1. A creepy publicity stunt involving flies carrying little paper advertisements at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Doesn't this make you feel bad for the flies?
2. San Francisco Beat/hippie poet Lenore Kandel has died at the age of 77. Here's an appreciation of her work by John Yates.
3. Carl Jung's awesome visual side.
4. A detailed financial biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (And why not? Money was certainly among his major themes).
5. East Village poetry legend and perennial Presidential candidate Sparrow and LitKicks poet Mickey Z. are creating a poetry anthology together and they say:
Calling all feminists, wizards, Queer theorists, ex-Black Panthers, Christians, Green activists, avant-gardists, Kabbalists, vegans, Hawaiian nationalists, kickboxers, Punks, Hip Hop evangelists, New New Leftists, pink-haired emo warriors, organic gardeners -- submit your work for "The Big Book of Revolutionary Poetry," edited by Sparrow and Mickey Z. Send up to 3 poems to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Go for it, I say.
6. Guernica Magazing is turning 5! Jonathan Ames, Howard Zinn, Katie Halper, Mia Farrow and David Byrne will be joining the party this Wednesday, October 28. Wish I could make it (but I can't).
7. The eternal philosophical battle over the real-life ethics of German intellectual Martin Heidegger goes on. Personally, I don't agonize over Heidegger's Nazi past, because I never thought much of his work. You can find the same message -- the utter immediacy of existence -- in Nietzsche or Kierkegaard or Sartre, and with a lot more finesse and humor.
8. Building a brain inside a supercomputer. And here I am just trying to get Drupal to work.
9. I recently posted about Fall 2009 books I'm looking forward to; little did I know that Orhan Pamuk and Kurt Vonnegut books were coming out too ...
10. Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid is rocking the cash registers. My stepdaughter reads these books and I think they're hilarious.
11. I love this, from McSweeneys: YouTube Comment, of e. e. cummings?.
12. HTMLGiant on Glimmer Train: "Winning one of their ubiquitous contests is like winning $2 on a $2 scratch ticket or a free small soda during McDonald’s Monopoly promotion." They also admit that Glitter Train was once "a decent, if not rather traditional literary magazine". I used to read them, but I don't read print literary journals much at all anymore.
13. If you've been reading my memoir, some of these events will be familiar: A History of the Internet from 1969 to Today.
14. Speaking of bygone times, one-time high-rolling community website GeoCities is shutting down. Caryn is sad about this, and xkcd posted a tribute.
Somewhere in anonymous middle America, in the bygone era of Andy Warhol and Richard Nixon, an idealistic and hardworking writer and editor strains to put out another issue of his groundbreaking literary journal, Soap. He supports himself as a landlord, but his impoverished tenants are often unable to pay him. His marriage has recently fallen apart, and his financial situation is quickly getting worse. The Cry of the Sloth, a bitter, hilarious and joyously sad novel by Sam Savage, consists of the letters this editor writes during the worst season of his life.
The epistolary form is as old as the novel itself, but the clever satirist Sam Savage makes it fresh by adding a spooky layer of unreality to this desperate letters this besieged editor writes. He contradicts himself, flatters himself, blatantly lies, invents identities, attempts (without much success) to manipulate anyone who falls into his orbit, and pleads nakedly for love. It's not clear which of these letters actually get sent, but it is clear that this poor narrator is losing his mind.
Savage sets up a great metaphor by alternating his hero's sarcastic pleas to tenants for rent payments with his similarly sarcastic rejection letters to poets and authors who submit their work to Soap. In his landlord letters, he is asking others for something, but they have nothing to give. In his editorial correspondence, others are asking him for something -- publication, literary fame -- and he cannot give this either. He clearly finds these needy writers pathetic, even as he is needy and pathetic himself. He has a hard time seeing them as individuals instead of a grasping mass, as he inadvertently reveals with responses like this:
Dear Mr. Poltavski,
In response to your request for submission guidelines, I enclose our standard statement. I wish more people would ask for guidelines before submitting inappropriate material that wastes my time as well as theirs. And thank you for including a stamped return envelope, which not enough of you do either.
