5 MobyLives.com



a MobyLives guest column
by Steve Almond

Editor's note: Following up on last week's column on the difficulties of publishing and marketing first novels, MobyLives turns this week to another form that has similarly suffered in the conglomerate marketplace: Short stories. Regular contributor Steve Almond has a new collection coming out next month, so we asked him why he chose the form.

22 March 2005 — 1. Because I believe the short story is the purest form of what we commonly refer to as storytelling, by which I mean the most intuitive, satisfying, and elegant of our narrative possibilities.
     This is to say nothing against novels, memoirs, books of poetry, or plays. Only to argue that the short story comes closest to approximating stories as we encounter them in our real lives, in the bar rooms of this world, around campfires and kitchen tables and, most important, in bed, at night, in those final minutes before we are taken under by dream.

2. Because one afternoon in 1991, I visited the El Paso Library and happened across a book called The Voice of America by Rick DeMarinis and sat down to read a story called "Insulation" and, for the first time in many years, simply lost my grip on the world — the musty air, the hot drag of summer, the anxious reverberation of my insides — and slipped into a second, invented world.

3. Because when I get to thinking about my favorite authors, I am often compelled to note, almost embarrassedly, that their most memorable work is a collection of stories. And because I think that most other writers would agree with me on this, though maybe not out loud.
     I don't care what any prize committee says, for my money Rock Springs is the finest book Richard Ford has ever written. Barry Hannah: Airships. Best Denis Johnson: Jesus' Son. Cheever: The Housebreaker of Shady Hill. Lorrie Moore: Birds of America. Hemingway: the Nick Adams stories. And while I cannot claim to have read enough of Joyce Carol Oates's oeuvre to offer a fair assessment, I would cite the story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" as one of the best pieces of literature produced in the 20th century.

4. Because, like most Americans, I crave variety. I love picking up a book of stories and knowing that I can enter any of a dozen distinct worlds. And because (again, like most Americans) I feel a fierce compulsion to finish things, to see them through, combined with an impatience I would describe, charitably, as perpetual.

5. Because one of the central rules I try to abide in my work is what I call the Poker Buddy Test. Meaning: would the guys at my poker game choose to read what I've been working on? And would they finish it?
     Most people in this culture — like my poker game buddies — don't read literary fiction. The short story stands as the least intimidating (and therefore most effective) introduction to literature.
     As one of them explained it to me, "No offense, Steve, but I read your stuff on the can. They're just about the right length."
     None taken.

6. Because I believe that the writing found in short story collections — the rhythm of the sentences, the precision of the language, the emotional intensity — is generally superior to that in novels.
     The reason for this is quite simple: the barrier to market is much higher for story collections, because they make so little profit. You don't get a story collection published unless the writing is vivid enough to compel several otherwise rational minds to make what is by most standards (often their standards) an irrational economic decision.

7. Because novels, by contrast, often disappoint me. I would attribute this to the fact that many writers feel pushed into writing novels before they're ready. (I certainly was.) Who does this pushing? Agents mostly, though they are only aping the mandates of the publishing industry. I can usually tell when I'm reading a novel by a short story writer. The first few chapters sail along on the sheer exuberance of the voice. Then the skein starts to unravel.
     I am not finding fault with the novel as a form. There is nothing to equal the cumulative pleasures of say, Howard's End, or Pride and Prejudice. But even some of the novels that I love best are uneven works of art. The Adventures of Augie March, for instance, is stunning. And yet, every single time I reach the section where Augie heads down to Mexico with Thea Fenchel and her trained eagle, I find myself skipping ahead.
     I never have this experience with a great short story. Every word has earned its way onto the page.

8. Because, in the end, I don't care much for plot. Or, to put it another way, because I view plot, most centrally, as a mechanism by which our heroine is forced to face her deepest fears and desires. This occurs, with the most urgency, in short stories. Every great story fires its characters and readers headlong towards the hidden caverns of the heart. All but the essential details are left aside. You know only what is required to feel what you have been waiting to feel.

Steve Almond is the author of two collections of short stories, My Life in Heavy Metal, and The Evil B.B. Chow, which will be published in April. Excerpts are available at BBChow.com.

