Ancillary Materials

While I contemplate just what the new version of this site will entail, sans Reluctant, here are recent articles, essays, podcasts, and other strange things I’m involved with that you can find at other places. I’ll update this post as the output propagates.

Recent Reviews, Essays, and Articles:

“The Perils of Literary Biography” (Chronicle of Higher Education, December 21, 2007)

Bat Segundo Podcasts:

#160 — Will Self
#161 — Stewart O’Nan
#162 — Ken Kalfus
#163 — Jess Walter
#164 — Peter Fernandez and Corinne Orr (Speed Racer)

Return of the Reluctant, 2003-2007

This morning, I filed for divorce from Return of the Reluctant, citing irreconcilable differences. It was an amicable parting. No children, no property to squabble over. No embarrassing deposition testimony read to the jury. No alimony. Reluctant and I have had ourselves a good time over the years. But I’m a different person now. And I finally confessed to a good friend on the phone that I really had nothing more to say about books or the literary world in the Reluctant format. And I laughed for ten minutes over how absurdly simple the choice was. When something stops being fun, it’s pretty easy to become decisive.

You see, four years ago, this blog was started by a guy who worked a drab day job. But that guy is no more. Six months ago, I quit my drab day job, moved to New York to try and write for a living, and became much happier. Production stepped up on The Bat Segundo Show and the show’s tone changed to something more thoughtful, controversial, and interesting. It was much more to my liking. Yeah, there are a few clunkers in the 160 or so odd shows. But for the most part, I’m proud of the output. There are some incredible conversations in the archive and I really don’t care who hates it or ignores it. The great thing about blogging, podcasting, and the Internet is that there is truly nothing to lose.

Nevertheless, Reluctant was more of a chore. Often a thankless one. A daily grind in which I regularly asked myself why I wasn’t putting this kind of energy into the novel I’ve been working on, which is about halfway done, or the old-time radio project that I can’t stop dreaming about. Or just about any wild or ambitious idea that enters my noggin. There seem to be many of those.

I may be back. Old habits die hard. Maybe there will be something even half as fantastic as Black Garterbelt in Reluctant’s place. I don’t know. But if I do come back through a blog, and, frankly I’m on the fence right now, it will be in a new form.

For now, however, I’m done with blogging. And I’m serious this time. There are pages of crazed dialogue to bang out. Stories and essays to write. Podcasts to unfurl. Actors to recruit. A troubled protagonist to flesh out, who I’ve been learning more about over the past year.

If you’re looking for new content in the meantime, well, you’ll find all that over at Segundo — including, very soon, that Will Self conversation that some of you have been asking about.

But thanks very much for helping to make Reluctant what it’s been over the past four years.

– Edward Champion

[TANGENTIALLY RELATED: Lawrence Tate observes that my Chronicle of Higher Education piece, "The Perils of Literary Biography," can be found here.]

[UPDATE: I learned this afternoon from Josh Glenn that apparently Keith Gessen and n+1 are responsible for my decision. Actually, Gessen had nothing to do with it. It was Dan Fogelberg's recent death that caused me to sob for days. I sang "Same Old Lang Syne" to myself several times because I couldn't steal behind her in the frozen foods section without getting arrested. As regular readers here observed over the past four years, I was never capable of an independent thought. For all decisions, I consult Dan Fogelberg for advice. Had Fogelberg not passed on, I suspect things would have been different.]

Roundup

Nick Denton Proclaims Himself Emperor of Gawker

In an act of hubris recalling Napoleon’s activities during the Hundred Days, Nick Denton has proclaimed himself emperor of Gawker. Apparently, Denton wasn’t impressed by any of the job applicants and deemed himself the only fit man for the position. Among Denton’s first acts as Managing Editor was the First Agrarian Blogging Reform.

But let us give Denton the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the job pool was unpromising, if only because being paid to be publicly humiliated on a blog was really no different from working for more pay to be yelled at by a Type A attorney in an office. Or maybe it’s because most writers would rather not swim with sharks, when Gawker is already doing a fine job of jumping them.

Twelve

Whirring wind, the whistling of asthmatic ghosts, the clinks of cans and other detritus thrown out windows by careless neighbors and left to pick up in an unpredictable gust. Spooky and grandiloquent gestures in lieu of snow. The slush well melted. Two inch puddles evaporating before tomorrow morning. Footfalls beyond walls. Eight days before the unfulfilled promise of a wintry wonderland. Mere weeks before year’s end. Party poppers and streamers and the clinks of champagne flutes, but not today. The phones are dead at this zero hour, batteries left to expire and the monitors dissolving into screensavers. Everyone is shaking. Jittery souls packed in thick soles, stampeding through powdery barricades. The other half packed inside clinging to lovers and protective blankets. Times Square half-deserted, the heavy credit card swiping primed for the robust nor’easter of Penn Station procrastinators. Subways chug and conductors repeat MTA warnings. They are the lonely drivers of this city, saturating these barely populated cars with lonely chatter. The rest ride silent in cabs because it beats shivering in shelters.

