LBC Shenanigans

A gentle reminder that a whole tsunami of activity is going down at the LBC site. Podcasts with all five nominees, a good deal of author and editor appearances (where you’ll be able to get your questions answered; so get cracking on reading those titles!), book discussion among litbloggers, and possibly a drinking game. Of course, unlike Oprah, we’ve actually confirmed that each of the titles is a veritable pack of lies. But do stay tuned to see what’s in store!

Cultural Boredom = Codeword for Vanilla?

I only post this because Elizabeth Crane is a bad influence.

A few years from now, when the midcareer profile writers sum up the artistic achievements of Drew Barrymore and Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, there is little doubt in my mind that this incident will sum up in one fell swoop the collected insignificance of their respective cultural contributions. I don’t object to having sex in public restrooms (and, truth be told, I’ve had sex in far more dangerous places). I actually approve of this part of the tale. But when an individual is presented La Boheme and reduced to boredom in a world of limitless possibilities, call it a hunch, but I’m guessing that person probably isn’t going to be a lot of fun in the sack.

The Last Word on Bob Hoover

Over at Scott’s, Kevin has observed that newspapermen often ignore the rebuttals.  In an effort to test Bob Hoover by his own standards and demonstrate just how slovenly we litbloggers can be, I note the following:

 1.  Bob Hoover’s Career

First off, this biography reveals that Hoover isn’t all that different from litbloggers.  For one thing, it appears that he started off as a volunteer book critic for the now defunct Pittsburgh Press.  Well, aren’t litbloggers the volunteer book critics of the Internet? 

I am not certain that boasting about covering “Sesame Street on Ice” constitutes real journalism.  Unless of course Hoover wrote a 4,000 word investigative piece revealing that the skater playing Big Bird was a methadone addict.  But then I’m not a man to pass judgment, given that I have a great fondness for Grover.  

The most mysterious personal detail is that Hoover “has a degree in English from Ohio University.”  What does this mean exactly?  Is it a vocational degree?  An A.A.?  A certificate of attendance printed in English?  A thermometer purchased in the Ohio University bookstore?  Bob Hoover is apparently a man of mystery. Why also does Bob Hoover mention that he “worked at newspapers” but fails to mention any names?  For all we know, the man could have been some guy off the street who put in a few hours a week calling local merchants up for advertising space.

2.  Bob Hoover as Journalistic Torchbearer

Bud’s already provided several examples, but because Bob Hoover’s silliness must be exposed in full, here are some of Mr. Hoover’s inaccuracies.  It seems that, contrary to Hoover’s claims, the Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette‘s “hawk-eye standards” don’t seem to be practiced nearly as much as Hoover attests.

1. In an online chat, Bob Hoover fails to properly capitalize “MP3.” He also offers this sentence: “The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh can download books on its own mp3 player [sic] which you can borrow.” Mr. Hoover also seems unaware of such basic grammatical rules as the direct object and the indirect object.

2. France is already part of “the Western canon.” There’s no reason to “expand” the Western canon to include a nation already well-established in Europe.

3. Claim: “Mr. Thompson’s contribution to American letters is substantially less than Mr. Bellow’s.” Apparently, Hoover hasn’t heard of gonzo journalism or tracked its development, much less paid attention to the remarkable league of HST imitators, which would suggest that Thompson’s contributions were far more than “substantially less.”

4. Claim: “The current rivals of the newspaper book sections are Oprah, the Internet and the brief puffy reviews found in celebrity-entertainment weeklies.” What planet does this guy live on? Does anyone really read People Magazine for the book reviews?

5. Bob Hoover’s headline: “Mr., Mrs. Chabon tell all.” Aside from the fact that an ampersand is as good as a comma (and more grammatically sound), Michael Chabon’s wife is named Ayelet Waldman, not Mrs. Chabon.

And that’s just after spending about 15 minutes sifting through the Bob Hoover archives. 

Of course, to coin a Hooverism, fair is fair.  Some people wrote in and lambasted me for calling Pittsburgh a “small town.”  Certainly, any city with a population of 334,000 isn’t a “small town.”  And you’ll find me on Market Square this weekend, getting dutifully horse-whipped with Bob Hoover.  I apologize for my confusion, but Bob Hoover’s prose style reminded me very much of the PennySaver articles I used to read to stave off boredom as a Sacramento teenager. 

