Until soon

Poor Stephany, MaudNewton.com’s Friday blogger, has come down with a raging migraine and can’t post through all the little, floating dots. And I’m on deadline. So it’s going to be quiet around here today.

Be sure to stop by Ron Hogan’s site and read his interview with Dennis Loy Johnson, editor of MobyLives and co-publisher of Melville House Books. They discuss Melville House’s trilogy of offerings focused on the irregularities of, and protests surrounding, the last presidential election. And Johnson talks candidly about the logistics of running a small press.

Kenny Hunter's Seated Couple

Apropos of nothing, yesterday I was struck by the Washington Post‘s photograph of Kenny Hunter’s “Seated Couple” (above), one of the works on exhibit at a show featuring the Scottish sculptor’s work. Glenn Dixon’s review begins this way:

In his 1979 novel “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” Italo Calvino imagines a couple’s nocturnal ritual of reading then lovemaking then dreaming as the brief twining of paths that otherwise remain parallel, close but separate. “But do not wax ironic on this prospect of conjugal harmony,” he cautions. “What happier image of a couple could you set against it?”

It’s tempting to describe the picture of two lovers pillowed up in bed with their books as universal but, particularly as we enter the post-literate age, it’s not hard to see that it is nothing of the sort.

“Seated Couple,” one of Hunter’s “Works in Colour,” is a fertile green. (Brandon Webster — Conner Contemporary Art) Already a new kind of togetherness, just as culturally conditioned as the old one, has taken precedence. . . .

Slouched against the snug cushions of a loveseat, a young couple stare into the near distance. He sits with legs splayed apart, she with knees together, feet cocked in. They aren’t holding hands, but all the way down the length of their arms they are touching. You don’t need to be able to see what’s on the other side of the room; they are watching television.

It’s telling that the single hue the piece has been painted is not the ghostly blue that shivers from a TV screen at night, but a robust Kelly-ish green. Hunter is not waxing ironic on this prospect of conjugal harmony. Green, he observes, is the color of fertility, of growth.

There’s plenty of actual literary and publishing news out there, I’m sure, and I have no doubt that others are all over it. Off the top of my head: Bookninja, Moorish Girl, Return of the Reluctant, Galleycat, Rake’s Progress, Tingle Alley and the Cupcake blog are always worth a look-in. And if memory serves, the proprietor of The Elegant Variation returns next Monday — or sometime early next week, anyway.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Happy weekend

Every year at Halloween I think I’m going to post at length about being forbidden to celebrate the holiday as a child.

(When I was six, my mom turned to televangelists for her religious instruction, began to frequent camp meetings, and substituted Hallelujah parties for trick-or-treating. Jack Chick tractIt was no big deal. After all, aside from the Jack Chick tracts (see right) given out in lieu of candy, and the fact that the choice of costumes was pretty much limited to angels and animals from Noah’s ark, Hallelujah parties were exactly the same as the real thing! I mean, don’t these people all look festive?)

But every year, come late October, it turns out I just don’t feel much like walking down memory lane. And this year I have to finish up an assignment and then worry about the election. So that’s it from me for the week.

My good friend Stephany Aulenback takes over tomorrow and every Friday. Have a good weekend and a Happy Halloween.

Literary hauntings

At Halloween, ghost stories proliferate. Across the country, newspapers trot out the Edgar Allan Poe references. Salem, Massachusetts, where accused witches were drowned, hosts “haunted happenings” weekends. And news stations and crackpot websites dredge up stories of local hauntings.

In honor of the holiday, here are a few literary ghost stories I’ve stumbled upon in recent weeks:

  • At Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi, the “ghost of William Faulkner has been seen writing on the wall in one of the rooms and has been spotted walking the grounds of his home.”
  • Hemingway’s ghost really gets around. At his Key West home, the author has “reportedly been seen waving from windows in the home, and turning lights on throughout the place. Late-night visitors have recounted tales of hearing a typewriter pounding away and smelling the distinct odors of rum and whiskey in the air.” But at the full moon, an employee of his Cuba estate claims, “the author’s ghost used to emerge [there] and . . . pursue him down a track.”
  • Emily Bronte’s ghost allegedly appears at the Bronte sisters’ home every December 19 or thereabouts. She “haunts the grounds, her head bowed as in deep thought and meditation,” but disappears if anyone approaches.
  • Some nutcase purports to have photographed Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ghost at the House of the Seven Gables. Here’s the “evidence.”
  • Although obsessed with death in life, Emily Dickinson evidently tolerates without reprisal the drunken ramblings of UMass students who “bring beer in the dark of night to the cemetery and sit by Emily’s grave and talk to her.”

