May 30, 2013
Image: Franz von Stuck's Circe
Let's check in with Bookslut's sister magazine Spolia, shall we?
On June 3rd, we are releasing our second issue, with the theme of Black Magic. (If you have not yet read issue one, with Daphne Gottlieb, Mikhail Shishkin, Olivia Cronk, and other brilliant writers, now is your chance.) I will say two things about this issue:
The witchy Megan Abbott is involved.
An Irish novelist and playwright who should be just enormously huge (and will be, I am sure, based on the excerpt from novel number two we have read) but who has not been published in the US before is also involved.
And we are running a special for the Black Magic issue:
I’ve been using astrology and tarot to help work out creative blocks in both my own work and for my friends. I mix in storytelling and myths in my readings, as well as history and art, to help you understand what your strengths are, how you manage your energy, and how to retool your thinking on a project to bring it into alignment with your abilities and interests. I’ll show you how to rediscover your passion.
And with each reading, you’ll get a free copy of the Black Magic issue. If you’ve already ordered your copy of the issue, let me know and we’ll deduct the price from your reading.
Your two options:
An astrological reading to uncover your particular strengths as a writer or other artist, the areas of interest you should be focusing on, and all the little hidden weapons you have in your arsenal that you didn’t know about. Mixed with a special tarot reading to help you find the direction things are going in, where the trouble lies, and what tools may be used to get things working smoothly again.
One hour Skype session: $75, which includes consultation, discussion, a personal report, a copy of our Black Magic issue, and a recommended reading list
Have a question that is not about your work? Choose between an astrological reading or a tarot card reading, on a specific subject. (Love, money, what have you.) Can be done either over Skype or simply typed up in a report over email, depending on your preference.
40 minute Skype session: $50, which includes consultation, discussion, a personal report, a copy of our Black Magic issue, and a recommended reading list
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your preferred reading and to check availability and for payment instructions.
As a writer, I find that tarot/astro readings by non-artists/writers/creatives is wildly unsatisfying for help on projects. Developing my own technique has been been very illuminating, and I'd like to help others as well. Thank you for your continued support, and I hope we get to chat soon.
May 29, 2013
Image: Eric De Volder
The Greeks believed that libraries were places of great healing, and that poetry and literature revealed deep spiritual truths. I still believe that today, that seeing alternatives played out in a novel can give you an idea of what to do in your own life, and that sometimes a made up story has more insight into heartbreak, despair, loss, frustration, and failure (and joy, and hope, and love) than any life coach-supplied affirmation or self-help to do list. Every other Wednesday, I will be answering questions about life's quandaries with a little bookish insight. This is an extension of my Kind Reader column, and you can find past entries here. You can submit your own questions by emailing me.
I started seeing D. about four months ago. Everything is still new, but I've been really happy with him. I've never really been into someone as much as I'm into D. There's only one problem, and that problem is his ex-girlfriend. She calls him needing things. She is depressed, and needs to talk, or needs him to come over, or whatever. He always goes, because he says she is really fragile and he doesn't want to hurt her.
I don't think he's sleeping with her. Maybe I should be worried about that, but I don't think that is what is happening. I know how he feels about me. But I am worried about him, because I think she is using him. She only started calling when he and I started to get serious. I have tried to talk to D. about this, but he won't listen. But I'm also upset because a couple times he actually canceled on me because she called and he had to sit there and talk to her for hours, and when I get angry he tells me I am being selfish. I don't think I'm being selfish! I think she is trying to break us up, and I don't know what to do.
It is amazing, isn't it, how some illnesses and emotional collapses seem to happen perfectly timed? I am thinking of the women who went into hysterical fits in French hospitals, on cue for the male audience of doctors and spectators. And I'm also thinking of that other favorite hysteric of mine, Alice James. And there is no better biography of her than Jean Strouse's.
Alice James and her brother William had a weird little incestuous flirtation. I mean, we can't blame them, because absolutely no one got out of that family without some hideous sexual distortion. It was part because of the 19th century of repression and guilt, and part having incredibly fucked up parents. Either way, William, hopeless with girls, flirted with his younger sister Alice, sending her love letters and so on, and she was particularly receptive.
