September 30, 2009
Well, someone has died, so it must be time for Slate to publish their takedown. This time, William Safire.
Michael Schaub bets on who will win the Nobel.
This is pointless, because the winner is going to be, in all likelihood, an anarcho-syndicalist playwright or pamphleteer from Moldova or something like that. It might be a duck, as long as it’s a duck that likes Gramsci but not America or television. It probably will not be anyone you have ever heard of. But you might pretend you have after he or she wins, if you, like me, are kind of a dick.
September 29, 2009
Not about books, but fuck it. "Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child."
The Daily Beast is taking the lessons learned from speed dating and applying it to book publishing.
On a typical publishing schedule, a writer may take a year or more to deliver a manuscript, after which the publisher takes another nine months to a year to put finished books in stores. At Beast Books, writers would be expected to spend one to three months writing a book, and the publisher would take another month to produce an e-book edition.
Recent books that I can think of that follow this accelerated model: a spate of Heath Ledger bios following his death, Sarah Palin's memoir, and a book about Brad and Jen's divorce. Sounds like a fine business model to me.
Who says that the literary community is made up of prudes? Today at Artsjournal they selected Mary Roach's talk "Ten Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm" as their video of the day, and managed to change "Orgasm" to "Organism" in their headline. I guess they just couldn't bear to type the word...
September 28, 2009
Gawker reports on the right wing attacks on Kevin Jennings, author of the memoir Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son about growing up gay and Southern Baptist, and also currently the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools.
While the movement to turn great works of literature into self-help manuals has gone too far -- Shakespeare on Management: Wise Business Counsel from the Bard, anyone? -- I am charmed by Declan Kibard's -- author of Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce's Masterpiece -- description of what we can learn from Ulysses:
"advice on how to cope with grief; how to be frank about death in the age of its denial; how women have their own sexual desires and so also do men; how to walk and think at the same time; how the language of the body is often more eloquent than any words; how to tell a joke and how not to tell a joke; how to purge sexual relations of all notions of ownership; or how the way a person approaches food can explain who they really are."
September 27, 2009
Lisa Eliot talks to Salon about her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, about brain differences and child rearing.
I think there is something to the boy crisis. Girls are told, "You can be anything," but when we tell boys that, we don't really mean it. We actually mean, "as long as you're not a preschool teacher, as long as you're not a nurse." As girls move into more and more realms, boys retreat. That's because of the traditional idea that boys need to separate themselves from girls to feel masculine.
September 25, 2009
Choire Sicha: the voice of reason in the Dan Brown mess.
"Once again, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the scene of a gruesome attack, joins forces with an attractive and erudite love interest, and speeds around a world capital chasing clues, solving puzzles, and risking his life while dropping cocktail parties' worth of scholarly minutiae" is how Entertainment Weekly describes the book. What those critics seemed to have breezed past is that said love interest is fifty years old. (Or, as Brown would put it: She is fifty years old.) Let us go and name the lady love interests of pop culture books who are fifty. (Or heroines even. Even Stella was only "forty-fucking-two.")
Melville House has some recent, notable personal ads from the London Review of Books.
Without my grandfather’s contribution to agricultural reforms in 1912, this nation would currently have to import its turnips. While you think about that I shall remove my clothes. Man. 55.
box no. 16/02
God, I hope the person who wrote that got laid out of it. (Some of the best of these ads were collected in They Call Me Naughty Lola.)
September 24, 2009
I looked around at these people and realized I could not tell any of them that this was all depressing, that all of this seemed like a colossal waste of time, that none of these poems we were cheering on would change a thing, that we were fooling around with a sacred art with poems that used foolish wordplay that had nothing to do with real feeling. I wanted to tell them about Valery’s warning about the painstaking embellishments. I wanted to say we should stop living in fragments. But I said nothing. I had become a mimic. I had worn out my welcome. I felt like a traitor.
On the other hand, Poet's House in New York has swank new digs in Battery Park City: "The goal of the place is to make everyone feel that poetry belongs to them," said Lee Briccetti, who has been executive director for 20 years. "Anyone can come and experience poetry in a new way that will deepen their relationship to language."
What we tried to do, and what Andrew Motion reminded us of, was that it was a pretty difficult time economically and socially in England. There was the French Revolution next door, and there was a lot of fear that that dissatisfaction with the ruling classes would arrive in England, and there’d be some beheadings there, too. And also, it was a time when a lot of people were emigrating. For example, Keats’ brother George emigrated to America just before this film begins. That’s why we’ve got these long letters. We know so much about what Keats was doing at the time, because he’d write letters that went on for months, keep adding to them. And also, Keats’ friend Charles Brown is in the film. He emigrated to New Zealand! I felt some claim to the story. And I think this is the type of people Keats mixed with, they were dissatisfied with their opportunities in England.
After you see Bright Star, see if you can convince someone to pick up the new Leaves of Grass movie. (Mercifully, not really a biopic.)
