July 31, 2012
What actually happens when someone tries to remove a book from a library's shelves? Students at the Missouri School of Journalism have released an exhaustive study of challenges to books in the state public school libraries.
Maeve Binchy, the Irish journalist who transformed herself into a best-selling novelist, has died, aged 72.
I've actually read several of her books, going back to the days when I worked at a drugstore, and could read anything from the bestsellers mass market paperback rack I wanted, as long as I did not break the spine. The selection was what you would expect, but this was in a tiny town in Kansas, and these were literally the only books on sale in town. I plowed through Stephen King, Maeve Binchy, Mary Higgins Clark, pretty much just alternating between those, as they always seemed to have a new book out every week. Hers were kind of delightful.
Where she came from, I don’t know for sure. Most likely from the fridge.
After the liberation of France, the hunt for collaborators began almost immediately. And the hunt was a bloody one.
Women who had slept with German soldiers were paraded naked, heads shaved, through towns to be spat upon and abused. Trials began, with harsh prison and death sentences meted out. (As passions cooled, many of these sentences would be reduced significantly.) And soon, like the German civilians who survived started to claim that they had hidden Jews in their attic, widespread boasting about participation in the resistance began. But, of course, had every claim been true, the Holocaust would not have happened, and France would have thrown off its oppressor years before.
Over at Kirkus, I interview Marie Chaix about her autobiographical novel The Laurels of Lake Constance, which examines her father's collaboration during the war and imprisonment after. It's a fascinating book about the complicated things that happen during a war, and while I don't get much space for the Kirkus Q&As, there's a much more extensive talk with Chaix and her translator Harry Mathews on video.
July 30, 2012
There is a small update on the Franz Kafka estate dragout, in that it looks like a list of what the sisters holding on to Kafka's manuscripts will finally be published.
Now as to magic. It is surely absurd to hold me “weak” or otherwise because I choose to persist in a study which I decided deliberately four or five years ago to make, next to my poetry, the most important pursuit of my life…If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book [The Works of William Blake, with Edwin Ellis, 1893], nor would The Countess Kathleen [stage play, 1892] have ever come to exist. The mystical life is the center of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.
Jamie James on the magical inclinations of Yeats.
Paul Bailey argues for less ambitious literary prizes.
Although it is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is up there among the very greatest novelists, it seems that writers guided by her example are not to be treated with the same seriousness as the adherents of the Big Boys – the youthful Faulkner, perhaps, or Hawthorne, or the chronically unhappy and marginalised Melville
(Thanks to Anna for sending the link.)
July 27, 2012
The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has been blamed for a multitude of problems facing the population there: malnutrition, unemployment, limited access to electricity and potable water.
Gazan students and educators say that under the Israeli-imposed siege, education is suffering too. The blockade makes it so difficult to bring in books that they are forced to resort to bootlegging and smuggling, they say. The limited supply of original books has driven up costs, making them difficult for most Gazans to afford.
Here are some of the questions to which I was seeking answers:
—the issue of the organic exchange of matter and
—the issue of nourishment
—life on other planets and
—out in space
—the age of the earth
—the difference between culture and civilization
—the race issue
—apoliticism or engagement
—kindness or heedlessness
—Superman or Everyman
—idealism or materialism
—Don Quixote or Sancho Panza
—Hamlet or Don Juan
—pessimism or optimism
—death or suicide
and so on and so forth.
How many RL Stine Fear Street books did I read when I was 11? It is too shameful even to say.
I've always liked James Meek's nonfiction a great deal more than his fiction. (You could lose two days without caring just by going through his London Review of Books archive.) But people are already doing press for his new novel (comparing it to Tolstoy -- don't people know that comparison does more harm than good to a writer?), out this fall, so people are at least excited about it. It's called The Heart Broke In, and Meek does a short little interview with Publishers Weekly.
They try to live ethically in what Meek terms a “post-God world. In some ways,” he says, “the book is an exploration of where the idea of right and wrong comes from... there are a lot of people who’ve moved out of the sphere of a reli-gious code of conduct who haven’t really moved into any other sphere and are just coasting. I don’t need [the British evolutionary biologist and author] Richard Dawkins to tell me that God doesn’t exist; what I want is for him to say, ‘okay, now what, where do we go from here?’ ” Some characters in the novel come to this conclusion: “We might be alone in the universe, but we’re not alone in the world, which is quite heroic and triumphant.”
I have to admit, the idea of a book about atheism and morals does not exactly turn me on. (Rebecca Goldstein, another writer I highly admire, tried the same subject in 36 Arguments for the Existence of God and the result was a bit of a disaster. The last third read more like one of those obnoxious "there is a god! no there isn't!" "debates" that are so big right now.
But I remain optimistic! Like I said, the London Review of Books archive holds a lot of promise.
July 26, 2012
The Man Booker Prize longlist was announced yesterday, which makes the Olympics hoo-ha currently brewing around me in London quite dim in comparison. You bet I'm there on the sidelines, wearing a giant foam finger and yelling "GO THE DOUBLE MANTEL, BITCHES!"
If you're not excited about the Booker (are you dead? An Amis?), here's a brilliant wee video about the award's history. It features many awkward English authors with hilarious hair and eyewear, so I know you lot will enjoy it.
Full longlist under the cut
Nicola Barker - The Yips
Ned Beauman - The Teleportation Accident
André Brink - Philida
Tan Twan Eng - The Garden of Evening Mists
Michael Frayn - Skios
Rachel Joyce - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Deborah Levy - Swimming Home
Will Self - Umbrella
Jeet Thayil - Narcopolis
Sam Thompson - Communion Town
In a move that sounds suspiciously like the whole Lost Tomb of Jesus misadventure, some mathematicians went about trying to figure out if the Iliad could be true. I am guessing not the stuff about the gods. But you know. The rest of it. Because that matters.
Never one to be against history or science, I also don't really see the point in, say, trying to remove the mystery from stories that are more powerful than their earthly origins. I rather don't see the point.
By the way, the section on Homer in Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony: killer. Who knew that in every other version of the Helen story she was not really there with Paris? That she was made a specter when they traveled to the wrong island? That kind of investigative work into stories, how they change in the telling and why, is more interesting to me than, we totally found out that Homer was a chick, and we're pretty sure this gravesite proves the earthly existence of Jesus Christ.
One day this spring, on the condition that I not reveal any details of its location nor the stringent security measures in place to protect its contents, I entered a hidden vault at the Israel Museum and gazed upon the Aleppo Codex — the oldest, most complete, most accurate text of the Hebrew Bible.
You are going to want to read this. Dan Brown just wet himself.
July 25, 2012
Mostly I've been reading Claudio Magris here in Trieste. His travelogue/cultural history Danube, his new novel Blindly. I would love to get my hands on an English language copy of Microcosms, his nonfiction book about Trieste, but so far the English language sections at the bookstores here seem assembled exclusively by the selection of books forgotten or left by travelers on airplanes. A lot of trashy romances. Twilight. George R R Martin. So I'm stuck with what I've got until I get out of here.
So for now we'll make due with Justin Coffin's review of Microcosms in the Boston Review.
"Places are bobbins," Magris writes in Microcosms, "where time is wound up upon itself. To write is to unravel these bobbins, to undo, like Penelope, the fabric of history. So it is perhaps not a complete waste of time to try to write something down."
Weekly Reader, a staple in American classrooms for a century, has some hard news for its young readers: it’s shutting down.
Chief rival Scholastic, which bought the school newspaper earlier this year, is folding it into Scholastic News and axing all but five of Weekly Reader’s 60 employees in White Plains, NY, The Post has learned.
My former 7-year-old, Weekly Reader addicted self would like to say: Fuckers.
At this week's Kind Reader, there was a question about a tricky relationship with a father. The kind of father who doesn't know how to communicate or express affection. I went to the shelves to pick up Evan S. Connell's Mr. Bridge, and its scene that particularly breaks my heart.
He waits until everyone is asleep on Christmas Eve and then quietly goes to the tree to slip in four envelopes, one for each of his two daughters, his one son, and his wife. Connell tells us, "He surveyed this tranquil scene and it pleased him." In the morning he patiently waits for the discovery of the gifts, and upon coming across an envelope with her name on it in the tree his daughter tears open her envelope in anticipation.
"It's ten shares of stock in the Kansas City Power & Light Company... Thank you, Daddy."
When you're a child, hoping for a new toy and receiving an inexplicable piece of paper, you don't understand the nuances your parents' emotional limitations. You don't conclude, This is a man incapable of expressing affection. You think, My father put stock shares in my stocking. Why does he hate me?
Submit your question to Kind Reader for a literary consultation here.
Dear the thousand and three people who have decided it would be awfully clever to headline their stories about the sorry state of humanities in the higher educational system, "Oh the Humanities": you guys should meet one another.
July 24, 2012
Don't you fucking hate it when you realize every complaint you have about society was already made, and made more gracefully, two hundred years ago by some dead dude?
With that, I offer for you enjoyment Charles Lamb's "A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behavior of Married People." It kind of smothers whatever wit Bridget Jones once carried about smug marrieds.
As a single man, I have spent a good deal of my time in noting down the infirmities of Married People, to console myself for those superior pleasures, which they tell me I have lost by remaining as I am.
(Not noted: that Lamb was mostly a bachelor because he was taking care of his sister -- the same one who murdered their mother. That would have needed a whole other essay.)
Cynthia Carr opens Fire in the Belly, her biography of David Wojnarowicz, with a story about the artist as a child of six or seven running through the streets, "giddy with what he'd just learned. 'We all die! One day we will all be dead!' As he told his friends," Carr writes, "they burst into tears, parents rushed out of their houses and David was seen as a very sick little kid." This was a story he liked to tell about himself.
Barbara J. King recommends five novels for the scientifically inclined. It's a good list, although I'd recommend she leave behind Amy Waldman's The Submission. A nice substitute: Emma Donoghue's The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits.
A young student has just struck literary gold, discovering four previously unknown stories written more than a century ago by Katherine Mansfield...
A Little Episode dates from 1909 and reveals the bitter disillusionment of a love triangle whose memory Mansfield tried to erase by destroying all her personal papers from that year – to the exasperation of biographers.
Although you know me, I'm always proud of a writer who torches personal documents.
Wanting is clear, purposive, urgent, driven by the will, always with its goal clearly in view. Longing, by contrast, is something that 'happens' between us and another thing. Spiritual longing and melancholy share these more diffuse and reverberative features, of something that 'happens' or 'comes about' between ourselves and an other, whatever it may be... Wanting is clear in its target, and in its separation from the thing that is wanted. Longing suggests a distance, but a never interrupted connection or union over that distance with whatever it is that is longed for... It is somehow experienced as an elastic tension that is set up between the one that is longing and the object of that longing -- the pull, tautness as in a bow string, holding together the two ends of the bow that are never really separate.
From Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary
July 23, 2012
Translators Namık Süga Sertabiboğlu (who translated The Soft Machine for Sel and has said it was the most difficult of the thirty-eight translations he’s done) and Funda Uncu (who translated Snuff for Ayrıntı) have also been charged [with obscenity]. In the past, Whyatt says, these cases would often be resolved in one way: after a publisher was charged with distributing obscene material under article 226 of the Turkish penal code, the judge would send the book in question to a panel of experts, usually literature professors, they would state that the work was of literary merit, and the charges would be dropped. But not this time.