(If you know of more writer ghost stories, send ‘em in.)


  • A new series of literary talks featuring A.S. Byatt and Doris Lessing as speakers launched on the same night as the Booker Prize ceremony, prompting Mark Sanderson of the Telegraph to argue:
    The fact that three such luminaries should choose to ignore the 2004 ceremony suggests that, given there are so many literary awards today, the Booker is losing its pre-eminence.

  • Nick Flynn, who gave a solid reading from Another Bullshit Night in Suck City last Saturday night at Pianos, talks with the Austin Chronicle about the reactions of audience members to his readings in different cities:
    When I read this book in Boston — and I don’t know if this is just an Irish thing — but people crack up, they think it’s really funny. You read it in Minnesota and people weep, or they don’t express any emotions whatsoever. I’ve been asking people lately to look inside themselves for whatever Irishness they have. To see that this is part of humanity, and there is a humor to it. When I worked in the shelter, it was like Beckett, and that’s what makes Beckett so brilliant: this darkness that’s continually punctured by incredibly funny scenes, hysterical absurdity, the weirdness of life, and the comedy that’s just inherent in every tragedy.

    (Via Michael Schaub at Bookslut.)

  • Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe suffered from triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13.
  • The New Yorker takes bits of its festival on the road.
  • Los Angeles artist Don Bachardy’s ink drawings of Dorothy Parker, Anais Nin, Aldous Huxley, and other writers are on display at a library in San Marino, California, through February 2, 2005.

Rise of the 2-inch biography “one of the worst things to happen to literature,” says wine writer

Roger Scruton, New Statesman wine columnist, “savours the last of the summer wine in Argentina” in his latest article, but mostly uses the piece as a platform to denounce Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life:

One of the best things to happen to literature in the 20th century was Jorge Luis Borges, who showed us how to intensify both thought and feeling into a little flash of light at the bottom of a wine glass. One of the worst things to happen to literature was the rise of the two-inch-thick biography, in which an interesting person is anatomised, catalogued, replayed and rewound until no interest remains. Alas Borges, who spent his life avoiding life, is now the subject of just such a book. The arrival of a definitive biography always means that other scholars are at work on the same material, determined to eclipse biography A with biography B, while biographers C and D badger literary editors for the chance to write a scathing review. No writer deserves more to remain an enigma than Borges. His matchbox-size fictions, crammed with the densest matter in the universe, provide you with all you need to know about both the man and the country where he was born.

Happy birthday, Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz turned 54 yesterday, and I’m holding out hope that we’ll see her ever-forthcoming new book before her next birthday.

We’re getting closer, anyway; an excerpt, in which Lebowitz argues for the “reinstatement of the state in the church-state equation,” ran in the October issue of Vanity Fair.

For those unfamiliar with Lebowitz’s sharp wit, here’s a brief excerpt from the classic “Writing: A Life Sentence,” which appears in The Fran Lebowitz Reader. And here she is on the distinction between tramps and ladies:

Girls who put out are tramps. Girls who don’t are ladies. This is, however, a rather archaic usage of the word. Should one of you boys happen upon a girl who doesn’t put out, do not jump to the conclusion that you have found a lady. What you have probably found is a lesbian.

Anyway, if I have to, I’m willing to wait another twenty years for the new book. But where’s that documentary Graydon Carter promised?

Rock the vote. Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Stephen Elliott

By Sean Carman, reporting for MaudNewton.com

Stephen Elliott is a really good dancer; I learn why this is the most important election in 50 years; Looking Forward to It is the most fun, idealistic, and inspiring book of the election season.

Just before 11 p.m. on a Friday night, at a party in a warehouse loft in South Seattle, I see Stephen Elliott do absolutely the coolest thing ever. Earlier, at the University of Washington Book Store, Elliott read from Looking Forward to It, his memoir of a year spent on the Presidential campaign trail. Now, a few hours later, Elliott is graciously hosting the Dutch foreign correspondent he brought from the reading to the party, and me and the other fan who have, inevitably, tagged along.

And we’re there talking, and Elliott is telling us, in his innocent and enthusiastic voice, that the genius of Bush is that he figured out that no one cares. “When Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite, that was it,” Elliott says. “Johnson gave up. Bush, though, figured out that if you lie about the war, and call Walter Cronkite names — say he’s the liberal media and that he’s biased — no one will care.”

