August 31, 2009
I normally hate book trailers, because they usually look like they were created by the least talented AV club member at the most underfunded middle school in America. Also, when I go to YouTube, it's normally because I want to see a kitten doing something hilarious, or Joe Scarborough saying "fuck." But this trailer for Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is actually very cool. Despite the lack of puppies making noises that sound like "I love you" or whatever. (Thanks to K. for the link.)
I have a piece at Jacket Copy about Continuum's brilliant 33 1/3 series of books, and in particular, John Darnielle's unbelievable short novel about the Black Sabbath album Master of Reality. Darnielle, the singer-songwriter behind The Mountain Goats and author of the blog Last Plane to Jakarta, is as good a novelist as he is a songwriter, which is saying something. (Check out this song to see what I mean.)
David Denby hates it when you laugh. Stop it.
I can't tell whether Slate is being sarcastic when they refer to this list of forthcoming "great, industry-redeeming books" as "so bright you'll need sunglasses." The list includes the new novels by E. L. Doctorow and Margaret Atwood. Which might be exciting and "industry-redeeming" if this were the Ford administration. The future's so bright, I've got to wear, apparently, bifocals.
Alice Munro has withdrawn her new book Too Much Happiness from consideration for The Giller Prize (which now has a corporate name, which I'm not going to use, in the same way I refuse to call it "The Robinson Company Amalgamated Urinal Cakes, LLC, Cotton Bowl" or whatever).
At any rate, The Globe And Mail says Munro's "decision has disappointed literary punters hoping for a close contest for this year's prize between Munro and veteran novelist Margaret Atwood." And those of us who have already bought our "Munro" pennants and novelty outsized foam fingers. I kind of consider Atwood the New York Yankees of Canadian literature, in that even people who like her, if they're being honest, can't really explain why. (Just kidding! OK, no, I'm not.)
When she asked me to guest-blog until the end of this month, Jessa warned me that the publishing industry tends to take all of August off. I guess I didn't fully believe her until I read this headline: "U.K. Publishers Protest Bologna Curtailment." (Warning: The content of this article is much less awesome than whatever you are making up in your head right now.)
Disney is buying Marvel Entertainment. Winners: All of us who have been praying for a Grog the God-Slayer/The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes crossover. Losers: The Marvel customer service reps who are going to have to answer emails from angry comic-book dudes who know who Grog the God-Slayer is.
August 29, 2009
I am blogging, on camera, about an article about me blogging on camera. And with that, the earth ate itself.
Katie Roiphe is controversial. She's been controversial ever since she made a name for herself in 1993 with "The Morning After," a critique of anti-date-rape feminism.
As opposed to pro-date-rape feminism.
Dubravka Ugresic has written the latest installment of the Canongate myth series, her own book a three-tiered examination of Baba Yaga stories. Canongate made the wicked-smart (pretty typical for them) of hiring three separate translators to work on Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. Marina Warner has a fantastic essay about Ugresic's new book at the London Review of Books, drawing connections between the Croatian government forcing her into exile by labeling her a witch to this new book about crones.
History unmade Yugoslavia, the country she was born into, and though she can now go back, what was home has vanished. Like the hero of another Russian fairy tale, she may well say: ‘I will go I know not where; I will bring back I know not what.’
Trying so, so hard to remember not to swear while doing this Writer in Residency thing at the MWF.
Yesterday's surprise topic at the workshop I conducted: dealing with sociopaths in the online world. Once I opened the door to the topic, oh my dear lord the stories that came out. Everything from anonymous comments by people who seem to wish to destroy you, to the bloggers that wage campaigns. (I have to admit, I had stories of my own to share.)
Also surprising about MWF: the trip's leitmotif seems to be jelly donuts. Ate ricotta and strawberry donuts at a random cafe found down an alleyway, then raspberry jelly donuts at the Victorian Market, and then last night I managed to accidentally order jelly donuts (well, red bean paste) at the restaurant in Chinatown. Come for the literature, stay for the hot sugar and fat.
August 28, 2009
There are a lot of new books I'm looking forward to reading, but maybe none more so than Frank Portman's Andromeda Klein, just released by Delacorte. Portman is the frontman for punk rock heroes The Mr. T Experience, and the author of the best young adult novel I've ever read, King Dork, which has already found its way onto a syllabus for a college class (taught, it's worth noting, by former Bookslut contributor Pauls Toutonghi, at Lewis & Clark College here in Portland, Oregon). I interviewed Portman a few years ago he's one of the smartest, funniest authors I've ever met.
The East Bay Express profiles Portman, and you can find his theme song for Andromeda Klein on Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life blog. Read this book, and you too can be like John Waters. Who the hell wouldn't want that?
(UPDATE: I somehow neglected to mention that Portman contributes a playlist for Andromeda Klein to Largehearted Boy's Book Notes. But you really should be reading LHB every day anyway.)
Author Shya Scanlon is releasing his novel Forecast serially across 42 webzines and blogs. I read several chapters of this last night, and I need to read them again now that I'm sober, but I loved it. (That's not just the cheap beer from Trader Joe's talking, either. If it were, it would say "Remember when you could afford better beer? Remember that? Those days are gone, asshole!") Some of my favorite websites The Man Who Couldn't Blog, HTMLGIANT, 3:AM are participating. You can read the first chapter at Juked, and follow the link at the bottom to the next chapter. It's a cool idea, and one that will probably work out better than my novel, which I released as 945 files meant to be opened and printed using PrintShop for the Commodore 64. It took forever to print, and you had to tear off the perforated sides, but there were birthday cake graphics on either end. Fuck you for not reading it.
Publishers love them some dead authors. Probably because they don't complain about being edited or freak the hell out when they get a late royalty check or a negative review.
August 27, 2009
George Brant is premiering a play about the 19thC poet John Clare: "It's a play about identity theft, 19th-century style -- long before the internet made identity theft famous," says Brant, brandishing an amiable smile.
