Month / June 2006
Two Words: Restraining Order
A man badgers a woman for $50 for dinner because she wouldn’t agree to go on a second date with him. Sociopathic behavior ensues (with audio!). The hell of it is, this was after she offered to go dutch on the dinner bill.
More Than Meets the Eye?
Michael Bay’s Transformers. No, really. (via Ghost in the Machine)
Yet Another Meme
Origin point, pulled from Gwenda.
1. Have you ever been searched by the cops?
Yes. And I can only imagine how often I’d be searched if I wasn’t Caucasian or relatively clean-cut looking.
2. Do you close your eyes on roller coasters?
Why would anyone want to do this? Diffidence and amusement park rides are hardly the peanut butter and jelly of human experience. If by “closing your eyes,” you refer to blinking, well, I do quite a lot of that. But this is entirely unrelated to the roller coaster and has more to do with removing irritants from the cornea. However, you’ve given me an idea! The next time I ride a roller coaster, I will see how long I can ride it without blinking.
3. When’s the last time you’ve been sledding?
I recall a few makeshift sledding moments in my teens in the Sierra Nevada. But keep in mind that I’m inveterately Californian. As such, snow is largely an exotic meterological phenomenon to me. Which is not to suggest I’m anti-sledding or anti-snow. In fact, I have long harbored a desire to take up bobsledding.
4. Would you rather sleep with someone else, or alone?
Someone else, although I have no problem with the latter Circadian predicament. To paraphrase Woody Allen, I suppose that sleeping alone means sleeping with someone you love.
5. Do you believe in ghosts?
I don’t believe in the supernatural, which extends not only to ghosts but manufactured deities that a lot of angry people seem to find comfort with. In fact, I once accompanied a friend to a dark park in San Bernardino. My friend insisted that this park was haunted. When he said this, the creepy feelings I had about the park’s gloomy atmosphere immediately lifted and I spent the next twenty minutes convincing my friend that the park was not, in fact, haunted. And he was able to feel less fearful about the park.
This is not to suggest that I don’t enjoy the concept of ghosts. In fact, I greatly enjoy reading tales about mythological entities — what some folks call “speculative fiction” or “horror.”
6. Do you consider yourself creative?
Talk with my accountant, who I understand practices in a “creative” capacity.
7. Do you think O.J. killed his wife?
Maybe. But I don’t feel I can prognosticate upon this question unless I’ve examined all of the evidence. I was troubled by the “O.J. did it” impulse that so many Americans latched onto in the mid-90’s. By virtue of reading tabloid stories or watching excerpts on television, many took it upon themselves to venture opinions that seemed uninformed to my ears. I was disinclined to care, but I did offer a few “uh huhs” and utterly dumbass asides for those who needed to talk about it. O.J. Simpson was a bad guy, but he wasn’t exactly Adolf Eichmann, was he?
8. Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie?
While both of these women are quite beautiful, I don’t believe I could sleep with either of them until I’ve had a chance to talk with them and see if we’re conversationally compatible. But I’m in a happy relationship right now. And if you’re going to tempt me, why not up the stakes a bit or go a little nuts with the question? Why not ask: Would you sleep with Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie and your girlfriend? Or your girlfriend and a clone of your girlfriend? Come on,appeal to the polymorphously perverse! I have a lot of that going on.
9. Do you stay friends with your ex’s?
Every effort has been made to stay friendly with them. Alas, the women who I have dated in the past few years prefer to adopt a “scorched earth” policy when the relationship is over. I suspect this has much to do with bad timing shortly after the final relationship meeting — likely my fault. At that point, being an emotional sort, I’m generally upset and the prospect of exchanging possessions we’ve left at each other’s apartments feels cold and transactional. Oddly enough, the ex-girlfriends seem to be perfectly okay with this, which causes me to become even more laconic and desiring to get very much the hell out of there. The ex-girlfriends then interpret this to be an insensitive gesture on my part (and perhaps it is) and, when I am friendly weeks later, after I have allowed my emotions to sort themselves out, I am persona non grata. Although there has been some improvement on the “let’s be friends” front with the last few.
