July 30, 2010
A Jim Behrle Production
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When Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Year Without Sex author Hephzibah Anderson was asked by Stephen Colbert why she was celibate* for a year, I was really hoping she would just come out and admit, "It is the time requirement for any standard stunt book contract." Instead blah blah blah it would teach me more about my inner self blah blah blah.
* She defines celibacy as everything except for penetration. Lame.
But speaking of stunt books, Dave Holmes (I am old enough to remember him on MTV) is reading only stunt books for a year and then he is going to write a stunt book about it, at which point I am really hoping the world will end. Until that happens, he is reading Chastened, and blogging about it.
The LRB has a good review of Au Revoir to All That: The Rise and Fall of French Cuisine. It covers the disappointment of contemporary French food, the rise of the celebrity chef with corresponding frozen food entrees, and why innovation was possible in places like Barcelona, Berkeley, London, and Chicago, but not in Paris. And weirdly, it's the Americans who are leading the way in protecting old ways of raising, producing, aging traditional foods and cheeses and livestock. "Here, as elsewhere, the natural allies of terroir and Slow Food are the technologies of globalisation: the internet and the 747."
In an outspoken attack, Gabriel Josipovici, the former Weidenfeld professor of comparative literature at Oxford University, condemned the work of the giants of the modern English novel as hollow. He said they were like "prep-school boys showing off" and virtually indistinguishable from one another in scope and ambition.
He names names, too, specifically Rushdie, McEwan, Amis, the usual suspects. Although the best thing about the proliferation of this story is discovering how many pictures of a glowering, disapproving Salman Rushdie the newspapers can dig up. The answer: A LOT.
He said: "Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world."
I want to buy him a drink. He is writing a book, though, called What Ever Happened to Modernism?, which apparently he's trying to drum up publicity for in advance. But I still have such great affection from grumpy codgers, so I'm happy to help.
July 29, 2010
Stephenie Harrison talks to Rosecrans Baldwin, a founding editor of The Morning News and author of the new (and beautiful) novel You Lost Me There, which is yet another 2010 book you might be hearing about come Pulitzer/National Book Award time. (There's a trailer for the book; it will make you want to move to Maine.)
I wish I could write poetry. I’d say I’m halfway-awful at it...I wrote poetry all through college—and as soon as I graduated, I moved to New York and switched to writing novels in the mornings before work. Recently I’ve gone back to writing poems, but as warm-up exercises. I write really good warm-up poems. They are the equivalent of sweatpants.
I try to stay loyal to things I’ve always liked and disliked – I am a bit feudal – but it isn’t always possible. How much a slim volume can change in 10 years, in 20! Words that once seemed knowing and wise can come to seem contrived when we are wiser ourselves. Tenderness that struck us first as startlingly fresh, with more experience can seem embarrassing. Satire may sour to cynicism. Humour can start to seem like an apology. Romantic yearning reveals itself as a racket. What’s going on?
So far, all of the cities chosen for UNESCO's international City of Literature program have been in English speaking nations. Next up: Dublin.
July 28, 2010
Anis Shivani interviews Bookslut favorite James Hynes (whose Next is my favorite novel of the year so far). Here's Hynes on Austin, Texas (the birthplace of Bookslut), where Next is set and Hynes lives:
It's a hip, exciting city, with a lot of diversity, but it's also still pretty racially and economically divided. I wonder how many of the hipsters from New York or LA who descend on us during SXSW or ACL spend any time at all over on the east side of I-35, which is a locus of the usual, discouraging battles over gentrification, police brutality, lack of opportunity, unequal distribution of city resources, etc., that you will find in any American city. ... I know for a fact that the average working artist in Austin--from your ordinary gigging musician to your day-job-holding midlist writer--sees a very different Austin than, say, Michael Dell does, or, for that matter, than do the aimlessly ambling hipsters who make my drive home from work during SXSW such a pain in the ass.
If you want to replicate the experience of an Austinite during South By Southwest, invite hundreds of hipsters and journalists to your house, make them park on your lawn, get them drunk, ask them to talk about how your house isn't as nice as their house and how they thought everyone would be wearing cowboy hats, and then don't let them leave for a week. (Just kidding, y'all. My former hometown appreciates your tourist dollars.)
It turns out the Greenes (as in Graham) as a whole were a bunch of spies, world travelers, writers, dashing heroes, journalists, WWII heroes, etc etc. Jeremy Lewis, who has chronicled one generation of the family in a new book, gives an overview of the embarrassingly rich family tree.
Because I care about you, I offer two pathways to optimism and cheer:
2. A reading list I wrote for PBS, "Bright Books for Dark Times" or something or other, books about feeling like shit but getting out of bed anyway:
- The Jokers by Albert Cossery
- Bird, Kansas by Tony Parker
- American Moderns by Christine Stansell
- A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter's Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial by H L Mencken
- My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
July 27, 2010
The Booker Prize Longlist descended upon us today. No real suprises, there's no McEwan or Amis (and, thank you & preserve you Andrew Motion, no Piers Paul Reid). Nice to see Tsiolkas and Skippy Dies show up, not least because they took me to a second-place tie in our work Longlist pool. The Guardian has a slide show of epic irrelevance.
