It seems that on Facebook, happiness isn’t really a warm gun, but it can be found through a friend you add. My own tendency is to pretty much say yes to anybody on Facebook. The other day, Anne Rice, whom I do not know and whose books I have stopped reading, asked me to be your Facebook friend. Now if Anne were a real friend, we’d hang out and have mojitos during happy hour. She’d tell me her latest troubles over the phone. I’d offer a shoulder to cry on. We’d have a number of exciting adventures with other friends. But since this was Facebook, this typical friendship was probably not going to happen. Nevertheless, I figured, why not? Maybe Anne’s lonely. Maybe if she’s Facebook friends with me, this will make her happier. Then again, maybe “happiness” is being confused with an opportunistic marketing move. Is it really Anne Rice at the other end or some young and savvy publicist who wants to use the latest technology to get hip with the kids? I am sometimes suspicious of authors who add me as Facebook friends only a few months before one of their books is published. There have been a few instances in which I’ve run into an author in person, an author who added me as a Facebook friend and who initiated the step, but who did not recognize me. Presumably, their gesture for friendship was somewhat phony or motivated by something else. But since adding a Facebook friend hurts nobody, why not add them? It’s the virtual equivalent of cheering up a stranger in the elevator!
If you’re a struggling freelancer who doesn’t have a Y chromosome, consider donating eggs to make ends meet. (We men get a mere $100 to donate sperm. You know, it’s very humbling to know that your mojo has as much value as a pretty decent Strand haul.)
There are many batty angles contained within this New York Times Style piece: the notion that someone could earn a living as a “professional book-group facilitator,” the idea that a book could be discriminated against because it has book group questions in the back (when such questions can be easily ignored or torn out), or the suggested trauma that comes from the burden of selecting a title. But I will say this. Back in San Francisco, I had to try out five book clubs before I was forced to establish a book club of my own. I wanted to ensure that good books were read. I wanted to ensure that everyone had a say during the discussion. Admittedly, my standards were high. But finding a good book club is like finding a good mechanic or a good therapist. You have to dabble with a considerable number before you find the right one. At least with the book clubs, you’re not dealing with the intricate machinery of an automobile or the complex feelings of a baroque personality. (And you’re certainly not dealing with exorbitant bills.) If you can’t find the ideal book club, maybe you should test the waters and start your own. (There was also a fringe benefit I didn’t anticipate: book clubs, for whatever reason, got me dates.) In my case, it worked out well for about a year and a half before I had to give it up for other commitments (and not necessarily the kind you’re thinking, you dirty dirty reader!).
Thank you, David Barber, for what is quite possibly the worst lede in the Atlantic‘s history. Let us put this into perspective. David Barber is the poetry editor — a man who would, by way of his title, have some grasp of language. And this nonsense is the best he can come up with? I’ve seen better first sentences in high school essays. Hell, I’ve heard better first lines from desperate middle-aged men trying to hope to hook up with slinky women in bars. Good Christ, what has happened to the Atlantic? Britney Spears on the cover, dull writing, idiotic subjects. I check in every so often with an open mind, hoping that the Atlantic will return to what it once was when I was a subscriber. This is especially troubling, because I once referred to Harper’s, The New Yorker, and the Atlantic as the Holy Trinity. Well, now the Atlantic is firmly off the list. And I need a third magazine to complete the trinity. Any suggestions from readers? What is your Holy Trinity of Magazines? Hell, the Atlantic is so bad these days that I’d rather read an issue of Wrestling USA.
In fact, it’s so bad that Atlantic staffers are being commissioned for epic fail think pieces. Ben Schwarz has now teaming up with Caitlin Flanagan for this callow New York Times op-ed piece laden with generalizations. I hope that Mr. Schwarz had a cold shower just after turning in this piece. My, how the once mighty have fallen! (via LA Observed)
“When the Plaza Hotel reopened in March 2008 after three years and $400 million in renovations, the 805-room grande dame of the NYC hotel scene was as unrecognizable as an aging matron who Botoxed her way back to the tautness of a 25-year-old.” Not necessarily the best simile, but considering that this is the New York Post, this is an unwonted sentence that is to be commended.
To Adam Sternbergh: If you haven’t bothered to watch Mad Men, then why did you bother to write 1,100 words about why you don’t watch it? If you are being paid $1/word, why would you be such a lazy and worthless intellectual coprophilie and not investigate the show that you’re writing about? Why would you not go to the trouble of having your perceptions challenged? Or of offering an informed contrarian take to counter all the Mad Men mania? It’s only a few hours of your time to watch a few episodes. This is what makes good cultural journalism. No, instead, you’ve been paid $1,000 to tell us why you enjoy expressing your arrogant and uninformed idiocy. Why aren’t you out on the street holding a tin can begging for spare change and not getting a single dime? Why aren’t homeless people kicking you in the shins? Why isn’t a dependable team of mercenaries nailing hard pikes into your sorry excuse for a noggin while you’re trying to recover from a Sunday morning hangover? Why is this kind of insipid flummery being run in magazines when there are real journalists who are now out of work? Is that enough passionate advocacy for you? (To offer some perspective, 30,000 media jobs have been lost in 2008. But Adam Sternbergh inexplicably survives. Small wonder that Andrew Sullivan has concluded that it’s the end for newspapers.)
I completely believe that the Daily News managed to “steal” The Empire State Building. One of the things that has amazed me about New York is how a considerable amount of information is often asked of another, but it is not often examined. You could probably put “Interests: Pederasty” on your CV, and nobody would blink. (Thanks, Z.)
The New York Times site has initiated something called Times Extra. The feature purports to include links to non-New York Times stories with stories. I’ve tried out Times Extra and have found this to not be the case. Having additional links is beside the point. The New York Times doesn’t seem to understand that the links need to be embedded within the content in order to matter (and not just to their own material). I certainly have done this on just about any topic, because I figure somebody coming to my page might need to go somewhere else for additional information. This is Web Writing 101.
I like me some Arrowsmith, Babbitt, Dodsworth and Elmer Gantry, Mr. Junker. (Main Street and the later work, not so much.)
The New Yorkerprofiles Naomi Klein and, in so doing, reveals many of the substantial problems now facing the Left. If the Left is to move forward, it must do so with hope and humility. It is all too easy to preach to the converted and to assume that one’s conclusions are final, particularly when you insist upon steeling yourself up with overwhelming rhetoric. The more challenging and fruitful position is to attempt to understand the apparent “opposition” and communicate through a framework in which lively but civil disagreement can be carried out that benefits all parties. Samantha Power, who is leagues smarter than Klein, understands this vital element of diplomacy. And it’s a pity that Chasing the Flame, Power’s more mature and quite intriguing biography of Sergio Vieria de Mello, has been overlooked for some of the more juvenile “arguments” that pollute The Shock Doctrine. Vieira de Mello was one of the few UN diplomats to get through to the likes of the Khmer Rouge and George W. Bush, and he managed to do this without abandoning his dignity. Power’s volume is not so much the portrait of an individual, as it is a well-researched and subtle guide for how one individual who came from a Marxist upbringing was able to communicate to unsavory individuals and still capable of fulfilling the UN Charter, while powerful governments attempted to bully the UN into complaisance. Let us hope that with Power now returning to the Obama team — ironically, to a State Department that will be overseen by Hillary Clinton — we will see these fundamentals applied to the new administration. Let us also hope that Klein eventually learns how to inhabit the regions outside her own head.
Colson Whitehead has made a video. While I recognize the base exigencies of marketing, I must nevertheless raise a cautious eyebrow over Whitehead dismissing Holden Caulfield while likewise using the dreaded phrase “child of the ’80s.” (I likewise fit the temporal and existential requirements, but I would never dare deploy these four words on these pages.) I can accept Junot Diaz writing about Grand Theft Auto (and indeed hope for more of this), but I simply cannot accept a writer of Whitehead’s caliber resorting all too easily to this LiveJournal vernacular. I do, however, recognize this as one of those time-honored promotional videos — perhaps something to be enjoyed with Bas Rutten. I have inured myself to these promotional videos, realizing that they almost never represent the novels they are promoting. But like the Rake, I eagerly anticipate this next novel, hoping that Sag Harbor represents a return to form.
