October 28, 2010
Shelf Awareness covers Bookslut's 100th issue party. I have absolutely no idea what I'm looking at in that photo.
There's a really interesting article in the Washington City Paper about the economic future of Politics & Prose. After the death of co-owner Carla Cohen, the store's future is uncertain. It's for sale, and has had offers, but the store's future is limited by location, contracts, its own business model... WCP breaks the numbers down and discusses the financial side of independent bookselling, and the things that can't be added in columns, like what the place means to the neighborhood and the literary culture at large.
There's a gorgeous slideshow of some of the images from Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century over here.
October 27, 2010
This is one of those things where I know already I am the only one interested, but fuck it. The New Republic is running an excerpt from Jennifer Homan's upcoming history of ballet, Apollo's Angels. That's right. 800 pages or so of ballet history. I am the only one salivating, I can tell.
A Jim Behrle Production
Click for the full comic!
William Boyd already wrote a great piece on the cringeworthy new VS Naipaul book, The Masque of Africa. He wrestled with the problem of how readers are to respond to just blatant racism and laziness. Just to recap, some highlights from the thought process of VS Naipaul:
Or, “It is hard to arrive at a human understanding of the pigmies, to see them as individuals. Perhaps they weren’t”. Or, “It was only the last morning of my stay . . . that I found out what was the best way in the Ivory Coast of killing a cat or kitten. You put them in a sack of some sort, and then you dropped the sack in a pot of boiling water . . . . The thought of this everyday kitchen cruelty made everything else in the Ivory Coast seem unimportant” (my emphasis). Or, “The two Africas were separate . . . . That was how it was here when you began to look: you swung from one Africa to another. And moving in this way from one set of ideas to another, you came to a feeling that its politics and history had conspired to make the people of South Africa simple” (my emphasis).
Graeme Wood takes another look, and opens with:
If you're bothered by political incorrectness, discovering that V. S. Naipaul has written a travel book about Africa should have you ready to assume the brace position. It's like finding out that Norman Mailer left behind an unpublished manuscript detailing his true views on women, or that the elderly Ezra Pound wrote an epic poem about Jewish bankers.
But he is much more forgiving than Boyd. It's that phrase "political incorrectness" that gives it away: as if that is all such stupid statements are: inappropriate rather than horrible.
October 26, 2010
One afternoon [Mr. Dickens] said to me... "Hattie, how do you feel about children?"
"How do I feel about them, sir?"
"Yes. Do you like them?"
"I like them well enough. I'm particularly fond of the babies."
"I, too. I'm particularly fond of the babies. What a pity they can't be shot and stuffed before the age of five." (via. again.)
What I said specifically in The Mind's Eye about my own experience, in condensation from 90,000 words to perhaps 10,000 or so, is very inadequate to me. I'm tantalized by the inadequacy of all description. For example, with Parkinsonism, I think that an adequate description of someone with Parkinson's getting up and walking across the room would require 600 pages of dense prose, and it wouldn't have an extra word in it. It would also be enthralling and gripping. I like Clifford Geertz's notion of thick description. Things are never thick enough. I like the way how in a novel, ten seconds of consciousness, or thirty seconds of consciousness, can take fifty pages to describe.
I’m kind of a jokey person in my ordinary relationships. Sometimes people are shocked when they read my work. If I go out to dinner, I seem to be set on having. . . . was it Hemingway who talked about having as good a time as possible? I think I’ve always been like that; I was like that when I was a kid. It’s probably a big defense. However it’s not a bad one.
Man, when does she get her Nobel? There aren't that many writers in the world that I'd consider basically perfect, but Munro -- like Philip Roth, Joan Didion, Mary Robison, and a few others -- is one of them.
You can help make an indie webcomic anthology a #1 bestseller on Amazon today. It's a good one, too: the awesomely-titled Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !. (And I'm told Dorothy Gambrell, the creator of Cat and Girl and one of my favorite contemporary writers in any genre, has a drawing in the book, which is gravy.)
People who know how they will die. I'd like to think I'm going to die an action hero death, like while fighting with a bad guy played by Alan Rickman as I stop him from steering a blimp filled with explosives into the Staples Center. But it's probably going to be something lame, like a salami overdose, or gout. Sigh.
OK, one more time for Roman Hruska! (And if you get that reference, I'll sleep with you, no questions asked.) Bookslut has moved! Publishers, well-wishers, and stalkers, please update our address:
6607 SE Carlton St.
Portland OR 97206
And to everyone who's emailed me, my apologies in advance for being slow in responding -- moving, it turns out, is a huge pain in the ass.
