October 31, 2009
The Financial Times-Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year is Lords of Finance: 1929, The Great Depression, and the Bankers who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed. I am not sure how the FT's own Gillian Tett's excellent Fool's Gold missed out on being shortlisted, but I am sure investment banker Ahamed won't find a better place for his £30,000 prize money than my failsafe "bed mattress and shotgun" banking technique.
This year's Guardian First Book Award shortlist is dominated by fiction. Michael Peel's book on corruption in the Nigerian oil industry (which sounds awesome) is the exception, and it reminds me that Philip Gourevitch's astonishing We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families won the paper's inaugural First Book Award a decade ago.
The 2009 shortlist:
October 30, 2009
I think I was supposed to do a write-up of the Princeton panel I was on about the future of criticism, although if you want a rundown of what actually happened, Peter Stothard's account is the best place to go.
Whenever these conversations come up, however, I start to wonder about certain words thrown about. "Authority." "Culture." "Gatekeepers." All lovely things, thanks. I am not an anarchist, and yes, the Internet scares me as much as it does you, despite the proliferation of pictures of kittens and ducklings. But I drop out of the conversation when I figure out who is writing the definitions of those words. The New York Times is a gatekeeper, absolutely. And for someone who has so much control over the conversation, you'd think Sam Tanenhaus would be less defensive, and less likely to look like he might leap over the table and rip out the throat of the man who called the Review "middlebrow," but whatever. If you look at the statistics of what they're letting inside the gates, though, you see mostly books published by Random House, a very small handful of translated fiction, a disproportionate number of white men. (Yes, Galleycat, call me a kneejerk feminist again, I don't really care.)
Even now when The Death of Culture is discussed, the definition of "culture" has to be watched. Only certain types of books and publications are counted as "reading," according to those studies on the downfall of reading. Not that there isn't a real issue going on -- I am quite aware that everyone is in survival mode. Bookslut is kept going now on a month to month basis due to advertising issues and the like. For the first time in my life I have had to think thoughts about the "weakness of the dollar." But the reason I have a hard time with these conversations about the decline of the review, and the death of authority, is because so many of the contemporary authors I love are often the ones being kept out of the conversation. They're rarely, if ever, reviewed in the New York Times, they don't get splashy features written about them and their night out with their friends. It's hard for me to get worked up about the decline of reviews when I didn't care much for them to begin with.
I should maybe state that I don't think of myself as a critic, nor do I have aspirations to become one. As such, I feel free to ignore the wider culture at large, rather than suffer through a William Vollmann book just because his books contribute to the larger cultural conversation. I, and this website, exist outside of all of that, and happily so. I think briefly I thought I might try it on the inside, so I got myself elected to the board of the NBCC. I resigned five months later. Bookslut may have its own value (like I said, it goes month to month) but respectability is not where it is.
I'm not sure why I'm writing this now. It's something that's been on my mind the whole year. (And maybe I'll be a chickenshit and leave this up for about fifteen minutes before deleting it.) I have officially used up all of my sincerity for the day, and the sun is actually out in Berlin today, so that concludes my official write-up of the Princeton panel on the death of criticism.
Let’s leave aside the matter of the commonness or otherwise of terrorists as opposed to the uniqueness of film-director rapists, and the question of how soundly Polanski sleeps in prison. Leave aside, too, the years-ago argument and the woman’s present wish not to have legal proceedings – those are legal matters. And ignore the use of the word episode where rape would have been more precise. Polanski was finally charged with unlawful sexual intercourse, rather than rape. The lesser charge was offered to him providing he agreed to plead guilty so that the girl would not be required to give evidence in open court. This is the basis on which Whoopi Goldberg insisted, when the news of his arrest broke, that he should be released, because he hadn’t committed ‘rape-rape’.
It is Dostoevsky's birthday! I know, you're thinking, what do I get a (dead) man who absolutely nothing will make happy? Well, have you tried a hair shirt? How about a cupcake bouquet? Or you could just read this interview with Svetlana Geier, the woman who translated Dostoevsky's five major works from Russian to German. Included in that five -- other than the obvious Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Demons, and The Idiot -- is The Adolescent, and she explains why.
In her view (one she advocates with great conviction, and through references to Nietzsche, Pascal, and the mystic John Klimakos's "Ladder of Ascent"), Dostoevsky's penultimate novel is the most modern of them all. A novel at the summit of our epoch, the "Age of Suspicion" (as Nathalie Sarraute once called it). There is no certainty. No information, no relationship, not a single person can be relied upon. The hero perceives the entire world only through a narrow slit, and the walls that limit his viewpoint are the wounds of his own ego. Thus is a radically subjective novel of the kind that would reappear only much later. Is it also Svetlana Geier’s favourite? She closes her eyes, considers at length, looking within. "I'm not finished with it yet," she replies, and for a moment she calls to mind Sesemi Weichbrodt, the enthusiastic "prophetess" of Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks".
October 29, 2009
I would pay £270,000+ for a "collection of Byron's letters in which he describes a stormy affair with a servant girl, attacks Christianity and dismisses his rival poet as William 'Turdsworth,'" as an anonymous buyer did yesterday. They sound like great reading: Byron writes happily from Portugal, noting that "the inhabitants have few vices except lice and sodomy". From Turkey, he talks of meeting Ali Pasha and describes his swim across the Dardanelles, saying: "I do this that you may be impressed with proper respect for me the performer, for I plume myself on this atchievement".
Sticking with the Romantics, the Keats-Shelley prize goes to DH Maitreyabandhu, the first self-identified Buddhist to win the award: This year's prize asked for poems on the theme of "find". Maitreyabandhu's, "The Small Boy and the Mouse", sees a boy look inside himself to see an egg, within which lies a garden where a mouse sits holding a picture of a boy. Chair of judges Professor Janet Todd called it "a wonderful evocation of the nature of childhood" which "questions the power of imagination". (Full poem at the link.)
Exhuming Francisco Garcia Lorca . . . slowly, and without cameraphones.
Michael Berger loves Black Sparrow editions: Black Sparrow Press, a 'boutique' press, might have produced some of the most distinctive-looking paperback titles ever. The off-white, mottled, autumnal covers of the book covers are always eye-catching but even more fetching are the distinctive front covers that are always embossed with some futuristic painting or drawing.
It helped too that they almost always published maverick authors of an extraordinary high caliber.
Did the director of the first low-residency poetry MFA then abscond with it to another school?
Gideon Lewis-Kraus has achieved the impossible: He has made me read an essay on n+1 that did not at any point make me want to claw out my own eyes. His essay on Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work also allows me to picture the editors of n+1 in my high school's work shop class, building wooden picture frames, and that has provided a few giggles. Kudos, sir.
McNally Jackson has some suggestions for literary costumes for Halloween. (Is there Halloween in Berlin? I guess I'll find out when I go door to door demanding candy.)
Gregor Samsa’s sister from The Metamorphosis. What was her name again? Ah, yes, Grete. Thank you internet. I don’t really know what that would look like, but I think it’d be brilliant.
Faber and Faber has audio of Andy Beckett reading from his book When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies from the section on the rise of "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher," so nicknamed because of her accomplishment of ridding schools of free milk for children.
The Awl highlights an excerpt from the upcoming The Persecution of Sarah Palin. Who's persecuting Sarah Palin, you ask? "Liberal leaning feminists" and Tina Fey, of course. The reason why, however, you've gotta read for yourself.
October 28, 2009
This week's Guardian Digested Read: the book that suggests you should maybe try driving home drunk, Superfreakonomics.
Let's stir things up a bit. It's often said that women experience a glass ceiling. Well, maybe the reason they earn less is because they are a bit workshy and like having babies. We don't have any real evidence to support this, but we're just wacky contrarians! Oi, Mrs Levitt and Mrs Dubner! You can get on with the dinner now!
October 27, 2009
I was comforting myself last night after realizing my computer is good and fucked with Mavis Gallant short stories and the emergency bottle of vodka. NYRB has collected the stories of hers that have remained homeless, including the stunner "Autumn Day" in the book The Cost of Living. I was thinking it's sad she doesn't give more interviews, because she is hilarious when she does. Then I found a recent-ish interview, wherein she was asked:
But can women be fulfilled without giving birth?
Dear god, why would you ask someone that? Someone who has stated publicly that marriage and kids were not for her, writing and personal freedom were the things that mattered most. I find it astounding, and if it's typical of the things she's asked, no wonder she talks to so few journalists.
I tried to read the book about J. M. Barrie being a psychopathic predator of children, but it was just too damn over the top. Not that I don't like the idea that Daphne du Maurier channeled her books and had psychic abilities, but come on. You don't actually put that in your book. (Although, whichever spirit was responsible for Jamaica Inn: thank you.) When the book was released in the UK, there were a lot of exasperated reviews, and now that it's released in the US, get ready for the same.
October 26, 2009
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Karen Lillis
This week I bring you Karen Lillis, another Heartthrob Alum. Her newest offering, The Second Elizabeth (Six Gallery Press), explores the power within a name, the lives it can lead, and its impact on the individual. Calling her narrator Karen Elizabeth Elizabeth Lillis (owning identical middle and Confirmation names), this second Elizabeth explores her family history and a shared traumatic experience with a friend named Beth, both of whom experienced a man figuratively placing a word on their bodies and blaming them for it. Lillis goes on to write:
Beth is what I was and who I want to be, and the name Elizabeth once contained the whole alphabet. Elizabeth has A and Elizabeth has Z, and Beth is reckless and faithful both. … The guy down the hall in the Park Arlington named me Karen Elizabeth before I was born, and I named myself Elizabeth before I was born for the second time.
