James Hynes’ top ten Halloween recommendations

If Gustave Doré is the artist who captures the true spirit of Halloween — the Celtic notion of a night when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead blurs — then James Hynes is the contemporary writer who does. Unlike most of Doré’s illustrations, though, Hynes’ books are funny.

In a Boston Review essay, he reveals that he set out “one Halloween season to write a horror novella, just for fun,” and “created my own Frankenstein’s monster of a story — David Lodge’s head stitched onto Stephen King’s body. The result both frightened and amused my friends, so I wrote two more just like it, which together make up the three novellas of Publish and Perish.”

That’s a real trick — writing a story that’s both funny and terrifying. And I can attest that those novellas are. If you haven’t read them, do, especially the one about the cat. Then read Kings of Infinite Space, the novel Hynes accurately classifies as Cubicle Gothic.

In the past year Hynes and I have established an irregular email correspondence (read: I pester him periodically with questions about his next novel — namely, when it will appear). A few weeks ago, I asked if he’d send along some Halloween recommendations.

He said it was a good day to ask: “the temperature in Austin just dropped 20 degrees overnight, with lots of clouds and wind-whipped trees. Very Halloweenish.” And he sent along these ten picks, “with the caveat that if you asked me yesterday or tomorrow, I might have come up with a completely different list.”

1. Any collection of the ghost stories of the English academic M. R. James. All very scary, erudite, and witty. The third novella in my book Publish and Perish is a retelling of his great story “Casting the Runes” — either that, or my version is a shameless rip-off.

2. Julian’s House, by Judith Hawkes. It’s hard to do a novel-length ghost story — hard to sustain creepiness for that long — but this is one of the rare successful examples. She has two subsequent supernatural novels, My Soul to Keep and The Heart of a Witch, which are also wonderfully creepy and beautifully written. She seems to have disappeared off the literary map, which is a crying shame. I love these books.

3. The Lost, by Jonathan Aycliffe. This is a very clever and very scary modern-day vampire novel, set in post-Communist Romania and written, a la Dracula, in the form of letters and diary entries.

4. Speaking of Romania, there are the four Subspecies films, recently released on DVD as Subspecies: The Epic Collection, all of which were shot in Romania by the American horror studio Full Moon. Full Moon is the one true heir of Hammer Films, churning out imaginatively lurid horror films on the cheap. They confirm my theory that the best horror films are made on a low budget, when the director can’t rely on snazzy digital effects but must generate scares through atmosphere and editing. Continue reading…

Voting irregularities, 2006 edition — and No Umbrella

The early reports of election irregularities in Florida really burn me up.

If you’re just joining us: in Broward County, traditionally a Democratic stronghold, some voters are finding their choices flipped from the Democratic candidate to the Republican.

Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

That’s exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear — especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

Those zany conspiracy theorists. If only they’d remember to take their Wellbutrin.

After all, Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney tells us it’s “not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly,” but the poll workers can fix things, so there’s no need to be alarmed. “No machines have been removed during early voting,” she says, “and she is not aware of any serious problems.” (Emphasis added.)

Is it just me? Or is the possible miscounting of any vote in a democracy a serious fucking problem?

Especially in a state like Florida, where you have a few hundred votes deciding national elections, where you repeatedly find that the exit polls don’t match results, and where the election chief of a major county has conducted tests showing that electronic results “can be manipulated under the right conditions, without a person even leaving a fingerprint.” Continue reading…

Original Bambi astonishes David Rakoff

While leafing through the latest print copy of Nextbook — the editors collect web highlights in periodic broadsheets — I discovered that I’d missed David Rakoff’s praise for Bambi, the novel, not the movie. Evidently Disney’s most famous tearjerker was based on a book with “not a trace of anthropomorphized cuteness.”

Bambi’s forest is peopled (creatured?) with characters by turns arrogant, venal, gossipy, and engaging — as flawed and varied as the cosmopolitan fauna Salten must have encountered daily in his life in Vienna….

[H]arrowing as the celluloid rendition of Bambi’s maternal loss may be, it is nothing compared to Salten’s original chapter, where things are bad to begin with and only become more horrible. It is winter and the once cordial animals have begun to turn on one another in the madness of hunger. The near-famine conditions have “spread bitterness and brutality.” The crows kill the hare’s sick young son for sport. The ferret wounds the squirrel mortally, the fox has torn the admired and stately pheasant to pieces. “It’s hard to believe that it will ever be better,” says Bambi’s dispirited mother. Bambi himself is skittish and exhausted with hunger and cold.

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 [at] maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

MONDAY, 10.30: Barnes & Noble presents the last edition of “Upstairs at the Square” for the year, held at the Union Square B&N. The series features host Katherine Lanpher in conversation with established and emerging authors and musicians, who will read and perform their work. Monday evening’s guests are Nell Freudenberger, who will read from and discuss her debut novel, The Dissident, and pacesetting jazz-rock musician Howard Fishman [full disclosure, as always: I am the PR consultant for this project]. 7:00pm, FREE.

