The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled 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 by the Thursday prior to publication, with the date of the event in the subject line.

MONDAY, 10.31: “The Reader’s Room, co-hosted by Emilie Stewart and Leigh Newman” presents “a line-up of chilling, thrilling noir writers, picked by the editors of the new book series Hard Case Crime.” Featured readers include Charles Ardai (aka Richard Aleas), Max Phillips, Jason Starr, and Megan Abbott. Mo Pitkins. 7:00pm, no cover. In Brooklyn, Clay McLeod Chapman, who drives me crazy in the best way, takes the stage for SMUT’s “Halloween Super Dirt.” Actually, Galapagos is treating tricks? a trickin’ treat? all night with Halloween-themed films (Ocularis, 7pm) and appropriately festive burlesque at 10. Full schedule. Highly recommended. 8:00pm, no cover.

TUESDAY, 11.1: Jean Nathan, author of The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, a poignant portrait of the heartbreaking life of childrens’ book author Dare Wright, reads from the book at The Educational Alliance. Recommended. 7:00pm, free.

WEDNESDAY, 11.2: If you like your pop packaged with bubblegum, teenage girls, and like, appalling? displays? of like, shameless? nepotism? definitely do check out The Like at Tower Records. The band performs live at 6:00pm, free.

THURSDAY, 11.3: Via our anonymous yet charming correspondent at Living with Legends, “Undercover Lover, the recently rediscovered unproduced 1961 musical comedy with book and lyrics by acclaimed playwright/lyricist former Hotel Chelsea resident Arnold Weinstein in collaboration with legendary poet Frank O’Hara. With music by John Gruen, orchestrations by William Bolcom and direction by Obie-Award winner Barbara Vann… [at] The Medicine Show Theatre.” 8:00pm, $15.

FRIDAY, 11.4: Self-described as “party music for smart people,” the Claudia Quintet means you, dummy. At Whitney Live (nee “Soundcheck”, the superior moniker?). 7:00pm, “Whitney Live programs are free with Museum admission, which is pay-what-you-wish on Fridays from 6 to 9 pm.”

SATURDAY, 11.5: Laila Lalami, (Moorish Girl – maybe you’ve heard of it?) Portland-based author of the much-praised Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits reads from her debut novel at Cornelia Street Cafe, with Nathalie Handal, Sholeh Wolpe, and Matthew Shenoda. Highly recommended. 6:00pm, $8 cover includes one house drink.

SUNDAY, 11.6: Why not plan a grand adventure? Me, I’d love to visit Venice, especially since I read about the collection of masterworks on permanent display at Peggy’s palazzo… Currently got my eye on: City Secrets Florence, Venice and the Towns of Italy and The Antique and Flea Markets of Italy, both available through the sublime Little Bookroom (20% off everything online!). Any marvelous books set in La Serenissima that I should add to my reading list? Let me know.

Phil Campbell’s asthma-inducing book jacket quest

I’ve said it before, but my friend Phil Campbell’s Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics is a blunt, hilarious assessment of an idealistic and ultimately ill-fated city council bid he managed. Campbell indicts not only his own small-time Seattle campaign but the race-to-the-middle mindset that pervades all aspects of contemporary politics. If you’re looking for solutions, or for even the tiniest atom of hope, Campbell’s definitely not your man. But if you’re interested in a cold, hard and highly entertaining look at the situation the American left finds itself in, give his book a try.

Here Campbell writes about his search for Zioncheck‘s cover.

My book is named after Marion Anthony Zioncheck, a young radical from the 1930s. Elected to Congress the same year FDR was elected President, Zioncheck was a legendary boozer, a terrible driver, and a relentlessly idealistic politician. When he realized how difficult it was for one man to change the world for the better, Zioncheck went insane. He had an eight-month long public breakdown that involved arrests, violence, front-page tabloid articles, involuntary commitment to a sanitarium, and a tragic ending that I will not give away in this essay. Marion Zioncheck is the patron saint of the book.

As a writer with no graphic design experience, I had no idea how someone would come up with a book cover involving these themes. My book was so deeply personal to me, in the way that all books are deeply personal to their authors, that I toyed with the idea of asking the editors to just leave it blank like the White Album, or like the early edition of George Orwell’s 1984, which was kept simple, as were many books that were published in the first half of the twentieth century.

Zioncheck for President‘s first cover design was created by Evan Sult, a friend of mine who appears in this memoir. Since the book is (mostly) about a grassroots, DIY political campaign in Seattle, it made perfect sense to have someone who had a cameo role in the book also contribute to it artistically. DIY, in fact, is the best way to describe Evan’s approach, since he decided he would just make a cover image for me, and after we had worked together on it a little we would submit it to my editor on ‘spec.’

