December 29, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
San Francisco based artist Matt Furie recently put out the second issue of Boy's Club, a wonderfully bizarre collection of one-page stories featuring anthropomorphic monsters reminiscent of muppet monsters like Sweetums crossed with Chewbacca in an outfit that screams Saved by the Bell. In addition to the series, Furie also creates portraits of obscure pop culture characters in boyhood situations (I'm a fan of Hordak on a scooter, myself). Check out samples of Boy's Club while you prepare for 2009, and I'll be back in the new year.
Your work seems to primarily focus on bizarre anthropomorphic creatures. Is there a conscious influence in your moving in this direction?
Well, like many, I feel pretty detached from the animal world. My main understanding of animals comes from books and nature documentaries that I rent from Netflix. When I was a kid, I enjoyed drawing animals because there are so many interesting forms of life to inspire creativity. People are animals, smooth and beautiful. Making creatures that are anthropomorphic is enjoyable for me because just drawing people with smooth skin is boring. Why not give them fangs or fur or even attributes from the plant or fungus kingdoms. It's all the same stuff in the end—it's all life. I fell asleep last night looking at a picturebook on reptiles and amphibians that my girlfriend got me for Christmas. The last creature I looked at before falling asleep was a strange snake with a long nose that I had never seen before. That night I had a dream that this snake had a human-like body with its unique face. The creature was extremely powerful and mad with power and when I came into contact with him the energy of its touch made me feel pleasure.
Your more straightforward art pieces also incorporate various characters from popular culture in weird ways (i.e. Terminator on a bicycle). Do these characters resonate for you in a particular way?
Pop culture is crammed down our throats pretty hard in my opinion. To stray away from the question a bit—I recently visited Universal Studios in Los Angeles. There are a lot of skulls there. There is the T2 3D experience—which I highly recommend seeing before they destroy it like they destroyed the E.T. ride. There is a new Mummy ride with a black-light Mummy-skull guy in it, and finally there is another skull thing that I forget. But yeah, I tend to draw characters that I remember from childhood rather than like characters from Hellboy 2 or something. So characters from Terminator or cartoons like Masters of the Universe are the ones I tend to draw just because they live in a kid part of my brain that I still use when I sit down to draw.
Where did Boy's Club come from, and how did you create the characters?
Boy's Club came from wanting to make a comic book. It's a mix of my own stuff with Beavis and Butthead, Ren and Stimpy, 'Alfe' comics by artist Ben Jones, and just hanging out with guys and doing guy stuff when there are no girls around. The first characters I made were Pepe and Brett, then Andy, and finally Landwolf. I wanted to keep the style simple so I could do a strip in a shorter amount of time.
How would you describe the type of humor in the series?
"Burnout fart humor."
If you were to make a teenage monster version of yourself, what kind of monster would you be?
I've already drawn a bunch of teenage monster versions of myself: visit my website and check them out. But if i could make one come to life and hang out with me he would be small enough to fit in my pocket for sure.
What are you working on now?
Right now I'm working on the interview on my little brother's computer. My brother Jason and my cousin Scottie are playing Xbox right behind me. I stopped playing because I could not beat my brother at Street Fighter II. I kept calling Jason "The Wizard" because he is too good. Anytime I try and fight him in a game he wins and it is really frusturating. At home I'm drawing a picture of a grey hole-faced guy with no skin and his muscles showing being wrapped up in flowery vines by a demon.
December 19, 2008
Two long, slightly depressing reads about publishing:
Holt Uncensored on the powerlessness of editors, how it got that way, and what she'd like to see change.
The Blairs took their Christmas card photo in front of their bookshelves. So now, of course, people are struggling to identify all of the titles and examine what the books might say about the Blairs. Well, at least they read more fiction than Hitler.
I tried very, very hard to read The Gentle Art of Domesticity with an open mind. When I saw it was a book basically about knitting, embroidery, cooking, etc., I figured I could handle it. Instead, my bizarre fears of "the gentle arts" took over. (Brocket's asides about never reading contemporary literature, her dislike of "dark" artwork, and her repeated jabs at feminists were really not helping.) My psychotic fears are part of my latest Smart Set column.
The word “domesticity” gives me the vapors. Just the sight of a ball of yarn and knitting needles makes me have to lie down and fan myself for a while. A deeply neurotic part of my brain appears to equate learning how to sew a button with giving up my career, marrying a dentist, and moving to the suburbs to tend to little Basil and sweet Paprika.
I am not afraid of spiders — I am afraid of needle and thread.
It is a fear of turning into the type of woman that Christina Stead’s fictional Letty Fox described as “cave wives”: dull, stay-at-home types whose only topics of conversation are their new knitting projects, their children, or the interesting things their husbands said. I know that these women are mostly fictional stereotypes created by my own subconscious. Yet the fear still exists, and it is powerful.
December 18, 2008
Marin Rubin reviews Roberto Bolaño's poems, The Romantic Dogs, translated by Laura Healy: "The Romantic Dogs" consists of 44 poems written between 1980 and 1998. Their lengths vary, but they are all concise, artful, beautifully crafted and with a sure, distinctive voice. A founder of infrarealismo, an artistic credo influenced by the surrealism of Andre Breton and to some extent by gnosticism, Bolaño is clearly writing in a particular tradition - he is also influenced by his great compatriot the poet Nicanor Parra - but his style is all his own, not bound by form but not ignoring it either.
