June 29, 2012
One of Canada’s distinguished international literary figures, Mavis Gallant, has signed contracts with McClelland & Stewart in Canada and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States to publish her private journals, it was announced Wednesday.
Now I am deeply missing my copy of her story collection The Cost of Living, which is stuck two countries away. I always pack the wrong books.
June 28, 2012
"Switch on the telephone! I must speak to my husband at once. A most terrible thing has happened. The King of Yugoslavia has been assassinated." "Oh, dear!" she replied. "Did you know him?" "No," I said. "Then why," she asked, "do you think it's so terrible?"
Her question made me remember that the word "idiot" comes from a Greek root meaning private person. Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their private lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cells in the brain. It is no worse than the male defect, which is lunacy: they are so obsessed by public affairs that they see the world as by moonlight, which shows the outlines of every object but not the details indicative of their nature. I said, "Well, you know, assassinations lead to other things!" "Do they?" she asked. "Do they not!" I sighed, for when I came to look back on it my life had been punctuated by the slaughter of royalties, by the shouting of newsboys who have run down the streets to tell me that someone has used a lethal weapon to turn over a new leaf in the book of history.
Having a hard time not live blogging my re-reading of Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I love this book so much.
However, in the summer of 1996, I learnt that my new novel, then circulating in proof form, had been accused of libel by a literary critic, and former boyfriend of mine, called David Sexton.
Amanda Craig, a former victim of UK's ridiculous and career destroying libel laws, is now one of the writers campaigning to have the laws changed.
Apparently a former receptionist from the New Yorker has written a memoir, and she indulges us in the catty gossip about the dead that we all like to hear. Muriel Spark was a bad mother, John Berryman a drunk flirt. Dorothy Parker was a bitch, Calvin Trillin shared his bagels. (Although he's still alive, who knows how that story will change posthumously.) The Barnes and Noble Review reviews.
Allow me to catch up on a few things here. There was a 22 hour train ride in my recent past.
This week's Kirkus Q&A was with Jasia Reichardt, regarding her book 15 Journeys from Warsaw to London. She's a lovely writer, but I was most captivated by a throwaway line in the first bit, where she explains the large number of names she has had in this lifetime. The name she was born with, a pseudonym she hid under, her married name, a variety of pen names as she was starting her writing career. There was something about that that I loved. I ask her about her shifting identities in the Q&A.
Names are like clothes. Sometimes you wear one type of garment, sometimes another according to requirements, according to circumstances. You don't go to a ball in jeans and you don't go to work in an office in a bathing costume, but you are still the same person inside your skin.
I worked for Planned Parenthood for four or five years, and I swear, by the time I got out of there, I was thinking, "I am never working for the feminists ever again." If you want to retain your idealism, best not to carry it with you to your day job. Sure, the work you are doing is important, but the nastiness of the people you're working with, seeing the way these people behave themselves, can kill your twinkling little heart.
So when someone wrote into Kind Reader asking for help with the interpersonal politics of the activist group they work with, I had flashbacks. I dosed the reader with a little Arthur Koestler, who in himself makes an interesting study in separating the work from the worker. Being that he's a rapist and all. And yet the author of one of my favorite nonfiction books but whatever. The full column is here.
As always, you can send your questions to me here.
June 27, 2012
Eva Illouz is on a call-in radio show to talk about her book Why Love Hurts -- you know, a serious sociologist, listening to your typical lovelorn stories from the kinds of people who call into radio shows -- and it's about as weird as you might expect.
Of course it would be Marina Warner who writes one of the few worthwhile pieces about the Damien Hirst retrospective. Certainly a lot of people have tried to, but ended up dissolving into fits of rage and bile, running out of words in the thesaurus to convey "empty" and "meaningless." And, as a bonus, Warner brings up Hirst's debt to Yayoi Kusama, whose book Infinity Net we reviewed in the June issue.
The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, to whom Hirst is greatly indebted (as he acknowledges and she likes to recall), has painted spots obsessively since the 1960s, and in her work they convey her own mental disturbance, a hallucination of ‘infinity nets’ spreading over the universe. The titles of Hirst’s spot paintings invoke various chemical substances, poisons as well as others; this produces, at least to my ears and eyes, a straining for the kind of higher meaning that Kusama achieves gracefully and poignantly. There’s a space of mystery in her art: we can’t know what she is experiencing, only glimpse it. By contrast, Hirst’s desire to speak in symbolic images ultimately outruns his imaginative energy. His paradoxical effort to be in control of his own human fears and instincts, of his mortality, of his fortune, leaches the enigma and vitality from his work.
Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” died Tuesday night in Manhattan. She was 71.
June 25, 2012
We were talking about spinsters the other day. And how the meaning of the word has changed. Because in the past, they always seem like the victim of their times. They remained unmarried because of forces outside their control. They were too headstrong for their age, or their family was too poor for a dowry, or whatever. There could be a bit of glamour attached to them, if you read the right W. Somerset Maugham books, because some spinsters knew that to marry was to give up your power. In the old days.
Now, of course, if you're single for a long time or unmarried in your 40s, it's probably your fault. There is definitely something wrong with you, because we've fixed societal pressures, right? We got rid of any reasons to marry other than true love, so if you haven't found your true love, there's something really sad about that.
I write about Margaret Fuller, a Transcendentalist who has become famous mostly for her unconventional love life, and I wonder just how she would fare in today's marriage market. It's my Smart Set column about Eva Illouz's Why Love Hurts.
But for the most part, these Modern Love essays are extravagant displays of what are now our traditional gender roles. The women nag, the men ignore. The women are looking for their soul mates, the one that completes them. The men are content with the status quo, and don’t truly understand the women they are married to. And so the women leave the men they married. On a journey of self-discovery and a deeper, truer passion.
Another element keeps cropping up in these stories. When the relationships don’t work, the women start rooting around in their emotional cellars. What went down with their fathers? Their mothers? Did they have separation anxiety? Was there a trauma in their childhoods that started a pattern of failed attachment? Or maybe the problem is on the man’s side, that he stubbornly ignores, and that is why they have to leave. Because these problems are preventing a pure connection, their souls are unable to intertwine in the way they are looking for. And without that divine connection, their lives are poorer for it. They deserve more.
Hogwash, says Eva Illouz.
June 22, 2012
I first knew Andrew Sarris existed because of his wife Molly Haskell's memoir about a life threatening but totally mysterious illness that nearly killed him, Love and Other Infectious Diseases. I love that memoir, it has stayed by my side through 12 moves, from Kansas to Germany. They were both film critics, and her passage about watching her husband roll out a perfect first draft and then laugh at his own jokes while she tortured herself over draft after draft still sticks in my mind.
Andrew Sarris, one of the nation’s most influential film critics and a champion of auteur theory, which holds that a director’s voice is central to great filmmaking, died on Wednesday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 83.
His wife, the film critic Molly Haskell, said the cause was complications of an infection developed after a fall.
There's a wonderful conversation between Haskell and Sarris here (in PDF form, be warned), called "Taking Film Seriously."
June 21, 2012
Craig Mod has an interesting piece about how digital books are going to change book cover art.
Dennis Loy Johnson and Johnny Temple reveal the truth* on BookTV: the only interesting American books are being published in Brooklyn.
* The truth in a sound-byte-y kind of way. We love the University of Chicago Press pretty hard.
A couple years ago, I was at the house of friends, and they were just back from Switzerland. There was a lot of talk about the cows, with the bells around their necks. They also then told me that the Swiss government has essentially wired explosives onto every entrance and exit in Switzerland, so that in case of attack they can isolate themselves instantly. There had been some wine, so I wasn't sure if they were making this up. They weren't.
(Also at the time I was thinking, yeah yeah, cows, bells, cute, but then when I went to Switzerland and spent some time around the cows with the bells around their necks I fell deeply in love. Especially how the younger cows would shake their heads tremendously and set the bells clanging, seeming to delight in the sound.)
To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two. Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage.
Biography is the medium through which the remaining secrets of the famous dead are taken from them and dumped out in full view of the world. The biographer at work, indeed, is like the professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain drawers that he has good reason to think contain the jewelry and money, and triumphantly bearing his loot away. The voyeurism and busybodyism that impel writers and readers of biography alike are obscured by an apparatus of scholarship designed to give the enterprise an appearance of banklike blandness and solidity. The biographer is portrayed almost as a kind of benefactor. He is seen as sacrificing years of his life to his task, tirelessly sitting in archives and libraries and patiently conducting interviews with witnesses. There is no length he will not go to, and the more his book reflects his industry the more the reader believes that he is having an elevating literary experience, rather than simply listening to backstairs gossip and reading other people's mail. The transgressive nature of biography is rarely acknowledged, but it is the only explanation for biography's status as a popular genre. The reader's amazing tolerance (which he would extend to no novel written half as badly as most biographies) makes sense only when seen as a kind of collusion between him and the biographer in an excitingly forbidden undertaking: tiptoeing down the corridor together, to stand in front of the bedroom door and try to peep through the keyhole.
- Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
June 20, 2012
I am packing books. I am unpacking books. I am suddenly certain that I will need to have every single Nancy Mitford book ever published on hand just in case of something. I am failing to practice restraint. I am trying to predict which books I'll be inclined to read over the next two months, and which ones I'll fling out train windows in frustration. I am asking my books which of them would like to come to Dalmatia with me.
This will continue for five days, I am certain of it.
A while back there was a story that got a lot of play, about a woman who rescued a neighbor's 300,000 volume book collection from being burned. The original owner had a bit of a hoarding tendency, but she put in the effort to try to wade through the collection to get the books in hands of new owners.
There's an update on the story: The collection is down to 200,000 but the experience has been so exasperating that she's now looking to burn the books herself.
There are a few odd moments in Jonathan Leaf's appreciation of Mary McCarthy. Like this one:
Her appeal for biographers derives partly from her beauty and glamour. In this, she is singular. If she could write off her looks by saying that she was merely invariably the prettiest girl at benefits for sharecroppers, let us admit that few admired women writers were ever comely enough to make men stare, or sufficiently informed about fashion that female friends sought their advice on wardrobe and jewelry.
What the fuck. Or:
And for all the admiration given to Lolita, to read it after reading McCarthy’s debut novel, The Company She Keeps (1942), is a bit like eating a pastry puff after consuming a 14-ounce sirloin. Hers is more substantial stuff.
which is just flat out there to pick a fight. But McCarthy deserves more attention, so we're going to link to the essay anyway.
Speaking of naughty, the story about Jonah Lehrer's self-plagiarism keeps unfolding.
