Check Your Ego Much? (Part Two)

Laura Zigman: “Then, as Laura’s Animal Husbandry disappeared, replaced by lots and lots of other more chick-litty books, Laura was only occasionally included in the chick-lit round ups. Laura never knew how to feel about this — that is, part of her was hurt that she wasn’t included when other lists of chick lit writers were named since she felt she was kind of at the forefront of the genre and felt left out. But another part of her was relieved that she wasn’t included because most of the articles about chick lit were very negative, so maybe the fact that she wasn’t mentioned was a good thing.”

Ed never refers to himself in the third person and certainly doesn’t whine when he’s forgotten. You see, this is not the reason why Ed writes.

I Blame the Lemonade Stands

San Francisco Chronicle: “The United States and Britain ranked as the worst places to be a child among 21 wealthy nations, according to a report by UNICEF released Wednesday. The Netherlands was the best, it said, followed by Sweden and Denmark….Some of the wealthier countries’ lower rankings were a result of less spending on social programs and ‘dog eat dog’ competition in jobs that led to adults spending less time with their children and heightened alienation among peers, one of the report’s authors, Jonathan Bradshaw, said at a televised news conference in London.”

Your Netflix Convenience is Built On Another Person’s Misery

A Netflix employee: “After working at Netflix for a while, it starts to get boring and it really brings your emotion down since there’s not many interactions with your fellow coworkers, like for me, sometimes I feel really shitty after shipping for about three and a half hours and that’s why I try to do many talking, walking during our breaks. We can talk during shipping cause our manager don’t mind and we can talk very, very little during rental return cause we need to concentrate on inspecting the DVDs at a fast pace.”

Who Needs Dante When You Have Norton Furniture?

In my continuing obsession with furniture store commercials, where I am now convinced the best TV commercial cheese can be found, I have discovered that Norton Furniture has a MySpace page and that the creepy proprietor offers free bread to his customers when they walk into his store. The man’s name is Marc Brown and, according to Cleveland Scene, Brown has “an uncanny ability to remember customers’ names and what they bought.” With Brown’s voice, it’s doubtful he’ll ever have to hire a collection agency.

And Overstated does some digging on Flea Market Montgomery. Apparently, the man’s name is Sammy Stephens and there’s even an “It’s Just Like a Minimall” remix contest in the works. Sammy Stephens also appeared on Ellen.

And here’s some blue-screen footage for Adobe Premiere enthusiasts. This guy interviewed Sammy Stephens on the phone, where Stephens claims “they’re dancing to it in the clubs.”

[UPDATE: Here’s a pretty good Flea Market remix.]

How to Read

No, Mr. Brownlee, you are missing the point. The Book Mistress’s response on how to read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a perfectly reasonable one. We hard-core readers often forget that some people are thrown off guard by anything diverging from a traditional structure. Thus, a “normal” explanation for how to read something that seems so apparent to us might be of great value for them.

This doesn’t take anything away from idiosyncratic readers who are prepared to skip around from middle to end to beginning, nor does this sully those who wish to consult “The Navison Record” exclusively for answers.

We can read how we want to, we can leave your read behind
‘Cause your friends read here and I read there
And the reads are all just fine

Request to the Peanut Gallery

If you are a professional musician and/or composer (ideally, you cut your teeth with keyboards), I need to talk with you. This is in relation to a fiction project I’m working on. I’m hoping to talk with you for about 20-30 minutes on the phone (don’t worry: I don’t bite!) or, if you live in the Bay Area, I’d be happy to buy you a coffee. You can leave a comment here or shoot me an email at ed AT

Thanks so much!

Being the First Chapter Chronicling the Return of Camille Paglia

MISS PAGLIA had that kind of loquacity which seems to have been thrown into relief by poor dress. Her mind and mouth were so smugly formed that she could only bear fruit comparable to a costermonger. Had she run out of topics to write about? The servants and the plebs thought not, but their collective emolument steered their ratiocinative rudders. Once a peacock, always a peacock, feathers flitting in the hot air. It became necessary for her to return, huffing out phrases like “aimless hejira” — note the alternate spelling — in relationship to banalities about Anna Nicole Smith. Because this was what Miss Paglia did. She fooled her readers into thinking they were masticating upon something significant, when the meal was mere venison — a common table d’hôte for an unsuspecting commonweal.

