main: August 2007 Archives

Here is Christopher Hitchens on the recent publication of Mother Teresa's letters -- and how they reveal her severe doubts about her faith. Needless to say, he wishes she'd expressed those doubts more publicly and perhaps refrained a little in her attempts to save the starving of Calcutta spiritually while doing far less for them medically or economically. More predictably, The Dallas Morning News editorial board finds that the letters only confirm Mother Teresa's humanity -- as part of her "spectacular triumph of the human spirit." This, then, also surely explains her embrace of the Duvalier clan, the dictators of Haiti, and her acceptance of (and refusal to return) more than $1 million from savings-and-loan fraud Charles Keating, Jr. Just trying to be more human.

Mr. Hitchens mentions his role in testifying against Mother Teresa's beatification and canonization. Several years ago -- well before God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything -- book/daddy had dinner with the Sulfurous Scribe and wrote about his (failed) prosecutorial efforts:

Taking his shot
British writer plays devil's advocate to Mother Teresa
by Jerome Weeks

Christopher Htichens is a rare bird these days.

Not just because he's a British-born journalist who writes about American politics -- as well as a contentious, left-wing contrarian who energetically supports the war in Iraq.

Mr. Hitchens has also played "devil's advocate" -- against Mother Teresa. This would seem an outsized case of windmill-tilting and nose-thumbing. While she was alive, the Nobel Prize-winning nun often topped international polls as the most admired person on the planet. Last month, she was beatified by the Catholic Church -- the second major step toward sainthood after being found "venerable." Yet Mr. Hitchens testified against her -- at the request of the church.

A devil's advocate is not the Keanu Reeves character in an Al Pacino movie. When an individual is being considered by the church for sainthood, a "postulator" is appointed to make the case for that candidate. The devil's advocate, on the other hand, is the person who presents the evidence against sainthood. He's called that because, obviously, in trying to keep candidates out of the ranks of the saintly, he's like a corporate recruiter for the sinful side.

But still, no demons, no pitchforks, no special effects. The advocatus diaboli, as he's called in Latin, is merely the opposing counsel, a prosecuting attorney with a flashy title. Officially, he's even known as the "Promoter of the Faith." It was an honorable position. Before he became Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58), Prospero Lamartini served in the post for 20 years.

It was an honorable position, that is. The church did away with it 20 years ago. Nonetheless, Mr. Hitchens was specifically requested by the Vatican to bring evidence against Mother Teresa. That's as close as ordinary mortals get these days to donning the devil's robes in an ecclesiastical court.

Mr. Hitchens was an obvious choice to raise hell.

August 30, 2007 10:24 AM |

British historian/biographer Peter Ackroyd speaking (and boating) on the Thames and on his new book about the river, something of a sequel to his wonderfully rich "biography" of London. The Thames: Sacred River is being released in October.

"There in a meadow by the river's side
A flock of nymphs I chancéd to espy,
All lovely daughters of the flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks all loose untied
As each had been a bride ...
"Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song."
-- "Prothalamion," by Edmund Spenser (the Greek title is the name for a wedding song)

August 28, 2007 8:55 PM |
August 28, 2007 12:58 PM |

Excellent overview of James Wood, the New Yorker's new hire as book critic, in the Boston Globe. book/daddy is one of those who delight in the sharpness of Mr. Wood's writing and thinking -- it's not the usual appreciatve mush -- while finding him impossible in his distaste for Don DeLillo and his (typically British) championing of Saul Bellow above all. (The early Bellow, yes; the later Bellow, no-noooo.)

August 27, 2007 8:31 AM |

Many Christian right-wingers believe the American Empire is in its death throes because we're decadent, fat, porn-mad atheists who've left the One True Way (here, for instance, is "crunchy conversative" columnist Rod Dreher in one of his pious weekly homilies). Meanwhile, many other Christian and not-so-Christian right-wingers believe we're in our final days because the barbarians are at the gates -- whether that horde is illegal Mexicans or Muslim maniacs, it depends on which fright tactics they wish to employ (and here's Monsignor Dreher in another relevant bit of pulpit-pounding).

