by Dennis Loy Johnson

15 November 2004 — On the cigarette boat out to his private island, I thought about the irony of it all: Rick Moody, millionaire glamour–puss writer, holed up in fear on his private island. "They're trying to kill me!" he'd wailed on the phone. "You've got to help me!"
      What good was all his filthy luchre doing him now?
      He'd called on me for help before, secretly, of course, to get him out of various fixes and to help him with his ongoing spelling problem. But this time . . . .
      I pulled out a cigarette but the guy driving the boat, who was wearing an outfit with epaulettes and a tricorn hat, stopped me. "You can't smoke here," he said. "But it's a cigarette boat," I said. "That may be true," he said, "but none of us really know what that means." "I see," I lied. I decided not to argue.
      When I got there I found the place crawling with security, a bunch of heavy set guys with ear pieces and Uzis slung over their shoulders. It was a big place, dark, creepy, with a moat and a drawbridge. Moody was inside surrounded by toadies peeling grapes for him. He leapt up and grabbed me by the lapels and said, "You gotta help me! You gotta get me out of this! Those women at the Times—Caryn James, Laura Miller, Deborah Solomon—they're trying to kill me! I mean, when Michiko Kakutani gets out of her court–mandated anger management classes, I'm a dead man!"
      I slapped him hard across the face. It was enjoyable so I did it again. "Snap out of it!" I told him. "Now start from the beginning. What the hell happened?"
      "I don't know!" he cried. "I thought we were doing what they said. I mean, they said not to pick more than one token book from a small or independent press, because that would decentralize power and be good for the book business on the whole, which they just can't have, because everybody knows that diversity just blows . . ."
      "Okay, you got that right. Go on."
      ". . . they said not to pick anything avant–garde or, you know, transgressive, or, well, interesting . . . "
      "Yeah yeah. Why expand the notion of popular readability? It's easier to just sell the same few kinds of books over and over again to the average robotron American, so forth and so on. Continue."
      ". . . and they said to pick five women from New York."
      "Hold it," I said. "Stop right there—You thought they said five women from New York?"
      "Well, yeah," he said. "I mean, why would they want five men from New York. It's always five men from New York."
      I just looked at him and shook my head.
      "You mean—" He slapped a hand to his forehead. "Oh my god—they said men! I mis–heard them!"
      "Exactly. What's more, you picked five women with a short story aesthetic. I mean, were you drunk? Women, with an eye toward concision, poetry, thoughtful observation—sweet Jesus, were you trying to just kill Mother Literature?"
      He moaned and sank to his knees. "It was supposed to go to Roth, wasn't it?" he said.
      "Of course it was supposed to go to Roth, you numbskull," I told him. "It's just like when you got that Guggenheim for 35K even though you're a skillionaire, or when you gave your millionaire pal J–Franz the NEA—who needed it less? What book, what writer, what publisher, needed it less?"
      He was in tears by then, in a heap on the floor. I didn't have the heart to tell him it was all over for him, that the next time he wrote a really bad book, the critics were going to say it was bad this time.
      The poor bastard was on his own. There was nothing I could do for him.
      I left him there, prostrate on the floor and moaning, "The horror . . . the horror . . . ."
      I went and got back on the cigarette boat. I think even his staff knew the jig was up. They were all smoking as we cast off from the dock. But I took no comfort in this. I knew the worst was yet to come. After all, one of those damned low–selling, short–story–writing women was going to win that award. And there were still a few more women at the New York Times who hadn't sounded off about it yet.
      Mother of God, I thought as the cigarette boat headed out into the dark water. It was going to be the end of literature as we know it. And it was all Rick Moody's fault.
      Rick Moody is the worst judge of his generation.

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Friday 19 November 2004

LATE NEWS: Uncle of Edwidge Danticat dies in custody of Homeland Security after seeking asylum; family says medication denied to 81–year–old man . . .
Stories circulating on the Internet amongst the literatti have now been confirmed by a St. Petersburg Times report by David Adams: The elderly uncle of acclaimed novelist Edwidge Danticat has died while in the custody of US Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security after fleeing Haiti and seeking asylum in the US. Joseph Danticat, 81, a Baptist minister, had become the target of pro–Aristide gangs after Haitian police occupied his church and "took advantage of the church's upper floors to open fire on gang members in the streets below." Gang members subsequently burned the church to the ground and Danticat, who owned a valid US visa, fled to Florida, where he had previously visited family on a regular basis. This time Danticat was detained, along with his son, Maxo, who was travelling with him, when they asked to be granted asylum. According to Adams, "U.S. immigration officials took the Rev. Danticat to jail." There, according to the pastor's family, "Danticat's high blood pressure medication was taken away from him." The government denies this. Adams reports, "The medical details of what happened next are not clear. Danticat was moved to Jackson Memorial Hospital in downtown Miami; Homeland Security officials refused to allow the family to visit him there." Says his niece, "He died alone in a hospital bed."

The Gradations of Censorship, Lesson #57: Technically, it's not censorship if you can still make money off it . . .
A coroner in Britain is asking Amazon.com to stop selling a book about suicide after a teenager killed herself after reading it. A BBC News wire story says the coroner, Howard McCann, made the appeal after learning at an inquest that Sarah Cherry had read the book—unnamed in the report—before killing herself. "I was shocked that such a book should be readily available," McCann said. But an Amazon spokesman tells the BBC, "Our goal is to support freedom of expression and to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any title they might be seeking." But McCann protests that, " if you were to see this book on display, let's say in high street retailer, there would be objections from the majority of members of the public that such a book should be on display and indeed sold." Nonetheless, Amazon's spokesman said removing the book "amounted to censorship." The spokesman added, however, "If a title is banned we would of course immediately remove it."

Plus, the prize cup comes with a nice little square of dark chocolate next to it . . .
In France, a city of writers, it is probably the most famous hang–out of them all: Le Cafe de Flore, or simple, the Flore. It was where Ernest Hemingway went, and Jean–Paul Sartre after that, and where you're still liable to encounter Bernard–Henri Lévy and lots of other writers. The Flore also gives out one of France's most prestigious literary awards, as an Agence France Press wire story observes, and yesterday it announced that this years €6,100 prize has gone to a book written by an American, Autobiographie Erotique by bruce Benderson. Even though it's written by an American, the book, "about a homosexual tryst in Romania," has only been published in France.

No contest . . .
"In the wide, wide political spectrum of cable–news punditry—that is, Beltway Red and Blue, Republican and Democrat—Amy Goodman is a nice shade of shocking pink. She's a good old–fashioned lefty," reports Joe Hagan in a New York Observer profile. And now, as she tours in support of her book The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them, the 47–year–old anchor of Pacifica radio's Democracy Now! news program is showing up more and more on television, where she seems different because normally, as she tells Hagan, "It's the right debating the far right." "The Bush administration not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq exposed more than the Bush administration. It exposed a media that beat the drums for war for several years . . . Fox is easy to attack and it should be, but we're talking about ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, all of them." So far, she's gone on Tucker Carlson's new PBS program and given him a hard time ("I'm concerned about a right–wing takeover at PBS," she says) and MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Asked if she was nervous about being on the combative Matthews' program, Goodman responds, "I'm anxious about what happens to people in Iraq, I'm anxious about people covering Timor. I'm not anxious about going on Chris Matthews' show."

Farther Joe thwarted? . . .
The memoir Father Joe was an enormous success for author Tony Hendra last spring, but just as he was finishing up his promotion duties, his daughter, Jessica Hendra, accused him of having sexually abused her when she was a child. Now, as Sara Nelson suggests in a New York Post report, Jessica is writing her own memoir, while her father's publisher, Random House, may be losing interest in his next offering, a sequel to Father Joe. "Tony Hendra may have become a less desirable second-book author because of the cloud of controversy surrounding him," says Nelson. "While it's possible that the controversy will have abated by the time any new Hendra projects appeared, a book by Jessica Hendra coming at or about the same time would surely raise new questions."