Alex Ross has been blogging about James Joyce and Richard Wagner an awful lot lately, and you can join in here. Included is a 1902 news item about the production of Seigfried that had a dragon on stage, and inside the dragon's head, a singer with a megaphone.
(Walking through Venice, we came upon a bust of Wagner, which I recognized from the side by neckbeard alone. Plus, I own a bust of Wagner, complete with neckbeard. Not explained: why Wagner was immortalized in Venice with statuary. Updated to add: Right, Wayne reminds me that Wagner died in Venice. As my friend commented, people had strange ideas about places with "good air," as in, maybe cities built on swamps did not have magical restorative powers.)
It's been a very dangerous year for foreign correspondents and war reporters, and Guernica tells us now would be a good time to remember Martha Gellhorn (as something other than Mrs. Hemingway).
Gellhorn arrived in Spain in 1937 with the explicit purpose of aiding the Republic. But she didn’t know how—much less how to be a war correspondent. Years later, she recalled: “What made a story, to begin with? Didn’t something gigantic and conclusive have to happen before one could write an article?” A journalist friend of hers suggested that she write about Madrid. “Why would that interest anyone? I asked. It was daily life. He pointed out that it was not everybody’s daily life.” She added, “What was new and prophetic about the war in Spain was the life of the civilians, who stayed at home and had war brought to them.”
The Shirley Jackson awards, named in honour of one of Bookslut's primary deities, have been announced.
Best Novel: Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman
Best Novella: Near Zennor by Elizabeth Hand
Best Novelette: The Summer People by Kelly Link
Short Fiction award: The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece by M. Rickert
Best Edited Anthology: Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers
Best Single-author Collection: After the Apocalypse: Stories by Maureen F. McHugh
She was a librarian and single mother who wrote and wrote, rejected as 'too English' for local editors. Discovered in 1968 by an American publisher through an education department's school journals, she went on to win the Carnegie medal, twice. Elizabeth Bachner wrote about Mahy’s The Changeover for Bookslut in 2010:
You can never change back the other way, unlive a day or a month or a decade, unmeet someone, unfall in love, unread a book. Making a change is, according to a character called Winter, “Very hard, but not too hard. It changes you forever, but you are changing for ever anyway.” Is the change bad? asks Laura. “It can be, if people use it badly,” answers Winter. “But the same can be said of all human changes.”
Her wonderful essay about children's books and 'operations of truth', A Dissolving Ghost, is online here.
July 20, 2012
Do you want to help books survive? Because they are in DANGER. They are delicate amphibious creatures whose habitats are being destroyed by the texting and the so on, and we need to have a crisis summit about this NOW.
Poetry Magazine remembers Alden Van Buskirk, a poet who died young and has been mostly forgotten.
I'm reading Adam Phillips, I'm reading Eva Illouz, I'm reading Claudio Magris, and now this James Hillman interview. (Thanks to Walter for sending it along.) All the writers are rather deeply invested in psychology, and yet they are skeptics about what therapy has become.
There are many who have located the roots of the therapeutic movement in the individualism embraced by nineteenth-century modernism, in which everyone is the author of his or her intentions and is responsible for his or her own life. Own. Own is a very big word in therapy; you own your life, as if there were a self — an individual, enclosed self — within a skin. That’s individualism. That’s the philosophy of therapy. I question that.
I was just reading today in Claudio Magris's Danube his comment on how in the Western World we have for some reason decided to forget the names of the plants and animals around us. The greenery we see every day is just "tree" or "weed," the spectacularly winged thing is just "bird." (Except for the seagulls that haunt my roof at 2 a.m., cackling to one another. Those I call "nemesis.")
Stefany Anne Golberg, who writes wonderful things for the Smart Set, describes her home in Sri Lanka which is lousy with monkeys, "ill-mannered monkeys who make it their business to steal whatever they can get away with and who display a general lack of decorum. The monkeys care little that they pick lice from their groins on the steps of a holy temple, or whether the laundry drying outside belongs to you." In the piece she quotes Tagore, commenting on the erasure of nature from American cities, in drastic comparison to much of the rest of the world.
They [American settlers] also were confronted with primeval forests and a fierce struggle with aboriginal races. But this struggle between man and man, and man and nature lasted till the very end; they never came to any terms. In India the forests which were the habitation of the barbarians became the sanctuary of sages, but in America these great living cathedrals of nature had no deeper significance to man. They brought wealth and power to him, and perhaps at times they ministered to his enjoyment of beauty, and inspired a solitary poet. They never acquired a sacred association in the hearts of men as the site of some great spiritual reconcilement….
July 19, 2012
The 2012 Miles Franklin award - the Jimmy Big Bollocks of the 'Strine literary world - has gone to Anna Funder's first novel, All That I Am. She told the West Australian about the feeling of having her book out in the world:
"But I feel grateful and I feel relieved. You work a long time on something - this took me five years - so it feels very risky. It's emotionally risky and it is financially risky and you know at times it could easily all fall on its head. You take your family with you on the journey of the work and so when my book came out in September, I was just so frightened . . . all these reviews were coming out and it was horrible - the feeling of vulnerability. But that's gone now."
This access has undoubtedly been eased by the death of Spender’s ferociously protective widow – although the title page asserts that the journals have been edited “with Natasha Spender”. This must, to say the least of it, have been an interesting process, and knowing looks were exchanged among the audience at the book’s launch when Feigel spoke of the late Lady Spender’s enthusiasm for the project.
