December 21, 2007
All that's really left on the Internets are lists of authors that died, bad Best of the Year lists, and YouTube videos of pandas. So I'll leave you with the best way to get through the holidays -- alcoholic drinks inspired by Charles Dickens novels -- and see you in the new year.
December 20, 2007
Next week, the Modern Language Association convention comes to Chicago. Beyond the hordes of panelists and wracked interviewees, this means Chicagoland can expect two things: First, the Tribune will doubtless trot out that old chestnut, the article making fun of cherrypicked titles from the conference program. Second, and much more interesting, is the not-officially-related-but-still-somewhat-traditional Poetry Marathon at 7pm next Friday, 28 December, at the ballroom in the School of the Art Institute. Robert Archambeau has all the details, including the mammoth list of readers, here and here. (Also see the concerns raised by Francisco Aragón here.)
While I can see the logistical advantages of having such a marathon at MLA, I do sometimes wonder about the extent to which literature professors who aren't either poets or specialists in contemporary literature read much contemporary poetry beyond the highest-profile names. At Eyewear, Todd Swift argues that, in general, there is a "failure of interest in poetry in our time," and that "The fact that poetry does not interest most people suggests most people are no longer interesting."
Via Ron Silliman, Eclipse is "a free on-line archive focusing on digital facsimiles of the most radical small-press writing from the last quarter century."
The Poetry Foundation's blog has been promulgating lists of poetry all week, including staff picks, contributor picks, and, for that hard-to-shop-for loved one, Christian Bök's "Five Avant-Garde Canadians of 2007." (That last would've been useful for the woman I overheard at Borders today complaining loudly into her cellphone about how hard it is to buy a millionaire a present. Perhaps she could have taken up Tao Lin's exciting pre-order offer.)
Finally, a clip from YouTube: Tuli Kupferberg (The Fugs) discusses the band's history, poetry in the 60s, and much else.
I wasn't going to link to this book proposal that's been online for a while, but then I read this:
Indeed, sir. I thought you all needed to know that, too. (Link from Jezebel.)
God knows we’ve progressed in so many ways, but even though women are the clear majority of readers, we still, apparently, allegedly, don’t like our female protagonists to have faults—any of real consequence, anyway. Honest memoirs about real women’s real sexual adventures (like Cindy Guidry’s forthcoming “The Last Single Woman in America” ) are dinged as “tawdry” in some reviews. Meanwhile zaftig-narrator-confronts-minor-problems books have pretty much formed their own subgenre of chicklit because, of course, overweight=relatable flaw that women can handle.
Last night it was time for another round of pancake make up and waterproof mascara to go on Chicago Tonight and talk about books. Over at the website there is no video (mercifully), but instead a list of ten books... that I liked since last time I was on Chicago Tonight. And anyone know how to remove television grade waterproof mascara? Various soaps did not work, so I'm thinking of trying gasoline next.
December 19, 2007
I am way behind on my Atlantics. Ever since Langewiesche went to Vanity Fair, there are fewer and fewer reasons to pick it up. Oh, you mean I can read another Caitlin Flanagan essay that starts off sane and witty and then veers off a cliff into sheer crazy? Hooray. So it took me a while to find Jon Zobenica's examination of how this:
Yes, however paradoxical it may appear, I developed a respect toward women in part by reading Playboy as a young male. What’s more, I developed an interest in women that went beyond the sum of their anatomical parts, and did so at first out of sheer boyish faith in that supposedly bogus Playboy lifestyle. During my countless sequestrations with the magazine, I took in not only the powdered limbs and bedroom eyes but also the general atmosphere of adult men engaging with adult women.
turned into this:
The laddies at Maxim, Stuff, and FHM take every opportunity to nudge readers, with eyebrows dancing, and ask (actually shout), “Aren’t we just so naughty?!” Which can only be answered, “Not really.” To open these magazines is to walk into a teenage boy’s room: the air scented with dirty socks and the contents of wadded-up Kleenex; the walls decorated with pictures of swimsuit models and he-man athletes and sports cars; the desk barely visible under piles of video-game cartridges, action figures, and forgotten junk food; and all of it colored by the boy’s glee in knowing it exasperates Mom. In fact, that phantom mom (or equivalent mother figure) is just about the only palpable female presence in these magazines.
December 18, 2007
Dear Chicago Tribune,
Listing every single book you read this year isn't really a best of list, especially when you can't even be bothered to label the books as fiction, nonfiction, whatever. And I have no idea what an "American Pie" book is supposed to be. Please try again next year.
Salon interviews John Haught about his new book God and the New Atheism, which I now want to read based on the title alone. The interview makes me want to read the book now.
Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus would have cringed at "the new atheism" because they would see it as dropping God like Santa Claus, and going on with the same old values. The new atheists don't want to think out the implications of a complete absence of deity. Nietzsche, as well as Sartre and Camus, all expressed it quite correctly. The implications should be nihilism.
Back when I was 19 and an idiot, I was very swoony for Glenn Gould. Not as swoony as the girl I knew in Canada who went to his grave and wept, saying she had no hope for love because only Glenn Gould would ever really be able to understand her, but still about as swoony as some girls got over Morrissey. (Never understood that one, myself.) And let's not think about the fact that I've switched my dead guy crush from Gould to William James, who was also not in the best of health, but at least he didn't have the weird scarf thing. But back then, I read Kevin Bazzana's Glenn Gould and was in love. Now Bazzana is writing about another tragic musical genius in his book Lost Genius and I'm fascinated, but not in a dorky lovelorn kind of way. I'll save that for the letters of William James. Michael Dirda reviewed Lost Genius for the Washington Post.
December 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: Casey McKinney
Casey McKinney is the Founding Editor of Fanzine, a "general culture" webzine that was launched in August 2005. Now, I had a sort of ulterior motive in choosing McKinney as this week's Heartthrob. Yes, by all means, he satisfies the Heartthrob requirements in every which way (What are they, one might ask? Wouldn't you like to know...), but he can also answer or at least point to an answer to a very specific question I've had on my mind: How do you go about starting a webzine? More specifically, what if you're going about blindly like a flopping fish out of water without direction? McKinney shares his experience in starting Fanzine, the obstacles he's run into, and how he has stayed afloat after two years.