But if it’s any consolation, folks, I’m rooting for Pittsburgh this Sunday.  Go Steelers!

So Does All This Explain Cornel West’s Hair?

In Defense of Bill Cosby:  “My crimes that afternoon were two. I committed the transgression of wearing a tweed jacket, black sweater, black slacks and glasses, a no-no for the ‘thug barbers’ there because to be an appropriate African American by their standards was to wear saggy pants, sport jerseys and doo-rag caps. My second transgression was to bring a book, James Baldwin’s Notes of A Native Son. It didn’t matter that Baldwin was one of the greatest prophets on race relations in the history of the 20th century. The fact that I brought a book to read deeply offended their sensibilities, because to read, in their mind, was acting white.”  (via MeFi)

Twain & Dubya

Maud Newton has written an article on Mark Twain for the American Prospect. Being a Twain junkie and a regular Maud Newton reader, I of course read this article and tried very hard to believe every word of it.  But I cannot subscribe to one of her assertions. 

For one thing, there is no way that Twain, even with his prodigious imagination, could have anticipated the ascendency, let alone the second-term victory, of such a volatile and ridiculous figure as Geoge W. Bush.  He is, even now in the 21st century, too surreal, incompetent and dangerous a cattleman for even the most cynical of spirits to conjure up. 

During Twain’s time, of course, the high watermark of presidential insanity was Theodore Roosevelt.  As Twain wrote in a letter to the New York Times (March 6, 1908):

Our people have adored this showy charlatan as perhaps no impostor of his brood has been adored since the Golden Calf, so it is to be expected that the Nation will want him back again after he is done hunting other wild animals heroically in Africa, with the safeguard and advertising equipment of a park of artillery and a brass band.

If Twain were alive today, it is likely that he would have blasphemed Bush for similar reasons, but I am not certain if his constitution would have weathered the stunning fear and remarkable self-immolation with which the American public rushed to the ballot boxes a little more than a year ago.

Perlman — For Later Reference

One of the five books (this is a regular thing for me; please don’t freak out) I’m reading right now is Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity.  I do plan to discuss its rather interesting structure (which is not without its problems) when I finish the book, but for the moment, I direct all interested parties to Book World and a discussion at a blog I hadn’t heard of called Classical Home.

I’ll only say for now that what Perlman is up to is very ambitious and that, as such, he was predictably ridiculed.  I do, however, agree with Daphne Merkin, when she writes, “It makes you wonder about the nature of literary ambition and the immense vulnerability of any writer who attempts not just to describe the cacophonous everyday universe we live in but to impose a pattern — a semblance of meaning — on it.”

I’ll have more to say about literary ambition and vulnerabillity when Megan and I finally compile our Black Swan Green discussion at some point next week.

Fantastical, My Ass

I must protest against Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl.

From today, NPR’s Morning Edition: “Because while these stories do have a touch of the fantastical, in Maureen McHugh’s hands, you start with these ordinary situations and when the fantastical occurs, you’re so comfortable with the world that she’s created that you don’t question it as being strange as unsettling.”

Um, isn’t this the point of all good books? That, irrespective of genre, the reader believes in the world created, whether it be Ian Rankin’s highly detailed Edinburgh or the preposterous premise of Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom which Thomson himself single-handedly gets you to believe?

While Pearl was likely trying to get the fuddy-duddy NPR listeners to consider the speculative fiction genre as they sucked down the morning’s brew from their expensive homemade latte machines, this still strikes me as an extaordinary conceit. Why must Pearl perpetuate the great white lie that anything dealing with the “fantastical” has to be subjected to these ridiculous handicaps? Cannot these books be considered on their own terms? Besides, isn’t truth stranger than fiction? Isn’t life “fantastical” in the curve balls it often throws? Or is literary worth at large now confined to such safe septuagenarians as Phillip Roth and John Updike. If so, so sorry to have muffed up that L.L. Bean scarf, old sport, with a bit of that New Crobuzon grit!

