27 September 2012
Satirizing the excesses of the press? I love it. A case of mistaken identity gone global, as rural columnist William Boot is sent to a troubled African country instead of novelist John Boot? On board. International incidents that may not even have been taking place, distorted by reports on the ground? You bet! But this novel felt interminable, because these gags were so visible from a thousand miles away, that they just weren't funny -- and they went over the same points over and over again, without making them more pointed or entertaining.
Yet I hate to even write that because it feels like a personal failing. Hey, I have a sense of humor! I really do! I read DECLINE AND FALL, and I remember liking that (though it was for a class, and I may be confusing its rags-to-riches-to-rags plot with that of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"). I know the difference between satire and comedy. And I would never presume from a British author the same style of humor as, say, in Fox's Tuesday night comedy lineup. (Though if William Boot had crashed a wedding and run out with a bottle of champagne, I might have laughed a little more. Not prescribing. Just saying.) But I didn't find it entertaining at all, I slogged, and that was that.
Naturally, I was prepared to bid He-velyn* goodbye forever until I looked at the Modern Library list and realized I still have one more to get through (A HANDFUL OF DUST).
Ellen vs. ML: 58 read, 42 unread
Next up: Maybe THE GRAPES OF WRATH.
*Have you heard this one? Evelyn Waugh (m.) married a woman who was also named Evelyn, and apocryphally their friends referred to them as He-velyn and She-velyn. Hyphens are mine there.
26 September 2012
25 September 2012
A mysterious death, a shadowy figure, a large missing sum of money: this Broadway "Rebecca" musical may be worth more dead than alive. (Related: can anyone recommend me a book about Broadway musicals that addresses where all the investor money goes? I know a lot more about Off-Broadway, which I know distorts my viewpoint onto how it can all cost that much.)
24 September 2012
20 September 2012
19 September 2012
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail; There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners, Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me--- That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed Free hearts, free foreheads---you and I are old; Old age hath yet his honor and his toil. Death closes all; but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks; The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends. 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down; It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are--- One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from "Ulysses"
18 September 2012
"Hi, I'm Katie Roiphe..."
(I'm exaggerating, she wasn't terrible, but she clearly wasn't a fan.)
17 September 2012
Over the past 5 years of attendance I have developed some tips (or as we say in corporate America, "learnings") that have helped me really attack the day and still go home feeling rosy about the state of arts and letters. These rules could probably apply to any litfest in your backyard, and honestly if there is one in your actual backyard, you should go -- but you don't need me to tell you that.
Get there early enough to take in a morning event -- not just because they are often excellent, but also the authors are so grateful that they aren't speaking to an empty room. I'm going to break my own rule and highlight a few from this year's offerings: at 10AM you can hear Thomas Frank and Eric Alterman talk about the election (Brooklyn Historical Society Library), Andrew Blum and Jessica Grose talk about the Internet as/in literature (St. Francis College/ McArdle Hall), or hear Amy Sohn defend herself (or not) on her controversial novel MOTHERLAND (Borough Hall Courtroom). An embarrassment of riches! And as long as you're up, you should treat yourself and
Bring snacks and water, and reading material (of course). Last year for the first time some food trucks either got wise to the goings-on, or were invited, and that was great, but it never hurts to stock up on your own provisions -- especially if you want to eat something besides a processed carb. (I know, why would you?) Don't eat the reading material, though! Use it to ease the waiting in line or lulls between panels.
Keep your eyes open for authors sneaking into other authors' panels. Writers: they're just like us! (They are fans.)
Take at least one chance on a panel without any authors you know. Of course there are a ton of people you'll want to see, but leave a little room to serendipity. This is an especially good tip in case you...
Leave a panel that is boring, which you absolutely should do if you can do so without upsetting whole rows of people and interrupting the action. I used to never leave panels because I
The vaguer the description of a panel, the less likely there will be an exciting discussion. I enjoy the kinds of events where authors just read, but the most electrifying festival events I've been to have inspired debate or out-and-out arguments. Panel "chemistry" is hard to judge beforehand, but it isn't usually about everybody getting along.
Bring or buy books to get signed -- but if you're buying, try to buy as late as possible so you don't have to carry too much around (learned it the hard way). Unpopularly, I don't like to buy books on the spot, because I really like to dwell over my purchases -- but I will make a list and take it to my local indie bookstore later.
16 September 2012
14 September 2012
This Edith is already a successful author, the toast of the Paris salons, but personally lonely: Her husband Teddy's health issues don't seem to be getting any better, and meanwhile he hates France and would rather be sequestered at their Massachusetts farm. Edith's new novel (that will, spoiler, become THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY) is troubling her, and her assistant Anna -- Edith's old governess and the only one she trusts with each fresh page -- knows that, but doesn't know how to advise her. Then Edith meets a younger journalist named Morton who flatters her and begins spending time with him, over Anna's objections for how it might look and its implications to her work.