The problem came, then, when William grew up and decided to marry a non-blood relative. Alice had always been "fragile," to borrow your word. Sickly, taking to her bed with one complaint or another, diagnosed with all sorts of things, but what it really came down to was this was the best way she had found to get attention. The only girl in a house full of men, no one really paid her any mind when she was trying to intellectually joust with her genius brothers Henry and William James, and she couldn't rough house with the rest of them. But getting ill, being babied and tended to, that worked, and because it worked, it set up a cycle of constant collapse. And she used it like a weapon.
During William's courtship, Alice got sicker and sicker, most likely trying to derail the relationship and draw him to her. On the day of William's wedding -- to a woman also named Alice, who knows what was going on there -- Alice the sister pitched the fit of her life and refused to attend. One last stand, maybe? Hoping he would see how he was killing her and he would rush to her side? The ploy failed, and William did what he should have, which was ignore it, and marry the woman he loved.
We are not supposed to use the word "hysteric" anymore, but they still exist, and it sounds like you have one on your hands. I mean, if it makes people feel better, we can call them "manipulative little bitches," but probably that is not fashionable either. She is falling ill on command, in order to get what she wants, which is your boyfriend's attention.
Now, we all do this to some extent, here and there. We flash our vulnerabilities, we say, "Look at how much I have already been hurt," in an effort to keep someone from hurting us more. From turning us down, from rejecting us. There is a huge difference between sharing a painful past as a way of closing the gap between you and someone else, and wearing all of your insides on your outside as a means to control other people's responses to you. It's manipulative as all hell, and it's an unfair thing to do to someone. We should apologize when we catch ourselves doing it. But if it works, and it works repeatedly, then it becomes a habit for some people. And if nothing else seems to work -- not strength, not honesty, not independence -- then they will use what works. D. and this ex already broke up once, so obviously their tie on the other levels that keeps a relationship going was not strong. But this works for her. So she'll keep doing it, until it stops working.
Now. As for what you can do. Absolutely nothing. She's already firmly established herself as prey, in an adorable, harmless little bunny nursing a hurt paw kind of way. You can't go after her in a "Listen, bitch, I am onto you" kind of way. The only role left in this dynamic is that of the wolf, and he will judge you for taking it on and end up trying to protect her from you. And you also can't play the hysteric yourself, and try to compete with her with your need for him, because then you become the type of person who does idiot things like threaten suicide to keep your boyfriend from leaving you, and deploying emotional blackmail to make things go your way. You do not want to reward that side of yourself.
The only route left for you is to be the other Alice, the Mrs. William James. A pillar of strength and sanity. Of independence and self-reliance. Maintain your dignity. No matter what your needs are, you have to tuck them in for the duration and let him figure out what's going on. Some men (and some women) like rescuing others. It makes them feel like the knight -- and why not? it's a dashing role to play, with so many good outfits -- and so they choose not to see the manipulation and the deceit. They will continue to choose not to see it, even if you point it out to them, so you have to stop doing that, too. For most, knighthood gets boring and tedious after a while, forever needing to pick someone off of the floor. And you don't want to be in a relationship -- no matter how into him you are -- with someone who needs to be the rescuing knight. That guy only shows up for the battle, for the grand rescue, not for the playful delight that is the best part of a relationship.
So read about Alice James, because it's always good to have the scope of your enemy's arsenal, and also because by understanding her a bit better, why she is doing this, how she got this way, you can find a little compassion for her. Because you are the strong one here, or you should aspire to be so, and you will ultimately win out. Maybe not with this specific relationship, but an invalid's life only goes so far. And for you, walking upright as you are, the horizon stretches on forever.
Submit your own questions for the Bibliomancer column to email@example.com.
May 26, 2013
Image: PJ Harvey's Send His Love to Me single
"Waiting, like concealed internal bleeding, gradually brings about a kind of anemia, a completely tangible loss of strength. And in the hospital I felt for the first time how this concentration -- here he comes, in a minute he'll come, in a minute he'll be standing in the door -- slides me into a tearful impotence. I should have hated the person who made me feel like this, not because he was to blame, but simply because of the feeling itself and because of survival instinct. But my survival instinct didn't work, not in the hospital and not later on. And the secret expectation became a part of my being. Like a chronic pain that awakens with changes in the weather. I have no idea what failing causes it, but for the most part I think that this failing is not in me and my mind, but in the nature of love."
