December 2010

Jessa Crispin and Dennis Loy Johnson


Heinrich Böll and the Literature of Aftermath: A Correspondence

This month, Melville House Publishing will be re-releasing the first in their series of Heinrich Böll reprints. Dennis Johnson, editor and publisher, asked me to write the afterword for one of the volumes, Billiards at Half Past Nine, about a family struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of World War II. We conducted a correspondence about the continued relevance of this Nobel Prize winning author, and why the world needs Heinrich Böll now.


I was at lunch with a German translator a while back and told her that I was going through a stack of Heinrich Böll books. She stifled a yawn. I think if you’re working in German literature, or you studied literature in high school here, he’s seen as the high school reading list writer. The obligation. All of these issues he works with -- redemption, aftermath, excavating the 20th century from the psychosis -- are the exact things you think of when you think of Germany, but you’d maybe like to stop having to. He’s the Edith Wharton of the German reading list. You might like him if you came to him as an adult, but you have that memory of the torture that is Ethan Frome still ringing in your ears, and you just don’t want anything to do with it.

I don’t think Americans come with that preconception in their heads, I don’t think he’s obligatory reading so much any more -- at least not until you reach specialized college courses like Post WW2 Central European Literature or whatever. But that dreariness of post-War Germany does come bundled with it. When I first became familiar with Böll in my 20s, I was thinking outdated, dull, deadly boring. (But it turns out I like a lot of things that other people consider to be outdated, dull, and deadly boring. Like Henry James. And the opera.) Everything awash in brown tones. What I was surprised by, revisiting Billiards at Half Past Nine in order to write the introduction, was the anger. The book is shot through with red, although most of that is coming through the mother character, who I love deeply and we will have to discuss later.

But for now: you are publishing Heinrich Böll. And you do have quite the task ahead of you, to try to get people excited about this mid-century German writer. You did it with Hans Fallada, but he had a dynamic life story that was as good as any of his novels. Böll was just sort of a dick to women, hung out with the intellectuals. Not a great story. So first of all, how do you talk about these books, to get people interested. And what made you decide to reissue them in the first place? What is it with you and mid-century German literature, Dennis Loy Johnson?

- Jessa


That’s a reflection of the culture as much as it is my own tastes. Yes, I’m interested in the literature of the period, particularly as so many members of my family were involved in the war -- in fact my parents met thanks to the war (on an army base), and my father fought with a unit that liberated Dachau, and later captured Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden. But the fact is I’m interested in lots of different kinds of literature, and have worked hard to be seen as more of a generalist than that. I never have been interested in niche publishing. That’s just too narrow and ineffective a response to the cultural moment for me.

But here we are in the age of appropriation insofar as art-making goes, and if you mush that together with the modern book culture’s rather dim-witted, even unconscious, use of the movie industry as a business model, including such dictums as “you’re only as good as your last hit movie,” and what that means is that I get a lot of avant-garde-y manuscripts that imitate Tao Lin and Lee Rourke, I get a lot of nineteen-century literature in translation inspired by our novella series, I get a lot of political reportage inspired by books like our first bestseller Who Killed Daniel Pearl?... and I get a lot of “lost” middle-European stuff about the rise of Fascism after World War I -- thanks to my so-called “discovery” of Hans Fallada.

Which is all kind of wonderful. For one thing, given the many wars our country has started over the last few years, I felt it incumbent upon me as a publisher to make books of historic resonance, and here was the world presenting little old understaffed Melville House with a huge assist in sorting through such literature. I mean, it’s a lot easier to find a “lost” book on your desk than it is to slog through the bombed-out archives of history the way I had to do for Fallada. So this is another way that initial passion and grit that we invested in Fallada is still paying out for us.

But it’s gone further than that. In fact, what Julia Keller, in the Chicago Tribune, called my “rescue” of Fallada -- the man in addition to his work -- has inspired people to send us not only all kinds of individual books that fell between the cracks, but to write to us about the forgotten writers behind them.

Some of those stories are jaw-dropping. Someone wrote to me about Ödön von Horváth, a Weimar-era playwright and novelist who wrote these wonderful absurdist pieces about how nuts fascism was -- the point being that its inherent craziness hid how evil it was. His work is laugh-out-loud funny while being shiver-down-your-spine chilling. But he was a Hungarian living in Berlin and eventually had to flee the Nazis. An epically difficult thing in itself, and he must have felt a unfathomably-deep sense of relief when he finally got to Paris... where he was promptly struck by lightening and killed while taking a victory stroll down the Champs Elysee. How can we not champion this guy? He must not be forgotten.

