July 31, 2008
How alliteration helps you remember poems: alliterations retrieve similar sounding words and phrases from a person’s memory. It's almost as if Homer might've been on to something.
How can we raise awareness of poetry in Australia? By racing poems across New South Wales . . . strapped to pigeons. Transmitting on pigeon-cams. (If only the pigeons were reciting!)
In America, we don't use pigeons, we use celebrities: Bill Murray reads from Thomas Lux, Martin Espada, and Galway Kinnell, as part of a benefit for Poets House. Meanwhile, Robert Redford links slam poetry to environmental activism, in possibly the most NPR-friendly combination imaginable.
Nigel Kendell pleads for more animated poetry.
Alli Warren and Michael Nicoloff have a new collaborative chapbook entitled Bruised Dick. K. Silem Mohammad has an excerpt, "Bad Twin," and some discussion. (The titles are excellent: They also have some great titles, like "People in Berkeley Need to Get Down with General Spatial Awareness," "Chiseling My Basket," "Tomorrow I Will Mow You," "You Hold It Right There While I Hit It," and "Alli and Michael's Institutional Critique." There's even one called "I Accidentally Domed Your Son," which I recognize as the title of one of the lowest-rated movies on IMDb.) You can hear Warren and Nicoloff read from the chapbook here.
Hamlet's Facebook page: Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends. / Marcellus is pretty sure something's rotten around here. / Hamlet became a fan of daggers.
Finally, zombie haiku.
I'm a geeky bookworm, so I don't attract guys. But lately my other bookwormy friends have been getting attention from boys. What can I do to have them notice me too?
- Easy Reader
Since the Bible is the world’s best-selling book, it makes sense that it’s undergone numerous aesthetic reinventions. There’s the classic black leather cover with ornate block letters, or embossed with a prominent gilded cross, or featuring heavenly cloud backgrounds, or the Gideon Bibles, with covers color coded in everything from orange to light blue to desert camouflage based on their intended audience.
But the phenomenon of the drastically-redesigned Bible can be a bit surprising when you come across it in the bookstore. Some examples:
Teen Bibles that come in pink plastic, or, for some reason, dressed as metal soda cans - Thirsty? Then there’s The NCV Livin’ Out Your Faith Bible, which is “designed to help tweens really ‘get’ and ‘get into’ the Bible!”. And the Bible that is trying to seem younger by fitting into denim, made to look like the rear pocket of a pair of jeans.
Magazine-format Bibles turn up for teens with publications such as Revolve by Bible publisher Thomas Nelson. Its cover resembles the latest Teen People, showing three laughing girls with wind-blown hair, and emblazoned with article headlines such as “Are You Dating a Godly Guy?” The Oakland Tribune says:
Advice columns [in Revolve] focus on dealing with self-image, sex and parents. To the question of what qualities a girl should seek in a boy, editors answer: "Your guy needs to love God more than he loves you. That's the only way he can understand how to love you the right way." The blunt response to "How far can you go sexually before you are no longer pure?" is "How much dog poop stirred into your cookie batter does it take to ruin the whole batter?"
Men also have Biblezines available, like Align: The Complete New Testament for Men. The cover shows a man with a tie reading a newspaper, gazing at the heavens. Its article headlines are in high-tech style fonts, and focus on topics like gadgets and sexcess.
We women have our own Bible designs that come in violet or cerulean blue, often decorated with tasteful floral patterns. And also there on the Thomas Nelson gallery of Bibles for Women is the stylish UltraSlim Bible, labeled as boldly as a weight loss plan or a pack of cigarettes. And The BibleSource has stylish carrying cases available.
Reuters talks to Phoebe Gloeckner about her upcoming comic, I Live Here, about the unsolved murders of Juarez.
(We continue on, etc., etc.)
One of the strangest perks of working at Planned Parenthood was the free birth control benefit. That not only included getting our Pill refills at the clinic, but also access to the condom room. And yes, it was a room. Any brand, flavor, size you can think of. But also flavored lube, dental dams, whatever your heart desired. What never seemed to budge, however, was the box of female condoms. I think given the choice between celibacy and sex with a female condom, we all would have taken a, "Not tonight dear." When I was reading Elizabeth Pisani's The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS, she reminded me of what we all found so repulsive about the female condom:
Look at the female condom; women can choose to use that in lots of countries. Most don't. That may be in part because it looks like a supermarket shopping bag stuck up your pussy, with handles hanging out the bottom. Or because it sounds as if you're making love inside a packet of potato crisps -- crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle. Which of course makes you laugh, but you must never laugh when you've got a female condom in because you can feel that rubber ring scrunching up inside you and ouch that hurts and suddenly it isn't so funny any more and if you can't laugh, what's the point of having sex?
Over at the Smart Set, I look at Pisani's book and Sex Goes to School: Girls and Sex Education Before the 1960s in relation to the United States's obsession with abstinence-only education and foreign aid.
(Also at the Smart Set: High anxiety about seafood brought on by Fish Without a Doubt. I'm landlocked, what do you want from me? "My environmentally conscious fishmonger keeps the list of overfished species right on the counter, right above the dead carcasses of the fish you are warned not to eat to keep the ecosystem from collapsing all together. You want monkfish? Jesus, why don’t you just get a baseball bat and club a baby seal to death while you’re at it.")
July 30, 2008
It is Booker long list time - the happiest time of year. Thrill! to the number of first time novelists! Bitch! about the exclusion of your submission in place of some poxy little "fairly well-written and well-paced thriller".
Roll around in some nationalistic glory - not you, Americans, you better go check out the Eisner winners. Why isn't Y: The Last Man eligible for the Booker? Who can take this damn list seriously? (Aside from smiling Johnny here).
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
From A to X by John Berger
The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
July 29, 2008
Remember, tonight is the return of the Bookslut Reading Series, with Eddie Campbell and David J. Schwartz. Hopleaf (second floor), 7:30. Wear your pretty shoes. I'm told the series is a good place to pick up desirable young lit enthusiasts.
Hooray for a slight nepotism interlude. Jason Wilson (also known as my editor at the Smart Set) examines the disconnect between "lifestyle journalism" and, you know, life. (And also hooray for being able to type "lifestyle journalism" without experiencing nausea.)
Friend of Bookslut? Bookslut Guest Blogger? Woman I know and respect? _______ Jennifer Howard looks at the Map of Early Modern London and the online map of Irish-American literature, two very interesting projects in "digital humanities."
"It's been traditional to think of literature unfolding on a historical continuum — the axis of time — and the Web site is imagining literature in space," she says. "When I think about the influences on authors, I'm thinking about the streets they lived in, where they shopped, where they went for entertainment, the route they must have taken to walk down to the bookseller who published their book, the specific environment in which people bought the book."
While the description "bad boy of American poetry" might make you roll your eyes ("Oh my god, so, what? He doesn't shave?"), you should read the LA Times profile of August Kleinzahler anyway. And then buy Sleeping It Off in Rapid City.
Shortly after the summer that Missy vanished, The Great Sadness had draped around Mack's shoulders like an invisible cliche. The story of Missy's disappearance had been all too familiar to anyone who read second-rate thrillers about serial killers.
Tony Kushner is interviewed over at JBooks and discusses the label "Jewish writer."
Maybe to somebody like Cynthia, or Roth, to be thought of as a Jewish writer, there was a fear that you would be ghettoized as a kind of novelty act, and real writers, real American writers, were not Jews. But I am a Jewish writer, and I am a gay writer, and I am an American writer, and I don’t see any point in trying to argue about that.
July 28, 2008
The Guardian is running "The Night Bookmobile" comic strip by Audrey Niffenegger.
If the Chicago Tribune does not support a dedicated book section, the New York publishers may begin to skip the Midwest for their book launches and author events.
Well, yes, except they already do.
While in Portland, my friend was reading a book with shipwrecks, cannibalism, and sex scenes that compared the man's penis to a seal. Eventually in the updates of how it was going -- I needed her to finish it, so I wouldn't have to read it for myself -- she said she found it fascinating because "at least this is not the way I'm going to die." It is very unlikely either of us will die in the Arctic, only to be cut up and eaten by our crew members, but you never know.
I know I could never read Howard Engel's book about the word blindness that followed his stroke, because even listening to him talk on NPR is making me squirm. That seems like too much of a possibility, especially after a year of visual migraines that would take my sight away for hours at a time. I would sit and fret, "What if it doesn't come back this time, and I have to start listening to audio books? I hate audio books." I need to go knock on some wood even talking about this.
July 25, 2008
That does it for me, kids. Come on over and see me sometime. I might even have some thoughts about book reviewing and James Wood to share. Thanks for reading, and thanks to Jessa for letting me hang out over here while she's been on vacation (hope it was fun, J).
He was killed by the usual cabal: by himself, first of all; by the woman he knew; by the woman he did not know; by the man who granted his inmost wish; and by the inevitable fifth, who was the keeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone.
Obsessive Melville fans (are there any other kind, really?) will also want to spent some time at Melville's Marginalia, a very cool site run out of Boise State U:
Since Melville marked and annotated his books with uncommon regularity and precision, the expanding record of evidence reveals his direct engagement with many past and contemporaneous works and figures: the King James Bible, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Arthur Schopenhauer, William Wordsworth, Honoré de Balzac, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a host of others. An ongoing project with cooperation and support from numerous individuals and institutions, Melville’s Marginalia Online aims to make this wealth of evidence fully and widely available to scholars and students.
Jonesing for good academic-library-blog reading? The MIT PressLog can help.
First-year college students, not so lame:
A new national study on errors in student writing asks whether the top mistakes noted in previous studies have changed much in the digital era.
OMG! Turns out students aren’t making significantly more errors, rising from 2.11 mistakes per 100 words in a 1917 study to 2.45 in this 2006 data.
Also, they're writing more research papers and fewer first-person essays in class. The study is by Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford and it's called “‘Mistakes Are a Part of Life’: A National Comparative Study.” You can find it in the June 2008 issue of College Composition and Communication. No free link, unfortunately.
What if, in addition to reading a book, we could actually visit the locations we read about? What if, instead of reading the words of a Lincoln or a Shakespeare, we could hear them speak?
It's hard to resist a stepping-into-it joke here. One nagging question: If you're virtually visiting the locations you read about, you're not *actually* visiting them, are you?
