Freedom Babies

If, like me, you’re one of those people who ponder too much over why things are the way they are, considering why specific colors and symbols are chosen to reflect concepts and the like, Lynn Peril has revealed a partial answer to why boys are associated with blue and girls are associated with pink. It turns out that these hues weren’t always assigned this way. According to Lynn:

Prior to the mid-19th century, babies usually wore white. Then a trendsetter in France got the bright idea to identify girls with pink and boys with blue. In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), artistic Amy March puts blue and pink ribbons on her sister’s newborn twin boy and girl “French fashion, so you can always tell” them apart.

So we can blame the French for all this claptrap. I intend to track down this mysterious trendsetter and determine what other contributions he made to society at large.

BSS #133: William Gibson


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Puzzled by cyberspace.

Author: William Gibson

Subjects Discussed: Coats, blankets, and carapaces in Gibson’s fiction, textures, characters with shaved heads, on not having technological issues, the Apple Store, cell phones and the natural street state, obsolete technology and thrift shops, ZX81s, VR, sitting atop the technological anthill, the internal combustion engine, how to escape being handcuffed with a piece of a ball point pen, the origin of Blue Ant, color taxonomies, Belgians, locative art, rock ‘n roll novels from the 1960s, the downsides of sitting in a SFWA suite, Bobby Chombo, cigarettes, Cory Doctorow, GPS plausibilities, celebrity deaths, Philip K. Dick, Milgram and Dr. Stanley Milgrim, Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, ghostly connections between Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, tripartite plot structures, writing while not knowing what was in the suitcase, extra-terrestrial artifacts in Baghdad, how to confuse John Clute, the historical record being determined by Wikipedia and Google results, Google Maps and street view, lonelygirl15, YouTube, Japanese behavioral protocols, responding to Ed Park’s theory about the old man and Win being the same character, unreliable narrators, and Iain Sinclair.


Correspondent: We were talking about the nature of blankets and coats that are in your work, that often protect the characters’ bodies.

Gibson: Warmy blankies in the work of William Gibson! Well, did you notice that a lot? Is it just that book? Is there something I’ve been…?

Correspondent: It’s also in Pattern Recognition, with Cayce and her — the blanket that she actually shifts with as well.

Gibson: Well…

Correspondent: That industrial. And then she eventually goes back to natural blankets near the end.

Gibson: Could this be — could this be the 21st century equivalent of rain-soaked neon?

Correspondent: It could be.

Gibson: The warmy blanky? Maybe so. Maybe so.

Correspondent: Well, maybe it goes back to Neuromancer. Cyberspace back then was very much a matter of being plugged directly in the Internet, before it was known as the Internet.

Gibson: Yeah, but it was never envisioned as a warmy blanky! (laughs)

Correspondent: No, but we’re talking very much about sort of this whole idea of the body protected against things. I mean, you also have a lot of side characters in your books that often have shaved heads. And there’s actually the moment in this where Milgrim actually gets a haircut as well.

Gibson: That’s right.

Correspondent: I’m wondering how these textural elements relate to some of these, I guess, more corporeal ones.

Gibson: Well, not consciously. I mean, not that consciously. I think you’ve moved into the area of unconscious expression on the artist’s part. I mean, maybe, for twenty-five years, I’ve been working up my nerve to shave my head.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Gibson: Not yet, but soon. But I don’t know. Those are truly, you know — usually when people say they have questions I haven’t been asked before, it’s not true. You’ve actually managed to do it.


Google: Enabling Stalkers, One Feature at a Time

Google: “Starting today, Google Maps users can add a map to their website or blog just by copying & pasting a snippet of HTML. This new functionality enables Google Maps users to share and disseminate geographic information in the same way that YouTube users share videos. Bloggers and webmasters no longer need an API key or knowledge of Java Script to put a Google Map on their website or blog.”

I’m sure J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon will really appreciate this new feature once some bozo copies and pastes a snippet of HTML somewhere.


  • Desperate dental measures for desperate freelancers. (via The Publishing Spot)
  • Sometimes, you just need to go for a stroll. Christ, I miss California. (via Smart Bitches)
  • The “This I Believe” segments on NPR really make me want to hit something. These so-called “essayists” are needlessly calm and the worldviews expressed generally involve some unhelpful “common sense” you can all too easily obtain from a bland bookkeeper who has neither smiled nor walked on the wild side once in the past twelve years. So why do I listen to NPR? Well, I keep hoping that some crazy bastard will emerge, screaming “We’ve going to blow shit up in Torremolinos!” and then proceed to deliver an enthusiastic, profanity-laced lecture on Borges, with a digression into the history of the graham cracker, with a mariachi band forcing the staid hosts to dance and speak in an inflection that isn’t that sedate, okay-I’ll-have-my-Valium-now NPR issue voice. Why doesn’t anyone on NPR get excited?
  • Who knew that Scandinavian radio had such a history?
  • Todd McFarlane and Josh Olson promise a revisionist Oz film. The new movie, tentatively entitled Tits and Toto, will involve Dorothy pimping her way down the Yellow Brick Road, schtupping everything she sees. Look for a ten-minute water sports scene involving the Cowardly Lion, where he runs into the forest after being asked to urinate upon Dorothy’s bare bottom. And instead of an oil can, the Tin Man will, thanks to the magic of bukkake, will be unlocked from his rust. Fun for the whole family! Do you think they’ll show it every year on television?
  • Grace Paley has died. Maud has a tribute.
  • Also, RIP Magdalen Nabb.
  • Scott Timberg on Ross Macdonald. (via Sarah)
  • One in four Americans did not read last year.

BSS #132: Matthew Sharpe & Megan Sullivan


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Denied a toasted bagel with cream cheese.

Guests: Megan Sullivan and Matthew Sharpe.

Subjects Discussed: Post-apocalyptic novels with a sense of humor, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, allegorical representations of Jamestown, John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor, Afghanistan, parallels to Iraq and other military blunders, creation and transposition of vernacular, people named John, Buckaroo Banzai, the Bruces Monty Python sketch, reluctant communications officers, Ed Park’s review, the origins of the Internet, communicating into the void, mishearing things, the dangers of writing, New Journalism and the bus ride, As I Lay Dying, Susannah Meadows’s tone-deaf review, on excluding certain reader sensibilities as a writer, and the plausibility factor.