Someone else wrote to me about Irmgard Keun, calling her “the female Hans Fallada” because she, too, stayed in Germany under the Nazis and wrote from within the belly of the beast. Name me another woman who did that, let alone who then wrote specifically about a woman’s life under the Reich. And Keun did this while under just incredible stress -- she’d been placed on a Nazi death list, and so had escaped Germany, but then staged a fake suicide and snuck back in to the country under a false name. She stayed in Germany, in hiding, for the duration of the war. Like Fallada, she couldn’t bring herself to leave her country to the bastards.

And in fact I’ve been sent so many great things like that, things that have been so inspiring, that we’ve decided to start an imprint called the Neversink Library -- after the name of a ship in Melville’s novel White Jacket where the sailors all read a lot -- to champion as much of it as we can, from around the world and throughout history.

But you’re right that Böll doesn’t have the kind of personal story that Fallada -- or Keun or von Horvath -- did. Although as a thoughtful young liberal, even just as a German of the day, his life was not bereft of hellish drama. He did survive the war, and he did write about having been a conscripted Nazi soldier very quickly after the war -- he didn’t obscure the fact for decades, the way Gunter Grass did. He did, very bravely, place himself squarely in the ranks of those who must atone, who took part in the horror.

But he was of a slightly later, transitional generation and his topic was not the rise of totalitarianism nor the war for the most part but rather of its aftermath. He introduced the age of guilt and responsibility to his fellow Germans. He asked not only “What then must we do?” but, first, “My God, what have we done?” And of course neither of these questions were particularly welcome.

And this is the kind of writing -- and the kind of writer -- that it seems to me is very important to contemporary American culture to remember, at the same time that that culture has made it easy to forget about writers even as deeply canonized as Böll -- a Nobel Prize-winner after all. And yet even our great literary houses were simply uninterested in keeping him in print -- the vaunted Penguin Classics let all of his books go out of print, except for one (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum), which they only kept, I suspect, because there was a movie version coming out.

But beyond Böll’s political relevance -- his political importance -- I felt it was also time for our leading fiction writers, and our young writers and intellectuals looking to them, to take a reality check. That is, in the work of Heinrich Böll we have the stuff that so many modern American writers are imitating, rather than using as inspiration. I’m thinking, for example, of the writing of people like Michael Chabon and Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer -- these writers who use the Holocaust as a trope, and write this sweet treacle in which they speak in the voices of people who were there. And they mean this not as some kind of historical genre, no matter what coy pose people like Chabon take toward genre, but as some kind of more-authentic literary voice that is their own. I find this work deeply offensive, not to mention pitiful. These are just acts of egotism that play to a shallow entertainment culture. They’ve got nothing to say, they’re just performing.

What’s more, they’re usually writing from a place that doesn’t strike me as very well-informed. I remember trying to read one of Krauss’s books, and she was going on about Isaak Babel, but she simply had her facts wrong -- the kind of simple things she would have known if she’d so much as read the introduction to a collection of his stories. So I’m skeptical about how deeply in communication with literary or cultural history fiction writers today are -- I doubt many of our leading literary lights have read much Böll, sadly. I know we asked a lot of popular writers to write introductions for us, in an attempt to introduce Böll to a new generation, but quite a few of them turned us down, saying they’d never read him and didn’t have the time to read him now. It really was sobering, to consider how little-read such a major writer had become in the few years since his death.

But it just makes me feel more driven to promote him -- I see publishing as a form of activism, not preservation, and in short I found Böll inspiring, more so when you understand his context, and I found his work addressed our literary and political moment in a galvanizing way.

I mean, one thing that made me very happy about your intro when I read it for the first time was that you seemed to have been really invigorated by Böll’s writing, particularly his absorption of feminist principles and the way he makes a woman a figure of real resistance in Billiards at Half Past Nine. He inspired some really impassioned writing from you, and you pass it on in a way in an infectious way that was like watching someone make a discovery and leap to their feet. It was really powerful, which is not something one normally says about introductions. But it’s exactly our goal in publishing these books.

But it makes me ask you: What is it with Böll and women? You point out he was a dick, yet you point out that he also made his female characters, often enough, the really brave ones leading the way.