The entire list under the cut.
Howard Jacobson: The Finkler Question
Alan Warner: The Stars in the Bright Sky
Nerve has an excerpt from Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, which I loved. (And so did Michiko Kakutani.) I'm usually a little wary of dystopian novels -- a lot of them seem to be written by weirdos with bizarre political axes to grind, like "This is what the world is going to look like if we don't pass a flat tax and convert our economy to the tin standard!" -- but Shteyngart's book is actually convincing, funny, and, for anyone who cares about books, art, or the potential future of simple human decency, tragic. I know the dude's not starved for attention right now, but his new book really is worth checking out.
Not to sound like an asshole, but I was kind of a stud in college. Once, at a party, I made out with this girl who I'd only known for less than two years. Can anyone beat that?
Yesterday [An Education author Lynn Barber] admitted to sleeping with 50 men in just two eight-week academic terms during the 1960s, which works out at around one every two days.
She added graphically: 'It was quite good going . . . I was jamming them in.'
It's really handy that Michael Schaub read the new David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet before I had the chance to, because I don't know if you all know this, but we Bookslut writers and editors all have a hive mind. What one writer reads enters all of our bloodstreams. By the way, sorry guys for all that Supernatural slash fiction about the two brothers last week. It was for uh research.
From Michael's review of Mitchell at NPR:
You don't have to be a publishing expert to guess which trends are driving the book industry this year. In: vampires; werewolves; vampires fighting with werewolves; vampires fighting with werewolves inserted, for some reason, in the middle of a Jane Austen novel. Not in: novels about sober, upstanding Dutch trading clerks on assignment in Tokugawa-era Japan. Nothing against the Netherlands, the shipping industry, or the Edo shogunate, but such stories don't present obvious merchandising opportunities or lend themselves to CGI-enhanced film adaptations.
July 26, 2010
Yet another sad week for literature. The actress and author Cécile Aubry is dead at 81. Aubry was perhaps best known in America for creating Belle et Sébastien, a children's story later turned into an animated television series (which in turn gave the pop band Belle and Sebastian their name).
And my new hometown of Portland has lost a legend. John Callahan, the fiercely politically incorrect cartoonist, singer-songwriter, and memoirist (Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot), has died. (News reports give his age as either 59 or 60.) He's remembered at his newspaper, the Willamette Week. I'll be listening to his beautiful song "Portland Girl" in his honor.
At HTMLGIANT, Catherine Lacey (a Bookslut contributor) debuts my new favorite interview technique, involving animals and semicolons. The initial subject is John Jodzio, whose If You Lived Here You'd Already Be Home just moved to the top of my intimidatingly behemoth to-be-read stack, based on his answers here.
10. A sentence that is lie and uses a semi-colon. I told Jacob his sleeping wife’s face smelled salty; that was why I’d licked her forehead, that there was no other reason.
I have a copy of Tao Lin's forthcoming novel, Richard Yates, taunting me on my coffee table, daring me to ignore all of my deadlines. (The novel is not about Richard Yates; it's about Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning, except that it's not. From what I can tell.) Tao is one of my favorite American fiction writers; I'm going to have to hide this under something I will never read, like a demand letter from a collection agency. (Good luck, suckers!)
Anyway, at Gawker, Tao describes being arrested for trespassing last week at the NYU bookstore, where he was apparently banned after being arrested for ("unsuccessfully," as he notes) shoplifting a few years ago. The comments section is pretty entertaining; "there is ~96% 'shit-talking' & support for increased 'police brutality'," as Tao says. (MobyLives notes that the store is still selling his books, so the potentially lucrative part of him isn't banned, I guess.) Anyone want to take bets on who the next author to get arrested will be? I got twenty bucks on Franzen, who I've long suspected of being the suave international jewel thief known as "El Zorro Blanco Con Gafas." (If this pans out, I'm going to demand an apology from the FBI and Interpol. "Wasting your time," my ass.)
The person going through Samuel Steward's personal belongings and manuscripts are probably going to have a better time than those currently digging through the cat pee-smelling Kafka files. Among the items the writer left behind:
80 boxes full of drawings, letters, photographs, sexual paraphernalia, manuscripts and other items, including an autograph and reliquary with pubic hair from Rudolph Valentino, a thousand-page confessional journal Steward created at the request of the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and a green metal card catalog labeled “Stud File,” which contained a meticulously documented record on index cards of every sexual experience and partner — Rock Hudson, Thornton Wilder, “One-eyed Sadist” — that Steward said he had had over 50 years. (Link via.)
God bless visionary eccentrics, a type the British Isles are particularly good at producing. Without them, life would be merely a long dreary trudge through a bleak forest of duties and disappointments, ending in a featureless, futureless grave. But with celestially-besotted madmen and crazy oracular women on the scene—ah, it's all fireworks, amour fou, angels, and baggy pants!
July 23, 2010
At NPR, Jessa Crispin reviews "The Joker" by Steve Miller:
...(T)he most impressive aspect of Miller's work isn't his willingness (to date, a willingness not shared by his contemporaries) to speak of the "pompatus of love," but rather the almost Glückian elan with which he insists he "really love(s) your peaches" and "want(s) to shake your tree." Truly, faced with Miller's poetic genius, we are all "midnight tokers" who "sure don't want to hurt no one."
