Regrettably, Joe Queenan is also in there with another bland attempt at wit. One can’t have everything. But I’m truly astonished to see a far more relaxed attitude in place at Tanenhaus’s rag this week and, for this, I must applaud this week’s issue.
Apologies to all for the unfinished capsules for the last seven shows and the delay in getting these most recent shows up. It’s been extremely busy around here. I should have the capsule situation rectified in a few days. In the meantime, four new shows are available. Beyond the twopart interview with Tom McCarthy, which touches upon a remarkable range of topics, you won’t want to miss Show #157 if you’re interested in the future of independent publishing. Multiple streaming and downloading options are, as always, available at the main site. Thanks for your patience.
Subjects Discussed: Writing stories in Beijing, exotic stories, conversational vs. descriptive stories, Carlo Ginzburg, working from pre-existing conversations, text that kick-starts a character’s voice, personal experience and intuitive narrative choices, the relationship between art forms and words, Jack Kerouac’s scroll, the worst case scenario of the artist’s lifestyle, baroque vs. conversational stories, finding the heart vs. putting together the puzzle pieces, imbuing a baroque character with a human sense, the advantages and disadvantages in “working on only one element at a time,” the difficulties of cooking a seven-course meal, the relationship between problem-solving and being a narrative ventriloquist, limits to the level of invention, Elmore Leonard, Donald Barthelme, cathartic responses to unpleasant airport experiences, dashes in dialogue, on being seduced by Dan Wickett, and starting up a new publishing company.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Kesey: I like playing with diction levels. I like the way that people talk. I like the way they hide things from themselves sometimes when they talk. And all of my stories start with voice. I get a piece of voicing and I try to figure out who it is who would talk like that, and then get them in trouble and try to get them out. And so it all starts with talking. And that doesn’t mean that they’re all going to end up as conversation. But the “Cheese” story was from — the book that the epigraph comes from, a book called The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg, which is a fantastic history book about a 16th century miller in the Fruili, in Italy, who had some pretty strange beliefs and who was pretty outspoken about them and got in some trouble and ended up being burned at the stake. And Ginzburg went into the — he was maybe the first person to go into the archives of the Vatican and get into the history of the Roman inquisition, but looking specifically for places where the inquisitors and the the people that they’re asking questions of are kind of talking past each other. Because these are people — he’s kind of the father of microhistory — and he’s interested in these people that only exist in terms of history now, because they had some kind of problem with an authority figure. Otherwise, they would have totally disappeared from history.
Subjects Discussed: The similarities between pre-World War I and contemporary environments, stumbling upon 1916, sanatoriums, The Magic Mountain, ethnic backgrounds, dwelling upon immigrants and working class backgrounds, blowhard intellectuals, cure cottages, the American Protective League, writing in first person plural, working from two green volumes of chemistry, amateurs in science, X-rays and radiation, the dark underbelly of science, research and ensuring verisimilitude, period clothing, symbols of an ethereal environment, unintentional imagery, stylizing a love quartet, characters who maintain a love of science, character names, Eudora Welty, on being a chaotic writer, the 1916 silent film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, on being labeled a “historical fiction” writer, writing in the past vs. writing in the present, inventing details vs. being inspired by real-life details, the importance of architecture, entertainment vs. atmospheric narrative emphasis, movie rights and film adaptation, how Barrett’s names turn into characters, and the access to inner lives within novels.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Barrett: That time — just the time of the First World War, before the war — was really the last time as a culture when we could imagine science as wholly benign, as something that was only going to help people, as something that was only full of intellectual excitement. It is the First World War, really, that gives us the dark underbelly of science. It’s when X-rays are discovered and then they’re found to be damaging. It’s when the chemical and dye industry is bringing all these wonderful things to light and at the same time they’re making poison gas. It’s when cars are invented and then they turn into tanks. It’s when airplanes are invented and they drop bombs. Everything gets turned so quickly in the First World War into darkness.