TUESDAY, 10.31:: At the Merchant’s House Museum, “New York City’s only family home preserved intact — inside and out — from the 19th century,” ” Simon Loekle Reads Poe and Other Masters of Gothic Horror. Join radio personality and scholar extraordinaire Simon Loekle for a evening of spine- chilling 19th-century stories in the Museum’s double parlors (which will be decorated for a 19th-century funeral.)” Highly recommended. 6:30pm, $10. And, “Rohan Kriwaczek’s lavish history of the oppressed and fading Guild of Funerary Violinists was received with acclaim when it was purchased by Overlook Press. His accomplishment has been undiminished by the subsequent discovery that the Guild, the history, and the art of funerary violin itself seem to be entirely his own invention. There is, however, at least one funerary violinist: Rohan Kriwaczek himself. Stop by McNally Robinson after 5:00 to hear Rohan demonstrate his art with an eerie Halloween concert of funerary violin music, punctuated with a reading at 6:00 from his beautifully written book. Signing to follow.” At McNally Robinson. 5:00pm, FREE. Also, the Tiger Lillies play their annual New York show St. Ann’s in DUMBO (I went for three years in a row; why did I ever stop? I have no idea). “Imagine the spirit of the Sex Pistols, the raw passion of Left Bank Paris and the savagery of Dickensian under-culture.” 8:00pm, $30.

WEDNESDAY, 11.1:Photographs from the New World,” an exhibition of photographs taken in Second Life by James Deavin, opens with a public reception for the artist at jen bekman [full disclosure, as always: where I am the PR director]. 6 – 8pm, FREE.

THURSDAY, 11.2:Drama of Works, the award-winning puppet theatre company, premieres their newest full-length work just in time for Halloween. Based on the classic tale by Washington Irving, and inspired by the story’s sparse dialogue, lush imagery, and vividly drawn mood, this Sleepy Hollow is a beautifully mounted, large-scale shadow puppet re-telling of the legend. The production features an original score by Vivian Fung, performed live by a chamber ensemble.” At Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Art Center. 7:30pm, $15. Also, First Thursdays Film Series Presents: The Motel: “…a dark comedy about a precocious 13-year-old teenager who learns about the facts of life from the sketchy clientele at his mother’s roadside motel.” 7:00pm, FREE.

FRIDAY, 11.3: You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, right? Find your way on Friday for an evening with Joshua Hopkins (baritone) and J.J. Penna (piano): “Beginning with the subject of flowers, Schubert shows his appreciation of the natural world and displays its capacity to give metaphorical support to deep emotion. Schumann, on the other hand, in his first and one of his least well-known song cycles, deals with the emotional dimension of love at an abstract and psychological level. Srul Irving Glick, a rarely heard contemporary composer, returns us to the importance of the concrete embodiment of emotion in the landscape of his native Canada. Ravel, with a revealing song cycle entitled Histoires naturelles, plants our feet again in the material world by asking us humorously to pair human characteristics with denizens of the natural world.” 7:30pm, $34. Also, at the Poetry Project, “The Tiny Presses Shall Inherit The Earth!” 9:30pm, $8. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the Morgan Library & Museum is open until 9:00pm on Fridays. The manuscript collection includes charmingly annotated works by the Bronte Sisters, Lord Byron (my current historical crushsigh), Toni Morrison, Oscar Wilde (“You are heartless, sir, quite heartless.”) and many more. Admission is FREE on Friday evenings from 7 – 9pm.

SATURDAY, 11.4: “Professor Markku Lahti, Director of the Alvar Aalto Foundation and the Alvar Aalto Museum, will …. lecture on Aalto – the man and his work. Markku Lahti has been the Director of the Alvar Aalto Museum since 1973 and the Director of the Alvar Aalto Foundation since 1998. Professor Lahti has published several books on Aalto – most recently: Alvar Aalto. A Gentler Structure for Life, 1998 and Alvar Aalto Houses, 2005.” At the Center for Architecture. Highly recommended. 2pm, FREE but RSVP is requested. Also on Saturday afternoon, Christine Hamm, Thomas March and Juliet Patterson read from their work at the justifiably (in)famous Ear Inn. 3:00pm, FREE.

