The excellent Rick Kleffel, who is far more articulate than I am, talks with Christopher Moore.
For those in San Francisco for Alternative Press Expo on April 9, I will be interviewing Alex Robinson, sui generis, in front of a live audience. I’m immensely honored to talk with the man behind Box Office Poison and Tricked. We’ll be talking about how Alex got his start, deconstructing a few panels and getting some audience involvement.
The results will eventually make their way into a podcast. But please feel free to stop by and say hello. Here are the details:
When? Sunday, April 8, 2005, 3:30
Where? The Concourse at 620 7th Street, San Francisco, CA
3:30-4:25 Spotlight on Alex Robinson—His new graphic novel, Tricked, weighs in at “only” 350 pages (compared to the 600+ of the collected Box Office Poison), but none of his readers feel gypped. Alex Robinson’s Tricked was one of the buzz books of 2005. He’ll talk about that book and what’s next with writer Edward Champion of the blog, “Return of the Reluctant” (www.edrants.com).
I’ll also be walking the floor and covering Alternative Press Expo again — this time, in podcast form.
Finally, someone ripostes:
What field do you think is a good one for young women now?
The field of celebrity journalism.
Oh, no. I hope that is not an expanding field.
Yes, it is. That’s why I suggested it. We’re all competing to find writers and editors who can do it. The circulation of the Star is 1.5 million every week, and then it’s 9.5 million readers, because it has a lot of pass-along readers
The good news: Criterion is putting out Dazed and Confused. The bad news: Chuck Klosterman is writing the liner notes.
I’m still waking up here and I’ve had scant sleep. Don’t expect a coherent blog post until the late morning. But in the meantime, do check out Mr. Birnbaum’s interview with Thomas Beller.
[NOTE: This podcast includes a free book giveaway of Spiotta’s Eat the Document. Listen to the podcast for details.]
Author: Dana Spiotta
Condition of Bat Segundo: Self-important and sleep-deprived, but surprisingly generous.
Subjects Discussed: Katherine Ann Power as inspiration, the ambiguities of terrorism, comparisons and similarities between Eat the Document and Lightning Field, witty political activists, the Billboard Liberation Front, cinematic influences, Don DeLillo, plotting, reader expectations, on stopping just short of September 11th, justifying pop cultural references, food as a Balzacian character indicator, the Beach Boys, literary influences, dialogue, how people talk in restaurants, the rise in contemporary novels dealing with 1960s & 1970s activism, innocence, and unanswered questions for the reader.
So I’ve made my email rounds. And I thought I was alone in this. But apparently I’m not. The conclusion? Natalie Portman is MUCH sexier with a buzz cut. And at least five of my fellow geek buddies agree. It’s not the fact that she played a seminal role in an Alan Moore film adaptation. Irrespective of this pop cultural association, facts being what they are, Natalie has a pretty sexy head. So I post this message to the public, telling you that if you lust in any way for Natalie Portman sans follicles, you are perfectly normal. But if there are any experts here who might comment upon this contretemps or who may have a dissenting opinion, the thread, of course, is yours.
Regardless, I’m happy to pop that cherry, if you aren’t.
Forbes: “Carnegie Mellon researcher Tanja Schultz says one possible application is a “silent” cell phone that can detect and translate unuttered phrases like ‘I’m in a meeting’ and ‘I’ll call you later.’ Japan’s NTT Docomo is working on a subvocal mobile phone operated by sensors worn on the fingers and thumb. A speaker grips his face, putting the sensors in contact with the cheekbone, upper lip and chin. So far Docomo’s system recognizes the five Japanese vowels 90% of the time.” (via MeFi)
The good folks at Red Hen Press have just put out the latest issue (#2 — 2005) of The Los Angeles Review, where a review of Kevin Starr’s Coast of Dreams can be found, penned by yours truly. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Kevin Starr is a one-man juggernaut, as if he decided early in life to take on Hubert Howe Bancroft’s “history factory” approach single-handedly. In his chronicles of the politicos, burgeoning movements, ethnic struggles and artistic trends of the Golden State, he’s taken special care to unearth both the obvious and the obscure figures that make up California’s unique cultural identity. We revel in Starr’s obsessive grasp of the past, only imagining how ebullient the man might be on a caffeine bender.
