June 30, 2010
Sugarhigh wants you to come to our reading with The Master and His Emissary writer Iain McGilchrist tomorrow. From their newsletter:
Dialogue Bookshop and Bookslut.com presents author Iain McGilchrist tomorrow night in a discussion of his book The Master and His Emissary. The book delves into "the science behind your troubled mind" as McGilchrist explores neurological research showing that the left and right sides of your brain are hard-wired to bicker, not cooperate. In English. Tomorrow at 19.30. Direktorenhaus, Am Krögel 2. €3
Bookslut's own Michael Schaub joins Stephanie Anderson from Word Bookstore and Amazon senior editor Anne Bartholomew to pick summer books at CNN. His picks include Julie Orringer and Jenny Hollowell, which I don't understand at all. Michael, dude, haven't you heard? Men don't read fiction, or books by women. Which intern wrote this for you? Come clean.
My conversation with Ulrich Ditzen about his father Hans Fallada is up at the PBS Need to Know website. We discussed why he thinks Wolf Among Wolves is his father's best book, the strange recent success of Every Man Dies Alone, and the real lives that Fallada used in his books. (Although my favorite moment was when I tried to ask about Fallada's rather tumultuous personal life, and he cut me off. "Next question, please." He did it with grace and charm, even if I felt six inches tall.)
June 29, 2010
…This method of narration by interminable elaboration of suggestive reference (I don't know what to call it, but you know what I mean) goes against the grain of all my own impulses in writing; and yet in spite of it all, there is a brilliancy and cleanness of effect, and in this book especially a high-toned social atmosphere that are unique and extraordinary…But why won't you, just to please Brother, sit down and write a new book, with no twilight or mustiness in the plot, with great vigor and decisiveness in the action, no fencing in the dialogue, no psychological commentaries, and absolute straightness in the style?...
Henry's response to William:
I mean . . . to try to produce some uncanny form of thing, in fiction, that will gratify you, as Brother—but let me say, dear William, that I shall greatly be humiliated, if you do like it, and thereby lump it, in your affection, with things of the current age, that I have heard you express admiration for and that I would sooner descend to a dishonored grave than have written…I'm always sorry when I hear of your reading anything of mine, and always hope you won't—you seem to me so constitutionally unable to "enjoy" it…How far apart and to what different ends we have had to work out (very naturally properly!) our respective intellectual lives.
Thought of this while trying to shop for a copy of Washington Square, something not hideous looking. Failed.
With only 31 German novels translated into English last year, Katy Derbyshire asks how a German writer can hope to break into the international market. English speakers love German books about Nazis.
I'm getting over not feeling great, and so I have been mostly in bed this past week. At least there was Hans Fallada's Wolf Among Wolves for company. (1100 pages or so of company.) And despite being much better, it's hard to convince myself to leave bed when I also have the Library of America Shirley Jackson edition. Currently on The Haunting of Hill House, and a while back the WSJ had a piece on how the book came to be:
One morning in the 1950s, a housewife in Vermont woke up, walked downstairs, and found a note on a desk in her own handwriting. She didn't remember leaving it the night before. The message was simple and stark: "DEAD DEAD."
These cryptic words would have unsettled a lot of people, but not Shirley Jackson. She took them as a somnambulant inspiration and went on to compose what is now widely regarded as the greatest haunted-house story ever written. "I had no choice," she said. "The ghosts were after me."
Hollowell's novel follows Birdie as she works as a body double and minor actress, auditioning for bit parts in films and tampon commercials. She's 30, though her friend and agent Redmond makes her tell everyone she's 26. She arrived in Los Angeles eight years ago, after leaving her deeply evangelical parents and church elder husband behind in Virginia. Birdie is on the verge of either great success or complete breakdown — she gamely goes to auditions, to industry parties, but she's beaten down and barely holding on. It's at one of those parties that she meets Lewis, a 21-year-old aspiring actor and screenwriter and current office temp. They confess to each other, they drink and sleep together, and they may or may not fall in love — Hollowell is sensitive to the complex and contradictory emotions involved in any relationship, and she refuses, thankfully, to give in to pat endings and easy explanations.
June 28, 2010
I tend to think of blogs as more realistic and down-to-earth about their topics than their print equivalents. Litblogs reflect how people really do read, compared to that horrid New Yorker list or the best books of the year that the New York Times vomits out. Likewise, food blogs are more how people eat on a daily basis, compared to the Gourmet cookbooks that think you have endless hours stretched out ahead of, with which you can pound pastry dough into submission.
So food blogs turned into books should be the nice middle ground, offering recipes we can and would want to make on a regular basis, totally usable and reflecting the way we eat. Then I opened Poor Girl Gourmet, and it annoyed me in the way that mainstream cookbooks tend to annoy me: as in, where are the vegetarian courses? And a few whimsical pasta dishes do not count. I was a vegetarian for 8 years, I know there are better things to eat than throwing smashed squash into some pasta shells. Where are the giant vats of food you can eat for a week's worth of lunches? Where are the leftovers? (In Eating Local, a fine cookbook, but more about that some other time.)
Especially weird after an introduction that promises all of those things: less meat, thrift through eating homemade lunches, etc. But the recipes adhere to that old standard of slabs of meat for main dishes, a few crazy salads, intensive vegetable sides, and the same dessert recipes you can find in every cookbook (granitas, crumbles, baked fruit, cookies). I guess I'll stick to the pre-book blogs for now.
“I will roar argon into chlorine, xenon into fluorine, all the noble gases into reactive ones,” she writes. “My lament will terrify even the stars.”
Jessica Stern's Denial: A Memoir of Terror sounds on the level of Terri Jentz's Strange Piece of Paradise, as in, really good, and really difficult to convince someone to read. Stern recounts the rape of herself and her sister as teenage girls, her family's non-response, the police incompetence, and the emotional aftermath. Jentz wrote a book I loved, and we ran an interview with her, about the night her friend and herself were assaulted by a man with an axe, and her hunt for the unfound assailant years later. Like yes, here, read this book about all of the casual evil in the world and how you never really recover from it.
The New York Times review is great, and I'm going to steel myself for taking a look at Stern's book.
June 25, 2010
The Naked and the Read
Our first summer together, and he pulled the winter blanket off the bed, thick down puff, to make the switch to lighter bedding for warmer nights. The new blanket was thin, cotton, not so soft, and navy blue.
“I love it,” he said, flapping it above the bed, letting it settle slowly flat. “It’s amazing to fuck under.”
I stood by the bureau and cocked my head and raised an eyebrow, to suggest that perhaps thinking of his previous love-making underneath this navy blanket might not be number-one on my list of items to consider. He twigged on immediately and laughed. “Sorry, sorry.”
I laughed, helped him pull it even.
“But it’s true,” he said.
The blue blanket, ribbed, was light and dry and cool. I suffer in summer, ever over-warm. And under this cover, it was possible to feel tucked in but not bunned up like a hot dog. Some combination of texture, weight, and color.
Color might be crucial.
“Blue is the color of the mind in borrow of the body,” writes William Gass in On Being Blue. “It is the color consciousness becomes when caressed.”
