July 2007 Archives

Several weeks ago, during all of the furor over Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur -- you remember: I will show you fear in a handful of blogs -- Jessa Crispin on Bookslut derisively asked, have you ever read a blogger who claimed that the internet is the future? I haven't, either.

Sometimes one can't tell -- is she kidding? Well, she has claimed she doesn't read them. Actually, if you put a number of terms into a Google search -- future, old media, internet, print, decline, terms like that -- you'll get thousands of hits on Websites and blogs, all of them claiming more or less precisely this: Newsprint (and TV and Marconi wireless) might as well be just mud daubs on walls. We are the future now.

Many of these exultant prognostications are old enough, they were posted before the dot.com bust, that inconvenient intrusion of financial reality. But if you track the dates, you'll notice the crowing that "tomorrow belongs to me" barely paused and continues to this day.

Which led book/daddy to wonder: How will we know the (supposed) future is here?

Some of us are a little dimmer than others, you know. We're too busy trying to buy an iPhone to notice that the culture has been overthrown. But a possible test (or more likely, an impractical test) suggested itself while reading Sven Birkerts' latest thoughts on the future influence of book blogs -- in which he believes book reviewers may be on the "teetering balance" between the Old World and the New.

One of the consistent arguments of Webheads and bloggers (and of Andrew Keen, too, although expressed more as horror than as defiant exultation) is that the Web represents the defeat of the "gatekeepers" -- a kind of anti-Arnoldian apocalypse in which hierarchies of excellence are brought down and we have a multitudinous yammering about Anything We Ignorant Slobs Happen to Like.

If all of this is true -- if everyone will have access to the means of production (through print-on-demand books), if everyone will have access to the e-books themselves and no one needs editors or agents or critics or publishers or newspapers -- then surely, before the influence of book pages dies off completely, one sign of the Approaching Inevitablity would be a measurable shift in book sales. Right?

July 31, 2007 12:06 PM | | Comments (3)

... the one that's been zipping around blogs like Galleycat and FishbowlNY and the ever-supercilious Gawker? The one in which Ms. Talese accused Oprah of "fiercely bad manners" during the infamous on-air contretemps in January 2006 over James Frey's A Million Little Pieces?

book/daddy was the person who started it all.

Really. No, really. book/daddy interviewed Ms. Talese onstage at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference on Saturday. I told her in advance that we'd have to talk about James Frey, and she said she had absolutely no problem with that.

So I asked her. She declared herself completely unrepentant, defended Frey's memoir, declared that the entire furor had not changed her handling of memoirs one bit -- despite the subsequent lawsuit. Ms. Talese said Oprah had basically misled her, telling her the show was going to be one thing -- and then turned it into an interrogation. Later that evening, at the dinner with Joyce Carol Oates, an audience member, apparently disliking my shrugging off of Mr. Frey's sins, brought it up again, arguing he'd broken faith with his readers -- let's all grab the pitchforks and torches -- and Ms. Talese fired away some more.

So why didn't I mention any of this before -- when The Dallas Morning News and Time and Texas Monthly all rushed it online ?

Because, frankly, book/daddy never thought even the original story was that important. I still don't. Oprah and Mr. Frey may be big factors in book sales, but they're nothing at all in literature.

Why, then, is book/daddy stepping forward now? Because a number of people who were at the Mayborn have e-mailed, asking why I've said nothing.

So here goes: I stand by the commentary I wrote the day after Ms. Talese's Oprah appearance last year. Nothing's changed:

July 30, 2007 10:26 PM | | Comments (4)

Tribeza is an Austin-based magazine that in July launched its handsome Dallas edition -- featuring a book/daddy column on culture and books and whatnot, a column that will be a regular feature, depending on inspiration, employment and remuneration.
Unfortunately, the publication doesn't have much Web presence yet. So in the interests of horn-tootling and because of the pressing need for everyone to read everything book/daddy writes, he is taking the liberty of attaching his first column here. It's about Dallas in print -- Dallas as a subject for fiction.