Subjects Discussed: Guns and weapons, the smell of cordite, authenticity, Remainder‘s protagonist as revolutionary, the ethical imperative of bearing witness, Antonioni’s films, Andy Warhol, Lockean nouns, the central axis of art, philosophy, and literature, Stanley Milgram’s experiments, Jeremy Deller’s reenactment, The Cramps, prisoner reenactments of the “Thriller” video, the common motif of the Michelin Man within Remainder and William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, Tristram Shandy, the bid to be authentic, author intuition and ambiguity, reenacting a bank heist, Bob le Flambeur, Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory, Dog Day Afternoon, bubbles, wine and dinner, the Blueprint Cafe, visualizing a carrot, Samuel Beckett, Giambattista Vico’s idea of history running in loops and its influence upon Finnegans Wake, the lineage of repetition, Shakespeare and plagiarism, mainstream publishing remaining in denial about modernism, hooking up with Clementine Deliss and Thomas Boutoux, Olympia Press, Deliss’s distinction between art and mainstream publishing, middlebrow novels, and inventing meaning from simple form.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
McCarthy: I mean, lots of critics have seen Remainder as a sort of postmodern parable. Or a parable of the postmodern. That history’s ended and we’re just a chain of repetitions. And it’s all to do with digital culture. And so on. And so on. But if you look in literary history, you get exactly the same logic played out in Don Quixote, for example, where Don Quixote reenacts — literally reenacts! — stylized moments from penny novels that he’s read in a bid to be more authentic. In Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne, Uncle Toby has lost one of his testicles in the Battle of Namur. And so he spends his whole retirement gardening. And he lays out the flowers in his garden in the exact position of the soldiers of the battles — so the red flowers are like the British and the blue flowers are the French, or whatever it was. You know, even Hamlet sits around doing nothing for half the play and then hires these actors to literally — to reenact his father’s death scene in front of the whole court. There’s this kind of awkward moment. So I think you find these patterns played out, right back to the beginnings of literature almost. I mean, I suppose the most contemporary or modern version of it, and one that was very much on my mind when I wrote the book, was Ballard’s Crash, which is a fantastic book, and its hero again reenacts car crashes, reenacts stylized violent moments, in a bid to be authentic. Ballard makes it very, very clear. He says the only real thing in this world is the car crash. And therefore we must reenact it and create the perfect one.
Subjects Discussed: Really good rhubarb tarts, cappuccinos and loyalty cards, the relationship between caffeine and psychosis, repetitive patterns, writing a book with the maximum number of ambiguities possible, cracks in the wall, unintentional allegory, writing Remainder in three drafts, J.G. Ballard and the “Eureka!” moment, the illusion of a brisk read, weird guys at bars, modulating dialogue, the clues within Remainder that it’s set in the late ’90’s to 2000, accidental interpretations of post-9/11 commentary, Time Control UK and concierge companies, speculation, the protagonist looking up at the heavens, the morphine hit of authenticity, empathy, the invented moment with the homeless character, post-traumatic stress disorder and shell shock, responding to trauma, ethics, examining the character of Naz and examining the World War II references, the fascism of reenactments, loyalty, Melville’s racism, the aesthetics and the rebellious temperament of the pianist, the sophistication of Tintin, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” colons and Graham Greene, the $8.5 million sum and eight symbols throughout Remainder, the councilor and his failure to use second-person in conversation with the protagonist, the proprietary nature of pronouns, Kafka’s “The Burrow,” David Lynch and “looking at yourself from the outside,” the royal we, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, James Ellroy, McCarthy’s love for the blue, the Blueprint Cafe, idealist philosophy vs. the materialist tradition, Naz’s tendency to look up words on his phone, setting rules on perspective, the protagonist’s obsession with time and space, tingling and electricity, the Freudian connection with trauma, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, and the relationship between neurosis and neoliberalism.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
McCarthy: These concierge companies were just emerging in the UK who would more or less do anything for you. They sort of lived your life vicariously, or they stretched your life for you. Which I just find kind of fascinating. I mean, it’s quite kind of metaphysical, really. It’s like you outsource your godliness. You outsource your autonomy. Even though you’re paying them. And the stock market was — I just found it really fascinating. This bubble and these companies that were just making paper millionaires out of people that had virtually no premise. Like eSolutions. I mean, what on earth is that? (laughs) I read this article about the South Sea bubble of the 17th century — or was it the 18th century? When stocks were going so high that people would throw money at anything and there was a company called A Very Good Idea Yet No One to Know What It Is. And its shares sold out in a day. And of course it went bankrupt six months later. But I guess in this book, the movements of capital are very much tied into the movement of everything else. So there’s this very idea of speculation, which has an astronomical meaning as well. Constellation of the heavens. And my hero spends a lot of time just looking at dust. Constellations of dust suspended in a stairwell. And they’re either going up or down. And the shares are doing the same thing. I mean, their speculation is about projecting futures, keeping shares buoyant, and at the end, both the dust crashes and the shareholders crash and everything crashes.
