At Conversations in the Book Trade, blogger Levi Asher is interviewed; he does less than well, I'd say. He claims that 'There is no decline in reading,' that electronic content 'will soon dominate the publishing field' and argues 'You can see a movie or download a record album for about ten bucks. That's the correct price point. New books come out with price tags between $24 and $30 and then they wonder why the whole industry is suffering. Somebody's out of touch with the consumer here . . .' He's been banging this expensive drum for a while. Put the first assertion and the last together, and try to make some sense of it in the context of every reputable study being done that shows a decline in reading in America; Levi is either fooling himself or trying to will the world into the image of his choosing. Aside from that, the average price of a CD in 2008 was $12.95 so Britney Spears' album was that price; the equivalent of Ms. Spears would be, say, a Grisham novel, and The Innocent Man (2007) has a list price of $7.99 in softcover. Newer and less popular albums cost more, as it is with books. Hardcovers are pricey, and for a smaller market, but books are not generally too expensive. And as long as used books are $3.00 or so, and the library is free, digital readers are still a ways off.
Not so quick there, Daniel. First, a Britney Spears CD costs $12.95 when it's new. A John Grisham novel costs between $24 and $30 when it's new and getting media attention, and then drops in price a full year later, after reviewers and award committees have forgotten the book exists. This self-defeating "buzz-kill" effect doesn't exist in music publishing or any other industry -- in fact, some music publishers wisely release CDs at reduced prices to increase their chances of building audience momentum. Movie tickets cost slightly more when a movie is brand new, but the difference is small relative to the total price. Sorry, Dan, but you're wrong on this one.
Also, there is no contradiction between my first point that reading remains widely popular and my second point that the mainstream/corporate publishing industry is suffering. "Reading" and "publishing industry product" are not the same thing. The literary publishing industry in the USA is clearly unable to find the right format and price point to appeal to consumers, and consumers are increasingly bypassing the mainstream/corporate publishing industry's preferred formats for this reason. Does that mean we're not reading? Hell no, hell no, hell no!
According to Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, quoting a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers:
Adult hardcover sales were down 10.3 percent in December and down 13 percent for the year, but adult paperbacks saw a 12.5 percent increase in sales for the month and a 3.6 percent increase for the year. Adult mass market sales, though, are reported as down 3.0 percent for the year, and we can't help but wonder if that has anything to do with the 68.4 percent increase in electronic book sales in 2008 and certain genre reading tastes.
See what I'm saying, Daniel? Sorry, but I'm claiming myself as the victor in this argument. And there's plenty of good stuff happening on the affordable paperback books front -- see my recent post about Jason Epstein and the Espresso Book Machine.
2. A superb recent Words Without Borders panel discussion featuring Edith Grossman and Eduardo Lago on Don Quixote reminded me how much I'd enjoyed Edith Grossman's translation (it's not like I've read any other translation, but you know what I mean) of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In the Time of Cholera. The film version of this great novel recently turned up on a cable channel and I sat through it. Awful, horrible, seriously not good.
3. A few favorite literary New York City personalities have been releasing good new stuff lately. The spooky and moody East Village presence known as Edgar Oliver, whose written and theatrical works I've enjoyed in the past, got a great review from Ben Brantley of the New York Times for his East 10th Street: Self-Portrait With Empty House. Poet Simon Pettet has a new book out, Hearth. And, here's the YouTube debut of New Jersey poet Eliot Katz reading his poem "Death and War".
4. Some cool new Poe graphics via Books Are People Too (yes they are).
5. Poet W. S. Merwin on Design Observer: Unchopping a Tree
6. I was admonished via email to pay more attention to independent bookstores and link to Indiebound.org. I'm not as obsessed with indie bookstores vs. chain bookstores as some other book-lovers are for two reasons: I'm allergic to cats, and Barnes and Noble/Borders restrooms can sometimes really come in handy. Still, I'm down with the cause.
7. This just sucks: the Times Square Virgin Records mega-store (which also had good restrooms, and a basement bookstore!) is closing down. Shea Stadium, now this.
8. Katharine Weber at Readerville: Dear J. D. Salinger.
9. Nigeness contemplates The Wine-Dark Sea.
10. John Updike, cartoonist fanboy.
11. Roald Dahl's Writing Hut.
12. Daniel Scott Buck's The Kissing Bug gets some 3:AM praise.
13. Barnes and Noble review gets visual with Ward Sutton.
14. Dan Green's literary blog The Reading Experience has launched the blog equivalent of a Greatest Hits album, TRE Prime.
