Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
Caleb Powell: You excoriate the traditional novel and fiction in Reality Hunger, yet you began writing fiction. It turned out not to be your forte. Why the attack? Isn’t it like an impotent man vowing abstinence?
David Shields: That’s a funny analogy. And I’d be a fool to think that type of criticism won’t emerge… (from The Rumpus)
David Shields and I, at antipodes since the UW, headed into the Cascades for a few days and threw down. The focus? Art vs. life. The result was announced 4/26/13 at Publishers Marketplace:
NONFICTION - General/Other – NYT bestselling author David Shields’s I THINK YOU’RE TOTALLY WRONG: A QUARREL, a debate about life versus art, in which Shields’s co-author, Caleb Powell, always wanted to become an artist, but overcommitted to life (stay-at-home dad to three young girls), whereas Shields has overcommitted to art and forgotten to become a human being, to Ann Close at Knopf, by PJ Mark at Janklow & Nesbit (NA).
“Twenty years ago, another undergraduate, Caleb Powell, was in my novel-writing course; we’ve stayed in touch. I’ve read and critiqued his stories and essays. A stay-at-home-dad and freelance journalist, he’s interviewed me occasionally when a new book came out. We disagree about nearly everything. I’ve sacrifice my life for art; Caleb, vice versa. He’s one of the most contrary people I’ve ever met…” David Shields, from How Literature Saved My Life
Caleb: …that opening of our interview in the Rumpus, when I asked, “You began writing fiction; it turned out not to be your forte. Why the attack? Isn’t it like an impotent man vowing abstinence?”
David: Only about fifty other reviewers used the same trope. I’d say I’m more like a man in love pointing out to the man on Viagra that he’s fucking a sex doll. (from I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel)
“Riding a Mower” vs. Reality Hunger:
The Dalkey Archive Press has recently solicited applications for employment. Dalkey books I love and respect, but the head honcho deserves excoriation for the inquisition-inspired demands. Despite Sir Dalkey-himself John O’Brien’s defense at the Irish Times, where he calls for the appreciation of his ironic epiphanies, he leaves too much genuine sentiment to mitigate the arrogance. O’Brien wants free labor, and he wants to condescend to their ambition. Here, straight from the mouth, are some of his requirements:
2) …do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.).
1) …being unavailable at night or on the weekends.
2) …giving unsolicited advice about how to run things.
3) …taking personal phone calls during work hours.
4) …failing to respond to emails in a timely way.
The LA Times has a more comprehensive response, and my Facebook “friends” certainly are not silent. Yet, to me, this job seemed intriguing and a challenge. I like challenges. Thus I fired off this to DAP:
I would like to apply for a position at the Dalkey Archive Press. Here are some of my talents:
1) I love working for psychopaths.
2) I’m a masochist.
3) I have no life, professional or otherwise.
4) I have no self-respect.
5) I’m compulsive in my dedication and addiction to literature.
As you see, I meet all the criteria implied in your request.
Let me know if you would like to see a C.V.
Afterword: I imagine Dalkey is being deluged with snark. As they well should be. Certainly, if you take art seriously you must have discipline and commitment, but you cannot be so insular, inhuman, and anti-social that you sacrifice mutual respect and bottom line courtesy. The control-freak-OCD mania that oozes out of the Dalkey Manifesto indicates a lack of reasonable protocol.
“What a giant pile of horseshit this review is. Alix deserved better. This is a disgrace. Also, to review the reviewer, William Girardi can’t write worth a damn. This reads like a frantic doily stretched to fit around his narcissistic projections on literature, himself and Alix. May we all be spared anything from him further.” - Alexander Chee
Chee then quoted Giraldi and tacked on: “‘When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism, the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.’ Yes, Giraldi. This in fact describes your review.”
Gee whiz Chee, so let me get this straight, you evidently disliked Giraldi’s review because ‘Alix deserved better’, and to hammer the point you take a cheap shot at Giraldi?
