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?


I’m one of those needy souls who investigates books to see if my review has been excerpted in them. (I may never enjoy better exposure as a critic than having a blurb occupy the whole back cover of the hardcover edition of Lionel Shriver‘s The Post-Birthday World, though alas Kirkus doesn’t go for bylines.) So I was amused by an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about the fine art of book blurbing. Among those quoted is novelist and short-story writer Ron Carlson, who confesses that his stock went up with his students when his 2003 collection, A Kind of Flying, was blurbed by Stephen King. He wrote, “These stories glow with a radioactive cleverness.”

There’s a reason you’re seeing more awful metaphors like that on book jackets. Says Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson:

“Book marketing is much more complicated and difficult than it was 30 years ago, partly because we publish so many books [and] partly because publicity opportunities are fewer,” says Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson, lamenting the demise of many newspapers’ book sections. “So yes, I think blurbs are thought to be a way of getting a reader’s interest. There’s no exact study or way to determine how much blurbs influence sales, but it certainly is a topic of discussion in the publishing business.”

Kindle Redux

I don’t mean to pick on Stephen King, who’s written a handful of excellent novels as well as a sincere and useful guide for aspiring writers. But he writes an eh column for Entertainment Weekly, and his latest one, on Amazon’s Kindle, is emblematic of its problems. Yet again, there’s the ladies-and-gentlemen-I’m-just-a-caveman pleas when confronted with anything invented after 1991 (the device has “one of those annoying teeny-tiny keyboards most suited to the fingers of Keebler elves”); the false coziness with the reader (“your Uncle Stevie will now eludicate”); the biting commentary that isn’t particularly biting (“You cannot, for instance, listen to one of the later Patricia Cornwell novels without realizing how little feel she has for language”–everybody agrees that Cornwell’s off the rails now). Idolator says pretty much the same thing, but their take is a lot funnier than mine.

The biggest problem with his Kindle column is that he’s excited about it because…well, why? Because he’s impressed that a device designed to let you read a book lets you read a book, apparently; also, you can make the font size larger. That’s it.

I’ve scribbled some of my concerns with the Kindle shortly after its debut. I don’t own the device and have never used it, but my biggest worry has nothing to do with the usability of the physical product. My question: Do I own a book I’ve purchased for the Kindle, and for how long? I was reminded of this issue last week, when the hard drive of my computer died and I had to install a new one. I backed up all of my crucial docs, and plenty of non-crucial ones, but I didn’t have everything. I didn’t back up a lot of my MP3 files,  for instance, and among the missing was my copy of In Rainbows. Do I still own this record, which I paid money for when Radiohead released it online? I’m not sure. The URL I was given when I purchased the album doesn’t appear to be working. And, as I pointed out in the blog post, technology has a way of rendering itself irrelevant in a few years–I had a rough time opening three-year-old e-mails, and my e-mails from 10 years ago are pretty much lost forever. I have no guarantee that the digital books I purchase through Amazon will last any longer.

So, no, Uncle Stevie, my concern isn’t that I’ll miss books because I like them as furniture. My concern is that, in time, it’ll turn out that I don’t own what I think I did.

Trailer Park

I’ve groused before about book trailers, I know, but the one for Stephen King‘s new novel, Duma Key, leads me to ask the same questions. There are two of them floating around on YouTube, and together they haven’t added up to 1,500 views in a week, 1,400 of which come from the one on CBS’s YouTube channel. If these things can’t attract the attention of an author who sells millions, what good does it do for the garden-variety novelist?

Perhaps the subject matters more than the notoriety of the author. Naomi Klein clearly captured the attention of the netroots in the video for her most recent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which has been viewed more than 450,000 times in four months. A top-shelf director helps too. This one was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who also made the unsettling dystopian tale Children of Men: