Gone Fishing

I’d initially posted some ballyhoo about taking a break. But announcing yet another hiatus strikes me as not only repetitious, but vaguely dishonest. This blog has always served as a beacon for truth. A skewered truth, a truth restricted by my own blinders, sometimes a downright ugly honesty. But truth nonetheless. I’d be doing my readers a disservice if I didn’t explain why my appearances here will be less frequent.

William Gaddis once described it as “the rush for second place” and composed an essay on the subject in 1981. He dared to chart how a certain spirit of rebellion in American culture was often spawned by a gnawing sense of failure, a long and frustrated nose cantilevered against a morose and pockmarked face that frowned long into the deepest shadows of yesteryear. The feeling that one’s efforts weren’t worth much in the long run. The successful person in our society, the hard-liner who plays by the rules and makes partner or vice president after a decade or two of thankless labor, is in so deep that it would never occur to him that there are others who starve and scrape for an altogether different success. These lower-end feeders are often derided as failures. Their needs don’t meet the basic burden. But what would our world be without these non-conformists who perform unspoken deeds in the dead of night?

Whatever measure of success one finds, there are hard choices. Passion flaring over common sense. And when a bottom-end straggler reaches a certain age, when the hair falls out and the crow’s feet form around the eyes, there comes a point where one wonders why it continues. Because persistence pays off? Sometimes. Because no man is an island? Definitely.

The duty remains, the steadfast flow follows. But it requires rumination and rest and unseen labor and barely any sleep. I’ll be back, but right now I’m reoiling the wheels. And I’m smiling as I dance in the dark.

[UPDATE: In response to certain socipathic nitwits who clearly have more time than I do (and whose currency is so inflated that they feel the need to goad some A-1 folks), I quote Carl Sandburg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”]

[UPDATE THE SECOND: Publisher’s Lunch reports this item: “Separately, the NYT Book Review has announced that next Sunday’s issue will present a considerably slimmed-down 100 Notable Books of the Year. They will publish their list of top 10 books of the year on December 12. Editor Sam Tanenhaus says of the ‘more selective’ list, ‘In general, we favored strong narratives. This happens to be a year when some of the best books, fiction and nonfiction, were about or set in the past.'”

[I can’t tell you how sad this makes me feel. One of the great annual joys is seeing the NYTBR present a crazed list that backs up their credentials as a book review source for one of the nation’s major newspapers. It essentially communicates to the reader that, love or hate their selections, the NYTBR is doing its job. But more importantly, much like the recent joys of the IMPAC longlist, the sheer number of books is something to cheer about, an annual occurrence that offers a friendly nod to reading. The reader finds the morsels he may have forgotten about and a few titles he didn’t know about. It’s a win-win situation between reader and listmaker.

[That Tanenhaus would scale this down to a piddly selection of ten (no doubt with Leon “Scummy Little Reviewer” Wieseltier’s involvement) proves that, despite his recent poetry issue and the inclusion of James Wood prominently on his pages, he still remains an asshat who is, in all likelihood, Bill Keller’s corporate handmaiden. That he would dispense with such a proud tradition in favor of audience-friendly “10 Sexiest Books Alive” homages to People convinces me that, unless he offers a compelling alternative, he’s not going to get any brownies on my watch.


[UPDATE TO SECOND UPDATE: The good Dr. Jones, fresh from his excavations in Nepal, informs me that we can’t withhold baked goods until the final tally. To uphold the brownie fairness doctrine, I renege on my brownie decision until we see what happens over the next two weeks. Tanenhaus shall salivate at his own peril.]

A Special Therapeutic Column from Jonathan Glandzen

In May 1981, a few months into the Reagan administration, my father and my brother Colin and in fact every member in my family started fighting. They weren’t fighting about Reagan, per se, but they wanted to give me a solid foundation for long-term neruosis. I never blamed anyone for the fight, but years later, after making a mint off of my novel, The Peregrinations, I felt stifled by the smell of cash around me. I had been approached by several financial advisors who suggested long-term savings and IRAs. They wanted me to live and travel and roll around like a self-entitled pygmy while my fellow writers starved. Had I been rude to Oprah? Had I forgotten the little people?

