From Whitewater to Whitewash

In response to a request from Edith Wharton to produce a poem for her 1916 anthology, The Book of the Homeless, WB Yeats took the opportunity to issue a general put down to poets who get involved in politics. In On Being Asked For a War Poem, he advocates a policy of conscientious inaction, suggesting that “a poet’s mouth [should] be silent”, and claiming, rather bombastically, that “We have no gift to set a statesman right”. While there is scope for a charge of hypocrisy – a performance of Yeats’s nationalist play Cathleen ni Houlihan at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin was later credited with sparking the Easter Rising – Yeats’s message is clear: politics and poetry don’t mix.

John Kerry, apparently, does not agree. The presidential hopeful who yesterday gave his address to the Democratic national convention has adopted Let America Be America Again, the title of a 1938 poem by American poet Langston Hughes, as his official campaign trail slogan. What’s more, in case anyone missed the point, he has gone on to quote extensively from the poem in his campaign speeches. When announcing his choice of John Edwards as running mate at a rally in Pittsburgh, for example, he chose to round off his speech by proclaiming the association between his position and aims and those of the poet. To resounding cheers, he said:

“Langston Hughes was a poet, a black man and a poor man. And he wrote in the 1930s powerful words that apply to all of us today. He said ‘Let America be America again. Let it be the dream that it used to be for those whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, for those whose hand at the foundry – something Pittsburgh knows about – for those whose plough in the rain must bring back our mighty dream again.’ “

The Guardian on John Kerry & campaign trail poetry. Elsewhere, Slate‘s Timothy Noah is less than pleased with this adoption, saying that Kerry–in his preface to a newly published book featuring the poem–is willfully misreading and performing “a whitewash” (pun intended, you betcha) on the Stalinist vision Hughes was espousing. Here’s Kerry:

It was in that climate that Langston Hughes, Black America’s unofficial poet laureate, wrote his powerful poetic lament, “Let America Be America Again.” While it is the litany of the great promise of opportunity that has drawn so many of the world’s disaffected to our shores, the poem is also a call to make that promise real for all Americans—especially for the descendants of slaves.

Not unmindful of the duality of meanings, I was drawn to incorporate the words of the poem in my 2004 presidential campaign, because it reminds us that America is a nation always in the process of becoming, always striving to build “a more perfect union.” We must not forget that African Americans and women were written out of the Constitution before they were written in.

Now Noah:

Chatterbox applauds Kerry’s political message, but as lit crit, this is a whitewash. What “duality of meanings” is Kerry talking about? The poem has only one meaning: America’s golden promise is hooey. It’s hooey for blacks, it’s hooey for the farmer, it’s hooey for the Native Americans. It’s hooey for the entire proletariat. Time to seize the means of production!

Jeez, Noah. Trying switching to decaf or maybe looser underwear. You want to go back to the dark days of Reagan’s Born in the U.S.A.? Well?

A Supposedly Fun Lobster I’ll Never Eat Again

The Rake has the scoop on the DFW essay in this month’s Gourmet. Apprently, it deals substantially with animal rights. And Rake says it kicketh ass.

[UPDATE: We somehow managed to pick it up while running from one meeting to another. We read it last night at some ungodly hour, shortly after watching a grainy feed of John Kerry’s speech (feels like 1956 again!), and laughed ourselves silly over Mr. Wallace’s solid thinking on the animal rights question (in part, because we too have avoided eating lobsters for the same reason — that and because of a real hellish childhood experience which we won’t go into). In short, we concur with the Rake. The essay is among one of DFW’s best and, as Carrie rightly suggests, it may represent a new direction in DFW’s writing. We also picked up the latest issue of The Believer, which we hope to respond to in depth under a new feature called BELIEVER WATCH, an effort to come to terms with our strange prejudice w/r/t the Eggers/Vida/Julavits question (though clearly not as bad as Clifton’s). Our immediate impression is that we approve of the ancillary details included with the book reviews. But we’ll weigh in probably several weeks from now with a more informed and thorough take. Perhaps too, because of the recent DFW read, we’re also taken with long update paragraphs in lieu of actual posts. Of course, there is only so much time. Q.E.D. We apologize for engaging in this pretentious and flagrant stylistic aside, but we’re damn giddy because things are coming together in the most amazing way, which strikes us as a fantastic final week with which to exit our twenties.]

