February 29, 2012
Shalom Auslander picks his favorite darkly funny books:
1. The Five Books of Moses
Funniest book ever. We open on a man being told that his future is going to be awesome, if he'll just travel to Egypt. So he goes to Egypt, where his children are enslaved and put to hard labour. For 400 fucking years. The family at last escapes, enters a forbidding desert and gets lost. For forty fucking years. Finally, five volumes later, they reach the promised home, only to be relentlessly attacked, invaded and chased away. The End. Hilarious. If this really is the writing of God, He and I are going to par-tee.
The Columbia Chronicle profiles JC Gabel and The Chicagoan, giving the back story to how the limited edition first issue came to be.
It is an appropriate time to write about writers in academia and writers with teaching day jobs, because it is AWP time. I am going. I do not know why I am going. (Oh right, I am chairing a panel with Dennis Johnson, that is why.)
In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed. In short, the next big new thing. A Rushdie. A Pamuk.
Personally, I do not know how the writing teacher does it. Teaching a literature class (one) has exhausted me intellectually, and I'm behind on all of my writing. So I know how they do it in the realm of putting money in their pockets and food on their table, but I do not understand how you deal with twentysomethings all day and then are able to write yourself. Me, I am catching up on a lot of television. I am reading a lot of W Somerset Maugham and cooking elaborate meals. I am not so much writing.
One of the problems of seeing creative writing as a career is that careers are things you go on with till retirement. The fact that creativity may not be co-extensive with one’s whole working life is not admitted. A disproportionate number of poets teach in these courses.
And so now AWP, with poets as teachers and professors, and I am going to need a lot of gin.
February 28, 2012
So basically you can read the updated VIDA statistics about women writers published in major publications for 2011 and then just go shoot yourself in the head. (London Review of Books, you break my goddamn heart.)
Sonia Faleiro and I discuss her new book Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay Dance Bars, and how to write about depressing topics without dipping the reader into a state of despair.
Reading the newspaper one morning I realized that despite all the press, I still didn’t know what was going on. I felt what was missing was a narrative that was engaging, because unless you engage you can’t understand. And without understanding there’s no empathy, which is what kick-starts the conversation that ultimately leads to change.
What that trip taught me was that even in great sadness people don’t want to be perceived or represented as only sad. They want to be represented as who they are, as complete human beings who despite their deprivations, have as much of a zest for life and are as eager to embrace joy and pleasures as anyone else.
Jan Berenstain, who with her husband, Stan, wrote and illustrated the Berenstain Bears books that have charmed preschoolers and their parents for 50 years, has died. She was 88.
Henry James died on this day in 1916, and there are brief tributes here and there. Melville House tells the story of an interview Henry James gave before he died. It wasn't only his third interview ever given, he rewrote the whole thing for the interviewer. From James's modified interview:
Henry James does not look his seventy years. He has a finely shaped head, and a face, at once strong and serene, which the painter and sculptor may well have liked to interpret… Mr James has a mobile mouth, a straight nose, a forehead which has thrust back the hair from the top of his commanding head, although it is thick at the sides over the ears, and repeats in its soft gray the color of his kindly eyes. Before taking in these physical facts one receives an impression of benignity and amenity not often conveyed, even by the most distinguished. And, taking advantage of this amiability, I asked if certain words just used should be followed by a dash, and even boldly added: ‘Are you not famous, Mr. James, for the use of dashes?’
‘Dash my fame!’ he impatiently replied.
And the Daybook writes about the overwhelming grief Henry felt following his older brother William's death. He would no more get the passive aggressively mean letters from William, like so:
"How you produce volume after volume the way you do is more than I can conceive, but you have n't to forge every sentence in the teeth of irreducible and stubborn facts as I do. It is like walking through the densest brush wood."
Melville House has two James novellas on sale today, but I keep thinking about The Tragic Muse these days.
February 27, 2012
Add me to the long list of those fetishizing the hell out of issue number one of The Chicagoan. It made its long trek to Philadelphia today, and what I've seen mostly in Word documents and mock-ups is now a real thing in my hands.
And really, it's worth the price for Martin Preib's essay alone.
Working from home has its advantages. None of these advantages are sartorial.
“This has been the theme of my life ever since: love – horror, horror – love; one worse that the other,” she tells Sider.
Lionel Shriver thinks feminism should stop focusing on minor issues (like maybe the portrayal of women in Jonathan Franzen's fiction?) and re-focus their energy on issues like forced marriage, genital mutilation, and worldwide subjugation of women. The piece is a little dotty, and a little obvious, but it echoes what writers like Sylvia Walby and Jenny Turner have said more successfully and intelligently.
And it reminded me of these pieces now accusing Jonathan Franzen of being a misogynist, or saying he hates women. (Maybe my standards are off right now because I started reading People Who Eat Darkness, but I kind of think the "hates women" label should come when you have a history of violence against them, or are dumping women's body parts in your backyard. Not when you write a shitty essay.) Instead of barking over whether or not Franzen is a misogynist, there are larger issues being overlooked. Like, who the hell is deciding that is an okay thing to print at the New Yorker?
February 24, 2012
Dmitri Nabokov, the only son of prominent writer Vladimir Nabokov and Vera Slonim, died in Switzerland aged 77 on February 22, Dutch newspaper NRC Boeken reported on its website on Friday.
Today is a day for Kleist. You probably didn't know that when you woke up this morning, but it is proving to be true.
"Her mind, strong enough not to crack in her unusual situation, surrendered to the great, holy and inexplicable constitution of the world."
So we have Gertrud Leutenegger spilling out her love for the strange man, the German writer who killed himself too young, alongside his terminally ill beloved.
There is also Steven Howe, writing about Kleist's theatrical debut. There's a lot of death in it. Drownings, fathers killing sons, that sort of thing. Oh the Germans, oh the Romantics...
And we also have a few short stories, in a free ebook, Tales from the German, which also includes stories by that other odd German, Hoffmann.
Joseph Donohue has re-translated Oscar Wilde's Salome into English from the French, unhappy that previous English translations have shoved a lot of Biblical language into the play. It has been published in a beautiful new edition, and is being staged. He talks to Eric Marrapodi about the new version, what changes he felt were necessary, and why the tragedy needed a few new laughs.
It's a rule of the Internet. Stop editing and moderating, just for a minute, and everything will turn to porn and spam. That seems to have happened on the Nook, and, to a lesser extent, the Kindle.
February 23, 2012
Having just finished up a review of two Marion Milner books -- A Life of One's Own and An Experiment in Leisure -- I thought back to a piece I read two weeks ago but never linked to. "Why Do I Like Book Reviews?" I loved the Milner books, but in a way that I have a feeling it will take me years to fully understand. Her books are about slow metamorphosis, changing your world view in this incremental kind of way. It makes writing about them, or even thinking about them, difficult, as who knows how they'll eventually be integrated. I doubt I did the books service in the column. Ask me about them again in two years.
But the essay is interesting, as book reviewers rarely talk about this aspect of the job. About our pet subjects, and about how writing book reviews is an excellent way of continuing our own understanding of the world. It's a long-term argument you are having with yourself, essentially. So I'm glad I read the Milner books, because if I hadn't been reviewing them I probably wouldn't have. On this particular case, the reading was more important than the writing, although it does not always work that way.
But she was in no way a gonzo crazy person — one of those, I hate to say it, mostly American war reporters (not women usually) who is all about themselves. She was about the people living and dying in the field, and it is in no way surprising to me that she died doing what she felt called to do. She was tough as hell, but not the empty bravado, bearing-witness-in-leather-pants type of reporter. For an entire generation of women, she was the best there was, and that there could be.
I was a bit skeptical about the claim that migrants have a higher rate of psychosis than people who never move outside of their home countries, but it is looking like there are other studies to back this up. Things like migration, cannabis smoking, and living in large cities up your chances for developing schizophrenia, according to scientists like Robin Murray. The BBC talks to Murray about our changing view of schizophrenia as something organic, genetic, and incurable to something that is social and treatable.
Raphael Kadushin journeys through the Black Forest, using the stories of the Grimm Brothers as a travel guide.
Twisting approximately 370 pastoral miles north of Frankfurt, mostly through the back roads of Hesse and Lower Saxony, before petering out in Bremen, it reveals one of the most underrated pockets of a German dreamscape. And there is no better time to go: 2012 is the bicentennial of volume one of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Children's and Household Tales, the collection that includes Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, The Pied Piper of Hameln, Snow White, and Rapunzel and which launched the Grimms' lifework as aggregators of fables. The route follows both the trail of the brothers' evolving careers and the tales themselves. If the villages and castles (some now converted, timed to the bicentennial, into chic schloss hotels) look twee enough to inspire fairy tales—the pitch made by every European pit stop boasting a thatched cottage or two—this time, at least, you know the claim is justified. That adds its own kind of gravitas. The winding backdrop for so many of our earliest shared stories and nightmares is an example of that thing travelers always hunt for: the place as bona fide muse.
The website for The Chicagoan is now live, so you can buy the quickly disappearing issue 1A online. (Up until now, you could only buy the magazine in Chicago.)
