BSS #81: Mary Gaitskill


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Feeling triumphant over hepatitis.

Author: Mary Gaitskill

Subjects Discussed: Emotional mood and writing, Marin County, horticultural details, decomposition and decay, dichotomous characters and the gray areas of life, unusual character relationships, the conscious design of Veronica‘s environments, office environments, the modeling world, maintaining a consistent vision over ten years, rumination vs. urgency in the writing process, Gaitskill’s placid demeanor, distractions, word processors, Francine Prose’s review, ordinary vs. extraordinary narrative, sympathy and didacticism, the text as sympathetic medium between writer and reader, responding to Benjamin Strong’s assertion that Gaitskill isn’t interested in the novel as social or political commentary, ideology, ambiguity, Ayn Rand, favoritism towards optimistic novels, shock value in literature vs. shock value in television, misfits, Irini Spanidou’s championing of truth, and auctorial perception.


Gaitskill: When I’m reading another writer, even if I feel they’re technically accomplished, if I feel they have an ordinary mind, I am often — I wouldn’t say I totally lose interest. But it’s something that I don’t like to see in a writer. It’s almost like you can write about anything in an extraordinary way, not in a showy way. But to write about something extraordinary, I think, is usually to see it clearly.

Easy Dinero for a Good Cause

The Rake has called for Eggers to offer an explanation for his critical flip-flop on Infinite Jest and, having failed to hear back from Pynchon for $49, he’s pledged to send a $49 check to 826 Valencia if Eggers responds (the check is pictured below).

In fact, I’ll go one step further. I’m in San Francisco. Eggers is in San Francisco. I will be happy to facilitate Mr. Eggers for an appearance on The Bat Segundo Show to talk about his book, What is the What, for a polite and civil conversation.

Except on one point.

At the end of the interview, he must respond on audio to the DFW question and he must respond to any followup questions by me, however tough and challenging, relating to this subject.

Come on, Mr. Eggers, this is easy money for a good cause. All you have to do is explain yourself. Or are litbloggers beneath your munificence?


[UPDATE: Matthew Tiffany has pledged another $49. That’s $98, Mr. Eggers, and an opportunity to promote your book. All for an explanation!]

[UPDATE 2: The Rake has upped his sum to $109. Hell, this is starting to feel a bit like Jerry Lewis.]

[UPDATE 3: Dave Eggers has declined to appear on The Bat Segundo Show.]

75 Books, Books #49-55

Book #49 was Tom Tomorrow’s Hell in a Handbasket. This was an entertaining volume of Tomorrow’s This Modern World strip, particularly since these strips were written and illustrated during the Dubya Administration. Of course, with Tomorrow, you’re not really going to laugh at this if you’re not a lefty. Even so, Tomorrow’s trusty four-panel setup, with snarky text often spilling across the top end of the squares and its adept use of repeating imagery from panel to panel, has been a dependable strip for years. Tomorrow’s strip serves as an antidote to the comatose offerings of Marmaduke and The Family Circus. (Podcast interview.)

fugaziryan.jpgBook #50 was Jay Ryan’s 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels. I was turned onto Jay Ryan by Mr. Pete Anderson, who insisted that I interview the man when he came into town. Since Pete is a guy who can (mostly) be trusted, I fulfilled my pledge, having only a foggy notion of Ryan’s work. What I didn’t realize was that I had actually known Ryan’s work without realizing it. Over the last ten years, Ryan has used a silkscreen process to create garish posters, mainly for indie and emo bands, that are quite distinct with their splashy yellows, reds and greens. They often feature animals and contain little stories of their own (consider the Shellac poster contained on this page, featuring astronauts fighting off a legion of squirrels). This Punk Planet volume collects 100 of Ryan’s posters. The “137 Squirrels” of the title refers to little squirrels that Ryan is fond of including within his work, often sneaking them into secret places within his tapestries. There are some 137 of them within this book. (Podcast interview.)