Apparently, when you teach a poetry class on an aging rock star, you turn into a cliché: The class itself is laidback, meeting at Hunter's house every Tuesday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. There are snacks, pets and comfortable couches, which helps set an almost Bohemian mood. The class begins with the playing a Bob Dylan CD.
At the KR Blog, Cody Walker interviews Jason Whitmarsh about the latter's new book, Tomorrow's Living Room: When I write a funny line, I often put pressure on the poem to move away from humor — towards terror, or sadness. The modes seem congruent to me. I also think being just funny (and I shouldn’t use “just” — being funny is an astonishing feat, and I love the writers who make me laugh out loud) is risky in a poem — you can end up in the realm of jokes, which deliver great pleasure, but only the first time around. The terror adds the trapdoor that drops you into the poem.
Gary Sullivan's "top 5 pet peeves about poetry": Poems dedicated to dead poets. ("For Spicer"—it’s almost always for Spicer for some reason. Is he more receptive to bad poetry or something?) Pretty much, I write off poets who do this, forever. It's not fair. But, then, my life is half over, and I don't plan on spending this half of it sitting through this sort of thing. So, actually, it is fair.
This latest Smart Set column is the last time I will ever bring up the absence of my library, I swear to fucking god, but reading Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much kept giving me flashbacks to beautiful books I no longer own. Bartlett's book itself started as a magazine article, and maybe should have stayed that way. It felt padded, but not padded enough. Her digressions on other famous book thieves and rare book collectors were so much more interesting than half of her interactions with Gilkey, the book thief who was supposed to be her primary subject. You can sort of see what I mean in this excerpt on her website. The scene goes on forever, and yet that's less than half of what is in the actual book.
But, when the book is good, it's really pretty good. And it's nice to read an appreciation for the book as a physical object amidst all of the "oh my god, this is the end of print in all forms" freak outs.
People line up at book fairs and at places like the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, just to catch a glimpse at a first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, or an original Gutenberg Bible, or even a book they loved in childhood. That's where most book collectors get their start, actually. Aleph-Bet Books owner Marc Younger specializes in children's books, explaining in Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession, "People have an emotional attachment to books they remember reading as children... many [collectors] spend a lifetime collecting their favorite childhood stories." Which is why a first edition of Beatrix Potter's self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit will set you back six figures, and an original Pinocchio in Italian runs about $80,000. As long as there are parents readings books to their children before bed, there will be adults drawn to books not just for their stories, but for their smell, their presence on shelves, the memories of the time and place they were first read, and the artwork on the cover.
I've come to develop a visceral dislike of Richard Dawkins -- the smug tone of his new book is really not helping to change this -- so the opening paragraph of this interview with Frans de Waal about his new book The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society makes me happy:
In a fitting metaphor, the most recent experiment with social darwinism resulted in mass extinction. Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling claimed he was inspired by Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene when he implemented a system known as “rank and yank” that sought to apply nature’s lessons to the energy industry. Skilling had all employees in the company ranked every six months. Then he offered lavish bonuses to the top 5 percent while the bottom 15 percent were relocated or fired.
Hooray, his deep cynicism about human nature means I can use him as a scapegoat for the economic meltdown. You know, a tiny bit.
September 23, 2009
Steven Heller wrote an excellent round up of recent art books for the New York Times, although the most interesting is Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin.
If the first 200 pages of this 350-page volume are any indication, the graphics used to promote the workers’ paradise deserve admiration. But the rest of this extraordinarily illustrated book provides witness to the corrosive effects of ham-handed propaganda, and to the role of state-sanctioned imagery in demeaning and subjugating the arts.
There have been issues with some publishers leaving the translator's name off of the covers of books. It's not okay, but they have ready excuses, like people are scared of books in translation, it cuts down sales, whatever. But now a publisher has left off the name of an illustrator from the cover of a graphic novel? Andrew Wheeler noticed that Ibraim Roberson is not credited on the cover or title page of The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks.
September 22, 2009
I avoided reading this Sandman roundtable because I was certain it would be fannish and fawning. Neil Gaiman, after all, inspires a lot of HE CAN DO NO WRONG in his audience. And while he he's a writer I loved in the past, and someone I'll still probably pick up his latest work, but often his ideas are better than his execution. Blah. (I was accused of being his undying fan girl recently, so I wanted to point out I am not. I am William James's undying fan girl, he is my one and only.)
Anyway. The roundtable discussion is actually thoughtful and balanced, with the excitement that came from first reading Sandman because it was quite new and different, and the disappointment of rereading some of it, and admitting that sometimes the artwork was just godawful. (Link from Journalista.)
I don't go for quiet epiphanies. Things happen in my stories and my books. A lot of things happen. I cannot imagine living a life where nothing happens.
