November 30, 2012
I am watching the CBS "Note to Self" series, wherein very important people relay messages to their younger selves, mostly about perseverance and whatever, and I am thinking if I could talk to my younger self it would mostly be to tell her she should really pay someone to cut her hair for her. Really. You think you are being thrifty and punkrock, but it's just weird at this point. You have a job. One that requires actually being in an office (don't worry -- that won't last very long), so really, at least go to the Supercuts, it's within walking distance.
Attention in the press has all been focused on the work of an editor from the 1970s, Robert Burchfield, and his deletion of some of those non-British words (which was a small section in a 240-page book). Some journalists have even suggested that Burchfield did this deleting surreptitiously or covertly, which is a ridiculous claim, and not one I made. Nor do I ever attribute mendacity to Burchfield, who was the chief editor of the OED from 1957 to 1986; in fact I warn against that twice.
I linked to the original news stories, so, sorry for disseminating. While we're at it! I am not the only one totally pissed off about the New York Times piece that claims Berlin ruins artists.
You are going to get a round up of Salman Rushdie material today. No, I don't know why. I'll leave the New York gossip pages out of it, I promise.
My favorite response to Joseph Anton, however, still remains the one written by Daisy Rockwell.
That seems like enough, yeah? Joseph Anton is showing up on a few Best-Of lists, but those are obviously written by people who only read ten books this year and so had to include them all.
November 29, 2012
American writers, take note! W Somerset Maugham has already figured out what you need to do. In this rather remarkable speech that he gave in 1950, and it's wonderful to hear his voice preserved so well, he lays out what American writers need to do. And his comments about how easily American writers can be distracted by venues that pay better, making it difficult for them to learn discipline and craft, are still true.
I was frustrated when I read Walter Biggins's review of bell hooks's Writing Beyond Race, because he referenced hooks's piece on The Help. And it was not online. It seemed to be part of a talk she had been giving at different universities, but neither the excerpt from the book nor a transcript of any of these talks seemed to exist online. And I thought that was unfortunate. Because a lot of mediocre criticism, like a lot, about The Help came from every corner. And for the most part, not much of interest was said. And if there's someone will a critical facility up to the task of The Help, it is hooks. And so I wanted this piece to be online, and part of the discourse, not hidden away in a book that got very little press upon its release.
So there's no transcript, but we do at least get someone's in-depth report of a talk hooks gave about a trio of novels, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Help, and The Secret Life of Bees.
“Women do want to know each other across race and across class,” she said, “but that can’t happen without decolonializing your mind … Visionaries have realized that when women do unite to do this, profound changes will take place. The world listens to women with decolonialized minds, when they can walk the path to solidarity and liberation, to peace and possibility.”
Inspired by Isherwood—who briefly lived at the center as a monk—Greta Garbo asked if she too might move in. Told that a monastery accepts only men, Garbo became testy. "That doesn't matter!" she thumped. "I'll put on trousers."
I had missed this intensely name-droppy account of Swami Nikhilananda and his yoga cult the first time around. And actually, the article doesn't say much except who hung around Nikhilananda and fixated on his books: William & Henry James, Isherwood, Garbo, JD Salinger, W Somerset Maugham, Carl Jung, Nikola Tesla, Annie Besant, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Etc. But there are some good anecdotes nonetheless.
Ann Patchett's State of Wonder is "a triumph", according to the Guardian, and her "best book yet". Joanna Trollope "loved it" and Emma Donoghue called it "the best book I have read all year". Adulation indeed, and perhaps why her publisher Bloomsbury emblazoned its latest reprint with "winner of the Orange prize 2012".
Ah, who remembers anyway? If we just slap Nobel Prize winner on all of the Philip Roth books, eventually we will all be convinced he did win and calm down about it.
I don't know if you have heard the deliriously good news, but Charles Blackstone has sold his second novel, and it will be coming out in 2013 from Pegasus. And it's already getting coverage in the Chicago Reader. It's called Vintage Attraction, and I couldn't be more excited.
I met Charles because of his first book, The Week You Weren't Here. I reviewed it, and said I loved it, which I did. I can't remember if I stalked him or he stalked me -- I had just moved to Chicago and found out after I finished the book that he lived there. He was one of the first people I met in Chicago, and fate kept throwing us back together at random. At the movies, in my building hallway (he knew my neighbor, or he was stalking me), at the bar. Finally we gave up, took the hint, and became good friends.
And while he's been at work at editing anthologies and teaching and working as the managing editor at Bookslut (also doing things like helping me out of Sarajevo when my travel plans got intensely fucked and I found myself stranded), I've been hoping for a second novel. For entirely selfish purposes. Because I think he's a very talented writer, and I've been wanting to read another book by him. We will obviously be covering the shit out of this book, so there will be news to come. But for now, we all at Bookslut could not be more pleased, nor more proud of Mr. Charles Blackstone.