I spent a long time last night defending Stephen Joyce at dinner. Not that he was under attack, I kind of started the conversation. I dislike the way he's been demonized, as it seems that his actions are mostly in response to the private figures in his family being dragged into the public eye, just because of their proximity to James Joyce. And what many writers call important "scholarship," I call idle gossip.
But now in this piece Lady Spender is called out for not wanting her husband's diary to be published, and considering that his rampant infidelity is exposed in the books, are we really supposed to call her crazy for that?
Steven Boyd Saum has a great piece about traveling in the Ukraine in 1996, where while on a hike on the Day of Health, it was casually mentioned that there had been an accident at a nearby atomic energy station.
“Accident?” I say. I feel like the cartoon coyote that’s just run off a cliff.
“Oh, yes. At Kuznetsovsk. It’s about 70 kilometers from here.”
Blood pounds in my head. The distance is actually more than 100 kilometers (or 62 miles), but that’s cold comfort.
“Thirty people from the plant are in the hospital,” she says. “We probably shouldn’t be here.” She shrugs, smiles, doesn’t slow her stride.
Who knew you could actually slander Nero? On this day, Rome burned, Nero yadda yadda. Except not really.
I was living in London when I was writing Green Girl, and I was married. I was a young married person and working in a bookshop, and I was very struck by the sense of being a foreigner in a big city, and that experience, which then I also linked to the experience of being a young woman—even then, I was probably 25 when I started writing it—and feeling extremely looked at. It’s like John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, where he says that the woman is always aware of being looked at. And so I was interested in how that, in some ways, makes us too aware, and how that changes a coming to consciousness, if you’re always aware of others watching you and you’re kind of an actress.
July 18, 2012
And Wojnarowicz more than the others represented everything the Religious Right wanted to erase from American life. He represented gay pride at its most intransigent and least bourgeois; he was open and unapologetic about his past as a teenage hustler; he enjoyed provocation for its own sake, well before it took on urgent political significance. And he was an artist and writer who was entirely self-created, owing nothing to the academy or the art world of his time, and who spoke directly to an audience of his peers, like a rock star. He wasn’t the only artist of the ’80s to manage that, but Jean-Michel Basquiat had been absorbed by the high-hat galleries and Keith Haring’s imagery was endlessly recuperable, so that their radicalism was to a degree blunted. Wojnarowicz was accessible, charismatic, articulate, and blazingly angry. He had the potential to reach beyond his Lower Manhattan planet of the like-minded and reach into teenagers’ bedrooms across the land. Even if that exact train of thought did not present itself to Donohue, Donald Wildmon, Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, and their ilk, they could nevertheless glimpse its outline. Wojnarowicz was a threat.
A thing you will want to watch:
Novelist and essayist James Baldwin debates with the “father of American Conservatism”, William F. Buckley Jr. at the Cambridge Union Society in 1965. The title of the Debate was “The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro.”
I swear to god I will stop it with the whole Eva Illouz thing soon. But everything she writes makes a lot of sense to me, her book Why Love Hurts being just a small part of it.
She has a new piece in Haaretz, "Right of reply: The limits of therapy." She wants you to understand it's not your psyche driving you crazy, it might be the society that surrounds you. You know, the totally dysfunctional, violent, chaotic society that you wander into every day and watch on the news.
The 2012 longlist of nominees for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa has been released, with African writing represented by just two countries - Nigeria and South Africa. The Books LIVE blog is a bit sceptical.
The prize is worth $20,000 and has been going since 2005. The full list of titles is under the cut:
The Beauty I Have Seen — Tanure Ojaide
Bitter Chocolate — Toyin Adewale Gabriel
That Other Country — Hyginus Eku]wuazi
The Book of the Dead — Kgebetli Moele
The Unseen Leopard — Bridget Pitt
On Black Sister’s Street — Chika Unigwe
The African American — Dike-Ogu Chukwumerije
Roses and Bullets — Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo
Young Blood — Sifiso Mzobe
The Colour of Power — Marie Heese
Pride of the Spider Clan — Odili Ujubuonu
The Lazarus Effect — HJ Golakai
Fallout — Sue Rabie
The Thin Line — Arja Salafranca
Only a Canvas — Olushola Olugbesan
July 17, 2012
To go along with Bookslut's coverage of C Carr's (truly great) biography of David Wojnarowicz, A Fire in My Belly, we would like to present to you an excerpt running at Guernica, and my Q&A with Carr at Kirkus. It's all part of our obsessional nature over here. And to fully satisfy my OCD, I have to remind you that if your library is lacking a copy of Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives, you are poorer for it.
Carr and I discussed, among other things, the changing New York art scene and the way artists and writers fib their way into creating a different biography.
I never quite realized how secretive he had been, but here’s ultimately how I explained it: I think he didn’t want to talk about living family members. It was too complicated and too painful. So he more or less erased them. He created a persona that simplified and romanticized his life story.
He’d discuss the brutal father, now conveniently dead, and go directly to Times Square and hustling. I don’t think David understood the pathos in his own story. He emphasized the hardship, and the hardship was there. But the central struggle in his life was about how much of himself to reveal. Who was safe? What could he tell? There was a deep longing to connect and a fear of actually doing it.
Sartre wrote dozens of articles for Combat while in the States, often phoning them back to Camus in Paris, and eventually went on to talk philosophy at Harvard, Princeton, Yale and elsewhere. In the process, he acquired an American girlfriend (about whom he wrote abundantly and explicitly to Simone de Beauvoir: “I am killed by passion and lectures.”). But the very personal article he wrote for Town & Country, “Manhattan: The Great American Desert,” records that he suffered on arrival from “le mal de New York.” He never really recovered.
