a MobyLives guest column

Editor's note: The refusal of the U.S. State Department to allow Islamic scholar and writer Tariq Ramadan to enter the country to accept a position at Notre Dame University has made him a cause celebre amongst many American academics. (See, for example, this recent front page New York Times story.) But one aspect of Ramadan's career has not gotten much attention here — the charges of anti–Semitism leveled against him in Europe. The charges grew particularly heated late last fall when an article by Ramadan attacking France's leading Jewish intellectuals appeared on the Internet. One of those attacked was Melville House author Bernard–Henri Lévy, who is also the founder of SOS Racisme, an organization dedicated to fighting racism against African and Islamic immigrants to France. MobyLives asked him for his response to Ramadan's charges.

It had been circulating on the Internet for several days, in the context of the preparation talks for the European Social Forum that will be held in Paris and St. Denis in November, 2003—in the context, that is, of the forum for open and free debate of the larger anti–globalist sphere—a stunning text by Tariq Ramadan, the Genevan imam who, in the last several years, has become one of the spokesmen for the most hardline European Islamists.
      There one learns, for example, that the French intellectuals—Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksmann, Pascal Bruckner—who have supported the American war in Iraq, have done so only as a function of "Israeli interests."
      One discovers that the writer and editorialist Alexandre Adler, known to readers of Le Monde and Le Figaro for his independent spirit, only thinks or writes as a function of his sole guiding principle, "his attachment to Israel."
      One discovers that the historian of racism, Pierre–André Taguleff, who is—one blushes to have to point out—not Jewish, is a representative, along with Alain Finkielkraut, of a group of "Jewish intellectuals" who have "up until now been considered universal thinkers" and whose "analysis" has become "more and more biased" by the interests of the "Jewish community."
      And, as for me, I am stupefied to read, in this same text, that my recent "campaign against Pakistan," that seems to M. Ramadan "like an exit to nowhere and almost an anachronism," finds its true significance if one takes the trouble "to compare it with" the "historic visit" of Ariel Sharon to India, an enemy of Pakistan—I was stunned to see my year–long investigation into the death of Daniel Pearl, a martyr of freedom of the press beheaded by religious fanatics, reduced to the simplistic notion of a diplomatic mission by the head of a government with whom I have never ceased, here and elsewhere, to point out my many differences.
      I will let pass the infamy of these claims which, under the guise of a principled defense of communal spirit, only resuscitates the good old theme of Jewish conspiracy: Lévy and Adler as secret ambassadors of Sharon . . . the "Protocol of the Elders of Zion" is not far behind.
      I will let pass the case of Mr. Ramadan himself, this skillful intellectual, formed at the school of Muslim Brothers, but who had still been known, until now, in his public persona, to offer a smooth, conventional fašade; with this text, he lowers the mask, he disgraces himself.
      The real problem is the place where this article, after having been refused by the majority of big national dailies, finally came to ground—the problem, it is the attitude of these anti-globalist who harbor on their website, willingly or not, a nauseating text without having, at the time of this writing, disavowed it in the least.
      The libertarian reflex of people believing, as in "the good old days," that it is forbidden to forbid.
      The hybrid status of these free speech websites which, because their contributions are un solicited, have, therefore, no right to denounce them?
      Or better yet, their desire, old, like that of the extreme left, to not cut off a base of support—in this instance "the banlieues" [the Arab suburbs of Paris]—which sees Ramadan as one of its standard bearers.
      All these explanations are possible.
      But none, it must be said, makes silence acceptable.
      There is no reason in this world, no reason of any kind, to make us forget that statements like this are not opinions but a call to hate, a crime.
      I am not always in agreement, far from it, with MM. Gresh, Cassen or Bové. But I respect their fight. I recognize, despite our differences, their intellectual and moral honesty. If, under the pretext of not driving the new banlieue Islamists to despair, they support similar discussions; if, by the ruse of a tactical maneuver, they let it be thought for a single instant that what they are hearing is anti–Semitism, is just another way of supporting this revolting policy, then this would be disastrous, not only for them, but for all of us.
      M. Ramadan, dear anti–globalist, is not, could not be, one of your own.
      Anti–Semitisim, dear Gresh, Dear Bové, is not, can never become, this imbecilic socialism which, you know as well as I do, costs our elders so much.
      It is perfectly normal that we do not always have the same opinion on this or that burning question. But there is a category of speech which, for everyone among us, must absolutely demarcate the threshold of the intolerable: it is the case of hate speech (it is for this reason that I have, on my side, immediately stigmatized Oriana Fallaci's book); it is, at the very least, the case of anti–Semitic speech (which is why I abjure you to distance yourself, quickly, from people who, by giving credence to the idea of an elite conspiracy at the command of Zionism, only adds fuel to the fire, and opens the way for the worst).
      So goes your integrity.
      So goes our shared democratic values.

Bernard-–Henri Lévy is one of France's leading philosophers, writers, and documentary filmmakers, and one of the bestselling writers in Europe. Last fall, his Who Killed Daniel Pearl? also made American bestseller lists. His newest book in the U.S. is War, Evil, and the End of History.

©2004 Bernard–Henri Lévy

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Friday 22 October 2004

Note to U.N.: See if you can find out where they send the royalties . . .
Author Radovan Karadzic could not be present at the launch party for his new novel in Belgrade on Monday . . . because he is on the run from two counts of genocide filed against him by the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Yes, that Radovan Karadzic, says this report in The Guardian. It says he "was once a minor celebrity in the literary world of the Balkans. That was in the 1980s before he was catapulted to notoriety over his role as president of the Bosnian Serbs as the Yugoslav Federation fell apart." His new book, The Miraculous Chronicle of the Night, was turned over to his publisher by intermediaries, while he is reportedly "somewhere in the remote mountains of eastern Bosnia or his native Montenegro."

Only if you give us back the England we loved . . .
The author of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold did not mince words: writing an op–piece for the Los Angeles Times (where bugmenot.com passwords do not seem to work), John Le Carre says George W. Bush is "universally hated," and he urged Americans to vote him out of office. According to an Agence France Press wire story, Le Carre said, "Probably no American president in history has been so universally hated abroad as Bush: for his bullying unilateralism, his dismissal of international treaties, his reckless indifference to the aspirations of other nations and cultures." Le Carre lambasted Bush for having "contempt for institutions of world government, and above all for misusing the cause of anti-terrorism in order to unleash an illegal war—and now anarchy—upon Iraq." He pleaded to American voters, "Give us back the America we loved, and your friends will be waiting for you."

Pro–forma legacy: Amazon "profits" still worry analysts . . .
Profits are going up at Amazon.com, and it's got analysts worried. As Monica Soto Ouchi reports in a Seattle Times story, "Three years ago, the online retailer responded to slowing sales by adopting the strategy of successful retailers such as Costco and Wal–Mart—to deeply discount items and reap a profit by increasing its sales volume." The strategy worked, "But analysts this year have begun to fret over the company's gross profit margins, an indication of how profitable Amazon could become," according to the Times. "The measurement, the difference between what it pays for goods and services and what it charges, has continued to slide as Amazon deeply discounts items to lure customers."

Then there was the part about how he hated his kids . . .
"It is a strange, uneasy feeling reading a book about one's father so soon after his death," writes Oliver Pritchett of reading about his father, V.S. Pritchett (who died in 1997), in the newly released biography V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown. But, at the same time, Pritchett writes in a Daily Telegraph commentary, he thought he was prepared for the new biography, because "Most of us regard ourselves as the world's leading authority on our parents. We've known them since we were born, after all. We have letters, intimate family memories, exclusive information." So "It's a blow when somebody comes along who knows things we had no idea about." And Treglown knew something big: V.S. had had an affair. Oliver and his sister had no idea.