"About 10% of the hearing impaired people get musical hallucinations, and about 10% of the visually impaired people get visual hallucinations." Oliver Sacks on the way our brains can try to compensate for deteriorating senses, in a video talk at TED.
(I've been reading too much about the publication of Jung's The Red Book. I kept waiting for Sacks to interpret the hallucinations like a dream.)
William Dalrymple (who I am apparently going to link to every day now) is at the Financial Times talking about the rise of the literary festival as the way authors promote their books. His way of attending literary festivals:
At the end of this week I will be setting off on a bus full of ganja-smoking tantric madmen from rural Bengal. Also on board will be a Keralan dancer and part-time prison warder who is widely believed to be the human incarnation of the god Vishnu; five fakir monks from the badlands of Pakistan who sing in a sort of castrati falsetto; a smoky-voiced Tamil diva who has helped to keep alive an ancient but dying sacred song tradition from the temples of southern India; and an anthropologist of Sufi mysticism who does amazing Jimi Hendrix-ish things with his guitar.
sounds much more interesting than mine, which mostly consisted of martinis in a hotel bar and dinner in Melbourne Chinatown. And accidentally stalking Alexander Waugh, who I saw in every elevator, every bar, every lobby, and then again in the Singapore airport. I am sorry, sir, if I startled you, I was just as surprised as you were. By the end of it I was ducking behind trees in the hopes that he would not file for a restraining order.
September 21, 2009
Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's Why Does E=mc² (And Why Should We Care?) professes to make the layman understand the theory of relativity. (Lots of that going on. Christopher Potter's You are Here also tried to make mini scientists of us all.) Our own Elizabeth Bachner took the book on as a challenge, and now Seed Magazine and Elizabeth Cline take a more methodical approach to the book, trying to see if the authors succeeded in their goal.
Ian Samson seems unimpressed with the new Somerset biography, but he also seems to be unimpressed with Maugham's writing, and has a distaste for writers' biographies, which he calls "reverse alchemy." While I agree with him on that last bit, I'm still curious about the book.
William Dalrymple argues that all the great travel writers are dead, and there is no mass of promising youngins to take their places. Normally these articles bother me, the "in my day ... all these young whippersnappers" tone of them, but he's pretty persuasive. Chatwin, Thesiger, Kapuscinski... Patrick Leigh Fermor is in his 90s. Despite some bright lights (Rory Stewart, for one) for the most part we have Elizabeth Gilberts and Bill Brysons.
Two decades later, however, after several hundred sub-Therouxs have written rambling accounts of every conceivable rail, road or river journey between Kamchatka and Tasmania, the climate has long changed from enthusiasm to one of mild boredom. Theroux himself was one of the first to express his dislike of the Leviathan he had helped create: in his most recent travel book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, he writes that the travel book is: "little better than a licence to bore ... the lowest form of literary self-indulgence: dishonest complaining, creative mendacity, pointless heroics, and chronic posturing". Bill Bryson and Tony Hawks continue to scale the bestseller lists, but there is no doubt that travel writing has lost its novelty, and its chic, and is no longer the powerfully prestigious literary force it once was.
Carol Fisher Saller talks about her book The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself), and answers questions about the British versus American spelling of sulf/phur, in the University of Chicago Press podcast. (MP3 link.)
September 18, 2009
Worth a look: the website for the upcoming Words Without Borders anthology The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain.
Oscar Bermeo interviews Rachel McKibbens:
OB: Can you describe your poetic process? How does a Rachel McKibbens poem come together?
RM: I stand around in dark alleys, praying to get victimized. No good poem is bloodless. You have to have a really shitty life if you want to come up with something worthwhile to write. Lots of babydaddies and garage tats are a bonus. If you want to really knock 'em out of the park, I suggest having a mother who leaves you in a hot car with the windows rolled up while she plays bingo at the cult factory.
Adam O'Riordan discusses erotic poetry, manages to make it a little dull: Our concern with the erotic and recurring desire to condemn or re-evaluate the boundaries of what constitutes good taste or acceptable content leads us to a wider issue: is poetry something we come to be civilised by or is it a place where we go to unleash our desires and to hear them echoed?
Mike Chasar (of Poetry & Popular Culture, a longtime favorite blog) interviews Jim Buckmaster about the function of poetry at Craigslist:
P&PC: Gary Wolf's Wired article suggested you match certain haiku with certain offenses. How does that pairing happen?
Jim: Each haiku was composed to address a particular aspect of our user interface, often to take the place of an error message.
Robert Service was the Kipling of the Yukon: Without a doubt, some of the appeal of Service's most famous work comes from the subject matter -- the frozen grandeur of the landscape, the awesome ruthlessness with which nature sweeps aside those found wanting and the grittiness of the battle to survive in an environment that doesn't cater to weakness. Service's world was not for dilettantes, doubters or dabblers. As he himself once noted: "The only society I like is that which is rough and tough -- and the tougher the better. That's where you get down to bedrock and meet human people."
