August 31, 2010
If you complain about your favorite bookstore closing, but you haven't actually bought books there, please come to Portland so I can run you over with my car, repeatedly.
The New York Times:
The award-winning literary journal The Virginia Quarterly Review has canceled its winter issue and closed its offices in the aftermath of the suicide last month of its managing editor and a subsequent investigation by the University of Virginia, which operates the journal.
At The New York Observer, Tom Bissell offers a defense of his friend Ted Genoways, the VQR editor who's been getting some brutal treatment in the media after the suicide of managing editor Kevin Morrissey, who some claim had been bullied by Genoways.
Happy F-Day! Today marks the official release of Freedom! '90, the new novel from...God, it's on the tip of my tongue. You know who I'm talking about. Cover Boy! El Zorro Blanco! So get ready to see people ostentatiously reading this one in coffee shops, hoping it will result in pasty, bespectacled intercourse from other people who have bookmarked Salon in their browsers. If you're looking for reviews, just go, like, anywhere. I think even Tiger Beat has a feature on the dude.
I haven't read it yet. I love the guy; I'm convinced he deserves the recognition he's getting. For an opposing viewpoint, again, just go, like, anywhere, and you'll read about chick-lit author Jennifer Weiner's increasingly weird crusade against perceived sexism in literary criticism, which is apparently somehow proven by the fact that people are congratulating a man for writing a good book. Here's Weiner:
"Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the pain of others," Weiner says. "Franzenfreude is taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen."
Weiner probably does have a rough life, what with her bestsellers and the popular film adaptation of one of her novels a few years back. And I'm sure she's talented, but for fuck's sake, if you're trying to convince people to read your books, maybe coming up with the word "Franzenfreude" (which is literally "Franzen joy," and thus the fucking opposite of what she's trying to say) isn't your best sales pitch.
Of course she's jealous of Franzen. I'm jealous of Franzen. My dogs are jealous of Franzen. Maybe we should all just admit it, get on with our lives, and get back to work. Deal?
August 30, 2010
"If you read up on strings, you will learn that there are two different types, closed and open-ended. The closed strings are O-shaped loops that float about like angels, insouciant of spacetime's demands and playing no part in our reality. It is the open-ended strings, the forlorn, incomplete U-shaped strings, whose desperate ends cling to the sticky stuff of the universe; it is they that become reality's building blocks, its particles, its exchangers of energy, the teeming producers of all that complication. Our universe, one could almost say, is actually built out of loneliness; and that foundational loneliness persists upwards to haunt every one of its residents."
-Paul Murray, Skippy Dies
Edgar Allan Poe doesn't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. He doesn't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career. He doesn't want to do that.
John le Carré admits that the British intelligence services for whom he worked during the Cold War carried out assassinations.
August 27, 2010
There's some fascinating discussion about William James going on at The Second Pass this week. Like Jessa, I'm looking forward to reading The Heart of William James soon; unlike her, I imagine, I can't even look at the cover without imagining Huey Lewis singing "The heart of William James! The heart of William James is still beating!" Ah, la vie intellectuelle.
“Sir,” said Samuel Johnson, “a man who has not seen Italy is always conscious of an inferiority from not having seen what it is expected a man should see.”
I'm really liking Zinsser's story about the old tradition of the Grand Tour of Europe, mostly Italy -- necessary to the development of any young aristocrat. I am not hitting any Grand Tour stop, more of a faded, post-Soviet seashore retreat. I will "take waters." (They still do that, yes?)
I leave you in the more than capable hands of Mr. Michael Schaub, although I will try to pop in every once and a while. Here, or on Twitter.
Because someone asked! The list of books (besides the books for work) I am bringing with me on a three week, many trained, many planes adventure.
The Heart of William James
Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde
The School of Femininity by Margaret Lawrence Greene
God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam
Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds by Marina Warner
Five Women by Robert Musil
I know. But I am having a hell of a time trying to get into any fiction lately. Looking at my shelves, hardly any of it even looks tempting. We'll see how this goes.
A Jim Behrle Production
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August 26, 2010
Tomorrow I am boarding a train for 35 hours, if all goes well in the next 24 I guess. I am still stacking my reading material, but one book that is already in the suitcase is Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes the World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. Reinforcing my decision is Mr. Michael Schaub, with whom I am psychically linked thank god, reviewing the new Hyde at NPR, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. He thinks it is brilliant.
August 25, 2010
Vol. 1 Brooklyn has a pretty great list of ten musicians who would probably write good books, including, happily, Will Sheff of Okkervil River, one of my personal favorites. Now someone should make a list of authors who would probably record good albums. It's been done before, you know. And if you're not moved by Nicholas Sparks's debut record Guuuuuuuuhhhhh, well, friend, you just don't like music.
I've become insanely addicted to Need to Know on PBS, and not just because it combines my two best friends, Jessa Crispin and state-sponsored media. (Love you guys! Hugs!) Here's a Need to Know interview with Gary Shteyngart, in which dachshunds come up, and Facebook is blamed for various ills. (On a related note, I need your help to win Mafia Wars! Not the game. I made some bad gambling decisions. Who'd have thought the Mariners weren't going to go undefeated this year?)
While Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, argues with the Chancellor, George Osborne, over the costs of welfare reform, Amanda Craig has come up with a suggestion likely to ignite another row.
The novelist says "poor people" should be banned from having more than two children because of "the ecological need to limit families".
August 24, 2010
I have had a rough week, and let me tell you, in the morning, I would open my eyes and think "It is GOAT FARM GO TIME." Fuck this shit. Etc. I will never have to brush my hair again, etc.
If I'm being honest, I can't even really blame this on Radical Homemakers, although it certainly did not help. I spoke with author Shannon Hayes about the danger of questioning the beliefs you have structured your life around, and a new way to work and live without being under the heel of your job. The Q&A is up at PBS Need to Know.
The Poetry Foundation features two great articles on Hurricane Katrina-inspired literature, witness, and poetic appropriation. In the first, Abe Louise Young strongly criticizes Raymond McDaniel for a poem in his book Saltwater Empire:
He decided to use the personal histories of six African American Katrina survivors as “found poetry”—stripped of names and context, and combined with one another—as the centerpiece poem of Saltwater Empire, without contacting the project or the survivors. ...
It’s highly unethical to use individual narratives in an anonymous and interchangeable way, especially given this context. To bring it down to concrete reality, when a person loses their loved ones, home, pets, and belongings as well as the city of their birth, control of their story may be all they have left.
In the second essay, McDaniel responds:
I could fuss and lament, and protest that what I wrote has been wrestled from my intent and transformed. But that would be a redundant and fundamentally inaccurate complaint. It would make it seem as if, once upon a time, the book belonged to me, and now it isn’t mine.
Of course it isn’t. It never was.
The Christian Science Monitor recommends five books to read after determining whether the eggs in your refrigerator are going to kill you. (I'd add to the list David Kirby's fascinating Animal Factory, which looks at the effects of huge factory farms on the environment and human health.)
The cover of Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean, a novel about Alexander the Great, featuring a picture of a naked dude on a horse, is too hot for British Columbia ferryboats. (The cover of the American version is considerably less sexy.)
Frank Miller is directing an ad for Gucci fragrance. Like high fashion isn't shitty enough to women as it is.
August 23, 2010
Ah, the '50s. Before we had rules that totally ruined everything. The scientists who were on Antarctica in 1959 did not exactly participate in acceptable behavior. A couple of the slides and stories in this excerpt from DeepFreeze! A Photographer’s Antarctic Odyssey in the Year 1959 are followed with: “Today that’s absolutely prohibited.” Mostly they seem to have fucked with penguins, and there are pictures of the men holding penguins in their arms, putting the penguins on their bar (no word if they got any of them drunk), and basically just harassing the poor things until, "From time to time he would struggle, but when we took him outside he just walked a couple of yards away and stood there, still puzzled, I suppose, by the antics of the Antarctic visitors." They also shot seals in the head and fed them to their dogs, but there are no pictures of that. Also, "strictly prohibited" today.
Chauncey Mabe challenges Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult, who accused the New York Times Book Review of ignoring writers who aren't white men.
Obviously the sexism charge is a smokescreen. What’s really at work here is what we might call “genre ressentiment” — a form of resentment so pathological philosophers and psychologists reach for a French word to contain it. “Ressentiment” is a word with complex connotations, but as used here means resentment toward those more successful or esteemed who have not directly harmed you.
Thus, it is not enough for a chick lit maven like Picoult to sell 14 million (and counting) copies of her novels, or Weiner to write bestsellers that are turned into movies starring the likes of Cameron Diaz. Money and devoted readers are not enough. They want critical esteem, too.
I'm guessing Mabe's inbox is going to be filled with people pissed off at his "Now, now, ladies" tone (though it's meant ironically, I assume), which is a shame, because he presents an interesting argument. It's just that most gals are sensitive about being called "ladies" these days.
(For the record, the Bookslut style guide forbids the use of "lady" except as an adjective referring to authors, as in "Author Nicholas Sparks is a national literary treasure, and lady writer Joyce Carol Oates is beloved by lady readers who enjoy lady books." This represents a change from the previous edition. I probably should have run this by my lady editor, Jessa.)
The James Tait Memorial Prize is Britain's oldest literary prize, and in appropriately curmudgeonly fashion this year's winner A.S. Byatt used it as a venue to moan about the Orange Prize, for recognising women's writing, and book critics, for not recognising women's writing. Or, as the url puts it: A.S. Byatt Intellectual Women Strange.
Oliver Sacks talks about face blindness, and how he personally copes with not being able to recognize a person by their face, usually relying on clothing, movement, or glasses instead, in this New Yorker podcast.
August 20, 2010
Rosecrans Baldwin, a founding editor of The Morning News, is interviewed at Writers on Process and Black Book about his debut novel, You Lost Me There. From the Writers on Process interview, on his inspiration for the novel:
The idea was a single image. I don’t know where it came from, but I had this image of a scientist, a little late in his life, sitting in his car in a parking lot. It’s a little after midnight on Mount Desert Island, and he sees this younger woman across the parking lot under a street light. And he has a very intense desire for her, but he can’t have her. He may not know why, but I knew that gap between the two was there.
This novel is stunning; it's the kind of novel that will make you cry, but isn't emotionally manipulative. It's just honest, painfully so, and the fact that it comes from a 33-year-old debut novelist is almost unbelievable. I reviewed You Lost Me There for NPR:
The 33-year-old writer — a magazine editor and former EMT and rock-climbing teacher — is uncannily perceptive when it comes to the complicated and fraught issues of marriage, death and sexual desire, and his dialogue is naturalistic and unforced. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the author's artistic and emotional maturity — You Lost Me There is, finally, a wise book, the kind that eludes many authors twice Baldwin's age. Words, of course, really can be lifelines, especially in the aftermath of loss. It's not always easy to find beauty in pain, but that's what Baldwin has done, and the result is affecting, profound and true.
OK, there's no fucking way I'm ending this on a downer, not this year. Go buy this book, then read this hilarious chart from The Morning News about whether you can date the gal or dude of your dreams.
Interesting interview with Günter Grass, about linguistics, his new book about the Grimm Brothers, e-books (he is surprisingly flexible in his view about e-books), and his own political history.
SPIEGEL: How did you feel when you were reading [your Stasi file]?
Grass: Bored, mostly. For a long time I refused to read the stuff at all, and I never filed a request. There are more than 2,000 pages. In the end, Ms. Birthler (editor's note: Marianne Birthler, the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives) handed them over to me, but I had asked that all the passages where informers are named be blacked out. I didn't want to know who had spied on me.