Catty Observation #482

Have you ever noticed, when an elevator is occupied by one person and the doors haven’t yet closed and you are running to get the elevator before the doors close so that you will not be late, how the elevator occupant stands near the back of the elevator, as if to suggest, “Well, I wasn’t close enough to the panel to hit the DOOR OPEN button,” should you run into this person later? 

In short, this type of elevator occupant clearly wants the elevator to himself.  But what’s funny is when you somehow manage to get inside the elevator by way of tripping up the sensors and you give the elevator occupant a smile and a how’d’ya’do, and the elevator occupant is momentarily ashamed by his rudeness, which you are now both aware of.  There’s no apology or anything.  Just stunned silence. Of course, the elevator occupant practices the same rude behavior the next time you see him.

On Tome Kvetchers

There is a peculiar type of literary snob which I’ll call the tome kvetcher: generally, a miserable individual so utterly stingy about books that they have almost completely lost the capacity to enjoy them.  Despite having a case stocked with 600 unread books, the tome kvetcher will never able to “find a book to read.”  And if we take this grievance at face value, it is as preposterous as suggesting that a deep sea fish will never be able to find an oxygen molecule to take in through its gills. For even if we apply Sturgeon’s law, 600 unread books turns up 60 very good titles.  And this is assuming that the tome kvetcher, who has already applied standards that are probably more elitist and ridiculous than the average literary connoisseur, has obtained or purchased all of the books himself!

Bad enough that the tome kvetcher fails to live dangerously and/or actively, simply pulling a random book from the shelf and seeing if it rocks his world, but the tome kvetcher often takes out this batty neurosis on peers (strangely similar to how trust fund kids complain about how “bored” they are, despite the fact that their parents have purchased every known possession and then some for them and have spent countless dollars on psychotherapy and antidepressants and acupuncture and various editions of the Ungame) and expects them to empathize with this horrible malady.  For the tome kvetcher, this apparent inability to take the plunge, something that most well-adjusted readers seem to manage on a regular basis without bitching about it, is an existence tantamount to starving in Ethiopia.  One often hears a tome kvetcher moaning loudly in a bookstore, often disrupting those who are truly excited to be surrounded by so many fabulous books, and one ponders calling the men in white suits. 

Maybe my own thoughts on tome kvetchers are heavily influenced by the considerable galley guilt that has kicked in and because I am touched by the fact that so many nice people send me books while also saddened that I cannot possibly read them all and that I must purge (and possibly because I was raised polite and am, in general, a veritable ball of enthusiasm), but by what right and for what purpose do these tome kvetchers exist?  Do you mean to tell me that of all the great books published through the past few centuries that you cannot find even one to satisfy you or give you pleasure, wisdom or joy?  Do you mean to suggest that you are wasting hours of your life shifting books around just to find one that will fit your finicky standards, which will of course change later because your tastes are about as dependable as driving a Kia cross-country? 

Well, if that’s the kind of gloomy life you lead, then why the hell are you reading in the first place?

If Disclaimers Told the Truth

Yahoo: “On Thursday, the book’s publisher, Doubleday, announced that Frey was writing a brief author’s note for future hardcover and paperback editions. Spokeswoman Alison Rich would not say what would be in the note.”

DISCLAIMER #1:  “The following events have been considerably fabricated, because the author wants to be ‘the best writer of his generation.’  More importantly, he wants to sell a lot of books and be showered with attention for a tale of survival that’s nowhere nearly as crazed and troubled as he makes it out to be.”

DISCLAIMER #2:  “The characters and events were once fictitious, because they initially started out as a novel.  But this being the publishing industry, we’re well aware that ‘Based on a True Story’ sells a book almost as swiftly as the fear of God.  Forgive the author and the publisher’s opportunism.  It’s been a rough year.”

DISCLAIMER #3:  “Yes, we were exposed by a website.  We’re not happy about this.  And neither is Oprah.  But if entertainment’s your game, James Frey’s your name!  Buy and read this book anyway.  We promise that we’re withholding certain royalties from Mr. Frey.” 