Brant had the idea for the play after reading an article in the New Yorker about John Clare (1793-1864), a poet who enjoyed popularity in the 1820s, and had virtually none in the 1830s. "His wife eventually had him committed to an asylum," says Brant. "I wondered what happened to him once he got in there."
In the spring, I interviewed Joshua Kryah about Closen, his own forthcoming verse drama about Clare.
Ella Mae Lentz "has fused English poetry with American Sign Language": "I felt poetry helped give credit to sign language," she said. "People start to see it's a real language. You can create with it, play with it, perform. It was a revolutionary way of thinking at the time."
Hey, Melissa Kwasny: Where'd you think up the poem, "Reading Novalis in Montana," the title poem of your recent book? "Reading Novalis in Montana" was triggered by my reading, in translation, the works of German romantic poet Novalis (1772-1801).
The Bremen "Poetry on the Road" festival uses Processing, a data visualization tool, to make posters out of the submitted works: The VisualPoetry experiment is a beautiful effort to capture poetry through rhyme and rhythm of a different kind, to add a dimension that makes it more accessible and alluring and exciting to new audiences and, ultimately, to create a new kind of storytelling that challenges our assumptions about the experience of poetry as a conceptual medium.
If you believe that cell phones are not just annoying but might bring down civilization itself, man, do I have some books for you. In my latest Smart Set column, I review Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and Sara Maitland's Book of Silence.
(Taking short break from Smart Set column, until I stop moving around quite so much. Will be back in about a month.)
Everyone's telling me to read Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries, which does indeed look amazing. Time Out New York calls it "superb," and the San Francisco Bay Guardian has an excerpt. Between that and Elliott's amazing essay "Why I Write," I'm starting to realize I need to buy this book as soon as it comes out next week.
To paraphrase a great man, I love Merge Records so much, I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. And they just released a new Polvo record, about which I am so excited I could "plotz." (Did I use that right? Pretty sure I did.)
So I can't wait to read the new Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small. Marc Masters interviews the book's co-author John Cook about Merge, Superchunk, Spoon, Butterglory, and other bands you should be listening to right now oh my God right now.
Lincoln Michel of The Faster Times has a compilation of literary humor from The Onion. My favorite: "Scholars Discover 23 Blank Pages That May As Well Be Lost Samuel Beckett Play." (Via the great Justin Taylor at HTMLGIANT.)
Baxter: There can be great narrative interest in a man or a woman sitting quietly, if only you surround that person with an interesting narrative context. There can be great narrative interest in slow art, in the nothing-happening moment. These may be the very moments, in fact, that lead to real enlightenment. No one was ever enlightened by a car crash.
James Kelman: "If the Nobel Prize came from Scotland they would give it to a writer of fucking detective fiction, or else some kind of child writer, or something that was not even new when Enid Blyton was writing the Faraway Tree, because she was writing about some upper middle-class young magician or some fucking crap."
I love this. Not because I care one way or another about the Harry Potter books, or have anything against mystery writers, but because I love angry old Scottish men. It's just a weakness of mine, I guess.
August 26, 2009
Kate Beaton on the dumbing down of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Rebecca Solnit, who I would have thought as being above such nonsense, goes the route of Hoffman, de Botton, Waldman, etc., and responds to the (positive) review in the Washington Post of her book A Paradise Built in Hell.
The reviewer's response? "Jeez Louise." Seriously.
As a "shout-out" (I use that word too much. I'm 31. That's too old to say that, isn't it? I thought so) to new Berliner Jessa Crispin, here's The Guardian's top 10 books about the Berlin Wall, which fell almost 20 years ago.
Here's my appreciation of Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, at Jacket Copy. I think this novel is severely underrated, or at least that's the impression I get when I tell people it's my second-favorite Rushdie book. They give me the same look I get when I tell people I like that one song with the "Apple Bottom jeans" and the "boots with the fur." (Shut up.)
Here's a cool thing about Portland, my new hometown: I looked for this book on the Multnomah County Library website. It turns out they have six copies, all of which are checked out (or they were last time I looked). People here have amazing taste in books. No offense to any of the other cities I've lived in; it's just that things like this never happened in, say, College Station, Texas.
Newsday talks to Lizzie Skurnick about her new book Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, which is also reviewed at the Los Angeles Times. I haven't read this yet, but I'm assuming it will, at long last, answer the titular question posed in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. (My guess: God was screening his calls because he gets the same fucking question about training bras like every day.)
In related news, British children's author Anne Fine is complaining that modern children's books are too grim, unhappy, and overly realistic. Lucy Jones responds by asking "Aren’t kids better off with books and films that set us up for life’s grim disappointments?" (Worked for me! I mean, I drink a lot. But that could have just been the twelve years of Catholic school.) And Stephen Moss suggests alternate, happier endings for classic books. (My favorite is his proposed revision of Lord of the Flies: "When a ship does eventually come by to rescue them, they are all jolly reluctant to leave their delightful little island."
I guess I can see both sides. As a kid, I preferred the books with realistic endings. But I always thought maybe the Sweet Valley Methadone Clinic series went a little too far.
Here's a mystery of Pittsburgh: Why is Steel City such a great place for writers? (Via writer and fellow 'Mats fan Jodi Chromey, whose hometown of Minneapolis also gets a nice shout-out in this article.)
And here is why I love Jessa Crispin: "I can’t just call everyone a cocksucker and be on my way."
August 25, 2009
...[D]eputies say Reardon, whose website describes her as the queen of redneck noir, got into a fight with her father. Following the fight, investigators say Reardon shot her father.
I'm guessing nobody's going to fight her for the title of "queen of redneck noir" after this. Sorry, Joyce Carol Oates!
I haven't read Love is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts yet, but I can't wait to the anthology is full of some of my favorite writers, including Maud Newton, D. E. Rasso, George Singleton, Wendy McClure, and Michael Taeckens (I don't think he has a website, so I'll just use one for his doppelgänger), who also edited the book. Frank Stasio interviews Taeckens, McClure, and contributor Margaret Sartor at WUNC.
