Links: Gathering Dust

Ann Patchett figures nobody’s read her 1994 novel, Taft.

Cormac McCarthy has won the PEN/Saul Bellow award for lifetime achievement, which should make Michael J. Fox happy.


John Jeter
, author of The Plunder Room, explains why breaking into publishing is a little like his day job of running a music club.

Don’t start an interview with Tobias Wolff by asking about writing process.

Identity Theory’s James Warner avoids a similar kerfuffle in his interview with Yiyun Li, by simply asking what questions she prefers to avoid. This, for once, elicits an interesting reply:

I don’t particularly like to be asked about my views of political situations, both current and historical. As a fiction writer, I believe that what needs to be said about any political situation can not be separated from my fiction, and I feel that I have said enough in my work.

(Though if you write a novel set during late stages of the Cultural Revolution—and The Vagrants is a great book—it’s hard to be surprised that somebody might ask for your thoughts on China today.)

Vladimir Nabokov once wrote down some impressions on the critics who contributed to an issue of TriQuarterly commemorating his 70th birthday—with high praise for scholar Alfred Appel Jr., who died last Sunday. (via Sam Jones)

Independent bookstores around the country are being decimated. Except the ones in Martha’s Vineyard.

Links; Housekeeping

David Foster Wallace used his Amherst undergraduate thesis to dismantle a philosophical brand of fatalism. Quite successfully, to hear some scholars tell it.

Tobias Wolff‘s short story “Awake” is available in full on the London Times‘ Web site.

Jhumpa Lahiri
wins a lot of prize money. She gives a lot of it away.

The young, brilliant, intellectually and sexually tormented Susan Sontag.

Care to go on a train ride with Paul Theroux?

Bantam is reprinting Ernest Callenbach‘s ’70s cult novel, Ecotopia, which imagined a world of slow food and recycling bins years before such things got traction in American life. (Also: Nice to see the byline of Scott Timberg, who was recently laid off by the Los Angeles Times.)

Denis Johnson doesn’t have a damned clue what the future of the book is, and it’s anybody’s guess why he was invited onto a panel to discuss the matter. “He admitted to an audience member who wondered how much of the panel’s resistance to digital media was old fogeyism, ‘I think I can give you an exact figure on that: 87 percent. We’ve become irrelevant. We no longer point the way for the culture, but we’ll always be important to individuals. That’s the communication and always has been — between one individual, the writer, and another, the reader.'”

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Some News About Me

When I started this blog in January, I stubbornly, perhaps foolishly, told myself that I would feed it at least once daily. Eventually I eased up on the throttle and took Saturdays off, then wound up using that day to update the D.C.-Area Readings list. (Some great events have recently been announced, by the way, especially the Nextbook reading series at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, featuring Etgar Keret and Rivka Galchen, among others.) Running a blog is addictive, not just because it forces you to keep an eye on a beat but because it introduces you to a whole crowd of friendly, supportive people. I’m flattered by the attention and subscribers and support my effort has received—especially from the litbloggers who welcomed my arrival to the blogosphere despite the fact that I showed up about five years late.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that things may get unsettled here in the coming weeks and months. Dec. 19 will be my last day at Washington City Paper, where I’ve worked for the past two years (following two years at its sister paper, the Chicago Reader). Starting in January I’ll be working at Associations Now, a magazine published by the D.C.-based American Society of Association Executives & the Center for Association Leadership. I’m excited about the change: I’ll be joining a group of smart people doing idea-driven journalism, working at a glossy, learning more about the nonprofit world, and hopefully finding a use for some of my more egghead-y reading on networks and organizational theory—subjects one winds up absorbing osmotically when there’s a sociologist in the house.

Happily, my new employer has no problem with my freelancing and blogging, though updates may not come as often as usual—the day job always comes first, and I’ll be spending some time getting up to speed with the new one. (And anyway, book reviewing and blogging has always been a sideline for me. With very rare exceptions, I never read or wrote about books at the office. The blogging was always completely separate.) The upside to all this, for me, is that it’s an opportunity for me to rethink this whole enterprise. If Twitter is teaching us anything, it’s that link journalism via blog has its limits; seeing as 90 percent of what this blog does is link journalism, I’ve been pondering what to do here in the way of interviews, essays, and more. (N.B.: I’ve updated the page for authors and publicists, both of whom are welcome to contact me directly regarding ARCs, readings, and interviews.)

