Saturday, September 05, 2009
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
The Strain Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Morrow, $26.99 (416p)
Director Del Toro (who won an Oscar for Pan's Labyrinth) makes a dramatic splash in his fiction debut, the first volume in a vampires vs. humanity trilogy, coauthored with Hogan (Prince of Thieves). Just as a jumbo jet on a flight from Germany to New York is touching down at JFK, something goes terribly wrong. When Ephraim Goodweather, of the Centers for Disease Control, investigates the darkened plane, he finds all but four passengers and crew dead, drained of blood. Despite Goodweather's efforts to keep the survivors segregated, they get discharged into the general population. Soon after, the corpses of the tragedy's victims disappear. The epidemiologist begins to credit the wild stories of Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnbroker who's the book's Van Helsing figure, and concludes that a master vampire has arrived in the U.S. The authors maintain the suspense and tension throughout in a tour de force reminiscent of Whitley Strieber's early work. (June)It earned a star, too.
- "Hyperlocal" news websites: This is an interesting concept, but I have doubts about the long-term viability of this. Or perhaps I just don't care enough about what's going on a street away from my house.
- Magazines increase cover price: The New Yorker, the only magazine I subscribe to that's mentioned in this article, already charges a large amount for its print subscription in Canada. Would I pay more if they raised it? Likely. Would I pay more if a Canadian magazine raised its subscription fees? No, because I don't read any; none fall under the category of Must-Read.
- David Carr on how newspapers blew it: The Times' media columnist writes about how some people believe newspapers blew their opportunity to charge readers. The people who make this criticism are mostly right.
- Boston rallies around the Globe: With the threat of the Boston Globe being closed disclosed, Bostonians have rallied around their city's newspaper (they have more than one, but this one's special). I don't have to wonder whether I would rally around one of the Toronto papers if it was being threatened this way. You can read through my many posts where I express my disdain for most local journalism. And can you blame me? In today's Star, the editors chose a New York Times rip-off story for the front page. Here's the Times story (also a front-pager) from Sunday. Here's the Star's, which makes no reference to the original. Great work, all around.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
To describe Going Ashore as a collection of the “missing” stories of Mavis Gallant, as Douglas Gibson does in his prefatory note, is to suggest only two possibilities to the reader: Either these stories have never appeared in book form because they didn’t match the superior quality of those stories that made up Gallant’s earlier works — such lapidary collections as The Pegnitz Junction, From The Fifteenth District and Home Truths, not to mention her 900-page Selected Stories; or, as Douglas himself proposes, there simply wasn’t enough space in any of the prior collections for these uncollected stories, which are just as strong. As a stay against disappointment, one can’t but approach this new collection presuming the former while hoping for the latter. Good news. Going Ashore rewards that hope.--Czobit
Monday, April 06, 2009
The Guardian reports the first details about Stephen King's upcoming, twenty-five-years-in-the-making, eleven-hundred-page epic, Under the Dome:
Set in the town of Chester's Mills, Maine, "on an entirely normal, beautiful fall day", inhabitants suddenly find that the town has been sealed off by an invisible force field. "Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as 'the dome' comes down on it, people running errands in the neighbouring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact," King revealed on his website. "No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when – or if – it will go away."I still haven't tackled King's last 600-plus-page epic... Yikes.
Characters in the cast of more than 100 include Dale Barbara, a Gulf veteran and now a cook, the town's newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital and three children. They're up against an evil politician, Big Jim Rennie – who's desperate to hold onto power and will stop at nothing, even murder – and his son, who in classic King style, "is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry". Meanwhile, time under the Dome is running out.
Evan Wright, the author of the great Iraq book Generation Kill, has a new one coming out, titled, Hella Nation. The Daily Beast has an interview with him:
I'll probably get around to reading this at some point. Generation Kill is worth the time, and I have the HBO mini-series based on that book in my queue to view.
What does “Hella Nation” mean?
Basically, it’s stupid slang. It was just a phrase used by one of the anarchists. It’s actually a meaningless phrase. It means fringes. I used a weird, almost meaningless slang phrase because it’s a part of America beyond conventional description. It’s the primordial ooze.
