April 30, 2012
I have no idea why this exists, but it makes me happy: The Kansas Historical Society for some reason has a selection of William James's correspondence -- images, not just text, so you can see his delightful d's -- available online. As far as I know, William James was never in Kansas.
The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops’ thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don’t. Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops. The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility.
Garry Wills -- again, one of the best commentators on the Catholic Church that we have -- writes about the nun controversy currently brewing. A group of nuns have been accused of "radical feminism" and of usurping authority.
Mary undergirds all of the church’s contemporary dissonances on gender and sex: The view “that natural law ordains that women must bear and suffer underpins the church’s continuing indefensible ban on contraception; a dualistic distaste for the material world reinforces the ideal of virginity; and an undiminished certainty that women are subordinate to men continues to make the priesthood of women unacceptable.”
Benjamin was an alchemist of sorts, the most unusual of Marxist intellectuals, a black sheep in every flock. He merged literature with philosophy, the questions raised by religion with the answers provided by secularism, left-wing opposition with mysticism, German idealism with historical materialism, despair with creativity …
Elif Shafak writes about Walter Benjamin and his Arcades Project.
Two "crashed" books are making headlines this week. (A crashed book meaning a book that is written, edited, published, printed and released in a ridiculously short period of time.)
Melville House released Three Days in May: Sex, Surveillance, and DSK by Edward Jay Epstein. (Epstein wrote that ripping account of Kahn's arrest for the New York Review of Books not that long ago -- this book appears to be an extension and update on that piece.) It's an ebook, and so actually includes security camera footage within the book. (I'm guessing for tablets. Somehow I doubt my old and outdated Kindle wants anything to do with video.) The Guardian has covered the book, and apparently Sarkozy is pissed.
And if you read any of the UK papers, you've probably noticed pieces about the new book Dial M for Murdoch, untangling the phone hacking scandal. It was also crashed as an ebook in the States, although a print version is being released next week.
On the occasion of Israel's 64th birthday, Shalom Auslander has a few thoughts about his dogs.
April 27, 2012
Speaking of which! Patricia Churchland, the philosopher, who is often not taken very seriously, charmingly talks some shit about the misunderstanding of neuroscience, morality, and atheists who think science explains everything.
“I think Sam is just a child when it comes addressing morality. I think he hasn’t got a clue. And I think part of the reason that he kind of ran amuck on all this is that, as you and I well know, trashing religion is like shooting fish in a barrel. If Chris Hitchens can just sort of slap it off in an afternoon then any moderately sensible person can do the same. He wrote that book (The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values) in a very clear way although there were lots of very disturbing things in it. I think he thought that, heck, it’s not that hard to figure these things out. Morality: how hard can that be? Religion was dead easy. And it’s just many orders of magnitude more difficult.”
No matter how much we learn, the vision science offers — of ourselves and of the universe — will always be incomplete and consequently imperfect. Stories of gods, angels and rainbow horses will persist in the gaps.
Maud Newton is kind of at her best when writing about religion, and her piece in the New York Times Magazine about the Heaven Is for Real phenomenon is excellent. In case you are as checked out of the larger culture as I am and have no idea what the book is, it's a toddler's account of heaven after a near death experience. There are rainbow colored horses in heaven, which I am pretty excited to hear. But it's also about a family totally willing to sell their son and the time he almost died to the masses, all in the name of God, and profit.
Gregory Jusdanis writes a slightly uncomfortable piece about what is often left out of travel writing: money. As in, the people around you probably have less than you, particularly in today's climate, and they are not there to be aesthetically poor and simple to enhance your travel experience.
The sight of the food-line certainly highlighted, as if this were necessary, the luxury of travel and the way it converts the foreign spot into an aesthetic performance, a spectacle through which the self seeks improvement and realization. We, the affluent, feel the right to roam the world in search of cultural difference and natural wonder.
April 26, 2012
Kate Bornstein! If you haven't read (and filled out) Bornstein's My Gender Workbook then I don't know what to do with you. Anyway, she's at the Browser, recommending five books about Gender Outlaws. She also gives her take on the genderless pronoun, always a source of cantankerous opinion.
“Ze” and “hir” were first invented back when the Internet was a bunch of MIT geeks who were playing massive multiplayer dungeon games, and their characters were nongendered. They had to think up pronouns and they came up with ze and hir. I used them in a novel called Nearly Roadkill with my co-author Caitlin Sullivan. They've caught on. I used them again in my Gender Workbook. Now many people bravely use ze and hir as pronouns. They might actually get accepted into the English language as useful gender-free pronouns.
Now I use “they” and “them” in a singular context, because if you look back in the history of the English language, they and them really did have a singular form. And it's easier to say for me than ze and hir, which anger people who don’t want to underscore that their gender is radical. I think the English language will settle down into they and them.
