"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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How We Kill What We Love

Or, how people who buy and sell used books online are the real death of the industry. Bargain Hunting for Books, from the NY Times.

How much do I want to pay, and where do I want that money to go? To my local community via a bookstore? To the publisher? To the author?

In theory, I want to support all of these fine folks. In practice, I decide to save a buck.

Apparently, a practice with enormous repercussions. Powell's bookstore in Portland, Or, is asking its employees to take unpaid sabbaticals. There is no longer any bookstore in Berkeley, Calif. Will we regret our "selfish actions" when there are no longer physical bookstores? Sure, we will. How will we learn about books, then? Those of us who find what we want at the local bookstore and then order it online to save maybe $10. But how do they expect us to give up saving $10 on each volume?

We're loving books to death. Somebody think of something.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Book Publishers Fail

Is there anyone who reads The Drudge Report instead of a good book? Does it make sense to blame the internet for publishing's decline, or is it instead the result of several years of bad decisions? The loss of 2,000 independent booksellers? Dohle's depredations at Random House? Cutting expenses by replacing senior employees with newbies? Or has publishing dumbed down, and "drifted into the paper-thin celebrity culture that defines just about every other domain, and which is rendering American culture as dull and monotonous as anything in Western history." Lawrence Osborne at Forbes.

I agree that publishing seems a bit dumbed down, but in the same article, Osborne says industry insiders blame agents, editorial failures, and lack of "franchise authors" to bolster overall sales. It sounds like you can't swing a cat without hitting someone who is to blame. Agents for trying to make fast money, instead of building authors' careers, editorial failures in the form of cuts in actual editing -- "resulting in longer, sloppier books that bore readers stupid" -- and Dan Brown for not writing an enticing sequel to the DaVinci Code.

A friend in publishing (laid off from Random House, incidentally) makes the point that the market for books is not readers, exactly, but those readers who buy books, and that we buy them for their content and quality -- remember when books were the authority on grammar and spelling? Now I don't remember the last time I got through a new book without noticing a dozen or more sometimes appalling errors. Not to mention the awful shapelessness of "longer, sloppier books" -- for $25 and up. Books used to give the reader the sense that something in the world made sense, or perhaps that sense could be made of the world. Am I naive in writing that? I used to feel, when reading a good book, that someone in the world knew what they were doing, how to think and express things, that the world might actually be in good hands. Okay, I'm naive, but it really was about world view. And now publishing is yelling about the sky falling. I'm not shelling out $25 for that, and neither is anybody else, apparently. Unless it's really well written...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Writers Need Food

I somehow missed this excellent NY Times article, in the form of a memo from Michael Pollan to the next U.S. President. He makes the excellent point that a major ingredient in the food we eat is oil, as in petroleum, whether in the form of transportation, chemical fertilizers and/or pesticides. The cost of food has skyrocketed along with the cost of energy, and the pollution from waste that was once recycled as fertilizer...well, you get the picture. We feed 40% of all our grain to animals to fatten them up in inhumane feedlots, and another 11% to cars and trucks as biofuel.

He makes very good suggestions, from polyculture farming to converting a piece of the White House lawn to a victory garden to having one meatless day a week at the White House. I'd also like to suggest vegetable/vegetarian cooking classes in schools -- it's time we stopped treating meat-based meals as the only acceptable standard. Our eating habits are killing us and our environment.

Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. Thanks to Food is Love for pointing me to this article.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Thought

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."
~ "The Outermost House" by Henry Beston

Henry Beston was a naturalist who lived from 1888-1968. He spent a year in the outermost house on Eastham Beach, Cape Cod, and wrote the book The Outermost House about that year. I love this quote. I first saw it hanging in the vet's office.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Five Cents

Can I just say that the Starbucks $.05 promo -- that's right, five cents -- that's what they're donating to AIDS charities for each "hand-crafted" beverage (read: the more expensive ones) you buy within a limited time period -- can I just add that this does NOT impress me in the least? Hey, take plain brewed and send $2 to the charity instead, or, better, drink coffee at home and send $3. Or tell Starbuck's to bite the bullet and send more.

Jeez. Can they even spare a dime?

I guess this is kind of in the bookstore category for me because I only ever go to Starbuck's when I visit the local Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Just The Facts Ma'am

Moonrat explains the awful facts of publishing's crash in September and October of this year. Her blog is one of my favorites (sidebar - Editorial Ass). I'll give a hint: it was the big chain stores' strategy of sending books back to publishers to raise money for the holiday shopping season. Publishers have to buy their books back whenever the stores decide they've been on the shelves long enough and haven't sold.

In fact, the books in my previous blog entry which were gutted and made into purses were quite likely originally returns of that kind. The solution? Buy books this Christmas. If you buy a book purse for your favorite book lover, buy a book to go in it as well. Books for everyone!

The NY Times is cautiously optimistic on the same subject, pointing out that inexpensive entertainment like books doesn't suffer as much in bad economic times as pricey fun like vacations, new electronics, new cars, etc.

Make it so, readers!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Holiday Shopping for Writers

Thanks to Ju'nen for leading met to this fab collection of book purses. Even if it is a bit naughty to gut hardcovers and make them into fashion items. I had a moment of rejecting the idea, then came around thinking it's a fact that many hardcovers get remaindered, then sent to the trash. Why not make something fun out of them? It's recycling.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Modest Proposal

While perusing this article at Reason.com arguing against consumption of local foods --

Local food production does not always produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the 2005 DEFRA study found that British tomato growers emit 2.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of tomatoes grown compared to 0.6 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of Spanish tomatoes. The difference is British tomatoes are produced in heated greenhouses. Another study found that cold storage of British apples produced more carbon dioxide than shipping New Zealand apples by sea to London. In addition, U.K. dairy farmers use twice as much energy to produce a metric ton of milk solids than do New Zealand farmers. Other researchers have determined that Kenyan cut rose growers emit 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 12,000 roses compared to the 35 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by their Dutch competitors. Kenyan roses grow in sunny fields whereas Dutch roses grow in heated greenhouses.

-- I had a brilliant idea. Since the most efficient sources of food seem to be in Africa and certain southern hemisphere locations such as New Zealand, why not turn those areas entirely into farms for the nourishment and support of the rest of the world? It would cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, slow or eliminate global warming, and make lots more space available for condominium development closer to home.

What do you think?

With thanks to Jonathan Swift.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Rejection Collection

of cartoons that failed to make it into the New Yorker.

This had me laughing out loud in Barnes & Noble. I particularly liked "Death Takes a Crap" and "You're lucky. I'm turning into my mother." (Husband turning into werewolf on couch next to blase, bathrobed wife fiddling with remote.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's for (Naked) Lunch?

If you didn't read the Independent's article about And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks, the "new" crime novel based on a true story and jointly authored by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, you might not know that the murder victim was an old friend of Burroughs' -- and the murderer a respected editor at UPI who wished fervently for the book to be suppressed in his lifetime, and it was, although the story was well known to beat aficionados.

