Deaths, Revivals and Roastings

Historian and one-time Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin has passed on. Boorstin was best known for his American trilogy and his fascinating books on human innovation. (I highly recommend The Discoverers and The Seekers.) One read a Boorstin book for the best of reasons: to ride a journey across human progress with an enthusiastic mind eager to make connections. Boorstin was an American James Burke, adept at showing the strange way in which the world was charted and everyday things were created. He’ll definitely be missed.

T.C. Boyle’s enemies are dying off. Less people hate Boyle now more than ever before. I remain optimistic. There will come a day when there are more Boyle lovers than haters.

Now who honestly expected to see Kate Christensen profiled in the Post? It’s difficult to say whether this is an effort to woo people who are disappointed by the increasing non-literary direction of the NYTBR. Personally, I welcome feverish Post headlines like VIDAL REVIVES BRAWL WITH MAILER or ZADIE SMITH ROASTS CHICKLIT AUTHORS OVER SPIT.

John Lescroart whines that he doesn’t get any respect. Dude, shut up. You’ve sold 10 million books.

So Chip McGrath (and literary coverage) can be found now in the magazine?

Robert Silverburg has received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. He plans to address the Nebula Awards with maniacal laughter.

Dick and Jane are being brought out of retirement. This time, the books are being mined for nostalgia rather than education. USA Today insists that, “Still, in their day, Dick and Jane were cutting-edge.” I beg to differ. Unless Dick and Jane are supporting a love nest, complete with tops and bottoms, Jane getting the bukkake treatment, and Dick tied up, standing naked against a pilaster, unless Jane ends up in a halfway house and Dick has a heroin problem, unless Dick gets a mohawk, or Jane gets a nipple piercing, they will remain hopelessly unhip by-products of a more innocent time. Which is not to say that I have any specific contentions against Dick and Jane. I love their simple dorky intonations and their carefree concerns. Just don’t go around calling them the new black. That’s all I’m saying.

The Guardian on Garrison Keillor’s latest: “Misogynistic, full of literary in-jokes and unwilling to tackle real emotion, I suspect fans of this novel will be restricted to Larry Wylers the world over, which isn’t such an insignificant readership judging by the number of puffa jackets on the streets.” Ouch.

A sign that creative book coverage isn’t dead: Frank Wilson looks to be positioning himself as a qurkier Yardley. He asks the world why the 1921 novel, Memoir of a Midget, isn’t better known. The great thing is that he’s actually serious.

And Christopher Hitchens spares no words for Mel Gibson. Except Maureen Dowd was there with the association first.

This Getting Older Thing Ain’t So Bad

Tonight, a really good friend of mine, a guy I have known since my college days, confessed to me that he was a father. Now this guy is a veritable goofball, a man who’s concocted corny humor with me that only we can understand, a good man who married a good woman, a guy that I still give a lot of hell to (and vice versa), the unlikeliest father this side of the Mississippi. But when I heard the news, I felt a real sense of excitement. My face flushed. I wanted to dance a fucking jig. And in fact I did right there in the coffeehouse. It was almost as if I had become an unexpected uncle. When he called his wife, I insisted upon congratulating the heck out of her. Of course, I knew this was a plot to get more visits. A shameless attention ploy. Heaven knows I’ll be visiting the two of them just to see how cute the kid is. Plus, I have this terrible habit of teaching kids to stick their tongues out at an early age. (So far, I’ve taught four or so babies to do this.) My own small way of imparting anti-establishment impulses.

I guess what makes this news so joyful is that this good friend of mine was the first major friend to become a father. Sure, I’ve had acquaintances who’ve had kids. And when the kid’s dragged out, I’m there trying to pull a Mr. Bojangles, playing peek-a-boo and giving the baby all forms of attention. On several MUNI rides, I’ve managed to calm screaming kids down simply by cooing to them, making funny noises, pulling some half-assed Keaton or Three Stooges routine, getting their attention by acting like a nincompoop. It all fascinates the blustery baby to no end and often gets the kid laughing (and, more importantly, not crying). (To this very day, babies stare at me at adjacent restaurant tables, in parks, in strollers. They are endlessly curious. I seem to be this baby magnet. Several random mothers have suggested that I’d make a great father, which seems about as unlikely an idea as the Democrats controlling both houses in Congress. But knock on fucking wood.)

But the thing that makes the news so grand is that I know my friend’s going to kick ass as a dad.

I used to dread the prospect of growing older, back when I was stupid enough to believe that one’s age actually mattered. But now I’m finding that I love it. It’s fascinating to grow older with friends. Sure, we watch helplessly when they make foolish decisions. We try to offer them clues. But when something great like a kid or a marriage or a grand personal achievement happens, when you see the pools of joy filling their faces, it’s just one of those things that makes life so damned wonderful. Because with the joy comes change. And all the things you have in common take on new meaning. Because you realize in their decisions that there’s a little part of you changing in the same way.

Dump the Book Babes

Being out of touch with literature is one thing. Letting Norman Mailer get away with that New Journalism remark was another. But when the Book Babes went soft on Joe Eszterhas, the Book Babes did something unpardonable. I had little choice but to add my vote to this petition to dump the Book Babes. For goodness sake, they can’t even type the word “fuck” for an online column. I urge all self-respecting lit lovers to do the same. (via Mark)

[UPDATE: In a shocking twist of fate, Bill Keller has signed the petition. Does this offer some small clue that the man actually cares about literary fiction? You make the call.]