November 28, 2012
It took me a really long time to read Willa Cather, because, well, I am from the prairie. I did not want to read about the prairie. Growing up, when I walked out the door I hit farmland really fucking fast. There were dairy cows and goats and chickens within what you might call "city limits." And the city limits, of course, could be walked from one extreme to the other in about an hour. If you strolled. And stopped to talk to the cows.
And once you run away from that environment in desperate search for places where more than 40 people gathered at any given time for something other than a bean feed (yes), you do not pick up something called O Pioneers!. A few generations back we landed in Kansas because of the Homestead Act, and there were sod houses involved. Do you know how incredibly boring Kansas History class was? There was like a month of sod houses, because no one wanted to talk about pre-Civil War terrorism or massacres of the natives or any of the actual interesting, controversial stuff, so sod houses it is!
So then you grow up and you read Willa Cather at a moment of desperation, when for some reason it's one of four English language books at the community bookshelf at the Bavarian pension you're staying in, and the other three are by Clive Culver. And you realize you probably should have dropped the anti-pioneer stance by now.
Terry Castle wrote about Willa Cather and all the stupid ideas people have had about Willa Cather, although I am not mentioned by name. As with all Terry Castle, it is marvelous.
Ryan North, the madman behind Dinosaur Comics, has created a Choose Your Own Adventure version of Hamlet. The book is currently a Kickstarter project, and it has raised 8 times the asked for amount. But who cares? Go through him some more money. He deserves it for something like this.
If I worked at Simon & Schuster, I would be hiding in bathrooms, having panic attacks right about now.
Over at Kirkus this week, I talk to Mikhail Shishkin about his novel Maidenhair, a rather fantastical story about a Swiss bureaucrat who listens to the stories of Russian refugees and must decide on their status. We also talk about the particular advantages and disadvantages of expatriation and living in another language, and why the lies have a better afterlife than the truth.
That is actually the crucial point of art. The records with all true and fake stories will disappear in the archives of the “Defense Ministry of Paradise.” All these people will disappear together with their stories as all real things will disappear. Our reality is just the exterminating machine for feelings, said words, objects, human bodies.
But the author could stop this eliminating by transforming our mortal reality into another one where there is no death. This created “fantastical” reality has more chances to survive than three of us: you asking these questions, me answering them and our reader.
November 27, 2012
Attention German translators! Poetry Magazine would like you to get to work on the poetry of German-Jewish Avant-Garde poet Mascha Kaléko, please.
It's the 50th anniversary this year of A Wrinkle in Time, and there is an anniversary edition and a graphic novel (Martyn Pedler interviewed the illustrator of the comic adaptation, Hope Larson, for us last month) in celebration. There's also a new biography of L'Engle by Leonard Marcus called Listening for Madeleine.
For those of us scarred by the 2004 New Yorker profile of L'Engle, which called her memoirs full of lies, and dragged out all sorts of secrets about a philandering husband, an alcoholic son, and a mentally fragile writer, Cara Parks writes in her review that this biography seems to be a direct response to that profile. It tries to find the middle ground between the overly happy and cozy picture of her life that L'Engle presented in her memoirs and the sad, tragic, blackhearted New Yorker profile.
Speaking of Herta Müller, as I was in my unbalanced rant a minute ago, she's speaking out against the Nobel's decision this year to award Mo Yan with the honor. (And the Guardian chooses to illustrate her totally reasonable objections with a candid photo of her making a slightly strange face. When Ai Weiwei made the same objections earlier this year, no one put up a photo of him in the middle of his Gangam Style video.)
"The Chinese themselves say that Mo Yan is an official of the same rung as a (government) minister," she told Dagens Nyheter, criticising the Chinese author for copying by hand Mao Zedong's speech on how art should serve communism, and for failing to speak out about the imprisonment of the jailed 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
An eminent former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary covertly deleted thousands of words [in an effort to "preserve the Queen's English"] because of their foreign origins and bizarrely blamed previous editors, according to claims in a book published this week.
I don't know if you read that incredibly silly piece in the New York Times about what life is like in Berlin. It was silly. It amazes me that this is the New York City narrative about Berlin, that it is a party town where no one ever accomplishes anything, because they are too busy drinking and taking drugs and fucking and networking with other people who are too busy partying to do any real work.
I don't mean to be stupidly defensive, but it's funny to me that this storyline hasn't died out yet. It's not really a surprise, because there are plenty of expat writers who do a lot of drugs and run around in morph suits and then are totally happy to go back to New York or London and write stories about how no one in Berlin does anything because of etc. Because without the constant pressure of needing to make a living, because the rents are spectacularly cheap, haven't you heard?, the pressure that grinds out many talented artists in London and New York, why would they ever do any work ever?
