Caitlain Flanagan Declares War on Cocksucking

Caitlin Flanagan jumps the shark. No really. This book review has to be read to be believed. Everything from teenage oral sex to Ms. Flangan herself tittering at the prospect of mass fellatio (which, interestingly enough, Flanagan equates to “the province of prostitutes,” leaving us to wonder if Flanagan has somehow existed this long without experiencing the joys of oral sex) to an amateurish investigative effort by Flangan to confirm the mass fellatio. (Yes, really.)

I haven’t read an essay this unintentionally hilarious in a long time. That sentences such as “Somehow these girls have developed the indifferent attitude toward performing oral sex that one would associate with bitter, long-married women or streetwalkers” would be seriously considered in a 21st century magazine of ideas (the essay originally appeared The Atlantic) is astonishing to me. Maybe I just ain’t vanilla, but oral sex is hardly BDSM or felching or bukkake, nor does engaging in it immediately turn you into a jezebel or a gigolo. And by what standard do jejune yentas such as Flanagan determine what’s normal and what’s incorrigible? The magical gremlin permanently affixed to Flanagan’s skull who decides what’s right and what’s wrong after a drunken round of darts?

The kind of willing denial that Flanagan expresses here in lieu of trying to understand the issue (teenagers are becoming more promiscuous, like it or not) and in trying to parse whether the novel in question (Paul Ruditis’ Rainbow Party) answers this societal development is beyond preposterous. It’s dangerous. It promulgates a kind of fashionable bllindness in which it’s perfectly acceptable to remain horrified without trying to understand why one is having an emotional reaction. It imputes a mentality whereby one can never step outside of one’s hermetic paradigm and the results or effects of an sociological development are not just unexamined, but are immediately demonized as “evil.” Never mind that there’s likely some constructive value in trying to figure out why these “forbidden” impulses appeal to certain people, particularly when one is in charge of setting the boundaries. But in taking the myopic road out, Flanagan is no different from a paranoid Caucasian who immediately assumes that an African-American saying hello is out to carjack her.

That Flanagan’s essays have been embraced by the New Yorker and the Atlantic, while fostering such an anti-thinking approach, is a telling indicator that the world of letters isn’t ready for a serious discussion of these issues. It isn’t ready to accept the fact that, yes, teenagers have oral sex. More all the time. It isn’t ready to start answering questions. What does this mean? Is this necessarily bad? How did this develop and will we see teenagers start to embrace more violent and hardcore fantasies? And are these in turn bad? Is any of this a reaction to the way in which sex is so undiscussed in American society, particularly in the classroom? Was Jocelyn Elders ahead of her time?

The continued publication of Caitlin Flanagan’s essays is a disgrace to any magazine interested in raising these questions (or less provocative ones). Thank goodness that at least one of the Holy Trinity (Harper’s) has had the good sense not to publish such a flagrantly anti-intellectual writer.

For a more thoughtful take on a similar subject, see Naomi Wolf’s essay on how porn affects sexual conduct.

(via Jenny D)

Full List of Things That Benjamin Kunkel is Angry About

Culled from Mr. Sarvas’s painstaking retyping of a TLS article: “‘We’re angrier than Dave Eggers and his crowd,’ he told the Observer. Well, that’s promising, kind of. Angry about what? The war? Religious fundamentalism at home and abroad? Race and its discontents? – the big, Mailerite subejcts. No. Kunkel is angry about dating.”

For the benefit of those who follow n+1, here is a full list of issues that Ben Kunkel is angry about:

  1. The whole hot dog to hot dog bun ratio. Standup comedians have been mining this territory for years, but with Kunkel, it’s personal. A veritable supermarket jihad. A future issue of n+1 will try and track down the appropriate people responsible for this catastrophe, imagining a judicious world in which disreputable hot dog bun manufacturers are executed for their crimes against humanity.
  2. The bastards who cut you off on the freeway. While most commuters inevitably shake off the momentary fury of someone merging into a lane without checking their blind spots, Kunkel’s been keeping score. License plate numbers and full dossiers of car owners will be printed in future issues to come.
  3. Those call banks in India. Surely not enough has been said on the subject!
  4. Those who would decry beating a dead horse.
  5. How acid wash jeans are misunderstood.
  6. While competitor Eggers has frequently bemoaned men who don’t subscribe to the metrosexual code of shaving the neck, Kunkel has his own millstone: men who selfishly wear black socks to bed when their girlfriends aren’t around. Kunkel considers this sartorial gaffe to be a full-blown deception! In order for humanity to thrive, a certain dining out consistency, far from foolish, should be maintained. It is the American way.
  7. The charges leveled at Tony Danza.
  8. The guilt of illegally tearing a mattress tag off.
  9. People who bring in bag lunches (and, even wore, those Tupperware containers of last night’s leftovers) to work. Kunkel, awash in his own brilliance, has figured out the economic effect on small mom ‘n pop eateries, who rely upon office drones and their unassuming palates for their bread and butter.
  10. The avaricious impulse encouraged by the unlimited refill.
  11. The popularity of Jason Kottke.
  12. Men who wear Speedos in locker rooms.
  13. Women who don’t put out by the third date and the saps who love them.