Hail & Farewell: Anthony Hecht . . .
Anthony Hecht, the Pulitzer Prize–winning formalist poet "whose early work of courtliness and urbanity gave way to searing chronicles of the 20th–century's terrors," has died of lymphoma at his home in Washington at the age of 81. As a New York Times obituary by poet Harvey Shapiro notes, late in life, Hecht described his poetry as, "Formalist. Ironic. Oh yes: There's a certain amount of darkness to a lot of my poetry. It deals sometimes with very terrible aspects of existence." Those "terrible aspects" influencing his work were led, no doubt, by his experience as an American G.I. liberating death camps in World War II. But as to how Hecht got started, he said when, as a young man, he informed his parents of his decision to become a poet, they sent him to family friend Theodore Geisel ... who later became better known as Dr. Seuss He told Hecht to read a biography of Joseph Pulitzer. Hecht never did, and so, "After he became a success," notes Shapiro, "Mr. Hecht was fond of advising young writers that they, too, could be successful if they never read about the life of Joseph Pulitzer."

Main fear of literary judges: Cocktail party discomfort . . .
Judges of literary contests often find themselves on the hot seat afterwards, and the obscurity of this year's fiction nominees for the National Book Award have had a lot of people complaining about the judges, who have been ducking the press. But now, Stewart O'Nan has come forth to answer at least one of the more pointed queries: Why wasn't Philip Roth nominated for The Plot Against America? In a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" item, Ben McGrath reports O'Nan says, "I think it's a wonderful reworking of history that he tries to then fulfill. And it works for a while, but then he realizes he's painted himself into a corner he can't get out of, and he throws his hands up and says, 'Oh, help!'" Then there's the also un–nominated Tom Wolfe novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons,. "Ay-yi-yi," says O'Nan. "John Irving was right: the guy's not a novelist. It's nice that he thinks he's the new Dickens, but he's just not. Wow! What are you gonna do?" In the same piece, Tom McGuane and Antonya Nelson talk about their time chairing NBA committees, and say it wasn't a fun experience. Meanwhile, in a commentary for The Economist, the magazine's books editor, Fiammetta Rocco, who was one of the judges for the Booker Prize, says that due to the lessening impact of reviews, "accepting the commission to be a Booker judge is one way of offering readers a service." Then Rocco began reading "132 books in 147 days." "Unhappy families featured prominently; so did alcohol and absent fathers. The music of Bruckner was mentioned more than once, and a quantity of Italian food was ruined either by a disgusting liquor or by an exploding espresso machine." In short, "you learn a great deal about why so many novels—even well written, carefully crafted novels as so many of those submitted were—are ultimately pointless."

Win a big lit prize and suffer the consequences . . .
Does winning a major literary prize lead to riches? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, at least in the case of the Booker Prize, says an in–depth survey of past winners by John Ezzard for this Guardian article. He notes of the newest winner that, "Bookshops expect to find [Alan Hollinghurst's] The Line of Beauty harder to shift than its nearest contender, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas." Meanwhile, "The first Booker victor in 1969,PH Newby's Something To Answer For, is listed as apparently out of print with no sales whatever last year." In fact, says Ezard, the results of his survey "are mixed, and demolish the idea that the prize is either a perpetual crock of gold or a guarantee of literary immortality."

It's over: Fat man's manager sings . . .
A memoir by the manager of famed opera singer Luciano Pavarotti "paints a less than flattering portrait of the great Italian tenor as a spoiled superstar whose ego was matched only by his girth," according to an Agence France Press wire report. In The King and I, Herbert Breslin, who was Pavarotti's manager for most of his career until two years ago, says the famed tenor was a "very beautiful, simple, lovely guy who turned into a very determined, aggressive and somewhat unhappy superstar." He dishes on other famous opera stars while he's at it, including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf ("a cleaning woman"), Joan Sutherland ("pretty dopey"), and Dietrich Fischer–Dieskau (who "gave the impression that his bodily emanations, shall we say, didn't smell").

