NaDruWriNi Naught Five

Folks who read this blog last year know that I shamelessly participated in National Drunken Writing Night (aka “NaDruWriNi”), along with Gwenda Bond. The results here weren’t very lucid, and I became obsessed with bolding words. (In fact, Gwenda was far more compelling than I was.) But it was certainly the mark of bloggers who had had too much to drink. (In my case, I had recently broken up with a girlfriend and the results were, as the old song goes, sad and lonely. Read them if you dare.)

Well, this year, the hardest work man in blog business ain’t steering this baby, but Brittanie is. And on Saturday, November 5, 2005, I plan to write a good deal more incoherence while drinking. Tune into these pages that evening for more. I should note that my inhibitions lower rather quickly.

Just Don’t Forget to Use Alt-Tab When the Boss is Coming

Everyone seems to be pointing to this Advertising Age article about how U.S. workers will waste 551,000 years reading blogs. Well, what the article doesn’t say is that businesses will, in turn, waste countless eons destroying people’s spirits with tyrannical middle managers, mundane job duties, mandatory office meetings that are utterly pointless, and by hiring high maintenance people who constantly make workers’ lives a living hell. If workers are maintaining their sanity through reading blogs, thus ensuring that they will be able to focus their energies accomplishing vapid and meaningless tasks to justify their employment (and in turn increasing productivity), then quite frankly, 3.5 hours a week isn’t nearly enough.

Slow Reader

How Fast Do You Read?: “You read between 350-400 words per minute. Well above average reading level. (The average rate is between 200 – 250 words per minute.) It is assumed that you did not skim the words nor fail to understand the meaning of what was read.”

Assuming that this level holds, it would take me 250 minutes (or 4.16 hours) to read a 100,000 word novel. If I were to die at the age of 85, I would have roughly 19,710 days of life, or 473,040 hours of life. Cutting out seven hours of sleep from those days (I assume that, as I get older, I will need more sleep), this leaves 335,070 hours left of waking life. If I were to somehow become a literary shut-in (god forbid) and devote every spare minute to reading (this also cuts out a full-time job), assuming that I was able to live to 85 with my vision intact, then I would be able to read a maximum number of 80,545 books. According to the Book Industry Study Group, the number of books published each year is 175,000. Let us immediately assume that 90% of these are worthless. This leaves us with 17,500 books a year (the top 10%) that are perhaps passable or worthwhile. By this criteria, I would only be able to keep tabs on 4.6 years of every book that is passable or worthwhile throughout the remaining duration of my life.

Thus, when one has boasted that he has “read everything,” you should be highly suspicious. For not only is it impossible to read everything, it is impossible to get through a pared down list. Given that 80,545 books remains the absolute maximum (and, at that, a diminishing figure as I grow closer to death), I do not anticipate my library growing too far beyond that number.

When You’re a Press Release, You’re a Press Release All the Way

Mediabistro Still in Operation
October 22, 2005

Mediabistro, now in the practice of issuing press releases any time the earth rotates, is still in business mere days after Elizabeth Spiers’ departure. No feelings have been hurt. No drinks have been thrown in anyone’s face. Mediabistro and Spiers are not, repeat NOT, at war. “I’m very happy that mediabistro is still in operation,” said Spiers. “I took the liberty of sending Laurel a few extra feather boas, just to staunch the flow. You know, no hard feelings.”

“We plan to issue more press releases reporting on mediabistro’s existence,” said 23 year-old Willia Milqueton, an unpaid intern regularly putting in sixty hours a week. “We want to out-Denton the competition. Regular updates about nothing is what keeps us in the magazines. Everyone likes a cat fight.” Mediabistro Associate Editor Aileen Gallagher is scheduled to be the next person locked in Jessica Coen’s crosshairs. Gallagher is now viewing Parallax View-style training films of Coen to ensure unnecessary enmity, more contumacious blog posts, and more silly press releases.

Because Hatred Needs Cute and Cuddly Teeny-Boppers

ABC News: “Known as ‘Prussian Blue’ — a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes — the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine….Last month, the girls were scheduled to perform at the local county fair in their hometown. But when some people in the community protested, Prussian Blue was removed from the line-up. But even before that, April had decided that Bakersfield was not “white” enough, so she sold her home, and hopes that she and the girls can find an all-white community in the Pacific Northwest.”

