Signing off

That’s all for me. Up here in Vancouver, this weekend is Canada day, and down there it’s the Fourth of July! As an American in Canada, I’m looking at nearly a week of patriotic holidays. I’ll be celebrating in the usual ways: poker and sleeping. See you soon.

Summer reading lists

Last week I confessed that, unlike the entire population of Great Britain, I don’t have any philosophers tucked behind my Spiderman comics on the beach this summer. And yes, I do realize I’m a bit of philistine. What to do? Of course, I have the big ideas, but my brain goes all ADD when the temperature rises above eighty. I can hardly get past page fifty of anything these days. With such a lack of focus, I long for the literary equivalent of a throttling: something that reaches out from the pages and grabs me by the collar and drags me along the beach until the sun sets. Dear readers, have you found anything that does the trick?

What’s on your summer reading list? Send me a list, a line, a plea for sanity, to annie at maudnewton dot com.

A very natural writer

I missed this interesting interview with Haruki Murakami in the Age – just in case you did too. I love this bit on how his work is conceptualized differently in the West:

Despite what Japan’s most hidebound pundits argue, Murakami’s writing has always been closer to his homeland than the fictional universes of Fitzgerald, Carver and Chandler. Occidental critics ritually compare Murakami with postmodernists such as Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. But in Japan, as Murakami tells it, “people do not think my stories are postmodern”. In Japanese spirituality, the divide between the real and the fantastic is permeable, so his tales of unicorn skulls, six-foot frogs, star-patterned sheep and Colonel Sanders are “very natural”.

Better than the movie

Over at Slate, Grady Hendrix wonders if the movie tie-in novelization will die a slow painful death by DVD – if the point of movie novelizations was to recreate the experience of a beloved film, why bother if consumers can just watch it endlessly at home? But the beauty of the novelization is that writers have to add things to pad out the film script to an entire book, albeit a crappy one printed on newprint so thin it practically dissolves in your hands. And, worse, writers have to pick a point of view. Rocky Balboa’s. Luke Skywalker’s. Or, say, E.T, with a bit of the stalking subplot that failed to make the film:

[E.T.] crept down the hall to Mary’s room and peeked in. The willow-creature was asleep, and he watched her for a long time. She was a goddess, the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. … Mary, said his old heart. Then upon paddle feet, he tiptoed over to her bed and gazed more closely.

I’ll never forget the summer we brought the novelization of The Rose, starring Bette Midler, to Girl Scout camp. Of course, it was an R-rated movie and we knew we’d never get in, never be able to buy tickets for Rocky II or The Muppet Movie and then sneak over a theater. Under the beam of a flashlight, we read one another tales of drug overdoses, date rape, group sex and drunken stage antics. It was so much better than those lame stories of escaped lunatics with claws down by lover’s lane around the campfire. Now when we had to go to the latrine in the middle of the night, it wasn’t just ghosts or luntics we had to worry about. No, it was junkies, pimps, horny high school football players, drunken roadies and inept management. So we cowered in that tent, painfully huddled with our straining bladders in sleeping bags until the light of day, until it was safe. We read that thing until the pages were limp as Kleenex.

So, a soft spot remains in my heart. Never change, crappy movie tie-in novelizations. You are, to me, the embodiment of summer.

Happy weekend

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for all the great responses to my call for books that make the rest of life fade away. I’ll post your suggestions next week. And if you have a book in mind, don’t be shy. Email me at maud [at] maudnewton dot com.

Truth-in-summer-reading goddess Annie Reid takes over tomorrow and most Fridays.

Until then, visit SuperDickery’s Seduction of the Innocent, a hilarious compendium of (unintentional?) sexual innuendo in the comics of yore. The Archie pictured below is my favorite. Here’s a larger, sharper version. And don’t miss Batman’s celebration of Pride Week. (Thanks, Max.)

Thursday morning miscellany

  • Earlier this week, Spanish TV previewed Ernest Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War documentary, made while he served as a war correspondent. The film, Terra de España (The Spanish Earth), contains war footage that had never been aired in Spain. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the conflict. (Program from an American showing in Philadelphia taken from this site.)
  • Borges on “the secret center” of Buenos Aires — “not the other, somewhat ostentatious center we show to tourists.”