[UPDATE: My colleague Scott Esposito also has some thoughts on the subject.]

Yes, You Too Might Be Running a Site Relating to Personal and Social Alienation

Haggis received an email. Things that come to mind:

1. What Google criteria did this Zolen Caro enthusiast use to pinpoint “sites related to personal and social alienation?

2. How is any site “trustworthy, linguistically clever and regularly visited,” much less gauged as such? Furthermore, what gets a young man to use such hilariously juxtaposed adverbs? (The influence of Tom Swifties?)

3. Since when does a hyperlink have an expiration date? I had no idea that there was a quid pro quo involved with casual linkage.

4. If anyone can help categorize this website under a completely baffling rubric by Google standards, I would greatly appreciate their advice.

Lewis, Lewis, Lewis & Lewis

The British literary scholar, Christian ap0logist, and children’s-book author C.S. Lewis is one of sixteen figures — Churchill is one, Gibbon is another, and there are fourteen more that I will leave you to find within the bulk of this silly essay — whose reputation in Britain is so different from their reputation in America that we might as well be talking about twenty-eight (or is that fifty-six?) different men. When one factors in red states and blue states, coastal towns and inland cities, naked people and clothed people, women and men, liberals and conservatives, the number of potential different men we are talking about quickly spills over into the hundreds. In this way, Lewis and Churchill may represent a literary mitosis that is sui generis. Both men were writers. Both men were British. Both men had the letter C in their names. In America, Churchill was a god for those who loved the letter C, in part because the Americans are taken with referring to authors by last names. In England, the C’s importance is emphasized with the Christian name. And Lewis (or C.S. as he preferred to be called on his book spines) was, of course, an ardent Christian.

The British, of course, are no strangers to authors with fancy initials. There is E.M. Forester and, more daringly, W. Somerset Maugham. Whereas in America, there is T.S. Eliot, who might easily be mistaken for an Englishman and the considerably more eccentric figure of H.P. Lovecraft, who is the hero of the horror fan. In fact, the general trend against initials has begun to pervade the British Isles, save the iconoclastic writer A.L. Kennedy, who, unlike Paul Simon, would never want you to call her Al.

It is generally believed that, like most married adults, Lewis had sexual relations with his wife. The Americans certainly believe this, but the British couldn’t reconcile the image of a children’s writer engaging in copulation. We can blame William Nicholson for all this, since he has pushed through endless adaptations of the same play for multiple formats. Our fact checker here at the New Yorker had to watch them all.

None of this would matter so much if there wasn’t a tie-in with a movie that seems to think it’s as big as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

The six hundred and forty-two Lewises — too many to list here, really — we are left with could very well be a fictitious army inside our head. We were encouraged to set the number at 1,042, but David Remnick thought we were going too far. So we’ll just start slinging rhetoric. Is Narnia a name that sounds like a type of English marmalade? Unquestionably. As one reads through the copious press releases, skipping breakfast, lunch and dinner, one begins to hunger for the bowls of Turkish delight that are offered to the children. The simple truth is that Lewis was likely a man (or perhaps six hundred and forty-two men) who was too intricate to keep track of. Now, if you’ll excuse us, our evening repast awaits.

The Silliest Article Ever Published at Slate

With the release of Aidan Wasley’s Star Wars article on Slate today, all day job malingerers can finally find an article that is absurd on almost every level. To compare George Lucas with the likes of John Ashbery’s poetry, Peter Greenaway and Matthew Barney’s Cremaster films is to remain highly suspect, as Yoda is an amusing little character but poetic in the most puerile of ways (“Do, or do not. There is no try.”) and Barney scaling the Chrysler Building’s elevator shaft (without CGI, yo) is more impressive than some half-baked lightsaber duel near a lava flow.

Let’s be clear on this: the Star Wars sextet is not pomo. Not in any real way. There is no blurring of distinctions. A space opera is a space opera. We do not see any fragmented moments that are meant to be mourned, any form of self-referential narration (The Force? Are you fucking kidding me?) other than that yellow scrolling text, any moment where George Lucas himself appears within the story as author, and, particularly in the most recent trilogy, anything that even approaches a minimalist design. Further, the idea that a series of films with some of the most atrocious B-movie dialogue ever written can be considered “intellectual” is tantamount to inviting a bunch of grad students to seriously consider the literary merits of Run’s House.

And let’s be clear on this, Wasley: Anytime an audience goes into a theatre, they are going to be “self-conscious” of a fucking narrative. It’s called paying attention to a movie. And unless an audience member is too busy making out because the movie in question sucks or ingesting an interesting and possibly illegal substance to enhance the visuals, assuming that the audience member is not a dumbass, he is sure as fucking fuck going to be self-fucking-conscious of what’s going on. Because ten fucking bucks is a lot of fucking money.

“Lucas even seems to acknowledge these stumbles toward excess within the structure of the films themselves.” No, pal, it’s called focus groups.

“Lucas is firmly committed to digital cinema, but in this single shot we see him acknowledge, perhaps a little sheepishly, his technology’s erasure of a fortuitous or exciting human accident.” No. It’s called one-upping Firefly.