Andrew Whitaker, Editor
As the rent situation worsens, he begins to lose his cool completely:
Dear Mrs. Lessep,
Thanks for letting us read, once again, "The Mistletoe's Little Shoes." After careful consideration, we have concluded that this work still does not meet our needs. I am sorry you were misled by the phrase "does not meet our needs at this time" into thinking that you should submit it again. In the publishing world, "at this time" really means "forever".
Editor at Soap
Things get steadily worse, and our hero's sanity begins to unwind. He attempts a half-hearted flirtation with a teenage poet who writes about horses. He fantasizes about putting on a glorious literary festival in his small city, and battles with the local arts council representatives who obstruct his plans. He writes lonely letters to his ex-wife and attempts to befriend Norman Mailer. It's all very funny, as his egotistical self-deceptions thicken into a fatal mess. We hear one side of the story, and can only imagine the reactions these letters get: it's like a Bob Newhart comedy routine as told by Dostoevsky.
Cry of the Sloth is Sam Savage's second novel, and it's similar to his first, Firmin, which was a Litblog Coop selection as well as a surprising sensation in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Firmin was not a breakthrough hit in the USA, though it should have been, and this may be because it was about a rodent. Mark Sarvas passed over the book during the Morning News 2007 Tournament of Books, and cited this as one major reason: "Savage gives it his best shot, and at times Firmin is an affecting presence. But in the final analysis, he’s a rat and his plight never feels real because rats don’t think, talk, or write books!"
This is a valid point, and the good news is that The Cry of the Sloth offers the same sensibility and tragic trajectory as Firmin but is about a human being (the animal named in the book's title is purely metaphorical). I was thrilled by Firmin but I think the new novel is even better. It also reminds me a bit of Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, another comic novel about a desperate middle-aged literateur, and I think it's better than The Anthologist too. I love this book, I recommend it highly, and I hope it is eventually recognized as a classic satire of the literary life.
2. Herta Mueller writes about Romania during the painful years of the Nicolai Ceausecsu regime, and coincidentally I've been reading a impressive new novel about the same subject, Velvet Totalitarianism by Claudia Moscovici. You can find an excerpt from the introduction on the author's MySpace page.
1. I think it's pretty amazing that Google is putting deep newspaper archives online, including not only the Halifax Gazette (1753 issue, pictured above) but the complete Village Voice, dating back to the 1950s. You know the phrase "An embarrassment of riches"? This is, to me, an embarrassment of archives, because I want to read it all but I just don't know where I will find the time.
2. Words Without Borders presents Into The Wild: International Nature Writing. Nice.
3. Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club, on what it is about Dante.
4. Why Dante? Why Plato? Personally, I get much more out of Plato than Dante, but then I'm not Catholic. Nor Guelph.
5. Somebody's putting on a play about Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish (always a favorite poem of mine).
6. "Fingerblast" is a music video by Adira Amram, who is clearly channeling the "She-bop"-era 1980s.
7. Speaking of the 1980s, it's a fact that John Hughes was among the best comedy film directors of all time (though, let's be honest, he managed to be great exactly three times -- Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris -- and was otherwise way too willing to churn out profitable but repetitive junk). I remember reading him in National Lampoon magazine before he switched to film, and I hope National Lampoon will consider publishing a retrospective of his early work there. Or maybe Google will eventually index the Lampoon archives.
8. Speaking of the 1980s, here's Mike Watt at the Bowery Poetry Club, remembering the Minutemen.
9. Jay Diamond appreciates Jay-Z.
10. Bobby McFerrin does something a lot cooler than "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
12. David Updike writes about his father.
13. I'm confused why, if great singer Nick Cave has written a book, he's now singing it. Maybe he knows what he's doing, but I don't, because to me this kind of kills the novelty of Nick Cave creating a book instead of another record.
14. Richard Nash on the end of indie culture. "Which is OK, because it won. Open source, Twitter. Indie won. Etsy. The irresistible decline of major labels and network TV and corporate publishing. Indie won." Now what?
