March 31, 2010
"I like any book that I can’t believe actually got published. Like Grammar Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf. It’s a great book, but it looks like he dashed it off on the train ride to see his publisher. I also like foreign books that look like they came from space."
Flavorpill interviews Lane Smith and Bob Shea, the editors of the excellent blog Curious Pages, dedicated to recommending "inappropriate books for kids." Sometimes the writeups feature questions like "What Did We Learn?" ("In picture books, the train with the cutest face always wins") and "Why Children Will Like It" ("Confirms their suspicions about vegetables").
Here's a teaser from Lisa Brown's writeup of A Drop of Blood by Paul Showers and Don Madden (1967): "In the first scene, our hero cuts his finger, apparently whittling. His dog is intrigued. Who gives a kid a knife?"
Great stuff, honestly.
Okay, seriously. I'm supposed to be excited about this?
....If you're looking for more iPad crack to keep you going till iPadurday, you can now drag and drop EPub eBooks into iTunes! ... Once you've got your eBook in your library, all that happens is iTunes creates a "Books" category in the upper left, and you can't open your eBooks or do anything with them at all. But you can put them in there!
Okay, done with that now. Moving on.
Can't tell your affect from your effect? The Grammar Monkeys (a k a the copy editors at the Wichita Eagle) want to help:
"Affect" is usually a verb. "Effect" is usually a noun. Kryptonite affects Superman; its effects are debilitating.
I put bookplates in my books when I was a kid. They had blue owls on them. Turns out Yale has quite a bookplate collection--as many as a million!--which Alex Beam writes about in the Yale alumni mag.
Beam's take on modern book ownership makes me nostalgic for my blue-owl days. "The physical book does not exist, and has no value. The digital book has no front or back covers; there is no place to assert ownership, and there is nothing to own. The 'digital delivery module' is a piece of molded plastic made in China, encasing a few memory chips. That is not the book, that’s the 'reader.' Wait, I thought I was the reader. Oh, never mind."
You can catch a slideshow of the Yale collection's highlights here. Check out Carl H. Getz's bookplate, which shows him guillotining someone who forgot to return the book he'd borrowed. Some of us do love our books. (Via Braniac.)
"In short, have you ever thought that the available technology is going to make books go viral?" No. No, I haven't. Please keep your annoying technobizspeak off my reading experience. Thanks.
(Still, I kind of do want an iPad. Kind of. Maybe. I think.)
Morning, everybody. (I is still morning, isn't it? In my next life I'll be one of those people who gets up at 4:30 a.m., but in this one I'd spend most of the day in my jammers if I could.) Last night my daughter and I were looking at one of her favorite books: Lost, by Toronto-based illustrator Ian Phillips. (I think I've got the right Ian Phillips.) It's a book of lost-pet posters from around the world--Phillips collects them--and if you're blue (and who isn't these days?) it might make you feel a little bit better to know that somebody loved Boo-Boo, Poison the Rat, and these other critters well enough to scrawl, draw, paint, and xerox signs asking for help in finding them.
Are you a librarian or a bookseller with a special book that's AWOL? Go to MissingMaterials.org and list it there.
March 30, 2010
Okay, so, still not doing so great. Jen Howard will be stepping in tomorrow to help out for a while.
Also, an announcement: the April 8 debut of the Berlin Bookslut Events Series will have to be postponed, due to author illness. But we're lining up three events in May, it looks like, and we're rescheduling an evening with Hans Fallada's son and the Dubravka Ugresic reading.
Mostly I am reading about James Boswell and wondering if it's possible I was him in another life. In Brian Dillon's Hypochondriacs, Boswell writes enormous lists about How to Be a Man, which I do all of the time, although mostly How to Be a Human Being. I am pretty secure in my masculinity. A sampling from Boswell's lists:
Be more regular to go to bed. Eat a light dinner; drink less wine and a good deal of water to give a clear digestion... Withstand pleasure or you will be dissolved... seven to eight, Ovid; eight to nine, French version; ten to eleven, Tacitus; three to four, French... Guard against liking billiards.
Oh Boswell. I love you a little now.
This week's Guardian Digested Read: Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove.
I have often wondered how I landed where I have in life, but you won't find any answers here. All I will say is I had no idea my father had homosexual proclivities and if I had I would – like any true patriot – have left home a great deal sooner.
March 29, 2010
In 2006, Elif Shafak was charged with "insulting Turkishness" with her novel The Bastard of Istanbul because it used the word "genocide" in connection with the slaughter of the Armenians. And of course, she's not the only one. Many writers and artists have faced legal action.
So good on Der Spiegel for hammering Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on questions about the Armenian genocide, although the plight of persecuted artists, journalists, and writers was not raised.
NPR is running my review of Marion Meade's Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Ellen McKenney, along with an excerpt.
West's bum luck and bent iconoclasm fills the pages of Marion Meade's new biography, Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney. Locust may be one of the most defining books ever written about Hollywood, but it had the misfortune to be released only weeks after John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and it quickly disappeared from window displays. When the psychological realism of Steinbeck and Hemingway reigned, West was reveling in the absurd and the profane, populating his novels with midgets, prostitutes, an angry mob and a sanctified flea that lived in the armpit of Jesus Christ.
March 24, 2010
Randy Schaub, Michael Schaub's brother and a Bookslut contributor, died yesterday. He was 37.
When I met Michael in Austin, Texas all those years ago, it was more like rediscovering a long lost brother. "Oh, there you are, where have you been?" The way he talked about his brother Randy, with such obvious love and pride, I felt like I knew Randy ages before we physically met. And when we did, he was instantly part of the extended family. Randy was one of the most warm-blooded people I have ever met, kind and supportive, hilariously funny, and he made you feel so lucky that you got to spend a little time with him.
The world is poorer without Randy Schaub. I certainly am.
Michael is going to take some time, and we'll quiet the blog for the rest of the week. I ask that you send Michael your love and strength. I am so blessed that these two people became part of my life.
March 23, 2010
Maud Newton decodes the Rapture-ready leanings of Sarah Palin over at the Awl.
"The first thing you heard about Shirley Jackson was that she was a witch. Shirley tacitly encouraged this rumor." Joan Schnecker remembers Shirley Jackson.
There's an interesting interview over at the Atlantic website with Ben Hewitt, author of The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food. The small Vermont town became a haven for artisan cheesemakers, heirloom grains, other incredibly expensive local organic foodstuffs, while most of the population -- the town has a high poverty and unemployment rate -- could never afford to eat anything grown there.
At the tail end of the Cosima Wagner biography I was reading, Adolf Hitler appears. Everyone knew it was coming, it's not a big surprise. And yet there's something jarring about reading the correspondence of the Wagners, along the lines of Isn't Adolf such a charming young chap? I'm so glad he could come to tea. It's a bit like reading the Mitford letters, trying to suss out how Unity fell in love with Hitler, and Diana became a die hard fascist. "Poor dear Hitler," etc etc.