The real-life events behind the book occurred in the early hours of Monday morning, 16 August 1944. Carr and Kammerer were walking beside the Hudson in Riverside Park on New York's Upper West Side. Lucien Carr was 19, slight, blond and good-looking. [David] Kammerer was 33, 6ft tall, athletic, muscular. They'd met in St Louis in 1936, when Carr was 11, and later at George Washington University, when Carr joined nature hikes conducted by Kammerer, the PE instructor. Kammerer was gay and had for years been sexually obsessed with Carr.

Both men were drunk. They quarrelled and rolled on the grass. Kammerer made what the papers called "an indecent proposal," presumably backing it up with action. Carr responded with fury. He stabbed Kammerer twice in the chest with a little Boy Scout knife. Then he put some rocks in the bleeding man's pockets and rolled him into the Hudson.

For his action, Carr received a maximum 10-year sentence, of which he served two years. Kerouac narrowly missed being charged as an accessory.

More at the Guardian.

I saw this book at the local bookstore the other day. As the Guardian points out, it has an understated cover for such a lurid story.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Rimbaud, Verlaine, Lennon, Eminem

and...Hefner? grew from rebels into lovable old chaps.
In 1873, in a hotel room in Brussels, the dastardly boy-poet Arthur Rimbaud was shot in the wrist, half-accidentally, by the outrageously hideous alcoholic man-poet Paul Verlaine. (Verlaine went to prison, whereupon Rimbaud shut himself in his mom’s attic, moaned his scandalized lover’s name, and single-handedly invented Surrealism.) The year before, halfway across the world in patrician Baltimore, an unusually large baby was born and christened Emily Price. She went on, as Emily Post, to publish Etiquette, the twentieth century’s most comprehensive encyclopedia of high-society tyranny (or, if you prefer, social betterment). As she was revising its second edition, a newborn version of Hugh Hefner managed to emerge from the presumably unphotographed loins of a conservative Methodist housewife in Chicago. In 1940, Hefner was just beginning high school, one of the golden periods of his life, when, during a brief lull between German air raids, John Lennon’s birth incrementally increased the wartime population of Liverpool. In 1972, as President Nixon worked up a case to deport the ex-Beatle from New York, Marshall “Eminem” Mathers was born into deeply unpromising circumstances in Missouri.

A slew of new biographies shows that all they needed was love (and attention), aww. I bet the money didn't hurt, either.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life and Debt

Margaret Atwood argues that we have taken the human factor out of debt:

We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit, and — the negative version — who harbor grudges when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly. Without a sense of fairness and also a level of trust, without a system of reciprocal altruism and tit-for-tat — one good turn deserves another, and so does one bad turn — no one would ever lend anything, as there would be no expectation of being paid back. And people would lie, cheat and steal with abandon, as there would be no punishments for such behavior.

At the NY Times.

I like her optimistic view of what comes next, even though I don't share it. Her new book is Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Middle-Aged Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, published in America 50 years ago, has engendered the most embarrassed, looking-sideways-for-the-exit, highfalutin, and obscurantist talk of any book ever written — any. Only a handful of critics have been forthright, most famously, Lionel Trilling: "Lolita is about love. Perhaps I shall be better understood if I put the statement in this form: Lolita is not about sex, but about love."
Somehow, not all commentators and readers have lined up behind Trilling on this point, many finding themselves agreeing ...that the novel is clearly about pedophilia, rape, and the destruction of innocence by a vile, if fancy-talking, Humbert of a monster. The most prominent recent example is Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: "Ironically, [Humbert's] ability as a poet, his own fancy prose style, exposes him for what he is." And what he is is not a device or a literary character but a real and true criminal: "What bothers us most, of course, ... is not just the utter helplessness of Lolita but the fact that Humbert robs her of her childhood."
Even Adolf Eichmann, in Jerusalem for his trial, returned Lolita to a guard who had presented it to him, denouncing it as "very unwholesome."

Lolita, at The Chronicle.

Love or sex? I always thought Lolita was about obsession, which is not properly either. I can't see making the argument that Humbert loves her, after the way he treats her -- it would be a narcissistic approximation at best. Yet all desire doesn't lead to obsession (does it?), so it's not just sex.

Anyway, Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why I Love Email III

Retirement Plan Investment Tip:

If you had purchased $1000.00 of AIG stock one year ago, it would now be worth $56.91.

With Washington Mutual, you would have $120.36 left of the original $1000.

With 'Fannie Mae'(FNM), you would have $11.34 left.

If you had purchased $1000.00 of Lehman Bros one year ago it would now be almost worthless; less than $0.86.

If you had purchased RH Donelley, you would have $45.69 left.

But, if you purchased $1000.00 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the aluminum recycling refund you would have $214.00.

Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle. This is called the 401-Keg Plan.


*GROAN* I like this, though. At least someone isn't lamenting and popping Paxils. It's hard to get into a conversation that isn't about either the stock market, the election, the cost of the upcoming winter or what prescription drugs are making it all go away. The election is starting to look a little brighter, at least.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ig-Nobel Sentiment

Of all the responses I've read to Engdahl's sour grapes dis, or publicity stunt -- see below, here are my favorites:

From the Telegraph:

To start with: what does it mean to be "the centre of the literary world"? It means - quite simply - to write in English. The oldest, the most diverse, and the most voraciously acquisitive living literary tradition in the western world is English; and it is one that is more available to more people than any other single literature.

If you're talking about "the centre of the world" you're talking - surely - about lines of influence. More of them run through the Anglosphere (for in contrasting America to Europe, surely, he's contrasting America 'n' Britain to continental Europe) than anywhere else.

The author goes on to point out that English is the language of the internet. Not exactly isolated.

From Michael Dirda, at the Washington Post:

It is a bit rich for a citizen of Sweden, whose population of 9 million is about the same as New York City's, to call the United States "isolated."

Roger Kimball, Editor of The New Criterion:

"It strikes me as a kind of publicity stunt for a prize that in recent years has demonstrated its fatuousness...."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Redneck Redneck Redneck Redneck

During this US election cycle we are hearing a lot from the pundits and candidates about "heartland voters," and "white working class voters."

What they are talking about are rednecks. But in their political correctness, media types cannot bring themselves to utter the word "redneck." So I'll say it for them: redneck-redneck-redneck-redneck.

We come in one size: extra large. We are sometimes insolent and often quick to fight. We love competitive spectacle such as NASCAR and paintball, and believe gun ownership is the eleventh commandment.

We fry things nobody ever considered friable - things like cupcakes, banana sandwiches and batter dipped artificial cheese…even pickles.

Joe Bageant, at the BBC website. Joe is the author of Deerhunting with Jesus, a look at the white working class' politics and Scots-Irish values.

Although, I vote for "fryable" as a spelling for things that can be fried.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another God That Failed

As markets tumble and prices soar, and especially as the wages of ordinary workers lag inflation, the free-market dogmas that have governed the country over the last generation are increasingly under fire. If markets are so good, how come we’re paying almost $4 for gas? If private enterprise does the work of the angels, what happened to all the good jobs?

NY Times review of The Predator State, by James K. Galbraith.

