October 31, 2012
One of America's foremost art critics has launched a fierce attack on the contemporary art world, saying anyone who has "read a Batman comic" would qualify for a career in the industry.
Dave Hickey, a curator, professor and author known for a passionate defence of beauty in his collection of essays The Invisible Dragon and his wide-ranging cultural criticism, is walking away from a world he says is calcified, self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing.
Dave Hickey is an incredible critic and writer. I hope he is just having a bad day.
Speaking of set theory, Berfrois's "Set Theory for Poets / Poetry for Set Theorists," explaining why poets should love set theory, is charming as all hell.
Benoit Mandelbrot wrote a memoir, which is now out. It's called The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick. Tablet gives it a slightly math-phobic review, concentrating more on the life part than the science and math part.
For this reviewer, reading The Fractalist is rather like reading about a poet who wrote in a foreign language for which no adequate translation is available. You know Mandelbrot is up to exciting things, but you have to take them mostly on faith.
Except that Mandelbrot was really good at communicating with the lay person about fractals. Take, for example, this documentary, which is available in full on Youtube. Don't be scared of fractals. Be scared of set theory.
Just when I thought this piece was going to burst out and really dig into Junot Diaz's work, it ends. And that's a shame. Because I'm still kind of waiting for a piece of criticism about Diaz that gets at what I don't care for in his work. So mostly instead it does the usual and circles around the awards and accolades he's been given, and when it does go in for an assessment, I think she misinterprets. Diaz has been pretty vocal about the fact that all the womanizing and empty sex is there to show how mindless and degrading it all is, how born of misogyny. I don't think that is exactly the message I am getting from his work, I think it's a failed attempt. I don't find the books as feminist as Diaz trumpets them to be, but I haven't yet really figured out why that is. Too much time reading about* the Owlman of Cornwall, I guess.
* FUCK THAT BOOK.
October 30, 2012
Yesterday amid the hurricane damage, a copyright case was being heard at the Supreme Court. The Chronicle explains why it's the most important copyright case in a decade.
So! I hope everyone is okay.
I caught up with Mark Z. Danielewski at the Texas Book Festival this weekend. We talked about his new novella The Fifty Year Sword, the musical language of East Texas, and training your readers to understand what the hell it is you're trying to do. (The conversation went on way past this. Trying to finish the transcription for the new issue next Monday.)
That is the question that’s come out of this book tour, and there is no answer. What is lost from the experience of reading the hardcover when you read it as an ebook? But what is lost from the experience of reading the ebook when you read it as a hardcover? All of that applies to the staged reading. I think it’s a compelling inquiry because there are gains in the electronic format. And there are gains in the hardcover format. And there are gains in the staged reading. It’s between this triumvirate where we can see what really matters to people when encountering a book.
October 29, 2012
In the early 2000s, a little girl began appearing to employees in a call centre in Cebu City. The firm had just moved into a converted warehouse. It was a large space and, as in all call centres, people worked in close proximity, gathered in large open-plan offices, but separated into individual units by their phones and computer. It was when individuals were alone with their thoughts that the little girl came. First she appeared as a reflection in a female employee's computer monitor, wearing the kind of smart dress Filipino girls put on for Sundays. A few days later a male employee was standing in the men's toilets when in the mirror he saw the cubicle door behind him swing slowly open, to show a little girl sitting on the toilet, looking at him. He closed his eyes and started praying; when he looked again, the girl was right in front of him, chanting the prayer along with him. He had a horrifying impression that her skin was starting to fall away from her flesh before he fled in terror.
I am going to have to bury Alasdair Wickham's The Dead Roam the Earth: True Stories of the Paranormal from Around the World in the ground before too long, it is seriously freaking me out.
Exciting bit of news: there's a new Anne Applebaum book coming out tomorrow. She was the author of Gulag: A History, and her new book is Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. And although this review is a little silly about how long ago and far away communism in Eastern Europe is -- it seems quite the point that it wasn't so very long ago, and that anyone my age in Eastern Europe spent a considerable chunk of their lives under communism and it is still living history -- it's a good overview of the book. To get you excited. As excited as you can be about Eastern Europe. Okay, I admit I might be on my own here in my state of excitement.
As I was writing it I knew what the mandate was, which was to write a story about a woman who isn’t punished for being promiscuous. Which is really hard to find in literature. Or in the world. And I just wanted her to be unapologetically promiscuous, and to have all the men in her life just think it’s terrific. Maybe that’s the reason that literally was a dream, because I can’t imagine a real world in which that could occur. It’s a completely unrealistic depiction of sexuality and intimacy in marriage.
Damn Elizabeth Gilbert and her relentless charm.
So I don't know guys, how do you feel about another go around with the Jonah Lehrer stuff? The dead horse is pretty much pulp at this point, isn't it?
The New York Magazine has printed a long article dissecting the Lehrer plagiarism/quote fabrication/copying his own copy thing. And while they are more thorough about the lazy science that Lehrer had been peddling for the last couple years, you still have to hear all about that Bob Dylan stuff yet again.
October 26, 2012
Dennis Johnson is here to talk straightforwardly and sensibly about the Random House/Penguin merger.
Jacques Barzun, the distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history and came to see the West as sliding toward decadence, died Thursday night in San Antonio, where he lived. He was 104.
Reading Michael Taussig's Beauty and the Beast to interview him for Kirkus, it made me wish I had read more by him. His book on cocaine is great, but he's also written about Walter Benjamin, a history of the senses, extensively about Colombia, and now I have to add The Magic of the State on the to-be-read pile, according to this interview in Cabinet. (I mean, one longs to be so erudite and expansive, right?)
This book concerns spirit-possession on the mountain of Maria Lionza in central Venezuela in the 1980s and 1990s, where pilgrims in large numbers become possessed by the spirits of the dead under the rule of an imaginary spirit queen, Maria Lionza. Especially important are the spirits of the Indians who allegedly fought the Spanish in the sixteenth century and the independence soldiers of the early nineteenth century, including many black foot soldiers as well as white officers, most notably Simón Bolívar—as highlighted in the state's school textbooks, in the unending stream of state iconography from postage stamps to wall murals on bus stops and outside schools, from the standardized village, town, and city central square, the naming of mountain peaks, and of course in the physiognomy of authority wherever it be.
Yes, okay, convinced.
Victoria University’s Brent Alloway has organised a free public lecture on Homo floresiensis, a species closely related to humans which lived on Flores Island, but has been told he is not allowed to call the free public lecture ‘The Other Hobbit’.
The volcanologist wrote to the estate of Hobbit author JRR Tolkein about the event on December 1 as a courtesy, but was told by Wellington lawyers AJ Park representing the estate that he was not allowed to use the word. (via)
October 25, 2012
“But while there was no conscious decision to refer to the times in which we find ourselves, it is not by chance that certain things nag at you, throb almost,” he says.
A theater company is putting on a production of Franz Kafka's In the Penal Colony.
"Can we be saved from our thoughts? What do we do with disconcerting or unsettling thoughts? What do we do with sorrow? And in terms of plot, where does sorrow begin? It always begins somewhere, but does it have a middle and an end? Where does it fetch up? So I guess in a way I'm interested in how much effort we make, all of us, to switch off, as we have to."
The theme of my morning reading was accidentally serial killers. You know, some morning tea, a little melon, and cannibalism and serial rape. (I need new hobbies.)
Deborah Blum (whom I love) has a longform work of journalism for the Atavist, Angel Killer: A True Story of Cannibalism, Crime Fighting, and Insanity in New York City. It's pretty grim, but never prurient.
Going to go outside and stand in the sunshine for a bit.
After the whole nonsense of Vagina, it's a relief to bring in the crazy of a new Camille Paglia book. At least it has an immense intellect behind it, even if she does use it to argue that Star Wars is great art, and that George Lucas is the greatest artist of all time. Something is misfiring there. But because it's not as full on crazy and nonsensical, though, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars will get a lot less attention. But for now: there's a review at the B&N Review.
October 24, 2012
I wrote the introduction to two books in the past couple months, and they'll be released within weeks of each other. So this is the first of the two, Mary MacLane's memoir I Await the Devil's Coming. It's the reflections of a 19 year old girl living in Butte, Montana, and it's about as crazy as you would like it to be. I had a good time with that. More about it, of course, nearer to the release date.
This article on the estate of Franz Kafka, and how the situation got to where it is now, with his estate being forcibly removed to Israel's National Library, is full of wonders like this reminiscence from publisher Kurt Wolff:
Wolff continues: "If the impression was embarrassing, it had to do with Kafka's personality; he was incapable of overcoming the awkwardness of the introduction with a casual gesture or a joke. Oh, how he suffered. Taciturn, ill at ease, frail, vulnerable, intimidated like a schoolboy facing his examiners, he was sure he could never live up to claims voiced so forcefully by his impresario. Why had he ever got himself into this spot; how could he have agreed to be presented to a potential buyer like a piece of merchandise! ... I breathed a sigh of relief when the visit was over, and said good-bye to this man with the most beautiful eyes and the most touching expression, someone who seemed to exist outside the category of age."
