December 31, 2004
Most reasonable people are absolutely horrified at the news that Zadie Smith is writing a musical about the life of Franz Kafka. I, on the other hand, have already seen it. In an episode of Home Movies, the genius Adult Swim cartoon, the eight year old filmmakers write a rock opera based on Kafka. I had the songs stuck in my head for days. My personal favorite:
Living like a bug ain’t easy
My old clothes don’t seem to fit me
I got little tiny bug feet
I don’t really know what bugs eat
Don’t want no one stepping on me
Now I’m sympathizing with fleas
Living like a bug ain’t easy…
In 1991, Dana Gioia wrote in the Atlantic that poetry was dead. "Like subsidized farming that grows food no one wants, a poetry industry has been created to serve the interests of the producers and not the consumers." (Odd that Gioia published a book of poetry after he declared it dead. Perhaps he meant everyone's poetry but his?) Now he's reversing his opinion with the book Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture. He's interviewed at Atlantic Unbound.
The emergence of the new popular poetry has happened entirely outside of established literary culture. It happened among inner-city African-Americans in the case of rap, among Western agricultural workers in the case of cowboy poetry, among the inebriated of all races and classes in the case of poetry slams, and among academic outcasts in the case of New Formalism. So you have the emergence of a sort of poetry that is written not for the page but for the ear. And it's pervasive.
A variety of people including writers Neil LaBute, Daniel Handler, Hilton Als, Rachel Cohen, and, uh, Stanely Crouch list their favorite things from 2004 at Slate.
There has been almost no major press for Douglas Coupland's new book Eleanor Rigby. Could it be that critics and editors are finally figuring out that his books suck? He is, however, interviewed at the Globe and Mail. Listen to his fascinating explanation of mental illness:
"Depression is an extreme form of homesickness. The only cure for homesickness is going home. I think loneliness is when you feel homesick, but there's no home to go to. Even if your parents are both alive and living in the same house and you go back and sleep in the den or see your old school friends, there's no past to go back to. It's a mourning for something that doesn't exist."
And to think Andrew Solomon wasted all of those pages when he could have just summed it up in a few sentences.
To remember the people and players responsible for polluting our information environment, we are issuing a new year-end prize that we call the "Falsies Awards." Winners include video news releases, guerilla marketing, and ghostwritten letters to the editor.
We the undersigned also declare that we are utterly shocked and dismayed at the blasphemous publication of Mr. Sam Paul’s book "Why I Committed Suicide" that presents false and malicious information regarding our Beloved Prophet Muhammad. Also, the making of this film would be an insult to the Bush Administration and be nothing more than a politically motivated partisan prop aganda film, designed to invent a conspiracy that isn’t there.
This trend worries John Buckeridge, editor of Youthwork, a British Christian magazine. Unlike U.S. church-leaders who back books about Harry Potter, he spots danger ahead. "The growing number of books and TV shows like Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Why I Committed Suicide encourage an interest in magic as harmless fun," he warns. "However for some young people it could fuel a fascination that leads to dangerous dabbling with occult powers. So what starts out as spooks and spells can lead to psychological and spiritual damage."
Which is funny, considering the book is self-published, has nothing to do with magic, and the Amazon reviews were almost certainly written by Mr. Paul's friends. Controversy is the best publicity, however, and I just played into his ad campaign. This feels an awful lot like a short story from Melvin Jules Bukiet's A Faker's Dozen where a struggling writer hires an editor to shoot him (non-lethally) and make it look like it was an al-Qaida hit. But without the clever punchline.
December 30, 2004
Philip Pullman gives a detailed clarification of his feelings on the new direction the film version of his Dark Materials trilogy is going.
To take an answer from one context, invent a question that hadn't been asked, and put the answer next to it is not what used to be called honest journalism. To flag that answer in large type beside the new story, as if it came from the story itself, compounds the dishonesty.
Now here's the truth.
A little late, but how can you resist a Christmas story written by China Mieville and published in the Socialist Review? You just can't.
That last was what I couldn't get over. It felt so forlorn, putting my newspaper-wrapped presents next to the aspidistra, but ever since YuleCo bought the rights to coloured paper and under-tree storage, the inspectors had clamped down on Aggravated Subarborial Giftery. I kept thinking about Annie being able to reach down and fish out her present from under needle-dropping branches.
Maybe I shouldn't have told Annie, just surprised her on the day itself, but I was too excited. And if I'm honest, partly I told her because I wanted to make Aylsa jealous. She'd always made such an issue of how she didn't miss Christmas™.
Thank God for Citizen Girl. Girl is a self-possessed, moral, intelligent, and open feminist who is not a militant-chic refugee from Lillith Fair or an NPR-tote-bag carrying blue-stater in a hemp dress. She isn't a loveable oaf like Bridget Jones who only obsesses over weight and boys and little else. McLaughlin and Kraus pull it off because they are so wry and so spot on.
While most of my Christmas could be considered a complete failure, at least I walked out of it with a spanking new copy of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. If you have any interest in the Holmes mysteries at all, I highly recommend you make the investment for these two books. The books are absolutely beautiful, and the annotations really do add to the enjoyment. (Of course I only got this book after giving my 'best of the year list' to various publications.) The New York Times talks to Leslie Klinger, the editor of the collection.
December 29, 2004
Time presents their best of comics list, and surprise! No women!
At Christmas, while I was rereading a favorite book of mine, my sister was reading As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl. While botched circumcisions and penises that turn black and fall off might not seem like holiday reading to you or me, my sister was fascinated by the book and read (nasty, nasty) passages to me and the rest of the family. We returned from Christmas only to discover that the subject of the book committed suicide this year. John Colapinto, the author, wrote this obituary for David in Slate.
Rev. H. Michael Brewer, author of Who Needs A Superhero? Finding Virtue, Vice and What's Holy in the Comics is interviewed at Accent. (Also from Thought Balloons.)
Brewer said the religious overtones of comic-book story lines sometimes are put there intentionally by the writers and artists, while at other times the messages are unintended.
Most readers, he said, don't immediately see the virtues of a superhero but "that doesn't mean they're not absorbing some values, both good and bad, from whatever entertainment they're taking part in," Brewer said.
"One could watch 'The Lord of the Rings' movies, all 20 hours of it, and never know that Tolkien was Christian and writing from that viewpoint. But they could still come away with a profound sense that there are things that are right and wrong, that victory doesn't come cheaply and that you have to take a stand."
Thought Balloons noticed some strange timing in the publication of Todd McFarlane's "Things I Can't Live Without" (Mark McGwire's 70th home-run baseball, bought for $3 million, Braveheart DVD, Action Comics No. 1, circa 1938, estimated value $500,000). He did, after all, just declare bankruptcy (of the financial, not moral, kind, oddly enough).
So many riches, so many opportunities to astonish us, and yet Clarke insists on breaking off again and again to indulge in literary pastiche. So we get lackeys with Dickensian names like Drawlight and Childermass, literary squabbles and dust-ups that play out in the pages of the famous 19th-century literary journal The Edinburgh Review, that wicked Lord Byron and his shenanigans, genteel English travelers sojourning Wings of the Dove–like in Venice, and so forth. (And don’t forget the footnotes.)
The best center for information about Sontag's life and death right now is Wood s Lot.
December 28, 2004
Salinas is permanently closing all of its libraries due to budget concerns. (Thanks to Kathleen for the link.)
It was 1941, America had still not entered the war, and it was calculated in Berlin that some humorous, anesthetic words from a freshly-released Wodehouse, aimed at his vast audience in the United States, would help keep the American giant at bay. In due course he recorded five "talks" to be broadcast on German radio. The talks themselves were 10-minute slices of apolitical piffle -- "I was strolling on the lawn with my wife one morning, when she lowered her voice and said, `Don't look now, but there comes the German army"' -- but they would almost destroy him.
Paws Incorporated has stopped a Chinese publisher from continuing to pirate Garfield comics. They're also ordered to pay P.I. $25,000 in damages. Because Jim Davis doesn't quite have all the money in the world yet.
This week is mostly going to be occupied with those stupid looks back at the year that was. The Times's contribution is along the lines of "authors say the darnedest things."
Special award for courage
"The really heroic thing about Nick Hornby is that he lives in north London and rarely leaves it . . . Every English writer needs their corner that is forever England — but only a few brave men choose to make that corner Highbury." Zadie Smith, Time magazine
December 27, 2004
"I'm alive," shouted Morton, as he rescued them. "The world is saved, and I'm going to start a new environmental organisation based on truth."
