a MobyLives guest column

25 October 2004 — When the vice–president can twist Senator John Kerry's words so that we start snickering at the idea of waging a "sensitive war," we have left the morally ambiguous territory of Graham Greene, for whom such oppositions or seeming paradoxes were paramount. It was Greene, after all, who said of Browning's poem "Bishop Blougram's apology" that it could be the epigraph for his life's work, referring to the passage "Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things/ The honest thief, the tender murderer, The superstitious atheist . . . We watch while these in equilibrium keep/ The giddy line midway."
      It is not known what John Kerry, sensitive warrior, appreciator of nuance, thinks of Graham Greene, but it is unlikely he has not read him. The novel The Quiet American is in the air these days, now that American idealism is again tested in distant chaotic lands of which we know little and understand even less, and it seems impossible to think that the precursor to the American involvement in Vietnam—namely the French rule of the 1950s, and the first infiltration of American agents seeking to stop communism in its tracks—could have escaped this veteran's attention in the form of the finest novel to come from that conflict. Whether he would identify with Greene's description of the eponymous Pyle, a Boston man (Harvard, but it could have been Yale), as an innocent who "never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture hall" is less likely, perhaps.
      Greene has always been a difficult writer for Americans to deal with, so frank was his contempt for American materialism and, especially, he noted, 'American liberalism.' Were Greene alive and writing today, it would be this liberal—not reactionary—spirit he would identify in the Bush administration's crusading zeal, the endless terrifying unrealizable bromides on freedom, democracy, etc., that animated poor Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. Paul Wolfowitz would be the Pyle who survived, and made it to the top.
      "The terrifying weight of this consumer society oppresses me," Greene said. He made friends with American enemies and rivals like Torrijos and Castro, and enjoyed toying with American officialdom, even when it risked keeping him out of the country, which was bound to happen once he confessed to having been a member of the Communist Party, at Oxford, for four weeks as a student lark. His Americans are frequently caricatures—there is more than one in The Quiet American. More than once is Coca–Cola thrown around as a sneer, or insult. One of the comedians in the novel of that name, set in Haiti under the regime of 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, is a ridiculous figure named Smith, known as the Presidential Candidate for the one time he ran, against Truman, on the vegetarian platform and polled 10,000 votes. "I never anticipated so much support," he says.
      Yet Smith turns out to be an interesting case: the sort of American idealist, like Pyle, that Greene feared if not hated, but admirable for his grave impassive dignity, and his courage. American readers who would like a favorite author better disposed toward their country learn to downplay the mockery and the condescension next to that awesome empathy for weak and flawed human beings, the furtive, the afraid and the fleeing, who dominate every novel. With Greene, the questioning did not end even as the honors and attention grew, and for him everything came down to man's private quest for redemption, and the consolations of faith, if one could find it.
      "If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith": These are among the last lines in The Comedians, from the hand of the Communist Doctor Magiot whose death is imminent. But they continue to form a final question, as often happens in a Greene novel: "There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?" In the late novel Monsignor Quixote the Communist mayor pondering the death of his beloved friend the Catholic priest asks a similar question: "For how long, he wondered with a kind of fear, was it possible for this love of his to continue? And to what end?"
      Being compelled by the dangerous edge of things, that 'giddy line midway,' makes Greene a perfect author of our times, 13 years after his death, 100 years after his birth. The writer "speaks up for the victims," he wrote, "and the victims change." Even the murderer, the zealot and the self–righteous fool attract, as recognizable human types, a kindly curiosity from the wise, sad, amused pen of the author who constantly measured the need for involvement, engagement, against our mortal detachment or neglect. This is an author for whom absolutes like my way or the highway, or "You're either with us or against us," run up against their human limits. The gift of Graham Greene that endures is when one can read lines like (Magiot's again) "Catholics and Communists have been guilty of great crimes, but at least they have not stood aside . . . and been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate"—and be not only horrified, but inexpressibly moved.

Eric Weinberger teaches expository writing at Harvard University. His criticism appears in The New York Times, The Nation, and elsewhere.