I only link to the ineffable dumbass as a public service. Yes, she’s still out there, ready to be reactivated when Ann Coulter can’t open her mouth. Yes, she’s still contributing drivel to The Atlantic. But then what can you expect from a once thoughtful magazine that desperately includes Britney Spears on its cover to attract readers. (via Maud)
We are not in New York. Our gaunt hosts have sallow eyes, aquiline noses, and have muttered some nonsense in Gaelic. I heard one of the footmen mutter the words “kill humanity.” So far, they have only asked us for three pints of blood. The damp stone steps wind downward into a cool cave, with a small gust of stale air providing ventilation from a crenelated crack. We have been informed that various guests have been sacrificed over the past few centuries, but we have reason to believe that we will make our way back to New York in safety, and have tipped one of the gnomes with a slab of raw meat to ensure that we stay salubrious. Amazingly, there is wi-fi, proving indeed that you can get a wi-fi connection just about anywhere — even in the ninth circle of hell. So while we await our fates, we’ll still continue to keep you posted on what’s going on in culture.
Word on the street is that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will not be acquiring new books in the future. This has been described as a “temporary freeze,” and some agents are dubious. One literary agent referenced in the above linked Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s article has remarked that she has not seen a freeze before and that she doesn’t know how such a model can sustain itself if there isn’t new product. This is a very reasonable question to ask. Traditionally, publishers move at a glacial pace when it comes to shifting stock and making the necessary internal developments necessary to keep abreast in a fast-changing technological age. But should the “temporary freeze” continue beyond Q1 2009 — presumably, a period in which Houghton is expecting some profits that will keep the operation afloat without having to axe any employees — then one must ask how this publisher can remain even remotely current and competitive.
Holt Uncensored has thankfully returned in blog form, and Pat Holt has some very interesting ideas about online royalty accounts. Given the extraordinary rights that a publisher seizes from an author during the course of publication, it seems only equitable for the publisher to be transparent about how it is doling out its author royalties. Of course, most authors are especially keen to leave such inquisitive niceties about whether or not they are getting screwed to their agents. So I don’t think we’ll be seeing authors storming Midtown with pitchforks anytime soon. Agents, on the other hand…
Details on the new Pynchon novel. I’m wondering if any hard-core Pynchonites will be legally changing their surnames to “Sportello.” Someone should record the explanations to the judges for posterity, and perhaps a grad student might run with this further in a thesis project.
Dan Green quibbles with the “certain facts” about writers that are apparently “buried there.” Yes, novels have been known to express certain truths about the world around us. But who knew that Joseph Bottum read novels to psychoanalyze the author? Well, to take Bottum’s amazing skill set and apply it to the essay in question, here are “certain facts” about Mr. Bottum: (1) Mr. Bottum would really, really like to visit Buenos Aires, (2) Mr. Bottum has not yet heard of the Power Exchange sex club in San Francisco, but would likely become a regular if he were to pay good money on one daring night, (3) Mr. Bottum is arrogant, and in his arrogance wishes to declare anybody who is smarter than him “arrogant,” and (4) Mr. Bottum, during weak moments, barks at small children and tells them that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are dead and that they are mere fictive constructs fornicating and doped out in a ratty motel in Akron, Ohio. Now how do I know these “certain facts?” Well, because they are “buried there.” I need not cite any specific text to prove my point. This is prima facie, my friends. And should Mr. Bottum (a most suspicious name, don’t you think?) come to these pages to dispel them, then his denial will almost certainly reveal that the “certain facts” are truer than he ever intended! My keen literary analysis will no doubt hold up in a court of law. Now pardon me while I go hypnotize a rabbit.
Michael Dolan offers some helpful hints on how to manage the deranged beast commonly referred to as the email inbox. My own email habits involve going through a mad tear once every two or three days, often sorting by name and subject line, and getting it down to under 10 messages. You’re more inclined to get an answer from me through the edrants address than the Yahoo address; the latter is largely a backup email account. But I also enjoy watching the email accrue over a number of days, marveling at the way in which a triple digit inbox transmogrifies into a single digit through preternatural prolificity. Much of this is quite random and playfully anarchic. And you will sometimes hear back from me in minutes; other times, it may be a few weeks. Email only represents a tyranny to anyone terrified by the bountiful possibilities of communicative life or the deranged verbal manner in which one can connect with other people. If someone has a request, and it isn’t a boilerplate email addressed “Dear Reviewer” or “Dear Ms. Champion,” I will offer a yes or a no within a day or two. I certainly don’t like saying no, or even remaining uncommitted, but if another person has gone to the trouble to ask me about something, I feel that the professional thing to do is to be as honest as I can. If someone has taken the time to write to me personally, I feel that it is my duty to write them back, even if I can only answer with a few sentences. The inbox will indeed mushroom again, but I suppose that the only reason I’m able to keep up is because I type 110 wpm. (via The Book Publicity Blog)
I am now on page 18 of 2666.
Page numbers for other books I am currently in the middle of reading: 11, 133, 131, and 221. I have attempted to cut back on the number of books I read concurrently. Five books is actually a considerably small number. Only two months ago, I was reading twenty-two books simultaneously. How many books are you in the middle of reading? And what are the page numbers?
Moby Lives points to what Chip McGrath has misidentified as “a small flare-up in the blogosphere.” The controversy involves whether or not Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, by way of being a mammoth reworking of three previously published novels, is a legitimate National Book Awards nomination. Considering that The Collected Stories of William Faulkner won a Fiction Award in 1951 and Janet Flanner’s Paris Journal, 1944-1965 picked up an Arts and Letters prize in 1966, there was certainly no hue and cry from this blogger. These two previous wins established a clear precedent for recognizing books that contained previous material. But to ensure that Mr. McGrath regrets his error, it must be noted that the controversy was also promulgated by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (October 19: “Does that reworking really constitute an ‘original novel?'”). If anything, it appears that the hemorrhoidal “flare-up” has been instigated by Mr. McGrath himself.
A public congratulations to Nam Le for winning the well-deserved Dylan Thomas Prize.
I love how Rush is desperately reframing the current economic crisis as an “Obama recession” when Obama has yet to occupy the Oval Office. The time has come to blame Obama for everything. There is no flying car. Obama’s fault! Bars that use narrow glasses suggesting the appearance of a pint, or that employ bartenders who fill up a glass two-thirds of the way. Obama’s responsible for that too! Every personal inadequacy can be firmly directed towards Obama. You can’t finish 2666 in the next two weeks? Those aren’t your inadequacies, brother. It’s Obama all the way. You feel a tingly sensation in your leg? Obama. You couldn’t get laid last night? Obama Obama Obama. (via Erin O’Brien)
Some long-form posts are in the works. But for now, we revert back to the rushed blogger’s trusted steed: the wacky roan known as the roundup!
Thanks to a helpful commenter, I have spent a portion of the morning at Married to the Sea, an online comic that relies on clip art. Clip art-based comics represent a great place to observe the associative mind at work.
I have seen neither Black Watch nor Romantic Poetry. While I’m likewise inclined to quibble with needlessly dogmatic art, I should point out to Messr. Teachout that Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage without experiencing a single battle. Art does not necessarily require first-hand experience to be emotionally true.
O-oh, here they come / Watch out pub, they’ll chew you up / O-oh, here they come / They’re some cash eaters
At the Telegraph, Stephen Adams is reporting that a team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics is claiming that novels should be taken just as seriously as fact-based research. While I have always admired Tom Clancy’s ability to explain a complicated subject in layman’s terms, I don’t believe that a novelist is just as qualified as an international policy expert. Yes, a novelist can record visceral sensation, describe details, and steer us into his particular point of view. But this does not mean she is the right person to advise a world leader on matters of great import. There are very good reasons why Obama will likely not be filling up his Cabinet with novelists, although this didn’t stop him from asking Toni Morrison for an endorsement.
The British Library is releasing some snazzy and rare recordings of authors. And the Guardian article includes an audio clip with Virginia Woolf sounding like an elocution instructor who will beat the shit out of you with a sharp riding crop until you crawl across her parquet, bleeding and pleading until the “uhs” and “you knows” are most definitely out of your vernacular.
For Patrick Kurp, one of the reasons he’ll never contemplate suicide is the proliferation of color in the world. I wonder if Mr. Kurp has read A.S. Byatt’s Still Life: “We know that we live in a flow of light and lights, as we live in a flow of air and sounds, of which we apprehend a part, and make sense of it as best we can. The pigments on van Gogh’s palette, with their chemistry and their changing tones, are as much a part of this flow as the trees and variable sky. We relate them to each other, and to ourselves, from where we are. It seems to me that at the height of his passion of work van Gogh was able to hold all these things in a kind of creative or poetic balance which is always threatened by forces from inside and outside itself.”
Richard Dawkins’s next book will involve an investigation of Harry Potter. Do these books cause children to believe in witchcraft? And are these imaginative books harmful? Should these books be stopped because the Godzilla Prediction Network requires Total Ubiquitous Rationality? Well, all fine and dandy. But here’s another question: Does capitulating imagination in the pursuit of hard reason turn you into a shrill, humorless, and not particularly fun histrionic type past your prime?
Andrew Wheeler brings up a pronoun misuse that has likewise troubled me. I’d sooner stomach the strange-looking “s/he” over the utterly erroneous “they” any day. Indeed, I would happily have a gang of elocution instructors beat the shit out of me if it would get five people to stop using “they.”
Finally, someone has concocted an inexpensive and more sensible e-reader. The best part of it is that you can probably persuade some elementary school teacher to hand over the necessary materials. If the teacher doesn’t believe you’re in second grade, you can always point out that this is a retroactive request. You always wanted to learn arts and crafts. But the elocution instructors beat the shit out of you and made you shy. Decades later, the confidence has come back. You can even speak to elocution instructors again, and sometimes speak articulately in an elocution instructor’s presence. You don’t even have to bleed on the parquet as much. But you do need to secure your mojo with the butcher paper, et al. And you are a taxpayer. So why the heck not? Butcher paper please. (via Bibliophile Bulletin)
A painting purchased for $5 in a thrift store turned out to be a Jackson Pollock offering that now has an asking price of $50 million. Yes, it’s another one of those patented Antiques Roadshow stories. There’s no way that I can involve an elocution instructor here. But with the economic downturn, perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that reappraisal may be way to boost one’s finances. (via Bookninja)
Reappraisal, however, shouldn’t involve getting nasty. The Observer‘s John Koblin is now reporting that all Condé Nast publishers and editors are being asked to cut their staffs by five percent and their budgets by five percent within weeks. What’s particularly bleak about this news is that Koblin has confirmed this with “five sources,” thus achieving a morbid symmetry. Maybe the real solution is to have Vanity Fair editors write considerably more than 3,000 words a year, cutting the editor’s salary by 5% if s/he (not they!) can’t generate more material. The more callous solution — one more likely to be employed — is to hire a ball-busting elocution instructor as an efficiency expert.
For what it’s worth, I have experienced no problems with elocution instructors. Nor have I had bad experiences that would suggest that they are violent. But I do advocate more fierceness and fearlessness within pedagogues of all types. It’s certainly a lot more pro-active than sitting around believing in blind hope.
Newspaper circulation is down, down, down! And the cuts at the Star-Ledger, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other places will ensure that newspapers will woo back these subscribers, yes? The failure of editors to take on fresh talent or freelancers who haven’t yet abdicated their passion or journalistic commitment will almost certainly ensure that subscribers will remain on board, yes? The continued employment of senile geezers like Rex Reed, who cannot be bothered to note details correctly or unmix his metaphors, will almost certainly keep people buying newspapers, yes? Who reads newspapers anymore? Who even cares about the news?
It’s easy for Dave Eggers to say that the community needs you when, in fact, he has never really had to scramble to pay the rent since the Might days. It’s easy for Eggers to say this, because he’s an opportunistic coward who has never answered one critical question in his career. Charging $300 (!) to tell other people how to set up a tutoring center doesn’t strike me as philanthropic, particularly when the information is available for free. I presume this $300 buys you into the 826 franchise, where you can then legally begin serving 826 Happy Meals to the kids you’re tutoring. Of course, if Eggers were to initiate the 826 Fisting Festival, with volunteers raising their asses into goatse positions for only $300 a pop, I’d be happy to change my tune. (via Galleycat)
Assigning Hitch to write about Sarah Palin is a bit like asking a man with a chainsaw to fight a cripple. Sure, it’s a dutiful takedown, but I miss the Hitch who pissed everybody off, instead of going after the predictable targets.
It has become fashionable once again for liberals and conservatives alike to clap like seals. I have been telling Obama supporters to prepare themselves for a letdown. Look at politics like this: You might stumble across a letter that your spouse wrote to a secret lover, but at least you can talk this out with your spouse and have some input into resolving the situation. But politics is worse than this. Because you’ll stumble across the letter, but you’ll still be locked into a faithless marriage in which you can’t petition your spouse, who’s not going to listen anyway and who’s still going to commit adultery. So what’s the point of being in the marriage in the first place? That’s the trouble. On paper, it all looks so seductive. And your spouse still looks good, even pious from certain angles.
It is laughable that Sarah Palin considers herself an intellectual. That she “always wanted a son named Zamboni” is a sure sign that this nation is well on its way to a dystopia in which Gatorade has replaced water. (One thing that can be confirmed: Sarah Palin’s got electrolytes!)
This John Updike profile would have played better with me, had Emily Nussbaum written in a manner suggesting that she had thoroughly read the book. But Nussbaum spends most of her time dwelling on Updike’s personal life, playing amateur psychiatrist like some chirpy undergrad hoping to coast through an elementary English lit class on hunches. (“It occurs to me that divorce is a central subject of The Witches as female psychology,” Nussbaum writes, but doesn’t cite anything from the text.) How different is Nussbaum’s article from a People Magazine puff piece? (via Mark Athitakis)
Moby Lives appears to have returned in written form.
Just because John Freeman declares the National Book Awards finalists to be “in dialogue with world literature,” this does not make it so. This is what’s known in logic as the bare assertion fallacy. The books themselves represent an output of consciousness, but this output is subject to interpretation by other people. Freeman’s sanction (“I say it because it’s true!”) does not mean that it is true, or that there is any foolproof answer. This is not what any “dialogue with world literature” I know is about. And on a more literal level, so far as I know, Aleksandar Hemon is not chatting with Elfriede Jelinek on the phone.
Brian Lehrer is discussing Arts & Culture Funding on Friday’s show, and has set up a wiki to receive feedback from listeners. I’ve left my remarks, spurned on by Jacket Copy.
Philip Hensher confesses (more than he knows) that it’s difficult to have humility when you’re on the Booker shortlist. Is it just me or is Mr. Hensher quickly become the UK’s answer to Jonathan Franzen? Will we see a creepy Discomfort Zone-style essay in which Hensher sobs over Andy Capp’s hat? (via Mark)
Okay, a considerable number of obligations preclude me from lengthy posts over the next few days. But once I get over the hump, there will be a considerable amount of content here. Bear with me. In the meantime, here are a few short blips.
I was in a Midtown diner yesterday and I overheard two young gentlemen, both low-level workers in a financial firm sitting at an adjacent table, remark that “the Nobel’s currency has plummeted” in response to the news that Paul Krugman had won the prize for Economics. It is worth noting that these two gentlemen assured each other in desperation that they understood what the current Dow Jones yo-yo meant. And my dining companion and I, who were discussing the Literature and Peace prizes, were highly amused when they failed to offer an explanation for this apparent confidence and understanding, and the two gentlemen, in turn, began to cadge from our conversation when they ran out of conversational topics.
If you genuinely believe that USA Today represents a legitimate outlet for books, consider its current books page. The two top stories involve Tony Curtis and Maureen McCormick, making this purported “books section” no less different from People Magazine. This, I presume, is the wave of the present.
