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.