Last Graham Greene interview

John R. MacArthur believes he was the last to interview Graham Greene, then 86, shortly before his death in April, 1991. He recounts Greene’s scathing take on American intervention in Panama and the Gulf War. And here’s Greene on politics in fiction:

“I don’t think one’s novels should be too political,” Greene said when I asked if his weren’t. “But, I mean, politics do come into them. Politics come into our lives. I think to exclude politics from a novel is excluding a whole aspect of life…. Virginia Woolf, I mean, certainly wouldn’t have introduced politics. I began to get a little tired of Virginia Woolf, you know. Mrs. Dalloway going shopping up Regent Street and the thoughts which went through her head. I reacted rather against her by being a storyteller. You see, my mother was a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson, and I’d like to think that I’ve followed in his tradition. I’ve reacted against the Bloomsbury circle.”

Behind Bush’s New Paradigm: Shades of Louis XIV

In this week’s New Yorker, Jane Mayer reveals the unprecedented influence of David Addington, architect of the Bush Administration’s “war on terror.”

Addington, Cheney’s chief of staff and longtime principal legal adviser, advocates the “New Paradigm,” a legal theory resting “on a reading of the Constitution that few legal scholars share — namely, that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to disregard virtually all previously known legal boundaries, if national security demands it. Under this framework, statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance have been set aside.” (Emphasis added.)

Even many conservatives are flabbergasted. Says Mayer:

Bruce Fein, a Republican legal activist, who voted for Bush in both Presidential elections, and who served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, said that Addington and other Presidential legal advisers had “staked out powers that are a universe beyond any other Administration. This President has made claims that are really quite alarming. He’s said that there are no restraints on his ability, as he sees it, to collect intelligence, to open mail, to commit torture, and to use electronic surveillance. If you used the President’s reasoning, you could shut down Congress for leaking too much. His war powers allow him to declare anyone an illegal combatant. All the world’s a battlefield — according to this view, he could kill someone in Lafayette Park if he wants! It’s got the sense of Louis XIV: ‘I am the State.’ “

The article is only available in print, unfortunately, but you can read an interview with Mayer on the New Yorker’s website.

The image is taken from a Boston Globe story, “Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws.” See also:How a bill becomes a law (Unitary Executive remix).”

Spring 2006 Paris Review, in summer

After two months and ten days, five email messages, and one phone call to Jackson, Mississippi, my copy of the Spring 2006 Paris Review finally arrived on Friday.

When I ordered it on April 13, I bitched about having to wait “1-2 weeks.” Now I understand so much more viscerally how painful a protracted case of blue balls can be.

(But then, the delay was probably karmic retribution for that crack.)

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “Most Livable City” — the reason I ordered the issue — is hilarious and troubling. Here’s the paragraph that follows the last line of the online excerpt (“My cock feels full with the thought of you in my heart”).

In 1985, Pittsburgh had been chosen “most livable city” in the country by Places Rated Almanac. This allowed the municipal government to stop bothering to improve anything and to pour all of its money instead into signs that read PITTSBURG: MOST LIVABLE CITY. If people complained about life in this most livable city, then, well, maybe they were the problem themselves. When the bus drivers went on strike, it was portrayed by City Hall as a selfish act of sabotage: the drivers should be happy with what they made, which was a hell of a lot more than those making minimum wage at four dollars and twenty-five cents and hour — who should also be happy with what they made.

I recommend picking up the issue just for that story, but I was impressed with the strength of the magazine overall. I had nightmares about a strikingly fucked-up image from Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s “My Darling Monkey” — think The Painted Bird, but with primates. Continue reading…

A pot full of steaming something

Amitava Kumar admires the opening of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s “Innocence,” which appeared in a recent New Yorker. He says the author successfully portrays her characters and the relationships between them. But he’s disappointed by the insularity of the people and situations she depicts. A lack of engagement with “what are sometimes called outside forces,” according to Kumar, renders the “climax, with its filmi murder scene,” “the lowest point” of the story.

He’s even less impressed with the accompanying artwork.

Will someone advise the New Yorker to find better illustrations for the stories they publish about India? Jhabvala’s story comes accompanied by a sepia-tinted photo that seems to have been borrowed from a colonial harem. Hello? For a story that details a near-contemporary, metropolitan middle-class life? Some weeks ago, there was a story in the New Yorker by Jhumpa Lahiri, and again, for some mysterious reason, the photo accompanying it showed a part of a woman’s body, clad in a churidar-kurta, clasping in her hands what the photographer no doubt imagined was a pot full of steaming dal.

