Seven Pillars of Bookstore Customers

The Book Geek: S/he can be counted upon to buy something obscure or with literary underground streetcred (like say Steve Erickson or Kathy Acker) and will spend at least 20 minutes displaying her knowledge in front of a clerk or whoever else will listen. Unfortunately, it’s the clerks who are often the victims, as they have to stand for 8+ hours listening to this. (Variation: The Laconic Book Geek, who is a terrible eavesdropper, often nervous, and will sometimes bail a New Literate/Book Geek out at the last minute. Bookstore clerks who hope to avoid needless conversation with Book Geeks are advised to have a Laconic Book Geek on staff.)

The Former Bookstore Clerk: Unable to find a new job or perhaps wafting in the nostalgia of younger and more idealistic days of starvation, the Former Bookstore Clerk is more concerned with a bookstore’s decor and staff, than the books in question. Former Bookstore Clerks often end up owning their own used bookstores, for lack of a better purpose in life, sometimes harassing other customers just because they can.

The Macker: A thirtysomething (or older) who spends evenings and weekends ogling over the opposite (or same) sex. Not necessarily bad-looking, but definitely missed out on a lot of good fucking during their twenties, perhaps because they spent too much time intellectualizing sex and relationships. Trying to make up for lost time. Has perfected art of pretend reading, which affords opportunities to check out interesting anatomy by peering over hardcover spines. Often equipped with basic knowledge of liberal arts to spawn conversation.

The New Literate: A bookstore customer who has rediscovered books the same way that born again Christians rediscover God. New Literates can be just as passionate in their conversation as Book Geeks, but since their knowledge of contemporary literature is close to nil, they can at least be persuaded to talk about something else. On the whole, New Literates are friendly and susceptible to remembering good book choices.

The Reader: This person will never buy a book and spends time in bookstores reading the latest hardcovers, hoping to remain in the loop on current titles. Often unemployed, sometimes deranged, the Reader is generally benign provided that they have several books and tables to themsleves. The Reader has strange dietary habits, which are timed with the opening and closing of the store.

The Solipsist: The Solipsist differs from the Reader in that (a) he does not read and (b) he doesn’t particularly care about books. The Solipsist often views the bookstore as a temporary Witness Protection Program, a refuge from the rain or the hard realities of existence. He is perhaps fleeing a lover, requires to be lost within his own thoughts, or is looking for an exotic locale to mask his momentary contempt for the human race. The Solipsist doesn’t spend as much time in a bookstore as The Reader, but he can be just as snarly.

Spoilsport Acquaintance: The acquaintance who doesn’t really like you, but who feels compelled to “run into you,” snubbing your reading choice by saying, “I read that YEARS ago” or “That book was OKAY” just as you are about to slide your credit card. Too cowardly and dishonest to acknowledge the truth, Spoilsport Acquintances pose no threat to the bookstore employee, but are considerably vexing for manic depressives. (And it is worth noting that Spoilsport Acquaintaces are often manic depressives themselves!)

RIP Mitch Hedberg

Goddam, Mitch Hedberg has passed on. He was only 37. Here are some Hedbergisms in his honor:

“The thing about tennis is: no matter how much I play, I’ll never be as good as a wall. I played a wall once. They’re fucking relentless.”hedberg.jpg

“If carrots got you drunk, rabbits would be fucked up.”

“An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You would never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.'”

“This product that was on TV was available for four easy payments of $19.95. I would like a product that was available for three easy payments and one complicated payment. We can’t tell you which payment it is, but one of these payments is going to hard. ”

“I saw a human pyramid once. It was totally unnecessary.”

“I don’t own a cell phone or a pager. I just hang around everyone I know, all the time. If someone needs to get ahold of me they just say, ‘Mitch,’ and I say, ‘What?’ and turn my head slightly…”

“I had a velco wallet in a casino. That sound annoyed the hell out of me. Whenever I lost money, and I opened the wallet, it was like the sound of my addiction.”

“I got my hair highlighted, because I felt some strands were more important than others.”

“Mr. Pibb is a poor imitation of Dr. Pepper. Dude didn’t even get his degree.”

The Publishing Industry is All About Time Management

It seems that Windstream Publishing, who berated Stephanie Perry for giving Richard Bothelho’s Leah’s Way a bad review, can’t refrain from sending rude emails to anyone who dares to suggest that book reviewing is entirely separate from being a “liberal” or even being “religious.” Now poor Ron Hogan, one of the litbloggers who ran with the story, has been stung with further nonsense. Of course, if the book is as bad as Perry says it is, then the fact that multiple Windstream employees spend all of their spare time sending inflammatory emails to random people rather than devoting their time to quality control on their titles might suggest why.

Upton Sinclair, Soon to Appear in a Spring Break Video

The San Francisco Bay Guardian takes a long look at Professor Lauren Coodley‘s almost single-handed Upton Sinclair boosterism. She’s prepared a new anthology, The Land of Orange Grove and Jails, of Sinclair’s writings for Heyday Books. What’s interesting is that Coodley discovered Sinclair almost completely by accident, while substituting for a political science class. And apparently, the Huntington Museum turned down a collection of Sinclair’s papers.

If It Isn’t Art, It’s Memorex

Ian McEwan has said that “life imitates art.” In the last year alone, McEwan reports that he witnessed a balloon accident and was stalked by a mentally ill man, published a tawdry photo in a newspaper, lived with the consequences of playing a prank as a child, and began sleeping with his siblings when both of his parents died. McEwan hopes that he can fix things so that “art can imitate life,” because this might make his novels more interesting, in light of the mixed reviews for Saturday.

[RELATED: How Critics Got Saturday Wrong]

Equal Opportunity Mocking

We won’t comment on the blogger wars. We already defended the right to mock literary figures a few weeks ago and have nothing further to say. We plan to earn our black sheep stripes the right way (at least for today, largely because we’re feeling exceptionally immature), by moving onto mocking non-literary figures in the most tasteless manner possible, beginning with the Governator himself (as pictured below):

tuminator.bmp

Cookie Monster Saddened By Recent “Sesame” Sellout

WASHINGTON D.C. (AP): This morning, in front of reporters, Cookie Monster revealed shocking allegations that his love for cookies was being curtailed against his will by the producers of Sesame Street.cookiemonster.jpg

“Me so sorry!” said Cookie Monster in front of a mob of reporters. “Me still like cookies all the time. But Cookie Monster needs money to buy more cookies.”

Three journalists, trying hard to remain objective, broke down almost immediately upon learning that a pivotal character from the long-running PBS children’s program had sold out. Kleenex was offered.

The 36th season of Sesame Street will respond to the growing crisis of obesity. Characters will now sing the praises of vegetables and nutrition. But as TV critic Tom Shales recently noted, “If the Cookie Monster can’t have cookies all the time, it’s clear that Sesame Street has jumped the shark.”

Sesame Street producers were asked whether such a dramatic change in Cookie Monster’s diet would have adverse effect on Cookie Monster’s metabolism, which scientists believe involves an exclusive diet of cookies. Calls were not returned.

The slimmer Cookie Monster showed a noted loss of vigor at the press conference, the result of a sharp reduction in his cookie diet. He said that he was sadder than usual and that the sudden introduction of carrots into his meals had made him sick. Even the news that his sudden weight loss had earned him People‘s “Sexiest Monster Alive” offered no solace.

“Me can only eat cookies,” said Mr. Monster. “Why they no understand that me like cookies and cookies are for me?

Linklater’s Omnipotent Narrative

As Dan Green notes, Long Pauses has a very good post up about Richard Linklater’s films. Darren points out that all of Linklater’s characters are represented in an egalitarian light, but if one is to judge these characters, it is the behavior that is the culprit, not the social status or the circumstances behind it. Life’s the thing, whether it’s the cruel hazing by Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused or even Giovanni Ribisi’s slacker, reduced to living in a pup tent and unable to come to grips with a singular decision, in the underrated SubUrbia (a film that also has the interesting distinction of merging Eric Bogosian’s savage wit with Richard Linklater’s cheery joie de vivre).

I’d like to take Darren’s idea one step further. First off, it’s worth noting that Linklater generally tends to favor long takes, whether it’s Richard Linklater himself rambling on in a cab about the four different roads at the beginning of Slacker or the fantastic shot without dialogue in Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are secretly looking at each other in the record store. Endless comparisons have been made between Linklater and Eric Rohmer because of this deliberate stylistic approach. And certainly letting the camera roll affords Linklater the opportunity to show life unfolding at its own pace — a cinematic idea remarkably subversive in today’s environment of quick cuts and easily digestible tales.

But where Rohmer allows his characters to get lost within the fine art of conversation (also a laudable goal), unlike Rohmer, there’s a casual concern for narrative in Linklater’s films, almost as if narrative’s the very veneer between audience and characters, existing to offer meaning not even remotely graspable in five lifetimes. If Linklater’s goal is to portray a nonjudgmental view of American life, then there’s the added problem of finding a narrative to tie into, whether it be the titular twist of Waking Life or the dangling question of whether Hawke and Delpy will stay together in the Before films. With Before Sunset, Linklater found a fantastic way out by insinuating fate with a final fadeout.

But I would suggest that what makes Linklater’s films additionally interesting is the way in which his narratives function as omnipotent barriers to unraveling the mysteries of life. It’s taken Linklater a few films to develop this, but his films can now be viewed as bright beacons for multiple subjective reactions instead of a unilateral, preprogrammed response. One can emerge from Before Sunset and start questioning a gesture, a specific pause, or a single line of dialogue and use these to form a working theory about what happens to the characters. The behavior presented is not so much nonjudgmental, but, if we ruminate upon the characters (as most people seem to do), it says more about our judgments of other people.

