heavily moderated. But it's still just a forum. And now they want you to pay for it.
The fee for use of the Readerville Forum — also referred to as "membership dues" — is $8 per month. That is applicable to everyone who has a username and logs in, whether you use the Forum for business or pleasure, as a lurker or poster.
I'm not against paying for online content. I did have a Salon subscription, way back when they weren't completely irrelevant. But paying $20 a year for Salon when it had at least one really good article a day is a lot different than paying $96 a year for a forum. Yes, it really now costs $96 a year.
There are many good online forums that are still free. I Love Books, Chick Lit, even the literature related threads on Fametracker. Forums do eat up a lot of bandwidth, which can make it expensive for the hosts, but I can't get over the price. Eight bucks a month sounds cheap, until you add it up for the year and realize it's more expensive than eight magazine subscriptions, it's half of the cheapest plan at Netflix, and it's the price of buying ten paperbacks a year.
There are better ways of supporting websites. Sell some ads, hold an annual fundraiser (Chicklit does this the best, I think, offering rare books and drawings by authors for auction), or harp on people to donate. Most of the loyal users, I'm sure, are more than happy to send over the money, but how many of us casual users, or even potential users, would be completely turned off by not even being allowed to read the forums first before paying dues?
I hope Readerville rethinks its position. Of course, I also never understood why, when the magazine folded, they didn't make the issues to read online. And at $8 a month, wouldn't that be enough to start paying for some original content for the site? Evidently not. For now, it's just a bookmark to delete from my browser.
Dennis Loy Johnson (whose book on the Bush inauguration protests The Big Chill should be read by all) writes in the latest MobyLives column about the books fueling the election discourse. (Just keep telling yourselves: only 24 hours left to go. Only 24 hours left to go.)
The New Yorker shares the history of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
Edward J. Renehan Jr. remembers his meeting with Allen Ginsberg.
"John Burroughs screwed Walt Whitman," said the poet, ticking off the fingers of one hand. "Then Walt Whitman screwed Edward Carpenter. Later on, Edward Carpenter screwed Gavin Arthur. Eventually Gavin screwed Neal Cassady. And finally, during the late forties, I screwed Neal Cassady. So you see, Burroughs and I are practically related. I can almost taste him."
While researching a column about books read as a teenager, I came across the Snopes file on the book Go Ask Alice. The big revelation isn't that it's fake (that was obvious even when we were 13), but that the person behind the book is Beatrice Sparks. Sparks is responsible for many fake diaries, including one of a boy who turned to Satan worship. (Even without the help of Harry Potter. Just imagine!) Another author involved with the book went on to create a book about "a girl who flees her alcoholic mother, becomes a stripper and dies of heroin addiction." As one does.
What might be one of the first Patriot Act urban legends is rolling around the Internet. I heard it from Pat Holt, who heard about it from Necessary Dissent, who heard about it from Digby, etc. It hasn't been disproven, but it can't be proven, either. So for now, let's just call it a post-Halloween horror story.