As I've said to with a few titles in the past, this is one of those books where I wished for the subway to come to a halt, so I wouldn't reach my destination, so I could keep on poring over a book. Lillis's words drew me in, and I wasn't quite ready for them to let me go.
Having reconnected with Karen over the weekend, we discussed The Second Elizabeth as well as future pursuits and our favorite local character from the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
The Second Elizabeth features much lyrical repetition, especially in the first few sections. What was your motivation behind this structure?
It was either reading Marie Redonnet's fictional trilogy, attending too many Catholic masses, or an auditory Blake-ian hallucination. But seriously, it was something like reading Redonnet and spitting out the first few chapters of The Second Elizabeth "out of the blue" soon after. It was an intuitive experiment, and I liked how it turned out, so I kept going. Looking back now, I think the beginning works as a sort of incantation-introduction to the book: "You're not in Kansas anymore." Poet Bob Holman described a similar passage I read recently as acting like a "genealogical chart of how we got here," like the griots of Africa or the Bible, "which puts us square in the oral tradition." Parts of The Second Elizabeth play with the oral historical form as Elizabeth narrates her family history and her family names, in an effort to retell a story that has narrated her into too narrow role.
At many points, the narrator mentions the story writing itself onto her body. Words and stories are personified as more than what they are, as tangible objects or persons, even as entire languages. I was wondering where this idea came from, the word as a being that evokes physical change, and how you identify with it.
I've experienced words very powerfully in at least two directions in my life. One, as constant insults from peers throughout my youth, and two, as a method of overwriting or exorcising those negative words by writing my own words—by becoming a writer. The insults from classmates went into the worst phase when my family moved back to Virginia just before I started third grade, and went on very steadily through at least eighth grade. They were all about my appearance, my body, and they were often very gendered. These kids repeated a few nicknames for me over and over everyday for years, and it was as if I felt these words physically. This story is not in The Second Elizabeth directly, but now that you ask this way, probably has a lot to do with my relationship to words and names.
In a different sense, my Irish-American family has the gift of gab and are very powerful narrators themselves. Words, stories, tones of voice, these were a sort of currency when I was growing up. They loomed large, they were tangible objects I imagined and paid attention to. Parents, aunts, and grandparents told us hilarious jokes, wove fascinating stories, wounded us with tones of voice, and sometimes talked us to death. The family also narrated our family's story all the time. It took me starting to write in a journal to differentiate myself from their words—to start to overcome their version of me and dare to tell my own story to myself. (Twenty-five years and seventy-odd journals later….)
When I was learning how to write creatively, I discovered women writers whom I loved; who I felt were telling my story. I couldn't get enough of them; reading them gave me more joy and hope than almost anything in my life has. Many of them were European novella authors influenced by French feminism—some of them were associated with écriture féminine—and were taken with the idea that writing comes from the body, that writing could have an inherent gender. These were authors like Annie Ernaux, Hélène Cixous, Marie Redonnet, and also Kathy Acker.
Also, I have experienced writing poetry or experimental prose as finding the rhythm of the breath—I read the work aloud to myself for all of the editing and some of the writing. I believe that our physical bodies carry a sort of blueprint of our stories; as a writer it's my job to tease out or discover those rhythms that live inside of me. When I tap into the right rhythm of a poem, or the right protagonist, or the right set-up of a story—it's suddenly pretty obvious the piece has its own internal logic and is going to work, and that brings a great momentum to finish the poem or story. It's this experience with writing that reinforces my idea that there are stories living inside of us, physically, that are asking to be told, and will out themselves with the right coaxing.
Tacking onto the previous question, what does the narrator mean when she says she has lost languages in the past and has yet to discover the language of Elizabeth?
In the past, the narrator has seen things only in terms of what she has lost, what she didn't have. In the logic of the book, she cried because she didn't yet have words for the things she was crying about: Crying was just seeing the loss and the lack. But she learns during the course of the story that those tears were the precursor to language. The blank slate left by what Elizabeth thinks she has lost becomes her writer's page. She can articulate her "authentic" self (the self she relates to emotionally) as a writer reinventing her story, or telling her real story for the first time, rather than continue to feel smothered and rendered voiceless by others. "The second Elizabeth" is the narrator's name for "the person I have invented but have not yet become," and overwriting her past with language is how she will "become."
The protagonist in The Second Elizabeth is also named Karen Lillis (more specifically, Karen Elizabeth Elizabeth Lillis). I wanted to avoid the tried-and-true "autobiography" question, but I must ask: how much of Karen the Writer makes up Karen the Narrator?
This is a question I've gotten a lot, so I've mulled it over a fair amount since the book came out. To answer this question for myself, it's become the same question as "Is The Second Elizabeth a poem or a novel?" No one asks poets to say whether their poems are autobiographical or not. Many of them are but they do something with language that makes people stop asking that question. Here the language I'm using is often names, so it stays closer to this question.
I think that The Second Elizabeth is a story in that it works as an unfolding—the reader watches Elizabeth come to realizations and conclusions within the span of the book. But it's also a long poem, a meditation. The book starts out as a meditation on real-life names and the stories around those names, and the meditation drives the poetry. The poetry is sometimes speculative, sometimes outright fictional, and sometimes factual. During the writing I started thinking of the character based on me as someone named Elizabeth, who was no longer me but a character to play language games with.
Tell me about the press that published The Second Elizabeth. Why did you choose them over, say, Words Like Kudzu (your press)?
When I first found out about them, Six Gallery Press had just published some really interesting contemporary novelists and poets—like Josh Cohen, Noah Cicero, and Michael Begnal; the Press concentrates on poetry and experimental prose. They approached me about publishing The Second Elizabeth and I thought we were a good fit for each other. Some of their most notorious work is by the publisher himself, Che Elias, who sets his writing in his childhood home of West Virginia, and The Second Elizabeth is set in "the wilds" of central Virginia. I also thought Six Gallery Press would make a good context for the experimentation of my novel.
You're right, The Second Elizabeth would have been a good fit for Words Like Kudzu (and of course the title of my press came from the same Charlottesville landscape that is the setting for the novel), but I'm not planning to self-publish any more of my novels. I have self-published smaller things on Words Like Kudzu in recent years—a pamphlet series, some poetry chapbooks. I do get impatient. But Words Like Kudzu doesn't have a distributor; Six Gallery Press is on SPD.
When we first communicated online, you were running a small press Distro. How is that going two years later?
Two years later, the Distro is pretty low on my priority list. I've been really tied up working full time and going to library school part time (etc etc). The Distro has become mainly me trying to hand off the books and zines I still have in stock to the people who would be the most likely to read and appreciate them. I have one or two stores I still deal with, but otherwise I'm giving things away to individual readers and zine libraries. I may get more active with it again when I graduate from school, but only on a very small scale. I have a renewed appreciation for SPD and other distros that do well—it's a real challenge to make any sort of money out of, i.e. keep it going on a viable scale.
You're working on a new project called The Greenpoint Trilogy. Can you tell me a little more about that? On a more personal level, will it feature a local favorite we in Brooklyn have come to know as Bea? From what I understand she's still hanging around the old hood, though her luncheonette is gone.
I miss Bea so much! I did write a Greenpoint short story involving Bea and Louie and the luncheonette, but it is not part of The Greenpoint Trilogy. Bea has a cameo in a novella I'm finishing, The War in Brooklyn, where the lead character conducts a long distance relationship from the luncheonette payphone. And she may become a character in another New York piece I'm writing, which is a sort of walk through my very subjective version of the city with various characters looming large for a short chapter or so. In other words, I have not yet done Bea full literary justice, but I hope to one day. She was like a grandmother and the Oracle of Delphi to me, I had to bring my boyfriends to her to get her blessing. And I remember I had at least one very good writing year poring over a notebook at the luncheonette for several hours a day on my weekends.
The Greenpoint Trilogy is three stories set in the Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn; they also involve my obsession with the name Elizabeth. One protagonist is Elzbieta, the Polish form of the name; one is just "she"; and one is Erszebet, the Hungarian form of the name, which evokes both St. Elizabeth and Elizabeth of Bathory, the vampiric baroness. But the stories are much more traditional, textually, than The Second Elizabeth. For me, working with the traditional short story form has been an experiment—it is so restrained! Each story is very focused on the protagonist and her inner life; I'm using the restraint of the traditional form to talk about the protagonists' struggles between interior and exterior life, about their struggles with repression.
Another aspect of the stories deals with each protagonist's relation to the landscape around her. At least in the first two stories, I have tried to treat Greenpoint the way I would treat a Virginia landscape—in the city our lives are so focused on people and personalities. I wanted to see what would happen if these stories paid attention to the sort of lonely industrial landscape of Greenpoint, and looked at it like a damaged pastoral scene. I've always been interested in looking at the layers of New York's history in its landscape—what did my grandfather see here 90 years ago, how did the Native Americans experience the city 400 years ago? But the stories are also talking about longing and language, playing with the vagaries of Polish vs English vs other Eastern European languages, or the communication divide across class and gender.
