July 31, 2006
Robert McCrum remembers Julian Maclaren-Ross. (Thanks very much to Carl for the link, and for the recommendation.)
Salman Rushdie vs. Germaine Greer! Who will win the world's greatest English-language novelist, or the former star of Celebrity Big Brother? Yeah. There's kind of a lopsided Tyson-McNeeley, Super Bowl XXIV thing going on here. The Telegraph and The Independent also cover the controversy, which started after east London "community activists" intimidated the makers of the film adaptation of Monica Ali's Brick Lane into abandoning filming in the Brick Lane neighborhood. Greer's original column in The Guardian is here; Rushdie's response can be found here.
Salon's Literary Guide to the World represents for West Texas today, and one of my favorite authors hell, one of my favorite people James Hynes assumes the role of tour guide.
I am not a Texan. Mind you, I'm not apologizing, though maybe I am being a little bit defensive. Texas was its own country once, and Texans have never come close to getting over it. Just last week, on North Lamar here in cosmopolitan Austin, I saw a homeless guy wearing a black T-shirt that said, in big white letters, "Fuck y'all. I'm from Texas." Which is a hilarious and even charming sentiment from a homeless guy, but not so funny when it comes from, say, the president of the United States.
The US Department of Agriculture apparently has nothing better to do than harass The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum about a few dozen cats descendants of a cat Hemingway owned that make their home on the museum's grounds. I would've thought they'd be more concerned about the whole bird flu thing, but I guess that's why I'm not a USDA employee. That, and I have a high school diploma. And a sense of perspective.
See, I was leaning more toward the whole "drinking vodka and swallowing Xanax as if it were Pez while weeping in a corner" tactic, but the Camus thing works, too.
Among the Morris dancers and Bronte tea towels, there is little today in the Yorkshire village of Haworth to dispel romantic images of Charlotte, Emily and Anne strolling on sunlit moors, gaining inspiration for tales that would one day busy the costume drama industry.
It is harder to imagine dungheaps and foul drains, the open sewer in the street and the cholera and typhoid that killed most children before their sixth birthday. It is this dark vision of Bronte country that will be evoked in the first major British biopic of the literary household.
Henry James may have had his revival a few years back, but this year it's all about William James. First there was JC Hallman's The Devil is a Gentleman: Exploring America's Religious Fringe, which looked at 20th century American religions through the lens of William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience. (By the way, if you haven't read Varieties you really should. It makes perfect beach reading.) Now there's Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death by Deborah Blum. The Washington Post reviews Ghost Hunters this week. I predict an Alice James craze in a couple years, so you better start working on your book proposals now.
The Independent lists "50 hot books for summer." It's probably the only summer reading list you'll see with Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber. (Only a British summer reading list would have an Angela Carter book. The American lists tend more toward mind-numbingly lame books like The Templar Diet and The Five People My Dog Marley Met on the Way to the Prada Store.)
Also included in the Independent piece: Authors recommend their own summer reading picks. Sarah Waters likes Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, and Ali Smith puts in a good word for Javier Marías' Your Face Tomorrow, which just goes to show you what incredible badasses Sarah Waters and Ali Smith are.
Janet Maslin calls Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics "required reading for devotees of inventive new fiction." Treasure this review: It's probably the only one you'll read of this book that doesn't make reference to the author's physical appearance. (You thought the days of female authors being judged by their looks were over? Oh my good lord no.)
At any rate, Bookslut was lucky enough to have Marisha as a guest at the Reading Series a few months ago. Later this month, we'll be hosting authors Pagan Kennedy (Confessions of a Memory Eater), David Rozgonyi (Goat Trees: Tales from the Other Side of the World), and Kellie Wells (Skin). It's at the Hopleaf, August 31 at 7:30 pm. You must go.
I have absolutely no idea what the hell this article in The Observer Magazine is about, but it's headlined "I am not going to write a book" and contains the phrases "hot pecan doodly" and "fish-slut Granny," so I'm guessing it has at least some literary merit. At the very least, it's probably interesting to any grad students out there who are studying deep-seated psychological disorders.
Q: As one of Israel’s most acclaimed novelists and public intellectuals, you happen to live in Haifa, which is close to the Lebanese border and among the towns in northern Israel struck this month by Hezbollah’s rockets. What has it been like there?
A: It’s a bizarre combination. It’s like Yom Kippur on the one hand, because the streets are empty and there are no cars. On the other hand, you can eat if you like.
He once remarked that when things get boring onstage, it is advisable to bring on a woman; he might just as easily have said when a marriage becomes prosaic, bring on the suave seducer. Roberto Preziosa, a Venetian and noted dandy, had been a pupil of his and later, as editor of Il Piccolo de la Sera, had commissioned several articles from him. Preziosa became increasingly susceptible to Nora's allurements, calling on her in the afternoons, showering her with compliments, all of which Joyce encouraged so that he could learn more about human deviance for his art. However, when Preziosa made a proposition, claiming that the sun shone for her, Joyce was outraged. The bitter contretemps occurred on Piazza Dante in Trieste, Joyce fuming and shouting, the culprit weeping copiously and the irate scene witnessed by the painter Silvestri, who was one of Joyce's drinking companions.
I would just like to vocalize my premature disappointment in the upcoming Winifred Gallagher release. In the past she's written about the sense of place, God, and what makes a home. In her next book she will tackle... handbags.
I was supposed to be working yesterday, but instead I was stapled to my chair, unable to stop reading Charles Montgomery's The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific. It was originally published in Canada as The Last Heathen and won the Charles Taylor prize for Literary Nonfiction. I adored this book. Montgomery's great-grandfather was the bishop of Tasmania, and he runs off to Melanesia to write about the missionary cultures, the current blend of Christianity and traditional beliefs, and the power of myth and belief in magic.
I've seen that goddamn trailer for The Night Listener a dozen times now, but I had no idea it was based on the story of Vicki Johnson and her imaginary, HIV-infected son (and Armistead Maupin's book of the same name). If you don't remember past the cloud of Frey and Leroy, Anthony Godby Johnson's memoir was sold without anyone realizing he didn't exist. (I guess that means Robin Williams is playing Armistead Maupin? How sad for Maupin.)
July 28, 2006
New York Review Books, the object of Bookslut's undying literary affection, is having a summer reading sale, with sweet discounts on packages like JG Farrell's Empire Trilogy and the Comedic Novels Collection.
A new school in Barrhaven, Ontario, will be named after Canadian writer Farley Mowat (Never Cry Wolf). I love the headline that leads the story: "School to be named after self-professed 'drunken Scot.'"
It's summer time. In my house the other night it was 85 degrees and my son only wanted to watch Tom and Jerry reruns on the Cartoon Network and we let him. It was so hot, we all watched Tom and Jerry. Kids spend all year being told what to do, what to wear, how to act and where to be. In the summer they get to breathe. They get to play. And hopefully, they spend some time reading. The librarians know this is an opportunity to get them hooked - to show them that books can be enjoyable and not just important (in an "important to western civilzation kind of way"). They are recommending books that are not vapid, but still enjoyable. (I didn't see the Gossip Girls on this list, did I?) They are giving the kids a break.
Can you imagine? Giving kids a break.
"It's not remotely comparable with the reaction to The Satanic Verses, but there is the same feeling of people who haven't read the book insisting that it does not say what they believe should be said, or that it does say what they regard as unspeakable. In a sense if you come under fire from those conservative people, you must be doing something right."
ASHER: You obviously know a tremendous amount about literature in general, and about famous literary controversies specifically. I thought it would be interesting to run a bunch of other hot-button literary enigmas by you and see what you think about them. Who wrote Shakespeare's plays?
ASHER: What was the deal with Lord Byron and his sister? And what was the deal with Lord Byron, period?
PEARL: Byron's the first beat poet. Anyway, sister is such a subjective word.
ASHER: Why did Virginia Woolf (or Sylvia Plath, or Anne Sexton, if you prefer) kill herself?
PEARL: Hmmmm... which one was played by Gwyneth Paltrow?
ASHER: All of them, as far as I can tell.
It's called "Kwik-Clot," Mr. Wolfe tells us. And in case of arterial bleeding, it's essential gear. He's thinking of issuing us some -- in case one of us should catch a bullet or shrapnel to the femoral artery. Mr. Wolfe has lived in Fucked-Up Country One and done work in Fucked-Up Countries Two and Three. He lives in the Most Legendarily Fucked-Up area of Lebanon -- where they have a Hezbollah gift shop, for chrissakes. So we take him seriously -- though this is not the kind of morale-boosting patter we want to hear. "Just pour in wound!" he tells us cheerily. It's not, however, that harsh a segue from the "Know Your Exits" lecture, in which we are advised to "casually" explore all the nooks and crannies and "avenues of egress" from all points in the hotel.
Anthony Bourdain writes about his visit to Beirut for Salon.
In a ruling sure to please the European Union and human rights groups, a Turkish court on Thursday acquitted an author and journalist of charges that she tried to deter people from doing their military service.
