July 30, 2009
Handbags at ten paces over the Hugos, with SF author Adam Roberts throwing around fighting words like "scattershot" and "old-fashioned". He went to so far to call Gaiman "twee", and now the hunt is on to find a photo of Roberts in a cardigan and hornrims.
"I don't use the word journalism."
"I don't use the word media. I don't use the word news."
"We're in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don't have meaning."
Also, he gets all of his news from Twitter now. It's true. "Journalism" does use up a lot of the 140 characters. (Link from Valleywag.)
The Naked and the Read
Break-ups, bad relationships, and broken hearts serve as subject-matter for the anthology Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and the emotional meat of the essays is as you’d expect: humiliation, hurt, regret, relief, fury, bemusement, self-deprecation, and so on. We’ve been there, and felt that, or at least approximations and variations there of (and we’ve read novels and seen movies and listened to the Smiths) and so we know, more or less, the terrain. More memorable than the all the feelings in these varied tales of love-gone-bad, are the characters that people the stories -- the boyfriends and girlfriends, obsessions, first-loves, one-night-stands, parents, professors, pals and, in one case, a pet.
Like Gary Shteyngart’s towering blonde Texan who sobs her way around Italy. Or the over-controlling former Boy Scout in Amanda Stern’s harrowing camping misadventure. Or the adult “chaperone” who tries to seduce a fifteen-year-old Kate Christensen. Or Mindy, the mother of Maud Newton’s tempestuous love, who “lived on laxatives and fruit juice” for two years, who told Maud, on their first meeting that “it’s nice to look at other women’s tits. It makes you feel sexy,” and who “supplemented her income by blowing her boss at fifty dollars a pop.”
Hearts can only break in so many ways; heartbreakers, though, each one is all its own.
In his jaded (embittered even?) introduction, Neal Pollack explains that it’s “no accident that most of the stories in this volume are written by people in their early thirties and above... Heartbreak stories written by people in their early twenties generally lack depth, not to mention a sense of humor.” Fair enough? I’m not quite sure. The more years you have to make sense, contextualize, insert meaning, soothe wounds allows for more perspective, of course. But here, in some cases, that longer span from the events in question results in self-deprecation, an “oh, look at what a buffoon I was!” air. And that’s not depth, it’s distance. So you lose some of the rawness and real emotional heat. And a few of the essays do end up feeling a little flimsy as a result, because enough time has passed for the feelings to have gone away, and it becomes simply a re-telling of a story.
Brock Clarke’s ugly “Leave Me Something When You Leave Me” illustrates just that. “Do we fall in love or in like or have sex or try to so that, when it goes bad, we can tell a story about it?” he wonders. The two women he writes about become worse than punchlines. The “Leave Me Something” from the title implores “leave me with a story to tell.”
The most successful essays -- the collection is worth buying for the pieces by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Dan Kennedy, and Maud Newton -- combine the sense of humor Pollack talks about, but also succeed in evoking real feeling, sincere and poignant. Newton describes one of those life-derailing relationships; it’s confessional and sharp and honest. Sayrafiezadeh’s essay, perhaps the saddest of the lot, about falling for a Ukrainian theater director and following her to New York City, looks at the moments when the ideal starts to give way to reality.
And Kennedy’s “Exactly Like Liz Phair, Except Older. And with Hypochondria” is funny, very funny, and not in a way that you feel like he’s told the story a million times; it feels genuine. “I was young enough to think that there was nothing wrong with having a two-year relationship with someone ten years older than me and spending eighteen months of it in something called couple’s counseling. And as we get a little older and wiser, we ask ourselves why. But it’s like asking somebody why they bought Storm Front by Billy Joel... sometimes shit just kind of happens.”
Part of the poignancy of the collection does rest in the age of the authors looking back. Young heartbreak is tempered by the thought of what’s next. As Kennedy closes his piece: “You’re made confident by nothing more than knowing that with so many years still in front of you, it is simply bound to happen again.” What goes unspoken in a lot of these essays is that, for better or worse, maybe it won’t.
July 29, 2009
Alaa al-Aswany, the Egyptian author of Chicago, discusses the murder of Egyptian woman Marwa al-Sherbini in Dresden and the protests against Germany that followed.
I do not believe, fundamentally, in Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations." The clashes, the conflicts of history, were always political. They have been and still are struggles over the distribution of power, land and money. That's what the historians should write about. But there is also the human history, and that history is written by literature. It's about racism and prejudices, among other things, and about people who simply cannot imagine what it looks like on the other side.
I have lost all sense of time. (July, will you never end?) But tonight, which is apparently the 29th!, is the Chicago Bookslut Reading Series. There will be divinity, stripping, and drugs! Discussed. Not you know, distributed. At the usual place, second floor of the Hopleaf, 7:30.
It's got more chimps than any previous literary longlist, features some proper Andre the Giant 'heavyweight' writers, and sets AS Byatt up for another opportunity to out-batshit Doris Lessing. Yes, it is all on for this year's Man Booker hootenanny.
Full list 'neath the cut:
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
Me Cheeta by James Lever
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
Electric Literature has created a (beautiful) video trailer for one of the stories in their first issue -- Jim Shepard's "Your Fate Hurtles Down at You."
There are always ridiculous comparisons made by publicists. So-and-so, who will sell approximately 84 copies of his debut novel, is the NEW DON DELILLO. Etc. But in an inspired fit of lunacy, Jill Abramson's column about her puppy was named after Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Gawker compares the two side by side.
NPR has an interesting review of The Wisdom Trail: In the Footsteps of Remarkable Women. The book seems to fall into the trap of so much Yay Women literature: too squishy, not enough substance, too many self-help platitudes. (It's one thing to "follow your heart" when your husband is the primary breadwinner, it's quite another when you're broke off your ass, no one wants to pay you, and you have issues with a guy even picking up the tab for dinner.)
Yet overall, this book is long on generalities and short on real wisdom. And it's a crime, because these remarkable women deserve better.
Shaun Tan, who I will be interviewing live on stage at the Melbourne Writers Festival -- oh god, that just sunk in, hang on, I have to go throw up -- is interviewed at the Guardian. His book Tales from Outer Suburbia is just released in the UK.
July 28, 2009
July 27, 2009
Not much impressed with Irene Vilar's Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict. I picked it up because of that title -- it's hard to turn away from it. But the book is easy to turn away from. It's dripping in psychotherapy. "I did X to compensate for Y," "I was projecting these feelings," and she uses the phrase "my truth" a lot. The reality is she had 15 abortions in 15 years, and the story of why and how is really not as interesting as you might think at first.
But that can all be forgiven, it's like a trap for memoirists. They create a narrative in therapy, think it would work as a narrative for a book, except it comes off as a therapy session and not a story. What bothers me is the blurb on the back cover: "No one of [Vilar's] gender has ever summoned the brutally raw, transcendent courage to write such a book." Such a dude thing to say, really. It got me thinking, though, of much braver, much rawer books than this one.
Kathy Acker's work about her breast cancer
Molly Haskell's Love and Other Infectious Diseases
Bee Lavender*'s Lessons in Taxidermy
Michelle Tea's Passionate Mistakes
Surely I am forgetting others. Any spring to mind?
* I once saw her read and utter the line "I have fucked more men than I have kissed," and then follow it with a delightful giggle. I liked her.
July 26, 2009
Seed Magazine has 14 of the portraits from Mariana Cook's photography collection Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World on their website, along with commentary from five of the mathematicians profiled.
July 24, 2009
Dear Germany: I love you, I appreciate you letting me live here, but what the fuck did you do to your country's cover art of Shalom Auslander's short story collection Beware of God? I almost ran out of the bookstore screaming, "Dear god, my EYES."
Also, the green stuff you put in your beer that tastes like trees? Please stop that. That's all.
In an essay for the New York Review of Books, Michael Chabon talks about his childhood of freely running around the outdoors, getting into scrapes and exploring. He fears that our new anxieties and desire to control children's lives to protect them from everything from sexual predators to germs is stunting their imagination, with possible ramifications on the future of literature.
Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky offers a rebuttal, pointing out what's left out of Chabon's musings: class. These are the childhood memories of a class of people who could afford big backyards, who could afford cabins by the lake. Writers have been growing up in poor urban areas, put to work at an early age, raised in restrictive environments for centuries.
(Was thinking about Chabon this morning, actually, coincidentally, and that hoax of his about "the story of a counterfeit Holocaust survivor he'd once met who turns out to be an ex-Nazi in hiding" he was telling at lectures. The Holocaust survivor/ex-Nazi was a real person, CB Colby, just the story was completely untrue. For a refresher, here's the Moby Lives report.)
Damn it, yet another book I'm dying to read now that I have no books. The Marghanita Laski book I just read was so disappointing after her absolutely perfect Little Boy Lost. I need to get my ass to a bookstore. And stop buying books in German I can't read. (In my defense, they are very pretty.)
July 23, 2009
Justine Larbalestier's Liar is a young adult book featuring an American black teenage girl. The cover of the version Bloomsbury is publishing in the States features a white girl with long, straight hair. Larbalestier remained quiet about her displeasure for a while, but is now speaking out on her blog about how Bloomsbury's decision is affecting the reception of the book. (Link from Maud.)
(Still cranky, something about not being able to stand up without almost blacking out.)
DoubleX has stolen a few things from its parent Slate, including the audio book club. I generally only listened to the Slate audio book club when I wanted to inflict pain on myself. At DoubleX, though, they're discussing their own columnist's book, and the columnist is participating, so the only question is how much can they gush before they turn into a pile of goo.
Lucinda Rosenfeld's I'm So Happy for You follows two female friends, one hot and kind of an idiot, the other frumpy, married, and boring. Although best friends, they secretly hate one another. Dear women: if you relate to this book, you should consider finding new friends.
The Naked and the Read
Miranda July operates in ick. To read the stories in her 2007 collection No One Belongs Here More Than You is to be socked with the impression that her intent, with each awkward encounter and moment of misdirected sexual action she presents, is to make you cringe, to make you wrinkle your nose and think gah and yuck and isn’t that illegal? Like when a dad teaches his daughter his techniques for getting a woman off by demonstrating the movements on her palm. Like a phone-sex tendency between two sisters. Like a special-needs assistant seducing a teenage student.
It’s not a sense of shock you’re left with -- shock value’s not the thing here -- more so, a creeping sense remains, as though someone has rubbed up against you on the subway, and you can’t be sure if it was intentional or not, but either way, you’re feeling squeamish, uncomfortable, grossed out, a little violated. And then you forget all about it and go about your afternoon. July’s stories are the short fiction equivalent of frottage.
I was reminded of July last week when I pulled an old Madeleine L’Engle book off my shelf, to dose myself with pre-adolescent mindframes, a quick ticket back to my post-Anne of Green Gables pre-On the Road self (that netherworld between nine and fourteen, which I refuse to refer to as “young adult”) when all was over-romanticized and sex in books was, more than anything else, frightening.