[ALSO: Mark is a sexy MF. Please remind him of this posthaste.]

Eggers Remixed

So Uncle Tony’s seen that pipsqueak’s latest column. Tony figures he can cut the column in half. So here’s the column without the bullshit:

Life. Shit happens. Something we’ve known for a while. Been meaning to write about Big Country. Today is Thursday.

Caught the band back in the ’80s, don’t know when. Loved the clip of ‘em chasing chicks in Scotland. So I got me their first album. Distinctive sound. Guitars as bagpipes. Serious shit.

The lead singer Stuart Adamson wrote about Old Scotland, paying attention to old values. All the songs were panoramic, even the love song “1000 Stars.”

The inner sleeve kicked ass. Black and white. Cool compass. What was this? Songs about the land. I felt transported. Even the videos submerged you in another place. Big Country had balls. They were unapologetically corny, unlike U2.

Big Country came when synths put guitar gods on the dole. Spaceship rock. Corny music. Of course! Neat, polished, spoonfed, little, yellow, Nuprin. Order. Easy listening. Like fasces. But we like.

Fortunately, Big Country. Difference. Good times. The Epic Album. The Crossing. Nough said.

Became a fan. Black man with Scottish accent. Goofy! Forget the music. Consider their plaid-shirt image.

So I wore flannel, bitch. Was I Scottish? Years later, was I black?

Live shows good. “I just want to say…” over and over. Then music. Cute.

No more U.S. hits. Change of fashion. And nobody remembers Big Country, despite Adamson’s suicide. Former manager blew me off.

No moral here. Join us. And if you don’t, you’ll commit suicide like Adamson because you disagree with me.

Last night I went to bed with John P. Marquand and boy, were some of his sentences stiff

CAAF darting through, in her orange muumuu and some superhero underoos. Lately I’ve been reading and relishing The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand. It seems appropriate to post that here as I picked up the book after reading Ed’s (and Terry’s) many effusions on the topic of all things Marquand.

In a short but interesting May 2004 Atlantic Monthly appreciation, Martha Spaulding reports that Upton Sinclair (Jungle Love) received the proofs for Apley in 1936. (It went on to win the Pulitzer in 1938.) Sinclair wrote the publisher:

I started to read it and it appeared to me to be an exact and very detailed picture of a Boston aristocrat, and as I am not especially interested in this type, I began to wonder why you had sent it to me. But finally I began to catch what I thought was a twinkle in the author’s eye … One can never be sure about Boston, and I hope I am not mistaken in my idea that the author is kidding the Boston idea. It is very subtle and clever, and I am not sure that Boston will get it.

Not everyone saw the twinkle in the eye (though I can tell you it’s winking away by page 7). Spaulding quotes editor Edward Weeks as saying that there were people in the Back Bay who “appeared at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday afternoons asking to be shown the ‘Apley Bronzes.’”

Here’s our handsome host’s, Mr. Champion’s, take on Marquand, pulled from a recent email:

Likewise, there’s the sullied status of John P. Marquand, whom I discovered completely by accident (spurned on by Yardley a few years ago). The man made the covers of both Time and Newsweek and was, to my knowledge, one of the most astute observers of manners between the two wars. Also (and this is the part that floors me), he was able to convey his satire in a way that attracted readers — not an easy thing to do in a nation ripe with great satirists often misunderstood by a highly literal public. Now the man’s getting something of a modest revival (much as John O’Hara did a few years ago). I’d recommend starting with The Late George Apley, which was just recently reissued by Back Bay Books. Also in print are H.M. Pulham, Esq., Wickford Point and Point of No Return. But my favorite Marquands would have to be Apley, Sincerely Willis Wayde and So Little Time. I managed to obtain every Marquand novel printed by making a run of every used book store in San Francisco and Berkeley (converting a few helpful bookstore clerks along the way), and supplementing these efforts with the easy and decidedly non-Arthurian search through Alibris. (Yes, I’m pathological that way.)

Having started Apley, I expect to be trolling Asheville’s used bookstores soon.

