Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Scrotum, scrotum, scrotum

Short Schrift has directed me toward Babble: "a magazine and community for the new urban parent," and the first article that caught my eye was a piece on this year's Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, which has been criticized over the fact that the word "scrotum" appears on the first page. (The NYT's story on the hubub is now pay-only, but their editorial on the matter is still free.)

I don't normally weigh in on Children's literature (save maybe Harry Potter), because I simply don't care, but I have to say that Lisa Carver gets it exactly right. We aren't protecting our children from anything by protecting them from the simple mention of the proper names of specific body parts, naughty or otherwise.

I've decided that if I ever write a children's book, the word scrotum will appear in the title.

Monday, February 26, 2007

One more for Phil

Philip Roth has won the PEN/Faulkner award for Everyman.

The other finalists were Charles D'Ambrosio's The Dead Fish Museum, Deborah Eisenberg's Twilight of the Superheroes, Amy Hempel's The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, and Edward P. Jones' All Aunt Hagar's Children.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Another good soundbyte

A&L Daily directed me to Terry Eagleton's review of a new life of T. S. Eloit by Craig Raine.

Eagleton isn't terribly fond of Raine's take on Eliot, and his major complaint so closely echoes a discussion I had recently with Short-Schrift, that I'll quote it here.
Why do critics feel a need to defend the authors they write on, like doting parents deaf to all criticism of their obnoxious children? Eliot's well-earned reputation is established beyond all doubt, and making him out to be as unflawed as the Archangel Gabriel does him no favours. It is true that the poet was a sourly elitist reactionary who fellow-travelled with some unsavoury political types in the 1930s, and as a Christian knew much of faith and hope but little of charity. Yet the politics of many distinguished modernist artists were just as squalid, and some—Pound and Junger, for example—were quite a lot worse. There is no need to pretend that all great writers have to be uxorious, liberal-minded, philosemitic heterosexuals. Why does Raine write as though discovering that Eliot was a paedophile would change our view of Four Quartets? Neither is it just a question of "fine poetry, pity about the politics." The fact that apart from Joyce and Woolf, almost all of the major "English" modernists were radical reactionaries, askew to the orthodox liberal consensus of their age, is a condition of their achievement, not a regrettable corollary.
Interestingly, my part in the argument with Short-Schrift (which was prompted by Clive James' essays in Slate) was that it's fair to consider Borges' politics in a view of his work, but I would agree wholeheartedly that even if our view of an artist as a person colors our view of his/her work, that it is both pointless and dishonest to demand that they be saints.

After all, it is the art that we seek to understand and emulate, not the artist.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On the stump, in the bookstore

The NYT has a piece this morning on books by political candidates. In the best tradition of political reporting, let me serve up a few soundbytes without any real context.

  1. “You’re not a real candidate, Pinocchio, if you haven’t written your own book,” said Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News. “If you know everybody else is doing a book, you’ve got to do a book.”

  2. “The book publishing business has become the new exploratory committee,” said Chuck Todd, editor of the daily political tip sheet Hotline. “For [Barack] Obama, it was a way of testing the waters. That’s when you find out: Are you interesting enough to get enough interviews? Can you get people to show up for a signing?”

  3. “If a book is a narrative about who you are or something you believe in, it has to feel authentic,” said Peter Osnos, the founder and editor at large of PublicAffairs, who has published books by Mr. Obama, former President Bill Clinton and General [Wesley] Clark. “It has to feel that you’re really writing about yourself. It has to feel honest, to the extent that any public figure is honest.”

  4. Political insiders caution against reading too much into the tea leaves. While Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore’s 1992 election-year manifesto, Putting People First, previewed a victory, John Kerry and Mr. Edwards’s 2004 book, Our Plan for America, modeled on the Clinton-Gore book, fizzled with the public. And though Mr. McCain’s 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers, was a critical success and a best seller, he failed to win the nomination in 2000. A Charge to Keep, by George W. Bush, was dismissed by critics as an expanded stump speech mostly written by Karen Hughes, his omnipresent communications adviser. The lesson? “Candidates can win,” said Mr. Halperin of ABC News, “even if their books don’t sell well.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Do you always need a reason?

Fred R. Conrad, via the New York Times

Here, as promised, is that picture of Richard Ford. Why? Because I can.

Monday, February 12, 2007

He looks almost as good in a tweed jacket

Matthew Bandsuch, via the New York Times

The Guardian UK ran a profile of Thomas McGuane this past Saturday. Items of note: while the headline borrows from McGuane's description of his writing process, it also echoes the title of fellow MSU alum Richard Ford's most recent novel. Also, Tom Brokaw apparently nags McGuane to write about politics and war, and McGuane recommends Nell Freudenberger and Julie Orringer's short stories. I wholeheartedly agree. (With McGuane's recommendations, not with Brokaw.)

