"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let's Play Sartre

10 points for a black beret, five points for a leather jacket and two points for a lighted Gauloises or a demitasse. Existential stubble, plus a beret, is 20 points. At the Guardian.

Also, what do Parisians read in the subway?

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Big, Dirty Unmade Bed of a Book

Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke:

Central to Johnson's dramatised worldview is the belief that it is the mangled and damaged, the downtrodden, who are best placed to achieve - "withstand" is probably a better verb - enlightenment. It's like an inversion of the idea of the law of the jungle where trees vie with each other to reach for the sky, the light. For Johnson the real revelations are at ground level, amid the degradation of mush and swamp. As such there are moments of extreme ugliness and horror. In 1968 a GI spoons out the eye of a VC prisoner and James Houston yells: "Give it to the motherfucker. Make him holler." Thus encouraged the soldier "grabbed the man's eyeballs hanging by the purple optic nerves and turned the red veiny side so the pupils looked back at the empty sockets and the pulp in the cranium. 'Take a good look at yourself, you piece of shit.'" A little while earlier James had emerged from a firefight in the aftermath of which "every blurred young face he looked at gave him back a message of brotherly love." But then his buddy got wounded and ended up in hospital "like the Frankenstein monster laid out in pieces, wired up for the jolt that would wake him to a monster's confused and tortured finish." The book is a monster in that sense, jolted constantly into life by its own damaged circuitry, a mass of spare parts all held together with a relentlessly deranged sense of purpose and quotations from Artaud and Cioran.

I totally get what the reviewer is saying about Johnson's work, and this review would get me to read the book even if I didn't already have it on my to-read list.

Can't Drink Coffee and Read at the Same Time

In Iran.

Somehow, this makes sense to Iranian politicians. But hey, better to close down the equivalent of Starbucks than the bookstores themselves.

Six Statements on Homosexuality;

Seven thousand on how to treat the poor. Reading between the lines of the world's most misunderstood book.

At its heart, this is a book about all the various ways religious people pick and choose, the most famous being many Christians' fixation on the six biblical statements about homosexual relations in comparison to what Jacobs claims are seven thousand—seven thousand!—biblical comments on how to treat the poor. All religious people do this sifting, he finds; they simply have to.

A.J. Jacobs' Year of Living Biblically, attempts to answer such pressing questions as: "Does it violate the eighth commandment to "borrow" your downstairs neighbor's wireless signal?"

Monday, October 15, 2007

Steal This Book

If you like it.
The Frankfurt Book Fair has an indicator to help publishers gauge public interest in the new offerings presented at the annual exhibition -- the unofficial "most stolen book" index.
"The most-stolen books are usually the most-sold later on," [said] Claudia Hanssen of the Goldmann Verlag publishing house.

The most stolen book this year? An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore.

Friday, October 12, 2007

You'll Need More Luck...

...than Margaret Atwood.

Who was herself short-listed for the Nobel Prize. At least no one is asking her when she is going to commit suicide any more.

"Most Art is Failed Art"

I don't know if you've been following the controversy surrounding Stephen King's editing of Best American Short Stories 2007. The unfairly maligned Mr. King wrote a very pessimistic introduction to the book, which appeared in edited form in the NY Times Book Review. King feels that the short story can be precious and cutesy, written for other MFAs and teachers, because fewer and fewer of the rest of us actually read the things, hard as they are to come by, when the bookstores hide expensive literary magazines somewhere near the floor polisher.

Jane Thompson, author of several books of short stories, has written a thoughtful reply, at Maud Newton's blog.

Most art is failed art...There is in much of the criticism the inference, or the downright accusation, that writers of highbrow fiction lead effete and timorous lives, as opposed to the robust and brawny ones of those who write the solid, homespun stuff that people really want, and whose hearts, as well as wallets, are in the right place. But writing is always a balancing act between involvement with the world and the solitude and retreat needed to render it in words. One does one’s best in both arenas, and then resolves to do still better the following day.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

At long last, and richly deserved. At the NY Times.

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 later this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through her voracious reading. She had been born to British parents in what is now Iran, was raised in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and now lives in London. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, non-fiction and an autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature.

The BBC points out that she is likely to see a rise in sales. Never too late for that, although I am sure she would have appreciated receiving the $1.6 million prize thirty years ago. Perhaps the prize committee was thinking, better late than never. At the BBC.

At the Guardian.

Doris Lessing entries at this blog.

Lessing's reaction, with link to photos.

"I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The World Without Us: Read This Book

This amazing book should be on everyone's To-Read list. The author, Alan Weisman, takes us on a tour of our world as it would be were humans to suddenly disappear -- wiped out by some plague, or even if our numbers were half or less of what they are now. There are some surprises. The earth doesn't have unlimited capacity to regenerate what we know, although there will always be something. He discusses what would become of the world's 441 (at time of publication) nuclear reactors, and the huge, city-sized crude oil refineries such as the one that stretches from Houston to the Gulf coast. It seems they alone could create the equivalent of a nuclear winter, if we left them alone without first shutting them down. He also explains the coming effects of global warming, what to expect and what to fear -- this is a book that can keep you awake nights, and it's not alarmism. Global warming is here. If you, like me, can't believe that our idiotic leaders have let it go this far -- weren't we all talking about this as far back as the 'sixties and 'seventies? -- You will appreciate this fine book.

I like a good end-of-the-world sci fi read, but this is not sci fi. In addition to his extensive research on many different areas that are impacted by us, the author makes a convincing case for population diminishment, not just zero growth.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Too Many MFAs

Spoil the short story? That seems to be Stephen King's opinion in this article from the New York Times. There is no doubt that what he's saying is true, that the audience for short fiction is decreasing, and that there are a lot of MFA-trained imitators writing awfully precious stuff.

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.
Mr. King has edited this year's Best American Short Stories, and the article is a slightly pared-down version of the introduction. I ordered this book, but Amazon so far refuses to ship it to me.