The smarter and richer ones have fled to warmer places, to friends and families, to wintering — although they’ll never use that gerund. There are still places that pulse with life. Warm tableaus where everybody seems mystified that the holiday hasn’t come to pass. Which explains the reliance upon safe tunes that everybody knows like the Beatles blasted over speakers, defacing the silence and filling in for the thirty-seventh version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Daylight’s at a premium and everyone knows it. In particular, the nine-to-fivers are sad because they’re inside when the sun stabs through the clouds. It’s hard to smile, but jokes come easier. And sometimes there’s the prospect of a shared flask. Conversations are quieter, subjects less scintillating. It’s as if we’re all part of a mandatory Secret Santa operation. Brain cells dwindle, fires kindle. But cats and dogs jump on laps and are walked around blocks, whether sun or sleet. Kids bristle with energy and anticipation. The haul might be pretty good or anticlimactic. The alone hole up with big bottles and are left alone.

Jonathan Ames Pilot on Showtime

Longtime readers know that many years ago, I opened an envelope in my mail that contained a hastily handwritten letter and a small, poorly Xeroxed photograph of Ed McMahon. Unlike other mysterious envelopes that came in the mail along these lines, I was not promised millions of dollars. Indeed, money was never one of the promised options — at least not immediately. But there was the promise of a mysterious potato salad recipe and guitar lessons. Both of these promised to be of a very special nature that would win me friends, further my career, and earn me more invites to BDSM parties than a teenager’s libido could possibly handle. The latter was a particularly ideal prospect, because, as the letter put it, the party invites would mean getting the opportunity to place many local political figures in sexually humiliating positions.

potatosalad.jpgFor all this to happen, all I’d have to do is meet a thin, cadaverous man at a crossroads and continue to mention any news involving Jonathan Ames on these pages. Well, I showed up at the crossroads in question. And the man never showed up. But being a man of my word, here is the latest piece of Jonathan Ames news.

A few years ago, Jonathan Ames did not meet a man at a crossroads and, to this very day, does not know how to make potato salad. But he did shoot a TV pilot called What’s Not to Love? And Showtime will at long last be airing this on Tuesday, December 18th at 11:30 PM, as well as on Showtime Showcase on December 19 at 1:25 AM and Showtime Too on December 20 at 4:30 AM and December 26 at 3:15 AM.

In other words, Showtime has decided that the ideal audience for Jonathan Ames’s pilot are speed freaks and insomniacs. So if you don’t have a sleeping problem or you’re not sitting on a Sudafed stockpile for ideal home brew, be sure to set your TiVo options if you have them!

Roundup

O Lucky Man! Revisited — Part One

This is the first in a series of posts on Lindsay Anderson’s masterpiece, O Lucky Man!

The other night, I revisited O Lucky Man!, courtesy of the recent DVD release, seeing it for the first time in its proper aspect ratio. While it isn’t so readily apparent in pan-and-scan versions of the film, Anderson’s subtle and very specific framings — which are often composed of medium and long shots — are as integral to the film as its many outrageous moments among its side characters. The coffee salesman and former if… revolutionary Mick Travis (played wonderfully by Malcolm McDowell) is often framed in the center of a tableau, and this positioning foreshadows Travis’s later victimization by political forces, both left and right.

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Travis’s first appearance comes at the end of a slow pan, where we see Travis in the middle of an orientation meeting at a coffee company. He’s paying very close attention to a supervisor who is training many salesmen for possible lucre on the road. He has a clipboard under his left arm. Travis’s right arm grasps a pillar, his bicep (and thus his strength) interestingly occluded by the beam, connected to an unspecified part of the corporate machinery that keeps the factory in motion. In addition to this conformist image standing in sharp contrast to if…‘s violent revolutionary, it’s suggested by this establishing shot that this Everyman figure is drawn moth-like to the machinery. Indeed, only minutes later, we see Travis calculating on a piece of paper just what kind of money he can make on the road. From the protagonist’s introduction, the imperialism observed in the film’s black-and-white prologue is indeed reflected by modern forces. And this is just the first of Anderson and screenwriter David Sherwin’s onslaughts upon contemporary culture.

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But what of the film’s opening title sequence just before Travis’s introduction? The film features numerous interstitial interruptions from Alan Price and his band, playing songs that often reflect and respond to Travis’s adventures. The effect is certainly reminiscent of a Greek chorus responding to the events on a stage. But since this is the film medium, there’s something fundamentally more surreal going on. The band also appears inside the movie’s narrative midway through the movie, as Travis flees from Professor Millar’s hospital. So the film’s technical enablers have just as sizable a role on Travis’s predicament as the forces of the world.