In considering my sordid sobbing history, I remember that it was Colin who first suggested that a real man took control of his life and that obtaining this confidence was easier when one was well grounded. Every time I tried to be myself, I was faced with Colin’s menacing shadow. Colin made less money in his life than I had in a single year, and yet he was secure, happily married, and encouraged me to roll into a fetal position at family reunions.

I think back to those halcyon days of 1981, because, despite my upper middle-class upbringing and a stable, albeit occasionally combative family, I was frightened every time I had to make a decision. I didn’t learn to tie my shoe until the age of 26 and it took a Iris Murdoch type who knew what she wanted to deflower me in grad school. She must have anticipated my hunky looking author photo — the bane of my existence since my success. She never revealed her name.

But there was some comfort growing up — no thanks to Colin, thank you very much. On my night table was the Marmaduke Omnibus, a dogeared (if you’ll pardon the pun), decaying paperback that I had found one day in the dumpster. I opened its pages and discovered that someone had written “This shit isn’t funny” on the inside front cover. This austere warning didn’t faze me one bit. Indeed, there was a sense of comfort in seeing Marmaduke’s innocuous disruption of the household. Like me, Marmaduke didn’t know any better. My heart quivered over Marmaduke’s long ears, and I soon developed an intimate relationship with Brad Anderson’s creation that posed certain problems during adolescence. Marmaduke, as you might imagine, was the only dog that counted. It took several Siamese cats, four parakeets and a few goldfish before I could allow another dog to roam in my own home.

Thankfully, my therapist understood this. After the unfortunate sprinting incident at a cocktail party, I was given a ritalin prescription. This, I might add, at 36.

Throughout the years, Colin suggested Bloom County, The Far Side or “hell, even Doonsebury.” But my mind was made up. Even Boondocks was too much for my refined sensibilities. It was Marmaduke or nothing. Other people I met had bad heroin habits. For my own part, I had a sociopathic obsession with a comic strip that wasn’t particularly funny.

Momentary Sayonara

There’s nothing really to say. And the last thing I want to do is lecture like Neal Pollack. So I’m going the hell away for a week or so. I leave these pages to the annoying spammers, the killer barflies, and perhaps the Superfriends, if they even remember their passwords. No bullshit hiatus here. Just casual indifference and a return to these pages after a much needed lost weekend with Paul Giamatti. I might even teach a red state virgin a thing or two about reproductive rights.

Oh, and fuck you, Homeland Security.

[UPDATE BEFORE FLIGHT: Holy hell. Maud’s opened up a can of whoopass on Neal Pollack. On the Pollack question, I should point out that Lenny Bruce’s last days were spent reading from law books pointing out the absurdity of true writ. It was, by all reports, the dullest standup comic routine ever devised.

[Also, McSweeeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, Michael Chabon’s followup to the Treasury of Thrilling Tales, is (so far), a marked improvement over its predecessor and well worth your time. It certainly helps that RotR fave David Mitchell has a Number9Dream-like tale in there, propinquitous to cool contributions from Margaret Atwood, Poppy Z. Brite, Jonathan Lethem, Roddy Doyle, China Mieville, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and Peter Straub. Charges of nepotism aside (Julavits and Waldman show up), I’d love to see Chabon edit one of these things every year or two. Of course, if he could include a few overlooked folks like Paolo Bacigalupi, Barry Malzberg, Kelly Link, and the prolfiic Paul Di Fillipo, his rants against genre ghettoization might have more credibility. Now, flight.]

Hold the Mayo, Hold the Line

Excerpt from “Toto’s Misunderstood Musical Prosody,” thesis paper by Wally Hanthorp, M.A. Music, 1991:

toto.jpg“Hold the Line”, a seminal track from Toto’s innovatively titled 1978 album, Toto, represents a rare case of restrained genius overstating the obvious. Critic Leonard Parvoo once suggested in The Peoria Journal Star that this was “a tune written, produced and performed specifically for stadiums and FM radio.” But it is worth noting that Parvoo, who communicated his unique fury over this innocuous little tune (and Toto in general), founded a Peruvian leper colony three years later. Clearly, the bile he expressed towards Toto in his review was transmuted in some small way into munificence. This demonstrates the value of Toto’s simplicity and the band’s power to change the world. For even Toto’s opponents are motivated to do great things.

