I Need a Vacation

Okay, I fully confess (the dropoff in stats and Blogllines subscribers doesn’t lie!) that I’ve been biting the big one lately and that my posts these days leave much to be desired. (Hell, I can’t even find time for the Tanenhaus Brownie Watch.) There are reasons for this — namely, other projects and things that I’m working on, which are whittling away my wit faster than you can say summer camp.

So I’ve decided to throw in the towel for about a week or so and come back to this blog when I can offer half-decent posts again. A man’s got to know his limitations. And frankly I’m too tired and exhausted these days to offer anything intelligible about the literary world. But I’ll be back. Do visit the fine folks on the left in the meantime.

[ENTIRELY UNRELATED: In other news, it looks like Pearlstine is casting pearls before swine. Not pretty at all. About as cowardly a move as Elia Kazan, if you ask me.]

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Author Commencement Speeches

Bill Clinton: 1998
Hilary Rodham Clinton: 1969 (as Hilary Rodham) 1992
Richard Fenyman: 1974
Doris Kearns Goodwin: 1998
John Grisham: 1992
Lyndon B. Johnson: 1965
Nora Ephron: 1996
Erica Jong: [Booed this year; anyone have a transcript?]
John F. Kennedy: 1962
Stephen King: 2001 2005
Wally Lamb: 2003
Madeline L’Engle: 1991
Ursula K. LeGuin: 1983
Frank McCourt: 1999
David McCullough: 1986
Toni Morrison: 2004
Conan O’Brien: 2000
Anna Quindlen: 1999 2002
Salman Rushdie: 1996
Richard Russo: 2004
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: 1978 (controversy)
Gloria Steinem: 1993
Jon Stewart: 2004
Kurt Vonnegut: 1997 (falsely attributed to Vonnegut — Kofi Annan actually spoke at MIT that year) 2004
David Foster Wallace: 2005
William Allen White: 1936
Howard Zinn: 2005

[UPDATE: Well, well, looks like Kottke ripped me off.]

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Leading Alt-Weekly Exploits Workers

All is not well in the New York alt-weekly world. Gawker reports that the Village Voice has proposed a contract for its writers that not only almost completely cuts out benefits, but offers a wage increase of $15/week. $15 may not get you health care, but it might just get you a movie and a few slices of pizza! Or perhaps a mousetrap to buy for the rat-infested warrens that the Voice overlords hope their staff can inhabit.

Now perhaps this has something to do with the rumors making the rounds that New Times and Village Voice Media are planning a merger in an effort to obliterate all remaining alt-weekly competition. After all, strategic alliances between the two behemoths have worked in the past. And labor and antitrust laws haven’t been a concern for these two bastions of progressive and “independent” media.

Fortunately, Voice workers aren’t taking this lying down and are planning a strike. One would hope that Norman Mailer, one of the original founders of the Voice, might channel his rage and energies towards these developments, rather than some book critic whose words he could easily ignore. But then that would involve Mailer living up to his self-projected image as an elder statesman, when we all know that he’s really a hollow shell.

(via Booksquare)

Speedy Gonzales Roundup

My Head Hurts! Therefore, Comic Books Are Bad!

Proving once again how culturally irrelevant they are, the Book Babes have declared graphic novels as the harbinger of evil. So suggesth one Ellen Hetzel:

I am patiently working my way through two graphic novels, David B?s Epileptic and Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries, just one more indication in our world that Western culture increasingly depends on visual messages to perceive and understand what’s going on. Do I think this is a good thing? No. It seems like the mind has to be able to wrap itself around abstract ideas in order to reason, and visuals?at least as we know them through TV, movies and advertising?cause us to respond instinctively and emotionally.

Let’s discuss just how profoundly stupid this paragraph is. Consider the following:

First off, if the objection here is over any book medium contains “abstract ideas,” then I suppose we should discount the whole of literature outside of rigid genre-based narratives that offer nothing in the way of ambiguity. Ulysses? Sorry, Mr. Joyce, you’re too “abstract.” Tristram Shandy? Borges? Faulkner? Gaddis? Lessing? Flann O’Brien? Sorry, folks, the mind must “wrap itself around abstract ideas” in order to understand you. We’ll have to throw you into the dust heap. But Dan Brown and John Grisham? Well, you’re part of the literal-minded club. So come on by for some barbeque and MGD.

Second, what specifically is wrong with “visual messages?” Is Hetzel really advocating a culture based entirely (if not exclusively) on words? That’s sure fantastic for the 42 million Americans who can’t read or for quick international symbols that convey a point faster than words. I guess those Egyptians were fundamental dumbasses “wrapping themselves around abstract ideas” when they dared to communicate through hieroglyphics. I suppose Hetzel will be demanding next that we replace erect penises and floppy breasts with great Puritanical raiments of language.