Meanwhile I'm trying to soak in everything posted below while I try not to royally destroy Thimble Zine before it's even started.... Enjoy!
What were you doing before Fanzine?
(Taking advice to be serious here...) I can only say I’ve have had the good fortune to meet a lot of great writers when I was quite young, and most have remained mentors. I’ve followed the lead of writers I admire, and many of those have done their own zines...people like Dennis Cooper and his Little Caesar, Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy with their poetry zine Mirage Periodical #4, Benjamin Weissman’s Snowflake. There’s also the friends of my generation like Trinie Dalton with all her themed zines about unicorns and werewolves and such. Her husband Matt Greene also helped me a lot when I got started, teaching me photoshop and Indesign, etc. I’m no spring chicken, yet I feel like I’m just getting started. I’ve tried on a lot of different hats, working construction, teaching school, delivering ice (a very cool job...haha...hit the high hat please). I guess maybe the most germane thing is that I decided to go back and get a masters in journalism at UC Berkeley a few years back. That’s where I met Mike Louie, Fanzine’s cofounder. It’s also where I figured out that I had never really done journalism, even though I’ve been publishing since I was 19. There was quite a lot of press going on then about Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass and so on and a lot paranoia I think about the state of the media in general, so coming into J-school thinking David Foster Wallace and Hunter Thompson are journalistic heroes, well you basically had to forget about all that for two years, zip your lips a bit, and learn the basics. Thankfully though, I had the privilege to be taught by editing icon Clay Felker just before he retired. He had been really sick with cancer and it was amazing to see his earnest regard for passing on the art of literary journalism, which I think is one of America’s greatest arts, though probably the least recognized. I could go on and on about this subject, from Walt Whitman reporting on the Civil War, on through the days of yellow journalism in the wild west, to Hemingway and Lillian Ross (and Ross on Hemingway), Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe, their amazing “new journalism” profiles of people like Sinatra and Phil Spector. Mike and I took a couple of classes with Felker in which we made magazines from scratch. And we got into a lot of arguments about how to go about doing them conceptually, especially when it came to the design. I think perhaps that is where the seeds of Fanzine were planted, wanting to do something in the tradition that Clay had started back in the early days of New York Magazine and the Village Voice, but done in a modern, accessible way.
I should also mention I interned with McSweeney’s and The Believer during this time spent in the Bay Area. The Believer had just started then, and it was and is, as far as what we do, very inspiring. I think I had to move to New York (after getting run over by a motorcycle...a long story) in fact to kind of shake that influence a bit, or not feel so overwhelmed by all that was happening there on Valencia street that I wouldn’t continue in publishing myself. And New York is just such a huge place that it seems easier to get something like Fanzine going under the radar without being too influenced by everything going on around you...does make sense? And I think there needs to be more intelligent outlets like The Believer out there, and less TMZs and Gawkers popping up everywhere.
How did the webzine start out? Did you know what direction you were going for beforehand, or did that reveal itself as you went along?
I got an email from this nice woman in Spain, Adela Leconte, about a magazine festival in Barcelona, the CMYK fest, and she asked if I would attend based on some vague knowledge of these other print zines I’d put together––Mall Punk and Animal Stories. She wanted me to show those at the festival. She was even quite interested in this one magazine that never really existed, which was called Ghost Stories. I mean we did do an art show for Ghost Stories, and all the written material had been gathered too, but we never printed it unfortunately. I think if you hunt around though, you can see that most of that material showed up in other places, other books and whatnot. Anyway, she, Adela, didn’t realize that these magazines (the two that weren’t ghosts) were only done one issue each (both around the year 2000), in runs of 500, and that I only had a handful of personal copies left. The other magazines at this event were mostly pretty big, glossy, regularly printed magazines, with ads in them––magazines like Index and so on.
So I had tell her what was up, and that I had this other idea, Fanzine. You see, my other zines had been so theme specific that they were hard to put together, to find material that fit. It often seemed like trying to put round pegs in square holes. I’ve seen one magazine spring up since I did those that has done this very successfully, and that’s Stop Smiling. Big kudos to those guys, because I know how hard it is to do that (to do a whole magazine framed around a subject such as boxing for example, and then completely shift gears on a new topic for next month).
So Fanzine’s theme is basically, in contrast, themeless. It’s about anything and everything pretty much.
What is Fanzine's mission as a webzine?
First and foremost we want to stick around. We’d maybe like to double the output that we do currently, so that there is a new full feature roughly every other day. I guess we’d like to be somewhere in the ball park of being like the distant weirdo 3rd cousin of say Slate?
I understand the zine will start selling adspace soon. Is it difficult staying afloat as a not-for-profit? What kinds of resources has it been running on through his point?
Yeah it’s incredibly difficult. I’m often physically strained worrying about it. We tried to get our 501C3 status and Albany keeps stalling on the paperwork, so in the meantime we have been working on a redesign behind the scenes that will allow for advertising. I mean we have an eclectic readership I am sure, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be advertised to, or summed up as a kind of demographic? And I think our readers are smart enough not be offended to hear me say that. Let’s be realistic... I mean Hustler has a particular audience, and they do just fine... Maybe we just need to do more stuff about porn...Brandon where are you man, I need that next porn column toute-de-suite! We want to keep the design clean, and the ads will be clear, but not too distracting (that is––I hope so...we’re still waiting on the guys in Europe to finish with the design and programming). As for where the money is coming from now? I have to say honestly, currently, thank you mom and Mastercard. And well, mom’s about had it, and the Mastercard is nearly maxed, so we really need ads soon, or some George Soros type benefactor to swoop in soon and help us out. I’ve done pretty good with some investing myself, but currently that’s not outpacing our debt. So if anyone is out there listening and thinking... partners? I’m all ears.
What do you think makes Fanzine stand apart from other webzines? Where do you see it going in the near future?
