January 31, 2011
Found this on a scrap of paper, written down when I was reading the book it's taken from. I like it just as much now as I evidently did the first time:
The soul is the clinamen of the body. It is how it falls, and what makes it fall in with other bodies. The soul is its gravity. This tendency for certain bodies to fall in with others is what constitutes a world. The materialist tradition represented by Epicurus and Lucretius proposed a worldless time in which bodies rain down through the plumbless void, straight down and side-by-side, until a sudden, unpredictable deviation or swerve -- clinamen -- leans bodies toward one another, so that they come together in a lasting way. The soul does not lie beneath the skin. It is the angle of this swerve and what then holds these bodies together. It spaces bodies, rather than hiding within them; it is among them, their consistency, the affinity they have for one another. It is what they share in common: neither a form, nor some thing, but a rhythm, a certain way of vibrating, a resonance. Frequency, tuning, or tone.
-- The Soul at Work by Franco Berardi
Reza Aslan talks to Guernica about the anthology he edited, Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East.
You need the arts—literature, music, film—as a universal language that allows people to see beyond the walls that separate us. To stop thinking of each other as different religions, or different cultures, or different ethnicities, or nationalities, and start thinking of each other as human beings. As people with the same aspirations, and the same dreams, the same conflicts and the same issues. It’s only through that recognition of same-ness that you really do change people’s minds.
Wonderful little A.A. Milne anecdote.
‘You’ve heard of Willy Ferrero, the Boy Conductor? A musical prodigy, seven years old, who will order the fifth oboe out of the Albert Hall as soon as look at him. Well, he has a rival.
Willy, as perhaps you know, does not play any instrument himself; he only conducts. His rival (Johnny, as I think of him) does not conduct as yet; at least, not audibly. His line is the actual manipulation of the pianoforte—the Paderewski touch. Johnny lives in the flat below, and I hear him touching...
January 30, 2011
The Guardian asked me to write a response to Neal Gabler's essay about the death of criticism. I think they wanted me to write from the Internet's position. But we all know the Internet versus the Establishment is a false set up. The Establishment has a Facebook profile now. And bloggers grow up to be paid newspaper commentators. But my response worked itself into this, and it's running alongside other writers' responses, like Hari Kunzru.
(Death of the Critic. Phooey.)
January 28, 2011
Justin Taylor, author of Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever and the forthcoming The Gospel of Anarchy (and a Bookslut contributor), talks to The Rumpus about Internet porn, punk rock, and the state of Florida.
For what it’s worth, I think punk is more interesting as an elastic, evolving, and purposefully inchoate designation than as another failed opposition movement, musical or otherwise. Think about it this way: big-c Communism can die, and may already have, but small-s socialism and small-a anarchism never will, because they represent inherent human urges for justice, freedom, decency and mutual aid. You can call them anything you want, but that’s still what they are. Whatever punk represents in its broadest philosophical sense is similarly inherent–there will always be a segment of people who want what it has to offer.
I know how to show my guests a good time. With friends in Berlin, as I was showing them around Mitte we had to take cover from the winter rain... in the Deutsches History Museum. With its Adolph Hitler exhibition. (Don't worry: I took them to Einstein's for chocolate milkshakes after, as a little antidote.) I was curious about the exhibition anyway, after reading so much about the careful curation process in Der Spiegel and the New York Times. It was at least very interesting to see how they made him seem very much like a man, a mortal, rather than a monster or a god, depending on which color laces you have in your boots.
And speaking of Hitler! Historian Michael Burleigh talks about the best books to read to learn about the man. So you know. Ready your Amazon.com wishlists.
Over at PBS Need to Know, I asked some of my favorite contemporary travel writers, from Rolf Potts to Susan Orlean, to check in from wherever they may be at the moment. They sent in pictures and stories from the road.
Resist! That is the cry that comes from your hearts, in distress that the disaster of the Fatherland has left you. It is the cry of all you who do not resign yourselves, of all you who want to do your duty. But you feel isolated and disarmed, and in the chaos of ideas, opinions and systems, you ask what is your duty. To resist is already a way of protecting your heart and your mind. But above all, it is to act, to do something that translates into positive actions, into calculated and powerful actions. Many have tried and have often been discouraged by feeling powerless. Others have joined together. But often these groups have also felt isolated and powerless. Patiently, with difficulty, we have found and united them. They are already numerous, those passionate and determined men who have understood that organization of their effort is necessary, that they need a method, discipline, leaders.
- From issue one of the French newspaper Résistance, December 15, 1940. Taken from And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alan Riding.
January 27, 2011
One of my favorite internet people is Johnathon Williams, who is forever pulling together snippets of code and poetry and releasing something awesome. There was Linebreak, a site that publishes a poem, and its recording, weekly. Then there was Swindle, the poetry aggregator you could read in your RSS reader. (There's even CMD-W DOH, a Safari extension that protects you from inadvertently closing a browser tab.) His new project, co-edited with Ash Bowen, is Two Weeks , a DRM-free e-book, readable by a Kindle (or any of the Kindle apps), and MP3 audio book. As Williams explains, The book was compiled, edited, designed, coded, and published in exactly 14 days. Our purpose was to test how quickly a book of poetry could be crafted given new technologies, and to prove that neither speed nor technical limitations need diminish editorial standards or strip essential formatting. Here's a screenshot that shows what the page looks like--which is to say, it looks like printed poetry. There are 58 poems in the book, and--as you would expect from Linebreak's editors, the poems don't disappoint. Two Weeks is available immediately from the Linebreak web site for $4.99, and will be available in the next couple of days through the Kindle store. (You can also preview the audio of several poems--including the pictured "Letter to My Son Concerning Our First Night of Birthing Class," by Joe Wilkins--at the site.)
Ornette Coleman, interviewed by Jacques Derrida. (PDF)
We Who Are About To Die puts Lewis Turco, of The Book of Forms, to the question: Where on earth are you most dying to go? I’m not about to die to go anywhere. When I was in the Navy I sailed around the world aboard the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier.
A self-published book of poems by a 99-year-old is topping bestseller lists in Japan: The anthology reached the 1.5m sales mark last week after a TV documentary about Shibata in December fuelled interest in her work; sales of about 10,000 copies are considered a success for poetry anthologies in Japan.
How do you bind a ten-thousand-page book of poetry?
"When I write about love, the critics in the US and Britain say that this Turkish writer writes very interesting things about Turkish love. Why can't love be general? I am always resentful and angry of this attempt to narrow me and my capacity to experience this humanity," he complained. "You are squeezed and narrowed down, cornered down as a writer whose book is considered only the representation of his national voice and a little bit of anthropological curiosity."
If you've ever wanted to advertise on Bookslut, now is the time! Not only are we running a winter special -- 15% off any two-month ad purchase -- but I have just received word that Bookslut readers are now the richest blog readers in the world, with an average annual income of $700,000. (I made that last part up, but it seems plausible, right? Ask your butler what he thinks.)