Author's note: I'm very, very clever and have read a lot and you're all stupid wishy-washy liberals.
When will people learn to find more private venues for venting? A reporter was fired (or dooced, if you will) from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for his blog. He was fired for entries like this one:
"Speaking of dicks, I've been reading the Post-Dispatch's annual 100 Neediest Cases stories," he wrote on December 2. "The bottom line is that there are a lot of poor people who need stuff. It is a worthy cause. And, at some level, I feel sorry for these people. But at another level, one in which your friend Crazy Roland is much more in touch with, I must admit that I feel as if a good number of these needy cases could be avoided by a well-placed prophylactic."
Two men fight to save journalism by destroying it.
"The real trouble with journalism," he said, "is that it focuses only on facts -- obvious facts, superficial facts, trivial, empirical facts that deserve to line tomorrow's birdcage. My eyes were opened by Philip Roth's new book, The Plot Against America. Here's a book that works its way to important, hard-to-get-at truths by making almost everything up."
I hope everyone had a good holiday. Mike is off doing holiday-ish things, so you poor bastards are stuck with only me for a few days. After hiding out in the farmlands for a while with no access to book news, it figures that upon my return everyone is talking about my least favorite phenomenon. The release date of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was just announced, but the book has already topped sales charts.
December 23, 2004
Everyone have a happy and safe holiday. We'll be back soon.
At Slate, an interesting story about the movie based on The Polar Express, which is apparently being marketed to evangelical Christians. I guess that explains the movie's final scene, when Santa tells the little boy that abortion is murder, homosexuality is sinful, and Catholics are drunken idol-worshippers. (Also in Slate: Sen. Harry Reid is not boring. This article has nothing to do with literature, really, but I'll justify posting it by mentioning that Reid has written a very well-received history book about his Nevada hometown.)
The Asahi Shimbun has an unbelievably lovely reflection on poetry and the winter solstice.
Rocket Boys author Homer Hickam received a thank-you note from Martha Stewart, after he sent her copies of his books in care of her prison. Yet she's never thanked me for sending her an autographed copy of my autobiography. Huh.
The latest Koontz to become a published author likes to chew squeaky toys and tends to drool when she eats peanut butter.
Her writing - though edited by mega-author Dean Koontz - is a bit rough. You might say the book's a real dog.
"Playing games is fun, makes life good," advises one passage. "Bacon is good. Bacon is very good," reads another.
I solemnly promise that I will never mention Dean Koontz on this blog without somehow including the sentence "Bacon is very good."
If there were a prize for the most unsettling author of the year, Dennis Cooper would probably win each time. (Though A. M. Homes would probably give him a run for his money.) Reading Cooper's books is a lot like watching a Todd Solondz movie you recognize the talent, but it's nearly impossible to enjoy. The New York Press, one of the best independent newspapers in the country, reviews Cooper's latest, The Sluts, which is available through publisher Void Books. Caution: The phrase "arsenal of dildos" is used.
The Boston Globe profiles Bernard Cornwell, the self-proclaimed "least-known best-selling author in Massachusetts."
At a time when publishers are cutting corners, Bloomsbury Publishing P.L.C., the British publisher of the Harry Potter books, said yesterday that it was buying Walker Publishing Company, a small New York independent, to broaden its American presence with the addition of Walker's well-regarded nonfiction list.
December 22, 2004
A Bookslut reader named Rose has written with some extremely interesting insight on the Abebooks.com end-of-the-year lists.
Looking through the ABEbooks end of year list, toward the bottom of the page, I was interested to note that in eighth place for Most Searched Authors is "Roland Bestialite", ranking one above Shakespeare.
It turns out to lead to a 4-volume illustrated history of beastiality by one Roland Villeneuve.
A quick search for Villaneuve on amazon.fr reveals that this work represents only the tip of Mr. Villaneuve's iceberg of work concerning human sexuality and occultism, fetishism, BD±SM, vampires, Baal-worship, etc. One translation of his works into German, Grausamkeit und Sexualität, includes adjectives I hope to never see in German again, like 'Sadistisch-flagellantische'.
The Guardian presents their Top 10 Christmas books.
Seattle Weekly scores an interview with Philip Roth.
A small group of Dearborn, Michigan, theater folk are planning to put on "the first American-Islamic musical in history." The play, based on "The Poem of the Cloak" ("Qasidah al Burdah"), is scheduled to debut in March 2005.
Abebooks.com presents their end-of-the-year lists. Apparently, someone bought an Adam Smith book through the site for $25,000. Also enlightening are the bestselling subjects, which include sex, dogs and philosophy.
There's a joke in there somewhere.
Some British writers and actors fear that the cancellation of the play Behzti in Birmingham, after it was protested by Sikh Britons, might lead to self-censorship and the "Bollywoodization" of Asian-British art.
December 21, 2004
Slate is a day late and a dollar short, even if they don't know it. Samuel R. Delaney came up with this idea 34 years ago, in a talk he gave at the Hugo banquet. It's reprinted in his collection The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. Here's the relevant bit (from pgs 168-9 of the Berkeley Windhover edition):
As much as tone of voice is part of writing, the infinite nuances that various vocal tones can give to a single phrase are totally lost on the page. The scant dozen punctuation marks in the English typesetter's box are just inadequate to handle the job. (A couple of weeks ago, Greg [Benford], Joan [Benford], Don [Simpson], [Chelsey] Quinn [Yarbro] and I were contemplating a new punctuation mark: a "sarcasm mark" which, when it appeared at the end of a sentence, would indicate that the sentence should be read in such a way as to imply the exact opposite of its denoted content. Perhaps a small tilde over a period?)
This intriguing information also appears on Karin's super-cool Hanging Fire.
Introducing the sarcasm point. Oh yeah I like this idea¡
Kenyan author David Karanja (A Dreamer's Paradise) responds to the "neo-colonial insolence" of some Western critics who dismiss the importance of Kenya's literary canon. Particularly galling to Karanja are critics who assume that Kenya's literary scene disappeared with the exile of author Ngugi wa Thiong'o (the celebrated author of A Grain of Wheat, which has been recommended to me more than once).
Uh-oh. Three judges for Australia's Franklin Literary Award walked out in protest after a clash with the award's corporate sponsor. Also causing controversy was the fact that all five nominees for the Franklin were women living in New York.
The author of a play depicting scenes of sexual abuse and murder in a Sikh temple has gone into hiding after receiving death threats, friends say. Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's "Behzti" prompted a riot by 400 Sikhs outside the Birmingham Repertory Theatre over the weekend, forcing organisers to cancel the show.
I took three years of Latin and three years of Spanish during my (admittedly mediocre) academic career. But the only thing I can say in Latin is "Britain is a large island" ("Britannia est magna insula"), and people generally mistake my attempts to speak Spanish for some sort of pidgin Serbo-Croatian.
But George Campbell, the British linguist who died last Wednesday, was a bit more successful in his studies. He spoke 44 languages fluently, including Persian and Albanian. I didn't even know Albanian was a language. I assumed they spoke Latin, and spent their days discussing the relative size of certain European countries. Thanks a lot, state school.
USA Today lists the bestselling books of 2004. At the top of the list is all together now The Da Vinci Code.
Santa Claus may bring books to your kids this holiday season, but (Illinois) Gov. Rod Blagojevich won't.
Tom Wolfe's critics have been licking their chops even before I Am Charlotte Simmons was released, and the fact that he was given the Bad Sex award by a group of British literary critics undoubtedly filled them with much glee. Jessa pointed out last week that the sex scenes were intentionally bad, and wondered why the judges, who should know better, didn't get that. Tom Wolfe wonders the same thing.
It has often been said that Americans have no sense of irony. Now the American author Tom Wolfe has turned the tables, saying that the British literary judges who awarded him a prize for the year's worst sex in fiction simply did not understand that his description of a first encounter was meant to be ironic.
"There's an old saying - 'You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her sing'," he told Reuters. "In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can't make him get it."
I'm a Wolfe partisan, so feel free to bust out the grains of salt, but I love his response here. And who the hell says that Americans have no sense of irony? Unless that statement was meant to be ironic. Or maybe the judges really are aware that the sex scenes were intentionally bad, so they ironically awarded the Bad Sex award to Wolfe, who failed to pick up on the irony. Or maybe Wolfe did pick up on the irony, and his annoyance is meant to be ironic.