NPR has my review of Charles Siebert's The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals, along with an excerpt from the book. Good book, once you get past the faux philosophical wankery.
Happy 60th birthday to Martin Amis, and to my dad.
Lynn Barber has pulled out of a literary festival after they rejected her author photo: head thrown back, sucking on a cigarette.
"If a pic of me smoking is such a threat to the good burghers of Richmond, imagine what my presence would do," she said this morning.
I am refusing to go on stage at the Melbourne Writers Festival until I have confirmation I will be introduced as Princess Jessa Crispin the Spectacular. I want that in writing, MWF.
Author Alain de Botton (The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work) is discovering the pleasures and sorrows mostly sorrows, I'm guessing of being stuck at an airport for an entire fucking week, making this the first such experiment since John Updike spent two months in line at a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Akron, Ohio. (That happened, right?) You can follow his observations on Twitter, and he's writing a book about the experience, which will eventually be published and given away at Heathrow Airport. (I'm using my Twitter feed to pretend to be at Heathrow, hoping someone will give me a book deal. Just play along if anyone asks, OK?)
President Obama's beach reads are pretty much just as nerdy as you'd expect.
August 24, 2009
I actually almost cried while watching an episode of NewsRadio last night ("Daydream," there's this incredibly sad part with an old man, don't judge me), so it's not surprising that this Mary Gaitskill essay about her lost cat made me tear up a little. Fine. A lot. I said don't judge me.
Six months after Gattino disappeared my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant having dinner with some people he had recently met, including an intellectual writer we both admired. The writer had considered buying the house we were living in and he wanted to know how we liked it. I said it was nice but it had been partly spoiled for me by the loss of our cat. I told him the story and he said, ‘Oh, that was your trauma, was it?’
I wish she'd disclosed the name of this writer so someone could go kick his ass, repeatedly and mercilessly. (Thanks to Carrie Frye for the link.)
I wouldn't advise coming right out of the box and ridiculing your betters. But if you think you have learned enough from a teacher, you seize the opportunity to signal their current uselessness.
Which writer do you drink like? I think I drink like...who's the writer who buys Olympia when it goes on sale at Plaid Pantry? You know, the broke one nobody's ever heard of? That guy. You might call it sad; I call it keeping it real. I also call it sad.
Dunn ran away to Los Angeles and was picked up by the police, events that inspired her novel "Truck." Her parents came and picked her up and brought her home but she soon wound up in jail again.
A : Possession of a fraudulent check.
Q: Were you guilty?
A: Oh, completely.
I think I might have to start hanging out at the local boxing gyms just to try to meet her. I need to think of a boxing nickname for myself. "The Doughy Asthmatic"? Yeah, that'll work.
Jimmy Chen of HTMLGIANT presents a book lover's guide to IKEA seating.
We learn in literature that money is not good, like all the bad people are rich and all the good people are poor. I don’t think this is a healthy attitude — now there’s some artistic nobility to being unemployed. I know I’m not your dad, but “get a job.” If I were the guy in American Psycho, I would not “freak out” (murder, crying into voicemail, etc.) and just keep my kick-ass job and eat good filet mignon at lunch and have sex with a lot of models.
This made me think IKEA should start selling books. You would have to drive 35 miles on an interstate to buy them, and then when you get home you would realize that the ending is packaged separately, but nobody fucking told you that, so you have to drive back and walk through a thousand squalling kids and the overpowering smell of lingonberries to get the second part. Then on the way home you'd stop to get a lottery ticket in the hopes that one day you would be able to afford better literature.
I packed Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell for my Australia trip, then took it out of my suitcase again. Then, repacked it. Then unpacked it. It's back on my Berlin shelf, and of course now I really want to read it, god damn it. (I am the worst book packer in the world, apparently. All the more reason to go blow hundreds at Metropolis. Ugh, I'll feel that one in the morning.) Solnit gets the New York Times treatment.
August 23, 2009
I just noticed this morning the subtitle to Maggie Jackson's Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Surely she's also covering some sort of catastrophe, like global warming or nuclear proliferation or something, and not suggesting that texting is going to bring on an era of despair and regression. But no! She really is suggesting that.
Also in my reading, I had to wonder how seriously one can take a book after the author literally calls cell phones a tool of the devil. (Also, she weirdly personifies the devil as female, without explanation.) Not that I don't think cell phones are evil, but come on. And I have to review this book? I'm wondering with both of these books if at any point the editorial suggestion to "tone down the crazy" was made.
August 21, 2009
Who are the most donated authors to Oxfam's UK thrift stores? The answer might surprise you! Just kidding. The answer will absolutely not surprise you, not even a little bit. (With some of the authors on the list, though, I'm not sure "donated" is the right word. It's kind of like saying a hooker donated chlamydia to you.)
Jayson Blair, who resigned from The New York Times after getting caught making a bunch of shit up, and who wrote a book about it which I cannot bring myself to link to, is now a "life coach." I don't know what a "life coach" is, exactly, but it sounds a lot more fake than any of the stuff he wrote for the Times.
(UPDATE: The original draft of this post said Blair was fired from the Times. He wasn't; he actually resigned. I plan to write a book about my error and then become a motivational speaker or something.)
The new issue of NOÖ Journal, one of my favorite literary magazines, just came out. The journal is edited by Mike Young, one of my favorite dudes in literature, and it is dependably awesome. Highlights from this issue: Phil Estes' "Junichiro Koizumi Doesn't Care About White People" and Mary Hamilton's "You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You, But Me and Theodore Built a Time Machine." It's all great, though.
My friend and former professor D. G. Myers, whose blog you should be reading all the time and don't make me tell you again, lists the five best American novels of this decade. If you're going to trust anybody on the subject, trust him. The only one on his list that I've read is Francine Prose's Blue Angel, and, OK, well-played, David; I agree.
