Last week the Contra Costa Times (the paper of record for East Bay, California, suburbia) hosted a roundtable of authors, including Sue Miller, Vendela Vida, Beth Lisick, and Andre Aciman. Nice panel, but I confess that I winced when I read that the moderator, Lynn Carey, asked them, “Which literary character would you like to date?” Then I cringed when I learned that Carey’s choice is John Galt. So I’d love to know what tone of voice Miller used to respond by saying that she doesn’t like dating, but it seems like she was game to bat away the “doyen of domesticity” tag: ” “I don’t complain, as my grandmother used to say when she finished complaining.”
Richard Ford has had enough of this place: He’s taking a job teaching creative writing at Ireland’s Trinity College.
Connor Simons, an eighth grader living in Clark County, Washington, decided to protest the state standardized test by pulling out a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at his desk while the test was being administered. Simons’ review: “I’ve heard it’s supposed to be the great American novel, but it seems overhyped, to me.”
The Harvard Crimson interviews Keith Gessen, a founding editor of n+1 and author of the new novel All the Sad Young Literary Men (about which more soon). Says Gessen:
One of the things about American literature is that it’s always been slightly embarrassed by itself. It’s always been a problem that the idea of intellectual work, the idea of reading and writing in particular being real work, is still foreign to American culture. It’s always been a bit of an embarrassment compared to the active, dynamic, business-driven culture. But I don’t feel that way at all. Obviously, a lot of stuff we learned in college is not terribly useful, and yet a lot of it is incredibly interesting and helps us understand the world we’ve created, the world that also has been thrust upon us. This is my own project—to try to understand the world that we’re living in. And if that means using Weber or Foucault, that’s fine, that’s helpful.
The 2008 Plimpton Prize, the Paris Review‘s award for the best work of fiction published in its pages in the past year, goes to Jesse Ball. I haven’t read his winning story, “The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr,” but I enjoyed his debut novel, the Kafkaesque Samedi the Deafness, which came out last year. (If you’re able to navigate all the HighBeam foofaraw, you can read my review in the Chicago Sun-Times.)
Bookslut’s Margaret Howie catches up with Ball:
At the award announcement, you described the judge’s decision as demonstrating “a belief in ambiguity”; do you feel that our current cultural climate shies away from the ambiguous in art?
I think that there is a general arrogance in our culture, or rather, in general among human beings of the atomic age, that the world can be precisely fixed and understood according to coordinates, facts, etc. I don’t believe this is so. I think things can only be gestured at, and that’s part of why we should be more careful about how we behave, individually, nationally, culturally. These assumptions extend even to moral ideas, and the way that morality affects science. People today are very sure of themselves, and they shouldn’t be. But they’ll all be dead soon! Us too.
The film rights to Philip Roth‘s forthcoming novel, Indignation, have been picked up by Scott Rudin, who coproduced the film version of Cormac McCarthy‘s No Country for Old Men. It’s a seven-figure deal, something that apparently doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to with novels, according to a Variety report:
The money paid for these books and articles is modest compared to the market boom of the mid- to late 1990s, when Pat Conroy’s “Beach Music” sold to Paramount for north of $5 million and Michael Crichton’s “Airframe” went to Disney for $10 million. Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” fetched $3 million from New Line in 2000.
None of those pics has yet been made. As such, it’s highly unusual for the majors to get whipped into a frenzy that results in a seven-figure upfront deal for a book author.
And a quick DoSP note: I have a brief review of Jhumpa Lahiri‘s Unaccustomed Earth in City Paper, buried in the back of its massive Best-Of issue, which I’d highly recommend as a handy, only-mildly-snarky-this-time guide to the District.
Yesterday marked the debut of an off-Broadway staging of The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928 ), based on the first section of William Faulkner‘s novel. The New York Theater Workshop has a handy primer on the novel and its adaptation, complete with a Compson family tree. NYTW’s Web site also has an interview with the play’s director, John Collins. Excerpt: “[W]hen we read The Sound and the Fury out loud it seemed transformed. Looking at it on the page, with its typeface changes and broken sentences, you feel like you’re being challenged to solve some crazy puzzle. Hearing the words aloud brought the humor forward much more and allowed the movement of the narrative to make a kind of musical sense.”
Oscar Hijuelos cautions Junot Diaz not to let that Pulitzer go to his head. Hijuelos, currently teaching at Duke, has a new novel out in the fall, Dark Dude.
In the Jerusalem Post, John Freeman visits the Brooklyn home of literary couple Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt, who has a new novel, The Sorrows of an American. Cohabitation isn’t always a boon for writers, we learn:
Watching Auster and Hustvedt interact intellectually, one can appreciate why artists and writers keep appearing in her work. You can also see why they don’t work in the same house. (Five years ago, I interviewed Hustvedt and stopped, when I thought I heard someone beating on a set of drums in the house: “That’s Paul typing,” Hustvedt explained with a wry smile.)