April 25, 2012
Another time my friend Maud Newton and I will have to agree to disagree. She's enthusiastic about Alison Bechdel's follow-up memoir to Fun Home, Are You My Mother?. I, memoir-averse, was rubbed all the wrong ways by it. But I always respect Newton's opinion, even when it diverges from mine.
She speaks with Bechdel at the B&N Review
Jaron Lanier, the social media skeptic and author of You Are Not a Gadget, hates the idea of Klout. “People’s lives are being run by stupid algorithms more and more,” Lanier says. “The only ones who escape it are the ones who avoid playing the game at all.”
Albena Azmanova discusses her new book, The Scandal of Reason, and in doing so, answers some of the criticisms laid at Mona Eltahawy's piece in Foreign Policy, "Why Do They Hate Us?" -- "they" being men in Arabic countries, "us" being women. I've read a couple of responses, and they criticize her for not having a more detailed plan on what should be done, for her analysis not being all-encompassing. But it seems to me she was writing a polemic, and the job of the polemic is not to offer pat answers about plans of action, or dig into the root system of patriarchy. It's job is to yell and make noise and point fingers.
Azmanova echoes this a bit, in her story about being active in post-communist Bulgaria:
When I spoke later on behalf of the students at the Council of Europe, I was bewildered that telling of our frustration seemed not to be enough. Instead, I was pressed to specify positive goals, to name the tenets of our movement. To this day I find it a great pity that instead of trying to understand the proper causes of our frustration, we rushed into formulating (and simply borrowing) grand plans for a new future. A precious opportunity was missed in this way. The construction of (some semblance of) liberal democracies in post-communist Eastern Europe was in no way a response to the specific grievances that had prompted us to reject the old order. Alas, we rushed into a project of “what is right” before really figuring out what was wrong, what was missing.
Chris Lehmann on the controversy over this year's lack of a fiction Pulitzer.
If an entire industry must rely on aloof prize boards to gin up sustained interest, then the trouble would seem to be the industry itself, rather than the prize boards or the consumers.
April 24, 2012
Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review has concluded.
Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.
Amused to the point of nausea: Do you want a literary house? Perhaps something overlooking the Gulf of Poets? Or maybe a place that "is believed to be the model for Thrushcross Grange in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights"? The Financial Times has some houses it would like you to look at, and they will set you back millions.
I can't remember if I've linked to Chimamanda Adichie's TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" before or not. It came up during yesterday's #feminazgul meme, which included a discussion about how white, male writers are applauded for putting a gay Asian teen in the far back reaches of their books, and queer writers, who actually write about gay Asian teens as if they were real people, are ignored. It's worth digging into the backlog on Twitter.
Have we talked about HHhH yet? It won the Prix Goncourt, so I wasn't necessarily expecting to like it. (Didn't The Kindly Ones win, too? That's what I was thinking about. Sodomy with a sausage as plot device. I'm pretty sure that is in 94% of the Prix Goncourt winners.) Instead I started annoying everyone around me with how much I loved the book.
It is a brainy, twisty, playful little book that is nearly impossible to distill. (Also something I love about it: The "elevator pitch" or whatever would be five minutes long.) It's about WWII. And R. Heydrich. And parachute assassins. And history. And fiction. And the role of fact in fiction. And other WWII novels. And the lack of respect novelists have. And fudging with the truth to create a good story. And on and on.
Not too long ago I was reading Unless It Moves the Human Heart, in which an MFA instructor gives a distilled MFA course to the reader. In it he said that it is dangerous for the writer to know too much. Knowledge impairs the imagination. Because when I finished reading HHhH I was convinced that the French Laurent Binet is a brainy, knowledgeable guy, I asked him his opinion on that sort of belief in our talk at Kirkus Reviews.
Don't know too much; it could hurt you! I totally disagree with that statement. The more you know, the better it is—for everything: books, movies, painting, music, architecture, sport. Inter-textuality is a real thing. If you ignore it, if you believe you can write just based on your personal experience of life, you'll make shit for sure.
April 23, 2012
Excited flutter today about two books coming out in June: Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (immediately texted my friend, who is also addicted to Flynn's books) and Kate Summerscale's Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace. If you haven't read any of their previous books, you might want to start with Sharp Objects and The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, respectively. Because if you're not reading them, you are missing out.
For the first few days, very little happened. Had I filled it too much, I wondered? Perhaps I had left my scent on it, inadvertently frightening the poor birds away? And then, one morning, I woke up, stumbled into the living room, and there they were—a pair of delicate little sparrows, perched on the ledge of the tiny gazebo, nibbling gently at the seeds and nuts. I went to fetch my son from his bedroom, and held his hand as we crept quietly back into the living room.
“Look, son!” I whispered.
But the sparrows had gone. In their place, like Nazis invading Poland, sat a pair of shrieking squirrels, their sharp little claws digging into the wooden roof and walls of the feeder.
I don't fucking care if he is writing about cotton swabs, somehow I find it funny.
Haaretz has a piece on the German writers whose books were burned and banned by the Nazis, including those whose careers never recovered from being blacklisted and remain mostly unknown today.