Ah, good things: Beth Lisick interviewing Michelle Tea. About Sister Spit, about publishing, about trying to help support other writers, even when you're broke and scared yourself... Good things.
I’ve been dreaming about having a press forever, like the ’90s. I’ve always known so many great writers who aren’t as connected to the publishing world as they should be, and I have the energy and the enthusiasm to sort of gather and promote people, so I’ve always thought someday I might embark on a big project like that. When I learned about Dennis Cooper’s imprint for Akashic Books, Little House on the Bowery, I was like, “Oh, that’s something a writer can do! A publisher might let a writer publish other writers!” And so it’s been brewing in me, and with the sort of collapse of the publishing industry as we knew it, I wanted more than ever to be helping produce books. I used to advise writers to just write their books and it will find a home, and suddenly that didn’t seem as certain. I figured it was time to act.
I can feel myself getting a little sour lately when I start to write for this blog. I'm a little out of sync, I think. I keep only running into things that make me angry or frustrate me.
Today: An essay that claims to be anonymously written by a man who raped a drunk college girl and has no regrets. Only -- surprise! -- it was written by a woman and it is supposed to challenge our notions of author and confession and some other very important things, too. Only: A) It is incredibly cynical about men's inherent nature, acting like they are all sexual predators just waiting for an opportunity, and B) it is really poorly written. "It was a pleasure. Strange. Rare. Like fugu. A risk that leaves the lips tingling." That is some sub-par college student creative writing class short story bullshit right there.
If you want to read this kind of stuff, about the darkness and perversions of a twisted type, read something that is good. Diary of a Rapist. The End of Alice. Something skilled enough that makes it clear this behavior is pathology, not something essentially male.
I don't know if you've been following the controversy with Radiolab and their story about the Hmong and chemical attacks with "Yellow Rain" in the '70s (the American government has claimed there were no such attacks, that the yellow powder reportedly seen was merely "bee feces").
One of the participants to the episode has written a long response to the strange interview she and her uncle gave to the radio show, and the incredibly patronizing way they were treated by the Radiolab journalist.
October 23, 2012
In the back and forth about his latest book Beauty and the Beast, we hit upon the very striking cover image, provided by Michael Taussig's daughter, an artist. Beauty is about plastic surgery, the war in Colombia, drug lords and paramilitaries, mutilation and money. And so, of course, Taussig told me, "The cover of the book is a great work of art; originally the Press wanted a woman's lips and machine guns."
Over at Kirkus, we talk about a lot of other things, including why we're so fascinated with plastic surgery, particularly when it goes wrong. (Also read Elizabeth Bachner's feature on Beauty and the Beast here.)
October 22, 2012
I admit, I was skimming, but I am pretty sure that this article in the Chronicle says the Millennials are the most psychopathic generation ever. Kevin Dutton talks to Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us author Robert Hare and finds that society is becoming increasingly psychotic. Or, people are being dicks a lot and we are slapping medical terminology onto bad behavior. Psychosis being the new Depression as far as fun and profit with diagnoses goes.
On Tuesday, Klausner posted 30 new reviews to Amazon, all of them positive.
On the woman who has reviewed -- positively -- 28,000 books on Amazon.
(Everything seems a little dismal today, doesn't it? A little gripey. I'm tempted to stop reading the publishing news and just post excerpts from the Freya Stark book I'm reading. Nothing gripey about that.)
If you were wondering how the Chinese government would respond to Mo Yan winning the Nobel Prize, you should know they're doing so in the creepiest way possible. They are turning his home village into the Mo Yan amusement park and historical re-enactment center, or something. Right, the "Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone," that's what it's called. (Truly.)
On Tuesday, Fan Hui, a local official, paid a visit to Mr Mo's father to ask him to renovate the family home.
"Your son is no longer your son, and the house is no longer your house," urged Mr Fan, according to the Beijing News, explaining that the author was now the pride of China. "It does not really matter if you agree or not," he added.
October 19, 2012
Family members of Harold Nye, one of the murder investigators, had planned to auction off nearly 14 boxes’ worth of records that Nye copied from state offices when he was working on the case. But last week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt blocked the auction and issued a temporary restraining order.
Carrie Frye writes about Tippi Hedren's house full of lions, Donald Spoto's Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, Hedren's book The Cats of Shambala, and trapping the woman who rejected you in a box with birds pecking at her eyes.
I am actually kind of excited about the Grace Coddington memoir. There's an excerpt on Vogue, though, and it looks a little fluffy. I just want everything to be like Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, from back before fashion magazines were so trashy and safe and flat.
