1. I've seen a lot of things in my life, but I've never before had the pleasure of watching a bookstore get born. I met blogger/bookseller Jessica Stockton Bagnulo three years ago when we both joined the Litblog Co-op at the same time, and I noted it here in January 2008 when she was awarded seed money to start her own bookstore in Brooklyn. The store is now about to open and looks just great. I hope to make it to the opening day party this Saturday at 7 pm, and you're invited too ...
1. In between making videos for LitKicks and arguing with me about Roman Polanski, Jamelah Earle asked me to write a piece commemorating the 1000th front page feature for the wonderful "tribal photography" website Utata. I was honored to do so. I am not much of a photographer myself, but I recommend this vibrant and friendly community to anybody who is.
2. New York spoken word poet Lemon Anderson, who you might have caught if you ever watched Def Poetry Jam, is starring in his own autobiographical play at the Public Theater, County of Kings. This play is a Spike Lee joint.
3. My buddy and former co-author Christian Crumlish has just published his latest book: Designing Social Interfaces. This book is an O'Reilly joint.
4. Blues expert and ethnomusicologist Sam Charters has a new book, A Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora, and describes how he helped unearth the recordings of Robert Johnson recently on the New York Times Paper Cuts blog. When Sam Charters talks about music, listen.
5. Fictionaut is a beautifully designed online writing community, just out of beta. Let's see where this one goes.
6. Naked poets in Canada.
7. Vol 1 Brooklyn presents Battle of the New York Nerds.
8. Simon Owens on xkcd and what newspaper cartoonists can learn from web comics.
9. Wrestling poems. I don't really get it, but maybe John Irving would.
10. "And there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
and there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
and there's one kind favor I'll ask of you ...
See that my grave is running Solaris."
(LitKicks friend Mikael Covey tells us about three things he likes, two books and one play.)
The Suburban Swindle by Jackie Corley
These are power words that Jackie Corley writes. Come screaming atcha from inside your head, a white hot poker stuck in your mind's eye. Emotion raw and real, honest as it gets. What it’s like on the mean streets of New Jersey, growing up tough and fast. Rugged realism wrapped in the soft hard words of a brooding street poet.
Words as emotions transcending literal meaning to an inner storm of feeling. Where it hurts, or where there is love, lust, desire, longing. A bursting forth of the moment, the augenblink. All of that, being young and feeling old. Feeling all of it slip sliding away like quicksand, and drowning in our own unfulfilled needs.
The passion of want, and the hopelessness of watching it burn out like glowing embers fading in the dusk. Fireflies flickering brightly then gone forever. Youth passing us by, leaving nothing in its wake. Watching in sad reverie the lost youth, the time that was never enough, the fading faces of happy go lucky kids jilted at the altar of self-sacrifice.
But what a feeling there was; what promise there was. And what to do with it now that you know it's over, as good as gone. You take that with you maybe, pass it along to another generation. Hold them like a treasure in the palm of your hand and deep within the prisons or your heart, like the sad strains of saxophone blues wafting away in the night. These are Jackie Corley's words, and you feel them feeling you.
Everyday by Lee Rourke
"That was fucking great!" I told Lee Rourke when he finished reading his short story "Night Shift" at the dark and raunchy KGB bar in New York City. Of course, I was sitting beside Lee’s pretty girlfriend; and yeah, I was pretty well schnockered by then. But I stand by those words -- it was great, and still is.
Tried my best to steal a copy of Lee's book from his coat pocket, but he caught me, said he'd only brought the one, having accidentally left a stack of others back in London. But when I finally did get a copy, it was well worth the wait.
Rourke's Everyday, a collection of twenty-eight short stories is always good, always worthwhile. Like literary treasure, you take this book with you, read a piece here and there, think about it for awhile. You feel it like being there, at the pub or a dark alley in Soho or a busy street on your way to work. The settings are all familiar, even if you've never been there.
Rourke draws you in, to his world, makes it seem like our own. A comfortable thing, this familiar everyday world, a place we’d all like to be, even if the stories cut and stab, slapping our everyday life in the face.
We know what Rourke means when he reminds us that even success at our robotic repetitive jobs is a sort of unspoken suicide of the mind and soul. That which we are willing to trade or sacrifice of our precious time for comfortable positions, a comfortable little life.