Now that Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green has been reissued in the UK (coming to the States soon), all of these old befuddlements are coming back out. The main virtue of the book seems to be in helping to understand how fascism became fashionable among the British aristocracy, as it's one of her earlier books, before she hit her stride. Nicholas Lezard reviews:
In this world one joins a fascist movement to alleviate boredom, for a lark, or to ingratiate oneself with a potential lover. Nancy obviously thinks the whole business is a bit silly, and not to be taken seriously, but in the end you can't help feeling that she might have picked up on the movement's more sinister side. Four or five years later, even PG Wodehouse was laughing fascism to greater scorn ("Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags!"), not because he was more alert to its perils, but because he was more genuinely apolitical. Nancy Mitford, after all, had flirted with the British Union of Fascists before deciding that both fascists and communists were "fiends".
March 22, 2010
Pound had made a recent visit to Paris, she wrote to Hemingway in 1931, “and an Italian tried to stick a stiletto into him during a soirée given in his honor at the Brasserie de l’Odéon. I think people should control themselves better”.
TLS on the letters of Sylvia Beach, proprietor of Shakespeare & Co, the original publisher of Ulysses, and participant in the birth of modernism.
The Second Virtue
The fictional narratives in Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths describe a set of intricately perverse and complex worlds, the inhabitants of these fantasies locked into an elliptical and repetitious search for meaning. Borges creates an aesthetic system of chance, contradiction and paradox, leading us on a wanton chase, in which no route is clear, paths split off infinitely, and corridors lead nowhere. Wandering these interminable labyrinths, constructed of mirrors and mazes, the beauty of form is more important than the content.
Thus, in "The Library of Babel":
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance of from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and the right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one’s fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances.
Each book in this library-universe is of exactly four hundred and ten pages, each page of forty lines, and each line of eighty letters. The jumble of letters on the spines of these books, "do not indicate or prefigure what the pages will say." And most of what the pages say is incoherent and incomprehensible; occasionally, within this labyrinth of letters, a reasonable line of prose in a recognisable language is discovered. Borges’s books take on the form of nature: inexhaustible, repetitious and invariably chaotic, offering only glimpses of regularity, and perhaps only by chance.
And what of God, if the universe is a library and man, an imperfect librarian?
The mystics claim that their ecstasy reveals to them a circular chamber containing a great circular book, whose spine is continuous and which follows the complete circle of the walls; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. The cyclical book is God.
A great circular book with an unending spine: eternal, impenetrable and unknowable; yet omniscient.
Jill Lepore has a great, witty piece on The Husbands and Wives Club: A Year in the Life of a Couples Therapy Group and the rise of couples counseling in America, including this fun bit of information about the man referred to as Mr. Marriage:
Popenoe is a minor character in Davis’s book, but, before he became “the man who saves marriages,” he was a leader in the campaign to sterilize the insane and the weak of mind. The American Institute of Family Relations was funded by E. S. Gosney, the president of the Human Betterment Foundation (for which Popenoe served as secretary). For Popenoe, marriage counselling was the flip side of compulsory vasectomy and tubal ligation: sterilize the unfit; urge the fit to marry. But what if the fit got divorced? “I began to realize that if we were to promote a sound population,” he wrote, “we would not only have to get the right kind of people married, but we would have to keep them married.” Popenoe opened the clinic in 1930, in order “to bring all the resources of science to bear on the promotion of successful family life”—that science being eugenics. He didn’t much mind if the marriages of people of inferior stock fell apart: “Divorcees are on the whole biologically inferior to the happily married.” By saving the marriages of the biologically superior, though, Popenoe hoped to save the race.
This video about the Green Apple Bookstore's book of the month selection process (this month: Roberto Bolano's Monsieur Pain) reminds me that we have, at various times throughout the years, thought about doing some sort of Book of the Month selection here at Bookslut, picking one book to force on people and let enthusiasm reign. The idea at Green Apple is that they are so certain of their one book, they will refund your money if you don't like it. Therein lies the problem. My choice would inevitably go something like the conversation I had the other night, wherein I was describing a scene in a book I was loving at the moment, and the other person was getting more and more disturbed by the weird, dark, twistiness of it, and asked me to please stop talking about it, they were feeling ill. They would ask for their money back, while I'll be running around, "Let's all read Lustmord! Yay!"
Although maybe I could choose something sane, like Helen Garner's The Spare Room, which was criminally underappreciated in hardback, but maybe now the paperback will find some love. I will need to work on my pitch, though, which is currently, "It will rip you to shreds. You know. In a good way."
March 19, 2010
I was getting a little pissy at the ballet last night, having bought tickets to an updated version of Snow White. But Snow White was as annoyingly twee and pure as always, and the stepmother in some ridiculous leather bondage gear with over the knee black boots, and a black cape. Oh, because she's eeeeevil, I get it. Lord. The "update" part of it turns out to have been bare breasts. Bare breasts are very modern. It turns out to be an excellent ballet, once I remembered that you don't go to the ballet for subtlety.
"Wilhelm in particular infusing the new editions with his Christian fervor, emboldening the moral strokes of the plot, meting out penalties to the wicked and rewards to the just to conform with prevailing Christian and social values. They also softened the harshness — especially in family dramas. They could not make it disappear altogether, but in Hansel and Gretel, for instance, they added the father's miserable reluctance to an earlier version in which both parents had proposed the abandonment of their children, and turned the mother into a wicked stepmother. On the whole, they tended toward sparing the father's villainy, and substituting another wife for the natural mother, who had figured as the villain in versions they were told. . . .For them, the bad mother had to disappear in order for the ideal to survive and allow Mother to flourish as symbol of the eternal feminine, the motherland, and the family itself as the highest social desideratum."
The New Republic reviews Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History and wonders why in the world the book would end in 1933.
Getting around Hitler is a nice thought, but it might be a bit late for that.
“Only the pen of some man who had been down in hell could have written it,” said Patrick Kavanagh of a profile of himself run in the Irish Leader, a publication he would decide to sue for libel. The trial did not end well for Kavanagh, as told in Pat Walsh's Patrick Kavanagh and The Leader. John Montague has a charming account of the book and trial in the Irish Times. (Thanks to Christian for the link.)
(And the Irish poetry anthology showed up today, sadly not in the pervy delivery man's hands. I hope he hasn't been taken off my route.)
A Jim Behrle Production
March 18, 2010
What happens when you give a $500K to a journal of light verse? It realizes it needs $6 million: The genuinely charming story of Light Quarterly's founder and his patron: "Everybody likes light verse and enjoys reading it. If you go to a poetry reading, everybody's half asleep, but if it's a light verse they listen." I asked for a sample of[La Mers's] work and she said, "Here's one that's been quoted a lot lately, a two-liner I call 'Fleeting Thought for 6:30 AM': If I were dead / I could stay in bed." (Thx, Barbara!)
Elisa Gabbert considers whether "plainspoken" poetry ever is: So there's two opposing viewpoints here: 1) Poems should be plainspoken and 2) Poems are never truly plainspoken. I fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum.
In the PennSound podcast, Al Filreis and Steven Evans discuss recorded poetry, especially as a tool for teaching.
The first woman has made it to the finals of the "Millions Poet" competition in Abu Dhabi.
The poet laureateship of England is a demanding job: Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem, "Achilles," commemorating . . . Beckham's recent injury: The most tragic image was him being unable to walk and crying on the side of the pitch. You just thought how all the money in the world and private planes can't sort this. It was a very moving moment."
If it's good enough for Tupac, it's good enough for Shel Silverstein: Despite being dead for more than a decade, Silverstein has a new book coming out in Fall 2011.
