Troy Tulowitzki

Chipper Jones pops the ball. It looks like it’s going to be your garden-variety line drive. But Tulowitzki’s on it, rushing to second base before you can comprehend that he’s about to make the thirteenth unassisted triple play in baseball history. It’s that great leap of the arms to Edgar Renteria that gets me, flying forward like the dangling entrails of a muskrat punctured by an interstate semi. A balletic burst, the flicker of tendrils, just to get that improvised third out. It all goes down in a blink. It’s an Aristotlean plot structure unfolding in seconds. Renteria knows it. He stops in his tracks and Tulowitzki is simply too fast, too ambitious, too in the moment to not seize the nanosecond.

ESPN has video.

Roundup (David Lean’s Brief Encounter Version)

And I Thought Pirates Were Welcome Near Pittsburgh

Smoking Gun: “A Pennsylvania woman claims that her teaching career has been derailed by college administrators who unfairly disciplined her over a MySpace photo that shows her wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup. In a federal lawsuit, Stacy Snyder charges that Millersville University brass accused her of promoting underage drinking after they discovered her MySpace photo, which was captioned ‘Drunken Pirate.'” (via MeFi)

Thoughts from the Playground

There are more arguments against the current NBCC approach from Colleen, Jeff and Marydell.

Michael Dirda and I have emailed. He’s a reasonable guy and he confessed to me that it was likely that he was having a bad day. Like any of us, Dirda is concerned about the future of literary discussion. (And it should also be noted that Dirda maintains an online weekly book chat for the Washington Post.) In an effort to keep the discussion constructive, I have offered him some ideas on where print and online might meet in the next ten years. (And, yes, I also attempted to email John Freeman, but he has proven, to put it lightly, highly antagonistic towards civil conversation.)

I suspect that much of the hostility towards online literary outlets comes from print people who again see it as a threat and would rather bash those participating in literary matters rather than integrate it. That’s a great shame. Because all of us are really on the same side here.

UPDATE: Former San Francisco Chronicle Books Editor Pat Holt, one of the first literary journalists to understand the possibilities of the Internet, has offered a new column (her first in many months) on the issue, asking:

But maybe it’s time for those of us who have worked as critics for a living to evaluate what’s happened to our profession — and why we may be driving readers away.

In the last 25 years, just about everything about the print experience has changed — except the way critics review books.

UPDATE 2: John Freeman has offered a more conciliatory post this morning, pointing out, “It is in the preservation of that resource that we are fighting now — and we’re asking everyone who cares about it to join us. Even those of you — print journalists or bloggers — who write in your fierce pajamas.”

While this doesn’t address all the problems of the NBCC’s campaign, it’s a very encouraging start. I have again reached out to Freeman by email.

UPDATE 3: Dan Wickett also offers his thoughts, pointing precisely how he started off in the blogging business. I have to say that if you told me three years ago that I’d be talking with John Updike, Richard Ford, Erica Jong, T.C. Boyle, Martin Amis, and many other fantastic authors (120+ interviews in just under two years), that I’d be reviewing books at newspapers, that I’d be a member of the LBC and the NBCC, that I’d be seriously working on my own novel every dutiful Sunday, that I’d have more books than I’d know what to do with and that I’d find many good friends from all this, I wouldn’t have believed you. Like Dan, my unexpected trajectory into books emerged out of my literary passions. This came from nothing, and I certainly expected nothing. I just worked very hard under the often crazed circumstances, did my best to answer every email, and did the very best I could to present literary coverage, hoping that others might find some use for the bounteous material here and elsewhere. I’ll have more to say on this, and other matters, in about two weeks, when I’ll be making a major announcement here. But I truly believe we are in a serious convergence. I also believe we can put last week’s fracas behind us and concentrate on what we all do to soldier forth into the literary future.

Uncited Studies

Stephen Elliott: “Studies have consistently shown that people with more screens open get less done. Multitasking slows down productivity.”

Uncited studies have also shown that relying upon uncited studies to make generalizations is a poor way to make an argument for something that should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

I have eight windows now open on my LCD monitor. I have tweaked about ten minutes of audio, revised a review that I need to turn in, replied to about twenty emails, gone for a walk to get my blood flowing, talked with the friendly guy at my neighborhood cafe for about ten minutes, helped a stranger get to the Castro area, finished reading a book, and picked up my books from the post office. And it’s not even nine o’clock.