Poets & Writers scores $2 million.
Denis Leary published poems in Ploughshares as an undergraduate, and still reads poetry regularly: Q. What poetry’s on your shelf?
A. Tom Lux and (former U.S. Poet Laureate Charles) Simic and Bill Knott. Tom Lux and Bill Knott taught at Emerson College. I’m not really a classical guy because I grew up in the city. I actually don’t get Shakespeare.
Geraldine Brooks advances perhaps the least persuasive argument ever for a political candidate: Caroline Kennedy reads. She reads poetry. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s relevant needs to be reminded of William Carlos Williams’ observation: "It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for the lack of what is found there." Apparently Leary should be Senator. Ron Silliman's got some better poetic candidates for political office (see question 19).
Do you live in LA? The Machine Project is running a Poetry Delivery Service in December: To request a poem call 213.448.7668. If no one answers just call back later — they’re out delivering poems. Don’t leave a message. No one knows how to retrieve messages from the Poetry Phone. No one.
Ben Myers and Adelle Stripe explain Brutalism at SUSO: "Really we chose [Brutalism as a label] to describe our pared-down poetry style… jagged, sharp-edged and occasionally ugly, but well-intentioned." (Catch them on YouTube here.)
The Brutalists would probably like Jack Spicer (reviewed here): Spicer was the prototypical DIY indie purist avant la lettre. A 1957 "Admonition" to himself begins, "Tell everyone to have guts/Do it yourself."
Paul Vermeersch predicts a resurgence of lyrical poetry: Movements in literary circles tend to trail movements in the art world, and this might mean that people are also getting bored with poetry that is methodical, analytic, scholarly, and bloodless. I, for one, grow every day more and more tired of poetry that seems to exist for no other purpose than to illustrate some tautological tidbit of critical theory, which is a creative impulse I really can't reconcile with a love of poetry. It isn't difficult to plug some words into a formula and watch the intellectualized gibberish spill forth. But where is the craft? Where is the love? Wanting to become a poet because you love critical theory is like wanting to become a chef because you love cutlery. The result is something no one should have to stomach.
TNR reviews Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life. Hitler: Not a big fiction fan.
I did an experiment with the egg basket. I took a string (in this case, I think it was an extra- long jump rope) and tied it from the handle of a bookshelf drawer to a doorknob of one of the double doors all the way across the playroom. My idea was to create a gondola, such as the one I had seen at Disneyland on a family vacation. I hung my egg basket from the string and tried to run it down the string. When that worked I went on to transport objects from one side of the room to the other by placing them in the egg basket. Next, I moved the string back and forth, causing the basket to swing. As I watched, the basket got further and further above horizontal. Finally, the basket swung all the way around the circle. But, as if by magic, the eggs did not fall out. I was stunned.
Books mentioned on Chicago Tonight last night as some of my favorites of the year:
(My Bolano-loving co-book person on the show, Gabe, was a good sport. In the green room, we challenged each other to an on-air knife fight if we didn't like each other's choices, but it didn't come to that.)
The 2009 Orange Prize judging panel has been announced. I feel so oppressed, don't you? Next year's Orange Award for New Writers (with ladybits, only, please) also has had it's panel appointed - you can send fruit baskets/Valerie Solanas-esque manifestos to this esteemed bunch.
December 17, 2008
I'll be on Chicago Tonight at 7, discussing end of the year type things, and books for gifts, and such. Unless, of course, our governor does something idiotic again today. Can someone go sit on him for the next 12 hours, so I don't get bumped?
The best newspaper corrections of 2008, from Regret the Error.
From the Daily Mail: In articles published on 23 and 26 May 2008, we gave the impression that Mr Gest had contracted a sexually transmitted infection and alleged that he had Liza Minnelli’s dog killed without her knowledge.
This was wrong. David Gest has never had a sexually transmitted infection and did not have Ms Minnelli’s dog killed.
We apologise to Mr Gest for any embarrassment caused.
The Newbery Medal has been the gold standard in children's literature for more than eight decades. On the January day when the annual winner is announced, bookstores nationwide sell out, libraries clamor for copies and teachers add the work to lesson plans.
Now the literary world is debating the Newbery's value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading. Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.
The nature of digital work in the humanities is such that “conclusion” soon becomes an irrelevant or laughable concern. The very nature of digital projects is openness, not closure. The further we go on this project, the more we discover we have to do. In dealing with Whitman’s massive correspondence, for example, we quickly discovered that the old conception of what constitutes a writer’s correspondence—the letters he wrote—is an outmoded conception when we’re working in a digital instead of a print environment. Why not, for example, include the letters that were written TO Whitman as well as the letters he wrote? … Print environments are restricted because of space and costs, but digital environments can grow and grow.
December 16, 2008
Aida Edemariam on the colonial reaction to JMG Le Clézio's Nobel Prize win. (Not just linking to it because I'm quoted, I swear.)
When Le Clézio's win was announced in October there was the usual slightly panicked reaction among literary editors here (Who is he? What has he written? Is there ANYONE who can be prevailed upon to say something well-informed about him?), the same reaction that greeted, for example, Elfriede Jelinek's win in 2004. English-speaking publishers have rushed to make good – but it seems rushed is the apposite word.