I am always happy to see a new Laura Kipnis book coming out, and her How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior looks really good. Slate has an excerpt.
A Jim Behrle Production
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For those of you freaked out and outraged about the marketing tie-ins for Eat Pray Love (perfumes, body creams, bed sheets, crap jewelry, etc), a gentle reminder from William R. Everdell's fucking fantastic The First Moderns:
The best-selling book of 1900 was nothing so daunting, however. It was a new novel called Claudine at School, equally titillating but considerably more upbeat than its competition, Journal of a Chambermaid by the surviving Decadent Octave Mirbeau. Supposedly [Claudine] was by "Willy," Henri Gauthier-Villars, whose attacks on Dreyfus had just cost him his job as music critic on the Revue blanche. "Willy" used to say that the young wife he had imported from Burgundy in 1893 and kept carefully housebound in Paris had helped by telling him "the most delicious things about her school." In fact, it was precisely his wife, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who had written the book, and to Willy's order in the first year of their marriage. For years, until Colette finally left him, they kept the secret: not an easy thing for Colette, since her creation became so famous in 1900 that people used to say Claudine was better known than anyone except God and Dreyfus. Claudine at School sold 40,000 copies in two months, and became one of the first successful media tie-ins in publishing history. Stores all over Paris were selling "Claudine" lotion, "Claudine" ice cream, "Claudine hats and collars, "Claudine" perfume, "Claudine" cigarettes. There were postcards with Colette's picture dressed as Claudine, and at the Samaritaine department store you could even get "Willy" rice-powder.
Did you know there's an honorary Bob Fosse street in Chicago? It is not nearly as fabulous as it should be. You should be able to get sparkly hot pants and wigs and glamorous cigarette holders there, and that divine dress (black with roses) from Cabaret. Instead I think there was a mini-mart.
Anyway, I used my latest column in the Smart Set, about the real life murders that inspired the play that would eventually become Fosse's Chicago, as an excuse to sit around one day just watching Fosse musicals. I had trouble sleeping after that, what with all the fucking jazz hands in my head. It turns out the book about those murders, The Girls of Murder City is incredibly disappointing. I explain why:
The musical and the movie already tell the story. It’s a great one, to be sure. But Perry is much less interested in what drove so many women to murder, other than a few jokey asides that, knowing men, they probably had it coming. And he doesn’t seem to understand Chicago or the era very well. His depiction is about as hollow as a contemporary take on a Weimar Berlin cabaret: all of the darkness, the pressure, the oh-so-close relationship to death, the chthonic rite aspect of it all stripped away. It becomes a city and time of good music and pretty costumes.
August 19, 2010
But what about when someone presses a book on you, assuring you that you'll simply adore it ... and you don't? Worse – you hate the thing, and can't understand how anyone would think of it and then think of you.
There's a rule of thumb to this. The shittier the book someone recommends to you, the more aggressively they will follow up with you, asking every other day if you've read it, and what did you think of it, and wasn't it awesome the way the author has a hilariously tenuous grasp on even the most basic elements of punctuation? And then you have to try to be nice and mumble something about how you really can't wait to crack open The Wizards of Fluffyndore, but you've just been so busy working and writing and not reading complete crap that will make you want to twist out your own eyes with a wheel lock key.
You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two.
I used to recommend It's Perfectly Normal to every parent coming through the sexuality resource center where I worked, anyone needing help explaining super tricky questions coming out of the mouth of a 6-year-old. It's all body happy and smart and funny and it has pretty pictures. But maybe I also should have recommended it to the 22-year-old man who called saying, "I was with this girl who had the clap. But I only put it in a little bit. Should I come in and get tested?" Um, yes. Yes, sir, you should.
As this New Republic review of the 15th anniversary edition of It's Perfect Normal tells us, teenagers are stupid.
For even in the highly eroticized global culture of today, alarming numbers of young people do not know the basic biology of sex and human reproduction. (When teen pregnancy occurs, this is what we hear: but we only did it once; but we were standing up; but he pulled out.)
It is probably not their fault, we have idiotic ideas about abstinence education. But still, get these teenagers a book that shows how semen can miraculously defy gravity, please. (It is a good book. You should just sort of leave it lying around your kid's room.)
I was mostly reading W. Somerset Maugham's travel writing -- recently collected in The Skeptical Romancer -- with an eye for the seeds of his stories. The China of The Painted Veil. The islands of "Rain." The Russian intrigue of the Ashenden spy stories. But the people he met on his extensive travels are enough reason to dig in, even if you're not an obsessive like me. Take the missionary's wife, later portrayed not at all lovingly, in "Rain":
“She spoke of the depravity of the natives in a voice nothing could hush, but with a vehement, unctuous horror; she described their marriage customs as obscene beyond description. She said that when they first went to the Gilberts it was impossible to find a single “good” girl in any of the villages. She was very bitter about the dancing.”
I like a good strong crazy. Over at PBS Need to Know, I continue the other travel writing pieces I've done for them, with Maugham's tales of unfortunate travel companions.
August 18, 2010
As a free-born man of the USA, I usually react to people praising my country in the typical American way: by exclaiming "Goddamn right!" while listening to a country song, wearing a t-shirt depicting Osama bin Laden being sodomized by some sort of missile, eating a cow, and firing a gun into the air repeatedly. But I'm not sure about this (very thoughtful, very interesting) article by Imogen Russell-Williams, wondering if Americans are intrinsically better at the coming-of-age story. (Or, as Russell-Williams asks, "Do American writers absorb Bildungsroman aptitude alongside fluoridated water and Wonder Bread?")
I'm not totally convinced, maybe because my current favorite coming-of-age novel, The Go-Between, is British. There are art forms that I think Americans generally do better than others -- rock music, pornography, buffets -- but is this one of them? I don't know. But here in the States, we have a name for Americans who have the kind of sensitivity, dedication and intelligent introspection needed to write a good coming-of-age novel. We call them "Canadians."