Perihan Magden had irked conservatives in Turkey's powerful armed forces and judiciary by defending a conscientious objector who was sentenced to four years in a military jail for refusing to wear his uniform.
July 27, 2006
The last ten years or so has seen in a rise in what I like to call the Special Olympics version of feminism. Nothing you do is bad or wrong, because it's all about finding the authentic version of you. (Thanks, Oprah.) Leave your husband and abandon your children in order to go have casual sex with a yoga instructor? Good for you, you're getting in touch with yourself as a sexual being. Give up sex entirely and tell everyone that (solo) flamenco dancing is all you need anymore? Good for you, you're rejecting society's pressure on women to be sexual beings. Quit your high paying job and become a stay at home mother? Good for you, you're doing the most important work in the world.
According to the City Journal, this version of feminism has taken over the brains of formerly influential and important feminist thinkers. As recently stated by Marjane Satrapi, "I don't know why people, when they become older, become stupider."
What’s striking about all of this heavy breathing about missing socks and adult extension courses is that Levine is actually not only a woman of significant accomplishment but one who has personified the feminist dream. She was the first editor in chief of Ms. and went on to helm the Columbia Journalism Review. She has published in major magazines and serves on boards. She has also been married for decades to the same man, with whom she has raised two sons. Yet in Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, she trembles like a wallflower. She worries about what to do with her life. She frets about how timid she has been in saying what she really thinks. There is not the remotest hint of the authority or insight that you’d expect to emerge after 35 years of successful struggle in the trenches of the New York publishing world and the post-sexual-revolution marriage culture. More striking, though she does not repudiate the feminism of her First Adulthood, there is no indication that the success it inspired did anything to bring her the satisfaction of a life well lived.
On the contrary. Like other Desperate Grandmas, she now sees careerism as a distraction from finding her “real self.” In First Adulthood, say the acolytes of Second Adulthood, women figure out how to please the people who have power over them—parents, teachers, mates, and bosses. But when they are in what Levine labels “The Fuck You Fifties,” they need “no longer care what other people think, only what I think.” “If our 20s were about our physical peak and our 30s and 40s about work and productivity, after that it is about being and becoming you,” Alexandra Mezey, a Second Adulthood life coach, promises on her website. Turning in your office keys can be “a chance to shift from work to the self, from responsibility to freedom,” promise Alice Radosh and Nan Bauer-Maglin in Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide.
Oh good, I have something to look forward to. (And according to the cover art of Inventing, it's doing yoga stretches after rock climbing, probably in one of those faux spiritual places like Sedona. I can't fucking wait.)
But the lead convener of the Campaign Against Monica Ali's Film Brick Lane, officially launched yesterday, vowed to continue with the protest irrespective of where the movie is filmed. Abdus Salique threatened to burn Ali's book at a rally on Sunday which is expected to be attended by hundreds of protesters. . . .
He continued: "It is not just filming [in Brick Lane] which is the problem. We don't want a film which degrades our community."
Ian Frazier presents: Boswell's Life of Don Johnson.
It will include some sections that had been cut from the novel because of references to sex or drugs. . . .
The scroll contains numerous passages that were edited out of the book and uses the original names of characters who were closely modeled on friends of Kerouac, including fellow writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
I am not even going to pretend to be unbiased about this USA Today story for Elizabeth Merrick's anthology This is Not Chick Lit. She is a dear friend, and I am overwhelmingly proud of her. She's created an anthology that includes some of the best writers today: Francine Prose, Holiday Reinhorn, Jennifer Egan, Mary Gordon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and others. If you're in New York on August 4th, you should come to Elizabeth's first reading for This is Not Chick Lit with Jennifer Egan and Curtis Sittenfeld. I'll be there, so come say hi.
The Guardian writes a love letter to "resurrectionist" publishers who reprint obscure, out of print literature. There really aren't enough good things that Mike and I can say about publishers like Persephone, NYRB, Archipelago, Hesperus, etc. They're doing God's work.
What's most surprising about this profile of Louise Welsh and her new novel The Bullet Trick isn't that she seems to have such flexible morals or that she sort of makes fun of Ian McEwan, it's that she has such nice bangs for writing about such dark things. That picture makes her look like she's going to sell you pie, not cut you if you turn your back to her. I love it.
Furtak says instead she channels her passion for collecting into her work, and many a time she's found herself salivating over a possible acquisition.
"Oh yes yes yes!" exclaims Furtak. "When I see something on a dealer's list like Dieter Roth's literature sausage--the work he made when he ground up the complete works of Goethe and then added some lard and spices and put them in sausage casings--I'd love to have that! And I did see one for sale once, but I had to restrain myself. It would have been my whole budget, you know."
July 26, 2006
Anthony Bourdain participated in a live chat this morning at the Washington Post website about being trapped in Beirut while filming a travel show.
For the whole time I was there I was often in the bizarre and somehow shameful position of watching a country dismantled before my eyes from a relatively comfortable distance.
I can't be a poet, even if I tried. I want to eat Jell-O, but poets have to think about consequences so they make much of the gruel and gravy in front of them. Occasionally, I want to be silly but poets put on long faces and approach life from another direction altogether.
For me, Jell-O has always been funny food so there's no way I can mix tragedy with Jell-O. No one takes me seriously enough to think of me as a poet.
"So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them. 'Give me five bees for a quarter,' you’d say. Now where were we? Oh, yeah the important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones..."
Iran bans The Da Vinci Code, thus ending conflict and violence in the Middle East for the rest of our lifetimes.
I actually was with a friend who was going through a bad break-up and I said to her, “You need to be stronger about this.” And so I handed her my journal. There were certain things that I had written to myself to help me get through a really hard time in my life. She ended up re-writing them and printing them out for herself and walking around with them as her mantras. I thought, “You know what? A lot more women, or people in general, could use this.”
Thank god. Now we can all learn how to get married in our mid-20's, have oral sex in cabs, and talk about how pretty our hair is. I'm going to go buy my copy right now.
July 25, 2006
The latest edition of Largehearted Boy's Book Notes comes from Drew, the creator of Toothpaste for Dinner, author of the book of the same name, and maybe the funniest person in America. (You need to be reading Toothpaste for Dinner every day, along with Married to the Sea, Cat and Girl and Achewood.) Drew is also interviewed at How Stuff Works. Awesome.
Kirkus Reviews has their 2006 Autumn & Winter Preview issue online (PDF). Of particular interest (to me, anyway): Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, Jonathan Franzen's The Discomfort Zone and Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things. (Also: Mary Robison's One D.O.A., One on the Way and Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land cannot get released soon enough. I am like a sad skinny teenager waiting for the new Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional albums. Or whoever the kids are listening to these days. I don't know. I am so old.)
Jerome Weeks wants to see a TV show about books that won't bore viewers into a coma.
Is it truly impossible for a TV show to be as rich and wild as all of the books that are out there? Not really. The Canadian Broadcasting's Open Book is hosted by comic Mary Walsh. It has an eclectic mix of authors, academics and entertainers (members of the Kids in the Hall comedy troupe) free-for-alling about a title they've read. It's the book club as quip session (although it's often thoughtful, too).
So here's my pitch: a book (or arts) program with news reports, stories from the field and irreverent opinions. Think of it as The Daily Show on books. In fact, Jon Stewart already interviews authors a great deal, so it's not such a stretch to move the emphasis from politics to books.
The thing is, this country did have an intelligent, nuanced, amazingly witty TV show about literature. But I guess Pamela Anderson's Stacked was just a little too highbrow for Mr. and Ms. America.
Seriously, though, it really would be awesome to see a US equivalent to Open Book, and The Daily Show is a good model actually, Jessa made that connection last year at The Book Standard. But since brilliant shows like Arrested Development routinely get canceled while CSI: Eau Claire and So You Want to Be a Rock Star Who Also Dances? If You Win This Competition-Style Show, You Might Have a Briefly Successful Career Doing One of Those Things keep going strong, I am not optimistic. The best we can hope for is probably a Joyce Carol Oates cameo on Kyle XY. (Have you seen this show? You have to. It is the most fascinatingly awful thing ever produced by humankind.)
When a Briton goes off on one of these historical tangents, it is sometimes best to simply change the subject. For example, one Briton at Hay began talking about some Irish writer, Henry James, or Henry Johns, or Jaspar James, or Roald Joyce, or something like that, and I, starting to doze off, quickly dropped a reference to the popular American television show Spike Through The Head, in which five childhood friends compete to see which of them will get the Spike Through The Head at the end of the show. The way they do this is, they all have sex with each other and rate the sex on a scale from 10 ("Super!") to zero ("Very Bad, Why Did I Even Do That?, Ugh!"). My British friend fell silent, perhaps depressed by his lack of knowledge of American pop culture. He wouldn't have felt so bad had he known I totally invented that show! Thomas, if you are reading this - sorry! But I had to get you off that James guy, you were boring me to tears.
The Guardian is all over the Port Eliot LitFest, with podcasts of readings by Hari Kunzru and James Flint and pictures.
Is being named the European Capital of Culture a curse? Cork, Ireland sure thinks so.