This article about the Sex and the City bus tour of New York has been written before, but not by A. A. Gill.
Nothing is as instantly and comfortably hateable as tourists, particularly large, loose, lost crowds of tourists. A bus full of them navigating New York’s residential side streets is an invitation to some of the worst karma available in the Western world.
Powell's Books is asking employees to scale back their hours or take sabbaticals to cope with disappointing sales.
Powell's is one of the nation's largest independent booksellers. But like many other retailers, it is seeing the impact of the recession on sales.
Nerve: The First Ten Years is available online in its entirety. It may serve as a reminder of how its written content is now just a shell of its former self, but go read it for its Lucy Grealy, Spalding Gray, Lisa Carver, and Lisa Gabriele. And of course the dirty, dirty pictures.
December 15, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
This week: The Indie Heartthrob Holiday Gift Guide
This week I'd like to present The Indie Heartthrob Holiday Gift Guide. While I'm thoroughly registered with NoChristmasGiftsThisYear.com, some of you may still be crazy enough to spend money on your loved ones. That's why I've gone around and asked several people involved in the small press (most of whom have appeared as heartthrobs in the past) what book they'd like to give out this year. You know, assuming they can afford it. I've also chipped in my two cents on a purely theoretical basis because, seriously, Christmas is cancelled for my friends and family.
Peter Cole (Keyhole Magazine): Without Wax by William Walsh—Walsh's debut novel is top notch. It's about a young porn star with a huge penis (can't go wrong with that). Probably won't be buying this for your mom, but I'm sure there's someone on your list that will appreciate it. The majority of the book is in documentary format, with interjected shorter stories that double as profiles on porn consumers and a full screenplay.
Anne Horowitz (Soft Skull Press): I’ve been checking out the beautiful books from Mark Batty Publisher. At the indie press fair a couple weekends ago, I was torn between Urban Iran by Charlotte Niruzi & Salar Abdoh and Grafitti Japan by Remo Camerota. Both books are visually pleasing as well as thorough and informative guides to their subjects, and I would be glad to see either of them underneath my Christmas tree, if I had one.
Richard Nash (Soft Skull Press): Basically I have to say the Hotel St. George Press books are a great way to go. Ranging in price from the rather extravagant limited edition version of Ben Greenman's Correspondences at $50, to Paul Fattaruso's Bicycle at $12.95. Both fill you with an exquisite optimism, tickling the nostalgic, elegiac bone, just as much as the funny bone.
Amanda Stern (curator of the Happy Ending Reading Series—soon to be at Joe's Pub—and author of The Long Haul: My favorite book to give to people this year was, and continues to be, Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (33 1/3). I have a ridiculously intense crush on this book. It’s everything you can possibly ask for in reading material. The concept is great, the writing is sharp, the ideas are intelligent, the prose is winning, it asks questions about identity and honesty, and Carl Wilson is damn funny. It’s a slim book that’s easy to carry around. If I had my way, this book would be on my best-picks of the year, every year.
John Zuarino: My two this year would have to be Alison Bechdel's The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (Houghton Mifflin) (which I thoroughly gushed over two weeks ago) and The Wizard of Oz as illustrated by Graham Rawle (Counterpoint). The former resonates very personally for some reason. A friend once called me the biggest dyke she knew, and it was also a faulty argument for the end of a past relationship. I have no idea what that means. The latter is just beautiful, creepy, and glamorous all at once. I love it, and I want to share it with everyone I know.
Lorraine Adams (author of the fantastic Harbor) asks a very interesting question: If a book under attack, in this case The Jewel of Medina, by religious fundamentalists is actually poorly written, poorly researched, and maybe a bit offensive, what is our obligation to defend it? Obviously, we don't throw the writer to the wolves, but do we have to pretend like it's a defensible book? Also, shouldn't Salman Rushdie have read the thing before he ran out in the author's defense?
An inexperienced, untalented author has naïvely stepped into an intense and deeply sensitive intellectual argument. She has conducted enough research to reimagine the accepted versions of Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha, thus offending the religious audience, but not nearly enough to enlighten the ordinary Western reader.
The fight continues: Is Bulgakov more Russian? Or Ukrainian?
December 12, 2008
Dear James Frey:
If you're going to write an updated, modern day version of the New Testament (and pardon me, I am trying not to retch thinking about that) you should probably be up-to-date on your theology. As in, what the Gospel of Judas actually says.
Maybe some Elaine Pagels will help you out?
Newly laid off NPR journalists talk about laid off journalists' prospects for work, on NPR. (Hot tip: Move to Brazil.)
Speaking of Maud, she asked Anya Ulinich to respond to the accusation that her short story "The Nurse and the Novelist" is a personal attack on Jonathan Safran Foer.
“The Nurse and the Novelist” is hard on atrocity kitsch fiction and on “making sense of the past” (i.e. fatalistically arranging the past) as part of a contemporary character’s self-exploration. What’s appealing about atrocity kitsch is that there is always a strong hero. There is also a record keeper, a paper trail, an old love letter, an old key, what have you. At the end of the story, somebody becomes stronger.