Well it’s been coming together lately. Mostly because we decided to bite the bullet and go for it, take on a lot of debt, do the things necessary to run a magazine in a real way and not as some kind of vanity side project. Hiring Ben Strong as another editor has been a huge boon, helping Mike and I stay sane. He’s brought with him some great ideas and great people like Jaime Clarke who graciously hosts our Talk Show feature pro bono. Also my finding Danny Jock a few months back to do regular illustrations has helped...Danny’s really given us a “look.” I joke about debt, but we are growing at about the only pace we can afford right now. I’d love to be able to pay people better for what they contribute. Get to where Danny and Mike and Ben could quit their day jobs and start doing this all in the same office (if they chose to of course). I wish I could pay Tim and Yvonne and Nicoletta for their help too.
I think this is all doable, and you’ll see when we switch over to the new design. Our events listings will become more competitive with say Flavorpill or the Voice, and we will have a blog too (which could be the bane of my existence, keeping that up). Anyway, I think what has made us successful so far, is that we are honestly grass roots, and that people are pleasantly surprised when they stumble upon it––that they see we do all this stuff without being commercially oriented. Still there is no reason why, when we are putting out such good, intellectually valuable and informative content, that we shouldn’t profit like other web magazines do––Pitchfork, Flavorpill etc... We refuse to turn into a PR firm, but we aren’t anti-capitalist by any means. Writers get shit on every which-a-way these days unless they start writing “copy.” I know, I’ve been out there free-lancing. It’s extremely difficult to do it and pay rent, and I think it’s a rotten shame how little we pay currently, but that’s all really beyond my means right now. Most people are writing for us now because they know that we respect their work.We’ll see what happens... but I have faith.
PS- We are also starting an imprint, Fanzine Press, and should have our first offering by February 2008, which will be a limited, numbered edition of Dennis Cooper’s The Weaklings, a new book of poetry, with accompanying art by Jarrod Anderson. We are looking currently to add new new projects to the imprint as well. For more info on the press or to register in advance for a copy of The Weaklings please write to email@example.com. These will likely go fast...
Online retailer Amazon has admitted it was the mystery bidder which paid a record £1.95 million at auction for a unique book by Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
Bidding for "The Tales of Beedle the Bard", of which there are only seven copies in existence, was frenetic at Sotheby's on Thursday and experts were shocked at the huge winning bid for the book, which had been expected to sell for £50,000.
I don't like "graphic novel." It's a word that publishers created for the bourgeois to read comics without feeling bad.
I'm looking forward to the new round of Marjane Satrapi interviews in promotion of Persepolis.
Michael Pollan has a new book about food called In Defense of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating. Whether this one will cause my friend to describe the shady origins of everything I'm putting in my mouth and moan that he just can't eat anything anymore, we'll see. Either way, please don't let him see Pollan's New York Times article about our unsustainable agricultural system. He'll give up all of his possessions and go to live up with Farmer John and I'll never hear from him again.
Contrary to the rumors I have been trying to spread for some time, Disney Princess products are not contaminated with lead. More careful analysis shows that the entire product line--books, DVDs, ball gowns, necklaces, toy cell phones, toothbrush holders, T-shirts, lunch boxes, backpacks, wallpaper, sheets, stickers etc.--is saturated with a particularly potent time-release form of the date rape drug.
We cannot blame China this time, because the drug is in the concept.
December 14, 2007
Nancy Redd, author of Body Drama, is interviewed at New York Magazine.
So what did the Craigslist ad say?
It said, "Come show your vagina for a good cause." We ended up shooting about 50. We wanted a variety of colors and shapes, hair and without hair. We concocted this table in a photo studio like you'd have at the gyno — a clean, sterile table with disposable paper. I paid $50 a vulva.
Yeah, like you're not going to go see what the rest of that interview is after that.
Speaking of So New Media, they published Amy Guth's book Three Fallen Women. Ninth Letter has a video interview with Amy, who is super pretty and can drink me under a table, and she reads from her book and explains the bloody cover.
I don't know how I missed this the first time around, but James Stegall -- former Bookslut contributor, publisher of So New Media -- has an essay about the pornography of regret, the Lands End catalog.
You have to look closer to see what truly makes the models special, though, what elevates them above Victoria's Secret: they have wrinkles around their eyes. These women have laugh lines, taut necks, and that slight tummy that can be so, so sexy. These are not the airbrushed dolls of ignorant fantasy. These women are real.
And their eyes: Is it pain in their eyes? Are there any illusions left there — about life, about men?
Julie Doucet turned her back on comics a few years back, yet her 2006 book My Most Secret Desire was one of my favorite comics last year, and her new book 365 Days is one of favorites for this year. If this is retirement from comics, I guess that's okay with me. She has a brief interview at the Walrus about leaving comics (she announced it in 1999, and people are still asking about it; obviously comics is not the same without her), her new book, and an exhibition of her artwork.
December 13, 2007
A conversation with Kathryn Maris
Connecticut is an
icy hell winter wonderland today, so I am particularly glad to be able to bring you this short interview with Kathryn Maris. (With links to poems or video/audio of the various British poets she mentions. After all, it's the holidays . . . .)
Maris's The Book of Jobs was the first book I reviewed for Bookslut. It's a rich, interesting collection, one that still holds up for me a year later--and not only thanks to its interest in psychoanalysis.
Did Columbia have a book of jobs? Did you find anything there? (I found a job at Northwestern's career center this way--a $15,000/year job as an assistant at a library. *After* my MA. It turns out an MA in English is less immediately lucrative than one might imagine. Although, the job did let me pay for my monthly subway pass over 2 paychecks, which was a plus.)
In the mid nineties Columbia had a Career Services Office with shelves of black binders that were, literally, “books of jobs”. They listed hundreds of low-paying positions that were inevitably filled before you sent your CV. There was a recession at the time, and jobs were scarce for recent college graduates, especially humanities majors, and especially in the field that interested me, the art world. So I decided to become an artists’ model as it seemed the closest I’d ever get to working around art. I was surprised to discover I was good at it. I got asked to pose a lot, and worked long hours, and weekends too. And though it was tiring, I look back on it as a happy time, because it was during those hours of stillness that I began to shape in my mind some of the poems that would later appear in The Book of Jobs.