Sharpe: It’s been pointed out to me quite a number of times that mine is one of a spate of post-apocalyptic novel to hit the stands in 2006, 2007. And the only one I have read is The Road and I actually just read it a couple of weeks ago. There is really one very funny bit. There are a couple of funny bits. I actually do think that Cormac McCarthy has a wonderful understated sense of humor. But it’s not a laugh riot. I think — I suppose I have a number of predecessors or influences, when I don’t know if they’re necessarily apocalyptic novelists, but they are certainly war novelists, who I think are very funny. And Vonnegut and Joseph Heller are two obvious ones. Haruki Murakami, I think, has a great sense of humor. Donald Barthelme’s. I don’t even think I would consider them war novelists, but he — I’ve been influenced by the way that he writes about history. Even in short stories like “Cortez and Montezuma.” And then Susie-Lori Parks, I think, also is somebody whose hilariously funny and scathing about history. So I suppose these are my novels more than apocalyptic novels, per se. I guess Philip K. Dick has written a number of futuristic novels — again, not a hilariously funny guy. So I guess I’m not a terribly well-read person in areas of science fiction or even historical fiction. So I guess I’m deeply underqualified to be entering the genre. But I try to make up for it by being somewhat of a clown.

(A co-production of the Litblog Co-Op and The Bat Segundo Show)


Will Wright: A Danger to Creativity

1Up: “Spore is finished. That’s the first thing I learn as I head in to my play session at the Leipzig Games Convention. Obviously, the game isn’t finished finished (as in ready to ship), but in terms of its content offering, it’s all there — the game is complete. At this point, EA is spending the next several months paying attention to feedback from players to tweak and polish Spore for its release next Spring. But otherwise, it’s done.”

This is, of course, terrible news for those of us who do our damnedest to avoid such fascinating video games that threaten to do away with what little spare time we have. I’d just like to say that Will Wright is a mean man, an intellectual heroin dealer, for doing this and that I will do my best to avoid purchasing this game. Because should I get sucked into yet another Maxis trap, I will likely get nothing in the way of important work done. I’ve observed what went down with Iain Banks and Alex Garland, and I know damn well that it could happen to me if I’m not careful. I am weak and susceptible. If only I had been born ten years earlier. Should I purchase this game, I will become a sad thirtysomething man staring forever into my LCD, permanently tinkering with a horrendously fascinating experiment. Because Will Wright knows how to make games that are the cerebral version of a hard drug. That guy ripping out his video card from his motherboard in a few months to avoid getting hooked on the inevitable? That’s me. And many others. I will do everything in my power to avoid getting sucked in, but I fear the worst. Perhaps a support group is in order.

Alistair Harper: Chickenhead of the Month

It’s been a long while since I awarded anyone the “Chickenhead of the Month” prize, but Alistair Harper comes to us from across the Atlantic with a stupidity that is simply too remarkable to let slip.

Alistair Harper knows nothing of the publishing industry. His whole thesis is wrong. How he got to be a Guardian blogger or paid to write is truly amazing. His charge — that “the chip on [Stephen] King’s shoulder as big as the vast American states that are usually his setting” — does not hold. I don’t believe that any author can truly control the nonsense that appears on book covers. Harper doesn’t seem to understand that once a manuscript is turned in, the author is often at the behest of marketing forces. Because the publishing industry is, you know, an industry. And an industry expects to sell products. Or does Harper honestly believe that the publishing industry is in this bookselling business for the philanthropy? If phrases like “words are his power” or “this book will cause you to sodomize a goat” will sell more units, then the publishers will put these words, however preposterous, on covers to sell books. And how is King being uncertain about the shelf life of his work egotistical? Newsflash to Harper: When it comes to nonfiction, King is often as subtle as a Bengal tiger running around Grand Central, and he would be the first to admit this. He is, as he mentioned in Danse Macabre, a self-described “burgers and fries of literature.” And had Harper even bothered to read the introduction to Blaze, for crying out loud a few pages he could have flipped through in a bookstore*, a book that this sad illiterate hasn’t even bothered to examine, he’d realize that King extensively rewrote the book. This hardly a case of a manuscript merely being “dusted off.” And how is it egotistical exactly to want to finish a series when a million readers — many of whom have written King letters and expressed hopes that he would finish, as indicated in the same introduction that Harper quotes from — clamor for it? Has it not occurred to Harper that King simply cannot stop writing? That isn’t egotistical. That’s the mark of a hypergraphic personality.

If Harper hates King, he should simply be honest and say so. But in hiding behind this “Stephen King has an ego” gambit, he attempts to pretend, like some bumbling teenager trying to figure out how to open up a golden Trojan package but too afraid to ask for help, that it’s about King the person and not King the writer. This is hubris of the first order. It’s the kind of thing you expect from 1600 Pennsylvania, not 119 Farringdon Road

* — The UK edition likewise possesses an introduction by King. If it is different from the US edition, please feel free to correct me.


  • So who was the real Agatha Christie? Because Christie wrote the lines, “You know, you’re the sort of woman who ought to be raped. It might do you good,” under a pseudonym, the Telegraph‘s Laura Thompson appears to be in a great uproar. I’m not sure whether these striking lines say anything in particular about Christie as a person. (It is a common fallacy to equate a writer’s personality with the dark and disturbing things a writer sets down to paper.) Personally, I won’t be impressed until someone reveals that Christie managed to schtup half the men in Berkshire and single-handedly stopping a seditious affront to Mother England during her mysterious disappearance.
  • Harpo Harper Lee speaks!
  • It doesn’t surprise me too much that Anne Rice is a pro-lifer.
  • Jonathan Coe: not even a bridesmaid?
  • Garth on why Bolano matters.
  • Something for Mr. Asher to consider in his forthcoming symposium: “The Problem with Pricey Paperbacks.” (Of course, Levi was on this issue before Alex Remington. Another example of print cribbing from blogs? For a print-financed blog no less!) (via Orthofer)
  • And speaking of Levi, this consideration of Richard Bach is madness. I was there when the friend in question screamed in horror. Levi held the book. There was a strange Zen-like grimace on his face, as if Levi had just finished having tea with the Dalai Lama. I had been talking with someone and stood silent and slackjawed and horrified when Levi then declared to all of us that Jonathan Livingston Seagull “wasn’t so bad.” I was then forced to exorcise the book so that Levi would be protected from future influence. Things proceeded okay from there. Let this be a lesson. Richard Bach is a dangerous man. Pick up his work at your own peril.
  • Richard Nash on how Jamestown came to be. The summary: not an easy rollout by any measure.
  • Jenny D is quite right about Gibson. Gibson’s houses are built on firm foundations of language and rhythm, and I think it can be sufficiently argued that his conceptual associations are likewise rooted upon these preternatural cadences.
  • Rick Kleffel talks with Karen Joy Fowler, Gavin Grant, and Kelly Link in one sitting. And Mr. Kleffel, what the hell is wrong with epic interviews? This is what podcasting is all about, sir! Don’t hold back on us! (via Locus)
  • Mark Sarvas interviews David Leavitt.
  • Okay, Mr. VanderMeer, I will concede that The National’s Boxer does tread water somewhat. But you are dead wrong about the new Spoon album, sir!
  • Terry Teachout has been the victim of Wikipedia vandalizing.
  • Now that Brad Pitt has tsk-tsked folks for failing to rebuild fast enough after Katrina, I guess that means they’ll be reconstructing New Orleans faster. Next week, Brad Pitt will be using his Hollywood star power to scold the Third Law of Thermodynamics for the entropy resulting from this week’s statement.
  • Ah callow youth! Why are you so goddam non-rebellious when the world’s in the shitter? 64% of these little bastards “wake up happy?” Sixty-four percent? Christ, the generation after mine is disappointing the hell out of me. We were cynical as fuck and that was during the Clinton years! Maybe Charles Rangel is right. Maybe we should reinstate the draft just to give these smug little fucks a wakeup call. BLAM BLAM BLAM! What do you think of that, eh? If you want your nonfat hazelnut latte and your TiVo options, you’re going to have to march through the goddam DMZ to get them! HOW ABOUT THAT? Oh, what’s that? You need to go to the infirmary? Well, now that you’re in the middle of the GREAT CLUSTERFUCK YOU’VE BEEN GLEEFULLY IGNORING, that ought to put a damper on the whole “wake up happy” scenario, eh?