Wait Until You Hear What Romantic Poetry Will Do

From the abstract of the article “Oscillations of heart rate and respiration synchronize during poetry recitation” in American Journal of Physiology—Heart and Circulatory Physiology:

The objective of this study was to investigate the synchronization between low-frequency breathing patterns and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) of heart rate during guided recitation of poetry, i.e., recitation of hexameter verse from ancient Greek literature performed in a therapeutic setting. Twenty healthy volunteers performed three different types of exercises with respect to a cross-sectional comparison: 1) recitation of hexameter verse, 2) controlled breathing, and 3) spontaneous breathing…. In conclusion, recitation of hexameter verse exerts a strong influence on RSA by a prominent low-frequency component in the breathing pattern, generating a strong cardiorespiratory synchronization.

Is it safe to assume the Pfizer is attempting to patent all of Homer?

+ ABCnews article about the study

stop, you’re scaring me

Abebooks.com has released the results of a Student Survey of 2,000 students aged 16 to 30 in which females said they’d be more likely to buy books recommended by John Kerry, while their male counterparts said they’d go for Bush’s recommendations. (Does that mean the guys just don’t want to read or they only want to read about baseball?)

Among the other illuminating (read: terrifying, perplexing, obvious) findings:

- 60% of students surveyed believe their life would make a better novel
than reality TV show;

– The most popular choice in literary roommate for male and female
respondents was Bridget Jones, followed by Frodo Baggins, and
Virginia Woolf;

– 80% of students who spend over $1,000 a year on books have sex more
often than students spending less;

– When asked what they would most like to have tomorrow, 11% of
students chose new shoes while a whopping 50% chose a “new lease on
life”;

This is all troubling on so many levels. The trucking in cliches, the possible future explosion of the “better-than-a-reality-show” novel. I want to know if both sexes really chose the same roomies, as it seems unlikely. (The Frodo joke is too easy.) And newsflash: kids with more money get laid more because they can afford more drinks!

I’ve got a reality show for you: Virginia Woolf and Bridget Jones share a room in the literary afterlife. Where apparently writers and characters would be equally real. Sucks for the writers.

Okay, going to watch Amish teens go bad now. Not proud.

Editor reads first draft of Penn-penned novel, tells author to put a sock in it

In choosing to tell a police procedural from an attitudinal sock monkey‘s POV, Penn Jillette makes novel’s promise disappear:

On some level, the story has potential. Sock isn’t a standard police procedural, because the Little Fool isn’t a cop; he’s an obsessive, unhealthy outsider, redefining his relationship with a dead woman in order to give his life meaning, and in the process, reconstructing his perspective on the world in potentially revelatory ways. But the sock-monkey-protagonist gimmick twists his perspective from intriguingly off-kilter to disturbingly off-kilter, and throws almost as much obfuscation into the mix as the punchy writing style and the song lyrics and movie quotes that pop up in nearly every paragraph. Rather than giving Sock a place in the pop-culture lexicon, the nonstop referents and endless rabbit trails feel like meaningless noise, a magician’s distraction from the real sleight-of-hand going on under the table.

Rake sez: Still easily the best sock-monkey-protagonist novel of the last few years…except for this one.

“Britney Spears was NEVER a Lolita!”*

Japanese novelist Novala Takemoto writes “Lolita” novels. Lolita in Japan — like Lolita here — has taken on a different meaning than the traditional Nabokovian one. As this Asahi Shimbun story explains, in Japan, Takemoto is worshipped by the Lolita crowd, “girls and women who favor lace and bonnets and ribbons and frills.”

The piece goes on and on about his outlandish apartment and person, but finally talks about his work. (It’s not unlike pieces about horror writers are usually set up, only the focus here is on how outrageous he is, not how normal.)

Dressed in a mixed Vivian Westwood, Comme des Garcons outfit, he serves iced tea in Alice in Wonderland glasses, setting the beverages on strawberry-patterned coasters.

Takemoto, who will not reveal his age-a ploy to keep his mysterious aura intact-joined the literary crowd with his first novel “Mishin” in 2000. It is the tale of beautiful Lolita punk band vocalist, Mishin, and the high school girl who adores her.