Scottish crime writer Shona MacLean has been forced to change her name – to S G MacLean – to make her novels more appealing to men.
"He would speak with some Albanian, and ask seven questions. For example, 'Has Homer been translated?' If it hasn't been translated, that's a sign that your people are not civilized."
Well, I mean, yikes. But it's interesting to read a tirade about why translation is undervalued, even if it does wander into some weird places. It's an interview with Israeli translator Aminadav Dykman, who is trying to fill in some gaps in European works translated into Hebrew.
The market reacted as it was supposed to; when people have been waiting for a starter pistol to go off, they don’t listen critically to the bang.
Think what you want about BR Myers (and I certainly do), but in this piece about The Art of Fielding he is pretty savvy about how a sensation novel actually becomes a sensation novel. How a debut novelist is suddenly being compared to Tolstoy and no one bursts into laughter. It's not so much about whether The Art of Fielding is a good book or not (I have no idea, I did not read it), it's about how Harbach was suddenly being compared to Tolstoy.
(I'm always a little disappointed that these pieces do not show up more often, that it is somehow taboo to talk about advances and hype and nepotism and so on. Hollywood pretty brutally dissects itself every year, but for some reason in publishing we're all supposed to pretend we live in a meritocracy? Helen DeWitt's interviews about the money and chaos behind the publishing of The Last Samurai were shocking -- and refreshing -- because so few people dare to talk about any of that.)
(Plus, I am tired of writing about PUBLISHING. I'm sorting out my books to see what to take back to Berlin, and will be happy for the distance. I will miss my students but the rest is fine.)
April 20, 2012
I’m like every other 30-something, middle-class white person: I feel like the world owes me my best-selling memoir.
The limits of the end of the James Joyce copyright or the works going into the public domain or whatever the proper, legal wording might be continue to be tested. The National Library of Ireland has put up reproductions of an array of Joyce's papers, including manuscript pages, drafts, notebooks and sketches. The quality is not fantastic, and they promise to update with new scans, but they were simply trying to usurp another claimant to the ownership of these pages. The London Review of Books explains.
I love Barbara J. King for asking this question. She frames it around Jodi Picoult's new book Lone Wolf and its baffling statements about the lives of wolves. God bless poetic license, etc etc, but there's poetic license and there is laziness. Maybe if it's a good story it doesn't matter so much... But King talks to scientists who are actually angry about Picoult's book, and they discuss why this is a discussion that matters.
Probably a good complementary story would be Peter Benchley's regret over writing Jaws, another misinformation novel about predators. When he started to research and learn about sharks, he actually became a shark conservationist, and regretted putting shoddy information into the culture about the creatures. Doubtful that Lone Wolf will become the phenomenon that Jaws was ("I lowered my face to the carcass and began to rip off strips of raw flesh, bloodying my face and my hair..." -- that would be a human there, not a wolf) but an interesting parallel nonetheless.
April 19, 2012
The continuing adventures of "I don't get it, but I have stopped caring about that," there is a 12 minute documentary about David Rees, sharpening pencils. And his guidebook, How to Sharpen Pencils. Only slightly horrified that I watched the entire thing.
When I first heard that Anthony Bourdain was going to be publishing books, I was optimistic. Now, it turns out he'll be starting things off with that old woman's Olive Garden review. So, now: less so.
The amazing presumption of Lehrer's description, the shattering banality of its explanation, and its mystifying stupidity are all entirely characteristic of a phenomenon best branded "neuroscientism". (The term has been employed by the philosopher Colin McGinn and the critical neuroscientist Raymond Tallis, among others.) Scientism is the confidence that science can explain all aspects of human life; neuroscientism is the more specific promise that brain-scans (using the limited current technologies of fMRI and EEG) can explain the workings of the mind.
There is kind of a great takedown of the belief that neuroscience (no matter our primitive understanding of it) can explain the world, over at the Guardian. It centers on Jonah Lehrer's superhot Imagine: How Creativity Works, but any number of recent books could have taken the fall in its place.
April 18, 2012
Okay, so today might be just 100% self-congratulatory, and we will only link to things about us or that we wrote. We (myself and managing editor Charles Blackstone) are at least Midwestern enough to feel abashed about this.
But Charles, the delightful Charles, the wonderful Charles, the totally bad for my liver Charles, is interviewed at the Nervous Breakdown by the lovely Gina Frangello, the generous Gina Frangello, the writer of beautifully fucked up books Gina Frangello. And maybe mostly I'm linking to it because both of them manage to say awfully nice things about me. Me! All about me today! And about why I don't have comments sections. (HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN THE INTERNET?) And other Bookslut related business.
The only place for the victims is the story. The story is always much more powerful than the history. And the struggle of these two elements...I intend to go to the unspoken and formulate a story that can stand against another version, a different version. This story, the stories we tell, has many versions. That’s the difference between story and history. There are many versions that can coexist together, and they build our relationship to our life. They are our mirror and our imagination.
