Sam Tanenhaus’s Soul-Sucking Tentacles

Litkicks: “Rachel Donadio’s articles have no point of view. I’ve read at least ten of her essays or interviews in this publication in the last two years, and I have never once felt I had the slightest indication what she thought about her subject. She is the only regular NYTBR writer who does not ever deign to share a point of view with the reader. In theory, this type of dispassion could have some value — perhaps some sort of Joan Didion-esque blank journalistic resonance — but it would have to be handled more artistically to achieve this effect. When I read an article like today’s Donadio piece on Salman Rushdie, I simply feel empty and unsatisfied. I expect a New York Times Book Review writer to communicate some type of point of view to me, or else I’m eating a bowl of flavor-free ice cream. Rachel Donadio, what do you think about Salman Rushdie?”

I agree with Levi, with one vital qualifier: Donadio’s work at the Observer did have a point of view to share with the reader. Consider this sardonic 2004 report of BookExpo:

Nearby, Jonathan Karp, the boyish and rising (if not already risen) Random House senior vice president and editor in chief, aggressively introduced passers-by to Robert Kurson, a slightly frightened-looking author whose book, Shadow Divers , is about divers who find a U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. It is expected to do well.

Or this amusing Caitlin Flanagan report:

So she doesn’t wash the sheets, but she does sew buttons. Does she like to sew buttons? “I do like to sew buttons. I think it’s very rewarding that you can take a garment that’s shabby and unwearable and in this quick way you can really transform it,” she said. “It’s an easy little gift for me to give him.” Yet this is from the same woman who in her 2003 essay on Erma Bombeck wrote that “I have been married a total of fourteen years to a total of two men, and never once have I been asked to iron a single item of either man’s clothing or to replace even one popped button, for which I suppose I have the women’s movement to thank. But I realize now, late in the game, that we’d be much better off if I had a few of those skills.”

This is the kind of skepticism and juxtaposition that one expects from a literary reporter along these lines. But this playful tone — which once made Donadio’s pieces so much fun to read — has disappeared in recent years. Did Donadio check in her sense of humor upon signing on with Tanenhaus? What caused her work to become what Levi suggests is “empty and unsatisfied?”

I don’t think it’s an accident that things shifted the minute that Donadio signed on with the NYTBR. Just look at the soulless banter in Donadio’s latest piece and compare it with the Observer work. This wholesale evisceration of this journalist’s strengths into prose that resembles a humorless hack is yet another reason why the NYTBR needs several swift kicks in the ass. Good editors recognize life and do their best to cultivate and nurture a journalist’s voice. While this thankfully seems to be the case with Liesl Schillinger, whose reviews continue to remain engaging and enthusiastic (perhaps because Schillinger keeps herself at arm’s length as a freelancer), I think something terrible may have happened to Donadio when she succumbed to the moth effect.


  • Schedules being strange and wills being obdurate, the roundup comes the night before. In this week’s Los Angeles Times, the lead review is William T. Vollmann on Oliver August’s Inside the Red Mansion, a biography of Lai Chang-Xing, who Vollmann succinctly describes: “Here is someone who worked hard, took risks and knew whom to bribe.” There’s also a review of Tito Perdue’s new novel by Antoine Wilson. And Ed “I’ll Have a Better View of the Chrysler Building Collapsing Than the Other Ed If Matthew Sharpe’s Dire Predictions Come True” Park has a new column.
  • And what do we have on the other coast? Roy Blount, Jr. and Kathryn Harrison. But, alas, it’s all severely undercut by the obnoxious Joe Queenan, a lout who wouldn’t know euphoria even if he were surrounded by a million smart and shapely women.
  • And speaking of journalistic institutions, Scrivener’s Error, his views perhaps colored by an inveterate text message junkie, opines that Roger Ebert has lost it.
  • Never let it be said that Borders didn’t kowtow to the politically correct. The bookstore chain has moved the Tintin books from the children’s section to the adult graphic novels section, because the Tintin books feature racist stereotypes, but they also feature introductions alerting the reader to these stereotypes. But thankfully Borders has assumed that parents are incapable of making their own decisions, ensuring that their consumer base will remain a thoughtless herd and children will remain attracted to books that offend nobody. No word yet on whether Clement Hurd’s books will be placed behind the Borders counter, with a large sticker reading “SALE OF BOOKS CONTAINING AUTHOR PHOTOS WITH CIGARETTES TO PERSONS UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE IS PROHIBITED BY LAW.” (via Quill & Quire)
  • Robert Birnbaum talks with Thomas Mallon.
  • Needless hysteria doesn’t get any sillier than this. The Gowanus Lounge reports that some parents are declaring Carroll Park “unsafe for families” with “an increasingly unruly element” of kids. The police won’t do anything about the problem. What are these kids’ crimes? Three teenage boys were slapping each other around with some wet T-shirts and were getting a little too close to the mothers. The boys “pursued us and started snapping their wet shirts over the fence, spraying our children with the water and threatening me.” You know, this is the kind of stuff I usually experienced growing up. If this is the kind of over-the-top hysteria to be found within the five boroughs, I think I’m going to have to do a little bit of investigation here.
  • Is current wi-fi a problem?
  • Harry Potter hubris? “In the past few weeks, Warner’s London legal office has sent e-mails to booksellers and party organizers around the country, warning them against unauthorized celebrating, under the threat of legal action. ‘[Your event] appears to fall outside our guidelines,’ said one e-mail. ‘Therefore, HARRY POTTER cannot be used as a theme for your event.’ It should also be noted that some of these events actually benefit charities. (via Bibliophile Bullpen)
  • Well, if the folks at Warner Brothers are going to be such assholes about this, I call upon Return of the Reluctant readers for a plan! Why don’t we all set up Harry Potter-themed events around the country for next Saturday and see if Warner sends out emails to us? The Harry Potter-themed events must involve drinks, debauchery, BDSM sex parties (with everybody dressed up in leather or Hogwarts costumes), passing around a bong — pretty much anything guaranteed to be adult and well “outside guidelines.” It doesn’t have to be about Harry Potter, of course. Hell, you can all just get together in some bar and call it a “Harry Potter-themed night” for all I care. But if anyone wants to throw a “Harry Potter-themed” drinking session next week, feel free to email me or leave a comment and I will collect all the “Harry Potter-themed” drinking binges and keg-chugging contests in a future post!

