September 28, 2007
There's something about Rebecca Traister's writing that makes me forget what her actual thesis is. Her essay earlier this week about whether we collectively have problems with strong feminist leaders showing vulnerability distracted me from the real question:
What the fuck is with Toni Bentley?
In her review of Laura Kipnis's The Female Thing for Bookforum, she was petty and nasty, with a bitchy description of Kipnis as "a woman dancing as fast as she can—with considerable grace, despite her Timberlands." In her review of Katha Pollitt's Learning to Drive, she actually uses the phrase "vagina dentata intellectualis."
If these reviews had been written by men, there is no way they would have been published. They would have been called sexist and unfair. But by hiring a woman to do the hit job, a job Bentley seems enthusiastic to do, book review editors can safely play out their own misogyny while claiming innocence. "I didn't write it, and besides, it was written by a lady so it can't be sexist."
Not that there is some sisterhood that we're all supposed to be loyal to. (Anyone claiming there is such a thing is usually the one holding a knife behind her back.) But Bentley seems to have some serious issues with feminism, and the fact that she keeps getting assigned these books is very telling about the reviews' forums. Although it's not like we would expect anything better from the Times.
Secret Agent Elizabeth Visits the Dark Side: Writers Tell All
Where do the words come from? Dirty little secrets, 7th grade enemies, and the creative trickery writers use to get through the day. A weekly interview feature from Elizabeth Merrick, whose online & phone workshops use intuition & a daily dance party to get you in your writing groove.
Adrienne Martini's childhood nemesis, Christine, "had flaming red hair, wore tight designer jeans, usually had a feathered roach clip on her belt loop and would punch you in the neck just for laughs." Well, isn't that odd? I've never read a precise description of my own demeanor in grad school before!
Adrienne tells it like it is: the core of any inspiration that sticks is never comfortable or something that makes you feel like a badass: "The embarrassing answer (but the one that is true) is that Oprah Winfrey made me become a writer after all. I had an epiphany right there on my pity-party sofa."
Yet that painful, weird, far-from-a-cocktail-party-with-a-book-critic- present truth is THE best starting place. xxoo--Eliz.
Adrienne Martini's Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood is a story of babies, psych wards and Appalachia -- but funny, in the weird way that she seems to be funny. Her shorter work has appeared in the Washington Post Book World, the Austin Chronicle, the Baltimore City Paper, Cooking Light and Babble.com. Her website/blog/curio cabinet is at www.martinimade.com.What is the most mortifying, worst thing you've ever written and what led you down that path to ruin? Do you have any rituals you use in an emergency or if you're blocked?
I can't point to any one specific piece that is mortifying. There are always bits in anything that I've written that prove that I am a boneheaded goober. The more of those there are, the more mortifying that story is.
My only real ritual is to offer myself a choice. I can keep working on whatever it is that I'm working on or I can go do some odious household chore, like vacuum the cobwebs out of the basement or scrub out the refrigerator. Writing, no matter how poorly it's going, is always more fun than cleaning. And if I should pick the vacuuming or scrubbing, I've still gotten something accomplished.
Is there some element of your work that you particularly enjoy and that readers or critics seem not to notice so much?
I wish I had some pithy answer for this but don't. It works the other way for me -- I'm always surprised by what readers and critics find in my work that I hadn't noticed myself.
Inquiring minds want to know: what are your daily writing habits (and vices)? What appalling tricks do you use to get yourself to be productive, and are there any you have discarded?
Given that I have two kids and also teach at two colleges, my daily writing behaviors are flexible -- so much so that it's hard to call them habits. I do write *something* ever day, even if it's just a blog post.
My biggest vice is the stupid internet, that distracting series of tubes. I know where all of the wifi deadspots are within a 20 mile radius of my house. If I *have* to get some work done, I take myself to one of them, even if I have to turn my car into a mini-office.
Sadly, the number of these wireless-free zones dwindles every day, even where I live, which isn't the middle of nowhere but we can see the middle of nowhere from here. Curse you, progress! Soon I'll have to rely on self-control.
What is it, really, that made you become a writer after all?
The easy answer is one that I'm ripping off: I am really ill-suited to do much else.
The embarrassing answer (but the one that is true) is that Oprah Winfrey made me become a writer after all.
I want to say it was Christmas of 1995 or 1996. I know I was still living in Austin, TX, even if I can't remember which year it was. It was a fairly crappy holiday, mostly because I'd just had surgery, which is a story I'll spare you the details of, and was lolling on the couch, watching daytime tv, whacked out on painkillers and feeling spectacularly sorry for myself.
Oprah's show that day was on regret. Her guests were elderly folk who did nothing more than talk about the things that they wished they had done while there was time enough to see where those decisions would have led. Some were fairly minor -- like tattoos or traveling more. Others were big -- like not getting married or not having kids (and vice-versa).
I had an epiphany right there on my pity-party sofa. Writing would be the thing that I would regret not doing in a serious way. Shortly after that, I had my first story published in the Austin American-Statesman's entertainment magazine, which led to a gig at the Austin Chronicle, which led to editing and writing for the weekly in Knoxville, Tennessee, which led to a book. And now I really am ill-suited to do much else.
How do you feel about writing sex scenes, and how do you handle it?
I don't know that I have written a sex scene, which says something about my feelings about them.
What books do you secretly love? And what books do you secretly hate?
Secretly Love: John D. McDonald's Travis McGee detective stories and Mary Willis Walker's four suspense/mystery novels: Under the Beetle's Cellar, Zero at the Bone, The Red Scream and All the Dead Lie Down. Anyone know what happened to her? She seems to have written four really great books then dropped off of the face of the earth, just like one of her heroines.
Secretly Hate: The Lord of the Rings -- each and every boring one of 'em. Especially all of the damn songs.
What is the most terrifying task for you -- whether it be a certain kind of scene, character, or subject matter?
Now that I'm writing more fiction, all of that is terrifying.
Describe the arch-nemesis of your youth. How has this person appeared in your writing?
The arch-nemesis of my youth was Christine. She had flaming red hair, wore tight designer jeans, usually had a feathered roach clip on her belt loop and would punch you in the neck just for laughs. Christine was always surrounded by a pack of like-minded harpies but was clearly the ringleader. I lost track of her -- or, rather, she stopped threatening to beat me up -- shortly after my class made the transition from our small elementary school to the 2000+ student junior high.
I have no idea where her life led. Prison, I suspect, or a lovely trailer park in the hills of Northeastern PA. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
She hasn't shown up in my work -- until now.
What project has been the biggest struggle for you so far in your career, and how did you resolve your difficulties?
There hasn't been a project that was in itself a struggle; the struggle has always been selling any given project. I suck at magazine queries and at book proposals. It would be so much easier if I could simply call someone and say "hey, I've got this great idea that I would dearly love to write about. Let's just cut out all of the parts where I have to woo you in order to prove that I am worthy of your attention. How's about we assume that I can do whatever it is I claim that I can do and cut out all of this fancy dancing. Why don't you just pay me, give me a deadline and I'll send you some copy."
It never works like that. Never, ever, ever.
The only resolution that I can see would be to become rich and famous. And thin. I'd like to look like Heidi Klum, too, as long as we're having this talk.
What unpleasant truth do you routinely conceal from young, fresh writers eager to make their mark?
The Truth: the mark you make will be very small and easily rubbed out. This is both a bad thing and a good thing.
And, finally, if there is one thing you could change about your writing life or career, what would it be?
This goes back to number nine -- if I had magical powers, I'd make myself a well-enough known name that I could simply mention that I have this new book in mind and a contract would simply appear. Can you tell that I'm in the process of selling what I hope will be my next book? And that it's not going well?
Given that, I am fairly content with where my writing life and career is now. It would be nice to be the next Mary Roach or the next Bill Bryson -- but it's been a nice ride given that it was inspired in a vicodin haze by a talk show.
I honestly don't understand the success of Miranda July. Preciousness makes me gag. The fact that No One Belongs Here More Than You won the Frank O'Connor award made me very sad for what I thought it said about the state of short story writing, but really, I should have guessed.