Link to this column.

©2005 Steve Almond

Previous column:
THE DEATH OF FIRST FICTION . . . In a guest column, Ig Publishing's Robert Lasner describes the growing difficulty in publishing and promoting debut novels — and the growing need to keep publishing them.

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Friday 25 March 2005

El Segundo City Council votes to rename town "The Second" . . .
Amdist the ongoing uproar over the naming—or not naming—of meeting rooms in the El Segundo Public Library (see yesterday's MobyLives digest), Return of the Reluctant editor Ed Champion makes an interesting discovery: the library, which was prevented from naming a room after Agathat Christie by the El Segundo City Council because she was not an American, already has an area named after a foreigner. In a brief report on his Return of the Reluctant website, Champion writes: ". . . if foreigners are unacceptable, why is one area of the library named the Matsui International, Inc. Meeting Room? Matsui International, Inc. was founded in 1911, a subsidiary of Matsui Shikiso Chemical Co., Ltd., which is located at Address 64, kamikazan, Sakuradani&##150;cho, Yamashina–ku 607, Japan."

The thrill is gone . . .
The ex–husband of romance writer Rebecca Brandewyne is on trial for "building a bomb, then placing it on his porch and calling police to report she left it there," according to a report in the Wichita Eagle by Hurst Laviana. Police say Gary Brock called 911 and reported "a suspicious person had left a box on the front porch," but that he'd caught a glimpse of the getaway vehicle. "He gave me a tag and a vehicle description," policeman Jamie Crouch told the judge hearing the case. "Rebecca Brandewyne was what the name of the tag came back to." Meanwhile, the Witchita bomb squad found "the suspicious FedEx box contained a cigar box with what appeared to be two pipe bombs inside," but no ignition device. Another policeman testified that he went to Brandewyne's house and found her car engine was cold. In response to questioning from Brock's lawyer, Sgt. John Hoofer testified, "In my experience, it would take several hours to completely cool." Brock's lawyer countered, "Have you gone to any schools on this?" Hoofer replied, "Hard knocks."

Nietzsche vs. Oedipus . . .
Forced by the Russian Revolution to flee his native Russia, the novels of Vladimir Nabokov have nonetheless remained popular there, particularly the early novels he composed in Russian. Thus, interest in Nabokov has remained high in Russia, and his son, Dimitry Nabokov, has been "very attentive" to the many biographies and critical volumes about his father and "has never missed a chance to point out inconsistencies or mistakes." Now, as Victor Sonkin reports in a story for the Moscow Times, Dmitry Nabokov is suing Anatoly Livry for a scholarly study, "Nabokov the Nietzschean." Sonkin says the publication has led to "a heap of wild accusations from both sides . . . Livry has called Dmitry Nabokov 'a small Oedipus still struggling with his father's shadow,' while Nabokov has described Livry as a hardened criminal who once planned to kill and dismember his ex–wife and her lesbian lover."

Sebald essay uncovered . . .
A recently discovered essay about Corsica by W. G. Sebald, who died in a car crash in 2001, appears in the March issue of the online magazine Words Without Borders. Sebald had been planning to write a full–length book about Corsica, only to set it aside in favor of Austerlitz, his final novel. The essay is translated by Anthea Bell, who worked closely with Sebald on other translations, and is set to appear alongside Sebald's other Corsica writing in a forthcoming volume of essays. The volume will contain many of Sebald's previously published literary essays on authors including Kafka, Nabokov, and Günter Grass.

Let Brontë be Brontë . . .
With the 150th anniversary of the death of Charlotte Brontë approaching, Tanya Gold, in a Guardian column, asks that we stop thinking of the novelist as a stodgy, "Gothic drudge who got lucky" and start thinking of her as a passionate writer, "obsessed with her sensuality." But it is a dramatic repositioning that Gold calls for. She notes that Brontë's reputation was purposefully manipulated by Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published only two years after her death, which depicted Brontë as a "female eunuch" and a perfect schoolteacher. In fact, Gold claims, she was neither — Brontë even had fantasies about vomiting on her students, she says. In short, says Gold, it's time to stop "the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and tuberculosis" and start re–reading Jane Eyre.