I do have a small model of it that's a foot high. It's gold. I'm naked on a rearing horse. I have a modest loincloth on. It's this rather wonderful homoerotic work of art that I was hoping to put in the middle of this tiny little town where I was born. Unfortunately the fortunes of Warracknabeal are so grim at the moment with the recession and this chronic draught that's going on that it feels a little in bad taste to erect a giant gold statue. But one day...
September 17, 2009
Current Bookslut contributor Nina MacLaughlin reviews former Bookslut contributor Blake Butler's new book Scorch Atlas, and who is also reviewed in the new issue of Bookslut by John Domini, who was interviewed in a previous issue. Full disclosure!
For years, I've wished to be one of those people who can glance at a tree and have its name — in Latin — come dancing off my lips. As a child, I responded to involuntary enrollment in the Girl Scouts with a willful, stubborn ignorance, figuring that my death by poisonous berries would be worth it if it made my parents sick about forcing me to sleep on the ground. I have matured somewhat — enough to be embarrassed that I can stare at a tree heavy with acorns and still mumble, "I don't know, maybe an elm?"
I am still pissed about the forced camping trips to Lake Wilson (which smells like dead fish) and having ticks burned off of my head with matches. It's not civilized, Dad.
Joyce Carol Oates gets all judgey about Shirley Jackson in this podcast. It starts off about her (fantastic, creepy, perfect) novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Oates calls it psychotic) and becomes something else, as Oates makes it clear she thinks Jackson's belief in witchcraft was bonkers. There's a weird "unlike me" moment, too, when talking about Jackson's children. Ah well. I would happily read Jackson's weird, paranoid stories over anything Oates has ever written.
I heard of one old-timer who refused to upgrade from a wooden boat to a fiberglass boat because he felt wood would stop a bullet better.
September 16, 2009
Here, on the day after Dan Brown singlehanded destroyed/saved the publishing industry, one former publishing executive rants about what a horrible business publishing is.
The sheer book-length nature of books combined with the seemingly inexorable reductions in editorial staffs and the number of submissions most editors receive, to say nothing of the welter of non-editorial tasks that most editors have to perform, including holding the hands of intensely self-absorbed and insecure writers, fielding frequently irate calls from agents, attending endless and vapid and ritualistic meetings, having one largely empty ceremonial lunch after another, supplementing publicity efforts, writing or revising flap copy, ditto catalog copy, refereeing jacket-design disputes, and so on -- all these conditions taken together make the job of a trade-book acquisitions editor these days fundamentally impossible. The shrift given to actual close and considered editing almost has to be short and is growing shorter, another very old and evergreen publishing story but truer now than ever before. (Speaking of shortness, the attention-distraction of the Internet and the intrusion of work into everyday life, by means of electronic devices, appear to me to have worked, maybe on a subliminal level, to reduce the length of the average trade hardcover book.)
Oh, it goes on from there! And on and on and on.
Everything I've read about The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom makes it sound fantastic. Stories about the man who theorized the existence of antimatter and yet was so shy hardly anyone ever noticed him include a group of physicists who coined the term "Dirac" as a unit of measurement for the fewest possible noises a person could make in polite company ("one utterance per hour"). Seed Magazine has an interview with the author Graham Farmelo.
At the end of a lecture, Dirac agreed to answer questions. Someone in the audience piped up: “I didn’t understand the equation on the top right of the blackboard, professor.” Dirac was silent for more than a minute. When the moderator asked him if he’d like to answer the question, Dirac shook his head and said, “That wasn’t a question. It was a comment.”
This week's Guardian Digested Read: Richard Dawkins's The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.
If there was an Intelligent Designer who made the planet and created life, don't you think he'd have done a better job of it than populating the planet with so many idiots? Get over it. There is no God. Evolution is inevitable. And, hard as it is to believe, there will one day be someone cleverer than me. Mmm. Perhaps not.
September 15, 2009
If you haven't been paying attention, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is now responsible for the downfall of the UK publishing industry, UK book retailers, the US book retailers, the sanity of Washington DC tour guides, the sanity of book reviewers up all night who then think it's okay to say Brown is "bringing sexy back" or is writing "Harry Potter for adults," independent bookstores, and all of contemporary literature. Just so you know where things stand.
With Caroline in New Jersey (what are you doing there, Caroline? Besides scouting for places for me to drink when I'm there in October, I mean.) and me still in Berlin, tonight's reading series, featuring Dave Reidy and Barry Schechter will be hosted by mystery guests. By which we mean a dude named Ryan. (I need to go get some groceries. My blood sugar is obviously very off.)
Jon Krakauer is on All Things Considered talking about his new book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. The website also has an excerpt from the book. The book itself is not getting great reviews as a whole, but everyone seems to agree that the section on the cover-up is brilliant. Of course, that's not the section that's being run in the excerpts.