A Wrinkle in Time ranks as a top-fiver on my favorite books list, but the other night, it was A House Like a Lotus which I got into bed with. It had affected me as a fifth-grader, I remember, and I had vague memories of a lesbian subtext, which were, of course, so much less scandalizing (in that best possible combination of disbelief -- wait a sec, is this what’s happening? -- and excitement -- whoa, whoa, yes, that’s exactly what’s happening) now than they were fifteen-plus years ago when I was young and didn’t know very much.
In the novel, sixteen-year-old Polly, late of bloom, large of brain, eldest of seven siblings, enters into a deep friendship with one Maximiliana Horne, a rich old dyke living in a mansion called Beau Allaire. Polly is ensorcelled by Max’s experience and passion and her overt appreciation for Polly’s strengths. “Never think what you do doesn’t matter,” Max tells Polly. “But I don’t need to tell you that. You choose life with every gesture you make. That’s the first thing in you that appealed to me. You are naked with life.” The feeling’s mutual: “And wasn’t that what drew me to Max?” Polly muses, “that abundant sense of life?”
Max paints Polly’s portrait, reads aloud to her, and funds a trip to Greece, where Polly is seduced by a world-weary college-drop-out son-of-a-millionaire and is exposed to an international circle of thinkers and friends. Things get complicated, naturally, between Polly and Max, and the troubling climax felt much less troubling than it did when I’d first read the book.
L’Engle doesn’t dumb anything down or try to sanitize things, and if it’s a little romantic, that’s because that’s where young Polly’s head is. Polly’s loss of virginity is described in fragment lines: “He was slow, rhythmic, gentle, moving down my body, down, and I was nothing but my body there was a sharp brief pain.” In Polly, L’Engle shows her readers what a smart, sort of awkward girl is capable of, and not just in terms of boys, as well as the dangers of pedesatalizing someone. And it never feels like she’s writing for a thirteen year-old girl either. What struck me reading the book his time was L’Engle’s sincerity, her respect for both her characters and her readers.
Which is in complete contrast to Miranda July. In her story “Making Love in 2003,” a failed writer waits for an old teacher and finds out he’s the husband of Madeleine L’Engle, “the famous author.” “This was Madeleine L’Engle’s living room,” the narrator thinks. And because all is odd sexual quirk with July, the L’Engles have throw pillows embroidered with “MAKING LOVE IN 2002” and “MAKING LOVE IN 1997” tossed around the house. “I looked at her tailored brown pants and realized he was probably making love to her right this second,” the narrator thinks. “When you reach a certain saturation point, lovemaking becomes one endless vibration.” As it turns out, they’re waiting for Madeleine L’Engle’s husband because he’s getting a blow job in the front seat of a car from a former student. And then the failed writer goes on to seduce one of her special needs students. “Not everyone has to be literate, there are some great reasons for resisting language, and one of them is love.”
It’s all such a stunt. A coy attempt at tugging out a reaction. As if all the weirdness isn’t enough (the writer’s first sexual experience was with a dark shape that glowed, for example), July tosses L’Engle into the story. It’s cheap and insincere, and all you can do is imagine Ms. L’Engle, the character, rolling her eyes, thinking, poor failed writer, please leave my living room and never, ever come back.
Nester: I am wondering to what degree you identify with your main character, Rovar Akos Pfliegman, a troll-like man who sells meat out of a bus in Virginia. Would it be accurate to assume, for example, that at some point, writing this book, or even before writing this book, you exclaimed, out loud or to yourself, Rovar Akos Pfliegman c’est moi! just as Gustav Flaubert said of his creation, Madame Bovary c’est moi!
July 22, 2009
I am cranky today. I am sorry. (Stomach bug.)
NPR.org has my review of Frances Osborne's ode to the more shameful limb of her family tree, The Bolter's Lady Idina Sackville, "a woman who took countless lovers, raised hell in England and Africa, inspired novels by Nancy Mitford and carried around a dog she named Satan."
(The comments are getting increasingly weird over at NPR.org. I cringe every time I see someone has commented at all. From a woman whose avatar is the word PORN with a big red strike through it: "Gee, I wish we could have some book reviews about women who loved their husbands, raised their children carefully, and contributed positively to their communities. This kind of woman is infinitely boring." No one is forcing you to read The Bolter, Janet Baker. Feel free to pick up a copy of Perfectly Imperfect if that's what you want.)
This is Miss Stein’s first trip to Texas and she seems to like it very well. Her comment was that “this is a beautiful big State of yours,” she liked Dallas, too, but was disappointed that they insisted on showing her oil wells.
Back in 1935, a young Walter Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein at her reading in Austin, Texas. (Link from James Hynes.)
When you decide to give up sex and begin a year of chastity, it's not something that you rush to tell people. Unless you're a hack with literary pretensions who is struggling to think of an idea for a book. "Publishers can't get enough of upmarket women writing about their sex lives," said my agent. "And if we put a large photo of you on the jacket to prove you're not some kind of saddo who can't get a bloke and you keep fending off posh geezers left right and centre, we can't fail."
See also: Thanks for Coming.
July 21, 2009
A brand new Europudding prize has been given the thrillsome name 'The European Prize for Literature'. Top marks for creativity there, Brussels.
A baker's dozen of winners this year, with twelve books and one Ambassador of the European Union Prize for Literature (Henning Mankell). The winning books are 'neath the cut:
1. AUSTRIA – Paulus Hochgatterer for The Sweetness of Life
2. CROATIA – Mila Pavicevic for Ice girl and other Fairy-Tales
3. FRANCE – Emmanuelle Pagano for Les Adolescents Troglodytes
4. HUNGARY – Szécsi Noémi for Communist Monte Cristo
5. IRELAND - Karen Gillece for Longshore Drift
6. ITALY - Daniele Del Giudice for Movable Horizon
7. LITHUANIA - Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė for Breathing Into Marble
8. NORWAY - Carl Frode Tiller for Encirclement
9. POLAND – Jacek Dukaj for ICE
10. PORTUGAL – Dulce Maria Cardos for Os Meus Sentimentos
11. SLOVAKIA – Pavol Rankov for It Happened On September the First (Or Whenever)
12. SWEDEN – Helena Henschen for The Shadow Of A Crime
New Zealand sure has come a long way from administering ECT to our authors. Now we've evolved to an endearing parochial incompetence: 'Montana Book Winner Mistakenly Announced' is better than 'Prize-winning writer mistakenly given lobotomy'.
"Any suggestion as to the winner of Montana New Zealand Book Award categories at this stage is purely speculative - guess work."
Thank you, NZ Herald and Booksellers NZ, for reminding us what 'speculative' means. Some of us were educated by the state. And, no offense to Kate Di Goldi, but I think most of us assume that Emily Perkins has this one in the bag.
I'm not saying the works you have shortlisted are terrible. They're not terrible, mostly, as it goes. But they aren’t exceptionally good either. They’re in the middle. There’s a word for that. The word is mediocre.
Elizabeth Kolbert takes on a group of books about obesity, which sounds very five years ago, except this time a book about fat activism is included in the bunch. (I have been reading a lot of Susie Orbach backlash lately, both Fat is a Feminist Issue and Bodies, which I thought was great. Apparently her "whatever size you are is fine, as long as you are healthy and taking care of yourself" and "the body mass index chart is a ridiculous fraud" stances are not pro-fat enough. Ugh.) One does wish, however, that she had delved farther into The Fat Studies Reader, it's almost as if she's afraid to take a position on the book.
Sometimes, after I take a break from blogging either for a move or a trip, someone will ask me, "I bet you missed blogging, right?" Umm, no? I'm sorry? No offense? Of course I had twitter this time, but I didn't lie awake at night after Alain de Botton went a little batshit, thinking, "Oh, if only I could offer my opinion on this with more than 140 characters." It only takes seven characters: Batshit. It's nice to take a break, it's nice to come back.
But I have mixed feelings about existing online, which were in the front of my brain while writing the Smart Set column that went up while I was gone. Originally just supposed to be about Adam Phillips's On Kindness, in my sleep deprived and blog-less state it rather turned into "Why I need to take a break from blogging at least once a year."
With all the filters, communities, forums, and moderated comment sections, you never need hear an opposing viewpoint ever again. Web site forums that used to be interesting and lively can quickly turn knee-jerk and unified, with those possessing quirky senses of humor or an interesting take on things shamed into never commenting again. (There’s an entire blog devoted to former readers of Jezebel.com who were shouted off the comments for not maintaining their very particular brand of womanhood.) Complaint, criticism, and argument are less and less welcome, until a minor correction is met with unleashed fury.
It creates a warped worldview, as you can see in reading some pro-anorexia Web sites. (Or better yet, don’t. You probably don’t have the stomach for them.) But if you shut yourself off from every contrary word, it’s easy to start making declarative sentences regarding what is “good.” Not just for yourself, but for everyone else. Of course this has always existed — politicians and clergy and philosophers have always made sweeping statements about the best way to live — but it really flourishes online. Vegan communities declare that meat eaters are murderers. The child-free belittle the “breeders.” State an opinion and someone with a blog, a Twitter account, or a forum membership will accuse you of attacking their lifestyle or their marriage or Truth Itself, until a chorus of voices converge and start calling for your head to be bashed in with a rock. Not that I know from experience or anything.
(The 17 books I kept were not my 17 desert island picks, nor my favorite books ever, they were books I thought I would need over the next coming months. So, an Elizabeth Bowen to read while jet lagged -- totally the wrong choice, by the way, to read a book about impossible love right after moving far away, two books about folklore and myth that I refer to constantly and figured I would need, books that I was reviewing, a book about Claude Cahun I could not part with, and the two cookbooks I use the most. Oh, and then a book of essays by William James, because it's not like that ever leaves my side. Not that exciting of a list, I'm sorry.)
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: Jessica Anthony
You know how every year or so you find that book you love so much that you'd almost prefer to miss your subway stop, just so you can keep on reading? Or when you actively choose to pay attention to your book instead of making eyes with that guy that probably isn't making eyes with you in the first place (but maybe he is!)? At least I do anyway. But whether I'm on my own or not, I think I've found that book for the summer, and that's Jessica Anthony's The Convalescent. Anthony's novel centers around a man named Rovar Ákos Pfliegman, the last in a long line of dwarves reaching back to a medieval tribe called the Fekete-Szem. Rovar is mute. He operates a less-than-legal butcher's shop out of an abandoned school bus in Virginia, and he is in love with a kind pediatrician named Dr. Monica. His skin flakes, his leg drags, and his best friend is a cockroach named Mrs. Kipner. Despite his solitary existence and his inability to speak, Rovar attempts to share his history with Dr. Monica through the act of writing, and through this act we are presented with the novel's main narrative stream. Jessica Anthony's prowess as a writer allows her to manipulate Rovar's non-language so aptly that the two related stories in The Convalescent remain clear and poignant throughout.
I spoke to Jessica this weekend hoping to delve a little deeper into the processes behind her novel.
