May 31, 2011
The Nation has a piece on the equally genius and reviled journalists Janet Malcolm and Renata Adler. And, as an aside, there's a wonderful little examination of the kind of comments such women writers face on the Internet:
Commenters are men and women in real life, presumably, but on the Internet they are disembodied pixels of pure judgment that trade little more than an e-mail address for the privilege of hearing themselves speak in the virtual pages of publications otherwise inaccessible to the voice of the layman, in this case, the venerable Gray Lady. Many do so anonymously or with a user name, believing that though their words may be read, they are in no danger of facing the consequences of their free speech, least of all the very real consequence that working writers must face when they put fingers to keyboard: a libel suit.
Katy Derbyshire on the difference between German and American critics, using the first person in book criticism, and the retiring nature of translators. (And, narcissism alert, she says nice things about me in there.)
Critics, not unlike translators, don’t tend to put themselves in the foreground. Oh, no doubt they’re as vain and self-obsessed as the rest of us, but a traditional book review rarely reveals much about the reviewer. At least in concrete terms; we may of course notice that the critic is patronising or boastful or fond of flowery metaphors. It must get rather tiresome after a while, writing away and never getting to say anything about yourself.
Gary Shteyngart has become the first American to win the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, given to a work that "has captured the comic spirit of PG Wodehouse". America, fuck yeah! His novel Super Sad True Love Story wins him a jeroboam of champagne (that's a bigass bottle of champagne) and some Wodehouse books, and as is traditional, a pig will be named after his book.
Literary scuttlebutt corner: I heard from a reliable source that it's always the same pig.
Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo and his translator Edith Grossman have won the Independent Foriegn Fiction Prize for the political thriller Red April. Prize judge Boyd Tonkin profiles Roncagliolo and explains why the book impressed the award panel:
To the reader of modern English classics, Red April's chilling, colourful portrayal of the frail forces of reason and order beset by revolt, repression and superstition may recall forays into the indigenous life of Latin America by Malcolm Lowry and Graham Greene. To those who know the continent's more recent home-grown fiction, Death in the Andes by Peru's Nobel laureate in literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, will inevitably spring to mind. Red April, it could be argued, digs deeper and strikes harder than works by any of those august excursionists.
Literature's most nebulous award, the Ondaatje prize, has been given to Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes. The prize is £10,000 for a book which "best evokes 'the spirit of a place'", aka money for jam, but at least Sarah Waters made an attempt to link 'let's give a bunch of dosh to a lovely book we all like' to the trifling point of the excercise, saying that de Waal's book was "a stunning piece of writing, conjuring up one memorable location after another with economy and grace".
John Banville, possessor of the driest sense of humour this side of the Gobi desert, has won the Franz Kafka Prize for 2011. Currently promoting his latest Benjamin Black crime thriller A Death in Summer, he said of the award: "Speaking as Benjamin Black, all I can say is that John Banville and Franz Kafka deserve each other".
May 27, 2011
‘My personal life,’ Ayn Rand says, ‘is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: “And I mean it.”’
Oh yes, you do actually want to read thousands of Jenny Turner's words about Ayn Rand, from the London Review of Books archive.
May 26, 2011
How does someone even write a column titled "What's Up With the Jews?" without first suffering a psychotic break? Has anyone checked in on Stanley Fish lately, to see if he's wearing an aluminum foil hat?
Wendy Macleod would like to hire a poet to write about her feelings.
One time, I was sitting in the hot tub and it was April and something just reminded me of Mexico. And it wasn’t even like I’d had Taco Bell for lunch. Was it the sunshine? Was it the smell of chlorine? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure a poet would. Another time I found my college yearbook in the garage when I was looking for my shin guards and I looked myself up. And there I was, only younger. And I was like, OK I didn’t feel young then, but I was, and I don’t feel old now, but I guess I am, comparatively. And isn’t that a paradox? And couldn’t a paradox be a poem?
Katie Geha has a fascinating look at Dial-a-Poem, which was exactly what it sounds like, and was around in New York in the late '60s and early '70s.
The program changed regularly; one could make a phone call each day and encounter a different work by a new artist. Aram Saroyan stated simply: “Not a cricket / Ticks a clock.” Joe Brainard recited a litany of remembrances: “I remember ponytails.” Ted Berrigan reveled in the “[f]eminine, marvelous, and tough.” Diane di Prima read her “Revolutionary Letter #7”: “Meditate, pray, make love, be prepared/ at any time, to die.” Taylor Mead mimicked the sounds of a motorcycle: “Brrrrruuuumm, brruuuuuum, craaaaaash, craaaash!”
May 25, 2011
And speaking of nonfiction reviewing, my latest Smart Set column is up, about Yeats and his deal-with-the-devil girlfriend, magic, people who spell magic with a k, and why it doesn't really matter if the Druids didn't really exist.
I'm rather interested in the idea of reviewing nonfiction. Like, how up to the task should the reviewer be? How knowledgeable, how willing to call someone on their bullshit? (I obsess over this a little bit, actually, since I've been reviewing nonfiction exclusively at my books column for the Smart Set.)