Previous column; THE OTHER FACE OF TARIQ RAMADAN ... While Islamic writer and scholar Tariq Ramadan becomes a cause celebre with his blocked attempt to enter the U.S., Bernard–Henri Lé provides a stinging indictment that Ramadan is an anti–Semite.

©2004 Eric Weinberger

  Don't want to register for a site but need log on i.d.s and passwords? Get them at BugMeNot.com.

MobyLives towers above all other literary weblogs.
                                    — The Complete Review

Friday 29 October 2004

Maybe it's just God telling Amazon: stop killing publishers. Did anybody think of that? . . .
"Tech snafus" at Amazon.com are costing more and more third–party retailers more and more moneys, according to a Seattle Times report by Monica Soto Ouchi. Prairie Lea Books, for example, sold 1,000 books in July, then saw that number drop by half in August. Proprietor Tyler Eastman says, "There are constant outages." Ouchi reports, "Some days, he can't transfer money to his bank account. Other times, buyers can't access his third–party listings." Trying to buy some used books herself to test the site, Ouchi reports she was unable to do so on three tries. Another used book seller, Rebecca Oliver, tells Ouchi, "The mood right now is you just can't depend on Amazon anymore, and you have to go to other venues. It's just so many things."

In other words, they could all cancel their orders for Death of a Salesman . . .
They are some of the most colorful, popular, hardworking and legendary people in the book business: sales reps, the people who go into a book store on behalf of publishers or distributors and convince the buyer that customers are definitely, no question about it, absolutely for certain going to love a particular book. But a new development in the U.K. "puts a question mark over the long–term future of the rep," says Ralph Baxter in a Publishing News report. The development? As of January 1, the U.K.'s huge bookselling chain Waterstone's will no longer take orders from sales reps. "Instead, all titles will now be ordered electronically from branches." Baxter says "Larger houses have welcomed the move," because, as one tells him, it "systematises the process effectively." But smaller publishers, he says, "are more sceptical" of teleordering because buyers can change their mind after reps leave the store . . . if they continue to visit buyers, that is.

Nelson uncovers shocking secret of publishing industry: Retailers can return even thousands of books at a time, screwing publishers and customers — on sheer whim! . . .
First, Wal–Mart cancelled orders for Jon Stewart's bestseller America (The Book) because it contained a photo of naked bodies with the heads of Supreme Court justices pasted on them. Now, according to Sara Nelson in a New York Post report that uses "it's" as a possessive, the giant retailer is returning thousands of copies of George Carlin's bestseller When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops because, as spokesman Karen Burk explained, "We did not order this book. It was shipped to us in error by one of our distributors." What's more, exactly as with the Stewart book, even though the brick and mortar stores are not selling the book, the store's website is. Meanwhile, as Nelson notes, it's "unlikely" that thousands of books "would have been shipped from the warehouse by accident." But, as she also notes, "Retailers can return any unsold books to the publisher or distributor, at any time, at the publisher's expense."

Some little towns are more equal than others . . .
Until last year, few people in small, remote Motihari, India, had even heard of the most famous man ever born there: Eric Arthur Blair, who wrote under the name George Orwell. But then, "a troop of scholars and journalists arrived from New Delhi for the centenary of Orwell's birth on June 25." And now, says Peter Foster in this story for The Daily Telegraph, the town is trying to honor Orwell by turning the house where he was born, the son of "an opium agent in the Colonial Service," into a museum. "There is much work to be done," however, reports Foster. The house "is on the verge of surrendering completely to the elements. The roofline is bowed and buckled by years of monsoon rains, while the southern wall has been undermined by a large grapefruit tree. Only the stone floor looks solid, cracked as it was by an earthquake that almost levelled Motihari in 1934." Still, Debapriya Mookherjee, "a leading Rotarian," declares, "We shall rebuild the place, restoring it the way it was when Mr Orwell was born here, and placing signboards outside to tell visitors his story."

Whiting Winners Wevealed . . .
As mentioned in yesterday's MobyLives news digest, it's literary prize season, and this year's winners of one of America's more prominent set of literary prizes, the Whiting Writers Awards, were handed out in Manhattan at the New York Public Library last night. As a brief Associated Press wire story reports, the winners were "fiction writers Daniel Alarcon, Kirsten Bakis and Victor LaValle, and poets Catherine Barnett, Dan Chiasson and A. Van Jordan. Also cited were playwrights Elana Greenfield and Tracey Scott Wilson, and nonfiction writers Allison Glock and John Jeremiah Sullivan." Each received $35,000.

