book/daddy: September 2007 Archives

  • Julian Barnes on French anarchist-wit Felix Feneon by way of Luc Sante. Gotta love an art critic who saw Les demoiselles d'Avignon, turned to Picasso and told him, "You should stick to caricature."

  • Check out Dushko Petrovich's smart slide show and history of the decline and fall (and possible small rebound) of public sculpture.

    FOLLOW-UP: Glenn Weiss of Aesthetic Grounds took book/daddy to task for touting this public sculpture video essay, asking why I liked it. Our exchange even brought in Mr. Petrovich.

  • Yes, and they were far wittier than Bret Easton Ellis or Tama Janowitz: In the '20s, Britain's Bright Young People invented a new genre: the party novel:

    "Looking back on his hot youth from the debatable lands of the early 1960s, Waugh declared that 'there was between the wars a society, cosmopolitan, sympathetic to the arts, well-mannered, above all ornamental even in rather bizarre ways, which for want of a better description the newspapers called 'High Bohemia'" -- [this was] characterised in the public imagination by its exuberant parties and riotous practical joking - impersonation parties, circus parties, mock weddings and elaborately staged 'Stunts.'"

  • The defensive gestures of the memoir writer:

    "The hand-at-the-face gesture is what one might call the inevitable fate of the fly-on-the-wall writer. For Blake [Moirrison, author of When Did You Last See Your Father?], it reached an unusual level of intensity that night, because his book had made it to the big screen, and he was watching the outcome with an audience of people that he mostly knew. But every memoir writer of any sensitivity at all must surely identify with the defensive gesture. It is the deeply ambivalent reaction of the artist who both wants to share his private experience with an audience, and yet paradoxically - but genuinely - recoils from it at the same time."

  • A horrific metaphor for an entire system and what it did to a country: The Gulag victim had been so badly damaged -- yet lived -- that her autopsy eventually found her heart had been beaten out of place. A review of Orlando Figes' history of private life in Stalinist Russia: The Whisperers, due to be published in America in November.

  • Carlin Romano comes out strongly and sensibly in favor of more book reviews. He echoes a point book/daddy has made several times:

    "Benighted managers, we think, fail to notice that the five newspapers with the most coverage and staff devoted to books - USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post - are also the five newspapers with the highest circulations in the country.

    Newspaper managers, or the marketing consultants they hire, don't usually break out the figures that way, but they should.

    The five papers mentioned all recognize that the most important task in attracting advertising is not hunting for advertisers to take ads, or expecting businesses connected to every sector of editorial content to buy advertising to support that space (i.e., book publishers should buy ads to support book pages, sports teams to support the sports section).

    The trick is drawing the kind of readers, and enough of them, to one's newspaper that advertisers (especially high-rollers) desperately want to reach. All five papers above understand that book coverage, like all coverage of what smart, successful sorts do, draws society's most highly educated, likely-to-buy readers, a group that also skews wealthy."

  • September 29, 2007 12:59 PM |

    Standing behind a well-groomed, well-endowed blonde. Packed into a black dress, high heels. But no dummy, far from it. She's grilling somebody on the other end of her cell phone. A heated exchange whose topic I can't make out until after several irritated yeses, she finally says:

    "OK. So explain it to me. Just why are you calling this fraud?"

    It will probably disappoint everyone -- it certainly disappoined me -- that my second thought was, Oh right, she's probably just a lawyer.

    Still, I preferred my initial response -- when I looked around for the TV cameras.

    And the arresting officers.

    September 28, 2007 5:42 PM |

    In case you were wondering whether all of England had become a Shakespeare entertainment park, here is the official RSC restaurant placemat maze. You'll have to provide your own crayons.
    But can you help get little Willy back home in time for Sunday matinee?
    Some of it is quite droll (ah, those Brits and their cultural heritage). But you need to get to the enlarged version to see the details. Ophelia's station is marked with a boat ("Riverboat Service"), Titus Andronicus has crossed fork and spoon ("Restaurant"), light blue lines indicate "Strong and Difficult Women," Richard III has wheelchair access and Prospero has a warning for "Side Winds." Hamlet's station is the only one marked with airport access and the tiny, tiny, tiny box next to it says, I think, "Interchanges between heroes and warriors may delay your journey."

    September 27, 2007 10:45 AM |

    Postings may be lighter than usual this week.

    Tomorrow morn, book/daddy joins his fellow citizens in appearing for jury duty. Justice will be dispensed, the current evil administration shall be vanquished. The republic shall be upheld.

    Or maybe I'll just duck the whole thing in voir dire by yelling, "To the stocks with all of them!" and getting myself thrown out.

    ADDENDUM: Funny, it turns out that Ron Hogan over at Galleycat has jury duty this week, too. Is our justice system picking on bookbloggers? Or do we just make exemplary jurors?