The title of poem of The Book of Jobs has a great phrase about the problem with adults: We are "bloated with identity." Do you see poems as offering a kind of relief for this state? How would that work? (Did I just call poetry a diuretic?)
The phrase “we are bloated with identity” comes at the end of one of the earliest poems in the collection “After Visiting The Job Books.” But though it was one of the first poems I started, it was possibly the last poem I finished. And that’s because it was only after I got married and had children that I understood the downside of identity and responsibility—the way that you can feel like you might explode with all you must be: wife, mother, daughter, friend, writer, teacher—or whatever your identity happens to be.
As for poetry providing relief from that: poetry, for me, provides relief from uncomfortable psychological states in general.
In "The Waiter," you admire his "art of perceiving want / even before its germination. And after: assisting its gestation, / owning the want, delivering it." That struck me as a shrewd self-reading: The poems here frequently recognize subtle wants that may be quite common, but also unformulated. How do you see the relationship between poetry & desire?
The earliest poems in the collection tend to be narratives about idealized workers. “The Waiter” is one of them. The waiter in this poem is an archetype of “waiter”—he perceives desire before it is spoken or even recognized. And there’s something dangerous about that. In fact, there’s a suggestion at the end that a rape will occur, when his own desire becomes conflated with the speaker’s. Although desire is discussed in that particular poem, I don’t see a more general connection between poetry and desire.
The Book of Jobs is, one might say, a responsible book of poems. You disavow linguistic pyrotechnics, emphasizing instead your practice. There's even a poem called "Work Horse." That seemed really appealing to me--these are poems that seemed to strike home, in a way.
I like my poems to be spare because I have an unshakeable paranoia that I’m boring, so I compensate by avoiding wordiness. But at the same time the poems are powered (I hope) by a degree of wit, and probably some eccentricity too. “Work Horse” is a particularly spare poem, because it’s a cruel poem, the cruelest poem I’ve ever written. So it’s direct, barbed and terse.
The psychoanalytic idea of transference, wherein a relationship from our past stands in for one in the present, recurs frequently in this collection. What's appealing about this concept? Have you read around in Freud?
I’m extremely interested in Freud. A close friend of my parents was a psychiatrist. He lived with us briefly when I was a teenager, and introduced me to Freud’s ideas. When he moved out, he gave me one of his old books: The Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis (ed. Ludwig Eidelberg, MD, 1968). It was huge—and terribly dated—but I read the whole thing. Then in college I read quite a bit of Freud, mainly out of curiosity. I continue to be interested in psychology and psychoanalysis, but I read popular rather than academic books. I like the work of the English psychotherapist-writer Adam Phillips, who discusses Freud a lot. (Phillips, whom I’ve never met, makes an appearance in one of my new poems.) As for “transference” as an idea: yes it affects the way I view the world. The concept appeals to me because it seems true.
You've been dividing your time between London & New York for quite some time now. How has that transatlantic perspective informed your poetry? Perhaps alternatively, has the advent of easy online publishing flattened the distinctions among the various Anglophone traditions?
The Irish poet Maurice Riordan and I co-wrote an essay for AGNI about the divide between British and American poetry. There is very little crossover; the two poetic cultures are in something like hermetic co-existence. How many contemporary British poets can you name off the top of your head? And how many Irish poets have you read, excluding those who live and teach in the States, like Muldoon, Grennan, Boland and Heaney? And just as Americans know relatively few British and Irish poets, British readers tend only to know American poets published in the UK like Jorie Graham, John Ashbery, Louise Gluck, Mark Doty, Jane Hirshfield, C.K. Williams, and a few others. So when I moved to London, I felt like I’d landed in a parallel universe. I had to read a lot in order to catch up. And as I read, I started to discover how different the aesthetics are. It’s hard to say exactly how they’re different, but in general I find British poetry more wedded to the Anglo-Saxon tradition than American poetry. The iambic pentameter line is still more prevalent in the UK—it’s almost the norm rather than the exception, or at least it feels that way. And UK poets never seem to get bored of sonnets, and nor do judges of the many poetry competitions that run here.
British and Irish poetry is extremely interesting at the moment. I gather that in the 80s poetry was in a bit of a slump here, and that writing in America was more energetic. But things in the UK started to revitalize in the 1990’s with the so-called New Generation poets, and things just keeps getting more exciting, in some ways more exciting than what I read in the US. A poet like Alice Oswald (published by Faber and Faber) is as far as I’m concerned one of the most important voices in the English language right now. I also have great admiration for Jamie McKendrick, Neil Rollinson, Maurice Riordan, Michael Symmons Roberts and Sasha Dugdale (among many others); and for poets who veer towards the “performance” end of the spectrum like John Agard and Rhian Edwards.
As for websites: I suppose one place to start might be the website for Poetry London magazine, which regularly publishes major British, Irish, and American poets. And subscribing to a magazine such as that one, or Poetry Review, would be even better.
Can you talk about your current or next writing project?
I’m working on a second collection, which attempts to be larger in content and scope than The Book of Jobs. I use a term called “God” in a lot of these poems. The God poems are sometimes quite serious but sometimes parodic. Sometimes “God” is a direct analogy for something in the world, like an idealized man; at other times it’s a stand-in for mysterious aspects of the universe. I’ve also become interested in the ideas of an Oxford-based particle physicist called Frank Close, with whom I’m collaborating on a poem for an astrophysics anthology. His books Lucifer’s Legacy (about asymmetry in the universe), and The Void (about nothingness) have inspired my most recent poems.
I really wanted Daring Book for Girls to be written by some of the Sister Spit women, perhaps Michelle Tea and Eileen Myles. More instruction on setting fires, less on pressing flowers. The authors are interviewed at NPR about how nice it is that children no longer have to work in factories. Also how to whistle. (Must be listened to anyway, just for the host's shocked "That's right. GIRLS!")