I would never be able to make anything in the new Alinea cookbook, lord knows, but look how pretty. (Not that practicality has ever influenced my cookbook purchases before. I have more than one cookbook containing recipes calling for liquid nitrogen. Meanwhile, I don't even own a microwave.) If you pre-order the book, you get access to a secret website that has bonus recipes and video tutorials, which will still not make you capable of recreating their potato soup.
I never did get around to reading Jane Gardam's Old Filth back when certain people were raving about it. The book is probably still around here somewhere, creeping along in one of the stacks. It did well enough that Europa has reprinted an older book of Gardam's, The Queen of the Tambourine. It won the second of Gardam's two Whitbread awards for best novel. This Guardian profile makes me want to read more by her:
"Only a great genius like the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell can be mother, wife and novelist without solitude," she believes. "I couldn't write until my youngest child went to school, and then I began - the first morning - and I've never stopped. For years there was no man in the house when my husband was off on law cases in the Far East. Without writing I would have been bored and unfaithful, maybe both, and the children would have been hideously over-protected."
September 27, 2007
While we're on war poetry, don't miss Nathaniel Fick's essay, "When Yellow Ribbons and Flag-Waving Aren't Enough." Fick is the veteran of a tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and will now be an instructor at the Afghan Counterinsurgency School. (Updated to correct spelling. Thanks, Joel!)
It's probably not a good sign for the Poetry Society of America that news of executive-board squabbling, with charges and counter-charges of McCarthyism and general tool-itude, is profoundly more interesting than the fact that they gave the Frost Medal to John Hollander. George Murray's take is pretty reasonable, and don't miss Al Filreis for the PSA's background.
The seventh issue of NOÖ Journal is now online. I enjoyed Blake Butler's "List Prayer" and, as a former trailer park kid myself, David Ensminger's "Trailer Park Photos Part III." There's also a short prose piece, "Entropy & Atrophy," by Robert Lopez, whose Part of the World (Calamari Press) is a marvel.
NOÖ Journal also has an innovative fundraiser: You give them $2, they give you a bad poem. Bad poem contributors in the past have included K. Silem Mohammad, Bryan Coffelt, and Tao Lin.
Robert Archambeau's post on "Intellectual Property and the Invention of the Poet" looks at the evolution of the "poetic sensibility."
Here's the least reasonable use today of Wordsworth's "murder to dissect" line.
"If you told me that I was going to have to write the same kind of book over and over I would blow my brains out."
What I realised with my own career as a journalist is that no one is going to knight you and dub you Foreign Correspondent. The chance of you doing something on a mainstream level is one in a million. No one is going to give you a passport and a flack jacket and say “GO – we trust in your genius!” You kind of have to do it yourself.
Although we all still love Virginia Woolf's fiction, her political polemics, A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas, tend to be marginalised even by her admirers. But they are not marginal; they are achingly relevant today.
A while ago, I saw this book A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf, written by Ilana Simons. At first I thought it strange to take life advice from Woolf -- something like How to Find Domestic Happiness to Sylvia Plath Way -- but I've become quite charmed by the book.
Yesterday I was slightly surprised to wake up with a tattoo on my arm of a bunny holding a flower. There had been sake the night before, and rice candies from Chinatown that came with lick on tattoos. The problem was, do I hide it or just let it show at the reading series and potentially ruin my reputation as a hardass? I decided to go with a sleeveless shirt. Troy Jollimore said I looked like a biker chick. I'm not sure how many biker chicks he knows with tattoos of rabbits, but I took it as a compliment anyway.
There was a boozy theme to the reading series, with Emily Flake starting off with a visual presentation and reading from her book, and love and hate letter to her smoking habit, These Things Ain't Gonna Smoke Themselves. The stories in Rebecca Barry's Later, at the Bar all revolve around Lucy's Tavern, and there is drinking and smoking and ill advised pick up lines. Troy Jollimore gamely kept with the theme and read poems from Tom Thomson in Purgatory with alcohol and cigarette references. Also, boy scouts.
Our next reading is a week from today, with Benjamin Percy, Porochista Khakpour, and Bookninja's George Murray. Hopefully the bunny tattoo will have worn off by then.
September 26, 2007
In this look at the reactions to Katha Pollitt's personal essays Learning to Drive, Rebecca Traister forgets there is a difference between memoir that is reflective and interesting and memoir that makes you feel like you just watched the author perform a pap smear on herself. Yes, there's a double standard, but talking about it in overextended generalities is not a good approach. Some of those essays are cringeworthy whether they're written by man, woman, or feminist (yes, these days those last two are separate categories).
James Wood reviews the translation at the New Yorker.
Over at Seed Magazine, Juan Uriagereka explains what "songbirds, dancing, and knot-tying" has to do with how humans developed language.
Here's how much Ximena Quiroz loves the insane cult-hit webcomic "Achewood": It's pushing 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, and the 31-year-old tattoo artist is finishing the inks on an "Achewood" tat on Matthew Mercer's right shoulder at The Urban Soul.
The Urban Soul closed two hours ago. And Ximena (pronounced "he-MEN-uh") is offering her services free of charge.
In fact, she's offering free "Achewood" tattoos to anyone who wants them, for the rest of September.
If Eightball #22 had been a novel, I doubt the father would have noticed a thing. I read Lord of the Flies with my sophomores and there's a scene where Jack almost has anal sex with a pig that the boys are killing and the description in the scene is very sexual. But it was words and most students didn't get it.
I know a forbidden apple when I see one. Shiny, red, what could be wrong? But one bite and bam, you're naked and covering your shame with a fig leaf. I think about all the douche bags I see—puffing their chests out on TV, demanding Cristal and vanilla candles in their dressing rooms—and I wonder if they ever worried. There had to have been a first photo session, a first interview, a first dab of concealer, a first fluff of their hair. Did they worry then? Because I do.
I should probably write him to let him know I will have to substitute his demands in the rider for the Reading Series with vicodin and chocolate stuffed marshmallows. (Those marshmallows can tame any prima donna temper tantrum.)
September 25, 2007
Yet contrary to Zuckerman's announcement late in Exit Ghost that "A novel is not evidence, a novel's a novel," a Roth novel is evidence of the mind behind it, and observing Philip Roth's angry, self-indulgent mind gets sadder by the decade.
Hooray, I was wrong. Turns out we don't have to feign excitement about another Philip Roth book.
In an update on the Guilford High School controversy over Dan Clowes's Eightball #22 that led to the resignation of a teacher, we are assured that Nate Fisher "has not been charged with any criminal violations." Wow, that's a relief. For a minute there I was worried everyone was overreacting.
A week later, he was greeted at the station.
"You must be Rick," the man said. "Sam Russo."
"I guess you must be in the mafia," Rick whispered.
"But this is a John Grisham book and we're in Italy."
"I see what you mean," Sam smiled. "But it's not that type of story. He's writing something homier and cuter this time."
Dear Federal Government:
These are the books I took with me on my last international trip, just in case you missed them:
Yeah, I know, I should have brought more novels. I was so desperate for plot I made someone drive me to the movie theater so I could see a car chase. But that's why I bought Hellfire while I was over there. If you have any other questions, please feel free to track the chip in my passport.
Eric Jerome Dickey, author of the recent novel Waking With Enemies, remembers an encounter with his biggest fan, a woman who could give ankle-smashing Kathy Bates a run for her money. She appeared normal at first, just another smiling face in the long line of people waiting to buy Dickey's novel. He greeted her, then autographed his book and added a little personal note, as is his custom. His fan had brought along a friend who was also buying his book, so Dickey signed her book, too, before moving on to the next person in line.
Then a shriek erupted: "You wrote more words in her book!"
Never has an author been poisoned or stalked at the Bookslut Reading Series, and hopefully we'll keep that streak going through our next installment tomorrow night. Please do no harm to Emily Flake, Troy Jollimore, nor Rebecca Barry, Chicago readers.
