My latest e-book, the third in a series of twelve, is out, and this one means a real lot to me. Chiaroscuro: Assorted Literary Essays is my own selection of the best literary essays I've written on this blog since 2004.
I wanted this to be a short book, so I forced myself to choose only ten pieces (and, in a Spinal-Tap-like moment, ended up choosing eleven). You can see the table of contents if you click through to the official book page, where you can also read the blurb I solicited from my good buddy Ed Champion (hey, what are friends for?).
I'm being flippant, but the truth is that the eleven pieces in this book mean more to me than I can say; they are my gems, my blows against the empire, my big fish, my keepers. This book is also arranged to represent a progression of ideas and literary notions -- transgressive visions, comic visions, great writers, overrated writers -- that encapsulates something I believe about the meaning of literature in all our lives. Mostly, this book contains the eleven essays that moved me the most when I wrote them, and I hope you'll give the book a chance and see if they move you too.
I've been pondering an article by Writer's Digest blogger and editor Jane Friedman, who is "getting frustrated with people who say they're bad at marketing & promotion because they're introverts". In the age of social media, Friedman reminds us:
... introverts should be over the moon at how lucky we are to live in an age when we can effectively market and promote by
- staying at home
- using whatever tools suit our communication style best (e-mail, IM, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
- crafting and controlling messages to our own satisfaction
- limiting interaction when needed
I see what she's getting at, and this is a good message for independent writers and publishers to hear. It's a message that feels relevant to me, because I've been trying to push myself to work harder on publicity and marketing since beginning an e-book publishing venture in April. I know how important this is, and I already knew (before Jane Friedman reminded me) that I wouldn't get where I needed to go without stepping way beyond my comfort zone in terms of self-marketing.
I've played poker all my life. I learned five card draw as a kid, and moved up to seven card stud in college. During the late 1990s, I started to hear about Texas Hold 'Em from my older brother Gary, a serious player who won a few tournaments around Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Atlantic City. I quickly became obsessed with the game myself.
My best-ever tournament showing is third place, unfortunately, but I do pretty well at table play. There's a misconception that poker is unsavory in some way, or that players risk losing a lot of money; this is only true on The Sopranos or among clueless tourists, because skillful and experienced poker players are responsible and careful, never risk more than they can spend, and come out ahead as often as not. The average suburban Joe spends more money on golf or fishing than I will ever lose at poker.
I raised all three of my kids to play Texas Hold 'Em, and they're all excellent at the game. I'm sure the experience builds character; it trains important life skills like patience, awareness. subtlety. I think there's tremendous psychological and literary significance to poker, and that's why I occasionally write articles about the game here on Literary Kicks.
An NPR review by Jessa Crispin alerted me that a book I'd been awaiting with some dread is now published.
Janet Malcolm's Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial is about the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, a young woman who arranged the murder of her ex-husband Daniel Malakov, a young orthodontist in Queens, New York, in an attempt to gain full custody of their 4-year-old daughter. The reason I've been awaiting this book with some dread is that, a couple of months before this murder, I met the victim.
POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET: Words, words, words.
POLONIUS: What is the matter, my lord?
HAMLET: Between who?
There's a whole lot of sarcasm in this 17-word exchange. The castle is in a crisis, the Prince's mental state is uncertain, and the King's elderly aide tries to calm the tension with a bit of small talk, querying the Prince about the book he's reading. When Polonius asks "What is the matter, my lord?" he's inquiring as to the plot of the book. But Hamlet pretends to misunderstand the question, and his cutting reply -- "Between who?" -- brings the conversation out of the ethereal realm of books and into the present moment. Where, of course, plenty is the matter.
These are the books I kept. I probably threw out or lost about as many from the five years I spent earning a bachelor's degree in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Albany. But these books followed me in all my life's travels, and the ideas they held did too.
The University at Albany was a good school, and I got a strong education there. I didn't appreciate the college as much at the time as I do now -- but it's hard to feel special inside an education factory with a population of 18,000.
The Philosophy department was a small, slightly quaint and dusty retreat inside the giant factory, notable for its complete lack of career focus. I liked all my professors (though I find it odd to realize, now, that I never knew any of their first names). Prof. Cadbury taught the proverbial Philosophy 101; he introduced me to Rene Descartes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant. (These names thrilled me strangely, then, and they still do today. Call me a philosophy nerd, I don't care.)
So I've pledged to begin a new weekend feature on "philosophy, ethics and practical debate" here on Litkicks, a series intending to offer something more substantial, unusual and potentially important every Saturday or Sunday than a weekly bitch session about literary criticism.
As I ponder several possible beginnings for this series, I am overwhelmed by the realization that I have chosen a Sisyphian task, and also a thankless one. My hope is to write lyric essays, polls and questions, book reviews and explorations in various formats that will engage difficult or controversial topics often in the context of various philosophical disciplines -- existentialism, epistemology, analytic philosophy, Platonism, etc.
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust--
... Yes if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow ...
-- Gregory Corso, Marriage
Two very special people I know, including one person you've met here before, are getting married this weekend. I'm very excited and obviously not able to do much blogging -- but regular programming will return on Monday and I'll be back with the Book Review next weekend.
Five years ago on this day, Sunday, May 15 2005, I decided to start reviewing the New York Times Book Review on Litkicks. Early that morning I posted the first entry in what has become an enduring series, and a big part of my identity within the literary scene.
I had no idea what I was in for when I began this. I remember sitting in my living room wondering what to blog about that calm Sunday morning, and I remember turning to Caryn and saying "I think I'm gonna review the Book Review every weekend". "Sounds like quite a thrill," she said, and I was off.
(Some of you may remember my Mom, whose first Litkicks piece was about Paul Auster, Franz Kafka and a doll. Lila Lizabeth Weisberger is also renowned in the field of poetry therapy (and whether or not there is any connection between Litkicks Action Poetry and the Poetry Therapy movement remains an enduring mystery). I asked her to write a piece explaining what "poetry therapy" means and how she became involved in the organizations that are trying to spread the word about it. Thanks for sending this, Mom. -- Levi)
When I worked as a school psychologist, I used creative arts therapies with elementary through high school age children. Poetry was an integral part of the group work I did with parents and teachers. I determined to increase my ability to use poetry and writing effectively and to train to become a poetry therapist.