We work the way that works best for us, at the level of technology that works best for us. (There are, believe it or not, certain technologies that I resist. And I remain surprised by how many people prefer Googling to simply asking for information, or who fail to use the telephone.) To chastise others for how they use technology is to similarly chastise others for what kind of sexuality they practice.

Stephen Elliott, in this case, is full of shit.

The Most Popular Segundo Shows of the Past Month

Here are the most popular Segundo podcasts from the last month.

10. Dana Spiotta
9. Amy Sedaris
8. Nina Hartley
7. Jennifer Weiner
6. The May Queen Panel
5. Paula Kamen
4. Rupert Thomson, Edward Falco, Megan Sullivan & Scott Esposito (because of Virginia Tech?)
3. Amanda Filipacchi & Kevin Smokler
2. Erica Jong
1. Lydia Millet (big Japanese audience, apparently, probably due to the nuclear bomb themes in Oh Pure and Radiant Heart)

Either there’s something off with my stats or it seems that there are a lot of people out there who want to listen to smart women.

David Lynch, incidentally, is just behind Spiotta, which surprised the hell out of me.

The Segundo audience seems to be holding at around 3,000-5,000 per show and there seem to be a lot of listeners in France. Which presumably makes me the Jerry Lewis of podcasting. But I thank all people who have listened to the shows, and remain somewhat baffled that there’s such an audience for this.

Segundo #113

If you hit the Litblog Co-Op site this morning, you may be wondering what happened to Shows #110-112. Well, have no fear. They haven’t disappeared. Mr. Segundo has recorded his intros, and they are in post-production as we speak. Alas, I’ve been too busy beating deadlines to finish them up. In the meantime, you can listen to Show #113, the first of three podcasts, produced in tandem with the LBC and Pinky’s Paperhaus. Carolyn talks with Jessica Stockton and I talk with Mark Binelli.

The Cult of the Polemicist, Part One

(This is the first in a series of posts addressing Andrew Keen’s book, The Cult of the Amateur.)

It won’t hit bookstores until June 5, but Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur needs to be thoroughly addressed, at the risk of drawing attention to Mr. Keen’s rapacious craving for attention. Mr. Keen, a one-time “leading visionary in the audio business with almost ten years of experience as an entrepreneur, salesman and writer in the industry”, will be appearing on a panel with several other bloggers at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, presumably railing against the apparent evils of the current Web climate that he describes in his book. Never mind that Keen prefers speculative broad brushes and tenuous examples, of which more anon, to support his “polemic about the destructive impact of the digital revolution on our culture, economy, and values.” Yeah, it’s all a bit melodramatic, but then, with Keen, one doesn’t expect a nuanced argument.

Keen’s arrogant posturing, which serves in lieu of a reasoned examination of the opposition, begins quite early in the book, on page 2, when he clinks glasses with a web “evangelist” at a Web 2.0 mixer curious about Keen’s book. The evangelist asks what it’s about, offering the perfectly reasonable assertion, “So it’s Huxley meets the digital age.” But, instead of informing this evangelist about his book’s details or even clarifying where he stands, Keen tells his readers that “I knew we were toasting the wrong Huxley,” boasting about T.H. Huxley’s infinite monkey theorem, but he doesn’t bother to let this “evangelist” in. Passive-aggressive arguments along these lines, it seems, are Keen’s specialty.

Apparently, Keen’s ontological tipping point arose because of O’Reilly Media. Keen tells us that, while attending FOO camp, an impromptu meeting of the minds arranged by O’Reilly, “I marched into camp a member of the cult; two days later, feeling queasy, I left an unbeliever.” What caused this apostasy? A mere word uttered by FOO campers, “democratization,” was enough to send Keen quietly raging against “the emptiness at the heart of our conversation.” Keen never investigates what this language might mean, and never stops to consider that general terms are often a place to initiate conversation. Instead, he insists that “[w]e weren’t just there to talk about new media; we were the new media. The event was a beta version of the Web 2.0 revolution, where Wikipedia met MySpace met YouTube.” Never mind that, according to John Battelle, reporting in CNN, there was no agenda at a January 2004 FOO camp until Friday night, “when the attendees made one up on the fly.” A 2005 ZDNet article observed that FOO Camp’s purpose is “to give anyone who wants to come a chance to be around likeminded people and, perhaps, come up with some great new ideas.” If Keen is objecting to the elite feel of FOO Camp (the event is invite-only), then I might understand where he’s coming from. But it is perfectly clear from all documentation that FOO Camp is a brainstorming session among carefully selected attendees — an elitist approach that is hardly the “infinite monkeys” exemplar that Keen is alluding to. In other words, instead of asking questions to understand the climate he’s in, Keen opts to remain an island, perhaps unaware of John Donne’s words on solipsistic temper tantrums.