SUNDAY, 11.5: At the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture: “Tropicália marked a true revolution in Brazilian culture in the 1960s. This exhibition revisits this seminal moment through works by numerous artists including Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, and Antonio Dias; excerpts from performances by the tropicalist musicians including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, and others; examples of tropicalismo’s influence on advertising, fashion, film, television, architecture, and theater; as well as contemporary works by Matthew Antezzo, Rodrigo Araújo, assume vivid astro focus, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Lucas Levitan and Jailton Moreira, Arto Lindsay, Marepe, Ernesto Neto, Rivane Neuenschwander, and Karin Schneider, and +2 (Moreno Veloso, Domenico Lancellotti, and Alexandre Masset Kassin).” Highly recommended [thanks to Soohang for the tip!] The museum’s Sunday hours are 12:00 – 6:00pm, $5. In Brooklyn, spend an afternoon in bohemian splendor down by the water at Sunny’s, where Gabriel Cohen’s marvelously eclectic, BookCourt co-sponsored reading series presents nonfiction writer Eve Edelson (Scamorama: Turning the Tables on E-Mail Scammers), poet Miranda Field (Swallow), and novelist Patrick Ryan (Send Me) plus free coffee and Italian pastries and cookies in an entirely winning combination. 3:00pm, $3.

On heavy rotation: Devon Sproule, …my baby don’t care for high-tone places…

Marlon James: lauded hardcover, no paperback?

Geoffrey Philp interviews Jamaican writer Marlon James, whose John Crow’s Devil (“a powerful first novel” about a preacher and a modern-day apostle “driven not by faith but by guilt, in both cases guilt driven by sexual transgressions,” according to the NYTBR) I’ve intended to read for the past year.

The interview — and James’ praise for Wide Sargasso Sea — solidified my determination to get to the book sooner rather than later. But then I skipped over to the author’s blog, and was horrified to read this:

It took me a long time to accept that maybe I’m writing books that nobody wants. But knowing this and knowing the song and dance that I will face with agents again I do find myself wondering why I do what I do. Not writing mind you, I don’t think I could stop if I tried, but publishing or at least, getting the publishing industry to notice. Only one publisher cared about my first book and getting nominated for a couple awards and selling out a couple printings and getting good reviews still resulted in zero, yep, nada offers for paperback rights.

John Crow’s Devil was, as Philp points out, an Editor’s Choice pick in the New York Times Book Review and a finalist for both the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. And still the novel is too great a gamble for someone to put it out in paperback?

Has fiction, even fiction so lauded by the establishment, really become that great a losing proposition in the eyes of U.S. publishers? Or is there something else at work here?

Image taken from the Miami Book Fair site.

Eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse

Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s wholesale dismissal of Emily Dickinson’s poetry in the January 1892 Atlantic Monthly is entertaining in its clueless pomposity.

I can’t find the full piece online, but here’s an excerpt:

It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson…. But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal…. [A]n eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar.

See also Edmund Wilson’s response to Lolita.

Ridiculously softened Dickinson portrait taken from this site.

Fear of burning out on a writer

I used to fall in love with a book and then devour the rest of the author’s work in the space of two weeks.

I stopped doing this in my twenties when I ran through Walker Percy’s novels, first to last, after picking up The Moviegoer on the advice of a friend. I ended up nauseous with boredom behind a copy of The Thanatos Syndrome, wishing all the characters would hurry up and overdose on heavy sodium.

This reaction isn’t unique to Percy. For me any manic obsession with an author’s writing tends to fizzle out much the same way my romantic attractions did before I got hitched.

I always know I’m in trouble when the nagging internal monologue starts up: How many times is he going to use that joke? It’d be great if she let some other character speak for a while. Does he really need twelve clauses in every sentence?

I fell hard for Mark Twain’s nonfiction last year. I insisted on reading “Was the World Made for Man?” aloud. I forced other people to read it aloud. I terrorized friends by quoting from his work at length in bars. I copied out passages, longhand, in the hopes that his rhetorical style would sink in. But eventually I forced myself to realize that Twain, brilliant though he’s capable of being, is sometimes just a guy who tells ignorant jokes and farts after eating beans.

So, the question for me is always: how much more immediate exposure can my passion stand? With Rupert Thomson, whose work I’ve read in spurts, so far, so good. Twain and I are on a break, though.

Now I’ve got Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist sitting here next to my computer. I hadn’t read his work until I picked up Apex Hides the Hurt (excerpted at the NY Times) a couple months ago on the recommendation of a friend. I understand why reviewers have denounced the metaphors as heavy-handed, but I agree with Gideon Lewis-Kraus that this is part of the point, and anyway I was profoundly impressed — by Whitehead’s language, by his imagination, by his scathing social critique, and by the empathy that pervades his depiction of the protagonist’s isolation and emptiness.

Since most Whitehead fans characterize this novel as the least impressive of the three he’s written, I can’t wait to dig into the others. Except I do keep waiting, because I’m nervous. I don’t want the magic to die.

Debord/Jorn image taken from here.

Larry Brown publishes, posthumously

It’s been two years since Mississippi writer Larry Brown died, and his unpublished works are starting to trickle out.