The author has published a statement on a website calling the diagnosis "an embuggerance". Pratchett, who is 59, says that he is taking the news "fairly philosophically" and "possibly with mild optimism". He adds that the statement, posted yesterday on the website of his illustrator Paul Kidby, "should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'" and says that he expects to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments.
Martha Stewart is trying really hard to blame the folding of her magazine Blueprint on anything other than the quality of the magazine itself. And, in an attempt to sell out the last issue, she's claiming it will become a collector's item. Over at Huffington Post, you can watch her spin her way out of a bad situation.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the Jezebel girls examine an issue and explain why the magazine had to go.
Glass ceilings weren't meant to be broken this holiday season! At least not when they are decorated with pretty pink chandeliers tied with satiny bows and topped with "cafe au lait" candles! Luckily (since you are never going to make as much money as your male peers!) this chandelier is modestly priced at $15 and the crystal ornaments are $3-$5 each!
(Okay, I admit it. All I did during my days off was read Jezebel and watch Jimmy Stewart movies.)
I don't know if you should take cookbook recommendations from chefs. They pretend like normal people's attempts to follow recipes in Zuni Cafe Cookbook or French Laundry Cookbook will end in anything other than uncontrollable weeping, a panic attack, or an oven that greets you with shooting flames that burn off your eyebrows. Damn you, Keller! Do yourself a favor and buy Patricia Wells's Bistro Cooking. Everything is foolproof, and calls for half a bottle of wine -- the other half you can drink while cooking and still come out with something edible. Or you'll be too drunk to care. It's a win-win!
Joshua Cohen reappraises author Viktor Shklovsky -- whose books are currently being reprinted by Dalkey Archive Press -- at Forward.
No, I did not choke on my own vomit reading best of the year lists, although I did come close reading Carolyn See's review of Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom's Bella Abzug: An Oral History. Between this review and her review of Porochista Khakpour's Sons and Other Flammable Objects, it's a wonder they let her review any books by women.
Betty Friedan ruined a Super Bowl party in my very own home by wearing a black leather miniskirt and swinging her (not bad) legs clad in fishnet stockings back and forth in front of the TV screen so that nobody could see the plays. She radicalized a sizable bunch of neutral men into committed anti-feminists that day.
Those crazy ladies!
December 12, 2007
Next on my reading list? Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen, who is profiled here and here. Marty Riker, who I met way back when we were both living in Chicago, also interviewed Verhaeghen for last month's Bookslut. As the SF Chronicle puts it: "'Omega Minor' has layers of narrative (and quite a bit of sex)." Perfect winter reading.
Meanwhile, over at TIME, they could only find three women to include on their "Top Ten Fiction" list (predictably, J.K. Rowling; and, somewhat annoyingly: Miranda July. And, Lionel Shriver).
The Los Angeles Times posted their Favorite Books of 2007, but what is interesting about their round-up are the essays that accompany them. Like this one, written by a woman who stumbled across Klickitat Street. (I once met a girl who named her cat "Picky-picky." I was mildly amused). Actually, the essay is a bit earnest, but I just wanted an excuse to write a post with "Klickitat" in it. And if you know not of what I speak, then: you led a childhood of unforgivable deprivation, and I pity you.
Recently, Eric at Rain Taxi was telling me about his friend, a philosopher, who pencils "time to think" in his datebook, as in "Meet for coffee? Sure, Wednesday might be good...let me see here.. .wait, no: I have to think from 2 -6." It turns out, though, that there is a new movement in philosophy; now, philosophers actually have to gather data.
It’s part of a recent movement known as “experimental philosophy,” which has rudely challenged the way professional philosophers like to think of themselves. Not only are philosophers unaccustomed to gathering data; many have also come to define themselves by their disinclination to do so.
December is in full, snowy bloom, and the new issue of Bookslut is chock full of delights (sort-of like turkish delights, actually, but the way you imagined they would taste when you were a kid reading C.S. Lewis [which is: delicious], and not the way turkish delights actually taste [which is: gross]).
To wit: Colleen Mondor offers a literary cabinet of wonders just in time for holiday shopping; Elizabeth Bachner reviews the new Michelle Tea book; Shaun Manning considers the "self-righteous bastards" in Irvine Welsh's new story collection; and Clayton Moore seriously considers book burning. Meanwhile, Melissa Lion embeds a private message to Ice-T before discussing the gang-like rivalry between Gourmet and Bon Appetit; and Angela Stubbs talks to Steve Erickson about Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Ward in tattoo form.
And those are just the ones I've read.
December 11, 2007
Forgive me, good people, but I am going to take a moment to brag, shamelessly. I work at Milkweed, and our lead fall fiction title, The Farther Shore, has been chosen as the Litblog Co-op "Read This!" selection for Winter, 2007. Aw, other litbloggers; you're making me blush!
Donna Seaman has the best taste in books.
One astute bookslut reader wrote in to say that, contrary to yesterday's post about The Golden Compass, box sets of Philip Pullman's trilogy are flying off the shelves. Does this mean that people will rediscover his Sally Lockhart quartet? SO much better than any Nancy Drew book.
If you love Philip Pullman as much as I do, you'll love this profile.
I finally figured out what I can buy my grandpa for Christmas! (thanks, Phil.)
Doris Lessing's Nobel acceptance speech is available here. Lest you thought our country—via the recent NEA report on the decline of reading—was on its own, Lessing sets us all straight. (For some reason, I suddenly miss Grace Paley.)
Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education and our great store of literature. Of course we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning. But it is on record that working men and women longed for books, evidenced by the founding of working-men's libraries, institutes, and the colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries. Reading, books, used to be part of a general education.
December 10, 2007
Over at the NBCC blog, Carlin Romano, literary critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, reports on the recently conducted "Ethics in Book Reviewing" survey. Among the results? "76.5 percent think it's never ethical to review a book without reading the whole thing." No, really?
But, actually, the results are worth a look.