But our subject concerns “Hold the Line.” Beginning with a simple snare drum snap, we are then acquainted with Steve Porcaro’s repetitive keyboard chords (thus anticipating the grand opening moments of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City”), which are then momentarily fluctuated in a slightly jarring beat, only to return to a traditional 4/4 beat that remains wholly uninterrupted throughout the song. This is our first clue that, while radio-friendly in nature, “Hold the Line” insinuates something more baroque. It is as if this tune represents an effort to “hold the line” on several levels, with the slight slippage hinting at a darker inconsistency. It is worth noting that singer David Paich himself is simultaneously singing while frequently pounding on his keyboard throughout the album, thus multi-tasking well before this term found usage in American vernacular. This is a truly admirable achievement — indeed, an American one. But why the unexpected introductory shift?

The answer is simple. Beyond the metaphorical elements of the song, Porcaro is holding the line musically, waiting for Paich to come in. Porcaro is determined to bang mechanically on his keyboards, despite the echoing barre chords from the guitar and the rote bass-snare backbeat. Paich’s obligation is simple: keep the listener hooked just in time for his introduction and the inevitable guitar solo. And what a rousing introduction it is!

“It’s not in the way you hold me.”

We are introduced almost instantly to the song’s sense of fervent denial. This is then followed up with a simple guitar riff that echoes each line.

“It’s not in the way you say you care.”

We hear the same denial, barely deviating from the previous line and sang in almost the same quasi-forcefulness. And the same guitar riff. When indeed will the transition occur? Prosody, as usual, has been maintained with a firm yet simple way of hooking the listener.

“It’s not in the way you’ve been treating my friends.”

More syllables in this line. These guys can cook! And indeed interject with a few more notes. In this way, Toto deviates from traditional stadium rock of the era, both by defiantly refusing to rhyme and ins ticking to the simple words “It’s not in the way.” And like the lyrics, we come to learn that “Hold the Line” is, musically, not like its corporate rock brethren. For we are eventually introduced to a chorus that quite deliberately offers perhaps the worst lyrics in Toto’s ouevre.

“Hold the line / love isn’t always on time.”

Even the most generous Toto appreciator would have a hard time reconciling “line” with “time.” There is nothing about these two words that rhymes. But then Toto is forcing us to come to terms with the remote propinquity of four-letter words. How many of us can truly rhyme on command? It’s also worth noting that the four-letter words Toto includes are not obscene. They are, in fact, quite interchangeable within the realm of everyday human vernacular.

Yet in this way, we immediately understand the initial discordant keyboard riff. For what is this but an oblique reference to Mussolini’s trains running on time? Where other bands could have employed a whistle sound effect, Toto lets the music speak for itself. The song needs no flash, save Steve Lukather’s driving guitar solo.

Will Paich offer us the full thrust of his emotions? Not here. He will save such moments for “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Here, he is concerned with how emotions are interchanged, often denuded of their primary value. His “Love isn’t always / love isn’t always” reminds the listener that this song is inherently about love, albeit love of a highly general nature.

It is the kind of love that helps one to get through a Saturday night. It is the kind of love that one can use, if one is fully inclined, to found a leper colony.

Palabra About Paizogony, Baby

Gymnosophic grounds for gyniolatry. Solo, saccadic jerks before saltire, abbreviated waldflute for Waldgrave Wiggins, committing randy wales, always wanchancy before his own private obeliscolychny, if you catch my drift.

Wiggins, perhaps a pyroballogist (in a sense), pyrexic to the last about his xanthippe, afraid of xeransis qua “Oh!” and, were quacksalver transposed to quadrimular English degrees, a stolid pettifogger.

Certain dactyliologist, the Waldgrave ruminated further, facinorous in his fantasies. But not to be, the incident ended with neither paideutic progress or pumped penis.

Big Google is Watching You

Google Scholar is a very helpful resource. Say you need to find an obscure or out-of-print book. Well, punch it into Google Scholar, type in your ZIP code, and, shazam, a listing of libraries shows up. Even so, given that Google is the top dog search engine and has been criticized for its very serious privacy concerns, one wonders why Google would introduce a feature that bears such a striking correllation to related attributes within the PATRIOT Act.

The PATRIOT Act authorizes the Department of Justice (and its related entities) to keep track of booklists that citizens check out at libraries or buy from bookstores, presumably based on the silly logic that anyone who reads A Catcher in the Rye (which would include a sizable cluster of high school students) is going to transform overnight into Mark David Chapman.