Amid all this fear-mongering and finger-waving, it's a pleasure to read one historian's new insight into Rome's final days. From Harry Mount's review of Alessandro Barbero's The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle that Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Turns out it pays to be nice to Goths. Or immigrants.

"The second reason for the [early alliance between Rome and the Goths] was that the Goths had initially come to the Romans for mercy. Oppressed by the Huns on the German side of the Danube in 376, they were desperate to be allowed to cross the river to serve in the booming Roman Empire.

Rome was just as keen on using the Goths as abundant low-cost manpower - just what was needed to keep the Empire's half million-strong army going. The first barbarian invasions, then, were really a sort of economic migration. In the Syrian region of the Empire, the word for "soldier" became Goth."

August 26, 2007 7:13 PM | | Comments (2)

book/daddy's brief but excited review of Denis Johnson's new novel, Tree of Smoke, appears in the September issue of Men's Vogue, now on newstands. But it's not available online, so you'll have to read it on the jump.

August 26, 2007 6:18 PM |

In The Guardian, Ian Pindar reviews Toby Green's Inquisition: The Reign of Fear, and unlike book/daddy, never once refers to Monty Python, being a much more serious critic:
"In 1506 a miraculous light was seen on one of the crucifixes in a Dominican monastery in Portugal. Crowds gathered to marvel at it, but when one man suggested it looked a bit as if a candle had been placed behind the image of Christ he was dragged into the street by his hair, beaten, kicked and burnt by an angry mob. He was a converso, a descendant of Jews who had converted to Christianity, and as Toby Green explains in this powerful study of intolerance, the conversos were the first group to be scapegoated by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions."

August 26, 2007 12:00 PM |

... but the new issue of Radar magazine has a nifty little trashing of "cultural histories" -- you know, the books about tea, salt, cod fish, glottal stops, herpes sores, whatever, the ones that trace How Nothing Would Be the Same in Human History Without This Little Item. Although some of the histories have been well-done, instructive, fascinating (Dava Sobel's Longitude, David Friedman's A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis), quite a few, Peter Hyman writes, are little more than gimmicks.

By the way, he calls them "cultural histories" -- inspired by Foucault. book/daddy has heard the term "commodity histories" -- inspired by Marx.

August 26, 2007 11:47 AM |

Thousands of thrillers have used genocide as the big threat -- like the Holocaust that hovers in the background of so many World War II yarns. But in his novel The Exception -- his first to be published in English -- Danish author Christian Jungersen puts mass murder front and center as a trigger for suspense but also as the chief topic of debate for his characters. A philosophical thriller, The Exception considers the question who among us could commit atrocities, and sets it not among soldiers or sadists but the staff in a Copenhagen think tank devoted to studying genocide. In other words, take the most humanitarian, high-minded Westerners around -- people like us, you know, the best people -- and given the right circumstances, circumstances that needn't even be that extreme, we will still savage each other.

In this case, it's ordinary, petty office politics that turn terrifying. In The Exception, the female researchers and librarians at the tiny Danish Center for Information on Genocide receive death threats, anonymous e-mails that possibly came from one of the Serbian war criminals they've written about. What's more, the center itself is in danger of a takeover by a larger nonprofit.

The tense atmosphere causes staff alliances to turn poisonous. One researcher was kidnapped on an earlier mission to Kenya, and her flashbacks make her panic. Another was bullied growing up and turns resentful and paranoid. Their boss is up to his own bureaucratic tactics to save the institute, and while he's out of the office, staff members are soon breaking into files for evidence against each other or ostracizing one member in an effort to drive her away.

In between these efforts, the Center's staff write about Darfur or Cambodia, allowing Mr. Jungerson to load in fascinating historical and psychological data on torture -- like the infamous Stanley Milgram experiment which found that the great majority of people are willing to deliver supposedly fatal shocks to our fellow test subjects. Or the Stanford Prison experiment which saw ordinary people who played at being guards or inmates fulfilling their roles with a vengeance.

In effect, The Exception is one of these experiments, with Mr. Jungerson setting out to demonstrate what these studies have shown: It's not just mad racists who torture and kill. No matter our country or background, 60 to 80 percent of us would be willing lynchers or death camp guards.