May 24, 2013
Image: From "The Audit is Done" by Janos Kass
I am in Budapest, because West Ireland was getting to me. The rain, the wind, the cold, the sweaters and the reading and the seaside and the tea and the whiskey sometimes in the tea... It was like the outward manifestation of my inner mood to the point where I was about two days away from filling my sweater pockets with stones and throwing myself into the sea. So, Budapest as antidote to West Ireland: heat, art nouveau, dramatic dresses, opera, and a totally unappealing (in the sense of diving in) river. Budapest over West Ireland.
(It is still remarkable to me that a change of location brings such a noticeable change in self. Perhaps I am too easily soluble, bits of me start dissolving in the atmosphere of wherever I am. But in Budapest I feel like myself. A friend I had lunch with here told me today, "You need to marry a Hungarian and stay here forever." I am now taking applicants.)
But here is the problem: I was going on to some friends about Hungarian literature, and there was no spark of recognition. Two people (two!) referenced Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, but I think they were confusing Odessa with Budapest. And any way, you shouldn't think of Jonathan Safran Foer in reference to anything Central European ever ever, because he is a spoiled American white dude. And he stole all of his tricks (and then turned them into sentimental nonsense) from the Central European writers who are better than he will ever be.
So. A few recommendations of my favorite Hungarians:
Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy
Although I recommend this wholeheartedly, I get some angry emails from friends I've forced it upon about halfway through. Because if it ends badly, they tell me, they will never fucking recover from the experience. I won't say, but I've still not recovered from this book, in a very nice kind of way.
My Happy Days in Hell by György Faludy
More for the first half about the encroaching sense of doom in pre-war Hungary, but also for the glory that was pre-war Budapest, and how that got lost.
Everyone loves Satantango, but I found its unrelenting grimness too much to push through, and I never finished it.
Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy
This book is fucking dark and sexy. That is all I will say about it.
Now if you will excuse me, I am on a mission to put as much goulash into my body as my body will allow. I am pretty sure I can do much better at this than I have so far.
May 23, 2013
Image: Karl Mannheim by Ludilo Zezanje
I have been reading the Gawker Unemployment Stories, and my heart breaks every time. People telling their stories of despair and anxiety, the instability of trying to find regular employment in today's environment. But what struck me were the comments, and how people find comfort in other people's experiences, because they know it's not them, it's the whole fucked up, crumbling system. As Karl Mannheim wrote, "It is important to remember that our society is faced, not with brief unrest, but with a radical change of structure."
For man, however, the catastrophe [of unemployment] lies not merely in the disappearance of external opportunities for work but also in the fact that his elaborate emotional system, intricately connected as it is with the smooth working of social institutions, now loses its object-fixation. The aims towards which almost all his strivings are directed suddenly disappear, and, not merely does he now lack a place to work, a daily task, and an opportunity for using the integrated labor attitudes formed through long training, but his habitual desires and impulses remain ungratified. Even if the immediate needs of life are satisfied, by means of unemployment relief, the whole life-organization and the family hopes and expectations are annihilated.
The panic reaches its height when the individual comes to realize that his insecurity is not simply a personal one, but is common to masses of his fellows, and it becomes clear to him that there is no longer any social authority to set unquestioned standards and determine his behavior. Herein lies the difference between individual unemployment and general insecurity.
Because while there's the relief of knowing it's not a personal defect that has caused your individual situation, there's the anxiety of realizing that this is not going away any time soon. And it won't be fixed, only temporarily relieved, with a new job. This is a time of "radical change of structure," and it's everyone's duty to figure out how to fix our broken economy and how we work and why, and what the definition of success is. There is no clinging to old paradigms when it's the entire floor that is giving way.
May 21, 2013
Image: Vampire by Edvard Munch
Here is how I know that all of the writers of the world have run out of ideas: Vampires in High School. In this marvelously fucked up age that we live in, we've apparently all collectively decided that the story we want to tell each other, and the story we want to hear, is how if we were granted eternal life in the body of a hot 16 year old, we would probably spend that eternal life in high school. Listening to inadequate and confusing versions of what World War I was all about. Showering with other 16 year olds after gym class or football practice. Facing lunchroom seating dilemmas. That is what we have decided we would spend hundreds of years doing.