‘Tis the Season for Filmcrit Compilations

While the blogosphere din has been abuzz about Ron Hogan’s forthcoming The Stewardess is Landing the Plane! and John Scalzi’s The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, there’s another film criticism volume making the rounds that’s worth your while. Jami Bernard’s The X List: Movies That Turn Us On (Da Capo Press) would seem, from an aperçu, to be one of those collections that commingles two fantastic topics of interest: sex and movies. But within its pages, one finds not only reevaluations of reviled movies (J. Hoberman, for example, recontextualizing Basic Instinct as a study of pathology rather than a homophobic onslaught, Peter Travers defending Ken Russell’s vulgarity in the vastly underrated Crimes of Passion), but a loving tribute to teat provocateur Russ Meyer from Roger Ebert, David Sterritt remarking upon how Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible can be seen as a culturally galvanizing film, and David Edelstein ferreting out the sexual politics of the Hammer classic Horror of Dracula.

Aside from the considerable space devoted to Salon contributors, I’m rather astonished that no one in this collection has seen fit to comment upon Betty Blue, Kiss of the Spider Woman or even the sexual dynamic between Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley in the frequently overlooked Death and the Maiden. But Bernard has done a commendable job of collecting enough thought-provoking essays (including several by the always thoughtful Jonathan Rosenbaum) which suggest that titilation isn’t always the primary concern when it comes to cinematic eroticism and that sex, often perceived as the tawdry entry point, is often an effective method to draw larger conclusions about humanity at large.

The book also alerted me to something I didn’t know: apparently, there’s an uncensored version of Baby Facemaking the rounds which once played the Castro Theatre (and that I unfortunately missed). Thankfully, Warner may be releasing this newly discovered print as part of a major Pre-Code Hollywood DVD box set next year.

The New Yorker: Is Criticism Being Deliberately Abbreviated?

A good critic would tell you why a film is boring. A good critic would keep the plot summary as brief as possible and cite specific examples for why he felt the way he did. A good critic would, even if the filmmaker failed, try to suggest what the filmmaker was attempting and pinpoint common motifs that have either evolved or have been abandoned.

David Denby is sometimes a good critic, but his review of Elizabethtown is boring, without supporting example and laced with putdowns far beneath Anthony Lane’s lofty heights. To describe a film as “boring” is not enough. To describe “meaningless images” without indicating why they are meaningless is not enough. To insinuate at a lack of screen chemistry between the two leads is acceptable, but to leave the criticism ambiguous and without scope is not enough.

In other words, this review suggests that, at least in this case, David Denby is not a good critic. Perhaps he is better intended for lengthier reviews.

Then again, I’m wondering if this is all an effort by the New Yorker to gravitate towards snarky blurbs in lieu of actual criticism. The “Briefly Noted” section, for example, involves anonymous staffers writing quick blurbs, but it’s curious to me that one rarely sees any raves, let alone qualifying examples, within this section.

Take the latest quartet: Melania G. Mazzucco’s Vita is “intermittently commanding” and the book is praised for “pungent fictional details.” Not “penetrating” but “pungent,” as if to suggest that the book’s chief advantage is that you can whiff a somewhat distressing yet redolent aroma instead of submerging yourself into the text.

Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica fares slightly better, but the critic dismisses this too, suggesting, “An analogous allure pervades this book.” So Gaitskill’s not clear-cut enough for the hoary-heared man in the closet, but if there’s any hope of stepping into the verdure, then you might just be tempted to be transfixed by the green.

The blurb for James Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is less a review, but more of a fussy neologist quibbling over of tone for the accepted thesis (how public events influenced Shakespare’s plays) rather than the supportive argument.

And J.R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar, we have scenes that often feel “contrived and mawkish.” But since there’ s not enough space here for the unnamed critic to provide examples, and since s/he cannot be bothered to identify him/herself, these two modifiers essentially translate into nothing. They are, in fact, no more penetrating from an adjective-laden “literature” blurb in Maxim dumbed down for public consumption, with the magazine’s presumed sophistication there in the tone and the language.

I’ve always thought that sophistication involved having a solid argument with supportive examples. And while the New Yorker may be “sophisticated” in language, its criticism of late has shown, time and time again, that there is very little that these critics are permitted to think about. Such an editorial approach does a disservice to the talented people who write the reviews and the magazine in question.

Hypertext Fiction: Dead or Alive?

I alluded to Robert Coover’s Litquake[1] appearance at Elbo Room in the previous post. But what I failed to mention was Andrew Sean Greer‘s introduction for Coover. Greer, who despite clutching what appeared to be a ferocious palimpsest in his fist, managed to find the will to extemporize about how he met Coover, which was in a classroom at Brown University. The class that Coover taught was “Hypertext in Fiction,” and Greer noted this was a bit before the web browsing days. Coover used hypertext as a way of interconnecting the students’ various stories. Greer confessed that, at first, he thought that such an exercise would be easy, tantamount to devising a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. But as it turned out, most of the students skipped out on the class, leaving Coover with a small cadre of students (including Greer).

The funny part of Greer’s story was that, as students were composing their work on hypertext, they noticed that some of their minor details had been changed around. Furious, the students approached Coover, pointing out that, as authors, they rightfully controlled the details to these works. Coover responded that he wasn’t the one changing the details, but thought that the mysterious person doing this was on the right track.

Greer’s hypertext anecdote had me wondering, in these days of Web 2.0, Wikipedia and podcasting, whether hypertext is even a suitable medium for fiction anymore. Is hypertextualized fiction something to be frowned upon or ignored, much like the theatrical Happenings of the 1960s? Or is it simply misunderstood? Perhaps we’re limiting our options in thinking, as we have thought since the advent of the byline, that the author exclusively controls the narrative. Since the reader is bound to form certain impressions from a story’s subtext, often wildly disparate from other readers, perhaps the author doesn’t really control the destiny. Because while he is organizing the information, he cannot possibly control how it is read. (And one might argue that David Foster Wallace’s infamous essay from earlier in the year, “Host”[2] which featured several internecine branches of footnotes, might be representative of this potential new model.)

If this is the case, then perhaps the next step after postmodernism is something along the lines of hypertext, something that might be dictated either by footnotes, by hypertext, or through some other device, as yet beyond our powers. Whatever method used, I’m suggesting here that the order in which the information is presented and perused is entirely up to the reader, but the author can control the taxonomy and the structure through which it is accessed. Not unlike a category that might clarify a blog posting and allows it to be strung together through a search engine (such as Technorati) for a common frame of reference.

For more on hypertext[3], they’ve got a lively discussion over at I Love Books, complete with hypertext fiction linkage.

[1] — Additional Litquake coverage can be found at Frances Dinkelspiel’s place.

[2] — Sadly, the PDF version is only readable to Atlantic subscribers. But the essay is contained in Wallace’s forthcoming essay collection, Consider the Lobster.

[3] There are several hypertext stories for sale at Eastgate. Thankfully, Norton has an excerpt of J. Yellowlees Douglas’ “I Have Said Nothing.”

We’re Not In…

  • We’re not in New York, but if you are, Emily Gordon points us to a Katrina benefit going down this Sunday at some place called Camaje.
  • Again, we’re not in New York, but if we were, then we’d definitely check out “The Jonathan Ames Show” going down on October 25 at a place called Mo Pitkin’s. Tickets can be found here. Photos of previous show can be found here.
  • We’re not in Chicago either, but Golden Rule Jones points to the Chicago International Film Festival, which starts today.
  • Neither are we in Los Angeles, but, lo and behold, we’d be remiss Mr. Sarvas notes that Wendy Lesser will be reading at Three Lives tonight at 7PM.
  • We’re not even in Boston, and yet, there it is happening again, Jonathan Lethem on November 3.
  • We are in San Francisco, and we can tell you, based on last Saturday’s Litquake experience, that Robert Coover is every bit as charming a reader as he is a writer. He is adorably small and has a voice somewhere between Wallace Shawn and Bob Wilkins, which he employs to great effect during a reading. But the McSweeney’s people should be ashamed for not giving one of the great pomo pioneers so much as a bottle of water for a one hour reading.

Strange

Roundup

New Literary Blogs

For those interested in thinking outside of the box (i.e., sick of reading the usual suspects), here are a few literary blogs I’ve recently stumbled upon : Notes on Non-Camp (who quite boldly suggests that he’s as good a short story writer as T.C. Boyle), Essay Format (unsure of whether this is abandoned or not, but it aims to teach students how to write essays and it’s a promising idea) and Harsh Mistresses (a frowning Las Vegas-based former lawyer and “nice guy” charting his progress writing a suspense thriller).

