Reminder: CAAF and Stephany take over this week

We at have been enjoying a restorative break from this site and the Internet in general. We have avoided the newspapers. We have read books, written some things for pay, watched the first six episodes of The Office, fed a friend’s cat and said goodbye to another friend who’s moving to the West Coast. And we have become consumed with such pedestrian problems as, wow, now that I’ve let the gardening go so long that there’s poison ivy all over the wall and the back steps and probably throughout the shrubs and flower beds, is there some spray I can buy to kill the ivy or do I have to pull it out by hand?

We just logged on to check our email for the first time in three or four days and discovered this message from a friend:

So it’s late on a Sunday night and I’m flipping channels and come across you and [Mr. Maud] on my TV. Elvis and Lucinda Crossroads… So strange to see you on my TV, in Los Angeles, in such a random way.

We fear that we may have to pull out our tape of this very Crossroads show (we ended up in the front row at the taping despite our hatred of cameras) to see if our haircut and red dye job from that time are as ill-advised as we remember them being.

With all of these important things on our agenda, it’s a relief that we’re not slated to post again until next Monday, the 6th, when we will emerge from our break refreshed, with better focus and 200% fewer neuroses.

CAAF (Carrie A.A. Frye) will be posting from Tuesday through Thursday of this week. Stephany Aulenback will be in on Friday.

Thanks again for your patience and encouragement in the face of our rampant (but now waning) depression.

Slipping-Down Life

Ann Tyler is pleased with the movie they’ve made of her novel A Slipping-Down Life.

Asked if the phrase “Hollywood would like to buy your book” was something she dreaded, the author said, “I long ago stopped imagining that a movie made from a book — mine or anyone else’s — would be the book itself come to life on the screen. It’s going to be something different, always, no matter how faithful. But yes, I think the honesty can be preserved. I’ve even seen movies that were better than the books.”

Asked why her books often feature “losers” who are redeemed, Tyler objected. “I don’t know that I’d call them losers. Maybe outsiders. And I have so many of them in my books because there are so many of them in real life. Besides which, they’re more interesting.”

She added, “When I mail off a finished manuscript, I always imagine my characters riding the train to New York. I picture them as excited, but a little scared, and I worry about whether they’re up to this. Once the book is accepted, though, I tend to forget about them. I’m like a mother cat: those kittens are grown and gone.”

The movie stars Liv Tyler and Guy Pearce. Pearce, who plays a rock star, will perform songs written by Ron Sexsmith, the man who sings such hopeful songs in a sad, sad voice.

Tolkien chat

The Chronicle of Higher Education will host an online chat on the topic of Tolkien scholarship on Thursday, June 3, at 12 noon, U.S. Eastern time.

The work of J.R.R. Tolkien thrives on college campuses — and not just among students watching The Lord of the Rings on DVD. A marginalized but prolific scholarly industry has emerged, devoted to the analysis of Frodo Baggins’s quest as well as other tales of Middle-earth. Is Tolkien’s fiction a commentary on the political realities of the 20th century? An escapist fantasy, providing an alternative to real life? A creative rewriting of the oldest traditions in European literature? All of the above? Is there a line to be drawn between scholarship and fandom?

Questions and comments about the legacy of Tolkien and the world of Tolkien scholarship are welcome. We would prefer, however, that you not submit them in Elvish, Dwarvish, Entish, Orcish, or any other imaginary language.

3rd Bed Needs Money

From an email I just received from 3rd bed:

To help facilitate donations we have created the following designations:

3rd bed as a homeless panhandler or a lemonade stand: $1-$10
3rd bed as a gram of pot or some cheese at Whole Foods: $10-$50
3rd bed as a scalped ticket to see Madonna or The Darkness: $50-$500
3rd bed as a billboard advertising Seinfeld reruns on UPN: $500-$10,000
3rd bed as a beachfront property in Massachusetts: $10,000-$99,000,000
3rd bed as Poetry Magazine: $100,000,000 and up

I think they should make up t-shirts. Go here to donate.

Interview Round-up

Robert Birnbaum interviews Ben Jones, author of The Rope Eater:

RB: How is this activity of going out and talking about and talking up your book?

BJ: I’ve loved it. It’s been great. Writing is such an isolated process and you’re sitting and you are making all these choices you imagine people are going to be interested in, and it’s great to get out and have your instincts confirmed. I feel this great confirmation of all these obscure—I was reading a book on glaciology and there was a line about a guy who had dedicated his life to the study of the frost-resistant genitalia of beetles. I thought that was so great. How could you not want to know what that guy’s story was? And so that is some of what I wrote about. It’s great to go out and have people say, ‘That was great. I loved that. Where did you find that?’ And it’s been confirming to find people interested in caring about books. People come out on a Tuesday night for a reading and they don’t know you from Adam and they have read a little review of something or maybe they have read the book.

Claire Zulkey interviews Augusten Burroughs, author of Dry:

Do you enjoy doing readings?

I like doing readings. But the best part of a book tour is the audience Q&A.

How do you know when it’s time to promote one book and work on the next?

Well, it’s pretty well mapped out. I tour right when the book is released and because I’m trying to write a book a year, I have to write at every free moment. Because I don’t have large chunks of free time anymore. My publicist is the one who points me in a given direction and says, TALK.

Helen Brown of The Telegraph interviews Hari Kunzru, author of Transmission:

…I feel he is judging me more keenly when I ask him about his writing. As a former journalist himself, he has become “a curious consumer of other people’s interview techniques”. He tells me how disappointed he has been by interviews in eastern Europe where he expected intellectuals of the polo-necked, pipe-smoking school, but found himself on the receiving end of a very raw celebrity culture. “One journalist, working for the Polish equivalent of Hello! magazine, came into my room, took off his shoes and socks and lay down on my floor smoking a cigarette. He asked me if I preferred sleeping with black or white women. He wasn’t very enlightened on the race issue. I made the poor interpreter translate ‘F*** off’ into Polish.” He is wearied by the constant questions about how much money he has made and tells me that Indian Elle magazine even e-mailed a query about his credit-card balance.

This is a very effective way of ensuring this interview gives him the opportunity to air his intellectual credentials and discuss his new book. Surely I can do better than Indian Elle? It is slightly intimidating and clinchingly flattering.

Me, Me, and More Me

Dan Chaon’s new novel You Remind Me of Me is favourably reviewed in the Times.

Chaon’s short story Big Me is one of my favourites.

IN THE SPRING of my twelfth year, a man moved into a house at the end of my block. The house had belonged to an old woman who had died and left her home fully furnished but tenantless for years, until her heir had finally gotten around to having the estate liquidated, the old furniture sold, the place cleared out and put up for sale. This was the house I had taken cats to, the hideout where I had extracted their yowling confessions. Then finally the house was emptied, and the man took up residence.

I first saw the man in what must have been late May. The lilac bush in his front yard was in full bloom, thick with spade-shaped leaves and clusters of perfumed flowers. The man was mowing the lawn as I passed, and I stopped to stare.

It immediately struck me that there was something familiar about him — the wavy dark hair and gloomy eyes, the round face and dimpled chin. At first I thought he looked like someone I’d seen on TV. And then I realized: he looked like me! Or rather, he looked like an older version of me — me grown up. As he got closer with his push lawnmower, I was aware that our eyes were the same odd, pale shade of gray, that we had the same map of freckles across the bridge of our noses, the same stubby fingers. He lifted his hand solemnly as he reached the edge of his lawn, and I lifted my opposite hand, so that for a moment we were mirror images of one another. I felt terribly worked up and hurried home.

THAT NIGHT, CONSIDERING THE ENCOUNTER, I wondered whether the man actually was me. I thought about all that I’d heard about time travel, and considered the possibility that my older self had come back for some unknown purpose — perhaps to save me from some mistake I was about to make or to warn me. Maybe he was fleeing some future disaster and hoped to change the course of things.

Still More Beckett for Babies

The mock-up of the Beckett for Babies board book is almost finished. I’d like to thank all you lovely people out there in the internetland who emailed — or even snailmailed! — hilarious photographs of your very attractive but discontented offspring to us. That said, we’re still looking for the perfect photograph (preferably two or three perfect photographs, actually) to go with this text:

First baby: That passed the time.

