Speculating Upon Gasps

Jonathan Ames: “On the oral-sex front, I then made a concerted effort to lick the labia, which was something I’ve been guilty of neglecting in the past, and again the results were quite good. I also plunged my middle digit in about two inches, counting off the distance with my finger along the inside of the young lady’s vagina the way you march out the steps between your car and a fire-hydrant. I may have actually located the G-spot, if I’m to judge by the gasps of pleasure that were elicited.”

DFW Rewritten

Here is the first paragraph of David Foster Wallace’s “Good People” rewritten:

Lane A. Dean, Jr. and his girlfriend sat at a picnic table. They’d gone to different high schools but attended the same junior college. Now it was springtime and they were near a lake. The air was suffused with honeysuckle and lilacs, almost too much for them to take in. The recent storms had downed trees. One tree had collapsed near the shallows of the lake where Lane and his girlfriend were now sitting. Lane liked his girlfriend and her smell, but he was distracted by another man, whose incongruous hat reminded him of his grandfather. This stranger was still, more like a man than a picture.

DFW’s paragraph is 502 words. My revised paragraph is 107 words.

Perseus Seduces Indie Publishers

This morning, Jim Milliot reports that Perseus has received signed agreements from “more than 10” ex-PGW publishers. Presumably, this is the 70 cents on the dollar reimbursement in exchange for four years of distribution deal that was bandied about like a tainted carrot to the PGW publishers left in the lurch. This does not mean that Perseus has acquired PGW, but Perseus’s goal is to grab 65% of the PGW clients before the February 12 hearing date. Under the deal, the publishers will retain ownership of their inventory, if not their sunny dispositions.


  • Hitch on One Hundred Years: “For this reader, the most arresting episode in the Macondo saga was the epidemic of insomnia that afflicted the tribe.”
  • The Esquire Napkin Project features contributions by A.M. Homes, Jonathan Ames, Aimee Bender, Andrew Sean Greer, and many more authors.
  • James Gibbons on Paul Auster: “Novelists, of course, are not obliged to occupy themselves with a fine-grained depiction of external reality, so in remarking on the abstract terrain of Auster’s books I mean primarily to underscore how anomalous his success is. Simply put, neither American writers nor American readers tend to go in for the kind of fiction that Auster has made his specialty, and it’s unsurprising that Auster enjoys not just wide readership but also prestige internationally, particularly in France, that well exceeds his critical reputation in the United States.” (via The Publishing Spot)
  • Jeff VanderMeer opines that BSG is beginning to suck. I agree. And yet when Annalee Newitz boldly put forth this proposition late last year, she was greeted by a torrent of denouncements from mad fanboys. The question is when this artistic declivity will be recognized by the more rabid BSG viewers. I don’t know whether to give up on the show or hope that it will get better. I keep watching, but only when I am suffering from insomnia or my brain power has depleted to near zero. Ron Moore has not written a single episode this season other than the two-hour premiere, and I suspect that he’s abdicated on his duties. Do we really need a BSG spinoff? I’d rather see attentions directed towards one good show instead of two substandard ones.
  • Charlie Stross on the writer’s lifestyle. (via Speedysnail)
  • Flickr has forced its users to get Yahoo IDs. Small wonder that Fotolog has overtaken Flickr. Treat your users as if they are prisoners forced to register for a stalag and they go elsewhere.
  • What kind of reader are you? Me? I’m a “Dedicated Reader.” (via Bookblog)
  • Sidney Sheldon has passed on, forcing readers to find another prolific hack writer to read on airplanes.
  • Flatland: The Movie! (via Books, Inq.
  • Over at Mark’s place, Daniel Olivas talks with Daniel Alarcón.
  • The Existence Machine on Children of Men.
  • Oh! My! Goodness! Radio! Radio! Radio! (via Condalmo)

The Latest on Perseus, PGW & AMS

A former Perseus employee has emailed me, observing the following: Perseus is more concerned with the distribution end of the business rather than the publishing end. This reader also suggests that Barnes & Noble, which sometimes excludes particular titles that aren’t distributed by Sterling, is a shadier example of vertical integration than a prospective PGW/Perseus merger. (As an anonymous publisher reported to Holt Uncensored back in 2003, Sterling began to cut orders from 500 or more down to 100 or less for publishers who weren’t “team players.”)

Because B&N has been able to maintain such a business practice along these lines without any apparent antitrust suits (at least none that I am aware of), this may set a Perseus-friendly precedent for any prospective Perseus-PGW merger. Indeed, I suspect it would be quite easy for a lawyer to craft a disingenuous argument suggesting that an antitrust situation would only exist if an entity controlled all three aspects of the book business: publishing, distributing and selling.

