October 31, 2006
And finally, because evidently it's Halloween today, a little Neil Gaiman.
In my books it’s OK to be a dreamer, to walk out of your job, to become a vegetarian, to try to start a revolution. I want my books to make people realise that these things are all completely OK… that they are desirable and logical in the world in which we live. On another level I want my books to make people think, ‘huh?’, to make the reader try to solve the puzzles (there are lots of puzzles in PopCo), and to feel happy, at least on some level, at the end.
Did I mention that Julian Barnes is one of my very best friends? I remember him once asking me to taste a wine. "It's from the Graves region of Bordeaux," I said confidently, "but it can't be La Mission" - La Mission-Haut-Brion being among my favourite wines. "Well, it is," he laughed. "Aren't I clever to have found a vintage as smug and superior as the pair of us?"
Another call for writers! This time we need a magazine columnist and people who love quirky, off center fiction. Send an e-mail if you're interested.
This is why I occasionally call the Texas Book Festival "what we have instead of decent libraries in this state." Laura Bush helped create it in the mid-'90s when her husband was governor, and it may last as one of the best things she's done for her former profession. It was cited as an example of George Bush's compassionate conservatism -- meaning he wasn't going to give the libraries any more state money. While Texas tries to lure high-tech businesses with offers of, yes, no taxes and low wages, Gov. Bush and his appointed successor Rick Perry aren't going to raise taxes to pay for a desperately needed service in a state whose illiteracy rate is going off the charts (U. S. Census figures peg Dallas with one of the largest percentages nationally of 16-to-19-year-olds who are not in high school and lack a diploma. That's Dallas, now imagine the rural counties down on the border). What we got instead of decent libraries was an elaborate, high-profile, feel-good, bipartisan social wing-ding that dribbles a couple thousand dollars to small-town book depositories lacking functioning heating systems or roofs that don't leak.
I may not be in Texas anymore, but I sure do still love a good rant about the Texas Book Festival. Jerome Weeks satisfies my needs.
Instant Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It's so divine, but we can't get it here. They could have it in Harrod's for $10 a box.
October 30, 2006
You could read anything that Paul Collins has ever written -- nonfiction books like Not Even Wrong and The Trouble with Tom -- and never be disappointed. He's on NPR discussing journalist James Curtis's friendship with murderer William Corder in the 1820s. His article on the same subject will be in the upcoming issue of the Believer (available online now).
Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, has accused Azar Nafisi and her book Reading Lolita in Tehran of creating propaganda for the Bush administration's alleged plans to invade Iran.
Yet this is no merely uplifting memoir, Dabashi charged in an essay published in the Cairo-based, English-language paper Al-Ahram. ‘‘One can now clearly see...that this book is partially responsible for cultivating the U.S. (and by extension the global) public opinion against Iran,’’ Dabashi wrote. The book, he went on to argue, feeds into the stereoptype of Islam as ‘‘vile, violent, and above all abusive of women—and thus fighting against Islamic terrorism, ipso facto, is also to save Muslim women from the evil of their men.’’
This story's been told before -- it's a public health classic, an epidemiology classic. One of the things I was trying to do was also turn it into a story of a certain kind of urbanism. Snow and Whitehead were both locals, and they had on-the-ground knowledge of this thing that had attacked their neighborhood, and they were able to understand it better than the authorities. Some of it came from Snow's scientific background and his training and his brilliance, but some of it came from the fact that they were connected to this neighborhood and they were able to see the patterns and get the information they needed.
Comic book writer/artist Peter Kuper has been putting up pictures and sketches of the protests and unrest in Oaxaca, although his dispatches were from before the escalation and murder of an American journalist this weekend.
I don't know how I missed this, but this is the best news in weeks: There will be a second volume of Little Nemo by Sunday Press Books.
Comic book geeks have finally brought peace between the sexes. (Link from Journalista.)
It turns out I had the emo flu.
It begins with familiar-seeming mild flu-like symptoms (mild in my case, more severe in others), but then tails off into a long, etiolated fugue state in which something more than flu-like lethargy, lassitude and inanition paralyzes you. It’s not just a neutral world weariness, it’s Weltschmerz—world-historical sadness: Some mournful, emotional, deeply despairing, unremittingly sad and despondent sense of life seizes you and won’t let go for at least a week afterward.
Seriously, that describes exactly what I had. (And thanks to Jean for sending along the link and helping my diagnosis.) I didn't leave my apartment for four days, just couldn't be arsed. But unlike Rosenbaum, I beat my flu with a large load of comic books, including Ivan Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. If you're only going to buy one of the major comics anthologies this year, but this one instead of the Best American Comics. There's a lot of filler in the BAC, and the Brunetti anthology feels like pawing through his own personal bookshelves. Brunetti is interviewed at WMFU (starts 22 minutes in).