Though Takemoto was nominated for the Yukio Mishima Literary Prize for “Emily” and “Lolita” in 2003 and 2004 respectively, it was “Shimotsuma Monogatari” (Shimotsuma story) that made him a celebrity. A movie based on the book was a huge hit in Japan this year. It is scheduled for release as “Kamikaze Girls” in seven countries including the United States, Italy and Spain.

Known as a novelist with the heart of an otome (maiden), Takemoto says the Lolita sense of beauty is the most important aspect of his writing and his life. In Japan the word “Lolita” conjures up images of girls decked out in outlandishly frilly garb, but he says it is as much a way of living as a fashion statement.

“Lolita is a form of aestheticism. I think Lolita is a condition in which two conflicting elements co-exist without contradiction, for example, something grotesque as well as cute,” he says. “A Lolita loves Alice in Wonderland because the chaotic situation in Wonderland is very Lolitalike.”

I do like the idea that boys can be Lolitas, too. It only seems fair.

*Thanks, Richard!

Johnny Knoxville

Hey kids!

It’s your pal the Rake here to disrupt this delightful huggermugger with yet another Cormac McCarthy-themed post. (Thank me later.) In my experience, your college profs and blogger types seem to favor McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, but down-home Southern writers go for Suttree or Child of God. Here’s an article about the relationship between Mr. McCarthy and East Tennessee (Knoxville in particular):

The trick shop is gone now, its charlatan’s props and trinkets and frivolous parlor games long removed, half-witted relics given over to vulgar oblivion. So too are the pool halls, their beer-varnished countertops and oaken floors and rag-topped pool tables absent, replaced now by a prosaic sprawl of yellow weeds and crab-grass at the corner of Church Avenue and Gay Street. The yellow-green sprinkling of slight foliage, withered, huddles noontime in the muscular shadow of the decidedly modern Centre Square building and its bronze frontispiece, the statue of a lone oarsmen laboring desperately to right his scuttled craft.

There’s a rumor, unconfirmed, that the boatpilot is meant to be Cornelius Suttree, the disinherited blue-blood roustabout who is the hero of the forenamed book.

And gone is the man who would be Gene Harrogate—John Sheddan, scholar, schemer, hustler, melon paramour. He died in recent years, at age 62, purchased by the ravages of his own excess. Gone are the Roxy Theatre and the Gold Sun Cafe and the motley vendors who every weekend peopled Market Square, ghosts of mid-century Knoxville held forever in the attitudes of the living in the pages of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree.

See also Searching for Suttree.

like an old hippie’s bumper sticker

You’re not paranoid, they really are coming to get you. Well, not really, they’re more out to usurp all political and financial power and rule the world. They don’t care so much about you.

So says Joel Achenbach in a meditation in the Washington Post on just what shit screenwriters have to come up with these days to sell paranoia and America’s paranoid past. (It’ll be interesting to see whether The Manchurian Candidate remake is more than a blip on the screen. Especially, as the piece says, when Fahrenheit 9/11 is already dominating the game this summer.)

The new paranoia ignores ideology; it’s enough to call the whole shebang a hoax and maybe it is, right?

The knowledge that there’s an enemy, that there are bad guys out there, is the anchor in our lives. To be an American today is to live in the middle of a mind control experiment. If you hear a candidate say, “I’d like to plant a thought in your mind,” you’d better run for your life.

You could build a bunker, man, but who do you think controls the construction materials?

Love In The Time of Metallica

The documentary was Some Kind of Monster and the audience reaction was alternations between nonplussed silence and nervous titters of disbelief.

There were two truly “angry” bands of my teen years that I clucked with. Two that carried me through thick and thin in the thick of it: Nirvana and Metallica. While Nirvana was more angst than anger, it was arguably the freshest sound of rebellion to come out of the factory of echoes that is American entertainment in quite some time. Unique even. Timeless? Dunno, but in the here and now we have at least Courtney Love as a constant nagging reminder of what once was.

Sometimes on the weekends, I listened to Minor Threat and Enya. If you tell anyone I listened to Enya, I’ll flatly deny it and then kick your ass after school, you tank-top wearing tribal tattooed poser.