But the new office is great. The old place had huge closets for book storage; the new one has a basement. The old office had central heating; this one has a weird scary furnace. And the old place was right behind an emo/punk/Suicide Girls strip club, and the new place is near Reed College. So it's basically pretty much the same.
October 25, 2010
I did feel a certain connection to the first two scandals in the book, I confess, both of which have to do with love and injury. Basically, they’re cases of people not getting over blows to their egos and then taking some kind of crazed action to rectify the situation. That’s certainly the backstory of the Lisa Nowak case, the astronaut who drove across the country to confront her old boyfriend’s new girlfriend … It’s not so hard to understand the imperative to cushion the blow by leaping into action, though maybe not the precise specifics. The pepper spray probably wasn’t a great idea, and it’s not very clear what she thought she’d accomplish. But the idea that you could do something dramatic that would change someone’s mind, that would set things right, would win back the beloved—I don’t find it so difficult to understand the impulse.
I liked the "It Gets Better" campaign that Dan Savage started (the Tim Gunn video made me cry), but it started to worry me when the news media responded by over-reporting every gay teen suicide it could find. Reports of suicide, especially overly sensationalized reports, tend to cause an increase in suicide attempts.
At the time, I was reading Adam Phillips On Balance, which I liked, the way I like most Adam Phillips, which is to say very much except for a nagging wish he was less strictly Freudian. I'll be reading along, enjoying myself, then come across an extended tangent on Oedipus and god, boring. Whatever! Some people are into that. But some of his passages, while not strictly being about teenagers, reminded me of the It Gets Better campaign, and I wrote about the whole thing for the Smart Set column.
Teens have issues with object permanence. As in, every object is permanent. Every pain is everlasting, every pang of loneliness and despair will be with them for the rest of their lives. Teens can’t process the future. As Adam Phillips puts it in his new book of essays, On Balance, “Experience of the past becomes certainty of the future.” He was talking about something else — his book is mostly how we yearn for this idealized concept of balance between work and love and home despite the extremes being where the most progress and creativity lies — but it seems especially relevant for the teenage boy or girl. With no real experience other than misery and despair, it is hard to imagine a future that isn’t just more of the same. “He had his whole life in front of him,” confused bystanders might say. And yes, that is exactly the problem.
Canongate has a new book of Alasdair Gray's artwork A Life in Pictures coming out, and it looks gorgeous. The Guardian has a slideshow of Gray's work, including the odd and beautiful painting that adorns the (out of print) edition of Lanark, which was the first Gray I read and loved.
Over at PBS, I have a list of other books in the Spanish language to read after you catch up with your Nobel Prize winning Mario Vargas Llosa. Translator Anne McLean helped me compile it, with Javier Cercas, Horacio Castellanos Moya, and others.
October 22, 2010
In honor of Honeybee, who came in from Chicago to attend my 100th issue party last night, I wrote an essay for the B&N Review about female friendships in literature, specifically in the books of Helen Garner and in the new novel Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden.
We look for ourselves in fiction sometimes, in the same way we are fascinated by our genetic forebears. We search for the source of our quirky nose in crumbly photographs. We wonder if our tendency to throw things against the wall can be explained by long ago Viking blood. And sometimes we want to recognize something of ourselves in the books we read—our loves, our work, the way we sally forth into the world—to tell us we are part of what came before. Because I have found my one true love—she just happens to be a woman. And we are not "into that." Since then I have noticed that in the books I read, female friends are the underminers, or the sidekicks, or secretly in love with you, or two-dimensional foils, or sleeping with your husband (or your father). They are secondary storylines, there to wipe away heartbroken tears, provide comic relief, meet for occasional happy hour cocktails that are pink because that stands for girl power. I do not see myself and Honeybee in those books.
October 21, 2010
New Yorkers, tonight's the night! If you'd like to go to a party in honor of Bookslut's 100th issue, and meet Jessa Crispin and a bunch of other nice bookish people, why then:
DATE: October 21, 2010
TIME: 7:00 pm
WHERE: Melville House, 145 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
GUEST OF HONOR: Jessa Crispin, writer and founder of Bookslut
Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House, will interview Jessa about her experiences starting a hit book blog
I'm sorry I won't be able to attend; I'll be in Portland, moving Bookslut's US headquarters (which reminds me: publishers, please update our contact information!), but I'll be there in spirit. By which I mean I'll be kind of drunk. Go out, have fun, and say hi to Jessa for me! Or just make pleasant conversation with her. Like, "How does Mike manage to get so much proofreading done while being so charming and attractive?" would be a totally acceptable thing to say, etiquette-wise.