While one part of the cosmos implodes, another chugs along . . .
The New York Times famed lead book critic, Michiko Kakutani (who was joined yesterday, according to an official announcement, by a new colleague in the form of former restaurant critic William Grimes), is branching out. In today's Times, she writes, in this article from the front page of the sports section, about the "shocking humiliation" and "stunning fall from grace" due to "a breakdown in the cosmic order"—i.e., the Yankees loss. But lest you think she has switched departments, never fear — Kakutani herself, at least, is still as consistent as ever at what she does: today's Times also includes yet another in a long line of vicious denunciations of the work of John Updike, in the form of a review of his newest novel, Villages, a review so nasty it also highlights the consistency of her editors in assigning to her for years now work upon which her bias makes the outcome predictable.

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

Thursday 21 October 2004

In Letters . . .
The MobyLives letters section is open for business. Write to Moby at dlj AT mobylives.com.

Democracy is bad for business, say Borders and B&N . . .
The nation's two largest booksellers—Borders and Barnes & Noble—have claimed that "sales are suffering because of interest in TV coverage of the nation's presidential election," reports Matthew Verrinder in a Reuters wire story. Borders spokeswoman Anne Roman tells him "foot traffic has thinned" because "people have been glued to their televisions," while B&N rep Bob Wietrak says "Our sales have softened" because "people are really paying attention to this election." But some analysts disagree. "It's all erroneous baloney," says one analyst, Donald Trott. Many independents, meanwhile, report increased sales due to the election. "We've had exactly the opposite experience (of Borders and Barnes & Noble)," says Barbara Meade, owner of Washington DC's popular Politics and Prose bookstore. She says her sales are up 20 percent over last year, "driven by anti–Bush books." Online retailers, too, report a sales increase. Amazon.com spokesman Tom Nissley says sales spike as a particular political book "emerges each week." "These books have driven the news coverage," he explains. "People feel like they're voting when they buy them."

And Jesus wept . . .
"The Bush Administration has decided that it will stand by its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces," and allow the stores run by the National Park Service to continue selling the book, according to a report at The Daily Kos. It cites a press release from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which says that "Despite telling members of Congress and the public that the legality and appropriateness of the National Park Service offering a creationist book for sale at Grand Canyon museums and bookstores was 'under review at the national level by several offices,' no such review took place, according to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act."

Jews for Jesus . . .
A New York Observer report by Rachel Donadio talks about one of the oddities of the current publishing scene: how the ultra–conservative Christian Tim LaHaye, author of the mega–selling Left Behind series, is being courted by, and signing deals with, major publishing executives who are Jewish— "and therefore left behind," as Donadio observes. For example, LaHaye, one of the co–founders of the Moral Majority, has signed a deal with Bantam Dell publisher Irwyn Applebaum. Says Donadio, it was a meeting of "a certain kind of American bottom–line thinking combined with an airport–reading aesthetic" with "a similarly American strain of earnest religiosity." That's way too polite, says Pat Holt, in a HoltUncensored column. She says she's been listening to LaHaye and his wife at bookselling conventions for years, and they're the kind of people who "blame it on Jews—oops, make that 'secular humanists.'" She says that at the Christian Booksellers Association convention, "most of the evangelical Christian booksellers and publishers . . . were embarrassed by them." So what's up with people such as Applebaum? "I believe in the First Amendment ideal that a publisher has the freedom to find, edit and publish many kinds of books without having to believe in ANY of the authors' points of view," she says. "But personally, well, I dunno. If I were Irwyn Applebaum et al, I couldn't do it."

Timbers, shivered . . .
It's been one of the biggest stories in the international publishing scene of the last few weeks: The publication of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's first novel in ten years, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was thrown into turmoil when thousands upon thousands of pirated copies began hitting the streets in his native Colombia, forcing the publisher, Random House Mondadori, to move up the release of the book. But now, with the official release of the book, the 77–year–old Garcia Marquez is having the last laugh at the expense of the pirates, according to a Reuters wire story. "All I'm saying is that Gabriel Garcia Marquez changed the last chapter," his publisher tells Reuters.