Beatrice.com + Dalkey. Someone’s Clearly Profiting Here.

Ron is an evil man. Either that or a Dalkey PR flak. If you’re interested in good lit, you can purchase 100 books for $500. I won’t bother to describe what’s in their catalog. But there are enough goodies here (Elkin, Gass, Markson, Matthews, Millhauser, et al.) to make any lit geek take out a second deed of trust. If you take advantage of the deal before March 1, you get several Flann O’Brien books. The deal goes through April, however.

More Knut

Mark pointed me to this James Wood essay on Knut Hamsun. Despite an obvious effort to play down Hamsun’s allegiance to the Nazis, Wood suggests that Hamsun’s novels “belong to the classical comic tradition of Don Quixote and Confessions of Zeno. In this tradition, what is both funny and awful is the hero’s obvious delusion that he is in control of his own unpredictability — that he is, in short, free. The reader can see otherwise, that the hero is the victim of bottomless compulsions and drives. ”

During Knut Hamsun’s Nobel speech in 1920, what’s fascinating is that he describes a personal confusion that’s very close to the uncertainties experienced by his protagonists. He equates winning the prize to something close to science and apologizes for his “homespun” emotionalism.

Lars Frode Larsen notes that Hamsun constantly kvetched about being a writer. His wife, Marie, however, saw through this, noting in her memoirs that it was only way Knut could find his joy.

The nature of Hamsun’s truth hinges upon these fascinating dualities. The narrator’s struggle to find work as a writer while starving in Hunger. Hamsun’s perceived inability to express himself as a writer at the Nobel ceremony. And the idea of “free” pointed out by James Wood. Hamsun’s work has always appealed to me because it tries to filter several meanings out of one condition, and doesn’t always leave you with a concrete answer.

Whatever It Takes, Apparently

Not so many years ago a teacher of the art of writing began the advertisement of his services with the announcement that millions of people can write fiction without knowing it. He would have been safer had he said that millions of people are certain that they can write fiction a great deal better than those engaged in the profession. Even so, it is my belief that the consistent craftsman of fiction is very rare. His talent, which is in no sense admirable, is intuitive. In spite of the dictum of Stevenson on playing the sedulous ape to the great masters, it has never been my observation that education helps this talent. On the contrary, undue familiarity with other writers is too apt to sap the courage and to destroy essential self-belief, through the realization of personal inadequacy. It encourages a care and a style that confuse the subject, and the net result is nothing.

Instead, a writer of fiction is usually the happier for his ignorance, and better for having played ducks and drakes with his cultural opportunities. All that he really requires is a dramatic sense and a peculiar eye for detail which he can distort convincingly. He must be an untrustworthy mendacious fellow who can tell a good story and make it stick. It is safer for him to be a self-censored egotist than to have a broad interest in life. He must take in more than he gives out. He must never be complacent, he must never be at peace; in other words, he is a difficult individual and the divorce rate among contemporary literati tells as much.

— John P. Marquand, Wickford Point

Who Wants to Be a Literary Billionaire?

J.K. Rowling joins the billionaires club. Unfortunately, since writing the Harry Potter series has largely involved the act of one, there has been nobody for Rowling to downsize. So Rowling, in an effort to turn the maximum profit from her stories, has made it a habit of regularly firing and rehiring herself for 17 cents an hour, only to resell her labor for the greatest price.

The Daily News has more on the Jayson Blair tell-all: “Zuza [my girlfriend] took pictures of me prancing around the newsroom wearing a Persian head wrap that covered my face, Kermit the Frog on my shoulders and a giant fake fur coat. I did a full tour de newsroom in this ?peculiar uniform. It is hard to know what I was feeling, other than it was exhilarating to shock everyone. Perhaps I was crying out for attention.” Crying out for attention? Nah, Jayce, sounds like you were trying to recall some obscure Polynesiasn ceremony that involved Kermit the Frog. But anyone trying to invent horrible euphemisms like “tour de newsroom” needed to be stopped.

Hemingway’s favorite daiquiri bar, the Floridita, is being recreated in London. The original Floridita created a double-strength daiquiri bar for Papa. And it was not far from the original bar that Hemingway began work on For Whom the Bell Tolls. The London managers, however, have planned to throw out all soused writers from the new place. Unless, of course, they demonstrate that they can pay their tab.

The Guardian confirms that Richard and Judy are the Oprah of the UK. Literary champions are hoping to replace Richard with Punch, just to “spice things up.”

Rynn Berry is obsessed with Hitler’s diet, believing that Hilter wasn’t the vegetarian everyone claims him to be.

Brian Greene: The Bill Bryson of physics?

The Ultimate Sophmore Slump

So what happened to the Blair Witch guys? Apparently, they’re still trying to make a second film. So let’s see: you make millions of dollars from a movie and you can’t figure out in five years that cameos from Don Knotts, Gallagher, Jimmy Walker and Erik Estrada doesn’t make a marketable movie. And yet Rachel Cohen, Artisan’s former vice president, insists that they deserve a chance to make a film.

Is This Your Subconscious Trying to Tell Me You Want Me in EST?

Not only has Maud mistaken me for a Faulkner expert in her dream world, but she also turned me into a schizophrenic blogger. There are many things I could say here. But I’ll just register my complete astonishment that I beat many superior bloggers to the punch. However, I do want to assure anyone who dreams about me that (1) I’m honored to be part of your dramatis personae and (2) feel free to cast me as anything. I do heroes, heavies, and character work, and I don’t mind working for scale. Particularly if you’re a devious person.

On the Rebound

Perhaps consulting the will of Dr. Evil, Susanna Clarke has netted a millionaire’s deal for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, an 800-page novel dealing with the last two magicians in England. Fortunately, Clarke has staved off Harry Potter ripoff claims. Because Clarke conveniently started her book “10 years before.” News of the Clarke deal has spread far and wide across the publishing industry, with agents encouraging novelists to “backdate their drafts” for anything remotely derivative.

Is David Mitchell’s Ireland’s answer to Pynchon? The Telegraph tries to find out (user: ed@edrants.com, pw: mabuse). Mitchell is one of Granta’s 20 Best Young UK Novelists. And Sam Leith believes that Mitchell’s latest, The Cloud Atlas, will be one of the highest praised books of the year.

Judith Jones will fuck your shit up. Not only has she given John Updike at least three black eyes, but she’s also lacerated Anne Tyler several times while editing her novels. However, the Baltimore Sun concludes that Jones is an editor who balances gentleness with harsh intervention, when necessary.

Borders is tapping into inner-city neighborhoods. The Times claims that recent stores built in Detroit and Chicago are for “underserved” neighborhoods. The Detroit Free Press suggests that there’s plenty of indepdent life still left. The Detroit store was built in a downtown section that once housed sizable retail. And at 8,000 square feet, it’s apparently “the biggest store since Hudson’s closed 20 years ago.” Borders claims the Chicago store in Uptown is an effort to “revitalize” a commercial district, but it looks like gentrification to me.

Salon has a mystery round-up, which should please Sarah.

Meghan O’Rourke claims that Naomi Wolf is setting the fight against harassment back. More from the Observer.

Sean “Puffy” Combs and Raisin in the Sun? Say it ain’t so.

Chick lit, lad lit, and now Can lit. But in this case, it looks like David Solway may be Canda’s answer to Dale Peck.

A New Plan for the NYTBR

keller.jpgThis morning, while I was lying in bed, at long last forming an intricate theory about James Doohan’s purpose in “Spock’s Brain,” I came across this stunning news. The NYTBR editor search is being restarted.

Let us not vex ourselves too much. The Times has plenty of cash and resources to blow up their noses for these parlor tricks, but not nearly enough to pay their pressers.

But no matter. It’s clear that Bill Keller is wasting all of our time. As my loyal readers know, I campaigned vigorously here on behalf of two editorial candidates who made the shortlist. Ads were prominently placed. Envelopes with stacks of Franklins were given to the appropriate people. I played the game first for Ben Schwarz. And then when Schwarz tried to appeal to centrists by dissing literary fiction, I switched my allegiance to Sarah Crichton. Not long after she took New Hampshire.

But today’s move illustrates that Keller hasn’t respected any of these efforts, nor does he respect democracy. And not a single soul knows whether he appreciated the strip dancer I sent to his office. What’s more, the NYTBR been jumping the gun, moving towards more repeat profiles (such as the lad lit angle and the endless American Sucker coverage), covering popular fiction over literary fiction, and giving far too much space to thick nonfiction books that spend hundreds of pages stating the obvious.

In other words, Bill Keller has a mission in life: to bore the socks out of book enthusiasts. Yet even with this solitary goal, Bill Keller doesn’t seem to have the management or people skills to go about doing it.

It’s clear that political campaigning has had little success. We all know that money won’t buy Bill Keller. He’s a man inflexible in his love for Jonathan Franzen, but who barely gives David Markson the time of day. Firm principles, to be sure. But perhaps humor can change his mind. In fact, humor may have been the very thing missing in Bill Keller’s life.

Have you ever noticed that Bill Keller has not once smiled or cracked a joke this whole time? Perhaps that’s been the problem all along.

So here’s the plan: The time has come to bombard Mr. Keller with gag gifts. Constipation crisis kits, fake vomit, false bumper stickers, Mr. T in your pocket. Name your weapon of choice. Each gift should be sent to the Times with the following message: “For the love of humanity, for the love of literary fiction, learn to laugh, laugh and love, you crazy waffler!”

These packages must be sent religiously to Mr. Keller’s office until one of three things happens: (a) he confesses that he might cover literary fiction, (b) he makes up his goddam mind, or (c) he reveals that, all this time, he’s been suffering from a nervous breakdown and offers to resign in protest.

Packages can be sent to:

Bill Keller
Executive Waffler
NEW YORK TIMES
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Remember: It is every American’s duty to restore the former glory of the NYTBR. And if Keller can’t do it, perhaps mass gag gift hypnosis may help us bring the NYTBR into alignment.

