September 28, 2012
I think this is pretty great, a lengthy takedown of Steve Almond, who has been prolific on the subject of politics lately over at the Rumpus and Baffler.
Second, the only artists—comedians, musicians, critics, whatever—who can authentically express the real grievances of those who endure a subaltern existence are those who live it involuntarily, or those who have chosen exemption from the demands of that existence by becoming outlaws, hipsters, or, more quaintly, bohemians. Those who have earned (or lucked into) release from that exemption by becoming commercially successful are automatically disqualified. So the only voices Almond will accredit are the ones the rest of us can’t hear on the radio. In effect, he insists that you can’t speak truth to power if you’ve got any.
September 27, 2012
Oh, I'm sorry. Were you looking for something bookish that had nothing to do with JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy? Not this week, I'm afraid.
I mean, look at this page. The Telegraph is covering Rowling with 14 separate fucking articles. That is one newspaper. And all for a book everyone agrees is pretty eh.
I long for a new Jonathan Franzen novel right about now. Just for a little distraction.
This is maybe the gossipy-est thing I have ever posted, but it's kind of fascinating. Penguin is suing a bunch of their writers to get back the advances for books that never materialized. And the Guardian has picked the story up, and they list the writers and the amount of the advances. Gossip!
(And if you'd like to draw some conclusions about the state of the publishing industry from the data about Elizabeth Wurtzel's advances, you'd be free to do so.)
OH RIGHT. Why do I keep forgetting? Please send questions for the Kind Reader literary advice column to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
So we all know by now that I am obsessed with Cosima Wagner, and a great deal of that is narcissism because we share a profile. And occasionally friends will try to cheer me up I guess by saying things like, Oh, you don't look that much like her! But I want to. I mean, come the fuck on. If I get to look like this when I am 80 I am going to be pleased, even if she's in high Widow Wagner mode in that shot.
But when a question came in to the Kind Reader column that seemed perfect for a little Madame Wagner, in a don't be crazy the way that Cosima Wagner was crazy kind of way, but I'd written about her before, and god knows one does not want to spark a Jonah Lehreresque feeding frenzy. I do believe I sent a 4am email to my editor, making it clear I had written about Wagner before. He cleared me. And probably decided I was a little crazy.
Any way, the latest Kind Reader is how not to turn into Cosima Wagner. That is, how not to spend your time facilitating your partner's genius rather than doing your own good work. And why that impulse occurs to us at all. (Hint: laziness.)
Your friend is probably not Cosima Wagner. Unless she too has tried to set up her daughter on a date with Adolf Hitler or addresses her husband as "Master." (Hey, whatever floats your boat.) But that impulse, to serve rather than to be served, to prioritize someone else's talents over your own, springs from the same dark place of doubt and fear. And it's a remarkably easy trap to fall into when the person with whom you share your bed, your life, your morning coffee, is being heralded as a genius by the outside world. It's so difficult to put up your little hand and squeak out, "Um, me too, maybe?" It's much easier to decide instead to make dinner for your household genius, so that he doesn't have to, and can spend that time making real his potential.
September 25, 2012
Actually, if you read your own article, Guardian, you see that is not really what he is saying at all. But nice bait.
Surely one day I will be able to travel without having separation anxiety with my books? That ability will click in when exactly? I'm taking AM Homes's tremendous May We Be Forgiven for plane reading, even though I'm actually almost done. (Back up: All We Know.) I held out for as long as I could, but when a new Homes novel comes over to my house, all of my will power quickly dissolves.
So posting might be light over the next couple days, as I'm doing the traveling/working/new issue editing combo that is sure to land me straight in the mental ward one day. Apologies, but really you should just get the Homes novel to keep you company in the meantime.
This is a pretty great examination of the problem at the heart of a lot of misery memoirs, circling as it does around the graphic memoir Stitches. It deals primarily with something that always made me uncomfortable -- settling scores with people who are dead or have no recourse to respond. It's one thing to put those people in novels (in nearly every novel by Evelyn Waugh, there's a man who remarkably resembles his father who comes to a bad end) and it's another to use their name and trot it out for the rest of the world. Of course if that impulse led to great art, I would feel a lot less yuck about it. But as it rarely does...
Back when I was a sex librarian (okay, so I only did it for a year but first, I wish I had kept my business cards, and second, I have more and better stories from that year than from my entire career as a "writer") the book we put in everyone's hands was Robie Harris's It's Perfectly Normal. If you have children (or if you are a novelist writing sex scenes without being entirely sure how the female sexual system works), you should have this book. And you might have to buy it yourself because it's one of the most consistently challenged books in libraries across the countries.
When Kirkus asked me if I wanted to be thematic with Banned Books Week, I immediately knew I wanted to talk to Harris. And so we had a short exchange about what it's like when someone objects to your book, what a writer should do if their book is challenged, and whether she anticipates her new book that acknowledges gay people have families too (Who's In My Family?) will anger some of those easily angered parents we keep hearing about.
But if a controversy arises, I will not hesitate to speak out, as I always have, and say that in our democracy, if any person does not want to read the books I have written, that is their right. But I will also say that they do not have the right to prevent others, including children and teens, who choose to have my books or any book from having access to them.
September 24, 2012
The latest Literature Lab podcast talks to professor Robert Waxler about the program he started 25 years ago with Superior Court Judge Robert Kane. The program introduces men and women out on parole to works of literature, like Of Mice and Men and The Old Man and the Sea.
Federal prosectors added nine new felony counts against well-known coder and activist Aaron Swartz, who was charged last year for allegedly breaching hacking laws by downloading millions of academic articles from a subscription database via an open connection at MIT.
Swartz, the 25-year-old executive director of Demand Progress, has a history of downloading massive data sets, both to use in research and to release public domain documents from behind paywalls. He surrendered in July 2011, remains free on bond and faces dozens of years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.
On the other hand, this profile of Myanmar's official censor is pretty fantastic:
His office was once the site of an interrogation center run by Japan’s feared military police during World War II. And that is how U Tint Swe got his nickname: the literary torturer.
“We didn’t arrest or torture anyone, but we had to torture their writing,” Mr. Tint Swe said, his serious expression yielding to a faint smile.
So did you spend twenty hours this weekend reading that massive (yet somehow empty) profile of JK Rowling? And then feel as what-the-fuck about that time spent as you do when you spend the whole day watching episodes of The Good Wife? From a season you've already seen in its entirety? Yeah. Me the fuck too.
September 22, 2012
Nothing at all to do with books, just a subject I find distressing: Mandy Patinkin just became my favorite person with his explanation for why he left the television show Criminal Minds:
“The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place,” he says. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again.”
Even though Homeland has its own share of violence, Patinkin sees its message as antithetical to shows like Criminal Minds. “I’m not making a judgment on the taste [of people who watch crime procedurals],” he says. “But I’m concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about."
September 21, 2012
Somehow I missed this news:
Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist whose 1961 book “The Myth of Mental Illness” questioned the legitimacy of his field and provided the intellectual grounding for generations of critics, patient advocates and antipsychiatry activists, making enemies of many fellow doctors, died Saturday at his home in Manlius, N.Y. He was 92.
He died after a fall, his daughter Dr. Margot Szasz Peters said.
The New York Times obit makes him sound like a bit of a kook, as the anti-psychiatry movement is so very out of fashion these days. But it's not like The Myth of Mental Illness and The Medicalization of Everyday Life are without merit. He goes too far sometimes, but anyone who has followed the debate surrounding the DSM-V knows we need a strong Szasz influence in the conversation about mental illness and its treatment.
Reason responds to the NYT obit, and Szasz's diminished reputation in the field of psychiatry (which Szasz compared to alchemy, so probably he wasn't too terribly torn up about being excluded from).
In fact, however, Szasz's radicalism, which he combined with a sharp wit, a keen eye for obfuscating rhetoric, and an uncompromising dedication to individual freedom and responsibility, was one of his greatest strengths. Beginning with The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961 and continuing through 35 more books and hundreds of articles, the maverick psychiatrist, driven by a "passion against coercion," zeroed in on the foundational fallacies underlying all manner of medicalized tyranny.
It turns out it was not only Robert Graves who was crazy, it was the whole brood. His great nephew Simon Gough has written a memoir about his great uncle, and the strange Grave family, all cooped up in Majorca. And just to make the whole thing more confusing, Gough has called his book The White Goddess, which is also the name of Graves's phenomenal study of Celtic mythology and poetry.
Gough is on the Guardian podcast, talking about his uncle, his cousins (putting slugs up his nose, jumping off cliffs, living about 75% feral), and his time on the island.
"I can't say I'm thankful about being German because I sometimes experience it as a huge burden," Bernhard Schlink says. "But it is an integral part of me and I wouldn't want to escape it. I have accepted it."
September 20, 2012
A few days after reviews began appearing, Ms. Wolf set sliced bananas and strawberries upon a coffee table (cut fruit had never before looked so vulval) and took a seat on the deep, plush couch in the yellow-painted living room of her sunny West Village apartment. She was wearing a flowing black wrap over a loose knit tank, tan strappy heels and a tight smile.