But what do you do when one corrupt government is followed by another far worse, when there is no hope of ever seeing a sane, reasonable person in a position of power? If you're a character in The Jokers, Albert Cossery's satiric sixth book to be translated from French to English, you match the absurdity of the political situation with absurdity of your own.
Andrew Taylor defends Dame Agatha.
Agatha Christie is not a great writer, and her 66 novels vary widely in quality. But the best of her books are well worth revisiting. There is a clarity about them and a shrewd understanding of the vagaries of human nature. Christie was no fool. She's also a better writer than her reputation might lead you to expect.
A Jim Behrle Production
Click for the full comic!
July 22, 2010
(Caution: Most links in this post NOT SAFE FOR WORK.)
If Naked Girls Reading didn't exist, Bookslut would have had to invent it. The Globe and Mail profiles the literary series, which is pretty much exactly what you would expect, thank God. The group is also sponsoring a writing contest on its site, for fiction, poetry, criticism, and erotica.
And since we're on the subject, here's some (also NSFW) pictures of literary tattoos. And yes, I know this isn't the most academic post in Bookslut history. But Jessa promised me I could post one thing per month about naked people. I actually had her write it into my contract.
The London Review of Books has posted a public apology on its website after some of Britain's most distinguished writers, academics and arts figures accused the magazine of publishing a racist blogpost comparing African migrants to baboons and black shopkeepers to rottweilers.
Killing the Buddha catches up with David Eagleman, author the wildly successful (and by wildly successful, I mean he got to hang out with Brian Eno because of it -- I have no idea how well it sold) Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. He's working on a book about the unconscious, would like to become the Carl Sagan of neuroscience, and argues for agnosticism over atheism. He explains:
The work of science is like building a pier out into the ocean. We excitedly add on to the pier little by little, but then we look around and say, “Wait a minute, I’m at the end of the pier, but there’s a lot more out there.” The ocean of what we don’t know always dwarfs what we do know, he says. “During our lifetimes, we will get further on that pier. We’ll understand more at the end of our lives than we do now, but it ain’t going to cover the ocean.”
Yesterday was Hans Fallada's birthday, and Dennis Loy Johnson, the publisher who brought Every Man Dies Alone into an English translation and restored the 200 pages missing from the English version of his great Wolf Among Wolves, went on Leonard Lopate to talk about Fallada's legacy.
Bookslut contributor, subject, and friend JC Hallman has obviously gone off his rocker, writing a book about Utopia and optimism in a time of oh shit we are all doomed. It's called In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise, and it's similar in form to his book The Devil is a Gentleman, which examines modern religions through the lens of William James's Varieties of Religious Experience. I talk to Hallman at PBS:
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but cynicism reigns at the moment. There is no god, we are all fucked, things were totally better before agriculture, etc. Please justify your writing a book about utopian thought.
What’s important to remember is that you need the perfect, the impossible goal, to pull you forward. Hopes may be foiled, but it’s always — always! — hope that generates progress.
July 21, 2010
At The Smart Set, Jessa Crispin finds herself "angry, frustrated and bored" with Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá's Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.
Despite their evidence that women’s orgasms and sexual needs are fulfilled by multiple partners, one after the other, there is no corresponding “Men aren’t going to like hearing this, but your wives are going to need to bang the entire German World Cup team — this is what she needs it to be fully orgasmic.” ... There’s nothing progressive about this totally old-fashioned idea that women’s sexuality is the victim of, and secondary to, men’s sexuality.
Wait, Jessa, you find soccer players attractive? I thought you were into mid-century professional wrestlers. I was wondering why you never thanked me for that sexy "Haystacks" Calhoun poster I sent you last Christmas.
John Lopez has a great interview with David Mitchell, whose new The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is absolutely incredible. Lopez and Mitchell talk about The Wire, the World Cup, and the possible film adaptation of Cloud Atlas.
Oddly enough, I’m not sure if novelists are the best people to ask whither-the-novel questions. For me, it’s a little like I’m a duckbilled platypus and I’m being asked a question about taxonomy. You won’t get much of an answer out of a platypus because they’re busy going about their business digging tunnels, catching fish, and having sex. You really have to ask a critic, or a taxonomist. I feel like I should have a pithy answer because I’m a novelist and you’re asking a question about the future of the novel, but the biggest question I ever get to is, “How can I make this damned book work?” I rarely ever put my head above the rampart and see where this big lumbering behemoth called global literature is going.
Well, men are doomed. It was a good run, at least.
Can fart jokes save the reading souls of boys? ... Farts are Ray Sabini's halfway point for younger kids. The fourth grade teacher from Miller Place, outside New York City, heard from dozens of grateful parents, teachers and librarians after he self-published his "SweetFarts" in 2008 under the name Raymond Bean. ... It climbed to No. 3 on Amazon in children's humor in October on little more than word of mouth and prompted a sequel, "Sweet Farts: Rippin' it Old-School," to be released next month.
The Guardian looks at a program that sentences drug offenders to reading groups and community service hours rather than jail time, and wonders about its applicability in the UK. I imagine the Texas book group going a little something like this.
July 20, 2010
The takeaway lesson from Eline Vere: Get it together, ladies.
If Sarah Palin is ever elected president, here are your new poets laureate.
There once stood a corporate jet in Anchorage,
When Sarah took reins of the state she had courage.
Without a delay
she put on e-bay
that state-supplied jet on Ted Stevens, Anchorage.
Top that, Merwin.
If you write mean, anonymous reviews on Amazon, then get your wife to take the fall, you might end up getting sued. Also, you're an asshole.
In a bizarre marketing strategy, a luxury book publisher is bringing out a special edition biography of [cricket player Sachin] Tendulkar with pages made from his blood.
“Try to kiss me. See what happens to your lips.”
Translators are always vulnerable to criticism. If they do not make full use of their creative imagination, they will betray not only themselves but also the life and spirit of the original. If they do let their imaginations play, they are likely to be accused of presumption. Fidelity, however, is never simply a mechanical matter; to be faithful to a person, a belief, a cause or a work of literature, we must do more than simply obey a set of rules.
Although it is more than you will probably want to know about Pushkin's use of alliteration, Robert Chandler's essay about translating The Captain's Daughter has its charms. If nothing else, it's part of a trend I'm enjoying, asking people who have lived the most intimately with a certain text -- translators -- to express their views of the work.
The Guardian is running an excerpt from Tim Parks's Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic's Search for Health and Healing.
July 19, 2010
Deborah Solomon talks to Gary Shteyngart, author of the new Super Sad True Love Story, which you honestly really have to read. (Watch the hilarious trailer, with cameos by Edmund White, Mary Gaitskill, and James Franco, first.)
At the blog of the great author Dennis Cooper (The Sluts, Frisk) Bookslut contributor Mark Doten has a hilariously exhaustive and fascinating post about The Mountain Goats (my favorite band) and affiliated acts, including interviews with frontman John Darnielle and Nothing Painted Blue founder Franklin Bruno. And cheers to Mark for mentioning Darnielle's short novel Master of Reality, which I can't recommend enough. Mark was last seen interviewing fellow Mountain Goats fan Justin Taylor in the most recent issue of Bookslut. (If you're not familiar with The Mountain Goats, start here, with my personal anthem for 2010.)
The radical feminists are at it again, this time attacking poor Piers Paul Read because he said something politically incorrect:
"It's partly this feminist historicism, which I think is false, that women have been somehow oppressed by men throughout the ages. You don't find any evidence of women being dissatisfied with their condition before the 18th century and then it's just a few spoilt bluestockings and servants who get bored… I think women saw it as the natural order that the man should be head of the family – it's also Christian teaching – and that they played this domestic role. And I think the feminists stirred up a sense of resentment against men that persists today."
Damn right, Piers. You know who else has had a free ride? The blacks and the Jews. All hail the great Mr. Read, who has the courage to speak asshole to power.
Reading Melville House's series on how to market a book by a dead writer, I thought about the book I'm currently reading, Louis Couperus's Eline Vere. A 19th century novel about merry spinsters and tragic love and ball gowns and operas and the scourge of romance, it's quite the sweeping accompaniment to a lazy, fuck it not getting out of bed weekend. And yet the jacket copy, which refers to it as the Madame Bovary of The Hague... First there's the awkward "The" in a city name, and then there are unfortunate associations with that particular place, making it sound ominous. It's a little like saying "The Jane Eyre of The Gulag."
But then again, someone just informed me there's a romantic movie set along the Berlin Wall, a border guard in love with a woman he's oppressing. So obviously there is a market for that sort of thing. And while the Scotsman's summation of the book appeals to me:
She's lovely, Eline Vere, a beauty with dreams and means and men who love her; but since she's in a poet's novel from 1889, you know already that she's doomed.
Oh god, it probably really, really shouldn't.
Haaretz continues its excellent and riveting coverage of the battle over Franz Kafka's and Max Brod's archive, which was held hostage in a feral cat infested apartment by the daughter of Max Brod's secretary. The archive has now been secured and scholars are working on figuring out what exactly is there.
Witnesses who had been inside the bank at Kikar Hamedina when the team of lawyers arrived said Eva Hoffe burst into the building in an attempt to prevent the safe from being opened, shouting "It's mine, it's mine!"
July 16, 2010
Presented as a Friday tribute to all you punctuation nerds and metalheads: the Wikipedia article on the metal umlaut (or "röck döts").
I'm handsome. You're pretty. Let's eat peanut butter.
The Old Spice guy defends libraries.
In an excerpt from his new, and awesomely named Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut, Rob Sheffield reveals what Ray Parker, Jr., taught him about dating.
Female friends’ boyfriends are either in bands or they’re not. ... If he’s in a band, it’s a lot harder to be polite. It requires turning up at one of his shows now and then. It requires nodding and saying, “You don’t sound THAT much like Joy Division. More like early Can.” It requires paying for his drinks, and not rolling your eyes when he claims he left his wallet in the guitar case. But it’s important to keep exposure time brief, because after ten minutes it becomes impossible not to laugh out loud when he claims he sounded this way long before anyone heard of Animal Collective.