And that's one of the novel's weaknesses -- the feeling that the office workers are just lab rats in Mr. Jungerson's maze. We get his point long before the staff members do. Another weakness is the novel's flat-footed prose, whether that's the fault of Mr. Jungerson or his translator, Anna Paterson, I can't say. But when he's reporting grim ethnic cleansings, it works chillingly to the book's advantage. For pages of everyday dialogue, it can plod.

Despite its disturbing subject, Mr. Jungerson's 500-page novel has been a bestseller in Europe. And if it were about 100 pages shorter, The Exception truly would be exceptional. As it is, it's a thought-provoking thriller, part PhD thesis, part cliffhanger.

A version of this review was broadcast on KERA-FM, public radio for North Texas.

August 24, 2007 1:15 PM | | Comments (2)

George Cotkin in The Chronicle of Higher Ed wrote what amounts to an excellent counter to Sven Birkerts' essay on the worrisome differences in book reviewing vs. blogging (thanks to Flyover for digging it out). Whenever critics hold up the holy days of Clement Greenberg or Edmund Wilson as an ideal from which today's squabbling multitudes of mere reviewers have fallen -- as Mr. Birkerts did -- I begin to balk. In hindsight, for all their supposed influence, they actually held sway over what was actually a very small, New York-based intellectual world -- and not today's much more widespread, multivalent culture. When have any other critics held such influence in recent history? And why would we want such solitary authority again?

As for our supposed decline into nastiness, the vast ocean of reviewing out there is actually quite tepid; the snarkiness is relatively rare, small-Manhattan-pond stuff compared to the bland enthusiasm that prevails elsewhere (see "Hosannah in the lowest: an essay on book reviewing"). Mr. Cotkin, however, takes the opposite approach. Mean-spirited squabbling we've always had with us:

"But before we simply dismiss this bloodletting as part and parcel of an emerging Jerry Springer show of criticism, it might be useful to recall the petty squabbles that drew the circle around the Partisan Review crowd, such as the thunderstorm of controversy that Norman Podhoretz's Making It and Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself evoked years ago. Both works were condemned for announcing that the intellectual world was not immune from careerism, from the desire for success.

There are excesses aplenty today. Do we really need to know about the New Yorker critic David Denby's fling with pornography, as he notes in his confession, American Sucker? Does Nation critic Katha Pollitt need to confess about "Googling" her ex-lover, following his every move? In criticism, no less than in life, sometimes less is more.

Cultural criticism has certainly changed over the years. The old days of the critic who wielded unchallenged authority have happily passed. Ours is a more pluralistic age, one not beholden to a narrow literary culture. Today cultural criticism is alive and well, populated at the top by giants such as Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, Richard Rodriguez, Morris Dickstein, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Frederic Jameson: all critics with differing perspectives and concerns. And cultural criticism, more than ever, is percolating up from below. Blogs and Amazon reviews are opening up the cultural space of criticism, offering new possibilities. The literature professor Michael Bérubé offers valuable cultural and political analysis on his blog to about 40,000 visitors a month. Terry Teachout, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal and music critic for Commentary, has a blog, "About Last Night," in which he daily elucidates the thinking process and concerns of the engaged critic of culture."

OK. No problem with all that, although book/daddy has some serious reservations about all those "possibilities" opened up by Amazon's "reviews." More importantly, Mr. Birkerts' main point -- that the different media of literary criticism (online v. print) change the nature of the criticism's effects -- still stands, I maintain.

August 20, 2007 9:50 AM |

book/daddy has always had a mild shake to his hands. Early onset delirium tremens, probably. A brilliant career in neurosurgery was lost.

Once in Austin, I bought a flower from a grizzled street vendor. Go ahead and pick one from the bucket, he said. He watched me sort through the blossoms. Ah, he said, with knowing sarcasm. Crank shakes, eh?

Maybe that's why I never really liked speed or meth or crank -- unlike a number of other writers in Austin. Made me shake like a wet sick dog.

That shit, I thought, is evil-scary. Elizabeth Hand agrees.

