Self-made Boldtype

Maud here. The Self-Made issue of Boldtype, which I guest-edited with fellow blogger Mark Sarvas, is up now. If you want to know more about the issue, you can read our ongoing discussion of it. And please send along any self-made recommendations of your own. We’ll try to work some of ‘em into a future post.

Also, welcome Boldtype visitors. You should know that Annie Reid of Vancouver, Canada, fellow book lover and fan of Texas Hold’em, takes over this site most Fridays. Everything else that was posted today is her handiwork.

Happy weekend, everybody.

RIP, Mary Lee Settle

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

Historical author Mary Lee Settle has died at the age of 87. Settle was the author of the “Beulah Quintet” novels as well as the National Book Award-winning Blood Ties. She was also, apparently, the brainchild behind the PEN/Faulkner prize:

Ms. Settle, always sympathetic to other writers and an advocate of their causes, decided that authors should have their own awards program, with the winners chosen by fellow authors. That way the selections would be independent of publishing industry influences. The idea turned into the PEN/Faulkner award, which began in 1980 and which, with a $15,000 grand prize, has become the largest of the country’s major fiction awards.

Short story superfuntime!

Thanks to the many of you who sent in the names of your favorite short stories. I’ll post a few each week over the coming weeks, because the entire list is pretty overwhelming. But hey, “overwhelmed” is pretty much my middle name lately, so keep sending them on in! Next week, I’ll even share our diminutive proprietress’s list, as well as those of other fantastically sexy and exciting mystery guests, including the man who Maud and I agree is “the funniest man alive“!

At the risk of being mind-numbingly obvious, tastes are pretty damn subjective. I suppose I was mostly suprised at how few repeats there were, as though I was somehow expecting that a few clear favorites would emerge, as though life were really that boring. But the only two stories that were mentioned more than once were Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” (which I agree is great but not as great as “A Small Good Thing”) and Stuart Dybek’s “Pet Milk” (which I’ve never read, but which is in the mail).

Here’re a few suggestions, and a few annotated lists:

Reagan says that Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” is “absolutely perfect”.

John L. favors “an Irish slant for favorite short stories”, and suggests Frank O’Connor’s “Guests of the Nation” and William Trevor’s “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake”.

The glamorous Pia Z. Ehrhardt suggests Eudora Welty’s “No Place For You, My Love,” and in so doing, reminds me that I’d forgotten somehow about Welty. Shame on me.

Kelly C. puts in a vote for almost anything by George Garrett, but specifically, “That Old Army Game”, “The Witness”, “An Evening Performance”, and “The Wounded Soldier”. I must confess I’ve never read Garrett, although it seems I ought to.

Kate S. suggests Delmore Schwartz’s duly famous “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”. I agree this is a lovely story. I tried to teach it once, but talking about it only seemed to obscure it even more. Some stories – and I found this to be true of the Agee I mentioned last week – shouldn’t really be explained too much.

Nicholas R. sends in this gorgeous list:

One that springs to mind appeared in the New Yorker a few years back and is called “Lunch at the Loyola Arms” by Stuart Dybek. I haven’t read anything else by him but that story really did it for me. A young guy in his 20s makes sandwiches, makes love to his girlfriend and lives with eccentrics. Others I have loved include:

The Smoker by David Schickler
The Black Monk by Anton Chekhov
Martha, Martha by Zadie Smith
The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon
Killing Babies & Tooth & Claw by T.C. Boyle
Neversink by David Benioff
anything by William Boyd

And Nicholas K sends in this list. I think we have similar tastes: Continue reading…

Short story writing = Big Bucks!

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

Okay, okay. Not really true. But it does happen that a few short story-related writing awards with suprisingly large purses have been handed out this week. First off, Ann Beattie won the annual Rea Award, and its 30,000 purse, given for “significant contribution to the discipline of the short story as an art form.” And Californian Yiyun Li was awarded the $60,000 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for her collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.

Repurposing rejection

Lulu, a self-publishing service, offers to help transform any sorrow and anger at rejection letters by doing the the dignified and environmentally responsible thing. At 90 bucks for a pack of four, they’ll transform your rejection letters into custom (two-ply! “facial quality” – thank god, we were all wondering) toilet paper. Lulu says they were inspired by:

the remark attributed to (among others) the great Sir Winston Churchill, who is said to have written in reply to an unwelcome letter:

Dear Sir, I am in the smallest room of the house. I have your letter before me. Soon it will be behind me.

“I Love Little Pussy”

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

Bet you’re wondering what that’s about, eh? That’s what we call a teaser in this biz.

Before we get on to the important literary news of the day, I’ve got something important to talk about, and that thing is Christian ventriloquism. Maud posted earlier this week about the emergence of Christian mimes in our time, and it put me in mind of my old poker buddy back in Austin, who used to talk about his own kin, the Christian ventriloquists, and their mission to bring God to children by re-animating frightening hand puppets and mumbling through closed lips. I always thought Minnie and Vinnie, bless their little wooden hearts*, were a bit of a one-off.

Turns out that it’s hard to throw a stick without hitting a Christian ventriloquist right in the kisser. But the most famous Christian ventriloquist dummy of all was a wee wooden gal named “Little Marcy”. And she put out records! You can read all about the legend of Little Marcy here. But better yet, listen to Little Marcy sing such hits as “Devil, Devil Go Away” and, of course, “I Love Little Pussy”. (Get your stinking minds out of the filthy gutter, people. This is a lit blog!)

*Just for the record, I can verify that when I lived in Texas “bless their hearts” was the standard prefacing to an extensive cataloging of said heart-holder’s faults. But when I lived in Cleveland, the standard intro was “Love her to death, but…” Is that, you think, a key difference between the South and the Midwest?

Writers in ballgowns

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

The nominations for Canada’s Giller Prize were announced yesterday. For those of you Americans who might, for some strange reason, not have heard of this major Canadian writing award, this is some glitzy deal. In addition to the weird candy bars (strawberry Kit Kats!) and the poutine, one of the many great things about Canada is that the Giller ceremony is televised! Live! On CBC! It’s like the Oscars except that writers tend to look way more self-conscious in floofy evening gowns. Except for Alice Munro, natch. The nominees are:

  • Joan Barfoot, for Luck
  • David Bergen for The Time in Between
  • Camilla Gibb for Sweetness in the Belly
  • Lisa Moore for Alligator
  • Edeet Ravel for A Wall of Light

  • Until Monday

    That’s all from me for the week. I’ve got plenty of stuff on tap for you, but — I wish I could think of a classier way to say this — it looks like I shot my load yesterday. The mania has passed. My brain has returned to its previously malfunctioning state. And I need to prepare for the thing I mentioned.

    That tall-tale-teller, Annie Reid, takes over tomorrow and most Fridays. She’s got some short story lists coming your way.

    Have a good weekend.

    The psychopathology of reading

    Two of my best friends, the Antigeist and her man, G., like to read to each other when one of them’s taking a bath. Recently, having worked through all the other short fiction in their apartment, they were left with The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain (or, G. being G., the collected works of Robert Musil, although the Antigeist doesn’t mention that option).

    “The prospect of Twain” (pictured at right), the Antigeist says, “left me sulking in my bubbles,” “pissed that we so carelessly whipped through all our other bath-time short-story favorites.” She goes on:

    G opened the book and read the titles for me to choose from. I suggested he should pick.

    “Okay, let’s read this one.” he said, and added casually, “it’s the story that made my father lose his faith.”


    I was blown away. You have to understand the weight of those words. G’s dad was no ordinary believer, he was a missionary the first half of his life, dedicated to spreading the word of God in foreign lands. An uber Christian [Ed. note: in the Church of Christ vein], who, legend has it, mysteriously lost his faith and left the ministry shortly before G’s conception. It took him over twenty years to reconcile with God — G’s entire child and young adulthood — which is how G came to be a minister’s son who has never spent a day of his life in church.

    A twenty year separation from God because of a short story? Needless to say, my interest was pretty flipping piqued. I had no idea Twain was so dangerous. So punk rock. I would have paid attention had I known he was a holy muckraker! Hell yeah we’re going to read that one.

    (Also, many thanks to Monk for introducing me to this Twain gem: “Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.”)

    Other book stories of note:

    • Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin writes of a situation near but not dear to my heart: the religious household that forbids the children to read anything out of step with God’s Word. “My aunt and uncle are the type of people to challenge books at their children’s schools,” says Crispin, “and they probably would have, had the kids not been shoved into private, strict religious schools from kindergarten on.”
    • And finally, at House of Mirth, James Marcus writes: “At a book party I attended last night, the author gracefully thanked his wife, editor, agent, mother, best friend, and (this being New York) his shrink, all of them in attendance. As the applause died down, I heard the following exchange directly behind me, which could have come straight out of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: “So you’re his psychiatrist!” “So you’re his mother!”

    The Colored Section: a guest opinion by Tayari Jones

    Early this year, a reader wrote in to express her dismay at finding her favorite African American writers’ books sequestered in a special Barnes & Noble section. Hot on her heels came another reader, a former bookstore employee, who argued that outrage over special sections for writers of color is endemic to white readers, and that most readers of black writers prefer the separation. Discussion ensued.

    Today Tayari Jones, an acclaimed African American writer, contributes a nuanced, informed look at the issue.

    A few months ago, I wrote an essay that looked at the African American sections in bookstores like Borders. When I wrote it, just weeks before the publication of my second novel, The Untelling, I believed that these segregated sections were likely the only way that African American authors would reach the readers that are willing (and even eager!) to purchase our books.

    I cited such anecdotal evidence as the listing on Amazon, which suggested that people who purchased my books also purchased other books, not just by black authors, but by black female authors. It seemed that even online, where there are no “sections,” people who looked at my books did so because they like books by black authors. No color blindness there. Then I looked up a couple of books by my white authors, and on their Amazon pages I saw that their readers had also bought books by other white authors. It seemed to me that this was an open and shut case.

    But then, something happened: I went on tour to promote The Untelling. Luckily, Warner Books assigned my novel to Linda Duggins, one of the best (and highest ranking) African American publicists in the business. On my own, I hired Lauren Cerand, an Anglo-American who specializes in event bookings and online publicity. The combined efforts of these very smart and very different women put The Untelling in the hands of a wide swath of the literary community.

    I visited black bookstores like Marcus Books in Oakland, and “mainstream” stores like A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco. Valerie Boyd reviewed The Untelling for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Susan Straight covered it for The Believer. I hit the women’s book circuit, reading at Charis Books in Atlanta and Bluestockings in New York City. A few weeks ago, I published an Op-Ed in The New York Times. As a result of these varied efforts, The Untelling has worked an uncommon mojo: it has found readers in all different sectors of the reading population.

    I am surprised and pleased — as are many of my new readers. Their letters often begin with a disclosure of their race and/or gender. “I am a white man, but I really enjoyed your book” or “I’m not black but your book really touched me.” Often they explain the string of coincidences which caused them to read this book of mine, a work that they wouldn’t have read except for these extraordinary circumstances. I answer all the mail I receive because I really do believe that literature is universal. I want to encourage these readers to keep reading work by women and people of color. I don’t want to be the Great Exception on anyone’s bookshelf. I want to start something.

    This takes me back to the bookstore question. With the increased readership, I find myself wondering what would happen if my book were shelved differently. Right now, you’ll find The Untelling in The Colored Section, cozy between Yolanda Joe and Benilde Little. Now that I have managed to make a little bit of my name for myself, I would probably get more action if I were shelved in the “literature” section right in the front of the store instead of in a separate section, three aisles back. Continue reading…

    U.S. writers and kangaroo: they all taste like chicken

    Unbelievable news: the Edgar Allan Poe Pizza has a rival. At Celebrity Sandwich, you can have the Edgar Allan Poe grilled chicken sandwich with avocado.

    Yes, I think we can all agree that “snappy lemon-mayo” in a smoke-free environment naturally brings Poe to mind. And be sure not to miss the Toni Morrison, Harper Lee, Ernest Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss sandwiches, which are equally well-tailored to the literary figures for which they’re named.

    DeLay indicted; jobs for writers; other causes for celebration

    As if the Tom DeLay indictment weren’t enough to send me on a triumphant five-day bender, I turn my back for a second, and my favorite political blogger, Holly Martins, resurfaces at Wonkette and spends the afternoon riffing on the House Majority Leader’s fall from grace. I haven’t laughed this hard all week. (And no, it has nothing to do with the celebratory flask of bourbon taped under my desk.)