Finally, when you’re a VP candidate who can’t even get support at a hockey game (complete with thundering music attempting to drown out the boos), chances are that your campaign is pretty close to finished.
So the Nobel Prize goes to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio — a writer who I’ve never read. And it’s all because I’m one of those thuggish American idiots who Engdahl is complaining about. Mr. Orthofer, as usual, has the goods here.
I hope that I might atone for my unworldly nature by once again mentioning one of the best films that played the New York Film Festival, Tokyo Sonata. I assure you that my coverage of this movie is far from over. And I am pleased to report that the film now has an American distributor. It will be released by Regent in March 2009. I don’t yet know how many theaters it will play, but if it plays in your area, by all means catch it if you can.
Bill Peschel, playing directly to my perverse nature, has kick-started a promising series: Great Moments in Literary Sex. Unfortunately, Mr. Peschel has yet to employ the gerunds “pounding” or “thrusting” in his posts. Let us hope for more Harlequin action in forthcoming installments.
I must publicly denounce Random House for failing to send me books with bawdy covers. Oh well. Perhaps someone else will come through.
The Wall Street Journal talks with David Lodge, and has me a bit sad that I lack the financial resources to travel to London to interview the man and conduct a proper conversation. (via Frank Wilson, who dutifully takes the WSJ on for getting the tone in Lodge’s oeuvre so fundamentally wrong)
Mark Athitakis reminds us once again that there is more to Steinbeck than crowd-pleasing and ideological novels. I’m by no means a lover of all of Steinbeck’s work, but I’ve likewise never quite understood this rap. This is a nation in which writers are impugned if they get through to the masses, vilified if they don’t kiss the tastemakers’s asses, and celebrated if they abide by the take-no-chances boilerplate. There are exceptions to this, and certainly Steinbeck was an exception in his lifetime. But leave it to the next generation of closed-minded critics who would rather play predictable contrarians rather than attempt to parse books for what they are.
Well, it had to happen sooner or later: Contra James Wood, an anti-Wood blog. I’m still waiting for a Typepad blog called Opposing the Mendelsohn Brothers or a LiveJournal named Adam Kirsch is the Enemy of Literature and the Enemy of the State. (via Dan Green)
There are many films that must be ingested and/or masticated upon today. Coffee is currently brewing, and it is decidedly autumn outside. And here are a few bagatelles to tide you over.
The 2008 MacArthur fellows have been announced. On the literary front, there’s Chimamanda Adichie, who you can listen to on The Bat Segundo Show. There’s also Alex Ross, a competent mainstream critic whose inclusion suggests that the MacArthur people are either (a) playing it safe or (b) are having difficulties finding idiosyncratic voices.
I’m with Orthofer on this. I’m presuming that a writer as wise as Jim Crace was kidding to some extent when he suggested that he feared going out of fashion. I’m not suggesting that we continue to celebrate those who remain quite willfully ignorant and out of touch, but is not the point of literature to embrace those ideas that are out of fashion or that challenge our most basic assumptions? Perhaps the only solution here is for all writers to wear black, which should stave off most of the fashionistas.
The Emmy Awards have reached a new ratings low, which suggests that people have wised up to the needless self-congratulatory wankery that the television industry engages in every year. Based on some descriptions, I’m glad I spent those five hours I could have wasted on “five amateurish reality anchors” doing fruitful things. Hoping you did the same.
Some very lengthy cultural reports are coming here soon. But in the meantime…
In a move that may infuriate the stodgier reactionaries of our literary community, Ward Sutton has reviewed Indignation in cartoon form. I think this is a good idea. And I think that there are considerably more possibilities that can be employed to shake up coverage. Why not a performance art piece of Joe Queenan writing one of his tedious reviews and punching himself in the face every 150 words (I would pay good money for this), Dale Peck being dragged out of reviewing retirement for another “hatchet job” that has Peck slaughtering an animal and fingerpainting his review using the animal’s blood, or the book reviewing equivalent to Gregory Corso’s “Bomb?” You folks at the Voice ain’t going far enough in my view. (via Ortohofer)
Jennifer Weiner rightly calls out the cocky quacks at the NYTBR for failing to come up with a “funniest novel” by a woman. This, of course, means sleighting Kate Atkinson (I confess that I have stolen a few fiction tricks from her), Margaret Atwood, Elaine Dundy, Kyril Bonfiglioli — just a few funny women who come to mind. How long will the supposed gatekeepers keep clinging to this sexist generalization? I mean, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you that all the men employed by the New York Times have smaller penises than all other men now, would you?
And the only thing surprising about this attempt to cash in on Douglas Adams is that those responsible didn’t rape Adams’s corpse when it was still warm. Douglas Adams was a true original. Accept no substitute.
It’s one of those mornings when one mourns the hasty loss of early hours and one wonders why “ing” has not been used as a verb. What would be linguistic possibilities might be if you were to apply the present participle to this hypothetical verb? At any rate…
Mark Sarvas is now hosting a series on Saramago’s Blindness. The critic in question is Todd Hasak-Lowy, although given the considerable misery depicted within that novel, I am more intrigued by the “happy place” that Hasak-Lowy describes. Does Mr. Hasak-Lowy truly find delight in whole rooms of helpless and blind people groping at walls? Yes, one must separate prose from narrative from time to time. But in the case of Saramago, I think the twain are considerably more connected. Perhaps answers to these topics will be coming in further installments of the series.
Dan Green makes several invaluable observations about the current state of litblogs. Green writes of the corporate newspaper blogs: “These blogs have only reinforced the most reductive and stereotyped views of the litblog as a source of superficial chitchat and literary gossip. Few of the posts on these blogs explore any issue in depth or examine any particular book with even cursory specificity. There is no attempt to provoke cross-blog critical discussion, either vis-a-vis specific posts or generically–of the blogs I have named, only The Book Bench even includes a blogroll, and it is very short and limited to the usual suspects. Whatever links that are provided are to the same old mainstream media stories to which so many other blogs are also linking and which, of course, ultimately only reinforces the supposed first-order authority of the kinds of print publication hosting the blogs in question. I don’t know if I would go so far as to speculate that these newspaper and magazine-centered blogs are deliberately working to undermine the potential authority of literary blogs by creating examples demonstrating their vapidity, but the concept of the ‘litblog’ they embody surely does trivialize what literary blogs have accomplished and might still accomplish.”
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis: “”She’s not scared to answer questions. But you know what? We run our campaign, not the news media. And we’ll do things on our timetable.” You know what? That sounds to me like a frightened candidate. (via Erin O’Brien)
Giuliani’s speech last night, which involved getting the crowd to shout “Drill baby drill,” was one of the slimiest speeches I think I’ve ever seen at a convention, laced with disingenuous fabrications rightly pointed out by Slate‘s Fred Kaplan. Wet Asphalt’s J.F. Quackenbush brings this characterization to Palin’s speech. But I thought Palin’s speech was better than expected, even if her barbs directed at Obama reminded me less of a vice presidential candidate (or even a hockey mom who likes to censor books) and more of a human resources manager scolding you for taking too much vacation time. Make no mistake: this was a circus. And I suppose we should be grateful that this crew played the 9/11 card sparingly. But Palin offered almost nothing on policy, few ideas, and little outside of Alaska grandstanding. We don’t know more than we knew before. And while one expects a surfeit of rhetoric at these affairs, if the Republicans can’t be bothered to frame their message within an action plan, then they have a serious case for “change” they they will need to make to the American public. Unless, of course, they think that the American public represents nothing more than a bunch of rubes. We’ll see what the polls say. But in the meantime, Joanne has more interesting observations.
Since the sleeping schedule has gone all to hell, it seems as good a time as any to point to numerous things. (I forgot what happens when my mind remains active without a break for seventeen hours. Must remember to do stupid things so that I can sleep in the future.)
The Los Angeles Timeschecks in with Howard Junker and Zyzzyva, as Junker has just retired. There doesn’t appear to be a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in Mr. Junker’s hand, but perhaps some unknown moment of spare time involving Photoshop and, well, let’s face it, PBR might remedy this. [UPDATE: To be clear on this, Junker is retiring at the end of next year.]