Great piece on when Sartre and Camus came to New York, but mostly I am glad to know that the feeling I get when I'm in New York for more than a week has a name. "Le mal de New York."
Donald J. Sobol, best known for his popular "Encyclopedia Brown" detective series of children's books, has died. He was 87.
I devoured those books as a kid.
I find it distinctly unfair that Emma Garman's hilarious and provocative and brilliant piece on this year's nonexistent fiction Pulitzer is not going to be online. It is, though, in the physical copy of the new Baffler.
Apparently my laptop is/was a romantic, and wanted to leave bits of itself back to Berlin, because it disintegrated a little and that is what happened. The loaner I am on would not let me access Bookslut.com for two days, because it regarded it as obscene and was concerned for my virtue.
So that is where we are now.
Totally unrelated to that: for some reason right now everyone is writing about the power of fairy tales. Mostly they are not doing a very interesting job of it, because it's a big subject, and there are some big writers like Maria Tatar, Marina Warner, and Marie-Louise von Franz who are all over that. So there was that piece at the Los Angeles Review of Books that was not very interesting, and now Joan Acocella has a piece on the Grimm Brothers in the New Yorker that is fair to middling. It's a review of Jack Zipes's The Irresistible Fairy Tale, although probably what I am really saying is, you should really read Maria, Marina, and Marie.
(Although the essay does contain the super creepy and super short fairy tale that I am copying below:)
Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. After he was lowered into his grave and covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out. So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.
July 16, 2012
Tasteful and balanced discussions of the Pulitzer jury's deliberation process are not what I am in the literary prize game for. Let us turn our eyes to Europe and the Festival of German Language Literature's Ingeborg Bachmann Prize. Deutsche Welle has a history of the gruelling American Idol-for-books award:
Unconventional and rather more eccentric authors generally tend to profit from their appearances at the event, even if they don't win. But since the case of Weiss, "everyone is just waiting for someone to at least eat their manuscript again," said Doris Moser.
Or razorblade their forehead open. Or read from a text called 'Baby Fucker'. Or be heckled about their menstrual cycle. Melville House has a picture of author Philipp Weiss chewing his book, and that glint of passion in his rolling eyes is exactly what I missed from Cunningham's polite explanation.
The new Carnegie Awards come from the deep pockets of the Andrew Carnegie corporation and the American Library Association, making them a grown up's companion to their Newbery and Caldecott medals.
July 13, 2012
This week's Kind Reader is about lovers who have nothing in common. She reads books, he drives a cab. Are they doomed forever? My first thought was, naturally for me, W. Somerset Maugham's splendid Mrs. Craddock, about a society woman who spends her marriage to a farmer wishing he would die in a hunting accident or something.
But instead I recommended Brenda Maddox's biography of Nora Joyce, wife of James, and total opposite to him. And their marriage was a good one.
Some of Joyce's biographers have gotten it a little muddled. Nora is often portrayed as a dullard, someone who did not truly appreciate her husband's talents. She often went on record saying she did not really care for Ulysses, and this is quoted when biographers want to show they don't think much of the wife. They somehow overlook the fact that her favorite of her husband's works was Finnegans Wake, and certainly there are only two people alive at any given time who understand that book.
Questions for the Kind Reader column can go here.
July 12, 2012
Shalom Auslander's advice to new writers?
Don’t give a shit. Don’t care. Books, until recently, were dangerous: banned, burned, watched. Write something dangerous. Say something you shouldn’t. Blow something up. But well.
I should be glad to see a long, thoughtful examination of a new book by a writer I admire. Today, for reasons that probably have nothing to do with the essay itself, I feel vaguely oppressed by the idea of reading it.
Over at Brain Pickings: Carl Sagan's 1954 reading list, which included Extraordinary Public Delusions by Charles Mackay, The Immoralist by Andre Gide, some Aldous Huxley, and a couple of Platos. The list is part of the Sagan papers acquired by the Library of Congress last month.
Like a lot of people, writer and editor Doug Lawson has noticed the hoopla surrounding authors who make it big using self-publishing channels like Amazon's Kindle Direct. Lawson wants to know if self-publishing works for writers who aren't, say, Amanda Hocking (most of us, in other words). As he explains on his blog,
Is it for real? Or are these flukes? Can an average writer really make money this way? I'm going to put it to the test, and if you're up for it, I'd love your help to find the answer. I'll donate the results to charity, and will publish the outcome on this blog for other writers to see in case they're thinking of doing the same thing.
The weekend of August 11, Lawson will make his forthcoming novel, Beasts of the Waking City, available as a free Kindle download. His goal is "to see if we can hit Amazon's list of top free books that weekend, and if we do to see whether that will help generate more reviews and more sales over the course of the next 30 days." As he says above, he'll give readers a breakdown of the experiment and pass any proceeds from those 30 days to a good cause.
Side note: Lawson's the founding editor of The Blue Penny Quarterly, which is "reopening for business" online later this summer.
So Gareth Penn self-published some books, thinking that he had figured out who the Zodiac Killer was. And he decided it was a guy who goes by the name of Michael O'Hare. He started sending letters encrypted in the same manner that the Zodiac used to send ciphers to newspapers, trying to flush him out.
Michael O'Hare is not the Zodiac Killer. He writes about not being the Zodiac Killer, and yet being the target of one man's conspiracy theory and effort to "reveal the truth," in a riveting essay. (via)
Let's all rewatch Zodiac, shall we? I mean, I know we've already watched it half a dozen times because it is a really fucking good film, but let's do it again tonight anyway.
Jacques Chambrun stole money from W Somerset Maugham, left Mavis Gallant starving in Spain while withholding the money she earned selling stories to the New Yorker, and produced fake contracts explaining to HG Wells that actually, he gets a 30% cut now. He was a literary agent, and if you read Mavis Gallant's travel journals in the New Yorker recently (subscribers only, phooey), you kind of already hate him.
In this New Yorker write up, he comes off as any number of fakes and crooks profiled by David Grann and other writers. Also, you have to love that someone decided the way to go a-scamming was to become a literary agent.
Chambrun was grandiose and very French—a combination that made writers feel like a big deal long before they got to be one. Grace Metalious was seduced by his name alone. “I just picked your name cold out of a book,” she wrote in her first letter of inquiry, according to “Inside Peyton Place,” a biography of Metalious by Emily Toth. Chambrun wore a boutonniere, travelled in a chauffeured car, and maintained an office at 745 Fifth Avenue—across the street from the Plaza Hotel. He could be elegant or oily, depending on whom you asked. Knox Burger, an editor and agent, once described Chambrun as a “feral character” and said he would be perfect “if you were casting an unctuous Levantine villain in a 1950 film noir.” He dyed his hair a deep black and threw Hugh Hefner-style parties in his basement pool. Chambrun claimed relation to the French counts de Chambrun, but rumor had it he was raised in the Bronx. (There’s a record of a Jacques Chambrun born in New York in 1906, but no one is certain that this was even his real name.)
July 11, 2012
In 1992 cyberpunk author William Gibson wrote a short poem called Agrippa (a book of the dead) that tells about memory, loss, nature and mechanism, all framed by a Kodak photo album. The poem was bundled into a Mac System 7 application and included on a 3.5” diskette in the back of a noir art book by Dennis Ashbaugh and Kevin Begos, Jr.
Once run, the program displays Gibson’s poem just once, and encrypts itself. Never to be seen again, until now.
The first person to crack the encryption code and document his/her cryptanalysis will win a copy of every book Gibson's published. Ars Technica has more on the challenge and Quinn Dupont, the U. of Toronto graduate student behind it.
The Agrippa challenge draws on the work of Matthew Kirschenbaum, a digital humanist at the U. of Maryland, who was a key figure in recovering the original text of the poem. (He also taught the course on born-digital materials that I took at Rare Book School at UVa last week.)
Say you're a popular author who discovers your books are being pirated. Would you, a la Paul Coelho, urge the pirates on or publicly shame them on your Facebook page? As the intrepid Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, fantasy writer Terry Goodkind went with the public-shaming option:
"So Josh, how about it--no respect for a hard-working author and fellow racing enthusiast? Not even for someone that is emphatically trying to reach out to people that might consider pirating our hard work? Can't be bothered to read and consider our note on piracy in the front of the book?" wrote Goodkind. "How ironic you claim to be a fan of books that uphold truth and honour above all else. We hope the price of fame is worth the cost of your infamy."
Hoping I get a chance to drop the phrase "the cost of your infamy" into conversation soon.
My 8-year-old has been going around saying "LeBron James!" lately the way other kids say "Awesome!" when they're happy about something. I'd like to think it's because of LJ's devotion to reading:
Surely, you've noticed the videotape of LeBron reading books before every game the past two months. Biographies, history, pop culture, best sellers, short books that explore human psychology, you name it. LeBron lying on the floor reading "The Hunger Games." LeBron sitting at his locker reading "The Pact," about three boys from challenging circumstances agreeing to finish college and attend medical school. It seems every time James was photographed before or after a game this spring, he was reading a book.
July 10, 2012
Part Two of Michael Cunningham's "Letter From the Pulitzer Fiction Jury" has been posted now. He doesn't tell us any more about why the Pulitzer board didn't take any of the judges' recommendations--only they know, I guess--but he does have some lovely things to say about the unreliable nature of literary prizes and the search for greatness:
The search for a significant new book, an enduring book, is, in short, a crapshoot, and, as is true of all gambles, the odds favor the house over the player. I like to think that history will vindicate all three of our choices; that someone like me will someday be appalled to learn that “The Pale King,” “Train Dreams,” and “Swamplandia!” were all passed over in 2012. There is, however, no telling. We may be castigated by future generations for failing to nominate a book we dismissed early on, because it struck us as trivial or overwritten or sentimental.
Which is probably one of the reasons those of us who love contemporary fiction love it as we do. We’re alone with it. It arrives without references, without credentials we can trust. Givers of prizes (not to mention critics) do the best they can, but they may—they probably will—be scoffed at by their children’s children. We, the living readers, whether or not we’re members of juries, decide, all on our own, if we suspect ourselves to be in the presence of greatness.
Still, they could have called.
Remember the uproar in some quarters when the Pulitzer board chose not to award a fiction award this year? One of the fiction judges, Michael Cunningham, recreates what happened in a two-parter for the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog. Part One's a fascinating look at the three judges' very different reading styles and approaches. Part Two's supposed to be posted today. Aggrieved literati everywhere are holding their breath to see what he can reveal.
Somehow I had forgotten that Sir Richard Francis Burton died in Trieste. Now I have to go find his villa. Burton and I share a weird astrological quirk, and I am going to lay claim to it like he was in my family tree, there is no way I don't want some affiliation with the man. At any rate. He died in Trieste and his wife Isabel burned a lot of his papers here, in the backyard of the villa. (Do villas have backyards? Or do they have gardens? It is a mystery.) Included in the pyre was his journals and a translation that she herself considered to be his masterpiece, but it wasn't finished and she didn't want a halfdone thing to be the target of ridicule. So into the flames it went.
Almost everything that Sir Burton did write, that wasn't burned, is available for download or online reading here. Including things like, A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry. And yes, his translation of the Kama Sutra, you dirty bitch.