Congratulations, Jessa, and thanks for your support over the years, friends!
October 20, 2010
Justin Taylor (Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, the just-released The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide, with Eva Talmadge) has a beautiful essay on the new Dear Sandy, Hello: Letters from Ted to Sandy Berrigan.
But anyone who has ever written to a person in confinement knows that what the correspondent wants more than anything is to hear about what’s going on in the outside world. To the prisoner/patient/exile, the mundane, boring details of daily life are suddenly the stuff of rapturous, engrossing fantasy, and so what scans as staggering self-absorption to me must have registered to Sandy as breaths of fresh air, dispatches from the free world: a lifeline. (Though, with that said, there’s really no disputing Berrigan’s egoism — it’s essentially the cornerstone of his legend, and the constitutive essence of every line of this book.)
The world's most expensive book, with an estimated value of 6 to 9.5 million dollars, is about to go on sale. I would have thought the world's most expensive book would be that Bible I have; the one where I forged the autograph of Jesus. But apparently it's some shit about birds.
This is the best article on the business of comic books I've read in a long time, from a reporter who actually gets it: Erik Henriksen discusses digital comics, pricing issues, and the future of the direct market with local Portland brick-and-mortar comic retailers.
“We've seen customers date, get married, and even get divorced through the years. We had one couple get married in our store,” say [Guapo Comics and Coffee owners] Allie and Jeremy Tiedeman. “We've had pregnant customers whose kids are now grown up and picking out their own books. This is something you can never get online.
“It's important for Portlanders to buy their single issues from shops and not only online,” they continue. “It more directly supports small business as well as the many artists, cartoonists, and comics publishers that are all over this city.”
Erik knows what he's talking about; he's an extremely talented comic book author himself (and author of the funniest/nerdiest blog post of the year). And -- disclosure -- I've met him a couple of times and I think he is several kinds of awesome, but the quality of this article speaks for itself.
HTML Giant debuts the Literary Magazine Club, where each month a new issue of a different literary journal will be discussed. First on the list: New York Tyrant 8, to be followed by new issues of The Collagist and Ploughshares. The club seems to be the brainchild of Roxane Gay, an amazing writer in her own right ("The Mark of Cain," "Gravity at the End of the World"); her work was discussed by Elizabeth Hildreth and Dottie Lasky in a recent Bookslut interview.
And speaking of cool ways to support literary magazines, the great Knee-Jerk magazine, the archives of which I stayed up way too late last night reading, needs your help to produce its first print issue, and is willing to make you dinner and write a song for you in exchange. Maybe Bookslut should do this. Jessa's an amazing cook, and I can play one chord (E minor, the sexy chord) on guitar. In return, give us liquor and hold us while we gently weep about life!
October 19, 2010
The owners of Editor & Publisher magazine have fired its editorial staff. This can only be good! Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy:
The report quotes a release from Duncan McIntosh saying that, "'Editor & Publisher' magazine will be utilizing more individuals for the print edition who are experts in their individual fields as opposed to reporters who track down experts and put the expert’s story into the writer’s words."
This sounds suspiciously like "Fuck it, we're just going to print press releases verbatim," of course. God, where's Brill's Content when you need it? (I just checked. It's with a bunch of unsold Sixpence None The Richer CDs and The Nanny VHS tapes. Remember to catch me tonight on VH1's Unfortunately, I Vaguely Remember the Late '90s!)
A hangover cookbook with "lemon and demerara sugar pancakes" and "cardamom porridge with spicy apple sauce"? Man, if you can cook those recipes, you're not really hung over. (A better solution: Cornelius Bear's hair-of-the-dog cocktail, which will make you hallucinate about Abraham Lincoln killing a computer-eating dog.)
I don't know, I kind of like the Great Expectations cake, rodents and all.
Andrea Walker has a short, charming interview with short, charming author Emma Straub. (Actually, I have no clue how tall Emma Straub is, but I'll be damned if I'm going to pass up a chance at glib, easy parallelism like that.) I loved Emma's debut, the funny and moving Fly Over State; her second book, Other People We Married, comes out next year.
October 18, 2010
Attention publishers who send books to us! The Bookslut office is moving soon, and we'll have a new address for all review copies, correspondence, death threats, strippergrams, etc. For anything that will arrive on or after October 25, a week from today, please send to:
6607 SE Carlton St.
Portland OR 97206
Books sent by USPS should be forwarded to the new place, at least for a while, but UPS and FedEx packages will need to have the new address. Thanks in advance!
