Dalton Trumbo’s Deep Throat


FADE IN:

EXT. WASHINGTON D.C. — DAY

Several ENSLAVED EX-GOVERNMENT WORKERS, all of them in their nineties, are led by ROMAN CENTURIONS into the Washington Monument. The famed landmark is surrounded by crosses, where various elderly men are in the process of being crucified.

Each Centurion has an American flag burned into their bronzed armor and a torn up copy of the Constitution in their back pockets. All wear watches.

One Centurion, CRASSUS, looks suspiciously like a younger version of Laurence Olivier.

[NOTE TO PRODUCER: Talk to the boys behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow about doing the rendering for this.]

Crassus leans into ONE of the elderly men, who is named W. MARK FELT.

CRASSUS

Do you prefer oysters or snails?


W. MARK FELT

(with anguish)

Augharghrghrrrrr!


CRASSUS

You didn’t like Emperor Nixon very much, did you?


CLOSEUP

on W. Mark Felt. His face is in anguish, but manages a smile.

CRASSUS

Be a good citizen and tell me that you’re Deep Throat.


Felt spits in Crassus’ face.

W. MARK FELT

I’ll never talk, even if you give me a Vanity Fair profile!


LONG SHOT

The crosses continue down the length of Constitution Avenue.

Crassus cracks his whip. Felt cries out in pain. The other Enslaved Ex-Government Workers continue howling, until one speaks up.

ENSLAVED EX-GOVERNMENT WORKER #1

I am Deep Throat!


ENSLAVED EX-GOVERNMENT WORKER #2

I am Deep Throat!


ENSLAVED EX-GOVERNMENT WORKER #3

I am Deep Throat!


Crassus looks with embarassment upon the scene.

CRASSUS

You think this is the end of Marcus Crassus?


Crassus digs into his face and tears off his Olivier mask, revealing the FRIGHTENING VISAGE OF RICHARD NIXON.

NIXON

Didn’t think I’d come back? Did you? They said I was dead in California. They said I was dead after Watergate. They said I was dead, period!


FELT

Okay! Okay! I’m Deep Throat. Anything you want! Just go away and leave me alone! For Christ’s sake, all I wanted was a Pepsi.


NIXON

Wrong revolutionary, pal. You know all too well that Bob Woodward’s a Diet Coke guy.


FELT

Then let me die gracefully without soda!


Taking A Bite Out of the Big Apple

Postings are going to be light and then heavy. But whatever the format and timing, they will be comprehensive on the other side. Either way, my ass is heading to New York to check out this BEA bidness. Count on this site to give you the honest lowdown and to seek out the devoted stragglers.

If you’re in town, I’ll be at the Slipper Room on Thursday night (between 6-8) with several other nice lit bloggers. Please stop by and say hello.

Insomnia

Sun-Soaked Roundup

  • Sarah is interviewed by Kacey Kowars. Sarah talks about the history of her blog, how she reads and selects content, her new day job, inter alia. The subject of “mean-spiritedness” is also brought up, to which I reply that what I do here isn’t nearly as vicious as 200 proof vodka. I trust most people to read between the lines.
  • So what were some of the other LBC nominees? Were they corporate sellouts? Were they part of the “literary demi-puppet” conspiracy? Au contrarire. Michael Orthofer weighs in on his selection, Christa Wolf’s In the Flesh. I hope to weigh in on my selection (which was second place!) sometime soon too, but there’s some incredible sunshine and a big trip to Nueva York to prep for.
  • The wifi cafe problem is one of the reasons why I’ve remained reluctant to use wi-fi embedded laptops (although this is likely to change to give you folks up-to-the-minute BEA reports). Cafes are social places where you unexpectedly run into friends and acquaintances or get into conversations with strangers about the books they’re reading or the cool tees they’re wearing or the guitars that they’re playing. But I’ve noticed the gloomy misanthropes who stare into their Powerbooks as if expecting some great theological pronouncement taking up tables intended for four people at my own neighborhood cafe and wonder if this is indeed part of the lingering problem Robert Putnam wrote about in his book Bowling Alone. These people, who feel the chronic need to be connected in all ways but the most tangible ones, rarely buy anything, tip or consort with the nice people behind the counter. Frankly, if killing wi-fi access during the weekends will get these deadbeats to understand that (a) a change in locale doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not a work-every-minute drone, (b) you won’t be rebuked if you don’t answer your email within an hour (at least by the people who matter), and (c) if access is the thing, perhaps broadband at home is more your cup of tea (or hazelnut latte, as the case may be).
  • Tanenhaus Brownie Watch is forthcoming. But cut some slack. It’s a three-day weekend.
  • Jacquelyn Mitchard thought that calls from Oprah were a prank and very nearly didn’t call her back for an OBC selection.< ?li>
  • They’re young! They’re hot! They’re good-looking! And damn, these puppies can write! Wouldn’t a writer make a great catch? Lisa Allardice exposes some of the realities behind pairup glamour. And, yes, J-Franz is name-checked.
  • Hemingway’s Havana estate is endangered.
  • Why does Dracula endure?
  • Diana Abu-Jaber dishes dirt on her food memoir.
  • Decency prevents me from commenting upon this Nick Laird “training” revelation. Return of the Reluctant promises a two-month moratorium on Zadie Smith and Nick Laird news, for reasons similar to Ms. Tangerine Muumuu.

