Roundup

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