(Via LIS News.)
Noted in honor (maybe) of Comic-Con, taking place now in San Diego: The Valve has been having one of its periodic book events, this one on Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. The idea is to get a bunch of people to write about a book--kind of like a virtual tennis match with blog posts lobbed back and forth--and see what develops.
Anyway, Wolk is a writer you should check out if you haven't already (most Bookslut readers probably have). If you happen to be in San Diego and have a ticket to Comic-Con, keep an eye out for him. Here's his sked. (He's moderating six panels.)
Another thing I learned at the LOC summit: Scientists have struggled since the 1930s with the problem of tidelines, brown lines that form on paper at a wet-dry interface. (Think of that paperback that spent too long in your beach bag next to the towel you forgot to wring out.)
The proposed research focuses on the study of the degradation of paper at the wet/dry interface. The work involves the characterisation of the cellulose polymer by SEC/MALS at CRCC, and the identification of the organic by-products formed during the degradation by LC/MS, GC/MS, micro-FTIR, ATR-FTIR at SRD-Washington and by CZE at CRCC. The presence of radical species and hydroperoxides will be investigated by HPLC at CRCC. It will be of particular relevance to study the inhibitory effect of several water-soluble antioxidants.
Is it not wonderful that there are people in the world who get to worry about things like this?
What I learned at the LOC preservation summit: You want to deacidify your books and papers, Bookkeeper is the thing for you. The LOC treats 250,000 books and more than a million manuscripts a year with it.
The Bookkeeper® Deacidification Process neutralizes harmful acids and greatly extends the lifespan of books and documents. Accelerating aging tests have demonstrated that paper treated with Bookkeeper will have a life expectancy of a minimum of three to five times longer than that which has not been treated.
Also: If your textiles have carpet beetles in them, smother the bastards.
July 24, 2008
Jim Dwyer reports on a new digital exhibition on Yeats, which may/may not come to the US. But Dwyer also writes: The readers include Seamus Heaney, Sinead O’Connor and Theo Dorgan, but it is the voice of Yeats himself, reciting “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” at a sing-song pace, that comes as a revelation. If by "revelation," he means, "an experience freely available online at the Norton Anthology of English Literature's website," then, yes, that's true. Yeats's reading is certainly powerful--don't wait for a trip to Ireland to hear it! The Norton site has a ton of audio available. (You can also try the Broadview Anthology's website, which has the Yeats recording.)
Excellent fun: Robert Browning as the murderer of Elizabeth Barrett Browning: By then Browning had some experience of the stresses of a mature sexual, as opposed to an epistolary, relationship. He and Elizabeth quarrelled frequently about politics, about her interest in spiritualism, about how to bring up their son. Robert wanted Pen to wear trousers and short hair; Elizabeth preferred him in velvet pantaloons and candle curls. Elizabeth won. Awkwardly, her money supported the entire household: husband, servants, dog, child, clothes, food, pet rabbits, the writing of poetry, holidays abroad in the hot months, and her addiction to laudanum, which she took daily for pains in her spine and chest. She never complained. We all know the temptation to kill our spouse (especially a saintly one).
One more thought on Kay Ryan, from Adam Kirsch.
An early (1996-2005) online journal of experimental poetry, flim, has re-posted its archives. There's a lot of great stuff here, although for purely private reasons my favorite is this excerpt from Arnold Bennett's How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day reprinted as a prose poem. (Via Lime Tree.)
The editors of the Best New Poets series have announced their list of 2008 winners, selected by Mark Strand. One of the poems, Karen Rigby's "The Lover," is featured this week at Linebreak. A few of the 50 are available online: Seth Abramson's "Nebraska"; Keith Eskiss's "Pima Road Notebook (II)"; Rebecca Morgan Frank's "Rescue"; Patrick Ryan Frank's "Virginitiphobia"; Darren Morris's "Counting Down the Night"; Jonathan Rice's "Momento Mori"; Alexandra Teague's "Adjectives of Order"; and Rhett Iseman Trull's "Everything From That Poem On." (And honestly, Best New Poets editors: if you know the poems are online, provide the links in your announcement! It will only help interest people.)
For the weekend: "Your nose is like an unscented emergency candle."
Jessa really gets cooking in her latest Smart Set review.
I may have to try that "Green Apple, Cheese, and Chard Oven Omelette" for dinner (if I can keep "chard" from turning into "charred").
Also via Library Journal: Create a book trailer for your favorite Shomo ("speculative romance") title and let Stephen King be the judge:
The ultimate Fanboy or Fangirl experience, user-generated video allows filmmakers—both amateur and professional alike—to communicate their passion to millions of like-minded individuals.
Isn't that what we all want, especially now that we don't have so many book-review sections wasting our time?
Library Journal carries the news of a book prize you probably haven't read much about in the godless litblogosphere yet:
The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) named The Word of Promise™: New Testament Audio Bible, released by Thomas Nelson, Inc., the Christian Book of the Year at its recent 2008 Christian Book Awards.... The program is a scripted dramatization of the New King James Version and features the voices of actors including Michael York, Stacy Keach, Lou Gossett Jr., Ernie Hudson, and Marisa Tomei. The recording is available in a 20-CD set (ISBN 0-7180-2424-9, $49.99) with an MP3 version scheduled for September, followed by a youth edition in October featuring actors Sean Astin, Corbin Bleu, and Emily Osmet.
Um...Stacy Keach? Who knew?
I think I might be too old for Cathy’s Key. I went to the book’s website and all this stuff kept appearing when I moved the mouse around, and then I clicked on some images and was intimidated and decided to check my email instead.
Cathy’s Key is the sequel to Cathy’s Book, the preteen novel which Amazon informs me was a “word-of-mouth success story.” The cover of that first book is solid black with a phone number scrawled across it (call the number, I dare you), and comes with a pouch full of “evidence” that played into the story’s mystery. Inside there are stylish pen drawings with splashes of color that resemble the drawings I attempted in my journal when I was a teen, except that mine looked unintentionally like Lord of the Rings cover art.
Apparently there was some controversy over the first book, because the authors had a product placement arrangement with Proctor & Gamble. They inserted brand names into the book (Cover Girl lipstick colors and whatnot), and P&G advertised Cathy’s Book on their website BeingGirl.com, aimed towards teen girls. The occasional drawing actually had these brands embedded within them:
P&G's promotional power helped sell the book's unusual format: Cathy's Book was designed to look like a high school student's journal, complete with doodling on pages. Some of those doodles also feature the P&G brand: Scrawls on one page include "UnderCover Girl," "Waterproof Mascara in Very Black" and "Eyecolor in Midnight Metal."
It’s like that time when I thought I was watching a television drama and then discovered it was actually an ad for birth control pills.
This all reminds me of an article in last week’s New York Times about the depressing consumerist turn YA has taken. The woman in the article went through three series of popular YA books, including Gossip Girl, Clique, and A-List, and found "1,553 brand mentions in 1,431 pages of the six books she had read."
Massie, the lead “Clique” character, doesn’t wear miniskirts and sandals. She wears Moschino minis, Jimmy Choo sandals, and Chanel No. 19 on her thin wrists, rides in a Range Rover, drinks Glaceau Vitamin Water and totes her books in a Louis Vuitton backpack.
Two thoughts: 1) I'm really disgusted and all, but this strikes me as a great way to increase the word count of one’s novel. 2) Ha! Massie's boyfriend "has eyes the color of a royal blue Polo shirt." My hair is as black as a black Gucci handbag.
I'm off to a preservation scientists' confab at the Library of Congress this morning (really), so posting will resume @ noon.
I didn't get around to noting this yesterday, but for those who follow literary prizes closely (I'm not one of them), the Man Asian Literary Prize longlist has been announced. Details and some suggestions on how the promoters could do their job better here.
The WaPo profiles Max Holland, 12 years into his latest book and no end in sight:
This is a short story about American paranoia. It is slightly scary. It is about how even good writers and responsible people can fall into the rabbit hole of Washington research -- a tumble that leads you down, down, down to the Elm Street of the mind, below the Texas School Book Depository and in front of the grassy knoll, a few minutes past noon, in a world where it is always Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.
July 23, 2008
We need to talk, Weekly Standard. I respect your right to your opinions. I have made some sort of peace with your political views, though I do not share them. But why did you have to go and throw Girls Gone Mild in my face now, a year after Wendy Shalit inflicted it on us? Why? You know how I feel.
And while I'm obsessing about the British Library, which I spend more time doing than I ought to admit, check out the Pinter Archive blog, where the BL's Kate O'Brien has been keeping a journal about what it's like to unpack a Nobel laureate's literary archive:
The scrapbooks pose a particular problem in terms of conservation. Many of the earlier volumes are literally bursting at the seams with material. Much of the material is made up of newspaper cuttings, which by their nature are only meant to survive for a day or two....Some items are stuck to the scrapbook pages with adhesive tape or glue, which has already started to degrade and stain. Despite these problems, it is not an option to remove the items from the scrapbooks and re-house them in archival standard folders or boxes as the integrity of the item as a whole would be lost. As was mentioned in last week's post, Harold Pinter himself had a hand in compiling the scrapbooks and the way they are put together is as much of interest as the information they contain.
If you haven't checked out the British Library's Turning the Pages, do so right now. It's the next best thing to actually getting your grubby little paws on a priceless manuscript.
(N.B. Requires the Shockwave plug-in.)
Rollo Romig asks whether poetry can be a war crime:
Like many megalomaniacs, Karadzic fancied himself a poet. (In the mid-seventies, he took a few poetry classes at Columbia University while studying psychiatry.) Infuriatingly, Karadzic managed to release a new book of verse, a novel, and a play while living underground.
I’m a weeper—there, I’ve said it. And it’s safe to say that nothing makes me weep more frequently, more effusively, and more gratefully than the volatile combination of music and beer. A lot of beer. I like to get real dumb and listen to music in my headphones under the stars, and have a nice weep—I find it regenerative. I also find that the process somehow informs my writing, though I’d be hard pressed to articulate exactly how, which I think is sort of the point. There’s something to be said for crippling one’s language centers with eight or nine beers and letting the world wash over you.
Should booksellers take sides in an election year?