(via Babies are Fireproof)

75 Books, Book #4

You may be shocked to hear this, but I didn’t do a lot of reading over the three-day weekend.  Book #4 was David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.  I’ll withhold my opinion until I get a chance to take this up with Megan.  Needless to say, my reaction is extremely complicated and requires a good deal of thought.  I read this book very slowly for a reason.  I’ll only say that I think this novel was definitely the right step forward for Mitchell.  But it’s an ambitious attempt that’s definitely going to split readers.  I think we’re going to see the same heated and divisive reactions that we saw with Ian McEwan’s Saturday.  More to follow.

Operation DFW

Monday mid-afternoon. I was in Oakland, observing a blue minivan pocked with dents trying to negotiate the BART parking lot with a grinding flat tire. I reached Agent 99 by phone. Agent 99 reminded me that David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest and a smart and dreamy hunk to be reckoned with (or at least that was pretty close to how Agent 99 described him), was in my town for an event hosted by the Booksmith. I told her we’d be in touch in two hours. I was paying a visit to a friend, a man who had taught me a seminal life lesson during a table tennis game. The appointment was inflexible, my devotion inexorable.

As it turned out, my meeting with the guru went on longer than expected. Personally, I blame the fresh oranges and the tea that were kindly prepared by the guru’s wife. Fortunately, Agent 99, a more perfervid agent than me, was ensconced in the Haight at 5:30 PM. The event was at seven. And I was staring down the BART platform hoping for a miracle. “Never mind my displacement,” I said to Agent 99. “You’re a trusted associate. I’ll be there in an hour. Even if it means leading the police in a high-speed car chase.”

dfw.jpgSometimes miracles do happen when you’re unwilling to spring for cabfare. And by 6:30 PM, I was ready to boogie, having arrived in record time across the Bay. Along the way, I had even managed to scarf down a tortilla for sustenance. In my bag: (1) a copy of Consider the Lobster that would serve as pretext for a tete-a-tete with DFW, (2) a minidisc recorder and (3) a microphone. All portable, all battery powered. Operation DFW was under way. The objective: to see if I could get DFW to sit down for an interview. Others had tried. But these were mere amateurs. They had not possessed the determination, if not a slightly unhealthy obsession, to talk with the author face to face. Would Joe Woodward go this far? Probably not. The man was a journalist, not a crazed litblogger. Then again, perhaps I had more Bob in my blood than he did.

Agent 99 and I reconnoitered at the People’s Cafe. Efforts were made to contact Special Agents Tito Perez and Scott Esposito, but were unsuccessful. We arrived at the All Saints Church at 6:34 PM. No seats available. SRO. Agent 99 and I found standing positions at the back, flush center. As beads of sweat began to form on sundry foreheads, Special Agent Perez entered and spoke into his headset. He was part of a special triad of professionally trained assassins: one masquerading as a sweetheart, the other as a good friend from Berkeley. But I had witnessed at least one of these agents tear the heart out of a living man, proving to several naysayers that the Mortal Kombat universe wasn’t entirely implausible.

The populated quarters meant that Perez’s team and mine couldn’t stand together. But as I learned later from the dossier, this was all part of the plan. Cover the action from two angles. Keep DFW on his toes. Let him believe that Special Agent Perez would be the rabid fanboy to approach him. Special Agent Perez was twenty-five feet to my left and I knew that there was only one dependable way to communicate under the circumstances: charades.

I mimed Perez a two-word covert message. He parsed word one, but catastrophically failed to figure out word two. Since it was imperative that Perez understand the message, I took a professional risk and called him on my cell phone, feeling very much like a lazy man IMing a roommate who is sitting only a room away. Not my brightest hour. The message was conveyed. Thumbs up signs were exchanged. The preliminary stages of the operation had been effected.

Eventually, DFW took the dais. He was dressed in a short-sleeved black shirt worn over a blue tee and jeans. Factoring in his long hair, he resembled a Tai-Bo instructor. At least one young lady passed out in All Saints’ sweltering confines, but was restored to full health when one of our agents told her that DFW was a married man.

Unfortunately, someone had tipped DFW off. He ordered anyone who was standing to sit down. It did not help that I was a particularly tall operative. Had he seen me scribbling down notes in my reporter’s flipbook? Damn! More training! I tried to signal Perez with a game of paper-rock-scissors, but Perez was quite transfixed, taking in DFW’s words as if DFW were Montezuma himself!