Your protagonist, Rovar Ákos Pfliegman, is quite bizarre, often referring to himself as a Creature with a capital C. Why did you decide to focus on a character like this?
It began with Rovar's voice. To find a voice I'm interested in pursuing I'll often play around with voices from other books I like, so when I landed on the way I wanted Rovar to speak (or not-speak), it ended up being some kind of crabby, indolent marriage between Mersault and the Underground Man. The rest of his qualities (or anti-qualities) emerged as the story progressed.
In some ways we can all relate to a character like Rovar. How much (if anything at all) of yourself can you see in such a character personally?
I am so very glad you feel that way. I believe I share a good deal of his sarcasm, his humor, his wistfulness and longing and feelings of isolation. It is a rather lonely thing to write a book. No one ever tells you that when you set out to become a writer. But I usually shy away from characters that might too closely mirror my own biography. One, I find it a heckuva lot harder to invent around something based on cold truth—I know it’s utterly different for many, but for me, truth blocks fiction. It’s like a perpetually looming, overweight parrot. Sometimes it hangs over your shoulder, sometimes it barks inanities for no reason, and sometimes it shits on your printer. It flaps its colorful wings. You can’t ignore it. I much prefer to invent the people, conflicts, smells, vistas, desires and atmospheres of fiction, relying as much as possible on the emotional truth of what I know about being a human being to write. Two, if I were to write a character "about" me, then her name would be Jess, and she would just go jogging regularly, try to eat healthy foods, and make crass jokes about the dog with her husband—actually there may be something there—.
Did you find it difficult to write a mute narrator? While Rovar's narration is fluent, his dialogue amounts to gags and gurgles.
Early in the writing, it was strange not to have Rovar speaking, but as soon as I realized that he would be writing to Dr. Monica on his writing tablets, then his "speaking" voice was able to emerge through his pen (even if he deceives with it).
You also have a parallel narrative running through the novel—that involving Rovar's geneology and the Pfliegmans themselves. Did you have to do much research for these sections involving the Hungarian clans? And lest we forget, Hungarian is quite the language I can never hope to understand….
Oh, you don't know what Boldog szuletesnapot means? What's wrong with you? (I kid, I kid—and Happy Birthday). I researched quite a bit for the book since I am neither a medieval scholar, nor a Hungarian. The connections between Rovar's present day experience and his medieval past were largely developed from the research, but not always. Large spaces of time would pass when the universe was not behaving itself, and I would have no clue how one passage was to inform the next. Then you're standing in line at the grocery store, staring blankly at the conveyor belt, and it comes to you and you get all excited and run out of there so fast you forget to take the change from the $20 bill you paid with.
In your medieval sections, you also make the choice to play with the characters' translated language. Characters such as Lili and Szeretlek are assumed to speak in old Hungarian, yet their interactions as presented to the reader come off as very modern: Árpád refers to Lili as "Love Button," and Lili refers to Szeretlek on several occasions as "babe." What effect were you going for in using modernized language in these sections?
I get annoyed reading historical literature that aims solely for verisimilitude. I mean, how can we really know exactly how people spoke to each other a thousand years ago? It seems like the same strategy people use writing romance novels, where everything is so exaggerated with swollen bosoms, and whatnot. I wouldn't necessarily attempt the modern style in say a more modern era, like Victorian or something, but what we know of pre-medieval history is so totally absurd, comical, dirty and playful. In short, it was sort of begging for it—that’s the best I can answer.
Rovar holds several texts close throughout the novel, including a French dictionary, a book on water polo, and a history of his clan by the aptly named Anonymus. How much of these texts needed to be fictionalized for The Convalescent? In particular, how much of Anonymus was Jessica Anthony?
All of these texts are real books – though I fiddled with some of the names. Anonymus was actually a 12th century Hungarian scribe who wrote a history of the Hungarians called the "Gesta Hungarorum," or "Deeds of the Hungarians." What’s great is that most of Anonymus' historical reporting was totally invented—these were actually just stories he either felt like making up, or had somehow heard word-of-mouth – in other words, he wrote fiction. So the historical truth Rovar uses to write myth, in that sense, is myth already.
Some of the most prevalent thematic elements running through here include metamorphosis and the inversion of Darwin's theory of evolution (such as Rovar's clan, the weakest and most in need of protection, being responsible in some ways for saving the Hungarian race). Why did you choose to focus on these ideas?
I was writing this book during the worst of the Bush years, and for me personally, Rovar became sort of the antithesis to all the glittering patriotism and mass-produced/induced religiosity. In a lot of ways, Rovar helped me stay sane during that insane time. There are a lot of misconceptions about Darwinism, but perhaps the most fundamental is that of the "survival of the fittest." Darwin was not speaking of "fittest" to mean strongest, per se; rather he basically meant "those which are most fit to reproduce in their environments" succeed. So I thought about the passage from the Bible that says "blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" and wondered how it would work if the meek would be the most fit to succeed—what unique feature they would have to bring to the table. Ergo, the Pfliegmans.
Finally, what were some of your inspirations for The Convalescent? When I first started the book, I immediately thought of Geek Love, though for obvious superficial reasons such as having physically similar protagonists.
Isn't that a dynamite novel!? I am still reverberating from the fact that Katherine Dunn even agreed to read it. I think the seeds for a book are planted early, and it's sort of hard to always pinpoint where they come from. While I was living in Eastern Europe, I met a Hungarian who told me "Hungary has no history," and went on to explain how so much of the culture has been shaped by myth. Three years later, I was in a McDonald's in northern Virginia looking at a picture of a meat bus on a wall—so there are some clear and present origins.
But so much of a novel I think just sort of happens as you write it. I do not believe in maps or outlines. For weeks early on, I resisted writing anything about God or butterflies in the novel, annoyed that I was using stale themes. Then at some point you just sort of have to sit back some, and allow what’s to happen, happen. And that is a big, fat, unnerving moment, when you realize that either you have faith in your story, or you do not.
I was excited to see new online archives at the American Scholar site, but apparently they're just for show. Hardly any of the articles are actually online yet. When you click on them, you get a message about subscribing. But you can gaze at wonder at what one day you may be able to read: Melvin Jules Bukiet! Ann Beattie! Marilynne Robinson!
Ah, I found something. Less exciting, but it's an archive. Steve Macone writes about a group of a fellas who have been meeting for years over dinner and drinks, trying to finish reading Finnegans Wake.
July 20, 2009
Bookslut's own, and my dear friend, Barbara J. King reviews Joel Berger's The Better to Eat You With: Fear in the Animal World and offers this fascinating little tidbit:
American bison of today are genetically linked to bison that were preyed on by lions in the past. “In essence”, Berger reasons, “responses to an extinct predator should be invariant, whereas modern bison should modify responses to current predators based on their recent experience with predators.” Working at multiple sites, Berger found that the sole sound to induce fear in bisons was lion roars.
Hm. I seem to remember Carolyn Kellogg making a fuss about not enough women on someone else's list of essential books. (And I'm sorry, but some of the choices of books by female authors on this list feel like they were preceded by, "I feel like we need another chick on here...")
Sarah Hall, whose Daughters of the North you read in one day, desperate to reach the ending, then curse that it didn't last for weeks (I reviewed it for NPR here), has a new book coming out. It's called How to Paint a Dead Man. She talks to the Guardian, and is again weirdly asked why she writes books set in the north of England, where she was raised and where she lives now. No one ever asks New York writers why they don't try setting something in small town South Carolina for godsake.
Possibly the best thing I've read in the past month is Kathleen Jamie's review of Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places in the London Review of Books, and it's a pity it's available for subscribers only. It's a very satisfying takedown of a specific type of travel writer.
What’s that coming over the hill? A white, middle-class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! From Cambridge! Here to boldly go, ‘discovering’, then quelling our harsh and lovely and sometimes difficult land with his civilised lyrical words. When he compounds this by declaring that ‘to reach a wild place was, for me, to step outside human history,’ I’m not just groaning but banging my head on the table.
But she also takes on the rarely mentioned class issues of adventuring, and also the idea that anything can be labeled "wild" anymore:
There’s nothing wild in this country: every square inch of it is ‘owned’, much has seen centuries of bitter dispute; the whole landscape is man-made, deforested, drained, burned for grouse moor, long cleared of its peasants or abandoned by them. It’s turned into prairie, or designated by this or that acronym; it’s subject to planning regulations and management plans. It’s shot over by royalty, flown over by the RAF, or trampled underfoot in the wind-farm gold-rush. Of course there are animals and birds, which look wild and free, but you may be sure they’ve been counted, ringed maybe, even radio-tagged, and all for good scientific reasons. And if we do find a Wild Place, we can prance about there knowing that no bears or wolves will appear over the bluff, because we disposed of the top predators centuries ago, and if we do come unstuck there’s a fair chance that, like the man on Ben Nevis, we’ll get a mobile signal, and be rescued.
It made me want to read Jamie's Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World, but alas, I lost it in the move.
July 19, 2009
Hello there. I rather feel like I've already been here in Berlin for a year, so it feels odd to be coming back shouting, "I'm back, hope you had a good month." But I do hope you've had a good month, and I also hope that at some point you were looking your best in sparkly shoes and a ridiculous skirt that takes up three subway seats and someone mistook you for being French. Because it's a very nice feeling.
Thank you to Michael Schaub and Jen Howard for stepping in while I was running around. But now I'm settled in, I have a lovely Berlin apartment and a stack of books, so we can get started again.
(By the way, I don't know if you've ever trimmed your book collection of 1,500 or so down to, uh hang on let me count, 17, but it's actually not as painful as it sounds. It's actually nice to admit to yourself that really, if we're all being honest here, you are not going to read War and Peace, probably ever, so give it to someone who might. It was just that, over and over again. Then you drink your vodka and watch nice young men come over and take your books away in crates and hope the books find better lives.)
On with it.
July 17, 2009
Thanks so much to Jessa and Caroline for letting me guest blog here over the past few weeks. Jessa returns next week, from her new home in Europe, which means this blog is going to be about 1.41 times more awesome than before, depending on the day's awesomeness exchange rate.
And thanks so much to you folks for reading, and to all of you who emailed me, or "followed" me on "Twitter," because being "followed" makes me feel like "Jesus." It's been an honor, and I appreciate it.
Another book dammit to add to my list of things I need to read very, very soon: Love Is a Four-Letter Word, a new anthology edited by one of the brightest, funniest and nicest people in the business, Michael Taeckens (who also contributes). The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the collection of bad breakup-inspired essays, which also includes writers like Junot Díaz, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Kate Christensen, and George Singleton (all of whom are fucking awesome).
Even more exciting is the inclusion of essays by three of the best young writers out there: Maud Newton, Wendy McClure, and D. E. Rasso, all of whom you should be reading on a regular basis. (Maud is a good friend of mine, and one of the people whose kindness, talent and enthusiasm led me to start writing again, for which I owe her more than I'll ever be able to repay. Wendy McClure and D. E. Rasso are so funny, charming and brilliant, I think I'm just going to start plagiarizing them. Sorry, y'all! It's just that I'm very lazy.)