Fear of thinking . . .
The coverage of the death of Jacques Derrida gave the diretor of the Forum for European Philosophy, Simon Glendinning, a "sinking feeling." "From the very first press releases carrying the news of his death it was clear that the papers were going to have a field day with the kind of depressingly familiar distortions of his thought that he had to face so often — and faced so graciously — when he was alive." Discussing that coverage in this Guardian article, reporter Richard Lea observes, "Perhaps it wouldn't be so depressing if this censure were confined to one dashing French thinker, but in fact, the attacks on Derrida are just the latest sortie in a wider campaign being waged against academics, intellectuals and other disreputable figures. Academia is portrayed as a hotbed of fancy foreign notions, a den of dangerous relativists who can't talk straight, can't think straight — and don't even want to try." Lea asks, "What is it about relativism that gets us so hot under the collar?"

RELATED: In a moving essay for The Village Voice, Leland de la Durantaye considers the history of seeing such philosophers as "dangerous." After discussing Derrida's public life, de la Durantaye notes how the 20th century opened with another philosopher — Henri Bergson — being similarly treated. Then he describes sitting in on a Derrida lecture: "Just as the most famous philosopher in the world during the opening decades of the 20th century was a small, handsome, Jewish Frenchman criticized for a philosophy with 'irrational' elements, so too was the most famous philosopher of its closing decades. During the years when his books and person made their mysterious mark upon my life, Derrida was often denounced as a dangerous man and his thought as a nihilistic epidemic. But we who gathered together to hear him speak could not square this threat with the bright–eyed man with the birdlike voice who stood before us."

Interestingly enough, they got a message within minutes saying, "Thank you for your submission, which we listened to with great interest, but alas, it wasn't quite right for us because we're aliens, you dimwits . . .
On Tuesday night a group of Swedish poets "broadcast their work into outer space by radio to give alien life forms — if they exist — a taste of earthling literature," reports a brief Reuters wire story. Organized by the Swedish poetry magazine Lyrikvannen, the poets gathered at an observatory and held a reading "aimed at Vega, the brightest star of the Lyra constellation, which is 25 light–years from Earth . . . . "

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

Thursday 18 November 2004

Posted at 12:32 am . . .

And then there was one: Lily Tuck wins NBA for fiction . . .
Novelist Lily Tuck has won the 55th annual National Book Award for fiction for her novel The News From Paraguay, while the nonfiction prize went not to the The 9–11 Commission Report as expected, but rather to Kevin Boyle for Arc of Justice, and Jean Valentine won the poetry prize for Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003. The prize for young people's literature went to Pete Hautman for Godless. According to Hillel Italie's Associated Press wire report, "While all winners were warmly applauded, Wednesday night's ceremony also dramatized an ongoing conflict within publishing about the National Book Awards. Some believe the awards should help sell books and draw attention to an industry struggling to reach more readers. Others simply want to honor excellence. Both sides were heard from Wednesday." Italie reports that in the fiction category, where that debate seems to have been sparked when the judging panel "chose five little–known books, all by New York–based women, for the stated reason that they liked those books the most," the winner, Tuck, made it a point to acknowledge the other finalists. She said they "all agreed how allied we are and how very supportive we feel of each other." Fiction judge Stewart O'Nan, meanwhile, "carried around a brief note scribbled on a cocktail napkin" that he apparently used to answer reporter's questions. It said: "I would hope that our caring more for the quality of a novel than its sales figures make us a friend of books, not an enemy."

MORE: The AP has posted a photo of the winners.

Remember all the hoopla when Borders instigated grocery store sales strategies? Well, trouble in aisle 3 . . .
"It has been a roller–coaster ride lately for shareholders of Borders Group, the nation's second–largest bookseller," observes Nathan Slaughter in a report for The Motley Fool. "Three months ago, the company was basking in the limelight of higher than expected second–quarter results and an upwardly revised full–year earnings outlook. Unfortunately, that confidence proved misplaced, as two months later management was forced to retract its earlier forecast and replace it with one much less optimistic." Then, yesterday, the company posted a third quarter loss, while rival Barnes & Noble had a third quarter profit. Management is banking on Christmas sales now.