And speaking of Millhauser, I’m wondering if there’s a specific name for that optical illusion in which two lower-case ells appear to converge into one when you’re looking at them in a small font. I’m convinced this is why I can never trust myself when I type “Philip Roth.” I always think there might be another ell, when there isn’t. Because if you stare long enough at two ells, they merge into one!
If Obama wishes to preach hope, I certainly hope he has a solution for this retail bloodletting. Chelsea Green has managed to anger Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers because it intends to distribute Robert Kuttner’s Obama’s Challenge at the Democratic National Convention. There’s just one problem. With the book comes coupons that can be redeemed at Amazon’s BookSurge, which is their POD offering. Independent booksellers revolted and canceled orders, feeling that Chelsea Green’s move was a slap in the face. Chelsea Green president Margo Baldwin responded, blaming this favoritism on the importance of the election season. (Gee, I wonder if I can tell my landlord that I can’t pay the rent next month because I believe that this year’s Mets season is particularly important. Think he’d be sympathetic?) Anyway, instead of offering an alternative that might assist these indie bookstores, Baldwin writes that Chelsea Green “could not have survived and thrived without the innovations that Amazon brought to the book marketplace.” Amazon may be important for a small press to survive, but the people who run indie bookstores are often passionate readers. It’s the people behind the counter who have some say in where your book is positioned. There’s little doubt in my mind that POD will become a retail reality at some point. But with so many POD options out there and the atmosphere uncertain, it seems to me extremely foolish to alienate the support you have operating in the present like this.
Am I the only person who really doesn’t give two shits about Michael Phelps? You know, world events, economy in the shitter, U.S. presidential election, Georgia, rising gas and food prices, et al.
Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes died over the weekend. It’s particularly creepy that both men appeared in a film called Soul Men with Samuel L. Jackson. It’s bad enough that these two men are gone. But in considering the old adage that these things happen in threes, let us hope that Mr. Jackson is somewhere safe drinking carrot juice.
Pretty Fakes quite wisely calls out J.G. Jones on his inept Final Crisis #3 cover. And, yes, let’s be clear on this. There is no sense of wonder on Supergirl’s face. Supergirl’s eyes roll upwards as if she is a mere bimbo who has just spent thirty minutes trying to compose a text message to send to Comet. Her left hand appears to be hiding a cell phone. Her right hand seems to be waiting for a tube of lipstick. Of course, J.G. Jones’s upcoming cover for Final Crisis #5 isn’t exactly respectful to Wonder Woman. Jones is more interested in depicting Wonder Woman’s star-strewn ass than her golden lasso (conveniently hidden behind her right thigh). The upshot is that J.G. Jones seems to think it’s 1958, not 2008, and has a major problem depicting women in a position of power. But then when Jones is busy joking with Newsarama about having his groceries “delivered by a really cute girl” with this “date” getting to sit and watch him draw, and fumbling about in another interview about how great it might be to hear a beautiful woman like Angelina Jolie beg over the phone, it isn’t much of a surprise to see his work reflecting his perceptive limitations. Why Feministing or Feministe aren’t all over this is a mystery to me.
Why is dwelling upon DC’s actions in the present so important? Well, consider how Jones’s indiscretions mirror troublesome sexism in the past. Jeff Trexler offers a summary of some fascinating correspondence between DC and Superman artist Jerry Siegel. Among some of the startling Golden Age sexism: “[W]hy it is necessary to shade Lois’ breasts and the underside of her tummy with vertical pen-lines we can’t understand. She looks pregnant. Murray suggests that you arrange for her to have an abortion or the baby and get it over with so that her figure can return to something a little more like the tasty dish she is supposed to be.” (via The Beat)
The New York Review of Bookshas jumped into the podcasting game. The podcasts are very rusty at this point. Interviewer Sasha Weiss sounds like a humorless human resources manager incapable of loosening up. But maybe they’ll work out the kinks in this operation as the podcast continues.
One fifth of American television viewers are watching online. What’s more, the largest group of online television watchers were well-educated, affluent women between the ages of 25 and 44. I have a feeling that they also buy books. Given that demographic, perhaps the time has come for those who complain about the paucity of literary programming on television to begin setting up their hitching posts on the new media frontier. It also means that publicists of all stripes really need to start paying attention to where and how the audiences are shifting.
This year’s Hugo winners. With her eleventh Hugo Award win, Connie Willis has now beat out Harlan Ellison for multiple Hugo wins.
Ira Glass on storytelling and taste. Once you get past Glass’s regrettable tendency to use “like” in every other sentence, he does have some insightful things to say about constant production and dissects an old clip produced when he was 28. (via Booklist)
On this blog, if I read an author and I think that the author in question is the cat’s pajamas, I can instantly declare this to an audience. The approbation may be fleeting. It may not be quite thought out. But it does represent the current moment. It does signal a natural reaction. This is not so much the case with a newspaper. If I am commissioned to write a review, I am forced to withhold my enthusiasm for an author until the review runs, or perhaps allude to the author’s considerable worth in an oblique manner. There is indeed a tradeoff here. Many newspapers, for understandable ethical reasons, don’t want authors or publishers to know precisely how reviewers feel about a particular book in advance. But the editors can help me to shape a piece or demand more of me (knowing full well that I have a tremendous work ethic) and, since it is a professional gig, my work ethic compels me to write at peak form. Alas, the conundrum remains. There is one such author I wish I could tell you about, but I cannot right now, but will elsewhere. And so my lips remain tight. But I do intend to check out this author’s backlist. Perhaps the immediacy I wish for now in the present can be atoned somewhat by this future dip into the past. I am sure that other reviewers have this problem. I am sure that the declining level of passion seen in certain reviewers I could name, but won’t, is largely because the journalism game demands that something so innately joyful, such as enthusiasm for a book, must be curtailed. Which is a bit like demanding that one withhold a giddy scream while throttling over the hump of a rollercoaster. Humans aren’t in the habit of doing this. Not unless they are also in the habit of always keeping the top button of their shirt fastened. (Aside: It should be noted that Nixon jogged in a shirt and tie. Yes, he actually exercised this way. And yet it is the famous photo of Lyndon Johnson pulling the ears of his dog that makes Johnson seem more of a scoundrel by comparison, if we use just these two examples. And while LBJ was in many ways an SOB for other reasons, I think it could be sufficiently argued that Nixon’s devotion to daily exercise is equally inhuman, perhaps more so. Which is not to compare literary people to U.S. Presidents, but to suggest a finer point about how we judge the inhuman nature of people by certain qualifying factors that involve others.) (Another aside: I wrote this paragraph before stumbling upon Wyatt Mason’s blog post concerning enthusiasm and reviews, which also has a few interesting thoughts on this dilemma — albeit not pertaining to the instant visceral response I am trying to describe.)
This post was intended as a roundup, but I see that it has transformed momentarily into something else. Were I employed as a USA Today copy editor, I would not have allowed this headline to pass. I would have demanded more wordplay in the headline. I would have spent thirty minutes attempting to persuade someone that this was an insufficient headline that didn’t perform complete justice to the presented possibility. We are told that Meyer’s fans “light up.” But while fans, meaning those on a literal level who are acolytes, certainly do “light up,” if we consider a double meaning, fans are not in the habit of “lighting up.” Perhaps they might “whirl” over the saga’s end. I could live with that. But I presume “light up” was settled upon because some member of the top brass did not wish to offend the devoted Meyerites. There are indeed comments on this article. And someone at USA Today is obviously employed to moderate these comments. So perhaps “light up” was settled upon to save the moderator some work. In the end, the headline suffers. And I can only hope that the people at USA Today put some more thought into their headlines in the future.