Anyway, a lot of these folks will be making appearances at readings in the New York and Research Triangle areas over the next several weeks, so if you're there, check them out. And now begins the time when I obsessively check my mailbox, waiting for this to arrive, all the while blasting my playlist of breakup songs. (Listen to Alejandro Escovedo's "Crooked Frame" if you want to see how 1996 went for me.)
Can't wait. Man, if you're one of the people who broke up with one of these sweet kids, you must feel so stupid right now, on so many levels.
Responding to Nathaniel Rich's piece in Slate about why Scandinavian thrillers are so popular Rich speculates the thought of homicide in that part of the world "disrupts a world that, at least to an American reader, seems utopian in its peacefulness, happiness, and orderliness" Larissa Kyzer, at The L Magazine, says she's not so sure.
More often than not, the gruesome goings-on in Scandinavian crime novels have their root in everyday societal tensions and shortcomings: racial/ethnic/religious prejudices, the marginalization of 'outsiders,' governmental corruption, unacknowledged domestic abuse.
I've been trying for several days now to write about Tao Lin's Shoplifting from American Apparel, which I read a few weeks ago, and which is being released on September 1 by Melville House. (Tao is also the author of Bed and Eeeee Eee Eeee, both of which are excellent, and the founder and publisher of Muumuu House, the indie press that recently released two brilliant poetry collections, Ellen Kennedy's Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs and Brandon Scott Gorrell's During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present.)
I'll have more to say about Shoplifting at some point in the (hopefully) near future, but for now, I'll just say it's somehow both the funniest and the saddest book I've read in a long time, it's his best writing yet, and I strongly urge all of you to pick up a copy when it comes out in a few weeks. Tao is too original to compare to anybody, but his writing is more compelling and true than any young writer I've read in ages; his fiction reminds me of Mary Robison's best work. I recommend him highly.
(This post brought to you by the girl at the coffee shop the other day who was talking about shoplifting from Old Navy, which made me think of this book, and made me regret already having packed it and shipped it to my new apartment, because I kind of want to read it again right now.)
There's a blog called Brews and Books? What the hell? Why did no one tell me about this? Brews and books are two of the main reasons I'm moving to Oregon. At any rate, Josh Christie, who runs what I'm guessing is about to become my favorite website ever, presents a list of beers named after books and authors. (I've always wished someone would make a beer called Katherine Anne Porter, but no luck yet. You can get O. Henry's Porter here in Austin, though; I've heard it's pretty good.)
Via Largehearted Boy.
Jacket Copy has a great annotated list of "61 essential reads of postmodern literature."
If you're a writer who wants to speak to British schoolchildren, you'll have to pay £64 and register with the government to prove you're not a pedophile. Philip Pullman is unhappy:
"I object to it firstly on personal grounds, because I'm not any of those things, and secondly as a matter of principle: it seems to me to encourage the view that the natural relationship of one human being to another is predatory; it encourage children, for example, to believe that no adult will ever approach them other than to prey on them or do them harm."
July 16, 2009
Apparently, at Margate, during the mental crisis that he would transmute into The Waste Land, Eliot acted the part of the poet to the hilt: He apparently sketched, he played the mandolin and he thought about the poem. The mandolin. (We definitely need a mandolin-accompanied performance of The Waste Land.)
The Marin Independent Journal interviews Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover about New American Writing, which apparently has caught up to flarf: Flarfistes (as flarf practitioners are sometimes known) prowl the Internet using random online searches of absurd phrases, then distill the results into poems with computer-generated titles like "Annoying Diabetic Bitch" and "Wax in My Star-Spangled Underpants."
The combination of research libraries with online environments can be pretty exciting. See, for example, Tanya Clement's digital edition of some of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's poetry, where dadaist poems such as "Orgasmic Toast" come back to life across their multiple versions. In Transition sheds light on a moment of transition in the culture of little magazines — it illuminates the changing technologies of conversation during the 1920s as well as those of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
She's been dead for over 25 years, but American colleges still can't get enough of the world's poet laureate of assholes.
The Sydney Morning Herald looks at rockers who write literature, including Nick Cave, Ryan Adams, Steve Earle, and Billy Bragg.
I know that every news organization in America is legally obligated to run at least one piece on "great summer reads" or "beach books," but I still don't really get the concept. Maybe it's because every time I've been on a beach, my thoughts have been less about reading, and more about how quickly I can leave the beach and go somewhere with fewer broken beer bottles, hypodermic needles and passed-out Texas Tech sophomores.
Anyway, NPR wants your help finalizing a list of the 100 best beach books ever, and the longlist of nominees actually isn't bad. And it'll give you a chance to bust out that "Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Jean-Dominique Bauby" bumper sticker you've been holding on to.
The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating profile of SF and fantasy author Jack Vance, "one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices." I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read anything by him, but he's recommended by Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon, which, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty much an ironclad guarantee of his awesomeness. (Thanks to Ben for the link.)
Jack Shafer warns publishers they're about to get "Napstered." (In this context, to be "Napstered" means "to have your business model temporarily altered by a company that will later get sued by Metallica, then will disappear and eventually end up as an answer to an obscure Trivial Pursuit question.")
Aram Saroyan has an amazing essay on the Beats at the Poetry Foundation.
Howl, which I found during high school, was like an encyclopedia of the emotional and psychic life that had been driven under in me, with the result that I felt restless and bored a lot of the time. It was like finding a deep neural and psychic autobiography in the middle of the snow job of late-1950s/early-1960s America. Life is big, it said. It has a lot of colors. It's serious. It's funny. It's full of suffering that is also like bread, nurture, on a journey of the soul. I could say that reading it broke me open, so that I could discover myself in the deeper history of our time and kind.
Which was quite a favor to render a screwed-up adolescent.
British thriller writer Frederick Forsyth hasn't found anyone willing to pay at least £990 for the honor of having his or her name appear as a "goodie" in an upcoming Forsyth novel. (The proceeds, should there ever be any, would go to charity.) Michelle Pauli doesn't sound excited about the prospect of being a Forsyth character, but asks "Which author would you like to name a character after you?"
(This gives me an idea. The first 100 people to donate $500 to the American Heart Association will not have their names appear in my new book, Just a Long List of Registered Sex Offenders and Their Home Addresses. Become an organ donor, and you won't be in the sequel, either.)
Katha Pollitt says Byron knew what women wanted.
July 15, 2009
Vol. 1 Brooklyn talks to Kevin Sampsell about Portland Noir, the new anthology he edited for Akashic. It's interesting to hear that Portland has this weird dark side the Shanghai tunnels, A Day Called X, a donut shop that sells penis-shaped pastries (you'll have to search for that link yourself). I'm moving there in two weeks, and was really only familiar with the "twee girl with a backpack listening to Tullycraft at the zine library" angle. Either way, my new apartment is apparently in walking distance to like six bars, so I'm good either way. Can't wait to move and have time to pursue my favorite hobby of pumping my own gasoline! Wait, what's that you say? It is? Oh, FUCK
If you live in Chicago, you have no excuse to miss tonight's Bookslut Reading Series, at 7:30 pm at the Hopleaf. (You also have no excuse to not FedEx me a pint of Brouwerij Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge. Come on. If I lived in Chicago, I'd totally hook you up.)
Tonight's guests include Aleksandar Hemon (Love and Obstacles), Jean Thompson (Do Not Deny Me), J.C. Hallman (The Hospital for Bad Poets), and Marc Phillips (The Legend of Sander Grant). As Robert Duffer writes, "That has to be one of the highest-profile line-ups outside of a convention in recent times." And unlike a convention, you won't want to kill yourself five minutes in!
As an added bonus, Bookslut editor Caroline Eick has promised that if more than 15 people show up to tonight's reading, she will sing, a cappella, the Sugarcubes song of your choice. She knows them all. It's crazy, and impressive. Go and have a beer for me! You don't want to miss this. It's like the Ozzfest of contemporary literature.
At The Huffington Post, Matt Stewart explains why he's releasing his novel The French Revolution on Twitter. Matt's a great writer, so I'm hoping his experiment works out better than my 2003 decision to release my first novel via Friendster. (Although judging from the emails I still get from Friendster, my book was very well-received among hot, horny South American models with cowboy hats.)
The Australian government is considering changing the country's protectionist book import laws, and Australian authors are pissed. (And yes, I know "pissed" means "drunk" in Australian. I'm just going out on a limb here.)
(Please send hate email about this post to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Any of you public librarians looking for a way to get more kids to visit your branch?
A Brooklyn grandma got more than she'd bargained for when she rented a copy of "Austin Powers" from her local library and found it spliced with long pornographic scenes.
Sure, that sounds bad, but what if the scenes were from classy, highbrow literary porn? There are some truly touching, edifying moments in films like The Joy Fuck Club and The Three-Way Musketeers and The Five People You Meat in Heaven. At any rate, all this hilarious story needs is someone overreacting in the most illogical, scorched-earth way possible.
[Library patron Esther] Klein contacted her assemblyman, Dov Hikind -- and he's now demanding that local libraries ban all VHS tapes.
That'll do nicely.
July 14, 2009
Tin House Books, the indie press that launched a thousand literary crushes, has a new website and blog. (Portlanders, remember: Tin House Magazine's tenth anniversary celebration is this Thursday at the Newmark Theatre at 7:30 pm. Go here and scroll to the bottom for details.)
Joyeux quatorze juillet! Matt Stewart celebrates Bastille Day by starting to release his novel The French Revolution, making him, he says, "the first person to release a completed full-length literary novel on Twitter." I'm doing the opposite and releasing my next Twitter post as a novel. Look for Had Lunch at El Azteca. Was Good! (Random House, $25.95) sometime next year.
In other news, at Read Street, Dave Rosenthal recommends some Bastille Day books. Unlike Dave, I can't claim to be a Francophile, though I do like Murmur of the Heart, and that chick from Amelie, and those croissant things with the chocolate inside. (You should be checking out Read Street, the book blog of The Baltimore Sun, every day; it's one of the best newspaper literary blogs out there. It's almost enough to make me want to move to Baltimore, except that I'm afraid of even more people asking me whether I've seen The Wire yet, and why haven't I seen The Wire, and I should really check out The Wire because it's really good, OH MY GOD I KNOW SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP)
James Wolcott on the main problem with the Kindle (I'm paraphrasing): The cute nerdy emo girl at the coffee shop has no way of knowing you're reading 2666. Derek Thompson respectfully disagrees, noting that "Clutching Infinite Jest on the metro is the literary equivalent of holding a megaphone next to your ear while you listen to Rachmaninoff, loudly, and animate the arpeggios with your fingers."
The National Book Foundation is unveiling a "book-a-day" blog featuring the 77 fiction winners of the National Book Award from 1950 to the present. At the always interesting Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg does a much better job explaining all this than I could, including the part about there being 77 fiction winners despite the award being only 60 years old. (It turns out that all writers are really bad at math. Sorry, authors! You know it's true. That's why you're poor.)