So there's Dwight Garner's review of Chester Brown's Paying for It, his graphic memoir about patronizing prostitutes. In it, he makes some sweeping statements about how he thinks the sex trafficking and abuse and rape are all exaggerated, and he thinks that most johns are simply shy introverts who have trouble getting laid. Garner pretty much lets this slide. He doesn't argue, he re-presents his arguments with very little comment.
At the same time I was reading Garner's review, coincidentally, I was reading a Vanity Fair article about sex trafficking in the States, about abusive pimps, and about how the idea of being a john and paying for sex is becoming more and more "normal." From the story:
One 60-ish man, a former Fortune 500–company administrator, bragged, Sergeant McKee says, that his retirement plan consisted of having sex with as many prostitutes as possible. Most of the johns were startled to learn that the girls were not acting of their own free will—75 to 80 percent of prostitutes don’t. The men believed the ads, and the legend of the Happy Hooker. Each of them also assumed they were the one exception to the rule of the repulsive customer. Says Karen Stauss, the former staff attorney for Polaris Project, a D.C.-based not-for-profit anti-slavery-and-human-trafficking organization, “Johns don’t understand what they’re contributing to. It never occurs to them that the woman who is smiling is being abused. They really don’t know what’s going on—and they don’t care.”
The whole story is pretty gruesome. And I'm not making a statement like, prostitution should remain illegal because of these goings on. I'm really just wondering how much a reviewer should know about these things when they are presented with such a book to review. And if you're reviewing someone's memoir, and it happens to be full of shit, how much you're allowed to yell about that.
Hello, Portlanders! Do you have a question about books? Would you like that question answered by some local book nerds, and possibly win free pizza? Then head on over to Questionland and ask us! By "us," I mean a bunch of nice, smart people, and also me. My friend Alison Hallett, arts editor of The Portland Mercury, explains how it works. Alison has a cat named Queequeg! That is how smart about books she is. I have a pug named Maeby, after a character in a television show. So you should probably pay attention to Alison's answers more than mine.
Novelist Sam Lipsyte (The Ask) is working on a comedy series for HBO. Literary hipsters who love saying things like "Oh, are you referring to a television program? I wouldn't know, because I don't own a television" are now conflicted and their brains are about to explode.
May 24, 2011
I'm still not exactly sure what a Tumblr is, but NYRB Classics has one, and it's great.
At Kirkus Reviews, I strongly encourage you to buy and read, as soon as possible, Ryan Van Meter's beautiful essay collection If You Knew Then What I Know Now. It's always hard to write these reviews, the ones where you're talking about a book you really, really love. I was tempted to just write that this book will make you want to give Ryan Van Meter a hug and a puppy, but apparently Kirkus reviews have to be longer than 16 words. So, you know, lesson learned.
There are more books in the world than hours in which to read them. We are thus deeply influenced by books we haven't read, that we haven't had the time to read.
We periodically have to give thanks for the existence of Rebecca Solnit, for pieces like "Men Explain Things to Me." And now, her piece on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, asking why the storyline has to be so goddamn obvious, so metaphorical.
What makes the sex scandal that broke open last week so resonant is the way the alleged assailant and victim model larger relationships around the world, starting with the IMF’s assault on the poor. That assault is part of the great class war of our era, in which the rich and their proxies in government have endeavored to aggrandize their holdings at the expense of the rest of us. Poor countries in the developing world paid first, but the rest of us are paying now, as those policies and the suffering they impose come home to roost via right-wing economics that savages unions, education systems, the environment, and programs for the poor, disabled, and elderly in the name of privatization, free markets, and tax cuts.
May 23, 2011
This is pretty enlightening, for all you business types: What the British say vs. what the British mean. Apparently, "That is a very brave proposal" translates to "You are insane."
From the LRB archives, Ursula Creagh writes about being sent a copy of her ex-husband's memoir about their failed marriage.
The fact that our marriage was a drab and commonplace failure like countless others was plainly quite unacceptable. No one was going to buy that book. He has done his best to enliven the drama with a series of contrasting images: ‘he’ is a clever young writer, an ambitious literary-critical young man, has a first-class degree, fellowships; ‘she’ appears to take no interest in his work, has never sat an exam in her life. ‘He’ has youthful sentimentality, romantic innocence, moral ambition, appreciates the beauties of nature; ‘she’ is taciturn, hates toast crusts, has fixed black rages and eyes like green stone. Even her own parents are wonderstruck that anyone should want to marry her.
The Guardian is running an excerpt from Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, about a man who faked insanity to avoid jail, only for his doctors to realize he was damaged in a different way, as a psychopath.
May 20, 2011
I love this: Kurt Andersen's list of words he had banned from New York magazine when he was editor, including "celeb," "hubby," and "maven." I'm also in favor of banning "luxe," "toothsome," and any word for "sandwich" that is not "sandwich." (Seriously, people. You realize calling them "sammies" makes you sound like a twee six-year-old, right? Every Yelp reviewer ever, I'm talking to you.)