Kevin J. Hayes could use a little assistance. He’s working on a book titled American Literature: A Very Short Introduction, much of which will deal with fiction, of course. “For example, Chapter 7, the first chapter I drafted, presents an overview of the novel refracted through the idea of the ‘great American novel,'” he writes. But he’s also trying to make room to mention great American travel writers. Figuring out who those might be isn’t my bailiwick, though I’m sure Hayes has already considered the wonderful WPA guides and their hefty cousin, John Gunther‘s Inside U.S.A. As far as books that take a more personal view, the first title that popped into my head is reflected in this post’s title: Ted Conover‘s excellent first book is his story of riding the rails and learning about the peculiar sociology of hobo living.
More, better examples?
At the Outfit, Sara Paretsky writes a brief but elegant tribute to Raymond Chandler‘s 1954 novel, The Long Goodbye. The story in the novel itself, Paretsky argues, mirrors Chandler’s own feelings of entrapment at the time–most pressingly, his concern that he was boxed in as a genre writer. “I might be the best writer in the country,” Paretsky quotes Chandler as writing to his editor after sending a draft of the novel. “And with two exceptions I very likely am, but I’m still [considered just] a mystery writer.” Paretsky adds:
The Long Good-Bye expresses Chandler’s bitterness and his weariness. Although Marlowe is beaten, is sent to prison, and has his life threatened, these action scenes are small punctuations in a novel about men trying to make sense of a world where they don’t feel at home. The first part of the book is an almost dreamlike series of conversations between Marlowe and Terry Lennox, a man scarred by war and by money. The middle, where Marlowe is involved with Roger Wade and his wife, has long passages filled with Chandler’s own torment about the state of his writing.
The Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times has a profile of Georgann Eubanks, author of the 2007 book Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains. This apparently involves much more than an extended discussion of Cold Mountain: Thomas Wolfe, Carl Sandburg, Margaret Mitchell, Anne Tyler, and more all lived there for some stretch of time. Donna Campbell, who took photos for the book, has a brief essay about attempting to locate Sandburg as a kid:
One night in 1961, poet Carl Sandburg was on CBS television talking about his biography of Abraham Lincoln. Then, right there in our living room, he talked about how much he loved the mountains of North Carolina ! My daddy was thrilled. And the next summer, when we loaded up in the Rambler station wagon and headed for the mountains, my four siblings and I heard a lot about Mr. Sandburg, how he won the Pulitzer Prize, how he wrote about the working man. We would be camping right in his neighborhood, our daddy told us, and we might even see the great writer in the grocery store. It rained the whole weekend we were in Flat Rock. We drove down a few roads looking for what might be the place. Then the fog came in on its little cat feet. So we played a lot of Monopoly in our tent. We never saw Carl Sandburg.
The best line in the New York Times‘ piece on the Philip Roth 75th birthday celebration comes at the very end: “He has delusions of grandeur,” said Roth’s weeping mother when the writer explained that Portnoy’s Complaint was going to attract a lot of attention.
Alice McDermott: “When I go to colleges, I always look at their reading lists,” she told the South Bend Tribune, “and I still see they are very short on women writers. At least now you get an apology. Before, there wasn’t even an awareness of it.” She speaks Tuesday and Wednesday at “A Festival of Our Own: Women Writers at Notre Dame,” at Notre Dame University.
Your moment of zen: The latest VOA Special English author feature is on Langston Hughes.
And a quick DoSP note: I have a review of Scott Simon‘s Windy City in Washington City Paper, and a review of Brian Hayes‘ Group Theory in the Bedroom in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Willy Vlautin‘s second novel, Northline, is one of my recent favorites–I’ve talked about it before, and I suspect I’ll return to it again after it officially comes out in a few weeks. In the meantime, he talks a little about some of his inspirations for the novel, particularly racist skinheads, in the Galway Advertiser. The World Church of the Creator–an organization that, depressingly, got a lot of attention when I was living in Chicago–plays a bit part Northline‘s story. Vlautin explains:
“The boyfriend is based on about three different guys I grew up with,” he says. “I worked jobs with these really tough work-a-day skinheads guys. When the Mexican immigrants would come into Reno they would get construction jobs because the bosses would hire illegal workers.
“Anyway, I would see these guys that I’d known my whole life get more and more racist and violent. I suppose I wanted to kind of try and understand that situation because it’s a common thread that runs through any country that has lots of different people. The thing that really cemented the character in my mind was when the guy who does a lot of the Richmond Fontaine artwork got stabbed by a skinhead.”