The New York Times profiles Adonis (The Pages of Day and Night), the Syrian poet who's long overdue for a Nobel.
“Poetry cannot change society,” Adonis said. “Poetry can only change the notion of relationships between things. Culture cannot change without a change in institutions.” But to the criticism that poetry was an insufficiently popular form he replied: “Poetry that reaches all the people is essentially superficial. Real poetry requires effort because it requires the reader to become, like the poet, a creator. Reading is not reception.”
This Don Paterson essay on Shakespeare's sonnets is brilliant on several levels, not the least of which is his nice little slam on New Criticism, "which rail(s) against the so-called 'intentional and affective fallacies' (basically – what the author intended by the poem, and how you personally respond to it; why these are 'fallacies' is lost on me)." But this is also great:
However, the question: "was Shakespeare gay?" strikes me as so daft as to be barely worth answering. Of course he was. Arguably he was bisexual, of sorts, but his heart was never on his straight side. Now is not the time to rehearse them all, but the arguments against his homosexuality are complex and sophistical, and often take convenient and homophobic advantage of the sonnets' built-in interpretative slippage – which Shakespeare himself would have needed for what we would now call "plausible deniability", should anyone have felt inclined to cry sodomy.
The argument in favour is simple. First, falling in love with other men is often a good indication of homosexuality; and second, as much as I love some of my male friends, I'm never going to write 126 poems for them, even the dead ones.
As I mentioned before, here poetry is pre-destined to be the center of a national identity where language takes the main role. That is the heritage of romanticism. I personally have nothing against that myth, but I don’t see it as being so important. To me writing in my mother tongue is just the only possibility, because I’m not that good in any other language to take it as my own. I have nothing against Slovenian language (perhaps only the lack of sense for irony sometimes). It offers me independence and possibility for experimenting.
I found this passage from an essay by Adam Phillips about Sebald -- "Forms of Inattention," collected in On Balance -- regarding the "awestruck review" that some writers receive almost universally very interesting:
At the heart of this essay is a simple observation: Sebald's much-celebrated writing has itself very interesting things to say about celebration. Sebald's writing is indeed obsessed with greetings and welcomes, with festivities and the difficulties that attend them, and with celebration as a kind of remembering. In this regard, the responses, our responses, to Sebald's writing appear as puzzling, in their way, as the books themselves. And the puzzle, I think, has partly to do with celebration. "Surely one of the things that makes it so difficult to write about Sebald," the critic Eric Santner writes,
to say anything new or genuinely revelatory about his work, is that he has done so much himself to frame the discourse of his own reception, to provide in advance the terms for critical engagement with the work; his fiction already practices a rather efficient sort of autoexegesis that leaves the critic feeling a certain irrelevance (the posture of awestruck adoration that one finds in so much of the critical literature is, I think, one of the guises such irrelevance assumes).
In Santner's view, Sebald hasn't so much created the taste by which he wants to be judges as already established it -- as though all we can really do when we write about Sebald is go on quoting him. But what bothers Santner, as it did Michael Hofmann, is the "awestruck adoration" of Sebald, as though this in itself tells us something crucial about the writing, about how it works on us. Hofmann intimated that the extravagant celebration of Sebald was a way of overlooking the flaws in the work: "Sebald's writing has been more often praised than accurately described," he wrote, as though praise protects us from what might be revealed by further description. Or to put it slightly differently, and rather more meanly, we might sometimes celebrate when we fear a fault-finding mission coming on. For Santner, the critic's "awestruck adoration" of Sebald's writing is a kind of solution to "the critic feeling a certain irrelevance," perhaps feeling he has nothing to add, can't really contribute, doesn't quite know what to say. By implication, then, "awestruck adoration" gives the critic something to do, keeps a feeling of irrelevance at bay, cures redundancy. For both Hofmann and Santner the adoring praise of Sebald's writing is a solution to something, perhaps a problem posed by (or perceived in) the work. What Sebald is often telling us in his writing is that our solutions reveal the full extent of our problems; that our cures -- or our imagined cures -- expose the full nature of our suffering rather than making it disappear.