Chee, though, had an ally in hitman Richard “Three Fingers” Bausch, who responded, “I’m working on a mystery novel in which a critic like this is murdered and there are seven thousand three hundred and fifty two suspects.”
What is the matter with some writers? Anis Shivani, after his “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary Writers“, and Dale Peck, with Hatchet Jobs, pissed people off. Why? I don’t go out of the way to review bad books. I usually don’t finish them. But a couple times I received a review copy, finished, engaged, and felt the crappy novel deserved a howl, and that’s my call. Reviewers shouldn’t fear offending tissue paper shelled writers and their fans/friends, they should address readers. I’ll bet many people who never heard of Ohlin now have, and some may even buy her book as a result of this publicity. She’ll survive.
As for Girardi, I’ve read stories by him, not his novel, but he can write. His NYT review gets absurd (he criticizes the title), but he hated Ohlin’s work and unleashed. So? I have not read Ohlin thus cannot defend her fiction, but: 1) to hate negative criticism and take similar cheap shots is lame. 2) Giraldi’s opinion is just that, deal or move on.
I said all this to Chee, in so many words, and he responded with, and I quote verbatim, ”Hey, fuck you.”
UPDATE: Great review on topic by Bill Marx of NYT book critic Dwight Garner’s take on Jack Green’s Fire the Bastards. “The book world doesn’t need more yes-saying novelists and certainly no more yes-saying critics. We need more excellent and authoritative and punishing critics—perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.” – Dwight Garner
Bill Marx also cites Edmond Wilson’s battle cry against the incestuous world of writers, while he reminds us that going overboard has flaws as well. Good stuff, Bill.
Writers need to remember: Praise everyone and you praise no one.
Related: On the absence of hatchet-work amongst Canada’s Book Reviewers - by Brian Fawcett at dooneyscafe.com
The following is a guest review of James Bernard Frost‘s A Very Minor Prophet (April, 2012, Hawthorne Books, 8.5×11, 200 pages, $18.95) by Scott Driscoll, teacher at the UW Extension Creative Writing Program.
James Bernard Frost’s new novel, A Very Minor Prophet pulls the curtain on an underground Portland peepshow that won’t disappoint. For all its graphic splatter of Voodoo donuts, Stumptown coffee, ecstatic bike rides, and rambling sermons delivered by a midget preacher to a modest congregation of anarchists, prostitutes, lesbians, and zinesters, Frost’s novel, aside from its likely appeal to twenty-somethings swilling their own PBR-fueled search for identity, is really, at its heart, a touching love story. As well, to his credit, Frost offers a pretty authentic portrait of Portland, Oregon’s underbelly, not to mention life in the damp chilly Northwest.
“My friends, America is not cute anymore, it’s run through its adolescence, and it’s looking more and more like Mommy raised a psychopath,” claims Booker, the midget preacher in a “sermon.” This observation, in the wake of the 2004 presidential election, generally sums up the lament of the liberal youth culture that populates this novel. More specifically, it sums up our hero’s journey.
It starts off cute enough. “At age twenty-two,” opines Bartholomew Flynn, “I lacked the ink that marked my generation of misfits, but I wasn’t lucky enough to find a corporate office admin job.” With a “coffee degree” in English from a Midwestern university, Flynn realizes his destiny—he works at Mecca Café. But what’s lacking in his slice of American Pie is made up for in creativity and sheer brio. After listening to Booker sermonize, Flynn starts writing “His Church that Sunday,” a “zine” replete with graphics that earns him the right to call himself the preacher’s scribe.
Enter Mercyx. Nothing happens without the pedaling force of the bicycle messenger/Photocopy Queen. To appreciate Mercyx, you have to appreciate her power to transform. “Mercyx was wearing a strapless dress, a kitschy cotton number with Ferris wheels on it in pink and yellow pastels…The contrast between the hard tattoos and the soft colors of her dress was a visual fiasco, making her appear comic and freaky and completely stunning all at once. Seed for romance thus planted, with help from a mooching professional illustrator, the zine gets traction, most significantly at Ben Dover Books (pun intended), where eventually it will bring real world riches to someone but not to our hapless hero, who signs away his rights for five hundred dollars, chump change he eventually, in despair, spends on a hooker he can ill afford for a variety of reasons.