Here are some sample titles from Mr. Hely’s version of the New York Times best-seller list, which is mimicked with particular glee: “Cumin: The Spice That Changed the World,” “Indict to Unnerve,” “The Jane Austen Women’s Investigators Club” and “Sageknights of Darkhorn.” The list also includes a sci-fi novel with the following synopsis: “In a post-nuclear future inhabited by intelligent cockroaches, Lieutenant Cccyxx discovers there was once a race of sentient humans.”
July 13, 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: Nic Brown
Nic Brown's Floodmarkers captures a town in North Carolina on September 22, 1989 as Hurricane Hugo descends over the populace. Beginning in the early morning hours, Brown's novel gives us interwoven stories of how the citizens of Lystra endure the disaster and thus wrestle with their individual demons out of necessity. Through the use of vignettes, Brown blurs the line between short story and novel. His characters, while very much separated by proxy, compel the story of a small town in crisis, and Hugo is redefined for the Katrina generation. I spoke to Brown this weekend, where we discussed his almost-encounter with Hugo as a child and his transition from musician to novelist.
Why did you choose to center your novel around Hurricane Hugo? You've mentioned a feeling of disappointment at the hurricane for passing over your town when you were younger. Does that figure into Floodmarkers? If so, how?
When I was 12, I wanted Hugo to destroy Greensboro, North Carolina. Whenever I see a storm forecast, I still feel this perverse desire. I think it's something a lot of us feel. I have no research to back this up, but I'm standing by it. Especially in a smallish town, or one in which not much happens, natural disaster offers the chance to become suddenly special. Hugo ended up just glancing Greensboro, which I should have been glad for, since it devastated Charleston and Charlotte. As it was, I still got out of school and jumped on a trampoline in the rain - which was weird and sort of magical and memorable. And that's what this book is all about: a storm doesn't have to destroy your town to still change your daily routine just enough to allow room for the singular.
Describe the process you went through in writing this book. How did you formulate the characters? Did you know from the beginning that you would use interwoven, yet markedly separate, stories?
My friend worked the graveyard shift in a hotdog factory. My wife went to a Christmas party where the host took her into his barn to show her his frozen dead dog. I was invited to an after-hours party in a tanning salon. I helped a friend save thawing dough from a bakery without electricity. We all have anecdotes like these, but I just started taking my favorites and trying to turn them into something resembling literature. For a while I found myself setting these stories in the late '80s, and many had extreme weather in them. This tic made me recall Hurricane Hugo, and I began to hang the disparate scenes onto that one event. Jonathan Ames read a few and was the first person to say I should write a whole book set during the hurricane. He probably doesn't even remember this – it was an offhand thing – but when he said it it was the first time I thought, yeah. I'll do that.
Were you channeling any specific influences in writing Floodmarkers? As I read I'm picking up hints of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.
Not specifically. There are a few books structured like Floodmarkers – the Masters book you mention is one, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio is another – and I've read bits and pieces of both, but neither inspired me much. I don't know. Floodmarkers has a simple structure – one town, one day, one storm, twelve stories about it that are told in chronological order – so I don't really feel like a genius saying that the structure mostly came from my brain. As for prose and the pacing of storytelling, I was reading Denis Johnson and Lorrie Moore at the time, both of whom gave me the confidence to try to be simultaneously heartbreaking and funny. But the biggest influences on me while I was writing Floodmarkers were my classmates in grad school. A lot of these writers were so much more experienced than I was when I got there that I basically looked up to them and their work as much as I did to Johnson or Moore or Raymond Carver or anyone else I was reading then. Kevin Moffett, Matthew Vollmer, Matt Williamson, Austin Bunn, Nam Le, Josh Rolnick, Lee Klein – these are just a few of the amazing writers who were in my class who made me feel like a wiffleball player suddenly playing in the major leaguers.
Are you still making music?
Not much. Most of the time I play music I resent the time I've spent doing it. I would rather be with my family or be writing. When I do play I'm almost always embarrassed. I don't know what my problem is.
Do you find any correlations between writing a novel and songwriting? What do you have to consider similarly between the two mediums?
I'd never written a novel when I set to work on Floodmarkers, but I had sequenced a number of records. Most of the time, these had 12 songs on them, so I just thought, if I can come up with 12 stories, then it'll be a book. That really helped me set an attainable goal while I was working. I don't feel like I have much perspective on what is shared between the two mediums. Since I've spent so much time doing both, they occupy too much of my brain for me to get away from it and take a critical look. But I do know that when it comes to musical arrangements, I prefer the spare. I like allowing instruments sonic space, I like bold parts that surprise, and I like short songs. I think so much of this aesthetic crosses over to my writing.
What are you reading now?
About three weeks ago I pulled about few dozen National Geographic magazines from the recycling dumpster near my house. I just read an article on Northwest Australia in the January 1991 issue that is amazing – in large part because of the photos. The cover is a photo of the coolest family in the world. There's this beautiful mom in long braids, cowboy boots, and a giant hat, surrounded by her three children. She looks like she could do anything. Like she could kill a buffalo and fix the Jeep and then dance with you and laugh when you fart. I just looked at the photo again and noticed for the first time that she's holding one of the kids who's naked and has his hand inside of her shirt, just holding onto her breast! What a picture! I'm editing my new book right now, working full time, and I have a 10-month-old daughter, so for now I've quit trying to read books.
Louis Goddard wonders why Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, and J. G. Ballard are so popular with the online crowd. I don't know about Wallace and Ballard, but Pynchon's web popularity can probably be explained by his odd, but in retrospect visionary, decision to publish Gravity's Rainbow entirely in lolcat format.
The Los Angeles Times talks to Percival Everett about his latest novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, which I'm looking forward to reading. (Also recommended: Everett's hilarious A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, which he co-wrote with James Kincaid, and which I reviewed, clumsily but earnestly, here.)
ZOMBIE NABOKOV, TWAIN, GREENE RISE FROM THE GRAVE TO PUBLISH NEW BOOKS, EAT BRAINS, OMFG
Jack Murnighan loves romance novels and doesn't care who knows it:
My colleagues might filibuster on, but I'll be far away, thrilled by stories of seduction, the literature of love — the very thought makes my heart go oingo boingo.
I wouldn't want to read romances all the time, of course, but still, all those smoking-hot virgins liquefying in the arms of their swarthy, unyielding seducers — that's excellent! I just can't believe these things were written by and for women.
I was going to make fun, because there is no way I cannot make fun of someone who writes a sentence including the phrase "makes my heart go oingo boingo," but then I remembered that one of the last books I read had a heart-adorned cupcake liner on the cover, so I guess I have no room to speak. Which is a shame, because, you know, "makes my heart go oingo boingo."
Everyone needs a beach of one's own.
Cool news: The Seattle Public Library's Seattle Reads program has chosen for its 2010 selection Secret Son, the debut novel from old-school litblogger and celebrated fiction author Laila Lalami (Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits).
If you're a book design nerd and if you're reading this blog, you probably are, whether you realize it or not check out this Guardian slideshow of classic Faber and Faber book covers, presented in honor of the legendary UK independent publisher's 80th anniversary.
A literature student makes the connection between Barthes and Al Franken's 1992 book I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!, and ends up getting ratted out by Franken for child neglect.
Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times tracks down David Irving, the notorious British writer, "historian" and Holocaust denier, at an Arizona book signing. In the back room of a diner.
The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave's first novel in 20 years, has a (very cool) website. Good news: only a few more weeks until the book's September 1 release. What a wonderful world. (Via Largehearted Boy.)
July 10, 2009
A federal prison in Colorado has prohibited an inmate from reading two books by a popular American author because they supposedly contain information "potentially detrimental to national security." The author's name? Barack Obama.
Another beautiful new site you should be reading: The Second Pass, founded by John Williams, which has some of the best literary coverage I've seen in a while. (People, could you stop making awesome new sites? I am trying to move here.) Among its contributors is Maud Newton, which should be all you need to know to add it to your bookmarks list right now. Another good reason is this list of books that should be fired from the canon, which is hilariously accurate. (Don't kill me, magical realists, but I'm totally with them on Gabriel García Márquez. I just don't get it.)
This is a time where independently published books — such as works by Europa Editions, Seven Stories, or tiny Bellevue Literary Press — can edge their way onto bestseller lists in major U.S. cities. Today, books released by Akashic, Soft Skull, Melville House, and City Lights are selected regularly as Editor’s Choice picks by the New York Times. These publishers are taking some creepy, run-down entertainment and putting it to the highest possible level of art. Without gimmicks. These are outfits run by a handful of dedicated individuals, without advertising budgets, a personalized sales force, or the vast web of contacts that larger houses depend on in getting word out about a book.
Cheers to Eric Obenauf for the single most encouraging article about literature I've read in months. Check out Two Dollar Radio as well as the other great publishers Obenauf mentions. I was tempted to order books from every single one of them today, but then had this image of my girlfriend, who had to pack and ship all the books we already own in preparation for our move to Oregon, beating me to death with a copy of a Joe Meno book.
So I might have to wait. But you shouldn't.
More things Larry Hughes would like to see on C-SPAN's Book TV. C-SPAN really needs to get on this; it would definitely be better received than their ill-advised 2003 "US Senators...Naked!" special. (I'm still in counseling after undergoing the trauma of seeing that close-up of Mike Enzi's genitals. A big part of me died that day.)
The New York Observer profiles a new site that I'm already addicted to: Sam Apple's The Faster Times, which launched earlier this week. There's a lot to read, and love, though I'd recommend starting with Clancy Martin's essay on how grown-ups love, or Eryn Loeb's razor-sharp piece on what we talk about when we talk, and talk, and talk about Michael Jackson. (Eryn Loeb, as you probably know, has been Bookslut's Girl, Interrupting columnist for over four years, and is basically just generally awesome; The Faster Times is lucky to have her as their nostalgia columnist. Man, I remember nostalgia from back when I was a kid. Good times...)
Happy tenth anniversary to Tin House, the Portland, Oregon, publisher and literary magazine. The Oregonian has a short piece on the local legend in advance of their tenth anniversary party on July 16 at the Newmark Theatre. The celebration will be emceed by Colson Whitehead (love), and will feature writers like Aimee Bender, Dorothy Allison, and Charles D'Ambrosio (love love love). I'm moving to Portland two weeks after this shindig, so I guess I'm going to have to wait for their eleventh anniversary. And it better be awesome, Tin House. I'm totally watching you.
The online literary journal, Drunken Boat is launching its massive Spring 2009 issue tonight with a SoHo party. You can see why the editors might need to relax--the poetics section alone features 100 poets . . . and that's just a fraction of the issue! In addition, there's now a Drunken Boat blog, to make it easier to keep up with the site.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Stephen Elliott's terrific forthcoming book, The Adderall Diaries. You, too, can read the book now, rather than wait until the fall: In an innovative program, Elliott's mailing an advance copy to more or less all comers, on the promise that you mail it to the next person on his list. Full details are here.