The slow acknowledgement of Imre Kertesz . . .
The first time Hungarian author Imre Kertesz met Americans, they were soldiers rescuing him from a concentration camp in Nazi Germany." Now, 60 years later, the 2002 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature drew "cheers and a standing ovation" at his first–ever appearance here, reports Claudia La Rocco in an Associated Press wire story. "Excited New Yorkers recently packed an auditorium at the 92nd Street Y" for the reading, says La Rocco. The 74–year–old Kertesz read in his native tongue, but the event constituted "a triumphant evening," said audience member and Norton editor Robert Weil, who is currently editing the collected works of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi.

MORE: Astute readers will note that the AP report says the reading took place "recently." The event actually took place almost two weeks ago, on 19 October. As an item on The Literary Saloon noted a few days later, "Stunningly, there has been no other media coverage of the event (or the author) so far" — except for one report, and an in–depth one at that, filed the next day by Ron Hogan for Beatrice.com.

Quel frommage . . .
It's the biggest phenomenon in French book culture just now: The French book market is experiencing a glut of books "devoted to deciphering and explaining the other red, white, and blue." According to Elisabeth Eaves in this report for Slate, "Parisian editors are dining out on a new subgenre that includes tirades, serious academic tomes, election–timed quickies by celebrity journalists, and even a novel, Frenchy, about a Parisian living in Texas when the United States invaded Iraq." The general impression? "America is a shark. Full of religious zealots. Who are deeply divided against themselves."

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

Thursday 28 October 2004

If at first you don't succeed, try again in another country . . .
It was one of the first and most popular Internet book retailers, the place that spawned the webzine Salon—Borders.com, the online incarnation of the giant Borders bookstore chain. But the site eventually failed and was taken over in a deal with Amazon.com. Now, a Reuters wire story, seemingly unaware of the history, says Borders "has launched its first online store for the British market through an alliance with Amazon.co.uk."

Used book e–retailer Abebooks expanding into Spanish market AND new books . . .
While Borders tries to enter the British online market via Amazon, Abebooks, a rapidly growing player in Internet booksales, is entering the Spanish online market by purchasing a Spanish e–retailer. As Leigh Phillips reports in a story for Digital Media Europe, Abebooks announced "the acquisition of Iberlibro.com, a Spain-based platform for used and antiquarian books sales in the global Spanish-speaking community. This announcement comes just a week after Casa del Libro, a bookstore chain in Spain, uploaded a quarter of a million new books onto the Abebooks marketplace."

And out of all the writing about prizes, the award for best writing about prizes goes to Alan Riding . . .
You've probably noticed the non–stop hoopla of late: it's literary award season, starting earlier this month with the awarding in Sweden of the Nobel Prize for literature, followed by the Booker Prize in England and, next month, the National Book Awards in the U.S. and the Goncourt, the Prix Femina and others in France. Still to come beyond that: the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Awards in America, The Governor General's Awards in Canada, the Whitbread and the Orange Prize in the U.K., and the IMpac Dublin LIterary Award in Ireland. Then there's the newly created German Book Prize, meant to be similar to the Booker and the Goncourt. What's up with all the prizes? Alan Riding, in an International Herald Tribune article, takes a look and decides "while the laureates come away with applause and a check, the true promoters and beneficiaries of this ritual are others. With book sales falling almost everywhere, the publishing industry desperately needs these prizes to create an aura of excitement around the faltering world of fiction. If a publisher's author wins, all the better for sales. But even without a winner, publishing houses rally around the competition to bolster the book."