You know, what you said about your father’s involvement in WWII... I know some Americans here, and all of our parents are totally fucking baffled about why we’ve moved to Germany. My Jewish friends probably have a more difficult time around the holiday table than most, but even my family expressed bewilderment. My grandfather fought in the war, and my father used the argument of “You know, I might not have even existed... you might not have even existed if...” when I said I was moving. You don’t have to go back that far to run smack into the things that Böll was writing about.

But regarding your question, I have found, in my life and in my reading, that there are many men who are dicks to women in their lives who manage to write incredibly empathetic and understanding portrayals of the female psyche. For example: Leo Tolstoy, Böll, W Somerset Maugham. The important thing is not to confuse the two. (You can invite one over in book form, but not the other to your table in person-form.)

As I was reading Billiards at Half Past Nine -- and then followed that with Women in a River Landscape -- the character of the mother really stood out for me. It struck me as it must have struck Böll: what can you do when you can’t act? That’s assuming that you recognize what’s going on around you as madness, and that’s assuming a lot. If you act on your beliefs, you are essentially killing your children. If you just go along with it to survive, how the hell are you going to live with yourself after? It’s an impossible position, and you can just feel the character spinning herself into a tiny cyclone, trying to figure out what the hell to do.

The men get all of the good movies and stories. They are holding guns and looking heroic with them, they storm hills and take strategic position and you can make dramatic looking arrows on maps to show the movements of troops. It’s all very compelling in a Steven Spielberg kind of way. Everything moves linearly, in time, on the land, plot-wise. And when you want to tell a story that goes beginning-middle-end, men at war make a fine subject matter.

But Böll didn’t seem all that interested in beginning-middle-end. And all war stories end one of two ways. Boring. Aftermath is much trickier, much less linear, and god knows that when that spinning top finally jumps its groove and shoots off in an unknown direction, it’s going to make a mess. That’s how I saw Billiards at Half Past Nine.

And Johanna, forced into the margins -- first just by being a woman, then by being declared mad and institutionalized -- is the only one who can still see what’s going on. She’s not clouded with personal ambition or fear or normalcy, really. She knows there’s still evil going on, and she’s the only person now in a position to act. I really loved her, for the way her madness buoyed her sanity.

As far as American writers writing about the Holocaust... I almost wish they would go ahead and write the fake Holocaust survival memoir. It is essentially the same book. (I wrote a column on memoir a while back, it really just wanted to be about the fake Holocaust memoir. But I made my thoughts on that thing clear, I think.) That narrative is driven so deeply into our skulls that we could all write the fake Holocaust memoir, if pressed. We know the details to throw in to make it authentic. So of course these writers who are co-opting the Holocaust for their own personal means are not well read on the subject matter. We all saw the same documentary when we were 14, that’s all you really need. And that horror has such gravity, the young American writer wants to wrestle with it, make it their own. As if the gravity will transfer onto them. Not that I think that it would be impossible for a writer of my generation to write something interesting about the Holocaust -- I just am not convinced it’s been done. If there is something, I have missed it.

And it seems to me the clearest place to see the weak spots in those books is to look at the depictions of the Germans. There are no good guy Germans in our culture. No sexy Germans either, if I think about it. They play the bad guys in all our movies -- strike that. We hire British actors who don’t even bother with a German accent to play all the Germans. But we know they are Germans, and we know they are the bad guys. Not that I’m arguing that there was a widespread resistance to Adolf Hitler in Germany during the war, that that era is just horribly misunderstood. Jesus, no. But everything is always so much more complicated than that.

And Böll’s work has no problem with that chaos, and I like that. Billiards at Half Past Nine is a chorus of voices, and everyone is fucked in their own way. But when I think about it, it’s the moment when the mother can no longer recognize her son Otto, the son who becomes a true believer in the party and starts bringing other believers into her home. That’s the part that breaks my heart. You can know and love your family, and then one of them just gets taken over by this force, and there’s just no reaching them anymore.

I don’t know how I feel about the news that the Americans are remaking The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum -- the old German version is so very, very good. I hope they let a German be in it.

I think that’s why I like your insistence on bringing the German voice into the conversation. Gunter Grass can’t do it all! There are some other German writers saying interesting things, in fiction and nonfiction and poetry. And that’s what I’ve always liked about your list, actually. That it is rigorous and cacophonous in a way that so little of American literary culture is anymore.

But I want to bring the conversation back to Böll. Which of the books was the biggest surprise for you? Or the one that affected you the most? (Because when you asked me to take a look at Billiards I was really skeptical -- I didn’t think there was anything in the story for me to grab ahold of. And then, of course, it turned out to be the perfect choice. However did you know?)