My head hurts.
December 20, 2004
Now here's something I can get behind. David Holwerk of the Sacramento Bee wants Merle Haggard to be California's next poet laureate. He offers as evidence the lyrics to Haggard's "Mama Tried," which really is one of the greatest country songs ever written.
Hell, Merle should be the governor. He'd be better than the dumbass they have now.
The renowned Arab poet and playwright Mamdouh Edwan has died at the age of 63, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported Monday.
For a country that can boast the City of Literature and one of the English language's greatest fiction writers, the Scottish seem a little self-conscious about their place in the literary canon. I have pretty fond feelings for all things Scottish, if only because my two favorite rock bands hail from there. But Andrew Crumey doesn't sound convinced he discusses the Scottish Review of Books and the prospect of a national Scottish literary prize, with a hint of a raised eyebrow.
John Updike has sold much of his book collection. Going for upwards of $5,000 was Updike's extensively notated copy of The Cool Crowd: Sweet Valley Junior High Number 4, which Updike called "sublime" and "revelatory" in a 2000 Paris Review article.
The British press is extensively covering the protest of the controversial play Behzti in Birmingham. On Saturday, Sikh protesters unhappy with the play's depiction of a rape and murder in a Sikh temple tried to storm Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, who is Sikh, has received death threats over the play's content. The Independent quotes Gurdial Singh Atwal, a "local councillor," as saying:
"Of course I condemn violence wherever it occurs and we are a peaceful and law abiding community. But you should also consider who is provoking this violence - who is creating this anger but the author herself."
UPDATE: As I was writing this post, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre announced that they have cancelled the play.
Stuart Rogers, the executive director of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, admitted that the play's closure amounted to censorship, but said he had a duty of care to staff and audiences. A performance had been scheduled for tonight.
There's a car in my neighborhood with the bumper sticker "Barack Obama for President 2008." Nothing like a little pressure for Illinois' new senator-elect. Adding to that pressure is the news that he's about to sign a $2 million book deal with Crown Publishers. His first book, the memoir Dreams from My Father : A Story of Race and Inheritance, is evidently in its sixteenth printing.
December 17, 2004
Spike Gillespie and Bookslut go way back. During this magazine's early days, Jessa and I published a piece critical of an article Gillespie had written for the Austin American-Statesman. What transpired is too complicated to recount here, but it ended up with Gillespie cleverly referring to Jessa as "the Bookcunt" in a letter to the Austin Chronicle. Ha ha ha! Get it?
So it's surprising that Gillespie was invited to lead a book club at an Austin elementary school, where the word "cunt" is usually discouraged. Shortly after she was invited, parents complained, and she was uninvited. According to the Statesman, Gillespie consulted some lawyers, and the school reinvited her. (Name: Bookslut, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Password: bookslut)
"The librarian was very apologetic. She felt that she was between a rock and a hard place," Gillespie said. "These people who coerced this librarian planned to make a really big stink about it. I felt that I would make a big stink first. This is my livelihood."
Gillespie consulted four lawyers about potential libel, slander and defamation of character issues after learning that one parent was circulating a letter criticizing her work, and she told Knowles that she expected the school to honor her contract, which would pay her $250 in May.
"I think that I have First Amendment rights and they don't have any right to disinvite me," Gillespie said.
For obvious reasons, I don't like Spike Gillespie. I don't like her writing, which I personally find sophomoric at best and dead boring at worst. And I think she needs to do a little more research into what the First Amendment actually says I think it also protects the parents who think, like I do, that her writing is poor.
But the school should never have uninvited her. Gillespie has led similar book clubs in Austin schools, and she wouldn't keep getting invited if she was doing a bad job. Regardless of what I think of her writing, she's been published in more than a few newspapers and magazines, and she has at least two books in print. And I don't think she's stupid enough to use profanity in front of a bunch of kids.
Of course, she can't resist the opportunity to play the martyr:
"I do this in the the hope that I can help kids and broaden their scope," she said. "This is all part of my trying to help the community, and they are ready to burn me at the stake."
Hey, maybe she's teaching the kids an early lesson about melodrama. No one's trying to burn you at the stake, Spike. If you want to help the community, then help the community. Don't waste your energy whining about it.
Zulkey.com interviews Rick Moody, who demurs when questioned about the National Book Awards controversy. But he opens up when asked about affairs financial:
I admit I know next to nothing about literary grants. Typically, what comes first when large grants are bestowed, someone who is a promising writer who might become even better with needed financial support, or a monetary show of support for somebody who is already an excellent writer? Or are there other factors involved?
I just have nothing interesting to say about this at all.
The London Review of Books goes slumming with a review of Jacky Newcomb's New Age tome An Angel Treasury: A Celestial Collection Of Inspirations, Encounters and Heavenly Lore. It's a pretty funny review, but even funnier is this odd disclaimer at the bottom:
In recent weeks, the LRB has received a far greater number than used to be usual of faith-related books. Whether the phenomenon is merely a symptom of Advent (a season that seems to creep further back through autumn with every passing year) or a sign of a more widespread trend is unclear.
Tomorrow I'm off for Kansas, and I leave you in Mike's capable hands. I already picked out the books I'm taking with me, based on a strict code: no review books, no books recently reissued, no books by authors still alive, and no books I have already read. Oh, and one book per day gone, so my box of books is larger than the box of presents. I'll be making stops in Lawrence and Topeka where I don't really know anyone anymore other than family, so if anyone will be around, you should drop me a line today. To everyone else, I'll be back soon, and the new issue of Bookslut will be up January 3rd. All the best, happy holidays, etc.
The Independent profiles Norwegian author Asne Seierstad, author of The Bookseller of Kabul. Seierstad's latest book, A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, recounts her experiences covering the Bush-Blair war in Iraq.
Seierstad says that after the fall of Baghdad, the city felt more dangerous than ever. She began, for the first time, to use her flak jacket. Now, in the vacuum of power, disputes between the Shia and Sunni Muslims and various political factions could suddenly be set alight. "I just see a big fire and I don't see how they can put it out; there have been so many mistakes," she says. The Americans "rushed into war and they had no plan."
That same criticism is currently being levelled by such bleeding-heart liberals as Republican Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Chuck Hagel, not to mention former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
The U.S. Treasury Department today revised regulations that required government licenses for the publication of books and other materials by citizens of embargoed nations including Iran. A lawsuit filed by Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Iranian national, and The Strothman Agency LLC of Boston, and another suit brought by PEN American Center and Arcade Publishing, pressured the government to end what amounted to prior restraint on freedom of speech.
December 16, 2004
Whitney Matheson of USA Today gives her annual list of the Top 100 people of 2004. Guess who outranks Dave Eggers and Courtney Love?
82. Jessa Crispin. When it comes to literature, sometimes it's OK to be slutty. Jessa's blog, Bookslut, remains the best place to find fast news about titles worth my time. (After Page Six, it's the first thing I read each day — but don't tell that to Jessa!)
Jessa's my favorite pop culture figure too, and she has been ever since we discovered that we were the only people we knew who actually wanted to see Behind Enemy Lines. (We did, and it was awesome.)
Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner was one of the most talked-about gay novels in American literature, though some critics have dismissed the book as pop fiction. At the San Bernardino Sun, Warren looks back on the novel's initial reception.
Mystery writer and singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman will announce his candidacy for governor of Texas in early February, reports the San Antonio Express-News. No word on whether he'll appoint members of his band, the Texas Jewboys, to state offices if he wins.
Friedman said Wednesday he expects to appear on MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" on Feb. 3 or 4, accompanied by the band Asleep at the Wheel, of Western swing fame, and a clutch of child fiddlers....He has said he wants to outlaw the declawing of cats, legalize casino gaming and start a Texas version of the Peace Corps.
Sounds good to me. And how could Texans resist lyrics like this?
We reserve the right to refuse service to you
Take your business back to Walgreens
Have you tried your local zoo?
You smell just like a communist
You come on through just like a Jew
We reserve the right to refuse service to you
LA Weekly wonders if Woody Allen ripped off Rick Moranis with a Disney parody in The New Yorker.
In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is "based on," everybody is brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. The central character Tenar, a Karg, is a white brunette. Ged, an Archipelagan, is red-brown. His friend, Vetch, is black. In the miniseries, Tenar is played by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, the only person in the miniseries who looks at all Asian. Ged and Vetch are white.
Richard Ford tells the Telegraph that while he doesn't mind doing readings, the audiences can be a pain.