With Perez momentarily out of commission, I sat down, situating myself outside of DFW’s direct gaze (lest he take me down with his stare as well). I should note that Agent 99 was one of the few ladies strong enough to resist DFW in spots (though not entirely, for even trusted assassins have their weak spots). A consummate pro from the get-go, it is my professional opinion that Agent 99 should be promoted to more intricate and dangerous levels of espionage.

DFW then told the crowd, “Please feel free to perspire,” and prepared to read his essay, “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s.” He noted that he would not be subscribing to the etiquette of looking up at the crowd while reading because this made him nervous and uncomfortable, and caused him to lose his place. He apologized for this, saying, “I’m very aware that you’re here.” The essay, a reaction to September 11th, had been commissioned for Rolling Stone. DFW noted that because of its swift deadline, it was the fastest thing he had ever written. Initially, he had not cared for it, but years later, in assembling it for Consider the Lobster, he had learned to love it. “The Horror,” used in reference to the planes crashing into towers, was drawn from “Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz.” DFW also noted that he found the store “Kwik-N-EZ” hideous and explained his dismay by carefully noting the dashes and the “EZ.”

During his reading, DFW was, for the most part, a prominent elucidator. His voice shifted between the casual academic tone of a lecturer and, for certain words, a hard Midwestern dialect (“sur-REAL,” “gawn,” “SAWL-ice”). And when reading such phrases as “really looked like,” DFW would clarify with an adorably geeky timbre, the kind of gushing sensation of words caught in the throat that I’m sometimes guilty of. I wasn’t certain if the dialect bristled through because of nervousness or earnestness, but, having previously opined that DFW often came across as “a sincere computer programmer,” I’d conclude that his shoegazing reading approach (and preamble) was likely a way of coming to terms with this uncomfortable process.

I looked around the room as DFW read and did not note a single person over 40. Agent 99 reminded me that this was mostly a young crowd. I was a bit surprised, however, that the crowd was mostly silent or engaged in scattered titters at parts in the essay that I had thought quite funny or revealing or distinctly DFWian. I got the sense that the people in this room had read this essay twice or more, certainly more times than me. They knew every intonation, every sentence, and it seemed as if some of them hoped that DFW would digress. Some of them were rapt, some of them were bored. Perhaps this is typical of a crowd who attends a reading. Or perhaps this was because there were people in this room who had not seen an author in the flesh for some time, if at all.

Eventually, the reading concluded and DFW answered questions.

DFW was asked about the notion of people crying or not crying, according to their abilities, in reaction to the September 11th coverage. What had DFW meant by that?

DFW noted that the September 11th event was unique because it was televisual. This context struck DFW as “extremely weird.” If you cry, you feel gross. If you don’t cry, you’re an insensitive bastard. He compared the September 11th crying to the self-consciousness seen at funerals, noting the “laughs of identification.”

Did Dwayne (a figure in the “Mrs. Thompson” essay) ever read? “Not a big reader,” rejoined DFW. This led to a further question of whether the people that DFW lampooned in his essays ever read his work. DFW responded that what separated his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’d Never Do Again” from other essays was that he didn’t write about things in which he knew people. He noted that he had not tried to be mean in that essay. When this revelation was followed by dubious laughter from the crowd, he then frowned and found the audience reaction “disturbing.”

DFW then noted that some of the people on the cruise were very nice, while also resembling without question “Jackie Gleason in drag.” He had exchanged postcard correspondence with some of the people. When the essay was published, he never heard from these people again. “I was really naïve,” said DFW. He had somehow formed the idea that nobody was going to read the essay. He also noted that he had found the crew horrible, but not the civilians.

A poorly phrased question was then asked about 9/11 and the “sociological” or “cultural” meaning of it. Presumably, the question was intended to tie into DFW’s essay “E Unibus Pluram.” But DFW offered his “amateur thoughts,” pointing out that one of the main reasons the country had not confronted September 11th in art and culture was because it had been punched in the stomach. The culture had not begun to figure it out or exploit it any way. He found that the media reaction had been “emotionally cool.” The main response has been political, which is unfortunate. He noted that the media reaction came right down to the cameraman’s decision to concentrate upon the falling dots of people leaping off the tower instead of pulling in tight for a closeup, a decision that he found more disturbing. “Am I fucked up?” asked DFW. “Do some people have cleaner hearts?”