Where Nirvana and specifically the frontman Kurt Cobain were openly vulnerable and always on the defensive, Metallica and frontman James Hetfield were a ball of rage, a wall of sound and seemingly always on the offensive. Oft dubbed “Alcoholica”, for their love of the sauce, Metallica flaunted, encouraged and openly abused one of the oldest of excesses. In the public eye, Kurt Cobain displayed his substance use and abuse with little or no bravado. The years caught up with both the bands. For one, it just caught up faster and harder than any music they ever played. For Metallica, the trick has been to survive the playing catch-up.

In Some Kind of Monster, we follow James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich as they embark into what will become the “St. Anger” album, in the wake of Jason “Newkid” Newsted’s departure from the band. We witness forcively eccentric recording sessions in a Presidio military bunker devolve into arguments over symantics. We hear from Jason Newsted and the project that is Echobrain (Newsted has since departed from the band). Newsted eerily looks like his new band members’ dad, or possibly a visiting “hip” uncle or something. It gets downright surreal when Metallica hires a “band therapist”. More likely, their management company has assigned this group therapist to the stars.

Reluctantly at first, the band begins to fall into a workable mode with the therapist and begin to confront issues. Fuckin’ A Metallica style!!! No… no, not really. Again, interaction devolves into debates over who’s what and “what do you mean when you say that” kinds of banter. Just as it starts getting tedious, James Hetfield up and disappears. Roughly a year and a handful of phone calls later, James Hetfield emerges from rehab as a spectacled and seemingly more emotionally sensitive individual. While he was away, the therapy continued. At one point, we’re treated to an awkward encounter, with the therapist mediating, with Lars Ulrich and former guitarist and Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine. Let the healing begin. A teary Lars listens on as a disdainful Mustaine lays out the pain that has been the last couple decades; how he felt hated by metalheads for no longer being in Metallica and how Megadeth felt like a Number 2 position.

At one point, an audibly raw Dave Mustaine refers to Lars as his “Danish little buddy”. Something like that.

The game of emotional Twister(TM) continues overly long. Right before the St. Anger tour footage kicks in in the hindquarters of the film, dialogue becomes an outright orgy of feeling as a recently let loose Hetfield lays down his new vibe of interpersonal connection and need for clearly defined boundaries. He sees his own shame matrix for what it is and asks the others to kindly not enable a negative reservoir of letdown to build up.

He goes on a while about how no one should do anything after he’s left the studio for the day. In a seemingly unrelated scene, Lars’ personal assistant is visibly pleased when the drummer puts up some of his personal artwork for auction – Lars makes several million, which he promptly donates all of to a trust fund for himself.

There’s little else to be said. I could never be happy by Cobain or anyone else killing themselves, but Nirvana’s talent will forever be set within the framework of their three major albums. Metallica has gone on through phases, genres and stages of life. And unlike Madonna’s audience, Metallica’s is intolerant of any change from that youthfully angry and openly alpha male Metallica of the Cold War. The one that loudly demanded we ride the lightning, the one that couldn’t believe the price we pay, the one that told us that it is indeed for us that the bell does toll. And yes, even that the shortest straw has been pulled for us. The one that… well, you get the idea. That Metallica has been transformed into a “positively aggressive” juggernaut of good feeling. Look forward to crowd surfing at Metallica concerts being referred to as “hardcore trust falls”.

The days of creeping death are gone and if “Some Kind of Monster” is any indication, for good. But then, what did you expect? Metallica may be self-styled shambling elder metal gods of The Unnamed Feeling, but they aren’t above entropy. Things and people get older, breaks down, wear down, and have even been known to die. It’s how things are.

But not everything dies. Some things are reborn. Some things grow. Sometimes for the better, but not in ways we’ll ever see. Many fans may not be able to appreciate the musical outcome of this strangely mesmerizing personal process of healing within Metallica, but on a human level, I understand the need to at least try to fix those busted up parts of one’s own existence. At what cost? Some things have no price value. Even the public eye is fleeting. I would argue that the impact that any one of these musicians has in their respective families’ lives bears more on their legacy and value as a human being than in the lives of any number of their fans.

Hemon’s Dope

Hey, Hemon, you think you’re hot shit, sweetheart? First off, there’s one thing you should know about Tony Clifton. Dale Peck kisses my ring. Not only does he kiss it, but he polishes it with his tongue. And that’s AFTER he’s said a few catechisms. So if you think you’re doing the world a special favor by tearing some Swiss snowboarder a new one, if you think you’re being…ORIGINAL or something, then you got another thing coming.