BSS #131: Kate Christensen


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating his biographical legacy.

Author: Kate Christensen

Subjects Discussed: First-person vs. third-person narration, Hugo from The Epicure’s Lament vs. Oscar in The Great Man, dead men, dying women, being obsessed with death, the sex lives of older women, the difficulties of writing third-person without planning, stacked sentences, Richard Ford, over-the-top observations, MFK Fisher, what food says about people, kosher diets, whether or not an octogenarian can be spry, emasculated men, painting nudes, on being labeled a feminist writer, antipodean biographers, populating a novel with twins, poetry, the many ways of appreciating art, the difficulties of female writers being taken seriously, writing visceral messes, the origin of the fictitious New York Times articles, how unexpected character qualities are discovered, on making Oscar contemptible, and seducing your best friend’s wife.


Christensen: You can say he has certain things in common with Claudia in In the Drink and Hugo especially in The Epicure’s Lament, in that he can say whatever he wants and he’s sort of a loose cannon in a way. He has a lot of opinions and he’s a man of excess appetites, like all the earlier narrators. And he was successful and therefore not interesting to me as a first-person narrator. My first-person narrators tend to be losers. They’re the kind of people whose heads I like to get in and who I like to have take over my brain. That entertains me deeply.


The Case for John Barth

If literary blogs exist to dredge up the underrated authors of our time, I must ask why the litblogosphere, so capable of unearthing the neglected, has remained so silent concerning the great novelist John Barth. If Gilbert Sorrentino, William Gaddis, and David Markson cut the mustard with their postmodernist innovations, then Barth likewise deserves a spot in the This Guy is the Real Deal pantheon. Here is a novelist who playfully uses first person plural in Sabbatical to represent a romantic escapade on the Chesapeake Bay with the apparent descendants of Edgar Allan Poe and Francis Scott Key. Here is a novelist who, in his early trilogy of novels The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, and The Sot-Weed Factor, takes the piss out of absolutist thinking: Todd Andrews, the protagonist of The Floating Opera, is an attorney who contemplates a moment in his life when he should have died. The answer to his conundrum might lie in the ridiculous logic he uses in relation to a court case, unearthed in hilarious fashion over a protracted “logic” reminiscent of the crazy legal brief in William Gaddis’s A Frolic of His Own. Jacob Horner’s reason for living in The End of the Road is predicated upon following the dicta of a mysterious Doctor, with the series of instructions being woefully misunderstood and employed in an insensitive manner that even Horner doesn’t seem to see. Consider, for example, the way that Barth describes this moment in which Jacob Horner shares dinner with the Morgans:

Since there were only four chairs in the kitchen, Rennie and the two boys and I ate at the table while Joe ate standing up at the stove. There would have been no room at the table for one of the sling chairs, and anyhow it did not take long to eat the meal, which consisted of steamed shrimp, boiled rice, and beer for all hands. The boys — husky, well-mannered youngsters — were allowed to dominate the conversation during dinner; they were as lively and loud as any other bright kids their age, but a great deal more physically co-ordinated and self-controlled than most. As soon as we finished eating they went to bed, and though it was still quite light outside, I heard no more from them.

Who is this guy? Is this really a sad domestic situation or is Jacob Horner more concerned with externalizing every situation he comes across? We have all sorts of general details about who this family is and what the dinner entails, but why can’t Jacob Horner pinpoint anything about them? Why the strange comparative qualifiers compared to other boys? Why the concern for the boys’ conversation? These are the questions that pop up when reading a Barth novel.

Likewise The Sot-Weed Factor, possibly Barth’s masterpiece, frames a hypocritical concern for virtue using a real-life historical figure (Ebeneezer Cooke) over the course of a playfully picaresque novel.

Why not Barth? He regularly subverts conventional narrative. He is very funny and regularly irreverent. He is often unapologetically preoccupied with sex. He sneaks in little tidbits about mythology, history, and little-known procedures of the law. And his work often bristles with a warm-hearted sense of mischief, even when the scenario being described is an extremely troubling one involving abortion, rape, or suicide.

If Barth can be accused of any literary crimes, his rap perhaps involves an overwhelming preoccupation with Maryland and Virginia history and a restless ambition. Nearly every Barth reader I’ve talked with gave up on LETTERS at some point. It was the most ambitious volume that Barth produced, involving characters from Barth’s previous novels writing letters to a guy named John Barth. After LETTERS, it seemed that people wanted to forget that Barth even existed. (He is still alive, presumably residing somewhere around the Chesapeake Bay.) Even I, when I first read Barth a decade ago, failed to continue reading Barth’s works in sequence. But now that I’m reading one of the novels that came after LETTERS, Sabbatical, I’m finding it to be a great surprise, just as fun and inventive as his early work. And LETTERS is due for a serious reassessment. (LETTERS and Sabbatical, incidentally, are available from Dalkey Archive Press.)

I have been rereading Barth’s novels in a rather odd manner over the past month, starting with the first two and now including Sabbatical and The Sot-Weed Factor, the latter of which I am reading for the third time. If anything, the playfulness and narrative tinkering that first wowed me when I was feeding on a variety of lengthy and ambitious novels in my early twenties has resonated more.