And it occurs to me then why this is the most important election in 50 years. Everyone’s been saying it, and I’ve believed it, although until this moment I’ve never known why I believed it. But now, suddenly, I understand. Stephen Elliott has explained it to me.

It is because the Bush administration has chosen, as a policy — as a practiced mode of governance — to lie to the American people. And not just about a few things, or the worst things, but about everything. From the reasons for going to war in Iraq, to the reach of and responsibility for prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib, to the economy and Kerry’s Senate record. Bush lies and retaliates against those who stand up for the truth. What this election is about, when you get down to it, is whether such an insidious and audacious political strategy can succeed.

It is at this moment — when the weight of the election is coming down on me — that Stephen Elliott does the coolest thing ever. He motions behind him and says, “So the music is louder this way? Wanna go listen some?” And as we walk into the cavernous next room — splashes of light floating across the walls, the DJ spinning something techno with a solid beat — Stephen Elliot starts dancing. And not just dancing, but dancing really well.

After a few moves Elliott drops his arms onto the shoulders of the Dutch foreign correspondent, who has basically frozen in place, although there is a silly grin working its way up to her eyes. Elliott raises his arms, moves back, and closes his eyes. There is something inspiring — and joyful, really — in watching him so quickly and so gracefully change gears.

Stephen Elliott is a smart guy who knows how to have fun. Maybe, I think, just maybe, he really can save the American electoral process. Continue reading…

n+1′s bookseller conversation: the shocking conclusion

When last we checked in with n+1 magazine, one of the staff of the new, independent endeavor was struggling to sell an issue at a local bookstore.

Two weeks after accepting the issue for sale, the bookstore’s proprietor said that no one among his or her Corrections-crazed patrons had expressed interest in it. If someone did, the proprietor said, he or she would sell that person the magazine for any amount offered.

Today we meet up again with our n+1 hero and learn the shocking conclusion to the “Conversation with a Bookseller”:

n+1: So, did you sell your n+1?

Bookseller: Yes and no.

n+1: Uh . . .

Bookseller: Someone came in, but it was a ringer. Some relative of yours.

n+1: A relative?

Bookseller: Yes. Do you have relatives in New York?

n+1: I have no relatives.

Bookseller: Well, he was a close family friend. He knew all about our previous conversation. And so I felt bad taking money from him, and I said, since you hadn’t charged me for it, I wouldn’t charge him for it either. . . .

Writers spell

A number of writers, including Jonathan Ames, Francine Prose, Thomas Beller, James Frey, Tama Janowitz, Alex Kuczynski, Heidi Julavits, and Adam Haslett, will participate in a spelling bee to benefit the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

Says Publishers Lunch: “Bee Season author Myla Goldberg may have the natural edge (the film version of her novel, starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche, releases next spring).”


  • Richard Eder begins his review of The Double this way: “The novels of José Saramago invent some unearthly event or circumstance — the kind of ‘what if?’ we find in science fiction — and populate it with a murmurous, hapless, sweetly questing humanity.”
  • Mark Holcomb considers Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and concludes: “given the stridency of the times, Robinson’s well-reasoned scrutiny of faith in action is more audacious than pedantic, and it’s difficult to imagine a less sanctimonious writer.”
  • From Tod Goldberg’s introduction to his interview with the editor of Other Voices:
    My god, I thought, these editors are real people! It doesn’t always seem that way when the generic rejection letters come floating in (damn you ZYZZYVA editor Howard Junker and your persistent demand that I go “Onward!”) or when you get your manuscript back seemingly the same day you sent it out (a pox on the house of the Antioch Review). So, for today’s installment of Four Dumb Questions and One Serious One, we visit with Gina Frangello, editor of Other Voices and an acclaimed and talented writer in her own right, in hopes of humanizing her in the eyes of potential submitters. What is more humanizing, I ask, than knowing that Ms. Frangello likely knows all the words to “Hungry Like The Wolf”?

  • Chip Kidd, the “closest thing to a rock star” the field of book design has to offer, delights in the failure of e-books (so far) to take hold: “Nothing gives me more delight than the total, utter failure of e-books . . . Publishers still throw good money after bad on this crap.”
  • Apparently someone has added the reclusive Thomas Pynchon to a website called Am I Annoying?:
    Part of the case for Pynchon’s annoyingness: “His novels are extremely complex and contain many allusions and references that can be difficult to understand.” And for the defense: “He made his only voluntary public appearance on an episode of ‘The Simpsons.’”

  • Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling reportedly “lost several secretarial jobs because she wrote stories on her office computer.” Rejection Collection, a site devoted to authors’ pink slips, receives a mention in the same article about getting fired.
  • Gearing up for Halloween, the Guardian excerpts some superstitions of the British Isles from a new book on the subject.

One week from today

  • From J. Daniel Janzen’s “The Wrong Man’s Burden (With Apologies to Rudyard Kipling)“:
    Take up the Wrong Man’s burden–
    Protect the crude ye must;
    Partition out the oilfields
    To those ye know and trust.
    Though Arabs might suspect it
    And mind it terribly–
    What’s good for Halliburton
    Is good for you and me.

  • Eric Weinberger contemplates Graham Greene’s significance at his centenary:
    When the vice-president can twist Senator John Kerry’s words so that we start snickering at the idea of waging a “sensitive war,” we have left the morally ambiguous territory of Graham Greene, for whom such oppositions or seeming paradoxes were paramount
  • The New Yorker broke with 80 years of tradition this week and endorsed a candidate for president: Kerry. It’s a judicious, well-reasoned article, run instead of the usual “Talk of the Town” section, but I doubt it’ll make much difference where it counts: among Ohioans and Floridians.

Scatalogical and lewd: the best kind of reading

Nathalie Chicha's drawing of Sarah Shun-lien BynumAlthough Nathalie Chicha approaches readings as I do* — “the way children down cough syrup: squirming, making faces we can’t help, but also pleased at our own bravery” — she provides a bang-up report from Sunday night’s reading at P.S. 122.

The event featured John Haskell (I Am Not Jackson Pollock) and National Book Award nominee Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (Madeleine is Sleeping; Chicha’s illustration of the author appears at right).

Haskell “acted out his story with his voice,” while Sarah Shun-lien Bynum:

read her story in a manner no one else could ever emulate, but mainly because she, by nature, has a rare and strange and disorienting voice — somewhere between the sound of a bird cooing and a young girl playing, and over-acting, a wise and wizened woman. Pitched high and tremulous, it sounds Disney-sweet but also panicked, and always faintly out of breath. Delightfully, Bynum announced at the start of her reading that the room’s classroom-like furniture prompted a mischevious urge to “read the most sctalogical and lewd parts” of her novel. And so, her girlish, warbling voice read lines like these: “When M. Jouy placed his cock in her palm, it looked accusingly despondent and she was ashamed, for other girls had spoken of its liveliness. But when she wrapped her sturdy fingers around its girth, it shuddered in her grip like an infant bird.” And if the the text was both lewd and lyrical, it now was also perversely innocent, and innocent by way of its straightforward enthusiasm for the perverse.

* But without actually downing the cough syrup beforehand.


  • He may be a wholly unremarkable writer, but John Grisham’s presence at a Kerry-Edwards fundraiser “helped push donations to an ‘incredible,’ near-six-figure sum.”
  • It’s hard to argue with this assessment of Margaret Drabble’s place in the canon:
    No serious reader of contemporary British literature can afford to overlook Drabble. She is an example of what is best about contemporary British writing, only more so. She delights in intellectual humour . . . Drabble’s women, like many contemporary British heroines, often acquire a lofty education which, rather than elevating their sense of superiority, reminds them of their tantalizing ordinariness.

    If you haven’t tried Drabble, start with The Millstone.

  • The saddest Borges story I’ve ever heard:
    When playing host to the ageing and blind Jorge Luis Borges in the spring of 1971 at his house near St Andrews, the great Argentine asked to be walked down to the promenade and left alone there. After leaving him, [Alastair] Reid glanced back to see his friend had ended up facing inland, rather than facing out over the North Sea, source of his beloved sagas.

  • John Updike reviews a new translation of the Torah from Hebrew scholar and literary critic Robert Alter, and concludes that you may as well hang on to your King James:
    in his very zeal to communicate the nuances of the underlying Hebrew, Alter falls into the error of Vladimir Nabokov’s translation of “Eugene Onegin”: in the effort to achieve absolute fidelity, he settles on rather odd English.

    Take Alter’s version, for starters, of the opening verses of Genesis:

    When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

  • Daniel Menaker, writer and executive editor-in-chief of Random House, reports at Slate on his stint in Ohio this week to register and canvas voters in the battleground state.
  • Astounding parallels between the proprietor of Tingle Alley and this year’s Booker Prize-winning author suggest themselves:
    Hollinghurst life story: “I was a gay, middle-class only child from the provinces, fairly innocent of real life, with a precocious knowledge of music, literature and architecture.”

    CAAF life story: “I was a [sexually incoherent], middle-class only child from the provinces, fairly innocent of real life, with a precocious knowledge of [Duran Duran], literature and [the mall].”

  • Norman Mailer will appear on tonight’s episode of the Gilmore Girls. In an interview, Mailer reveals that the mother character, Lorelai:
    reminds me very much of my second-oldest daughter, Danielle — both of them are like beautiful hummingbirds, constantly talking and adjusting what they say, quick to the breeze.

    And here’s a bit about the episode itself:

    When the 81-year-old author shows up for lunch at her Connecticut inn, Lorelai raves that Rory “read ‘The Naked and the Dead’ while she was still wearing footsie pajamas.” Her culture-sponge mom is inspired to dream of “being a salon. Of course, we’ll have to keep Gore Vidal on the other side of the room, but Gabriel Garcia Marquez will run interference for us.”

    (Second item.)

On drafts: geniuses, and the rest of us

The University of Texas at Austin has acquired 120 boxes of Don DeLillo’s notes, drafts, typescripts, and other materials related to his novels and plays, “as well as a comprehensive collection of articles and stories, correspondence and unpublished material for the screenplay ‘Game 6.’” Some documents date to 1959, while other materials were written as recently as 2003.

This is one of his Underworld notebooks:

DeLillo's Underworld notebook

I’m always impressed and more than a little amazed when writers hand over their drafts for posterity like that. The willingness to reveal notes and thoughts-in-progress must separate the geniuses from the rest of us.

I destroy as I go. I write some pages, type them into my ongoing draft, tear the handwritten versions into a trillion pieces and throw them in a garbage bag with the cat litter.

For kicks I’ve held onto some notebooks from college. I tossed out most of them, along with the ones from (shudder) high school, during the great Teenage Angst Fest of 2003, but I kept one or two for the entertainment value of “ideas” like this one:

character loosely based on X. Well, not X so much as his unwashed/ungroomed/possibly rabid/genital-sniffing wolf cub held illegally in captivity. Include vague reference to Beavis & Butthead and how X sits with wolf cub, both farting, as they watch the show.

Also, this, from notes for a story written in the second person:

Think of Simone de Beauvior. Wonder what she would think if she were in this situation: alone on a train with no cigarettes approached by a handsome stranger who may well be a mouth-breather and clearly is no Sartre.

Notable Scottish and international short stories

Ali Smith and Ian Rankin are among the writers identifying their favorite Scottish and international short stories in an article about the second annual Scotsman & Orange Short Story Award. Smith’s picks:

Best Scottish: Jim Kelman’s “Acid”, only about 140 words long, about a man who’s fallen in a vat of acid and an old man who turns out to be his father comes along with a long pole and as he pushes him under he says “Sorry Hughie”. The whole story’s about acid, about being eaten away, kindness and harshness; not a word is wasted.

Best world: Grace Paley is the best short story writer in the world* and my favourite of hers is “Conversation with My Father” about an old man who is dying and having a row argument with his daughter – about stories, actually. Tying with that is Chekhov’s “After the Theatre”, only four pages long, about a girl who’s just come back from seeing Eugene Onegin, she’s just full of love and sadness and life.

* No argument here.

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s Weekly Events

The Smart Set is a weekly column, edited by Lauren Cerand, that appears Mondays and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please submit details to lauren@maudnewton.com by the Thursday before publication for consideration.

10.25: The Art Deco Society of New York hosts an illustrated lecture and reception exploring the explosive popularity of Art Deco and Modernism in Tokyo that blossomed during the 1923 post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. 6:30pm, $15.

10.26: Cave Canem, an organization “committed to the discovery and cultivation of new voices in African American poetry,” hosts a Legacy Conversation and Reading, featuring Lorenzo Thomas with Harryette Mullen. 7:00pm, $5.

10.27: Granta celebrates its 25th anniversary with a reading and discussion at Symphony Space. I really like Granta, although I should admit that my opinion is based on the fact that I own exactly one issue, the one devoted to “Ambition,” that I picked up at an artist’s loft sale. I read it all the time, though, especially the stories by Doris Lessing and Paul Auster. There are none from that one on the list for Wednesday’s reading, but you should go just the same. 6:30pm, $25. And, of course, don’t ever forget how to kick people. 8:00pm, $7.