Amazon Customer Reviews for Uranium Ore: “I ordered a bunch of cans of this, and still couldn’t get my time machine to work. I can’t wait to get back to 1985 and my hot girlfriend. Meanwhile, I’m stuck working at the Cafe 80s, dammit.”
Strangely, there appears no sign of Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. (Correction: found here.) But there are some odd design concepts here — even a daring group called Women of the SS.
I’m not sure who came up with the conceptual cover on the right or why the manager or publicity person figured that raw spinach carefully arranged on a woman’s body would somehow make these guys cool. But it was 1973 and people had a lot of ideas back then.
The only trace of Spinach I that I can find is here:
Bubblegum/rock project of Giorgio Moroder and Michael Holm from 1973 and only originally released in Japan. This is the first time this album has been available on CD and has been fully remastered with informative sleevenotes and an introduction by Michael Holm.
Mainly for Men was a disastrous 1969 pilot in which the BBC attempted to get in touch with “what men wanted” by filming this magazine show. The result involved awkward attempts at interviews, how to fill up your leisure time with shark hunting, and even a song that you could sing along to (with a blonde polishing furniture in the foreground): “Men say they don’t just want little to make up an ideal woman / They talk about hair, the clothes that you wear, as part of the ideal woman!” (At the end of this ridiculous number, the host says, “And very nice too. The only way to do the dusting, I can tell you that.”)
In Part 2, you can groove along with the guy snapping his fingers along as sitar music plays in the back as he photographs a model.
Watching this today, one wonders what people will make of Maxim in forty years.
A University of Alberta researcher has discovered that men are more likely to enjoy a story if they know it’s fictional, whereas women are more likely to enjoy a story if they know it’s based on the truth. (via The Valve)
OS: “I don’t want to get started on a rant over here, but why can’t male celebrities have the same freedom in describing their own same-sex dream romps?”
Latest Maslin pearl of wisdom: “‘Diamonds, Gold and War’ is the work of an author who knows African history intimately. If this ambitious volume seems to follow too closely on the heels of ‘The Fate of Africa’ (2005), Mr. Meredith can draw on decades’ worth of earlier research and experience to give it authority.” Given that Meredith has indeed spent decades of his life to studying African history, it would seem patently obvious that he “knows African history intimately.” And who gives a damn over how fast Meredeith is pumping out his books? How is that a crime? And does Maslin even understand that The Fate of Africa deals with a different time period than Diamonds, Gold and War?
Ron Paul Blimp: “Two of the three airship companies we contacted had 3-12 month minimum contracts at a range of $225-$350K a month for various different features and blimps. Many airships only seat 3-9 people plus the pilots.”