The 20-year-old vagabond from California vanished 75 years ago in the steep and rugged canyon country of southern Utah. Ruess has since attracted a cult following passionate about the young man's writing and inspired by his disappearance.
"You can't help but become fascinated by this young man and what he did," says Ken Sanders, a Salt Lake City bookseller who collects Ruess' writing and artwork. "The mystery of what happened to him or who he was overwhelms his life and his legacy ... his love and unbridled passion for untrammeled wilderness, [his] just hedonistic love of the landscape."
The Guardian profiles Mary-Kay Wilmers, the woman behind London Review of Books. (Weirdly got into an argument about LRB lately. "They don't actually review books!" "I know. Aren't they great?" Whatever, you have my love, LRB. And my $120.)
Craig Finn, whom I love, has signed on to help adapt a book by Chuck Klosterman, whom I hate.
You do not date a rock critic without growing to hate Chuck Klosterman. Also, Steely Dan.
The mess that's been made of the Kafka archive by Esther Hoffe continues. The German government paid $2 million for the original manuscript of The Trial, but the National Library in Israel is claiming they are the rightful owners according to Max Brod's will, and that Hoffe did not have the right to sell it. (Background on this story here.)
Critic Jessica Mann has quit reviewing because of what she sees as rampant misogyny in crime fiction.
"Authors must be free to write and publishers to publish. But critics must be free to say they have had enough. So however many more outpourings of sadistic misogyny are crammed on to the bandwagon, no more of them will be reviewed by me," said Mann, who has written her own bestselling series of crime novels and a non-fiction book about female crime writers.
French-Sengalese writer Marie NDiaye is a front runner for the Goncourt. (Does that mean we might get some decent translations of her work? Please?) NDiaye was one of three overlooked French women writers Bookslut featured last year.
October 23, 2009
I've been kind of underwhelmed by this new Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Her interview on the Daily Show was a mess, making you believe the entire book is a bitter and nasty retort to everyone in her life who ever told her "Smile!" It's not, although really, it's not much deeper.
A much better critique of the positive thinking movement comes in one simple paragraph, from G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
Then when this kindly world all round the man has been blackened out like a lie; when friends fade into ghosts, and the foundations of the world fail; then when the man, believing in nothing and in no man, is alone in his own nightmare, then the great individualistic motto shall be written over him to avenging irony. The stars will be only dots in the blackness of his own brain; his mother's face will be only a sketch from his own insane pencil on the walls of his cell. But over his cell shall be written, with dreadful truth, "He believes in himself."
Stan Carey on why, when typing, we start with one word and end up with a different one altogether.
Its authors, David E. Rumelhart and Donald A. Norman, describe as “capture errors” those that occur ‘when one intends to type one sequence, but gets “captured” by another that has a similar beginning’. Along the same lines, Arnold Zwicky has written about “completion errors“. Typing that instead of than seems to fall into this category, but there are several kinds of capture/completion error, each with its own idiosyncratic and often elusive causes.
The Guardian's series on short story writers has an installment about Julio Cortazar. I haven't read any of his stories (so much of his work is out of print or untranslated), but can wholeheartedly recommend Hopscotch, The Winners, and the novella The Diary of Andres Fava.
In 1982, a high-profile study that made Science suggested that the corpus callosum, which is the white matter that connects our two brain hemispheres, is larger in women than it is in men. That finding was supposed to explain why women are better multitaskers and why they are more empathetic. A slew of follow-up studies followed. By the end of the 1990s, a couple of scientists did a meta-analysis. That’s where you do a comprehensive search of the scientific literature to find every study that’s been done, and analyze for effect size. This way, you have a huge population, and you can create an enormous study. In 1997, a meta-analysis of the studies on the corpus collosum found no difference in size between men and women. That’s been edited out of the neuropsych text books.
Reason to be happy today, despite the fact that everyone I know is on the verge of some sort of emotional collapse, and there is no sun in Berlin and probably will not be until May, and I am maybe slowly dying right now because German grocery stores keep their bacon unrefrigerated and I ate it anyway.
That's reason enough to get out of bed, right? Not that I'm going to, it's just nice to know there is one for later.
October 22, 2009
Paul Zukofsky has written an amazingly frank assertion of copyright over his parents' work (via Wet Asphalt): In general, as a matter of principle, and for your own well-being, I urge you to not work on Louis Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not. Working on LZ will be far more trouble than it is worth. You will be far more appreciated working on some author whose copyright holder(s) will actually cherish you, and/or your work. I do not, and no one should work under those conditions. However, if you have no choice in the matter, here are the procedures that I insist upon, and what you must do if you wish to spare yourself as much grief as possible. This is my favorite bit: I forbid so-called electronic "publication". People may not quote LZ in their "blogs". I fully expect Cory Doctorow's next project (after this) to be a remixed version of Zukofsky's complete works, podcast in several languages.
After moving, Tom Richey decided to take stock of his book collection, part of which he'd inherited from family. The findings? First editions of Leaves of Grass, Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer, and The Scarlet Letter.
At failbetter.com, Mary Donnelly interviews Kevin Young about his recent book, Dear Darkness: Snippet one: I am not a musician—people often ask me this, and I'm not sure why—especially because if I was a musician, that's so much cooler, why would I be a poet? Though there’s that thing that if someone writes well, a fiction writer or a musician say, people declare that he or she is a "poet." This is frustrating, needless to say—you work all your life to craft actual poems and all the poetry belongs to Bob Dylan. And two: I think all poetry aspires to the condition of song. And for a while we had forgotten that—you saw a real emphasis when I was first writing, on story. But the lyric, of course, is poetry meant to accompany the lyre, has the intensity and logic of music. The challenge for some of us is how to reconcile lyric with epic, to combine the intensity of lyric with the scale of epic.
Robert Archambeau discusses recent British experimental poetry.
To celebrate their two-year anniversary, PennSound has been featuring recordings by John Ashbery all week.
Here's your poetry headline of the week: "Poet Joanna Hale guilty of trying to kill husband after sex promise." The story's awesome, featuring a postal worker, a park, and horny goat weed. You say you want pictures? The Sun can oblige.
Craig Raine on making the switch from poet to novelist.
"It is not a poet's novel, finely written with lots of description and a little bit boring. I hope it's a novelist's novel that will be filthy and funny."
While I was excited to start reading the W. Somerset Maugham biography, but as his life went on and the fact that he came to something of a bad end became more and more clear, I began to regret it. Not the least because Maugham took pains to confuse biographers, paying one off and destroying correspondence and notebooks. The ringing chorus in my head every time I picked it up was, "Poor dear. Poor dear." The book is the subject of my latest Smart Set column.
A fear of persecution may not have been the only thing driving Maugham's discretion. His was a complicated love life. It's something the devoted reader could have guessed. From Of Human Bondage's tale of the destructive power of sexual obsession to the murderously unhappy marriage in The Painted Veil and the self-destruction of marrying someone who does not understand you in Mrs Craddock, it's easy to see a pattern forming.
October 21, 2009
At the ceremony, Gore Vidal will receive a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and Dave Eggers will get the Literarian Award. Don't worry, I already looked it up - 'Literarian = Unfathomly Popular Whimisical Aging Hipster Shit'.
Over at the Frankfurt Book Hoedown for Unity, Italian writer Claudio Magris has won the festival's leading award.
The 70-year-old scribe accepted the Peace Prize on Sunday at the fair, one of the largest in the world.
Commentators grouse that it's "far too soon" for the Peace Prize, "it's just token Italian essayist and Habsburg-myth scholarship point-scoring".
The Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist has been announced (or, as the Bookseller would have it, the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize). You can read excerpts from the 'books' by the 'authors' who have been 'nominated' here.
Omair Ahmad for Jimmy the Terrorist
Eric Gamalinda for The Descartes Highlands
Siddharth Chowdhury for Day Scholar
Nitasha Kaul for Residue
Su Tong for The Boat to Redemption
Nearly everyone reads. Soon, nearly everyone will publish. Before 1455, books were handwritten, and it took a scribe a year to produce a Bible. Today, it takes only a minute to send a tweet or update a blog. Rates of authorship are increasing by historic orders of magnitude. Nearly universal authorship, like universal literacy before it, stands to reshape society by hastening the flow of information and making individuals more influential.
While I was away, NPR posted my review of Sarah Hall's How to Paint a Dead Man. Michael and I have fought over this book (he didn't like it, I did) but we agreed on one thing: the dirty, dirty twin is the best part of the book. The twin is the subject of the excerpt that NPR is running alongside the review. (No sex in it, though; it is NPR.)
"Monsieur Leotard" felt as if that was where a lot of what you'd been working out was fully expressed in terms of ignoring the language of comics, and instead utilizing illustration tools and typography to create a new kind of graphic novel, more of an "illustrated book" than is typically seen.
Well, that was the original idea of "graphic novel" before all the dullards of the comic book world decided it just meant a format. It was about the ambition of trying to do something grand and memorable with the simple elements of the comic strip.
Peter Ripken has been fired from the Frankfurt Book Fair after getting caught up in the Chinese dissident writers mess. (To sum up: China was the special guest of the fair, China didn't want writers critical of its government to be invited or allowed to speak, Frankfurt told China to go fuck itself.) Ripken told a few writers that have been critical of China they could not speak at the ceremonies they had been invited to, and when officials found out, he was sacked by the end of the fair.
October 20, 2009
Spanish officials are preparing to excavate a possible mass grave where the body of poet Federico García Lorca, murdered in 1936, might be located.