(Updated to say: After reading this interview with Entertainment Weekly, it's not hard to imagine Jon Krakauer telling himself before going on NPR, "Don't say fuck, don't say fuck."
September 14, 2009
US writer and musician Jim Carroll, best know for writing The Basketball Diaries, has died in New York aged 60 following a heart attack.
Clarice Lispector's biographer Benjamin Moser (Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector) explains why he chose Lispector as his subject, and why it pains him that she is so unknown outside of Latin America.
Outside Latin America, I found to my dismay very few people knew her, and I long wondered why. Was it because she wrote in Portuguese, a language whose literary productions were so invisible outside its own territory that it was once nicknamed "the tomb of thought"? Was it because nobody expects the greatest Jewish writer since Kafka to be a part-time beauty columnist whose Chanel suits and wraparound sunglasses made her look more like a Rio socialite than a mystic genius?
Amanda Curtin's The Sinkings is the first novel I've read that dealt with intersex in an interesting, thoughtful way while still being a really good read. (Uh, no, Middlesex does not count.) Curtin is interviewed at The Book Show.
September 13, 2009
Dubravka Ugrešic, brilliant author of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (which I am dying to read) and Thank You for Not Reading, talked to Lisa Appignanesi, brilliant author of Mad Bad Sad, at the World Literature Weekend, and the London Review Bookshop website has the video.
The New York Times review of Robert Olen Butler's new book Hell is hilarious. It seems the book is a tour of hell, but rather that being theologically nuanced it's just a method of getting back at people Butler hates. Book reviewers occupy space in hell (darling, having to read books like yours feels enough like eternal punishment), as do gossip bloggers. Gossip bloggers? you might ask. Why in the world would a Pulitzer Prize winning author feel the need to damn gossip bloggers to hell? Could it be because Gawker revealed that in the middle of his divorce, Butler sent out emails detailing his wife's childhood sexual abuse, saying the marriage fell apart because she could not handle his great success, and speculating on her future relationship?
September 11, 2009
If a review of Rich Cohen's Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History has such a long list of corrections, it's easy to wonder how many corrections the book itself needs. Adam Kirsch has a few of his own, referring to the book's "really remarkable disrespect for facts". (Link from VQR.)
Even a devoted Lispector scholar named Nadia Battella Gotlib has titled an essay "Readers of Clarice, Who Are You?" (in the collection Closer to the Wild Heart: Essays on Clarice Lispector), and has compared Lispector's simultaneously resistant and ingenuous texts to the sweetened plaster that is used to kill cockroaches, a substance that lures the creature then hardens it from within, killing from the inside out.
Weirdly, this makes me want to buy all of her books.
There is a book called A World According to Women: an End to Thinking, written by a woman. Charming! Yes, it's one of these, what's wrong with you bitches kind of books, saying women are all weepy and too pop culture obsessed. And what does all this lead to? Totalitarianism. Of course. Anyway, blah blah blah, who gives a shit, these books show up all the time. But the critic who was assigned this in the Telegraph needs to, uh, grow some balls.
The book contains interesting ideas but too many sweeping statements and a condescending tone.
She needs my editor, who recently sent back a review I wrote about a book I hated but felt bad about hating with the note, "You are trying to be too diplomatic." Put some teeth in it.
One of the UK's most adventurous independent publishers, Marion Boyars, is being forced out of business after more than 40 years by the adverse climate of today's book trade.
The publisher of authors including Ken Kesey, Georges Bataille, Nobel prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, Ivan Illich and Shel Silverstein, Marion Boyars said this morning that it had sold licences in 38 literary titles to Penguin Classics, and that it would be winding down its operations once it has completed its autumn programme.
September 10, 2009
Jane Campion on how to read Keats: Though Ms. Campion was at home with the love story of "Bright Star," the poetry was at first a problem. Like so many students, the 55-year-old director said poems intimidated her; she approached verse as a puzzle to be cracked. Her way in: Keats's intimate letters to Fanny, where his poems surfaced in pieces and divulged their meaning in context. That led to Keats's more-approachable romantic odes and, later, to a poetry class that Ms. Campion took with three members of her creative team.
Amber Tamblyn on doing poetry readings: There is a lot of initial judgment that goes up when an actress tries to do something other than acting, let alone poetry. It is indeed a hard sell. But so was the ShamWow at first, let us not forget this. Post-Script: what the fuck is a Hollywood colleague?! This makes it sound like a club. It’s really more like a shooting range. . . . Some days I’m the gun, others I’m the empty beer bottle waiting to be shattered. (Spit, poet!!!)