    As opposed to say, criminals.

    September 25, 2007 11:21 AM | | Comments (1)

    Upon first looking into Michael Harvey's The Chicago Way, it seemed fairly certain that book/daddy wouldn't like it. The title came from one of the more crowd-pleasing and embarrassing bits of dialogue David Mamet wrote before creating the TV tough-guy hack fest, The Unit. A reminder: It comes from Sean Connery as the tough old Chicago bull in The Untouchables lecturing Elliott Ness about how applying a policy of escalating-response revenge to the Capone gang would be an effective tactic in law enforcement, though one not widely endorsed in the academy or in court.

    In addition, as the co-creator of A&E's Cold Case Files -- and regardless of the possible worth of his novel -- Mr. Harvey has enjoyed the kind of high-profile media interest (interview on NPR, "tour" of Chicago bars on, that kind of thing) unavailiable to most first-time novelists. Yes, that shouldn't matter in a critic's ultimate judgment, but in his preliminary considerations over whether he should spend time and effort and blog space on a book that was getting more atttention than most, it is a factor (hardly the only one, but still, a factor), and critics who say otherwise are either fooling readers or themselves.

    And then there is the novel's basic set-up: a serial killer -- one of the more tiresome thriller devices these day -- and the main character himself, a private detective-loner, Irish ex-cop, telling his story in the first person. Some might call this classic; book/daddy finds it cause for concern. I have become wary of the Raymond Chandler school of world-weary street knights, cracking wise (but with a touch of melancholy) over their shots of Scotch. The self-indulgence that this male sentimentality often involves no longer disguises whatever hard-bitten critique it offers of American city politics, urban decay, class-based injustice, etc. Exhibit A: the smug tone of voice that Robert Parker's Spenser has put on for the past 15 years or so, combined with the rather obvious male fantasy figure he's become. (A wit and a wine connoiesseur! Catnip for the ladies! Yet his lover is a Harvard Ph.D! Oh, Spenser, you're sensitive and butch!).

    This doesn't mean book/daddy has adopted a simplistic rule concerning noir novels, first person = bad, third person = good. James Ellroy, after all, generally writes in the third person, and he's terrible, while Ross Macdonald wrote in the first person, and he's a master. But it does mean that I approach new, first-person, P.I. yarns with a degree of suspicion.

    Right about now is when the "turn" happens, and I declare that The Chicago Way surprised me, that it really is terrific. The truth is it did surprise me. After reading several pages, book/daddy was struck with how lean and controlled Mr. Harvey's prose was -- in the voice of Michael Kelly, his P.I.

    September 25, 2007 9:12 AM |

    From the Telegraph:

    "Fears for the future of the literary novel have been heightened by the revelation that a book by Katie Price, the surgically enhanced model, has outsold the entire Booker Prize shortlist.

    Sales for the Man Booker Prize contenders show that the combined efforts of the cream of Britain's literary talent cannot match the appeal of Crystal, by Katie Price, the topless model better known as Jordan."

    Right, right. Shocked, we're shocked. Lord, would you just look at th -- um, what was that again? Oh yes, the sales of serious literature. In England. Not being up to hers. This phenomenon seems to be a surprise only to the British. book/daddy's surprise was in not knowing who the hell Katie Price was. Now that he's seen the British knockoff of Pamela Anderson, he's planning on never forgetting her.

    She's his new screensaver.

    But ah, seriously. Apparently this isn't just some oddball fact-hyped-panicked story for a particularly slow news day ("Amazing! Americans love their worthless soda drinks!"). Or at least, it isn't to the Telegraph. Because that story was accompanied by this one:

    "Literary fiction, which might loosely be defined as novels with artistic aspirations, is the poor relation of the publishing industry. Such books may offer publishers respectability but it is genre novels - crime, women's fiction, adventure and historical yarns - that make the money.

    Just how few copies of most literary novels are sold was made painfully obvious by the figures for this year's Man Booker shortlist. Martin Amis may have claimed last week that the novel is in rude health but he is only half right. The flow of serious fiction may run unabated, but the readers have dried to a trickle. Where have they all gone?"

    So that certainly establishes one thing: These people have definitely been living on some obscure part of Pluto. When -- even in England -- did serious literature outsell romances and genre thrillers? Neither news story gives a definite date for this book-reading Eden, neither story, for that matter, gives much in the way of actual sales figures comparing today's devastating revelations with business-as-usual 10 or 20 years ago.

    OK. So maybe the whole deal was just an excuse to run a photo of Katie Price.

    Shameless. What kind of low-life, desperate-for-readership literary journalist would do such a thing?

    Next up: book/daddy asks Lil' Kim to show us what she wears in bed when she's reading Saul Bellow.