Vatican denounces Nobel winner Jelinek for writing "not conducive to emancipation of woman"—a subject, as it happens, that they know something about . . .
The Vatican has announced its disapproval of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature to Elfiede Jelinek. An article in L'Osservatore Romano—"the Holy See's semiofficial newspaper," which is not available on line but is summarized here in English by Zenit.org—assailed her for "scenes of crude sexuality, which are not conducive to an understanding of the emancipation of woman." It also calls her book The Pianist "Three hundred pages of brutal recklessness, perverse psychologies and destructive feminine genealogy, intended only to denounce the irremediable inheritance of evil, sin, violence in every form of love." This, in turn prompted the editors of The Literary Saloon, who have been following the story (such as in this note), to ask, "And what exactly is wrong with denouncing 'the irremediable inheritance of evil, sin, violence in every form of love'?"

Senior Amazon exec realizes company has never made money, is sent to China . . .
The retailer saying that it, not Wal–Mart, is the world's largest retailer, is expanding into China. According to a report on ChinaDaily.com, Amazon.com has bought China's leading Internet retailer, Joyo.com, for $75 million. The report says Amazon intends to "keep on its low–price strategy," because "the price competition of Chinese online stores has not yet stopped in the last few months." What's more, the report says "Diego Piacentini, senior vice president for worldwide retail and marketing of Amazon Co., told reporter of Beijing Morning Post lately" that "'Amazon.com once has not got any profit in seven years, thus we are not in a rush to get payoff in China.'"

Little Red Book stays in the red . . .
An extremely rare first edition of Chairman Mao Tse–tung's legendary Little Red Book has not only failed to sell for the high price expected at a London auction—it has failed to sell at all. As a brief report in The Daily Telegraph reports, the book, which "contains a series of Mao's quotations on 33 different subjects and was intended for use by China's brigade teams," was expected to bring in as much as £3,000, but was withdrawn when it failed to meet its reserve price.

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

Wednesday 20 October 2004

Wal–Mart gets publicity for banning Stewart from stores ... but keeps selling him on its website . . .
On Monday, PW Newsline, and others, reported that the giant Wal–Mart chain—reportedly the "world's largest retailer," and undeniably one of the country's biggest booksellers—had cancelled its orders for America: The Book, by Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show because it included a series of satirical photos that pasted the heads of Supreme Court justices onto naked bodies. (See yesterday's MobyLives digest.) Today, however, the book is still available at Walmart.com. Meanwhile, none of the reports has made the perhaps relevant observation that Stewart has often satirized Wal–Mart on his show—so scathingly that he has even been cited for it on news programs, such as in this transcript from the PBS television show Now With Bill Moyers, which, in an episode about Wal–Mart's treatment of its employees, used a Daily Show clip about the chain.

Breaking news: Hollinghurst wins Booker . . .
A "tale of a young, gay man dazzled by drugs, power and money in Margaret Thatcher's London" has won this year's Booker Prize, reports Beth Gardiner in an Associated Press wire story. The £50,000 prize went to The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, as announced at a ceremony held at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster, central London. "It's very amazing to me that the long, solitary process of writing a novel should lead to a moment like this," Hollinghurst told the crowd. Hollinghurst was considered a long shot, with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas considered the favorite. But according to a BBC News wire report, judging chair Chris Smith, a Member of Parliament, says it came down to a "big three" including Hollinghurst, Mitchell and Colm Toibin for The Master. "It was down to a very difficult decision between three books," he said. It seems Hollinghurst nonetheless thought his chances were slim. "I hardly know where I am. My whole psychological technique for dealing with this evening was to convince myself I wasn't going to win it."

MORE: A BBC News backgrounder traces Hollinghurst's considerable background as a novelist, translator, professor and editor at the Times Literary Supplement.