There was another question asked which I didn’t quite hear: something about “innocence” and the business side of writing. DFW responded by noting that his entrée into publishing was by complete fluke. With The Broom of the System, DFW rode in on a wave of Brat Pack titles marketed by Vintage Contemporaries, where the “youngness” of the author was a selling point – different now, given that one’s physical attributes are more of a factor. The major advice he had received was to “get an agent, get an agent.” And he had seen the other end of the publishing cycle while working at the Sonora Review, where 500 applications had come in during one semester for a “third-rate” literary journal. The agent then would give DFW a certain credibility to get through that pile.

DFW has had the same agent (Bonnie Nadell) for twenty years. For everything DFW writes, he has a circle of 3-4 people that he clears his work through. Nadell is one of them. Often, Nadell responds to his writing by saying, “David, I really have no idea of what’s going on. Do you want me to send this out?” He compared a good agent with a good therapist. He said that any agent who charged a reading fee was bad.

One of the initial struggles DFW had faced was worshipping the editor for his first two books. Without really going into a specific explanation as to why, there had been a break because DFW didn’t like this sensation.

Agent Perez then asked a question about the Audible essays, asking if the “four hour unabridged” version included footnotes.

This led to some talk about Michael Pietsch (not specifically named) as DFW’s editor. He noted that Pietsch operated against the typical publishing mentality whereby loyal company men end up working with the literary authors they desire. Pietsch makes quite a bit of money, edits music books, and also works closely with Joanna Scott and Rick Moody. There was some talk of the Audible essays being a way to recoup the development costs. But DFW had to cut the footnotes. When reading these, he also didn’t know the precise way to breathe. Further, there was some discussion about altering the sound quality between the footnotes and the texts. But DFW suggested that most people listening to this in their cars, lacking high-end digital audio, would likely not be able to tell the difference and that likely a different voice would be required. Thus, the footnotes had been cut.

As for “Host,” apparently DFW had submitted the whole essay on a giant posterboard. He confessed to being “kind of a dick” about this, but was very happy with the way the Atlantic had found a way to typeset it. He also confessed that it’s “probably a little harder to read than it’s worth.”

There was some talk about where to break sentences and whether there was any value to the idea that if it can’t be read out loud, it wasn’t worth reading. DFW noted that there were two voices: the out loud voice and the brain voice. And he wrote mainly for the brain voice. Apparently, DFW loves going to poetry readings, which opens up a whole new way of parsing text to him. He noted, however, that he had not written any worthwhile poetry himself.

There was some additional info about “Mrs. Thompson.” DFW noted that he was “not comfortable” with the process of writing it because of the quick deadline, because he was getting older and the essay involved all-nighters and making trips to Kinko’s to fax things at 5 AM.

At this point, the questions were over. And a good 70% of the people thronged into a line on the church’s southern side. Agent Perez’s triad had to take their leave for another unexpected assignment, which left Agent 99 and me contemplating just how to fulfill Operation DFW’s objective.

I should note that several weeks ago, I had sent several emails to various publicists (including Pietsch). Many of the publicists were very kind, but it all went to pot. I should also note that I sent a very amicable and humorous letter to the Pomona College English Department with a free drink coupon. It had gone unanswered.

Should I bumrush DFW with the microphone? Should I wait for the entire crowd to get their books signed and then approach him afterward? Should Agent 99 and I take this to a crazed and sociopathic level, kidnapping DFW, Suicide Kings-style, and demand that he answer our questions while bound in duct tape?

Well, fortunately Agent 99 and I had clear heads. Given DFW’s temperament, a pugilistic or aggressive approach was probably not a good idea. But it was essential to go above and beyond Woodward’s efforts and see if DFW was indeed “not doing interviews for this book,” as claimed by Nadell. The one thing that Woodward had failed to do was to approach DFW directly. And I was determined to do just that.