If you're a publisher, bookstore owner, author, editor, retailer, anything like that, please feel free to contact me for rates and availability. And if you're not completely satisfied with your experience, Jessa will go to your office and sing "The Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground over your company's intercom. (Note: Guarantee void in all worldwide jurisdictions except for the American state of New Cascadia, which does not yet exist.)
If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest Hemingway walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead.
So sixty years ago, an elderly Sinclair Lewis pitched a novel idea to his assistant, drunkenly yelled at him, then fired him and absconded to Paris, stealing the assistant's girlfriend in the process, and the assistant still ended up writing the novel Lewis pitched to him? Wow. I like Sinclair Lewis even more now.
January 26, 2011
Poesy all over the show in the two big English book awards this week, where Faber poetry collections cleaned up.
T.S. Eliot prize judge Anne Stevenson on Derek Walcott's White Egrets, which was awarded by Valerie Eliot on Monday night.
The Costa Book of the Year went not to The Hare With Amber Eyes, but to Jo Shapcott's Of Mutability. This continues my three year streak in confidently picking the wrong Costa winner. New rule: bet on the book with the most poems about pissing.
The Guardian, on the results of Martin Amis's recent decision to move to Brooklyn:
Novelist Colm Tóibín is set to take over from Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. But Tóibín, currently teaching at Princeton University in America, will be earning "less" than the controversial £80,000 salary of his predecessor, according to a spokesperson for the university.
The appointment of Amis in 2007 to the role – his first ever teaching post – resulted in uproar when it was discovered that his £80,000 salary worked out at a sky-high £3,000 an hour because his contract only obliged him to work 28 hours each year.
Amis made £3,000 an hour? No wonder he can afford Brooklyn real estate.
Jodorowsky got into comics following the collapse of his Dune movie adaptation, which was to feature the talents of French comics artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Alien designer HR Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali and many others. Working with Moebius he started pouring concepts from the aborted film into a six-volume, 10-years-in-the-making SF-metaphysical saga called The Incal.
Maybe a website being run by two undergrad drop-outs isn't the best place to comment on the new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. But the book's theory that even though a college education is now mandatory to get any sort of entry level job, the education process itself is not refining the minds of the young, is a compelling one. They are at least taking it seriously over at the Chronicle of Higher Education (definitely a better place for this discussion), with a series of articles on the book and an excerpt.
"What concerns us is not just the levels of student performance," Mr. Arum said, "but that students are reporting that they make such meager investments in studying, and that they have such meager demands placed on them in their courses in terms of reading and writing."
But you know, as my father always said, what you get out of an experience is dependent on what you put into it. Also, proper prior planning prevents poor performance, and With a Hidey Hi and a Hodey Ho I have come to strike terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere... with one blow from my tremendous fist... I forgot what we were talking about.
January 25, 2011
I was Angela Chase, more so than everyone else who was sure that they were Angela Chase. I was a freshman in high school and deeply in love with every doe-eyed boy at my school. I parted my hair in the middle and wore a choker made of string. I got pimples, cried for no reason, and (once Angela introduced them to me, I will admit) danced around my room to the Violent Femmes. And like Angela, I had my Rayannes. Because, of course, Jordan Catalano was not the most intoxicating character to roam the halls of Liberty High, no matter how prettily formed his mouth and eyebrows. That distinct honor belonged squarely to Rayanne Graff, Angela’s new best friend and erstwhile corrupter.
(I never got why Angela wouldn't go out with that perfectly nice Brian Krakow. Curly-haired awkward dorks unite! Although in retrospect, I guess he was actually kind of a dick. I mean...what? I've never heard of this show. I was probably going to cool parties and being successful at sports when it was on the air. Yeah, that works. Let's go with that.)
Socrates put his point in the negative ("the unconsidered life is not worth living") for a reason: giving no thought to how one should live is by default to let chance or others decide one's fate. So life can be worth living if we reflect and try to choose, even if we do not always succeed in acting as we should.
It's important to remember whenever there's another hysterical article about how the online world is destroying our brains, that reading is dead, etc., that people also freaked out when the switch from oral to written culture began. Without rote memorization, people won't know how to think! You don't want to be that guy who was against writing things down and developing a written language.
Nicholas Carr has a nice little talk about the history of reading over at Big Think.
We're trying something a little different at the Smart Set. I wrote a Super-Sized essay this week, about Wendy Steiner's The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art, Ruth Butler's Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cezanne, Monet, and Rodin, Girl with a Pearl Earring, the Post-Feminist Anonymous Woman Reclamation Act of the 1990s, Lucas Cranach, Sally Mann, and why we love to use anonymous women for our various ventriloquist acts.
I’m sitting here with Ruth Butler’s 2008 book Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cezanne, Monet, and Rodin and I am feeling argumentative. Butler tries to flesh out the lives of these women so recognizable in their husbands’ art, but from whom the barest bones of an identity were left behind: a letter or two, an official document announcing a birth or marriage, an anecdote in a friend’s diary. Butler recreates their lives by examining the standard life in 19th-century Paris for a young woman of such deprived socio-economic backgrounds and transferring the information to the wives. But she defaults perhaps too often to honor and intelligence. When she needs to imagine a scene — which she must do frequently, as none of these women left behind a memoir or a large cache of letters — she imagines the woman acting with honor first, or speculates on the quiet strength with which they endured. But men, even great men, sometimes do not marry their equals. I have seen them at dinner parties, great writers who get tense when their wives start to speak. The hand of the great man grasps his wife’s after only a sentence or two with a “You are only embarrassing yourself” gesture. But Butler is defensive about these women. She wants to believe the best about them, and the result is a book that feels like an over-correction.
I understand the impulse to restore dignity to the model wives, the defensiveness that rises when a woman unable to speak for herself is denigrated. Everyone hates the wife. The mistress is adored by the artist, the circle of friends, the biographer. She is allowed to be airy and inspiring and delightful. The mistress takes away the burdens of reality to unloose the artist’s imagination while the wife is earthy and anchors his creativity with responsibility and daily life. She hems in, she restricts, she requires money and attention. Even Tracy Chevalier makes this mistake, portraying Vermeer’s wife as vain and greedy, as well as an artistic blockhead. The chaste mistress Griet is solace and escape itself. However, if the symbolic act of piercing her ear had been the literal breaking of her hymen, and she had gotten knocked up, that airiness she brought Vermeer would have disappeared real fast.
January 24, 2011
The dream of the '90s is alive in Portland. Seriously! I am actually wearing a flannel shirt and listening to Sebadoh as I type this. It is awesome. If you, like me, would rather slam your hand in a car door repeatedly than read even one more article about e-books or e-readers or smart phones or whatever, the good people at Microcosm Zine Store have a deal for you: trade in your Kindle for actual, real books and zines. Remember books? Those are the things literary journalists used to write about before they became obsessed with bullshit stories about technology and search engine optimization and "the long tail."