Hemon, you’re nothing. You’re pond scum. You’re the kind of guy who slams a shot at a dive and then hides as the bourbon stings. You ain’t got streetcred, sweetcheeks. You’re a tired rag doll I’d pick up for some blow in the skids.

If you had moxie, you’d tell Daniel Wagner what orifice of his you were most interested in. Or you’d go after the big boys. The bloated novelists who had it coming. Uncle Tony ain’t impressed, kiddo. See this copy of NOWHERE MAN? I’m using that for something after I download some porn.

Ed’s Not Dead

I’ve just returned, without reluctance, from a funeral in Atlanta, to find an email from Ed asking if I would mind posting a thing or two on his site.

Would I?

Ed’s site has been a favorite of mine for months now. I think I found it while doing a google search for jejune and I’ve been coming back daily. It was a proud day when Syntax of Things was added to the RotR blogroll, topped only by the granting of the password and username in that email this afternoon. (Don’t worry, Ed, I won’t put it up on ebay.)

I can’t promise the most exciting or elucidating content, but I will keep all posts about farting and my hatred of Madonna where they belong.

First, I need some sleep.

is this thing on?

Show yourselves, guest compadres!

Here at Casa BondGirl we are under attack from little brown birds (small but there a lot of them, see) with striped white wings. They have some sort of vendetta against our elderly golden retriever George Rowe the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values, My Attorney. Throwing rocks at the branches under where the beaked menaces wait to perform their swooping does not seem to sway their hateful mission at all.

Especially when you’re reenacting The Birds, it’s never a bad idea to come into someone else’s house bearing Eduardo Galeano. From his Book of Embraces.

THE FUNCTION OF ART/2

The preacher Miguel Brun told me that a few years ago he had visited the Indians of the Parguayan Chaco. He was part of an evangelizing mission. The missionaries visited a chief who was considered very wise. The chief, a quiet, fat man, listened without blinking to the religious propaganda that they read to him in his own language. When they finished, the missionaries awaited a reaction.

The chief took his time, then said:

“That scratches. It scratches hard and it scratches very well.”

And then he added:

“But it scratches where there isn’t any itch.”

I’ll try not to scratch where there isn’t any itch.

UPDATE: Since George Rowe the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values, My Attorney, has been accused of trying to pass as a golden retriever, I feel the need to settle this matter. Yes, in the photo above, George has his short hair cut for summer and looks kind of like a lab. But this is what George looks like on a normal day. Except these days he’s usually running from brownish mockingbirds.

The Doctor is a Chickenhead

That’s right, muthaz! Now that Mabuse is gone, the real fucking party can begin. I want to coat babies in barbeque sauce and throw them into volcanoes! I want to kick a few grannies in the shins and call it spontaneous therapy! That Mabuse guy was too nice. And this place was getting too fucking comfortable. Let it be known that Tony “I will use your skull to open my brew” Clifton is in the house.

How could an asshole like me get on here? Well, let’s just say that I have some photographs. So I made Mabuse my bitch cause I could. Plus, I beat that lazy bastard at arm wrestling. How you like me now? But don’t get your panties caught in Dick Cheney’s crack, sweetheart. I’ll wax literary in a bit.

Status

The deal is this: Nearly all of our time is accounted for; thus, updates will be scanter than a pair of transparent panties. If anyone would like to step in and pick up the slack, drop us a line.

[UPDATE: We now have some surprise guest stars lined up for the next week or two, whose capable and mischevious hands should make this place very interesting. Thanks go out to these kindred souls.]

The Blind Robber: Implied Subtext?

Lately, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride — as usual, a gloriously devious book. This column suggests that Zenia is a grotesque version of Canadian journalist Barbara Amiel, who went to the University of Toronto with Atwood. Amiel, of course, was fired by the Telegraph this year after she was implicated in a lawsuit against her husband (the lawsuit having been launched by Hollinger International, which owns the telegraph). Before that, Amiel built a career writing free market tirades.