The New Yorker has audio of Barbara Rosenblatt reading Grace Paley's story "Somewhere Else," which is worth listening to even if the audio includes Nell Freudenberger discussing the story beforehand.
September 24, 2007
Everything I'm reading today is cranky. William Logan hates Thomas Pynchon ("as if a novel’s only virtue were how many characters it could stuff into a phone booth"). Sam Anderson bangs his head against the last Harry Potter book ("strangely forgettable"). We've already discussed Bukiet and his exasperation for McSweeney's. I might just go back to the William James letters.
Daily since the first instant have we trembled with joyous expectancy of your holiday face arriving at our door. Daily have we dashed the teardrop of disappointment from our common eye! And now to get a letter instead of your revered form! It is shameful. We are dying with the tedium of each other's society and you would make the wheels of life go round again.
Something nice this way comes. It begins with the awful — whether it’s as enormous as the Holocaust or the World Trade Center or as intimate as family dysfunction or the death of a loved one — and then finds comfort. None of this Anna on the tracks, Emma in the dumps, or depressing Father Zosima’s corpse smells stuff; that’s sooo 19th century. As for Molly Bloom’s devil may care so let’s screw our brains out attitude, or Humbert Humbert’s twisted sexuality, or Dr. Spielvogel’s “Now vee may perhaps to begin” ironies, they’re clearly the product of 20th-century neuroses. Instead, let’s just book passage on a gentle, healing voyage. Sound trite? It is, but it’s apparently the literature of our time as exemplified by Jonathan Safran Foer, Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss, and Dave Eggers, along with everything McSweeney’s, the magazine founded by Eggers. What this otherwise disparate group of fiction and nonfiction writers share are a special calming effect on the souls of their many readers and, most significantly, a locus in which their work has come to fruition: Brooklyn.
Bukiet is one of my favorite short story writers (his novels are good too) and lord knows I'm sympathetic to his thesis. But I certainly don't envy his e-mail inbox this week.
The American writer and film-maker Miranda July can add the world's richest short story prize to her collection of film festival accolades after winning the 2007 Frank O'Connor award this weekend.
Her first collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, saw off competition from the Israeli writer Etgar Keret and New Zealand's Charlotte Grimshaw to win the €35,000 (£23,000) prize, after entries from Alice Munro and David Malouf were left off the shortlist.
The University of Nebraska is publishing a 140-volume set of the letters of Henry James, each volume priced at around $90. Edmund White considers the letters in the NYRB, focusing on the early education of Henry and William James.
There is also a 12-volume Correspondence of William James, that I have considered investing in alongside the 17-volume set of his complete writings. Somehow I ended up with an empty bookcase in my office, and I think it would like to be filled with James. I hear the set of William's letters, however, is missing the full correspondence between himself and Carl Jung. Hopefully that will be rectified soon as they ready the publication of every drop of writing ever produced by Jung. Until then, there are online archives we can wander around, and find gems like Carl Jung describing his first encounter with James:
After dinner William James appeared and I was particularly interested in the personal relation between Stanley Hall and William James, since I gathered from some remarks of President Hall that William James was not taken quite seriously on account of his interest in Mrs. Piper and her extra-sensory perceptions. Stanley Hall had prepared us that he had asked James to discuss some of his results with Mrs. Piper and to bring some of his material. So when James came (there was Stanley Hall, Professor Freud, one or two other men and myself) he said to Hall: "I've brought you some papers in which you might be interested." And he put his hand to his breastpocket and drew out a parcel which to our delight proved to be a wad of dollar bills. Considering Stanley Hall's great services for the increase and welfare of Clark University and his rather critical remarks as to James's pursuits, it looked to us a particularly happy rejoinder. James excused himself profusely. Then he produced the real papers from the other pocket.
September 21, 2007
I am dragging my sister to see David Cronenberg's new film today, even if I have to roofie her to do it. Over at Amazon, Cronenberg lists the books he read as research for Eastern Promises, and mentions two books I loved: Black Earth by Andrew Meier and Ryszard Kapuscinski's Imperium.
Alice Quinn, the poetry editor of The New Yorker, is stepping down after 20 years and will be succeeded in one of the most influential posts in the poetry world by Paul Muldoon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.
The parents of a freshman student whose teacher resigned after he gave her a sexually explicit illustrated book said Wednesday their daughter has been the target of harassment from fellow students, and they want the school district to do more to clarify the issue with other parents.
The girl’s father, who asked that his family remain anonymous because it has already been the target of criticism, described the graphic novel that English teacher Nate Fisher gave the student as "borderline pornography."
Dostoyevsky comics! This week, Batman stars in Crime and Punishment.
- It's not the laureateship of MTVu, but Paul Muldoon will be the next poetry editor of the New Yorker. I'm not sure if we can expect "harder-hitting, more topical poetry," as Ted Genoways hopes, but "more adventurous" would sure be nice. David Remnick does his best to cool expectations, however:
Mr. Remnick added that the selection of Mr. Muldoon, who had his first poem published when he was just 16, did not represent “some sort of radical aesthetic or theoretical shift.”
He added, “It’s not as if we went from a structuralist to a post-structuralist or a Beat to a conservative.”
Apparently he also doesn't like Alaskans, even if they telecommute. Alice Quinn will be bringing out Elizabeth Bishop's journals and notebooks, which should be interesting. Muldoon's The End of the Poem and Horse Latitudes were reviewed in Bookslut last January.
- Actual adventuresome poems: Charles Bernstein has a preview of the "diagrammatic visual poems" in Francis Picabia's I Am a Beautiful Monster: Poetry, Prose, and Provocation.
- T.J. Sullivan points out that "corporate bookstores aren't about cultural earthquakes," nor is "a place in which Bukowski flopped and farted on a regular basis . . . the epicenter of a cultural quake that continues to rock LA's literary landscape." (Via The Elegant Variation.)
- Via Ron Silliman, Joseph Epstein complains that "new poets are produced roughly at the rate of rabbits (don’t think, lest serious depression set in, of all those endless MFA programs turning out more and more people who will themselves go on to teach in MFA programs). I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that in the United States today there are more practicing poets than members of the National Rifle Association."
- Via The Morning Line, Jennifer Moxley on "the metaphorical resistance of the Lyric Body." (Also in Jacket: Two poems by Gregory Wróblewski.
- At the Kenyon Review blog, Andrew Grace examines the American short poem, noting a movement "away from the Imagist, Eastern-influenced poem (i.e. “In a Station of the Metro” and “The Red Wheelbarrow”) towards more linguistically innovative poetry that plays around with disruptions in narrative."
- As someone who repeatedly has students memorize poems, I was interested in Frieda Hughes's essay on memorization & poetry (accompanying Anthony Thwaite's "Education"). (Via choriamb, as is the Major Jackson link below.)
- James DenBoer has an interesting essay on transcendentalism, closure, and domineering professors at the Great American Pinup. And Reginald Shepherd has written "Against Identity Poetry, For Possibility," which I have special reasons for admiring this week. (Though, relatedly, see Major Jackson's essay on white poets' relative silence on racial issues.)
- Via Crag Hill's Poetry Scorecard, I see that the new Word For/word is out. In addition to a bevy of poems, there's also a special feature on "new Chilean visual and sound poetry." By a welcome coincidence, Dorothea Lasky, who I interviewed in this space last week, has a review in it.
- Kriston Capps reads "Ode to Hangover," provides other examples of hangover literature.
- Splitting up a document into multiple pages to boost page counts is always evil, but there's something freakish about trying to read a poem broken out in this way. Pinsky would be better served if the Post didn't post his columns online if this is how they're going to do it.
- American readers should know that Penguin thinks you're ignorant: The recent Penguin edition of Wells's hilarious Tono-Bungay features this introductory sentence before the footnotes: "Because this edition is intended for readers everywhere in the world, the notes explain many allusions for which British readers need no explanation."
September 19, 2007
The New York Times has started running Daniel Clowes's new comic, "Mister Wonderful," in the magazine Funny Pages.
Michael Sims, who besides writing really lovely books like the new Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination also writes a column on creativity for ReZoom, talks to one of my favorite science writers, Deborah Blum.
“If you look at careers in science,” she says, “it’s really like the one lightning strike. And they never do anything as brilliant as that again.” In part this is because a scientist may work for decades to prove a point. Even a scientist lucky enough to be dazzled by insight and inspiration more than once would still have to devote a great deal of time to confirming (or refuting) her brilliant ideas. “But the really famous scientists—we know them for the one flash of inspiration.”
September 18, 2007
Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments author Alex Boese offers a list of the 20 strangest experiments of all time. (Link from Seed.) Elephants on acid, two headed dogs, and attempts to turn homosexuals straight:
Heath referred to his homosexual subject as patient B-19. He inserted Teflon-insulated electrodes into the septal region of B-19's brain and then gave B-19 carefully controlled amounts of stimulation in experimental sessions. Soon the young man was reporting increased stirrings of sexual motivation. Heath then rigged up a device to allow B-19 to self-stimulate himself. It was like letting a chocoholic loose in a candy shop. B-19 quickly became obsessed with the pleasure button. In one three-hour session he pressed it 1500 times until, as Heath noted, "he was experiencing an almost overwhelming euphoria and elation and had to be disconnected."
Enter female prostitute.
NPR interviews Josh Swiller, author of The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa, about how his family didn't notice for years he was deaf, his Peace Corps stint in Zambia, and cochlear implants. You can read an excerpt from the book on NPR's website.
"A writer like me," he said, "must have an utter confidence, an utter faith in his star. It's an almost mystical feeling, a feeling of nothingcan- happen-to-me, nothing-can-harm-me, nothing-can-touch-me.
"Thomas Wolfe has it. Ernest Hemingway has it. I once had it. But through a series of blows, many of them my own fault, something happened to that sense of immunity and I lost my grip."
The Guardian has reprinted an excerpt from Michael Mok's interview with F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Other Side of Paradise, Scott Fitzgerald, 40, Engulfed in Despair."
For the first time ever, I did not pack enough books for a trip. Usually my bag is half books, four times as many as I could possibly read if I never left my room and gave up sleep. But this last trip to New York I decided shoes were more important and only took a handful of books. I immediately plowed through them and was reduced to buying a copy of Elle for the plane ride back yesterday. (I type that as if I don't read Elle every month. I do. I'm sorry.)
As I was digging around my bag, however, I found my copy of David Chariandy's Soucouyant: A Novel of Forgetting hidden in a back pocket. It's a tiny book, easily overlooked. Or it would be, were the cover art not so beautiful and striking. I remembered packing it solely because of the cover photograph. And once I started reading, I forgot all about whether magnets were the latest breakthrough in anti-aging technology, or whether it's all a big waste of money. The contents are as compelling as that cover.
Soucouyant follows the youngest son's return to a broken family, his older brother disappeared, his father dead, his mother in a fog of dementia. It's been nominated for the Giller Prize, alongside Ondaatje and Vassanji. The publisher, Arsenal Press, has an excerpt from the book available online. (PDF link.)
I'm only back in Chicago long enough to do laundry, attend Candy Expo with my friend the confectioner (it's like Book Expo, but instead of free books, people are giving away free candy; it's possibly the greatest convention in the world), and repack for a train ride to Michigan. Does four books for a 24-hour trip seem excessive?
Andrew Rice looks at the legacy of Ryszard Kapuscinski after the accusations of embellishment and possibly acting as a spy.
It's hard to imagine a correspondent less likely to make a successful spy. Kapuscinski's acolytes often hail him as an interpreter and explainer--of the Third World, of revolutions, of the experience of despotism--but I think they are missing his point. Kapuscinski describes, he evokes, but for all the unquestionable beauty of his words, he doesn't produce actionable intelligence. He is an oracle of the indeterminate.
VQR has offered a sneak look at one of the essays in their upcoming Fall issue, and it happens to be an essay by one of my favorite war correspondents, Phillip Robertson, called "The Octopus in the Cathedral of Salt." The new issue focuses on South America in the 21st century, and Robertson is writing about the banana industry.
September 17, 2007
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Brenda Mills
Brenda has been executive editor for Fiction Collective 2 (FC2) since this past May. Before that she spent six years as FC2’s managing editor. As Brenda says, "The years before that are a blur of editing and writing for everything from arts magazines to textbook publishers."
How did you first become involved with FC2?
I was driven into the arms of FC2 by mainstream publishing. I’ve always been a voracious reader (I actually think of myself as a Reader), but in the 90s I started feeling like I was drowning in formulaic literary fiction, and I was disgusted by books (especially by big name authors) that clearly hadn’t been edited or proofed. I started looking for something better, something more satisfying, and I found FC2.
FC2's mission statement is to publish "fiction considered by America's largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox for the commercial milieu," including works of "high quality and exceptional ambition whose style, subject matter, or form pushes the limits of American publishing and reshapes our literary culture." Can you elaborate on the selection process? How do these titles differ from something from something that would come out of the Monster-Publishers?
Our Board of Directors, made up of FC2 members—authors who have been published by FC2—makes all the decisions about what books we publish. They all have different sensibilities, different approaches to experimentation, and they don’t always agree on what is truly innovative and exceptional. But they all read at least a portion of a manuscript up for consideration, and then they discuss it and vote on it. It’s a grueling, labor-intensive process, but we think it works.
Last year we instituted a fiction prize to help us find work by new authors. The Ronald Sukenick American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize is open only to authors who haven’t published with FC2 before. It’s the main conduit for new members. We used to have an open submission policy, but we found we were spending too much time reading frivolous submissions by people who clearly didn’t know what FC2 was about. Because all our readers are volunteers, we couldn’t justify this kind of energy waste. So now we have the contest, and we encourage our members to sponsor submissions by people whose work they admire. And any member can submit new work at any time, though they have to go through the same decision-making process with the Board that everyone else does.
That last question is harder to answer. If we’re doing our job, then what we’re publishing now should resemble what Harper or Random House will be publishing in five years. We see it as our job to push the envelope, keep the definition of fiction, and of storytelling, dynamic. I think most of what we’re publishing is more alive than most of what you see coming out of the mainstream publishing houses. Because we’re not bottom-line oriented, we can afford to publish a book that might not be a popular success. We can focus our attention on publishing books that challenge us, by people who are willing and able to step outside the box and really think about what it means to tell (or untell) a story. Our bottom line: Does it excite us? When Kate Bernheimer’s first novel The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold came in over the transom a few years ago, we were thrilled. This was the novel of a dissolving marriage viewed through the lens of folk and fairy tales, and it was a delight. We publish Michael Martone, who is working industriously to smudge the lines between fact and fiction; Lance Olsen, who reinvents himself as an author with each book; Stephen Graham Jones, who is dismantling the American Indian storytelling tradition; Susan Steinberg, whose voice is mesmerizing and disorienting. The list goes on and on.
FC2 is a not-for-profit that receives funding from several universities. How much of a role do these institutions play in putting out what you put out every season?
None of the universities has a say in what we publish. That’s the sole purview of our Board of Directors. Florida State University has been home to the brain of FC2, the editorial offices, for eight years now. They give us office space and pay my salary, but we’re financially independent from the university. Illinois State University’s Publications Unit has been designing the interiors of our books at no charge for years in order to give their students hands-on practice with the production process. A little over a year ago, we entered into an unusual arrangement with University of Alabama Press. We are now an imprint of UAP, which means they manage all the production, marketing and distribution of our books, in exchange for which they get to keep all the money from sales. But our Board retains full editorial control, choosing and editing the manuscripts we want to publish. We’re still figuring it out, but it seems to be working.
FC2 wasn't always FC2. Can you describe the history behind FC2, from its inception from the ashes of the Fiction Collective during the Reagan administration?