On Being Blue is a peculiar, lovely, and beguiling treatise, not on the condition, not on lowness or gloom, but on the color -- what it is and means and does. The essay, at just ninety-one pages, wanders and dips and loops, language-driven on a molecular level. His sentences are such that we’re seduced along, maybe, at times, at the expense of making all his meanings. His lust for language infects.
It’s about sex and about language and about the language of sex, and how we’re failed by language in writing about sex, and how we fail sex with language. “What we need, of course, is a language which will allow us to distinguish the normal or routine fuck from the glorious, the rare, or the lousy one... but we have more names for parts of horses than we have for kinds of kisses.” And it’s daunting to describe that blanket, blue across the bed -- (he was right) --the way it took us when we lost our selves in sleep or other sorts of surrender, a thing and a state, a color and a feeling.
It’s a challenge, Gass suggests, to get the sensual right in words. “It is not simple, not a matter for amateurs, making sentences sexual.” The key, if I understand him right, requires not only attention to the words, but a bestowing of love on them, a personal love and something beyond the personal. The attentions, the love “will not merely celebrate a beauty, but create one; that yours is love that brings its own birth with it.” As powerful a way of looking at what it is to make love as it is a way of looking at words.
The sentences, the loved ones, are blue. Blue “is the dark inside of sentences,” the ones that pull us forward, “we follow warily,” the ones “which follow their own turnings inward out of sight... “such are the sentences we should like to love -- the ones which love us and themselves as well -- incestuous sentences -- sentences which make an imaginary speaker speak the imagination loudly to the reading eye; that have a kind of orality transmogrified: not the tongue touching the genital tip, but the idea of the tongue, the thought of the tongue, word-wet to part-wet.” The eventual end point? Not less than a reaching of the “mindful Sublime.”
Anyone can swear, he cautions. Anyone can serve up a dirty word or detail the play-by-play. “I should like to suggest that at least on the face of it a stroke by stroke story of a copulation is exactly as absurd as a chew by chew account of the consumption of a chicken’s wing.” And the exploration, at the end, climaxes with an exultant rallying cry, a call to arms: “when there’s nothing left but language... watered twilight, sour sea... don’t find yourself clergy’d out of choir and chorus... sing and say... shape pebbles into syllables and make stones sound.”
It’s a good pep talk, but the lesson’s in the language itself, when you come across a paragraph like this:
The loneliness of clothes draped over the backs of chairs is blue; undies, empty lobbies, rumpled spreads are blue, especially when chenille and if orange; not body warmth or body smell or the acidulous salts of the vagina -- no -- blue belongs to the past -- to the minutes after masturbation, to thought, to detachment and removal, fading, to the inside side of sex and the self that in the midst of pitch and toss has slipped away like a lucky penny fallen from a dresser.
June 24, 2010
However all this was understood in 1943, when I came upon it, the idea that a single reality underlies music and mathematics, art and science, expressible only in a nonverbal language of very cool hieroglyphs, was irresistible, attracting the serious psychedelic vanguard and the daily dope smokers alike. It was easy to feel that our late-night speculations in aromatic Hoboken lofts or Topanga cottages were games of the same kind, and we were players (though doubtless we more closely resembled the vain and fatuous spielers of the Feuilletonist Age).
(Speaking of Hesse, I thought for a while I liked him, but this was while reading Flavia Arzeni's charming An Education in Happiness: The Lessons of Hesse and Tagore. When I actually tried to pick up Steppenwolf, I realized I had probably been mistaken.)
“The most popular author right now is Chetan Bhagat, but Hitler is sadabahar (always in bloom),” he says, referring to the sales statistics rather than the content of the book.
I started reading my friend Katy's copy of Hans Fallada's Wolf Among Wolves on the train back from Munich, and I marveled again at how real his books seem. (The Drinker, his account of a man's downward spiral, is maybe too realistic. I kind of couldn't finish it.) In particular, a scene between Petra and an old woman, as they're both locked away in jail. Set in Berlin in the 1920s, they discuss selling themselves to stay alive, living in the city, and the strange times they find themselves in. The woman admonishes Petra for mooning over her boyfriend, waiting for him to come for her, as it was his fault she was arrested in the first place. Their conversation, dear lord, reminds me of many I had with a former boss at Planned Parenthood, Dottie Curry trying to get me to grow up already, get over the stupid boy I was sighing over, figure out something better to do with my life than be her administrative assistant. This passage in particular:
"Be quiet!" cried the old woman. "Let me tell you something. You're crazy. He had a good time with you, and when he'd finished having a good time, he hopped it and thought: We'll look for someone else now, she can go and look after herself -- I like that, I must say! I tell you, it makes my gall rise. Haven't you any self-respect left in your body, girl, to want to stand there in the visitors' room like a primrose pot with a pink serviette and beam at him -- just because he really comes to visit you? Is that marriage, I ask you? Is it comradeship? Is it even friendship? It's pure wanting to sleep with him, I tell you. You ought to be ashamed girl."
Petra's whole body trembled. She had never yet been so rudely awakened: she had never seen her relationship with Wolf in this light -- all the veils which love and drawn over it torn away. She would have liked to cry, "Stop!"
"It may be," Frau Krupass continued more calmly, "that he's quite a good man, as you say. He does something for your education, you say. All right, let him, if it amuses him. It would have been better if he had done something for your heart and your stomach, but there of course he doesn't find himself so clever as he does with books. A good man, you say. But, child, he's not a man. He might become one some day, perhaps. But you take an old woman's word for it: what seems like a man in bed is a long way from being one. That's just a silly idea you young girls have. If you go on with him in the same way, spoiling him and always doing what he wants, and a mother in the background, too, with a nice fat money bag -- then he'll never become a man, but you'll become a doormat. God forgive me for saying so!"
So here's to Dottie Curry and the women who show up just at the right time to kick our fucking asses.
June 23, 2010
“Maybe the true purpose of my life is for my body, my sensations and my thoughts to become writing, in other words, something intelligible and universal, causing my existence to merge into the lives and heads of other people.”
After many years (oh my god, FIVE YEARS) of wonderful columns, Eryn Loeb will be leaving the Bookslut Girl, Interrupting column. She's been such a great asset to us, and I always, always enjoyed seeing what she was planning on writing about. We'll be happily receiving submissions from her in the future, so keep an eye out for them. (And thanks so much for all you've done, Eryn.)
In the meantime, we could use another feminist columnist. Please send a writing sample and email introducing yourself to email@example.com. And while we're at it, it's been a while since we've had an SF columnist. (Feel free to pitch in other areas if you're interested in submitting, but don't fit into either category.)
Tying in with the Master and His Emissary interview, about the overly strong optimism of the left hemisphere, and its refusal to acknowledge any deficiency: Errol Morris has a New York Times piece about the stroke of Woodrow Wilson. (Sent by Manan)
On October 11th the President was extremely ill and weak and even to speak was an exertion. He had difficulty in swallowing. He was being given liquid nourishment and it frequently took a great deal of persuasion to get him to take even this simple diet. On the day in question Mrs. Wilson and I were begging him to take this nourishment, and, after taking a couple of mouthfuls given to him by Mrs. Wilson with a spoon, he held up one finger and motioned me to come nearer. He said to me in a whisper:
“A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his bellican,
He can take in his beak, enough food for a week,
I wonder how in the hell-he-can.”