In the above image, we see Lindsay Anderson, clad throughout the film in a black leather jacket and a red shirt (perhaps just as important a sartorial choice as Travis’s protective gold suit?), going over the script with Price during a guitar solo. (The film’s hefty script is also used by Anderson in the film’s closing moments to strike Travis.)

You can find this shot at the 3:25 mark. It’s a roughly 220 degree dolly shot around Price and his keyboard that suggests that Anderson not only has no problems crossing the axis, but that the director (and the script) does indeed have a hand in the forthcoming events. But it’s also worth observing that whereas the camera remains stationary on its tripod in relation to Travis, this is not quite the case within the free-floating kinetic safety of the recording studio where Alan Price and company play their music. (However, there still remain tangible connections between the studio and Travis’s narrative, which I will go into very soon.)

In a future post, I’ll go into greater length about how the film willfully (and often defiantly) flaunts these fascinating cinematic techniques. (The film’s frequent cutaways to static blackness, for example, suggest imagined moments to be filled in by the film’s audience.)

My Bologna Has a Second Name: It’s M-Y-E-R-S

When the last words of a litblogger’s post are “Fuck you, B.R. Myers,” and the rest of the litblogger’s argument is ignored by a bunch of trolls who scarf down critical animosity towards anything remotely divergent from hard-core literary realism with the same relish one finds in a stern Calvinist happily sitting upright in a hard cushionless pew, and the commenters fail to observe that the guy who caused all this nonsense was the same shit-stirrer who wrote a manifesto that called out Proulx, DeLillo, McCarthy, Auster, Guterson, Moody, and nearly anybody else who did anything different, I begin to smell a rat. A large, grossly sinister rodent gnawing its way upon agile minds, understandably mistaking the fierce lobes for Swiss cheese.

In such circumstances, there is only one recourse: bring out the cat.

Harcourt and Houghton Sitting in a $4 Billion Tree, M-O-N-E-Y and Glee?

Publishers Weekly reports that Houghton Mifflin’s purchase of Harcourt has been effected for $4 billion. The new company will be called the “Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,” with Tony Lucki serving as Chairman and CEO. The collective workforce is currently scattered across offices in Boston, San Diego, and New York. It’s unknown how the integration will be effected or whether this will entail pink slips before the New Year. But Lucki promises that the new conglomerate will “be particularly robust in the first 90 days.” Which presumably means that those who currently hold onto their jobs are safe through February, assuming that their services prove “robust” through the winter.

Roundup

Ethical Transparency

In response to the NBCC’s ethics survey, Quill & Quire‘s Derek Weiler observes that Carlin Romano and company missed out on far more interesting questions like, “Is it ethical to review a book by an author who’s written negatively about you in the past?” But he also points to these reviewing guidelines publicly available to all Quill & Quire readers. I think that Quill & Quire has performed a valuable service here. Quill & Quire readers can see precisely how the publication operates, what is to be expected of its contributors, and can then take up specific charges with Weiler if there are any ethical transgressions. Not even a publication as allegedly august as The New York Times Book Review does this. I suppose that, depending on the editor, ethics are something that you make up as you go along.

But because Quill & Quire has set such a sterling example of transparency, I will be putting up an ethical guidelines page for this blog very soon, so that readers can get a sense of the ethical protocols that I personally adhere to when reporting on a story, conducting an interview, or writing a review. And I certainly hope that other newspapers and blogs will follow in the same spirit.

Sudden Death Overtime?

People Paula: “I’d like to know why you have abandoned the problems we’ve had for 10 years (the reality and basic cable issues) in favor of a situation we cannot possibly understand yet. Why not wait a year to fight for the internet residuals, since we just might find – if we waited a goddamn minute – that they are really worth more to the studios than we currently assume? Why not hold off until they figure out their means of distribution, before we rob ourselves of even more income?”

Edward Champion for NBCC Board Member — Platform

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Today, the National Book Critics Circle ballot was issued. And as previously announced on these pages, I am running for Board Member. Even though there are eight slots and twenty-two fine candidates, I thought it might be constructive to outline my platform for anyone who might be on the fence.

Make NBCC Board Meetings transparent: I’ve been an NBCC member for almost a year and I haven’t a clue about what goes on during an NBCC Board Meeting. For all I know, these fine minds get together to play Parcheesi. I am certain that I am not alone on this front. Nearly every other organization keeps a dutiful record of minutes and releases these minutes to the members. Why doesn’t the NBCC do this? The time has come for the NBCC to be completely transparent about what goes on behind closed doors. Because if there are lingering questions or uncertain solutions, it’s very possible that the NBCC’s collective pool may have more than a few ideas in solving them.

