The Fixer

What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.

In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*

It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?

Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.

* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a campaign.
January 12, 2011 10:00 AM | | Comments (9)

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Jonah Goldberg, who flinched (!) at the phrase, credits the odious Glenn Reynolds with introducing Palin to the term.

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2011/01/about_blood_libel.php

Thanks very much. It's hard to imagine any right-wing talking point so stupid or hackish that Jonah Goldberg wouldn't find some virtue in it, so this is really a memorable occasion.

I like how the first comment on Goldberg's post is by someone complaining about "unhinged Leftest hatred" of Palin. You just can't parody these folks.

There is an enormous historical literature on the blood libel, including several complete books. Here is a shorter article from the Jewish Encyclopedia: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1173&letter=B

Thanks for the link, John. Your blog looks interesting.

I remember enjoying The Assistant when I read it, but admit to not remembering it all that well.

Browsing through his Complete Stories in a bookstore many years ago prompted me to read all of his novels in order. The range of subjects and voices in his novels is quite extraordinary, but rather than pick just one novel to recommend to you, I'd suggest browsing through the Complete Stories.

I'd recommend The Assistant, and especially Dubin's Lives. The Tenant is perhaps lesser, but still worth reading.

Your next Malamud should be "God's Grace": it's... Jane Goodall meets post-apocalyptic platonic dialogue.

What Kate said. I'd recommend "The Magic Barrel" first. Like I.B. Singer, but even better. And unlike Singer, he contains multitudes -- though I gotta admit, I think his stories are stronger than his novels. And I think "The Tenants" is downright disappointing.

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Our Living Language 
My column today is about gun nuts. A reader has been in touch to ask whether I meant to use the word "refudiate." Indeed I did, and also tried to sneak in my own made-up word, "newlogism," but my editor changed this to the more standard spelling. Alas!
The Fixer 
What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.

In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*

It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?

Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.

* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a campaign.
Down With New Media! 

Mimi and Eunice, via TechDirt

Allegories of E-Reading 
My end-of-the-year essay about digital readers for The National has inspired a response by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Glad to see him take the hint about Moretti, whose work I wrote about...five years ago? That can't be right. 
Sherry Talks Back 
For my last column of 2010, I asked a few people to identify books they'd read that year that made a big impression on them. The resulting piece came together well and seems to have gotten a decent bit of play -- though one person on Twitter characterized the participants as "Ivy Leaguers and tasteful snobs." Now, a couple of the participants are members of the labor movement, where snobbery, tasteful or otherwise, is not a value. And clearly the fact that I hadn't actually invited anybody from the Ivy League to respond was no obstacle to this individual's exercise of the right to have an uninformed opinion. So it goes. I don't write for stupid people but can do nothing to prevent them from reading.

In any case, two people named Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I also liked very much. And this morning I see that Sherry Wolfe -- whose blog Sherry Talks Back I have been meaning to recommend -- recently stopped by the Chelsea Hotel in the wake of reading the book. Wolfe moved back to NYC last year and the continuing toll of the economy on culture naturally makes a big impression:

As a former denizen of the East Village, from 1988 to 2000, I was eyewitness to that bohemia's twentieth-century grand finale. I moved in the week of the Tompkins Square riot that seems, in retrospect, to have signaled the gentrifiers' victory over a sanctuary of counterculture.

I could still chat on the street back then with The Naked Civil Servant's Quentin Crisp and Howl's Allen Ginsberg or catch a $5 show with Sandra Bernhard, Penny Arcade or John Leguizamo around the corner. But the writing was on the wall as my own rent-stabilized haunt across from the Russian and Turkish Baths on 10th St. slowly drifted toward $1,000 a month.
About the only cultural activity you can still enjoy in Manhattan for no money is people watching--at least that remains one of the most spectacular circuses of humanity on earth.

And of course, artists will always find ways of meeting and mixing with each other in any city, no matter how hard the market tries to homogenize, synchronize and sterilize us all. There's always Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and dare I say, even Staten Island.

I like this (read the entry here) as a response to Smith's book -- that is, the refusal to let reading it turn into an occasion for nostalgia. The spirit of Greenwich Village cannot afford to live in Greenwich Village, but it has work to do, especially right now.

The Quick and the Dead 
A few months ago, I decided not to run for a second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle (for reasons having nothing to do with that worthy institution, and everything to do with my own need to concentrate on other commitments) and I stuck to that decision even when asked a couple of times to reconsider. Nobody not actually on the board knows just how much work is involved. And I don't just mean loading up the hundreds of books that arrive every week onto a cart to transport them to my cubicle at Inside Higher Ed, down the block. That's the least of it.

It turns out that the sheer amount of fantasy about the NBCC is kind of interesting, in a psychohistory sort of way. A case in point being something I read online not long ago about how those of us deciding on the awards are subjected to "lobbying." In three years, I've never heard from a single author, agent, or editor trying to influence me one way or the other. I get pitches from publicists all the time, of course, but they are invariably so clueless that I can't imagine them influencing anyone into reading a book -- let alone reviewing one, much less voting for it.

A fair hunch is that the belief in "lobbying" is a function of litblogger wish-fulfillment fantasies being projected. Somebody at Billy Bob's Book Blog assumes that if he or she were on the board, then famous authors would be inviting them to dinner. Alas, no. Would that this were true. After three years my virtue remains all too untested. But who am I to interrupt anybody's fantasies of glamor by pointing out that serving on the NBCC board just means doing a lot of pro bono labor while the anklebitters gnash their teeth? No good can come of insisting on the realities.

Be that as it may -- and with about ten solid weeks of work to do before the end of my term -- I have resolved to bring Quick Study out of its persistent vegetative state. A few people have expressed disappointment that it has had barely a pulse for the past couple of years. I haven't even bothered to post links to my work, while my Twitter presence has been low-volume and erratic, at best. There are various reasons for all of this, but the desire to explain them in detail seems as much a vice as idleness itself. Anyway, I will try to do better.
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