A federal judge Monday temporarily barred the Miami-Dade County School District from removing a children's book on Cuba from school libraries.
One incident he recounts happened when Batali pulled him off a work station because his pork was "undercooked". In a professional kitchen the slave cannot leave until dismissed, and Buford was forced to stand in Babbo's tiny kitchen for an hour, ignored by colleagues who pushed past him as they worked. It was like being placed on the naughty step, except that Buford was 50, not five.
Umm, haven't you seen either one of Gordon Ramsay's shows? Batali sounds like a motherfucking pussycat compared to that. (Although Ramsay is often taking off his shirt on the BBC show, and god knows that's more pleasant when he does it compared to Batali. Ohhh, Gordon Ramsay....)
July 24, 2006
What are Oregon's greatest books? Author Brian Doyle (The Grail) nominates, among others, Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. I am going to Portland in about a month I finally get to see Powell's, which is so exciting to me I think I might just cry so if anyone has an answer to this question, or to the question "What are Oregon's greatest beers?", please let me know.
Rachel Cooke wonders whether the constant reissuing of classic novels with different covers is gimmicky, or worse, intellectually dishonest.
First out of the trap was Penguin, with its Red Classics: mighty books stripped bare of their stuffy notes and prefaces, given parrot-bright covers, and treated as if they were published yesterday. 'Pip doesn't expect much from life ...' begins the jacket blurb of Great Expectations. 'Wild child Huck has to get away,' says the cover of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (published, in epistolary form, in 1774), is summarised thus: 'You only find true love once ...'
Yes, these synopses are snappy and unintimidating. But they're also pretty funny - like the spoofs on Radio 4's literary quiz, The Write Stuff. Earlier this year Penguin brought forward the publication of its Red Classics editions of Jane Austen to get ahead of Headline, which has since given Pride and Prejudice a horrible chick-lit-style cover in pretty pastels.
I actually like the Penguin reissues, because they are pretty and I am easily taken in, but you've got to sympathize with Cooke here. It's kind of unsettling to read a jacket blurb like "This book will rock your fucking dick off with nonstop extreme balls-to-the-wall action!" and then realize they're talking about Middlemarch or something. I am all about appealing to young people, but it might not be the best thing for literature to be marketed like Slim Jims. ("Snap into a William Makepeace Thackeray novel! Do it, motherfuckers!")
I love the publishers like NYRB and Persephone, who reissue classic novels with, you know, dignity. And they specialize in neglected, out-of-print books that a lot of readers have forgotten about. Because let's be honest: Nobody needs to read The Scarlet Letter in 174 different editions. Or at all.
"People have always assumed that because I'm a woman and I write books, I must be gay," she says, apropos of not very much. "Now they assume that because I'm a woman and I get up on stage and try to tell jokes, I must be gay." She's not.
"'Well,' they say: 'We never see you with a man.' To that I have to reply: 'Thank you for reminding me.' There are certain jobs that it's considered odd for women to do. Chippendale, for instance, or submarine commander, and it's the same with comedy. You're thought to be not quite right."
Seriously, go read everything you can find by her.
The Seattle Times looks at the latest crop of how-to sex books.
Case in point, the latest offering from Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Kate White, "How to Set His Thighs on Fire: 86 Red-Hot Lessons on Love, Life, Men and (Especially) Sex" (Warner Books, $21.95). White couldn't quite decide if she should stick to sexual tips, or explain why someone as well-educated and hardworking as herself is running a magazine that has had exactly the same cover stories since 1972.
Chapter titles to White's book include seriously "You've Got to Drain the Swamp as You Slay the Alligators" (whaaaa?), "The Eye Makeup Technique That Will Make Him Gaga," and "Think Like a Bitch but Talk as Sweet as Bambi." Because nothing arouses guys more than women who wear several ounces of mascara while talking like an animated fawn. Whether you're straight, gay or miscellaneous, you've got to admit that is hot.
Jessa Crispin urges publishers to abandon the traditional book tour, and start taking lessons from upstart reading series.
Each reading series develops a certain aesthetic, and the audience tends to find them. The two nights I’ve attended the Grace Reading Series, the room was full of men and women there to hear Merrick’s hand-picked female authors; they get an opportunity to read to an attentive audience, one usually much larger than any you’ll find if your publicist booked you at a suburban Borders with no advertising.
Another big advantage to forsaking the traditional chain-bookstore author-tour model: Bookstore customers won't have to accidentally make eye contact with the lonely paperback novelist sitting behind a card table, wondering why nobody's stopping to get an autographed copy of Murder Most Elderly or Paws for Concern: A Snuggleboots the Crime-Solving Kitty Mystery. Plus, the hardest thing you can drink at most chain bookstores is something like a "triple hazelnut soy latte" or a "passionfruit rosehip green tea zinger," but at some reading series, the consumption of alcohol is encouraged with gleefully ardent zeal. There's really no contest.
Today's audiences hate readings. They can do that for themselves. They come to festivals in the hope that they will see inside an author's head. Purists may argue that the text is all that matters, and whether the hero is taken from real life or is the creature of pure imagination is of no consequence. But the desire to talk to writers about writing is a mark of the civilised mind. The more the literary festival prospers, the greater the hope for a literate future.
I had this great idea for a literary carnival, but I abandoned it once I realized that I am apparently the only person who really, really wants to buy a funnel cake from Philip Roth.
AfterEllen.com examines Batwoman's lesbian identity.
The Comics Reporter talks to Todd Hignite, editor of Comic Art magazine.
This week's Guardian Digested Read: Heat by Bill Buford.
My ass was on the line and Alejandro just stood and watched. He was determined to bust my balls. I thrust my arms under the furnace of the grill - third degree burns erupting in huge welts across my wrists. I refused to give in, my eyes blackening with smoke and pain, and I didn't miss a service. Alejandro held out his hand and we arm-wrestled in a mandala of mutual respect.
And yet still I was not yet in touch with my true inner manliness.
I've been bitching and moaning about not having anything good to read for so long my friends were threatening to throw books at my head. "Read some fucking Stanislaw Lem and get over it." But I wanted something new. Then, out of nowhere, my friend Dale recommended Homesick by Lucia Berlin. I now want to build a shrine to Dale in my hallway for bringing this book into my life.
It's a collection of short stories, and after several of them, like "Dr. H. A. Moynihan" where a young girl helps her dentist grandfather pull out his teeth to put in dentures, I had to put the book down to catch my breath. Homesick is thrilling. I have since e-mailed a dozen of my friends demanding they buy the book immediately. It's a miracle of a book, and I get that I DON'T KNOW HOW I LIVED WITHOUT THIS BOOK FOR SO LONG feeling just looking at it.
For more information on Berlin, this Boston Review essay about another of her short story collections, Where I Live Now, and if you have a subscription to London Review of Books, you can read these letters between Berlin and August Kleinzahler, another one of my favorites.
Will I "think different" even more with a titanium laptop? Will they refund my money if I tell them that I tried restarting but I'm still not thinking different? "I think I may actually be thinking more similar, Sir—I found myself on a train the other day, thinking exactly the same thing as the person beside me, and we were sharing hopes and our fears and our dreams and our memories and we were at one with each other and all mankind, so can you please make it stop? Have you heard this from other customers? Am I doing something wrong? Hold down Control-Shift-D, you say?"
JBooks.com is hosting David Gantz's Jews and the Graphic Novel, a comic strip about the history of comics and creators like Milt Gross, Jules Feiffer, Will Eisner, and art spiegelman. (Thanks to Ken for the link.)
July 21, 2006
Thomas Pynchon's new thousand-page novel, apparently called Against the Day, will be released in the States on December 5 (unless it's not). You'll start seeing people conspicuously reading it in coffee shops on December 6, and hearing them claim to have enjoyed it on December 7. (I'm kidding. There are, of course, people who really do understand and love Pynchon's novels, and they're both totally psyched about this news.)
Also at Tyee Books: Deborah Campbell has a list of suggested reading about the Middle East. I'd add Robert Fisk's excellent Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, which is not only comprehensive and fascinating, but has the added advantage of being written by someone who pisses off right-wingers more than anyone else in the world. (You might remember Fisk as the journalist who John Malkovich said he'd like to shoot. Luckily, he didn't go through with it otherwise, he'd probably be in prison, and America would have been deprived of blockbuster cinematic masterpieces like Johnny English, Hideous Man and Knockaround Guys. And I don't want to live in a world without art like that.)
MarketWatch talks to Monique Trottier of the great Canadian indie press Raincoast Books about the publisher's podcasts, which have featured authors like Anthony Bourdain (The Nasty Bits), Nathan Sellyn (Indigenous Beasts) and Jim Lynch (The Highest Tide).
At Voices of New Orleans, Colleen Mondor reviews the recently released anthology Stories Care Forgot: An Anthology of New Orleans Zines.
Overall, Stories Care Forgot presents an unvarnished, painfully personal look at the New Orleans that was. It is funny and sad and all too often heartbreaking because readers know that most of it, and perhaps none of it, is there anymore. Reading this collection is another way to learn about the city though, to enter into different areas, other corners, than most visitors will never see.