August 19, 2007 8:33 PM |

"It's certainly true that throughout publishing history, the more highbrow or revered the book, the more abstract its cover is likely to be. You don't tend to get a picture of Jesus on an adult bible.... [Yet] as the historian Alan Powers writes in Front Cover, we need a book's physical form to convey "something more than mere 'information' "; we need it to connect "with some undefended part of the personality in order to say, 'Take me, I'm yours' ". "

Helen Brown on the modern history of book covers.

August 19, 2007 8:08 PM |

book/daddy never cared much for On the Road.

Sorry. That excludes me from decades of free-ranging, self-indulgent, ecstatic-speed-freak, watered-down Zen hipness, I know.

But believe me, book/daddy is grateful. Left me whole areas of fiction I didn't have to bother with. Thanks, Jack.

August 19, 2007 9:56 AM | | Comments (8)

In the Guardian, Germaine Greer argues that rather than the customary story deduced from Shakespeare's sonnets (poet addresses young lord, trying to convince him to marry and along the way, tells of his own love affair with the 'Dark Lady'), a number of the sonnets may well be about his wife, Ann Hathaway. We know that Sonnet 145 is probably about her (because of the pun Hate away/Hathaway), but many critics have seen the sonnets as a reveling in (and a regretting of) a passionate, adulterous affair (and a further regretting of a too-young marriage). There is, of course, no certain evidence -- the "narrative order" of the sonnets is not known, for instance, or even if they were intended to have some loose narrative at all.

But Ms. Greer is trying to put Ann back into the picture. She is normally dumped from the typical bard biography once Will heads to London to seek his fortune (or runs away from his wife and kids, however one wishes to see it). In fact, "the only begetter" of these sonnets, Mr. W. H. may have been Ann's brother, William Hathaway -- given a copy of the sonnets to sell to the printer-publisher, Thomas Thorpe, as a way of earning a little cash. The idea that W.H. is a coded reference to the Earl of Southhampton runs aground on the earl's own prickliness over questions of honor, she argues, and the punishments meted out to anyone who might suggest the homosexuality of a nobleman. The Guardian essay is an excerpt from Ms. Greer's new book, Shakespeare's Wife, scheduled to be released in the UK next month, though I cannot find any info about a US release.

August 17, 2007 6:19 PM | | Comments (2)

Stunning piece by Suzanna Andrews in Vanity Fair about Arthur Miller's other son, the one with Down Syndrome, the one he never acknowledged while the playwright was alive.

August 16, 2007 11:26 AM |

Illustrated childhood letters, college paintings and photos by Sylvia Plath have been found and will be published in October, marking what would have been her 75th birthday. Plath was an art student while at Smith College -- before deciding to concentrate on literature, when she was 20.

The Bell Jar -- no, not The Bell Curve -- is also being adapted into a film -- again.

August 15, 2007 12:51 PM |

Over at Flyover, John Stoehr has a concerned, thoughtful piece on 'hyperlocalism' (the re-focusing of newspapers entirely on local material to the detriment of national reporting and arts coverage) and other eager ideas for re-inventing newspapers in the flickering light of the internet. Mr. Stoehr doesn't come to any ringing conclusions; he mostly expresses some well-founded (and familiar-sounding) worries:

"While I understand why some are celebrating the potential of emerging technologies, I'm still skeptical. We don't live and work in a vacuum. While the technology, like the phonograph, may change our consciousness, we still have to make a living.

"I don't mean to sound alarmist or even Marxist. I just think there's reason to worry as long as profit-driven, growth-oriented companies run newspapers. They are going to do what's best for shareholders, not journalism and not for readers ...."

August 15, 2007 8:45 AM |

Christopher Hitchens is quite right in considering the Harry Potter novels, not in the fantasy genre, but in the tradition of British boarding-school novels.

He just didn't go far enough ... to notice precisely which boarding-school novels Rowling's series has come to echo.

August 13, 2007 9:07 AM | | Comments (3)

Finally got around to it: check out the new books being recommended on the right (not brand-new books, that is, but new Recommendations), and some new "greatest hits" from the Vault.