Do Today’s Blogs Owe Much to Izzy Stone?

Neiman Watchdog: “Although Stone worked for decades vigorously tweaking authority as a daily journalist, editorial writer and essayist, it was in 1953 that he created the perfect outlet for his extraordinary mind, starting I.F. Stone’s Weekly, easily the scrappiest and most influential four-page newsletter ever sent through the U.S. mail. When Stone shut it down in 1971, the Weekly had 70,000 subscribers. In many ways, the Weekly was a blog before its time. In format, it was a combination of articles, essays and annotated excerpts from original documents and other people’s reporting — just like a blog. In content, it was a far cry from the passionless prose that afflicts so much mainstream political reporting. Like so many of today’s top bloggers, Stone built a community of loyal readers around his voice — an informed voice, full of outrage and born of an unconcealed devotion to decency and fair play, civil liberty, free speech, peace in the world, truth in government, and a humane society.”

Daily Kos to Sheehan: How Dare You Talk About Impeachment?

Cindy Sheehan on Daily Kos: “I can’t post here anymore because my potential run for Congress is not on the Democratic ticket.”

How dare Sheehan protest the failures of Democrats! How dare she call upon the Democrats to impeach Bush! Why, that doesn’t fall into the hard line of helping to elect Democrats!

It is this kind of willful censorship — of a blog unwilling to understand that there are people, left and right, who aren’t exactly happy with what the Democrats are doing — that is a huge part of the problem. The more that the Daily Kos turns its head away from those who are vocal about Democratic inadequacies, the more it resembles a self-serving tool rather than a forum for ideas. And how different is this mentality from a right-wing blog?

This hypocrisy is why I find the Daily Kos so unreadable.

The big blogs, in many ways, have become as mainstream as their print and television counterparts. And while I’m not completely opposed to mainstream media — in part because I have the perhaps foolish belief that some things can be changed within it — I worry whether bloggers sometimes advocate the status quo more than they should. A good blogger — never mind whether political or literary — should regularly question her own beliefs and be flexible to the idea that she is sometimes wrong about the people or the issues that she takes to task. It is this quality that promotes good thinking. It is this quality that permits a wider spectrum for debate among bloggers and readers.


“Visions and Violence” — Vollmann and Drew at the Whitney

There are indeed people in New York who are interested in William T. Vollmann. On Thursday night, accompanied by Marydell, Levi, and Jason, I attended the Whitney Museum “Summer of Love” lecture featuring photographer Richard Drew — the man behind the Falling Man photos — and, of course, Vollmann. There, I also met a smart Pynchon enthusiast by the name of Christopher Byrd, a guy named Doug (a Barth fan who I met in the lobby), and another gentleman named Ralph, who apparently discovered The Vollmann Club while trying to find information on the man to teach a class. There was also another pleasant gentleman who reads this site, but whose name I sadly don’t recall. I was pleasantly surprised that my announcement drew a few WTV fans out of the closet who apparently recognized me and were kind enough to say hello.

richarddrew.jpgDespite the event’s title “Vision and Violence,” I was particularly surprised that nobody had mentioned the Abu Ghraib photos during the course of the conversation. But both Vollmann and photographer Richard Drew had interesting things to say about the role of photography, of which more anon.

The moderator, whose name I neglected to jot down in my notes because of an unexpected shift in lighting that startled me, was a regrettably stiff gentleman who worked for The New Yorker. I feel that I can sufficiently call him stiff because, when Vollmann read a stirring passage (“The White Knights”) from The Rainbow Stories, the moderator stared at Vollmann the entire time, craning his neck like an affluent ostrich ensnared in the unexpected Swedish cold. I know that he was doing his best and was no doubt apprised by someone that discussing violence was a serious business. Nevertheless, it was a bit awkward to see the moderator, Vollmann, and Drew crammed around a small table on stage right, so that the same twenty-five photographic images — John Filo’s Kent State photo, Nick Út’s Vietnam napalm girl, Eddie Adams’s execution photo, et al. — could be projected on a large screen in front of the audience. But the talk itself was interesting, with Drew even becoming defensive near the end.

The moderator began by asking what the two men were doing during the Summer of Love. Vollmann replied that he was not even a teenager, but said that he remembered his mother driving him home from school, when Kennedy was assassinated. His mother was crying and couldn’t stand this news. The young Vollmann looked to the other cars and saw that other people were crying.

“How do you find your subject matter?” asked the moderator. (This was a sampling of the generalized questions he had at his disposal.) Drew indicated that his daily assignments are determined on a minute-by-minute basis. Recently, he had taken photos of “the girl from Harry Potter on the Today Show,” as well as a 280 point jump at the New York Stock Exchange. Vollmann said that his subject matter came from a desire to understand, learn, and help others. He remarked upon how the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had upset him, particularly when it started disappearing from the newspapers. His desire to help became “more attenuated.” Vollmann said that in all journalistic capacities, he wanted to give something to the people he met. In 1992 Sarajevo, Vollmann said that he “wanted understanding of who was more wrong.”

Upon Vollmann’s response, Drew became a bit rankled with this journalistic notion of helping people. “I’m not the Red Cross!” he insisted, shortly after declaring that he “records history every day.” Drew declared that there’s nothing political in what he does. And while one might argue that there may not be much of a political stake in photographing “the girl from Harry Potter” (I’m certain that future historians will be looking back at a Today Show publicity junket when chronicling the important moments of our time), are not Drew’s Falling Man photos political in some sense? Drew later mentioned that some newspapers thought it inappropriate to publish these photos. He also observed that this Channel 4 documentary (full one hour, eleven minute YouTube link) examining the subject of whether the photos were appropriate had not yet aired in the States. During the Q&A session that came later, Drew was adamant that he was not pushed around or pressured to shoot particular photos as an AP photographer. But surely a man with 37 years in the business understands that the decisions of editors and publishers to prioritize lionized firemen over a man plunging to his death from the Twin Towers is certainly political in nature. Without discounting Drew’s artistry as a photographer, surely a man who knows what photos are going to sell is more likely to tilt his lens in a certain direction if it will make ends meet. (Drew later confessed that, despite accepting nearly every assignment that came to him, he elected not to go to Iraq between the two wars because he had a kid on the way. It’s worth noting that Vollmann has continued to travel to faraway locales despite having a family to support, although, unlike Drew, he did not mention his family.)