Look for my own dating guide, You're Like a Brother to Me!: I Feel So Safe Around You, Probably Because I Suspect You're Gay, coming this November to a bookstore for timid doughy men near you!
I was just discussing The Silences of Hammerstein yesterday, with a poet who used a similar trick as Enzensberger in his own collection -- imaginary interviews with a dead guy. (I do it sometimes on my own, with William James, as I'm folding laundry. But I am a noted Insane Person.) So this piece in the New Republic is perfectly timed, a new take on Hammerstein, a book I still think was neglected unfairly considering how dense, how adventurous it is.
Who was General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord? Does this book give us a satisfactory answer? We have the simple facts. He was a baron of ancient Westphalian stock who rose to the highest rank in the German army. But another kind of answer hangs between the lines: it is everywhere suggested and nowhere plainly articulated that Hammerstein may have been the only man who could have opposed Hitler and steered Germany away from political, moral, and military disaster. Enzensberger does not commit himself to this idea. Instead, he organizes his material in order to allow for such an interpretation. The difference is important.
A Jim Behrle Production
Click for the full comic!
July 15, 2010
Faulkner spent two years as the writer-in-residence at UVA, where he gave lectures and readings and took questions from students. The lectures were recorded on reel-to-reel tapes, which have now been digitized and published online.
Douglas Coupland is now designing what appear to be varsity jackets for nerds.
I went down to the post office and used the automated postage machine to mail the book to someone I didn’t know, someone whose address I’d found on Whitepages.com -- someone who had the same name as one of the characters. Which would be an interesting tagline for the collection: A book so beautiful, you’ll feel mysteriously compelled to mail it to a stranger.
There's now a companion site for the book, featuring "letters written to fictional characters by actual people." All of them are pretty great, but my favorite so far is from Anne Perry, to Joyce's Leopold Bloom:
For Yahweh's sake lay off the kidneys, man. They're making you smell like piss. Maybe that's why your wife is climbing on some other dude. Just an idea. I can't say for sure that's the reason, even though I did once read Molly's mind (we all did).
Anyway, just putting it out there.
Father of Tragedy Aeschylos died after an eagle mistook his bald head for a rock and dropped a turtle on it to break open the shell. The things you learn on the Internet in the summer.
I have no idea how I missed this for two years: the genius Janet Malcolm, on the wicked Gossip Girl books, comparing them to Nabokov, Waugh, Tolstoy, and I'm only a third of the way through the piece.
July 14, 2010
This article ran a little while back, but since Jessa recently posted something mentioning the book Getting to Know My Husband's Cock, I figured what the hell. Lee A. Jacobus lists twelve of the world's worst book titles, including Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (to which there appears to be a sequel) and Games You Can Play with Your Pussy. (Note to Jessa: Nickelodeon says they're going to pull their advertising from the site if we keep saying "cock" and "pussy." Please advise.)
The National Post is running excerpts from webcomic hero/Michael Cera-esque Canadian teen idol Joey Comeau's new One Bloody Thing after Another. Joey is the author of A Softer World, and the novel Overqualified, which I loved; I'm looking forward to reading the new one. Joey! Joooeeeeey!
Today is maybe the best day to read a piece on the repressed sexuality of EM Forster. It is so fucking hot. Yes, stay over on the other side of the room, staring longingly. If you touch me, I will kill you. (Off to dunk my head in some cold water, back soon.)
For if there is one thing that separates us from Forster, it is the transformation in Western sexual mores between 1910, when Howards End was published, and 2010. If Forster strikes us as quaint, in a way that his contemporaries Joyce and Woolf do not, it is not simply because of his formal conservatism, but because he shows us, in Frank Kermode’s words, “a world in which what may now seem fairly trivial sexual gestures carry a freight of irreversible significance.” As Kermode goes on to note in his brief but illuminating new study, “two stolen kisses are sufficient to sustain the plot of A Room with a View.” That novel appeared in 1908, just fourteen years before Joyce would show Leopold Bloom masturbating on Sandymount Strand.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love Michael Kimmelman? Love him. I wonder if the New York Times actually realizes they are publishing him, because his art criticism is much more lively and interesting than uh any of their critics working in other mediums, let's say. His latest piece is on the science of forgery detection, and why authenticity in art matters (and doesn't).
People love fakes because fakes play into the populist suspicion that much art is really just a scam, a suspicion encouraged by the fancy names wrongly attached to and insane prices often paid for the stuff.
Names, dates, prices, provenance — they do promise solid ground. In museums and galleries we can very often feel as if we’re adrift, swimmers on the open sea. Another Madonna and Child? Find the wall label. Raphael. O.K. We’re safe to grunt and nod approvingly.
I have been praying for the time to make my way through Penguin's Central European literature series, but that has yet to happen. But I have set them aside for a trip next month, I promise to take only these books into the Black Forest with me. (Yeah right.) Until then, Adam Thirwell has an essay on the weirdness of Central European literature, why many of his favorite writers come from there, and the gap of translation from these languages into English. It is making me stare longingly at A Short History of Decay.