So I waited in line and began to feel slightly nervous. Asking DFW for an interview was a bit like asking the smartest and most attractive women you had ever met out for coffee. But then I realized that it was much better to just be straightforward about the request. After all, the least DFW could say was no.

Eventually, it was my place in line. There were dollops of sweat on my business card. Jesus, did my palms sweat that much? I handed DFW my book and said, “Hello there. I’m sorry to ask this like this. But my name’s Edward Champion. I run a literary blog and a literary podcast. And it never hurts to ask. I realize that you’re reluctant and diffident to give interviews, but I’d like to talk with you about your work. In a respectful manner and in a comfortable location. Even if it’s just 10-15 minutes. Perhaps if you had some time afterwards?”

DFW responded with a slight scowl. To quell my nerves, I partially avoided eye contact, paying attention to the space between his nose and his cheek, just where his beard started. Not so surprisingly, I didn’t get the warm vocal timbre that he delivered to everyone else. DFW said that he had obligations with friends afterwards. I noted again that I understood this, but that I reiterated that I wanted to ask him intelligent questions about his work in a respectful setting.

“It’s not a matter of being respectful,” said DFW. “I’m not against interviews, but I have an agreement with my agent. Further, I really feel that anything I have to say is insipid and that the work speaks for itself.”

I told him that I understood this and that I had seen the Charlie Rose interview, but that I would not be asking him about Clint Eastwood movies. I would be talking with him about Tom LeClair’s academic assessment of his work as “prodigious fiction” and the like. I also pointed out that he probably had more profound things to say than he expected.

In an effort to shuttle me along, DFW suggested that if I could convince his agent to talk with him, then he would gladly talk the next time he came up. I then thanked him and momentarily lost my composure, muttering something about being “a huge fan” before giving him my card.

And thus begins Operation Nadell – a far more arduous assignment. Objective: Convince Nadelll that I’m a guy worth talking to. Although given the revelations to be found in the Woodward article (“seemingly in a hurry to do something else, and answered each of my questions before I finished asking”), the probability is slim. Although Nadell is local and there is a good chance that I might run into her in person.

But here is the question: Is it DFW or Bonnie Nadell that’s keeping DFW from interviews? Is this an effort to give DFW a Pynchon/Salinger-style mystique? Or has DFW really had enough of interviews for good?

[UPDATE: The fetching young lady who asked DFW about “crying abilities” has posted her report and apparently she’s heartbroken. There’s another Haight report here. Also, Counterbalance is offering a serial report on DFW’s L.A. appearance. And if there are any other lengthy reports, please let me know and I’ll update.]

NBCC, NBA — What’s the Difference?

The National Book Critics Circle Award nominees have been announced.  And, rather suspiciously, it resembles the National Book Award nominees.  Will Vollmann garner another win?  Or will it be Mary Gaitskill this time?  Personally, I feel very sorry for all the non-Didion nominees in the autobiography section. Here’s the full slate:


  • E.L. Doctorow, The March
  • Mary Gaitskill, Veronica
  • Andrea Levy, Small Island
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  • William T. Vollmann, Europe Central


  • Svetlana Alexievich, Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
  • Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East
  • Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild
  • Caroline Moorehead, Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees
  • Anthony Shadid, Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War


  • Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Carolyn Burke, Lee Miller: A Life
  • Jonathan Coe, Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
  • Ron Powers, Mark Twain: A Life


  • Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
  • Francine du Plessix Gray, Them: A Memoir of Parents
  • Judith Moore, Fat Girl: A True Story
  • Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City
  • Vikram Seth, Two Lives


  • Hal Crowther, Gather at the River: Notes from the Post-millennial South
  • Arthur Danto, Unnatural Wonders
  • William Logan, The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin
  • John Updike, Still Looking: Essays on American Art
  • Eliot Weinberger, What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles


  • Simon Armitage, The Shout
  • Manuel Blas de Luna, Bent to Earth
  • Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven
  • Richard Siken, Crush
  • Ron Slate, The Incentive of the Maggot

To Bitch or Not To Bitch?

