April 30, 2010
A German utopian cult in Chile, led by a charismatic supreme leader, and the statement "It’s like going back in time to Germany in the 1940s"... The sudden appearance of mass graves in the story is not exactly surprising. Even if you leave the German part out of it, utopian cult + restricted access to the outside world is not a template that results in happy endings.
This American Scholar piece on "The Torture Colony" is a must-read today. With windows wide open and maybe a kitten or two nearby. Try not to spiral into watching that online Jonestown documentary if you can. (I am mostly addressing this to myself at this point.)
April 29, 2010
At How a Poem Happens, Brian Brodeur interviews contemporary poets about a specific poem. Currently up, Christopher Buckley, discussing his poem "Poverty": One gift came to me driving in the car, listening to the news station. At the end of the half hour, this station often tries to come up with some interesting but often useless bits of news, what have been labeled 'factoids,' often some silly or humorous items occurring around the country. That day, they had some statistics on the use and sale of beauty products in Brazil and world-wide; they were so amazing that I pulled over and wrote them down, almost immediately realizing that that kind of thing was what the poem—then still in drafts—needed to kick it hard into a serious direction.
Kenneth Goldsmith explains why "anyone can understand" conceptual writing: By relinquishing the burden of reading — and thereby a readership — we can begin to think of Conceptual Writing as a new Esperanto, a body of literature able to be understood by anyone without having to be saddled with the act of translation. If you get the concept (and the concepts are blindingly simple) — regardless of your geographic location, income level, education or social status — you can engage with this writing. It's open to all.
Kiki Petrosino considers the impact of "Thriller"--first seen when at four years old--on her subsequent poetry: . . . all that was nothing to the absolute crater this video—and Vincent Price’s reading—left on my tiny, brand-new imagination. It literally blew my mind. There was something about the alliterative qualities of "the funk of forty thousand years," coupled with the tattered lace skirts of the girl-corpses, and the way Jackson's face seemed to break open at the crest of each chorus. I realized it was already inside me, working its evilness.
I've tried not to link to National Poetry Month contrivances, but Jacob McArthur Mooney Optimisms Project is genuinely interesting (via BookNinja): the Project's pie-in-the-sky aim is to “cobble together 25 or so poets, all under the age of 30, and give them space to express, in whatever way they choose, what makes them feel optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada. The word Optimism is pluralized in the project title for a reason; we hope to have diverse, surprising, and even contradictory hopes expressed in the same space. Submissions could be prose, poetry, general, specific, practical, fantastical, whatever.
Everyone loves Austin Kleon and Newspaper Blackout. Drew Dernavich has an especially long and interesting interview with Kleon: I found out people have been finding poetry in the newspaper for over 250 years. The farthest back I can trace it is to a guy named Caleb Whitefoord, a wine merchant, writer, diplomat, and former next-door neighbor to Benjamin Franklin. In the 1760s, he’d read the newspaper across the columns, to come up with all kinds of funny juxtapositions, like, "On Tuesday both Houses of Convocation met : / Books shut, nothing done."
Academically-inclined Bookslut readers might have a look at ProfHacker, a site George Williams and I founded about 9 months ago to talk about the intersection of technology, productivity, and pedagogy in higher education. It's now affiliated with the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has generously put our Google/Apple/GTD/wiki fetishes and devotion to The Hold Steady in front of, well, all of academe.
Travis Nichols, an editor at The Poetry Foundation and author of the forthcoming (and excellent) Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder, caused a weird and hilarious media mini-storm yesterday when he posted on his Twitter account "I think we should all also boycott Arizona Iced Tea because it is the drink of fascists." A New York Daily News reporter didn't get the joke and reprinted it as if Nichols were dead serious, and even The New York Times, never one to miss a soft drink-related controversy, wasn't totally sure:
Although it seems quite possible that Mr. Nichols was joking — he has written for “The Believer,” a part of the McSweeney’s empire essentially founded on puckish humor — barely 12 hours after he posted his real or comic call to arms, his comment was used to suggest that a drink-based protest movement was sweeping the nation in an article in New York’s Daily News.
I can't wait until these reporters see Sag Harbor author Colson Whitehead's Twitter page, where he regularly posts things like: "Sometimes when making love, shouting out 'Say you love Satan!' doesn't kill the moment, but identify a fellow believer." Have fun explaining that to an overly literal Christian Science Monitor reporter, Colson!
At any rate, Travis Nichols has now invented the #thedrinkoffascists hashtag, which you should use as often as possible until this becomes the Internet meme of Fascists. (Pronouncing "meme" like "Treme"? The pronunciation of Fascists.)
Dear Bad Sex in Literature Award, please do not overlook Isabel Allende's Island Beneath the Sea in your short list:
“Zarité became foam beneath him. In the anguish and voracity of love so long contained he was not quick enough to penetrate her, and in an instant his life escaped in a single burst. He sank into the void, until Zarité’s hot breath in his ear brought him back to the madwoman’s room. She hummed to him, lightly patting his back, as she did with Maurice to console him, and when she felt he was beginning to return to life she turned him over on the bed, immobilizing him with a hand on his belly as with the other, along with her bitten lips and hungry tongue, she massaged and sucked him, lifting him to the firmament where he was lost among the racing stars of love…”
(Via a scathing review at the New Republic)
Bringing sanity to the weirdo stay-at-home mom/working mother dichotomy: Marjorie Greenfield's The Working Woman's Pregnancy Guide. There's a video interview with her at Mindful Mama, and she comes off as so reasonable and warm, I kind of want to buy this book for all of my friends who are having children right now.
Nathaniel Popper (ridiculously good name) has an article about the entwined books of Raul Hilberg (he of The Destruction of the European Jews and Hannah Arendt (Eichmann in Jerusalem). Arendt's work owes a large debt to Hilberg's research, a debt only minimally acknowledged. As Hilberg wrote, "She, the thinker, and I, the laborer who wrote only a simple report, albeit one which was indispensable once she had exploited it."
April 28, 2010
My friend Austin Grossman has a smart and funny take on the rumors about the upcoming movie adaptation of the Avengers comic, including the Joss Whedon director pick.
NPR is running my review of Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand That First Held Mine. It's a book about mothers. I know! Yuck, right? Hallmark card bullshit, etc. Nothing makes me put a book down faster than a soft focus cover with a description about the transformative experience of motherhood. But I couldn't stop reading this one.
The word for today is "LIBEL." Whenever you hear someone threatening you with it, scream real loud.
The New Statesman has an article on how England's notoriously awful libel laws allowed Orlando Figes to bully the people (rightfully) accusing him of posting abusive reviews of their books online, anonymously. (I do like it when I'm sort of on break and a weirdo story like this breaks. I can just enjoy the crazy as it comes, rather than trying to write about it.) (Link via Moby.)
And Jennifer Howard covers a libel suit that came from a negative review of a book. The editor of European Review of International Law has been brought up on charges of criminal libel for posting a negative review of Karin N. Calvo-Goller's The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court. Instead of a strongly worded letter to the editor or an article or two, Calvo-Goller filed suit. You can read the review online, if that's your thing. It is way less exciting than the reviews of Yann Martel's A Donkey and a Monkey Discuss the Holocaust book, whatever that was called. (Mr. Martel: please don't get any ideas.)