"I've had some terrible experiences – you know, 'Oh, you're a misogynist, aren't you?' People will read something by me and think very different things, which is disturbing because it makes me think I haven't written the book well enough."
With new editions of dictionaries coming out, John Mullan suggests some words that should be taken out.
December 15, 2004
The neighborhood got its first dose of Qamar the summer of her ninth birthday, when she sat on the rooftop of her Alexandria apartment building for ten days and waited for the moon to come down. She did it for her neighbor Metwalli; he promised he’d be hers forever if she only brought him the moon. Metwalli was twenty-four and had no idea that Qamar would take his pledge to heart.
That's the first paragraph of "The Lunatics' Eclipse," a wonderful short story by Randa Jarrar, which was published in the last Ploughshares and which you can read right here. Randa is the Friday blogger at MoorishGirl, one of the best literary blogs on the planet. Congratulations to Randa on her story, and to Laila Lalami for bringing us MoorishGirl. You should bookmark it right now.
The Daily Star in Beirut has a fascinating profile of 19-year-old author Faiza Guene, the French-Algerian writer who's been causing an international stir with her debut novel Kiffe kiffe demain. Although it's currently only available in French, apparently an English-language translation is forthcoming. Young authors can sound unbelievably pretentious, but Guene comes across as both humble and erudite. I'm looking forward to an American or British edition of this novel soon.
Hugh Grant may have recently retired from acting, but his decision on where to go next shows that all he really wants to do is... pick out books for awards. He has joined the Whitbread panel, perhaps confusing his ability to star in adaptations of books with being able to judge quality. After all, I'm assuming he read the script to the new Bridget Jones. And he still said yes. That should disqualify him from the panel immediately.
Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated, the estate of Tarzan's creator, has demanded that Victoria University Press stop selling copies of the humorous novel Tarzan Presley.
Written by New Zealander Nigel Cox, it tells the story of Presley "raised by gorillas in the wild jungles of New Zealand, scarred in battles with vicious giant wetas, seduced by a beautiful young scientist" who gets a record deal with Elvis Presley's producer and has 30 No 1 hits.
The city of Snohomish, Washington, is looking at ways to restore its dilapidated Carnegie Library. There are still a few of these across the country it's an unbelievably important part of American library history, though many have been razed or left to rot. I used to live in a town with a Carnegie Library, which at some point was converted into a history center. I can't say that I ever got to see the inside of the building, though the old hotel across the street had cheap enchiladas and beer, so I was a regular visitor there. Does that count? Probably not. The point is, if there's one in your town, you should check it out. Cheers to Snohomish for preserving a piece of literary history.
Any newspaper browser who chanced upon the weekend sections devoted to Christmas book round-ups might have felt that something distinctly odd was going on. According to all the known laws of arts journalism, such features are the literary equivalent of the festive consumer guides on display elsewhere in the paper showcasing the 10 best designer handbags for under £200. Clearly, though, on this occasion someone had forgotten to tell the critics involved that it was their duty to be positive, and the general effect was as if Nick Griffin of the BNP had written a work entitled Racial Harmony and How to Achieve It.
Ha ha ha! Nick Griffin! Get it? Neither do I. Must be a British thing.
The Comics Journal explains some changes made at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It's only an excerpt, but as very few articles in TCJ are less than 3,000 words, they're really doing you a favor.
Tavis Smiley interviews Christopher Hitchens on NPR. I haven't listened to this yet, as my co-workers and I are currently trying to see how many times we can play "The Heat is On" by Glenn Frey before someone asks us to please stop. Previous record: 18.
It's not like there's been a shortage of articles about BookCrossing over the past two years, but it's an indisputably cool idea, so there's no harm in reminding people, I guess. That's what the Christian Science Monitor does in this article, suggesting the program as a way to dispose of unwanted books that you might receive as holiday gifts.
Each Christmas, books are among the most popular gifts both to give and receive. For the giver, every form of media outlet is featuring 'recommended' and 'best of' lists for the year, so there is no shortage of helpful suggestions. (And, for some of us, there is the added attraction that a book is something we can actually wrap - without the finished product looking like the aftermath of a life-or-death struggle between Hallmark and Scotch tape.)
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that BookCrossing's programmer, Dan Clune, is still missing. If you have any information that might help in the search, contact the Sandpoint, Idaho, police at (208) 265-1482 or Bonner County central dispatch at (208) 265-5525.
The New York Daily News reports that book publisher Judith Regan got "icy stares" at the White House yesterday, after it was revealed that she had once been the extramarital lover of Bernard Kerik, the former Homeland Security department head nominee.
December 14, 2004
Comic Book Galaxy has a round up of 2004 in comics. While there are some glaring omissions -- no Bone, no Rent Girl, no Persepolis 2, no In the Shadow of No Towers, not to mention no women creators at all, nor any comics in translation -- it's the most comprehensive coverage of the year in comics I've seen thus far. It's just sad that it has to be by someone who really thinks James Kochalka is cool.
Included in the New York Times Magazine's annual round up of "ideas" of the year is Shelley Jackson's "Skin" project.
The Independent and the Vancouver Courier weigh in with the best sports books of 2004, and Fox Sports recommends some of the year's most interesting soccer books. And for the seven of you still reading this, you can't go wrong with Sports Illustrated's list of the Top 100 sports books of all time, which highlights such deserving titles as Friday Night Lights, Paper Lion, and Life on the Run.
Lyn Gardner writes the untold history of Sleeping Beauty: rape, feminism, and Nazis.
If Disney's version offered a sleeping princess who was very much a product of her era and in urgent need of a copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, others have manipulated the comatose beauty for their own purposes. During the 1930s, the Nazis frequently drew on well-known fairy tales and moulded them to fit the ideals of National Socialism. The Nazi propaganda machine was particularly fond of the sleeping beauty story, with Hitler depicted as the dashing prince battling through the sharp thorns of Jewish and communist conspiracy to awake the Sleeping Beauty of the Ayran volk of Germany.
DEAR AMY: Could you suggest a way to deal with a member of our book club who monopolizes the discussion? ... At the last meeting, she held the floor until even those who might have agreed with her were looking at their watches.
You might be surprised to hear that the answer to this question involves pepper spray and socks with bars of soap in them.
Religious censors in Cairo are urging the Egyptian government to ban a biography of Mohammad written by an 19th-century scholar named George Bush.
The London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat on Monday attributed the book to "George Bush the Ancestor" and quoted the translator as saying: "The religious thought of the Bush family has been inherited for a long time." But the U.S. publishers say it is unclear if a genealogical connection exists with the Bush family.
Update on the mysterious death of the Sherlock Holmes scholar: It seems perhaps he commited suicide while making it look like a murder in order to frame an enemy. Of course, his idea was lifted from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Problem of the Thor Bridge."
December 13, 2004
Grant Palmer barely escaped being excommunicated from the Church of Latter-Day Saints for writing the book Insider's View of Mormon Origins. Palmer states in his book that the origins of the CLDS have been exaggerated, and the church is horrified to think people might have figured that out. (Come on, it's like Christians saying everything in the Bible is completely historically accurate and nothing was tacked on later.) So while Palmer was not excommunicated, he was suspended and is no longer allowed to attend temple. Palmer still considers himself a faithful Mormon, but some officials "questioned how Palmer could still be a true believer, as he professed, if he had so many doubts." Idiots.
More on Andrea and Mike Minnon, the Lebanon, Maine, parents who are trying to stop The Catcher in the Rye from being taught in their son's high school. The Minnons deny they're trying to ban the book, even though it's clear to everyone else that's exactly what they're trying to do.
[School Board Director Stephen] Geller also said [Andrea] Minnon’s actions are on par with banning books because she requested the book not be read by the entire freshmen class, not just her son. "To ask that it not be assigned to any student really is basically telling teachers what is appropriate and it’s making the choice for all parents of the other children who would otherwise be exposed to what I consider a great piece of literature."
The 48 year old who had been missing since his Stockholm apartment exploded last Wednesday morning was found dead in the ruins on Sunday. He was being investigated by the police for his role in the theft of books worth millions of crowns from Stockholm's Royal Library.
Crime doesn't pay, kids.
Note to Orange County: Next time a mysterious candidate is running for office and that candidate has written a book, perhaps you should read it. It might provide warning signs that the guy is a complete nut.
Caryl Phillips, author of A Distant Shore and Crossing the River, writes about the influence traveling has had on his writing. He didn't travel so much for exploration sake, but mainly just to get out of Britain.