Field & Stream has picked up the first nonfiction story he ever wrote, about an albino coon. And his last novel, A Miracle of Catfish, will appear next March in its unfinished form. Here’s an excerpt from editor Shannon Ravenel’s explanation (which appears in the galley proof) of how she approached editing Brown’s 710-page draft:

Never having edited a manuscript for posthumous publication, I consulted other novelists and critics about the kind of editing I might do and should do under such circumstances. Our conversations led to a consensus that makingn any changes — substantive or minor — to the plot, the structure, the characterizations, would be inappropriate. No word changes, no syntax changes, and certainly no effort at “ending” this novel should be made. (The author’s notes of his plans for the final chapters, typed in at the end of a rough table of contents, were found amount his papers. They follow the last pages of the novel as written.

But what about cuts? The towering 710 page manuscript on my desk reminded me of the first draft manuscripts of two of Larry Brown’s earlier books, Joe and Fay, and I felt strongly that some cutting — to streamline the narrative and lighten some sections that went on past the point — was in order. But I also felt that cuts to the manuscript would be permissible only if the printed book were designed so that the reader would know where these had been made; by the same token, scholars could easily compare the book with the original archived manuscript.

Update: Syntax of Things points to a recipe of Brown’s on the Field & Stream site. It’s not for the fainthearted (or the vegetarian) — squirrel, biscuits, and gravy.

Image taken from Ole Miss.

The book and its needs

I like Patricia Highsmith’s (above) thoughts on the rewards of steeping yourself in the world of a book you’re writing.

Good books write themselves, and this can be said from a small but successful book like Ripley to longer and greater works of literature. If the writer thinks about his material long enough, until it becomes a part of his mind and his life, and he goes to bed and wakes up thinking about it — then at last when he starts to work, it will flow out as if by itself. A writer should feel geared to his book during the time he is writing it, whether that takes six weeks, six months, a year or more. It is wonderful the way bits of information, faces, names, anecdotes, all kinds of impressions that come in from the outside world during the writing period, will be usable in the book, if one is in tune with the book and its needs. Is the writer attracting the right things, or is some process keeping out the wrong ones? Probably it’s a mixture of both.

As for the thing “flow[ing] out as if by itself” in “six weeks, six months, a year,” well, it’s good work if you can get it.

Image by Hope Curtis.

Flaubert, Poe, and Darwin: works online

  • Cornell University has posted an overview of Susan Jaffe Tane’s Edgar Allan Poe collection, on display up in Ithaca through February 24. Online images include one of Édouard Manet’s illustrations for “The Raven,” a facsimile of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” original manuscript, and labeled shells (at right) from the conchology manual Poe adapted from an existing book for a quick $50. (Thanks, Dave Lull.)
  • And finally, the University of Cambridge has devoted a site to the complete works of Charles Darwin. There you’ll find “every Darwin publication as well as many of his handwritten manuscripts. All told there are more than 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images.”

Catch-up miscellany explosion

  • I learned week before last that my indignation at the Ernest Hemingway furniture collection was probably misplaced. Now comes the news that Graham Greene “wonder[ed] if Peter Jones’s decision to sell knickers in a colour called ‘Brighton Rock’ was proof of real fame.” Next thing you know, I’ll find out that Beckett once appeared in a Big Mac commercial.
  • Philip Connors (author of the best n+1 essay yet) lauds the writings of the ornery Edward Abbey, whose name evokes “looks of condescension and pity” among Manhattanites, who think “you’ve mispronounced the name of a well-known playwright.”
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells Robert Birnbaum about an American who announced, on the publication of Purple Hibiscus, that the book was “‘not authentic because the characters are too familiar.” “What struck me then,” says Adichie, “was he had come to expect something of Africa, so the characters had to be unfamiliar and strange.” See also Adichie’s remarks following a recent 192 Books reading.
  • Sylvia Plath is not the only poet-lover in Ted Hughes’ life who killed herself. She’s just the only one he really talked about.
  • VSL (where I’m on the advisory board) admires Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Truth. Frankfurt is best known for last year’s On Bullshit.
  • “Get a grip, people, either get on with it and write your book, at the weekend, after work, before work, during the vacation, or on a pitiful part-time income, or choose a proper way to get rich and famous.”
  • In This Is Not a Love Song, Lauren Cerand, independent publicist and author of The Smart Set, lays into traditional publicists for the “heavy-handed and presumptuous inquiries” bloggers too often receive from them.
  • The Literary Saloon denounces publishers’ embargoes and rounds up recent articles on the topic.
  • New Yorkers: why buy the New York Times, and line David Brooks’ pockets, when you can read the whole paper — including archives dating from 1995– for free from home with a public library card?
  • A Florida jury has awarded $11.3 million in damages for libelous Internet posts, astonishing defamation expert Lyrissa Lidsky. See also: this old interview with Lidsky, a former professor of mine, about bloggers’ liability for defamatory statements.
  • Note that this link is not to The Onion: “Candidate proposes using textbooks as shields.” (Thanks, Matt.)
  • Fran Moravcsik attends the Alison Bechdel-Phranc art show.
  • Agatha Christie once went missing for eleven days. A new biography attributes her mysterious disappearance to a fugue state.
  • The Voice awards Jenny Davidson’s Light Reading, one of my RSS mainstays, the distinction of best local literary blog.
  • The curator of The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, the nation’s largest collection of cartoons, takes NPR on a tour.
  • Alex Beam wants to be fair to Sony’s new E-reader. It’s lightweight, with a “superb” reading screen. Problems don’t arise until “you actually want to read books.”
  • The City Mouse revisits the maudlin journals she kept while living in Webster Apartments, established in 1916 “solely for the purpose of providing unmarried working women with homes and wholesome food at a small cost to them.”