Organize more social gatherings: Literary symposiums and discussions are one thing. But when was the last time that the NBCC organized a place where freelance reviewers and book critics could simply relax and encourage each other? Hell, when was the last time that book critics met up for bowling or mini golf? NBCC member Tim Brown has the right idea with his trivia contests. I understand that the NBCC used to be a place for social gatherings, but this has not occurred under the John Freeman regime. Mr. Freeman has, on at least one occasion, expressed a desire to hold a party somewhere. But let’s translate these great desires into definitive action. And by action, I mean, a low-key social gathering where casual social discourse is as much a raison d’etre for getting together as intellectual discussion. Book critics are people too. And since fun is one of my campaign slogans, let’s likewise ensure that this isn’t a hollow promise.

Improve the “Critical Mass” blog: While the Critical Mass blog has developed its voice over the past year, what can one say about a blog without permanent links? How then can other bloggers easily link to Critical Mass? The time has come to make Critical Mass a central place for literary discourse. And that means transforming it into something that is easier on the eyes and not always so serious. It also means coaxing David Orr into more humorous posts — which may involve bribing the man with baked goods to get him to post more frequently. As NBCC Board Member, I will also happily volunteer my services to getting Critical Mass on the more flexible blogging platform WordPress. I will even volunteer my podcasting services for special NBCC-centric author interviews.

Encourage younger critics and diverse voices: The NBCC hasn’t exactly reached out to young critics just starting out who would take up literary criticism. Nor are there any specific NBCC contacts currently signed on to help young critics contend with the realities of freelancing. The time has come not only to encourage these new voices, but to mentor them as time permits. Like my fellow NBCC Board Member candidate David Ulin, I also feel that there is too much emphasis on critics in the Northeast. Let’s recalibrate the balance and include other voices.

Stop turning our backs on genre and graphic novels: While literary fiction is a wondrous place for any books enthusiast to start, the NBCC has been particularly lax in addressing genre titles and graphic novels. Yes, it is true that Fun Home was nominated for the 2006 Memoir/Autobiography award. But what of genre and graphic novels as a whole? Why don’t we celebrate Anthony Boucher as eagerly as we celebrate Edmund Wilson?

Extend NBCC membership to litbloggers who do not appear in print. Litbloggers are, as the Rake recently observed, not the enemy. While the Rake has overlooked many of the positive comments directed towards litbloggers in the NBCC Ethics results, he is right to point out to quiet hostilities directed toward the litbloggers. We don’t really know what the book reviewing landscape will look like in ten years, let alone five. But it is clear that litbloggers have a passion for books, and often a critical acumen as keen as many print reviewers. Instead of maintaining a divide, let’s work with them. If literary criticism is to thrive in the 21st century, then it’s up to us to reach out to those who may take up the mantle. Further, opening up the membership doors to the litbloggers will also permit additional membership revenue that will help to keep the NBCC afloat.

I have many more ideas for how to improve the NBCC. But please feel free to email me if you have any other questions or ideas.

Also, please feel free to join the Facebook group page.

Thank you for your consideration!

The Latest Meme

I’ve been tagged by Pete Anderson for a meme that involves listing the first sentence from the first post from each month of the previous year. So here goes:

January: “In case you were wondering, my New Year’s Eve was just a tad more wilder than this.”

February: “I am operating on a prepossessing paucity of sleep and still have many things to do today. ”

March: “Robert Birnbaum talks with Martin Amis for the fifth time.”

April: “Richard Grayson alerts me to the Coney Island Reporter, a blog chronicling Coney Island’s unfortunate corporatization.”

May: “Condition of Mr. Segundo: Rattled by interlopers.”

June: “The crooked bastards at Javits want $29.95/day for wi-fi.”

July: “David Ulin raises a provocative point about Harvey Pekar’s recent prolificity, contemplating whether Pekar is authoring too many books for his own good, while likewise pondering whether Pekar’s concentration upon other personalities comes at the expense of Pekar skillfully depicting his own personal experiences.”

August: “At the the Litblog Co-Op, they’re cha-cha-chatting about the next round’s lineup.”

September: “Sunday Times: ‘The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.’”

October: “To my great surprise, there are scant YouTube links to Lois Maxwell’s fourteen Bond film appearances as Miss Moneypenny.”

November: “Recovering from many martinis.”

December: “Now this is a very interesting move, and I hope that Mr. Pierce will be granted some major technical flexibility to dramatically reconfiguring all of the blogs.”

I’m not sure what this exercise says exactly, except that the guy who keeps up this place is a relentlessly curious and cantankerous bastard who drinks too many martinis, doesn’t sleep enough, and has some political empathy. Which is probably pretty close to the mark.

For far more interesting people than this cranky rube, I tag the lovely Tayari Jones (who can now be found at the top of the revamped Bat Segundo site), Levi Asher, the collective contributors to the eNotes Book Blog, This Recording, and Sarah Weinman.