An Interview About Interviews. Partly.

From an interview with Noam Chomsky in the Observer:

I start tentatively enough with a question about a remark he made recently in the New York Times about the fact that he continued to live in America, because it was ‘the greatest country in the world’. In what sense did he believe this?

He starts, too, as he means to go on. ‘I have to first of all give a background,’ he says, already a bit exasperated. ‘That interview never took place. It is rather interesting, interviews like that never take place.’

The New York Times made it up?

‘It was a senseless contraction of an hour-and-a-half telephone conversation in which I explained question by question why I am not going to answer this question or that question, because it is not a sensible question.’

New Paul Auster

Stacey D’Erasmo reviews Paul Auster’s latest in the Times:

“Oracle Night” is situated squarely on the Austerian matrix of narrative and reality — i.e., in a writer’s notebook. The writer is Sidney Orr (even his name puns on ambivalence), 34, semi-recovered from a never quite specified, nearly fatal illness, whose will to write has gone watery until he buys an exotic notebook in a stationery store in his Brooklyn neighborhood. The instant this notebook is purchased, stories begin to proliferate, so many of them that footnotes grow up from the bottom of the pages with still more stories, an entire luxuriant jungle of narrative. Orr starts writing a novel in the notebook about an editor with a resemblance to Orr who discovers a long-lost novel. Orr’s own story unfurls in various complicated ways; there is a screenplay about time travel; there is another, older writer, a mentor of Orr’s, with stories of his own; Orr’s wife has a secret; people real and fictional die; blows are exchanged; priceless manuscripts are lost; irrevocable acts have irrevocable consequences; some people live happily ever after, though not the dead ones.

Lit Quiz

Here is The Globe and Mail’s annual Great Literary Challenge. If you win, you will receive gift certificates from Canada’s three crappy chain bookstores, Indigo, Chapters, and Coles. There’s a Chapters in Bayer’s Lake, about an hour away from us. It’s this ginormous warehouse full of books — and I have yet to go there with a particular book in mind and actually find it. I’ve given up. I use Amazon. The American Amazon because the Canadian one sucks. This isn’t all that amusing, is it? I apologize.

Buy Nothing Day

Today is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States, isn’t it? I believe it is also the day designated as Buy Nothing Day by the Adbusters folks. Those Adbusters folks go straight for the jugular. I’d be tempted to find out the day most people get their maxed-out credit card bills in January and then call that one Buy Nothing Day.

I’d say I’m more of an inactivist than an activist. So you’d think I’d be good at taking part in a day when you’re NOT supposed to do something. But no. It’s hard not to buy anything for an entire day. I tried it once. I planned for it — I bought twice as much food the day before. And then I got confused. If on Buy Nothing Day I consumed the food I’d purchased the day before, well, wasn’t I still somehow buying it? I supposed the Adbusters folks were eating only roots and berries, stuff they could find in nature. Or out of a dumpster. I briefly considered both of those options. And then I went out and bought a cup of coffee. I don’t think you can find good coffee in a dumpster. Passable muffins or fair bagels, sure, but coffee? I doubt it.

The Invisible Library

My own unwritten short stories reminded me of the Invisible Library:

The Invisible Library is a collection of books that only appear in other books. Within the library’s catalog you will find imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound.

There’s a very funny essay called Books Within Books by Max Beerbohm on that site:

In some three-volume novel that I once read at a seaside place, having borrowed it from the little circulating library, there was a young poet whose sudden leap into the front rank has always laid a special hold on my imagination. The name of the novel itself I cannot recall; but I remember the name of the young poet—Aylmer Deane; and the forever unforgettable title of his book of verse was POMENTS: BEING POEMS OF THE MOOD AND THE MOMENT. What would I not give to possess a copy of that work?


Pia Z. Ehrhardt hates babies:

Anyone can be awakened by a scream, but by a tiny fingernail scratching the tightly covered mattress? It’s less of a sound than one bristle of a brush on a snare drum. It’s the only sound you need in an entire, noisy, dumb world, and this clarity is enough to make you crazy, because your brain is stuffed with important things you all of a sudden don’t care about anymore, and you empty out to love the baby as much as you can which is how much love the baby needs, and your life is ruined for anything but being a mother, being a prisoner of this baby’s who will have to leave you and the safety of you, or turn into a vegetable, a wimp, a mama’s boy.

Another Epigraph

Well, it turns out that Aaron Burch of Seattle wasn’t on the internet much yesterday, either. Even his site Hobart (an online literary journal) was down yesterday. He did, however, send me an email late last night about his favourite epigraph, which is from Alex Garland’s The Tesseract:

“The larger the searchlight, the larger the circumference of the unknown.” Dick Taylor.

Titles of Stories I Have Not Yet Written

This post was written by former Friday blogger Stephany Aulenback, who subsequently founded Crooked House.

I have writer’s block. We’ve had a tough few months here in Nova Scotia. Our old cat died and one of the kittens we got to replace it died, my husband’s grandmother died and then his elderly aunt died, I had a miscarriage and then my mother got sick.* Recently, I’ve been blaming my writer’s block on these unhappy events. The truth is, though, I often have writer’s block. As much as I’d like to think it’s an aberration there is clear evidence that it is not a new thing. A quick glance at my old Word files from months or even years ago reveals the crazy titles of dozens of short stories, short stories that I meant to write but didn’t. Here are a few:

Nothing Will Become Clear, Not Immediately, Not In Time. (This is a blank document.)

Baseball Bat From Hell. (This is also a blank document.)

Bird of Six Songs. (Also blank.)

When Someone Reaches Out for You. (This document is blank except for the words: “reach back.” Fellow Canadian Celine Dion would be proud of me.)

Continue reading…

A Bit More on Epigraphs

Roy Kesey, the other half of Half an Orange likes the epigraphs to Salinger’s Seymour:

“The actors by their presence always convince me, to my horror, that most of what I’ve written about them until now is false. It is false because I write about them with steadfast love (even now, while I write it down, this, too, becomes false) but varying ability, and this varying ability does not hit off the real actors loudly and correctly but loses itself dully in this love that will never be satisfied with the ability and therefore thinks it is protecting the actors by preventing this ability from exercising itself.”


“It is (to describe it figuratively) as if an author were to make a slip of the pen, and as if this clerical error became conscious of being such. Perhaps this was no error but in a far higher sense was an essential part of the whole exposition. It is, then, as if this clerical error were to revolt against the author, out of hatred for him, were to forbid him to correct it, and were to say, ‘No, I will not be erased, I will stand as a witness against thee, that thou art a very poor writer.”

Roy says they’re by, respectively, “Kafka and Kierkegaard: Klassics!”

More Epigraphs

Ed Page of Danger! Blog said he likes the epigraph for The Annotated Alice, edited by Martin Gardner:

“Wipe your glosses with what you know.” James Joyce.

And Pasha Malla of Montreal said “I don’t know if this qualifies as an epigraph or not, but on a blank page before the start of Subash Publishers’ Favourite Indian Tales for Little Folk (a book I recently found in a box of childhood memorabilia) it is written:

‘Paper used for the printing of this book was made available by the Govt. of India at concession rates.'”

Aaron, what’s your favourite epigraph? Email me at and I will post it. (If by some slim chance you are someone other than Aaron and you are reading this, please feel free to chime in.)


I was only kidding, Aaron. Maud would certainly not get mad if we strayed from all things literary. I happen to have it on very good authority, Aaron, that we can stray if we want to. Thing is, we both like literary things, don’t we, Aaron? Yes. Yes, we do.

A couple of days ago a few of us were talking about epigraphs. (You weren’t there, Aaron. I don’t know where you were.) I was flipping through my copy of James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk and I happened upon this gorgeous thing in the front of it:

“Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.” Samuel Beckett, Molloy.

Maud was reading Amanda Davis’ Wonder When You’ll Miss Me at the time and she thought its epigraph was good:

“And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky.” James Baldwin.

Hello Aaron Burch!

Greetings Aaron Burch of Seattle! Happy American Thanksgiving! (I believe that Aaron Burch and I are the only two people in the whole wide world on the internet today.)

Well anyway, now that Maud’s gone we don’t have to be quite so literary around here. It’ll be all Michael Jackson, all the time! Except, of course, when we pause to find out what Paris Hilton is wearing. Or not.

However. We shall keep things at least a little bit literary so Maud doesn’t get mad. Maud, mad, Maud, mad… huh.

Words are very interesting.

I haven’t finished my coffee yet.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Attention all you perspiring young novelists! Think of this as an email message from your muse: The life of a Michael Jackson-like figure would make a perfect subject for the Great American Novel. If you can figure out some way to work in a Paris Hilton-like figure, that’d be fine too. But please, only take up this challenge if you are a young Dickens crossed with a young Nabokov crossed with uh, a young David Lynch. Or a very old Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes, a young Dickens crossed with a young Nabokov crossed with a young David Lynch or a very old Andrew Lloyd Webber. You should also be an American. Attempt this only if you’re someone like that.

Aulenback saves the day

This morning my friend Stephany Aulenback bemoaned the “vast lonely wasteland” that is the Internet during American Thanksgiving.

“During these four or five days,” she said, “many people don’t update their sites, they don’t post. There’s no one to be found anywhere. It feels wrong.”

No doubt Ms. Aulenback is not alone in feeling this way, so I’ve asked her to post intermittently on this site through next Monday.

Lest you doubt her credentials, be aware that she’s previously taken to blogging with a panache that humbles the lesser minds here at And now seems like a good time to mention that, beginning on January 16 of next year, she will take over posting duties every Friday.

I get all gushy when I talk about Steph, so I’ll just direct you again to some of her work: “Small,” “Pickup Lines that Went Unnoticed” (with Ed Page), and “How These Stories End.”