Meanwhile, back in Dumbfuckistan . . .
In a searing commentary that's part polemic and part review, Maud Newton of MaudNewton.com takes an in–depth look at textbooks under fire, collecting reports from numerous sources about public schools trying to remove references to accepted science, particularly evolution, from textboks. Says Newton, "Common sense suggests that even if 51% of the country supports a second Bush term, the majority of Americans probably do not favor scientifically inaccurate textbooks for their children — particularly not scientifically inaccurate textbooks purchased with their own tax dollars."

Did you try looking in the fiction section? . . .
An Associated Press wire story by Hillel Italie says, "Two weeks after the 2004 presidential election, a postelection tradition appears on the verge of extinction: the campaign book." Speculation is that the broadcast media gives away whatever surprise such books would have. Thus, the detailed, post–election dissection of the campaign in book form, once a staple, will have only one emanation this year: Election 2004, written by the staff of Newsweek and to be published in January by PublicAffairs is the only campaign book that has been announced. Says Henry Holt publisher John Sterling, "The days of Teddy White are gone."

Reasons to love Lindbergh, number 252: It's better than a hot stick in the eye . . .
While Philip Roth's much talked–about new novel has revived discussion about Charles Lindbergh's anti–Semitism, "it's causing barely a ripple in Little Falls, the central Minnesota town where the man who would become the first person to successfully fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean spent his boyhood summers." As Jeff Baenen reports in an Assocaited Pres wire story, the small Misssissippi River town has an elementary school named after Lindbergh, the school's sports teams are called The Flyers, and "they still revere 'The Lone Eagle.'" One local, Brian Horrigan of the Minnesota Historical Society, even "disputes that Lindbergh was an anti–Semite," says Baenen. "It was very, very widespread in the culture, and there were people on whom you could hang that accusation of anti-Semite much more firmly than on Lindbergh."

Daughter of Hughes and Plath "revises" her opinion on Mom . . .
"The daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath has mounted her strongest defence yet of her father, who was vilified after the suicide of her mother in 1963," reports Kate Summerscale in this story for the Daily Telegraph. "In a new edition of Plath's last book, published later this month, Frieda Hughes insists that Hughes, who died in 1998, was a quiet and loving father, more 'temperate and optimistic' than his volatile wife." Frieda Hughes says that her father "thought my mother might reconsider" getting back together, and that in the interim he "visited his two children almost daily" and "handed over to his estranged wife their house in Devon, their joint bank account, their car and money." Meanwhile, she says she has "revised her once–perfect image of her mother" and now says Plath "had a ferocious temper and a jealous streak."

Ay–ai–ai . . .
After Spain's King Juan Carlos and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner opened the Third International Spanish Language Congress in Rosario, Argentina, the widow of Jorge Luis Borges got up and gave a speech saying that the great Argentine writer would have been "horrified to see how today's children and adults do not know how to write," according to a brief Agence France Press story.

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

Wednesday 17 November 2004

Well, you can't think of everything . . .
A day after Barnes & Noble blamed lower–than–expected third quarter profits on "the recent U.S. presidential election for keeping shoppers glued to their television sets" (see yesterday's MobyLives news digest), B&N's leading competitor, Borders, blamed its lower than expected third quarter performance (an actual loss) on something else. As the headline for this Associated Press wire story about the company's $1.5 million loss puts it, "Borders blames third–quarter loss on fewer customers."

Making rules about intellectual property . . .
"Several lobbying camps from different industries and ideologies are joining forces to fight an overhaul of copyright law, which they say would radically shift in favor of Hollywood and the record companies and which Congress might try to push through during a lame–duck session that begins this week," reports Michael Grebb in a Wired News story. As he explains, the Intellectual Property Protection Act is "a comprehensive bill that opponents charge could make many users of peer–to–peer networks, digital–music players and other products criminally liable for copyright infringement. The bill would also undo centuries of 'fair use' — the principle that gives Americans the right to use small samples of the works of others without having to ask permission or pay." In a Chronicle of Higher Education story, Scott Carlson talks to Siva Vaidhyanathan, the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs. "I resent a legal system that makes it too difficult and too expensive for creators to play around with the culture," he says. "I resent the fact that copyrights last so long that things that should be free and convenient to use are locked down and lost forever." And in a story that brings concepts of copyright law and intellectual property to life, Malcolm Gladwell write in a New Yorker report about what happened, and how he felt about it, when playwright Bryony Lavery was found to have plagiarized his work: "In late September, the story broke. The Times, the Observer in England, and the Associated Press all ran stories about Lavery's alleged plagiarism, and the articles were picked up by newspapers around the world. Bryony Lavery had seen one of my articles, responded to what she read, and used it as she constructed a work of art. And now her reputation was in tatters. Something about that didn't seem right."