I'm not sure what books would be on my list, but off the top of my head: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, and the Francine Prose novel. (The Chabon and Roth books came out in 2000, I think, but that still counts as this decade, I maintain, unless you are an unbearable pedant.)
Thanks to Ben for the link.
The Naked and the Read
Each day this week in Boston, the temperature has bested the previous day’s season record high. Everyone is sweating. August brings an unavoidable turpitude, a dulling of the brain. I’d take the greyest, coldest, bleakest day in March, when it feels like winter will never end over the deadening of August. It’s the Sunday of the year.
As Edna O’Brien had it: August is a wicked month.
Her short, lonely 1965 novel is no balm, will bring no relief, and though chunks of the book take place on the beach, this is no beach read. “People who had hoped for summer wished now for a breeze and a little respite,” she writes in the opening paragraph. There’s no respite here.
Ellen, twenty-eight years old, living in London, is separated from her husband. “They talked now as she always feared they might, like strangers who had never been in love at all.” She’s left lonesome and bereft when he takes their son on a camping vacation in Wales. And soon after their departure, to combat the solitude, she beds a man for the first time in a year.
O’Brien’s work was banned in her native Ireland, and she is provocative, in a way that does not feel dated. There are subtle descriptions: “His hand came around her waist and the rug began to slip because they put their remaining hands -- her two and his one -- to love uses, tracing each other’s faces, touching, lingering, drawing away, feeling a lip’s thickness, finding out,” and much more explicit: “In bed she opened wide... it grew high and purple... She felt him harden and lengthen inside her like a stalk.”
Ellen finds herself over-smitten with this one-night stand, and to distract herself, to escape her solitude, she decides to take a trip herself, to the French Riviera. “She longed to be free and young and naked with all the men in the world making love to her at once.” And you think, well done, good choice, enjoy yourself. Something’s been awakened in her, and now’s the time to explore it all. Adventure, sex, sun. Enjoy!
And she tries to, she really does. She’s seduced by the hotel’s violinist, who brings her to his squalid flat, photographs her, disgusts her, and asks for English terms for vagina. Ellen teaches him the word cunt. “‘A woman is a cunt?’ he said. ‘A woman is a cunt,’ she said. What did it matter if he ran into trouble. He deserved a few setbacks.” O’Brien’s a bit mischievous, she is, and sharp, too.
Ellen recovers from the violinist and goes about her vacation. She’s very much on her own, in that singular way of being by yourself in a foreign place with no responsibilities but the achievement of your own pleasure. And she relishes it. “Before each sip of drink she took an almond and chewed it slowly and then she drank slowly, holding each mouthful and tasting it fully. There was all the time in the world.”
And a strange thing happens as you’re reading: her London life falls away, as it should. But not just in a distant-memory sort of way; it’s more complete than that. Above all, you forget that she’s a mother. And with the exception of now-and-then triggers that remind of her of her son, it’s as though Ellen forgets, too.
Which is not to say that women are suddenly and automatically stripped of sexuality when they give birth. But Ellen’s transformation from mother to sexual indulger feels total.
And though she’s in the Riviera, I kept thinking it was Los Angeles. A David Lynch Los Angeles. Oddity characters, sad and strange in nebulous, near horrifying ways. Ellen gets swept into a crowd of wealthy hangers-on to a charismatic TV actor. A crew of bitter divorcees and boozy clowns. Ellen is immersed.
And my, oh my, how she is punished for it. And here’s where the timing of O’Brien’s writing comes into play. A woman trots off on her own, indulges her desires, and how the gods do get her for it. Tragedy befalls her son. Forget your roll? Look what happens! And Ellen stays in France, because why go home now, and lives a certain hell.
The sun, the numbing sun was all she craved... she wanted it to penetrate right through her. She talked to no one now, she looked at no one... at night she would go to sleep thinking only of the morning and the next day’s baptism of fire. She ought to be feeling sad. She ought to be going home. She ought to be weeping. But she refused to think outside the environment of white, wan, listless-making heat.
The charismatic TV actor swoops in gets her out of the sun, takes her to restaurants and clubs, makes her laugh, distracts her, sexlessly. Except for the final night. Did she get what she deserved? She forgets her son, the worst thing happens. She forgets her pain? And lo, she’s left with a blistering, stinking infection. How she pays for her pleasure.
August, you feckless bitch.
August 20, 2009
My colleague Ravi Shankar, editor of the online multimedia journal Drunken Boat, co-editor of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, and author of Instrumentality, was recently arrested by the NYPD as he was leaving the launch party for DB's new issue. The charge? Being Indian on the wrong street in Chelsea. You can read Ravi's account of his arrest here, or listen to him discuss it on NPR: I hadn't been read my rights or granted a phone call. After an hour my arresting officer returned — but only to take me for a mug shot and digital fingerprinting. Eventually he showed me my arrest warrant. It was for a 5-foot-10, 140-pound white male. I happen to be a 6-foot-2, 200-pound, Indian man. I pointed out the discrepancy. "Tell it to the judge," he said.
Marianne Moore was "the unofficial poet laureate" of Ford Motor Company: Throughout the fall and winter of 1955, Moore’s steady stream of suggestions arrived at Ford: "the Ford Silver Sword," "Intelligent Bullet," "the Ford Fabergé," "Mongoose Civique," "Anticipator," "Pastelogram," "Astranaut" and, the highest flight of fancy, "Utopian Turtletop."
Katha Pollitt is as ambivalent as the rest of us about poetry readings: What made the poem seem striking and fresh was the poet's performance: the energy and especially the humor was in the voice and manner and gestures, not the words themselves. Or it was the story the poem told: the poetry reading as a series of anecdotes, with the poet placing and embellishing each one in his introductions: My uncle ran a chicken farm in Iowa, and when he ran off with the Methodist minister's wife my aunt killed all the chickens and gave them to the nuns, and out of that comes this next poem, "Saint Rooster and the Holy Choir of Hens."