Every year, I participate in Alex Good's end of the year panel, and every year it takes me by surprise. When he e-mails me to see if I'm up for it another year, it's like walking in downtown Chicago the first time after they put the Christmas lights up -- it's that time already?
Well, one book that I'll be mentioning in the panel as a "best of" is Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr. Y. It took me a while for my brain to process -- frankly, all of the Derrida and quantum physics was rather unexpected -- but every time I think about the book I like it more and more. And that's a relief compared to books that I loved loved loved halfway through, by the end thought they were mediocre, and every time I looked back wondered why the hell I wasted a week of my life reading that crap. Which is why I'm delighted to see that Mr. Y got a respectful, interesting, and glowing review in the New York Times Book Review. Don't be put off by the description, however, and think it's a smartypants book. It is, somewhat, but there's at least a good amount of debased sex to even it out.
October 27, 2006
I know this makes me such a fucking girl, but did anyone else need to spend an entire day on Cuteoverload.com after reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road? He has a baby. Roasting. On a spit. Maybe McCarthy needs to spend some time on Cute Overload. If you don't think you can take all of the desolation and baby roasting yourself, you could just read Jennifer Egan's review on Slate. The editors there didn't seem to notice she gave away the whole goddamn book.
Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing podcast debuts with interviews with Ray Bradbury and Paul Levinson.
Your bio says you like Frank Capra movies... and pornography. What kinds of pornography?
Ivan Brunetti is interviewed at Mr. Skin.
Wired would like you to know they don't think comic books are real books. And they certainly shouldn't compete with the real books for like prizes and stuff.
I have not read this particular "novel" but I'm familiar with the genre so I'm going to go out on a limb here. First, I'll bet for what it is, it's pretty good. Probably damned good. But it's a comic book. And comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards, in any category. That should be reserved for books that are, well, all words.
This is not about denigrating the comic book, or graphic novel, or whatever you want to call it. This is not to say that illustrated stories don't constitute an art form or that you can't get tremendous satisfaction from them. This is simply to say that, as literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories. It's apples and oranges.
He's referring to American Born Chinese, which was nominated for a National Book Award in the YA category. (I have to admit, I liked ABC up until the very end, and then the author completely lost me.) I tried to write out a real response, but I got the feeling that I was talking to my father, trying to explain why it's okay for me to ask a boy out on a date instead of waiting for him to ask me. My father, however, used to pilfer my comic book collection, so he's got that on this guy.
"Georgie!" called my son. "Georgie!"
I picked him up. "No, buddy, sorry," I said quietly, "that isn't Curious George." That's Dogmatic George, son. That's Resolutely Non-Curious George.
I got all giggly yesterday when I was called a "provocateur" and "indefatigable" (oh, if only they knew I took two naps in my antihistamined state yesterday). But they're talking about a column I wrote questioning the decision by Borders not to sell Aury Wallington's Pop in their stores. For more on Wallington and her book, Planned Parenthood has jumped all over the book and is interviewing her on their website for teens, teenwire.com.
A lot of books give this unrealistic expectation that sex is going to be amazing the first or second time. It's like magic. You think when you have sex your body is going to be exploding with pleasure. And then when you do have sex you think there's something wrong, because it's not like it is in the books you've read. Poor Marit - it doesn't hurt, but it's weird and uncomfortable and he's sweating on her.
October 26, 2006
Jessa Crispin IS Sick with some sort of brain-eating virus and is going to spend the rest of the day in the bathtub reading comics.
October 25, 2006
I just got a package in the mail of Gary Paulsen books. I'm cancelling all of my plans for the day. "Tired of being poor, Steven's father Corey, is certain that preaching the Word of the Lord is the way to fame and fortune. So father and son take off in their dilapidated truck, with a stolen Bible and a leaky army tent, for a whirlwind tour of small Texas towns..." Hell YES. What do you want to bet father and son learn important lessons?
Speaking of Virginia Quarterly Review (just so you know, I'm not actually on their payroll), A Writing Year has started rating the rejections for literary magazine submissions, and the VQR's rejection of a piece rates a C+.
JC Hallman (whose The Devil is a Gentleman: Exploring America's Religious Fringe I really, really liked and sent me on a William James tangent for months this year) shows up at Largehearted Boy for his Book Notes feature.
Back in California, I joined Scientology for a short time and experienced their auditing process and an L. Ron Hubbard birthday celebration. There’s no music in Scientology Sunday services—it’s all consciousness-raising exercises where you concentrate on obeying commands like “Keep your left arm from going away” and “Wear your head”—but here’s a musical analogy: Scientology is basically what you’d wind up with if you decided to choose a band as your role model, and picked Devo without realizing they were camp.
PW Comics Week interviews Ivan Brunetti about the anthology he edited An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, & True Stories and his own work.