(I wonder what Microcosm is planning to do with the Kindles. Maybe they'll end up in the same desert landfill as all those E.T. video game cartridges from the '80s. Maybe someone will put birds on them and call it art.)
Laura van den Berg interviews Jim Shepard, one of my favorite American fiction writers. Shepard is the author of the forthcoming You Think That's Bad: Stories, as well as the recently released novella Master of Miniatures, which was one of my favorite books of last year.
January 21, 2011
French officials have no plans to cancel a tribute to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the author of Journey to the End of Night, and a notorious anti-Semite and convicted Nazi collaborator. (How anti-Semitic was Céline? According to his Wikipedia page, "he was publicly critical of Adolf Hitler, whom he called a 'Jew' and of 'Aryan baloney.'" Adolf Hitler was too Jewish for him.)
Some literary podcasts for your weekend:
At the Guardian, they're getting ready for Burns Night with a conversation with Scottish laureate Liz Lochhead. Also included, a conversation with the director of the new adaptation of WG Sebald's The Rings of Saturn.
January 20, 2011
The Touchwords Poetry Generator is a fun iPad app that combines seven gestures with a vocabulary of 1000-odd words to let you form poems. Words are offered up pseudo-randomly based on how you touch the screen, and you can lineate them as you please. You can even e-mail the poems that emerge from the process. It's not a perfect app--for example, it's possible to invoke the iPad's keyboard, instead of the gesture-based interface, which leads to problems--but, as a gesture-based form of refrigerator poetry, it's completely enjoyable.
Jonathan Galassi has a terrific interview with Gjertrud Schnackenberg about her new book, Heavenly Questions: Lineation in poetry is of course a form of punctuation. Punctuation is silence—laden, rhythmic silence—as in Mozart’s purported remark (which I cannot find in any of my Mozart books) that the most important part of music is “no music.” The caesura for us in English is an immensely abbreviated version of what the Selah was to the psalmist: Pause here. Weigh this.
When you first hear about someone allegedly stealing Wilfred Owens's Military Cross and cigarette case, you think, "See? This is why we can't have nice things!" And then you read that the police report was delayed several months, and *then* you read this: It appears the family had reported the medal missing once before, but it was found in a safe hiding place a year later, and you hope someone's made the family a nice cup of tea.
John (The Mountain Goats) Darnielle looks back in horror at the idea of growing up as a musician with social media: On the Internet now, you are presenting it to the whole world. And I think the young me would have found that intimidating, and maybe I would've written poetry instead. . . . I think the whole indie rock bedroom tape movement was more about doing stuff in bedrooms that stays in bedrooms, small basements, and VFWs, and not sharing it with the entire galaxy.
Jean Monahan explains how to turn the Guiness Book of World Records into a poem, "Believe it or Not": My Believe It or Not book is all about the evolving standards by which “facts” and “truth” are recognized in a society. Poems in the book were inspired by everything from the New York Times on through to Star Magazine, News of the Weird, Ripley’s and Guinness Book of Records. My poem “Believe It or Not” regards these world records with a straight face, but wraps a fictional detail or two around them when it is to the poem’s benefit.
The Quarterly Conversation reviews Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak (previously linked, though the story's since moved.): We should not, therefore, simply read individual poems in the search for literary quality—even though some are excellent poems—but rather read them with an eye toward achieving an understanding of what poetry can suggest as poetry. It is only in approaching the poems in such a manner that we can even hope to articulate the complexities of the situations that gave rise to such works. Any attempt to read the poems simply as poems can obscure the political realities at work; and to simply discuss the political context is to dismiss the possibility that such poems can also be works of “art.”
The Huntington Library is exhibiting some of their ever-expanding collection of Bukowski manuscripts and ephemera: Seventeen years after Bukowski died of leukemia at 74, his widow is still finding unpublished works.
“We found a box, and I think he left it," said Linda Bukowski, laughing. "It was in the garage, I took it down, opened it up and it was filled with manuscripts! Papers, poems, hand signed and dated.”
Hey, how come all the newspapers and magazines are ignoring this Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book? Come on, journalists! Write something about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother!
Tristan Taormino is too hot for the Beavers. Oregon State University rescinded a speaking invitation to the well-known sex writer, conceivably after realizing that she has directed pornographic movies and written books with titles like The Anal Sex Position Guide. (The Portland Mercury's Sarah Mirk notes that the university still seems to be sticking by a planned talk at the associated conference called "Culture of the Clit," so I guess Taormino's planned lecture, which was to be called "Claiming Your Sexual Power," crosses some weird line that only OSU administrators can see.)
It's time for The Morning News 2011 Tournament of Books! A panel of judges, including Bookslut contributor Michele Filgate and Bookslut crushes Rosecrans Baldwin, John Williams, Jessica Francis Kane and more, will choose the best novel of last year. Nominated, thankfully, is my choice for the best novel of 2010, James Hynes's Next, as well as Paul Murray's Skippy Dies, another one of my favorites. (Sadly missing is Rosecrans Baldwin's You Lost Me There, the exclusion of which would be unforgivable if the novel's author weren't an editor of The Morning News and a judge in the tournament. That's no excuse not to read it, though; it's an amazing novel you should pick up, like, right now.)
Patti Smith (Just Kids) seems to be popping up everywhere the past few months, so I guess it was just a matter of time before it was fused to that other topical, and yet avant name from previous years, Roberto Bolaño.
An article in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia reports that Patti Smith has befriended the late novelist´s family. Carolina López -- known for turning away Bolaño-worshippers -- only gave in after Smith dedicated the song "Wing" to Bolaño in a July concert in Madrid.
Then later that month -- not far from Blanes where the Bolaño family still lives -- the late author´s son, Latauro Bolaño, appeared with Smith on stage and played a song. Can´t believe it? Watch her introduce him in this clip.
Their friendship seems absolutely right, if not destined or something. (I even thought for a second that Patti Smith was one of the Anglo characters from The Savage Detectives. Then I thought Bolaño mentioned her in an essay. I was wrong -- it was Patricia Highsmith.)
Come to think of it, Bolaño and Smith are kindred spirits, members of the same generation, Rimbaud-obsessed "angelheaded hipsters," when drugs, sexuality, political expression and upheaval were not only the themes of the day, but were themes that touched their lives and haunted their work. From where we are now -- somewhere between Ubu Roi and ecoapocalypse a la Terminator -- that doesn't sound too bad, really. I guess there's something to be said for nostalgia, regardless of whether they were Just Kids or Savage Detectives.
Rachel Polonsky's Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History is finally available in the US. My (glowing) review is up at NPR.org. I'm not the only one who loves it: The New Republic thinks it's swell, too.
