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.
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.
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.
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 itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
- Courtesy of the University of Rouen, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary manuscripts are available online. Says Laila Lalami: “You can see Flaubert’s text as he labored over it: words crossed out, verbs changed; descriptions refined. And you can see various drafts, the final draft, the copy edited version, and the published text of 1873.” There’s more on the project at the Literary Saloon.
- 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.”
- 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.
- While reading We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, Alex Ross encountered for the first time Joan Didion’s October 2000 New York Review of Books essay, “God’s Country,” which he calls “a sustained analysis of the phrase ‘compassionate conservatism,’” and a “chilling prophecy of things to come.”
- 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.
- Does Uncle Tom’s reputation deserve rehabilitation?
- Ursula LeGuin calls Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell) on the “airy incoherences” of the stories in her new collection.
- 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.
- Marjane Satrapi discusses female comic book heroes and her new book, Chicken with Plums, which is excerpted at Salon. (Via.)
- 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.”
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 themeÃ¢â‚¬â€creative collaborationÃ¢â‚¬â€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 ThÃƒÂ©rÃƒÂ¨se 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 LeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 NewsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Mike Wallace as ‘an extraordinary story, for the depth of its scholarship and the lure of its style,’ Joshua Wolf ShenkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book LincolnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 LincolnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 reÃ¢â‚¬â€œform, 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â 7:30pm, $20.
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.
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…
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?
Below Sean Carman, an occasional contributor to MaudNewton.com, reports on the adaptation of Get Your War On.
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…
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 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 eventÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s date in the subject line.
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 BrooklynÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s undisputed incubator of must-see performance. Bokaer, Chez BushwickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
This month C-SPAN Radio is running a series of civil rights interviews conducted by Robert Penn Warren in the mid-60s.