July 30, 2007 4:19 PM | | Comments (2)

The London Review of Books gets around to reviewing Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill.

James Meek writes of the man who owns and runs a seven thousand-acre private military base in North Carolina:

"The founder and owner of Blackwater, Erik Prince, the 38-year-old heir to a fortune made by his father (a Michigan entrepreneur who invented the illuminated car sun visor), is not, legally, a villain. It doesn't make him a villain that he is a privately educated, avowedly devout Roman Catholic, a former member of US Navy special forces and the father of six children. It doesn't make him a villain that he has declared: 'Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service.' It doesn't make him a villain that he is part of the right-wing Republican DeVos-Prince dynasty of Michigan, which has bankrolled radical Christian evangelical movements that campaign against homosexuality, abortion and stem-cell research. The fact that he was an intern in the administration of the elder President Bush, but found him too liberal and backed the extreme right-winger Pat Buchanan to replace him, doesn't make him a villain; nor does the fact that he has given a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions to Republican politicians. It doesn't make him a villain that he donated half a million dollars to an organisation set up by Charles Colson, a felon convicted for his role in the Watergate scandal, to get prisoners to become born-again Christians in exchange for better jail conditions (in 1996, Colson floated the possibility of a Christian coup against the re-elected President Clinton). Nor does it make Prince a villain that, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when survivors were desperate for food, drinking water, shelter and medical supplies, his company flew ammunition into New Orleans to supply the groups of heavily-armed mercenaries it had rushed to the disaster zone. It is true that he helps fund campaigners against high taxation and welfare spending, while the hundreds of millions of dollars Blackwater has taken in fees since 2001 have come almost exclusively from the US taxpayer. Yet this does not make him a villain.

"A man who hires a squad of elite lawyers to fight to protect his company from liability for anyone's death, foreign or American, anywhere overseas, despite at least one incident of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq shooting dead an innocent man; despite the death in Fallujah of four Blackwater mercenaries to whom the company hadn't given proper armoured vehicles, manpower, weapons, training, instructions or maps; despite the death of three US servicemen in Afghanistan at the hands of a reckless Blackwater aircrew, who also died: well, casual observers might think this would render Erik Prince a villain. Yet it would make him a villain only in some liberal, humanistic, ethical sense. In the eyes of American law, Prince has done nothing villainous; on the contrary, he is a patriot and a Christian, which is to say, a good man."

July 29, 2007 6:10 PM | | Comments (1)

Phil Nugent is shutting down operations for awhile. Has to go bury his dead computer and dance for nickels until he can buy a new one.

Bush got re-elected -- and now this. Man, this is turning into a really shitty century.

July 28, 2007 10:44 PM |

In the future, freshly appointed book editors at our daily newpapers should be handed a copy of Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America. They could use it: It is a very commonsensical, clear-headed and knowledgeable analysis of the current state of professional book reviewing.

Despite its sub-title, the slim book (170 pages) is not a response to the recent cutbacks in book pages, nor a quarrel with critics' judgments nor a gripe about how dumbed-down everything has become. In fact, Ms. Pool, a former Boston Review editor and book columnnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, begins by citing a number of complaints that have appeared over the decades, all finding the same faults with American reviewers and reviewing. Apparently, the newspaper book page was in a plight the moment it was born.

Instead, Faint Praise aims to explain how book reviewing actually works, the pressures on it and on individual reviewers, the long-term forces that keep reviewing low-paid, disrespected but still needed. Ms. Pool does indeed get around to such recent developments as those book page cutbacks (which have actually been going on for several years but which only generated concerted reactions the past year). She also addresses the rise of book blogs and the harmful effects of Amazon's amateur blurbs, notably the public's confusion of them with reviewing.