Bad Lost Theories #1

Since speculating about the meaning of Lost is apparently the thing to do at cocktail parties (if not a pretext to get someone’s phone number), and since said activity has replaced speculating about, oh say, real people across the room as the topic du jour, I’ve decided to offer a running series of theories explaining the motivations of the show. **SPOILERS SPOILERS** and all that.

Theory 1: It’s All About Sexual Repression. The show’s creators have been reluctant to explore John Locke’s sex life (until this week’s episode, where a relationship was profiled). That is because John Locke is sexually repressed. After his kidney was removed by his father and Locke was left hung out to dry, reduced to sipping coffee with a disturbingly giddy grimace on his face in a car (the grimace itself closely matching the cup’s shape), note that Locke had great difficulty snuggling in bed with his girlfriend (who, not so coincidentally, teaches an anger management class). Even when she gave him the key to the house! (This is an ancient myth that goes back to the classic cinematic comedy Ghostbusters, whereby the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster must enjoin.)

The kidney represents virility and shares its shape with Locke’s grimace and his girlfriend’s beautiful ass crack (unseen, because this is teevee we’re talking about). Keep in mind too that Locke did resort to a phone sex line with “Helen” (a woman who he never met and, indeed, did not see, a sly reference to Helen Keller!). His idea was to go to Australia, aka Down Under, i.e., “going down under” on a woman. Locke then is partially frustrated because he has been unable to perform cunnilingus. Thus, he must “walkabout” the continent that is the global equiavlent of Helen/Anger Management Teacher’s vagina. It has not yet been revealed, but I suspect that the trajectory of Locke’s planned walkabout resembles a grimace, thus maintaining the symbol of the slight curve. Locke is also confined to a wheelchair — thus, reinforcing the circular motif. Is the real miracle then not Locke’s use of his legs, but his forthcoming ablity to lap his tongue with gusto?

Now, conversely, the French woman (who is, incidentally, named Rousseau, a philosopher exploring similar social contract issues as the 16th century philosopher John Locke) is also quite a lonely woman. What’s the first thing she does when Sayid comes looking for? Why, she ties him down and gets extremely close to him, demanding that he not bolt out of the building. Now it’s worth noting that Sayid is tied down to a square and uncomfortable bed, thus demonstrating that Rousseau is the exact opposite of Locke! (And where Locke is a man, Rousseau is a woman — another set of obverses. And where Rousseau has wild and unruly hair, Locke ain’t got much on top.) Where Locke has problems expressing intimacy and must resort to grand and despearate bravado (such as expensive plane tickets bought for phone sex operators), Rousseau is a woman ready to party (no LCD Soundsystem in her lair to speak of, but there is, at least, a music box; the woman can improvise). She also speaks French, the language of love.

Thus, it is the love/sexual repression that is one of the island’s many experiments. Locke and Rousseau are mere pawns. By the middle of Season 2, we will see rampant copulation among the island’s population. This season’s finale will end in an orgy uniting “The Others” with the survivors of Flight 815 in a very naked and licentious way. Kate will become the island’s dominatrix, demanding subservience from both Jack and Sawyer. Dawson will apply his carpentry skills to the construction of bamboo-related toys for the dungeon. And the Mamas and the Papas’ music will form a lasting soundtrack for this televised debauchery.

This Week in Desperate Similes

Robert Cringely: “Google is like that kid ahead of me at the bank, driving others mildly insane and enjoying every minutes.”

In Earlier Drafts:

“Google is like that mail order catalog that comes in the mail when your checking account balance is low.”

“Google is like that burned spot at the top of your mouth, just after you’ve finished eating a few slices of pizza.”

“Google is like that final orchestral moment in the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life.’ It sounds impressive but goes on too long.”

“Google is like whiskers you forgot to shave under your nose. You don’t mind them, but you can’t wait to go home and shave them off.”

Summarizing Traister

If you decide not to read this dumb and ridiculous Rebecca Traister article, here’s a summary:

First midlife crisis at 31. Where do I begin? Ah, yes, memory lane. Blame a book. Piggy! Name too funny for character, dismiss book. I was diligent and smart. Because I could outsmart Quakers without reading the book! I was better than them and now I’m a writer! In your face, ex-schoolmates! Can’t really break down “sooey” in phonetics, but what the hell, I need a transition point. Overintellectualization of book I barely remember. Never really liked this book, so I’ll go off the deep end here. Rape! Murder! Mother England! Guess the book sucks and junior high was foolish. Still better than you.

An Open Note To Virginia Hefferman

[SIX FEET UNDER FANS: Spoilers ahead. Proceed, only if you’ve seen the episode.]

Yo, Virginia. I’m enjoying the final episodes of Six Feet Under too. But it’s just a TV show. That you would willingly bring Fortinbras and Lionel Trilling into the equation, while completely overlooking the likely Clare-Nate consummation (which seemed strongly implied, given the episode’s final shot of Clare lying on the bed), suggests a deconstructionist who needs to inhale and exhale for several hours, get out of the house, and inhabit the real world for just a whit. Television is hardly as intricate as you make it out to be. I know your editors expect you to sound smart. But really, Virginia, we’re talking Alan Ball here. Not exactly Mr. Subtle.

Joe Camp Presents Benjamin the Haunted

Up until Wednesday night, I didn’t believe in the afterlife. However, I was swayed from my skepticism when a Wiccan friend of mine, whom I had met through the personals section of my local alt-weekly rag, took my hasty notion of what Walter Benjamin might think about the Bush administration very much to my heart. My Wiccan friend (whom I shall refer to in these pages as “Broom Hither”) pushed me down onto her bed, tied me up with several painful strands of tight rope, carved a pentagram into my chest, and then demanded that I bark like a dog.

To her supreme credit, Broom Hither had delivered on every single promise she had pledged that evening. And since I was already bleeding profusely and had no wish to stain Broom Hither’s expensive carpet, I howled like a Baskerville hound while Broom Hither let loose a heinous farrago of salty aromas, pungent candles and various other paraphernalia designed to badger my sinus and presumably the olfactory senses of the dead.

While it’s safe to say that I won’t be dating a Wiccan again, I have consulted a plastic surgeon about what he can do about the pentagram scar on my chest. The answer is: not much. But it was all worth it. Because Broom Hither did manage to coax the spirit of Walter Benjamin to offer us two paragraphs from the Great Beyond, which I am happy to publish on these pages. Mr. Benajamin has not only been paying remarkable attention to current U.S. politics, but has, in fact, ably mastered the English language in the sixty-five years since his suicide.

What follows is Sections 4 and 5 of Mr. Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of Idiots:


The human struggle, which is rarely present to a yokel influenced by White Zinfandel in a box and monster truck rallies, is a fight for the crude and avaricious desires which are often mistaken for upward mobility and, indeed, success. It is rarely the crude ones who allow for idiocy to rise, but the master manipulators in power who maintain the facade of idiocy. As American society has gravitated towards media mirages (c.f., reality television), the crude now see slim possibilities in their own futures. Thus, and I have not studied this as long as I would have liked, it remains my conviction that idiocy is allowed to flourish.


Please see Section IV.

At this point, Mr. Benjamin disappeared in a sepia haze. It is worth noting that he had no sympathy about my bleeding chest. However, he did admonish me for associating “arcades” with Mr. Do. So perhaps his lack of empathy was justifiable.

I have since learned that Broom Hither can be found in California’s Megan’s Law database. I suppose this is what happens when one lets common sense languish so that one may get laid.

Whatever the case, Broom Hither has disappeared from her residence. She has apparently listed me as her designated contact and I am flagging off the requests of dunners, creditors, and even a landlord from three years ago.

I will confess that I am not sufficiently familiar enough with Mr. Benjamin to corroborate his identity. It is quite possible that I was still reeling from the trauma. However, I leave this record up so that greater experts than I can make sense of Mr. Benjamin’s message from beyond.

Hold the Mayo, Hold the Line

Excerpt from “Toto’s Misunderstood Musical Prosody,” thesis paper by Wally Hanthorp, M.A. Music, 1991:

toto.jpg“Hold the Line”, a seminal track from Toto’s innovatively titled 1978 album, Toto, represents a rare case of restrained genius overstating the obvious. Critic Leonard Parvoo once suggested in The Peoria Journal Star that this was “a tune written, produced and performed specifically for stadiums and FM radio.” But it is worth noting that Parvoo, who communicated his unique fury over this innocuous little tune (and Toto in general), founded a Peruvian leper colony three years later. Clearly, the bile he expressed towards Toto in his review was transmuted in some small way into munificence. This demonstrates the value of Toto’s simplicity and the band’s power to change the world. For even Toto’s opponents are motivated to do great things.

But our subject concerns “Hold the Line.” Beginning with a simple snare drum snap, we are then acquainted with Steve Porcaro’s repetitive keyboard chords (thus anticipating the grand opening moments of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City”), which are then momentarily fluctuated in a slightly jarring beat, only to return to a traditional 4/4 beat that remains wholly uninterrupted throughout the song. This is our first clue that, while radio-friendly in nature, “Hold the Line” insinuates something more baroque. It is as if this tune represents an effort to “hold the line” on several levels, with the slight slippage hinting at a darker inconsistency. It is worth noting that singer David Paich himself is simultaneously singing while frequently pounding on his keyboard throughout the album, thus multi-tasking well before this term found usage in American vernacular. This is a truly admirable achievement — indeed, an American one. But why the unexpected introductory shift?

The answer is simple. Beyond the metaphorical elements of the song, Porcaro is holding the line musically, waiting for Paich to come in. Porcaro is determined to bang mechanically on his keyboards, despite the echoing barre chords from the guitar and the rote bass-snare backbeat. Paich’s obligation is simple: keep the listener hooked just in time for his introduction and the inevitable guitar solo. And what a rousing introduction it is!

“It’s not in the way you hold me.”

We are introduced almost instantly to the song’s sense of fervent denial. This is then followed up with a simple guitar riff that echoes each line.

“It’s not in the way you say you care.”

We hear the same denial, barely deviating from the previous line and sang in almost the same quasi-forcefulness. And the same guitar riff. When indeed will the transition occur? Prosody, as usual, has been maintained with a firm yet simple way of hooking the listener.

“It’s not in the way you’ve been treating my friends.”

More syllables in this line. These guys can cook! And indeed interject with a few more notes. In this way, Toto deviates from traditional stadium rock of the era, both by defiantly refusing to rhyme and ins ticking to the simple words “It’s not in the way.” And like the lyrics, we come to learn that “Hold the Line” is, musically, not like its corporate rock brethren. For we are eventually introduced to a chorus that quite deliberately offers perhaps the worst lyrics in Toto’s ouevre.

“Hold the line / love isn’t always on time.”

Even the most generous Toto appreciator would have a hard time reconciling “line” with “time.” There is nothing about these two words that rhymes. But then Toto is forcing us to come to terms with the remote propinquity of four-letter words. How many of us can truly rhyme on command? It’s also worth noting that the four-letter words Toto includes are not obscene. They are, in fact, quite interchangeable within the realm of everyday human vernacular.

Yet in this way, we immediately understand the initial discordant keyboard riff. For what is this but an oblique reference to Mussolini’s trains running on time? Where other bands could have employed a whistle sound effect, Toto lets the music speak for itself. The song needs no flash, save Steve Lukather’s driving guitar solo.

Will Paich offer us the full thrust of his emotions? Not here. He will save such moments for “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Here, he is concerned with how emotions are interchanged, often denuded of their primary value. His “Love isn’t always / love isn’t always” reminds the listener that this song is inherently about love, albeit love of a highly general nature.

It is the kind of love that helps one to get through a Saturday night. It is the kind of love that one can use, if one is fully inclined, to found a leper colony.

Tracking Sensations Is A Tough Racket

“If you reject absolutely any single sensation without stopping to distinguish between opinion about things awaiting confirmation and that which is already confirmed to be present, whether in sensation or in feelings or in any application of intellect to the presentations, you will confuse the rest of your sensations by your groundless opinion and so you will reject every standard of truth. If in your ideas based upon opinion you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation as well as that which does not, you will not avoid error, as you will be maintaining the entire basis for doubt in every judgment between correct and incorrect opinion.” — Epicurus

The Kookysolo Manifesto

Sasha Cagen’s book, Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics, is now ranked 436 at Amazon. But I must take umbrage with Ms. Cagen’s success. I fear that Ms. Cagen has plagiarized me. Back in April 1997, I wrote a piece for Motherfuckin’ Angry Motherfucker, a zine assembled by a staff of one at Kinko’s with a modest circulation of 42. I’ve contacted my attorney about this and he’s informed me that a little bit of public exposure may help my case. I’ve also obtained permission from the editors of Motherfuckin’ Angry Motherfucker to reprint my piece, “The Kookysolo Manifesto,” in full on this website. There are, of course, certain similarities between the two catchphrases “quirkyalone” and “kookysolo.” However, I wish to assure my readers that this was simply an essay whipped up in the course of a drunken evening. If I had known that “kookysolo” had appeal, I would have cashed in the same way that Ms. Cagen has. Of course, there are also subtle differences between our respective philosophies. But I leave the readers to judge the results (and Ms. Cagen’s possible theft) for themselves.

People Like Us: The Kookysolos
by Edward Champion

I am, perhaps, what you may call a man who masturbates frequently. Relationships are like nectar from the gods. They happen, but perhaps only once in a blue moon. For years, I’ve wondered if I should check into a clinic or get a liposuction. But, of course, that would be a betrayal. Why would I desire to be one of those ironies that grace the magazine covers? The Meg Ryan type cast in repeated roles that involve a concept as believable as a government that never lies: the absolutely gorgeous young woman who can’t seem to find Mr. Right or so much as a date with a fine young stallion.

The morning after New Year’s Eve (another hangover in bed alone, another year minus a good afterglow) I was standing in the San Francisco air when I realized that I needed one of two things: a good lay or a cup of coffee. I settled for the coffee, since getting the good lay involved an endeavor more intricate and demanding than getting a Ph.D. At least if I wanted something immediate. I drank three double lattes, just to be sure that I was awake, and began rambling incohrently to the guy behind the counter, who was also suffering from a hangover. “I’ve got it!” I exclaimed. “Kookysolo.” Needless to say, I was 86ed from the cafe. My picture hangs on the wall.

But I knew that I had something with this kookysolo thing. It was clear to me that not only was this a term that could stick with the socially inert, but that it could be used as an excuse for those people who are afraid to introduce themselves or to give their fellow humans the benefit of the doubt. Gravitating towards the kookysolo label would allow people a justification for their own self-pity, those people who watch Love Connection or Blind Date in the dark.

We are the puzzle pieces who never actually throw themselves into the box. We inhabit singledom as our natural capitulating state. In a world where most people have no problem living up to John Donne’s idea that no man is an island, we are, by force of our convictions, our abrasive personalities, and our failure to remember first names, hopelessly antisocial.

Yet make no mistake: We are no less concerned with making an effort to ask someone out on a date, whether we be male or female. We do not have the courage to voice our interests in someone. Secretly, we are romantics, but romantics who are terrified of putting ourselves out there or giving a stranger a chance. We want a miracle. We want someone to somehow perceive our terrifying inability to interact and do the work for us. And in this quest, which is no different from plopping onto the couch with the remote control rather than getting out into the world, we are our own worst enemies.