Exile is part of central European history. In this demented area of small nations, ideas were subjected by literature to the greatest scepticism. That was only because, simultaneously, politicians were subjecting culture to the absolute impress of ideology. Which is one reason why so much central European literature is written in exile, in French, English or American - why central European literature is not central European at all.
July 13, 2010
From JC Hallman's very, very interesting In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise:
Self-actualized persons are motivated, healthy, just, and, above all, improvable. To demonstrate this last point, [Abraham] Maslow cited a 1935 study of nutrition and chicken behavior. The study had discovered that some chickens were good "choosers" of food, while others were poor. In a "cafeteria" situation, the good-choosing chickens opted for a healthy combination of corn meal, wheat bran, and oyster-shell flour, resulting in better feathers, better sex drive, better growth rates, and additional better food. "The superior [chickens] choose foods which supply the nutrients for that superiority and in so doing are wise," the study asserted. The poor choosing chickens suffered predictably. From there, the study tested a theory: What if you gave the good-choosers' diet to the poor-choosing chickens? It worked: The poor-choosers never became quite as strong and healthy as the good-choosers, but the evidence was clear -- chickens were improvable.
As people should be, Maslow concluded. He never explored it himself, but the further implication was that a better state of mind, a eupsychia, could be brought about with better food.
I am testing this out with a dinner of leftover party food: figs stuffed with goat cheese and thyme, wrapped in prosciutto. So far, so good.
Michael Schaub reviews The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years for NPR. Great timing, after I discovered that German mosquitoes are of megafauna era size. I won't lose sleep over this at all.
Things to listen to:
Labor activist Mark Nowak is on the Against the Grain podcast, discussing his book Coal Mountain Elementary
Robert K. Wittman is on Fresh Air, to talk about his memoir Priceless about life undercover as an art theft specialist and the black market for masterpieces.
Also on Fresh Air, Billy Collins on Emily Dickinson.
To all of my male friends I roped into extremely awkward conversations while reading Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, I offer my apology. The book is out of my life, finally, and we never need to speak of it again.
"What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever gotten?"
"Don’t be an asshole. It wasn’t necessarily specifically about writing, but I think it nevertheless applies." (Link via.)
July 12, 2010
Between the post-birthday champagne hangover and the broiling heat of Berlin, my brain is on shut down. So maybe I can just tell you that a book called Getting to Know My Husband's Cock, and that knowledge will keep you busy until tomorrow, when hopefully my frontal lobes will restart. I'm going to go lie down on my kitchen tile floor some more now.
This blog post is maybe one of the most thoughtful things I have ever read about the continued discussion over whether Lucia Joyce -- James Joyce's daughter -- was a genius or insane. Her biographer argued genius. Carl Jung argued insane. And so the debate about the line between genius and madness continues. But this is quite great:
The voicelessness of the mentally ill often consigns them to symbolic status: dependent and unstable, they cannot author their role in society. It is many-authored, communally-authored for them, and it tells us more about the authors than about the deranged, whose internal experience and suffering, one imagines, remain much the same throughout history even as their station changes. In times of widespread religiosity and unrest, the lunatic may be a prophet or a witch or a messiah; in times of order and calm, he is a disruption: a nuisance into whose begging bowl we toss coins or else a threat to be locked away. In contemporary world the mentally ill can be irritants to the all-seeing and unblinking scientific eye; they must be regularly flushed out to preserve its clear vision of mind and morality, washed away in a torrent of successive theories: cultural, genetic, racial, pharmacological.
July 9, 2010
Despite the fact that the gay and lesbian section of most big chain bookstores is a dreary, depressing place, Emma Donoghue's history of lesbian writing Inseparable is fantastic. It's the subject of my latest Smart Set column. It made me add Mademoiselle de Maupin to my reading list, if only for this excerpt that was included in Inseparable, spoken by a female character who dresses in drag and seduces both members of a heterosexual couple:
My dream, a chimera, would be to have both sexes in turn, to satisfy this dual nature. Man today, woman tomorrow, I should reserve for my lovers my loving tenderness, my submissive and devoted attentions, my softest caresses, my sad little sighs, everything which belongs to my feline, feminine nature. Then with my mistresses I should be enterprising, bold, passionate, dominant, with my hat pulled down over my ear, with the demeanor of a captain and an adventurer.
Yes, that, please.
July 8, 2010
Der Spiegel's profile of "The Most Dangerous Philosopher in the West" Slavoj Zizek is kind of great, from the photo of him pontificating in the shower to his reason for hating Bernard Henri-Levy, "mainly because of his tendency to show too much chest hair."
His repertoire is a mix of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Hegel's idealist philosophy -- of film analysis, criticism of democracy, capitalism and ideology, and an occasionally authoritarian Marxism paired with everyday observations. He explains the ontological essence of the Germans, French and Americans on the basis of their toilet habits and the resulting relationship with their fecal matter, and he initially reacts to criticism with a cheerful "Fuck you!" -- pronounced in hard Slavic consonants. He tells colleagues he values but who advocate theories contrary to his own that they should prepare to enter the gulag when he, Zizek, comes into power. He relishes the shudder that the word gulag elicits.
"Take my friend Peter, for example, fucking Sloterdijk. I like him a lot, but he'll obviously have to be sent to the gulag. He'll be in a slightly better position there. Perhaps he could work as a cook."