There have been reams of personal essays written about reviewing, plenty of journalists reflecting on their careers as book grumps and the occasional table-turning diatribe or "review of reviewers." Even so, on his blog, Quick Study, Scott McLemee recalls that the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism in 2001 included nothing on "practical criticism (as it was once called)." In his review, he asked why, and the response "was as if I'd asked for the return of slavery."

Snobbery is the cockroach of the academy; it'll never die. But journalists themselves have rarely treated the subject at serious length, either. Ms. Pool's ample bibliography of 229 items includes fewer than ten books that can be considered directly about the business. And quite a few of those were published before World War II.

Despite one's impressions, then, that reviewing has been thoroughly and self-importantly hashed over, Faint Praise -- as a book-length study -- is something of a rarity. The last complete volume I can recall reading about the practice (not the theory) of book reviewing was University of Georgia journalism dean John Drewry's Writing Book Reviews. There have been a couple of other books since, but the library copy of Drewry I accidentally came across was from 1966. The book went out of print 10 years later, yet it remains the first item to pop up on an Amazon search for "book reviews."

Still, academic snobbery is right in one regard: There is a distinction to be made between literary criticism and book reviewing.

July 26, 2007 10:12 AM | | Comments (11)

He reads book reviews only long enough to learn whether he should Google the name of the author. Then he checks Google only long enough to learn whether he should go to Amazon and buy the book.

A binary choice, each time: Go/no go.

What a laughably reductive view of the complex pleasure, the immersion that is browsing and choosing and reading, what a narrow notion of criticism as crude consumer aid, as if the entire human, literary process were a money transaction and nothing else, what a --

Oh, wait. Of course. He's an economist.

July 23, 2007 7:28 PM |

Here's the perfect companion piece to the Columbia Journalism Review's recent feature about the damage done to The Dallas Morning News through its current policy of cutting staff to achieve greatness (a "death model" followed by many American papers these days): In The New York Review of Books, Russell Baker writes about two new books on current state of the press, and concludes that the greatest harm done to print journalism has hardly been from the Internet (which gets only a couple of paragraphs).

It's the stupid management, stupid.

And it has been the owners, who turned everything over to the business managers. So the next time a newspaper announces it's trimming or killing its book reviews, remember: It's not because of New Media, it's not rising illiteracy, it's not from any purported loss in advertising from the publishing industry. The cutback is the direct result of management decisions on what to value, which readers to sacrifice, how to please Wall Street.

July 23, 2007 5:57 PM |

This posting is coming to you from three blocks away from the infamous, old, red-brick "Walls" prison unit in Huntsville, Texas.

Where Leadbelly served time and wrote "Midnight Special" about the prison train he hoped would take him away.

And where Texas' state executions still take place. One of the sadder, grimmer places in America.

book/daddy hasn't posted much this week because he and the missus fled the Great Water Heater Explosion and Kitchen Demolition for lovely Huntsville. Surely a garden-spot, vacation highlight of Texas. We're here for a teacher conference Sara needed to attend. Anyone who thinks public school teachers have it easy because they have summers off has never heard of the dread "professional development." There are different kinds of incarceration, after all.

But you don't understand "incarceration" until you've been to Huntsville. book/daddy has passed the Texas State Prison many times on Highway 45 between Houston and Dallas. The complex of guard towers and razor wire stretching to the horizon is clearly visible from the road. But he'd never stopped here. And there's little reason to do so, unless you have friends or relatives locked up inside (which, it turns out, we do -- someone previously related to Sara's family).

The full extent of the "prison industry" is plain when you come to Huntsville, an entire town pretty much devoted to that one enterprise. There are 151 prisons in Texas and six of them are here. There's the crumbling, old prison rodeo arena, the guard uniform stores in town and the nearby horse farms that provide horses for the mounted corrections officers. There's the Texas Prison Museum (run by retired warden Jim Willett and worth a stop, by the way) and Sam Houston State University, which has a college devoted to training prison administrators and staff. Every other building is a TDCJ (Texas Department of Corrections and Justice) facility, and the ones that aren't, like the college dorms and this hotel, look like they were designed and built by prison guards.

