June 30, 2009
Library trucks in Johnson County, Kansas, feature advertisements for companies like Kafka's Pest Control and Captain Ahab's Fine Seafood. It looks like they rejected my idea for Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing's Zipless Fuckhouse, but whatever. I'm not bitter. Good luck with your stupid little library thing, you wannabe Missourians.
Three of the funniest, most underappreciated writers in America: Percival Everett, George Singleton, Shalom Auslander. All have a genuine talent for the absurd, but more than the others, Everett excels at the kind of dark satire that makes you laugh, feel guilty for laughing, then laugh some more (how guilty you feel depends on how many neuroses you have, which, if you're reading this blog, is probably at least a few).
I can highly recommend Everett's Erasure and A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, both of which are as brilliant as any American satire being written today. I can't wait to read Everett's latest, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, just released by the great Graywolf Press. Oscar Villalon calls the book "one of the funniest, most original stories to be published in years," which sounds about right.
If you only take two pieces of advice from me, make them this one, and the one I posted earlier about how cops don't like being called fat even though you're obviously totally joking.
Jacket Copy talks to Matthew Baldwin about Infinite Summer, during which readers across the world are tackling the 1,104 pages of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I think next year they should read Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral." It would take a few minutes to read, maybe an hour or two to discuss, and then everyone could just stare awkwardly at each other for a few months.
In all seriousness, this really is a great idea. I read Infinite Jest while recovering from surgery several years ago, which I don't recommend. Though some of the passages were pretty interesting on codeine.
James Parker considers the memoirs of Ultimate Fighting Championship martial artists. (I have developed my own mixed martial art that weaves together the skills of crying and running away, which I someday hope to take to "The Octagon.")
Blake Butler's 6 thoughts on heart in fiction.
The Guardian has a quiz on literary heatwaves. Austin, where I currently live, has been in the middle of a heatwave since let me check my calendar 1926. But you know what they say about Texas weather: If you don't like it, just wait a few days, and it will still fucking suck.
I love the IMPAC, I love it for the epically mental nomination process, the charm of the winners, and because really good books seem to win with quiet regularity.
Q. Is it significant to you that the nominees for this prize come from public libraries?
A. Yes, and this may sound haughty because I won, but I assure you that if I hadn’t won or even been named to the list, I would still say it seems like a grass roots prize. The procedure that the librarians revealed was involved is different than a lot of other awards where you have established authors or people in publishing pick things. These are picked by librarians and readers, and it seems like there is a democracy or meritocracy to it. My book was nominated by a small library in Barbados, which holds equal weight to the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, or in London or wherever else.
The Frank O'Connor shortlist is out, and the Guardian is calling it the Year of the Debutant. Bookslut holds out for foofy white dresses and a run on Ireland's corsage supplies.
Petina Gappah - An Elegy for Easterly
Charlotte Grimshaw - Singularity
Wells Tower - Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
Shih-Li Kow - Ripples and Other Stories
Simon Van Booy - Love Begins in Winter
Philip O Ceallaigh - The Pleasant Light of Day
One of the world's biggest prizes for an unpublished writer, the Dundee International Book Prize, has been won by Scottish author Chris Longmuir for her thriller Dead Wood. Longmuir has now had her work snapped up for publication by Polygon, so will be experiencing all the new joys of the novelist - snarky reviews, hasty brattish reactions on public networking sites, opprobrium and ridicule from the literary world crashing down upon her head. Ah, the circle of life.
June 29, 2009
"I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion...Of course, I was dismayed by Roberta Silman’s review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn’t. I’m sorry if I offended anyone..."
Just to decode, "this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion" means "You're all making a big deal out of nothing." And "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" means "I'm sorry you guys are such pussies." The whole thing is an exercise in dodging responsibility.
It's maybe not the worst damage control ever, PR-wise. But it's pretty fucking far from an actual apology.
(Link to fake apology via the Twitter page of the great Sarah Weinman.)
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: CAConrad
At the risk of sounding tacky while alluding to the death of a certain pop star or two in the last week, I can't help but draw parallels to what may or may not become of Michael Jackson's legacy while examining CAConrad's Advanced Elvis Course (besides, parallels are already being drawn between the two deaths). At any rate, the book functions as a mixed-media travelogue, encompassing works of prose, journal entries, free-form poetry, interviews, and even flash fiction. These formats come together to examine a phenomenon left behind in Memphis after the King's death. Characters are seen practically worshipping at Elvis's (and even his parents') graves, and the personal pronoun is capitalized when used in reference to Presley.
Advanced Elvis Course may sound like a kitschy idea for a book, but it pulls off a cohesive narrative and tells an interesting story. I only wish I was able to speak to CAConrad over the weekend rather than earlier last week—it would have been a blast to contemplate MJ's legacy through the eyes of an Elvis devotee.
Your newest book presents a sort of genre-collage: interview, prose, poetry, lyric, etc. It also blends fiction and nonfiction. How much of the travelogue would you say is fictional here?
Thanks for asking this. I've never thought to weigh it out properly to be honest, but I can say that all the people I meet in the book, and those conversations with them are all true. Then there are those things which I imagine, like wishing to be Elvis' sperm trapped in a discarded condom by the moonlit window of His magnificent bed! This particular example has INFURIATED some of the "heterosexual" Elvis fans, to the point of sending me hate mail, calling me Faggot. Which of course I AM A FAGGOT, big deal! Speaking of what's fiction and nonfiction, one of these pissed off men wrote to me to say, "You know Elvis was straight, don't you?" I deconstructed the lyrics of "Jailhouse Rock" to break his Elvis snow globe open. Gay marriage Gay shmarriage, I'm more interested in my civil rights to LOVE Elvis! HAHA!
What's the impetus behind the book? Why did you originally decide to write a mixed-media travelogue?
It's how it wanted to come out of me, is my best answer. I believe a hybrid text can load the meter higher in some cases, can jolt the road ahead. The autonomy of writing EXACTLY how you want is easy if you have the spiritual gaze for something, like with Elvis, because this is more than a travelogue to me. It's a place where the counterfeit examples of how to live with religion come clean in long, sensual epiphanies.
But what was the impetus? Elvis is behind any answer I could give. I mean to say He's almost always MORE than most unbelievers understand Him to be. I was bathed in the womb by His music.
Much of the Elvis-phenomenon has to do with celebrity obsession, bordering even on worship as seen in characters such as the old woman carrying a jar of Graceland grass to bring into the afterlife and Maisy, another longtime Elvis devotee. Do you think anything like this has carried over to other celebrities to the extent portrayed here, or is this specifically an Elvis-phenomenon?
Elvis is a celebrity, true, but this book is not about celebrity, it's about the excessive changes we need to make in order to survive. The Sator Formula in the book is countered with The Elvis Formula. These two magic squares pull our carriage home, but in different forms. The Sator Formula offers vengeance, where The Elvis Formula offers TOTAL compassion and understanding for the enemy. An enemy is the terrible fact most of us walk with, and how we approach these people is how we live. It's safe for me to say that I haven't just been ridiculed in this life, but have been persecuted at times, ruthlessly so, but I'm finding ways to live with this fact so that I'm not consumed and destroyed.
Other celebrities? I haven't investigated this to be honest, so I can't say. Although I have friends who are devoted to the beauty of other famous people, and it makes me happy to see how their lives are lifted.
Jesus is a name that heals. This is not some crack-pot idea, as there have been scientific studies, like at the New Frontiers of Science at Temple University, where pathogens were placed in petri dishes, and born again Christians prayed over the dishes and killed the pathogens. The same pathogens in other dishes elsewhere in the building remained virulent and deadly. I bring this up because it's the BELIEF which channels our energy, whether it's Jesus, or Elvis. The exaltation of Elvis raises a cone of real human energy, and with the music, a music with drums much like the ancient pagan rituals of healing once did. With the aid of such scientists like Dr. Brian L. Weiss we have tangible results now for understanding the truth of past lives, real places and bodies we once inhabited. There's no doubt in my mind that Elvis Presley was an ancient tribe's shaman.
Are you a big Elvis fan yourself?
Yes I am. I'm no tourist, in fact Elvis and the lottery are about the only two things I have in common with my white trash roots at this point in time.
Which of the entries would you say was your favorite to work on, and why?
Oh that's a tough one. The Elvis Hotline is one. I posted flyers all over the city of Philadelphia, and that flyer is in the book. The flyer asked people to call the number listed and leave a message for Elvis. Every single day when I came home the answering machine was FULL of messages! Most of them were excited people just calling to say that they love His music, which was nice. But then there were some real GEMS, and those are collected in the book. And now that the book is out and my real phone number is in the book on that flyer I'm getting phone calls again, many many wonderful, beautiful messages to Elvis! I love it!
Another part I enjoyed was creating divination with Priscilla Presley's memoir, asking the book questions, then opening and closing the book nine times with eyes closed. On the ninth opening of the book the question is answered, somewhere on those pages. It works, it's amazing how it works.
But the part that was the most powerful for me to work on was the interview I did with myself about how the sexual magic of Elvis changes the world. You asked earlier about this being a hybrid text of sorts, and the autonomy I spoke of is expressed most passionately here, as this interview was a complete channel. I'm not one to channel, but then again I used to say I didn't know how to astral project, but can do that now too. Yes, I had a long conversation with myself about HOW to do this part, or IF it was possible. Then I put three of His songs on a loop ("Viva Las Vegas," "If I Can Dream," "I Need Your Love Tonight"), and SAT INSIDE that music, let His voice scrape the sides of my brain for a good half hour before leaping into the paper with my pen. Ernst Chladni's discovery back in eighteenth century Germany that sound has actual form, that sound carves the world into consistent and powerful shapes, leads me to understand HOW the IF is possible in what I was setting out to accomplish with this interview. The questioning voice in the interview is the part of me that's always skeptical, unsure. The answering voice is the part of me that never hesitates. This interview came out exactly as it is in the book, not a single edit, just a stream of unbroken, channeled song.