Two authors whose previous novels were celebrated by the now-defunct Litblog Co-op have outdone themselves with their next books. I've read galleys of both Katharine Weber's True Confections and Sam Savage's The Cry of the Sloth and I'm happy to report that readers have a lot to look forward to in both cases.
Katharine Weber's last novel Triangle was about an industrial fire, a subject so stark it made her comic sensibility hard to catch (though, certainly, it was there). Her new novel is about a screwed-up family that owns a small candy empire, and it's a slender tour de force. I will be writing more about this book soon, and till then here's a side-product of Weber's research: an article in Tablet (formerly Nextbook) about Jewish families in the candy business.
Sam Savage, meanwhile, wrote a novel called Firmin that didn't break through in his home country but became a bestseller in Italy. Firmin was about a literary rat who suffers in loneliness, and new soon-to-be-released The Cry of the Sloth is about a literary human who suffers in loneliness. I will be writing more about this delightful and surprising book too.
On a different front, meanwhile, news has just come down that the Queens rapper Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) is writing a book about his life. I have very high hopes for this one. Q-Tip has been a brainy and sensitive lyricist from Description of a Fool to Stir It Up (he's also the only hip-hop artist I bother to continue to follow on twitter). I'm looking forward to reading his entire story, and I hope there's a lot about his friendship and collaboration with the equally talented Phife Dawg.
What else am I looking forward to? Sure, what the hell, I'm going to read the new Dan Brown novel The Lost Symbol when it comes out. Dan Brown is no Katharine Weber or Sam Savage ... but Da Vinci Code kept me going till the end, and I'm intrigued by the new book's Washington D.C. locale.
I like everything Jonathan Ames does, though I don't think he's ever equaled Wake Up Sir!, his perfect homage to P. G. Wodehouse. His new essay collection The Double Life is Twice as Good didn't win the approval of Carolyn Kellogg, but I bet his new HBO tv show Bored to Death will be more exciting.
Jag Bhalla's I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around The World looks like a fun read.
Sue William Silverman's Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir is reminding me to work on my own memoir, which will probably pick up again next week. I've enjoyed the break, but it's time to get back to work.
And if you aren't interested in any of these good books but just want to relish the joys of really bad (funny bad) books of the past, go to the Awful Library Books blog and have a feast.
1. For your Bloomsday enjoyment: comic strip artist Robert Berry is visualizing James Joyce's Ulysses. This project appears to be off to a great start.
2. More Bloomsday action: Dovegreyreader on a new book called Ulysses and Us by Declan Kibberd.
3. Farewell to poet Harold Norse.
4. It must be a good sign that somewhere inside the giant paradox that is the nation of Iran, they are loving the inventive and hilarious early writings of Woody Allen.
5. I did not know that novelist Roxana Robinson was a member of the Beecher family. But what's this about Lord Warburton being the man Isabel Archer should have married? I was rooting for Ralph Touchett.
6. The word technology is derived from the same root as textile.
7. We need a poetry reality show right here in the USA.
8. A digital Gutenberg would be nice to look at.
9. What could it possibly have been like to be married to Harold Pinter? Fortunately claims Antonia Fraser, it was not a Pinteresque experience.
10. "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?" (Or, I'd like to add, one man).
11. Eric Rosenfeld appreciates Thomas Pynchon's use of description.
12. Kafka Tribute in New York
13. Michelle Obama reads Zadie Smith, a better choice (in my opinion) than her husband's Joseph O'Neill. (Barack is also cited as reading What is the What?, a good choice though not exactly fiction).
14. The Who's Quadrophenia GS Scooter has been sold at an auction. (Though it's from the movie, not the record album photo shoot).
15. Via Bookninja, what the book you're reading really says about you.
1. Ed Champion isn't won over by Fool, Christopher Moore's comic spin on Shakespeare's King Lear, which is enough to warn me away (I considered spending time with the book, but the cover art didn't pull me in either). In other Lear news, I'm just plain happy that an Anthony Hopkins film version of King Lear has been cancelled. Hopkins was marvelous in Remains of the Day but has been disappointing in many big roles, mainly because he can only play one character, the "Anthony Hopkins guy". I really wasn't looking forward to seeing King Lear with an icy stare and trembling lips. Meanwhile, Al Pacino's Lear may still happen, and while I also don't need to see a surly over-caffeinated King Lear, I believe Pacino has a greater range of character than Hopkins.