Andre Naffis reports on poetry contests in the United Arab Emirates: Take the first season when there were claims that the judges, hoping to foster a sense of national pride, awarded first prize to the Emarati Maatouk, while the far more popular Palestinian Barghouti came in fifth. Barghouti, whose father, Mourid is the author of I Saw Ramallah, could no doubt take solace in the not inconsiderable cheque ($27,000) and in that he walked away with that much sought-after accolade, the modern poet’s wreath, which he was accorded when his poem "Jerusalem" was immortalized with a cell-phone ring-tone.
Del Monte, makers of the smoothie range of iced lollies, were curious on the subject and have commissioned me to research who is the smoothest hero and who the iciest heroine in literature, with my long list being put to the public vote.
I'm hoping this is some kind of performance art piece about how to lose your academic and literary credibility as quickly as possible. In fairness, though, no big corporation has ever asked me to come up with a list that reinforces sexist stereotypes. Maybe if they did, I'd be all like, "Hell yes, you fabulous minimum-wage-hating bastards!" I guess I'll never know.
Janet Maslin reviews Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, which I can't wait to read Chaon is one of America's greatest living novelists. Why he's not more well-known is an enduring mystery to me. Maybe he should write a book about how God wants you to go to a shack so he can tell you that a vampire wants you to donate your kidney to your sister.
Legendary American poet Natalie Barney might get a historical marker in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Joanne Huist Smith of the Dayton Daily News notes that the marker would be "the first in Ohio that indicates sexual orientation." (Barney was a pioneering lesbian and feminist activist.)
When's Robert Pollard going to get his historical marker, Dayton? America wants to know.
There actually used to be a time when plagiarism was considered the most serious possible crime against literature. Then celebrities started writing children's books, and the Left Behind novels got popular, and now plagiarism looks more like a Class C misdemeanor by comparison, the kind for which you are assessed a modest fine.
At any rate, yet another person is accusing hot-young-vampires-in-trees novelist Stephenie Meyer of plagiarism, because and this probably isn't noted explicitly in the claim for relief Stephenie Meyer is very, very rich. Here we go:
And [plaintiff Jordan Scott] even claims Breaking Dawn shows a "significant literary departure from [Meyer's] early books" and appears to be "written by a teenager" - just as her novel does, as she began writing it at age 15.
"Appears to be written by a teenager?" Well, duh.
The sequel to Eat Pray Love is about marriage. And if it manages to come out at the same time as her ex-husband's book about recovering from their divorce, we are going to have to endure six months of the most awkward literary journalism the world has ever seen. Pray for pirates to hijack the ship carrying the books from the printers.
August 19, 2009
While I guess it's kind of sad that they're remarketing Wuthering Heights with a Twilight-esque cover and a sticker that announces the Bronte novel was Bella's favorite book, I'm more worried about teenage girls, already finding a disturbing relationship romantic, will start mooning over Heathcliff. "He strung up a puppy, he must really love me." Pretty soon they'll be listening to the Afghan Whigs, thinking they could be the ones to change Greg Dulli and really understand him, and throwing themselves at sociopaths. (Oh wait, that was me.) But really, a new generation of "nice guys" have already started muttering under their breath. Someone gets these girls some Jane Eyre before it's too late.
Sifting through email this morning, I received some information about the new Nabokov, thinking, "Oh yeah, that might be interesting." Next email. "OH MY GOD THERE IS A KRAFTWERK BOX SET??!" I am hopeless.
Fritze has a mission, but he prefers to illustrate the play of imagination that produces false histories and sciences than to develop any theoretical position. What is striking about pseudo-histories and sciences is how repetitive they are and, despite their extravagant speculations, how limited their visions are. They are mechanical and lack the éclat – the surprises – of science and history.
August 18, 2009
New Dan Brown book expected to create rip in the space time continuum, reverting human beings to a pre-literate culture. I saw that Angels and Demons movie, which was not that bad. By which I mean, not as horrible as the Da Vinci Code movie. This had the added bonus of Ewan McGregor, dressed as a priest, and watching at home meant I could turn off the sound and not hear Ewan's awful, occasional Irish accent. Everyone wins.
Although my copy of Seven Gothic Tales has gone off to live with my fella now, I wholeheartedly agree with Joanna Scott that Isak Dinesen should be more widely appreciated than she is. Scott profiles Dinesen for The Nation.
Shortly after Germany invaded Poland and England and France declared war on the Third Reich, Dinesen was commissioned by an editor of Politiken, a Danish newspaper, to write a series of articles about life in Berlin, Paris and London during wartime. She began with a trip to Berlin, where she was welcomed by the Ministry of Propaganda and supplied with an itinerary. Denmark was a neutral country at that point, and Dinesen felt obliged to respect that neutrality in her account of the Third Reich. But when Hitler personally asked to meet her, she declined, pretending that she'd caught a cold and couldn't go out. Later she admitted, with oddly muted revulsion, that "something in the thought must have been distasteful."
Ander Monson essay: "Assembloir: That Which Is True of Others Is True of Me."
This new novel about an art therapist dealing with a serial killer could be an interesting little experiment. The book comes with the killer's "personal effects" in a little pouch, and there are interactive websites that contribute. Except. The drivers license for the killer, seen here, suggests the book might be mostly gimmick. I'm going to guess that most serial killers don't carry around IDs that scream "I have bits of hookers hidden under my floorboards" quite so loudly.
August 17, 2009
I believe I already linked to this essay, ages ago, about Graham Greene at the leprosy settlement in the Congo, but since I just finished reading A Burnt-Out Case, the novel that came out of the experience, I wanted to reread it. It's not the best of Greene's, but it did make me long for contemporary writers who confront loss of faith as a real crisis. But then that's why we have Greene, yes? So we can get sentences like, "Even the Nicaean Creed -- it has the flavor of higher mathematics to me."
But if you've already read the Graham Greene essay before, then here, another essay from the London Review of Books with OH MY GOD flesh eating bacteria, African hospitals, missing toes, and delirious amputations. You are welcome.