En route to betrayal, Flynn survives encounters with a band of anarchists led by charismatic bad boy Diogenes. While held down and forced to ingest cheap beer through a tube, Flynn notes he is looking at, “two chef paramedics, a pirate, an ape man, Tiny the Clown, and two bearded Mad-Max looking guys…” you get the picture, “a bunch of future-thinking guys” who are “learning skills that the rest of the world thought was laughable, learning how to weld, learning how to endure pain, learning how to live as a clan,” a bunch who go into action as “gas-masked, tall-bike riding anarchists who shouted insults and hurled beer cans at…” the windshields of “the stupid manatees, the bulbous lard-addled American masses…” soon to become victims of the “apocalypse” they “deserved.”
It’s Mercyx who finally pushes Flynn to a point of no return. One guess as to who he finds in bed with the midget preacher. Howling in psychic pain, Flynn hurls his beloved bike from the Broadway bridge, strips, don’s a whore’s wig, wags his naked wiener at traffic, is pummeled by an ice-cold Vanilla Coke, and arrives at this insight: “In order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, or whatever you want to call it—your higher calling, your fullest potential—you have to make an ass of yourself.”
This novel is Less Than Zero meets coffee degree Zinester anarchists in soggy Portland with a midget messiah thrown in for theological spicing. Add bold graphics. Add speech bubbles. Add asides to discourse on coffee and Catholicism. Okay, and with all that it’s actually by turns funny and sad. The novel’s main shortcoming is its tendency to resort to shock—in our first real love moment, our two bicyclists puke side-by-side—where delicacy and finesse might have left a taste more savory to the discerning palate. Maybe tastelessness is the point?
Don’t ask how Booker has his John the Baptist head end up on a platter, you’re told in the prologue and it’s heavy-handed and hardly factors in the story except to clear the way for someone else’s happy ending. Don’t worry about that. And don’t worry about the morning-after taste. Just climb on and go for a wild ride.
Scott Driscoll, winner of an Educational Outreach award for Excellence in Teaching in the Arts and Humanities 2006, has an MFA from the University of Washington and makes his living as a writer and teacher. His short stories and narrative essays have been published extensively in literary journals and anthologies.
DISCLOSER: Scott Driscoll has no relationship with Hawthorne Books or the author.
Daphne Gottlieb’s 15 Ways to Stay Alive (Manic D Press, April 2011, $14.95 paperback, 128 pages)/Ned Stuckey French’s The American Essay in the American Century (University of Missouri, May 2011, $60 hardcover, 272 pages)
Aside from a few reviews in my brief time as a journalist for the University of Washington Daily, and an occasional screed on Amazon, I didn’t write literary criticism until about two years ago. My first review was published in December of 2009 at the Texas Review, and since then I have written slightly over a dozen. This small sample allows me to appreciate greatly the time and involvement for the craft of reviewing. No matter what you think of Michiko Kakatuni or James Woods or Michael Dirda, they have put in the hours.
At first I enjoyed the process immensely, I requested books, and sometimes was asked (see recent solicitation on my About Page). But I’m done. What happened? As I tried to review the two subject books of this post I considered how, since summer I have thorougly taken quotes, looked into the histories of each individual author, and done requisite background reading. Whenever I started to churn out a draft, though, I questioned my desire, not to mention qualifications. It’s not that I dislike writing reviews or taking part in the process, I think any aspiring writer can benefit from writing literary criticism, but I have to choose how to spend my writing time.
Therefore, I would like to offer condensed reviews to finish what I started. I hope Ned and Daphne and the kind people at U. of Missouri and Manic D can forgive me for not doing justice to their books.
The foremost problem I had with Daphne Gottlieb’s 15 Ways to Stay Alive (Manic D Press, April 2011, $14.95 paperback, 128 pages), is that it’s poetry. I spend little time reading and writing poems, and cannot recognize quality. Daphne Gottlieb, the author of Fucking Daphne, exists outside conventional poetry, and images of her body adorned with tattoos and piercings spoke more to me than the dozen books she’s edited or authored and that I had not read. What could I possibly say about her poetry?
Yet perhaps I have undervalued. As her personality emerged I became involved with 15 Ways to Stay Alive, and found myself appreciating the way she played with form while staying on topic. She juxtaposes Bukowsky amidst New Orleans quotidiana and sadness: “and at night walking the streets for hours,/raped for hours until she was dead”, or, in “to prove that I was someone,” she alternates Tookie Wilson’s call to a White supremacist’s response: “Dare I take My tattoo the master/slave-connection my tattoo a step further is a rebel flag…”. Good stuff.
Gottleib engages in politics, and I find this attractive in a writer. One example: In “no poetry after auschwitz” she attacks the war machine in various ways. She writes, “yes, remember/Rachel Corrie/killed by a bulldozer – but she put her body/ on the line/ using her own privilege”. But just when I think Gottlieb’s views on capitalism and war will turn into a venue to launch platitudes, she writes: “End the Occupation”/becomes/”Kill the Jews”. No one is for abortion, but some people are pro-choice. No one is for war, some people are pro-choice regarding self-defense (if this seems morally ambigious and contradictory, that’s the intent).
Whether or not you agree that Israel is equally if not more culpable in the conflict, or that the Palestinian side lost moral superiority long ago, or recognize that two forces are wrong in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, or wonder if Rachel Corrie took one wrong side, you understand that Gottlieb is making a statement for peace and action. This is a difficult, very difficult subject matter, and I applaud Gottlieb’s willingness to express.
Next is Ned Stuckey French’s The American Essay in the American Century (University of Missouri, May 2011, $60 hardback, 272 pages). The book is academic, and as with poetry, not the sort I normally read. I am no academic, and my college days were ignominious. I took advantage of Cliff’s Notes more than once to churn out a paper on Charles Dickens Dombey and Son or even Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and my grades subsequently matched my ambition.
Stuckey-French, though, makes a case that we should pay attention to the history of the essay, “…few issues are more current and controversial than that of subjectivity, yet the literary genre most explicitly focused on subjectivity – the essay – has not received much scholarly attention.” He explains further that “essays were caught between retreat and departure, between America’s past and future. That tension is the subject of this book…(with the focus being) the period 1880 to 1940.”
Stuckey-French highlights the characters of this age; we find out about unknowns such as Sara Willis: “perhaps the most popular essayist of the middle of the nineteenth century…(she) wrote on crime, poverty, corruption, prisons, and especially rights of women and children.” Willis was described in the New Yorker as a “a columnist before columnists were heard of” she went through death of a child, a horrible marriage to a jealous man whom she left after two years, and she might have remained forgotten if not for teachers such as Stuckey-French. Quotes from essayists on essays also add to the book, such as Richard Burton’s, who felt that “when the essay becomes the mere venting of a mood and is emptied of thought, the essayist is reduced to happy idiot.”
Stuckey-French writes about Mark Twain and E.B. White, along with a slew of important writers who exited the stage, and how literacy in the US rose, along with the prominence of many magazines, and writers such as W.E.B. DuBois attained fame. The book closes by asking what might happen if essays “were released from the first-year writing anthologies and read against history?” And hey, if I were to teach a class and wanted to sound like an authority on the topic, a reading of this book would be a sufficient start.
I hope, in the future, that I may have time to solicit and write credible reviews, rather than this evasive attempt to “review” these two books. For now, though, I will take a hiatus from reviewing and will be happy, going forward, to simply read literary criticism and participate in the conversation.
DISCLOSER: Caleb Powell has been published by Ned Stuckey-French in Fourth Genre, and was solicited for this review by Manic D Press. He has no realationship with Daphne Gottlieb.
The Decline of Reading: QED
The American NBC nightly newscast for Aug. 9, 2011 offered a minute-and-twenty-second analysis of the London riots under the Dickensian heading “A Tale of Two Cities.” The network’s London correspondent, Martin Fletcher, concluded his report with this voice-over on top of visuals of shattered glass: “A final thought that may say a lot about our times: in this shopping centre every store had been looted but one – the bookstore.” Closing shot: a pristine Waterstone’s window display in otherwise trashed shopping centre. Nuff said. – August 9, 2011 by Stan Persky (Related at The Atlantic: London Rioters Are Leaving Bookstores Untouched)
Matt Salinger, of the J.D. Salinger estate, has a large object stuck in his anus, as reported by the Huffington Post: J. D. Salinger’s Son Threatens Legal Action
JD SALINGER EXPLAINS WHY HE’LL NEVER SELL THE STAGE & SCREEN RIGHTS TO CATCHER IN THE RYE
Dear Mr Herbert: I’ll try to tell you what my attitude is to the stage and screen rights of The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve sung this tune quite a few times, so if my heart doesn’t seem to be in it, try to be tolerant…
At The Nervous Breakdown I write about Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction, a rock ‘n’ roll anthology edited by Roland Goity and John Ottey and published by Vagabondage Press, that combines memoir, journalism, and short story. The writers are Jim DeRogatis, Fred de Vries, Sean Ennis, Laurel Gilbert, Brian Goetz, James Greer, Ed Hamilton, Harold Jaffe, Brad Kava, David Menconi, Adam Moorad, Corey Mesler, Scott Nicholson, Carl Peel, J.T. Townley, and Timothy Weed.
“…The anthology fits my world. I’ve tasted more embarassment than “fame” as a bass player in a Seattle band whose accomplishments were a write-up in The Stranger, some college radio air time (both due to having contacts), and gigs at a couple decent clubs, one or two where strangers outnumbered friends. Anyone who loves music can understand the pull of this world of fantasy and reality; Experienced revisits and expands this dream.
James Greer opens with “Hunting Accidents”, a foray into the two years he played bass for cult group Guided By Voices, and the book he subsequently wrote, Guided By Voices: A Brief History….(Read entire article here)“
DISCLOSURE: Caleb Powell has been published by Roland Goity and was solicited for this review.
I review Harold Jaffe‘s Anti-Twitter (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010) at Prime Number Magazine. Jaffe is the author of over fifteen books. His essays, fiction, and docufiction have been published at The Paris Review, Black Warrior Review and anthologized in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies.
“Harold Jaffe’s literary vision may not be unleashed by psychotropic drugs, but his prose suggests a hypothetical “David Markson on LSD.” He challenges the reader to connect previously undiscovered synapses, reminiscent of Markson’s brilliant collage masterpieces, yet from a completely different aesthetic, one that documents cultures in chaos. The ramifications are unsettling…(Full review here)”
DISCLOSER: Caleb Powell has no relationship with Harold Jaffe or Screaming Dog Press.
Too often, when the media or the literati writes about economy, they simplify Marx or Adam Smith, and weigh their arguments with heavy political bias. There’s no doubt both capitalism and socialism have salient points and flaws, and questions of wealth and its distribution relate directly to the happines of the society and individual. Peter Mountford, a local Seattle writer, has written a novel that explores these topics. We discuss at The Millions.
“Herman Melville wrote, ‘To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many have tried it.’ The realm of great literature covers death, love, religion, war, sex, and politics, but rarely economics. There are novels that tackle money and greed, but usually not from an insider’s perspective. Peter Mountford hopes to change that with his debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2011). Mountford’s views are formed not by cursory glances at Paul Krugman and Noam Chomsky, but with acuity worthy of The Black Swan author Nassim Taleb. Mountford, whose father worked for the International Monetary Fund…”