But Google Scholar fits the bill so exactly that one wonders what relationship the company might have with the government. If Google’s infamous cookie (which resides on a system until 2037) remains in play through Google Scholar, the big question is why does Google need this data? To service its users or to profit while compromising an individual’s privacy? What happens when a teenager trying to come to terms with his sexual orientation looks for a book on the subject to see if his urges are biologically normal? None of these very sizable concerns is addressed in the FAQ.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Teachout

Wait a minute. Teachout’s listening to Toto? I could understand Journey. Twist my arm and you could even make a case for Foreigner. But Toto? He really must be sick. Our hope is that we can get Teachout’s toes tapping to Built to Spill or the Magnetic Fields and back to robust health. Nevertheless, we wish him well and suggest you buy his new book.

As for us (And this will be our last use of first person plural for the year. How did we get sucked into this stylistic vice? Worse than nicotine, I tell ya. Just as bad as parenthetical asides.), we’re overcapacitated. Expect us to return tomorrow. Maybe.


LOS ANGELES (AP): In an effort to reach out to a new demographic, the Walt Disney Company announces the introduction of Literaryland, a new section that will be added to Disneyland and Walt Disney World in 2006.

keith_mickey.jpgMagic Space Mountain: An exciting new ride that takes seven years to complete! Riders will be pummeled with ideas and then treated at a hospital, where they will rhapsodize with Mickey Mouse and philosophers.

It’s a Small World’s End: Passengers will be able to witness scenes from various T.C. Boyle’s novel (sexual communes, Victorian prudery), as an insufferable song (composed and sung by T.C. Boyle himself!) is played at top volume.

Greymatterhorn: A new cafe reproducing Teutonic existential splendor which will serve up such dishes as the Croissant of Pure Reason, Beyond Food and Evil and a special omelet called Beating and Fluffiness. Customers will be encouraged to eat their meals in angst.

Pirates of the Fabian: Visitors will be attacked by overly idealistic turn-of-the-century writers dressed up in pirate garb, taunted by various passages from George Bernard Shaw and E. Nesbitt. Our marketing experts report that 95% have exited the ride with their capitalistic philosophy intact.

Literaryland hopes to continue Disney’s long legacy of understanding the tastes of the American public. Several books will be offered with their morbid endings changed for happy consumption. Disney plans to tie in Literaryland with its upcoming animated musical (set for release in 2006), Walt Disney’s Crime and Punishment, which will feature a tap-dancing Raskolnikov smiling in the face of poverty, with a talking bowl of Top Ramen for company.

This is an exciting time for Disney. We hope that you can join the fun!

A Case for Minor Larceny?

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest article chronicles how artists across several mediums are prone to sampling. While the obvious examples such as George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (taken subconsciously from “She’s So Fine”) and Tarantino’s wholesale lift of the magic marker anecdote from Scorsese’s American Boy are left out, Gladwell does make a strong case for greater sensitivity in how artists “steal.”

If Gene Wolfe hadn’t been inspired by Jack Vance, we wouldn’t have his fantastic Sun books. Nor would we have Eric Kraft without Proust, or David Foster Wallace without Borges, Coover and Gaddis. Lindsay Anderson’s cinematic masterpiece, O Lucky Man!, couldn’t have come into being, had Malcolm McDowell and Anderson not been inspired by Voltaire’s Candide. Should we damn David Mitchell from the blatant Haruki Murakami inspiration in Number9Dream?

I once interviewed Guy Ritchie and pointed out that his subtitles in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels reminded me of the jive talking from Airplane. Apparently, nobody else had pointed this out to him and the stylistic similarity had never occurred to him until that moment. But the scene in question helps to give Lock its lived-in feel.

Months after writing Wrestling an Alligator, while there were a few conscious nods (and revisions) to other influences (the argument clinic sketch from Monty Python, Daffy Duck running around like a loon in his early Warner Brothers appearances), I was shocked to learn that I had unexpectedly included a line from Superman II (a film I had watched too many times as a child): “I’ve seen a lot of sleazy moves in my time.” When Mark finishes his novel, I have no doubt that John Banville will work his way in there somewhere.

I’d hate to see a world where “stealing” becomes so rigid that it fails to account for an artist’s subconscious inspirations. The simple fact is that we are just as inspired from what we read as we are from what we experience. There’s an idea in this somewhere about the pros and cons of novelists as cultural and literary stenographers.

