2. It's very weird that attempted Times Square terrorist Faisal Shahzad left a DVD of the anomie-striven movie Up In The Air to be found in his home. Novelist Walter Kirn, who we recently interviewed about the film of his book, wrote this on Twitter: "times sq. bomber leaving behind copy of 'up in the air' reminds me of chapman, lennon's killer, and catcher in the rye. icky feeling now."
Ron Hogan -- media journalist (GalleyCat, Beatrice), marketing strategist and the only literary blogger I know who's been doing it as long as I have -- has just published an unusual book: Getting Right With Tao: A Contemporary Spin on the Tao Te Ching.
It happens I share Ron's fascination with the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese religious/philosophical text ascribed to a mysterious author named Lao Tzu, and with the set of ideas and traditions known as Taoism. The original Tao Te Ching is unquestionably a masterpiece, and the strong philosophy it presents has much in common with later movements like Buddhism, Transcendentalism and Existentialism. I still have my beloved, very beat-up Penguin Classic copy I bought in college; like Thoreau's Walden or Emerson's essays, this is a book you can pick up and return to often when you need inspiration or advice.
Reality Hunger is a book-length essay about literature and culture by David Shields that's getting a lot of attention for its provocative key argument: we are wrong to think of fiction as the most exalted form of literature, because as readers we mostly value writings that bring us reality and truth -- which are, by strict definition, beyond the scope of fiction. Shields presents today's literary community as blind and confused, trained to pine after the ideal of the perfect novel, the sublime work of art, when in fact we crave something more primal than artistic excellence when we read.
Unless you're color-blind like me (yes, I'm color-blind, and yes, that probably does explain the color scheme here on Literary Kicks), you probably see two different color chips in the photo above.
Well, I don't. Neither did my brother Gary (who is also color-blind, naturally, since it's a deterministic genetic trait, and I'd really like it if people would start calling us "color-capable" instead of "color-blind", but that's another topic) this weekend when we both played poker at the Gulfstream casino in Miami, Florida. I have no idea what colors you see when you look at these chips. But what Gary and I both see is one tan-green-orange-gray chip that says "$25" and another tan-green-orange-gray chip that says "$5".
1. In honor of the Knack's lead singer Doug Fieger, who passed away on Valentines Day, here's Sherman Alexie's tribute to "My Sharona". It was a pretty good song, and the best use of an octave in a riff since Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze".
2. I'm enjoying watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics on TV, but I often sense something basically unwholesome about the amount of buildup and tension that underlies this approach to competition. How is it good for an athlete to train for four years to lead up to a performance that lasts, in many cases, less than a minute? This leads to an emphasis on perfection, a dreadful and unnatural fear of error. This doesn't strike me as a mentally and emotionally healthy approach to sport, and I hate to see the look of shame that follows an excellent achievement marred by a single mistake. Personally, I prefer a more organic, holistic attitude towards competition. Maybe that's why baseball is still my favorite spectator sport. With 162 games a year and three hours per game, we get to know and appreciate the whole athlete, mistakes and quirks and all. Perfection, in my opinion, is rarely worth pursuing. That's what I think.
In the prolific years since The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster's writing has tightened to such a perfect pitch it's become almost inaudible to human ears. His issues -- identity, language, truth or reality -- weave into such a seamless harmony, it must be what one hand clapping sounds like. He's even added, to this perfect mix, a hint of global awareness. It's beautiful mind candy, but what does it all amount to?
The first narrator in Invisible, Auster’s fifteenth novel, is Adam Walker. He is aging, sick, dying. He is sharing his life story, one with mundane realities as well as incest and murder. While he seems to be a reliable narrator, the larger-than-life characters he encounters strain belief. The conundrum here is: what is real? Of course reading a novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but in the case of Invisible, what is the reader supposed to believe? Did Adam have a wild affair with his sister? Do we care? Is Auster just a big tease? In day-to-day reality, we sometimes hear stories that are "so crazy they must be real". We look the storyteller in the eye and toss the dice, trusting them or not. Invisible is like a late night phone call from an old acquaintance now halfway around the world. You don’t know what to make of it while you’re on the line, and when you wake up in the morning, the conversation seems like a dream.
