Happy weekend

The lovely but deadly Emma Garman takes over tomorrow and the first Friday of every month.

If you need me, I’ll be drinking a beer somewhere in Brooklyn and pretending it’s a hot summer day and I’m fishing in a lake in the middle of some Miami suburbs that haven’t been built yet.

Have a good weekend.

Living the writing, and more

  • Tod Goldberg used the same author photo for his first two novels. While mulling over the photo possibilities for his third book, he’s “run across the very disturbing trend of authors trying to either look like their characters, or, worse, authors looking like strung out real estate agents.” He posts “a few notably bad author photos,” with descriptions like:
    Granted, this author writes sci-fi fantasy, but are we to believe that she spends her days lounging on gargoyles amidst scented candles? Couldn’t she just, you know, be sitting in a chair?

  • Extreme Vacations for Wordsmiths include:
    It’s a ten-letter word for extreme fun! Ellipses Guiding Services now provides helicopter service to remote living rooms in the mountains of Alaska, where you can solve the Sunday crossword puzzle in peace and frigid tranquility. Our guides have scoured the north reaches to find ideal living rooms with rustic appeal–comfortable couches, good lighting, and nary a child or utility bill in sight. Weekend Word Warriors need not apply–your vacation home has no dictionaries, nor phone service to call in for clues. Your pilot will only return when the puzzle is complete, unless you require food drops. Cabins include two-way radio to listen to NPR and report grizzly attacks.

Ramblings on the nouveau roman

Due to an unfortunate screen adapatation, Marguerite Duras‘ melancholy and breathtaking The Lover* may be the nouveau roman novel most often read by contemporary readers outside of France. At least I hope it is. (If a Hollywood butchering is what it takes, I guess I’m all for that?)

In my early twenties I also worshipped Alain Robbe-Grillet for the cold, detached, and strangely evocative Jealousy. I haven’t read the book in years and am afraid to return to it lest it seem contrived rather than captivating to me now, with its smashed centipede and cinematic insistence on obsessively revisiting, from a variety of angles, all the movements of the protagonist’s wife, “A.,” who seems to be having an affair with the neighbor.

(What I’ve read from Claude Simon, considered by many to be the patriarch of the nouveau roman movement, strikes me as a lot of hot air. But the Nobel committee disagrees, and to be fair I only tried one of his books.)

I’ve yet to try anything by Christine Brooke-Rose, a writer sometimes grouped with the nouveau roman greats (and also, evidently, a woman B.S. Johnson called his soulmate). Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski’s Independent article on forgotten books last year piqued my interest in her work. Now Boncza-Tomaszewski has interviewed Brooke-Rose, who acknowledges that her early writing owes a great debt to Robbe-Grillet:

[Jealousy] is in fact written in exactly the manner I adopted for Out…. I never claim what I was doing in the beginning was original; what I do claim is that I developed it and explored it after Robbe-Grillet.


* The Lover‘s opening lines:

One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place, a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said: “I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.”

Novels on the tenure track

Elaine Showalter, author of Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents, recently answered some questions that Joshua Glenn posed about contemporary academia. Asked why fiction professors “have grown more and more grotesque, and their departmental squabbles more petty” since the 60′s, Showalter responded:

In the early ’70s, the job market for new Ph.D.’s in literature tanked-so untenured professors who write novels have become even more disillusioned. And since 1968 the academy has no longer been a sanctuary-the simplest questions of curriculum or faculty recruitment have been politicized…. Also, by the 1990s English departments had lost confidence in their mission-yet another reason the genre of academic fiction has become so nihilistic.

Timothy Burke, using John Holbo’s thoughts as a springboard, argued earlier this year that the drive to scholarly overproduction and specialization is to blame for the death (or at least increasing obscurantism) of academia.

Remainders: the “yes, I will put out my cigarette — on your face” edition

  • Like most of the bars in [expurgated] after 11:30 p.m., Kurt Vonnegut doesn’t give a damn about New York City’s smoking ban. Especially not when he just wants a smoke in a public park on a fine, sunny afternoon.
  • In the Telegraph, Mark Sanderson says: “The latest annual sales figures from Nielsen BookScan reveal why so many authors are taking up writing for children. The top five authors, according to the amount of money their work made in 2004, were Jacqueline Wilson (£8,347,573), J.K. Rowling (£5,392,239), Julia Donaldson, creator of The Gruffalo – (£4,797,459), Lemony Snicket (£4,633,296) and Philip Pullman (£3,964,892).” Bloomsbury is already tallying its profits for the latest boy wizard book, which doesn’t appear until July 16.
  • The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, and the National Writers Union have filed “a motion for court approval of an $18 million settlement in a class action suit they and 21 freelance writers filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers whose stories appeared in online databases without their consent.” (Thanks to GMB for the link.)
  • B.R. Myers suggests that, with the appearance of Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book, the postmodern novel may have gasped its last breath. Says Myers, “the guilelessness that once had to be willed is now reflexive; and the self-styled literary reader laughs out loud at a farting dog.”