...Galbraith argues that the Reagan revolution and all that followed was essentially a fraud. What remains of it? Nothing. Who still believes in it? Outside academia: no one.

Galbraith says Reaganism was founded on three policies: deregulation, monetarism and low taxes. He declares that the first was an artifice so that lobbyists could extract “more money from those who can afford to pay — and sometimes from those who cannot.”

Monetarism (the tactic used, successfully, by the Federal Reserve in the 1980s to nip inflation) he depicts as a tool to kill off labor unions and elevate the power of Wall Street. And low taxes failed to achieve their supposed purpose — encouraging saving. They were merely a sop to the wealthy.

I'm happy to see a book like this get reviewed in the NY Times. Even if it's saying what many people knew all along, that Reagan economics, and certainly the policies of the Bush administrations, favor the rich and ignore the long-term effects on the working people who provide the economy's foundation. Rhetoric still influences many people. Reagan's did -- his senile optimism and pure fantasy view of the economy is still "trickling" down, along with standards of living, although I think it would be simplistic to say that that is all there is to it. The world is a different, more crowded place now, but the false optimism and willful selfishness of our leaders in those years kept us from being prepared as a country for the problems we have now. And it's not over yet. I live in the expensive Northeast. I'm wondering just how many of my neighbors can afford their fuel bills this winter, or if I can.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Burger That Wouldn't Die

One of these McDonald's burgers is twelve years old. Can you tell which one? Me neither.

Thanks to Boing Boing and Karen Hanrahan.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stealing Is Not Nice

On my way home today, I stopped at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY. There was a sign in the poetry shelf, "Stealing is Not Nice." Why there of all places? Do people steal poetry?

Oh, to live in such a world.

Where poetry is stolen, rather than ignored. Oblong has two entire poetry bookcases.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Cannot Even Properly Speak For Myself

Why do editors say no, anyway? Well, I cannot, of course, speak for All Editors, and I cannot even properly speak for myself, because I reject some pieces from a murky inarticulate intuitive conviction that they’re just not our speed, but there are some general truths to note. We say no because we don’t print that sort of material. We say no because the topic is too far afield. We say no because we have printed eleven pieces of just that sort in the past year alone. We say no because the writing is poor, muddled, shallow, shrill, incoherent, solipsistic, or insane. We say no because we have once before dealt with the writer and still shiver to remember the agony which we swore to high heaven on stacks of squirrel skulls never to experience again come hell or high water. We say no sometimes because we have said yes too much and there are more than twenty pieces in the hopper and none of them will see the light of day for months and the last of the ones waiting may be in the hopper for more than two years, which will lead to wailing and the gnashing of teeth. We say no because if we published it we would be sued by half our advertisers. We say no because we know full well that this is one of the publisher’s two howling bugabears, the other one being restoring American currency to the silver standard. We say no because we are grumpy and have not slept properly and are having dense and complex bladder problems. We say no because our daughters came home yesterday with Mohawk haircuts and boyfriends named Slash. We say no because Britney Spears has sold more records worldwide than Bruce Springsteen. We say no for more reasons than we know.

Why Editors Say No, at the Kenyon Review.
Thanks to Book Ninja.

Let us not forget this shining example.

“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight, and if we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”

Our Gal

This from George Saunders in the New Yorker.

Explaining how she felt when John McCain offered her the Vice-Presidential spot, my Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, said something very profound: “I answered him ‘Yes’ because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

Isn’t that so true? I know that many times, in my life, while living it, someone would come up and, because of I had good readiness, in terms of how I was wired, when they asked that—whatever they asked—I would just not blink, because, knowing that, if I did blink, or even wink, that is weakness, therefore you can’t, you just don’t. You could, but no—you aren’t.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The End of Books

In NY Magazine.
It was a good article. Kindles, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Salman Rushdie and the biggest flops of recent years.

I think I'm not going to get a Kindle or e-reader or any of those, on principle.

I think all we need to turn things around is another Harry Potter-type book...did you see the article about the 21 best-selling books of all time? The Harry Potter books were all there.

I think it's going to suck for publishing when Oprah goes off the air, although I haven't always liked her picks.

And, can I just say, I don't care in the least what Michael Phelps eats, who he sleeps with or what he thinks, if at all, and see no reason for his $1.6 million advance. He's a swimmer, people, and he looks nice in a Speedo, and that's about that. Although eating 12,000 calories, none of which is a vegetable, is scary.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I Love Email II - featuring Sarah Palin

This in yesterday:

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....
* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."
* Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
* Name your kids Bristol, Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

* If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate laywer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.
* If your husband is nicknamed "First Dude," with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, much clearer now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace: Learning How to Think

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about, quote, the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

“This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.”

At the Chicago Tribune. And here.

Here's the full text of the commencement address from which the quote above is taken.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Coolest Osmond

From the party that brought you 9/11, unexpected, undefended, clueless.

Sarah Vowell in the NY Times. "Despite his consistent party-line voting record, some independents and Democrats still think of Senator McCain as the most palatable, independent-minded Republican. But this is the sort of empty compliment a friend of mine once compared to being called 'the coolest Osmond.'"

Authors on 9/11 at the Guardian.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

He's Just Not That Into Writing

Kafka, that is, er, was. Review of new bio at Powell's.

The book: It is rare that writers of fiction sit behind their desks, actually writing, for more than a few hours a day. Had Kafka been able to use his time efficiently, the work schedule at the Institute would have left him with enough free time for writing. As he recognized, the truth was that he wasted time.

The review: The truth was that he wasted time! The writer's equivalent of the dater's revelation: He's just not that into you. "Having the Institute and the conditions at his parents' apartment to blame for the long fallow periods when he couldn't write gave Kafka cover: it enabled him to preserve some of his self-esteem."

It's a lighthearted review. The book is The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay by Louis Begley. The book also addresses Kafka's contradictions and neuroses, about writing, about women, about being Jewish.

How interesting that the man who wrote The Metamorphosis also wrote:

Life is merely terrible; I feel it as few others do. Often -- and in my inmost self perhaps all the time -- I doubt that I am a human being.

Isn't it natural to leave a place where one is so hated?... The heroism of staying is nonetheless merely the heroism of cockroaches which cannot be exterminated, even from the bathroom.

Or maybe the title of this post should have been The Cockroach and the Jewish Question. When I read The Metamorphosis in high school, as a shiksa, it didn't occur to me that the metaphor of turning into a bug had anything to do with Jewishness -- it was never even brought up that Kafka was a Jew living in an anti-Semitic culture. Obviously, he had a little self-image problem, but quite a lot of pimply, late adolescent males of my acquaintance had that, and could be expected to mine it for their literary ambitions, if any.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stop Futzing; Get Writing

"Published authors have a lot more on their plates than simply writing a book. A published author is charged with writing a book while often editing the previous book and thinking about the next book. When Book B is complete it’s immediately time to get down to publicizing Book A, editing Book A, and writing Book C, and for that reason the futzing has to stop, whether the author wants it to or not. Unpublished authors should really start thinking of working in much the same way."

Thanks to Editorial Ass for pointing me to Book Ends.