10. Do you know how to play poker?
If you’re asking me if I can bluff, then yes.
11. Have you ever been awake for 48 hours straight?
I have, in fact, been awake for 72 hours straight. Four times. All this without drugs. I am devoting myself to science, so that the appropriate biologist might better understand strange people.
12. What’s your favorite commercial?
I’m particularly fond of the Daisy commercial, which finally revealed to the world just how ridiculous presidential politics could be. Only a man like Lyndon Johnson would try to win votes by scaring the bejesus out of voters with nuclear war. You have to respect that kind of brazen melodramatic approach to winning. Of course, since the commercial aired in 1964, it’s been downhill ever since.
13. What are you allergic to?
Cats and excessive pollen.
14. If you’re driving in the middle of the night, and no one is around do you run red lights?
Well, this all depends on whether I’m feeling particularly nihilistic.
15. Do you have a secret that no one knows but you?
Yes. I happen to know what Col. Sanders’ 11 herbs and spices are. Granted, some people probably know this already. But since Col. Sanders is dead and the KFC people have likely belittled the old man’s great recipe, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m sitting on an exclusive.
16. Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees?
By way of Boston having a team symbolizing a laundering nightmare for those with crisp white briefs and New York opting for a general and rather unoriginal patriotic noun, I choose the Sox.
17. Have you ever been Ice Skating?
I have. It was catastrophic. One should never take up ice skating after a pub crawl.
18. How often do you remember your dreams?
I remember half of my dreams and try to write them down when I can.
19. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
Yesterday, when thinking about that time I thought about the time that was really funny.
20. Can you name 5 songs by The Beatles?
Yes. Right now, what comes to my head is “I’m Only Sleeping,” “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” “Day Tripper,” “Oh Darling,” and “Yer Blues.”
21. What’s the one thing on your mind now?
There’s this strange skull that seems to have this funny idea that it needs to be there to protect my brain from the elements. I suppose that I could wear a hat and have two things on my mind.
22. Do you know who Ghetto-ass barbie is?
Yes, but she wasn’t nearly as interesting as Eight Months Pregnant Barbie (although I thought Mattel went a little too far with that stomach you could pop open), Menopausal Barbie, Don’t Fuck With Me I’ve Just Had My Period Barbie, or It’s Time to Shop for Shoes Barbie.
23. Do you always wear your seat belt?
24. What cell service do you use?
Mononuclear. Have you heard of it? These guys have a pretty affordable mitosis add-on too, although it’s no substitute for text messages.
25. Do you like Sushi?
26. Have you ever narrowly avoided a fatal accident?
27. What do you wear to bed?
28. Been caught stealing?
I’m not much of a thief. The one time I did steal something, it was a Weird Al Yankovic tape from K-Mart. I was in eighth grade. And I only did this because of peer pressure from my so-called pals at the time. Ironically enough, all of our parents learned that we had stealed and I was declared the bad influence. When in fact the notion of stealing had never been my idea and I had been egged on. Being a rather shy, nervous and misunderstood kid, I had hoped that my indiscretion would curry favor with these small-time urchins. Instead, I was declared a menace in the ratty apartment complex we lived in. And these kids were instructed to avoid me.
29. What shoe size do you have?
That’s a very personal question! Only my lovers will know the answer!
30. Do you truly hate anyone?
While I’m generally a person who can find something good within everyone, even my nemeses, I have tried long and hard to find one good thing about President George W. Bush. But I cannot find a single positive thing to say about him.
31. Classic Rock or Rap?
32. If you could sleep with one famous person, who would it be?
Why settle for one? If one is to commit such an indecency, I think it behooves the intrepid Lothario to sleep with as many famous people as possible in one evening. And, besides, I prefer to sleep with infamous people.
33. Favorite Song?
I think right now I’ll opt for “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” a truly wretched song that allows one to name fifty songs in response that are infinitely better. Unfortunately, this also means avoiding this troubling question.
34. Have you ever sang in front of the mirror?
I’m not particularly fond of staring at myself in front of a mirror. What this means is that my mirror activities are confined to shaving and brushing my teeth. I am precluded from singing when I am holding a razor to my face, seeing as how any physical shift might cause an unexpected swipe and blood to spurt out in Peckinpah-like proportions. The latter activity, of course, makes singing quite difficult, but not impossible. And sometimes it’s quite enjoyable to watch the frothy toothpaste hit the mirror as I attempt to stumble my way through a Bob Dylan tune.
35. What food do you find disgusting?
Many people don’t realize this, but the Lima bean was actually discovered by Mendel. Mendel introduced this wholly inhospitable vegetable to the populace in an effort to steer people off small elliptical vegetables. After all, Mendel was a priest. And not having much of an income, he needed all the pea plants he could get to conduct his genetic experiments. What nobody anticipated, however, was that the Lima bean would actually catch on and be forced down the gullets of reluctant children. The Lima bean is not only disgusting, but it has given vegetables a bad rap. It has caused more childhood nightmares than any vegetable rightly should. If I might be allowed to adopt a controversial position, I wholly endorse its total annihilation from the planet Earth.
36. Do you sing in the shower?
I do sing in the shower, but my problem is that, because I don’t have a shower stall to enclose me. So I’m not certain if I’m actually “in the shower.” After all, when you’re dealing with a shower curtain which permits you to shower in a bathtub, there’s always the possibility that the shower curtain might slide back or fall off. Meaning that you won’t actually be “in the shower,” but “half-immersed in an improvised shower.” To add insult to injury, the water will then spill onto the tile and create a colossal mess that you might have to mop up later. However, despite the manic anarchy here, one can still sing.
37. Did you ever play, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours”?
I’m the proud owner of the original version of this board game, which was put out by Milton Bradley in 1954. Offered as an alternative to Parcheesi and Monopoly, I’ll Show You Mine, If You Show Me Yours was an early effort by a few sensitive types to create a noncompetitive game. While this game proved a failure during the Eisenhower administration, fortunately the people behind this game were able to sell a new version of this called “The Ungame” in the 1970s, as Sensitive Males (led in part by Alan Alda and Phil Donahue) rose to national prominence.
38. Have you ever made fun of your friends behind their back?
I find that it’s better to crack jokes about friends when standing behind them, rather in front of them. This generally affords them the opportunity to take things in. They can always turn around to face me if they take particular umbrage.
39. Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
All the time. Those pesky older people, for example, feel the need to take my subway seat without even bothering to introduce themselves.
40. Have you ever been punched in the face?
Yes. But the guy meant to hit the obnoxious man sitting in the bar stool behind me.
I came close, but I didn’t quite finish the next Segundo podcast last night. But I hope to unleash it either today or tomorrow for your Fourth of July listening pleasure. I’ll have some things to say about patriotism and how the state of the country fits into my annual rereading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution very soon, just before you fire up your barbeques. But in the meantime, I direct your attention to the current literary news at large:
- Lee Goldberg is offering sporadic reports of Thrillerfest. Most astonishingly, he stumbled upon this Phoenix bookstore. Who knew that the Phoenix nudists could outshine (or is the word outblind?) San Francisco on the bookstore front?
- The London Times offers one of the first reviews of the new Murakami short story collection. (via Black is the New Blood)
- Leonardo DiCaprio meets Timothy Leary. I never thought I’d pine for the days when Leo was an ABC News Correspondent interviewing Clinton, but that Leo’s a kid of surprises.
- Robert Kiyosaki and Donald Trump’s new book will be called Why We Want You to Be Rich: Two Men — One Message. Wouldn’t it be more honest for them to call the book Why We Want to Be Rich? Or perhaps the idea here is to disseminate get-rich-quick schemes to desperate rubes naive enough to hand over their $25 to two men who clearly don’t deserve the supplemental income. Interestingly enough, the book will be put out by Rich Press. So at least they’re operating inconspicuously on one front.
- Margo Vargos Llosa: “If I tell you, ‘well, I know a man who became in love with a cow.’ So you smile. That’s a stupid story! But when you read Faulkner, this story becomes something so tragic, so tragic. It’s not the story. It’s the way in which the story’s presented, the way in which he creates a context that can transform this stupid thing into something very tragic in which the human condition is expressed.” (via Out of the Woods Now)
- Ron Silliman on reading poetry.
