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."
In Charlie Kaufman’s classic screenplay Adaptation, the main character (also named Charlie Kaufman) is charged with adapting Susan Orleans’ colorful albeit densely layered book The Orchid Thief into film. Unable to find a through line (or spine), the sine qua non of narrative film, the vexed screenwriter moans to his agent, “The book has no story. There’s no story.” Replies the agent blithely, “Make one up.” As anyone who has seen the movie knows, it’s a response that can only deepen Charlie’s already high anxiety. Adaptation is a process that requires an improbable balancing act of fidelity to the author’s original text with sufficient creative freedom for the filmmaker. Torn between his responsibility to the author—and her many readers--and the agent’s and moviegoing public’s expectation of “story”, Charlie spends the rest of the film desperately attempting to pay proper obeisance to others while somehow also asserting himself and his own artistic vision.
Listening to the panel of novelists/screenwriters on stage at the Jack Skirball Center at New York University for the “Adaptation” panel at the PEN World Voices festival on Thursday, I was reminded of this delicious exchange—the bewilderment of the screenwriter, the callousness of the Hollywood agent, and mostly, the utter agony and joy that adaptation entails. The process of adapting books into film, it seems, can be a hellish vortex from which few emerge unscathed.
1. Beat poet Michael McClure's new book of poetry is called Mysteriosos. In his long and exciting career McClure has collaborated with Janis Joplin and Ray Manzarek, written influential plays like The Beard, and appeared as a character (a voice of sanity, strangely enough) in Jack Kerouac's novel Big Sur. He's also, in my opinion, a better nature poet than W. S. Merwin, and a whole lot more fun to read.
Mysteriosos is a wildly adventurous (typographically and otherwise) romp through existence and language. Characteristically for McClure's work, the consciousness of the poetic narrator is not restricted to the human species, and instead generally aims for a universal or animal awareness. Sometimes this is even achieved. Check out this good book (an earlier version of which was previewed temporarily on LitKicks during our 24 Hour Poetry Party in 2004).
If you are a publisher or publicist who sends me books to review, please note that I have changed my mailing address:
328 8th Avenue #337
New York NY 10001
Also, if you're a publisher or publicist who sends me books to review, please know that I'm probably sorry for being so absolutely terrible about getting back to you. My review copy situation is a mess, I never get around to answering emails in time, but I do appreciate when you send me a book I'm interested in and I will try to be better about keeping in touch.
And now ... some more interesting stuff:
Don DeLillo's been on my mind lately. I dug up his 1985 classic White Noise two weeks ago after finding my youngest daughter listening to an indie band called, of all things, Airborne Toxic Event. Rereading from the beginning, I was surprised how quickly White Noise drew me back in, how fresh, wise and witty this book was. Fun, even. But I've never had a similar experience with any other DeLillo work, and I find many of them (such as, for-instance, Game Six, his film about the 1986 Mets/Red Sox World Series) too incomprehensible to bother with.
The act of puzzling over a late Don DeLillo novel and trying to appreciate its rare essence has become almost a keystone of modern literary hipster life, and Geoff Dyer's review of the new Point Omega in today's New York Times Book Review smartly focuses on the experience and the mystique as much as on the work:
He has reconfigured things, or our perception of them, to such an extent that DeLillo is now implied in the things themselves. While photographers and filmmakers routinely remake the world in their images of it, this is something only a few novelists (Hemingway was one) ever manage. Like Hemingway, DeLillo has imprinted his syntax on reality and -- such is the blow-back reward of the Omega Point Scheme for Stylistic Distinction -- become a hostage to the habit of "gyrate exaggerations" (the phrase is in The Body Artist) and the signature patterns of "demolished logic."
Just what are we supposed to do with a new Don DeLillo novel? Like a Richard Serra sculpture, it is simply there. You look at it, or you walk around it. If somebody pays you to write a review, you read it.
Leah Hager Cohen fills us in today on Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag, a fictional snapshot of a bad marriage, and crosses the line to explain the correspondence between the pained marriage in the book and the real-life drama involving Erdrich and her husband Michael Dorris, who killed himself in 1997. The question of whether or not a writer's real life is relevant to that writer's books underlies this piece, and many will question Cohen's decision to review fiction as biography. I think Cohen made the right decision. We read literary criticism to help us understand aspects of a work we might otherwise miss, after all, and in this case the correspondence between reality and fiction clearly helps us understand the book.
I like Amy Bloom's book titles: Even A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, and the new Where The God of Love Hangs Out, hungrily reviewed today by Francine Du Plessix Gray. I don't know if I'll ever find the time to read this novel, but I'm glad I read the title.
Call me unfashionable, but I'm not as interested as I should be in Will Blythe's coverage of a new Roberto Bolano, Monsieur Pain. Sure, I like Bolano, but the market's been just a little saturated with his books lately. At the rate I'm going, maybe I'll get around to reading Monsieur Pain by the year 2666.
The market for Lee Siegel's articles on everything that's wrong with modern culture has been saturated for a while too (in fact, it doesn't take much to saturate this demand). I'd be interested in almost any writer's take on the legacy of Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism, published 30 years ago, but as usual Siegel's harumphing tone of superiority is a turnoff, and there's something just too ironic about a columnist famous for posting comments to his own articles critiquing the culture of narcissism.