Of futzing, there is no end. This is one of my issues, how futzable writing projects are. The post at Book Ends points out that writing projects are consecutive, not all floating in a timeless, infinite, futzy sea.

Anyone want to comment with further futz formations, be my guest.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Giovanni's Room

I felt lucky to find yet another great book last month, this one, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. It's the story of a closeted American man's affair with and betrayal of an Italian bartender, Giovanni.

Here is an excerpt, from the scene where they meet in the gay bar, where David, the American, hangs out even though he believes he is not gay and has been contemptuous of the men there.

"And he took his round metal tray and moved out into the crowd. I watched him as he moved. And then I watched their faces, watching him. And then I was afraid. I knew that they were watching, had been watching both of us. They knew that they had witnessed a beginning and now they would not cease to watch until they saw the end. It had taken some time, but the tables had been turned; now I was in the zoo, and they were watching."

And later, though David admits to "the ferocious excitement which had burst in me like a storm,"

"I wished, nevertheless, standing there at the bar, that I had been able to find in myself the force to turn and walk out -- to have gone over to Montparnasse perhaps and picked up a girl. Any girl. I could not do it. I told myself all sorts of lies, standing there at the bar, but I could not move. And this was partly because I knew that it did not matter anymore; it did not even matter if I never spoke to Giovanni again; for they had become visible, as visible as the wafers on the shirt of the flaming princess, they stormed all over me, my awakening, my insistent possibilities."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Semiotic or Semi-Idiotic?

Inquiring minds want to know. Now that the godfather of the National Enquirer has gone to meet Elvis, there's a book about it all. Review at WSJ.com.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

But it's in the Koran

A racy, historical novel based on the Prophet Muhammad's child bride A'isha was supposed to hit book stores in the U.S....

But in a rare case of self-censorship to preempt possible violent reaction by Muslims, one of the world's largest publishing houses pulled the plug on the book just before its release date.

At issue is Jones' portrayal of the prophet's wife A'isha, whom Muhammad is said to have married when she was 9 years old. In her novel Jones describes the consummation of their marriage when A'isha was 14.
At Fox.

Um, what was the rule with child brides? Was 14 actually the age of consummation?

Uh, not according to this.


Muhammad was 52 and Aisha was 9 when they married and sexually consummated their marriage. Muhammad followed an Arab custom in marrying a child who had her first menstrual cycle. ...Muhammad's action and teachings on marriage established an Islamic precedent: a girl is judged an adult following her first menses, and is eligible for marriage and sexual relations. Thus Muslim men are allowed to marry and have intercourse with young girls who have happened to have an early first menstrual cycle....

Muhammad's first wife - Khadija, died a few years before he fled to Medina. Later, he was encouraged to take another wife. At the age of 49 he was betrothed to Aisha, age six. Aisha was his closest friend's, Abu Bakr's, daughter. At that time, she had already been betrothed to another man but by mutual consent the betrothal was dissolved. Three years later, following her first menstrual cycle, he then formally married and sexually consummated his marriage with her.

What is more critical than Muhammad's single action with Aisha is that he taught that a girl is considered an adult following her first menstrual cycle. He also taught that his followers were to follow his "sunnah" or lifestyle. Thus today, throughout much of the Mideast, girls as young as nine are often married by men old enough to be their grandfather.

So, here we have a book of historical fiction, altered to make a man considered to be a prophet not seem like a pedophile (is 14 the age of consent anywhere, however?), and it's being pulled?

It's all too complicated. Just publish the book -- I wonder how many people would have even heard of it without all the press it's getting. As the article above points out, child marriage is not uncommon in history, and in various cultures, although it is illegal in many countries now.

Book Her

The next time you forget to return a couple of library books (and ignore those annoying letters about the overdue status of said volumes), think of Heidi Dalibor. The Wisconsin woman, 20, was arrested earlier this month in connection with a pair of books overdue for several months.

Story at The Smoking Gun.

But you know, Enron, the bogus-weapons-of-mass-destruction thing, that you can get away with in this country. Anyway, I don't think you can get arrested for overdue library books just anywhere. I don't think my local library even has fines. They just send an invoice after a month. Okay, how do I know? I'm guilty. Lucky for me I don't live in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fake Book Signing to Be Held in Los Angeles

Why is that not a surprise? Authors are hiring people to sign their books for them. Too busy fixing their own computers or something? Those complicated new automatic espresso machines?

At Gawker.com and the Guardian.

I have to include a photo:

A friend has one of these. Worth losing sleep over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Art of the Blurb

For writers, to blurb or not to blurb can be a tricky matter. Blurb too little and you’ll have a hard time drumming up the requisite superlatives when your turn comes. Blurb too often, or include too many blurbs on your book, and you might get called a blurb whore.

From the NY Times

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Forget All the Other New Jersey Suburbs

RIP Rust Hills, former Esquire editor and fussy man.

In 1963 Mr. Hills conceived an entire literary issue of the magazine, which included stories, but also interviews with writers; a photo essay on writers’ lives; a snarky profile by Gay Talese of the circle surrounding George Plimpton’s Paris Review; and most controversially, an illustrated diagram of “The Structure of the American Literary Establishment,” identifying writers, agents, publishers, reviewers and events that Mr. Hills determined to be at and around the “red-hot center” of American literary life. The issue and especially the map angered many who felt they ought to have been included and many who were, but entertained just about everybody else.

Yes, we read his Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular in college, and thought he had a funny name.

Okay, full disclosure, as a friend says, I thought his writing book was eh and included a bad story he had written, unless I read that elsewhere. It was part of a writing workshop I took with one of the two really awful writing teachers I've had (I've had good ones, too). I've since seen her work anthologized, and I'm distinctly unimpressed.

It is possible her ineptitude colored my opinion of his book.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"I don't know much about creative writing programs.

But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer." -- Doris Lessing.

I found this quotation on John Baker's blog (see sidebar), and Googled it, and found a couple of interesting interviews and lists of quotes. Lessing talks a bit about what a writer's life requires, and the life of a single parent who is a writer. She's more realistic than most, I think, about the sacrifices entailed. We who like to think we can have it all should consider ourselves warned.

I think -- and she might well agree -- that "having it all" is a recently created concept, a marketing strategy, a way to get people to consume more things, services, etc. I believe there was a time when everyone expected to make choices that limited their options. Few people expect that now, and we are encouraged to call it progress. But it turns from progress into a burden at a certain point, and I think we've reached that point, both psychologically and in terms of the load on the planet.

A friend from Russia put this succinctly. He described standing in the supermarket looking at the huge number of different varieties of toilet paper for sale -- white, green, pink, blue, scented, unscented, extra-soft, two-ply, recycled, packed in separate rolls, in twos, fours, sixes, eights, dozens. The real question, he said (I'm paraphrasing; it was a long time ago), is why do you need so many choices?

Monday, July 28, 2008

A View from the Yard

This morning, I heard one of the three neighborhood fawns crying for its mother. There are two twin fawns and one singleton, and two does. They all hang around together, but the does sometimes leave the fawns. Anyway, one of the does answered with the funny clicking sound they make, and the fawn went to it, but apparently It Wasn't Mom, because the fawn shrank away and trotted off, still crying. The doe followed it, the way you follow your friend's crying kid...