James Miller is causing something of a stir across the pond. I’m becoming a bit suspicious of novels that concern themselves with privileged children or adolescent wunderkinds or behavioral generalizations that stem from such topics. Personally, I’m fascinated by the kind little girl who lives on the first floor of my apartment building. She spends her summer days looking outside the window, clearly fascinated by every observational possibility. She says hello to everybody. And we all say hello back. She enjoys this. And yet because we’re all in a rush, we don’t stop to ask her what her name is or why she is so drawn to the window. That sense of kindness and curiosity is considerably more interesting to me than another hackneyed variation on how today’s emerging youth want this or demand that. Let us consider Miller’s hasty generalization: “They feel powerful playing those games, because in real life they feel powerless. One 12-year-old girl I taught was an advanced wizard in the World of Warcraft, who would trounce adults in magic battles.” The subscriber base for World of Warcraft is estimated to be somewhere in the area of 16 million. But while this is certainly a large number, there are 73.7 million children in the United States alone. If we assume all Warcraft players to be children (which is folly, but provides us with a working statistic to put Miller’s generalization into perspective), then what of the 80% who don’t play Warcraft? What of those who prefer to spend their time looking out the window? This may sound like some overly sincere A Tree Grows in Brooklyn premise, but it does nevertheless offer a less premeditated starting point with greater possibilities than Miller’s overly simplistic viewpoint. All one has to do is start asking questions.
Forget quotidian hazards such as beer and hot fudge sundaes. Email is the new peril. I do not know anyone who has personally died from email. But it is possible to keep up. Particularly if you type at a very high speed. I am not as efficacious as I’d like to be with my Yahoo account, in part because this represents a secondary account. But I do respond to just about every email on the main one. Of course, I’m also unafraid to respond at extremely strange hours. The way around email, of course, is to kill about 20 emails with one two-minute phone call. But then people are also terrified of picking up the phone. I do not believe that a 1,500 word article on the subject was necessary. At least not with this “email is the new ebola” angle. It is, oddly enough, just as troublesome as a rambling 1,500 word email (and I sometimes write these; I apologize; I am only responding). But then the nice thing about a silly article like this is that you don’t have to hit the reply button. (via The Book Publicity Blog)
And now another conservative has written a book bemoaning hip-hop, suggesting that it cannot affect social change. This is mostly true, but I believe that this misses the point of hip-hop. I find myself more in Michael Eric Dyson’s camp. Why can’t pop music also serve as social criticism? Pop music can certainly serve as a weapon. Consider the relentless music used to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners and the hard rock employed to smoke out Manuel Noriega.
This is not the way to make poetry accessible for Web 2.0. This looks like it was made by a 15-year-old who has just discovered After Effects, with Lemm Sissay resembling a man who has spent the last two decades pining desperately for a small role in an Antonioni film. Too bad Antonioni’s dead.
The question of whether it is really that late is, of course, determined by what you consider to be late.
It is late. Later than it should be. Later than when I had started. Later than I anticipated it to be. There is work to do. And this will mean sleeping less, so that I will not be late on other things. To bring this roundup full circle to the initial question, perhaps staying up late is comparable to Nixon jogging in his shirt and tie, while turning in work late is the equivalent of LBJ pulling the ears of his dog. It’s all in the angle.
If anti-Obama books are the new bestsellers, I intend to write an anti-bestseller that is the new literary Obama. The novel will presented with a hopeful corona, keeping you spellbound in its initial narrative campaign, only to betray you midway through with shameful appeals that confirm the prejudgments of literary cynics. But since you’ve read this far into the book, you’re obliged to go the distance. Even though you’ve realized that the book in question is just another pandering novel. (And perhaps this type of book may be close to what Wyatt Mason describes.) I do not know if anyone can make money from an anti-bestseller structured along these lines, but if someone can make a persuasive case that one can, I may commit a modicum of labor for such a narrative experiment. (Latter link via The Publishing Spot)
I’m with Matthew Tiffany on this: This has to be one of the most appalling literary interviews I’ve read in a while. Who is Drew Nellins? And why is he wasting Chris Adrian’s time? One could easily obtain more substance from a telemarketer trying to sell you a $16.99 delicacy, with dung and a chickenhawk’s cloaca listed as the main ingredients, shipped third-class from an island nation that you’ve never heard of, than the hopeless results emerging from Nellins’s bradykinetic four-lobe throttling pattern. Step it up, Mr. Nellins. Intelligence will be rewarded, but slum it at your own peril. This has been a shot across the bow.
Solzhenitsyn has kicked the bucket, traveling to that great gulag in the sky. That is, if you believe in that stuff. I’ll give him “One Day” and Cancer Ward to some extent, but I never quite took to Archipelago. Thought Gulag was turgid stuff that preached to the converted. (Explain yourself at length! Well, maybe one day.) Then again, I’m one of those odd readers who looks to the text, rather than an author’s miserable experience, for merit. The biggest upset here is that nobody thought to book Solzhenitsyn and Elie Wiesel for some demented pay-per-view boxing match.
Warren Ellis on the reality of SF magazines. Much of this, I suspect, has to do with the graying of science fiction fans. Or rather the graying of austere acolytes hostile to emerging voices and pining for hard science fiction the way that the rest of us look for a grand cross between Kierkegaard and a roller coaster. Don’t worry. The dour codgers will die off eventually, their unsmiling lips tarnished with talcum and a mortician’s assiduous cover. Unfortunately, Ellis is right. There are few ebullient pubs that will pick up the slack in print. Maybe if Gordon Van Gelder submits to disemvoweling, there might be some hope for tomorrow’s speculative Coovers, if only by accident.
What the hell? Ed’s writing something positive about the New York Times? Yes indeed. And I should also point out that I absolutely loved the theme for Sunday’s crossword too! I mean, that kind of wordplay takes an adept hand, depth and wit, if I do say so myself.
Hitotoki, which merges fiction with a Google Maps-like interface, has unveiled a Paris version. This website seems to me a more purposeful use of location than the steady stream of middling noir books (Wichita Noir! Peoria Noir!) from Akashic, where rough and tough regional voices who have gritty things to say about the cities they know have been overlooked by “literary” names who not only lack a feel and understanding for these locations, but who are not familiar with the most elementary components of genre. Then again, when one considers the collective hubris of Johnny Temple, a snotty dunderhead more resembling Bernard Black than Frank Black who wears the constant look of a man incapable of balancing his checkbook, and Johanna Ingalls, a dour and humorless shrew as ungrateful as a Williamsburg hipster, one is not surprised by this onslaught of mediocrity. Oh well. At least this insufferable duo publishes Elizabeth Crane and Joe Meno. Too bad they can’t be bothered to maintain the most elementary professionalism, which one finds from smarter indie houses.
Now wait just a minute here! We’re not supposed to speak ill of the indies! The indies represent a true alternative to the corporate oligarchy that controls the publishing industry. Well, yes and no. Let us not forget that the publishing industry is a business, and that indies need to generate revenue just as much as the majors. Recall the AMS bankruptcy snafu of early 2007. The indie publishers did not control the cards. The distributor did. Indeed, AMS was unable to pay monies due to many of the publishers. Books in production had to be repackaged so that the books could sell. And while Jonathan Karp was forced to confess that indies have access to the same resources as the big boys, and that non-generic books were the wave of the future, the ability of major publishers to distribute books far and wide that keeps them ahead of the game. And the indie reliance on tenuous distribution might just have an effect sometimes on their ostensible iconoclasm. One must not necessarily judge a book by its publisher, for all publishers are beholden to the invisible thumb.
One can have no privacy on Twitter anymore. When big publishers begin to follow your ostensibly “private” thoughts and little personal asides, the time has come to abandon Twitter. So no mas for me! It was fun while it lasted though!