It is from this example that Keen bemoans the “great seduction” of Web 2.0, suggesting that “the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” This premise would no doubt make Keen and the n+1 boys common allies, for Keen fails to cite any specific examples of these “superficial observations” and “shrill opinion.” Instead, Keen opts for online work representing an “undermining of truth,” pointing to “Al Gore’s Penguin Army” (which Keen misidentifies as “Al Gore’s Army of Penguins,” even though he claims that this is the “exact” title) rightly identifying it as a video originating from the DCI Group, an oil lobbying firm, as uncovered by the Wall Street Journal, representing disingenuous propaganda. But if YouTube represents an “undermining of truth” in toto, then what are we to make of this disturbing video of police brutality at UCLA from last year, which spawned protests and Los Angeles Times coverage? Surely, this demonstrates that the rise of technology is equally beneficial in bringing awareness to underreported issues.

Keen then takes blogs to task for being “vehicles for veiled corporate propaganda and deception” and for “becoming the battlefield on which public relations spin doctors are waging their propaganda war.” Well, that’s certainly news to this blogger. Again, Keen is more taken with the uniform notion that blogs are represented by a handful of blogs that have conducted questionable ethics. But if bloggers are all such shameless shills, why then have there been efforts to create codes of ethics? The issue of transparency and its concomitant criteria isn’t a new one. Why hasn’t Keen considered these efforts in his book (which was authored before the Kathy Sierra incident)? Surely, even accounting for Keen’s complaints, this represents a medium working to apply better standards to its form. Well, that’s where Keen’s ongoing postpartum wankage (his book is pregnant with hasty generalizations) comes to play, where a statement from Tim O’Reilly (see a pattern here?), instead of the code of conduct in question, becomes the launching point for a typical Keen tirade dismissing O’Reilly as “a libertarian spokesman for the NRA.”

Keen does have a point in suggesting that Wikipedia isn’t the experiment it’s cracked up to be, in the sense that this open communal structure has proven, at times, disastrous. (See the unfortunate case of John Seigenthaler, remarkably uncited in Keen’s polemic.) I can also partially agree with Keen’s concerns about blind faith in Google when he writes:

We pour our innermost secrets into this all-powerful search engine through the tens of millions of questions we enter daily. Google knows more about our habits, our interests, our desires than our friends, our loved ones, and our shrink combined.

The problem here, however, is the melodramatic second sentence. Keen’s premise, of Google knowing everything about our personal habits, presumes that every user is typing in queries that pertain to the most intimate feelings they are experiencing. A more judicious thinker might consider (as Keen does not) the case of Robert James Petrick, who was found guilty of first-degree murder after the prosecution entered into evidence what he had searched for on Google. (He had entered the terms “neck,” “snap,” and “break” before committing the murder.) But in a world in which the truly inveterate criminals can use Tor and FoxyProxy to hide their search terms, is this as much of an issue as Keen claims it to be? Further, Keen offers no hard evidence to support his idea that Google search terms are equal to the skeletons in our closet. He merely assumes that every individual is willing to type in their darkest secrets into a random engine and reveal things about themselves that they won’t reveal elsewhere. So we must assume that because Patrick typed in his search terms, this represents all users. This premise isn’t provable in a logical argument. Any statistics or logic student knows that this is a secundum quid proposition.

Keen then takes Lawrence Lessig, William Gibson, and EFF advocates to task for their cutting-and-pasting of technology, without, of course, mentioning the legal remedy of the cease-and-desist letter. He writes:

The value once placed on a book by a great author is being challenged by the dream of a collective hyperlinked community of authors who endlessly annotate and revise it, forever conversing with each other in a never-ending loop of self-references.