My airplane reading, the re-release of Hilary Thayer Hamann's Anthropology of an American Girl took a disappointing turn, somewhere over Amsterdam. I remember the book from when it first came out in 2004 or so, a massive book about a 17 year old girl. It was originally on tiny Vernacular Press, but it became such a cult sensation that it's being re-released by Spiegel and Grau. And it is great. Addictive as hell, cutting and beautifully written. And yet, and yet.
My quibble -- and it barely detracts from the overall work at all -- is something I see a lot in YA -- not that I have read tons, but it shows up in books but also in movies about teen girls. The
author spent hundreds of pages describing how awkward the girl is, how much more beautiful her best friend is, how she's a bit of a social outcast, and in this particular book, how she was raped. And yet every boy in the school wants her. Including a teacher. And not in a strictly sexual way, but in a tender, pushing her hair back behind her ears kind of way. I guess it's a bit of wish fulfillment from the writer: she probably likes this character a lot, and everyone wants the awkward misfits to end up with sex and love. And yet, it's disappointing because it feels false.
But still, it was worth the bruises I have on my knees from lugging my carry on weighed down by a 624-page book through O'Hare, Heathrow, and Tegel. Hello from Berlin.
April 27, 2010
One of the books I'm most looking forward to reading this year is Oregon author Willy Vlautin's Lean on Pete, which seems to have become more popular in Portland than Subarus, politeness, coffee, bike lanes, tofu, and protests combined. Vlautin, the author of Northline and The Motel Life, is the singer and guitarist for alt-country heroes Richmond Fontaine, and he reads at Powell's City of Books tonight, April 27, at 7:30 pm. Lean on Pete is reviewed at The Portland Mercury, The Seattle Times, and Time Out Chicago. I want this guy to teach me about horse racing. Specifically, how to make a lot of money betting on it.
I don't know how many people in the world are into both machinima and poetry, but however many there are, I'm assuming they probably read this blog. So: presenting machinima poetry! As a book reviewer who once did a guest voice on Red vs. Blue, this is close to my heart. (I really did, by the way; the guys who make Red vs. Blue are good friends of mine. I played a guard and earned lifetime gamer cred, even though the last video game I played was probably like Rampage or Contra or something.)
Hey, Bookslut is back online! We missed you. I am still not entirely sure why we were down yesterday, as computers frighten and confuse me. But you know how sometimes when you park your car downtown, and a guy comes up to you and offers to "watch your car" for five dollars? And what he's really saying is that if you don't pay him, he will slash your tires and remove your windshield wipers in an ungentle fashion? I am pretty sure what happened is the Internet equivalent of that.
April 23, 2010
A Jim Behrle Production
Lots of awesome things come from New Zealand, like better volcanoes (Ruapehu pisses all over Eyjafjallajökul), The Clean, me. The Wives of Henry Oades, a new novel by American author Johanna Moran, is about a Pacific-spanning bigamist 'inspired by a widely distributed newspaper article' about a case that came to court in 19th century California. The details of the case ended up in a legal textbook, which is where Moran's father first picked it up. The NZ Herald has worked out that this juicy story, what with it's Māori uprising, wife swapping, Berkeley Daughters of Decency, and irate bigamist-lynching mob, was most likely a load of old cobblers. The author's not convinced:
"I don't believe it was a hoax. I base it on the fact that it appeared in a Harvard Law School text 70 years after the fact," she said. "I don't believe a Harvard Law Professor would get taken in by a hoax."
Seriously, homies, let's not start dropping truth bombs on the foreign devils now, or they'll never believe that we really are all part-dolphin.
April 22, 2010
Sometimes, when you've had a really bad year, there's nothing better than relaxing with a light, madcap trifle of a book, and just letting your worries pass you by. Here's my latest review for NPR.org.
There's never been a Vietnam War novel as stark, powerful and brutal as Matterhorn -- Marlantes manages to exceed the efforts of his closest literary antecedents, Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried) and James Webb (the brilliant, underrated Fields of Fire). He manages to write with a dark and chilling beauty, even as he chronicles some of the most unspeakable events his readers are likely to encounter. It's the rare kind of masterpiece that enriches not just American literature but American history as well. Marlantes earned a host of medals in Vietnam; the service he's done with this brave novel should earn him, again, the thanks of a nation still broken, still trying to heal from the wounds of Vietnam.
Is masturbation literature's last taboo?
What else could explain the uproar which greeted Charlotte Roche's Wetlands? Yes, it explored the female body with incredible candour; but equally its power came from the narrator's unabashed confessions of where her sexual instincts goes when no one is watching. Or how about the high priest of self-pleasure, Philip Roth? His seminal (forgive me) Portnoy's Complaint was said to have shattered the taboo of masturbation, but I wonder if that's the case.
Ah, Wetlands. The book that did for me what twelve years of Catholic school couldn't: make me afraid of sex.
Indie publishing heroes Small Press Distribution are sponsoring a bad poetry contest. You have until tomorrow to submit your terrible verse in such categories as "Worst poem in which there is an epiphany in a kitchen," "Worst poem titled 'Unicorns In Fog,'" and "Worst poem wherein the title of the poem is longer than the poem."
Maggie O'Farrell talks to the Telegraph about setting her new novel The Hand That First Held Mine in 1950s London Soho, and the influence that Francis Bacon and John Deakin had on the quite charming novel's genesis.
A few weeks ago a friend took a picture of the Chicago Theater's marquee and sent it to me, to show a weird misspelling of Anthony Bourdain's name. They eventually fixed it, but then I started to wonder. What the hell is Anthony Bourdain going to be doing at the Chicago Theater? A song and dance revue? A burlesque? Perhaps a one man Waiting for Godot? It turns out he is going to try to do a one man show, according to this article at the Chicago Tribune. Well. God speed, but if you find yourself grasping for things to talk about, Mr. Bourdain, any of the above would make good filler.
April 21, 2010
The Naked and the Read
We were talking about John Updike, who I’d long dismissed out of hand without real ground to. I’d read a handful of his later short stories, not all of The Centaur in a high school English class, and here and there a critical essay or review. (He argued in the New Yorker that Jonathan Safran Foer’s September 11th novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close wasn’t a serious book, could not be taken seriously, because the narrator was not sexually mature. Say what you will about Foer, this struck me as a flawed and narrow-minded critique, and played a large part in my dismissal.) Updike seemed too much of another generation; my dad had all his books on his shelf. It was never meant for me.
We were talking about John Updike, and I said, in my near baseless dismissing, that all he seemed to me was an old man reliving his sexual prime. And the pal I was talking to said, “Isn’t that what all of us are doing?”
And I thought and thought about that. And I wondered at what age that starts. Here we were, all in the start of our thirties. Premature, I thought. But maybe not for men. And anyway, perhaps I shouldn’t fault Updike for this. Perhaps it’s just a true and human thing. Maybe I ought give Updike a bit of a chance.
So: Rabbit, Run. An open mind! A new approach! If we’re all of us replaying loops of sexual triumphs, vitality and possibility and youth, maybe Updike is the best chronicler of this. I was ready to be ready for John Updike.
I wasn’t. It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen at all. Rabbit, Run confirmed and enhanced my dismissal. The book follows Rabbit, a high school basketball star, now in his mid-twenties, married to a boozy wretch of a woman, with one child and another on the way. I’ve never read a novel and felt so strongly that it should’ve been a short story, could’ve done everything it did in eighteen pages.