Book #51 was Harvey Pekar’s Our Cancer Year. Yes, I realize there’s a lot of Pekar on this list. But if I was going to talk with the man himself, I wanted to be expertly prepared. As it so happens, I hadn’t read Pekar’s Harvey Award-winning graphic novel and was touched by Pekar’s honesty in describing his testicular cancer, the hospital treatment that pulverized his physical form, and the despondent person he turned into as he wondered whether he would continue to live. Our Cancer Year was a major turning point for Pekar as an author (and I should note that this was cowritten by his wife, Joyce Brabner), demonstrating that Pekar’s concentration on the quotidian was even more poignant when juxtaposed against a mortal illness. For those who feel that the American Splendor movie sufficiently captured Pekar’s battle with cancer, I urge you to go directly to this volume and get the real story. (Podcast with Pekar and Haspiel.)

Book #52 was Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar. If you’re looking for an entry volume on Pekar, Life and Times is your bet. It collects many of the stories that later found their way into the 2003 film of the same name (specifically, two previously issued and now out-of-print Splendor bound volumes). Plus, you get the PB&J-like comic combo of R. Crumb drawing Pekar, among other talented artists such as Sue Cavey and Gary Dumm. What makes the American Splendor stories so mesmerizing, in fact, is Pekar’s great ability to match up the right artist with the right story, causing some of the narrative tropes to take on a new context. (For example, Harvey’s co-worker, Mr. Boats, is depicted entirely differently by each artist.) This is an essential volume for anyone who gives a damn about personal comics. (Podcast with Pekar and Haspiel.)

Book #53 was Harvey Pekar’s The New American Splendor Anthology. A continuation of the previous Pekar volume, this book contains several entertaining stories, such as Pekar depicting his zeal for record collecting and Toby’s infamous Revenge of the Nerds partisanship. It also contains art by Chester Brown. While not as consistent as the main volume, in large part because poor Pekar is resolutely determined to get everything of his in print so he can make a few bucks, this volume still lives up the promise of the cover, offering truth “from off the streets of Cleveland.” (Podcast with Pekar and Haspiel.)

Book #54 was Gina Frangello’s My Sister’s Continent. I had mixed feelings about this book. I like Frangello’s voice, her fondness for playing with taboos, and the novel’s wry commentary on Freudian precepts. I found the father to be an almost Moliere-like figure, satirically saddled with AIDS and many other problems. But I didn’t buy the twin sisters’ character transitions and I felt the book’s resolution was forced. Still, Frangello is definitely an author to watch. She has a delightfully insouciant attitude about deviance. (Podcast interview.)

sarah_waters.jpgBook #55 was Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch. Contrary to other reports, this isn’t a total departure from Waters’ other romps, but this fascinating novel is an inevitable evolution — the absolutely right step for Waters to take as an author. I’ve come to the conclusion that, for a literary author, the fourth or fifth novel is often the make-or-break point for stylistic evolution. Consider David Mitchell’s successful transcendence from baroque plots into the deceptively simple Black Swan Green. Or Martin Amis’s Money. Or Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. Or Richard Powers’ defiant swing into dystopia with Operation Wandering Soul, followed by the metafictional Galatea 2.2. These were all moves that nobody could see coming. And I would argue that The Night Watch can also be added to the long list of transition novels which demonstrate that an author is more than we expect her to be.

Waters shifts to a completely different timeframe (in this case, World War II and just a few years after) and a very intriguing structure, splitting the book into three sections, the events unfolding in reverse order (1947, 1944, 1941). It’s interesting to see Waters paint herself into a corner like this, particularly since this book comes after the can’t-put-down Fingersmith. Waters has always been a meticulous plotter, but this reverse structure forces her to get inside the heads of her characters. But the structure also restricts her, because she can’t lay all of her cards on the table. Secrets must be kept silent, only to be revealed later. And this liability both mars the book (or at least it made me a bit antsy), yet allows Waters to demonstrate that she can be a very adept psychologist. The book’s structure causes her to focus on how these characters shift over the years and are influenced by each other, particularly when their desires are so closeted.

It helps that she gets wartime London so very, very right and that the novel contains Greene-like imagery (many colons linking sentences, as well as such cinematic description as a bright light illuminating the very threads of clothing). For fans of the romp, there are still plenty of juicy moments (and, in particular, many thighs). (Podcast interview.)