And just a note, Jennifer Howard will be taking up some of the blogging slack around here, as I'm about to start relying on hotel wifi tomorrow, and we all I'm sure know how that goes. So I'll be darting in and out for a while, and Jen will be here so the blog doesn't go to waste. Important publishing things happen in July, surely?
July 9, 2012
Artists “have to be in favor of publicity, good or bad,” she wrote, because “the garret life of Van Gogh and Modigliani is not where it’s at.”
"One thing we've said over and over is that we've felt like there is a backward-looking culture," Gessen explained. "We, too, look back, but we also think it is important to look forward, and to the side."
This article on literary Brooklyn makes the borough sound like a hell from which no light escapes (I think I'm confusing two different things there), but luckily someone has already cranked out a satiric swipe.
July 8, 2012
Marianne Jung, born "into the theatre" probably on November 20th, 1784, was of unknown origins. She played bit parts, danced, sang in the chorus. Or, dressed as Harlequin, emerged into a dance number from a large egg which circled the stage... Goethe gets to know Marianne and Marianne, in the Divan, becomes Suleika. This gives birth to some of the greatest love poetry of all times, but also to something greater still. The Divan, and the superb love-dialogue which it contains, bears the name of Goethe. But Marianne is not only the woman loved and sung in the poems, she is also the author of a number of the most truly sublime lyrics in the entire Divan. Goethe incorporated them and published them in the collection under his own name...
What strikes us is not only the mimicry, that union of voices merging in an impassioned dialogue, like bodies in the act of love or feelings and values in a life that is truly shared. There is certainly also malpractice, a typical and perhaps extreme case of a man appropriating the work of a woman; the work which bears the name of a man is often, as with this book of Goethe's, also an act of expropriation of a woman's toil. But there is also something more. In the Divan Marianne wrote a mere handful of poems, which are among the masterpieces of lyric poetry the world over, and then wrote nothing else ever again. When we read her odes to the East and West Winds, love songs which become the very breath of existence, it seems utterly impossible that Marianne wrote nothing more. Marianne's lyrics bear witness to the supra-personal quality of poetry, that mysterious conjunction and coincidence of elements which produce it, as a certain degree of condensation of watery vapour caused by a random or at least rather unpredictable combination of factors produces rain, a boom in the sale of umbrellas and a demand for taxis that outstrips demand.
- From Claudio Magris's Danube
July 6, 2012
Two people I would not have guessed would be chiming in on the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon now have.
For some reason, someone called up scholar Marina Warner to comment in this Observer piece.
the unexpectedly wide appeal of this explicit fiction could be a sign of how difficult people now find it to feel aroused in an era when sex and nudity have become so commonplace. "There has been a general unveiling of the body in our culture and there is a connection between prohibition and arousal," she said. "It is in some way linked to our feelings about the sacred and the profane. I definitely don't want to go back to censorship, but I don't think the answer is to reach for extremes either."
Then she quotes Angela Carter's The Sadeian Woman and talks about the patriarchy, but we can guess that no one who is reading 50 Shades really wants to talk about the patriarchy. At least, you know, not right now.
And now we turn to Eva Illouz, author of Why Love Hurts (attention Grey fans: NOT LIKE THAT), who has published a piece in Der Spiegel, in German, and if you are desperate you can use the Google Chrome translation, which is hilarious. But at least you can get the gist of it.
A former church caretaker, his wife, son and another woman have been arrested in connection with last year's disappearance of a priceless medieval text from the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in northwest Spain, police said on Wednesday.
The Codex Calixtinus, a 12th century collection of sermons and liturgical passages, vanished from a safe deposit box in the cathedral, the endpoint of the ancient pilgrimage route the Camino de Santiago.
Michelle Tea is interviewed at LAMBDA about all the stuff she has going on right now, which includes a new publishing imprint with City Lights. I could not be more excited to see the books that imprint puts out. (The Fella and I went to the Sister Spit stop in Philadelphia this spring, and I've been going to those shows since I was a wee little thing in Austin, Texas. It's good to see longterm momentum.)
(Also, you should read Elizabeth Bachner's take on Michelle Tea's The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, because it is a smart take on a book I think Sheila Heti's was desperately trying to be, and it's a book I love. Also, because that review was when I realized I wanted Elizabeth Bachner to write for Bookslut forever and ever and also to eat nachos with her whenever we were in the same city.)
I am experiencing the unexpected existential horror of agreeing with both James Wood and Katie fucking Roiphe about a book*. I mean, the same intensely negative reaction, although for different reasons. And since they are two of the only voices disliking this book, out of a chorus of praise and reviews so glowing you have to worry a bit about radiation poisoning, it's hard to convince myself this is only an accident. That lots and lots of people feel this way about How Should a Person Be? and Wood and Roiphe are just two of them, nonrepresentational.
I may never recover.
* I have been debating for a week now about whether or not to say anything publicly about this book. It is bad in a way that calls for a rather detailed response, if not a cultural dissection. Not a pithy blog post. But I never really found the time to write a satisfying review. Maybe it is best to leave it at, this is not a book for me. Really, really, really not for me.
July 5, 2012
There had sounded for an instant the authentic wail of poverty, in its dire extreme, that is caused by a certain kind of politics. Such politics we know very well in Ireland. They grow on a basis of past injustice. A proud people acquire a habit of resistance to foreign oppression, and by the time they have driven out their oppressors they have forgotten that agreement is a pleasure and that a society which has attained tranquility will be able to pursue many delightful ends. There they continue to wrangle, finding abundant material in the odds and ends of injustices that are left over from the period of tyranny and need to be tidied up in one way or another. Such politics are a leak in the community. Generous passion, pure art, abstract thought, run through it and are lost. There remain only the obstinate solids which cannot be dissolved by argument or love, the rubble of hate and prejudice and malice, which are of no price. The process is never absolute, since in all lands some people are born with the inherent sweetness which closes that leak, but it can exist to a degree that alarms by the threat of privation affecting all the most essential goods of life.
Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
A book that gathers female art doesn’t need to be explained away as feminist. It’s something else. Just tell us about female lives and female art careers all in one place, and it’s more like we’re having tea with Pema Chödrön. The inspiration (and the desolation) of the female artist is vibrantly there.
Eileen Myles reviews It Is Almost That / A Collection of Image+Text work by Women Artists & Writers.
I continue to love the Daybook column at B&N Review, and today Steve King remembers the day Lord Byron's body -- "minus the lungs, gifted to the citizens of Missolonghi" -- arrived back in London after his death in Greece.
Instead, in 1879, at the age of 22, Betty launched what would become her trademark scam. She saved up for expensive letterhead and, using the fictitious name and address of a London, Ontario, attorney, notified herself that a philanthropist had died and left her an inheritance of $15,000. Next, she needed to announce her good fortune, presenting herself in a manner that would allow her to spend her “inheritance.” To this end, she had a printer create business cards resembling the calling cards of the social elite. Hers read: “Miss Bigley, Heiress to $15,000.”
She came up with a simple plan that capitalized on the lackadaisical business practices of the day. She would enter a shop, choose an expensive item, and then write a check for a sum that exceeded its price. Many merchants were willing to give her the cash difference between the cost of the item and the amount of the check. If anyone questioned whether she could afford her purchases, she coolly produced her calling card. It worked every time. Why would a young woman have a card announcing she was an heiress if it weren’t true?
Nearly every paragraph Karen Abbott writes at the history blog of the Smithsonian Magazine is novelist bait. Every anecdote dares you to flesh it out into a fuller story.
It is possible that I'm in Italy just to follow Roberto Calasso around. If you don't know him, he's the author of The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, which I have been reading on trains and by the sea. A friend recommended it to me after I read Robert Graves's The White Goddess, and it's true, they're similar, although Graves has (had) much more invested in being crazy.
But there's something about Graves and Calasso that seems beyond the real world, like they maybe should belong to the centuries before. Because today I found an interview with Calasso on YouTube, and my first thought was Calasso should not be on YouTube! Just before the gratitude set in that I would get to hear him talk about his work and see how he dresses, how he gestures, how he moves about. It's something else.
July 3, 2012
Eddie Campbell has a new comic out, and I review it over at Kirkus. Or, mostly I rant a little about the role of money in the art world, as the book, The Lovely Horrible Stuff, is primarily about the role of money in the art world. The romantic notion of the artist living and creating in poverty, the inability of publications to pay their freelancers on time, the way money come between family members... Campbell meanders through a variety of notions about cash and writing, and you can read my review here.
Perhaps you would like to watch Arthur Conan Doyle on television in 1927, talking about Sherlock Holmes?
The strange account of a strange German book, Michael Rauff's “Of the Dead Who Masticate in Their Graves.” Apparently in Germany it was custom for a while to place a stone in the mouth of the dead to keep them from eating the contents of their coffins.
Oh, Germany. I was holding a grudge because you nearly got me killed here in Italy where I was cheering for you to win the Euro match... Cheering is probably the wrong word? Since you kind of just rolled over and let Italy win? I did not get much to cheer for, I just kind of sullenly stuck out my tongue at the television screen a lot and drank quietly. But then you reveal these strange bits of your strange past and I fall in love again. (I would send you a postcard from the Adriatic, but your people are crawling all over down here. They are eating pork knuckle in the heat, please explain the reasons for that to me.)
Some years ago, at Bar-le-Duc, a man was buried in the cemetery, and a noise was heard in his grave; the next day they disinterred him and found that he had gnawed the flesh of his arms; and this we learned from ocular witnesses. This man had drunk brandy and had been buried as dead. Rauff speaks of a woman of Bohemia, who, in 1355, had eaten in her grave half her shroud. In the time of Luther, a man who was dead and buried, and a woman the same, gnawed their own entrails. Another dead man in Moravia ate the linen clothes of a woman who was buried next to him.
I love this, taken from an essay by Bridget Riley:
Stravinsky claimed in Poetics of Music: ‘My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.’
After being arrested in 1974 by the Savak, the shah’s secret police, the Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi asked his interrogators just what crime he had committed. “None,” he recalled them responding, “but everyone we arrest seems to have copies of your novels, so that makes you provocative to revolutionaries.”
July 2, 2012
While cultural understandings of masculinity harm women, they also harm men.
Feministing talks to Tristan Bridges about masculinity and the changing norms for men.
At times, the absence of a camera can itself be a symbol of tourist insecurity. In his 1980 book Abroad, the late historian Paul Fussell notes the idiosyncrasies of “anti-tourists” — self-conscious middle-class travelers who have “read and heard just enough to sense that being a tourist is somehow offensive,” and thus avoid telltale indicators of their own tourist status. “A useful trick is ostentatiously not carrying a camera,” Fussell writes. “If asked about this deficiency by a camera-carrying tourist, one scores points by saying, ‘I never carry a camera. If I photograph things I find I don’t really see them.’”
Rolf Potts has an essay about travel writing and travel snapshots at the Design Observer.
It's hard to say what makes one artist's reputation rise after their death and another disappear almost entirely. In this review of The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900, the focus is on the women who once stood alongside Klimt and Rodin only to be almost entirely forgotten.
There's also a piece in the New York Times about the novelist Dawn Powell, who died in obscure poverty, but whose reputation has slowly been rebuilt by people like the critic Tim Page.