Oh, and here’s one further thought on the impending holiday. Joseph Finn of In Apprehension wrote to agree in part with Donald Barthelme’s thoughts (posted here Monday) about, in Mr. Finn’s words, “the general crappiness of Thanksgiving.” Finn adds this clarification:

I’d be remiss if I failed to note that it is the best holiday in one sense:


Yea, but it is a cornucopia of bounty for the sports fans, often keeping families from going after each other once they’ve gone through a couple of bottles of wine. You have football games to sedate before the large meal, and football/basketball after the meal to lull you to sleep until you are dragged out the door by your spouse, who makes noses under her breath about never “spending another bloody minute with that vicious little shit.” Then there’s the fun ride home as you try to determine which member of your family she considers the little shit, and whether or not you should bring it up.

Those last two sentences capture the spirit of the holiday better than any others I’ve seen this year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a flask to fill and a train to catch.

Recipe for a delightful holiday

Bruce McCall sets out some revised Thanksgiving rules in this week’s “Shouts & Murmurs.” Among them:

The mandatory minimum number of guests related by blood to the host/hostess is increased to sixteen.

Given that my own primary rule of Thanksgiving — that no blood relation other than my sister can be within five hundred miles of me on that day — conflicts directly with his, I don’t think Bruce and I would get along very well.

The only mandatory minimum on my list is the number of wine magnums (magna? magnae? If only I hadn’t dropped out of first-year Latin). That number has been increased, in honor of Mr. McCall, to sixteen. Cheers.

I’ll be en route to Northampton, MA, to visit Sister tomorrow. Mr. Maud and I celebrate our anniversary this weekend. There will be little posted on this site between now and next Tuesday, the 2nd.

Since she’s less likely to be hanging dried cornhusks on her door and consuming cranberry sauce than the rest of us, you may want to check in with my British friend, and yours, until then. I make no promises, mind. Even the English have to take a break sometimes.

Back to the books for U.K. publisher

Sarah linked earlier to an article about the troubled finances of Faber & Faber, publisher of DBC Pierre’s novel Vernon God Little.

Founded by T.S. Eliot in 1929, the company relies more than most on sales of its backlist, which includes older books by the likes of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, James Joyce, Eliot himself, P.D. James, Kazuo Ishiguro, Peter Carey, and Milan Kundera. In recent years the company has leaned too heavily on:

royalties earned on the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats (inspired by Eliot’s poems). The old publishing joke ran that without Cats Faber would be as poor as a church mouse. Cats has now left London’s West End and, although it will continue to contribute to the bottom line, the royalties will not be as significant as they used to be.

Wagner’s latest

Chris Lehmann admires Bruce Wagner’s Still Holding: A Novel of Hollywood:

Rather than a Page Six takedown of celebrity pretense, “Still Holding” is an instructive study in what one character calls “the messy, fragrant anarchy of impermanence.” (The book’s six sections are also named for key Buddhist precepts, e.g., “The Three Poisons,” Ground Luminosity” and “Ordinary Mind.”)

This sounds like an unwieldy and/or pretentious turn for a Hollywood novel to take, but the novel’s characters are so tightly and persuasively conceived against the sprawling absurdity of their setting that “Still Holding” never feels forced or didactic.

(Via Old Hag.)

For those keeping track, Kakutani has reviewed the book, too, and found it wanting.

More noteworthy commentary on Stephen King’s award and acceptance speech

Bookslut says:

The Christian Science Monitor may have the best article about Stephen King winning the National Book Award yet. It’s not Bloom sputtering all over himself, and it’s not the publishing industry bending over backwards for the man who made them all rich. It’s just an evenheaded look at where King stands in the canon and why this decision may have been made. They also bring up a point no one else did — Oprah won that same award just a few years back. There was some controversy, but nothing compared to the Stephen King award.

Lynn Coady is nearly moved to violence by King’s diatribe on literary snobs, Shirley Hazzard’s reaction to it, and the Harold Bloom essay that set King off in the first place:

[King] seemed unable to stop himself — perhaps the issue was a point of pride — asserting that the gap between “the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction” must be closed. To which a bemused Joe Average can only reply: Dude, you’re a billionaire.

It is not for you to gripe about egg-headed and arbitrary distinctions between high and low art. Accept your award with humble aplomb and resume laughing your way to the bank.

It’s disheartening to see a rags-to-riches kind of guy like King now, — when his achievement is being publicly validated — stoop to flick mud back at someone like professional windbag Harold Bloom, whose idea of being down with the kids is to rail publicly against the teaching of Aphra Behn in university English departments.

Shaking his jowls in The Los Angeles Times, Bloom quaked: “That [the National Book Foundation] could believe that there is any literary value [in King’s body of work] or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.”

Shirley Hazzard, the winner of this year’s fiction prize for her novel The Great Fire, sniffed that she hasn’t had time to read any of King’s books because she’s too busy working her way through Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad.

Don’t you want to smack them all?

Personally, I’d miss the searches through dusty back rooms

In a move that will revolutionize antiquarian book sales, Amazon has acquired the rights to the British Library’s back catalogue, which “includes 1.7 million produced before the introduction in 1970 of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a 10-character code that uniquely identifies any modern book.” As with other rare and out-of-print books, each title will appear on a unique Amazon page, where “sellers can post details of the copies that they have available and their prices.” (Via Boing Boing.)