I mean, there's nothing that reaches the fabulousness of Vreeland's memoir, DV, wherein nothing bad ever happens. Even Hitler's rise to power is fascinating, darling, not tragic. Or this art book, of the kinds of things she was doing at Harper's and Vogue. And one misses the age of The Allure of Chanel, too. I should probably just reread those books rather than be disappointed.
The Kind Reader column as it existed on B&N Review is basically no more. It happens sometimes, that the thing you love writing the most is the thing that no one is reading. I thought it was kind of wonderful, getting to write an advice column with a literary slant, without turning the great classics into self-help material. Ah well, these things happen.
But today I was sad because there was a really great letter that came in last week, after I was informed that the column was being discontinued. A woman wrote in to ask about a difficult relationship she was in. She was worried it was turning her into a frigid bitch. The guy was so chaotic and coming and going and not giving her what she needed that she was turning into... someone else. Someone she couldn't stand. And she was wondering if that's even possible, or if maybe deep down she is just a frigid bitch, and this relationship is just revealing that.
I recently read Olivia Manning's The Fortunes of War, and thinking about how if I had read it only a few years ago, I probably would have hated it. Because that's Harriet's problem in the novel. Her husband is stringing along this woman who's desperately in love with him and telling his wife to be friends with her, he invites any derelict he meets to come stay with them, and he's not attentive to Harriet at all. And she, in response, becomes this panicky little thing. This brittle creature, totally incapable of just detaching a little and taking care of herself.
And I used to think that was her failing. And lord knows you don't want to set up this assumption that women are the victims of men's casual cruelty. But after years of watching friends in awful relationships, both men and women, and a few years after getting out of a relationship with a mean drunk, I've come to have a little more compassion. Because we think of ourselves as solid creatures, with a solid sense of self, but we're oblivious to our own viscosity. And if you find the wrong container to pour yourself into, you find yourself taking on these shapes that feel foreign. That are awful and painful and unrecognizable.
That doesn't mean it's hopeless. You can change the shape of the container, if you're with someone who recognizes the effect he's having. If you recognize the effect this is having. If you decide to be a little less watery, striving to a slow drip glass-like state. But that also doesn't mean that if you decide to reject that container, you can't find a better one.
And now we have carried the metaphor too far. But the letter followed me around this past week, and I wanted to give it some space.
October 17, 2012
This is what I need today, Laura Kasischke's "Ativan." Also maybe the drug it's dedicated to? I mean, really.
“A language without umlauts,” he wrote, “sounds monotonous, harsh, and boring.”
Here is the story of the universal, but now dead, language Volapük, a language of many umlauts.
And also, just as an aside, I would like to say to the German language: seriously, fuck your umlauts. Fuck them.
October 16, 2012
Hilary Mantel has just joined J.M. Coetzee and Peter Carey as a double Booker Prize winner. Her 2012 release, Bring Up the Bodies, is a sequel to the 2009 winner, Wolf Hall, and is to be followed by a third volume. She may well yet bring the term 'three-peat' into the literary prize arena.
In further breaking literary news, Will Self is tall.
Lately, everything is coming up Baudelaire. I felt compelled to grab a copy of his novella Fanfarlo. Then there was the release of Roberto Calasso's La Folie Baudelaire, and of course Calasso is one of our greatest living writers. Then Elizabeth Bachner turned in her feature on Baudelaire. Now there is this interview (PDF) between Alex Stein and Yahia Lababidi on the subject of Baudelaire, which makes me want to read his journals immediately.
But these same journals are also home to a brokenhearted man reaching out for salvation. Home to a man who can write, and mean it: “My humiliations have been the grace of God.” Home to a man who had the misfortune, misperceived as the audacity, of becoming Modern before the age had become.
As the journal progresses, contradictions heap upon contradictions, proliferate, and multiply. Selves multiply. This tortured man, who sees in everything its opposite, this tortured man, who tortures himself for pleasure, this tortured man who finds himself standing in opposition to his age, this tortured soul hearing voices getting louder.
Jaroslav Hašek's wrote more than 1,500 short stories before he died. He died before he turned 40. So there's that. Just about the only thing by Hašek we have in English is the The Good Soldier Švejk, but this year some of his short stories were translated and published in the collection Behind the Lines.
The Prague Post speaks with the translator of this project, Mark Adrian Corner.
“My father, Jerry Siegel, co-created Superman as the ‘champion of the oppressed … sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!’ But sadly his dying wish, for his family to regain his rightful share of Superman, has become a cautionary tale for writers and artists everywhere.” (via)
Okay, hi, how exactly does one get the job of Robert McCrum? Where every week you get to say incredibly obvious things under the guise of presenting the final word on a controversy. Can Journalists Write Novels? Jesus Christ, yes. Obviously. Are Professional Book Reviewers Better Than Amateurs? Just guess what totally radical view McCrum has on the matter. Where are Today's Literary Nomads? Just because you're not reading something/someone, Mr. McCrum, does not mean they don't exist entirely. Is there some sort of Ill Informed Curmudgeon Union that one joins to get a placement like his? Or does he have naked pictures of someone on the editorial board?