Supposedly, I am also working on the next issue of Schizo, my irregular comic book, and planning a long "graphic novel"—but I am such a chronic procrastinator that it is unlikely these two projects will ever get done. I think after the Misery Loves Comedy book I will most likely disappear off the face of the earth for an unspecified period of time. I'm tired, I'm getting old, my health is not so good, and I am completely burned out. For the most part, my work is done.
The fact that Michael Ruhlman has a new blog is interesting enough. He is the author of books like The Soul of a Chef and Charcuterie (yes, yes, an entire book about charcuterie -- just reading the word makes it hard to think over the sounds of my growling stomach). But then add in the fact that Anthony Bourdain is popping over there to chat as well, and it's like the greatest blog that has ever existed. (Thanks to Adrienne for the link.)
October 24, 2006
Mike Daisey would like to clear up a few allegations about statements in his monologue Truth about James Frey and J.T. LeRoy.
Writers! Ready your puns! The announcement that Top Chef has hired Mrs. Salman Rushdie Padma Lakshmi has led to some unfortunate writing: "Less Hell's Kitchen, more Satanic Recipes." Oh come on, you can do better than that. "Mrs. Salman Rushdie Declares a Fatwa... Against Bad Cooking!" Or incorporate some book titles. Midnight's Snacking or The Moor's Last Pie. Work with me, people.
October 23, 2006
Void Magazine imagines some much-needed follow ups to great novels. (Link from Grumpy Old Bookman.)
Electric Kool-Aid Beta Test
Tom Wolfe returns to San Francisco to find the merry-pranksters have established their own start-up e-auction business, made $240 million off the IPO, bought Jettas, and spend their time sulking around Marin County McMansions.
The Guardian looks at how contemporary writers like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan end up being taught at universities.
Time wonders how Penguin is going to do publicity for Thomas Pynchon's new book Against the Day. Please. It's Thomas fucking Pynchon. That book is going to sell even without an Oprah appearance. (Although could you imagine? She got Harper Lee to write something for her magazine. She seems to be some sort of literary puppetmaster.)
I think there's a side of me that is definitely the 'Benjamin Black' side. I've always read thrillers. And now that I'm playing in that field, there is a part of me that likes being there. But I don't know which part that is. The odd thing is this, when now I talk about doing books by Benjamin Black and books by John Banville, in a curious way - which I can't explain - I feel more estranged from John Banville. And, after all these years [as John Banville], that seems odd.
I just hope this trend finally encourages Kathryn Davis and Louise Glück to finally write that mystery novel together.
Thanks to Time Out New York, I got to sit down over wine with Laura Kipnis and discuss Freud, The Bitch in the House, the struggle between feminism and femininity, and her new book The Female Thing. We talked for an hour, and it was difficult as all hell to whittle it down to 710 words for my assignment, but you'll be able to read the rest of the interview in the November issue of Bookslut.
“There’s a lot of complaining, and a lot of ‘You did it to me’ in books about women,” the author says. “There’s a lot of deflection of responsibility and a kind of celebration of anger, which seemed to me not something to be celebrated—it just seemed like a drag.”
I love my job.
The problem with superhero comics is that most of the characters are men so there is no way that I can identify. And the woman always have big breasts and long legs. The only character that can be a little bit seducing is Catwoman, but she's so mean. And then you have Wonder Woman, but you don't believe with these big breasts she can go and make justice in the world.
October 20, 2006
The complete works of Charles Darwin -- now online.
Hey, so maybe instead of going to see Marie Antoinette this weekend -- because, I mean, really, and you can just rent it for the Schwartzman and Coogan -- you could read Kathryn Davis's Versailles instead. It has actual depth, and gets to the actual tragedy of the whole thing. And no sneakers.
Now you're free to go see The Prestige instead. (Unless you're like me and your geekiest friends have PLANS or FRIENDS IN TOWN and you have to wait TWO WHOLE DAYS to see the damn thing. Oh, the tragedy and heartache.)
"It's a sprawling novel, very literary, and we had to find a way to translate that into a movie while holding onto its essential spirit. I hope we've done that, but there's a lot of material in the book that isn't in the film. We've made substantial changes, but I hope the manipulative, deceptive, shape-shifting essence of the story is intact."
October 19, 2006
Yesterday my copy of Absolute Sandman came in. It's absolutely gorgeous, even more impressive than the Absolute editions of the Dark Knight and Watchmen. I immediately dropped everything and sat on my couch until the weight of the book cut off the circulation to my feet. I hadn't really read Sandman since I was a teenager, and I hate to say it, but I was a bit nervous. After all, I was also really into Christopher Pike and Ani DiFranco as a teen, and god knows they haven't held up so well.
The Absolute edition collects the first 20 issues in order, along with bonus materials of scripts and sketches and so forth. And it's all very good. Scarier than I remember. Funnier. I caught more of the sly little references this time, as when I was 15 I had no idea who, say, Winsor McCay was. It's a nice surprise, finding out at least I had good taste in something as a kid.