Seed Magazine interviews Paul Bloom about his new book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, and he tells a great story about the pleasure of authentic art:
Goering and his boss had this perpetual competition going over who could steal the most art. They went throughout Europe and pillaged, taking art from the people they conquered. Goering was a tremendous snob, and he bought a Vermeer from this art dealer, van Meegren. After the war, van Meegren was nabbed by investigators who discovered that he had sold all this art—including great Dutch treasures—to the Nazis. And they put him in prison. When van Meegren realized he was going to be executed for treason, he confessed. He said that he did sell the artwork to the Nazis, but that it wasn’t treason, because they were not actual Vermeers….He had defrauded the Nazis, he explained, because he’d painted them himself!
Now van Meegren, as you may know, was an absolute jerk. He was beset with petty jealousies; he was an alcoholic and a drug addict. He never got the respect he felt he deserved, so years earlier he had decided to start faking art as a way to get money. Not surprisingly, nobody believes his “I jipped the Nazis” story. So in court, while he was in detention, he offered to do another painting of the Vermeer, as a way to prove his innocence. As one Dutch tabloid put it, “He Paints for His Life!” His new work turned out far superior to the one he had sold Goering, and in the end, van Meegren was given a much lighter sentence. I like that story because it illustrates that who painted the artwork really mattered. And it mattered to everyone involved: It mattered to Goering—a guy who was responsible for the murder of millions and yet, according to his biographer, this was the first time in his life that he looked “as if he’d truly seen evil.”
Bookslut and Dialogue Berlin's July 1st event with Iain McGilchrist and his book The Master and His Emissary just so happens to coincide with my one year anniversary of living in Germany. Not that I'm saying this as emotional manipulation to get you to come. Fuck it, that is exactly what I am doing. Come, or you will make my anniversary sad.
Thursday 1 July
19:30 - 21:30
Am Krögel 2
Also, this interview at All in the Mind (audio) gives a solid overview of the book, and he talks about brain asymmetry and the development of the two hemispheres, and how that relates to our daily lives and the culture in which we live. Just so you can show up prepared.
All this talk about whether or not Sharon Dogar exploited the memory of Anne Frank in her fictionalized version of her life, Annexed kind of reminds me of the Q&A I just did with Joanna Kavenna about populating fiction with real people. But whereas Kavenna used a rather obscure figure in Birth of Love, a forgotten Austrian doctor named Semmelweis, whose personal life is mostly a mystery, Dogar is messing with a figure whose narrative is burned into the brain of just about every human being in the Western world, and that brings with it a whole new set of issues.
For the most part, no one complaining about the book has read it, though. It's not released for several more months. Which means everyone has an uninformed opinion, and this is going to go on for a while.
June 22, 2010
British author Sharon Dogar has written a novel about Anne Frank that includes sex scenes between the teenage girl and Peter van Pels.
The article also quotes Andersen Press’s editorial director, Charlie Sheppard, as saying that the author believes that Frank and van Pels had sexual relations.
"Sharon feels they had sex, but this was taken out from an earlier version," Sheppard told the newspaper. "Sharon reread and reread Anne’s diaries, and is in no doubt that they were in love."
And of course people are upset. Why people are so sensitive when it comes to reading about the imagined sex life of a murdered child, I'll never know.
Rosie Schaap, one of my favorite literary journalists, on the intersection of America's two favorite pastimes: soccer and poetry.
It is, first, a game whose dual aims are to drive a ball into a goal—with vigorous force or sly elegance or, most thrillingly, a combination of the two—and to prevent the opposition from doing just that. At the same time, it is also a slate onto whose surface our private hopes and desires and victories and failures and hatreds and loves are inscribed and thereby transformed—allegorized or made more concrete, illuminated or darkened, depending on who wins, who loses, who plays beautifully, who badly.
I know you love your sport, people who live in every other country besides America, but couldn't we compromise and make the goal like three times bigger? I can't take any more 0-0 ties. I scored more in high school than these teams do in any given match. Come on! When has America ever given you bad advice?
David Stoesz argues that Dave Barry is a better writer than David Foster Wallace.
Creating effects that are instantly intelligible to a broad audience may not bring critical respectability, but in fact takes far more discipline than writing sentences like this one, which occurs a little farther down on that first page of Infinite Jest: "My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X." You will not find writing like that by Dave Barry, Stephen King, or Elmore Leonard, who once said, "if it sounds like writing, cross it out." But describing folded hands in a way that doesn't require so much reader effort isn't necessary when you're David Foster Wallace.
So that's the problem with literature: writers insist on writing, and books are hard. Oh God help us all.
Aaron Traister reacts to a vacation at the new Harry Potter theme park in Florida the only possible way: with depression and insobriety.
Barbara J. King, a Bookslut contributor for over five years, and the author of the new Being With Animals: Why We Are Obsessed with the Furry, Scaly, Feathered Creatures Who Populate Our World, considers the mysteries of publishing.
Publishers: We authors, some of us anyway, expend far too much energy seeking to understand this new landscape. We need an authors' boot camp. Or better yet, freshman orientation, the kind where no question is dumb, there's a little hand-holding to be had, and we all, mentors and apprentices together, eat pizza at the end of the day.
June 21, 2010
After one of the nastiest political fights not to take place in South Carolina, Geoffrey Hill (The Triumph of Love) has been elected Oxford Professor of Poetry. Hill was considered the frontrunner after dominating in the Atlasphere, and successfully besting competitor Derek Walcott, who is 104, in the pugil stick event.
I'm late on posting this Bloomsday-related link, but what the hell: Flavorwire constructs a nerdy mixtape of songs inspired by modernist literature. It features Patrick Wolf (yeah!), Leonard Cohen (yeah!), and, uh, Crash Test Dummies. Conspicuously missing is any selection from Limp Bizkit's revelatory 2003 album Piss in Yo Face, which was based on the collected works of Jaroslav Hašek.
Friend of Bookslut, HTMLGIANT giant, and unfairly talented writer Matthew Simmons (A Jello Horse, which is heartbreaking and hilarious) interviews Tom Bissell, whose Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter was just called "the finest account yet of what it feels like to be a video game player" by The New York Times. Easter egg: if you press up down up down A B A B left right while reading this blog post, you get to play an extra scene in which you drink whiskey with Jessa and me. It's basically just you sitting there for three hours while we periodically sigh and roll our eyes at something Jonathan Safran Foer said.
June 18, 2010
(Regarding that Hans Fallada event: Katy Derbyshire gave us a nice write up:
Sharmaine Reid of Dialogue and Jessa Crispin of Bookslut are a bit of a dream team, two women with burning passions for books and the get-up-and-go of a herd of rhinos. And I'm not just saying that because they're my friends.)
My new Smart Set column about Steven S. Hall's book Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience is up.