California State Assembly: The Forum for Fruits & Nuts

Scott points to this disturbing article. The California State Assembly has decided to ban school districts from purchasing textbooks longer than 200 pages. The bill itself can be found here. As phrased, the bill could actually go beyond mere textbooks and be destructive to books in general. AB 756 states, “This bill would prohibit the State Board of Education and school district from adopting instruction materials that exceed 200 pages in length.” So what are instructional materials?

According to California Education Code Section 60010(h), “instructional materials” are defined as “all materials that are designed for use by pupils and their teachers as a learning resource and help pupils to acquire facts, skills, or opinions or to develop cognitive processes. Instructional materials may be printed or nonprinted, and may include textbooks, technology-based materials, other educational materials, and tests.”

In other words, what we have here is a definition so broad that a “material” that might be used in a Grades 1-8 classroom such as a book that exceeds 200 pages will be tossed in the dustheap. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Sorry, 360 pages. Too long. Silas Marner? Maybe, but be sure to order the edition minus the introduction and the related resources page. Because Eliot’s just on the brink of 200 pages.

Beyond the baffling anti-intellectual nature of this bill (which was introduced by Democrats), there’s the troubling financial impact it will have upon school districts. Instead of ordering that big 500-page compilation for a classroom, I forsee an age where school districts will have to order three 200-page books to cover the same material. And with school districts already pinching their pennies, it’s doubtful whether they’ll pony up the dough.

Fortunately, Governor Schwarzenegger (how I do hate typing those two words together) has not yet taken a position on the bill (which needs to be signed into law to be effected). Since he has previously gone on record with absurd approaches to fiscal spending, perhaps the fiscal approach might be the way to get through to him.

Oh, More Hype of It All!

Michiko: “It’s a book as hip and intermittently tender as Dave Eggers’s ‘Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,’ as gripping and overstuffed as David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest.'”

L.A. Times: “The main problem is that Wilsey hews too closely to the McSweeney literary model: typographical tricks, hyper-fluency in pop culture and exuberantly high-pitched prose. All conspire against the emotional registers he so wants to express.”

Francine Prose: “To write about the sufferings of the well-to-do imposes a certain set of demands on a writer, and Wilsey rises to the challenge with agility and grace. His narrative voice reflects a vivid mix of brio, self-awareness and sophistication, and he is able to meld the point of view of the troubled boy he once was with that of the stable and sensible adult that he has, admirably and against all odds, become.”

Village Voice: “…if the book slips at all, it’s in Wilsey’s willingness to cast her in the one-dimensional role of wicked stepmother.”

Frankly, I’m a bit tired of all the Sean Wilsey coverage. Another book-length journey down McSwee’s Way might permanently damage my cerebral cortex. But the reviews seem to be hailing the memoir, Oh the Glory of It All, as the cat’s pajamas. So I can’t help but remain curious about this memoir, particularly since David Foster Wallace’s name has been invoked. I really don’t feel the urge to run out and get this book, but if an enterprising publicist were to send a copy to me, I’d certainly give it an honest assessment. And if it were indeed the bomb (exploding in whatever timbre), then you’d certainly hear from me.