You talk about feeling more calm in Afghanistan as an embedded reporter than you were as a civilian in Los Angeles.
When I’m in a war zone or in a dangerous situation, I don’t know if I’m chasing a high or well-equipped for this because I’ve had a life of such chaos. There are certain stories I’ve done that I don’t know what the social value is. But other things—anarchy, crime, war—it’s important. I went there because I was like, Whoa, my country’s at war, and Iraqis are dying. And it’s a serious thing.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
From today's Times:
But the conventional wisdom in American letters has always been that size matters, that the big-game hunters and heavyweight fighters — take your pick of Hemingway-Mailer macho sports metaphors — go after the Great American Novel.He continues:
But this maximalist ideology may be completely wrong, or at least in serious need of revision. The great American writers of the 19th century, whose novels are now staples of the syllabus, all excelled in the short form. Herman Melville’s “Piazza Tales” are as lively and strange as “Moby-Dick”; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tales and sketches are pithier than “The Scarlet Letter”; Henry James’s stories, supernatural and otherwise, show a gift for concision along with the master’s expected psychological acuity.
But if the golden age of American magazines is long gone, the short story itself has shown remarkable durability, and may even be poised for a resurgence. Wells Towers’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” provides the most vivid recent example of the way a good story, or a solid collection of them, can do more than a novel to illuminate the textures of ordinary life and the possibilities of language. And the short story may provide a timely antidote to the cultural bloat of the past decade, when it often seemed that every novel needed to be 500 pages long and every movie had to last three hours — or four years, if it took the form of a cable series.Forgive me for not using brief quotations: this is a great article. I agree with much of what A.O. Scott has to say, chiefly that brevity should be the goal of every writer. As far as my reading habits go, reading doorstops is mentally taxing but I don't mind them when they're worth every page. But I'm not forgiving when the writer has failed to edit their prose to the essentials. Every writer is guilty of this at some point but it's worst kind of mistake. Especially in an age where people have less time to read (or choose to read less).
The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?
The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.
I don't necessarily agree that the short story is the answer to fiction's problem; I don't need to repeat the known problems of the short story. But I think novelists should aim to write fiction that is consumable in two sittings - something, I believe, Joan Didion said was her aim with her fiction. That typically means less than 300 pages. But if you need 500, that's okay too: just make it good and don't waste a damn word.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
- What I've been reading lately
- The difficulties and joys of reading Pynchon
- The Maple Leafs lost season
- U2's latest album
- Other Music I'm listening to
- And baseball
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
In case you missed Curtis Joseph's great performance - six minutes (five in overtime) and the shootout - you can watch it all here.
As much as this season has been a lost one for the Leafs, there have been some great nights and great moments. Last night was one of them.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
So long as Russia's oil-fueled prosperity soared, people accepted Putin's implicit bargain: government corruption and constricted civil rights in exchange for rising living standards. But today, with Russia's economy in shambles, this social contract is fraying. Ordinary Russians are already taking to the streets demanding the type of change Putin is unlikely to deliver. He epitomizes the KGB old guard who got Russia into this mess. Sooner or later, he will become the Russian financial crash's most prominent victim.Certainly an intriguing development. The economic crisis may have more consequences than originally thought.
Medvedev, a lawyer by training and instinct, offers perhaps the only realistic hope of turning Russia around, but he can't operate freely while Putin is still effectively in charge. Seemingly aware of this, Medvedev has, in recent weeks, taken steps to distance himself from his mentor and might be setting the stage to force him out of government.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
From the Times:
Sugar, the nutritional pariah that dentists and dietitians have long reviled, is enjoying a second act, dressed up as a natural, healthful ingredient.But the truth of this is much more simple:
From the tomato sauce on a Pizza Hut pie called “The Natural,” to the just-released soda Pepsi Natural, some of the biggest players in the American food business have started, in the last few months, replacing high-fructose corn syrup with old-fashioned sugar.