New York Times: “In fact, all three items had been planted by police officers in plainclothes during the previous six weeks. And the three people who picked them up were arrested, and now face indictment on charges that could land them in state prison…. Unlike the initial program, in which the props were worth at most a few hundred dollars, the bags are now salted with real American Express cards, issued under pseudonyms to the Police Department. Because the theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a Class E felony, those convicted could face sentences of up to four years. The charges in the first round of Operation Lucky Bag were nearly all petty larceny, a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in jail.”
I wonder just what kind of atavistic mind would come up with something like this, where a good deed of turning in a purse is transmuted into a criminal action. Is it the same type of person who would replace vanilla extract with white-out on Free Ice Cream Day? The type of person who would tell you that you need to file your taxes on April 16th instead of April 15th and then audit you for being a day late? The type of person who would tell a two year old that, when using a knife, it’s the blade you hold and the handle you cut with?
Regrettably, my Hound has not yet come to life. Nor has my mouth become lathered with her sap. But I’m on deadline right now, with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One. So cut me some slack.
Awards season is far from over. Indeed, if a literary award did not exist, it would be necessary for Voltaire to create one. Never mind that he’s been dead for centuries. In any event, the NBCC blog has long, long, long lists for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. These lists represent books that received multiple votes from NBCC members and finalists. The most anachronistic choice: Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which isn’t bad for a novel finished in 1869 that started off as a self-published title.
Speaking of “self-published” authors, Sarah uncovers a remarkably austere attitude taken up by Lee “Anything Self-Published Must Be Fanfic” Goldberg and the Mystery Writers of America concerning Edgar Award submissions. Charles Ardai, one of the parties restricted by these rules, has offered several thoughtful comments. Imagine Tolstoy rebuffed because of these rules. But, alas, the trains must run on time.
Motoko Rich reports that Senator Kennedy’s memoirs have been sold for $8 million to Twelve. Kennedy had hoped for $12 million. After all, $12MM at Twelve does have a golden circle quality about it. But an accountant used the wrong multiplier and, well, $8MM, it was. But Kennedy should be grateful that it wasn’t a mere $4MM.
The Los Angeles Times‘s Geoff Boucher looks into the Marvel online archive and points out that “it’s hard to assume that particular reading position with a desktop computer, just like it’s hard to roll up a laptop computer and jam it in your back pocket when you ride your bike.” Maybe this might be a rare scenario in which the Kindle is helpful. Alas, the likelihood of Amazon nixing the DRM is as slim as John Bonham returning from the grave for a Led Zeppelin reunion.
CNET has an update on the Universal Digital Library. “You’re not going to find over 900,000 works in Chinese on Google,” says Michael Shamos, the UDL director of intellectual property. And he’s right. But you’re not going to find 900,000 works in Esperanto at the UDL either. So which online library should we be spilling our guts to a therapist over?
An early review of the next Benjamin Black novel with this interesting observation: “Banville’s novels under his own name have mainly taken the form of monologues or confessions by the grieving or the guilty; Black’s characters are blocked from confessing, and the tension it brings to the form is palpable.”
Michael Ondaatje has received his fifth Governor General’s Award. The Canada Council for the Arts has responded by saying, “Okay, Mike, you’ve had your time. You’re the John Larroquette of the Canadian literary scene. If you think you’re getting a sixth award, then we’ll send Atwood down to kick your ass!”
Terry Gross, recently referenced in this story involving a Jonathan Franzen interview that had been cut for broadcast, has been kind enough to respond to my questions. She informs me that “there has been no self-censorship or deals cut to suppress the Franzen interview.” Gross tells me that the audio for the original October 15, 2001 broadcast should have been available on the Fresh Air website and that she was surprised to learn that this wasn’t the case. Fresh Air has asked NPR to restore the original Franzen interview on the website, and I will follow up next week to see if it’s there.