What are you working on now?
I'm a poet. My book The Book of Frank also came out this year. I bring this up because it's how I'm dividing my time as a reader of poetry at readings these days. But what I'm working on right now is (Soma)tic Poetry. These are a series of exercises which work between the realms of Soma (the divine, the spirit in us), and Somatic (the flesh, the world, the THINGS). Such examples involve investigating trees in parking lots of shopping malls, or walking through the city while listening to wolves howl on headphones. I create and execute the exercise simultaneously and create the poems in the end. The exercises are collected and pulled to their webpage monthly. Thanks for asking this John. I'm also DEEP inside another series completely different that I call "Going to 108." These poems are the residual language of, or language generated from astral travel. Astral travel is something the skeptical part of my brain always thought was silly, Lord of the Rings kind of nonsense that was impossible. But it's all true, and I've had it proven to me, and do it myself with alarming, jolting precision at times which leaves me numb for days. But when my physical body wakes from these travels I hammer out a block of text at the keyboard and carry this block with me and chip away at it until the poem appears. It's the only poetry I initially compose at the keyboard.
The Sunday Times suggests 100 good holiday reads.
In case you missed Bill Moyers' interview with poet W. S. Merwin (The Shadow of Sirius) on Friday say because you were drinking bourbon and watching What Not to Wear in the hopes that once, just once, Carmindy would go easy on the makeup and Nick wouldn't make someone cry by cutting her hair it's available here.
Novelist Alice Hoffman, angry about a mediocre review of her new novel by Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe, posted Silman's phone number on her Twitter page, called her a "moron," insulted the entire city of Boston, and encouraged her fans to "tell Roberta Silman off." And somewhere in New York, a midlist writer's publicist weeps softly and begs to be reassigned.
Hoffman's Twitter account has since been deleted, but she was apparently also upset that Silman allegedly gave away too much of the plot of Hoffman's new book, The Story Sisters (SPOILER ALERT: It turns out the author is a fucking psycho.) Hoffman's dick move might have ensured that no major newspaper will ever review her work again, but if you're an author who wants to follow in her footsteps, let's talk.
(Note to Alice Hoffman: Keep in mind Jen Howard posted this story before I did. Pretty sure I can get you her phone number too.)
(UPDATE: OK, fine, I guess Jen didn't post this before I did. I can still get you that phone number, though.)
Alan Kelly talks to Dennis Cooper, author of the new Ugly Man and a longtime favorite of mine ever since I read his liner notes for Sonic Youth's Sister. (Justin Taylor interviewed Cooper for Bookslut in 2005.)
Via Largehearted Boy.
June 26, 2009
Powell's chats with children's author Lenore Look, who says she's no good at cussing. I'm working on a kids' book now, and there's a lot of cursing involved (off-page so far, but you never know).
Q. What's your clean, kid-friendly curse word substitute of choice?
A. I don't curse. It doesn't come naturally, and when I try to do it, I don't sound like I'm cursing at all! I just sound like an idiot. Cursing is tantamount to spitting or throwing a shoe at someone; it should be this great projectile that, when it makes its mark, splits you open like a bolt of lightning. Well, the couple of times that I tried cursing, lemme tell you, it wasn't lightning, honey. It wasn't even thunder. It was a sad little worm that fell out of my mouth, like the kind you put on the end of a hook to cast for fish, and it cried out, "Lenore's a wimp! Lenore's a wimp! Look what she's done to me! Aaaaack!" So I don't curse, and I can't come up with kid-friendly substitutes either.
Ulysses goes graphic:
An online graphic novel version of the literary classic, Ulysses Seen, is the inaugural project of Throwaway Horse, a group seeking to spread awareness of literary classics and chip away at the air of intimidation that works like Ulysses tend to have. "The Throwaway Horse members love this book," they explain on the Ulysses Seen website, "and it kills us that it has gotten the reputation for being inaccessible to everyone besides the English professors who make their careers teaching the book to future English professors who will make their careers doing the same."
This piece on Thomas Maier's Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love might actually be the first time the New York Times has printed the phrase "a clear Plexiglas dildo nicknamed Ulysses" since J. Edgar Hoover's obituary.
A reason to watch PBS tonight that doesn't involve the look of disappointment on an old person's face when Leslie Keno tells him that his guéridon is a forgery: W. S. Merwin (The Shadow of Sirius), one of my favorite poets, is featured on Bill Moyers Journal tonight.
Farrah Fawcett was friends with Ayn Rand.
BOMBlog's Emily Nonko interviews poet Brandon Scott Gorrell, author of the new During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present, published by the upstart New York indie press Muumuu House, which also recently released Ellen Kennedy's poetry collection Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs.
I read both these books recently, and reread them both immediately after finishing them. Gorrell and Kennedy are the most talented young poets I've read in years, and their books are stunning it's the kind of writing that's impulsive and emotionally raw, but also more layered and sophisticated than they appear. It's hard for any poet to be funny and heartbreaking in the space of one poem, or even one stanza, but it's a skill these young writers execute perfectly. They made me excited about poetry and independent publishing all over again.
In New Zealand, a school is bribing kids to read with Coke. They're doing the same thing in Miami, only the "c" isn't capitalized.
June 25, 2009
The Naked and the Read
He was older than me by a decade exactly, wore black-rimmed glasses and corduroy pants, and wrote me a letter for my twenty-sixth birthday (before anything had happened between us) that was eight-pages long, single-spaced, typed. There were reasons it shouldn’t have started, but it did, and we wrote torrents to each other. It felt huge and dangerous and for the record books. An instiller of some new enthusiasm, a reminder of how exciting things could feel -- not just romantically or sexually, but in terms of being a human alive in the world.
He decorated the envelope of the birthday letter with highlighter pens, flares of fluorescent yellow and green and blue surrounding my name. The letter itself was a combination of rambling enthusiasm and wonder -- kidlike, unfettered -- and sprinkled with quotes from Tennessee Williams and references to Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, and Aeschylus. Exuberant and intelligent, funny and odd and human. And when the stories were sad, he made them beautiful.
The same can be said of cartoonist Lynda Barry, creator of the alt-weekly staple Ernie Pook’s Comeek, creator of the inimitable Marlys -- pig-tailed and chubby of face, enthused about everything -- and her teenage sister Maybonne -- sensitive, earnest, crushed out on boys and concerned for the world. Reading through It’s So Magic or The! Greatest! Of! Marlys! or The Freddie Stories or Come Over Come Over is like getting a fast ride back to adolescence, in all its high-stakes glory and humiliation.
The thirty-six year-old letter-writer introduced me to Barry’s work, arriving on my stoop one Saturday morning with four of her collections (they were a loan; I’ve not given them back; never lend me books). He was particularly taken with the Marlys character, her hopefulness and heart, her outstanding life lessons (from her “Guide to Queers”: “Like if you got questions for example what does a queer do when he sees a dog. Answer it depends on the dog. Maybe pets it.”)
And I was taken, too, by that same combination of funny-weird and sometimes sad and so often beautiful and moving. And struck, too, by how much sense it made that he loved this stuff. He’d introduced me to James Agee and Richard Yates, lent me a bio of Keats, brainy realism, all human. But it was the Lynda Barry that was most deeply felt, both the work itself and his reaction to it.
She wrestles big themes: violence, prejudice, abuse, abandonment. The work is dark, no question, but Barry explores it all without being preachy, self-righteous, or cliché. She gets innocence and kid-dom, and the transition to experience, and being right on the cusp of both.
And she’s especially good with the sex stuff, whether it’s Maybonne’s forays into boys and crushes and virginity loss, or Marlys’s experience watching her older sister doing shit she doesn’t understand. In the strip “Maybonne’s Room,” from The! Greatest! of! Marlys!, Marlys and her cousin spy on Maybonne through a crack in the wall. “If a sad song came on she’d get right up close to the mirror and try to see how she looked when she was crying. Other times she’d pull her shirt up and stare at her bra for no reason.” “Why’s she keep on doin’ that?” cousin Arna asks Marlys. Barry gets both perspectives exactly right -- of course the young girls are fascinated by the teenager, and of course the teenager is looking at her boobs in the mirror.
Marlys ends up witnessing much more troubling stuff in the teenage realm. She follows her sister, sneaking out one night to meet up with Cindy Ludermyer, drunk on Boone’s Farm Apple wine, and some Catholic school boys. “Marlys saw it. She saw those guys and Cindy Ludermyer. She hid in the bushes and watched Cindy pushing on the guy and the guy pushing on Cindy. And it was Marlys that threw the rock.”
So remarkable about Barry’s work is how she’s able to tell a whole story in a dozen panels, simple, silly drawings, and a couple hundred words. From the Cindy Ludermyer episode, Barry gives us Marlys’s reaction (“Her new thing is she wishes she was a boy. I go ‘How come?’ She goes ‘Easier life.’”), Cindy’s conflicted response (“‘it’s not like it really even bothers me that much.’ Then she’s quiet and when I look over, her shoulders are shaking.”), and Maybonne’s concern for her sister and friend.