I have developed this rule of thumb. Whenever someone I follow on my Twitter account mentions the name of something that I have never heard of, it is probably a video game. (My friends, like me, are all dorks.) I'm not trying to sound snobby. I'd probably play video games if I were actually good at them, but I have no hand-eye coordination, and gave up on them around the time I was trying to win "Contra" and "Rampage" and "Gauntlet" in the video arcades. (Do they even have those anymore?)
So I just assumed "L.A. Noire" was a movie. An oddly-spelled movie. But it's not! And over at Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg, a fellow non-gaming book nerd, takes the new video game for a spin. Maybe there's hope for me yet.
Maud Newton turns 40 tomorrow, and also the world is going to end. Maud is one of my best friends, and one of the world's best literary critics, so this hardly seems fair. (I'll make a deal with you, world: Don't end tomorrow, so we can keep reading Maud's brilliant essays, and I promise not to play that R.E.M. song about the end of the world -- you know the one, "Blah blah something Leonard Bernstein Leonid Brezhnev something something cupcakes jellyfish" or whatever -- more than twice today. Everybody wins.)
Serbian is my language. It’s the language I best express myself in. When I came to Canada, about seventeen years ago, a number of writers told me, “You should switch to English!” I actually believed them and tried to write some short stories in English but I realized that it was a mistake since I already had a number of books published in Serbian and had developed something one might call “a style.” And the moment you get your style . . . When I tried to write in English it turned out that I was actually thinking in Serbian. My English was fine, grammatically speaking, but it was not the real language of the story. It was like this artificial language spoken by this artificial being with an artificial intelligence.
May 19, 2011
Ms. Maud Newton has been very convincing in her case for reading Emma Forrest's memoir Your Voice in My Head, what with that fantastic profile she wrote at The Awl. And you can now read the first chapter of the book on Scribd, courtesy of the publisher Other Press. (And they are obviously advertisers of ours -- look right -- but blah blah blah we have editorial integrity or whatever. In this case, it's all about Maud.)
NPR is running my review of Luisa Valenzuela's Dark Desires and the Others here. Reading it was like taking a refreshing step back into New York City's 1970s '80s writing scene -- you could almost feel Kathy Acker living just around the corner. Great stuff.
Luisa Valenzuela is an important, post-boom South American avant-garde writer. Her books — Como en la guerra (1977) and Cambio de armas (1982) among them — take on patriarchy and politics. They challenge her native country Argentina's dirty past, the corruption and murderous policies of its former dictatorship. She wins awards, meets with critical success and is invited all over the world to teach and speak.
So why is she sitting in New York, unable to think about anything other than boys?
Robert McCrum wrote that ghastly defense of Philip Roth Margaret Howie linked to -- "Callil doesn't respond to Roth because she's a feminist, and they don't like the sex" -- and this is why you should follow the young Ms. Howie on Twitter:
Why is it that when Robert McCrum writes about books, he transforms from a pleasantly bumbling vaguely amusing writer to a COMPLETE TWAT?
Can we just stop him from reading? If we all chip in, we could buy him a PlayStation, that might shut the smarmy fucker up.
I've got about $20 in Hungarian and Ukrainian currency I would be happy to donate.
May 18, 2011
The literary prized named for George Orwell (who was neither dude nor bro) aims to reward the books, journalism, and blogging that come closest in his aim ‘to make political writing into an art’. This year, the winners were the late Tom Bingham for his book The Rule of Law, Jenni Russell for her journalism, and ConservativeHome blogger Graeme Archer.
The Man Booker International Prize is a relatively new award, but it's already established itself in the literary calender as a snoozefest. A big name author with unassailable literary credentials gets large check every two years, and it's about as interesting as that Jean Hersholt thing they do at the Oscars.
This morning Philip Roth was named the newest winner of the Man Booker whatsit thingo, and by midday bookstores still hadn't sold out of their old copies of Exit Ghost. Then Carmen Callil (founder of Virago Press) resigned from the judging panel and things got unexpectedly interesting.
"I don't rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear that I wouldn't have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn't admire – all the others were fine," Callil said, going on to describe Roth's appeal as the "Emperor's clothes".
It was soon handbags at twenty paces as Roth fans (who certainly are not all white men of a certain class, I hasten to add as I fasten my Bookslut flak jacket) started reacting. Callil doesn't respond to Roth because she's a feminist, and they don't like the sex. Women don't like Roth because he isn't nice. Most damning of all, according to her ex-fellow judge Rick Gekoski, she's acting like someone out of a Philip Roth novel.
"I don't rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear that I wouldn't have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn't admire – all the others were fine," said Callil ... "Roth goes to the core of [Booker judges Justin Cartwright and Rick Gekoski's] beings. But he certainly doesn't go to the core of mine ... Emperor's clothes: in 20 years' time will anyone read him?"
The thing is, people are still reading Goodbye, Columbus, which Roth wrote over 50 years ago. So, yeah, I think his work will be around in 20 years. It doesn't make any sense to ask if his work will stand the test of time when it already has.
