Ursula K. Le Guin: “When I tried to suggest the unwisdom of making radical changes to characters, events, and relationships which have been familiar to hundreds of thousands of readers all over the world for over thirty years, I was sent a copy of the script and informed that production was already under way. So, for the record: there is no statement in the books, nor did I ever intend to make a statement, about ‘the union of two belief systems.’ There’s nothing at all about the ‘duality of spirituality and paganism,’ whatever that means, either.” (via Neil Gaiman.)
- 10: Look, man, I’ve seen everything else Peter Weir has done. The Cars That Ate Paris, The Mosquito Coast, everything. You’ve got to leave me one of his good ones, right?
- 14: Because I’ve always suspected that there’s a moment in this Steven (Schindler’s List) Zaillian movie where Liam Neeson pops in and cries, “How many pieces on this chessboard could I have sacrificed?”
- 16: Tom Hanks needs to be deactivated.
- 21: Alan Rickman works best as an evil Eurotrash bad guy or a sad sack complainer near the end of his rope. But a sensitive Alan Rickman? Sorry, can’t deal.
- 30: Two words: Chick flick.
- 33: Okay, I’ll confess. I’m forever biased towards the Shirley Temple version, to the point where I’ll accept no substitute.
- 39: Something about the title always struck me as suspicious.
- 45: But it’s one of the only Miyazaki films I haven’t seen!
- 48: Robert DeNiro after about 1983 doesn’t interest me anymore. Even with Chazz involved. Sorry.
- 50: Kevin Costner plus kid equals some sick pederastic fantasy or bad idea. At least in my book. Even if it was directed by Clint Eastwood.
Recently, Nick Hornby revealed his agreement with The Believer (as quoted in a review of his new book, The Polyphonic Spree): “that if it looks like I might not enjoy a book, I will abandon it immediately, and not mention it by name.” (For reference purposes, the original Julavits anti-snark manifesto can be found here.)
A few months ago, the incomprable Emma Garman posted a column at Maud’s in which she defended snark, simultnaeously focusing in on her dismay with James Wood’s notion of “hysterical realism” while expressing her belief that “the boldly negative critique may be the only weapon available for stemming the tide of mediocre writing offered by the corrupt book publishing industry and its shadowy ally, the creative writing program.” Garman suggested that snark might be used to curb the tide of hysterical realists and that there was nothing shocking about the “savage” results seen through Dale Peck, et al.
More recently, Randa Jarrar quibbled with Neal Pollack, suggesting that politics is an inseperable aspect of fiction. Maud too weighed in quite notably in on Pollack’s hypocrisies. The anti-snark position was, in some sense, transposed to novels.
All of these concerns about the limits of fiction and fiction reviewing, whether self-imposed or natural, trouble me. Particularly in an age when environmental factors in such areas as politics and television exist to hinder freedom of expression. It seems to me that regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Dale Peck, Michiko Kauktani, or Caryn James, the idea that a negative review should be excluded, let alone discouraged, is anathema to what I’ve always considered to be a duty of good, honest journalism: take no prisoners when you’ve got compelling evidence backed up by multiple sources.
Granted, when it comes to book reviews and literary criticism, we’re dealing with a format that is more subjective than other formats. And that’s fine. Because the more subjective you get, the greater the latitude you have in expressing an informed opinion. Or so the theory goes. Inevitably, there are some reviewers (and novelists) who take the reading duties personally — sometimes, too personally. But, to use Julavits’ Wood-Smith example, having Wood apply his sensibilities to a novel outside his usual canon is instructive to both critic and novelist alike. Wood can better understand why he dislikes Zadie Smith’s style, Smith (if she has the fortitude) can pay attention or disregard, and the prospective buyer/reader of the Smith book can have a different take from the others. Everybody wins. The issue here is whether honesty should be compromised because it’s perceived by a set of people as “mean-spirited” or “self-serving.”
I’m singling the Hornby-Julavits-Pollack mentality out (and not necessarily their output as authors) because I firmly believe that we’re starting to see a troubling shift in the way that writers pen, review and appreciate fiction. There is a new political correctness at work in the literary world which stems from this McSweeney’s feel-good schtick, which is not unlike Tom Hanks in its insufferable cheeeriness. A mandate being bandied about that fiction (and fiction reviewing) should stick to the safe n’ sane route, that everyone is a winner, and that the more unpleasant realities of bad novels, heavy-hitters striking out and publishing in general are best left unmentioned.
Which is a bit like denying that the homeless exist or not saying “Aw shit!” when you stub your toe.