Jeremy Sigler interviews Eileen Myles: When I was younger, androgyny was so important to me because I went from praying to be a boy, to accepting that I was female, to cutting some deal with reality for a number of years until I could do whatever I wanted to do. And now I don't think I own a piece of clothing that isn't men's clothing. Oftentimes, I'm passing as a male and people are calling me "sir," and then other times somebody's saying, "tell the lady," or "ma'am," and I'm thinking, like, "What’s going on?"
Levi's has found the secret to selling jeans: The poetry of Walt Whitman.
Beginning next week, the newly-renovated home of John Clare will be open to the public. Adam Vaughan has a preview: The son of a farm labourer, Clare also wrote poetry on unrequited love, the sometimes fragile nature of his mental health – he was twice admitted to asylums – and described the natural world in his local venacular rather than the standard English deployed by his Romantic peers. The process of water beginning to freeze is known as "crizzling", stumps of trees are "stulps", and meddling is "proggling".
Are you like me? Do you find yourself thinking, "there was *almost* enough coverage of Michael Jackson's death . . . if only I had the text of Maya Angelou's poem in his memory--the one Queen Latifah recited" ? If so, you're in luck.
Carol Ann Duffy meets the queen, donates her laureate stipend to create the Ted Hughes prize for new work in poetry: The prize, worth £5,000, will go to a UK poet working in any form – including poetry collections for adults and children, individual poems, radio poems, translations and verse dramas – who has made the "most exciting contribution" to poetry that year.
July 9, 2009
The new edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary contains new words such as "locavore," "frenemy," and Jesus Christ "staycation."
Whitehead, Cambridge-educated mathematician turned cetologist, brings the story of the sperm whales up to date. He shows how they communicate in clicks, with discrete "dialects" - imagine the variations between Hampshire and Yorkshire accents - and reveals how knowledge is passed from generation to generation.
The literary furor (sorry, "furore") in the UK over Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, a YA novel that features rape, incest, and abortion scenes, continues unabated. (Backstory here.) Today, Danuta Kean implores us all to think about the children for God's sake because the sky is totally falling. To wit:
On Amazon, one appalled parent wrote: 'For my daughter to come to me after one chapter and ask "Why would a dad have sex with his daughter?" is very disturbing.
'I know it's my fault for not reading the book first, but who would think a responsible children's author would write such filth for a child?'
I don't know this for a fact, but I kind of doubt Margo Lanagan promised to raise your kids for you. I mean, I could be wrong.
At any rate, I agree that British soldiers shouldn't be kidnapping children from church and forcing them at gunpoint to read the witch-dwarf sex book. At least, I assume that's what's going on, as it's the only way this puritanical outrage would make any fucking sense.
(UPDATE: I somehow missed the best part of Kean's article, where she writes that Tender Morsels has "a title that sounds more like a paedophile website than serious literature." Man, if you hear the phrase "tender morsels," and your mind goes straight to pedophilia, and not, say, a Boston Market ad campaign, it might be time you took a long look at yourself. I'm just saying.)
Max Fisher urges publishers, and the government, to "give struggling authors a chance."
Of course, many industries are beleaguered today, and President Obama can only act as CEO for so many. But literary fiction is different from banks or cars in that it's never been about profit. Like education, which is socialized, and health care, which should be, literature is a national resource that we can't afford to lose. That's why we need to adopt a set of tax incentives that would make it easier, or even in a publisher's interest, to take chances on new and underselling authors. Rather than making the next Faulkner a liability, make him an asset.
Good luck finding someone to sponsor that bill. Actually, wait that vegan elf from Cleveland with the hot wife. Kucinich. He'd do it.
Stuart Evers wisely advises you not to ask your partner to read your work and give you advice.
When my wife emailed me back after I sent her a story I'd entered for a competition with "I think there's a page missing. Is it supposed to just end on page 17?" my response was, at best, terse. Looking back, she had a point, but we've now long since agreed that it's best I don't court her opinion in future.
I need to get my girlfriend to start reading my posts before I put them up. She's a law student, and could probably save me the hassle of yet another libel suit. (Pursuant to my 2004 settlement, I'd like to reiterate that Joyce Carol Oates was not "coked to the gills," as I incorrectly stated, when she body-checked Philip Roth into the refreshments table at the release party for The Falls. She was, in fact, stone cold sober.)
The lineup for the 2009 National Book Festival has been announced, and includes Colson Whitehead, Junot Díaz, Walter Mosley, John Irving, Jane Hirshfield, and Gwen Ifill.
NPR's All Things Considered talks to Nick Reding, author of Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. It's the perfect summer read! For anyone who wants to cry tears of blood while realizing how fucked our country really is.
(Craig Fehrman reviews Methland in the new issue of Bookslut. Read the first two paragraphs, and you will never complain about having to show your ID to buy Sudafed ever again.)
Jessa Crispin on kindness, and the Internet as an echo chamber.
Janet Maslin reviews Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, which looks amazing.
July 8, 2009
Playboy will publish an excerpt from The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov's unfinished novel, which Knopf will release in November. (Nabokov wanted the manuscript to be destroyed when he died; his son Dmitri arranged for the book's publication anyway, which just goes to show you: You should never have kids.)
I have a feeling this is going to be the most exciting intersection of literature and pornography since Hustler's Barely Legal published that long-lost Faulkner novella a few years ago (and which remains, sadly and inexplicably, their worst-selling issue ever).
Jay Parini (the excellent Robert Frost: A Life) has a conversation with Gore Vidal at the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar. Vidal talks about FDR, Sarah Palin, Bernie Madoff, and Amelia Earhart, who was his father's lover. (Vidal on Earhart: "She was not a great flier. This was a problem.")
A cynic might see The Portable February as a quickie offering scraped from the bottom of the barrel, especially as it’s being released by Berman’s record label, Drag City, in the wake of his recent surprise announcement dissolving the Silver Jews. If so, it’s a pretty impressive barrel. Like the SJ songbook and Actual Air, The Portable February is easy to like and hard to shake.
Definitely check out Actual Air if you haven't already; it is absurd and strangely affecting. I'm still sad about Berman's retirement from music; he was probably the only guy who could get away with singing lines like "'Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie' / Was the very first thing she imparted to me / We had sarcastic hair, we used lewd pseudonyms / We got a lot of stares on the street back then."
Why is everything Rob Walker does so fucking cool? The New York Times Magazine columnist ("Consumed") and author (Letters from New Orleans, Buying In) has just launched (with collaborator Josh Glenn) a project called Significant Objects, which Glenn explains thus:
A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!
The roster of authors is beyond impressive contributors will include Susannah Breslin, Ben Greenman, Claire Zulkey, Lydia Millet, and, happily, Lizzie Skurnick, creator of the Old Hag blog, author of the forthcoming, this-can't-be-released-fast-enough Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and I'll say it the funniest woman in America. (And yes, I know Ruth Buzzi is still alive. I stand by my statement.)
The cover of the upcoming novel by Dan Brown (author of the mildly successful The Da Vinci Code) has been revealed. I've actually already managed to crack the code behind this one. If you rearrange the letters in "The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown," you get "Horny Matt's Wobbly Blondes," which I believe is a strip club, or should be.
Jason Wilson starts off his article about his quest for the perfect Negroni with a reference to an Ernest Hemingway story about abortion, thus officially making this gin-fueled think piece literary enough for me to post. (The real perfect cocktail, though? The Jack Rose. Allow Rachel Maddow to demonstrate.)
Scandinavians love four things: sensibly-priced furniture, death metal, ABBA, and novels about murder.
July 7, 2009
If you were hoping the "centerpiece" of the planned George W. Bush Library at Southern Methodist University would be a book and not, say, a 9mm Glock handgun I've got some bad news for you.
Though the gun belongs to the US national archives, associates told the Times that [Bush] intends prominently to display it there. The library is to be organised thematically around 25 key decisions taken by Bush during his eight years in the White House.
I guess it could go next to the guitar Bush played while New Orleans drowned. At any rate, if you're a Southern Methodist student or professor, you're probably realizing that having the Bush Library associated with your school is the worst decision SMU has made since they paid that linebacker in the '80s.
David Barnett is skeptical of Borders' new UK dating site:
I don't know if Borders will actually be making recommendations for dates in the same way as they recommend books, but it would be priceless if members got regular email updates: "Did you enjoy, Mark, 34, of Swindon? Then you should try Gareth, 36, of Slough." Or: "After dating Sally of Birmingham, 86 per cent of customers go on to date Jayne of Devizes."
I wonder if they have a return policy? Please advise.
Sathnam Sanghera cuts David Sedaris from his list of favorite writers after reading Sedaris' "strange and repeated claim that truth just doesn’t matter."
Sedaris is wrong. It doesn’t matter if non-fiction authors exercise literary or poetic licence, if they omit things, if they fill in details, if they play around with minor facts, even if they exaggerate for comic effect, as long as they acknowledge it in some way, and are consistent about it, but it matters hugely if they are making things up and not admitting to doing so. . . .
James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces would be a brilliant and unique memoir, but as a novel it is virtually worthless. And while I rated Sedaris very highly as a memoirist, now that it transpires his funny little stories about being taught to play guitar by a midget and working for a removals company may be fiction, I don’t.
Sanghera is a talented writer, but I couldn't disagree with him more here. The idea that a memoir can't be good unless it's true seems absurd to me. Everybody knows that everybody lies; if you trust writers to always tell you the truth, you shouldn't. I'd rather read a memoir by an interesting liar than one by someone who's terminally earnest and boring. Maybe it's just a difference in perspective; I've never in my life expected any memoir to be truthful. Why should it? If you're writing a book on how to perform heart surgery, then OK, sure, let's go with the truth. But memoirs? Go ahead and lie. It's your life; it's your right to make shit up.
On the other hand, maybe I'm just defensive because Bookslut ran a glowingly positive review of A Million Little Pieces in 2003 in which the reviewer actually praised the book for being "honest." Whoever wrote that is just never going to live it down.
(UPDATE: I just noticed that Bookslut review of the Frey book is actually in our "Fiction" section, which is hilarious and awesome, and which, of course, completely undermines the point I was trying to make. But what did I tell you? Don't trust writers.)
The A.V. Club has an excerpt of Nathan Rabin's The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture, which I'm dying to read.
The Guardian wants to know which words make you wince. You know which words make me wince? Words of hate. Words of intolerance. Celebrate diversity, people. Eracism.
Seriously, though: "staycation." Any phrase that starts with the word "mommy." And "please advise." Oh, dear God, how I hate "please advise." If you're writing an email, and want to let the recipient know that you'd like an answer to something, you know what works for me? A fucking question mark at the end of a sentence. That is how I know you asked a question.
OK. Sorry. I'm done.