While I do not travel like Paul Theroux, I am very sympathetic to him in this interview with the always charming Rolf Potts, wherein he tells people to stop traveling with luggage.
The minimum is a change of clothes, a book, a toothbrush, notebooks, an extra pen. I don't bring extra shoes. Just the necessities. I travel with a small duffel bag that fits under a seat on the plane, as well as a briefcase. The briefcase is my office. I'm always happier when I don't have a lot of stuff.
At some point on every trip I have the desire to throw my suitcase out of the window of the moving train, because I packed too many books, clothes, layers (because I have a horror of ever being cold). But I will have to admit at some point that I am just not that hardcore. Also, I should work on building up my upper body strength.
I once made the mistake on a trip of packing books aspirationally, rather than reasonably. It did the trick, I guess, as I did finally read books I had for so long been meaning to. Big giant thick texts like The Anatomy of Melancholy. It was a delight, but after a month on a farm with no television, computer, phone and no one to talk to except for the cows, I was a little desperate for narrative. I finally finagled a ride from a farmer's wife to go see one of the Bourne movies, which had just opened. I was so happy to see things exploding and seeing things happening, one after another, I giggled through the whole thing.
Over at the BBC, Melvyn Bragg and others talk about the messy and wonderful Anatomy, and why it still has readers, despite that whole science and psychology thing that has happened since its publication. And it is worth reading, even if you have to sequester yourself on a dairy farm to make yourself read it, just be sure to pack some Daphne du Maurier or John Le Carre as well.
May 17, 2011
Over at Kirkus, I have a review of Jay Neugeboren's new short story collection, You Are My Heart. It's an excellent book, smart and compassionate and, at times, devastatingly sad. And it's further proof that Two Dollar Radio can really do no wrong. (I had this conversation a few nights ago, actually, with a good friend of mine who works at the Multnomah County Library, and who is on a quest to read every book the press has ever published. Her gateway drug was Rudolph Wurlitzer. Oh, man, Two Dollar Radio. If only I could marry a publishing company.)
When I started reading Diana Vreeland's memoir DV, at first I was delighted. It was airy, fantastical and chatty -- and completely insubstantial. It was like eating cake. But after Vreeland breezes through World War II with only the complaint that Chanel closed her house during the war and those Nazis sure were a weird little nuisance, and her insisting, besides holding one of the most influential jobs in the fashion world ever, that her husband was really much smarter and powerful than she was, and after yet another discussion of deciding the proper drapery for one of her homes, all that icing was turning my stomach.
She was editor of Vogue magazine, and judging from their forays into foreign relations in the form of a glowy profile of the first lady of Syria -- right before Syria started mowing down their citizens -- they have held on to that oblivious nature. Over at the Smart Set, for my Used Books feature on backlist titles, I write about DV and the apolitical nature of fashion.
The pin stripe suit is number one on the psychopathic checklist.
Jon Ronson has an amusing animated video introduction to his book The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.
Boswell said: “Indeed I come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” To which Johnson replied: “That I find is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”
May 16, 2011
The New York Times has a gallery of proposed book covers that ended up not being used. Some of them I actually love, like the rejected cover for Lydia Davis's translation of Madame Bovary. And then there's the proposed cover of Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs, which I'm pretty sure is going to give me nightmares for the rest of my life. I don't know; I find babies unsettling as it is. Seeing babies with fake beards makes me feel like I'm on the worst acid trip anyone's ever been on, while watching Suspiria as a talking chihuahua sings "Wonderful! Wonderful!" to me while chewing my nose off.
D. G. Myers responds to Mark McGurl's recent Los Angeles Review of Books essay "The MFA Octopus" (which was itself a reply to Elif Batuman's essay "Get a Real Degree," which was itself a review of McGurl's book The Program Era). Myers -- who I think makes more sense here than either McGurl or Batuman did on the subject -- writes:
One minute McGurl is criticizing her “snarky slurs” against Beloved, the very next minute he is calling her literary journalism’s Ann Coulter. Snark is, like, acceptable only when it comes from one side of the political aisle? When an academic wishes to dismiss a writer from serious consideration, he calls her a right-winger. ...
The incoherence comes through most clearly when McGurl interrogates Batuman’s claim that “Literary writing is inherently elitist and impractical.” In reply, McGurl repeats the word democracy several times, as if that will do the trick.
(Disclosure: D. G. Myers is a friend of mine, and was my professor at Texas A&M in the late '90s.)
Ben Greenman, author (What He's Poised to Do) and Bookslut contributor, has come up with some of the funniest and weirdest charts I've ever seen.
Cristina Nehring -- whose A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century I quite liked -- has an essay on the near-death of her daughter and the current crop of grief memoirs. She argues in favor of the memoirs to bring death back into our culture, which has sanitized and hidden the idea until grief becomes shameful.
Also just discovered she has a short ebook on the subject, Journey to the Edge of the Light: A Story of Love, Leukemia and Transformation. Her essay was lovely enough that I might have to check it out.