Strunk and White: Now Available for Prada Regulars

The Elements of Style gets an illustrated edition, baffling high school students and English majors everywhere who were denied the purty colors when they went to school. Hard-hearted writing instructors, however, have pledged to permanently ban this new volume from their classrooms, as they remain convinced that teaching grammar involves inflexible rigidity and a dry and humorless approach that bores most sensible people to tears. More importantly, the new hues don’t fit in well with the grey and asbestos-ridden squalor of contemporary classrooms.

A Short List of Words That Inexplicably Turn Me On

From today’s edition of TMI Linguistics:

  • librarian
  • sizzle
  • crackle
  • Molly (and yet, strangely enough, I’ve never dated a Molly; likely because I’m terrified that the frequent use of this word in my presence (“Can I get you something, Molly?”) might cause me to move too fast)
  • Almost any word with two Ls, except “Lolita” and “flagellation.”
  • muffle (but not “muffin,” which sounds vaguely pederastic)
  • pink slip (Fortunately, I’ve never been handed one. Or else the prospect of termination would become strangely alluring.)
  • recherche
  • splendiferous
  • lap
  • stipple
  • comfort (in both noun and verb form; it is often confusing when women in particular refer to “comfort food,” as I suspect that these folks may have some interesting fetish that I’d like to find out about)
  • wrinkle (only in verb form and in a highly specific context)

[SIDE NOTE: Would it be too much to ask for them to come up with a sexy word for intricate and orante? “Baroque” sounds like someone has just replaced the washcloth with a Brillo Pad without your knowledge and “rococo” reminds me of a certain cereal I didn’t care for as a child (that had an obnoxious bird mascot nonetheless).]

The Bat Segundo Show #10

Author: T.C. Boyle

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Terse, conserving energies for a drink.

Subjects Discussed: Boyle as one of the original bloggaz, how Boyle arranges his short stories for his collections, John Cheever, how Boyle got into the New Yorker, the current state of the short story market, the future of literature, country music, historical fiction vs. contemporary fiction, the comparisons between “The Doubtfulness of Water” and Water Music, Boyle’s working methods and the “continuous first draft,” the frequency of watering holes in Boyle’s stories, community at T.C. Boyle websites, details on Talk Talk, the influence of history upon fiction, how The Human Fly came to be, political subtext, The Bonehunters’ Revenge by David Rains Wallace, observing people and balancing time, the ethics of creating characters based on people, on being prolific, the T.C. Boyle website, the media perception of literature, the New York Times Book Review (Chip McGrath vs. Sam Tanenhaus), the influence of book reviews on writing, reevaluating writers generations later, The Inner Circle vs. Bill Condon’s Kinsey, Boyle’s “continuous first draft” before computers, technology’s influence upon culture and writing, the spoken and visual dimensions of fiction, on being a “nutball perfectionist,” and the joys of the word “ventricose.”

Play

America: A Nation of TV-Watching Zombies?

This information from Nielsen Media Research (PDF) can’t possibly be right. The average American watches 8 hours and 11 minutes per day? Okay, let’s say the average American works from nine to five. That’s eight hours. Let’s say further that the average American spends about an hour commuting. That leaves fifteen hours left in the day: seven hours devoted to sleep and eight hours to television?

And that’s just the mean. Who knows what the standard deviation is? We’re not even counting the folks (e.g., senior citizens) who are putting in ten hours of television watching a day. Or even twelve hours a day? I mean, this is pretty much that Ray Bradbury story (the title escapes me) in which the entire population is watching television and a man is arrested for daring to walk outside.

I mean, I’m lucky if I watch eight hours of television a month. Please help me understand.

Have American lives become so fundamentally empty that we now clutch onto the television as if it’s some totem to stave off loneliness? Or are Nielsen’s figures suspect?

One thing’s for sure: this television thing sure explains certain mentalities.