More importantly, it’s the kind of attitude that fails to take in the big picture. The attitude that a book can be nothing but the bee’s knees fails to acknowledge problem solving basics: first identifying its problems and then coming up with a few possible solutions for future authors to use or discard as they see fit. Is it not positive to identify a work of fiction that is “bad” and, from this “negative” standing, reinforce what is good and remain supportive and passionate in the process? Is it not good to point out certain things that a book critic may have a problem with so that the critic in turn develops a greater understanding of her own sensibilities and an active reader mining the reviews gets a few ideas? The answer, I would suggest, lies in being constructive, rather than turning pure white or jet black, even when the critic is faced with a style or novel type she faces.
Conversely, is it not self-serving for a reviewer such as Hornby to ignore the “uglier” side of the equation because he doesn’t want to piss anybody off? The interesting thing is that review etiquette always seems to come from novelists, rather than readers, MFAs or critics. For my money, if the publishing markets can afford to be ruthlessly competitive, if they can afford to be curt so they can get through their slush piles (or in the case of McSweeney’s, not even have the courtesy to respond at all), then a nasty book review is a walk in the park by comparison.
[RELATED: Can someone please stop J-Franz from talking?]
[ALSO RELATED: For this overview, I had also intended to reference YPTR’s comments on the Hornby book, which responds to the Salon article at length, but I completely blew it on this point. Hopefully, the Rake will forgive me.]
While the Complete Review quite rightly lays into Tanenhaus for his despicable fiction antics over the year (no brownies for you!), Dave Eggers’ continued irrelevance shows off its true colors in a New Yorker review (courtesy of the Rake, a classier bloke than me). Beyond Eggers’ remarkable ignorance of Broadway (or even off or off-off Broadway), his lack of appreciation for Life of Brian, and his narrow view of Python as merely “fourth-wall” humor resides the more troubling dismissal of Doestoevsky’s Notes from Underground as “a very weird book, meandering.” We hate to judge a person solely on their cultural tastes (well maybe not), but we have to ask. This is the man who’s supposed to shepherd “indepedent” publishing?
Like anyone else during the holidays, we’re trying to sustain the momentum. But the brain oozes out of our ears, and we have a good theory that it’s turned into decades-old chop suey. So permit us a steadfast determination to beat the rap and avoid repeating ourselves, which we’ve been doing a lot of lately. Please visit the fine folks on the left until we return. Probably in a little less than a week. We’ll try and answer emails.
TO: All Employees
FROM: The Management
RE: Christmas Party Deportment
As you know, the Company will be hosting a Christmas Party (hereinafter “Shindig”) this Friday. While your attendance at the Shindig isn’t mandatory, please be advised that we have not yet distributed your holiday bonuses and that, while we are not legally permitted to adjust for certain factors that strike us as equitably measured, Shindig-related behavior and general social networking opportunities may be factored in to inflate your Bonus across a broader plane (hint hint).
The Shindig is designed to not only stroke the egos of our Clients and Regular Customers (hereinafter “Guests’) during the Holiday Season (hereinafter “Season”), but as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your loyalty to the Company. Should the Shindig prove insufferable for both Company employees and Guests alike, we have provided bare-chested bartenders of both sexes, copious food and alcohol, and canapés which can be plucked from the backs of svelte and starving models (hereinafter “Modular Furniture”).
During the Shindig, many unscrupulous characters will say “Hello!” and may wish to talk with you, often inviting you to sit on the Modular Furniture. These Guests may arrive at your desk and wish to engage in small talk. While most Guests are benign, others wish to pry personal information for you or even extract inner workings about the Company, often spreading what they learn through a filthy conduit known as Gossip. In extreme cases, they may try to kiss you under a mistletoe. Lead them on, if you must. But keep your conversation tight.
Please be sure to keep your ears open and carefully modulate your alcohol intake so you don’t reveal too much about yourself or the Company’s inner workings. The last thing we want is our Guests to be more curious about us. And you are mere cogs in the machine. Also, remember! Loose lips sink ships. In the event that you find yourself babbling incessantly, we ask that you ingest a Silence Pill. The Silence Pill will knock you out for twelve hours, thus preventing one of the malicious Guests from learning too much about you or the Company. (Should you anticipate a need to be unconscious for more than twelve hours, additional pills are available at Human Resources.)