Gross’s email was also forthright in describing Fresh Air‘s policy concerning repeat interviews. She informed me that when an interview is rebroadcast, “we almost always shorten it.” In the case of the elided Franzen remark, the decision was made to curtail the Oprah section because it was “dated.” As to Fresh Air editing policies, Gross pointed out that all of her interviews were pre-recorded and that they are all edited before they are broadcast. She does not record anything live. “Editing is not censorship,” wrote Gross, “Editing is not unethical. Editing is part of what journalists do.”
While I agree with Gross that a certain degree of audio cleanup is necessary to ensure a professional broadcast, I still remain mystified why additional broadcasts are edited further. I also wonder why such concerns as “dated” material should even matter. After all, if the listener knows that she’s listening to an interview that aired before, why then should such a distinction matter?
I have sent Gross a followup email, pointing out that abridgment is not indicated on the broadcast and that the main page for the Franzen repeat does not read, “This is an excerpt from an October 15, 2001 interview,” but reads, “This interview first aired October 15, 2001.” Thus, the listener might insinuate that what she is hearing is the same interview that aired before. This specification would certainly put Gross in a more ethically sound position.
Nevertheless, this offers some insight into how Gross and Fresh Air operates. And I am glad that she has at least taken steps to restore the original interview. I only hope that Gross will be more forthright about how future rebroadcast interviews are edited, if only to escape an ombudsman’s wrath.
I had my own run-in with Time Out New York editor-in-chief Brian Farnham. But it appears that there may be additional problems within the Time Out empire. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Time Out Chicago Editor-in-Chief Joel Reese has been fired for “violating a company policy.” There’s no word yet on what specific company policy provision was violated. And not even TOC Marketing Director Tony Barnett knows, or, at least, he’s not willing to reveal what happened to the press.
This abrupt sacking — Reese was only on the job five months — comes hot on the heels of TOC losing art director Bryan Erickson to his original employer, Blackbook. The official spin, according to Barnett in another piece, is that Bryan “misses New York and wishes to return there.” Although there were possibly other motivations at work here. The Sun-Times reports that Reese and Erickson clashed and that the latter left because he “could not execute his vision for the magazine’s art direction.”
It is also worth noting that former TOCpublisher Steve Timble was ousted in September 2006 based on a “mutual understanding.”
Mail & Guardian: “As he sang Lijepa Nasa Domovino (Our Beautiful Homeland), Henry mispronounced some of it — instead of singing “Mila kuda si planina [You know, my dear, how we love your mountains]”, he sang “Mila kura si planina“, which sounds like “My dear, a penis and a mountain”.
I have nothing bad to say about Sloane Crosley, except that I’ve yet to receive The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (and that’s really more my fault, because I didn’t voice my affinity for that pulp period). Apparently nobody else has any dirt either. Normally, I’m suspicious of such people. But since this is a piece from Observer journalist Leon Neyfakh and Ms. Crosley has the additional imprimatur from a figure known only as “Mr. Park,” I believe that Mr. Neyfakh did pound the pavement and looked vigorously for a contrarian take, only to find none. Perhaps there are quids pro quo going on that we simply do not know about that have involved certain muckrakers disappearing into the East River. Either way, I don’t know whether to be skeptical or sanguine in this case. There’s nothing here beyond hosannas.
Reuters: “While ‘Last Call’ is the first talk show in late-night to re-enter production since the strike began November 5, it’s not the first talk show in all of television to do so. Ellen DeGeneres began taping new episodes of her syndicated daytime talker, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show,’ on November 6.”