There's something wonderfully circular about the fact that Walter Kirn's novel Up In The Air, originally published in 2001, is now a $7.99 airport paperback. Like the hit film version directed by Jason Reitman and starring George Clooney, Kirn's novel affectionately skewers the modern corporate mentality that thrives on airplanes, in airports or in airport "edge city" chain hotels. Hollywood has brought a literary novel to its intended audience.
The book is very different from the movie, of course. Date-flick fans who appreciated George Clooney's gentle, sad Ryan Bingham may be disappointed to meet the book's jittery and insecure hero. Admirers of the movie's warm, loving tone may be put off by Walter Kirn's distinctive DeLillo-esque chill. The plots are also different: there is no perky entry-level office foil in the novel, though there is a charming "Alex", a slick boss, lots of people getting laid off, a kooky family heading for a wedding. But beyond the usual Jack Davis/Harvey Kurtzman transformations, the book and the film do converge on a basic message: what happens if we travel so much and so fast that we becomes disconnected from reality?
There's a short story by Max Beerbohm, published in 1919, that sometimes comes up in philosophy classes. "Enoch Soames, a Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties" tells the story of Max Beerbohm, the author-as-character-within-the-novel, and his encounter with Enoch Soames, an unsuccessful writer and hanger-on in the London cafe scene in the 1890s. Enoch is frustrated that no one recognizes his genius, so he makes a deal with the devil to go forward in time and read about himself in the future where, he is sure, history will vindicate him.
In due course he and Max meet the devil himself in one of the cafes, and Enoch disappears, to pop up in 1997, where he searches the British Library to find out what we've thought of him. Some time later, he reappears back in the cafe, despondent. Before the devil spirits him away he explains to Max that he found only one reference to himself, in a work of fiction -- a short story by Max Beerbohm! And then he and the devil disappear. Max-the-character explains that he feels compelled to write this story about Enoch, as it will be the only way his friend will be known at all, despite the fact that it will be classified as fiction. He begs us to take it as biography.
The philosophical problem is, who and what is Enoch Soames? Within the framework of the story, are we to take him as fictional (as we do, and as the author-as-author does), or as "real," as both Enoch and the author-as-character insist that we should? The logical knots in this seemingly simple puzzle have yet to be fully untangled.
1. This expressionist portrait of Joyce Carol Oates is one of many interpretations of modern authors by Swedish artist Carl Kohler, who died in 2006.
2. If you prefer cute to modern expressionist, here's John Pupdike on Etsy.
3. Sarah Palin's new memoir appears to be a hit, enraging many Americans who dislike her, but I think it's time for many of us to lighten up about this clever charmer. Palin is clearly not qualified to be President -- but then neither was George W. Bush and he actually got elected, whereas Sarah Palin does not seem interested in playing it safe and is really very unlikely to even get her party's nomination in 2012. I strongly disagree with almost everything she stands for, but I think it's a waste of effort for liberals to focus their anger on the one funny and brash big talker in the conservative gang, instead of on the countless bland mumbling nobodies selling similar platforms, like Mitt Romney, Joe Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Dick Cheney.
I do thank God that John McCain and Sarah Palin did not win the last election, but I honestly believe that Sarah Palin was the less dangerous part of that ticket, if only because she appears to have no foreign policy agenda at all, unlike John "blood and guts" McCain, who wanted to be a war hero so bad he probably stormed the beaches at Normandy every night in his dreams.
Anyway, I do think a Jonathan Safran Foer vs. Sarah Palin cage match is great idea. And Tom Watson also semi-defends Sarah Palin here.
4. The American Library Association is looking for your essays about libraries.
5. Electric Literature will be tweeting a new work by Rick Moody. I have watched a few "tweeted novels" fly by, usually in disjointed reverse-chronological sentence fragments that repel any attempt at reading. Will these apparently clued-in folks find the formula that works? Hint: we write our tweets forward, but we read them backwards. Hint #2: if you're tweeting a novel and you can't make your sentences work at 140 characters or less, you're really not tweeting a novel.
6. I like these classic British rock stamps a lot.
7. A robotic version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the other hand, just creeps me out.
8. Despite being billed as "best writing tips ever", Allen Ginsberg's newly published writing tips aren't quite as great as his friend Jack Kerouac's. But they are pretty good.
9. Maud Newton is related to Pretty Boy Floyd.
10. Was Nietzsche pious? Maybe so, maybe so.
11. Frequent LitKicks contributor and Proust expert Mike Norris on being an ESL teacher in Paris.
12. Some good literary agents who are looking for new writers.
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.