Third, “visual messages” — or, more specifically, mediums that involve visual messages — are not exclusive to Western culture, nor are they as recent as Hetzel suggests. (Get schooled in ukiyo-e, Babe.)

Thus, if I am to understand Hetzel’s argument, it is this:

1. I can’t understand this graphic novel thingy. My head hurts.
2. Well, if I can’t understand it, then it must be fundamentally wrong for everybody! It must be abstract!
3. The cute little comic book thingy is composed of “visual messages.”
4. Since I can’t understand the cute little comic book thingy, therefore anything involving “visual messages” is fundamentally wrong!
5. My head hurts. I’m out of aspirin. This is NOT A GOOD THING!
6. There are other “visual messages” on teevee and advertising.
7. Teevee and advertising are lesser mediums than the book.
8. Therefore, the cute little comic book thingy is a lesser medium.

It’s good to have such circular bullshit come so easily, isn’t it?

I’ve had my problems with the Book Babes before, but I never suspected that they’d serve up such idiotic logic. I’m quite stunned that the Book Standard would allow something so fundamentally moronic to infiltrate its pages.

(via Bookslut)

BEA: The Last Post

Several weekends outside of the City prevented me from getting to the remainder of the BEA material I collected. But this weekend, I went through the material, eliminated a good deal of the quacks, and now offer the final installment of my BEA coverage.

Media Blasters is a publisher which specializes in translations of Japanese and Korean books. They’ve just produced their first original Japanese book called Death Trance, a tie-in to an upcoming film by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus). Frank Pannone told me that Death Trance features samurais, zombies, ninjas and magic. Media Blasters has been able to carve a niche, largely because it specializes specifically in shonen publications, aimed specifically at boys, and yaoi (pronounced “yowie”) publications, which are gay romances aimed at woman.

Media Blasters isn’t the only publisher specializing in dichotomies along these lines. Dark Horse Comics announced at BEA that it would be entering the field of Harlequin manga. The manga in question will be based on Harlequin romances. Dark Horse will be unveiling two lines: one for adults, one that is youth-friendly.

Agate Publishing arrived at BEA publicizing Freshwater Road, the debut novel by actress Denise Nicholas (star of Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night). Doug Siebold described it as “Mary Tyler Moore writing To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s a coming-of-age tale about a young African American college student who goes to Mississippi to register voters in 1964. The book will be featured in the September issue of Essence. Agate also has a pocket relationshp guide called The Player Slayer, set for publication on Valentine’s Day, 2006. The book is very tiny and is a “real world revision of The Rules.” Of course, if you can’t wait that long for this major publishing event, you can always just throw yourself into the dating pool, sans guide or books, and learn how to swim.

Fortunately, I found more pertinent tomes when I talked with Allan Kornblum of Coffee House Press. Aside from publishing Gilbert Sorrentino’s latest novel, Lunar Follies, Coffee House has a memoir coming out this summer from U Sam Oeur called Crossing Three Wildernesses. Oeur lived through the Pol Pot forced labor camps (take that, James Frey!). Prior to this, he had studied for seven years in the United States. But what makes this memoir interesting is how Oeur was able to stay alive through Walt Whitman’s poems, the Declaration of Independence and Kennedy’s inaugural address — all of which he had memorized and all of this while feigning illiteracy. Another Coffee House memoir is from poet Jack Marshall describing Marshall growing up in an ethnically charged household and Marshall becoming a writer in the process. Coffee House is also committed to publishing the short fiction of poet Kenneth Koch. Koch, who died only a few years ago, was primarily known as a poet (Random House has been publishing Koch’s poetry), but Coffee House has been picking up the slack to get Koch’s complete works published.

Akashic Books’ Johanna Engels was kind enough to talk with me despite suffering from a cold . Their lead title for the fall is Marlon James’ John Crow’s Devil. James is a Jamiacan author and this is his debut novel. Akashic is perhaps best known for their city-based noir series and I was bemused to see that this concept is expanding to nearly every city on the planet. Since Brooklyn Noir did so well, Akashic has been branching out to Chicago, DC, San Francisco and Dublin (the four primed for the next season) and beyond (Manhattan, Baltimore, Twin Cities, L.A. and Miami compilations are also in the works). Engels told me that they keep the anthology editors local, people who have lived in the city for a while so that they can pull from local authors. The only exception to this is with Dublin Noir, where a more international mix has been effected. Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned was Akashic’s biggest success in its history. Meno fans will be happy to know that Akashic is publishing the paperback version of How the Hula Girl Sings.