A one-time aspiring writer, Clarence says that if one can’t be a Tolstoy, Flaubert or Stendhal, then why try to be a writer. Harriet asks him about Woolf, and he replies: “I think Orlando almost the worst book of the century.” To the Lighthouse is “all right—but all her writing is so diffused, so feminine, so sticky.”
-- Olivia Manning on Virginia Woolf. (Going to start using "sticky" as a book-hating adjective.)
Moment when I knew I would really like Alice Albinia's Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River: page 2, "She wiggled her hips briefly to the music, and then related the grim story of how, when she turned sixteen, her guru cut off her penis."
I have great affection for this television ad for Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone, mostly because while Benjamin Ditzen, Fallada's grandson, was filming the shot in the staircase, I was down below with our umbrella. Dennis, the book's publisher, introduced me to the Ditzens soon after I moved to Berlin, and I got to tag along as Benjamin looked for a building that might stand in for the one where the couple in the novel begin their campaign of dissent. (Most of the original buildings mentioned in the book were destroyed during the war or soon after, as Benjamin and I discovered as we tried to find any of them.) I tried to get Dennis to credit me as "On-Location Nuisance," but no go, damn it.
July 7, 2010
Gina Frangello has published a follow-up to her book My Sister's Continent, a book I enjoyed very much. (I also lived in her basement for two weeks, but that is another story.) Her new one is called Slut Lullabies, and it's a collection of short stories. She's interviewed on Chicago Now's podcast.
July 6, 2010
Since Jessa posted a few items about monogamy, I just wanted to point out that it's OK with us if you read other literary webzines. We're totally cool with that. As long as you tell us we're bigger than them.
The new issue of Bookslut, for example, is a huge, uncut...you know what? This metaphor was ill-chosen. But go read it anyway! This month, we're featuring essays by Bookslut rock stars Elizabeth Bachner and Barbara J. King, as well as interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rae Armantrout, Karen Tei Yamashita, Debra Monroe, and Sheena Iyengar. We're also pleased to present an interview with Justin Taylor (whose Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever is one of the best books of the year), conducted by Mark Doten. Justin and Mark are friends of mine; we've been tight ever since our days of hanging out at the Fells Point Diner in Baltimore in the '50s.
Our columnists are back to educate -- no, edutain -- you. Be sure to check out Martyn Pedler's interview with Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley before the movie with the adorably pale Canadian kid comes out. And our reviewers consider the latest from Ben Greenman, Bill Ayers, Philip Pullman, Ben Mirov, John Brandon, Carolyn Parkhurst, and more.
Sadly, this is the last issue of Bookslut to feature the great Eryn Loeb, who has written our Girl, Interrupting column for years now. We wish Eryn the best -- you will want to bookmark her website, and her page at The Faster Times, to get your fix. I already have. Thanks for everything, Eryn; we love you!
Bookslut contributor Jim Behrle has a new poem over at the Awl.
Just dump oil all over everything
Everywhere and get it over with
My favorite sentence fragment today:
not having an extra-marital tryst will cause a man to be labeled “stingy of one’s genitals” by his female suitors
From Seed Magazine's report on the Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, a book arguing that humans are not wired for lifelong monogamy. Which makes two books I've referenced today that mention the fiction of monogamy. Don't read too much into that.
The Wall Street Journal reviews a book I'm looking forward to reading, William Nickell's The Death of Tolstoy. It's less The Last Station, and leans more in a direction I'm always interested in, the public figure's private life aired out for all to see.
As Tolstoy's family and followers pointed fingers at one another and sought to justify themselves, family diaries and letters were published. They offered, Mr. Nickell says, "shocking intrusions into the realm of the private." The world learned that Tolstoy blamed his wife's late-night snoopings through his papers for his decision to flee, that she had attempted to drown herself in a pond on the estate, and that Tolstoy's daughter Sasha had become an ally of the Tolstoyans against her mother.
Bernd Heinrich's The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy is a delight, although making my emails a little tedious as I decide I need to inform my friends about the mating habits of the hornbill. (The men wall up their women! All Edgar Allan Poe-like, until the eggs hatch.) He recently showed up on the Science Friday radio show, to discuss how parenting, in humans and birds, is all about figuring out how to solve problems, why monogamy doesn't really mean what we think it does, and the origins of his love of birds.
Aw. The Economist's More Intelligent Life just discovered Steampunk. They can maybe strike up a conversation with the Wall Street Journal, who recently realized Flarf is a thing, years after it sort of peaked.
July 5, 2010
The mighty Karen Armstrong (The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God) reviews Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self over at the Guardian.
You may have heard that DC Comics relaunched Wonder Woman, the major difference being that she wears pants now. That makes her edgy. Austin Grossman has a great piece on the Wall Street Journal blog about why it matters what Wonder Woman wears, and why this is a spectacular failure, and why Wonder Woman has always sort of been a failure.
It’s as if the people designing her new look didn’t want to make a decision about who she is as a hero. And this is the basic problem - a superhero costume projects an idea, and no one knows what the idea of Wonder Woman is. She was conceived to be the original, iconic female superhero, but seventy years into her history, no one quite knows what a genuinely powerful superheroine should look like or what her story is. It’s sad, but because there have been a hell of a lot of interesting women, and women characters, to think about since 1941.