The Author Who Fled

It’s not available online, but the latest NYRoB has a fantastic essay on the underrated writer Frederick Prokosch. I’ve praised Prokosch before on these pages and expressed sorrow that everything he’s written is out of print, but it was nice to learn that The Asiatics is being reissued early next year. The Asiatics, if you haven’t read it, serves as a gloomier-than-usual take on the American expatriate traveling through exotic land formula. The difference is that Prokosch’s fantastic descriptions, to say nothing of his riffs on consciousness and identity, transform it into a kind of honed, yet primitive poetry that’s sui generis.

An Open Letter to the FCC

Dear FCC:

Since three people decide the fate over what is indecent on American television, I figured that my viewpoint counted for just as much. Plus, since this nation has spiraled into a financial abyss (and could use some cash), I thought you might want to investigate the following indecent things that I see on television every day. I am, to put it bluntly, quite mortified by what passes for “entertainment” these days. I will need therapy for years. Perhaps you may want to send me a finder’s fee to cover this.

Regardless, what follows are some of the many indecent things I have unearthed for your beautifully authoritarian eyes:

  • There are commercials that try to convince me to give them money! They use scantily clad models and people who offer false smiles to convince me that their goods (which are usually bad for me) are fun and harmless. They set down good rock songs to commercials and take away the value of great music I grew up listening. INDECENT!
  • There is a boorish man named Bill O’Reilly who tells other people to shut up! He is the rudest person I have ever seen on television. And what’s more, I understand that he actually gropes people who work on his show. INDECENT!
  • There is a purported “news” network called FOX News. Have you seen it? They spin stories based off of half-truths and cater to spiteful impulses. They never get all sides of the story and scare the bejesus out of me with their martial theme music and extremely frightening news graphics. INDECENT!
  • There is a network called WB that shows African-American people in stereotypical roles. I have met and befriended many African-Americans, but I have never seen them eat nearly as much fried chicken as they do the WB Network. Furthermore, on all networks, African-Americans are only cast as the Lovable Sidekick or the Badass Cop. Where are the African-American lawyers and professors? This is clearly racist and INDECENT!
  • There is clearly not enough sex on television. Where are the shows devoted to hours of bobbing breasts and naked people thrusting in slow motion? Don’t people on television jerk off? To deny such basic human impulses while simultaneously perpetuating the employment of such anti-actors as James Spader and Mark Harmon is INDECENT!

I trust that you will fine each and every network that carries out these indecent practices. The future of this clean nation depends upon it!

Very truly yours,

Edward Champion

The NBA Horror! The NBA Horror!

Dennis Loy Johnson: “When I got there I found the place crawling with security, a bunch of heavy set guys with ear pieces and Uzis slung over their shoulders. It was a big place, dark, creepy, with a moat and a drawbridge. Moody was inside surrounded by toadies peeling grapes for him. He leapt up and grabbed me by the lapels and said, ‘You gotta help me! You gotta get me out of this! Those women at the Times?Caryn James, Laura Miller, Deborah Solomon?they’re trying to kill me! I mean, when Michiko Kakutani gets out of her court?mandated anger management classes, I’m a dead man!'”

In Defense of Fucking the South (And the Red States Too, For That Matter)

“In swearing, as a means of expressing anger, potentially noxious energy is converted into a form that renders it comparatively innocuous. By affording the means of working off the surplus energy of the emotion induced by frustration, the tension between the emotion and the object of it is decreased and the final dissolution of the tension is expressed in a feeling of relief, which in its place is a sign of the return to a state of equilibrium.” — Ashley Montagu The Anatomy of Swearing

The new political correctness has arrived, and it cuts across a much broader swath than Berkeley. It all started with an election, unearthing a long fragmented nation of reds and blues, followed by purples that tried to underplay the division. Some folks, understandably, didn’t buy into this. Before too long, people were fucking the south, letting their frustrations simmer over the linguistic saucepan.

It was all good fun. Because how many of us either thought or expressed these words just after the election? We were able to view the rant, recognize the angry voice, and move on. Because for many of us, the election was really tantamount to crying “Shit!” when stubbing a toe, or “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” to an inanimate object that either failed to function or caused a lasting bruise. An immediate expression of relief (considered strangely profane in some circles), followed by relative equanamity and a determination to get through the day.