Ian McEwan’s continuing visa travails

Although the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offered Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan “a very fulsome apology” after denying him entry to the country last year, the author’s current visa “took nine months to obtain” and came through only hours before he was set to depart for a U.S. tour to promote his latest novel, Saturday. McEwan told Reuters:

Once you have been refused entry to the States, you go into the computer and you are regarded with suspicion…. It is a matter of enormous irritation.”

I only got in this time by the skin of my teeth. This could well be the very last time I ever get in….

Afternoon remainders

  • Mary Cheney, daughter of the current Vice President, has sold the rights to her memoir for $1 million. Strange how the women of the Vice President’s family are all too happy to write about lesbian relationships for money, but don’t want to take a public stand on gay marriage.

Swink: unpublished writers’ prospects

On Monday, Mark Sarvas reported on the launch party for Swink magazine’s second issue, which includes stories from Sam Lipsyte, Neil LaBute and Carol Test, whose “Conversational English” won the magazine’s Literary Award in Fiction prize.

The issue’s “damaged darling” is a collaboration between Dan Chaon and Stacy Richter. And Michael A. FitzGerald contributes a piece called “I Heart Denis Johnson.” The magazine’s second online theme issue, What We Want, is also out now.

I contributed an online story to Swink last summer, so I’ll keep the rhapsody short: I think it’s one of the most exciting literary publications to appear in the last few years. Perhaps the best stories in the magazine seem so fresh because the editors encourage submissions from unpublished and emerging writers.

If you’re looking for an incentive to send them your best work, read what editor Leelila Strogov had to say late last year about about the way Swink handles writers’ submissions. She answered my questions via email.

How does Swink approach slush pile submissions?

For starters, we don’t refer to it as the slush pile. We refer to all our unsolicited manuscripts as just that — manuscripts or submissions. Unlike some magazines, we go through unsolicited manuscripts first, and only after that turn to soliciting as a means of filling in the gaps. So, the typical “slush pile” actually takes priority in our world. While we love publishing authors we admire, there is an excitement about finding a piece you’re crazy about in a stack of paper that reaches your knees. There’s also a unique satisfaction in corresponding with a writer who’s clearly excited to be published by us versus an author who is established enough to be published pretty much anywhere he or she wants. My favorite response from an emerging writer was from a guy who simply responded to my acceptance email with: “I’m freaking out in my cube right now.” Reading his piece made my day; reading his email made my week. (His essay will be in our forthcoming issue–it’s phenomenal.) Continue reading…

Key West barkeep continues to pitch his establishment as God’s gift to drinkers because Hemingway got shitfaced there*

Sloppy Joe’s (“Hemingway’s favorite bar”) seeks an exemption from Florida’s ban on smoking in restaurants. The owner wants the state legislature to “redefine what it considers a ‘stand-alone bar.’”

Related reading:

* Look, I adore Hemingway and all, but where in Key West did he not tie one on?

Ms. editor-in-chief quits

Elaine Lafferty, the best thing to happen to Ms. magazine in years, has resigned.

The Observer reports on Lafferty’s tenure at the magazine:

When she started as editor in chief of Ms. in March 2003, “there was no inventory, no staff–it was like a startup, and they needed a summer issue,” said Ms. Lafferty. She assembled a masthead, with a handful of employees based in California and a poetry editor, fiction editor and designer scattered along the East Coast.

“My vision of Ms. was that it would be a thinking woman’s magazine–a feminist magazine for sure, but my vision of feminism is a big tent,” said Ms. Lafferty. “As the original Ms. was; they didn’t check membership cards at the door. I don’t believe in dogma, in exclusion or rhetoric. I thought it could be a magazine that invites women into the conversation about how we live today.”

One of her ways of doing that was by drifting into territory that might be seen as sexier–or, to some, fluffier–and possibly beyond the realm of concern for traditional feminists, who remember the days before anti-discrimination laws and Roe v. Wade. One such example was a feature about the television show Desperate Housewives, which is on the cover of the current issue. The cover text: “Desperate Housewives: Do We Hate It or Secretly Love It?” appears in block letters on a pink background, as stark as a Bank of China billboard. Inside is a debate about whether the show objectifies women or empowers them.

According to Ms. Lafferty and other staffers at the magazine, lawyers for the Feminist Majority Foundation objected to the original cover that had been designed for the issue. It featured the apron-clad torso of a buxom woman with the words “Desperate Housewives” across her ample bosom and a triangle of black text between her legs. Just as the issue was going to press, the cover was pulled and exchanged for the plain one.

Christine of Ms. musings, the blog associated with the magazine, hasn’t offered any comments on the story yet. And as far as I know, there’s no word yet on the future plans of Ms. fiction editor Amy Bloom.

First he takes Manhattan, then he takes — the Nobel?

During a panel discussion at Blue Metropolis, Montreal’s international literary festival, a prominent Canadian radio host will make the case that songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen should win the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Michael Schaub agrees, and I can think of far less deserving writers whose names have been put forward.)

In 2003, Canada awarded Cohen its highest civilian honor for his achievements “in the arts and pop culture.”

Doomed adaptations

Stephen Galloway puzzles over doomed screen adaptations, starting with John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces — “now on indefinite hold” — and surveying a few other big-budget options that didn’t pan out. Among other things, he notes that “Warners owned rights to Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel The Secret History for years before Miramax took it over, only to drop the project when Gwyneth Paltrow wanted her brother Jake to direct.”

One screenwriter, Stephen Schiff (Lolita), argues that projects fail because:

In some ways, producers and studios are more exacting than book editors often are…. In the book world, you can get by with a lot of fairly slack stuff, especially if you have written best sellers. If you are a brand name, you can write some fairly shoddy stuff, and no editors will raise a voice — whereas by the time (the book) gets to the screen, you have had these squadrons of people checking every aspect of the plot and characters.

But Kevin McCormick, an executive Vice President at Warners, “says studio executives should recognize that the source of a book’s appeal might also be what makes it difficult to adapt”:

From our perspective, when we buy a book, we are buying not just a story but a voice…. It is not just an idea. So often, you are challenged by: How do you adapt that voice?

It is, indeed, no wondering that advertisings are bad

According to Microsoft Word, these sentences are grammatically correct:

  • Marketing are bad for brand big and small. You Know What I am Saying?
  • It is no wondering that advertisings are bad for company in America, Chicago and Germany.
  • Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft.
  • Microsoft the company should big improve Word grammar check.

Sandeep Krishnamurthy, a University of Washington professor, has posted documents riddled with errors that slip through Word’s Grammar Check program. (Via Slashdot, thanks to Mr. Maud.)

If bloggers only offer lists of lists, what of the media critics who evaluate bloggers’ offerings?

Sarah Boxer continues her snide assault (see a reference to part one here) on bloggers and Internet discourse generally, arguing that the Web’s offerings are nothing more than “lists of lists.”

But About Last Night, The Elegant Variation, Return of the Reluctant, Sarah Weinman, and many other blogs I read — just go to the article; there’s no point in trotting out all the names again here — get a mention, so people can judge the offerings for themselves.

Remainders: role of the Good Book edition

Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court threw out a death sentence in a rape-and-murder case after discovering that jurors copied verses from the Bible while deciding how to sentence the defendant. Agreeing with the defense attorney’s argument that the jurors went beyond the law in administering the sentence, the court observed:

At least one juror in this case could have been influenced by these authoritative passages to vote for the death penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence.

(Via Moby Lives.)

Among the passages considered were Old Testament verses advancing the old “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” retributive justice scheme.

(Funny how hardcore Evangelicals never seem to notice that Christ himself called this sort of retribution into question, saying, in Matthew 5:38-39, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”)

Colorado Governor Bill Owens argued that the ruling is “demeaning to people of faith and prevents justice from being served.” Never mind that jurors normally are expected to, you know, follow the law and the judge’s instructions rather than their religious convictions, or that, say, a devout Catholic who objected to the state’s death penalty for religious reasons would have been kicked out of the jury pool.

In the weekend’s New York Times Book Review, James Kugel reviewed Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It?, a work that highlights the Protestant overthrow of historical, scholarly interpretations of the Bible. In Kugel’s words:

Protestant denominations became the leading sponsors of a new movement to read the Bible with unblinkered eyes, rejecting all past traditions about what it meant … and reckoning only with the words of Scripture themselves.

Seems like a democratic approach, right? But somehow recent years have seen a rise in spurious and increasingly reactionary teachings based on plain-language interpretation principles not unlike the original construction approach to the U.S. Constitution advanced by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his ilk.

Other Bible-related links:

  • Canongate recently published an anthology of introductions, from the likes of Bono, Nick Cave, Joanna Trollope, and Will Self, to books of the Bible. Titled Revelations, the book will do little to quell the public’s tendency to erroneously pluralize the title of the last book of the New Testament, but it’s inspired impassioned protests from fundamentalists who object to the treament of the Bible as literature.
  • Maureen Dowd argues that “Vatican officials did not read to the end of Mr. Brown’s novel [The Da Vinci Code] or they never would have denounced it.”

Kill the reading?

The weekend’s Times ran an excerpt from “Cancel Them: The Problem With Literary Readings,” which appears in the latest issue of n+1. Some salient bits:

If you’ve made the mistake of going to literary readings, you know that the only thing that can make them endurable is to ha at each funny bit, and ah at each clever observation, and oh at any grotesque turn. Pity rescues art on these occasions. But art can’t survive it.

A reading is like a bedside visit. The audience extends a giant moist hand and strokes the poor reader’s hair…. And the work he’s reading – well, in this format, who can tell if it’s any good on the page? Nobody.

Elsewhere, Leonard Pierce suggests that arts enjoyed in solitude, like reading, appeal less to Americans than performance-based arts, like film and music, because “performance is democratic! It’s all-American! A play or a television show or a performance piece is part of the process, not like some dirty Nazi drawing or short story.” Pierce also examines the deficiencies of early and recent forms of collaborative writing (or reading), including religious texts, political manifestoes, round-robin novels, exquisite corpse, screenplays, “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, Mad Libs, and Internet message boards.