Roundup

  • So this winter thing — my first here in Brooklyn — seems to be setting in with the dipping temperatures. And I have to say that it’s pretty fantastic! Much preferable to the hot and humid summer in which I was stopped in my slumber by the logy sweat that started to appear in places where I hadn’t sweated before just in walking from one corner of the room to the other. Although I may change my tune when the balls-shriveling lack of mercury kicks in. For now, the crisp brisk cold leaves untold promising days for hot chocolate and ice skating: the former secure, the latter of which I will have to attempt! Why the weather reports? Incredibly deranged dreams — no doubt incurred from the crazy books I’ve been reading of late or perhaps the general burden of an imaginative mind — have jolted me out of bed. The good: lots of solid, hard-core sleep that has kept me rested and peppy through the day. The bad: dreams so intense that it can take me as long as an hour to recalibrate my bearings. So if I’m clinging to a conversational topic that is a bit safer than my usual repertoire, I hope you will understand.
  • Terry Teachout has a thoughtful essay in Commentary reconsidering classical music Neville Cardus and asking the question of whether his disinclination to embrace modern offerings has caused him to be forgotten. (via Books, Inq.)
  • Joe Bob Briggs — and his more sober self John Bloom — can be found (among others) at The Wittenburg Door.
  • I’ve felt that because Richard Donner was only half-justifiably fellated with that Superman II — The Richard Donner Cut DVD (which revealed that the best version of Superman II is probably some bastard hybrid we’ll never see involving Donner’s technical chops and Richard Lester’s light comedy), the incredibly talented Lester has been left unduly in the lurch. But thankfully, Lester’s two great Beatles films have been put out and Keith Phipps has managed to track the director down.
  • And in additional defense of the inventive Lester, who nearly every Superman fan seems to have declared an untalented hack, here’s “The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film.” (Part Two)
  • So will the WGA strike effect the literary world? A few agents now fear that many option deals may be quelled.
  • Margaret Atwood and husband Graeme Gibson brought their own dinner in a box to the Giller Prize reception to protest a Four Seasons development that threatens the endangered Grenada dove. They said they could not accept food and drink from the Four Seasons, although they seemed to have no problem occupying the premises. (Would it not have been more effective to simply not attend the ceremony, thereby protesting the Four Seasons and letting the Giller people know that there are consequences to scholarship? I can’t help but ponder whether this particular resistant approach is more of an upstaging of the nominees. Much like her LongPen solution, I simply don’t understand why Atwood would bother to participate in a process if it’s absolutely painful, unless there’s a self-serving satirical intent.)
  • Incidentally, it was Eliabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air that took the award.
  • It seems that Oprah isn’t a very careful reader. First James Frey, and now a book pulled from a reading list on her website: Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree. Carter, of course, was a speechwriter for George Wallace, giving us the mantra: “Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Okay, not the most ideal thing you want to hear from an author. But I’ve long wondered, like Sherman Alexie (quoted in the article), if Little Tree was — in some sense — an act of atonement and whether it is entirely fair to dismiss a good book simply because it’s written by a racist. It’s a tricky question, but I submit to you that we have no problem accepting D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation or Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph of the Will as significant parts of the film canon. I, for one, absolutely despise Griffith and Riefenstahl’s life choices, while also appreciating the technical components of these two films. It’s possible that Oprah and other detractors may be clinging to a set of politically correct assumptions just as vile as racism: the tendency to conflate an author’s work with an author’s life and the discounting of the former because there are extremely unpleasant aspects within the latter. If Oprah “couldn’t live with that,” as she claims, then how can she have any reasonably sophisticated take on our complicated world? The world is not always a place where artistic achievement is grounded on a rosy Runyonesque life. Art often emerges from an ugly and turbulent existence. Must we discount some works of art because we learn unpleasant things about the artist? Or can we be mature enough to judge art on its own merits?

[UPDATE: George has more thoughts on the Oprah snafu: “But, besides raising the question of how to view the merit of a work vs. the author’s bio, what this does illustrate is exactly how far removed this woman is from both her books and the everyday impact of her opinion on the army of mindless couch weights (like paper weights for furniture). Does she ever even get near this stuff anymore or does one of her handlers just draw up a list and sign her name at the bottom? Does she have any idea how her purported love of books is being used for corporate shilling, base taste-making, and political gain? Did she even notice this herself or was it another handler who noticed? When your whole life is outsourced like that, what can people trust you take seriously?”]

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8 Comments

  1. “Must we discount some works of art because we learn unpleasant things about the artist?”

    It’s not easy to give a definite answer. I threw away my copy of Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous the day I heard the first news about the molestation charges. Overreaction? You tell me.

    H.G.Wells wrote some pretty nasty non-fiction things apart from his great fiction. Should I, in the name of moral consistency, throw away The Time Machine and War Of the Worlds?

    :-S

  2. You folks are causing dangerous memories to resurface about that regrettable day in November 1991 — senior year in high school — when I purchased Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” because it seemed the thing to do and was instantly disappointed with how wretched it sounded. I did not have George’s brash confidence of throwing CDs away, since $15 was a lot of money. And I listened to it again — not unlike the conundrum presented in Steve Erickson’s new novel. But unlike Cassavetes, I did not love it on the eighth listen. Shortly after this, I began listening to industrial music and other music in which I could direct my fury.

  3. Nah. The cheese stands alone. You can argue that it’s a crappy piece of dreck that doesn’t need to be read though, that’s fine.

    Also, one shouldn’t universalize an individual person’s way of dealing with things. I don’t really care what Oprah thinks, but people use practical and emotional precepts for their judgments that can’t / shoudn’t apply to a whole culture or nation. Hence the law allows freedom to decide for one’s self, not allowing an individual to make judgments for the whole. So whether she has a “reasonably sophisticated take” on the world really isn’t important, because no one has to live be the rule of her personal (what sounds emotional) judgment of this mediocre book and its author.

  4. The racist past of the auto of The Education of LIttle Tree has been known for many years — I’m fairly certain it was known before Oprah created her book club. So I don’t understand why that book ever got on her list.

  5. It has easily been three – four decades since Carter’s attachment to “Little Tree” was first examined so there is no excuse at all for Oprah being oblivious to it. The controversy is not so much that a racist wrote a book but that the book has been sold forever as nonfiction. For a long time it was actually considered Carter’s own story and that’s where things got sticky. When I worked for an indy bookstore in the mid 1990s we moved it from Native American studies to fiction and that was enough for pretty much everyone – the point was that it was really not an autobiography (or even memoir).

    As to Oprah including it in her list – well she’s clearly out to lunch. Everyone makes a personal decision about what they are going to have on their shelf and she could have kept it in her house forever with no one caring but to put it on her site and use her personal endorsement to try and sell copies, well she should take five minutes and review all those titles before she does that. If she doesn’t and she gets caught (like now) then she just looks foolish.

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