Hall may believe that "we crave wisdom — worship it in others, wish it upon our children, and seek it ourselves." But there's a difference between admiring wisdom and emulating it. That's perhaps the best illustration of the difference between knowledge and wisdom: We know the value of wisdom. We know that narcissists should not be in charge of industries that can wipe out people's lives — our Enrons, our BPs, our Bear Stearns. But as long as it's possible to make money this way, we don't fuss about it too much. We know that we should be caring for the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, but we don't want to pay higher taxes to do so, nor do we really want to donate much of our time or money. When it comes down to it, we greatly prefer the life of the binary, of the scale of one to 10, the things broken down to their smallest components. But perhaps the most crushing of all the studies was one that showed that a person will naturally act altruistically — until they see those around them behaving selfishly. Instead of pulling up the behavior of the others, the altruistic give up and become as greedy as everyone else.
Seriously, the book bored on the super depressing, but it pulled through in the end. At least there were some wacky scientific studies, like trying to determine how narcissistic certain CEOs were by counting how many times they used the word "I" in interviews.
And with that, I'm leaving on a train to Munich. I'll be gone for a few days, recuperating with wonderful/horrifying Bavarian food, and whatever else it is they do in Munich. Michael Schaub will be guest blogging for a few days until my return next week. Now I have to go weed the stack of books I want to pack to a more manageable number.
Our next Berlin event is on July 1st with Iain McGilchrist, whose The Master and His Emissary I loved ridiculous amounts. More information to come, but mark your calendars:
Thursday 1 July
19:30 – 21:30
Am Krögel 2
Gerbrand Bakker has won the 2010 IMPAC prize for The Twin. It's published by tiny Brooklyn press Archipelago, who does such amazing work. I reviewed the book a while ago for NPR, and you can read it here.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the event last night, it was so great. And especially thank you to Ulrich Ditzen, who had to cancel the last time we set this up for April due to health concerns, but really wanted to make it up.
Apparently I have talked a lot about Margaret Anderson and Sylvia Beach here on the blog! It was while I was doing research for my B&N essay on the two women. But last night Monika brought me an anthology of pieces from Little Review and other similar small literary magazines at the time, and it's an amazing little book. Thanks so much for the gift, it's wonderful.
"Es hat bisher nur zwei Generationen von Frauen gegeben, die mit eingeschränkten Barrieren aufgewachsen sind, und ich sage bewusst 'mit eingeschränkten Barrieren' und nicht 'ohne Barrieren'. Zwei Generationen von Frauen, die ihre Fruchtbarkeit kontrollieren konnten, arbeiten, ein hohes Bildungsniveau erreichen, tatsächlich ihr Leben planen und gestalten. Natürlich gab es immer schon Ausnahmen, aber finanzielle Abhängigkeit, Angst vor Vergeltung und sozialer Ausgrenzung sowie ein fehlendes Unterstützungssystem erlaubten nur den ganz mutigen und konfrontativen Frauen ein unabhängiges Leben, oder man musste eben einfach nur Glück gehabt haben. Darum gibt es Romane von Edith Wharton, damit wir das verstehen."
"Weil Frauen also wenige Vorfahren haben, an denen sich sie orientieren könnten, sind sie immer noch dabei herauszufinden, wie sie ihr Leben gestalten sollen, was sie am glücklichsten macht, ob sie sich am traditionellen Weg der Männer orientieren sollen oder ob es andere Wege des Lebens für sie gibt. Schriftstellerinnen sind auf der Suche nach dem Platz, den eine Frau in der Welt einnehmen kann, und Leserinnen kaufen aus genau diesem Grund ihre Bücher. [...] Es gibt in der Fiktion immer noch grosse Lücken weiblicher Erfahrung zu füllen. Das kann Schriftstellerinnen eine Inspiration sein, wie man zum Beispiel an 'The Room and the Chair' von Lorraine Adams sieht. Der Roman ist voll von aggressiven, verrückten, nuttigen, heldenhaften, unterdrückten weiblichen Jagdfliegerinnen, Reporterinnen, Ehefrauen und minderjährigen Prostituierten."
Hooray, I am in German. And now I know the German word for "prostitute." That'll come in handy.
June 17, 2010
I also posted this on Twitter, but whatever, I'm proud. My friend Martin Preib, who is a writer and Chicago cop, had his book The Wagon come out recently, and it just got a rave review in the Washington Post by critic god Jonathan Yardley. The book is excellent, I've been waiting for it for a while, and I'm so glad he's gotten this boost. Read the review, read the book, and hopefully when he's in Berlin this fall I can wrangle him into doing a reading with us.
Apart from writing about police work -- taking the reader into a world few of us are likely to know -- Preib also writes about the literature he loves and the writing he's been working away at for years. He's a devotee of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville: "What calls me to them is their strong conviction, a faith in their writing, a religious sense." For himself, "there is a kind of faith that lingers in realism, a belief that knowing the city will lead somewhere beyond the city."
He makes me miss Chicago ridiculous amounts. Good job, dude.
Right. Time to remind you that tonight is the Hans Fallada event, with readings in English and German, and an (English!) interview with Hans Fallada's son Ulrich Ditzen. (If this were in German, my questions would have to be like, "What is your favorite color?" "Where is the post office?" The pathways between thinking of how to say something in German and actually getting it out of my mouth are completely clogged.) So come out, and I'll try to think of better English language questions.
Thursday 17 June
19:30 – 21:30
Am Krögel 2
"I know lots of misanthropic types," he says. "I tend to like them. I find it sort of healthy, comforting. It's a better default setting than over-optimism. But I don't think of Wilson as misanthropic. He thinks he's going to make a connection with people, that they'll be on his wavelength, and then gets frustrated when they aren't. But he doesn't go into it thinking: look at this jerk! He has a naive faith in humanity. I guess there's a certain kind of person who can't relate to him in any way. People seem to need a likable protagonist more than ever. It's because they're so used to being fed that in the movies. I find it insulting, the way movies try to ingratiate themselves with the audience that way. I'm more interested in characters who are a little difficult."
June 16, 2010
There's a greatly amusing review of the two new books by the Hitchens brothers, Christopher's Hitch-22 and Peter's The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. And you can read random sentences and play guess-which-crazy-brother-this-refers-to. Round One!
Indeed, he appears to me to have had roughly the same relationship to proletarians as Marie Antoinette had to sheep: They have walk-on parts in his personal drama. There is not much evidence of his having thought deeply, or even at all, about the fate, under a social system he vociferously advocated, of the pleasures he so clearly values, the liking for which I don’t in the least blame him; nor is there evidence of any real reflection on what the world would have been like had his demands been met. Not permanent revolution but permanent adolescence has been his goal, and I think he has achieved it.
A reminder! Tomorrow is our Hans Fallada event in Berlin.
Thursday 17 June
19:30 – 21:30
Am Krögel 2
Different venue from last time! Which makes me wonder if there will be booze. There will probably be booze. (There better be booze.) I'll be interviewing Ulrich Ditzen, Fallada's son, and there will also be readings and assorted madness. It'll be good. You should come. No one interesting is playing in the World Cup, Germany isn't playing again until Friday, and you can take a break from the plastic horn sound, that'll cause hearing damage after too long. Freshen up on your Fallada knowledge here, and get yourself to The Direktorenhaus tomorrow.