Did plagiarism-detection software uncover a new Shakespeare play? I didn't even know there was plagiarism-detection software. As you know, plagiarism, as defined in the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, is the "use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work." Within academia, plagiarism by students, professors, or researchers is considered academic dishonesty or academic fraud and offenders are subject to academic censure, up to and including expulsion. I wrote that all by myself!
Part of my reluctance is my inability to resolve in my mind the bitter truth of what we’ll be stamping our brand upon. As a publisher, I know e-books are a cheaper product – both to produce and consume (providing you can foot the tab for the e-reader) – and I’m certain that writers do too. What makes anyone believe that readers won’t arrive at this realization as well? Once the honeymoon with their sleek new gadget ends, they’ll start to demand more for their money.
I just can't get excited about e-books, or the Kindle, or the (sigh) Vook, or whatever. I don't know; I'm kind of a Luddite by nature. I don't even type these posts into a computer, I write them in longhand on the back of bawdy postcards and mail them to Jessa in Berlin. Which I guess is why these posts are sometimes out of date. On an unrelated note, I picked up the new Pynchon book today! I hope Mason & Dixon is as good as I've heard.
This lovely interview with Daniel Nester reminded me how excited I am that he's participating in the Bookslut Reading Series on December 16. And that reminded me that we have a reading tonight at the Hopleaf!
We start at 7:30 pm and books by all authors are available for sale courtesy of Barbara's Bookstore.
October 19, 2009
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This week: Daniel Nester
You may remember maybe five years back the anthology God Save My Queen and its follow-up God Save My Queen II. I certainly do—they happened to be the single literary connection I could share with my mother, who enjoys dime store romance novels. What could serve as a better link between a mother and her gay son than poetry about and inspired by the band Queen?
All things Queen aside, Daniel Nester recently put out a book of essays on inappropriateness, aptly titled How to Be Inappropriate. Nester alternates his narrative form between essays, from the more personal "The Puerto Rican Lockhorns Reunion" to the academic "Revisiting the Footlicker Story" to the clinical "Mooning: A Short Cultural History," in which he consults word maven Patricia T. O'Connor on the historical usage of "moon" in reference to the rear. Nester's essays are hilarious in their approach to as specific a theme as inappropriateness, and they come highly recommended.
For a taste of what's not in the book, you may want to check out "How to Be Inappropriate at BEA," an external appendix to How to Be Inappropriate that was available at this year's Book Expo. The fine folks at The Rumpus were kind enough to archive the pamphlet for those who didn't want to or couldn't endure a weekend in Javits Center Hell.
Let's start with How to Be Inappropriate. Where did the idea for the book come from? More specifically, what made you want to write a book of essays on inappropriateness?
It happened retroactively. I had been writing these pieces over the past couple years, pretty much since I started teaching in 2005. And they all centered on various improprieties, awkward moments, solipsistic overshares. The idea for collecting them came around, I forget who suggested it, and I developed this idea for a theme with Richard Eoin Nash, my old editor at Soft Skull.
Once the idea for there being a theme in the first places was suggested, the word “inappropriate” came out. I talk about this in the book in the little interstitial chapters, but the term is used for just about everything, from one-cheek sneak farts to stealing someone else’s pot from a dorm to, to bona fide illegal behavior. So the subject just seemed to fit with what I was writing and what I was about to write.
You approach the subject in two primary voices: Daniel Nester the writer and Daniel Nester the removed narrator, almost as if doing a study. Why did you decide to take this approach?
Well, first off, it’s fun. I used to edit and write technical and medical articles as my day gig, and that had seeped into my non-day gig writing, and it felt naughty to do that. Like, almost-boner naughty. Then there’s also these fragment-aware essay writers I love, like everyone from Jean Baudrillard to Alain de Botton to Amy Krouse Rosenthal. They all favor letting an idea sit there in the air unresolved. Throw in a removed narrator, and it feels even naughtier.
I mean, it’s not anything terribly innovative: third-personing oneself using the same exact name has been done before in novels, movies, TV. For me, if I write this vantage point, it has different effects and textures.
One of the sections that stuck out most for me was "A.I. Wanna Rock 'n' Roll All Night," which is adapted from an interview transcript between Fresh Air's Terry Gross and Gene Simmons. You replace Simmons' side of the original interview with what you refer to as "'ALICE,' an artificial intelligence chatbot, which we will call 'Robot Gene Simmons.'" Tying the idea back to the theme of inappropriateness, and for those who aren't familiar with the original interview's content, what was the intent behind this piece?
The 2002 interview gained cult classic status because of Gene Simmons’ unapologetically chauvinistic and obnoxious answers and also the way Terry Gross hung in there and gave as good as she got. I like dicking around with found material, and I also had been reading about the Turing Test, which is a test for intelligence to see if machines could pass as sentient beings.
So I put those two together for fun. How would ALICE, a pretty well-known chatbot, deal with Terry Gross? Would a robot have better manners than Gene? If we took Gene out entirely, would it make a difference?
Is there an act of inappropriateness you were unable to document in the book but wish you could?
There’s plenty. I am working on a piece on cousin hookups and coworkers that’s going in all sorts of directions.
Complete the following sentence: "To Nester (v) is to ______ ."
Urinate in two or multiple streams. I led an ill-fated campaign my freshman year of high school to make this meaning happen. Perhaps I will revive it?
Your first two books were the wonderful God Save My Queen books. How do you think your identity as a writer has changed since you wrote them? Are you still as avid a Queen fan?
I’m still a huge, psycho Queen fan, and I suspect I always will be. I still keep up on all the news and pray for boxed sets, but I haven’t written dedicatory stuff to Queen, not lately. Not that I suppress it: I have a couple pieces in this book on Queen, and I wish 33 1/3 would do a Queen book and let me do it.
My writer identity totally changed. I switched genres, for one, from poet to nonfiction writer. People still think I’m a poet, which is fine, but I write mostly essays now, and teach creative nonfiction at The College of Saint Rose, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are you working on now?
I have a new collection I’m putting together, tentatively called Poseurs. The throughline theme of the pieces is trying to be comfortable in one’s skin, or faking it, or how people aspire to be something they’re not. It includes reflections on trickster/poseur-type figures from James Frey to my own father.
A look at the women who write Twilight "smut fan fiction," to fill the "people who take obsessions with young adult fiction to a kind of creepy extreme"-shaped hole in your heart.
At Largehearted Boy, Laura van den Berg contributes a music playlist for her new short story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, which looks amazing. She has great taste in music, too, including one of my favorite songs of all time:
7. "Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl" Broken Social Scene
I find this song to be completely hypnotic, in a way that would draw me deeper into the page. It also seemed to have extraordinary nostalgia-inducing properties. Even though it's a song I've only listened to as an adult, it had a way of taking me back to particular moments.
R. Crumb has given interviews saying his graphic novel version of Genesis is pretty close to a literal translation. He didn't satirize it, he just illustrated what actually happens. Of course, Christian spokespeople are furious. There is sex! It's violent! It's like they have never read the damn Bible before.
"It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God's rescue plan for mankind. If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves."
Of course not everyone interviewed is crazy, just the person quoted first. It would not be much of a story if they gave up when they found a few ministers who said, "Eh, whatever."
October 16, 2009
The Naked and the Read
When you throw up, you become a throat and a mouth. All other parts of body and brain cease to matter or to count and you exist only as that choking channel and the opening where the poisons pour out. Unpleasant, yes. But singular. One moment, you’re your whole self -- arms and thighs, hips, ankles -- with thoughts in your mind (I’m nauseous, dizzy, was it the clam sauce, the eleven beers?). And the next, all you are is the gag and the sour. I can’t think of a physical event -- situations of wild excruciating pain notwithstanding -- that matches vomiting in its total physical focus.
Not sex certainly. That might be almost opposite, when you are most aware of your full physical self, arms and thighs, hips, ankles. Mindwise, though, is another story. No question it can be an escape from the brain, a flight from linear thought, an avoidment. In rendering yourself fully physical, you can forget the unfortune and the emotional aches.
Which is the way Sue Caldicutt uses sex in Sarah Hall’s rich and sensual novel How To Paint a Dead Man. Sue, a mid-thirties photographer living in contemporary London, goes a bit mad with grief when her twin brother Danny gets killed in a cycling accident, riding on the highway in the middle of the night. The novel alternates between four perspectives; the Sue sections -- the heart of the book -- are told in the second person, a risk, and it works. It’s justified this way: “Nowadays, people often don’t say I, as if they don’t want to be involved with the desperate act of being. No one is contented dwelling inside their existence anymore. No one is secure. Identity can be chosen.” And more than that, Sue, in losing her other half, becomes unmoored, loses her self; any centered sense of “I” vanishes with her twin.
Fucking someone other than her longtime love is her route back to an actual physical personhood, and Hall handles it with precision and quiet force. Sue throws herself into “illicit, dangerous sex. Sex that is novel and leaves you sore; that is experienced in the gaps between you mundane, moral life; that is strange and breathless and addictive.” Put another way: “These exchanges are simply a confirmation of life to your entropic atoms, an attempt to reverse the exodus of your psyche. You are simply grief fucking.” And in those terms, it does sound simple, excusable, damaging yes, but justifiable, or, at very least, understandable. It’s a sorrowful thing. But it’s also not annihilation she seeks; she’s not trying to lose herself. Sex, here, is path to existence -- both a re-finding of one that’s been disrupted and the possibility of one all together new.