So this profile wherein Naomi Wolf responds to the critics of her book Vagina is not doing her any favors. Publicity team! Where are you on this??
Don't tell Margaret Howie, our literary awards correspondent, but we are rooting for Deborah Levy to win the Booker this year. I didn't think Swimming Home was as good as some of her other books -- Pillow Talk in Europe and Billy and Girl are particular gems -- but it's wonderful to see her up there with Mantel and the like.
Writing about women is Levy's forte: "I want to walk my female characters into the centre of my work. They don't have to be likable but they have to be compelling and complicated." She has said in the past that her female characters are more "slippery" than her male. Her men are the secure, rooted home-makers. Women, she suggests, are still being told by men how they should be, what they are like. What matters, she says, is that as women we "imagine ourselves".
This watercolor painting of a blow-fish, taken from a 17th century catalog of a wunderkammer, is the cure for what ails you.
So Jesus had a wife, etc etc. The Smithsonian has a reasoned, in-depth, and intelligent examination of the discovery of the "married Jesus" papyrus, which absolutely no one involved in the discovery believes proves or suggests that Jesus was married. The whole article is kind of brilliant, actually. And it's a really good excuse to point out that Karen King, who presented the paper, has written fabulous books on Gnosticism. Like What is Gnosticism?. And Reading Judas, co-written with Elaine Pagels.
(Also, now that I am six to nine hours ahead of the United States, all of these announcements are made while I'm in bed. I wake up to find out Jesus had a wife, Mitt Romney is self-immolating on television, whatever. It makes one a little worried to check the headlines in the morning.)
September 19, 2012
The tiny little stories of Serbian WWI soldier Miodrag Petrović, who in the biographical information is wearing a fantastic hat which goes unexplained.
The victims are pale, scared, confused. One of them is praying to God. He has saved himself on the solitary rocky island. He is alone with a nymph: the Serbian soldier, in torn summer clothes, with no shoes, sitting on a rock, with his look wandering toward the homeland, toward Serbia, and the nymph, standing behind him, playing a harp made of wood and singing cheerful melodies so as to cheer him up a little.
I was speaking with a friend about critics working today whose total thrashing of your book would be devastating. James Wood might take a stiff drink to get over, but seeing how we only agree about books like 15% of the time, it would not be a lasting devastation. Kakutani? Please. Scream into a pillow for ten minutes, you'll be fine. Janet Malcolm? Jesus, yes, give me the sleeping pills now just thinking about it. Another I didn't think of at the time, but Terry Castle hating your book would bring on sudden suicidal ideation. On the one hand you'd be flattered they are bothering to notice you and your book exist, but then to be found wanting...
Because this morning I read Castle's review of Lisa Cohen's All We Know, and it is funny and smart and lively and expansive. She's the kind of critic you walk away from with a giant reading list. Not just the book under review, but the whole world of literature she used to access that book. I think she's marvelous. And I had read reviews of Cohen's book before, and eventually decided I did not have time to read it, but after Castle's review I immediately pulled it out of the discard pile and opened it up. Because Castle doesn't go on and on about what works in the book and what doesn't. She writes about the book's situation in the world, which I always respect in a critic. In Cohen's particular case, the importance of writing about lesbian lives.
Thirty years after dinner with the Poet Lady, one still finds oneself staring into the won ton all too frequently, dismayed yet again at how invisible, literally and figuratively, lesbianism remains, even in the great rainbow-flag-waving cities of the West. Some of the smartest and most well-meaning straight people still don’t get it – in fact, don’t even see it. This mole-blindness is all the more bizarre given the unremittingly vulgar sexual explicitness that otherwise assaults us everywhere in the mass media, not least in the cartoon world of online pornography. One is forced to conclude that heterosexual obliviousness has its own twisty, uncanny, self-perpetuating life: a Rasputin-like determination not to die. You think you’ve finally squashed it dead and then up it pops again. It seems to have the blessing of the tsarina too.
Bonus: Cohen is interviewed briefly here about All We Know.
September 18, 2012
I could read stories about severed corpus callosum forever, and let's not think about what that says about me.