I gratuitously quote Brian Eno in my new Kind Reader column, answering a reader's question about whether or not they're allowed to bail on everything. Change their name, never be heard from again. I prescribed a little Maureen McHugh, and her short story collection After the Apocalypse.
There's a fugue state in Maureen McHugh's After the Apocalypse. All of her stories in that collection deal with the aftermath of one thing or another. In her version, it's literally a dirty bomb going off in a city, a zombie plague, an environmental disaster. But feel free to metaphorically swap in whatever's going on in your life. But in her telling, things don't suddenly get wiped clean when the bomb goes off. It's the end of the world...and your teenage daughter is still a pain in the ass. The ecosystem is on the verge of collapse...and you still have to pay the rent. Even the kid in the fugue state has a family that shows up on his doorstep, insisting his name isn't what he believes it is. They are going to drag him home whether he remembers them or not.
April 17, 2012
One reviewer said my book should be renamed Time to Start Drinking. If I was asked to write one on Britain I might call it Time to Start Sniffing Glue.
I am not trying to depress you today, I swear. Lately when my friend and I try to talk politics I get in such a funk that all I can do is barely lift my head high enough to take a gulp of my martini. And this Foreign Policy interview with Ed Luce, author of Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent will break your fucking heart. Or at least wring any last dregs of optimism that might have been stagnating there. And oh wow, then there is this:
I do feel that the swing towards celebrating the child, elevating the child, over-praising the child, boosting constantly at every opportunity the self-esteem of the child, assuming the child is a fragile little eggshell that can be broken at any moment, is something quite un-immigrant and therefore quite un-American, and also a great disservice to the child.
I think that tells more about the neediness of their overworked parents' desire for the love of their child than it does for their upbringing skills, which would be to inoculate the children for the world they expect, to show them you can fail, that C grades happen, that reprimands are sometimes deserved. This is a sort of amateur psychological point I'm making, but there are a lot of educationists that I've talked to and a lot of scholars of education as well as teachers in this book who made me realize this is a cultural problem at the ground level with how kids' minds are prepared for the future. And if the future is about minds, it's not a trivial alarm to raise. I'm not the first to raise it, but it struck me that education is perhaps the most fertile way of answering your question about what is wrong with Americans.
Bring on the champagne, I need a friendly haze to carry me until I get back on my plane to Berlin.
“The obvious answer is to let the [jury] pick. We’re the people who have gone through the 300 novels. All the board is asked to do is to read three top novels that we’ve given to them…In fact, what’s happened today is a lot of the articles and blog posts have gotten it wrong—they’ve been blaming the three of us!”
Ah, so the fiction jury of the Pulitzer Prize is pissed off that the board chose not to award a fiction prize this year. So I would like to withdraw my "ballsy" comment toward the board yesterday and resubmit it in the direction of the Pulitzer board. I did not realize it was misdirected.
Following up on the despairing over American media thing we started with the last post, there is an enormous piece on the rise of the Huffington Post at the Columbia Journalism Review. And despite the fact that you probably think it's just a rehash of similar profiles and repetitions of the woe expressed about What Is Happening To Our Internet It Was So Nice Before They Came Along, it is not that at all.
(Am I petty for refusing to read anything hosted by Huffington Post? I can't stand that the owners are getting even a fraction of a penny for my page view, while all that buy-out money stubbornly sits at the top of the masthead only. Yes, petty, but I never tried to claim I was otherwise.)
Hadley Freeman writes about why magazines like the Atlantic and Newsweek really seem to believe that women just spend all of their time yelling at one another, and consistently give forums for such yelling to take place publicly.
Just as women don't hate Samantha Brick for being beautiful, and feminism hasn't ruined anyone's chances to be married, and no one thinks mothers don't work, and there is no argument between working and stay-at-home mothers, there is no contradiction between the sexual imagination of some and sexual politics for all. This is all purely nonsense conjured up by cynical editors to get women readers to argue among themselves and to distract them from the paucity of what else the magazine has to offer.
This year's Independent Foreign Fiction Award shortlist is out in all its glorious diversity.
Alice by Judith Hermann, translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld, translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green
Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Cindy Carter
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, translated from the Italian by Judith Landry
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon
Annual misandrist fiesta the Orange Prize has just released the 2012 shortlist. Such oppression of the men! Outrage! (OK, I am longing for a foaming-at-the-mouth reverse-sexism editorial, it just doesn't feel like the literary year is complete without one. Is BHL available? Nicholas Lezard?)
The sexy/sexist nominees:
Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues
Madeline Miller - The Song of Achilles
Cynthia Ozick - Foreign Bodies
Ann Patchett - State of Wonder
April 16, 2012
“I am a product of the colonial experience,” Kincaid said, referring to the racism and rigorous British school system she experienced in Antigua. “I once had to copy books one and two of Paradise Lost as punishment in school.”
