I know Google is under no obligation to index LitKicks.com, but the search engine has been happily sharing my content since the day it went online, and I wish the company treated its longtime sites with more respect. I don't mean to be all uppity about how great my website is, but the fact is Literary Kicks goes way back. Readers care about this content, and this content belongs on Google.
If anybody out there has any suggestions for how I can get this problem solved more quickly, please email me or post a comment. Thanks.
2. Unlike apparently everybody else, I don't give a damn about the new James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulk as John Banville as Benjamin Black as Ian Fleming. And I already have a Matchbox car.
3. I also don't give a damn about Borders' new Magic Shelf. Just put a good book on a shelf and I'll call that magic.
(We're also going out quietly -- in fact, we agreed to disband over two months ago, and the fact that it took this long for one of us to announce it shows exactly what was wrong with the group -- as a public presence, we had completely lost our pulse.)
I respect the quiet way we operated, though. The Litblog Co-op was not only an organization designed to promote books and blogs -- it was also a small community, and as a community I think we always managed to stay polite and retain a democratic process (which is more than I can say for a few other online literary communities I've been a part of). I'm proud of us for this -- in fact, I'm proud of everything about the Litblog Co-op, and just for the fun of it I'd like to share the story of how I came to join this lovable ragtag outfit in the summer of 2006.
Fourteen months earlier, my site LitKicks.com was stuck, floundering somewhere between blogginess and nowheresville. I'd lost my patience with the frenetic message board/creative writing community that was LitKicks up to 2004, but I wasn't quite sure where to turn next. Taking cues from smart people I knew with blogs, like Jamelah, Caryn and Christian, I'd moved LitKicks towards a strange hybrid sort of blog/poetry forum, but I didn't really know what I was doing, and I think this showed.
At this point -- we're talking April 2005 -- I still had no idea that good literary blogs existed. I knew that good blogs existed, and I had occasionally Googled my way onto a blog with a literary focus, but I never saw a specifically literary blog that impressed me enough to want to go back again. I read GalleyCat, but that was about it. I guess I could have looked harder, but I didn't.
At this time, I did not feel generally fond of blogs. In fact I was nurturing my own private version of the same anti-blog resentment that Scott McLemee refers to in a recent related article on the Critical Mass blog. In my case, I resented blogs partly because they were so technically simple. As a Java programmer, I had built LitKicks by hand, and I was having trouble accepting the fact that a sloppy PHP script called WordPress could do everything I could do with Java (and better, much better). I was awed by WordPress, but also jealous of it. I guess you could say I was blinded by my own technological snobbery.
Then one day a "read this" email came from Caryn while I was at work, pointing to a Village Voice article by Joy Press that fairly knocked me off my chair.
Apparently, according to this article, literary blogs were a "scene". Apparently -- this had never happened before -- major New York publishers were taking online publicity seriously. And there was now a group, founded by a guy named Mark Sarvas, called the Litblog Co-op.
I knew two of these sites mentioned in the article, Beatrice and Bookslut, but hadn't realized that Beatrice had morphed into a blog and that Bookslut had one. I noted quite pointedly that this Village Voice article did not mention LitKicks. I started browsing these blogs, expecting to hate them, but I quickly found myself liking what I saw. I surfed Mark Sarvas with his Fowler quote, and Maud Newton with her Courier font and Jackson Pollock background. I read every single blog on the Litblog Coop's membership list, and was impressed over and over. I was seeing something I hadn't seen much of before: brains. These people knew books. And they could write.
These people also, apparently, had never heard of LitKicks. I felt uncertain whether or not I could fit in with these bloggers, who seemed to be hipper and seemed to wear more fashionable clothes than me (but than, pretty much everybody in the world is hipper and wears more fashionable clothes than me). At the same time, I was glad to see many of my less common literary enthusiasms reflected in various bloggers: Jeff Bryant read the Beats and Bukowski; Maud Newton shared my interest in dusty old classics; Ed Champion covered the postmodern stylists. I wasn't sure, but I had a feeling I could become a part of this clique, if I could only figure out how to weasel my way in.