Sorry. Having some issues with Mars today.
This week's Kirkus interview in my Q&A series is with poet Hoa Nguyen. Her latest collection is As Long as Trees Last. Nguyen has been one of my favorite poets for ages, and once she gave me the eeriest tarot card readings. ("You are going to fall in love." "That is ridiculous, I am moving to Europe in a month." What do you know.)
Nguyen and I discuss poverty, rage, and the particular problems of this generation of poets. Trees opens with an Ezra Pound epigraph, and I had to ask her about that problematic creature:
Yes, problematic. And I learned from him. His translations from ancient Chinese. His ideas on reading and writing poetry. Reading with and against him. The epigraph “Can you enter the great acorn of light?” comes from Canto 116 and continues, in recognition of his failure:
But the beauty is not the madness/Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me./And I am not a demigod,/I cannot make it cohere.
I admire his trying and his failing and his recognition of that. That he apologized to Allen Ginsberg for his anti-Semitism when Allen visited him in Venice. That he tried and failed. That he attempted to “enter the great acorn of light.”
October 15, 2012
Last Thursday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s publisher New Directions announced that Ferlinghetti had turned down the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize from the Hungarian division of PEN. While PEN is dedicated to promoting freedom of speech and attempts to support imprisioned writers worldwide, Ferlinghetti explained in a letter to former Hungarian Secretary of State for Culture and Hungarian PEN Club president Geza Szocs that his decision not to accept the award was because some of the 50,000 euro prize money came from the Hungarian government.
So surprise, surprise, an Israeli court decided Israel is the right and true owner of the Kafka/Brod archive, as if we thought that was ever going to go another way. That whole story has been fun to watch over the years, but predictable in its ending.
Judge Talia Pardo Kupelman wrote in her ruling that she had taken the historical significance of the case under consideration: "This case complicated by passions, was argued in court for quite a long time across seas, lands, and times. Not every day, and most definitely not as a matter of routine, does the opportunity befall a judge to delve into the depth of history as it unfolds before him in piecemeal fashion," she added.
Time to revisit, then, Judith Butler's stellar commentary on the issue, "Who Owns Kafka?"
There's an extremely thorough exhibition on Mary Toft, the woman who in 1726 supposedly (probably not, though) gave birth to a litter of rabbits. If nothing else, the illustrators seemed to have a really good time with the story. The incident was also the basis of the story "The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits," collected in a book of the same name, by Emma Donoghue.
October 13, 2012
In the past couple years, everything for me has revolved around nonfiction. Specifically European nonfiction, but some American and British writers as well. Part of that, I think, was just moving to Berlin and being so overwhelmed by the history of the place, and where to start to be able to understand it all, but a lot of it was also the Smart Set column, which my editor and I decided to focus entirely on nonfiction rather than fiction. I mean, what are you going to say about a Junot Diaz book for 3000 words? Those novels, and the ideas behind them, didn't really seem substantial enough that I would want to sit down and focus on them for that amount of time.
But now that I am back in the States for a visit, when I go to the bookstores, I can't find nonfiction books that I want to read. It's hard to say who/what exactly is the cause of this. Perhaps the way our bookstores are ordered, according to subject, which makes nonfiction books that are unclassifiable hard to place. Maybe it's the mainstream publishers, who like nonfiction books that are easily summarized into a few words. "It's the history of salt." Maybe it's the reader, who has been raised on a steady diet of memoir, and doesn't have the taste for anything else.
I find the experience of book shopping in New York City strangely frustrating, except at the Neue and except at my favorite art bookstore on Lexington. I feel like I am always looking for something very specific, but hard to find shelved: a blend of art and history, maybe in essay form, by someone who has read their Walter Benjamin and Marguerite Duras, and pulling just as strongly from philosophy as emotion. What is the shelf header for that?
That's why I publish people like Elizabeth Bachner and Greer Mansfield, Leah Triplett and Lightsey Darst. They are writing the stuff that I absolutely want more of in the world. I want my shelves full of exactly that. Something indefinable but powerful when you find it.
(And I am always looking for Bookslut writers who want to work in that vein. If you do, please write me.)