Free information vs. Free enterprise . . .
It's becoming the bane of existence for news logs, blogs, and digests such as MobyLives: registration and sign–on requirements demanded by an increasing number of online mainstream publications. But the responsive rise in the sharing of sign–on names and passwords is, in turn, presenting those publications with a problem of their own, notes Olga Kharif in this Business Week report. "Community registration systems," she observes, thwart a publication's ability to keep its information exclusive, monitor its readers and gather demographic information—in short, thwart their ability to advertise. Explains Kharif, "To boost ad sales, many content providers require viewers to answer questions about their gender, age, and income level before allowing access to their site. With that information, they can tell their advertisers exactly what kind of demographic groups they would be reaching and then charge a premium to advertise to those readers. Take away such registration, and the future of the $6.6 billion online advertising market begins to look fuzzy." Kharif's in–depth report also eplains other developments having a similar impact, such as "mirroring."

La plus se change, la plus c'est la meme chose . . .
When it comes to romance novels, the ones that get translated are usually either British or American, "and that puts a decidedly Anglo–Saxon spin to the romance read, no matter what the translation," observes Elisabetta Povoledo in an International Herald Tribune story. But in Matera, Italy, "a group of authors and editors met here this month to figure out what European women want . . . ." So what is it? "No cowboys," says Italian editor Alessandra Bazardi. "And no babies, or at least not on the cover." In Poland, "We're not interested in the paranormal," says literary agent Malgorzata Borkowska. Elsewhere in Europe tastes are more explicit. "Germans love erotic romance," reports Povoledo.

Patriot Act on steroids? . . .
To get an idea of how bookshops of the near–future might operate, stop in to your local library, suggests Alorie Gilbert in a CNet News wire story. She reports that "Hundreds of city and college libraries are placing special microchips, known as RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, on books in an effort to make libraries more efficient. The tags are central to a new breed of digital tracking system that can speed checkouts, keep collections in better order, and even alleviate repetitive strain injuries among librarians." Sounds great, but there is one serious complaint about RFIDs being raised: "consumer advocates are in an uproar," reports Gilbert. "They say the unchecked spread of the devices in libraries and elsewhere could spell disaster for privacy. They envision a future in which a network of hidden RFID readers track consumers' every move, their belongings and their reading habits . . . ."

Bush did it . . .
Last Friday was a sad day for Kilgore Trout fans—the star of several Kurt Vonnegut novels committed suicide, reports In These Times, "by drinking Drano at midnight on October 15 in Cohoes, New York, after a female psychic using tarot cards predicted that the environmental calamity George W. Bush would once again be elected president of the most powerful nation on the planet by a five–to–four decision of the Supreme Court, which included '100 percent of the black vote.'" Luckily, at least, Vonnegut had a final interview with Trout before his demise.

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

Tuesday 19 October 2004

Naked America too much for Wal–Mart . . .
The giant department store chain Wal–Mart, which has become a major retailer of bestselling books, has cancelled its orders for America: The Book, by Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show, "because of a satirical spread that pastes the heads of Supreme Court justices onto naked bodies," according to a report on the e–newsletter PW Newsline by Charlotte Abbott (unavailable as a link). Warner Books publisher Jamie Raab says the photos "really seemed to shake people up" at Wal–Mart.

Naked Wal–Mart too much for America . . .
Buried in the PW Newsline report about Wal–Mart's refusal to stock Jon Stewart's book (above) was a stunning nugget: "Last month, Walmart.com stopped carrying The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in response to a complaint from the Anti–Defamation League." The book, purporting to uncover a plot by Jews to take over the world and long ago proven fraudulent, is a vile tract that rivals Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf for the extent of its anti–Semitism, and the news that a major American retailer was still stocking it decades after its fraudulence seems to have merited no previous coverage in the mainstream media. A report by Rachel Pomerance on the JTA wire service, a Jewish news service, tells the story. She says the ADL, at first, didn't even ask "the world's largest retailer" to stop stocking "the quintessential anti–Semitic tract"— the organization simply asked the chain that likes to bill itself as "America's store" to correct its shameful description of the book at its online store, where it question the book's status as a forgery.

