Remains of the day

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

  • John Burnside on the struggle between writerly artifice and unvarnished truth in the memoirist’s art.
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  • The Independent interviews the Irish writer Edna O’Brien.
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  • Because I’m still feeling obsessed with the internet and censorship, I give you a blast from the past: in this BoingBoing post, which is three years old, but still hilarious, Xeni Jardin attempts to get past the censors at MSN Spaces, and figure out just which words are too naughty or just plain troublesome for them. This gave me such a girl crush on her.
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    Copyright wars

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    The Columbia Journalism Review premieres this excellent piece on “the instability of the copyright system in a digital age.” (Via Bookninja.) And why should we care? Because, as Siva Vaidhyanathan puts it,

    ….in recent years — thanks to the ferocious mania to protect everything and the astounding political power of media companies — the basic, democratic checks and balances that ensured that copyright would not operate as an instrument of private censorship have been seriously eroded.

    Speaking of copyright, ambulance drivers in London can’t get their training manual updated to include more current and relevant information because they don’t hold the copyright. (Via BoingBoing)



    Getting tired of fighting the good fight

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    The LA Times reports on the hard, touching life of Delta librarian Ronnie Wise:

    People just don’t realize the stress of a Mississippi librarian’s life, he says. People don’t understand what it takes to keep those front doors open — or what’s at stake if you don’t. Reading, Wise believes, is life. Illiteracy, therefore, is death. He witnesses its stranglehold every day. Shopping at the grocery store, standing in line at the bank or post office, he’s constantly accosted by strangers trying to conceal their secret behind the same lie. “Excuse me,” they say. “Forgot my glasses — could you tell me what this says?”

    People call him a librarian, and he surely looks like a librarian, with his sedentary frame, thick eyeglasses, fastidiously trimmed hair and goatee. But, deep down, he feels like something else, something more. He feels like the Sisyphus of Mississippi. He feels like a superhero in one of his beloved comic books, even though he fights the forces of darkness with little more than night classes and meager grants, and he loses more than he wins; 30 years of that would make even Spiderman cranky.

    (Via the excellent Gwenda.)



    Flying the unfriendly skies

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    A New Yorker Talk of the Town item reports that two gay men were asked to stop being affectionate to one another aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to New York. When the men (and surrounding witnesses) protested the treatment, asking if a heterosexual couple would be treated in the same fashion, the pilot threatened to divert the plane unless the men stopped making an issue of it. I think I won’t be flying American anytime soon.



    Nice and slow

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    I admit that it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish my pornographic imagination from Maud’s, but it’s Annie here, reporting that the Kinsey’s Institute’s International Encyclopedia of Sexuality is slated to go online, in stages, over the next six months or so. Because it’s always a little more fun if they don’t take if off all at once, no? (Via Fleshbot).



    Thursday afternoon miscellany

    • When your latest no-holds-barred anal sex film is a lesser draw at its opening than the unlikely appearance of your reclusive writer uncle, maybe it’s time to put your panties back on. (Via.)
    • The new terror bill and its predecessor, the Patriot Act, prompt Dahlia Lithwick to wonder whether “there shouldn’t be a mandatory three-month cooling-off period whenever Congress enacts broad laws that rewrite the Constitution.”
    • The Virginia Quarterly Review has been running excerpts from Art Spiegelman’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*!. You can read two installments online. And this fall the magazine will publish a recently discovered Robert Frost poem.
    • Maurice Sendak discusses his unhappy childhood and his new children’s book, Mommy.
    • The Grumpy Old Bookman discusses the interplay between fiction and emotion.
    • Thomas Hardy fans oppose a plan to transform his birthplace into a holiday cottage.
    • Colin Burrow argues, while reviewing a new biography of John Donne, that “literary biography is intrinsically pernicious.” I wonder how biographers, including my friend Terry Teachout (who penned a biography of H.L. Mencken, and talked a bit about the experience here), would respond.


    Promotions create new excuses for today’s bookshop workers

    Kay Richardson spends his nights roving from pub to pub, stopping to pee in people’s rose gardens, and trying not to get thrown out of youth hostels.

    Now, to his surprise, he’s landed a job at a central London bookstore. He declines to identify it by name but has (helpfully? misleadingly?) posted the photograph at right. Here’s his description of the “piss-easy” interview:

    I was sat on a comfy bench in the travel section and asked a number of questions. The man asked if I had any retail experience and I lied. I told the man (it was a bald bloke with a red tie) that I’d managed a small bookshop in Blackheath, but had to close it down as it had become far too successful. He asked me of my favourite books. I spread the usual BS (people seem to often ask this) — Of Mice and Men, White Teeth, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet – but embellished this literary knowledge with the titles of the books that perched in the bookshelf above the interviewer’s head. This was a sly move. He seemed impressed that I’d read so many travel guides to China. I told him that I dig Chinese chicks. He agreed that they had ‘a certain allure’.