The Guardian wants us to know about Ted Hughes's other wife who killed herself.
This morning I've been reading everyone's lists of the books from 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. People are actually putting their lists! Online! For public scrutiny! Fuck that, man. Giving up my tiny little number was bad enough. But if you Technorati the title, you can eavesdrop on other people's failings, too.
October 18, 2006
This is barely literary -- Molly Ivins wrote some books! I guess that makes it literary! -- but in this video she explains one of my favorite things about living in Texas: you are a felon if you own six or more sex toys. I was a "sex educator" thanks to my job at the sexuality resource center so I always had a ready excuse, but if you weren't one, you had to bend over backwards using words like "scientific penis model" instead of "dildo." But god bless Molly Ivins. She made the weirdness of living in Texas worth it.
The Village Voice takes a look at Up Is Up but So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974–1992, a book that documents some of my favorite writers like David Wojnarowicz, Dennis Cooper, Kathy Acker, and Mary Gaitskill.
Advice to booksellers: hug your customers.
I once had to stop going to my favorite bookstore for three months because I had four sidecars at a party, met someone who told me he worked there, and I decided the appropriate response to that information was to hug him. So I don't know if you want to take that advice.
Ozzy was something punks and the burn outs had in common; Ozzy, weed, beer (though not necessarily in that order). The name OZZY next to a big pot leaf was spray painted on pretty much every available surface. And I don’t think it was really a tagging thing, I think that is just what stoned working-class-suburbia, white-dudes painted on a wall whenever they got the chance.
The Telegraph asks why there are so many ugly books. Even Chip Kidd lets an ugly cover go by every once and a while. Although nothing quite so ugly as this, which actually scared me coming out of the box. It could be a masterpiece, but I will never know because I refuse to touch it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Salon, for giving Laura Kipnis's The Female Thing to Laura Miller to review instead of Rebecca Traister. Whenever Traister starts writing about "women's issues" I start considering clawing out my eyes. Although right off the bat, Miller calls Kipnis's Against Love a "defense of adultery." (Did anybody actually read that book, or did they just read the back cover? That is not what that book was.) Also, Against Love was not her first book, it was her second.
Okay, but now I'm just nitpicking, because the rest of the review is fair and interesting. There, I said it.
Dan [Clowes] underwent open-heart surgery last Tuesday in Northern California to repair a defective mitral valve. As scary as open-heart surgery is, Dan was cracking jokes right up to the day he went into the hospital, and the surgery was declared a success and he is recovering nicely (though it will be a long process). (Link from Journalista.)
October 17, 2006
My reading is a bit scattered lately, balancing David Mitchell's Black Swan Green (a book everyone else has already read and loved), the autumn issue of Virginia Quarterly Review (love the nonfiction, but couldn't get more than four pages into the Michael Chabon story), the poetry collection Mosquito by Alex Lemon (maybe the most handsome poetry book I've seen this year -- hooray for French flaps!), the graphic novel Ode to Kirihito (more French flaps!), and flipping through Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences (I completely loved diagramming sentences in junior high, which is peculiar since my own sentence structure is total crap).
I don't usually read this many books at once, leading me to think my ADD is getting worse. Or it's just fall publishing season and everything looks appealing these days. (I picked up the Mitchell, however, because I was in a horrible mood and needed something British and green as comfort food.) Today I'm off to the bookstore to add Wilson's Consilience to the pile, prodded along by my increasing interest in his ideas and e-mails from readers telling me it's worth it. If it doesn't start raining again, maybe I'll make it all the way up to Unabridged, which has a shiny new website.
Everybody I Love You notices that the editing of textbooks in Russia should sound awfully familiar to Americans.
The newest textbooks in Russia reduce the emphasis on Stalin's crimes and portray Putin in laudatory terms; Japan has recently performed a similar make-over on the history it teaches its young. Now, putting aside the obvious and uncontestable (no textbook could land in American public schools if Washington considered it "partisan," the way we neuter the truth in this country) let's move on to this, evidence of how a similar story is viewed in another light when it's set in America.
I see a lot of books about reading, books on how to read, which books to read, how to structure your life based on certain works of literature, etc. But the one I was most impressed with recently was 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Not only is it pretty (hooray for disturbing photographs of Samuel Beckett), but it's a rather balanced list. (You can read the list here, but I still recommend the book itself. Note, however, that the list of contemporary works contains a lot of books that won't be remembered in five years, let alone forever.)
I talked to the book's editor Peter Boxall about the book, whether anyone really needs to read Finnegans Wake, and my atrociously low number of books read on the list.
There are a number of objects in the room, each affixed with a strip of white tape bearing a single word. On the table, for example, is TABLE. On the lamp is the word, LAMP. And on this book, BOLLOCKS.
October 16, 2006
On my plane ride back from New York I fell back in love with Seed Magazine. It's sort of hit or miss whether I can find it on the newsstand, especially after it went away for a while. But with a front page feature on Edward O. Wilson (controversial author of Consilience) and a discussion between Michel Gondry and sleep researcher Robert Stickgold, I finally made the decision to subscribe. Their archives don't contain many things from the magazine, but you can watch part of the conversation between Gondry and Stickgold about dreams in a video.
The New Yorker has video from their festival, including readings by George Saunders and Gary Shteyngart.
Like Blair is apologizing to people in India and the Caribbean and all that now for imperialism. And it’s like what the fuck — why do that and then fucking bomb people in the Middle East? We’ll be apologizing to them in 50 years time and all that. It’s like an alcoholic, you know, “Oh, I’m sorry. I love you. I’ll never do it again. I promise; I promise.” It’s that kind of insincere fucking nonsense. I was trying to get that kind of culture that’s implicit in an immature individual and also in an immature political culture. And I think Western imperialism is an immature political culture. Our institutions have never been allowed to reach the kind of maturity in adulthood because of its imperialist legacy that’s regurgitating again and again.
I'm not sure how I've managed to forget to link to this, as they're my bosses and all, but The Book Standard has a new blog devoted to video literariness.
Yet another round of awards has been announced: The PEN USA Awards.
"No one ever really dies in the Hardy Boys [mysteries]," says Meno. "I wanted to take that world of Dick Tracy and the Hardy Boys and give it a sense of melancholy, make it a little more dangerous."
Guy Delisle is in high demand these days for his comic book Pyongyang. He was sent to North Korea to oversee an illustration project, and as so few westerners are allowed in North Korea, his travelogue is one of few depictions of the capital. He's interviewed at NPR about... well, everything about North Korea. "Please, please tell us what's going on over there."
October 13, 2006
The intuition that capitalism has robbed human beings of something essential has been a staple of art and thought since the advent of modern life, and it has been measured by writers as different in purpose and temperament as William Cobbett and T.S. Eliot. But what they never suggested was that hidden beneath the old rural folkways, the old courtesies, and the observances of traditional belief, lay all the liberties of interpersonal freedom. Strip them of their old-style hats and stilted speech, Frazier would have us believe, and our forefathers and mothers (the good ones, at least) were just like us: free, spontaneous individuals, life-affirming figures straight off a highway cigarette billboard. That the pose of sexy spontaneity Will and Claire enjoy with each other, it could be argued, is itself a product of modern life—of the factory and the wage system, of national markets and advertising, of the appurtenances, dreadful and otherwise, that swept away the quasi-aristocracy of the Old South—well, this never seems to perturb Frazier.
I would say that parents should teach their children anything that's known to be factually true -- like "that's a bluebird" or "that's a bald eagle." Or they could teach children that there are such things as religious beliefs. But to teach children that it is a fact that there is one god or that God created the world in six days, that is child abuse.
That's Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, making atheists cringe and embarrassed once again.
The Independent has online archives of Chris Ware's new project Building Stories.
October 12, 2006
Nothing personifies religious oppression quite so well as The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (except for maybe the eternal sunshine of the Osmond smile). This particular song, with its constant and almost hysterical refrain of " All Is Well!" captures the Mormon insistence on always seeing only the bright side of things and repressing a lot of the rest.
We reached capacity for the reading about half an hour before it started. I'm sorry to those of you who couldn't get in, but I'm glad that those of you who hung out downstairs were able to get back in for the signing. Mark Z. Danielewski was gracious enough to sign for over an hour.
Joshua Cohen read from his new novel Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto, a 400-page address to the audience of the concerto. Cohen went from being quiet and shy in his introduction to becoming a forceful, charismatic reader. Travis Jeppesen read a selection of his poetry, and then part of his new novel, to be published by Twisted Spoon Press. (If you're not familiar with Prague's Twisted Spoon, they publish beautiful, great books, including Cohen's The Quorum.) Jeppesen currently lives in Prague, on his way to moving to Berlin, so we were happy he stopped in Chicago for the reading.
Danielewski read four selections from his newly National Book Award nominated book, Only Revolutions, including an orgy scene. (It fit in with the evening.) He took a few questions and informed all of us that he is turning into a unicorn. (Bone growth on his skull.)
October 11, 2006
The Bookslut Reading Series is two days away from its traditional winter break. We'll be taking November and December off but will be back next year with readings by Neal Pollack, Laura Kipnis, Joanna Scott, and other amazing writers.
But in the next two days you'll have two opportunities to see us before we go away. Tonight is a reading at the Hopleaf with Mark Z. Danielewski's only Chicago appearance on his book tour, and one of three stops in the United States Prague's Joshua Cohen and Travis Jeppesen will be making. Doors open at 6:00 pm.