Has Barth in some sense declined over the years? I don’t think so. I think the guy still has it, even though my reading of his post-LETTERS books remains limited. Nevertheless, I have now obtained almost all of his novels and I aim to figure out precisely what happened.

In the meantime, I jam this message into the bottle and throw it into the tidewater. I cannot be the only guy out here who thinks John Barth is the cat’s pajamas. So what of you, readers? If you tried out Barth, why did you put him back on the shelf? Or have you remained silent over the past few years because Barth ain’t exactly the heppest cat to rave about? Well, I’m here to tell you that Barth is the real deal! You are not alone! Let’s make some noise and get people talking about Barth! Who’s with me?

[UPDATE: Dan Green, wryly quoting me in the manner of a film publicist truncating blurbs, points out that he has written about Barth. The specific words I used were “so silent,” which is not to suggest total silence, but a comparative qualifier. Dammit, let’s make some noise!]

On Adam Gopnik’s Ridiculous Philip K. Dick Essay

There’s nothing more exciting to a literary enthusiast than a once overlooked and perhaps mainstream writer like Philip K. Dick being seemingly considered by The New Yorker. But Adam Gopnik, a reductionist blowhard who I suspect is not much fun at a cocktail party, prefers reactions to Philip K. Dick over the text itself, revealing his true Hooked on Speculative Fiction colors in failing to apply complexity to a phenomenon that clearly deserves it. His take is that of a new parent, perhaps of a psychotic temperament, seriously considering crib death as his first option — as antipodean from understanding the how and the why as a critic of any sort can get. This is a desperate assignment carried out by a man who would declare all manner of generalizations about what he thinks Dick’s work and science fiction is about, but who is not so much interested in recalibrating his own prejudices as he is in flaunting his own apparently superior tastes. Humility and cross-genre flexibility would seem two qualities that come to Gopnik with some difficulty.

pkd.jpgIt’s a pity that even someone as purportedly half-hearted as Luc Sante wasn’t assigned the piece, for surely Sante would have spearheaded his assessment, as he did with his recent Kerouac piece, towards the text first. This is what any decent critic should do. Gopnik does quote text, but he is frequently at odds against the Dick boosters — unnamed, uncited — with his countless cries of J’accuse!

Rather than attempt a precise assessment for why PKD has influenced writers as diverse as Jonathan Lethem and Matt Ruff, and for why his work has been transformed into many movies, and for why the Library of America felt it necessary to honor this apparent genre hack by enclosing four of his books into a single volume, we get instead a clumsily contrarian assault upon literary enthusiasm and an assault upon literary influence. How dare the natural course of human passion extend to such apparent drivel as The Man in the High Castle rather than The King in the Window! How dare this same apparently unstoppable current draw its attention to the grimy drugged out underworld rather than elevated expatriate observing from Paris!

Let’s be clear. Gopnik did not have it easy. To attempt a Dick assessment is to wrestle with a quite insane individual who composed a 35 million word diary, who believed that various agents were out to get him, and who likewise felt compelled to write by any means necessary. I will agree that attaching a label like “Genius” to Dick or to proclaim that Dick could do no wrong is to elevate some of his purpler prose to veritiginous heights. But it is with this kind of literary absolutism is where Gopnik has his greatest problems. For Dick, with his intense imagery, was undeniably special. Why can’t a writer be compared to both Italo Calvino and Robertson Davies? What causes a writer to get two seemingly antipodean comparisons? And who are those who are making these claims? (Gopnik, grappling the elusive “they” like an alcoholic clutching his brown bag, does not ever say.)

Gopnik does not seem to understand, for example, that the Hugo Award was quite a different accolade in 1963 than it was today. Both the Emmanuel Carrère and Lawrence Sutin biographies — in particular, the former — suggest this. Before science fiction became somewhat respectable, spurred in part by the increasing acceptability of geekdom in the 1990s, it was considered a field populated by kooks, shifty-eyed magpies, and other assorted lunatics. Gopnik’s considerable ignorance (and elitism) continues when he writes, “There were a million places to write sci-fi in those years, publishers eager to have it, and readers eager to argue about it.” Is Gopnik implying here that there was no significant difference between meticulously edited monthies such as Astounding, Galaxy, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, or slightly more experimental offerings like New Worlds, and the endless fanzines distributed at conventions? Is he truly not aware of the New Wave movement? Is he not aware that it was not until 1969 when Ballantine began to take science fiction seriously with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series? Is he not cognizant of the battles that Donald A. Wollheim fought against distributors to keep Thomas Burnett Swann’s How Are the Mighty Fallen in circulation despite its gay-themed content? Or familiar with Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions volumes — anthologies that offered necessary kicks in the ass in response to the publishing industry’s puerile ideas about genre and ended up selling more than anybody had thought?

During Dick’s time, there were definitive limitations in place about what science fiction could and could not do. dick may not have been “unfairly neglected” by the science fiction community, who certainly saw the magic that shone through Dick’s prolfiic output. But he was, like many great writers who just happened to be writing science fiction stories, certainly “unfairly neglected” by the snobbish nitwits who looked down on genre in the way that Howard Hughes was terrified of bacteria. Adam Gopnik, happily no doubt, is certainly living up to this stuffy tradition.

Let us also consider Gopnik’s characterization of Dick:

He seems to have been a man of intellectual passion and compulsive appetite (he was married five times), the kind of guy who can’t drink one cup of coffee without drinking six, and then stays up all night to tell you what Schopenhauer really said and how it affects your understanding of Hitchcock and what that had to do with Christopher Marlowe.

As the two cited Dick biographies made perfectly clear, it was not a “compulsive appetite” that caused Dick to be married five times. Perhaps it’s too much of a common sense conclusion for Gopnik to ponder, but when a man believes he is the center of the universe, stays up at all hours to write (often on speed), and repeatedly goes to the police because he believes people are watching him, chances are that he’s going to have a few marital difficulties.

We also get grand generalizations from Gopnik such as “Dick tends to get treated as a romantic,” such Alfred E. Neuman-like insights as “he did see questions in vast cosmological terms,” and gross oversimplifications like “[t]he typical Dick novel is at once fantastically original in its ideas and dutifully realistic in charting their consequences.” Gopnik claims that Dick’s books “belong to a particular time,” but fails to discern how Dick dutifully filled his books with such prescient terminology as “broad-band.” And he condemns Dick for his prolificity. “[O]ne thing you have to have done in order to have done in order to write eleven novels in two years is not to have written any of them twice.” Cite examples much, Gopnik?