BSS #80: Edward P. Jones


Author: Edward P. Jones

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Feeling oppressed by MySpace.

Subjects Discussed: Jones’s instinct for precision, specifics, city streets, details within minor characters, family lineage within fiction, Squirrel Nuts, penny candy, handicapped characters, gifted students, avoiding recurrent motifs and repeating stories, characters who appear in Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children, selecting historical settings, Washington D.C. as magnetic nexus point, throwing the reader off guard, flash-forwards, mathematical metaphors, how Jones became an English major, double metaphors, having a writing philosophy, violence in fiction, crossword puzzles, making stories read like novels, miracles, and neighborhoods.


JONES: If you have a portrait painted of your family and they’re at the center of the portrait, there’s no use having cartoonish figures in the background. What’s in the background, what’s set aside should be as rich in detail as the family in the foreground right there in the center of the portrait. And I suppose that’s part of it. It’s all a matter of trying to make the reader believe that what he or she is reading is real, actually happened — even though, of course, it all came out of my imagination.

When Music Journalism Goes Horribly Wrong

Eurotrash: “Dean starts off quite puzzlingly, in my opinion. ‘What do you get if you cross a festive cookie snack with a 70’s rock sound and some punk-punk-punk vocals (it has to be stressed)?’ Due to my inability to picture a ‘festive cookie snack’, I’m kind of stumped, but I suppose my answer would be: Dazzlingly bad writing, Dean.”

Personally I had thought two “punk” modifiers would be enough. It is either an intrepid or foolish man who dares three.

Writers With Drinks

A slight change in plans, through no fault of my own: I’m going to be at the January Writers With Drinks instead of the December one, where I’ll be reading literary fiction penned by…well, me. Or is it raunchy comedy laced with esoteric references? Or is it experimental poetry? One thing I can guarantee is a high-octane performance by yours truly, reading outside his traditional genre, with an element of absolutely essential audience participation. I may even be wearing a funny hat.

But there are far more compelling reasons to attend than me: Michelle Tea! Kim Stanley Robinson! Andrew Sean Greer! Michael Blumlein! Justin Chin! A cast of thousands!

It’s at The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street, January 20, 2007, 6:30 PM.

Be there. You won’t want to miss it! Only $5 to $7 and for a grand cause: The Other Magazine!

Everyone Wants a Pony, Ben. Everyone.

Ben Stein: “People ask how I can be a conservative and still want higher taxes. It makes my head spin, and I guess it shows how old I am. But I thought that conservatives were supposed to like balanced budgets. I thought it was the conservative position to not leave heavy indebtedness to our grandchildren. I thought it was the conservative view that there should be some balance between income and outflow. When did this change?”

75 Books, Books #43-48

Book #43 was Harvey Pekar’s The Quitter. As Pekar keeps a great prolificity in his post-retirement years, it’s been fascinating to see him investigating millieus other than the immediately contemporary and the immediately personal. In The Quitter, a book chronicling Pekar’s boyhood, there is no madeliene tea per se, but there are certainly specific incidents, presented without adornment, which explain a good deal about Pekar’s rage and misanthropy. The book’s unflinching attitude towards 1950s racism and Pekar’s efforts to fit in are puncutated by Dean Haspiel’s sharp lines and the book’s careful attention to period detail. Pekar’s no hero, nor should he be, but he’s certainly an interesting and misunderstood figure, a flawed everyman who remains as important a fixture in comic books as superheroes. (Podcast with Pekar and Haspiel.)

Book #44 was Harvey Pekar’s Ego & Hubris. If Michael Malice did not exist, it would be necessary for Pekar to invent him. And yet he does exist, portrayed by Pekar as an opinionated, platitude-spouting loudmouth who, nevertheless, lives an independent existence not unlike Pekar, playing by his own rules in a manner that, however off-putting, is defiantly nonconformist — even if Malice is a Republican. Or possibly a centrist. Or perhaps none of these things at all. Malice’s unrepentant dialogue grows wearisome after a while, but Pekar is nothing if not a faithful reporter and Malice’s ironies and contradictions make up for Ego & Hubris‘s occasionally flagging narrative. (Podcast with Pekar and Haspiel.)

