September 29, 2006
I don't know if you've heard, but Harlan Ellison is suing Fantagraphics. It's a bit confusing, but The Beat outlines the issue nicely.
AlterNet has information on the textbook wars and the California bill that textbooks "accurately portray in an age-appropriate manner the cultural, racial, gender and sexual orientation diversity of our society."
I love that people seem surprised that McGreevey's The Confession isn't really selling. Once he read the racy part on Oprah, that was pretty much it, wasn't it? Everyone just wanted a little man-on-man, and once they got him reading it on Oprah, there was no point to buying the book.
Also, please watch Letterman's alternate chapter titles for McGreevey's memoir.
It turns out that I can't actually pour large amounts of whiskey into my body and then just roll out of bed and get to work in the morning. Hence my late start.
The sad thing is, the first thing I read about this morning is that Mitch Albom has a new book. It was hard not to go straight back to bed. It's called For One More Day, which is unfortunate because people are going to have to work a little harder to make up bad pun headlines than with The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Slate is still using that book for its headline today.
Mitch Albom is a fabulist all right, but not just in the journalistic sense. Albom is literally a teller of fables, a peddler of shallow morality tales for the masses. You can see it in his risible sports writing, and you can see it in his best-selling books. A representative of Starbucks, which will sell For One More Day as part of its new books promotion, told the Los Angeles Times that the chain wanted its literary selections to be "deeply felt." Albom's writing is deeply felt, and dimly thought. He's a huckster evangelist for the soccer-mom set.
September 28, 2006
Back when I was a librarian at a sexuality education center (I've had some weird jobs), I used to recommend Robie Harris's books to everyone, regardless of age. They're the most clear books on sexuality, puberty, anatomy, whatever, and they should be distributed to everyone at birth. It would save a lot of headaches. That's why it's so distressing that Harris's books are consistently some of the most challenged books at libraries. Two of the books, It's Perfectly Normal -- not, evidently, a message some people want getting out there -- and It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, made the list of the 10 most challenged books of 2005. But seriously, buy copies for every pregnant woman you meet, they're incredible.
John Gibbens tours the town-as-used-bookstore Hay-on-Wye, an activity that would leave me destitute and homeless, wandering around the bookstores forever, selling my blood plasma for more books.
September 27, 2006
Tonight I am going to miss the Bookslut Reading Series for the first time. I have to run off to New York for the week for a variety of reasons, and it just happened to fall on the same week as the reading series. It's especially depressing given the great writers we have tonight. Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain is the stuff of nightmares. Cristina Henriquez's short stories Come Together, Fall Apart are amazing. And Ned Vizzini continues to write some of the best YA novels out there, continuing with his new one It's Kind of a Funny Story. So you'll have to go and let me know how it went.
Now I have a plane to catch.
Virginia Quarterly Review is now offering a short excerpt from the fall issue's installment of art spiegelman's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*!"
I'm not sure who writes the headlines for my articles in the Book Standard, but waiting to see what they come up with is often half of the fun of writing for them. (The other half is seriously damaging my liver whenever I'm in the same room with my editors, but that's another story.) This week they came up with "Jessa Crispin Says If You're Gonna Gamble on Porn, Then Gamble on Real Arty Porn." It's true, I say that all the time. They know me so well over there.
Something I'm always looking for in literature is a realistic depiction of sisters. I'm the middle of three girls, my sisters are my best friends, and an inauthentic relationship between sisters in a book can drive me crazy. (See: In Her Shoes) Marcy Dermansky's Twins is a great sisters book. And this interview with Maggie O'Farrell makes me want to read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.
"I'm very close to both of my sisters, but I think a lot of writing is talking about something you don't know. I've always been intrigued by people who don't get on with their siblings; the idea that you wouldn't, and why that would be, fascinates me. Often, I think the impetus to write is to explore something you don't fully comprehend."
Her book also has women locked away in asylums for "trangressive behavior," another pet topic of mine. It may be the perfect fall book.
September 26, 2006
The Chicago Manual of Style is moving online. Fangirls around the country squeal with delight.
Julian Barnes is interviewed at the Telegraph.
The latest installment of Largehearted Boy's Book Notes feature has Cursed from Birth: The Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs author David Ohle discussing Bill Sr. and Jr.