Jamaica Kincaid has a new novel coming out, and we should all be enormously pleased about that.
As you've probably already heard by now, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction goes to exactly no one this year. The nominees were Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, Karen Russell's Swamplandia! and (inevitably) David Foster Wallace's The Pale King. The jury decided not to give out an award, and we are left to speculate why for now. But can I say? Jury? Ballsy. Seriously, fucking ballsy. You have my respect.
(That of course leads us to ask how the short list was made, but I'm sure someone will be making a statement before too long. EDITED TO ADD: According to Elliott Holt, "The Pulitzer jurors pick the 3 finalists, but then the Pulitzer Board selects the winner. No award means none of finalists got majority vote.")
If you were reading about the price fixing lawsuit and were wondering why it's such a big deal that Amazon wants to sell ebooks for $9.99 -- lower prices means the consumer can afford to buy more books, right? -- David Carr has a pretty decent summation of what is at stake.
April 13, 2012
Now online: my (kind of late, really, as it's just coming out in paperback) take on Amy Waldman's The Submission for Architect Magazine. The novel made a fuss when it came out last year, being about a Muslim architect who wins the competition to design the 9/11 memorial.
The other reference point is the 1981 selection of Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Lin was condemned by many of the families of fallen soldiers simply for her Asian background, despite the fact that she was of Chinese heritage (and not of Vietnamese). Her struggle after the revelation of her identity, including her testimony in front of the United States Commission of Fine Arts, is merely rewritten into Waldman’s plot line. Khan’s design is selected by the jury in the same way that Lin’s was, and both are pressured to withdraw their proposals to keep the peace. And, should you miss the obvious similarities between the two designers, characters show up at various points in The Submission to state baldly how reminiscent all of this is to the Maya Lin controversy—starting on page 17, as a judge on the panel intones, “It’s Maya Lin all over again. But worse.”
Ostensibly because of the controversy over the poem “What must be said” critical of Israel by the German Nobel laureate Guenter Grass, the US novelist Dave Eggers will stay away from today’s ceremony at Bremen’s City Hall, where he should have been awarded the “Albatross” Literature Prize of the Günter Grass Foundation in Bremen. (via)
You'll note, as this other story does, that Eggers has not refused or announced his intention to return the prize money that comes with the award. He just doesn't want to show up at a place with Grass's name on it.
Gudrun Faehndrich, spokeswoman for Eggers' German publisher Kiepenheuer and Witsch, said the writer would still accept the award -- and its 40,000 euros ($53,000) in prize money, to be shared with his German translators.
April 12, 2012
Emma Garman continues her streak of goodness at the Awl with the fascinating tale of a faux (but real) astrologer Louis de Wohl, who was trotted out by the British to tell the world that Hitler was going to die soon, or was going to lose the war, can't you see? It all has to do with the 8th house. Neptune is doing something and yeah, it's fate. It seems it was all a propaganda ploy to help bolster the belief that Hitler was in fact beatable, and also to maybe freak out the astrology-believing Hitler on the side.
I have admitted to a soft spot for Stephen Joyce, the man that everyone in the literary world hates due to his strict control over the James Joyce estate. And yet he shares the characteristics that a lot of descendant/literary executor have, namely a preference at seeing their family member as human being, not literary genius.
Over at the Smart Set, I write about the afterlife of the creative genius, through three books: Modris Eksteins's Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty, Michael Anesko's Monopolizing the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship, and Doris Langley-Levy Moore's truly great The Late Lord Byron.
Because the descendant sees the corporeal before they see the divine. The estate of Henry James was left in the hands of his sister-in-law and nephew, although Wharton schemed hard to dominate. The worry, of Wharton and others in James’s social circle, was that the estate would be “botched” by the descendants, and in Anesko’s telling they were “suspicious of the Jameses’ provincial limitations.” Henry left in charge Alice and Harry James, the wife and son of his brother William. William rather notoriously did not “get” his brother’s writing, thinking it overly verbose, overly poetic, overly just about everything. And here they were, supposed to be guiding the great writer’s landing into literary history. The Jameses first order of business was essentially to restrict any access to Henry’s estate, particularly any of the letters that might have shown him to be a snob, a bore, or sexually confused. They locked up everything and kept his private life a secret for decades. That effort took a much greater priority for the family than, say, making sure people could find and buy and read James’s books. Perhaps they thought his image would be easier to control if no one knew who he was.
The Hugo Awards nominations have been released. With George R. R. Martin shortlisted for best novel, I would like to take this opportunity to mention tits.
As well as novels (and episodes of Doctor Who), there are some wonderful categories here for things like 'Best Novelette'. Every year I discover some great short fiction because of the Hugos, check out the contenders under the jump.
Countdown by Mira Grant
“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu
Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente
Best Short Story:
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi
Best Graphic Story:
Digger by Ursula Vernon
Fables Vol 15: Rose Red by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham
Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys To The Kingdom written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton
The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross
The best thing about the IMPAC Dublin Literary award is the longlist, which gets made up by nominations from libraries world wide. Take a look to see how your local library shamed you this year. One year, a New Zealand library legitimately nominated Dan Brown. If I know my people, the ballot was left for one stoned part timer who filled it out for the lulz.