Tuesday afternoon miscellany

  • When I visited Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx house earlier this year, nobody mentioned that a caretaker lives in the basement. “Mr. Mercier, a short-story writer, spoke of Poe’s eerie influence over him. ‘I have to be cautious,’ Mr. Mercier said of living in the cottage, ‘because I start writing in a 19th-century tone. High fancy. I’d start talking like Robert Louis Stevenson.’” (Thanks, City Mouse.)
  • Theo Hobson argues that the “resurgence of religion is a profound problem” for contemporary novelists, many of whom cannot access the interior lives of believers. But then Hobson argues, after judging Zadie Smith’s On Beauty a failure, that “the novel’s old pose of objectivity has become a rather ridiculous burden.” Someone rebuts with The End of the Affair in the comments.

News from the Dan Rhodes skyscraper

Dogmatika’s Susan Tomaselli talks with 3am Magazine this week. Her praise for Dan Rhodes — author of Timoleon Vieta Come Home, a small miracle in book form — sent me off to a mysterious site devoted to the author.

“There’s still no official news of a new book,” it informs readers. “We anticipate a dramatic announcement in the coming weeks, but then we’re always anticipating a dramatic announcement and nothing ever seems to happen.”

While we’re all biding our time, be sure to check out Rhodes’ book recommendations, including Candide’s Voltaire and Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Magnus Mills’ The Restraint of Beasts is also suggested, with caveats:

This is one of Rhodes’ favourite novels, but the problem with recommending it is that it is published by HarperCollins — every right-thinking person’s least favourite publisher. Reluctant to encourage people to put even more money into Rupert Murdoch’s already over-stuffed pockets he suggests the following two-step method of buying the book. 1) Find a second hand copy going cheap, either in a conventional shop or on the Internet. 2) Send the author fifty pence through the post. This way readers will be supporting Mills without giving the living scrotum Rupert Murdoch a single bean.

Proust’s madeline, the pill

In 1998, Pagan Kennedy realized she’d lost access to some of the sensory details of her childhood. She began to imagine a pharmaceutical equivalent to Proust’s madeline — a pill that “could restore lost memories and the powerful emotions connected to them,” that would allow the user to “experience any lost pleasure — a long-ago tryst, say — over and over again.” And then she embarked on a novel (Confessions of a Memory Eater) about just such a drug.

When I was in my teens and 20s, I used to be able to experience something like Proust’s madeleine moment. I could revisit scenes in vivid Technicolor: the cicadas buzzing through the burnt summer lawns of my childhood in Maryland; the sweaty nickel in my hand as I waited for the ice cream truck; the drop of blood that appeared on my best friend’s finger, like a magic ruby, after she pricked herself with a needle to show her undying allegiance to me.

But by my 30s, those memories had started to fade. What I was left with was a memory of what my memory used to be like, a poignant awareness of my own deficit. I first noticed this about eight years ago: One day, rooting through a drawer in my mom’s house, I came across a photo of myself as a girl. In the photo, I’m about 5 years old, decked out in a swami robe, my eyes hidden behind enormous Jackie O sunglasses. But I could summon no memory of that day, no explanation, though I had the conviction that I used to know what that picture was all about, that there was some important story connected with it. It felt like I had lost a key that unlocked some inner door. I could still press my ear to it, could still run my hand against its grain and examine its hinges, but I would never get through that door again.

And so I began my novel about memory. I knew at the time that several companies, including one appropriately called Memory Pharmaceuticals, were working to develop real treatments for memory loss, but I didn’t pay them much mind. My drug would be different. It would be recreational-Proust’s madeleine reduced to tiny chemical specks. My drug would launch the user into the best moments of his life, allowing him to savor long ago joys, allowing him to meet his boyhood self….

[I]n the course of writing the novel, I saw just how dangerous this drug might be. The past is potently intoxicating, and if we could ever taste it purely, undiluted by forgetfulness, we would, I came to believe, disappear into ourselves.

A drugmaker called Memory Pharmaceuticals is testing a less potent long-term memory drug with a name strangely similar to Kennedy’s imaginary creation, Mem.

Where Pynchon meets Borges

Yesterday I stumbled upon some trivia the Maud household’s resident Pynchon expert (and fellow Borges fan) didn’t know. I thought I’d pass it along for the benefit of anybody else whose other car is a Pynchon novel.

When on page 263 of his now classic 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon tells us that Rivadavia Street is “where the true South begins,” the sly American is sampling Jorge Luis Borges’ personal-favorite story, El Sur. He continues for a few paragraphs, word for word, before returning to his own text.

So begins Enrique Fernandez’s Borges homage, which appeared in the weekend’s Miami Herald and notes the passing of the 20th anniversary of the Argentine writer’s death.