This wonderful piece on djinns, superstition, horoscopes, and illogical belief, contains an interlude regarding BF Skinner's writings about the superstitious nature of pigeons. (via)
In 1948, Skinner published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology involving his pigeons. He stated that his pigeons were exhibiting, what appeared to be superstitious behaviour. One pigeon would make constant turns in its cage, while another would swing its head in pendulum motion and others also displayed a variety of repetitive behaviours. According to Skinner, all these behaviours were undertaken ritualistically in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser, even though the dispenser had been pre-programmed to release food at set intervals regardless of the pigeons’ actions.
The whole piece is worth reading.
October 15, 2010
I was on the WNYC show Soundcheck yesterday, talking about my five favorite rock novels, along with Jennifer Egan, who discussed her new rock-themed A Visit from the Goon Squad. (Soundcheck has been talking about music and literature all week; all the shows have been great.) In case you're curious, my top five:
The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Master of Reality by John Darnielle
Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo
The Exes by Pagan Kennedy
The Last Rock Star Book, or, Liz Phair: A Rant by Camden Joy
The producer of the show actually asked me to come up with a top five list, and I was kind of embarrassed to admit that I already had one, because I am a huge nerd. I also have a list of the top ten songs named after American cities, but that one tends to change frequently. (Current number one: "Saginaw, Michigan." I can't believe you even had to ask. I thought you knew me.)
“Mourning Diary” is not his finest work, but it is his most ardent and approachable. Barthes for Beginners, cynics may label it. I prefer to think of it as something else: the literary equivalent of an acoustic recording, a welcome, belated, stripped-down addition to his oeuvre. Barthes was suspicious of language’s intended meanings; his favorite motto was “Larvatus prodeo” (“I advance pointing to my mask”). Here that mask is largely left behind.
Tony Blair has been nominated for the "bad sex in fiction" award. For his autobiography.
The former prime minister is nominated for a purple passage about the night spent with his wife Cherie following the news of the Labour leader John Smith's sudden death. "That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me. On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct," Blair wrote.
That kind of sounds like Jack Donaghy, doesn't it?
Speaking of Southern cities that I love, some quasi-literary news out of Oxford, Mississippi: Ole Miss is changing their mascot from "Colonel Reb," a faux-Southern anachronism who looked like he started every sentence with "I do declare" and used frighteningly out-of-date terms for African Americans, to the "Rebel Black Bear," named in honor of a short story by William Faulkner. The school's sports teams will still be called the Rebels, but there's signs of increased tolerance in the Magnolia State. Just consider one of the other finalists for the new mascot:
In a university poll . . . 42% liked Hotty Toddy, a muscular human who would serve as a symbol of their school's pride.
A muscular, proud human named "Hotty Toddy." So the big tough SEC school almost ended up with a mascot that the University of Fire Island and Cal State-West Hollywood both rejected as "too gay." Oh, Mississippi, you confuse me, but I love you.
Well, this is indisputably cool. The Hypothetical Development Organization (founded by Rob Walker, who's one of my favorite American journalists, photographer Ellen Susan, and Garrett County Press co-founder G. K. Darby) is starting a unique public art project, "creating real signs depicting fanciful futures for overlooked, unused, neglected buildings in New Orleans." Fiction through architecture: like sandwiches, jazz, and whiskey cocktails, another thing New Orleans does better than any other place in the world.
October 14, 2010
Chicago posse! The great Ben Greenman (Celebrity Chekhov, What He's Poised to Do)is reading tonight at the Borders at N. Clark and W. Diversey. Ben is an amazing writer -- I have a copy of Superbad that my brother gave me that I've read many, many times -- and he's also the co-author of The Nobel Reprise here at Bookslut, so go see him and give him the secret Bookslut handshake. Wait. That sounds dirty. Give him the good ol' Cook County hello. Wait. That actually sounds even worse. Just go see him; he's brilliant and hilarious.
Speaking of New York, I wish I was getting into town early enough to go to this tonight: Guernica's 6th anniversary party.
I am packing for yet another trip, leaving tomorrow for two weeks in New York City. For this, for a start:
DATE: October 21, 2010
TIME: 7:00 pm
WHERE: Melville House, 145 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 GUEST OF HONOR:
Jessa Crispin, writer and founder of Bookslut
Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House, will interview Jessa about her experiences starting a hit book blog
I am also trying to convince myself that New York City has books, and so I don't have to drag my entire library over there. Oh, Apple. I would buy an iPad if I didn't just have to set up my German pension and give the government all of my money. Ah well...
How can you hesitate? Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth. (from Notebooks)
Happy Birthday, Katherine Mansfield.
Samuel R. Delany has a short story up at the Boston Review website, "Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders."
Poem for the day: "Brief Reflection on Maps" by Miroslav Holub.
