Hello there. There’s a goodly chance that you’re here today because Mark Sarvas was nice enough to include this blog on his list of ten “Really, Really Smart Literary Blogs.” I feel a bit like the little old lady whose hair is still in curlers when the Prize Patrol van arrives, but I appreciate your swinging by. If this is your first time here, a few “greatest hits” posts you might want to look at: my piece on the best books of 2008, some stray thoughts on Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, a few more on the future of book reviewing, a guide to Haruki Murakami‘s translations of American authors, and some thoughts about best practices about for DIY publishing. I usually do link roundup like this once a week, but as with many things in life, this is changeable. Onward.
Don DeLillo‘s America points to a cache of DeLillo radio
interviews on YouTube.
Jay McInerney talks to the Wall Street Journal about his new story collection, How It Ended which includes an update on the life of Alison Poole, the protagonist of his novel Story of My Life. Poole was modeled after one of his ex-girlfriends, Rielle Hunter, perhaps better known for her attachment to former presidential candidate John Edwards.
One less teacher is using Toni Morrison‘s Beloved in the classroom. Kids are still using The Scarlet Letter to learn about public humiliation, though.
The Daily Iowan catches up with longtime Kurt Vonnegut confidante Loree Rackstraw; make sure to check out the slideshow, which has some fine images of Vonnegutiana in Rackstraw’s home.
It’s the 25th anniversary of Sandra Cisneros‘ The House on Mango Street. At a recent event at Rice University honoring the book, she offered some of the best advice for writers I’ve heard: “First, you write like you’re talking to someone in your pajamas. Then you revise like your enemy is reading it.”
(Apologies for the quick-hit stuff over the past couple of days—the weeks before the holidays, combined with some added deadlines, tend to make life a little more complicated.)
News to me: Book-It Repertory Theatre, a Seattle company that interprets novels for the stage. They’re working on Willa Cather‘s My Antonia.
Also onstage: Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain. Still. Forever.
The Washington Post‘s book blog, Short Stack, reports from Maya Angelou‘s reading in D.C. the other night. Angelou’s writing process: “[S]he rents a hotel room by the month and tells the management to remove everything from the walls. She works all morning with a Bible, a Roget’s Thesaurus, the New York Times crossword puzzle and a good bottle of sherry. ‘I try to enchant myself to hear my language,’ she said. ‘Once I can almost remove myself from the ordinary, I get to my yellow pad.'”
Toni Morrison on the state of African-American fiction: “I’m not terribly up on it, but my impression is that it is thriving. Really thriving. You have everyone from Edwidge Danticat to Colson Whitehead. And of course, the literature of young Asian writers is also very interesting to me. The range is what is so fabulous.” Plus, her thoughts on the death of John Leonard.
And just for fun: Billy Joel registers a weak defense of one of his worst songs.
“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.
Baltimore City Paper has a profile of Robert Catalionni, a professor of African American literature at Coppin State University. Catalionni worked on a new disc for Smithsonian Folkways, On My Journey: Paul Robeson‘s Independent Recordings. He’s also the author of what sounds like a fascinating read, The Songs Became the Stories: The Music in African-American Fiction, 1970-2005, which came out in November on Peter Lang Publishing.
Cataliotti also demonstrates astonishing depth of knowledge not just about well-known black writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison; he is just as adept at analyzing Ishmael Reed and John Edgar Wideman. The Songs Became the Stories also includes a discography of recommended artists that includes everyone from Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sun Ra to Alberta Hunter, Mahalia Jackson, Abbey Lincoln, Public Enemy, and Jill Scott.
Reed and Wideman are “well-known black writers” too. But still.
Toni Morrison endorses Barack Obama.
Where NYC Writers Like to Drink
Libby Fischer Hellmann on the intersection of real-estate investment and writing novels about white-collar crime:
When it’s done right, real estate development is every bit as creative as writing a novel…you’re creating something worthwhile where nothing existed before. At the same time the possibilities to cut corners are legion. Maybe it’s slipping in sub-standard materials to save time and money. Maybe it’s greasing a palm for an official approval or environmental “clean bill of health.” Maybe it’s making sure the construction crews are available when you need them, or maybe it’s just out and out soaking investors without any return.