Have I said how annoying the deer usually are? Eating all the flowers and spreading ticks. It was nice to have a different experience of them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why I Love Email

1. Because people send all kinds of things. I have no idea of the actual provenance of this. I just know it had me laughing out loud first thing in the morning, about something that is really not funny.

The 23rd Qualm

(Written by a retired Methodist minister.)

Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want.
He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests.
He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness.
He restoreth my fears.
He leadeth me in the paths of international disgrace
for his ego's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution
and war,
I will find no exit, for thou art in office.
Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control,
they discomfort me.
Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the
presence of thy religion.
Thou anointest my head with foreign oil.
My health insurance runneth out.
Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me
all the days of thy term,
And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Resuscitation of a Hanged Man

Since the beginning of last year, cf previous posts, I've been keeping a list of books I read. I just read over the list and was disappointed in how many of those books I just didn't like. You could lose your faith in reading, except that once in awhile a book like this comes along.

"And I asked myself: The way you are now, would your eight-year-old self approve of you? Would your eight-year-old self -- that totally innocent child, with those ideals that are real, man, and human -- would he approve?"

The tall thin man got up and headed out the door.

"No fucking way. I was betraying that kid," Phil said, "my childhood self. I'm talking about the real feeling of like if you stuck a bayonet in your buddy's back, not just ripping off a friend or something like that, but killing, death. You know what I'm saying man?" Phil's face was crushed under the pressure of his pain. "I don't think you know the kind of treachery I'm talking about."

"Whatever's on tap," English said, and the bartender drew him a glass of beer.

Phil's troubled scrutiny had floated over and snagged on the cross-dresser. "You never tasted that kind of treachery, man."

The cross-dresser smiled and shrugged. Her eyes were very red.

"But then, and then it was like," Phil said, holding his hand out before him, gazing cross-eyed into his open palm as if this memory rested right there in it, "the ghost of John Lennon appeared to me. And he said, Fuck that, he can't judge you, because an eight-year-old doesn't have the knowledge, man. Those ideals of yesterday, even everything you believed two hours ago, man -- fuck that. We don't need to apologize to our past selves. They were the ones who turned into us. We are just who we are. You know?" he asked the cross-dresser.

She sat in splendid isolation, putting her very red lips around the cherry from her Manhattan.

A Fun Way to Waste Time

I guess most of them are fun, or we wouldn't do them, or doing them, wouldn't consider them a waste of time because if we're not doing something for fun, it must be necessary...whew, got that?


Should be labeled "not writing" -- but at least it keeps me off that celebrity face recognition site.

Monday, July 14, 2008


In the four minutes it probably takes to read this review, you will have logged exactly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day. That is, if you even bother to finish. If you are perusing this on the Internet, the big block of text below probably seems daunting, maybe even boring. Who has the time? Besides, one of your Facebook friends might have just posted a status update!

Read the rest.

I'm surprised the rest of the population got off without criticism. I know I spend way too much time checking my email and messages. But I did read 79 books last year, although I am only up to 30 so far this year.

Time for Twain

The man who said:

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.

and advised youth:

Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any.

is featured in Time.

While you're reading, check out his page at Wikiquote.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hater of Used Books

I am an aficionado of used books, but I have had to close library books for stains and, yes, boogers. Do I still borrow and read them? Yes, but not the more popular titles if I can help it. There is even a new-books bookstore around here -- which is to remain unnamed -- where the staff reads the new hardcovers and replaces them on the shelf, so that I have bought hardcovers and found crumbs inside. Which is especially a bitch if you're buying as a gift, and the recipient asks, How was it? in an arch tone.

My opinion of the Underworld chapter-missing fiasco is that the previous owner was probably trying to save his or her shoulders or elbows from nerve damage, lugging that tome in a bag of some kind. Maybe books of that length should be sold in commuter packages, bindings that come apart chapter by chapter, but can be re-inserted.

From the Guardian blogs:

Second-hand books threaten even worse perils than stains and creases, though. Before I finally vowed to never buy second-hand again, I purchased a copy of Don Dellilo's Underworld from a charity shop. Only after reading hundreds of pages did I discover that the former owner had kindly torn out the final chapter. Worse still, I've lost count of the amount of times that I've been confronted by the dried-up bogey of the previous owner, smeared across one of the pages. Nice.

The comments are especially funny -- "libraries as shelters for victims of the knowledge economy," and, "s'not funny," e.g.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good News of the Day

Coffee won't kill you. This is good news for writers, and coffee fiends, but I hope the news gets better, than just "won't kill you."

Well, the hole in the ozone is smaller.

ADHD could be an eye problem that affects reading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

You're Always in the Damned Woods

Poetic justice for beer party vandals at Robert Frost's house.

What is as flat as a book?

How about book sales? I guess this isn't really news any more, since it's been the same old news for quite awhile. But here is the "news" from BookExpo America:

The Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit organization supported by the publishing industry, projects a 3 percent to 4 percent growth through 2011, when revenues should top $43 billion. The BISG expects little change in the actual number of books sold and sees a drop in the general trade market by more than 60 million, from 2.282 billion copies in 2007 to 2.220 billion in 2011.

The biggest losers likely will be mass market paperbacks, which continue to plunge as baby boomers seek formats with larger print,


Monday, June 2, 2008

How To Do Everything Wrong and Still Get Published

NY Times columnist Jonathan Miles has written an actionless book about waiting in the airport. I mean, imagine what your English prof/agent/creative writing classmates would say. Obviously goes to show it doesn't matter what they'd say. Excerpt at USA Today.

From Sexual Inadequacy to Climate Change

Which must surely be related, no? Ian McEwan on eminent scientists and stolen footwear. I know there are some dedicated folks trying to save the planet, but if they can't help but steal each other's boots, it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence...

Why am I doing this? Shall I commit suicide?

"One of the things you notice is that when you switch on the television and a student has gone mad with a machine gun on a campus in America, it's always a writing student. The writing courses, particularly when they have the word 'creative' in them, are the new mental hospitals. But the people are very nice."

Hanif Kureishi at the Guardian. It's a fun way to get attention, but I think his criticism of creative writing courses is valid -- that they give the false impression of a literary career to follow. I couldn't get through the one book of his I tried, The Buddha of Suburbia.

Also, I think it's sometimes math students.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bookish Opinion of the Day

William Grimes writing in the NY Times about "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die."

Not only is it not necessary to read “Interview With the Vampire” by Anne Rice before you die, it is also probably not necessary to read it even if, like Lestat, you are never going to die.

So there.

There is a link to the actual list. I've read 176, give or take.

526. Day of the Triffids -- I'm surprised this made the list, but pleased.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred

Not only do martinis contain antioxidants in much greater concentration than you'd find in gin or vermouth alone, they also contain proof that James Bond, creation of writer Ian Fleming, has a genetic preference for beautiful women. It's because he can't taste how bitter the olives are. Or something.