The considerably less interesting and far more worthy shortlist has just been released.
Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer
The Matter with Morris by David Bergen
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Memory of Love by Animatta Forna
Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Landed by Tim Pears
Limassol by Yishai Sarid
The Eternal Son by Cristovão Tezza
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
April 10, 2012
You know this by now: Günter Grass wrote a poem calling Israel a threat to peace and he is now banned from entering the country. Probably he didn't want to go so much, but anyway. A rather dumb argument has emerged: if you're from Germany, you are not allowed to criticize Israel. So despite the fact that I don't agree with everything in this op-ed, I am going to link to Jakob Augstein's response to the Grass controversy. Because something needs to counter that nonsense.
The political parties spent far too much energy on peripheral questions, claimed they were transforming the whole of society, a transformation which would liberate the world from the injustices currently bearing down on my forehead, in the long run: but that was just a cynical way of referring to a permanent postponement, that’s what they really meant. Occasionally they took up some of the problems of the very poorest in their propaganda, and what really disgusted me most about the whole thing was the way the poverty of the world was used as advertizing material for a political party, that a self-evident thing like reducing the number of children with tuberculosis became a publicity stunt for a party whose behavior in other respects has to be regarded with suspicion and even contempt. No, for guilty people like us there was no organization, the distress of the world was being taken in hand by people who’d ceased to feel guilty, if they ever had felt guilty at all, because they lived under the illusion that they were doing such an awful lot to ease it.
Little Star has a tiny excerpt from Stig Dagerman's Island of the Doomed. "Dagerman wrote Island of the Doomed in one feverish summer, in 1946, in a remote island cabin belonging to August Strindberg." Yes to that, please.
I do not really understand the new David Rees project, How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants, but I am enjoying the publicity campaign very much. From an interview with GQ, wherein he expresses his sincerity:
It's just kind of a fun project that I feel like anybody should like. That's why it's so crazy that sometimes when I read the comments sections to articles that have been written about this project, some people are so mad. It makes them so enraged... It's hard to explain, but it's kind of surprising. It really, really rubs some people the wrong way, you know? It's kind of like Miranda July or something. You know how some people fucking hate Miranda July? It's kind of like that.
And there's also this wonderful video.
Sometimes my job is pretty great. Like when I get to talk to people like Ellen Ullman. I rather forced her to talk to me about her two older books, rather than the new splashy novel By Blood that everyone is talking about. I wanted to talk about technology with someone, and why it is so absent from our novels, and Ullman's two kind of brilliant books Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents and The Bug seemed like a pretty great place to start.
(I was complaining to a friend briefly about how many writers I approach for the Q&A series don't really want to talk about the ideas behind their writing, or politics or gender or philosophy. They want to talk about process. I don't give a fuck about process. It is sometimes a struggle to find interesting conversations to have once a week.)
So Ullman and I discuss programming in real life versus in the movies, why great novels about our technological age are not springing up, and the new emerging tech bubble.
That was based on a bug that happened to me. I spent eight months trying to figure out what was going wrong. And I did come to doubt that I knew anything about what I was doing. I talked to some programmers and they said to me, “That’s my life, that’s my life in a nutshell.” As a programmer you kind of have to put up a front to your client or your employer that you really have it under control, and you are good at what you’re doing. Your code has to be well written, maintainable, and you have to do it fast. It’s not like one programmer ever says to another, “Let’s go have a drink, I’m terrified, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Mostly, you don’t reveal that. I wanted to reveal the other side of, it’s so cool, it’s hip. Programming requires persistence and learning and the tolerance to spend most of your waking hours having a conversation with a machine, with a device driver.
April 09, 2012
I was just talking about William James's supernatural investigations, and how rational people who love WJ might want to ignore that part of his life, and did a little digging into Deborah Blum's book about these investigations, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. I found a podcast I had missed last year, an hour long conversation about trying to document supernatural experiences, how writing about the supernatural can destroy your scientific career, and the odd conversations that follow when you tell people you're researching psychic events.
God, I love Kathleen Jamie. Findings was amazing, and occasionally an essay of hers will pop up in the LRB or elsewhere, and it's nice to remember what a contemporary essay can do. She has a new collection out, in the UK only alas, called Sightlines. She talks to the Guardian.
Michael Kimmelman, who is so good it's almost impossible to believe he writes regularly for the New York Times, is at the New York Review of Books, writing about Gertrude Stein. Not as a writer -- god, no one ever writes about that.