Book #45 was Hal Niedzviecki’s Hello, I’m Special. Niedzviecki believes that the act of being “special” is a conformist sham. He suggests that whole cottage industries have sprung up overnight to maintain this ideology and lobs several arrows at America and Canada, often in direct contradiction with his previous volume, We Want Some Too. Niedzviecki is often an interesting cultural critic, citing such interesting examples as voyeuristic online wrestling matches (a prescient example of the “amateur as star” in light of the rise of YouTube), but I’m not sure I buy his overall argument, which is laden with a dichotomy (special vs. conformist) that doesn’t account for gray areas. His assumptions assume that humans are guided almost exclusively by solipsism or exhibitionism and, while these are certainly values that are ineluctably associated with pop culture, I found Niedzviecki a tad too cynical for my tastes. It is, of course, quite possible to escape some cultural trappings if you apply a baseball bat to your television (or, if you aren’t so violent, perhaps just keeping it turned off). Or perhaps one can look more to books and everyday obervation as sources of inspiration. But I still found Niedzviecki an interesting guy to talk with. (Podcast interview.)

Book #46 was Yannick Murphy’s Here They Come. This McSweeney’s “rectangular,” along with Salvador Plascencia’s People of Paper, has helped to restore my faith in McSweeney’s as one of the most vibrant independent publishing houses today. Murphy’s imagery, which is blunt, beautiful and often heartbreaking, fuels the story of a girl living in impoverished 1970s New York, who allows a hot dog vendor to fondle her developing breast, contends with a mentally troubled brother, a home laden with refuse, and a crazy mother who shouts “Merde!” at almost every troubled moment. The book is often episodic and its ending is anticlimactic, but it effectively puts the real into the hyperreal. (Podcast interview.)

Book #47 was Ron Hogan’s The Stewardess is Flying the Plane!. I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Hogan’s online work and, as a caveat, he is a pal of mine. And with Stewardess, he’s created an unusual coffee table book that explores a period of cinema that serves as an enjoyable photographic counterpart to John Waters’ books on trash cinema, perhaps scratching the hairy underbelly of Peter Biskind. I would have liked to see Ron offer lengthier text expressing his clear affinity for 1970s cinema (in particular, The Muppet Movie). But perhaps he might be persuaded to do this at a later point in time. (Podcast interview.)

Book #48 was Harvey Pekar’s Our Movie Year. I realize there are a lot of Pekar volumes here, but I did want to do a thorough interview with the man. Our Movie Year is, alas, more of a Pekar grab bag. This is both good and bad. We get many uncollected Pekar stories here, including his infamous spats with David Letterman and what happened to Pekar after the American Splendor movie. But many of the sections involving cultural figures are more tailored for word-only essays (and indeed many of these were expanded from Pekar’s criticism) and carry the distinct whiff of padding. Still, Pekar is Pekar. And even a mixed volume of Pekar carries more honesty than most graphic novel memoirists seem capable of. (Podcast with Pekar and Haspiel.)

75 Books, Books #33-42

Okay, a version of this post (going through Book #90) has been languishing in my drafts folder for many months. But since I did lay down the gauntlet early this year, it seems only fair to serve up my part of the bargain. I’m going to try and update the 75 Books series as time permits.

Unfortunately, due to accidentally knocking over my bookpiles, I have no idea what order I read Books #33-90 in (I have yet to log the books this year after Book #90; I only hope these “I have read” bookpiles will hold!). In addition, the “mystery” books for future Segundo podcasts remain very much a mystery to me, since my laptop (with the full books list) is currently packed away. But here goes:

Book #33 was A.M. Homes’ This Book Will Save Your Life. Where others found Homes’ unexpectedly positive tone to be something of a letdown, I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. The book often zeroes in on easy targets (yuppies, Hollywood), but in a contemporary literature environment that thumbs its nose at sincerity, I found Homes’ moody gamble a pleasant, if not perfect read. Of course, Homes didn’t abandon her hyperreal iconoclasm completely. The sinkhole that uproots Richard Novak’s home relays the hollow panacea of the doughnuts, as well as a certain anatomical reality that befalls middle-aged men. And I don’t entirely buy the resolution. But even so-so Homes is worth your time.