In the first months after her surgery, shopping for groceries was infuriating. Standing in the supermarket aisle, Vicki would look at an item on the shelf and know that she wanted to place it in her trolley — but she couldn't. “I'd reach with my right for the thing I wanted, but the left would come in and they'd kind of fight,” she says. “Almost like repelling magnets.” Picking out food for the week was a two-, sometimes three-hour ordeal. Getting dressed posed a similar challenge: Vicki couldn't reconcile what she wanted to put on with what her hands were doing. Sometimes she ended up wearing three outfits at once. “I'd have to dump all the clothes on the bed, catch my breath and start again.”
* A decision as strange as Paul Auster's decision to voice his memoir in the second person? Can't wait for James Wood's memoir, written in the Royal We. Out any day, I'm sure.
The inexhaustible Michelle Tea is heading up a new publishing imprint for City Lights, called Sister Spit. (I've been going to Sister Spit shows since 2002, back in Austin, TX, so you can call me enthusiastic about this move.) Their first book is appropriately an anthology of their past and present writers/performers, called Sister Spit: Writing, Range & Reminiscence from the Road.
I talked to Tea for this week's Kirkus interview, and we discuss this move into publishing, why the writers she publishes also have to be great performers, and how one gets invited into that Sister Spit van.
Sister Spit has always been a very working class escapade, though not entirely. Because me and the co-founder, Sini Anderson, were self-taught, didn't go to college and came from broke families that was really in our own work. We gravitated toward others who expressed those experiences, because we personally felt the need for it.
I think it's important to know that you don't need to be all hooked up in the world to create culture, you possess what you need to create a place in the world for you and your people. It might be a lot of work, but hopefully it's fun, too.
Seriously, y'all totally fell down on the job with Book Blogger Appreciation Week this year. Did you know this was a thing? I didn't know this was a thing until it was over, so I guess you are all forgiven. Next year, though, I will expect flowers or something. Not books. Please not books. In fact, if people could just show up on my doorstep on Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2013 and take stacks of review books away from me, that would be amazing.
September 17, 2012
A writer who argued in an essay that Norway deserved mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik has stepped down from a post with top French publishers Gallimard, the company said Thursday.
Richard Millet had not been fired, the company told AFP, saying he would continue to look after the writers he normally handled for the publishers.
During the Sixties, in New York City, twins put up for adoption were separated and used for psychological studies under the direction of Peter Neubauer, who never told either them or their parents that they were twins, or that they were being studied.
Wendy Doniger sadly reveals that there is no magical twin connection, but that people have been fucking with twins for centuries looking for one.
Part of me is always glad when FALL PUBLISHING is over, because with the blockbuster books and the half-assed books by our American Geniuses who are totally resting on em, there are those books. The literary emetics. This season it seems to be Naomi Wolf's Vagina, and despite the fact that I Should Know Better, I cannot stop reading about it.
So. The Guardian digests Naomi Wolf's Vagina. (I am weary from typing those three words yet again.)
As I began my research – I cannot recommend the findings of Dr Pfaus's MRI scans of the cervix too highly – I began to make some remarkable discoveries. A vagina that is neglected can easily fall into a deep depression; indeed, I encountered several that had self-sealed in an act of suicide. Meanwhile, a pampered vagina is capable of acts of great creativity. It is a little-known fact that Edith Wharton wrote the House of Mirth with her clitoris. And while it is true that the vagina may sometimes become addicted to her own happiness, this is something society ought to celebrate, rather than control with a strict 12-step programme that insists on submission to a male God.
It turns out that the man who wrote the screenplay for The Beat That My Heart Skipped has written a new novel. It should surprise absolutely no one who saw that film that the book is one of the better novels I've read this year.
Bookslut contributor Jennifer Howard reviews Hannah Rosin's The End of Man: and the Rise of Women and finds it a little wanting. That seems to be consistent with the reviews I've been reading -- like, it's a nice thought, and there is probably a book there on the subject, but this isn't it.
Worse, though, is that the reviews tend to be bait for vitriolic misogynists, who feel free to vomit their opinions on women under the reviews. Washington Post has done a good job cleaning those up, but other sites are not moving very quickly if at all. I know, I know: don't read the comments. But I always very sincerely want to ask Slate, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian: what do you think you are adding to the world by hosting these vile things? I know that the real answer is "money," because comments add page views, and page views add money from advertisers, but as the things always descend into madness and hatred, no matter how much policing you think you're doing, what exactly is the justification?
September 14, 2012
Going in, I didn’t think so much about what I could add, but what I didn’t know: how people get out of poverty. As a reporter, you know the tropes of how stories on poverty work in any country. A reporter will go to an NGO and say, “Tell me about the good work that you’re doing and introduce me to the poor people who represent the kind of help you give.” It serves to streamline the storytelling, but it gives you a lopsided cosmos in which almost every poor person you read about is involved with a NGO helping him. Our understanding of poverty and how people escape from poverty, in any country, is quite distorted.