Anyway, I am just back from a bookstore where I left with an empty bag, after I had told myself I can spend a couple hundred, why not, treat myself. It was sad. And I want to draw a little attention to some of the books I have loved, that I was looking for shelf companionship for. These are beautiful books. Maybe you would like them:
The First Moderns by William Everdell
In Europe by Geert Mak
Danube by Claudio Magris
The Silences of Hammerstein by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Hare by Simon Carnell
The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer
What the Bee Knows by PL Travers
Stigmata by Helene Cixous
The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke
October 12, 2012
'Having a child and a family, I not only feel obligated to be hopeful, but I want to be hopeful,’ she says. 'I want to push back against the pessimism. I can’t bear to accept that everything is basically going to shit. And everything is: the economy, the family, the social structures, the class divide, the political process in this country, global warming, random violence from terrorism. Unless you want to live in denial, I feel that you have to train yourself to find hope. The logical response is to get incredibly depressed, but what’s the point of that? Especially if you’ve got children.’
Although the interview is a little bit shitty, as Grant pointedly brings up in the feature the gossipy personal life bullshit he has been asked not to bring up in the interview. Can't help himself, it seems.
Warner: Well, there are lots of trickster heroines in the Western tradition, but they were not selected when fairy tales became considered literature for children. So if you look at the collection by Giambattista Basile from 1636, one of the first big wonderful collections for children, which has the first Cinderella and that sort of thing. He’s writing this very rich collection of stories in Naples—a port—so it’s full of Oriental influences. His Cinderella kills the stepmother by dropping the lid of a trunk on her head. Polite society was not going to accept this.
In one of the most beautiful spots in the Balkans, the former Yugoslavia's most celebrated film director was showing the Guardian around his most ambitious and controversial project to date – a town within a town that will echo in wood and stone the region's greatest work of fiction.
Published in 1945 by the Nobel laureate Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina tells the violent story of Bosnia through events on and around Visegrad's magnificent 16th-century Ottoman bridge.
Dubravka Ugresic had an essay in her book Karaoke Culture about this filmmaker's habit of building fake little villages, and the return of nationalism in the former Yugoslavia, although unfortunately that essay does not appear to be online anywhere.
Less e-book reader for less money. That's the business model that Berlin-based start-up Txtr is counting on with the Beagle, the new e-reader it announced this week just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Beagle is incredibly light and will reportedly cost just €9.90 ($12.75) with a mobile-phone contract.
October 11, 2012
Still waiting for the definitive Phillip Roth didn't win the Nobel is total bullshit 2012 column to appear. I keep refreshing my Google search, but only mild tantrums thus far. Adam Kirsch? It's probably up to you.
Update: Oh, American provincial thinkers, you never disappoint.
Do you want publishing advice from someone who sells millions of copies of their book, sells out as a motivational speaker, and was regularly on Oprah? Of course you do. Because it's so obviously going to be grounded in reality and totally useful for people struggling to sell out their 2,000 copy run of their debut novel.
So while you're at the Seagull website, ordering brand spanking new Nobel Laureate Mo Yan, you should stock up on some of their backlist. Seagull is one of my favorite publishers, and their list is incredible. (Even their book covers are amazing. I have two collages by the woman who designs their book hanging on my wall.) Some of my favorites, in case you need the excuse to stock up:
Letters to Madeleine by Guillaume Apollinaire
War Diary by Ingeborg Bachmann
Correspondence by Paul Celan
The Silences of Hammerstein by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Holocaust as Culture by Imre Kertesz
Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Are you feeling very literary today? Heartbreak for Terry Pratchett fans, joyous celebrations for Big Breasts and Wide Hips devotees, as Mo Yan takes the big 'un: Nobel Prize for Literature. The Guardian is all over it with interviews, reviews, and recommendations, failing however to provide any G&Ts for the world's booksellers frantically combing Nielsen and Baker & Taylor for in print editions.
October 10, 2012
It's a book of religious relics rather than some form of autobiography. Or maybe it's just a posh version of a Sotheby's catalogue.
Jarvis Cocker has a smart review of the new collection of John Lennon's "letters." (The slight hint of sarcasm is due to the fact that it seems the book includes John Lennon's grocery lists, as well.) The letters in the book are in the hands of private collectors, who are probably using the book as a way to increase their value. Which John Lennon totally would have been into.
(I urge, again: Read Monoculture. Jesus.)
In 1977, director Roman Polanski was arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a modeling shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house. That girl, now a 47-year-old woman, is writing a memoir depicting that day and how it influenced the rest of her life.
Agents of the Bulgarian government murdered the BBC Bulgarian Service journalist, Georgi Markov, with a poison-tipped umbrella on a bridge over the River Thames.
I am reading Misha Glenny's The Balkans. Delightful airplane reading. Why am I always on airplanes.
But anyway, the New York Review of Books has Anne Applebaum writing about a series of books about Soviet spies, and why the Soviet spies were always better/more hardcore/better equipped with poison-tipped umbrellas than anyone else.
October 9, 2012
In this Guardian books news page, there reads a subheader: "British screenwriter Kelly Marcel is tasked with bringing the knee-trembler to the screen, much to Bret Easton Ellis's chagrin". But really, we should consider adding "...much to Bret Easton Ellis's chagrin" to the end of every headline from now on.
"Cherie Blair and Martha Lane Fox are among backers for women's fiction prize after Orange stops sponsorship"... much to Bret Easton Ellis's chagrin.
"The Greek authorities sought to shield Chancellor Angela Merkel from protesters"... much to Bret Easton Ellis's chagrin.
"The fastest-growing "religious" group in America consists of people with no religion at all"... much to Bret Easton Ellis's chagrin.
It's a little addictive.
Tyndale House Publishers, publishing house of Christian books, Bibles and digital media, filed suit against President Barack Obama's administration today, October 2, 2012. The Alliance Defending Freedom organization (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) filed suit on behalf of Tyndale House in a response to the mandate that requires for-profit corporations to provide healthcare that includes what is known by many as the "abortion pill."
No place (that I've seen yet) has clarified whether Tyndale is protesting having to cover RU-486, "Miffy," a pill that actually does induce abortions, or if this is one of those places that freaks out over birth control pills and emergency contraception preventing the implantation of fertilized eggs, which is not at all an abortion.
The Iowa Review has posted an interview with translator Michael Henry Heim, who recently died. In their introduction they list out the authors he is responsible for translating: "the novels of Milan Kundera and the plays of Anton Chekhov and Berthold Brecht to a long list of fiction and nonfiction works by Dubravka Ugresic, Thomas Mann, Danilo Kis, Predrag Matvejevic, Sasha Sokolov, Vassily Aksyonov, Jan Neruda, Bohumil Hrabal, Gunter Grass, Alexander Tisma, and Peter Esterhazy." The interview covers his personal life, mostly, but also has some interesting things to say about being born of one culture and growing up in another, and the link of languages between them.
The book is a reflection of my own political beliefs. Changes in society can only be made by people themselves. These women campaigned and fought for equality and human rights and their stories can help women and men today to do the same - to make change happen.
The author of Up Then, Brave Women (great fucking title) discusses the relevance of the suffragists' stories today.
The Kirkus interview series basically acts as my book recommendation system. This week, you should read The Thursday Night Men by Tonino Benacquista. The premise of the book scared me a little -- a group of men who congregate once a week to discuss their troubles with women. I have a Maxim Magazine here in the apartment I'm staying at for some reason. I know how weird things can get when a certain type of men start to talk about problems with women. And yet the book was refreshingly misogyny-free.
Benacquista and I discuss how that's even possible, and why the new rules of interaction between men and women leave everyone a little confused and a little angry.
I detest misogyny in its every form. The three men in the novel like to meet among themselves precisely because they agree with me!
I insist on this point: This novel is not about a “battle of the sexes.” I am always disappointed by stories that say, “Men are like this, women are like this, and the two are irreconcilable.”
(Also, to talk to the man responsible for writing The Beat My Heart Skipped: ah, superb.)
October 8, 2012
The world is safe from a Broadway adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca... for now. After the primary investor died of malaria in London, the production is being forced to shut down. Except maybe that investor never existed at all. No one is quite sure, and the whole thing may have been a scam. (How do you die of malaria in London? Does that even happen? If you are going to make someone up and then kill them off, at least give them something plausible.)
But never fear. There are rumors of a Bollywood adaptation.
A revelation that should surprise absolutely no one: Germans do not do small talk.
In the German translation of A Bear Called Paddington, all the polite, inconsequential conversational chatter (“Hello, Mrs Bird,” said Judy. “It’s nice to see you again. How’s the rheumatism?”) was simply omitted.
In 1901, Constance Hill published Jane Austen: Her Homes and her Friends, a kind of extended literary pilgrimage to the places where Austen lived and worked. It set off such a frenzy of Janeism that within a few years Henry James would be complaining about “the body of publishers, editors, [and] illustrators… who have found their ‘dear,’ our dear, everybody’s dear, Jane so infinitely to their material purpose.”
I am always up for a gimlet-eyed take on the whole Jane Austen worship nonsense. Richard Beck looks at a whole new crop of Jane Austen dating guides, Jane Austen self-help, and Jane Austen cult worshipping books.
It is time for your weekly anxiety-riddled OH MY GOD, DOES CRITICISM EVEN MATTER I MEAN WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING WITH OUR LIVES?!?!?! roundtable.
I would write up a little introduction to the piece, but you know what's in it by heart already.
October 3, 2012
Most of the literary fantasies about women in charge, ancient or modern, make the same point. In Aristophanes' 5th-century BC comedy, Assemblywomen, for example, women have taken charge of Athens, and bring in a whole series of hare-brained pseudo-egalitarian measures – including the requirement that men had to sleep with ugly old women before pretty young ones. It would have been enough to reconcile the average Athenian man to any kind of male government, no matter how incompetent.
Last week Kirkus ran my interview with Robie Harris, author of the oft-challenged children's book It's Perfectly Normal, about why her work is considered controversial. She also wrote a piece for PEN about her reaction to having her books challenged, and it's quite good:
So why do I keep on writing even though some of my books have been banned? My answer is that children, even our very young children, do not live in bubbles. They live in the real world. They observe, think, wonder, and question—just as all of us do. They experience joy, sadness, anger, jealously, love, loss, and fear—just as all of us do. How can we not write about those very experiences that have meaning for our children? How can we not write honestly?
I couldn't help fishing around to see what else I could find. Marvel at Tutis's intense campaign to humiliate Henry James.
This is the downside of the public domain: anyone can publish Henry James and slap some clip art cover art onto the front. Although, now that I think about it, I always wondered why Daisy Miller didn't have a gun in the book... (via)
October 2, 2012
The new memoir is the hunter memoir. Just in case you were keeping track.
The review round up references Joy William's highly critical essay "The Killing Game," wherein she skewers romantic notions of being one with the land and other hunting cliches. It's available to read, I can't imagine legally but it is the Internet after all, here, complete with bizarro formatting.
Ronald Reagan was the president. Now he's being looked upon as Santa Claus, but he was horrible, really horrible. And not just Ronald Reagan, but the world was made up of more Ronald Reagans than of anyone else, and so gay people were afraid and they made up this big lie. You know, "No, I haven't had sex with 40,000 people in dark trucks, I'm just like you."
Like every other narcissistic, depressed teenager, I liked Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation. When I was 15. I don't know if it holds up, and I don't care to find out. But listening to this BBC interview with Wurtzel, looking back on the success of the book and what followed (not much), one can wish for an alternate universe version of Wurtzel, where she got her shit together and wrote something wonderful.
Saddest moment of the interview, the interviewer asks what she'd like to write next, and she starts just talking about herself and her life again. Her creative output has been mostly of the "I am great, what the hell is wrong with you?" variety lately, and it seems like there was some lost promise there.
While I share Dustin Kurtz's frustration that Junot Diaz was bestowed with the MacArthur grant this go around -- for an award that is supposed to help geniuses who might be struggling financially, it so often gives the literary awards to middling but very successful writers who are sort of at the peak of their fame -- I don't like the gossipy speculation of how Junot Diaz might be doing financially. Especially written by someone who doesn't know Diaz.
When someone achieves a level of success, that suddenly seems to make it okay for people to start talking about the writers' personal lives, and just deciding how it must be going for them. Without, you know, asking. Make it about the work, not what you see as being a fair or unfair distribution of advances, speaking gigs, and grants. Because everyone gets their knives out when someone oversteps their share of good luck, and it doesn't exactly advance the discussion.
Is Junot Diaz a genius? That seems like a riper field for plowing than how much money he's making, particularly since he's in that golden bubble of cannot-write-a-bad-sentence critical attention. Of course, that takes research, that takes a seasoned eye, that takes time and effort, especially compared to just booing at someone's good fortune.
October 1, 2012
Eric Hobsbawm, one of the leading historians of the 20th century, has died, his family said on Monday.
Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist whose work influenced generations of historians and politicians, died in the early hours of Monday morning at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a long illness, his daughter Julia said. He was 95.
Rosin seemed surprised and impressed at this, yet she continued to press me for evidence to support her theory: marital tensions, awkward encounters with moms on the playground, feelings of shame at my own gender betrayal, and so on.
I don't know. Are we taking Hannah Rosin's The End of Men seriously? Did we make a collective decision to do that? Because if we did, maybe it would be shocking to learn that Rosin started with a thesis and then forcibly wrapped her research around that thesis, ignoring whether it fit or if it broke in the process. But if we noticed that waaaay back when this was an Atlantic article, then this is boring.
Following a federal appeals court’s decision in July to uphold a ruling requiring Boston College to release to British authorities confidential interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army, Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted a temporary stay that delays the release of some of those interviews. (via)