You’ll also find my thoughts on Starr’s out-of-print novel Land’s End and some speculation on Starr’s move to Random House. I can’t possibly fathom the idea of an Ed Champion completist out there in the crowd, so I should also note that there are contributions by my esteemed colleagues Mark Sarvas and Laila Lalami, as well as a remarkable array of fiction and poetry. All for fourteen bucks. Cheaper than a night out for drinks and you won’t lose any brain cells or wake up the next morning with an unfortunate surprise lying next to you. Do check it out.
Bret Easton Ellis is on MySpace. (Thanks, JMO!)
Charles Newman has died, and Sam Jones is on the case.
- Happy 3rd Birthday, The Millions.
- Tristram Shandy: This is Spinal Tap for the literary set?
- April 12 is Drop Everything and Read Day. (via Miss Snark)
- Looks like a Neutral Milk Hotel doc is in the works. (via Papa Jeff)
- A new wave of confessional women writers? (via Susannah Breslin)
- Apparently, elementary school students are turning in podcasts instead of essays. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but my hunch is that this is a bad idea.
- Who would have thought? Nobody is interested in Republican Presidential libraries.
- John Holbo on Armstrong’s How Novels Think.
- Barry Bonds sues over Game of Shadows.
- I was going to bitch about this yesterday, but thankfully the San Antonio ban of The Handmaid’s Tale has been lifted.
Ethical Question: Aren’t you really setting yourself up for disaster when you email naked photos of yourself to “a variety of online correspondents?”
The whole idea that this “Gene” character is complaining after he was foolish enough to send off photos to random strangers strikes me as naive and a bit self-serving. Further, if a person attending a sex party doesn’t already know that the San Francisco sex community is a small and tight-knit group (and, by damn, they should know) and that they should be highly circumspect, do they really have the right to complain? Here’s the question: what happened at the disrupted party and why didn’t the reporter push “Gene” for an answer?
The interesting thing about David Lazarus’s “The Internet is Evil” article is that we don’t hear the other side of the story. Why didn’t Lazarus try and get in touch with “Reality Check” or other members of the Yahoo group? Surely, “Gene,” if he had any brains at all, would have had records or emails from the disabled site. Oh yeah. His story angle was the “victimized” Gene and the evils of the Internet, as pronounced from Ray Everett-Church’s high horse. Never mind that Lazarus’s article still presents us with the possibility that “Gene” could have tipped off campus police about the party and that Lazarus doesn’t even bother to get a firm “No, I didn’t call the police” from “Gene” to make his case more airtight. Nor do we have any idea about how “Gene”‘s reactions to his accusations could have provoked the fury of his cybersmearers. Did he egg them on? I’ve seen a lot of flame wars over the years, and, in most cases, it takes two to tango.
The other thing that makes this story suspect: If Gene was told implicitly by Yahoo! that he needed a subpoena, why didn’t Gene figure out that maybe he just might need an attorney to file a civil suit and hammer Yahoo! with discovery? Perhaps because Gene either lacks the funds, can’t find an attorney to take his case, or implictly knows that there’s a bit of bullshit to his story.
Sure, cybersmears are certainly a threat and I don’t mean to suggest that “Gene” is without innocence. But “Gene”‘s case is a poor example, and Lazarus’s findings here are so full of holes, lack of specifics and unanswered questions that I simply cannot buy his premise.
Extreme Ironing. (Thanks Suzanne!)
3 AM Magazine has asked its readers to come up with the 50 least influential people in publishing. I have taken the liberty of nominating myself. If I don’t make the top ten, there’s going to be hell to pay! You hear that, Mr. Gallix? These are the wild thrashings of a litblogger who has NO INFLUENCE WHATSOEVER on the publishing industry! I cannot stop them from publishing Dan Brown or John Grisham. I cannot stop them from giving ridiculous advances to Alan Greenspan. I cannot stop them from throwing money to idiots like the Nanny Diaries authors or Paris Hilton or Nicole Ritchie. I have NO INFLUENCE WHATSOEVER over the publishing industry’s strange behavior and altogether irrational decisions!
In other words: Number one with a bullet, Gallix!