But the soundtrack I most closely associate with Billy Burroughs’s life is an impromptu composition of his father’s. It came about during one of Bill Sr.’s ever-fleeting infatuations, when he acquired a small drum set. When boredom or distraction would set in, he would sit on the sofa, half-pickled, pick up the sticks and bang the drums for amusement (his, not ours). And it’s that noisy, out of synch, anxiety-inducing clatter that, for me, became Billy’s theme.
Daphne Gottlieb and Diane DiMassa are interviewed about their graphic novel collaboration Jokes and the Unconscious. (Mostly I remember DiMassa for her amazing illustrations of Kathy Acker's Pussycat Fever, and that was enough to make me pick up this graphic novel and really like it.)
Daphne: I’m not interested in the factual truth. I’m interested in the emotional truth. The autobiographical truthfulness varies scene to scene. I share of lot of similarities with Sasha. My father died when I was nineteen. My father was a doctor, too. I think the emotional landscape is faithful and true, but the story line varies in its percentage of fiction.
September 25, 2006
'I was determined not to write a book about a writer. But yes, I needed something to make him persuasive as the sort of transactive character I wanted him to be. With Frank's speaking voice - the intelligence that that voice implies - he is able to transact the culture for the reader. If Frank were a person, and you met him, and he sold you a house, he wouldn't seem like this guy on the page. He would seem like a totally embedded, insignificant character. But because he is a character in a novel, doing what characters in novels do - having a much more intense intellectual, emotional life than even human beings have - then he becomes exceptional.'
From the Wizard's guide on how to draw women comic book superheroes:
"Many of you may think me a bit of a hypocrite when I tell you that the size of a woman's chest has little to do with a woman's attractiveness, but it is the truest thing I say to you today."
Oh, it just gets better. (Link from When Fangirls Attack.)
Pro-Family people are freaking out about Banned Books Week, which starts today. Their objection is to the word "banned."
The event this week decries hundreds of books that have been challenged by concerned parents. Notice the word ‘challenged,’ not banned.
My favorite bit of the story? When a spokesperson defends their right to challenge books as part of their right to free speech. How the irony of that statement didn't open a hole in the space-time continuum and swallow him I can't imagine.
Dave Itzkoff looks at the neverending parade of Dune books.
The author accused of making up her best-selling memoir of abuse in a Magdalene laundry is hoping to silence critics this week when two survivors make legal statements confirming she was in one of the church-run institutions with them.
The order of nuns that ran the notorious laundries denies O'Beirne was ever held in their care. O'Beirne's book Don't Ever Tell details a life of child rape, abuse and violence that implicates nuns in the Catholic clergy as well as her late father.
September 22, 2006
"The villanelle is the most restrictive of all sandwich forms." (Thanks, Fuzzy.)
It took me a week to read the final 20 pages of The Emperor's Children. I just stopped caring one bit. When one of the characters is viciously attacked, I whooped with joy. That's usually a sign I should just give up on a book, but I have trouble doing that. Luckily, Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr. Y has given me reason to go on. People have been telling me to read her books for years, but I just now got around to it. Now I'm going to have to make another Amazon.co.uk purchase as some of her books are out of print in the States.
She's interviewed at 3am about Derrida, writers reviewing literature, and the perils of having a website:
Earlier in the year I had a really persistent stalker, and then when I took the site down -- for ONE DAY -- and replaced it with a message saying "fuck off and die", the books press all went mental about it. The Bookseller said something like "I wonder what's upset young author Scarlett Thomas". Great journalism -- I mean, if you're a journalist and you wonder something about someone, why not ring up the person (or their publisher, or their agent) and ask them about it? It's not hard to find my phone number -- the stalker managed it.
Jeffrey Brown does a comic about all the hookers he's killed.
Link from Journalista.
The Guardian tries to determine the lyingest of all the lying memoirs. Frey has some serious competition.
I think there are a lot of good journalists who get trapped in the whole objectivity thing. It's the whole way of American journalism: there are two sides to every story and you tell one side and then you give equal weight the other side. But if you are actually someplace observing something, you might feel like there are two sides or three sides to this story, but they don't have equal weight. I feel like my job is to discern where things actually stand and what things are about. When a journalist is saying, "I have no opinion," then, okay, you've got both sides—so what? It's not the same as someone saying, "I know the situation, I've been here." I'd rather hear something straight like that.