Barry blends the frightening and the sad with joy and magic. And sure, maybe those feelings were more acute in high school, and maybe the fluxes happened faster, but it’s good to be reminded of how raw and wonderful it can all be, even the shitty parts and the bad decisions and the hurts, because there can still be giggling and secrets and conversations late into the night, and exuberance is beauty after all. “That’s why I sneak out my bedroom at night, in the middle of the night, and climb on the roof of my old grade school and just sit in the peace and quiet of the dark. The great peace and quiet where I can pray for things to turn out all right even though I can’t stop breaking all the rules. And I pray to keep on believing life is magical no matter what, that is my main goal in life, dear god swear to god I will keep on believing it’s magic it’s magic it’s still so magic.”
The letter-writer wrote to me of one of the principles he held dear, that “something that’s deeply felt & beautifully expressed is sacred ¬ & deserves respect.” It’s no sort of overstatement to describe Lynda Barry’s work as exactly this, as sacred.
Who will replace the late Ken Siegelman as Brooklyn's poet laureate? The Brooklyn Paper has a shortlist of their suggestions, which includes the brilliant Matthew Rohrer (Rise Up) and nerd-pop heroes They Might Be Giants.
I'm kind of jealous. Austin doesn't have a poet laureate, at least as far as I know. Might I suggest this guy?
Every year, it's the same old story: Poetry books dominate the bestseller lists, while authors of diet books, crime novels and books where God wants to talk to you in a shack about your kidnapped child, are left to starve. And now it's getting even worse, thanks to the BBC.
Sampling Roth. This is awesome. If Jewish shouting dance music doesn't become the next big thing, then I give up.
Before you jet off to the Library of Congress to get your hands on the just-opened Nabokov archives, please know that you will not be getting your grubby paws on VN's original manuscripts. Nope, it's microfilm for you, pal. Sorry.
Inspired by Lilian Pizzichini's new The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys, Maud Newton and Alexander Chee have a conversation about selected works of Rhys and Ford Madox Ford. (There's more at Maud's site.)
Slate's business blog, The Big Money, defends Google Books, because someone has to. Right?
. . . but ask yourself this: In the past decade, who has done more for public access to knowledge. Harvard? Or Google? If you want to pick sides in this debate, that's what really tells you everything you need know.
On the other hand, Harvard isn't taking pictures of my house and putting them online. Or are they? Probably not. From what I can tell, the only threats from Harvard are the thing where the dudes dress like ladies and give awards to James Franco, and that one guy who tried to embarrass Matt Damon in a bar in front of Minnie Driver, about which I'll just say, Not cool, Harvard.
June 24, 2009
Chris "Long Tail" Anderson, Wired editor and author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price (due out in July), is getting vivisected in certain quarters for allegedly making a little too free with unsourced material. More fascinating than the case itself is the fistfight about it--gotcha! or no big deal?--in the comments over at the VQR blog, which called foul on Mr. Anderson in the first place. ("Basically, you went nuts with the highlighter," one commenter says.)
At The Smart Set, Jessa considers the books A Vindication of Love and How to Love, and indicates she's probably never going to get married. And I'm like, Jessa, if you didn't like the book I got you for your birthday, you could just tell me.
Will somebody explain to my why this article about what writers do (answer: not much) is on Slate's DoubleX? Then maybe you can explain to me why XX exists in the first place. "What Women Really Think"? I'll tell you what I really think--I think I don't need another way to be marginalized because of my chromosomal makeup, thanks very much.
The top 10 literary ménages à trois, courtesy of Ewan Morrison, author of, uh, Ménage. He doesn't include my personal favorite novel to feature a ménage à trois, Sister Carrie. (It's not technically in the book, but I got so fucking bored reading it, I had to add one in to entertain myself. Also, my version has Transformers. Also, coke orgies.)
I just found out that the best professor I’ve ever had, and one of the smartest, most inspirational and most decent human beings I’ve ever met, has a literary blog, which has instantly become my newest addiction. Add D. G. Myers’s A Commonplace Blog to your list of sites to obsessively check every day, and thank me later.
D. G. Myers is a literary critic and an English professor at Texas A&M University, where I studied for four years. He taught me American literature and literature of the Holocaust, and his classes were transformative experiences for me. I’ve never looked at books the same way since I met him. He was my idol then, and he still is. I have lots of stories about his classes, though perhaps what I remember most is him throwing a copy of The American across the classroom, yelling “I hate this book!” (he really didn’t). It narrowly missed my head, as I recall, which is too bad, given it would have made a really excellent lawsuit. (I was drinking a lot of beer and smoking a lot of pot then, and could’ve used the money.)
He also actually saved my life, which, you know, is pretty good too, I guess. It’s a long story that starts in an emergency room in Bryan, Texas, where I was lying in a bed with a badly cut wrist and a stomach full of pills, and ends with me being here right now, happy and grateful and in love with literature. I’ll never be able to thank him enough, but what the hell: Thank you, David.
OK. Crap. This turned out a lot more sentimental than I intended. Blame Myers. Detached irony resumes after this post.
Andrew MacDonald and Irene Coray, owners of KULTURAs Books in Santa Monica, are moving back to D.C. after 3 years on the other coast. After Monday's deadly crash on the Metro system and the white-supremacist rampage at the Holocaust Museum a couple of weeks ago, this town has been on the ropes lately, so we can use some happy news. Welcome back, KULTURAs.
"D.C. is an information town," MacDonald said. "It's full of think tanks and there are seven or eight universities that are within a couple of miles." (Via TEV.)
We even buy and read books here once in a while.
A statistically meaningless and highly anecdotal but perhaps diverting look at how publishers pick lead titles for their seasonal catalogues. Which I still insist on spelling the old way.
Bloomsbury publisher Kathy Rooney is this year's winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn prize for women in publishing [insert A.S. Byatt huffing here]. Rooney's credits include the World English Dictionary "which powers the spell-check in Word", an accomplishment surely right up there with my contribution towards getting this published. You're welcome, literature.
Three East German writers have been recognized with a major award from the German National Foundation for their work. Across three generations, Erich Loest, Monika Maron and Uwe Tellkamp are German writers "symbolizing, personally and with their literary works, the multiple fractures in German history."
Weimar, 2010: Jessa Crispin receives National Award for services to Kansan-Berliner relations. Avenue renamed in her honour, schoolchildren given day off, ticker tape parades etc.
There is some hot Malla action to be found over at Maud Newton on writing for and about children:
When I rewatched Star Wars as an adult, for example, I was completely astounded to discover that the movie had a plot — even though I could remember exactly what happened in every scene, and even entire passages of dialogue. And think about popular kids’ books like Goodnight Moon and even Where the Wild Things Are — so often the story, if there is one, is peripheral to mood, tone, imagery, and feeling. Those seem to be the things that attract and stay with kids about a book, far above what actually happens.
June 23, 2009
Parents of incoming first-year students at an Illinois high school attempted to ban Sherman Alexie's YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the school's summer reading list. (They failed.) Chicagoist points out that students were offered an alternate book if their delicate parents couldn't stand the thought of their kids reading books with naughty language and references to masturbation, a practice which God knows no 14-year-old is familiar with.
More troubling is the suggestion by parent Jennifer Anderson that "offensive" books feature warning labels on their covers. She might be onto something. Remember the Tipper Gore/PMRC dust-up in the '80s? They convinced record companies to put warning labels on albums some parents might find objectionable. And after that, no popular musician ever used profanity or sang about sex ever again.
From behind his large, tidy wooden desk at the Social Security Administration’s headquarters in Woodlawn, Larry DeWitt...will happily discuss the philosophical underpinnings of social insurance and the importance of knowing the past when making future decisions about the nation’s economic safety net.
But DeWitt, the historian at this vast federal agency and the lead editor of a weighty new tome of primary source material about the agency, Social Security: A Documentary History (CQ Press), can’t conceal the plain truth. He is just itching to get out of his seat and show off his collection.
It doesn’t take long to see why. The adjoining office is crammed with pamphlets, placards, books – and even old agency telephone directories. A wartime poster reminds why it’s important to hold on to Social Security cards: “Replacing 1.8 million cards last year cost Uncle Sam the price of 550 jeeps.”
I think I will start calculating the cost of everything in jeeps from now on.
Legendary author and badass Ray Bradbury, 88, loves libraries and Bo Derek, but not so much the Internet:
“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’”
This is why I can't wait to be old, so I can say things like that. I mean, I like the Internet, but I fucking love Ray Bradbury.
Powell's, my soon-to-be-hometown bookstore, selects the winners of its six-word memoir contest. My favorite, from Leah:
Turned lemons into lemonade. Added vodka.
My kinda gal.
K.M. Weiland (A Man Called Outlaw) is taking a poll: Just how execrable (hey! big word!) has the vocabulary in modern literature gotten? Your choices are pretty much dumb, dumber, and dumbest, but go vote anyway.
Welsh SF author Alastair Reynolds (House of Suns) signed a million-pound contract to write ten books in ten years. (For my fellow American readers, a million pounds is equal to roughly holy-shit-our-economy-is-so-fucked dollars.)
Also in The Guardian: Stop making fun of fantasy readers. Or they'll throw their copies of Selling England by the Pound at you. (Kidding! Kidding!)
Tara Dooley of the Houston Chronicle takes a look at the book-swapping websites BookMooch (which has a weirdly unsettling illustration on their homepage of what looks like alien teddy bears consorting with scarily anthropomorphized books) and PaperBackSwap.
