Friday, October 30, 2009

THE UNIBROW OF BOOK REVIEWING

Heaven knows there little love lost between me and Jessa Crispin (something having to do with my having to endure the much-dreaded double whammy of penile frostbite and financial penury in order to read to --really!-- five folks --really, five folks!-- at a Bookslut reading), but this time she hit a nerve of a particularly raw variety. Probably because this past year I have been carrying around a big blistering lump of dis-ease about the state of the art (the art being lit), and Jessa, so it seems, wields just the lance to pierce that boil.

More later, I hope, on her plea for independence, but let me concentrate for now on one aspect of her heartfelt piece:
But the reason I have a hard time with these conversations about the decline of the review, and the death of authority, is because so many of the contemporary authors I love are often the ones being kept out of the conversation. They're rarely, if ever, reviewed in the New York Times, they don't get splashy features written about them and their night out with their friends. It's hard for me to get worked up about the decline of reviews when I didn't care much for them to begin with.
Being an empirically inclined sort of fellah, I decided to apply what I shall from now on call Crispin's Razor to the NYT's middle-unibrow to determine whether that statement holds any truth for me. Faithful readers of this blog know there is little love lost between me and the NYT too, having something to do with that whole WMD fiasco from a few years and a few hundred-thousand dead folks back, plus also no doubt some lingering ego-related resentment over never having made it into their pages, and also the strangely rigged game they play of having novelists review other novelists to admittedly hilarious yet stunningly uninformative results (recent reviews of Korean and Norwegian authors come to mind -- you know: folks who live too far away to actually come within real spitting range of Sam Tanenhaus) (can't wait, btw, to see Steve Jobs grace the NYT's pages with his review of Windows 7; and isn't it time the Merryl-Lynch CEO is given free rein to report on all that is wrong with the Bank of America?) -- but Jessa's is an empirical question: Surely my most beloved novel of 2009 -- it's about religion and death and it's funny as hell and it's dark as hell and it's entirely unexpected yet it feels as if it's always been here right with us, it's creepy, it's crawly, it hits you over the head with a bludgeon and offers no salve, it has an amputee a minute, it's dry as a bone and it'll make you chew your tongue off and it's limpid and simple as the glass of water you'll drown yourself in and it's unlike anything I've ever read and it's dedicated to me and it's Brian Evenson's Last Days and --horror!-- if I had to go by the NYT's Book section the whole genius book might indeed just never have been written: Their search engine returns nada-zip and poof. (Because not published by Random House? Because the author lives somewhere in between Manhattan and the next continent over? Because obvious precedence had to be given to a book called Eating: A Memoir?)

Well, I shall be kicked in the shin by a tiny leprechaun carrying a fleeting resemblance to Dick Cheney: Jessa is right.

Which means, perhaps, that it is time for independence, and we should all, why not, self-cauterize?

Monday, October 26, 2009

MEET MY GERMAN PUBLISHER: THEY TORTURE FLIES IN THE NAME OF PUBLICITY


I am very good (too good for my own good) at yelling at my publishers (search this blog, man), but this stunt from my German publisher, Eichborn, is a bit much. Their slogan is: "The publishing house with the fly". (Yeah, I know. They could have chosen any kind of badass animal for their logo, but they went with the humble fly: The one animal that truly relishes dung.) And so, to garner respect and draw attention to the mighty abomination of their booth, they released a few hundred (?) flies with little Eichborn banners attached to their legs into the big hall at the Frankfurter Book Fair.

Cute, some say.

I personally see little cuteness.

Attaching a banner the weight of a fly to a fly's hind legs and then setting it "free", to flutter in a stutter, to panic, perchance to die -- not my idea of cute. More my idea of cruel. At the end of the video, we are told that the banners were attached with wax and came off spontaneously "after a few hours". What a relief! I'm sure they told all the lil' fellahs: Don't worry, it'll come off!

Here is my proposal for the next book fair: Maybe we could pierce the nipples of all Eichborn employees and hang copies of Omega Minor from them (OM no doubt being their heaviest tome). (Only for a few hours, of course. The holes, after all, will close.) Hey, who doesn't like nipples? That'll make it onto Youtube million-count heaven no prob!

A little pox, therefore, on Eichborn. I wish I could take my book back from them. Given that the novel did diddle-do-squat in Germany (perhaps, one now wonders, due to the fly-brained efficiency of Eichborn PR team?), I am sure they'd just as happy be rid of me.

Here is my real proposal: If you're German and you want to read my book -- go to the library. If you want to buy it: Go get the English version. Either way: Don't give the Eichborn assclowns your money.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

WE'RE ALL LUDDITES AGAIN


The New York Times has another one of their inane "articles" on e-readers. This one has a title that just oozes inanity: "Does the brain like E-Books?"