I'm a little sad not to be in Chicago this week for the madness of the launch, but I'll be there next week. On a personal note, it's a bit of a thrill to see "Fiction Editor: Jessa Crispin" there on the site. I'm proud of the work JC Gabel has done on the magazine, and I look forward to collaborating on more madness in the future.
February 22, 2012
As a sidenote to the recent controversy of Warner Brothers trying to claim rights over Wizard of Oz characters in the public domain, we now have Paramount Pictures suing to stop Mario Puzo's son from publishing a new Godfather prequel novel, The Family Corleone. It is claiming its right to “protect the integrity of ‘The Godfather’ trilogy, one of the most acclaimed and beloved artistic works of the past 50 years.”
Physician Silas Weir Mitchell is perhaps best remembered for his “Rest Cure” for nervous women, depicted by his onetime patient Charlotte Perkins Gilman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892). In the harrowing tale, the narrator slowly goes mad while enduring Mitchell’s regimen of enforced bed rest, seclusion and overfeeding. This oppressive “cure” involved electrotherapy and massage, in addition to a meat-rich diet and weeks or months of bed rest. Historians now view Mitchell’s “Rest Cure” as a striking example of 19thcentury medical misogyny.
Less well known is Mitchell’s method of treating nervous men. While Mitchell put worried women to bed, he sent anxious men out West to engage in prolonged periods of cattle roping, hunting, roughriding and male bonding. Among the men treated with the so-called “West Cure” were poet Walt Whitman, painter Thomas Eakins, novelist Owen Wister and future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
This article is fascinating. You'll want to read the whole thing.
I assume that by now you have heard of John D'Agata's The Lifespan of a Fact, the body of which is a conversation between a journalist who is convinced he is producing art and a fact checker who would like the writer to come down to reality. Supposedly it is inspiring conversations about the intersection between fact and beauty, the very definition of creative nonfiction, the purpose of journalism, the larger meaning of the word truth, etc. Whatever. To me it sounds incredibly annoying, and so beyond the excerpt that showed up in Harper's, I've been avoiding it.
(But then I am a stick in the mud, resistant to flexible notions of truth, and thinking this discussion could find a better forum to be played out than over the body of a dead teenager.)
It is all perhaps worth it, though, for a spot on parody of Lifespan, over at the Awl.
Two more journalists have been killed in Syria, the great Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik. (Colvin was the subject of a profile at the American Journalism Review, calling her writing and techniques controversial. It's worth a read, to remember the kind of woman who we just lost.)
February 21, 2012
The sky just went grey over Philadelphia, so as good a time as any to post a link to a 1966 recording of Leonard Cohen reading his poetry.
Someone finally asked Shalom Auslander about the obvious Steven Pinker character in his book Hope: A Tragedy, a character named Pinkus who happened to be writing a book about how the world is getting less violent. Something a lot like Pinker's new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In the Guardian, Shalom explains:
I didn't know Pinker had a book coming out, but he published part of it two years earlier and I remember reading it and thinking: If only! I hope you're right, dude. But there's a part of me that pictures myself in five years standing in a gas chamber with Steven Pinker and going: "Well? Can you just run those numbers past me again, Steve? Did you forget to carry a one or something?"
The conversation with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore got a little out of hand. Over at Kirkus, we discuss her new anthology Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, along with why subcultures eventually conform, and why masculinity desperately needs to be questioned and expanded. But I had to cut a lot of the conversation. So: two bonus questions below.
Included in the dedication is a tribute to David Wojnarowicz. I ask this question because Wojnarowicz's essays were one of those monumental reading experiences for me when I was younger: What influence has Wojnarowicz's work had on you? Why single him out in the dedication?
I discovered Wojnarowicz in the early-‘90s after I read about him in an obituary. He had just died of AIDS. I was 19 and newly politicized about my queerness, and it seemed like everyone around me was dying of AIDS or drug addiction or suicide but still we were trying to figure out a way to cope, we were together in this project of survival and that was new and exciting – queer freaks and hookers and dropouts, runaways, anarchists, drug addicts, vegans, incest survivors -- we wanted to create something we could live with.
When I read Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives it was the first time I ever felt my sense of rage at the world and simultaneously a glimpse of hope in a world of loss reflected in writing. Wojnarowicz describes a searching sexual landscape of lust and longing, creating those random hookups with sudden moments of transcendence, all suffused with the memory and consistency of violence from parents and strangers and a homophobic world but still the places where all of that cracks and the sky opens up. And sure, you’re cracked too, witness and participant, floating above it all yet stuck, struggling against and within -- goddamn, I thought, when I read that book, this is me. I mean: this is what I'm feeling. Wojnarowicz invoked an outsider queer world that I was learning, and it’s this camaraderie that I will always treasure. He was fearless, and that made him unafraid to say that he was afraid -- maybe this paradox is one of the challenges that I want to invoke with this book -- how do we talk about all our complexity, the places where we fail even when we’re succeeding, or succeed even when we are failing? How do we create an honest conversation in order to grow?