It's silly. I am being stupidly defensive, but it is an easy story to sell, and a lazy story, and maybe just because your story is about being an undisciplined fuck-up, that doesn't mean that's the whole story of Berlin.
November 26, 2012
The C.P.J. reports that government officials and their allies are now suspected of being responsible for more than a third of the murders of journalists, a higher proportion than killings attributed to terrorist groups or criminal enterprises.
Persephone Books gets some love at the Observer. (Persephone Books are the best books. Like Little Boy Lost. And Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. And Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. And the horrid little Harriet.) Persephone is a bit like the NYRB, except focusing mostly on domestic fiction, which should make you want to take a snooze, but sometimes the people in your house shut you up in the attic and let you starve to death, no matter how much you bang on the walls. Plus their books are beautiful.
At any rate, one is happy to discover it's a smart bird running the press, Ms. Nicola Beauman, even if, what the fuck, she does not like the magisterial Barbara Pym.
Last week's Kirkus Reviews Q&A was with Douglas Smith, author of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. He is the guest for a New Books in Russia and Eurasia podcast, discussing the revolution and the end of the Russian nobility.
Are you ready to Get Your Woman On? Fuck no, says Eileen Myles (The Importance of Being Iceland) and Maggie Nelson (The Art of Cruelty). The Stranger followed them around an exhibition of women's art, and for some ungodly reason, "Get Your Woman On!" is printed on one of the walls. Above some art. Jesus Christ. The conversation that transpires is pretty brilliant.
Upstairs in the Pompidou's version of Elles, Myles dug individual works but could detect no governing logic except for a troubling emphasis on women artists depicting women's bodies—which is a mere subset of what an artist like, say, South African painter Marlene Dumas creates. This focus on images of women's bodies reminded Myles of one of her experiences in publishing over the years: Publishers always want an image of a woman on the cover of her books, which she finds bullshit.
If genuine writing is born from the desire to account for the copious inconvenience of living, then Thrän is a real writer. Literature here is accountancy, the ledger of profit and loss, the balance sheet of an inevitable deficit ...Thrän impartially records the knavish pettiness of men and things, the intrigues of building-inspector Rupp-Reutlingen and the malevolence of the storm that ruined the central nave for him, filling the cathedral with flakes of plaster, the decision which assigned him a salary with no pension attached and the nervous fevers with which he is afflicted, his eleven falls from horseback – imputed to the poor quality of his old nag, which was, however, the only sort of horse he could afford on his income – and the deaths of four of his children, the frequent accidents which cause him to fall of the scaffolding or end up in the Danube, the inconvenience and risk of being impaled while being fished out with a boat-hook. Tragedies and mere vexations are all put on the same level, because the real tragedy of life is that it is, solely and entirely, a nuisance.
November 21, 2012
And yet… There is something about coming to a new city, even an old new city, that makes me feel like saying: if only I lived here, I would not grow old; I would not be prone to fatal illness; the memories I hold dear, the memories that constitute me and give me my orientation in the world, would not constantly slip further into the irrelevant past. This is where I need to be, not that other place I just happened to end up.
Hi. Happy Thanksgiving. See you on the other side of it.
November 20, 2012
A portable writing desk once owned by the 19th Century Middlemarch author George Eliot has been stolen.
The secretaire was taken from a glass display cabinet at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery in Warwickshire, on Sunday.
(Blogging before a holiday feels a bit like on Skype, when the call drops, but you don't notice it yet and you are there, talking to the air in your apartment and the other person a continent away is just gone. Pretty sure I am talking to the air. But I haven't had a roommate since I was 19. I am well rehearsed in this particular activity.)
"Stories are the most durable texture of life for us. Not forms of societies, but stories. Stories are really what keeps everything together, in a way. When you are abandoned by stories - when you go back beyond the invention of writing, beyond the literary tradition - you feel of course lost: because one needs stories."
Have you read your Roberto Calasso? Fuck you, go get The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Or, Literature and the Gods. Or his latest, La Folie Baudelaire, which Elizabeth Bachner wrote about. Calasso is a gem, and he is profiled at the Independent.
It seems like a strange time to be defending the ultra-rich, but Douglas Smith's Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy kind of does that, trying to draw our sympathies to the class of nobles that were sent into exile, arrested, or executed during the Revolution. (Minor complaint: There had to have been more eccentric ways for these people to spend their money, and Smith is for the most part quiet about it, except for the guy who always traveled with his own cow, to secure a private supply of fresh milk. I guess probably turning your characters into eccentrics is not a great way to provoke sympathy, though, and so the rich people are only mildly crazy here.)