Ten Things I Wish I Did

While I believe it’s still possible to do some of these things, I still wish to respond to Mr. Teachout’s recent item. Here are ten things I feel a sizable regret not doing (or at least putting off):

1. Learning to play the piano.
2. Learning French.
3. Visiting Rome and looking for what remains of the road markers.
4. Personally cooking the food for and preparing a fantastic dinner involving at least 50 guests.
5. Having a one-on-one three hour conversation with the President about the issues of our time and seeing what he has to say.
6. Getting a proposition on the local ballot, seeing it pass, and watching it help other people without being squashed by the cold realities of bureaucracy.
7. Performing a live one-hour set of my own personally composed songs in front of an audience and making them happy.
8. Reviving the reputation of ten great and forgotten writers.
9. Making a sizable dent to end poverty and to promote world peace.
10. Getting carte blanche to write and direct a modestly budgeted feature film that devastates and gets a decent release.

There are more, but then revealing these would cut even closer to the personal. And I have no desire to unleash this upon you folks.

Even so, I’m curious. What ten things do you want to do? Pass the meme around.

Author Recognition Survey Results

METHODOLOGY: On May 26, 2005, during lunch hour, surveyor Edward Champion asked various people in the Embarcadero Center (a multi-block shopping center in San Francisco’s Financial District), if they had heard of eleven authors. The surveyor tried not to discriminate by age, gender, race, or class. Among the participants were a smug investment banker who claimed to be “a literary type” (and who was only able to identify two authors) and a down-to-earth cable car operator catching a smoke between runs.

Ten women and nine men were asked in person by the surveyor to offer a “yes” or “no” answer if they recognized the name of the author. (The gender makeup was tracked separately from the data, so as not to corrupt it. I should again point out that this was an informal study that tried to extend across demographics without preference to makeup.) If they knew of the author’s name, they were then asked to name a book that the author had written.

The surveyor remained impartial, so as not to intimidate the participants, only stepping in at times to urge the participants, “Don’t beat yourself up,” pointing out that there were no right or wrong answers and that this was just an informal survey.

RESULTS:

Six authors recognized (1)

  • One could not name a single book by the authors recognized.

Four authors recognized (2)

  • One could name a book correctly by one of the authors recognized.
  • One could not name a single book by the authors recognized.

Three authors recognized (6)

  • Two could not name a single book by the authors recognized.
  • One could name a book correctly by two of the authors recognized.
  • Three could name a book correctly by one of the authors recognized.

Two authors recognized (3)

  • Three could name books correctly by two of the authors recognized.

One author recognized (6)

  • Four could not name a single book by the authors recognized.
  • Two could name a book correctly by the one author recognized.

No authors recognized (1)

Authors Recognized by Name:

Margaret Atwood (12)

  • The Handmaid’s Tale: 2
  • Cat’s Eye: 1
  • Wilderness Tips: 1
  • “I heard her on NPR”: 1
  • “Cheesy paperbacks”: 1
  • No Book Title Offered: 6

David Gardner (8)

  • “I heard him speak”: 1
  • No Book Title Offered: 7

Philip Roth (7)

  • “Confessions of a Communist”: 1
  • “‘Red’ in one of the titles”: 1
  • “American something”: 1
  • No Book Title Offered: 4

James Robison (6)

  • No Book Title Offered: 6

Michael Chabon (5)

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: 2
  • “Comic book novel”: 1
  • “Is he the guy who writes gay novels?”: 1
  • No Book Title Offered: 1

Kate Atkinson (1)

  • No Book Title Recognized: 1

Joanne Mitchell (1)

  • No Book Title Offered: 1

Chris Clarke (1)

  • No Book Title Offered: 1

Erik White (1)

  • No Book Title Offered: 1

William T. Vollmann (0)

Sue Monk Kidd (0)

CONCLUSIONS:

The results here are quite interesting. I didn’t realize that Atwood would not only be so known, but that the participants would name books beyond The Handmaid’s Tale. Given his work with the Motley Fool, David Gardner’s recognition in the Financial District isn’t much of a surprise. His book titles, apparently, slip through the mind like a sieve. James Robison’s unfortunate success on the Trinity Broadcasting Network probably plays a hand in name recognition. Since Michael Chabon lives in Berkeley, I had thought he would do better. But participants were able to name a book by him better than the others. Philip Roth was quite the reverse. Participants knew his name, but really couldn’t remember a book title by him. Even more interesting, they came close to mentioning the novel, I Married a Communist, but weren’t quite able to do so. All this despite the alleged critical and popular success of The Plot Against America.