Canadians point, laugh at Americans . . .
The furor in New York Times over the fiction finalists for tonight's National Book Awards continues to spawn stories around the world, as previously mentioned on MobyLives. Now, Canada's two top literary webzines are taking up the story with a bit of amusement. On Bookninja.com, George Murray has been commenting on various stories throughout the bulidup. For one link, they write, "People just seem to think it's an insult that they can't predict the list. When you CAN predict many, if not all, of the other lists, isn't this a GOOD thing?" On GoodReports.com, editor Alex Good writes in a longer commentary, "Canadians have been through all this. Every year there is another complaint (not always unjustified) about the Toronto–centric Giller Prize or some otherliterary award. And the absence of big and sprawling Canadian novels is a frequent topic of discussion in a country where the short–story aesthetic has been so successful." Good also makes the connection many have missed, that this year's finalists are interesting in light of Stephen King's poorly received comments last year that big–selling fiction should be given more attention. But the "real problem," Good observes, is that "The National Book Awards are an industry-sponsored award. Like every other cultural prize they are essentially a promotional tool. You judge these things by their "'bounce': increased box office for Oscar nominees, or the carefully tabulated increase in sales for a Man Booker winner (provided in some detail on the Man Booker official Web–page). The bigger the bounce the more successful the award."

RELATED: In The Christian Science Monitor, Elizabeth Lund reminds us there are other nominees in other categories, with her review of the poetry finalists: William Heyen, Donald Justice, Carl Phillips, Cole Swensen, and Jean Valentine.

The Second Book Syndrome, a.k.a., The Imposter Syndrome . . .
In a conversation with Robert Birnbaum, novelist Don Lee, also known as the editor of Ploughshares, discusses how he felt releasing his recent book, Country of Origin, his second book: "The second book syndrome, let's approach that for a start. I understand that completely. What it's about is the imposter syndrome. It's this fear that you are going to be found to be a fraud. That the first book was a complete fluke. Or else you blew your wad with that first book and nothing is there, the well is empty. It's more so that you are afraid whatever you had was in that first book, and it was overpraised, and you are going to be found out to have no talent whatsoever."

Oh, and I suppose George Bush didn't win the election, either? . . .
A claim that "Johannes Gutenberg may be wrongly credited with producing the first Western book printed in movable type" has "caused an uproar among acaemics," according to a report by Rossella Lorenzi at DiscoveryChannel.com. She says "Bruno Fabbiani, an expert in printing who teaches at Turin Polytechnic, said the 15th–century German printer used stamps rather than the movable type he is said to have invented between 1452 and 1455." Fabbiani staged a demonstration to prove his point at the Festival of science in Genoa, but Lorenzi reports, "Some researchers simply dismissed Fabbiani's experiments as a stunt."

Mann's Magic Mountain clinic closing . . .
The sanatorium that inspired Thomas Mann to write his novel The Magic Mountain is going to close. As Luke Harding reports in a Guardian story, "Valbella Clinic will shut its doors at the end of the month." The sanatorium, tuberculosis located in the Swiss Alps at Davos, was one of 30 in the area when Mann wrote his book. The clinic he focussed on is on top of a hill and offers "one of the most distinctive views in literature." But now there are only four clinics left. The closing is "threatening the end of a tradition where doctors from across Europe would send patients with lung disorders to the tiny Alpine town." But Mann wasn't the only thing making Davos famous. It was also the town where, in 1936, "a young Jewish man called David Frankfurter calmly shot dead Wilhelm Gustloff, a local German Nazi, who used to interrogate visiting German patients about their loyalty to the Führer."