    September 23, 2007 6:44 PM | | Comments (1)

    Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction

    September 22, 2007 9:33 PM |

    book/daddy has never much cared for Dostoevsky -- everything Milan Kundera has said dismissively of the man's religious hysteria being confused for brilliance or insight gets a hearty "hear, hear!" from these quarters -- so I haven't been all that helpful when daughter Suzanna, the Comic Book Queen, has had to read Crime and Punishment for her senior English class ("Um, ex-radical, right-wing Christian, prison-house convert, epileptic gambler, all-round financial failure -- yes, Suz, he does resemble some of our relatives, doesn't he?").

    But now I was able to show her this from Brian Hughes' wonderful blog, Again With the Comics: Batman as Raskolnikov! The guilt, the soul-searching! And Sonja as Sonny, the Boy Wonder! (funny how Robin definitely looks like a young woman here).

    The questions that hover over the entire endeavor, however, are these, and yes, they demand an answer!

  • Why didn't Classics Illustrated ever think of this?
  • And where the hell was this when book/daddy had to suffer through C & P, The Idiot and The Possessed?

    While you're at Again With the Comics, be sure to check out (over on the left) "Lame Villains" (Stilt-Man! The Crimson Centipede!) and "What If?"(What if the invisible Girl Had Died? still gets me teary when reading it.")

    Thanks, bookslut, for the posting. And if you enjoy Mr. Hughes, you'll definitely want to check out Superdickery, a website dedicated to the undeniable philosophical proposition: Superman is a dickhead.

  • September 22, 2007 12:47 PM | | Comments (4)

    At Poetry Foundation, Brian Phillips has a superb -- if lengthy -- consideration of "Poetry and the Problem of Taste." What it really addresses is the cultural place of poetry today (nearly nonexistent, you probably guessed), the sense of crisis this has caused for years among poets and literary sorts and the different attempts by poets to address it, notably Dana Gioia ("Can Poetry Matter?"). But Mr. Phillips begins with a quick, remedial run-through of the history of aesthetic theory (where did the idea of "taste" come from, anyway?) and then applies that to the crisis. This is, more or less, the crux of this very intelligent essay:

    "Anxiety has pressed on the poetry culture for so long that it has become virtually a constitutive element of it, has succeeded finally in fusing itself to the logic by which the institutions of poetry operate. The sense of an ongoing crisis has given the white light of urgency to the activity of poetry's professional infrastructure, the complex of publishers, grant foundations, authors' groups, and writing programs whose efforts have increasingly assumed the glamour of emergency response.... Even the occasional indignant declaration by some leading poet or critic that there is no crisis in poetry seems, in the present climate, to contribute to the sense that there is one: when Robert Pinsky attacks the idea of the "poetry gloom," he is really acting as the poetry gloom's best publicist. Anxiety is so widespread in the poetry culture that the odd denial can be taken as a mere tic of the mechanism, like the stroke of the second racket that, in Samuel Johnson's famous metaphor, keeps the shuttlecock in the air.

    But anxiety why, and for what? Most familiarly, of course, we hear that poetry has lost its social relevance, that it no longer "matters" in American culture at large. This premise was capably developed by Dana Gioia in his influential 1991 essay "Can Poetry Matter?"... According to the most common version of this line of thinking, poetry has broken off from the main body of the culture and has become a distinct subculture, what Gioia calls "a small and isolated group," of interest only to those who engage in it.... In these arguments we always find some mention of the rise of creative writing programs, which have funded poetry's withdrawal into the irrelevance of the academy, and some mention of the continuing influence of Modernism, with its lordly indifference to common comprehension. Because this position generally underlies the most public attempts to "save" poetry ... we might call it the position of the poetry activists.

    Opposed to the poetry activists there is of course another group of writers and critics whom we might call the anti-activists. This group holds that the obsession with relevance, the obsession with "mattering," which is essentially an obsession with audience size, necessarily has a vulgarizing effect, and that the real crisis facing poetry is therefore not the indifference of society but the debasement that results from making an appeal to society that treats poetry like any other marketable product....Where the activists are concerned with poetry's public role and with its influence on the culture, the anti-activists see themselves as curators of the private experience of reading, concerned with its depths and mysteries, with its autonomy in the larger cultural sphere. They want poetry to remain aloof from the degrading triviality of mass culture ... By this understanding, the poetry institutions are like hospitals that kill their own patients; in their fixation on expanding poetry's readership, they compromise the qualities that make poetry actually worth reading."

    This, Mr. Phillips points out wisely, is actually a debate about taste.

    September 19, 2007 2:39 PM | | Comments (3)

    Crooked House via bookslut. A Samuel Beckett baby book.

    Naturally, no publisher wanted a hilarious, bleak book of scowling babies with captions like this:

    "Are you listening to me?
    Is anybody listening to me?
    Is anyone looking at me?
    Is anybody bothering about me at all?"