Maybe It’s the Damn Rabbits Coming Through the Walls Right Now

QUICK UPDATE: For all who have sent well wishes, thank you. Will respond to all e-mails, most of which have nothing to do with state of health, when I’m of sounder and healthier mind. In the meantime, here’s The Book Quiz (via George, I think). My results:

watership.jpg

You’re Watership Down!
by Richard Adams
Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you’re actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You’d be recognized as such if you weren’t always talking about talking rabbits.

Well if that’s the case, then it’s too bad my greatest accomplishment today was spelling the word “KITE” on a spoonful of alphabet soup.

A REAL Respite

What most people often overlook about hospitals are its staff members: fit, extremely attractive, sometimes even genuinely sympathetic. Certainly the job demands require that one remain in shape. There’s hustling, medical babble, gurneys rolled in and out of bright flourescent hallways. Sometimes you’re attended to. Sometimes you’re forgotten. Often there are apologies. And there are the surprise interventions, such as my accidental interruption of a “conference meeting” with a “Heya” and repeated coughs. “Ssssshhhh!” said this assistant, who seemed to be unaware that I was planning on identifying pulmonary portions of pain and then instructed me to sit down and not to disturb anybody. Fortunately, I had a book.

There are the nurses who call you “sweetie.” There are the aides who pretend they like your jokes. And there are those who genuinely need your subversive humor. Because there’s some guy screaming his head off, possibly close to death, in Room 9.

But the major constant is that everyone is fit, Baywatch fit. Pretty much every doctor I saw looked as if they were fashion show models on the weekend. You come in suffering and you know these folks are going to beat your ass at rugby or, because their leverage is substantial, even humiliate you at a ping-pong table.

It’s one of the stupid reasons I don’t go to hospitals unless I’m seriously ill. But then I also remember the neglect that killed Jim Henson and how I spent an hour crying in my room that terrible day.

The balance makes perfect sense. As a patient, dare to cough and you’re immediately given a mask that resembles a prop from the 1918 Boston influenza epidemic. Is the mask given there to prevent the spread of bacteria? Was the policy instilled at the behest of the boys on the legal team? No, and no. As the patient, it’s your duty to be as sick as possible. To maintain the dichotomy of infirm, convulsing souls and rugged, virile go-getters. You are there to be treated, possibly wheeled away for an extended stay, possibly cut open. And it’s all shameful. Because let’s face it: at this point, the patient’s so disappointed with not being at the top of his game that he doesn’t mind losing at rugby.

Why the sudden prolificity? Well, after about a week and a half of protracted coughing, of pains that left me awake at night, and often clutching my blanket, I figured that there was a slight possibility that I was unwell.

But when I learned of how incredibly sick I was, and the asceticism I’d have to practice to become superhuman again, I realized that I’d have to start this recuperation process with a longass entry.

“Bronchitis and pneumonia in early stages,” said the M.D. with a physique of a soap opera star.

“Do I get fries with that?”

“No.”

“Damn. Guess I won’t be trying to close in on that seven-minute mile tomorrow.”

The prescription was this: antibiotics, an inhaler, and lots of rest.

I was fleeced at the pharmacy. I thought the drugs would be the fun part. But when the bill, after my health care provider’s penurious co-pay, came to a sum I’d probably pay for a hearty handful of hardcovers or a midrange Hollywood Blvd. prostitute, I knew that this was serious business.

The rest would be the hardest part. Because it’s actually a codeword for “no thinking.” A problematic option. Because it also means no reading, no writing, no working. Just bed and really infantile movies going on in the background. My intellectual powers will, at best, be devoted towards finding the metaphors within the third season masterpiece “Spock’s Brain.”

But the vigilance committee inside me is prepared. They’re ready to bust shit up once the antibiotics are washed down with water.

What this means of course is two days of silence as my posse’s kicking microbe ass.

So I regret to inform folks that Radio City’s closed for repairs. But please visit the fine folks on the left, many of whom I have had sexual intercourse with.

Please also visit the fabulous Jessa Crispin. Despite my beef, I was not out to mow her down with a Tommy. It ain’t that Manichean, man.

For my enemies, please continue with the hate mail. Your crude fundamentalist theories and strange enmity greatly amuses me.

For my lovers, I will try to invent a few more sexual positions over the next couple of days. Including the one I told you about involving the cabbage, the plush toy and the wires. The flamenco lessons, however, will have to wait until I’m further recovered.

For those who could care less either way, give somebody a hug.

Link-Pilfering? Nah, It’s Really About Courtesy

Well, now that it’s out in the open, and Jessa seems to want to turn this into a contentious war (which it isn’t and it shouldn’t be), I’ll go on public record and state that Jessa has pilfered links from my site many times. I know this to be true, because specific phrasing that I’ve used here has been recycled without credit for her site. In one case, she believed my satirical embellishment about Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye being under review because kids were exchanging “penis jokes” in the classroom to be true. Seemed obvious enough malarkey to me. But I e-mailed Jessa all the same with a correction.

Instead of a brief thank you or a self-deprecating acknowledgment in her post that she was wrong aw shucks, the link was changed without comment and my email went unanswered.