When "shelf sitters" stop sitting . . .
"One of the unexpected pleasures of having your book collection boxed up in storage for two years is that you forget half of what you own," observes Colleen Mondor. Even better, Mondor says in a column for Saucy, is that those boxes contained her "shelf sitters" — books she bought but hadn't actually read yet. It prompted her to launch an ambitious project: a "quest to conquer the unread pile. Nothing could be shelved until it was read and all new book buying was at a bare minimum." Her favorite find so far: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, by Tim Smits, a book about the attempt to rescue an ancient, overgrown British estate garden. The book, says Mondor, "reads more like a drama or mystery than anything else. In every chapter there is another startling discovery, the remains of a fountain or pond, the remnants of the Melon House or Pineapple Pit. There is an aura of Indiana Jones surrounding the crew as they labor to hack their way across the estate using the proverbial machete to clear a path . . . ."

Whew! . . .
At a Tuesday gathering of the National Gonzo Press Club members "vowed to carry on the mission" of the late founder of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. In a report from The Onion, NGPC president Gene Zolonga says, "The next four years will be an uprecedented monument to bestial human ugliness, but I'd sooner let Yakuza thugs strap a rabid wolverine to my groin than shirk my responsiblities as a gonzo journalist."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 24 March 2005

In Letters: You haven't heard the last of first fiction . . .
The discussion of saving first fiction continues, with one MobyLives reader saying irrational greed is at the root of it all, while another provides a historical perspective . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

Mapes book proposal defends Rather, blasts CBS and Bush . . .
Joe Hagan of The New York Observer has uncovered the contents of Mary Mapes's proposal for her book The Other Side of the Story (See yesterday's MobyLives digest). Hagan says she "accuses CBS of placating the White House by squeezing her longtime friend [Dan] Rather from his job," reports Hagan in his in–depth report. Hagan quotes the proposal as saying: "No one can doubt that the network's callous treatment of Dan Rather, a longtime lightning rod for the right, was well received at the White House." He also quotes her as saying, "journalists should not allow themselves to be leashed and led around the way we have for the past few years." As for the documents about George Bush's National Guard service—or purported lack thereof—Mapes says she does not "believe that the new Bush documents used in my stories were forged. I do not believe they were planted by Karl Rove. Most importantly, I do not believe George W. Bush fulfilled his military commitments." Hagan reports Mapes closes the proposal with a question: "Mr. President, just where were you in 1972?"

A killer poet . . .
In Chicago, "he is one of the city's most beloved antiwar poets, an author of two books and a congregation leader at a West Side church." But Tuesday, it was revealed that Norman A. Porter—a.k.a. J.J. Jameson—was also a brutal killer. As a Boston Globe article by Donovan Slack and Eric Ferkenhoff reports, Porter held up a Boston–area clothing store in 1960 and, for no apparent reason, murdered a part–clerk there "execution style." With an accomplice, he subsequently aided in the murder of a jailer during an escape, but he was recaptured. He subsequently escaped again in 1985. According to a Chicago Tribune story by Patrick Rucker, Porter is well known in the Chicago poetry scene for being "an anti–war, pro–labor poet," as well as a frequent Pacifica Radio guest and author of two books, Lady Rutherfurd's Cauliflower and Lord Rutherfurd's Rutabaga. In addition, Porter was recently named poet of the month by Chicagopoetry.com. On Tuesday Illinois State Police arrested him in a Chicago church. Porter, who had worked with the homeless and at a food pantry, waved his right to challenge his extradition and will be handed over to Massachusetts authorities. He told arresting officers, "I had a good 20 years."

New York may not be book country anymore . . .
The annual "New York is Book Country" festival may not happen this coming year, and the not–for–profit organization that plans the event is in debt and without a director, according a Publishers Weekly report by Steven Zeitchik. The organization's former director, Anne Binkley, a Borders executive, is moving on to plan the Academy Award–esque Quill Awards being planned by Reed Elsevier (corporate parent of PW) and NBC for October. Insiders say the board that oversees the "New York is Book Country" may choose to disband the organization altogether.