- Well, damn, if it’s not happening for Kevin, then I’m truly wondering if Superman Returns is the bomb it is. I will offer my two cents sometime this weekend after I’ve had a chance to see the film.
- Google won a suit in Germany to progress their library project.
- Leonard Cohen interviewed at the Online Newshour. (via Bookninja)
- Olentangry Liberty High School, clearly not understanding that teenagers are much smarter than people give them credit for and not realizing that humanity is currently operating in the 21st century, gets its panties in a bunch over The Lovely Bones and The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night-Time. After one (and only one) complaint from a parent, they’ve pulled the books from the summer reading list. And where is this school located? Ohio, of course. (via Collected Miscellany)
- The New York Press‘s Brian Heater talks Lost Girls with Alan Moore.
- Leo Strauss: father of the neocons or not?
- Happy tenth anniversary, Spike!
- RIP Dale Waters.
- I took Craig Thompson to the excellent Ploy II when he came through San Francisco a few weeks ago, but, due to a freak accident, the data from our conversation got corrupted. So there will be no podcast, I’m afraid.* But thankfully Dave Welch is on the case, matching Thompson up with Alison Bechdel.
- I agree with Dibs that a book review editor who misspells Johnnie Walker is highly suspect. Particularly for those of us out here in literary land fond of liquor.
- A few people have emailed me, wondering about the status of my 75 Books challenge. Well, I hope to get some minireviews up fairly soon. Rest assured, I’m ahead of the game. I stand by my word. 75 Books by the end of the year or I’ll eat my weight in rice pilaf.
* And yes I have used every resource possible. Data recovery programs, incantations, you name it. The data simply refuses to exist!
24 False Starts
Dan at Pamie.com tried this experiment out. List twenty-five opening sentences of blog entries started in the past two months (in my case, twenty-four over three months):
1. The first time I remember being profoundly misunderstood was at the age of six.
2. The time has come for me to join my revolutionary comrades.
3. Don’t worry. This isn’t one of those tedious hiatus announcements.
4. I can’t even get published in my hometown newspaper.
5. Leon Wieseltier called Checkpoint “a scummy little book.”
6. Allow me to fuck your shit up.
7. There is simply no accounting for taste.
8. I’m jumping in here really quick to report that I’m still making phone calls.
9. The latest scam to crack down on Web expression comes in the form of mandatory web ratings.
10. So your faithful reporter finished Colson Whithead’s Apex Hides the Hurt, a title he’s put off reading because of the shaky reviews.
11. I regularly take on too much and have great difficulty doing nothing.
12. This morning, I received an email that someone is impersonating me and making telephone calls in the dead of night.
13. Since I’ve been too busy cooped up in my five-star hotel room humiliating some of these valets (all of them obvious idiots, I tell you), I haven’t had enough time to follow all the discussion about ME! ME! ME!
14. Last year, the CBC mentioned that the way to get a reader’s attention was to feature a book cover that prominently features breasts.
15. These are troubling times for anybody who gives a damn about satire, because joyless pricks like Garrison Keillor seem to be the posterboys intended to assuage liberal malaise.
16. Frankie and the NR were sweethearts.
17. Every now and then, the Chronicle columnists get something right.
18. Memorial Day is such an absurd occasion for me that I really can’t dignify it with a coherent response.
19. I am a good person; I am also a bad person.
20. I’ve been having lots of discussions with people these days about cultural icons that seem to be verboeten to certain culture-vultures in the City (and in other urban areas).
21. Sometimes, I feel like the mainstream media and the new media need to get together for a few rounds of karaoke and sing “Ebony & Ivory” (or perhaps in the newspaperman’s case, “I Will Survive”) to each other, and realize that there really ain’t that much of a difference between us.
22. Bush’s recent declaration contains several troubling grammatical inconsistencies.
23. Again, the mad rush of insomnia stampedes over my being like a thunder of bison confusing me with the main trail.
24. Whilom ther was dwellynge hewed whyte
Slate‘s new redesign hurts my eyes.