September 21, 2006
Since Michael Schaub is not here at the moment -- it's been interesting to hear your theories about where he is, although it's a little disturbing how many of you think I killed him -- I have to link to my own goddamn column at the Book Standard. Oh, the indignity of it all. (And Michael Schaub is just doing some traveling, and he will return. If he manages to escape from the glass case I locked him in before it fills with water.)
I will never be able to read Jane Hamilton's books without thinking in the back of my head, "The woman uses multiple exclamation marks."
The bestselling Turkish novelist Elif Shafak was acquitted earlier today of the charges of "insulting Turkishness" brought against her under Article 301 of Turkish law. The charges were dropped at the prosecutor's request.
It's embarrassing to admit, but I have similar volumes in my own study, even the Vailima Stevenson — a rare thing indeed, with its sturdy blue binding and thick paper, the typeface large yet dignified, and oceans of white space in the margins. The Sussex Edition of Kipling is beyond me, as most of those were destroyed in the war, and the set costs something like $30,000; but I have a decent set of Kipling, the one with the emblem of an elephant on each cover. I don't spend a lot of time reading Kipling anymore, although I always return to his first volume of stories, Plain Tales From the Hills, with pleasure, and I do think he's an underrated poet.
Jay Parini has a few things to say about what your library says about you, but it just makes me think he'd recoil in horror at my shelves of mass market paperbacks, picked up for a quarter at the used bookstore. Evidently if I were a proper gentlelady, I would have my Maugham in goatskin editions or something.
September 20, 2006
Speaking in tongues is a very unusual kind of vocalization. It sounds like the person is speaking a language, but it's not comprehensible. And when people have done linguistic analyses of speaking in tongues, it does not correspond to any clear linguistic structure. So it seems to be distinct from language itself. That's interesting because we did not see activity in the language areas of the brain. Of course, if somebody is a deep believer in speaking in tongues, the source of the vocalizations is very clear. It's coming from outside the person. It's coming through the spirit of God.
Speaking of the Virginia Quarterly Review, you can now read pieces from their Fall 2006 issue, available October 2. But you have to get a physical copy to read their third selection from art spiegelman's new work "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*!"
NPR tells stories of Charles Darwin's experimentation with floating dead birds and asparagus seeds in his bathtub. The stories come from David Quammen's The Reluctant Mr. Darwin. (You can still order back issues of VQR's evolution issue, which contains essays by Niles Eldridge, Robert M. Sapolsky, and an excerpt from Quammen's book. That issue was one of my favorite things that I read this summer.)
Frankly, I don't know how I have the energy to write this review. According to Fay Weldon, I should be exhausted, what with keeping my tortured inner soul submerged, shopping compulsively and struggling with feelings of guilt about friends, family, sex and food.
If you're female and reading this, chances are you're finding it difficult to concentrate because you're distracted by floors to wash/weight to lose/fridges to raid/friends to betray.
She takes the bus. To work. Cleaning jobs have. Changed. Since she last. Appeared in. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Now the cleaners. Are all. Nigerian or. Bulgarian. Except. Her.
I should admit to myself that I am never going to catch up on my back log of New Yorker and just throw the damn fire hazards out. At least now I can pretend I read them, thanks to Drunken Volcano's distillation of each article into a haiku. (Link from Gawker.)
Kathy O'Beirne's memoir Don't Ever Tell about being abused by her family and her church and her stay in Ireland's Magdalen laundries may not be true at all. The book has been an enormous seller, probably just because of the Magdalen laundry angle, as there is still a high demand for those stories to be told. (Magdalen laundries or asylums were where Irish women who were deemed "amoral" or "difficult" -- read: "sexually active" or "ambitious" -- were sent away for years of hard labor. This continued up until 1996.)
I highly recommend the book Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland by Frances Finnegan if you're at all interested in the topic. And once you start reading about it, it's hard to stop.
The Stranger offers tips on how to write like Daniel Silva, author of the bestselling novel The Messenger.
It's important to describe (over and over) how your characters look. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Wrong! For the males, it's all about the chins. Does his "square chin" have a "deep notch in the center"? Is his face "narrow at the chin"? Perhaps the "stubborn set of his jaw revealed that he was a dangerous man to cross," or you noticed "the muscles of his jaw alternatively clenching and unclenching." When women are around, describe their boobs (Silva prefers them "heavy," "suntanned," and "generous").