El Segundo to be renamed El Loco . . .
Quaint little El Segundo, CA, says David Kipen, has gone "completely bughouse crazy." In a commentary for the Overbooked program on Los Angeles radio station KCRW, Kipen discusses the ongoing controversy over the El Segundo City Council's refusal to allow two rooms in the El Segundo Public Library to be named after Jack London and Agatha Christie. He notes councilman John Gaines claims "I'm . . . a great fan of Jack London. I read all his books as a kid. But quite frankly, he was a world–renowned communist." Observes Kipen, "Leaving aside Councilman Gaines' youthful flirtation with communism, this whole controversy is patently ridiculous. The city council shouldn't go second–guessing the non–budgetary decisions of librarians and their patrons about books, any more than librarians should second–guess a politician's inability to tell communism and socialism apart." What's more, says Kipen, the library has two more rooms about to be dedicated. He suggests that, because El Segundo's town symbol is the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, they should name one of the rooms after blue butterfly expert Vladimir Nabokov. Asks Kipen, "Who in good conscience could possibly oppose naming a public meeting room after the author of Lolita?"

MORE: Hear the podcast of Kipen's commentary.

PEN/Faulkner winner announced . . .
The winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award has been announced by co–chairs Robert Stone and Susan Richards Shreve: it's Ha Jin for his novel, War Trash, "a novel about Chinese POWs under American captivity during the Korean War." As an Associated Press wire story reports, the author will receive $15,000, while runners–up Marilynne Robinson', Edwidge Dandicat, Jerome Charyn and Steve Yarbrough will get $5,000 each.

RIP: Leona Rostenberg . . .
Leona Rostenberg, a rare–book dealer and scholar who uncovered "a series of racy novels written by Louisa May Alcott under a pseudonym," has died in her apartment on New York's Upper East Side at the age of 96. As Wendell Jamieson details in a New York Times obituary, working with her partner Madeleine B. Stern, Rostenberg made the discovery of the work written by Alcott before she became famous for Little Women "after being tipped off by a scholar that she might have written works under a pseudonym to pay the rent, but that the pseudonym was mystery." Rostenberg and Stern found a clue in Alcott's correspondence that led to the discovery, and, as one expert notes, "It completely changed the way people perceived Louisa May Alcott."

Don't make fun of Jesus . . .
A book of religious satire by German cartoonist Gerhard Haderer that takes a "playful look" at the life of Jesus Christ "has caused a furore that could potentially land the cartoonist in jail," according to a report in The Guardian by Krysia Diver. The book, The Life of Jesus, has been condemned as an act of blasphemy in a Greek court, and if Haderer loses his appeal he faces a two–year prison sentence. Among other things upsetting the court: "Haderer's depiction of Christ as a binge–drinking friend of Jimi Hendrix and naked surfer high on cannabis." A group of artists and writers including Nobel–winner Elfriede Jelinek have signed a "1,000 signature petition" of support. Says one of the signatories, Gerhard Ruiss, "This campaign is crucial for the future freedom of international artists."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 23 March 2005

In Letters: Hardcovers suck, novels rule. . .
One MobyLives reader writes in to say it isn't just for debut novels — hardcovers are a mistake anyway you look at it. Meanwhile, another readers takes issue with Steve Almond by suggesting 8 reasons to write novels . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

Stalin's Hitler book includes first "concrete evidence" that Hitler was active in Holocaust planning. . .
The book about Adolf Hitler put together for Josef Stalin and based on 10 years' worth of interrogations of the Nazi leader's valet and adjutant (see the MobyLives digest for 14 March 2005), unearthed this past summer in a Moscow archive by Matthias Uhl and Henrik Eberle, was officially published in Germany Monday. A Guardian report by Krysia Diver notes the book, called simply The Hitler Book, has generated intense interest after a series of excerpts appeared in the Bild newspaper. Among the revleations of those excerpts: "Hitler was so crippled with anxiety during his final days that he would scratch his neck and ears until they bled and demanded that his toilet water, as well as the water in which his eggs were boiled, be constantly analysed for traces of poison." In a Reuters wire story, Erik Kirschbaum says the book gives "concrete evidence that Adolf Hitler was personally involved in the details of planning the Holocaust." Uhl claims that "such tangible proof of Hitler's role in the Holocaust that killed six million had not been found before."