This is a quite ridiculous, for this assumes that books are now in the process of becoming extinct, or perhaps in danger of becoming extinct. The value is being challenged? We’re all still paying $24.95 for John Updike’s latest. A trip to any bookstore reveals thousands of books that are quite permanent and unsullied by annotations. And besides, what’s so wrong with scribbling or highlighting in the margins? Is Keen unfamiliar with H.J. Jackson’s charming book Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, in which Jackson pored through numerous books to detect the patterns of marginalia? To offer one example of marginalia’s benefits:

One of the rare cases I have been fortunate enough to find of a barely literate but, on the evidence, adult reader shows similar features. Listed in the Bibliography under “Wesley,” it is actually a heavily used collection of American and English sermons of the later eighteenth century. All the notes are in pencil and by the same uninformed hand. One or two notes in the body of text (“Salvation” as the subject of one of the sermons, for instance) indicate that the owner understood its contents, but practically all the writing is on the front and back flyleaves and endpapers and has nothing to do with the sermons. (19-20)

So we have here an example of the great “challenge” centuries before the Internet even existed: a sermon book in which notes were made to understand the contents, not unlike this Against the Day wiki, in which various individuals are trying to understand Pynchon’s mammoth novel, tracking its many references and coming together to understand Pynchon’s work in much the same way as the illiterate reader recognized “Salvation.” It is by no means foolproof, but the oblique connections might offer partial succor to a reader eager to look up Pynchon’s many references in a library.

Does not the wiki then represent the natural technological extension of marginalia? And what makes this “collective hyperlinked community” any different from the students who have, over the years, offered notes in the margins, sold their books back to campus bookstores, and in turn passed these books on to other students? Shall we slap them on the wrists too?

Keen then assaults Kevin Kelly’s “Scan This Book!” — that article cited and feared by John Updike — and deliberately misinterprets Kelly’s vision of “the liquid version” of books, paraphrasing, “In Kelly’s view, the act of cutting and pasting and linking and annotating a text is as important or more so than the writing of the book in the first place.”

But here’s what Kelly really wrote:

The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.

There’s a fundamental difference between one page “reading” another page and annotations being, in Keen’s decidedly unkeen comprehension, “as important or more so” than a book. Nowhere in the article does Kelly suggest that palpable books as we know it should disappear. And Keen fails to understand that Kelly is not advocating a replacement, but a version of a book that one may or may not choose to annotate as one wishes.

It is from this remarkably clumsy set of assertions that keen declares war on “the advent of the cult of the amateur,” as gleaned through blogs and presumably all those idiots who deign to come online to deconstruct Pynchon. He concludes that all this is “thereby distorting, if not outrightly corrupting, our national civic conversation.” This assumes that the “national civic conversation” is exclusively founded upon online activities. A July 2006 PEW/Internet study (PDF) would suggest otherwise. At last count, 57 million American adults are reading blogs. That’s quite an impressive number, but what of the other 200 million American adults who aren’t reading blogs? Again, Keen rides that happy secundum quid wagon.

Needless to say, I’m only up to page 31. And I have considerably more to say about the book’s balance. Stay tuned.

John Freeman Stuck in 1999

Print is Dead: “In talking about the drawbacks to having the Book Review now appear mostly online, instead of in the actual newspaper, John Freeman from the NBCC states that ‘you can’t bring an online book page into the bath.’ This seems to me even more silly than Atwood’s claim simply because most book reviews aren’t immersive experiences. Instead, they’re created expressly for the purpose of consumption in one sitting. In fact, most reviews are tailor-made for digital delivery since short pieces are easily consumed on handheld screens or laptops. But Freeman seems to think that the fact that most of the Book Review appears online means that it somehow suffers from a ‘lack of portability,’ when it’s actually exactly the other way around. Digital content can be accessed in a myriad of ways, on dozens of devices and gadgets anywhere in the world (not to mention that it can be available forever in archives). Paper is a perishable object bound to a single location that can be easily misplaced, ripped or stained. Whereas content on a website is always there, forever unsullied and pristine, waiting for someone — anyone, anywhere — to touch a few keys and access its knowledge. However, according to Freeman, this is all a drawback. I guess he doesn’t want utility, connectivity, and interactivity; he just wants it to be water proof.”

Aimee Semple McPherson: Early Evangelist

Ever since discovering radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in Kevin Starr’s invaluable California history books years ago, I’ve long been fascinated by her. McPherson is often a forgotten historical figure: a woman who built up a mass audience by preaching her gospel through the radio, but who didn’t entirely hold herself to the same standards, which involved a decidedly less pure “kidnapping” that had troubling evidential contradictions. She created the Angelus Temple, a $1.5 million edifice financed entirely by donations and still existing today. She proved so charismatic that she even charmed H.L. Mencken.

In fact, I have a file with notes and an outline for a play centered around her staged disappearance from Venice Beach. One of these days, I will find the time to write it.