And, of course, I weep for Vollmann.

But does all this mean that a literary crisis is at hand? You make the call. Try this excercise in your neighborhood and see how the results stack up.

In the Works

We’ve finally discovered that we can actually view the Internet on our cell phone and that it actually loads fairly fast (under the circumstances) and looks pretty darn spiffy. The problem, of course, is that this blog isn’t yet designed for those tiny display resolutions (or, rather, a specific URL for you mobile folks does not yet exist). Because of this, when we eventually do redesign this damn site, we’ll be considering those of you with mobile devices.

The other thing: some of you have written in expressing interest in our audio ramblings, whether they be further episodes of the Neurotic Chronicles or additional interviews through the Bat Segundo Show. Please know that we’ve been sitting on a few short author interviews that we’ve been hoping to string together for a solid hour-long future episode of Segundo. The problem is that our narrator, a seminal part of the show, is more reluctant than we are to introduce these things. As soon as we pry him away from the Tecate, we’ll get his lazy ass talking again.

We also plan to continue the Neurotic Chronicles. The next few episodes have been written and ambient sounds have been recorded. Just need to find some time to mix it.

But as to the emails, frankly, we’re shocked that our audio content is not only thoroughly appreciated, but even being dumped onto iPods for this thing called Podcasting. While our feelings about the iPod are on record for all to see, we’re not necessarily against those who use it. And if those motherfuckers at ABC are going to do this, then we figure we should too, if only to preserve the independent spirit. So we’ll be keeping you folks in mind during the next month.

Never let it be said that this place didn’t consider the gearheads.

And if you’re wondering about BookExpo America, for those of you who missed our previous announcement, yes, we plan to be there. Yes, we plan to cover the damn thing with gusto. Yes, we plan in-depth, no-bullshit coverage. And there may even be a surprise interview or two soon after our return to San Francisco. Keep watching the skies.

On Audio Books and Reading

In a heated post, Scott takes audiobooks to task, pointing out that the audio book experience ain’t tantamount to reading. “Listen Jim,” writes Scott, “and all other audiobookphiles out there: If I can barely wrap my little mind around Vollmann while I’m holding the book right before my face and re-reading each sentence 5 times each, how in the hell am I going to understand it if some nitwit is reading it to me while I’m brewing a cappuchino on my at-home Krups unit?”

While I would agree with Scott that there’s a fundamental difference between reading a book and listening to a book, I don’t necessarily believe that audio books should be completely discounted. Personally, I’ve found that reading a book aloud (or hearing another person read a book aloud) allows one to discover or familiarize herself with a book’s particular cant and rhythms. To some degree, it’s a bit comparable to only experiencing a play on the page. Sometimes, the intonations, the delivery and the visual nature of the staging leads the mind to frame the narrative in a new context and unearth a subtext that may not have been as readily apparent from a strict read.

The problem then with audio books, aside from the fact that rewinding can’t beat the exactitude of rereading a specific passage on page, is not necessarily the content, but in the way that the work is often delivered by the author. Too many audio book producers make the mistake of enlisting the wrong voice to read the work. And let’s face it: some authors, even though their text scintillates, are pretty damn horrible readers. (Without naming names, I’ll just say that if you go to enough readings, you experience this unfortuante phenemonon repeatedly. I would even suggest that this is an obstacle that may prevent poetry from being completely accepted. For more on this subject, I refer you to Mark Twain’s famous essay, “How to Tell a Story.”)