Maybe we should make this a cautionary tale? Lord knows I don't care for Lehrer's writing -- the science behind it always seems so flimsy, and the way he attempts to apply it to life or anecdote always seems so cheesy. As if you can tell his imagined audience for Imagine is a banker who wants to take up painting or something. And why not? That is who is paying to hear him speak at his many lecture engagements every year.
So take him down for that! For being a not very interesting thinker. For never seeming very well versed in history, or culture, or anything deeper than the latest brain scans. Instead, if this does wreck his career, he'll likely be another victim of an online culture that needs constant content updates. And some people simply are not built for that. Their brains do not work that way. So he might take the lazy way out and just reuse the same studies, the same anecdotes, and the same topics again and again. We live in a world where publishers demand that everything be a trilogy. I'm not sure how shameful it should be that he possibly couldn't keep up.
Ah, did you do something naughty? Like totally make up your memoir? Never fear, Emma Garman will help you navigate your options from here, because as we all know, the Chinese character for "tabloid scandal" is the same as "opportunity." Or whatever.
June 19, 2012
Jonah Lehrer's debut for the New Yorker was almost entirely a rewrite of his previously published piece for the Wall Street Journal. It was, adorably enough, titled "Why Smart People Are Stupid." (via)
Updated to add: This is not the first time he's done this, according to New York Magazine.
Gitta Sereny, the veteran journalist whose unflinching studies of some of modern history's most reviled figures attempted to make sense of their crimes, has died. She was 91.
Sereny attracted praise and criticism for her profiles of senior Nazis and child murderers but was universally acknowledged as among the most tenacious interrogators of her generation.
Today I quickly read a feminist memoir about why getting married was such a bad idea. It was mostly about how each woman must find her own voice, and how marriage seems to prevent this. (What helps to find it: therapy, mother-blaming, screaming.) So of course the memoirist finds her voice and becomes an Artist, and now this memoir is proof of that.
So it's a good thing we also have Eva Illouz in our lives. Her book Why Love Hurts has been quite the thing in my life lately. Her theories about the current environment for love and relationships, specifically why there seems to be so much confusion and unhappiness and loneliness, are a little radical. It's not your fault, she says. It's not your fragile psyche, it's not your cold mother or absent father, there's nothing about you that needs to be fixed. (You do not need to find your bloody voice.) You're being set up for this by your society.
I talk to Illouz at Kirkus Reviews about Why Love Hurts, and why at first her book made me despair. First I believed it was just me that was broken, but now it's all of society?
Changing yourself, or "doing something" as you put it, feels to me like the Red Queen instructing Alice to do all the running she can do, only to remain in place. To move somewhere while running, you need to understand the real causes of what is distressing you.
I'm a little fascinated by this 1985 piece by Peter Kaplan called "Why the Rich Rule the TV Roost." Why, during the Reagan years of economic disparity, was the television full of stories about rich people? And why in the world is that happening again? (I'm looking at you, Revenge. And Ringer. And Dallas Redux.) Why, when things are particularly tough, are we weirdly soothed by stories about the super rich?
''This is a new age,'' said Mr. Forbes. ''There isn't as much rigidity. People are beginning to comprehend that anybody can get rich and that the Hunts can go broke. There is no class resentment against the rich. More think of the rich as just entrepreneurs, not the heavies they have always been on television and in the movies. They're not the exploiters anymore.''
Karl Ove Knausgård is profiled at the New York Times about his controversial six volume memoir/novel My Struggle. The problem is not with the book's name, although I admit that when the book landed in my mailbox I found it a little shocking. It's that in his home country of Norway, it's still considered scandalous to reveal family secrets and open up the private life of other people to public viewing.
Americans, of course, won't see what the big deal is. And really, after hearing that, the problem would be in convincing me that he's written anything other than yet another misery memoir. But he's a better writer than that. For proof, I offer up his essay "Names and Statistics," that we printed in last month's issue of Bookslut. But according to the New York Times, we can also take Siri Hustvedt's word for it. (Eh.)
June 18, 2012
Our old friend Elizabeth Merrick has come out of hiding. She updates us on her new book for Continuum's 33 1/3 series at her blog. And we are all so glad to have her back.
I asked the poet Tony Hoagland what he thought about fear. He said fear was the ghost of an experience: we fear the recurrence of a pain we once felt, and in this way fear is like a hangover. The memory of our pain is a pain unto itself, and thus feeds our fear like a foyer with mirrors on both sides. And then he quoted Auden: “And ghosts must do again/What gives them pain.”
So the super smart Katy Derbyshire has a post on translation of German books into English. Specifically this idea that maybe in the future, German publishers will start translating their own books into English, rather than waiting for American or UK publishers to buy the rights etc etc. (Maybe the Germans are frustrated that English language publishers only really want to translate books about Nazis? Possible.) And then they'll throw those English translations on Amazon as ebooks and instant profit.
This was an idea offered by Tom Hillenbrand, and Derbyshire gently points out the flaws in this plan. Not the least of which is making something available on Amazon as an ebook doesn't mean anyone will ever be able to find it, what with having to sift through Henry the VIII and the Zombie Army and 28 books called Love's Passion to find it. Although I would be interested in an American or UK publisher's reaction to this idea.
In her book Big Sister, Hana Jakrlova profiles a Prague brothel where johns can have sex for free if they agree to allow the sex to be recorded and broadcast on the Internet. Jakrlova talks to Wired about her work.
“There were real moments of humanity,” she says. “But overall I found it quite depressing.”