Granta Magazine strives to make feminism relevant again by devoting an issue to the subject. Well, as long as they don't trot out that "it was old 30 years ago" joke by calling feminism the 'f-word', we should be fine. Oh, they did? And there's an essay in there accusing feminism of killing romance? Keep fighting the good fight, Granta.
Wondering what to read next? For £70, you can have a cup of tea and a chat with a biblio professional at the School of Life and receive a tailored book recommendation list... only two weeks later! Christopher Tayler went in and was told to read Rohinton Mistry, but Oprah has been saying that for years, and for free. Of course for £70, you could also go to the London Review of Books bookshop instead of the School of Life -- they have very good booksellers and for the money you would also get the actual books. They also have tea at their little tea shop -- and cake. (No reports on whether the School of Life has cake.) Or, you could do what I do, blow the money on a massage and stay up late at night going through Amazon's referral program. I tell it I want a ripping good read, it suggests I buy a toaster. Oh, Amazon! You see directly into my soul.
And just as I expected, having an e-reader has done nothing to cut down on my luggage weight. I am packing just as many books for an upcoming international flight, just with the e-reader thrown in as well. Technology does some people no good.
May 13, 2011
I recently read, and loved, Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test (Jonathan Crowl's Bookslut review here), despite the fact that (a) I now know more about evil than I probably really needed to, and (b) after reading it, I immediately suspected everyone I encountered of being a sociopath. Still, it's an excellent book, both disturbing and, somehow, very funny.
Over at The Millions, Janet Potter (a Bookslut contributor) has an interesting review of the book, and reveals that she scored a 3 (out of 40) on the psychopath test (though her cat got a 22). I actually took the test too, and got a 2. Potter, you so crazy! (OK, fine, I got a 3 also. Although given that I just lied about that, maybe it should be a 4. Hmmmm...)
Yet, to protect their identities, he changes their names, hair color and — in his most unsettling and fascinating choice — he depicts them with their heads turned away from the reader. This, of course, cannot help but reduce these very different women, and their stories, to a series of literally faceless, interchangeable objects.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's not really to protect their identities.
Ugh, just ugh. So maybe, instead of reading about how one man thinks prostitutes are easily enough portrayed nameless and faceless and disposable, you can read Rent Girl instead. Everyone in there -- even the prostitutes! -- have faces.
Unless you read second-century weird texts like I do, you would never have a clue that there'd be a Gospel of Judas.
You might want to skip the overlong introduction, but Christian and Gnostic scholar, authority on The Gospel of Judas and writer of The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels is interviewed about applying academic rigor to religious study.
May 12, 2011
Flavorwire has a list of 10 devastatingly sad books, if that's your thing, which, let's face it, it probably is. (This is a genre my friend John used to refer to as "tear porn," a phrase which I'm afraid to Google. But think Love Is a Mix Tape, or Flowers for Algernon, or Ordinary People, and you're pretty much there.)
At NPR, Rachel Syme wonders if the '90s nostalgia movement will soon include a longing for the books of the Bill Clinton era. (If you're under 27, you'll be forgiven for skipping this post, and also CHOKE ON YOUR YOUTH, YOU LITTLE BASTARD. As for the rest of you: Remember Susan Powter? Remember the Psychic Friends Network? Remember grunge?)
Researchers in Manchester have discovered 20 unpublished short stories by Anthony Burgess, as well as an unfilmed screenplay the Clockwork Orange author wrote about Napoleon Bonaparte. Horrorshow.
The Telegraph has a little bundle of things from Beryl Bainbridge, including excerpts from her 1960s journal, excerpts from her unfinished novel The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, photos, and part of a documentary shot by Bainbridge's grandson.
BBC is wondering why there are so few novels about our new "economic reality," but there are two recent-ish books I could think of off hand, Emily Perkins's Novel About My Wife and Joanna Kavenna's Inglorious, both of which deal with how money issues can easily slip out of control. And for a reissue, there's Irmgard Keun's Artificial Silk Girl, about similar issues, it just happened to be written during Weimar Germany. All three are wonderful, but they may make you compulsively check your bank balance while reading.
May 11, 2011
Sorry, authors. The next winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography -- as well as for the Coolest, Sexiest Book Cover Ever -- has already been decided. And unless your name is Levi Johnston, you've already lost. (Via.)
The ACLU claims that a jail in South Carolina has effectively forbidden inmates from reading anything except the Bible. If this is true, I've got to say, it's a sound policy. Prisoners shouldn't have access to violent or sexually suggestive reading materials; they should instead reflect on the kind of peaceful prose you can only find in, say, Deuteronomy 20:10-14, or Isaiah 13:15-16.
All of us at Bookslut have a huge literary crush on Melville House, the Brooklyn-based publisher of literary fiction and nonfiction, run by Bookslut godfather Dennis Loy Johnson. One of their coolest projects is The Neversink Library, a series that "champions books from around the world that have been overlooked, underappreciated, looked askance at, or foolishly ignored." Dennis and the gang want your help finding titles that would be a good fit -- suggest your favorite underappreciated books here. Extra points if you submit my out-of-print memoir, Three Cups of Coffee: I Built a Shitload of Schools in Afghanistan, What, Prove That I Didn't, Yo. (Just don't tell Jessa; she gets all snobby when it comes to memoirists making shit up to make themselves sound awesome.)
