(Yeah, we know that everybody's talking about the Football World Cup and the Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals right now. Well, here at Litkicks we've never cared what anybody else was talking about, and baseball remains the greatest American literary sport. Here's an extensive roundup of the classic legacy by Alan Bisbort, author of Beatniks: A Guide To An American Subculture, who last played the game competitively when he was 14. Enjoy! -- Levi)
Baseball is the cruelest sport. How else to explain its tug upon the heartstrings and psyches of so many good writers?
Other sports, of course, have attracted their own forest-leveling share of books and even a few classics. Football, for example, spawned Fred Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Kerouac’s Vanity of Duluoz (which, for some reason, is better upon rereading), Run to Daylight by Coach Vince Lombardi, I Am Third by Gale Sayers and Paper Lion by George Plimpton. Basketball has A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee (about a young Bill Bradley) and more recently To Hate Like This Is to be Happy Forever by Will Blythe, about the rivalry between Duke and UNC men’s college basketball teams. Boxing has its own cottage writing industry, of course; Norman Mailer and A.J. Liebling being the heavyweight chroniclers of the “sweet science” (I never understood that nickname), while Nick Tosches’ Sonny Liston biography and Thom Jones’ collections of short stories, Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine and A Pugilist at Rest, at least deserving of a title shot. Soccer, known as football everywhere else, has spawned Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford (though this wasn’t so much about the sport as it was about the “hooligans” whose sociopathic off-field behavior recalls Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. David Foster Wallace writes about tennis in Infinite Jest, and some consider Andre Agassi's intense autobiography Open to be a future classic. Fishing has hauled in some whoppers, too -- Trout Fishing In America, A River Runs Through it, The Old Man and the Sea, Far Tortuga -- but this is only if you count fishing as a sport.
Whatever happened to the film adaptation of J. M. Coetzee's stunning novel Disgrace, starring John Malkovich? If, like me, you've been under the spell of this book, you may have been wondering this too. We heard about the film when it was in production, and word began to spread over a year ago that the much-awaited film was playing festivals, but it was in and out of New York City and Washington DC theaters before anybody I know had a chance to see it. It didn't get terrible reviews; it just didn't get much of a release at all. Then, two days ago, I suddenly spotted the title on a long list of Time Warner Cable "Movies on Demand" on my TV, hiding unceremoniously between Did You Hear About The Morgans? and Easter Bunny Kill Kill!.
I pressed a button to magically pay $4.99, and there I was catching a private viewing of the much-anticipated and mysteriously vanished film in my own living room.
"... Simon's a true Russian, wants the whole world to love, a descendant indeed of some of those insane sweet Ippolits and Kirilovs of Dostoevsky's 19th Century Czarist Russia -- And looks it too, as the time we'd all eaten peyotl (the musicians and I) and there we are banging out a big jam session at 5 P.M. in a basement apartment with trombone, two drums, Speed on piano and Simon sitting under the all-day-lit red lamp with ancient tassels, his rocky face all gaunt in the unnatural redness, suddenly then I saw: "Simon Darlovsky, the greatest man in San Francisco" and later that night for Irwin's and my amusement as we tromped the streets with my rucksack (yelling "The Great Truth Cloud!" at gangs of Chinese men coming out of card rooms) Simon'd put on a little original pantomime a la Charley Chaplin but peculiar to his own also Russian style which consisted of his running dancing up to a foyer filled with people in easy chairs watching TV and putting on an elaborate mime (astonishments, hands of horror to mouth, looking around, woops, tipping, humbling, sneaking off, as you might expect some of Jean Genet's boys goofing in Paris streets drunk) (elaborate masques with intelligence) -- The Mad Russian, Simon Darlovsky, who always reminds me of my Cousin Noel, as I keep telling him, my cousin of long ago in Massachusetts who had the same face and eyes and used to glide phantomy around the table in dim rooms and go "Muee hee hee ha, I am the Phantom of the Opera" (in French saying it, 'je suis le phantome de l'opera-a-a-a) -- And strange, too, that Simon's jobs have always been Whitman-like, nursin, he'd shaved old psychopaths in hostpitals, nursed the sick and dying, and now as an ambulance driver for a small hospital he was batting around San Fran all day picking up the insulted and injured in stretchers (horrible places where they were found, little back rooms), the blood and the sorrow, Simon not really the Mad Russian but Simon the Nurse -- Never could harm a hair of anybody's head if he tried --"
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels
Peter Orlovsky, Beat Generation poet and muse, died this weekend. A gentle and exuberant spirit, Orlovsky did not aim for literary fame but his reflection was caught in the work of his virtual spouse and best friend Allen Ginsberg, and in the writings of Jack Kerouac, who transformed him into a character named Simon Darlovsky who lit up the pages of the great late-period novel Desolation Angels just as Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) and Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) had lit up On The Road and Dharma Bums.
Screw stuff white people like. This is stuff I like:
1. With Amazon Crossing, the well-funded online bookstore is taking an active role in publishing international authors across boundaries. Good move, Amazon. Speaking of international authors, a fifth Words Without Borders anthology, Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, is coming out. Way to be productive, WWB!
2. Something else we like: Ghostbusters invade the main branch of the New York Public Library to protest library budget cuts. What's really interesting about this latest effort by Improv Everywhere is that the apparently desperate New York Public Library actually allowed it to take place (though they don't seem to have warned the people in the library). Nice! We've gone way beyond "ssssssh!" by now.
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?