I talked with Arcade Publishing the morning after Ismail Kadare won the Man Booker International Prize. Arcade has a dozen Kadare titles in print with another one coming in February (the new Kadare book called The Successor) that may be pushed up to October to take advantage of the prize. Arcade has been the exclusive American distributor for Kadare’s work for the past eighteen years. Because there’s been considerable debate over whether a literary award translates into sales, I tracked down one the heads of Arcade and asked if they had a specific sales strategy in mind. The sense I got was that Arcade is taking the award very seriously (more so than the regular Booker Prize award) and had commissioned their sales reps to begin work on sales sheets that very morning. The head couldn’t be any clearer. He told me, “The regular UK Booker has an immediate effect in the U.S. It has for the past many years — at least a decade. We’re sure, and our sales reps are sure, that this award will too, especially when you look at the lineup over who Kadare was picked.”

The new Kadare book, The Successor, deals with the man in line to be the successor to Hoxha, the Albanian dictator. The main character is Hoha’s number two man, willingly shifting with the political tide . But the day before he is due to be named ruler of Albania, he committed suicide. Either that or he may have been murdered. Kadare has framed his next book around this murder mystery that also explores the horrors of Communism and how it affects people’s lives.

As alluded to in my previous post, I talked with Chris Roberson, the publisher for Monkeybrain Books. One of their more intresting books is a collection of essays devoted to Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe. Monkeybrain is offering a nonfiction anthology, Myths for the Modern Age, which collects Farmer’s uncollected essays and fleshes out the Wold Newton concept with several other writers (including Jess Nevins) and is edited by Win Scott Eckert. Adventure! is an all-genre, all-adventure anthology edited by Roberson that includes science fiction, Westerns, and fantasy. The only restriction on the contributors was that the stories “had to contain a healthy dose of adventure.” There are contributions by Michael Moorcock, Kim Newman, Kage Baker and comes out in November.

Justin, Charles & Co. specializes in pop culture-based books, such as a Douglas Adams bio written by Mike Simpson and a guy’s guy book for the perfect Las Vegas weekend. (In Justin, Charles’ defense, I should also point out that they also publish crime fiction.) But I was more interested in film critic’s James Berardinelli’s reviews, of which a second volume is forthcoming. Steve Hull told me that the first collection sold well enough to warrant a second volume. Beyond being a mere collection of Berardinelli’s work, there are extra chapters on DVD easter eggs and the best special edition director’s cuts. Apparently, one of the key decisions to publish Berardinelli was that he receives a substantial number of hits and is considered by Hull to be the most widely read Internet critic.

On the crime fiction side, Justin, Charles’ big book is Richard Marinick’s Boyos. The story behind the book is quite interesting. Marinick started off as a Massachusetts State cop who decided that there was no money in this. So he started robbing armored cars. He ran an armored car ring in Boston for eight years and was caught. He did ten years in Massachusetts State Prison. While in the hoosegow, he earned a college degree and decided that he always wanted to be a writer. Upon release from the joint, he went to work as a union tunnel worker and worked on Boyos for years. Every day, Marinick would work on the book — in the tunnels, in the pouring rain. Eventually, the book was published.

After several attempts, I was able to track down Paul Cohen, the head of Monkfish Publishing. Monkfish specializes in spiritual books, but he was also the man who published the infamous Gerard Jones’ Ginny Good. (Perhaps not so coincidentally, Gerard Jones recently emailed me, among 16,000 others, with news that he’s put up MP3s of a Ginny Good audio book in progress, which can now be found at his site.) Like the rest of us, Cohen found out about Gerard Jones through an article. He liked Jones’ voice and got a copy of Ginny Good (after not particularly caring for The Astral Weekend) and decided to publish it. I asked Cohen if he considered Ginny Good to be a spiritual book and he told me that he did, calling it “the epiphany of a generation.” Specifically, Cohen was struck by the importance of family and relationships seen in Jones’ book, which he considered deeply spiritual. One thing I didn’t know was that Cohen employed David Stanford, Ken Kesey’s longtime editor, to edit the book.

Of course, no BEA report would be complete without a look at some of the more unusual products. Toronto’s Marilyn Herbert offers Bookclub-in-a-Box. What might this be? Well, you get a complete guide, support materials, pamphlets that could be handed out to readers, custom bookmarks, and a sticky pad to take notes — in other words, a prix fixe menu which covers all bases. Or not. I asked Herbert if she had recipes for scones or perhaps an ideal way of setting up a table. She told me that she hadn’t, but that recipes were in the works.