I spoke with Smith, a little argumentative, about why we are supposed to care about people who lived on the backs of countless serfs, until he reminded me that that viewpoint is the viewpoint of an asshole.
I generally agree with your point: the tragedy of the story is not the loss of property. As I wrote the book I was conscious of the fact that many readers would in the early chapters feel that what was happening to the nobility was the result of an age-old system of injustice, and so would find their sympathies divided. But I also knew that as they got further into the book, and were confronted with the never-ending repression against these people who had lost everything, suffered terribly, and were no threat to anyone, that they would come to empathize with them. It's too easy to talk about "class" (or "race," "religion," "ethnicity") and lose sight of the fact that we are really talking about people, but individuals like you or me. What's more, the whole notion of going after people of the upper class, as the Bolsheviks did, is shot through with absurdities: Lenin himself was born into a noble family and Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka [the original Soviet state security organization], was the descendant of Polish aristocrats. By their own logic, they should have been dispossessed and repressed.
November 19, 2012
All I remember about the Alive story is watching the plane crash survivors eat somebody's butt. Didn't that happen? I kind of remember them (in the film) turning over a dead body and cutting off a buttock as their first dive into cannibalism, and my up until then butt-cannibalism-free brain exploded. It's an undignified way to remember a true, harrowing story of survival and tenacity, I'm sure. But at least it's memorable.
Piers Paul Read is at the Telegraph, writing about the book's anniversary and the anniversary of the plane crash. There is no mention of... you know. But he is pretty pleased with himself about that book.
Eva Illouz talks about her book Why Love Hurts in this video interview. (I quite love this book.) She explains how in a culture whose goal is the accumulation of pleasure, suffering becomes not something that creates character but something that destroys it, and why so many are experiencing relationships and love as suffering in our "sexual marketplace."
Canongate US has been a little bit disappointing lately, deciding (so far) not to release Dan Rhodes's This is Life in the States, despite its obvious perfection. This is why it's good that there are places online to import British books for you, but it's also disappointing that people did not take to the streets, demanding their Dan Rhodes novel. He is criminally under-read. And despite This is Life being a comedy about a woman who hits a baby in the face with a rock, it also made me cry in the end, like a wallop at the back of the head.
And hopefully Canongate US will also see the necessity of bringing Alasdair Gray's Every Short Story by Alasdair Gray out here as well. Talk about criminally under-read in the States... Lanark is a masterpiece, people. Stop trying to resist it. What the fuck was I talking about? Oh right, Gray is interviewed at the Guardian about sewing up his short story career, although all Gray really wants to talk about is sex, politics, and money:
In 1992, while trying to finish his landmark literary encyclopedia, The Book of Prefaces, he approached a publisher at Jonathan Cape for an advance on a new collection of stories because, as he openly told him, he needed the money to complete the earlier commission. The next day, the publisher exploded down the phone to Gray's agent, telling her that he didn't see why he should give "a fucking advance for a book of stories to a fucking writer who needed the money to write another fucking book for a different fucking publisher". Gray gleefully related his reaction to Liz Calder at Bloomsbury, who duly offered to publish the stories herself.
Am I the only one a little disturbed by this poster's attempt to change the flinty Susan Sontag into an aphorism-spouting love guru? Probably just me, I know.
November 16, 2012
Over the past couple years, I've become very hesitant to mention the titles of books I hate. And I do occasionally keep reading the books, even after deciding I hate them, because Hazlitt was right. There is pleasure in really hating something, really just holding it in your hands and wishing it harm and destruction.
Part of the hesitancy is, you know, what if I am reading this wrong. What if I'm only 50% through and at 80% something clicks and I see what the author was doing. And it's not like I don't want to warn people off. But while there is pleasure in hating something, and there is pleasure in the reading of a hatchet piece, to me there is not a lot of pleasure in writing a good hatchet piece. I get a little bored halfway through. I'd much rather talk than write my way through hating something, and I do, endlessly, to the people around me.
Obviously, I am reading a book that I hate right now. I hate it with a cleansing self-righteousness. I make fun of it in my head, and I feel superior in every way to its aims. And I will miss it once I get to the final page, because being in awe of a novel doesn't really give you the same kick.
November 15, 2012
The National Book Awards - national being American in this instance - have been announced. The winners were Louise Erdrich for The Round House and Katherine Boo for Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Elmore Leonard was given the the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which he deserves for giving us this at the very least. David Ferry won the poetry prize for Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, and the award for Young People's Literature went to Goblin Secrets by William Alexander.
Boo gave an excellent interview to Emily Brennan at Guernica in September:
When I pick a story, I’m very much aware of the larger issues that it’s illuminating. But one of the things that I, as a writer, feel strongly about is that nobody is representative. That’s just narrative nonsense. People may be part of a larger story or structure or institution, but they’re still people. Making them representative loses sight of that. Which is why a lot of writing about low-income people makes them into saints, perfect in their suffering.
