Links: Stuffing

If you survived Thanksgiving intact, you can appreciate why the holiday gets so much traction in fiction: “It’s a perfect plot and setting device to get a family together and expose the gap between the myth of American family and the reality.”

The latest issue of Conjunctions has a city theme. Stephen O’Connor‘s fine breakup story, “‘Til There Was You,” isn’t online, but a pair of typically funny-and-sour brief stories by Etgar Keret are. The journal’s website also recently published a brief story by Barney Rosset about a Chicago dive bar in 1948.

Jay Parini, author of The Passages of H.M., on Herman Melville‘s bisexuality.

News to me: “The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston contains the world’s largest collection of Ernest Hemingway material.” (It’s true.)

Cynthia Ozick‘s Foreign Bodies, her tussle with Henry JamesThe Ambassadors, “is the most readable of her six novels, and perhaps the best thing Ozick has ever written,” writes D.G. Myers. More at his blog.

Talking to David Foster Wallace in 1998.

William Styron
‘s daughter explains the voting tally for the 1952 Pulitzer Prize in fiction:

Bill Morris uses his correspondence with another writer as a launchpad for discussing writing longhand, on typewriters, and on keyboards, and whether it makes a difference in the final product.

Stephen Burt
on what a review can do for a book: “[It can] cause others to pay attention to it. Cause others to be interested in it. Describe it accurately. Do justice to it. Indicate what, if anything, makes the book stand out, seem original or memorable, or, indeed, accurate, or [what makes it] sound good. Describe the book as a work of art rather than as simply a representation. Say, and I’m going to misquote the philosopher Arthur Danto here, what is in the book that is not reducible to its content. Cause others to talk about the book. Indicate what about the book is deeply flawed so that artists and readers with interests similar to the author of the book will do better next time. Engage in a public dialogue with the author herself about her new book and her prior books and, perhaps, her next book. Indicate, as in the case of James Wood and hysterical realism, what is, for good or for ill, and it often is for ill, typical or representative about a book, either of kinds of books, or of the age, or the culture that the book comes from. Differentiate the book from other books that seem similar. Indicate that the books has some kind of internal variety or is divided within itself in a way that other readers of the book, [if it] is widely reviewed, haven’t noticed. Bring, and this is my very favorite thing to try to do as a reviewer, bring to the attention of other readers a book, an author, or a work, that doesn’t seem to have been noticed at all, and that deserves attention.” (Follow the link for audio of the Minneapolis event where Burt, my colleague on the NBCC board, spoke these wise words.)

Mark Twain‘s autobiography suggests that “What he loathed, apparently, was dealing with the plain, old, not-necessarily-funny truth about himself,” writes Judith Shulevitz. (Also: If you buy the book, you’re doing your bit for Michigan’s manufacturing economy.)

My review of Andrew Wingfield‘s short story collection, Right of Way is in this week’s Washington City Paper. The book is the fiction winner of an annual contest held by the D.C.-area literary nonprofit Washington Writers’ Publishing House; residents of the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria and fans of Winesburg, Ohio are encouraged to investigate.

Who’ll Buy His Memories?

I just noticed that Barney Rosset, literary provocateur and founder of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review, is selling a few books in his collection. Fitting for somebody who was seemingly open to publishing anything, the 30-odd books available reveal a man who reads broadly—everything from the Spanish Civil War to Yukio Mishima to Theodore Dreiser to Terry Southern‘s infamous Candy.

One of the best parts of the book listings, though, is that they have very little of the dull language of an antiquarian catalog—these are listings written by somebody who used these books a lot, didn’t care what damage to the spine and dust jacket would do to resale value, and knows that books carry the history of the reader with them. Rosset’s listing for Anita Brenner‘s cultural history of Mexico, Idols Behind Altars, reads thusly:

Hardcover. No DJ. Possible first edition. Part of DJ glued to inside cover. Edges of spine are a little tattered. Pages unevenly cut. Pages barely yellowing. Many photographs, all intact. When Barney Rosset was first going to Mexico, at age 17, he was instructed to meet Anita Brenner in Chicago. He met Anita Brenner, who then introduced him to Frida Kahlo. This book can be signed by Barney Rosset upon request. Price: $300

Rosset will apparently sign most of the books he’s selling. The Google site isn’t handling direct sales, best as I can tell; contacting him through the Evergreen Review blog may be your best bet. (h/t Lauren Cerand)

Links: McInerney, Gessen, Mailer, and Other Fights

Michael Kinsley makes a case for Jay McInerney‘s Bright Lights, Big City, which seems odd.