This reader goes on to suggest that Perseus has “found the loophole” by focusing its efforts on book distribution. After all, assuming that your accountants haven’t underreported revenue or hidden the cash a la Sorrento Mesa, book distribution makes money.

A large question mark now hovers over a definitive Perseus-PGW coupling. This morning, PW‘s Jim Milliot reports that there were two additional offers in addition to Perseus’s. AMS’s primary lender, Wells Fargo Foothill, however, has permitted “one more opportunity to consummate a going concern sale.” (And has one of the two offers, as Radio Free PGW suggests, come in from the Chas Levy Company?) AMS, meanwhile, has postponed its annual meeting (apparently, “annual” means little to AMS; they haven’t held an “annual” meeting in four years) to February 23, due to shareholder Robert Robotti’s resignation.

The Book Standard‘s Kimberly Maul reports that Robotti has been replaced by Marc E. Ravitz as AMS Director, coming in from Grace & White (who had a 10% stake in AMS in 2006).

McSweeney’s has issued a public statement, noting, “From here on out, the slate will be clean again and you can count on the standard percentage of your book-buying dollars to go to us publishers. What’s that you say? Would it help for you all to buy books now, during this lean time? Well, sure—it would. We and all the others in this situation do best with these direct transactions, and we promise to deliver top-notch books in return.”

Meanwhile, the publishers have until February 7 to file objections to buyout offers — this, as Perseus’s 70 cents on the dollar offer to indie publishers in exchange for four years of distribution lays on the table. It remains uncertain whether the other two buyout offers have instituted a similar form of blackmail distribution bailout, but I’ll be tracking all developments as they come.

The Death and Life of a Great American City?

Robert Sullivan: “For the past two decades, New York has been an inspiration to other American cities looking to revive themselves. Yes, New York had a lot of crime, but somehow it also still had neighborhoods, and a core that had never been completely abandoned to the car. Lately, though, as far as pedestrian issues go, New York is acting more like the rest of America, and the rest of America is acting more like the once-inspiring New York.”

BSS #92: Christopher Moore


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating his vampiristic sensibilities.

Author: Christopher Moore

Subjects Discussed: WordStar word processors, using the nouns “monkey love” and “guy,” Midwestern vernacular, trying to figure out the ten year interval between Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck, San Francisco topography, George Romero, Bullitt, the 42-Downtown bus loop, invented references vs. real references, Abby Normal’s perspective, Lautréamont’s Maldoror, Goth kids, Near Dark, vampire violence, dialogue vs. description, deadlines, narrative pace, the “book a year” demands of publishers, writing big books vs. little books, research, living up to Lamb, the burdens of having a mass audience, Basket Case vs. Citizen Kane, ambitious narratives, marketing vs. writing, answering email, living up the goals of being a commercial writer, Andrew Weil, “drive-bys,” on achieving balance, oscillation, Moore’s “mistress,” the last time Moore took a vacation, writer’s block, on being clueless, William Gibson, Jack Womack, on being a “piece of crap” vs. being a “master of the universe,” John Steinbeck, avoiding reviews, and boob flashing.


Correspondent: Since you’re a funnyman, that would probably keep the pace going because someone’s pausing to laugh. I don’t know. I’m just wondering why you avoided metaphor — aside from pace.

Moore: Don’t even think about it.

Correspondent: Yeah?

Moore: Yeah. You’re applying way too much analytical — the kind of thing that happens in deconstructive analysis of literature that doesn’t happen when you write a book. I don’t think, “Oh, I’m going to put much less metaphor in this book.” It’s just: you write what occurs to you at the time. I would say probably that if I were to tell you what was the reason? The reason: the first book I didn’t have a deadline; this one, I did.


Jonathan Ames Alert

Long-time readers know that I once made a deal with a daemon. An evil eidolen answering to the name of Bee promised that if I continuously reported Jonathan Ames’ activity, I would be given a great salad recipe that would allow me to win friends and influence people. The salad recipe has yet to materialize, but being a man who lives up to his end of the bargain, I would be remiss if I didn’t report that The Jonathan Ames Show is going down at Mo Pitkins on January 30 and January31 at 11:00 PM. Ames will be presenting a number of unusual acts, and Moby will make a surprise appearance on at least one of these nights. Ames also promises to have a pillow fight with audience members and will, in his words, “gently paddle audience members.” It is unknown whether the paddle in question will be one of the ping-pong variety or the English public school type. But this sounds to me like several Friday evenings in my twenties.