Another day, another "bloggers are mean" article. And yes, zero distinction is made between someone like Maud Newton, who hosted a conversation (about the very topic the writer complains was not part of the larger conversation about Strauss's book) with Darin Strauss on her blog, and the crazy chick who hated his book so much she threatened to kill Strauss's whole family. (Maybe they are really one and the same! I haven't seen Maud in a while, it's possible she's holed herself up a la The Conversation.)
If you feel a burning sensation, it's probably nothing to worry about: It's almost certainly your intense curiosity about whether Barack Obama will have an inaugural poet: "I don't want anything to do with poets," Lyndon Johnson is said to have told aides after one came to the White House and criticized the Vietnam War. "Don't bring me any poets."
This is really superb: An online edition of Ezra Pound's 1912 anthology, Des Imagistes.
This new installation of William Gibson's poem, "Agrippa," is an important example of the kind of textual scholarship that's possible with electronic poetry. And, crucially, it makes for riveting video.
The Times reviews Michael Gordon's multimedia adaptation of Emily Dickinson, "Lighting at our feet" (now at the Brooklyn Academy of Music): This is virtuoso chamber music of a sort, which is more typical among young players for whom distinctions between musical genres don’t matter, and who are expected to move easily not only between styles but also from instrument to instrument, usually while singing. You can see a few excerpts of Gordon's work on YouTube.
Christian Wiman on the influence of the academy on poetry: "There's no doubt that poetry has migrated into the academy. No doubt. And that has [produced] some good things: It protects a lot of poets. And some bad things in that some of the poetry becomes over-intellectualized, bookish; it kind of loses its connection with normal life."
Thus the rise of spoken-word, performance poetry.
What happens when people who can't read Chinese look for a Chinese poem? They print brothel ads on the covers of scientific journals.
December 11, 2008
Michael Pollan talks to Bill Moyers about US food policy.
Shaun Tan may describe The Lost Thing as an "adult fable" about "economic rationalism," but don't let that frighten you. His book The Arrival was one of my favorites last year, and The Red Tree is one of my favorite books ever. Tan is the subject of a short film on inframe.tv, talking about adapting The Lost Thing into animation, and his new book Tales from Outer Suburbia, released in the States in February. (Link from Journalista.)
Our noble leader Rod Blagojevich, re-imagined as a Mamet character. (They barely had to change a thing.)
There's nothing fucking sensitive about it. It's straight forward. You say, we're doing this stuff for you, we believe this is right for Illi-fucking-nois. So fire those fuckers, you fuck. So I have a professional assessment: Our recommendation is fire all those fucking people, get ‘em the fuck out of there and get us some editorial support. Johnny will call them up and tell them Wrigley's gonna get derailed by their own editorial page.
I hate how every time an author is the target of an attack, "envy" is the first word out of the defenders' mouths. It's like your mother telling you "They're just jealous" when you get snubbed by the cool kids in junior high. There are many, many reasons to dislike many, many writers.
December 10, 2008
Just a little while ago, Chicago was called the city of the moment. Now, our governor is under arrest and the transcripts of the phone conversations make him sound like, as a friend wrote to me this morning, "makes Nixon look like an altar boy." Also, it was raining in December yesterday, Oprah has gained weight again, and now our factories are under occupation. Speaking of the factories, now that everyone knows our governor is a total motherfucker, the story will fall by the wayside. So thanks to MobyLives for asking Washington Post writer Kari Lydersen to cover it.
If every critic did this, the transparency would be somewhat depressing, but Robert McCrum is disclosing "relationship quotients" with the authors on his top ten books of the year list.
(The hypocrisy continues over here, because Chicago Tonight asked me to write up a top ten list, and I'm doing it. The only connection I have to the authors involved is I once interviewed one of them, and spent a great deal of it wanting to sit in his lap and lick his face. I'll leave it up to you to decide who it might be. Hint: not Karinthy.)
My 15-year-old self thanks you for Kathy Acker paperbacks. As she would say, "Now I'm fucked up and wonderful."
December 9, 2008
The cruel heart of Letty Fox
Christina Stead's tale of high society and low morals is difficult to recommend, but underlines the variety of Virago Modern Classics
No! No it is not hard to recommend, Letty Fox, Her Luck is so fantastic, and I would go reread it this second if my damned sister hadn't destroyed my copy. ("Sorry, the spine fell off." Damn you!)
The Wizard and the Hopping Pot: There was once a kindly old wizard who used his magic generously and wisely for his neighbours. But then he died and he left his lucky cooking pot to his son. His son was a meanie who didn't like Muggles (1) and refused to help anyone. The pot got very angry about this and grew warts and hopped around the village chasing him, until he changed his mind. The End.
Albus Dumblesnore's notes: This is one of the most sophisticated morality tales in Hogwarts' (2) history. Rather than being a very dull story about how wizards should be nice to losers, such as the Labour party, who have less money than them, it is one of the earliest known examples of Rowling's magical realism. The hidden meaning is that kitchen utensils can get very stroppy if they don't get their own way.
(1), (2): These terms are the copyright of JK Rowling and anyone who tries to explain them will be sent to Azkaban (3). Or, more likely, face an expensive legal action. HP is da JK's bitch. OK?
Academics and writers in Turkey have risked a fierce official backlash by issuing a public apology for the alleged genocide suffered by Armenians at the hands of Ottoman forces during the first world war.