September 19, 2006
Part one of Seth's new serial for the New York Times is online. (PDF)
What did we do before the days of Amazon.co.uk? I used to bribe friends heading overseas to pick up books not released in America for me. Or come back from my own trips with my bags bursting at the seams. Now, of course, you can just pay a little more in shipping and you no longer have to wait for that new J.G. Ballard book Kingdom Come to finally be released in the states. Ballard is interviewed at the Independent about his new novel.
Ballard has the rare distinction of appearing as an adjective ("Ballardian") in the Collins English Dictionary. Does he - as it states - deal in dystopias? Ballard cannot resist a characteristic inversion: "I've decided to recast myself as Utopian. I like this landscape of the M25 and Heathrow. I like airfreight offices and rent-a-car bureaus. I like dual carriageways. When I see a CCTV camera, I know I'm safe. What I hate," Ballard leans closer to the tape-recorder with a smile, "is what I call heritage London. This is a new hate of mine. Heritage London is not just Bloomsbury, Whitehall, the Tower of London. It's really middle-class London - Hampstead, Notting Hill, wherever you find these areas held together by a dinner-party culture."
The New York Times' legendary bestseller lists, whose influence in the book community is unmatched, have expanded once again to a new category: politics.
Every conversation I have these days I drag Laura Kipnis's The Female Thing into it. Part of it is because I find the book fascinating, the other part because I'm interviewing her this week and want to air out some ideas before I say them to Kipnis. I'm annoying the hell out of my male friends who keep trying to change the subject.
The Female Thing doesn't come out for another month, but I stumbled upon this essay by Kipnis on the compromises of writing an op-ed for the New York Times.
How could you back up this argument in twelve hundred words: Marx took three volumes. In my case, I settled for a few sarcastic remarks (Where were the initiatives devoted to rehabilitating all the millionaires in failing marriages or fleeing commitment?) and gave in on a few others (“You’ll lose the readers,” I was told — this probably was not wrong). I was also informed at the eleventh hour that the word irony is not in the Times style manual, and thus can’t appear in its pages unless referring to classical Greek theater or Aristotle. Are you aware that there aren’t any adequate synonyms for irony? I lost a good point for lack of a synonym.
I usually read every book on food that I can, but this interview with The United States of Arugula author David Kamp bored me so much I can at least scratch one book off the list. Of course, it's reasonable to say that maybe the book is more interesting, but his ideas on celebrity chefs have been better expressed by Anthony Bourdain, his ideas on organic foods by Gina Mallet, his ideas on the problems with processed foods by Michael Pollan... he sounds like a mediocre blending of far superior food writers. Just the people he decided to talk with -- overrated personality Giada De Laurentiis, Nora Ephron (who recently pissed off the entire restaurant industry) -- shows he hasn't much new to say.
Somehow I missed the announcement that William Langewiesche has left Atlantic Monthly for Vanity Fair. Here's hoping VF publishes his articles online, because otherwise I'm going to have to take up shoplifting the magazine. But CJR Daily reports on the new Atlantic, under the leadership of James Bennett.
September 18, 2006
Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter interviews Center for Cartoon Studies heads James Sturm and Michelle Ollie about the first year of operations.
What struck me during year-one was how so many artists, when speaking about their process, would say some something like, "I'm probably doing this the wrong way." I think this is a liberating thing for a young artist to hear. There are so many different ways one can make a comic and it would be impossible for any instructor to cover all that ground. My impression is that visiting artists, without being too presumptuous, have really dug White River Junction, Vermont. It's a beautiful state and to have odd little community of cartoonists in this old railroad town is pretty cool. I haven't had a hard time getting people here.
"We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean — it sent me through the roof. I was like a man emerging from 44 years in a cave to taste pure air for the first time, feel direct sunlight on pallid skin, warmth where there had only ever been a bone-chilling numbness. I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I'd always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love."
The New York Times offers the Hugo Chavez reading list.
Stephen Merritt and Lemony Snicket interview one another for the Guardian.
September 15, 2006
Did no one tell James Frey that he hasn't been gone long enough for us to start caring again? Should have waited another six months.
It's not just the female characters in comic books that constantly meet grisly ends for no reason. Gay characters have been having a difficult time, too. Ray Randell examines the death of "Freedom Ring" -- a horrible name that makes me think of the commercials for that new birth control ring -- in Marvel Team Up. (Link from Journalista.)
