Links: Bright-Sided

Drew Johnson‘s spirited defense of O. Henry on the hundredth anniversary of his death: “[I]t’s worth remembering that this is a register with which all writers have terrible difficulty. For all the contempt lavished on stories which crudely bring on the tears, my nagging sense is that the skills to traverse the terrain of ‘The Last Leaf’ or ‘Magi’ are widely lacking—and so we hide behind the ‘happiness shows white on the page’ excuses. It’s hard to think of happy stories.”

Falling hard for the hero of A Confederacy of Dunces.

E.L. Doctorow on how Ragtime might resemble a rag: “In the way it plays off personal lives against historical forces, you could make the claim, I suppose, that the historical forces are the basic stride or the inevitable irrepressible beat, and the attempt to escape history is the syncopated right hand.”

Peter Matthiessen recalls visiting Prague in 1948.

What’s killing fiction? MFA programs? Publishing house editors? Anybody willing to step up and blame readers?

Benjamin Percy recalls his early admiration for Stephen King‘s The Gunslinger.

Richard Price‘s novel Lush Life has inspired a series of art exhibits on the Lower East Side.

“Grocery store owners, it seems, have more dignity, more potential for sympathy, and more substance, than politicians, at least if you’re an up and coming novelist.

Jeffrey Eugenides
isn’t very excited about the upcoming film version of his short story “Baster.”

Any appropriate name for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is going to have a Don DeLillo-like affect.

Writing about American sports fiction, Benjamin Markovitz notes that “[John] Updike probably chose basketball for Rabbit because it’s less Waspy than tennis or golf. Even so, the class lines in American sports are not fixed. Basketball is played by inner-city blacks and rural whites. American football grew up on the playing fields of east coast prep schools, but early on it also became a way out of poverty for the working classes.” This may explain why fiction writers find sports so useful for their purposes—and why the Great American Lacrosse Novel will probably never be written.

Brady Udall
on researching his new novel, The Lonely Polygamist: “I figured I’d meet a lot of megalomaniacal men with their shirts buttoned up to their necks, and their meek, cow-eyed wives (the ones with the pioneer dresses and weird hair-dos). I have to say I was almost disappointed when these people turned out to be nice, everyday, regular folks, hardly distinguishable from the rest of the populace.”

I’m mindful of the fact that all the writers mentioned in this links post are men. I don’t think all of them are purveyors of manfiction, though. On a related note: Are female authors in movies always broken/weepy types?

This Old House

A few years ago I spent a long weekend in San Antonio, which I quickly learned is a difficult city in which to spend a long weekend without a car. I visited the Alamo, twice, and did the river-boat tour, twice; eventually I broke down, violated the tourist’s code, and went to go see a movie. (March of the Penguins, I think; it was miserably hot in San Antonio too.) One evening, on the way to dinner, I happened past a shed-like building that turned out to be the home of O. Henry from 1895 to 1896. Various signs marked the spot as the Henry home, but either due to its tiny size or lack of interest, nobody staffs the site for visitors. Stephen J. Gertz, who had a similar experience in the city, writes in Book Patrol about a recent visit to the Henry house:

There is welcome sign inviting visitors but in a strange plot twist I discovered that when you push the buzzer, ostensibly to gain entry, one is instead treated to a recording, a disembodied voice narrating the story of the house and O. Henry’s occupancy. In a further plot twist, no online biography of O. Henry makes any mention whatsoever of his residence in San Antonio; the only information on O. Henry in San Antonio is found on San Antonio-related sites and there are factual conflicts. Houston, Austin, and San Antonio appear to be locked in a struggle for bragging rights.

From there Gertz calls to have the Henry home moved from its perch on downtown’s outskirts to Alamo Plaza. Good idea: It would precisely double the number of interesting things to see there. For what it’s worth, Henry (born William Sydney Porter) didn’t seem to think too much of the place either. His short story “The Higher Abdication” describes Curly, a drifter stuck in the city for a while:

San Antonio puzzled and disturbed him. Three days he had been a non- paying guest of the town, having dropped off there from a box car of an I. & G.N. freight, because Greaser Johnny had told him in Des Moines that the Alamo City was manna fallen, gathered, cooked, and served free with cream and sugar. Curly had found the tip partly a good one. There was hospitality in plenty of a careless, liberal, irregular sort. But the town itself was a weight upon his spirits after his experience with the rushing, business-like, systematised cities of the North and East. Here he was often flung a dollar, but too frequently a good-natured kick would follow it. Once a band of hilarious cowboys had roped him on Military Plaza and dragged him across the black soil until no respectable rag-bag would have stood sponsor for his clothes. The winding, doubling streets, leading nowhere, bewildered him. And then there was a little river, crooked as a pot-hook, that crawled through the middle of the town, crossed by a hundred little bridges so nearly alike that they got on Curly’s nerves. And the last bartender wore a number nine shoe.