1. If you're in Chicago next week, you may want to join a 50th birthday party for Naked Lunch, the novel by William S. Burroughs that invented trippy postmodern noir way before Thomas Pynchon had the same idea. The Chicago birthday party (featuring folks like John Giorno, Bill Ayers, Penny Arcade, Peter Weller and James Grauerholz) is tied in to a new documentary movie, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, directed by Yony Leyser that looks quite good.
2. I'm also really looking forward to a documentary film called One Fast Move and I'm Gone about Jack Kerouac's crack-up novel Big Sur. The film's original soundtrack ought to be something special: a series of original compositions based on Kerouac's Big Sur by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Son Volt's Jay Farrar. Song titles include "California Zephyr", "Breathe Our Iodine", "Final Horrors" and "The Void".
3. Charley Plymell on S. Clay Wilson.
4. Bill Ectric interviews poet and lyricist Pete Brown.
5. Paul Krassner writes about Woodstock in the Huffington Post.
6. Boing Boing on Alan Turing.
7. Kevin Birmingham's upcoming book about the writing of Ulysses sounds quite good.
8. You're a Good Man, Gregor Brown.
9. Xkcd ponders the Kindle.
10. Beauty Road-Test: KO Nailpolish by Laura Albert.
11. Fernando Pivano, the translator who introduced Beat literature to Italy, has died.
1. I think it's pretty amazing that Google is putting deep newspaper archives online, including not only the Halifax Gazette (1753 issue, pictured above) but the complete Village Voice, dating back to the 1950s. You know the phrase "An embarrassment of riches"? This is, to me, an embarrassment of archives, because I want to read it all but I just don't know where I will find the time.
2. Words Without Borders presents Into The Wild: International Nature Writing. Nice.
3. Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club, on what it is about Dante.
4. Why Dante? Why Plato? Personally, I get much more out of Plato than Dante, but then I'm not Catholic. Nor Guelph.
5. Somebody's putting on a play about Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish (always a favorite poem of mine).
6. "Fingerblast" is a music video by Adira Amram, who is clearly channeling the "She-bop"-era 1980s.
7. Speaking of the 1980s, it's a fact that John Hughes was among the best comedy film directors of all time (though, let's be honest, he managed to be great exactly three times -- Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris -- and was otherwise way too willing to churn out profitable but repetitive junk). I remember reading him in National Lampoon magazine before he switched to film, and I hope National Lampoon will consider publishing a retrospective of his early work there. Or maybe Google will eventually index the Lampoon archives.
8. Speaking of the 1980s, here's Mike Watt at the Bowery Poetry Club, remembering the Minutemen.
9. Jay Diamond appreciates Jay-Z.
10. Bobby McFerrin does something a lot cooler than "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
12. David Updike writes about his father.
13. I'm confused why, if great singer Nick Cave has written a book, he's now singing it. Maybe he knows what he's doing, but I don't, because to me this kind of kills the novelty of Nick Cave creating a book instead of another record.
14. Richard Nash on the end of indie culture. "Which is OK, because it won. Open source, Twitter. Indie won. Etsy. The irresistible decline of major labels and network TV and corporate publishing. Indie won." Now what?
Somewhere out there, Jack Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia is yelling "I told you so".
A news announcement just came out of nowhere: a judge in Pinellas County, Florida has ruled that the much-debated will that bequeathed Jack Kerouac's entire estate to his wife Stella Sampas after the great novelist's death in 1969 was a fake. The will in question is not Kerouac's will but that of his mother, who died in 1973. While this ruling is unlikely to be the last word -- I'm sure the Sampas family will appeal -- it is a very surprising new turn in a battle that raged for years, broke many friendships, and outlived its main would-be beneficiary, Jack's daughter Jan Kerouac, who died in 1996. (Paul Blake, Kerouac's nephew in Florida, might be the beneficiary of this new ruling.)