The premise is one of those ingenious set-ups popular historians must wish would just fall in their lap. A neighbor tells her that directly above her apartment is Stalin's henchman Vyacheslav Molotov's old apartment -- and all of his belongings are still there. She realizes as she is going through his library that he owned the books of some of the writers he had executed or sent to the Gulag. Through his books, she tells the cultural history of 20th century Russia in a completely unique way. You can read an excerpt yourself at the NPR website.
Robert Cottrell, the co-founder of The Browser and former foreign correspondent for The Economist, has a charming addition to the Five Books series at the Browser. He picked five novels about journalism, and starts off with, er, The Economist Style Guide. He explains:
The job of a style guide is to set down an idealised version of the world as an editor would like it to be. One in which the written word is governed to the last degree by rules, but rules which are too complicated and idiosyncratic for any writer to learn and follow perfectly, thereby preserving a role for editors to find fault and correct. For example, The Economist Style Guide’s entry on hyphens includes this instruction:
‘Use hyphens for…most words that begin with "anti", "non" and "neo". Thus: anti-aircraft, anti-fascist, anti-submarine (but antibiotic, anticlimax, antidote, antiseptic, antitrust); non-combatant, non-existent, non-payment, non-violent (but nonaligned, nonconformist, nonplussed, nonstop); neo-conservative, neo-liberal (but neoclassicism, neolithic, neologism).’
January 19, 2011
Ian McEwan explains why he will accept the Jerusalem Prize:
McEwan told the Guardian: "I think one should always make a distinction between a civil society and its government. It is the Jerusalem book fair, not the Israeli foreign ministry, which is making the award. I would urge people to make the distinction – it is about literature.
"I am not a supporter of the Israeli settler movement, nor of Hamas. I would align myself in the middle of a great many of my Israeli friends who despair that there will ever be peace while the settlements continue. I support the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon's call for a freeze on the settlements. But I also have no time for Hamas lobbing missiles into Israel either."
This is why I prefer prizes like the Pulitzer or the Booker -- they're based in countries that have never, ever done anything wrong; and have always exhibited a fair, compassionate, enlightened attitude toward Arabs in the Middle East. (At least that's my impression. In Texas universities, you can get your history credit by taking a class called "Denying The Recent Past." I got an A!)
I have been reading Simon Schama today, and while trying to decide which of his books to pick up next I watched this wonderful lecture he gave at Google (looking awfully dapper for a talk at a tech company -- the different hits you when they pan into the audience) for his book Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution and why learning only feel good history is not useful. That might be the winner.
Libraries in the province of Venice have been ordered to remove any books by any author who signed a 2004 petition asking for Cesare Battisti's release from a French jail, and abstain from organizing events featuring such writers. Wu Ming observe that the Battisti case is just an instrumental pretext, asking us to consider that, on a more informal level, Northern League administrators have also been banning Roberto Saviano's books from municipal libraries since he exposed ties between the Northern League and organised crime. Furthermore, “any librarian who will not accept this diktat 'will be held responsible' of his behavior. Is this a hint about fund freezing, withdrawal of patronage, mobbing, hostile media campaigning?”
The Italian Wu Ming collective have issued a response.
You can get a little preview of the work Daisy Rockwell is doing for her February Bookslut column, White Girl with a Hindi PhD. She's got an interview up with the publisher and translator of Blaft books, which publishes Tamil pulp in translation. Their conversation wanders from advice to translators (get an editor), whether pulp fiction is "infra dig," and the different needs of Indian and American audiences.
In Volume I we had bite-size pieces, they were easier to digest. Volume II is more hardcore, it starts off with that 160-page Indra Soundar Rajan novel where the poisonous snakes and the cattle stampedes and ancient conspiracies and black magic and severed tongues and cursed skulls and fratricidal maharajas and evil lecherous colonialists and spirit possessions and leopard attacks just keep piling up… it’s more like eating a big leg of mutton. Too much for dainty ‘Anglo’ readers, perhaps.
January 18, 2011
Who wrote O, the upcoming Obama-themed novel from Simon & Schuster? That's the question nobody is asking, because most of us are old enough to remember Primary Colors! And we didn't especially care then, either! Anyway, if you didn't write it, please don't...tell anyone that you...didn't write it? I'm not entirely sure what the hell is going on here, but whatever. This is obviously just a ploy to get journalists and bloggers to mention this book, and I'm not going to play along with...oh. Oh, fuck.
I've never written a book, so I can't say for sure, but I've heard that authors hate book signings more than anything except running out of whiskey. AL Kennedy explains why:
How clearly I recall that evening when I was on the bill with Martin Amis and Richard Ford. Dear God. Average Ford and Amis queue-dweller: "We've been waiting for three months outside the building – so glad we got in. This is little Martina – she was conceived in the queue. And Richard – he's two now ... We love you. Can we touch your hair? Sorry for talking for so long – we know you still have 3,000 other people to deal with ..." First person in ALK queue: "Hi. We met when we were both on holiday in Jordan. Um ... I thought I'd turn up. So ... You write books, then?" Second person in ALK queue: "I work here. You might as well sign this ... keep you busy."
Since we're all talking about Huck Finn anyway, maybe we should talk about that totally weird ending? That weird wheee, Jim is free, has been for a while now thing. Over at Morning Book, there's an interesting take on the ending, explaining that sometimes it's not the author who has control of the novel.
There is no way to read Huck Finn without coming to despise Tom Sawyer—-he is a total dick to Jim and Huck in the end. I suppose what gets me the most about this is that Tom is the literary embodiment of Twain’s own childhood—-hell, he’s THE symbol of American boyhood in this country’s canon. Twain, in the course of writing Huck and Jim, fell so in love with them that he sacrificed his own boyhood—-and fame, Tom Sawyer is the character who made him capital-F Famous—-to save them. Symbolically, this holds for America as a whole: we lost our naivete (not innocence, we obviously lost that the second we bought and sold slaves) and joy during Reconstruction; with Plessy v. Ferguson and poll taxes and lynchings, we exposed our naivete and joy for what they really were: assholery and entitlement.
The cover for NYRB's reprint of the French noir novel Fatale by J. P. Manchette is stunning. The Caustic Cover Critic digs up more information about the photograph used on the cover and has other images from that photographer's same series.
January 17, 2011
The widow of Neal Cassady is 87, lives in Bracknell, England, and is a total badass.
For the last 10 years of his life, Ginsberg stopped speaking to Carolyn. Does she know why? "Bill Burroughs decided I was a WASP bitch." Nevertheless, Carolyn has become something of a gatekeeper to Beat history, writing a warts-and-all memoir, Off the Road, in 1990, answering fans' emails, and consulting for the likes of Salles. Her life has been, and continues to be, shaped by these long-dead male icons. Ironically, she is mystified by the fascination. "Kids in school are still eating it up. I don't understand it. I don't see any value in that at all, culturally." Not even in reading Kerouac? "If I hadn't known him, I never would have read any of his books."
The remedy is to refuse to teach this novel in high school and to wait until college — or even graduate school — where it can be put in proper context. . . .