Please provide a short reading list for the wild and divine in genderfucking. Other than the vibrant writers who contributed to this anthology, of course.
Two recent books that I think are very important are Dean Spade’s Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law and the anthology Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, edited by Eric Stanley and Nat Smith. Although it's not specifically about genderfucking, Sarah Schulman’s just-released Gentrification of the Mind should be essential reading for everyone who thinks about the politics of sexuality and community-building. I feel similarly about Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. And, even though I haven't read it since it first came out in the mid-‘90s, somehow I'm drawn at this moment to plug Cookie Mueller’s posthumously collection Ask Dr. Mueller -- the type of wildness she expresses in her writing is something we need more of.
Sometimes my students surprise me. And I don't just mean the thoughtful essays they have been turning in. Things I expected to provoke arguments just don't. Consensus reigns. We were reading The Time Machine, and talking about eugenics, and what a fashionable idea it was at the time. When I asked if supporting eugenics, before the Germans took the idea and ran with it, made you a bad person, they all nodded. Consensus.
Apparently MSNBC agrees. Whenever Pat Buchanan goes on about the death of white America, and the troubling birth rates of the immigrants, all I can think about is the rhetoric of people like HG Wells regarding eugenics. ("We want fewer and better children... and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens that you inflict upon us.") But Buchanan finally officially lost his job after his bosses actually read his book Suicide of a Superpower and suspended him months ago.
February 20, 2012
To disagree with Catholic bishops is called “disrespectful,” an offense against religious freedom. That is why there is a kind of taboo against bringing up Romney’s Mormonism. But if Romney sincerely believed in polygamy on religious grounds, as his grandfather did, he would not even be considered for the presidency—any more than a sincere Christian Scientist, who rejects the use of medicine, would be voted for to handle public health care. Yet a man who believes that contraception is evil is an aberrant from the American norm, like the polygamist or the faith healer.
February 17, 2012
John Potter, the author of Tenor: History of a Voice, gives a primer on the career and afterlife of the singular Enrico Caruso. (Oh, Caruso. Before my opera obsession began, I was already listening to a garage sale purchase of a Caruso record, and spending whole nights flipping from one side of the LP to the other and back again, lying on the floor in front of my stereo. Caruuuuso.) The article also contains links to over 100 songs in the public domain, free for you to download an obsess over. Perfect for a mild, sunny Friday morning.
Also of interest: Believer Magazine's article about the trial that insued after Enrico Caruso pinched (allegedly!) the bottom of a woman in the monkey house at the zoo. Yes. If you read the original New York Times articles, they use so many euphemisms that to the modern brain it reads like maybe he exposed himself, rather than simply goosed someone.
And after all that, you are required to cap it all off with this little piece of wonder.
Wondering if this could ever make her suffer, she thought of Windsor Terrace. I am not there. She began to go round, in little circles, things that at least her senses had loved -- her bed, with the lamp turned on on winter mornings, the rug in Thomas's study, the chest carved with angels out there on the landing, the waxen oilcloth down there in Matchett's room. Only in a house where one has learnt to be lonely does one have this solicitude for things. One's relation to them, the daily seeing or touching, begins to become love, and to lay one open to pain. Looking back at a repetition of empty days, one sees that monuments have sprung up. Habit is not mere subjugation, it is a tender tie: when one remembers habit it seems to have been happiness. So, she and Irene had almost always felt sad when they looked round a hotel room before going away from it for always. They could not but feel that they had betrayed something. In unfamiliar places, they unconsciously looked for familiarity. It is not our exalted feelings, it is our sentiments that build the necessary home. The need to attach themselves makes wandering people strike roots in a day; wherever we unconsciously feel, we live.
L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz books are in the public domain. So why in the world does Warner Brothers have "character protection" for Dorothy, Toto, and the Wizard himself? Sam Raimi is looking to direct a new adaptation of the Oz books (with James Franco and yeah, moving on to avoid despair), and the legal maneuvering to prevent such a thing from happening could have literary implications.