Another requirement for an actor attempting Lear is humility, since the King must play straight man to his Fool and read his best lines while upstaged by a storm. This is why I liked Kevin Kline's modest Lear, and would be happy to see this one recorded for posterity as well. Historic King Lears we can still enjoy include Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Laurence Olivier and, a personal favorite of mine, Albert Finney in The Dresser.
2. Not ... another ... unpublished ... Kerouac novel ...
I am glad the estate is publishing the archives, but I don't like the hyped-up hardcover release formats and I find it strange how much excited press coverage Kerouac bottom-scrapers like And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks and Atop An Underwood or the new The Sea Is My Brother get, as if any reader would be better off reading these books instead of, say, Big Sur or Desolation Angels or Doctor Sax or Subterraneans or Town and The City or Visions of Cody or Wake Up or even Good Blonde or Satori in Paris or Vanity of Duluoz.
I think Kerouac had excellent judgement about his own work -- that's why he carried manuscripts of so many of the above-mentioned novels in his rucksack for years waiting for the world to eventually smarten up and appreciate them. But the novels he was carrying in his rucksack for years were Subterraneans and Visions of Cody and Doctor Sax, most decidedly not Atop An Underwood or And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks or The Sea Is My Brother. I trust Kerouac's judgement.
3. I enjoyed Roy Blount Jr.'s well-written editorial about whether Amazon's text-to-speech feature violates authors' rights, but I'm really not getting excited about this boring controversy. To quote a description I once read of a 1970s bar brawl between David Bowie and Lou Reed, watching the Kindle team battle the Author's Guild is sort of like watching two old ladies try to pat fires out on each other's bellies.
4. Tom Watson, author of Cause Wired, takes on Rush Limbaugh for the Huff.
5. Norman Mailer.
6. Cam'ron is working on a television comedy project, and cites Larry David as an inspiration. I can't think of many hiphop artists who could make this work, but Cam has the talent and the crude/funny chops to pull it off, and I hope it happens.
7. Apparently Alan Aldridge, the artist who drew the cover for Elton John's excellent 1975 autobiographical album "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy", was the Chip Kidd of his time, at least in England.
8. Rambling on. (If you click through you'll get to Frank O'Hara, but we're taking the slow route).
9. Jack Tippit's cartooning rat race, from a 1950s cartoonist's insider sheet.
10. Laura Albert is writing a new work of fiction at Five Chapters.
1. Watching the Oscars on TV with Caryn last night, I felt a strange reverberation as the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay were listed. Slumdog Millionaire, it turned out, was based on a novel called Q & A by an author named Vikas Swarup, and something told me I had mentioned this novel years ago when reviewing the New York Times Book Review.
Indeed I had, very briefly, way back in 2005: "I'll start with the good parts: a truly interesting article about Edmund Wilson; notices of Naphtalene, an epic novel of Baghdad by Alia Mamdouh, and Q & A, a picaresque yarn by Vikas Swarup that begins with an Indian game show called 'Who Will Win A Billion?'."
Most of this old post is taken up by a rant about a bad essay by Rachel Donadio, which also brings back memories, and even though I intended to follow up by checking out the novel by Vikas Swarup, I never did. I am looking forward to seeing Slumdog Millionaire, though, and that's certainly a better title than Q & A, which can still be found here.
I went to see a new production of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I like to go to the opera, but I can only afford to sit in the cheap seats in the second balcony, up in the very stratosphere of the opera house.