Further, for many people (particularly Southern Californians), the audio book serves as a surrogate to listening to an obnoxious FM radio DJ blather on during rush hour. While I bemoan the idea that this may be a person’s sole exposure to a book (as Scott says, the text is the thing and I would add that, if you are a supremely active reader, nothing beats copying passages, looking up words and references, or taking notes to understand an author’s intent further).

The problem here is that the audio book experience isn’t the same as a reading experience. But this does not mean that listening to the text of the book while driving and then returning home to study it further is without value. Further, comfort reads and potboilers may, artistically speaking, offer nothing more in the way of entertaining fluff and, on the whole, may be better experienced in one listening. From this perspective then, the audio book serves as a better use of one’s time, even if the sanctity of reading may be compromised in the process.

Literary Awareness

Today at The Elegant Variation, during the course of Kevin Smokler’s appearance via the Virtual Book Tour, there was a heated though civilized thread about whether the infamous Reading at Risk report issued by the BEA was useful or even genuinely reflective of diminishing literary awareness. Arguments concerning the methodology and the resultant media reaction (which Smokler contends is equivalent to hyperbole involving those darn kids who listen to rock and roll back in the day, a sentiment I certainly agree with) were unloaded. But the central question of whether or not the everyday world is aware of authors remains not only unanswered, but largely unexplored on an empirical basis.

In a unconnected post on the same topic, Sara at Storytelling has a very interesting idea in response to some of the raging debates that have been going on at the LBC. She has a list of ten authors: five of whom are recognizable, five of whom are not. She wants people to go outside with this list and see how many people can recognize the names. She’s enlisted her daughter to posit the list to fellow students in her high school.

I think this is an excellent idea. For many of the same points that Sara made, whether there exists a “crisis” or not (depending upon your definition of the term), it would be a fascinating (if unscientific) experiment.

The list of authors is:

1. Chris Clarke
2. James Robinson
3. Margaret Atwood
4. Erik White
5. Sue Kidd
6. Michael Chabon
7. David Gardener
8. Philip Roth
9. Kate Atkinson
10. Joanne Mitchell

Tomorrow, I plan to ask fifteen random strangers not only if they have heard of these authors, but whether they can name a book that was written by them. And just because I can (and because I’m knee deep in his books), I’m adding an eleventh name: William T. Vollman.

I will post the results here. But for those who are interested in getting results, I would highly urge you to do the same in your respective regional areas. (I’m based in San Francisco.)

My thinking is that the results may surprise us. But the proof resides in carrying out the experiment.

[UPDATE: Ron Hogan suggests that Bookmark Now fails to tie in the "Reading at Risk"/literary awareness alarmism into its scheme of essays.]

Will Repetition Destroy Vollmann’s Legacy?

While reading The Rainbow Stories, a book that I’ve been greatly enjoying (if kicking around with skinheads, drug addicts and terrorists can be “enjoyed”), I’ve been giving a lot of thought to some of the book’s parallels with other Vollmann ideas that appear later in his work. In Rainbow, several brief mentions, for example, are given to the failed artist as clerk, specifically the time that the clerk leaves (eight thirty). This reminded me almost immediately of Vollmann’s wonderful description of commuters entering the subway like dung beetles to their jobs in The Royal Family. But what strikes me is the specific nature of the image: (1) the office worker is masking some dormant artistic desire, (2) the office worker is thus a fraud, and (3) the nature of how the office worker commutes figures prominently in the office worker’s deceptive and/or duplicitious nature.

Another Vollmann fixation is the epigraph. Indeed, one cannot get through a Vollmann book without a reference to either a classical or off-the-beaten-track scientific work. He is perhaps more devoted to these than most writers. I would argue that these epigraphs represent Vollmann’s method of cementing his pursuits (whether journalistic or historical) into the recurring patterns throughout history.

The other commonality between The Rainbow Stories and The Royal Family is that, much like its later companion, Rainbow‘s narrative is composed largely of anecdotes, with frequent asides by Vollmann as narrator that clue us into his working methods. When talking to some strippers, for example, Vollmann leaves footnotes that express just how much a particular paragraph cost in dollars. It’s a curious yet fascinating technique. One would think that Vollmann walking around largely unprotected in the Tenderloin, chatting with lowlifes of various types, was a sacrifice in and of itself. But dollars are equally important in Vollmann’s world. It is money that allows him to continue doing what he does. It is money that often forms the motivations of his characters. And I suspect that it is money that has motivated Vollmann to include the bail bond chapter in The Royal Family.