What troubled me about the Bookclub-in-a-Box concept was how literal-minded it was. Herbert showed me a Life of PI sample and the thick bundle of information revealed copious efforts to reveal every possible enigma (such as how did Richard Parker, the tiger, get his name). What’s more, Bookclub-in-a-Box hadn’t bothered to contact any of the authors they profiled. So many of their answers are unilateral. Then again, who knows? Perhaps this concept might play well in the sticks.

Creature Features and More

If you lived in Northern California and remember the UHF programming of the 1960s through the 1980s, this site has done an admirable job chronicling the various ways that UHF stations aired movies during that time (complete with fantastic hosts such as Bob Wilkins and cheesy jokes galore). If you were too young or you weren’t growing up in the area, let’s just say that you missed out an a very important cultural indoctrination process. I’d venture to say that I wouldn’t hold nearly as much regard for Godzilla or horror exploitation films had I not seen them through these conduits.

Round Robin

  • In light of the assaults on eminent domain and flag burning (and with the frightening prospect of Justice Rehnquist resigning looming in the air), there’s at least some good news on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS budget cuts. Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted by a 284-140 vote to rescind the $100 million cutback. And that’s really what current politics is about these days: finding scant hope in small victories while the fiber and sanctity of this nation is gutted. So bust out the party poppers while the apocalypse ravages across the heartland.
  • The so-called “Pope” has published a book that urges all non-believing Europeans to live as though God exists. If that fails, then there’s always putting on a tin hat and looking for crop circles in the hinterland.
  • It looks like Limbaugh and Noonan are running away from the Klein book. Their latest amusing claim is that The Truth About Hilary was “written and published by a bunch of left-wingers.” Well, that’s pretty interesting, given that Sentinel, the publisher of the book, describes itself on its webpage as “a dedicated conservative imprint within Penguin Group (USA) Inc. It has a mandate to publish a wide variety of right-of-center books on subjects like politics, history, public policy, culture, religion and international relations.”
  • Cynthia Ozick talks with the Melbourne Age.
  • The Connection continues its series of writers talking about other writers who have influenced them. The latest audio installment is Russell Banks talking about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
  • Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell is on a book tour for his new novel, Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way.
  • So can James Frey follow up the intensity of A Million Little Pieces with his new memoir? Mike Thomas of the Chicago Sun-Times talks with Frey and learns that Frey’s life is “sort of surreally magnificent.”
  • James McManus has been tapped to write a poker column for the New York Times. Executive editor Bill Keller says that McManus’ column will be “a literate combination of the drama, strategy, psychology and color of card play that should interest both serious players and the simply curious.” This from a guy whose idea of literacy is questionable at best.

Watered Down Knowledge, The Slim-Fast Book Diet: What a Concept!

For the last 12 years, the wax has accumulated in my ears, preventing me from comprehending any book more than 200 pages. Brain cells have been lost thanks to an unfortunate experience with hallucinogenics that occurred during my midlife crisis. And I no longer have any patience for a reading experience that lasts longer than 45 minutes. Since the Times is so gutless when it comes to printing four letter words (yet strangely fixated on sodomy and other carnal activities of the genteel), and since it harbors an illusion that it is a family newspaper, I’ll merely connote a small nugget, if you will, published by Harry G. Frankfurt. It shines like the bottom of a clean unsoiled toilet for readers too indolent and too inveterate to read a book of normal length. It represents, in two words, the future.

Two books stare at me at my bookshelf. One is so large that I cower behind my four-poster bed, hoping that the episodes of Lost I TiVoed will get me through this cold and lonely night. The book is thick and large. And I haven’t seen anything like it in my life. Never mind that its author, N.A.M. Rodger, spent several years of his life becoming an authoritative expert on naval history or that the book in question contains about a hundred pages of maps and other valuable resources to aid and abet the truly obsessed nautical man. For I am neither a nautical man nor an intellectual. However, I do manage to sound pompous and authoritative enough to maintain my regular gig at the Times. Bombast and bluster should count for something, no?

Consider the skim book, which resembles a Slim Jim in makeup and nutritional value, the one that is short enough to give you the basic information yet without scholarship or that pivotal additional context. These things are lovely, no? You can read it one in a few hours, go to a cocktail party, and talk as if you’re an expert on Waterloo! These fantastically thin books, influenced by the abridged grandeur of Cliff and SparkNotes, are devoid of footnotes and are, for the most part, useless in an academic environment. But doesn’t it feel good, dear reader, to allow such colossal hubris to go to your head and to think that being knowledgable means barely retaining the basics?