Oh, Philip Pullman. Why oh why did you agree to it? Readers of The Golden Compass, beware—Salon confirms what I suspected:
The great bummer is that the movie version of "The Golden Compass" is unlikely to inspire anyone to read anything. Most of what's magical about Pullman's novel has been mechanized, obviously at great expense: It must cost a heap of dough to make animal figures look like they're talking, and there's barely an instant in "The Golden Compass" when you can't hear the money gears turning.
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: Tim Hall
This week the Indie Heartthrob Series presents a true "undie" heartthrob [read the below interview if you want that to make any sort of sense]. Tim Hall is the author of Half Empty and the upcoming book FULL OF IT, and he has written for and edited underground newspapers such as the New York Hangover in the 90s and BIGnews, a homeless newspaper, not to mention the New York Press and the Chicago Reader. He also founded Undie Press, Hall's very own platform for self-publication.
As a special treat, Hall prepared a peek at some of his video shorts exclusively for this interview.
Tell me about Undie Press. When did you become involved?
I founded Undie Press after being courted by a really good publisher (no names please) for about two years and then kind of being left at the altar when there was a management change and a new chief editor came in and canceled a bunch of projects. I just didn't have the heart to start the process all over again so I figured doing my own press was the most positive thing I could do to keep moving forward and not getting depressed.
What kind of work does it publish?
Only me. I originally hoped it would be a real indie press and publish some writers who I thought were really talented and original, but I soon realized that I didn't have the temperament to deal with other writers. We're all such hurt, angry little flowers for the most part. After a few bad experiences I realized I wasn't cut out to be a publisher, but I gained a new and profound respect for those who are.
It's a contraction of underground and indie. Also, I like to think I strip myself pretty bare in my writing, so it stands for underpants too.
From 1995-1999 you were creative director for a publication called NY Hangover. What kind of publication was this, and what do you think defined the experience?
It was a bar rag started by a poet in the East Village named James Eckle, who was ultimately killed by a crazy ex-girlfriend. It started as a zine but grew into a newspaper. After James's death I took it over with three others and we built it up to a peak circulation of 8,000 copies monthly, all advertiser supported. We gave a lot of artists their first exposure there, many of whom have gone on to great things: cartoonists like Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, and Nick Bertozzi all published their early work with us, and all are succeeding wonderfully now. But what I'm most proud of is the fact that we were actually profitable. We poured all the money back into the paper, but we made money. After four years I needed to choose between being an editor/publisher and being a writer, and since there was never any question of which I was, I left.
I hear you're writing a book about your time there. Can you elaborate?
It's a "creative non-fiction" account of my experiences, called FULL OF IT. Unlike my first novel, Half Empty, where I deliberately kept the story as narrow and claustrophobic as possible to match the subject matter, this has more of a dramatic arc, real antagonists, good vs. evil, lots of humor and drama. I hope to have it out by first half of 2008.
War reporter Janine di Giovanni was recently in town to give a talk at the Walker Art Museum, and the quick "google" I did before the evening event revealed that Playboy magazine asked her to pose for their first-ever journalist centerfold. She refused. Apparently Valerie Plame also won't be appearing anytime soon. Have any respectable writers ever appeared in a Playboy centerfold? (Why am I even wondering about this?)
December 07, 2007
From Ander Monson, via a friend, to me, to you:
Koalas are weak.
Over at Hotel St. George, Doug Singleton talks about his job curating one of the finest magazine sections I have had the pleasure of perusing.
I guess when you really think about it, magazines have always been about niche marketing. If you go back to the ‘50s, with the girlie magazines, for examples, and then there were these really weird publications…You ask, “What am I into? Well, I’m into surf boards and twangy guitars.” And there’s a magazine that’s about that, and one that can survive for five years. But you can’t really do that, especially these days, in the art world or in film.
David Doody is this guy I know. I once heard him introduce himself to a kid, and then say, "It's okay--you can laugh. My name is funny." So, you can laugh too. David Doody, like any good Minnesotan, has a "cabin up north," often sports a beard, can endure even the five degree weather we are having today probably without wearing a coat and now: look! He has helped put together a cool new literary magazine. Check out especially the new poems by Alex Lemon.
So, I begged and cried and cajoled and bribed, and Jessa finally agreed to let me play "bookslut" for a few days. While I gather my arsenal, find out how smart you really are.
December 06, 2007
Jacket has made available a selection of Turkish poems, edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat.
On a related topic: teaching poetry in British schools. Includes a top-ten list of poems taught in primary schools: "The Highwayman," by Alfred Noyes; "On the Ning, Nang, Nong," Spike Mulligan; "Jabberwocky," Lewis Carroll; "The Owl and the Pussycat," Edward Lear, &c. YouTube versions of "The Highwayman" | "On the Ning, Nang, Nong" | "Jabberwocky" | "The Owl and the Pussycat"
How to write your own chant poems: Chant words should be chosen carefully . . . .
PoetryPicture.com combines refrigerator poetry + pictures + social networking tools. For better and for worse.
December 05, 2007
I would also like to point out that tonight is the first reading series sponsored by Clever Alice, hands down my favorite boutique in Chicago. (Actually, I just came from there, and I spent too much money.) Give them love, and if you live in Chicago, tell Tamara I said hi.
It used to be surprising when I'd hear from a publisher or an author about the influence buyers at the bookstores have had on their book design choices. I asked a publisher who consistently has some of the most striking and beautiful book covers to comment on how this works: Dennis Johnson from Melville House.
Johnson: In all honesty we rarely get much pressure from retailers or sales reps about our book covers. Our books have won lots of design awards and people seem to like the way they look inside and out, which is encouraging because we try to make our books look really different from the lazy and crappy commercial aesthetic that dominates American book design. In fact, for the first five years we were in business, all of our books were designed by one guy, Dave Konopka, who has a very deep and wide-ranging aesthetic but one that was profoundly unaccepting of any commercial influence. He had to stop working for us because his band, Battles, began demanding too much of his time, but anyone who knows his music can understand my description of his design imperatives.
