Is the line between the short story and the novel disappearing? Julian Gough considers.
What contemporary readers don’t seem to like are short stories that don’t connect to each other. Why? Perhaps because our lives feel fragmented enough already. Television too has almost abandoned the single, self-contained drama. People like art to make sense out of chaos but without denying the chaos. That demand is a tremendous opportunity for the natural short story writer, who merely needs to come up with an organising principle. It’s just another technical challenge. Story itself is infinitely flexible, and doesn’t much care how you tell it or what you call it. These stacks of stories, reinvented for the urban 21st century, could be called the multistory novel.
Speaking of divas, why does Hollywood get The Writer so wrong so often?
Hollywood screenwriters have traditionally found it hard to depict their own profession. While they have no problem taking us into the inner lives of rogue policemen, terrorists or spies, capturing the exhilaration, frustration and drudgery of life behind a desk seems beyond them.
Portraying the visually uninspiring act of writing on screen is difficult, and no one aside from the most hardened art-house-film-loving cinéaste would pay money to watch the reality of most authors’ lives; but that’s true of many jobs, and it doesn’t explain why the lives of so many writers in films and TV programmes are so similar.
While playing an architect remains the number-one choice for actors wishing to seem cerebral, screen novelists are invariably in crisis.
My guess is they just can’t properly protray the raw sexuality of an unshaven morning searching the corners of the pantry for something to eat that doesn’t say “RAMEN” on the front.
Behind every good books stands the back of the shelf. Wait, let me retry that. Behind every good book stands an army of people who don’t get any respect. The publishers, editors, and assorted staff.
Books are a collective endeavour. The book that you hold in your hands is stuffed full of what Jerome McGann describes as “the dynamic social relations which always exist in literary production”. And believe me, there have been some “dynamic social relations” going on in my office in the last week or so. Producing a text for publication is dynamic, nerve-wracking and all-consuming.
Aw, we love youse guys. We really do. It’s just that we writers are all self-obsessed divas. Please forgive any anti-social behaviour on our part and write the abuse off to artistic genius. And next time remember to consult the contract rider that says I get MONTEPLUCIANO grapes in the hospitality suite at each stop, not those tiny seedless Ontario things. Oh, and the bag of coke and hooker named Cloe weren’t available in Schenectady, so I figure that means you owe me two of each in Boise. And don’t forget, or I swear to god I’ll send another bag of excrement in the mail.
Critics are divided about Okri’s oracular style, but he enjoys a devoted following among fans of the highbrow self-help genre; Bridget Jones vowed to finish The Famished Road as part of her self-improvement regime. Okri’s world view has the intentional naivety of a man who has kept modern-day sophistications at bay, who doesn’t drive, own a computer, or use a mobile phone. He makes a dramatic gesture of bewilderment when I present two voice-recorders, questioning my reliance on technology.
I explain that it’s because I share his technophobia that I double up, but Okri seems not to have heard. “I’ll show you something”, he says, taking out a pen and paper to write silently, leaving a 30-second interregnum on the tape. “A computer can’t pick that up, can it?” he says, cryptically adding that “silence is the highest action”.
He sees himself as an artist of silence who is frustrated by having to use words. “The text of experience is extremely rich and mysterious, but the text of prose is so visible. Another genre is inside me trying to express itself through this medium.” In his new novel, Starbook, he literally gives silence a voice, writing: “There was a long silence as the silence spoke.”
A Booker judge writes on the process of eliminating all the big names from this year in choosing the long- and shortlists.
Filters affect outcomes. If one looked only at literary style, Anne Enright or Ian McEwan would win. If one considered books as nothing but psychological mechanisms, Mohsin Hamid would be the victor: The Reluctant Fundamentalist does subtle things to manipulate its readers. For implicit polemic and strong portrayal of character, however, Indra Sinha would be the choice. If it’s strangeness and beauty you’re after, look no further than Nicola Barker’s Darkmans. Then there is Lloyd Jones, the supposed new favourite and (according to some reports) an “unknown writer”, whose Mister Pip would win if the sole criterion was the emotional impact of the story.
The UK’s Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen offers a scathing review of the way we educate our young. Forget the marks and rewards for getting facts right, and start teaching kids how to think instead of just “managing” them.