June 15, 2012
The portrayal of fathers in children's books is still regressive and antiquated.
If you want to learn about how the dynamics of a society really function, you have to factor in their fairy tales. "The Best of Journalism" sent out a link to this 1985 James Fallows piece, "The Case Against Credentialism." Fallows examines the myth of American meritocracy, where we are taught that your position in life is based on what you're worth -- if you succeed, it's because you're awesome, and if you fail, it's because you are a failure -- and how that belief system affects so many levels of our world. Education system, social services, bias, etc.
With their regression charts and biographical data, sociologists have demonstrated that the saga of the self-made success was partly myth. The Americans business titan of the late nineteenth century was more likely to have been born to a comfortable, educated, urban family than to have been a son of toil. Still, McClelland never claimed that the folktales he analyzed—about bad fairies and magic spiders and friendly giants—were literally true. What mattered was that they were told and heard, and that they shaped a culture's attitude. Repeated in schoolrooms and parlors, emphasized in speeches, novels, and popular magazines, the folktales of American business successes emboldened the impressionable public to try. When the sociologist Ely Chinoy studied a community of autoworkers in the 1950s, many people told him that they viewed their jobs in the factory as temporary. Their real dream was to strike out on their own, with a farm, a gas station, or a store.
Certain dynamics have changed since that piece was printed, but one thing hasn't: Americans still measure success in dollars. And I'll just say that even if you move away from the nation that birthed you, those stories you grew up with still tend to be the stories you default to.
It’s also an expression of my beta-wolf side, the submissive side. Now, I also like the serial killer side of that. This kind of person could be packing a gun in their pink Prada purse, to borrow a lyric from “Our lady J.” High femme serial killers have always drawn me in, and I can see myself as that.
June 14, 2012
I am very much looking forward to reading Tiqqun's Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, and Triple Canopy has an excerpt.
Jessica Hopper's essay about sexism in emo music is old, and about music, but I'm linking to it anyway because I didn't think a copy existed online until now. It's an interesting piece, that's adaptable to any medium, about being female and being the audience member for a work of art that would rather you did not exist. This in particular rang true:
When I was that age, I too had a rabid hunger for a music that spoke a language I was just starting to decipher, music that affirmed my faith, my ninth grade fuck you values, and encouraged me to not allow my budding feminist ways to be bludgeoned by all the soul crushing weight of mainstream culture. I was lucky I was met at the door with things like the Bikini Kill demo, or Fugazi or the first Kill Rock Stars comp, or Babes in Toyland shows. I was met with polemics and respectful address. I was met with girl heroes in guitar squall, kicking out the jams under the stage lights. I was being hurtled towards deeper rewards, records and bands were triggering ideas and wrenching open doors of interminable hope and inspiration. I acknowledge the importance of all of that because I know I would not be who I am now, doing what I do, 12 years down the line, if I had not had gotten those fundamentals, been presented with those ideas about what music, or moreover, what life can be about.
I am nothing but grateful that at 15 I was introduced to Kathy Acker's books -- and really she was the first contemporary writer I read after coming out of the library stacks and putting down the Brontes -- as her books I think served as an inoculation. That despite the picture of women I might find in David Foster Wallace or Philip Roth (attention! not equating the two!) or John Updike, I also had Acker's ferocity in my back pocket. I knew it existed, and it was a constant reminder that there was an alternative.
Little Women is brutal, a ferocious wolf dressed up in the curly white sermons and sentimental homilies of children’s stories. Though full of references to a kind and loving father, its fundamental faith lies not in God but in books: in life as a literary construct.
I did not read Little Women as a child, nor really any of those girl books like Little House or Anne of Green Gables... I don't know what was wrong with me. Although maybe that explains better what's wrong with me now. But Deborah Weisgall makes a case for the radical nature of Little Women in Prospect.
June 13, 2012
"The context of using crack and heroine and living on the street is fairly unpleasant. There is some stuff in there that's fairly harsh. And the language I've written it in is intended to evoke a fairly chaotic state of mind and circumstances," he said.
Dolin, a 39-year-old from West Virginia, had been traveling across America to work on his book, ["The Kindness of America"], and was on a highway near the Bakken oil patch, authorities told the Associated Press.
"He was sitting down to have a little lunch, and this guy drives up,” Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier told the AP. “He thought he was going to give him a ride and as he approached the vehicle, the guy pulls out his weapon and shoots him. It's as simple as that.”
I got into an argument at a dinner party about why Maud Gonne didn't love Yeats back. (Oh my god, don't you wish that we were friends? And I could come over to your house and lecture about the love affairs of Irish poets? I am fucking insufferable.) ANYWAY. It turns out that today is Yeats's birthday, and had I known, I would have changed my theory from "Maud Gonne is twenty times more hardcore than Yeats could ever hope to be, why in the world would she be in love with that drip" to "He's a Gemini."
(Sorry, Geminis. I do not understand your people.)
Not that I don't love Yeats. I just love Maud Gonne more. At any rate, it is his birthday today, and there are all sorts of free books over at Gutenberg for you to download, like Irish Fairy Tales, The Celtic Twilight, and Responsibilities and Other Poems.
American Fiction is going great! Today, it’s possible to read both erotica and books written for children without fear of social castigation. In fact, you can read these books out in the open: on airplanes, over dinner, in parks if you still go to parks. Just look at the Kindle bestsellers list and take heart in the fact that America has returned to its porny, easy-reading roots. Your average e-reader is stuffed with enough low-grade smut to power the light bondage fantasies of an entire office of accountants and actuaries. We’ve won, people!