    Today he showed up at work dressed as a witch after an all-night Wicked afterparty. “I expected Bob, the bookshop manger, to turn me away upon my arrival at work,” he says. “No. He thought my broomstick and hat were some Harry Potter tie-in.”



    King Solomon, funny man

    While working on my novel, I’ve had to reimmerse myself in various translations of the Bible. And I’ve realized something completely unexpected: the book of Proverbs, while mostly a dreary trail of exhortations to be good and work hard and beat your children regularly, can actually be funny.

    Just imagine these nuggets issuing forth from the depressed protagonist of an old Woody Allen movie:
     

    • Proverbs 17:1 — Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife. (NRS)
    • Proverbs 19:3 — A stupid child is ruin to a father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. (NRS)
    • Proverbs 10:26 — As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him. (KJV)
    • Proverbs 25:24 — It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop than with a brawling woman and in a wide house (KJV)

     

    And here’s my favorite, Proverbs 5:16, in a chapter exhorting the (male) reader to abstain from adultery: Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? (NRS)

    Evidently the translation of this verse is disputed — with some Evangelicals contending that it is not a question and has nothing to do with sex, you sicko — but the meaning seems straightforward to me. (Speaking of King Solomon and Biblical humor, if you’ve never read Joseph Heller’s God Knows, do.)



    Today, and tonight

    Sorry, guys. Busy week. But I’ll be at Housing Works tonight at 7 p.m. for a discussion about blogging and book reviewing, and “what happens when the two intersect.” Lizzie Skurnick (Old Hag), Laurie Muchnick (Newsday), and Frank Wilson (The Philadelphia Inquirer and Books, Inq.) are the other panelists. John Freeman of the National Book Critics Circle will moderate.

    In the meantime, please enjoy the Slaughterhouse Five excerpt Duncan Black (Atrios) read for the ACLU’s Banned Books Week event.

    (Housing Works image taken from Dissension Media.)



    Monday afternoon remainders

    • Haitian-Miamian writer Edwidge Danticat, whose parents fled totalitarian Haiti, explains (as controversial legislation appears poised to sail through Congress) why “torture is not just an individual affliction but a communal one.” (Via.)
    • There’s a five-year plan for the Guantánamo Bay detainees’ library?
    • John McNally reviewed Jess Walter’s The Zero for Book World, and offers this brief assessment at his blog: “while I had some issues with the book, I was absolutely blown away by Jess Walter’s writing. Some of the hilariously dark and deadpan dialogue reminded me of the best of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. Some of the minor characters reminded me of Charles Portis characters.”


    The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

    The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that usually 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 lauren@maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

    MONDAY, 9.25: At the Spiegeltent, “Black Rock Coalition And Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls present Four Women (And Then Some): A Tribute to Black Women Songwriters. At this star-studded fundraising event, non-profit organizations Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and the Black Rock Coalition call upon some of today’s most talented women in music to pay tribute to such sister artists as Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, Nina Simone, Odetta, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Joan Armatrading, Betty Davis, Nona Hendryx, Poly Styrene, MeShell NdegeOcello, Cassandra Wilson and others. Under the musical direction of Tamar-kali, expect to see a passing of the torch as young women aged 8-18 from Willie Mae Rock Camp perform alongside some of music’s brightest luminaries.” Highly recommended. 6:00pm, $30.

    TUESDAY, 9.26: Lay off the talk, talk, talk and just take your bad reputation down to Mo Pitkin’s for the Freedy Johnston show. 9:30pm, $15.

    WEDNESDAY, 9.27: Housing Works Bookstore and The National Book Critics Circle bring you a panel on blogging and book reviewing, with a discussion about what happens when the two intersect. The panelists will be Maud Newton (<3), Lizzie Skurnick (Old Hag), Laurie Muchnick (Newsday), and Frank Wilson (The Philadelphia Inquirer).” 7:00pm, FREE. Also, Amanda Stern’s Happy Ending series presents Karen Russell (St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves), Kelley Kerney (Born Again), and Lynne Tillman (American Genius: A Comedy), with music by Marcellus Hall. 8:00pm, FREE. And, if you live in New York, of course you know How to Kick People.