Jessa’s blogging tendencies certainly don’t bother me as much as other people. (And I don’t know of any names or conspiracy going on here really.) But I’m absolutely mystified why she would think that my email (among many, apparently) was an attack, when it was a jokey courtesy, intended solely for her benefit, puncutated with a smiley face. I’m also perplexed why she would go after Teachout (one of the classiest cats in the biz) and, more interestingly, the blogging community.

A few words about the book-blogging community, and why they’re so damned hep: Since I restarted this blog in December with an emphasis on books and literature, I’ve discovered fascinating new sites, I’ve had e-mail exchanges with nifty people who have alerted me to ideas and writers I had never heard about, and I’ve been extremely grateful for how these folks have helped me to develop my own thinking about literature. The general clime is a marvelous, sharp, and jokey bunch who, yes, reference and wink at each other, but also support each other. They also look out for each other from time to time. It’s a bit like being part of one of the coolest block parties on the planet.

I certainly respect Jessa for being one of the first book blogs on the Net. I still check out her site on a daily basis. Can’t help myself. And, again, I’m not certain if Teachout’s citation thing is as big a deal to me as it is to others.

But in misinterpreting a supportive effort as “an attack,” in not being courteous enough to respond to those who reward her with links, stories, corrections, or thoughtful book reviews, all gratis, I think Jessa’s out of line. I’ve suggested to others who are extremely infuriated with her that it’s just “a Jessa thang,” that it ain’t a big deal, and to not take it personally.

But if we recall last year’s gross characterization of Jessa as a vodka-swilling, shorts-absconding social climber, we begin to see how neglecting simple courtesies often creates these misunderstandings.

And in this case, Jessa’s very wrong. It’s a colossal mistake to dismiss the book blog community. We’re not the Bill Kellers or the Laura Millers. We’re the ones who give more than six damns (or in Lizzie’s case, multiple fucks) about literature.

It’s almost as unpardonable as forgetting to say “Thank you.”

Out-Blog Blogging?

Milan Kundera’s in demand in Shanghai, enough to make him the best-selling foreign author in the city. Hybrid publishers are reported to be preparing Mao’s Little Red Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

Kate Christensen, whom Ron was kind enough to alert me to, is interviewed by the Journal News. From what I’ve been able to tell, the new book involves a man diagnosed with McDonald’s disease, but who is still obsessed with eating Happy Meals. If he doesn’t stop eating fatty foods, he’ll die a horrible, miserable and stunningly descriptive death at the age of 40. Nevertheless, the allure of the de Montaigne Happy Meal action figures is enough to keep the man eating. Christensen calls her new novel part of “Loser Lit,” which is not to be confused “Laser Lit,” a recent flurry of novels that have featured protagonists taking charge of their destinies shortly after undergoing corrective eye surgery.

Woody Allen and Joyce Carol Oates are among those named by the Tacoma Tribune as talents who are too prolific.

Viggo Mortensen recently showed up in town to read his poetry. Here’s a sample:

I walk the line that Nimoy wrought
I am not Spock or Aragorn
The fangirls swoon upon my locks
The fanboys EBay off my socks
The fans behold my brawny bod
With glasses on, I hide and trod

Who shot J.R.R.? I did, of course
As I was strutting on a horse
You think he died in ’71?
Well, the geezer croaked when I was done
A bullet there between his eyes
Killed at eleventy-zero, a big surprise

They kept the news from kith and gents
The fans had Tyler to cream their pants
But Peter knew, and so did I
And Tolkien’s death did make us cry
An accident, like Brendan Lee!
And so I hid up in a tree

Political correctness has kept George Washington’s name from being properly honored. And here I was thinking that it was just because today’s United States pays little heed to its foundations.

No sign yet of the Wolf-Bloom article yet at the New York website. Keep watching the skies. The Boston Globe, however, has a precis for those who can’t wait.

[UPDATE: Whoop, there it is.]

Yahoo wants to out-Google Google. Google has responded, indicating that they plan to “out-out-Yahoo Yahoo’s out-Googling Googling outside after out-Yahooing out-Google outsourcing.” Venn diagram enthusiasts are still trying to figure out just what the hell these two giants were talking about.

And Frederick Morgan, long-time editor for The Hudson Review, has passed on. He was 81.

Thoughts Between Coughs

It’s been linked several places, but this excellent thread is a must-read for any aspiring writer. Any neophyte may want to spend their time reading James D. McDonald’s advice rather than subscribing to Writer’s Digest.

Sarah has some good followup to the McCrum article about publishing changes, raising the validity of proposal/synopsis only justification for a contract. But one thing she overlooks is that the new synopsis trend may very well reflect a profit-driven industry looking to cut corners wherever possible. Short-term profits with little concern of the book’s gestalt or long-term profits based off of constant communication between author and editor? You make the call. The goal, lest we forget, is to get people to buy the books. And the longer the book, the less susceptible it is to editing. (See Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, for one.) There’s the additional financial advantage of a long book purchased and then remaining unread on most people’s bookshelves.

Shit-Stained Icons

firefox2.jpgLike a good geek, I upgraded my browser from Firebird to Firefox. (I’m presuming Mozilla renamed it because their barebones browser has become more devious. Never mind a proper explanation.) Version 0.8 hasn’t had nearly as many problems as Version 0.7. But there’s one terrible problem. Note the icon which precedes this paragraph. I’ve resized it to how it looks on my taskbar. It resembles either a gall stone being pushed through an unsightly orifice, or a penny gumball tinged with an orange-tinged fecal coating. In either case, it makes me sick to my stomach. And I’m sure I’m not alone here.

