Pete Townshend of the Who has been writing his autobiography for his entire career, starting with the band's first single "I Can't Explain". His rock opera "Tommy" was the symbolic autobiography of a shy and sensitive teenager who becomes a rock star ... transformed into a tall tale about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who uncovers an unnatural skill at pinball (Townshend's electric guitar, of course, was Tommy's pinball machine). The pinball wizard then becomes a famous religious leader until his shallow followers get bored and overthrow him. Tommy is a witty, self-mocking tale about childish wonder and spiritual overreach, and Pete Townshend would go on to reenact a real life version of the same story -- the ascent to fame, the inevitable cruel betrayal of the fans -- over and over again throughout his life.
The same storyline recurs at least four times during Pete Townshend's fascinating new memoir Who I Am. This new book is a worthy summation of a prodigal career, and a satisfyingly revealing (if occasionally compulsive and over-protective) autobiography.
We seem to be living in the age of rock star autobiographies, of course, and Pete Townshend's book appeared on bookshelves at the same time as that of of a fellow introspective searcher, Neil Young, whose Waging Heavy Peace is an uplifting, rambunctious self-portrait but fails as a memoir, because a memoir must dig deep into the dark regions of self-analysis and painful honesty, and Neil Young didn't seem to want to go there. Pete Townshend in Who I Am, on the other hand, is happy to go there.
I don't know much about the noir genre, but I checked out a new graphic novel called Dark Heat by Barry Graham and Vince Larue because I like Vince's beat-inspired writing and artwork, which often emphasizes themes from Michael McClure and Gary Snyder. Vince Larue also drew a very cool cover for my 2011 Kindle book about poker, The Cards I'm Playing: Poker and Postmodern Literature.
It's a strange leap that Larue makes from Snyder-inspired Zen Buddhism to macabre mystery comix, but Dark Heat shows many familiar influences, and also touches upon psychological and spiritual themes that remind me of The Sopranos, Psycho, Paul Auster, The Watchmen, Fletch, Taoism and a whole lot of good movies that have Steve Buscemi and/or Viggo Mortensen in them. This story begins in gritty realism, and ends with a postmodern exploration into what's real and what's not. For your noir pleasure: Dark Heat by Barry Graham and Vince Larue.
Miguel de Cervantes, perhaps the first great novelist in the history of literature, was a natural-born metafictionalist. His Don Quixote was a multi-layered masterpiece, a lost story within a found story within a supposedly true story ... about a man whose mind was destroyed by reading. After the book became a success, Cervantes was forced against his will to re-enter the multi-dimensional universe of his now-famous character, because an anonymous plagiarist had begun selling an unauthorized "Part Two" to Cervantes's story to eager readers. In an attempt to counter the ersatz sequel, Cervantes wrote his own sequel, which is now highly regarded as the second half of Don Quixote.
An fanciful backdrop to the Spanish novelist's battle with this mysterious hoaxer provides much of the drama and conflict in Jaime Manrique's new novel Cervantes StreetCervantes Street. Manrique talks about his interpretation of Cervantes at Lambda Literary Review.
There really is only one literary award that awes me. The Pulitzer prize? Everybody gets one eventually. National Book Award? Too clubby for my tastes. But the Nobel Prize for Literature is usually something special, and has by far the best track record of every major literary award.
J. M. Coetzee. Orhan Pamuk. Isaac Bashevis Singer. Kenzaburo Oe. Mario Vargas Llosa. Seamus Heaney. Derek Walcott. Pablo Neruda. Doris Lessing. Jean-Paul Sartre. William Golding. Jose Saramago. Nadine Gordimer. Albert Camus. Harold Pinter. Gunter Grass. Dario Fo. Toni Morrison. Samuel Beckett. This is a list worth admiring for its originality, its global awareness, its dedication to a powerful standard of greatness. Today, Mo Yan of China joins the list.
Nicholson Baker, one of my very favorite contemporary writers, has taken to singing the protest blues. Why not? This Slate article links to his new songs about Bradley Manning, Afghanistan and the ruinous construction of a new military base in Jeju Island, South Korea. Here's a short explanation of the project in the New Yorker.
Baker is not quite as good a songwriter or singer as he is a writer, but his pastoral and arboreal musical atmospherics are pleasant to listen to, and at their best his songs may show some Peter Gabriel or John Cale influence, or possibly John Denver. Keep singing it out, Nicholson Baker.