Filet of soul on ice . . .
The breathtakingly predictable news is out: reps for Martha Stewart have been shopping around a prison memoir. In fact, as Jacob Bernstein says in a New York magazine Intelligencer column (second item), the doyenne of domesticity was actually peddling the idea before she began serving her sentence, although the attempt was "hampered by the fact that so many publishers were at the Frankfurt Book Fair." Regardless, says Bernstein, "many are intrigued." Some, however, were not—as one "bemused book–industry observer" put it, "You'd think that they would wait until she got out to pitch this so that she has the credibility to do it as redemption story."

Shock and awe absorbers . . .
In his book, The Fall of Baghdad, Jon Lee Anderson takes an unfiltered look at the war in Iraq. And, as Robert Birnbaum observes in an interview with Anderson for The Morning News, "the first four or five chapters bring out a sense of the conditions and culture in Iraq and that it wouldn't have taken any great effort for any intelligence–gathering to understand that our incursion into the country was not going to be greeted with music and flowers." The conversation continues: JA: I know. I don't know where they were. RB: You didn't do anything more complicated than talk to people. JA: That's right. RB: And it was present in every conversation. JA: Yeah. Every conversation."

What Zelda saw . . .
She's one of those unfortunates famous mostly for having been a tortured soul—Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Now, however, decades after her tragic death, she is getting attention for her artwork. As Nathan Duke reports in a Times Ledger story, a gallery at Jamaica's (NY) Queens Library is hosting an exhibit of her drawings and paintings, called "Zelda, by Herself," which includes "storybook illustrations, New York cityscapes, religious scenes and colorful paper dolls. Most of the works were produced in the 1930s or 1940s and have remained in the attic of Eleanor Lanahan, Zelda Fitzgerald's granddaughter, for half a century." Says the Lanahan, "The fairy–tale paintings aren't really for kids. They're kind of scary." One, for example, "shows the Big Bad Wolf in a dress, high heels and a veil, with lips puckered and wearing sunglasses."

Making the "movers and shakers in black British writing" say cheese . . .
"Who are the movers and shakers in black British writing? And can they all fit on one staircase?" asks Kevin Le Gendre in a story for The Independent. The question is prompted by his assignment to cover a photo shoot looking to replicate the famous photo of jazz greats gathered on a Harlem stoop by gathering 50 of Britain's leading black writers onto a staircase at the British Library. "This sense of deep roots, of prolonged presence is more than apparent when you direct your eye from James Berry, whose suave, sprightly appearance belies his 80 summers, at the foot of the staircase to Diran Adebayo, the thirtysomething looking customarily spruce a few flights up. Another glance reveals Ben Okri, Bernadine Evaristo, Fred D'Aguiar, Karen McCarthy, Courttia Newland and Gary Younge . . . "

Next up: Who was in the kitchen with Dinah? . . .
It looks like the real thing: a government report that looks an awful lot like the 9/11 Commission report that was just nominated for a National Book Award . . . except it isn't the 9/11 report. It's The Final Report of the National Commission on Who Let the Dogs Out. As this posting from The Banterist reveals, it includes transcripts of NORAD intercepts, such as this excerpt from page 26:
NORAD: We have a report the dogs got out. Can you confirm?
ASPCA: Repeat, please.
NORAD: CENTCOM is telling us the dogs got out. Can you confirm?
ASPCA: Dogs?
ASPCA: Let me check. [8 second silence] Yes, they got out.
NORAD: Who let the dogs out?

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

Monday 18 October 2004

The award to Stephen King wasn't enough: The National Book Awards are killing the culture with their damned obscure books! They must be stopped! Stopped, I tell you! . . .
Are the unfamous novels being nominated for the National Book Awards killing the book business? That's what some insiders tell the New York Times' Edward Wyatt for this report, which notes that four of the books nominated for the fiction award have sold less than 900 copies, and the fifth has only sold 2500 according to Nielsen BookScan. What's more, "Barnes & Noble.com and Amazon.com, were caught flat–footed by the National Book Award finalists. Both report waits of four days to two weeks" for some of the titles. TimeWarner Book Group chairman Larry Kirschbaum tells Wyatt. "We are completely closing ourselves off from the culture at large."