Breaking one of Turkish society's biggest taboos, the apology comes in an open letter that invites Turks to sign an online petition supporting its sentiments.
Alex Beam looks at "oversharing" in American letters, including Lauren Slater, the author of Lying and Prozac Diary. I kind of like some of Slater's work, when she's more controlled, like parts of Opening Skinner's Box. But reading that book is kind of like being out with your friend who just had one martini too many, and she's saying hysterically funny things but also happened to lose her underwear at some point. You want to keep talking, but you also keep wanting to reach over and get her to cross her legs. (Most of her other work is one martini past that.)
But it's not just her. V.S. Naipaul would like the world to know intimate things about his still living mistress, and Susan Cheever would like you to know how many men she has fucked.
Writers, an important lesson: Don't piss off your literary executors with the rest of your will. Case in point: Dorothy Parker, who did not leave Lillian Hellman any copyrights.
The correspondence between Hellman and her lawyers demonstrates how rigidly she guarded the use of Parker's work. Her response to practically every request was no. Permission for A Dorothy Parker Portfolio, a Broadway production starring Julie Harris and featuring Cole Porter songs, was denied, although it is hard to make sense of her objections. In the case of would-be biographers, she emphatically fell back on the excuse that Parker had been dead set against any such work. This was hogwash, of course, because Parker seldom if ever turned down an interview request and had done several lengthy oral histories, including a miniature autobiography for the Paris Review's "Writers at Work" series. In fact, the one who scorned biographers as predators was Hellman, dubbing them magazine hacks hired by greedy publishers to feed the salacious appetites of readers, producing results that revealed nothing worthwhile about their subjects' work. Determined to drive off the scavengers, Hellman refused to cooperate, denying access to source material and permission to quote.
December 8, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
This week: Ben Greenman
After releasing last year's successful A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, author Ben Greenman is taking a more nontraditional approach to the art of letter writing with Correspondences (Hotel St. George Press). Intricately designed and equally as interactive, the box set is tied together by one story encompassing several panels. As per the author's instructions, the reader may respond to different story points via postcard as part of the larger Postcard Project, which is ongoing at the publisher's website. I spoke to Greenman last week about how the project came about as well as his upcoming novel entitled Please Step Back. You can order a copy of Correspondences through Hotel St. George Press.
What's the driving idea behind Correspondences? What made you want to focus on something like this?
The thing about letter writing is that it is a really strange medium—it's very private, and literary letter writing is very public. It's sort of the opposite of e-mail. The thing that used to happen is that you would be speaking to a very small group of people very intimately because a letter doesn't happen as much. A lot of these stories are set in the past and elsewhere, and at the very basic level it's useful for me to write fiction with these kinds of devices, to move things back in time a little bit. I don't like if my fiction has a brand name in it or if people in the background are watching Chuck or something. There are people who do that very well, just for me I don't get the distance from the material that you need in order to say things that I think are interesting. I get too close to it.
I was anxious to start another project, and Hotel St. George Press came to me. They had this idea for something cool, but they didn't know what it was. I started collecting material, and I found out that I have a lot of stories that have letters in the plot. I think there were five initially, so I wrote four more (two of them were outtakes). I'm kind of interested in the kind of writing that happens without it being thought as authorship. I mean everybody writes letters. In a way it's antiquated. In a way it's more personal. They all deal with relationships, all the stories. Historically letters are a way of working them out.
You also have a framing postcard narrative that appears on the interior panels. Did you go into this project with that in mind beforehand, or did the other stories frame that?
That was actually a reaction to the rest of the project. Aaron and Alex [of Hotel St. George Press] came to me with this idea, so I started to create it. There's so much that's free now in terms of text that we wanted to create something that was more of a collectible or ownable object.
As that started happening we thought that there should be some part of it that involves a broader group of readers. That's the other aspect of correspondences. You write them for yourself, but then other people are always interested in the very voyeuristic aspect of reading them. It gives somebody access.
It started two years ago when I was on a tour for the last book. In one hotel where I was staying in San Francisco, there was a letter somebody had started but never finished. I'm interested in those things, though it wasn't that eventful. You find things like that all the time in FOUND Magazine. We invented this other part that would let people write and finish the story. So hopefully there are all these kinds of tensions in the project where it's exclusive in one sense because it's high literature and it's expensive because of the packaging, and it's inclusive in the sense that that story is online and anybody can finish it.
One of the more interesting aspects of the project is the call for reader responses via postcard. What do you hope to do with these submitted stories?
So far what's been happening is there has been a really interesting range of them. I think they will take two forms. There are people who are writers who will respond because it's what they do anyway. They'll read it, and as they read the story they're always writing in their heads anyway. This is what happens with a lot of books writers read. I hope it will reach out to people who aren't or don't think of themselves as writers. What I hope to do practically in a later edition of Correspondences is to publish a few extra stories (one will be featured in One Story soon). Three or four others didn't make the cut because of the size of this. At some point when I decide to reprint this as a normal paperback, I'll add in those stories and I'll add in, in some form, people's contributions. I want to find interesting ways people are writing against each other and using the story points very differently. It would be interesting to see my story followed by a reproduction of some of the postcards.