Christian Lorentzen might be the only journalist in America who could have pulled this off: a profile of Tao Lin written in Tao's style.
Tao Lin showed The Observer his three tattoos, a kangaroo, a trio of fish and the phrase "fuck america" in small, sans-serif type, possibly Helvetica.
After the food arrived, Tao Lin stuck his fork in the egg on top of his salad and swirled it around. Then he ordered scallops.
Tao Lin said, "A lot of people think I'm a vegan. I'm not."
And remember, Tao will be the guest at Bookslut's first sponsored reading in Portland, on September 28 at 7 p.m., at Reading Frenzy. There will not be scallops. I am sorry.
The BBC program Case Study profiles the story of John/Joan, the boy who was surgically and socially converted and raised as a girl after a "botched circumcision." The case was initially touted as a success, proof that gender is completely socially constructed. Katrina Alicia Karkazis has a great chapter on John/Joan in her book Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience.
If you share your office with dogs, you'll appreciate this comic by Joe Sacco (Footnotes in Gaza) about trying to get work done with (what appears to be) a Pembroke Welsh corgi yipping for cookies and toys. The Bookslut office is also home to three dogs, and I'm pretty sure if it weren't for them, I'd be on the cover of Time looking all sultry and sensitive. (On a related note, if I'm late responding to your email, it's probably her fault.)
While the Chronicle's piece on the death of VQR managing editor Kevin Morrissey bordered on gossip, this article in the Hook gives a more even view, with more context. (Thanks to Drew for sending the article along.)
I have been reading and loving Radical Homemakers, even though most of it is just fantasy for me. I do fantasize about finding that odd Irish farmer who proposed marriage, volunteering the information that he had 250 head of sheep, and seeing if he is still available. I only think this on bad days, though. Eventually I remember there is no opera on the farm, and I come back to reality. Hayes's idea of sustainable living, working from home, reviving the role of the homemaker, living on much less money, while not being a feminist nightmare, is a good, complicated, and inspiring one.
But it turns out that telling people that they don't have to work themselves to death, live in the suburbs, or eat high fructose corn syrup, and that the basic tenets of contemporary American life are kind of bullshit does not always get a great response. In Yes Magazine, Hayes fights her biggest foe: the Internet commenter.
The vast majority of my life is lived off-line; thus, I didn’t fully understand that the Internet had become a 21st century high-speed public pillory. I have been e-decried for being naive, dangerous, anti-God, anti-public education, anti-feminist; for my reproductive choices, my food choices, my health care choices, my housing choices, furniture choices, livelihood choices. I thought the electronic world would be about debate and discussion. It is often more about judgment.
Frank Kermode, critic, writer, and London Review of Books contributor has died. The LRB has indexed his dozens of contributions on their website in his memory.
August 17, 2010
Lydia Davis is obviously accomplishing more in her days than you are -- certainly more than I am. She has a translation of Madame Bovary coming out in Playboy of all places (psst, if you want to recapture the days when you guys were on top of things, maybe print something more groundbreaking than 19th century literature). And just the sheer amount of energy it must take being as incredibly awesome as she is... I can't imagine. The Financial Times takes her to lunch, to talk about her stories, Flaubert, and the act of translation. (Via)
Translating an author, Davis explains, is like living with them. Flaubert, she tells me, “despised his characters, despised their thinking and their way of being in the world. He concentrated a great deal, in his letters, too, on the sheer stupidity of people.” Translating Proust (whom she refers to as “my Proust”) was, she says, much more pleasurable – partly because she liked “rebuilding his long sentences”, but also because she sensed what she calls a “generosity” in his writing. “He was also very generous to his friends,” she says, almost as if speaking from personal experience: “He would bring them fruit baskets and pay them other little attentions.”
The missions are still there, each one day’s walk from the next, all the way up the spine of CA. You get the feeling some heavy shit happened on the site. Thousands of years of life as they knew it ending in the span of a few generations. Some of the facts remain obscure. The ongoing project: trying to excavate for clues – because you haven’t been given the whole story. It’s been lost. So I guess one of the early impulses for writing The Orange Eats Creeps was to engage these childlike, would-be-camp approximations of our local horrors – sifting through that for some residual truth, as if it could ever be known.
"My former students who are out there now trying to get published are having trouble on those lines," says Moody. "It’s the crazy great ones, the kind of mad ones who are really struggling to find people to publish them. And not because the projects don’t have merit, but just because everybody’s looking at Bookscan and they want certain numbers of units to ship and so on. That is going to affect people going forward, not only because we miss out but because when we miss out we then forget that the opportunity exists for that kind of experimental work."
That's certainly the pessimistic way of looking at it. But on the plus side, the cardboard "will work for food" signs everyone's going to be holding on street corners in a few years are going to have so much stronger narrative arcs when they're written by Iowa MFAs and Pushcart Prize winners.
Just a note to say that Michael and I are readying the 100th issue of Bookslut (although mostly Michael, he deserves sainthood, I swear to god -- he is even Catholic, so get on it, gay pope), and we are maybe feeling a little old now but also quite excited. Besides the 100th issue, with lots of good and special stuff in it, we'll also be having an event in New York. Details to come...
But also a little note of housekeeping: We have a few advertising spaces available for the 100th issue, which hits September 7th. If you're interested in discussing advertising possibilities, please email me at email@example.com.
And not to get sincere or anything, but thanks for everything, y'all. (Your website is run by a Texan and temporary Texan, deal with it.)
It's just not the big chain bookstores and Amazon.com who are proclaimed to be evil. Independent bookstores can be the devil as well. An indie opens up in Westhampton, only to be accused of trying to shut down the town's other indie down the street. Can't we all just gang up on the e-reader again? That was much more fun.