(Related: the Countdown to President Obama Hope Clock, brought to you courtesy of Bookshop Santa Cruz.)
July 22, 2008
I hadn’t really thought about the lack of normal bodies in erotica until last night. I guess I just assumed because it’s erotica and in book form, it would be a bit smarter than the average porn. Plus it’s called erotica. So sexy, so smart. And I just glossed over the fact that inevitably all of the bodies I read about were firm and slender or bouncy and smooth. I hadn’t yet read anything that said, “A 33-year-old woman who nursed her kid had the slamminest tits I’d ever seen.” Of course, if I did read that, I might have an aneurysm out of pure joy.
And then, last night, I was reading Rachel Kramer Bussell’s newest anthology, Spanked: Red Cheeked Erotica. Bussell is, hands down, my favorite sex writer. She’s just wonderful. And I was very excited to read this anthology, even if spanking is not my thing, maybe it could be because Bussell always portrays sex as delicious, wonderful, and fun.
I read her intro -- excellent. And then I started the first story. And nearly cried. Not because it was so stimulating (though it was) but because of the narrator. It’s told from a man’s point of view, the spanker. He is so wonderful and attentive and smart about what women must feel like down on all fours their butts in the air, posed in quite possibly the most unflattering position known in sex. Finally, a guy saying, gee, that must be a little hard on the old self-esteem.
I’ll just jump right in because this story is so good, and I can’t do it justice in two little excerpts.
Page 2, Spanked: Red Cheeked Erotica edited by Rachel Kramer Bussell
From “Spanking You” by Rick Roberts:
"The best build for an ass to be spanked is not one that’s firm and steel-tight, but one like yours -- generously sized, with just a bit of cushion. With every spank delivered to a prominent ass, the force sends tiny ripples of shock up the hips and down along the thighs When a woman is positioned on all fours, naked, with her hind regions on display, she’s at her most vulnerable. She knows you can see the most private places on her body, and she knows how it looks when she’s being spanked."
And then, on page 3:
“With you, the act of submitting yourself for a spanking was especially profound. You had body issues: you thought your ass was too big (‘my big fat ass,’ you used to call it in dismay) and your hips too wide, and your thighs showed hints of cellulite. Bending over and presenting your naked hind regions summoned all kinds of insecurities. But I also knew that this added an extra dimension to the act. In getting spanked by me, you received affirmation. Every stroke from my hand delivered a message of acceptance: my hand chose your ass.”
I love that the narrator clearly knows exactly what’s going on with this woman. I love that he acknowledges it and moves on. I wonder though, do most guys think this way? Do most guys know it’s sort of horrifying to be in that position? Erotic, but horrible? Or are they thinking what I always believe they’re thinking, “this girl is fine, but my last lay was a 19-year-old supermodel?Maybe Rick Roberts knows the answer.
All the coverage of the Dylan Thomas longlist seems to be focusing on debut author Ross Raisin's chosen job (waiter), and not on the priceless opportunity of 'Raisin Hell' headlines. Disappointing. Nice list, however, if you can stand all that youth and talent.
She stumbled on the story in an 1890s anthology of unsolved crime stories and became so fascinated that she left her post as literary editor of The Daily Telegraph to pursue her investigations. She spent a year researching the book and another year writing it.
They broadcast this stuff on TV in Britland, I discovered last night. In prime time. Not even I would watch a broadcast of a literary awards ceremony, unless it was something as toe-curlingly painful as this.
Here's author Stef Penney looking very lovely under the blood-splattered keyboard of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. The Yorkshire Post has an audio thingy up of her exclusive interview with the amazing Sarah Walters about Penney's winning title, The Tenderness of Wolves.
Now, can someone hand around some prizes outside of the UK, please? I'm feeling all imperialistic over here.
Can't face all those empty weeks between now and the National Book Festival? Fill the void with the Library of Congress's podcasts with Festival authors. So far they've taped the new poet laureate, Kay Ryan, DC's own cake-baking genius Warren Brown, the travelling Frommers (of guidebook fame), Jan Brett, and Jon Scieszka. More, presumably, TK. I'd like to hear what my pal and fellow DC native Louis Bayard has to say about his forthcoming book, The Black Tower.
Forget the BR. Given the slash-and-burn that's going on at the LAT, it's remarkable there's any semblance of a paper left there at all.
(Via pretty much everybody in the Western Hemisphere and probably a few in other parts of the world as well.)
A new study reveals the should-be-but-won't-be-shocking news that more men than women write movie reviews. A whole lot more:
Men write the overwhelming majority of film reviews in the nation’s top newspapers. In Fall 2007, men penned 70% and women 30% of all reviews. Furthermore, of the newspapers featuring film reviews, 47% had no reviews written by women critics, writers or freelancers. In contrast, only 12% had no reviews written by men critics, writers or freelancers.
Carrying on with the good news:
The fact that males dominate the business and art of filmmaking is well documented. According to the latest Celluloid Ceiling report, women comprised a scant 15% of all directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 films of 2007 (“The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Representation of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2007,” Martha M. Lauzen). In addition, female characters comprised only 28% of all characters in the top 100 films of 2002.
Read the full report here. It's by Martha Lauzen, director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, and appears on the website of The Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
(Via Editor & Publisher, "Too Many Men Reviewing Films, Say Female Critics." Note to E&P: You could have done a better job with that headline. Female critics aren't saying that too many men review movies, they're saying that not enough women do.)
Ask Haruki Murakami anything.
Roller derby, "a protofeminist wave of bone-crushing awesomeness"? So say the folks at DC's own Barrelhouse litmag, getting ready to celebrate the launch of Issue 6.
July 21, 2008
It won't single-handedly save book reviewing or university presses, but this is an intriguing idea.
Is the Obama campaign chilling the New Yorker for that fist-bump cover?
But there is vast anecdotal evidence of subscribers to the New Yorker and the London Review of Books reading Wood's essays huddled in entryways, coats and keys and umbrellas still in their hands.
Just put down the LRB, people, and walk away, slowly. More here, if you must.
Sam Beckett, would-be contributor to the comic strip "Nancy"?
Um...maybe not. Christopher Shea debunks the story over at Braniac:
At least two publications this week fell for a nine-year-old high-concept gag: a supposed literary correspondence between existentialist par excellence Samuel Beckett and the original author of the comic strip "Nancy," Ernie Bushmiller. Such was Beckett's enthusiasm for Bushmiller's deadpan style, we are led to believe, that in the early 1950s he sent the cartoonist several ideas for strips.
There must be better ways to mark Hemingway's birthday (he was born July 21, 1899), but this will have to do for now.
A white-bearded Florida man won an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, a highlight of a festival that ended Sunday honoring the late Nobel Prize-winning author.
Tom Grizzard, 69, of Leesburg bested 141 other contenders in the competition at Sloppy Joe's Bar, Hemingway's favorite watering hole when he lived in Key West throughout the 1930s. The competition's final round was held late Saturday.
"I relate to his love of the sea and love of people," said Grizzard. The eight-time competitor wore a cream-colored turtleneck sweater suggesting Hemingway's garb in an iconic 1957 photo portrait by Yousuf Karsh.
Some like Papa's prose, too.
Finally, a way to decide, once and for all, who's the better writer: Argue about who signs books faster.
It's always a delight to return to London from an arduous two-month book tour of North America to find myself being accused of "illusions" - that is, lying - in your letters columns. The weirdest part of Malcolm Gluck's unpleasant little missive (July 17) is that he begins by saying it's impossible that I could have signed my name 1,000 times in an hour and ends up by revealing that he did it himself.
You tell him, Salman. (Via LIS News.)
Poetry today--not so absolutely fabulous, says "Ab Fab" star Joanna Lumley. Controversy! The Guardian's all over it. Only in Britain would the social-affairs correspondent for a major newspaper write up the latest poetry flap.
The WaPo has delivered another of its periodic profiles of George Pelecanos. I've made the case that D.C. is more of a writers' town than it gets credit for, but we have few enough blockbuster names that they get profiled more often than they're probably comfortable with, especially if they're George Pelecanos.
If you're a Pelecanos fan, there aren't any knock-your-socks-off surprises here. But he's got a new book coming out, The Turnaround. And--this was the twist for me--he's wondering how much more mileage he's going to get out of crime stories:
"I've been struggling with that," he said. "You want to deliver the genre goods, but in the last few books, I've been delivering them more sheepishly. The Turnaround isn't even really a crime novel. But you need conflict to make a novel, any kind of novel, and I don't know any other way to do it than crime."
The author of the profile--not Pelecanos, unfortunately--is going to be online at noon to do a Q&A with readers about the story.
July 18, 2008
And that's it from me. Next week, while I'm reading Christopher Priest novels on my friend's back porch and watching her chickens run around, the lovely, talented, whip-smart Jennifer Howard from the Chronicle of Higher Education will be guest blogging, along with the usual suspects. I will see you in a week.
This afternoon I got sucked into the wormhole of "I am the most unproductive person in the world", one which most writers know well. I admit that the entrance to this warped non-place, ironically, is often the completion of a project. I finished a little review and immediately thought to myself, "Well, this doesn't count unless I write eighteen to twenty more. In fact, I think I ought to review every literary magazine in existence between now and seven PM."
So off I went into the land of cyberspace searching for magazines to peruse and analyze. The sheer number was overwhelming, the links too tempting not to click, click, click. I buzzed through three without completing more than two full stories or articles.
"Are these just poorly written pieces?" I wondered. "Boring subject matters? Or do I have the attention span of a ten year old boy deprived of his Ritalin?"
Through Joyland and Lamination Colony and Beatrice...
"God, just write SOMETHING already! You don't even have any idea what you're talking about, do you? Just make a list of adjectives: wayward, soothing, heavy, peripatetic, elegiac, antiquated, skeptical... homeopathic? Homophobic? What? Stupid? Stupid."
Thank you, Ms. Rough. I think I'll go on a walk.
J. M. Barrie laid down a curse on anyone who wrote a biography of him, and previous biographers have certainly regretted it. (Please watch out for the latest biographer, Piers Dudgeon, make sure he gets home all right.) But the story of the abused, impotent, stalking, "lover of young boys," writer is too twisted not to be told.
Oklahoma Commissioner Brent Rinehart is not just running for re-election, he's running against the devil. And everyone knows the best way to get your message out in such a situation is a comic book. To read the whole comic, with its talk of the gay conspiracy and the "anal sodomy," it can be found here (PDF file). Vote for Rinehart! It's what the angels want. Link from Journalista.
Paul Collins explains why you will not get rich dealing in stolen Shakespeare folios.
But the pursuit of folio-spotting remains unparalleled in literature, beginning with Thomas Dibdin's first census of folio owners in the London area in 1824 and Sidney Lee's worldwide folio census in 1901, detailing the condition and identifying marks of every known copy.
Does the folio have graffiti inviting the reader "to kisse the wrightere's arse"? Then it once belonged to theologian Daniel Williams. Were several plays used as scrap paper for loopy handwriting exercises by a quill-wielding 17th-century child? Then you're probably looking at the Sutro Library's folio. Did your folio contain greasy food stains and crumbs fallen into the binding? Then you're in the British Library with Samuel Johnson's old copy.
July 17, 2008
We have a new poet laureate today, Kay Ryan:
- The NY Times reprints several poems, including "Home to Roost," which Ryan reads in the next bullet.
- On YouTube: Reading "Home to Roost" (don't miss the part where she explains she gets mail from people explaining that chickens don't fly, or the other part where she talks about getting a shoutout in The Boondocks). She also says, I like to write personal poems in such a way that no one has to know that. Here's another where she reads for ten minutes at Casa Romantica: I have a great fondness for the natural world and the lessons we can learn from it. But I'm impatient, so I just make up the natural world, and have fake facts in my poems a lot. You should know that, if you read the poems.
- At the Library of Congress site: Ryan’s poems are characterized by the deft use of unusual kinds of slant and internal rhyming–which she has referred to as "recombinant rhyme"–in combination with strong, exact rhymes and even puns. The poems are peppered with wit and philosophical questioning and rely on short lines, often no more than two to three words each. She has said of her ascetic preferences, "An almost empty suitcase–that’s what I want my poems to be. A few things. The reader starts taking them out, but they keep multiplying." Because her craft is both exacting and playfully elastic, it is possible for both readers who like formal poems and readers who like free verse to find her work rewarding.
- A terrific essay by Ryan on poetry and humor: I have always felt that much of the best poetry is funny. Who can read Hopkins’s “The Windhover,” for instance, and not feel welling up inside a kind of giddiness indistinguishable from the impulse to laugh? I suppose there has got to be some line where one might say about a poem, “That’s too much nonsense,” but I think it is a line worth tempting. I am sure that there is a giggly aquifer under poetry.
In the newest VQR, Amro Naddy compiles 11 Israeli and Palestinian poets: The following collection of poems from eleven Israelis and Palestinians offers an intimate look at the life of this region in conflict—but through a smaller and more personal lens than most news media allow. While each of these poems is politically conscious in some way, many delve into less predictable territory: sex, death, television, ghosts, memory, and resurrection.
BARBIE’S new S&M look has whipped up a storm – with protesters dubbing it “filth”. The doll’s image is transformed with kinky fishnets, motorcycle jacket, black gloves and boots.
Makers Mattel say Black Canary Barbie, out in September, is based on a DC comic superhero of the same name. (Link from Jezebel.)
Coudal is putting together events in Chicago and New York for the launch of this year's Field Tested Books. Alas, I will not be in either city at the time, so I have a perfect excuse for why I will not be on stage making an ass of myself. Which really, is a selling point for the events.
Field-Tested Books is a project we've put together here at Coudal Partners, a Chicago-based design firm. It's based on the idea that people's perceptions of a book are affected by the place where they read them. Or vise versa. To test that theory, we asked a wide variety of writers, designers, actors, and artists to write short essays about a memory they have of a book influencing a place or a place influencing their reading. Over the course of five years, we've assembled more than 140 of these essays from all over the world. Originally an online feature, this year we've decided to publish a book with the complete collection. And to help celebrate the launch of the new book, we'll be holding readings/events, first here in Chicago and then in New York, with LA and possibly more cities to follow.
I know Jason will have more about this later today, but Kay Ryan has been named Poet Laureate. Please pay her a lot of money.
I have wondered how someone could read more than one biography of someone. Do you just skim the hell out of the boring bits of the subject's life? Are you sort of fact checking it in your head as you go along? Then I read my fourth book about William James's life, although I do have to say I prefer the books like The Devil is a Gentleman and Ghost Hunters that use bits of James's life to tell much larger stories. Over at The Smart Set, I write about the glut of books about the James Family.
Unfortunately, Fisher is a little too aware of what has come before him. He spends a lot of time pointing out what other biographers missed. He repeatedly injects asides like “while other biographers have failed to notice…” as if he feels the need to justify his book’s existence. While recounting William’s passionate friendship with Emma Lazarus — nothing physical, just a lot of tormented letters — Fisher writes as an aside, “Though it reveals crucial aspects of William’s personality, it doesn’t appear at all in most biographies of him.” It’s not clear which “it” he is referring to, however. Fisher’s conclusion that William’s flirtations with women other than his wife revealed how he “spoiled to be admired”? Or the fact that he shared detailed information about his crushes with his wife? William was always the Victorian equivalent of today’s drunk e-mailer, writing letters late at night that were overly intimate and way too revealing, and then sending them to women he admired. He begged Alice Gibbens, before she eventually married him, to leave him. He outlined all the reasons he should die alone and not perpetuate the James genes. The fact that he continued this habit for the rest of his life, and with women other than his wife, is not that surprising. Just take a quick look at his collected correspondence. Fisher chose to spend his time pointing out how thorough he is, instead of commenting on things like how Lazarus’s death at the age of 38 may have affected William.
July 16, 2008
I know from experience the emotional wreckage that can result from a destroyed book. My brother tore out the last page of The Monster at the End of this Book, and I lived in fear for years without realizing that the monster was in fact Grover from Sesame Street. If only my copy had been published in board book format. I came across a selection at The Red Balloon Co., which I’m told are “perfect for reading, sucking, and throwing.” They offer classics like Goodnight Moon, with illustrations for observant children, who’ll notice the small details hidden in the dimming room (fun fact from Wikipedia: HarperCollins photoshopped out the cigarette from the illustrator’s photo). And they have delightfully modern books like Urban Babies Wear Black and First Book of Sushi, the latter of which features mixed-media collage versions of California rolls.
Careful about board books that come with toys, though, like these from Dalmation Press, recalled due to pieces of toy dump trucks and concrete mixers falling off and posing a choking hazard.
And apparently this binding format is not obsolete once we pass age five, since here is a board book version of Anna Karenina.
If Tolstoy fails to satisfy, there’s the option of creating one’s own masterpiece at Blank Slate Board Books. You order their kit, write a smattering of words, draw pictures on adhesive labels, and stick it all together on board pages. “Everyone has an idea for a book,” they say. Exactly the reasoning that landed me in an MFA program.
It takes place in Angola, a young country recently exiting a long civil war and a Marxist regime, where people are seeking not just a collective identity but also in many cases a new past with which they can face their future. And out of this context emerges the figure of a man, an old second-hand-book dealer, who dedicates himself to creating pasts for the emerging bourgeoisie.
The Guardian has a (gorgeous, gorgeous) gallery of the artwork from the comic book adaptation of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, adapted by artist Andrzej Klimowski and his collaborator Danusia Schejbal.
The elderly heirs of Fernando Pessoa, the exalted Portuguese writer, plan this fall to auction Pessoa’s correspondence with Aleister Crowley, the early-20th-century British mystic, mountaineer, writer and practitioner of black magic...
Crowley was the larger-than-life spectacle whose recent biographer felt compelled to point out that his subject “did not — I repeat not — perform or advocate human sacrifice.”
I would like to read these letters, please.
The Society of Authors has released a list of 50 outstanding translations from the past 50 years.
July 15, 2008
Can I declare a trend in publishing if I can think of just two books that fall into my self-declared trend? Is that okay? Just for today, I’m going to say that there’s just an abundance of books on polyamory. An abundance of books advocating open relationships, non-monogamy, basically getting it on with people who are not your “primary partner.” And, okay, I can just point to two -- Open by Jenny Block, and Opening Up by Tristan Taormino -- but you only need to put up with my hyperbole for a few minutes.
Both books make a point of addressing the fact that modern marriage is in trouble, people cheat all the time, and so, non-monogamy is already in practice, and why not be honest about the whole thing.
Open is Jenny Block’s memoir of her experience in an open relationship -- her hubby doesn’t have the sex drive she has and so she has a girlfriend who can keep up.
Opening Up is Tristan Taormino’s “guide to creating and sustaining open relationships.” Taormino is a sex educator, writer and a tireless advocate and producer of women-centered pornography.
In Opening Up,Taormino covers the minutiae of open relationships from the various names for every sort of open relationship, from solo polyamory to polyfidelity. She also covers legal issues, gives tips to keep sex toys clean and, of course spends some time on jealousy and resentment -- hey, every relationship has it.
It’s all well and good, and there is no doubt that many, many people in seemingly monogamous relationships are actually doing the polyamorous thing, just behind their partner’s back. In my opinion, it’s not the cheating that ruins relationships, but the lies surrounding it, and these books advocating open relationships for those interested, certainly give couples many tools to transition their relationship into something more honest. However, and unfortunately, no book can undo the social conditioning we’ve experienced for our entire lives about cheating and jealous and monogamy. But both books certainly attempt it.
So, if you’re interested in opening up your relationship, then there has been no better time to do it what with all the books newly published on the subject (okay, just two).
And if you are one who wants to check out if the grass is actually greener (it’s actually just as green, but different) Taormino has some bullet points to determine if polyamory is for you.
Page 74, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino:
- You want to have multiple relationships and define those relationships on your terms
- You have the desire and capacity to love, share emotional and sexual intimacy, and commit to more than one partner
- You don’t want to limit yourself to “just sex” from your additional relationships
- You want to explore different sexual or relationship dynamics with people of different genders
- You want certain erotic and emotional desires, needs and fantasize fulfilled by different partners
Okay, so if you answered yes to any of the above, then an open relationship might be for you. Next step -- check out the open relationship section of your local independent bookstore. It’s where the fiction books used to be.
You still have 13 hours to bid on Gawker's copy of Keith Gessen's All the Sad Young Literary Men. All references to Harvard have been crossed out of the book (there were a lot!) and replaced by Florida State University. (Explanation here.) Proceeds go to charity.
One of my goals in this book is to share what I've learned about my special brand of voyeurism, which I have named snoopology in order to differentiate it from complete guesswork and stating the blindingly obvious. What, then, could the experienced snoopologist infer about me by reading this book? By my constant need to remind you that I am a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, you can probably easily gather that I am obsessed with status and insecure about my own identity.
I think the main thing is that Ray would be voiced by over 700 members of The Arcade Fire speaking in unison, and Roast Beef would be voiced by the door latch being locked for the night at a McDonald’s restaurant. The latch closure can be mixed together at different pitches to create a complex tonality not unlike utterances.
The New Yorker has Jill Lepore's feature on the battle over Stuart Little that "reshaped children's literature." (Updated to correct an error. Sorry, it's early.)
[Moore] warned her that the book “mustn’t be published.” To the Whites she sent a fourteen-page letter, predicting that the book would fail and that it would prove an embarrassment, and begging the author to reconsider its publication. Exactly what the letter said, and even to whom it was addressed, is much disputed. The Whites threw it away—in disgust, Katharine said—and only six pages of an incomplete copy in Moore’s hand survive. But even in this expurgated version Moore’s criticisms were severe: the story was “out of hand”; Stuart was always “staggering out of scale.” Worse, White had blurred reality and fantasy—“The two worlds were all mixed up”—and children wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
July 14, 2008
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: Ilan Stavans
With last week's entry sparking my interest in historietas, this week I spoke to writer/commentator/translator Ilan Stavans. His new book, Mr. Spic Goes to Washington (Soft Skull Press), is a graphic novel that places a former Latino East L.A. gang banger named Mr. Spic (née Samuel Patricio Inocencio Cárdenas) in the United States Senate, where he attempts to upend protocol and overturn outstanding racism and lack of representation from the Latino community. Stavans' book, illustrated by Roberto Weil (who also did the accompanying author sketch), proposes progressive revolution to an old-fashioned system that sometimes seems like it will never change.
Where did the idea for Mr. Spic Goes to Washington originate?
I came of age in Mexico City reading comic books imported from the United States (the standard gallery: superheroes like Spiderman, as well as morals like Archie). But the historietas (the Spanish term for strips) I identified the most with were native: Condorito, Memín Pinguín, and Kalimán, among them. Some were by Mexican artists, other by Chileans, Argentines, etc. Then, a couple of years ago, I rented the DVD of Frank Capra’s 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While watching it again (I know by heart some of the lines), I felt the story begged to be retold from the contemporary perspective of ethnic politics and through the prism of the south-of-the-border historietas.
Do you think a senator like Senator Spic can exist in the near future?
Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and other anchormen with an embarrassing record when it comes to objectivity in the news, demonize Latinos on a daily basis. Were Senator Spic a real-life politician today, Dobbs and O’Reilly would have a field day with him. This, in turn, would increment his appeal. So, in response to your question: as of now, a good Latino politician is a dead Latino politician. The best that one can say about the future is that it is always capable of surprises.
Your bibliography is quite extensive. Have you ever done a graphic novel like this before? When did you decide you wanted to write one?
It is a natural progression from writing stories (The One-Handed Pianist and The Disappearance), working for the theater (the Double Edge Theatre adaptation of The Disappearance), and doing movies (My Mexican Shivah). The graphic novel is the most exciting literary genre today. In 2000 I did a cartoon history: Latino USA (Basic Books), with Lalo Alcaraz.
What prompted your choice in Roberto Weil as your artist?
I was acquainted with his art through his syndicated columns. In a strike of inspiration, I invited him to collaborate. I’m at awe by his cinematic perspective. By the way, you might find it intriguing that having worked with him for more than a year in Mr. Spic Goes to Washington, we have never met or even spoken. Everything was done via the Internet. In total, I received 1,432 e-mails from Rob; he must have received almost twice as many from me.
You also wrote a book called Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (HarperCollins). Can you elaborate on this work? Much of Senator Spic’s lingo in the graphic novel is in Spanglish.
I’ve been fascinated with Spanglish for over a decade and a half. The book you referred to is a lexicon with approximately 6,000 terms. It also contains a translation into Spanglish of the first chapter of Don Quixote of La Mancha. Senator Spic’s lingo is quite common these days. I regularly teach a course on the topic at Amherst College. It isn't an exaggeration to state that in it I learn enormously from my students.
What are you working on next?
A travel book called Resurrecting Hebrew (Schocken) will be published in September. I just handed in the 4,000-page manuscript of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. And I’m completing now a two-volume biography of Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
Opium 6: Go Green! (But Save Me First)
The sixth issue of Opium, like the recently reviewed Lapham's, takes on one of the most buzzed-about issues of the moment: the environment. While Lapham's Quarterly took a glossy, historical perspective, Opium 6 simply inserts tiny witticisms about the environment into introductions. This tactic is more palatable for me because, to be completely frank, I'm pretty sick of hearing doomsday stories about the environment. (And Africa. Yes, I know I'm heartless and cruel. And going to Hell.) Todd Zuniga must have heard my moans of boredom. "So how can we make of this funny?" he asks in his Editor's Letter. Well, this is how:
1. Include a story by master of magical realism Aimee Bender, whose books include The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures.
2. Place simple cartoons throughout (my favorite is the one that compares Birkenstocks to Orthotricyclin.)
3. Interview a former cohort of Salvador Dali, then format it whimsically so that the reader has to turn the magazine around to follow the narrative (thereby making the reader look rather moronic to outside observers.)
4. Salute the great "wit-lit ezines" of the past by reprinting such perfectly tart and humorous stories from (in this issue) Sweet Fancy Moses as "Minuteman" by Stephen Kopka and "Suits" by Ryan Bartelmay.
That oughta do it.
I am reviewing cookbooks over at the Smart Set. We'll see if I survive the experience. It would probably be better for my safety if I was prevented from cooking ever again, as I cut off a large section of thumb last night dicing onions. Not to mention the large number of times I've set fires and burned, cut, grated, stabbed myself.
“Someone should really field test these things,” I grumbled as a “cold, refreshing white gazpacho” came out tasting weirdly like hummus — runny hummus that took me four hours to make. “Someone with a slight obsessive compulsive disorder. Someone who likes it when her surly butcher growls at her.” Strangely, someone took me up on my offer.
Which is how I found myself drunk at the Hispanic grocery store, looking for hominy.
Scholars of the 20th-century writer Franz Kafka were in a state of suspense last night at the news that the remains of his estate, which have been hoarded in a Tel Aviv flat for decades, may soon be revealed.
Previously unseen documents, postcards, sketches and personal belongings of the Czech-Jewish writer, who wrote in German, have been gathering dust in the home of Esther Hoffe, the former secretary of Kafka's friend and executor Max Brod since his death in 1968. Hoffe's refusal to relinquish the documents led to a literary game of cat and mouse between her and the state of Israel, under pressure from the country's cultural elite, which on one occasion even led to her arrest on suspicion of smuggling Kafka's writings out of the country.
Although I currently believe that Timur Bekmambetov should be allowed to film all comic book adaptations from now on, I'll still probably wander out to see Hellboy at some point. Wired talks to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola about the adaptation from comic to film.
July 11, 2008
Book of Nature, Volume 1 Issue 3
I'm just arriving at the literary magazine pool, really, but I have set up camp on a lawn chair and gotten in line for the diving board (high dive, no less). Needless to say, as a neophyte, I feel a bit less than confident criticizing any publication lest someone call me out on the fact that I'm not the most knowledgeable evaluator out there. I guess this can be a good thing, though, as ignorance (when done well) can render one kinder, less disillusioned and consequently more palatable. This distinction was made most clear to me this week when evaluating Lapham's Quarterly's third issue, titled The Book of Nature. It was only after I had perused the issue that I read New Criterion's initial denouncement of the magazine as "pretentious" (sidenote: I find it slightly amusing that a reviewer who uses the word "apothegm" in the first sentence of his piece feels the right to call something ELSE "pretentious.")
Thank goodness for my ignorance, then, because while I did understand some of the concerns (euphemism) the writer outlined, on the whole I found it a worthwhile read and an interesting and relatively effective way for Lewis Lapham to reach his goal of telling "the story of the past in the frame of the future." There were a few things that made me skip chunks at times, namely the pieces that triggered flashbacks to required reading from middle school through college (works by Homer and Dante and a portion of the dreaded Beowulf) and the occasionally overwhelming collage-esque layout complete with pictures and quotes that rarely, if ever, relate to the same thing. The juxtaposition, though, did work at times; for example, pages 84 and 85, which sees John Burger analyzing the zoo as an institution next to Adolf Hitler espousing his views on animal rights and, later in the magazine, the entire "Conversations" section, in which thinkers duel posthumously (personal favorite is the first: Shakespeare versus Nietzsche.) The writing I enjoyed most was usually the most contemporary (the aforementioned Berger, Michael Pollan's explanation of the "NewLeaf" potato, the lyrical first piece excerpted from Inferno by Charles Bowden, and Chris Rose's piece on a post-Katrina New Orleans.) Oh, and then there was the Whitman poem on Brooklyn, which I just enjoyed because I like to represent my borough.
Final thought: Douglas Mawson, whose story is told by Evan S. Connell, would win a battle against all the people profiled on the television show I Should Not Be Alive. Research, discuss, and send me your opinions.
Lo, a 35-year-old actress, writer, and yoga teacher, is trying to do everything Oprah recommends for a whole year. She’s listening to recommendations Oprah makes on her talk show, and gathering others from her Web site and magazine, and keeping track of her project at livingoprah.com. She hopes to get a book out of it...
Oh my god, of course she does.
The Bookerest Bookery Bookerella Bookerette is...bring on the dancing girls... Midnight's Children by Sal -- you're asleep right now, aren't you? Dare everyone to go into bookstores and stealthily pull the stickers off it and put them on this.
Or, for added hijinks, start reading the capslock-loving discussion boards on the Man, What a Booker website.