Getting friendly with bloggers can take a while, but in my case it went surprisingly smoothly. Jeff Bryant, Ed Champion, Bookslut and Golden Rule Jones were among the first to hit me up with some helpful linkage, which I appreciated very much. I think it was Jeff who wrangled my admission into the Litblog Co-op, exactly fourteen months after I first read about the organization in the Village Voice. I always felt like a newbie there, but I made several friends and will undoubtedly keep in touch with all.
If we analyze "what went wrong" with the Litblog Co-op, I'd say nothing. We had some internal discussions last year about what forms the group could possibly evolve into, and at one point I proposed that we model ourselves on the National Book Critics Circle: collect dues, stage events, have an annual budget, open up the membership, elect rotating leaders. This idea fell victim to the same problem many of our ideas fell victim to: none of us had the time to do any of them. At one point after I suggested that we elect a leader (which is something we'd never done), somebody asked me if I would be willing to be this leader, and I had to admit that I was too busy. At that point, I saw the folly of my own proposal, and this is why I ultimately think we are making the right move in closing up shop today.
One thing I remember well: we promoted some great books. When it came my turn to nominate a title I went with Triangle by Katharine Weber, which didn't win the group's vote. Am I still mad about that? Hell yeah. Some of my favorites among the nominations that did win: Firmin by Sam Savage, Wizard of the Crow by Nguzi Wa Thiong'o, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck, which goes down in history as the last LBC pick.
Readers of Literary Kicks are familiar with the picture of French poet Paul Verlaine that decorates every page. The poet appears to be in a stupor. In front of him is a flagon of green liquid: absinthe. The very name implies decadence and depravity. We imagine artists and writers of the Belle Epoque in Paris, sitting in cafés, drinking absinthe, and perhaps having hallucinatory visions. We think of Van Gogh, a notorious absinthe drinker: did he cut off his ear while in the throes of the drink? Numerous famous paintings depict absinthe drinkers, often in sordid surroundings, such as "The Absinthe Drinker" by Edouard Manet. Adding even more to its sinister reputation is the fact that absinthe was once outlawed in France, most of Europe, and the United States.
A lot has been written about absinthe and its effects, but perhaps one of the most compelling descriptions is from Ernest Hemingway, also a noted absintheur . In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s protagonist Robert Jordan carries a leather-covered flask filled with absinthe. At a crucial point in the early part of the novel, he dips into his dwindling supply: "It was a milky yellow now with the water, and he hoped the gypsy would not take more than a swallow. There was very little of it left and one cup of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafes, … of all the things he had enjoyed and forgotten and that came back to him when he tasted that opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing, liquid alchemy."
2. I just attended the New York City reading debut of Mark Sarvas's upcoming novel Harry, Revised at Jami Attenberg's Boxcar Reading with Michael Dahlie, Lynn Lurie and Ceridwen Dovey. Harry, Revised is about a young widower embarking on an apparent search for self, and I cannot help imagining that there must be a lot of Mark Sarvas in the character of Harry, who (in the chapter Mark read last night) attempts to anchor his self-image by purchasing a French literary classic.
One special thing about Harry, Revised is that readers of Mark's Elegant Variation blog have been able to watch and enjoy its process of creation, and this is certainly a unique and effective way to build up anticipation for an upcoming book release. Harry, Revised hits the stores in April.
3. Earlier in the evening, before the Boxcar reading, Ed Champion and I formed an electronic mob to crash Against the Machine author Lee Siegel's conversation with John Freeman at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Soho (though we were well-behaved and unfortunately had to leave after only 20 minutes to get to the Boxcar in time). Lee Siegel's new book aims to be a rabble-rousing cry of protest against the looming evils of internet culture, though many of us who dwell happily online won't let Lee forget that he only began to develop this hatred of the internet after getting caught in a buffoonish attempt at dominating it.
Lee Siegel has had an acclaimed career as a pugnacious cultural critic (though the above-mentioned "sprezzatura" incident didn't help his reputation), but my encounters with his writing in the New York Times Book Review have revealed an ambitious but intellectually careless writer. He reinforced this impression last night with wild statements like "the internet is 80% porn". Siegel seems to lack the restraint and sense of balance that any cultural critic ought to have. He'll probably sell a lot of copies of Against the Machine -- blunt rhetoric does sell -- but I feel sorry for anyone who wastes their time reading it.