For those of you a little obsessed with Joyce and Ulysses, I really can't recommend Sylvia Beach's memoir Shakespeare & Company enough. The behind the scenes looks at what a trial it was to get the book published are hilarious. (The husband of the woman typesetting the book took one look at what she was typing and threw the manuscript into the fire. Printers refused to have anything to do with it. Even finding the right paper for the right shade of blue was nearly impossible. Beach found a way around all of it because "It seemed natural to me that the efforts and sacrifices on my part should be proportionate to the greatness of the work I was publishing.")
So for Bloomsday, I wrote about the spirit of Sylvia Beach and the woman who serialized Ulysses in her literary magazine Little Review here in the States, Margaret Anderson. The piece is up at the B&N Review.
My friend Manan Ahmed, a professor at Freie Universität in Berlin, is giving a lecture called "Situating a Universal: Liminal Sindh in Medieval and Early Modern South Asia." I am in the back, but my brain is in 1920s Paris, with Manan's maps of the 11th-century Middle East layered in the background. I have been gorging on the letters of Sylvia Beach and the memoirs of Margaret Anderson so when Manan pauses and asks, "What does it mean to situate yourself in the frontier?," instead of port cities and conquerors on horseback, I think of these two women, joined by a mad love for James Joyce's Ulysses, exploring the world of modernism and bringing its treasure to the empire's doorstep.
Happy Bloomsday, everyone. For the day: Jeanette Winterson writes about how much she loves that photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. "The vulnerability is there, but also something we don’t often see in the blonde bombshell; a sense of belonging to herself."
My father is a little bit of a history buff, primarily about medical quackery. (The first place I thought to take my father when he first visited Chicago was the Surgery Museum, whatever that thing is called. He got to marvel at an ovarian tumor the size of a basketball, and I got to work on self-hypnosis as it relates to nausea.) He was forever telling grand stories about the pickling of General Sickle's leg, and when we were trying to evade washing our hands before dinner, he would tell us about Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered germs, basically, and realized the plague of childbed fever that was killing new mothers was being spread by doctors who didn't wash their hands between deliveries. I'm not sure about his motivation, maybe something about how we could kill our entire family by not washing our hands before dinner.
Depressing, then, to discover that no one believed Semmelweis, and he died in an insane asylum. He's the anchor to Joanna Kavenna's new book The Birth of Love. For such a tragic, yet still heroic, figure, how do you fictionalize that person? How do you drag him into a novel and yet stay respectful and true? I asked Joanna about the nature of truth when it shows up in fiction, about how one realizes it's time to stop researching and start writing, and about the themes linking her seemingly disparate books The Ice Museum, her wonderful Inglorious, and now, The Birth of Love. The result is up at the PBS Need to Know website.
With Semmelweis, I was fascinated by the idea that he was absolutely right, and yet everyone else thought he was completely wrong. Eventually he was diagnosed as mad — he died in an asylum. Yet really all the doctors who condemned him so confidently were stark raving bonkers, because they were so absolutely convinced of their own rightness. And they were accepted as the grave and certain authorities of the time, even though it turned out that they were a load of ignorant fools.
So it was crucial for me, in telling Semmelweis’s story, to play a bit with ideas of “truth” and “untruth” and authorial authority. (I must emphasize, though, that this wasn’t meant to be “postmodern” — I think things are MUCH weirder than that…)
June 15, 2010
Michael Sims delightfully enough keeps jumping around genres. From Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form, to a collection of gaslight stories, to the natural history of one day -- Apollo's Fire, to baby animals. Now he's edited a collection of vampire stories. At the Chronicle, he introduces the book and explains why he's drawn to the Victorian era stories:
Who can resist an era in which first aid for any trouble begins with a shout of, "Brandy! For God's sake, bring her some brandy!"
I have become a person who goes to the opera. I'm not entirely sure how this happened, except that a friend came to stay in Berlin for a while, and she's writing an opera, and one night she invited me out to see The Love for Three Oranges, and I was hooked. Berlin is an exceptional place to go see the opera, because it is cheap as hell, it is of exceptional quality, there is amazing people watching (girls wear stripper shoes to the opera here, I have seen it), there are men selling cheesy pretzels outside the opera houses, and the Deutsche Oper has a tendency to decorate the stage with fully nude men. Sometimes hanging upside down. Bring your opera glasses.
But somewhere in the middle of this, I've also become violently sensitive to the way women are portrayed in everything. I didn't always used to be this way, I used to be able to remove myself from all of that and enjoy whatever it was on its own terms. "HAHA NORMAN MAILER, that's very funny, yes that woman is totally a whore because all women are, get back to what you were saying earlier." I can't do it anymore. So I was at the opera on Sunday night, kind of wanting to die, because the music was beautiful, the sets were amazing, the woman on stage was dressed in a replica of that famous Anita Berber portrait's red dress, and the first act was hilarious and whimsical and so well done. Yet. The entire show was about how women are simultaneously three things: brainless automatons, prima donnas, and whores. And not even downing intermission sekt made me feel any better.
And a few weeks ago, I had to give up on a pretty good book because halfway through I did a little equation: what was the probability that the two women in the book would turn out to be anything other than gold diggers and sluts. Not great! So: gone. Or the book where the man goes off to save the world and his angelic, pregnant wife literally just sits at home and waits for his return. Also ditched. A few years ago I would have just powered through, but I can't anymore. Which makes me feel like a feminist cliche, always so sensitive, taking everything so goddamn seriously. But maybe remembering that there are so many good books in the world, means I don't have to read about how I'm less of a human being just because I'm a woman. I will still have plenty to read. (Also, this does not just mean only reading books by women. Plenty of men can write women -- Heinrich Böll has been a big surprise that way -- and plenty of women can't write about women.)
But I guess that explains why I'm spending all of my money on season tickets to the opera, and why my discarded book pile just keeps growing. Luckily, the to-be-read pile is still overflowing with good stuff.
John E. McIntyre has a message for those who freak out about texting, about the proper usage of "begging the question," about ending sentences with prepositions, about LOL and BRB and tl;dr, and who want to form a society to help us clean up the English language:
English is not degenerating. Jonathan Swift thought that is was in 1712, when he proposed an academy to correct and preserve it, and there is no greater evidence for its decay today than there was three centuries ago, or that such an academy would, or could, accomplish anything useful. Take a deep, cleansing breath.
June 14, 2010
My fellow Portlanders! If you're looking for something to do tonight, might I suggest a reading at Powell's? Richard Wirick, a Bookslut contributor and author of the new, highly-praised short story collection Kicking In, will be reading tonight at Powell's on Hawthorne at 7:30 pm. Come support a great writer. And say hi! I'll be the curly-haired bespectacled gentleman in the audience. I will probably be looking pale and sleepy. As I always do.
I love this very much: my friend Manan Ahmed and Daisy Rockwell offer up an epistolary review of Hot It Book Ilustrado, wherein they become "friends" with Miguel Syjuco, discuss the absence of Imelda Marcos's shoes, and reference David Byrne, Rosemary's Baby, Chungking Express, orientalism, and Proust.