And Another Thing: As previously mentioned on MobyLives, not everyone feels the nominee getting the most attention, the report by the 9/11 Commission, is all that satisfactory. As Scott McLemee writes in a commentary for Newsday, some feel the book is a "whitewash." But more importantly, he writes, "It is unfortunate that Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib was not nominated for the National Book Award. But it is much more troubling, over the long run, to realize that no other book of investigative journalism comes to mind as a candidate. And so, by default, we honor an expose of government failure — prepared by a government commission. If journalists are happy to serve as stenographers to power, then the only people seriously questioning authority will be folks who already have it."

The Booker Prize is stronger than ever . . . if you overlook the fact that last year's winner was unreadable . . .
In comparison with the suddenly–embattled National Book Awards in the US, the biggest prize in Britain, the Booker Prize, has recently been revamped and, after years of being attacked for picking obscure or politically correct books, it's back picking crowd pleasers. And, as Robert McCrum reports in his weekly column for The Observer, this year's list of candidates is strong indeed. "At the moment, I suspect even the jury has no inkling about the outcome . . . . Anything goes."

The unruly women ruling the British publishing scene . . .
A "handful of female players control the fate of the British book industry," writes Vanessa Thorpe in a report for The Observer. Women such as Caroline Michel, Amanda Ridout and Victoria Barnsley, who all work for HarperCollins "are the women who decide what you will be reading next year." But, says Thorpe, "'sisterhood,' it seems, is not always the right word to describe this tight network of top businesswomen," and after a series of expensive and high–profile deals didn't pan out too well, "tensions between at least three of the most influential women in publishing have reached breaking point."

Achebe says no . . .
"One of Africa's most prominent literary icons, Chinua Achebe, has rejected a national honors award from his government in Nigeria in protest at the 'dangerous' state of the country," according to a Reuters wire story. In a letter to Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, Achebe wrote, "Nigeria's condition today under your watch is, however, too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honor awarded me." This, after another Nigerian literary giant, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, earlier this year "warned that Nigeria was heading for a 'violent implosion.'"

British libraries on borrwed time? . . .
Despite a British government claim that "it has rescued the public library movement from years of decline and underfunding," a new study finds that the British library system "has lost a third of its readers in the last eight years and is still haemorrhaging at the same rate," reports John Ezard in a Guardian story. Some are blaming a 17.9 % rise in spending on information technology, as opposed to, well, books. Libraries minsiter Andrew McIntosh says, "Inevitably the public library of the 21st century will be different to its equivalent 40 years ago. But books are here to stay because people want them, and they will be a key element in the library service."

Wrong kind of fame? . . .
Australian author—and former British TV star—Clive James says "I fired myself from the small screen" to try to "find a path back to normality." As an Associated Press wire story reports, James has "launched a scathing attack on the thirst for fame" that he blames on TV. He says "We should ... do our best to get back to a state where fame, if we have to have it, is at least dependent on some kind of achievement."

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

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This week's fiction:

"The Old Greek"
(from Del Sol Review)

"Stranded at the Top of a Ferris Wheel With Judy Long, County Fairgrounds, April 7, 1982"
(from StorySouth)

This week's poetry:

(from Massachusetts Review)

"stow stay stow stay"
(from Trout)

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.


The Stories of Anton Chekhov

Zembla: The Official Site of the Vladimir Nabokov Society

The Complete Review

GoodReports: Canadian book news

Poetry Daily

Librarian.net: Putting the rarin' back in librarian

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

The Collins Library Almanac

Author interviews at IdentityTheory.com

Stump the Bookseller

Online Etymology Dictionary

Visual Thesaurus

Project Gutenberg

Columbia World of Quotations


Herman Melville's Arrowhead

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All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.