Weekend Update

  • The play is progressing. Early feedback has produced some very thoughtful conversations in email and in person, one of which went down today with close members of the crew at a Chinese dive. The fact that folks have been both honest and enthusiastic about the play has seriously overwhelmed me. I’m astonished by the passion and the generosity. People have been open, forthright and very constructive, responding in ways that demonstrate that theatre is far from dead, that rewriting is far from over, and that this thing will mesh together in ways that leave me convinced that we’re tapping into something that people really want to talk about, and that, even with a few misplaced over-the-top moments that will be honed this week, people from all walks of life have very valuable thoughts on how the business world has influenced and transformed human behavior.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer has responded to the PEN imbroglio previously reported here. He writes, “Hi. A friend made me aware of this discussion. Just wanted to let you guys know that I completely agree with most everything you said about monetary awards and whom they should go to. That’s why I gave the money—every cent of it—back to PEN, which is as deserving as groups get. I didn’t make a big deal about it, because it didn’t seem fair to any other winners, who might have needed the money at the moment. But on the other hand, I’d had to take flack for something I didn’t do.” If this is indeed the case, then I am in full support of Mr. Foer’s gesture, particularly after the post-deal bonanza missteps of Jonathan Franzen and Rick Moody. I hope to draw upon the subject of meritocracy and the obligations of authors with pre-award windfalls in a future post.
  • Dan Green responds to Sarah’s post about the publishing industry. The Literary Saloon also weighs in. Dan notes that the publishing business has been the least business-like of businesses and, quite rightly, points out that the pulps were a beneficial component of staying power, and the Literary Saloon points out that countless “literary” authors could have been marketed for the price of the Ronald Reagan memoir flop. My own quick take on this is that we won’t have an answer until authors and publishers fully understand the human impulse to read, and actively work to encourage it, responding to this desire in ways that transcend both popular and literary trappings. For example, if the previous magazine conduits are, for the most part, dead and the average bookstore browser makes his decision by flipping through the first few pages, instead of book excerpts, why not offer a free buckram-bound, promotional sampling of emerging authors in lieu of a book tour? Furthermore, I don’t believe that a bridge between popular and literary is possible without getting the word out to both camps that both can be acceptable on their own terms, while maintaining a certain standard. But such a position presumes idealism, an editorial team passionate about literature, and an openness to new choices on behalf of the reading public;. However, word of mouth often gets an otherwise obscure author read. I don’t believe that publishers have taken full advantage of this. But then again, who has the resources to take a chance?
  • On Saturday, I went to an open studio exhibit run by Marisa Williams in Oakland. If you’re into photography and calligraphy, check Marisa’s stuff out. Beyond being an exceptionally nice person, Marisa has a good photographic eye for still life and architecture and offers lovely handmade cards for purchase. She even offers some nify thank you cards.
  • It is possible to play Taboo with sixteen or so people at one time. However, the more people you have, the greater the possibility that communications will be more harried. Factor caffeine into the equation and you have a fait accompli involving destroyed egg timers and nearly every card used up within a matter of three hours. I urge the folks at Milton Bradley to pay more care to how they construct their game components. Able board gamers have more adrenaline than the R&D boys have accounted for.
  • Ronald Reagan’s passing. To paraphrase the Gipper himself, if you’ve seen one dead President, you’ve seen them all.
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4 Comments

  1. I never understood why Foer got so much shit tossed his way (even before the PEN monetary gift). He even made some NYC weekly’s list of 50 loathsome New Yorkers—as he he said to me,” I haven’t been around long enough to be loathsome.”) Is it that he has three names? That he’s short and Jewish? An Ivy Leaguer? What then? I’m sure that it couldn’t be his sucess, cuz you know people just aren’t like that.

  2. I got a similar email from Foer over the weekend and though I responded privately at the time, my sentiments echo Ed’s and further, I freely admit that he’s an easy target to shoot at, and has been since even before EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED was published. Advance envy, success envy, age envy, hype envy–it ain’t pretty, but it’s all there for many folks and aspiring writers. I had mixed feeling about Foer’s book–liked lots, had problems with other parts–but I’m looking forward to reading his next book, and hope I can judge it as objectively as possible.

    The NY Press list, well, that was ego-stroking (of their own selves) of the highest and it’s oh-so-easy to take other folks down a few, ill-thought-out pegs.

  3. “Furthermore, I don’t believe that a bridge between popular and literary is possible without getting the word out to both camps that both can be acceptable on their own terms, while maintaining a certain standard. But such a position presumes idealism, an editorial team passionate about literature, and an openness to new choices on behalf of the reading public…” Well said, but I would argue that elitist critics–Peck perhaps, but even more so Birkerts with his in-crowd snobbery and “reading is hard work” admonitions–are adamant about not wanting to see this happen. In fact, ensuring that it does not happen is their raison d’etre.

  4. Leave Foer alone! Why is it that people pick on the quiet ones instead of the assholes, like peck and Birket? Because they fight back. Get a life! Or write your own goddamn bestselling book. Leave the good writers alone.

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