Gopnik does at least offer an interesting comparison between Dick and another Philip, but he lacks the perspicacity or the know-how to compare Roth’s middle period against Dick’s oeuvre, much less offer any textual examples showing where he sees these associations.

Overlook such concessions as “beautiful and hallucinatory” in relation to Ubik (after all, the Library of America must have some validity in republishing Dick), and one sees quite clearly that Gopnik comes not to praise Dick, but to bury him.

But Gopnik, who seems to think he’s being a contrarian here with this essay, is doing no such damage. The Dick legacy will live on and perhaps infuriate Gopnik further. The New Yorker readers bobbing their heads up and down over this malarkey probably weren’t going to sample Dick anyway. And in the end, Gopnik has given the New Yorker as predictable a take as they likely expected. It’s decidedly unsophisticated for a magazine that claims to be sophisticated.

Leona Helmsley, Trendsetter in Avarice, Dies

The Toronto Star: “In 1987, a series of adverse articles in The New York Post about the Helmsleys, set off by one of their disgruntled employees, led to a broad investigation. The following year, Harry and Leona Helmsley were indicted by federal and state authorities on charges that they had evaded more than $4 million in income taxes by fraudulently claiming as business expenses luxuries they purchased for their 28-room Jacobean mansion on 10.5 hectares in Greenwich, Conn., that they bought in 1983.”


  • I figured that ignoring the LongPen(TM) was perhaps the best way to avoid getting too excited about a pedantic and rather preposterous invention that (a) is something of a satirical assault upon the author junket — alas, they think Atwood humorless and without machinations, but the way I figured it, she cooked up this thing and didn’t expect anyone to take it so seriously and so rolled with it — and (b) is of no benefit to the reader at all, contra claims made by the Atwood clan, febrile functionaries, et al. Thankfully, the Rake has provided the LongPenis(TM) its appropriate context. If the LongPenis authors start commenting upon their business cards or praising Huey Lewis, I won’t be surprised.
  • Mike Harrison on novel writing: “As long as you foster an incomplete relationship with yourself, & depend on an interest in form to show you what you could say (rather than learning ways to efficiently say what you already think you know), maybe you don’t need to worry about that. The implication being that I don’t want things to get easier. I want to avoid what I see as a superficialising methodicalness or rationality. I hope I mean it. It’s so important not to know who you are after all these years.” Which, given this rather interesting description, evocative in some ways of the famous passage from American Pastoral, makes one contemplate just how confident one is while simultaneously not completely knowing one’s self. This is likewise a form of anarchy I find comforting.
  • Tayari Jones has some significant words upon this whole “hot young author” business. I’m hoping for a substantial response to all this nonsense myself. But in the meantime, I point literary snobs to the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award, which sets the criteria not upon whether an author is under 40 or under 35, but whether a writer’s first piece of fiction has appeared in a professional publication over the past two years. This seems to me more of an equitable criteria for determining who a “new” or “young” writer is. In fact, after John Scalzi won the Campbell Award, he did the math and found that they were as “old” as 52!
  • Dzanc Books will be publishing a Best of the Web anthology series.
  • Russian journalists aren’t the only one facing persecution (and, in some cases, mysterious murders). It seems that Russian writer Pavel Astakhov has faced libel charges — now dropped — for daring to depict corrupt cops in his novel, Raider. What’s quite interesting about the charges is that Astakhov appears to have been pursued not for naming specific cops, but for sullying the image of the Russian police. One wonders if this will encourage the Russian authorities to go further.

“It’s Hard Work”

Ronald Reagan on W (1986): “A moment I’ve been dreading. George brought his ne’re-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I’ll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they’ll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.”

Incidentally, this is a fake.

Responding to Tod Goldberg

Tod Goldberg has so outdone himself with this very funny post that I feel compelled to respond to him on a point-by-point basis:

1. Whenever I see young children, I do my best to keep my “fucks” to a minimum. I am a polite person. But because I say “fuck” with a cheerful frequency in many social settings, this effort at restraint often backfires. A parent then looks to me, as if putting the face to a photograph she has seen on the Megan’s Law database (never mind that I have no tattoos and don’t look particularly creepy when I have remembered to shave), when I am only treating the kid as an adult and I am only trying to be friendly.

The way I figure it, on any given day, a child bears a considerable brunt harsh linguistical terminology. Indeed, if the environment I experienced two decades ago is comparable to the present, a child’s schoolyard pals are likely to say things far cruder and decidedly more pernicious than anything I could possibly posit in my early thirties. I wish these parents would understand that I reserve my true invective for the true assholes of the world. More often than not, they generally aren’t six years old, even if they may act that way. (To this day, I cannot muster up much in the way of anger towards a character like Richie Rich, despite the great likelihood that he will grow up to be an insufferable asshole. Bless the good folks at Harvey Comics for not going that postpubescent distance.)

Mr. Goldberg’s observations, then, don’t even begin to scratch the surface of a hypocritical double standard that nobody wants to talk about. Are kids really as innocent as their parents claim them to be? Will they really be permanently scarred if they hear about serial killers or overhear the word “fuck?” Are they not more resilient?

(The other thing I don’t get, while we’re on the subject, is how this “don’t swear” dictum is likewise associated with old people, as if old people have never done drugs, fucked in unusual positions, or otherwise experienced active or accidental debauchery — or, for that matter, are presently incapable of misbehaving. This assumption presumes that old people are somehow lesser, which is certainly not the case at all. If anything, with more years on their belt, old people have probably committed countless acts that would cause mere straplings to blush. Ergo, hail the old people! Hail the children! Hail all chronological representatives of the human race!)

2. It isn’t wrong to be obsessed with a song at all. The world today produces more covers of any given tune than it generally needs, presumably because there’s a paucity of vanguards operating at the musical forefront. (Justin Timberlake’s Futuresex/Loveshow? I don’t think so. I find the idea of Justin Timberlake as a sex symbol repellent and ethically objectionable — in part, because this semiotic juxtaposition spawns a terrifying image of Timberlake indolently grunting over a twenty-two-year-old who never bothered to try it any other way but missionary. I have come close to vomiting upon seeing that clean-cut, take-no-chances, white-suited assclown’s image on the subway, caught frozen as he attempts to dance, his spindly wrist barely able to clutch the mike. He cannot dance. Perhaps it’s because he is trying to do too many things. It’s bad enough that he cannot dance during the course of a performance. But the still image in question — if you have seen it — demonstrates that even caught during his best moment, posed to promote some Timberlake ideal, he is a clear incompetent.)

But I have digressed. I usually do.