Vollmann pointed out that he tried not to judge people — “at least not too early.” He offered a novelist’s comparison between flat and round characters, and pointed out distinction between understanding and telling, using an example of Muslims who had never heard of the Holocaust and couldn’t believe that it was true.

In response to the moderator’s question of whether the two men had observed the world becoming a more dangerous place, Drew again divested himself of politics, observing, “You don’t have to choose a side. You just have to be in the right place at the right time.” Vollmann didn’t think the world had become any more dangerous. But when the talk shifted to assignments, he pointed out that his only criteria in turning something down was (1) the publication not paying him enough and (2) whether his work is going to be helpful and worth the risk. Vollmann stated that if he were to go to Iraq today, he would have to think about it. “What good would it do? Would I have anything new to contribute?”

Concerning photography, Vollmann pointed out that he relied on Comtex cameras when going to a war zone because the lenses are very sharp and durable. For situations that are less dangerous, he relied on an 810. The photographs that Vollmann takes often allow his readers to get another sense of a person, such as some of the subjects that Vollmann included in Poor People.

Drew noted that photos tell the story and that he doesn’t have the luxury of 10,00 words. He had only one picture. The moderator noted that the Falling Man photos were “formally beautiful,” and in referring to his Falling Man photos, Drew pointed out that he had not experienced nearly as much controversy when he published his Kennedy photos.

Vollmann said that he didn’t face much in the way of restrictions. “A lot of people don’t read. So I don’t have too many problems.” He then referred to his Bosnia experience, when two friends of his were killed in a jeep. He said that he had the right and the duty to publish something, but that he didn’t want to publish pictures of their dead faces. He didn’t feel this ws right. Nevertheless, Vollmann said, “The job of the reporter is to show conflict, to show suffering.” So while in the back seat, he grabbed his notebook and started writing. Drew grew visibly uneasy over this and Vollmann simply responded, “They were already dead.” He pointed out that had that not been the case, he would have helped them.

Despite Drew’s quibbles over Vollmann’s personal concern for his subjects, Drew nevertheless pointed out that he would carry on taking photos without obtaining the permission of his subjects. Drew said that his motto was Shoot first, ask questions later. “I have to capture reality as it happens.”

Perhaps observing Drew’s growing discomfort, Vollmann then said that he doesn’t necessarily believe that Drew’s approach is wrong, but that his own approach involves “wanting to understand a person or event over time.” He said that it was important to earn the trust of his subjects. If he knew the subject, then he was more inclined to ask their permission. But when it come to depicting naked violence — such as an extreme Serbian nationalist shooting someone — “some of the rules don’t apply.”

nytdrew.jpgThe moderator then asked another regrettably general question: “What made you want to do what you want to do?” Vollmann said that he hopes that he can document moments in time. Drew pointed out that his photography started off as a hobby. When in college, a street sweeper had overturned. He took photos and, upon getting an offer for $5 for the picture or a free roll of film and a photo credit, he chose the latter. He then became a freelance photographer, constantly listening to the police scanner. Today, with digital demand, Drew said that “the beast has become more insatiable.”

Vollmann pointed out, “As the beast becomes more insatiable, it’s for more and more types of meat in smaller bytes.” He said that he was more inclined to write books and less inclined to write magazine pieces, because there was no longer the demand for 20,000 word stories, as there was in the ’90’s. But he also observed, “If your heart is really in something, no one’s going to stop you.”

When Don DeLillo’s Falling Man was brought up, Drew offered a remarkable story. When DeLillo’s book was reviewed in the NYTBR, the review came with an accompanying graphic for the cover. Without accreditation to Drew, it seems that Sam Tanenhaus’s team not only stole Drew’s image for the cover, but egregiously smudged out the figure of the man (see above image to left). Drew was understandably upset about this, simply asking for “credit where credit is due.” And it makes one wonder how many other images have been appropriated by Tanenhaus’s team without credit.

[UPDATE: Jason has a brief writeup, which also references the conversation that Vollmann and a good cluster of us had afterwards.]

[UPDATE 2: Marydell also has a report up.]

If James Wood or Daniel Mendelsohn Reviewed “Howl”

Once again, the Beatniks wish to tarnish the good name of realist literature — truly the only form of literature that’s good for you. The latest nonsense comes to us from a thirty-year-old whipper-snapper from San Francisco fond of reciting obscenities. It is rather childishly called “Howl.”

Let us examine this “poem”‘s first few lines:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
ment roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the

And so on. Ginsberg cannot get to the point. He prefers nonsensical religious imagery like “angelheaded hipsters” and “Mohammedan angels.” He cannot put the adjective before “tenement roofs” like a proper writer.

If I were forced to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey after several shots of Stoli, I could easily identify this, without effort, as the kind of prose fashionable among the beret-wearing riff-raff who declare themselves “artists” or “poets” or “writers.” What does Ginsberg mean by ‘dragging themelves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix?’ Streets are not racial! How is a fix angry? One does not bare one’s brain to Heaven. There is no El in San Francisco last time I checked. Ginsberg can’t even decide on what one must hallucinate. Is it Arkansas or Blake-light tragedy?

I certainly cannot see any literary scholar taking such a preposterous poem seriously fifty years from now.