Book #34 was Sheila Heti’s Ticknor. With all due respect to Mr. Sarvas, I found this book to be a plodding introspective bore, a tome to be avoided at all costs. And rather than feed any ill will towards a pal of mine who did steer me well towards Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mrs. Y, I’ll simply shut up and hope that all is forgiven. The less said about Ticknor, the better. We agree to disagree.

Book #35 was Jean-Phillippe Toussaint’s Television. I enjoyed the book’s tone, which is a bit like what would happen if Jacques Tati had turned his hands to books instead of film. The book features a distinct and quite funny approach to exposing the humdrum aspects of life, pointing out that even life with a purpose (or apparent purpose, such as penning a monograph) can be marred by seductive banalities.

Books #36, #37 and #38 pertain to a future Segundo interview.

Book #39 pertains to a future Segundo interview.

Book #40 was a reread of Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison to prepare for my APE panel. Since I was interviewing the man in person, I did my best to play close attention to his paneling, in an effort to ask questions he hadn’t heard before. I even asked Mr. Robinson about two minor characters who he killed off with an uncanny glee. You’ll find the answer to this in Show #33 of The Bat Segundo Show. But if you haven’t read Robinson, I’d start with Box Office Poison so you can fully appreciate how his close behavioral observations blossomed into the ambitious Tricked.

Book #41 was a new read of Alex Robinson’s BOP! More Box Office Poison to prepare for my APE panel. This one’s for hard-core Robinson fans only, a collection of extras that can probably be skipped over. But as a missing link between Box Office Poison and Tricked, it’s fascinating to see how Robinson is contemplating his next bold move. It’s almost as if these particular strips

Book #42 was a reread of Dave King’s The Ha-Ha to prepare for a podcast interview. There are several reasons why I named this book as one of my favorite books of 2005. This time around, I paid close attention to King’s specific style, noting how the book’s minimalist observations often revealed larger truths about human beings: their selfishness, their compassion, and their love. This works exceedingly well when you also consider that King pulled this off while also making us believe in a character who suffers from a quite unusual affliction: a Vietnam veteran who cannot speak or write.

Roundup (2 of 2)

  • Pitchfork talks with Tom Waits. (via Anecdotal Evidence)
  • I wonder what the ACLU will have to say about Jesse Jackson’s politically correct fascism. Guess we’ll have to remove Faulkner & Co. from the libraries. Has it ever occurred to Jackson that racial slurs might be used against racism?
  • Margaret Atwood, cartoonist. (via Bill Peschel)
  • The Whitbread shortlists have been announced. (And dammit, I’m calling it Whitbread. I can’t bring myself to associate a literary award that reminds me of a certain smug NBC commentator from the 1980s.)
  • Matthew Tiffany reveals what he read in 2006. I’m going to attempt a similar list at year’s end, if I can.
  • Congratulations!
  • The 7 Worst Fonts (via Books, Words & Writing)
  • John Freeman reveals The Page 99 Rule. It involves something like this: If a book looks interesting, flip to Page 99. If Page 99 doesn’t grab you, go to Page 33. If Page 33 doesn’t grab you, read Page 66 upside down with a stopwatch. If you are not compelled to turn the book right-side within 30 seconds, then the book is not worth your time. Sell it to a used bookstore. Failing that, toss it in the fireplace. Failing that, consider the paper as an exotic garnish to go with your beans and rice dinner. (This latter element of the rule assumes that you cannot afford so much as parsley and is ill-advised for those who maintain strict diets, either by choice, allergens, or financial necessity.)
  • Robin Quivers has declared Seinfeld racist and The Corsair raises an eyebrow.
  • Finally, and this has nothing to do with literature, the endless onslaught of Xmas music at nearly every public location has me contemplating heading for the hills and settling in a shack with an arsenal of canned food and shotguns. And it isn’t even December yet. Is it too much to ask the shops, restaurants, and other assorted places to turn off this damn racket? Who, pray tell, are the people who groove to this cheery nonsense? Particularly as it is portrayed by the likes of Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Madonna. I have tried my best to inure myself to it, but I am likely to become a Scrooge sooner than required. Might some kind soul with loads of spare time offer a comprehensive list of places one can settle where Xmas music doesn’t pollute the auditory meatii? Surely, I cannot be alone.