Writing about bees, for some odd reason, and so immediately thought about P. L. Travers's What the Bee Knows, which is magnificent and out of print (what the fuck). But there is a wonderful little anecdote about bees and what big gossips they are in there:
This apprising of bees, telling them, for all one knows, what they already know, is not the business merely of great ones. The bees are constantly being told. No beekeeper would fail to do it. For if they are not courteously kept informed of everything that happens, they will take umbrage, swarm, and fly away, or die of grief or resentment. In the British Isles and all over Europe, the folk continually keep the bees abreast of the news, at national as well as local level: decking the hives with crepe or ribbon, whichever fits the case. On one occasion, an ancient great-aunt of mine, hieratically assuming a head-dress of feather and globules of jet, required me to accompany her to the beehives. "But surely you don't need a hat, Aunt Jane! They're only at the end of the garden." "It is the custom," she said, grandly. "Put a scarf over your head." Arrived, she stood in silence for a moment. Then -- "I have to tell you," she said formally, "that King George V is dead. You may be sorry, but I am not. He was not an interesting man. Besides," she added -- as though the bees needed telling! -- "everyone has to die."
As a reminder about our Berlin event on June 17th on the work of Hans Fallada, you can read an excerpt from his 1947 novel about life in Berlin during the war, Every Man Dies Alone, on the New York Times website. The book begins:
The postwoman Eva Kluge slowly climbs the steps of 55 Jablonski Strasse. She's tired from her round, but she also has one of those letters in her bag that she hates to deliver, and is about to have to deliver, to the Quangels, on the second floor.
Before that, on the floor below, she has a Party circular for the Persickes. Persicke is some political functionary or other — Eva Kluge always gets the titles mixed up. At any rate, she has to remember to call out "Heil Hitler!" at the Persickes' and watch her lip. Which she needs to do anyway, there's not many people to whom Eva Kluge can say what she thinks. Not that she's a political animal, she's just an ordinary woman, but as a woman she's of the view that you don't put children in the world to have them shot. Also, that a home without a man is no good, and for the time being she's got nothing: not her two boys, not a man, not a proper home. So, she has to keep her lip buttoned, and deliver horrible field letters that aren't written but typed, and are signed 'Regimental Adjutant'.
I love (and covet) this doll so much: Anna Karenina Survives the Train.
June 11, 2010
More than 10 years ago, Professor Michael Erard (who I remember from my Austin days, hi Michael) caught his first plagiarist student. Now he sits down with her in a Waffle House (Texas!) to interview her about why she did it and rethink his approach to plagiarism in the classroom.
Religion writer Stephen Prothero, who I have liked since American Jesus, takes on the "is atheism a religion?" question on BookTV. (You can watch the video, but the transcript they have on that website is incredibly annoying, and the best transcript seems to be at the Friendly Atheist website. The Friendly Atheist disagrees, and I disagree with him, as nice as he was when I met him.) Prothero:
I think atheism is at a really interesting point in America. It’s visible and there’s been moments in American history, including at the Scopes Trial in the 1920s where atheism became visible, and in the 19th century, there were moments of visibility after the Civil War, and this is another one of them. So it’s an intriguing moment when atheists have said, we’re not gonna just let Christians talk about us; we’ll talk for ourselves.
But there is a way in which they really do chase away a lot of their potential supporters. If you look at surveys on atheism, if you ask people, do you believe in god or a higher power, there’s maybe 8% of Americans who will say. Not Really. And if you say, are you atheist, it’s usually 1% of Americans. Well, why the gap between the people who don’t believe in god and the people who call themselves atheists? It’s because atheism is a bad brand. And the reason atheism is a bad brand is because a lot of people out front are just sort of angry fundamentalists. They are people who remind you of the annoying missionary who comes and knocks on your door and gives you this script and they’re not listening to you and they’re not really having a conversation with you. They’re just kind of hectoring you. And we’ve all had that experience with fundamentalists or sometimes Evangelicals who have harangued us and we have now all had it with atheists, also.
June 10, 2010
“We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms...”
“The revolution that is surely, surely coming, and which will as surely wipe you and your silk-lined, puffed-up leisure off the map”
I am slogging through all 1,200 pages of Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. And it is a slog, despite his occasional attempts at jokes.
"Epiousios" does not mean "daily," but something like "of extra substance," or at a stretch "for the morrow." The first Roman Catholic attempt to translate "The Lord's Prayer" into English from the Latin Vulgate in the late sixteenth century courageously recognized the problem, but also sidestepped it simply by borrowing a Latin word for "supersubstantial"; not surprisingly, "give us this day our supersubstantial bread" never caught on as a popular phrase in prayer.
Meanwhile, my to-be-read pile mocks me, with its delightful looking:
They're not just looking delightful, they are taking over my floor. And that does not include the two Hans Fallada books I need to read before the 17th, nor the books I just ordered from Dialogue and I'm waiting for. Thank god there are fifteen hours of train rides in my near future, I can clear up some of the backlog.
With the Orange Prize awarded to The Lacuna, we have about six months blissfully free of commentators making nonsense statements about how women's literature is all too domestic, or how the Orange Prize is just reverse sexism and men should be allowed to win, etc. Hooray for that. Which means I should have linked to my Smart Set piece about the nonsense of even trying to define "women's fiction" when it went up, but I sort of forgot, what with working on the new issue. But it's still there! And you can still read it.
June 9, 2010
Orange Prize goes to Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna. Subliminal advertising courtesy of judge Daisy Goodwin: "I'm a book slut, I'm not high minded and I'm happy to read anything" Crispin, Schaub, do we owe her a drink?
[Editor's Note: Or we should go all Rowling on her and sue for trademark infringement.]
What do garlic and onions have in common with gunpowder? A lot. They’re incendiary. They can do harm and they delight. Sulfur is central to their powers. And they helped inspire the work of a chemist who has just published a welcome treatise on the smelly yet indispensable allium family.
God. Harold McGee writing about onions is just about the best thing ever, isn't it? Which must be why the New York Times is letting him write about as obscure a book as Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science, just to get passages like the one above.
Jonah Lerner reviews Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, which argues that the reason the Internet > Television is because of collaboration, and asks the very important question, "Is it really better to produce yet another lolcat than watch The Wire?"
Lionel Shriver just realized the publishing world is not a meritocracy. And she wants to talk to the press about it. Awards are bullshit (including the one she just won), bad books sell really well sometimes, and the job of writer doesn't always pay very well.
Further proof that publishing is not a meritocracy: She is getting a lot of space in a major newspaper to say this, despite the fact that it is not news, not interesting, and her last book is not selling very well. And here I am, blathering about it on a blog. Oh, sweet death.
So perhaps instead I should tell you that Daphne du Maurier's short stories are fucked up and amazing in all sorts of ways? Yes, why not that.
My second piece on travel writing is up at PBS Need to Know, and for this we pray to the patron saint of bad travel, Graham Greene, offering up our tales of woe and canceled flights, and ask for his protection so that we never again blow out our ears on a plane (yes, this happened to me) leaving us deaf for a month, nor get pickpocketed within ten minutes of disembarking a plane (happened to my friend), nor find ourselves in emergency rooms in countries where we have limited language skills trying to explain what is wrong through an elaborate game of charades (almost every traveler I know).