  • Paul Shaffer will be writing a memoir. You can be absolutely sure that the man who has sucked up to Letterman for three decades will offer the kind of penetrating insight that good books are known for.
  • I saw this cover at a bookstore last night and I have had extremely horrible ideas about furniture. I pondered the sounds that the chairs would make, should such a coupling go down. Sure, there would be some squeaks. But would the chairs find a way to express their euphoria? It struck me that if the chairs were silent about their activity, it would be a very sad thing. Like anyone, they certainly have the right to enjoy themselves. I’m not sure who came up with this book cover, but I’d like to thank them for making me see chiffoniers schtupping dinettes and making me wonder if I should meticulously wipe the chair before I sit down.
  • I’m with Darby. I seem to be the last person on the planet who hasn’t read Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. But I do plan to rectify this very soon. If recent responses are any indication, I should end up dancing with strangers, telling everybody I know that Tom McCarthy is better than oral sex, and otherwise getting into a euphoric tizzy over the book. All this is assuming that the book lives up. I suspect I’ve avoided the book because I read it after everybody said that it was cool and I’m supposed to be one of those guys who reads these books before everybody else. Then again, I enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s The Road after I read it at a much later time than was acceptable. Perhaps I’m simply late on the draw with authors named “McCarthy.” For this, I’m sorry. If you’re a talented author named McCarthy, get in touch with me nine months before your book comes out and I’ll promise to read you before the cool kids.
  • Steve Mitchelmore wonders if we’re living in a new age of anxiety about art: “What we see every week is anxiety about personal exclusion. It would be better if critics, rather than hiding, mitigating or condemning the exclusion, brought out how the dual experience is liberating.” I couldn’t agree more.
  • A reason to read this month’s Playboy for the articles.
  • Carolyn points to Luna Park — a helpful blog investigating literary magazines.
  • $3.75MM for a vampire trilogy? Okay, Elizabeth Kostova was one thing. And we all know Max Brooks moved units. But when you have publishing insiders merely gushing, “It is totally awesome,” one wonders if the people who purchased this are aware of just what they are getting into. How do the words “totally awesome” transfer into making back this investment? And were the words “totally awesome” uttered by the person who signed the check?
  • I am now convinced that we will see a spate of “Why did science fiction become so popular?” articles in the next year. “Why did science fiction become so popular?” is the next “Comic books are literary too!” If you have to ask what’s going on, you simply aren’t paying attention.
  • The 30 Most Popular News Sites in June.
  • Kevin Spacey is, according to the BBC, set “to reprise Superman role.” That’s funny. I thought he played Lex Luthor in Superman Returns.

Craig Davidson vs. Jonathan Ames

As regular readers know, back in the day, I made a deal with a man at a crossroads who pledged to give me a mysterious potato salad recipe (along with guitar lessons), if I would continue to reference the adventures of Jonathan Ames. Well, I’ve been doing this for quite a while. And there hasn’t been a potato salad recipe sent to my mailbox. So I thought that I would begin to take my involvement on the Ames reporting front to the next level.

Somehow, I’ve been coaxed by very pleasant people to be a part of the Craig Davison-Jonathan Ames “exhibition sparring event” (note the new terminology) that’s happening at Gleason’s Boxing Gym (83 Front Street) on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 8:00 PM. (If you heard about this event before, please note the new venue. Apparently, an amateur boxing law prohibiting opponents who were more than ten years apart in age from fighting forced the event’s organizers to find a new venue.)

At the very least, I hope to offer a few between-rounds interviews with Davidson and Ames for a future installment of The Bat Segundo Show. (Mr. Ames and I have been trying to get a third Segundo interview set up for some months now.) But I may also be involved, in part, with emceeing this event. If this turns out to be the case, having never announced a boxing match before, I plan to dutifully study the history of past boxing announcers and give it my all. That’s the very least I can do under the circumstances. A lot of this, of course, depends upon the organizers and my recurrent laryngitis, which is not fully recovered but well on the way to being gone.

But don’t let my dubious participation stop you from attending what is surely one of the craziest literary publicity stunts seen in some time. Here are two writers who would willingly beat the shit out of each other to promote their names. Would you go that distance?

Here’s the flyer:


Jeff Bridges as Graydon Carter?

Variety: “U.K. law firm Davenport Lyons brokered the deal with majority funder Aramid Entertainment backed by hedge fund coin. Project, reputedly carrying a $20 million budget, is also being developed with the U.K. Film Council, Film4, InTandem Films and the Irish Film Board….Cast for ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’ includes Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst and Jeff Bridges as Vanity Fair’s flamboyant editor Graydon Carter.”

Fly With One Eye Open / Gripping Your Van Dyke Tight

Yahoo: “Metallica singer James Hetfield was investigated by UK airport officials who believed he was a terrorist this week, it has been claimed. The star was barred entry to Luton airport on Thursday and questioned by staff who were concerned about his appearance. Fears that Hetfield might be involved in terrorism were apparently founded on his ‘Taliban-like beard’, according to The Times.”


  • Apparently, the Chicago Sun-Times wants to redefine itself as a liberal, working-class paper. Presumably, this is a clever ploy to pay the staff abysmal salaries. But no matter. What is most interesting here is that Books Editor Cheryl Reed has become the Editorial Page Director. Does this mean the Books section is dead?
  • Dan Green on Tom McCarthy’s Remainder.
  • Sebastian Faulks has written a new James Bond novel.
  • Daft Punk: “The encore was just fantastic. two red lines were released from the pyramid, travelling around the outer frame like a game of snake, entering back into the pyramid at the base, then upwards until the lines connected with the artists, transforming their robot costumes into glowing red outlines.” At the next show, the encore will involve three green lines extending into a middle finger and then a series of words across the pyramid reading “WE ARE DAFT PUNK AND YOU ARE SUCKERS! WE TOOK YOUR MONEY BECAUSE YOU ARE EASILY AMUSED BY LIGHTS! NEXT TIME, OUR AVARICE WILL BE HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER!” The crowd will nevertheless be wowed by the “performance” of two guys resembling a bad Tron ripoff. Look, I like Daft Punk as much as the next guy and perhaps in piecemeal (say, in a festival environment with several other bands, as I saw them a few years ago at Coachella), their postmodern presence works. But what makes their stage act anything more than a needlessly gargantuan planetarium laser show? Does watching two guys in robot suits and lots of lights extruding from a pyramid really justify the $50 ticket purchase? Particularly if one is way in the back? That’s all I’m saying.
  • “How to Write the Great American Novel.”
  • Here’s one reason to be less liberal about ordaining reverends.
  • RIP Doug Marlette. The cartooning world needs more provocateurs.
  • Motoko Rich investigates the phenomenon of Sara Greun, who built up her reputation entirely on word-of-mouth and even beat out two Oprah books this summer. Wait a minute! I thought television had whacked the novel!
  • And if reading is dead, why then are more Brits reading books now than in 1975?
  • Publishers Weekly examines the seemingly limitless social networking sites devoted to books.
  • EW offers a literary stars list. I’d deem it dubious, had not EW included Warren Ellis on the list, who observed of writing Crooked Little Vein, “It came down to banging out a thousand words a day in the pub before I started the day’s comics work. If it wasn’t for Red Bull and Silk Cut cigarettes, the damn thing would never have seen the light of day.”
  • Good Christ, people are talking about Jane Austen! But is there any real cause for alarm here? (via Isak)
  • OK Computer turned ten today? Christ, I’m getting old.
  • Colleen on mysterious houses.
  • How to get that literary guy’s attention. I’m no great fan of Anne Rice, but if you’re going to badmouth her, at least least spell her name right. (“Grammar is everything,” my ass.) And wait a minute, isn’t it the guy who’s supposed to walk up to a girl and get her attention? I fear that several young men with good intentions will be laid astray by Adam’s well-intended advice. (Adam, what the hell’s going on, sir? Put down that issue of Maxim posthaste!) Lounging about and waiting for something to happen will not cut the mustard! Action is needed! Why not simply walk up to a lady and ask about the book she’s reading? From there, after the inevitable trial and error, great conversational and flirtatious possibilities await!