That said, even today few people manage to get through her books and poems, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas aside. Unread as always, Stein’s novels and poems nonetheless appear regularly in fresh critical editions. The latest printing of Ida from Yale University Press includes Stein’s “How Writing Is Written,” from her mid-1930s barnstorming tour of America, when she reached her triumphant peak of celebrity and made the cover of Time, and also Thornton Wilder’s “Gertrude Stein Makes Sense,” his posthumous tribute to his friend, from 1947, still perhaps the most lucid, down-to-earth aid for the head-scratching undergraduate.
Mike Wallace, who spent four decades as a hard-hitting, provocative news correspondent on "60 Minutes," has died, CBS reported Sunday. He was 93.
The Ransom Center always has a good selection of old Mike Wallace interviews. Among my favorite: Frank Lloyd Wright.
Those of us who have been longing for a satisfying takedown of Thomas Friedman do not have to wait any longer. (Actually, there have been a couple already, but there he is, still walking around, unable to shut up, and so that need quickly renews itself.) Verso is publishing Belén Fernández's The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, a book length fuck you to the mustache.
Steve Marlowe reviews the book in a piece called "#trashthestache: an unabashedly—but deservedly—fawning review of Belen Fernandez’s The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work". In it is quoted Robert Jensen, who writes about Friedman:
‘Friedman tells the privileged, and those who aspire to privilege, what they want to hear in a way that makes them feel smart; his trumpeting of US affluence and power are sprinkled with pithy-though-empty anecdotes, padded with glib turns of phrases. He’s the perfect oracle for a management-focused, advertising-saturated, dumbed-down, imperial culture that doesn’t want to come to terms with the systemic and structural reasons for its decline. In Friedman’s world, we’re always one clichéd big idea away from the grand plan that will allow us to continue to pretend to be the shining city upon the hill that we have always imagined we were/are/will be again’.”
Satisfying. Every time.
April 06, 2012
A bit of optimism as we go into the weekend:
We can learn, we can improve, and we can change our habitual approach to the world.
Maria Konnikova has an excerpt from her upcoming nonfiction work at Scientific American, about brain plasticity and self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you are doomed to be something, your brain might make sure you are that something. But: change the belief and you can change your brain.
Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson has agreed to pay $1m (£630,000) to compensate his Montana-based charity, which he used to promote and pay for copies of his books, according to the state attorney general.
Bookslut contributor Lee Randall calls for a W. Somerset Maugham revival, and I'd just like to add "yes please" to the end of that. (In her article I learn that "they nearly didn’t release Mrs Craddock, the story of a woman who “marries beneath her” and later develops a sexual attraction to her young cousin." That would have been an awful shame, as it's one of my favorite Maugham books.)
The new documentary Revealing Mr. Maugham, which focuses primarily on his closeted homosexuality, is now available to purchase and download.
I've written before about how biographers choose sides. And how could they not? When you spend that much time in intimate communion with your chosen subject, how can you not start to feel protective, wish you could have spared them from whatever slights? If this happens unconsciously with the biographer, it can damage the work. Inaccuracies slip in, if you don't maintain a ruthless regard. Or, alternately, you can let a snide tone take over, when dealing with the figure's potential usurpers.
So I'm reading Monopolizing the Master and I want very much to like it. It's about the James family, for fucksake. But either Michael Anesko is completely unaware that he's being territorial about Henry James, or he's just a sloppy writer. It seems he finds certain aspects of the Jameses to be terribly embarrassing, and he tries to fob off their faults onto others.
He at one point makes Alice James, the wife of William James and not his sister (it gets confusing in that family), come off as a superstitious nutter. He writes that she dragged Henry James from seance to seance after William's death, trying to get a message from the beyond. Somehow ignoring the fact that this was William's request! He had done a lot of experimenting with the supernatural (read Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters for background on this, sir) and thought he could get a message across after his death. But by leaving out this information, and writing the passage in the tone he did, he makes the wife seem like a scatterbrained imbecile.
Henry, for his part, went willingly and seemed to be disappointed that William's absence from the seances. He "attributed the silence to 'the grim refusal of the dead.'" (From an interesting blog post on the ghostly beliefs of the James brothers.)
Probably no big surprise to anyone, you can't really sue an Amazon.com reviewer for libel if they don't like your book. A self-published author who did just that lost the case, and is now going to be forced to pay £100,000 in legal fees.
Here is one of the devastatingly libelous reviews that started all of this:
Here is a man who writes, publishes then reviews his own book. Having downloaded the first two chapters, I found it pretty unreadable with fatally flawed science.
April 05, 2012
Over at the Kind Reader, a querent writes in admitting to fantasies of destroying their friend's marriage somehow. And lord almighty do I know something about being friends with someone involved with a jackass. (I think I have been that friend myself, once or twice.) So, what does one do?
Read Portrait of a Lady, I suppose, because sometimes, even after the relationship is finally over, your friend will go back to the jackass. Like Ms. Isabel Archer.