15. I'm looking forward to Summertime, apparently the next J. M. Coetzee novel. When Coetzee writes about summertime, you can just bet the living will not be easy.
16. The Shirley Jackson Awards committee is holding a lottery. Though they picked the wrong month -- remember: "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".
17. Via Q-Tip The Abstract, of all people, this Mars Volta performance on David Letterman is something special.
It took about two seconds for me to fall for De Eenzame Snelweg, a paperback chronicle of an American journey by two young Dutch Kerouac aficionados, writer Auke Hulst and artist Raoul Deleo. The book Hulst sent me has not been translated into English (the title apparently means The Lonely Highway), but it's enough to scan and enjoy the sensitive and funny continuous cartoon strip that runs across the entire text, following a journey from New York City to San Francisco by way of Nebraska and Denver and the other usual Keroauc stops from On The Road (though, unfortunately, Hulst and Deleo don't make it to New Orleans, an essential corner in On The Road). These tourists have fun with their Kerouac -- a "Bear Crossing" road sign inspires an artistic examination of God as Pooh Bear, and I bet Jack himself would have loved the jazzy drawing of the Lombard Street Shuffle ("the world's crookedest dance") in San Francisco, where they also visit the Beat Museum. The book smoothly captures and transmits the excitement Hulst and Deleo feel as they travel in Kerouac's path. And, as the photo of the artist's rig above shows, the artwork is a scroll.
I first read Jack Kerouac's Wake Up when it was serialized in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle over ten years ago. This is an earnest, almost artless biography of Siddhartha Guatama, the sheltered prince who left his comfortable palace and became the Buddha 2500 years ago. Buddhism clearly brought out Kerouac's most reverent instincts, as the prose appears to have been carefully written and bears few marks of his signature "spontaneous" style. It's clear that Jack Kerouac felt a strong personal connection to the story of the once-spoiled wandering prince who struggled so hard to understand the meaning of desire in human existence. Wake Up, unpublished during Kerouac's life, has finally been released in book form, and seems to be more valuable than many other recent releases of unpublished Kerouac work. The book may surprise or enlighten readers who are not familiar with the spiritual aspect of Kerouac's literary mission.
The sympathetic and peace-loving Buddhist religion was always essential to the Beat Generation mindset, and it was a strong influence in the life of the magnetic and eclectic New York City semi-Beat, semi-Warholian poet John Giorno. Subdoing Demons In America: Selected Poems 1962-2007 is one of the more appealing poetry books I've seen in a while. Giorno's very approachable and casual verses remind me of the best of the short poems that often show up here on LitKicks Action Poetry. Urbane, experimental and user-friendly, they are often grounded in day-to-day experience. One poem simply contains the lyrics to the chorus of the Rolling Stones song "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" (a Buddhist plea, of course) and others seem to transcribe subway signs or the directions on a tube of suntan lotion. Unlike much of what passes for poetry these days, these sensitive, crafty verses will never leave you mystified or bored.
Three new and worthwhile Beat Generation books! 2009 is shaping up well. I'm also looking forward to catching a rare East Coast appearance by poet Gary Snyder at the New York Public Library this Saturday, January 31 at 3 pm. Gary Snyder's career is celebrated in another new book, the Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, which I haven't yet had a chance to read.
Hello, boys and girls. It's the first week of December, and that, more than anything, is a signal for me to start thinking about holiday gift giving. Of course, I've been unemployed since the end of August so everyone on my list is getting handmade jewelry, lovingly crafted from macaroni and dental floss, but for those of you who still have jobs, I have compiled a list of gift ideas, all of which can be purchased online so you won't have to deal with going to any madhouse stores this time of year. Bonus: the gifts on this list are all for under $20 (except one, which is still under $30), perfect for those of you who are frugal, yet still on the lookout for something cool to get for the literary nerd on your list. Here we go:
-- Eco gift wrap! This is very cool and pretty and probably, if you're clever, reusable. Who wouldn't like to get a macaroni necklace wrapped up in paper from a French text book? It wouldn't even have to be a macaroni necklace! It could be anything (well, anything on the small side). Recycled gift wrap is a good idea, and this particular gift wrap has style.
-- Continuing with the handmade theme (because handmade stuff is cool), here's a mail art-inspired book. It'll be shipped without packaging, so you could have it sent directly to the person you're giving it to.
-- How about a bookmark made from a vintage typewriter key? Pretty neat.
-- Speaking of bookmarks, here's one inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright window design. If I had a bookmark like that maybe I would try harder not to lose my bookmarks all the time.