That was rough time in the 80s. You might argue that the Republicans wanted to torch us during that period, but they never succeeded. They cut back our funding significantly and that hurt. But really, Fiction Collective became Fiction Collective Two (FC2) when the old way of doing things as a collective became too cumbersome. When FC was half a dozen guys in a basement in Brooklyn, it was possible for everyone to have a hand in the decision-making. But as the membership grew the process bogged down, and after years of the same few authors doing most of the work, people started getting burned out. The Collective was reorganized with a director and Board, and they began working to make the whole operation more professional.
Back before Luke was born, I was shopping around this board book featuring photographs of perplexed babies juxtaposed with quotes from the works of Samuel Beckett. There were no takers.
I nearly slept at Mass today. How dead it was – not dead in the amusing phosphorescent way of last Sunday, aware of your shoulder half an inch from mine, but just limp & meaningless & boring. I’m not even a Catholic properly away from you. Love, Graham
The Times has printed a collection of letters from Graham Greene to his wife, mother, and mistresses.
I liked Eat, Pray, Love despite my cold hearted nature, but really? A sequel? She got enlightenment, pizza, and a hot relationship out of the first book. What is she going to go searching for this time? And is she going to schedule another breakdown before her trip? Because as travel writing, the book is not great. This seems like a really bad idea.
I have been trying to read this David Foster Wallace essay, taken from the introduction to Best American Essays 2007, for a few days now, but there's not enough coffee in the world. I think it's a sign of my decrepit age that I can no longer read a DFW essay without feeling like I need a nap halfway through. Or maybe I'm just having flashbacks to that lobster essay he wrote for Gourmet, half of which was excellent, the other half being intolerable. My brain is trying to spare me the second half by slowly shutting down.
But perhaps you will want to read it.
New York and I have not been getting along lately, but when Jenie mentioned Tatyana Tolstaya was coming back to New York for an event at the 9nd Street Y, I dropped money instantly for a plane ticket. White Walls, her short story collection, is still my favorite book of the year. She also tipped me off about this interview on the Leonard Lopate show that I had missed, where she rails against one of her translators.
September 14, 2007
But when I checked the 1877 translation against the original my heart sank. It was garbage. On almost every page the English translator, whoever he, or she, was (their name is not recorded), collapsed Verne's actual dialogue into a condensed summary, missed out sentences or whole paragraphs. She or he messed up the technical aspects of the book. She or he was evidently much more anti-Semitic than Verne, and tended to translate what were in the original fairly neutral phrases such as "...said Isaac Hakkabut" with idioms such as "...said the repulsive old Jew."
Seed Magazine is reprinting its original article about Alex the parrot who died recently of unknown causes. It begins a little unfortunately:
If Alex were a dog, he would be 189 years old. But he's a parrot and he's 27. In parrot years that's 27. Unless Alex chokes on a nut or falls out of his cage, he should live another 50 years.
But after that, the article gives a fascinating look at the research Dr. Irene Pepperberg did with Alex.
The judge of a national writing prize has ordered men to "wake up" after all of the £3,000 awards went this year to women. With eight of the nine contenders on the New Writing Ventures awards for emerging literary talent being women, the outcome was always unlikely to be otherwise.
Henry Sutton, chair of judges for the fiction section of the awards and literary editor of the Daily Mirror, said he was "surprised and saddened" when he realised that no men had made the grade to even reach the shortlist for the category. "I was shocked when I realised that all three were women," he said.
Yes, we can't have that, can we? Women winning awards. Men, keep up! You're letting down your gender.
VQR has the transcript of The Business of the Book: An LWC}NYC Panel held in November of 2006 with the publishers of FSG, Atlantic/Grove, HarperCollins, and Knopf. Nothing earth-shattering is really said, and the most remarkable thing about the panel is that it is the exact same conversation had at most panels around the country right now: we don't know how to market books, we don't know how to find audiences for our authors, and even award nominations are not selling books. It's not all doom and gloom, but the repetition is depressing.
September 13, 2007
Dorothea Lasky's debut collection, Awe, is out this month from Wave Books. The collection, reviewed recently in Diagram, takes up "awe" in a variety of contexts: friendship, sex, the divine, and love. Finding that "in the midst of this confusion / Was the true dawning of myself," Lasky's poems are intimate without turning into sheer confession. Lasky co-edits (with Michael Carr) the Katalanché Press chapbook series; her website is http://www.birdinsnow.com.
One of the things that interests me about awe is that it etymologically emerges out of dread, or a kind of holy terror. How does "awe" work for you in this book?
I am glad that awe resonated for you in this way, as I completely meant for the idea of awe to evoke a complex and terrible emotion—one that is at its core holy and reverent. For me, awe works in many ways in the book, but most importantly I hope awe works to wake people up. We need to wake up! I am a life zealot and I want others to be the same. That is the core reason why I wrote most of the poems in the book, because I want other people to be life zealots like me. I think that we need to bring the idea of faith back to art, and I mean to do so by this book. The idea of awe is a kind of faith, a kind of faith that assumes that as humans we don’t know everything we need to know about the universe, and so we need to keep trying and trying until we get this world right. The idea of awe, for me, takes into account the magnitude of the macrocosm of the universe and thus, our utter insignificance (and simultaneous heightened significance). I think that if a new breed of artists will start to create an art out of a kind of faith in our utter insignificance, a new and significant sort of art making will occur.
There are so many birds! (And your new website is named after a phrase from the book, a "bird in snow," though there's also the fire that burns the bird.) Are you a bird watcher, or does something else resonate for you?
My mother is an art historian, with a specialty in Native American art, and as a little girl in her lectures, I used to hear over and over how for Native Americans, birds are the messengers of the spirit world. Although there is a whole host of connotations (and baggage) to a word like bird in a poem that might suggest all sorts of symbolism—bird as poet, bird as soul, bird as Holy Spirit—I really mean messenger. In AWE, all the birds are messengers, as they are seers who carry the truth back to earth from another, little understood place. In this way, I mean for the birds in AWE to function like little winged Mercury figures—spiritual tricksters. I also think birds are pretty. Although I can’t draw very well myself, they are the objects that I most like to draw.
Your poems tend to involve revelation. Do you see poetry as in some way about the revelation of things unseen?
Yes I do. I see poetry as a summation of the many voices of life rolled up into beautiful verse. Poetry’s special power is that it can show the secret voices that often get unexpressed in such a way that promotes life. I think the special power that poetry has must necessarily involve revelation when one encounters a poem. If a poem doesn’t surprise you in some way, again and again, it is not doing its job and it probably really isn’t a poem anyway.
Late in the collection, you call out conceptual art, language poetry, &c. Why?
I wish that I could simply say that I did this because I don’t like the kind of art that comes out of conceptual or language thinking, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I love that these movements in art happened and I love the art that came out of them. I simply think that these movements are dead. And so, this calling out is a gesture more than anything. I am really into using various forms of gesture in poetry, especially as a way to play with the power relationships between the poet and the reader. I listen to hip hop religiously and a lot of this poem’s gesture comes out of my admiration of the way these poets gain power by positioning themselves. In addition, something I once read by Picasso has always stuck with me, as he once said, “Impressionism is like eating sugar all day long. In art, you have to kill your father.” Sad but true, if you want to be listened to as an artist, you have to kill your father. But you don’t have to kill him forever, you just have to do it for a little while to save the art. I want to be listened to as a poet and I want to save the art. I want art to always be vital for the people it represents and the time that it comes out of. I will probably always have to call things out as a poet, but the greater good of representing the time and the people the art comes out of is too important to me not to.
What is the genesis of "Ten Lives in Mental Illness"?
Most of the mental illnesses featured in this poem I have been exposed to in one form or another during my life, which has made me fascinated with the various intricacies of these specific disorders. Also, in college, it was my intention to become a child psychologist, as I have a big time passion for the humane treatment of the mentally ill. (Dorothea Dix is a long time hero of mine and not just because we share the same name.) I also think that the field of psychology’s defined categories of mental illness are kind of bogus and I meant to play a little with this in my poem. I would like the sections in this poem to be alternate ways to understand these specific illnesses, almost like secondary texts to a psychology textbook.
Can you talk about the "Tiny Tour," and some of your other experiments with blogging and YouTube? How, if at all, has YouTube affected your sense of "readings" or of your public persona/voice?