There are other books more appropriate for an introduction to serious reading. (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” with its social-class caricatures and racially naïve narrator, is not one of them.) Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which vibrantly speaks to every teenager’s predicament when achievement in life is at odds with the demoralized condition of his peer group, is a welcoming book for boys.
She's right about the Alexie book, at least. This pains me, because I basically think Lorrie Moore is God, but the suggestion that Huck Finn can't be properly understood in context by teenagers in high school is, I think, beyond absurd. Of course there are going to be kids who don't get it, or who don't like it; that's the case for any book. But parents, pay attention -- literature does not exist solely for your child.
As for To Kill a Mockingbird -- and again, this hurts -- the book has served as the introduction to serious literature for countless serious readers; it's laughable to suggest otherwise. (And yes, the narrator is "racially naïve." She's a six-year-old girl in Great Depression-era Alabama.) It might do us all some good if we just remember that (a) high school literature teachers are professionals who generally know what they're talking about, and (b) kids aren't as dumb as you might think. Of course they get context; of course they get history. Give them Huck Finn, give them Mockingbird, and treat them like the young adults they are. That's how you get kids to like reading, not by telling them they're too young and naïve to appreciate the literature that is their cultural birthright.
Anagrama has published another posthumous work by Roberto Bolaño, titled Los sinsabores del verdadero policía (roughly, The Tribulations of Real Police). This is to be the fourth work published after the Chilean writer´s death in 2003 (2666, then El Tercer Reich, a short novel that prominently features war-gaming, and La Universidad Desconocida, a massive tome of extremely personal poetry).
An EFE article about the release includes a letter from 1995 in which Bolaño speaks of the book as "MY NOVEL," which he says he had been working on for years. He describes it as "eight hundred thousand pages, a demented puzzle that no one can understand." Anagrama probably won´t used Bolaño´s description in their blurb; "demented puzzle" not really being synonymous with "airplane read."
The Anagram version, just over 300 pages (I guess he was kidding about the 800,000 pages), is said to feature some of Bolaño's later motifs like the U.S.-Mexican border, an exiled Chilean, and poetry, as well as new topics like Giacomo Leopardi, AIDS, the basketball equivalent to a Barca-Real Madrid game, and a forger of Larry Rivers paintings.
The publication of this book seems to be a part Bolaño´s wish to support his family via his writing after his death. (The executor of his estate is his widow Carolina López). Another incomplete novel, Diorama, will probably be released in the future.
A shameless Bolaño fan, I will buy this book, even if it´s hundreds of pages of indelibly bizarre monologues. I mean, I bought all of the other books. (This, however, does not mean I will read it.)
On the same note, Bolaño´s anthology of essays, Between Parentheses, will be released by New Directions this year. Bolaño´s essays –- acerbic and wretchedly erudite -– are often more interesting than his fiction, although I had to stop re-reading them because they were making me more of an asshole.
I took Henry James's The Tragic Muse down with me to Bavaria. It seemed like a good book to read around old Roman ruins. In the book there is a great rant of self-pity by the main character who suddenly realizes he really wants to be a painter, and that means leaving his job as a politician and creating a rift with his family, giving up a fortune, and being left by the woman he loves. He just wants to want to be a politician, goddamnit. I know a little something about self-pity, and also about doing things that make your family think you are a wackadoodle. From The Tragic Muse:
"I don't know what I am, heaven help me!" Nick broke out, tossing his hat down on his little tin table with vehemence. "I am a freak of nature and a sport of the mocking gods! Why should they go out of their way to worry me? Why should they do anything so inconsequent, so improbable, so preposterous? It's the vulgarest practical joke. There has never been anything of the sort among us; we are all Philistines to the core, with about as much aesthetic sense as that hat. It's excellent soil -- I don't complain of it -- but not a soil to grow that flower. From where the devil, then, has the seed been dropped? I look back from generation to generation; I scour our annals without finding the least little sketching grandmother, any sign of a building, or versifying, or collecting, or even tulip-raising ancestor. They were all as blind as bats and none the less happy for that. I'm a wanton variation, an unaccountable monster. My dear father, rest his soul, went through life without a suspicion there is anything in it that can't be boiled into blue-books; and he became, in that conviction, a very distinguished person. He brought me up in the same simplicity and in the hope of the same eminence. It would have been better if I had remained so... Little by little, it has been working within me; vaguely, covertly, insensibly at first, but during the last year or two with violence, pertinacity, cruelty. I have taken every antidote in life, but it's no use -- I'm stricken. It tears me to pieces, as I may say."
January 14, 2011
I know this is a few weeks old, but since the Republican National Committee is in the headlines again, I feel obligated to post it. At the 0:50 mark on this video, RNC chairman Michael Steele answers the question "What's your favorite book?"
STEELE: War and Peace. "It was the best of times and the worst of times."
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I will never not find this hilarious. (The best part is Tucker Carlson's reaction to Steele's answer; he's clearly trying not to laugh.)
Charlie Rose interviews the amazing Patti Smith, author of the National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids, which might well be the best autobiography ever written by an American musician. I know I keep nagging you about this, but seriously: read this book.
Michael Chabon reacts to President Obama's speech at the Tucson memorial service.
Was it all the weird, inappropriate clapping and cheering? Or the realization that I am so out of touch with the national vibe that I didn't know that whistling and whooping and standing ovations are, when someone evokes the memory of murdered innocent people, totally cool? . . . And then I was ashamed of my curmudgeonliness. Those people, after all, many of them college students, were in a sports arena; architecture gives shape to behavior and thought. Maybe if the service had been held in a church, things would have played differently.
There are only two real teams in the NBA: the San Antonio Spurs and -- to a lesser, more easily injured extent -- the Portland Trail Blazers. But if you insist on pledging your allegiance to another squad, you poor bastard, check out Ian Crouch on the literary Knicks.
One of the few things left that makes me feel all warm and happy and optimistic is when a new, high-quality literary website makes its debut. It's like every time this happens, a video game enthusiast who says that nobody reads anymore gets kicked in the throat! Good times.
So take my advice and bookmark (or add to your RSS thing or whatever the fuck) Full Stop, a really wonderful new site edited by Alex Shephard, Jesse Montgomery, and Max Rivlin-Nadler. They're already featuring interviews with authors like Gary Shteyngart and (a personal favorite of mine) Dan Chaon, and they've got an extremely intelligent reviews section. It's worth checking out, even if, like me, you end up staying up until 3 a.m. on a weeknight just to finish reading everything in it. You owe me coffee, Full Stop. So...much...coffee...
January 13, 2011
Billy Mills names Charles Reznikoff's Sea and Spar Between is a digital plaything that combines the words of Melville & Dickinson ("a poetry generator which defines a space of language populated by a number of stanzas comparable to the number of fish in the sea"), with the digital/linguistic wizardy of Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland.