Insomnia-Charged Roundup

  • Radio host Paul Kennedy is trying to win Leonard Cohen a Nobel Prize. “He’s different from a celebrity; he’s almost God,” says Kennedy. You can make the same claim about mescaline, but you’d never nominate a drug for a distinguished honor.
  • It certainly isn’t news that laughter is good for you, but I didn’t realize that Anthony Trollope died laughing. Apparently, it was F. Anstey’s Vice Versa which was the culprit and has Orwell’s admiration.
  • Ayelet Waldman describes her day.
  • If Tom Wolfe’s slithering wasn’t enough, Natalie Krinsky’s new book, Chloe Does Yale, hopes to steam up the Ivy League. A telltale excerpt (“Every time I move, the bikini bottoms wedge themselves a little higher, and I am stuck trying to extract them from their chosen crevice.”) suggests that this novel has a lock on this year’s Bad Sex Award.
  • It’s the 200th anniversary of Victor Hugo’s birth. The Suntory Museum Tempozoan in Osaka has an exposition lined up.
  • My heart bleeds for the wealthy Irish artists soon to lose their tax-free status. Particularly when they include such dubious figures as Def Leppard. “Women to the left, women to the right, there to entertain and take you thru the night.” Yup, today’s answer to “No Second Troy” right there.

We Get the Same Way After A Bit of Whiskey

Ulrich Baer has written to the Rake with a lengthy essay about the creation of his book, The Wisdom of Rilke: “My process of translation involves a lot of reading out loud, mumbling, and general behavior unfit for a public space. I read the German or French sentence a few times, try to allow its meaning, speed, and rhythm resonate within me, and then try it out in English. All the while I am more or less speaking to myself, listening for an approximation of the particular movement of Rilke’s thought and phrasing in English.”

The Harriet Klausner Mythos

Booksquare suggests that Amazon reviewer Harriet Klausner (profiled in today’s Wall Street Journal by Joanne Kaufman) isn’t exactly a discovery of such stunning new finds as Tess Gerritsen, pointing out that Gerritsen’s career kick-started several years before.

However, I’m curious why the Wall Street Journal didn’t make an effort to verify Klausner’s extraordinary claims. Kaufman only describes Klausner’s voice as “more than a few dips of helium,” but makes no reference to the geography of her home or Ms. Klausner’s appearance. I’m wondering if Kaufman even spoke with Ms. Klausner in person. After all, if Klausner has read over 8,000 books and reviewed them in a mere five years, wouldn’t it be worth a trip to Atlanta to observe just how she does it?

AM Roundup

An Introduction

If you’re coming here from the New York Times article, welcome. This website is a dedication to the life of Edward Champion (1974-1998), who was unexpectedly beheaded by a samurai while giving a motivation speech in Chico, California. Champion was one of the most brilliant writers this nation ever had. His grocery lists were wittier than Oscar Wilde. He once wrote a note telling his friends to meet him at the pub that was exhaustively picked over by grad students. John Updike has said of the man, “Edward Champion: too many thoghts, not enough time, nipples as ripe as water chestnuts.”

And yet Champion’s work is often overlooked by the likes of J.T. Leroy, who is, strangely enough, still living.

So I set up this blog to pay tribute to Champion’s legacy. To me, Champion represents both the summit and the nadir of American letters. Some of the posts here are exhumed from Champion’s notebooks. Others are reinventions of ideas he had.

We hope that you’ll stick around for our continuing tribute.

Choose Your Own Adventure from a Freelance Writer’s Perspective

1. It’s close to seven o’clock. You’ve spent most of the day doing everything in your power to put off deadlines. Now the phone won’t stop ringing as you pound away on the computer trying to finish some bland copy for a nonprofit foundation. Nevertheless, you’re curious. Who could be calling at this hour? If you pick up the phone, go to 22. If you keep writing, go to 5.

2. John Grisham’s dull prose has you pondering why you never became a multi-millionaire. Tanenhaus repeatedly calls. Due to unexpected pressure from Times brass (they can’t justify paying an excessive word rate for a freelancer hanging on by the skin of his teeth and demand answers), Tanenhaus asks you to cut your 30-word profile down to 25 words. If you accommodate Tanenhaus, go to 4. If you stick to your artistic guns and stick with the 30 words you promised, go to 8.

3. The midnight oil has burned brightly like Kipling’s tiger. Savor this moment. The hapless drones who must march off to a nine-to-five job can’t possibly compete with this wonderful luxury of walking around the flat in jammies. Just as you revel in your superiority, your spouse, who has spent the day working for a state-funded planning department for scant pay and thankless distinction, arrives through the door. The spouse, suffering from a minor depression, wants sex. If you go through with this, go to 12. If you don’t, go to 14.

