Happy New Year

Tomorrow I leave for Florida — mostly the Tampa/St. Pete area this time. I’ll try to pre-post a few things, and I may drop in once or twice, but it’ll stay fairly quiet around here until the 10th or so.

I hope you all have a wonderful 2006. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Jesus meets free love

My stepfather and some other people I know — used to know, anyway — were in the Children of God before they joined my mother’s church. So was River Phoenix. No one ever explained to me precisely what this meant.

Now, thanks to some surviving tracts unearthed here, I can express everything you need to know in one simple formula: Hippies + Christian Evangelism = Violent Nausea.


Eulogy for a book designer

“For years, I belonged to a book club that had only two members: me and a person I’d never met, Fred Marcellino,” says Michael Bierut.
[He's] is not a designer whose name you hear much these days. Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger, the authors of By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design, stop short — just barely, one senses — of consigning him to the dustbin of design history….

Even at his height, the end was near for Fred Marcellino’s unique style of image-making.

Continue reading…

Turkey on Pamuk: one law, two sides of mouth

Turkey admits that the ongoing prosecution of Orhan Pamuk has “tarnished its image,” and says it will not bring new charges against the writer for allegedly “insulting the military” on a more recent occasion. It will, however, allow the current prosecution to proceed.

“If necessary we can change these laws [that make insulting Turkey a crime],” the foreign minister reportedly said. “However, first we will see how these laws are interpreted.”

The December 2005 issue of Words Without Borders, “Women on the Verge (Of European Union),” is devoted to writing by Turkish women. Elif Shafak contributes an essay on “Women Writers, Islam, and the Ghost of Zulaikha.” Shafak recently joined other Turkish scholars in a panel discussion on Turkey’s failure to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

Earlier this year, she spoke about standing “on the threshold between East and West”:

As a writer who happens to be a woman, and one who is attached to both Islamic and Jewish and Christian heterodox, heretical mysticism, I reject using the rationalised, disenchanted, centralised and ‘turkified’ modern language put in front of me. [...] The fact that my writing is replete with both old and new words and Sufi expressions, has led to it being extensively criticised by the conventional cultural elite, but I refuse to choose.

Your britches, now subway contraband

The proprietor of Languor Management: nonprofit writer — or terrorist?

The cop pulled out my laptop looked it up and down and asked, “What’s this for?”

“It’s a computer.” I was trying to be helpful.

His eyes narrowed and his lip curled on the right side again. He thought I was mocking him! “I mean, why do you have a computer with you?”….

“There’s a change of clothes in this bag. Why?” He lifted up a pair of dark-green corduroys, a blue button down office shirt, a t-shirt, some boxer shorts and socks…. Now they were piled on the filthy platform floor. Up to this point, my underwear has never been lying on the floor of the subway. They had been my favorite pair — dark green with gold chevrons — and though clean, now they looked about as sordid as a used condom that had been discarded on the street.

“They’re for work. I might not come home tonight,” I answered.

“You might not come home? Why don’t you know? What are you doing?”

Will your book sell?

Astonishingly, statisticians have not yet been able predict the success of a book with 100% certainty, despite rigorous extrapolations from bestselling titles.

This year’s runaway bestseller [The Da Vinci Code] should have had only a 36% chance of reaching the charts, according to Alvai Winkler and his team. Their model fits work by some topselling authors but gives only middling marks to the Harry Potter titles and rules out almost everything by Charles Dickens except for his lesser-known Christmas story The Battle of Life.

But don’t fret. Surely publishers will come to their senses one of these days and turn their attention entirely from the content of books — such an archaic and tedious consideration — to scientific analyses of future earnings based on title, cover art, author photo, and dimensions of the physical object.

Shitty proofreading, circa 1869

This excerpt from Mark Twain’s 1869 letter to Elisha Bliss reveals that the incompetent proofreader has a long and venerable history.

I wish you would have MY revises revised again & look over them yourself & see that my marks have been corrected. A proof-reader who persists in making two words (& sometimes even compound words) of “anywhere” and “everything;” & who spells villainy “villiany” & liquefies “liquifies &c, &c, is not three removes from an idiot infernally unreliable.

(From Mark Twain: A Life; concerning Innocents Abroad.)