I haven't used any of these sites, but it really is a great idea. I'm in the middle of moving from Austin, Texas, to Portland, Oregon. Anyone want to trade my only slightly coffee-stained copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being for, say, a $50,000 cashier's check? I'd also like to announce that the movie rights for this post are now available. Act now!
“It lowers the stress of chasing money around and provides some time,” he said. “I can pay off whatever credit card debt I have and get off this high wire for a couple of years, and then start over again. As a friend told me, there is no down side to this: ‘You can’t find one, even you.’”
On page 4 of the Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican of November 10, 1901, under the heading "Men, Women and Affairs," is the following item, in which the writer suggests that "a void in the English language" may be filled by Ms., pronounced as "Mizz," as an alternative to Miss or Mrs.
Zimmer posts a scan of the newspaper column in question, and explains what led him to it. Who doesn't love a nifty bit of archival sleuthing?
UPDATE: Stephen Laniel of stevereads.com dropped me a note to say that the OED disgrees with Zimmer that, until now, 1949 was the earliest known appearance of "Ms." The OED's "earliest example of the use of "Ms." is from a month after the Republican used it," Steve wrote. The OED entry suggests that "the OED was at least glancingly aware of the Springfield citation, but chose not to use it." The etymological plot thickens.
Braniac's Chris Shea pokes some gentle (?) fun at a recent act of authorial self-promotion committed by Fred Kaplan, whose new book is--oh, just go Google it, or read Kaplan's Slate article about it. Shea writes:
The piece is pegged to a recent article in the New York Times on the subject of grandiose book titles. However, as Kaplan notes, "reporter Patricia Cohen doesn't mention my contribution to the genre." Inconvenient! But Kaplan does not let that stop him from writing a 1,400-word article that reads like an advertorial, or just an ad. Nicely played, enterprising author!
Brazen or admirable? Shea says: "I can never decide. When it comes to promoting one's own book, maybe shame is baggage that must be shed."
What do you think, authors? How do you gauge when you've taken self-promotion a little too far?
June 22, 2009
Mark Athitakis wonders about the Great Mormon Novel ("Is there a novel that addresses Mormonism with thought and care?"), and points to a debate on the subject at A Motley Vision, a Mormon arts-and-culture blog.
My husband and I were talking about Katie Roiphe's NYTBR review of Cristina Nehring's A Vindication of Love. Luckily for our marriage, we had the same reaction: Yes to passion, but why would you want to be in a relationship that makes you feel like jumping off a bridge? (See entry for 1795.)
Related, kinda: Can women write about sex? The answer, of course, is no. Also, Presbyterians can't write about golf, Jews can't write about food, and lesbians can't write about the economy.
Jodi Picoult wants you to know your child is probably dying right now.
Man, I've been gone from the blog for three years, and newspapers are fucking still running stories expressing surprise that these crazy "graphic novels" are actually considered literature. The latest depressing installment contains this sentence which might just make you cry:
Typically, graphic novels are marketed at people who have trouble reading.
Yeah, I remember how excited all us illiterates were when Art Spiegelman picked up that Pulitzer in '92. I don't know nothin' 'bout no fancy book-learnin', but I sure do like them pretty pictures!
Book editor/journalist goes missing in Tehran:
The co-editor of the book Transit Tehran, published by Garnet Publishing, has gone missing amid the protesting and political tensions in Iran. Maziar Bahari also works as a journalist for Newsweek, which reported that the 41-year-old was taken from his home in Tehran by security officers...
"Transit Tehran: Young Iran and its Inspirations" was published in February this year and is an original anthology of writing and images focused on the generations of photojournalists working during the reformist movement.
The BBC profiles José Saramago:
"I may have three, four years more to live, maybe less. Every time I finish a book I wait for another idea, it may not come this time, we shall see," he smiles as he waves good-bye.
[Children's literature expert Barbara] Feinberg recalled one 15-year-old boy from Long Island who told her: “Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’”
In these days of video games and "sexting," it's nice to know one thing hasn't changed since my high school days: Most teenagers are total dicks.
Hey all. @JenHoward here. I think I am going to go by my Twitter handle from now on (kind of like India.Arie, but without the recording contract).
I'm fresh back from the Association of American University Presses confab in Philadelphia. An AP story that was kicking around last week kinda made it look like all university presses are at the point of collapse. They're not. If you're into scholarly publishing, you can read my not-so-gloomy AAUP recap here.
Longtime friend of Bookslut Jen Howard covers the meeting of the Association of American University Presses, where the question on everyone's mind was "What do scholarly presses have to do to survive?" Easy: Stop publishing books and start producing television shows about awful people who have too many children. Problem solved!
June 19, 2009
From Litchfield, New Hampshire:
Four stories will be removed from an English class curriculum at Campbell High School after a group of parents complained about content that touched on cannibalism, cocaine use, abortion and homosexuality.
Man, I thought cannibalism, cocaine, abortion and homosexuality were par for the course in all of America's high schools. I guess not everyone went to Catholic school, though. (Imprimatur and nihil obstat for this post pending. A.M.D.G.)
(You'll note that A High Wind in Jamaica is published by NYRB Classics; Jessa and I are always fighting over who loves them more. But who's the one they had to take out a restraining order against, Jessa? It's not you, is it? No. No, it's not.)
June 18, 2009
I hate to be constantly flogging UbuWeb's takeover of the internets, but now they're auto-serving audio files around the clock! Get your avant-garde multimedia fix here.
A.E. Stallings explains the appeal of Catullus to . . . Forbes? As a student, reading someone like Catullus, I was startled how contemporary and natural he sounded while in the strictest of classical meters. They showed me that technique was not the enemy of urgency, but the instrument.
Fiona Shaw and Roy Foster demonstrate that, where Yeats is concerned, it's a fine line between remembrance and necrophilia.
For future reference, Bookslut will be linking to all posts connecting Slavoj Zizek to the topic of contemporary poetry & its failure in the market. (Via Stephen Elliott, whose forthcoming The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder is unmissable.) For an example of Zizek in rare form, watch him unpack the hidden links between toilets, pubic hair, and ideology.
At the Christian Science Monitor's Chapter & Verse blog, Matthew Battles somehow connects Geoffrey Hill's birthday with social media's role in the Iranian protests.
What better way to belatedly celebrate Milton's 400th anniversary than with "an avant-garde fashion show," in which "The only requirement the designers have had to stick to is that each collection must reflect their individual interpretation of John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost."
This week marks the end of my coaching responsibilities in the local youth soccer & baseball leagues, so I hope you'll forgive my linking to this heartwarming story about Alison Uttley (via MobyLives):
We’d placed Uttley on a curtained daïs, and on the dot of 12 the curtain rose. A howling crowd of excited children stormed the stage.
As Uttley hadn’t bothered to listen to a word I’d told her, she was completely unprepared for this. Dimly she perceived an overwhelming mob running at her and with British pluck she unhesitatingly grabbed her duck-handled umbrella and waded into the attack, felling infants right and left.
The kiddies paused, briefly regrouped, then broke up and ran off, screaming in terror. Uttley strode among them, lashing out freely.
Blake Butler, Bookslut contributor and author of EVER, considers a story by Dennis Cooper from his new book Ugly Man. Butler and Cooper are two of the few writers who are seemingly incapable of writing anything less than great; I've loved following them through the years.
Link via Jacket Copy.
So, missing the tendentious genealogies, the reclamations of forgotten texts and bigging-up of some new, pining for a smidge of controversy, I thought we could save a bit of time by naming a few movements in advance, then writing books to fit. That way we could start arguing about them without having to wait through those tiresome publication schedules.
All his suggested movements are great, though my favorite has to be "Zombiefail '09-ism."
My new boss discusses her hostile takeover of Bookslut, which is now going to focus exclusively on television shows and novelty rap songs. At least I assume so. I just scanned the interview for the part about how I'm getting a raise and, not finding it, closed my browser in disgust.
Anderson Cooper's 85-year-old mom writes a book about sex. Everybody wins!
Also forthcoming for all my fellow indie rock/book nerds out there: Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small. This book brings together my two favorite things from North Carolina besides tobacco: the excellent publishing house Algonquin Books, and the best record label in the world, Merge, home of what seems like all my favorite bands: Superchunk, The Clientele, Spoon, Polvo, etc. (You can't really tell, but I'm actually wearing a Merge Records shirt in the photo on my Facebook page, such is my love.)
The Guardian is my favorite newspaper, even though they've apparently switched to a new format of only publishing stories so depressing, you will want to kill yourself and others. Today, novelist Liz Jensen (The Rapture) lists "her favourite tales of ecological catastrophe." Coming tomorrow in The Guardian: "In five years all rain will be pure acid" and "Why your child will probably be tortured to death in the next six months."
Scott McLemee reports on university presses using Twitter.
By contrast, university-press publicists seem more inclined to experiment and to follow tangents with Twitter than they do on their own official websites. They link to material they have posted at the press’s blog, of course – but also to news and commentary that may be only obliquely related to the books in their catalog. It’s as if they escape from beneath the institutional superego long enough to get into the spirit of blogging, proper.
That's why I love following these publishers, though I need to follow more. I recently started following Columbia University Press, which does a great job with their page, and my very first indie-press love, Arte Público, based at the University of Houston. I've had a huge literary crush on them ever since I read George Washington Gómez by the legendary Texas writer Américo Paredes. It's a neglected Texas classic, and highly recommended.