Also Kansas implications. Kansas has wine now, have you heard? I only discovered this on my last trip there in May -- not that I was able to find any to drink. Apparently Kansas wine is not served in Kansas restaurants. The wineries inevitably want to use names like Ruby Slippers and so on, because no one associates anything nice with Kansas except for the Wizard of Oz. Seriously, name one other association you have with Kansas. (I have spent years of my life trying to avoid Dorothy and Toto jokes when I tell someone I'm from there. Dear all people: you are not as clever with your Aunty Em jokes as you think you are.) But Warner Brothers is throwing fits about copyright and trademark with these wineries, all for characters who are rightly in the public domain. If WB starts getting more and more territorial, and winning some of these fights, this will spill over into the literary world as well.
I still get that "ugh, ick, why?" feeling when I hear about a new memoir on the market. I don't know what's wrong with me, I just feel so unmoved by the genre. I get snappish. "Is this really necessary?" etc etc. "Can't you frame this around something other than your ego?" But I am a noted asshole, so you should not listen to me on this subject.
But then one book I did not have that reaction to is the upcoming memoir Your Father's Name Was Hitler, because, as it turns out, Hitler had a son. And this poor guy found out about it after the war was already over, after he had already been fighting in the French resistance. And he wrote a book about it, and it seems to be legit. He seems actually to be the heir to Hitler. (Or, he was. He has died.)
So, yes. Let him write a memoir. Because seriously, the poor guy. That seems like an extraordinary enough thing that it deserves a little personal reflection. It's not like it doesn't come with a large enough landscape already built in.
February 16, 2012
As Ronsard invokes the monsters raised by the wars of religion in France the better to manage them, in the wan hope that the word can act to slay them, so today many of the rituals conjure in mimicry the very terrors that are experienced daily: vampires are the perfect match for the crisis in capitalist consumerism, their excess of appetite a ghastly parody of the economic machine, while zombies, anonymous beings evacuated of self and volition, perfectly embody the figure of the economic serf, captive to workless degradation. (Last summer’s rioters in English cities were both vampiric and zombiefied.) Ronsard grieves for his country, crying out against the foul fiend Opinion who has sown dissension between friends and families, and embroiled the nation in monstrous horrors.
Please take note, this is the only time anyone will suggest that Newsweek is edgy. Newsweek has developed a bit of a potty mouth, and people are kind of freaking out about that.
"Individualism? Narcissism? Of course. It is my strongest tendency, the only intentional constancy I am capable of. Besides, I am lying; I scatter myself too much for that."
Some books are tough sells. I was trying to get the people around me to read Little Boy Lost, because I think it's exquisite, but the conversation about it usually turned to the part where I had to reread the ending three times because I was crying so hard and the words were blurry and I missed a lot of it. (Sold!) No one wants to read that book now.
Same with Friedrich Christian Delius's Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, which turned me into a weepy mess. Then I found out the woman is based on Delius's actual mother and the crying started up again. It's the story of a woman, heavily pregnant, stranded in Italy where she has no language and no family, waiting to see if her husband comes back from the war. Without, somehow, being at all sentimental or mawkish. It is just lovely.
I talked with Delius for the Q&A series at Kirkus, about writing in James Joyce's shadow, using your own mother as a template for a character, and whether you can be considered brave if you're self-deluded.
February 15, 2012
“It is black-letter law in the United States that … publishers are protected from liability for non-defamatory false statements in books that they publish … by the First Amendment,” Penguin’s latest brief states. “A publisher owes no duty to verify the accuracy of non-defamatory statements in a nonfiction book it publishes.”
That is just one of many fun things in a massive Outside investigation into the Greg Mortenson Three Cups of Tea scandal. Because just when you thought you could read no more on the subject, Outside has the gall to write convincingly and interestingly on many thus far overlooked facets of the case. Including Penguin's denial that they should have to make sure their nonfiction is not fictional.
In case you needed to induce vomiting, there is this:
For an antidote: Diamanda Galas's eulogy for Whitney Houston is smart and fierce. (via)
If parents stop reading fairy tales to their children because they are too violent or disturbing, or promote stealing (what the fuck), how are the kids supposed to know what to do when their parents turn on them? Isn't that the whole point of those stories? To let kids know their parents might one day try to kill them, or a step mother might try to set them on fire, or one day they might encounter a predator in the woods? I find this whole thing suspect.
Jacob Silverman has a smart piece on writers and money, focusing on Michael Chabon's decline on the literary side of things and increasing attention to the more lucrative HBO/children's books/Disney movie side of things.
And not at all predictable is Chabon's wife screeching on Twitter that she'd like to do harm to Silverman's penis. Really, who could have seen that coming?