Stanley Kubrick’s “Day of the Fight”
His first film, now available for your online viewing pleasure. (via MeFi)
RIP Jim Baen
Jim Baen, former editor of Galaxy and one of e-publishing’s early proponents, has died.
In Defense of Being Clever
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Gran has thankfully stepped into the comments to set the record straight on what she views as “honest” prose. I apparently misinterpeted what Sara was saying, but I leave this post up to reflect the assaults on “clever” literature from other parties cited here.]
I don’t often give out writing advice here, becasue I doubt anyone wants to hear it, but here’s some: choose honesty over cleverness and coolness. Cleverness and coolness are quicksand that will kill you and your writing. There is always someone more clever, someone more cool, but there is no one who can be honest exactly like you can becasue [sic] there is no one who’s seen exactly what you’ve seen.
While I’m sure there are many things Ms. Gran and I might agree upon (e.g., adverbs are, for the most part, useless in fiction), I would argue the opposite. Certainly human experience (or, more specifically, how a fiction writer perceives human experience) is unique on an individual-by-indivdual basis. At the same time, there are undeniable existential commonalities which sometimes demand distinct phrasing, if only to avoid a certain fictive boilerplate — what some of us out here in the skids call dull as fuck prose.
I presume Gran is championing the unadorned observational standpoint. But if Gran’s literary Calvinism here involves restricting how an author expresses one’s self, then this also means losing such giddy imagery as Raymond Chandler’s “tarantula on a slice of angel food cake” (perhaps just as inconspicuously), a phrase that is honest and, if you’re one of those people who bothers to assess “cleverness” in the same humorless way that tax agencies audit, I suppose, cool and clever.
But to follow up on my main objection (i.e., there are only so many ways to describe the quotidian), is this not where style comes into play? And is this not where writers such as Nicholson Baker, George Saunders, the late Gilbert Sorrentino, David Foster Wallace and William T. Vollmann come in? These writers often chronicle the minutiae around us and dare to commit expansive passages to the page, but are often taken to task by critics of the James Wood/B.R. Myers variety, as if they have flatulated during a formal seven-course dinner. The current hep thing to do is to badmouth writers who “go beyond the realist inheritance” (Wood) or who write “affected prose” (Myers).
But isn’t there room for both schools of thought? To echo Anne Burke, why must “struggles” be declared? Why must wars be waged by reactionary literary geeks? Why are the James Woods and the B.R. Myers so adamant about declaring a crisis? The way some of these folks talk, you’d think that Winston Churchill was trying to figure out the best response to the London Blitz. For those who love reactionary fiction, there is no need to worry. So long as dull, upper middle-class suburbanites pine for safe fiction to discuss at their book clubs, there will be dull novels involving dull people going through “crises” to accommodate them.
I obviously can’t speak for any of the writers I’ve named above, but to respond to Gran’s claim, I don’t think any of the so-called “clever writers” harbor any illusions that there isn’t someone who is “more clever” than them, and I also think “coolness” is a ridiculous qualifier to attach to fiction — if only because writing is largely instinctive and “coolness” is often detected only after a book has published, years after the book was written.
Suggesting that the stylistic choices boil down to “honest” and “clever” is as hopelessly closed-minded as limiting the sexual position spectrum to “missionary” and “doggy style.” There’s a good deal more for any not-so-vanilla literary person to explore. And there are grey areas.
Besides, “clever” style is, as I have suggested, capable of finesse. Take, for example, this section from Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days:
The red light at the head of a buffet table singles one thing and one thing only: prime rib. J. has been waiting for this confirmation all day. In the airport he had glimpsed it in a vision and now it has come to pass. He sees himself cutting into the soft red meat, slicing first through the milky rind of fat, then gaining the meat and watching the blood extrude through dead pores at the loving, sedulous pressure of his cutting. J. sees the red light of the heating lamp at the far shore of the buffet table and immediately conjures mashed potatoes softening in essence of beef, the blood tinting the fluffy potato pink and refining it even purer, softer. This vision is the sublime distillation of all the buffets he’s known, the one and true spirit summoned by caterly prayer. He waits for them to wheel out dinner, he waits to be fulfilled.