Russia Beyond the Headlines profiles author Mikhail Shishkin and his novel Maidenhair, which is currently curling all of my friends' toes.
A lawsuit filed in Utah is claiming that the removal of a children's book featuring lesbian parents from library shelves is a violation of the first amendment.
Patricia Polacco's picture book In Our Mothers' House, described as a "gem" by the School Library Journal, is the story of a family of adopted children with two mothers. According to the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of local parent Tina Weber, it was stocked in the libraries of four schools in Davis School District, Utah, until some parents complained earlier this year that it "normalises a lifestyle we don't agree with", and that it "makes a homosexual lifestyle seem fun and exciting – lots of parties, costumes and events with children who grow up to have successful, high-paying careers".
It was disappointing that AM Homes's May We Be Forgiven didn't make a bigger fuss than it did. It was pretty great. (Or maybe it did and I missed it? A friend mentioned a book the other day and I stared back blankly. "It is a really big deal right now," he told me. I am so completely out of touch lately. Come back later, I am still in the jungle.)
Anyway, Homes is interviewed at Guernica, mostly about Nixon, as Nixon figures heavily in her book. It is possible that Nixon is a hard sell.
I am so very excited about Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's forthcoming book, The End of San Francisco. But until then, so very far away, we'll have to make due with the back list. Like the beautiful So Many Ways to Sleep Badly. Or the anthology I reviewed, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?.
Sycamore talks to Sassafras Lowrey about her new book Roving Pack at the Advocate. They talk about the acceptable storylines for queer writing in mainstream publishing and finding other stories to tell.
Lowrey: We can pretend that we’ve got this stuff figured out and we’re in this queer utopia and it’s all wonderful. We can invent our own identities and create our lives, but it’s also not nearly so perfect as I think many folks would like us to believe.
November 14, 2012
The IMPAC award has unravelled its giddyingly long nominees list, and The Millions wades in. It's based on nominations by librarians the world over - let's take a brief interlude to get sweaty and uncomfortable thinking about all those global librarians, rowr - and you can see what your local punted for at the library list here.
At an ocher-color preschool along a lane in Stockholm’s Old Town, the teachers avoid the pronouns “him” and “her,” instead calling their 115 toddlers simply “friends.” Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.
"Hen" is pretty great. We should start using that, too.
Wade Davis just won the Samuel Johnson prize for his book Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest. I'll probably get around to reading it, because if people die in a remote location, or at least lose some bits of themselves to frost bite or exposure or gangrene, I am usually there. Just now getting around to reading The Lost City of Z, it is satisfying all of those needs right now. (Davis is also the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, so you know he knows how to tell a motherfucking* good story about peril.)
Anyway! He's at the Browser, recommending five really good books about World War I, and it's making me want to read all of the books on there I haven't yet.
* I spoke to a class at Columbia College, and they asked me why I swear so much on my blog. (!!) I told them I tend to blog in the same style I speak, and I just happen to have the mouth of a degenerate sailor. I have tried to cut back on the swearing in my conversation, but it never really takes.
And perhaps that is the real reason Bowen has not found universal acceptance. One can easily confuse the cruelty in the novel for Bowen's own. Because even when her subjects squirm and beg, Bowen with her steady hand peels back another layer and fixes it with a pin. Which is not to say she is a sadist, but she does not back off, does not fix everything with a wedding or a convenient death. From the opening of The Hotel, we see two pairs of women – the once close but suddenly estranged Miss Fitzgerald and Miss Pym, and the older, glamorous Mrs Kerr and her (much younger) intimate companion Sydney. And they continue to do damage to one another throughout the book as unsavory motivations are revealed. Bowen never releases the pressure with anything other than humor and prose so thick you want to go down on your knees and lick the upholstery. She does not introduce a male figure to interrupt these homoerotic tangles and realign everyone's desires to their rightfully intended masculine subjects. As a result, the reader can feel a little like they're up on that dissection table, too.
