Young Lions Announced

Like a lot of people, I’m pretty much exhausted with hearing about literary awards–there’s nothing like starting a litblog to find out just how many of them are out there. So I wouldn’t have much to say about the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award (given to writers under 35), except for the last book on the list of finalists:

Ron Currie, Jr., author of God Is Dead (Viking, 2007)

Ellen Litman, who wrote The Last Chicken in America (Norton, 2007)

Peter Nathaniel Malae, who penned Teach the Free Man (Swallow Press, 2007)

Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Riverhead, 2007)

Emily Mitchell, who wrote The Last Summer of the World (Norton, 2007).

Mitchell’s The Last Summer of the World, a novelization of the life of photographer Edward Steichen, was one of my favorite novels of 2007, and I don’t recall it making much of a noise when it came out. (I made a brief peep about it in City Paper.) Anything that helps bang the drum for it, I’m for, even if it demands an evening with Ethan Hawke.

The Creeps, Part 2

UCLA’s news service fills in a little more of the backstory regarding Robert Montgomery Bird‘s Sheppard Lee: Written by Himself, an unusual novel first published in 1836 and recently reissued by New York Review Books. (I blogged about it a month ago.) This quote, from the UCLA prof who discovered the book, Christopher Looby, pushes the book a little higher up the to-read pile:

“‘Sheppard Lee’ feels more like an example of magical realism or postmodernism than antebellum literature,” said Looby, who has taught at UCLA since 2001. “It seems like it could have been written today. It’s really ahead of its time.”
Teasingly, NYRB editor Edwin Frank suggests in the story that I could get to the task right now–thanks to the book being in the public domain, it should be readily available online. Not quite: Nothing on Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive (though they have some of his other works). There’s a complete edition of Volume 2 on Google Books, but only a limited preview of Volume 1.


New West interviews Benjamin Percy, author of the story collection Refresh, Refresh. Percy’s stories are largely set in Oregon, and he tees off on Californians invading his turf, in much the same way California gets invaded by the rest of the country:

I don’t dislike [California]. I dislike the people who leave the state and set up shop in Oregon, bringing with them their pastel shorts and too tan skin and gleaming golf clubs. They’re parasitic. They sell their coastal homes for several million, then come to Oregon to retire, making it into their playground. Consider Bend. When I lived there, the population clocked in at 16,000. Now, ten years later, the population is 70,000, many of them Californians. They raze forests and lay down golf courses and build up these faux-rustic iron-and-timber homes with antler chandeliers in the foyer and boot-shaped mugs in their kitchen cabinets and $1,000 Pendleton blankets draped over their $10,000 leather couches set before their river-rock fireplaces. They plunk down a Starbucks, a sushi restaurant, a Saab dealer, and before you know it, property taxes are through the roof and everybody who originally lived in the community has to move out because they can no longer afford it. Damn it.

The Plot Against America

Socialist journal the Monthly Review has a lengthy appreciation of Jack London’s 1908 novel, The Iron Heel, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. No, I hadn’t heard of it either. But if you’re a socialist journal, a dystopian novel about creeping American imperialism is something to celebrate:

One hundred years after its initial publication, London’s political ideas and cultural insights seem remarkably contemporary. Indeed, in The Iron Heel, he describes a sinister conspiracy, by an oligarchy, to quash freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, imprison its outspoken opponents and critics, control news and information, install a professional army of paid mercenaries, create a secret police force, and wage global warfare for economic hegemony. There’s also guerrilla warfare, furious acts of wanton terrorism, and cold-blooded terrorists—a world roiling in violence that might be taken for the world of the twenty-first century.

If the essay’s author, Jonah Raskin, works a little too hard to find connections between the novel and the present day, the piece does successfully suggest that every generation gets the American authoritarian-rule fantasy it deserves, and 1905 was an interesting time to tinker with writing one:

To write The Iron Heel he drew on his own direct observations of the chaos in San Francisco that followed in the wake of the earthquake and conflagration, and also on the information that he absorbed from far-off Russia from friends and from newspapers about the repression of the 1905 revolution. He drew, too, on his close study of contemporary U.S. society: the spying on, and the intimidation of, labor leaders by the Pinkerton Detective Agency employed by mine owners and governors alike; the arrest and persecution of labor leaders, like William (Big Bill) Haywood, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (the radical trade union activists better known as the “Wobblies”) who went on trial in 1906, in what was regarded, at the time, as the pivotal political courtroom battle of the era.

License to Read

My complaints about the Kindle have mainly been based on supposition, if not just plain old whining, so thanks to Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan for the legwork: He points to a paper from Columbia Law School’s Science and Technology Law Review (linked from BoingBoing, via Slashdot) that addresses the fine line between owning an e-book and merely owning a license to it–a distinction that only further complicates the question of whether you actually possess a book you buy for the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader. (Both devices use language that suggest you just have a license for the book, which restricts your ability to lend or copy it.)

Money quote:

“Even if a publisher calls it a license, if the transaction actually looks more like a sale, users will retain their right to resell the copy.” Score one for the home team. There’s a kicker, though: If a court ruled with you on that front, you still can’t sell reproductions of your copy, an illegal act tantamount to Xeroxing your Harry Potters. You’d have to sell the physical media where the “original” download is stored—a hard drive or the actual Kindle or Sony Reader.

Scattered Glass

Polly Morrice writes in the New York Times about the literary inheritors to J.D. Salinger‘s Glass children. I was hoping for more examples than the three she presents–Kate Walbert‘s story “Playdate,” Charles Bock‘s Beautiful Children, and Tom Perrotta‘s Little Children. (And I’m kinda calling shenanigans on that last one–Perrotta’s tykes are bright, but too young to be legitimate inheritors of the Glassian quiz-kid type, and the notion that the kids in the novel are “near-magical” doesn’t mean they’re especially interesting in any Salinger-esque way. Just that they play the role of moral polestars in the plot.)  Who else is there? I don’t think the world is hurting for more examples of precocious, smart kids, but there have got to be more than Morrice suggests.

B.E.E. Season

I’m not sure whether to be impressed or puzzled that Scott Timberg‘s lengthy attempt to reshape the debate about Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t mention that Ellis is working on a new novel. (At least, that’s what he told me.) Perhaps the L.A. Times was trying to avoid the icky, promotional-profile feel that would come along with doing a serious profile about an author’s reputation while adding the journalistic equivalent of a pop-up ad. (“Will his next novel change everything? Time will tell….”)

Update 3/23: Did I miss something? A new version of the article, which according to Google News was posted just a few hours ago, includes this sentence: “As he leaned into the argument [about Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom]– the album, which he called “sonically, an absolute ’80s masterpiece,” will lend its name to a new sequel to “Less Than Zero” — it was easy to see that he’s more engaged with things than he lets on.” I read the story twice the morning I saw it, with particular attention to the bit about Imperial Bedroom, since I figured that would’ve been the obvious place to mention the sequel. I’m not trying to foment some bloggy crisis, just worrying if my eyes are OK….