What a load of fucking nonsense. One of the thing that distinguishes “fucking” as an adverb (and you’ll get no asterisks here from me in discussing the words; I trust readers to be adult — well, mostly adult — about cunning lingua franca) is the magical manner that it stands out without that “-ly” (in Middle English, it was “-lich(e)”) just before a modifier. English speakers, recognizing the innate dissonance of of “fucking” and “ly,” rejected “fucking”‘s deployment in our vernacular as a typical adjective converted to an adverb. Perhaps because “fucking” serves as a kind of spoken forbidden fruit, there was some compulsion to make it slightly idiosyncratic. Roy F. (“Fucking” or “Fuckingly?”) Baumeister misses the important fact that the English language is often quite flexible about converted adverbs. We can use adjectives like “slow” or “quick” and say or write that we “drove slow” or “drove slowly.” Both are acceptable adverbs and both are, suffice to say, without suffixes! Indeed, Baumeister is so unimaginative about adverbs that he hasn’t even considered the more intriguing “fuckwise” as an adverb: “fuck” as a noun and the suffix “-wise.” “Fuckwise ridiculous” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but it’s certainly more interesting than “fuckingly ridiculous.” But maybe there’s an adverbial application for “fuckwise” at the end of a sentence. “I was in a fucking huff” is okay. But “I was in a huff fuckwise” does not. Perhaps one should accept no substitute for “fucking.” Nevertheless, I will attempt to find usage for “fuckwise” in future posts.
Giles Coren is an angry man. And his fury is focused on the elision of an indefinite article in one of his articles. I do not know whether or not Coren is currently enrolled in an anger management program, but I certainly trust this man to drive a cab in Manhattan.
I’m skeptical about the two guys replacing Ebert and The Spastic Chipmunk Who Was Never One Tenth As Good as Siskel But Who Cannot Be Named Here.
Jenny Diski on sleep. I can only speak for myself, but dreams are a vital part of who I am. They unveil my inner prevaricator, cause me to dwell on fears and perversities that I sometimes choose not to discuss with others, and force me to reconsider why I glue together needless shards of propriety atop the ever-shifting china of the real. Dreams are certainly the most unreliable and fragmented of memories. They suggest for many minutes that they are real and they are often so persuasive that you must engage in something truly banal (making coffee, brushing teeth) in order to take in as many details as you can, which depart from your head like a train leaving a Roman depot in 1930. The dreams cannot be trusted, and yet they must be trusted. I sometimes forget about the wild and fierce qualities of my imagination, and I am reminded of where I sometimes do not go and must go because of a dream. Once some rational awareness has kicked in and I am fully ensconced in the waking world, I know that the dreams are not real. But I am also aware that the natural anarchy of the real has just had yet another barrier removed. So thank you, noggin, for the Kafkaesque nightmares, the great epics in which I fight off insect armies armed with ping pong balls, the talking buildings, the giant nostrils, the strange sounds, the amazing orgies, and the really crazy taboo-breaking stuff. There have been many wonderful mornings in which I’ve questioned my own sanity and become determined to paint more frequently outside the lines.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Borys Kit asks if Comic-Con’s geek chic is fading, pointing to appearances by Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. But what he really needs to understand right now is that geeks are the mainstream. If the $300 million that The Dark Knight claimed in the past week didn’t make this clear, then I don’t know what will. It’s quite likely that Hilton and Kardashian are heading to Comic-Con because, well, that’s where it’s at. They may have heard something about a save throw being a cant term for riches and opportunity. And frankly the notion of a Stormtrooper informing these party girls of certain geeky thrusting advantages and getting lucky while clad in full Lucasfilm-approved regalia amuses the shit out of me. For those of us who have been geeks all along, I suppose this is all a bit confusing. Suddenly, we’re a damn demographic? Suddenly, we’re being scouted? But have no fear, geeks. There will come a time in about five years when we’ll be as despised as we were fifteen years ago. Trends change. The way I see it, right now, geeks are about where hippies were circa 1968. Instead of the record labels scooping up the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and hoping to cash in, the movie companies are scooping up anything that might carry a similar imprimatur on the comics front. Rest assured, there will be disillusion. Perhaps a geek version of Altamont that could prove deadly. And if that happens, well, say hello to a decade (perhaps the 2010s?) that will make all the bad stylistic decisions of the 1970s look like art nouveau. Honestly, the best thing to do is to enjoy this little fiesta while it lasts. And if things get too mainstream, well, there’s still plenty of crazed subcultures to join or form. (via The Beat)
For those who are keeping up with this James Wood silliness (which still has little to do with the book in question and still suggests to me that a People cover may not be as crazed a notion as conjectured yesterday), James Wood has now responded to Leon Neyfakh. Will Nikki Finke get in on this action?
I don’t really find all the summer romance titles particularly silly, but I certainly find Cathy Horyn’s attempt to understand a fairly predictable trend extremely silly. Consider these extraordinary sentences. “There is no question that certain brands, like certain summer resorts, have a talismanic effect.” “But this summer’s brand-flogging novels also reveal a kind of empty clink at the bottom of fashion’s well.” Fashion & Style, in case you were wondering, I can write sentences that are even more preposterous than this, and I can style them as acrostics and can figure out a way to tie Ralph Lauren and Wittgenstein together.
The cure to this (pretty clear, but not officially recognized) recession? Sure as fuck not the Recession Special at Gray’s Papaya, which I made the mistake of trying out tonight. (Hey, I was desperate.) But perhaps, just maybe, the giant pork.
Galactica 1980 is available on Hulu. This is something that requires time I don’t have, lots of beer, and WordPress. Can anyone take up the challenge? (Related to this roundup: “The Return of Starbuck,” the episode commissioned out of desperation to save the flagging series, begins with a horrendous colloquy about whether dreams are significant. Perhaps someone might pay Jenny Diski to make sense of all this.)
All this suggests that I should end this longass roundup with zombie dating. Perhaps, one’s morning erection would be conducive to such rigor mortis scenarios. Perhaps not. This is, just like many other conceptual gimmicks, a simulacrum. One that will give a lonely soul momentary comfort in the night, but will have us crying in the tears of our own desperation in the morning. Why not liberate yourself from the computer, talk to that glorious geek a few feet away, and see where you can go to from there? It seems better to pretend in the bedroom, when there’s a better chance of nabbing even a vicarious piece of ass, then wasting these energies on fantasies that will either (a) not pan out or (b) result in a quite orgasmic Kleenex experience. Not that (b) isn’t so bad. But the unmarked road is sometimes worth traveling.
So if I understand Sarah’s post correctly, James Wood and sheepshagging jokes represent a new kind of nonoverlapping magisteria, and someone needs to start uploading racy photos of James Wood in lewd positions at Cabo San Lucas damn pronto. Also, Mark Sarvas has read How Fiction Works six times. And that was just in the last week. It remains unknown just how many times James Wood has read himself. But all this talk of how one should read James Wood, and whether one should read James Wood, and how frequently one should read James Wood makes me wonder why nobody is actually responding to what James Wood has to say about books. To add further confusion, James Wood is also leaving comments at Vulture. I can only conclude that all this is a grand ruse to get James Wood on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, perhaps accompanied by Stephenie Meyer and two naked Dixie Chicks with post-structuralist buzz words printed on their naked bodies.
Tao Lin has posted some details on his second novel. And if he’s concerned about The Easter Parade being 54,000 words, consider also that The Great Gatsby is only around 50,000 words and would therefore fall into Tao’s organic cold-brewed iced coffee category. (As Shane observes, Tao’s post has been deleted.)
The Watchmen trailer appearing with The Dark Knight has caused sales of the graphic novel to jump. But the Moore-Batman association is also boosting sales of Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. What is the lesson to be learned here? Appearances of books on film and television (such as placing The Third Policeman on Lost) do help. But I believe these books sold because (a) the movie trailer is considered a respectful and relatively noninvasive form of advertising and (b) Lost, being a television show with numerous references, has led numerous fans to ferret out the meaning by any means necessary. In other words, it isn’t just the appearance of a writer’s name or a book that moves books. It’s the context. The way that a book’s appearance and relationship with the present material inspires curiosity on the part of the reader. The way that the context itself doesn’t treat audience members like morons or a generalized 18-34 demographic.
According to Forbes, J.K. Rowling has been named the richest celebrity. And it’s certainly promising to learn that an author can trump a number of idiot actors. Sorry, Tom Cruise. Guess you’ll have to expand your dynamic potential through that Ponzi scam masquerading as a cult.