Jonathan Yardley makes a case for Keith Gessen‘s All the Sad Young Literary Men, which seems even more odd.

Meanwhile, the journal that Gessen edits, n+1, is getting into some kind of slapfight with Nextbook.

Novelist Stephen Elliott (who I wrote about way back when) is busily blogging at

Not one of [Richard] Yates‘ books ever sold more than 12,000 copies. The author suffered a lifetime in near-poverty writing skillfully honest fiction that many magazines deemed too harsh and cruel to publish. He collected one rejection slip after another, and tortured himself over such critiques as his ‘mean-spirited view of things,’ from the New Yorker, whose fiction editor Roger Angell finally told the writer to give up and stop submitting, because he’d never get in.”

“Seven False Starts About the Death of [David Foster] Wallace”

The closing of Newsweek‘s excellent profile of Barney Rosset mentions Maidstone (not “Maidenhead”), a film perhaps best-known for spawning an on-set fight between Rip Torn and writer-director Norman Mailer. Let’s go to the tape (the fun starts about 90 seconds in):

Barney Rosset’s Dirty Years

When I first started hoovering paperbacks as a teenager, I wasn’t especially schooled in the distinctions between various publishers, but I smart enough to intuit that Grove Press books dealt in provocative stuff—the house published Hubert Selby‘s Last Exit to Brooklyn, Henry Miller‘s Tropic of Cancer, Kenzaburo Oe‘s A Personal Matter, John Rechy‘s City of Night, and Jack Kerouac‘s The Subterraneans. (That last book was a big inspiration to me at the time, though I’m not sure why now; reading it may simply has been the moment when I realized that books do liven up a long bus commute.)

It would take me a few years to learn about Grove Press’ publisher, Barney Rosset, and his Evergreen Review—or that he helped bring I Am Curious (Yellow) to American filmgoers, 99 percent of whom were dudes hugely disappointed that it wasn’t the porno that its rep suggested. Grove’s offerings don’t have the same power to shock these days—this is the house that put out Cold Mountain, after all, and though the Black Cat imprint seems eager to revive that old spirit, Michael Thomas‘ novel Man Gone Down was a disappointment to me (though not to the New York Times). All of which is to say I’m hoping that a D.C. theater will eventually show Obscene, a documentary about Rosset’s life in publishing. The Brooklyn Rail recently ran an excellent, wide-ranging interview with Rosset timed to the film’s release. A notable exchange:

Rail: A big part of your story is that you were in a time when there was a lot of censorship, a lot of constriction on culture. Did you find these books and these writers and get into the lawsuits in order to open up culture?

Rosset: I didn’t go through lawsuits to open up culture; I wanted to publish Henry Miller. That certainly involved fighting censorship. But the first thing I thought of was Miller. So, in other words, my thinking never went along the lines of, “We are doing all of this for a very set purpose.” I remember I became a member of the Communist party when I was at the University of Chicago. And after learning more I thought it was impossible! It was boring, stupid, and, although I agreed with many things, I quickly saw that I couldn’t continue doing something just because a long track ahead was laid out. So I, in other words, I don’t think I had a set “line” to accomplish one ideology. I thought Beckett was a great writer, I guess, no matter what he wrote. To me, it was good. I certainly was against censorship, in any way I ran into it. But I didn’t go out looking for new places. Growing up, I belonged to nothing because in a city like Chicago there were two groups that I think really had great prejudice against them, and that was the Jews and the Irish—and I was both of them! And they didn’t like each other. I felt that by not identifying with anything I would not censor, but they censored each other too, also [laughs].

In an interview with Chicagoist, co-director Neil Ortenberg explains how Rosset nearly earned himself a directing credit:

The other thing about filming him was that he really wanted to be a kind of co-director. Initially I just thought, oh, that’s Barney being crazy, that’s a nutty kind of thing. It was just a control freak thing. And then I realized that he just loves film, and here I was making a film about him. Barney knows no boundaries. So even though it seemed crazy to me, him being a co-director of his own documentary probably seemed completely reasonable to him. That caused a certain amount of confusion. Anyhow. The people we interviewed, there were no hard feelings. The biggest problem we encountered was–all the reviews so far have characterized the film more or less as a love letter to Barney. I didn’t want it to be. I wanted it to show Barney as this kind of tragic hero but with all of the darkness and the demons that haunt him. I wanted to show that, but I don’t think maybe we showed some of that.

The trailer: