Links: Restoring Honor

The National Book Festival will be held tomorrow on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It’s always a good time, though unfortunately I won’t be able to make it this year. I wrote up a preview of the fest for TBD, a new-ish local news and arts site.

Leon Wieseltier: “Anger at the false and the fake—as long as the labor of persuasion is done: a curse is not an act of criticism—is an admirable anger, because it is the heat of a cause, and our causes are the spurs of our culture. No culture, no literature, ever advanced by niceness.” (via)

Related: “Writers would prefer to believe that critics are separate, and that their separation means they’re the enemy, and out to get them. The irony is that writers are generally meaner to other writers than critics are.”

I recognize that there’s a fraught situation in Missouri regarding a local school board’s banning of a Sherman Alexie novel, but we’re in an awful mess when book reviews have to come with disclaimers from the editor.

Remembering Maxwell Perkins.

No self-respecting op-ed columnist would write that he or she wished the paper would publish more good news. But apparently it’s OK to publicly wish for more happy novels. (Moe Tkacik has much, much more.)

Gary Shteyngart: “I have a very boring kind of Media Diet, in the sense that I read what people would expect me to read, nothing special. Most of the things I read have New York in the title.”

Jonathan Lethem says goodbye to New York.

Literary road-tripping through the South—and a stop at Thomas Wolfe‘s childhood home in Asheville, North Carolina.

Whatever you do, do not read the promotional patter on the back cover of the paperback of John Cheever‘s Bullet Park.

Links: Brought to You by Dell and Folgers Coffee

Earlier this week the FTC released new guidelines on how bloggers must disclose their relationships with commercial entities. I haven’t spent much time thinking about this—unlike smart people who have—mainly because I suspect any battle between the gummint and bloggers will attack women and children first. Relatively speaking, me and my modest stack of advance reader’s copies aren’t worth anybody’s attention and trouble. I’ve always considered ARCs as a tool to do my job, not some great prize; I receive them, but, like editors at newspaper book reviews, I feel no particular obligation to review them, acknowledge their existence, or announce their provenance if I do get around to mentioning them.

George Saunders reports from a homeless tent city in Fresno, California.

Jane Smiley discusses her first novel for young adults, The Georges and the Jewels.

Sherman Alexie
: “If I had been talking about drowning polar bears [instead of the Kindle], people would have been weeping with me. But nobody recognizes that a bookstore or library can also be a drowning polar bear. And right now in this country, magazines, newspapers, and bookstores are drowning polar bears.

Paul Auster laments the death of independent bookstores in New York: “In my own city of New York, so many superb bookstores have gone out of business in the past years that the epidemic has reached tragic proportions. The Eighth Street Bookstore, the grand literary emporium of my youth, has been a shoe store for more than two decades now. The Gotham Book Mart (‘Wise Men Fish Here’), the home of the James Joyce Society, the home in exile for André Breton and other French Surrealists during World War II, closed its doors recently. Books and Company is gone. Endicott Books is gone. Coliseum Books is gone.”

A personal consideration of Raymond Carver along with some thoughts on Lishification, and a profile of his widow, Tess Gallagher.

A cache of Mark Twain‘s papers, including letters he wrote during the last months of his life, goes up for auction later this month.

Jonathan Lethem on his new novel, Chronic City: “I had to figure out, ok what should I be writing? I thought, the answer is always, I should write the thing that if I don’t write it, it wouldn’t exist… Maybe I could write a realistic social epic of the Upper East Side; it’s possible that I could do that. I feel that I’ve acquired a lot of those tools and inclinations, but to merge it with the dream-life material, I feel that’s my special task.”

Chicago gets a literary hall of fame.

Sherman Alexie and the Case of the Crazy-Ass Fifteen-Year-Old

Sherman Alexie is busy: According to an interview with Failbetter, he’s working on Fire With Fire, the “great big American Native American Novel,” a sequel to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, another young adult novel, Radioactive Love Song, that may or may not be narrated by an iPod, and he’s currently promoting Face, a collection of poetry. But I was mainly struck by the portion of the interview in which he discusses his 2007 novel, Flight, which struck me as a young-adult novel. Apparently the interviewer feels the same way:

You wrote Flight during the same time that you were writing True Diary. Did you think about that as YA at all too?

No—it’s funny that people would even think so.

But I would’ve loved that book when I was fifteen.

But you were probably a crazy-ass fifteen-year-old. It wasn’t the kids I was worried about, it wouldn’t get past the teachers, the gatekeepers. There’s genital mutilation in that book! No, I never thought of it as YA. It’s way too violent. It’s funny, people don’t even remember how violent it is. You know people will say that to me, “Why isn’t that a YA?” I’ll start listing everything that happens and they say, “Wait a second. That never would’ve made it past the school board.”

Well, True Diary didn’t—

True Diary didn’t make it past the school board in a couple places! But it’s so funny—the amazing thing is, it’s certain communities, because tomorrow I’m reading from it in the George Bush Library here. I want to get a photograph of me reading at the George Bush Library and send it to that school and say, “At least a Republican president doesn’t mind.”

Fair points. But I don’t doubt that more than a few fifteen-year-olds, crazy-ass or no, might find Flight more relatable than much of what what’s officially sanctioned for them.