    September 17, 2007 12:35 PM | | Comments (1)

    As part of the National Book Critics Circle's retrospective series on its book award winners, book/daddy's appreciation of Walter Jackson Bate's biography, Samuel Johnson is up on the Critical Mass website. It was a rare triple-crown winner in 1977, garnering the NBCC's award for general non-fiction, the Pulitzer and the National Book Award.

    September 17, 2007 9:55 AM |

    Adaptations of poems on YouTube are usually dreadful. Typically, this is because, unlike many of the poets, the adapters are thuddingly literal-minded: Poet mentions sun, video of sun appears; poet is in love, hand-clasping lovers stroll by. Seeing as Edward Gorey already provides illustrations for the amusingly alphabeticized child deaths in The Gashlycrumb Tinies, it's not surprising that YouTube already features a dozen predictable readings and animated productions.

    And then there's Charleyten's version. The musical accompaniment may be a bit trite (Gorey would have probably preferred a ballet), but the comic transposition is simple yet droll, while the voiceover achieves a perfect pitch, a melancholy deadpan.

    September 16, 2007 9:27 PM |

  • James Joyce, Maya Angelou and Salman Rushdie make Radar magazine's Overrated Hall of Fame. Such daring choices. Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway weren't available? Inevitably, on a list that includes "Breast implants" -- sorry, they're never out of fashion -- "Andy Warhol" and "British accents," the last item is "Halls of fame." Ah yes, strained, self-referential irony is so overrated, isn't it.

  • Conan Doyle scrupulously kept his adulterous affair out of his diaries and his son burned the couple's letters in 1940. The relationship -- partly detailed in Julian Barnes' Arthur & George -- could have destroyed the reputation of Sherlock Holmes' creator. Arthur Lycett, author of a new Conan Doyle biography due in December, reveals how he sussed out the details.

  • When it comes to Hollywood's attempts to depict writers onscreen, book/daddy has always preferred John Goodman's line from Barton Fink, said while pumping a shotgun: "I'll show you the life of the mind!" Inspired (or repulsed) by David Duchovny's sex-mad burnout writer in Californication, Matt Thorne provides a quick survey of and commentary on recent screen versions of writers, improbably preferring Naked Lunch, David Cronenberg's most sexless movie and therefore bad Burroughs, while overlooking Adaptation. But I confess I'd completely forgotten Throw Momma from the Train:

    "In Danny DeVito's Throw Momma from the Train (1987), Billy Crystal played a blocked novelist who could get no further in his novel than "The night was..." and had to explain to one of his students why "100 Girls I'd Like to Pork" was a bad idea for a coffee-table book. In a throwaway joke, the published book could later be glimpsed on Crystal's desk."

  • September 15, 2007 7:35 PM | | Comments (2)

    There's a moment in James Jones' biography of Alfred Kinsey (Alfred C. Kinsey: A Life), when Paul Gebhard -- the young, Harvard-trained anthropologist who, famously, would succeed Dr. Kinsey as director of the Kinsey Institute -- was interviewed in 1946 for his first job there. As book/daddy wrote in 1997, "Dr. Kinsey's pressing need in the 1940s was to find field associates who, in face-to-face interviews with people, would be nonjudgmental, would be familiar with the most unusual sexual terms and practices. Interviewers couldn't be shocked, couldn't be confused about what was being discussed" because they'd only scare away subjects. Hence, the "human resource" practices that today would get Dr. Kinsey brought up before an ethics panel if not a judge: picking mostly gay or bisexual men (and only men) for his associates, testing their sensibilities by exposing himself to them, talking provocatively about sex with them, even having sex with them.

    In the case of Dr. Gebhard, it seems the interview never got as far as any fluid exchanges. But it was eye-opening, nonetheless. Dr. Kinsey asked him about the prevalence of gay men in American society. Rare, said Dr. Gebhard. The two were in New York City, so Dr. Kinsey took him to the men's room in Grand Central Station, which Dr. Gebhard had used previously. Dr. Kinsey asked him to time the men visiting it. Dr. Gebhard -- for the period, an educated, knowledgeable straight man -- was astonished at the number of men clearly cruising the "tea room" for sex.

    book/daddy brings this up, of course, because of the country-wide surprise, disgust and amusement over the details of Senator Larry Craig's arrest and resignation, notably the foot tapping and hand-wagging "secret code," which seems to have been in widespread use even in Dr. Kinsey's time. (For my money, Phil Nugent had perhaps the drollest, most enlightened response to the entire episode. He expressed concern for both closeted gays and undercover cops. Now that the media had gotten ahold of it, the poor guys would have to develop a whole new code.)