Eagleton on Dawkins’ militant rationalism

Like Amitava Kumar, I cut my lit-critical teeth on Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory. Unlike Kumar, though, I haven’t done a very good job in of keeping up with theory in the last several years — or with the position Eagleton has now staked out against it.

But I do admire Eagleton’s essays. In the current London Review of Books, he has a go at Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (the title alone sounds like a parody of Dawkins on religion, but don’t look for humor here; Dawkins is deadly, prescriptively serious).

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith…. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

Dawkins on God is rather like those right-wing Cambridge dons who filed eagerly into the Senate House some years ago to non-placet Jacques Derrida for an honorary degree. Very few of them, one suspects, had read more than a few pages of his work, and even that judgment might be excessively charitable. Yet they would doubtless have been horrified to receive an essay on Hume from a student who had not read his Treatise of Human Nature. There are always topics on which otherwise scrupulous minds will cave in with scarcely a struggle to the grossest prejudice. For a lot of academic psychologists, it is Jacques Lacan; for Oxbridge philosophers it is Heidegger; for former citizens of the Soviet bloc it is the writings of Marx; for militant rationalists it is religion.

As the essay progresses, Eagleton applauds Dawkins’ hatred of fundamentalism, but notes that, “Apart from the occasional perfunctory gesture to ‘sophisticated’ religious believers, Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same. This is not only grotesquely false; it is also a device to outflank any more reflective kind of faith by implying that it belongs to the coterie and not to the mass.”

Later: Maximus writes in to say:

Richard Dawkins was a friend of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams. Adams was also an atheist, but I sometimes wonder if he wasn’t poking fun at Dawkins and his aggressive brand of “evangelical atheism” with a minor Hitchhiker’s character named Oolon Colluphid. Colluphid was an author noted for his “trilogy of philosophical blockbusters, Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway?” Elsewhere he is also credited as the author of Well, That About Wraps It Up For God. Dawkins’ latest title sounds like another volume in the same series.

Later still: There’s an interesting (and highly acrimonious) debate over Dawkins and Eagleton at The Valve.

And finally: Davis Sweet writes:

Sorry to geek out on Adams and Dawkins here, but Adams couldn’t have based Oolon Colluphid on “his friend Richard Dawkins,” because the two hadn’t met when Oolon was created.

Continue reading…

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 [at] maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

First, a Public Service Announcement: My petite confections, there are so many things in life we must experience for ourselves to fully appreciate their depth — travel, heartbreak, the opera, Daniel. However, I can spare you the intense boredom of Marie Antoinette! I barely made it halfway through.

MONDAY, 10.23: Stephen Elliott celebrates his latest, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up, with a reading with his pal Nick Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) at The Strand. A brief interview with Steve, conducted via email and exclusive to The Smart Set:

Lauren Cerand: What’s sexy about fall?

Stephen Elliott: Clothes are sexy. Breezes. And darkness that comes earlier.

Lauren Cerand: Who’s the sexiest living writer you’ve never met?

Stephen Elliott: This is an impossible question to answer. Do you know how much trouble you could get me in? Ah right, that I’ve never met. Because I’ve [met] some incredibly sexy writers. I’ve never met Mary Gaitskill, but I’ve talked to her on the phone. I’ve met her husband. I didn’t tell her husband, hey, I’ve read your wife’s books, all of them, and sometimes I pick up Because They Wanted To and start again. So yeah, off the top of my head, Mary Gaitskill. You write stories that well you will always be beautiful.

Lauren Cerand: Where is the sexiest place in New York?

Stephen Elliott: A certain mistress’ dungeon near Battery Park. Either that or Stephen Sherrill’s studio in the village.

7:00pm at The Strand, FREE. Highly recommended. I’ll be there!