Links: Scribble Scrabble

Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities, the blog of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, is full of all manner of interesting literary arcana, from lesbian pulp novels to old Raymond Pettibon drawings. The Hartford Courant catches up with the blog’s minders, with a particular eye toward its collection of writer’s notebooks.

Henry Kisor, mystery author and former books editor at the Chicago Sun-Times (where he gave my so-called critical career a boost a few years back), is going through his old files and digging up some fun stuff, including letters from Art Buchwald, and a vicious missive from G.P. Putnam’s Sons editor William Targ calling Nelson Algren an “inhuman turd.”

Esquire deems Colson Whitehead‘s John Henry Days a candidate for great American novel of the new century. Which is….interesting…considering the magazine didn’t think much of it when it came out.

Sherman Alexie has a whole bunch of works in the pipeline. He tells the Northern Arizona University Lumberjack: “I’ve got a new book of poems coming out shortly called Face. This fall, I have a book of short stories coming out called War Dances. Next spring is the release of the sequel to my young adult novel. The sequel’s called The Magic and Tragic Year of my Broken Thumb. And I have a novel coming out fall of 2010 called Fire with Fire. And then I have another young adult novel coming out the Spring after that called Radioactive Love Song, and then I have another novel coming out the fall after that called Thunder and Lightning.”

I’m still thinking about novels about motherhood, a subject that D.G. Myers raised recently. Seems to me that Sue Miller‘s The Senator’s Wife, and a few other Miller novels besides, should enter the discussion.

But this novel? Not so much.

Sherman Alexie Book Pulled From High School

Sherman Alexie‘s recent young-adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was recently pulled from the curriculum of Crook County High School in Prineville, Ore. Hank Moss, the father of a student at the school, registered a complaint about the novel after noticing a mention in it about masturbation. “I didn’t feel the book was appropriate for a required reading assignment for a 14-year-old,” he told the Bend Bulletin. “It had a lot of references that I didn’t feel comfortable with.”

Alexie, naturally, defends the book’s honor in the story:

“The world is an incredibly complicated place, and our literature must match that, especially literature for our kids,” Alexie said. “The book is incredibly positive about the world we live in, and people from vastly different politics and groups end up being friends. … If they read the book, it’s a celebration of the values of what they (parents who oppose the book) hold dear.”

And here I was thinking that Flight, which has all sorts of violent moments, could’ve qualified as a YA novel. I haven’t read Absolutely True Diary, though I suspect it’s not as awful as Mr. Moss makes it sound (“I don’t think a 50-year-old ought to read it,” he told the Oregonian.) Perhaps more troubling is how the reporting on the incident makes the Crook County school board look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight; Moss registered his complaint with the district board, not with the school principal or the teacher who assigned the book. Moss’ end run didn’t keep the school board from acting hastily, and the principal, Jim Golden, appears to be the only person involved with his head screwed on right:

“I’ve been directed by the school board and the superintendent to pull the book, and I will comply with their directive,” Golden said. “But I respectfully disagree with what they are doing. It’s a slippery slope. … If you take one or two pages out of context, I mean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is about two teenagers who are having a relationship. … It’s a dangerous precedent. … Part of what you are going to do is discuss ideas not proselytize kids. You want them to come to their own conclusion.”

Alexie on The Exiles

Sherman Alexie—novelist, poet, filmmaker, and Sonics fan—has been making the interview rounds on behalf of The Exiles, a 1961 film by Kent Mackenzie about Native Americans living in Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood. Alexie, with the assistance of filmmaker Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), helped resurrect the film, which is screening for a few more days at New York’s IFC Center. Time‘s Richard Corliss has an appreciation of the film, and Alexie discusses some of the film’s unique qualities with IndieWire:

[O]ne of the great things about the film is that it’s about urban Indians. Much of my written work is about the urban experience. Indian artists have been doing very little with that. We’re very reservation-centric. The fact that a film from the 1950s is urban, while we have failed to do that much ourselves, is very interesting.

iW: Why is that?

SA: I think it’s the idea — the misconception — that reservations are more authentic. When you’re talking about Native artists, by and large, you’re talking about people who never lived on the res, or left the res. We use our art to feel more connected to the tribe. It seems the way we do it is by writing about the res. I think the art has always been trying to find an identity, rather than writing about the identity it actually has.

Hoop Dreams

I’m not keeping up with NBA or Sherman Alexie the way I ought to. Since the beginning of the year the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger has run a regular column by Alexie titled Sonics Death Watch. (The Seattle SuperSonics are moving to Oklahoma next season, which was news to me. Sorry, I’m a baseball guy, though the Nats make that particular affection difficult.)

Anyway! Alexie has this column on the Sonics and it’s…OK. The guy clearly loves his team, and occasionally he finds a way to neatly work in his thoughts about race into a basketball column and not make it seem ungainly:

I think white fans love white point guards, even the disappointing ones, because of tribalism. The small white guys in the stands identify with the small white guys on the court. Makes sense to me. If a Native American ever makes it to the NBA, he will become one of my favorite players, even if he’s terrible.

But I truly love NBA basketball because of its otherness, not the otherness of race, but the otherness of athletic ability. During a recent game, Luke Ridnour threw a bounce pass into the key that was gorgeous and extraterrestrial. And for just a few seconds, I loved Luke and chanted his name along with the other fans.