The answer is spelled-out very clearly on the last page of the story, as the Crusader, having skipped his best-friend Curtis' funeral, is shown basking in the attention of two 'lovely', ring-conjured, extremely subservient Skrull ladies, who are climbing all over him and feeding him by hand. You see boys-and-girls, the skrull is a dedicated heterosexual. As are all the other superheroes and supervillans of this tale, and so they get to survive to fight again, no matter how stumbling, bumbling, sexist, selfish, insane, evil, murderous or downright psychotic they might be.
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Mothers Milk by Edward St Aubyn
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Carry Me Down by MJ Hyland
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
The more I read about Colm Toibin's Mothers and Sons, the most excited I am to read it. Even if the cover art is creepy. Today he's interviewed at the Telegraph about the stereotype of the Irish mother.
September 14, 2006
Hooray for Renee French and The Ticking, one of my favorite books this year, for all of her nominations for the Ignatz Awards. One of the judges this year is Lauren McCubbin, on whom I have a girl crush. Just wanted the universe to know.
To celebrate Roald Dahl's birthday, the Guardian has a quiz.
Between the interviews with Stephen Baldwin and the excerpt from Righteous yesterday with the minister imploring Christians to have a whole bunch of babies and women to shut up and service their men, I'm thinking of starting my own atheist army. I better start breeding now.
Did the middle class destroy literary potential? Or -- more likely -- is Jonathan Franzen just not that great of a writer?
"This will come as a great disappointment to people who fell in love with Johnny Truant and his escapades on the club circuit," Danielewski said. "But while writing it I was up at 5:45 every morning, working out, meditating, abstaining from a lot of bad behavior."
Scott McLee writes about annotating your books. The very idea of writing in my books makes my skin crawl. I'm sure it's been a discussion at I Love Books at one time or another. But McLee is all for annotation:
At one time, my wife would express surprise when I brought home a book by some figure she knew preoccupied me. “I thought you already had all of his books,” she would say — a reasonable point. Then I would explain that this one would be my “reading copy.” It is, as the expression goes, a gentle madness.
The latest installment of Largehearted Boy's Book Notes feature: Pamela Ribon for Why Moms are Weird. (Ribon writes chick lit that doesn't make me want to puke, but even calling it chick lit seems somehow mean.)
I think I somehow refrained from mentioning Radiohead in this novel, only because I referred to it in my last one. So instead, I made a dig at Coldplay. There you go, Thom. I love you.
September 13, 2006
Laura Kipnis writes The Female Thing suggesting -- in part -- that the patriarchy isn't what is preventing full equality between the sexes, perhaps it's women themselves. Toni Bentley, in a stunning work of irony, then makes a series of personal attacks against Kipnis in her review. Of course you could say that Kipnis started it, by rolling her eyes at Bentley's memoir The Surrender in The Female Thing, a fact that Bentley seems reluctant to bring up in her review. ("I am advised to offer a "full disclosure" here—my lucky day, I guess.") But Bentley willfully misreads Kipnis's previous book Against Love, suggests that Kipnis is a humorless, hairy legged feminist, and reduces The Female Thing to an advertisement for a tile cleanser. It suggests that Bentley does not really have a sense of humor about her anal sex memoir. It would be one thing if the review was witty or well written or thoughtful with just a sprinkle of pettiness. It's not.
Thanks to Eric for the link, anyway.
To creep you out for the rest of the day, Drawn! links to Michael Paulus's skeletons of Peanuts characters and other cartoon characters. Just in case the accidental flipping past Celebrity Fear Factor with G. Gordon Liddy in a bathing suit didn't creep you out enough last night.
After the post about what women really want, I got a couple lists e-mailed to me. It made me very happy that no one included "walks on the beach." They were more like, "a better job" and "an end to articles telling us what women really want." My own list is simply for Anthony Bourdain to come over to my house and tickle my feet.
But for those compiling the comprehensive list, you can add "to not have to make small talk with acquaintances after being sliced open while giving birth either because of a c-section (to help the doctor keep his tee time) or because doctors still do epistiotomies for some reason." This idea is so revolutionary, introduced to us by the book From the Hips: The 21st Century Guide to Having a Baby, the New York Times is all over it.