I feel like every Kind Reader column could potentially be about envy. It comes up a lot in the questions. Someone has this one thing and I want it, or, I have something that someone else wants and now they hate me because of it. That last one is the focus of this week's Kind Reader column, about dealing with a friend who suddenly (and nastily) envies your success.
Envy aimed in your direction tends to flatten you out: it takes away the essential you of you. Everything you've struggled with, every pain and sacrifice is simply excised, discounted as insignificant. All that remains are the attributes that she wants. All you are is proof that life is somehow being unfair to her and withholding from her what it has gifted to you. No wonder you want to avoid her, it must feel like she's shredding layers of you away.
I recommend a little Helen Garner, The Spare Room. Garner has always been genius at tricky female friendships, and how we can love someone and simultaneously want to destroy them.
You can submit your questions -- about envy, although maybe not! It's summer, my editor and I were talking about how transitory everything is in the summer. Flings, trips, all those heightened experiences that of course you have to come down from. (Not to mention the fact that they sometimes go very, very wrong.) So send your summer reading questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to answer your quandary.
June 12, 2012
Oh, and speaking of Gillian Flynn, she is keeping her cultural diary for New York Magazine, a feature that is suspiciously similar to the Paris Review's cultural diary, but whatever. One mainstream magazine can rip off another mainstream magazine, it's not like when the New York Times asked authors to create playlists for their novels in the same way Largehearted Boy had been asking authors to create playlists for their novels for ages. I'm sure editors from New York and Paris Review can meet up at a very important literary cocktail party and laugh and laugh about it, without anyone removing anyone else's eye with a swizzle stick.
While writing about the new(ish! -- I think it came out in January) biography of Margaret Fuller today, I got a little distracted searching for stuff on Cristina Nehring's A Vindication of Love. Her book was the first time I had read much of anything about Fuller's life, and I felt like there was a line in Nehring's book about Fuller that I totally needed in order to perfect the column. (Never found it, so let's hope I wasn't right.)
Nehring's book is one that has not aged well in my memory. I read her book about passionate and painful love fast, and enthusiastically, easily skimming over the parts that did not make sense or were not very well written. Certain things she said that needed to be said -- like her defense of Mary Wollstonecraft's love life, which had previously been used to discredit her feminist writings -- were exciting enough that I did not care. Now, looking back, the whole project seems a little rushed. I still find Nehring charming as hell -- I really liked her short ebook Journey to the Edge of the Light, about giving birth to a baby with Downs and having her baby almost immediately diagnosed with leukemia. But I don't know if I'll ever give Vindication a second read. It's a little like having a crush on a guy wearing a hemp necklace. Sure, he has some good qualities, but that hemp necklace totally ruins it.
This complex review by the great Martha Nussbaum is very lucid about the book's strengths and weaknesses. Had I read the book with such a steady eye the first time around, I wouldn't have had to be deflated a little when I was going through it this morning.
Over at Kirkus, I talk to Gillian Flynn about her new, addictive book Gone Girl. We discuss why we as a television audience love the storyline of murderous husbands and their pretty, dead wives, and how ashamed we should all be that we keep tuning in for that.
I think we viewers are definitely complicit. The cases that get chosen for media coverage—the ones that really capture the public's interest—are all very similar. The cases don't tend to revolve around people on the fringe of society. They're usually middle class, because that's what fascinates us: How did someone who could be our next-door neighbor, or ourselves, end up dead?
It gives us the blessing to nose around in other people's lives, because we can hide our nosiness under the guise of concern. It escalates from there. The more interested we get, the more coverage there is, and when a case drags on and nothing breaks, that's when that righteousness sets in—if the police won't give us someone to blame, the media will.
Okay, so I'm well aware that this makes me an awful feminist, but I'm filing this string of insults against women's writing away, because it's kind of killer. It comes from Christopher Isherwood's diaries, a known dickhead. But still. It is pretty great.
"It is exactly what I feared: one of those patty-paws romances, a little kiss here, a little wistful regret there, one affair is broken off, another starts up. Magazine writing. What's wrong with it, actually? It's so pleased with itself, so fucking smug, so snugly cunty, the art of women who are delighted with themselves, who indulge themselves and who patronise their men. They know that there is nothing, there can be nothing outside of the furry rim of their cunts and their kitchens, their children and their clubs."
"So snugly cunty." Maybe I'm delighted only because I'm reading a book right now that could be accurately described as such.
June 11, 2012
Guernica is running an excerpt of the totally amazing new book by Eva Illouz, Why Love Hurts. And today I learned she also has a book called Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery: An Essay on Popular Culture and oh my god I have to have this. I do believe that when I was discussing Why Love Hurts with a friend I used the word "revolutionary," but I had had a martini at that point. The alcohol does not completely negate the remark, but the martini should be factored in when making purchasing decisions.
In this month's issue of Bookslut, our new columnist focusing on overlooked books of the 20th century selected Djuna Barnes's Nightwood. It's one of those books you know you're supposed to read, but looks about as open and inviting as Finnegans Wake.
Barnes is also the subject of an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, and I'm deadly envious of all within range. It focuses on her work in journalism and for newspapers, and the Paris Review has a rundown of the show.