MARGARET ATTWOOD IS A WINNER ALL THE WAY FOR ME - HER RANGE OF STYLES ALONE SETS HER UP AT THE TOP OF THE LIST TO MY MIND
July 10, 2008
You might think I'd be too dignified to plug my interview with Lisa Appignanesi, author of Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, or my review of Ciaran Carson's terrific new book, For All We Know, both in the July issue, but you'd be wrong.
Also don't miss Wendy Anderson's interview with Ken Stein, or Dale Smith's reading of Elizabeth Robinson's Inaudible Trumpeters. (And there's more, too, of course!)
Over at Dale's own blog, he has posted a whole series of reflections on Slow Poetry. Start here and work your way forward. He's also gathered up links to some interesting replies, including this long comment thread at K. Silem Mohammad's place. "Slow Poetry" is less a call for a return to some lonely agrarian ideal; rather, Smith's thinking about what might happen to poetry in an age of scarce resources.
At Letras Latinas blog, John Chávez's catalogue poem, "The Soul of Things," with commentary.
Unpublished Neruda poems! But they're all about his love for his wife's niece, and they're being published "to confirm her love with Neruda and put this book on sale to lend herself some legitimacy and put an end to the myth."
Sandra Beasley has a post at Hayden's Ferry Review about the appeal and pitfalls of the first-person in poetry:
Not too long ago I was giving a reading for my book, Theories of Falling, in my hometown of Washington, DC. It was an unusually organic mix of people from my life--old friends, new friends, literary world folk, a high school English teacher, and family. A man walked right up to my father and shook his hand confidently. "General Beasley," he said. My father returned the handshake and said tentatively "Have we met?" The gentleman held up his copy of my book "I feel like I met you in here!" he said.
Every poet curdles inside a bit, witnessing that moment.
This is an interesting essay on George Oppen and Buddhadev Bose, by Pat Clifford.
At The Loss of Hope and Love, Jim McGrath cuts up news stories into poems. His links back to the original sources are frequently striking. I would not have thought such use could be made of the USA Today, or of a review of a Billy Joel concert.
Finally, it's nothing to do with poetry, but I do love the BookNinja's description of Twitter: Twitter, which I originally thought might be a porn site dedicated to Looney Tunes characters . . . . (You can, of course, follow me on Twitter. Distressingly little Looney Tunes porn, though I did have a link today to android nudity.)
Time magazine concluded that The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was one of the definitive zeitgeist novels of the 20th century, and it appears - to my continuing delight and irritation - that my father may be even better at the new world than he was at the old. It's not that he casts a long shadow; it's more that it seems pointless to stand next to a lighthouse and wave a torch.
I just discovered that Dubravka Ugresic has a website. I am slow. And it is stylish and functional, it's like a goddamn miracle. But really, I'm here to point out that after a short hiatus, the Bookslut Reading Series returns on July 29 with Eddie Campbell (The Fate of the Artist, From Hell, a thousand other amazing books) and David J. Schwartz Superpowers. More dates to be added soon, but on October 1, Dubravka Ugresic will be joining us, along with Rolf Potts. The series will once again be hosted by the wonderful Hopleaf. See you then.
Of all the great literary figures Gordon Brown could have likened himself to, Emily Brontë's flawed anti-hero Heathcliff was at best a questionable choice.
But in an interview with the New Statesman Brown has insisted the comparison with anguished and self-destructive figure was "absolutely correct". He added: "Well, maybe an older Heathcliff and a wiser Heathcliff."
Less the puppy hanging Heathcliff, more the grave robbing Heathcliff? Someone make him read that book again, I don't think he remembers who Heathcliff actually is.
July 9, 2008
I feel like I haven’t seen a woodcut book in a while, but I remember being a kid and flipping through a woodcut-illustrated collection of Hans Christian Anderson fairytales and knowing it was more precious than the flimsy Fear Street paperbacks I was reading (though both were pretty scary). So I was enchanted when I came across Barbarian Press -- a private Canadian press run by Crispin and Jan Elsted -- which publishes books illustrated with wood engravings, and typeset by hand.
Barbarian Press’s main forthcoming book is an edition of The Play of Pericles, to be published this fall. Their website details the difficulties in printing this book:
Publishing Pericles, however, is not so easy a matter as simply setting the play in type and printing it. The text of the play is acknowledged to be corrupt. The only text surviving from Shakespeare’s time is a quarto edition published in 1609. Both as a printing job and as an edition of a text, it is an unholy mess: verse is set as prose; words, lines, and (it seems) whole sections of scenes are omitted; speeches are attributed to the wrong characters, and so on. Moreover, it is clear from the physical evidence that the book was set in type by three different compositors, probably in two different shops, and that it was set not from the foul papers (Shakespeare’s own copy) but from a “reported” copy, possibly cobbled together by a group of the actors who took parts in the performances.
Work on the book began five years ago, and will contain sixty to seventy wood engravings, done by Simon Brett, who has illustrated more than forty books, and who Barbarian Press calls “one of the world’s leading wood engravers, and more to the point, one of the most literate and sensitive illustrators working today.”Also, apparently the press offers workshop classes where you can learn about letterpress design and printing. And Simon Brett has written books on wood engraving, including Wood Engraving: How To Do It. I’m seriously considering taking the class and ordering the book and creating my own fantastic woodcut publications. I will begin by carving my name into this desk here.
I stare at the computer until I get bored, which takes about five minutes. Then, if I'm feeling energetic, I'll get up and make a cup of coffee, or, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll start randomly messing around on the internet or playing card games on screen. I've just discovered Spider Solitaire and can sense a whole new world of distraction opening up for me.
Maybe Book sections in newspapers are just dated. Not the idea...but the look and feel. Maybe they're modeled after a book store in 1967 whereas we're in the Borders, Amazon, B&N era. Maybe they are too scholarly. Maybe they avoid genres like Christian books, Celebrity books and Popular novels, opting instead for reviews of the Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1800's. The point here is maybe Book sections need to be as dramatically re-thought as Borders re-thought retail. Not dumbing down--but getting in sync with the 21st Century mainstream book reader.
July 8, 2008
The conventional thinking about British art-rock group Roxy Music is that Brian Eno was the brains of the outfit and Bryan Ferry was just the beautiful bimbo in front. But as this fan swooned over Ferry's aquiline nose, silky voice and perfect hair, it was obvious he was a genius — just look at the way he dressed.
Although, really, nothing tops Brian Eno's outfit. (Must. Acquire. Feathered Shoulderpads.)
The Chronicle of Higher Education wonders how Ira Glass can get away with naming a nonfiction anthology The New Kings of Nonfiction. (By not really including women in the book, of course!) The problem is not just that she thinks Ira Glass's book is sexist (although, ahem) but that he is choosing from magazines that traditionally assign women to trend pieces, essays about "feminine issues," and smaller articles.
For example, the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic contains three substantial pieces by women. One, by Eliza Griswold, is both political and reported, and it does not integrate her personal experience. But the other two use personal experiences to make claims about women's lives. And in an almost absurd twist, both argue that women should start settling for less.
Oh damn you, Lori Gottlieb, won't you go away already?
The Penguin Great Ideas books are always beautiful and clever, but the cover for Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is sheer brilliance.
The Frank O'Connor Best Short Story Writer In The Universe Award judges - well, I was going to say Jhumpa'd the gun, but Jessa would likely have me flogged:
The judges for the Frank O'Connor award have dispensed with the ritual of issuing a shortlist, announcing today that Jhumpa Lahiri has won the world's richest honour for a short story collection. The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner, and have awarded Lahiri the €35,000 (£27,000) prize.
No shortlist? What about the foreplay, guys?
The South Bergenite has a small article on the strained friendship between Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.
Lennox approaches the front desk of a downtown Miami polis station. There's Vince in uniform. Jeez, he's a cop. One moment you're in a typical grimy, on-the-skids Irvine Welsh book and the next you're in a Carl Hiaasen thriller.
"As of 2008," the 49-year-old professor of English at Emory University writes in "The Dumbest Generation," "the intellectual future of the United States looks dim."
July 7, 2008
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: Eddy Arellano
Eddy's first graphic novel, Dead in Desemboque (Soft Skull Press) is a longform experiment with la historieta, a Mexican pulp genre. Arellano tells a pseudo-autobiographical story of his impending death in Desemboque through they eyes of three artists: William Schaff, Alec Thibodeau, and Richard Schuler. Each presents a portion of Arellano's story through vastly different tones, resulting in a powerful recollection of a genre that has somehow been primarily unexplored in anglophone literature.
I spoke to Arellano this morning regarding Dead in Desemboque and some of his prior works, one of which is said to be the very first web book.
Where did the idea for Dead in Desemboque come from? What inspired the story?
El Desemboque is a little fishing village in Sonora, Mexico where the desert meets the Sea of Cortez. Actually, Desemboque is two little fishing villages where the desert meets the sea. But the Desemboque where I lived for three months in a mud shack – no plumbing or heating, electricity limited to a single extension cord that came in through a crack in the wall – is about 50 miles north up the coast from the other Desemboque where I end up dying. It's a long ride.
It's pretty wild living in a house without a seal for three months – there were bars over the windows but no glass in the boxes. My electronic stuff, after exposure to heat, windblown sand, and other factors of the harsh environment (dead flies caught in the laptop keyboard, for instance), just up and died. A few weeks into my stay at Desemboque norte, I set up a cemetery of useless tech in a corner of my shack.
I started writing in a notebook and immersed myself in Mexico's popular, pulp adventure comics with titles like "Frontera violenta" and "El Solitario". On morning runs for bottled water, I bumped into the town drunk, who threw me little gems like "Your dogs don't bite." (Yes, the red one does.) "How about you? Do you bite?"
When I returned to the states for the reading tour of my Akashic novel Don Dimaio of La Plata, I got to know Dan Raeburn, publisher of the Baffler, at Quimby's Books in Chicago. Dan had recently dedicated an entire Baffler issue to the Mexican comix genre, and that volume really lit a fire under me to find illustrator/collaborators and a publisher for a manuscript that was beginning to take shape under tentative titles like "Border, Bloody Border" and "Bloodless Border."