November 13, 2012
The word “foreign” in the name French Foreign Legion does not refer to faraway battlegrounds. It refers to the Legion itself, which is a branch of the French Army commanded by French officers but built of volunteers from around the world. Last summer I came upon 20 of them on a grassy knoll on a farm in France near the Pyrenees. They were new recruits sitting back-to-back on two rows of steel chairs. They wore camouflage fatigues and face paint, and held French assault rifles. The chairs were meant to represent the benches in a helicopter flying into action—say, somewhere in Africa in the next few years to come. Two recruits who had been injured while running sat facing forward holding crutches. They were the pilots. Their job was to sit there and endure. The job of the others was to wait for the imaginary touchdown, then disembark from the imaginary helicopter and pretend to secure the imaginary landing zone. Those who charged into the imaginary tail rotor or committed some other blunder would have push-ups to do immediately, counting them off in phonetic French—uh, du, tra, katra, sank. If they ran out of vocabulary, they would have to start again. Eventually the recruits would stage a phased retreat back to their chairs, then take off, fly around for a while, and come in for another dangerous landing. The real lesson here was not about combat tactics. It was about do not ask questions, do not make suggestions, do not even think of that. Forget your civilian reflexes. War has its own logic. Be smart. For you the fighting does not require a purpose. It does not require your allegiance to France. The motto of the Legion is Legio Patria Nostra. The Legion is our fatherland. This means we will accept you. We will shelter you. We may send you out to die. Women are not admitted. Service to the Legion is about simplifying men’s lives.
William Langewiesche is writing about the French Foreign Legion. Don't be silly, go over there and read it at once!
Every time Oliver Sacks releases a new book (once a year or so?) one of these profiles pops up. And they never really say anything new, but it's so delightful to read them anyway, because Oliver Sacks seems pretty delightful. And because Oliver Sacks has a new book out -- Hallucinations, wherein he examines his own time spent on hallucinogens, which recalls those times that William James went a'huffing to write about altered states (those are some good pieces) -- we have another profile! Nothing shocking, it says the same thing as every other profile that has been cranked out since The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. But you're going to read it anyway.
I think I am supposed to like The Iliad more, because that is what the brainy people in my life like more. But I am still a sucker for The Odyssey. I am bad with names, in life and in literature, and The Iliad is practically boozy with names.
The public poem—that glowing centuries-old instrument of passion and protest—was relegated to the shadows. Not, to be clear, the political poem: it continued to be written with gusto even after modernism. What languished was the public poem, and especially the old fusion of the public poem and political poem. What Rich drew out of the shadows, and put into practice, was that deeply democratic, beautifully mixed alloy practiced by Whitman, and loved by the early Yeats, but frowned on by a later anti-populist mood. In her time, quite simply, she re-united the public poem with the political one. It is an enormous achievement.
Food writing is one of those things that kind of drained itself of its own talent. For a while there, there were some really great food writers. Gourmet Magazine was a wonder, and Calvin Trillin was just untouchable. And then everyone decided they could be Calvin Trillin (they were wrong) and the glut and swamp of food memoirs and food blogs and food journalism just washed it all away. It's nearly impossible to find good food writing anymore, because there's so much mediocre nonsense to swim through. When a publicist tells me this is the best food writer in a generation, I don't believe them. Because I got two books with identical press releases last week.
But one misses the days when Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was exciting, and the half dozen food blogs I knew of were little gems. Now I try to find something new to read, and decide, fuck it, I'll just go back to my MFK Fisher instead.
But remember Anthony Bourdain got his own publishing imprint? Who knows what is happening with that, he announced one of his first books as being by that lady who reviewed the Olive Garden and it hasn't been heard from since. The New Republic tracks his career path from writer to television personality to now just branded personality, and while one is happy it happened to someone who seems genuinely good and thoughtful, it's an arc that never really produces anything great. And as he was probably capable of it, it's a disappointment to watch.
November 12, 2012
In the book, a woman was convicted of hiring someone to murder her husband, and the custody of their young girl was left rather open ended at the conclusion. It was a little horrifying, actually, the options left to that little girl, 4 at the time. Malcolm has been keeping up with the custody battle since the mother was sent away, and her new series deals with the fate of the daughter.
Plagiarism plaguing authors isn’t just an isolated phenomenon, but every culture reacts differently. Now, with the awarding of this year’s $150,000 FIL literature prize, one of the Spanish-speaking world’s richest and most prestigious, to Peruvian author Alfredo Bryce Echenique (b. 1939), fierce debate has erupted that has divided writers and critics across Latin America.
The 2012 International Book Fair (FIL) in Guadalajara, Mexico, announced the winner of its annual Literature Award in Romance Languages on September 3rd. But Echenique’s journalistic career has been tainted by allegations of plagiarism, prompting numerous calls for the writer to renounce the award.
Mrs. Lee-Mittison sat with the packets of lunch piled up around her like some homely goddess. She had spread out the mackintosh, on which she hoped she might later persuade Herbert to arrange himself -- unobtrusively, for she did not wish to humiliate him before these dear girls who, unlike the girls of her own generation, seemed to be able to sit on questionably dry grass without after-effects. She sat with her hat tilted forward to protect her eyes from the glare, looking down at her work but not knitting, her whole being in a state of happy suspension, a pause as distant from life as a trance. The sun wooed her persistently and at last, with a gesture from her almost dionysiac, she undid and flung open the woolly jacket buttoned across her chest.