Most scientists do not share the perception. Though research is still under way, many nutrition and obesity experts say sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are equally bad in excess. But, as is often the case with competing food claims, the battle is as much about marketing as it is about science.I used to think what many people do, that high fructose corn syrup is an evil ingredient that needed to be avoided but then I read Lyle McDonald's comprehensive research review of high-fructose corn syrup and learned that high-fructose was simply the latest of many fabricated enemies used to explain why many people are obese.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I'm a bit late writing about the film adaption of Watchmen as I saw it in (iMax no less) last Saturday. To say that it didn't impress me to the point that I had to write 1,000 words about it as soon as I came home would be... Well accurate, because I didn't write any words about it then and I'm not even going to come close to a 1,000 now.
Zack Snyder is a good director. Or can be. His remake of Dawn of the Dead is my favourite zombie film from the most recent crop of zombie movies. I thought 300 was awful and I'm not wavering from the assessment today. Going into seeing Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen, the man was 1-1 in his efforts. After sitting through the near three-hour film, Snyder is 1-1-1. That's right: a draw.
Watchmen, the movie, isn't awful. There are many fun parts - enjoyable action and effects - and scenes that ring true as much as they can to the unmatchable comic book source material. But Snyder's film is not great. It's not must see, but not mustn't see. It's on the screen, there, and for people who can't be bothered to read the comic, it's an OK Cliff Notes-version.
Would I recommend it? Sure but I'd recommend the comic first.
In today's Times Anand Giridharadas writes about the change in the reach of a foreign correspondent's work. Though it seems a bit obvious, Giridharadas makes the point that today's foreign correspondent can't rely on telling a source that their story won't be read in their home city. The writer of the piece also provides a nice, romanticized view of the past:
I rang up Roger Cohen, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist for The New York Times, to get a feel for the world now vanishing.Ah, those were the days.
Mr. Cohen began with Reuters in 1979. Correspondents would roam for days; editors didn’t know where they were and there were no BlackBerrys to use to track them down.
Their work, once published, slowly filtered into the discussion back in Washington or Paris and helped to inform that debate; in time, of course, it could make its way back to the covered countries. Some newspapers, including this one, sold overseas editions in small numbers in dozens of international cities. Émigrés cut out articles for relatives in the old country. Governments monitored foreign press coverage.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Sunday, March 08, 2009
... reading “Brothers” in English can be a daunting, sometimes vexing and deeply confusing experience. Partly this has to do with the difficulty of finding an English equivalent for Yu Hua’s extremely direct and graphic Chinese. In the first chapters of the novel, when one of the principal characters, Baldy Li, is caught peeking at women in a public latrine, Chow and Rojas do a heroic job of trying to capture the parallel English words for a woman’s behind — “butt,” “bottom,” “buttocks,” “backside” — but it’s hard not to suspect that we’re missing some of the pathos and humor of the situation in the gap between those expressions and the original.On a similar note, Andre Alexis, in the Globe and Mail, provided a post-script for his review of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones that discussed that novel's translation. He determined that "As might be expected, it's a different novel in French: colder, more precise, coming from another time and place."
Friday, March 06, 2009
Jonathan Littell's novel The Kindly Ones has been published in North America, translated from the French, and has been quick to create controversy. Or maybe "controversy" isn't the right word. It's created "discussion"? Sure, that works.
The first review I read of Littell's novel, which is the fictional diary of a former SS officer, was the Times's Michiko Kakutani, who was disgusted by the 1,000-pager. She put down the novel in 964 words.
Another New York publication, the Review of Books, published its own review of the novel. The reviewer, Daniel Mendelsohn, spent just more than 5,400 words offering an even-handed review. He concluded:
Still, however badly it may stumble, The Kindly Ones brings to mind Maurice Blanchot's judgment—one which Maximilien Aue enthusiastically and, you can't help feeling, rather tellingly approves—of another enormous, hybrid novel, Moby-Dick : "This impossible book...[the] written equivalent of the universe...presents the ironic quality of an enigma and reveals itself only by the questions it raises." As another Kindly Ones—that of Aeschylus—continues to remind us, there exist strange fictional creatures, improbable hybrids whose two sides seem to have little to do with each other, that, however unlikely we are to find them in nature, can give us nightmares that will haunt us long after the show is over.Sort of: Littell's was an important failure.