Cutting out MAs in English and History for the Navy and Marine Corps is a small step, to be sure, but it's a step in the wrong direction, and it shows a dangerous mind-set. Instead of less knowledge of how people have processed history and current events, we need more. And then we need the brass to listen when the Marine Captain with the MA in English talks about books like this.
The number of books threatened with removal from library shelves dropped last year to its lowest total on record, with 405 challenges reported to the American Library Association.
This week's Pop Candy podcast has Brian K. Vaughan answering questions about Y: The Last Man with readers. He's charming and funny, even as the girls squeal a bit. But what is with the introductory music? For a minute I thought I downloaded a seminar on yeast infection treatments.
Gunter Grass, the Nobel laureate whose confessions of SS membership during the second world war have shocked his native Germany, has denied lying about his past and claimed he simply needed time to tell his own story.
In an interview in Spain's El País newspaper, Grass replied to his critics while admitting he would probably have been involved in war crimes had he been a bit older and joined the notorious Waffen-SS earlier. "I was young, and I wanted to leave home. In my heart, it was something I agreed with," he said, explaining how he joined up as a 17-year-old in the dying stages of the war. "I considered the Waffen-SS to be an elite unit," he added. "If I had been born three or four years earlier I would, surely, have seen myself caught up in those crimes."
Read an excerpt from Lauren Sandler's new book Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement at Salon today.
Claire Messud has a short video introducing her novel The Emperor's Children for Meet the Author. I'm reading the book right now and liking it, although this fills up my quota for books about upper middle class 30-somethings in New York for about the next five years.
This is Not Chick Lit contributors Samantha Hunt, Holiday Reinhorn, Roxana Robinson, and anthology editor Elizabeth Merrick discuss the anthology, whether Jane Austen was a chick lit writer, and problems with marketing books written by women:
Holiday Reinhorn: When my collection came out in 2005 many female readers wrote in to my website to say that they thought the cover of my book was misleading and they were pissed off. They thought my book (mostly because it had leopard print on it) was designed to look like a chick lit cover and so when they bought and read the book it was not about “successful, interesting people like in chick lit books,” but instead was about “a bunch of alcoholic depressing losers.”
September 12, 2006
Seed Magazine profiles the evolution of Chinese science fiction.
But this tendency to propose new ways of living—what James Gunn, director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, calls an "inherent critique of society"—means that the genre's position could still be somewhat tenuous in China. Certain subject matter is off-limits; one of Gunn's novels was translated into Chinese but couldn't be published because it dealt with student protests. The censors have reason to be wary: Much of Chinese science fiction has been inspired by political events, from the Cultural Revolution to the 1978 Democracy Wall to the Tiananmen Square protests. Even a hackneyed show like Angel Online has the potential for allegory; today's censors, one imagines, are naturally sensitive to portrayals of Internet cops.
Evidently the censors learned from Eastern Europe and Russia.
Everyone, pay attention. An array of authors have figured out what women really want: Walking barefoot on the beach! Babies! Shoes! Vibrators! Bubble baths! But we can also totally go into warzones and be badasses and shit. As long as there is Damien Rice on our iPods.
My name is Tiro. It rhymes with Biro - though my preferred writing implement is the stylus - which is quite funny really as Cicero makes me record his life in the shorthand system I invented. It's not so amusing when you have to read it in longhand, though, as I am completely unable to distinguish between what's interesting and what's not and write in flat, lifeless sentences that go on and on. Followed by a few short ones. With exclamation marks! Oh yes!
Colin Thubron, one of the best travel writers alive, talks about his new travel book Shadow of the Silk Road in this podcast at the Times. Oh, listen to the dreamy accent talking about SARS and being lonely on the road. You can also read excerpts from the book at the Times, but it's better hearing it directly from him.
"WWI was where all the trouble of the last century started," Moore suggests... The man-made killing machine known as warfare, which "is a terrible perversion of human energy; we take young men — and young women — at their most gorgeous and sexy and send them out to die in a trench."
September 11, 2006
Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek was released from jail in Sudan on Saturday.
September 8, 2006
Impetus Press founders Jennifer Banash and Willy Blackmore are interviewed at Popmatters.