And, I’ll admit, not being that into misogyny, lines like these made it very difficult for me to like the book (made it very difficult for me not to yell and throw the book down the hallway):
“Something like money in a naked woman, deep, millions.”
“That wonderful way they have of coming forward around you when they want it. Otherwise just fat weight.”
“… his hand abandoned on the breadth of her body finds at arm’s length a split pod, an open fold, shapeless and simple.”
“Best bedfriend, fucked woman. Bowl bellies. Oh, how!”
“There’s that in women repels him: handle themselves like an old envelope. Tubes into tubes, wash away men’s dirt -- insulting really. Faucets cry.”
“You can tell: their skin under the fur gets all loose like a puppy’s neck.”
“…white, pliant machine for fucking, hatching, feeding.”
Women -- the drunk, dumb pregnant wife, the world-weary whore, the complicated mother -- enact a force of rot on Rabbit. And every sixty pages or so there was some great bright blast of a sentence. The description of Ruth swimming is right and sensual:
When she did the backstroke the water bubbled and broke and poured down her front into her breastcups, flooding her breasts with touch; the arch of her submerged body tightened; she closed her eyes and moved blindly. Two skinny boys dabbling at the shallow end of the pool splashed away from her headfirst approach. She brushed one with a backsweep of her arm, awoke, and squatted smiling in the water, her arms waved bonelessly to keep her balance in the nervous tides of the crowded pool.
There’s more to be appreciated. In regards to the glory of high school sports stardom: in sport, someone wisely pointed out to me in another conversation about Updike, there are rules and winners and losers. In the domestic web, nothing’s delineated. “It’s a series of compromises,” he said. “No victories. Nothing gained. Nothing lost.” Updike gets that right, that tight feeling, with nothing to look forward to, that all you’re becoming is less and less alive.
But he’s not meant for me. Whatever it’s based on -- generation, gender -- Updike, for me, is a rabbit not worth chasing.
Still reading about Sylvia Beach*, I'm tempted to start talking about the Bookslut Circle, just to be an asshole. But as Michael and I are contributing to NPR, and now Bookslut contributor Kati Nolfi has been published at the Smart Set, where I am the books columnist, our reach is mighty.
But go read Nolfi's piece about body shaming at The Smart Set.
* Just as an aside, the cover art for the Sylvia Beach book is Oh My God My Eyes are Burning bad. It's a festival of clip art. As it's not a dust jacket, easily removed, I'm breaking out the Lisa Frank glittered unicorn stickers to cover up the monstrosity. Even acid green penguins hugging with a sparkly trim better represents the spirit of Sylvia Beach's collaboration with James Joyce than the celebration of horrors going on right now.
Nancy Mattoon on the "weird parallels" between William S. Burroughs and Don Draper of Mad Men. Here's another one: the heroine of Mad Men is played by January Jones, and Burroughs spent most Januaries jonesing for heroin! And that, my friends, is how you make the stupidest joke in history of the world. I promise Jessa will be back soon.
The connections between books and organized crime in the Pacific Northwest. You know those posters you see in libraries and schools with C-list celebrities encouraging you to read? The ones they put up in the hopes that someone will be like, "Whoa, Adrian Zmed and Tawny Kitaen want me to read books? Sold!" Imagine how much more effective they'd be with scary-looking Mafiosi on them! "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. By not supporting your local library."
April 20, 2010
My friend/editor/de facto twin sister Jessa Crispin has been visiting Portland for a few days, and though I'd planned to hide her passport to keep her from leaving, I reluctantly had to let her go back to Berlin (via Chicago). I tried to convince her to get super-drunk and blog with me last night, but no dice. (Jessa was convinced our drunk blogging would end up like this; I thought it would turn out more like this.) I'm still not giving up on convincing her to move here, though. Portlanders, when we start the Bookslut Reading Series here in a few months, we're going to have to come up with a plan to get her to Bridgetown permanently. I'm not ruling out blackmail, either. You've been warned, Crispin.
My new novel, The Flame Alphabet, has a single narrator, a man telling a story about a world in which language has become toxic, an epidemic that has led to the loss of his family, and pretty much everything else. In this book it has made sense to have much more functional language, like “I went in the room and fell down the hole.” I’m not interested here in trying to reinvent the sentence every time I write it, and the narrative calls for modest, transparent language sometimes, locutions that hide in plain sight. I love the simplest language, and I love complex, syntax-bending sentences, but I don’t really care for either for their own sake.
And another worthy literary magazine, Memorious, talks to Brock Clarke (The Ordinary White Boy, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England):
Memoir is like cable TV—I’m disgusted but can’t look away. I find it obnoxious, self-righteous, and hypocritical, especially when it veers close to self-help. When I was writing this book, readers were coming to memoir because it made things easier, it seemed directly applicable to their lives. It was a cause-and-effect relationship—you pay your money at the drive-thru and get your hamburger. But if you come to a memoir with absolute expectations, you may get your knickers in a twist when you discover it’s partially fabricated. “We read to find out the truth!” Well, that’s not why I read—it’s the opposite of why I read. That there were so many people who felt this way made me full of despair.
In 1992, more librarians would have had sex with Woody Allen than with Eddie Van Halen, and only 20% of librarians reported having had sex in a library. In 1992, I was 14, and would have found the latter part of this news very, very disappointing. I still do, actually. (Via.)
FiveChapters.com is running excerpts from Julie Orringer's forthcoming The Invisible Bridge, which I just finished reading and which is breathtaking. (Orringer's debut, How to Breathe Underwater, was the first book I ever reviewed for a newspaper, and I've been looking forward to this one for years.) Do not miss this one.
Philip Pullman (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ) loves pugs, but not Pope Benedict. A man after my own heart.
The other subject of his vitriol is the Catholic church. "It's been caught with its trousers down, in many different ways, hasn't it?" he says of the recent abuse scandals. "They didn't expect this sort of thing to happen, this sort of thing to come out; they didn't expect to have to account for themselves in the way that they've had to. But this is what happens, always, when you have an organisation whose authority derives from something that may not be questioned."
The Second Virtue
The revival and adaptation of pochoir, a traditional hand-stencilled print technique, by French interior designers and their publishers in the 1920s, was conceived not only as a means boost the status of the artiste-décorateur, but to reassert the pre-eminence of France in the international market for the decorative arts. Pochoir was used strategically to elevate the interior decorator, or ensemblier, to the rank of fine artist, and to reinstate France as the centre of taste, by representing French designs in a fashionable, distinctive and elite graphic form.
Pochoir stencilling was anadditive technique, the successive application of opaque or translucent layers of colour creating a sensual spectacle of surface, in which raised planes of colour evoked physical depth, texture and pattern. Watercolour or gouache was applied by hand using a variety of techniques such as stippling and sponging, requiring specialised skills and involving many stages. Such intensive handwork made pochoir an expensive printing process for a workshop to undertake; for consumers, the medium itself was a signifier of wealth and taste.
In the context of interior design publishing, pochoir lent itself to the production of loose-leafed portfolios showcasing ensemblier’s work, printed in limited editions.
French designs for high-style moderne interiors -- an aesthetic shaped by the premises of luxury and fashion, sumptuous materials and meticulous craftsmanship -- were promoted through an equally high-quality print medium, attracting status-conscious patrons.