4. You can’t give the copy editors an answer. The ten cent words you’ve crammed into the slightly tightened blurb, the idea being that they would make you appear genteel and smart, don’t cut the mustard. You try negotiating with Tanenhaus for an additional sentence or two. But with the NYTBR going to press, there’s no time. Tanenhaus hires an intern to perform your work at one quarter the price. Meanwhile, with the kill fee long forgotten, you’ve had to suffer through another Grisham novel. You burn your entire library and decide that a screenwriting career might be in the cards.

5. Damn the Fleet Street hacks. Damn the amateurs. You’ve spent years working yourself up to this magnificent level of professionalism and poverty. Why stop now? You compose some 600 words on how John O’Hara, Richard Yates, or another dead white male hankering for a 21st century comeback has been unfairly neglected by the cognoscenti, little realizing that Alex, that smug trust fund kid you keep running into at cocktail parties, has already pitched Lewis Lapham on the same subject. But the piece is done. And you’re not exactly one to shun a dead horse. If you write a query letter for the piece you’ve just written, go to 3. If you decide to sleep off your energy, go to 18.

6. Sara Nelson is so impressed by your full-fledged attack piece that she appoints you an associate editor, which involves correcting atrocious copy when you’re not surfing the Internet. But it does mean free ARCs, even if the novel you had hoped to write before the age of 35 falls by the wayside. You eat well when you can afford it. And now that you have an actual job title, the spouse has some tangible vocational position that she can announce to her parents without fear of shame. You contemplate purchasing Connecticut real estate.

7. You bone up on M.F.K. Fisher. But it’s not enough. Tanenhaus watches the way you salivate over your shrimp salad. When the main course arrives, a waiter offers pepper. If you accept the pepper, go to 11. If not, go to 27.

8. Tanenhaus is satisfied and never calls you again. You don’t exactly have Rachel Donadio’s legs. But he does invite you to dinner, assuming of course that you’ll cover him. If you go to dinner with Tanenhaus, go to 7. If you prefer a home-cooked meal with the spouse, go to 13.

9. Sam Tanenhaus bemoans the lack of confrontational writing within your 25-word blurb. Where’s the Wieseltier or the Clive James feel? You have no answer. You meet with Tanenhaus at an upscale restaurant on the west side and he slaps you on the wrist with his portable ruler, which was specially constructed for him as a tchotchke from the good folks at McGraw Hill, who had hoped to ingratiate him. He dons a yarmulke, shouts to you that “He hef no son” and has two men throw you out of the building. You spend years in a padded cell, clutching onto a toy manatee named Simon given to you by Jungians to free you mind. It takes 27 years for you to fully recover. But that’s okay. By the time you’re sane, the flying cars have arrived.

10. You decide that if Top Ramen and Stove Top are the fruits of hard labor, then this freelance gambit really isn’t worth it. You open a co-op in Seattle and specialize in organic vegetables. Two of your friends regularly give you hugs.

11. The pepper makes you sneeze. And you let loose a booger that makes Tanenhaus slightly uncomfortable. If you tell Tanenhaus that the booger was the result of a childhood trauma that you’re too embarassed to go into the details over, go to 21. If you offer Tanenhaus a napkin, go to 23.

12. You’re intimately familiar with your spouse’s contours and genitalia What a dependable port in a storm! Unfortunately, you should have listened to your high school gym coach. Don’t let it all loose before the game. There’s the 2,000 words you have to bang out tomorrow for Elizabeth Spiers. But sore from the previous evening’s gymnastics, you sleep in untll 2 PM and find yourself distracted by daytime soaps. Your editors don’t forgive you and you go back to grad school to get a master’s in zoology. Your freelance career is over.

13. The spouse points to the copious collection of Top Ramen in the cupboard. The spouse points out that the check from the Iowa Herald Press, the “shitstorm piece” you spent several days celebrating over, has yet to clear. If you dine on Top Ramen, go to 10. If you decide that Allah is on your side and you take the spouse to a nice restaurant, go to 19.

14. Sure, let the spouse suffer. You’re an artist, dammit, and the last thing you want to feel is relaxed. It’s that dependable edginess that’s kept the checks coming in. But your spouse has tired of these excuses. The spouse forces you to sleep on the couch. You wake up the next day and shuffle around the refrigerator for a bite to eat. But your spouse decided to move back to the parents and take all of the food. Your credit cards are maxed. There isn’t a single sou in your wallet. And collecting unemployment would be a detriment to your pride. But since there’s none of Cheever’s bread and buttermilk, you die of starvation inside of two weeks. But at least there’s the work to stand the test of time.

15. Despite three years of Spanish in high school, they don’t want to talk. You meet Jorge, the guy who runs the place. You don’t entirely hit it off and find yourself sleeping with the fishes. So much for journalistic credibility.

16. The new Sunday book review format has made this a lot easier than you initially thought. Hell, you might even get a MacArthur Genius Grant out of this. Just when you’re about to submit your blurb to Tanenahus, however, you get a call from Sara Nelson. Nelson has observed your bouncing around. Hell, she’s an expert at it. She offers the magic carrot of writing a Grisham review for Publisher’s Weekly. 800 words. Time to tear that onerous attorney-turned-author a new one. If you accept Nelson’s offer, go to 6. If you stick with Tanenhaus, go to 9.

17. You promise Reichl that you’ll find an angle. Mad with glee, you shake on it over the phone. $500 for 2,000 words. A so-so sum, but a veritable miracle. But you don’t know anyone other than the Puerto Ricans who run the donut shop down the street. And Reichl and her fact checkers demand sources. If you talk with the donut shop owners, go to 15. If you make up your sources, go to 20.

18. You fall upon the dumpy futon. You haven’t eaten since noon. And with no spouse around to second-guess your appetite and your need for sleep, you find yourself pinned to the futon for several days. The spouse, viewing you as a responsible adult, doesn’t count on the last-minute rescue call from Sam Tanenhaus, who expects you to write a 30-word review of the latest Grisham as a dare. You accept. If you write the 30 words without reading the novel, go to 16. If you’re an ethical type who must read the novel before writing the review, go to 2.

19. You enjoy a prix fixe menu at an upscale bistro. You declare bankruptcy, but thanks to recent lax legislation, your debtors are able to incarcerate you. Your spouse divorces you and gets booked on a daytime talk show with the theme, “My Spouse Thought He Was a Freelance Writer and Didn’t Know When to Quit.” Years later, you win first prize in a public access version of American Idol, but you’re not nearly as successful as Jonah Moananu. You found a leper colony in Carmel, California, but have difficulty finding bona-fide lepers.

20. When the blogosphere reveals what a liar you are, you declare yourself Jayson Blair’s illegitimate cousin. You appear on Larry King, sobbing like Jerry Falwell. Hayden Christensen plays you in the biopic.

21. Tanenhaus replies, “If pain’s your game, write a memoir, kid.” You send a proposal to Random House and, to your surprise, they agree to publish 5,000 Boogers of the Soul, your childhood memoir. You win the National Book Critics Circle Award and get tenured at a prominent Eastern university.

22. You’re not really one for discipline, are you? Your spouse has taken on two full-time jobs to support your artistic temperament and this is the thanks she gets?

Well, never mind. You bang out about 500 words, most of it rubbish. You look to the empty bottle of whiskey, the telltale flask you put on your desk in honor of Faulkner but never bothered to replace. Nothing to drink, but the phone’s still ringing.

Bored out of your gourd, you decided to pick up.

It’s Ruth Reichl. She was amused by one of your essays that appeared in the Voice and now she’s interested in having you write something about donuts. You hate donuts. You’re a bagel person. In fact, you don’t see what’s so gastronomic about those sugary monstrosities that have long been the dinner of choice for the fuzz. And you’ve already got five things to finish by Saturday. But the liquor cabinet is empty and you could use a pick-me-up. And this is Ruth Reichl. If you accept the assignment, go to 17. If you say no, go to 25.

23. Tanenhaus accepts the napkin and replies that you have guts. He’s willing to give you the cover essay if you can get published in the New Yorker before the winter. If you accept his offer, go to 24. If not, go to 26.

24. You throw yourself on the knees of David Remnick at a philanthropic function. You offer to draw cartoons. Remnick hires you as a human model. You spend an evening in a frozen and recumbent position, observing various millionaires eating canap鳠off your naked back. Remnick, however, to his credit agrees to put an essay you’ve written in the “Talk of the Town” section. Tanenhaus gives you the cover essay. Real health insurance isn’t far behind.

25. Ruth Reichl tells you that you’re making a foolish mistake and vows to smear your name at the next cocktail function. She hangs up, shortly before declaring you a rank amateur. The Voice stops taking your work. You have difficulty and, with the spouse pissed off with you about royally screwing up an opportunity, you consider a safe career as a taxidermist. Your friends remark that there’s more life in the dead birds than there ever was in your writing. You abandon your writing career and purchase a two-bedroom home in Ohio.

26. You decide to rail against the machine, becoming the editor of a new blog, Flaubert Liked Tennis. The blog gets quoted in the New York Times. You get all sorts of free books but the lacrosse lessons aren’t successful.

27. “Son, that’s the ballsiest move I’ve ever seen a freelancer make in a four-star restaurant,” says Tanenhaus. You’ve ingratiated yourself into the machine. You take Deborah Solomon’s interviewing job and prove yourself even more vicious with your questions than she did, earning the enmity of all bloggers.

The Book Review Reviewers

Holy frijole! Return of the Reluctant got a whole paragraph from the Gray Lady and was named with several other fantastic and swell folks. That conventional media has responded so quickly to the book review reviewers demonstrates that we are having an more of an influence than we thought. At the very least, they’re paying attention. I certainly hope that other litblogs (and blogs in general) pick up the slack and give their local newspaper coverage a hard look. Together, we might be able to remind today’s newspapers that book coverage is a seminal part of the Sunday newspaper experience.