We’re in the middle of a blizzard here in the Northeast and I’m taking a break from shoveling the sidewalk. The snow has been falling steadily for most of the day. It’s beautiful and unusually quiet outside.
I suppose the first thing to address is whether we are giving Mitchell a free pass or not. I think you’re correct when you say that our admiration for him prevents us from addressing his flaws. Is it possible to truly and objectively critique an author whose previous works I’ve adored? Is this our fault or is it his fault that this new book seems jarring to us since its form is so different? You mention several times that one of the things you enjoy most about Mitchell is his inventiveness and playfulness and that you feel like BSG lacks some of those elements.
I went back and reread portions just to see what I felt a second time around. I don’t want to admit it, but I think this novel is less successful than Cloud Atlas, which brings me to the point of why he wrote BSG in the first place? He’s changing horses midstream. Why change from what’s been so successful for him?
I also wanted to get your opinion on the graphical elements of the book. Throughout the book, Mitchell includes notes and ephemera to try and enhance the story possibly. I myself found them unnecessary and distracting. What about you Ed?
I must get back to my Sisyphean shoveling. I know by the time I leave for work tomorrow all of my hard work will be undone. That’s the Northeast for you.
By the way, did you chat up the intense gentleman in the green Army-Navy surplus jacket? What’s his story?
Ball’s in Your Court Now,
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I never got around to answering Megan’s email. So I’ll simply respond here to wrap up this conversation.]
Well, it’s a few months later and I’ve finally posted the conversation. I had considered halting the conversation and leaving your questions to linger. But I can’t quite do that, because you raise some very good points.
I disagree with the idea that an author shouldn’t change horses midstream or that he should stick with a formula that works. However, there are certain imprints and qualities to an author’s voice that I think are ineluctable. Part of the difficulty of critically gauging this book, to which I have had a rather interesting set of varying reactions, is trying to contextualize Mitchell’s sense of this fantastic (his playfulness, natch) with this new fundamental pursuit of the real. I didn’t really get into this in my last email to you, but I’m thinking that Mitchell is quite adept in BSG with not only finding the fantastic in the ordinary, but also providing language that fits the bill to boot.
One thing we really didn’t get into: Mitchell as a literary impressionist. In terms of discussing Mitchell as an author, we forget that he often adopts styles, voices and techniques that are certainly rewarding in their own right. But this novel is the first book we’ve seen that is the pure David Mitchell voice. Unadorned, no tricksies. It’s as if Robert Coover suddenly stunned the world with a very personal memoir or John Barth wrote a book without a single reference to Schaharazade.
Do you think that we may have unraveled a certain prejudice within literary fiction here, Megan? And do you think this might explain our bemusement? Could it be that a literary author is disallowed from pursuing a personal novel like BSG because resorting to life experience is considered “too easy” or beneath him? Think of the hell that Jonathan Lethem got for The Disappointment Artist. Also consider how merciless people were with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which featured a nine year old inventor as a protagonist. This is why I suspect a few critics are going to really have it in for Mitchell with this one. He’s “debased” himself by writing about his own experience, an emotional territory he knows quite well, instead of abiding by the “clever” hard line. (Imagine if Pynchon suddenly came out with a lean and austere book about adolescent angst. I think it would baffle the living shit out of people. They wouldn’t know how to react. Because they’ve almost been preprogrammed to accept a difficult text loaded with fun puns and esoteric references.)
So the fault, I would suggest, is both ours and the literary climate’s. None of this, of course, takes away from my criticisms of the book. I still think it’s the right direction for Mitchell and that he’ll certainly improve. And as I understand from a contact who shall remain unnamed, Mitchell, apparently, has been writing up a storm. There are at least two books in the works after Black Swan Green. I’m pretty confident that he’ll find his own way to negotiate the happy medium between the fantastic and the real, between playfulness and straightforward storytelling.
As for the gentleman in the Army-Navy surplus jacket, the minute I looked up from my laptop and smiled at him, he actually got up from his table and left the cafe! So your guess is as good as mine. Did he work for the CIA? Was he my guardian angel? Was he a member of the Haight Street underworld checking up on a regular customer of Rockin’ Java. You tell me.