Miss Paglia had once been an essayist of some note, sending engaging epistles and pleasant postcards to her fellow baronesses. Then something quite catastrophic had occurred. Pears and oranges flew in parabolic trajectories after every meal involving MIss Paglia. Then Miss Paglia disappeared and returned. But her loyal pups with previously perked up ears had grown up, their perspectives broadened by the lineaments of time.

But Miss Paglia had not changed. If anything, her overbite had grown worse.

Observed at Haight & Cole Streets

8:45 PM. I’m inside a convenience store. I’m standing in line about to buy four rolls of toilet paper. A young man in his early twenties purchases two 40 ounce bottles of Mickey’s and a box of toothpaste (the latter purchased so he can meet the $10.00 credit card minimum). He buys the liquor for a homeless man, who is already quite inebriated, and smiles at the clerk behind the counter and the homeless man. He tells the homeless man, “Alright, man! Time to enjoy yourself!” I’m unsure if he means anything diabolical by this. The remark seems straightforward enough.

1. Is the buyer of Mickey’s culpable of contributing to the homeless man’s inebriation? Is he helping to blot the homeless man’s mind out from the real world? Or is he committing an act of genuine philanthropy beyond my comparative ken? Will the liquor help the homeless man survive another day in the streets?

2. Is the clerk complicit by finalizing the transaction and not remarking upon its consequences? * (Corollary: Are all clerks complicit when they sell cigarettes and alcohol to troubled souls? Or does the free market dictate that a person is entitled to whatever he wants? Why is it so easy to let others, who have homes to sleep in, make bad decisions over more trivial matters and yet so troubling to me to watch this man purchase liquor for another? Further, why can I accept some young person buying another person alcohol and not this man’s actions? Why does class shape my views? What right do I have to possess these assumptions when there’s a double standard?)

3. Am I complicit in my silence? I could have voiced my dismay. I could have stepped in and bought the man a slice of pizza. If I had chosen the latter, the homeless man, his eyes widening at the malt liquor, may have refused my offer. He’d clearly prefer eighty ounces to block out the sights of his horrid world rather than nourishment which would at least settle his belly.

General Feelings: Unsettled by the philanthropist, saddened by the homeless man’s addiction, infuriated that I did not do anything. The defendant pleads guilty.

* — The great irony here is that, when the young man and the homeless man shuffled out of the store, the clerk remarked, “I don’t know why he did that,” to which I could have easily responded, “I don’t know why you did that.” It’s easy for all of us to walk this earth, unaware of our own ironies.

Sam Tanenhaus is the Misinformed One

“I find they write about us, but I don’t find they write about authors and have that many interesting things to say about literature. Maybe I’m missing them? It seems to be more of a kind of a scorecard they keep about us and I think, well, let’s say they don’t like us and we’re doing a terrible job. All they’re doing is publicizing what we do. I don’t understand that. If they think that we don’t do enough fiction, well why aren’t you using your blog to write about those novels and say interesting things about them? Why not just tell us about all those books? It seems very parasitical after a while and the sort of echo chamber-ish and they get so much wrong. They’re so misinformed about so many things that it seems unfruitful to pay attention. They really don’t get what we do, or how we do it, and they don’t really want to know because if they do it would kind of undermine the attacks and all the rest. For instance, there was someone who was complaining that we weren’t using David Orr more often and that it was because I had some problems with Orr. I’m the guy who gave Orr a column and the reason why he wasn’t writing was because his father was seriously ill and he’d gotten some gig in Princeton. That’s why you weren’t seeing him more. So there’s this kind of conspiratorial view they have, that I’m here deciding, ‘Let’s destroy fiction by not reviewing it!’ or, ‘This guy writes too well, so let’s not publish him!’ That’s not the way journalism works.” — Sam Tanenhaus

This remarkably hypocritical statement comes from Sam Tanenhaus, who claims he “never reads blogs” and then proceeds to describe all manner of things that they do, based of course on the fact that he “never reads” them. This is akin to an astrophysicist being asked to speculate upon knitting, a hobby that this hypothetical astrophysicist never actually practices, and who then proceeds to denounce knitting as evil incarnate, wrong, misinformed, and the like.