Anyway, this article describes Bond cocktails, visual cues, muzak's effect on drinking, supertasters and more.

The concept of supertasters, the 1/4 of the population who are very sensitive to bitter tastes, gives me an idea why there are some foods I thoroughly *hate* that others seem to find inoffensive, like those bright green Florida avocados. Give me a nice brown Hass avocado any day.

Any supertasters out there want to weigh in? Speaking of weighing in, there is a lot of press lately about Oolong (Wu long) tea being good for losing weight. I am partial to Oolong tea, myself, for the flavor, so was happy to hear the good news. Green tea is too bitter (aha!) for me, and black tea in large quantities just doesn't agree with me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Geek Chic

Man steals laptop. Woman takes his picture remotely with installed web cam. Man is arrested.

I really like stories like this. Technology, smart people, bad guys getting their comeuppance.

Now, if they had a really cool, flexible, washable, glow-in-the-dark keyboard, it would be complete.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Alien Walks into a Bar

No, really. You can get college credit for this now. And it's NASA-funded, meaning, your tax dollars hard at work.

Why didn't we have classes like this when I was in college?

An alien walks into a bar. Bartender says, "What can I get you?" The alien says, "A primitive civilization on the rocks." Bartender says, "You've come to the right place!"

The comments are not to be missed.

And remember, "All writing is writing for extraterrestrials." That's a quote from the teacher. Now, professors who declaimed the unfathomable, that's something we did have when I was in college.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another Highly Prized Letter

Albert Einstein's 1954 letter to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, which just sold for $404,000 (yes, four hundred and four thousand dollars), is critical of religion:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them. Read more.

Story at the NY Times.

The variety of opinions about religion is always interesting to me, from deep, unquestioning, even fanatical belief, to absolute certitude that it is nonsense, and everything in between. I agree that science, physics particularly, gives us a closer view of reality than most traditional religions. I find it disappointing that just one world religious leader, the Dalai Lama, recognizes that religion only makes sense when it agrees with what actually is, rather than being an illogical set of beliefs that people defend out of some sense of threat to their tribal identity. But I am glad that at least he realizes it. That's one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Stupidest Person in New York

At least in Jonathan Franzen's opinion.

Why? Because she called his memoir "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed"?

More hatchet jobs at the Guardian blog.

My Favorite Comfy Chair

The bibliochaise from nobody & co.
Although it would look comfier if the books on the top row were all the same height.

From the Abebooks blog.

Top Ten Books That Screwed Up The World

I can think of many books I didn't like, but screwing up the world, well, that takes special talent. Quite a list, from the NY Times. Go to the link. The comments are worth it.

“The Communist Manifesto”
“The Descent of Man”
“Beyond Good and Evil”
“The State and Revolution”
“The Pivot of Civilization” (by Margaret Sanger)
“Mein Kampf”
“The Future of an Illusion” (Freud)
“Coming of Age in Samoa”
“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (aka The Kinsey Report)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Bloody Disaster

says Doris Lessing, of winning the Nobel Prize.

"It has stopped, I don't have any energy any more. This is why I keep telling anyone younger than me – don't imagine you'll have it for ever. Use it while you've got it because it'll go, it's sliding away like water down a plughole."

Lessing's age and the media demands attached to winning the prize have conspired to make Alfred and Emily her last book, she says. A sad note, but a long and illustrious career.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Depressed Guy in the Basement

Who also does standup comedy, and writes novels like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Sherman Alexie interview at the Guardian.

I've always liked Sherman Alexie. Maybe it's identifying with the outsider perspective -- I also grew up in a house where there weren't that many books. It gave them that subversive cachet that was probably enough to get me hooked. Not that my house was anti-book, just indifferent, although trips to the library were a big treat in my childhood.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Say What You Will

The governor of New York has signed legislation protecting New York authors against foreign libel judgments.

The results of libel laws in the UK, for instance, can be shocking to Americans. We're used to writing whatever we want, especially in the last fifty years. I wonder, though, if the greater penalties indicate that people elsewhere take books more seriously, whereas Americans figure that nobody cares much, anyway?

Does Anyone Actually Pay Attention

to a 60-year-old man complaining about his mother? Even in France? Maybe if she complains back?

It always surprises me when people's dirty laundry gets elevated to public discourse, and one man's resentment of his mother into fodder for some imbecilic perfect mommy paradigm. What did he expect from his mother anyway? And why do people who expect perfect parenting have no qualms about being indifferent parents themselves? He doesn't like his mother. Okay, we get that.

Not so green

Read about celebrity "hippy-crites."

Although it's a cute coinage, the land of actual hippies is a bit more green than that, with composting toilets, thermostats set to 60 (15C) (and it was a cold winter, people) and people driving twenty-year-old Hondas that get 45-50 mpg (19-21.5 kpl). My old station wagon gets 27 mpg (that's 11.5 kilometers per liter, here's the conversion link) -- check your gas economy and boast to your international friends. I work at home, however, so I don't have to cover too many miles in a given week.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Where's the Literary?

I thought I put something literary in my suitcase?" Denis Johnson at the New School.

It Was a Highly Prized Letter

I'm sure. This is the letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote from P.O.W. repatriation camp, informing his family that he was still alive.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations -- the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood.

We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve, the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

It's also a very moving letter, written in Pvt. Vonnegut's unmistakable style.

Ah, We Knew It

Dmitri Nabokov will publish Vladimir Nabokov's Laura, instead of destroying it, as his father's will specified.

Well, I'm relieved.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

Earth Day Do's and Don't's:

Do: Visit Eartheasy.com for information on pesticide residues on produce.

Do: Eat organic whenever possible.

Do: Rake your lawn by hand.

Don't: Use pesticides on your lawn.

Don't: Use plastic Q-tips or similar products. The cardboard ones are the same price, and biodegradable.

Do: Cut down on use of plastic shopping bags and any plastic packaging.

Do: Contact manufacturers to ask for biodegradable packaging.

Do: Read The World Without Us, Alan Weisman's great book about our impact on the earth.

Friday, April 11, 2008

In the Beginning was the Word,

the word was, in time, written down in books. Which are now being sold in churches, or at least one former church in the Netherlands.
Popular books are kept on lower shelves, while academic, esoteric and theological works are kept closer to heaven. These are reached by stairs within the sleek, well-made bookstack, although there is also a lift.

At the Guardian.

It's Happening

Brave New Meat

Can we have animal-grown meat and a planet too? It's a good question.

It continues to amaze me how prophetic science fiction can be.

Make Room, Make Room (Soylent Green)

And, read Brave New World before you pop your next Xanax, Ambien, Prozac, or whatever.

Dylan and Diaz

Have won Pulitzer Prizes, along with Hass, Schultz and Friedlander (who? I know.)

As much as I like Diaz, even he is not at the same level as Dylan. It's like the Pulitzer normally rewards a certain degree of achievement, and only occasionally reaches for the real stars. They ought to create a special prize for Dylan.

But that's just me.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Is It Time to Boycott Amazon.com?

For its insistence that POD publishers use its own POD service or be denied listing on the Amazon site? Isn't monopoly still illegal in this country?