Thanks again for participating on this. It was a pleasure chatting with you, Megan! And I look forward to seeing you again at BEA.
Author: Ron Hogan
Condition of Bat Segundo: Frightened of the 1970s, abdicating his position to a maniac.
Subjects Discussed: David Frum’s How We Got Here, Peter Bogdonavich, how filmmakers and actors are responsible for their own legacies, Karen Black, the accidental nature of casting, whether or not the 1970s is the Great American Movie Decade, Peter Biskind, “one for them, one for me,” George Clooney, David Kipen’s The Schreiber Theory, movies as business vs. movies as art, Hal Ashby, Roger Corman, Brian De Palma, The Muppet Movie as Joseph Campbell-Candide epic and the film’s influences, what Ron did while crashing at Mark’s, the problems of post-1970 photographic film, coffee table book vs. chronicle of 1970s cinema, the influence of film critics, Shaft Goes to Africa, film against instantaneous culture, the culture of scrutiny, television shows on DVD, and a good deal of idle speculation.
Vidiot has a fantastic post outlining the history and avarice concerning the song “Mbube” aka “Wimoweh” aka what most American listeners know as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Elle: “A therapist might suggest that Flanagan disowns the aspects of herself that don’t fit into her nostalgic picture of her mother, pre-fall, then projects the hated parts onto other women, simultaneously distorting herself and them. Why does she so strenuously romanticize her mother? For that matter, why does she come off as so terrified that her children might hate her? Even after she hired a nanny, she writes, she barely left the house, which she herself calls ‘possibly pathological.’ ‘I had to be there not to share in the labor, but to exert my presence, to make sure my beloved sons were imbibing as much of me, their mother, as they were of her.’ (Even odder, Flanagan says that during her self-imposed home detention she suffered from ‘depression.’) If I didn’t know better, I’d think Flanagan harbors some unacknowledged fury at her mother, and not just for having the temerity to go back to work.” (via Jenny D)
Tim O’Brien: “Watch your modifiers. Do not write this sentence: `Hopefully, the teacher will give me an A.’ The teacher isn’t hoping, you are. Do write: `I hope the teacher gives me an A.’ If you don’t know the proper usage of the word, `hopefully,’ I hopefully recommend you don’t use the word at all. Moreover, if you don’t watch your grammar, I must sternly warn you, you could end up president.” (via Bookninja)
What to you, dear readers, is the apotheosis of laziness? Is it letting the dirty dishes pile up over the course of a week? Is it being too indolent to go to the gym?
Well, Mariah Carey just might have you beat. From The Sun:
The singer — famous for her outrageous demands — stunned fans by being too lazy to lift the cup herself. A brunette assistant had to perform the task at regular intervals while the singer signed copies of her album The Emancipation of Mimi.
- This may very well be a first. Dan Wickett has launched an Emerging Writers Network Short Fiction Contest, in which he’ll be reading all of the short stories and passing 20 finalists on to Charles D’Ambrosio. Talk about using the Internet for an innovative purpose. The prize is $500. And the rules seem more ethical than most literary fiction contests I’ve seen.
- Robert Birnbaum talks with Alberto Manguel. Borges fans should check it out.
- The Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship has been announced. (Thanks, Tayari)
- Wordstock, which has no relation to a flighty yellow bird or flighty hippies, is happening on April 21-23, 2006 in Portland. Word on the street is that Chuck Barris may challenge Dave Eggers to a fistfight, with Ira Glass as referee.
- And speaking of literary festivals, Frances digs up this Leah Garchik item: “Books by the Bay, the 10-year-old Yerba Buena Gardens book festival sponsored by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, is kaput. The association’s Hut Landon said the festival, featuring author talks, panel discussions and displays by various vendors and publishers, had cost $20,000, and organizers felt it didn’t get enough attention to warrant the expense.” Frances opines that if Debi Echlin were still around, the NCIBA would have figured out a way to make up the shortfall. I’m inclined to agree. Last year’s Books by the Bay (interested parties can find my report here) happened to take place on a beautiful and sunny day, but I don’t recall seeing flyers or posters, much less heavy promotion, in indie bookstores to get people there. If there was any lack of attendance, I blame the NCIBA for failing to get the word out. It’s almost as if the organizers wanted Books by the Bay to die. I think enough individual donors or even a few more sponsors could have picked up the slack. I’ll be very sorry to see Books by the Bay go, but hopefully Litquake will be able to pick up the slack.