I like to support the little guy. Really, I do. And I can understand why this shit-stained orange color was decided upon (slightly more shit-stained than the hue of the AOL Instant Messenger icon, but enough of a gradient to count). There’s been a rise in vibrant blue, more dimensional icons. Ever since Windows XP came out. But has an unspoken civil war been declared on certain icon colors? I don’t think I’ve seen yellow or maroon or even trusty black in the last two years. Either there’s some post-9/11 “comfort icon” thing happening that nobody wants to acknowledge or icons have become so uninteresting that even able developers like Mozilla are resorting to shit-stained icons.

Lone Star Antics

The Kos has the scoop on something very close to hitting the mainstream media. Texas Gov. Perry’s wife left Perry. Why? Perry was found in bed with another man. And that’s not all: the other man was Jeff Connor, Secretary of State. I can’t wait to see what effect this will have on the same-sex marriage debate. Particularly since this involves Big People in Texas who are on record against sodomy.

The More Things Stay the Same

“After the doctors and scientific experts testified in Congress that cigarettes cause or compound not only cancer but a number of other diseases and are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually, the senior senator from Kentucky stood up just shaking with anger and moaned, ‘You’re trying to wreck our economy.’ And what did Henry Ford II say when the government began insisting on safety devices in cars? ‘The American people don’t want anything that’s going to upset the economy.’ And what’s more, Ford was right. Fifty thousand a year dead on the highways, but don’t rock the economy. Look, America is no more a democracy than Russia is a Communist state. The governments of the U.S. and Russia are practically the same. There’s only a difference of degree. We both have the same basic form of government: economic totalitarianism. In other words, the settlement to all questions, the solution to all issues are determined not by what will make the people most healthy and happy in their bodies and their minds but by economics. Dollars or rubles. Economy über alles. Let nothing interfere with economic growth even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and driving an entire civilization insane. Don’t spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming.” — Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

NYTBR — A Dead Place for Fiction

Perhaps an inadvertent confession from Laura Miller? “The only thing more powerful than a worldwide conspiracy, it seems, is our desire to believe in one.”

Incidentally, the NYTBR fiction coverage is still looking grim. Far too much non-fiction (and yet another review of the Biskind book). The most telling sign is that David Markson’s Vanishing Point, which would seem to me one of the most ideal literary books for the Times to cover for a full-length review, has been ghettoized to the “And Bear in Mind” section.

Olivia Goldsmith Update

It’s been a little more than a month since Olivia Goldsmith passed on, and comments and send-offs still roll in, responses to my visceral reaction from the news. This suggests to me that the Goldsmith death is an issue that’s resonated with a lot of people, both in Goldsmith’s premature loss and the potential dangers inherent within plastic surgery (to say nothing of discussion over why it’s considered a necessity). Unfortunately, as someone passes on, the circumstances that led up to the death sometimes get ignored or left by the wayside. In an effort to look into what’s been happening, here’s what I’ve been able to determine:

This week, a second patient died at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, which was Goldsmith’s clinic. Manhattan Eye had already been under investigation by state officials. This time around, it appears that Manhattan Eye was more careful with confidentiality (probably because the woman wasn’t a bestselling author and, accordingly, journalists weren’t nearly as hungry to dig up the dirt), but the cause of the second death, which occurred on Monday, has turned out to be the same: anesthesia-related. Manhattan Eye claims that it was following “all hospital protocol and procedures.”

The Post broke the news this morning. The second victim, like Goldsmith, was only 54. All that is known about her was that she was the wife of a cardiologist.

Some additional details about Manhattan Eye: Lenox Hill Hospital owns Manhattan Eye. Manhattan Eye, however, does not have an intensive care unit. It experienced a 20% increase in cosmetic surgery in 2002 over the previous year.

The plastic surgery division is headed by Sherrell Aston, considered the top facelift doctor in New York. Aston has performed work on Tipper Gore and Anna Wintour. He’s also a full professor of surgery at NYU. Aston is the husband of Muffie Potter Aston, prominent Manhattan socialite (who also chairs the New York City Ballet Committee). Muffie’s pretty ascetic about her diet. As she says herself, “My attitude toward food is not obsession, but it’s not far off. I am religious about what I eat. I start the day with a bowl of sliced cantaloupe, three apricots and three prunes; then I go to the gym. Being three pounds overweight drives me to distraction.” (The happy couple can be found pictured here.) They have a son, Matt, who opened up a bistro called Calliope in 2001 (thanks to family cash). Their other son is Jay, a money manager and ladies’ man known to date people like Soshanna Lonstein.

I raise these biographical tidbits up to convey exactly where the Astons stand in New York society. They are extremely affluent, extremely elite, and we might also infer that they are extremely protected, particularly from any criticism of surgical procedure.