Kakutani may offer a simple "This is awful" assessment, but Mendelsohn has thought this novel through and said "Not so simple." That's nice. I'm not sure if either one - Kakutani's negative review (doesn't that mean this is a good book?) or Mendelsohn's comtemplative one - will make me read The Kindly Ones. I did like the latter's review though.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Based on one of the most revered comics of all time, The Watchmen, the film of the same name hits theatres Friday and the reviews, thus far, have been mostly unkind. The earlies, already aggregated at Metacritic, give The Watchmen an average approval rating of 44 percent.
It's, like I said, early, so there may be hope for a critical reversal but based on Zach Snyder's other films, 300 and Dawn of the Dead, he doesn't seem to direct movies that people paid to review like.
Friday, February 27, 2009
The Bat Segundo show has an interview with Charlie Huston, which can be listened here. If you'll recall I wrote about Huston's new novel, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, here.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Jesse Ball's second novel is really his first, written before Samedi the Deafness, but published a year later. I enjoyed Samedi and that's why I was willing to go where Ball takes readers in The Way Through Doors, because, as the New Yorker put it, "reality is generally given the heave-ho."
Why does The Way work in the end? It does because no matter how confusing it gets, there is a story that hooks you and by the end, Ball is successful in completing that story. Seems simple: a book with an ending. But it's not as easy a task when the stories told between this book's covers melt continuously into each other. That Ball manages to satisfy in the end is one other reason to read The Way Through Doors.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
From the Guardian:
You might think that a writer whose own characters have included telepaths and angels would not worry too much about a story's believability, but Salman Rushdie has taken serious issue with the credibility of this years Oscars sensation Slumdog Millionaire. As Oscar upon Oscar was piled upon the film on Sunday, Rushdie was pointedly not joining in the applause for author Vikas Swarup and director Danny Boyle. "The movie piles impossibility on impossibility," he said in a lecture at Emory University in Atlanta, raising questions over how the characters end up at the Taj Mahal, 1,000 miles from where they were in the previous scene, and how they manage to get their hands on a gun in India.I thought Slumdog was a good movie but I'm not quite sure if it deserved an Oscar. But if not it, who? I hope in a decade people still remember the movie but I have my doubts.
Monday, February 23, 2009
First thing that comes to mind: would I have read this if it were not for the movie Revolutionary Road? Perhaps, but I should give credit to the film adaptation of Richard Yates's fantastic novel: the movie put this book, which also collects The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, in my hands. I should add, however, that I haven't seen the movie and it's not on my immediate to-watch list.
It's always my preference to read the book before seeing the movie, and that's why I read Revolutionary Road. All three of the books collected in this Everyman's Edition are written in the style that makes you think 'They don't make them like these anymore.' The prose is direct, clean and precise. It's smooth to get down and enjoy. And while Yates's hasn't pushed me towards the theatre to see the only adaptation of his work, the familiar beats Mad Men makes fulfills my need to see Yates's world envisioned on the screen.
Can I be more clear? Richard Yates: recommended.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Something that was evident while reading Charlie Huston's newest novel was how it initially resembled his first, Caught Stealing. There's Huston's use of dialogue, short descriptions, humour, crime and engaging first-person narrator. The main difference, after writing seven novels between his first and latest, is that Huston has refined his style. It's much stronger, as would be expected, and reads more original. The clunkiness of expository dialogue is gone along with the muddiness of action scenes.
The title of this novel includes the word "mystic" but every aspect is believable. You want to believe Web Goodhue is a real person in Los Angeles, and Huston never gives a reason not to. There's also an aspect to this noir story that pushes it beyond the mere surface of character relationships. And Huston pulls that off without appearing artificial too.
Is it really that great a compliment to say an author's ninth novel is better than his first? No, but it's Huston's ninth novel that makes me want to read the ones before it and his tenth.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
From Marvel's May 2009 solicitations:
Spider-Man: The Short Halloween
Written by BILL HADER & SETH MEYERS
Pencils & Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE
Two stars of Saturday Night Live make their Marvel debut with an all-new story set right on the bustling, hot dog juice covered streets of New York City. Halloween is coming early this year as Spidey is knocked out during the Greenwich Village costume parade and an intoxicated reveler in a Spidey costume takes his place. Really, we don't want to say more than that. Trust us, with comic book legend Kevin Maguire (JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL) along for the ride, this'll be more exciting than putting a president on a comic book cover!
48 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+ ...$3.99
It'll probably get some decent coverage. Meaning; not just this blog.
New York magazine has gone to Nate Silver, the brilliant 2008 Presidential Election predictor, to, what else, predict this year's Oscar winners. The winners:
- Heath Ledger for Supporting Actor
- Taraji P. Henson for Supporting Actress
- Mickey Rourke for Best Actor
- Kate Winslet for Best Actress
- Danny Boyle for Best Director
- Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture
If you enjoy black humour, then you should like Nighty Night and the Peep Show. That's something I heard about these two British dark comedies that premiered in 2004. After watching the first seasons of both shows, I did enjoy one, which was was the poorly named Peep Show; it's poorly named not because it doesn't fit the comedy, but that it's hard to discuss a show called the Peep Show without raising eyebrows.
So why does one work and the other does not? The Peep Show is not as dark as Nighty Night, so that may be one reason, but the more accurate reason is that the show's writers don't ask for the viewer to laugh at sociopathic behaviour. Nighty Night is not about humour so much as it's about framing despicable acts as humour. The marketers of Nighty Night compare it to Curb Your Enthusiasm,which is unfair to Larry David's show as it features no character I would consider sadistic.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Reprise will release 21st Century Breakdown, complete with fake-edgy Sixten-inspired cover art, in May. According to MTV, the band recorded the LP with Nevermind producer Butch Vig. And according to Rolling Stone, the album's 16 tracks will come divided into three "acts": Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades.
Entertainment Weekly reports that the song titles include "21st Century Breakdown", "Know Your Enemy", "Before the Lobotomy", "March of the Dogs", "Restless Heart Syndrome", and "21 Guns". Rolling Stone, MTV, and Entertainment Weekly have all heard a few songs. All of them seem to like it, and two of them mention the Who.
Obviously without hearing a note I can't say anything about the album. I hope it's good.
Last post I mentioned I was reading Josh Bazell's debut, Beat the Reaper, and that I'd try to write something about the novel when I finished it. By writing that sentence, you should infer that I'm finished.
Beat the Reaper is a quick 300-page read, which Bazell deserves credit for. He keeps the story moving with short scenes and strong dialogue, and does a solid job of recreating the atmosphere one would expect to find in a hospital. Before I started reading the novel, I read an Amazon review that compared Beat the Reaper to a mix between House and The Sopranos. I haven't watched enough episodes of House (though I should watch more) to know if that's a fair comparison, but I will say Beat the Reaper is much like a hospital drama with a fair amount of crime and action. It's nothing like The Sopranos, as that show had a greater depth and attempted to say something more about crime. I didn't find Bazell's novel to share that same pursuit. It's mostly entertainment, well-written and enjoyable.
Should someone pick up a copy of Beat the Reaper? It depends if they enjoy black humour, crime and a knowing, sometimes unlikeable, narrator. Some of the sex scenes seem implausible, and at times the action scenes are hard to follow. Overall, Bazell's debut is still worth reading if only to set up what I expect will be a much stronger sequel.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I'm about a third-of-the-way into Josh Bazell's first novel, Beat the Reaper, and it's been fun so far. This week New York magazine has an interview with Bazell here:
Where did you get the idea for the book?
I wanted to explore the extent to which somebody can change himself. And I felt I might have something to say about the Mafia that hadn’t been said before.
I’ve read lots of Mafia memoirs, this sort of repulsive subgenre where people who’ve gone into witness protection write tell-alls in which they claim to be ashamed of their former lives yet can’t stop bragging about them. In books and on TV, the mob tends to be either a sort of omnipotent conspiracy or a bunch of lovable doofuses who do petty crime. I love The Godfather, but the idea that somebody like Don Corleone sits around granting favors is clearly inaccurate. The favor is that if you pay them 60 percent, they don’t break your legs.
I'll try to follow-up with a proper review when I'm finished. And by proper, I mean short and to the point.
NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan reviewed Yu Hua's just-translated novel Brothers and compared it to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities:
Critics are already lauding Brothers by comparing it to Bonfire, but one is authentic Dickensian down and the other is serviceable fiberfill — and, in this instance, it's not the Chinese product that's the knockoff. Wolfe admirably aimed to be like Dickens, to write a huge social novel about New York City in the go-go 1980s and to make his points — as Dickens did — through comic hyperbole, repetition and cataloguing. All that was missing was the heart. (Did anyone really care about Wolfe's protagonist, Sherman McCoy?)I haven't read Wolfe's novel, I plan to, but I know I'll read Hua's novel first.
Monday, February 09, 2009
This is weird: a baseball player who admits his steroid use. Not sure if I should praise Alex Rodriguez for admitting he used steroids when he played for Texas. He says he hasn't used since but who knows.
At least he didn't lie in the face of all-but-confirmed allegations.
From today's Pub Weekly's reviews, a, um, review of David Mazzucchelli's long-awaited (I didn't know it was coming) graphic novel:
Asterios Polyp David Mazzucchelli. Pantheon, $29.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-3073-7732-6
For decades, Mazzucchelli has been a master without a masterpiece. Now he has one. His long-awaited graphic novel is a huge, knotty marvel, the comics equivalent of a Pynchon or Gaddis novel, and radically different from anything he's done before. Asterios Polyp, its arrogant, prickly protagonist, is an award-winning architect who's never built an actual building, and a pedant in the midst of a spiritual crisis. After the structure of his own life falls apart, he runs away to try to rebuild it into something new. There are fascinating digressions on aesthetic philosophy, as well as some very broad satire, but the core of the book is Mazzucchelli's odyssey of style—every major character in the book is associated with a specific drawing style and visual motifs, and the design, color scheme and formal techniques of every page change to reinforce whatever's happening in the story. Although Mazzucchelli stacks the deck—few characters besides Polyp and his inamorata, the impossibly good-hearted sculptor Hana, are more than caricatures—the book's bravado and mastery make it riveting even when it's frustrating, and provide a powerful example of how comics use visual information to illustrate complex, interconnected topics. Easily one of the best books of 2009 already. (June)
It got the star, by the way.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Jesse Ball's first published novel, Samedi the Deafness, was fantastic. In a few days, his second will be published, The Way Through Doors. Bookslut has a review of the new book and an interview with him, which I will excerpt below:
I have also read that you have a whole trove of books you've written over the years that are as yet unpublished, each kind of waiting their turn. How much would you say you write when you are in the mode of writing? How much time each year, on average? Obviously, these are relative numbers, but I am interested in the process of output and perhaps how many projects you immerse yourself in at a time, how they bleed a bit into one another, etc?--Czobit
There are a number of volumes awaiting their turn. As the years have passed, I have become better at compressing the writing process into smaller and smaller portions of time. Plainface, a novel that will eventually come out, is composed of novellas that tell the continuing adventures of a boy named Plainface, and each of those novellas was written rapidly, some even in a single day. It all goes back to what I was saying about a pianistic performance. One attempts to maintain a thread through an atmosphere that one constructs around the thread even as one weaves the thread through it. The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr, I wrote in one sitting. The same is true of Pieter Emily, another novella. I wrote a book of poems in December of 2007 called The Skin Feat. That's a part of an omnibus called The Village on Horseback which Milkweed will publish in 2011. That book of poems was written over the course of a couple weeks. In terms of all these works, quantity, though, is not my aim. I simply want to realize the thought as well as I can, and be surprised in the process. To be engaged in a life of making -- that's the pursuit.