Roundup (1 of 2)

  • How did I not know about the Body Heat: Deluxe Edition DVD? This great Lawrence Kasdan film pretty much galvanized noir into cinematic action over the past twenty-five years, paving the way for Blade Runner, John Dahl’s fantastic pre-Unforgettable films and Curtis Hanson’s understated offerings (of which I would include The Bedroom Window, which manages to work despite the dreaded Steve Guttenberg presence). I’m not sure, however, if so-called “neo-noir” is really all it’s cracked up to be, particularly when you consider this dubious list. Good noir has a hard edge, rooted in an existential dilemma with the clock ticking. This quality is particularly absent in such pedestrian films as Training Day, Road to Perdition, and Reindeer Games. Kasdan reminded us noir’s dynamo with Body Heat, but it’s too bad many of his followers have been more interested in the lowest common denominator than entertainments which emphasized the human condition. (And as a side note, after seeing Babel last week, maybe I’m alone on this, but I think Alejandro González Iñárritu could direct a great noir if he wanted to. His films have both the darkness, the acting, and the structural heft that good noir often requires.)
  • Note to news outlets: the OJ story is dead dead dead. Please stop reporting on this for the benefit of the humanities.
  • Kakuro: sudoku for smarter people? (via Word Munger)
  • RU Sirius asks various people if America has reached a fascist state yet.
  • A response to Michael Bérubé’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts.
  • Tayari collects a roundup of Bebe Moore Campbell obits.
  • Rachel Cooke: always the source of a raised eyebrow.
  • Scott McKenzie reveals the hard truth about online fleshpots.
  • Henry Kisor has some interesting words on L’Affaire Gasparini.
  • Eat me, Tim Toulmin. Do you really want to turn blogs into lifeless husks? Blogging shakes people up in ways that are currently prohibitive to newspapers. What you call inaccurate, I call satire. And I trust readers to separate what are clear satirical fabrications from genuine news. Because I respect their intelligence. Prohibiting persistent pursuit? It is often the inexorable quest for a story that has a journalist, print or online, unearthing the truth. I don’t entirely disagree with Toulmin’s principles (particularly in relation to children and victims of sexual assault), but I have a fundamental problem with Toulmin’s assumption that blogging is newspaper journalism. Sometimes, it is. Sometimes, it isn’t. But I cannot subscribe to any uniform code that severely misunderstands the blogging medium.



Post-Thanksgiving Solutions

What is to be done? I have spent the past week gorging like Tip O’Neill at a buffet table and I have spent the morning sobbing into an empty cup of coffee, realizing that I no longer have the metabolism of a twenty-five year-old. How did this happen? Did I gain weight? Do I dare step onto the scale? Are these pants tighter or am I hallucinating?

There are, of course, solutions and I produce them here for the benefit of all parties:

1. Starvation.
Advantages: Dramatic weight loss, a test in ascetism.
Disadvantages: Hunger, low energy, an Auschwitz-like physique.

2. Salad diet.
Advantages: Healthy, calorie-conscious diet.
Disadvntages: A terrible betrayal to my carnivorous instincts. (Et tu, Brute?)

3. Running seven hours a day over the next week.
Advantages: Additional energy, a sudden fitness regimen.
Disadvantages: Potential hallucinations, no spare time, facing the terrible realization that I am out of shape, the possibility of turning into Jim Fixx and dying at 52.

4. Do nothing.
Advantages: No exertion of energy, getting in touch with my inner slacker.
Disadvantages: Nothing changes.

5. Option Five.
Advantages: It’s good to settle on something decisive if the first four options don’t pan out.
Disadvantages: What is Option Five?

The Rachel Papers

Rachel Cooke: “I’ve written before about the importance of critics. I said, in essence, that they were useful because they know a lot (also, you know who they are, unlike so many faceless bloggers and internet reviewers who hide behind the anonymity the web provides). Soon after, I found my name on a bloggers’ website called, charmingly, ‘shit sandwich’. I was the focus of a lot of anger and frustration; bloggers didn’t like my argument at all, seeing it as a way of getting at them and their amateur criticism. I was fine with that; if you dish it out, you should be able to take it.”