THE AGE OF DESIRE is told alternately from Edith and Anna's perspectives (assisted by their many, many real life letters to each other, brought to light in a 2009 auction) for the Upstairs/ Downstairs perspective on what a successful writer's life would look like back then. (I'm guessing rare is the author these days who has someone else type her or his pages up for them.) I also appreciated the cameos from Wharton's longtime friend Henry James (stop following me everywhere!) and her admiration for a much younger Parisian countess whose shocking behavior makes Edith question the properness of her life.
The historical details were fascinating, but the relationship that develops between Edith and Morton is marked by an abrupt tonal change to syrupy, romance-novel-style scenes in which Edith is classically tortured by his absence, has never felt like this before, and so on. Its sogginess made it hard to root for, and the heightening of the stakes seemed excessive -- it was hard to believe that anyone would stop Edith from pursuing her interest, even though she saw the relationship as rife with obstacles. (Interestingly, we know very little about Edith and Morton's actual relationship, but what we do know stems from her letters to him -- letters she begged him to burn but he never did. This is convenient for the novel as Edith is constantly trying to measure Morton's ardor without being able to discern how he really feels about her, and I thought that tension worked.)
I didn't think of it while I was reading, but the Wharton novel THE AGE OF DESIRE most closely speaks to isn't THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, whose publication precedes its events, nor THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY but my personal favorite THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. (And it's... right there in the title.Sometimes I am not very observant!) Newland Archer is the Edith in this book, regretting past decisions, but with just enough freedom that they could be undone -- but at great personal cost. "We men may say more, swear more, but indeed: our shows are more than will," and all that. I don't know if THE AGE OF DESIRE is essential to all Whartonia, but if you've read this far, you will probably enjoy it with a little glossing over the swoony stuff.
13 September 2012
I'm taking a random assortment of shelf paperbacks: John Jeremiah Sullivan's PULPHEAD, Rick Moody's THE ICE STORM and Stewart O'Nan's SONGS FOR THE MISSING. And TELEGRAPH AVENUE. Top priority.
12 September 2012
From Flavorwire's 20 Famous Authors' Adorable School Photos. Atwood did eventually graduate from the University of Toronto (mascot: the Varsity Blues) as well as picking up an MA at Radcliffe College south of the border. No word on whether the Reindeer Romp still exists.
11 September 2012
Remember June’s long days, and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew. The nettles that methodically overgrow the abandoned homesteads of exiles. You must praise the mutilated world. You watched the stylish yachts and ships; one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others. You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere, you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world. Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered. Return in thought to the concert where music flared. You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars. Praise the mutilated world and the gray feather a thrush lost, and the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.
--Adam Zagajewski (appeared in the New Yorker, September 24, 2001)
Deborah Levy, SWIMMING HOMENo one is surprised Mantel is on this list; maybe some of you are surprised Self is. But the only one I've read is NARCOPOLIS, which I liked and kind of fell below radar earlier this year. Who do you favor? (If it helps, last year's winner was THE SENSE OF AN ENDING.)
Hilary Mantel, BRING UP THE BODIES
Alison Moore, THE LIGHTHOUSE
Will Self, UMBRELLA
Tan Twan Eng, THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS
Jeet Thayil, NARCOPOLIS
10 September 2012
07 September 2012
--Friend of the blog Peter W. Knox on what your bookshelves do when you're not around. Knox describes to the Guardian about the impetus that led him to start Share Your Shelf, a Tumblr of picture of other people's bookshelves.
Describing my home shelf philosophy would take too long for now, but since I'm at the office, here's my work shelf. I might be breaking protocol here because this shelf is probably the most decorative of any collection of books I now have.
I have read every book on this shelf except THE MCSWEENEY'S BOOK OF POLITICS & MUSICALS (which just came out), but apart from the two style manuals, I never refer to these books for my job. (I work in social media. Make your own print media joke here.) So this shelf is more an outcropping of my work personality -- although I would recommend the Della Femina book (FROM THOSE WONDERFUL FOLKS WHO GAVE YOU PEARL HARBOR, 3rd from right) and the collected works of Marshall McLuhan for anyone who works or interacts with online media. DIGITAL BARBARISM is a polemic about online content and copyright that I didn't wholly agree with, but it reminds me that my job a) didn't exist five years ago, and b) is still regarded with suspicion and outright rejection by some of the people I serve, so go easy, all right?
(Also, please enjoy my collection of teas. It's super cold in here!)
I should have picked one longer book, not 3. The three books I didn't even touch all weighed in over 600 pages. My original thinking was "I'll take each of these longer books on a trip with me," but in the moment I wanted to take a bunch of shorter books instead. I still really want to read the Caro biography and the Yates short stories; less sure about Katharine Graham (but I'm open to argument if you think I'm wrong to demote it).
I should think about ranking the books on the list. I got a lot more done once I put the remaining books in an order from "I need to read this right now!!!!11!!!!" to "Nice to knock off, but not as urgent." Cold-hearted, but maybe necessary.