July 4, 2010
It is probably a bad thing to eat pancakes every single morning, yes? Even if they are whole grain and full of oatmeal and topped with baked apples instead of maple syrup... still: bad? Fuck. I am obsessed with Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Grain Flours's oatmeal pancakes. So is Smitten Kitchen, who reprints the recipe over on her blog. Now we can all get fat and sedentary on a Sunday morning together.
July 2, 2010
Carin Romero has a good article about the fight to translate The Second Sex properly. For decades scholars and readers have protested the English translation of Beauvoir's classic work of feminism, pointing out he made giant cuts of the text and had no philosophical background. A new translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier was published this year, but has been met with disappointed and angry reviews. Romero delves into the response, problems with translating nonfiction, and whether Beauvoir's reputation suffers from the continued struggle.
Not for the first time a fantasy occurred to me: before people make pronouncements on what sexual behavior society should tolerate, they ought to make the clearest possible statement of their own sexual experience, what they have learnt from it, and how it might colour their attitudes. "I have a horror of penetration." "I am involved with someone who satisfies me sexually." "I would rather have a backrub than make love." "I'm only sexually attracted to other women." "I feel free only when I masturbate." "I have never had an orgasm and don't understand what all the fuss is about." "I was molested as a child and still see men's sexuality as furtive and monstrous." How would it change the way we talk about sex and power, if we had the self-awareness and the honesty to acknowledge psychological states as such, instead of passing them off as pure intellectual beliefs?
- Helen Garner, from The First Stone: Some Questions about Sex and Power.
July 1, 2010
I feel about Bret Easton Ellis the same way I feel about, say, sushi. I feel like I probably should like him, a few people I know and trust like him, I have made several increasingly painful attempts to like him. But it's just not happening for me. I read American Psycho, and it just made me feel bored and vaguely dirty. I know, I know, satire blah blah blah, but it just seemed like the whole point of the book was "Yuppies are greedy pricks." Of course they are; they're fucking yuppies. That is how they're defined. It's not satire when you're just pointing out the one essential characteristic of a group. It's like writing a satire about how kittens are cute, or how cold beer is delicious.
Anyway. The Guardian, noting Ellis's indie rock name-dropping in his new Imperial Bedrooms (The National, Bat For Lashes, etc.), wonders whether the author is "the most musical author," a question I'm pretty sure I could answer in two letters. Of course the article mentions Ellis's famous Huey Lewis passages in American Psycho. I know people love those, but I seem to remember just being pissed off by them. The references to "I Want a New Drug" or whatever the fuck didn't make me like Ellis more; they just somehow managed to make me like Huey Lewis even less.
Finally, some good news: one of my favorite writers ever, W. S. Merwin, has been named Poet Laureate of the United States. Merwin was the first poet I ever saw read, over 15 years ago in San Antonio, and he's the author of my favorite quote about writing. Not to get all political, but this is so much better than George W. Bush's choices for the post. I just never bought David Allan Coe as Poet Laureate.
Jon: The poet David Antin says that while it’s common for people to complain about writer’s block, it’s rare to suffer from talker’s block. When writing, I tend to belabor transitions, fearing I’m misunderstood, or not making sense, or somehow being inappropriate—as if I shouldn’t, for example, move quickly between Chinese poetry and a lewd gesture I once made to a reckless driver who almost killed me in the Upper West Side. But when I’m talking, I’ll know I’m understood and making sense because the conversation continues. The person with whom I’m talking will nod or perhaps build on what I’ve said. Anxieties that besiege solitary writers dissolve in these circumstances.
I'd actually love to take a walk with these guys, which is saying something, because I hate exercise and love smoking.
Christopher Hitchens has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
I'm heading out to wander around Berlin on my first anniversary of living here. This time last year, almost this very hour, I landed with two suitcases, one hour of sleep, and no fucking idea what I was doing. Hooray for that. Michael will be stepping in to blog today while I wonder what the hell I was thinking.
‘Few books this year can match The Master and His Emissary in breadth of erudition, scope, and ambition… a highly stimulating read.’ A. C. Grayling
After our Alone in Berlin event at The Direktorenhaus in June, Bookslut.com founder and editor Jessa Crispin returns to talk to Iain McGilchrist. With recent advances in neuro-imaging and research into the human mind, our knowledge about how the brain works is growing in leaps and bounds, a subject addressed in Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary.
McGilchrist examines one of the more startling revelations to come out of recent research: that the two hemispheres of the brain are not co-operative helpmates, both working in the same direction to solve problems. It was long thought that the left side of the brain handled language, and the right brain was the ‘silent half’ that handled creativity and art. In fact, the two hemispheres are closer to bickering roommates, and occasionally they fight dirty. Iain McGilchrist will be talking about what the new neuroscience says about creativity and literature, as well as the future of human evolution.
‘There’s a war going on in your head over everything from what you want to be when you grow up to what you decide to wear in the morning. Come learn about the science behind your troubled mind.’
Thursday 1 July
19:30 – 21:30
Am Krögel 2
(MAP TO VENUE)