One of his poems, in an anthology called No Breathing in Class, is about a teacher who is so strict that she bans breathing.
There had been “this extraordinary shift in the past ten years: you don’t talk about teaching and learning, you talk about management”, he said.
“The Government thinks it terribly important that you set up these weird incentive schemes in classes, so you get ticks, smiley faces and certificates. This is about competitive stigmatising. They think it’s rewarding the children; in fact, it ends up punishing most of them.”
He is angry at the rigorous testing regime which has reduced his passion, literature, to a series of tick-box exercises. Take SATs, the exams now given to every child aged 7 and again at 11, forcing children to think like Gradgrind, solely about facts.
“If you look at the questions they ask about a story, they are all obsessed with telling the events of the story in the right order, understanding the chronology, logic and facts.
“This is why you write up scientific experiments, but it isn’t why you tell stories.”
I couldn’t agree more. I often feel sick to my stomach when I see the thirteen years of boredom and mediocrity lined up ahead of my child. Sometimes it feels as though things like schools and old age homes are basically warehouses for the inconvenient folk in our lives. Surely there has to be a better solution.
Any contemporary novelist writing about terrorism tangles directly or indirectly with George Bush’s ill-starred war on terror, and Kunzru acknowledges that My Revolutions is “a post 9/11 book”.
“Several people have said to me how bleak they’ve found it,” he says, though his new-found seriousness is far from being po-faced. “Ultimately black comedy is the mode I’m happiest in, and it seems an appropriate mode for our times.”
St. John’s writer captures the heart of Eden Mills. She really is quite a writer — plus she makes a mean PowerPoint presentation.
OJ, under arrest again, this time for armed robbery (you’d think he was engaged in a publicity stunt for the book), is considered by Orpah and the Goldmans. Genital warts are wished all around. Oprah doesn’t like giving publicity to the book, but she sure likes the ratings boost. If only you could have one without the other, eh, Opie?
Bookninja favourite, and sometime Canadian, profiled in the The Age.
IN FRANCE, WHERE NANCY Huston lives, she’s a literary star. Her latest novel, Fault Lines, is a triumph: it has won the prestigious Prix Femina award, has sold more than 250,000 copies and is being translated into 20 languages.
She’s also well-known in the English-speaking world, particularly Canada, where she spent the first 15 years of her life, and several of her novels are available in the US. But oddly enough, no US publisher so far has shown any interest in Fault Lines.
Nor was any British publisher interested, until Australian publisher Text acquired the UK and Commonwealth rights and persuaded a British company, Atlantic Books, to take it on. So why were the publishers so reluctant?
They were shocked and offended, Huston says. The offender is a precocious six-year-old Californian boy, Sol, who secretly browses the internet for violent pornographic images.
He likes to masturbate while he looks at “hundreds of girls and women being brutally raped for free” or the corpses of Iraqi soldiers lying in the sand: “Sometimes you can’t even tell what body parts you’re looking at.”
Huston suspects that editorial assistants in the publishing houses that turned down Fault Lines read the first 30 pages, discovered the monstrous Sol and found him deeply offensive. The first chapter also upset a lot of people in France, she says. But they read the rest of the book, went back to Sol and found him much less monstrous and more understandable the second time around.
$250,000 is a lot of money – what do you plan to do with it?
Well, it’s not mine, the cheque is being written to 826. If I got it would be taxed by half, and half would go to Iraq. And who knows what would happen then. So I just asked them to make it out to 826, and then it’s being farmed out to six or eight of the writing centres, with Boston getting the largest chunk because it’s the next one to open. It’s a huge help, as these days the centres start with $10-20,000 sometimes and just cross their fingers.
Bill Clinton’s new book, Giving, suggests that non-profitmaking organisations such as yours can pick up the slack from state-subsidised services. Do you think this is true?
Yeah, I really believe in small-scale nonprofits that are based in neighbourhoods – they’re best suited to address specific community needs. Every one of our writing labs is started by a local group, and every one addresses itself to that specific area. We just like the small scale. Let’s rent a space, let’s hire one person and then worry about the rest, but the important thing is the small thing.
And that works with the publications, too?
With The Believer (www.believermag.com) the question was how to put together a publication without ads and without raising any money. How do you keep the staff lean? You design a template simple enough that one person can maintain it – the copy-editing, photos, layout, everything, even at 65,000 words. Isn’t that what [Lawrence Lessig's] The Long Tail is all about? I just know it works for us: small, agile, adaptable, and the centres are as self-reliant as possible.
Ok, fine. I like him.
Will Self lifted a title from the book of dead noir writer from the 80s. Now he’s written a forward to that writer’s reprint. That’s called paying it backward.
“Bad writers,” Auden remarked, “borrow. Good ones steal”. I like to think I’m a good enough writer to thieve – and do so blatantly. I ripped off Robin Cook’s (aka Derek Raymond’s) title How the Dead Live quite shamelessly, and gave it to one of my own novels. He was dead, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Some Raymond acolyte thought this was a bit much and wrote me an irate letter. Big deal. Besides, I don’t think Cook would’ve given a toss – he was enough of a Wildean to know flattery when it was staring him in the face.
The Vogel is the most significant award of its type in Australia and has kickstarted the careers of writers such as Tim Winton, Kate Grenville and Andrew McGahan. Laszczuk wins $20,000 and publication of his novel next year by Allen & Unwin.
It’s the second such award Laszczuk has won. He received the unpublished manuscript prize at the 2004 Adelaide Festival for his first novel, The Goddamn Bus of Happiness.
No, no. We’re not talking about predictable plots and over-used tropes. How do you read ancient books that are too near the point of disintegration to touch? With a very bright light.
If the system works, it could eventually be used to decipher unopened parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the collection of about 900 ancient Hebrew parchments discovered in 11 caves.
Within three to four years, the technique should even become capable of imaging the pages of unopened books. This will allow the team to make facsimiles of documents such as original scores by Mozart and Beethoven, which have been seriously damaged by the ink in which they are written.
Professor Wess told the science festival that the X-ray tomography technique was originally developed to analyse the degree of damage that parchment manuscripts have suffered, as collagen in the animal skin turns to gelatin to make the documents brittle when dry and jelly-like when damp. It has now been refined so that the Diamond light beam can actually image words through the parchment.
Apparently, that unopened section of the Scrolls is where God goes, “Hey, dudes, this is all advice for life as it is now… if things change, just adapt the spirit of these rules to the spirit of your times. And please, no killing people in my name. Seriously, I’ve had enough of it. Thanks, G.”
Everyone’s picking up the Frey second book story now. Here’s a roundup for your browsing pleasure, assuming this train wreck of a story/life still gives you a prurient gossipy thrill.
Every day that goes by takes me closer to an old age where right and wrong in these kinds of fuckups start to blur. Do I think Frey made a mistake? Yes. Do I think he’s an opportunistic scumbag? It’s quite likely he is. Do I think he did it alone like a scheming supervillian? No. I am more and more inclined to share the blame with the people making the money decisions here — the publishers, Oprah, agents, publicisits, etc. Same with that Harvard girl a while back who may not have written her own book. Hoaxster Laura Albert, not so much. She seems to be a one-person army from the bizarro reality. (But I do recognize she’s probably an ill person who needs a good dose of something to act as a mental straighjacket.) Anyway, what I’m saying is, I find it hard to get as angry about these things as I once did. In part because it becomes more apparent every day that what seem to be the main characters in these ugly dramas are in fact only part of a supporting cast of corporate weasles trying to fuck everyone over for a buck. (Except OJ. Now, there’s a supervillian acting alone if ever I saw one. You can tell ’cause his head is thrice the size of a normal human’s.)
A remembrance of festivals past from Andrew O’Hagan, around the start of yet another book gathering in the UK.
Every town in Britain with a pub and a bookmakers is also just as likely to host a book festival.
In the Yorkshire dales or down by the shark-infested waters of Cornwall, at certain times of year you can bump into Nobel Prize-winners enjoying cream teas with their wives or see young novelists conversing on the grass about memory and war.
Festivals have become an important element in the way we experience literary culture, and often, at the good ones, the joy and fascination can be greater than anything to be found in the West End or at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Book festivals now tend to proceed in a spirit of fun and celebration, but it wasn’t always so.
Dave Eggers gets some love from the ketchup folk for his work with “emerging writers”. Surely it’s only a matter of time before the quarter of a million dollars he’s been awarded is distributed evenly among 250 emerging writers.
On Wednesday, the foundation hailed Eggers as “a novelist whose meteoric commercial and critical success has helped propel him into the worlds of philanthropy, advocacy and education.”
Not to quibble, because I actually admire much of what he does, but don’t “meteors” FALL? When I think of “meteoric commercial and critical success”, I think more of Britney Spears than Dave Eggers.
“Guy books” most sought after when out of print.
The Great Tool Emporium and Cab Forward: the Story of the Southern Pacific Articulated Locomotives may sound like candidates for the Oddest Title award. In fact, perhaps surprisingly, they are some of the most sought after books in the United States.
They appear on a list of in-demand titles requested on BookFinder.com, a 10-year-old comparison search engine for buying used, rare and out-of-print books online. Its annual report tracks the most requested out-of-print titles in the US from an inventory of 125m titles.
An award for new writers goes exclusively to women, and one of the judges responsible says calls this a “wake up” call for male writers.
The judge of a national writing prize has ordered men to “wake up” after all of the £3,000 awards went this year to women. With eight of the nine contenders on the New Writing Ventures awards for emerging literary talent being women, the outcome was always unlikely to be otherwise.
Henry Sutton, chair of judges for the fiction section of the awards and literary editor of the Daily Mirror, said he was “surprised and saddened” when he realised that no men had made the grade to even reach the shortlist for the category. “I was shocked when I realised that all three were women,” he said. “I’ve never believed in a difference of the sexes when it comes to literary talent, but there does seem to be a broader appeal in what women are writing than men.”
I hereby open the comment space below to your frothing.
What does he make of the new set-up in Northern Ireland, I ask, with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in government together? ‘It’s the best that can be managed, and possibly workable,’ he says, cautiously. ‘Nobody’s going to start being amorous with each other, but institutions, the polis, might have a chance.’
Signed Hemingway proof up for auction. Break that piggy bank, kids, and maybe we can all go in together on it. We could keep it in the Ninja treefort and read it while eating cheezewiz on crackers.
James Frey is coming out with a (second?) novel. His publisher is firmly behind him. Of course, the fact that his fake memoir hasn’t stopped selling, even with the scandal, doesn’t really hurt his publisher’s opinion of him. Apparently there would have been a bidding war if HC hadn’t paid through the nose for exclusive rights. So, my pretties, the lesson here is, once again: there is no bad publicity that doesn’t involve ball gags, a block and tackle, cannibalism, and underage public washroom patrons you met on MySpace. Go nuts! Do what you like! It all leads to money and success. That’s “The Secret”… Excuse me while I go knock over the jewelry store downstairs.
Stephen Harper, Canada’s time bomb waiting for the T-minus-zero count of a majority government, returned a 300 year old playbill to Australia as part of a diplomatic photo op. Reports are as yet unclear about whether, having survived this brush with his nemesis “culture”, he quickly showered and read a copy of the National Post before feeling quite himself again.
“Now a 200-year-old playbill I think is quite a find in its own right, but what makes this one even more exceptional is that it is also the sole surviving copy of the earliest known … document printed in Australia,” Harper told the official luncheon guests. “I’m proud to return it to its right owners on this auspicious historic day when we are renewing bonds of friendship, celebrating our mutual accomplishments and vowing to work together for a better world.”
He then cracked open the thighbone of an Australian outback poet and poured the marrow over the throbbing brains of a still-living, but recently trepanned, Canadian painter before smiling for the camera and digging in with a serrated grapefruit spoon.
Don’t forget about the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend. What a lineup! Here’s a random selection, taken in one swipe from the authors page. You can’t spit here without hitting someone interesting.
Pat Cummings, Clean Your Room Harvey Moon!
Steve Dalachinsky, The Final Nite & Other Poems: Complete Notes From A Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006
Edwidge Danticat, Breath Eyes Memory, The Dew Breaker, Brother I’m Dying
Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
Daniel Ehrenhaft, The Wessex Papers Volumes 1-3, 10 Things to Do Before I Die
Mike Farrell, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist
Jeffrey Feldman, Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives
Can Use Them to Change the Conversation
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End: A Novel
Laura Flanders, Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (Moderator)
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel
Paula Fox, The Slave Dancer, One-Eyed Cat
Mary Gaitskill, Veronica, Two Girls Fat and Thin, Bad Behavior
Laurie Garrett, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health
Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide
Jennifer Gilmore, Golden Country
Myla Goldberg, Bee Season, Wickett’s Remedy, Catching the Moon
Wayne Greenhaw, King of Country, Ghosts on the Road, The Thunder of Angels
Ben Greenman, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, Superbad, Superworse
Eliza Griswold, Wideawake Field: Poems
Kimiko Hahn, The Narrow Road t
The life of the intellectual freelancer had never been easy. It had been the product of a kind of double negation: the refusal of a refusal. Little magazines, avant-garde sects, and other marginal niches had operated by a certain cultural logic—to exclude the influence of institutions established and powerful enough to reproduce their power while excluding outsiders and deviants (racial, sexual, ideological, aesthetic). There is no sense in romanticizing any of this. The existence of such institutions had always been precarious, the cost often more than economic.
But there is more to Verne than big guns and big machines. Indeed, the cinema has not been a friend to Verne’s true skill; it flattens his achievement, seeing him capable only of widescreen effects. In fact his writing, though rarely stylistically elevated, achieves brilliant and memorable metaphorical and even poetic effects. Of Verne’s novels there are two that achieve a unique blend of pseudo-technical precision and almost surreal metaphorical sweep. Since they’ve never been filmed they are practically unknown. But they deserve to be remembered.
British (former) kids love Roald first, Lewis second, Barrie third, and poor old JK fourth. She’s not even on the podium. I hope she doesn’t cry. They’re waiting on a the mint to produce a new series of those $1M notes she likes to blot her mascara with.
Let me tell you, if I had a secret key, you wouldn’t have that great stereo you keep bragging about. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the kiddie book Stephen Hawking wrote with his daughter Lucy. Video included.
Now Hawking and his 36-year-old daughter Lucy, one of his three children with Jane, have collaborated on a scientific adventure story for children, George’s Secret Key to the Universe. Is it autobiographical? Well, there is a girl called Annie who lives with her scientist father, Eric, who has the world’s most intelligent computer, Cosmos, which can whizz people off to anywhere in the universe.
Holy shit, it IS autobiographical! I always knew he was just waiting to transform into pure energy and lead us to a the next level of consciousness. Just let me get out of this meat puppet for a minute. Unngh. Aaagh! Rrrr! Um… My cheeks hurt.
I’m sitting in the St. John’s airport, where wireless is, in a very civilized manner, FREE. Tomorrow morning I’ll be returning through the Toronto airport where wireless is very much NOT FREE. So expect a late update. Also, if you’re in Toronto and looking for something to do tonight, I’m reading at 8pm at Clinton’s Tavern, on the south side of Bloor Street, just east of Christie. Please come and chat and have a drink.
A set of pictures of opulent libraries to give you a woody. A polished mahogany, oak, and cherry woody. (From Brenda)
Novelist, poet, and part-time Ninja, John Degen, writes about screaming into the void:
Publishing a first novel in Canada can be a lot like tossing a note-laden bottle into Lake Superior. First of all, you’re littering, so there’s that to feel guilty about. And who needs another book, wonder the trees. Then, you have to ponder the long odds of anyone actually finding the damn thing—there’s a lot of cold, angry water out there and endless kilometres of unpopulated shoreline, metaphorically speaking.
P.S. John, you’re most welcome.
And not just by the whole “religion” thing. A book dealer who bought a set of books from them for £36,000 has turned around and flipped them for £500,000. If they’re right and I’m wrong, that antiquarian will be joining me in a special ring of hell reserved for cruel revenge. I’ll bring the cards. Can you play Bridge?
Well, well, well. And so it begins. Next you’ll be getting data-mined at your Gmail account and everyone at Google headquarters will know your dirty little secret. You should have known you couldn’t get away with it. No one does. A Dan Brown fan club membership will always find its way into the light, no matter how deep you bury it.
Joan Didion to get special NBA honour. Mine skin varily crackleth with electricity at the announcement.
I’m sure it’s being said everywhere today: the New York Post had book reviews? With a grade three writing level filling spaces between the lascivious shots of violence and partial nudity, wouldn’t these former “book reviews” have been better referred to as “book reports”?
Some library closings in Toronto have patrons worked into a lather. On the other side of the fence, prisons are removing books of faith from slammer libraries. Cause we all know it’s them learnin’ and prayin’ books that hottens up the blood.
A new school year means it’s time to get schooled. The Bookninja Magazine returns with it’s first installment for Fall 2007 — a roundtable discussion between five prominent novelists (Peter Behrens, Catherine Bush, Barbara Gowdy, Sheila Heti and Lisa Moore) on the importance of “empathy” to both writers and readers. This is a serious, generous nuts-and-bolts discussion that opens windows into the minds and creative processes of five of our bestselling literary authors. Whether you’re a writer, teacher, student or avid reader, it’s not to be missed.
Bookninja was founded on the ideal of discussion as important form of criticism — both in the articles themselves and in the comment section by interested readers — and this meaty piece returns us to those roots. Please feel free to continue the discussion below.
I used epigraphs in my first and third books, which just makes them odd, I guess.
“We will not understand much if we are content to plumb the enigma of identity with only the help of introspective memory. To understand we must compare, Broch said; must put identity to the test of comparisons; we must compare the French Revolution with its Antillean responses … ”
There. Now that you’ve got Milan Kundera’s thoughts to reflect on, you’ll be able to see this post for the subtle, perspicacious piece of writing it really is. The many sophisticated levels of meaning will all become clear, and my place in the canon of great minds will be obvious. Even if you don’t bother reading my epigraph, just the fact that it’s there proves how clever and well read I am. Right?
A couple times recently people have come to me asking persmission to use something I wrote in epigraphs for their books. I find this somehow simultaneously easier to deal and more frightening than being asked for a jacket blurb. At least I’m not saying anything new or stating an opinion that time may prove foolish, but, given that what I wrote in the context of my book is now being interpreted in the context of their book… am I? My head hurts.
Imagine you were the editor in charge rejecting Anne Frank or Nabokov. That’s got to sting, forty years on. Well, you wouldn’t need to worry if you were. Some of your brightest contemporaries have done the same thing.
In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”
Today, as publishers eschew the finished manuscript and spit out contracts based on a sketchy outline or even less, the scripting of rejection letters has become something of a lost art.
Today? Really, NYT? I think by “today” what you actually mean is “circa 2001″. Today great novels by established authors are being rewritten on suggestion, not even under contract before they are picked up for a fraction of a standard advance from a half-decade back.
I was just talking with Ninja K about this last night. Imagine how cool it would be to live on a remote farm where you harvested your own food, pulled power from a windmill and solar panels, communicating with the world solely through your work and paper letters. It’s a grass is greener thing, I suppose. But the idea of going off the grid is surely alluring to a guy like me who seems to get mired deeper every day in this mud puddle of communications technologies. In a weird way I already am isolated and reclusive. In another, several thousand people know about my prediliction for blueberry picking. I can’t tell whether I’m e- or de- volving. Anyway, the LAT looks at reclusive writers in the day and age of the widely-whored author.
But what if the creator won’t come down from the mountain, won’t comment on the reasons for his creation? What if he won’t publish his new work (like J.D. Salinger), won’t allow himself to be photographed (like Thomas Pynchon), won’t make public appearances (like Cormac McCarthy) or won’t write at all despite early success (like Harper Lee)?
That’s the case with the reclusive writers, a small but mythically resonant category made up mostly of successful, staggeringly prestigious figures whose refusal to play the publicity game, or to appear to swim in the same water as their readers, can signify everything — or nothing at all.
Fans of William Gibson have created an aggregator of sorts that organizes searchable critical reception on his new novel, Spook Country, into a “cloud” of responses that record reading paths through the novel. The article’s author thinks this could be the future of literary criticism. I am getting sort of dizzy thinking about it.
If you asked me what are the two best-annotated texts available to scholar and student in canonical English Literature, I would say the Alistair Fowler edition of Paradise Lost and the Ann Thompson edition of Hamlet. Colleagues would probably come up with alternative contenders. But they would be the same kind of footnote / endnote enterprises. Old school.