Right after I read a horrible short story about a vampire in high school, I went and saw the new Neil Jordan film, about a vampire who goes to high school. I kind of yelled at my film-going companion for a while, about how we all, excitingly and terrifyingly enough, get to decide, the first generation ever, with some limitations of course, what we want to do, where we want to do it, and for how long. And our writers are responding to that by putting supernatural creatures, always the exciting deviants and margin-dwellers, into that symbol of neverending conformity, fucking high school.
Jesus Christ, people.
"is a mind-cracker. It's basically the diary of a bisexual, rebellious, punk-rock aesthetic teenage girl -- written in Butte, Montana in 1902. Truly, a time-displaced rarity in a cold, cruel landscape. Required reading."
May 20, 2013
Image: George Barbier's Designs on the Dances of Vaslav Nijinsky, proving I am not the only one obsessed with one particular region of his body
This week's Book of the Week is going on at our sister magazine Spolia, because I chose Lucy Moore's biography Nijinsky. Today there is an excerpt, and later in the week there'll be a Q&A with Moore. (Yes, I asked her to comment on Nijinsky's thighs. I am not generally that interested in that part of the male anatomy, but Jesus Christ. Disappointingly, "Thighs, Nijinsky's" is not an entry in the index, or I could type up the references contained within Moore's book.)
From Lucy Moore's biography, a section on the debut of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka, with Nijinsky in the title role:
As ever with one of Diaghilev’s premieres, the first night, in Paris in June 1911, was plagued by hitches... On the night itself, a befeathered and bejewelled Misia Sert was sitting in her box, waiting for the ritual three knocks of the call boy that signaled the curtain was about to rise, when Diaghilev burst through the door, drenched in sweat and with his coat-tails flying out behind him. “The costumier refuses to leave with clothes without being paid. It’s ghastly. He says he won’t be duped again and he’ll take all the stuff away if he isn’t paid at once!” Sert raced downstairs, ordered her driver to go home and collect the requisite 4,000 francs, and “the show went on, impeccable and glamorous.”
Read the rest of the excerpt here.
May 16, 2013
Many days I just delete whatever does not look vaguely personal in my inbox. I don't read press releases, because I am sure that is the secret to a long and healthy life. Today I don't know why I stopped on this:
"I thought you would be interested to learn about a new study that finds a link between what a woman is reading while she is traveling and her willingness to indulge in a casual hookup."
Amazing! And scientific, I'm sure. I am sure they didn't just ask five women in an airport what they were reading and whether they put out, until they were escorted away by security/laid low with pepper spray in the face.
It is best not to linger on the fact that someone wrote this email. They typed it up and they pressed send and they did not immediately suffer a psychotic break from the experience. Nor the fact that there is an entire website devoted to churning out content like this. I would tell you what the website is, but then I would die.
Related: I am currently traveling in the west of Ireland, and occasionally reading The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves at the bar. There is no survey that will tell you the odds of your chances with me right now. So just try to pick me up. I fucking dare you.
May 15, 2013
Howard Jacobson's Zoo Time has won the 2013 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction. It's his second win, the first being for 2000's The Mighty Waltzer.
As part of his Wodehouse Prize a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig will be named after Zoo Time.
"To win it twice is very heaven. I am only sorry my pig has to be called Zoo Time. It feels a bit tactless. But it could have been worse. It could have been Bring Up The Bodies."
Could have been Inferno, mate.
The Man Booker International Prize is the sexy foreign version of the annual UK/Commonwealth/Zimbabwe fiction bunfight. It totally smokes clove cigarettes and wears berets and could steal your boyfriend, if it could be bothered.
The Guardian has interviewed the ten finalists for the lifetime acheivement award, and the resulting profiles are charming, even if most of them seem allergic to smiling (not the lovely U R Ananthamurthy and Josip Novakovich though.)