In Which I’m Threatened With “Legal Action” by Alice Hutchison for Something I Didn’t Even Write

Back in October, a commenter by the name of Daniel Dagan posted a comment here pointing to textual similarities between Alice Hutchison’s Kenneth Anger and a thesis written by Miriam Dagan. While catching up on my email backlog, I received the following email from Alice Hutchison:

To Edward Champion / host of edrants.com,

It has come to my attention that your website has posted damaging and incorrect information about me as an author and my book on Kenneth Anger as solicited to you by a Mr Dagan of Berlin, whose accusations have proven to be fictitious, ie source material from authors who are duly credited.
I strongly urge you to remove it at your earliest convenience to avoid legal action against you. If the reference to me and the book are not removed by the end of the week, you will be hearing from my lawyers in Los Angeles.

Thank-you in advance,

Alice L Hutchison

* * *

First off, “my website” did not post the comment. I did not author the comment. It came from a gentleman by the name of Daniel Dagan, who also left his contact information for any aggrieved parties.

Since my computer has been out of commission and I have a considerable email backlog, I only just got this email today (it was sent on January 16) and, as of yet, I haven’t heard anything from “lawyers in Los Angeles.” Furthermore, since Ms. Hutchison has failed to describe how Mr. Dagan’s claims are “damaging and incorrect,” I will leave Mr. Dagan’s comment unaltered, unless Ms. Hutchison and her “lawyers” can provide persuasive evidence to the contrary.

And since I’ve been threatened with legal action for something I didn’t even write, without Ms. Hutchison presenting a specific example (much less a specific statute that I violated), I’m less inclined to cooperate with someone who offers empty legal threats without a burden of proof.

Thus, until Ms. Hutchison demonstrates with clear examples why Mr. Dagan is wrong (or Mr. Dagan requests that I remove his comment), I’ll allow Mr. Dagan’s comment to stand unaltered.

Further, I find it immensely ironic that someone who has authored a book on the man who wrote Hollywood Babylon, which was infinitely more risque than anything contained within Mr. Dagan’s remarks, would send such an email.

Could It Be That This Claim Comes from a Humorless Writer Incapable of Recognizing Extremely Clear Satire?

Babble: “Like surprisingly many people, I have always held a vague abhorrence for Neal Pollack. Could it be his claim to be the ‘Greatest Living American Writer’? His penchant for putting his name in his book titles? Or his jokey, sexist piggishness — supposedly the ironic mantle of a true feminist, but I really have my doubts? I think it’s just him.”

BSS #91: Valerie Trueblood & Anne Fernald


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fleeing from disco.

Guests: Anne Fernald and Valerie Trueblood

Subjects Discussed: Weaknesses for beautiful books, life as “structured anarchy,” the definition of plot, David Markson, narrative flow, cause and effect in narrative, unexpected events, Seven Loves‘ “eventless” perception, on being “anti-plot,” the beginnings of May Nilsson, family characteristics, the relationship between unpredictable life and fiction, compartmentalized American novels vs. compartmentalized British novels, Edward P. Jones, MFA workshops, the short story form, the paucity of older protagonists in fiction and how older people are underestimated, Faulkner and race, Sidney Thompson, verboten perspectives, underlying nuances beneath sentences, Trueblood’s unintentional wisdom, two-inch items in newspapers, “quiet” vs. melodramatic reader perceptions, people who disappear, and being an apocalyptic person.

(A co-production of the LBC, Pinky’s Paperhaus and The Bat Segundo Show)


Trueblood: Narrative seems to me to be something that sort of flows in many currents through us and carries us through life, but is not — I guess what I mean by plot and why I’m sort of anti-plot is the sort of contained arc: the beginning, the complication and the resolution. Novels like that, I just don’t believe. It’s hard for me to see that things could really ever be tied up with a resolution.

BSS #90: Richard Ford


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Trying to get the lay of the land.

Author: Richard Ford

Subjects Discussed: Bill Buford’s “dirty realism,” inland vs. coastal territory in the Frank Bascombe books, nautical motifs, Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, the development of Haddam, recurring supporting characters, crafting long, information-heavy sentences, Ford’s dismissal of cyclical metaphors as “a bunch of baloney,” religion and irony, the politics of the Bascombe books, arranging Frank Bascombe’s days, Ford’s violent reactions to reviews, Colson Whitehead, Bascombe’s culinary habits, quotidian details, street names, evading the influence of other writers, the Permanent Period, self-help books, Sally’s letter vs. Frank Bascombe’s voice, roomy novels, writing short stories vs. novels, dyslexia, research and real estate terminology, William Gaddis’s A Frolic of His Own, Frank’s Great Speeches book, making trips to New Jersey, Haddam vs. Updike’s Brewer, memory and perspective, the relationship between Ford and his readers, on pissing the right people off, responding to the “fool” Christopher Lehman, and character conventions.