One has rarely seen such a haunting articulation of Michel Foucault's ideas about Enlightenment and control. An embodiment of the death penalty, Huntsville seems a place designed for sorrow and despair. The fact that what originally stood on the Walls site was a children's school nicknamed the "Brick Academy" only reinforces the connections.

For another thing, book/daddy hadn't realized that the sprawling prison out by the highway is mostly the newer construction (much of it since the '90s and the massive rise in prison population in America, plus the Ruiz lawsuit that forced the state to build more facilities). The Walls unit, meanwhile, is practically downtown -- only a few blocks from the courthouse square and a short stroll from the university. I can almost see it from my hotel room (a few trees block the view).

It's like having Death Row in your neighborhood. The forlorn atmosphere is embellished by the rainy gloom that often settles over the Piney Woods area (where Texas more closely resembles Louisiana than what people typically think of as "Texas"). Huntsville inspired Robert Draper's flawed prison gothic, his debut novel, Hadrian's Walls, but what one really feels here -- despite the fast-food chains and modern penology and patches of affluent suburbia -- is that you're trapped in some Warner Brothers chain gang movie. Or a faded Walker Evans photo. Shotgun shacks; abandoned warehouses; thick, wet trees and grass, men dressed as prison trustees. Nothing's changed much.

In short, a true romantic getaway weekend. Sara's conference schedule keeps her off somewhere in meetings and me alone, writing and reading and catching up on cable TV in our hotel room. A happy result: book/daddy should be posting a substantial review later this week. The other pleasant event was our late-night stop at the Homestead restaurant, a superb eatery housed in an old cabin.

Otherwise, to quote Pulp Fiction, this place sure gets medieval on your ass.

July 22, 2007 9:02 AM |

book/daddy knew that the mournful, driving, '60s rock chestnut, "The House of the Rising Sun," did not begin with Eric Burdon and the Animals. He's read up on and heard Alan Lomax' recordings. What he didn't know -- what Ted Anthony makes clear in Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song -- was that Georgia Turner's 1937 version isn 't the original by a long shot, either. book/daddy seems to have suffered from a primitive folklorist's creation myth: 'Tweren't never that simple, as Greil Marcus could have told me. Check out Saul Austerlitz' review in the San Francisco Chronicle

July 19, 2007 11:41 AM | | Comments (1)

The plumbers, having turned off the gas and the water and dug a hole under the kitchen, are now launching an attack on various foundation beams, lighting fixtures and, I think, the cat.

So the order has come down to abandon ship.

book/daddy strikes his colors and will retire to the king-size bed, free cable and complimentary breakfast at the nearby La Quinta.

July 17, 2007 3:39 PM | | Comments (1)

Seeing as this site is always Teetering on the Brink of Oblivion (the name we've given the hole the plumbers have dug under the kitchen), book/daddy was a little surprised to hear his intermittent efforts lumped together with the better known, more established, better-serviced blogs, Maud Newton and bookslut.

But here is Martha Woodroof on NPR, coming to that surprising conclusion in her story on disappearing book pages.

July 17, 2007 2:47 PM | | Comments (1)

The plumbers have arrived, and the demolition of the kitchen has commenced. First stage: removal of burst water heater and its replacement with a new, costly, environmentally more friendly tankless water heater.

First stage, part II: Given the chaos and the lack of water supply, book/daddy has modified the original "Never give up an inch" order. It's now "Evacuate to designated rear echelon quarters."

A nearby La Quinta Inn.

Communiques will resume as conditions permit. We'll be roughing it. There doesn't seem to be a bar in the hotel.

July 17, 2007 10:09 AM |

Much has been praised and much has been written about Jim Dale and his audiobook versions of the Harry Potter books, including today's Mokoto Rich story in The New York Times.

Jim Dale's are perfectly fine, but frankly, for my money, you'd do better to get the British editions with Stephen Fry. They are much droller, livelier, more whimsical. I think the difference may be that while Dale is a fine actor and mimic and voice talent, Fry is Fry -- meaning we get a touch of his impish comic spirit.