Digital poetry is neither "digital," nor "poetry." Discuss: Perhaps, I instead use some xml on every word in the poem and use some sort of script to grab synonymous and homonymous phrases from the blogsphere, adding sounds chosen in a similarly algorithmic fashion - reading the web through the Shakespeare sonnet, as it were - and perhaps add a cool mapping feature for the results. I would wager I would have something that many would qualify as digital poetry or electronic literature and be willing to put on a syllabus or show at a conference and so on. But the sheer fact that I am able to describe such a hypothetical work, one which I will never create, shows that I am not dealing with electronic literature . . .
A couple of months ago the Vowel Movers linked to the odd Levi's campaign featuring Walt Whitman. Now they've found a video of Elle Macpherson reading Tennessee Williams's poetry to promote her new line of intimate apparel. Apparently the advertising director didn't realize Macpherson was already in her underwear.
I think I was too hard on the new W Somerset Maugham biography, after the Daily Mail's ridiculous treatment of the book. This review by Nicholas Shakespeare (from Maud) makes it sound very, very appealing.
In 1954, shortly after his 80th birthday, William Somerset Maugham was shown the in-house abattoir of a Swiss clinic in Vevey and then injected with the minced foetus of a freshly slaughtered sheep by means of a large horse-syringe into his buttocks. Other patients who had sought to recapture their youth in this manner were: Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, Thomas Mann and Pope Pius XII.
Later, apparently revitalised by his treatment, the most widely read English writer since Dickens was observed by an elderly lady on Vevey railway station trying to play hide-and-seek with Alan Searle, the last of his secretary-companions. “Yoo-hoo,” Maugham called from behind a pillar. When the red-faced Searle reprimanded him, the woman was quick to scold: “You should be gentle with that nice old man. He thinks he’s Somerset Maugham.”
Peter Kramer, who wants every depressive to be on antidepressants, is being very pro-adding lithium to the drinking water supply in this article.
Have I mentioned lately that Peter Kramer kind of scares me?
On the first page of Elizabeth Wilson's War Damage there are two schoolboys getting dirty on a couch in the art room. There's a spanking scene a few chapters later. If that doesn't sell you on the book (and it should -- it's fantastic), her own description of the book from this interview should:
It’s a partly ‘queer’ crime story about a femme fatale (at least she’s trying to be one), a school boy who’s gay and a policeman, plus various assorted characters from a rather shabby post-World War II bohemia in London. An obstreperous poodle also features.
(Also, for someone who has written academic work on gender and sexuality theory, it's effortlessly written while still being smart as fuck.)
Having been eating out of the same two goddamn cookbooks since I got here -- or, really, just the one, due to the super friendly Asian grocery around the corner -- I was ecstatic to get the new Gourmet cookbook in the mail. Finally, I would be able to eat something that did not contain miso.
I've been cooking from it pretty extensively, and it's as useful as the other Gourmet books. The difference between the books is this new one is "healthier," or a better example of how people cook today. Translation: lots of quinoa. And like the other books, it's a little random about what made it into the book and what did not. Four recipes for celery root, but only three for duck? Really? (The celery root with apple puree, however. Dear lord, that is some good stuff. That recipe can stay.)
Bonus: I'm pretty sure the salad chapter is going to save my life after a week of decadent, almost entirely vegetable-free dining. I'll just start at the beginning of that chapter and work my way through until I no longer feel like a slug.
September 8, 2009
The Booker Shortlist has been released. Feel free, as I have, to imagine A.S. Byatt in a Lucha Libre mask grappling with Hilary Mantel while J.M. Coetzee quivers in a corner.
The contenders are:
Wolf Hall by Hilary "Hellraiser" Mantel
The Quickening Maze by Adam "Axehead" Foulds
September 7, 2009
Umm, what? Next week, this writer will open a column with the line, "Many people think butterflies are pretty. Well, they are."
But then we’re caught up in a finger injury he incurs while toting a computer downstairs: “And I knew that I was going to be fine, but that I might not be able to type for a while, which would give me a reprieve on writing my introduction. A great whimpery happiness passed through me like clear urine.”
My thought: God, that sounds like the most annoying narrator ever. But if the critic also finds that horrible, then maybe the book is redeemed in other ways. The paragraph that follows the excerpt in the review:
When you can talk like this, almost anything you say is going to be entertaining.
Oh Jesus, okay, never mind.
September 4, 2009
The Naked and the Read
I lay waiting, sprawled on Adam’s bed while he finished up a lab project, likely polymer-related, this, our freshman year of college, and Adam an engineer. As he worked, I pulled a worn collection of E.E. Cummings poems off a pile of books on his bedside table. Somewhere in my youth, I’d had to read E.E. and dismissed him wholly, thinking his stuff was all nursery-rhymish and bullshit gimmickry. (“anyone lived in a pretty how town,” and so on; what’s with all the lowercasing?, etc.) It surprised me that Adam, passionate about math and exactitude, would have this. On his nightstand no less.
“Fucking E.E. Cummings, dude?” I said.
He looked up from his graph paper and metallurgy text. “Hot,” he said.