And as writers who are artists are wont to do, even the writing, the style, the words are comforting, familiar, appealing. Absorbing us in a blanket of serene peace of mind. And what's wrong with that? Why do we come off as villains in these tales about ourselves?
Well of course, it's obvious, once we recognize the real heroes in Rourke's stories. The unfettered, the birds, the pigeons, whose ordinary life is unbounded and free. And however wretched or capricious their lives may be, it’s never given up or given away for something else, something artificial, not of their own making. Like the young kids on the flat rooftop of that abandoned building. We see them from our office window.
They’re naked now, and splendid. That muscular young fellow and his pretty girlfriend, and having sex now right out in the open. Everyone can see them. These unemployed aimless kids, unashamed of their naked bodies and their shiftless carefree lifestyle. What are they doing out there in front of everyone. Don’t they care what people think?
Respectable people? Don’t they care what responsible people do? Don’t they care?
Time and the Conways by J. B. Priestly at the Lyttelton Theatre, London
Sometimes literature takes on the great themes. What those in the know call "the function or purpose of literature": to tell us how so's we'll know. Why, what to do, right and wrong, that sort of thing. Time is one of the big ones. Whether we control it or it controls us or is completely beyond our grasp, pushing us relentlessly toward the grave. "And at my back I always hear time's winged chariot hurrying near" as Sir Robert would say.
Or ... why the hell do you have to remind us of that!? Something we spend every waking moment trying to forget. Only able to fall asleep once we've put it out of mind, or too exhausted to go on. Dreading to wake up, the waste of time, the endless meaningless tasks that have to be done and all of it with one foot stuck in the mud and the other in the grave.
It’d be good, a good thing, if someone would explain that one to us. How to deal with time, mortality, the limitations of a little finite life ended by eternal death. So a 1937 play called Time and the Conways, currently running in London, manages to do that. In their 20's the big family -- four up and coming flapper sisters, two brothers, the older one back from the big war, the younger one maybe coming back, maybe not -- and mom, still youthful resilient and gay despite the death of her wonderful beloved husband, still surrounded by her wonderful blossoming children. Got it all right there in front of them, the costume party at the big luxurious house, charades, games that grown-ups play.
Fast forward 20 years and whatcha think it looks like? Yeah, if you done that, you know. If you haven’t, you don’t. But either way, it’s so so scary … many of us can't take it, don't want to, can't handle it. Throw up our hands in despair. Give up, give way to whatever will take us. Hold us hidden from the reality of I don’t want to see it, don’t wanna know.
Well, looking it square in the face, Alan, the older brother who doesn't much count to anyone says to his distraught family and to us: don’t worry about it; you aren’t yet you; you're never really you until you're dead. Until then, you're just a slice, a part of what your self is to be. Don’t despair, don’t despair this self, it's only fleeting. Years ago it was a different self in a different time. And so will be years from now.
This self which is nothing of the great potential and promise you had -- is not declining, not withering -- just changing is all. In fact, it's growing, if you'd but recognize it. And none of it is ever so way past beyond your control. All is still and always is, right in the palm of your own hand.
There’s a lot, a lot more to this lengthy three act play. But the concept of time … that alone is enough to know. It’s good thing that literature has function. To tell us.
In 1971 a charismatic and brainy gangster named Joey Gallo returned home to New York City after ten years in jail, intending to resume the war for control over the Profaci mafia family that had sent him to jail in the first place. Joey Gallo and his brothers Larry and Kid Blast did not seem to have great instincts as gangsters, and never rose high in the serious business of organized crime. But Joey was a natural-born celebrity, with an uncanny knack for calling attention to himself. Over a decade earlier, he got a proud showing in Robert Kennedy's book about crimefighting, The Enemy Within, and even seemed to get the better of the future Attorney General and Presidential candidate in Kennedy's own book.
The New York newspapers couldn't get enough of the fun-loving Gallo mobsters, who mostly shot and got shot by other mobsters, and in the early 1970s Jimmy Breslin wrote a book about them, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, which got turned into a Mafia movie just before a much better movie called The Godfather was released. It's been completely forgotten today, but the movie version of Breslin's book starred a then-unknown Robert DeNiro as a member of the inept gang.