It’s another way to know New Orleans.
The website KillingtheBuddha.com needs some cash. They do good work, so go read their archives, bum around, and then send them a few dollars.
Alternet plays the new video game based on the Left Behind books.
In essence, the player becomes the commander of a virtual army, deciding when to unleash weapons from an arsenal of guns, tanks and helicopters. Of course, since this is an evangelical game, soldiers lose "spirit points" each time they kill an opponent, leaving them prey to the Antichrist's forces and in dire need of replenishment through prayer. To top it off, each time a soldier slays one of the Antichrist's soldiers (who are UN Peacekeepers, remember), he triumphantly cries, "Praise the Lord!"
Fantagraphics presents the adventures of Isaac Klunk, Fantagraphics Intern!
Hear, Hear interviews Paul Buckley, the Vice President Executive Art Director of Penguin Group, about Penguin's cover design team, what makes a good cover, and why he's obsessed with drawing reptiles. The interview itself is very well laid out, giving peeks at rejected covers, original illustrations, and inspiration points. Now I'm going to go wander my shelves and see which of the books he designed I have.
July 20, 2006
I think this article about The Expected One author Kathleen McGowan is confusing "believers" with "people who think she's crazy but are also pretty sure the book will be controversial and crazy enough to sell a whole bunch of copies and are willing to humor her until they make a lot of money."
Karen Healey wants to help you write your female comic book characters. She just has a few questions for you first.
4) Was she/is she going to be raped?
Many, many female characters in comics have been raped or sexually assaulted, often to provide motivation for male characters or to prove that her rapist is really, really evil, really! Because her rape is, oddly, all about him.
There are tons of reasons why you should go to the Bookslut Reading Series tonight (7:30 pm at the Hopleaf in Chicago), but I think I only really need to give you one: The letters in "Bookslut Reading Series" can be rearranged to spell "Ulterior Bondage Kisses." It's true! (I am reading Lorrie Moore's Anagrams now, and it's incredible, but it's got me obsessed with rearranging the letters in words to spell other things that might be humorously appropriate. Like for example, did you know that you can rearrange the letters in "George W. Bush" to spell "Holy Shit, I Always Said This Asshole Was Going to Lead Us into World War III, but I Didn't Actually Expect it to Happen, You Know? I Thought I was Just Exaggerating. But No. That Guy is Fucking Insane, and He's Actually Going to Blow Up the World." At least I'm pretty sure you can.)
The point is, you need to come to tonight's Reading Series. You'll get to see Hillary Carlip, author of Queen of the Oddballs, reading from her work. You can ask her about National Oddball Month (which is August, so start getting ready now). Check out Bookslut's interview with Hillary here.
Finally, David A. Karp will be there to read from his body of work, which includes Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness and, most recently, Is It Me or My Meds?: Living with Antidepressants (PDF excerpt here). You can read an interview with David here.
So come on down. Or up. I don't really know anything about the geography of Chicago. But if you're in the area, find your way to the Hopleaf, buy some manner of strong Belgian ale, and say hi to Jessa for me. Thanks for reading, and for supporting the Chicago literary scene. Bookslut loves you.
Peter Craven can't believe the Australian publishing industry was stupid enough to reject a manuscript by Nobel Prize winner Patrick White. Craven calls the episode a "minor national disgrace."
It was a bad moment in Australian publishing. Last weekend this newspaper reported that it had sent a number of publishers and literary agents a chapter of a novel by Patrick White, the Nobel Prize winner and the most distinguished practitioner of fiction in this country's history.
Not only did they all reject chapter three of White's 1973 novel The Eye of the Storm, all but one of them was shameless in their defiance that this had been a reasonable thing to do at the time, a number of them saying words to the effect of "who cares about Patrick White anyway?".
But Michael Allen, the Grumpy Old Bookman, takes the side of the publishers:
In the first place, Patrick White is well nigh unreadable. If he was Grisham-like readable, he wouldn't have won the Nobel prize. Stands to reason. And if he's not easy to read, he won't sell. . . .
. . .(A)nyone who knows anything about modern publishing knows that it's a business. It is designed to make money. And you don't make money by publishing books that are damned heavy going. In a discussion of the Jennifer Sexton article, the Literary Saloon makes the point that American publishers don't want to publish Patrick White's books even when they do know that he's the author, and I can't say that I'm remotely surprised.
We publish poetry that makes us weep. Give us dead puppies, single mothers, and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Show us headless dolls and lonely circus workers after dark. Take us to kickball games where an overweight child is selected last, or perhaps not at all. Lock us in a bedroom. Lose us in Disney World. Make us kill ourselves, over and over.
Ned Vizzini provides the latest installment of Largehearted Boy's Book Notes feature, writing about the music that inspired his latest book It's Kind of a Funny Story.
I am working on a new book called Rocco Cracker. The titular character is a bass player and I wanted him to have a short stint in CYHSY when the actual bassist gets in a Vespa accident. I was thinking I could write the band into the novel with their permission--pretty much everyone in Brooklyn knows those guys and I could definitely ask. Of course the standard thing to do is to come up with a fake name suggestive of "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah," but I thought that was lame and had been done to death--putting in the actual name would be more contemporary. Then Todd Zuniga of Opium Magazine suggested I call the band in the novel Slap Your Knee and Say Ouch.
The joy of reading Greene, particularly if you’ve been anywhere near the places he writes about, and these include his inner landscape of disquiet, is his freedom from the political correctness that infects contemporary writing about the developing world. Reading Greene makes one realize how thoroughly writers have adopted the notion that they can’t say anything negative about a country poorer than their own, unless it is European and its inhabitants white. The fact that this is both racist and dishonest seems to elude us, and our writing is the poorer for it.
USA Today wonders where "the big book of the summer" is. The Memory Keeper's Daughter and Water for Elephants look like the season's biggest successes, but sales aren't on par with last summer, when Group Sequential Methods with Applications to Clinical Trials fever gripped the nation. Remember that? Violence broke out at bookstores as customers clamored for the last copy. It was some real Cabbage Patch Kids kind of shit.
July 19, 2006
I am going to steal Jessa's "postcards to the publishing industry" idea. Mine is going to say: "Dear publishing industry: You know this 'lad lit' thing? If you do not make it stop, I am going to weep tears of blood for the rest of my life. Love, Jessa." (I'm going to sign it with Jessa's name because I don't want the publishing industry mad at me. They're fucking merciless. Alfred A. Knopf got revenge on his enemies by putting the heads of dead borzois in their beds.)
But at least we got The Accidental, The Thin Place and King Dork this year, so I guess I can't complain too much. And people keep emailing me to recommend Scott Snyder's Voodoo Heart and Bobbie Ann Mason's Nancy Culpepper, which I probably need to buy and read very soon.
At any rate, I'm holding out hope for the second half of the year, which will bring us Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children (August), Mary Robison's One D.O.A., One on the Way (October), Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics (August), Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land (October), and Karen Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (September). If these books are half as good as they sound, it'll be a great year, and the whole lad lit thing will be forgiven. Seriously. We'll just pretend it never happened.
Man, I need these books. Hurry up and end, summer. I am hot and desperate.
The Atlantic talks to Francine Prose, who is God, about her forthcoming book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.
In fact, I can look back and identify a few incidents that led up to my writing the book. Several of them took place in classrooms. In one instance, I was at a graduate MFA colloquium and a student asked me, “How do you spell Turgenev?” And I thought, Uh oh. We’re in trouble here. Another time, in yet another graduate classroom, the students asked, as they sometimes do, “What are you reading?” I said, “I’m rereading Crime and Punishment.” And there’s this feeling you get when there’s nothing coming back at you from the room. That’s the feeling I was getting. So I said, “Have any of you read Crime and Punishment?” Silence. “Have any of you read anything by Dostoevsky?” More silence. And these were graduate students.
I don’t quite get it. On a very basic level, I can’t figure out why people would want to write unless they like to read. I mean, what would be the point? For the incredibly glamorous fast track lifestyle? I don’t think so.
You’ve got a summer reading list posted on your website and fans who bring book reports to your shows get toothbrushes. Have you given away any toothbrushes?
Paul: Yeah, we gave away maybe half a dozen yesterday and that’s funny because we really only put the reading list up two days ago. There were some girls who read a book on the train ride into the city yesterday and gave us a report at the show. Other people wrote reports from memory. We were hoping to get them to re-read. They’re claiming, “Oh I read Stranger in a Strange Land 10 times already.” I don’t know. I guess if you’re going to bother to write something about it, we’ll give you a toothbrush.
The AV Club lists "15 book-to-film adaptations that live up to the source material." It is a solid list, though I wouldn't have included the movie versions of Lord of the Rings, which I found really boring, and Fight Club, which I found really boring and horrifying, like sitting through a six-hour seminar on tax law while having several small-but-bitey Malaysian feral rats gnaw through your skull.
But they're right to include the film adaptations of William Goldman's The Princess Bride and Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man. Both are great movies, and both have the added advantage of not featuring Meat Loaf in a prominent role. It is amazing how enjoyable movies can be when Meat Loaf is not in them.