Unfortunately, where the reasonable person can comprehend how frustration funnels into curses and profanity (after all, they are just words), the oversensitive idealist can’t. The oversensitive idealist (represented these days by Neal Pollack, whose latest persona is a strangely sanctimonious theologist of expression) views a world where one must say “love the south” instead of “fuck the south,” never considering that in expressing a momentary curse, one might be, as the great Ashley Montagu suggests, converting short-term negative energy into a greater goal of long-term peace and cohabitation. In this sense, the Pollack view is very much like the JesusLand caricature: a place where human expression is unrealistically hindered, where anger isn’t allowed, and where the very idea of allowing one’s fleeting negative emotions to suffuse, whether in conversational or Web form, is verboeten.

As far as I can tell, nobody is painting black Xs on doors. Vigilantes aren’t heading to a red or a blue state to string up a few dissenters. While there are certainly a lot of silly stereotypes being promulgated on both sides, the silent ban on expression is perhaps even more damaging. Because how can anyone on either side “reach out” when they can’t purge themselves of their negative feelings?

If fucking the south, or fucking the red states, or transforming California or Texas a joke (both very easy to do) leads to national healing, then I say let loose. Theodore Roosevelt famously decried politically motivated journalists as “muckrakers” in 1906, but the term developed beyond its pejorative meaning to classify and understand a specific pursuit still quite active today. Sometimes disparagement helps people come to terms with a concept and create the very unity desired.

It wouldn’t be human to do otherwise.

Confidential to Some Sexy Correspondents

Folks, folks, folks, folks. I should point out that just because some of us may disagree on minor points (and, boy, they sure are minor), this does not mean that I’ve stopped respecting you. Particularly since you’re good enough to offer a reasoned and impassioned argument along with your thoughts and you’re willing (much more than that!) to weigh in on subjects literary and cultural, and offer the Good Doctor some contrarian food for thought.

This is the cornerstone of democracy, I think. If I don’t respond to your emails within 24 hours, it is because I am busy with research and preparation on a few projects. It is not because I don’t love you or value your thoughts. You are all incredibly sexy. The fault here is entirely mine, because I’m a slacker, I can only do so much, and I don’t get back to people as quickly as I’d like. But trust me on this one, folks. You’re all hot mommas.

Anthropology Awaits

Thankfully, circumstances have made us unexpectedly busy for the next four days. So our recently misinterpreted fury (not directed at James in general, who for the most part is a competent critic, save for the piece in question) has been siphoned into more productive conduits. Please visit the fine folks on the left in our absence. We’ve got work to do.

In the meantime, we leave you with the following personality test. Between these two actresses, who do you prefer?


I’ll keep the lips sealed on my choice until the ballots are in. But from a sociological standpoint, I’m decidedly curious.

The Girl Who Cried Julavits

OGIC has weighed in on the Caryn James piece, as has Galleycat. OGIC suggests that the James piece is honest criticism. Meanwhile, Galleycat (inter blogia) has stated her reasons why James has attacked. Rather than ape Galleycat’s able analysis, I thought I’d respond to OGIC’s notion that we all leaped into some touchy-feely Julavits antiseptic tank.

If James had stated specific examples in her profile, then her huffing and puffing would have had more validity. But I perceived this piece as an “assault,” not because of the piece’s intensity, but because it was the worst of assaults (the spineless passive-aggressive tone) available in the human repertoire. But more than that. James was fundamentally dishonest about her sensibilities in the following ways:

First off, James complains about a chapter being composed of one sentence and then inveighs against “bite-size fragments” (and, no, she’s not talking about those bags of tiny Snickers bars, but books, believe it or not!). This is certainly an interesting position to take. I’m genuinely curious to understand why anyone would be so hostile about a book merely because its spine failed to stretch out at least three inches or a single sentence carried over to another page. But the most we get from James is some vague quibble about “the tyranny of white space” and then a logical fallacy (and thus dishonest argument) that employs a backwards Chewbacca defense, suggesting that anyone interested in an abbreviated book inherited this interest from watching too much MTV. (And since Terry Teachout himself has confessed that his attention span has shifted towards shorter books, I get this wonderfully comic image of Teachout sitting through a Real World marathon on the weekend.)