There is indeed a huge difference between Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Jenny Davidson’s The Explosionist. One is written by a smug man who wishes to preach to the converted and has no interest in treating his reading audience with intelligence. The other is written by someone who does value the intelligence of her readers and doesn’t reveal everything all at once. Guess which of the two is smarter and more fun? Colleen interviews Jenny D and discovers a few reasons why.
Clay Shirky’s asinine response to David Carr’s article doesn’t sit well with me, largely because Shirky declares War and Peace “not so interesting” without offering a reason why, and uses this generalization about the tastes of the reading public to rail against “know-nothing critics.” Since it appears that Shirky knows nothing about Tolstoy (Uninteresting? Really? In all seriousness?) and is hostile to the idea of literature possessing a cultural status, Shirky’s response is best confined to the parvenu playground. This kind of thoughtless and impulsive essay does not help us reach out to those now perched on the fence. (via Jeff)
Am I the only person who finds Dr. Horrible to be overwrought and phony? Granted, I do like some of Joss Whedon’s work and I’m a big fan of musicals. But there isn’t a single spontaneous second in this production. This represents a calculated effort to transform the Web’s mad and gloriously unpredictable anarchy into something not all that indistinguishable from television. And you’ve all swallowed this codswallop without question because Whedon is involved.
If you’re feeling disheartened that an editor won’t get back to you, observe that The New York Timeshas rejected an essay written by John McCain. I don’t buy the crazed speculation about a left-wing media conspiracy, particularly since George W. Bush wrote op-eds in 2002 and in 2001.. Most of the hawks who are hopping mad about this haven’t considered that McCain may have simply written a piss-poor essay. You can read McCain’s piece here. You’ll find such terrible sentences as “Even more heartening has been progress that’s not measured by the benchmarks” and an inconsistent tense. Conspiracy or copy cleanup?
The Frank O’Connor Award people have given the latest prize to Jhumpa Lahiri. But they haven’t even had the decency to serve up a shortlist. The jurors claim that Unaccustomed Earth was “so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to writer.” But what you may not know was that their secret goal was to enable Jhumpa Lahiri’s out-of-control ego. Never mind her $4 million, two-book deal. Having taken pivotal NEA money away from other writers who still have to work a full-time day job (and do indeed have children to support), Lahiri will not rest until she has taken every last dollar from every last award. She’s the Brenda Walsh of the literary world. And Darren Star has been trying to find the right television hook for years.
Tribune inside man Lee Abrams has expressed a few words about books sections, calling them “too scholarly” and in need of being “dramatically rethought.” While I disagree with the notion that a book on the “Phillippine Socialist Movement in the 1800s” (are Abrams and Zell even aware of the underlying reasons for the Spanish-American war?) can’t be interesting, I nevertheless agree that any 21st century books section should involve something fun, engaging, intelligent, and even a bit iconoclastic. It involves respecting the intelligence of readers (they are much smarter than you give them credit for; I’m looking in particular at you, Garner and Tanenhaus) and getting them excited about books, even if it means sometimes going a little over-the-top (although in a justifiable way). It involves being flexible to genre, debut fiction authors, books in translation, and crazy titles that nobody else would think of reviewing. Mark has an idea that goes much further. [UPDATE: Mark Athitakis also has some thoughts about this. As soon as my time clears up a bit, I plan to offer a sizable post later this week on additional problems plaguing book review sections.]
If by “Woody Allen for the new millennium,” you are referring to Allen’s woefully unfunny films of the past decade (for my money, the last funny Allen film was probably 2000’s Small Time Crooks and that was only because of Elaine May), then I suppose there’s a case to be made. But let us consider a more suitable comparison. At the age of 51, Sedaris has written the unfunny book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. At the age of 51, Woody Allen made Hannah and Her Sisters and Radio Days — inarguably two of his best late-period pictures. Apples and oranges, to say the least. (via Books, Inq.)
Bob Osterhag summarizes Obama’s opportunistic bolt to the center quite well, and he echoes my own gripe about invasive wiretapping being retooled into “an important surveillance tool,” a noun phrase that is one masterful piece of bullshit. Well, I’ll vote for the smarmy fuck, even if he’s managed to fool Laura Miller. Then again, at this point, I’d vote for Mickey Mouse if he were on the Democratic ticket.
Sarah and Orthofer report that Dutch crime writer Janwillem van de Wetering has passed away.
David Crystal offers a defense of text messaging, pointing to its creative potential. And I’ll remember Crystal’s article the next time I drunkenly type “wr r u? out of $! pls buy me nthr pnt!” on a sad Saturday night in a pub. Apparently, there’s genius within those two sentences. Not desperation. The real question here is whether I can the transcripts of these text messages to some university library equally foolish enough to take my collection of aborted manuscripts. (via Magnificent Octopus)
Trouble in paradise? Gawker has reduced the pay rate per page view. It’s only a matter of time before Nick Denton comes up with the bright idea of having contributors pay him to write for Gawker. (via Persona Non Data)
CBS News has talked with Richard Ford. And there’s an accompanying photo of his marked up manuscript. It remains unknown, however, whether or not he has changed his mind about basements in Terre Haute.
I’m still looking for this year’s quintessential summer album, but I have to say that The Ting Tings’s We Started Nothing is a hell of a lot of fun. And I particularly dig the closing rocker, “We Started Nothing.” And incidentally, if you’re in New York, The Ting Tings are playing a free pool party with MGMT and Black Moth Super Rainbow at McCarren on July 27th. [UPDATE: Alas, perhaps my enthusiasm was misplaced. I certainly hope that this isn’t a typical live performance.] [UPDATE 2: Also worth checking out: Revolver, who I find more interesting than Fleet Foxes.]
And a demolition worker has uncovered a Tolkien postcard behind a fireplace. Apparently, Lord of the Rings is so huge on this planet that even the termites were salivating.
Also, this just in. McNally Robinson NYC is changing its name to McNally Jackson, a move that the store hopes will reflect its commitment to independence instead of a chain store mentality, among other reasons.
Based on the steady onslaught (or is that recent onset?) of dumb feature articles within the Atlantic‘s pages these days, it would seem to me that the magazine lacks even the gooiest scrap of albumin these days. Fortunately, this video clip, featuring Atlantic editor and National Review film critic Ross Douthat attempting to explain his “working sociological theory” on the superhero archetype to the whip-smart Dana Stevens, may offer some context and unintentional hilarity. Because the discussion is executed in split-screen (although, oddly enough, nobody mentions Brian De Palma), one observes Stevens’s face drooping in near disbelief as Douthat offers the most generalized response imaginable to her question. Stevens then proceeds to demolish Douthat in a few sentences. It probably isn’t a fair fight, even with Stevens being kind and subduing her intellect. But if you enjoy this kind of thing (I’m afraid I do and I would pay good money to see a hack like Edward Douglas chewed up by Stevens), you can witness the complete thirty minute smackdown.
Even at the rate of one show per day, there remain a good deal of Segundo shows that I need to finish summarizing. But for those who need more and who want to jump ahead of the curve, you can find more on the main Segundo site, including a recent conversation with Andre Dubus III that features a strange interruption by a hotel catering manager and a particularly egregious poem about the Olive Garden.
I think Junot Diaz may be the first Pulitzer Prize fiction winner to confess that he is addicted to a video game. And he’s done all this in a very thoughtful essay. Not even putative Pulitzer geek Michael Chabon, who has bitched quite a lot about snobbery, has had the effrontery to confess anything like this. So for this, I salute Diaz, who comes off as a class act, while Chabon remains a hopeless bellyacher. And this also has me contemplating why America remains so behind the curve on video games. If Martin Amis could get away with writing a book about Space Invaders, then why can’t Richard Russo or Jhumpa Lahiri come out of the closet and confess that they’re big Donkey Kong fans or that they laughed at a Judd Apatow movie? (via Sarah and Shane, the latter of whom has scared the living fucking bejesus out of me with this oversized Camus photo. Tonight’s nightmare will begin, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday,” and I will wake up in sweat and tears in the morning, craving cold biscuits.)
Even authors of crazed picaresque fiction need cheatsheets, although this chart is missing the much-needed “Wacky Sidekick.”