I exhorted Evan to create a book cover that exploded with theme: idealism, obsession, madness, failure, and hope. Also, ambiguity and contradiction. And, while I was at it, no goddamn images of Seattle’s Space Needle, which would only make readers in New York and Cleveland think this was a regional book; it may not be red-state read, but Zioncheck for President is more than just a city-council elections story.

This is what he came back with. Here’s Evan’s run-down of what he hoped to convey:

  • The composition itself is meant to imply an American flag.
  • The staircases leading into–or out of–the center are hopeful but also connote death.
  • The halo of light bulbs intimates both hope and idealism; the one burnt-out bulb alludes to Marion Zioncheck’s failed mental faculties in 1936.
  • The empty room and the crowded, dim bulbs on the ceiling suggest someone against whom the odds are stacked.

I was entranced by Evan’s cover. He had created a complex work, and elegant work; or at the very least, he had designed something that didn’t echo the cover work of all the other books out there, an embarrassing problem exposed by Galleycat last year.

But could I trust my own reaction? This is my first book, and every little step towards publication has felt like a joy ride in a stolen car: unreal and intoxicating. Just seeing my name for the first time on a proposed cover was enough to cloud my judgment. Doubt began to gnaw at pleasure. Having spent three years alone, writing, slowly transforming a stuffy political diary into an aggressive political campaign adventure, I was now being confronted with work that was not my own, but which had a real chance of influencing my book’s chances of success.

And had I been too hubristic in my instructions to Evan? Continue reading…

Austin novels

In a review of Karen Olsson’s Waterloo for the Austin-American Statesman, Russell Cobb wrings his hands over an alleged dearth of novels set in Austin. Apparently nobody thought to tell him about James Hynes’ Kings of Infinite Space, one of the best novels published last year. It begins:

One brutally hot summer’s morning, Paul Trilby — ex-husband, temp typist, cat murderer — slouched sweating in his t-shirt on his way to work, waiting behind the wheel of his car for the longest red light in central Texas.

Michael Schaub, another Austinite, interviewed Hynes in June, 2004, at “a coffee shop in The People’s Republic of South Austin.”

Halloween DorĂ© overdose


Spending too much time with Gustave Doré’s drawings almost makes me wistful for my childhood terror of demons. Back then, because of my mom’s obsession with possession and exorcism, and the impromptu deliverance sessions that would spring up in our living room, the spirit world seemed immediate and ever-threatening, a place the Devil could emerge from with his scythe and suddenly drag you off to.

If there’s an artist who captures the spirit of Halloween — not the contemporary, let’s-all-be-sexy-witches version, but the Celtic notion of a night when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead blurs — it’s Doré.

The image at the top of this post is taken from his illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Such a perfect union of despairing, supernaturally-obsessed souls.

Someone has put together a great site that allows you to send illustrations from “The Raven,” The Divine Comedy, The Bible, or “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” to name just a few, as email postcards. Here’s one from The Inferno.

Past Halloween posts:

  • The “Hallelujah parties” (fundamentalist substitutes for trick-or-treating) of my youth.

No Disgrace for Fiennes

When reports surfaced in January that Ralph Fiennes had signed on to play David Lurie in the film version of Coetzee’s Disgrace, I thought he was too young. Fiennes ended up thinking along the same lines.

“I wrestled with that for a long time, I just felt in the end that I was too young. I’m 42 and I think that’s 10 years too young to have a grown-up daughter and to be having an affair with a student. I think to have the disgrace you have in the book, the audience has to feel: ‘You vain little git,silly idiot’, to believe the character.”

Anybody know if the project has stalled?

Coetzee, and suffering in fiction

In the current New York Review of Books, John Lanchester tracks some of the concerns that have increasingly preoccupied J.M. Coetzee since Disgrace, and considers the function the author character, Elizabeth Costello, serves in the latest novel.

When a writer turns up in his own fiction it is often to pose questions about the arbitrariness and artificiality of narrative. That doesn’t seem to be the main focus of Coetzee’s interest here. It is more, perhaps, a question of ethics, touching on the morality of making people up, and then devising trials and torments for them, designed to expose and test their deficiencies. Is there anything of ethical content to be said about the fortunes of these imaginary people? Does making things up have an effect on the maker, and on the reader? At one point in Elizabeth Costello, she speaks of the terrible effects books can have on their writers. (“Certain books are not good to read or to write.”)