Mill on the Floss author knocked on her ass . . .
"A bronze statue of Nuneaton novelist George Eliot has been knocked from its plinth by a lorry," according to a icCoventry.co.uk report. The statue, which "had sat proudly on a concrete plinth at the heart of Newdegate Square since it was unveiled in 1986, to honour the town's most famous daughter . . . was toppled from her perch on Saturday evening when a brewery dray on its way to a local pub, clipped the plinth and sent it crashing." The area has been taped off and "insurance assessors are examining the scene. "John Letts, the celebrated Birmingham–born sculptor who spent 12 months working on the model at his studio in Astley, near Nuneaton, said: 'I hope she is still in one piece.'"


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

Tuesday 16 November 2004

Democracy bad for business, says B&N . . .
America's biggest bookseller, Barnes & Noble, said Monday that its quarterly profits had fallen and it blamed, according to a Reuters wire story, "the recent U.S. presidential election for keeping shoppers glued to their television sets instead of shopping." Reuters' Ellis Mnyandu reports that B&N CEO Steve Riggio said another part of the problem was that there weren't the really big books this year that there were last year, such as a new Harry Potter, or Hillary Clinton's book, or titles such as The Da Vinci Code and The South Beach Diet. Nonetheless, the company "reiterated its fourth–quarter and full–year profit outlook, citing hopes for an improvement in holiday sales." Meanwhile, stock in the company fell "more than 2 percent."

Nobel Peace Prize winner blocked from publishing in the US speaks out . . .
When Iranian legal activist Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, she hoped to be able to use the attention to "encourage a positive, forward–looking understanding of Islam," and to promote the understanding that there is "an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with democracy, equality, religious freedom and freedom of speech would reach a wider audience, particularly in the West." In a New York Times op–ed piece, she notes her long–standing goal to write "a book that would help correct Western stereotypes of Islam, especially the image of Muslim women as docile, forlorn creatures." However, she writes, "the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control continues to regulate the import of books from Iran, Cuba and other countries," and it's rules state that "I could publish my memoir in the United States, but it would be illegal for an American literary agent, publisher, editor or translator to help me." So, she's suing the State Department. "If even people like me — those who advocate peace and dialogue — are denied the right to publish their books in the United States with the assistance of Americans, then people will seriously question the view of the United States as a country that advocates democracy and freedom everywhere. What is the difference between the censorship in Iran and this censorship in the United States?"

Long list for big award announced way ahead of time . . .
The long list for the 2005 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award—and it is long—has been released. According to a Reuters wire story, the list of 147 finalists for what may be "the world's richest literary award" (at €100,000, or $129,400) were choices "made by libraries in 51 countries and will be reviewed by an international panel who will announce a shortlist next March." The title nominated the most often was Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night–Time. Ciar Byrne reports in a story for The Independent that among the other books that made it onto the list are Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and last year's Booker winner Vernon God Little, as well as books by Margaret Atwood, Anita Brookner, J M Coetzee, Graham Swift and Peter Carey.

Lakoff's continuing influence . . .
One of the anti–Republican books that is still selling surprisingly well is George Lakoff's surprise bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. It gets a re–examination from New York Times writer editorial board member Adam Cohen in this commentary, where he notes that as a result of the book "'Framing' is a hot topic among political junkies and in the blogo–sphere right now, thanks to Dr. Lakoff." Cohen says the book is a supple way to discuss complex issues with a certain intellectualism, and it also presents a more than reasonable way for Democrats to get there ideas across. At the same time, Cohen notes, "For all of his good insights, Dr. Lakoff can get a little too caught up in his own frame. His intense focus on language leaves too little room for other attributes of a successful campaign, like a charismatic candidate or a strong field operation."