I could choose to remain on the side of the West Indians and be a rowdy, most likely dreadlocked, youth who threw bottles in the street, abused the police, and generally made a nuisance of himself; or I could enter into the brave new world of Black Britain, and dissociate myself from this dissolute, ganja-smoking element, and attempt to gain a white-collar job. In case I was in any doubt as to what this new black Briton looked like, in 1983 the Conservative party produced an advertisement that featured a photograph of a smartly suited, briefcase-wielding, well-groomed black man under the heading "Labour says he's black, Tories say he's British."
The Boston Globe profiles Neal Karlen, author of Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew, which looks very amusing indeed.
"To me," Karlen argues, "'The Big Lebowski' and Sandy Koufax are important parts of Jewish lore. I really do feel that what Koufax did in the 1965 World Series, missing a start because it was Yom Kippur, is as important as anything in [the writings of the Jewish philosopher] Maimonides."
Comic books are now being used to teach reading in some schools. (Thanks to John for the link.)
"People care incrementally a little bit less about what a novelist has to say on the subject of politics," Franzen told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.
"I think the erosion is steady, thankfully slow, but unless you're John Grisham - and even if you are John Grisham - who cares?
"In America you might sway the 150,000 already converted, and make yourself look like an ass in the process."
Dan Clune, the programmer for BookCrossing.com, has disappeared. There's a $10,000 reward for any information, and the family will be interviewed on Court TV today.
As my liver desperately tries to recover from Daniel Nester's visit to Chicago, I should point out his poem "Arraignment of a Beach Boy" is available online. Nobody writes rock geek poetry like Daniel Nester.
December 10, 2004
Nerve.com interviews David Levithan about his books Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility, the new trend of "not killing off the gay character" in teen lit, and the difference between teen lit and something like 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed.
"No part of this book should be analyzed as to whether it is right or wrong, good or bad," she said. "It's all twisted, lewd and in every way inappropriate."
So which book is Cerise Ivey, the mother of a Blue Springs, Missouri, middle school student talking about? The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women? XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits? No, it's perennial young-adult classic The Giver by Lois Lowry. Luckily, the Blue Springs Board of Education voted unanimously to keep the book on the reading list. The article didn't mention anything about her being laughed out of the building, but hopefully, that's what happened.
Comics Reporter has more on the U.S. Customs seizure of Stripburger, including a response by CBLDF head Charles Brownstein.
There's not much to this brief story in the Hindustan Times, but some people (like me and Jessa, for example) will automatically salivate when the phrase "new Salman Rushdie book" is uttered.
If you're going to use a newspaper's best of list to help adjust your Amazon.com wish list, you should probably be using the Washington Post's. They went with some less obvious, yet just as worthy books like William Trevor's A Bit on the Side, James Hynes's Kings of Infinite Space (you can read our interview with Hynes here), Lorraine Adams's Harbor, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind. They may have forgotten You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free, but I've come to terms with the fact that I am the only person who thought that was the book of the year.
A book of suicide notes has become a surprising Christmas bestseller in Germany. I Would Like To Finish Now by Leipzig historian Udo Grashoff is tragic and funny. It comes as suicide - and whether the state should assist in it - is being hotly debated.
That is a surprise. Who'd have thought a German would be morbid?
At the Times, Janet Maslin considers the new crop of gift books, and finds it to be a mixed bag.
At the incomprehensible end of the gift spectrum, the special "Polar Express" set features print, CD and audiotape versions of Chris Van Allsburg's story, not to mention one of Santa's bells. It's hard to imagine the circumstance in which all four of these things would be useful.
December 9, 2004
Everything comes together in this excellent story from the Cleveland-based Free Times. Reporter Joshua Greene and photographer Tina Brugnoletti are the journalists behind this article on Cleveland's Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word, a group of extremely gifted teenage poets.
There's only one creative writing program in Russia, as opposed to the 17,800 such programs (I'm guessing here) in the US. The Moscow Times asks whether the Moscow Literary Institute is a legitimate program, or still a Soviet-era throwback.
But for some, the Literary Institute remains tarnished by its Soviet-era reputation as a place where students were taught to toe the party line. Poet [Bella] Akhmadulina was suspended from the institute in 1959 for signing a letter in support of Boris Pasternak. In a 2003 interview published in Elle magazine, she said, "If the Literary Institute taught me anything, it was how you shouldn't write and how you shouldn't live."
I'm sure I'm going to get angry messages from conservatives about this one, but here we go. Hamilton College has announced that Susan Rosenberg will not be an artist-in-residence next year. She was to teach a creative writing seminar at the college, but recently decided to withdraw from the school. Rosenberg, a liberal activist and opponent of the Vietnam war, was imprisoned for sixteen years for weapons possession before being pardoned by President Clinton. Conservatives still blame Rosenberg for a 1981 robbery attempt that left three people dead, despite the fact that the evidence linking her to the crime was so weak, she was never actually brought to trial for it.
But that didn't stop conservatives and their house organ, Fox News from whining about the hiring in the most abrasive manner possible. (People like Henry Kissinger, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and should be rotting in prison right now, are presumably exempt from the right wing's self-righteous posturing.) Why did the right put up such a fight about this? Was it because of her Jewish last name? Was it because she's openly lesbian? Or was it just because they're afraid to admit that the US kept this clearly political prisoner behind bars for years for a crime she didn't commit?
Right-wingers will tell you it's because she's a "cop killer" (remember, she was never even charged). It's odd to see the right gain this newfound respect for law enforcement authorities. Republicans routinely oppose pay raises for police officers, and oppose almost all the gun control measures that police officer unions support. What a shame. The students at Hamilton could have learned something from her.
Max Allan Collins, author of the graphic novel The Road to Perdition, has written two sequels: another graphic novel, Road to Perdition 2: On the Road, and a narrative prose novel, Road to Purgatory. Collins is interviewed at ThisWeek.
Some of the best English-language arts reporting in the world comes from The Daily Star in Beirut. In today's edition, Samia Nassar Melki contributes a fascinating profile of author Jean Said Makdisi, whose new memoir Teta, Mother and Me will be published in the US in March. Makdisi is also the author of a wonderful memoir of the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut Fragments, and the sister of the late author Edward Said.
David Grann, who wrote an article in this week's New Yorker about the mysterious death of a Sherlock Holmes scholar, is interviewed about the investigation.
Included on the Telegraph's list of the best books of the year are most of the usual suspects. Philip Roth, Armand Marie Leroi, Susanna Clarke, David Mitchell, Anthony Bourdain, etc. And then, inexplicably, Feel: Robbie Williams by Chris Heath.
Chris Heath began his biography of Robbie Williams in August 2002, just as the final tracks on Escapology were being recorded in Los Angeles and shortly after the tattooed showman had signed his whopping £80 million contract with EMI. The devoted Boswell stayed with his mercurial Johnson for 18 months, scrupulously chronicling the surreal life of a man who received 30,000 Valentine's cards last year but didn't send any himself.
Williams's confessions are funny and freewheeling: we learn that he often records naked, has a pet wolf called Sid, and broke wind during the first vocal take of his big hit Angels. He's also taking anti-depressants and claims he's so hungry for attention that he performs when the fridge light comes on.
Gerald Allen, the Alabama fuckwit who wants to ban literature with depictions of gay situations or characters, will be meeting with President Bush. Allen talks to the Guardian about how he just wants to "protect people," why what he's doing is not censorship ("For instance, there's a reason for stop lights. You're driving a vehicle, you see that stop light, and I hope you stop."), and whether Shakespeare would fall under the ban. And this fucker will be at the White House on Monday.
We'll be having this debate for months, but might as well get it started. Jonathan Freedland: The Merchant of Venice is an anti-semitic play, and the new movie is even worse!
He'll never write a novel. "If you ever catch me toying with the idea, you have my permission to shoot me. Maybe a slim volume of haiku, but that's it."
U.S. Customs seized a shipment of comic books that they say are "clearly piratical copies." The book is Stripburger, a regular anthology series based in Slovenia, and has featured such essential artists as Aleksandar Zograf (seriously, get yourselves copies of Bulletins from Serbia) and Jason, as well as introducing audiences to European artists and writers. The offending strips in the latest edition were by Peter Kuper and Bojan Redžić, and evidently the U.S. Customs is not trained in recognizing parody when they see it. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is on it. (Buy memberships for everyone you know for Christmas.)