There's this other tension between things that are highly controlled. Most of the fiction I've written has erred on the side of being tightly clockworked. To do a part of this that's much more open sourced is hard for me, it's hard to let the control go. I'm interested to see what happens. So far people are responding kind of in the way I thought where they're traditionally playing the roles of the characters in the story. There could be maybe other kinds of crazy responses, and I hope there are.
Have you come across any in particular that you especially liked?
One of the things people are doing is to respond by e-mail, which we didn't want them to do. But we're not turning them away. I've been surprised so far by how traditional the responses are. Most of them are people going in the stream of the story. They're not trying to wrestle the story away from me. I expected things that are a little more playful or antagonistic. I'd like to see people take a few more risks. But that also might just be the first wave of responses.
Maybe once we post some of them online, people will see what has been done and will in turn respond to those. There was a very nice one where the reader took the position of the dad writing to his son in the hotel and how he missed the son. So I can see how someone might see that very nice, sentimental one and think that this is too easy, they might want to shatter the tone of the story.
You have a new book on the horizon. Can you tell me a little about it?
About five years ago I started thinking somebody should do a biography of Sly Stone. I started doing some research, and I realized pretty quickly that I was the wrong person to do that project. I don't have the temperament of a biographer. It's a lot of interviewing and getting frustrated by what you can't find. Then I thought I'd write a ficitonalized biography of a Sly Stone-like rockstar. Then, about a hundred pages in, I thought this would be even better as a novel. The real Sly Stone story is a tragedy because he got so famous so quickly, and because of drugs and a variety of other issues he sort of vanished. He is alive and will show up, but as a talent in the public scene he's sort of vanished.
JMG LeClézio's The Interrogation has just been reprinted, and apparently it was a rush job. No one could bother to read the book and write up some jacket copy for it, so it seems someone ran the original press materials in French through Babelfish and called it a day.
"What is The Interrogation? Mostly likely a myth without distinct delineations. A very solitary young man, Adam Pollo, perhaps the first man, perhaps the last, has a very remarkable interior adventure. He concentrates and he discovers ways of being, ways of seeing. He enters into animals, into a tree... He has no business, no distractions; he is at the complete disposal of life. All of life, that is, except the society of his own species -- and so the story ends."
Oh yes, that'll get the masses clamoring for some LeClézio. But his Nobel lecture is now available online, about the potential utopia of the Internet and warning against information poverty, and it's certainly worth reading.
There used to be a Bookslut book group. It was started when I first moved to Chicago, and 51 people attended the first meeting. It dwindled down to a more manageable dozen over a year or so. I recently ran into a woman who was at the first meeting and then continued to go, after I stopped. I can't remember why exactly I stopped attending my own book group. I get easily distracted, also I am considerably lazy. But they carried on without me for quite a while, only recently disbanding.
But book groups are hard, so says the New York Times. Fraught with emotion and bad book choices and "facilitators." Maybe that was the problem. Our book group needed a facilitator, instead of my passive aggressive control of the book choices. Ah well.
Things I learned editing the new issue of Bookslut:
- Ernest Hemingway wore ladies' undergarments. (Allegedly!)
- Genius was considered to be the work of genii working in men, and you should make sacrifices to the beings on your birthday to keep them around.
- I should read Bonsai again, even though I already loved it the first time.
- Elephants can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
- Mirages are not tricks of the eye.
Bookslut! Working to make you a smarter person, one issue at a time.
N+1's latest target, once they realized Tao Lin is an unmovable creature, is now Nextbook. Nextbook, the publication that has run articles by at least three N+1 editors and contributors. Oh, N+1, your crazy never ceases to make me giggle.
December 5, 2008
December 4, 2008
Alex Ross has strolled off with the Guardian's First Book Prize for his work And the Rest Is Noise, a history of 20th century music "from Mahler to La Monte Young". With the award comes £10,000, enough to pick up all the K-Tel compilations he can carry, and maybe a bespoke metallic glove a la Sasha Fierce.
My primary observation is that drinking makes the daily grind of dealing with people so much easier. You drink a pint of whisky and become the life and soul of the party. You then start insulting people, before sweating heavily and wetting yourself involuntarily. You will usually find that everyone quickly avoids you, thereby relieving you of the need to make conversation. This is why I prefer to do much of my drinking at home. It saves so much time.
Every once and a while, not very often, Caitlin Flanagan is able to see through the bullshit of some cultural phenomenon or other and write a zippy, pleasing take down. I was really hoping that is what her essay about the Twilight books was going to be. It's not. She loved them. Oh Caitlin, one day we will find something to agree about.
December 3, 2008
It's so nice to see Holt Uncensored back, and this time as a blog. My favorite big so far, her "What I'd Like to See: Publishers Leaving New York" and take down of this year's National Book Awards ceremony.
My latest column at the Smart Set, about a painfully embarrassing self-help streak I went on.
Which is how I found myself reading The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Destiny by Janet and Chris Attwood. Who doesn’t want to discover their destiny, or even just come to believe that they have a destiny? We all would like to think that if you just point yourself in the right direction, everything happens effortlessly. Money drops in your lap. You suddenly find yourself a guru who showers you with wise koans to meditate on under flowering trees. There were plenty of stories in The Passion Test to illustrate this. As soon as the anecdotal people had completed the test, they found money and love and unbelievable happiness. Fuck it, I thought. I might as well give it a shot.