Robert Pinsky explains his role as Poet Laureate: “I hope I wasn’t even an advocate for poetry," he says. "I hope I was like that ape that has a good tasting piece of fruit in its hand and say to another ape, ‘Mmm. Tastes good.’”
The National Book Foundation is going to be hosting an epic retrospective of American poetry: Each day for ten weeks, beginning on February 14, 2011, the Foundation will publish a brief, original blog essay on a National Book Award Winner, beginning with William Carlos Williams, Winner of the first National Book Award for Poetry in 1950.
A profile of John Cooper Clarke, the so-called "punk laureate" who opened for the Sex Pistols & Joy Division: “She [A Daily Telegraph reporter] described me as a charmer. I did get her a sandwich and a pint, national newspaper you know, you’ve got to pull out all the stops. She described me as the ‘gentleman punk’. That I like”.
Finally, today Tom Waits announced the sale of a limited-edition chapbook of "Seeds on Hard Ground," with proceeds to benefit homeless services. You can see a Flickr set of the chapbook at Waits's site.
Publishers! This is urgent! If you haven't already updated Bookslut's address, please do so. Note that our new address is:
6607 SE Carlton St.
Portland OR 97206
We still have a lot of books being shipped to our old office (the one on SE 54th Ave.), and while some are forwarded to us, most are being returned to sender. Or just left in front of my old apartment, where drunk guys coming out of the strip club next door find them and...do God knows what to them.
So! If you are a publisher, if you work for a publisher, if you drunkenly hooked up with someone who works for a publisher, if you're an author, please make sure you have our correct address on file, for all your publishing house's imprints. Otherwise we cannot review your books! Sad!
(As an added bonus, if you do this, I'll seriously consider getting your publishing company's logo tattooed on my ass. As long as it's something classy, like the Knopf borzoi, and not something embarrassing, like the Farrar, Straus and Giroux image of two drunken nutrias wearing sunglasses and having sex during Spring Break at South Padre, which I still maintain was a poor choice but whatever.)
OK, sorry for the inside baseball. Thanks in advance, publishing friends!
The new issue of the always excellent Common Review is now online, featuring essays on Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Bookslut favorite Dubravka Ugrešić. (If you're in Chicago, consider checking out The Common Review's launch party for the new issue, this Friday, Jan. 14, from 7 to 10 pm at the Stop Smiling storefront, 1371 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
A Boston professor finds a lost García Lorca manuscript in the music section of the Library of Congress.
In a tremendously moving post at HTML Giant, Kyle Minor reflects on reading as a comfort in times of profound loss.
Get a literary tattoo and get free books. We have a similar deal! If you get a Bookslut tattoo within three inches of a body part that is illegal to display in public, you can read this blog free. For life. That's right! You'll never have to pay to...oh, wait. OK. Now I see why Jessa advised me against this. Sorry. Move along.
Tyler Stoddard Smith recalls being perhaps the only 9-year-old in world history to have beaten Allen Ginsberg at Frogger.
There were brief introductions between Ginsberg, my mother, and me. He shook my hand. I liked to squeeze as hard as I could to show I was strong when I handshook. Ginsberg played along until he pretended I’d hurt him.
“Oooh, macho. A vise-like grip.” The first thing I remember about Ginsberg is that he didn’t talk like people I knew, like people from Texas.
“Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,” he said, referring to my name, “Have you heard that one, little one, little man?”
“Yes,” I said. “My dentist says it to me every time I’m there. He has hairy arms and smells like smoke.”
“Bad medicine,” said Ginsberg. I noticed there was food in his beard.
January 12, 2011
Jessa Crispin on political alienation:
It seemed to start slowly, the feeling of alienation. First it was simply exasperation and amusement at the unhinged rantings of Glenn Beck. Then Sarah Palin’s polarizing campaign. But it slowly turned into something more sinister, with violent rhetoric and calls to revolution — on both the left and the right — being a common occurrence. After the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords this weekend, I began to feel like I didn’t recognize my country anymore.
"Hey, did you guys read that thing in The New Yorker last month about how golf is an analogy for marriage?"
"I did. I did read that. Did you read the thing in McSweeney's? It was comparing CD tracks and album tracks...did you read that?"
This clip from the new show Portlandia is pretty much how editorial meetings between me and Jessa go down. (Seriously, watch this show. It complies with my Second Law of Culture: Nothing featuring a member of Sleater-Kinney can possibly be bad.)
Over at NPR, I get all philosophical. While still mentioning masturbation and urination, and making a bitchy comment about Ralph Waldo Emerson. What's that? Why, yes. I am proud of myself.
Above all, Wharton’s irony and self-consciousness—the psychic backflips her characters perform in order to gauge their own authenticity and status in the tribe—feel deeply familiar in our age of hipster anxiety and Stuff White People Like: “His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the things that young men in the same situation were expected to say, and that she was making the answers that instinct and tradition taught her to make—even to the point of calling him original.”
The Oregon Department of Education is letting students use spell check on their standardized writing tests. Next up, I guess, is letting the rich kids hire ghostwriters.
January 11, 2011
Novelist Larry McMurtry, who lives in Tucson, on the massacre:
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, elected eight times, spoke with considerable dignity, mentioning that in his view, there had been excessive language used in Arizona, both on radio and television. It may be free speech, he said, but it has consequences. Sheriff Dupnik went on to say that he feared Arizona had become “… a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” For this, he was roundly criticized, although I don’t see that he was off the mark. Ask the Indians.
What was on the New York Times bestseller list the week you were born? If you're prepared to come to terms with how old you really are, find out here! As for me, the fiction bestseller was apparently Tolkien's The Silmarillion (which was published posthumously in 1977, I'm not that old), with James Herriot's All Things Wise and Wonderful at the No. 1 nonfiction spot. Herriot and Tolkien. This explains the two great loves of my life: veterinary science and not getting laid.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn, a culture/arts blog that has quickly become indispensable, debuts a new feature called "Band Booking," in which they ask their favorite musicians about books and reading. First up is Owen Pallett, a brilliant Canadian musician who used to record under the name Final Fantasy, and who loves his David Mitchell and Ted Chiang. (Here's Owen singing about babies, kind of: "Babies want to have publicists / Because better babies make best-of lists." Oh man I love this guy.)
Shalom Auslander's editor is very busy.
At last my editor settles down in his office, puts his feet up on his desk, and doesn’t read my manuscript. What did Arianna Huffington have to say today? Oh boy, I bet it was confrontational and opinionated! Perhaps Arianna has a manuscript my editor could read before mine? Something about blogging or populism or how to fix the whatever it is she thinks is broken? ... What’s up with manga? What does Bookslut think? What does the Times publishing blog say? Phew. What a busy, busy day.
The Caldecott, Newbery and Printz awards have been annouced. According to the LA Times blog, the ceremony lasted an hour and began at 7.45am. Yes, am. Damn. Which means that children's authors presumably get up around twelve hours earlier than your average writer.