Over the years, I, Bob Hoover, grumpy and small-time newspaper columnist, have dedicated this space to covering PTA meetings, bowling championships and bake sales. I’ve spent twenty-five years climbing out of the morass, becoming bitter and watching my hair recede and having to depend upon Viagra and an expensive instructional video to maintain any hope of an eclectic sex life. You’ll never catch me writing a newspaper column just after vacuuming (Hoovering, if you will) the house. Why, I save such chores for my dutiful wife. Because she knows and I know that, while I lost my enthusiasm for books long ago, I still have these columns to bang out. All adhering to the boring and inoffensive Post-Gazette template, all sucked of life and passion and the things I initially got into journalism for. All about as enthralling as the Pittsburgh Policeman’s Ball, which, as it so happens, I attended last Tuesday.

This is what journalism is and should remain. A place where editors who look suspiciously like Don Rickles cry poo-poo on the young upstart litbloggers, who are unpaid and make the occasional spelling mistake and who threaten to usurp reputations.

We conform to these rules because we need to justify our employment, and we respect our septuagenarian subscribers by giving them humorless news so watered down that the very fact-checking we purport to uphold is rote and meaningless. Frankly, we’re jealous that something like The Smoking Gun can beat us to the punch. We’re newspapermen, dammit! We’re intended to control today’s media! It’s just not fair!

If I make a mistake, I am flogged, beaten, tied up and denied sex for at least three weeks. I am forced to walk down Market Square with a scarlet letter stitched into my Sears suit. Several youngsters often attach signs reading “KICK ME” without my consent and proceed to kick your correspondent, Bob Hoover, onto the ground, smearing my face with the chocolate still left on their candy wrappers. You should see my dry cleaning and chiropractor bills.

Unlike these litbloggers, I, Bob Hoover, have no problems being humiliated like this. It’s part of being a Pittsburgh newspaperman. But I’m disappointed to see that this modest tar-and-feathering seems to be going the way of slavery, Charlie Chan and the dodo. The world isn’t what it was. Litbloggers should be publicly humiliated too. And it seems that as my space in print recedes, I too may find myself writing about the publishing industry from the comfort of my two-bedroom suburban home. Thank god we just applied the last mortgage payment.

Ah, the litblogosphere, which somehow manages to tap into literary culture in a way that seems to have escaped most newspapers. Somehow, these bastards read more than I do! These litboggers and their podcasts and their 75 books challenges and their interviews with authors who wouldn’t get the time of day elsewhere! How do they do it?

Of course, the only real thing a newspaperman can do is dismiss them with a pack of lies. Let I, Bob Hoover, claim, in light of the Jayson Blairs and the Judith Millers, that all litbloggers are scoundrels and prevaricators of the first order! Let I, Bob Hoover, baffled by the notion of content that isn’t targeted for an advertising-friendly demographic, declare these litbloggers to be writing for mommy and daddy! How dare they jest! How dare they skewer! How dare they even consider that their readers are smart enough to read between the lines! It’s not fair that litbloggers have hyperlinks for reference, or comments in place for readers to clarify mistakes or the subjects of their posts to respond to any allegations.

It’s also not fair that more people seem to be reading blogs than a Bob Hoover column. Don’t you like me? I learned a lesson long ago to play it safe, to never question the actions of prominent citizens or personages in the publishing industry. But these blogs have the liberty to unfurl the truth that I, Bob Hoover, cannot! These litblogs have the potential to be even more honest and truthful and probing than a Pittsburgh newspaper.

Clearly, there is little more one can do than dismiss them instead of embracing the paradigm shift. But then journalists like Terry Teachout and James Wolcott have always been more ahead of the curve than Bob Hoover.

(UPDATE: More responses from Scott Esposito, Dan Wickett, Bud Parr, M.A. Orthofer and Kevin Holtsberry.)

Bringing New Meaning to the Term “Coffee Date”

WebMD: “Her study shows that the caffeinated females didn’t just skitter around their cages aimlessly. Instead, they specifically sought a male sex partner and weren’t particularly interested in socializing with another female rat. The caffeinated females seemed motivated to seek sex, not to burn extra energy from the caffeine, the researchers write.”

Granted, we’re talking rats here. But the connection is certainly worth exploring in humans. (via Quiddity)