Really interesting article on Berlin's role as the gateway between Eastern European literature and the rest of the world, and how it is sometimes ambivalent about this job. Name dropped in the piece: Peter Nadas, City Sister Silver, Olga Tokarczuk (whose new English translation we reviewed recently), the great stories of Tatyana Tolstaya, as well as Berlin's receptiveness to hearing other nations tell them about German history.
One of the delivery men who brings me books on a regular basis seems to have pursued this line of work due to what he saw happen to delivery men in porn films. He's a little ridiculous with his eyebrows and his swagger and his silly grin, the way he hands over the pen to sign so that you have to touch his hand to take it from him, and yet I can't help but like him. Even if I want to keep my door chained as I exchange pleasantries. (Also it makes me glad my packages no longer read "Bookslut.") I wonder if this approach to his job ever pays off. I kind of hope so.
But today he brought me Ecco's Anthology of International Poetry, and hopefully soon he'll be bringing me Harvard University Press's An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry. I do love giant anthologies for some reason. You can listen to editor Wade Davis talk about the Irish book, why modern poets are still wrestling with Yeats, who looms large, and why there are actually women in this anthology, something missing from previous "comprehensive" collections. (Kavanagh, I am totally looking at you.)
Although the formal bits [of Gray's biography] are full of useful information, they contain no scenes as vivid as the one when Gray collapses in the street and his biographer breaks his fall, only to watch him rise chirpily to his feet again and observe, apropos of nothing: "You know Rodger, sometimes I think that women's bottoms are the only thing in the world that matters."
March 17, 2010
The National Book Critics Circle Awards have undergone a British invasion. Tally ho, innit. Wolf Hall won something again, Hilary Mantel continued to fail to be interesting about it, Richard Holmes won the nonfiction prize for The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, which is a bloody stunner of a book. Diana Athill, who is most likely the coolest person alive, won best autobiography for Somewhere Towards the End. Apart from the limeys, there were prizes in the biography category for Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life, and in poetry for Versed by Rae Armantrout. The criticism award was won by Notes From No-Man's Land: American Essays by Eula Biss.
The 2010 longlist is 'muscular and pleasurable' according to judge Daisy Goodwin, and I'll let you have one "that's what she said", as long as you behave yourself for the rest of the day. Seven first time novelists join some of Orange's go-to girls (Mantel, Levy, Waters) and at least one kickass literary blogger in the list. The award will be announced on June the ninth.
Those uppity bitches perpetuating the matriarchal agenda in full:
Maria McCann: The Wilding
Amy Sackville: The Still Point
I have a column at the Smart Set about Ben Yagoda's Memoir: A History, about people who fake being Holocaust survivors, 22 year olds with overactive webcams, and why it's really easy to hate memoirists.
There's a lot of talk about the fakers in the memoir industry, and Yagoda takes a particular interest in them. The Holocaust survivors who turn out to not even be Jewish, the faux Native Americans, the white suburban girls who pretend they are inner city hardasses. We swallow their tales whole, even the bit about being raised by wolves in the European countryside while the rest of the continent tore itself into pieces, and then become indignant when they're revealed as frauds. It doesn't even take the James Frey-level deceit to raise the audience's ire. Judy Blunt exaggerated a scene in her memoir Breaking Clean, saying her father-in-law smashed her typewriter with a sledgehammer when all he did was unplug it. Called on it by the New York Times, Blunt said the machine's bludgeoning was "symbolic," not to be taken literally. And so we're outraged, and we engage in online debates about what the definition of "truth" is, and then someone else comes along claiming he was a teenage male prostitute, and we say, "Oh you poor thing, aren't you brave, aren't your books powerful," never mind the fact that the books were never that good to begin with.
Anyone remember that Simpsons episode where they unveil the Jimmy Carter statue, and someone shouts, "He's history's greatest monster!" Well, here's proof.
Poor Cormac McCarthy is taking it on the chin these days. First, in a widely mocked and hilariously ill-advised article on the "Top 40 Bad Books," Christine Granados of Texas A&M University slams All the Pretty Horses, saying "McCarthy uses clichés and derivative characters to sell millions of copies." (Of course it had to be a professor from my alma mater, because God knows they haven't fucked me over enough.) Then, in an even more widely mocked and hilariously ill-advised interview with USA Today, romance hack Nicholas Sparks offers his opinion on McCarthy:
"Horrible," he says, looking at Blood Meridian. "This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written."
It is worth noting that (a) this is a joint interview with both Sparks and Hannah fucking Montana, and (b) Sparks, asked what his favorite coming-of-age story is, names one of his own books. Coming next week: an Iowa State professor explains that William Faulkner isn't as good as you think he is, and Dean Koontz, in a joint interview with a Jonas Brother, concurs.
“The last time a cohort of young people expressed comparable frustration at the emptiness of their lives and the dispiriting purposelessness of their world was in the 1920s,” he writes. “It is not by chance that historians speak of a ‘lost generation.’ ” Mr. Judt does not talk down to these imagined young people; he talks up to them, and the effect is bracing.
Literary awards long ago ceased to be really interesting to me. Mainly because of the Pulitzer committee's snobby letter informing me that my own novel wasn't eligible just because it wasn't published, and because it was just a collection of lolcats I printed out from the web and had bound together at Kinko's. It's called remixing, assholes. Regardless, here's a slideshow featuring the 2010 Orange Prize for fiction longlist -- partly because the Orange Prize actually remains pretty cool, and partly so we can all reflect on how generally cooler British book covers are than their US counterparts. (By way of proof, here's the UK cover of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. And here's the American one.)
March 16, 2010
Ugh. Sick sick sick, reading Ann Radcliffe in bed. She is good for feverish delusion. Will try again tomorrow.
There are pasted-on half pages, numerous cross-outs and insertions in meticulous penmanship and an open acknowledgment that some of the mathematics was beyond even him. Albert Einstein personally rewrote the laws of physics in a sparsely furnished central Berlin apartment nearly a century ago and the resulting manuscript, profoundly human and surprisingly moving to examine, has been put on display here for the first time.
March 15, 2010
The Second Virtue
Eighteenth-century guidebooks to London ranged from the lurid and fantastical, such as The Midnight Spy, a chronological tour taking in the nocturnal haunts of high and low life in the capital, to the staid and utilitarian Complete Guide, a series of lists and tabulated information concerned with trade, commerce and public business. John Fielding’s The London Guide (1782), illustrated with two fold out maps engraved by John Cary, is a particular type within this broad spectrum of guidebook styles, many of which did not contain maps at all.
London underwent spectacular growth during the eighteenth century, giving Daniel Defoe the impression, in 1724, of "new streets rising up everyday" and prompting an image of "this great and monstrous Thing, called London." Defoe’s image highlights the impossibility of a leather-bound London, a city contained between two boards. What use is a map attempting to contain an immeasurable metropolis, in a state of dramatic and perpetual flux? What of London’s identities are jettisoned from the text?