The kidnapping got serious press and even inspired Upton Sinclair to compose a poem. McPherson emerged later in Mexico, claiming that she had hiked many miles back to civilization. Alas, there were no scuff marks on her shoes. There was McPherson’s troubling involvement with a married man — an engineer by the name of Kenneth G. Ormiston. Ormiston, however, was a gentleman and kept his tongue firmly unflapped. Despite the shaky evidence available to a grand jury and public scrutiny over this “publicity stunt,” McPherson’s ministry carried on.

For those who wish to learn more about this fascinating pioneer, there’s now a new biography available about McPherson from Matthew Sutton, which John Updike has reviewed in the latest issue of the New Yorker.

Clipped Roundup

Roundup (Tape Delayed Blogging)

  • It looks like the Mystery Writers of America share the SFWA’s troubling inability to understand that we’re now in the 21st century. Sarah has distressing news about the Edgars. The MWA, perhaps jittery because of Stephen King’s appearance, has pronounced that “cell phones, cameras and all other electronic devices” must be turned off in order to prevent certain attendees from live blogging the proceedings. I’ve never heard of such a preposterous embargo, which runs counter to the spirit of celebrating mystery writers, who I’m sure must be miffed to here that hubristic forces wish to enable their achievements to be disseminated across the Internet in real time. I’d suggest to all Edgar attendees to live blog anyway and let the spirit of samizdat reign under tablecloths.
  • And speaking of hubris against online expression, Michael Dirda has just equated litblogging to “shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting, all too often by kids hoping to be noticed for their sass and vulgarity.” And that’s not all. “Playgrounds, as we all remember, are ruled by bullies, loud-mouths and prima-donnas.” Well, so long as you’re using ad hominem instead of specific examples, Mr. Dirda, I think you’ve proven that vulgarity is actually more your forte. After all, “literary and artsy gossip is always welcome” and Leo Lerman’s journals are “full of delicious anecdotes about shallow, venal, power-mad, sex-crazed and often unlikable people” (compare Dirda’s review with this decidedly less gossipy coverage from Liesl Schillinger). Yup. That’s really the stuff that makes thoughtful book review sections. Fortunately, aside from Dirda’s Wieseltieresque preening, Washington Post Book World remains a first-class publication well worth your time and certainly worth saving.
  • I can absolutely assure readers that A.M. Homes is funny. Callie has more.
  • Dan Wickett interviews Andrea Portes.
  • Mark Binelli is now blogging at the Litblog Co-Op.
  • The Complete Review has a fantastic roundup of PEN World Voices coverage.
  • C. Max Magee has thoughts on how to fix broken book sections.

“No Buzz Marketing”

John Freeman on blogs: “It’s one thing to accept advertising money: that’s what has kept papers afloat for years. It’s quite another to make a commission off the very object you are purporting to criticize.” (Emphasis in original)

John Freeman while criticizing newspapers: “#4) Join the NBCC. If you’re a working critic and have published three reviews (online or in print) over the past five years, join us — the more voices we have behind us, the greater our chances will be at preserving the cultural dialogue in this country.”

And here’s more nonsense from Freeman: “But in the struggle for bragging rights something gets lost: the awareness that for every lit-blogger who has been serving up opinions daily since 1998, there are five books editors who were around when Toni Morrison’s first book landed on their desk in 1970, and are no longer.”

Who’s the one really boasting here? I certainly harbor no illusion that I was the first person writing about books. If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, there were critics reviewing books decades before the NBCC. What should matter here is where the media environment is right now and what all of us can do to maintain and preserve book coverage. As I suggested on Monday, it’s “a united front, whereby literary and “sub-literary” enthusiasts of all stripes, print and online, litblogger and journalist, campaign on behalf of literary coverage in as many conduits as possible.” It seems to me that Freeman doesn’t seem to be aware of how similar his posturing is to online hubris.

UPDATE: In his latest column, the always dependable Scott McLemee addresses the book reviewing problem on many fronts, pointing out persuasively why online media, academic librarians and university-press folks should support book review sections and sign the petition, while also revealing Freeman insisting that Critical Mass is the “blog of record” for literary and publishing news.

Audio Illusions

Musicians and podcasters might find these links of interest (and I certainly plan to employ some of these tricks, now that I’ve discovered some open source toys):

Howard Hendrix: The Great Uniter

Howard Hendrix: “I’m also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they’re just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they’re undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.”