July 17, 2007 9:13 AM |

Scott McLemee recounts a "contemporary legend" (what used to be called an "urban legend") of academia -- a doctoral defense that turns out to be about nothing at all. And Scott asks if anyone can provide names or dates to prove this defense ever happened.

book/daddy cannot. But I can provide another contemporary legend from academia, a favorite of mine, and the question remains the same: Anyone know anything to corroborate this?

A 17th century English lit doctoral candidate has completed her dissertation on Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist. Early on in her studies (yes, the gender makes this seem sexist, but I'm just reporting the anecdote as I heard it), she moved away from the university because of something -- oh, let's say she had to live with her parents. So she completed her work by mail. This was not that uncommon 25 years ago, and probably even less so today with the internet.

At any rate, it's the day of her defense, she returns to the department and faces a jury of professors -- who quickly realize that in all this time, no one has explained that Pepys' name is pronounced "Peeps." But the professors are embarrassed as well, to have one of their Ph.D. candidates get this far and never to have spoken to one of them directly. So our plucky candidate has the unnerving experience of hearing her mentors nervously coo at her for several hours.

Everytime she says "Peppis," one of them would softly go ... "Peeps."

Now before we dismiss this as an obvious joke, and an implausible one at that, book/daddy must add this coda, which I promise is true: I related the above anecdote to a brand new English lit prof in Austin in the early '80s, and he expressed wonder. He hadn't realized that Pepys was pronounced like that.

No big deal, I said, lots of people don't. And besides, Pepys isn't really in your field (which happened to be 18th-century literature). But then a perfect example hit me: It's like all those other names of British writers with funny pronuncations, I said. You know, like William Cowper, right? The 18th-century poet whose name is pronounced Cooper.

Surprised silence. Ah, no, actually, he didn't know that, either.

THE HOWLING: Scott posted this over at Crooked Timber, and it has triggered a small tsunami of responses.

July 16, 2007 9:04 AM | | Comments (6)

For various reasons -- and to my regret -- I wasn't able to catch Roky Erikson's return to Dallas Saturday night. After 30 years, the pschedelic-schizophrenic survivor seems to have been in surprisingly good form. Here's a review of the documentary, You're Gonna Miss Me and here's a review of his live performance.
Photo by Nan Coulter, special contributor, The Dallas Morning news

July 16, 2007 8:39 AM |

... have asked about my Larry McMurtry essay/review which appeared in print in April but not online. So here it is.

July 16, 2007 8:24 AM |

How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

July 12, 2007 11:56 AM |

book/daddy has long been familiar with many of the classic descriptions of his job -- "A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded" (the great Murray Kempton), a reviewer "is pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at a time" (George Orwell) -- but here are some new ones (new to me):

"Book reviewing is the slum of American letters" -- George Davenport.

"The absolute dregs .... writing for the books pages. Why? Because it's the lowest form of journalism there is. And the lowest form of that is reviewing fiction" -- Amanda Craig.

"Most of the thousands of poets were bad, most of the thousands of critics were bad, and they loved each other" -- Randall Jarrell.

These bleak pearls of wisdom are quoted in Gail Pool's new book, Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, which I intend to review here. Sometime. When I've recovered.

Until then, it's just cheering me up no end. The prime depressive function, it seems, of all my reading these days.

July 11, 2007 2:15 PM | | Comments (2)

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal and an Artsjournal blogger, too, has written a thoughtful consideration of why newspapers are jettisoning critics, the possible influence (or value) of bloggers and why we need critics. Much appreciated after all the Richard Schickel and Andrew Keen fit-pitching (for and against) the past several weeks.

Saved book/daddy the troubling of writing it.