  • The world celebrates the centenary of Samuel Beckett’s birth next year. (Via Bookslut.)
  • Translator Edith Grossman and Cuban novelist Mayra Montero interview each other. “I’m curious: How did you feel when you first read my translation of your work into English?” Grossman asks. “As though I were in front of a mirror,” Montero says.
  • For an elective Bible study class, a Texas school district has adopted a text put out by a Protestant religious advocacy group. An SMU professor evaluated the book last fall and said it contained “factual errors, promoted creationism and taught that the Constitution was based on Scripture.”
  • Action star Paul Walker joins Anthony Hopkins in a stop-and-go film about Hemingway.

Innovators and sorcerers need not apply

In the current (print) issue of Poets & Writers, David Hollander (L.I.E.) takes a hard look at the MFA system that rejected one of his most talented undergraduate writing students.

“What is it, Hollander?” the student wrote. “Because I just got my last rejection notice, and I’m sick of digging holes for a living.”

“Within minutes,” Hollander says:

my guilt metamorphosed into rage. I’ve worked with nearly fifty graduate students, and I feel confident saying that not a single one has possessed Derek’s raw talent, his courage, or his willingness to write about the scary stuff that most people refuse to look in the eye. It’s safe to call Derek a “dark” writer. His stories are relentless and terrifying, despite the fact that he writes about the mundane — about manual labor and emotional exhaustion and bad relationships and the like. He’s an innovator, a sorcerer with a sentence and a writer with a vision. In short, he’s not what MFA programs are looking for.

Continue reading…

Reading Hunter S. Thompson amid the Moral Majority

As a high school student in Mississippi, Donna Tartt worshipped Hunter S. Thompson, dragging his books everywhere, listing him as a reference and naming him the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. But she also devoted time to writing and winning essay contests sponsored by right-wing organizations.

She explains the paradox in the current (print) issue of Vogue.

During those years (when I was either trapped in my cinder-block bunker of a school down in Mississippi or — more entertainingly — roaming drunk around airports as the all-expenses-paid guest of political organizations whose valuses I didn’t share), Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was my constant companion. I kept his books in my locker at school, and I smiled for group pictures on the Capitol steps with his gloomy voice (psychotic… delusional… how long can we maintain?) echoing in my ears. In my own view, I was a double agent: an outwardly cheerful and apparently harmless American child who had by some insane whim of the governing class been welcomed deep into the heart of Republican darkness. I believed that I was a member of Uncle Duke’s secret army, entrenched behind enemy lines; and furthermore, I believed that I was not alone. I believed that scores of other kids like me were keeping their eyes and ears open in hick towns all across America: a nest of hissing vipers, nursed deep in the bosom of Jesse Helms and the Moral Majority. And I believed that someday, when we grew up, we would take over the country.

I was wrong.


Still more 2005 books

I wrote about some of my favorite fiction of 2005 in the weekend’s Newsday. (Scott McLemee, Laurie Muchnick, James Marcus, and Maureen Corrigan also contributed selections.)

But the best (quasi-)new book I read this year was a reprint (outside the scope of the Newsday assignment). I’ve said more about it, and listed other 2005 standouts, including nonfiction, at Good Reports (scroll down).

My favorite novel of the year is the University of Chicago Press reprint of Peter DeVries’ The Blood of the Lamb, a tirade against faith inspired by the death of the author’s daughter. Not since Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair has a book rendered man’s rage against a hostile God so visceral. The Blood of the Lamb has its defects; it lacks the structural perfection of the Greene book, for one thing. But, unlike Greene’s unremittingly bitter and wistful Bendrix, DeVries’ Don Wanderhope moves deftly from manic hilarity to manic fury, and back again, as he tells his story. At the end, all humor drains away in a strange, explosive and utterly hopeless confrontation with the divine.

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 lauren@maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the date of the event in the subject line.

MONDAY, 12.26: “Filmmaker Grace Lee suspects that her name is unusually common among Asian-American women. But why do people assume Grace Lee denotes a svelte, dutiful, piano-playing bookworm rather than the great variety of modern women who actually answer to the name — including one who tried to burn down her high school! The Grace Lee Project takes a small kernel of truth (what’s in a name?) and spins it into a delightful, lighthearted look at stereotypes of Asian women.” At Film Forum through December 27.

TUESDAY, 12.27: Makor screens the documentary The Last Jews of Baghdad, which explores the cultural life of the city’s Jewish population, diminished from a height of 160,000 to now just 22. 7:00pm, $9.