I’ll see how things work out in the coming months. In the meantime, thanks to the many folks who read these posts, wrote in, suggested links, and commented. I’ll make this confounded thing work one way or another.

Links: International Anthem

Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666 may be the Great American Novel.” Well, can’t blame a critic for trying.

In related news, on Sunday National Book Award chief Harold Augenbraum will appear on WordSmitten, where, if the rhetoric of the accompanying press release is to be trusted, he will all but strap on the brass knuckles and set to pummeling Horace Engdahl live on air. Actually, looks like he will arrive brandishing…a reading list.

Speaking of which: A recommended reading list for Barack Obama includes a pair of novels—David Lozell Martin‘s Our American King and Norman Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam?—as well as Tobias Wolff‘s In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War.

Toni Morrison responds to John Updike‘s review of A Mercy: “‘He says I like starting stories smack in the middle of things and you don’t know what’s going on,’ she says softly, a smile on her lips and a spark in her eye. ‘I was laughing at that because I thought, all stories start in the middle of things!'”

One of the more entertaining sections of William Least Heat-Moon‘s new book, Roads to Quoz, is a defense of the Beats framed around his visit with Jim Canary, the caretaker of the scroll version of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road. “Sometimes I wish he would have written on sheets, but then I wouldn’t have had this job,” Canary tells the Loyola University Phoenix.

One Paragraph: Tobias Wolff, “Smorgasbord”

“Smorgasbord” is included in Tobias Wolff’s Our Story Begins, a collection of both old and new short stories, and it exemplifies his talent for subtly tracking a character’s emotional shifts. The narrator is a prep-school student on scholarship who can’t afford to go home on break; Crosley is a classmate; Linda is the stepmother of a fellow student they barely know, and who they suspect is the son of a Latin-American dictator. The smorgasbord they wind up going to is miles below Linda’s station, and she’s clearly taking it in with mild amusement. For the narrator, however, this is his big chance—to prove his virility, his classiness, his proper place in the prep-school order. In this moment you can see how his perspective on the restaurant shifts from acceptance (we know he’s gone there plenty; it’s cheap) to contempt:

Linda smoked another cigarette while we ate. She watched the other tables as if she were at a movie. I tried to eat with a little finesse and so did Crosley, dabbing his lips with a napkin between every bulging mouthful, but some of the people around us had completely slipped their moorings. They ducked their heads low to shovel up their food, and while they chewed it they looked around suspiciously and circled their plates with their forearms. A big family to our left was the worst. There was something competitive and desperate about them; they seemed determined to eat their way into a condition where they would never have to eat again. You’d have thought they were refugees from some great hunger, that outside these walls the land was afflicted with drought and barrenness. I felt a kind of desperation myself, as if I were growing emptier with every bite I took.

Roundup: While You Were Out

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Still making people mad.

Tobias Wolff speaks with Australia’s The Age (where his latest story collection, Our Story Begins, has just been published). He recalls the experience of reading galleys of his first novel, Ugly Rumours, a book he now disowns: “”I thought I had gotten way ahead of myself. I wasn’t smart enough to be Pynchon, but I liked the almost 19th century Dickensian layering of perspectives, the kind of wild sense of humour that Pynchon allows himself and the mingling of realism and urban myth and absurdity. Nothing is a waste of time for a writer, but this was not my medium.”

Penguin Classics is launching its African American Classics series with a collection of works by Charles W. Chesnutt. The Atlantic‘s Web site pointed to some of his work in January.

Scott Romine revisits Walter Hines Page‘s The Southerner. The 1909 novel has just been reissued by the University of South Carolina Press.

Lastly, if it’s true that we’re all not reading anymore, at least the book titles are still good for something: “If you decided to name your horses after classics in American literature, you could have horses named Red Badge Of Courage, Tender IsThe Night, The Last Tycoon, O Pioneers, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Absalom Absalom, A Moveable Feast, Travelswithcharley, Tortilla Flat and many others. I’ve just scratched the surface.”