But let’s take Tanenhaus’s claims here one by one.

“I don’t find they write about authors and have that many interesting things to say about literature.”

Yup, litbloggers never write about authors. They never take the time out to talk at length with a Booker Prize winner or ask Vikram Chandra about how to write a long novel, much less discuss overlooked titles or a National Book Award-winning book with the author himself. As for whether any of this is interesting to Tanenhaus, I could care less. It’s a matter of subjective opinion. But if Tanenhaus is ignorant enough to claim that litbloggers never “write about authors,” then clearly his opinion on this matter is about as worthless as an empty wallet at a Monte Carlo craps table.

“I don’t understand that.”

It’s clear with Tanenhaus’s recurrent hiring of Henry Alford, a man who wouldn’t know funny if South Park bit him on the ass, that Tanenhaus is the most comedically tone-deaf book review editor now working in the industry. (Let’s put it this way. Even Bob Hoover has a sense of humor.) Therefore, it’s clear that he’s incapable of comprehending a satirical analysis of his own publication (i.e., the Tanenhaus Brownie Watch).

“If they think that we don’t do enough fiction, well why aren’t you using your blog to write about those novels and say interesting things about them? Why not just tell us about all those books?”

See the Litblog Co-Op. See Maud, Mark and Jessa’s remarks on Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr. Y. See Sarah and Dan Wickett‘s love for Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas: you heard about it first on these pages. Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land: TMFTML. I could go on and on.

“They’re so misinformed about so many things that it seems unfruitful to pay attention.”

Support your examples much, Sammy Boy?

“They really don’t get what we do, or how we do it, and they don’t really want to know because if they do it would kind of undermine the attacks and all the rest.”

This is disingenuous. I have asked Sam Tanenhaus for an interview on four separate occasions, so that I might understand where he’s coming from and so I might corral my observations in line with the NYTBR‘s production process.

He has refused every single time.

It’s clear that Tanenhaus doesn’t want to respond to any criticisms. He considers himself above questioning. He is, as you might recall, “under no obligation to acknowledge the brownie.” It was only my personal attendance of a panel last year that provoked a few answers to these questions. And even then, he could not provide satisfactory responses.

There is also the curious phrasing of “the attacks.” The attacks? What the hell is this? Pearl Harbor? Are brownies now a weapon of mass destruction? Tanenhaus can dish it out, but he can’t take it. I must again affirm that I have praised the NYTBR as much as I have criticized it. (See yesterday’s post.)

“For instance, there was someone who was complaining that we weren’t using David Orr more often and that it was because I had some problems with Orr.”

Let’s go back to the post about David Orr that Tanenhaus is mentioning:

I have no idea what’s made Orr’s work sparse in the NYTBR these days. Perhaps it’s Sammy T’s tone-deaf editorialship.” [Emphasis added]

“I have no idea” should be pretty clear that I had no idea. Then again, when you’re a guy cowering from bloggers, perhaps a cigar isn’t a cigar. My speculation doesn’t impute that Tanenhaus had any problems with Orr, nor is the word “problems” contained in my post.

“So there’s this kind of conspiratorial view they have, that I’m here deciding, ‘Let’s destroy fiction by not reviewing it!’ or, ‘This guy writes too well, so let’s not publish him!’ That’s not the way journalism works.

The use of the verb “destroy” is the telling detail here. It is a word one expects from Genghis Khan or a WWE wrestler, not a book review editor.

Fiction will continue to live on, whether Tanenhaus covers it or not. It is Tanenhaus’s loss that he cannot see fit to open up the pages of his “Review” to fiction’s glories. One of the assertions I’ve always casted here is why the NYTBR claims to cover serious fiction more than any other book review section in the country, when it recurrently skimps out on solid literary coverage. There is nothing conspiratorial about this observation. Frankly, when you stack up Tanenhaus’s NYTBR against John Leonard’s NYTBR, it’s a bit like pitting People against The New Yorker. There is simply no contest.

All litbloggers have asked is why a book review section with such potential falls flat under Tanenhaus’s watch. It’s a telling sign that this question has transmuted from genuine (albeit satirical) inquiry to “conspiratorial view.”

Of course, if Tanenhaus wishes to explain himself, my microphones remain ready.

[UPDATE: Michael Orthofer has much to say about Tanenhaus’s remarks.]

[UPDATE 2: John Fox also has much to say.]


  • Critical Mass has a lovely list of links to John Leonard, a critic whose acumen can never be underestimated. Take, for example, this essay from 2005, in which Leonard declares of Jonathan Lethem, “Even so, from a young writer as clever as they come and as crafty as they get, who skinwalked and shape-changed from Kurt Vonnegut into Saul Bellow before our starry eyes, whose Huckleberry Brooklyn novel brought municipal fiction back from the dead, the whimsies in Men and Cartoons look like arrested development. And The Disappointment Artist, a collection of Lethem’s journalism and reminiscences, seems at first to be more of the same. Whole chapters are devoted to John Ford’s westerns, Philip K. Dick’s science fiction, Star Wars, John Cassavetes, and Stanley Kubrick. Page after page celebrates recording artists such as Chuck Berry, David Bowie, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, and Cheap Trick, and such science fiction writers as Frank Herbert and Jules Verne. And when the loftier likes of Kafka, Borges, and Lem, or Faulkner, Beckett, and Joyce, or Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, and William Gass are mentioned at all, they will be fingered in brusque passing as ‘professional Bartlebys.’ It’s not as if he’s never met them; they show up in his novels, wearing turtlenecks and trench coats; they hang in his closet. Yet not one is worthy here even of a paragraph.” Today’s book critics are certainly content to venerate authors who deserve it, but a critic like Leonard reminds us that taking a long look at a wunderkind might get us thinking twice and healthily.
  • The Maltese Falcon has disappeared!
  • Ann VanderMeer has been named the new fiction editor for Weird Tales.
  • Poetry readings while doing laundry? Now a possibility in New York!
  • If you’re still looking for a Valentine’s Day pointers, Ron Jeremy offers advice.
  • I’m disappointed with this list of great sex poems. Come on, Pinsky. If you can’t find us a villanelle about cunnilingus, then how can we be expected to adopt the French form? (via that Brockman guy)
  • The New York Times investigates red velvet cake. I’m surprised I mentioned this before Tayari. (via Gwenda)
  • Faster Than Light: a science fiction-based podcast I didn’t know about and will investigate later. They also had the good sense to talk with Mike Harrison.
  • R.U. Sirius talks with Steven Levy (interview available in MP3 and text form) about how the iPod has changed culture.
  • BSG gets renewed for a fourth season, but it appears to be on probation. It’s been guaranteed a minimum of thirteen hours. But given this season’s lackluster results, I really hope that Moore & Co. have been given a short leash so that they’ll turn out better storylines. (via Quiddity)
  • To hell with Valentine’s Day. Happy Horny Werewolf Day.
  • Jason Boog talks with Vikram Chandra about how to write a long novel.
  • Forget shelling out ten bucks. Now there’s a brazen site called Oscartorrents. Argh, matey!

Litblog Co-Op Blacklisted from Google?

Simon Owens has done the legwork and he’s revealed that the Litblog Co-Op site has been blacklisted from Google. In fact, I’ve performed a few Google searches for “Valerie Trueblood” and “Stephen Graham Jones” and these names don’t come up at all in the first five pages.