If you discover one of our Guests is suspicious, please be advised that we are initiating a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, where we plan to arrest first and ask questions later. The DHS will ensure that all questionable Guests are suspected of being thieves and corporate terrorists. Should a Guest strike you as eccentric, inordinately social, intelligent, or extrahuman, please do not arouse suspicion! Approach him carefully. Don’t be alarmed! Experience has suggested the remote possibility that these people may call you by your first name! If you get into a pinch, the Modular Furniture will stand up and take a Suspicious Guest down with several jujitsu moves.
Be on the lookout and avoid risks, even the most minor ones! Your safety depends on it! Our best wishes for the holiday season.
The good Dr. Jones has been outstanding enough to chronicle David Lodge’s appearance at the Chicago Humanities Festival.
- Newsweek gets some dirt from Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King on Faithful.
- Seems that everybody’s a novelist. Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos is set to write a novel.
- Can people please stop interviewing Tom “::::::::STATIC:::::::” Wolfe? Now he’s dissing Carl Hiaasen for not having enough cash.
- While the New York Times whiffs the low air of sophisticated populism, the Sacramento Bee‘s been doing some nice work on the literary front, sans the pretension. They’ve served up an interview with Lily Tuck.
- Dan Brown has been named New Statesman‘s Man of the Year. No code to crack there.
- Robert Pinsky has edited a new poetry anthology. It includes a DVD that compiles 27 shorts of Americans reading and talking about their favorite poems.
Jesus, it’s been a crummy year in the death department. Dimebag Darrell too? Courtesy of a deranged gun nut?
The incomparable Robert Birnbaum talks with Francisco Goldman. Along the way, they mention Walter Benjamin. Now if you’re like me and you encounter an author you haven’t read three times in print or conversation during the course of a single week, you immediately take pains to add him to your bookpile. Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, as referenced by Goldman, involved years of research and years of transformation and appears to be one of those hefty volumes that almost got away and didn’t quite make it to its inevitable form. (The version which can be found today was recovered Kafka-style from a friend.) Composed of notes, lists, labryinthine references, quotes, and more, all of it taking on some momentous expression of consciousness, one suspects that Vollman got more than a few ideas from him. I’m straddling the fence on whether to get sucked into Benjamin. But he was the guy who came first.
Bad enough that Tom Stoppard was pulled away from the script so that the man who gave us American Pie could write His Dark Materials, but the Times reports that “references to the church are likely to banished from the film” — apparently, with the full support of Pullman, who was paid “a large amount” for the rights. (via Publisher’s Lunch)
- The sexiest litblogger in the City of Angels serves up hot compare and contrast on the Holmes front (Sherlock, that is).
- Jenn-W (yo!) gets press with the Jewish Ledger, talking ’bouts Simsbury (not Rocks or Maxis), autobio elements, and the forthcoming film ‘doption dapplin’ down with In Her Shoes. Dig?
- Emily Auerbach sez that Jane Austen is underappreciated as a writer. Does A-bach gets awayz from the burbs? Because here in these cits, hot young bespectacles cants get enough of Pride and Prejudice; hence, prejudicial to Auntie Jane’s books more so than V-Woolf. Get busy, Ems. You’re out to lunch.
- Dakota Fanning’s the kidlit child star. First Alice, then Charlotte’s Web. An Olsen Twin in the making?
- Mira Nair and Jhumpa Lahiri. BUZZ!
- Tintin’s got an amusing explan about his Fountain o’ Youth. Well, Holmes, pass the Courvosier!
Zest fulfilled a gambit without plan or particulars as the machine offered ivories and I took the dimples by surprise, avoiding a hanging in Florida, though unaware of November’s forthcoming execution. Charmed somehow, flushed by two plying folks cheesing it up while the aerosol fumed away. Who knew that the PA system would be revived? I have no wish to churn my own juices, but it’s better to avoid bitter butter. Fermenting this passage to survive northwesters and to retain the smiley for the next jane.
And so it smoothed out rather nicely, even if it was a bit fruity. While other giants roamed the earth, the quartet played and the maven managed. ‘Kay, ‘dyou catch the urban stomp? Rowr! Plausible deniability, hands reaching around my neck despite education, suffering foolishness gladly, carrying out the hefty trash bags while my own refuse was ridiculed.
Righteous rows shook the vessel and soon I transmuted into a man o’war. The sun zoo, an artistic menagerie with swollen heads and without Shatner. It stayed together, but no praise from my lips was enough.
I did my best, convinced that years of our lives would advance with all limbs intact. Balancing act without much sympathy, although to be fair, there was part of me that played the devil. But nobody’s perfect, even when you discover a lemon.