For my first book, I had a grand old lion of the publishing world as my editor -- a hard-drinking, cigarette wolfing raconteur who’d edited Norman Mailer and Ellen Gilchrist. He was great on the broad conceptual stuff, but did almost no line editing. For my second, I had a callow young coward who seemed to do nothing but go to lunch for a living. He added no value at all and often got in the way. I struck gold on my third book, with an editor who thoroughly engaged the copy line by line and had a life-saving sense of the extent to which I could employ the tools of fiction in a non-fiction book.
I leave on Thursday for a trip to Australia, and will be gone the rest of the month. I'll try to blog here somewhat, and on Twitter, but I have a feeling that between the writers festival and the fact that one of my best friends will be staying in the same hotel, and the hotel has a bar, I will be a little useless. So I asked the newly relocated Michael Schaub to come back and join me for the duration of my trip. He kindly said yes, so expect him back here on Thursday.
If ever I forget why I don't have comments on my website, I have the comments section for Sam Anderson's negative review of Pynchon's Inherent Vice to remind me.
If anyone deserved to pull a de Botton, it would be Richard Bernstein. The author of The East, the West, and Sex not only received a scathing review at Slate, in the review he was accused of getting off on sexual slavery and coerced sex.
(I would be shocked that this review saw the light of day, except that it was printed at Slate. Slate is also currently running a piece about the graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, where comics are referred to as "anti-books." "It's hard to know what on earth Bradbury was thinking. Did he just give in to the enemy?" Oh shut it, please.)
So they allowed Bernstein to respond to his review, and the fact that he did not just write, "WHAT THE FUCK, SLATE? Do you even have editors?" is admirable.
Today's Artsjournal Daily Video is this gentleman who does science programs for the BBC. I forget his name, and while learning that you can memorize decks of cards if you try really hard is fascinating, mostly I just remembered watching this guy's shows a lot at Planned Parenthood. I was in charge of making sure our 15-year-old interns understood anatomy, fertility, etc., but I could not take their giggling. I generally sat them in front of the tv and let the BBC explain it to them. (Or, children's books.)
Oh, Caroline, be glad I've changed up the internship program somewhat for Bookslut. (Only slightly, though.)
August 14, 2009
The Naked and the Read
My mom, now sixty-one years old, was a beauty when she was young (and is still, with a bit of grey hair and wise blue eyes and gentle lines on her face). When my past beaus have seen photos of her in her youth (at age thirty she looked roughly nineteen), inevitable exclamations about her mondo-babeness ensue. Several years ago, having a drink with my mom and my then-boyfriend, she finished a sentence, and he looked at her almost quizzically, and said, in a tone I’d never heard him use with me, “You have such a soothing voice.”
It’s never made me jealous. Daughters, typically, need not be threatened that the boys will be more interested in their moms than them. For my brothers, though, I’ve wondered if it’s a different story. “That Vanessa,” my dad often remarks about my younger brother’s old girlfriend, “she really knows how to hit the ball back.” (His way of saying she has a brain and knows how to have a conversation. And no one ignores that she’s got boobs the size of cantaloupes.) “Dude, enough about Vanessa,” all three of us sibs have said to him. That anything would actually happen is preposterous. But our reactions to his comments suggest the threat exists, theoretically at least, in a way it doesn’t as much with mothers and their daughters’ loves. We all know our evolutionary biology here.
Ivan Turgenev made subject of a father and son sharing a love interest in First Love, in which the simplicity of the language belies the complexity of the emotions Turgenev excavates. Sixteen year-old Vladimir falls for the twenty-one year old Zinaida, the multi-suitored daughter of a princess. Turgenev perfectly captures Vladimir’s threshold sense of sex: “...in every thought, in every sensation, there lay hidden a half conscious, shy, timid awareness of something new, inexpressibly sweet, feminine... This presentiment, this sense of expectancy, penetrated my whole being; I breathed it, it was in every drop of blood that flowed through my veins -- soon it was to be fulfilled.”
His love for Zinaida changes him: “I had ceased to be simply a young boy; I was someone in love.” Above all, though, what vaults him -- cruelly -- into adulthood is realizing that it’s not a suitor for whom Zinaida has fallen, but his own father, a man of “benevolent indifference.” When he discovers their love affair, he’s in disbelief, “the ideas which suddenly entered my head were so new and strange that I did not dare let myself dwell on them.” He wakes the next morning feeling “as if something in me were dying.” And one wonders which is the crueler blow: that the object of his first real affection has fallen for someone else? Or that his own father has chosen the same girl to pursue?
A double sting, no question, and made worse by the combination, but the latter yields a deeper, more lasting wound. First loves you can forgive. Your father? More difficult by a lot.
In part, I think, that’s because that situation violates so many moral boundaries. And Turgenev raises the disapproval of society and family. In Andre Dubus’s quiet, stirring short novel Voices from the Moon, about a father who announces that he will marry his son’s ex-wife, God’s disapproval is also brought to bear.
Though told from multiple perspectives, the story is young Richie Stowe’s, twelve years old, who watches with confusion and fear as the tangles of romance in his family are revealed over a single summer day. Like First Love, Voices of the Moon concerns itself with a young man awakening to the complexities and mysteries of adult love. For Richie it’s literally the case, as he’s woken by his father and older brother fighting.
Richie, who attends daily mass, can forgive his dad. He seeks the advice of his priest: “Don’t think of them as sinful,” Father Oberti tells him. “Don’t just think of sex... Think of love... There are much worse things than loving.” So when his father asks him over pancakes, “What do you think?” Richie responds, “I want you to be happy.” What he knows though, is that forgiveness and compassion will be difficult, impossible perhaps, for his brother, whose ex-wife it is that his father will now marry.
And beyond bearing this weight, Richie, like Vladimir, is also in the first stages of falling for someone. Melissa Donnelly acts as both temptress (she gives him his first cigarette and kiss) and as comfort. “He was watching her mouth and he swallowed, and he knew he was lost.”