June 17, 2009
Women writing romance novels for women about men who like men. This gives me an idea: Maybe someone could profit by producing and marketing to straight men depictions of women sleeping with other women. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out...
Low has been one of my favorite bands for ten years, but I had no idea that their former bassist, Zak Sally, is an author (Recidivist), publisher (La Mano 21) and illustrator (Brian Evenson's Fugue State). At Minnesota Reads, Jodi Chromey interviews the Duluth native about books, authors, and falling in love with Maggie and Hopey.
My true enemies skulk in a deep Dostoevskian Underground called the Internet, and never see the light of day — that is their punishment for hating me so much; it matches the sin, as in Dante.
Ha ha ha! That's good stuff, James. Good stuff. This might explain why Walter Kirn ended his now famous review of Wood's book with the sentence "But there is one question this volume answers conclusively: Why Readers Nap." And why Colson Whitehead parodied Wood thus:
When we see a word, we must ask ourselves foremost, What does it mean? This is the first step in comprehension. When we have accomplished this, we can proceed to the next, and so on. In due course, we have read the sentence in toto. By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform a close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university.
What were people reading during the Great Depression? (The Hoover one, not the Bush one.)
Take a Stephen King tour in Bangor, Maine, the city that's the inspiration for King's fictional Derry, Maine:
"This tour is as much about Bangor as it is about Stephen King. It’s Stephen King’s Bangor," said Scott R.C. Levy, artistic director of the Penobscot Theatre and now in his third year as the guide for the tour. "Plus . . . I get to tell stories about the ’Gor, through the lens of the world King writes about in his books."
"The ’Gor"? Really? Is that anything like "The Cleve"?
The estate of deceased author Adrian Jacobs is accusing J. K. Rowling of plagiarizing Jacobs in her novel Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We'll just have to wait and see how the judges rule in the case of The People Who Have Suddenly Decided They Would Really, Really Like Some of J. K. Rowling's Money v. Rowling.
James Franco will play Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming biopic Howl.
Jessa reviews Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding at NPR. Originally published in 1932, the book has been reissued by Persephone Books, an amazing British indie press that publishes beautiful editions of lost 20th-century classics. Check them out.
June 16, 2009
New York Magazine posts the second installment of their awesome Vulture Reading Room, this one discussing Bill Wasik's And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in a Viral Culture. The talented Sam Anderson starts things off this time, with Virginia Heffernan coming up next.
Since I've been AWOL from the blog for a long time, I've missed a lot of the literary controversies that have been popping up, including this Derek Walcott-Ruth Padel Oxford contretemps. If I understand it correctly, Walcott was passed over for a professorship after a group of second-wave book bloggers sexually harassed his 14-year-old daughter, Willow, with a Kindle. Is that...is that right?
The New York Times reports on young leftists (who, I'll bet you anything, all have degrees from Bennington or something) holding impromptu readings to celebrate the publication in English of the French anti-capitalist book The Coming Insurrection.
A security guard tried to halt the unsanctioned reading, but the man continued for about five minutes, until the police arrived. The crowd, mostly people in their 20s and 30s, including some graduate students, then adjourned, clapping and yelling, to East 17th Street. There they formed a rebellious spectacle, crowding into shops and loudly shouting bits of political theory, to the amusement of some onlookers and store employees and the irritation of others.
My favorite part of the story is the accompanying photo, though. The kid in the middle looks like Stephen Baldwin's long-lost anarcho-syndicalist twin. (I feel a little bad making fun of these people, though, being a socialist myself. Wait, not "socialist." What do they call socialists who have jobs and buy consumer goods? Oh, yeah: "aging sell-out Democrat.")
I seem to remember that Martin Amis was once asked in a literary interview whether he used pornography and that he answered with a conditional "yes".
Only Martin Amis would give that answer. Well...maybe Hitchens, too.
Clichéonomics! On book title knockoffs that make you want to rip your own eyes out.
Ultimately, the best locutions are those that credit quotidian, trivial objects with earthshaking influence, like "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," by Mark Kurlansky. . . . Some of the more unlikely candidates endowed with superhuman powers by authors include "Tea: The Drink That Changed the World," "Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World," "Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World" and "Sugar: The Grass That Changed the World."
What hath Mark Kurlansky wrought?
Which fictional world would you most like to live in? I think I'd pick the fictional Brewer, Pennsylvania, circa 1979, that John Updike wrote about in Rabbit Is Rich, where Toyota salesmen talk for hours on end about anal sex and wife-swapping, and everyone realizes they're missing something vital but nameless in their lives. Because it's the only more depressing place to be than Texas in the fucking summer.
Happy Bloomsday! Jessa, if you're not drunk right now, I'm very disappointed in you.
June 15, 2009
A series of engravings in Chicago's new Pritzker Park honors the famed author of The House on Mango Street, "Sandra Cisenos." Clearly, they should have hired the guy who did Roland Burris's mausoleum.
George Murray at Bookninja writes:
You know when you double click on a word in an NYT article it takes you to a dictionary definition right? Ever wonder what words are clicked most?
And he's kind enough to provide an answer. (George is looking for guest ninjas, by the way. If you get chosen, feel free to demand an unreasonable sum of money and sexual favors as compensation. George is Canadian, and thus too polite to say "No.")
"Song of Solomon" will not be taught to students next year because there is not enough demand to hold an AP English class, McGrew said.
So I guess you'd file this under "Victories, Pyrrhic." In somehow even more depressing news, a group of old people claiming to be Christians is suing for the right to burn Francesca Lia Block's YA novel Baby Be-Bop, claiming that the book's language could "put one's life in possible jeopardy." Barratry, I guess, is the new black.
Hey, I missed you guys! It’s good to be back home.
June 14, 2009
I'm going to be gone for about a month, getting ready for my move to Berlin. (If I had realized Friday was my last day blogging, I would have done a better job.) Michael Schaub will be starting Monday, and Jen Howard will also be making an appearance later on. I'll be back mid-July, but in the meantime, I'll be posting links and updating on Twitter.
Please remember that Bookslut's contact information has changed. I'll see you all soon.
June 12, 2009
The TLS has a review of Cathy Gere's Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, currently sitting in my to be read pile, about 20th century writers' fascination with Cretan myth, and how the excavation of Minoan ruins influenced Joyce, Eliot, and others.
The Naked and the Read
Eugene Delacroix’s paintings don’t do much for me. Liberty Leading the People, The Death of Sardanapalus, hundreds more, a prolific painter and sketcher. We learned in art history that his colors were expressive, his use of light and shadow enormously influential in the age of Romanticism when feeling was first.
And there’s certainly a sumptuousness to his figures. Liberty, bare of breast, wielding flag and gun, strides over corpses, has heft to her, curves and strength, or, in the words of German poet Heinrich Heine, “a beautiful, tempestuous body, the face a bold profile, an air of insolent suffering in the features – altogether a strange blending of Phryne, fishwife, and goddess of liberty.” Despite that sort of description, I’m not sure his paintings move me.
Delacroix’s journals, however, put out in a tidy volume by Phaidon, include much to be stirred by. The first half, started when he was twenty-four years old, reads with youthful candor; the entries later in his life are meditations on art, mini-critical essays, and though compelling, not quite as juicy, or exuberant, as the self-portrait of the artist as a young man. In part, that’s the result of the impression that at first, he was writing for himself alone, and that later, fame acquired, writing for an audience. (It’s also probably got a little to do with youth and maturity, too.)
He is, in turn, despairing, exultant, gossipy, observant. The entries are filled with reminders and urgings to focus, resolutions on how he should be living: “Think about strengthening your principles,” he instructs himself. “Remember your father, and try to overcome your flightiness. Do not be tolerant of unscrupulous people.” He describes paintings he’s seen and loved, how he’s been moved by Dante and Velázquez.
He immerses himself in the artist’s life, learns from everyone, aware of himself as set apart: “There is something in me that is stronger than my body. . . In some people this inner power seems almost non-existent, but with me it is greater than my physical strength. Without it I should die, but in the end it will burn me up – I suppose I mean my imagination, that dominates me and drives me on.”
A passion is present throughout, whether he’s describing opera (“Just returned from the Marriage of Figaro…I still feel as excited as a small child. How changeable I am!”), astronomy (“I have just caught a glimpse of Orion shining amid black and storm-swept clouds. At first I thought of my own insignificance compared with these worlds hanging in space”), or romantic infatuation (“My cowardly heart would not dare to choose the peace of indifference rather than the delicious, excruciating torment of a tempestuous love affair”).
We pedestalize Great Artists, observe them as somehow on a higher plain than the rest of us in the blundering mortal world. So it’s a particular delight when Delacroix describes his flirtations and romances -- his insecurities and excitements are so human! He writes of missed opportunities: “I was hugely tempted to tuck them both under my arm but all kinds of stupid considerations crossed my mind… I was furious at myself for being such a fool.” Who of us hasn’t kicked ourselves for not tucking someone under our arm when we had the chance? And his description of a furtive kiss (and even more so his observations about the way women, in general, tingle his nerves) tantalizes:
“I felt the delicious thrill run through me that heralds a good opportunity. My foot was pressing against her foot and leg; it was delightful… I had no idea what I was going to say or do, but I had a presentiment that something definite was going to happen. . . When we reached the landing, I kissed her passionately and pressed me lips to hers… Ought I to have gone further? But how cold words seem when one tries to describe one’s feelings!”