August 12, 2007 11:55 AM |

Louis Menand writes about the biography business for The New Yorker, taking on two recent defenses of literary keyhole-peeking and diary-rummaging:

"Still, Hamilton is right that people love biographies, and he is right about some of the reasons. We learn about ourselves by reading about the lives of other people, for one thing. And biographies of the powerful and the famous that humanize their subjects may play some kind of egalitarian social role. It's naïve, though, to suppose that the forces driving the appetite for "critical, incisive" (that is, highly revealing) biographies are all about democracy and demystification. Secrest is more to the point: people are prurient, and they like to lap up the gossip. People also enjoy judging other people's lives. They enjoy it excessively. It's not one of the species' more attractive addictions, and, on the whole, it's probably better to indulge it on the life of a person you have never met."

Hmm. Yes. I suppose. But surely, there's much more to all of these books and biopics and Biography cable shows than just prurient interest -- and a little self-knowledge. For once, Mr. Menand seems a little reductive, too easily dismissive (a perfectly understandable response, given Nigel Hamilton's inadequate Biography: A Brief History).

On the jump, a feature story book/daddy once wrote about "the bio boom" (still going strong) and what it all means.

August 11, 2007 4:13 PM |

Many people have noticed the ironic -- or revelatory -- congruence of Freud and Hitler living at the same time in fin-de-siecle Vienna. Consider -- in their very different ways -- Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin's Wittgenstein's Vienna and A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton.

But in The Death of Sigmund Freud, Mark Edmundson has expanded his New York Times Magazine article to an entire book devoted to their crossed paths and the illlumination each casts on the other, in particular on the continuing appeal of "authoritarian" politics (the book will be published next month in the U.S.). Nicholas Shakespeare reviews it for the Telegraph.

August 11, 2007 2:02 PM |

It seems our departing man at the Orange County Register wasn't making his "fuck you" sentiments public on-camera, after all. See below, third item in "Potshots."

So a working-class hero is something to be ... avoided.

As for being a blogging hero, book/daddy wasn't going to say anything about Bob Hoover of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's column on the critic Edmund Wilson and the whole blog-vs.-print meta-argument, but now that Critical Mass has given it extra prominence, we shall make only two points:

1) Unlike, say, Dan "The internet is best so get used to it" Green, this litblog actually agrees with a number of Sven Birkerts' observations about the structural differences between web writing and print reviews, about how blogging, unlike print, pushes connectivity and ephemerality, proliferation and dispersal. Hence, book/daddy's rousing defense of the middle-brow forum of the newspaper book page.

2) So when Mr. Hoover cites book/daddy as part of the tidal shift in favor of the internet, we must say, well, yes, but only reluctantly so -- swimming frantically in the wrong direction, even. Indeed, continuing his oceanic imagery, Mr. Hoover sees newspapers as the sinking Titanic, while litbloggers are "safe and warm in the Carpathia" (the Cunard liner that picked up Titanic survivors).

Safe and warm? Hmm, lemme check. Nope, sorry, feels like the icy grip of the North Atlantic. Frankly, book/daddy would happily grab a life preserver offered by a magazine, newspaper or book publisher. Blogging's fun, but it doesn't pay. What's more, as William Powers argues at the National Journal, newspapers are still where a great deal of serious news comes from. (It's an irony that Dan Green doesn't notice, for example, that while vehemently denying the somewhat parasitic nature many blogs have toward newspapers, he's blogging to dispute Birkerts' essay -- which appeared, of course, in the Boston Globe).

Why do you think -- at this late date -- Rupert Murdoch was so hungry to buy the Wall Street Journal? It's where successful people still get their information, even if it's relayed via their iPhone. We predict that if The New York Times were ever put on the auction block, you'd see a scramble for ownership rarely witnessed anywhere in the business community.

UPDATE: book/daddy and Mr. Green get it on in the comments section.

August 10, 2007 9:14 AM | | Comments (5)

We've read Byron's letters for years -- one of the best "translations" of many of them, ferreting out their hidden references, can be found in Louis Crompton's Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th Century England. But now we have his publisher John Murray's letters to Bryon -- remarkably, for the first time in print. It was Murray who helped arrange Byron's sudden fame, and his letters are so revealing and intimate, Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate declares that all Bryon biographies have been made obsolete.