It's kind of amazing, the number of people I talk to in the United States who have no idea that Hungary has gone wacko. Rewriting the constitution, the rise (again) of anti-Semitism, apparently there have been some book burning demonstrations, etc etc. And yet it is not quite considered news over here.
Well, you should put your Google Translate to work, because Imre Kertesz, Hungarian Nobel prize winning writer of Fatelessness and Fiasco, gives a moving interview to Le Monde. It's in French. He lives in Berlin, and explains the history and past of Hungary.
February 14, 2012
For those of you rolling out of bed, hoping you can get through today without throwing a bowling ball at a chocolate heart display, I have a small suggestion. Over at the Kind Reader, someone wrote in expressing dread for today's romantic hogwash, and I offer up the best antidote I know of: Mr. W. Somerset Maugham, the patron saint of relationship toxicity.
And if you need something to match how nasty you might be feeling, The Painted Veil, about a man who drags his cheating wife to the heart of a cholera epidemic in the hopes that one or both of them will die, is some strong medicine.
As always, if you have a question for the column, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 13, 2012
And after much anticipation, we can finally say that The Chicagoan is here. J. C. Gabel, the man behind Stop Smiling magazine and a colleague from my Chicago days, is heading up a new, massive periodical that covers arts, culture, literature, long form journalism, opinion, personal essay...
I'm a bit of a latecomer, but I'll be editing and managing the literature supplement from issue two on. Mostly I'm just excited because it's the kind of publication I want to read.
Website and periodical will launch officially on February 20. You can also follow The Chicagoan on Twitter for more information.
Susie Linfield reviews Susan Hertog's biography of Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson , and finds one aspect particularly unconvincing.
Granting themselves a level of social and sexual freedom available to very few women of their time, Thompson and West led extremely tumultuous personal lives, which is the real focus of Dangerous Ambition. Yet I am not as convinced as Hertog that the two writers were necessarily less happy than women who adhered to more conventional domestic arrangements. (Lives of muffled desperation are not less painful than those that are full of sound and fury.)
(I wrote about Hertog's biography, and my own reaction to these biographical quirk, here.)
SB 1467, newly introduced in the Arizona State Senate, would force schools and universities to suspend, fine, and ultimately fire any teacher or professor who “engage[d] in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the federal communications commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.”
My class would be so fucked.
Okay, so don't get too excited about the previously unpublished James Joyce children's story being released quite yet. We were all just waiting for the news that heir Stephen Joyce would block the publication somehow, and it turns out that material that was never published during the copyright might not fall into the public domain at the same time as previously published material.
(Am I the only one who saw the publication announcement as baiting? As the whole children's book was originally addressed to Stephen Joyce, the man who tightly controls the estate? Maybe we need a court case to settle who still has the rights to what once and for all, but it's going to be an unpleasant process.)
February 10, 2012
More goddamn proof that the major comic book companies are just kind of assholes.
Friedrich sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures, Hasbro and other companies in 2007, alleging the copyrights used in the first "Ghost Rider" movie and related products reverted to him in 2001 because, he alleged, the publisher failed to register the character's first appearance in 1972's "Marvel Spotlight" #5 with the U.S. Copyright Office. The case took a few turns, with Marvel countersuing in 2010, seeking damages for the writer's unauthorized sale of Ghost Rider posters, T-shirts and cards online and at comic conventions.
In brief, the agreement lay out that Marvel will drop its countersuit if Friedrich agrees to pay $17,000 in damages, and ceases not only selling Ghost Rider-related items of his own creation but also promoting himself as the creator of the character for financial gain. Marvel did note Friedrich's right to sell his autograph on Ghost Rider merchandise, but only that officially created or licensed by the company's subsidiaries.
Gary Friedrich is in need of financial assistance, to deal with the Marvel lawsuit. You can find out how to donate here.
He saw the terrible nature of his own predicament, and the work he had achieved rose up before him, not like a triumph of the will over circumstances, but as something which might fall and crush him. ‘Eight books to date, over 1,000 articles, ten hours’ work a day, every day for ten years, and today, losing my hair, my teeth, my potency, my most basic capacity for joy.’ Often rage overtakes him, almost certainly written in drunken abandon: Bernard von Brentano, a literary dilettante and descendant of the poet, is ‘one of those three or four people I would happily murder, with no more compunction than putting out a cigarette.’
Great article on Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters. (And, if after you read that you wonder what life might have been like with a man like him, you can read Irmgard Keun's Child of All Nations, which was based on being dragged from city to city from hotel to hotel from meager paycheck to meager paycheck with the man she loved.)
With all the various copyright and public domain laws around the world, James Firth looks at the problems with ebooks and online text when an author has hit the public domain in one country but not in another. (Probably in the US. We love copyright more than any other nation.)