Rest assured, this won’t affect our hard tests here in the slightest. And I should again point out that I would be beyond delighted to send Mr. Tanenhaus a tasty brownie. It’s really up to him.

Hugo Nominations

Gwenda beat me to it (for obvious reasons), but the Hugo Nominations are up. A certain Christopher Rowe was nominated. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, put the word “iron” in your title if you hope to get nominated for an award.

BEST NOVEL:

The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks (Orbit)
Iron Council, China Mi鶩lle (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Iron Sunrise, Charles Stross (Ace)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
River of Gods, Ian McDonald (Simon & Schuster UK)

BEST NOVELLA:

“The Concrete Jungle”, Charles Stross (The Atrocity Archives, Golden Gryphon Press)
“Elector”, Charles Stross (Asimov’s Sep 2004)
“Sergeant Chip”, Bradley Denton (F&SF Sep 2004)
“Time Ablaze”, Michael A. Burstein (Analog Jun 2004)
“Winterfair Gifts”, Lois McMaster Bujold (Irresistible Forces, NAL)

BEST NOVELLETE:

Biographical Notes to ?A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes? by Benjamin Rosenbaum”, Benjamin Rosenbaum (All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, Wheatland Press)
“The Clapping Hands of God”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog Jul/Aug 2004)
“The Faery Handbag”, Kelly Link (The Faery Reel, Viking)
“The People of Sand and Slag”, Paolo Bacigalupi (F&SF Feb 2004)
“The Voluntary State”, Christopher Rowe (Sci Fiction 5 May 2004)

BEST SHORT STORY:

“The Best Christmas Ever”, James Patrick Kelly (Sci Fiction 26 May 2004)
“Decisions”, Michael A. Burstein (Analog Jan/Feb 2004)
“A Princess of Earth”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Dec 2004)
“Shed Skin”, Robert J. Sawyer (Analog Jan/Feb 2004)
“Travels with My Cats”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Feb 2004)

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD:

Elizabeth Bear (second year of eligibility)
K. J. Bishop (second year of eligibility)
David Moles (second year of eligibility)
Chris Roberson (second year of eligibility)
Steph Swainston (first year of eligibility)

Tanenhaus Watch: March 27, 2005

browniewatch4.gif

WEEKLY QUESTION: Will this week’s NYTBR reflect today’s literary and publishing climate? Or will editor Sam Tanenhaus demonstrate yet again that the NYTBR is irrelevant to today’s needs? If the former, a tasty brownie will be sent to Mr. Tanenhaus’ office. If the latter, the brownie will be denied.

THE COLUMN-INCH TEST:

Fiction Reviews: 1 – 1 1/2 page review, 1 one-page review, 1 one-page roundup (Fiction in Translation), 1 half-page crime roundup, 1 half-page review. (Total books: 13. Total space: 4.5 pages.)

Non-Fiction Reviews: 1 2 page review, 1 – 1 1/2 page review, 3 one-page reviews, one half-page review. (Total books: 6. Total space: 6.5 pages.)

This week’s fiction coverage, most of it asphyixiated in roundups, is such a joke that not even Tanenhaus could be compelled to list the crime roundup novels in the table of contents. In fact, I’m surprised that Sarah hasn’t weighed in on this. It’s bad enough that Marilyn Stasio devotes a mere paragraph to the reissue of Joe Gores’ A Time of Predators, only to dwell upon how the Edgar Award-winning novel “shows its age” while declaring it a “good choice.” But Rupert Holmes’ innovative mystery novel-plus-CD, Swing, is pretty much dismissed through a comparison to one of “those interactive mystery game-books that were popular back in the mid-1980s.” Consider, by contrast, an honest assessment of Holmes’ caper, along the lines of what John Orr did last week in the San Jose Mercury News.

You have to love the disingenuouness of the roundup format, where you can offer general platitudes for the blurb whores (“thought-provoking fiction” and “strirring, impassioned glimpses of lost souls amid the rubble of history,” says Anderson Tepper), while avoiding any penetrating insight because you don’t have the space.

Conversely, if the fiction-to-nonfiction ratio isn’t bad enough (a mere 41% this week), adding insult to injury is Clive James’ self-serving takedown of Paglia and poetry (of which more anon) and the deliberate padding within Pete Hamill’s review of Boss Tweed. Hamill not only spends an execrable amount of space summarizing Tweed’s life, but he wastes half a paragraph informing readers about Thomas Nast. Wouldn’t someone interested in Boss Tweed, let alone any NYTBR reader, already know about Nast? Hamill also takes his opening Gore vs. Tweed gimmick a paragraph too far, beating a horse that didn’t deserve to die. (What next, Petey? Telling us you’d rather play sqaush or cross-stitch a quilt with the man? Ha ha! You amuse me. Sushi on me!)