Okay, cover songs. Every once in a while, there is a good one like Kate Bush’s version of “Rocket Man” or Scissor Sisters’ “Comfortably Numb.” And it is certainly better than Timberlake. So long as Mr. Goldberg isn’t searching around for clips of Justin Timberlake on YouTube, I think the world will be safe for democracy.

3. I don’t think there have been many suicides that ended up clean and grief-free for a suicidalist’s friends and family. In fact, because suicide is such a selfish and shitty thing to do to other people, it doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I’ve always figured that if you were curious enough about life, you could carry on living quite well. I think the happiest people are often those who are the most curious, those willing to find joy and laughter in everything, those who are determined to keep on going in spite of the world’s many faults because the human race does something pretty stellar every once in a while. Or at least this is the sort of “happiest person” I like hanging around. Of course, I bring my own judgments to the table, like any curious savage, although they are always subject to change. One man’s “happy” is another person’s “insufferable,” as the old saying goes.

If Mr. Goldberg is going through something right now, I apologize if I am coming across like some flippant asshole. I don’t intend to. I’m simply trying to understand his question myself, and I don’t think I have an answer.

4. Even if a writer can live up to tough assessments, he will unceasingly believe at some point that he is misunderstood, only to be whacked in the head by a benevolent colleague, persuaded to snap out of it, and proceed to produce.

5. We all want to believe that the Raiders have some kind of chance. This is one of the purposes that the Raiders serve. And if they started winning, then they really wouldn’t be so much fun to root for. They are, as I have written elsewhere, a glorious team of thugs. The players who go onto the field, and commit all manner of needlessly violent plays which then elicit many penalties. And it’s the same each year. Their reliance upon veteran quarterbacks (Rich Gannon and now Daunte Culpepper) is quite wild. They rely upon guys who simultaneously advance yards and throw intereceptions (as Gannon did five times in the 2003 super Bowl), often in the same four downs.

In other words, this is not a team to rely upon. But they are great fun to watch and to hope for.

There were several other points here that Mr. Goldberg addressed, but I fear this may be too long a post. Perhaps what’s necessary here is to have all blog responses to blog responses start with Tod Goldberg.

All Roads Lead to Writing

John Baker coaxes Jenny Davidson to chart her writing process. And I find it very interesting. Because there are many things there that I can’t fathom (for me, the premise announces itself in the writing) and many things that I can (write something every day). But so long as all roads lead to creating work, I think it’s fantastic and that it doesn’t really matter what road takes you there. Perhaps personal temperament — and not some horrible seminar that tells a starry-eyed hopeful the absolute way to write — is the thing that determines how one goes about this discipline.

Not Tony Blair by a Long Shot

Despite the fact that Robert Harris’s The Ghost involves a former British prime minister attempting to justify a war in the Middle East, Harris insists that his character Adam Lang is not — repeat, NOT — Tony Blair. Despite a ghost named John Smith (it’s a common enough name; lay off Harris!) appearing to haunt Adam Lang’s residence, Harris insists that this is not Tony Blair. Despite Adam Lang being routinely referred to as “smooth and creamy little bitch” by the President of the United States — also fictitious and also NOT George Bush — Harris insists that this is not Tony Blair.

And despite the presence of a British author named Bobby “Big Shot” Harrison in a manuscript I have been working on for the past three years, with Harrison routinely cribbing experience from past friendships in order to write “novels” while remaining deftly afraid of the more stringent libel laws in the United Kingdom, Harrison is not — repeat, NOT — Robert Harris.


  • I profoundly disagree with Levi’s condemnation of Luc Sante’s excellent overview of the many versions of On the Road that are now available. Levi does have a point about the NYTBR‘s regular employment of reductive-minded bozos who wouldn’t know a literary visceral charge even if they were hooked in series with a tome and a Tesla coil. But he’s wrong in declaring Luc Sante the wrong guy for the job. Unlike Adam Gopnik’s PKD takedown in the New Yorker (or, for that matter, much of the NYTBR‘s dismissive posturing against genre and other types of books that are perhaps “not literary enough”), Sante, with this piece, actually offers something that one doesn’t often find in a weekly book review section, particularly one as airless as Tanenhaus’s lead balloon: namely, a comparative analysis of multiple texts, an effort to understand how Kerouac — both the writer and the legend — came to be, and the circumstances which caused this book to be written. In other words, even if, as Levi suggests, Sante had only a modest passion for Kerouac going into the piece, unlike Gopnik, he went out of his way to understand its mechanics and its place. I hope we’ll see more pieces like this from the otherwise flaccid NYTBR, if only because it could really use some flaxseed right about now.
  • And in other literary woos to weekly book reviews, the LATBR has successfully courted Lionel Shriver to its pages. Shriver examines Amy Bloom’s Away, tying that novel in with Philippe Vasset.
  • This week, at the Litblog Co-Op, the folks are discussing Matthew Sharpe’s fantastic novel, Jamestown. There will also be a podcast interview unveiled on Friday, as well as two additional podcasts: (1) the fourth and final podcast in our Authors Named Kate series and (2) a lengthy interview with a man who is funnier than you might think involving coats, blankets, Belgian magnates, cigarettes, and an interesting association posited by Ed Park (and answered!). The latter podcast also involves this author and Our Young, Roving Correspondent getting kicked out of a hotel bar midway through the interview. Stay tuned.
  • C. Max Magee — who is now once again balder than me — goes Hollywood — or, perhaps more accurately, its literary equivalent. But if NPR truly is that comparably glitzy valley where all cultural figures go to be lionized, I want to know when we’ll start seeing the high-priced callgirls and strung-out heroin addicts that come with the territory. Thankfully, Mr. Magee is neither a high-priced callgirl nor a heroin addict. But to prevent him from getting too smug (not that he would or anything, but it’s good to have insurance), I’ve arranged several packages of humble pie to be delivered on Tuesday morning.
  • In response to Dan Green: Ken Kalfus’s A Disorder Peculiar to the Country is a fantastic (if flawed) novel precisely because there is no direct parallel between the events of the divorce and 9/11. In juxtaposing the WTC against the divorce, is it not possible that Kalfus is — at least as I read it — taking the piss out of anyone who attempts to draw a direct parallel between life and history or who clutches onto 9/11 like a bright orange life preserver preventing them from embracing life’s choppy waters? Sure, all of you hipsters are looking to Gary Shteyngart as the guy who might be “the next Vonnegut,” a strange term that I have heard in certain circles no less than twelve times in the past four days. Okay, that’s fine. But while Shteyngart certainly brings great talent to the table, it is Ken Kalfus who goes that necessary extra step further in our current literary age and who offers a very necessary kick in the ass towards conventional reader interpretations. Let me put it this way: Disorder so thoroughly wowed me with its bawdiness and its gleefully caustic tone that Kalfus immediately bumped himself up to one of those authors whose every volume I would read upon publication. Just so I can watch where he’ll go.
  • Sarah answers the question that every mystery reader has been wanting to know: Where did Marilyn Stasio come from? Not surprisingly, there was a time in Stasio’s career in which she still had a bit of piss and vinegar. Regrettably, that epoch seems to be over.