If you're not following @wise_kaplan, then I kind of don't know what to do with you. The satirical/comedic/loving tribute to the eccentric former editor of the Observer Peter Kaplan is one of the better uses of the medium. (Yeah, yeah, taking down dictators is good, too.) The recent digression about Kaplan trying to be a bum on the contemporary Bowery, with nothing but a bottle of Wild Turkey and a $15 artisinal chocolate bar, was a particular gem. The authors were revealed and the Twitter account hailed in this profile at Slate, from a while back.
(Speaking of Berlin! A few months back I posted that my one bedroom in Prenzlauer Berg, all cozy and full of books and overlooking the loveliest green, magpie-filled courtyard, needed a subletter. There is one in there now, but the subletter for March had to cancel. If you are looking for a temporary place in the city, for March and maybe going into April, please get in touch.)
“My motherly heart yearns over homesick girls, waifs in a crowd of alien people, none of whom care for them.”
Over at the Smart Set, I have a column about Susan J. Matt's Homesickness: An American History. The above quote isn't from Matt herself, but a sentimental novelist she was quoting. There was a whole industry of newspaper columns and books and radio programs trying to convince young women not to stray too far from home: their homesickness might be fatal. And yes! Sometimes homesickness feels like it might be fatal. I've been battling homesickness for Berlin in a serious way.
So over in the column, I take a look at homesickness and nostalgia in an age of transitory workers and students and expats and migrants, an age where we are all just supposed to buck up and deal.
The coping mechanisms of the migratory only serve to prove there is something wrong with them, something sinister. They cluster together, sometimes creating their own little neighborhoods. They want to bring their own food. They are relieved to find others with whom they can converse in their native language. It is difficult to fit into another people’s structure. Every default decision you try to make is going to clash with the accepted standards of any given place. You will dress wrong, order the wrong food, say the wrong thing, greet a friend with a double-cheek kiss in a nation that only kisses once. In that moment, you are marked as improper. People see you stumble, and they recognize you for who you are: the outsider.
February 9, 2012
Two of my favorite music writers, Ann Powers and Daphne Carr (see Bookslut's interview with Carr), get together with Carl Wilson to discuss Simon Reynolds's Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past.
Simon Schama talks to Cindy Sherman... it doesn't really matter what I say after this, does it? You've probably already left the site to go read it -- or, you did if you have any sense in that pretty little head of yours.
(For those of you still here, unsatisfied and cranky, you can always go watch the Dead Ringers spoof of Simon Schama and David Starkie, holding a battle of the battle re-enactments.)
A children's story by James Joyce has been published for the first time ever by a small press in Ireland.
Joyce's The Cats of Copenhagen is a "younger twin sister" to his published children's story The Cat and the Devil, which told of how the devil built a bridge over a French river in one night, said Ithys Press. Publisher Anastasia Herbert called it a "little gem" which she said "reflects Joyce's lighter side, his sense of humour – which can fairly be called odd or even somewhat absurdist".
Don't get too excited. The print run is 200, and the books cost up to €1,200.
February 8, 2012
The inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year prize for the best worst review has been presented to a master of the demolition job, Adam Mars-Jones. He won for this little number on Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall.
So it's not, but this video of Werner Herzog, discussing the stupidity of chickens, is better if you imagine it's in direct response to Alice Walker's book about her chickens, The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, The Gladyses, & Babe: A Memoir.
Apex Magazine has Maureen McHugh's story "Useless Things" up on their website. It's one of my favorites from her new collection After the Apocalypse. It includes useful apocalypse-navigating tips, like, you could probably still make money by making dildos. End of the world or not, there will always be a demand for those.
February 7, 2012
As I'm trying to wade through all the Dickens material cluttering up the Internet today (including stories saying we are too stupid, or, our children are too stupid, to read Dickens anymore), this one seemed good enough to share: Simon Callow, in his lovely lovely voice, gives us a tour of Dickensian London.
Over at Kirkus, I talk to Norman Davies about his new book Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations.
Your book opens with something of a rallying cry, for historians to stop focusing only on the conquerors of the past. What are the consequences of a historical record that leaves so many peoples and events in the margins?
The effect is most damaging for the mentality of the conquerors themselves; it creates the illusion that they are invincible and eternal, even though as Vanished Kingdoms demonstrates, all political power rises and falls.
One has also to link the vanity of the powerful with their lack of empathy for less fortunate nations. Wisdom often lies in the minds of those who, despite their best efforts, have known defeat and failure. People who think of themselves only as winners are heading for disillusionment and a rude awakening. Pride precedes the fall.