    THURSDAY, 9.28: Karen Heuler hosts “Snappy Fiction, a reading of stories fast enough and short enough to keep your synapses flaring.” with a focus on “quick tales about false legs, false hopes, nasty food, and love without a clue.” At Cornelia Street Cafe. 6:00pm, $6 cover includes house drink.

    FRIDAY, 9.29: Friday night is my favorite time to go to the movies. There are the presumably bad book-to-film adaptations out right now (The Black Dahlia, Marie Antoinette) and those that could be good (All The King’s Men, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Factotum). I rely on Romancing the Tome for all the latest goss and inside buzz.

    SATURDAY, 9.30: ” For 10 exhilarating days, feel the rush…the exuberance…the sheer joy that is dance – from New York City, across the country, and around the globe! Experience the world-famous alongside the cutting-edge, treasured favorites surrounded by undiscovered gems. This year, Fall for Dance offers 4 additional performances including two matinees. Five companies appear in each performance, offering four repeated programs and two one-night-only programs, expanding the Festival from six to ten nights.” Highly recommended.

    SUNDAY, 10.1: Sunday’s at Sunny’s, hosted by local novelist Gabriel Cohen, presents an afternoon in Red Hook with readings by Maggie Estep (Flamethrower: A Ruby Murphy Mystery), Robert Fass (As Long As We Both Shall Live), and Katherine Lanpher (Leap Days). “The series, co-sponsored by BookCourt bookstore (www.bookcourt.org) (718-875-3677), will continue on the first Sunday of every month (except September) at 3:00 p.m. at Sunny’s, a legendary old bar on the Brooklyn waterfront in Red Hook at 253 Conover Street (between Beard & Reed Streets). You can buy books and get them signed by the authors. Suggested donation: $3. The bar (cash) will be open. Free coffee and Italian pastries and cookies will be provided. Bar telephone (only available when the bar is open): 718-625-8211.” I’m so there. Later on Sunday evening, The Hold Steady (who Jeff from Syntax of Things tells me — how else would I know these things? — named their new album after a line from On the Road) play Irving Plaza. 9:00pm, $17.50.

    On heavy rotation: Kelley McRae, Never Be (catch her October 10th at Mercury Lounge, opening for Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide, 8:00pm, $15.)



    Bush, Katrina, and tea parties; cookies and war protests

    And while I’m on a political tear, a friend writes in to denounce the “toweringly witless lede” of a New York Times Book Review piece that very nearly led me to throw my computer across the room yesterday morning.

    “What sort of tonedeaf [redacted],” says my friend, “calls the Katrina response ‘distressingly belated,’ as though it were a faux-pas committed at a tea party? Wait, I know: the same sort who calls debaucheries of the separation of powers ‘cudgels’ to be used by the “Bush-phobic” opposition. Or who mistakenly asserts that the warrantless wiretapping initiative began only after Bush’s re-election….”

    The review reminds me of a blog post I read a couple years ago in which the editor of a literary magazine wrote:

    on the way to meet a friend for cookies & coffee, i had a chance to weave my way through the protestors outside of my apartment on seventh avenue in chelsea. although i found the crowd filled with such incredible energy, i am always dismayed by those who take the extremist approach (a play or manipulation of one’s emotions to drive their point home). Is it really necessary to march with cardboard coffins with the American flag draped on when simply a placard stating that you are anti-war will do?

    (Protest image taken from JaySilver.net.) See also Lance Mannion’s response, and Digby’s.



    First “m,” now “n”: Allen to go through epithet alphabet?

    George Allen, a Republican Senate candidate from Virginia, recently mocked an American citizen of Indian ancestry who worked as a videographer for Allen’s rival and was (as is now common in campaigns) filming Allen’s “listening tour.”

    Allen referred to S. R. Sidarth as “Macaca” and then welcomed him “to America and the real world of Virginia.” “Macaca,” it transpires, “is the scientific name of a genus of monkeys, and it is a slur in some cultures.” Although Allen insists he did not know the meaning of the term, The Nation‘s Max Blumenthal found that the candidate had in the past pandered to a white supremacist hate group.

    Now Salon talks to Allen’s former UVA football teammates. Three of them say he repeatedly used the “n” word in conversation with his white friends, and one has shocking memories of a hunting trip with Allen.

    After they had killed a deer, Shelton said he remembers Allen asking Lanahan where the local black residents lived. Shelton said Allen then drove the three of them to that neighborhood with the severed head of the deer. “He proceeded to take the doe’s head and stuff it into a mailbox,” Shelton said.