Larry McMurtry and Faye Kesey, the widow of Ken Kesey, got married in Texas -- on the same day as that British couple. The guy with the embarrassing redhead brother and the lady with the sister named "Pippa."
From a piece called "Franzen's Ugly Americans Abroad," Tim Parks presents this little sentence from a press release:
May 10, 2011
We've got some exciting news! Starting today, Bookslut will have a new weekly column at Kirkus Reviews, one of the oldest and most respected book review publications in America. We're starting off with a review of Alina Bronsky's new The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, one of the best novels I've read this year.
This is really cool for us for a number of reasons, but maybe especially because the folks who run Kirkus are some of the smartest and nicest people I've worked with. Also, they're based in Austin now -- the birthplace of Bookslut -- and they've promised to FedEx me breakfast tacos and barbecue brisket every week. I put it in our contract. At least I meant to.
"I always stayed in the Ernest Hemingway suite; it's like a protective womb." and other completely unlikely things being said by Danielle Steel at the Wall Street Journal.
From my reading, Ronald Hutton's totally "readable" Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain*, an excerpt from poet Joseph Warton's list of the subjects he could possibly write poems about, written when he was a schoolboy:
The solemn silence of the Pyramids. The dark gloomy scenes in mines. The fall of the Nile. Distant noises. Indian Brahmins wandering by their rivers. Medea's nightly spells. Meteors in the night. Gripping of a serpent or a crocodile. A lamp from Olympus. The flames of Etna seen in a dark night by strangers. Cassandra calling on Agamemnon, as he was dying. Pangs and struggles in drowning. Lapland witches, feasts, and religion. Evening dances in Arcadia. Serpents fly from the rattlesnake. The effect of an eclipse on all the animal creation. Sudden thunder over a summer's day. Sailors' cries at sea in a stormy night. Traveller benighted. Two strong seas separated by an isthmus -- or two angry lions by a wide river. The priest bleeding. Old men slaughtered.
Oh, the Romantics. He went on to write "The Enthusiast," where there are disappointingly no Lapland witches, but there are Obelisks, and Urns Of high Relief, so he didn't quite relinquish his musings.
* Searching for "blood + mistletoe" on Amazon got me a search result for an herbal tea. I am never drinking that tea.
May 09, 2011
The valuable YA literature blog Guys Lit Wire is again sponsoring a book fair to benefit a high school in need of book donations. It's a great chance for book lovers to help out Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC, the library of which is severely understocked. Help them out if you can! (The fair is being organized by Guys Lit Wire co-creator Colleen Mondor, a Bookslut contributor.)
Here's a very cool book trailer for a book I'm looking forward to reading, Scott Sparling's Wire to Wire, coming out later this month from Tin House Books. (And speaking of Tin House, which appears to be on a roll this year, Alison Hallett strongly recommends Katie Arnold-Ratliff's Bright Before Us, another May release from the Portland-based publisher.)
If you live in Oregon, be careful where you donate your used books. Those blue "Books for Charity" bins you've probably seen might not be what you think. The Oregonian:
The bins are managed by a for-profit company, Thrift Recycling Management, which ships the books to its headquarters in Lakewood, Wash., for sorting. Thrift then sells 25 percent at online websites such as Amazon, pulps about 50 percent and then hands the remaining 25 percent to nonprofits.
Dour dour dour.
Little Star journal has two excerpts from Tim Parks's new nonfiction book, which seems to be marketed as some hideous self-help book about chronic pain? Even the title, Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic's Search for Health and Healing, is a little woo-woo, what with that word "healing," which has become impossible to say without an eye roll or air quotes or something. But the excerpts are really intriguing, especially this funny one about trying to learn how to meditate.
Have I mentioned I love Carolyn Forché? Love. Her essay on the poets of the aftermath and the poets of witnessing is really quite good. She edited an anthology a while back, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, and she writes about many of these same poets here: Celan, Brodsky, Akhmatova, Alegría.
While the solitude and tranquility thought to be the condition of literary production were absent for many twentieth- and twenty-first century poets, even in the aftermath of their survival, writers have survived and written despite all that has happened, and against all odds. They have created exemplary literary art with language that has also passed through catastrophe.
Another great piece by Michael Kimmelman, this time on the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial. An exhibit at the Topography of Terror museum (yes. Yes, it is called that) in Berlin has a section devoted to kind of debunking Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is problematic yet is still the defining document of the trial. (This is something I wrote about recently, too.) Kimmelman discusses Arendt, post-war Germany, and the trial's aftermath.