Well, my Tiny Tour itself is my largest venture to date into the blogging and youtube world, but nonetheless I am very excited at the possibilities that this technology affords for poetry and poetry readings. I think that, for a poet, developing a persona is the most important step in finding what sets you apart as a real voice both connected and separate from your time and circumstance. Arenas like a blog or a youtube channel allow a poet a special opportunity to find her persona in an immediately public way. For me, blogging has provided me an opportunity to feel the thrill of sharing what is meaningful to me with the world in an immediate way. Even though my first blog, www.dorothealasky.blogspot.com, has very little content, when posting anything on there I always feel the thrill of giving beauty to the world to behold. I think that this is what happens in a successful poetry reading, as the reader is able to share herself in an immediately public way. As I said, I am very excited at the possibilities of expanding what a poetry reading is through my Tiny Tour, as I think that tours like it might open up the necessary agency and access to the public that is so vital in the development of a poet’s persona. I know that my own persona will be consistently developed and refined in response to it.
September 12, 2007
Every once and a while I remember City Pages archives Emily Flake's comic "Lulu Eightball" and then I get to spend an hour cackling at strips like "The Unpleasantest Religious Phenomena" and "Features of the iPhone." I recommend keeping her first collection on your nightstand for mornings you can't quite convince yourself to get out of bed.
You know why you haven't read any books by Peter Sacks? Because you're anti-intellectual, lazy, and fascinated by Paris Hilton, that's why.
If you are a religious apologist invited to debate with Christopher Hitchens, decline. His witty repartee, his ready-access store of historical quotations, his bookish eloquence, his effortless flow of well-formed words, beautifully spoken in that formidable Richard Burton voice (the whole performance not dulled by other equally formidable Richard Burton habits), would threaten your arguments even if you had good ones to deploy.
Who knew people were so crazy about bonobos? In the e-mails I got about the bonobo post, one told me, "Frans de Waal's interview post should probably be accompanied by Ian Parker's more sober and fascinating look into the bonobo's place in the popular imagination." Now it has been.
September 11, 2007
Alex has also "coined" words, or made up new words to use for unfamilar objects. An example of this is when he first encountered an apple. He already knew the word for "banana" and "strawberry, " and the first time he saw an apple he called it a "bananaberry." This was hypothesized to be because an apple was red like a strawberry by white inside like a banana.
BLVR: You tell a funny story in Our Inner Ape about a lecture in which you described the failure of male bonobos to fight and establish dominance over the females. An audience member raised his hand and asked: “Well, what’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with these male bonobos?”
FDW: Right. Many male scientists react that way. Bonobos are uncomfortable to have around. They’re too peaceful, and they’re female dominated. We can’t handle that.
The voice spoke along the following lines: I hope, Imogen, that these recordings find their way to you because I feel an obligation to you as I prepare to leave this life. I want you to know your history. But not in the way that would come naturally to most people, by telling you the most important information first. Instead, I will show myself to be a literary stylist and slowly reveal your life by describing 20 photographs that you will never see because you are blind.
The New York Post ran book reviews? I haven't been paying attention.
Worth reading: Lloyd Grove's article on Col Allan and the New York Post for New York Magazine.
Today I'd sort of rather be reading Mary Gordon's Circling My Mother than... doing anything, really. Last night when I saw I was going to have to put it down in order to make the baseball game, I thought about making some elaborate excuse and staying home. The bratwurst at the field made up for it, though. (Hi, guys.)
September 10, 2007
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Dirk Deppey
Dirk Deppey is the online editor for The Comics Journal, where every day he must maintain an in-depth comics blog as well as the online edition of the magazine for subscribers. His attention to detail and critical eye give the journal's blog, Journalista, a unique voice that is essential to comics commentary.
The Comics Journal was created to cover comics from an "arts-first perspective." Has this need been vastly ignored in recent years?
Actually, the Journal kind of fell into its current mission: When Gary Groth and Michael Catron first began publishing the Journal in the mid-1970s, comics were at a creative low ebb, and they imagined the magazine as a sort of muckraking publication aimed at the mainstream comic-book industry. After ten years or so of agitating for creators' rights and better storytelling standards at Marvel and DC Comics, the Journal gradually turned its attention toward the new breed of cartoonists who were bubbling up in various places, cartoonists who told stories that went far beyond the standard expectations of the medium as originally formulated. The graphic-novel revolution was some thirty years in coming into being; as the medium grew up, the Journal focused more on these new works.
Getting to the root of your question: It's not so much that the arts-first perspective has been ignored as that the medium's proponents have split along partisan lines. The superhero set got older and hunkered down against anything that challenged their principles and assumptions, to be sure, but that's become less of a concern as the new breed of graphic novelists has found success outside the "Direct Market" network of comics shops. When Time Magazine declares Alison Bechdel's Fun Home its book of the year and Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan nets its creator the Guardian First Novel Prize, and when publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics find success on bookstore shelves and mainstream publishers like Random House and Doubleday begin snatching up cartoonists who've labored in obscurity for years, does it really matter that the folks at your local Comics Dungeon think that Marjane Satrapi is some hoity-toity flash in the pan, and that America will eventually declare Spider-Man comics to be true literature once these artsy types fall from fashion? We've won the victories we needed to win; let 'em drown in their superhero decadence.
TCJ's daily online presence, Journalista, requires a keen, unfailing eye like many other blogs of its kind. What makes the blog possible on a daily basis?
A living wage, a marathon-runner's sense of endurance and eight-to-ten hours a day, basically. A thick skin and a massive set of bookmarks help, too.
That all makes the job sound less fun than it actually is. In truth, I'm having a blast -- imagine being able to rail against the stupidities of your favorite artform and get paid for it, all from the comfort of your own home. That's what I have! It's a pretty sweet little gig.
One thing a few of us at Bookslut hate the most are the periodic waves of graphic-novels-are-literature-too! articles (see the NYTBR every few weeks...). What do you catch in the news every now and then that makes you want to die?
It's not so much what makes me want to die as what confirms my cynical view of humanity, at this point. I've largely become immune to the endless "Biff! Bang! Pow!" school of comics coverage. What still occasionally crawls under my skin isn't the mainstream press so much as the rah-rah comics-industry press, which still values nostalgia for crap above future possibilities, collectibility above spiritual nourishment, and superheroes -- the One True Genre for far too many -- above all else. These are the values that have by and large driven the general public away from comics shops, and forced everyone who didn't share a belief in these dubious notions to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
What really makes me want to die? The way industry true-believers assume that comics not featuring capes and tights are seen as diversions that "hurt comics," and that different and conflicting senses of aesthetics are some sort of personal attack. I realize that this contradicts the nonchalance that I affected in the last answer, but dammit, comics are more than a single genre and a single mentality, and in a better world, comics shops would reflect that. Kids buy manga hand over fist, but wouldn't set foot in a comic-book shop on a dare, since such places are by and large stuffed with comics for 25/35-year-old men who've read Marvel and DC funnybooks for ten years or more and read like weird mixtures of The Super-Friends and The Sopranos. What galls me is the way the funnybook trade press treats all of this as the best of all possible worlds.
I can live with the New York Times' occasional vacuousness, but if the American funnybook industry's boosters all had one face, I'd keep punching it until someone called the cops and had me hauled away.
What singular contribution to the industry does TCJ make that other publications don't?
The Journal's strength rests in is its omnivorous approach to the artform, and its desire to cover comics with the intelligence and depth that they deserve, in its in-depth interviews -- my conversation with Fate of the Artist author Eddie Campbell in TCJ #273 ran 48 pages – and its engaging and often caustic reviews. Above all else, the Journal's biggest strength is its willingness to make enemies; you can't point out what's wrong with the medium and especially the industry if your desire to be everybody's friend trumps your need to see things improve.
Janice Voss talks to NPR about how Madeleine L'Engle influenced her to become an astronaut.