The final episode ever of the long-running literary podcast series The Bat Segundo Show, hosted by Ed Champion, will be recorded live on Wednesday, October 3 2012 at the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York CIty. The event is an interview with J. Robert Lennon, author of the new Familiar: A Novel, a book I'm looking forward to checking out (I've enjoyed his short stories in the past).
From the Talking Covers blog, here's a memorial tribute to the trend-setting Vintage Contemporaries line of original paperback books that led the publishing pack in visual freshness during the 1980s. Jay McInerney, Mona Simpson and Raymond Carver all looked great in these uniform cover designs, which vaguely referenced Roy Lichtenstein and emphasized splashy colors and art deco fonts.
It seems everything we know about the 1960s is wrong. Facts about the both celebrated and maligned decade are one thing—hey, we’re up to our paisley headbands in the facts!—but the truth is far more elusive. Michel Choquette, a former contributor to the National Lampoon and longtime Montreal-based writer, has waited more than 40 years to lay some truth on us about the 1960s, via a massive, exhaustive and utterly idiosyncratic project called The Someday Funnies. Choquette began this project—an attempt to re-create the look, feel and truthiness of the 1960s through the talents of hundreds of the world’s hippest cartoonists, seers and writers—in 1971.
Originally the impulsive idea of Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, who wanted to run some strips assembled by Choquette as a special supplement to his magazine, it grew into book length. And had Choquette’s prodigious energy not eventually petered out, it probably would have grown to encyclopedic length. Ultimately, Wenner backed out of both the supplement and the book, a pattern that was to repeat itself over the next decade which saw Choquette thwarted by false promises of publishers, artists who never delivered work, investors who backed out, and the sheer expense of publishing large format color illustrations. For some reason, Choquette hung on to the pipedream and even continued to solicit work far and wide, and The Someday Funnies entered into that mythical realm of things that could-have-been.
Indeed, as Jeet Heer notes in the introduction to the recently (and finally!) published edition of The Someday Funnies, the project was “more rumor than reality—an urban legend of sorts,” like a volume in the imaginary library conjured by Borges. It had always sounded, as Heer put it, “like something out of a fairy tale”, something too good to be true: a tabloid-sized collection of comics from all over the world, the sort of thing about which comic fan-boys and fan-girls would just shrug and say, “I’ll believe it when I hold a copy in my hands.”
(Richard Brautigan, a remarkable author of experimental fiction who was briefly popular during the Summer of Love-era, has been getting some overdue attention due to the publication of 'Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan', an authoritative new biography by William Hjortsberg.
A quarter-century after the author's suicide, Brautigan remains mostly a cult favorite, rarely remembered by literary critics. Hjortsberg's new biography may help spread the word to newer generations of readers who, I'm sure, will love his writing for its power and originality. The new biography has received sensitive consideration from Dwight Garner in the daily New York Times last month, though John Leland was predictably dismissive in the New York Times Book Review. Several Litkicks pieces on Brautigan's work can be found here, here and here. Today, I'm happy to present Michael Norris's thoughts on Brautigan's career, along with paintings by David Richardson, a literary artist from Brautigan's own adopted home of San Francisco, California. -- Levi)
Spleen De San Francisco by Michael Norris
Many years ago, my friend Larry and I hitchhiked from our college town in western Illinois, across the prairie, to the great city of Chicago. Larry’s brother was a student at the University of Chicago, and we crashed at his place with the purpose of attending a poetry reading.
The following day we wandered among the gothic spires of the campus until we came to a small student space tucked away amid the pointed arches and gargoyles. We joined a modest crowd waiting to hear Richard Brautigan read his poems.
HHhH, a remarkable new historical novel by a young French author named Laurent Binet, has been getting a lot of attention. The book, a sly and woolly ponderance of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovokia during World War II, is as good as all the hype suggests.
What makes HHhH stand out is the author's approach to his historical plot. Years ago, before he became a published author, he lived and taught in Slovokia and became possessed by the legend of the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich's assassination in Prague in 1942. He wanted to write a fictional treatment of the event, but he dreaded the banal literary conventions he'd have to grapple with if he wrote a classic work of historical fiction. He also felt overwhelmed by the moral gravity of the terrible story he wanted to tell, and he feared fumbling the fine line between truth and fiction.
So, to make his book possible, he opened up the toolkit known as metafiction. He wrote the story of himself writing this book, interweaving historical scenes with humorous skits about himself as bumbling author. The result is something like the history equivalent of Nicholson Baker's comically self-referential study of John Updike, U and I.