Links: The Secret History

Joyce Carol Oates recalls the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s “unconscionable, despicable, unmanly and inexplicable behaviour” at Chappaquiddick, and questions whether decades of good behavior as a senator atones for it. This is the “WORST THING I HAVE EVER READ” in the eyes of some, but hey, 26 comments.

The great Jack Pendarvis on how Woody Allen shaped his identity—until he discovered Roy Blount Jr.

Jonathan Lethem tells the Jewish Daily Forward that he’s working on a novel set in Queens during the 50s and 60s.

A brief guide to academic revenge novels.

News to me: Steve Albini writes short stories. He certainly knows how to write a strong opening to an article.

Kevin Canty explains why so many of his story titles are taken from songs. “Nothing mysterious about this,” he says. “I just stink at coming up with titles and somebody’s already done the work for you when they write the song. Why work when you can steal?

Colum McCann
is heading off on a European tour to promote his new novel, Let the Great World Spin, along with musician Joe Hurley, who’s written an EP of songs based on characters in the novel.

Nelson Algren‘s first meeting with Simone de Beauvoir.

Lastly, is your last name Portnoy? Do you have a complaint about something Dan Froomkin wrote? Hoo boy, does Froomkin have a comeback for you!

Jonathan Lethem’s Artistic Filter

Jonathan Lethem, who just a few weeks back was buried chin-deep in work with only enough time to argue that The Dark Knight is a pro-conservative fantasy, spoke last weekend at the Cleveland Museum of Art on the subject of “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” The subject of plagiarism, the theme of an ingenious essay and a lousy novel, is still very much on his mind, apparently. He tells the Cleveland Free Times about how he learned about art through imitative artists:

“The preeminent American artists when I was going to museums and galleries were Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg,” he says. “Then it was Peter Saul and all sorts of people who were grabbing onto stuff. It was second nature. I thought this is what engaging with culture consists of. I credit a lot of it to Warner Bros. cartoons and watching Daffy Duck do Edward G. Robinson before I even knew who Edward G. Robinson was. I had this voice in my head and was always encountering culture backwards, meeting half-digested chunks of interesting material inside of other artwork. That seemed exuberant to me.”

Roman Holiday

A month or so back marked the 20th anniversary of the International Forum on the Novel, a gathering in Lyon, France, that brings together a host of writers from around the world to discuss matters like (from this year’s docket) “A Historian Facing Literature” and “The Bildungsroman.” (There’s a PDF of the complete program at the forum’s Web site.) Among the panelists on the latter gathering was Jonathan Lethem, and he’s also one of the novelists who answered the forum’s call to choose the one word that defines their writing. Lethem’s answer: furniture. The Guardian has his explanation:

Furniture may be explicit or implicit, visible or invisible, may bear the duty of conveying social and economic detail or be merely cursorily functional, may be stolen or purchased, borrowed, destroyed, replaced, sprinkled with crumbs of food or splashed with drink, may remain immaculate, may be transformed into artworks by aspiring bohemians, may be inherited by characters from uncles who die before the action of the novel begins, may reward careful inspection of the cushions and seams for loose change that has fallen from pockets, may be collapsible, portable, may even be dragged into the house from the beach where it properly belongs, but in any event it must absolutely exist. Anything less is cruelty.

For Those About to Revise…

Jonathan Lethem is in a band, which may be a smarter thing than writing a crummy novel about being in a band. I’m Not Jim, his collaboration with the Silos’ Walter Salas-Humara, will put out its first album in September on the fine Chicago alt-country label Bloodshot Records. If the PR for the album is to be trusted, Lethem was a quick study for songwriting. Says Salas-Humara: “I loved Motherless Brooklyn, but after reading The Fortress Of Solitude, a book I consider a stone cold masterpiece, I knew had to work with Jonathan. We carved out a couple days and met at his house in Maine. I hoped we would get a few things down and I was totally unprepared, and completely blown away, by the speed in which Jonathan gets ideas on paper.” (Via Wired’s Listening Post)

New in 2008: Love

Maybe it’s just that we’re sick of all the war stories we didn’t bother seeing in theaters anyway, and tired of paging through stacks of Iraq/al Qaeda/failures-of-the-Bush-administration tomes that have arrived in the past year. I know I’ll need one more example here to argue for a trend, but I have two books in hand collecting top-shelf literary writers on the topic of love. Last week I received a copy of Four Letter Word: Invented Correspondence From the Edge of Modern Romance, in which writers reimagine the love letter. Among the participants: David Bezmozgis, Leonard Cohen, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte, Audrey Niffenegger.

And today, Very Short List (a daily e-mail I’ve found very addictive, spot-on as it often is in its recommendations) is pushing My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro, a collection of love stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides. Sez VSL:

This handsome new anthology contains 26 exhilarating and heartache-producing love stories written by familiar masters (Chekhov, Faulkner, Joyce, Nabokov) as well as some new ones (Denis Johnson, Miranda July, Lorrie Moore, Eileen Chang). From the early-adolescent longing in Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t” to the crushing choices made in Alice Munro‘s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” (the basis for last year’s film Away From Her), each tale chips away at the mysteries of the human heart.

That’s some purple prose there. But the book is for a good cause: Proceeds benefit literacy nonprofit 826 Chicago.