The reason this passage works so well is precisely because Whitehead is doggedly eccentric in his phrasing. We have “the far shore of the buffet table,” which suggests a buffet table as a tropical isle. We have the ironic comfort of red: in the blood, the heating lamp, and the “fluffy potato pink.” We have the buffet identified as a religious experience. And while one may quibble over the slight awkwardness of “at the loving, sedulous pressure of his cutting” (which may, in fact, belabor the sentence just a tad), nevertheless, the imagery works. Because it presents us with new ways of seeing a buffet table.
By way of Whitehead’s “failure” to describe the buffet table in generalized terms, the entire passage may be, in Gran’s eyes, too “clever,” but the description here is guided by such inventiveness, by such a fervid determination to recontextualize J.’s hunger and freeloading into fresh terms, that the question of how “clever” it is is moot.
It’s very possible that I’m misinterpreting Gran’s post, but its orthodox posturing and its suggestion that writers must choose either honesty or cleverness as a mode without finding a way to amalgamate the two leads me to believe that I’m not.
- Marie Antoinette. Make it stop! (via Romancing the Tome)
- Happy birthday Babar! (via Bookninja)
- Chris Bolton has single-handedly convinced me to read Scott Smith’s The Ruins.
- Demonstrating an anti-intellectual hubris unseen since Chuck Klosterman published Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, North Carolina schools refuse to use the Cassell Dictionary of Slang.
- “Indexes and Indexers in Fiction” (via James Tata)
- Robert Tressell reconsidered.
- For those having as much trouble accessing the James Wood Terrorist review, Powell’s has posted it sans registration.
Sleater-Kinney Breaks Up
Now I’m kicking myself for not seeing them when they played the Fillmore. At least there’s still Quasi.
Spider-Man 3 Trailer
A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, Inc.
This morning, Publishers Weekly reported that Books, Inc. would be taking over the space now being abandoned by A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books. This is a great move on several levels: For one thing, the space remains devoted to the taste and sensibilities of an independent bookstore. Second, with eleven stores in its chain, Books, Inc. will have fallback stores to draw from should their operations at the Van Ness Avenue location flounder. As owner Michael Tucker puts it in the PW article, “Ten years ago I found myself facing the exact same dilemma and we had to close ten of 12 stores. Now we’re back up to 11.” (Thanks to Dan Wickett for the tip!)
What Microsoft adCenter has to say about you, the reading audience:
48% of you are male, 52% of you are female.
Microsoft predicts that 24.60% of you are below eighteen (what?) and that being down with the kids is the future of edrants.
Generally speaking, it’s split as follows:
Of course, had I known all along that I was appealing to fifteen year olds, I would have seriously curtailed my use of ten-cent words. I suppose I’ll have to spend more time dwelling upon Beyonce.
Perhaps something is off with the calculations. 60% of the John Birch Society‘s readers are women? Really? (via MeFi)
[UPDATE: Tito works the numbers, determined to find the manliest website.]
Something to Consider on the Fourth
Thank you, Frank Deford.
Did Bryan Singer Kill the Superman Franchise?
Roger Ebert: “This is a glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating. The newsroom of the Daily Planet, filled with eccentricity and life in the earlier movies, now seems populated by corporate drones. Jimmy Olsen, the copy boy, such a brash kid, seems tamed and clueless. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has lost her dash and pizzazz, and her fiance, Richard White (James Marsden), regards her like a deer caught in the headlights. Even the editor, Perry White (Frank Langella), comes across less like a curmudgeon, more like an efficient manager.”
Turan hates it too. Maybe I won’t see this opening day.
Then again, 79% at Rotten Tomatoes, with many comparisons to Spider-Man 2.
Where Hours Drift Away
Trailers of Historically Significant Films. (Damn you, Pete Anderson!)
Save the New York Times Book Review
The time has come to take a stand.
The New York Times Book Review is no longer a book review section that matters. It is beyond repair, save through one extraordinary gesture.