It is heartbreaking to see a friend in a destructive relationship. And infuriating to see them make a move away from their significant other and then boomerang right back. (Also embarrassing, because god knows your response to the news of their breakup was something like "Glory hallelujah" and you know they think of that every time you ask how things with Ted are going.) You, as an outside observer, as a person who loves your friend, can see their charms, their assets, their deep lovability. But when you tell them "You could do so much better" you might as well be addressing a wheel of cheese.
April 03, 2012
The cardinal fact is that everywhere he looked Henry James saw fineness apparently sacrificed to grossness, beauty to avarice, truth to a bold front. He realized how constantly the tenderness of growing life is at the mercy of personal tyranny and he hated the tyranny of persons over each other. His novels are a repeated exposure of this wickedness, a reiterated and passionate plea for the fullest freedom of development, unimperilled by reckless and barbarous stupidity. - Theodora Bosanquet, quoted in Monopolizing the Master
On my way on a pilgrimage to the James Family cemetery.
Here's your link to the copyright lecture of the day: "Do Bad Things Happen When Works Fall into the Public Domain?" The US Supreme Court sure seems to think so, but maybe we can think about this in a non-pro-corporate culture kind of way.
A Russian publisher has refused to withdraw a notebook for schoolchildren featuring the former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin on its cover...
The notebook is part of a series of 20 "Great Russians" released by the Alt publishing house. Other notebooks feature Ivan the Terrible, Vladimir Lenin and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
I might be Maria Tatar's only fan girl, but that is okay with me. (Lustmord! Lustmord!) Well, she's translated one of the recently rediscovered Bavarian fairy tales, "King Goldenlocks," and it's up at the New Yorker.
It's pretty twisted, but, you know, it's from Bavaria. Every time I go to Bavaria I am pretty sure I won't be leaving with all of my fingers and toes.
Have we talked about my love for F for Fake? I mean yes, we probably have, as I've watched the documentary 17, 18 times and I get something new out of it each time. I quote it, I refer to it in every situation I can. Recently I practically sat on someone to get them to watch it with me. And hooray, now I get to mention it -- twice! -- in this week's Kirkus Q&A.
I talk to Modris Eksteins about his book Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty. His book is wide ranging, taking in Weimar Germany, Van Gogh's celebrity, the rise of Modernist thought and philosophy, and the birth of the art expert, about whom he has nothing really good to say in the interview.
In the longer term, if I may play devil’s advocate, many purported experts, especially in the human sciences, are simply buffoons. Good play-acting is what qualifies them as experts.
What is especially striking in the case I describe in my book is how the accused fraudster, Otto Wacker, remained far more consistent in his accounting than the so-called experts, and by the end of his trial he had garnered considerable sympathy whereas the fickle flip-flopping experts had forfeited all respect.
You can watch, by the way, F for Fake in its entirety for free online.
April 02, 2012
We are art heavy this month, in the new issue at least. I probably accidentally summoned such a coincidence, what with my endless watching of F for Fake and conducting an interview with Modris Ekstein's Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty. I accidentally manifested a tremendous feature by Bonnie B. Lee about art theft, the art market, and the unclear, amoral path a grand piece of art takes on its way to being sold. Also, related, we have Jacob Mikanowski writing about the photography (and new photography book) by Alec Soth, documenting hermits, outcasts, individualists, and drifters in America. And Leah Triplett considers the work of art critic Lawrence Weschler for her Sear column, with a little aside about the role of truth in art.
In columns, Lightsey Darst eavesdrops on two lovers discussing a John Donne poem, Daisy Rockwell returns to our pages to discuss the orientalist impulses of Marina Warner and Craig Thompson, Jenny McPhee reviews the dark side of Mumbai, and Christopher Merkel does the same for Budapest.
In reviews, we have Italian poets, challenges to masculinity, 84% of Pam Houston, my favorite dead Viennese mathematician (yes, I have a favorite dead Viennese mathematician, what of it), and Barbara fucking Stanwyck. And, god, more. We'll see what I accidentally conjure up for May...
Oh god damn it. Emma Garman's profile of Josephine Hart's novels just made me impulsively buy a few paperbacks. I am in need of a few ruthless novels that contain no narrative arc of redemption. So, The Truth About Love and The Reconstructionist it is.
British lawmakers and rights activists joined a chorus of protest Monday against plans by the government to give the intelligence and security services the ability to monitor the phone calls, e-mails, text messages and Internet use of every person in the country.
Arthur Krystal recommends that writers that have been attacked with a negative review should absolutely write responses. Despite every embarrassing bit of proof to the contrary. (COUGH::lethem::COUGH)
Actually, the one good example of an author responding to a negative review has to be Peter Beinart's response to Tablet Magazine's review of his book The Crisis of Zionism. The original review was careless and bitter, as if Bret Stephens had decided that the best way to warn people away from Beinart's book was to pretend he had written an entirely other book altogether. That kind of response, when responding to factual inaccuracies and political agendas, absolutely should be written. Whining that someone didn't like your novel as much as you think they should have should still be done in a dark bar, to a friend, with nary a wifi connection or a Smartphone or a microphone in sight.