Jan Morris explains to the Telegraph why her next book (after 39 marvelous books) will be posthumous.
Great piece on the gap in Shulamith Firestone's writing career.
This fight is one of the reasons I love Germany.
A while back I reviewed the book Monoculture by FS Michaels, and I was really impressed with that wee little book. In it, Michaels argues that economics has become the one storyline for everything. It is what everything is measured by, it is the playing field we are all competing on, and in order to convince someone else of the value of your idea or your artwork or your product, you have to prove its economic value first and foremost. Screw morals, we measure everything with a dollar sign these days.
There's a chapter in the book that deals specifically with art museums, and the way wealthy donors run those places now. Which artists increase in value (which is, of course, increasingly important) depends on who shows at the museums. And donors can strong arm museums into displaying their collections, specifically so those artists increase in value. Museums' admission prices are more expensive these days, they display more of the artists who make a good coffee mug, and, well, just watch The Art of the Steal or The Mona Lisa Curse for two good documentaries about the greed that has taken over the museum world.
So a billionaire tried to do in Germany what they've been doing for decades in New York, which is push museums around with promises of big donations. And Germany threw a fucking fit. And I've been reading about this controversy since I think May or June, and it is still raging, and that makes me very happy. Now the billionaire is threatening to take his art and go home, which I think would make a lot of people very happy. Including me.
September 13, 2012
Anne Carson will be releasing a sequel to Autobiography of Red, which oh my god. Let's all forcibly regain possession of our copies, which we probably stupidly gave to a gentleman years ago, once we remember which one, okay?
This is kind of cool, considering the best thing I ever did was suffer madly for a year so I could drag myself out of the last of my debt:
This Saturday, Strike Debt will launch a book called the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual and hand out 5,000 free copies at an Occupy Town Square event in Washington Square Park during the day. Written by an anonymous group, the manual will provide practical assistance for dealing with various types of debt, as well as tools and strategies for collective action.
Getting yourself free of debt and banks is now political action. (Also, a love filled shout out to my tiny independent Chicago bank. That I still use despite not living in the United States anymore. Those guys are consistently just the kindest, smartest people there with all kinds of support and financial advice for a fumbling small business person. Who knew banks could be run by humans?)
Gender Trouble author Judith Butler was awarded the Adorno Prize in Frankfurt, Germany, and this has caused a rather major controversy among Jewish groups. It turns out that if you criticize the wrong thing or support the wrong thing, you are not allowed to win an award ever.
You know all of those studies that show that educated women will end up alone and unloved? Dried up old spinsters? I think sometimes we accidentally start believing that stuff when we hear it enough times. This week's Kind Reader is for a querent's sister, who seems totally willing to dumb herself down in the hopes of finding a little male attention. Problems like this are best met with some unheimlich ETA Hoffmann.
The problem your sister might face is figuring out how and when to regain what she is voluntarily giving up now. It's hard to know when it's safe to start returning to those complexities: Poses can harden into habits, and habits can harden into characteristics. But you might have better luck in reaching her by engaging her on an intellectual level she may think she had abandoned, rather than just scolding. Because of course there is a library of feminist literature from Wollstonecraft to Despentes that you could drop on your sister's doorstep. You could stand outside her window and read Andrea Dworkin through a megaphone. That's not really going to help her satisfy whatever longings she has right now. But you might offer her Hoffmann's dark little fable instead: images like his have a way of burrowing down and do their work over time.
As always, if you have a question for the column, I would love to hear from you. You can send it here.
And did seriously no one pull her aside and say it is going to sound like everyone is talking about your you know, your stuff, it's always going to sound like "I was deep into Naomi Wolf's vagina" when they are just trying to talk about your book and everyone is going to feel really weird about this. Although from reading the excerpts and the horrified reviews, it seems like the publishing company just kind of let Wolf run herself into a tree in all kinds of ways with this one.
September 12, 2012
With exorcism booming in Poland, Roman Catholic priests have joined forces with a publisher to launch what they claim is the world’s first monthly magazine focused exclusively on chasing out the devil.
September 11, 2012
I don't know if you've read Carl Djerassi's This Man's Pill, but it is pretty great. He credits himself as one of the co-inventors of The Pill, and it's all very interesting, looking back on that time and how it revolutionized everything. Of course, it should probably be read alongside something like The Pill: A Biography of the Drug that Changed the World, as that's more likely to delve into that whole "oh right, so we tested the thing on poor women in Puerto Rico and had the amounts of hormones so way off that people were dropping dead of strokes and getting cancer, whoops" thing.