Her other great form was “stunt” journalism. In “My Adventures Being Rescued,” Barnes attended a fireman’s training, where she put herself in peril three times and was saved. A photograph in the exhibit shows her several stories up in a long black dress, dangling from the waist of a solemn young firemen, pump-clad feet neatly crossed at the ankle midair. Famously, she also subjected herself to artificial feeding for the New York World Magazine in “How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed,” undergoing the procedure performed, often fatally, on hunger-striking suffragettes. In the photos, Barnes lies mummified in a white sheet, held down by three identically clad men in ties and shirtsleeves, while the doctor snakes a tube up her nose. A bit too cool for activism, Barnes focuses narrowly on subjective sensation.
Pagan Kennedy has a short history of the use of fingerprints in criminal investigations.
Early on, we learn the wicked queen’s backstory: she was abandoned by her first husband for a younger woman. This is meant to explain why she is so desperate to suck the life force out of local virgins, to dine on the vital organs of birds, and to reap the cosmetic effects of baths in mysterious white fluids.
According to tradition it was at Ulm, during the seventeenth century, that they preserved the shoe of Ahasverus, the Wandering Jew. With those soles which had lasted for centuries one could undertake any journey, and doctors at one time considered walking as very good for preserving mental balance. A footnote in the Italian edition of the complete Tales of Hoffmann, concerning a real character used by the writer as a model, informs us: "F. Wilhelm C. L. von Grotthus (1747-1801) attempted to combat the mental disease hereditary to his family by making very long journeys on foot. He died insane at Bayreuth."
Reading The Danube by Claudio Magris
June 8, 2012
As always, the new Dan Rhodes novel This is Life is a surprise and a delight. He is consistently one of the few living novelists I read and marvel, "How in the world is he doing this?"
The lovely Emma Garman is also a bit in love, and she reviews the book for Fiction Uncovered.
Rhodes’ heroine is a 19-year-old art student, Aurélie, who for a college project has decided to throw a stone in a crowded area, then spend a week shadowing the person it hits, filming, photographing and drawing them to produce a mixed-media ‘depiction of everyday life.’ Unexpectedly, the stone lands on a baby’s face, and its mother insists that, as a lesson, Aurélie should temporarily assume custody of the bruised but adorable child, Herbert. Meanwhile, one of Aurélie’s art school predecessors, an enfant terrible known as Le Machine, is preparing a Paris installment of his wildly successful show, ‘Life’, in which he spends three months living naked on stage, defecating into glass receptacles and saving all bodily excreta, down to earwax and eyelashes.
British novelist Barry Unsworth, who won the Booker prize for his story about the 18th-century slave trade, Sacred Hunger, has died in Italy aged 81.
The Finnish translation of that new JK Rowling book is causing a bit of a stir. In case you haven't heard, this is the source of the controversy:
Otava, the Finnish publisher that won the bidding rights to this new book, wants to capitalize on the moment. Although translators are not permitted to see the Rowling book before it is actually published, Otava wants the Finnish translation ready for the Christmas sales period—and is requiring the translator to turn in the fully polished and completed Finnish translation by October 18. That’s exactly three weeks from receipt of text to completion. The book is supposed to have 480 pages. Do the math: 23 pages of polished final text every day for 21 days in a row—without even allowing for time to read the book.
Rowling's usual Finnish translator refused the task, and so it's being passed on to someone who would agree to the remarkable arrangement. Finnish translator Jill Timbers comments on the news at the 3 Percent blog.
No one, not critic nor author, is going to come out of this "author responds to review" thing looking very good.
June 7, 2012
I am glad that people are still being astonished by Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. It seems like the type of book that would be a slow build, as it wrecked* people's brains, forcing them to recommend it to everyone they know.
* I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Bharat Azad is at Berfrois, calling the Master "the most extraordinary book of this century." Which yes, probably. It's also luckily fascinating and compelling, making you deeply care about things like anatomical brain structure and so on. Azad interviews McGilchrist and writes about the book in a way that makes me tempted to do a rereading. If only I had an extra two weeks to devote to it.
In the past cultures and peoples “had enough richness and understanding and imagination about what they were experiencing to see that different ways of understanding things apply in different contexts. That got lost with the hubristic movement, the Enlightenment, which has much to its credit but also has, I’m afraid much to answer for.”
June 6, 2012
If Google Translate and other online translation programs got their start in the Cold War era for spy purposes, then by god it is amazing our world still exists at all. But Matt Novak gives an interesting history of instant translation at the BBC.
I have been writing about William James, and it is a little like he is living in my house at this point. He is, at least, a thoughtful roommate.
I never did get around to reading Pico Iyer's The Man Within My Head, his book about Graham Greene, mostly because Greene is another one of those intensely personal writers for me, someone whose books I cling to a little. I didn't want to share, maybe. His Graham Greene is not necessarily my Graham Greene. But the tiny excerpt, I'm guessing that is what it is, it's not properly labeled, that ran in the Guardian this week reminds me of my current relationship with a certain James.
I stepped out of the little Casa Grande Hotel one morning and got into a car, only for a stranger to slip in, promising to show me around; reading Greene's biography, a few years later, I found he had stayed at the Casa Grande, 35 years before I did. As soon as he walked out, and got into a car, a stranger slipped in and promised to show him around. I continued reading the biography and found him confessing to a Father Pilkington; the man responsible for my spiritual welfare from the age of 14 to 18 – my housemaster at school – had been called Father Pilkington.