Second baby: It would have passed in any case.

First baby: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Originally I wanted a series of photos of two toddlers stacking blocks and then knocking them back down to accompany that dialogue. I am no longer so rigid. If you have a couple of shots of two babies or toddlers doing anything baby-or-toddlerish that would be suitable for that text, we’d love to see them. stephka at maudnewton dot com. As soon as I find these final images, I’ll take out an ad for Beckett for Babies in the New Yorker, right next to the one for those cat lapel pins.

Instructions on How to Cry

“Putting the reasons for crying aside for the moment, we might concentrate on the correct way to cry, which, be it understood, means a weeping that doesn’t turn into a big commotion nor proves an affront to the smile with its parallel and dull similarity. The average, everyday weeping consists of a general contraction of the face and a spasmodic sound accompanied by tears and mucus, this last toward the end, since the cry ends at the point when one energetically blows one’s nose.

In order to cry, steer the imagination toward yourself, and it this proves impossible owing to having contacted the habit of believing in the exterior world, think of a duck covered with ants or of those gulfs in the Strait of Magellan into which no one sails ever.

Coming to the weeping itself, cover the face decorously, using both hands, palms inward. Children are to cry with the sleeve of the dress or shirt pressed against the face, preferably in a corner of the room. Average duration of the cry, three minutes. — Julio Cortázar, Cronopios and Famas.

(“Anyone who doesn’t read Cortazar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder… and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair.” — Pablo Neruda.)

If on a winter’s night you reread a novel you once loved

David Mitchell rereads Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

Re-reading a novel you loved is like revisiting a city where you loved: you do it in the company of your younger self. You may not get on with your younger self, or else the absence of what is missing colours your judgment. Despite my reservations, however, I wouldn’t want a word of If on a winter’s night a traveller to be different, and if Calvino’s ghost seeks me out after this, I’ll still get down on my knees and pay homage. Possibly it is Calvino’s very influence on his inheritors that lends this 1979 novel its slight hoariness.
My conclusions, for what they are worth, are: some books are best loved when young; the older me has more time for Calvino the fabulist (Our Ancestors), Calvino the short-story writer (Adam, One Afternoon) or Calvino the essayist (Six Memos for the Next Millennium) than for Calvino the Escher; and that however breathtakingly inventive a book is, it is only breathtakingly inventive once. But once is better than never.

Good Morning!

This week a couple of clueless articles having to do with a startling new phenomenon called blogging* appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times. I have a suggestion for the editors of these venerable old media institutions. Perhaps next week they could publish articles announcing that there are these things called PAPER and PENS and that some people use the PENS to write things down on the PAPER. And even though a few of the people who use the PENS to write things down on the PAPER may eventually write down things that will be published — however ill-advisedly — in NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES, or BOOKS, the people who use the PAPER and PENS are very dim, narcissistic people who mistakenly believe they have the right to write things down and to show them to others. It is unhealthy when many ordinary people start to write things down and then show them to others! Writing things down and showing them to others could give these dim, narcissistic people pleasure and a sense of community. There is even a dangerous — but admittedly slight — possibility that a large number of ordinary people writing things down and showing them to one another could eventually lead to the development of something actually resembling a democracy! It is important for the public to remember that writing things down and showing others what you have written is only for people who work for venerable old media institutions! Anyone else who does so is pretty much the same as a drug addict!

*The terms blogger, blogging, and blog are so overused they have become pretty much meaningless. They seem to indicate any individual (as opposed to a corporation) who posts anything ? anything at all — on any sort of webpage, with any regularity. There are no distinctions made between sites that offer only original content, those that act as a filter for content found elsewhere, and those that are combinations of the two. However, according to a CBC radio piece I heard on the subject a few weeks ago, the term “blogger” refers mostly to an individual who likes to post online about her breakfast. And so, for the record: I had a a piece of peanut butter toast and a very strong cup of coffee.

Definite duration

Thanks for the kind email. I’m reading through it, and I appreciate it, and I should have plenty of time in the next ten days or so to answer every last message. Assuming the electroshock therapy takes and they let me out of this institution, I’ll be back on June 7.

Stephany will be in tomorrow and next Friday. And CAAF has offered to take over the site from Tuesday to Thursday of next week. You’ll remember that she did a bang-up job last time. I think she’s going to try something new.

I’ll be away again from June 19 – 26. I’m going up to Nova Scotia to meet Stephany (she sent me the first two seasons of The Office for my birthday; how much do I love her?) for the first time and do some writing there.

Thanks again for all the support, everyone. Sorry for the drama. Have a great weekend, when it rolls around.

Here’s how this works

I hate making these announcements. But due to Monday’s New Yorker article and all the fucking hoopla that’s followed, I’m not going to feel comfortable posting around here until I say a few things.

Yes, I’m working on a novel. Yes, at some point I’ll look for and decide on an agent. Yes, my talent and ability to sustain a narrative for 60,000 words are doubtful. But I would like to correct a few misapprehensions that the article seems to have engendered:

(1) Much as it would be a challenge to try to construct a novel-length narrative from the endless stream of unconnected, unsubstantiated drivel I post here, it is not a challenge I wish to take up.

(2) I have been working on some of the stories that form the basis of the novel for five or six years, now — long before I started this site. So the site has not inspired me to undertake novel writing. If anything, it has detracted from that goal.

(3) I am not in the practice of shopping around unfinished work. My classmates and professors at City College have seen what I’ve written so far. I recently showed a draft to my husband for the first time. No one else has seen it. And with the exception of a few friends, no one else will see it until I have finished a full draft that does not make me want to pluck out my eyes and run screaming through the streets.

(4) I’ve said it before, many times, but this site is not a professional endeavor. Anything I post here, aside from those author interviews, since I actually feel a responsibility to the people participating, is just some shit I cobbled together in a few minutes when I should have been doing something else. I don’t hold myself out as an expert in anything, except perhaps state tax law and crazy parents.

(5) While I’m at it, I may as well say that although I would like nothing more than to mention every reading that is going to occur in New York City in the next fifty years, since announcements for all of them seem to find their way into my inbox, this site is not an events listing service and unless someone else would like to take up the task of putting a list together and posting it here it is unlikely that your event will be listed.

(6) This is not fun right now. I’m taking a break of indefinite duration. Stephany Aulenback will post on Friday. Have a nice weekend.

Birnbaum answers

Robert Birnbaum, literary interviewer extraordinaire, answers Yankee Pot Roast’s questions:

Y.P.R.: Is there an elusive white whale that’s consistently dodged your tireless pursuit?

R.B.: Anna Deveare Smith. Up until this week, it had been Jim Harrison. I haven’t tried much (once) but I am interested in talking with Gore Vidal. I think that may take a while.

Y.P.R.: Of all the late, great authors, whom would you like to have interviewed?

R.B.: Hannah Arendt, George Plimpton, Julio Cortazar, Mary McCarthy, Jorge Luis Borges, Eugene Izzi, Nelson Algren, Joseph Heller.

Not making book

I’ve just checked my stats for the first time in days and followed a referrer link to this remark from Teresa Nielsen Hayden: “I can’t stop it; I just wish she wouldn’t do it. (See.)”

I knew nothing of Ms. Hayden’s book or of her wish that I refrain from calling my new fiction writers on writing interview series, “Making Book.” Had I received email from her, I would have discontinued the use of the name immediately. Since I didn’t, I will discontinue it now.

Tanenhaus doesn’t assign reviews to benefit his friends

Those keeping track of changes at the New York Times Book Review with Sam Tanenhaus at the helm may be interested in Tom Scocca’s New York Observer piece:

“David Brooks and I are very friendly,” said New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus. Last week, such a profession might have struck Times-watchers as unnecessary: Why wouldn’t Mr. Tanenhaus, the scholar of Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley Jr., get along with the new conservative star of the paper’s Op-Ed page? Weren’t they in the same cabal?

But then came the May 23 edition of the Book Review. “Sociology or Shtick?” the cover asked. “Michael Kinsley dissects ‘On Paradise Drive,’ by David Brooks.”

“Dissects” was, if anything, an understatement.