For interior designers, the special appeal of pochoir lay also in its representational ability: colours originally selected could be accurately reproduced, including the exact colour ranges of wallpaper or textile designs. Colour was an important element in interpreting design and the formal properties of an interior could be evoked and manipulated to a much greater extent than in contemporary black and white photography: particular aspects of a decorative scheme might be highlighted, or colour used to harmonise furnishings.
Colour not only articulated form but gave an indication of materials. Whether gouache or watercolour, the colour medium itself and the method of application, opaque or translucent, were used to simulate object-specific textures within the print: from the dense stippling of wallpaper and textiles, to the smooth satiny surfaces of veneered furniture and gleaming bath suites.
Taken from four different portfolios and featuring the work of Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Eileen Gray and their contemporaries, over 200 hundred of these pochoir prints are beautifully reproduced in Moderne: Fashioning the French Interior. The book accompanied an exhibition at the Wolfsonian Museum and although I managed to get to it, leafing through the rich volume of prints perhaps gives a better impression of how pochoir interiors were originally received.
April 19, 2010
It's a tough time economically for all companies. But publishers, take note: the proofreaders should not be the first people you let go.
An Australian publisher is reprinting 7,000 cookbooks over a recipe for pasta with "salt and freshly ground black people." . . . The "Pasta Bible" recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto was supposed to call for black pepper.
(Link via Matt Stewart's Twitter page.)
The chair of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize fiction jury first heard about Paul Harding's Tinkers, which eventually won the award, from Michele Filgate, literary samurai and Bookslut contributor. Which is cool and all, but I'm kind of hurt that Michele didn't tell her about my novel. I guess it wasn't good enough, just because it hasn't been published, and just because it's an allegory about the Johnstown Flood involving two teddy bears, a talking teaspoon, and a very special kitty detective who loves clotted cream. Whatever, Michele. I don't need your validation to be proud of Mr. Wiggle's Super Sad, Very Bad Day. (Film rights still available, contact me.)
Newspaper Blackout author Austin Kleon, the Lone Star State-based artist and poet with the best Texas name since Colt McCoy, contributes a "Book Notes" playlist to Largehearted Boy. (It features, happily, The National, Jens Lekman, and Smog, among others.)
America's first president owes 300,000 pictures of himself to the New York Society Library.
I think The New York Times just flat out got it wrong on this one, as did some of the other critics. And it's not the first time they have been wrong on an important book. I think part of the issue is that most newspaper critics try to judge books according to their own personal taste. So, when Michiko Kakutani says she found this book to be "offensive" and "perverse" she is saying something about her own personal taste. I didn't find the book to be least bit offensive or perverse. In fact, I would summarize my emotional reaction to the book as "very intriguing."
All critics judge books according to their own personal taste, of course, but still. Kakutani's review was hilariously mean:
Nonetheless, his story has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, using it as a metaphor to evoke “the extermination of animal life” and the suffering of “doomed creatures” who “could not speak for themselves.”
My friend Joey, reading that, asked, "Do reviews get worse?" They probably don't. It can't be fun to wake up to "You know the Holocaust? The most infamous tragedy of world history, used as an example of the enormity of man's inhumanity to man? Yeah, this book treats that like a very special episode of Charles in Charge."
April 16, 2010
Does Nature have something against publishing? The ash cloud from the volcano erupting under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier threatens plans for the upcoming London Book Fair--but the exhibition director says "the show must go on." Meanwhile, those in Europe who aren't stuck in airports enjoy spectacular sunsets. (Via PD Smith.)
Now I'm thinking of volcano literature. The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton, of course (do people still read that when they're not making fun of EBL?), but there was a novel about Krakatoa I read as a kid. Could it have been The Twenty-One Balloons?
How to correctly pronounce authors' names. It turns out I've been mispronouncing Adrian Tomine, Jonathan Lethem, Jodi Picoult, and Philip Gourevitch. Not to mention Ayn Rand. Her first name is pronounced "ine," as in "pine," but I'd been saying "Man, I appreciate you selling me weed and that pamphlet looks really interesting; it's just that I already have so much reading material about how Ron Paul is trying to keep the Federal Reserve from taking everybody's guns away."
I have a deep affection for hard-to-pronounce names, since nobody ever gets mine right (it's "shoub," as in "shout"). I used to live near a street in Austin spelled "Manchaca" but pronounced "MAN-chack," and now I live near a Portland street spelled "Couch" but pronounced "cooch." I'm actually not joking about that. Portland!
I have read fragments of Ulysses in its serial form. It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilization, but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon round Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read all that foul mouthed, foul minded derision and obscenity. To you possibly it may appeal as art; you are probably (you see I don't know you) a young barbarian beglamoured by the excitements and enthusiasms that art stirs up in passionate material; but to me it is all hideously real; I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard and taken part in those conversations. I escaped from them to England at the age of twenty; and forty years later have learnt from the books of Mr. Joyce that Dublin is still what it was, and young men are still drivelling in slackjawed blackguardism just as they were in 1870. It is, however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it. In Ireland they try to make a cat cleanly by rubbing its nose in its own filth. Mr. Joyce has tried the same treatment on the human subject. I hope it may prove successful.
I am aware that there are other qualities and other passages in Ulysses; but they do not call for any special comment from me.
I must add, as the prospectus implies an invitation to purchase, that I am an elderly Irish gentleman, and if you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150 francs for such a book, you little know my countrymen.
G. Bernard Shaw
A Jim Behrle Production
April 15, 2010
Ian Heubert allows us to dispense with "National Poetry Month" in a single image. A handy timesaver!
Although Natalie Merchant's album of poems set to music is getting all the reviews, this project out of Israel sounds more interesting: Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, the poems of Wladyslaw Szlengel, killed at 29 during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, will be given new life. "We wanted to revive Szlengel the poet. We did not want his murder to condemn his poems, which describe what was in the hearts of Jews during the Holocaust," says Boaz Albert, 32, the lead singer of El HaMeshorer.
Carolyn Rodgers, a Chicago institution and a poet associated with the Black Arts Movement, has died. Thanks to YouTube, you can see her discuss "The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement."
Longtime Bookslut contributer Dale Smith considers the merits of close reading in Ron Silliman's The Alphabet: I may be a bit hard here, taking this offhand remark in a footnote so seriously, but I wonder why anyone should have to perform a close reading on such a book at a moment in our technocultural history. There are more books than ever, more blogs, and online sources of text and visual imagery. What about The Alphabet deserves such close literary inspection when we can hardly remain situated in rapidly increasing (you might say "tweetery") circulation of discourse? Must a reader “get” each reference? Silliman’s claims about language could be reduced to less than 100 pages, so why endure his methodical proofs for another 950?
See also Chris Piuma: Poetry as an expression of time or money: There is so much poetry out there, and time is so short. We can question the ethics of adding to the pile. But we don't have to. We can be grateful for the plenitude of options, and the ability to drown ourselves in abundance from this particular author, or that one, or any of thousands more. But what is required, in this situation of superabundance? It does not require us to strain our time or money much. There is poetry enough.
An interview with Matthew Lippman (The New Year of Yellow) about his long path to success: One thing is true about my poetry “career” is this: I have persevered. And perseverance is a beautiful thing. It pays off, really. So, that is part of my philosophy. I have always believed in my voice and whether people embrace it or not, eh, well, it’s a crapshoot. For a long time no one really paid much attention. Lately, a lot of people have been paying attention. Not much has shifted though, in my work, except for craft. So, yeah, stay on the path. Especially when it is gorgeous.