4. "A New Cultural Revolution" may not be the best title for this encouraging survey of the state of popular literature in China, since the actual phrase "Cultural Revolution" was used as a guise for Mao Zedong's brutal crackdown on personal, social and artistic freedom in the 1960s and 70s. But this is an important article, and I'd love to learn more about China's vast book industry.
5. I don't love being greeted with a plea for my email address, but I like everything else about PublicIntegrity.org, a public repository of government documents relevant to current political issues. The new exhibit "Iraq: The War Card" offers a simple and effective search engine documenting the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.
6. Action Poets -- thanks for your patience with the new software, which is (obviously) still in beta. Coming soon: monthly archives, a better response system, other stuff. It's also a little slow, and I can fix that too (my MO as a software developer, as you may have noticed, has always been "launch first, fix later"). Hang in there, everybody ... and it's good to see old friends popping back in.
There's also an illustrated new T. C. Boyle short story called I Dated Jane Austen (via Knowledge Problem). I'm dying to read Oil!, the 1927 business novel by Upton Sinclair that is the basis of the new film There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (when Paul Thomas Anderson makes a movie, I'm interested).
But I can't catch up on any of this today, because I've been busy geeking out with poetry software. It's hard to explain why I have had to work so long on the LitKicks technical overhaul that's been going on since December of last year. I know many people who enjoyed the old Action Poetry pages on LitKicks are wondering why I had to take the old software down in the first place. Basically, the old software was written in Java, as the entire previous version of LitKicks was, and I've now migrated the site to PHP (using the excellent WordPress content delivery system and a few other open source packages). This involved a physical move to a new server in December, and once this move was complete I had to throw away all my old Java poetry code and begin rewriting the whole thing in PHP. That's what I've been doing for the past several weeks.
I'm also adding some features to the poetry platform, like (sneak preview) member profiles listing all of each member's poems, a rating system (which I'm not ready to show you yet) and a new page layout/design that will hopefully break less often than the old one (old-timers know that Action Poetry wasn't always smooth sailing over in Java-land).
It's an interesting fact that until last month's switchover, LitKicks was one of the very few literary blogs or websites that did not run on PHP (a language that emerged along with blog culture, and is most remarkable for its simplicity and powerful ease of use) or Perl or other "scripting language". Java is an older and more complex programming language that's widely used by companies and organizations around the world. I wrote the original Java version of LitKicks myself of course, back in 2000, and back then I assure you my homegrown Jive-based Java-based content delivery system was some damn well-written state-of-the-art software. I still write Java code for a living (as do many of my techie peers, since Java work pays better than PHP work), but even an old school Java guy like me has to admit that PHP, not Java, is the best language for content-rich web applications. In fact, I'll break ranks with my Java peers and admit straight out that many companies in the financial, legal, health care, government and other industries pay too much to build applications with Java that they could build more simply in PHP and AJAX (I always like to toss a heavy dose of AJAX into my web applications, which you'll hopefully be noticing once the new poetry software is up).
So, am I geeking out enough for you? Now that I've joined the PHP flock, by the way, the only outlier I can think of in the literary blogosphere is Mark Thwaite's Ready Steady Book, whose URLs reveal it to be a Microsoft .NET based site. I've also done some work in .NET (specifically C#, which is a lot like Java), and I can confidently say that PHP is better. I hope Mark Thwaite's having an easier time with his .NET based blog than I did with my Java blog, though. Another literary site with an unusual technical foundation is Michael Orthofer's Complete Review and Literary Saloon, which appears to use very simple flat HTML. This is not a highly scalable approach, but it's got something to recommend it (LitKicks was also flat HTML-based before I created the Java version in 2000).
Anyway, speaking of Java, I would like to thank the company that hosted LitKicks.com for the past seven years, Servlets.net. If you ever need expert Java hosting, Servlets.net is the place to go. I'm now running LitKicks on one of the major PHP hosts, but let's give it a few months to see if I ever start thanking them.