Andrea Minnon of Lebanon said she had never heard of "The Catcher in the Rye" before she learned that it was on her 14-year-old son Spencer's freshman reading list. After researching the book online with her husband, she concluded that it espouses immoral ideas that are inappropriate for freshman-age students. Now she wants it removed from the freshman curriculum.
Read that carefully.
Andrea Minnon of Lebanon said she had never heard of "The Catcher in the Rye" before she learned that it was on her 14-year-old son Spencer's freshman reading list.
Jesus Christ. Look, I'm not a classical music fan, but I've heard of Pachelbel's Canon. I'm not a historian, but I've heard of Charlemagne. Who the fuck hasn't heard of The Catcher in the Rye?
John Peel's brother is critical of publishers' rush to release biographies and books about Peel so soon after his death.
Adam Langer is interviewed at Shinygun.com about his novel Crossing California, his fear of "becoming one of those novelists in New England who writes about being a novelist in New England," and his tenure at Book Magazine. (Link from Galleycat.)
When we started out, during the dotcom boom and the Oprah Era, Book seemed like a good way to spend one's $4.95. When all that collapsed, I think the magazine became more superfluous. I think it still could have succeeded -- all we really needed were a couple hundred thousand pleasure readers, not millions. But I never felt that we had clear directives from either the reading public or our corporate benefactors, and sometimes those two groups seemed to be at cross-purposes. We tried to please everybody and wound up frustrating a lot of people -- it's hard to do a magazine that appeals to readers of Anita Shreve but also to readers of James Patterson but also to readers of Umberto Eco, Jonathan Franzen, and Toni Morrison. It might not be possible.
December 8, 2004
Actor Sean Astin talks to the Seattle P-I about his new memoir, which he's saddled with the hilariously pretentious title There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale. Surprise he comes across as a huge dick.
The main reason for why I didn't wait (to write the memoir) was, I knew there was a market for it, and I knew I could sell it. Maybe that's not very honorable, or something, but I wanted to service the marketplace, if you want to put it in coarse monetary terms, and communicate with people in a way.
Later in the interview, demonstrating the kind of candor he will probably regret someday, he confesses that he actually considered ditching his daughter on her birthday to sign autographs for $30,000, and implies that he might be interested in running for office someday. Oh God help us.
Most people's knowledge of Welsh literature begins and ends with Under Milk Wood, but the country's assembly is trying to change all that, with a list of 20 English-language literary classics from Wales.
Deepak Chopra: The comic book.
The Onion's "Bible Only Work of Ficion in Family Home" would be much funnier if they had picked any city in Kansas other than Lawrence. Lawrence is full of college students, hippies, gays and lesbians, art freaks... in other words, Lawrence is where the people fleeing the religious have settled. Come on, guys. Liberal, Kansas would have been funnier.
In Spain, controversy is mounting over what to do with the body of poet Federico Garcia Lorca if they can find it.
There is a literary prize named after Smarties. The candy. It's called the Nestle Smarties prize. Yeah, I'd put that on my book cover.
Feminist Egyptian author Nawal Saadawi said on Wednesday she plans to run in next year's presidential race, even though she does not expect to win.
Saadawi, author of A Daughter of Isis and Walking Through Fire, says she opposes "corruption and American colonialism." In sharp contrast to all those Middle Eastern politicians who openly embrace corruption and American colonialism, one supposes.
Gerard Jones, author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book writes about superheroes for the L. A. Times.
This will be your last opportunity to buy the Bookslut t-shirts, mugs, etc with designs by Danny Gregory and Spike. As of January 1st, we will have all new designs. So thanks again to Danny Gregory and Spike for their lovely artwork, and get them while you can.
Controversy down under about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's list of the country's 100 favorite books. Queensland preacher Col Stringer is denying that he pushed his followers to vote his books 800 Horsemen and Fighting McKenzie Anzac Chaplain on the list. (The books placed 12th and 29th, respectively.) Stringer explains:
"The heritage of our nation is Christian. It's not Buddhist or Muslim or tree huggers. It's Christian. The very foundations of our nation are based on Biblical principles."
Jason Steger of The Age doubts the validity of the poll's results:
In the end, this sort of exercise is useless from a sociological point of view. Bookshops might stock up on the Top 10 titles but you can't really draw any conclusions about what Australians read.
Jane Brox, author of the American Farm Trilogy (Here and Nowhere Else, Five Thousand Days like This One, and Clearing Land) and author I am about to interview in an hour, is profiled in the New York Times's Home & Garden section. Kind of funny they classify a family farm as a "home and garden," but whatever. That's an urban paper for you. But don't let the farming thing scare you off of her work. She's one of the best contemporary nature writers we have, and her books are just beautiful.
December 7, 2004
There are a few things you should not buy someone for Christmas, no matter how much they really want it. Do not buy them anything by Dan Brown. It's for their own good. And if they're asking for the new David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, just say no. Both authors have been coasting for years, repeating themselves, being significantly less funny than their first books. Instead, give them Cutty, One Rock by August Kleinzahler and buy a copy for yourself, too. He's interviewed at SF Gate about Cutty -- one of my favorite books of the year -- his collections of poetry, and the sudden interest in him.
Don't you just love it when Ivy League students salute themselves? Princeton University gives itself a big ol' pat on the back for giving the literary world the gift of Jonathan Safran Foer, among others.
I hate sloppy, overblown, cliche-ridden language when it is used by those who should know better. I hate jargon. I hate the idea that rules govern language, though I do not expect you to find a split infinitive within this book. I hate Alastair Campbell. But most of all I hate Lynne Truss, who cornered the market in grumpy rants about the state of the nation's use of English, and makes this appear exactly what it is - a shameless piece of opportunism.
So how mega is this, like? I mean, like, is it awesome. In case you hadn't guessed, I hate that kind of language.
Once again, newspaper reporters score poorly in the annual Gallup Poll, released today, on “honesty and ethical standards” in various professions, as judged by the American public. They rank even lower than bankers, auto mechanics, elected officials, and nursing home operators.
There is something so wrong about Slate using the tag line "The best religious mystery since The Da Vinci Code" for a review of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Even as a joke it makes my skin crawl.
Subcomandante Marcos, spokesperson for Mexico's Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), will co-author a novel called The Awkward Dead that will be serialized in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada (site en español). Marcos is also the author of the books Our Word Is Our Weapon, Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising, and the children's book The Story of Colors/La Historia de Los Colores: A Bilingual Folktale from the Jungles of Chiapas.
Many of the 26 sermons could easily fit into any of the book's six parts. The challenge for this reader (and I suspect for the editors) was in discerning the predominant message in each piece. Is it proclaiming peace, or passion, or purity? A title of a U2 song cleverly sets the stage for each part. We get these categories to dwell upon: New Year's Day (the hope of one day living in a world without divisions or violence); Until the End of the World (how betraying the ones we love while thinking we are actually helping them, only to have them still love us in return, leaves us feeling miserable); Staring at the Sun (choosing to go blind by staring not at the world but at the brilliant sun, drawing strength from it to help ourselves and others persevere with grace); Desire; Elevation (pursuing heightened states of love, belief, and existence); and Fire (the transformation of an obedient, disciplined person into one who becomes a living sacrifice).
If you have the Sundance Channel, consider yourself lucky. Tonight is the premiere of the First Amendment Project. The first episode, directed by Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob, concerns itself with the Fox vs. Franken case. Future episodes will be on Amiri Baraka, Lenny Bruce, and free speech zones at political conventions.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry is distributing a comic book to teach would-be immigrants to America how to survive and deal with US law enforcement authorities.
Starting this week, 1.5 million copies of the "Mexican Migrant's Guide" will be dropped at bus stations across Mexico. Copies eventually will make their way to Mexican consulates in U.S. cities with large migrant populations, such as Dallas and Atlanta, officials said.
Bookslut Issue #31
Ward Just, author of fourteen novels including the most recent An Unfinished Season met with John Detrixhe after receiving the Heartland Prize from the Chicago Tribune. They discussed his background in journalism, why he set his latest book in Chicago, and the spark of inspiration.
Daniel Hayes released his first novel Tearjerker this year on Graywolf, a small Minneapolis presss. The narrator of the book is incredibly critical of the New York publishing scene, and he ends up abducting one of the high-profile editors to keep in a cage in his basement. We discussed Hayes's own experience with the New York publishers, his streak of exhibitionism, and the perils of sharing a name with a children's book writer.