And Joey Gallo is back again as the subject of a lively biography by Tom Folsom, The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld. This book connects Joey Gallo's wandering intellect to its sources, from the gangster movies that inspired him to the Beatnik scene that enthralled him during his early years running a jukebox and vending machine service from Red Hook, Brooklyn during the late 1950s.
Gallo had particularly great taste in existential philosophy, counting Friedrich Nietzsche, Wilhelm Reich and Albert Camus among his favorites. Folsom's book breezes through Gallo's fast life and doesn't try to deconstruct what these writers might have meant to the striving gangster. It reads like a collage, skipping merrily from past to present, connecting lots of dots, from the famous Albert Anastasia barbershop shooting in the 1950s to the prison race riots of the 1960s (Gallo was an early believer in racial harmony) to the cozy Greenwich Village theater scene of the 1970s, where Gallo mingled with the likes of Jerry Orbach, Gay Talese and Neil Simon before he was shot to death in Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy one late evening after enjoying a Don Rickles nightclub performance that would be the last show he'd ever see.
Another friend of Joey Gallo's from the Greenwich Village theater scene was Jacques Levy, director of Oh! Calcutta, who would soon work with Bob Dylan on a great 1975 album called Desire that would include a song called "Joey". It's because of this wonderful song -- one of the best and longest tracks on an album full of mysterious lyrics, jangling acoustic guitars and gypsy violins, that I myself became interested in the legend of Joey Gallo. I can't deny that I'm partial to this book because of my affection for the Bob Dylan song. The book illuminates many of the lyrics for me, from the beginning:
Born in Red Hook, Brooklyn in the year of who knows when
Opened up his eyes to the tune of an accordian
to the end, when:
he staggered out into the streets of Little Italy
This song has taken on a life and legend of its own. It reappeared in a live version on the later album Dylan and the Dead in which Jerry Garcia improvises a beautiful short fill to illustrate the moment of Joey's death. The Dylan song may be bigger than its subject, and this is a perfect example of the artistic serendipity this minor Mafia figure always seemed to create.
That serendipity is the true subject of Tom Folsom's book, which ends with a vision of the new IKEA that looms over present-day Red Hook, the once desolate neighborhood where the brothers ran. It's a nice final touch. My only question, upon finishing The Mad Ones, is whether or not Martin Scorsese will turn it into a movie. I don't see why he wouldn't.
I've been working hard, and I really need this three-day weekend coming my way. Hell yeah!
Another surprise guest will be writing this weekend's review of the New York Times Book Review. Check back on Sunday for, I hope, a wholly new perspective.
Till then, just a few links for a happy Spring day.
1. I've always thought Henry David Thoreau's Walden could be the basis of a great play or film. Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind) tried something like this with The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, though this play did not place the center of action in the cabin by the pond. A new play called Walden: the Ballad of Thoreau is making the rounds, and may be showing up on public television/radio as well as on stages around the world.
I don't know anything about this actual play, but I know it's a good idea. A lot of drama took place in that little cabin, and I hope this play captures the essence of the work as well as it should. I assume that the actors in the image above are portraying Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau.
2. Fordham University in Manhattan (NOT, as previously reported, Fordham's campus in the Bronx) will be hosting "Woolf and the City", a Virginia Woolf conference, featuring insights from Anne Fernald, Roxana Robinson and many others.
3. Also at Fordham, Ron Hogan and the Mercantile Library have put together quite a lineup for a fiction writer's conference.
4. The long-anticipated film based on Leora Skolkin-Smith's novel Edges now has a title and a website. I thought Edges was a fine name for a story about Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine, but the film will be called The Fragile Mistress, and that sounds fine too. Can't wait to see this one.
5. A website about the psychology of fiction. Oh, is that ever fertile territory ...
1. Okay, so I flip-flopped on the Kindle. I still dislike the high price, the DRM policy and the secrecy about sales numbers, but on the other hand Amazon appears to be showing conviction, focus and flexibility in the way they are evolving the product. Also, a few months ago I wrote that I've never seen anyone reading a Kindle on a train, but I have recently seen two people doing so. This says a lot. I remain mixed in my feelings about the product, but it's clear that the Kindle is here to stay, and this is probably a good thing.