The Da Vinci code, cracked: Do it again with a different title . . .
Just when it seemed as if the endless promotion of even the merest trivia related to the The Da Vinci Code was, perhaps, starting to recede, by dropping the title of author Dan Brown's next book at a book industry function, his publisher, Stephen Rubin of Doubleday, has managed to place a story in the New York Times (by Edward Wyatt) and seemingly begin a whole new phenomenon. The book that is "likely to be the most anticipated novel to hit stores in years" will be called The Solomon Key. Clues to the subject matter are hidden in the cover of Da Vinci, reports Wyatt; all that's being said by the publisher is that the "book's primary focus will be the Freemasons. Meanwhile, the release date has not yet been anounced— "with the hardcover Da Vinci Code still regularly in the top five on every national best–seller list, Doubleday keeps pushing back the paperback date," says Wyatt.

Dunn there, Dunn that . . .
Stephen Dunn is about to publish his first book since his Pulitzer Prize–winning Different Hours in 2001. In an interview with Elissa Wald for Poets & Writers magazine, Dunn talks about his writing habits, what makes a good poetry teacher, and how winning the Pulitzer impacted his life: "It was very sweet, really. And it tends to precede you wherever you go. The other side, of course, is that I likely have more enemies now."

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

Wednesday 27 October 2004

Journalist kidnapped in Iraq, then freed thanks to al–Sadr, signs deal with S&S . . .
An American journalist who was kidnapped by Shiite insurgents in Iraq last summer has signed a book contract with Simon & Schuster. According to an Associated Press wire story, Micah Garen was kidnapped along with his Iraqi translator, Amir Doushi, from Nairiyah while taking pictures for a documentary on the looting of archeological sites. He was later released thanks to the intervention of Muqtada al–Sadr. S&S executive editor Geoff Kloske said in a statement that Garen's story "shows determination and love overcoming war and terror, despite great cultural and physical distance."

Wall Street analysts incresingly disenchanted with Amazon . . .
Announcing its third quarter results last week, Amazon.com tried to emphasize its pro–forma sales increase, but the rumbling amongst Wall Street analysts is that Amazon's "days as a hot–shot dot–com may be behind it" because "the Internet retailer's slowing growth makes its business suspiciously similar to that of its brick–and–mortar peers." According to Elizabeth Lazarowitz in a Reuters wire story, "The keys to this shift are the company's decelerating revenue growth and its deteriorating operating margins." Analysts from several major firms, including J.P. Morgan and Piper Jaffray, have given forecasts of decreasing growth, she says. In particular, "Amazon's pledge to continue to offer free shipping to draw customers and decision to boost its operating expenses by 23 percent to expand its infrastructure rattled investors since both will bite further into its weakening operating margins."

French politician's book causes outrage with its suggestion that the famously secular government, well, build a mosque or two . . .
His naked aggression to take over the presidency of his former mentor, Jacques Chirac, and his tactic of playing to the far right and calling himself pro–Bush, have made Nicolas Sarkozy, France's Finance Minister, a galvanizing figure in French politics. Now, he's got a new book out that's stirring up even more controversy. As Craig S. Smith writes in a New York Times report, Sarkozy's book, The Republic, the Religions, the Hope, "grabbed headlines" by the way it "presses the hottest button in French political discourse these days: the separation of church and state." Among its "most controversial assertions," says Smith, is its suggestion that, rather than continue to restrict religion in order to maintain a secular society, the government should "help finance the construction of mosques." According to Smith, "Sarkozy argues that suppressing the construction of mosques will only drive Islam underground, where militant fundamentalism can thrive." Meanwhile, "Some people have suggested that Mr. Sarkozy timed publication of the book . . . in order to leave office with maximum publicity."

Bush supporter, Kerry suppporter, sex offender: Literary types keeping their associations clear . . .
Among the celebrities politicking for the presidential candidates, some prominent literary types have started showing up on the campaign trail, too. In yesterday's Reliable Source column in the Washington Post, Richard Leiby writes briefly that an appearance on behalf of John Kerry by John Grisham "helped push donations to an 'incredible,' near six–figure sum," according to the organizer. Meanwhile, Random House executive editor Daniel Menaker writes in this report for Slate about his trip to Ohio to "start whatever it is I'm going to do with regard to voter enablement" as a volunteer for ACT (America Coming Together). However, "I am not a felon," he writes. "I say this because back in June USA Today revealed that ACT had hired convicted felons to canvas in Missouri—sex offenders, burglars, etc."