The Newbery medal was awarded to Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. The Caldecott medal for illustration went to Erin E. Stead for her work on A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip C. Stead. The Printz Award for young adult literature went to Paolo Bacigalupi for Ship Breaker.
January 10, 2011
Ian Crouch on the language and literature of Jared Loughner, the Arizona man arrested in connection with the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Judge John Roll, and 18 others.
Much of the response to this weekend’s horrific crime has focussed on the vitriol that dominates contemporary political discourse. The argument is that language, when spiked to a frenzy by violent metaphors and unhinged hyperbole, can inspire violence in a person already destabilized by mental illness. Perhaps. But in this odd and unsettling case, grammar itself may have been a motive.
"May I say this. Mark this: I do not feel saved but only born again into a parallel world where all my animals, all the girlfriends and powerful pals, the handsome infants, all of us children of a quiet green meadow with the ocean over there just beyond the trees, where we live when misery that passes understanding knocks down our last doors to come and claw us. It will always be there when no pills, no help, no release are left, only the hard wall of stupid random torture and malicious indifference. Then Christ comes if you give this kind stranger a chance. Simplicity. Ecstasy, all speech and acts converted to a fundament of rest."
-Barry Hannah, "Sick Soldier at Your Door" in Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories
Grammar is the set of rules followed by speakers of a language, innit? By everyone except Guardian writers, that is, so I have pulled together all the dreary grammatical stuff on commas, colons and split infinitives to the front in the hope – rather than expectation – that just one member of staff bothers to have a look before putting their complimentary copy on eBay. -- The Guardian Style guide, digested at the Guardian.
(Incoherent rant on people who submit pieces with quotation marks on the inside of punctuation deleted, to save my own dignity. Link via.)
Just a quick housekeeping note: starting tomorrow I'll be off to Bavaria, and I'll be away from the blog and Twitter. I leave you in Michael Schaub's very capable hands, and I'll return on Monday.
"What I don't want is to be called an octogenarian. I saw 'Octogenarian Jane Gardam' and I thought 'Blow me!' I mean, I am, but that's not the point."
Wonderful profile of the tireless Jane Gardam, whose sequel to Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat, was published not too long ago. And for those looking for a Gardam revival, her 1978 novel God on the Rocks was recently brought back into print by the good folks at Europa.
Talking with a friend the other day about a glut of memoirs about parents I had just received in the mail, we started joking about offspring. "Your children always end up doing the exact opposite of what you want them to do, isn't that how it works?" I asked. "Which means if I have a kid she'll write a memoir. About how crazy her mother is. At the age of 20." (Can you force your children to sign confidentiality agreements? Like, at birth? While they're doing that thing with the footprints, just slide a contract on there, let them sign it with their inky foot.)
It was with joy/frustration/hilarity that I read, then, Judith Warner's piece in the New York Times about the rise of the yoga memoir. And how it ties into the death of feminist political action, because all anyone wants to do anymore is "find themselves." These days that means in the yoga studio, in the bedroom, in their home, rather than in their community, their job, their consciousness raising group. I read a list yesterday of the whatever 11 resolutions all women need to make for 2011, and of course it was nurture your soul, find time for yourself, not let's go out and rally for real political change, or let's protest our banks' behavior by taking our money out, or let's establish a community garden so that we make sure our children, regardless of financial situation, are getting nutritious, fresh food. No, let's light a scented candle and talk to our inner child.
I am frustrated after this weekend. Beyond words.
January 7, 2011
If you're a grammar nerd or a feminist -- and if you're reading this blog, you're probably both -- you need to read Maria Bustillos's fascinating essay on the search for a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
Even setting aside the very practical issues of using gendered pronouns for whom they are not appropriate, a situation which certainly needs fixing, even men and women aren't served well in our pronoun setup. And still, among the non-academic writers of my acquaintance, "he" wins the day, hands down, man or woman, regardless of political convictions. Within that generation of American writers educated in the late 20th century, academic writers lean to "she" and journalists, broadly speaking, to "he."
I'm going to go on the record here as favoring "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. It's more accurate than "he" or "she"; less clunky than "he or she"; less confusing than alternating "he" and "she" in the same piece. And from a descriptivist viewpoint, most people seem to naturally do this anyway.
But if we have to come up with a new gender-neutral singular pronoun, I think we should make it a sound effect. Like "Beep! Beep!" or "Ah-hoooooga! Ah-hooooooga!" Just because that would be fun.
Jennifer Howard, a longtime Bookslut friend who is kind enough to guest-blog for us now and then, reports on the academic world's embrace of the late David Foster Wallace.
I think humor in poetry can be alienating for some people. I’ve met people who just don’t know how to talk about poets like Russell Edson or James Tate without calling them clowns or comedians. It’s just too difficult and strange a terrain for them to navigate. Meanwhile they might just love a kind of poetry that sounds completely dead to me, that strives for profundities that are as predictable as wheat toast, and that makes me think of Hallmark cards or the cheesiness of wedding vows.
Andrew James Weatherhead interviews Craig in the new issue of Bookslut.
Actor James Franco is planning to direct film adaptations of As I Lay Dying and Blood Meridian. Whatever. James Franco might be incredibly good looking, and rich and successful, and a very talented actor, but at least I...uh...at least I am going to get drunk right now and re-evaluate my life decisions.
Fucking James Franco.
This book will not go quietly into the backlist: Alone in Berlin, better known as Every Man Dies Alone (by which I mean, the original German/American title is the better one), came out nearly two years ago in English and yet it still gets marvelous coverage. Like, this new, breathless bit in the Guardian by Helen Dunmore.
The extraordinary texture of Alone in Berlin comes from the way in which everything is observed and represented as if "from below", from within this dynamic of humiliation and terror, and yet the representation is sharp, exact, ironic, devastating.
It is quite the book. As is Wolf Among Wolves, also out by Melville House, this time for the first time in a complete translation, and overshadowed greatly by Every Man Dies Alone.
The young Upper East Side client of Jenny Fischbach, a design partner at Cullman & Kravis Inc., the tony Manhattan decorating firm, was similarly inclined. She wanted literary classics mixed with art books for a silver-inflected art library. So Mr. Wine chose works by Kate Chopin, Jane Austen and Robert Browning and wrapped them in matte silver paper, to match the silver hardware in the room.
January 6, 2011
I'm currently reading, and very much enjoying, Andrew Foster Altschul's dark, dark novel about reality TV, Deus Ex Machina (more later on this book, which comes out next month, but trust me, it's worth a preorder). The members of The Rumpus Book Club also seem to like it -- check out this transcript of a discussion the members had with Altschul.
Good TV is often true. Even bad TV. If by “true” we mean it says something authentic about human existence. Even soap operas are true once in a while. But the only truth that “Reality TV” admits or cares about is the “truth” that we are all, deep-down, irredeemably cruel and selfish, that our love of power, control, and money, at the end of the day, will usually overcome our love for other human beings.