Anyway, Djerassi has written more than just a book about The Pill, and he's interviewed at Wired about a new play.
Important research scientists don’t read books. They don’t have that curiosity because they are completely and totally occupied in a very sophisticated way with their science. You have to read the scientific literature. If you don’t keep up that’s it. It’s not that they are intellectual boors inherently, but they become that through being total workaholics. It’s exciting but culturally limited. The vast majority of people think you are dabbling. “You can write a novel on the side,” they say. Some are jealous, some admire, but vast majority think I’m wasting my time.
A friend gifted me an ebook of Megan Abbott's Dare Me for airplane reading. He knew I was down to that goddamn Napoleon biography, and with my first flight leaving at 6am and a layover in Belgrade, it just wasn't going to hold my interest. My first thought was that Abbott had to have been a cheerleader. Or some other sort of punishing girl activity like ballet or something. She got the physicality of it too right. As a former cheerleader (more of the sissboombah variety than the Bring It On variety -- there are like five of us: small school), it checked out.
I liked Dare Me a great deal. It's dark and gets into the twisted head of teenage girls -- never a safe place. Not just into their heads but somehow also their bodies. Immediately I knew I wanted to interview Abbott for our Kirkus Q&A series. You can read our conversation here.
I did a great deal of online eavesdropping to learn the ways the girls talked about their bodies, how it physically felt to do these stunts, to manipulate and even reshape their bodies. The exhilaration they felt struck me powerfully. And though I was not an athlete at that age, I began to recall intensely the complicated relationship you have with your body at that age, and the desire to change it, and the way it can surprise you. Those memories helped inform the more visceral parts of the book, that sense of your body always being under examination and the choice you can make to seize control over it, even if that means putting it at risk.
I don't really have an opinion on this case, just passing on the news:
The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday refused to reinstate Ward L. Churchill as a University of Colorado professor despite his longstanding contention that he was dismissed because of his controversial political views.
Churchill, if you remember -- it was several years back -- wrote some controversial things about the 9/11 victims. He was later accused of plagiarism, and the university argued that was the true basis for his dismissal.
September 10, 2012
Maybe she could
get away with writing a
like a tree.
David Grann is still the best thing about the New Yorker, and he's interviewed at the Longform Podcast.
Last year, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich wrote an essay for us about writing about a murderer. From that piece:
In the case I am writing about, the murderer’s sister, on the witness stand, refuses to give into the defense attorneys’ constant attempts to insist that something was wrong early on with the murderer, he was clearly insane. “He was just our [brother], you know,” she says, using the man’s name, and when I read that statement I see countless dinners, childhood bickering, the struggle to put a child’s arm into the sleeve of a winter coat. Even murderers are ordinary to their families. They are people, people who must not have done it. Murder remains unimaginable. But they are people, people capable of action, people who must have done it.
Now she has a piece in the Oxford American about the murder, and I hope it's an excerpt from a longer work, because it's tremendous.
There's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to reviews of Naomi Wolf's painfully bad Vagina: A New Biography, to the point where one almost begins to feel bad for her. She's off in her goddessy wilderness, where scientific law holds no sway, and suddenly she's being judged against like facts and shit.
There are takedowns in the Guardian, in the New York Review of Books, in the New Yorker, on Jezebel, on little messages tied to the feet of carrier pigeons. Word is out that the book is bad. You can do your own Googling, I can't bear to look at these reviews anymore. Although one is slightly unique, as Wired cautions overly eager young nonfiction writers from deciding that studies in neuroscience prove the things they think they prove. But it's a brain scan! The thingies there are lighting up! Not so fast...
September 7, 2012
Reading György Faludy's My Happy Days in Hell today. I particularly liked this bit, on the problems of being a Hungarian writer living in exile in the United States:
I described how shocked I had been when, at the air base at Kodiak, my fellow-soldiers told me one morning that I had been talking English in my sleep. At Ford Leonardwood, a military camp in the middle of a forest in Missouri, one of my buddies had stopped behind me when I was busy writing a poem in a PX, and had asked me why I wasn't writing in English. I had explained to him that when I pronounced the word 'wood,' it meant to him the surrounding dense, dark-green forest of strangely-shaped, intertwining trees, a jungly undergrowth full of jiggers, an unfathomable, frightening darkness; when, on the other hand, I pronounced the Hungarian word for wood, 'Erdő,' I saw the thinly scattered, slender young trees of the Matra Mountains, with fragments of blue sky between their branches and wild strawberry plants and tussocks of grass at their feet. Even concrete words meant different things to us, not to mention abstractions such as 'political party,' 'ethics,' 'way of life,' 'religion,' or 'duty.'