This issue has been broached to the group and we’re now discussing options, including switching over to WordPress if need be. It’s a great pity that the hard work of the nominated authors kind enough to volunteer their time to guest blog and answer questions, the many contributors and readers who have discussed the books, the podcast interviews, and the like simply aren’t accessible to the search engines.

The moral of the story: if you have a Typepad account, you may want to check your search engine ranking. It’s very possible that you’re speaking into dead air.

[UPDATE: It appears that there’s a line in our source code deflecting search engines.]

Taking Stock

So Grumpy Old Bookman is calling it quits for a while. While this is a great shame, I completely understand. I’ve come close to retiring this blog many times. But what’s the point? I’ll always keep on coming back. There are simply too many things to learn and too much interesting information to keep track of. There are too many hats to try on. A grand sartorial wardrobe with limitless options rests permanently in my mind’s closet.

In a sense, this makes blogging no more selfish than any other kind of writing. I have put up around 5,400 posts here since December 2003, ranging from two-sentence items to 2,000 word entries that I probably should have revised and sold somewhere. But no matter. This blog doesn’t feel as if is distracting me that much from other things, such as living or writing fiction. But I’m not really the most reliable guide. Perhaps the process has become too habitual. Most astute readers (and especially fellow bloggers) can probably discern why I’m so prolific. When it comes right down to it, this blog exists under extremely absurd circumstances. I’m working to change this, but I entertain gladly.

What has caused Michael Allen or any of us to blog so much? I’m thinking we’re all motivated by the same forces. But waiting around for unknown convergence is a pretty ridiculous way to live. Bud Parr had it right by organizing Metaxucafe. And so did Mark with the LBC. But someone with enough crazy ambition needs to do something that advances us to a point that readers and bloggers both recognize. I wonder who this pioneer will be.

Time On One’s Hands

Excerpt from Wallace Troglon’s “The God Who Taunted Her: Lee Goldberg, Cathy Young and the Tragic End of Young-Limsky,” pp. 34-35:

Of all the moments in the blogosphere, with the exception of the unexpected third-season frottage moment between Sam Tanenhaus and Bat Segundo[1], few have been as controversial as the relationship between Fanfic Warrior Princess Cathy Young and Lee Goldberg, the Television God of War. It is difficult for the amateur scholar to determine whether any of these relationships are true. It is further difficult for the amateur to limn the demarcation between reality and fiction.

Lee Goldberg, however, came across as a more menacing villain than Tanenhaus, causing much division and rancor within fandom.[2] That the show’s writers would disrupt the safe territory that the show had operated in for so long was an insult. That the show would dare to emulate real life to some extent, which most of the fans had previously avoided by spending their time writing 100,000 word dissertations and derivative stories based on the show’s characters, was an outright existential blow.

Goldberg was the first to challenge the much believed and still valid conclusions of the Young-Limsky School, making the bold claim that the litblog was not a form of fiction. This seemed, Goldberg averred, ostensible to anyone with a pulse.

I shall not address the “pre-Goldberg” and “post-Goldberg” periods of fandom. It has been discussed enough elsewhere.[3] But I am most concerned with the various dead gophers that Young sent Goldberg in the mail, along with the magazine subscriptions that Young had signed Goldberg up for. If we accept Goldberg’s contrarian thesis in part, were these moments initiated by Cathy Young? Or were they scripted into the series by the show’s brilliant head writer?

[1] See Season 3, Episode 55, “Books and Bats,” when the series switched over to Showtime to take advantage of the network’s “No Limits” policy. On March 3, 2005, a few weeks after the episode’s airdate, there was considerable debate in over whether the actor playing “Sam Tanenhaus”[a] whispered “You can’t write” or “You’re all right.” Whatever the three words were, it still doesn’t explain why the show’s writers followed this with a more explicit love scene that was completely out of character with the tone of the first two seasons. Fellow scholar and fanfic defender OMyGawdGoldberg!, leaving a comment on Tod Goldberg’s site, settled the matter by calling both Goldberg brothers “a bunch of heartless cretins.”