Well-coined -- “Rigorous and Cacophonous” does sort of describe the modus operandi Valerie and I have for Melville House, and it certainly sounds like a good slug for the literature of the aftermath that we’re talking about. After a war, there is a moment of hushed silence -- a moment of survivor’s relief, you would think, that no one wants to disturb. But it’s perhaps just as much a moment of frozen awe of what happened and fear of what’s next. In other words, it’s a moment precisely poised between guilt and hope. People here in New York can certainly relate to this -- it’s the moment we all experienced just after the 9/11 attacks, when, somewhere under the stupefaction of simple shock, we were all suddenly immersed in a deep sense of human responsibility that emanated both forward and backward. That, in fact, is the moment when Melville House was born, with our first book, Poetry After 9/11, a collection of poems written in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Hans Fallada felt impelled to write Every Man Dies Alone in a similar moment of hush, a moment when he could have a clear vision of what happened, of what he was still full of, and a clear sense of the fear suffusing him -- the fear of what was about to happen. Ultimately, in the way such books try to project from the past forward, they are publications of artistic reportage and humane activism, as opposed to works of explanation or preservation -- or, as with the bizarre contemporary American novels we mentioned earlier, acts of simple mindless exploitation.

But in any event the moment of silence ends, usually quickly -- how long did it take George Bush to climb the rubble with a megaphone? -- ends when everyone begins engaging in yelling and pointing fingers and denying and deflecting and wailing in grief and shame and guilt and fear and anger -- in cacophony.

Everyone is trapped then, because nobody likes cacophony except the sociopaths who take advantage of it. So, you have to be rigorous to avoid it, or rigorous to be heard above it -- rigorous, that is, even to join it.

Look at it from our own historic standpoint, which is like an over-Xeroxed version of the basic cycle of fascism: Stolen election, followed by a victorious strong man rushing into multi-front war, which leads to the deaths of unknowable numbers of innocent people, and turns out to be a sprawling disaster even for the perpetrators. This then leads not only to financial bankruptcy, but what is seen around the world as moral bankruptcy. And the vicious irony of that cycle is that the cacophony of that bankruptcy at the end of the process tends to fuel revived fascism, as we are seeing right now in the US with the rise of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

The book that sparked my interest in doing the Böll project the most, to answer your question, was a book written at precisely that transitional moment, when people are afraid of fascism coming and going -- The Safety Net, which I hadn’t read it before. It’s about what happens when a paranoid nation encounters concepts of “security” that may be more troubling than the trouble from which they’re seeking protection. I mean, it’s actually about countries trying to implement security systems and procedures that will protect them from terrorism. Böll was writing about the terrorism of the Red Army Faction -- the Baader-Meinhoff Gang -- but it might just as well have been al Qaida. And interestingly enough, he’s looking at how this impacts the people who actually implement those security systems -- those in power. In the US, our understanding of this doesn’t naturally go there. I mean, look at how shallow the examination of George Bush was during his first election campaign -- his draft dodging, drinking, drugging, even his legislative history all went largely unexamined in the mainstream, and what little examination there was got viciously and overwhelmingly attacked by various extensions of Rupert Murdoch. Thus, when he was caught illegally spying on American citizens later in his presidency, the groundwork was already laid for how it would all be ignored.

You can blame this on the media, as I have in some of my own writing, but it’s abetted by an aspect of our national psyche that wants to believe this is the democracy we’ve always said it is -- of the people and by the people.

Thus, no one here questions the people instituting security measures (except the Tea Partiers, who just want to replace them). Rather we talk about how measures play out on the populace. We see stories of airline passengers unhappy with being delayed or frisked, and very occasionally stories that shrug about the fact that there are governmental cameras surveilling us everywhere. But we don’t really consider what happens to those in power who are sheltered from the stringencies of our national paranoia and how that influences our governance.

And in The Safety Net, that was something Böll set about attacking -- a thing even more difficult to do in post-Nazi Germany than in Bush’s America. As Salman Rushdie said of the book, “Heinrich Böll never lacked courage. When most good German burghers were reacting to the words 'Baader-Meinhoff' as if they were the names of Hell's most fearsome demons, Böll attempted to explain, in print, why some of Germany's most brilliant people had chosen the left-hand path of terrorism."

The book has a big cast of characters, industrialists and politicians, including the president of Germany, and their families, paralyzed and slowly damaged by security concerns. It’s a perverse kind of Prince and the Pauper. I mean, imagine if Bush or Sarah Palin had to live with the real fruits of their paranoia? It’s the kind of book that makes you want to stand up and cheer if it weren’t so chilling.