I was hoping I'd be able to re-launch Action Poetry today, but I'm not there yet. Very soon, however, I will place a notice on the top right panel (where it currently reads "Tech Notes") asking members of the old Action Poetry site to re-activate their memberships on the new site. Shortly thereafter, I'll be inviting anyone and everyone to create a login on the new site, and then we can share some poems. Thanks again for your patience, and I look forward to getting back to a focus on literature, not technology, here on LitKicks.
I was most impressed by director Joe Wright's treatment of the book's first sequence, the chaotic and ultimately disastrous dinner party at the Tallis household. The film follows the book closely in these early scenes (the actress playing Briony Tallis even looks exactly like the girl on the paperback cover), but embellishes the story with lush photography and languid summery pacing. The younger actors aren't great (it actually is possible for a child actor to cry realistically; just watch Little Miss Sunshine), but the male and female romantic leads James McAvoy and Keira Knightley are quite good, and the sexual chemistry between them is palpable.
The Dunkirk battle scenes and London hospital scenes are captivating and well-intentioned, though they draw short of capturing the full wartime horror depicted by Ian McEwan in the book. The story's big finish is then completely blown off, inexcusably, by this film version. Vanessa Redgrave is fine enough, but what Hollywood lunkhead made the decision to replace that great family party with a cold, mechanical television interview? The family party ending certainly struck the better note. Still, every movie is allowed to make some mistakes, and overall I'll happily recommend Atonement to anybody who either has or has not read Ian McEwan's novel. Please let me know what you think if you've seen it.
2. On a far, far, far less refined front, the innovative comic writer Jonathan Ames is premiering a Showtime series, What's Not To Love? (based on this book and other writings).
The first episode seems to aim for a Larry David/Sarah Silverman kind of vibe -- quirky through the roof, sexually outrageous -- and actually Jonathan Ames seems to have a good shot at following in Curb Your Enthusiasm's wake and finding an enthusiastic audience for this series. I won't judge the show based on the first episode (which involved a "mangina" and a boxing match) except to say that I didn't like it as much as Wake Up, Sir!. But the television screen presents Ames's unique rodent-like visage to memorable effect, and I have a feeling future episodes of this show will grow on me.
3. Ed Champion, easily one of the best litbloggers on this planet, is closing up shop. I trust that this is more of a rethinking than a retreat. I think it's a good idea to shake things up every once in a while, so I applaud Ed's resolve to seek his muse to the fullest here, and I eagerly await his next moves, whatever they turn out to be.
4. A revival of Harold Pinter's play The Homecoming, a tense, puzzling and deeply discomforting look at family and sexual politics, is getting rave reviews.
5. The first phase of the return of Action Poetry on LitKicks is about to begin! I'll be putting up a review of all the poems published on LitKicks in 2007 in the next couple of days. New poems will be accepted again shortly after New Years Day.
1. The above artwork is from a book called Uncovered by an artist named Thomas Allen who carves printed characters off the covers of pulp novels and arranges them in three dimensions (via Boing.)
2. I've had a strange urge to write about music lately. That's why I wrote this review of Led Zeppelin's re-release of the classic 1976 movie/album The Song Remains the Same. I didn't get to see the reunion in London, but I did have fun writing this article.
3. More about music writing: I love it when authors or critics I discuss in my weekly review of the New York Times Book Review contact me with gripes or other reactions. I recently mocked a Beatles book (because I am a mocker) called Can't Buy Me Love based on a reviewer's comments, and author Jonathan Gould emailed me to ask why I would criticize a book I hadn't seen. This is a fair question, so I requested a review copy and have now read the book.
Jonathan Gould is correct: All You Need is Love is a very satisfying Beatles biography, written with authority and taste. Gould's best skill is in the deconstruction of individual songs like "Eleanor Rigby" or "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". He discerns meaning in each detail (for instance, the background vocals in songs like "We Can Work It Out" indicate that the band members are communicating well, whereas the lack of complex background vocals on The White Album means the opposite). I could read Jonathan Gould's song breakdowns all day, though I was less interested in the historical treatments, maybe just because I've read it all before (" ... as the jet taxied towards the terminal packed with screaming fans at the newly named JFK Airport ...").