Monday, February 02, 2009
I don't care about the NFL and I didn't watch a full game during this past season, but I did watch the dying minutes of last night's Super Bowl. Despite my expectations that the game between the Steelers and the Cardinals would be forgettable, the game became the second good Super Bowl in a row (I haven't forgotten about the NY Giants-New England Patriots match last season).
Here are the highlights. Enjoy.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Addiction has its hooks in deep. There have been dozens of books on the subject published in the past few years, and there are many dozens more to come. Here's a thought, inspired perhaps by the presumption that what's written about the real world always speaks to more than the subject at hand: Does our fascination with the consequences of compulsive behaviour go hand in hand with the collapse of boom times? Is recession merely recovery written in global economic terms? Or is it the agony of withdrawal as we convulse our way back to reality? To take the parallel one logical if unnerving step further, what then are our chances of relapse? If reality is the cure for delusion, non-fiction may be one way of getting sober.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Now that the Oscar nominations have been announced, all that's left are for the votes to be cast, the winners to be named, and the disappointment of who did win to settle in.
What comes after the season of film releases that are pining for Oscar nominations, is the dark part of the year, where film studios release movies that should be seen by no one, never.
This week, there are three such films, none of which I've seen or will ever see. I'll instead rely on Metacritic's review aggregated scores to condemn these movies: New in Town (30%), Taken (49%), and The Uninvited (44%).
Don't go see these movies. They're awful and you don't need visual proof to know it.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
From an article about Google's book digitizing efforts:
As an unintended consequence, Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly—a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information. Google has no serious competitors. Microsoft dropped its major program to digitize books several months ago, and other enterprises like the Open Knowledge Commons (formerly the Open Content Alliance) and the Internet Archive are minute and ineffective in comparison with Google. Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers. No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability...--Czobit
Perhaps, but the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything. In addition to the original "Big Google," we have Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Images, Google Labs, Google Finance, Google Arts, Google Food, Google Sports, Google Health, Google Checkout, Google Alerts, and many more Google enterprises on the way. Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.
From an interview with P. W. Singer, author of Wired for War:
Your book is filled with references to science-fiction writers, many of whom you credit with anticipating not only significant technological innovations, but also the ethical issues that come with them. Is there any writer you would name in particular who foresaw the coming robotic age of warfare and provides some useful guidance?
I love the writings of the cyberpunks, who don’t dream of alien worlds, but instead explore what happens when technology is put in our very own strange world now. “Battlestar Gallactica” today is another example of great work. Their season on insurgency was a better exploration of the issue than about 99% of what came out of all our thinktanks and defense journals on the issue. I don’t know if anyone predicted robotic warfare and where we are exactly headed so well, but its somewhat beside the point of what science fiction can offer. I’ve always been partial to H.G. Wells, who is known as the “Father of Science Fiction.” Wells was born in 1866, but in his various stories he forecast the 20th century with incredible accuracy, predicting such things as computers, video cassette players, televisions, and even super highways, each of which seemed unfathomable at the time. His book often had a theme of conflict running through them and so he also predicted various military developments well before their time. For example, he wrote about tanks, or what he called “Land Ironclads,” in 1903, which inspired Winston Churchill to champion their development a decade later. Similarly, his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come, predicted a world war that would feature the aerial bombing of cities. Wells was not a fan of such technologies, as he saw them as “unsporting.”
Perhaps Wells’s most important prediction was in his story, “The World Set Free,” written in 1911. In it, he forecast a new type of weapon made of radioactive materials which could destroy cities, which he called “the atomic bomb.” At the time, physicists thought radioactive elements like uranium only released energy in a slow decay over thousands of years. Wells described a way in which the energy might be bundled up to make a powerful explosion. Of course, at the time, most scoffed; the famed scientist Ernest Rutherford even called Wells’s idea “moonshine.” One reader who differed was Leó Szilárd, a Hungarian scientist. Szilárd, who later became a key part of the Manhattan Project, credits the book with giving him the idea for the nuclear “chain reaction.” Indeed, he even mailed a copy of Wells’ book to Hugo Hirst, one of the founders of General Electric, with a cover note that read, “The forecast of the writers may prove to be more accurate than the forecast of the scientists.”