When a Hungarian rhyme occurred to me I knew at once whether it had already been used by some other Hungarian poet; I knew whether it sounded modern or old-fashioned, solemn or comical, banal or affected. I knew whether it was slyly modest, refined, deliberately dim, artistically polished, or sham; whether its mere sound evoked melancholy, happiness, arrogance, despair, unexpressed rudeness, irony, boredom or nothing at all. In English I didn't even know for certain whether a rhyme was a rhyme on paper only, or also when pronounced. I had been born into the process of Hungarian literature, of Hungarian history: it was not Herrick whom I studied at school, but Balaasi, not Keats but Janos Arany. The word 'victory' conjured up in me not the red brick wall of the Appomattox Court House but the green grass of the battlefield at Isaszeg; the word 'democracy' took in my mind the shape of Lajos Kossuth's face, not that of Abraham Lincoln's. Hungarian literature and history were going through a phase different from that of American literature and history: it was a different river, with a different course, different currents, a different colour, on which one rowed with a different rhythm, in a different way. I knew everything about a Hungarian peasant: I knew what fairy-tales had given him bad dreams in childhood, how he moved, what grimaces he made when shaving in his kitchen on a Sunday morning; I knew just how distorted his notions and memories of Hungarian history would be. About the joys and worries of a farmer in Georgia I knew nothing.
There's a terrific essay at Berfois about literary failure and F. Scott Fitzgerald's final stories. The story, "Thank You for the Light," that opens the essay, was recently printed by the New Yorker and is available to read online.
Not only did ["Thank You for the Light"] not square with the dashing image of the lyrical, romantic wunderkind of the vertiginous Twenties—which Fitzgerald’s readers were emotionally invested in—but in its small way, it also pulled back the sheet to reveal the unforgiveable American sin of personal failure and diminished talent. As he wrote and sent out “curious” stories that bore the stylistic markings of someone else altogether, and as he watched them come back declined, Fitzgerald understood too well that the conditions of his literary celebrity lay in the past.
Bill Johnston has received the 2012 Translation Prize from the PEN American Center for his rendering of a novel by Polish author Wiesław Myśliwski.
Johnston's translation of Stone upon Stone (Kamień na Kamieniu), marks the first time that a work by the acclaimed 80-year-old writer has been rendered into English.
Johnston just may be the only working Polish to English translator, or at least the only one who matters, as he's the guy behind Gombrowicz, Lem, Tulli, and now Myśliwski. I hope he puts on his business cards, "The Only Polish to English Translator You'll Ever Need."
Digital technology—computers, cell phones, the Internet—are indeed a breakthrough in human communication, much as printed books, radio, and television all once were. But if the purveyors of those technologies were equally convinced they were revolutionizing the human experience, they left no record of it. The printing press played a central role in the Protestant Reformation, but it is hard to imagine Gutenberg sponsoring a gathering to praise the new wisdom he was bringing into being through his invention.
I mean, maybe he did, but no one wrote it down, there was probably a back lot of projects people wanted to get printed. But still, maybe it's good to start your day with a little acid, and this piece on how self-congratulatory we've become about our technology, the massive new age/positive psychology publishing industry, the beatification of Steve Jobs, and enlightenment through kale chips will cause a little reflux. In a good way.
September 6, 2012
Actually, the three women in my book are not socially powerful, they neither dominate anyone nor dream about doing so; they are physically ordinary and wear clothes that are beyond any idea of fashion. Their power is spiritual: They never doubt their deep humanity, in the original sense of the term, and know that every human being is unique, irreplaceable and precious. They feel and know this with the deepest conviction. No humiliation, no suffering can destroy their awareness of the merits of their presence on Earth. However, this is not about religion.
September 5, 2012
There's a newly discovered picture of Emily Dickinson. Except, you know, maybe not.
Fuck, guys, you know what we forgot to do? All the way back in 1997, I mean? We forgot to go to the reading room of the British Museum and see if Enoch Soames showed up.
I just read Beerbohm's story for the first time last week, and in it a writer, desperately hoping that despite being ignored in his lifetime history will reclaim him, sells his soul to the devil in exchange for going one hundred years into the future to see what remains of his literary legacy. And that date was in 1997. God damn it.
Luckily, Teller was there, and he can tell us what happened.