August 9, 2007 6:09 PM |

John Sutherland on how and even why we read novels. His new introduction to the paperback version of How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide

book/daddy's wife, who teaches theater at a public elementary school -- and therefore, mercifully just gets to watch our Bush-induced testing frenzy because No Child Left Behind doesn't give a damn about arts education -- tells me that Linda Perlstein's book, Tested, sounds like a pretty accurate depiction of the insanity. A review by Rick Ayers.

book/daddy likes to think he exited The Dallas Morning News with a certain dignity and professional honor (and severance package) intact (see his departing column here). And then there's this guy at the Orange County Register, whose "fuck you" antics toward management do warm one's dark, childish heart.

August 8, 2007 9:29 AM | | Comments (1)

book/daddy likes to think of himself in those terms. And so he unveils his latest home project: The world's first security fence/trellis.

Our new tankless water heater, installed on the side of the house, uses a lot of copper piping -- i.e., theft bait. So during the past week and a half, book/daddy has built himself a fence. The trellis was already in place -- intended as an attractive sun protector/privacy shield for the dining room window (i.e., so we wouldn't have to look out on the nearby pastureland, made up of our neighbor's handsome driveway, strewn with tools and rusting car parts). But rather than tear the trellis down, I took the missus' suggestion and incorporated it into the fence.

Yes, that compromises security a bit, but when the vine fills out, the crazed junkies won't be able to see anything, anyway. They're not very perceptive, the local crazed junkies.

August 8, 2007 8:59 AM | | Comments (3)

Just one day -- one day -- after book/daddy complained about Gail Collins' columns being available online only through TimeSelect, The New York Times decides to phase out charging for such material.

Readers -- suitably impressed by book/daddy's power and aware of how much they will benefit from my courageous stand -- may wish to honor me in an appropriate fashion.

PayPal accepted.

And that was just a warm-up. Next, book/daddy will get an actual left-wing Democrat elected to the White House.

August 7, 2007 10:23 AM | | Comments (3)

A. S. Byatt on why Middlemarch may be the greatest English novel. A wonderful essay. Not only reminds you why Eliot is so good but Byatt, too.

book/daddy is happy that Gail Collins is back writing regular op-ed columns for the New York Times. She's a funnier, sharper political writer than Maureen Dowd. But you have to have TimeSelect to read her online.

And while still at the Times, Stephen Metcalf has fun with the political conversion experiences of conservatives when they were still in college -- compiled in a new anthology about turning right. Having taught quite a few at UT-Austin, book/daddy says Metcalf pegs it just about right -- except that the well-off, conservative, white male students only think of themselves as downtrodden outcasts with the campus liberals as the alpha dogs. At a university like UT -- with its tiny black student population and a campus run by oil millionaires -- the conservative students have their successful connections waiting for them.

Over at Detectives Beyond Borders, Peter Rozovsky asked about favorite opening lines for detective stories, and readers offered some, including the great first sighting of Fireball Roberts at the start of James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss. Surely, one of the most memorable is John Gregory Dunne's opener for True Confessions: "None of the merry-go-rounds seem to work anymore."

But a flourish to open with, a drumroll, a fanfare -- these can call too much attention to themselves as eye-catchers. Affectations. James Ellroy -- book/daddy's favorite example of a prose stylist with a heavy mitt on the "Overwrought" button -- likes to go socko from the get-go and keep beating the shit out of a reader because that's the gutsy, tabloid-y, hard-boiled, sub-Norman Mailer way, innit?

"An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills, Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousands dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he'd bought off a pachuco at the border -- right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River" -- L.A. Confidential. For book/daddy, it's the "San Berdoo," the "pachuco" and the "bootjack a piece of his goodies" that make this particularly chucklesome-bad.

It's worth noting how rarely such masters as Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard or Ross Macdonald open with anything more than a clean, simple statement. Yet those declarations draw in expectations, get things rolling, especially when the author keeps the snap for the end:

"Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns" -- The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins.

"I sat in my brand-new office with the odor of paint in my nostrils and waited for something to happen" -- "Find the Woman" from The Name is Archer by Ross Macdonald.