In any event, about the only thing the big retailers ever ask of us is that we put blurbs on the front cover, which we hate to do -- I think the only people who are influenced by blurbs are booksellers, not book buyers. But once or twice it’s been made clear that a blurb might prompt them to order more books, which would mean we could print more books, which would bring the per-unit cost down, which means we can keep the cover price down, which means we’re persuaded. But even that has been rare.
That said, we did have an interesting situation transpire on one of our very first books, Who Killed Daniel Pearl, by Bernard-Henri Lévy. That was a really amazing book. It was the first book to report on the fact that the head of Pakistan’s nuclear agency, Dr. A. Q. Khan, was selling nuclear technology to the so-called Axis of Evil. Yep, little Melville House broke that news about a year before it was on the front page of the New York Times and the Washington Post. But the book also discussed Daniel Pearl in a very personal way, using fictional scenes to speculate on his final moments. It put reporting and speculation together in a very powerful way, a way that would never occur to an American writer. But this was a very sensitive subject, obviously, and we gave a lot of thought to the package.
The obvious thing to do would have been to use one of the famous photos of Pearl that his kidnappers had released to the press -- the photos of him in his track suit with his hands bound, particularly the one with a gun to his head. That’s what the French edition did, surprisingly. That just seemed tacky, not to mention ghoulish, to Valerie and me, while at the same time it seemed almost necessary in a way to use the iconic image that people would recognize instantly.
Plus, we’d been in contact with Daniel Pearl’s parents, just in the course of trying to do the right thing, to be sensitive to them. And in one of my phone conversations with Judea Pearl, he said, “Whatever you do, I beg you, don’t do what the French did -- don’t use one of those photos of my son taken by his killers. I can’t bear the look in his eyes…” He wanted us to use one of their childhood photos of him, or his wedding photo.
But that would have actually been kind of misleading as to what the book was about – it wasn’t about his childhood. It was about his murder.
In the end, we decided to use one of the photos, but one where his head was bowed as if in prayer, and you couldn’t see his eyes, and we used it in close-up with everything else cropped out. Designer Dave did a really fabulous treatment whereby he pixilated the image and darkened it and used very small titling and the process of understanding what the image is becomes really absorbing. We used almost no text on the back. It was all very understated and elegant. We showed it to the Pearls and even though I think it was difficult for them they approved and wished us well. And we thought we’d really done everyone right by that cover.
We were new, so all our sales reps at first raised an eyebrow at the small titling, and the fact that there were no blurbs, but they also were struck by how eerily beautiful it was and they said so. And they took it out in the world to present to the buyers at bookstores.
Then I got a letter forward to me by one of the reps who’d presented the book to a major chain. He said, basically, “Who do these idiots think they are, academic publishers? European publishers? This is one of the worst covers I ever saw, just terrible. Why didn’t they use the picture with the gun?” And on and on about how stupid and uncommercial we were. I couldn’t believe how long his e-mail was, and how childish.
And, I must admit, satisfying. A hit dog howls: it was exactly the kind of deadening nonsense we meant for Melville House to stand against.
But the best part was that the guy who wrote the e-mail wasn’t the subject buyer for that book -- he was, in fact, the boss of the guy who was, and he was reacting to the fact that the chain had in fact taken a large order of the book. They would go on, in fact, to sell more copies of that book -- it turned out to be a bestseller -- than any other retailer in America.
The thing to note about the story, though, is not that Melville House was right, but that the chain did the right thing in the end. They supported the book, and haven’t bugged us about covers since. And I also hasten to add they actually do know what works and what doesn’t -- they’ve got a lot more experience at it than I do -- so it’s not exactly wise to ignore their advice, at least not if you want to move books through their turf. The trick is to find a way to do it your way that suits their way, too. Most of publishing, like politics, is about dealing with compromise.
Elizabeth Hardwick, the critic, essayist, fiction writer and co-founder of The New York Review of Books, who went from being a studious Southern Belle to a glittering member of the New York City intellectual elite, died Sunday night in Manhattan. She was 91.
December 04, 2007
Long before bloggers became synonymous with damp mold and scurrilous invective, book reviewers were cast as the pox carriers and bottom feeders of the word business, tattooed with the rep of being bitter, envious parasites, cunning predators, or charter members of the Dunciad. They tore the iridescent wings off Romantic poets for sport, and crouched in the hills like hyenas waiting for Hemingway to falter. Insidious by nature, they fluff up authors' reputations in order to fatten them up for the sacrificial kill: the young slain for failing to live up to their early promise, their distinguished elders dragged by their whiskers into the lair of the spider-queen, Michiko Kakutani, to be eaten.
James Wolcott reviews Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America for The New Republic.
Jennifer Egan has a new short story at the New Yorker: "Found Objects."
December 03, 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 indpendants and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Karen Lillis
Karen Lillis is the founding editor of Words Like Kudzu Press, a small press blogger, a library science student at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of the forthcoming novel "The Second Elizabeth" (Six Gallery Press, Spring 2008). As a small press guru, Karen talks about the zineworld, the micropress, and the role libraries can play in assisting such presses.
You have several personae spanning different aspects of small press publishing. When did you originally get involved and how has that evolved?
I fell in love with the Xerox machine when I was about 9, but I think my earliest involvement with small press ventures was contributing writing and drawings to other people's zines and journals in about 1994. I was in my early 20s. About a year later I put out some of my own xeroxed books—a series of "drawing stories." That was before I had a press with a name, which took another 5 years, but that was (and is) still a xerox-based press.
When I was putting out the drawing books, I was in graduate school for art, photography, and printmaking—while I was there I grew a terminal disdain for the high-finance fine-art world. I wanted to make things that could be easily distributed, that were reproduceable and went the other direction—away from exclusive, away from rarified. I loved the idea that a xeroxed book or zine was an accessible work of photolithography.
When I was about to get out of graduate school, I got a job at St. Mark's Bookshop, which let me cross paths with lots of other people who are obsessed with little books and Xeroxing their writing. I worked there for several years and it slowly became a big part of how I thought. In 1999 I wrote my second novel; when I was done I immediately Xeroxed it into a book, took a leave of absence from work, and went on a self-booked, 5-week, cross-country reading tour courtesy of Greyhound and my friends' couches. When I got back, my boss was kind enough to feature it in the store—and through that book I met even more people involved in small press, who became comrades and collaborators and continued inspiration.