(We've become strangely Freudian over at Bookslut, what with Jason B. Jones's new column and my reading his essays at the suggestion of a friend. We'll try to throw in some Jung or Piaget [who doesn't love a little genetic epistemology] or someone to balance it out.)
Shalom Auslander has a Bad Sex column at Nerve.
When I was a nine-year-old Orthodox yeshiva student, I found a pile of discarded pornography magazines in the woods behind my house. Compared to the physical world around me — a world of overwhelming religious restriction and suffocating social regulations — the fantasy world of pornography seemed like a parallel, if gooey, version of the Garden of Eden my rabbis had just described to me. Legs were eternally spread, bodies were proudly exposed, heads were thrown back in ecstasy. In porno there was no guilt, no shame, no fear, no anger.
The other day, shortly after reading from my first novel, Mercy, in New York, a sweet looking man came up to me and asked me why the world's largest drug companies should provide millions of dying Africans with affordable AIDS drugs. "They're not Christians, they're not Muslims, they're not religious, period," the man said of the drug companies. And because he was in fact Christ-like in appearance -- meek-eyed, bearded, with a radiant smile -- I took a moment to think.
I’m so sick of all of these cute little old ladies in literature. It doesn’t at all reflect the old women I’ve known. And by old I don’t mean decrepit. My mother said, “When you’ve turned seventy, you’re officially old.” That’s how I use the word old. My grandmother and greataunt were rather puritanical, but they were passionate, and if you got them talking about Paris in the ’20s, they would relive all of those feelings and become these girls who had crushes on boys. They would blush, and their eyes lit up.
Both of these fantastic writers will be reading, along with Phil LaMarche, at our reading series on Wednesday.
Over at the Outfit: A Collective of Chicago Crime Writers, Kevin Guilfoile (Cast of Shadows) is doing a hell of a job following the bizarre murder of Chicago dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet. Hans Peterson reportedly confessed to the police in St. Martin that he murdered Cornbleet because the medication he was prescribed for his acne caused sexual dysfunction. Mayor Daley is currently fighting to get Peterson extradited.
The New York Times looks at what Knopf has passed up:
Jorge Luis Borges (“utterly untranslatable”), Isaac Bashevis Singer (“It’s Poland and the rich Jews again”), Anaïs Nin (“There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic”), Sylvia Plath (“There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice”) and Jack Kerouac (“His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so”).
Fifty years later the NYT will notice Knopf made some mistakes, but not during the best of the year list time. Give them another fifty years, they'll figure out the best fiction isn't necessarily published by the Random House conglomerate.
September 7, 2007
Madeleine L’Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88.
In honor of her Booker nomination, a favorite essay of mine by Anne Enright, from the London Review of Books.
Last year, when she was five, my daughter announced that she was going to become a Muslim.
‘It’s an awful lot of washing,’ I said.
‘Don’t worry, I am able to reach the sink with my feet.’ She went up to her room and stuck six sheets of paper together to make a prayer mat. It was time, I decided, to send her to Catholic Instruction. This is an after-school class that, besides fulfilling her tribal spiritual needs, provides a solid half-hour of free childcare, every Monday.
Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan (who just took over the writing duties at the Buffy comic) chat about all sorts of geekiness at Comic Book Resources.
BKV: When I was in college, I was belittling the woman who later become my wife for not knowing who Boba Fett was, and she responded by asking me if I knew who the Prime Minister of Israel was. Surprisingly? Not Mon Mothma.
- It's not good news that the British schools are embracing Dylan. I'll never hear the end of it from my mother, who is far more expert on Dylan than I am on any poet. John Burnside allows himself to say:
Dylan is valued because more than any other song writer he straddles the gap between the oral tradition and what can be described as more academic or high culture. He puts in literary references from Blake to Ginsberg.
"Puts in" is genius. I eagerly await curriculum based on songs by The Hold Steady, who put in literary references from Blake to Yeats to Berryman. (To be clear, like all right-thinking people I love The Hold Steady.)
- Pure class from Robert Benigni: After a security guard was shot five times by someone trying to get into Benigni's Dante reading, the actor commented that "The poetic greatness is that he did that just to hear Dante . . . . I'm sorry, and I feel for the kid's family, but he did it for poetry, and that's a great thing."
- Robert Archambeau has a particularly good post up about the whole Ashbery-MTVu thing. I'm just disappointed that they didn't pick Muldoon, who is, after all, in a rock band.
- The Grand Piano "is an ongoing experiment in collective autobiography by ten writers identified with Language poetry in San Francisco. The project takes its name from a coffeehouse at 1607 Haight Street, where from 1976 to 1979 the authors took part in a reading and performance series. THE GRAND PIANO's authors are Rae Armantrout, Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Tom Mandel, Ted Pearson, Bob Perelman, Kit Robinson, Ron Silliman, and Barrett Watten."
- From the "ringing defense" department: "Don't blame Bukowski for bad poetry"
- Finally, it's opening week in the NFL, and while baseball and "soccer" have more organized poetic legacies, there are some outlets for your versified bloodlust:
Recent Steeler poems
Packers verses Vikings: A Poetic Perspective, by Carl "Gator" Nelson". It's got an awesome blurb:
This is by no means highbrow, wine-and-brie poetry. Nelson produces rhymes --or near rhymes--geared more toward armchair quarterbacks than aficionados of the poetic arts. But they're fan-friendly and as welcome as a bowl of nuts and a mug of Lite beer at kickoff.
Is it wrong that the Michael Vick poem here is funny?
September 6, 2007
This is going to get expensive for me, I can tell already. (Thanks to Jennifer for the link.)
A Polish pulp fiction writer was sentenced to 25 years in jail yesterday for his role in a grisly case of abduction, torture and murder, a crime that he then used for the plot of a bestselling thriller.
Because it's hard for me to summon any more "critical distance" toward On the Road than I can toward the shape of my own face or the smell of my own sweat, I can't imagine what it must have been like to read the book for the first time as a literate, alert, discerning grown-up who understands how novels work in general and how this one (which, for me, at least, isn't even a novel anymore, but something that feels more natural and less "made," like a place or a human body or a mood) operates in particular.
What I'm saying, I guess, is the best that I can do here is describe what happens to me—neurologically, intellectually, and (per its author's intentions) spiritually—each time the book comes over me again.
Oh please, please make it stop. Can the On the Road anniversary be over now, so I no longer have to read about 50-year-old men all nostalgic for that one time they hitchhiked and how freeing it was? Let's just watch the Kerouac episode of Quantum Leap and leave the celebrating there.
Rolf Potts (Vagabonding) was once compared to Kerouac. He's not sure if he should be worried about that comparison. After all, "'On the Road' stands out as a startlingly bad blueprint for travel."
Also at World Hum: Frank Bures talks to Klara Glowczewska about being Ryszard Kapuscinski's translator.
In case you need some reading suggestions for the fall, I'm recommending the new Dan Rhodes, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet anthology, Michael Sims, Lara Santoro, and Katherine Arnoldi over at the NBCC blog.
September 5, 2007
Golden Age Comic Book Stories has some incredible Harry Clarke illustrations for Goethe's Faust.
It's nice to come home to a new Shalom Auslander column.
I purchase more novels than I can possibly write off as expenses (trust me, I've tried), and put most of them down before I'm a third of the way through. Call it laziness if you like. I call it prudence: I can only kill myself once, and I'd like the book that makes me do so to be really worth it. I've read enough of them through, though, to know that if there's a baby, it will die. If there's a dog, it will be shot. A heart, broken. A family, torn apart. A city, demolished. A tire, flattened. A toe, stubbed. A nail, bent. A cup of tea, spilled. But cathartic, always cathartic.
Note to self: It's not actually possible to put together a new issue of Bookslut over a weekend. Especially when you're still in that weird insomnia zone after a trip, when you really, really want to be awake at 4 a.m. no matter what you do. So the new issue was a day late, but look at how pretty.