First, they take defensive martial arts training from mimes . . .
"Fiona Lam plans to seek out mothers in parks and pregnant passengers on the SkyTrain . . . . In Edmonton, Jannie Edwards and Wendy McGrath will read at the city's Waste Management Plant." Yes, it's Random Acts of Poetry Week in Canda, and 27 poets from around the country will be "popping into parks, hair salons, cafés, supermarkets, libraries and wherever else tickles their fancy to delight randomly chosen strangers with bursts of poetry." According to a Globe & Mail
story by Alexandra Gill, "The lucky few who encounter these strolling minstrels of verse will receive a free book of poetry," courtesy of Abebooks.com, the Victoria–based on–line bookstore co–sponsoring the event with the Victoria READ Society. The British Columbia poet "who spearheaded the event," Wendy Morton, says the acts "will be like an island of beauty in the middle of their day." Or, as Vancouver poet Billeh Nickerson put it, "Reading poetry to strangers is a very intimate act. It's kind of like a poetic lap dance."

New dictionary contains no entry for "oops" . . .
First, as it neared publication, it received worldwide publicity—as in this excited report by Clive Ellis and Neil Tweedie frm the January 31, 2003 edition of The Daily Telegraph. It reports that "The New Dictionary of National Biography" is "one of the most ambitious literary projects undertaken," with over 10,000 contributors making it "twice as long as long as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. On September 23, 2004, another Telegraph report announced the publication date had arrived, and the new dictionary was being hailed as "the greatest cultural enterprise on earth." Ahem. Less than a month later, critics have had a chance to look over it, and, well, as another Telegraph story reports, the new edition "is riddled with errors." Elizabeth Day says a "number" of experts have found "glaring inaccuracies . . . and say that the lax editorial process makes a mockery of the £7,500 retail price."

Truth so good it's fiction . . .
It seemed too good to be true—one of those oddball discoveries that make fiction writers scramble for a pencil: Calling themselves "The Vagabonds," Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and Henry Ford, accompanied by naturalist John Burroughs, often "roamed the continent together on camping trips, roughing it," often with "a gaggle of retainers," and, as well, presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. As Nicholas Delbanco explains in this essay from The Boston Review, "no trio of entrepreneurs, I'd guess, has done more to alter the physical face of our nation than Edison and Firestone and Ford . . . It intrigued me then and intrigues me still to picture this quartet of eminences engaging in log-splitting contests and rambling over hill and dale when in a time not all that distant they would engender parking lots and interstate highways and arc-lit shopping malls." But turning it into a novel presented some immediate problems, such as the "fear the descendants of Firestone or Ford might prove litigious." Delbanco tells the story of how he persevered to write his newest, The Vagabonds, and includes an excerpt.

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

Tuesday 26 October 2004

Coulter terrified by close encounter with calories . . .
She was two and a half hours late, but the author of the current bestseller How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must), Ann Coulter, isn't known for being polite, and that probably isn't why two men tried to hit her with pies while she gave a speech in Arizona last Thursday night. According to a report by J.D. Wallace for the website of television station KOLD, Coulter was speaking to a crowd of 2400 people at an event organized by the Arizona College Republicans, with a crowd of undescribed size outside protesting her presence, when, "As Coulter addressed a question about terrorism, she stopped mid–statement: 'You take away the terrorism and liberals would hate . . .' at that Coulter gasped as she looked to her left, and began backing away from the podium. Two men ran by, on–stage, and each threw a pie a her." They missed, however, and "were mobbed as they tried to exit the auditorium." A police spokesman says "We're looking into all the charges that could apply.  We have assault, criminal damage to the screen and floor and all the manhours it will take to clean it." Coulter, meanwhile, was apparently terrified and says she is considering travelling with a bodyguard. "It's a crazy time and liberals are out of their minds," she explained.

MORE: . . . An Associated Press wire story has a few more details, such as where the event took place (at the University of Arizona in Tuscon); the names of the attackers (William Zachary Wolff and Philip Edgar Smith); what kind of pies they were (custard); and the fact that they didn't miss Coulter entirely—one of the pies hit her in the shoulder.