Let us take of the Graham Greene sacrament (pink gins) and read his sacred texts, Journey Without Maps and The Lawless Roads. Let him offer protection and guidance, so that all of your vacations end like this one:
It became more and more like a blind in Paris; the wine, the bitter Gallic smoke, the increasing friendliness with someone you can't speak to because you don't know the language well enough. You've run across him in the Montparnasse bar and gone on exchanging drinks ever since: you speak English, and he speaks French, and you don't understand each other. There are a lot of girls about whom he seems to know and you'd vaguely like to sleep with, but you can't be bothered because the wine's good and you are beginning to feel a deep emotional friendship for the man on the other stool. He seems to know everyone: you don't understand a thing, but you're happy.
June 8, 2010
Great interview with travel writer Tim Cahill about the golden age of Outside Magazine, traveling via Lonely Planet guides, and whether he'd rather teach a class of undergrads or face an outhouse full of angry bats. (Bats.)
Oh my god, what is wrong with everybody. There's some crazy lady who compares the use of the word "girl" to refer to women to the n-word, there's someone trying to start a row over Martin Amis's declaration that being a grandparent sucks (being a grandparent is awesome! apparently, and this needs to be defended), and the New Yorker essay about the 20 under 40 writers uses language I haven't seen since I read a press release for a new, exciting toothpaste flavor. Instead of reading the New Yorker bit, just watch this, it is the equivalent. I think all the editors in the world must have gone on vacation this week.
Our next Berlin reading will be June 17. Details:
Previously planned for April, we are happy to announce that Bookslut.com and Dialogue Berlin’s Hans Fallada event has now been rescheduled for 17 June at Direktorenhaus, the city’s latest multidisciplinary art space. Dialogue Berlin and Bookslut.com collaborate to present an exclusive evening to discuss the life and work of Hans Fallada. The writer lived a life as fascinating as any of the characters in his remarkable novels, of which Every Man Dies Alone, first published in English in 2009, became a surprise literary hit.
Unlike other prominent writers including Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse, Fallada decided not to leave Germany during World War II, and he was eventually institutionalised in a hospital for the criminally insane after refusing to join the Nazi Party. The Gestapo ordered him to write a work of anti-Semitic propaganda, but instead, while in hospital, he wrote his masterpiece The Drinker, using a dense code that was not fully deciphered until after his death.
Fallada managed to outlive his captors by convincing them he was working on his assignment, but after the war he descended into alcohol and morphine addiction. It was during this time that a friend presented him with the Gestapo file of a couple arrested for distributing anti-Nazi propaganda across Berlin during the war.
That couple’s story is retold in Every Man Dies Alone, a recently rediscovered classic of German literature, and the work that Primo Levi called "the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis." Fallada died before the book saw publication.
Ulrich Ditzen, Fallada’s son — who was 16 when his father died — will be discussing his father's life and work with Jessa Crispin, editor of Bookslut.com.
Thursday 17 June
19:30 - 21:30
Am Krögel 2
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
June 7, 2010
At NPR, Michael Schaub (who edited this nice, shiny, brand new issue of Bookslut for you today) helps you sort through the best historical fiction of the year, because the current day sucks.
I've been indulging my own escapist urge in two ways: The first involves pretending it's already next year, when all countries in the world will sign a peace treaty after scientists discover a way to harvest the energy from kitten smiles.
I am On the Record of being skeptical of this little stream of books that declare everything was way better during the hunter-gatherer past, and that agriculture was maybe a big mistake. But Spencer Wells's Pandora's Seed looks like an interesting, and serious, examination of the switch from h-g to agrarian society, and what the switch continues to do to our DNA. Seed is running an excerpt, a review, and various other goodies.
While to those of us in living in the West there are many good aspects to this, to many others our way of life is not all it’s meant to be. For secular rationality, read loss of faith and certainty. For improving living standards, read increased consumption. For increased social mobility, read loss of traditional roles and threats to vested interests. The rise of fundamentalism in the latter half of the 20th century reflects the very real loss of the traditions that guided much of humanity over the past several thousand years. What to replace those traditions with, especially for those not privy to the largesse of the modern world, is a difficult question. If you believe that you have a stake in the future, you are likely to embrace it; if you feel left out, this is much less likely. Providing an inclusive mythos for the modern age will be a significant challenge of the next century.
The Second Virtue
Hello, this week a shameless plug for my short monograph on Virginia Woolf, part of the Bloomsbury Heritage Series: Virginia Woolf and ‘Dress Mania’: ‘the eternal and insoluble question of clothes’.
Published by VW’s nephew, Cecil Woolf, there was a an absurd occasion a couple of weeks ago when he came round to my house unannounced to deliver the finished book. It was a good job I’d just been out for a walk because working from home, I’d normally be dressed in a ratty and filthy dirty ‘white’ dressing gown. As it was, I came to the door with my gnarled bare feet on show and a red wine stained jumper hitched up round my waist, to find Cecil brandishing a bottle and bundle of books. I couldn’t leave him standing on the stoop, but I knew that our living room was strewn with papers, fag ash and generally looked like a crack den. I have one proper wine glass, which, although in the cupboard, had a distinctly greasy look about it. So we drank warm white wine, him from a greasy glass and me from a ‘world beard and moustache championship’ mug. Previously having only communicated via email, the shock and incongruity of a tweed, crisp cotton and cashmere Cecil sitting next to me amidst the detritus of that room was almost too much to bear. But being the generous and droll person that he is, talking about Pug dogs pinning down Alsatians, it soon took on the colour of delight. The wine probably had something to do with it too.
Hilary Hamann is interviewed at the Los Angeles Times about the re-release of her novel Anthropology of an American Girl. (I liked the book, which you can maybe tell, given my review at NPR and interview with Hamann at PBS. Woo, love those government sponsored media.)
Stop whatever you are doing and read the new issue of Bookslut! Seriously. I don't want to hear any excuses. No more of this "I have to check the latest depressing news about the oil spill" or "I have to go to work" or "Seriously, I'm a paramedic" or "People could die if I'm late." None of that. This is an issue you are going to want to read.
In this issue, Elizabeth Ellen explains how she fell in and out of love with Dave Eggers. Elizabeth Bachner wonders whether French can save her. Barbara J. King reconsiders Rick Steves, the activist. And Emma Kat Richardson accepts the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But she thinks you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who...wait, what? What I meant to say was Emma Kat Richardson discusses a new book about the Brat Pack, and the influence of '80s cinema on people too young to remember it firsthand. And we've got interviews with Joe Kubert, Noah Cicero, Brady Udall, and Elisa Gabbert.
We have new columns, from the folks who bring you Comicbookslut, Bookslut in Training, Latin Lit Lover, Mystery Strumpet, and Kissing Dead Girls. And we have reviews of the latest books from Justin Cronin, Aimee Bender, David Lipsky, Jillian Lauren, Don Paterson, Pinckney Benedict, David Means, and more.