- Over at Mark’s, a number of the smart and lovely women contributing to the forthcoming anthology, The May Queen, are guest blogging. A substantial chunk of the contributors are going to be at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place on April 3. I’m almost finished with the book and I’ll express my thoughts (less rushed this time) in a future 75 Books post.
- Laird Hunt on “Nonrealist Fiction.”
- The Morning News Tournament of Books continues, although Kate Schlegel is out of her mind to say no to Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica.
- The Rake faces a dynastic contretemps just before his 30th birthday.
- A.S. Byatt: “I shall never write an autobiography. The fairy stories are the closest I shall ever come to writing about true events in my life.”
- More patriarchal bullshit: “the indispensible literary spouse.”
- “The Dreamlife of Rupert Thomson.” (via Maud, who I understand has a Thomson interview of her own coming soon)
- Gideon Lewis-Kraus on Black Swan Green: “Most recent bildungsromans stock tinseled epiphanies and fresh-baked-bread redemptions. Though they’re ostensibly about the character coming of age, the bad examples tend to be about coming-of-age itself. But Mitchell has refused the scaffolding on which he might hang a climax. By allowing Jason the stumbling progress of a novel in stories, Mitchell has given him an actual youth, not one smoothly engineered in retrospect.”
Hollywood Reporter: “As film backstories go, this one is fairly serpentine. This month, New Line Cinema’s ‘Snakes on a Plane,’ which wrapped principal photography in September in Vancouver, went back before the cameras for five days of additional shooting at the Lot in Los Angeles. In this case, it wasn’t the usual reshoot, hastily assembled to fix a nagging story problem. Instead, the studio decided to create new scenes that would take the movie from PG-13 into R-rated territory.”
I think this is a first. Reshoots dictated by pre-release interest.
Okay, I have a tremendous backlog on write-ups. Pardon me if my thoughts are ocassionally rushed here, but the only way to get this out of the way and kill the backlog is to type like mad.
Book #12 was Eliott Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. What we have here is a mammoth social novel in the Corrections/Bonfire of the Vanities/An American Tragedy tradition: a book that dares to make broad and often dead wrong generalizations in an effort to better understand human behavior.
The novel follows a troubled (well, let’s face the facts, batshit crazy) and unemployed teacher named Simon, who can’t seem to get over Anna, the girl who dumped him back in his college days. Simon thinks he’s some kind of misunderstood genius and somehow manages to coax a prostitute named Angelique, a psychiatrist and many other unexpected figures into his life. He kidnaps Anna’s son. And we hear this tale from his and many other points of view. What’s amazing is how the supporting characters are all taken in by Simon’s efforts to bring them down.
Now I know that I’m making this sound as if I hated the book. In fact, describing it makes the story sound implausible. But this isn’t exactly the case. It takes brass balls to pursue seven disparate narratives, particularly a few that I don’t think Perlman doesn’t entirely ken (that would be most of the female characters).
Somehow though, despite Perlman’s inconsistencies, you have to give him points on earnestness, a literary commodity that isn’t really valued in these hard realist times. This is a novel that starts with a bang, and it is, particularly with its business dealings, quite effective at gripping the reader, particularly during its corporate retreat chapter, which reads almost like an Elkinesque satire. There’s also something quite absurdist in making all the characters so miserable and out-of-touch with their surroundings. And I suspect that the book would have succeeded more with me had Perlman not been quite so intense about it. Perlman can’t quite decide whether he wants to fling them into their miserable fates. He likes these characters too much, but he also wants to write a Serious Novel here, which works against what I think he’s going for. Part of the fun was trying to figure out if I could really trust the perspectives, but also seeing if Perlman had the guts to pursue his own ambiguous feelings about greed, deceit, and betrayal. To some extent, he does. To some extent, he doesn’t.