Bostonist talks to poet Brandon Scott Gorrell, author of During My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present (which I recommend very, very highly), about Muumuu House, alienation, and organic farming.
for awhile i felt that it was appropriate to be alienated; that it was OK. . . . i think i started to take pride in it. later, i got a girlfriend, and one night she said something like 'your alienation is "great and all that" but it's not functional; or it functions negatively, for the most part: you still have all these problems, you work at a cafe that you hate, you dislike your living situation, you have no friends, you're depressed all the time.' i believe that my perception shifted after that.
Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller discusses David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo with Paste Magazine.
July 6, 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: Lauren Hall
Lauren Hall is the Development Director for 826 National, a nonprofit turoring, writing, and publishing organization associated with McSweeney's. If you're located in one of the seven cities harboring an 826 branch, you may have noticed a bizarre storefront along the lines of the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. Well, that's exactly what it is. A front. If you sneak in the back of the store, you might notice a writing workshop or tutoring session in which students from around the neighborhood or the greater city area come in for help with their writing, be it a college entrance essay or a short story they'd like to further develop.
After staring at the Superhero Supply Co. for several months at the café across the street, I finally heard a piece on All Things Considered last year that turned me on to the 826 program. I'm thinking of supporting the program and applying to volunteer—partially out of personal fulfillment, and partially because I just really want to get close to a bottle of cloning fluid.
At any rate, I spoke with Lauren before the 4th of July weekend. I was especially interested in the volume of volunteer applications received during an economic crisis.
Let's start off with a short overview of the program. 826 has opened seven city-specific branches so far, each with a different storefront. What do you think are some of the most significant things they have done over the years?
Sure! Here’s a little overview for you: 826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization with locations in seven cities across the country. Our goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.
After the founding of 826 Valencia, the flagship center in San Francisco, educators around the U.S. joined in to pursue the same goals in their local communities. Through volunteer support, each of the seven 826 chapters provides drop-in tutoring, class field trips, writing workshops, and in-schools programs—all free of charge. 826 chapters are especially committed to supporting teachers, publishing student work, and offering services for English language learners.
Because we believe the proof is in the pudding, 826 programs almost always end with a finished product, such as a newspaper, a book, or a film. This teaching model, known as project-based learning, encourages students to collaborate and to make creative decisions, and gives them ownership over the learning process. Working toward a goal, our students are inspired to revise until their work is perfect. They leave with new skills and a new found passion for writing. And then they come back. Each 826 chapter is a warm, welcoming place where students can get things done. Maybe they’ll produce a chapbook. Maybe they’ll make a movie, or polish a college-application essay. We offer all of our services for free serving families who could not otherwise afford the level of personalized instruction their children receive from 826.
Some highlights over the years? 826LA opened a second branch in December 2007, Brooklyn and San Francisco both have satellite classrooms (one in the Brooklyn public library, and 826 Valencia’s in nearby middle schools, 826Michigan partnered with the local transit authority to have students’ work displayed on city buses, our first national book won a ton of recognition and was featured in the NY Times, People Magazine, etc.—that was exciting.
How did you become involved with 826 National? What about the program made you want to get involved?
I moved to SF from Arkansas and was rapt with the energy and strangeness of the Pirate Store and the writing programs going on behind the gate. Students were happy, engaged, feverish with their pencils and paper. I loved it! I applied to volunteer immediately.
Have you noticed an increase in volunteer applications in the past six months? If so, what can you attribute that to?
Definitely. I think that talented, wonderful people are struggling to keep their jobs, and this has meant a great boost to our volunteer community. Some incredibly enthusiastic and inspiring folks have come through our doors in the last six months. We are welcoming everyone; it’s been a really productive time for us. It’s sad to consider! At least there is meaningful work to be done in the community.
Do all the branches operate similarly? How does a basic class workshop work?
Each chapter has the same structure, the same programs and general model. They all offer after school tutoring, in-class support, class field trips, specialized workshops, and publishing opportunities for young people. When you say “workshop” I wonder if you’d just like to know about each program? I’ll break it down for you!
826 sites are packed five days a week with students who come in for free one-on-one tutoring after school. We serve students of all skill levels and interests, most of whom live within walking distance of our writing centers or near public transportation. During the summer, many of our tutoring programs cater exclusively to English language-learners with a specially designed, project-based curriculum that focuses on basic vocabulary, phonics, reading, and writing skills.
We know that the quality of a project is greatly enhanced when it’s shared with an authentic audience, so we are committed to publishing student work. In addition to publishing quarterly anthologies, student newspapers, many smaller chapbooks, and ‘zines, each year we partner with an acclaimed author to work closely with a teacher and students from a low-income school to create an unique and professionally-made book.
Up to four times a week, 826 welcomes an entire class for a morning of high-energy learning. Students may experience a round table discussion and writing seminar with a local author, or enjoy an active workshop focused on poetry or journalism. The most popular field trip is one we invented called Storytelling & Bookmaking, in which students write, illustrate, and bind their own books within a two-hour period. The field trip is so popular that our schedule is filled almost a year in advance.
It is not feasible for all classes to come to us, so we dispatch teams of volunteers into local schools. At a teacher’s behest, we will send the requested number of tutors into any classroom around the city, to provide one-on-one assistance to students as they tackle various projects — school newspapers, research papers, oral histories, basic writing assignments, and college entrance essays.
826 offers free workshops that provide in-depth writing instruction in a variety of areas that schools often cannot include in their curriculum, such as writing college entrance essays, cartooning, bookmaking, SAT preparation, writing a play, or starting a ’zine. All workshops are project-based and are taught by experienced, accomplished professionals. Connecting inner-city students with these creative and generous mentors allows students to dream on a grand scale.
What problems or issues do you think the org will have to and is constantly facing these days?
We are always looking for people to join us in our work. Fundraising—being financially strong—is always at the forefront of our minds. Especially with the rocky economy this year. This is our biggest challenge.
What are your long-term goals at this point with the organization?
We hope to maintain the quality of our programs and continue to check in with our community to make sure we are offering the best services we can.
826 also publishes student work. What kinds of anthologies have you put out? I recall one specifically containing letters to Obama before he takes office….
Each chapter publishes a range of books, from ‘zines and chapbooks to paperbacks. For their 5th anniversary, 826 Valencia published its first hardback book, Exactly, a collection of children’s stories written by high school students. Most chapters have quarterly anthologies of students’ work, and each chapter collaborates with a public school class every year for an intensive book project around a theme. Students have written about their families, the secrets of their cities, the qualities of their favorite teachers. For example, last year 826 Seattle created an anthology of essays, poems, and stories on the theme of family by 27 students from John Marshall High School and the American Indian Heritage School called (It’s Not Always) Happily Ever After with a forward by Sherman Alexie.
And yes, the Obama book, Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country, was our first national publication. It happened quickly, it was fun. Written by students at 826 centers across the country, the book is full of hilarious advice, practical suggestions, and sincere requests for Obama. You should get yourself a copy! You can purchase it at the 826 National webstore. All purchases from the website greatly benefit our programming and help us keep the doors open, so you know, I’ve got to let you know all about it.
Carolyn Kellogg wonders whether books will shape the legacy of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who died today at age 93.
Like Sarah Palin, but wish she'd talk about God more? You're in luck! The Alaska governor will release two editions of her forthcoming memoir, one for Christians and one for the rest of us. Providing, of course, she doesn't get bored writing it and decide to quit halfway through.
The Guardian presents the 50 best summer reads ever.
Sharon Hoffman looks at the books that inspired current and upcoming movies. I had no idea that Youth in Revolt, C. D. Payne's penis-obsessed 1993 teen angst epic, was being adapted as a movie, but there it is. It apparently stars Michael Cera and Jean Smart. (Her? What, is she funny or something?)
Pitchfork takes a look at former Silver Jews singer-songwriter David Berman's new book, The Portable February, available through Drag City, and finds it "absolutely ridiculous" (in a good way, I think). Berman, who announced his retirement from music earlier this year, is also the author of the very highly recommended Actual Air.
The Japan Times says Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is worth the wait. (Unless you can read Japanese, you'll have to wait a little longer; it's not yet available in English.)
Speaking of innocuous children's books like Little Lord Fauntleroy, some British parents are upset about the publication in the UK of the YA novel Tender Morsels by Australian writer Margo Lanagan. I'm guessing this is one of those deals where the author uses the word "crap," or mentions masturbation or something like that, and knee-jerk conservatives freak the hell out. Right?
The word "slut" appears in the first line of Margo Lanagan's new book, Tender Morsels. The next few paragraphs describe an unsettling sex scene between a witch and a dwarf. . . . [The book] also contains a gang rape and a frank description of a miscarriage.
Uh...Jesus. OK. Honestly, though, I don't see what the big deal is. A lot of my classmates in middle school read Flowers in the Attic, which I think is kind of incesty, and they turned out...well, they're still alive, and for the most part not incarcerated. And who can forget the zombie bondage orgy scene in Johnny Tremain? Anyway, take heed, parents: If you don't teach your kids about dwarf-witch sex, Margo Lanagan will.
Nicholas Kristof takes a break from telling you about how African genocide is all your fault, and presents his unfortunately-punctuated list of "the Best Children’s Books — Ever!" The list is heavy on, let's say, books of a certain age, giving props to Charlotte's Web (1952), Lad: A Dog (1919), Anne of Green Gables (1908), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886).
Man, I like The Hardy Boys and Charlotte's Web as much as the next guy, but why do I have a feeling Kristof outsourced this column to Perry Como's corpse?
Authors and publishers: Note that Bookslut's contact page has been updated with Jessa's new, suspiciously Communist-sounding address. Any books you'd like to have considered for review by Jessa on the Bookslut blog, The Smart Set, or NPR.org should be sent to:
c/o Enno Hytek
Milastraße 3, Seitenflügel
Important: As always, books from authors will not be considered unless you send Jessa an email first.
Also, please note that she's now only interested in books about the 9/11 truth movement and books whose titles begin with Chicken Soup for the. Take your fancy-ass literature elsewhere, OK?
(UPDATE: Ignore that last paragraph. Turns out I was way off on that one. Please do make sure to update your address for her, though, and email her before sending her anything. She and the good people at Deutsche Post thank you.)
Have too much fun this holiday weekend? Any good doctor will tell you the best hangover cure is squinting at the harsh white glow of a computer monitor and thinking about literature. Allow us to introduce the new issue of Bookslut, which I am calling Bookslut 86: Rise of the Machines because nobody told me not to.
This month in columns, the Cookbookslut casts her eye at Michael Ruhlman's book on culinary ratios, and Fascinating Writers columnist Lorette C. Luzajic considers Leo Tolstoy. In reviews, our writers look at the latest work from Kevin Canty, Gillian Flynn, Nick Reding, Elena Fanailova, and others.