More Rupert

It was a great pleasure to meet all the fine folks who introduced themselves at the Rupert Thomson reading last night. I didn’t take notes and will leave all reports of what went down to others, but I met Zan, Monica (didn’t catch the name of your blog!), Dana, and the Martin Amis-obsessed Nick Antosca for the first time, as well as Maud, Levi, Lauren, Ami, Phil Campbell, Matt Cheney (now firmly ensconced in Jersey), and the always pleasurable Richard Grayson for the post-first time. (Apologies if I’m missing anyone!) Thanks also to Jessica Stockton for helping to organize the event.

As it so happens, Rupert Thomson and I hit it off. At the time of this writing, we are currently midway through the interview. Since I had so many questions, he was very kind to squeeze in a few more minutes to conclude the interview. So be prepared for a fun and highly detailed two-part Segundo interview, conducted over the course of two days, concerning many aspects of Rupert Thomson’s work.

Draconian Distribution Tactics at Angus & Robertson

Steven Beattie exposes a remarkable arrogance from Australian book chain Angus and Robertson. The hubris was directed towards small to medium-sized distributors. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Angus and Robertson is now demanding that distributors pay between A$2,500 and A$100,000 to keep their books stocked in the stores. In a letter from ARW Group Commercial Manager Charlie Rimmer to Tower Books’s Michael Rakusin, complete with attached invoice, Rimmer wrote:

We have recently completed a piece of work to rank our suppliers in terms of the net growth they generate for our business. We have concluded that we have far too many suppliers, and over 40% of our supplier agreements fall below our requirements in terms of profit earned. At a time when the cost of doing business continues to rise, I’m sure you can understand that this is an unpalatable set of circumstances for us, and as such we have no option but to act quickly to remedy the situation.

Accordingly, we will be rationalizing our supplier numbers and setting a minimum earnings ratio of income to trade purchases that we expect to achieve from our suppliers.

The letter caused Rakusin to respond with a lengthy letter of his own, which reads in part:

In summary, we reject out of hand this notion that somehow, even giving you 45% discount on a Sale or Return basis, with free freight to each of your individual stores, where we make less than half of that on the same book, puts us in the “category of unacceptable profitability”. We have seen Angus & Robertson try this tactic before – about 12 years ago Angus & Robertson decided that unless we gave them a 50% discount, they would not buy from us any longer. We refused. Angus & Robertson desisted from buying from us for seven months. We survived, Angus & Robertson came back cap in hand.

We have seen Myer effectively eliminate smaller suppliers. We survived and prospered but look at the Myer Book Departments today.

We have seen David Jones decide that it had too many publishers to deal with and to exclude the smaller suppliers. We survived and prospered but look at the David Jones Book Departments today.

David Jones and Myer sell other goods; Angus & Robertson does not.

That the contents of your letter of 30 July are both immoral and unethical, I have no doubt. That they probably contravene the Trade Practices Act, I shall leave to the ACCC to determine. (Five percent interest PER DAY !!!)

As Beattie observes in his post, Tower Books is hardly the runt of the litter. It handles the Australian distribution for DC Comics, the Hachette Book Group, the Overlook Press, and many more.

Angus & Robertson Chief Operating Officer Dave Fenlon responded to all this at Crikey, attempting to set the matter straight. Fenlon confessed that “the tone of this correspondence was inappropriate” and observed that A&R had sent letters along the lines of Rimmer’s to 47 of its 1,200 suppliers. (By contrast, New Matilda reported a few days later that A&R wrote to “more than 160 local publishers giving them just over two weeks to shell out thousands of dollars.”) Fenlon wrote:

Again, let me assure you that this is not about penalising authors. It is about establishing commercial arrangements with our suppliers that are viable for both parties and that allow us to offer the best value to our customers.

If a bookstore chain uses such strongarm tactics towards a particular distributor — perhaps the only distribution conduit for a particular author — how is an author not penalized by this? (Rakusin also responded to this letter, observing, “How does Mr. Fenlon explain the incongruity between his claim that he has 1200 suppliers and has sent letters to only 47 of them when the Australian Publishers Association says that more than 70% of APA member publishers have been contacted by A&R, either directly or via their distributor?”)

I plan to do more digging on this story. Not only does this reflect a troubling scenario comparable to the AMS bankruptcy earlier this year, but this could very well set an international business precedent. If an Australian bookstore chain can get away with sending unexpected invoices sent to distributors, demanding a premium payment because the profit margin is not as staggering as they desire and effectively blackmailing distributors, what is to stop a bookstore chain in another country from attempting the same?

Rupert Thomson Tonight

This is a reminder that Maud Newton will be interviewing Rupert Thomson tonight at 7:00 PM at McNally Robinson. Please be sure to check this out, as this is a rare American appearance by one of today’s most underrated fictive stylists. I know that a number of litbloggers and other swell folks will be there. So stop by and say hello.

To get up to speed on Thomson, check out Thomson’s first appearance on Segundo (a second appearance is forthcoming), as well as James Hynes’s “The Dreamlife of Rupert Thomson.”

Who Pays Attention to the Line Anymore?

Glenn Greenwald: “To this day, many people, including myself, cite the Padilla case as the ultimate wake-up call to the true character, the genuine soul, of the Bush administration. Imprisoning a U.S. citizen, on U.S. soil, with no charges of any kind, and then keeping him for years completely incommunicado, is just one of those lines which many people believed would never be crossed in America. That this bright line was crossed, and crossed so explicitly and with so little controversy, was an unmistakable sign of just how much of our national character was being eroded, just how limitless was the attack on our basic constitutional framework, just how profoundly our political press was failing.”

BSS #130: Katharine Weber and Levi Asher


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fleeing the Bolsheviks.