But according to the New York State Department of Health, Aston has paid out three malpractice settlement payments in the past ten years: one on 5-27-01 for a “below average” amount, another on 12-03-96 for a “below average” amount, and a third on 4-9-96 for an “average” amount. It should also be noted that the NYS DOH indicates that “Below average means the doctor has made a payment that is less (in amount) than New York doctors in his or her field and in the same geographical area.” Since Manhattan Eye is the top-rated surgical clinic in its area, we might infer that “below average” might be a veritable bonanza compared against the average cosmetic surgery clinic. Furthermore, since Aston is loaded with cash, it is likely that he retains an ace deal-cutting attorney.

The most investigative piece on the matter has been Ralph Gardner, Jr.’s piece for New York Magazine. However, Gardner seemed to pay more attention to Goldsmith’s life and mental health, rather than investigating the procedures undertaken. He did note that Goldsmith had come close towards getting discounted or comp surgery when she was researching her book, Flavor of the Month. He also noted that Larry Ashmead, Goldsmith’s editor, recalled that Goldsmith wore a long blonde wig for her cover photo in The First Wives’ Club, and that Ashmead forced Goldsmith to retire it.

Gardner also consulted with an unnamed plastic surgeon who suggested that Goldsmith may have withheld the fact that she was on antidepressants, and that this may have affected her pulmonary system. But the question I have here is whether Manhattan Eye had the duty to determine whether or not the patient was on any other medications before undergoing procedure. If two patients have died because it’s not current Manhattan Eye procedure to check for factors which might affect a patient during anesthetic procedure, then this may suggest a major screw-up.

The surgeons for both the cardiologist’s wife and Goldsmith have not been revealed by hospital representatives. However, the Gardner article revealed that Dr. Norman Pastorek was the doctor responsible for Goldsmith’s surgery.

This cached message board notes that Pastorek was trained by Dr. Eugene Tardy, a prominent cosmetic surgon in Chicago. Pastorek (and Manhattan Eye) is also involved with NYU. In fact, NYU offers a fellowship program with Manhattan Eye.

However, as Rush and Molloy pointed out, the person who carried out anesthetic procedure was never identified in Gardner’s piece. And according to the New York State Department of Health, Pastorek has not had any malpractice actions since becoming an M.D. in 1969.

As of last week, Goldsmith’s attorney, Steven Mintz, has not yet proceeded with legal action. And a search through the New York State Unified Court System revealed no recent actions filed by Mintz’s firm.

The Sydney Morning Herald used Goldsmith’s death to play up the increasing allure of plastic surgery, noting the recent desperation of a 51-year old British schoolteacher who submitted herself to $120,000 worth of televised plastic surgery. The surgery did little to alter her features, but it had arisen from jealousy directed toward’s her sister’s looks. And even Good Housekeeping was forced to save face, justifying their support for a lucrative beauty industry by tying in an article related to the Goldsmith death recommending “10 Ways to Cut 10 Years.”

But the larger issue here, beyond whether Goldsmith was emotionally troubled or not, is why two women had to die during an anesthetic procedure in an exclusive plastic surgeon clinic. Why did one of them die while the hospital was under investigation? Why has there been no independent unbiased statement issued to the public? And while I can understand why Gardner would dig up dirt on Goldsmith’s character to write a good story, this still doesn’t excuse why he wouldn’t be similarly penetrating about the safetys or hazards of anesthetic procedure.

If there is danger within current Manhattan Eye procedure, then the public needs to know about it, so that these problems can be exposed and rectified, and nobody else has to die.

[UPDATE: I did a defendant search for "Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat" on the New York Unified Court System site and was able to turn up three active cases. Case No. 24786/1999 is a complex medical malpractice case. Case No. 8382/1999 is another complex medical mal case. Case No. 8898/2001 is yet another complex medical mal case. Gordon & Silber represents Manhattan Eye.]

Match.com — Maintaining the Status Quo Since 1995

Well, if Haggis can do it, so’s can I. The Match.com Physical Attraction Test, purportedly millions of dollars and years in the making, is a disturbing image-oriented Flash thing that asks you such terrible questions as “If these were the only five women left on Earth, who could you tolerate?” Now how the hell can any vaguely humanistic-minded person answer that? Well, dear readers, you’d be surprised by how quickly you cross into darkness. Particularly if, like me, you’ve seen The Omega Man and Logan’s Run more times than medically recommended.

Make no mistake: This test is fucking evil. The phrasing of questions makes this test perfectly designed for nihilists, pyromaniacs and armageddon enthusiasts. Namely, people like me. Worse still, it’s all visual. Never mind if the lady I was sharing a sleeping bag in a post-apocalyptic Times Square could quote Robert Burns or engage in mischevious banter. There was a stage in this that reminded me of Press Your Luck, whereby you’re supposed to single out women you can’t stand. Except, in my case, I was concentrating on the women that I’d have no problem spending six lifetimes lovin’ and found it difficult for my libido-charged mind to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.

The results would indicate otherwise:

The choices you made in the test suggest you have strong, automatic preferences for certain types of women. You made your choices quickly suggesting you have clear physical instincts.

Uh, maybe because I’m a dude and I’m more visual-minded, mayhaps? Or I was clicking desperately on the choices to make this hard Hobson’s choice objectification stop? You make the call, Match.com. You evil bastards.

But onwards.