Sue’s existential mullings are sad and powerful. “This is your first and final chance, your one and only biography.” She must remind herself who she is: “You like fire, veal, the seagull-shaped mouth of the man you are fucking when it dips below your navel and preens in the emulsion of you.”
Hall writes beautiful sentences, and the novel, not entirely plotless but certainly more concerned with moods and ideas, has a prose-poem feel to it. Danny rode his bike “like the apparition of an Edwardian soak, a century late for a midnight appointment.” Her language is specific, saturated with color, smell (“cherry wood and juniper smoke”), taste (“meat... rare, savouring the wet iron on your tongue”), and sound. Sensual in the most literal way of the word.
And in some ways, Hall’s project seems to somehow be about how we’re all caged inside our bodies. Sue’s father, an aging artist, and one of the other perspectives in the book, gets trapped, out painting landscapes, between two slipped boulders, his leg jammed. The pain is all: “internal wildness, the violent mania, the desire to demonically vomit.” After his first few futile attempts to free himself, “it is apparent that he is, well and truly, trapped.” Sue observes the body another way, “the existential container, the bowl of your life’s soup.” Death is the only exit.
October 15, 2009
Carolyn Kellogg cracks Sherman Alexie's mysterious code: A character who creates epic iPod mixes for his daughters fondly recalls the mix tapes of his youth; I asked Alexie if this wasn't a mix tape of a book, with many voices, pieces of different length, shifting rhythms, an evolving story.
"Yes!" he said, bouncing off the couch in his office. "I thought including a poem called 'Ode to Mix Tapes' might lead readers to realize that the whole book is a mix tape."
A few months back we linked to the news that the shelter at Margate where T.S. Eliot wrote part of The Waste Land was up for landmark status . . . those anxiously awaiting the decision can relax: It's listed.
This man cave devoted to the Ravens and "The Raven" sounds appalling from both a football and a poetry perspective: The poem, which will be displayed outside the man cave, reads in part: "I need a space, a nest, a cave to watch the Ravens, I implore. This I ask and nothing more!"
On the 150th anniversary of the Harper's Ferry raid, looking back at Stephen Vincent Benét's "John Brown's Body": "John Brown's Body" runs almost 15,000 lines, making it a little shorter than "The Iliad" and a little longer than "The Odyssey." Because of its length and grand subject matter—the Civil War, from its causes to its conclusion—the poem is often dubbed an "epic." Benét resisted this label. "I do not particularly like the word," he wrote. "It instantly suggests a portentousness and a presumption which I do not wish to claim."
Looking for Constantine Cavafy in Alexandria: Alexandria is not much interested in Cavafy anymore," says Mohammed Said, caretaker of the [Cavafy] museum. "We're not even interested in the Alexandria that he lived in."
Happy birthday to Powells.com, which just turned 15. And happy birthday to my girlfriend, Leela, who I promise is older than 15.
David Small's memoir Stitches, which looks incredible, was nominated for a National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category, despite the fact that it's not really a YA book. Colleen Mondor wonders why.
Since it's apparently been a while since someone added the prefix "post" to the name of an artistic genre, The Guardian would like to welcome you to the "post-sci-fi era."
Questions on the latest Rumpus survey include "Are you faithful to your partner?" and "Should I send a copy of my memoir to my ex-fiance?"
A "moderately successful novelist," who disappointingly has chosen to remain anonymous, asks Miss Manners whether it's OK to put a "donate" button on his or her website. (No, says Miss Manners.) I take donations! Cash or gin only. Leave it on my doorstep. It's in the sad-looking apartment complex behind the emo strip club in Portland.
You don't get any cooler than James Hynes, the author of Kings of Infinite Space and The Lecturer's Tale. I interviewed him for Bookslut a while back, and he's as funny in person as he is on the printed page, which is rare. Over at his site, he lists ten of his favorite Halloween stories, continuing a tradition that began with a list he contributed to Maud Newton's site a while back. Holy crap, this guy is funny:
As you wander the leafy streets of your own small town this holiday season, or just imagine you do, bear in mind that under those rustling, autumnal maples and behind the solid doors of those snug woodframe houses lurk sinners of every description, not to mention the Old Ones, matriarchal corn cultists, Wiccans, and alien children. If your doctor wants to give you an flu injection, you might think twice if he looks anything like Bing Crosby. And if the circus comes to your town this month, take my advice and stay home.
Salon interviews one of my favorite authors, the great (and hilarious) Edmund White (A Boy's Own Story, City Boy), who the interviewer claims is "one of the few literary giants of the gay world." I don't know about "few," though I guess it depends on how you define "giant." Off the top of my head: Alice Walker, Gore Vidal, Samuel R. Delany, Scott Heim, Jeannette Winterson, Maurice Sendak, John Ashbery, Dennis Cooper, Mark Doty, Dorothy Allison, Chuck Palahniuk, Adrienne Rich, Tony Kushner, Ali Smith. It's still a good interview, though.
October 14, 2009
Time Out Chicago and The Plain Dealer both have reviews of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. I'm trying to decide which possessions I should sell in order to buy this book. I think I've narrowed it down to my cats.
There are a lot of good bluegrass players these days, Mr. Martin among them, but Mr. Stanley said he didn’t listen to them much. He prefers to listen to the Stanley Brothers.
“I may be a little prejudiced, but I like my own music,” he said, and he smiled for an instant. “I guess I’m about my favorite entertainer.”
That's good. Usually when an 82-year-old country musician starts a sentence with "I may be a little prejudiced," the conversation takes a much less amusing turn.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped to dedicate a statue of Walt Whitman in Moscow today, accompanied by the city's insanely homophobic mayor.
[Mayor Yury] Luzhkov has called gay people "satanic" and has banned gay pride parades in Moscow on public safety and morality grounds.
But he praised Whitman, whose poetry includes sensual references to men, at the opening, saying that his poetry "is permeated with the spirit of American optimism," Interfax news agency reported.
A. "I will go with the whores as always."
B. "Tiffani-Amber Thiessen went from sweet, innocent, loveable all-American teen to SBTB's set whore and Hollywood's pass-around girl."
OK, it's not harder than you'd think.
The finalists for the 2009 National Book Awards have been announced, and once again, the National Book Foundation has proved that they're in the thrall of soulless Manhattan publishing juggernauts such as...uh...Wayne State University Press? Well-played, National Book Foundation.
October 13, 2009
For all you Pynchon fans/video gamers out there (I get the feeling those groups overlap, to some degree, perhaps where marijuana is involved), Matt Selman helpfully provides ten similarities between Grand Theft Auto and Inherent Vice.
Tonight at the Hopleaf, Laird Hunt will read from Ray of the Star and Sarah Schulman will read from The Mere Future. We start at 7:30 pm and books by both authors are available for sale courtesy of Barbara's Bookstore.
October 12, 2009
Bookslut's Indie Heartthrob Interview Series
A weekly interview series where someone involved in the small press (be it writer, editor, slush slave, etc.) is thrown into the spotlight, grilled over the state of the independents and sundry other items, and quickly made to return from whence they came after having graced us all with their presence.
This Week: Paul Siegell
It feels like I've been gone for years. Today marks the return of the Indie Heartthrob Interview Series after a brief but much-needed hiatus. We've got some great folks lined up for the coming weeks, so remember to check us out every Monday for a new interview that'll surely make the heart go thump.
But first there's Paul Siegell. You may remember him as an Indie Heartthrob about a year and a half ago. His new poetry collection jambandbootleg came out early this summer through A-Head Publishing, and it further explores the idea of translating music into words. As I read through pieces like "JAM>" I couldn't help but recall other poets who incorporate font and text play into their work such as Kamau Brathwaite. Where Brathwaite's text play functions in capturing dialect and inflection, Siegell's layouts, as he puts it, are a matter of form and function. It just makes sense.
It's been a little over a year since we last checked in. What's new on the Siegell front other than jambandbootleg?
Coming soon from Otoliths Books, wild life rifle fire by Paul Siegell.
Because it’s so much different than anything I’ve written thus far and it only took two weeks to build, I’ve been struggling to come up with a proper description for it. Something like: Based on certain spelling, wild life rifle fire aims for as many layers of meaning out of the least amount of words.
Might also be the most accessible, and surprising, book I’ll ever write.
Other than that: loving my girlfriend, goofing with friends, hoping my job at the newspaper hangs on, and doing as many readings as I can. (Got poems, will travel.) Headed to the Phish 8 Festival in California over Halloween! Bodily and musical costumes. Bound for new material!
And then, when the time is right, stay tuned for Trombone Bubble Bath.
Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits wrote a blurb for the book, saying you "take music and turn it back into words." What does this quote mean for you? How do you personally relate it to your work?
Coming from one of my favorite musicians, a musician that I am inspired by, this is pretty gigantic to me. On a good night, from his music comes my poem, so having him appreciate what I’ve done, what has taken me years to create, feels like I've done the work justice. Like I wrote it right. And, just maybe he's saying, "Thank you!" right back.
Much like a well-respected editor accepting a poem for publication, Brownstein gave me confidence. Bisco approved! The next part of that blurb is, “And he does it exceptionally well.” I freaked out when he replied with such a positive and thoughtful blurb. Felt like I was welcomed onstage.