Why do so many pinheads named Rachel work in journalism? In yet another moronic newspaper-published hatchet job on litbloggers (I predict three more assaults before the year is out), Rachel Cooke, who does indeed possess a mouth running as redolent as a shit sandwich, deplores the “unwarranted and inaccurate personal attacks on me” and suggests that bloggers are lesser because they are not “professionals.” She further bemoans “the populist warblings of the blogosphere” and imputes, citing only scant examples, that all blog posts are “untrustworthy, banal, and, worst of all, badly written.” This declaration comes to us after Cooke has “devoted an entire day to book blogs, trying to give them a fair chance.” Yeah, and I can give Beckett’s complete works a “fair chance” by reading them all in one day.

Cooke, perhaps more terrified of what bloggers will say about her than what they communicate on a daily basis, doesn’t give them a fair chance. For unlike a constructive critic, Cooke doesn’t cite anything positive about them. She is content to write a smug and ignorant hit piece while simultaneously portraying herself as a victim. That takes some temerity. (Ironically, a Google Image Search turns up not a single photo of Rachel Cooke, suggesting that she is just as “faceless” as her apparent nemeses.)

This comes to us from a journalist who genuinely believe that Nick Hornby, a shiny happy blowhard loath to commit a single skepticism to paper, is “a good critic, and an experienced one; and because he can write.” Yup, and Keanu Reeves, never mind his thespic limitations, is such a nice guy too.

While I can agree with Cooke’s criticism concerning the mysterious editor’s provenance (are we all content to fall for such hearsay without proof?), reading Cooke’s Pollyanna schtick, one would assume that such a delicate soul wasn’t employed in the rough-and-tumble world of Fleet Street. But is Cooke really as circumspect as she suggests when she calls John Sutherland’s work “rushed and lazy” and cites another unnamed reviewer instead of an example she‘s actually bothered to locate within Sutherland’s work? Is she really such a stupendous thinker, by dint of being paid, when she offers such idiotic rhetoric as “What they wanted wasn’t the right to critique films or books for themselves (thanks to the net, they’ve got that anyway) but for those people who are paid to do so to cease to exist – to shut up.”

This isn’t the case at all. I don’t think any blogger criticizing the mainstream media wants these critics to shut up. I think they are voicing their concern about the current state of newspaper coverage, hoping that it will improve. It’s journalists like Cooke, terrified of seeing their words so swiftly responded to, who have a problem with their “professional” status being challenged by amateur upstarts who may know a thing or two about literature.

Isn’t there room here for all types of critics? Why indeed are we working in a dichotomy? But then I suppose Rachel Cooke is content to eat Jim Crow.

[UPDATE: More responses from the Kenyon Review, Dove greyreader Scribbles, Michael Orthofer and Frank Wilson.]

Atwood Nails It

New York Review of Books: “So if [Richard Powers is] so good, why isn’t he better known? Let me put it another way —why haven’t his books won more medals? It’s as if juries have recognized the prodigious talent, the impressive achievement, and have put him onto short lists, but then have drawn back, as if they’ve suddenly felt that they might be giving an award to somebody not quite human—to Mr. Spock of Star Trek, for instance. He’s got a Vulcan mind-meld on the critics, all right, but could it be that he’s just not cozy enough at the core—that he’s too challenging, or daunting, or— dread word—too bleak?” (Thanks Matthew!)

The “Why the Hell Does Anyone Bother to Work the Day Before Thanksgiving?” Roundup

Ames Alert

Regular readers of this site know that I once made a deal with a mysterious stranger at a crossroads. Mention everything that Jonathan Ames does on this site and I would instantly wake up with a six-figure sum in my savings account. The stranger didn’t say how or when this money would appear and, as of today, it hasn’t. I’m quite surprised. The stranger certainly seemed sincere to me. He even took several dollar bills out of my wallet for “insurance purposes.”

But I am a man of my word. And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Ames is busy indeed with two shows at Mo Pitkin’s: November 28th and November 29th. Ames will be showing the unaired pilot for What’s Not to Love?