Bush "insider" Matalin to run new S&S imprint. . .
"Political commentator and Bush administration insider Mary Matalin will head a new politics–centered, conservative–bent books imprint at Simon & Schuster," according to a Book Standard report by Chuck Shelton. The imprint is not yet named, but Shelton reports "The former assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney plans to publish six to ten books per year, beginning in early '06." Matalan tells Shelton that the idea was brought to her by S&S publisher David Rosenthal and Louise Burke, the publisher of S&S imprint Pocket Books, who will "jointly manage the imprint." As to what Matalan herself will do, she says, "I'll be combining my experience with critical ways to advance ideas. I'll still be doing in whatever capacity what I'm doing with the [Bush] administration." She will also play that role from her Washington, D.C. office.

Fired CBS producer to tell another side of Rathergate. . .
Mary Mapes, "the CBS television producer who was fired for her role in the network's discredited report on President Bush's military service," has signed a deal with St. Martin's Press to publisher her side of the story in the fall. In an Associated Press wire story, a St. Martin's release says the book, to be called The Other Side of the Story, "will chronicle what really happened at CBS and reveal the corporate, political and ideological agendas that threaten the integrity of journalists and the news."

El Segundo likely to name meeting rooms after drunks, says columnist . . .
In response to last week's news about the El Segundo City Council rejecting and effort by the El Segundo Public Library to name meeting rooms after Agatha Christie and Jack London (see the MobyLives digest for 18 March 2005), commentator John Bogert lashes out at the Council in a Daily Breeze editorial. The decision summarizes the "whole namby–pamby spirit of our overly cautious offend–nobody child–safe silly–ass times," says Bogert. "Now the poor library staff will have to take this prior restraint and work with it. Will it please the council if they choose those drunken giants, Hemingway and Fitzgerald? Black writers? What's the point, this is El Segundo. Steinbeck? Are you kidding with the starving socialist outrage of Grapes of Wrath?"

First, my Chinese Rolex turns out to be a fake, then, my copy of Who Moved My Cheese . . .
In a Beijing Today
report about the Chinese book market, some alarming trends are exposed. Accusations include trumped–up sales figures, fake blurbs, and bogus sequels. A more peculiar trend is the number of falsely attributed books. According to Beijing Today, 106 falsely attributed books on western management theories have been produced this year. The fakes include two sequels to Spenser Johnson's Who Stole My Cheese? and Lessons From The U.S. Army's Elite Ranger.

"Gonzo Trust" to manage Thompson estate . . .
The will of Hunter S. Thompson was made public Monday, reports an Associated Press wire story, and it "calls for all his property to flow into 'The Gonzo Trust' to be managed by three people the writer knew for years." The three are historian attorneys Hal Haddon and George Tobia, and historian Douglas Brinkley, who was also appointed literary executor. The will now "inventory the estate during the next several months."

Forgotten Dumas swashbuckler uncovered . . .
A French scholar has revealed that he has secretly been working for years on preparing for publication a "previously unknown" novel by Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas. In an Agence France Presse wire story, Claude Schopp explains that in 1988, "I was trying to check a detail for an article and after months of research had to look through copies of 'Le Moniteur Universel.' Imagine my surprise when among the spools of microfiche I came across an almost completed serial signed Alexandre Dumas." The AFP reports that the 900–page Le Chevalier de Sainte–Hermine, which will be published in June by Phebus press, is "a classic Dumas adventure story about the start of the Napoleonic empire and includes a swashbuckling account of the battle of Trafalgar," and includes a fictive solution to the real–world mystery of who killed Admiral Horatio Nelson.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 22 March 2005