Is it even possible to write a bad poem about steampunk? Or the Denver Broncos? Un-flex your poetic muscle and win a book from SPD. (In other stories at We Who Are About to Die, Daniel Nester's interview with Drunk Hulk is the happiest thing on the internet in at least a month.
MIL: And what did you do before FSG? How did you refine your literary taste?
LS: Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard.
OK, so: MARRY ME, LORIN STEIN. I know all the words to "Mama Tried." (I really do.)
This week's Digested Classic from the Guardian is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy:
"Stop, Uncle," Rahel said. "There are too many names, too many things going on. I can't keep up."
"That's the whole point," Chacko replied. "This is India, a land of sensory and poetic overload, a land where small boats bob in rippling water of green silk, a land teeming with literary prizes for those who can find the right imagery to win them. But these are small things."
"Is there a God of Small Things?"
"There must be if I won the Booker."
The Boston Globe profiles Paul Harding, who shocked a lot of literary types by picking up the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his debut novel Tinkers, released by tiny indie Bellevue Literary Press (which is operated out of a medical center). Our own Michele Filgate interviewed Harding last year, an incredible act of foresight that I am taking all the credit for, despite the fact that it was Michele's idea and I wasn't editor at the time. (I haven't read the book, but Michele loved it. My friend D. G. Myers did not.)
Regardless, it was, obviously, a -- what's the literary term? -- "fucking awesome" week for indie presses. Soft Skull, a longtime Bookslut favorite, picked up a nomination for Lydia Millet's Love in Infant Monkeys (they'll also be publishing Drama finalist Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo this fall). The Poetry prize went to Rae Armantrout's Versed (Wesleyan University Press), with Angie Estes's Tryst (Oberlin College Press) and Lucia Perillo's Inseminating the Elephant (Copper Canyon Press) earning nominations. And the Biography category was swept by a press so small and obscure, it's run by one guy, who's been dead for 25 years. You cannot buy that kind of indie cred.
So, book nerd parlor game: What small press books have the best chance at next year's Pulitzers? Tin House has Keith Lee Morris's Call It What You Want. Coffee House has Travis Nichols's Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder and Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel. Graywolf has Maile Chapman's Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto. Any one of them could play a convincing 16 against Franzen's (or whoever's) number-one seed. (Though this is coming from a guy who always picks a 16 against a 1, even though they never win and I always end up losing $20 because for some reason I thought Mary Hardin-Baylor or whatever could beat Kansas. I can't help it. I love the Cinderellas. You don't become a book journalist without a deep and undying love for the underdog.)
Next time your friend is finding herself two years into involuntary celibacy, wandering the woods around Baba Yaga's house without a male protector, forget the platitudes about soul mates or chastising her for not trying anymore, and instead of a gift certificate for a facial and a bikini wax, get that girl a gun. And copies of King Kong Theory and Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. Because the marginalized and the de-sexualized may lack the power of seduction, but if you're going to be moving in the margins, voluntarily or not, it's best to be forearmed.
April 14, 2010
Oh goodness. This seems to be true. (Anybody know for sure? I can't tell from the eBay link.)
Christine Granados tries to explain why she doesn't like Cormac McCarthy's books about the American Southwest, but it sounds more like she just doesn't like Cormac McCarthy. (She refers to her hometown of El Paso, bizarrely, as "a place McCarthy draped around his name like a fashionable sweater for a few years.")
I didn't understand what was so special about the stereotypical John Grady Cole [in All the Pretty Horses], a silent 16-year-old ranch-hand orphan from Texas who spoke Spanish and fell in love with the Mexican Americans and Mexicans he encountered on both sides of the border – yet treated them as colourful props and scenery by relegating them to the role of minor characters in the novel. I won't discuss the stereotypes and archetypes he used for "them darkies" in his book.
Wait, no! Discuss it! That's your whole point! That's like me saying Philip Roth is a hardcore racist who doesn't tip well at restaurants, and then ignoring the racism thing while bringing out pie charts to support the undertipping claim. We're all pretty clear on the fact that Granados doesn't like McCarthy; I'm just still not entirely sure why, and it's beginning to sound weirdly personal.
On the other hand, Granados does her audience a service by name-checking several Southwestern writers worth reading -- particularly John Rechy (City of Night), Dagoberto Gilb (The Magic of Blood), and the criminally underappreciated Americo Paredes (George Washington Gomez). And now that I've gotten myself homesick for the Southwest, I'm going to listen to Freddy Fender and remember a time when I could order enchiladas that didn't have salmon or tofu in them. (I'm just kidding, Oregon; you know I love you.)
The Austin Chronicle interviews Texas-based artist and poet Austin Kleon about his new book, Newspaper Blackout. Austin makes poetry out of The New York Times, permanent markers, and (he didn't mention this in the interview but trust me on this) Maker's Mark.
AC: So you're a Sharpie man?
AK: [laughs] I ... I am hesitant to claim any kind of corporate attachment. I have used Sharpies. I have used Marks-a-Lot. I use whatever's on sale.
AC: So you're not fishing for any endorsements.
AK: I would not mind an endorsement. I am not endorsed now.
I'm happy to give Austin the official Bookslut Seal of Endorsement, a coveted honor currently shared only by White Cheddar Cheez-Its, most top-shelf varieties of bourbon, and a totally awesome strain of KB out of Humboldt County called "Sweet Purple Freedom."
Hello from the depths of exhaustion and fried foods. So. Phil Ponce is a doll and I love the Chicago Tonight folks so much. Here are the books I recommended last night:
Granta has a sex issue. Make that a "Sex" issue. With a story by Robert Bolaño.
Sex is our oldest obsession. For as long as we’ve been doing it, it has been used as a mark of decline and a measure of progress. It has been at the centre of rituals and responsible for revolutions. We make money from it, hide behind it, prohibit and promote it. It relaxes us, revolts us, hurts us and helps us. But whatever we think about it, however we do it, it defines us.
Oh, the temptation to be snarky here is almost irresistible, but I will be strong, I will.
How much Bolaño can one magazine publish?
Unlike Cate Kennedy, I'm finding the internet is a little too good for fiction--i.e., it's giving me too much fiction to read. So I am grateful to find sites like Short Story Reader, which sifts through what's out there and flags interesting stories two or three times a week. Unflashy and straightforward, it's the work of Jon Morgan Davies, an editor at the University of Georgia Press and a fiction writer and poet. I found the site when it linked to a story of mine a while back, so of course I'm a fan, but it seems to me it's a pretty useful thing Davies is doing, assuming you like his literary taste. He also posts reviews of books from time to time.
If you have come across other sites that you think do a good job of pointing readers to good fiction online, I'd like to hear about them.
April 13, 2010
A language historian explains why we need to be a little less cavalier with the phrase "Gutenberg Moment" in these heady days of e-books and iPads:
If you believe the printing press did all that, then there's a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy, or maybe I could interest you in some priced-to-sell subprime mortgage instruments? It's fine to characterize a Gutenberg moment as a revolution in text delivery, but only if you acknowledge that it actually took not a moment, but several hundred years, for the real effects of printing to take hold.
Thank you, sir. Thank you.