Over the years I've often submitted my work to small presses and each time I received a ridiculous list of requirements. Are you Native American? Are you concerned with women's issues? Are you having your period? Is it 28 days since your last bank deposit? Presses like FC2 will ask: "Does your work make sense? If so, you should probably go someplace else." It's gotten to the point where publishing is so completely polarized that if you're not writing purely mainstream fiction or radical experimental fiction, there's no place for you. There's no space for something that doesn't belong at either a commercial press or a very small press, and there are tons of talented writers out there who just aren't getting heard because they fall through the cracks.
The arrest of Paul Salopek in Sudan is covered in the Chicago Reader. Salopek will face trial on September 10 for charges of writing "false news" and espionage.
September 7, 2006
I'm pretty sure Mark Z. Danielewski's website for his new novel Only Revolutions is evil, but that hasn't stopped me from trying to play with it. The reviews are coming in already, and they are mixed. (Entertainment Weekly gave it a "D".) Yes, he's written another book that you have to twist and turn and actively participate with, but this time he's added free verse. Yeah, that won't piss people off.
Danielewski is coming for the October 11th Bookslut Reading Series, and half the entertainment will be watching me try not to throw myself at him.
Generally I don't like reading advance copies of books, because I end up in the situation I am in now. I fell madly in love with Laura Kipnis's The Female Thing to the point where I was calling friends to read bits to them until they hung up on me. But now I have to wait for a month until the book is released until the interviews with Kipnis start showing up and until other people can read it and I can have conversations about it. Although I can relink to this interview with Kipnis from the Spring Books issue of the Chicago Reader.
What do you stand for, Laura Kipnis? Gosh. The notion that you could have more freedom or more gratification than what you think you’re entitled to, or what society says you’re entitled to, at all levels, in personal life and materially in terms of a more equitable distribution of wealth—I would like to stand for that.
Bush's admission that the US operated secret prisons has caused Melville House Press to move up the release of Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights to next week. Authors A.C. Thompson and Trevor Paglen explain more about the system here.
September 6, 2006
"I was thinking what it would be like if you discovered one of your parents had been a spy," says Boyd. "I thought father and son? No, far more interesting would be mother and daughter. I'd come across this history of covert operations in the US before Pearl Harbor and thought how interesting to have my character as someone who spied on the US. The whole novel emerged as I started figuring it out."
You know, thank god we have privileged old white men like John Updike and Martin Amis to help us really get inside the minds of poor Muslim young men drawn to martyrdom. Perhaps the war on terror can finally come to an end now that we truly understand where they're coming from with books like The Terrorist and Amis's new short story at the Guardian, following the last days of Muhammad Atta.
You can read an excerpt from Rory Stewart's The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq on Salon.
September 5, 2006
FARABEE: What about those who say raising children is the most important job a person can do?
HIRSHMAN: I have no idea what they mean by that. If, in fact, it were the most important thing a human being could do, then why are no men doing it? They'd rather make war, make foreign policy, invent nuclear weapons, decode DNA, paint The Last Supper, put the dome on St. Peter's Cathedral; they'd prefer to do all those things that are much less important than raising babies?
I love these sayings, because they're so stupid. I'll tell you what I think is actually going on: People think that women's lives aren't important enough to merit a real analysis. We get aphorisms in place of analysis. Why do we say stuff like that instead of actually trying to figure out what's going on here when it's women whose lives are at stake? If you can make an argument for why childrearing -- especially in the context that they are at school from the age of around five on for most of their waking hours -- why that is the most important job, I'd like to hear that.
Radar blogs about Karl Rove's attempt to keep the new Unauthorized Biography! The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power off the shelves.
"I'm trying to use the mother-son relationship in these stories to show women who aren't religious, who aren't in the kitchen all the time," he says. "I'm aware of the cliché of Irish motherhood and I'm glad it's there, you can usurp it and play with it - I mean, where's her religiosity? Where's the apron? One mother reads theology but she doesn't practise it. I just wasn't having it."
Fay Weldon has found God! And lost her vibrator (and her mind, evidently).
The new book, What Makes Women Happy, will fit between Weldon's 26th and 27th novels, and is a volume of putatively sagacious older woman's dos and don'ts...
"In the pre-feminist days men didn't worry about women's orgasms. They didn't even know they had them. Lots of women didn't either. So now another controlling factor women have over men is men's apparent failure to supply orgasms. Sex can perfectly pleasurable without orgasm," she says in a section called The Joy of the Fake Orgasm. "Orgasm is not essential for sexual enjoyment. It's pointless to insist on your right [to have an orgasm] or to define your sexual contentment through orgasm. You see yourself as sexually unfulfilled if you don't have enough - It's one of those socialisations that hurts women."