This comes from Howard Hendrix, the current Vice President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, who has clarified his comments by later observing that “webscabs” was “too incendiary a term” and stating:

I think the jury is still very much out, however, on whether such free online fulltext [sic] offerings will prove to be salutary or deleterious to the writing profession as a whole. We’re still in the early stages of this transition, and data remains insufficient.

Mike Daisey Update

The Boston Globe‘s Geoff Edgers has done some reporting on the Mike Daisey walkout mentioned here on Saturday. It seems that, contrary to Daisey’s claims, there was no religious affiliation with the group. As Edgers reports (in a message received from Principal John Johnson of Norco High School):

It is a choir made up of 15-to-17 year-old students who were in town singing at a festival. As for the chaperone who poured water on Daisey’s notes… Johnson flat out apologizes. “I agree with Mike Daisey,” says Johnson. “With everything that’s going on in the world today, to have somebody come up on stage and take the water and pour it on his script was very inappropriate. I want to make this very clear, I apologize for that happening.”

Now by Johnson’s own admission, we still only have third-hand information to go upon here. But Johnson claims that Daisey’s show was intended as a theatrical experience for these kids and that Daisey’s ample use of “fuck” was one of the motivating factors behind the walkout. But if this is the case, I find it highly implausible that these kids have lived such sheltered lives that they haven’t heard profanity.

As for the man who poured water onto Daisey’s script, he was apparently one of the adult chaperones.

(Thanks, Geoff, for the update.)

[UPDATE: Mike Daisey offers an explanation on his blog:

The group responsible for the incident is from a public high school, though they identified themselves to me as a Christian group as they fled the theater–it’s barely audible on the YouTube clip, as an adult tells me they are a Christian group, then flees for the door, refusing to engage with me. Then in the lobby of the theater and on the phone to the box office they identified themselves again and again as a Christian group–I don’t know what that says about the division of church and state in Norco, California. As a group, the people in charge freely identified themselves as a Christian group, until reporters call and they remember they are from a public high school.

He’s also talked with the man who destroyed his outline.]

Pequeño Roundup

“Anybody Who Knows Cockney Slang Will Know the Term!”

A 1972 documentary with Anthony Burgess, Malcolm McDowell, and critic William Everson (who appears to be reading off cue cards) on A Clockwork Orange. Highlights include McDowell discussing how “Singin’ in the Rain” came to be and a bored-looking Burgess barely tolerating Everson’s inane questions.

Incredibly, at the 24 minute mark, Everson actually asks Burgess to comment on the additional scenes that Kubrick wrote in to simplify the plot, which Everson reveals helped him to understand the film better and provided “Hitchcockian suspense.” To add insult to injury, Everson presses Burgess on whether or not he could write his novels “more cinematically.”

Here’s more from You’ve Had Your Time:

Before embarking with Malcolm on a publicity programme which, since Kubrick went on paring his nails in Borehamwood, seemed designed to glorify an invisible divinity, I went to a public showing of A Clockwork Orange to learn about audience response. The audience was all young people, and at first I was not allowed in, being too old, pop. The violence of the action moved them deeply, especially the blacks, who stood up to shout ‘Right on, man,’ but the theology passed over their coiffures. A very beautiful interview chaperon, easing me through a session with a French television team, prophesied rightly that the French would ‘intellectualise like mad over the thing’, but to the Americans the thing looked like an incentive to youthful violence. It was not long before a report came in about four boys, dressed in droog style copied from the film, gang-raping a nun in Pougheepsie. The couture was later denied — the boys had not yet seen the film — but the rape was a fact, and it was blamed upon Malcolm McDowell and myself. Kubrick went on paring his nails, even when it was announced that he was to be given two New York Critics’ awards. I had to collect those at Sardi’s restaurant and deliver of speech of thanks. Kubrick telephoned to say what I was to say. I said something rather different.

RIP David Halberstam

Jesus. Journalist-popular historian David Halberstam has died in a car crash. Halberstam was the author of The Best and the Brightest, one of the first books I ever read about Vietnam, as well as a great overview of the Eisenhower era, The Fifties, and a very compelling history of journalism called The Powers That Be. Halberstam had a remarkable gift of explaining intricate bureaucratic behavior and its effect upon cultural events in a clear and concise way. Sometimes, this meant substituting “us” and “our” for the United States (as he did in War in a Time of Peace) to get his point across to a popular American reading audience.