Note to any network executives who read this blog: I still haven't sold the rights to America's Drunkest Litblogger yet. I'll talk business as long as I get points off the back end, and someone explains to me what "points off the back end" means.
Perhaps the most common question that Jessa and I get is "How can I get my favorite poem on a bus in Miami, Florida?" Well, now you know. Stop calling us.
South Florida poetry, eh? I might submit one of my own:
This Is Just To Say
I have snorted
that was sitting on
your LeBron James jersey
you were probably
saving for that hooker
you met at the Crocodile Pit Club
holy shit that cockroach
has a gun
and is smoking a cigar
Europa Editions is one of those intelligent, essential publishing houses that doesn't put out anything that's less than amazing. (See also: Melville House, NYRB Classics, Tin House, Graywolf, Two Dollar Radio; I could go on.) Over at Assembly, Europa's publicist, Julia Haav, recommends five Latin American novels about Germans, thus neatly tying together Bookslut's two offices -- Jessa lives in Germany, and I, uh, took Spanish in high school. And live in the whitest big city in America. OK, fuck it. The point is, when even your publicist is writing intelligent literary commentary, you probably have yourself one hell of a press. Glückwünsche and felicitaciones, Europa!
It is unfortunate that young readers who are fat must struggle to find affirming literature. Authors and publishers need to create literature with positive, authentic, and interesting characters and stories for this significant audience. It is possible to write compelling and unsentimental stories for teens without casually insulting fat people, without relegating fat characters to the side, and without portraying fat teens as irretrievably damaged. To rely on the easy fat joke is lazy and oppressive writing.
January 5, 2011
How writer A. N. Devers ended up with one of Edward Gorey's fur coats.
One quarrel with a politician resulted in a strategy that seemed sure to avoid misfiring: both sides agreed to draw lots, the loser pledging to shoot himself. Dumas lost and withdrew to another room, closing the door behind him. Long moments followed on both sides. Hearing a shot at last, the crowd rushed in to find Dumas unhurt and holding a smoking gun: "Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened. I missed."
For your cheery cheeriness: a look at the battle over the DSM-V, which tells us we are all fucked, we are all mentally ill every time we are not joyous and happy, and here is a list of pills that you might want to take for that. It is in-depth, it is depressing (have a Zoloft before you read it), and it's important.
Also, the philosopher Renata Salecl, whose book On Anxiety is really very good, recommends five books about misery. Because "this ideology of happiness has actually produced more unhappiness than needed." One of the books is Susie Orbach's tremendous Bodies, so hoorah for that.
Let us ring in the first major book award of the new year, the Costas (which was once the Whitbread back in the day, fellow old folks), named for one of the UK's inexplicably popular ropy coffee chain stores. They do sell those delicious little wafer biscuits with the hazelnut cream that I totally buy every time even though I end up sporting a beard of wafer crumbs for the rest of the day afterwards.
So, to the books:
Best Novel: Maggie O'Farrell - The Hand That First Held Mine
First Novel: Kishwar Desai - Witness the Night
Poetry: Jo Shapcott - Of Mutability (This is gonna win every poesy prize going this year, mark my words)
Childrens: Jason Wallace - Out of Shadows
The best/oddest thing about the Costa is that these winners make up a shortlist for the one book to rule them all, which gets announced in a couple of weeks. Smart money has to be on Hare With the Amber Eyes, and the Guardian agrees with me.
Over at PBS Need to Know, I talk to Ann Kjellberg, the editor of the new, awesome literary journal Little Star.
I think it is very interesting and wonderful that we are in the midst of this renaissance of the small magazine: to me it reflects the opportunities offered by technology, but also the fact that this very venerable form, whose visual and intellectual traditions many of the small journals recall, is so enduring. It’s an indication to me of the ways in which serious reading will persist in the electronic future. I guess what I bring to this is a personal history rooted in the editorial past and a hunger to recast it for the editorial future.
January 4, 2011
The Millions has a great list of books to look forward to in 2011, including new works by the always awesome Emma Straub, Jim Shepard, Alexander Chee, Francine Prose, Blake Butler, and, of course, David Foster Wallace.
I just found out that Janet Potter, an awesome writer and a Bookslut MVP, writes a blog about presidential biographies. So I'm not the only American history nerd around here! Woo-hoo! If you're like us, check out Salon's list of the top 12 American Civil War books. This will become much more relevant to you when I convince my fellow Portlanders to break away from the United States and form our own country. I'm still working on a name. "Weedsconsin"? "Alabonga"? Whatever. We'll cross that bridge over the Willamette when we come to it.
"Women are not actually a minority group, nor is there a shortage, in the world, of female writers." Anne Hayes is boycotting the New Yorker for its lack of women writers.
The open letter she wrote to them is actually pretty great. "You may either extend our subscription by one month, or you can replace this issue with a back issue containing a more equitable ratio of male to female voices. I plan to return every issue that contains fewer than five women writers."
I just realized you could make a pretty good case for Reverse Sexism here at Bookslut. What can I say? We just get more contributions from women, and their contributions are stronger. We are just giving the people what they want. If men would just get it together and learn to write pieces of substance and value, we would consider adding men to our roster.
OK, so I'm checking for a pulse. I'm holding a little mirror under its nose. And it's dead, y'all! 2010 is really dead! Let's celebrate the only way we know how -- with bottom-shelf vodka and a new issue of Bookslut!
Our first issue of 2011 features interviews with Michael Earl Craig, Kendra Grant Malone, Kim Gek Lin Short, and Robert Lopez. We also have some beautiful essays by longtime Bookslut rock stars Elizabeth Bachner, Jesse Tangen-Mills, Olivia Cronk, and Pauls Toutonghi. Our columnists tackle everything from Westerns to C-list comedians. And our reviewers give you their take on the latest from Ian Frazier, Alissa Nutting, Jim Shepard, Jonathan Lethem, Kate Zambreno, Vanessa Davis, Julie Doxsee, and more.
From all of us at Bookslut, Happy New Year, and thanks for reading! We're happy you survived 2010. And now let us never speak of that year again.
I like it when something makes me change my mind about whether or not to read a book. I had put Ingrid Winterbach's To Hell with Cronje into the discard pile, due to me not thinking I could deal with a novel about the Boer war at the moment. Then I read a Cronje story in volume 2 of Little Star and immediately went to make sure I hadn't already passed it along to someone. I wanted to read it immediately.
My spiritual need is urgent. It takes a great deal of energy to sustain this high level of psychic need.
Over at the Little Star website, they don't have this story, "Happenstance," but they are running an excerpt from Cronje.
January 1, 2011
Happy New Year! Bookslut is looking for a few new writers. We're mostly looking for reviewers, with a particular interest in translated fiction, small press stuff; or, an undying love for nonfiction of any particular area. And if you've got a burning idea for a column, we'd love to hear it. Send a writing sample and a letter outlining your interests and tastes -- and a list of the last five books you read -- to email@example.com.