At times, however, the book’s present tense voice is its own worst enemy, resulting in such preposterous passages as this:
“I’m going to fucking kill you!” I scream at him. I am punching his face repeatedly, left then right again and again against the smooth stone paving and I am going to kill him. He is squeezing tighter. I am killing him. I am trying to kill him as Anna is pulling me off. (80)
And there are other moments that might have allowed Perlman to be longlisted for the Bad Sex Award:
He slid my skirt down to my ankles and made me sing as if I’d never sung before and I kept on singing, amazing myself.
But (and this is the key thing) if you can forgive a mammoth book for this kind of sloppy exposition (complete with forced alliteration, the absurd one-two punch and the “kill him”/”killing him,” which seems pulled from a dimebag crime novel gone horribly awry) and you can proceed onward, and if you’re the kind of person who is willing to give this kind of social novel a chance, then I think you’ll be able to boogie with Perlman as much as I did.
Book #13 was David Kipen’s The Schreiber Therory. I’m happy to report that Mr. Kipen is just as exuberant on page as he is in person. Kipen makes the case for screenwriters, pointing out that “American film history may currently be entering its third act” and that the time has come to recognize these scribes for their contributions. For some of the writers Kipen proffers, I don’t entirely buy Kipen’s argument (Robert Towne’s Personal Best, anyone?), but Kipen is irresistably perfervid and quite right to puncture holes into the auteur theory, which has, among other things, been one of the reasons why incompetents such as Uwe Boll, Stephen Sommers and Michael Bay have inexplicably remained gainfully employed. (I also got a chance to talk with Kipen on the fly at last year’s BEA. You can hear the podcast here.)
Book #14 was Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. I’m going to confess something to you readers. I hadn’t read a single word of Barnes before this book. Barnes was one of those authors I had intended to read, but I never got around to perusing. What pushed me over the edge was the possibility of interviewing him. So there was, alas, some solipsism involved, I’m ashamed to confess. The opportunity never arose. But I’m very glad I read Flaubert’s Parrot and I’ll certainly be reading more of him in the near future.
I’m tempted to make an all-too-easy comparison between Barnes and Martin Amis. For like Amis, Barnes has a rather droll style steeped in erudition and a dry English sense of humor. But where Amis sometimes asphyxiates the reader with the troubling sense that he has some autodidacticism to prove (see London Fields), Barnes comes across as a far more playful and subversive novelist.
Flaubert’s Parrot is fantastic in the way it flip-flops between exegeses and the neuorses of one Geoffrey Braithwaite, a doctor and amateur scholar obsessed with Flaubert. One of the standout chapters is “Emma Bovary’s Eyes,” in which the good doctor rails against critics and academics who get details wrong, and whether such details matter. Barnes does a very crafty thing here in exposing that gray area between amateur and professional. Yes, even professionals can make mistakes. But like any trusted novelist, Barnes suggests that the mistakes reveal truths about the human character in a manner that recalls a more ambiguous take on Pale Fire. And is the good doctor making a mistake by devoting so much of his spare time with his primary obsession?
Book #15 was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m a huge fan of The Sandman and I did enjoy Neverwhere, my only other trip into Gaiman prose territory. And I had obtained a copy of American Gods upon its paperback release. But I didn’t really want to read it because of all the hype that had surrounded the title. It seemed that everybody and his mother was gushing about how good this book was. And when that happens, if I haven’t read the book before the manic plaudits, I generally set the book aside and wait for the hoopla to die down so I can judge a book on its own merits. It may be overly paranoid on my part, but it’s the only way I can keep honest.
I’m sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed in American Gods. Yes, there is a good deal of invention. Gaiman is, as anyone knows, an idea man — one of the best in the biz. But I felt, in this case, that Gaiman’s conceptualizing got in the way of heart. Sure, it was a good yarn. Stephen King was obviously a huge influence here, both with the plain prose laden with references (in Gaiman’s case, more mythological, a la Barth’s Chimera, rather than pop cultural) and the idea of a man seeking redemption through a mammoth quest tale. But I felt that his States-centric dialogue was too British to my ears: frequently stiff, gerund-happy in the wrong ways and littered with cornball humor that seemed to exist to placate a readership rather than take chances. The novel seems to percolate every time Wednesday shows up, but something of Shadow’s pain gets lost along the way. But I will be checking out Anansi Boys.