This month we introduce two new columns: Culinaria Bookslut, which is pretty much what it sounds like; and PsychoSlut, which hopefully is not. For Culinaria, Melissa Lion tackles French cuisine in a trailer, disappointed that she could not find rolled calf's head for her first experiment. And in PsychoSlut, Jason B. Jones, also known as Bookslut's poetry blogger and reviewer, will be rereading The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud one volume at a time. Note that "rereading" bit there.
In features, Delia Jarrett-Macauley, author of Moses, Citizen, and Me returns to Sierra Leone after 30 years away and writes about seeing the country that she has been writing about since she left. In Judging a Book by Its Cover, Heather Smith goes from wizards to unicorns, chronicling the changing artwork for Narnia. We also have interviews with Junot Diaz, RN Morris, Jim Shepard, and more.
September 4, 2007
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Nicole Steinberg
After a short hiatus, the Heartthrob Series is back with Nicole Steinberg. Nicole is the Associate Editor at BOMB Magazine as well as the founder, curator and host of the Brooklyn reading series Earshot. She is also the current Co-Editor of LIT Magazine, which is run out of The New School.
How did you become involved with BOMB? What makes it different from working with other publications?
I started in late 2004 and I mainly assisted the marketing and circulation directors, but in the time that followed, I took on more duties in other areas and came to my current position as Associate Editor. Working at BOMB is a unique experience because it's such a small staff and everyone works with each other. Each staff member works in different capacities with different aspects of the magazine, but we all leave our individual marks. Every day, I go into work and have to be prepared to tackle something different, whether it's proofreading an interview, writing a press release for a BOMB event, doing research for future issues, or talking to subscribers. Everyone is invested in the magazine's success, in putting a copy of the magazine in a person's hand. Oh, and whenever someone goes out for coffee, they offer to get some for everyone else, which is pretty neat. Future BOMB interns take note: most times, we'll offer to get you coffee.
What do you look for in an artist interview? What must the subject possess in order to gel with the magazine's philosophy?
Obviously, the work has to be good. If we can appreciate the quality of an artist's work and his/her contribution to the art world, literature world, etc, then we'll also be interested in his/her process. That's the main focus of our interviews: to pair artists together who can speak openly about the artistic process and the experience of making art in today's world. BOMB walks a fine line between high art and accessible art. We seek out those great artistic voices that remain under the radar, sometimes inexplicably; the magazine's overall goals are to strike a balance between emerging and established artists, and to represent the unfairly under-represented. We'll often pair famous artists with ones who are lesser known; for example, our upcoming Fall issue features an interview between celebrated artist David Shrigley and R. Stevie Moore, a musician who's made 400 albums over the past 40 years, yet whose work and presence remains largely obscure. BOMB also acknowledges the great talents of our time; in our 25th anniversary year, each issue featured interviews under the heading of "Living Legends," which included artists such as Paula Fox, Tacita Dean, and Lynne Tillman.
In short, we look for talent, expression, and a certain amount of wisdom. That's why the interviews remain so fresh and interesting in every issue: the artists we choose actually have something to say! You'll never see one of those interviews where the person dances around in circles without ever saying something of substance. That's why BOMB interviews are so vital and important; they're cultural documents.
BOMB is entering its 26th year. How has it stayed strong over the years?
We look to a lot of sources for support. In terms of content, BOMB has an incredibly strong editorial board of artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers who all contribute their ideas and give us a huge amount of inspiration and information. We rely heavily on them because we can only stay on top of so much that's going on in all the fields we cover. Also, they're the best people to ask, since they're the ones who are out there, working with these talents. We have a fantastic board of directors and various BOMB donors, who provide greatly appreciated financial support and keep us alive. In our current climate, it's difficult for an arts-focused publication of any kind to survive, let alone a not-for-profit. Subscribers are key; we love our subscribers! They provide both financial support and the word-of-mouth that keeps BOMB growing.
Also, this might go without saying, but we have an amazingly dedicated and talented staff. I'm lucky to work with them all, especially Betsy Sussler, our editor-in-chief and publisher. She founded BOMB in 1981 and hasn't stopped working for a second since.
What kind of problems does a not-for-profit publication regularly face?
Oh…a lack of money, mostly. Again, we depend highly on our subscribers, and in order to attract subscribers, we do our best to get the magazine out there and spread the word. We have a BOMB Print Club, which gives art collectors a chance to purchase limited edition prints by the artists we cover. Our marketing efforts range from an annual spring benefit gala and silent auction to public programming that includes readings, parties, and BOMBLive! events (live interviews). BOMB also continually joins forces with other like-minded organizations. BOMB is a member of the Legion of Lit Mags, alongside other lit mags such as Swink and Tin House, and we've sponsored programming with New York cultural institutions such as The Kitchen, The Japan Society, The New School, and the Brooklyn Public Library, to name a few. These events aren't so much problematic as they are fun and exciting; they give us a great opportunity to meet supporters of the arts and make new friends. And the more BOMB lovers out there, the better. The magazine only improves with the more support we receive.
I found myself in a conversation about Irvine Welsh recently, and I admitted the only book of his I could finish was Trainspotting. "I think I'm just too wholesome for the gritty, drugged out urban books. I'm from Kansas for god's sake." A week later I started reading Mia Gallagher's Hellfire, which has all of those elements I thought I was done with: lost youth, drug use, street gangs. But her writing has such charm, such lift, I could not put it down. (Dear American Publishers: Someone buy it, please.)
The Cuirt Annual has an excerpt from Mia Gallagher's next work, Kinder.
"Reading is for poufs and pinkos."
In the 1990s I did a reading in New York City at an Irish club near the Museum of Modern Art. It smelled of money. I read from How Late It Was, How Late. A few individuals in the audience hated it, they really hated it, and harrumphed, coughed and spluttered throughout. Afterwards I heard one of the harrumphing elderly men say to his female partner, Kelman is not even a Scottish name, it is Jewish.
A new survey compiled by the hotel chain Travelodge has The Blair Years topping the list of literary works most often left behind in hotel rooms.
They talk like this is a bad thing, an insult. I always pack books I will feel okay about abandoning wherever I finish reading them -- coffeeshops, airplanes, hotel rooms... I left Varieties of Religious Experience in a bus station in Puerto Madryn. In an Italian cafe in Dublin I abandoned (a slightly sticky with frangipani) Elizabeth Bowen's To the North. I haven't the slightest idea what will happen to those books, whether they'll be picked up or trashed or maybe read. All I know is now I have more room in my suitcase and can justify buying a stack of books not published in the States.
I was wrong, one thing did happen on that last week of August: Augusten Burroughs settled with the Turcotte family and his memoir Running with Scissors will now be classified as a "book" instead of a memoir.
I had various reservations about the US cover, and told my publishers so. As you write, I was worried it would make people think Inglorious was 'chick-lit'. I also feared it would alienate potential male readers who might have read "The Ice Museum." I wrote "Inglorious" for men and women, and as I wrote in my Times piece, I think it's hard enough to persuade men to read fiction by women without putting a woman in strappy sandals on the cover. (At one point I even begged my publishers to replace the sandals with big boots...)
September 3, 2007
A few house cleaning announcements for a holiday morning:
Bookslut has need for a fall intern. Those in Chicago who need college credit or get perverse pleasure from sorting books should e-mail me.
We could also use an influx of feature writers. And we're still taking column pitches.
Over at Maud Newton's site I have written a little ode to my favorite bookstore in Dublin, the Winding Stair. I forgot to mention the other great thing about the store, the fact that upstairs is a restaurant where you can order organic pork and seaweed sausages with onion gravy and chive mash. It was so good I wanted to lick my plate.
After taking a month off, our reading series returns September 12 with Kate Christensen, Phil LaMarche, and Lara Santoro. And speaking of the series, Stop Smiling has pictures from our June 27th event with Austin Grossman, Nick Bertozzi, and Paul Hornschemeier. It includes what appears to be a promotional picture of a new sitcom starring Jessa Crispin from Bookslut and Fred Sasaki from the Poetry Foundation as two co-workers who think they hate each other but are really in looooove. I have no idea what we were discussing at that moment, but the picture makes me very happy.
Okay, that's enough, I think I'm supposed to grill something today.