Breaking news from t'twitter - the 2013 Orwell Prize has gone to A Very British Killing: The Death of Baha Mousa by A. T. Williams. Previously, the Telegraph reported that the prize committee has sent copies of all the shortlisted books to UK political party leaders/tragicomic reptiles David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband:
The three leaders may well bristle as they open up their copy of AT Williams's A Very British Killing, a forensic and shocking reconstruction of the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, at the hands of the British army. Williams's meticulous analysis of the army figures involves, and the court martial in its aftermath, calls into question the ethics of British military practise in Iraq.
Things I will not be doing include linking to any of the Dan Brown nonsense. Yes. He is a terrible writer, congratulations for noticing. And your opinions on the matter are totally important and original, thank you for sharing them. Please fuck off now.
Also, not linking to a takedown of Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, because despite hating, really hating to the point of dark pleasure, her last novel The Emperor's Children, I do not have time to waste thinking about a novel that thinks being a 42 year old single woman is the worst thing that has ever happened ever, oh my god.
Why write this review? Why not just cut bait after fifty pages of overwritten banality and move on to something else? Because it was published. Because in spite of its ludicrous prose, milquetoast hero, and weak ending, The Gods of Gotham is the very sort of book that the industry craves: unchallenging, controversy-dodging, action-packed, with a love story as innovative as Microsoft Word Art and a hero with a high Q factor. And in this, it represents all of the pressures and temptations that come to bear on the novelist (note I do not say the "modern" novelist -- it has ever been thus and always will be), and for that reason alone, it bears calling out. Because this is what happens when writers give in.
Also, not that it even needs to be done anymore, here is an anti-Alain de Botton piece. (Alain de Botton! The intellectual (kinda) Dan Brown, as far as inspiring hit pieces goes.)
Let's balance this out with a little unbridled enthusiasm, yes? Verbunkos has one of the best things I've read about Claudio Magris's new novel Blindly: "Blindly remains, at bottom, a symbol of how an individual is integrated into history." Blindly is brilliant, although I love his nonfiction travelogue through Central Europe Danube more.
Another focus of my undying love and admiration is for Angela Bourke's The Burning of Bridget Cleary. She has an essay at the Dublin Review about trying to get rid of an old refrigerator. Except that it is, of course, about everything else in the whole world.
May 14, 2013
Image: One of Nabokov's butterflies
"All art is quite useless," Oscar Wilde wrote in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. That's also an attitude associated with Vladimir Nabokov, whom more overtly political Russian writers criticized for focusing on wordplay and stylistic flourishes. But Andrea Pitzer's The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov, which gets a rave review from Mike Innocenzi in this month's issue of Bookslut, ousts Nabokov from the Lord Henry Wotton school of aesthetics.* Drawing on recently declassified Russian intelligence files, Pitzer finds instead that the writer was "folding the details of his life into the story in such a way that no one [but those close to him] would recognize them." In the wake of this book, as Innocenzi notes, major Nabokov works like Lolita and Pale Fire beg for a rereading.
*Nabokov probably wouldn't have minded this, actually; in a 1964 Playboy interview, he referred disparagingly to Wilde as a "dainty poet."
May 13, 2013
Image by Colette Calascione
"You see," said Lili, "there's no real experience to be gained by promiscuity. We're all called to understand ourselves, and to do this it's necessary that we should understand one another. Leaping from bed to bed one learns nothing of any depth."
"What have you learned, Lili?" asked my mother, at last sitting down with a cup of tea before her.
"You challenge me," said Lili. "What have I learned? What have I learned of myself from learning through Robert...?"
Her husband lowered his paper and regarded her over the top of it.
"I don't know," she admitted. "But I've learned something. Isn't it obvious that too many relationships will teach one nothing except that men are much alike?"
My mother sniffed. She had no very high opinion of men.
"So are women," said Robert, turning back to the paper.
Lili looked affronted. "I am quite unlike other women," she observed.
"Yes, you are," agreed her husband, and Lili smiled.
I thought that Robert loved her and wouldn't mind her having lovers if she always came back to him. I wondered how it was possible to love many men when you had once loved one more than your immortal soul, and whether Lili had ever loved like that, or whether this was a torment saved for ridiculous people like myself.
"What are you thinking about, Margaret?" asked Lili.