Editor Sam Tanenhaus is unfit to guide this dinghy into the 21st century and is hopelessly out of touch with today’s literary climate. What was once a review section that attracted major authors and featured thoughtful essays has devolved into a congeries of gossipy items, essays that fawn over John Updike, Leon Wieseltier masturbatory exercises, lackluster literary coverage, a sexist approach to review assignment — in short, a thoughtless tundra that could be so much more.
I’ve harbored some small hope that Tanenhaus would rectify this, but my hopes are gone. Accordingly, I’ve canceled my New York Times Sunday subscription.
But I’ve created this petition with another hope: that Bill Keller will understand that Tanenhaus is bad for the NYTBR, bad for the literary climate, and bad for the publishing industry. (He is, however, very good at biography. Perhaps this is his true calling.) I also hope that Keller will understand that a thoughtful literary section translates into thoughtful subscribers (and thus more niche advertisers).
Here is a weekly newspaper section that has the capacity to matter, to introduce its readers to innovative and literary titles, and to provide fresh perspective. And yet it doesn’t. Because today’s authors and critics are too afraid to rock the boat, lest they lose a potential freelancing check from a NYTBR assignment. And that doesn’t just mean speaking no ill of Tanenhaus or his Hindenburg-like experiments such as the recent Contemporary Fiction contretemps. It also translates into criticism that plays it too safe, frequently devoid of insight or personality, all of fitting like a glove into the Tanenhaus template.
The time has come for Tanenhaus’s tenure to end.
He’s Probably Thinking About Whether the New Chiffonier Will Work with the Bedroom Decor
The Literary Saloon: “Tanenhaus’ approach is so antithetical to almost everything we believe in that we really find it hard to believe anybody could approach book reviewing in this way. What is this guy thinking?”
The I’m Catching Up on News You’ve Probably Read Already Roundup
- Word on the street is that Harper Lee has written something for Oprah. This is the second essay that she’s written in 40 years, which makes one Harper Lee essay every twenty years. Maybe we might get another out of Lee if she lives another twenty years. But I think the workaround here is to cryogenically freeze Harper Lee and have her wake up a century now, only to extract the mandatory five essays she owes us. (via Bookslut)
- Maud unfurls an interesting Borges-Pynchon connection.
- I have a grand temptation to cover this. Of course, if all the purported “experts” are as clueless as Tee Morris, then it might be safe to say that the Dummies books are the publishing industry’s answer to Wikipedia.
- Pete Anderson happily reports that he’s received 100 rejections for his stories and speculates upon the reasons why.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez can’t get his hometown renamed to Macondo.
- After four attempts, Roger McDonald has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
- Nearly 150 years later, the remains of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife will finally be moved next to her spouse. Eminent domain’s a bitch, ain’t it?
- Ed Guthmann talks with Dhanvant Shanghvi.
- Jeff VanderMeer may be suffering a fate worse than a DVD selection consisting solely of Uwe Boll’s oeuvre: he can’t leave New Hampshire.
- James Wood apparently reviewed Terrorist at The New Republic, but I’ll be damned if I can read the article. (Thank you for your HTML incompetence, TNR!) Does anyone have a working link?
- “Primo Levi and Translation” (via ReadySteadyBook)
- Lionel Shriver on immigration, with some cogent objections from Laila.
- Harry Potter to die in Book 7? Pop open the champagne. (via Bookninja)
- Frank Wilson, book review editor of The Philly Inquirer, offers some interesting thoughts on the whole print vs. online media debate. Like Bud, I have to say that it’s good to see someone in print media offering a more nuanced take over the standard “newspapers are gatekeepers/bloggers are upstarts” argument that guys like Tanenhaus and Freeman frequently resort to.
- Dave Munger on why he won’t go to the movies anymore.
- For those who missed the BEA speech in podcast form, the text of his speech is now available, which sends Levi Asher into an uproar.
- The best advice to a writer juggling exercise and a day job? Lots of exercise.