There's a lot of baggage here, and I experienced much of it first-hand as a member of the online BEAT-L community in the mid-1990s. Jan Kerouac's cause against the Sampas family of Lowell, Massachusetts became an all-consuming obsession for Gerald Nicosia, author of the most acclaimed Kerouac biography, Memory Babe. Nicosia's strident tirades against the Sampas family eventually caused the entire BEAT-L community to disband, as documented in a 1999 Salon article by Austin Bunn that quotes me and a few other participants who became so sick of the increasingly ugly controversy that for a while we couldn't even enjoy reading Kerouac anymore (the Salon article is broken on the Salon website, but is archived here).
The furor eventually died down, and I gradually came to assume that the Sampas's control of the Kerouac estate was a fait accompli. As I said often during the height of the unpleasantness, I didn't really care very much who owned the Keroauc estate, but I wanted everybody to shut up because it was disturbing my reading. I have a feeling it may get to that point again real soon.
1. I'm glad to hear the New York Times will probably not put its core news content behind a payment wall after all. Instead, they're test-marketing some extraneous "gold" and "silver" plans that I hope New York Times loyalists will pay up for, though the author of the article linked above is skeptical that such loyalists exist.
But the comments to my previous posts on this topic indicate that the Times does have its loyal enthusiasts. Meanwhile, one of these posts is apparently causing John Williams to wear out his neck muscles shaking his head in disagreement. He quotes novelist Katharine Weber's response to me, as follows:
But Levi. Could you have reasonably refused to read the NYT twenty years ago if you had to buy it at a newsstand or pay for home delivery instead of just having free copies handed to you on the street or dropped in your driveway? ... Much has changed, yes. But has the economic rule which used to be as certain as the laws of gravity, the rule of paying for things of value, really begun to vanish? How is this not a zero sum game?
Williams calls Weber's comment "succinct and totally sensible", and says:
I'm still waiting for a substantive response to this line of thinking. There have been plenty of cultural developments that I love in the past 10 years: Netflix, iTunes, The Wire. One way or another, I pay for all of them.
I can't turn down a direct challenge, so I'll try to offer a substantive response to the idea that we must pay for things of value. However, I find the idea almost too childish to entertain. First of all, just as we can name things of value that we pay for, we can also easily name things of value that we don't pay for. The Office. Music on the car radio. Outdoor sculptures and great urban architecture. Oh yeah, and then there's free news and commentary on the Internet which, plain and simple, we are already not paying for.
If we want to examine this classic "rule of paying for things of value", let's consider one of the many masterpieces of nature: the orange. This weekend I bought an entire bag of delicious fresh Florida oranges -- marvelous, ingenious, healthy and beautiful things, really -- for about two bucks. Taken purely for its value, a single orange could easily be worth five dollars. Likewise, taken purely for its value, a bottle of corn-syrup-flavored orange soda shouldn't cost more than ten cents. But these hypothetical prices don't correspond to the real world. We never actually pay for things according to their value. We pay for things according to the law of supply and demand.
When John Williams declares that we pay for things according to their value, he is doing no more than expressing a keening wish. Declaring that we pay for things according to their value is like declaring that we will stay young forever, or that there will be no more crime. It's nice to think such things, but they never were true and they're still not.
I wonder if John Williams will consider that a substantive response. If he does, maybe he should pay me.
2. Here's a really sweet story about the married couple on the 'Woodstock' album cover.
3. Speaking of the New York Times, Gregory Cowles has uploaded a particularly good essay on Nabokov's Lolita to the Paper Cuts blog.
4. Scott Esposito on Intense First Person (a narrative stance I tend to use a lot myself).
5. Way back in 1935, Walter Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein.
6. Basil Wolverton was okay, but if you're talking about classic Mad Magazine you're talking about Harvey Kurtzman.
7. Nicholson Baker ponders the Kindle in the New Yorker and, not surprisingly, the essay soars above most of the other commentary on this hot topic. "I changed the type size. I searched for a text string. I tussled with a sense of anticlimax." It's no surprise to anyone who's read Baker's previous works on library science and antique newspapers that he will ultimately not choose to embrace the Kindle.
8. Speaking of the New York Times (and their home delivery problems) again: hah.
1. Maybe ... if the New York Times needs to do a better job of managing costs, they can start by not giving us three copies of the New York Times Magazine when they deliver our Sunday paper?
Oh well. At least if Caryn or I make a mistake on the crossword puzzle we'll get a chance to start over. A couple of chances.
And while we're here, a few more links:
2. I really like this Millions article by Noah Deutsch about the word 'trope', which has become a popular meme.
3. Here's a real treasure, though I don't know who has the time to enjoy it all. International Times was a highly influential British underground publication of the hippie era, edited by Miles, aka Barry Miles, who has also written books about the 1960s, the Beat Generation and Pink Floyd. Every single issue is now available online. (There was a time in my life when I would have had both the free time and the desire to read every single page, yes, every single page, of this archive.)
4. Aram Saroyan on Beat America.
5. The New York Times has given Ben Mezrich's Facebook history The Accidental Billionaires a terrible review just on the morning I began reading it. I'm forging ahead anyway, and I'll tell you what I think.
6. O Book Publisher of the Future, tell us about the Handy E-Book Helper *.
(* = Props to anyone who can identify the TV show I am referencing here.)
I understand the appeal of a payment system to support the Times' massive journalistic infrastructure, and if Times management does actually go forward with this ambitious plan they will be applauded by many within the newspaper and publishing communities who yearn to see an online payment model succeed.
The New York Times has a history of seeking out innovative revenue models for its website. Under the leadership of Martin Nisenholtz, who has remained at the helm of Times digital operations for a remarkable 14 years, NYTimes.com pioneered the "demographics first" approach in the mid-1990s, putting up content for free but requiring registration information designed to attract advertisers. This kind of experimentation should be encouraged, but after careful thought I am sticking with the conclusion I expressed in my tweet above. If the New York Times puts its web content behind a payment wall, that will be the end of my lifelong relationship with the New York Times.
The reason is simple: excluding the mass online audience, the idle surfers and linkers who won't be bothered to pay for access, would irreparably change the nature of the New York Times. Currently the best of the American mass-audience newspapers, the Times would become instead a private sheet for "influentials", news junkies and insiders. Maybe this would help their profit-loss situation (requiring payment works out well for the Wall Street Journal, after all). But it won't help their content.
It is the nature of journalism to seek readers, and today readers are accustomed to free, instant access. Fifteen years ago, the New York Times was able to sell itself to a mass audience while requiring payment (for print editions, since that's all we had then). That favorable situation has been lost forever -- no decision that Bill Keller and the New York Times executive board can make will allow the company to remain a mass market publication and also require payment for access. They are at a crossroads -- will they remain a mass market publication, or will they require payment for access? They can't have both.
The New York Times has the right to turn their back on the mass market if they so choose, and I would treat that choice with (sad) respect. I would, however, stop reading the paper. A closed publication would simply not appeal to me. I guess I'll be spending a lot more time at the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish if this happens. To tell you the truth, I'll barely notice the absence of Times news reporting from my life, and I will be honestly happy to never have to look again at their mediocre and highly Yankees-centric sports reporting. But I would miss their culture/arts reporting -- books, film, theatre, art -- immensely. This was always the New York Times greatest strength, in my opinion, and a payment wall in front of the daily Arts section and the weekend Arts & Leisure/New York Times Book Review would be a significant loss to the world.
Look at just two examples: the New York Times was absolutely instrumental in the early popular discoveries of Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. Can a newspaper with a cultural legacy like this continue to thrive behind a payment wall? I don't think so.