"I was thinking about what you were saying," I told her, while memories of Nour flooded my being so that I felt I couldn't bear it but must instantly take that gleaming knife and open my body to let him out.
I love The Summer House by Alice Thomas Ellis so intensely, it is difficult to keep myself from typing out the entire novel here.
May 12, 2013
Still reading Rollo May's The Meaning of Anxiety, and it is still the best thing I've read on the subject.
"There is anxiety in any actualizing of possibility. To Kierkegaard, the more possibility (creativity) an individual has, the more potential anxiety he has at the same time. Possibility ('I can') passes over into actuality, but the intermediate determinant is anxiety. 'Possibility means I can. In a logical system it is convenient enough to say that possibility passes over into actuality. In reality it is not so easy, and an intermediate determinant is necessary. This intermediate determinant is anxiety.'"
His section on all that we do to avoid these feelings of anxiety/potential -- conforming to social or subculture norms to keep ourselves from having to make any real decisions, allowing stasis to take over and remaining in bad situations because at least they are familiar -- is quite good. It reminds me of a small passage from Claudio Magris's Microcosms:
"For some time you've done nothing but close doors, it's become a habit; for a while you hold your breath, but then anxiety grabs your heart again and the instinct is to bolt everything, even the windows, without realizing that this way there's no air and as you suffocate, the migraine batters your temples; eventually all you hear is the sound of your own headache."
May 10, 2013
Things to do before reading Sjón, the Icelandic author whose American debut Sessily Watt reviews in the May issue of Bookslut:
1) Know how to pronounce his name. It's "SHE-own," short for Sigurjón B. Sigurdsson.
2) Listen to his collaborations with Björk, a longtime friend. (Sidenote: If there's an Icelandic version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, it must be the shortest game ever.) Sjón wrote the lyrics to several songs on her 2011 album Biophilia, including "Virus" and "Solstice."
3) If you're feeling ambitious, look up the Eddas, two collections of Norse legends compiled in the thirteenth century by Icelandic historians. Watt notes the strong mythological undercurrent in Sjón's writing; the Eddas are where Icelandic mythology begins.
May 8, 2013
The ladies of Middletown
Fell down a rabbit hole today, reading Rollo May's The Meaning of Anxiety. May is one of my favorites, his Man's Search for Himself is essential, particularly for those who want to puke when they try to read psychological writing today and it all sounds like fucking self-help.
Anyway, in the beginning chapters of The Meaning of Anxiety he talks about the Middletown anxiety studies. These originally took place in the '20s and '30s, but they seem particularly relevant today. May writes:
The citizens of Middletown, [the Lyndals] write, "is caught in a chaos of conflicting patterns, none of them wholly condemned, but no one of them clearly approved and free from confusion; or, where the group sanctions are clear in demanding a certain role of a man or a woman, the individual encounters cultural requirements with no immediate means of meeting them."
This "chaos of conflicting patterns" in Middletown was one expression of the pervasive social changes occurring in our culture... The Lynds observed that, since "most people are incapable of tolerating change and uncertainty in all sectors of life at once," the tendency in Middletown was toward a retrenchment into more rigid and conservative economic and social ideologies.
For me, it seems like this could be the basis of the weirdo "retrenchment" of gender roles in our contemporary society -- the pressure on marriage, the inflexibility of monogamy, the beatification (and simultaneous policing) of mothers... Right now with all of the news reports about how powerful men used the sexual revolution to become predators, raping young girls and women in the name of freedom, and how they're just now being held accountable (in a process that is looking more and more like a witchhunt, but we'll see how that progresses). It's like we all agree that the sexual revolution went all topsy turvy, and maybe we were best off in nuclear families after all.
Of course this comes out in other behavior as well -- gun culture, political inflexibility, etc, but the Middletown studies focus a lot on gender, so I'm thinking aloud about the gender aspect.
So the May reference led me to start reading whatever I could find online of Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture and Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts, but I might have to buy a copy.
While we're on the subject, let's watch this video of Rollo May explaining what existential psychotherapy is, and why we need to think about anxiety outside of a medical model:
May 7, 2013
Dame Jacqueline Wilson voiced frustration at publishers' insistence that her books should appear in pink covers because they know it is likely to boost sales.