Finally, Someone in the NBCC Who Plays Doubting Thomas

Considering all the hysteria that transformed Critical Mass in mere months into one of the most laughable blogs professing to concern itself with books, I must nevertheless commend the NBCC for offering Kansas City Star books editor John Mark Eberhart’s thoughtful and quasi-contrarian post, which offers the most plain and humble argument on the situation so far. In self-effacing words devoid of the off-putting and humorless self-importance seen before, Eberhart observes that the hue and cry to save books coverage may very well be encouraging top tier editors to initiate the death knell. As Eberhart puts it:

And I just hope the NBCC is successful in making things better. I have to ask, though: Did the campaign change any minds, really, in Atlanta?

Things change. Societies evolve. The Internet is not going away, barring some catastrophic event (I’m trying not to grin right now; I confess I sometimes have a rather twisted imagination). And as things change, journalism reflects those changes. There is an old, old tension in this business: Are we supposed to be a catalyst for what is “right,” or are we supposed to be a mirror or reflecting pool, showing society its true nature?

I certainly hope Eberhart’s realistic considerations of what is now happening in media and his call for sanity initiates a more constructive conversation for this very important issue.


  • I must concur with Brian Raftery. It is absolutely criminal that The Bees’ fantastic third album, Octopus, which may very well be one of the best albums of the year, has received as much attention in the States as an obnoxious experimental film from an obscure Danish filmmaker playing on a mere three screens. The Bees have shifted away from Free the Bees‘s highly energetic homage to 1960s soul, slipping one decade further into 1970s summer radio to find a striking maturity that combines a more nuanced quirkiness, emotional sincerity, and the dependable enthusiasm of veteran music lovers who know when to steal hooks and when to improve upon them. From the bluesy opener “Who Cares What the Question Is?” to the tight ballad “Listening Man,” the drumming (alternating between Michael Clevett and singer Paul Butler; like a dependable garage band unafraid to tailor its sound, the band members swap instrumental roles quite a bit on the album) is reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell — never using more fills than it needs to and keeping things basic. Paul Butler has shifted away from crooning like Jim Morrison and John Lennon, to fall into the custom of Englishmen shamelessly impersonating R&B singers. If the radio stations were less in the pockets of corpulent music companies and if they actually gave two damns about music, then I truly believe that this would be the summer album to be heard at kickback siestas. Don’t believe me? Well, check out these tunes. Alas, the band only appears to have made a dent on its native soil. Which also means no U.S. tour dates. The Bees deserve better treatment.
  • Howard Junker: “The worst thing a writer can do is to launch an internal editor during the writing process. Nothing could be more stifling.” Oh, I don’t know about that. Without discounting the need for an editor, I should point out to Mr. Junker that T.C. Boyle is a prolific novelist of some considerable talent and Boyle writes all of his novels in a “continuous first draft,” constantly tinkering to get the words right. I don’t believe there’s any uniform manner to writing a novel, except to get to the end of the damn thing. What matters most is not how one gets there, but what the finished product entails. [UPDATE: Here’s the video for “Listening Man.” Alternate link to The Bees videos: here.]
  • I’m convinced that the Boston Herald could have come up with a less obvious headline for this story. (via Jeff)
  • Dubious, straw-grasping lede of the week: “When Bob Dylan sang, ‘To live outside the law you must be honest,’ he probably wasn’t thinking of seventeenth-century pirate captains.”
  • Hack interviewer meets hack novelist.
  • CAAF + About Last Night! Tangerine Teachout?
  • Peter Craven offers a more interesting angle to the “novel is dead” argument than others. He believes that the only way to save literature is to film it. While I am more optimistic than Mr. Craven about literature’s ability to persevere, there is some validity to his argument. The idea here doesn’t involve looking the other way like a coward and flailing one’s hands up in the air without any clear-cut solutions upon hearing people talking about The Sopranos. Why not have more anthology series on television that use short stories or novellas as their source material? In fact, this was precisely the case for the anthology series from the 1950s Consider some of the writers who got their material adapted on Playhouse 90: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Horton Foote, John P. Marquand, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway. Or consider this list of writers from Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stanley Ellin, Roald Dahl, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Cornell Woolrich, A.A. Milne (!), and John Cheever. (Alas, I must bemoan the disproportionate lack of women here, but the point stands.) Even as television was getting its start, the producers knew that quality material could be found by employing literary people and the television writing gigs enabled these writers to continue their craft in the printed word. Whether any of this had any direct correlation to these writers’ print sales is difficult to say. But when I see a David Chase or a David Simon trying to bring a more literary approach to television, I see possibilities for convergence and a support system for writers. I see someone trying to up the game of narrative in all mediums. And it’s all considerably more constructive than the kind of “novel is dead” bullshit I’d expect from some guy with a THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH placard strapped to his corpus, ringing a bell at Times Square. (via Orthofer)
  • James Wood on Falling Man.
  • Happy birthday, Mr. VanderMeer!
  • So here’s the big question. In the wake of the D.C. Madam phone list, will Steely Dan pen a new song called “Rikki Do Lose That Number?”
  • Peter Davison as King Arthur in Spamalot! Brilliant casting!

Tao Lin’s Intern Army is Out of Control!

I am unsure why a correspondent (who I shall not name in the interests of retaining her privacy) has deemed me responsible for what Tao Lin’s Intern Army (recently trademarked) does in promoting Tao’s books. I am neither employed by Melville House, nor do I represent Tao Lin in any capacity. But at the risk of participating in a potentially fabricated and guileful publicity masterstroke from Tao’s Intern Army, a correspondent (does she work for the New York City Transit Authority?) has written to me to complain about a sticker currently affixed to the top surface of a turnstile at the 14th Street — Union Square station. She has even helpfully sent me a copy of Section 1050.5 of the Rules governing public safety, demonstrating quite clearly that the mysterious individual who had the temerity to place the sticker on the turnstile (nay, THE HUBRIS AND THE EFFRONTERY to sully the Great City of New York in such an insolent manner!) has clearly broken the law.

Well, this may indeed be the case. But surely such a sticker-specific blasphemy is not exactly going to, as this correspondent puts it, “alienate book customers and readers in the city.”

Then again, I’m new here. So for all I know, all New York book customers and readers are highly sensitive to incongruous stickers, particularly those illegally placed on a subway seat or a newspaper kiosk. Perhaps, such a sight causes the book customer to see sudden flashes of light, hear the voice of Elijah Wood instructing them to exact justice, and thereby enter the clean and noble McNally Robinson with a semiautomatic to retaliate for a CLEAR WRONG against the City of New York.

You tell me.

The onus, of course, falls upon the Tao Lin Intern Army. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen Fritz Lang’s M more times than I should. And if such unwarranted blasphemies continue, I will gather together a vigilante mob, hunt Tao Lin down, and interrogate Tao Lin in German, uploading the resultant black-and-white video onto YouTube, whereby the Great Democracy of New York can make their final judgment.

[UPDATE: It appears that this correspondent also left a comment on Tao’s blog.]

And Besides, Can You Really Trust a Grump Who Believes that Kate Atkinson Isn’t Very Good?

Alex Good: “But overall I have a hard time believing that the internet constitutes any kind of an alternative to mainstream book reviewing. Indeed they may be even more corrupt, compromised, and commercialized, more of a personality-driven ‘performance art,’ more of a hysterical scream for attention, than what we see in print.”

Actually, if you want to discuss what constitutes “a hysterical scream for attention,” Good’s inept essay is about as hysterical — for both author and reader alike — as foolish screams come. I particularly like Good’s faux footnotes, which suggest some explicit examples to prove his flaccid argument, only to offer more hysteria — and sometimes fabricated hysteria taken out of context — from other sources!

Personal Meme

Rachel Kramer Bussel has tagged me for a meme. And who am I to deny her? So here goes:

1. I believe I may have written about this before, but in the second grade, I was apparently considered “special” and “gifted” after being asked to go to my elementary school on a very hot Saturday morning and participating in some tests that involved spatial dimensions, memory, and verbal skills. The man who tested me, upon seeing my results, began speaking to me in an extremely quiet and nurturing tone. I saw him speak to other adults, who likewise pointed to me. Frankly, now and then, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I will be the first to confess that I try to do my best, but that it often isn’t good enough to satisfy me. But this did permit me to enter into a GATE program, where I was bussed once a week to another school and encouraged to think and create. But since I was given nothing specific in the way of ideas or guidelines, since I didn’t have nearly as many books as some of the other richer, middle-class students had, I ended up getting an incredible crush on an older girl named Kristin, spending my time combating a horrible diffidence that crippled me for many years. But I did end up experiencing my first kiss — I don’t count the other pecks I received in preschool and kindergarten, which were more predicated upon “girls are icky” games in the schoolyard — after I gave her a box of After Eight mints that one of the men my mother had dated — a New Yorker, who tried to offer paternal advice to me over the phone — convinced my mother to spring for. The box of mints was six bucks. No small purchase back in those days.

2. As further evidence of my incongruous smarts, I ended up on a Knowledge Bowl team in seventh grade, where I was roundly ridiculed for my ratty clothes and how apparently stupid I was. It wasn’t my idea to be on the Knowledge Bowl. My English teacher, who was miffed when I once defended Stephen King’s virtues by stuttering my points in front of the class, had the idea of putting me on the team. I obliged him and I didn’t know why. We participated in the initial round by staring at a primitive computer terminal — a TRS-80, as I recall — that was linked to several other schools over what now seems the flimsiest of networks, but was then cutting edge. There were a few cases where I knew some obscure answer, although I felt tremendously dumb because my geography and science horrible. But I was very good at language, and remembering painters and musicians. And I saved the team from a defeat by offering a few eleventh-hour answers: both through this computer-based contest and during a later one, conducted live in front of parents and other kids. The other kids on the team — again, much richer and better dressed than me — still viewed me as a dork and a dumbass. For all I knew, they might have been right. But I did find a few other misfits who I got along with. In addition to introducing me to The Prisoner, a television series I still hold in high regard, they also taught me how to use a ten-sided die and encouraged me to do something called “DMing.” There, I invented a remarkably complex universe and tried to account for every conceivable choice that the other players would make, creating a document of what-ifs that was somewhere around thirty handwritten pages. (I also had a tendency to create fictitious countries, complete with economies and demographics. I submitted one such country, using a yeast concoction to generate three-dimensional mountains and carefully painting over it, to my history teacher.)

3. Other failed contests along these lines — my efforts debilitated by my unshakable shyness — included getting to the district spelling bee and, with three kids remaining, misspelling “leopard” by stuttering the O (“l…e…ooooooo…p…a..r…d”) because I was so nervous (I whispered “Whew!” into the mike after spelling a word correctly, where the whoosh from my lips would reverberate across the PA system); being invited to perform at a school district choir before puberty and hiding from everybody, until a kind dark-haired girl took an interest in me and told me what a great singer I was and that the choir needed me and somehow coaxed me onto stage; and, in ninth grade, getting very far in a school district speech contest, only to become very nervous because I had a crush on a redhaired girl named Stacey. But she was a Bush supporter in ’88 who hated my guts and was very resolute in letting me know it. (There was also a malicious, dark-haired Republican-in-training named Louis, who did everything in his powers to make my life miserable, including mocking my stutter, ridiculing my Marshall’s-purchased sweaters, and, in particular, not even permitting me to be a third-string class clown.)

4. Politically, I was a late bloomer. It was 1988, when a very tall senior named Chris, son of a very political man and a kind-hearted laidback guy who ran an underground newspaper (and asked me to write for it, which I did) and who showed me the ropes on how to light a theatrical play, asked me if I was liberal and made me understand what being a liberal entailed, that I realized I was an opinionated young progressive lout. I didn’t understand then why everybody was going after Tip O’Neill. And as soon as my liberalism was out, several hippie chicks in my drama class wanted to corrupt me. But I was too shy then to let them do this. I was, as I believe I have imputed in the previous paragraphs, a fool.