I'm still completely dissatisfied with books right now. I want to send postcards to all of the major publishers: "Dear publishing industry: you're boring me. Please do something else. Love, Jessa." But instead I've just turned to Dubliners for the fifth time, hoping the ennui will eventually pass. (If anything, though, it's making me more irritated with the current trends in short stories: quirky or New Yorker-boring. I want to send copies of Dubliners to all of the short story writers who have bored me lately. "Dear quirky short story writer: Write more like this guy. Love, Jessa." Soon I'll be turning the hose on kids who walk on my lawn.
But if there's a book that I'm still all aflutter over, it's Renee French's The Ticking. Unfortunately, it hasn't gotten much attention outside of the comic book folks. It's kind of more like a demented children's book, or a children's book imagined by David Lynch, than a comic. Chris Tamarri is also crazy about the book, and offers a detailed analysis. (Link from Comics Reporter.)
My current New Favorite Thing is Coudal Partners' Field-Tested Books project, which captures the experience of reading books, and ends up teaching you more about literature than actual book reviews can. It's got some amazing contributors Rosecrans Baldwin, Claire Zulkey, Maud Newton, Wendy McClure, George Saunders, Nathan Rabin, Kevin Guilfoile, and more. The project is profiled in Time Out Chicago and The Christian Science Monitor, both of which seem fascinated by the idea.
Indigo's decision not to sell the issue of Harper's with Art Spiegelman's "Drawing Blood" essay has sharply increased the demand for the magazine in Canada.
And that's just the beginning of the factual problems in the book, which was co-written with Sun-Sentinel "special correspondent" Yvonne Carey. Miami Psychic is, in fact, a load of bunk. So much so that the name Regina Milbourne will surely be mentioned in the pantheon of recent sham authors like JT Leroy, Nasdijj, and James Frey.
It's not even her real name. According to her driver's license, the author's true identity is Gina Marie Marks. She's part of a notorious Gypsy criminal family that has personally been involved in well-documented fortunetelling scams.
Someone who claims to have psychic powers is lying? Truly, the innocence of our nation is forever lost.
Rebecca Front urges Britain's "well-off middle classes" to do their part to save the nation's libraries.
A survey published recently showed, depressingly, that the majority of Britons believed in putting their own interests ahead of the community's. It doesn't surprise me that people feel that way, just that they think such a credo is so socially acceptable they'll admit to it in a survey. But there are activities that serve both the individual and the community, and I can't think of a better one than joining and using a library.
The 2006 National Book Festival will feature US poet laureate Donald Hall, as well as authors Joan Didion, Khaled Hosseini, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Julia Glass, Taylor Branch and Alexander McCall Smith (among others).
Perspectives on the Israel-Lebanon conflict from authors with ties to the region: Alexandre Najjar (The School of War) wonders how to explain the bombing of Lebanon to his children; Robert Fisk (the brilliant Pity the Nation) asks how much punishment Beirut can withstand; Amos Oz (How to Cure a Fanatic) calls for the defeat of Hezbollah; and UCLA literature professor Saree Makdisi (William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s) condemns Israel's assault on Lebanon's civilians and infrastructure.
Adam Phillips, author of Going Sane, wants you to stop reading books about how to be happy.
"It's very simple. The reason that there are so many depressed people is that life is so depressing for many people. It's not a mystery. There is a presumption that there is a weakness in the people who are depressed or a weakness on the part of scientific research and one of these two groups has got to pull its socks up. Scientists have got to get better and find us a drug and the depressed have got to stop malingering. The ethos is: 'Actually life is wonderful, great - get out there!' That's totally unrealistic and it's bound to fail."
July 18, 2006
In anticipation of Comic-Con International, which starts this week in San Diego, Salon's Douglas Wolk looks at some new graphic novels, including Megan Kelso's The Squirrel Mother and Ellen Forney's I Love Led Zeppelin: Panty-Dropping Comics.
Q: You said in another interview that writing is a “brutal experience in many, many ways.” How do you feel about reading? Who do you like to read?
A: I don’t get to read enough. It’s pathetic. The last writer I read was the writer of High Fidelity, Nick… Nick Hornby and his new book is what I read, and I can’t think of the name of that [A Long Way Down], and it was brilliant. Unless I take a vacation I don’t get to read… I’m going through newspapers and stuff like that, so I don’t get to read as much as I want to read and every time I say well, I put a bunch a books aside, I take books with me…
Q: It just becomes a stack to lug around...
A: Yeah, and sadly I just got the Sam Harris book they gave me the other day, The End of Faith. I want to read that and that’ll just sit in my suitcase… taunting me.
Rosemary Goring explains why Irvine Welsh's announcement that he's a Conservative ("the political equivalent of a sex change," says Goring) is so hard to accept.
The diehard socialist who once described how to find a good vein for injecting into the genitals is now a public supporter of David Cameron. A former heroin addict, Welsh has become that much less acceptable creature, a heretic and a hypocrite. If I were him I wouldn't like to meet Renton or Sick Boy in a dark alley tonight. . . .
Of course, people's views change over time, and there's no shame in that. There's nothing more common than for a youthful socialist to evolve into a middle-aged Tory. What is distasteful about Welsh's apparent volte-face, however, is that he has made his fortune from exploiting a grotesquely picaresque community whose brutal existence has provided the most colourful, horrifying, virulently anti-establishment material for fiction since Balzac's backstreet Paris.
Democracy Now! discusses the Israel-Lebanon war with authors As'ad AbuKhalil (Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New "War on Terrorism") and Chris Hedges (War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning).
USA Today has a rundown of the season's new baseball books, including Dave Maraniss' Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero and Bernard A. Weisberger's When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906. Also worth checking out: Largehearted Boy's list of favorite baseball books, even if it doesn't include my forthcoming memoir, Dying a Little Inside: A Houston Astros Fan Glances at the Sports Section, Winces, and Recalls That One Year When it Seemed Vaguely Plausible That His Team Might Not Finish in Last Place.
Coordinating the campaign from his sweetshop armed with three mobile phones and an address book, the chair of the Brick Lane Traders' Association, Abdus Salique, warned of the damage film could do to community relations. "Nobody can come with a camera make a film about that book here. She [Ali] has imagined ideas about us in her head. She is not one of us, she has not lived with us, she knows nothing about us, but she has insulted us. . . .
"Young people are getting very involved with this campaign. They will blockade the area and guard our streets. Of course, they will not do anything unless we tell them to, but I warn you they are not as peaceful as me."
Sounds like a veiled threat. No, wait, not "veiled." What's the complete opposite of "veiled"? Oh, yeah: "really fucking obvious." Sounds like a really fucking obvious threat. And it proves, once again, that if you don't like a book, the best thing you can do is draw as much attention to it as humanly possible.
One of my favorite poets, Joy Harjo (How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2001), has a journal at the Poetry Foundation.
I would love an Irish Wolfhound or two as muses, guardians, or friends. They are real dogs and would never be mistakenly stepped on as house slippers. But I travel too much — even my late pet angelfish, Anela, made it clear that leaving her was unacceptable. She would drop her fins every time I pulled my suitcases out to the living room. She sulked. It took time, and a few frozen shrimp snacks to snap her out of her mood, which she always held until a day after I returned. And she was characteristically moody, a fish diva, who loved to be admired. She also suffered from horrible PMS. Yes, a fish with PMS. That’s another story.
The state of New York thinks freelance writer Cheryl Horsfall is dead, but Cheryl Horsfall disagrees.
Mrs Rais's asylum application is the latest development in a long-running and bitter saga. Ever since The Bookseller of Kabul was published, Mr Rais has repeatedly threatened to sue Seierstad for impugning his reputation: he claims the book portrays him as a tyrannical traditionalist bent on imprisoning women.
Crime novelist Mickey Spillane, the creator of Mike Hammer, is dead at 88.
July 17, 2006
One of the truly great bad writers, Lovecraft is certainly here to stay. Bizarrely, the invented mythology he always insisted was not only evil but fictional (he was a convinced materialist) is now followed like a new religion by large numbers of occultists, offering a modern alternative to Satanism. What with the religion and the fact that the Old Ones have become available as cuddly toys - there is a 'Plush Cthulhu', no less - you can't help feeling Lovecraft's vision has been subverted and diluted. Not by Houellebecq.
That plush Cthulhu is actually pretty cute, though maybe not as much as Hello Cthulhu.
There's a brief lull, an opportunity for someone to ask the Burning Question, the one that gets asked in one form or another at every literary event: Where do you get your ideas? Before it can happen, Moore looks up at the sky.
"There are bats up there," she says casually.
That's good, says Elissa Schappell, an editor at Tin House magazine. They eat mosquitoes.
"Yeah, the bat lobby wants you to believe that," Moore replies, not batting an eye.
The anti-profanity movement is fucked.
The Washington Post sums up the recent happenings in the Gordon Lee court case. If you remember, this shit has been dragging on for a very long time now, Lee is charged with distributing obscene material to a minor after a copy of an Alternative Comics free comic book day comic got into the hands of a child. The Post explains the absurdity of the charges.
The first makes it a felony to deliver printed materials that contain nudity with out enclosing said materials in a properly-labeled envelope. That means passing your neighbor an uncovered reproduction of Picasso's "Les Mademoiselles d'Avignon" could land you three years in jail.
The second, a misdemeanor, is being applied in a way that suggests that no retailer can give minors materials that contain nudity, even if the material isn't sexual. That means no sharing The Ultimate Picasso with anyone under 18.
Now would be a good time to make a small donation to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Tim Willis, author of Madcap: The Half-Life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's Lost Genius, has an interview with Barrett's sister Rosemary at The Sunday Times. (Via Largehearted Boy.)
The Sun-Times talks to Chris Ware and Erik Larsen (a little book you may have heard of, Devil in the White City; I don't know if you know this, but it's currently against the law to read a book on the CTA system that isn't Da Vinci Code or White City) about the 1893 World Fair in Chicago and why they chose to write about it.
"The fair gripped people," Multhauf says, "partly because it was a vision of beauty in a place that was so squalid." The streets were a quagmire of mud and manure, the air laced with soot and the rank aroma of stockyards and slaughterhouses. Poverty was widespread; labor unrest simmered and sometimes boiled. Prostitution flourished. Not far from the baronial mansions of Prairie Avenue, there were 31 brothels on Clark Street between Congress and Harrison, all of which were open at the time of the fair. The German writer Paul Lindau called Chicago "a peep show of utter horror, but extraordinarily to the point."
Online sales of used books were worth $604 million (U.S.) in 2004. They represent 8.4 per cent of total consumer spending on books.
[CEO Hannes] Blum points out that online bookselling helps bricks-and-mortar bookstores stay in business. They can use the added revenue from online sales to keep their doors open or move to a better location.
"The Internet is not to blame for bookstores closing," he says.
"I recall being invited to lunch with a poet, who obviously wished to befriend me, but who talked through the meal about himself, his small triumphs, his enemies, his good works, his plans for his brilliant future. At the end, I wanted to touch his hand and say, 'Forgive me, but you have spoken way too much about yourself, especially in the presence of someone who, in our puny little literary world, is much better known and much more important than you. A serious mistake, especially if you plan to have lunch with me again.'"
Salon's latest literary tour guide takes us to New Mexico.
July 14, 2006
Smart girls need smart porn. Well, obviously.
Literary fiction and poetry might be taking a hit in the American marketplace, but the genre of books through which readers are meant to insert their penises is showing encouraging signs of growth.
Inquirer submitted, under a pseudonym, chapter three of White's The Eye of the Storm to 12 publishers and agents. This novel clinched his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973, with the judges describing it as one of his most accomplished works.
Not one reader recognised its literary genius, and 10 wrote polite and vaguely encouraging rejection letters. The highest praise was "clever". A low point was a referral to a "how to" book on writing fiction. . . .
[Publisher Nicholas] Hudson has since told Inquirer he recalled reading the manuscript and was being kind in his letter. "I was trying to be polite. I thought [it] was pretentious fart-arsery. I don't like White".
Your mission for the day is to use the phrase "pretentious fart-arsery" as many times as possible. Extra points if you use it in the same sentence as "pernicious bollocks."
But back to the beginning of the band: At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Caithlin De Marrais and Kyle Fisher were in a poetry workshop together. They bonded when they realized that they were more serious about poetry than the other class participants. Fisher and William Kuehn had already been in a band together called Ezra Pound. It seemed inevitable that the trio would make music together.
An early edition of "the most important book in English literature" sold yesterday at an auction for over 5 million dollars.
Pullum has special vitriol for Elements of Style, which he calls a "horrid little notebook of nonsense," and debunks a number of Strunk and White's dicta. Take, for example, their insistence on using "that" in restrictive clauses and "which" in nonrestrictive ones. . . . Pullum argues that the prohibition is unnecessary. With the help of some electronic book searching, he shows that Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville and, yes, E.B. White all use "which" with restrictive clauses — often. (White, for example, does so in the second paragraph of Stuart Little.) If great writers break a rule frequently and naturally in writing, everyone else follows suit in speech, and doing so creates no confusion, that rule is a waste of everyone's time.
My biggest pet peeve is people whose biggest pet peeve is people who break meaningless, long-outdated grammar/usage rules. It's a meta-peeve. So thank you, Geoffrey Pullum. (And you too, Steven Pinker.)
The Chicago Tribune profiles dirty University of Chicago magazine Vita Excolatur.
"The ending is beautiful, no matter what you might have heard from one bitter, acerbic individual who's miserable with her bleak reviewer's life."
Is most contemporary literary criticism "bad writing about good writing"? Maybe, says John Sutherland.
In the latest issue of ELN, pride of place goes to an article by Jason Sellers entitled Dracula's Band of the Hand: Suppressed Male Onanism. "I argue," Dr Sellers announces, "that the mediation of the unavailable lover and the subsequent urgent need for autosexual satisfaction is the sexual force that propels much of Dracula.
"I will explore both the physical and psychological autoerotic imagery with which the novel suppresses, in light of that taboo, the masturbatory endeavour pursued by Dracula's vampire-fighting crew of men - our, by way of physical allegory, manly Band of the Hand."
A load of wank, one is tempted to ejaculate. Not, that is, Bram Stoker's immortal work, but this scholar's crazed interpretation of it. The argument that Dracula is about Van Helsing, Harker and the rest furtively beating their meat as they gallop hell for leather across Transylvania is beyond weird into surreal. If this is what literary criticism has come to, give me Buffy.
July 13, 2006
"The world's first feminist bridge" is named after novelist Simone de Beauvoir.
Being a science fiction writer sure is a lot like being a poor African-American, wouldn't you say? If you're feeling some self-pity but can't think of an appropriate analogy, these are still available:
a Catholic in North Ireland on parade day
Rape victim (oh wait, that one has been used)
Hurricane Katrina refugee
Enslaved Eastern European prostitute
A Jew in Poland in... actually, I'm sure someone has already used this one somewhere
When I was, let’s say, fourteen, I imagined myself going to Cambridge, meeting Mr. Barrett and becoming his friend. Of course, like many fans who had similar notions, I never did and wouldn’t entertain the idea of disturbing him now . . . I’ll leave that sort of crassness to the journalists who still bang on his door and snoop a photograph of him at the local shops or a view through his front window.
This is not another book about "mad Syd." This, instead, is a celebration of a moment when everything seemed possible, when creative worlds and forces converged, when an album spoke with an entirely new voice. "Such music I never dreamed of," as Rat said to Mole.
The Telegraph states the obvious: the people who claim that Jane Austen was the original chick lit writer have obviously not really been reading Austen.
Jane Austen might not mind about this. She might shrug and write a new book, about people who read novels without understanding a word of them...
This novel, which should have the freedom of the literary city, has been appropriated by would-be Elizabeths. It has become that dread thing: a woman's book. Obviously men still read it, but it is hard to imagine them doing so without getting that silly look they would adopt when forced to watch Sex and the City with their wives. This is no longer their territory; and therein lies both the lifting up and the downfall of Pride and Prejudice. So powerfully does it now command the female vote that an entire dimension of the novel has been excised from our collective understanding.
Come back, Moby Lives!
If you, too, need a lit podcast fix in Moby Lives' absence, the Guardian a&e podcast this week rehashes the independent vs. chain bookstore debate.
Okay, I've decided. I don't like Katha Pollitt.
“Slut’’ is tossed around so often and so casually that many teenagers use it affectionately and in jest among their friends, even incorporating it into their instant messenger screen names.
Like “queer” and “pimp” before it, the word slut seems to be moving away from its meaning as a slur. Or is it?
I love how at the end of the article, they mention two things as if they're unrelated: men don't like to marry "sluts" and if you're a woman, you should have had only four sexual partners. "But you know. Just sayin'." Thanks, New York Times!
July 12, 2006
Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana vetoed a bill designating James Ellis Richardson's "I Love My Louisiana" as the official state poem, after the state's poet laureate said the poem "lacked sufficient literary merit." I can't imagine why:
She seems to be like a soulful mate
That stands here by my side.
This brings me special confidence
To know that she is mine.
According to the Library of Congress, five states have official poems, including Indiana ("I must roam those wooded hillsides, / I must heed the native call, / For a Pagan voice within me / Seems to answer to it all") and Oklahoma ("Well, here goes some scribblin' that's a little past due, / But I reckon I'm always a-thinkin' 'bout you"). That last one might explain why so many Oklahoma writers are constantly a-thinkin' 'bout suicide.
From the Book Standard:
A case against author Elif Shafak, who is charged with “insulting Turkishness” under Article 301 in the Turkish Criminal Code, reached a new level this week. Shafak wrote The Bastard of Istanbul, in which a character references Armenian genocide.
Last month, a public prosecutor in Istanbul dismissed the charges, based on Shafak’s argument that the book is a work of fiction and therefore un-prosecutable.
A complaint from a member of the Unity of Jurists, a group of right-wing lawyers, caused the seventh high criminal court to overrule the decision.
Now, courtesy of the Hollywood star Julia Stiles, that sacred text is to be made into a film.
"I've found a producer and a writer," says the star of the Bourne series and the Omen remake, who, after a "legal tussle", bought the rights to the film several years ago.
Ah, yes, the Omen remake. The On the Waterfront of our generation. Whoever was on the other side of that "legal tussle" didn't fight hard enough. (Via Choriamb.)
John Moe, KUOW host and McSweeneys contributor, talks about trying not to "creep [interview subjects] out with fandom, at least until after the interview" and his upcoming book, Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky at Seattlest.
I took a month off last summer and tried to become a conservative. Like a real stereotyped party-line conservative. I met with William Kristol, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, and Jeff Gannon and asked them to convert me. I spent 4th of July in rural Idaho, made pilgrimages to the Reagan and Nixon museums, saw a Toby Keith concert in Indiana, did Toby Keith karaoke at the Little Red Hen, shot guns, drove Escalades, ate a lot of jerky, went a little crazy, and sat in with Michael Medved for a day.
The author of Trainspotting inspires one of the best headlines ever:
Chicagoans! Stephen Elliott is bringing the Progressive Reading Series to our lovely city. The first event will be Tuesday, July 18th with local superstars Audrey Niffenegger, Aleksandar Hemon, Dan Beachy-Quick, Simone Muench, and Peter Orner. The cost of your ticket ($10 - $20 sliding scale) will go to benefit the campaign of Tammy Duckworth, running against conservative state Sen. Peter Roskam in Chicago’s 6th Congressional District. But tickets are limited and running out, so buy your tickets online today.
From insular small town life, Ford was thrust into an even more confining world after high school, when he was sent, at his Baptist mother's insistence, to a "Bible college" a half hour north of New York City, where everyone was required to sign "the Pledge."
"It listed all the things you were not allowed to do. You could not have pictures of the opposite sex on the wall, for instance," he says. "My favorite was 'I will not attend the theater as a way of life.'"
Pledge or no pledge, Ford was beginning to realize that he was gay, but a Bible college housed in a former hotel wasn't quite the perfect setting for coming out.
See, I would argue that a Bible college housed in a former hotel isn't the perfect setting for anything, except maybe a really crappy horror movie.
I want to like Katha Pollitt. I'm having a hard time, though. Especially after she responds in this Salon interview to the review of her new book Virginity or Death that Ana Marie Cox (former Wonkette) wrote for the New York Times. After confessing she didn't read the review very closely, she attacks Cox as being a flighty little girl, putting a whole bunch of words in Cox's mouth.
And also, while I agree with the argument that women describe too many things as "empowering" these days, maybe the reason a lot of women don't want to refer to themselves as feminists is because we have Pollitt here calling young women featherheads and writing essays about how unfeminist high heels are. I can think feminist thoughts while wearing four-inch heels and the world doesn't end due to the massive contradiction. But thanks, mom.
Thanks to Elizabeth for guest blogging, as it allowed me to spend my birthday away from my computer, reading Ivan Klima, and pretending like the publishing world is a pure, virtuous entity that would never give someone like Giuliana DePandi a contract. Now the champagne has worn off and reality sets back in. (But at least I'm greeted with the news that Philip Robertson, one of my favorite war reporters, is back at Salon.)
I guess I feel that the rollback of our rights is only temporary -- and I say that in my introduction. That a big modern industrial country like America is not going to become a right-wing Christian nation in which you have to show your marriage certificate to get birth control. If you can measure the strength of an impulse by the ferocity of the opposition to it, I would say that feminism is very much alive. People don't spend a lot of time anymore bashing unions, for example. They don't spend a lot of time bashing the black power movement, but feminism really gets to people. So I think the fact that it really gets to people shows both its relevance and its power.
Amen. (Thanks to Leela for the link.)
July 11, 2006
The good news part of the 1600-page Africa Bible Commentary is that it condemns female circumcision. There is some bad news, however (as the Christians so dependably serve up). The book
provides explanations of verses from all 66 books of the Bible, using local proverbs and idioms to make reading relevant to African eyes while remaining true to the scriptures. More than a decade in the making, the book has been put together by 70 scholars and theologians from 25 countries, and represents a range of Protestant churches.
In the section on Genesis, a Kenyan theologian says of female genital mutilation: "To abuse the body in a way that destroys the ability to appreciate one of God's gifts is an insult to his creation." Widow inheritance, still common in many tribes, is deemed to "conflict with the Christian belief that death ends the marriage union". But other interpretations are more literal. Homosexuality is described as "having deep roots in our sinful nature".
P.O.V., the documentary series on PBS, might be my favorite thing on television ever. (Seriously. Add Last Man Standing and A Perfect Candidate to your Netflix queue now.) The newest film in the series, Tintin and I, airs tonight on PBS, and it looks fantastic. The P.O.V. site has a great selection of supplementary material for the film, including an essay on Tintin in America, an interview with filmmaker Anders Østergaard, and a comic artists roundtable series of interviews featuring Jessica Abel, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes, among others. You really should check this out tonight. Unless you have an unquenchable thirst for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit reruns.
The New York Times has a review of the new biography Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code, which looks good and makes me wish I had passed my college biology class on one of the first seven attempts. There's also an excerpt from the book.
Over chez Ron Hogan, chick lit author Josie Brown suggests re: the success of The Devil Wears Prada movie: "Now perhaps more contemporary, funny women's stories will be considered as viable source material for Hollywood."
Well I'm with you on that, sister.
She also opines: "Women go to the movies, and want to see their own stories reflected on the screen."
I will freely share with you that I just bought a pair of four-inch Prada stilettos half-off this weekend. But I ask you: being Anna Wintour's assistant is our "own story"?
Why are the big movies that get made out of "novels" by women about being an assistant or a nanny when the most emailed story at the New York Times today (for several days running in fact) is about this apparently panic-inducing drama of: "At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust"?
Laura Miller reviews Tanya Erzen's Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement.
Reparative therapy's prescription for correcting this condition is to concentrate on forming strong platonic relationships with other men. Conventionally manly behaviors like sports and camping are mandatory. This results in a program that tries to cure men of same-sex desires by installing them in all-male, dormitory-style housing, decorated (in one memorable detail Erzen offers) with posters of Jesus wearing short hair, blue jeans and a workshirt, and punctuated with expeditions in which the men sleep together in tents. Such a plan would strike anyone comfortable and familiar with gay culture as laughably daft and self-defeating -- "curing" homosexuality by piling gay men together in close quarters with Village People depictions of the Son of God -- but that's their story, and they're sticking to it.
Also, church is mandatory, and all the hymns are Erasure songs with the words changed. "Man, I never realized how beautiful Paul's Epistle to the Romans was until I heard it set to 'Blue Savannah.' Thank you, horrible right-wing brainwashing cult! You saved my life!"
Somehow I missed this in January 2006, and you know what, it deserves a mention:
Shortly after Sanora Babb's death in her late nineties, reviewers called her novel Whose Names Are Unknown "as compelling as Steinbeck's epic work and in some ways more authentic":
Ms. Babb waited 65 years in the shadow of a literary giant for her first completed novel to be published. Upstaged in 1938 by John Steinbeck's bestselling ''The Grapes of Wrath," Ms. Babb's tale about the travails of a Depression-era farm family was shelved by Random House, which feared that the market would not support two novels on the same theme. Bitterly disappointed, Ms. Babb stuck her manuscript in a drawer in 1939, and there it remained until 2004, when it was rescued by the University of Oklahoma Press.
You know you're in for quite a day when in addition to etherically turning to Chuck D for a little booster you also call up the patron-saint-energy of the Guerrilla Girls who remind women artists that our careers might pick up after we're eighty.
As I get into the guest-blogging, bookslut-vibe groove here, I notice Jessa has been disappointed with the summer's books to the point of retreating into her imagination:
In her fine column last week at the Book Standard she wondered what the world would be like if author of the summer offering Baby Proof, Emily Giffin, "decides to craft some real, complex characters with thoughts and feelings instead of ones ripped out of Sex & the City and every other bad chick-lit book before it, all the type of 'women' I would stab through the eye with the cocktail stick from my Cosmo if I had the chance."
If you're feeling similarly substance-starved, the anthology I just edited, This Is Not Chick Lit will be in stores on August 1, which is really not so far away, and contains stories by eighteen of our best women writers, and will not only tide you over to September but will also serve as a reading list of amazing work that you might have forgotten about since the last time you went to Barnes & Noble you tripped over a stack of pastel-covered books with shoes and purses on the cover.
It's not just a book: it's a revolution. Chick lit is over.
Q: Do you listen to Elvis when you write? How big a place does Elvis (and music in general) take up in your life?
A: I often listen to Elvis when I write. I listen to other things, too, but mostly Elvis. And he does play a big part in my life. It's kind of personal, I guess. I really got into him when I was still a teenager. I was a pretty nerdy kid (in case the comics reference didn't already make that clear) and at some point I just wanted to find something that would be both completely uncool and completely mine. I was trying to discover something for myself then, I think, when I first came across Elvis. But what happened was that I really fell for him. I loved the music.
OK, now I have to read this book. (It comes recommended by Identity Theory editor Matt Borondy, who calls it "the one book I've read this year that I could tear through about fifty more times and enjoy it even more on each sitting.")
The Universal Press Syndicate says Ann Coulter is innocent of plagiarism.
Hi everybody. It's Elizabeth Merrick here, guest-blogging for Jessa for the day so that she can go do whatever it is a bookslut does on her day off. I'm happy to be here because I've been out in the country writing all summer and I'm getting a little cooped up, so this is extra social for me. Not as social of course as that posse of my fellow New Yorkers who are obsessed with their Dodgeball and their MySpace, but sort of a party nonetheless.
I still have to take a preemptive Tylenol before looking at anything on MySpace. Yes, I know that means I'm about six weeks away from a Geritol regimen. But don't say it hasn't occurred to you too.
I prefer a more old-fashioned and amusing sort of communication: Jessa, this means you. I am hoping for at least one drunk-dial from you by, say, 3pm. Don't let me down.
July 10, 2006
The new edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary includes entries for the words "biodiesel," "bling," "soul patch" and "google" (verb).
Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) will direct a film adaptation of Laurent Graff's novel Happy Days, and filmmaker Nora Ephron (A Blandly Handsome Stammering Eunuch Falls in Love with Meg Ryan but is Remarkably Gracious and Understanding When She Leaves Him for Tom Hanks) is set to write and direct a movie version of Julie Powell's Julie & Julia.
Three homeless people are suing the Worcester (Massachusetts) Public Library, which recently announced a policy reducing the amount of books homeless patrons can check out to two at a time. People with homes are allowed to check out up to 40 books. It's part of the library's latest PR campaign, which will probably culminate in a decision to start charging entry fees for patrons who are not white, and then using the money to buy child pornography to sell to the kitten-torturing division of al-Qaeda.
Seriously, why are our nation's libraries freaking out about homeless people? There aren't any orphans with cancer around that they can discriminate against?
Russian President Vladimir Putin answers questions about sex, robots, and, uh, Cthulhu.
Asked about the possible awakening of the giant mythical octopus Cthulhu, the fourth-most popular question among the more than 150,000 sent to Putin, he said that he believed something more serious was behind the question. Cthulhu was invented by novelist H.P. Lovecraft and was said to be sleeping beneath the Pacific Ocean.
Putin said he viewed mysterious forces with suspicion and advised those who took them seriously to read the Bible, Koran or other religious books.
A group of Denver readers, unable to make time to read an actual book, has started a "magazine club."
Once a month, they meet in a restaurant. Over drinks, each member brings a magazine she has read and talks about an article in it. "After that we cut out pictures from the magazines and make a diorama," says member Christina Brickley.
Laugh if you must, but People Magazine's recent piece on whether Brandon Routh has what it takes to be America's newest super-hottie has some subtle nuances that can only be teased out by a bunch of diorama enthusiasts drunk on Harvey Wallbangers.
Ever since my local college station has started playing nothing but Brooklyn "post-rock" bands I am not cool enough to know about, interspersed with songs from obscure Bollywood soundtracks (a format my brother calls "indie and Hindi"), I've started listening to a lot of NPR. While driving to the natural food co-op. My goal is to play to every single stereotype of young white liberals out there.
At any rate, they seem to be stepping up their book coverage, which is great, since it tends to be a lot more interesting than "After this smooth jazz interlude, a Duke political science professor will tell you all about the latest Croatian parliamentary elections. Then, more smooth jazz." So here's Bret Anthony Johnston on Lolita, Tom Vitale on two new novels about Poe, and a Q&A with animal behaviorist and author Temple Grandin.
I didn’t want to come right straight out and do a “children’s book” because generally children’s books are not fun for anybody but the kids. There are some children’s books that don’t bore you to death so you can read them for the kids but the feeling of this is that it was an adult book but I just cut out all the super violence, sexual innuendo and the booze so now I’ve got a book that six year olds and seven year olds can read too.
Somehow I forgot that Eddie Campbell was going to be guest blogging at Powells. (His The Fate of the Artist is still one of my favorite books of this year.) But never fear, you can still read his archives.
Nowadays I'm not strictly obliged to get out of bed (though in fact my irrational fear that the human race, having screwed this planet, plans to get on a spaceship and head for another solar system, leaving me behind, usually causes me to get up at approximately the same time as everybody else).
I seriously love him.
Italy is a land of contrasts. And I am a man of cliche.
It's like The Royal Tenenbaums but more depressing: Deborah Solomon looks at the Minot family.
Brian Eno, aka GOD, has composed an original score for Michael Faber's e-book The Fahrenheit Twins. You can listen over at Guardian's podcast, and Faber writes about meeting the man, or GOD, after sending him a letter.
My first contact with Eno was in 1996, when I wrote him a long letter care of Radio 3, not to tell him I was a fan of his music (I didn't mention it), nor to urge him to read my books (I hadn't yet published any), but to comment on some remarks he'd made in a radio programme on ethnomusicology. In a polite sort of way, I accused him of "cultural hypermetropia" and told him why. Evidently this was a welcome relief from the usual "Mr-Eno-your-synth-solo-in-Virginia-Plain-changed- my-life-so-please-listen-to-my-demo" letters he receives, because he wrote back and we had an interesting conversation about Christian psalm-singing in Cameroon and so forth.
God damn it, I knew I should have written him about psalm-singing. Too late now I suppose.
"The Man Who Heard Voices" isn't really the filmmaker's fault. His only serious misstep was allowing it to happen. It was Mr. Bamberger who met the auteur at a dinner party ("Night's shirt was half open — Tom Jones in his prime"), became awestruck ("What kind of power could he have over me?") and started taking deeply embarrassing notes.
A lawsuit filed on June 16, 2006, by an American Joyce scholar alleges that Stephen, grandson of the writer James Joyce, along with estate trustee Sean Sweeney, improperly withheld access to materials and attempted to intimidate academics, among them the University of Western Ontario's Groden.
Jews! You are disappointing Salon. (Except for Leonard Cohen.) Please work on that.
July 07, 2006
Pessl's debut is clearly an example of hot young author syndrome but we should not hold the fact that she has it all -- looks, smarts, talent, commitment, youth and now serious dosh and success -- against her. It is not her fault that attractive writers are easier to market and therefore attract bigger book advances. (Note: anyone who thinks all authors look like Pessl hasn't attended enough writers festivals; the Zadie Smith factor is the exception, not the rule.) Hot young author syndrome is a symptom of market-led publishing. Happily, in this case it has also resulted in the publication of a book that happens to be a bloody good read.
Q: What about the Bible? Do you see this as a recipe for religious intolerance?
A: Oh, I do. There's no document that I know of that is more despicable in its morality than the first few books of the Hebrew Bible. Books like Exodus and Deuteronomy and Leviticus, these are diabolical books. The killing never stops. The reasons to kill your neighbor for theological crimes are explicit and preposterous. You have to kill people for worshiping foreign gods, for working on the Sabbath, for wizardry, for adultery. You kill your children for talking back to you. It's there and it's not a matter of metaphors. It is exactly what God expects us to do to rein in the free thought of our neighbors.
Jane Chen looks at the state of lesbian fiction publishing.
The LGBT publishing market is still heavily skewed toward gay men. Both the number of titles published as well as the patronage of independent bookstores tend to be dominated by men. Lambda Lit's Flowers says that “since many of the mainstream as well as “gay mainstream” publications are geared toward men and their interests, lesbians and their work are not as visible, not as reviewed, and not as valued.”
Anyone else feel sorry for Bill Maher on the Amazon Fishbowl? Wearing jeans (with an impeccably tailored jacket) to match that folksy introduction, pretending not to want to kill Terri Hatcher... But at least he gets to talk about the toxic food supply with Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma). It's a topic he tries to bring up with just about every guest, but at least this time the guest knows how to answer him.
The New York Times visits US poet laureate Donald Hall at his Wilmot, N.H., farmhouse.
A Henry Moore sculpture shares a coffee table with an old carved-bone serving spoon. In an upstairs hall, oval-framed ancestral photos with carefully hand-darkened eyes and vest buttons share wall space with a life-size poster of the former Celtics player Kevin McHale hawking milk. Near the kitchen sink, a breathtaking Picasso sketch overlooks a shelf of Durkee spices whose wet-sand color suggests they haven't been used since Ms. Kenyon's death. Mr. Hall confessed to eating mostly microwaved frozen meals — "widower's food," he called it with a rueful smile.
The CBC examines some of the book trailers out there, including the preview for Gautam Malkani's Londonstani -- which got a favorable review in this month's Bookslut. My favorite moment in that trailer is the intro with the spray painting of Harper Collins's logo. Oh yeah, Harper Collins is street, yo.
July 06, 2006
The 92Y Blog has five questions for Gary Shteyngart.
If you could change one thing about NYC/Russia, what would it be?
New York: End the mall-ification of the city. Throw