A best of the year list I can appreciate: Best book design of 2008.
December 2, 2008
I'm busy transcribing and formatting, but don't forget that tonight is our nonfiction Bookslut reading series night. Intersex! Architecture! Loneliness! Sloth! All the important wintry topics. Also, beer, because it's the Hopleaf. See you there.
Cookbooks that are better than T Susan Chang's list of the ten best cookbooks of the year. (Sorry, this list is so bad, and there were some wonderful cookbooks released this year.)
The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur
The Complete Robuchon by Joel Robuchon
Alinea by Grant Achatz (Not that you will ever cook from it, but holy hell it is a beautiful book. I want to sleep with it under my pillow, but my osteopath says no.)
The River Cottage Family Cookbook, which is the cookbook I wish I had had as a kid learning to bake
December 1, 2008
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
This week: Alison Bechdel
In her introduction to Best American Comics 2008, Lynda Barry uses the term "story power" to describe the impact a specific comic strip can have on a person. "I don't think anyone chooses a comic to become attached to," Barry says. "By the time we notice our attachment, it's already happened." As Barry found identification with Family Circus, I found mine in Dykes to Watch Out For.
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel's latest collection, collects the best of the series. It constructs a linear storyline from the first appearance of Moe, where she kvetches over not having sex in eight months, to her last appearance, where she cynically pleas for a sabbatical from her girlfriend. Bechdel may have missed out on covering the 2008 presidential election during her real-life sabbatical, but as she works on her upcoming memoir, a follow-up to Fun Home, you can at least see how the nefarious Dykes cast reacted to other planet shifting events such as the quest for civil unions, Oliver North's involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair, and what it truly means to be a bisexual lesbian in a monosexual lesbian's world. I spoke to Bechdel just before her NYC reading two weeks ago about the new collection, not covering recent events, and her upcoming memoir.
So how did Moe come into being? Were there any changes in her construction over the years?
There was a change. All I knew when I started writing at age twenty-three or whatever I was, I didn't know anything about writing except that cliché about writing what you know. I took it very literally, and I thought, "OK, I'll just make the central character a thinly disguised version of myself." So that's how Moe came into being.
But over the years, she started to get a little stagnant. Her whole ranting note got a little tiresome. I felt she did need to have some kind of growth and development. I didn't know how to do that because the thing about writing a serial strip (or a serial anything) is that people read it because it's familiar. They know what they're getting every time they come back because they want what they've already had. So in a way character development is antithetical to a serial work. Like a sitcom, too.
I wanted to figure out a way to change Moe without changing her, so that was kind of tricky. I don't know if I really succeeded. But she went through a little crisis period—like when she stopped recycling and she swore she was going to read all the French feminists. It was after a traumatic chiropractic adjustment, after she threw her back out lifting a crate of Camille Paglia books. The end result was that she got maybe a little more subtle in her ranting.
You've been on sabbatical from the strip while you work on a new book called Love Life: A Case Study. As of the past [enter amount of months since sabbatical] so much has happened. Do you feel you're missing out on all these current events by not covering them?
You know, I really don't, and maybe that's just my rationalization for the fact that I haven't been covering them, but I was very relieved not to have to cover the [presidential] campaign. It was just so long, so difficult, so complex with all the race and gender issues. To really explore that in a thorough way would have taken every brain cell I had, and I just didn't have those brain cells. And now I'm so happy about Obama, but it's sort of a bad thing for humor writers in general. They'll have to write their own material.
And then there's this other thing, this Prop 8 backlash that's happening. I have to say, I think Prop 8 was terrible, I'm very sorry it happened, but I can't say that I'm really fired up about it in an immediate way like younger people seem to be. I think it's great that they are. They should go for it. I just think it's funny how people are calling it Stonewall 2.0.
Yeah, I heard that at a rally this month.
It is a generational thing! I just clearly am on the other side of the generational divide where part of my brain is still colonized. I still don't really get marriage. I don't understand why it's such a pivotal issue. I'm glad that whatever it took, it's happening. But I don't feel the kind of passion about it that I felt as a young activist about stuff. On that score, too, I'm not really missing having the forum of the comic strip. I know it sounds kind of like I'm an old loser, a disengaged person, but I think I just need to go for my passion. My passion right now is writing the memoir, superfluous as it may be.
Do you have any future plotlines for when you get back? Or actually, are you coming back?
You know, I don't know if I'm coming back. I've left the option open, but I am just not feeling fired up. I think I was feeling burned out with that constant deadline for all those years. Maybe after more of a break it'll start simmering up again, but it was getting harder to make a living from a comic strip. Part of the reason I'm not doing it is it just didn't make financial sense. The other part of it is I'm just feeling a little burned out. So no future plotlines in mind.
The title of the collection includes the word "essential," and in your forward you use a play on words ("essential" vs. "essentialist"). Can you elaborate?