TUESDAY, 10.24: “An Evening with Esopus” At the Kitchen. “For its first event at The Kitchen, Esopus presents an evening of readings and performances whose theme—creative collaboration—is approached from four different angles by four different groups of collaborators. In “Autographs,” an audio-visual presentation recorded exclusively for this event, actor/filmmaker Jennifer Jason Leigh reads a series of short poems by Vincent Katz, accompanied by projections of never-before-seen drawings by his father, artist Alex Katz… Film production designer Thérèse DePrez (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Happiness) and cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Unzipped) discuss with critic Amy Taubin the process of working together to create the look and tone of films like Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol and Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. Playwright Christopher Durang (Beyond Therapy, Miss Witherspoon) stages and co-performs with actress Alma Cuervo a reading of a short parody of Medea that Durang co-wrote with the late Wendy Wasserstein (whose plays often featured Cuervo in starring roles). The evening ends with a set of guitar, loops, piano and vocals from Charles Bissell and Kevin Whelan from acclaimed indie band The Wrens. In keeping with the evening’s theme of collaboration, their performance will include a song for which they will ask audience members to join them onstage to contribute single-note drones on extra guitars. Free admission.” 7:00pm. And, at the Borders on Park and 57th, perhaps the perfect venue, “Twenty-five bestselling and award-winning female writers explore the emotional minefield of mother-nanny relationships. Join book editor, Gina Hyams, with contributing authors: Katharine Weber, Marina Budhos, Caroline Leavitt, Anne Burt, Susan Cheever, Pamela Kruger, and Roxana Robinson, as they read selections from Searching for Mary Poppins [Full disclosure, as always: Katharine is one of my clients]. 7:00pm, FREE.

WEDNESDAY, 10.25: “Heralded by CBS News’ Mike Wallace as ‘an extraordinary story, for the depth of its scholarship and the lure of its style,’ Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness reveals how the 16th president harnessed his depression to fuel his astonishing achievements. Drawing on seven years of his own research and the work of other Lincoln scholars, Shenk joins Andrew Solomon (author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression) and Harold Holzer (author of The Lincoln Family Album, Lincoln at Cooper Union and many other books about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War) in a panel discussion examining Lincoln’s depressive symptoms, which included mood swings and at least two major breakdowns, and how he found the solace he needed to deal with the nation’s worst crisis.” The Cooper Union, The Great Hall, 7 East 7th Street b/w 3rd and 4th Aves. Highly recommended. 6:30pm, FREE.

THURSDAY, 10.26: At downtown art gallery jen bekman [full disclosure, as always: where I am the PR director], artist Holly Lynton discusses her current solo exhibition of photographs, Solid Ground, with art critic (and Art Fag City blogger) Paddy Johnson. 6pm – 8pm. “There will be wine + beer, the talk starts around 7.” FREE. And, “Colin Channer reads from his story in Iron Balloons (called “a tour de force” by the New York Times) and K.E. Silva reads from her debut novel, A Simple Distance.At Bluestockings … post-reading reception with Jamaican Red Stripe beer for all.” 7:00pm, FREE.

FRIDAY, 10.27: Andrea Haenggi/AMDaT performs Friction at Dance Theater Workshop: “As the audience is invited to peer down a narrow hallway, corridors form, dissolve, and re–form, veering out into infinity. The stage becomes fluid, as Swiss born/New York based Andrea Haenggi mixes live feeds from hidden cameras with stunning projected films that are layered over dynamic, serene yet brutal live dance. Haenggi promises to once again explode artistic boundaries with her unique vision of dance, visual art and technology in this provocative world premiere” praised by Gay City News as “Exceptional… raw, powerful and sexy.” 7:30pm, $20.

SATURDAY, 10.28: I missed them this weekend, but next Saturday for sure: Ken Price: Sculpture and Drawings, 1962 – 2006 at Matthew Marks Gallery and Lisa Yuskavage: New Work at David Zwirner.

SUNDAY, 10.29: At KGB, Harper Perennial authors (and out-of-towners) Sarah Hall (Haweswater), Heather O’Neill (Lullabies for Little Criminals) and Emily McGuire (Taming the Beast) read from their work. Recommended. 7:00pm, FREE.

Miller and McNally: the vast education conspiracy, part 2

Below, in part two of the vast education conspiracy conversation, John McNally (America’s Report Card) talks with Joe Miller about Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad, and how volunteering as an assistant debate coach for Kansas City’s poorest high school has caused Miller to see American education as “an engine for a caste system” that’s “running as smoothly as a brand new V8.”

You can read a slightly modified excerpt from Cross-X at the end of the interview.

McNally: After Katrina, Kayne West said that George Bush doesn’t care about black people. So let me ask you. You’ve spent considerable time in an all-black school for the past several years, working with these kids and their award-winning debate team, and you’ve seen first-hand how the system can — and often does — fail these kids. So, what do you think? Does George Bush care about black people? Is the system — and I’ll let you define system — purposely trying to flush these kids out of school?

Miller: I have to agree with Kanye. Nothing against Bush personally. The statement wasn’t about the man so much as The Man — you know, what he represents. Katrina was just a blatant recent example in a legacy of presidential disregard (or judicial, or legislative, or whatever), and it was a smaller catastrophe, quite frankly, than most federal policy, not the least being “No Child Left Behind” (or, as you call it in your book, “No Child’s Behind Left Untouched”).

I think Jonathan Kozol was right when he wrote — long ago, in his more radical years — that the problem isn’t that the education system is a failure, but that it’s a brutal success. John, the hardest lesson I learned in my five years with the Kansas City Central debate squad, following them to tournaments at the nation’s top schools, is that American education is an engine for a caste system, and it’s running as smoothly as a brand new V8. Whereas Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville (alma mater of former debater William Frist) is training kids to become doctors and senators, KC Central is churning out servants, soldiers and prisoners.

McNally: How can you agree with Kayne but say that it’s nothing against Bush personally? It seems to me that his not caring about black people while being President of the United States would be very personal. In fact, I can’t think of anything more personal in terms of what this says about the man. Continue reading…

Babies and cornbread

In the hours before the Antigeist gave birth on Tuesday night, her man asked how how she was doing.

You’ve got to hand it to her. Rather than yanking out a fistful of his chest hair to share the misery, as some lesser women might do, she offered this clear-eyed assessment:

I’m in a significant amount of pain. It’s called labor. There’s a reason they don’t call it “summer” or “whee!”

The baby’s great, of course — full head of red hair, and the longest fingers and toes you ever did see.

Between becoming an auntie, staying up to watch the NLCS, and racing to meet various deadlines, my mind just hasn’t been on blogging this week. And Annie Reid, who usually takes over on Fridays, can’t pick up the slack today.

But I do have something for you Yankees (and I don’t mean fans of the baseball team) in the audience: a proper — i.e., unsweetened — cornbread recipe, from Bill Smith’s Seasoned in the South.

Because, really, what is it with Northerners and cornbread that tastes like somebody forgot to frost it?

One of these days, we’re also going to need to talk about your “chili.” But one step at a time. For now, cornbread: Continue reading…

Get Your War On: Sean Carman’s note from Washington

Below Sean Carman, an occasional contributor to MaudNewton.com, reports on the adaptation of Get Your War On.

It was a treat several weekends ago to watch the theatrical adaption of David Rees’ Internet comic Get Your War On just a few blocks from the Capitol, at Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theater.

The adaptation is the work of the Rude Mechanicals, an Austin-based theater troupe which opened Get Your War On in the Texas capital before bringing it to Washington, D.C.

The Rude Mechs perform the show with four overhead projectors, cheap office furniture, telephones with dangling, disconnected cords, and a filing cabinet from which they pull the hundreds of transparencies they throw on the overheads during the show. It all begins with the classic line, “Oh yeah! Operation Enduring Freedom is in the house!” Continue reading…

Wearing the perfect hat, and other publishing strategies

Jared Paul Stern, the Page Six gossip columnist/antisocial personality fired last April for allegedly attempting to extort $220,000 from a billionaire in exchange for immunization from negative press, has just sold a gossip book for a rumored six figures.

Even the New York Times can’t keep a straight face (“the more appropriate question might be: Why?“).

Doesn’t Stern, pictured wearing a monocle above, look like a minor character from The Secret History?* Not to mention somebody you’d just like to slap as soon as he opened his mouth? Naturally, he has his own clothing line. Which might just be what got him the book deal.

Then Mark Gompertz and Mr. Stern met for the first time at the Simon & Schuster offices, on July 5, at 11 a.m. “He was wearing a perfect hat, as I thought he might,” Mr. Gompertz said. They met again on Aug. 4, at Mexican Radio, in Hudson, N.Y. Mr. Stern had the fish tacos and a few margaritas, and wore a shirt of his own design.

No, no, it must have been the stunning proposal — “a few pages” — that led Touchstone/Firestone publisher Mark Gompertz to “hope[] that ‘Stern Measures’ would be a serious book….”

* He is, incidentally, a Tartt fan and Bennington alum.

McNally and Miller: the vast education conspiracy, part 1

Novelist John McNally (who also edited that teenage loser anthology I contributed to) worked in educational testing years ago. The experience spawned his latest book, America’s Report Card, which imagines standardized tests as a secret government effort to fingerprint the minds of our nation’s youth.

Joe Miller‘s Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad, meanwhile, is a nonfiction account of his time with a debate team from a poor, all-black Kansas City high school that’s been left to rot. While documenting the successes of his debate students, and the stumbling-blocks that always seem to materialize in their path, Miller spins out his own conspiracy theories about the increasingly stultifying nature of public education.

As I read Cross-X, I kept wondering what kind of conspiracy theories these guys would spin out if they put their heads together. And then I decided to find out. In today’s installment, Miller interviews McNally about school testing. (If it’s been a while since your high school days, try your hand at some of the actual test questions.)

Miller: Before I read your book, it never occurred to me that school testing might be a tool of social control — at least not in the way you depict it, as a mass psychological profile data collection system. Fascinating idea. Do you really believe this is what’s going down? I mean, obviously you’re writing fiction. But still. You actually worked for one of these testing companies, didn’t you? What’s the truth underneath it all?

