Friday, November 23

100 notable books of the year

Of the Times' 100 I recommend the following:
The Savage Detectives. By Roberto BolaƱo. A craftily autobiographical novel about a band of literary guerrillas.

What is the What. The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel. By Dave Eggers. The horrors, injustices and follies in this novel are based on the experiences of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.


Fall River seniors take to virtual bowling
The folks at Bay View, the independent living facility on North Main Street, were playing a bowling simulation on the Wii (rhymes with tea) console game system, where pressing a button on a wireless controller and moving your arm to mimic the motion of rolling a ball is enough to send a simulated ball whirling toward a set of simulated pins.

Wednesday, November 21

We didn't start the fire. Amazon dorks did.

The new Kindle from Amazon. Live it, love it. At least, check out the video. Speculation and reaction soon - I'm tired. What do you think?

Monday, November 19


Caitlyn is finally looking graduation in the face, a horrifying prospect considering that without the threats of a literature professor, she will never read another James Joyce novel. Among her short term goals are finishing her pile of half-read books, in order to start a new pile of half-read books. A new and ambitious long term goal, which incidentally came to her in a dream, is to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish.

She likes to break the bindings of books, to make them more tractable, and longs to meet one of her favorite authors, Tom Robbins, but only so she can ask him on a date. Caitlyn is a chronic re-reader, and once dramatically claimed to have read her favorite book hundreds of times. She lives in California, apparently.

"Keep the writers you admire at the edge of your vision"

David Mitchell, author of the stunning Cloud Atlas, discusses writing, reveals that he is currently at work on "a long Japanese-Dutch historical novel set in the Napoleonic Era." Can't wait!
A maximum of one killer metaphor or simile per page should be ample, and watch out for the word "seem": it debases one's own currency, somehow. Think about how the writers who you love manage to make you love them. Prose that contains too many sentences beginning with the word "I" soon gets as tedious as people who begin too many sentences with the word "I".

The name game

An interesting read on the stories behind the naming of Catch 22, The Postman Always Rings Twice and My Man Jeeves.
'Catch-11' was one of the first suggestions, but was rejected because of the 1960 Rat Pack film Ocean's Eleven. Heller at one point settled firmly on 'Catch-14', but Gottlieb threw it out for being too nondescript. When 22 came up, Gottlieb felt that it had the right ring: 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14,' he told the New York Times Review of Books in 1967. Heller took two weeks to be persuaded.

Less reading, more cheating & the almighty book group

Three from the New York Times:

Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading

Part of an Oil Book Relied on Wikipedia

Publishers Seek to Mine Book Circles

Sunday, November 18

"motherhood, boyfriend troubles, family dramas”

Men don't read womens' fiction. It's a problem. I'm as guilty as anyone. We turn to the The Hindu.
To say that all women’s writing is sentimental, emotional, light-weight and about small issues is to imply that all male writing is large in scope, intellectual, tough and about important issues. Absurd, perhaps, but negative ideas about women’s writing are so pervasive, that women have looked for ways out: using a male pseudonym (popular once), not disclosing first names (A.S. Byatt, P.D. James), keeping their gender strictly out of their writing, sticking to male protagonists and so on. At times women may even have felt the need to ask themselves: if men are so averse to reading us, is there something wrong with our writing?

"guide to the health of contemporary fiction"

The Book of Other People, a collection of short stories featuring the work of David Mitchell, George Saunders, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers, Miranda July and many more is reviewed in The Independent. Profits from the book will go to 826 NYC.
So what can we conclude after The Book of Other People? That Chekhov's influence on the short story is still paramount. That "hysterical realism", the tendency in contemporary fiction so accurately diagnosed by critic James Wood in 2001 – symptoms include fact fetishism, list making, digressive mini-essays – has mercifully given way to something more intelligent and true.

Saturday, November 17

"contorted metaphors and maudlin exaggerations"

The Stranger reviews "the short story that's become evidence in a murder case"
Twenty-year-old University of Washington creative-writing student Amanda Knox posted a short story called "Baby Brother" on her MySpace blog last December to a resounding lack of interest from the world at large. It got a grand total of one comment. A year later, the short story has achieved global notoriety, having been quoted and/or mentioned by the Associated Press, MSNBC, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Irish Examiner, all the London newspapers and tabloids, newspapers in Italy, etc. Never in American history has a short story gotten so much attention, although the attention has nothing to do with literary greatness.

Mailer in video

Norman Mailer vs Marshall McLuhan

Norman Mailer vs Rip Torn

Charlie Rose - An Appreciation of Norman Mailer

Jews with Swords

Wait, what? Michael Chabon has already authored a new novel? Oh, I see, it is the serialized novel that earlier appeared in The New York Times Magazine. And it's not literary fiction, 'tis but a diversion. Gentlemen of the Road reviewed:

Those who have followed Chabon's career will certainly find a rousing diversion here. If there's any moral to be extracted from the book, it's this: "There was no hope for an empire that lost the will to prosecute the grand and awful business of adventure." This might as well serve as a personal credo for the author, whose Afterward offers a defense of his decision to write adventure fiction. At this point, Chabon enjoys the prerogative of extraordinary talent. He can write whatever he pleases, as his far-ranging oeuvre attests.