The London Guide presented an aestheticised and refined version of the metropolis: Fielding’s text cultivating a civilised and discerning visitor and Cary’s maps enabling a connoisseurial appreciation of London. The title page refers to Cary’s plates as "embellishments," calling into question the assumption that the maps were intended simply for navigation at street level. More likely, these maps were subjects for taste. With a transformative agency, aided by their minuteness of scale, the maps elevate the viewer to a position of omniscient and unaffected connoisseur. The disjointed succession of fragmentary observations, enabling individual orientation on the ground, is, from above, presented to the eye simultaneously as a related and coherent whole. Cary’s Plan of London enabled this transcendence of the spatial and experiential limitations of life on the crowded streets.
The intricate hand colouring on Cary’s Plan of the metropolis is limited to parks, squares and the river Thames, complementing the image of leisure, wealth and commerce evoked by the guide. Fielding anticipated a readership whose wealth afforded opportunities of leisured travel and whose rank furnished them with the proper connections. Visitors are assumed to be "respectable" persons of "taste and address," turned out in "decent apparel." London is presented as a repository of the arts, a centre of culture to rival any city encountered on a Grand Tour. Even the air in Kentish Town is apparently "salubrious." Quotations are taken from eminent works of literature and references abound to figures of classical mythology. Detailed account is taken of specific architectural styles -- Doric, Corinthian, Palladian -- and the artists and subjects of paintings in grand palaces and pleasure gardens are itemised.
The London Guide celebrates, and indeed promotes, a civilisation of behaviour: "As public manners became more polished, the entertainments of Sadler’s Wells, like those of other places of exhibition, became more refined." The use of the word "polished" here, reflects Fielding’s emphasis on the visual, on decoration and style. Furthermore, it suggests the removal of roughness and grime, an image reflected in Cary’s Plan of London: dirt and congestion removed, surface polished and beautified, to reveal a gleaming new territory. Engraved, London appears with flawless clarity, the streets precisely defined in black and white, angles sharp and straight. The surface has little shading, and the city is buffered by white space, bounded by black ink. Only nature is endowed with colour, and is itselfenhanced by it: a verdant green for the grass of parks and squares, the Thames a perfect clear blue.
Evident in Cary’s mapmaking, the process of artistically improving, civilising and enhancing a surface, is also observable in the text. Bridewell Hospital, according to its description, "has been considerably improved by an elegant front, containing many spacious apartments, by which the old structure is concealed." This tasteful façade also concealed, and enforced a barrier of respectability against the "disorderly persons" who remained housed in the original structure behind it. Elsewhere, at Bethlem Hospital, the reality of life as a patient is refined and aestheticised by two "finely executed marble figures" at the iron gates, "one representing Raving and the other Melancholy Madness," designed and finished "in very capital style." As in Cary’s conscientiously well-ordered Plan, its neatly regimented streets, and boundaries policed in black ink, efforts had been made in these cases to keep the inelegant and disquieting reality out of sight.
The Plan strips the seething city back to its pure form, to be looked upon with unaffected appreciation and refined taste. The viewer is elevated to the position, constituted in the text, of contemplative, civilised connoisseur. Only structure remains: the "architecture" of the city streets, and the plan permits critical reflection, just as any architectural elevation. The map allows vicarious mastery, pre-empting a crude desire for ownership. The vulgarities of the metropolis, the monstrous ornament of crowds, animals, stench and noise, described by Jonathan Swift, and depicted by William Hogarth, are erased. Swift’s City Shower, written in 1710 concludes with these lines:
Sweepings from Butchers’ Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnep-Tops come tumbling down the
The tumult, the floods of people, the chaos of metropolitan life, are removed from Cary’s Plan. A clear, orderly and connected system is unveiled.
However, the engraved face of London, neatly proportioned, civilised and refined, is merely a fleeting expression and masks a less pleasing countenance. Contortion and disarray continually threaten to distract the gaze and disrupt the image of a civilised metropolis maintained by The London Guide. The uncontrollable life of the city, apparently stirring beneath Fielding’s carefully chosen words, is also just visible in the corner of Cary’s eye. The white space surrounding the built environment of the capital, while giving the impression of containment, invites colonisation; at any moment, with an effusion of new streets, the ever-multiplying metropolis may seep and spread into the unstable space, the virgin territory of Cary’s Plan. This implication is compounded by the existence of the second map showing the surrounding twenty miles, belying the existence of a boundary indelible as ink.
Classic Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity author Judith Butler has a new book out, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? She's interviewed at Guernica.
A couple of weeks ago, the London Review of Books decided to publish a screed against Stefan Zweig by Michael Hofmann. Reading it, you'd think there were pictures recently discovered of Zweig murdering puppies. It was a little unhinged, and as I liked The World of Yesterday quite a bit, I couldn't understand his criticism at all, but it was a tirade, not a review. Nicholas Lezard also likes Zweig, and he uses his review of the reissue of Fear to respond to Hofmann.
The case against Zweig, as set out by Hofmann, is that he is simply no good: "Every page he writes is formulaic, thin, swollen, platitudinous." Now the funny thing is that this review was discussed like no other review I can remember since Tibor Fischer tore into Martin Amis's Yellow Dog. Honestly, tout Londres was talking about it, darling. Had Hofmann gone barmy?
Germany is worried about Apple's decision to block "pornographic" material from its iPhone apps. One man's pornography is a German's "another day at the nude unisex sauna." It's not just porn it's blocking, it's art, it's news content. The editor of Der Spiegel explains it thusly:
“We will not alter our content,” he said. “We document war in our photographs; we show violence. Sometimes we also show pictures of people who aren’t dressed properly.”
March 12, 2010
Happy first birthday to The Second Pass, one of my favorite literary websites. (It became one of my go-to book sites so quickly, I'm kind of shocked it's only been around for a year.) Their contributors are celebrating with a list of their favorite out-of-print books, and it's a pretty amazing collection. Feliz cumpleaños, kids; long may you run.
I've been recommending James Hynes's Next to anyone who will listen -- neighbors, the clerks at the Plaid Pantry where I buy cigarettes, the audience of The Ed Forman Show (long story), my dogs, police officers who stop and ask me questions when they see me talking to my dogs. Janet Maslin of The New York Times agrees, so you're running out of excuses not to buy and read it like right now.
Margaret Atwood has joined the growing list of Canadian celebrities set to appear in the upcoming movie Score: A Hockey Musical, and thank heavens, yes, she’ll be singing.
Is weed legal up there? 'Cause you're gonna need it.
Fellow Portlanders! (Oregonians, I mean. Go back to your lobster rolls, Mainers.) If you're free this coming Tuesday night, and like authors, free wine, and helping people in need, you should come to Read to Rebuild - A Haiti Benefit Reading at the awesomely-named Writers' Dojo in St. John's. Organized by Reading Local: Portland to benefit Mercy Corps, the benefit features such great authors as Tom Spanbauer (The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon) and fellow whiskey enthusiast/king of Portland literature Kevin Sampsell (A Common Pornography, though you can change the title if you must).
NPR is running the excerpt from Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook dealing with the man who turned himself in for killing off the infirm at the German Odd Fellows home, and who just happened to change his name when he arrived in America to something more deathly.
Of course it's fashionable to say the novel is irrelevant to the culture or it's dead. And yet the novel miraculously persists. I remember one of the first books I reviewed was a biography of Fanny Burney, a novelist and playwright around the turn of the 19th century. Her father and her brother were both well-known historians. But Burney, for whatever reason, is the one that survived. We don't read those historians at all. You can't say that essays survive the way novels do. Maybe Sam Johnson, but that's fucking rare.