August 5, 2007 10:03 PM | | Comments (4)

Timothy L. O'Brien writes well about Martin Cruz Smith's six Arkady Renko novels in the Sunday New York Times. (See my "currently recommended books" on the right).

Still, it's an odd article, an essay really, in that it's not a solitary review. It's not a review masquerading as an interview/profile (he didn't speak to Smith, apparently) -- and it doesn't appear in the Book Review nor on Saturday, which has traditionally been the dumping ground for book-related features.

So why is it in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section -- on the same page as "Theater"?

August 5, 2007 11:16 AM |

My younger brother did his small part in re-designing the military Humvee into the Hummer, GM's MSLM (mobile suburban land mass). Yes, book/daddy has officially notified him that he'll eventually be tried for environmental war crimes -- for working on the Hummer and the great-Jebus-it's-ugly, Escalade.

After all that, here's Jon Grinspan on why the Jeep may ultimately be better in warfare than its bigger, more unwieldy brother.

August 5, 2007 10:57 AM |

On YouTube, you can find lots of footage of incompetent student productions of Samuel Beckett's plays. Or pretentious ego trips for solo professionals, plus the occasional clip from the four-DVD box set, Beckett on Film.

But this is something decidedly different, an animation of The Unnamable, the concluding novel in Beckett's great trilogy, best known for its ending, "if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't now, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

A hopeless, quixotic idea, adapting this thing. But then, the animation by Jenny Stiggs is not exactly Bugs Bunny. More like a somber Monty Python by way of Max Ernst.

August 3, 2007 4:32 PM |

New drama. British. About a young author and a sharp agent. Written, of course, by a young author.

You can fill in the rest:

"The play comprises one long confrontation between Alexander, the agent (shark-like William Beck), and Stephen (Stephen Kennedy, in an anorak), a hapless writer. Essentially, the play wills us to see how immoral and thoroughly nasty agents are, and how noble the underconfident (yet morally superior) writer is. We are told that it is based 'on an original meeting.'

"It must have been one hell of a meeting...."

"Although I suspect only people with a grudge against the publishing world will really appreciate this play, I sort of salute Martin Wagner for being pissed off and courageous enough to push it through, first on to the London fringe, and now into the West End. In the programme, he lists his previous achievements, one of which is a self-published novel .... At the time of writing this, its position on the Amazon list was 2,373,448."

August 2, 2007 7:57 PM | | Comments (2)

This morning, The Dallas Morning News' editorial board chides all those journalists who are appalled at Rupert Murdoch's purchase of The Wall Street Journal. Citing nothing from Mr. Murdoch's ample, bad track record with American newspapers (with the exception of the New York Post, he's gutted them and sold them), blaming the negative response on Mr. Murdoch's right-wing politics (while assuring us that he's "more businessman than ideologue" -- hence, his sucking up to the Chinese government by killing news that might offend), pausing only to wave away such past incidents in which he's broken commitments to stay out of the reporting side, the News' Solomons smile benignly because they know from personal experience that a newspaper owner will only want to improve a paper. He would never risk its "gold standard" reputation.

Ah, yes, like the astonishingly bad performance the News has enjoyed recently in "synergizing" its resources and cutting staff to improve quality. Mr. Murdoch has wanted respectable political and business-news power for too long to mess up the WSJ too badly. He will pour in money and resources to boost the paper's bottom line, increase its global reach. But for the badly woundedNews to sing lustily that "thank God, journalism is a business," to predict that Mr. Murdoch will "avert layoffs" and, yes, groan, that he will "synergize" his news sources, well, it's like reading an opium addict's happy fantasy of his next pipe.

August 2, 2007 9:46 AM |

Perhaps we should all just take off the month of August. That's a plan I could get behind, now that-- drat the luck -- Scott McLemee has joined Phil Nugent in taking a break from blogging. They're doing some serious damage to book/daddy's enjoyable online reading. In Scott's case, he's headed for a little re-thinking and recreating in, Francophillicaly enough, Montreal.

August 1, 2007 12:45 PM | | Comments (5)


Best of the Vault


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?



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This page is a archive of entries in the main category from August 2007.

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