Albert Szent-Györgyi, who knew a thing or two about maps,
By which life moves somewhere or other,
Used to tell this story from the war,
Through which history moves somewhere or other.
From a small Hungarian unit in the Alps a young lieutenant
Sent out a scouting party into the icy wastes.
It began to snow, it snowed for two days and the party
Did not return. The lieutenant was in distress: he had sent
His men to their deaths.
On the third day, however, the scouting party was back.
Where had they been? How did they manage to find their way?
Yes, the man explained, we certainly thought we were
Lost and awaited our end. When suddenly one of our lot
Found a map in his pocket. We felt reassured.
We made a bivouac, waited for the snow to stop, and then with the map
Found the right direction.
And here we are.
The lieutenant asked to see that remarkable map in order to
Study it. It wasn't a map of the Alps
But the Pyrenees.
October 13, 2010
Man, it's just not Franzen's week. He doesn't make Flavorwire's list of literature's ten best-dressed authors, either. (Tom Wolfe does, all looking like Colonel Sanders as imagined by Charles Nelson Reilly, as does Jane Austen, whose fashion choices make Laura Ingalls Wilder look like a drunk Texas Tech student in a slutty nurse costume at a Halloween frat party.)
The National Book Award finalists were announced today in Georgia. Jonathan Franzen's doomed-to-be-overlooked Freedom! '90 didn't make the fiction list, which is surprising in a "Sean Penn played a minority with three different disabilities and didn't get an Oscar nomination" kind of way.
It's a strong list, though. I'm particularly excited that two of my favorite books of the year are included -- Patti Smith's brilliant memoir Just Kids, and Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel, which I also loved (Terry Hong interviewed Yamashita for Bookslut a few months ago).
National Book Awards fever: catch it! It's just like the other NBA, except in this version, someone from Portland doesn't get injured every four seconds.
“It is hard to arrive at a human understanding of the pigmies, to see them as individuals. Perhaps they weren’t”. William Boyd on this and other problematic statements in the new VS Naipaul, The Masque of Africa.
LH: Your book One! Hundred! Demons! was intended as a cathartic exercise, to let your demons go?
Barry: Or letting them in. I'm opening the door for 'em, "C'mon in!" They're there anyway. I'd rather draw about them then accidentally date them.
"I have been wanting to win the Booker prize from the start. I don't think I'm alone in that, it's such a fantastic prize. It was beginning to look like I was the novelist that never ever won the Booker prize...I have been increasingly talked about as underrated and I'm so sick of being described as the underrated Howard Jacobson. So the thought that's gone forever, is wonderful."
October 12, 2010
Read this comment by Andrew Marr, a BBC broadcaster, and then click on the link below and look at his picture.
"A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people," he told the Cheltenham Literary Festival. "OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk . . . But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night."
And of course the guy who said it looks like Skeletor two minutes before he dies of alcohol poisoning.
Iain McGilchrist (yeah yeah yeah, The Master and His Emissary is awesome, whatever) and poet Ange Mlinko discuss poetry, neuroscience, metaphor, Heidegger, brain asymmetry and more in this exchange at Poetry Magazine.
If you’re nine and you’re reading a book with the word “uterus” in it, really, it’s bad enough already.
Jill Lepore has a charming piece on books that awkwardly try to explain sex to children.
(Speaking of Lepore, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of her new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History. It's the only book on the Tea Party I can imagine wanting to read.)
October 11, 2010
But there is also no reason to dismiss the “naïve” approach as mere amateurish “belle lettrism.” Naïve reading can be very hard; it can be done well or poorly; people can get better at it.
Bookslut columnist Jesse Tangen-Mills talks to Johnny Ryan, creator of the controversial (and hilarious) Angry Youth Comix.
That’s one of the perks of being an alternative-comic artist. It’s both a perk and a detriment: Nobody gives a shit. Nobody cares what you’re doing. I obviously have some kind of fan base, but it’s very small comparatively speaking. If people don’t like my stuff, they’re just going to ignore it. They’re not interested in it. They might go on some message board and shit on me, but I rarely get personal e-mails or letters [from anyone] who’s actually offended by what I do.
For those who miss magazines: Ivan Pope has created a new online store for independent art, design, food, science, culture magazines. It's called Magazero and he's interviewed at Magtastic about this new venture. (via)
"The liberation of the human mind," he writes, has always "been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe—that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud."
Alan Garner talks to the Guardian about the completely "childish" and "immature" and "stupid" thinking that led him to the writing of Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Weirdstone is having its 50th anniversary this year.