Rumsfeld shocked, shocked to hear somebody threatened author of book critical of Pentagon . . .
In what looks to be retaliation for a book he's written about the Pentagon, NBC News military analyst William Arkin has been the subject of a "chilling" hoax wherein a Washington Times reporter has been circulating a fake Defense Intelligence Agency cable saying he was a spy for Sadaam Hussein. As Howard Kurtz explains in a Washington Post report, Washington Times national security reporter Bill Gertz called Arkin for comment and send him a copy of the document, which although filled with knowledgeable information, jargon and codes, has subsequently been confirmed by the Defense Department as fake. In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Arkin said, "I am extremely concerned that someone familiar with Defense Department classified reporting has forged this document and given it to the press in the hope that it would be reported as genuine. Such an action raises deeply troubling questions about the integrity of the department's processes and raises the possibility of an organized effort to intimidate me as a journalist." Nonetheless, a Defense Department spokesman said there would be no investigation. A commentary on TheMemoryBlog.org, meanwhile, calls Arkin's book "a slap in the face of runaway government secrecy, it reveals 3,000 missions, operations, excercises, procedures, and plans of the military and the intelligence community." The commentator observes, "Such insolence was bound to be punished — never more so than in this era of rabid nationalism, power worship, and white–hot hatred of dissent and openness — so it was no surprise when the smear occurred. (Actually, the big surprise would've been if such a prominent, powerful exposer of official secrets escaped character assassination.)"

The Weinsteins and Miramax Books: Will they or won't they? Employees would like to know . . .
The remaining employees of the seemingly–disintegrating Miramax Books are "fuming," says a brief item from The New York Post's Page Six. "We have no idea what's going on," one "staffer" tells says. "We had no idea Jonathan Burnham was leaving or that Harvey and Bob [Weinstein] wanted to start another book company until we read it in The Post. No one at the company is bothering to tell anyone what's going on. And Hyperion hasn't contacted any of us or the authors." Meanwhile, the earlier Post story that the source referred to, in which Keith J. Kelley reported that "the brothers Weinstein look like they want to have a books mix in their new independent film company," and that they have been talking to Rob Weisbach about running it, has been updated in a Book Standard report by Chuck Shelton. Shelton says since the Post report "rumors are now flying" that Weisbach, "currently Simon & Schuster
's editor–at–large," is indeed in talks with the Weinsteins. Says Shelton, "Weisbach, who, as a young assistant editor at Bantam in the mid–'90s, helped sign Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres and Paul Reiser, among others, seems an obvious match for the brothers, who arenšt exactly known for playing well with others."

En garde . . .
The French news agency the Agence France Presse (AFP) is suing Google, seeking a reported $17.5 million in damages for unauthorized use of AFP's photos, news headlines, and stories on its Google News Service, according to a Times of London report by RRhys Blakely. The lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C. court, claims that Google, "is continuously and willfully reproducing and publicly displaying AFP's photographs, headlines and story leads on its Google News web pages." AFP charges users for content from it global network of correspondents.

Rock on . . .
"An obscure, approximately seven–minute clip from a BBC documentary" about Hunter S. Thompson is guiding a group of the late writer's family and friends—including his wife, Anita Thompson, actor Johnny Depp, and Thompson's long–time illustrator Ralph Steadman—as they go about making plans for his remains. A Rocky Mountain News report by Jeff Kass says that in the documentary, "Thompson walks into a Los Angeles mortuary in 1977 and says he wants his cremated remains shot out of an upside–down, sculpted mushroom perched on a 150–foot–high, double–thumbed fist." Juan Thompson says his father "would refer me to the video for details" as to how he wanted to be commemorated. Reports Kass, "Thompson's battle–tested inner–circle says they can do it — or at least a close facsimile. They stress that actual details are yet to be nailed down and will involve consultations and approvals from neighbors and relevant government bodies — possibly even the Federal Aviation Administration."

Do they need Foetry up north? . . .
At Bookninja.com, Canadian poet Zach Wells considers the accusations of Foetry.com concerning the corruption of poetry and fiction contests and wonders, "are things any better up here?" In his essay, Wells surveys some of Canada's poetry contest and concludes that there are some problems but maybe not as many as in the US contest scene "only because Canadian publishers rely more on arts council grants and than proceeds from manuscript contests to fund their notoriously unprofitable books of verse." Still, he notes, the essential problem is that "the motivation behind these awards is tied into economics. Ever notice how the entry fee for all these prizes includes a year's subscription to the magazine?" In conclusion, he says, "Foetry is right to point out the questionable ethics of contests held by American universities. But the solution is not to put an end to the corrupt practices or punish the contestants and judges. The only foolproof remedy is to choke off the contests' air supply. And the only way that can be accomplished is if aspiring poets refuse to be gulled into submitting their work and if established poets decline invitations to judge."