Tomorrow we're guest hosting The Million Poems Show at the Mercury Cafe at 1505 W Chicago Avenue. There's been a last minute cancellation, but Gabe Gudding will still be reading, and Jordan Davis will be hosting. The event starts at 7:30 pm.
Most people would rather look outward than inward, but it seems to me this Information Age bullshit has cloaked avoidance in virtue and made the distraction an obligation. I went cold turkey five years ago. No news—no television, no magazines, no newspapers, no blogs, no op-eds, not even, sadly, The Onion. I've never been happier. This is the headline I hope to see on the Drudge Report one day, the day before the blessed end of the Age of Pseudo-Information, just below Matt's Flashing Red Light Of Pseudo-Importance: GO ON WITH YOUR LIVES! STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE TRAINWRECK IN BANGLADESH—YOU'RE THE TRAINWRECK... YOUR WIFE IS HAVING AN AFFAIR AND YOUR SON HATES YOU... THERE ARE NO ANSWERS HERE... DEVELOPING...
Melissa Williams, editor-in-chief of Urbis magazine, launched a long-anticipated redesign of herself Friday. "I made a conscious decision to look more open and less dense without losing that smart edge that people have come to expect," said Williams, who claimed the new design's smaller size, bolder colors, and smoother lines will give her a broader appeal across upper demographics.
It's "Book Week" at Slate (nice of them to find a week to spare). At the very least, read this admiration of Edna O'Brien's The Light of Evening. I haven't gotten to this particular book yet, but I've been a fan of O'Brien for years now.
MAM: Well, now I think it’s a product of Benzene in the air and hormones in your food. I think it’s caused by birth control pills and cigarette smoke and a lot of other things we don’t even know about. I think it’s a manmade thing. All the stuff we put in the food and what’s in the air and in our water. I don’t think cancer was around when the dinosaurs were on the planet.
I promise to eventually get off of Cancer Vixen's ass, but birth control pills? This is why this book pisses me off. Women are told to stay in a constant state of fear about roofies in your mixed drink, rapists lurking around every corner, bacteria on the pedicure tools, and now we're supposed to fear birth control pills because someone who has done (I'm guessing) five minutes of research on the subject has decided it's a factor? Personal stories and speculation crowd out any real information on the topic. Instead we get magazine stories about women who had double mastectomies before they even got a diagnosis of cancer because they were so scared of it. We don't need more fearmongering.
You have to feel for the people who have to write these articles every year. There's no official date for the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature, so for about a month the space gets filled with empty looks back at past winners, predictions, or just features on how a bunch of the winners were bastards.
I am not linking to this blog because he agreed with me about the Cancer Vixen post. (I really thought I would take a lot of shit for what I said about that book, but instead it was just e-mails saying, "Yes, that's a horrible book, I don't get it either!" Maybe the dozen or so reviewers were the only people in America to like it.) It's really because of this very disturbing information:
I felt a distinct attack of moral seasickness this morning when I read a forthcoming pop-up book about the Irish famine (Life on a Famine Ship by Duncan Crosbie, published by Barron's in January '07.) Lift-the-flap and watch the farmhouse get wrecked! Lift-the-flap to see the corpse dropped over the side of the ship!
There's really nothing to say after that.
October 10, 2006
Can someone please explain to me why Cancer Vixen keeps getting such good reviews? (And did that Time reviewer even read the book or reword the press release?) It's getting some sort of free pass, and I'm wondering if I read a different book than everyone else did. Marchetto can't write without constantly slipping into cliches like, "When you point a finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you." Thanks, mom. She also spends a great deal of time letting the reader know how utterly fabulous she is, how envied she is, how every woman in the world wants to fuck her husband. It's boring bullshit, but what's interesting is that it's written and drawn with the same emotional intensity as the cancer treatments. The book reads at the same level the whole way through.
Perhaps people would feel bad giving a survivor of breast cancer a bad review. But just because you lived through something doesn't mean you should write a book about it. I'm getting more and more weary with this "tell your story" bullshit. Yes, tell your story... to your grandkids or your nephew or your cat. The world at large doesn't need to know about it unless you're particularly good at the telling.
Something that perhaps reviewers need to learn as well. Take this Globe & Mail review, half of which is the reviewer's own story of breast cancer. Is it relevant? Barely. Interesting? Not really. One in eight women will get invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Do we really need to hear from all of them? Cancer Vixen almost became interesting for a second when she mentioned cancer clusters, but then it went away just as quickly with another cliche. ("When you light a candle, you illuminate a soul..." Umm, what?)
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has joined in the fight to keep Craig Thompson's Blankets and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home on the shelves of the Marshall Public Library in Missouri. The Comics Reporter has the letter they sent.
[Saudi Arabia's] Court of Grievances rejected a complaint brought by two traditional-minded citizens against the hottest novel ever allowed to circulate in the kingdom.
Banat al-Riyadh ("The Girls of Riyadh") was written by Rajaa al-Sanea, a 24-year-old female dentist, and became a best-seller almost as soon as it was published.
It's not often that we go from featuring an interview with an author one month and then introducing him as our new columnist the next, but Jeff VanderMeer is Bookslut's new comic book columnist. In his first column, he looks at Lost Girls and some comics for kids. Perhaps a slightly scandalous combination, but that's the beauty of the Internet.
This month we also have the first contribution of Heather Smith, the new Judging a Book by Its Cover columnist. She examines the different incarnations of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed and what carrying each one on the bus will say about you.
We also have interviews with Neil Gaiman, Irvine Welsh, Brian K. Vaughan, and Mark Z. Danielewski. Our resident anthropologist (my new favorite phrase) remembers the importance of Margaret Mead. In columns, Liz Miller makes the scandalous admission that she doesn't care for The Graduate film and Michael Antman recommends we all read Thomas Savage. We also have reviews of books by Robert Olen Butler, Gregorie Bouillier, Scott McCloud, Alain de Botton, and more.
October 09, 2006
I want to thank everyone for the well wishes you've sent in for Mike and his brother. I know that Mike appreciates them. I also know that you all miss Mike and await his return, and so do I.
If you'd like more information on becoming an organ donor, you can start here.
I was already scared of Stephen Baldwin before, but now I'm terrified. Salon examines his book The Unusual Suspect (it's really kind of disappointing he didn't riff on the movie Bio-Dome for the title, isn't it?):
"The Unusual Suspect" features an open letter to Bono, lambasting him for lobbying for debt relief for developing countries instead of preaching the gospel on MTV. Bono must be in league with Satan, whom Baldwin spends a lot of time thinking about. "I am smart enough to know that Satan is alive and well today," he writes. "Satan has all kinds of power, and he is able to control the minds of anyone whose mind isn't controlled by God." Baldwin's theology -- and criticism of secularists and Christian poseurs like Bono -- is written with remarkable confidence for someone who can only recite six of the Ten Commandments and four of the Twelve Apostles.
Dude? You're going after Bono? I'm pretty sure that Bono is the one person Jesus would personally talk to if he were into that sort of thing. You're just asking for a smiting.
A suburban county that sparked a public outcry when its libraries temporarily eliminated funding for Spanish-language fiction is now being asked to ban Harry Potter books from its schools.
Dude, banning Harry Potter is so 2002. You may as well be trying to ban Hardy Boys for homoeroticism.
Alex Beam loves H.L. Mencken's A Religious Orgy in Tennessee, recently published by Melville House, so much that he muses on who the new Mencken might be. Unfortunately, he comes to the wrong conclusion.
October 03, 2006
. . . You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.
Philip Levine, "What Work Is"
When someone close to you is sick, you never stop second-guessing yourself. You practice your greetings and facial expressions and goodbyes because it seems like even the most minor detail could make a catastrophic situation even worse. Do I look too cheerful? Does my voice have too much worry in it? Am I making too much eye contact? Not enough? On my way to visit my brother in the hospital the other day, I had to turn my truck around and go home and change shirts because the one I had on said "Death Cab for Cutie" on it, and it seemed weird to wear anything with "Death" on it to an intensive care unit. No one would have noticed or cared, but second-guessing myself is something I know how to do, and am disturbingly comfortable doing.
My brother Randy is sick. This is how I've been second-guessing myself today: I keep going back, one year, five years, ten years, trying to remember every book he told me to read, every book that he had read that had changed his life. Brothers are like that, or we are; it's impossible for us to be unmoved sometimes and we have to share it with each other. In my house is a copy of The House of Breath he gave me for my birthday. And I either have to read it or I can't bear to. What else? The Gentleman from San Francisco. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas. All books I need to read but can't consider doing right now. I would have thought I was one of the people who turned to literature when they're scared and frightened. I am not one of those people, though.
Today is Randy's 34th birthday, and when I see him tonight I'm going to tell him that I love him, and I'll probably wonder afterwards what took me so long, and how I made it to 28 without ever actually realizing what work is. I don't know if I'll be able to tell him that he's always been my hero and the person who I've always wanted to be, or if visiting hours will end and I'll just decide to assume that he knows that. And though nobody in the world owes me anything, I'm still going to ask all of you to keep him in your thoughts, because he means the world to me and to everyone he has ever met. I'd also like to ask all of you to consider becoming an organ donor and telling someone you love that you love them, or else just giving them a book that changed you, which is really the same thing. They'll know.
Happy birthday, Randy; thank you for teaching me how to be a good person.
I discovered that, at least on the web, there were few, if any, maps of Sal’s journey, or of any other literary journey. I felt that mapping Sal’s journey would provide new levels of understanding, for me and others, on Kerouac, his motivations, the motivations of his characters and other things about “On the Road.” For example, he talks about being stuck in Shelton, Nebraska. It’s one thing to read that particular passage, but another thing to put it in perspective with a map—to see just exactly how far away from everything Shelton, Nebraska really is and to realize how that would have affected Kerouac and Sal.