I'm not sure I'm flattered by the "I thought of you!" e-mail I got about the Bookslug, but thanks, Fergus, nonetheless.
Jennifer Egan should adopt a nom de plume—"J. Egan" would do quite well. An unfortunate side effect of the popularity of chick lit and poetic, memoir-ish "women's novels" is that a woman's name on the cover creates a certain expectation about what's inside.
And Egan subverts that expectation as thoroughly as any woman writing today. Her previous novels pigeonhole themselves in typical women's-fiction categories by their synopses (model finds self, teenage girl finds self) and cover photos (youthful female faces). With The Keep, however, Egan breaks the mold from page one. Her muscular, lively prose achieves a haunting effect closer to Chuck Palahniuk than Marilynne Robinson—not the tenuous, lacy phrases of fragile introspection, but the stark honesty of action arrested in stop-motion.
Ummmmm... Where to begin? If we all close our eyes and imagine a world where Chick Lit Really Does Hurt America and Oprah runs Random House, this review still doesn't make any sense. And Jennifer Egan? Writing chick lit? Granted, I never read Look at Me because the story of a model being disfigured made me immediately think, "Oh, boo hoo for rich pretty people," but I am a small person. But could it be that this reviewer suddenly finds Egan's writing palatable not because her style has changed overnight, but because now her main characters are men?
Just as well that the publishers didn't slap a girl's face on the cover; if they could take the "Jennifer" off, too, Egan might get the kind of masculine (or at least gender-neutral) reading her outstanding novel deserves.
And then you find out the reviewer is a woman, and then you weep for mankind. (Thanks to Anne for the link.)
This is inspired by a 100% true story, though artist Niko Henrichon and I obviously needed a great deal of creative license to tell the tale from the lions' perspective... Believe it or not, there really was a bear in the Republican Palace, most likely belonging to the late Uday Hussein. Another bear escaped the Baghdad Zoo and eventually mauled and partially ate three civilians. I learned all of this from talking with amazing people like Mariette Hopley, an I.F.A.W. "rescue veterinarian" who spent time in Iraq after the war began.
Vaughan is also profiled in the New York Times.
Michelle Goldberg recommends Turkish literature from Salon's latest Literary Guide to the World.
September 3, 2006
Bookslut has need for a few new writers. If you're interested in writing about comic books, interested in becoming Bookslut's new poetry columnist, or perhaps have an original column idea, please e-mail me.
September 1, 2006
The Stranger wonders who would win in a fight: Chuck Palahniuk or Charles Burns. (They must have had some space to fill.)
The Modern Library has released a new translation of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, the dystopian novel that spawned all of the 20th century's other dystopian novels. And, evidently, the Borg. ("People no longer have names but numbers, and they're taught to think of themselves not as individuals, but as parts of a whole, a unified 'we.'") Salon looks at the new translation and hopes it allows Zamyatin the fame he deserves.
You can listen to Ian Rankin discuss his Rebus mysteries on the latest Guardian podcast.
Last night's reading series had the added bonus of an arts and crafts project to try at home. Pagan Kennedy, in her introduction to her reading from Confessions of a Memory Eater, announced that scientists had discovered a way to stimulate the verbal section of the brain with just a few electrodes, a 9-volt battery, and an absense of a fear of lobotomizing yourself. I'm thinking of going down to the hardware store myself.
David Rozgonyi, who drove to the reading from Boulder, Colorado, read from his book Goat Trees and assured us that the book cover image was not altered in any way. Turns out goats climb trees. Now I really want to retire onto a goat farm. A tree climbing goat farm. Anyway, David writes short stories based on the extensive traveling he does, and he read a story from his collection.
Kellie Wells read from her new novel Skin, which is set in a fictional Kansas town. There really aren't enough novels set in Kansas, especially novels with alien abductions, health fairs, skin transplants, and the preamble to the United States Constitution.
Next month we'll have Ned Vizzini (It's Kind of a Funny Story), Brian Evenson (The Open Curtain), and Cristina Henriquez (Come Together, Fall Apart) on September 27th. Thanks to all who came out, and I hope to see you in September.