-- The words of everyone's favorite insanely quoteable literary figure (that's Oscar Wilde, by the way), adorn this money clip.
-- Do you know any Scrabble addicts? Would they appreciate being able to play on the go?
-- Or maybe they'd like a Scrabble shirt with the worst letters ever? Oh, the game-based hilarity.
-- And here's a book for the science-loving food geek in your life. Come on, everyone knows at least one of them, right?
-- Who isn't down with OED?
-- An invisible bookshelf might be handy for someone in need of storage.
-- I really like this clock. A lot.
1. I'm very excited to be competing with a team of litbloggers in a Literary Trivia Smackdown against four honorable representatives of PEN America this Sunday at 4 pm at the 21st Annual Indie Press and Small Books Fair in New York City. The other members of the Litblog team are Ed Champion, Sarah Weinman and Eric Rosenfeld.
Ed, Sarah, Eric and I are competing this year as a result of a challenge we offered to MC and host Tim Brown after watching the New York Review of Books beat A Public Space in last year's contest. Brown accepted our challenge in sporting spirit, though apparently the New York Review of Books ran when they saw us coming. We are looking forward to challenging our worthy fellow lovers of literature at PEN to see who takes the title for 2008. The subject, I understand, is "American Literature". Please come to cheer us on if you can! Other worthwhile events at this weekend-long Indie and Small Press Book Fair include Lizzie Skurnick interviewing Kelly Link and a conversation between Arthur Nersesian and Kate Christensen.
2. It's nice to be noticed sometimes, like when you get included on a list of ten best literary blogs by David Gutowski. Hey, everybody else on the list posted about it too, so why shouldn't I? Other good literary blogs that should be on any list (ten just isn't enough): Conversational Reading, Jacket Copy.
3. "The point of terror is both to terrify and to polarize". Mainly, to polarize, and it works way too well. Look at pictures like these from Boston.com and it's hard not to get polarized.
4. From the ridiculous to the sublime, here's a charming new cover of Wind in the Willows, drawn by a 12-year-old kid. Nice.
5. The Book Design Review's Favorite Book Covers of 2008.
6. Stephen Fry on Oscar Wilde, the meaning of imagination, Anton Chekhov.
7. A very thorough Thoreau site, though they missed me. Doesn't everybody.
8. I have mixed feelings about Kanye West's new album 808s and Heartbreak. It's his first "sad" album -- his Plastic Ono Band, his Street-Legal, his Berlin. But while these albums are all masterpieces, Kanye's mournful new work feels more frustrating on first listen. Where's the humor? Where's the kick? I respect Kanye West's artistry so much, though, that I will give this album at least ten full listens before I complete my judgement. I'm on listen #5 for Axl Rose.
1. I recently visited a gallery in downtown New York to see Malcolm McNeill's Ah Pook Is Here, a vast, never-published collaboration with William S. Burroughs. McNeill was a young graphic artist coming up in swinging 1960s London when a magazine called Cyclops asked him to illustrate a comic strip for a Burroughs text called The Unspeakable Mr. Hart. McNeill and Burroughs had never met when this piece was published, but Burroughs sought out the artist who'd captured his uncanny likeness in the work, suggesting they collaborate on an ambitious project called Ah Pook Is Here.
Apparently based on the legend of Ah Puch, the Mayan God of Death, Ah Pook is Here is as inscrutable as any Burroughs text, and features many signature Burroughs tropes -- mob scenes, strange societies, contrasting urban and jungle environments, omnisexual beings. It's a fascinating and attractive work, and I enjoyed chatting with the artist at the show. I asked him what it all meant, and he replied that he found the meaning of the work within his long and happy friendship with the late Burroughs (whose visage seems to appear in various places within the collection's many pieces). Malcolm McNeill, who stresses that he does his work in physical media rather than Photoshop, bristled when I asked which comic artists had inspired him. "I don't see this as comic art," he said, instead citing Hieronymus Bosch and Francis Bacon as key influences. See for yourself at the Saloman Arts Gallery in downtown Manhattan till December 14.
2. Belgian artist Guy Peellaert of Rock Dreams and Diamond Dogs fame has died.
3. Slavoj Zizek says "Use Your Illusions" in the London Review of Books:
"The reason Obama's victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures -- think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn't really believe that they would disintegrate -- like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama's victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise."