    Amitava Kumar, disinvited from Rushdie event, posts prepared remarks

    As Salman Rushdie’s most recent novel, Shalimar the Clown, appeared, Amitava Kumar (above) wrote a review that began: “Is Salman Rushdie God? That is the question people think you are asking and they try to set you right. When all you have done is ask whether Salman Rushdie is good.”

    Perhaps it was this review that led Rushdie to threaten cancellation of his Vassar appearance if Kumar, who teaches at the university, was involved in his visit. Kumar had been slated to deliver Rushdie’s introduction, but was disinvited.

    At his blog, Kumar acknowledges the debt he and other contemporary Indian writers in English owe to Rushdie — “It was from him that we really learned to show some attitude.” — and posts part of the remarks he’d planned to deliver.
     

    Update: Someone who says he is, and may well be, Salman Rushdie has responded in the comments. Rushdie says it was the organizer’s decision to disinvite Kumar, but affirms that he “refused to share a stage” with him



    Bill Clinton v. Fox News

    Hot diggity dog. Bill Clinton smacks down Fox News’ Chris Wallace — and Fox more generally — when asked why he didn’t do more to hunt down Osama bin Laden during his time in office.

    I want to talk about the context of which this arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network… ABC just had a right wing conservative on the Path to 9/11 falsely claim that it was based on the 9/11 Commission report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people.

    Watch the interview here. And Think Progress has fact-checked and debunked Wallace’s claim “that he asked Bush administration officials tough questions about their pre-9/11 efforts to combat terrorism.” (See here, here and here.)



    Lie like a novelist

    You may have noticed that my pal Annie Reid is back, shellshocked but tight-lipped, from a less-than-restful vacation, and she’s resumed Friday blogging duties. Her link to a Guardian piece on verifying the details of memoirists’ traumas reminds me that I recently read about an old-fashioned kind of storytelling called “fiction,” in which you can not only get away with lying but are affirmatively encouraged to make shit up. The people who write these stories are called “novelists.” (They are, some say, a dying breed, since readers are only interested in true stories now.)

    Here’s an excerpt from an interview in which Justine Larbalestier and John Green, both practitioners of this curious art, celebrate the interrelationship between writing and prevarication.

    Justine: So, John, were you always a liar?

    John: Presumably there was a time before I could talk when I was honest, but I’ve been a liar since at least the age of four, when I convinced my preschool teacher my home had been burglarized, and that the burglars had stolen our television. How about you?

    Justine: My memories are hazy, but I do remember trying to convince my younger sister that she was adopted….



    I had to walk five miles barefoot in the snow to post this

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    Catherine Bennett has an excellent column in the Guardian about veracity and one-upmanship in trauma memoirs, especially of interest as there’s been a spate of doubt cast on so many memoirists lately.

    Question for those of you who actually read the James Frey book: Does he really have the sentence, “I have lived with agony for so long that as it beats along with my strong and steady heart, it doesn’t bother me,” in his memoir? And if so, did any of you fling the book across the room at that point? Just wondering.



    Friday bits

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

  • Apparently, the degree of your guilt in plagiarism has a lot to do with how famous and money-making you are. Right, Ann Coulter?
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  • Author Steve Zio talks about his new interactive novel, and how sorry he is that he picked “iNovel” as a name for his project a few years back.
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  • First-time children’s author Lyn Gardner blogs about her experience as a debut author over at the Guardian.
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  • At the NYT, William Grimes examines the recent spate of reading pep-talks.
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    A book critic signs off

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    Last week, the Dallas Morning News bought out 111 employees, including book critic Jerome Weeks, who chose to leave rather than work in the gutted arts section remaining. The News told Weeks (and others) that they could have a farewell column, but that it would have to be approved by management first. Weeks wrote a column, and it was not approved by management. But his slightly embittered take on the life of a book critic (irritating bloggers is part of the job’s perks – I so get that) appears here on the Critical Mass blog.



    Partition

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    Somini Sengupta examines the newly re-issued edition of Train to Pakistan, Khushwant Singh’s novel on the 1947 partition of India. It’s not yet available internationally. The new edition adds American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of partition violence.

    Singh is looking for an international distributor — I hope he finds one. I’m always shocked at how little attention there has been in the West to this, one of the great traumas of the last century. It’s been estimated that as many as one million people died in the violence that erupted during the partition, which displaced 10 to 15 million people. (There’s a decent explanation on Wikipedia here.) Also shocking is the out-of-print status of one of the other great fictions on the subject, Kingdom’s End and Other Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto.