Roundup

  • It’s been widely linked elsewhere, but it’s certainly worth your time: Chris Ware animates a segment for the forthcoming televisual version of This American Life.
  • Mark Sarvas rather predictably dismisses Firmin, because “in the final analysis, he’s a rat and his plight never feels real because rats don’t think, talk, or write books!” (Emphasis in original.) Mark is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but as I argued back in October, who says that Firmin is a rat? Even if we accept Firmin’s rodent form as literal, I must ask: Do we discount Maus because it involves rats? Do we discount Orwell’s Animal Farm because the animals talk? Do we discount Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy because all the humans are accompanied by talking animals? If one can willingly accept magical realism (and I fully confess my prejudicial stance against magical realism), then certainly one can accept talking animals and other fantastical elements, without outright dismissing a book because of these elements. Also, as Jessica Stockton observes, Firmin doesn’t talk.
  • I have repeatedly suggested here, contrary to my previous declarations, that one should not underestimate the cultural developments in Ohio. Case in point: a brouhaha between low culture and high culture involving The Dukes of Hazzard, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and blacklisting. Apparently, Dukes of Hazzard stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat had planned a musical program. The program was then canceled, ostensibly because some people complained that the trashy television show was “racist and offensive.” This lead Ben Jones, who played Cooter on Dukes and later became a Georgia Congressman (with details like these, one expects an elaborate parlor drama adaptation), to declare that Wopat and Schneider were “blacklisted.” I think if you’re going to complain about Schneider and Wopat, you should probably point out that they aren’t exactly today’s answer to Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza. But to consider previous work not as singers, but as actors, strikes me as unreasonable. It’s not as if Wopat and Schneider planned a Dukes of Hazzard revival here. (via Ron Silliman)
  • It is with great regret, through no fault of anyone, that East Coast weather caused John Banville’s flight to be delayed and, thus, an in-depth Segundo interview to be canceled, but thankfully, the AP’s Regis Behe fared better, talking with him about Christine Falls. Fortunately, Banville made it out to Los Angeles and, if you’re in town (Callie?), you can catch him tonight at the Central Library Mark Taper Auditorium. I found Christine Falls to be an interesting experiment, a case of a talented writer attempting to tackle mystery with mixed results, but I was particularly taken with the structure and the imagery of The Sea. In fact, The Sea actually helped me to solve a problem in my novel. So while I quibble with Mr. Sarvas over Firmin, I can certainly share, in part, his appreciation for John Banville.
  • The evolution of male body posture. (via Kenyon Review)
  • The ever-thoughtful Justine Larbalestier, whose Magic and Madness trilogy beckons my reading involvement, asks whether authors prefer great editing or great publicity.
  • Dan Wickett has revealed the first Dzanc Books cover.
  • Should one discuss books one hasn’t read? (via Scott)
  • RIP Rita Joe. (via Bookninja)
  • Brian Sawyer has some exceedingly helpful bookbinding links.
  • It seems that publishers are now optimizing their content for browsers.
  • Does the online universe imperil the tool of narrative? (via Big Bad Book Blog)
  • Some Francis Bacon paintings that were set to be thrown away have been salvaged and are now going up for auction.
  • And maybe this will help the folks in Cincinnati settle the Wopat and Schneider question: perhaps the real concern is hurled underwear.

[UPDATE: Within an hour of posting this roundup, I was emailed by John Schneider’s publicist. (Christ, do they Technorati all day or something?) Since the email contained the preposterous sentence, “These are exciting days for Schneider,” I chose to disregard it. But I should note for the public record that I am neither for nor against John Schneider and that writing about John Schneider does not necessarily make me a Schneider shill.]

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13 Comments

  1. ‘Cuz as we all know, an orchestra should be worried about how they’re spoken of by Cooter.

    They had him on WLW here in Cincy yesterday, which means it was a slow news day in the Queen City.

    Is it any wonder I moved to the ‘burbs and am seriously pondering moving to Chicago?

  2. “And maybe this will help the folks in Cincinnati settle the Wopat and Schneider question: perhaps the real concern is hurled underwear.”

    And while we’re on the subject, underwear hurling is not permitted in Hamilton County by order of Sheriff Simon L. Leis, Morality Gestapo Oberfuher. I live in Clermont County, where we’re allowed to throw anything we want.

  3. Edward,

    To be clear, as I said:

    I did not care about Firmin because he is (I believe) a rat.

    I did not like the book because I found its twee execution cloying beyond belief. But it appears, predictably, that differences of taste with you are not allowed. (None of the other animal stories you note are similarly cutesy.)

    And I know the rat does not talk; I meant “talk” to us, to the readers, via the narration – which I admit is a sloppy and misleading formulation.

    Mark

  4. “in the final analysis, he’s a rat and his plight never feels real because rats don’t think, talk, or write books!”

    I’m just going to pretend that’s wink-nudge irony. ‘Cause otherwise it may be the silliest, most incompetent & superficial stand-in for criticism I’ve stumbled on in a while. I’m not trying to get ad hominem here, but we’re talking about basic tenets of literature. Fiction as a means of non-literal truth. Sarvas is looking like a poster child for the empirical age. And literature ain’t realistic. Let’s get that out of the way–all fiction is as impossible as a literate rat; some is just more subtly so. If you’re getting hung up on simple conceits introduced in kid’s lit, I don’t know that you ought to graduate to the Big Boys’ & Girls’ shelf just yet.

    Hell, if we really want to get into it, there may be a moral dimension to stories with aggressively alien/unfamiliar/impossible protagonists and situations. Not that such works are necessarily didactic; rather, they’re exercises in the empathic leap. Look at the mind-hopping daemon-parasite-thing in David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I think that novel deals somewhat with the idea of empathic challenges.

    At bottom (in the final analysis), the screaming problem with Sarvas’s criticism is his angle of attack. Had he said, “Savage doesn’t convince me that THIS rat thinks, feels, writes, drives cars, does meth,” then whatever. Fair enough. Tell me why. But he suggests–whether deliberately or by virtue of lazy writing; probably the former–that impossible narrators/protagonists are a fundamental, objective flaw which any work will have to strive hard, and probably in vain, to overcome. As you pointed out, a quick glance at any bookshelf just doesn’t bear that out (in spite of Sarvas’s grinning, pretentious opening paragraph).

  5. Do we discount Maus because it involves rats? Do we discount Orwell’s Animal Farm because the animals talk? Do we discount Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy because all the humans are accompanied by talking animals?

    Allegory. Allegory. Yes.

  6. To be honest, James, there are many, many other reasons for my dismissal of Pullman’s trilogy – the indifferent prose, the boring characters, the bigotry. But the cute animal companions were definitely icing on the cake.

  7. I’m not going to stick up for Pullman as one of the great writers of our age, but I hardly think he’s as bad as you made him out to be. It’s a matter of opinion, though, so all I can say is caveat lector, your mileage may vary, etc., etc. At least you weren’t really claiming that talking animals are acceptable only in (hideous, intolerable) allegory, which is what your first comment suggested.

  8. No, I can certainly think of instances in which anthropomorphized animals are used to great effect – Watership Down comes most readily to mind. I just didn’t think Ed had given particularly good examples, although now that I think of it it’s possible that all talking animal stories are, at heart, allegories.

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