My Favorite Features:

  • Your photo choices suggest a woman over 55 is probably getting a little old for your tastes (Seems a sick Freudian joke to start this out with.)
  • You seemed interested in dating a woman at least 30 or older (Yeah.)
  • So-called “Ecto-Mesomorphs,” with narrow chins and nicely angular faces (What the hell is this, Ghostbusters?)
  • Blue eyes (Oh, don’t get Kristallnacht on me, muthafuckas.)
  • Light brown hair (This morning, maybe.)
  • Wavy hair (Yeah.)
  • Straight hair (Yeah. But doesn’t that contradict my previous choice?)
  • Medium-length hair (Not quite.)

Unique Traits:

  • Sometimes, you like younger women, by a good gap. (Saturday night after a lot of Jamican rum? Yeah, a roll in the hay with an undergrad ain’t bad.)
  • Sometimes, you like women over 5 years older than you. (Damn straight.)
  • More unique than “mainstream” appeal (Fuck Maxim, anorexia and silicone implants.)
  • Thin, angular faces with a classic or refined look (Bingo again, but only if they look like Liz Scott or Ann Sheridan. Not that your culturally amnesia-charged minds would know anything about that.)
  • Cute, button or small noses (Cute? Fuck no. But I do like interesting noses.)
  • Glasses and the sophisticated and smart look that goes with them (What can I say? Me like smart women.)
  • You appreciate someone with a few extra pounds (As opposed to, say, the starving waifs you presented me with? Jesus, does “plus size” these days mean anyone who has more than one meal a day? If so, count me in.)

Not Your Type:

  • Women over age 55 (Again with the Freudian shit.)
  • Women under age 30 (Maybe because I might have, you know, specified this at the beginning of the test?)
  • High “mainstream” appeal, with little unique flair (We’ve covered this, I think.)
  • Long and narrow “rectangular” faces (Only if someone paid me to kiss Bruce Campbell.)
  • Thin lips (Yup, labia latitude’s a plus.)
  • Black hair (No. Anyone who knows about my obsession with Jennifer Connelly will testify to this.)
  • Curly hair (Not necessarily.)
  • Women of Black/African descent (Oh, bullshit. You want to play the fucking race card, Match.com? I clicked on hot mommas of all ethnic dispositions, as your “Maybe” photo collection, asking me why, will attest. Maybe because they’re, uh, hot? You didn’t exactly present a lot. Something like ten out of 100?)
  • Hispanic or Latino women (See above.)

How You Compare to Other Men:

4% Very attracted to women my type
14% Attracted to women my type
21% Somewhat attracted to women my type
61% Not at all attracted to women my type

Yeah, mofo! How you like me now, Match.com?

Body Types:

One body type that seems to appeal to you is scientifically called “Endomorph,” which roughly translates into solid, “plus-sized” women. She’s not overweight, but her big bones and large frame make her hard to miss. Endomorphs are definitely curvier than the other body types, with hips that are wide in proportion to shoulders. Although she is prone to gain weight over her lifetime, at this point she doesn’t have a “pot belly” or “love handles,” just nice womanly curves! As she ages and puts on weight, she usually carries it in her hips and butt. This type usually makes up 7% of single women. Telling signs of this body type include wide and curved jaws, round faces, “chubby cheeks,” a girlish look, a very short and wide neck, plus larger legs and butts.

In other words, the kind of woman that people had no problem with in 1962, but that carries a stigma today. Or as Elizabeth Hurley once said, “I’d kill myself if I was as fat as Marilyn Monroe.”

Breast Size:

While you may enjoy looking at different breast sizes, based upon the choices you made, you prefer a well-endowed woman with much larger breasts.

And while you’re conveying this earth-shattering piece of news, why not expound on the Third Law of Thermodynamics while you’re at it?

My Ideal Match:

matchcom2.jpgReese Witherspoon? I must confess, I like her as an actress. But, dear Match.com, you clearly do not understand the kind of women I fantasize about while I’m jerking off. As such, you have proven your test, purportedly millions of dollars and years in the making, to be irrelevant and silly.

But there’s a far larger issue here: Within seconds of taking the test, you sent me a list of profiles of women who “matched” my purported ideal. That may be fine and dandy with the Sears catalog set, but that disturbs me on multiple levels, Match.com.

So I have to ask, Match.com. Since you’re in the business of profiting off of instant objectifying of the opposite gender, how do you sleep at night?

Shameful Joy? I Don’t Think So.

Derek has posted some marvelous photos of City Hall marriages. It’s bad enough that the Republicans seem shocked or outraged by the idea of other people experiencing happiness. (What kind of a sourpuss do you have to be to deny that?) But I cannot fathom why the Democrats (including John Kerry, that so-called all-American bastion we’re all doomed to vote for in November) don’t have the courage to get behind normal people who want to be married. Do these swell folks look like they’re going to destroy this nation? Has happiness become a weapon of mass destruction?

And another thing: How can any reasonable person be against same-sex marriages while simultaneously supporting the 30 second Las Vegas marriage? In this country, I guess it’s perfectly okay to enact a life partner decision when you’ve snogged a stranger and had far too many margaritas. But heaven forfend that we grant the same right to two people who have been with each other for decades and who base their decision to marry on something more than drunken vagaries and killing time between blackjack tables.