Celebrating Jules . . .
This spring will see numerous events around the world marking the centenary of the death of Jules Verne, one of the world's ten most–translated writers. An Agence France Presse wire story notes some of those events honoring the author of Around the World In 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. It also offers an appreciation of what made Verne so unique: as one critic puts it, "The discoveries of his time are the driving force behind his adventures." The AFP report also notes that Verne's life was "transformed" by his publisher, Pierre–Jules Hetzel, who "knew how to market Verne's talent for the masses: he first published his novels in serialized form, then in a budget edition and finally in a luxurious red and gold binding."

Ciao Rivista . . .
In a recent New Left Review article, Lucio Magri, editor of Rivista del manifesto, Italy's leading left monthly, explains why his journal is closing up shop and ceasing publication. While the journal operated at a small operating loss, Magri cites various contradictions and "fatal differences" among the journal's contributors as the chief reason for its closure. According to Magri, the journal "has exhausted its 'motivating impulse.'" The journal was founded in 1999 in response to what the editor called "capitalism in a new guise" and attempted to offer a "programmatic alternative" to an era in which workers' movements in Italy and around the world had been successfully marginalized. It invited debate about protest movements and the international system. Magri's parting words included a call for the left to offer "a plausible and rational account of the history behind us, an overall interpretation of a present still unfamiliar to us, and a vision of a distant future to which we could aspire without utopian illusion."

In effort to stamp out, once and for all, accusations that New York lit scene is incestuous, Paris Review names New Yorker writer as new editor . . .
Details of Philip Gourevitch's plans for the Paris Review, where he was named editor last Thursday, are discussed in a recent New York Times story by Edward Wyatt. Perhaps predictably, the acclaimed New Yorker writer will solicit more nonfiction reporting. However, he will also tinker with the Paris Review's longstanding habit of publishing poems by many different poets within a single issue — Gourevitch wants to start publishing "a portfolio of poems by a single poet." Gourevitch's appointment as the editor of the Paris Review caps a year of successes for the 43–year&3150;old writer. The story of Paul Rusesabagina, one of the many that Gourevitch chronicles in We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, became the basis of the film Hotel Rwanda, which was met with international critical success. Gourevitch's other book, A Cold Case, is being adapted for the screen by Tom Hanks and Universal Pictures.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 21 March 2005

In Letters: More on saving first fiction . . .
Another independent bookseller writes in with some ideas on how to promote first novels . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

NBCC awards go to Robinson, Rich, Orr, and others, but not Dylan . . .
At the National Book Critics Circle award ceremony in New York City on Friday, Marilynne Robinson won the prize for fiction for her novel, Gilead. As Hillel Italie reports in an Associated Press wire story, Robinson grew "emotional" at the prize for the book that was her first novel since her acclaimed 1980 debut, Housekeeping. Other winners included: for biography, not Bob Dylan but Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan for De Kooning: An American Master; for criticism, Patrick Neate for Where You're At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip–Hop Planet; Diarmaid MacCulloch'sThe Reformation: A History won for general nonfiction; and Adrienne Rich won the poetry prize for The School Among the Ruins. The annual prize for excellence in criticism was given to poetry critic David Orr.

Wright is first African–American to win Bollingen . . .
Jay Wright, whose Transfigurations: Collected Poems was released in 2000, is the first African–American to be awarded Yale's Bollingen Prize in Poetry, according to an official press release. The prize, judged by a three member panel and awarded for lifetime achievement, carries a $75,000 award and has been previously awarded to Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, and James Merrill.

Conglomeration in the book business is about to get mcuh, much worse . . .
"The next 10 years will see the number of major players in the book trade reduce to three or four," the UK head of one of the world's largest media conglomerates, Hachette Livre, told an audience at the London Book Fair last week. As a Publishing News report notes, Tim Hely Hutchinson "sees further consolidation as inevitable to increase publishing bargaining power in a tight market."