I also have some problems with Gould's harsh judgement of Yoko Ono, who couldn't possibly have done the good work she's done if she were the artistic phony he portrays. He's also improbably dismissive of the wonderful skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan, who he must be the only person in the world to dislike. Still, small quibbles aside ... Can't Buy Me Love is a solid and well-written Beatles book.
4. Everything happens on Klickitat Street. Here's Denise Hamilton in the Los Angeles Times visiting the hometown of Beverly Cleary, where it all took place. "Which house was Henry's? Where was the vacant lot where the kids found discarded boxes of bubble gum to sell at school? Could that mutt be Ribsy's great-great grandson?"
Minor correction, though: Denise Hamilton asks why Ralph Mouse is the only Beverly Cleary work to ever make it to television. But Ramona was once a series on PBS (though not a very good one).
5. Some poets have been asking me when Action Poetry (our ongoing subterranean creative writing activity here on this site, to which you are invited) will be back on LitKicks. The answer is: soon. I am working on some exciting new software that will make it better than ever. But it's going to take a little more time, and when it's ready I'll be rolling it out in stages. I'm guessing we'll be back in full swing by mid-January of next year (if everything works correctly, which is a big "if").
6. I've been tagged for a meme by fellow blogger Ed Champion (who, by the way, is running for National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors). The idea here is that you have to list the first sentence of the first blog post of the first day of this month for every month of the past year. I've done this below, and here are my main findings: I'm obviously having a rough winter; I'm pretty grumpy; I can write some really long-ass sentences. Hmm, and all this time I thought I was a minimalist. Anyway, here's my twelve:
December 2007: "We're having some tech problems here in the Land of Literary Kicks."
November 2007: "I'm taking a sanity break today; I'll be back to review the Book Review next weekend."
October 2007: "Philip Roth's Shakespeherian-titled Exit Ghost has certainly been kicking up the chatter."
September 2007: "Bravo to Jim Lewis for an enthusiastic and bracing New York Times Book Review front cover piece that begins like this: Good morning and please listen to me: Denis Johnson is a true American artist, and Tree of Smoke is a tremendous book ..."
August 2007: "Yeah, I'm unpleased with the choice of Charles Simic for United States Poet Laureate."
July 2007: "I'm reviewing today's New York Times Book Review from a peaceful backyard in rural Indiana, as bullfrogs croak, hummingbirds buzz around my head (did you know that a hummingbird likes to eat half its weight in sugar every day?) and maple trees tower above."
June 2007: "Walking the vast hangars of Book Expo America 2007, I pause to consider what we can learn from this amazing display of publishing ingenuity."
May 2007: "I forgot, in yesterday's post, to post my own response to the question many interesting folks from Richard Ford to Lawrence Ferlinghetti have been answering: why are book reviewers important?"
April 2007: "I can't complain (and you know I like to complain) about a New York Times Book Review whose cover article informs me about a literary patron and publisher I'd never heard of, jazz-age ocean-liner heiress Nancy Cunard, who apparently published Samuel Beckett, anthologized W. E. B. DuBois, made love with T. S. Eliot and took her political idealism to such an insane extreme that she ultimately lost all her wealth and most of her friends."
March 2007: "I checked out Shelfari, a new book-oriented social networking site that's getting some buzz based on Amazon.com buying a stake."
February 2007: "Okay, so I'm way way way behind on all the review copies various nice people have been sending me."
January 2007: "As promised last week, I've begun rereading the only known novel featuring late President Gerald Ford in the title, John Updike's Memories of the Ford Administration, originally published sixteen years after the end of Ford's presidency."
I'll pass this meme on to, hmmm, let's see ... Caryn, Jamelah, Christian Crumlish, Eric Rosenfield and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
If you're a poet trying to contribute a brilliant poem to Action Poetry, you may want to hold off a day or two while I kick the antenna a few times.
Hang in there, and the site will most assuredly be back, better than ever, very soon.