5. 1988 was also the year in which something I wrote was actually performed. It wasn’t much — a play called Inspired Lunacy: Or I Think This is a Big Mistake — very much modeled on Douglas Adams, the Three Stooges, and the Marx Brothers. Two other guys helped write this: a short guy named Chris and a guy named Eric who everybody hated. I deliberately took the third credit, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I shamelessly lifted gags that I had seen pulled off in other mediums. But what I learned with this play was that the humor I came up — which, with the exceptions of a few kind teachers and students, I thought pretty crappy — generated laughter, but that the stuff I stole didn’t. This encouraged me to go into crazier areas, such as a literal adaptation of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” a few years later, which set the murderous events over a suburban teenage party. I wrote and starred in that fifteen-minute theatrical piece, but it was the first time I had seen my material directed by somebody else. The director was extremely ambitious, using crazed gel lighting. In my bedroom, I practiced my murderous fall for hours so that it would be fairly convincing, angering the family (“How dare you make that noise!”) with my many thumps. The idea of my theatrical adaptation was to present something comical and end it with something startling and sad. I think this was my way of communicating the unpleasant domestic situation to my classmates.

6. Only a few years after the Poe hijinks, I spent far too many hours examining Buster Keaton’s moves on grainy VHS tapes and second-hand DVDs, trying to fall like him. When girlfriends asked where my bruises came from, I never offered an answer. I was not as shy as I had been as a kid, but I was still ashamed of who I was.

7. One of my favorite bars in my twenties was a neighborhood dive called Kelly’s Bar and No Grill (later turned into Pittsburgh’s Pub under new ownership). I’d spend hours there listening to conversations because I learned fairly quickly that the place was where former convicts would go in and get set up. It was sometimes a rough place. (I once witnessed a knife fight there, which, in my youthful folly and idealism, I actually attempted to stop. Thankfully, I was not stabbed.) But I learned more about people just by sitting there during happy hour and listening. I often went alone. But then friends discovered the place and we played darts. By then the riff-raff had dissembled. And it became a pleasant, but fairly run-of-the-mill dive.

8. My skin thickened considerably when I worked for a particular mean attorney. His personal remarks and observations were often extremely vicious, but I began to see how utterly absurd they were and they melted off my Teflon shell. So I have to thank him tremendously for toughening me up. He also inspired the Businessman character in my 2004 play, Wrestling an Alligator.

Anyway, time to pass the meme on. Here are the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

And here are the people I pass this onto (only eight? So unfair!):

Jeff Bryant

Sarah Weinman

Mark Sarvas

Tayari Jones

Jason Boog

Levi Asher

SJ of I, Asshole

Shauna of What’s New Pussycat


  • Ms. Skurnick had the BOOG. Mr. Sarvas has Mrs. TEV. And now Ms. Stockton, flush from her recent honeymoon (and again congrats!), has the ALP. Acronyms, of course, are how we litbloggers celebrate our loved ones. So I henceforth refer to my own as ILWYDFM (quack quack quack quack), leaving the explanation a strange mystery.
  • Experimental collective autobiography? Ron Silliman points to three volumes of The Grand Piano, an ongoing title he is involved with.
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Kugler badly miscalculated the public’s mood when he assumed viewers would want to see O.J. Simpson films after the ex-football star was acquitted in his double murder trial in 1995.” I should say so.
  • In an effort to take all the salt and vinegar out of the English language, Random House has introduced a dubious method of avoiding insensitive and offensive language in their latest lexicons. The new Random House Webster’s College Dictionary now has an “Offensiveness Quotient.” I find it interesting that, in Random House’s examples, “queer” is noted as “a positive term of self-reference” in the gay community, whereas “nigger”‘s use along these lines in the African-American community is not. This suggests that oversensitive and sheltered Caucasians represent the ideal audience for this family friendly dictionary. The problem with dictating an “Offensiveness Quotient” (and what’s the OQ for “fuck” or “niggardy?”) is that, considering the social and ethnic context, one would have to take each word usage on a case-by-case basis. And, of course, there are only so many pages. So I must ask what words will fall by the wayside as these new OQ items occupy needless space? Is it not more valuable for the student of English to get out in the world and get into a few unexpected multicultural fistfights? Or must our dictionaries now reflect our regrettable hand-holding culture without a single reference to the famous Lenny Bruce routine? (via Quill and Quire)
  • Not everyone is excited about Catherine Texier’s David Markson review. As Carolyn rightly points out, NYTBR grammar often leaves much to be desired.
  • Bad enough that we’re seeing hipster librarians, but, because some folks insist on resorting to aesthetic generalizations, will we start seeing hipster comic book guys?
  • Justin Theroux: “New York chicks, girls who are really from here, are the fastest women around.” He says this like it’s a bad thing. Prude.
  • It’s been decades since I read the Berserker books. Bummer. RIP Fred T. Saberhagen.
  • I’ll have more to say about Roy Blount, Jr.’s very funny book, Long Time Leaving, once I finish it (as well as a few other books from other Southern writers I’ve been enjoying). But in the meantime, here’s a Star review.
  • Guardian: “For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life.” This foolish lede must be the British answer to “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.”
  • Between that and Freeman’s article, that’s two extremely silly Guardian articles within days. What the hell’s going on over there? Is the books editor asleep at the wheel? But I like the Guardian. Really, I do. So if they happen to be reading this, here’s how to do a provocative 700 word article right.
  • Question for the Times. I like Ian Rankin just fine, thank you very much, but how is this serial “funny” exactly? Or are there really that many humorless people in the Times building? Since I’m known from time to time to consult with dubious individuals, I think the only way to cure this problem is to get David Orr and Joe Queenan into a conference room, with each talking for ten minutes. Every Gray Lady employee must then decide which of the two gentlemen is funnier. Should the Gray Lady employee recognize the former as “funnier,” then management should promote them to a higher editorial position. Should the Gray Lady employee recognize the latter as “funnier,” then they must enlist in a six-week comedy camp retreat, where they can then return to the Times offices with a full understanding of the Marx Brothers, Dorothy Parker, Richard Pryor, and Chris Morris. This is the only remedy I know that will solve this regrettable problem.
  • Joyce Carol Oates on amnesiac novels, but I’m sure she’s forgetting something.