Still, I'd get over it. I'm not interested in reading arts/cultural coverage that only "elite" readers are reading. That's why I didn't care much about the snooty New York Observer (the cherished newspaper of the Upper East Side moneyed set), and I won't care much about the New York Times if they decide to follow the New York Observer's audience model.
Meanwhile, let's look at today's Book Review. If the New York Times is so far above the quality level of all that "free" stuff you find on blogs and lesser newspapers online, why is Curtis Sittenfeld's cover of Maile Meloy's book of short stories Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It so badly written? Sittenfeld seems to be imitating the chatty, unfocused tenor of a typical MySpace entry. She tells us that she is now in Maile Meloy's "fan club", and that "whatever she writes next, I'll gladly read it". Yippee, but this is supposed to be literary criticism. Towards that effect, Sittenfeld's article sometimes strains amateurishly for an academic tone, helping us understand what the word "restraint" means:
Though it might seem strange to praise a writer for the things she doesn’t do, what really sets Meloy apart is her restraint. She is impressively concise, disciplined in length and scope.
More often, she just spins, in clumsy sentences that lack a fixed narrative position:
Only one story, about the murdered daughter, really makes you want to slit your wrists; and, indeed, a wry humor appears regularly.
It just goes on and on:
Almost all her characters are flawed: lawyers, Montana residents, unfaithful spouses ...
Is the bit about Montana residents supposed to be a joke? Maybe, but it's hard to tell. This article would make a fine entry in a below-average literary blog, but it's not good enough to ask readers to pay for, not when they can get content just as good or better elsewhere. If the NY Times moves to a payment model, careless work like this will have to go.
Fortunately, there are many better pieces in this weekend's Book Review, like Michael Meyer's look back at The Ugly American, a once highly influential fictional portrait of inept and offensive American diplomats at work written by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick in 1958. There's also a good David Orr column on the life and poetry of Thom Gunn, and an approving look by Peter Keepnews at How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music by Elijah Wald, a book currently on my next-to-read pile.
There's even a decent piece by Susann Cokal (who I will always remember as the author of probably the most vapid review I've ever read in the NYTBR) on Gaynor Arnold's Girl in a Blue Dress, apparently an Ahab's Wife approach to the life of Charles Dickens. I'm sorry to learn from Cokal's article that Dickens had such an unhappy marriage, but I'm glad the critic rises to the occasion and produces a readable and informative piece. I'm not going to join Susann Cokal's fan club just yet, but I look forward to the chance to read her again. I hope I'll have that chance.
1. After interviewing Philip Roth, James Marcus turned a culturally significant Roth utterance into an audio dance track (via Moby Lives).
2. Sarah Weinman unearths another writer in the Singer family, Hinde Esther Singer.
3. Kenyon Review: "What happens when a poet’s own name is invoked in a poem of her own making?"
4. Adira Amram of the wonderful musical Amram family has released her first record. Looking forward to hearing this!
5. McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan now has an Espresso Book Machine. As we pointed out before, Espressos are cool.
6. One interesting thing about this Persepolis fan-fic about the Iran elections, originating in Shanghai, is how well it captures Marjane Satrapi's style.
7. It's an old formula, this "post some ridiculous emails you've received about your blog" blog post. And yet, it's still fun.
8. Michael Jackson read books. Good for him.
9. I'm glad that Bill Ayers has the courage to publish a book, a graphic memoir. Maybe it'll come out on the same day as Dick Cheney's.
10. Once upon a time, Literary Kicks was a website devoted to the Beat Generation. I know some of my early readers wish I had stuck with and perfected that formula, and if I had, maybe Peter Hale's The Allen Ginsberg Project is what this site would have been like. Hale, who works closely with the Allen Ginsberg estate, has been putting high quality stuff up -- rare Kerouac videos, beautiful images, surprising texts, with a wide range of coverage and a friendly touch -- week after week. If you're into modern-era experimental/alternative literature, you might want to follow this site.