October 8, 2010
It's Wordstock time in Portland! If you're looking for a guide to this weekend's events, check out the recommendations at The Oregonian, CultureMob, and The Portland Mercury. If any of you are around Sunday, at 11 am, I'll be on a panel sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle on "The Future of Reading Culture" (my prediction: the future of reading culture is going to play out like a sci-fi porn movie and is going to be awesome), with David Biespiel, Matthew Stadler, and Mona Simpson. These are all authors I admire greatly, so I'm a little nervous about being the token hungover college dropout with a blog, but still. Wordstock!
The Guardian recommends five novels by Mario Vargas Llosa if you're looking for a place to start. And Enrique Krauze suggests that although Vargas Llosa is identified with the Peruvian political and economic conservative movement:
Vargas Llosa is the opposite of a "conservative" writer. He is a liberal intellectual. And it is today, faced with the currents of intolerance that persist in Latin America, that we will at last vindicate the legitimacy of a liberal democratic telling of history. It is a liberal project, a civilizing project par excellence; it is what founded our nations, and it is what Vargas Llosa brings to life in his life and his works.
While there's no word when/if they'll be available in the States, I'm enjoying Penguin UK's Central European Classics. Simon Winder, the editor behind the series, explains that it was shame that originally sparked the whole thing.
This series originates in a visit I made to Krakow last summer where I was talking to a Polish publisher who had known Czesław Miłosz and who berated me for the useless way in which Miłosz was published in English – it was his essays which were so valued and admired in Poland and yet these were virtually unknown in Britain. Suitably shamed I read lots of the essays and, indeed, they were amazing. So then the challenge became, how could a suitable frame be created for republishing them?
It's fitting, then, that the comments section below the posting shame Penguin for not bringing the books to the States, and for not including any women in the series of ten books.
I have just finished Josef Skvorecky's The Cowards, a darkly funny Czech novel set in May 1945, as Germany is retreating and the Russians are coming in. As for the States version of the book, it's part of some series called "Neglected Books of the Twentieth Century"... and it is out of print. I can't tell if that is irony or just truthful labeling.
October 7, 2010
Did Mario Vargas Llosa have to wait so long for the Nobel because he's a political conservative? Vargas Llosa ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990, and lost to Alberto Fujimori, a result that shocked political observers at the time. Fujimori, who was famously corrupt, is now in prison.
Sad to see that Soft Skull is closing its New York office and Denise Oswald will be leaving the company.
The Swedish Academy said it's honoring the 74-year-old author "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat.''
Myself and others like Michael Dirda and Martin Levin were asked for our general opinions about the Nobels. The result is here, but it is in Swedish.
Also, own our Latin Lit Lover columnist Jesse Tangen-Mills wrote a run-down of Spanish language writers' chances at winning the Nobel, and the books by Llosa he recommends include The Time of the Hero, The War at the End of the World, and Letters to a Young Novelist.
October 6, 2010
David L. Ulin considers "literature as a competitive sport," in anticipation of tomorrow's announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the upcoming Booker Prize announcement, and next week's unveiling of the National Book Award finalists.
I'm excited about the Nobel this year, actually, if only to see Pauls Toutonghi and Ben Greenman, authors of The Nobel Reprise project for Bookslut, fight over who gets to cover the winner. Observers, who are always wrong about this, seem to be leaning toward Cormac McCarthy (now the official frontrunner, apparently), Tomas Tranströmer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Adonis (who, along with Joyce Carol Oates, is maybe doomed to be a perpetual Nobel bridesmaid). My dark-horse pick is still Adrienne Rich (I know, but she deserves it if only for one hugely influential and brilliant essay). And there are always the assholes who complain every time Philip Roth is passed over (and I am vice president of those assholes, so suck it).
As for the Booker, who knows? I loved Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America, but I doubt it can win. Safer bets seem to be Tom McCarthy's C (which Bookslut reviewer Philip Hopkins thinks might be a hoax) and Emma Donoghue's Room (which Bookslut reviewer/Our Girl in London Margaret Howie considers "middlebrow squick").
I think maybe Bookslut needs to start its own awards. The prize could be some kind of Berlin fruit brandy or Portland gin. Nominees will be announced in a dive bar with Willie Nelson on the jukebox in honor of our Austin birthplace. What do you think, Jessa?
Foreign Policy is running a portfolio on the state of travel writing, and they asked me to contribute a piece on how it stacks up to the greats -- Rebecca West and her masterpiece Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Graham Greene, Bruce Chatwin. Uh, not great.