During my first Berlin winter, where the sun is up for only a few hours but you wouldn't know it anyway, what with the cloud cover, all that Vitamin-D deficiency led to a lot of "What the fuck am I doing here?" It could be quieted down with schmaltz and cheap opera tickets and those incredibly Berlin moments, like when you sit down in a bar and all of a sudden there's an androgyne playing a synth with one hand, his laptop with another, singing "Louie Louie" in German while wearing a lady's fur stole. And then you fall back in love with Berlin and the weirdness of it all, and you consider changing your life's mission to becoming this guy's groupie.
I also read a lot of Coco Chanel. She is good for the bucking up. I carried Paul Morand's The Allure of Chanel everywhere, and would have carried Chanel and Her World everywhere as well, as it is incredibly beautiful, but it weighs ten pounds. But Chanel would not put with any of your sniveling bullshit, and that helps. From Allure:
It's not so much a question of being young or old, as being on the right or wrong side. I can call that a good or a bad painting: it's original, functional, indelible. There are no human beings who are not original and interesting, as long as one has taken care not to teach them anything. There is good painting everywhere, in the trains, in the convoys of emigrants, but you have to know how to see it, to read it. Where women lose out is in having been taught; where the prettiest lose out is in having been taught not just that they are pretty, but in being taught how to be pretty.
People talk about physical care: but where is the moral care? Beauty treatments should begin with the heart and the soul, otherwise cosmetics are pointless.
Moral behavior, the art of presenting oneself with charm, taste, intuition, people's inner sense of life, none of these things can be taught. From a very young age, we are fully formed; education can change nothing. It is useless having teachers, teachers have lost many more men (and women, especially) than they have produced. Clemenceau's remark about Poincare: "He knows everything and understands nothing", coupled with his remark about Briand: "He knows nothing and understands everything", remains true, and always will.
So when B&N Review and I started talking about me submitting an essay, I wanted to write about Chanel. It got a little mixed up in my head with Of Human Bondage and Jane Eyre for some reason, but the result is up now.
Her childhood -- she lost her mother at a young age and was soon after abandoned by her father -- reads like Jane Eyre, the book that tells too much truth about the prospects of love for someone who grew up unexposed to such a thing: you don't get the happy match of a Jane Austen novel, one that saves the day for all involved, you get the dude with a crazy lady locked up in the attic. Impetuous, motherless Jane, locked into a haunted room already painfully self-aware at the age of ten, takes full responsibility for being an outcast from the family that begrudgingly takes her in, calling herself "a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of surviving their interest or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment." Chanel, placed in the custody of abusive aunts and then later an orphanage, recalls to Paul Morand, "I was naughty, bad-tempered, thieving... a real Lucifer." She was perhaps beaten -- she alludes to the possibility -- but calls them her "adorable aunts" and waves it off. "It is kisses, hugs, teachers and vitamins that kill children and prepare them for being weak or unhappy."
March 11, 2010
David Foster Wallace's unpublished (c'mon, he was just a kid!) Viking poem.
Paul Stubbs urges a "re-recognition" and "complete overhaul" of Gregory Corso's Gasoline: It is true Corso probably alienated himself further by comments such as the following in a letter to Ginsberg in 1957: "I hate poetry and all its fucking ambitious son-of-a-bitches who call me a showman because I act myself." Yet, he is the true Beat poet, writing because he had to and because of his beloved Shelley who handed down his pen to him as if a rod of lightening out of the celestial dream cloud forming inside his head while he was only 17 and festering in Clinton prison for petty crime.
When was the last time you saw a *really* heated argument about margins and gutters in a 4-volume collected works? (Or a university press equated [in comments] with "corporate America" for the temerity of publishing poems?) The purity of Steven Fama's reaction to what he sees as editorial malpractice in The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner is a little inspiring: This act of editorial vandalism is outrageous and obvious to anyone who’s read any other book of Eigner poems. The poems in The Collected Eigner just don’t look right. Wait, that’s too dissembling. The poems here look wrong, very, very, wrong.
On the one hand, the Washington Post covered this year's Split This Rock Poetry Festival. On the other hand: Poets, you say? Aren't they those solitary creatures, slaves to pen and paper, pulling out strands of hair, beating on unforgiving keys of typewriters and computers, always reaching for the more perfect word?
You have heard that music has been the spark of revolutions. But poetry?
Then again, you can find answers to pressing questions, like "what heels should I wear to a poetry slam"?
On Yeats and popular music: Just what is it about Yeats that is so attractive to musicians? His vision is both mystical and unflinching, and he adopted shifting stances – nationalist, liberal, nihilist, radical, establishment pillar – in a manner that would be familiar to any pop star, but there's more to it than that.
Sometimes I think the British hold their politicians to a different standard than Americans do: Correct me if I am wrong, but I can't think of a single convincing book or article on an artistic, literary, musical or architectural theme that a leading and current Labour politician has published since 1997.
Finally, Spock reads "Invictus"!
Actor Sean Penn on freedom of the press:
The Oscar-winning actor and political activist accused the US media of smearing Venezuela's socialist president [Hugo Chávez] and called for journalists to be punished.
"Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it. And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies."
There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for I Am Sam.
Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (which Bookslut's Janet Potter loved) recommends four alternative Russian classics for your reading pleasure.
And speaking of Chad Post and Three Percent -- see what I did there, Jessa? Synergy! -- the good folks there have awarded the 2010 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction to The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven, translated by Dalya Bilu, and published by Melville House. (I think of Melville House as the Carey Mulligan of publishers, because they are both super-hot.) Accepting the award for Hareven was Jeff Bridges, who seemed pretty stoned.
The people over at Three Percent have started a podcast series, interviewing those who are involved in international literature. Chad Post, the man behind the project, may be the most well known figure in international literature, according to my wonky arithmetic. (Here is how I came up with that: no matter where I go in the world, at some point I will go to a reading somewhere, strike up a conversation with a translator or publisher, and they will ask, "Do you know Chad Post?" "I do know Chad Post!" "Tell him I said hi!" Dude knows everybody.)
In episode two of the podcast, they talk to Susan Harris, who works with Words Without Borders and is the co-editor of the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, which, she says, was constructed with the intention of being canonical. Luckily, this interview goes better than Adam Kirsch's interview with the other co-editor, Ilya Kaminsky, as Kirsch busts out the old "Is translation even possible?" nonsense. Kaminsky holds his own very well, despite being asked to justify his life's work.
March 10, 2010
Sorry, more Nazi jokes: really, just an excuse to link to the Donald Duck Hitler cartoons.
What did they think they could achieve by picking such an asymmetric fight? Where is the rationality of having "six against 60 million," as Heinrich Böll described the Baader-Meinhof Gang? These unanswered questions were all the more existentially displacing considering that, albeit as a participant observer rather than a frontline rabble-rouser, I had also inhaled the zeitgeist of those tumultuous years. I had marched in the same demonstrations, sat through the same endless assemblies, loitered around the same factory and school gates. The difference was that, despite the bellicosity of some of our slogans, it never occurred to me that the situation was ripe for armed struggle.
Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green is being reprinted, after being out of print for 75 years. Because... well, let her explain:
"Too much has happened for jokes about Nazis to be regarded as funny or anything but the worst of taste," she wrote to Evelyn Waugh, "so that is out."
That's too bad, because think of all the jokes you could make about this advertisement that ran in 1944: "Would You Know Der Fuehrer's Face If He Settled in Western Canada?" Look at that mustache in the picture of Hitler disguising himself as a gay French chef. That is worth about twenty tasteless jokes right there. But in the name of Mitfordian decency, we must hold our tongues. (Link via Unity.)
The latest installment in Kate Beaton's reimagining Edward Gorey's covers for classic works of literature, this time with more sluttiness.
March 9, 2010
I want to read this book: Michael O'Brien's Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon. The sensual, sharp Louisa Adams, married to the bore John Quincy Adams, whose rules for his wife included no rouge, and "make no acquaintance with Actresses.”
Reading now a biography of Cosima Wagner, who was so desperately unhappy in her first marriage, while crossing Lake Geneva she asked her husband's friend to please drown her. He declared he would gladly die by her side, but she had no desire to deal with such nonsense and so lived on. I like her.
Also didn't help: the fact that he made up a bunch of words. (Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary almost made me think I understood Heidegger, just for a minute. Also, sometimes when I do drugs. [Dear German authorities: I never take illegal drugs. Please don't deport me.]) Luckily, though, the Times Higher Education article about Faye's Heidegger is not difficult to understand.
Just about every American who has had to wade through the auslander office or any other German bureaucracy to deal with visas, health insurance, registering your address, whatever, will probably use the word "Kafka-esque" at some point. They hold your future in their hands, and they don't care, because you are smiling in your visa photo and that is so obviously not allowed. Please come back next month, with the proper identification photo. Which is why when signs in Berlin started popping up "KAfKA - I'm joining in!", it was just a little bit creepy. Katy Derbyshire explains it's all just a very unfortunate acronym.
I don't know why people feel the need to make declarations about what literature should be all of a sudden. Ben Yagoda's woooo memoir, fiction is dead! nonsense, and David Shields's whatever it is that Reality Hunger: A Manifesto is exactly, because it sure does not have the clear, forward thrust of a manifesto. Both are giving annoying as hell interviews, declaring silly things like "No one learns from fiction anymore" and if you like old-fashioned novels*, you are foolish. I am going to write a manifesto. There should be all types of books! And then people can decide what they like and what they want to read. And sometimes that will be a mixture of genres! The end.
* I just read Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone in two days, feeling like I didn't breathe that whole time. I know I'm behind, and I even wrote the publisher, OH MY GOD, WAY TO GO that was so good, sorry that I didn't read it two years ago when everyone else did. Also, we should give more thanks for Daphne du Maurier. Both really old fashioned type novels. I am a foolish, foolish girl.
All of this is a roundabout way of linking to Sam Anderson's review of Reality Hunger. It is great. I should have just said, "Yes, what Sam Anderson said, he is very smart." But I have had a lot of caffeine, and so the longwindedness.
Up close, however, Reality Hunger is a disaster: a hash of vague statements, obvious history, hyperbole, and repetition. (And by repetition I mean repetition. Shields repeats things so often, and so smugly, that you want to reach across the art-reality threshold and slap him.) The book’s supposed profundities—that the line between fiction and reality is unclear, that genres can be more powerful when mixed, that narrative often imposes a simplistic order on the chaos of actual life—are, to anyone who’s ever thought seriously about any of these issues, a bunch of remedial Grade-A head-slappers. And yet Shields intones them with the air of a holy man whispering the final secret of the universe from his mountaintop.
There's a wonderful slideshow and story about late '50s, early '60s aeronautics and rocket technology ads, fighting for attention to win those NASA contracts. And on the other side, from the same era, illustrations from Soviet magazine Teknika Molodezhi, of lofty goals of their cosmonaut program. (The Russians were prettier.)
March 8, 2010
The Second Virtue
Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s vision of utopia, The Year 2440, was a clandestine best seller in pre-Revolutionary France, running to twenty-five editions. Written in 1771, Mercier thought his creation so extreme that he dared not acknowledge authorship until two decades had passed. Waking up 700 hundred years in the future, Mercier’s narrator discovers a Paris and its people transformed. Ostentation, avarice and vanity are dead. Loose and simple, ready-made clothes have usurped the frippery of powdered wigs, bespoke breeches and ornamental swords. Not only does the narrator discover he’s over 600 years old, but he’s also made a stinking fashion faux pas. The only honour in the new society, replacing all other orders, decoration and trumpery, is an embroidered hat, awarded for exceptional public service. Princes have become publicans, opening their doors for the refreshment of passers-by. Fountains pour forth with pure drinking water, hygienic hospitals provide free medication, and slums have been replaced by "elegant and lightsome" homes, topped with fragrant roof gardens.
Some of Mercier’s most bizarre ideas converge around the status of books and authorship in this strange new world; the power of print being a peculiar preoccupation of the Enlightenment. Encountering a man in a mask, the visitor from the past turns to his guide for an explanation: "It is an author that has written a bad book… By way of reparation, he wears a mask, in order to hide his shame till he has effaced it by writing something more rational, and beneficial to society. He is daily visited by two worthy citizens, who combat his erroneous opinions." Books, ancient and modern, judged "frivolous, useless or dangerous" have been piled up and burned: "This tremendous mass we set on fire, and offered it as an expiation sacrifice to veracity, to good sense, and true taste… Some authors saw themselves burning alive; their cries, however, could not extinguish the flames." The extravagant King’s Library is all but empty. One closet remains, containing the works of those authors who escaped the conflagration. Of these, the only writer to have eluded the "pruning knife" of abridgement is none other than Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He’d probably have been given the embroidered hat too. And in Paris 2440, all citizens get a chance to write their own Confessions. Towards the end of life, each publishes a book containing his most judicious musings: "The book is the soul of the deceased. On the day of his funeral it is read aloud; and that is his eulogy… These are our funeral urns, and seem more valuable to us than your sumptuous mausoleums, your tombs covered with wretched inscriptions." No death mask either then, presumably.
It's way less tempting to post exclusively about sexual deviation and people dying slowly from poison-covered figs now that the sun is out, but I'll manage.
(And I won't say that the roasted duck and solstice celebration I had this year is the reason why the sun has finally returned to Berlin, but I will say this: you're welcome.)
Deborah Blum is on All Things Considered, talking about The Poisoner's Handbook, and she gives advice on how to poison that person who put you in their will/broke your heart/won't stop playing crap techno music at all hours you know who you are.
Read this: Michael Dirda on Danuta Borchardt's new translation (the previous English version was translated from the French translation of the original Polish) of Witold Gombrowicz's Pornografia. Dirda calls it "as sick, as pathologically creepy a novel as one is ever likely to read." All hail that.
Chris Hedges on The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again, which calls for a subsidized newspaper system:
March 7, 2010
“I think you will come to Balzac yet. When one has disproved all one’s theories, outgrown all of one’s standards, discarded all one’s criterions, and left off minding about one’s appearance, one comes to Balzac. And there he is, waiting outside his canvas tent—with such a circus going on inside.”
March 5, 2010
As Jessa wrote a few days ago: "Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima is full of lies, people who don't exist, and, in the classiest move of all, Pellegrino is trying to blame a lot of it on a dead guy." Christ, is there any possible way Pellegrino could be even less sympathetic?