Following the lead of several other literary bloggers, I've now made this website available for Kindle subscription. I don't own a Kindle myself, so I can't even check out how it works, but if any Kindle owners out there can check it out, please tell me what you see!
2. More technological developments: here's Slate on the semantically-charged new knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha, supposedly a challenger to Google: "If only it worked ..."
3. There are a lot of intense debates revolving around the triple satellites of e-books, blogs and Twitter, all of it possibly leading to same grand conflagration (or, more likely, not) during next weekend's Book Expo 2009 in New York City. Till we all meet there, Kassia Krozser is tracking various debates involving electronic publishing.
4. Allison Glock flaunts her silly prejudices in a Poetry Foundation article about blogs. Based on her piece, I'm betting she's never actually seen a blog.
Instead of fostering actual connection, blogs inevitably activate our baser human instincts—narcissism, vanity, schadenfreude. They offer the petty, cheap thrill of perceived superiority or released vitriol. How easy it is to tap tap tap your indignation and post, post, post into the universe, where it will velcro to the indignation of others, all fusing into a smug, sticky mess and not much else in the end. You know those dinners at chain restaurants, where they pile the plate with three kinds of pasta and five sauces and endless breadsticks and shrimp and steak and bacon bits all topped in fresh grated cheese? Blogs are like that: loads of crap that fill you up. With crap.
5. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is one of my favorite plays. It's now running in New Haven with an African-American cast, featuring Charles S. Dutton as Willy Loman.
6. Jamelah tells me: "Paste Magazine is a really really good publication and it would be sad if it went under".
7. The New York Public Library is facing deep budget cuts and asking for a show of support. Let's keep those lions well-fed.
8. A Michigan high school bans Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon.
9. Flannery O'Connor in Atlantic Monthly.
10. Arthur Conan Doyle and spiritualism. And here's what Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are doing with Sherlock Holmes.
11. A glance at a surprisingly healthy publishing industry in India.
12. I didn't realize Britian's legendary publishing firm Faber and Faber was only 80 years old.
13. John O'Hara's wonderful novel Appointment in Samarra gets some appreciation from Lydia Kiesling at The Millions.
14. Another form of Action Poetry: Yoko Ono is arranging Twitter haiku.
Submerged for years in a murk of international literary diplomacy and scrupulous academic exertion, "The Letters of Samuel Beckett" has finally surfaced; and an elating cultural moment is upon us. It is also a slightly surprising moment. Beckett, in his published output and authorial persona, was rigorously spare and self-effacing. Who knew that in his private writing he would be so humanly forthcoming? We always knew he was brilliant -- but this brilliant? Just as the otherworldliness of tennis pros is most starkly revealed in their casual warm-up drills, so these letters, in which intellectual and linguistic winners are struck at will, offer a humbling, thrilling revelation of the difference between Beckett's game and the one played by the rest of us. (Beckett played tennis, incidentally.)
O'Neill includes many quotations from the letters, and closes the good piece with a personal note:
Many years ago, while languishing like Murphy in a London flat, I received an airmail envelope on which my name had been scratched with a ballpoint pen. I had no idea who could be writing to me from France, so unthinkingly I tore open the envelope. I wish I’d been more careful. The envelope contained a very short, playful message from Samuel Beckett. It’s still my most precious possession.
There is much to discuss and like in this weekend's brainy New York Times Book Review. Jim Holt, who seems to get better and better, contributes a wonderful endpaper on what it means to memorize poetry, and how it benefits us to do so. Emma Brockes provides an enjoyable summary of Arthur Laurents' bitchy/insightful theatre memoir Mainly On Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story and Other Musicals.
Far from the lights of Broadway, Jeffrey Gettleman introduces Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe by contrasting the anarchic Congo with its quieter neighbor Rwanda (obvious irony intended). Prunier explains much of the stark genocidal horrors of Congo's recent history ("More people had died in Congo than in any conflict since World War II", Gettleman says in summary) as a carryover from Rwanda's turmoil, and the explanation does ring true.
Suzanne Daley also stokes my interest in Mark Gevisser's A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream. I'm glad the Book Review continues to find space for books on global politics and contemporary history, which are important for some of the same reasons that books of translated fiction are (though I wonder if the Book Review could sometimes combine the two and review translated international books of contemporary history -- that's something I'd like to see).