10.28: H.G. Carillo, author of Loosing My Espanish, and Ernesto Mestre-Reed, author of The Second Death of Unica Aveyano, read as part of the Latino Authors Series at the Brooklyn Public Library. 7:00pm, FREE.

10.29: Contributors to the anthology, That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, read at Labyrinth Books. “That’s Revolting! is both blueprint and call to action, bringing the post-identity politic of a new generation of queer visionaries to a wider audience. The anthology consists of personal histories, rants, interviews, conversations, activist struggles, practical advice and, of course…glamour.” 7:00pm, FREE.

10.30: St. Hanna: The Patron Saint of the Pumpkin Pie Show, consists of “stories written by Clay McLeod Chapman, performed by Hanna Cheek, music written and performed by Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp of One Ring Zero.” Clay McLeod Chapman is a fabulous storyteller and he keeps himself in good company with this talented ensemble and a performance perfectly suited for All Hallow’s Eve. 10:30, $12.

10.31: At the New York Historical Society, the Children’s Book Club convenes on Sunday to elect Duck For President. Beg, borrow, or steal a tiny, self-absorbed companion so that you can make your own campaign buttons after the reading. Noted: “Bring in a photo or picture of your choice for President.” I think I’m going to crash this one. 11:00am, $5; reservations required.

Writing the bridge between Robinson’s mind and the world

Meghan O’Rourke profiles Marilynne Robinson in the New York Times Magazine. Robinson’s Gilead appears November 19,* a full twenty-three years after her only prior novel, the prize-winning Housekeeping, and long after “most readers had disappointedly concluded that Robinson could not rediscover her fictional voice. She would be written into American literary history as another Harper Lee.”

Not so, says O’Rourke, who paints a fascinating portrait of the brilliant and solitary Robinson. Here’s an excerpt:

Exploring the demands of conscience is the heart of Robinson’s work. Writing is not just an artistic calling but also a religious one: “As a child, I couldn’t see any bridge between where I was in my mind and the world around me. And I like people. I want to interact with them in meaningful ways. I do feel as though I am a highly specialized creature, and other people sort of amaze me with the fluency” — she paused to laugh, darkly, at her own predicament — “with which they do the waltz. If I couldn’t write, I don’t know what would happen, because that is the bridge, you know.”

* Thanks to Thisbe Nissen for the date.

Bloom County creator on scandals he can’t touch

OpusOPUS : 25 Years of His Sunday Best, new out this week, celebrates the 25th anniversary of Berkeley Breathed‘s Bloom County. Breathed talks with USA Today about the constraints on today’s comics pages:

“It’s hard to push the envelope anymore. If Bloom County were starting now, I could never get away with what I did then. I’m getting my hand slapped more than I ever was in the ’80s. It’s a genre that doesn’t want to get shook up.”

Asked to name a scandal he’d like to pounce on, he becomes circumspect. “Bill O’Reilly and his loofah mitt in the shower. Or the one where we invade the wrong country after being lied to, and it costs tens of thousands of lives. Either is just as fun, but people seem oddly more concerned with the former.”

Behind the Booker

John Dugdale reveals that it took four — or possibly five — rounds of voting before Alan Hollinghurst emerged as the winner of this year’s Booker prize:

Two judges (thought to be Tibor Fischer and Robert Macfarlane) were . . . for Hollinghurst, two (thought to be Rowan Pelling and Smith) for David Mitchell. Economist literary editor Fiammetta Rocco wanted Colm Toibin, but when he dropped out, Hollinghurst, decisively, was her second choice. The author Picador poached from Random House is, incidentally, the first British winner since 1998.

SoHo House Booker PartyPicador published two of this year’s shortlisted contenders — the Hollinghurst and the Toibin novels — so the publisher booked two floors of SoHo House for a glitzy party happily devoid of the “fierce infighting and very public feuds” that have characterized past Booker contests:

[A]t Soho House the Toibin and Hollinghurst factions mingled relatively easily. It may have helped that most people admitted to not having read the books.

In the Observer, Robert McCrum grumbles about “the degree to which otherwise sensible publishing houses, committed to the best writing in the market, now pin their hopes on an event that is, from a cool business point of view, as reliable as a spin on a roulette wheel, conducted in a blaze of intoxicating national publicity.”