You can still experience the full pageantry of an opera in these seats. The acoustics in the Civic Opera House are so good that the sound quality is excellent as far away as row Z. The problem is it's difficult to see the singers. Most cheap-seaters bring opera glasses or binoculars and spend the whole time looking through these gizmos. I scoff at these people. To me, the singers, seen from the second balcony, look like an opera company in miniature. I imagine that I am watching an opera performed inside one of those glass globes that you see at Christmas, the ones that if you turn them over and shake them, cause a snow storm to fall on the village within. The tiny players, although small to the eye, have magnificent voices that carry all the way to my seat in the highest altitudes of the theatre.
My fantasy intact, I settled in. The orchestra started. The curtain went up on act 1, scene 1. I was transported to Catfish Row, the fictitious black community in Charleston, South Carolina, where the story takes place. Clara, the wife of Jake the fisherman, is singing a lullaby to her baby. The lullaby is the most famous song from the opera - “Summertime” - a song that has been recorded by everyone from Duke Ellington to Janis Joplin.
1. It's fitting that O'Reilly's electronic book publishing technology conference Tools of Change is happening at the Marriot Marquis in swirling Times Square, still the publishing bellybutton of this city, with the New York Times toiling down the street, Conde Nast fretting across the block, Simon and Schuster, Time Inc. and Random House not far away. Well, are the smartest people in publishing here on the 6th floor at the Marriot Marquis today? Time will tell.
The big news at the conference when I arrived at noon was the earlier nearby Amazon Kindle 2.0 announcement, complete with an amusing Stephen King fly-by. The buzz about the Kindle is not positive among this crowd (closed single-vendor technologies do not play well here in O'Reilly country). My afternoon session turns out to be a grueling but satisfyingly information-packed three and-a-hour introduction to E-book formatting specifications and methods. Many of the attendees were sweating or looked pale by quitting time at 5 pm, but we all felt smarter. I was most impressed by Garth Conboy's evangelism for the open EPub format, which seems to be emerging as the much-needed industry-wide digital publishing format. I enjoyed Keith Fahlgren's helpful real-world tips for E-book publishing, as well as his Kindle-bashing. One of the three speakers, Joshua Tallent, was a Kindle expert, and I enjoyed his presentation as well, though it seemed like divine justice for the Kindle's intrinsic isolation model that his presentation on Kindle publishing crashed halfway through. Why? The projector didn't have the Kindle-specific fonts. Ah ha haaa ... anyway, it was a moment of levity that this audience of tech-exhausted publishers and technologists didn't mind.
Tools of Change goes into full swing tomorrow with presentations by Bob Stein, Jeff Jarvis, Cory Doctorow, Laurel Touby, Kassia Krozser and Jason Epstein.
2. Chasing Ray tells us about a children's book about Gertrude Stein, Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter.
3. Bad news in the magazine biz as a major distributor ceases operations.
4. Are the creators of Twitter living in the last Dreamworld?.
5. Three Percent is getting angry about funding cuts.
6. Will Self ponders W. G. Sebald.
7. Let xkcd explain the mysterious base system. Funny.
8. Like many a Long Island kid, I grew up listening to Jackie Martling on Bob Buchmann's morning show on WBAB. He was always terrible, but in a really good way.
9. My old boss's boss Walter Isaacson has written a rather surprising article about micropayments for online content, and he's on Jon Stewart right now speaking about this same proposal. There may be long-term possibilities here, and I like it that Isaacson is thinking outside the box. However, his proposal lacks immediate appeal, especially since online advertising remains a perfectly viable support system for many content websites. If Isaacson thinks this idea is ready to take off right now, I think he may be reading too many books by Bruce Judson (but that's an inside Pathfinder joke).
10. Saturday night's benefit for humanitarian aid in Gaza at McNally Jackson was a surprisingly moving event, featuring readings from Mary Morris, Wesley Brown, Alix Kates Shulman, Elizabeth Strout, Dawn Raffel, Melody Moezzi, Beverly Gologorsky, Chuck Wachtel, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Robert Reilly, Jan Clausen, Barbara Schneider and Humerea Afridi, and I was proud to be a part of it. I also heard an exciting update from organizer Leora Skolkin-Smith (reading, below), whose novel Edges: O Israel O Palestine will soon begin film production in (remarkably enough) Jerusalem and Jordan. Tools of change? We can hope.