This month's Judging a Book By Its Cover is a Knee-Biter special. Children's books for all.
Will Christopher Baer has finished his trilogy, and now all three are out on MacAdam/Cage. All three follow Phineas Poe, a man missing his kidney and his luck. He talked to Geoffrey Godwin about the death of author Lucia Berlin, MFA programs, and why he's so relieved to be with MacAdam/Cage.
In columns, we introduce "Small, but Perfectly Formed," James Morrison's view of the world of novellas. Cookslut gets sentimental about a book you'll never find in your local book store. Hollywood Madam tells us where It's a Wonderful Life came from. The Propagandist has gift ideas for the religious zealot on your list. And Comicbookslut returns from Japan where she went seeking really good manga.
A book with a gay character cannot be read aloud at Pleasant Valley elementary schools, but can be read to older students and will remain in the district’s libraries. The Misfits, by James Howe, will be restricted after a split vote of the Pleasant Valley School Board on Monday night. The vote was 4-3. The district’s elementary schools include kindergarten through sixth grade.
Teacher Linda Goetz read the book aloud to her sixth-grade class as a demonstration of why name-calling and bullying can be hurtful. Now, thanks to Pleasant Valley school board members Kathy Kaminski, Deborah Dayman, Joanne Messman and Dan Schurr (who voted in favor of the ban), kids will learn the exact opposite. They couldn't have done more harm if they tried. (On the other hand, cheers to members Tana Barsness, Kevin O’Hara and John Hoffman, who voted against the ban.) And Iowans should be very proud of Goetz, who told the Quad-City Times:
“I am a humanist teacher ... I value a human’s dignity and worth. The best we can do as teachers is to teach our students empathy and tolerance for our differences.”
Why do all these stories seem to come from Iowa, one of the country's more tolerant, open-minded states? It happens all across the country, but Iowans have the courage to fight for inclusion, and the state's newspapers actually report these stories. Good for them, and good for Linda Goetz, one of my new heroes.
December 6, 2004
Douchebag for Freedom Robert Novak is profiled in Washington Monthly and his many, many sins.
In August, when the members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth went after John Kerry, Novak used his column and television appearances to hype their claim that Kerry had lied his way into receiving medals in Vietnam, and flacked their book, Unfit for Command, with a glowing review. When Novak attended a party at Morton's Steakhouse in downtown Washington to celebrate the book's success, he was joined by the director of marketing for its publisher, Regnery Publishing: his son, Alex Novak.
Despite the fact that even the most exciting matches end with scores like 3-1, soccer remains the world's most popular sport (except in the US, where professional teams are considering paying people with drugs and sexual favors to come to the games). Britain, for example, has a poet laureate in charge of soccer chants.
In other chants he has noted the death of Brian Clough, a soccer star from the past; marked the end of Arsenal's 49-game winning streak, and commented on the fact that three top English players are now playing for Real Madrid, a glitzy team that has not done so well this season. To the tune of "Three Little Maids from School" from "The Mikado," it begins:
Three brittle boys in Spain are we,
Each of us prone to injury.
"Real" signed us all for a handsome fee;
Three brittle boys in Spain.
You know a sport is rough when the chants are sung to Gilbert and Sullivan.
The Skousen Book of Mormon World Records and Other Amazing Firsts, Facts & Feats is a veritable potpourri of the inspirational and irrelevant, the enduring and endearing, and the oddest of odds and ends in all of Mormondom. More than a decade in the making, the 480-page book is on shelves now at LDS bookstores and has become a guilty pleasure - like watching an unedited tape of "Titanic" or faking an illness on Super Bowl Sunday - for many of the faithful.
Salon's feature story today: "Women are buying He's Just Not That Into You by the truckload to understand their failing relationships. But what if he is into you?" Then I think you get to have sex.
The Story Prize has announced its short list:
All these goddamn women dominating prizes this year. Who the hell do they think they are?
Behrendt and Tuccillo are equally enlightening when it comes to sex: "If a man is not trying to undress you, he's not into you. ... If I'm really into somebody, I want to put it in them. And then take it out. And then put it back in them later on. ... There's someone out there that does want to have sex with you, hot stuff." Charming, I know. On cheating, Behrendt and Tuccillo start out making sense: "He had sex with someone else, came back, and slept in the same bed with you. He was actively hiding his secret from you every time he looked in your eyes. ... In my book, lying, cheating, hiding is the exact opposite of the behavior of a man who's really into you." Great. Intuitive as the day is long but perfectly reasonable--until Behrendt and Tuccillo decide that you still might not get it: "If he has a problem with anything in your relationship, he's supposed to talk to you about it, not put-his-penis-in-a-strange-vagina about it."
Factsheet 5, the indispensible review of independent media and zines that folded in 1998, is relaunching.
Hey, screw that whole "literary credibility" thing let's give Dean Koontz's new feel-good "spiritual" novel a glowing review.
In his reason for publishing a book (that originated as a column in The Believer), Nick Hornby explains, "I'd never seen anyone write about what they chose to read, rather than what they were paid to read." Really. So I guess he'd never heard of Alberto Manguel, Nancy Pearl, Michael Dirda, Sara Nelson, Jonathan Yardley's series of reread books in the Washington Post, not to mention just a whole category of bloggers. Nick Hornby's very special book is called The Polysyllabic Spree: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man's Struggle With the Monthly Tide of Books He's Bought and the Books He's Been Meaning to Read and the column is still running in the Believer.
December 3, 2004
Consumer electronics are now outselling books at Amazon. Huh.
M. E. Russell is previewing a few pages of his upcoming collaboration with Scott Allie, Sacred to the Memory. It's a book about Thomas De Quincy (Confessions of an Opium Eater) that will be available... sometime. In the future. After the other 50-some pages are done. Thanks for teasing us, Russell.
America's first female poet laureate Mona Van Duyn, once described as a pioneer of the poetry of the suburbs, has died in St. Louis at the age of 83, her publisher Alfred A. Knopf said on Thursday.
Brian K. Vaughan was interviewed at LA City Beat this summer, but of course I just found it now. So there's nothing about the new installment of Y: The Last Man, called Safeword. But he does explain where the idea came from.
Also Y related, Footnote Comics has been footnoting Y. They have charts, explain some of the more obscure pop culture references, and are in general doing a very thorough job. (Link from Vaughan's own blog.)
Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine, was once one of America's best-known pornographers. Now he's homeless and he just got arrested on charges of stealing three books from Barnes and Noble. (The New York Press notes: "It's virtually impossible to get busted for shoplifting from a Barnes & Noble....In order to get busted, you essentially have to take a book off the shelves, walk up to a guard and say, 'Hey, Kojak I'm going to steal this book,' then walk out the door.")
You know that part of the Oscars where they show clips of all the actors and directors who died the year before, and play that sort of sad music behind it? Here's the literary equivalent, from the UNC student newspaper. (I didn't know children's book author Paula Danziger had died. Sad.)
Instead of us posting every single best of the year list that comes our way, why don't you just bookmark Fimoculous which is once again doing us all a favor by collecting the lists in one place.
Galleycat tears apart the writing style of Salon's Writing in the Margins column with tact and succinctness. I have disliked the column since it appeared, but I figured it was only because a) Salon didn't hire me for the job; and b) the writer wasn't covering the books I thought were worthy of mention. I mean, come on. He has a column about small press literature, but when he covers comics, he reviews books published by DC. I don't think he quite understands what "small press" means.
William Georgiades details a feud between himself and Dave Eggers, "a scary little man." Georgiades submitted an article to Might magazine, only to have it fall apart due to a weird fact checking cycle. The fact checker was, of course, Dave Eggers.
I took a few little slaps, either on my work voicemail (always at four in the morning) or from an AOL email address. I was told I was being dishonest and unethical, which was annoying as the whole point of the story had been how dishonest and unethical the New York Press was. Then some nice career advice: It was unwise of me to make enemies; I'd already made enemies at the New York Press and making enemies at Might wasn't going to do me any good. Then a parental suggestion: "It's all right to have a chip on your shoulder, Will, but I'd be a little worried about the size of yours." (Who was this clown calling me 'Will'?)
I know I've been a little obsessed about this Sotheby's auction of a "pornographic" poem by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, but rarely do the "book" and "slut" parts of this publication meet in such a perfect way. Lang Thompson of The Funhouse Journal writes to recommend the Everyman's Library collection of Wilmot's work, Rochester: Complete Poems and Plays. Lang also points out that Johnny Depp plays Rochester in a new movie, The Libertine which also stars Pogues singer Shane MacGowan as a "17th century bard."