4. Whose illusion? It's hilarious that authorities in China are protesting the new Guns 'n' Roses album Chinese Democracy, seeing the title as a call for Western-style democracy in their nation. Who ever looks to Axl Rose for insights into global politics? In case anybody's wondering, the title appears to be a self-mocking comparison to Chairman Mao's totalitarean leadership style (Mao used to claim, against all evidence, that China was a democracy). Axl Rose has kicked every other member of Guns 'n' Roses out, and apparently "Chinese democracy" is the only kind of democracy anyone should expect within Guns 'n' Roses now that Chairman Axl is in charge. As for the long-awaited record itself, I think it's pretty good, though I need to give it a few more listens before I reach a conclusive decision.
5. 50 Cent's The Money and the Power is probably the meanest reality show competition ever. Instead of "The tribe has spoken" or "You're fired", 50's (bleeped) exit line is "Get the fuck outta here". You know I'm a fool for good reality TV shows, and so far this is one of the good ones.
6. Carolyn Kellogg admires Johnny Rotten's excellent autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, recently reissued by Picador.
7. I didn't know there was a poetry series, "Poems and Pints", at historic Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan's financial district. We already missed Paul Muldoon and Mark Strand, but there's still time to catch Dana Goodyear, Katy Lederer, Sharon Olds and many others.
8. Bob Holman and Papa Susso on the Griot Trail in West Africa.
9. The complete Allan Sherman boxed set.
10. A dead Shakespearean makes his stage debut ... as Yorick.
Here's a third way: what the fuck is up with a $45 price tag on a book about poets? Who does Farrar, Straus and Giroux think will buy this book? Have they not heard the news that we are in a terrible retail climate, that even Starbucks is in a crisis because customers are flocking for cheaper coffee to McDonalds? FSG can't possibly be oblivious to our economic problems, and so the outlines of the pricing conspiracy become clear: far from believing that general readers will spend $45 on this book, they have concluded that general readers won't even spend $27.50 (a more reasonable price) for it, and therefore they'll jack up the price to cash in on library sales, their only captive market. Nice scam, but as a taxpayer I object to severely budget-crunched public libraries falling for it.
If publishers aren't publishing books for people to buy, then why should the New York Times review these books? And why, I wonder, should I keep paying attention to the New York Times Book Review if they aren't reviewing books designed for people to buy?
Yeah, I really do wonder. Anyway, David Orr provides a tolerable review of the Hughes letters, focusing (of course) on the above-mentioned "It", that "It" being Hughes's marriage to Sylvia Plath. This biography-heavy NYTBR includes a condescending Sarah Boxer article on Jackie Wullschlager's Chagall ($40), which includes the surprising remark that Wullschlager "doesn't seem to like Chagall much". Boxer doesn't either. I understand her problems with the Russian-Jewish artist's late-career "blur of commissions, exhibitions, murals and stained-glass windows". Then again, Chagall's peer Pablo Picasso became just as banal -- no, worse -- in his celebrity years, and the New York Times Book Review put his late-career biography on the front cover. Whichever way the wind blows ...
I can't get caught up in Graydon Carter's excitement over Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.'s George Being George. Unlike Carter and much of the NYTBR's senior staff, I never got invited to one of George Plimpton's parties, so I feel left out. James Campbell's summary of A Great Idea at the Time, Alex Beam's study of Mortimer Adler's "Great Books" program, is worth reading, as is Ethan Bronner's consideration of A. B. Yehoshua's novel Friendly Fire: A Duet. Joe Queenan's endpaper essay on book reviews that over-praise shows this humorist's style to be improving.
The most enjoyable article in this weekend's Book Review is Jack Shafer on Roy Blount Jr.'s Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. We don't see a lot of books with semi-colons in their subtitles these days, and based on Shafer's appreciative highlights I very much want to read this one. We explore why rhyming nonsense words so often start with the letter 'h' ("hillbilly", "hippy-dippy", "hanky-panky", "hurdy-gurdy") and why terms of disapproval employ the letter 't' ("tut-tut", "tacky", "tatty", "twit"). I think many readers will find this stuff as appealing as I do, and the fact that the book is priced to sell at $25 indicates that the publisher actually has hopes for it (think: Eats, Shoots and Leaves) that aren't captured by the phrase "take the money and run". A book designed to be bought and enjoyed -- how refreshing!
1. So Sarah Palin turns out to be a kickass orator. I'm glad, though I'm no more likely to vote for John McCain because of it. She speaks almost as well as Barack Obama, and that means we actually have two good orators in this presidential election (whereas in 2004 we had zero, and I do mean zero).