Book #16 was Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. I’ve had a few complaints about Vowell’s recent work, only some of which apply here. This book was enjoyable, but a bit too mainstream for my tastes. I get the sense that there’s a more abrasive voice behind the Vowell persona, more so than she’s willing to impart to the page. And I’m curious if she’ll ever reveal this.
Book #17 was Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation. I greatly enjoyed Divided Kingdom when I read it last year as part of the Litblog Co-Op. And I also enjoyed the conversation I had with Thomson. So I figured I’d give another book of his a shot. To my considerable astonishment, The Book of Revelation is an almost perfect novel — a tale of pain, remorse, guilt and individualism that I can recommend to you in the strongest possible terms. Why Rupert Thomson is not more of a household name remains a mystery. I’ll say this much. The Book of Revelation catapaulted Thomson into the list of Authors to Buy New Book on Sight. And I will be checking out his complete backist.
The tale, like Divided Kingdom, sounds just as outlandish, but it is Thomson’s great skill as a novelist that he gets you to believe in it. A dancer, out to buy his girlfriend a pack of smokes, is kidnapped by a group of three women. He is humiliated and forced to perform all sorts of horrible sexual favors. And I’ll say no more. Thomson writes straight from the gut and he pulls no punches. His imagery is stark and brutal, but also warm and humane in very unexpected ways.
Book #18 was Jonathan Ames’ My Less Than Secret Life, which I reread just before talking with Jonathan for his second appearance on The Bat Segundo Show.
Book #19 was Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. I decided to reread this because I kept running into references to this book in various books and articles I was reading. And when that happens, it’s a sign to pull out the tattered paperback. I first read Heart when I was 19. This time around, I felt much more sympathy for Scobie and took greater delight in Greene’s use of colons. I’d say something substantial, but it’s now approaching bedtime and I have to get to Book #32 before I hit the hay.
Books #20 and 21 were books pertaining to a future Segundo guest.
Book #22 was Keith Johnstone’s Impro, a reread, but mandatory for an improv class I finished up a few weeks ago. The text was just as turgid the first time I read this, but there were, like the last time, some good associative ideas that helped me get rid of the troubling logician in me that often manifests itself in improv performance. This time around, with some of Johnstone’s ideas coated in my lobes, I was better able to trust my instincts every time I went up to do some improv. And for this, I have to thank Mr. Johnstone.
Book #23 was Eric Larsen’s A Nation Gone Blind: American in an Age of Simplification and Deceit. And I don’t think I’ll read a more bitter and generalization-happy writer this year. Why I finished this book is a mystery. I suspect I was fascinated by how miserable and humorless Larsen is, a state of mind outside my m.o. that I really can’t fathom. He believes that America has shifted into an “Age of Simplification,” in effect since 1947. He regularly complains about his miserable life as a teacher and the miserable students. At least when Jean-Paul Sarte bitched and moaned like this, he had something to say, not scores to settle.
Book #24 was an LBC nominee that I cannot reveal.
Book #25 was Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document — a wonderful book, which I raved about here.
Book #26 was Dana Spiotta’s Lightning Field. Also very good.
Book #27 was a book relating to an upcoming Segundo guest.
Book #28 was William T. Vollmann’s Expelled from Eden. I’ll write about this later and tie it into my long delayed Europe Central post.
Book #29 was William T. Vollmann’s Uncentering the Earth. I’ll write about this later and tie it into my long delayed Europe Central post. But you can find some of my thoughts about this book in my lengthy Vollmann account.
Books #30 & #31 were LBC nominees that I cannot reveal.
Book #32 was a book relating to an upcoming Segundo guest.
And I think that wraps it up. Time to collapse.
Senator Joe Lieberman just committed political suicide. Not only did he deny that he made a quote in which he suggested that all good citizens should trust President Bush without question, but he even denied the credibility of bloggers and The New York Times.
From a partial transcript:
Lieberman: This quote is totally out of context. You might have gotten it from the bloggers, who love to do this.
McEnroe: No actually I got it…
Lieberman: Read the whole speech, it’s below your standards.
McEnroe: Senator actually I got it from the New York Times.
Lieberman: Well that’s just as bad! Go back and read the speech, be more responsible.