But his notion that literary culture needs more adventure strikes me as dubious. We are living, after all, in a country overrun by "the grand and awful business of adventure," whether in Iraq or Hollywood's relentless epics of violence.

Literature, though, is about the tumult of people's emotions, more than the gallivanting of their bodies. Its power resides in the heart, not the glands. As much as I admired the exuberance of Chabon's picaresque, I had a hard time feeling much for his characters. I cop here to an antiquated bias: I prefer the adventures that occur inside people.

Note: For a time the working title had really been Jews with Swords. It is lamentable indeed that Chabon did not keep it that way.

It's a silly pursuit anyway

Prompted by the passing of Norman Mailer, The Independent offers "An elegy for the great American novel:"
One can over-sentimentalise the idea of the novelist as passionate adventurer, whose prose is inspired or sharpened by some dark experience (such as war.) It's mostly a foolish dream. But one can feel a lowering of the spirits when confronted by the spectacle of the descendants of Bellow and Roth, Updike and Mailer – the creative-department students whose impulse to write derives mostly from feeding off other books, who would rather fashion a short story, good though it may be, rather than attempt a balls-out epic novel. "The originators, the exuberant men, are gone," wrote Evelyn Waugh about the English novel in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, "and in their place subsists and modestly flourishes, a generation notable for elegance and variety of contrivance." The older generation of great American scribes, the exuberant men and women, are going at alarming speed; and with them goes the dream of the Great American Novel that focused and energised them all.

Huxley and you in 2007

Margaret Atwood, author of a pretty great dystopian novel of her own, examines the significance of Brave New World 75 years after its publication:
How does it stand up, 75 years later? And how close have we come, in real life, to the society of vapid consumers, idle pleasure-seekers, inner-space trippers and programmed conformists that it presents?

The answer to the first question, for me, is that it stands up very well. It's still as vibrant, fresh, and somehow shocking as it was when I first read it.

The answer to the second question rests with you. Look in the mirror: do you see Lenina Crowne looking back at you, or do you see John the Savage? Chances are, you'll see something of both, because we've always wanted things both ways. We wish to be as the careless gods, lying around on Olympus, eternally beautiful, having sex and being entertained by the anguish of others. And at the same time we want to be those anguished others, because we believe, with John, that life has meaning beyond the play of the senses, and that immediate gratification will never be enough.

Wednesday, November 14

On: Jews

They had it rough. And still have it rough in some locales, I am assuming - because everyone is persecuted somewhere, right? Even me, a white, middle class, tall male with a property-owning father (only average height for him) - even I would be harshly persecuted some place. But man, the Jews got it rough.

I read Everything is Illuminated, the acclaimed debut novel from Jonathon Safran Foer, a young buck at like 23 years old-ish when he wrote it. Wunderkind, they say. Foer relates his search in Ukraine for information about his familial ancestors in a piecemeal manner. Four stories interweave indirectly: the fictionalized tale of Foer's 18th century relatives in a zany small Jewish village, the fictionalized account of Foer's grandfather's life in the same village at the onset of WWII, the fictionalized present-day account of Foer's trip to Ukraine told from the perspective oh his under-qualified translator and guide, the teenage Alex, and finally in a series of fictionalized letters from Alex to Foer after Foer returns home.

At least I think it's all fictionalized. I'm putting stock in the statement in the leading pages of the book that all characters and accounts are fiction except for the author's own character. I just don't know how much of this is completely made up. Did Foer actually take this trip, or is it a total fabrication? I don't know which is more impressive. I think it may be more of an astounding work if indeed he just spun this whole serial mess from his mind.

But impressive it is, in any case. The hook at the beginning is the humor which takes the form of hilariously broken English written by Alex in his accounts of Foer's Ukrainian adventure. The humor persists throughout the book except for the sad parts and the really sad parts. But these parts are also funny. And the funny parts are pretty sad too. That's one of the charms of this novel - that there is very little middle ground between the sad/pitiable and the comic/comical. It's all mixed up into one mixture, but still separate and extremely defined, like a briefly shaken vinaigrette.

Speaking of the sad - the Jews got it bad. Of course, the whole premise for this novel has to do with the erasing and scattering of established Jewish communities by acts of colossal violence. When Foer and his entourage (wait - is there a word for an entourage that goes before you instead of behind? A "pre-tourage" of sorts? Let me check...googling...nope.) So, when Foer and his assembled escorts get to the location of the ancestral village, there is nothing. Not even ruins remain, the place was so ruined. I guess it got to me - the whole attempted erasing of a populace.