Every project led to the next and had a lot to do with the people I have been lucky enough to meet and have around me. I started out self-publishing but put out a few anthologies because I realized I had a stack of writing I really liked, by people who had handed me things to read.
I have noticed that promoting books or journals is a lot more gratifying when it's not just my own work—when there's lots of us involved.
When did you start LDP Distro/Info? Did it start out originally just as distro? When did the blog aspect start?
LDP started as Lillis Distribution/Pittsburgh. The idea was like those anthologies—I had a fistful of micro-press titles by writers who I really admired and who knew how to design a really good-looking little book. And I was moving to Pittsburgh and I wanted to bring these books with me, to sell. That was in late 2005.
The Myspace site, and the blog, started very recently as part of a larger exploration for my cataloging class. But the instinct to pass on info about small press was left over from St. Mark's—one small press person would come in, tell me some news, and then I would be in a position to pass that news on to the next small press person who would want to know. I really liked the idea of being a conduit or an information kiosk.
One of your other projects, Words Like Kudzu Press, started in Greenpoint in 2000. What kinds of works do you publish under that name? Do you still juggle this with the distro/blog and library school as well?
Words Like Kudzu has mainly published experimental writing by women, including prose and poetry—-I have published a few novellas, monologues, anthologies, broadsides, a chapbook, and lately pamphlets. I would love to publish more on WLK, especially anthologies, but the press has certainly slowed to a crawl because of my busy life these days. School is a high priority but I also work an unrelated full-time job. I don't write as much (fiction) as I'd like to, and my boyfriend jokes about leaving me if I take on another freelance journalism assignment.
WLK started when I worked less time at a job and worried less about repaying my debts. But even then I used to say the press was operated "out of the back of my brain." It was always impulsive.
What's the difference between a small press and a micro press?
If we're making distinctions, a small press might imitate a large press in a number of ways (like how it's printed or sending books out for reviews) but be independently owned, and focus on emerging or forgotten writers. Whereas the micro press is usually a whole different animal in terms of publishing. The books are often photocopied or handmade, distribution is usually more through personal hand-offs or mail-outs, and the content may be totally unedited. In the micro press, a "book" or zine might be thought up, written down, typed up, photocopied, layed out, and distributed in a matter of a week.
I also think of "small press" as an umbrella term for all of it, because virtually all the small presses revolve around creating a community.
As a library student, how do you connect that experience with your work in small/micro presses?
However I can. Some of our assignments are very flexible, and I use every excuse I can to incorporate small press into my routine classwork, so I can learn more. In a longer-term sense, I am interested in being some kind of conduit between libraries and the small press. Libraries (and librarians) have the chance to support the small press through buying their books, creating quality catalog entries, building collections, and fostering research. Right now I'm really excited about things like online catalogs for small press archives; discovering the existence of places like the Barnard Zine Library, the Chicago Underground Library, the Civic Media Center in Florida, and Small Press Traffic in the Bay Area; and Brandon Stosuy's book "Up is Up But So is Down," an historic anthology that came directly out of Stosuy's involvement with an amazing collection at NYU—the Downtown Collection at Fales Library, which has over 7000 items of small press lit and ephemera from downtown New York City, 1974-early 1990s.
I'm learning that many librarians have never heard of a zine. That's not necessarily a bad thing—the zine world has willfully operated on an underground basis. But this is a great opportunity, as I see it. There are great zine collections and zine libraries out there, and I think there should be more. I'm learning concrete ways that the small press (if and when it chooses to) can better be collected by libraries—things we can do that help librarians find us and catalog us. I'm also thinking of how useful zine collections could be to groups who don't already think about libraries or zines. A queer community center or a GLBT group at a college could start a queer zine collection and be of great use to young people trying to come out. Or a city or town office who is trying to help its citizens save energy and conserve resources could collect zines on environmental issues--many of those zines are based around practicalities. Zines have covered certain issues really, really well—they've produced a lot of thought and creativity in certain areas. But how do we convince the general public of that? Librarians who are interested in the small press and the micro press can be of help here, and so can the small presses who are interested in working with libraries and other collections.
The small press is often ghettoized, and often stays in its own ghetto and prefers to. I'm all for the underground, because it has a time and place, for sure. It can be a safe place to create and express, and to gain momentum as a movement. But once there's a body of literature out there, especially one that has harnessed an incredible amount of collective effort and creativity, why should it remain invisible? The small press and libraries are both part of the free press, they're both part of our attempt to stay a true democracy. It would be a mistake for the small press to complain about our repressive government AND remain willfully obscure.
Sin in the Second City author Karen Abbott is interviewed at the Freakonomics blog. If you ever wanted to know the financial breakdown of a brothel -- you know, in case you're tired of your cubicle -- Abbott helps you out.
On a busy night, the Everleigh sisters could make as much as $5,000. They spent $18,000 per year in renovations alone, including the upkeep of a $15,000 gold piano and several $650 gilded spittoons. They allotted a budget of $2,000 to $5,000 a month for imported spirits. The sisters sold bottles of champagne for $12 in the parlors and $15 in the bedrooms, but never beer or liquor. They also paid about $800 a month in protection fees [to law enforcement officials].
Almost every writer who works on a computer will recognise the anxiety: you have maybe 100,000 words in a word-processing file, sometimes backed up on a memory stick or (is this just me?) e-mailed to your mother for safekeeping, but a book or an article just never feels "safe" until it appears in print. I'm sure I'm not the only writer who actually sleeps better when a book is out there, instead of merely existing in a fizzing jumble of zeros and ones on a device that, were it to come into too-close contact with a magnet, or a bottle of Coke, or the sea, or the ground, would be useless and all the information on it lost.
The NBCC has launched their first Best Recommended List, taken from polls of critics and writers. The list is meant to be an alternative to the bestseller lists.
Book by Its Cover has a short interview with Anders Nilsen as well as pages from his sketchbook.