The divine Laura Kipnis (How to Become a Scandal) writes about the paparazzo who dared to sue Jackie O. on the grounds that her Secret Service agents were preventing him for doing his job -- which was, namely, invading the privacy of her and her children.
Now in his early eighties, Galella has been racking up the tributes lately, proving that annoyances who stick around long enough can eventually become cultural darlings—these days his photos hang at MoMA and are collected around the world. What is this salvage process that hoists professional vulgarians who sprout a few gray hairs up the cultural rungs into respectability, rebranding them as benign and lovable figures? In fact, another renowned aggressor against proprieties, the scatological countercultural cartoonist R. Crumb, is currently the subject of a retrospective at the distinguished Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Why can’t thorns-in-sides just keep on being thorns-in-sides? Do they have to get adoration for it?
Earl Shorris, whose Clemente Course in the Humanities gave the poor a tuition-free education covering everything from the philosophy of Plato and Socrates to great literature, has died at age 75, an official from his organization said on Saturday.
Ray Bradbury — author of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and many more literary classics — died this morning in Los Angeles, at the age of 91.
I'm sure a lot of you (my age, at least) cut your teeth on his books -- The Illustrated Man, my father's copy, was one of the first books I remember carrying around long after I finished reading it, like a charm. (People getting eaten by lions, go figure.)
June 5, 2012
Anyone who has the great good fortune to live in Cornwall, beside the sea, has no reason to go on vacation at all.
In case you need some travel advice for your summer vacations, Daphne du Maurier, circa 1971, was recommending Crete. Her travel piece "My Love Affair with Crete" is online.
Like all humans, and indeed as is typical of the entire Primate order, the senator exhibited an intense, even obsessive, interest in the reproductive condition of other group members. Like other high-status male primates before him, he was intent on controlling when, where, and how females belonging to his group reproduced.
The Vatican’s doctrinal office on Monday denounced an American nun who taught Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School for a book that attempted to present a theological rationale for same-sex relationships, masturbation and remarriage after divorce.
The Vatican office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” by Sister Margaret A. Farley, was “not consistent with authentic Catholic theology,” and should not be used by Roman Catholics.
If you are going to read my latest Smart Set column, probably the best mood music would be "Murder, He Says," the Betty Hutton, of course. Or maybe that Leipzig ballet based on Nick Cave's Murder Ballads. Because it's all deadly, based on Sarah Maza's Violette Nozière: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris, Elain Crane's Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Kathryn Davis's The Thin Place.
And yet when I started reading Sarah Maza’s Violette Nozière: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris, a story of a teenage girl who poisons her parents, killing her father, my first thought was, “He must have been raping her.” When I first started reading Elaine Forman Crane’s Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell, a story about an adult male convicted of murdering his elderly mother, my first thought was, “I bet this was about money.” In Violette Nozière, the father was raping his daughter. In Killed Strangely, it was about money.
So no wonder I thought it obvious there must have been sexual abuse lying at the core of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, forgetting that the stories we tell ourselves in any given culture line up with what we already believe and want reinforced. But never mind that for now.
June 4, 2012
Sociologist and writer John Holloway has an open letter to the misfits of the world.
We are the fury of a new world pushing through the foul obscenity of the old. Our fury is not the fury of arms – guns are their weapon, not ours. Our fury is the fury of refusal, of stifled creation, of indignation. Who are these people, the politicians and bankers who think they can treat us like objects, who think they can destroy the world and smile as they do it? They are no more than the servants of money, the vile and vicious defenders of a dying system. How dare they try to take our lives away from us, how dare they treat us like that? We refuse.
We roar a massive NO that resounds through the world, but our refusal means little unless it is supported by an alternative creation.
(See also: Holloway's reading list for the resisters.)
Dublin is quite the literary town! I don't know if you heard. Apparently, the Wall Street Journal just did.
Once again, Americans must suffer the indignity of the long wait for Adam Phillips's new book to find release stateside. His new book Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life is released this week in the UK. (Dear friend visiting London: I thought of something you can bring me back, other than the jar of relish.)
He's profiled at the Guardian, saying wise things. Like:
"I'm not on the side of frustration exactly, so much as the idea that one has to be able to bear frustration in order for satisfaction to be realistic. I'm interested in how the culture of consumer capitalism depends on the idea that we can't bear frustration, so that every time we feel a bit restless or bored or irritable, we eat, say, or we shop.
"It's only in an initial state of privation that you can begin to have thoughts about what it is you might want, to really imagine or picture it. It's very difficult to know what we're frustrated by. In making the case for frustration I want to make it more interesting, such that people can talk or think about it in different ways."
"To begin with, one needs to understand," he says, "but I think the final project is to relieve oneself of the need for self-knowledge. It's not that it's useless – in some areas of life it's very useful – but there are lots of areas in which it isn't, and in some areas it's actually pre-emptive and defensive, and this is where psychoanalysis potentially fails people, by assuming there is an infinite project and that the best thing you can do in life is to know yourself. Well, I don't think that's true."
American publishers: Please?
A couple months ago, I went to Elizabeth Gilbert's shop, because that is something she does, she owns a shop. A friend and I were having lunch just two doors down from the place, and when she revealed what the giant warehouse looking place was, I immediately wanted to go in. I bought a bracelet. I mean, how do you not? It's like Pier 1, but with only giant Buddha statuary. There were a few devotees wandering around, a woman in yoga pants who gasped over things like river stones engraved with "faith" or "pray" on them. "Oh my god, these are the BEST THINGS EVER" and loading up a shopping basket.