It wasn't really a conscious pun when I came up with the title (some academic pointed it out to me), but there's no such thing as an accident. I'm sure it was intentional on some level because I think in a way my comic strip is about this transition from an essentialist view of homosexuality to a different, much more complex view. Over the past twenty-five years that I was doing the comic strip so much has changed. I mean lots of things changed, but in particular the way our culture handles homosexuality has changed dramatically. In a way I feel like the comic strip charts that as a chronicle of it, of assimilation in particular. The way that the more we achieve our goals as a movement, the less of a movement there is. I always think of it as a snake eating its own tail. The goal of any movement is to render itself obsolete. So in a way, maybe I've rendered myself obsolete at least in the context of the comic strip. When I began doing it there was clearly this hunger. People really wanted to see themselves represented visually. I mean in all kinds of ways, but for me it was visual because I'm a cartoonist. That's what prompted me to start doing a comic strip.
We talked a lot about lesbian visibility, but now I kind of long for the days of lesbian invisibility…(I'm just being cynical).
I feel like I was an essentialist when I began, and I really believe gay people were different, were special, were…more evolved than straight people. I don't believe that anymore, especially when everyone wants to get married.
This is the essential collection, but not the complete collection. How did you decide what to leave out, and can you comment on the absence of the novellas, which appeared at the end of each previous collection?
Oh I so wish I could have put some of the novellas in here. That was not my choice. There were a lot of constraints we had to follow, and one of them ended up being not being able to use more than fifty percent of the material in each of my previous collections, just the cost and permissions got unwieldy and expensive. I could only keep half of the material, and I wanted to keep the story as coherent as I could so I axed the long pieces because those could be lifted out of the narrative without really missing a beat. Then I took out some minor storylines and weak episodes.
Do you think you'll be publishing those online in that case?
I have a complicated publishing history—two other people own or have copyright on my work, and it's just kind of a nightmare.
Your upcoming memoir—do you find you're taking a different approach to writing this as opposed to what you did in Fun Home?
I have to be careful not to yammer too much about this book, because I've been talking about it much more than I've been writing it, and I'm starting to pay the price. Fun Home was a story that had been simmering for a long time. I was just talking to a friend who is a musician, and she said, "Yeah, you have your whole life to make your first album, and then you have ten months to make the second one." So I'm in that syndrome. But the story of Fun Home is obviously this very intense, amazing story that I knew I wanted to tell since I was twenty, since my father died and all these events happened. So I had basically twenty years to think about that story! Not that I was working on it all that time.
With this next book I have to turn it out really fast, and I don't have this one big drama. I have little stories. It's called Love Life: A Case Study, and I'm going to use material from my own romantic career as the autobiographical span of this memoir. To use that as a lens to look at the self and the other. I don't know how to explain it any more than that. I can tell what people are thinking when I say that. They have these funny little looks on their faces like "That is the most pretentious thing I ever heard of," or "What are you talking about?" I'm going to find a way to make it make sense I just haven't done it yet.
You did a piece on Vermont for a book called State by State. How were you approached to do this, and what was your reaction?
I got approached by Sean Wilsey, one of the editors. I don't know if I was his first choice for Vermont, but he was also into graphic work—he made a point of including Joe Sacco in the book. First he asked if I would contribute, and I was so busy and focused on the memoir, so I said no I couldn't do it. Then he persisted and it sounded like a great project. It also sounded like something that I had wanted to do for a long time, something that now that I wasn't doing the comic strip I was free to do, which was really graphic essays, like shorter non-fiction explorations of a topic. Which for me often entail memoir too. The State by State essay has an autobiographical stand, but also a lot of Vermont history, like research I had to go out and do. It was fun to put that into a comic book format. I'm so happy that he persisted and that I did the project because it's an amazing book, and I'm glad on many levels to be a part of it.
Yes, I am a total fucking hypocrite. I wrote a best of the year list for NPR. I got Best Foreign Fiction as my topic, and even Bolaño shows up on the list. Oh, the shame. Here is my list, in no particular order:
Senselessness, by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
Kieron Smith, boy by James Kelman
2666, by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
The Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
And, of course, my beloved Metropole, by Ferenc Karinthy, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes. Not only one of my favorite foreign novels, but my favorite book of the year.
All right, calmed down a little with the help of a video of hexapod robots dancing.
I am finishing up a column about Anneli Rufus's Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On, and as an act of procrastination I am counting up the number of times I wrote "Oh shut up" in the margins of the galley. So far I've found 11 "Oh shut up"s and two "Shut up you judgmental bitch"es. (One of the last ones was by the passage that accused Laura Kipnis's Against Love of trying to destroy her perfect marriage. Yes, indeedy.) Fury: better than caffeine.
Why R Crumb refused to design an album for the Rolling Stones. (Not a surprise: It has to do with girls.)
I hope everyone has gained at least five pounds since I last updated.
NPR has a story about some of the trickier aspects of translation. And over at the London Review of Books, Nicholas Spice thinks the English translation of Elfriede Jelinek's Greed is so incredibly awful that it could ruin Jelinek's reputation forever.
As it is, doubtless under tight economic constraints, the publishers have paid for a hit-and-miss, standard, ‘by the page’ translation and the result is a disaster. It’s hard to imagine that Jelinek’s reputation in the English-speaking world will ever recover. It would have been better to have left the novel untranslated.
Reviewers of Greed have met it at best with polite puzzlement, at worst with disdain. Philip Hensher said it was ‘atrocious’. And he was right – Greed is unreadable. But it is not the same book as Gier.
The whole essay, on Jelinek and Josef Fritzel's cellar daughter, is very much worth reading, even on a snowy Monday morning.