To have his support is to have credibility. And hopefully Brownstein’s fans respect that.
As it seems to be a signature trait in your work, many of the poems take on physical forms in jambandbootleg, playing with both font and layout. One in particular takes the form of an electric guitar. What is behind that decision? Do you feel you're taking a risk by using a format like that? I only ask because many fail while many succeed. Some of my favorite poets do this, i.e. Kamau Brathwaite.
Allow me to introduce my good friends, form and function. If I can see it, if I can make something cool, if it makes sense and it’s meaningful, with form and function eye-to-eye, then why not? For fear of not being taken seriously? That “risk” can bite me.
I’m not using Photoshop or anything outside of what Word can do to make these poems. No tricks. It’s all just the spacebar and what I can envision. The font never changes. It’s always Century 10 in jambandbootleg, sometimes it’s just italicized. The book presents a ?, a DNA chain, an >, a guitar, a Golgi apparatus, a 2, an orb, a blazing fire, a cassette tape, the American flag, an X, and a few other visual ideas when useful.
Some of its poems, however, do just go down the left side of the page all standard-like. (And that’s a physical form, too, with a function all its own.) Just.
If it’s “risk” as in am I challenging myself to create the most artistic and meaningful piece that I can, which is what’s behind the decision, then… absolutely! It’s clear to anyone who’s ever read my work that I write with my ear, but I also write with my eye. Poem as sculpture? Sounds good to me.
Your collection is physically set up like a bootleg (hence the title) in reverse: Cassette, Play, Side B, Flip, Side A, Rewind, Play. What's your reasoning behind that setup?
Ever start an old tape on Side B? If you do B and then A on a live recording, you kinda go backwards in time.
I did it in the book for the sake of chronology. Gave me the opportunity to do the more recent work, as far as tour dates and newer bands and such upfront in Side B, and then go back to the past for the progression leading up to the New Year’s Eve and Y2K in Side A. Crafty.
The setlist also contains some parallels (Flip and Rewind respectively contain the pieces "J∆M>" and "ENCORE to J∆M>"). Both of those sections contain musings on childhood innocence and burgeoning reality. They also bring to mind that impatient second when you physically flip and rewind a tape. What do these sections mean to you?
Yes, thank you for this question. These two pieces are what’s holding the book together. The “thesis” and “conclusion.” The significance behind all this.
"J∆M>" is a timeline of events running up to December 31, 1999 (PHiSH Big Cypress anyone?) and I view it as a coin, maybe the coin of me, maybe the coin of anyone I’ve ever attended a concert with, and this poem is one way of looking at its two sides. So, FLIP just made sense for the turning point of the book.
Putting the “ENCORE” in the REWIND slot allowed me to go back in time again and revisit significance. Music, its tribes, and how its differences unite us.
In "J∆M>," as earlier mentioned, we see the idea of youth juxtaposed with the harsh realities of adulthood (i.e. Star Wars, Cal Ripkin, MTV, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, the Challenger, Joey Buttafuco, mosh pits, Legos, Nintento). My reading of jambandbootleg brings this thematically to the center of the collection. With that, where do you see concerts fitting in with burgeoning adulthood? Is a semblance of escapism involved, or is it more a return to the simple pleasures of our childhoods?
There are harsh realities to childhood, too. This poem is how I grew up. These things on TV are part of what raised me. Crisis after crisis, celebration after celebration. All the events that slide past the eyes of someone watching from suburbia. This is your brain on America. OK, fine. Cram all this stuff into my head, infuse me with the nightly news, with fears, neuroses, with the reactions of my parents and what they tell me it all means in school. That’s fine. How it is. But what does my sense of self or my sense of adventure say about all this? What do the books I've read, the myths? Well, off to college I go, off to meet up with my friends and, hells yeah, to go buy tickets and gather with hundreds or even tens of thousands of people who are about the same age as us, with all the same channels on their TV remotes, and we’re gonna do our best to celebrate what we can and release our ruckus and dance together and express.
Escapism? Undeniable. Adulthood? Ha! I’m 32 and just booked a cross-continental flight so I can hang on a field with 40,000 Halloween-crazies for a weekend while our favorite band does everything it can to melt our faces. Is this the most responsible thing I can be doing with my time and money? And why after all these years am I, and a large handful of close friends, still obsessed with such a scene? Is it the child-like, impossible freedom associated with it? The romantic intentions of what the ’60s taught us? The fleeting abstractions of life? These are the questions that jambandbootleg asks.
Finally, in "ENCORE to J∆M>," you write and format an email to Idealism, only to receive a MAILER-DAEMON return to sender reply. While it doesn't physically punctuate the collection, do you see it as an overarching idea? If not, where does this take the reader?
Thank you for such thoughtful questions. I wanted to wind the book down in hope, but be realistic about it. As Dionysus has Apollo, there's balance in everything. Idealism as a desire is vital. Yes, it's a huge part of the book and I'd like to point out, for what it's worth, that Idealism also begins with I.
Wait, Jessa, you have other friends who read The Go-Between last month and are now reading Of Human Bondage? Seriously? I feel less alone now. I thought I was the only going through the ol' "English bildungsroman set in the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury era" phase. Who are these people? I want to form a support group.
Incredible, though, both the Hartley and Maugham books. I have no idea why I waited until I was 31 to read them.
Tomorrow marks the release of Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life, a collection of those questionnaires on the last page of Vanity Fair magazine. You know the ones: Actors and authors get a chance to talk about how they love reading but hate cruelty to animals. Vanity Fair has an interactive version of the quiz online, so you can see which celebrity you most resemble. (I took this last night, and ended up most similar to Walter Cronkite and kill me now Karl Rove. But hey, Cronkite! Yeah!)
(Via Carolyn Kellogg, who is most like David Mamet, according to the questionnaire. Fuckin' awesome, Carolyn! I'm fuckin' happy for you. But you're still not getting the fuckin' Glengarry leads. And that's the way it is.)
New York magazine profiles Berkeley Breathed, one of my favorite cartoonists ever. I used to love reading Bloom County when I was a kid, though most of the references sailed right above my grade-school head. ("Whoa, watch out, Ed Meese! Opus really has your number! You're next, Ambassador Kirkpatrick!") Breathed has just released Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume One: 1980-1982, which I can't wait to read. I think those Yuri Andropov jokes might make more sense to me now.
Ms. Sankovitch, a former environmental lawyer with piercing blue eyes who wears a locket containing an image of a man on a toilet reading a book, follows some rules. All the books are ones she has not read. She reads only one book per author. She reads one day and posts the review the next morning.
Ah, yes, the man-reading-on-toilet locket: the pride of Van Cleef & Arpels. I actually did a similar project last year, but with Internet porn. Where's my profile, Applebome?
Singer Andy Williams, appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, announced he'll be playing at the Glastonbury Festival next year. I realize this is of limited interest to anyone under the age of 75 or outside of Branson, Missouri, but I'm posting it because (1) What the hell was Andy Williams doing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival? Did Eydie Gormé cancel at the last minute? (2) Seriously, what the hell was Andy Williams doing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival? And: (3) Andy Williams is still alive? I guess I just assumed Claudine Longet would have "accidentally" shot him by now.
So that's what's wrong with my home state of Texas: not enough Bible.
Two years ago state lawmakers made it OK for schools to provide elective Bible classes but, so far, few Houston-area school districts have taken them up on the offer.
The 2007 law requires schools, beginning this year, to include some Bible literacy in history and literature classes. Bible classes are optional but encouraged under the law.
It really is a problem. Just try finding a Bible study class in Temple or Sugar Land you'll drive past block upon block of mosques, sanghas and lesbian-owned abortion clinics, but there's nary a Baptist church in sight. At least that's how I remember it; I don't know, I haven't lived there for a few months.
The Guardian reports on Douglas Adams fans celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the latest book in the series, ...And Another Thing, written by Artemis Fowl creator Eoin Colfer. (Adams died in 2001; Terry Jones of Monty Python remembers him here.)
Two books stolen during WWII -- actually stolen from the Germans this time -- have been returned by the American soldier. He stumbled upon a mine filled floor to ceiling with rare books, so why did he choose these two 16th century tomes?
Thomas poked around, saw two that looked old and took them.
October 9, 2009
Speaking of which, Der Spiegel covers Herta Müller's win.
With each of her books, Herta Müller fights against forgetting, against the frenzy of concealment and trivialization which has prevailed in Eastern Europe since 1989 and which seeks to pass off one of the worst periods of degradation and destruction of the individual as a regulated normality. (Unfortunately, this is an attitude that has also taken hold in the so-called "West," as could be seen in the completely uncritical reception to the recent election of communist apparatchik Irina Bokowa to the post of UNESCO director-general.)
Dear bloggers and websites who are trying to type "Herta Müller" now but instead it shows up in my browser as "Herta MÃ¼ller" or "Herta Muller": It is perfectly acceptable to use the an "ue" as a substitute for "ü" when you're not using a German QWERTZ keyboard. It's better than reading about the Nobel Prize and thinking the winner has a series of obscene words in the middle of her last name.
One of Polanski's most vocal supporters was French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand. Among his comments was:
"To see him like that, thrown to the lions because of ancient history, really doesn't make any sense."
Mitterrand continued with a jab against the United States: "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."