In the script I put together for the first of three episodes, Eddy and the dogs are abducted in Sonoyta by Doña Lupe, la dueña del hotel. The outline for the subsequent two episodes made a big triangle of rides across Sonora as Eddy chases romance and is pursued by more badguys. I really wanted it to look and feel like a pocket-sized comic book, and I said that in an email to the first and only publishing house I approached with a proposal. Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash knows something about everything. That man is widely read. I mean, look at Soft Skull's list! Richard knew about the historieta genre, but he thought it would be better to make it a straight graphic novel in historieta style. He emailed me back, "We're not really in the digest-size comic book business...And I think what you guys are doing is sufficiently 'arty' that selling it as a full-on GN is probably a better bet anyway." Under his direction and the artists' inspiration, the final book was more powerful and beautiful than anything I had imagined.
How would you say each of the artists captured the story?
Each of the artists is a friend, and every one of them worked long hours out of what I now understand could only have been love: love for drawing, love for dogs, love for me. I supplied them all with scripts breaking the tale into short frames of description and dialogue. I sent them Mexican comics and photos of the Sonora Desert, its towns and people.
For episodio uno, William Schaff used ink, guaches, collage, scratchboard. He was the first to finish, and I remember offering the other two artists the chance to look at Will's episode while illustrating his own. One did and the other didn't. Schaff worked instead of sleeping. In the middle of the night right before the publisher's deadline, he left me a crazed message saying he was going to burn all the artwork. He punched a window and ended up with stitches. He also made Doña Lupe into one of the sexiest sirens you'll ever meet who will try to steal your dog. Schaff put skulls everywhere, and he really set the tone for Eddy (and everybody) appearing already dead in Desemboque. He created a dark netherworld around the sly frenzy of the dog contests and the decadence of the victor's banquet. Someday, I'd like to buy the original artwork for that two-page spread.
Alec Thibodeau worked quietly for months and barely showed me a page before turning up with episodio dos complete and immaculate. Thibodeau traveled with me to El Desemboque (norte) on Day of the Dead 2005, and he really picked up the "putos borrachos" vibe. His characterizations of the dogs are brilliant, and he inked a perfect tension between Eddy's conflicting associations: José el Cubano's amigo-speakeasy, Juanita's sexy domesticity, Jock's smouldering menace….
Richard Schuler gave me sneak peaks every now and then, but when I saw his episodio tres complete I was amazed at the characters he created for Eddy's death-ride: the shepard, the crooked mayor, the "rancher with very tight chaps" – these are all Schuler's babies. And his deft touch with the Seri Indian village (Desemboque sur) in the climactic and most complicated scene of the novel forged a visual and narrative completeness I hadn't foreseen. Schuler also traveled to Desemboque with me, and he gave me the idea to write the corrido verses for black pages between each episode.
Other than being a graphic novel, how does Dead in Desemboque differ from your previous work?
We could call Dead in Desemboque an autobiographic (sic) novel. The central character has my name, but the pulp stories are more fantastical than biographical. But the biggest difference is the desert setting. My straight novels – Fast Eddie, King of the Bees and Don Dimaio of La Plata – were published in Akashic Books' Urban Surreal series. They're about municipal dystopias and these unlikely heroes who getting boosted and broken, and each book is a satire mapped on the conflicts and characters of a different famous legend. There are hints in each of the titles.
Over a decade ago you published the first "web book," Sunshine '69. What did a web book entail back in 1996?
Sunshine '69, serialized by Sonicnet twelve years ago, is the first interactive novel ever published on the internet. It's a hypertext you navigate in time, space, and points of view through a web of stories spun around the last six months of the 1960s. Characters include rock stars Mick and Keith, a flower child named Orange Sunshine, an underground guru named Leary, and Lucifer, who needs no introduction. Although I wrote several hundred pages of core novelistic text, the Sunshine '69 guestbook lets readers contribute their own 60s story, "recollected, imagined, or otherwise experienced." There have been thousands of contributors. Most are just little shout-outs from passers-by, but there are also many from old hippies who tell me they knew an Orange Sunshine (my character is a complete fabrication) or from Hell's Angels who say they were there for the human sacrifice at Altamont.
Sunshine '69 looks pretty much the same today as it did in 1996. Only the skins of our web browsers have changed. But it's hard to capture the indie sense of back-before-the-bubble when artists considered the Internet an anti-corporate, emergent medium. When I started working on Sunshine '69, the only browser was the University of Illinois-developed Mosaic. Netscape hit in '94 and that was a huge deal: "Wow! a private company wants to get involved in our freebie medium!" One group keeping it real today is the Electronic Literature Organization, of which I'm a member. ELO promotes contests, conferences, and publications as well as maintains an expanisive directory of interactive literature.
What are you working on now?
A crime novel set on the last island of socialism during the post-Soviet economic meltdown of the 1990s. My parents, Manuel Ramirez de Arellano and Alicia Belt y Cardenas, fled the Castro Revolution in 1960 with my four brothers and sisters. I returned to Cuba ten times between 1992 and 2002 and came up with the characters of Mano Rodriguez, a young doctor with the revolutionary medical service who has been blacklisted by the Cuban Communist Party, and a teenage
jinetera named Julia who takes refuge in his clinic to break away from the abusive chulo who prostituted her. A Palo Monte curse and a violent chain reaction plunges them into the decadent catacombs of Havana's criminal underworld. I'm still working on getting them out... but the psychological mystery, titled "Havana Lunar," should be out on Akashic Books in March, 2009.
The Welsh poet Dannie Abse, who has the most lovely author photo I've seen in ages, has won the English Language Welsh Book of the Year award. Worth £10,000, the award celebrates Abse's book The Presence, about death of his wife Joan after their fifty-year marriage. The Welsh-language prize went to the novel Y Proffwyd a'l Ddwy Jesebel (The Prophet and His Two Jezebels) by Gareth Miles, about "the feverish relationship between a preacher and two of his female followers during the 1904 Welsh religious revival". Guess who is who in that title.
My wallet is thicker. We've been able to replace old windows in our house. The award has also given me a nice little holiday from envy -- that has been very restful and pleasant.
Her fellow Canadian, Margaret Atwood, was recently named the winner of this year's Prince of Asturias Literary Prize. Maybe I've been reading too much Le Guin, but that name sounds like it came from somewhere a bit more intergalactic than Spain.
The not-really-all-that-short shortlist for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has emerged. John Banville's pseudonymous detective writer Benjamin Black got cut from the original longlist, which seemed to feature every British crime book of the last year, but the ubiquitous Alexander McCall Smith has hung in, alongside debut author Stef Penny.
Not Dead Enough by Peter James
Relentless by Simon Kernick
Dying Light by Stuart MacBride
Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Piece of my Heart by Peter Robinson
Sovereign by C J Sansom
The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett
Buried by Mark Billingham
A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by Christopher Brookmyre
The Death of Dalziel by Reginald Hill, aka Death Comes For the Fat Man for our American readers
One Under by Graham Hurley
Sf author Thomas M Disch committed suicide at his apartment on July 4. Patrick Nielsen Hayden's eulogy paints a picture of a man who was brilliant, noble, foolish, difficult and angry. I only knew him through his fiction, from which I learned a great deal.
July 3, 2008
Did Robert Graves steal from his mistress, Laura Riding Jackson? Mark Jacobs says yes: "Between 1926 and 1939, he was learning from her what she was doing and thinking," Dr Jacobs said. "He was taking her ideas, her research, he was simply shovelling it in to his own books.... She left her manuscript in Majorca. She later wrote to him [Graves] and told him to burn the manuscript. We now know that he didn't. It all appeared in dribble form in The White Goddess. He used it for his own ends without mentioning it to her. She only found out in the 1950s."
Relevant to last week's discussion of poetry & war: John Tipton has a new translation of Ajax-goes-to-Iraq: Tipton, who is highly conscious of the resonances of Sophocles' play with the current conflict in Iraq, includes a number of anachronisms, which anchor the play firmly in the present. For instance, his Ajax kills himself with Hector's gun, not his sword (a distracting mistake is that this Ajax also claims to be killed with "my own weapon," rather than simply "self-killed"); the Chorus compares Ajax to "a fast aircraft" and meditates on "the statistics of missiles." There are more obscenities than the conventions of Greek tragedy would have allowed: when Ajax realizes that he has "murdered farm animals" instead of soldiers, he shouts "Fuck. FUCK!" These details make it clear that we are to see these soldiers as modern combatants, struggling with the physical realities of modern warfare. (Via Philip Metres, who is I think too quick to identify Ajax & Achilles as sufferers of PTSD . . . .)
I commend to you PrimatePoetics, in which "Great apes using human language are creating a new literature": We are using the term poetry in a special sense. Poetry is a state of language in which we can't be sure to recognize it if we see it. Notice that our definition rejects as poetry most of the stuff written in broken lines which passes for poetry today. The very fact that there is still furious debate about the very existence of ape language shows that the language is still in its poetic phase.
Seth Abrams on the state of small poetry presses: out of the one hundred independent publishers of poetry in the United States I researched, I can only say for certain that two of them offer no-fee year-round readings of unsolicited full manuscripts.
Tess Taylor has a poem, "World's End: North of San Francisco," in Guernica: Here at the continent’s end, fortifications /linger for the end of the world. They greet / each California morning, these barracks in the fog.
Let me send American readers off for the holiday weekend with a beach-reading recommendation: Ciaran Carson's translation of The Táin, which came out in the US in February. The Táin is usually described as the Irish Beowulf--and there is *lots* of heroic violence, but also quick wit and raunchy fun for all! Screw Batman--I want to see Cú Chulainn: In that great massacre on Muirthemne Plain Cú Chulainn slew seven score and ten kings as well as innumerable dogs and horses, women and children, not to mention underlings and rabble; and not one man in three escaped without a staved head, or a broken leg, or a burst eye, or without being scarred for life in some way. And Cú Chulainn came away from that encounter without so much as a scrape or scratch on himself, or his man, or his horses.
Poet and Bookslut contributor Daniel Nester looks at “parodeities": rock songs with lyrics altered to make them Christian.