May 06, 2011
A few years ago, I read an excellent book about local politics in Seattle called Zioncheck for President, the story of Northwest punk icon Grant Cogswell's campaign for a city council seat, written by his campaign manager, Phil Campbell. Funny, impassioned, and unabashedly idealistic, it's one of the best books about politics I've read. It's also the basis for the movie Grassroots, directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, and scheduled for release later this year.
I got to know Phil shortly after that, and wasn't surprised when he organized the International Phil Campbell Convention 2011. It was to be a gathering of Phil Campbells and Phyllis Campbells from all across the world, held, naturally, in the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama, population just over 1,000.
On April 27, the town of Phil Campbell was hit by a tornado. At least 26 people were killed, dozens more were injured, and hundreds are now homeless. Phil Campbell the author, and many other people who share his name, will still be going to Phil Campbell the town in June, to volunteer and help pick up the pieces. The remarkable story is covered at The Wall Street Journal and NPR.
No matter what your name is, you can help by donating to I'm With Phil, and supporting one of the more amazing grassroots volunteer efforts I've seen. (The cast and crew of Grassroots have lent their support, including "honorary Phil Campbell" Jason Biggs, who plays the author in the film.) The destruction in Alabama has been one of the most depressing stories of the year, but the response by Phil and his friends is one of the most inspiring. We urge you to stand with Phil Campbell, Alabama, and do anything you can to help.
Across the street from Shakespeare & Company, Sylvia Beach's lover Adrienne Monnier also ran a bookshop. She wrote essays, was friends with Koestler and Walter Benjamin and James Joyce. But she's been overshadowed by Beach, who had the wilder writers on her side. But Keri Walsh tries to restore her place in French literary history, with an essay at Brick.
Sylvia Beach reflected on the differences between their two establishments that extended right down to interior design: Monnier “wants me to have that hard battleship grey that she has in her place—but never a-bit, say I! I’m going to have a paint called ‘Matolin’ . . . and some beige and yellow.”
It's a great little piece. I wrote a bit about Sylvia Beach and her Ulysses-related link to Margaret Anderson a while back.
Best science project ever: Christian Bok encodes a poem into the genes of E. coli: Dr Bok has no formal scientific training, but he taught himself molecular biology and computer programming for the purpose of this project. His design was verified by biologists at the University of Calgary.
Chelsey Johnson interviews Eileen Myles about . . . everything: I tell poets, if you want to have real battle around style, do journalism and try and change the sentence. People who went to good colleges are really afraid that people will think they’re stupid if they tamper with punctuation or spelling or anything like that.
Stephen Enniss (now at the Folger) reflects on American libraries' pursuit of contemporary British poetry manuscripts: When Hughes and Plath’s marriage began its slow unravelling, their papers became a surrogate for violence towards one another. In 1961, when Hughes was late returning from a meeting with a BBC radio producer, Plath in a rage tore up a number of his manuscripts along with his Complete Works of Shakespeare – the red-bound Oxford edition that he had carried with him on his honeymoon.
Susan Tomaselli proposes Ernest Dowson as a cult hero, despite his fondess for young girls and for absinthe.
Delirious Hem has a terrific new issue on fashion, women, and poetry: I cannot tell you how many female poets have told me that by encountering my work they now feel permission to wear hot pink lipstick and ball gowns to reading or conferences. I am glad they feel permitted, but I think it’s sad they ever felt there was something suspect about wearing lipstick and ball gowns to intellectual events. It’s my belief that my unwavering allegiance to glitter is the most radical stance in my career.
Hashem, Hashem, God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth—what the fuck? If the pain of childbirth is our punishment for Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, Oh Merciful God, what sin did we commit to receive the punishment of such a mother?
Yoani Sánchez, a blogger in Cuba and author of Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today, speaks to "The World" radio broadcast about having to dress is disguises to blog with tourist hotels' wifi, and the harassment and brutality she's suffered at the hands of the police for her criticisms of Fidel Castro.
May 05, 2011
Matt Dean, the Republican majority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, called Neil Gaiman a "pencil-necked little weasel." Gaiman's response is priceless:
“I expected him to carry on [in] the article saying that I was a stupid stupidface and that he would be meeting with his friends behind the lockers.”
Dean, who kind of looks like a cross between Tom DeLay and an undercooked pancake, was upset that Gaiman accepted money to speak at a public library. (Gaiman donated his speaking fee to charity a while back.) Dean later apologized, because his mommy made him. Seriously.
More from Megan Mayhew Bergman on Steepletop, the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Two takes on the new David Albahari novel Leeches, a 300 page long paragraph full of conspiracy theories, Kabbalist mysteries, and the history of the Balkans: NPR.org is running my review:
Neuroscientists believe that conspiracy theories are born of the pattern-making capacity of the human brain — we're inclined to find connections between disparate events and hang too much importance on coincidence. But when everything is connected — from the bloody legacy of the Balkans to the history of Jewish culture in late 20th century Central Europe to the casual violence between men and women — you have a hell of a story.
And in the new issue of Bookslut, Christopher Merkel, our "Unamerican" columnist, places it with two similar texts, Mathias Énard's Zone (another run-on paragraph set in the Balkans) and Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book.