I get it, I get it — he's Wallace Stevens . . .
When he was an insurance man at Lincoln Benefit LIfe, just a few years ago, Ted Kooser "showed poems to his secretary. If she didn't understand them, he'd revise." As Kooser, the new Poet Laureate explains to Elizabeth Lund in this Christian Science Monitor profile, "I never want to be thought of as pandering to a broad audience," he says, "but you can tweak a poem just slightly and broaden the audience very much. If you have a literary allusion, you limit the audience. Every choice requires a cost–benefit analysis."

When writers become salesmen . . .
"Literature has cocked a snook at intellectuals," says Cristina Odone. In a commentary for The Observer, she discusses the "triumph of the grubby marketing machine that drives contemporary literature." She discusses writers giving 90–second interviews, authors having to change titles to satisfy chain booksellers, and Martin Amis' need to keep his name in the news, But it may be irreversable, she laments: "Which writer today can afford to ape J D Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, who have made a virtue of anonymity?"

Poetic parallel . . .
He's remembered as "bravest and most publicly outspoken of all Britain's anti–war poets," but now a newly discovered poem by Siegfried Sassoon shows him to have been, early in the war, "the author of a gung-ho poem exulting in the prospect of death and battle," according to a Guardian story by John Ezard. Sassoon biographer Jean Moorcroft Wilson found the poem, "Because We Are Going," "buried among Sassoon's copious papers at a Texas University." She tells Ezard, ""Nobody had brought it to anyone's attention." But Wilson finds in the ongoing aspects of Sassoon's writing "haunting parallels with shifts in British opinion today over the Iraq war, Sassoon then began to switch within a year to a stance of rage and disgust at the human cost of the conflict. This led the Military Cross-winning officer to risk his life by making a declaration of "wilful defiance" to the authorities."

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

Monday 15 November 2004

Agent who wrote Imperial Hubris leaving CIA . . .
The CIA officer who anonymously wrote the bestseller Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, which was sharply critical of the United States' handling of the war on terrorism and included a "damning conclusion that US actions are inflaming a global Muslim insurgency," has resigned from the agency, according to an Agence France Press wire story. The announcement was made after the agent, Michael Scheuer, had a meeting with the CIA's new executive director—"who has not been publicly identified"—"about a series of unauthorized press interviews Scheuer gave last weekend." Scheuer told the Washington Post, "As long as the book was being used to bash the president, they gave me carte blanche to talk to the media. But this is a story about the failure of the bureaucracy to support policymakers." According to a press release from his publisher, Scheuer disobeyed orders to stop talking to the press because Scheuer believed that the CIA's leadership had had allowed CIA agents "to be scapegoated for pre–9–11 failures — failures more properly placed at the door of senior members of the US intelligence community and senior policymakers, for whom, in Scheuer's view, saving American lives has seldom appeared to be the top priority."

When the principal is not your pal . . .
Army veteran Ben Sherman, the author of Medic: The Story of a Conscientious Objector in the Vietnam War, and Navy Veteran Mark Polin, who served from 1979 to 1997, "got a standing ovation when they addressed a Veterans Day assembly" at Sehom High School in Bellingham, Washington last Thursday. Sherman, in his presentation, "described war casualties in detail to the students and unfurled a scroll with the names of the more than 1,100 U.S. troops killed so far in Iraq." But "their appearance prompted a letter of apology from the principal," according to an Associated Press wire story. The principal, Jim Kistner, said, "I want to apologize for making any student or staff member uncomfortable because the presentation at Sehome's Veterans Day Assembly today was used to advance a particular political agenda. Our community speakers had agreed that this assembly would honor our veterans. We deeply regret that they did not." Said Marshall Petryni, one of the student organizers of the event, "I completely disagree with that last statement. "A bunch of kids came up to me after — some were crying, some gave me hugs." Polin, who pointed out to the students that Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, which commemorated an end to World War I, tells the A.P. he was at the event "to honor the warrior and not the war. The way to honor veterans is to not keep repeating the same mistakes and sending young men and women to their deaths." Meanwhile, Principal Kistner "said the school would make counselors available for students or staff who needed them," and that he was planning "a second Veterans Day assembly." He said he was not informed that the two veterans were in a peace organization, and so in future "he would review the process for assemblies."

Evil rotten NOB fiction nominees story spreading relentlessly . . .
Now it's become a story on the international wires: Apparently prompted by Caryn James' attack on the fiction nominees for the National Book Award, the British wire service Reuters has been running a story by Claudia Parsons saying that the awards are "under fire" for, as the story's headline puts it, "lacking diversity" because the five nominees are all women living in New York. Parsons cites James' article from last week in the Times (see last Thursday's MobyLives news digest) that "thundered against the 'claustrophobic sameness'" of the list. Parsons also reiterates that "none of the five fiction nominees has sold more than 2,800 copies of their entries and several industry veterans said the first time they heard of the books was when they were nominated," as if this was now generally agreed upon as a bad thing.

MORE: The Times isn't done with this issue yet, either: In a column for the Sunday Book Review, Laura Miller says, "Using the National Book Awards to bring attention to fine but overlooked novels is a noble plan, perhaps, but one undercut by the fact that it doesn't really work."

Munro wins second Giller . . .
Alice Munro was announced as the winner of the Giller Prize last Thursday for her story collection, Runaway. As a Reuters wire story observes, the Giller is "Canada's most lucrative award for fiction." Munro will get C25,000. She also won the Giller in 1998 for her collection The Love of a Good Woman.

Elvis has left the building . . .
Ursula Bentley, Shelagh Delaney, Dow Mossman, Stephen Sheppard, Adam Lively, Harper Lee . . . they were all hot writers once, but then they seemed to disappear, constituting an intriguing story in itself. In his weekly column for The Observer, Robert McCrum tells the story of one such writer: Irish author Desmond Hogan. "What happened to the man once ranked alongside Rushdie and Ishiguro?" he asks. McCrum first met him in the early 1980s, when Hogan "was about as hot as they come: widely celebrated as the author of a short story collection, The Diamonds at the Bottom of the Sea and, among literary circles in London and New York, beginning to be spoken of as a dazzling young Irish writer to watch. Ted Hughes was said to be a fan. Hogan had the same raw and enticing presence as Hughes. In his black silk shirt and neatly pressed jeans, with long strands of hair falling over his pale Celtic features, he was half–poet, half–priest in appearance, but shy to talk to, answering with half–closed eyes, or awkwardly lunging his head down, not looking at you at all." But in the end, says McCrum, "Nothing is more expressive of the marginal life of the committed writer than his story. For every one who wins the Booker or gets a six–figure advance, there's the one who goes missing. That old tale of literary glory is matched by a parallel text of oblivion and failure."

Vampire developers sucking life blood out of literary landmark . . .
A ruined 16th century castle thought to have inspired Bram Stoker to write his novel Dracula when he was staying nearby "is to be turned into holiday homes," although some locals are protesting, reports Auslan Cramb in a Daily Telegraph story. Slains Castle is located on cliffs outside Cruden Bay in northeast Scotland, and has been "derelict since the 1920s," but it has nonetheless been a popular tourist attraction, leaving locals to protest that the plan to turn the castle into "35 holiday apartments" would "drive a stake" through its "historical charm" and hurt tourism. However, local authorities approved the plan after claiming that the mansion would "crumble into the sea" if nothing was done to save the building.

Good dog . . .
The family of First Lady Laura Bush gave her a new dog for her birthday last week, apparently without realizing that the name the First Daughters gave the puppy, Miss Beazley, was based on a character in a children's book written by a staunch Democrat who intended the book to be a response to civil rights abuses perpetrated by Republicans of the McCarthy era. As Erik Stetson reports in an Associated Press wire story, Miriam Butterworth, widow of the late Oliver Butterworth, author of The Big Egg, implied that her husband wouldn't have been happy about the fact that "the detainees in the war against terrorism haven't been treated justly." Meanwhile, Butterworth's son Tim Butterworth said, "My father was a member of the Enlightenment and would have a great deal of difficulty with the current situation." As for the naming of the Bush's new dog, he said, "I'm not sure my father would be rolling over in his grave. But he'd probably be smiling quite a bit, because he liked irony."

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

Visit the mothership:

The International Bestseller
by Bernard–Henri Lévy



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.