1. Just Kids, Patti Smith's beguiling memoir of late 1960s New York, the Chelsea Hotel, Robert Mapplethorpe and the early 1970s St. Mark's Church punk poetry scene, has won the National Book Award! Quite impressive. I totally called this back in February, you know. The winner's circle above includes Jaimy Gordon, Terrance Hayes, Kathryn Erskine.
2. Doonesbury turns 40! I grew up with this comic strip. I used to especially love the counterculture literary references: Uncle Duke was Hunter S. Thompson, and several characters lived at the Walden Puddle Commune. (This was probably a reference not only to Thoreau's Walden but also to B. F. Skinner's then-fashionable Walden Two.)
Before I found out Patti won the National Book Award I was going to illustrate today's blog post with a picture I found of Zonker scuba-diving in Walden Puddle. The image is too good to waste, so here it is:
3. Michael Orthofer of the Complete Review has written a book, The Complete Review: Eleven Years, 2500 Reviews, A Site History, about his experience creating and maintaining that website and the accompanying blog Literary Saloon. I've read it, and it's a charming, candid look at the kinds of questions, decisions and private struggles that animate the life of a serious independent blogger.
(Whenever a book about classic cartooning comes in, I ask my father Eli Stein to review it. This time I bought him a copy of the book as a birthday present -- I wanted to keep my own copy -- to help seal the deal, and he came through. Enjoy! -- Levi)
Al Jaffee's Mad Life is Mary-Lou Weisman’s heartfelt biography of her friend of many years, cartoonist Al Jaffee. Jaffee, now 89 years old, is still going strong, still producing his famous “Fold-In” page for MAD magazine and still coming up with “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and other humorous features.
Ms. Weisman devotes about two-thirds of her book to Jaffee’s childhood, roughly from when he was six years old to his high school days. And what a dysfunctional childhood it was! (More about this later). I only bring up this fact because, in choosing to read this book, I was hoping to learn all about Jaffee vis-à-vis the glory days of MAD magazine and William Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder et al.
1. We told you about artist Malcolm McNeill's Ah! Pook Is Here, a vast extended collaboration with William S. Burroughs, two years ago. Great news -- the work is going to be published by Fantagraphics.
2. Sean Michael Hogan was one of the five winners of a writing contest we held on this site in 2003. He's an excellent writer, and also an opinionated sports nut, and he's combined both inclinations into an e-book, It's Not Just A Ballgame Anymore. Here, also, is a short story by Sean about the frustrations of being a writer.
Greenwich Village poet and scenester Tuli Kupferberg has died at age 86. Most legendary as a founding member of the 60s rock/poetry band The Fugs (who are more talked about than listened to today, though you can actually listen to them here), he was also widely beloved for being a funny, unpretentious and approachable New York City street hipster through several generations.
I'm a little skeptical of the story (which I only began hearing in recent years) that Tuli was immortalized as a character in Allen Ginsberg's Howl. He did, however, write a book called 1001 Ways To Live Without Working, and lived that ethic to the end.
1. Natalie Merchant has recorded a double album, Leave Your Sleep, containing her own musical settings of classic poems by Mervyn Peake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, e. e. cummings, Charles Causley, Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Edward Lear, Jack Prelutsky, Arthur Macy, Ogden Nash, Charles E. Carryl, Nathalia Crane, Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti. I haven't heard it yet but definitely want to. Natalie will be at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in New York City on April 14 for a talk with Katherine Lanpher.
As if I needed more prodding to write about David Shields' Reality Hunger, the book appears in today's New York Times Book Review, respectfully reviewed by Luc Sante, who urges (I nod approvingly here) a calm and sympathetic reading of the controversial work:
On the whole, though, he is a benevolent and broad-minded revolutionary, urging a hundred flowers to bloom, toppling only the outmoded and corrupt institutions. His book may not presage sweeping changes in the immediate future, but it probably heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come. The essay will come into its own and cease being viewed as the stepchild of literature. Some version of the novel will endure as long as gossip and daydreaming do, but maybe it will become more aerated and less controlling. There will be a lot more creative use of uncertainty, of cognitive dissonance, of messiness and self- consciousness and high-spirited looting. And reality will be ever more necessary and harder to come by.
So, what's next for the draft I've just completed? I'm very happy with the response I got from many of you, and I certainly think I've got a mandate to prepare a book proposal and seek a publisher. Some may ask, do I even need a publisher? Haven't I published it already, and isn't the book biz a total clusterfuck right now? Yes and yes, but even so I want to give this a try, and I wouldn't mind working with an excellent editor to bring out the very best in this material. My search for a publisher may also prove entertaining in its own right: I wrote the book out here "in full view", and I plan to handle the next steps the same way. Thanks again to everybody who posted comments, suggestions, feedback or advice, and you'll be hearing more about this soon.
2. I've got some busy days ahead -- as I work on this book proposal, I'm also hoping to relaunch Literary Kicks in Drupal. I've barely begun the work so I don't know if it will fly or not. Stay tuned, I hope.