A few of the articles are less successful. The pugnacious Adam Kirsch's discussion of Judas: A Biography by Susan Gubar offers no surprising insights. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting a generic treatment.
Speaking of generic treatments: Alan Light's vapid explication of Bill German's memoir about the Rolling Stones Under Their Thumb is completely lacking in expression or style. I have absolutely no idea why the NYTBR continues to assign rock music books to this bland, slick writer -- a writer who couldn't even make a biography of the Beastie Boys fun to read -- when the likes of Chuck Klosterman, Robert Christgau and Legs McNeil might be available. Light ends his review with a yawning swipe at the blogosphere that couldn't be more pointless:
It also documents a bygone age, before celebrity Web sites, when a kid could spot Mick Jagger at a club, write a description, type it up in a home-stapled newsletter, mail it out a few weeks later and still break news. Now, such sightings are instantly posted on Gawker -- and the alluring quality of mystery that defined rock stars has become almost impossible to retain.
Gawker has removed the alluring quality of mystery from the rock scene? Absolutely ridiculous, especially since younger generations are every bit as excited by music as Light's or my generation was (I know this because I have kids). In fact, it's because of milquetoast establishment writers like Alan Light that we need the blogosphere.
Finally ... apparently Joyce Carol Oates wrote another book. I still haven't read the last fourteen hundred.
And also, finally again: New York City opens a beautiful new baseball stadium this week. I wish many blessings upon the place.
I'm often unimpressed when a hot new writer gets big front-page treatment on the cover of the NYTBR and everywhere else (I still have bad memories of last year's "Joseph O'Neill is the new F. Scott Fitzgerald" craze). Today's up-and-comer is Wells Tower, the book is called Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (which sounds a bit Jonathan Safran Foer, but okay) and the reviewer is Edmund White, who does fairly convincing work. I'll spend some time giving this book a chance. White's closing paragraph is especially nice:
I once wondered why Surrealism never really caught on as a literary strategy in America. Wells Tower makes me think that nothing bizarre someone might dream up could ever be as strange as American life as we live it. The "beyond" that the Surrealists talked about so much, the au-dela, is America itself.
Here's a nifty surprise: graphic novelist Alison Bechdel has written (drawn?) a review of Jane Vandenburgh's autobiographical A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century as a comic strip. The Book Review is clearly embracing the comix-lit form with open arms (they began running a bestseller list for graphic books last week), and it's a very refreshing touch. Does the format actually serve the medium well? In Bechdel's capable hands, it does, though the cartoonist's pleasing work inadvertently upstages the book she's reviewing. Also, it's a bit shameless for the NYTBR to go on and on about the originality of this concept in an "Up Front" editor's note, when in fact this is a straight-up Ward Sutton bite. The Book Review gets points for trying this experiment, but they shouldn't act like they invented the idea.
Other good articles today include a memorable consideration of Anne Carson's casual/contemporary translation of a newly arranged Oresteia (a trilogy custom-assembled from Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripidies) by Brad Leithauser, who contrasts Carson's colloquial work with Richard Lattimore's dignified classic 1953 translation and concludes that poet Robert Lowell struck the best balance of all.
More pleasures of the canon are found in Rich Cohen excellent evaluation of David Plotz's Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible, a collection of blog posts originally published on Slate. And Charles McGrath fills us in Michael Holroyd's A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families (I've been interested in 19th Century celebrity/actor Henry Irving since reading about him in George Grossmith's hilarious Diary of a Nobody).
There are other articles that appear worthwhile today, but I have a very busy weekend planned and will have to skip a few. Consider it my 5% attention cut.
At Conversations in the Book Trade, blogger Levi Asher is interviewed; he does less than well, I'd say. He claims that 'There is no decline in reading,' that electronic content 'will soon dominate the publishing field' and argues 'You can see a movie or download a record album for about ten bucks. That's the correct price point. New books come out with price tags between $24 and $30 and then they wonder why the whole industry is suffering. Somebody's out of touch with the consumer here . . .' He's been banging this expensive drum for a while. Put the first assertion and the last together, and try to make some sense of it in the context of every reputable study being done that shows a decline in reading in America; Levi is either fooling himself or trying to will the world into the image of his choosing. Aside from that, the average price of a CD in 2008 was $12.95 so Britney Spears' album was that price; the equivalent of Ms. Spears would be, say, a Grisham novel, and The Innocent Man (2007) has a list price of $7.99 in softcover. Newer and less popular albums cost more, as it is with books. Hardcovers are pricey, and for a smaller market, but books are not generally too expensive. And as long as used books are $3.00 or so, and the library is free, digital readers are still a ways off.