In this fascinating Bookforum overview of William T. Vollmann, James Gibbons writes:

Whatever the personal cost, Vollmann’s graphomania foregrounds what it means to be prolific in an age when most people will devote only so much of their leisure time to reading. Perhaps there are some sort of tacit guidelines regarding output that “serious” writers are expected to follow, because Vollmann’s productivity has been, at best, a mixed blessing for his career. The truly prolific author, as distinct from the merely respectably productive one, is either a genre writer or a relic.

This is considerable food for thought. But when we consider that Vollmann, as prolific as he is, also resorts to repetitive images to come closer to a specific theme, to tie everything altogether, I wonder if this too might set him back. Scott has previously remarked on Vollmann’s use of repetition. And like him, I think that Vollmann’s rhythms add to his work immensely, perhaps aiding a reader plunging into an underworld that might be otherwise be ignored. But I think the repetition is invaluable to understanding Vollmann. I suspect that the man, much like Richard Powers, is a wildly ambitious and extremely erudite novelist who hopes to connect everything together. But where Powers leaves a lot of questions unanswered, wanting the reader to dig through his fantastic spates of consciousness, in his narrations, Vollmann is far more inviting on an emotional
level — that is, if you’re willing to take the plunge.

I’ll have more to say about Vollmann’s voice in my next Vollmann Club entry.

The Great Speeches

American Rhetoric has listed the top 100 speeches of all time. The text is available for all speeches. But what’s particularly amazing is that audio exists for a substantial chunk of these. The obvious ones are here. But the site is a fantastic trip down memory lane. This speech takes me back to fifth grade sitting at a desk with other stunned kids watching the television, while this speech, which I was not alive to hear, continues to amuse me with its hypocrisies.

Email Catchup

I’ve sent close to 150 emails tonight and I’m still backed up. If you sent me an email before May 5 about something, give me a buzz and I’ll respond. My profuse apologies for the delay. It’s been busy. But hopefully I’ll make up for it this week.

He’s Not a Naughty Librarian, But We Suspect He’ll Do

Pop Matters has kicked off a new column entitled “Bad Librarian.” The column is written by Erik Wennermark, a man who may or may not bite the heads off of small animals. (It all depends on your political persuasion, although, in light of the Patriot Act, we forgive Mr. Wennermark’s paranoia.) In his inaugural column, Wennermark prides himself on being a fake librarian, meaning that he’s man enough to confess that he doesn’t have the full MLS credentials, while pointing out a secret library dogma: don’t rag on the poor bastard’s unreadable take-home load. The Bad Librarian may be bitter, but he hasn’t lost his heart. We’ll be seeing how his column develops.

The Robert Sheckley Fund

Neil Gaiman provides the link for a Paypal fund for the noted science fiction satirist Robert Sheckley. Sheckley, as reported here not too long ago, is currently recovering in Kiev from respiratory failure. According to this press release, Sheckley’s condition has improved. His lungs are now clear from infection. But upon his return to the United States, Sheckley will require hospitalization. This is where you come in.

Alternatively, checks to Mr. Sheckley can also be sent to P.O. Box 656, Pine Plains, NY 12567.

(Additional details are available at Sheckley’s website.)

Whither the Beach Book?

To whit:

To address all of this, I should start by saying from the offset that I view “summer reading” as a load of poppycock. This may have something to do with living in a city where the weather remains fairly consistent year round. But I suspect too that my reading habits stemmed from spending my teenage years living in Sacramento holing myself up with books and films in the coolest indoor environs available. (Because of my pallor, I was known to roast into ruddiness and sometimes burst into flames, thus precluding me from completely enjoying movies where vampires exploded with pyrotechnic splendor along these lines.) So the notion of reading a thick Doestoevsky novel keeping me in a cool place was infinitely more rewarding than hours-long exposure to the sun (although friends, respective of how little effect the strongest sunblock had on me, were kind enough to drag me away).