How Not to Solicit Litbloggers

M.J. Rose may have received a strange letter with two unwanted galleys, but I believe that I can top her. For I received an equally baffling letter accompanying a package of books last week. The letter in question made me so uncomfortable that I took three cold showers in a row, turned into a serial caller for four hours, talking with sympathetic friends and using up what few favors remained, and basted my brain in a bit of Gaddis shortly after eating a jar of Gerber’s Apple Sauce for lunch that I had obtained from a thirtysomething mother who saw my sad face as I was walking in the park and promptly gave me the sustenance out of the kindness of her own heart and ran away when a ruffian tried to mug her (who then promptly mugged me instead, although he wasn’t interested in the apple sauce).

Anyway, I hope that I won’t have to experience a day like that again. But for informative purposes, I have reproduced the letter below:

Dear Friend of a Friend of a Litblogger:

I want to have your children. I want to tie you up and make you my slave. Your new name will be “Piñata” and you shall stare at my menacing wooden stick. And I’m sure that after you’ve read the six 2,000 word novels that I’ve enclosed, you’ll understand why we were meant to be together, reproduce, and move to a small shack, sans DSL connection or running water, in the Kansas prairies.

Do not think for a minute that I am not aware of your situation with regard to the opposite sex. I’ve paid a lot of money to a private investigative agency to install video cameras in your apartment, violating your privacy in every way possible. I’ve tracked the number of times you’ve masturbated in the past month. (Please see the attached bar graph if you have somehow lost count. Each “incident” is meticulously logged by time and duration.)

The good news, Mt. Champion (can I climb you?), is that I can give you lots of sex and I can give you lots of books. If you don’t believe me, please consult the attached 400-page analytical essay for the accompanying tomes. It will demonstrate my impeccable taste. I had tried to submit this as a Ph.D. dissertation, but, alas, I didn’t realize that one had to be enrolled in school to earn the appropriate degree.

In any event, I hope that all this will lead to a fruitful relationship which you can then, in turn, publicize on your blog site thingy. If you like, I will install the third nipple before I meet you in person.

Very truly yours,

Juanita M. Underside, FELLATIO PRESS

Roundup

  • Soft Skull now has a blog, demonstrating to the world that Dan Wickett may have some competition from Richard Nash in the We Never Sleep Department.
  • If there was any doubt that Lev Grossman was a chickenhead, his status as Chickenhead of the Decade may be confirmed. Judy Blume? Jonathan Franzen? Tolkein [sic]? C.S. Lewis? All authors in their own right, but hardly the names one would expect to see on any serious list concerned with singling out literature. Then again, given Time‘s roots as a magazine devoted to lackluster summaries of news and culture for mass consumption, the list makes sense. Bawk bawk indeed.
  • A seven year old has won a book contract. This kid better have life experience or we’ll have someone steal his lunch money.
  • Chinese author Ba Jin has died. He was 100.
  • Creative Artists Agency has pledged that it will go after “100 percent market share.” A CAA spokesman also contended that it had settled on an operations method predicated on “100 percent hubris.”
  • Chekhov: Not a prude and possibly a womanizer.
  • Is a major production of Dickens’ Bleak House the reason for the BBC license fee increase?
  • Boston Globe on Sara Faith Alterman: “Getting ”15 Minutes’ published was surprisingly simple. She sent her text to multiple literary agents. One quickly picked her up, and ”My 15 Minutes’ was sold to Avon Trade, a division of Harper Collins.” Simple maybe if you’re a flouncy 25 year old whose author photo will sell the book alone. But try telling that “surprisingly simple” story to some talented yet eczema-ridden 55 year old novelist with bad teeth.
  • A spirited defense of Pinter’s politics.
  • “Phil, I don’t know what to write about this week.” “Well, Bob, what author do you like?” “Philip Roth’s really doing it for me right now.” “Well, then why not take a road trip and write about it. No penetrating insights. Just rambling text.” “You mean it? I mean, you’ll actually buy a column from me without a point?” “Bob, you wouldn’t be on staff if you weren’t pointless. Now let’s go knock back some shots. Drinks are on me.”
  • Vikram Seth hates being late.
  • Apparently, Jonathan Safran Foer bridges the gap between the hipsters and the philanthropists. There must be some mistake.

[UPDATE: Litkicks has some interesting memories of Lev Grossman: “He was a nice guy, undoubtedly smart, literary and perceptive….But I also found Lev Grossman bland in conversation, and decidedly uncontroversial….Nothing about Lev Grossman shouted out ‘I will be Time’s book critic in five years’.”]