    After the so-called Kinsey Report, perhaps the most revelatory study of tapdancing-in-restrooms was Laud Humphreys' 1970 Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, which, for obvious reasons, has gained renewed attention the past few weeks and which book/daddy encountered in a college psych course eons ago, sometime before the earth cooled. What book/daddy didn't know was the whole back story (the uproar over "informed consent" among sociologists), the uproar in Humphreys' own life and the subsequent cratering of his career -- an affecting and highly relevant tale related in a 2004 biography, Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology.

    Scott McLemee, once again, has the story with some especially poignant (and pointed) late-in-life insights from Humphreys into what he termed the breastplate of righteousness. This is the frequent congruence between a closeted gay's secret sex life and what often turns out to be his proper, law-and-order persona. Practicing homosexuality while publicly damning it: Call it self-loathing or hypocrisy or even split personality. It offers perhaps the best answer to both why Senator Craig keeps insisting he's not gay and why, as conservative pundits have angrily asked, why do Republican "outings" get so much more media time than Democrats'?

    September 13, 2007 11:30 AM | | Comments (1)

    Believe it or not, it's a claymation adaptation of Borges' short story, "The Circular Ruins." And as odd as it is, once it gets past the distracting artiness and to the water/river image, it even follows the story, more or less.

    September 12, 2007 9:06 AM |

    Lisa Adams, co-author of Why We Read What We Read, has responded graciously to book/daddy's typically know-it-all assessment of her and co-author John Heath's performance on The Diane Rehm Show. See 8 Easy Steps to Understanding Bestsellers, below.

    September 11, 2007 10:02 PM |

    Tremendous essay over at Bookforum by Scott McLemee. Ostensibly a 20-year look back at Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, it really offers a mini-history and analysis of its own of the "unattached American intellectual" -- from post-war to post-Reagan, from the loss of Greenwich Village bohemia, which wasn't all that great to begin with, to the integration of these thinkers into academic/media/government jobs, to the rise of prepackaged, specialized popular culture (and the exclusion of a wider academic discourse, transforming intellectuals into easy-access media pundits), to the lumpenprofessoriat's re-marginalization after the Cold War ended and the academic-economic bubble had burst.

    As Scott puts it, back in bohemia, "The possibility of being an independent ... intellectual had been deeply conditioned by the necessity, for many such people, of working in marginal circumstances." But once that necessity was removed, and degreed people could get steady work, it became clear, as Irving Howe pointed out, that the "institutional world needs intellectuals because they are intellectuals, but it does not want them as intellectuals." In short, we all started writing book-length studies no one wanted to write, studies no one wanted to read, "books that have little to do with literature, criticism or even scholarship" -- but they got you tenure, they paid the rent.

    Throw in the New Left's complete disregard of Howe (and their supposed escape into "tenured radicalism"), Jacoby's heartening defense of the vernacular -- that is, a public intellectual has to engage a public world, not the private domain of academia -- and Richard Posner's economic determinism concerning pundit-intellectuals. What you've got is a meaty, beaty, big and bouncy, thought-provoking book review.

    Check it out.

    September 11, 2007 11:12 AM |

    For some reason, probably class-based, British performers, such as John Gielgud and Charlie Chaplin, have traditionally signed on to the "Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays, he wasn't aristocratic enough" cult-conspiracy notion. And now nearly 300 folk have signed an online "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" about the Bard's authorship. The declaration can be found here. As one might expect, most of the signatories are true-blue Oxfordians (supporters of the Earl of Oxford) with the occasional Baconian thrown in (supporters of Sir Francis Bacon), but they make sure to highlight the only names most people would have heard of, the only ones that might have some influence: Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, London.

    Otherwise -- this is news? You could find 300 people online willing to swear they believe in the physical reality of Azeroth because, lo, they have traveled there themselves and seen it. book/daddy is not going to turn over all his time and online space to re-fight this argument, an idea that didn't arise at any time during Shakespeare's life (despite the attempts by Oxfordians to read hints and doubts into any contemporary Elizabethan's testimony) and never saw print until more than a century after Shakespeare's death. But if you'd like to read my review of three recent books on the topic, and why the anti-Strat case is hypocritical and tone-deaf to literary style, take the jump.

    September 9, 2007 7:47 PM | | Comments (4)

    He was 78.

    While book/daddy was in graduate school, Eliot Fremont-Smith was a model of what i thought a non-academic literary critic should be: learned but light with that knowledge, drily humorous, perceptive, willing to explore, to give an author a chance, but also swift with the hammer when it came to idiocy and lazy work.

    I'd always wondered what happened to him after he left the Village Voice in 1984. To my mind, the Voice's literary criticism never really recovered.

    The sad surprise was learning, in the NYTimes' obit, that he'd struggled with alcoholism for years. The last, badly written line of the obit doesn't make clear whether -- for the past 23 years -- Mr. Fremonth-Smith battled the bottle or if that battle had already led him to become a counselor, which he was for the past 23 years.

    It reminded me a little of the memorial service for Jean Eckart, the former Broadway designer who, with her husband Bill, had created the sets, lighting and costumes for such incredible classic musicals as Damn Yankees and Mame. People from the worlds of Dallas and New York theater got up and spoke at length about what a wonderful artist and design teacher she'd been.

    Then, at the very end, a middle-aged guy no one knew stood up and said, I didn't know any of that about Jean. I just knew her as my therapist. And she saved my life.

    By her 50s, Jean had left the theater, left academia, and then worked as a therapist for decades. This whole, huge, other aspect of her life suddenly opened up to us, something we'd shamefully forgotten.

    In any event, I felt a sharp stab at the loss of Mr. Fremont-Smith and a deep sympathy and respect for what he accomplished -- as a critic, as a counselor and as a struggling alcoholic.

    September 8, 2007 10:58 AM |

    Yesterday's experiment in shamelessly boosting book/daddy's readership was a complete success. (see "Bawdy Yarns" below). Congratulations to all -- especially to you, the easily duped web slummer. You know who you are.

    It's true. It seems that the use of such terms as "huge throbbing books," "legal weed" and "hot stock tips" -- not even in the title of the website, just arbitrarily listed in a single post -- made that day the highest-scoring Friday this blog has ever had. Those who know blog stats know that Fridays tend to score fairly low among weekdays (the weekend is traditionally the lowest).

    Mondays, in contrast, are often the top-scoring day, as people try to jump-start their busy weeks. That pattern got thrown off this last week by Labor Day, but over the past month, the most-visited book/daddy days have primarily been Mondays. Meanwhile, Fridays (along with Saturdays) were among the lowest.

    Except for this past Friday, Sept 7. It was the third-most-visited day of the month. True, we're not talking millions of readers here, just several hundred either way. But a crude little trick like that -- and zoom. No wonder bookslut is such a big deal.


    You'll be reading a lot more about sex, drugs and mortgages on this blog.

    And maybe diet tips.

    It's be a fun, full-service book site. In fact, book/daddy is now offering low-fat, low-interest loans -- along with light bondage and power aerobics.

    September 8, 2007 10:08 AM | | Comments (1)

    Samuel Pepys -- Admiralty Secretary in 1678 and, much later, famous diarist -- nearly got himself executed in the anti-Catholic witch hunt that swept England in the late 17th century (a wax effigy of the pope was paraded in London and burned -- with cats inside it, the better to simulate screams. Now that's what you call anti-Papist hysteria).

    The trumped-up charges were all because of a man Pepys never met. Noel Malcolm reviews The Plot Against Pepys by James and Ben Long (book not yet available in the U.S.):

    "What Pepys was able gradually to piece together was the career of one of the most disreputable fraudsters and confidence tricksters of the 17th century. Scott had lied his way through life, giving himself bogus credentials, seducing women for their money, embezzling the pay of a Dutch regiment, and trying (unsuccessfully) to sell strategically sensitive materials to foreign powers.

    This is a career so bizarre and so colourful (including a role in driving the Dutch out of Manhattan, for which Scott was once idolised by old-fashioned American historians), one doubts whether Daniel Defoe would have dared to invent it."

    September 7, 2007 1:02 PM |

    In a recent e-mail to me about his return to blogging, Scott McLemee mentioned that he's learned there's one advantage to having a site named Quick Study. Your number of reader hits goes way up when school starts again.

    This reminded book/daddy of Bookslut, which continues to get ads for erotica and works of fiction being positioned as "transgressive" -- apparently because of what must be a sizable number of readers who arrive at the blog by mistake, attracted by the name and thinking, hey, this is Triple-X kink. Once they realize it's actually a fairly dense package of book news, reviews, interviews, snarky literary opinion and so on, perhaps they give up and settle for the soft-core stuff being peddled in the margins, thus presumably making the ads worth their cost.

    At any rate, these two examples of the benefits of misleading blog titles -- and book/daddy's current, pressing need for revenue enhancement -- have led me to consider these possibly more lucrative names, pending approval from our product-branding division, Unbridled Corporate Weasels:

    1) Encyclopedia Viagra

    2) Instant Post-Structuralist Erection

    3) The Book Bong Blog

    4) Rolling Papers, with High-Speed Pizza Delivery

    5) Triple-D Book Implants

    6) Low-interest Literary Loans and Underage Book Fondling

    7) Huge Throbbing Books

    8) Inkubus and the Dirty Pages

    9) Legal Weed/Legal Read

    10) Semiotic Semen and the Phenomenology of Porn

    11) Hot Stock Tips for Lusty Booklovers

    12) Shameless Corporate Weasels

    September 7, 2007 8:48 AM | | Comments (2)

    book/daddy sincerely hopes that Lisa Adams and John Heath's Why We Read What We Read has some interesting observations about the 200 pieces of bestselling woodpulp the two authors read -- more interesting observations than what they had to say Thursday on The Diane Rehm Show.

    Bear in mind that these are year-end bestsellers they're talking about, not the occasional bit of originality that pops on the list and then dies a quick, justified death as if the other books on the list instinctively gang up on any external threat. These are their conclusions:

    -- American readers like happy endings.
    -- We like simplistic answers.
    -- For all of our search for answers, we're happiest with books that validate the values we already hold. We don't want to pursue any troubling inquiry into our own thinking.
    -- Oprah views all literature as essentially the author's autobiography, but despite her taste for "uplifting" stories (and the understandable skepticism some have expressed toward her choices), many of the novels she's picked are actually worthwhile, often well-regarded by critics before the books ended up in her club. Terry Teachout has argued, along with others, that the middle-brow culture that we knew in the '50s, the middle-brow culture that often supported high-brow culture and ushered ordinary people into experiencing it on occasion, no longer exists. A central tenet of middle-brow culture, it seems to book/daddy, is the notion that "art is good for you, art is elevating" -- as opposed to the intellectual's approach of connoisseurship/fetishism/appreciation of complexity and difficulty for their own sake. book/daddy submits, therefore, that Oprah is the essence of middle-brow culture today. And doing quite well, thank you.
    -- Americans confuse spirituality with self-improvement and with financial success. It's a mix going all the way back to the Puritans, and it's still selling self-help books like mad.
    -- Romantic advice books posit that men and women are so utterly different, "it's a Darwinian miracle that they even breed." So we have to work at it. Meanwhile, romance fiction is based on the premise that if we meet the right person, happiness inevitably results. There's no work required at all, once you get over yourself. Sex involves vulnerable women being dominated by Big Strong Brutes. In both romance fiction and romantic advice, despite the ideology of the authors involved, traditional gender roles are enforced; women are nurturers; men are providers. Not a single best-seller, fiction or nonfiction, has espoused a "more modern" view.
    -- Political/policy bestsellers are rarely balanced or nuanced. They're mostly just partisan ammunition. The only thing that can be said for the liberal side is the occasional welcome bit of humor.
    -- Americans read for plot and character and don't care a fig about literary style.
    -- The educational system is not doing a very good job at improving reading skills, but parental influence is an early and crucial factor.
    -- And in a tidy demonstration of many of these points, there was the inevitable e-mail from one listener who complained about her student-child's summer reading list always involving downbeat topics like racism or the bad language in Hemingway, and why couldn't more uplifting role models be provided for teens?

    Whether one agrees with these points or not, all of them would seem to be pretty much standard-fare intellectual analysis/dismissal of mass-market books. A grad student who spent Christmas vacation working at a Borders could have arrived at the same conclusions.

    In fact, he could have found many of the same arguments -- though offered with a more casual and much less aggressive edge than I've presented here -- if our grad student had simply picked up Michael Korda's 2001 book, Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999.

    September 6, 2007 10:16 AM | | Comments (2)

    "Nothing of intrinsically superior value adheres to pleasure-reading as opposed to pleasure-viewing. "At least they're reading" is just an empty slogan if what they're reading is no more sustaining as an experience that what they might be watching on tv. Training one's eyes on the printed page in itself is not a more profound act than training them on a screen full of visual images."

    This is so stunningly wrong . Sorry, but the visual arts and reading are not easily equivalent or interchangeable. Study after study has shown that, in fact, "training one's eyes on the printed page in itself" shapes the mind in ways like, oh, say, "training one's eyes on arithmetical equations" can. Setting aside the huge and obvious issue of sheer information -- the amount of information in this society that can only be accessed through literacy --

    September 5, 2007 10:34 PM |

    Yes, yes, everyone in BookBlogLand has Chicken-Littled about yet another study proving that Americans are illiterate savages who don't read. American males, especially, can't read "left," "right" or "phasers on stun" without moving their lips, so they hardly bother with anything more complicated than Where's Waldo? or the sports section's baseball stats. But over at NPR, Eric Weiner tries to find out why women, traditionally, have been the mainstay of the fiction audience -- so much so, we might as well consider Hemingway "chick lit":

    "Another theory focuses on 'mirror neurons.' Located behind the eyebrows, these neurons are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch those same actions in others. Mirror neurons explain why we recoil when seeing others in pain, or salivate when we see other people eating a gourmet meal. Neuroscientists believe that mirror neurons hold the biological key to empathy.