She said the practice was “pigeonholing” girls while also putting boys off reading her stories.
This is a recurring discussion. I remember talking to Joanna Kavenna ages ago about the cover for the hardback of her (totally great) novel Inglorious, which had a woman's feet in a strappy high heel -- one of the straps being broken, I guess as a clever metaphor for the protagonist's entire life falling apart.
The paperback remedied this by using stripy colors... which is the exact motif another publisher used to satisfy Meg Wolitzer with the release of The Interestings, who had been complaining about the unseriousness of women's novels' cover design. In her Bookslut interview this month, Wolitzer reports:
Women are the buyers of fiction in this country, and we know that. I know writers who aren't concerned with this issue, because they know that their audience is women, and women love their work, and they're happy with that, and that's fine. I generally have women at my readings and I love these readers. But you have to ask yourself, Why will women read books about male characters and female characters, and men, with rare exception, won't? And that bothers me. So if your book looks like a women's and girls' book, even if it has something really startling in it, it's hard to get men to read it. What I feel about this cover -- I don't feel like it's a masculine cover. I feel like books should just look like a box of chocolate. You really want to be in that world. That is the point of cover art. Do you want to dip into what that world is? Of course, you may be totally wrong about what that world turns out to be, but in this case, it's oblique. What they tried to be true to is a certain kind of non-gendered cover, and also the spirit of youth and the seventies.
So stripy colors are the new faceless woman standing in a field/by a lake/in the rain with a broken high heel? Dame Jacqueline Wilson should get on that.
May 6, 2013
The 11th anniversary issue of Bookslut is up, and it is true to its Taurean nature. All Venus-worshiping and dirty.
So I guess that makes Spolia an Aries? Not entirely sure about that, although issue one has a Minotaur, some ethnic cleansing, and the aftermath of war. Whatever her sign, Spolia this week is "Pay What You Can," so you can name your own price. And we're running excerpts from five of our favorite stories on the blog. First up is Daphne Gottlieb's stunning "Bess."
Here is to birthdays and raised drinks and new beginnings. It's been a pleasure to get to do this for 11 years.
May 1, 2013
I have been traveling and dealing with things and writing a book and so certain things I miss, or I hear about them and immediately forget until someone with a glass of cheap wine in their hand expresses incredulity that I missed a certain piece of gossip or information.
(But is it glorious being out of the loop, not having to worry about things like who the new editor of Whatever the Fuck is or who wrote the not very intelligent or well written or well considered essay in the New York Times saying Chicago is a shit hole, or who is involved with who or who got a book deal for the latest How We Live Now remainder-bait? It is glorious. I don't know how you writers in New York and London do it, just knowing all of these things and having thoughts and feelings about it.)
So breaking news to people like me who are weary with jet lag and rarely get the opportunity to step into English language bookstores anymore: The New York Times Book Review has a new editor. The old editor I was once on a panel with, and the less said about that the better because my jaw starts to get really tight and then I have a bad back for three days. So whoop de dah, who gives a fuck about him. But Michael Wolff introduces us to his replacement:
Paul has, pretty much, no writerly or literary credentials. She's written some straightforward, but non-literary nonfiction – a book about marriage, a book about parenting, and a book condemning pornography – and she's been the children's book editor at the Book Review for a short time. Her resume includes two years as a blogger at the Huffington Post, which, it doesn't seem entirely churlish to point out, is not a job, and a stint writing a column for the Times' Style section.
Anyway, it's a perfectly reasonable but not distinguished freelance journalism career. So why a major post in the world of literary journalism?
The book condemning pornography is my favorite bio tidbit. Because either a) she really thinks pornography is hurting society or b) she wrote it for the advance money, maybe knowing it was going to be remaindered in about six weeks. Either way, it doesn't exactly show a growling intellect or a dedication to great art.
But probably you already knew this, and have been blogging tweeting, gossiping, complaining about it endlessly (or you have known for years that the NYTBR is a powerless figurehead who hasn't quite gotten the message that no one is following out his orders and so don't really care). I'm going to go attack my whiskey stash and see if I can't forget that I ever knew this information.