Herbert had taken the girls ahead with him farther along the way to the village; she could hear his voice upraised in a sustained and happy monologue and now and then a thin exclamation from one of the Bransomes. They must be picking anemones. Surprised at herself, she sat with bliss in her little oasis of solitude. She looked down the slope beside her into the valley below and saw a little house, with a blue door whose colour delighted her, beside the bed of a river. Two lemon trees were beside it, and this little house which she seemed at once to inhabit gave her the most strange sensation of dignity and of peace. She saw herself go climbing up the garden from terrace to terrace, calling the goat, and the goat, beautiful in its possessedness, come loping down to meet her, asking to be milked. At this she paused in perplexity, for she had never milked anything and turned cold at the thought of touching the udders of an animal. But in a moment this was over and she carried the milk frothing warm in the pottery jug inside, into the dark interior of the house which would not be dark from within. Here something turned her back and she could not follow herself; she saddened, feeling excluded from some very intimate experience. The house was lonely and in autumn, when the river was brimming, the rushing past of the water must be terrifying; its echo would line with sound the upright walls of the valley. On still spring nights the thud of a falling lemon would be enough to awake one in terror.
Elizabeth Bowen remains excellent sickbed reading, because then you can pretend you are not merely ill, you are convalescing like a motherfucker. And it's so fantastic to watch how Bowen is able to convince her characters to unspool themselves like that. Hurrah to the University of Chicago for re-releasing the out of print The Hotel (where that passage is from) and Friends and Relations.
Shalom Auslander is on This American Life, talking about his time spent as a watcher, hanging out with dead bodies to keep Hebrew burial customs.
November 9, 2012
This kind of makes me wish I was at NoirCon 2012:
A commonality of theme binds us together, that need to make sense of the evil that lurks all around us, the inherent injustice, cruel unfairness and undeniable banality of life.
If, like me, you have had your fill of pronouncements about Life in the Digital Age, take heart: We're still living in the Age of Paper.
This morning alone I came home with two reams of copier paper, two Silvine reporter's notebooks, some gummed envelopes, five HB pencils, a Belfast Telegraph, a Daily Telegraph, a Guardian, the Times, Daily Mail, World of Interiors and Boxing Monthly. And I'd only gone into the shop for some stamps. We consume more paper, pound for pound, than any other product, food included. We are paper omnivores.
Philip Roth, done? So he said in a recent interview in a French magazine, according to Salon.
“To tell you the truth, I’m done,” Mr. Roth told the magazine. “‘Nemesis’ will be my last book.”
Not holding my breath. He still has a Nobel to win, after all.
"...I haven't come across a better prize-winning-author-name than 'Scholastique Mukasonga' in ages."
The Literary Saloon on France's "one-two punch" of literary prizes--the Goncourt and the Renaudot--which were awarded this week.
Britney Spears may publish a novel.
A roman a clef (what else?). I was going to say something snide but charity prevailed.
Interjecting for a moment to ask: Do I have any readers in France? If so, can you get in touch? I have a question.
November 8, 2012
...an estimated 26,500,000 words, 8,400 figures, and 990 tables.
That's how much the manuscript editors at the University of Chicago Press edited in fiscal year 2011-12, according to the Chicago Manual of Style's Twitter feed.
Some writers have discovered that writing your manuscript by hand can produce better results than simply typing your novel.
Now they tell me. [Returns to tapping away at her manuscript.]
Be all this as it may, it is indisputable that the half-millennial hegemony of the printed page in intellectual life is now coming to an end.
If this essay on "the fate of the book" were a physical book, I would fling it across the room, Dorothy Parker style.
"Look! A potato sandwich, Rose!" she said. "What greater compensation could you ask for?"
Rose Tremain on the art of not winning literary prizes.
November 7, 2012
Not at all book related, but it's a discussion we keep having here: why it matters how you write, talk, portray the Other. So an expert of the Iranian hostage crisis has a few words to say about the movie Argo, a movie that upset me quite a bit. (And not only because Kyle Chandler did not get very much to do.)
When the Grimms started telling stories, [they] heard that there was an old woman at the poorhouse, who knew a lot of stories, and she was a very good storyteller. They asked this woman, and she said no. They begged her, offered her money, but she refused to do it. So the Grimms paid the daughter of the arms house keeper to go and find this old woman; this granny told the little girl the stories, and immediately after the stories, the girl was instructed to tell the Grimms. Those are the violent ones they collected. We don’t know why the old woman didn’t tell the Grimms, there are many possible reasons… She may have been illiterate, scared of these young students. She might have felt this gender issue, where she didn’t want the Grimms to know these stories, which are about what might happen between women.
