Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Freeness

By Levi Asher on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 10:58 pm
1. Random House, trying something new, is giving away free PDF copies of Charles Bock's acclaimed novel Beautiful Children. Like every other blogger who has talked about this, I think Random House is doing a very good thing (The Millions blog even asked them to explain why they're doing it). Bud Parr says the future is here. This latest e-book experiment brings us closer than the Kindle does, at least.

Okay, but what about the book itself? Jeff Bryant loves it, but I'm standing here waiting for it to grab me, and I'm just not grabbed. My first impressions weren't good, not because the book has been over-hyped but because the "Dirty Vegas" setting feels to me like a cliche. I had the same problem, unfortunately, with another clearly worthy and well-written new novel, The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss Jr. I guess you could say that James McManus' Positively Fifth Street filled me with enough "Dirty Vegas" to last a decade. Opening the new PDF, Bock's heavy, mannered narrative just doesn't pull me in:

They chatter and jibe, passing pitchers of soda, reaching for slices with favorite toppings. Chins shine with grease.

It's hard to say what makes us like or not like a book. I guess I don't enjoy reading about people who can't eat pizza without making a mess.

2. The vibrant Carolyn Kellogg will be covering literary Los Angeles at the L.A. Times' blog, Jacket Copy.

3. Okay, so sometimes I'm wrong. And when I'm wrong, I'll admit it. I said that literary commentators shouldn't underestimate the Quill awards, which celebrated the book business with a more populist/commercial sensibility than the National Book Awards. I still say the Quills could have grown into a success in a few years, and I liked the idea of a higher-profile and less "literary" books award, but founding sponsor Reed Business Information is being sold by parent company Reed Elsevier, and that's the end of the Quills. Now I feel stupid for watching that entire terrible telecast last year. Hey, I once went to a USFL game too.

4. Do critics damn Chinua Achebe with faint praise?

5. Garfield minus Garfield is your daily dose of Dada.

6. It's not getting as much attention as the Beautiful Children giveaway, but Random House is also moving beyond DRM for audiobooks. Good moves.

7. I wish I could go to this, but I'm already going to this.

8. I don't share much of a world view with Mr. "God And Man At Yale", but, what the hell, farewell to William F. Buckley.

9. I've got the new Nicholson Baker book, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, and I'm very excited about this fact.
8 Responses to "Freeness"

by Bill Ectric on

I like Jynne Martin's term "old world book" for traditional paper & ink volumes. It has an appealing ring to it.

What I've found is that new writers are reluctant to publish their work on the internet, fearing someone will steal it. Once you've been in the game a while, you just hope someone will click on it for any reason!

Could you find a vid of the exchange between Buckley and Gore Vidal at the '72 pres election? Vidal said something about "that Vietnam war you love so much..." Buckley responded "you goddamned queer, I'll punch you in the mouth..."

Bye Billy Buck, don't come back.

By the way, The Delivery Man starts to get pretty good on page 80.

by Milton on

1. What a great, extremely insightful short essay on Achebe. I especially like:

"As widely read as Achebe is, it always irks me that people so rarely revere him in the way that I think he should be revered. I may seem to be making the banal request that people should revere him more, I’m not, not really; I’m saying we should revere him better, doing so for better reasons."

That's always a difficult argument to make, and this writer does it brilliantly.

2. Buckley was a douchebag, yes, but when you realize that his closest modern day equivalent is Bill O'Reilly, and then compare the two, you do want to weep a little bit for the future of our culture.

3. Garfield Minus Garfield now has a permanent bookmark in my "sites to check once a day" folder. Thanks for the link.

by rubiao on

I don't know if that was a shot at James McManus or not, but I enjoyed the book. Any stories about Howard Hughesesque tycoons burying gold bars in the desert intrigues me for some reason, possibly my predilection for finding gold bars in the desert.

by Carolyn on

Thanks for mentioning Jacket Copy, Levi! But just because it's the LA Times doesn't make it about LA. It's a blog about books is all.

by Levi Asher on

Rubaio, it was a semi-shot at McManus. I liked the poker scenes in the book, but I couldn't stand the murder story, mainly because all the people in it were so despicable, and in such uninteresting ways. McManus can write about poker all he wants, though.

Carolyn, thanks for clarification. That's what I meant to say.

by geoff on

About "Dirty Vegas" - I guess any subject/setting becomes tiresome when the angle is always the same: you have 'dirty Vegas' and 'I hit the bigtime Vegas'. There doesn't seem to be much in between as far as books or films go. I suppose that is a reflection on the culture of gambling in which you either win or lose(breaking even just isn't much of a story).

John O'Brien's Leaving Las Vegas is easily my favourite dirty Vegas story (not having read Beautiful Children) and it is probably one of the most uplifting suicide stories you could ever hope to read, or want to read. But .... each to their own.