Ford: I don’t think of [Haddam] as a character. I think of it as just the backdrop of what the real characters, which is to say the human beings in the book, do in the foreground. Setting for me is always just the context that makes what people do more plausible. And I invented Haddam out of what experience I have had and continue having in central New Jersey. And so for me it was an amalgamation of a bunch of different places that I sort of organized under the name Haddam. And it never really was intended to be more than that, except as these books began to develop to be more about American cultural life and American spiritual life in the suburbs, it sort of rose to become a bit of a touchstone subject in and of itself. Because in describing a town’s housing stock, in describing moratoriums, in describing sprawl outwards from these little towns, that became for me a subject I never intended to find but did find and then did use.

Who Wrote This?

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”

So who wrote this?

Glenn Greenwald? Paul Krugman? Bob Woodward?

Think again. You may be surprised by the answer.

RIP Lester Borchardt

Pioneer Press: “A physicist and lifelong tinkerer, Borchardt revolutionized the breakfast cereal industry. He had a big hand in developing the technologies that allow cereal companies — in his case, General Mills — to turn grain into cereals such as Cheerios and Kix, and he also played a key role in coming up with the process used to fortify milk with vitamin D.”

The Skinny on Sarvas

Jewish Journal: “But to really understand why people still come to Hollywood, and why they continue to pitch and write on spec, or still write literary novels and/or start blogs — and continue to do so in the face of the changing industry — you have but to turn to Sarvas’s favorite novel, ‘Gatsby’ (and let’s not forget that Fitzgerald himself ended his days here). Is there a better explanation for the essential optimism that animates our lives and that inspires Sarvas and ‘The Elegant Variation’ than how Fitzgerald concludes his great novel?”

Oh come on, Mr. Teicholz. I count Mark as a pal, but this is a bit much.

This Week in Media Convergence

Editor & Publisher: “Speaking to hundreds of Los Angeles Times journalists in the newspaper’s Harry Chandler auditorium this morning, editor James O’Shea outlined a bold plan to increase traffic and revenue from LATimes.com in the face of an increasingly difficult economic climate for newspaper publishers, and urged journalists to think of the Web site as the newspaper’s primary vehicle for news.”

Problem Solved, If Some Vegetarians Stopped Being Self-Righteous Douchebags

Laura Miller: “We’re so used to linking masculinity with carnivorousness that we seldom stop to recognize how illogical it is. Just because vegetarianism is correlated with pacifism — people who draw the line at killing animals are probably loath to kill human beings, too — it doesn’t follow that eating flesh, and especially the flesh of mammals, causes the battery of aggressive behaviors we choose to call manly. Yet even today, insulting vegetarians is presented as a display of bold, defiant machismo, a way of saying, ‘I understand and embrace the bloody truths of life with lusty vigor, unlike you salad-noshing pansies!'”

But He Also Forgot Core Areas of Math, Geography and Where to Get the Best Tapas in His Neighborhood

Scientific American: “A patient who damaged his left insula, a region of the brain located deep within the cortex on either lateral side, may have opened the door to kick the habit without even trying. The day after suffering a stroke the 38-year-old man, who had a 40-cigarette-a-day addiction, reported to doctors that his ‘body forgot the urge to smoke.’ This revelation prompted a study that found the insula is intimately linked to smoking addiction.”

The Case Against Malcolm Jones

There’s one other thing I should note about Malcolm Jones’ laziness. I was contacted by the book’s publicist to interview Vikram Chandra. I offered profuse apologies to the very nice publicist, pointing out that, as good as this sounded, I simply did not have the time in my schedule to read the 900-page book. You see, I wanted to give Chandra the same respect that I give to all the authors I talk with, which involves reading the book from start to finish and actively thinking about it.

I have never interviewed a single author in which I have not finished the book. And I refuse to talk with an author in a long-form interview if I am not permitted enough time to do this. (And I’ve had to cancel out on some very good authors because of this. Alas, one can only do so much.)

The mainstream media has long accused bloggers of being lazy reporters. If anything, this Malcolm Jones flap illustrates that some mainstream media reviewers might possibly be lazier.

To me, it seems a requisite that if you are being paid to write a review, whether you like the book or hate it, you should be professional enough to read it to the very end. Whether the book is 200 pages or 1,000 pages. Whether the book is breezy or dense. Whether the book employs arcane words and references or employs a less demanding timbre. That Jones could not fulfill this basic duty suggests to me that he has no business writing book reviews. He should leave this to the professionals.