It's a shame her writing has become this weird thing, holding all the answers to the universe or whathaveyou, and for $4.99, this river stone will help you get even more Elizabeth Gilbert-ized. GQ has on its website her original magazine article "The Last American Man" (later expanded into a book). And it's a good reminder of how fucking charming her writing is. Or can be.
As we were discussing gaps in Bookslut's coverage the other day, should we talk about the fact that we only have one fiction review in the new issue? I think it's a little funny that when every other venue is displaying lists of brainless summer reading, vampires in bikinis go storm a castle or whatever, our review selection is books about Freud and the unconscious, Japanese Pop Art, Philip Roth's place in the canon, crazy ballet dancers, and dead girls. Happy beach reading! (Really, it was an accident. We are not on top of things enough to plan something like a fiction blackout.)
In features, we have an essay about a free speech issue blowing up in the Balkans, the one thing being left out of the very noisy conversation about Geoff Dyer's Zona, and the short and strange life of Modigliani.
Our columnists did manage to read some fiction this month. Our new columnist, Josh Zajdman, debuts The Forgotten Twentieth Century. He'll be looking at some of the overlooked and underread masterpieces of the last 100 years or so, starting with Djuna Barnes's Nightwood. Speaking of the 20th, Jenny McPhee asks why everyone hates Lillian Hellman, and Leah Triplett finds something in the '80s worth remembering behind all that hairspray and shoulder pads.
Besides, who needs summer reading anyway when I'm wearing two sweaters and woolen socks, it is fucking freezing in here. Damn you, Berlin, and your fickle, fickle weather systems.
June 2, 2012
More psychoanalytic explanations suggest that commitment phobia is the result of masculine gender identity being built against the feminine: "Masculine identity is born in the renunciation of the feminine, not in the direct affirmation of the masculine, which leaves masculine gender identity tenuous and fragile." In this view, inspired by psycho-dynamic models of the male psyche as in the need to separate from the mother, male gender identity forges itself in opposition to female, and to the need for dependence and sharing, making the man less able to create or to desire a long-lasting bond. From the 18th to the mid-19th century, sentiment was as much the prerogative of males as females; after the mid-19th century, it became a mainly female prerogative. Women took over responsibility for caring, for feeling and expressing emotions geared toward the creation and maintenance of close relationships. Nancy Chodorow famously and brilliantly argued that men's and women's different emotional makeups are the result of the structure of the modern nuclear American family, in which women are responsible for the care of children, with the result that girls grow up with no break in identification with their mothers and strive throughout their adult lives to reproduce fusional relationships with others, while boys develop a sharp sense of separateness, and strive for autonomy. Boys learn to separate, girls learn to bond. A more political variation of this explanation is that men and women, in their intimate relations, play out the inequality that characterizes their relations in society at large. Shulamith Firestone, for example, argues that men use various strategies to maintain control over relationships, such as not wanting to commit and displaying unpredictable behavior (e.g., standing up women, being vague about future dates, making work a priority, etc.). She suggests that "[male] culture was (and is) parasitical, feeding on the emotional strength of women without reciprocity." In this view, then, boys/men are "emotional parasites": that is, they can take love, but not generate or return it to provide the kind of emotional sustenance women need. Following this line of thought, commitment phobia can be viewed as an aspect of "compulsory heterosexuality," one of the main institutionalized descriptions of the ways in which women are systematically humiliated, dismissed, and ignored by men.
These explanations are crucial for situating love in the context of asymmetrical power relations. But a flaw common to all of them is their pathologizing of male behavior and their concomitant affirmation and praise of the female psyche and of the (presumably female) model of intimacy. Sociologists should be suspicious of explanations that a priori pathologize forms of behavior.
Really taken with Eva Illouz's Why Love Hurts.
June 1, 2012
I am more and more skeptical about this idea that things are somehow inherently different for women when we're talking about creativity and inspiration. Or, maybe that it isn't just different for everyone, and all blanket statements are immediately suspect. (Also I fear the "this is how it is for women" angle has to be taken, or else the examples would primarily be men. We have to justify, sometimes even to ourselves, writing about women as stand-ins for people in general.)
So while I can't quite swallow this Emily Cooke essay as an accurate representation of the influence of solitude on women's creative work, it is a nice piece about Susan Sontag's and Vivian Gornick's approaches to and theories about isolation and writing.
Medinsky’s portfolio includes overseeing state policy regarding arts, film, cultural heritage, archives, libraries, and museums. But instilling patriotism and nationalism among the Russian people, by sponsoring the rewriting of Russia’s history, will doubtless be on the top of his list.
Well, this will only go to good places, I'm sure. The man in charge of all of the above has been making statements like, well, Ivan the Terrible was not really so bad, and Soviets never actually invaded Poland.
Why doesn't Bookslut have a science fiction columnist anymore? Or more reviewers with a taste for the strange and unusual? Why are so few good works of history reviewed? When putting together new issues I'm always struck by gaps. Of course we can't cover everything, but I'm enough of a perfectionist to be disappointed in that.
If you've noticed some gaps yourself, maybe you could write and tell me how you can help fill some. Maybe, and this is only theoretical, tell me who you are and who is on your shelves. Maybe tell me why I need you. And we'll see if we can't de-spot our coverage.