This seems to be the concern Coetzee is continuing to investigate in Slow Man, which is a novel about the difficulty of writing novels, and especially about the peculiar sense in which the creatures in novels can be said to exist. A cartoon version of this would be to say that Coetzee has moved from a concern about human beings to a concern about animal beings to a concern about fictional beings. A reader who has followed Coetzee’s books since Disgrace, and followed the thread of ethical inquiry that runs through them, might pose Slow Man’s central question differently: Why should we care about fictional characters when the world is so full of real suffering?

A rejoinder from Dave Weich of Powell’s Books

Earlier this week, I briefly interviewed Dave Weich of Powell’s Books about the store’s dual focus on traditional and Internet customers.

In the exchange, I mentioned that I worry, particularly as neighborhood bookstores (traditional outlets for used books) fall by the wayside, and the cost of new books at the chains continues to skyrocket, about lower-income readers who lack the resources to buy the books for sale online. In response, Mr. Weich noted that most public libraries offer free Internet access and that online book sales have driven down the price of books. He acknowledged that purchasing books online requires a credit card, but said that while “some people will be left out,” “relative to the price of a movie, to cite one example, the book industry holds up quite well.”

When the interview appeared, the proprietor of the Literary Saloon took strong exception to Weich’s perspective. Since I ran the original piece, and remain concerned about the inaccessibility of Internet book sales to low-income readers, Mr. Weich has followed up in email, offering some further thoughts. I’m posting them here without comment and plan to examine some of these issues further in a mammoth, future post, already in progress, about bookstores.

Dave Weich’s response:

In a blog entry dated October 27, 2005, the proprietor of the Literary Saloon, Michael Orthofer, suggests that is hypocritical for publishing an essay decrying contemporary fiction’s reluctance to grapple with very real issues of poverty when its director of content (that would be me) fails to acknowledge those same problems. To support the claim, he refers to an email exchange posted on

Maud asked whether the Internet deprives lower-income readers of access to books. She cited the disappearance of neighborhood bookstores and the high price of new hardcovers to support the hypothesis.

Mr. Orthofer took a line from my response so thoroughly out of context (and subsequently made such damning indictments on my character) that it hardly seemed worth my energy to respond. On the other hand, he’s given me an opportunity to engage smart readers in a fact-based dialogue about the book industry. So here goes. Continue reading…

In case you just awoke from a two-week nap

Libby, indicted on five counts, resigns. Rove escapes indictment for now, but the investigation will continue — a situation the right-wing’s favorite talking action-figure Barbie calls the “worst possible scenario” for the White House.

Americablog summarizes the special prosecutor’s press conference as it happens. The upshot: Libby compromised national security and lied about everything to the grand jury. The indictments are available online.

Apparently Libby writes thrillers centered on “conspiratorial murmurs.” I wonder where on earth he gets the inspiration for those? (Last link via Bookslut.)

Not for the squeamish among ye

The diagram of Patrick Hughes’ anal fissure may be the most memorable Breakfast of Champions reference I’ve ever seen.

Details, if you dare, are available in the latest diary of indignities installment.

Related reading: Vonnegut used to sign books with drawings of assholes, but in his later years reportedly declined a signing request, “saying, ‘Too often it becomes a matter of physical prowess.'” (Scroll to second comment for the quote.)

Friday morning

Annie Reid normally steps in on Fridays. Unfortunately, she’s still technologically challenged and slightly under the weather, so today it’s just you and me — and the stacks of jargon-laden pages that’ll be awaiting me at the day job when I straggle in. (It’s just after 2 a.m. now.)

Until I have a free minute, if you’re not too preoccupied by the pending big news, read about Mark Twain’s boyhood biography of Satan or watch what happens when Mr. Sun invites Mr. Reality to the latest blogosphere meme.

Return of the “twinkling buttocks” champion

Steve of Splinters points to an enthusiastic TLS review of “one of the most vile books to be published anywhere: Theodore Dalrymple’s collection of hate-filled essays about modern Britain written for Far Right US publications. Just reading the review is an upsetting experience.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Dalrymple — and according to Steve that’s not his real name — please consult “Now how will he know which children to kick in the road as he passes?”

More perspectives on Google Print

  • Lawrence Lessig contends that “Google Print could be the most important contribution to the spread of knowledge since Jefferson dreamed of national libraries. It is an astonishing opportunity to revive our cultural past, and make it accessible.”
  • Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash, a member of the Association of American Publishers, posts his thoughtful dissent from the association’s lawsuit against Google.
  • James DeLong, head of the Center for the Study of Digital Property, advocates an opt-in approach — under which copyright owners would explicitly ask to have their work included — for more recent works.