Here's a literary prize I'm really, truly glad to announce. Eleanor Ross Taylor has been given the 2010 Ruth Lilly Prize by the Poetry Foundation. The $100,000 award--one of the biggest around--recognizes "a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition."
I got to know Eleanor Taylor a little in Charlottesville, when my husband, Mark Trainer, was working with her husband, Peter Taylor (A Summons to Memphis). I admired her sharp wit, her disinclination to suffer fools, and the way she talked about Henry James and other long-gone writers as if they lived down the street.
I've thought more than once about how Dave Smith (who acquired Eleanor Taylor's books for LSU Press) described her work. He said that when he played tennis, his standing rule--no matter the opponent--was "No quarter given, none asked for." Eleanor Taylor, he said, wrote poetry by the same rule.
That sounds about right. Here are six poems from Taylor's collection Late Leisure, a title that gets at the quiet but persistent way her writing life has developed over the decades. You can listen to (or read a transcript of) a 2002 interview with ERT here.
Richard Oram of the Harry Ransom Center introduces a new literary sub-category--the decline postcard, "a small gem of negativity." E.O. Wilson, George Bernard Shaw, Marianne Moore, and Evelyn Waugh all used decline postcards, which Oram describes as forms "used to decline all the various impositions on an author’s (or celebrity’s) time."
Evelyn Waugh spent most of the later part of his career escaping from London literary life and importunate autograph seekers, aspiring authors, and Americans of all descriptions. Yet the mail still had to be dealt with, and Waugh eventually developed a card carrying this notice: "Mr Evelyn Waugh deeply regrets that he is unable to do what is so kindly proposed."
I am rarely asked to do anything, but I think it's time to have some decline postcards made up just in case. Something like "Are you kidding?" or "Check back next week" or "Maybe after I finish this cup of tea and stare out the window for a while."
"I'm not a Luddite," says Kennedy, an award-winning fiction writer who lives on a cattle station in Victoria. But she considers the internet's constant flow of unprocessed information and chatter "toxic to fiction," which requires quiet, slow reflection by writers and readers. "We're decontextualising, pasting bits of other people's work on our blogs and creating unoriginal mash-ups," she said.
Wait until she sees this.
April 12, 2010
Do the prizes ever stop? No! And...we have the Pulitzers just announced. (Remember: It's "Pull-it-sir," not "Pew-lit-zer." How do you expect to win one of the dang things if you can't even pronounce the name right?)
Time is made from swatches
of heaven and hell.
If we’re not killing it,
I'm not entirely sure when Colleen Mondor -- freelance writer, longtime Bookslut contributor, author of the Chasing Ray blog, and moderator/co-founder of Guys Lit Wire -- has time to sleep. But anybody who cares about literature should be grateful for her insane work ethic. Colleen and the crew at GLW are hosting a book drive to benefit the libraries of two Native American reservation schools -- Ojo Encino Day School, near Cuba, New Mexico, in the Navajo Nation; and Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, Arizona, on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Go here to find out how you can buy books for these libraries. Generous readers like you have already bought more than 300 books -- they're almost halfway to their goal -- so go put them over the top, and help some deserving kids fall in love with reading.
I'm still holding out for Joyce Carol Oates to join the staff of High Times, but this will have to do, I suppose: novelist Jay McInerney (Brightness Falls, some other books where people with names like Chip snort cocaine off power ties in Reagan-era TriBeCa lofts) is writing a wine column for The Wall Street Journal.
If Dom Pérignon is the Porsche 911 Carrera of the wine world, then DP Rosé is the 911 Turbo.
And you thought wine was just for rich people! In his next column, he explains how the 1964 Château Gruaud-Larose Saint Julien Bordeaux is the Hotchkiss prep school of reds, whereas the 1988 Il Colle Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Sangiovese is more of an Exeter. Also, something about yachts.
Lorrie Moore on how her latest novel just might kill you if you don't pay attention to those recall notices:
"I'm probably not a natural novelist," she confesses, "but I want to become one. I loved working on A Gate at the Stairs. I know it's not perfect, but that's what novels are allowed to be – imperfect. I know it speeds up at the end – like a Toyota – it has a little floor-mat problem at the end. A short story has to have energy and focus, but novels can wander around quite a bit."
So, if you care about these things, the shortlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced. I mostly like this announcement because it includes some very nice pictures of the judges holding lots of books and also of the Lord Mayor and City Librarian of Dublin cycling through the streets of the city with the shortlist titles. I also like it that libraries are involved in picking the nominees. That makes more sense to me than the workings of most literary prizes do. Not that anyone asks me for advice about this stuff.
Green Apple Books in San Francisco has donated the profits from its sales of Going Rogue (12 copies total) to The Alaska Wildlife Alliance, "an organization that works to prevent aerial hunting of Alaska's wolves, among other good causes":
Today we cut a check to The Alaska Wildlife Alliance for $139.15, and maybe there will be one more wolf roaming Alaska than there otherwise would have been.
Good morning, world. I'll be here for a while this week while Jessa's on her stateside tour.
So I found this new translation of five of Jules Verne's "visionary classics" on my desk this morning. This is not a bad way to start a Monday.
But is the story of the mysterious Captain Nemo and the Nautilus really 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas--with "seas" plural??? This going to require some serious world-view adjustment on my part. Verne experts, please advise. Anyway, here's the opening as the new translation has it:
The year 1866 was marked by a peculiar development, a baffling, bewildering phenomenon that surely nobody has forgotten. Without getting into those rumors that troubled civilians in the seaports and muddled public thinking even far inland, it must be said that professional seaman were especially alarmed....
In essence, over a period of time several ships had met up with "an enormous thing" at sea, a long spindle-shaped object that sometimes gave off a phosphorescent glow and was infinitely larger and faster than a whale.
April 9, 2010
I am packing to leave for Chicago. Yes, Chicagoans, I am coming back to your city to invade your television programming. I will be on Chicago Tonight on April 13, jetlagged as all fuck, so tune in to see if I try to talk about books from the fetal position under the table.
I'll try to round up some people to keep the blog lively, and I'll be checking in from time to time both here and on Twitter. Also, for a time Michael Schaub and I will be in the same city. We will try very hard not to blog drunk together, but I make no promises. That is what the delete button is for, though, thank God.
some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads
though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: dark clouds don’t fade
but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness
(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.
I have an essay at B&N Review called "Girls of Lonely Means" about Lore Segal's Lucinella, Stephen Benatar's Wish Her Safe at Home, the death of poet Rachel Wetzsteon, Harry Harlow's monkey experiments, and the longing of Henry James heroines.
I knew her work, a little. A few poems in the Paris Review, some elsewhere. And I think the poems were too true, steely odes to single women making a lonely go at living in cities, and so I left them where they were. Maybe one day, when I'm on solid ground, when I am completely surrounded by love at all times, I will feel strong enough to examine that thin line between solitude and loneliness, and how it disappears at 3am, or during firework displays, or when filling the blank that follows "Emergency Contact Name:". Read the rest here.
April 8, 2010
Shalom Auslander wonders which neighbor will hide him and his family when the next genocide hits.