I call for a new age of thin books, whereby people learn less and scholarship is spruned rather than stomached! Bring me 50 page volumes that give me everything I need to know about the rise and fall of Genghis Khan! Better yet, why not one-page volumes contained in an expensive spine? I offer the ideal biography of Napoleon:

COVER
TITLE PAGE: Napoleon: A Biography
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: “Napoleon was short. THE END.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR PAGE

Is this not the most ideal reading experience one can have? Does not the salient fact that Napoleon was a short man stick out? Publishers and authors alike can rest easy that they are saving the marketplace! Prices for books will go down. Authors will be able to publish 300 books a year. And those pivotal sound bytes of knowledge will soar!

I can imagine the book clubs discussing the whole of a book contained within one sentence. The conversations will last no more than five minutes, discussing Napoleon’s short stature, and then everyone can, at long last, get blitzed on the merlot. What a joyous epoch of knowledge lies ahead of us!

So bring on this new age of slim books. Dismantle the history graduate programs and the other pedantic forms of education that rarely pay off. The time has come, at long last, to put the Robert Caros and the William T. Vollmanns out of work and let the silent vox populi scream out their malformed thoughts from the highest summit.

Morning Linkage

I’m trying my best to post lengthy entries (and reply to the email backlog), but other obligations have kept me firmly bogged. In the meantime, here’s some morning linkage:

  • David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College a few weeks ago. (via Scott Esposito, who has returned from Spain and has somehow managed to get the keys back from Dan Wickett)
  • A whole-hearted congratulations to M.A.O. for being selected one of Time‘s 50 Coolest Websites.
  • Ron Hogan has a modest proposal. Even though his idea doesn’t involve cannibalism, I did manage to cough up a few shellacs. Have you?
  • I don’t know what’s stranger: the idea of six good reads to the sound of rain or the fact that this high-concept article came from the Tuscon Citizen. Riddle me this: when did Arizona journalists become cummulus experts?
  • Tempo has announced the 50 best magazines for 2005. It’s safe to say that Beads Today and Anal Angels didn’t make the list.
  • CNN explores Maine’s literary heritage, but one has to wonder why Stephen King gets more paragraphs than Longfellow.
  • A new version of Sling Blade will be released to DVD. It’s 22 minutes longer. Remarkably, 19 of these minutes are composed of medium shots of Billy Bob Thornton saying “M’hmmm. Yup.” But there is now a three-minute monologue of Karl Childers extolling the virtues of “taters.”
  • Yes, indeedy. Michel Houellebecq is a badass. (via Maud)
  • And this compelling public access show may get me to rescind my eight year self-imposed ban on cable television. Here in San Francisco, we have a show called “Fantasy Bedtime Hour” that involves two nude women reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s 1977 novel, Lord Foul’s Bane, and other strange speculative fiction titles. I’ve always been a sucker for a nude woman reading to me in bed. I’ve also been a licker too. But then that’s probably TMI.

Primer

I have just seen the film Primer, and my head fucking hurts. But in a very good way.

Do I know what went on? Somewhat. What makes this film such a delight is how it can be viewed as both a left brain experience or a right brain experience. The left brain can soak up the multiple timelines and time travel devices (I believe there were at least four, but I wasn’t taking notes) and try to keep up. The right brain can relish in the confusion and accept the film as a parable for personal responsibility and young smart men who sacrifice viands and sleep to play god for their very deadly ambitions, only to discover that they unearth more havoc than personal returns.

For those still flailing in the dark (including moi), this timeline helps considerably. Shane Carruth, the young man who wrote, directed, produced, acted in, photographed and did several other things for this movie is definitely a talent to be watched. He shot this film for only $7,000. And Carruth’s wild ambition makes El Mariachi look like juvenile fluff. If you’re looking for an exciting, head-scrambling experience, the film is available on DVD. Joe Bob says check it out.