Gunter’s Such a Great Guy!

I’m with Orthofer. How precisely does John Irving’s “Give my buddy Gunter a chance” piece tell us anything about Peeling the Onion? By this sleazy standard, one would expect Tanenhaus to sully the NYTBR further by publishing a 4,000 word essay authored by one of George Bush’s remaining friends, telling us to look the other way on the unethical commutation of Scooter Libby because Bush is such a great guy to have a beer with.

This is the kind of self-serving approach that belongs in a stag club’s meeting notes, not a weekly publication that purports to cover the arts and humanities.

The Marketplace Decides, Diversity Fails

Net neutrality is on its way to being gutted. Time Warner has rammed a bulk mail rate increase that severely undercuts small periodicals. Small presses are dying and quirky imprints like Thunder’s Mouth are being gutted.

And remember the Fairness Doctrine shot down by Reagan? Well, it seems that the Republicans want to bring back the debate through the dubiously named Broadcaster Freedom Act (PDF).

It seems that letting the issue die twenty years ago wasn’t enough. One of Senator Sam Rayburn’s great legislative accomplishments — The Communications Act of 1934 — is being completely destroyed — even with the enthusiastic help of many Democrats. Here is the clause in question:

Notwithstanding section 303 or any other provision of this Act or any other Act authorizing the Commission to prescribe rules, regulations, policies, doctrines, standards, or other requirements, the Commission shall not have the authority to prescribe any rule, regulation, policy, doctrine, standard, or other requirement that has the purpose or effect of reinstating or repromulgating (in whole or in part) the requirement that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance, commonly referred to as the ‘Fairness Doctrine’, as repealed in General Fairness Doctrine Obligations of Broadcast Licensees, 50 Fed.Reg. 35418 (1985).

Congress wants to ensure that the FCC never considers the concept of the Fairness Doctrine ever again.

The Oreganian has a solid overview of the Fairness Doctrine, which revisits the failed 2005 efforts to re-adopt the Fairness Doctrine through the Media Ownership Reform Act and offers this telling quote from Representative Greg Walden:

Among the five stations Walden owns is KACI, which airs conservative talk shows such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Reagan. While the stations offer some local, objective news reporting, they don’t balance the conservative talkers with liberal shows.

Walden acknowledges the rightward slant of talk radio but attributes it to consumer demand.

“Is it more conservative than liberal? Yeah,” Walden said. “Are there a lot more country-western stations than polka stations? Yeah. Listeners make these determinations. The marketplace decides.”

Save Net Neutrality!

Reuters: “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission warned Wednesday against regulations to ensure providers of high-speed Internet service treat all content the same way, saying such rules could stifle innovation. Network neutrality proposals, backed by Internet content companies like Google Inc. and eBay Inc., would bar Internet providers from charging extra fees to guarantee access to the Internet or give priority to some content. In a report, the FTC sided with high-speed Internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon, saying the government should be cautious about imposing such regulations.”

Folks, this is extremely horrible news. Ending net neutrality means that the Internet is a place where only those who can pay for it are capable of expressing themselves — in effect, turning the democratic foundations of the Internet into something no different from other media. Kill off net neutrality and Internet freedom of speech becomes dedicated to those who can pay for it.

The FCC has launched a public inquiry into the matter. You now have seven days before the consideration period is over. Act now to save net neutrality and maintain the Internet!

Apparently, Today’s Librarians Now Guzzle Down $4 Mojitos and Can’t Wait to Tell You About Funeral for a Friend

New York Times: “On a Sunday night last month at Daddy’s, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, more than a dozen people in their 20s and 30s gathered at a professional soiree, drinking frozen margaritas and nibbling store-bought cookies. With their thrift-store inspired clothes and abundant tattoos, they looked as if they could be filmmakers, Web designers, coffee shop purveyors or artists.”

I don’t know what to be more alarmed by in this article: the Times only just discovering that librarians don’t always live up to the bespectacled stereotype (something that has been common knowledge for quite some time now) or the librarian hipster angle. The last thing you need when asking for a roll of microfilm is some languorous asshole giving you an ironic answer.

“Hi there! How’s it going? Can I get the November 1978 New York Times?”

“1978. Man, that was the year of Lou Reed’s live album. The one where he talks about the origin of ‘Walk on the Wild Side.'”

“Yes. Actually, can I just get the microfilm please?”

“Dude, don’t you dig Reed? Reed is why I moved to New York! Or are you one of those guys who believes a Welshman did most of the work for the VU?”

“I just need the microfilm, thanks.”

“Answer my question: Reed or Cale?”

“Is this Satellite Records or the New York Public Library?”

“I’m not going to give you the microfilm until you lay your cred down, son.”

“Alright, pops. Can you please give me the fucking microfilm before I physically demonstrate the meaning of ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song?'”

(Thanks, Jeff Severs!)

Orville Prescott: The Michiko of His Time

From the years 1942-1966, Orville Prescott served as the main daily book critic for the New York Times. It would seem to me, based on some of Prescott’s remarkable assessments, that Michiko Kakutani’s hostility against nearly almost anything fictional fits in with a long Gray Lady tradition of daily critics who remain mostly hostile to fiction.

On Lolita: “‘Lolita,’ then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.”

On Catch-22: “‘Catch-22,’ by Joseph Heller, is not an entirely successful novel. It is not even a good novel. It is not even a good novel by conventional standards.”

On The Floating Opera: “Most of this odd novel is dull. Most of its humor is labored and flat. Some of its heavy-handed attempts to shock seem cheap in a juvenile and nasty way rather than sophisticated or realistic, as they probably were intended.” (Never mind that Barth’s first novel is a beautifully twisted satire of Camus.)

Is a Little Seen John Barth Film Adaptation a Lost Masterpiece?

Bold words from Lee Hill:

I know this is a minority view, but I think End of The Road is some kind of masterpiece, a tattered signpost pointing to a road not taken by American cinema. The New Hollywood of the late sixties and early seventies, like most new waves, promised more than it could deliver. As great as the work of Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg was in the seventies, their politics was often safely couched in genre or pyrotechnical display. If Road had been even a modest success, Avakian might have joined Robert Altman or John Cassavettes in creating a more rigorous brand of new American cinema.

Interestingly, the film was written by Terry Southern. Sadly, it appears unavailable on VHS and DVD.