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that appears Mondays at 12:30pm 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 send details to by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

I had way too much fun drinking $4 lychee martinis with Kristin Pulkinnen, publicity director for Soft Skull Press, this evening, to contribute much more than the basics ’round midnight. Herewith, I should be off to bed but can’t resist the “sexy texting” edition, in honor of the ongoing World Cup’s contribution to literature:

Tue, 6.27: trash in soho. and, dj spooky presents ‘the art of the remix‘ at the apple store.
Wed, 6.28: green by design, triangle @ tenement museum [both clients]. also, if you live in nyc, you know how to kick people.
Thu, 6.29: standing nudes + man man + the fiery furnaces @ webster hall. meow.
Fri, 6.30: billyburg short film fest. yeah!
Sat, 7.1: lo-lo lo-lo dance company and catalyst are both looking good.
Sun, 7.2: <3 paranoid style: maxx klaxon @ splice.

Twain on the fate of the great

The Guardian‘s new Mark Twain author page notes that he admired “the work of ancient writers such as Pliny, Herodotus, and Plutarch.” (For more about Twain’s reading habits, see the Twain House website, including a list of well-worn books from his library.)

Which reminds me: after disgustedly forsaking The Innocents Abroad some months ago, I’ve finally returned to the book and am making my way through it slowly. I particularly enjoyed the chapter devoted to “The Buried City of Pompeii,” which includes reflections on the younger Pliny’s life and ends with speculations about Ulysses S. Grant’s likely future biography. Here’s an excerpt:

After browsing among the stately ruins of Rome, of Baiae, of Pompeii, and after glancing down the long marble ranks of battered and nameless imperial heads that stretch down the corridors of the Vatican, one thing strikes me with a force it never had before: the unsubstantial, unlasting character of fame. Men lived long lives, in the olden time, and struggled feverishly through them, toiling like slaves, in oratory, in generalship, or in literature, and then laid them down and died, happy in the possession of an enduring history and a deathless name. Well, twenty little centuries flutter away, and what is left of
these things? A crazy inscription on a block of stone, which snuffy antiquaries bother over and tangle up and make nothing out of but a bare name (which they spell wrong) — no history, no tradition, no poetry — nothing that can give it even a passing interest. What may be left of General Grant’s great name forty centuries hence? This — in the Encyclopedia for A. D. 5868, possibly:

“URIAH S. (or Z.) GRAUNT — popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say flourished about A.D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo-foo states that he was a cotemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and flourished about A. D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan war instead of before it. He wrote
‘Rock me to Sleep, Mother.’”

Monday morning miscellany

  • Ian Jack recalls being asked to consider the last written work of Martha Gellhorn, who once wrote his Granta predecessor a letter including the sentence: “I will not cut you dead in the street but I will never again have anything to do with you as an editor or publisher.” Jack bravely rejected Gellhorn’s submission.
  • Socially conscious Southern evangelicals are getting increasingly fed up with their more reactionary, empathy-challenged brethren. And some of them are invoking the actual language of the Bible — and Flannery O’Connor.
  • People occasionally ask how I can fall at the feet of Beckett but remain so unmoved by most of the contemporary writers he’s influenced. From now on, I’ll refer them to Patrick Kurp’s meditations.
  • Readings given by Jonathan Lethem, Gary Shteyngart, Colson Whitehead, Paul Auster, Jhumpa Lahiri, John Hodgman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Rick Moody have raised $12,000 toward a library for a Brooklyn school.
  • Terry Eagleton looks beyond David Lodge’s reasons for the current spate of novels based on the life of Henry James.
  • The Guardian summarizes mixed reviews of a new Hardy biography.
  • Revisiting Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Helen Simpson recalls the author’s observation that “The short story is not minimalist, it is rococo. I feel in absolute control. It is like writing chamber music rather than symphonies.”
  • My friend Kate sends news of the most amazing toy since Lite-Brite or Etch-a-Sketch. Paint with your words, your favorite photos, or even perfect replicas of your blinking eye. It’s just a prototype right now, courtesy of MIT.

One man’s hack, etc.

Bathroom graffiti in Iowa City bars involves dick insults of a different kind.

In other Philip K. news, his (android) head is still missing.

And Gary Indiana says, in a review of A Scanner Darkly: “Linklater comes [close] to the real Dick, but that’s not the same as getting close to the real Flaubert or the real Faulkner. At the risk of infuriating his fan club, Philip K. Dick is the kind of superior hack whom cultural relativists would like us to consider a protean artistic force. In reality, he saw what the future’s real unpleasantness would look like — no small achievement — and filled its depiction with little people whose fate is a matter of indifference, their conflicts inconsequent and their lives rather abitrary.”