    On a book-related note, you know how everybody’s always proclaiming the death of fiction? Well, here’s a job tip for you novelists out there: if you can’t sell your book — and especially if you can — maybe you can advise the government on the finer points of science!

    Martins reports that Michael Crichton’s vision is now the North Star by which the majority party charts its course on global warming.
    Crichton is testifying today before Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The man who gave the world Disclosure — you know, the book that demonstrated sexual harassment is a tool of oppression wielded by powerful women over their countless male-drone underlings — will now be holding forth on the state of global warning. His qualifications, you ask? He’s written a novel on the subject, and — we hope you’re sitting down — the book in question, State of Fear, is, in the words of our tipster, “a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat story about its hero’s struggle against those who are trying to dupe the world into thinking global warming is a real problem.”

    So, you see, the 17,000 hurricanes that have hit the U.S. in the past couple of years are just a nutty coincidence! And those typhoons in China? The tsunami? A manifestation of God’s displeasure with every country but our own. Pay no attention to those melting ice caps.

    (Holly, man*, start a blog.)

    * I’m assuming. (There’s that guy named Holly Martins in Graham Greene’s The Third Man.)

    Dealing with that which is self-made

    Mark Sarvas and I guest-edited the latest Boldtype (the “Self-Made” issue), and he didn’t throttle me once. He’s a saint, that Mark.

    A blog discussing the review selections — particularly the way fellow book blogger Laila Lalami’s first short story collection came to be among them — was supposed to launch with the reviews, but there’s been some sort of technical glitch. We’re supposed to direct you to a preview of the issue until they get the kinks worked out.

    I’m also posting, without permission, a brief excerpt from my first entry on the Self-Made blog:

    I didn’t expect [Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits] to be in the running for this issue. You’ll probably remember that when we were first throwing ideas around with Boldtype, I said, “Another book that could fit this theme is Laila Lalami’s debut short story collection, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. I don’t think we should include it because Lalami is a book blogger, and we wouldn’t want to be accused of nepotism. But it’s a solid debut collection, and I hope you’ll keep it in mind in the future.”

    Then the longlist of recommendations came in, and one of Boldtype’s usual nominating crew — someone who’s not a book blogger — had suggested Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits for inclusion. So I thought, well, if somebody else thinks it should be in there, and I think it’s a good book and one that fits the theme, why not include it?

    I’ve had second and third and seventieth thoughts since then.

    I know we didn’t have control over the reviewer’s reaction…. But the fact remains: we’re book bloggers, and we compiled a shortlist that includes another book blogger’s debut effort. What would Jennifer Howard say? And would she be right?

    The rest, including Mark’s response, goes live on Friday.

    Tom Hopkins on the Lorrie Moore/Chang-Rae Lee reading

    Last year I saw ZZ Packer and Lorrie Moore read. Despite, or perhaps because of, my longtime adulation of Moore, I was disappointed by her delivery. (Packer was great.)

    When Tom Hopkins mentioned in email last week that he had tickets to the New Yorker Festival’s Chang-Rae Lee/Lorrie Moore reading at Satalla, I asked him to let me know how he liked it. His dispatch, posted below, is a good counterpoint to my disappointment. (And if you’re looking for more New Yorker Festival coverage, Emily Gordon of Emdashes has been covering it for the past week. Here’s her wrap-up pop quiz.)

    Apologies in advance for both the inaccuracy of quotes tipsily scrawled in the dark on index cards, and for my enormous crush on Ms. Moore, rivaled only by my adoration of Judy Budnitz and Aimee Bender.

    Both readers were introduced by New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman. Chang-Rae Lee read first, which seemed sensible, as Lorrie Moore is a hard act to follow. Lee read part of the novel he’s working on now, a section about a woman dealing with the physical and emotional detritus from a shared life, after the death of her husband. (He said that although he never writes short stories, he wished he did, exactly for occasions like this.)

    Moore read “The Juniper Tree” (a ghost story of sorts, set in a college town), which was published in this year’s January 17 issue of The New Yorker. My friend Nicole had hoped to hear something new and unfamiliar (like the section of the novel-in-progress she read at the AWP conference in Chicago in 2004), but I was charmed to see someone read not from manuscript pages, or from a bound book, but from an old copy of the magazine itself. When she got to these lines:

    Every woman I knew here drank — nightly. In rejecting the lives of our mothers, we found ourselves looking for stray volts of mother-love in the very places they would never be found: gin, men, the college, our own mothers, and one another.

    She said, “I just left my gin on the table over there, actually.”

    Treisman, I think (it was hard to see from my vantage point), offered to bring Moore her glass.

    “No, it’s okay,” she said, and continued reading. When she got to this line, a little while later — “‘Maybe we all drink too much gin,’ I said,” — she raised an eyebrow and got a laugh. Continue reading…

    A pantomimed story with a Heavenly meaning

    With the 80′s revival — good and bad — in full swing, inevitably there were going to be mimes. I knew this.

    But I could not have anticipated the Christian Mime Ministry, whose “scripts equip Christian drama ministries to provide sermon illustrations that bring scripture passages and contemporary parables to life through the ministry of pantomime.”

    It’s like my childhood all over again. (Thanks to GMB for the link.)

    Roth on voice — in audio

    On Fresh Air, Philip Roth answers questions about his early works as the Library of America’s anthologies appear.

    Roth declines to read sections aloud. You can almost feel him cringing when Terry Gross pulls out snippets of dialogue and solicits his comments on them. Saying he hasn’t read his first four books in “oh, I don’t know, thirty years?” he dismisses them as his “apprentice work.”

    Early in a writer’s career, he says:

    You don’t know what your natural writing voice is, and you don’t know where your freedom lies as a writer — where you can find your verbal freedom. I certainly didn’t know. What I was trying to find in that novella, Goodbye, Columbus, was a kind of colloquial, loose voice that could accommodate both ordinary speech and a little bit of lyricism….

    In the other stories in that volume, there are different voices, you know? The first four books … could have been written by four different people…. There’s no consistent voice, there’s no consistent approach, there’s no way in which I’ve mastered writing a novel. I hadn’t mastered it. I was trying to figure out what a novel was.

    “Each time I started a book,” he recalls, “I didn’t know how to do it.” Then he pauses and adds, “Now, that’s not changed.”

    Plascencia speaks

    The proprietors of Tingle Alley and Rake’s Progress have been discussing Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper for the last few weeks. (I’ll let you find the rest of the posts on the subject.)

    Today they break down the fourth wall and offer some commentary from the author, including a brief response to Ben Marcus’ Franzen takedown in the current Harper’s. If you like what you read, stay tuned for the free book giveaway.

    Indecision on Chambers

    When Matt Haber and his roommates say they see themselves in Benjamin Kunkel’s mostly well-received Indecision, they really mean themselves.

    my feelings about Indecision are complicated since, for whatever reason, Mr. Kunkel chose to set part of his book in my old apartment. If you knew my roommates or me in that era, you might even be prompted to think that Mr. Kunkel set part of his book in our lives. The Petri dish in which he grew Dwight, his privileged, sexually confused, self-absorbed meta-manchild, was my living room. Mr. Kunkel took little effort to disguise the loft on Chambers Street that I shared with three friends. We lived there out of economic necessity (a student and recent grads) and friendship (three of us went back as far as elementary school). With the help of a non-union carpenter, we built rooms (without ceilings), and we filled the place with our parents’ hand-me-downs. Sometimes we threw parties; sometimes it felt like we were living in a reality show without cameras.

    Writers, of course, are shameless samplers and remixers of their friends’ and families’ lives. (Diddy hides his source materials better than most authors.) But it’s a real drag to hear Scott Simon on NPR describe your fictional fifth roommate as living among “disconnected souls,” or to read Michiko Kakutani describe the way Dwight and his “slacker friends live in a dormlike apartment, spend a lot of time listening to the Dead, ingest tons of drugs and hold lots of zeitgeisty conversations about Truth and Love and Meaning.”

    Sensationalism! We never listened to the Dead. (Maybe we put in “Ripple” once, like, ironically.)