No time like the present, pushed and prodded by niceties, the electricity sparked despite a low current. Mexed missages as the crow flies. Rumors on the Internets.
Able to see clearly without the rain gone, I lied low on the job, circling wagons before the ho. Declared a moratorium on expanding the frontier, and then did the decent thing with an update, which resulted in me being cited as a bluestocking and a bushwacker. Advised by pals to drop it, and did. And by these elaborate stanzas, deleting diminishing ducking, I step out of the shadow completely to take in peaceful weather and expand my fellowship. Why? Because I’m a man and I speak no ill of the dead.
There’s a bit of information floating around about Jonathan Safran Foer’s next novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, set for an April 2005. Houghton Mifflin has the cover (which includes a large hand with Illuminated-like scribbling) and the following plot summary:
Oskar Schell is an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
An inspired creation, Oskar is endearing, exasperating, and unforgettable. His search for the lock careens from Central Park to Coney Island to the Bronx and beyond. But it also travels into history, to Dresden and Hiroshima, where horrific bombings once shattered other lives. Along the way, Oskar encounters a motley assortment of humanity — a 103-year-old war reporter, a tour guide who never leaves the Empire State Building, lovers enraptured or scorned — all survivors in their own ways. Ultimately, Oskar ends his journey where it began, at his father”s grave. But now he is accompanied by the silent stranger who has been renting the spare room of his grandmother”s apartment. They are there to dig up his father”s empty coffin.
Houghton Mifflin lists April 4, 2005 as the publication date, but The Marsh Agency (Foer’s UK agent) lists January 4, 2005.
Susannah Breslin returns to blogging.
Since I’ve cracked the 100 book reading barrier this year, I figured it was time to note the best books of the year. And by best books, I mean books I happened to read since January (though not necessarily published this year) that I greatly enjoyed:
John Barth, The Book of Ten Nights and a Night
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
Octavia Butler, Kindred
Paula Fox, Desperate Characters
Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Joseph T. Hallinan, Going Up the River
Dennis Loy Johnson, The Big Chill
A.L. Kennedy, Original Bliss
John P. Marquand, So Little Time
McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Geoffrey Perrett, America in the Twenties
Frederic Prokosch, The Asisatics
Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing
Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell
Chang Rae-Lee, Aloft
Ben Rice, Pobby and Dingan
Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Best “New” Discoveries: Carol Shields, Paula Fox, Eric Kraft, David Mitchell
Biggest Disappointments: Susanna Clarke, Stephen King, David Lodge, Kevin Starr, Neal Stephenson, Tom Wolfe
Unequivocal Justification for Dave Eggers to Abdicate Control of the McSweeney’s Empire: McSweeney’s 13 (edited by Chris Ware) and McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (edited by Michael Chabon)
Best Movies of 2004:
1. Before Sunset
3. Spider-Man 2
5. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
9. The Manchurian Candidate
10. The Incredibles
Best Musical Comeback: U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
- George Tenet has nabbed $4.5 mil for a tell-all book on intelligence. One chapter will reveal how Tenet had to explain what the CIA acronym stood for to President Bush
- Sarah will be all over this, but mystery novelist Joseph Hansen has passed on. Hansen created one of the mystery genre’s first gay protagonists.
- Apparently, Powell’s does, in fact, run out of books. They’ve undergone a four-day book buying spree to replenish their supply.
- If a second Bush term isn’t bad enough to contemplate, Motley Crue is reuniting. Nikki Sixx elaborated on the reteaming with typically eloquent words, “We’re growing fucking old and we want more fucking groupies before our fucking dicks fall off. Fuck yeah! Flash in the pan? No fucking way!”
- Is Joan Collins superficial? Yes. And she’s still writing novels.
- Apparently, Judy Blume cries on book tours.
We’re up for jury duty selection next week. Just in time for the sucking sound of the holidays. Low Culture has some ideas on how to get out of it, with a good point on the reading front. If we read, we’ll get selected. If we don’t read, we’ll go nuts in the poorly ventillated waiting area and start licking the dusty walls or becoming polymorphously perverse in an effort to pass the time. If we put a good trade paperback inside the latest issue of Hustler, our ruse will be found out in seconds. If any hard-core readers have any ideas about how to combat such an obsession while simultaneously appearing dumb and unqualified, we’d be interested in hearing your theories and techniques. We’re also tempted to invent prejudices and conspiracies during the questioning process, but we like to consider all points before taking the plunge. Your assistance is welcomed.