Then, a couple of days later, I watched Schindler's List. Yikes. I'm afraid that similar things are happening today, 13 November 2007, some place(s) on earth, and it makes me wonder: what kind of world do I really live in? Is non-technological progress in humanity expected to keep pace with the tech? How far are we, in human relations, from the 18th century? From Auschwitz? Is it ok if we aren't further along? To what quantity should our peaceableness scale? Wealth, literacy, communication bandwidth, or something else? Essentially, we know we are a better people, collectively, than we were in those times past. But, how do we know that we are better enough?

Maybe an interesting Book-Loop reading project would be to explore what actual philosophers have to say about the scaling, measurement, quantifying, or standardizing of "progress." Reading philosophy kind of scares me though.

I know for a fact that at least one member of the Loop has a Jewish heritage. I don't mean to get too personal, but I wonder if he would have anything illuminating to say about all of this?

Cormac and I rode the bus today

Reading All the Pretty Horses. Loving it. Of McCarthy I have only read The Road. Enjoyed it. But am now beginning to see that those who found that it approximated a caricature of a McCarthy novel were perhaps onto something. And I'm not just talking about the gore, because I have yet to encounter any. More to come.

Dusting off Google Reader

Borders at war

During the four years I lived in Ann Arbor, I spent a good many hours wandering aimlessly through Borders flagship store. Just as I do now, I found browsing at bookstores to be a terrific source of relaxation. I departed college with the erroneous impression that even if Borders was not an independent bookstore, at least it was one of the good guys. So wrong. But let's chalk it up to my fondness for the old college town and move on.

Once I stepped out in the real world my attachment to Borders quickly expired. McBookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, while pretty neat for an American suburbia once void of books (of course I exaggerate) are an endangering force on intimate bookshops personality, meticulously selected stock, and local roots. And not just in America, they're taking the scorched earth policy worldwide. Eff a Borders.

But you already know all that. So to the point already: How better to deliver the final nail in the coffin and bury forever my Borders allegiance than with the recent announcement that Borders "bookstores" are adding 37-inch flat-screen televisions that will barrage patrons with original programs and advertising. *Shudders* So much for that relaxation... to say nothing of the very real possibility that potential advertisers on these television sets could belong to the same parent company of certain publishers whose books Borders could, say, go out of their way to display prominently. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, November 11

Bookstore Guide

"an amateur guide to book shopping throughout Europe..."

Come on! Kneel Before the Power Broker!

One of the topics briefly discussed at the recent Book-Loop Summit 2007 in Los Angeles, California, was the question of which of the United States Sufjan Stevens was planning to explore on his next album. Aside from discovering that I have long been pronouncing his name incorrectly, I left the conference without a any new information regarding the work of Sufjan.

BUT, here's this from Wikipedia:
The next states to be taken on in the project have been reported as Oregon and Rhode Island. Minnesota may be another candidate; in late 2005 and early 2006 Stevens played a new instrumental track titled "The Maple River." The Maple River mentioned in the title of the song runs through several counties in southern Minnesota. There is also evidence to suggest the possibility of a New York album. Not only is Stevens' current residence in New York City, but at the footnote of his writing piece entitled "Friend Rock", Stevens stated that he was reading a biography on Robert Moses, who is a notable New Yorker. In late 2007, Stevens debuted several new songs about New York, including "BQE", a track about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Imagine the possibilities, Bryan!

"Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Kneel Before the Power Broker"

1. Concerning the UFO sighting on the Throgs Neck Bridge
2. Cross-Bronx Expressway, or, How to Gut an Entire Borough and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now
3. Come on! Kneel Before the Power Broker!
4. Fiorello H. LaGuardia
5. A Short Reprise for the South Bronx, Which Went to Shit, but for Very Good Reasons
6. Urban Sprawl, or, Round of Applause for Master Builder
7. One last "Whoo-hoo!" for the automobile
8. To The Fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament

And more!

Philosophical Differences

My mother was clearing junk out of my childhood bedroom in order to make way for some furniture that needed to be temporarily relocated while construction proceeds in my parents' bedroom. Buried in my trash can she found a copy of The Fountainhead. My mother and my father went back and forth on whether I had intended for the book to be thrown away before finally consulting me on matter. I told them to give it to charity.

Wednesday, November 7


Is this one of those deals that's been around the block a few times and even your step-uncle, who only accesses the Internet a couple of times a months via the dial-up at the local Y, has already forwarded your way? I don't know. I've been living under a rock for a minute. But I dig it.

Also, by decree of the Book-Loop Federal Assembly, these blogwaves are now open to all discussion of literature, science and the arts... and crafts and cooking and games and bird watching and Franco-Prussian War reenactment. I'll be honest, this is little more than a sly maneuver to house my falconry blog, my stamping blog and my Ermanno Olmi blog under one roof.

Book-Loop, come out to play-i-ay.