What the unknown Node-maestro has done is poles apart, both from this, and from the usual website-based ‘everybody pitch in’ mess. He’s channelled the raw material supplied by his volunteers into a sign-posted route through Spook Country. It opens the way, I believe, to a new kind of critical commentary on texts. One can see, easily enough, how it could be extended to Paradise Lost, or Hamlet.
Interesting stuff. But what this has really opened my eyes to is the need for an army of highly-skilled fanatics to support my career. As far as I can tell, you lot are only mildly fanatical, or perhaps just OCD. And you can’t program things that don’t include the phrase “20 goto 10″. When was the last time you reinvented criticism for me? Pfft.
A publishing type riffs on the virtual anonymity and interchangeability of most corporate publishers in a day and age when branding seems so important.
As someone who has worked in book publishing for the past 13 years, I’m keenly aware of the different houses that exist in the United States and the kinds of book they produce. I can name a number of the bestselling titles at most of the major presses — or, at least, their most prominent authors or series. Keeping tabs on the competition is part of my job, and I take it pretty seriously.
But I have to admit that I don’t think the general consumer cares very much who is published by whom. I don’t even think most people notice. Tell me the last time you walked into a Borders, or a B&N, or your local independent and said, “Hmm, wonder what Simon & Schuster has been up to this week?” The companies just don’t matter.
I concur. But they do matter at a level below S&S (and by that I mean in terms of dollars and cents, because you don’t get much lower in terms of publicity strategy and corporate decision making than S&S). For instance, I am actually excited and interested to see new line ups from publishers like Soft Skull, Melville House, Wave, Biblioasis, Gaspereau, etc. These companies still distinguish themselves by their production values and editorial choices. Bottom line isn’t the same consideration here. I’ll line up to buy books from these houses, quite often even before I know the authors or titles.
Here are a few interesting profiles making the rounds:
I’ve been following this story, about Canadian crime writer Howard Engel’s stroke and subsequent loss of the ability to read, for some time because my first poetic mentor is the guy who helped Engel write his memoir (largely by reading back what had been written). Imagine spending your entire life as a writer and then having a stroke that leaves you with the ability to write, but not the ability to read, even what you’ve just written. Who ever heard of such a thing. This gives me the same weeping sympathy and fear as reading about “locked-in syndrome”. I almost shudder at the thought.
Of all the ways to learn that your brain has suffered an “insult,” as medical professionals like to call the effects of strokes, one of the oddest is to get up in the morning and discover your Toronto newspaper seemingly printed in a mix of Serbo-Croatian and Korean. When 70-year-old Howard Engel came back inside with his Globe and Mail that hot July day in 2001 and found he couldn’t read his own books either, the bestselling mystery novelist headed for the hospital. Tests confirmed Engel’s own assumption: stroke, left side, rear. His memory was shot — still is, for that matter, especially for names — and he had lost a quarter of his vision, on the upper right side. But the essence of the diagnosis was a rare and almost incomprehensible condition: alexia sine agraphia. The elegant combination of Greek and Latin words meant that while Engel could still write, he could no longer read.
Such a triumph that he’s back at it. The mind is a mysterious and fucked-up thing. It’s like a lava lamp of possible injury. I just finished a great book called Into the Silent Land by Paul Brok, in which Engel’s ailment could have been used for any variety of Brok’s eloquent riffing on identity. It’s a testament to the machinery of the brain, but also the force of will, that Engel’s writing at all.
Two articles here lamenting the death of things literary.
The first on whether or not we need libraries anymore. (As much as I support the idea of free books for all, and indeed think of myself as an ardent supporter of library culture, I can honestly say it’s been about ten years since I’ve even been in a library for anything other than to use the can, do a reading, or to get a Thomas the Tank Engine book for the boy. I mostly don’t even think about them until my PLRC cheque arrives, at which point, I sing their praises. That said, there was a time the library was very important to me as a resource and workspace. So, I hereby resolve to spend more time in the library, sucking bandwidth off the internet hotpsot.)
The second piece is on the death of the book review… This is so importa—–aaaaaaaaaaawn… Excuse me. I mean, I really think we shouldzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. (I wouldn’t be falling asleep, but I’ve already seen this episode. It’s the one where everyone gets their knickers in a twist and forgets that people are starving and being slaughtered around the world, every day. Mind you, as these kinds of articles go, this is a pretty good one.)
BoingBoing links to book related furniture for the idly rich in us all. I myself have a radical concept design for home library furniture — bear with me, it’s pretty wild — first you take a slab of oak or other beautiful, treated hardwood and add what I call “legs” to ensure both elevation AND stability, then you craft a “chair” out of the same wood, also with legs to prevent “fall down”, as well as some “shelves”. These “shelves” are key — acting as a sort of display area for your books, conveniently free of cladding on one side to ensure “visibility” of your book spines. This will allow what I call “browsing”, but will also offer “protection” for your cherished volumes. See, the trick comes in here: Instead of sitting ON and DESTROYING your books with your greasy ass and arms, my design offers not only a place to store and protect your library, but also a convenient space on which to lay them flat for reading. Best of all, you needn’t stand — you may also “sit” in the “chair” at the oak “table”. I expect the entire package to retail for about $12,000. A version made of particle board instead of oak is in development (I call it the Schliflingen Ooplauder). I’m taking preorders for both now.
Here are a bevvy of news headlines that probably don’t hold the same currency this week as they did last week. If you only read Bookninja, and no other lit blogs, then this raft is for you.
- RIP: Madeleine L’Engel — a big loss for the literary world
- Booker shortlist announced — sad days for hometown hero Michael Redhill
- Barnes and Noble will carry OJ after all — poof! Herpes for everyone involved
- Michael Winter’s launch via Facebook — until Winter can beat me at Scrabble, he hasn’t really arrived on Facebook, says I
- Beckett in the middle of publishers’ game of rights Twister
- So sad to see you go … what was your name again?
- George Bowering joins Griffin Prize jury
- Military investigating Winnipeg writer
- eBooks – swearsies
- Remember that author who was being tried for murder based on an eerily similar book he wrote? Crowbar motel, baby
- Would Orwell have been a blogger? Not if knew what was good for him
- Shot five times in the defence of poetry
- Don’t blame Bukowski for bad poetry… well, then give us someone we CAN blame
- ARC magazine likes its poets to be dead
- Why women read more than men
- Post-Frey world — court orders category change from “memoir” to “book”
- Norman Mailer in hospital
- Shakespeare’s identity gets another poke
- Discarded books… Imagine being at the top of this list
Well, I’d love to say it was a relaxing summer, but the truth is it was hell on wheels with a propellor beanie cap. And worse still, it’s not over. Lady Ninja is in France guest lecturing, as superstar profs are wont to do, Ninja Boy starts his dance classes tomorrow and I’m on a plane for a 12 hour visit to Toronto to read at The Art Bar. So, if you’re in the Big Smog tomorrow around 8pm and want to either throw yourself at me sexually or challenge me to a kung fu duel, please be advised I’ll be appearing at Clinton’s Tavern on Bloor Street (just east of Christie) at 8pm with the talented poets Roseanne Carrara and Ruth Panofsky. After that, I am appearing in Winnipeg, Chicago, New York City and Windsor. In that order. Now, some of those cities are more exciting than others, but please don’t hold anything against these kind American folk for their provincial and backward urban centres…
That said, I promised news and there’s plenty to cover, some of it very sad, but also hopefully a few ludicrous things we can get back to pointing at with a snort and a laugh. Remember to check back later for the big (and I do mean big) new magazine article feature five amazing novelists (Peter Behrens, Catherine Bush, Barbara Gowdy, Sheila Heti, and Lisa Moore).
We’ll return Monday with regular updates to the Hearsay blog as well as a new addition The Magazine. Five major Canadian novelists discuss empathy in fiction — is the empathetic connection what makes fiction meaningful? Peter Behrens (The Law of Dreams), Catherine Bush (Claire’s Head), Barbara Gowdy (Helpless), Sheila Heti (Ticknor), and Lisa Moore (Alligator) provide a lively roundtable set of opinions on the subject.
After spending the summer sunning yourself on a rock, it’s time to come back to Bookninja and get yourself pale and pasty again.
I’ll still be on vacation for the rest of this week, but will return with regular updates and new Magazine articles at the beginning of next week. Go read a book and enjoy the last of the sunshine with your rugrats back in school. [Allow me to rewrite that first sentence to accurately reflect the state of affairs at Casa del Murray... "I'll still be on "vacation" for the rest of this week..."]