This morning, it was pointed out to me that Return of the Reluctant, being the version of edrants that has been (for the most part) literary, turned a year old just a few days ago. Let me thank you, my dear readers. You’re the ones who help keep the flame alive. The people I’ve met and the opportunities that have come from this blog have been incredible. And without going into too much detail, I think it’s very likely that this blog helped me in a subconscious way to make some very good moves in the last year.
Despite a few calamities on the personal and geopolitical front, it was a good year under the circumstances. And I’m looking forward to making ’05 an even better one — thanks in part to all of you.
While the bright burgeoning light of Segundo will shine again soon, who knows? I might even bring Miguel Cohen back.
I’m 37% Geek: “You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.” (via Gwenda)
The Gaddis Drinking Club has had some difficulty of late getting conversation started (perhaps due to the holidays), but it’s still be-bopping for those of like mind. I hope to weigh in with a lengthy sliver of Recognitions lit boogeying once things settle down on this end.
Time, one of the silliest magazines that Americas must endure, profiles Michael Chabon and suggests that it’s somehow a bad thing for a novelist to be both literary and genre-centric. Missing the boat completely on the recent McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, Lev Grossman proceeds to decry the collection as “the promiscuous atmosphere of one of those speakeasies where socialites slum with gangsters in an effort to mutually increase everybody’s street cred,” but fails to cite a specific example that explains this purported circlejerk (not even mentioning the involvement of Julivats and Waldman).
Grossman seems truly astonished to learn that Joyce Carol Oates is capable of writing genre stories. Never mind that she’s been turning out speculative and gothic fiction for years, with regular appearances at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, among others. For that matter, Margaret Atwood’s best-known novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, might be styled “science fiction.” Even more unintentionally amusing is Grossman’s labeling of China Mieville as part of “the gangster side of the equation.” Is it because he wrote an amusing story about shifting streets?
Grossman seems desperate to find a fusion, but I suspect he didn’t read the collection when he penned this malarkey. For one thing, he references stories that appear near the beginning of the book. And the fusion angle he’s striving for couldn’t be any more clearer than Ayelet Waldman’s excellent story about a ghostly baby, which successfully maneuvered maternal angst (the stuff of literary kudos) into a spooky template.
Grossman’s uneducated take in a major weekly magazine is a pity. Because instead of dwelling upon the differences, he reinforces his own thesis: that Chabon’s noble effort is more of a stunt than a literary experiment. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Dan Wickett serves up Part 2 of his Interview with the Bloggers series. With the exception of one notorious asshat, some nice folks (including Haggis, currently settling into new digs, Messr. Orthofer, the man with the finest initials outside of China, M.J. Rose, Senora Chicha, Mad “Really Mad” Max Perkins, Kassia Krozser, Megan, the good Dr. Jones, and the two gals behind Cupcake) talk bloggish.
- Steinbeck’s hometown will lose its public library system because of a financial crisis. Locals have placed a black armband onto a six foot bronze Steinbeck statue.
- Salon interviews Jerry Stahl: “I’ve pretty much been pegged for life as ‘that junkie who wrote ALF.'”
- Sylvia Plath’s Ariiel has been read in its entirety for the first time. Several effigies of Ted Hughes were burned, but not enough of them had been created to last throughout the duration.
- Hemingway’s secretary has penned a memoir. The book will be part of a new Modern Library series called For Whom the Staff Tolls, which will include memoirs from Papa’s accountant, cook, and masseuse.
- A secret staircase reported to be the inspiration for Mrs. Rochester has been rediscovered in North Yorkshire. Several actors in the area have offered to fill in for the mad woman in the attic, but none of them have proved convincing enough for the local historical society.
- Nick Hornby addresses the “no snark” policy at The Beleiver: “And of course, there’s no consensus on what is an ‘egregiously bad’ book.” Apparently, he hasn’t read I Am Charlotte Simmons.
- Ian McEwan reveals some dirt about his new novel: “a British neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne, leaves his central London house to pick up his car – a sleek, silver Mercedes 500 – to drive to his regular game of squash.” Not much, but at a recent reading, McEwan also read a passage about Perowne overcoming his shame in owning a car. McEwan also assures the Times that he isn’t taking any kickbacks from BMW.
- The upcoming Barbara Boxer novel (which, along with Mark, I must express my apologies for) gets some press at the Contra Costa Times. Giving new meaning to the mantra “Write about what you know,” its protagonist is “an activist senator who does battle with right-wing ideologues.” It remains my firm hope that Boxer spends more time doing battle in real life rather than fiction over the next four years.