Sequential Tart helps us understand what Disney's recent aquisition of Crossgen's intellectual properties means for fans of Crossgen's comics. It means particularly good things for fans of Abadazad.
December 2, 2004
Picasso's FBI file was as detailed and surreal as the some of the painter's Cubist compositions. A Republican congressman from Michigan, George Dondero, labeled him a dangerous subversive, declared avant-garde artists' collectives to be Communist cells and threatened that "critics who support modern art should be attended to."
SF Gate reviews Gijs van Hensbergen's Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon
We posted yesterday about the upcoming Sotheby's auction of what is apparently the first known English-language pornography. What we didn't know is that the author, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, is well-known for his sexually explicit poems which you can read right here.
Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And love he loves, for he loves fucking much.
Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His scepter and his prick are of a length
And she may sway the one who plays with th' other,
And make him little wiser than his brother.
Very special thanks to John Rambow for letting me know about this. John, incidentally, is a blogger over at Right This Way, an extremely interesting travel blog.
Are you an aspiring manga creator? Tokyopop is running its annual Rising Stars of Manga contest until February 15.
I first heard about Joy Williams after reading novelist Scott Heim (the brilliant author of Mysterious Skin, which you should read immediately) recommend her. Williams' latest book, the short story collection Honored Guest, has been getting amazing reviews from pretty much everybody. Michelle Huneven interviews the underappreciated Williams in LA Weekly.
Slate examines the release of Raúl Rivero from Cuban prison.
Why were these new prisoners released just now? The immediate reason appears to be a diplomatic change of attitude in Europe. Spain's last prime minister, José María Aznar, took a hard line on Castro, beginning in the 1990s. The European Union as a whole adopted Aznar's position and launched what became known as the "Cocktail War." The Cocktail War meant that, at diplomatic receptions, governments began inviting Cuban dissidents to attend, together with Cuban officials. This sort of thing communicated a European disapproval of Cuban policy and a European respect for the Cuban opposition. The Cocktail War didn't prevent European businesses from investing in Cuban tourism, which means that the Cocktail War was not exactly a heavy bludgeon raining down on the poor battered head of Fidel Castro. And yet, it did communicate a spirit of condemnation.
While readers congratulate Salon for printing their interview with Sylvia Plath's therapist, Frida Hughes asks once again to leave her mother alone. The letters really are a bit much. Finally, someone to blame other that Ted Hughes! Now we can all attack the therapist!
What Barnhouse should have done was step up to the plate and save another human being. Barnhouse's mean husband would have exploded? 1) How dare he? and 2) so what? What the hell kind of an independent woman was she, then? She worked; she didn't have her own money? Her business was her business; were his fingers on the purse strings of her practice as well? Don't talk to me about the times -- we're talking about the 1950s, not the 1850s or the 1450s.
For some odd reason, Lynne Cheney refused to allow the New American Library to reprint her second novel, "Sisters," in the spring of 2004, saying that she does not feel that "Sisters" represents "her best work."
A Livejournal user who identifies herself as "Mrs. Tarquin Biscuitbarrel" has posted the text of the Second Lady's lesbian-themed historical romance novel as a blog. (You can also see the cover, and read excerpts from the long out-of-print book, here.) Thanks to Taegan Goddard and his Political Wire for the link.
Bookslut reader Dan Bennett writes:
You know, as great as it would be to be my wife a copy of "Romeo and Juliet" for Christmas that was edited to change the names to "Laura and Dan" and put our picture on the cover, I only wish that someone could also tack on a happy ending. Oh, wait, it's been taken care of! Phew. Where's my credit card?
Forthcoming from the same company: For your child's birthday, a personalized edition of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, where the attic door leads to a magical fun happyland filled with unicorns who frolic beneath cotton candy trees.
Good news for people like me who fell behind: Charles Burns's Black Hole series will be collected as a graphic novel by Pantheon some time next year. Burns is interviewed at The Pulse about his lovely disturbing series. The story also contains a preview of issue #12, the final installment. (Link from Egonlabs.)
I think the best comics are created by a single author; one that writes, draws, letters, and inks everything. Being a single author you have complete control over the entire process and you can be as self indulgent as you want...So when everyone else was growing up, having healthy, normal lives, all of us cartoonists were staying inside our little rooms, working away, developing our skills so someday we could have our revenge and foist all of our misery on the world. I'm kind of joking and I'm kind of not. Did you ever see that documentary on Crumb?
December 1, 2004
U.S. and Iranian officials have signed an agreement to share library materials, giving scholars in America their first access to such items from Iran since Islamic militants took over the U.S. Embassy there in 1979.
Sotheby's is auctioning the "first printed pornography in English literature." It could sell for up to $65,000 (in US currency). Bidding on my May 1975 issue of Oui will start at a much more reasonable $5,000. Come on! Daddy needs an iBook!
Nerve: The kind of sexual selection even I can understand. John Freeman talks to Booker-winning author Alan Hollinghurst.
Slate interviews Richard Dawkins, the celebrated science writer and author of The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.
"Sexual selection works as a kind of amplifier, causing small and perhaps arbitrary trends to get exaggerated in a runaway fashion," Dawkins continued. "It's still a Darwinian process, but it's one that allows for contingent extravagance."
This is where he and I disagree. I think Stephen Jay Gould's theories have adequately answered indeed, rendered irrelevant Dawkins' quaint assertions about species selection and...
Nah, I'm just kidding. I actually have no idea what any of that means. But for those of you who didn't fail biology twice in college: Enjoy, nerds!
You know what? Call me racist, and call me a xenophobe, but I'm not wild about Arab terrorists. I think they're a bunch of camel-fucking motherfuckers. And I want to make fun of them, because I'm a bad guy.
Andrew Arnold seems to be making too much of Scheherazade's women-in-comics thing. He's acting like he's never read a comic by a woman in his life. "Women will likely see parts of their own lives appear with a refreshing authenticity while men can enjoy a trip through the looking glass." His review makes it sound about as appealing as a high school health class. "See, class, this is called the vagina." "See, readers, this is called the female experience."
He does mention the printing mess ups, and urges readers not to buy copies until the second run. So Soft Skull's assurances that the readers wouldn't even notice seem to be false.
Iris Murdoch's last novel, Jackson's Dilemma, was about a mysterious disappearance. But it tells another story, according to neuroscientists today. It subtly reveals the onset of Alzheimer's disease before the author herself could have known.
If you've never read Jason's graphic novels, you really should. They're silent, creepy things populated by cats, rabbits, crows, etc. The Iron Wagon adapted a Stein Riverton novel, and his new book Tell Me Something is a peculiar tale of a peculiar relationship. There's nothing like these books. Jason is interviewed at Newsarama about why the Norweigan is living in the States now, the inspiration of Tintin, and his next book, Why Are You Doing This?
(Alabama state Rep. Gerald) Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.
"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.
I always feel a twitch of Southern defensiveness I'm from Texas, my family's from Louisiana whenever people portray Southerners as ignorant racists and homophobes. That's exactly why I despise ignorant homophobes like Gerald Allen, who's trying to pass a bill in the Alabama legislature to ban all books with gay characters from the state's public schools and libraries.
If the bill became law, public school textbooks could not present homosexuality as a genetic trait and public libraries couldn't offer books with gay or bisexual characters.
When asked about Tennessee Williams' southern classic "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," Allen said the play probably couldn't be performed by university theater groups.
Wonderful. Roll Tide. Feel free to call Allen at (205) 556-5310 to let him know what you think about his proposed law.
Paula Kamen might not be as recognizable as Susan Faludi, but her feminist writings are smart and not hysterical. Many of her books are out of print, but she has a book called All in my Head out next year. It's not about feminism, but chronic pain and pain management. But knowing Kamen, it'll still be a book worth reading.
And at Salon, she remembers Iris Chang. The two went to college together and remained in contact throughout their careers. The article also contains information for the Iris Chang Scholarship Fund and where to make a donation.
There's a short radio piece on Fantagraphics and their success with the Peanuts series. Too bad the DJ appears to be applying for a morning position at a classic rock station: "They'll be laughing... ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK!" My father delivers better punch lines than that.
The A Bibliophiles Bedroom exhibition at the Boston Public Library now has a home on the Internet. See what artists can create when they have a lot of books and some glue.