It's not just the tech that has changed things, the Wi-Fi cafes in tiny villages, the jet travel to anywhere in the world, the iPhone apps that make translation the act of pressing a button, the online airline bookings that can get you out of any horrible travel situation in a few minutes. Nor is it that the most remote regions of the world, from Siberia to Antarctica to North Korea have been trammeled by travel writers looking for a unique angle to justify their existence. What we want to read has also changed. As travel got easier, faster, and more accessible, the spread of service journalism began. An army of budding travel writers was set loose on the world with the mission to cultivate restaurant recommendations, hotel listings, the 10 most beautiful beaches, all in 35 words or fewer. With that sort of apprenticeship, it's no wonder the genre has been taken over by the reductive.
Following my piece is one by Joshua Jelly Schapiro telling me why I'm so completely wrong.
Which works better with convincing people that climate change is important, the carrot or the stick? "Paint the stick orange." Jeanne Park, my lovely editor at PBS Need to Know, talks to Bruce Mau, designer and author of Massive Change, about how to save the world and reshape the culture with beauty and grace.
October 5, 2010
Jessa and I are honored to introduce the new issue of Bookslut! We had originally planned to stop at 100 issues, actually, but we've grown addicted to the fame. People stop me all the time now in the street. "Hey!" they say. "Get out of the street! It's rush hour, and you're blocking the left lane, and you appear to be drunk!"
At any rate, new issue! In this edition, we're proud to present interviews with Dave McKean, Kate Durbin, Sigrid Nunez, Kim Phillips-Fein, Julia Glass, and Skip Horack. We have essays you won't want to miss by Elizabeth Bachner, Olivia Cronk, and Barbara J. King.
The Nobel Prize for Literature is announced Thursday, which makes this a good time to catch up on some of the past winners. This issue, Pauls Toutonghi and Ben Greenman continue The Nobel Reprise, their epistolary project where they'll read one book by every past laureate. This month, Pauls considers Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, and Ben takes on Luigi Pirandello. (Any bets on Thursday? I think Pauls and I share the same dark-horse pick -- Adrienne Rich -- but we'll see, I guess.)
Thank you, as always, for reading!
A Jim Behrle Production
Click for the full comic!
October 4, 2010
Kwame Anthony Appiah has a lovely philosophical takedown of the new Sam Harris book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, which claims that science, not philosophy and certainly not religion, is the best basis for ethics. (via)
While Lydia Davis working on her own translation of Madame Bovary, she refused to look at what other translators had done with the text. Now that hers is finished and released, however, she has an interesting piece at the Paris Review on the different approaches they have all taken, and what those decisions say about the translator:
For a while I liked Joan Charles—I saw her as prim, correct, neat, sober, honest, frank, clear-eyed. I thought of her as a sort of ally in what I was trying to do. I thought she was unjustly ignored and passed over by the later translators, who didn’t mention her. Then I became somewhat disillusioned, as she made the occasional mistake and tended to lapse into a rather wooden style. Eventually I came to see her as tight, humorless, thin as a rail. She must have lived through World War II in England, was perhaps in London during the Blitz, endured food rationing, etc. She was perhaps not very attractive, perhaps horsey? Bad teeth? Always in a cardigan sweater, putting shillings in the gas meter?
Bookslut will be celebrating its 100th issue with an event sponsored by Melville House Publishing in New York City on October 21. There will be booze! There will be writers! There will probably be me on stage in an absurd dress making a fool of myself! Hoorah!
October 21, 7-9 pm
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
October 1, 2010
If you're looking for gift ideas for your young relative, here's some advice: Last Tango in Paris is not a documentary about dancing, Hustler magazine is not about billiards, and George Bataille's Story of the Eye might not be the best present for your 12-year-old niece.
I found this book looking through my wife’s “recently viewed” list and thought it would be an excellent gift for our 12 year old niece who loves R.L. Stein’s “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street” series. Boy, was I wrong! I thought the spooky cover, title, and foreign name of the author indicated a classic horror novel in the vein of Frankenstein or Dracula. I naturally assumed that my wife had found a book for our niece and I would handle the financial end. Unfortunately I found out I had misjudged the book a few weeks later when my sister-in-law called in hysterics, accusing me of sending their daughter pornography!
The 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature has been selected, but you'll have to wait until next Thursday to find out that it's Montenegrin pamphleteer Djuradj Dapčević, an author so obscure he has never heard of himself.