Recent history looks bad for history . . .
"With fat biographies of sundry Founding Fathers appearing every other month and bookstore tables still piled high with odes to the Greatest Generation, the public's appetite for the American past appears as healthy as ever," observes Matthew Price. But in a Boston Globe article, Price reports that University of Georgia historian Peter Charles Hoffer says "we're being sold a bill of goods." Hoffer says the profession is in trouble, and he has written a new book that is a withering attack on some of the "celebratory popularizers who often value rousing narrative over scholarly rigor and academic specialists whose jargon–riddled, often dour monographs ignore the ordinary reader." For anyone who's been keeping track of recent plagiarism scandals, his title says it all: Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud — American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin.

Some were more furious than others . . .
Late last month, marking the tenth anniversary of the first ever Furious Flower conference, a second Furious Flower gathering was held at James Madison University, with an all–star cast of poets including Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Ethelbert Miller, Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, and more. In a report by Jamie D. Walker for SeeingBlack.com, organizer Joanne Gabbin explains that the first conference "celebrated a century that gave rise to the new Negro Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement and witnessed the genius of such poets as Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Margaret Walker, Robert Hayden, and Gwendolyn Brooks," while the second conference aims to "usher in the promise of Black poetic expression in the twenty–first century." Among the readings, "Rita Dove . . . read a lively poem in honor of Hattie McDaniel . . . Askia Tourè read a moving poem about Pharoah Sanders . . . Ethelbert Miller read an intense, passionate poem called 'Emmitt Till Looks at a Photo Album from Iraq,'" and Haki Madhubuti read a poem "called 'Butt for Sale'; a scathing attack on the personal and political life of renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr."

Bloom again . . .
The Bloom County comic strip was huge in the 1980s, but weird. "Consider," as Kathy Balog writes in this USA Today story: "The strip's oddball cast of characters, who skipped between reality and the surreal, foreshadowed today's mainstream mix of fiction and truth, even down to their 1989 exit. Prophetically, the original comic strip ended when Donald Trump, the future star of NBC reality show The Apprentice, buys the comic strip and tells Bloom County's cast: 'You're fired.'" Now, the creator, Berke Breathed, has returned with a new strip featuring the star of Bloom County, Opus the penguin, and a retrospective book that looks back at the original strip, Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best. As Balog notes, the book "lends itself to wicked comparisons of what was then and what is now." Says the Pulitzer Prize–winning Breathed, "It's hard to push the envelope anymore. If Bloom County were starting now, I could never get away with what I did then. I'm getting my hand slapped more than I ever was in the '80s. It's a genre that doesn't want to get shook up."

It's either the covers or the fact that his name is memorable . . .
He's probably "he only designer that many book buyers can actually name," notes Guy Dixon, which is part of what gives Knopf book designer Chip Kidd "a celebrity status, at least in publishing houses and graphic–arts departments, of rock–star proportions." Then there's the fact that "he has created some of the most recognizable covers of the 1990s, from the dinosaur–bone image for Jurassic Park to the black–and–white photograph of a horse's mane below a white header on the cover of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses." Or is it the parties he's famous for throwing in the Upper Eastside apartment he shares with partner, poet J.D. McClatchy? In a profile for The Globe & Mail, Dixon notes that while Kidd struggles to avoid repeating himself, for his colleagues, there's the resentment "that they now have to act more like Kidd." For his part, Kidd says his fame is akin to being "the world's most famous plumber."


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

Monday 25 October 2004

More fear and loathing than last time . . .
In some of his greatest writing, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson covered the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, whom he famously savaged. Now, Thompson is back on the presidential campaign beat for Rolling Stone, and in this report, "Fear and Loathing, Campaign 2004," he finds himself looking back to that previous story. "Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush," he says. "Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him? If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a 'liberal' candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today—and who will be running it this time next year, if we don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd."