1. How delightful to learn that James Joyce may have invented the word 'blog' during a typical conversational ramble in Finnegans Wake! Here it is in context:
Now from Gunner Shotland to Guinness Scenography. Come to the ballay at the Tailors' Hall. We mean to be mellay on the Mailers' Mall. And leap, rink and make follay till the Gaelers' Gall. Awake ! Come, a wake ! Every old skin in the leather world, infect the whole stock company of the old house of the Leaking Barrel, was thomistically drunk, two by two, lairking o' tootlers with tombours a'beggars, the blog and turfs and the brandywine bankrompers, trou Normend fashion, I have been told down to the bank lean clorks? Some nasty blunt clubs were being operated after the tradition of a wellesleyan bottle riot act and a few plates were being shied about and tumblers bearing traces of fresh porter rolling around, independent of that, for the ehren of Fyn's Insul, and then followed that wapping breakfast at the Heaven and Covenant, with Rodey O'echolowing how his breadcost on the voters would be a comeback for e'er a one, like the depredations of Scandalknivery, in and on usedtowobble sloops off cloasts, eh? Would that be a talltale too? This was the grandsire Orther. This was his innwhite horse. Sip?
Enough puns for you there? I assume that "blog" is a play on "bog" (and in fact the word "blog" has always seemed to carry an appealing sort of Joycean phlegmatic physicality). Pictured above: an Irish peat bog.
1. For your Bloomsday enjoyment: comic strip artist Robert Berry is visualizing James Joyce's Ulysses. This project appears to be off to a great start.
2. More Bloomsday action: Dovegreyreader on a new book called Ulysses and Us by Declan Kibberd.
3. Farewell to poet Harold Norse.
4. It must be a good sign that somewhere inside the giant paradox that is the nation of Iran, they are loving the inventive and hilarious early writings of Woody Allen.
5. I did not know that novelist Roxana Robinson was a member of the Beecher family. But what's this about Lord Warburton being the man Isabel Archer should have married? I was rooting for Ralph Touchett.
6. The word technology is derived from the same root as textile.
7. We need a poetry reality show right here in the USA.
8. A digital Gutenberg would be nice to look at.
9. What could it possibly have been like to be married to Harold Pinter? Fortunately claims Antonia Fraser, it was not a Pinteresque experience.
10. "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?" (Or, I'd like to add, one man).
11. Eric Rosenfeld appreciates Thomas Pynchon's use of description.
12. Kafka Tribute in New York
13. Michelle Obama reads Zadie Smith, a better choice (in my opinion) than her husband's Joseph O'Neill. (Barack is also cited as reading What is the What?, a good choice though not exactly fiction).
14. The Who's Quadrophenia GS Scooter has been sold at an auction. (Though it's from the movie, not the record album photo shoot).
15. Via Bookninja, what the book you're reading really says about you.
1. So downtown Brooklyn will not be getting a Frank Gehry building after all (thanks for nothing, Jonathan Lethem). However, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff gives a thumbs-up to a new postmodernist spectacle by Thom Mayne, very much in the Gehry vein, near Cooper Union and St. Marks Place. Call me a fool -- I just love a building with broken lines. This is what big cities always looked like to me in my dreams.
2. Evan Schnittman aptly invokes Magritte in thinking about Google as a book publisher.
3. Benigni in Hell.
4. I'm so glad a John O'Hara renaissance is finally happening.
5. Literary (mostly kid-literary) cakes.
6. A nice implicit Burroughs reference in this piece on early computer advertising art.
7. And Wow He Died As Wow He Lived. Jason Boog on Kenneth Fearing.
8. On The Great Tradition by F. R. Leavis.
9. Literary Losers selected by Mark Sarvas.
10. Chris Felver's film on Ferlinghetti.
11. From a superb new blog representing Allen Ginsberg's legacy: Buddhists Find Beatnik Spy! And scroll on, much good stuff here.
12. Shattered childhood much?