McNally: Yep, I scored standardized tests, off and on, for three years for about eight bucks an hour, and most of what I scored was what’s known as the Nation’s Report Card. I went into the job with a low opinion of the industry and left rather horrified by it. For my novel, I made up the idea of the tests being a mass psychological profile data collection system, but it’s no secret that the government tries to get as much bang for their buck as they can out of these tests. The information gathered from the tests that students take for No Child Left Behind is given to, and then used by, the U. S. military, for instance — most likely for recruitment purposes.

Parents can write a letter and ask for their child to be exempt from this aspect of No Child Left Behind, but I doubt most parents are even aware that this is being done. I don’t think the notion of standardized tests being used as mass psychological profiles is far behind. As a fiction writer, I’ve discovered that it’s hard to outpace the nefariousness of the Bush Administration. Continue reading…

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 [at] maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the event’s date in the subject line.

MONDAY, 10.16: Bill Buford (Heat) and Anthony Bourdain (Nasty Bits) proffer a curmudgeonly culinary-themed evening at The Half King. 7:00pm, FREE.

TUESDAY, 10.17: Guest curator Liz Brown presents an intriguing edition of the Writers at the Alliance series: “In his foreword to ‘Here is New York,’ written in 1948, E.B. White asserted that “it is the reader’s, not the author’s, duty to bring New York down to date.” The Alliance has enlisted three very different writers with that task, beginning with Caleb Crain who chronicles the extravagances and vanities of New York’s upper class in the nineteenth century. Next, Brandon Stosuy delves into the downtown music scene of the 1970s and continues through to 2006, noting outerborough shifts along the way. Finally, Melissa Plaut, a blogging cab driver, keeps us “down to date” with her present-day account of life behind the wheel in New York City.” Highly recommended. At the Educational Alliance, 197 East Broadway (F train to East Broadway, walk two blocks to Jefferson). 7:00pm, FREE.

WEDNESDAY, 10.18: You can imagine that I believe them subject to the same basic principles of Fight Club, but I’ll be making an exception to my first rule on Wednesday, when I will be a panelist for a discussion of cult followings with Soft Skull Press publisher Richard Nash, literary agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House, and DailyCandy.com editor Jeralyn Gerba, and moderator M.J. Rose. Presented by the New York City chapter of the Women’s National Book Association at the Small Press Center. Open to the public. 6:00pm, $10. Also, Jami Attenberg (Instant Love), Marcy Dermansky (Twins) and Stephen Elliott (My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up) are among the readers at an erotically-themed event at Happy Ending. 8:00pm, FREE. And, Lisa Yuskavage, responsible for my favorite quote of the week (from a profile in this month’s issue of W) — People say, ‘when are you going to paint a man?’ I say, ‘when a man inhabits my imagination’” — has a much-anticipated exhibition of new work opening at David Zwirner. No info online, but probably 6 – 8:00pm, FREE.

THURSDAY, 10.19: “Edward J. Renehan Jr., author of Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons, will take to the stage in the auditorium at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site (28 East 20th Street, between Park Avenue & Broadway) to discuss Manhattan as Jay Gould knew it in the heyday of the Gilded Age. Renehan’s talk kicks off a new lecture series – Third Thursdays at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace – featuring major authors discussing key aspects of New York City History.” 6:00pm, FREE. In Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Rail Fiction Anthology reading series takes place at Spoonbill & Sugartown, featuring contributors Thomas D’Adamo, Elizabeth Reddin, Jermey Sigler, Lewis Warsh, and Lynda Schor and editor Donald Breckenridge. 8:00pm, FREE.

FRIDAY, 10.20: The Wingdale Community Singers will be playing “a benefit for the Earth School, on a star-studded bill including: Jonathan Lethem, Les Chauds Lapins, and Laura Cantrell, admission $25. The event takes place at the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea, during the run of Fred Tomaselli’s new show.” 7:00pm. [Thanks to T. Jones for the tip!]

SATURDAY, 10.21: “Chez Bushwick makes an encore appearance at the Abrons Arts Center with this celebration of its resident artists, Jonah Bokaer and Moving Theater. Renowned for fostering the development of new work, Chez Bushwick is Brooklyn’s undisputed incubator of must-see performance. Bokaer, Chez Bushwick’s founder and guiding light, offers a mixed-media performance that explores the relationships between choreography, sculpture, sound, and video. Moving Theater, a discipline-defying, frontier-crossing performance group directed by Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly, brings new material fresh from the company’s 2006 residency at the Watermill Center.” Also on Friday evening. 7:30pm, $15.

SUNDAY, 10.22: “Guaranteed to be more fun than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick…Readings At The Field presents AN EVENING WITH THE ONION Featuring The Onion features editor Joe Garden, head writer Todd Hanson, and contributor John Harris.” At Magnetic Field. Go and thank them in person for “My Short Fiction Will Restore America’s Romantic Spirit,” “It’s Funny How What You’re Saying Relates to My Novel,” and “Women Dozing at Coffee Shop Has That Dave Eggers Sex Dream Again.” 7:00pm, FREE.