Conglomeration in the book business is about to get much, much better . . .
"For years, consumer groups have been watching with alarm the creeping consolidation of the American media industry. They might no longer need to worry," opines David Teather in a Guardian report. He notes last week's announcement by Viacom that it might sell off its publishing company, Simon & Schuster, and some other similar, recent announcements by other big conglomerates. Says Teather, "The break–ups have little to do with pressure from consumer groups. They are a matter of pure economics: share prices are languishing and the media conglomerate is a concept that might have had its day."

Hail & Farewell: Philip Lamantia . . .
Philip Lamantia, the San Francisco poet who began as a surrealist but later joined the Beat movement, died earlier this month of heart failure, his publisher, City Lights Books, has announced. As Chirstopher Lehmann–Haupt notes in a New York Times obituary, Lamantia was, "as Yves le Pellec, a French critic, put it, "'a living link between French Surrealism and the American counterculture at its beginnings.'" Lamantia was 77.

Shoptalk leading to successful word of mouth . . .
Two months after the launch of Shoptalk, the London newspaper The Guardian's database of the best independent bookshops in the British Isles, Wenlock Books in Much Wenlock in Shropshire, has crept to the top of the informal list. A mix of used and new books, the shop had received fourteen separate nominations. Certainly a reaction to the deep discounts and three for two tactics of the British chains, The Guardian's Shoptalk database is organized by region and routinely updated. A call to British bookworms inaugurated the list in January; any shop with three of fewer branches is eligible, by nomination, for review and listing. In a related Guardian column, Andrew Stilwell, manager of the London Review Bookshop, explains the importance of independent sellers in the increasingly competitive British book market.

Great weird book finally gets translated . . .
"There are many great books. And of weird books, the number is countless. Yet, paradoxically enough, there are not that many great weird books," notes Scott McLemee. "Sex and Character by Otto Weininger is one of them." And, in a two–part series for Inside Higher Ed, McLemee reports "The appearance next month of a definitive English translation, published by Indiana University Press, is a major cultural event — one that is, arguably, at least several decades overdue." In part one, McLemee tells the history of the book: "Weininger created a mixture of psychological introspection, neo–Kantian epistemology, and Nietzschean cultural criticism, along with a heavy dose of anti–feminist polemic. Toward the end of the book, Weininger seasoned the stew with a few dashes of anti–Semitic vitrol. Then, a few months after seeing the manuscript through the press, he went to the house where Beethoven died and killed himself." In part two, McLemee discusses the writer: "In the fall of 1901, Freud met Weininger . . . . Weininger, then 21, was 'a slender, grown–up youth with grave features and a veiled, quite beautiful look in his eyes,' Freud later wrote. 'I could not help feeling that I stood in front of a personality with a touch of the genius.'"

Can you have too many Dylans? . . .
In a recent column by William Bowers of Pitchforkmedia.com, known for its watchful eye of the music industry, a bogus list of new music books has been unveiled. The column parodies the recent onslaught of popular music titles coming from elite trade and university presses. Highlights include Unchronicles, Volume One: A People's History of "New Dylans," described as "a comprehensive study of one of rock's most dubious labels," and Live Foreverland: Britpop as Folklore, which is said to compare musicians "in the mythical genre to King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Peter Pan." Pitchfork, not usually known for such parodies—and playing on the peculiar interests of its readers—notes that these "tomes," and many more, will be available this spring.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:


by Martin Venezky

(Princeton Architectural Press, $40)

Layer upon layer of old type, spirographs, fragmented animal photos and found objects combine in this hardcover to form maps of the designer's inner life. Each page is a carefully thought–out, non–stop sensory overload. Author/designer Martin Venezky has included some of his commercial work (he has designed for clients such as Open Magazine and Reebok) and also original art made for the book.


This week's fiction:

"Crank Call"
by Thomas J. Hubschman
(from Me Three)

"Brain Spiders"
(from Prose aX)

This week's poetry:

"Not Pee Wee"
(from Grain)

(from Briar Cliff Review)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.

All material not otherwise attributed ©1998–2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.