(I like this running a picture thing I have going. Now I need to find an excuse to borrow a pic of Ford from the NYT to complete the trifecta.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sunday reading

Anderson Ulf/Gamma, Getty Images, via the New York Times

Jim Harrison's new novel, Returning to Earth, gets the cover of the NYT Book Review this week.

For those of you who are paying attention, this means that the most recent books by Harrison, Richard Ford, and Thomas McGuane have each received cover reviews.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

The chicken or the egg?

I've actually been meaning to post on this for a while, but interest finally seems to have reached a critical mass, and I've finally been able to steal an extra few minutes.

A few of the comments on some of my posts about Red Cedar Review and Michigan writers have revolved around Thomas McGuane's relationship to RCR, and one particularly knowledgeable commentator has mentioned an enigmatic precursor to RCR named Tarot.

Red Cedar Review, when it talks about its history, will often cite Thomas McGuane as one of its founders. Notably, Volume 32, #1 from 1995 is "dedicated to the men who started Red Cedar Review: Jim Cash, Walt Lockwood, [and] Thomas McGuane." This is a beautifully absurd list that, in its own way, is not absolutely inaccurate.

In truth, Thomas McGuane never worked on, nor was he printed by "Red Cedar Review." McGuane founded a literary magazine named Tarot in 1961 with a handful of other people. (J. D. Reed and Ron English appear to be the two other primary names on the masthead.) McGuane edited two issues in 1961, each of which contains one of his stories.

Walter Lockwood appears to have joined the staff for the second issue of Tarot, and edited the third issue, which appeared in 1962. In 1963 Jim Cash and Walter Lockwood renamed and relaunched Tarot as Red Cedar Review. (Volume 25, #1 of RCR is particularly interesting for short memory pieces by Cash, Lockwood, and others which are both enlightening, and, occasionally, delightfully misleading.)

Cash, Lockwood, and McGuane never appear on either magazine's masthead all at the same time. I would also argue that Peggy Case and Etta Abrahams, in particular, were instrumental in shaping the early course of RCR.

Once again, the trouble with any list is that you inevitably leave someone out. For my purposes, I'm going to leave McGuane off the list of notable writers published by RCR because, in fact, McGuane never appears in Red Cedar Review. I encourage McGuane to appeal the decision, mostly because it would be really cool to get a note from Thomas McGuane.

On the same page

Brewster Kahle talks to Cnet about his recent unsuccessful suit to make out-of-print works available online. (via the Chronicle)

Quick two-cent analysis—the interview is actually a bit shallow. I don't know if this is the future academic speaking, but Kahle (or the interviewer) touches upon several important issues without really making clear what he is talking about. Among these issues—the potential counterintuitive danger of the Google Books scanning project to the possibility of a true open-source library; the four practical stages of a creative work's status under copyright protection: public domain, "orphan," out-of-print, and in-print, and the importance of fighting over the ambiguous "ophan" works; Disney's role in the current overbearing extention of copyright protection; and the potential danger of the reconstituted AT&T to internet neutrality.

However, it turns out that Kahle and I agree that action on copyright law reform needs to be taken on a fundamental level, by "the Supreme Court and the Congress," and not just item-by-item in the appellate courts. (Also, Snarkmarket readers may have noticed that he gives a shout-out to the $100 laptop.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Man, this really makes me sad that I only have a Gamecube

I know that at least a few of my readers are Homestar Runner fans (I mean, you must be), and I also know that at least two or three of you have a Wii (wow, it feels almost weird to assert with some confidence that I have more than three readers), so this post is for you.

Videlectrix, our favorite faux-eighties game designer—responsible for Peasant's Quest and many others—has posted some of its greatest hits for download and play on the Wii.

Someone is going to have to report back to me on how well the games make the jump, special features, the Wii interface, etc.

Super Sunday

This year will be, I believe, the first time that I can remember that I will very likely watch exactly none of the Superbowl. (I usually try to at least catch the commercials, even if I don't care about the game.) Oddly enough, I do care about the game. I'm pulling for Chicago, although I am happy to finally see the Colts make it to the big game.

It's just been that kind of month, though. Hella busy. (Yes, I said "hella." And I never say "hella" because it's a stupid word, but it's been that kind of month.) I even have two or three topics that have been waiting but a post that I just haven't been able to get around to. Hopefully that'll change in the near future.

(We'll see, though. This week looks to be as bad as last week.)