Bookish Journalism Summit
The extremely entertaining tale (along with the inevitable podcast) on how the below happened will follow shortly. (I even got to meet Rosie.) For now, I’m still decompressing from the flight. So bear with me as I adjust back to PDT again. Many thanks to El Rojo himself and Megan Sullivan for providing assist on this.
(Top photo courtesy of Ms. Tyrieosa.)
Various tasks currently occupy my attention. Will return on Tuesday. Visit fine folks on right, commit minor infractions, you know the drill.
The Bat Segundo Show #47
Author: Hal Niedzviecki
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Temporarily replaced, due to being incapable of being crass and making a generalization at the same time.
Subjects Discussed: The advantages of studying American culture from Canada, individualism vs. conformity, pop star aspirations, American Idol, karaoke, television, the economics of media, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Yeah, William T. Vollmann, the end of Western expansion, German billionaires, on one-upping explorers, the disadvantages of genius, media conformity vs. community, fundamentalists, homophobia, the BattleCry protests in San Francisco, the human ego, and retreating from society.
Privacy to Them, Antisocial Paranoia to Me
An Open Letter to Publishers
1 out of 99 literary critics agree that I, Edward Champion, am one of the great underrated novelists working today. And while the one critic who proffered this plaudit was wildly drunk (this was after I had purchased him several rounds of sangria and offered to pay his cabfare home), the statement was, nevertheless, recorded on a microcassette and the critic in question signed a notarized document attesting to this fact. I can drag this evidence into a courtroom if I am subpoenaed. I might even show up in a suit, if the charges are serious and the dollar amount is substantial.
What you may not realize is that I’ve been secretly authoring a book called Whirlwind, a gripping literary thriller that, for no explicable reason, involves lots of tantric sex, a twenty-page segue on the history of umbrellas, and an underground league of terrorists — all of them named Ralph, in grand homage to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. It promises to be the most engaging piece of contemporary fiction since Nicole Richie’s The Truth About Diamonds.
With these credentials, you might be asking yourself how you could go wrong publishing me. You might also be asking yourself why I haven’t unleashed the first ten chapters of Whirlwind for public consumption. After all, the information wants to be free, right? As a compromise, I offer a paragraph from my masterpiece:
Archer looked down at his right shoe. It was untied. Not just one end of the lace, but both ends. If the shoe had possessed a consciousness, it would have reflected sublime loneliness. The kind of loneliness that punches you in the gut and then punches you in the gut again before you get a chance to recover your breath. Archer wondered if he could live with his shoes untied. It was noon. He hadn’t had lunch. And at this rate, he was going to have a late one. The man with the umbrella was right behind him, hoping to bombard him with pamphlets. His stomach gurgled. The time had come to take a risk. Archer looked both ways, the way that his mother had once told him to when crossing the street, and he bent down, tying the shoe. One shoe, one small accomplishment, one step away from a fate worse than Eichman.
You might be thinking that such stunning prose speaks for itself. But you’d be wrong. I’m one of those misunderstood geniuses doomed to offer my great works in piecemeal on my blog. But I’ve wised up. Taking a page from the Steve Clackson playbook, I’ve decided the following:
Whirlwind can be yours for FREE!
Pay no royalties, no advance!
Whirlwind will be 100% yours.
Publish 1,000 copies or publish just one and sell it on eBay. It’s up to you!
You publish it, you market it and keep all the money!
Well, maybe two. Who’s counting?
To acquire the rights, you have to support my drinking habit. You have to pay my rent. You must donate $5.00 from every book sold to the Edward Champion Belgian Beer Fund. I’m sick and tired of breaking my cousin’s piggy bank for a 40 oz. bottle of Miller High Life. The time has come to live large, live proud, and live inebriated, as the occasion suits me.
That’s it one completed Thriller with a lot of umbrellas, it’s yours if you want it.
Alternatively, you can send bottles of beer to my PO box.
I trust that you, the readers, will make the right call here and recognize my literary genius. I trust that you will see the noble philanthropy at work here and use this as an excuse to stifle your literary acumen!
And besides, who needs the publishing industry when you can get free beer?
That Immortal Technique‘s an alright mothafucka.
Better Than the Hungarian Phrasebook
“Spare me my life!” (via Sarah)