I'm also planning to shut the site down for the rest of the holidays, and will shortly be putting up an Action Poetry Random Poem Selector like we like to do every year around this time.
Okay, enough about LitKicks ... here are a few more literary links you might like:
3. An informative look at the circumstances behind Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
4. PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah calls sentencing of Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo a "mockery" and a "scandal".
5. Beat-related videos by the excellent Laki Vazakas.
6. Was John Keats killed by a bad review?
7. Arthur Conan Doyle as Metafictionist.
8. Wizzywig, a hacker memoir by Ed Piskor.
9. Yay! Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe is heading our way soon.
10. A word cloud representing Houghton Mifflin's Best American Short Stories series.
11. Drawings from Moby-Dick.
12. Very nice: Pride and Prejudice in emoticons.
13. You know that Joseph Conrad classic. The N-Word of the Narcissus.
14. And, just to prove I have some Christmas spirit, here's a Christmas memory from Henry David Thoreau (via @geoffwisner).
Some of my literary/blogger friends have taken to tweeting their literary links. Not me -- I'm holding out for the blog format, just like McSweeney's is holding out for newspapers. Here's another roundup involving great writers and other finds ...
1. Nature magazine goes way back.
2. Orhan Pamuk's real-life Museum of Innocence.
3. The many facets of Roberto Bolano.
4. The many quirks of William Golding, who originally wanted Simon the Christ symbol to actually witness the arrival of God in his great Lord of the Flies.
5. PopMatters interviews Nicholson Baker.
6. Gregory Maguire, whose Wicked novel is much better than the Broadway musical created from it, joins in on an open publishing experiment.
7. Holocaust victim Horst Rosenthal had the idea for Maus before Art Spiegelman.
8. Jessa Crispin tells it like it is.
9. I had no idea that Stanley Kubrick got "Daisy" from a real singing computer.
10. In my opinion Nick Cave sang the best "Stagger Lee".
11. Bill Ectric presents an excerpt from Tamper.
12. Probably inspired by Clarence Clemens's enjoyable and funny new book Big Man, Bruce Springsteen may write an autobiography. All the newspapers are blubbering about the size of his advance, but why shouldn't he get $10 million? He's that good, and I would love to read this book.
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: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's Memories of the Future is a tougher call for me. Liesl Schillinger invokes Gogol and Kafka (three separate times) in her account of this long-dead early Soviet-era modernist's career collection, but I find myself reading between the lines to detect a strong note of weariness in this putatively positive review. Krzizhanovsky clearly likes to explore the fictional boundaries between surreal dreaminess and reality, and personally I know I can live without a lot of fiction that covers this territory. I always like Liesl Schillinger's sympathetic reviewing style, but at times I wonder: is she capable of actually panning a book she doesn't like? That's not to say that she doesn't like this one as much as she claims to, but after finishing her review I know that I never ever want to read this book.
It's more fun when a critic just goes apeshit on a respectable book he doesn't like, as Tom Shone does with Jan Kjaerstad's The Discoverer:
Reviewing books doesn't often feel like real work -- not the kind of work that makes you break a sweat or join a union. So when an editor from the New York Times calls you up and asks if you want to review a new novel from Norway, and the nmovel turns out to be not only over 400 pages long and largely set in a fjord, but also Part 3 of a trilogy, Parts 1 and 2 of which ran to over 1,000 pages, with multiple narrators and a nonlinear time scheme -- yeesss -- then you jump at the chance to take your place as a worker among workers.
This is only one of several funny sequences in which Shone demolishes this book. I know little about Kjaerstad and have no idea whether this assault is deserved or not. But I did have fun reading it.
Further brainy material in this Book Review includes Josh Emmons on The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, which apparently is constructed mainly from questions, David Hajdu on Robert Crumb's illustrated Genesis and Gaiutra Bahadur on Amit Chaudhuri's The Immortals, which seems to have something to do with the Bengali raga scene. Less brainy material includes Mary Duenwald on Juliet, Naked, the latest Nick Hornsby book I won't be reading.
Speaking of books I won't be reading, Gregory Cowles is very kind to Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City in a lush cover piece. I've expressed my lack of affection for Lethem's fiction enough elsewhere, so I'll just keep quiet about this one. Whatever you like, Book Review.
I respect book reviewer and Internet-culture critic John Freeman, author of The Tyranny of Email -- in fact, I've exchanged emails with Mr. Freeman (true to his dislike of the form, his email style is very brief). I would be excited to read nearly any book by John Freeman, so I'm disappointed to find he's got nothing better to do than join Lee Siegel and Andrew Keen on the bash-the-Internet bandwagon. These kinds of books feel simplistic and obvious to me, and future generations are sure to laugh at them all. At least Ben Yagoda seems to get it, and takes Freeman's book convincingly to task for assuming that technological innovation can only have a destructive, never a constructive, effect on human creativity.