[a] The actor’s name remains unidentified, despite a coordinated stalking effort by fans of the show to get the answer from the producers.

[2] For more on this topic, see R.U. Phuckingsomeone’s invaluable “Litbloggers Copulate Too,” a 6,000 word treatise that posits many hypothetical couplings if we agree with the Young-Limsky school that considers litbloggers to be a fictive construct arranged within a five-season television series that aired between 2000-2005, released shortly thereafter on DVD.

[3] See Cathy Young’s trio of articles, “Fanfic is the Only Form of Fiction,” “Fanfic is Better Than Updike and Better Than Sex” and her confessional piece de resistance, “The Night Lee Goldberg Made Me Cry.”


  • One week, she’s giving marital advice to the Beckhams; the next week, she’s polluting the television medium with her drivel. I remain convinced that there is no way to get the media to stop paying attention to Jackie Collins (including me, apparently).
  • Someone must also ask this: when was the last time David Denby was enthusiastic about film? Presumably, “the spectacle of dying” also explains Denby’s recumbent work of late. Denby has offered very thoughtful reviews in the past, but someone needs to whip the man into shape. David Remnick, it is your duty to unleash a horde of ball-busting editors on Denby before March!
  • Don’t entirely discount hasty reading. I can agree with Ms. Waters that some books, such as David Markson’s Going Down (which I am now reading), simply cannot be read fast. But if Ms. Waters honestly believes that the average reader should diagram every single sentence and deconstruct the fuck out of every volume, then I have to wonder just how she has fun on a Saturday night. Is not the joy of reading predicated upon leaving some spontaneity or ambiguity to the reader? I’m not suggesting that books should be construed as mere entertainments, but if the process of understanding literature is not engaging on some level (hopefully with a modicum of fun), then what hope for tomorrow’s grad students? Besides, who is Ms. Waters to dictate just how any individual reader reads? One of the joys of reading is returning to a book a second or third time, realizing that a particular passage from a book you haven’t touched in six years is calling you in the dead of night, lending some aid or reference to another unsolved and entirely unrelated mystery.
  • I don’t know if I mentioned this already, but Scott McLemee is now blogging, although I must reprimand him for using “thorough” and “Wikipedia” in the same sentence.
  • Oh, grow some balls, Gerry Adams. (via Elegant Variation)
  • Dan Wickett’s Dzanc Books is starting to pump out a few titles. Set for 2008: a Yannick Murphy short story collection and a volume from Peter Markus.
  • Matthew Tiffany has scored a future interview with Dave Eggers and Valentino Deng. Failure to engage Mr. Eggers on his inexplicable flip-flopping will be duly observed, Mr. Tiffany. Go get ’em, tiger. Nobody else has the balls. (Well, I would, but Eggers has refused multiple interview requests.)
  • I’d like to agree with Levi (somewhat) concerning bloggers “loathing” the NYTBR. I don’t “loathe” Sam Tanenhaus (just as I don’t “loathe” Dave Eggers, much as he and his minions seem to think I do). “Loathing” implies that I feel complete disgust for the NYTBR. But if I “loathe” this weekly broadsheet, why then have I praised David Orr, Liesel Schillinger and Dwight Garner on these pages? This “with us or against us” mentality might sit well with paranoids and conspiracy freaks, but it doesn’t sit with me. I apply a great degree of scrutiny to anyone, including authors I admire (see my recent Miéville review). It’s the only way I can stay honest. Perhaps the issue here is one of assumed respect, a collective state where one assumes that because something is printed in a prominent newspaper, it must therefore be “beyond criticism” (like Saul Bellow, apparently*). But how can any solid thinker maintain such an attitude? Why is vehement disagreement confused with a jihad? That my clear skepticism and playfulness is confused with “loathing” reveals quite a lot about the disingenuous nature of today’s book review climate. (And, no, I don’t “loathe” Mark either for quibbling over his verb choice here; far from it.)

* — See also this post from Dan Green.