WEDNESDAY, 12.28: Stephen Sondheim recommends Henry Fool, screening at the Museum of Modern Art as part of its “Artist’s Choice” series, commenting that, “It’s genuinely mysterious, and one of those rare films that feels greater than the sum of its parts.” 8:15pm, $10. Also, “What’s The Word Wednesdays features “talented poets from around the way to around the world” at The Sugar Shack in Harlem. “General admission $5; poets $2″. Additionally, “activist, artist, writer, and educator Beverly Naidus discusses the history and power of art for social change” with a slideshow and talk at Bluestockings. 7:00pm, $5-10 suggested.

THURSDAY, 12.29: The Bowery Poetry Club presents the Urbana Reading Series, hosted by slam poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. Noted, “Even though this quirky and eccentric slam series has featured some of the biggest names in poetry it remains a warm and welcoming venue for all kinds of poetic voices: political, confessional, musical, and spiritual. The series has won the national poetry slam championship a record THREE TIMES.” 7:15pm, $5.

FRIDAY, 12:30: Patti Smith & her band perform at Bowery Ballroom. 8:00pm, $40 (There is also a New Year’s Eve show on Saturday evening; 9:00pm; $55). Also, at the International Center of Photography, Che! Revolution and Commerce explores the iconic portrait that is “claimed to be the most widely reproduced image in the history of photography.” e.g. lately, Che Doctorow. The museum’s hours on Friday are 10:00am – 8:00pm; $10.

SATURDAY, 12.31: I like the idea of spending New Year’s Eve at home with close friends. However, watching the ridiculous “Making of” videos (!) behind Karl Lagerfeld’s ad campaign at DomPerignon98.com may be just as fun. If you’re keen to go out, the most intriguing option I’ve seen yet [via Sunday Salon]: “Put a feather in your fedora for STAIN’s 2nd annual END OF PROHIBITION CIRCA 1933 themed New Year’s Eve bash. Featuring Brooklyn Brewery giveaways, costume prizes (think: Roosevelts, Dick & Jane books, Snow White, bankers jumping out of buildings, golden age of film stars, more), there’ll be a ball of some sort dropping, swinging jazz soundtrack, screening of original KINGKONG movie, drink specials, shenanigans, sparkling wine. And best of all, no cover!!” Highly recommended. 8:00pm.

SUNDAY, 1.1: The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church hosts its 32nd Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Reading, featuring “poetry, performance, dance, music and multimedia, with over 130 performers and readers…” 3:00pm, $8.

Happy holidays

As the gentile holiday approaches, my parent-estrangement holiday guilt has commenced in earnest, so it’s time for me to sign off until early next week.

I’ll leave you with Mark Twain’s observations about St. Nick and Christmas, and his Christmas Greeting of 1890.

Ms. Annie Reid, who normally takes over this site on Fridays, sends her own Season’s Greetings from a traffic jam somewhere outside of Vancouver.

Whatever you celebrate, have a good holiday.

Inner Housewife, Strawfeminist, & other action figures


Given my heritage, I’m willing to bet five bucks that I never had an inner housewife.

If I did, she up and left years ago — see evidence above — maybe during the converted motel period, when I usually ate off of napkins to avoid doing dishes. (The water I covered them with started to stink after a week or so. It turned gray and sometimes there were little gnats hovering around. Would you want to stick your hand in there?)

So I wonder how I fit into Caitlin Flanagan’s scheme. Her To Hell With All That (Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife) (pages 12-13), which collects all her most sophistic essays into a single volume, appears in April and posits that women would all be happier if we transformed into 50′s housewives. Their husbands may have had to fumble around with a flashlight for their clitoris, but those homemakers got a lot more action than you do, Flanagan will have you know.

The serene 50′s housewife is one of Flanagan’s favorite action figures. That and the strawfeminist, a selfish, humorless beast who, given half a chance, would stamp on June Cleaver’s pillbox hat, rip the Beaver from her loving embrace, and rob her of the joys of dusting. Slap her down with your pocketbook, ladies!

I’d love to know what my Texan granny (scroll down), who divorced her alcoholic husband and raised my mom on her own in the 50′s, would’ve had to say to Flanagan. It wouldn’t have been anything nice. And as the child of a mother who reacted against her own upbringing, stayed home to raise my sister and me, and quickly fell to the business of becoming stark, raving mad — all while putting a hot dinner on the table every night — I happen to know that Flanagan’s prescription is bullshit.