Features this month include Barbara J. King's open letter about writing and religion to Robert Wright, Kate Munning's reflection on the politics of food, Elizabeth Bachner's thoughts on reader's block, and interviews with Shaun Tan, Paul Harding, and two favorites of mine, Brian Evenson and A Softer World writer Joey Comeau. Whatever you do, don't miss Brittany Shoot's remarkable interview with Marilyn French, conducted before French's death of heart failure in May.
This is the literary webzine equivalent of a summer blockbuster. Just think of managing editor Caroline Eick as Michael Bay, and founder and editor-in-chief Jessa Crispin as...I don't know, Michael Bay's German executive producer. The point is, read this now so you'll have something to talk about with your friends tonight. And if your friends don't read Bookslut, get new ones.
July 5, 2009
The Naked and the Read
Penelope, the way we learned her in the greatest hits of western lit, was the paragon of patience, the “matchless queen,” “reserved Penelope,” weaving her way out of infidelity, awaiting the return of wily Odysseus as he cavorted his way back to Ithaka, indulging in all sorts of bewitchments and womanly charms. A model marriage, as Homer had it. But history has enacted its own set of twists and turns on this staple of Western Civ syllabi. Tennyson’s it’s-the-journey, Molly Bloom’s bawdy affirmatives, the Coen brothers’ Oh Brother, among three of the better known.
Poet Louise Glück offers her perspective on The Odyssey in the collection Meadowlands, where she plaits characters from the epic with a present-day portrayal of a disintegrating marriage. Among the great many emotions and reactions the collection elicits, one of the strongest that results: marriage is terrifying. Or perhaps not marriage itself, but the attempt to unite your own life with another’s.
She doesn’t come out and say so, of course, but her stark portrait of distance, frustration, bitterness -- it doesn’t make one want to rush off to the altar. The great dilemma: how to reconcile the idea with the reality, the person as you conceive them and their actual human self. “He was two people,” she writes in “Ithaka.” “He was the body and voice, the easy / magnetism of a living man, and then / the unfolding dream or image / shaped by the woman working the loom.” And the way Glück has it, the successful combining of body-and-voice, the living man and the unfolding image shaped by someone else might just be an impossibility, as much for Penelope and Odysseus as it is for all of us.
Hers are poems of the cruelty of closeness. A grinding resentment exists between the couple, enacted with ferocious passive-aggression. “I said you could snuggle. That doesn’t mean / your cold feet all over my dick.” It’s crushing, how simultaneously intimate and mean it is. From “Ceremony,” “I stopped liking artichokes when I stopped eating butter.” The unspoken tone is you should know this, I shouldn’t have to say this again, why are there artichokes sitting on my plate? Glück conveys the quotidian trials and raises the big questions: “oh unanswerable / affliction of the human heart: how to divide / the world’s beauty into acceptable / and unacceptable loves!”
The poems are not without moments of optimism and intimacy (“The night is dark; the world is dark. / Stay with me a little longer”), which serve in bringing the hurts and angers into sharper relief. For Glück, Penelope weaving at the loom to keep her suitors at bay is not virtue or tribute, but “a species of rage.” From “Telemachus’ Kindness”: “my mother / lived at her loom hypothesizing her husband’s erotic life.” And what he comes to know, is that “no child on that island had a different story.” We imagine our beloveds, have a picture of the way we want our lives to be, and the hard part comes when the idea and the actual don’t match.
There is freedom in not feeling. “Those / with the smallest hearts have / the greatest freedom,” Glück writes. Not caring makes distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable loves a hell of a lot easier (anything’s acceptable when nothing quite matters). But is that sort of freedom to be desired? Three of Glück’s lines have been thundering in my head these past days:
I think now
If I felt less I would be
a better person.
If that were the choice -- feel less and be a better person, or feel more and act in ways that are not always kind or fair, tormented and tormenting, deeply felt -- if that were the choice, which to take? Which to take?
July 3, 2009
Okay, so exactly nine (9) people would’ve bought Mark Sanford’s boring-ass book about “fiscal conservatism,” because Mark who? But the rumors were that Sanford would “rejigger” the manuscript into a sexy adulterous family-hating Argentine-fucking line-crossing literary tour de force, the Southern Gothic Emo-Yacht Club-Preppie Le Scaphandre et le Papillon of our time.
Related and also hilarious: Larry Hughes on what he'd like to see on C-SPAN's Book TV this weekend.
Entertainment Weekly's Jean Bentley asks: "Sex and the 'Harry Potter' movies: Does anyone want this?" (Jean, trust me: You do not want to know the answer to that.)
Twenty-five years after the publication of William Gibson's Neuromancer, PC World looks at "what it got right [and] what it got wrong." (Via up-and-coming German book blogger "Jessica Crispen," whose name sounds vaguely familiar somehow. Viel Glück, Jessica!)
Why do some writers disappear? (My first guess was "They're dodging creditors," but that turns out not to be the case.)
Nathan Rabin, one of my favorite American cultural critics, writes about the biographies of three US icons: Johnny Cash, George Plimpton, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Los Angeles Times:
The Justice Department on Thursday said it had launched a formal antitrust investigation into the proposed settlement over the Google Inc. project to scan millions of books into a digital format.
July 2, 2009
Valerie Eliot attended a reading of Eliot's poems this week, which she almost never does. The readers? Seamus Heaney, Jeremy Irons, Dominic West, and Anna Cartaret. (It's a *great* picture.) Yeah, that would get me off the couch.
So, Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair, and Alan Moore walk into a bar . . . (via 3am Magazine). The good news: Alan Moore says that “Jerusalem” disproves the existence of death from a scientific standpoint. Well, if it's scientific then . . .
Bill Watterson, on Krazy Kat, available online at This Recording: With the possible exception of Pogo, no other strip derives so much of its charm from its verbiage. Krazy Kat's unique "texture" comes in large part through the conglomeration of peculiar spellings and punctuations, dialects, interminglings of Spanish, phonetic renderings, and alliterations. Krazy Kat's Coconino County not only had a look; it had a sound as well. Slightly foreign, but uncontrived, it was an extraordinary and full world.
Kate Bolick reviews a big Futurism retrospective in Milan, and reminds us of Marinetti's cookbook: he denounced pasta as "an absurd Italian gastronomic religion" that made people sluggish and lethargic and argued for "absolute originality" in food, as well as "a battery of scientific instruments in the kitchen." Goodbye, beloved carbonara and checkered tablecloths; hello, chicken stuffed with ball bearings and carnation scent spritzed from spray bottles.
The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival has been posting videos of poets reading, including this week Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Naomi Shihab, and Sharon Olds's "Ode to a Composting Toilet" and "Ode to a Tampon."
How the US military is using "poetry, FM radio, and Web 2.0 technologies" as counterinsurgency strategies in Afghanistan: Broadcasting poetry to an audience that appreciates verse meets the key requirement of any strategic communications campaign: "Audience-focused communications. You need to meet the audience where they are at," said Bill Salvan, a reserve Navy public affairs officer and president of Signal Bridge Communications, a public relations firm in Phoenix.
Vikram Seth will release A Suitable Girl, the sequel to his 1993 novel A Suitable Boy, in 2013. If you started reading the 1,488-page A Suitable Boy the year it was released, you might actually be finished by the time the sequel comes out.
Francine Prose is one of the few American authors who seems to get better and better with each book. Her novels Blue Angel and A Changed Man are two of my favorites; both are emotionally charged but also brutally honest and unsentimental, and both are well worth seeking out. Prose talks to NPR about her new book, the YA novel Touch.
As we approach the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11, Blake Morrison, in a beautiful piece for The Guardian, considers the cultural impact of the first manned moon landing.
At Largehearted Boy, Jessica West shares a music playlist she created for her new book What Would Keith Richards Do?: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor. Leadbelly, Gram Parsons and The Rolling Stones (of course) make the cut, though I was secretly hoping to see a shout-out to Senator Franken's cover of "Under My Thumb."
A judge in Manhattan issued an order "indefinitely barring the publication, advertising or distribution" of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, Fredrik Colting's novel featuring an elderly version of Holden Caulfield. J. D. Salinger had sued Colting for copyright infringement.
"I am pretty blown away by the judge’s decision," Mr. Colting said in an e-mail message after the ruling. "Call me an ignorant Swede, but the last thing I thought possible in the U.S. was that you banned books."
It is the blight man was born for, it is South Carolina you mourn for.
All of us at Bookslut extend our best wishes and a speedy recovery to literary critic James Wood, who apparently recently sustained a serious injury. I can only assume he was hurt in the line of duty. Literary criticism is harder than you think.
The literary critic James Wood wounded his hand in Bryant Park today while playing the tambourine.
“I picked [it] up in a rather awkward way and was playing a song with it, and it began to rub away,” Mr. Wood said, showing off newly applied band-aids on his fingers. “It just took the skin off.”
All of us at Bookslut retract our earlier statement, stare open-mouthed at our monitors, silently mouth the word "Wow," and plan to spend the rest of our day drinking and reconsidering our life choices.
July 1, 2009
If you're not addicted to the 33 1/3 series, allow me to introduce you to the most impressive intersection of literature and popular music since the New York Review of Books printed Joan Didion's underappreciated 1983 essay "Whither Mickey?: Toni Basil and the Tragedy of the American Imagination." Inspired by two Flickr users' take-offs on their distinctive covers, the 33 1/3 dudes are sponsoring a contest for readers to come up with their own fake covers. Though I seriously doubt anyone can beat "Kid A by That Dude Who Wrote That Pitchfork Review of Kid A."
Michael Chabon, one of my three favorite living fiction writers (with Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore), on the wilderness of childhood:
Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map—marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle—that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children.
(DISCLOSURE: My own book, Link to a Story about Books, Use the Word "Fuck," and Make an Obvious Joke: The Michael Schaub Story will be released next year by Alfred A. Knopf.)
(NOTE TO KNOPF: Just go with it. We'll talk.)
British authorities dropped obscenity charges against a civil servant who wrote and posted a story about the rape and murder of an English pop group. John Ozimek and Julian Petley consider what this means for obscenity laws and the publishing industry in the UK.
If Girls (Scream) Aloud were to be judged obscene, then so could works by JG Ballard, Georges Bataille, William Burroughs and the Marquis de Sade. Of course, it could be argued that the works cited possess certain literary qualities and would thus escape prosecution (much as, no doubt, there are those who would like to see them banned). But this assumes that there exist literary standards upon which everyone is agreed and that there is an absolute and watertight distinction between works of high and low culture.
George Ducker recommends you read The Floating Opera before tackling John Barth's other novels, all of which run an average of about 26,000 pages and are so postmodern they make Gilbert and George look like Thomas Kinkade (OK, not really).
One of the joys of "The Floating Opera" is that it is a rambling, overstuffed first novel bearing as much ambition and stylistic frothiness as the more physically daunting case studies that came later. It feels comfortable and easily familiar, especially to anyone who's ever enjoyed "A Fan's Notes," Richard Ford's holiday trilogy or even Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men." Basically, you can add it to the top of your Middle-Aged White Man Looks Back In Awe And Bemusement list.