Beyond proving once again how out-of-step he is with today’s fiction (even the Rocky Mountain News covered A Changed Mind two weeks ago), it’s clear that Tanenhaus has abdicated any effort to find the happy medium: the format allowing the reviewer to focus his energies within a taut word count, while preventing unfortunate asides. The 800-900 word review has served several newspapers quite well for so many years. Tanenhaus again demonstrates a truly unfortunate allocation of column-inches.

Brownie Point: DENIED!

THE HARD-ON TEST:

This test concerns the ratio of male to female writers writing for the NYTBR.

A total of four women have contributed to eleven reviews. As usual, three of these are fiction chicks, while the only female-penned nonfiction review goes to (go figure) Fat Girl.

This is infinitely worse than last week, particularly when one considers that the big reviews were handed off to those with Y chromosomes.

While it’s true that Rachel Donadio has penned an essay on Harvard, the essay spends most of its time chronicling Larry Summers’ exploits than the two books it cites (and is thus excluded from the fiction-to-nonfiction ratio).

Brownie Point: DENIED!

THE QUIRKY PAIR-UP TEST:

Pete Hamill, Clive James, Rachel Donadio, Liesl Schillinger, Barry Gewen. Yawn yawn and yawn. We haven’t seen such a predictable crop of names since the Fortune 500. What’s the matter, Sam? Is March Madness keeping you from approaching the interesting people?

Brownie Point: DENIED!

CONTENT CONCERNS:

The Sgt. Pepper-style numbered image collage of poets matches Clive James’ essay to a tee. It is as suitably insipid as James’ arrogance in print, little more than a paint-by-numbers palette for bored children who believe in image first and the love of language last.

James bemoans “the airless space of literary theory and cultural studies.” He claims that John Ashbery is “the combined status of totem pole and wind tunnel.” Most alarmingly, he declares that his “own prescription for making poetry popular would be to ban it — with possession treated as a serious misdemanor, and dealing as a felony.”

That such passive ignorance and anti-intellectualism would be promulgated in a book review section of a major newspaper is truly disheartening.

With such obvious enmity against the liberal arts expressed in the first five paragraphs, one wonders why any level-headed editor assign a book about poetry to an overrated, perhaps permanently impotent essayist. It’s clear enough that James would rather spend hours working himself up into an erection over Daffy Duck, Anne Heche and Charlton Heston. The answer: An editor looking for a train wreck, because the very notion of thinking about an interesting problem like the decline in poetry is too difficult and certainly not good enough for the money men.

If badmouthing poetry isn’t enough, James is ready to decimate Paglia over details that have little to do with the book in question. James has taken the opportunity to pull a Wieseltier here, spending a good chunk of his two pages spouting off ad hominen attacks rather than offering specific examples about why and where one should search Camille Paglia for the Number of the Beast. How dare this woman possess “wide knowledge” and “expressive gifts,” while daring to be a clear thinker “on top of a pair of Jimmy Choos!” To suggest (as the cover does) that James “fancies Camille Paglia” is as great a lie as claiming that a Democrat desires to give George Bush a hug.

What’s interesting is that James has very little to find fault with in the book. He declares that Break, Blow, Burn has “few sweeping statements.” He commends her comparison of Wallace Stevens’ “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” with a Satie piano piece. Still unable to separate Paglia the thinker from Paglia the feminist, he points to Paglia’s defense of Ted Hughes as “a quixotic move.”

So why complain that Paglia’s “young students might listen too well?” What the hell does appearing in Inside Deep Throat have to do with the book in question? Why quibble over Ava Gardner being manufactured in a Hollywood studio when Paglia didn’t champion Gardner, but was merely inspired by her at a mere four years old?

Such smears are the telltale signs of a man looking for a fight, combing minutiae and finding nothing to support his argument. This is what’s known in the trade as ignoratio elenchi, or an irrelevant conclusion.

As such, we award Tanenhaus an F for fake, seriously considering the future of our Sunday New York Times subscription.

CONCLUSIONS:

Brownie Points Denied: 3

brownieno.jpg

[UPDATE: Bud Parr has an altogether different response to Clive James' review.]

How to Read When the Power Goes Off

Last night, at Chateau Mabuse, the power went off. We were sorry to see our pages on the computer lost into the ether. But this did, nevertheless, lead us to the romantic notion of reading by candlelight for several hours.