Ten past two p.m. About a dozen pilgrims are waiting, loosely encircling the catalogue bookcase on which the SNOOD volume lies open. The librarians at the round desk in the middle look out at the siege uneasily.
From my right I hear "There he is!"
So probably you are not going to want to read this "Letter to a Young Critic." Probably you'll just glance at the first paragraph and see that it references both Matthew Arnold and Auden, and you'll stand up to run out of the room so quickly you'll drop your laptop and crack its screen. And then if you creepy quietly back to the computer, and accidentally glance at the second paragraph before you can shut the window and see that Harold Bloom is not only quoted extensively but his picture resides not too much further down, the screaming, it will just never stop.
But just in case that is your kind of thing, actually, I'm linking to it anyway.
The Templeton Foundation has been pouring millions of dollars into philosophical research, and the Chronicle asks the logical question: Who is behind the Templeton? And why are they willing to spend so much money on the notion of free will?
September 4, 2012
The Hugo Awards were recently announced at a knees-up in Chicago. As well as Doctor Who and HBO's Game of Thrones scooping up the sexy be-winged trophy, the Guardian notes that novelist Jo Walton "spearheaded a clutch of female wins for the top prizes". How to spearhead a clutch remains unexplained.
Best Novel: Among Others by Jo Walton
Best Novella: "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson
Best Novelette: "Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders
Best Short Story: "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
Best Related Work: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight
Best Graphic Story: Digger by Ursula Vernon
The Guardian First Book Prize long list has been unfurled, full of respectable fiction, non-fiction, and even a dab of poetry.
Full list of titles under the cut:
The China Factory by Mary Costello
Absolution by Patrick Flanery
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
The Origins of Sex by Faramerz Dabhoiwala
Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution by Lindsey Hilsum
Pelt by Sarah Jackson
That gnawing sense of anxiety that has been keeping sleep at bay? Your body thinks it's time to go back to school.
We put together a particularly educational issue of Bookslut for you. It goes a little off syllabus. After all, there are probably fewer vorticist manifestos taught in school.
But for history we have a conversation with the great Trieste writer Claudio Magris, who gives us a lesson on the troubled relationship between Italy and Yugoslavia, the former communist Central Europe, and James Joyce anecdotes. Josh Zajdman reminds us that before CS Lewis, before Tolkien, there was the forgotten father of high fantasy. And Elvis Bego travels into the past of Philip Roth to discover a lost novella from Roth's peak.
Over in art class, we have the life of Cezanne, as told by Evan McMurry. And in a more modern take, Martyn Pedler looks at contemporary female artists and their work in art comics. In science, we have the discovery of new astronomical worlds, with the help of Madeline Monson-Rosen and a 19th century gentleman. There's also a lesson in heredity, although the text is a bit technical and you might get lost.
We're canning in home-ec, and studying mental illness in psychology class. And for this semester in literature, you've got Polish. Deal with it. And as always, there is a lot of extracurricular activity in the margins, so get out your Lisa Frank trapper keeper, and try not to fall behind this year.
The first moment of ick I had with Richard Lloyd Parry's People Who Eat Darkness came when he tried to make Lucie's death seem fated. It was in the stars that she would be drugged, raped, murdered, and then buried in a cave in Japan, far from her England home. Can we maybe just tell the story without making a dead girl a stand-in for all vulnerable young girls, far from home? Can we just talk about her death without making it into a cosmic event ordered by the gods? I have a lot of problems with the way dead girls are used as entertainment, even sexed up in a million crime television shows. And I don't like how dead girls are used as metaphors by overreaching writers.
That said, People Who Eat Darkness has some really great moments. His history of how Korean immigrants are treated in Japan was particularly well done. His understanding of how the West has feared the Japanese culture, and the Japanese male in particular. Or the way the media expects its grieving family to act, and how it turns on those who deviate from the script.
Parry is interviewed at the Rumpus, and while I wish someone had asked him about the dreamy way he writes about Lucie, no one ever does.
September 2, 2012
So, we're doing this again:
My Berlin apartment will be available for sublet in October and November, because apparently this is just what this year is like. It's a one bedroom in Prenzlauer Berg, very conducive to writing and working (it is quiet and has a very pretty birch tree outside the window that will absorb all of your thoughts). Fully furnished with an excellent (if I do say so myself!) German and English language library.
Email me if you're interested in retreating to Berlin for a few months. Or if you're one of the thousand Americans with pre-existing conditions who arrive every day, looking for nationalized health insurance and a starter apartment. Photos and more info available by request.