I don't like Sarah Palin for Vice President (and I especially don't like what I'm hearing about book-banning) but I do like Sarah Palin. She's smart, brave, funny and definitely a breath of fresh air next to ol' Crusty McCain. Her growing family looks great and is certainly a campaign asset, even that new kid with the funny name and the MySpace page.
Now, let's talk about John McCain. Hell, I like him too, and I don't even begrudge him the right to endless glorification of his Vietnam War experience (see Ron Hogan on "John McCain's Little Golden Book", pictured above). But I'm tired of hearing that his "war hero" status deserves automatic hosannas, because in fact I think John McCain's inclination towards military solutions is his single biggest weakness. In 2008, I don't want a soldier running my foreign policy. I want something we haven't seen for a long time: a diplomat.
Many people call John McCain a war hero, but I don't call somebody a hero that easily. I certainly appreciate that he made great sacrifices for the United States of America, and I believe him to be an honest and admirable man. In a different election year, he could have made a great conservative President. But America is not in the market for a war hero in 2008. We're looking for a candidate who intends to reduce, not increase, tension around the world, and that's the reason -- not because of his celebrity, not because we need a savior -- why we are more excited about Barack Obama than John McCain.
2. Writing tips and web writing tips from Dumb Little Man.
3. Publisher's Weekly is running a contest in conjunction with an upcoming writing seminar. Sounds like a good endeavor -- click link for entry details.
4. Garth Risk Hallberg is shedding tears for the dying New York Sun newspaper and its book section, but I'll conserve the water. I've read the book section, but haven't been blown away. Anyway, we already have a brainy paper in New York: it's called the New York Times. And I never see anybody walking around with a New York Sun just like I never see anybody walking around with a Kindle. Good try, though, guys. Next time you want to start a great publication, download WordPress.
5. Rev Run has a new book out: Take Back Your Family: A Challenge to America's Parents. Maybe Rev. Run should run for Vice President (he's a good orator too).
6. New Quarterly Conversation!
7. New BookForum!
8. New Words Without Borders! (The "Reversals" issue).
9. Triple Canopy's prescient piece on New Orleans.
10. Reconstructing Mayakovsky: A Novel of the Future by Ilya Szilak.
11. The artwork of Mary Beach and Claude Pelieu, two Beat/modernist artists associated with Paris, San Francisco and Cherry Valley, New York, in a Flickr slideshow by Ginger Killian Eades.
12. Action Poetry leaves you wanting more? Here's Anderbo.com. Good stuff.
13. Bureau of Public Secrets: Ten Years on the Web.
14. Taco Bell has introduced a new extra-spicy taco, in a red shell with melted cheese sauce, called the Volcano Taco. I don't know what the hell took them so long.
Don't get me wrong: Nicholson Baker remains somewhat near the Zeus position in my personal pantheon of contemporary writers I really, really approve of. It's because he's so versatile, though, that I'm disappointed to find the Book Review invariably assigning him books so far up his alley (a book that reprints newspaper archives?) that there's no sport in it, or else feeding him tweedy titles like the quirky linguistic bonanza Reading the Oxford English Dictionary: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea to review. Baker does a fine job ("This is the 'Super Size Me' of lexicography"), but one senses he never broke a sweat swinging at this softball, and that means good talent is being wasted. Come on, Book Review, let Nicholson Baker stretch! He can handle more than 'obsessive' and 'odd'. And Jane and Michael Stern need the work.
Today's cover review is a dignified recounting of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. Alan Brinkley relates the simple facts in this book -- how Dick Cheney's chain of command betrayed America's long tradition of magnamity in military conduct, and how little was gained in this misadventure -- with stern brevity. This article tells me nothing I didn't already know about the Bush administration policy on torture, but it is cathartic to read it in plain black and white. (I'm not even sure if I'll read Jane Mayer's book. I think I better stretch myself.)
I've often enjoyed Steven Heller's articles about graphic art books in the NYTBR. I'm excited to read Christopher Benfey's review of Heller's own new book, an in-depth survey of the aesthetics of totalitarianism called Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State. This book delves into the visual elements of the ceaseless publicity programs used to sell Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong to their adoring publics. This is an important topic, and a highly relevant one for our own era of Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. I bet ten more books on this subject could be profitably written (Modris Eckstein's superb Rites of Spring also comes to mind here).
Nicholas Thompson provides a useful summary of America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11: the Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror by Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier (though I'm not necessarily impressed by the numerology in this title, nor am I amused when a book's subtitle is so long it practically needs its own agent).