Yes. Yes, that will do nicely.
I love it when one of my favorite authors interviews another one of my favorite authors. It's like whiskey interviewing bacon! At Memorious, Laura van den Berg (What The World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, which I loved) interviews Georgia peach and HTMLGIANT editor Blake Butler (Scorch Atlas, which I also loved). Both Laura and Blake are Bookslut alums, which basically makes this whole thing sweeter than the bacon toddy I'm about to make myself for breakfast.
Finnegans Wake is set to be corrected for typos and "ruptured syntax," a tally of 9,000 corrections in all.
“Although individually minor, these changes are nonetheless crucial in facilitating a smooth reading of the book,” English publisher Houyhnhnm said.
Smooth might be overstating it. Feeling like you completely understand Finnegans Wake is still a sign of emerging schizophrenia. (Link via Stan Carey.)
I guess it happens sometimes, you settle in with a book you've been excited to read -- it's an author you respect, it's a topic you're keen to read about. I took Edith Grossman's Why Translation Matters to the bathtub with high expectations, and after about twenty pages began to wonder if I could drown the book in the bathwater. I explain why in my column at the Smart Set.
Translation is a slog. It's mostly women's work, and it's not a job from which you can retire comfortably (unless you are lucky and skilled enough to make it into the top echelon where publishers are interested to hear the new discoveries you made about a 400-year-old classic). When you do turn in a year's worth of work in exchange for what must end up being $.75 an hour — more likely to be a multigenerational soap opera than a work of art — you get the added bonus of the news that if you're an academic, translating can actually hurt your chances for getting hired or making tenure, or you get some jerk showing up at your reading to harangue you for translating the German "reise" as "holiday" instead of "trip," because obviously the author intended "trip" and by choosing "holiday" you have changed the meaning of the entire work. Or maybe you have some yahoo declaring that translation is an impossible act and philosophically suspect. After a 35-year career of this, I would probably be a little angry.
And oh yes, Grossman is. Critics — except for James Wood, of course — suffer from "intransigent dilettantism and tenacious amateurism." American and British editors possess "chauvinism and unforgivable, willful know-nothingness." She accuses academics of trying to kill off translation, stating that some "actually believe that translations should be banned entirely from the curriculum of any self-respecting university." She can't be bothered to tell us who these people are, of course. "I do not care to remember."
March 4, 2010
If all you know of Jonathan Swift is Gulliver's Travels and "A Modest Proposal," Patrick Kurp explains that you're missing out on a treat: I encourage the uninitiated to read Swift’s poems for the sheer fun of it and not get distracted by obsessive allusion tracking. That can come later if the experience of reading the poems proves rewarding, and the reader has the stomach for formal verse devoted to often unpleasant matters. I can’t think of another poet, not even his great friend Pope, who makes invective and smut so amusing.
If you miss the Olympics, Kristen Hoggatt speculates about what poetry-writing would look like as a sport or competition: I mean, just think about the potential for a television reality series that Iron Poet holds, spruced up with special challenges ("Write a somber poem with the word 'butthead' in it"), surprise visits from Tony Hoagland ("The winner of this challenge gets to write a two-line blurb on the back of my next book!"), and catty personal interviews from the contestants ("Johnny Q. is so cocky, but he has absolutely no talent whatsoever. How did he get on this show?").
Remembering Abraham Sutzkever, "the last great Yiddish poet."
Michael Berger promises to make poetry into a "bestselling cure-all," or to try at any rate: Whenever somebody buys a book of poetry at my store I feel I have to congratulate him or her and then we start talking. A lot of the time, I discover, the book of poetry which the person has purchased is or will become a remedy, an analgesic, a salve, a poultice, a bandage, a funerary stone, or a hopefully uplifting gift to somebody who is suffering or bereaved.
Melissa Broder has gathered a few poets' thoughts on Twitter. Some are weird--like Ron Silliman's claim that Twitter is more of a one-way medium than Facebook--most are what you'd expect (too distracting!). It's clear that the real divide is between those (mostly non-users) who think that Twitter's just stuff people blurt out, and those who see it as a form, and think about revision and audience.
William Walsh interviews Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney on their collaborative process: Our writing process is symmetrical but our editing process is a bit lopsided; one of us a bitchy, unrelenting editor. And one of us improbably easy-going about dramatic cuts and re-orderings. It is possible that our editing process has made us both “better people,” simultaneously honing both a wish for perfection and an ability to let go of that wish.
Looking back at Algebra Suicide: The combination of Tomkiw's recited poetry and Hedeker's guitar licks, however, did work--and it worked very well. Calling themselves Algebra Suicide, they gained a following in Chicago--a following that soon expanded from local to international listeners. Mind you, it was not some huge "cult" audience, but for a poetry/music outfit, it was damn good. Algebra Suicide opened for folks like John Cale and was once described as "Joy Division with a sense of humor," while Tomkiw was even referred to as "the female Lou Reed."
Alison Hallett of The Portland Mercury talks to Mary Gaitskill (Veronica, Don't Cry), and the author reveals she's working on "a young-adult novel about a girl and a horse." I am looking forward to this! Although if Gaitskill writes about horses the way she writes about sex, nobody who reads this will be able to ride a horse for months afterward without feeling guilty, depressed, and kind of sordid.
She also talks about Marlene Van Niekerk's Agaat, which comes out in May from Tin House, and which I can't wait to read. I have a crush on Tin House. They make me think dirty Mary Gaitskill character thoughts. I mean, um, in a respectable literary way. Come on, Tin House! Let's hook up! Our safe word can be Possum Living.
Bibi van der Zee tries to survive a week without books, and finds it difficult, because apparently she's never heard of marijuana and Diff'rent Strokes marathons.
"Heaven on Their Minds" from the Jesus Christ Superstar Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Because I went to Hebrew school until I was a teenager, Jesus Christ Superstar belatedly taught me everything I know about the New Testament--like how Mary Magdalene was obsessed with ointment, and how Jesus was tragically betrayed by Ben Vereen.
I seem to remember that Jesus, played by the "Smoke on the Water" guy, was betrayed by the guy who sang "One Night in Bangkok." I must have had a different version of the soundtrack. (Twelve years of Catholic school, and most of what I know about the New Testament is from this musical too. I also learned that masturbating makes dead popes cry.)
Also maybe how to poison people to death. New York was one giant fucked up Agatha Christie novel in the 1920s. From the crazy Austrian who killed off annoying patients at the hospital to the woman who sent her granddaughter poisoned figs because her granddaughter had snubbed her. Every interpersonal issue can be solved with the help of a little mercury compound.
March 3, 2010
Kind of brain dead today, so much so that I'm posting a link to a list. My defense being that "The 10 Most Underrated Lesbian Books" includes Jane Bowles and Tove Jansson and Angela Carter. It's pretty good. Posting a little on Twitter, but mostly too captivated by the Deborah Blum to think of anything else. (Did you know strychnine comes from the Asian vomit button tree? Now you do, you are welcome.)
Michael Greenberg has an interesting review of Alison Gopnik's The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life at the New York Review of Books. It turns out babies are huge Hume fans.
It's possible that babies literally don't see a difference between their own pain and the pain of others. Maybe babies want to end all suffering, no matter where it happens to be located. For them, pain is pain and joy is joy. Moral thinkers from Buddha to David Hume to Martin Buber have suggested that erasing the boundaries between yourself and others in this way can underpin morality. We know that children's conception of a continuous separate self develops slowly in the first five years.
Duchess Debo Mitford is interviewed at the Telegraph. Her autobiography will be released in September, but don't expect any whining.
"Grief - it is part of life. The disaster of someone dying was talked about for a bit and the person was mourned, but you didn't go on about it and take pills and have to be counselled."
Stiff upper lip, girls.
March 2, 2010
I thought we kind of already knew this, but a new Polish biography is saying that Ryszard Kapuscinski blended fictional elements into his reportage and journalism. In response, his widow is trying to get the book banned.
Author Barry Hannah, whose fiction was laced with dark humor and populated by hard-drinking Southerners, died Monday at his home in Oxford, Miss. He was 67
Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima is full of lies, people who don't exist, and, in the classiest move of all, Pellegrino is trying to blame a lot of it on a dead guy, saying he was duped. If you bought it and would like your money back, Holt is doing refunds.
The Second Virtue
Yesterday, I had the rather masochistic pleasure of visiting The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters at the Royal Academy. Despite being able to saunter past the queue with pre-booked tickets, once inside the galleries the throng was undiminished, generating an exercise in people watching rather than art appreciation: crutches and cataracts loudly proclaimed, an unfortunate episode of wheelchair envy and surreptitious snaffling of dextrose energy tablets. That enlarged projections of the letters were not continued beyond the first room is evidence of a critical lack of foresight on the part of the curators and exhibition designers, which ensured that two elderly ladies armed with huge magnifying glasses became the pink of fashion in the eyes of the surging crowd.
When it was possible to manoeuvre into their vicinity, in moments when the sea of heads parted, the letters were revealed as beautiful and beguiling objects, the text interrupted by miniature sketches of works-in-progress, scenes of the artist’s daily life, or depictions of newly purchased palettes and utensils. The eloquence of Van Gogh’s writing attests to his own love of literature, "a more or less irresistible passion for books," and the sights and experiences he describes in his letters are illustrated not only with sketches but are coloured by literary references and associations. In a letter to his brother Theo in 1883, he wrote: "Books and reality and art are the same kind of thing for me." This statement is suggestive of the interest Van Gogh showed in the materiality of the books he read and that he painted as "volumes," possessed of a physical as well as mental or spiritual expressiveness.
As the son of a clergyman in the Dutch Reformed Church, the Bible played a formative role in Van Gogh’s reading practices. It also underpinned his religious mania in the late 1870s, during which the would-be evangelist identified with the return of the suffering Christ described in the Book of Isaiah. From the 1880s, however, Van Gogh experienced a stronger calling to pursue life as an artist, distancing himself from the fervour of Christian writing and finding a new energy in contemporary French literature. Still-life with Bible (1885) symbolises this artistic conversion – a hefty, leather-bound family Bible open at the Book of Isaiah is juxtaposed with a well-thumbed yellow paperback, Emile Zola’s recently published novel, La Joie de Vivre (1884).
Still, the artist’s greater concern with the physicality of these books as objects to be mastered and modelled in paint, rather than as abstract symbols of a shift in his consciousness, or even simply as reading material, is expressed in a proud letter to Theo: "I’m sending you a still-life of an open, hence an off-white Bible, bound in leather, against a black background with a yellow-brown foreground, with an additional note of lemon yellow. I painted this in one go, in a single day. This is to show you that… these days it really comes quite readily to me to paint a given object, whatever the shape or colour may be, without hesitation." A second still life with books as its subject epitomises Van Gogh’s understanding of these objects as part of the unbroken fabric of art and life. Using a reduced palette of yellows, pinks, greens and blues, the assembled crop of books appear on the table as an outgrowth of the patterned wallpaper, a solitary pink cover picked up in the pink of a rose, while linear cross-hatched brushstrokes across the entire surface continue the lines of text beyond the bound and folded pages. Completed in 1887, he called it Romans Parisiens (Les Livres Jaunes) but The Second Virtue would have been just as appropriate.
During the four years of running the Bookslut Reading Series at the Hopleaf in Chicago, people got laid. (Not me, I am nothing but chaste and pure and good.) The combination of Belgian beer, hot writers, and ridiculously attractive audiences (seriously guys, you were a very attractive bunch) was apparently magic. I know that people got laid, because some of them decided to write me and let me know. Perverts. Also, people wrote to tell me they met boyfriends and girlfriends, but whatever. Sex.
Well, we're bringing that lusty book energy to Berlin, and announcing a new English language literary series in partnership with Dialogue Books. Our debut event will be April 8, with none other than Dubravka Ugresic. She of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. She of Thank You for Not Reading. She of Ministry of Pain. Details to follow, as well as other announcements as we fill in the schedule, but save the date. We'll be bringing you plenty of booze, books, and hot writers starting this spring.
March 1, 2010
You might have heard that all of Emily Dickinson's poems can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas," but did you know that all of the articles in the new issue of Bookslut can be sung to the tune of Georges Brassens's "Les Amoureux Des Bancs Publics"? It's true! Check out our new issue and see for yourself.
This month, we're featuring interviews with John E. Bowlt, Robert Coover, Ruthanne Lum McCunn, David Baker and Ronaldo V. Wilson, along with many other exciting features. We've got columns from our experts at Bookslut In Training, Cookbookslut, Kissing Dead Girls, Latin Lit Lover and Mystery Strumpet. And of course we have reviews, including of the latest books by Justin Taylor, James Hynes, Elif Batuman, Tony Hoagland, Jane Borodale, Julie Klausner, David Shields, and many more.
Check it out! Tell your friends! And have fun reading, unless you are in a part of the world where a snowstorm has caused you to lose your Internet connection, in which case, how are you reading this? YOU MUST BE SOME KIND OF WIZARD! Cool!
"There is absolutely no problem in having empathy and being objective. Empathy helps us gain an understanding at a different level that you can then test in a rigorous scientific way."
Interview with Jane Goodall at the New Scientist.
It is the fucking apocalypse out there today, which I guess explains why I'm reading this interview with forensic anthropologist Sue Black, author of Disaster Victim Identification: The Practitioner's Guide, for godsake. Mass graves, war crimes. Why she'll never write a novel based on her experiences:
The most important person in my childhood was my grandmother. Although she never left her tiny little village on the west coast of Scotland, she seemed to know more about life than many others; she even knew she was dying of lung cancer. So when I was fourteen, knowing that I was going to be horrendously upset, she said: "I'll never leave you. For the rest of your life I am going to sit on your left shoulder, and if at any point you wonder if you're doing the right thing just ask me and you'll know." And it was the greatest "curse" she could have given me, because I often find myself doing that and feel her saying No way! Especially about a casebook. It is not right because you are making money out of other people's misery. And she wouldn't allow me to do that.
Tess Lewis writes about charming literary fraud Romain Gary. His book Hocus Bogus has recently been translated into English for the first time, originally published in French under the identity of "Émile Ajar, reputedly a French-Algerian medical student who had left France for Brazil to escape charges of manslaughter." Ajar was played in public by his cousin's son Paul Pavlowitch. There's an excerpt online.