Both novels illuminate great and complicated passion, jealousy, rage, and huge hurt, as well as the inexpressible in romantic love, and, as John Updike put it in his review of Voices from the Moon in The New Yorker in 1985, “our homely, awkward movements of familial adjustment and forgiveness.”
August 13, 2009
AS Byatt's The Children's Book is on that Booker longlist thingy, alongside Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. And, I'd never thought I'd say this in a post about AS Byatt and Hilary Mantel, let the trash talk begin!
"I really don't like the idea of 'basing' a character on someone, and these days I don't like the idea of going into the mind of the real unknown dead," said Byatt in an interview with the organisers of the Booker prize. "It feels like the appropriation of others' lives and privacy. Making other people up, which is a kind of attack on them." Oscar Wilde appears in her own Booker-nominated novel, The Children's Book, she added, but "the novelist doesn't say what he thinks".
I'm sure she's talking about something completely unrelated, and has nothing to do with the fact that Hilary Mantel's book is heavily favored over Byatt's to win. Because AS Byatt: always classy. Yeah.
A poet is suing Oprah for a trillion dollars. I'm confused: Tao Lin doesn't seem to be involved.
This is a handy thing: Johnathon Williams (of Linebreak) has written a poetry aggregator, called Swindle, that scrapes various magazines for fresh poetry uploads. The result is poems delivered to your blog reader as they're published. Williams wrote in an e-mail: In concept it's a little like Google News, if Google News had been built by a virtually unpublished poet using a second-string web server and a three-year-old book about web programming. But it works!
R. Dwayne Betts reflects on the poetry anthology that got him through prison:
The only time I left the cell was for showers. Two days after my birthday, I was on the door yelling for a book when someone threw The Black Poets by Dudley Randall under my cell door. James Baldwin said that people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. The poets in Randall’s book were telling the history in shades of gray, telling the stories I never found in schoolbooks. Everybody has a book they say has changed their life— a book that made them more than they were before they picked it up. There was something within the pages of that tiny poetry anthology that moved me. (Excerpted from his new memoir, A Question of Freedom.)
Your poetry quote of the week, courtesy of Cathal O Searcaigh: I had hardly any sex with anybody of 16.
I have been eating bag after bag of Crispinis, because I think it's funny, and they're tasty, but I think the sugar is going to my head. This morning I had an "Oh my god! Rebecca Solnit has a new book coming out!" moment, wrote out a gushy blog post and was very excited, until I remembered that I already knew about the book. I'm a little overly happy today, it's weird. I should go walk by the Berlin Wall exhibit in my neighborhood again, that'll calm me down.
Solnit talks about her new book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster and the parallels between disasters like the 1906 SF earthquake and Katrina.
‘Elite panic’ is a term coined by disaster sociologists Caron Chess and Lee Clarke to describe the way that elites freak out in crises (while the general public generally does not). Because they have so much power, their fears are magnified into policy, institutional violence, response or its lack–all the things you see in 1906 (when the mayor of San Francisco issued a shoot-to-kill proclamation for property crimes and some of the wealthy feared, as they often do and maybe should do in crisis, that disaster would unfold as revolution, with the roles of the powerful delegitimized and civil society recharged). For me the insurrectionary possibilities of disaster are what make them really interesting and sometimes positive–Mexico City’s big 1985 earthquake brought a lot of positive, populist, anti-institutional social change.
August 12, 2009
I'm not a real woman. I'm a meta-person. I live to write about myself and once my husband had dumped me (see previous books) and I was pushing 50 (ditto), I was a bit short of material. So buying a farm on Exmoor seemed both the perfect extension of my car-crash confessional existence and the ideal way of proving to myself that I am sooo over N, the obese cheating slob who masqueraded as my husband.
There are times when you know you should not be reading a certain book. Most of the time it occurs to you when you're 25 pages into The Brothers Karamazov and you're thinking "God, this is the dumbest book ever." Psst, it's probably you, not the book. It was a bit reversed when I started reading Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, because I should never, ever read books like that. And normally I wouldn't, except that I was going through what we will call a Rough Patch, and for whatever reason could not put the book down.
All of this makes my Smart Set column about the book supremely unfair. My own reaction is somewhat disconnected from the book. I feel it's important to point out it's not a straight out review, but an opinion piece on a certain segment of the writing world that I keep running into, and that Booklife evoked very heavily for me. It begins:
A few weeks ago I sat in on my friend R.'s memoir writing course in Paris. The class was filled with students — most in their early 20s — learning about structure, about research, about how to frame a story. I was trotted out at the end to answer any questions the young writers may have about what awaits them in the real world and stand as an example of... I'm not sure what. Of success? The idea feels ridiculous. As the editor of the seven-year-old whatever-it-is-that-Bookslut.com-is-exactly and freelance writer, I would much rather steer people away from my particularly thorny career path than present myself as a trailblazer.
But R. spoke with the hyperbole he uses when he talks about me, calling me an authority and a strong example of what is possible in the industry. Oh yes, I thought to myself, as I was going through a particularly rough time. The possibilities of periods of destitution, of being turned on by past contributors, of uncertainty, self-loathing and doubt. Pick up your pens and follow me. Straight off a cliff.
August 11, 2009
The Graveyard Book has won the Hugo for Best Novel. I'm three sheets to the wind*, but I'll return to this in a timely fashion to provide you with the pick of the coughing and spluttering (and joy and praise) from the various keyboard monkeys.
*This post was brought to you by ridiculous amounts of Pimm's, and by the way, you look great. Have you been working out?
Dear London Review of Books, whose price just tripled because I live in Europe and not in the States: Fuck you, too.
Adam Phillips, who has written unlikely, fascinating books on kindness, tickling, and monogamy, is now tackling moderation. An essay on excess and greed from the forthcoming work is now online at the Guardian.