Some women aren’t meant to stay at home with their children. Or to have children. Or even — are you sitting down? — to be married.

Also shocking: not all women who work in offices are upper-middle-class, or feminists. Nor, contrary to Flanagan’s implication in a recent Atlantic review,* are all lesbian couples well-to-do. In fact, most of the ones I know aren’t.

The economic assumptions undergirding Flanagan’s theses are even more fallacious and infuriating than her generalizations about gender roles. But I digress.

Three kinds of women seem to populate Flanagan’s world:

  • Happy homemakers (who are decorously well-off);
  • Rich, striving feminists (who foist their children on strangers and refuse to fuck their husbands); and
  • Nannies, Wal-Mart workers, and other lower forms of life (who should of course be exploited by corporations rather than by individuals).

    Substitute real people for her bendy plastic toys, and it becomes clear that Flanagan has no actual insights to offer.

    I’ve tried in the past to engage with her arguments, such as they are, because she is the (that’s one) woman anointed by two of the nation’s most prestigious publications to write about “women’s issues.” Now that her book’s on the way, though, I think I’m going to tune her out. I don’t see where it says in my Grim Feminists’ Handbook that I have a duty to respond to frothing nonsense.

    * She also characterizes “g[etting] [one]self inseminated” as “an essentially selfish act.”

    “There is nothing a woman can do that is so fundamentally self-centered that it won’t be met with a cackle of ‘You go, girl!’ from a female somewhere on the planet,” she says.

    Hemingway and Evans

    Ernest Hemingway and Walker Evans: Three Weeks in Cuba, 1933, a traveling exhibition, opens today at Charleston, South Carolina’s Gibbes Museum of Art. The show runs through February 19, 2006

    Here’s a brief description from the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which showed the photographs and writings earlier this year:

    A friendship between Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) began in Havana, Cuba in May 1933. The three weeks they spent together left a lasting impression on both men. The events they witnessed, the political turmoil they observed and their numerous late-night discussions deeply impacted both of their sensibilities and powers of observation, for the rest of their lives. During this period, Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not, and many of Evans’ photographs are directly related to scenes in this book. Ernest Hemingway and Walker Evans: Three Weeks in Cuba, 1933 pairs 50 never-before-exhibited photographs by Evans with newly discovered Hemingway letters and personal items.

    (For a larger version of the photo, click here.)

    Giving back at the holidays

    The Oakland Tribune is collecting copies of 1984 to send to lawmakers in protest of warrantless spying on American citizens.

    The president believes he has the legal authority to spy on American citizens without a warrant, and he plans to continue to reauthorize the program “for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.” But when the enemy is poorly defined, who determines when the threat is over? In this case, the same government that secretly taps our phones.

    Turns out the truth is no stranger than fiction. We think it’s time for Congress to heed the warning of George Orwell. To that end, we’re asking for your help: Mail us or drop off your tattered copies of “1984.” When we get 537 of them, we’ll send them to every member of the House of Representatives and Senate and to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

    Feel free to inscribe the book with a note.

    Mail or hand-deliver your used copies of 1984 to the Oakland Tribune, 401 13th St., Oakland, CA 94612, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Via Boing Boing.)

    The Master and Margarita televised

    The first Russian screen adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita began airing on TV in Russia Monday night after years of setbacks.

    There have been other attempts to adapt the novel but no director has ever achieved a faithful rendition in the eyes of the public. A Polish version focused on the story’s bible themes and a Yugoslav one changed essential characters.

    After a Russian production filmed a decade ago was never shown,there were even rumours of a jinx.

    The photo of actress Anna Kolvalchuk (above), one of the stars, comes courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times, which notes that while the story is set in Moscow, “the series was largely shot in St. Petersburg, with the crew traveling to the capital for only a few signature episodes.”

    Pamuk charges in limbo, penal code not

    Turkey may drop charges against Orhan Pamuk, but the justice minister says the country isn’t considering amendments to the penal code provisions that make it illegal to mention the mass killings of Armenians and Kurds. Nor has there been an investigation into the violence that erupted at last Friday’s hearing, where “European observers, including the British MP Denis MacShane, were assaulted.” (First link via TEV.)