Of course, Atwood’s novel (published in 1993) came long before the Telegraph scandal, but since Atwood’s novel is content to play with the reader’s head (leading the reader to become just as curious about Zenia’s salacious details as the three protagonists), does anybody have any dirt on anything that might have gone down between the two? If Zenia is indeed based off of Amiel and there was a contretemps, then this could lend credence to the theory that vengeance promotes lively writing (much as Get Shorty‘s Martin Weir was based on Elmore Leonard’s scuffles with Dustin Hoffman).

The Thick-Ass Books List

Okay, folks, since these book lists are a lot of fun, here’s a new list I actually have a chance on. (My score here is 21.) Books that fit this criteria are long, cerebral, or epic in nature. Downright voluminous. (And to be fair, I’ve included a few “easy” long reads among the bunch, along with some speculative fiction.) For a book to count, you should have read the whole thing. And if I had to predict scores, my suspicion here is that Brian, who actually read A Suitable Boy, will score a 24.

1. The Recognitions by William Gaddis
2. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
3. The Royal Family by William T. Vollman
4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
5. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
6. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
7. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
8. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
9. Ulysses by James Joyce
10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
11. The Tunnel by William Gass
12. The Rosy Crucifixion by Henry Miller
13. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
14. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
15. The Diary of Anais Nin
16. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
17. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny
18. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
19. The Stand by Stephen King (extended version)
20. A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
21. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
22. Rememberance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
23. Noble House by James Clavell
24. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoevsky
25. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
26. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

[UPDATE: Gwenda quite rightly points out that I failed to include a more proportional number of books by women. To remedy this, I’ve added The Golden Notebook, which I haven’t read, to the list. I’ll happily pad out the list to 30 if you folks have more choices.]

To Do List of Desirable Online Tasks (Though Some of Them Are Unlikely to Happen Anytime Soon)

  • What the loss of Jerry Goldsmith means (in depth)
  • The State of Books & the NYTBR, Part 2
  • Continued updates on pertinent backlogged posts for 2004 (I was doing it long before Kottke, thank you)
  • A public response to what lit blogs are all about (corralling and finally addressing a number of points I was exchanging with Mark months ago), what they have done so far, and where we can go from here.
  • A redesign of this place.
  • Launch of the Wrestling an Alligator enhanced site.
  • A photographic explanation of who or what Dr. Mabuse is (incriminating evidence to accompany)
  • Possible reinstatement of 1999-2003 online material (more likely, greatest hits)

The Pile-Up

  • I’ve started reading Kevin Starr’s Coast of Dreams (due for publication in September 2004 by Knopf), the latest volume in Starr’s underrated California Dream series. While I remain a fan of Kevin Starr, the big surprise here is not the volume’s 700 page length, but the less scholarly tone than its predecessors. The chapters are surprisingly short and snappy, without the ambition or all-encompassing portraits we’ve come to expect. This time around, Starr’s opted for a more anecdotal flavor. This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds. But given Starr’s ebullience and lifelong devotion to his material, my feeling so far is that the tome could have been more substantial. Perhaps, as Starr suggests himself in the preface, a book chronicling 1990-2003 is a bit premature. Or perhaps Starr’s histories (or any history for that matter) work more effectively when they are removed from present events. I have a few more ideas why, but they will have to wait for my forthcoming review in a few months.
  • Stephen Policoff has weighed in at Mark’s and he has some horror stories about his first novel, Beautiful Somewhere Else.
  • The California Supreme Court has ruled that a teenager’s poem about a shooting at another school was not a crime. The Academy of Arts might want to pay attention to these little things called precedents.
  • The latest literary property to be at risk? John Buchanan’s.
  • Michael Cunningham has gone Hollywood. Not only did he write the film adaptation for A Home at the End of the World, but he’s dyed his hair blond. At 51.
  • It’s subscription-only, but Variety is reporting that Neil Gaiman is in negotiations to make his directorial debut with an adaptation of Death: The High Cost of Living. Gaiman writes, “Well, things are getting closer, and there may well be something that we can announce at San Diego. Or not. (Blinks innocently.)”
  • Turning 30 No Cakewalk for Many Women. It ain’t exactly easy for us dudes either, but we’ve passed the stage of acceptance and we’re well on the way to putting our twenties behind us in a week and a half, thank you very much. Dave Chappelle probably has the most compelling reasons why.
  • And new to the blogroll, Chekhov’s Mistress.