I should have finished more earlier, to allow myself that sense of accomplishment. Everyone loves that.
06 September 2012
This is why it is good to, on a blog community, not to call yourself Lisa, even if that is your name. It is better to be Michelle Who Is Shelley, or Leslie in Hiawatha, for examples.
This is why I have decided, when I blog stalk my next internetzian crush, to name myself in the comments, “Skunkpatch Bushwanga,” so that one day, when we do meet, I can say, “I am Skunkpatch,” and my crush can screech, “NOT SKUNKPATCH BUSHWANGA????” And I will modestly nod and blush and say, “The very same.”
--Joshilyn Jackson: book tour hero. I'll be right back giving my name as Skunkpatch Bushwanga at every Starbucks in the city.
05 September 2012
I haven't had a chance to crack the biography yet, so the two excerpts he read were new to me -- well, at least one of them was. A passage Max read about how Wallace started dating Karen Green (who he would later marry) offered an unforeseen view of his sentimental, eccentric side, without foreshadowing. The other passage Max read, about Wallace's stay in a halfway house outside of Boston during his mid-20s, was familiar to me in that most of his real-life experiences in there were chunked directly into INFINITE JEST -- so directly, in fact, that some details had to be changed in draft to make them less libelous. (Among the resemblances Max pointed out: a house supervisor/ addict named "Big Craig" believed to be the inspiration for Don Gately, who in interviews with Max said he was suspicious of Wallace because he thought he was looking for material. Accurate.)
The book grew from
An example he gave, which Max described as a standout instance of truth distortion in Wallace's journalism, was describing John McCain's press liaisons shrinking away from him in "Up, Simba," about the senator's 2000 presidential bid; in fact, other reporters there noted that Wallace and the campaign had a good, joking working relationship. Surely a lot of biographers face this challenge, but maybe here it's magnified by Wallace's style, at play with the same forces that make fact-checking him difficult.
Here's the independent fact checker's report. Granted, I think that chart makes it look worse than it is; if the posts weren't fact-checked at all the first time around, I would find it normal for a checker to have one question per article. (They're sticklers; it's what they do, and when I fact-checked as part of a previous job I delighted in finding things that even the top editors were like "This is a little too granular, we don't need to worry about it." I'm saying that it's rare a fact-checker will look over a piece and find nothing that s/he wouldn't correct.)
04 September 2012
With Mark Costello, Mary Karr, Dana Spiotta, and Deborah Treisman.
Moderated by D. T. Max.
October 6, 4 P.M. Acura at SIR Stage37 • 508 West 37th Street ($30)
FICTION NIGHT / DISCUSSIONS AMONG WRITERS
With Martin Amis, John Lanchester, and Zadie Smith.
Moderated by Deborah Treisman.
7 P.M. Directors Guild Theatre • 110 West 57th Street ($30)
Utopia / Dystopia
With Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, and George Saunders.
Moderated by Daniel Zalewski.
7 P.M. Gramercy Theatre • 127 East 23rd Street ($30)
With Aleksandar Hemon, Hisham Matar, Colum McCann, and Orhan Pamuk.
Moderated by Willing Davidson.
7 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 1 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
With Chris Adrian, Nathan Englander, and Marilynne Robinson.
Moderated by Cressida Leyshon.
7 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 2 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
Love and Marriage
With Julian Barnes, Junot Díaz, and Lorrie Moore.
Moderated by Leo Carey.
9:30 P.M. Directors Guild Theatre • 110 West 57th Street ($30)
The Old Country
With Jonathan Safran Foer, Téa Obreht, and Gary Shteyngart.
Moderated by Adam Gopnik.
9:30 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 1 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
With Louise Erdrich, Joyce Carol Oates, and Paul Theroux.
Moderated by Peter Canby.
9:30 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 2 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
How they governed.
With Ron Chernow, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Maraniss, and Edmund Morris.
Moderated by David Remnick.
October 6, 10 A.M. Directors Guild Theatre • 110 West 57th Street ($30)
With Abhijit Banerjee, Katherine Boo, Geoffrey Canada, and Jose Antonio Vargas.
Moderated by George Packer.
October 6, 10 A.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 2 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
Drawn from life.
October 6, 4 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 2 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
October 6, 10 A.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 1 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
Mark Singer will host a tribute to the seminal New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, featuring a conversation with Ian Frazier and Nora Mitchell Sanborn and a reading by Bob Balaban.
Local oysters and champagne will be served.
October 7, 11 A.M. South Street Seaport Museum • 12 Fulton Street ($100)
October 7, 4 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 1 • 333 West 23rd Street ($30)
The U.S. première of the epic drama, followed by a conversation between Aleksandar Hemonand the film's writer-directors, Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski.
October 6, 7 P.M. MasterCard Stage at SVA Theatre 1 • 333 West 23rd Street ($50)