It would be nice if the attic we hide in is somewhere close to our home, not just so that we can get something if we forget it (I’ll definitely forget my iPod, I always do), but so that when the genocide is over, we don’t have too far to travel. We won’t be in the mood for it, I can tell you that. (This is assuming we all live, which we probably won’t, and that our house hasn’t been burned down, which it probably will be; to be totally honest, given the choice between the house being burned down and some high-level genocidaire taking it over and using it as some upstate New York command center, I’d go with the burning down—I don’t like having people in my house even when I’m there, let alone when I’m not.) That’s why, of the 11 people I think would let me and my family hide in their attic that haven’t already promised their attic to someone else, my first choice would be my neighbors, the Andersons.
I'm surprised men barely question masculinity. I'm amazed, for example, that no male Hollywood actor complains that he has to carry guns or play soldiers, rapists, serial killers, stupid macho men. . . . Are they not fed up? Don't men want to show their legs in miniskirts and on high heels? Don't they want to dance like creatures on MTV? Don't they want to use the anus they've been gifted with for better sexual intercourse? Are they that happy to die for countries that won't give a goddamn fuck for them once they're back home? Most of them don't even enjoy the privilege of their gender. . . .
Jeremy Bernstein on meeting Stanley Kubrick for the first time (through Arthur C. Clarke, which is how the world works, I suppose):
He looked and acted like every obsessive theoretical physicist I have ever known.
A universal analogy, I'm sure.
The F-Word reviews Christina Inman's new book, Forbidden Fruit: The History of Women and Books and Art.
It is interesting to note, that in a cross-cultural phenomenon, from the ladies at court in Japan, to the women of the Chinese Han Dynasty and the young slave Phillis Wheatley in colonial America, poetry was considered an acceptable form of literature for women to both read and write.
Which seems to provide the ideal opportunity to link to this definitive work by Norman Douglas. This one's for the ladies.
But I guess my interest just shifted. I feel bad. I just left the strip off in midair. I didn’t resolve anything, and I do intend to at least tie things up. I hope to have the time and energy to do some kind of little novella…just some little finale like the Brady Bunch Christmas Special.
April 7, 2010
Elizabeth Hardwick, on returning to your small hometown:
I am here in Kentucky with my family for the first time in a number of years and, naturally, I am quite uncomfortable, but not in the way I had anticipated before leaving New York. The thing that startles me is that I am completely free and can do and say exactly what I wish. This freedom leads me to the bewildering conclusion that the notions I have entertained about my family are fantastic manias, complicated, willful distortions which are so clearly contrary to the facts that I might have taken them from some bloody romance, or, to be more specific, from one of those childhood stories in which the heroine, ragged and castoff, roams the cold streets begging alms which go into the eager hands of a tyrannical stepmother.
I staggered a bit when I actually came face to face with my own mother: she carries no whips, gives no evidence of cannibalism. At night everyone sleeps peacefully. So far as I can judge they accuse me of no crimes, make no demands upon me; they neither praise nor criticize me excessively. My uneasiness and defensiveness are quite beside the point, like those flamboyant but unnecessary gestures of our old elocution teacher. My family situation is distinguished by only one eccentricity -- it is entirely healthy and normal.
April 6, 2010
So who had "A new issue of Bookslut will be published shortly after a fancy private school beats a less fancy private school nobody outside of Indiana has ever heard of" in their brackets? Did YOU? Congratulations! You get to read the new issue free! Along with everybody else.
This month, we've got essays by longtime Bookslut favorites Elizabeth Bachner and Barbara J. King, and by brand-new Bookslut favorite Liz Colville, along with interviews with Alex Lemon, Nick Flynn, Sonja Livingston and Janet W. Hardy. (Hardy and her co-author Dossie Easton are responsible for the phrase "ethical slut," which is my third-favorite kind of slut, after "book." Aaaaaaand "unethical.")
Our full roster of columnists are back to inform and delight you, and we've got reviews of the latest from Derek Walcott, Zachary German, Kenzaburo Oe, Shya Scanlon, my hero Ander Monson, and much, much more.
Happy reading, and thanks!
I had originally planned to use this post to thank everyone who gave me their love and support after the death, two weeks ago, of my brother Randy, an artist, Bookslut writer, and all around awesome guy. There's too many of you to thank, though, so I'll just say I'm overwhelmed by your support, and my family and I appreciate all of you very much. So thanks to Jessa, to my family and friends, my friends and co-workers at Amplifier and Despair, and to everyone in the Bookslut family, both writers and readers.
If you want to honor my brother: Watch a horror movie. Become an organ donor. Go see a rock show. And give a book that you love to a person that you love. Randy thought that's how we were going to change the world. I think that too, now.
The Second Virtue
I was disappointed on my visit to the Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill exhibition at the V&A that the eccentricity of this exuberant eighteenth-century character wasn’t really apparent. That Strawberry Hill was absolutely brimming with artefacts from every period and the fact that it took thirty-two days to auction off this enormous and multifarious collection of curiosities after Walpole’s death, was hardly evident in the pared down and precisely displayed selection exhibited.
Two particular objects did however give a suggestion of Walpole’s flamboyance and sense of humour. Easily missed, an elaborately carved wooden cravat epitomises Walpole’s delight in cutting a dash: he sported this wooden accessory together with a pair of gloves belonging to James I, to greet a party of guests at Strawberry Hill. More prominent, a Chinese porcelain tub on display near the exhibition entrance, used by Walpole as a decadent home for his goldfish, was described thus in his catalogue of the house:
On the pedestal stands the large blue and white china tub in which Mr Walpole’s cat was drowned; on a label of the pedestal is written the first stanza of Mr Gray’s beautiful ode on that occasion,
‘Twas on this lofty vases side,
Where China’s gayest art has dy’d
The azure flow’rs that blow,
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima reclin’d,
Gaz’d on the lake below
Strawberry Hill was Walpole’s summer villa, built beside the Thames at Twickenham between 1748 and 1790. A pioneer in reviving the Gothic style, Walpole turned the villa into his own "Little Gothic Castle," the mythical ancestral home of his forebears. The first phase of building created a suite of themed "antiquarian interiors" illuminated by old stained glass, and conjuring an atmosphere Walpole described as "gloomth." Portrait paintings were commissioned from Rubens, van Dyck and Watteau depicting Walpole, his friends and family, trussed up in historical fancy dress.
The Library at Strawberry Hill was the most consistent and fully realised evocation of the Gothic style, its design and decoration lifted directly from medieval sources: the chimney piece was modelled on tombs found at Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral; the design of the arched bookcases replicated a doorway incised with a scalpel from a book on the history of St Paul’s. "Curious books" to be found in the Library included an "extremely rare" sixteenth-century volume of swan markings: the Swan Act of 1482 regulated the issuing of crown property licences and the ownership of those few swans leased by the sovereign to persons of suitable standing was indicated by a black cipher on the beak.
Walpole’s many guises, as author, antiquarian collector and armchair architect came together at Strawberry Hill, which also housed his own printing press. "My buildings are my paper," Walpole considered, and the idea for his gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1769), was inspired by the architecture of Strawberry Hill, its action following the layout of the house and grounds. Alongside his collection of art, antiquities and curiosities, Walpole accumulated a vast edifice of paper: assiduous in re-calling all of his correspondence, he insisted that each of the great many letters he sent was duly returned to him; his multiple journals were stuffed with newspaper clippings, his books scrawled with marginalia.