In some ways, it’s a heightening of what you describe in Billiards -- a study of “what can you do when you can’t act?” Except here it’s the most powerful people of all who are frozen, and they are frozen more clearly by acts of their own volition. And it’s further heightened by the fact that it is the powerful, the ones who are more clearly responsible, who have to “recognize what’s going on around you as madness.” In Billiards and The Clown, Böll was studying this amongst the powerless, which is something that makes sense to an American. Your focus on Johanna makes this case most pointedly, albeit subversively. But turning the camera around to full focus on those in charge -- well, that was eye-opening to me, not only to the fact that this a great book, but to the cohesive brilliance of all of Böll’s work. It clarified for me that he wrote from a consistent essence -- the way we’d like to think all writers do but actually don’t -- and that his books were wonderfully complimentary and cooperative with each other. That’s why we decided to publish so many of them, and to call the project “The Essential Böll.” When you publish a group of books like that, you’re not only celebrating the author but, in a way, the form of the novel.

And from a literary standpoint this particular novel is just masterful, maybe an even better example than The Clown of how you can create a plot not from forward-moving narrative or the slow-construction of character but from the accrual of psychic tension.

As for why I thought you might be perfect for discussing Billiards, by the way, it is because you do lots of reading and criticism, I know, focused on that -- on psychic tension as a legitimate (even perfectly reasonable, maybe preferable) organizing principle. I also just thought you’d be likely to “get” the character of Johanna, one of Böll’s truly greatest creations. I do think he was notable for his portrayal of women in an ignorant, pre-Civil Rights era, and I wanted to see if you -- one of the very few young critics today writing from within a coherent Feminist perspective -- would give him his due. I am elated that you did, and to the extent of helping me to understand the book better, no less.

This weekend I have been watching clips from the protests in Dublin, admiring their wonderful protest signs and falling a bit in love with Fintan O’Toole -- just a bit -- and trying to find something in the 100 Notable Books of 2010 from the New York Times that does not make me despair. With a smitten art historian at her side, the young nun at the center of this rousing first novel is drawn into an ancient struggle against the Nephilim, hybrid offspring of humans and heavenly beings. Oh my dear god.

It’s December, so of course everyone is tallying things up, making lists of best and worst and overlooked and pretty and whatever the hell else. The best book I read this year was by far Dubravka Ugresic’s devastatingly vicious Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. It is not showing up on lists that I have seen. But her rousing call for women of the world to wipe the spit from their faces and pick up their goddamn swords already keeps coming to my mind as I watch these protests. Because these are focused grievances. They know what they are angry about, unlike the protests I watched on the news a year ago, coming from the States. And the New York Times list reflects that scene: it is flaccid, it is unfocused, it shows little imagination or thought or presence.

I think Baba Yaga would have time for Johanna. I think they are probably acquainted. It was as I was reading Billiards this year that I realized for the first time -- this is how slow I am -- that I don’t have to read books by men who portray women as whores/saints/accessories/gold-diggers/totally useless. You have no idea how many books I have tossed over since this realization. It was the contrast between Böll and another book I was reading, some contemporary Austrian writer I won’t mention, that did me in. Humanity versus no humanity. Compassion versus that lofty lording over that constitutes sentimentality.

And yet I cringe when the word Feminist is used. I really do. Not that I don’t have my credentials -- I have done my research and my field work. But it has so little space in the literary conversation. You’re really not allowed to bring it up. You suddenly become an embarrassment, everyone rolls their eyes, tells you you are missing the point. And it’s not like you have an army to back you up. The feminist writers of any significance writing today tend to be so narrowly focused -- there are a tiny handful of exceptions, of course -- and the younger generation of feminist writers seem incredibly ungrounded, using their insight to tear apart insubstantial things like reality television. So I will say the word makes me uncomfortable, even though if it came down to it, if one could say things in vacuums and be heard, I would say that books like Katharina Blum, Billiards, River Landscape are feminist works. Even if Böll himself thought women were idiots. His books knew better.

And there are a surprising number of women writers -- intelligent, strong women -- who won’t go near feminist issues because they don’t want to risk looking unhinged. They don’t want to lose the place they groomed and educated themselves to get. I guess that’s why I keep thinking of Baba Yaga today, who doesn’t give a fuck what you think. She’s the wild woman, the inappropriate woman we don’t really allow to exist in contemporary American culture -- at least not in a form other than sad plastic surgery train wreck Courtney Love. That’s why I’m glad Johanna gets another shot. Pun intended. “My name is gotta-get-a-gun-gotta-get-a-gun.”