I leave you today with one more clue -- a LitKicks exclusive, I believe -- towards the ultimate meaning of DeLillo's new novel (which I haven't read, and don't plan to). One of the main characters in Point Omega is named "Elster". The above-linked film Game Six, based on Don DeLillo's screenplay, concerns the 1986 Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. The backup shortstop on the 1986 New York Mets was Kevin Elster. You do the math.
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?
Jay McInerney impresses me today. I didn't know if he had the cojones to give a trendy "serious novel" like Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed a bad review, but apparently he does. Maybe my concern that we'd have to spend this entire decade hearing about the genius of Joshua Ferris was misplaced; the novel has gotten mediocre reviews in Chicago and Washington DC as well. Sometimes the lit-crit establishment is better at spotting fakes than I expect.
Speaking of Joshua Ferris's new novel, this weekend's New York Times Book Review features a very good endpaper essay by Jennifer Schuessler about the meaning, history and brain science of boredom. I'm intrigued to learn that:
The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded use of "to bore" dates to a 1768 letter by the Earl of Carlisle, mentioning his "Newmarket friends, who are to be bored by these Frenchmen." "Bores," meaning boring things, arrived soon after, followed by human bores.
The spirit of William Safire lives on. But I wish the essay drilled deeper (thank you) into the multiple meanings of "bore", which now signifies a dull emptiness but must have originally been meant to connote not only the emptiness left behind by being "bored" but also the sharp and invasive act of "boring" itself. Can you bore without being sharp? Is it more boring to be bored, or to have been bored, to have been left an empty hole? Anyway, this essay is not boring.
Okay, but what are we going to do about this crushing meme -- so ridiculously prevalent among senior journalists and pessimistic creative folk these days -- about the rise of the Internet spelling the end of all other creative forms? Several months ago, Philip Roth declared that no more novels will be written in 25 years. Today's Book Review gives us this paragraph in Charles Isherwood review of Kenneth Turan's Free For All, an oral history of the career of Joseph Papp:
And in the years since Papp's death, it has become clear that he was not just a major cultural force in New York in the second half of the 20th century; he was probably the last cultural game-changer America will ever know to make his name exclusively in theater. Papp's may not be "the greatest theater story ever told," although the huckster in him would appreciate the hyperbole, but it may well prove to be the last great theater story ever told, at least in this country.
Why? Have they shut Broadway down? Nobody told me! Last I heard, you still couldn't get good seats to Billy Elliot. What on earth would give Christopher Isherwood the idea that popular interest in modern theatre is waning at all, or that somebody in this still-thriving field might not equal or surpass Joseph Papp's achievement in the eternities to come?
It's that meme. And here it is again in this weekend's Book Review, in Neil Genzlinger piece on David Thomson's The Moment of "Psycho":
Maybe alongside all the groundbreaking that Thomson attributes to “Psycho” there is room for a companion theory about the film: that it was the last movie about which a book like "The Moment of 'Psycho'" could be written.
Haven't their been any great, amazing, groundbreaking, thoroughly original movies since 1960? I can name about 100. Some psychologist really ought to come up with a theory as to why so many cultural commentators need to believe that their favorite art forms are in death throes, that the future cannot possibly be as good as the past. My guess: it's only a sign that these cultural commentators have run out of mojo, have allowed their own imaginations to wither away.
1. I'm not sure I'm feeling the new Rick Moody "Twitter novel" that has begun appearing on Electric Literature and will continue for two more days. Some Contemporary Characters is a noble experiment by a good writer, but after the first day it feels more like a proof of concept than an integrated work. The tweets are written in a rarefied, elegant tone, as when the characters are bowling: "An ungodly strike, an indisputable strike, one pin teetering at the rightmost margin like chastity itself toppling with a dramatic sigh". Okay, but do people really talk like that on Twitter? Maybe Moody is focusing on the artistic potential of the 140-character sentence, but that's only half of what this work needs to do. It must also feel natural on Twitter, must reflect its setting in terms of identity and plot as well as character-count. This novel still feels like a text placed on Twitter rather than born there.
Why not write a Twitter novel as a variation on the epistolary or diary-form novel? We should believe that we are reading one person's actual tweets, and should feel engaged in piecing a mysterious story together from the available evidence. This could really work, and I was hoping to see that kind of realism here. Carolyn Kellogg doesn't seem convinced by Moody's new work either. Well, it's worth sticking with; there's still time for it to turn into something.
2. It's been established that James Joyce inadvertently invented the word 'blog', and now it seems that Vladimir Nabokov quasi-invented the smiley. Very cool.
3. Ed Champion reviews the new film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I detest McCarthy's books and would probably steer clear of this pity party even if Ed liked it, but it's a notable fact that Ed didn't.
4. Stephen Sondheim is writing a memoir.
5. I recently suggested that New York Times Book Review chief and conservative critic Sam Tanenhaus ought to review Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. Indeed he has done so, though for the New Yorker instead of his own publication. It's a good piece. In other NYTBR-related news, the film based on critic Walter Kirn's Up In The Air is getting excellent reviews. I plan to see it soon and will surely tell you what I think.
6. More film news: Schiller: Rebel of Arcadia is a new film biography of classic German Romantic author Friedrich von Schiller. The Last Station features Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy, and a movie based on Chekhov's Ward Six has debuted in Russia.
7. Brian May of Queen has written a book, A Village Lost and Found, about antique stereoscopic photographs.
8. P. G. Wodehouse channels Franz Kafka, according to this observer (via Books Inq).
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. 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 ...