At Publisher's Weekly.

About Face at Borders

Borders bookstores' new plan is to have many more books positioned facing out, which will require more shelf space. The chain plans to cut the total number of titles it stocks, already a sleepy 3/4 - 3/5 of the average Barnes & Noble's titles. Which is why I prefer B&N -- unless it's the lack of coffee at Borders that makes me sleepy?

Is it worth carrying fewer books to sell more? I guess it is, as a business decision. I know it is a business, but I prefer to see a bookstore as a portal to unknown worlds, like the library, which is also eliminating titles, unfortunately, to make room for other media.

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for this note.

It's Not You, It's Your Books.

No, it's you.

Compatibility in reading taste
, and "the romantic tragedy of our age."

Do you agree:

Sussing out a date’s taste in books is “actually a pretty good way — as a sort of first pass — of getting a sense of someone."

“If you’re a person who loves Alice Munro and you’re going out with someone whose favorite book is ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ perhaps the flags of incompatibility were there prior to the big reveal.”


“It’s really great if you find a guy that reads, period.”

“Generally, if a guy had read a book in the last year, or ever, that was good enough.”

Compatibility in reading taste is a “luxury”.... The goal is “to find somebody where your perversions match and who you can stand.”

I agree with the last goal. I'm not sure I ever had a boyfriend with compatible reading tastes. After all, isn't reading a very private thing? More so even than fantasy?

Guys, please note that the quotes above were not meant to impugn your reading inclinations. Those were just the ones I could use easily. Women who read the wrong books or who don't laugh while reading also get their comeuppance in the article.

Is Your Coffee Killing Songbirds?

No, it's not the caffeine, but it may be those out-of-season strawberries you like to have with it.

Organic coffee is bird-friendly, according to Bridget Stutchbury, author of Silence of the Songbirds. As is any organic produce.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States.

At the New York Times. Not only are birds being poisoned in their wintering grounds in Latin America, but produce covered in poisons is making its way to us. Due to the pesticides used, "tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Clinton-Kerouac Connection

This is really too good to pass up.

Senator Clinton is related to Jack Kerouac. Also to Madonna, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, and...Angelina Jolie.

Barack Obama is related to Dick Cheney, George Bush, Gerald R. Ford, Winston Churchill and...Brad Pitt.

Via the NY Times. From Notablekin.org.

A Happy Writer

Visionary Arthur C. Clarke, has died.

His Three Laws:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The limits of the possible can only be found by going beyond them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology may, at first, be indistinguishable from magic.

The Guardian has an excellent article about the man who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey and 136 other books, and whose imagination sparked the imaginations of billions (and billions) of others, including Carl Sagan, who read Clarke's nonfiction book, Interplanetary Flight. Clarke was in turn inspired by Olaf Stapledon, whose novels Odd John and Sirius I happen to have sitting on my desk...along with a ton of other books in various stages of being read (some at the wishful thinking stage). Luckily it's a big desk, but this is as good an opportunity to mention Stapledon and the mutated superman/superdog novels. According to the Guardian, it was Last and First Men that inspired Clarke. One more for the to-read list.

Monday, March 17, 2008

100 Best First Lines

As chosen by the editors of the American Book Review. This was interesting, if only to get one thinking about one's own favorites. I agree with some, particularly the William Gibson, #30 on this list:

30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Neuromancer

Here are some others:

26. 124 was spiteful. (Toni Morrison, from Beloved)
37. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. (Virginia Woolf, from Mrs. Dalloway)
64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. (F. Scott Fitzerald, from The Great Gatsby)
99. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. (Jean Rhys from Wide Sargasso Sea)

Got any favorites? Feel free to share.

Writing Advice That Has Gone Out of Date

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." --Mark Twain.

Nobody deletes "damn" anymore. I suppose you'd have to use "fucking" now, to have a chance of getting it deleted, and even then.

Writing Advice That Has Not Gone Out of Date

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are." --W. Somerset Maugham.

This could be taken for a rule:

"The trick is to begin suddenly, like plunging into an icy sea and bearing its intense coldness with suicidal courage." Clarice Lispector

Monday, March 10, 2008

Original Sin

That's one you think of yourself, to quote Father Guido Sarducci. As a race, humans have thought of a few new ones and the Vatican weighs in:
Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.

The Environmental Defense Fund has an eye-opening chart posted. Some kinds of fish are just not safe to eat at all any more, especially for women and children.

And speaking of what is in the water, taking prescription drugs is not usually considered polluting, but it may be time to rethink that. Article. The larger the human population gets, the more the concentrations of such chemicals.

Fishy article and links from Yahoo.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bestsellers US and UK -- Go Gatsby!

at the Abebooks blog. I'm happy to see The Great Gatsby there, along with...the Flat Belly Diet??

Top 10 Bestsellers for AbeBooks.com for February 2008
1. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
2. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
3. Flat Belly Diet by Liz Vaccariello
4. The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren
5. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
6. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
10. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Top 10 bestsellers for AbeBooks.co.uk for February 2008
1. Trump: The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump
2. Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography by Andrew Morton
3. Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese
4. The Mass Book for Children by Rosemarie Gortler
5. Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
6. The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan
7. Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain by Trevor Romain
8. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon Fee
9. Be the Pack Leader by Cesar Millan
10. Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

Lists like this make me wonder if people have too many choices. I'm sure lots of novels are being sold, just not the same ones. So, how do people all decide to jump on these 10 books? They weren't all on Oprah.

Mancabulary Lesson

Need a manzilian? Got man cans? Read this.

Funny article about man parts and such.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Burning Lolita

Or, as it is being called, Ur-Lolita, a last, unfinished manuscript by Nabokov that he explicitly requested to be burnt -- Laura, with the dirty bits left in. It is now up to his son and translator, Dmitri, to decide the manuscript's fate.

A bit more of a hint is given by the second excerpt in The Nabokovian. In this one, we are introduced to a Mr. Hubert (one "m" short of Lolita's Humbert, of course) who seems to be engaged in a Lolita-like relationship with a young girl (presumably the same one as in the first excerpt), here named Flora, of whom we learn little. In the scene, Hubert and Flora play chess with one of those cheap little plastic sets in which the pieces are pegged into holes on the board. There is some sexualizing description of the "tickly-looking little holes [which] ... the pin-sized pawns penetrated easily." And of the young girl who—double entendre warning—"knew the moves." On the relationship of Flora to Laura, though, the passage is mum.

Part one, at Slate, and Part Two. As a Nabokov devotee, and with the classic American authority problem, I can have only one opinion about this -- To hell with the master's wishes, publish the book and sell the original on ebay.

Okay, maybe not ebay.

"Why don't you steal from a fucking corporate bookstore, you asshole?"

The coin of the realm is now, and has always been, the fiction that young white men read, and self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man, are the majority of book shoplifters.

I have a hard time picturing independent booksellers as "the man," myself. But I am not a young white man.

1. Charles Bukowski
2. Jim Thompson
3. Philip K. Dick
4. William S. Burroughs
5. Any Graphic Novel

This is pretty much the authoritative top five, the New York Times best-seller list of stolen books.