Used as a private retreat as well as for entertaining friends, Strawberry Hill was also a tourist attraction for those in the know. Walpole issued tickets himself and designed an illustrated catalogue "for shewing the house," the first guide of its kind to any English country property, and printed on the Strawberry Hill press. The catalogue was used on tours given by Walpole’s housekeeper, the man himself making an appearance only for visitors deemed especially important: the catalogue stood for him, like a letter of introduction.
Currently being restored by the Strawberry Hill Trust, Walpole’s "little gothic castle" will be open to the public again on 25 September 2010.
Last night I went to an updated Wagner opera, with Rienzi-as-Hitler. And when Rienzi, in his shiny black boots, took a moment in an empty room to start doing cartwheels, I giggled, and then instantly felt bad.
A group of artists defaced pages from Mein Kampf with collage, painting, scribbles, and you can see all 600 on display in San Francisco if you're there. The exhibition is profiled in More Intelligent Life.
"The Top 100 Works of Journalism in the United States in the 20th Century": That just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? But it's not a bad list, John Hersey's Hiroshima and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring taking the top honors, with Hunter S. Thompson, Hannah Arendt, Capote, Didion, and others filling out the list.
The grumpy old lion of New Zealand letters - no, not me - CK Stead has won something called the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. He gets profiled in the Times, and you can read his winning story, Last Season's Man, here.
April 5, 2010
It's probably the result of hunger, because as an American, believing it is my right to buy milk and Doritos and bread at 3 am on any day including Christmas, I did not respond to the 4-day Easter Weekend by stocking up on provisions. I thought, "Woo, the crepe stations will be up at Alexanderplatz!" And now I am starving and wishing I could eat a vegetable.
While there is no justification for using severely dated English when working with the 19th century, you do want to mark it subtly as old and also to guard against glaringly modern vocabulary and syntax. Working on a 19th-century novel, of course, you have academics looking over your shoulder. When I translated Olesha’s “Envy” I got real grief about the novel’s first sentence, which is not only a brilliant opener but scans as a line of iambic trimeter, translated literally as, “he sings in the morning in the WC.” I wrote “Mornings he sings on the toilet’’ — same iambic trimeter, same bright, engaging tone.
I mowed down several thousand pages of “In Search of Lost Time” before figuring out that Proust, touchstone of novice food writers everywhere, had about as much to say about food as he did about lasers.
Next week: Cooking with Harold Pinter! (Fingers crossed).
You might want to save this for your serious procrastination needs mid-week, as it's a sodding slide show for a start, an internet format that I disapprove of highly. But Salon's 'Cinema's Greatest Writer Villians' features Crossing Delancey, I film I fucking love, so it squeaks in. No Neruda from Il Postino, though? He totally fucks Massimo Troisi's game up in that flick.
The Hugo Award nominations are up; read, ponder how much better the Nobel would be if it had a fanzine category.
Adorable, be-ribboned suffragist postcards from the 1910s unearthed by the Ms. blog (thanks for the link, Meryl). Though I feel like 'We want our rites and we meen to git them' reads a little too closely like note-perfect teabonics.
April 2, 2010
A Jim Behrle Production
Americans have been waiting for Alasdair Gray's Old Men in Love since it was released in the UK for 2007. We're going to have to wait a little longer, as printing problems means it's been delayed from April to June. But there's a great, batty video interview with Gray from the BBC about the book.
Neuroscience is the Next Big Thing in literary theory (thanks Kevin for the link). I love Stanislaw Lem, I love the neuro-novel. But Iain McGilchrist's metaphor of the mathematician trapeze artist also comes to mind. Do the equations and precision and perfect timing help you create awe-inspiring new tricks that push human ability? Or are you crippling Zeno-like, unable to drop the equation and let go of the damn trapeze to fly through the air? Let's ask the New York Times.
“If I have some ideological agenda,” she said, “I would try to construct a narrative that involved a triangularization of minds, because that is something we find particularly satisfying.”
Oh yuck. Not much flying there.
Today's wish: that I was Sylvia Beach, living in a snug little Paris bookshop, publishing mad geniuses, and wearing this coat. Rather than in pajamas, laptop pulled into bed, reading sad-making emails about my friends' publishing woes. Of course, Sylvia Beach nearly went mad trying to publish James Joyce's Ulysses he was such a bother (silly authors, having opinions about how their books should exist in the world), according to this volume of her letters. Later, she's arrested by the Nazis after refusing to sell one a copy of Finnegans Wake.
And while this Writers Almanac piece talks about Joyce's relationship to his American publisher Bennett Cerf, it was Margaret Anderson who started serializing Ulysses in her literary magazine, making it available in America for the first time. I like these women, facing down Nazis and obscenity charges because they believed in Joyce's work. I aspire to be that brave. (Later, maybe after finally getting out of bed, putting on some pants.)
April 1, 2010
Writing on the computer transformed Ellison's fiction--both its process and its product. It would be going too far to blame the computer for Ellison's failure to publish his second novel, but its impact on his writing was complicated and certainly not always positive. Writing fiction on the computer is a qualitatively different experience from writing by other means.
While I'm happy to see a widespread online effort to debunk the bad science in Louann Brizendine's The Male Brain -- she earlier wrote The Female Brain, which was harshly attacked by neurologists and Nature Magazine, among other places -- its high Amazon ranking and her unchallenged appearances on TV news shows make me a little sad.
The unexpected hero in this? Elle Magazine. Their interviewer, Diana Kapp, did her research and does not let Brizendine off the hook about the serious challenges made to her research. Elle Magazine: Bringing truth to neuroscience hokum. Who knew?
Angels are the new vampires.
Is your local library at risk? Stephen's Lighthouse has posted a nationwide list of save-the-library campaigns.
There's a fascinating piece in the Independent today about the strange half-life of a ghostwriter, pegged to the British release of Roman Polanski's new movie:
Before you dismiss this as a typical 'Hollywood-isation' of an industry, hold your judgement. In my experience, apart from the murder of his predecessor an'd attempts on the McGregor character's own life, much of "The Ghost (retitled "The Ghost Writer" for its US release) is disturbingly close to the truth. We're invisible. I've written a dozen books in the last few years, including several bestsellers--but search for my name on Amazon and you'll be disappointed. We are paid for our anonymity.
And there are more of us than you think.
Morning, all. I am pretending that it's not April Fools Day.
There seems to be a mini-trend of baseball novels developing. I don't know how much Stephen King got paid for Blockade Billy, but Chad Harbach, an editor at n + 1, reportedly got $650K for his baseball novel:
The book centers around baseball at a fictional Wisconsin college, and Bloomberg pegs the deal as “one of the highest prices for a man’s first novel on a topic appealing to a male audience.”
Nope, we ladies don't like the baseball. Roller derby and curling, yes. Baseball not so much.
A Journey Round My Skull on the eccentric accessories of novelists and poets, from G. K. Chesterton's cape ("[it] gave him the appearance of a caped crusader for the Republic of Letters") to the writing booth that inspired Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.
All writing booths had two things in common: buzzers, bells, switches and levers to pique the mind and tweak the senses; and a tight-fitting, hermetically sealed cockpit where a wishful writer squeezed into a seat which barely cleared an adjustable lap board serving as a desk. Here, the encapsulated author was expected to generate masterpieces in a condition of claustrophobic envelopment only a contortionist could find comfortable Nevertheless, many succeeded. "Immersion" could last for hours, even days. Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have penned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while confined for a week, without emerging to eat or relieve himself!
Happy April First.