The real question then is whether climate has any bearing on reading habits. If we are to understand the definitions posited, nice sunshine and wearing little clothing is conducive in some sense towards one reaching for a “beach book,” generally described as a book with little substance, little in the way of grit, and much in the way of lobe-flabbing sensationalism.

I’m not necessarily badmouthing trashy reading or relaxing. Sometimes, it’s necessary to aid a rebound from a synapse-bursting bout with Ulysses. I’m just curious why we’re all intended to, framing the image in literary terms, turn into margarita-sipping idiots for three months.

I suspect the term “beach book” arose from the “summer movie” concept, when seasonal distribution results in Hollywood bombast being deployed in every multiplex from here to Tripoli. But a movie involves a two-hour experience. A 300-page book, at 30 pages or so an hour, might involve an experience that lasts around ten. So if one is submerging one’s self into a book for such a lengthy period of time, why then would one reach for nothing more than comfort reads during a three-month period? Would not instant gratification (or chill time) be better served through the film conduit?

Conversely, if readers are supposed to dumb themselves down for three months, what then is the purpose? Anyone who has ever been in a library for hours at a time knows that, with their far-from-lavish budgets and their malfunctioning heaters, they are just as sweltering as a summer day without a breeze. The temperatures are comparable, but in the library’s case, the results are insufferable. The beach, by contrast, is intended as a comfortable spot to perch up and laze away with a potboiler.

I would ask those who champion the beach book why they are content to champion a dull novel in a comfortable environment. Surely, if a reader is placed in a comfortable clime, he will be more relaxed and perhaps more willing to exert his mind into a William Gaddis novel.

Does it not then make sense to champion robust and multi-layered epics as beach book candidates?

The Impetus Behind CliffsNotes

If you’re like me, you avoid CliffsNotes with a passion and go out of your way to remember pedantic book details that the slackers salivating over those by-chapter summaries in those hideous yellow pamphlets will never possibly account for. (For example, I still remember almost two decades after I read Animal Farm that Napoleon was a Berkshire boar.) If you’re also like me, you’re probably curious about who this Cliff character was, the man who opened Pandora’s box back in the day.

Fortunately, Ask Yahoo! has some of the details. It seems that the Cliff in question is one Cliff Hillegass. Mr. Hillegass, who died a few years ago at the age of 83, was a disciple of the “self-starter” school of thought. That’s all fine and dandy, until one considers that being a “self-starter” extends into the unfortunate realm of Dale Carnegie.

But no matter. Hillegass, it seems, was a grad student in geology and physics working as a college representative for Long’s College Bookstore. Cliff cultivated contacts, like many a successful businessman. But here’s the interesting thing: the CliffNotes summary idea was actually pilfered from Canadians!

In the golden days before 1958, when one could walk into an American bookstore without being tempted and when one was forced to discern meaning on text alone, it was a man named Jack Cole (not to be confused with the creator of Plastic Man) who had offered Cole’s Notes for Canadian consumption. And it was Cole who planted the seed during a fateful conversation with Cliff that provided the yellow-backed lifeblood, the idea that was unapologetically cribbed, for many an intellectual deviant during the next fifty years.

Hillegass tried to sell the Nebraska Book Company on the idea. They passed. So Cliff borrowed $4,000 from the bank and began unleashing the beasties from his basement in Lincoln. He started with 16 Shakespearian titles, made a bit of money, and the rest is history. Eventually, in 1998, Hillegass sold his enterprise to IDG for more than $14 million.

To be fair to the original Cliff, he did repeatedly point out that his notes “are not a substitute for the text itself…and students who attempt to use them in this way are denying themselves the very education that they are presumably giving their most vital years to achieve.” Cliff did genuinely love literature, gave $250,000 to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for an English chair and was really into rare lamps and sculpture gardens. But despite Cliff’s quirkiness and generosity, his statement is a bit like telling a pyromaniac with a lighter that he should probably use the disposable Bic in a judicious manner.

Of Jack Cole’s fate, I can find no trace. But I plan to find out what happened to the Cliff before the Cliff. For if he is the true originator and Cliff the mere opportunitist, then we now have another equitable reason to blame Canada.