From the Times:
Few writers are more acclaimed right now than the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died of an unspecified liver ailment in 2003, at the age of 50. His posthumous novel, “2666,” appeared on many lists of the best books of 2008, and interest in him and his work has been further kindled by his growing reputation as a hard-living literary outlaw.
But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”
At the same time, some of Mr. Bolaño’s friends in Mexico, where he lived for nearly a decade before finally settling down near Barcelona, Spain, are questioning another aspect of the life story he constructed for himself.
Friday, January 23, 2009
From the Times:
CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”
He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Last night I watched The Wrestler and my expectations were met. The film isn't as depressing as Darren Aronofsky's 2000 film, Requiem for a Dream, but it has its moments.
Mickey Rourke's performance, already awarded, should probably be awarded further. Rourke is good enough reason to see this movie, if you only need one.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
From the February issue of Harper's:
We each come to literature in our own way. For some, the gift is bestowed by a helpful governess who guides our fingers over the letters in a primer. For others, a private tutor first enlightens us to the majesty of the written word. How you arrive is immaterial. What is important now is that you forget all that and learn to read anew. In my literary criticism, I have become known as a champion of the eternal verities and a scold of the trendy and the fashionable. I have essayed to instruct your writers in how to write correctly. Now I will teach you to read correctly.
When we see a word, we must ask ourselves foremost, What does it mean? This is the first step in comprehension. When we have accomplished this, we can proceed to the next, and so on. In due course, we have read the sentence in toto. By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform a close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university. Although born in the States, I journeyed abroad for my education and underwent my intellectual coming of age at Oxford. I remember when the first dispatches of Dirty Realism made their way across the Atlantic. I pored over each latest issue of Granta as if it contained the Holy Word. And perhaps it did. One of my favorites from that time has always been Raymond Carver, in particular his affecting tale “Leave the Porch Light On, It’ll Be Dark.”
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
The Millions has a great roundup of anticipated books due out this year. Read it here.
The ones that caught my eye include books by T.C. Boyle, Wells Tower, Colm Toibin, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Jonathan Lethem and Zadie Smith.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Monday, January 05, 2009
Vince Passaro from a review of Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth:
Despite that, however, I found myself, even amid my enjoyment, resisting the novel on moral and aesthetic grounds. Since so much of our serious fiction over the past two decades has been historical rather than contemporary, it will appear strange for me to say that historical fiction strikes me as fundamentally trivial or, at best, less important than fiction confronting the present, no matter how well crafted. Nevertheless, fiction focused on the past has become a kind of refuge for serious writers and readers alike. It has grown prevalent in inverse proportion to the diminishing sense that novels and novelists have any special cultural importance—a conviction now regarded as slightly ridiculous, but one that was unchallenged when Unsworth started his career in the mid-’60s.
Even very good historical fiction is, inevitably, genre writing; and while the best of genre writing—Chandler, say—can and should be regarded as literature, a literary culture that so consistently awards historical fiction over the more difficult and ever rarer novels that make an assault on the present is an anemic literary culture. It is worth noting that Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, the slave-trade book, split the Booker Prize in 1992 with a more famous and rather gooey historical fiction, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. And since the late ’80s, a slew of such novels have won major awards, including a few with considerably more teeth in them, like Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Pat Barker’s Regeneration.
You might think that a novel set in Iraq in 1914 would be particularly telling today; that we would become somehow better informed about ourselves by seeing played out, at the sensual level of good storytelling, the origins of the disaster in the Middle East. Yet again, I found myself resisting this idea. Every educated person knows that the mercenary and rapacious policies of Europe and the US created monsters all over the colonial world—there is hardly a large-scale tragedy that can’t be traced back to them—but who understands now what happened to this country after 2001, when former radicals hung flags out their windows and almost all our political leadership backed the destructive invasion of Iraq, as did frightening multitudes of sensible Americans; or what British novelist can explain what happened to Britain, where you can’t walk around large cities without being watched and videotaped? Where are the writers who are trying to capture all this in fiction?