He describes an encounter with her later: “I stroked her leg, and even dared move up a little.” Whether this is chaste understatement, or actual chastity, who knows. But it’s interesting to think of that line against one of Delacroix’s paintings, Andromeda, for example, in which the wide-hipped naked woman is shackled by the wrists to the rocks, waiting to be devoured by Cetus (or saved by Perseus). There’s an air of frenzy and exhaustion in the woman’s posture, of sexual abandon, head thrown back, fear – or ecstasy -- on her face, her long hair like flames around her. The man who only dared only move up a little on a woman’s leg produces voluptousnesses such as these – such is the power of imagination.
June 11, 2009
Prince's Purple Rain interpreted in light of Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence: a close "reading" of Prince's Purple Rain reveals the extent to which the creation of Prince's sound and persona at the time was deeply indebted to both Michael Jackson and The Police. However, that’s not to say that Prince modeled himself or his music directly upon either that of Jackson or The Police. Prince's invention of his Purple Rain persona and sound, rather, was the result of a powerful desire on Prince's part to not simply emulate these artists but to overshadow and, in essence, rewrite them in order to carve out his own unique position in popular consciousness.
Note to self: If given the chance to interview Amiri Baraka, then prep: The questions, for the most part, are very superficial. If you had done more actual study of all this your questions would have more substance. You can google the Black Arts Movement and find out more than you seem to know. (This may be the first time that a major poet has said Let Me Google That For You in an interview.)
Rick Moody on Artaud: I thought madness was a prerequisite for poetry, once upon a time. But if you believe Artaud, the prerequisite for poetry is having a body, living in it, fighting against its limitations, rejecting it. Many are his legacies in me—an attraction to a certain kind of metaphor, a love of physiognomy as a locator for consciousness, and an understanding of the dramatic platform and its possibilities. But most foundationally there is the sheer music of language, at the moment it addresses the outrages.
Defending the bad poetry of SpongeBob: A similar pessimist might make the case that bad poetry should stay private, that Bigshot Records–much like vanity presses–lures subpar writers with the illusive promise of fame and recognition. Yet, to me, there is a performative exuberence in Spongebob and Patrick’s blaring, gum-attached gramophone that makes it seem like an ultimately salutary, and even revolutionary, gesture for Bikini Bottom–that it shocked the town out of its rigid aesthetic categories. (Via Poetry & Popular Culture)
Ted Hughes has a new children's poem coming out in September: "Timmy was a paddle-boat, sound as a gong, / Not a worm in his timbers, fresh paint all over. / He was hale as a whale and twice as strong, / And he sailed on the peaceful river," writes Hughes. But – unfortunately for Timmy and his paddles – it's propellers that are "now in fashion", and his captain quits "with the cook and the cat / And a whole six months' rum ration."
A poet dispenses medical advice: I quoted it because I thought the word "cure" might have some ameliorating effect.
Somehow missed this the first time around: Lynn Barber on life before feminism. Not as gloomy and righteous as it sounds.
Above all, I didn't have any hope of looking like Doris Day. She was, by universal agreement, the perfect woman - cute, feminine, immaculately groomed, pointy-breasted, wasp-waisted, popular and pert. She was the mistress of 'feminine wiles', could 'wrap men round her little finger' (how do you do that?) and ran absolutely no risk of ever being called a swot. Everyone in my school aspired to look like Doris Day and quite a few succeeded. I was handicapped by being thin, dark and sullen.
If you had asked me if the world needed another 6-page examination of the usefulness (or not) of creative writing programs, I would have made obnoxious puking gestures. But surprise, surprise, the New Yorker manages to make it entertaining.
Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.
Explanation for how the beautiful and creepy cover art for Leslie Heywood's Dedication to Hunger: The Anorexic Aesthetic in Modern Culture came to be.
There used to be arguments about whether to call the pro-life community pro-life or anti-choice or something with more swear words in it. But I always thought if we call the community what they would like to be called, they would maybe be more likely to refer to us as pro-choice and not pro-abortion, their other favorite. Of course now occasionally when I use the word "pro-life" to describe the bastards that blow up buildings and kill doctors I'm told "They're not pro-life, they're extremists! Calling them pro-life makes the rest of us look bad!" Can't win.
Tiller had survived attacks and assassination attempts before. James Risen and Judy L. Thomas, authors of Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War — considered by most to be the definitive account of the rise of the pro-life movement in the United States — described Rachelle Ranae Shannon’s attempt in August 1993:
Tiller finally left the clinic shortly after 7 p.m., driving out of the parking lot in his 1989 Chevy Suburban. As Shannon moved toward him, Tiller thought she was going to hand him some anti-abortion literature, and he “gave her the finger,” Tiller recalls. “Then I remember hearing six shots…” Tiller was stunned. “I looked down and there’s glass and blood every place, and I said, ‘She shot me. She can’t do that.’”
June 9, 2009
Rachel Cusk's books are never quite as good as her interviews. She's at DoubleX to promote The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy, but it is her asides about why you can use a horse as your primary form of transportation and your kids won't think it's weird, why making paper mache masks with your children is not a creative act, and the slew of "bad mother" memoirs on the market right now. (Thanks to Carrie for the link.)
There’s definitely this strand of “I’m going to be really honest and say I don’t love my children” or “I’m incompetent,” ha ha ha. It’s an old form that repeats itself. I’m sure it’s dishonest in one way or another, although I can’t put my finger on why. People write—“I drank like a fish when I was breastfeeding” or “I didn’t sterilize the bottle,” and of course you know they did nothing of the sort.
There are people who are genuinely in crisis, who are alcoholics, say, and can’t cope with a small baby, or who are truly psychologically vulnerable and are a genuine threat to themselves or the baby. But that’s not who is writing the “bad mother” memoirs. When I wrote A Life’s Work I didn’t just set out to say every single thing or reveal my failures or flaws. I made very strict decisions about the kinds of things I would say so that they had a larger purpose, and got to something bigger, more universal. It doesn’t console anybody to know that Michael Chabon’s wife loves him more than her children. This kind of memoir writing is a toxic, and dishonest form of writing.
Man, I miss magazines. The Ransom Center (good a reason as any to live in Texas) has an online exhibition in tribute to Flair Magazine and Fleur Cowles, the magazine's creator. It was dedicated to art and literature, and from the looks of this tribute, it was gorgeous.
Helen DeWitt, the author of The Last Samurai, has been documenting her very fraught relationship with publishing on her website for some time. I know people who have been waiting for her "follow up" for ages, and they're always surprised when I tell them it's available online. It's an ever-changing document, and it's a collaboration with Ilya Gridneff. You can download it and send her a check.
It's an interesting problem. DeWitt can't get a healthy publishing deal, she gets jerked around, so she publishes online. The Last Samurai has a cult following, and people who love that book love that book. So how does DeWitt, with no marketing department, bring attention to the fact that she's publishing online? And does the work suffer from being forever unfinished and not having gone through the editing system? Jenny Turner writes about some of this for the London Review of Books. These are questions people are going to be asking more and more, I fear, as the tales of horror about getting published become more prevalent.
Writers would not so resent publishers if the relationship were only about royalties and advances; but it’s also about deep and terrible emotions, to do with acceptability and rejection and the awful impossibility of ever getting it right. Most writers know the horror of the impending deadline, the jointed mechanical hand reaching out to snatch away one’s poor tender little creature, submitting it to the flaying eye of critical judgment, the swirling knives of the marketplace, the blunted machete of the consensus view. ‘It’s bad, very bad to deal with the biz, but it has to be done,’ as Your Name Here has it; and ‘it has to be done’ because, until very recently, tradition and expediency have deemed the work not in the world until the jointed hand has done its abominable work. Publication is unavoidably painful, and not just because the ‘Biz’ may be cloth-eared and exploitative and dumb. By self-publishing, is DeWitt trying to avoid that excruciation? And what does that avoidance do to the work?
June 8, 2009
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: Eli Horowitz
This week, our Indie Heartthrob hails from the McSweeney's camp. Eli Horowitz, publisher at McSweeney's, was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to us while on the road. We talked about some upcoming titles as well as how a publisher like McSweeney's stays afloat while putting out heavily designed books these days.
In other McSweeney's news, James Hannaham will be reading tonight from his new book God Says No at 7pm over at Book Court in Brooklyn. You can check out his full tour itinerary at Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.
When did you start out at McSweeney's, and how did you become involved?
I got involved in the spring of 2002. I had been doing carpentry (not very well) in San Francisco and Virginia, and so I volunteered to help 826 Valencia build its pirate-supply store. Then, when the pirate-supply store was ready to open, I sat behind the register and sold eyepatches and whatnot. One thing led to another, with extreme quickness; a month later I was working with William Vollmann on Rising Up and Rising Down—while still selling eyepatches. It was very fluky.
Many publishers of late have been cutting their acquisitions in order to stay afloat. How has McSweeney's been faring in this economy?
It’s a struggle, but it has always been a struggle. More difficult than the recent downturn has been the steady disappearance of independent stores over the past ten years. McSweeney’s would never have existed without all these great stores, and so many have gone bust, even while the economy was riding high. That’s a far more important story than any short-term layoffs—these stores are vital to the whole ecosystem of quality publishing.
For about 10 years, McSweeney's has been putting out intricately designed works on a small press playing field. How have you guys been able to pull this off as a small publisher?
Partly because good design doesn’t necessarily cost more than boring design. And partly because we’re willing to make mistakes (and we do). Good design might actually be easier at a small publisher, because there are fewer cooks in the kitchen—we don’t have firm lines between editor and designer—it’s often the same person—so there’s naturally a closer link before form and content.
Also because we just don’t really think things through. How will it affect sales if a cover features a decaying-flesh giant sleeping in a puddle of suburban Virginia? (See The Convalescent, by Jessica Anthony, due out this month.) I don’t know, but it’s kind of an amazing cover—that’s reason enough.
Dave co-wrote the screenplay, along with Spike Jonze. The book is inspired by that, as well as Sendak’s classic, of course. It’ll be in stores this fall.
Where do you see the press going from here? What's on the horizon?
The main goal is just that—to keep going from here. Doing more and more and more, keeping ourselves excited and sharing that with our readers. We have three terrific debut novels this summer: God Says No by James Hannaham (out now), The Convalescent, and Fever Chart by Bill Cotter (August). And then more books after that, more after that, others after that, eventually becoming crazed and lonely, placing photocopied leaflets under windshield wipers in parking lots across the tri-state area. ...I mean, if we’re lucky.
AC Grayling was rather nasty to Charlotte Greig's A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy in his column about philosophy. He called it chick lit and wrote, "The best thing about her novel is its title." Later he wrote, "when one turns one's thoughts to real literature," which is a vicious little put down.
Generally when a writer decides to respond to a critic, I start cringing immediately and praying they don't humiliate themselves further. But I was rooting for her this time. It's printed below his review.
It’s disappointing to find that so little has changed in the male bastion of philosophy since the seventies, when the book is set. The tone of Grayling's review reminds me of the dismissive attitudes to women that male lecturers often displayed then. Fortunately, I was not deterred by their pomposity, and continue to maintain my belief that philosophy is not just the preserve of snooty male academics, but has relevance for everyone. Even girls who make silly mistakes.
Marilynne Robinson's Home has won the Orange Prize for fiction. The most scandalous angle anyone could work up was that a prize sponsored by a telecommunications company was won by a book which features no mobile phones or email. Who is responsible for inflicting this filth on us think of the children etc.
Blonde Roots, the intriguing novel about slavery by Benardine Evaristo, was the Orange Youth Panel's winning choice. Evaristo's title was described as "emotive, moving and thought-provoking". It didn't make the Prize shortlist:
[The youth panel] weren't impressed with the final six books on the official shortlist, with comments on the online teen book community Spinebreakers, which recruited the readers, ranging from "don't like the shortlist. It just looks like a bunch of books women would read", to "shoddy work grownups" and "grrr I'm not happy with the judges' shortlist! Not happy at all."
Robert McCrum reviews what sounds like a fascinating book: Frances Osborne's The Bolter: Idina Sackville, the Woman Who Scandalized 1920s Society and Became White Mischief's Infamous Seductress.
June 6, 2009
The Naked and the Read
It’s no new argument that the edging up against the sexual can be at times sexier than the actual thing itself. When the imagination is ignited, all aflame, and no one’s yet touched anyone. The sexual non-sexual, when it’s all potential energy.
Eudora Welty’s story “The Whistle,” from her first collection of short stories A Curtain of Green, has me thinking about the charge before anything’s happened, and the charge after so much already has. In the story, an exhausted, impoverished, 50 year-old married couple, lie together by the fire to stay warm, the husband sleeping, his “long-spaced, tired breathing the only noise besides the flutter of the fire,” and the wife, awake, with eyes “opened too wide, the lids strained and limp, like openings which have been stretched shapeless and made of no more use.” The implications are obvious, and the scene is one of barren, dun, late-winter.
Welty creates an atmosphere of such cold, true bone-chill, born of temperature and time of year, and born of the gaping frigidity between this man and woman. “Sometimes many days, weeks went by without words... their lives were filled with tiredness, with a great lack of necessity to speak, with poverty which may have bound them like a disaster too great for any discussion but left them still separate and undesirous of sympathy.”
But they are linked in their silence. Their energies are intertwined. And on this night, those energies are rousted from their hibernations and collide. And the tension and heat that result, all but wordlessly between the two, ranks, in my book, as an extraordinary literary feat on Welty’s part. This is a story where very little takes place. But the pressure of the atmosphere is crushing. Not sexual, in the conventional sense, but sensual, surely, and deeply so, and hugely passionate.
The woman lies awake and imagines summer and warmth and youth, and immediately the mood shifts; color comes into it -- tomato reds and bright green grass -- bright sun and the season rich with fertile possibility. Quilt over her head, she pictures a small hometown during a time of “legendary festivity, a place of pleasure,” she and her husband together in their youth. The fire at the bedside goes out, and the woman drifts to sleep: “there was left only a hulk of red log, a still, red, bent shape, like one of Jason’s socks thrown down to be darned somehow.”
The embers are there, though, glowing still. And deep into the night a whistle blows, signaling a frost to all the farmers. The woman emerges from sleep, shakes her husband awake without words, and they rush from the house to cover their tomato plants from the cold, to protect them from frost with blankets from their bed. “For their own knowledge, by their hands, they found everything to be true the cold, the rightness of the warning, the need to act.” The whistle blares, and because the quilts are not enough, the man takes off his coat, and his wife “reached down and pulled her dress off over her head. Her hair fell down out of its pins, and she began at once to tremble violently.”
Hot and cold at once. The two return to the house where the husband does a “rare, strange thing,” and the fire gets lit in earnest. No one touches, they barely speak (two words, one of which is “listen”), and they sit beside the life they burn, warm themselves, and that heat is enough. A deeper heat than two bodies, naked and entwined. The way it is, in the beginnings of love, when to simply stand close to the other person is cause enough for an upped pulse and so much smolder.
June 5, 2009
Rieff is simply too close to the material to do it justice. He has too many ownership rights. He cannot let go. Rieff will not relinquish his right to deliver up his mother’s literary remains. And the result is reckless.
Desperately wishing I lived in Sydney right now... Brian Eno has created a, um, musical event? Lord knows what to call it when he's involved. It's a performance based on David Eagleman's book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and it's being performed at the Sydney Opera House. You can read three excerpts from the book online. Maybe if I read them while listening to the (staggeringly lovely) Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) it will almost be the same.
June 4, 2009
The idea of "waves" of bloggers brings up a rather unpleasant mental image.
But the major frustration in translation, for me, is when you sense that you are wrestling with an intelligence much greater than your own, and a writer whose talents far exceed your own, and trying to do justice to the subtlety of that intelligence, and the elegance, range of connotation in the writing. You can puzzle over a sentence for hours.
Please note that our contact information has changed. All review books should be mailed to our new mailing address:
2061 North Hoyne, #2
Chicago, IL 60647
Once I have a permanent address in Berlin, and not just a temporary sublet, I'll update the contact page with my own information.
June 3, 2009
Maud Newton reviews Witnessing Suburbia and To Serve God and Wal-Mart for Bookforum.
Yet many recent guides to evangelicalism are vastly oversimplified, if not aggressively disingenuous. The worst are the Red America manuals that issue forth from career contrarians like David Brooks, who concocts a thesis about homely red-state virtues and works backward—making a few trips across state lines to churches, auto-body shops, and Red Lobsters—in search of anecdotes to support it.
Can we stop referring to DoubleX as a "feminist blog" please? They printed an essay by Christina Hoff Sommers, and after Tiller's murder put up a headline that read "Is it wrong to murder an abortionist?" (Go to hell.) I'm pretty sure the answer is "No," but I am not going to read it.
Maybe we can find a new label, like Vagina Blogs or Arbitrary Publication Decisions Based on Chromosomal Make Up. Something.
This will do you no good this year, as I just noticed it post-BEA, but next year. If there is a BEA next year. How to Be Inappropriate: A BookExpo America Guide.
We know from the literature that mice, when placed in a Zero Maze, experience an increase in thigmotactic and locomotive anxiety levels. Recent research indicates that manipulating the D2R and D2L dopamine receptors play a prominent role in mediating emotional response to novelty and inescapable stress.
In a similar way, conventioneers wend their way through the Javits Center or are placed in eight-by-ten-foot booths experience a “learned helplessness”—a kind behavior that can be broken down into the categories of “desperate looks” and “grooming deterioration.”
June 2, 2009
Betty was an utterly unmemorable member of the lower orders. "Do you think you might be a lesbian?" I asked. "Nay, sir," she replied. "Well that's unusual for a Sarah Waters book," I said.
Just as interesting (or almost) as reading about William James's life is reading about his "lost" brothers, the brothers that were sent away by the parents and nothing much was expected from. Which can kill a person wondering, did they have as much potential as William, Henry, and Alice, which was wasted because their parents refused to nurture it? (Whether or not Alice wasted her own potential is another question entirely.) Or were their parents somehow right, and able to see their energy and money and resources were better spent on their eldest sons? Either way, it's a fucked family dynamic that fascinates me. Colm Toibin touches on this as he reviews House of Wits (see my review here) and a new biography of William's wife called Alice in Jamesland:
In the second half of the nineteenth century we can watch other sets of siblings also become artists—W.B. Yeats and his brother Jack, the painter, for example; Heinrich and Thomas Mann; Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. In the case of all four families—the Yeatses, the Manns, the Stephens, the Jameses—there was a dynamic at work that involved a struggle for power, or something like power, between siblings, a sort of fierce ambition within families for recognition and escape. In the case of all four families the parents seemed to shine a light on some of their children and leave the others to their own devices.
In these families where geniuses were nurtured, there were also damaged ones begging for attention. Just as the artists lived in the light, their siblings lurked in the shadows—Lily and Lolly Yeats, for example, who ran the Cuala Press, one of them as clever and talented as her brothers, the other difficult and cantankerous, both uneasy and unfulfilled; or the two Mann sisters, who both committed suicide; or the brothers, step-brothers, and step-sister of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, who seemed to orbit the two artists like lesser planets. Or Wilkie, Bob, and Alice James. In any study of these families, it seems as though the work and theories of Foucault about power and control rather than those of Freud might best explain how things were managed and what the results were.
But behind much of the frothy speculation and accusation was an older, subtler and more intractable conflict between the myths of poetry and the realities of the modern university. What we may be willing to put up with from a poet — in Mr. Walcott’s case, and perhaps Ms. Padel’s as well — is different from what we’re willing to put up with from a professor, which can be quite a problem when the poet is expected to profess.
Spent a great deal of yesterday rereading bits of The Golden Bough. There are lots of great ways to torture or execute someone in that, and I needed to picture nasty things happening to the man who murdered George Tiller. Like, say, cutting out his navel, pulling out his intestines and wrapping them around a tree. Even typing that I'm feeling a little better.
But anyway! NPR has my review of Eva Hoffman's Appassionata, a book in which no one is flayed or has bits of his body cut off and fed to crows while he watches, but there are explosions. There's also an excerpt, and it is a very beautiful book.
June 1, 2009
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: Denise Oswald
Back in March we did an exit interview with Richard Nash shortly after his official resignation from Soft Skull Press. In today's installment of the Indie Heartthrob Series, I'd like to present Denise Oswald. As of four weeks ago, Denise is the new editorial director at Soft Skull. Hailing from the world of Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux and Faber & Faber, she has been more than excited to work with authors in a more intimate setting.
Denise and I met up during the first morning of BEA amidst the shuffling chaos of both the good and bad sides of publishing, where we discussed her experience up to this point in the indie world as well as where she sees Soft Skull in the future.
I guess I'll start off bluntly. Why did you leave FSG?
I was actually part of the layoffs that Macmillan did back in December. Basically they went through huge layoffs. I think they laid off something like 10 or 15% of their entire workforce. I didn't leave of my own volition, which is really sad. I'd been there probably a little over fifteen years, so I kind of grew up there. I started at FSG, then I went to Overlook for a year and came back to work for Faber & Faber for about ten years. It's sad, but it's something that had to be done. A lot of really good people who were there for a long time are gone, and it's a tough thing on both sides. I know it wasn't any easier for people who had to make that decision.
Then I freelanced for a while, and I really wasn't thinking I'd get another job right away just because layoffs were happening throughout the whole industry. You kind of get a little more stoic about the whole thing, and you have to try to figure out how to take things into your own hands. And then Richard stepped down. A) I was shocked that he stepped down because [Soft Skull] is so identified with him. He's a persona, and that persona really defined Soft Skull in a lot of ways. At first I wasn't even thinking "Oh, I want that job!"—I was more processing what it could mean. And then people started calling me, the people in the industry, saying "You know, Richard left, you should really give Jack [Shoemaker] a call." I just thought, "Yeah, that would be great!"
So you weren't even thinking about it when you found out.
Well it all happened very quickly. I was literally still processing that he had left by the time people were calling me saying, "Oh yeah, Jack Shoemaker's in the office. I told him he should talk to you." And then I reached out to them and said I heard they were hiring, they need someone to fill Richard's position, and I'd love to talk to them.
The kind of books that they did I always really admired and were, I feel, in line with a lot of the stuff I liked to do at FSG and Faber. I think, if anything, they get to do it in a much purer way. The thing about Soft Skull is that you get something that's really in your face and edgy; it's really unapologetic and is what it is. You try to do a book like that at a bigger house, then sometimes you have to polish off the rough edges to make it work in a more literary or more commercial environment. Sometimes it's those rough edges that really define what those kinds of projects are all about. So actually it's really exciting for me to now take on those same kinds of projects in a much more pure, unadulterated environment.
You've been editorial director for about a month now. What has the experience been like?
So far it’s been fantastic. I’ve gotten to jump straight into the deep end working with amazing and varied Soft Skull authors like Mike Knight and Lydia Millet. We've got a new book coming from her in the fall called Love in Infant Monkeys, and that was the first thing I jumped right into—talking to Lydia and reading the manuscript. It's absolutely fantastic. It's a thematically linked collection of short stories that all revolve around real people. You don't realize it at first, but the first story is Madonna, and she's pigeon hunting on Guy Ritchie's estate. It's a great story. It's based on an entire internal monologue and sort of her musing over gender differences and also what it means to kill something.
And that’s on top of my incredible colleagues. In the past I’d always felt fortunate for having the opportunity to work with people like Roger Straus and Peter Mayer—literary lions who really defined the playing field of publishing in their time. And now I get to add Charlie Winton and Jack Shoemaker to that list. They’re both sharp, savvy book people, but with a decidedly west coast sensibility that I really enjoy. It’s a nice counterpoint (no pun intended) to the New York-centric publishing world I’ve come-of-age in.
What do you hope to bring with you from your experience at FSG?
I think that on the one hand you get the perspective of bigger, more decidedly literary house. There's a way of respecting your authors and building those relationships, and there's a way of building relationships with readers and the press in terms of who you are as as a company and what you represent. That was always very important at FSG. I was there when Roger was still alive, and I was there when we had to make the transition after he passed from being a company that was defined by his personality to a company that has to uphold his ideology about book publishing. In a way that's what's happening with Soft Skull. It's a small press with a really strong identity, and I'm coming in and everyone's asking what I want to do with it. I don't want to change it or anything. I want to keep it moving full steam ahead as the press that it is, representing what it always has.
Also, to me it's respect for the authors, knowing good writing. Really being able to identify an author for the long term. That was always FSG's big thing—they published authors, not books. So for me it's finding authors I want to work with over the next ten or fifteen years, authors you can nurse and develop because maybe it's going to take them two or three books to write their masterpiece, but you have to be there to support them and help them grow as a writer and build that relationship. You have to work with them and develop them.
Where do you hope to guide Soft Skull in the long run?
I think that a press like Soft Skull needs to be a launching pad for writers that the bigger publishers aren't ready for yet. It needs to be the press that (and I think it has been) can recognize a sharp, strong voice and give a writer a home. There are a lot of good writers that aren't getting published because the bigger presses have certain financial needs for the books they take on. They'll look at something and say, "Great voice, but I don't think I can sell enough copies to justify making a place for it on a list that's so crowded already." So I feel that the small publishers, the independent publishers, are there to nurture and find the young writers and also to provide a home for people who get lost in the cracks. It's really hard to stand out when you're at Random House or Penguin. There are a lot of books that are bought for too much money, and then what happens is the author finds they're having a hard time when they do their next book because their publisher has this giant loss on their hands. You get a lot of people who are orphaned in that situation, and you need another publisher to come in and say that that's a great writer and we'll work around the sales track.
What are some obstacles or issues you think you might run into with a small press like this?
The hard thing with a small press is you don't have deep pockets for a lot of things. You have to be more creative about making deals with people and making it worth people's wile. You're not going to be able to compete with the larger houses, so you need to find other things of value that you have to offer. Usually I think it's a more one-to-one relationship with the writer. If you're working with somebody at a small press, probably everyone in the house has read the book and really knows who the author is. So I think it's more of an intimate experience. But you'll never have a big dog and pony marketing push. It doesn't really work with that kind of writer anyway. We're not going to plaster Mike Knight on the side of a bus.
Which could be really disturbing….
Well, it could be kind of fun and subversive at the same time! But you have to be smart and fast on your feet as a small publisher, and you have to go out and cultivate those relationships with the writer directly. You can't just wait for the agents to bring the writers to you. But truth be told, that's how even bigger publishers think.
Interesting new theory on the true meaning of Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea. The mother was an alcoholic, creating an explanation from her cracked mind for why all the beer had gone missing. Obvs.
Selections from Pictures for Sad Children, including the classic "The Apartment That Eats Girls."
Oh, Elizabeth Wurtzel. I actually liked Prozac Nation somewhat. Yes, she came off as a crazy narcissist, but that's what bipolar disorder does -- it makes you crazy self-involved. I liked it enough to root for her, although that stopped after Bitch. Man, was that book fucking awful. And I never really got over the airbrushed nipples on the hardback cover. Now she's writing at Elle about her fear that she won't find a man now that her looks are fading, and you just want to finally sit her down and say, "Honey, that's really Not It At All."
These days, I am a stable adult professional—a practicing attorney, capable of common sense—but I still know how to live life on the edge. I was a terrifically brooding and mature teenager, then a whiny and puerile adult, and now I may finally approximate the grace of a person who has come of age. But it took a very long time—probably far too long. Now that I am a woman whom some man might actually like to be with, might actually not want to punch in the face—or, at least, now that I don’t like guys who want to do that to me—I am sadly 41. I am past my perfect years.
Alice Munro should win every cash prize going. The Man Booker International types make a decent head start.
The Royal Society Prize for Science Books longlist is up, and without wanting to unduly influence any of the judging panel who may be eager Bookslutters (sluttees? Slutitians?), go hard Bad Science and dreamily smug doc Ben Goldacre.
News from the idyllic Hay Ferstival, where Geoff Dyer has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction. Dyer has the honour of having a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig named after his work*, a practice that I believe was established by the MacArthur Genius Grants.
*"Get in, little Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi! Grubs up!"