The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger has won a Quill for "the best translation of book content to film this year." Shouldn't the award have gone only to the people who managed to convert the source material from absolute bullshit to something watchable, nuanced and interesting? Although maybe they'll get the Nobel instead.
The Guardian has an excellent article about the one year anniversary of the Danish cartoon uproar.
I keep having the same conversation over and over again: So, have you thought about moving to New York? Why not? Chicago constantly measures itself against New York, sometimes in an effort to feel superior, other times in a sadsack kind of way. But I have no intention of moving to New York and I would like not to have to explain why on a weekly basis.
So hooray for Joe Meno for discussing this with (another Chicago writer) Claire Zulkey at MB ToolBox.
The world of corporate publishing is centered in NYC, and there's definitely a lot of amazing things in literature that come out of New York, but I'd be terrified of being just another writer in New York writing about living in New York. Chicago has an amazing literary history, from Nelson Algren to Saul Bellows [sic] to Stu Dybek. What makes my work my own is where I'm writing from. And I feel like I have a million stories to write about Chicago.
Well, the Ikea riots happened when I was writing the book. ‘There we go,’ I said to myself. Yes — that was an incredible event in many ways. It fed into the novel. England is a much more socially divided, unstable and violent place than people realise. This is not some sort of Switzerland floating in the North Sea. We’re not a Scandinavian country, like Norway or Sweden. We ought to be part of that bloc, but we’re not. I don’t know what we are. That’s the problem.
All that hard work of feminists for the last hundred years to prove that women are rational creatures not ruled by hormones and babies has just been destroyed by Four Weeks Magazine, a magazine devoted to arranging women's lifestyle by what week they are in in their menstrual cycle. It's "in sync with the rhythm of your life"!
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look at some foliage in New England, because that's what my uterus wants.
I can stare at this for an hour: an online gallery of old Penguin and Pelican cover art. (From Gawker.)
"I hate that man more than any other human being on Earth. If there is one creature on the planet that I detest, it's that asshole. He is despicable. I loathe him. Because he's nothing but a shit, a fucking asshole."
You wouldn't guess it, but she's actually doing the interview to promote her new comic book Chicken with Plums.
October 02, 2006
"The thing that disappointed me most about Updike is that he did not say in that review that he had just completed a novel about terrorism. He had to sweep me out of the way in order to make room for himself. I don't subscribe to the very predominantly English admiration of Updike. If you take away Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, and some of the short stories, there's a lot of ... slightly ... garbage. Think of The Coup! The new one [Terrorist] is beyond awful. He should stay in his parochial neighbourhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do."
If his book had had as much bite as the above statement, by the way, it would have been readable. But as it stands, it just feels like two old men wrestling over whose continued publication poses the greatest threat of making us forget that both have been -- at one time or another -- excellent writers.
If I may direct attention to the left sidebar for a moment, we have a little announcement about our October reading series. The venue has announced that they're only allowing 65 attendees in the door and the demand for the reading is evidently going to surpass that as Danielewski will not be reading anywhere else in Chicago. The door will open at 6pm instead of 7, and they suggest you get there early. I believe the authors will be hanging around after to sign, and if you don't have a copy of Only Revolutions yet, the Book Cellar will be on hand to sell copies.
Now that wouldn't have been a bad opening sentence. Direct, muscular; it has all my usual macho iconic hallmarks. But as I grow older, I find my style has mellowed. I am no longer constrained by my inflated sense of self. I can write of generalisations. I can write of love. Russian love.
Why is Chan taking shots at Codrescu? Admittedly, Codrescu's contribution to the issue was the only one of the more than 40 pieces that gave me real pause, because while I clearly am no fan of lament for lament's sake, flippancy doesn't seem appropriate at all. What was Codrescu up to in his poem "The Good Shepherdess of Nether," a Dadaist experiment that he wrote jointly with Dave Brinks? While Brinks' stanzas come across as searching for meaning in all of this, Codrescu's are more like the ADHD kid in the back of the class who clearly is in his own world, here again offering little more than confirmation of his well-known morbid fascination with bugs. Brinks begins: "when hurricane names reach/ the greek alphabet/ it takes us a long way away from the theory/ of original sin/ and the common housefly." Codrescu responds, "all the way to common sin/ of wishing it was not the way it is/ and the original fly/ did you ever see one this blue, Dave?" Chan closes his essay with a parting salvo at the eminent one, "As for you, Codrescu ... oh, whatever. You get published, get on the air, get to be the king of the freak parade, and slouch for Ferlinghetti. More power to you."
Back during the summer when nothing but crap was being published, it would have been nice to have some of the fall releases. Especially now that everyone is complaining there are too many books this fall.