It proved more problematic than we expected. But since we had a few unexpected hours on our hands, we took the time to experiment and iron out the kinks. Here’s a checklist to help others plan for successful reading during a blackout:

  • Have at least ten candles in reserve, but you will likely need twenty. Depending upon the health of your eyes, you’re going to need enough light to focus on the text without straining too much. Votives and tapers can put out a lot of light, particularly if the wax hasn’t burned into the telltale concave circle of use, eating into the wick’s vertical alignment. Get about six votives placed on an ample surface space in the center of the room (say, a desk or an end table moved to the center of the room) to ensure that you have enough fill light thrown upwards for general ambience. Your sitting or recumbent position should dictate the candle positioning and should allow for fluctuation in body movement (e.g., if you read the lefthand page while laying on your left side, make sure that there’s some candles on your right). Be sure to place at least four bright candles behind your general reading position to throw enough light onto the page.
  • Even if you do manage to perfect a well-lighted room, you’re still going to be contending with less light than a light bulb. (When the power goes back on, the photographers or filmmakers in the peanut gallery can whip out their light meters and see that there’s a notable gap in foot candles between the two illuminated states.) So the books that you read shouldn’t be too unwieldy in weight, nor contain particularly tight typesetting or small font size. We found that a 300 page trade paperback we were reading proved to be more ideal by candlelight than Ian McEwan’s Saturday, a bulky edition of MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating and even a Nero Wolfe mass market paperback we dug up for trial and error. The ideal book by candlelight should be something that doesn’t easily fold into itself (the mass market paperback being the most egregious offender), but that is small enough to hold without difficulty.
  • Prepare yourself for the unexpected shock of the power going back on. Once we had attained an ideal reading position, the sudden whirs of appliances and various lights scared the shit out of us. Turn all your lights off and be aware of what will go on. Because if you get lost in a passage, it’s likely that the sudden climate change will make you believe that this nation is at war with yet another enemy and will take about three minutes to recover from.
  • The added advantage of candles is that they smell very nice. If it is possible, try to coordinate your candle selection with scents that you find desirable. Be aware that this scent will linger, even when the power returns. Be sure that you don’t have a vanilla scent competing with a strawberry scent. None of the scents should be particularly overpowering. Likewise, none of the scents should distract you too much from the reading experience.

There’s a Problem When Harriet Klausner is “Infinitely More Qualified”

Stephanie Perry reviewed Richard Bothelho’s Leah’s Way. She didn’t like it. Little did she realize that the publisher (specifically Windstream’s Sue Eccleston) would write back, declaring her absolutely wrong and a “politically correct hate anything Christian liberal” and “a typical Gen-X whiner.” Last time we checked, hostility wasn’t a very good way of establishing rapport. Needless to say, we probably won’t be reviewing anything from Windstream anytime this lifetime. We’re committed to nothing less than honest reviews and we’re glad Ms. Perry is too. (via Collected Miscellany)

If You Foolish New Yorkers Read Books on the Subway, The Terrorists Have Already Won

The New York Times: “‘One time I witnessed a robbery on a train,’ Mr. Ortega said, explaining that the victim ‘was wearing earphones.’ Being vigilant is more important, Mr. Ortega suggested, than being entertained: ‘You never know, you know?’ One never knows indeed.”

Here in San Francisco, MUNI Metro is just as susceptible to subway delays as New York. It’s never bothered me much, largely because I probably get an hour and a half of reading in just from commuting alone. And any subway delay is gravy. Because while other folks are miserable, I’m getting in some extra pages.

But this article represents another case of the Gray Lady beginning with an interesting story angle and getting strangely alarmist. Has Campbell Robertson never heard of a concept called “acceptable risk?”

Bret Harte Gone

I’ve just learned that, Bret Harte, a friend of mine in the local theatrical community, was killed in a car crash. A little more than a year ago, Bret directed me in a community theatre production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. He was an extremely affable guy, remarkably mature for his years, and he knew how to get a versimilitudinous performance even from my flamboyant ass. What mortifies me is that he was so young. Younger than me. Probably nicer than me.

In fact, Bret was one of the people who inspired me to write and direct Wrestling an Alligator.

Bret’s death reminds me again just how goddam cruel the universe is. He didn’t have to go like this. Didn’t deserve to go like this. So if you’ll excuse me if I refrain from posting for at least half a day, while I get over this, I hope you can understand.

The El Segundo Primer: Foreign Corporations Good, Foreign Authors Bad

El Segundo has once again demonstrated that it is one of the most ridiculous places on the planet. As David Kipen reports on KCRW’s Overbooked, the El Segundo City Council has rejected a request from the library to name two meeting rooms after Agatha Christie and Jack London. The reasons? Christie isn’t American and London, by way of being a socialist, isn’t American enough.

Councilman John Gaines was the man who made the first objection. Mayor Kelly McDowell was the whiz kid who considered Jack London too politically charged. “I don’t want to make a political statement by naming a room, period,” said Gaines. “I don’t want to use one whose politics, in my view, weren’t in line with American ideals.”

Well, if foreigners are unacceptable, why is one area of the library named the Matsui International, Inc. Meeting Room? Matsui International, Inc. was founded in 1911, a subsidiary of Matsui Shikiso Chemical Co., Ltd., which is located at Address 64, Kamikazan, Sakuradani-cho, Yamashina-ku, Kyoto 607, Japan.

(via Moby Lives)