August 16, 2010
Proposed rap names for six contemporary North American poets (including "Naomi Shihave Knife"), and New Criticism literary book title or self-aggrandizing male genital nickname?
And speaking of Bookslut contributors, Catherine Lacey reviews Cover Boy's Freedom! '90 (I'm not going to stop calling it that until it stops making me laugh, so give it like a week) for Black Book. And The Guardian claims Franzen is "pick(ing) up the torch for (the) US literary tradition," to the surprise of those of us who were not aware it had been dropped. (I know some of you are sick of hearing about Franzen, but you have to understand: In August, the entire publishing industry, like a delicate Southern dandy, gets the vapors and retires to the window seat. So getting any news at all besides a press release from a gluten-free cookbook publisher is kind of amazing. Plus, it really is significant that Franzen's on the cover of Teen Beat, and that he's the first author to be so featured since that bizarre and ill-advised Gore Vidal profile in 1994.)
Michael Phillips, who I like despite the fact that he hates It's a Wonderful Life (I saw him tear the film down in public in Chicago one time, right after I sobbed through the whole film -- I hold grudges about that stuff), has a really great essay on the line between being an honest and forthright critic and being a dick. It can be a very, very thin line.
Approached the wrong way criticism is an inherently arrogant and narcissistic pursuit, yet what I'm left with, increasingly, is how humbling it is. It's hard to get a review right for yourself, let alone for anyone reading it later. It's even harder to be an artist worth writing and reading about, because so much conspires against even an inspired artist's bravest efforts.
Criticism is a way of writing about life, and the world, and a symphony's place in it, or a performer's, or a photograph's. Or a demagogue's.
August 13, 2010
A Jim Behrle Production
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It's Friday the 13th, so here, watch this. (Baby sloths!) Because you'll need some cheer before reading this Chronicle piece about the death of Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey, and it's a good article. It goes into the troubled future for VQR, its rise from an obscure little magazine to one of the better literary magazines on the market, the responsibility of employers when an employee's depression comes to their attention, and ego and literature, although it goes a little off balance by the end. (Via Jen Howard.)
August 12, 2010
For the first time in ten years, Time magazine will put a novelist on their cover. And of course it's El Zorro Blanco, whose Freedom! '90 is getting the kind of ecstatic advance reviews journalists usually reserve for whiskey, fried foods, and pornography. (See: Esquire and New York, and Bookslut will have a review of the book in our next issue.)
The Washington Post looks at authors who write books under "open pseudonyms."
Last week, the literary world was introduced to an unknown writer named Jay Morris, who announced that he will debut the first in a series of detective thrillers next year. In that same announcement, Jay Morris noted that he is actually the acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Richard Price.
Of all the dumb conventions in mass-market publishing, this might be the one I hate the most, but apparently people just can't resist the whole "Stephen King writing as Horatio Q. McSnerf" thing. At any rate, I promise if I ever use a pseudonym, I'll do it the logical way and keep it a secret. You'll have no way of telling it's me, Michael Schaub.
This is kind of old news by now, but I missed it, so whatever:
I'm reading this book right now (the Guardian has an excerpt here), and I'll have more to say about it later, but Jesus. This is the novel about Catholic high school in the late '90s that I didn't realize I was missing. (Or what do they call high school in Ireland? "Boot"? "Lorry"? "Lift"? You get my drift.) It's thicker than a stack of Baltimore Catechisms, though; I'd think it would make a better miniseries or television show. Regardless, I'm in the "Neil Jordan can do no wrong or if he can I will not admit it" camp, so I'm excited about this.
The first fully contrary review (by which I mean it finds something wrong with it other than accusing the book/author of misogyny) of Booker longlisted and generally universally praised The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas comes from the London Review of Books. Melissa Denes finds things to praise, but says it "lapse[s] too regularly into cliché, the language of teen fiction, porn or advertising."
There is anger, and then there’s sex. Tsiolkas’s characters have a lot of it, but everyone seems to be having the same sex, which is porn sex, a looping script of unzipped cock, cunt, tit, moans, groans and shudders. And a lot of identi-sex, alongside all that identi-anger, makes Tsiolkas’s large cast much less than the sum of its parts.
The whole review is great.
I am preparing for a trip to Vienna, mostly by reading The German Genius by Peter Watson and The First Moderns by William Everdell. Everdell is in love with the geeky mathematicians in Germany, Vienna, and Russia at the time, and it transfers. His section on Georg Cantor and the problem with infinities is maybe the most lucid explanation of how exactly this idea transformed mathematics I have ever read. (Sorry, Naming Infinity. You are awesome, too, though. And, as an aside, of all the nonfiction books I have read in the past five years, Naming Infinity remains the one I reference, recall, and use as inspiration the most of all. Weird.)
I'm trying, though, to dig through my to-be-read pile before this trip. Not helping: Omnivoracious posted Tony Judt's reading list of "10 Books to Read on 20th Century Europe." Added to my pile: Testament of Youth, Djilas's Wartime, and Christ Stopped at Eboli. Damn damn damn.
"The creative individual is, in a sense, complementary to the society in which he lives, rather as a soloist in a concerto. Both the basic ideas of science and the key inventions of mankind have generally been conceived in the minds of individuals, while the effort to gain the data on which the ideas and inventions have been based, and the subsequent effort to turn them to good account, have required the contributions of many besides the inventor and originator of ideas. So the individual and the community are necessary to one another." -- Niels Bohr
August 11, 2010
Bookslut is proud to announce our first Portland reading. Together with Melville House, we'll be co-sponsoring a reading by Tao Lin (Shoplifting from American Apparel, Richard Yates) at Reading Frenzy on Tuesday, September 28, at 7 p.m. And soon we'll have our own, shiny, brand-new reading series! (Thanks to the help of several awesome Portland people, most especially Alison Hallett of The Portland Mercury, who has been helping scout locations with us.)