It's turning out that four years ago Mitterand published his memoirs wherein he admitted he paid for sex with boys. People are just now getting around to read it, and some are calling for his resignation. He writes in his book:
“I got into the habit of paying for boys...All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excite me enormously.
“One could judge this abominable spectacle from a moral standpoint but it pleases me beyond the reasonable.” (Story via MobyLives.)
October 8, 2009
D. G. Myers, a friend and former student of the late Raymond Carver, tackles the question of who can be considered to be the real author of stories like "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?": Carver, or his editor, Gordon Lish?
Where, in short, is the text? Why should either be described as final and authoritative? Or is one great and the other not so much? Until questions like these are at least entertained if not fully answered, there really can be no informed discussion of Raymond Carver as an important American writer.
(Disclosure: D. G. Myers is a friend and former professor of mine. [Happy, FTC?] Hey, I guess that makes me a friend and former student of Raymond Carver, once removed! That totally entitles me to a cameo in the upcoming film Short Cuts 2: This Time Without Huey Lewis. I'm getting my SAG card now.)
A survey claims that almost half of Britons have lied about seeing a classic movie to impress friends. And even more interestingly:
Two thirds of British people also lie about their literary knowledge. George Orwell’s 1984 is the book most Britons dishonestly claim to have read, followed by War and Peace and James Joyce’s Ulysses, according to the organisers of the World Book Day.
The works of Herta Müller are about to skyrocket up to the top of that list, trust me.
An American reporter visits Latte Piu, a Rome bar based on the Korova Milk Bar from Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. (My girlfriend used to work at a coffee shop called Korouva Milk Bar in Georgetown, Texas the alternate spelling was intentional but I don't know if it's still around. And I'm pretty sure they never served absinthe milkshakes. Pity, that.)
'A novel is just a story. What can be said about it? I don’t know…’ she says. She adeptly keeps at arm’s length any question that is even remotely personal. And yet. And yet. I find myself being won round by her: she is friendly and funny, and, despite her stature as one of the best fiction writers in America today, she seems to be without any discernible self-importance.
William M. Chace considers "the decline of the English department" in American higher education. I remember being an English major at a Big 12 school in the mid-'90s. This was an agriculture- and engineering-heavy school where liberal arts departments were isolated in a building that permanently smelled like paint thinner. Whenever I'd tell people I was an English major, they'd look incredulous and say "What are you going to do with that? Teach?" Like in the same tone you'd say, "What are you going to do with that? Trade blowjobs for meth?" Good times! Anyway, any of you guys have any meth?
Congratulations to German novelist Herta Müller, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature today. Müller is only the twelfth woman in history to win the award, and, more amazingly, only the fourteenth European to win the award in the last, uh, fifteen years. (This turned out to be what is known in football as a "head fake.") Müller, author of The Land of Green Plums and The Appointment, is profiled at The Times, the BBC, and Jacket Copy.
October 7, 2009
I am going back to the States for the first time since my move, and it's to... Jersey. Whatever. I can't go back to Chicago quite yet. It was hard enough to leave the first time, I imagine if I go back now I'll simply miss my flight and move into Honeybee's second bedroom. (Shh, don't tell her.) It would be especially rough after reading Dominic Pacyga's Chicago: A Biography. It's as much a biography of the people who worked in and built Chicago as it is the architects and the capitalists who poured money into the city, and as such, my (former) poor neighborhood makes several appearances. It did not in previous books about Chicago. But the St. Boniface church (now possibly demolished -- it was heading that way when I lived there) and the park across the street... I was sniffling a bit while reading it.
But it's the subject of this week's Smart Set column, along with why everyone still thinks of Al Capone when they hear the name "Chicago."
Any recognizable narrative of Chicago ended around the second World War, when the population of the city started to drop. The industries that had helped define Chicago — its meat packing plants documented in Upton Sinclair's classic Chicago novel The Jungle, the skilled laborers who joined unions and helped bring about fair labor laws for the rest of the country — decentralized and moved away. The industrial areas and warehouse districts began to rust and decay, but not as dramatically as Detroit or Cleveland. The newer, cutting edge technology industries never took off in Chicago like they did in Silicon Valley, nor was there a flashy entertainment industry like that of Los Angeles. The story of Chicago became something quieter — the birthing of a Green City movement, the embodiment of the Midwestern work ethic. The outside world took notice when something huge, and often embarrassing, took place, such as the riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, or a serial killer or two, or another humiliating Cubs season, or the deaths of hundreds in the mismanagement of the 1995 heat wave.
Forgot to mention! I am leaving for Princeton bright and early in the morning to be on a panel at Princeton with Tanenhaus, Wasserman, and Stothard. Yes, it's hard to type that without giggling. Gentlemen! I am here from the future to explain Twitter to you! Then there will be general running around in New York the following week. I will reliably neglect my duties here, so Michael Schaub has agreed to fill in. Bless him. As usual, you can also find me at Twitter when I'm traveling.
When his editor read the first 100 pages, she sent Krakauer an email lamenting “a lack of mountains in this,” to which he responded by moving to Simon & Schuster, who published the book in 2003.
His former editor at Outside follows with:
“If a publisher can make a writer into a brand, they will,” Bryant says of Krakauer’s struggle against his outdoors-writer persona. “Jon hates that, he grates against it, and he won’t have it.”
Tonight is the latest Reading Series at the Hopleaf: David Taylor, Tod Goldberg, and Brian Evenson will be reading their work.
October 6, 2009
Bookslut's official favorite translator ever, Anne McLean, known for her translations of Cortazar, Cercas, and Padilla, is profiled in Semana International. She is the translator of two books nominated for the The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez and The Armies by Evelio Rosero.
The most wonderful aspect of this woman who is obsessed with novels and poetry is that she not only translates books perfectly, she also fights to find a publisher when she falls in love with a book. That happened with The Armies, of Evelio Rosero, book she presented to various publishing houses until she managed to convince Christopher MacLehose, “one of the publishers who has worked the most to bring foreign literature to British readers”. “He is the person who has tried the most to translate one of my books into English, with an incredible generosity. She translates parts or chapters and then recommends them to publishers over and over again. And it is definitely not easy to convince an English publisher”, admits Héctor Abad Faciolince, of whom MacLean is translating “El olvido que seremos” and for which Mac Lean, according to Swainson, has already found a publisher.
While the Guardian's book blogs tend to fill me with icy terror, it would be churlish to pass over the first annual Not the Booker Prize competition and winner: the internet done say Rana Dasgupta's Solo is the victor. At a trifling 357 pages, 300 shorter than Wolf Hall, this is clearly indicative of shortened attention spans and declining standerizzles.
If you failed to lay down green on Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall winning this year's Booker Prize, there's always this Thursday's Nobel announcement. Odds-on favourite is Amos Oz, but literary insiders suggest that this is Ken Follett's year.
"Once you’ve simultaneously created and deconstructed the modern novel, where do you go?" To the Nazis, apparently. The Wilson Quarterly on the rise as a writer and fall as a human being of Knut Hamsun. (Via Stan Carey.)
Mourning Gourmet Magazine.
While the writing was always perfection, and the photography gorgeous, they never did quite come to grips with the idea that maybe people might want to use the magazine. I read it in the same way that other people read Vogue -- with complete acknowledgment that it exists in a fantasy world where money and time are no object, and your corner grocery has every food item imaginable. They were getting better about it, but those dinner party features were absurd. The astronomically expensive menus, the photo spreads of perfectly beautiful people eating perfectly beautiful food on perfectly beautiful table settings.
And while the literary, intelligent, elegant Gourmet goes under, its much dumber cousin Bon Appetit remains. Gourmet might be the wealthy Paris-dweller you simultaneously want to be and also stab to death, but Bon Appetit is the bored suburban housewife trying to spice things up with a little curry sauce. You can relate, but it's nothing to aspire to.
October 5, 2009
The Naked and the Read
The loan was inappropriate. Overly and overtly provocative. Here, here, take this, borrow this from me for your vacation on the Cape with your family. Leonard Michaels, you’ll love him, I bet. Dark and sexy and violent and all sorts of depraved. Beach reading! I joked, trying to play it cool. Failing hard. I suggested individual stories, too. Edgy highlights, because it was good to imagine him sitting on a porch or the sand, reading these stories, maybe thinking of me reading these stories.
Like “Manikin,” the dark opener of The Collected Stories, in which a college girl is raped by a Turk who studies physics, “forcing her to variations of what she never heard of though she was a great reader of avant-garde novels and philosophical commentaries on the modern predicament.” When she tells her effete classics scholar fiancé what happened, he drops her. “I don’t like you,” he says. The girl hangs herself.
Michaels exhibits a look-at-me coolness, an arched eyebrow of detachment. There’s mocking in his tone, at his cruel and sentimental characters. His early stories come off like a challenge, like the nudge that leads to a brawl. Oh, what, he seems to say, can you not handle this? Does this offend you? Excite you? Are you such a square? Look at how above it all I am. See how wise and sophisticated and bold.
Which is a little how I felt lending the book away.
And the same is true in “Captain,” about a man who goes to a party with his wife hosted by a gentlemen who’s in the position to give the man a job. It’s all boozy, swinging weirdness, everyone drunk and stoned. Money and brains are implied. “Do you really want the job, Mr. Liebowitz?” the host’s wife asks the man. “I said, ‘Let’s fuck.’ She blinked and shook her head. She sighed.” It’s too much. He’s not getting it right. They do fuck, of course. But the brazen, cavalier approach falls flat. “I had been too quick,” the narrator explains, “too smart. I shrugged like a man with nothing more to say... To express life’s failure, I lifted a cigarette.”