As always, thank you for reading.
Although really, I can't think of O. Henry now without thinking of my adviser, who sort of out of nowhere once started complaining about him. "What's that one story? The Christmas one? Everyone thinks it's soooo romantic, but give me a break. What's so great about it? She's bald and no one knows what time it is. Great story."
June 4, 2010
Bookslut columnist Jesse Tangen-Mills has an interview with Eva Illouz, cultural theorist and author of books like Saving the Modern Soul: Therapy, Emotions, and the Culture of Self-Help and Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. They discuss how emotions play into the world of capitalism, how scarcity promotes romance, and the cliches we walk around with in our heads.
Like the best of Gray's work, Old Men in Love is funny and profane, but with a shuddering anger to the politics. Despite its swinging widely through time and space to portray men in power, their vulnerabilities and the perils of unchecked desire, perhaps the novel's best section is its most mundane and personal: Gray's portrayal of John Tunnock as a young boy trying to find his (lonely) place in working-class Glasgow. With a dead mother and a father he never knew, he's left to two plucky maiden aunts. His coming of age includes sherry, comic book superheroines in very tight costumes, his discovery of pornography and being discovered with pornography by his schoolmaster.
Every morning, as the sun pours through my bedroom windows and spills across my bed, I awake, the promise of a new day stretching before me like a stupid thing that leads to some goddamn whatever.
Ugh, I think.
New Shalom Auslander column, about the guilt that can come with writing.
June 3, 2010
Forgive the lightness, it's been a combination of working on the new issue and a writing deadline. But let's stop for an interlude from Sylvia Beach's memoirs. The book itself, Shakespeare and Company, is a little bloodless. Perhaps that is what happens when you have to omit from your life story all the hot sex you were having just because you were having it with another woman. So it's a little restrained, although always very interesting and full of charming anecdotes and behind-the-scenes looks at the birth of modernism.
But then all of a sudden, in the end, it turns into an action film. It ends during the very slow liberation of Paris, Beach having returned from a six month stint in a prison camp, where she was sent after refusing to sell a Nazi soldier a copy of Finnegans Wake. Suddenly:
There was still a lot of shooting going on in the rue de l'Odeon, and we were getting tired of it, when one day a string of jeeps came up the street and stopped in front of my house. I heard a deep voice calling: "Sylvia!" And everybody in the street took up the cry of "Sylvia!"
"It's Hemingway! It's Hemingway!" cried Adrienne. I flew downstairs; we met with a crash; he picked me up and swung me around and kissed me while people on the street and in the windows cheered.
We went up to Adrienne's apartment and sat Hemingway down. He was in battle dress, grimy and bloody. A machine gun clanked on the floor. He asked Adrienne for a piece of soap and she gave him her last cake.
He wanted to know if there was anything he could do for us. We asked him if he could do something about the Nazi snipers on the roof tops in our street, particularly on Adrienne's roof top. He got his company out of the jeeps and took them up to the roof. We heard firing for the last time in the rue de l'Odeon. Hemingway and his men came down again and rode off in their jeeps -- "to liberate," according to Hemingway, "the cellar at the Ritz."
For those of you who were unable to attend last week's reading with Lorraine Adams in Berlin (although a lot of you were! Thank you so much to everyone who came), I have the transcript to the Q&A we conducted up at the PBS Need to Know website. We discussed the state of journalism, why she left the Washington Post, her two books Harbor and The Room and the Chair, the Bob Woodward problem, and why fiction, and not just journalism, is also a place for truth.
What happens is we read the accounts of embedded journalists who follow soldiers. Those accounts by those embedded reporters stand in for the truth: They are observed scenes, they are witnessable scenes. But there is a privacy that no journalist ever pierces. That is where the truth resides. Because we live in a culture that believes we must not waste any time on works of the imagination, that we must only be hardworking, very serious people who only read facts, we assume that these nonfiction accounts are the whole truth. In fact, they are as much as a partial truth, for different reasons, as fiction.
June 2, 2010
New Christian Wiman essay up at the American Scholar called "Hive of Nerves," about Ulysses, anxiety, and the clatter in our heads.
The Vatican archives opened up a tiny bit, briefly, but Dan Brown fans are likely to be disappointed. (Fans of Nazi conspiracies, though: you are in luck, guys.)
Among the more recent is a letter written by Pope Pius XI to Hitler in December 1934. ... The letter – in response to an earlier letter from Hitler asking Pius to try to improve relations between Germany and the Vatican – addresses Hitler as ‘Illustro and honorabili viro Adolpho Hitler’, which must have brought pleasure to the Führer.
However, as the text points out, the Pope markedly omits to offer Hitler his blessing at the end.
Well, that's fine then. There is no index to the archive -- 50 miles of documents and no one has really cataloged everything and created an index.
Literature's other Ondaatje, the Ondaatje prize, has been won by Ian Thomson's The Dead Yard. It's awarded for the book that 'has best evoked the spirit of a place':
"'You visitors are always getting it wrong,'" he is told by one Jamaican. "'Either it's golden beaches or guns, guns, guns, guns. Is there nothing in between?"
Ian McEwan's Solar has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. This reminds me of my friend Matt, who coined something called The Wodehouse Rule for bookselling, where the more Wodehouse a person buys, the less sense of humour they display.
As well as a case of vintage Bollinger champagne, tradition dictates that the author is also presented with a locally bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, named "Solar" after the winning novel.
The Irish Book of the Decade - which seems to have been announced apropos of precious little - is Derek Landy's (very good) Skulduggery Pleasant. "Astonishingly enough, I am not taking this opportunity to gloat, because apparently that isn't very classy," said Landy, whose YA title beat out the grisly likes of Cecelia Ahern and John Boyne, and I hope someone is buying him a drink for that alone.
June 1, 2010
Of all the blessings that the internet has bestowed, the bitter online book review is among the most enjoyable – for the neutral observer at least.
Yes, there's another story of an author getting drunk (I imagine) and deciding instead of calling an ex at 2am or dancing around to disco until the neighbors bang on your ceiling, what they really want to do is review some books online. If people are doing this sober, well, I have no idea what to do with you.
Thoughtful (by which I mean long, but whatever, print it out or something) piece on why we process fictional stories, daydreams, playtime with real emotions. It's adapted from the book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.
A monk named Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) wants to work with mice, but there is his bishop, the conservative, who bans him from working with mice. The mice will want to copulate, and Mendel is a monk. Mendel chooses peas instead. Let someone else work with mice. And they do. To this day mice are favored over peas, fruit flies, and worms. One wonders what might have been if we worked with salamanders in the twentieth century. Or starfish. Or the sea squirt that can regrow its entire body from one blood vessel.
-- From Jillian Weise's wonderful genetic romp The Colony
Mendel's work with peas has now started a feud, as the ownership of one of his manuscripts, long thought lost, is under question. The manuscript itself has survived being thrown in the trash, being swiped by the Germans in the '40s, being swiped by the Russians after that. Now the goddamn German Augustinians want it. (It is worth a whole lot of money, did I mention that?) The New York Times tries to make sense of the mess. Lawsuit coverage inevitably to follow.