I'm excited about this. Tao is one of my favorite writers, and he's also an occasional Bookslut contributor. I'll be writing more about Richard Yates, his latest novel, soon, and we'll be reminding you about the reading, but if you're in Razorblade City and like books, you'll want to go to this. (And check out Reading Frenzy if you haven't already, it's amazing, and the staff is comically friendly and helpful.)
We hope to see you there, Portland!
Not too long ago I read a news story wherein a Berlin city official asked people to stop throwing themselves in front of trains as a suicide method. There had been a spate of them, and it was stressing the train drivers out. It looks like the train drivers going into the Dostoevsky subway station in Moscow are going to have a similar problem. NPR has a story and new pictures of the newly finished station.
"There is nothing smarter than for a finely gowned, handsome woman to become cockeyed at a formal party. A vulgarian would not be able to get away with it. In such situations, vulgar people go to pieces and scream or hurt somebody. It takes that je ne sais quoi which we call sophistication for a woman to be magnificent in a drawing room when her faculties have departed but she herself has not yet gone home. Sophistication might be described as the ability to cope gracefully with a situation involving the presence of a formidable menace to one's poise and prestige."
-- James Thurber, writing as Wayne Van R. Vermilye
While most of the stories of my years organizing and hosting the Bookslut Reading Series in Chicago center around my own public humiliation, one story is definitely my favorite.
The readers that night were Shalom Auslander and my friend Martin Preib. Martin is a wonderful, gritty essayist, and we had been drinking buddies for about a year. He was also a Chicago cop. I don’t believe in the event listing he was described as such. But as the pre-event chatter continued, a nice friendly vibe settling in the room, three of Martin’s friends walked in the door. In full uniform. Guns on their hips. The room went dead silent.
Even as it became obvious they were here for the event, not to take anyone down, the discomfort in the room remained palpable. Worlds collided. You could see the panicked mathematics in the brains of the attendees, as they added up a lifetime of transgressions. The atmosphere didn’t bounce back until the event was over and the cops left with Martin.
I talked to Martin Preib at the PBS Need to Know website about being an outsider in the literary world, about the release of his powerful new essay collection The Wagon and Other Stories from the City, and the importance of day jobs to writers.
August 10, 2010
Time lists the top ten failed celebrity political campaigns (the context being Wyclef Jean's candidacy for the Haitian presidency, which Time is too nice to say outright is doomed to fail). Writers included are Norman Mailer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gore Vidal, and Upton Sinclair. (Though not Kinky Friedman or Hunter S. Thompson. Or William F. Buckley, whose 1965 campaign for New York mayor was hilarious, and, to quote Tobias from Arrested Development, "sadly blunderous.")
The only writer I can think of who's currently serving in US government is US Senator James Webb of Virginia (author of the great Vietnam novel Fields of Fire), though I'm sure I'm missing someone. Maybe Bookslut should sponsor a candidate next election. We'll just pick the single most unelectable author we can, and just run the whole race for the sake of comedy. I mean, hey, we're probably mostly liberals, right? If there's one thing we know, it's how to lose elections!
(UPDATE: I guess I should clarify I'm talking about politicians who (a) wrote books before they ran for office, and (b) whose books were not thinly-veiled campaign propaganda. You know, the ones with titles like Freedom, Liberty, and Pictures of Me with My Dog: A 29-Step Plan for America That I Will Enact Unless I Get Caught Cheating on My Wife, Which I Will. A reader gently points out that "some dude from Chicago" was pretty well-known for an acclaimed memoir before he was elected to Congress. And yes, I admit, I forgot Rahm Emanuel, whose Fuck You You Fucking Fuck: A Life did indeed earn kudos from the literary press.)
(ANOTHER UPDATE: OK, I forgot Al Franken. I promise to stop updating this post. But Al! Al!)
How relevant are Bono's harmonica skills? Is Sarah Palin more famous than Monty Python comedian Michael Palin? Is Limp Bizkit "nu metal/rapcore" or "rapcore/nu metal"? It's Wikipedia's lamest edit wars! (Via.)
Stanley Fish calls for some perspective in discussions of student plagiarism:
It follows that students who never quite get the concept right are by and large not committing a crime; they are just failing to become acclimated to the conventions of the little insular world they have, often through no choice of their own, wandered into. It’s no big moral deal; which doesn’t mean, I hasten to add, that plagiarism shouldn’t be punished — if you’re in our house, you’ve got to play by our rules — just that what you’re punishing is a breach of disciplinary decorum, not a breach of the moral universe.
Everything from fairy tales to Joan Didion essays to crime statistics have told us that weird weather, heat waves and horrible winds can affect mood and make you want to kill people and make you ill or depressed. Seed Magazine has a great piece on weather's influence on human behavior, and the science that is proving the ancient beliefs in evil winds correct.
August 9, 2010
Flavorwire suggests literary pickup lines to use on "the library-loving hottie of your dreams."
Girl, you’re so flawless, even James Wood couldn’t find anything to criticize.
I would endure a Dan Brown novel, if that’s what it took to win your heart.
You know Bookslut? They named it after me.
And if you think that's great, check out the (surprisingly not inaccurate) Urban Dictionary definition of "Book Slut." Bookslut: helping nerds get laid in library study carrels since 2002.
"Choose Your Own Adventure" books for iTunes. If you make the wrong choice, Steve Jobs charges you a dollar and tells you that you're holding the book wrong.
Jacket Copy lists 20 classic works of gay literature for those celebrating the recent overturning of California's homophobic Proposition 8. It's a great list, though half the fun of these things is, of course, figuring out what you would have put on there. (Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin, Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language, Dennis Cooper's Try, the diaries of 60% of male Republican elected officials, but all of us could go on and on about this.)
Aida Edemariam does an excellent job dealing with the question of the accusations of being "unbelievably misogynistic" made against Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap in this Guardian profile. She lets it remain complicated and nuanced, rather than try to turn it into an accusation or simply waved off by the writer.