At Amazon, sales shoot up, but profits don't, and stocks tumble to the lowest point in a year as a result . . .
Officials at Amazon.com were crowing last week at the announcement that the company had tripled its pro–forma profits for the third quarter, but as Melanthia Mitchell reports in an Associated Press wire story, shares of Amazon's stock nonetheless "dropped to a 52–week low" late Friday, the day after the announcement. Why? The numbers were short of the numbers Wall Street expected due to Amazon's drastic discounts, which are keeping profits down despite the increased sales. Mitchell's distinction that Amazon's accounting of "pro–forma" profites, "which exclude stock-based compensation, operating expenses and other items," also points out a significant problem with the numbers. In short, says one analyst, "Investment in their infrastructure and technology, and lighter sales than expected, kind of contributed to it all."

Where books are dangerous . . .
One of the hottest books in China right now is available only through the black market, although "bootleg copies are on sale everywhere": China's Peasants: A Survey has "proved so controversial," reports Richard Spencer in a Daily Telegraph story, "that it was banned by the Communist authorities just a month after publication." According to Spencer, the book, by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, a husband and wife team, "chronicles official abuse, corruption and violence in their home province, Anhui, and has cast a harsh light on rural life in China" that has resonated with millions of other peasants.

Wilde tale . . .
"A vicious and previously unpublished diatribe against Oscar Wilde by his lover Lord Alfred Douglas" is one of the things in an archive of material by or related to Wilde set to be auctioned at Sotheby's on Friday. According to a report by John Vincent for The Independent, Douglas, whom Wilde called "Bosie," and who had "rejected his homosexual tendencies" and wrote the diatribe years later, attacked Wilde by saying, "He was one of the most powerful forces for evil that has happened in Europe for the last three hundred years," and that he had "literally sold himself to the Devil."

Incense! It's always a sign of something or other . . .
"While it has been suggested that Shakespeare dabbled with espionage and Catholic political activism," a new, rather more radical theory about the Bard will be presented next month at the restored Globe Theater: that Shakespeare was an adherent of a sect of Sufism. According to Vanessa Thorpe in a report for The Observer, "The respected academic Dr Martin Lings will put forward this thesis" in a lecture being delivered "as part of a week of events focusing on Islam to address concerns raised by the 'war on terror' and improve understanding of the links between Islam and British culture." Among other examples, Lings "argues that the journey of Edgar, in King Lear, is like the Sufi's search for truth, in which the seeker is helped by angelic characters and impeded by diabolic agents." He also says, "The famous line of Prospero's 'We are such stuff as dreams are made on' is a complete fit, he claims, adding that King Lear's words also eerily echo Sufi ideas when he tells his faithful daughter: 'Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, the gods themselves throw incense.'"

What's so funny 'bout peace, love, understanding, and the occasional vicious epithet? . . .
There are a number of reasons why Elvis Costello has not been the subject of a serious biography. As Phil Hogan notes in a review for The Observer, "in the years since his gawky genius first excited the punk prophets of 1977, his career has not been one to invite simple categorisation." There is, as well, another reason: "no pop artist guarded his secrets with a greater sense of physical menace." But in Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello, Graeme Thomson has risked the wrath of Elvis to consider both his genius and his dark side (such as the time he called Ray Charles an "ignorant, blind nigger") . . . and to postulate what's behind it all: a father who had to give up making the kind of music he loved.

Suite justice . . .
In France, a book whose author was killed at Auschwitz "has taken the world of publishing by storm," and is such a hit that "a vigorous campaign is underway" for the author "to be posthumously awarded France's most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt." A story in The Guardian by Jon Henley reports that "Suite Francaise, the first two parts of what Irene Nemirovsky originally intended to be a five–volume epic, has been hailed by ecstatic French critics as 'a masterpiece' and 'probably the definitive novel of our nation in the second world war'." Why is the book only appearing now? Because Nemirovsky's daughter, Denise Nemirovsky, unlike her mother, escaped the Nazis, and got away with little other than "the thick leather binder that had never left her mother's side." She explains, "I did not know what it was, but I knew it was precious to mother." Reports Henley, "It was not until April this year that Denise was finally confident that she would not be betraying her mother by having the work published." "I had always rejected her victimisation, disliked the fact that what remained of her was emotion at her fate," she says. "What pleases me, after all this time, is that that is now outweighed by emotion at her talent."

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

Visit the mothership:



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

Write to Moby
Letters policy: All letters must be signed. Also, please say where you’re writing from — either an affiliation or hometown.
All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.