July 9, 2007 5:51 PM |

In the recent Columbia Journalism Review story about the disastrous effects of newspaper staff cutbacks at The Dallas Morning News, book/daddy is quoted as saying that in its pre-cutback meetings with staff, the News' "management was making it plain how little it valued cultural coverage, and how the depressing rounds of cutbacks would only continue."

Yet in the past several months, the Morning News has undertaken something that for years, many writers, book/daddy included, had argued for: promoting the reporters and photographers and columnists in print ads and on billboards. It's not an ego thing -- it's a branding thing. Lots of readership studies indicate readers generally don't recognize bylines. This is a way to help them, to let them see the news as a product of individuals.To give a little credit where the best work is coming from, not from some faceless sausage factory.

In contrast, the News corporate policy and marketing strategy have always been to promote the product, rarely the employees. A journalist sees his face 50-feet-tall on the side of a freeway, he might start thinking he matters and actually ask for a decent wage.

No one's thinking that he matters at the paper these days. Probably as part of a program to boost the staff's sub-basement-level morale (also discussed in the CJR story), the News has put up huge, black-and-white portrait shots all over town and on buses -- photos touting its education columnist, its Metro reporters, etc. All deserving people, about a dozen or so.

And not a single member of the arts staff has ever been featured. Classical music critic, country music critic, nada.

But aha. Now, in the black wake of the CJR story, the News' management has issued another of its always-welcome, cheer-up-the-little-folk memos. The memo, posted online by the Dallas Observer, soundly refutes the CJR story -- not by disputing a single fact or survey cited in it -- but by hailing all the good work by News staff members that CJR authors Craig Flournoy and Tracey Everbach managed to overlook.

Setting aside the blanket praise for departments or special teams (the sports staff, the photo staff, etc.), the memo lists some 60 individuals by name. And yes, not a single arts journalist on the paper is mentioned here, either -- except former architecture critic David Dillon, and that was for a front-page news feature, written with Dave Tarrent, on Dallas' shortage of affordable housing.

In short, no art critics, no music reviewers, no art department editors have done anything worthy of note. Management's near-total blindness to the value of cultural coverage is a wonder to behold. They should be popping corks on the fourth floor. This'll just cheer them up no end.

July 9, 2007 3:58 PM | | Comments (3)

Our promising young potato, Suzanna, is being temporarily transplanted to the Columbus College of Art & Design for a three-week visual arts summer seminar. She won a scholarship. So book/daddy and the missus will abandon the hulking, still-leaking water heater and fly off to Ohio tomorrow to see to it that the sprout is well set up. Or, at least, that's the plan. Given the state of the American airline industry and this summer's weather, we will be fortunate if we're not left stranded in a swampy cornfield a few feet past the runway at DFW.

In any event, book/daddy operations, once again, will be temporarily suspended.

July 5, 2007 3:44 PM |

Excellent excerpt from Douglas Wolk's new book, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean available at Salon. Best line about comic culture's self-inflicted inferiority complex: "But demanding (or wishing for) a place at the table of high culture is an admission that you don't have one; the way you get a place at the table of high culture is to pull up a chair and say something interesting."

Yes, I know, I'm getting to the article late. See below, re: unstoppable water falling from the sky and flowing out of walls.

July 5, 2007 11:58 AM |

Faced with an end-of-Springfield scenario, the Rev. Lovejoy on The Simpsons runs through the streets, ripping off his cleric's collar, shouting "It's all over!," giving up any hope of salvation, the future, the afterlife -- the whole Christian caboodle. According to Nicholas Blincoe in the New Statesman, John Gray does much the same (without running through the streets) in his new book, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. Apparently -- if I have this right -- utopianism and thus totalitarianism and thus the Decline of the West and President Bush's failure in Iraq, all of this began with, well, Jesus.

And this just in: Damian Thompson in the Telegraph has carefully considered the whole idea and has determined it to be "a load of bollocks." It seems Mr. Grey just hates President Bush.

A British philosopher hating President Bush? Join the stampede. OK, cross that one off the reading list.

July 5, 2007 7:27 AM |

... and they look dreadful for all the newspapers that are desperately cutting their staffs (and book sections and arts sections) to keep up their profit margins for Wall Street and the stockholders. It turns out it doesn't work. In fact, it's a horrid idea -- just as serious journalists and serious readers have been saying. It hurts quality coverage. It loses readers. It loses advertising. And the internet isn't exactly the future salvation that many hold out, either.

Craig Flournoy and Tracey Everbach have been working for months for The Columbia Journalism Review on a feature analysis of the consequences of the layoffs and cutbacks at The Dallas Morning News the past two years. The story just went up online and it makes for grim reading. The story looks at not just the fallout for the newspaper -- although it paints a thoroughly bleak picture of that -- but also the results for individual reporters, photographers, editors. Disclosure: book/daddy took part in the survey and is briefly quoted.

The departing journalists have generally found new jobs and are happy. (Ahem. Yes, well, book/daddy is always the exception.) That's pretty much the only good news. Everything else is bad. What people like the National Book Critics Circle have been arguing for months -- that such cutbacks will hurt coverage, that they will result in the loss of readers, that this is not a way forward but just a way to even more cutbacks -- is vindicated by the story. A paper can't lose high-quality journalists and expect readers won't notice the change in coverage. And tweaking the website doesn't make up the difference. Mr. Flournoy and Ms. Everbach do a fine job of taking apart the spin put out by the News by setting it against surveys, statistics, expert opinions. It is a devastating analysis. Put simply, this was not an inevitable decline; it was the result of bungling management.

One hopes every newspaper management reads it. And one fully expects it won't make much difference, given the dunderheaded thinking that got newspapers into this mess in the first place.

July 4, 2007 9:13 PM | | Comments (3)

Another reason the bookchat of late has been less than sparkling on book/daddy's august website is that book/daddy himself has been contacted to give four lectures on Edgar Allan Poe this September. So he's been pouring over Kenneth Silverman's outstanding 1991 biography, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.

Poe is hardly book/daddy's favorite author -- one recalls Henry James' sharp observation that an enthusiasm for Poe is a mark of immaturity in a reader. But he is an exceedingly interesting author, a landmark. He and his writings are very rich sources for cultural analysis. They touch on so many areas: the creation of the classic detective story and changing notions of crime, the origins of much of American pop culture in horror and fantasy and video games, the development of the short story, the explosion of American magazines, the literary competition between Boston and New York and the eventual victory of New York publishing, the critique of America's early boosterish democracy inherent in so much of Poe's "aristocratic," gothic works, etc., etc.

But he's also one vast hell of a depressing subject for biography. book/daddy was perfectly aware of much of Poe's tortured existence, but so far, Poe's young wife Virginia has just died (finally) of tuberculosis -- thus stifling the last, meager chance Poe has for any shred of domestic happiness -- Poe has gone on another one of the blinding binges that will eventually help to kill him, he's outraged and infuriated most of New York's literary crowd, he's so incredibly poor (still) that he's begging money for food -- and there's close to 200 pages yet to go.

Mr. Silverman must have a yen for grim lives -- he won a Pulitzer for his bio on that great stand-up comedian, Cotton Mather -- and he is drily meticulous here on every hemmorhage Virginia undergoes, every one of Poe's batshit benders.

A superb piece of literary scholarship. Highly recommended.

It all makes book/daddy's troubles seem ... even worse. You just want to lie in the (currently flooded) gutter and give up.

July 4, 2007 10:54 AM | | Comments (3)

H20 definitely seems intent on killing us here in Dallas. Our water heater, apparently feeling a kinship with all the liquid pouring down outside, just burst this morning and flooded the kitchen.

Sorry about this, but all book/daddy operations are hereby temporarily suspended while we telegraph distress signals and man the bilge pumps.

Is that a lifeboat? Oh well then, hurrah. Women and book/daddies first.

July 3, 2007 9:52 AM |


Best of the Vault


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.



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