Resource for booksellers with flooded stock and people wanting to help independent booksellers with flooded stock: The Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
Did I mention we have a new issue?! I am tired. I have been all over the place and now I am in a place without an Internet connection, so you will have to forgive me. We do, we do, we do. And it's wonderful. Start with Elizabeth Bachner's report from the mountains of Nepal, and then just work your way down and over.
I watched the election results on a French news channel. There were no graphics, no visual cues that would help me figure out who was winning. I waited about an hour, hoping I would spontaneously learn French, but it never happened. But apparently it turned out all right in the end. (You know, depending on who you are.)
Anyway! Let's talk about better things. Like David Bowie. We should always just talk about David Bowie. I assigned the Peter Doggett book The Man Who Sold the World for review, and then decided I really wanted to read it for myself. And so in the new issue, we have a review by David Rice, and at Kirkus I spoke with Doggett about Bowie, the connection between Bowie and Berlin, and why so much writing about rock music sucks.
There's nothing worse than pretentious rock writing—unless, perhaps, it's rock writing that avoids any sense that the music exists in, shapes and is shaped by the outside world. I'm so bored with the sex/drugs fixation of the “classic rock” press; there's nothing attractive about prolonged adolescence.
November 5, 2012
As I started toward the fence this queer apparition approached and started speaking to me. He spoke in such a low tone that I was obliged to move in closer. That was the clincher.
"Are you Henry Miller?" he says.
I nodded, though my impulse was to say no.
"I came to see you because I want to have a talk with you."
(Christ, here it begins, I said to myself.)
"I was just driven away," -- brutally or insultingly, I believe he added -- "by a woman. Maybe it was your wife."
To this I simply grunted.
He continued by informing me that he too was a writer, that he had run away from it all (meaning job and home) to live his own life.
"I came to join the cult of sex and anarchy," he said, quietly and evenly, as if he were talking about toast and coffee.
I told him there was no such colony.
"But I read about it in the papers," he insisted. He started to pull a newspaper out of his pocket.
Never thought I would be the type of person to like Henry Miller, but apparently I am. Horrors. I am totally taken with Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
November 2, 2012
The yellowing government survey map of San Nicolas Island dated from 1879, but it was quite clear: There was a big black dot on the southwest coast and, next to it, the words "Indian Cave."
For more than 20 years, Navy archaeologist Steve Schwartz searched for that cave. It was believed to be home to the island's most famous inhabitant, a Native American woman who survived on the island for 18 years, abandoned and alone, and became the inspiration for "Island of the Blue Dolphins," one of the 20th century's most popular novels for young readers.
November 1, 2012
Probably it is a sign of my old age, but lately I have been having a lot of "whatever happened to..." moments. Like, what the fuck ever happened to Marissa Pessl? Apparently every year someone thinks the follow-up to (the exciting but messy and seriously flawed) Special Topics in Calamity Physics might come out, and then every year it's delayed til the next.
Today it was "whatever happened to Bee Lavender..." who I remember most from a reading she gave where she uttered the line (or something approximate to it): I have fucked more men then I have kissed. I did like her book Lessons in Taxidermy. She has a blog. Yeah, I know, anti-climatic. I bet you thought I was going to reveal something interesting. This is just more signs of my dottage, that I tell stories with no real point.
One of the oddest books I've read this year was Sophie Calle's The Address Book, finally released in full in an English translation. The premise is simple: Calle found an address book on the street and photocopied it before returning it to the owner. And in order to learn about who the owner is, she decided to talk to the people listed in the book and interview them about the identity of "Pierre D." She then relayed these conversations and her evolving sense of Pierre in a Parisian newspaper.
It's a little fucked up. It's invasive and strange. You're not surprised to learn that Pierre threatened to sue. In this piece at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Calle is quoted from 1992 saying she lost herself a bit in the project. (Although if you know Calle's work at all, you know she's not terrifically good at boundaries.)
“I lost control [. . .] I completely fell in love with that man, I changed my life for him [. . .] I went to live in his neighborhood, only saw his friends, went to eat in the places he liked to go [. . .] when he came back he hated me and I really felt rejected, but at the same time it’s better than real love, because all this was completely fake.”
Siglio, who published this book, has done some beautiful, beautiful books. I can't wait to see what they resurrect for us next.
A small piece of Truman Capote’s famously unfinished novel “Answered Prayers” has come to light. The six-page story, “Yachts and Things,” found among Capote’s papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, is published in the December issue of Vanity Fair, out now in New York and nationally next week. The story will be available online in mid-November.
Two of my favorite contemporary poets just happen to be married to one another: Hoa Nguyen and Dale Smith. (I interviewed Nguyen for Kirkus a few weeks back. Then she read my tarot cards the following week.) At the Conversant, where poets are asked to interview one another, Nguyen and Smith interview each other as poet and poet and husband and wife. And we get to eavesdrop.