(Reading, as some of us know, involves some high-falutingly named cognitive processes, all having to do with translating high-(one may hope)contrast squiggles into what eventually should be a world. This process is abstract and independent of how the squiggles are embodied. Embodiment just jiggles the parameters; things like the speed of reading. [My advice: Better read fast if it's written on water!])

(Point two. The brain doesn't "like" anything. The brain doesn't contain a homonculus/a that injects pleasure -- or any other form of evaluate judgment -- into the brain's processing modules, any more than the gut feels disgust about all the shit it has to deal with.) (Of course, a mind can feel disgust about all the shit it has to deal with. Hence, par example, this post.)

Sandra Aamodt points out the blindingly (half-pun intended) obvious: It's not about the squibbles themselves, but the implementation. Computer screens fatigue you with their luminance; computer screens also have pnicely inbuilt additional distractions (they tend to contain the whole of the Known Internet, for starters, as well as all of your iTunes). David Gelernter (what's in a name!) points out another blindingly obvious fact: You can search e-books. Like: OMG! OMFG!

So, yeah, I'd have just loved to have heard the town criers on that new invention, the wax tablet (it deadens your memory!); papyrus (your records will rot before your very eyes!); the book (what? no scrolling?); loose type (scribes out of work! scribes out of work!); and the illustration (kills the imagination! kills the imagination!).

Implementation, that's all it is*. As long as the squiggles are the same, the world conjured up will be the same. (The reading mind being the same. Which it never is. Hence the joy of rereading.) No need to spill that much ink (ha!) or pixels over it. Relax. It's all good. It's only about words, and nobody cares about those. (Certainly not the NYT, who now routinely has its book reviews done by novelists. Can't wait for Jay-Z's thorough review of the next Lil' Wayne! 'D love to see Aaron Spelling's take on Thirty Rock! Glenn Beck's -- and no-one else's -- insights on Jon Stewart! Wonder why you become irrelevanter by the minute?)

Still, now that Kindles turn out to be beloved by middle-aged folks rather than hipster young-uns, it's nice to be for once see the pot-bellied and bald crowd ROFLing on their hi-pile carpets.

--
* And so, indeed, if I pay about the same amount to get Dawkins's new one on Kindle as I were to pay for the hardcover, can I please get a black and white version of the color illustrations he refers to, and readable black and whites? And while we're at it, if you handicap the book by kindling it, couldn't you tell me this before I shelled out my hard-earned money, unaptly-named Free Press?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CITY LIT BERLIN

Oh, to be anthologized! It has never happened to me*, but now it will. It appears the City-Lit Berlin compilation book is ready to, uh, appear. Judging from the Table of Contents, yours truly provides the kick-off. Or, rather, being the humble first act in a roster of amazing folks, your slightly nagging wake-up call.

--
*I once was interviewed, back in the Belgian day, by some guy who mentioned all the weirdness, sexual and otherwise, in the ever-untranslated Lichtenberg. To which I replied that said weirdness was deliberate, intended to discourage compilers of high-school lit class readers to ever include an excerpt. Turned out the guy was one such compiler, on the Catholic end of the spectrum no less, and needless to say I indeed proudly never made it into such readers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MOVIES THAT NEED TO BE MADE


Movies that need to be made.

(AKA: what the fuck *else* am I gonna do while working on this more-or-less scientific paper that is making my fucking eyes fucking BLEED with my former postdoc's brilliance right now than have a round of ole'-fashion' ego-surf -- read Huffpost, uh? Uh?)

Omega Minor by Tony Kaye. A few funny (but not ha-ha) connotations to that, like (a) a woman I was once quite unrequitedly bonkers about once told me I looked like Ed Norton (which quite satisfactorily explains the unrequited part, I s'poz); and (b) yes, yes, I know, I did steal Omega's Bordsteintreten scene from American History X, but it's a fucking brilliant scene, 'kay?; and (c) how did this JC Simpson dude/dudess get her/his hands on my well-encrypted notes for Babylon Blues, which will, of course, be all up in American History's face, and eager to headbutt too?; and, finally, (d): Sultry S and I were discussing books and movies the other day which, given that I own a t-shirt that reads Movies: Ruining the book since 1920, you know where this was going, but she mentioned, now, if anybody would want to make a movie out of one of your books, you wouldn't say no, would you?, and I said yes I would, but then I am a bitter, self-loathing, misunderstood and certainly undervalued genius, so my refusal would be purely out of bilious spite, but actually, you know, buying some time to get that sodding new novel off the effing ground would be so swell -- so on that off-chance: sure, Tony bro, gimme a call.