Not so quick there, Daniel. First, a Britney Spears CD costs $12.95 when it's new. A John Grisham novel costs between $24 and $30 when it's new and getting media attention, and then drops in price a full year later, after reviewers and award committees have forgotten the book exists. This self-defeating "buzz-kill" effect doesn't exist in music publishing or any other industry -- in fact, some music publishers wisely release CDs at reduced prices to increase their chances of building audience momentum. Movie tickets cost slightly more when a movie is brand new, but the difference is small relative to the total price. Sorry, Dan, but you're wrong on this one.
Also, there is no contradiction between my first point that reading remains widely popular and my second point that the mainstream/corporate publishing industry is suffering. "Reading" and "publishing industry product" are not the same thing. The literary publishing industry in the USA is clearly unable to find the right format and price point to appeal to consumers, and consumers are increasingly bypassing the mainstream/corporate publishing industry's preferred formats for this reason. Does that mean we're not reading? Hell no, hell no, hell no!
According to Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, quoting a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers:
Adult hardcover sales were down 10.3 percent in December and down 13 percent for the year, but adult paperbacks saw a 12.5 percent increase in sales for the month and a 3.6 percent increase for the year. Adult mass market sales, though, are reported as down 3.0 percent for the year, and we can't help but wonder if that has anything to do with the 68.4 percent increase in electronic book sales in 2008 and certain genre reading tastes.
See what I'm saying, Daniel? Sorry, but I'm claiming myself as the victor in this argument. And there's plenty of good stuff happening on the affordable paperback books front -- see my recent post about Jason Epstein and the Espresso Book Machine.
2. A superb recent Words Without Borders panel discussion featuring Edith Grossman and Eduardo Lago on Don Quixote reminded me how much I'd enjoyed Edith Grossman's translation (it's not like I've read any other translation, but you know what I mean) of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In the Time of Cholera. The film version of this great novel recently turned up on a cable channel and I sat through it. Awful, horrible, seriously not good.
3. A few favorite literary New York City personalities have been releasing good new stuff lately. The spooky and moody East Village presence known as Edgar Oliver, whose written and theatrical works I've enjoyed in the past, got a great review from Ben Brantley of the New York Times for his East 10th Street: Self-Portrait With Empty House. Poet Simon Pettet has a new book out, Hearth. And, here's the YouTube debut of New Jersey poet Eliot Katz reading his poem "Death and War".
4. Some cool new Poe graphics via Books Are People Too (yes they are).
5. Poet W. S. Merwin on Design Observer: Unchopping a Tree
6. I was admonished via email to pay more attention to independent bookstores and link to Indiebound.org. I'm not as obsessed with indie bookstores vs. chain bookstores as some other book-lovers are for two reasons: I'm allergic to cats, and Barnes and Noble/Borders restrooms can sometimes really come in handy. Still, I'm down with the cause.
7. This just sucks: the Times Square Virgin Records mega-store (which also had good restrooms, and a basement bookstore!) is closing down. Shea Stadium, now this.
8. Katharine Weber at Readerville: Dear J. D. Salinger.
9. Nigeness contemplates The Wine-Dark Sea.
10. John Updike, cartoonist fanboy.
11. Roald Dahl's Writing Hut.
12. Daniel Scott Buck's The Kissing Bug gets some 3:AM praise.
13. Barnes and Noble review gets visual with Ward Sutton.
14. Dan Green's literary blog The Reading Experience has launched the blog equivalent of a Greatest Hits album, TRE Prime.
15. I'm looking forward to Summertime, apparently the next J. M. Coetzee novel. When Coetzee writes about summertime, you can just bet the living will not be easy.
16. The Shirley Jackson Awards committee is holding a lottery. Though they picked the wrong month -- remember: "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".
17. Via Q-Tip The Abstract, of all people, this Mars Volta performance on David Letterman is something special.
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.