When we are greedy, the psychoanalyst Harold Boris writes, we are in a state of mind in which we "wish and hope to have everything all the time"; greed "wants everything, nothing less will do", and so "it cannot be satisfied". Appetite, he writes in a useful distinction, is inherently satisfiable. So the excess of appetite we call greed is actually a form of despair. Greed turns up when we lose faith in our appetites, when what we need is not available. In this view it is not that appetite is excessive; it is that our fear of frustration is excessive. Excess is a sign of frustration; we are only excessive wherever there is a frustration we are unaware of, and a fear we cannot bear.
Proof of the power of the web: Bloomsbury Children’s Books has told Publishers Weekly exclusively that it will change the controversial cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, which is coming out this October. Bloggers, commentors and the author herself had criticized the publisher’s choice of a white girl with long, straight tresses for a novel about an African-American girl with “nappy” hair.
August 10, 2009
Still feeling slightly mean spirited. I listened to an interview the other day, with an interviewer who kept trying to make himself sound smart at the expense of his interview subject. When the subject, a writer I don't even care for that much -- he has interesting ideas, but the execution is so muddled -- turned on the interviewer and called him out, I cheered.
I am an eggplant. I need to be salted and pressed with paper towels to leech out the bitterness.
Have you ever been talking to someone pleasantly, after being introduced and their name just goes right through your head in two seconds, and then ten minutes into the conversation that you are enjoying very much it suddenly clicks, and you think OH MY GOD YOU ARE THE GUY WHO WROTE THE BOOK I LOVE and you say something stupid like, "Oh. HI" in the middle of this conversation and he looks at you like you maybe just had a seizure? Or does this only happen to me?
I went to Paris to see my friend Rolf, who introduced me to John Biguenet, with whom I had the aforementioned brain twitch. And who was kind enough to keep talking to me even after that moment. Everyone should read the series of columns he did at the New York Times about Katrina, and then find yourself a copy of The Torturer's Apprentice.
Book designers on covers that just weren't meant to be.
August 07, 2009
It is impossible not to admire Arundhati Roy. Despite her flawed reporting and analysis, her left-wing prejudices and one-sided portentous writing.
August 06, 2009
The things I liked just a few years ago are not aging very well. Veronica Mars? Oh my god, ridiculous. Buffy? I can't even talk about it. If I tried to reread Kill Your Boyfriend I would probably cry over how bad it is, but reading this excerpt online is not completely horrible. (Link from Journalista.)
I was never much into the Little House on the Prairie books (when you actually live on the prairie, and spend much of your life ducking Dorothy/Toto and Laura Ingalls Wilder "jokes," the books are probably less enticing), but the New Yorker article about the two women behind the books is interesting.
Carolyn McCall, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, said the publisher, which also owns The Guardian was "examining every aspect of... publishing strategy and titles" and that "a wide variety of different options, approaches and scenarios is being developed and will be considered".
One of those options, it emerged over the weekend, was to close down The Observer. Referring to that possibility directly, she said: "This is what has leaked, and resulted in headlines about the future of The Observer. Those of you who have worked here for a while will be familiar with intermittent coverage of this nature over the years."
Alison Gopnik's The Philosophical Baby is getting some lovely attention. AC Grayling covered her reworking of developmental theory in his philosophy column at the B&N Review, and she's also interviewed over at Seed.
For Freud and Piaget, it was a perfectly good hypothesis. If you just looked at young children and babies, they just did not seem very smart. We have new techniques we use to get more subtle measurements of what’s going on in children’s minds, and that’s the thing that has overturned that earlier view. When we take more than a superficial look at what children are doing, it turns out that they both know much more and learn much more than we ever thought before.
August 05, 2009
It was unfair reading Tongue while being so sick that I could only consume three foods: lime yogurt, toast, pretzels. Kyung-ran Jo's novel about a heartbroken chef had me longing to eat anything that did not taste like lime yogurt. NPR has my review, as well as an excerpt, here.
Internet is down at my apartment, hence the lightness. (Plus, it's August, and gorgeous, and I only want to be outside. Even if the outdoors does seem to have an unusually large number of swans, who are bastards.) As much as my friend insists it's okay for me to take over his kitchen table and mooch off his wifi, I have not wanted to impose.
Right now I'm reading a How to Be a Successful Writer book as research for a column, and I swear to god it is making me feel like a loser. I do not write out goals, let alone separate them out between short term and long term and update them once a month. I am incapable of "networking." (I bite.) And I am missing out on the important promotional potential of Facebook. No wonder I have not written a novel and sold it for millions! Loser! There's even a section about how you should blog Every Day. Failing at that, too! I will be glad when I can go back to read How to Paint a Dead Man.
Wondering when the books about our senses will come to an end. There are histories of inner senses, our sense of direction, aural histories, sensual histories of particular times, etc. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't understand how this is a trend.
If you've read the New York Times in the past couple weeks, you'll notice a peculiar leitmotif. Nora Ephron's adaptation of Julie & Julia has received 15 mentions in the New York Times in the past 30 days, including a feature written by Michael Pollan and "a fucking recipe for meatloaf."
August 04, 2009
Reading series with Zak Smith, Eve Pell, and Mark Caro tonight at the Hopleaf. More info here.
August 03, 2009
The editors of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture showed up on the Brian Lehrer Show to discuss "slow creeping brain death." (Read Bookslut's review of Ad Nauseam here.)
With all the talk about Julie & Julia, the Nora Ephron/Meryl Streep movie based on Julie Powell's book of the same name, all I can remember is how much I loved Julie's blog, and how strongly I disliked her book. Out went all of the swearing and any passion, and in went a standard quarterlife crisis narrative. When she wrote about food she was fantastic. When she wrote about how bored she was at her day job, well, you were bored too.
She has a new book, just in time for cross promotion. Cleaving. It's about her study of butchery (interesting!) and her infidelity (err...). There's an excerpt at the Guardian, and within a few paragraphs the liver is out of the story and it's all about how sometimes, relationships change. Someone figure out a way to make blogs pay, please, she's a better blogger than book writer.