    The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters."

    by the by, the book/daddy household, as in so many things, is the exception: book/daddy reads tons, especially fiction; the missus reads, mostly before falling asleep, but almost all of it magazine journalism and non-fiction.

    And I'm the journalist. Go figure.

    September 5, 2007 3:19 PM | | Comments (3)

    Who has the rights to Samuel Beckett's backlist? British and French publishers duke it out.

    Also in The Guardian -- why MI5 spied on George Orwell for years: He dressed funny and helped out at lefty bookstores.

    book/daddy's favorite revelation among the other, newly released surveillance cases:

    "The interrogation files of suspected spies and German agents have also been released, including, in that of a Norwegian seaman, a copy of the Naturist magazine of March 1945 whose photographs of nude women and advertisements for breast enhancement and "the Vitaman iodised jockstrap" were combed to see whether they contained writing in invisible ink."

    September 4, 2007 1:18 PM | | Comments (1)

    On William Gibson's ideas of "Google aura" and "node" and the "cloud" in our newly augmentated appreciation of novels.

    September 4, 2007 1:10 PM | | Comments (2)

    Note the Official NEW! book/daddy logo (trademarked) over on the right, there.

    I envision an entire product line. Jeans. Action figures. Designer reading glasses. Fast-food tie-ins at libraries and coffee shops ("the Dewey Decimal Double-Decker!").

    And the book/daddy perfume: La critique de la vie quotidienne

    To submit other product ideas (or actual, lucrative merchandising contracts!): please e-mail book/ with the subject line, "Unbridled Corporate Weasels" -- the name of book/daddy, incorporated's image-branding division.

    September 4, 2007 8:42 AM | | Comments (3)

    Huzzah. Scott McLemee (Quick Study) is back blogging with an appropriate musical call: Kick out the jams.

    September 4, 2007 8:29 AM |

    Former book review editor Steve Wasserman's essay about the decline of newspaper book pages and his own 9-year efforts at the Los Angeles Times is the cover story for the Columbia Journalism Review. Mr. Wasserman makes a number of points that book/daddy has been arguing since last year but are worth repeating here --

    -- that it wasn't a cut in publishing advertising that has imperiled book pages ("The argument that it is book sections' lack of advertising revenue from publishers that constrains book coverage is bogus." Even at The New York Times, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. told Mr. Wasserman, the Sunday book review section loses "millions")

    -- that most reviews tend to be pretty bland and brief, and blogging isn't really improving this that much ("Sure, two, three, many opinions, but let's all acknowledge a truth as simple as it is obvious: Not all opinions are equal.")

    -- that the American newspaper book review never was in a happy, elevated, Edmund Wilsonian state from which it has calamitously fallen: "The truth is that there never was a golden age of book reviewing in American newspapers. Space was always meager and the quality low. Nearly a quarter century ago, according to a 1984 study in the Newspaper Research Journal, the average American newspaper used three-quarters of a page to one page a week for book reviews."

    But there is much more -- this is Mr. Wasserman, after all, who is known for holding hostage any conversation, often to flatter himself. Particularly risible is his portrait of his Ideal Editor considering whether to review Sigmund Freud or Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and how he "likes to think I'd have the perspicacity" to get George Bernard Shaw to write the review. Wouldn't we all like to think so? And then there's the thumbs-up he reports getting from the Mexican-American waiter who approves of his Sor Juana coverage. Ah, always in touch with the little people!

    Never mind. The essay is still well worth reading, especially on the nature of book review readers and why newspaper management might want to court them but consistently fail to do so:

    "Among the paper's most well-off and best-read demographic cohorts--whose members arguably make up any book review's ideal readers--the Sunday Book Review was among the more favored of the weekly sections of the Los Angeles Times. Ed Batson, the paper's director of marketing research, told me that in 2004 some 1.2 million people had read the Book Review over the past four Sundays out of 6.4 million readers. The core readership of what Batson called the paper's "Cosmopolitan Enthusiasts" amounted to about three hundred and twenty thousand avid and dedicated readers for whom the weekly Book Review was among the most important sections of the paper....

    "If newspapers properly understood such readers and the lifestyle they pursue, they would, in theory, be able to attract advertising from a diverse array of companies, including movie companies, coffee manufacturers, distillers of premium whisky, among others. Diversification of ad revenue is a key component of a winning strategy of growth. But apart from The New York Times, no newspaper has dedicated sales reps whose sole job is to sell space for book ads. And even The New York Times, with three such reps, finds it hard to drum up significant business....

    "The real problem was never the inability of book-review sections to turn a profit, but rather the anti-intellectual ethos in the nation's newsrooms that is--and, alas, always was--an ineluctable fact of American newsgathering. There was among many reporters and editors a barely disguised contempt for the bookish."

    September 3, 2007 11:24 AM | | Comments (3)


    Best of the Vault


    Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction



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