I may want to read John Darnton's Black and White and Dead All Over, a newspaper murder mystery reviewed today by Joshua Hammer, and I just don't know what to think about David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, apparently based on Shakespeare's Hamlet involving a family of dog trainers. You know I'm very interested in anything about Hamlet, but Mike Peed's review really makes no sense. He manages to show off with a lot of Shakespeare inside jokes, but never helps me understand what this author intends to achieve with this novel.
And I don't know what to say about Blake Bailey's cutesy, chatty tone in reviewing Julia Reed's The House on First Street:
... And not only is Julia Reed a lot richer than I, she has better journalistic cred: as an evacuee, I wrote a few columns for Slate, while Reed was bombarded with assignments from Newsweek, The Spectator and Vogue, her main employer, whose editors received an e-mail message from Reese Witherspoon, no less, asking if Reed was O.K.
This crap doesn't belong in the New York Times Book Review. In fact, it reads like a parody of what somebody who's never read a literary blog might think a literary blog would read like.
This weekend's NYTBR is the "Summer Reading" issue, covering a wide range of supposedly enjoyable books. I never expected to catch myself enjoying a Marisha Pessl article about Bob Dylan -- what can a twenty-something lit-darling possibly know about Bob Dylan, other than the fact that he was the subject of a Heath Ledger movie? -- but she surprises me with a perceptive and well-written consideration of his expressionist paintings, newly collected by editors Ingrid Mossinger and Kerstin Dreschel as Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series. This book proves (as the "Self Portrait" album cover proved four decades ago) that Dylan can paint, and this article proves that Marisha Pessl can review visual art.
Music and visual art provide much material in today's Book Review. Roger Steffens and Peter Simon's Reggae Scrapbook is well-treated by Baz Dreisinger. I still think Alan Light is a lightweight rock music critic (I've said that once before and I still can't figure out if it's a pun or not), but he's about as good as he ever can be on Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski. David Kirby writes vividly about Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death and Country Music by Dana Jennings:
But we’ve all got a date with the hangman, and until then, a bunch of music to be listened to, a heap of dancing to do and a three-legged dog that wants you to scratch his ears. And only you.
I should probably feel excited to hear Richard Russo raving about a new comic novel, Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles, but I can't work up the enthusiasm.
Martin Amis's dad Kingsley's essays about liquor life are collected in Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens. I like Dominique Browning's review of the book, yet a thick early-summer mental haze also dulls my appreciation for this piece, and for several other articles in this crowded Book Review. It's my own fault; I'm a sharper reader some weekends than others, and this Book Review finds me inexplicably just not in the mood for a Book Review. I'll try to slap myself into a more attentive state for the next issue.
1. Fiction writer Oakley Hall (inspiration, obviously, of the band Oakley Hall) has died. I did not know this author's work well, but once when I was a kid a long time ago I heard him read a wonderful short story called "What Walt Disney Knew" on the radio. I've been trying to find a copy of the story, or any proof that the story exists, ever since. The story begins (if I remember correctly) when a lone traveler picks up a stranger hitchhiker who tells him about an alien race of humanoids who once inhabited our planet. They were superior to us in most ways and life was like paradise, but through some ironic twist (which I can't remember) they died off, and very few people know the secret that they were once here. But Walt Disney knew. And he left us a clue about them: they had only four fingers.
As I retell this story now, I wonder how much of it I have made up. I wonder if it was even Oakley Hall who wrote it, because I've never found it in one of his books. If anybody knows where I can find this story, please let me know. And if anybody knows what Walt Disney knew, let us know too.
Good timing department: Jonathan Zeitlin of the Mezzanine Owls happens to mention Oakley Hall in a recent Book Notes at largeheartedboy.
2. Forget what Walt Disney knew. What did Walt Dizzy know? If that rings a bell, you probably know that classic-era Mad cartoonist Will Elder, also known as Bill Elder, has died. I can't say enough about Elder's brilliant work with Harvey Kurtzman, which can be found in books like The Mad Reader. Elder was responsible for "Starchie", "Mickey Rodent", "Sherlock Shomes" and so very much more. "Little Annie Fanny" was a disappointing sequel, but the Mad Magazine work will live forever. The New York Times obituary is particularly good on the influence of Elder's signature "margin work". There's some good video at Tom Richmond's Mad Blog.
3. Deconstructed album cover art (via Gawker).
4. Leora Skolkin-Smith on Leon Wieseltier and A. B. Yehoshua.
5. Bat Segundo interviews Cynthia Ozick.