And as always, you can read an excerpt of the books reviewed at NPR.
May 04, 2011
Imagine a man who buys a chicken from the grocery store, manages to bring himself to orgasm by penetrating it, then cooks and eats the chicken.
When a writer is known for their trickery -- writing novels without the letter "e" in them, for example -- it's sometimes hard to see what the appeal is past the simple feat. Hence the anglophone audience's lack of regard for George Perec. But his book The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise -- a book-length flowchart about exactly that -- is just now being published in English, and Tom Payne uses the occasion to consider whether there's something else going on beneath the word play.
If you can trick the BBC into thinking you live in the proper area (apparently East Germany is not it), you can watch this interview with John Wyndham (Day of the Triffids, Chocky, which I just finished reading) as he discusses the uses of evil in his works.
May 03, 2011
After the news of Osama bin Laden's death, social media users took to Twitter and Facebook, posting a series of quotations and Bible verses. Two of the most posted lines were:
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." - Mark Twain
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
They're both neat quotes. And they're both totally inaccurate. The first was actually written, in a slightly different form, by lawyer Clarence Darrow. And the second was written by a Facebook user named Jessica Dovey, and later misattributed to King by comedian Penn Jillette.
I'm no jingoist, but my own feelings about bin Laden's death come closest to, say, Hunter S. Thompson's feelings about Richard Nixon's death. I just can't fit that whole obituary into a Twitter post.
As the world braces for the terrorists’ response to the death of their leader, it should also demand that Pakistan give satisfactory answers to the very tough questions it must now be asked. If it does not provide those answers, perhaps the time has come to declare it a terrorist state and expel it from the comity of nations.
Portlanders, mark your calendars: Austin-based poet and Skanky Possum co-publisher Hoa Nguyen is coming to town on May 14. There's more information at The Oregonian, which also prints her "Agent Orange Poem." Hoa is a friend of Bookslut from way, way back; it's cool to see she'll be paying all of us in Razorblade City a visit.
On page 1·174, in the note in the margin, “192.2 °C” should read “192.2 °F.”
Five volumes, 2,400 pages, 20 contributors and three writers, a Microsoft-rich publisher, $600 price tag, and apparently no copy editors. The Modernist Cuisine list of corrections and errata just keeps going and going. (via)
Oh my dear heavens, Maria Tatar has a blog. About fairy tales. She's the author of Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany, the subject of my last column at the Smart Set, and a book that kind of fucked me up thoroughly with its explanation of how male homicidal rage became normal, something just assumed to be universal. You don't expect someone like that, I guess, to have a blog, certainly not one whose top entry is about the royal wedding.
(But then what do I know? I am old. I just joined the 21st century with the acquisition of an e-reader. And what do you know, it's pretty nice. What will they think of next?)
In the New York Review of Books: Daniel Mendelsohn on Spider-Man, the comic book and the fraught Broadway musical.
Martyn Pedler's Comicbookslut column this month is very good. He asks, in response to a series of high profile lawsuits by the creators of some of the most iconic superheroes against the comic book publishers, "if there’s ever been an industry that treated its founding fathers as badly as comic books." He speculates the effect these characters being dumped into the public domain will have (some of them pornographic, naturally).
And the Comics Reporter responds to Pedler's column, asking:
Mainstream comics publishers such as DC and their communities have ascribed a real-world moral authority to these fictional characters for years now. Why shouldn't that extend to broader ethical issues involved in their creation, publication and distribution?
May 02, 2011
James Hynes's novel Next wasn't just the best book of 2010, it's also the best novel I've ever read about terrorism in America. (It's about more than that, of course, but it really is, I think, the perfect post-9/11 novel.) Next has just been awarded the sixth annual Believer Book Award -- it's a perfect excuse to pick up a copy if you haven't already.
The New York Times has a good rundown of books about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Jessa and I had initially planned to put the new issue of Bookslut up later this week, but then we figured: slow news day. Might as well give the world something to read.
So here it is! It's a special ninth anniversary issue, too, by which I mean "I just remembered as I was typing this blog post that it is our ninth birthday." So, uh, hooray for us!
Anyway, in this issue, we've got great essays by Elizabeth Bachner, Kevin McNeer, Virginia Lloyd, and Kathe Koja. We're also featuring interviews with authors Tayari Jones, Ryan Van Meter, Joseph P. Wood, Lenore Hart, Jonathan Evison, Adam Levin, and Jenny Han. Our team of columnists is back, covering everything from Superman to pleasure dairies to The Situation.
Thanks to all of you for supporting Bookslut these past nine years! I feel confident in saying that the publication of our new issue is the best news you have heard in a long time.
A battle is erupting between the Ukraine and Russia over fairy tale characters and folklore stories. As in: which nation can legitimately exploit their folkloric traditions for tourist dollars.
"Unfortunately, folkloric heritage is not regulated by international norms or by intellectual property rights," Marina Primenko said.
Yes, yes, unfortunately. Although they might want to talk to Disney who has been exploiting folkloric traditions for years.