Guests: Katharine Weber and Levi Asher

Subjects Discussed: Fibonacci spirals and Sierpinski triangles, Fibonacci sidewalks, the unknown etymological origins of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, interview transcripts and excised questions, designing the Esther and Ruth Zion vernaculars, colloquies within the novel, .edu addresses that have been duped by counterfeited transcripts, Ian McEwan, Ruth Zion’s character makeup and academia, MacArthur genius grants, the authentic requirements of contemporary novels, approaching historical events from a contemporary vantage point, James Frye, fact vs. fiction, intrusive footnotes and reader obedience, “based on a true story,” the 2003 Station nightclub fire, comparisons between the Triangle fire and the World Trade Center, children’s books about the Triangle fire, Henry Botkin and Gershwin, Thanksgiving and other American traditions, on seeing too many patterns in life, “crackpot magpie” research, not having a high school diploma, and being an autodidact.


Weber: It’s not just that she’s been speaking English for fifty years, but she’s been speaking the language of the Triangle fire. She’s been telling the story and telling the story. So what interested me wasn’t just developing her use of English, but her developing and mutating over time relationship to the story, and how it stuck to the story, and how she wandered off the story and got details wrong over time. We all get details wrong over time. If you now had to describe to me every moment of a car accident you were in thirty years ago, even if you think that’s what happened, it might not match the police report. And you may have changed it because someone saw something that you didn’t actually experience, but now you’ve incorporated it into your experience. And it becomes part of your telling of the story. I’m interested in how we tell our stories, the agenda we bring to the telling of the stories, but also so much of the novel is about the agenda we bring to the listening of stories. We ask our questions with agendas as much as we tell stories with agendas.


BSS #129: Katie Roiphe


SPECIAL PROGRAM NOTE: I had arranged an interview with Katie Roiphe because I felt that she might be misunderstood. Ms. Roiphe had laid down some interesting ideas over the years that had pissed more than a few people off, including the notion that women were primarily responsible for date rape in her tract, The Morning After. Extraordinary claims, of course, require extraordinary evidence. And it was because of this that I wanted to determine how much of Ms. Roiphe’s personal ideology influenced her views. Late in the interview, Ms. Roiphe grew contentious when I asked a personally reasonable question and quoted a specific passage in her most recent book, Uncommon Arrangements, in relation to an affair initiated between Harry Andrews and Winifred Holtby, which can be found on pages 282-283 in the hardcover edition:

They slept together, one spring, when she had taken a cottage by the sea. This was entirely her doing: she had decided to abandon pride and convention and push their romantically charged friendship to a crisis.

Ms. Roiphe at first denied that she had written this passage, until I found the page and showed it to her during the course of the interview. She then claimed that the meaning I had averred, that the woman is solely responsible for a sexual liaison, was wrong. Without passing the same judgment on Ms. Roiphe that she appeared to cast upon me, I leave listeners to make up their own minds as to whether the phrase “this was entirely her doing” reflects an instance where Ms. Roiphe’s personal ideology influenced her scholarship, or whether Ms. Roiphe was being needlessly belligerent. But then I’m not the one with the Ph.D.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abdicating to dubious journalistic principles.

Author: Katie Roiphe

Subjects Discussed: On whether the state of a marriage can be judged exclusively upon letters and notes, inferring from perspective, Phylis Rose’s Parallel Lives, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, avoiding 21st century relationship terms, “marriage a la mode,” Radclyffe Hall, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, the relationship between class fixations and subject choice, interconnected aristocracies, the difficulties of obtaining divorce in the United Kingdom and the Marriage Act of 1949, contemporary pressure on women in thirties to get married, the influence of Jane Austen on married life, the theatrical nature of Ottoline Morrell’s philanthropy, the influence on Roiphe’s ideology upon her scholarship, relying upon books vs. relying upon empirical evidence, on being allegedly misquoted, and Roiphe’s unchanging ideology.


Roiphe: Anyway, I’m actually out of time. Um, you can have one more question.

Correspondent: Well, I actually wanted to ask you a question about The Morning After.

Roiphe: Okay.

Correspondent: If we revisit that, do you still feel that the word “survivor” is bandied about too much in relation to date rape or — and if the term “survivor” is still unacceptable to you, how do you expect someone to cope with a legitimate psychological grievance?

Roiphe: I’m actually interested in talking about this book and not my previous work. But, yes, I stand by everything that I said at the time that I wrote that book.

Correspondent: Okay. I mean, you know, don’t you — doesn’t your ideology change in any manner?

Roiphe: As I say, I stand by everything I wrote in this book and I’m right now interested in talking about Uncommon Arrangements.


BSS #128: Katherine Taylor & Mindy Schneider


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Smitten with literary Kates.

Authors: Katherine Taylor and Mindy Schneider

Subjects Discussed: The similarities and differences between Taylor the person and Taylor the character, declarative dialogue, MFA programs, the degree of arrogance taught in classrooms, Ben Kunkel, chick lit, the problems with literary influences, conversations in New York, writing out of revenge, writing for money, vignette-based narratives, on being the face of Diet Coke, stalking Denis Johnson, summer camps, taking narrative liberties with memory, camp anecdotes, combining multiple characters within memoirs, creative nonfiction, thirteen-year-old misfits, being a television addict, non-kosher food at Jewish camps, growing up in a spendthrift family, the importance of good shoes, camp songs, psychological evaluations of campers, softball, on being the best and worst athlete, an ice cream delicacy called the Icky Orgy, being bombarded with nostalgia, and South of the Border.


Taylor: A writer, I don’t think, becomes a writer because they get an MFA or don’t. It was helpful to me because I needed to learn some rules. I was so incredibly arrogant that I needed a couple of teachers to sort of reign me in and tell me what I could and couldn’t do. Which was helpful, because now I know what I can and can’t do. And it’s — well, it’s helpful to have those rules, as Peter Carey said, in order to break them. I’m actually a big fan of the MFA. Mostly because I think Americans throughout their educations are taught to be incredibly arrogant. And it’s good to have someone tell you…

Correspondent: Wait. You actually think that?

Taylor: Oh absolutely!

Correspondent: Every form of education? Maybe some schools. But I mean…that assumes…

Taylor: Maybe I just went to the schools where they tell you to be incredibly arrogant.

Correspondent: I never took Hubris 101.

* * *

Schneider: I am fortunate in that I was able to remember a lot of people’s quirks. And then, to try and help safeguard their privacy to some degree, I combined people. So I mean, one year, there was a girl in my bunk who walked and talked and did things in her sleep and another one who read constantly and hated camp. So I compressed them. It seemed to be an interesting mix and those two things were always going on in the bunk. And I found in early drafts — I’m not even sure I did that in my first draft — but early drafts, I found that I had too many people. So it was suggested to me by the teachers at UCLA, “Put them together. You’re allowed to do that.” And it made it much more manageable and easier to keep track of people. And I felt more comfortable because I wasn’t giving away exactly someone’s identity.