And so I started flipping through. There were still stanzas I found a little too whimsical, a little too non-sensey. And I’m still not sure how much tolerance I have for playing it fast and loose with grammar and punctuation (I appreciate a semi-colon in a text message, for example). But Adam was right. Mixed in with tricksy shit were a couple of poems that absolutely raised my eyebrow, passionate, provocative, sensual poems.
One in particular has stuck with me (number 15 in the 100 Selected Poems). “i like my body when it is with your body,” it begins. “Muscles better and nerves more.” And highlight phrases that follow: “the trembling/ -firm-smooth ness and which I will/ again and again and again/ kiss”; “the shocking fuzz/ of your electric fur”; “the thrill/ of under me you so quite new.” The poem imprinted itself on my brain in such a way that -- and this is perhaps too much to reveal -- that those two lines, “i like my body when it is with your body” “muscles better and nerves more,” repeat themselves like a mantra when, for example, I’m making time with someone new. Or not new at all, but deeply loved. It swims around in my head as signal of excitement.
I was hanging out with a boy earlier this summer who, early on in our courtship, as my parents might call it, suggested we go to E.E. Cummings’s grave at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood just southwest of Boston. I thought this boded well. And when he quoted T.S. Eliot and said he’d always loved E.E., I did not correct him.
Reasons revealed themselves quickly that this new romance would go nowhere. Small things here and there, that inarticulatable not-quite-right-ness, a lack of fire, I rarely laughed and one time when I did, and hard, at a joke he made, I saw that later, he posted that same joke on Facebook. “It got a great response,” he said. I realized, too, that not once had Cummings’s lines run through my head with him at any point. And when I called it off, I felt little, maybe nothing, which was sad in its own way. Cummings’s scorcher of a break-up poem did not apply:
it may not always be so; and i say
that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch
another’s, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another’s face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;
if this should be, i say if this should be –
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that i may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands.
True heart-break! The image that poem provokes is watching a huge bird of prey swoop down, sink its talons in my chest, rip out my heart, Temple of Doom-style, and fly off with it. That boy and I never made it to Cummings’s grave, needless to say. And no images of hawks or vultures flapping off with my heart appeared when we stopped hanging out.
I made my own mission yesterday to the Forest Hills Cemetery. I didn’t find the grave. They were out of maps, and the paths and lanes were labyrinthine. The place was green and hushed and I felt far away from the city. “Life’s not a paragraph,” Cummings wrote, “And death i think is no parenthesis.” Those were the lines that came to mind yesterday. But I was aching for the other ones.
Last night I finally saw Julie and Julia. In German. Trust me, it's better that way. I had been told over and over that as someone who maintains a blog I would be incredibly insulted, so I had to take a look. Don't worry, this is not a think piece on the movie, it's getting more of those than actual thought was put into the film. But I did laugh at Michael Wolff's response, "Has Nora Ephron Killed the Internet?".
September 3, 2009
Lately I have read three books that talk about cities as if they are beasts that are actively out to destroy us. We are not evolved to live in cities, these books say. They are behind our anxiety and depression, our unhappiness, our obesity rates. The best of these books was Timothy Clack's Ancestral Roots. It managed to be pretty even handed in its arguments, even if the tone of the writing was relentless pessimism. Obviously there are problems with city life that we haven't adapted to, and being aware of them can lead to better city planning.
But after thinking I should probably go marry a farmer and live out in the middle of nowhere, tending goats or some nonsense, it's nice to find out there's a book about the good side to urban life. In that, people in Manhattan are perhaps the greenest living people there are. David Owen's Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability is coming out this fall. Back in 2004, he published an article about his Manhattan argument in the New Yorker, worth revisiting before the book comes out.
I do not know who Amelia Gray is, but I think I just developed a crush on her for her comments on this blog post. The post is an argument that someone makes every year or so: If Ulysses were written today, it would not find a publisher. Well, whatever, I can't begin to imagine that's true. It's missing the point, which is, is someone writing the next Ulysses out there somewhere. Because it seems like no. But anyway, it's not a statement worth engaging much in, because the other person can just say that the absence of a new Ulysses on the market proves his point.
(It is early. I am still adjusting to Berlin time. Have been awake since 2:47. Forgive my lack of coherency.)
That's why we need Amelia here! She swoops in with two perfect responses:
If an 800 page manuscript landed on thirty desks and it was the next Ulysses, someone would either give it a chance or give it to someone who would give it a chance. Readers at the big house would show it to readers at little houses, who would blog about it, and then some lonely owner of a bookstore in Paris would put all her profits from the previous year towards printing a thousand copies. Publishers wouldn’t stop the next Ulysses; it doesn’t exist.
However, the point is moot because Joyce would never have written Ulysses today, he would have been too busy moderating a fetish website
Rebecca Solnit, interviewed in the Believer about her new book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, is asked about her activist past.
I have an activist present too. A lot of people think of political activism as some grim duty, and I think we do have an obligation to be citizens—to be informed and engaged—but it’s not just duty. Public life enlarges you, gives you purpose and context, saves you from drowning in the purely personal, as so many Americans seem to. I still think that walking down the middle of the street with several thousand people who share your deepest beliefs is one of the best ways to take a walk.
Link from Maud.
The statements made by a small independent secondhand bookshop in England accusing the nearby Oxfam charity bookshop (which sells mostly bestsellers for low prices) for killing its business have caught the attention of US media. When asked for a comment, the Oxfam director of trading replied: "And if someone’s business model is so marginal that an Oxfam shop opening nearby decimates it, then we are not the problem.”
September 2, 2009
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this account of an antique bookstore owner from Austin filing for bankruptcy is this little tidbit:
They can't take your car (as long as it's paid for), or up to $30,000 in other property − including tools of the trade and business inventory. And you get to keep two guns. (This is Texas, mind. Perhaps in Massachusetts one may keep a couple of solar generators, or an acre of soy compost, but here, there are traditions to honor. I've never even fired a gun, let alone owned any − instead I keep a runneled broadsword by the nightstand. I'm a fount of shame to my home state.)
Oh Texas. I was trying to justify living in you to five years to a German yesterday, and they just kept looking at me like I was insane. Germans don't get the "But it was Austin" thing. (Love you anyway. In the same way that I love my crazy, rarely employed uncle.)
Sheila Lukins, author of the Silver Palate cookbooks, The New Basics and others, has died. The New York Times obit reminds me why I'm happy I was barely on solid foods by the time the '70s were over. When their store opened in 1977 and Lukins and her co-writer began work on the cookbook, they received some resistance to their "exuberant seasoning style."
“No, girls, no,” a copy editor wrote on one recipe. “No one puts 25 cloves of garlic in ratatouille!”
Some of us do, actually, and we owe a debt to Lukins for introducing new flavors into our cooking.
I'm a little bit skeptical of any writer who has audio files of Gwyneth Paltrow reading excerpts from his work on his website. It's not his fault -- it's just that I have a sick fascination with Paltrow's side project Goop. When I read it I feel like I have slipped into an alternate universe where the photo spreads of dinner parties in Gourmet with the twelve place settings that are changed out seasonally and the five courses and the ballroom settings represent how people actually eat. But, as shown in his submission to the Largehearted Boy's Book Notes submission, Matthew Specktor has very good taste in music.
The author of Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll M. G. Lord feels ripped off by Robin Gerber's Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.
Histories do not grow on trees. The first person to cobble out a definitive narrative has to do a ton of work. You interview hundreds of people and hunt down documents, which can be especially elusive if influential people would prefer that they stay hidden. You separate truth from hearsay. Then -- with endnotes -- you meticulously source all your quotations and odd facts so future scholars will know whence they came...
This is why I felt so violated when Gerber apparently plucked pieces of my hard-won narrative off the history tree. Most galling were the quotes from long-dead sources presented in the text as if they had risen from the grave.
It's a similar complaint that the author of The Free State of Jones had about the authors of The State of Jones: one work was more academic and credited and did the research, the other possibly just rewrote the material for a more general audience, getting more attention and money, without properly acknowledging their debt to the earlier work.
September 1, 2009
Under the category "Oh my god I have a problem": bought four more books, my justification being that they are all Australian authors, on my way out of Melbourne. Even the thought, "You do realize you have to carry all of this up and down the stairs of Alexanderplatz station, right?" did not stop me.
On the plus side, my bookshelves will no longer look so sad and lonely.
NPR.org is running an excerpt from E. L. Doctorow's new book, a fictionalized account of the Collyer brothers, Homer & Langley. They died in 1947 in their apartment stacked floor to ceiling with newspapers and other stuff, one of them crushed to death by their belongings. In other words, the guys that every bibliophile who can't get rid of books fears dying like. So pack rats, read it and risk the temptation to dismantle your library.
Authors! When you go up to people carrying around your book and ask them how they're liking it, you are freaking these people out. Stop it. They'll never read anything except dead writers in public for the rest of their lives. (Thanks to Diane for the link.)
Bookforum attempts a remix of the old Comics: Not Just for Kids Anymore! article, with Manga! Not Just for the Japanese and Sexually Depraved Anymore!
My first thought: God, I hope so! The man who stated in his memoir The Summing Up that he never got to experience the particular joy of requited love (I would quote it exactly, but I no longer own the book. Story of my life.) at least deserved to get some tail. Instead, the article is super salacious, calling him a predator, shockingly depraved, whatever.
And tone down the hyperbole, please. When it comes down to it, I doubt Maugham even begins to stack up against, say, that German dude who found someone online who wanted to have his penis chopped off and eaten. And then did it. If you're an unloved genius, you should get a couple orgies, free of charge.