Having failed to reference a single example to support her argument, James then badgers not the similarity of the books, but the close proximity and gender of the authors! How dare this quintet have vaginas or dine in Manhattan from time to time! Why, those two simple facts alone are enough to corrupt literature as we know it! Never mind that within the Bloomsbury Group, you couldn’t get any more disparate than Lytton Strachey’s crisp satire and Virginia Woolf’s baroque paeans to consciousness. No! In the Caryn James universe, if you have at least two personal attributes in common with another person, you will live similar lives and make similar choices. Does that mean that all male writers living in San Francisco put together prose like Dave Eggers or Daniel Handler or Andrew Sean Greer? I couldn’t name three more local writers whose work contrasts more sharply.

Then, after all this flummery, James throws us a frickin’ bone. She likes the Silber. But not so fast, kids! Because all five books are “built on compressed observations that easily veer into precious writers’ program language, too woozy and poetic for its own good.” And not a single example of what these “compressed observations” might be (what a writer sees while diving in the deep sea perhaps?) or the “woozy and poetic” MFA stuff that James takes offense to.

Again, this is unreasonable and dishonest. If you were a lawyer trying a case in court, you’d tell a jury that the defendant raped and murdered 32 squirrels, but you’d point to the police report, the testimony of witnesses, the laboratory tests, and the like. In short, you’d rely upon evidentiary support and ensure that the depraved squirrel killer would pay for the 32 small lives in blood, currency, or imprisonment of the judge’s choosing. It might give the hypothetical attorney a cheap thrill to call the defendant “woozy and perverted,” but without hard evidence, it’s nothing more than silly ad hominen.

Then James offers a valid point about award ceremonies offering variety, only to drift back into the “claustrophobic sameness” of the five books that represents a still as yet unestablished style that she objects to. James turns to the books themselves, but again and again seems confused. Instead of citing examples, she attacks story structure as a “trendy gimmick.” She then tells us, “Trendy gimmick bad, illuminating strategy good,” which is the same thing that a marketing manager once told me. Then there are the handicaps and yet another unfair assualt on Bynum not because of the writing, but because she is 32. (And, by the way, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission is being cc’d on this post.) And still no hard examples.

By then, the James profile ends and the anger across the blogosphere begins. But in rereading James with a more careful eye, I take back my initial assessment. Her article isn’t an “assault.” It’s simply dishonest and incompetent criticism.

Armistice-Challenged Roundup

The ongoing massacre in Fallujah and the nomination of Alberto Gonzales (who once declared the Geneva Conventions “obsolete”) as attorney general are enough to hinder any self-respecting humanist from smiling. But I’ll try nonetheless to offer a literary roundup on this most ironic of Veteran’s Days.

  • The first of two major reports on the Paris Review archive is now up. Laura Miller is expected to offer a writeup in an upcoming issue of the NYTBR.
  • A rare collection of Coleridge’s poetry has been saved by Lottery funding in the UK. The collection is now on display in Cumbria.
  • In other archival news, the world’s best-selling romance novelist Barbara Cartland will live on after her death. 160 of her unpublished novels will be released to the Internet over the next 13 years. Amazingly, none of them have any sex and all will have happy endings. There may, however, be kissing and frequent brushes of the hair and possibly “a nibble on a nipple or two.”
  • Duke University (based in North Carolina) weighs in on Wolfe’s latest. While “DuPont” University appears to be modeled after Duke, Chrissie Gorman notes that Wolfe never bothered to show up there during his research.
  • The tireless Ron Hogan has been interviewing the National Book Award fiction nominees. Meanwhile, the New York Times continues its baffling assault on the nominations, claiming now that the books are too short and that not one of them has a sense of humor. Well, by that criteria, maybe we better toss our copies of The Stranger, Desperate Characters and Hunger into the rubbish bin.
  • The castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula is going to be turned into holiday homes. The Van Helsing Suite will have a jacuzzi, a minibar, and a valet who will frequently stop into bite guests on request. Happy hour will feature affordably priced bloody Marys.
  • Nicholas Spark is ponying up the dough to renovate a high school track in his hometown. The track will be called Running in a Bottle. Runners will be required to sprint around the track for fifty years until either love or Alzheimer’s strikes first.
  • And Maud has an interview with Josh Melrod up, concentrating upon literary magazine launching (and perhaps lunching).