Roundup

  • Because one can never cover too many awards, I note that Orhan Pamuk has won the 2005 Book Trade Peace Prize. The prize is the most coveted literary award in Germany.
  • Alan Riding points to a quiet controversy that has been unearthed regarding women’s writing prizes (and the Orange Prize in particular). Specifically, novelist Anne Fine is quoted, “I do think the Orange Prize has created a division, an artificial barrier where there was only an awful inequality.” Perhaps the answer is much simpler. Could it be because Fine has never been longlisted for the Orange Prize?
  • Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is entering the book industry. The first book is Don’t Eat This Book. The second one will be Slightly Smarter Though Still Stupid White Men.
  • After years of relying on numbers cobbled together from disparate sources for our neighbor up north, publishers can now rejoice. BookNet Canada has introduced a new centralized sales-tracking system. This makes Canada the last English-speaking nation to do this. But the Globe and Mail‘s Kate Taylor is mourning: “At its most useful, it will let publishers stop guessing how many books they have really sold; at its most dangerous, it will draw them yet further into the pointless game of second-guessing their customers.”
  • In Waynesville, MO, as many as 20,000 books from Waynesville school libraries are going straight to the dumpster. This remarkable idea comes to us from the mind of Superintendent Ed Musgrove, who is inflexible to donations because “it would cost more for us to pack them up and donate them than to destroy them.” It seems that despite the fact that other members and local residents expressed concern over this small-town homage to the barbarians who destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria, Musgrove stayed firm, revealing that the main factors being employed to remove the books are the copyright date and the subject. If you’d like to let Musgrove know how you feel about this, here’s his contact information.
  • One amusing thing that’s come out of the ballyhoo concerning Edward Klein’s expose, The Truth About Hilary, is, as the BBC has reported, the listings over what other books the customers have bought. Currently leading the list is John E. O’Neill’s Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. Craig Shirley and Dick Morris are concerned that Klein’s smear approach will make Hilary Clinton a more sympathetic person and thus a more viable presidential candidate for 2008. Meanwhile, Klein himself keeps flip-flopping with his source (Or is it none or more than one? One never knows with this guy.) that claims that Bill Clinton raped Hilary to conceive Chelsea. [UPDATE: Ron Hogan has additional information about Klein, jumping off from this Publishers Weekly article.]

What to Do at a Reading

M.J. Rose has put up a list of ten things not to do when publicizing your book. Beyond Rose’s troubling Miss Manners-style tone, as a man who tries to attend several readings a month, there are a few reality alerts that need to be addressed.

1. Most of the people who attend readings are probably not going to be familiar with your book, much less you. They are, as Stanley Elkin repeatedly suggested in George Mills, more likely to be there for the free food and wine. This in itself is not as ignoble as it sounds. Because this understandable impulse is walking hand in hand with some love or curiosity for literature. So it is possible for an author to win potential readers and book buyers over. However, reading your excerpt in a dry somnambulistic tone is not going to do the trick. It is essential for the aspiring author to not just entertain (in a manner that she is comfortable with), but to win potential readers and buyers over to her side. An author may have penned the best novel of the year, but if the author reads without feeling or enthusiasm, if the author doesn’t, say, find her voice within the dialogue of the characters, what then is the point of a reading? That means actually enjoying the book tour process (as much as it detracts you from your writing) or breaking out of the troubled template of reading followed by questions. Why not pick five people out of the crowd to enact certain characters from a book? Or reverse the questioning process. Ask the audience how often they write. Bring strange props or offer to do something nutty if a customer buys a book.

2. With rare exceptions, all press is good press. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you are concerned with losing readers because of what you do or because of the tone of your book, then you probably shouldn’t be in this business. The minute that a book is published, it has already lost and found readers. Some folks (like me) may not want to read another self-absorbed memoir written by a middle-aged Caucasian going through a midlife crisis. Some folks may be averse to genre fiction. Some folks simply want to read a Dan Brown novel. If you’re concerned that some people aren’t going to be interested in you, then fuck ‘em. Cater to the people who are going to be interested in your type of book. Your goal as an author is to locate the people who will be attracted to your voice and appeal directly to them without compromising who you are.

3. Some people are going to be annoyed with you no matter what you do. I’m not suggesting that authors become outright assholes, but I should point out that if you smile artificially towards someone (or offer passive-aggressive advice lists that reek of inexplicable and unvoiced fury), most humans will know that you’re putting on some kind of act. Find a genuine way to enjoy other people, even the ones you’re uneasy about. Because enthusiasm is infectious and there is always a common ground somewhere. Learn to be curious, courteous, yet remain true to yourself. If there’s some heckler in the crowd (and there will be at some point), responding in a calm, detatched, NPR-sounding way isn’t going to win you respect from yourself or from your reading audience. Find out where the guy’s coming from and don’t take it so personally.

4. For Christ’s sake, go to the trouble of talking with and thanking the booksellers. I’ve heard absolute horror stories from booksellers of certain authors (who shall remain unnamed) who treat the people behind the counter with utter disdain. As if they were dumbass baristas. Newsflash: Booksellers actually fucking read and they determine placement of your book. Besides, most of these folks are very nice. Talk to them, find out what these folks are reading and (here is where I agree with Rose) buy a book or three.

5. To a great degee, it is about you. You penned the book, you showed up, people are there for you. But this doesn’t mean it has be exclusively about you — far from it. So make it a conversation rather than an exposition.

Another Ego Who Makes Generalizations About the Locals, Another Ungrateful and Overhyped Author

Like the Rake, I’m mystified why no one in Denver has put this smug bastard in his place. Perhaps the concept of “When in Denver, do as the Denverites do” only applies if you get less press than Tom and Katie. But then I like omelets and I also realize that 99% of Jeep drivers aren’t thinking about Nick at Nite every minute they drive. I think it’s safe to say that now there is no way in hell that I’m reading this memoir, even if the book is placed squarely into my hands.

Roundup

  • Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, a very nutty-looking novel about Alan, the son of a mountain and a washing machine, is, like Cory’s other books, available for download under a Creative Commons license.
  • Well beyond the war over “chick lit” (a term that, as far as I’m concerned, refers to those tasty square blocks of gum rather than books) is the more visible war over “women’s fiction.” Elizabeth Berg is the latest to complain.
  • In an unfortunate scenario straight out of Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold, Matthew J. Bruccoli has put out a $1,000 reward for missing volumes of the Pottsville Journal between 1924 and 1926. On those microfilms are John O’Hara’s early newspaper work. Bruccoli believes that Gibbsville, O’Hara’s infamous town modeled after Pottsville, was formed in this early journalism.
  • An NYU academic claims to have figured out how “The Waste Land” was written. Even stranger, it involves the FBI.

Persona Non Grata

Maud pointed out the Neal Pollack/Dave Eggers fracas this morning and made a case for honest criticism.

I don’t have any self-serving magazine manifesto or “woe is me” Eggers-style panegyric to contribute to this argument, but there are two additional misleading statements in the Pollack article that should be pointed out. The first needs to be corroborated, but if it is true, then I will update this post with the rather interesting results. If true, Pollack doesn’t have nearly the sense of humor or “thick skin” that he claims he does.

The second involves Pollack’s misleading statement that he “had a five-figure credit card debt.” As reported here last November, the film rights for Never Mind the Pollacks were sold to Warner Brothers’ Bill Gerber for a mid six-figure sum, somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000 — enough to take out a five-figure credit card debt and more. (This news was, as I recall, originally reported in Publisher’s Lunch. But the deal was also reported in Variety and at Done Deal.)

I don’t care if Pollack is writing under a persona or not. I’ll only say that I’ve enjoyed Pollack’s satire in the past, but find his recent non-satirical work stiff, humorless and far from genuine. If Lenny Bruce or Andy Kaufman came up to you and told you that what they did was an act, would you have as much respect for them in the morning? That’s like telling a four year old kid that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

Pollack, by his own admission, has settled into yuppified complacency. That’s a shame. Because he’s become about as lively as a tired Catskills comic waiting for the septuagenerians to laugh. This isn’t a “hateful” statement. It’s an honest criticism for a writer who has, to my great sadness, turned chicken.

Partial List of the Class of ’05

William S. Morricone-Goldsmith; Joaquin Stick; Enrique Insalada Suavo; “Little” Nell Carter-Mondale; Henrietta Hi-Fi Tapa; Georgia Savannah Cargostygian; Gilbert Fishernie Scale; Christian Muslim Disciple; Patricia Pedunda Removal; Abigail Winslow Flexbreeze; Gershwin Girthloss Waverley; Zachary Payne Lastoo; Faith B. Initiative; Octavia Gregoria Calendar; Jesse James Cleaner; Freddie Friday Freedom; Vernice Itralia Carnal; Ryan Whiskian the Fifth; Huey Louie Dewey; Stephanie Stair Io; Debbie Does Dallas; Ami Amy Amyself; Abby Road Listener; Milford Paperchevy Treedodge; Gino Effyes Emaybee; Connie Artis Tree; Quinten Common Divider; Buster Chops; Carl S. McDonald, Jr.; Dusty Bowler; Jay Kline Mien; Flo Eventia Absentee

James Howard Kuntsler Goes to Raging Waters

While on my book tour for The Long Emergency, I attended a place known as Raging Waters, a “waterslide theme park” that’s a first-class cesspool devoted to energy-wasting frivolities. Given the name, I had hoped that the place might sustain my relentless anger and high blood pressure. But the cabana boys were friendlier (if nowhere nearly as smart as me) than I expected. So I was forced to concede that because I wasn’t in my comfortable, heavily secured and energy-efficient bunker in upstate New York, this waterslide park was yet another unfortunate component of our Clusterfuck Nation.

kuntsler.jpgIf anything, Raging Waters demonstrates in name and in principle that the American public will continue marching to a steady clueless beat. This summer, like the summer before it and the summer before that, people will contend with these horrid monstrosities called waterslides. Popular in California, these wiry eyesores can be found along the outer edge of the great suburban nightmare. The waterslides show no signs of abating and regularly obstruct one’s view of the sun. They are sometimes green and sometimes blue, a crummy aesthetic that should remind anyone of that domestic regularity known as cleaning the toilet.