A perfect example of rock parody-as-study guide is “Learn Some Deuteronomy,” perhaps my favorite ApologetiX song. The tune is Def Leppard’s 1987 hit “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” said to be the greatest strip club song of all time. Here’s ApologetiX’s chorus:
Take your Bible—Shake it off
Everybody—breaks the law
Learn some Deuteronomy—can you name those laws
Learn from Deuteronomy—c’mon try because
Learn your Deuteronomy—you ain’t good enough
God’s Law—is tricky to keep—born again you must be, yeah
The London Review Bookshop -- where if I could, I would live -- has just turned five years old. Andrew Stilwell gives the secret of their survival, and it involves cake.
Neil Gaiman talks to Terry Pratchett.
I asked about the Alzheimer's. 'If I look at the table to see if my mobile is there, the chances are I won't see it even if it is actually there. But if I know it is there, I will see it. Sometimes the brain will overrule the eye and say that something isn't there, even though it is. And because that something could be the little girl in the pink dress on the zebra crossing, I don't drive a car any more.'
A federal judge threw out a new Indiana law requiring bookstores and other retailers to register with the state and pay a $250 fee if they want to sell sexually explicit material.
In my latest column for the Smart Set, I wrote about how teenage girls use the word "slut" as a weapon against one another, and how moralizing about sex is unproductive. The timing was coincidental.
As a cautionary tale about promiscuity, the book is a total failure. Easy is the slutty equivalent of Reefer Madness: Instead of marijuana that leads to murder, prostitution, and death, sex leads to disease, pregnancy, and social isolation. Jessica learns the error of her ways before the end of the school year and comes clean with her friend Elisabeth. Elisabeth asks, “Would you do it again?” “I consider this. ‘Only with someone I really loved. And only if I felt ready,’” Jessica answers.
July 2, 2008
While die-cut hardcovers can be pretty great, the problem with die-cut paperbacks is that they are always getting torn. My local used bookstore always has one such book -- usually V.C. Andrews, with a ghoulish woman staring out of a die-cut keyhole -- that’s been Scotch-taped together by some diligent employee. My dad just bought me the paperback reprint of The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle (he seems to think I love horses, when in fact I am terribly afraid of them), which has a horse cut-out on the cover, framing a sky filled with brilliant stars. Except that my copy took a beating in my dad’s briefcase, so that the curled front leg came off and it looks like the horse is pregnant with a trapezoidal foal.
The Book Design Review posted on Jamie Keenan’s cover for The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, which has letters cut out of the jacket to form an anagram of the word “random.” The comments section features a lively debate between a bookseller and designer David Drummond on the subject of easily-ruined covers.
The bookseller says: “As a bookseller, I can tell you that cover is going to take a lot of damage. White covers show the dirt immediately and die cut holes quickly snag and tear the cover as the book is taken off the shelf and put back.”
David Drummond says: “I hear this all the time. Thank god there are still clients out there that are still willing to say ‘what the *&%@, lets do it anyway.’”
Bookseller responds: “What's so admirable about saying ‘What the %^*, let's design a product that is ill-suited to its use?’ That's not some noble pursuit of ars gratia artis. That's just placing your own goals and interests above those of the job.”
Drummond says: “For the right idea, and this is one of them, the payoff offsets the slight risk of damage in-store.”
“To be crass and commercial for a moment, most sales of books are in the big chain stores. A high profile book, or one that the publisher agrees to pay for front of store placement, is on par with movies. They make their money in the first few months while on the tables. After that you're on to second or more printings and the special effect may be eliminated, or the book just doesn't sell and is remaindered or returned to the publisher. A good designer will integrate an effect to help sales. Otherwise it's a gimmick and fails. We try not to use effects unless they are useful to getting the book into a reader's hands. How well does a torn and/or dirty-looking book engage the audience?”
And so it continues with various interjections from others until finally PF gets the last word:
“As a bookseller of new and used books I especially like dust jackets that are easily damaged (i.e., with cut-outs) or glossy jackets that are very susceptible to rubbing wear (i.e., McCarthy's The Road and Dawkins's The God Delusion). I get the first printings in pristine condition, wait for them to become collectible, and then list. It's a very profitable game, especially since most of the copies you find online have flaws.”
Here are two things I would be reading today, if I weren't about to run off to spend the day reading William James. It's for an assignment, I swear.
Jenny Diski's essay on South Africa for London Review of Books.
The ‘you can’t understand until you’ve lived there’ argument had kept me from visiting South Africa quite effectively. If being there would make me understanding about apartheid, I preferred to stay away.
They're billing as a Netflix for magazines, which makes me think that I'll get a copy of Esquire after some 14-year-old girl has sharpied hearts around Johnny Depp's head. I'm a little disappointed to learn that's not how it works.
Hilary Mantel writes about the time she dreamt a story.
Wrapped in its peculiar atmosphere, as if draped in clouds, I walked entranced to my desk at about 4am and typed it on to the screen. The story was called "Nadine at Forty". In its subject matter, in its tone, its setting, it bore no relation to anything I have ever written before or since. It extended itself easily into paragraphs, requiring little correction and not really admitting any; how could my waking self revise what my sleeping self had imagined?
Jonathan Karp wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about how we're living in the age of the disposable book. He suspects that after the collapse of the industry, then publishers can get back to producing good works.
The Washington Post asked me to write a response, and I did.
Instead, publishers seem to be taking the music industry's lead on how to respond to this whole online thing, which goes something like this: "LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU." And no, mailing every book you produce to a long list of bloggers does not count as embracing new media. Look what happened, for example, when Anne Enright won the Man-Booker Prize. When a heretofore-obscure writer was suddenly appearing in every major British and American newspaper, readers started Googling her name -- only to find a Wikipedia entry. There was no author Web site and no information about her backlist on her publisher's Web site. (And have you seen her publisher's Web site? Horrors.) Publishers complain about the lack of interest in literary fiction, and yet when it exists, they fail miserably at nurturing it.
July 1, 2008
A male poet who has been reviewed on Bookslut can effectively consider the magazine’s founder Jessa Crispin, a slut for his book. He can, if he wants, begin thinking about other women readers of his in that same way as well, as his personal booksluts, metaphorically fucked by his every word. How on earth does this pass for sexual or intellectual liberation for women? Andrea Dworkin wrote, “The pornographic conception of female power is fundamental to the anti-feminism of sexual-liberation movements in which unlimited sexual use of women by men is defined as freedom for both: she wants it; he responds; viola! The revolution.” Crispin’s choice to call herself a slut goes along with this male-supremacist version of sexual revolution — one which caters to men’s words, men’s desires, men’s construction of female sexuality, by giving men greater sexual access to women and greater freedom to think of us as fuck objects.
Bookslut fails, however, to address women’s inequality. It fails to offer a feminist, non-patriarchal vision of sex and women’s passion for reading and creating. Using women as sexualized commodity to sell literary magazines is not a feminist sexual revolution, and moreover, Cripsin’s choice to do that affects more women than just herself. Women who are not interested in reclaiming hate words now must deal with them more frequently in literary circles.
Oh dear. Still processing, but I think it important to say that I understand some women have problems with the word "slut." I do not have that problem. Nor bitch. Cunt, maybe. Sometimes. But this woman's assertion that I am "a slut for Thomas Mallon" is really too funny to even respond to. My riled up inner feminist gets mightily pissed off at the assertion that I am harming women by running Bookslut, however. Maybe we should have a cleaned up version of the site for sensitive feminists, put some pants on the chiquita up on top, change it to Book Lady of a Certain Character. Bookladyofacertaincharacter.com is, believe it or not, available.
Updated to add: As weird as I feel about the "Why I'll Never Be a Bookslut" essay, I do have to say that men blogging/commenting on the essay, saying that a 12-year-old girl should take "nice tits" as a compliment should be seriously ashamed of themselves.
You Don’t Know Me: A Citizen’s Guide to Republican Family Values by Win McCormack is really great bathroom reading. Organized alphabetically by topic, which range from the curious (Falafel) to the depraved (Beastiality -- that one was committed by Neal Horsley who started a website “advocating the murder of abortion doctors and imprisoning homosexuals”), this book is the perfect reminder that the people who are the loudest anti-sex crusaders are often the ones most likely to be doing the very thing they oppose (Rev. Ted Haggard, Larry Craig).
The book also gives me hope. Under the heading, Father/Son Bonding, McCormack writes:
At the 1988 Republican National Convention, when George H.W. Bush was running for president of the United States, future president George W. Bush was asked by a Hartford Courant reporter what he and his father talked about when they weren’t talking about politics.
Bush’s answer: "Pussy."
I don’t know, I mean after all we’ve endured during this administration and Bush pere’s reign, I just like to believe that they were sitting there counting their blood money and talking about the best ways to give oral. I’m an optimist. (Private message to GW -- check out She Comes First for tips on getting ladies off. It’ll keep them coming back for more!)
My favorite section in the book is Bad Sex Writing. And this, gentle reader is where today’s Sticky Pages is drawn from. Everyone loves a little girl on girl action.
McCormack takes a quote from Sisters, a 1981 novel penned by Ms. Lynne Cheney.
Page 46, You Don’t Know Me
The women who embraced in the wagon were Adam and Eve crossing a dark cathedral stage -- no, Eve and Eve, loving one another as they would not be able to once they ate of the fruit and knew themselves as they truly were. She felt curiously moved, curiously envious… she saw that the women in the cart had a passionate, loving intimacy forever closed to her… Let us go away together, away from the anger and imperatives of men… And then we shall go to bed, our bed, my dearest girl.
Yowza! Excuse me while I find a quiet place to finish eating of the fruit and getting to know myself as I truly am.
Well, in my situation, until Drawn & Quarterly came along, I couldn't find a publisher who was interested in my work at all. There was no one.
The Miles Franklin award is le grand fromage of Australian literature. This year's winner is Victorian (as in the state, not the lace-fancying Dickensian type) author Steve Carroll, for his novel The Time We Have Taken. It is the third book in his trilogy on a Melbourne family in the '70s, a series which took him ten arduous years to write:
"This whole romantic myth of the artist the person laying around at midnight with a fag and half a bottle of scotch, it's just bulldust."
In further antipodean book prizery, Geraldine Brooks whisked away with the Australian Book of the Year award and the Literary Fiction Book of the Year award at the Australian Book Industry shindig. Her winning title, People of the Book, is her fictionalised history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is not, as I assumed, the name of a Balkan pub, but an ancient Jewish text. Brooks is an old hand at this game, having won the Pulitzer for her 2005 novel March.