The boldness here, and in my loan, is a front and proves hollow. Or, at very least, evolves to something else.
Michaels is a master of our baser drives: violence, envy, sex. “Honeymoon,” one of his best, is less depraved -- it’s a story about a young busboy at a summer resort and the waiter he works under, “a Teutonic barbarian, handball ace, mambo genius, future dentist” -- but the way it portrays the fever of wanting what someone else has staggers.
Something shifts, though, in Michaels’s later work, namely, the seven “Nachman” stories. Instead of aggression and reckless, wild sex, you find a man, a mathematician, who is content in his solitude, knows his limits. “Forgive me for saying this,” Nachman’s best friend tells him, “but you live a small life. Somebody gives you a pencil and a piece of paper and you are a happy Nachman. Like a kid on a beach. Give him a pail and he is king of the sand.” The later stories possess a morality, a concern with consequences. The envy is there, still, like in “The Penultimate Conjecture,” in which Nachman finds fault in rival’s mathematical proof. “He’d begun to suffer a dark excitement,” as he realizes the proof is flawed, which “clutched Nachman like a nameless, primordial apprehension.”
The urges and desires exist, still, but something supercedes them. It’s as if Michaels no longer had to prove how cool he was. No longer had to show off -- which is not to say his stories are show-boaty, they’re not, they’re incredible, the cadences of his sentences, his observations. But to witness the evolution from depravity to morality, it’s buoying, and bittersweet. And of course comments can be made about “growing up” or “maturing,” and I do think now that I’d have the sense and confidence not to try to make provocative gestures out of book loans. Because how else does one learn about consequences except by making bad decisions?
In his appreciation of Michaels’ work in The Nation, Phillip Lopate asks: “Is the nature of experience to sleep with as many people as possible, to gamble, to hang out with gangsters, kill a man, sell drugs? Or is it to learn to sit in one’s room, calmly and contemplatively, as Pascal recommended?”
There is no either-or. Michaels tried both ways, and I think he had it right.
The sales rates for self help, positive psychology, and books about the "law of attraction" are rising as quickly as the unemployment rate. Even old standbys like How to Win Friends and Influence People are back on bestseller lists. Really, anything that tells you things are going to be okay, and that if you put in a request with the universe it'll help you out. (I once asked the universe to keep a particular boy away from me, and the next day he had a work emergency and got on a plane to Seattle. The Secret works.) Carole Cadwalladr delves into the feel good squishiness and tries to figure out what's going on.
Finally we learn that he has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. A sympathetic murmur ripples through the crowd. "Don't go 'Ah!'" he says. "It's not sad. I'm not sad. All you have to do is change your imagination of yourself. You can assume yourself to be wealthy. You can assume yourself to be healed. You can assume everything in your imagination. You have to Assume The Feeling of The Wish Fulfilled. If you are writing anything down tonight, write that down."
I'm guessing if someone checked they'd find out he's treating himself by thinking himself healed and bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy. Somehow that got left out of his speech.
Haartz has a fascinating story about how much of Kafka's estate ended up in the hands of a former flight attendant in Tel Aviv, who is stubbornly refusing access. (I find it peculiar so much of this is coming to light right now -- Joyce, Kafka, Nabokov.) Kafka, of course, wanted everything burned, but instead his friend Max Brod made sure to preserve his legacy. After Brod's death, however, his assistant/lover took possession of the estate, auctioning off parts of it and getting wealthy off of it, and passing the rest along to her daughter. Now the courts are getting involved to let the work be preserved (some of it sits in a feral cat-infested apartment) and allow access by scholars and the public. (Link from Moby Lives.)
October 4, 2009
William E. Wallace and Cambridge University Press have created a series of short podcasts in the run up to the publication of Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture. The first one, a two minute appreciation of Bacchus, is up on the publisher's blog now.
October 2, 2009
Carl Djerassi, who wrote the fantastic This Man's Pill: Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill, is also a novelist. Over at More Intelligent Life, he bemoans the disappearance of the polymath.
“Nowadays people that are called polymaths are dabblers—are dabblers in many different areas,” he says. “I aspire to be an intellectual polygamist. And I deliberately use that metaphor to provoke with its sexual allusion and to point out the real difference to me between polygamy and promiscuity."
“To me, promiscuity is a way of flitting around. Polygamy, serious polygamy, is where you have various marriages and each of them is important. And in the ideal polygamy I suspect there’s no number one wife and no number six wife. You have a deep connection with each person.”
Yale University has published a reconstructed version of The Book of Mormon to restore as much of the text that has been altered through the years as possible. The result? Nothing major, nothing earth shattering.
When I called Mr. Skousen, he admitted that his edition "doesn't change any of the stories, doesn't change the doctrine" of the Book of Mormon. But so it goes for all textual criticism, he said. We learn something from close attention to the textual history of the Bible or of Shakespeare, but the Lord's Prayer is still the Lord's Prayer, and "Hamlet doesn't marry his mother."
October 1, 2009
Only two people showed up to a recent Tao Lin reading in California. It happens. Tao Lin responded by interviewing one of the audience members.
Laurie Hertzel has a long profile of Robert Bly, supplemented with video, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: At 82, he does not admit to worrying about his legacy ("Ah, I don't care," he says again) or about getting old ("Did I say I was old?"). These are not things he is interested in talking about. He wants to talk about the poems, and he lets the poems say what he will not.
Blake Butler and Michael Kimball talk about "acoustics" (via 3am magazine): I like something that makes my mouth or face feel jogged or deleted some, perhaps. Something that within the syllables both allows the syllables to butt up against one another in ways that variously embrace or attack. I think a lot of it comes out of trying to hypnotize myself: I enjoy feeling locked out of my body. When I am really in it, when I really start to feel channeled and beaten up a little by my mouth without controlling it, that’s when those words are really coming and spitting me up.
Matthew Zapruder discusses the sources of poetry, and the problems of formal verse today: Indeed, nowadays there's simply no way to rhyme and not sound a bit out of time. Our world is too wary and conscious of the different space rhyme and meter create. This doesn't mean great formal poetry can't be written today. But because rhyme and meter are not essential, formal poetry is by its nature a subcategory of poetry as a whole. (I reviewed Zapruder's second collection of poetry, The Pajamaist, last November.)
Video of Amiri Baraka reading "The Lullabye of Avon Avenue."
What happens when a reporter's not really comfortable writing about poetry: Pinsky’s poetry uses vivid imagery and clear language and has a musical energy, as described in several press releases.
Sheera Talpaz answers "What Will You Do with an MFA in Poetry?" as part of The Rumpus's "Funny Women" series: First of all, you can put away your old-school notions about the liberal arts. Back when you grew up, Plato banished poets from his Republic. These days, there is no poet leper colony.
Also, in Hadley Freeman's column I learn that this exists. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I already thought you were disgusting! You didn't have to try any harder! You and your women are natural nurturers whose natural home is naturally in the kitchen and naturally having sex without any unnatural birth control. And your violence against women is kinda, when you really think about it, a little bit women's fault because of the way they dress these days.
But also, this exists, which made me laugh. A lot. Deep, meaningful theological conversations between a TV rabbi and a TV psychic. Oh, Shmuley Boteach. You're a funny guy.
Today in the UK an ungodly number (around 800 or so) of new titles are being released. Before you get too excited about running off to the shop to delve into thoughtful, exquisitely written, beautifully constructed books you should know that they are mostly celebrity memoirs, pictures of cats dressed up like humans, and foul cookery books that tell you homemade, healthy meals can include tinned cream of mushroom soup.
Hadley Freeman, who is sharp as a razor and I would be afraid to meet as she might call me a twit and bite me, writes about the celebrity memoir gauntlet thrown down by Mackenzie Phillips over at the Guardian. She helps celebrities with some ideas on how to spice up their memoirs to compete for media attention.
I'm Repulsive: The Autobiography of Roman Polanski. Roman finally says what he's been longing to say for years: "You're right – I'm a disgusting sex criminal who should have been put away years ago. Take me, America."
More about dead authors, this time about the books that get published after their deaths. Books that are horrible or unfinished or secret and embarrassing. That's it, I'm going to start burning everything in a semi-regular bonfire, just in case I accidentally do something of note someday.
Carol Loeb Shloss, author of Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake won a six-figure settlement against Stephen Joyce for the legal bills that piled up while she was trying to fight for the right to include materials from the James Joyce Estate in her book. The book will be reprinted in its original form. But more interestingly, it may change the way James Joyce scholars are allowed to do their work, as they have backed away from projects when the very litigious Stephen Joyce threatened nonsensical legal action.
(Even more interesting because Shloss's book is not one I would normally defend. It argues that Lucia was less schizophrenic, more a "free spirit" -- that just happened to be expressed in an identical way as schizophrenia. God, just read Carl Jung, to whom Joyce took Lucia. Michael Greenberg had a wonderful section in Hurry Down Sunshine about wanting to believe his daughter's psychotic break was a divine gift, the birth of a creative genius, but had to come to terms with the fact that no, it was her brain misfiring. Joyce also wanted to believe his daughter was just a genius, maybe with a direct connection to the gods. Jung had to break it to him: "You're the genius. She's crazy." Not a direct quote.)