The question I didn't ask: why does he keep writing such amazing books that I can't put down... despite the fact that they weigh about 6 pounds and make traveling with them so painful. I am pretty sure I can blame a specific crick in my neck to the two week period I was reading Europe: A History.
We are giving so much love to dead writer guys and gals in our new issue: Sinclair Lewis and Charles Dickens, Gertrude Stein ("American writers alive today are expected to work as if Gertrude Stein never existed. Gertrude Stein, in her time, had that same problem."), Stefan Zweig, William S. Burroughs, Robert Walser, Osa & Martin Johnson, Elaine de Kooning, Michel Houellebecq... Oh wait, they figured out he wasn't dead after all, right? One of those weird Twitter moments where everyone thinks Michel Houellebecq is dead and then it turns out he just decided to go to the beach instead of go to his scheduled book reading, right? So Houellebequian of him.
But there are also writers alive and lively that we show our affection for (or our displeasure, there is a little bit of that, too): Amelia Gray (there was a bit of a war to see who was going to get to review her book), William Gibson, John le Carré... but really, it's mostly the dead. You can make some connection between the dark of February to our morbid looks back, but that would probably be reading too much into it...
February 3, 2012
Commentary Magazine on why there was such an outpouring of grief and memorializing after Christopher Hitchens's death:
Mayer’s piece and the other tributes demonstrated that mawkish self-flattery is unavoidable among journalists when they compete to advertise their intimacy with the famous. I wish I kept a list of everyone who modestly admitted they “didn’t know Hitch well” but nonetheless recalled an encounter with him in which he recognized, with mystical discernment, their soul-deep connection. (“I had passed the only test that mattered to him,” wrote one editor…)
Yes: More opera writing like this, please. Sameer Rahim has started a column at the Telegraph called "The Opera Novice," following his learning process as he goes from having never seen an opera to becoming a little bit obsessed. (There is a disappointingly small amount of opera writing that isn't intimidating or too smartypants for its own good. It can be intimidating to someone who loves the music but doesn't know the language with which it's discussed.)
February 2, 2012
I don't know if you heard, but DC Comics decided to hire some people to write a Watchmen prequel. Without Alan Moore, of course. The only real question is, what is the worst way in which this is horrible? Is it the blatant money grab? The obvious fuck you to one of the most talented writers they have ever published? Is it the sign that they have simply given up all hope of ever re-establishing their credibility? What measure of scale does it take to figure something like that out?
Austin Grossman is at the Wall Street Journal blog, and he makes a stab at declaring the greatest of the many evils:
The truly frightening thing is that DC has lost faith that there are new stories to tell about superheroes. As Alan Moore put it, “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.” I find it hard to argue otherwise.
Catherine Flynn on the years in Paris wherein Walter Benjamin and James Joyce overlapped.
Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, whose beguilingly simple, playful poems spoke to the heart of everyday life, died yesterday aged 88.
Described by the Nobel committee as the "Mozart of poetry" but with "something of the fury of Beethoven" – and by an Italian newspaper as the "Greta Garbo of World Poetry" – Szymborska died in her sleep from lung cancer, said her personal secretary Michal Rusinek.
You can read her Nobel lecture here.
February 1, 2012
A new Kind Reader column is up, regarding those moments when your life changes and suddenly you don't recognize it anymore. (I was tempted to plagiarize the advice my mentor has snappishly given to me before: "It's like you're drowning yourself in a bird bath. Stand up, it's just a bird bath." But that is advice you can only really give to someone you love. Otherwise it sounds like you're not acknowledging their reality.)
At any rate, I prescribe Metropole, a novel of dislocation and spiritual crisis. (As we all remember, William James said that the "essence of the spiritual crisis is this: 'Help! Help!'" A scene that replays in my head frequently is the one where the protagonist, having been dumped in a city where he cannot speak the language, does not know anyone, is terrified all of the time, spots someone reading a newspaper printed in his own native language. It's in the subway station, and he calls out to the man. The man also must be stranded in this strange city, as he immediately calls back in joy and relief. But he's already on the escalator going up, as our protagonist is going down. The crush of the crowd prevents either one of them from turning around. By the time the protagonist gets to the bottom, is able to fight his way to the up escalator and get to the top, the other man has disappeared.
I am pretty sure I cried when I read that the first time.
But at least the book ends happy(ish). At least, with a dose of optimism. Otherwise I would not have survived reading that book the first time.
Oh, and, B&N has asked me to make the next column relationship-y, as it will be printed on Valentine's Day. So send all relationship-y questions to my Kind Reader email. I'll find you a book that's romantic without making you want to vomit.