So, Dennis, my friend and colleague and sometimes boss. Any final thoughts before the Böll is re-unleashed on the world?

Are you kidding? Being an indie publisher is like being a person of a certain age: You’re afraid every thought may be your final thought.

Of course, not that you’re any less cocksure of what you’re doing, but given the culture, if you’re doing things right, each new book feels like the testing of some new boundary, and while that’s the goal, it’s also the danger. Like, this could be your last one. I mean, I’m not just talking about testing the boundaries of art or politics, but, you know -- will our great partners our sales reps support this, will booksellers get behind it, will the critics “get” it, will they even cover the damn thing? You are trying to orchestrate a very large and complicated coming together of people in a shared experience. And the stakes are high for a little publisher. If you don’t get these things to work fairly consistently you go out of business. Really. Most little publishers have put everything they own into the company -- they believe in what they’re doing that strongly -- so you’re talking about destitution. It gives a certain edge to the whole transaction -- you’ve quite literally put your money where your mouth is.

So: Publishing, like getting old, is not for wussies. Publishing a book can be wrenching, like letting a child out of the house, where you just know there’s disaster both natural and man-made out there waiting to happen. You’re the paranoid man who has reason to be paranoid. But it’s less about paranoia than healthy suspicion -- it’s the questioning of authority that makes you a good journalist or artist in the first place. You just know that our cultural arbiters in America right now are pretty fucked up and you’re going to have to walk a fine line between promoting a book that in one way or another says that, and still getting the word out.

So, here goes little Heinrich, attacking the false bromides of the bourgeoisie, out into the land, out into a place where, yes, you have our most influential cultural voice the New York Times saying the best books to read are ones such as the one you cite, or, well, this one: “In this tragic vision of a novel, Nadia, a writer in New York, faces a wrenching parting when a girl shows up to claim an enormous desk that has been in her safekeeping for decades.” And my healthy suspicion is that, well, none of our Böll books will be on that list next time, because there is a distinct lack of enormous desks in his work.

Or not even that. I mean, in general I don’t really expect to get much mainstream attention about the Böll books for two reasons. One, because his books have become more wise but also more radical over time, like a wine that has come into its own. His critique of authority and group-think -- or rather group-not-think -- is more universal and piercing now, I think, than at the time he was writing. And two, because, as the book section editor of another really big daily newspaper told me, “We don’t look back.” Which is what we know about American media -- outside the New York Review of Books reviewing really great reprinted books that it publishes itself, who talks about old books becoming suddenly relevant again? But of course that’s one of the main reasons for a book to exist, isn’t it -- to offer something from those that came before?

And so, all the more reason to question our literary authorities. Not looking back is how you get into some really ridiculous, embarrassing – not to mention murderous -- situations. Et viola, Iraq and Afghanistan. Or yes yes yes, look at Ireland, as you mention -- the first country where the populace seems to have decided, in a big way, to go after the perpetrators of the economic crisis. Finally! Okay, so this could be getting so much attention because it’s the first time the IMF has attempted a take-over of a first-world country. But the Irish uprising is an exhilarating and heartening story nonetheless. (And is it getting that much attention? Yesterday’s enormous demonstration in Dublin did not make the front page of the Times. And yet you and I have been finding out about it through alternative media... although that seems a grand title for YouTube, doesn’t it?) In the end, it gives you hope about the truth finding workarounds to the normal media outlets.

Which, in a nutshell, is exactly what we’re trying to do. Past experience makes us hopeful. And the emergence of new media does, too. Especially when it prompts critics like you, who incorporate multiple organic ideologies into their expression -- which, by the way, is what makes your feminism so coherent and cogent: it’s presented as part of something larger. Most open ideology has been astringently denied in our mainstream cultural conversation for decades now, for numerous reasons including stability and ongoing revenue; objectivity has been redefined as a thing unable to form opinions or come to conclusions, be they disturbing or inspiring, or both. Thus even steroid-driven ideologies like that of Fox News claim to be merely “fair and balanced.”

I think people of whatever persuasion are tired of that fundamental and neverending dishonesty, and are eager, more and more, for what Ezra Pound’s called “news that stays news.” In "The Essential Böll," we’ve really got exactly that, so I’m optimistic about booksellers and critics like you and most of all readers getting behind it. And if we ever needed a literature of the aftermath, it’s now.