Dystopias tend to make better books. How do you create narrative conflict in a world that’s perfect? That’s a high bar to set yourself as a writer. But another reason for dystopia’s popularity is a paucity of cultural imagination. Look at all the things we’re having trouble handling, whether it’s oil spills or health care. People are dissatisfied, but we can’t project a solution. It’s easier to stand on the bridge of a sinking ship and say, “It’s sinking!” than to figure out how to make it a better ship.
August 7, 2010
August 6, 2010
(And yes, I'm just posting comics today. I'm tired and depressed. Don't judge me. And now I'm going to go look at this picture of Cat Power holding The Giving Tree at the Department of Education for some reason.)
“Abyss has no biographer -,” Emily Dickinson said. Truth is bottomless, and she herself almost invisible. “I’m Nobody!” she declares. In shadow she may be, but no nonentity, and the roles in her repertoire are many: the tease speaking in riddles to those who would know her; the flirt who exults in the role of “Wife – without the Sign!”; and above all the not-so-veiled boasts of volcanic power. This presents a deeper challenge than the obfuscations of slander.
Gradually he lost his mind, coming to believe that God, the set of all sets, had revealed set theory to him, and that all the sets he talked about existed preformed in God’s own mind. After the winter of 1902, he was in and out of the Nervenklinik, helplessly battling an infinity of madness.
I am very happy that Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor's Naming Infinity has such a long tail. Their book about the madness of infinity, Russian monks, the religious oppression in the early Stalinist days, the point where mathematics meets mysticism, and Georg Cantor's development of set theory is riveting, and it deserves more attention. I'm just glad it got over the "ew, math" hump. It's a great story, and it's picked up at the New Republic.
August 5, 2010
The Guardian wonders whether experimental fiction is making a comeback, interviewing Lydia Davis and Tom McCarthy, and profiling authors Cesar Aira (Ghosts), Stewart Home (69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess), and Ben Brooks (Fences).
It was picking up a £1 secondhand novel that set British schoolboy Ben Brooks writing. The book was Noah Cicero's The Human War, a savage tirade set two hours before the start of the Iraq conflict. ... At 16, he began sending his writing to James Chapman, who runs Fugue State, a small New York press devoted to experimental novels (including The Human War). Brooks's first, Fences, was published by them last year and its "emotional montage" style sent ripples across the Atlantic.
I've read, and really enjoyed, some of Brooks's fiction; I didn't know he was so young. That little bastard. Also: Tao Lin, a Bookslut contributor and author of the forthcoming Richard Yates -- more about that soon -- interviewed Noah Cicero for Bookslut earlier this summer.
Berman’s goal now is to become his father’s nemesis, to shame him into quitting his business, or to at least admit what he’s doing is wrong. To do this, Berman is creating a documentary film, which is something Berman doesn’t want to be doing. He doesn’t like it, just how he didn’t like writing, and how he didn’t like touring. He’d rather be at home in Nashville with his wife. But now he has a “mission.” He likes that word. He thinks we should have missions. “Fear of losing what we have prevents us from giving all we got,” he said a few times.
Speaking of celebrity, the author of former unauthorized biographies comes clean about his past.
I have always been rather smug about the intellectual justification for unauthorised biography, arguing that it is ethically cleaner than writing an authorised life. If anybody wrote a biography of me, I have contended, I would be the last person to interview, because I would lie like a hound, mislead, prevaricate, and twist everything to cast myself in the best light. I once did a stint as a gossip columnist and, dismal as it was, I began to tend towards the view that gossip – the bricks and mortar of unauthorised biography as well as most journalism – is often a more reliable source of truth than people's own accounts of their doings.
I also took the view, and it's not a wholly insupportable one, that by dint of voluntarily becoming celebrities, showbusiness people, like politicians, have to take a level of gossip and, frankly, intrusion and even downright prurience, on the chin.
Over at the Smart Set, I wrote a column about A Short History of Celebrity, Cary Grant, the hot guy from Supernatural (not that I watch it or anything), what a fucked game celebrity is these days, and Bono, but my editor made me take out the bit about Bono. Fie.
You could say our tastes have changed and it’s vulnerability we want, not perfection and glamour. But that’s a lie. If we don’t see the vulnerability, we will create it ourselves, with our teeth if necessary. We want to admire, envy, and destroy, all at the same time. Perhaps because celebrity has become so easy, just one unfortunate YouTube video away, the envy is almost reflexive because that person over there was able to grab it, and we weren’t. And what’s so great about them anyway, huh? Have you seen this photo of them I found on Google image search?
August 4, 2010
Patrick Neate and Robert McCrum debate the Booker, because God knows this world needs more debates about literary prizes.
RMc: ... And to introduce an old note of dissent, the real problem with Booker in an age of global fiction based on the Anglo-American tradition is its absurd omission of American writing. This looked odd when the prize was set up in 1969. Now it seems bonkers.
PN: I agree. That said, off the top of my head, I'm not sure I can think of an American novel that clamours for inclusion.
Really? I mean, I don't care at all whether Americans are eligible for the Booker. But there were no Booker-worthy American novels in the past year? Really? That's like saying there were no good French rock albums in the past year. (OK, bad example. Worst possible example.)
Over at PBS Need to Know, I confess my reasons for going increasingly meatless these days, and I express my undying love for Simon Hopkinson's cookbook The Vegetarian Option. Bonus recipe for magical carrot salad. (Yes, carrot salad can be magical.)
Somehow JC Hallman has infiltrated Bookslut with some sort of bloodless coup. Or he has brainwashed myself and Michael to let him do whatever he wants. (We were going to do that anyway, Mr. Hallman.) So let's just get this over with in one swoop, shall we? Hallman has two features in the new issue of Bookslut -- the one on Jurassic Park introduces us to the concept of "stealth dystopias," which I have already used in conversation; the other is an interview with Tom Grimes about his book Mentor: A Memoir, and the conversation covers failure, inspiration, accidental mentors, and then overcoming the anxiety of constantly feeling like a failure. It is very good.