Waterslides are essentially sinuous slaloms that use up a remarkable amount of water and energy, as if people think they can have all the fun they want without consequence. Even more distressing is the sight of overpriced popsicles and young and fit bodies wearing various Speedos and swimming trunks. As any intelligent person knows, both of these garments use far too many joules during the manufacturing process and were likely produced in an export processing zone. The continued manufacture of swimming trunks will be a seminal part of The Long Emergency, where people will be forced to replace their precious swimwear with empty potato sacks that they find in what remains of the empty supermarkets that have been looted. Most of these supermarkets will, of course, be burned to the ground.

Beyond the summer attire, there remains the more problematic aspect of supine bodies being shot through a tube at remarkable speeds. It hasn’t occurred to the Raging Waters management that their hundred foot high platforms not only use up a good chunk of precious wood (which will be needed for the Long Emergency when the oil runs out), PVC plastic tubing and fiberglass, but are designed to use as much water as is humanly possible.

What these yokels call “fun” is a very deadly onslaught upon my own delicate sensibilities, which of course matter more than yours. If we are to avoid the Long Emergency, then it is essentially that the United States have the least amount of fun possible. Fun uses too much energy. Fun feeds the horizontal expansion of minimalls and endless fast food franchises. There can be no fun in the United States, not now and not during the Long Emergency. A pox upon water slides! And a pox about enjoying a single moment!

Fuck Two Buck Chuck

Everywhere I go these days, from swank parties to low-key affairs, I see people — charming and intelligent people who should know better — gripping their red plastic cups (and sometimes actual wine glasses) with this godawful ruddy swill called two buck chuck. The whole point of this ghastly red liquid is to get as drunk as fucking possible using as little money as possible. (In this case, two measly dollars.) Which makes it another part of this goddam lofty American ideal: Get there as fast as you can in the cheapest manner possible. To hell with quality, to hell with life, to hell with savoring the moment.

These people have the audacity to call this shit “wine.” As in “Can I pour you some more wine, Ed?”

No, motherfucker. You can pour me a half-decent glass of something with actual taste and texture that I can nurse for an hour while you and the boys get blitzed in minutes. All because this crap is named after a motherfucker named Charles Shaw, whose name sounds suspiciously like a vicious investment banker who takes every dollar in your savings account and leaves in a cloud of dust before he can hand you a receipt.

I have to ask this all-important question: Does it feel good to drink a “wine” whose only real achievement is underpricing cheap Gallo?

I’m no vintner and I’m hardly a wine connoisseur. And the last thing I want to do is advocate that Sideways wine snob bullshit that shows no signs of dying among the hipsters. But I’ve learned over the years that wine isn’t meant to be guzzled. When I taste this shit, it conjures up the unsavory notion of fermented Kool-Aid. And the last thing I need when I’m relaxing is to be reminded of that shifty pitcher-sized son of a bitch with the permanent smile on that bulbous and untrustworthy face.

What makes two buck chuck any difference from grabbing a forty ouncer? If you’re going to inhabit a alcohol paradigm this low, why not drink two buck chuck in a paper bag? While you’re at it, have a glass of this junk to wash down with your crappy Big Mac meal.

If this is about getting trashed (and by the way that people slam their two buck chuck, that’s certainly the ostensible goal), why not bourbon? Hell, why not ether? Drinking two buck chuck feeds into the blotto impulse but it tastes like a poorly mixed girly drink. And the sad thing is that the bartender’s not there to fix it right. It’s the drinking equivalent to a pup staying on the porch while the big dogs play.

Plus, two buck chuck rhymes with “fuck.” Outside of Orangina (as pronounced ni New Jersey), I can’t think of a single successful beverage that rhymed so bluntly with copulative terminology. It’s a wonder that no one has suggested “two buck chuck and a fuck.” That honesty (get trashed, get fucked, wake up with a hangover wondering who the hell this stranger is) would make me feel so much better about the deceit of it all.

So fuck two buck chuck. Fuck it hard.

Me? I’ll be drinking my Kendall Jackson pinot. It’s eight bucks more, but it lasts a whole evening. And when you compare the dollar-to-drinking rate of each (a bottle of two buck chuck in an hour versus a ten dollar bottle of Kendall over five hours), the balance evens out.