I never got the chance to see him speak or to interview him. And I’ll certainly miss him. This is a staggering loss. He was one of the authors I read in my early twenties who taught me that politics and history were as rich in American tradition as our cultural lifeblood. He was that very rare author who, like the historian Will Durant, had faith in the common reader to get excited about history. All of us, I suppose, start out as common readers. And for me, Halberstam was one of those central figures I encountered so happily in libraries. Like Vonnegut’s recent passing, I feel as if a dear friend who helped to show me bigger things has departed and there is nothing I can do to express my gratitude. In this age of microhistories and popular histories that prefer gossip items to substantive interconnections, I can’t think of anyone who could take Halberstam’s place.

Litbloggers and the NBCC: “Separate But Equal”

nbcc.jpgHaggis informs me that the NBCC has initiated a new campaign to save book reviews. There’s even a handy-dandy graphic, which you can pilfer on the right, should you be so inclined.

I was prepared to jump on board completely for this project — that is, until I read John Freeman’s words on the subject:

Elsewhere at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Sun Sentinel, the New Mexican, the Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and dozens upon dozens of other papers book coverage has been cut back or slashed all together, moved, winnowed, filled with more wire copy, or generally been treated as expendable.

And we’re getting tired of it. We’re tired of watching individual voices from local communities passed over for wire copy. We’re tired of book editors with decades of experience shown the exit. We’re tired of shrinking reviews. We’re tired of hearing newspapers fret and worry over the future of print while they dismantle the section of the paper which deals most closely with the two things which have kept them alive since the dawn of printing presses: the public’s hunger for knowledge and the written word.

So the board of the National Book Critics Circle has launched a campaign to try and beat back these changes. Over the next six weeks, in a new series on our blog Critical Mass, we will feature posts by concerned writers, interviews with book editors in the trenches, links to op-eds by critics, novelists and other NBCC board members, Q&As with newspaper editors and owners who will explain the business context for these changes, and tips for what you can do to help save book reviewing.

I whole-heartedly recognize the unfortunate and absurd decisions by some newspapers to cut or severely reduce their book coverage. If a newspaper expects to offer dutiful arts coverage, then that coverage should certainly extend to books. The current practice of hacking away these pivotal limbs is absolutely disgraceful for book reviewers and book critics and the literary community at large.

Yet, even as a freelance book reviewer and an NBCC member, I must play a partial doubting Thomas.

Why does Freeman exclude litbloggers, literary podcasters, and other online voices who write about or cover books? What of Robert Birnbaum’s thoughtful interviews at Identity Theory and The Morning News? Or Rick Kleffel’s podcasts at The Agony Column? Or Ron Silliman’s meditations about literature? These people will continue to write about literary matters, irrespective of whether newspapers exist or not. In fact, if the newspapers continue to fold, it’s very possible that some of today’s shining freelancers — perhaps even Freeman — will be forced to continue their work online, assuming there are still paying conduits. One can complain until one is blue in the face about “saving” book reviewing. But let’s be clear in our terminology here. “Saving” implies that book reviewing is some gray whale about to become extinct. But what we are seeing here is an evolution and a convergence point, not an extinction. As the thousands of litblogs now occupying the Internet will attest, there are still people who are crazy enough to care. Whether they will develop into tomorrow’s Daniel Mendelsohns or John Updikes or Edmund Wilsons is anyone’s guess. But how can we know if these voices are not cultivated or approached or encouraged?

Why has the NBCC campaigned predominantly on the behalf of professional critics without enlisting the help of amateur critics or litbloggers? A visit to MetaxuCafe demonstrates that “individual voices” are doing quite well online. Where some newspapers are content to snip thoughtful 2,000 word reviews down to 650 word reviews, a length that simply cannot do some books proper justice, or abandon column inches altogether, the blogosphere presents no obstacles to length or commitment. So why limit the achievements of literary criticism, as Freeman does so regularly in his roundups, to mere NBCC members? Why not, for example, open the door a crack and establish a relationship between the NBCC and the LBC? Is there not strength in numbers? Are there not fertile voices in the litblogosphere to be cultivated and developed? Can’t we all just get along?

I must also ask the troubling question of whether book reviewing, as it currently exists in some circles, actually needs to be saved. When Sam Tanenhaus and Leon Wieseltier continue to devote the majority of their review space to nonfiction, it’s very clear that fiction isn’t a regular requirement. It’s also very clear with some of the NBCC panels that popular and genre titles are beneath serious critical consideration. And while it’s certainly egregious to see serious literary criticism passed over for fluff, perhaps the current roster of book critics don’t provide, dare I say it, an accessible or entertaining entry point, or even an inclusive range, into thoughtful criticism.

To be perfectly clear, I am not calling upon literary enthusiasts to turn an isolationist eye to shrinking review space in newspapers. This too is a serious problem and one that calls for action.

What I am suggesting is something far more ambitious than John Freeman: a united front, whereby literary and “sub-literary” enthusiasts of all stripes, print and online, litblogger and journalist, campaign on behalf of literary coverage in as many conduits as possible. If that means mobilizing to preserve a book section in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, then let anyone who cares about literature sign petitions and send emails. If that means finding some medium where thoughtful and daring voices can continue to practice criticism and earn a modest living from it, then why not have a conference and action in which the inevitable convergence of print and online is seriously considered?

You want to know what I’m tired of? I’m tired of the needless divide between Freeman and some litbloggers. I’m tired of Daniel Mendelsohn being obsessed with Technorati. I’m tired of Sam Tanenhaus asking other people about me instead of asking me directly what my apparent beef is. I’m tired of Keith Gessen’s needless vanguard machismo and his unfortunate reliance upon generalizations instead of supportive examples and thinking that will benefit all parties.

How can we save book reviewing when Freeman writes of “put[ting] our energy into a prize honoring the best books of the year, and singling out critics who have consistently helped us find them,” while single-handedly ignoring that the litblogosphere is also doing this and having a sales impact, through highlighting overlooked titles with the LBC Read This! selections and helping other readers to find titles.

No less a critical institution than John Leonard, recently honored by the NBCC, observed in an interview with Meghan O’Rourke:

Reviewing has all become performance art; it’s all become posturing. It’s going to have to be the lit blogs that save us. At least they have passion.

The time has come for the John Freemans of the world to accept this passion instead of ignoring it, to not “generally treat” litbloggers “as expendable.” The time has come for litbloggers and book reviewers to realize that, while their respective approaches may be different, there is much that each can learn from the other.

The Ten Strangest Mainstream Sex Scenes

In my view, one of the greatest cinematic sex scenes of all time was in Michael Mak’s 1992 film Sex and Zen (alas, YouTube fails me!), where the actors commit carnal activity while traveling through the air on wires (in trapeze delicto?). While that indelible movie moment isn’t on this handy list, there are plenty others that are. And since it’s a Monday, I think it’s safe to say that a little NSFW interspecies erotica is in order. (via Quiddity)

Also, for your consideration:


  • The Eisner Award nominations have been announced, and one of the delightful surprises is Bob Burden’s extremely surreal work for the Gumby comic, which includes (in Issue #2) the spirit of Johnny Cash as a deus ex machina. I talked with the Gumby people during my APE coverage, following up on my conversation with them last year. Do stay tuned for more. Let’s just say that Mr. Burden is quite a loose cannon.
  • The Complete Review tracks literary coverage in The New Republic, and the results are not good for fiction: “But what is remarkable and disturbing is that coverage is predominantly — indeed, overwhelmingly — non-fiction focussed. The closest we get to fiction-coverage is now a review of Dave Eggers’ new book — subtitled an ‘Autobiography’, and even more obviously based on facts than most fiction. Is it Sam Tanenhaus’ influence on Wieseltier, rubbing off in all the wrong ways? Or a misguided attempt to be taken more seriously? Or just a brief bad streak?”
  • The NBCC has instituted a petition to save literary coverage at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Rather interestingly, my own signature has turned up as #666. But do help to get this in the four digits if you have a few spare minutes.
  • Ed Park’s first science fiction column for the Los Angeles Times is now up. And, unlike certain uneducated columnists named Dave on the East Coast, he clearly knows the genre. His first column focuses in part on the underrated Brian Aldiss.
  • Garth has provided a very handy walking tour of New York indie bookstores.
  • Tod Goldberg has an annotated guide to the L.A. Times Festival of Books.
  • Matthew Tiffany interviews Sheila Heti.
  • Tao Lin speculates on Cho Seung-Hui.
  • The New York Post goes after Michael Chabon.
  • Chip McGrath on the Amises.
  • Colm Tóibín sure knows how to write an attention-grabbing lede! (via Kenyon Review)
  • There’s no mention of the Agony Column, Pinky’s Paperhaus, Nextbook’s interesting offerings, or many other great literary podcasts, but if you’re looking for safe, corporate-subsidized podcasts that take no chances, you can do no better than the list from Open Culture.