And oh, by the way, JC Hallman has a new book out, called In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise. He offers a soundtrack to the book at the Largehearted Boy and argues the connections between Queen and Thomas More. And a little while back, I interviewed him for the PBS Need to Know blog about what is with all this goddamn optimism bullshit.
Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq artist and author Steve Mumford reports from Afghanistan with paintings and a journal. He recounts his experiences of watching heavy metal bands in Kabul, dealing with a lonely peacock, and the universal travel experience of having the airline misplace your luggage -- even in a warzone.
August 3, 2010
They were the Bristol and Levi of my generation, but no more. Anne Rice has left the Catholic church.
Rice says the final straw was when she realized the lengths that the church would go to prevent same-sex marriage.
"I didn't anticipate at the beginning that the U.S. bishops were going to come out against same-sex marriage," she says. "That they were actually going to donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in the secular society.
Um, yes. The Catholic church opposing same-sex marriage. Who could possibly have seen that one coming? That's like quitting a fraternity because you weren't aware they were going to be drinking alcohol.
In the winter of 2004-5 I sublet a flat in Berlin a mere five minutes’ walk from a 24-hour gym. I went to the gym every day, smoked occasionally and rarely drank. I was writing a book; Jesus loved me. I spoke no German, but I was in no state to talk to people so it didn’t matter.
There was a telephone in the flat. I gave its number to a director, who said: ‘Your health is the only thing that matters, Helen; as a friend and a fan, I’ll do anything to help.’ I was in no state to decipher this; it did not end well.
Dear writer I will not be naming:
Look, I get it. You spent years on a book, researching and writing and editing and waiting for the final product. And now it's here, and someone at some literary webzine called Bookslut has the gall to disagree with some of the things in your book. You are probably pissed off, or at the very least, you'd like to argue a little, maybe work up a response for catharsis or intellectual reasons. And the Internet is totally helpful for all of that, and I see you have embraced it with a blog, twittering, various social media tools. Yet you chose the route of the personal email.
Argument and discourse are one thing. Bullying, shaming, lying, and manipulating are all part of a whole other realm. It's that realm that pisses me off, because my writer is not some comment section lightweight you can push around. She has multiple books on her CV, as well as being a scholar and critic of note, and she happens to know when she's being bullshitted and mistreated. And if you think I'm not mentioning your name out of some sort of respect, really, it's only because I don't want any more publicity for your book than it is already receiving. I don't want your name on anyone's lips more than is absolutely necessary.
I'm sorry Bookslut is not joining in the near-unanimous praise of your book, which has obviously made you believe you are entitled to nothing but. However. I read your book, and I found it fundamentally dishonest. My reviewer stands by her review. Including, by the way, the substantial sections wherein she praised parts of your work, I don't know if maybe you missed them. You're not the first writer to go a little batty when faced with a bad review, and I'm doubting you will be the last. We simply wanted to respond to your generous offer for Bookslut to print a revised review, with a kind, but firm, refusal.
The Editors of Bookslut.com
August 2, 2010
We're happy to present the 99th issue of Bookslut! One more issue, and we'll be eligible for syndication. Soon you'll be able to watch Jessa reading all the reviews from each issue out loud from her flat in Berlin, right in between 3rd Rock from the Sun and Hardcastle and McCormick on your local CW affiliate (3 am Eastern). But for now, check out the new issue! It's better than that episode of 3rd Rock where John Lithgow has a fight with Jane Curtin about something Joseph Gordon-Levitt said to that one guy with the awful voice who disappeared after that show.
This issue, we're pleased to present interviews with Tom Grimes, Adam Robinson, Matthew Rohrer, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, and Grace Lin. In other features, J. C. Hallman, author of the new In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise, considers Jurassic Park and the utopia wars. Elizabeth Bachner reflects on tall tales and infinity. Barbara J. King looks at a controversial new book about sex, and Colleen Mondor profiles the University of New Orleans Press.
In columns, our Bookslut in Training author Colleen Mondor takes a look at books set in New Orleans and Cuba. In Comicbookslut, Martyn Pedler gets to know the late Harvey Pekar. Cookbookslut columnist Charlotte Freeman calls for a food revolution, and Latin Lit Lover's Jesse Tangen-Mills reads the works of Tomás Eloy Martínez.
We're unbelievably happy to announce two new columnists. Please welcome Jenny McPhee to the staff of Bookslut, and take a look at the first installment of her new feminism column, The Bombshell. And Bookslut contributor Mariya Strauss joins our roster of columnists with this issue -- be sure to check out Mariya's column on labor writing, Prole Art Threat.
And of course we have reviews, of the latest from Rick Moody, Jean Kwok, Tony Tanner, Kimiko Hahn, Adam Ross, Brad Herzog, Aaron Michael Morales, and more. As always, thanks to all our writers, and thanks to you for reading.
August 1, 2010
Weekend reading, because for some reason I have become somewhat taken with artists and writers who represent animals they have clearly never seen before:
In antiquity it was thought that elephants were terribly ambitious and that if they were not accorded the honor due to them they would die from disappointment, for their feeling of honor was so great. Snakes love to drink the cool blood of elephants; they creep under the elephant and drink its blood, and suddenly the elephant collapses, which is why whenever an elephant sees a snake he goes for it and tries to trample it down. In the Middle Ages the elephant stood for a man who was generous but unstable and moody in character, for the elephant was said to be generous, intelligent, and therefore taciturn, but when he once gets into a rage he cannot be appeased by sensual pleasures but only by music.
-- Jesuit Nikolaus Caussinus, Polyhistor Symbolicus