For the kookysolo, the world is a terrifying place of axe-murderers and rapists behind every corner. We cannot conceive of the possibility of failure and when it does happen, as it does all too frequently, we remain convinced that the world is out to get us. Thus, we go home and watch television and drown ourselves in a bottle of wine rather than pick ourselves up and accept that, yes, one day, a nifty soulmate will be there, so long as we keep plugging away. We kookysolos have become so hopelessly placated by our 57 channels of cable and the number of beverages in a convenience store that we’re surprised that the same principles cannot be applied to relationships.

By the same token, being alone is understood as a way to reinforce these terrible impulses, to be considerably more hindered by our fears. Our weekends are full of intricate rituals. Lots of potato chips and television and vodka. Even if we do find the fortitude to go on a date, we’re terrified by the prospect of wrapping our arms around our date just to see how it feels. Because we go into the thing assuming the worst.

And so, a community of kookysolos is essential.

Since people like us eventually hit a point where we’re willing to throw in the towel, it becomes essential to get together with other kookysolos and have pity parties. Support groups are just the tip of the iceberg. We need manifestos. We need self-help books that are modeled exclusively on half-baked theories rather than science. We are a demographic that will always buy these books. Because, dammit, it’s something we can reach for in the hermetically sealed comfort of our own home. It’s something that confirms what’s destructive to us.

But if this is what it means to live, then you can count me out. Because probably the worst thing that can happen is when one kookysolo hooks up with another kookysolo, and the two of them kvetch endlessly about their own fears and limitations. Bonding based on crippling negativity is a recipe for chaos. If the relationship survives, it will be quilted in emotionally clingy fabric, which is healthy for neither party. But chances are more likely that it will end badly, and it will further terrify both kookysolos into avoiding relationships.

The earth will quake if anyone, en masse, actually believes that being kookysolo is a good idea.

Well, Since It Seems So Important.

They gathered on the shifting sands, away from the bright lights and the big stars. Kith and kin caught on the question of kaput, the winds cutting across their chiseled jaws, freezing limber pecs and refrigerating halter tops housing surgical implants. It was an ineluctable assault on the California senses. Fifty degrees was just too damn cold. They were concerned. Perplexed. Unable to offer answers. Ensnared by the greatest enigma to face humanity since Poe whipped up his “Gold Bug” code or those planes disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. But who really cared about these trivialities? There were more pressing concerns than the mysteries and achivements of the human race.

Their friend was behaving strangely.

No longer the virginal vixen they had worshipped. No longer the adorable fuck-me starlet coveted by Bob Dole. No longer the gal who might have slept with Justin Timberlake. Or not. But possibly a John Wayne Gacy in the making. A troubled soul.

Their friend had been spotted slamming shots. More than a few times. Oh, she was of drinking age. Of that, there could be no doubt. But because she was accustomed to staggering demands, because she was rich beyond the dreams of that amateurish carapace she had thrown off long ago when she crossed those Ts on a contract signed in blood, her employees were afraid to tell her that she had a sizable problem. But was it the steady lucrative paychecks or genuine commiseration? Was their friend naive enough to believe that she could buy the sympathies of an entourage or was it a classic case of amoritizing pathos to ensure popularity? Had she been told that all along?

Whatever the case, they kept the hard line. No problems. Nothing to report. Shot while trying to escape. But then their friend had been whisked out of the Palm Casino, vaguely cognizant, succored by white man’s burden. But, no, their friend had not imbibed beyond the pale.

Thoreau would have marveled over this denial of excess. If anything, the deceitful impressions slung by well-paid publicists would have sent him into a sudden apoplexy. Their friend could no longer be characterized as modest, as virtuous, as inherently good. Now she was a victim of her own restless problems. Of course, unlike most of the public, there was an image to perpetuate and a deep-seeded unhappiness to conceal. And if she had behaved like that without the platinum records, the limos and the Braques on the wall she never looked at, she would have been 86ed from any self-respecting dive, declared a high maintenance case among an inconsequential neighborhood, possibly left alone to inflict herself with a harder narcotic she couldn’t afford. A daily habit in the hundreds.

So when their friend sauntered down a Vegas “30 Minutes or Less” nave with all the sanctity of a microwaved Swanson TV dinner, tying the knot with a childhood friend, acknowledging the true ceremonial import with a garter over blue jeans, and when their friend cancelled the deal 55 hours later, it reflected something else that the newspapers hadn’t considered. She could marry on a whim and then throw it away. She could drink to excess and emerge with a momentarily crippling hangover. She could do almost anything and then forget it ever happened. Except one thing. A pivotal facet not long ago.

A recording contract. A Faustian deal she had to fulfill. The only commitment she had. Don’t point to the men who had perfected the art of harvesting profit over litigious decades. The star, as always, was the culpable one. Even a star young, dumb, and full of come who didn’t know any better.

And they concluded that if their friend fell asunder, or was trampled by her own coping mechanisms (harmful behavior which they encouraged), there would be another friend to grope and laud, to salivate for a time until this friend too became forgotten or the paychecks dried up. Fame was an airtight science, a neverending cycle. And the public would never stop making rash conclusions based on the few things they could espy through the tiny observational sliver.

[1/23/06 UPDATE: The original link above does not look, but it linked to a frivolous FOX News article with the headline, “Loved Ones Worry About Britney.” The article is no longer available. It is as if FOX News’s coveted resources were devoted to other things in January 2004.]

By the Page

Crazed Hypothesis Which Involves Momentary Shift From Lit-Loving Guy Into Silly Marketing Type (With Extraordinary, Speculative Overtures) And Mischeviously Suggesting That William Goldman’s “Nobody Knows Anything” Maxim Applies to the Publishing World: If a 300-page novel is, by Page 165, something you’re trying to finish reading so you can move on to the next one, can you conclude it’s a good novel (if you admire it in spurts)? Conversely, if it’s something you can’t put down, does it follow that the book is a great one, whether pop or literary?

Is Page 165 is the make it or break it point? Sure, there’s the possibility that the story or prose will pick up in 5-10 pages. But if the reader or critic is not mind-staggeringly drunk over the book by now, then the writer can kiss her shot at being short-listed or getting a rave review goodbye, or face being a literary mid-lister. In which case you hustle the people behind the Today Book Club.

Is this how the publishing world works? Chaos theory?

Here’s where a bit of extremely specious speculation into American lit comes into play. If we examine the last five years of winners by page count, we find the following:

Pulitzer Fiction Winners

1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham (230 pages)
2000: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (198 pages)
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (656 pages)
2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo (496 pages)
2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (544 pages)

Average: 424.8 pages
Next Awards Ceremony: May 2004

Of the Pulitzer winners, only The Interpreter of Maladies and The Hours are less than the around-500 page mark. And that’s only because The Interpreter of Maladies is a short story collection. My guess is that The Hours‘s uber-homage to Virginia Woolf led the page count factor to be dismissed. But the Pulitzers seem to favor sprawling epics, whether a Greek family coming to Detroit, two Jewish emigres making a killing in the comic book industry, or Russo’s wide blue-collar swath.

National Book Award Winners

1999: Waiting by Ha Jin (320 pages)
2000: In America by Susan Sontag (400 pages)
2001: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (592 pages)
2002: Three Junes by Julia Glass (368 pages)
2003: The Great Fire by Shirley Hazard (288 pages)

Average: 393.6 pages
Next Awards Ceremony: November 16, 2004

The National Book Award winners are more manageable reads, averaging out at the 350 page mark. But page count isn’t so much as a factor, as are consequences over time (World War II in The Great Fire, what happens to characters over a decade in The Three Junes, familial trappings in The Corrections).

The National Book Critics Circle Award

1998: The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro (352 pages)
1999: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (336 pages)
2000: Being Dead by Jim Crace (208 pages)
2001: Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (304 pages)
2002: Atonement by Ian McEwan (368 pages)

Average: 313.6 pages
Next Awards Ceremony: March 4, 2004

The odd one out here is The Love of a Good Woman, which is a collection of short stories. (And I’m discounting short story collections because, by definition, they’re harder sells than novels.) But it would appear that the National Book Critics prefer breezy, puncutated books with a more quirky style. Ian McEwan has a reputation for whittling his prose down to the bone. Austerlitz is “short,” but the conversations embedded within the novel require work to pick out, being separated by commas. Being Dead is, of course, the ultimate perspective novel in that it follows the disintegration of two corpses. And Motherless Brooklyn has the Tourette’s syndrome hook.


The shorter your book, the more likely you’re going to win the National Book Critics Circle Award. But only if the prose is perspective-oriented and “challenging” enough to impress the critics.

If your novel is a little longer and your book is more centered around time and location, then you stand a shot at the National Book Award.

And if you have a sweeping epic, then the Pulitzer’s your best bet.

This leads me to wonder whether some publishers are more inclined to typeset their books to pander deliberately for specific awards, with abstruse cover art to match, and whether some editors, sensing that a prospective title has some literary merit (i.e., award-winning potential), will press the writer to tailor their books within these guidelines. (“No. Make it a little longer. And can we go off to Bavaria for a few chapters?”)

Of course, all of this is just extremely idle speculation on a rainy day. And I haven’t even taken a look at the finalists, or accounted for timed release dates. But being ill-informed on multiple levels about this sort of thing, I’d be extremely curious to hear from someone inside the publishing industry just how “pre-packaged” a particular book is for these three major awards. It certainly works that way with movies, and, since the risks are just as great (on a smaller financial scale) in fiction, it would seem to me that at least something along these lines would be in place in New York.

Just about every trade paperback edition that comes out has some kind of “Short-Listed” or “Finalist” nod on it, if it can include it. (Even a later edition of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius had “Pulitzer Finalist” on it when it already had a built-in audience, which mystified me.) You’ll recall that Jonathan Franzen got his panties in a bunch over advertising the Oprah Book Club selection on the first hardcover edition.

So the questions are: Are we seeing a shift towards award-conscious releases (even in first editions)? (The more awards, the merrier.) And, if so, how embedded is this within current publishing house policy? And by what factual criteria do they base these ebullient cover-laden interjections?


The Guardian has an excerpt of Carol Shield’s unfinished novel, Segue, which she was working on at the time of her death.

Terry Gross interviews Stephen King. Hearing Terry Gross describe the beginning of Gerald’s Game in such clinical intellectual terms (apparently, without irony) is pretty hilarious, as are the additional queries that jump from third-person to first-person (“Let’s get Stephen King to the kind of gore and terror and suspense that you create.”). But the second interview has King talking about his accident.

The Globe and Mail features a New Year’s-themed article on the description of drinking in literature that’s also unintentioanlly funny. Really, I couldn’t make this stuff up: “You can, with a little licence, trace an arc in 20th-century drinking literature that follows the act of drinking itself. In Hemingway’s work, the drinking was never-ending, and often celebratory when it wasn’t the weary duty of the lost generation. Hangovers were left largely undescribed, something that could be walked off in the clear air of the Pyrenees, or washed off in a fine and true Michigan trout stream.”

More fun from J.M. Coetzee in the latest NYRoB.

Speculation in the Age on 2004’s Australian heavy-hitters.

Tony Kushner gushes over Eugene O’Neill.

Biggest surprise: USA Today names both Living History and The Five People You Meet in Heaven as worst books of 2003.

Stavros has a translation of the Lost in Translation commercial scene that reveals (no surprise) remarkable caricatures.

And about 70 books on Mao were published in China this year. Perhaps because the 110th anniversary of Mao’s birth was yesterday.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

4,000 men were questioned in Britain. The results: Married men are more likely to suffer mental health problems than those who live with their partners. But the reverse holds true for married women. And women, in general, are actually better off without men. Meanwhile, single men are more likely to suffer from depresison.

So if you’re a man, you can remain single and depressed. Or you can get married and get depressed. But if you live with your partner sans commitment, you’ll be dandy.

And if you’re a woman, you can remain single and remain the happiest. Or you can get married and remain reasonably happy. But if you live with your partner sans commitment, you’ll be miserable.

Or to look at it another way:

Living Together Without Commitment: Man (Happiest) + Woman (Miserable)
Married: Man (Miserable) + Woman (Reasonably Happy)
Single: Man (Depressed) or Woman (Happiest)

In other words, what we have here is a startling development, should a woman need to be in a relationship. Relationships and marriages, it seems, are essentially exemplars for game theory. But the difference here is that the man alone is miserable and the woman, without any effort whatsoever, is happiest. A woman need not do anything to remain happy. Is this misery because men make most of the efforts in initiating a date or a meetup or is this misery extant within the Y chromosome? If the psychological hypothesis in these findings holds true, then what we have here is a clear biological indicator that women are the superior gender.

Dickens Not in Vogue

This morning, I was shocked to learn of the news that Charles Dickens is “not in vogue these days.” While Boston Globe reporter Sam Allis’s statement was brazen, it is, nevertheless, absolutely true. Unfortunately, a 2,000 word section that cited specific examples was cut by the Globe. One of my inside sources, referred to here as “Tina,” explained to me that a part-time copy editor opposed the section, believing that Mr. Allis was somehow channeling his subject. (“Tina” reports that Mr. Allis’s word rate is “unbelievably lucrative.”)

So what we received instead was an unsatisfactory generalization to back up Mr. Allis’s findings (“He is no longer the staple in humanities courses on this side of the Atlantic.”). However, “Tina” was kind enough to forward me a summary of what Mr. Allis’s original draft included:

1. Arthur Quilip, the little-known dwarf actor who was Verne Troyer’s stand-in in Bubble Boy, came very close to landing roles in Bad Santa and Carnivàle. However, he was narrowly beaten out by Tony Cox and Michael Anderson for the respective parts. The casting directors on both productions had read The Old Curiosity Shop and quipped to Quilp that he had, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “a heart of stone.”

2. Oliver Twists, once a popular cocktail at a Ramada Inn bar (“two for one Tuesdays!”) in Louisville, Kentucky, have declined in sales. Customers are now gravitating towards whiskey sours.

3. At an El Torito restaurant in Bridgeton, Missouri, a table for four, reserved in the name of Pickwick, was withheld at the request of the manager. Four elderly gentlemen were left to stand around while others enjoyed their “fine Mexican meals.” A few customers complained at the presence of these men, referring to them as “old, smelly and decidedly not in vogue,” and were thrown out of the restaurant by Boris, short-order cook and salsa preparer, with characteristic pugilism.

4. Back in September, a young boy by the name of David had walked hundreds of miles to Manhattan to escape an unfortunate domestic disturbance. Hoping to unwind his weary feet, and having been given a pass to the VIP room at Club Copacabana by a cheery busker, David showed up at the club and attempted to redeem the pass, only to be told by the bouncer, “No magicians in dis place.” David has since subsisted in a studio apartment that he shares with other orphans, but only by selling his own blood on a thrice-weekly basis.

5. Calvin Klein has called upon all of his underfed models to lead a public burning of the collected works of Charles Dickens. His circulars have had remarkable results. Kate Moss is said to keep her nose up in the air for at least four minutes when she hears the words, “Barnaby Rudge.” Naomi Campbell plans to take full-page ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that read in part, “Thank god that son of a bitch didn’t finish Edwin Drood. Who needs him?”