At The Stranger.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Better a Dead Sparrow than No Birdsong At All

Jeffrey Eugenides on love, love stories and his new collection thereof, at the Guardian.

Here he is on Nabokov's Spring in Fialta:
Not only does the story impart to the reader a profound wistfulness, in which the evanescence of love expands to suggest the fragility of life and time and memory itself, but Nabokov manages, at the same time, to weave into the story secondary and tertiary levels of meaning. There's what's happening with the weather, for instance, the "cloudy and dull" spring of Fialta that, in the background of the narrated events, is slowly transforming, thawing, dripping and brightening, in order to flash out at the end with the story's tragic revelation. Along with this, Nabokov has studded the story with recurring details - of the circus coming to town, of speeding automobiles - all of which will figure in the denouement. The literary craft in all this mirrors the literary imagination (the seeing of patterns, the orchestrating of fate) that the narrator brings to his random meetings with Nina throughout the years, a literary imagination that every lover possesses. "Spring in Fialta" isn't only about a love fated never to be. It reenacts the story-making we inevitably engage in whenever we fall in love.

Here is a link to the Alice Munro story he mentions, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, in which the wife of a serial philanderer has the last laugh, albeit as an Alzheimer's patient. The recent movie, Away From Her, is based on it.

I agree, btw, with the philosophy of the title of this post.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Savage Detectives a Little Too

When an English translation of The Savage Detectives, by the late Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, was published last year in the United States, New York Times critic Richard Eder judged the work "complex, numbingly chaotic and sinuously memorable." In the Sunday Times Book Review, James Wood, a famously exacting literary critic, compared Bolaño's novel favorably to the work of Stendhal and Gide. The literary thriller's content, however, falls outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's publication-review guidelines as spelled out in its Offender Orientation Handbook (see excerpts on Pages 2 and 3). The disqualifying passage, which appears on Page 39, describes an oral-sex contest in a nightclub that ends when the champion vomits after nearly choking to death on the penis of a particularly sadistic and well-endowed customer.
At Slate.

I happened to have a library copy of The Savage Detectives on my desk waiting to be read when I saw that, so of course I went immediately to page 39. To give the author credit, the story of the blow job contest is related by a whore in a nightclub, and it stars her pimp, a "real man" who sometimes deliberately cuts his enormous penis with the knife he uses to measure it and make sure it isn't shrinking.

Although I suppose someone somewhere will believe anything.

Midlist Oblivion

Confessions of a Semi-Successful Author, at Salon.

Jane Austen Doe tells us that writing is no way to make a living, for those of us who hadn't already heard, but she goes farther than usual -- she tells us how much she made on each of her books, how her advances affected things, and what good and ill befell her. It certainly makes one feel sympathetic to her, and other midlist authors, as well as oneself, one's friends, etc. A friend, for example, waits tables with writers who have published several books. Makes you kind of glad you took your parents' advice and finished your degree in something vaguely practical. If you did.

"I Sleep Way Too Much and I Read Tremendously."

Junot Diaz, writer after my own heart (and cute, besides), at the Guardian.

Oh, and here is Alma, at The New Yorker.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Maya Angelou Goes for Hillary,

Toni Morrison for Obama. But, do the writers in any way reflect the candidates? At Salon.

The two writers do match their chosen candidates, then. Angelou, with a well-known and colorful life story featuring odds overcome and the triumph of the human spirit, has been embraced as an icon of middlebrow empowerment. With her, you know exactly what you're getting because you've gotten it so many times before, and yet you can congratulate yourself for (mildly) bucking the system. Electing Clinton would make history, but it also promises to bring a familiar presence back to the White House.

Morrison, as the only living Nobel laureate in literature in a fundamentally unbookish nation, is a homegrown exotic, the embodiment of the American notion that if you can't quite understand it, it must be literature. She is an overwhelming presence, handsome and stately, with a magnificent voice. Like Obama, with his Harvard degree and pristine, international sleekness, she seems too good and too smart for us, the sort of American appreciated by foreigners with obscurely discriminating standards. The electorate famously prefers guys they can imagine dropping by for a barbecue over intimidating intellectuals, but that insecurity has been biting us in the ass for the past eight years.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How Can You Get Ideas Off Salary?

Do you look like a writer? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald? Now that the writers' strike is over, this and other questions answered at the NY Times.

The reason Pat can’t (or won’t) write is that after dedicating his productive life to a 20-year maelstrom of constantly shifting opinions and producers, he has become so entirely rudderless that points of story or character or anything, for that matter, have been rendered entirely meaningless. At one point he goes so far as to propose giving a Civil War story a “Jewish touch.” He is, in other words, exactly the writer Hollywood would build if it could, minus the ideas.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What Is It You Plan To Do

With your one wild and precious life?

Poet Mary Oliver's appearance Monday at Benaroya Hall is the fastest sellout in the 20-year history of Seattle Arts & Lectures. It is sparking ticket action on the local Craigslist, where tickets to rock concerts and sports playoffs are regularly bought and sold, but rarely to poetry readings.

Take that, Minneapolis. The Twin City may have supplanted Seattle as the country's "most literate city" in an annual survey but the Oliver sellout demonstrates that Seattle still has its zealous literary enthusiasts. (At Seattlepi.com)

As if that didn't give us hope for mankind, as poet and friend GC Smith so kindly put it, farther on in the article, we came to this:
Oliver's "New and Selected Poems, Volume One" has been one of the all-time best-selling volumes at Open Books, the poetry-only bookstore in Wallingford.

There is a poetry-only bookstore somewhere in the world.

My favorite book of Mary Oliver's is still House of Light, and one of my favorite poems is The Kingfisher:

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world--so long as you don't mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn't have its splash of happiness?
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn't born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water--hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don't say he's right. Neither
do I say he's wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn't rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

The poem mentioned in the article, The Summer Day, from which the title of this post comes, is also in House of Light.

The article goes on to say that there are three poets who can be expected to sell out like this, the other two being Billy Collins and Seamus Heaney. I just saw Collins read with Frank McCourt at the AWP conference in New York City, and they were funny, Collins with Bob Newhart-esque delivery and McCourt, the former NYC schoolteacher, giving dead on imitations of his vocational high school students and their forged excuse notes. Now I will be adding Oliver to the to-see list. I have been reading her work for 20 years, but haven't seen her read yet.

On the subject of McCourt, he said he'd read something about cows at a reading and then been chastised that the father of one of the attendees had just been trampled to death by cows. He thought couldn't he have had a heads up, for that? It made me think, in his brogue, that "trampled to death by cows" must be the Irish euphemism for, "He was drunk in the barn and fell asleep and the cow tripped over him. Fell on him. He suffocated. And such nice handwriting he had, he's with God now." There is the proof of the power of McCourt's voice, that it got right into my head and I had to write that down, with a reference to his memory of the nuns' love of fine handwriting. Which brings me to another memory, of receiving a letter from my father in my teens in reply to one I'd written, in which his writing reflected what I knew was my own voice, which evidently had power, at least over him.