A side question for library geeks: When it comes to research, are you more of a SIBL or a Central BPL advocate? I have my own thoughts on the pros and cons of each library, and I do indeed like each one in different ways. (Sadly, SIBL has replaced Lexis with Factiva. But there are still some worthwhile resources here.) The one thing that has truly astonished me since moving to New York is the remarkable protectiveness that university libraries have towards their collections. You can’t even walk into these places and just look at — not borrow — the books. Back in San Francisco, I could walk right into the J. Paul Leonard library and park my buttocks at a LEXIS Academic Universe carrel. I could also talk my way into the libraries at Cal, since they weren’t that hard-core about checking ID — or, at least, not with me. Such is not the case here in New York, which seems to fear the vox populi getting their grubby little fingers on an obscure tome. And that’s just inside the library. (Is seeking knowledge considered a terrorist act?) I suppose I can understand this sentiment in relation to private university libraries. But this student ID policy is also enacted at the CUNY libraries. And given that public tax money helps to sustain these libraries, I find it immensely hypocritical for a public university library to deny resources to the public. Even crazier, there’s a racket called the Metropolitan New York Library Council, in which you have to belong to an organization just to get access to one specific book that isn’t available elsewhere, and that you have to request special permission only for these books. I don’t think this is what the people who built these libraries had in mind. On the private university library front, sure, you can become a Friend of the Bobst Library, but it will cost you a minimum of $175/year if you want to access the NYU library more than three times a year. (And if you want year-round Lexis access, the best deal I’ve uncovered is the Queens College library, where a $50 minimum donation will get you in and get you borrowing privileges.) It seems that New York is very much predicated on the idea that knowledge belongs only to those who can pay for it. But I find this to be a repellent and decidedly antidemocratic notion.
Another year, another dispute over Gene Wolfe. While I can understand Waggish’s frustrations about the Book of the New Sun series, I side with Richard in this case. The books can be enjoyed even if you don’t figure out all of the puzzles and even if Wolfe ain’t exactly forthcoming about such details as Severian’s sister. Waggish appears to be upset because Wolfe’s plots aren’t spoon-fed to him, thus presenting the suggestion in Waggish’s mind that the half-revealed details don’t add up to something. Well, that is his judgment, not Wolfe’s. He seems upset that Wolfe would rather write novels playing by his own rules. Which is a bit like a snotty undergraduate complaining that Ulysses is just too damn hard and that therefore it is James Joyce who has failed. When, in fact, the answer involves rereading the book again and again. Or moving onto other books. Or trying again years later when one is (hopefully) a bit smarter.
Yes, it’s hair band day here at Return of the Reluctant. But that’s only because the dubious winds of news have breezed along a strange tendentious trajectory after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Quiet Riot singer Kevin Dubrow has been found dead in Vegas — a place where his services were, I hope, appreciated. Nevertheless, “Cum On Feel the Noize,” despite its crude mangling of monosyllabic words, did blast many a time on my speakers over the years. (And in Quiet Riot’s defense, it was Slade who first performed the song and first butchered the English language.) As did “Metal Health” — again, hardly the most graceful bon mot. But Quiet Riot was the first heavy metal group to have a #1 album on the Billboard charts, until it was ignobly unseated by the likes of Lionel Richie. This demonstrates that there is indeed no justice in the universe, whatever your positions on either Quiet Riot or Lionel Ritchie.
Slushpile has dug up further evidence of Janet Maslin’s critical inadequacies, as evidenced by this review of John Leake’s Entering Hades. Apparently, the fact that Michael Connelly did not give the book a blurb is reason enough to quibble with it. In fact, I’m wondering why Maslin didn’t just throw the book in the fireplace and devote her 900 words to qualities that had nothing to do with the book. What of John Leake’s pronounced fro or the fact that he sits with his arms crossed, but doesn’t appear intense enough in his author photo? (For Christ’s sake, he wears sandals! Well, that’s two strikes against the book, I’m afraid.) This is the news that’s fit to print in the dailies these days. Reading the New York Times‘s daily book coverage makes me so disheartened that I’d rather watch Michiko and Maslin in a nude mud wrestling match. That’s hardly my first choice of perverse entertainment, mind you, but I dredge this conceptual horror from my unwholesome imagination in order to make a larger point about journalistic integrity.
My investigations into the Amazon Kindle have yielded some names. And I plan to follow up on this very soon. But in the meantime, Simon Owens has presented us with a observation so patently obvious that it appears to have been overlooked by everyone:
What good is a blog if you can’t click on outbound links?