Monday, January 21, 2008


The New Yorker's winter fiction issue had an excellent short examination of the apparently problematic relationship between Raymond Carver and his editor at Knopf, Gordon Lish. It has been openly whispered for years that Lish edited Carver's draft's rather severely, and even rumored that he was more responsible for the minimalist style so strongly associated with Carver than was Carver himself. Last year, Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, announced her intention to publish Carver's original, more expansive version of the stories that Lish pared down and published as the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Knopf however, does not seem to be interested in Gallagher's proposed volume, and seems to believe that their copyright on What We Talk About When We Talk About Love would give them the ability to veto any other edition of the stories in the collection.

The New Yorker's coverage is best online, where you can not only find selections from Carver and Lish's letters and the "original" version of the story "Beginners," but also a version that highlights, line-by-line, the changes Lish made before retitling the story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

As interesting as this all is, there's a lot that's weird as well. The piece in The New Yorker which leads off the Carver/Lish coverage, and purports to provide background, is uncredited. Furthermore, while Gallagher claims to have no desire to pull the Lish-edited versions of Carver's stories out of print, it's clear that she views the "original" versions as authoritative, referring to the Lish-edited versions as "part of the history [of Carver's writing and publications]" Gallagher is apparently in talks with the Library of America to produce an "authoritative" edition of Carver's stories, which would include the Lish-edited versions as a "historical document."

Gallagher claims to be driven by a desire to restore Carver's legacy and pull him out of Lish's shadow. That seems to me, at this point, to be a problematic goal. The battle at this point is between Gallagher and Lish, and not Carver and Lish. As determining Carver's final intentions is next to impossible, the question is more whose name will appear in the place of honor next to his, as his true and faithful editor or executor. Personally, I couldn't care less.

I would actually like to read the various versions of Carver's work, but I'm almost more of a scholar than a representative general reader at this point, and, as my post has probably made clear, I'm hesitant to privilege or marginalize either version as "definitive" or "historical." And, in all honesty, I like What We Talk About When We Talk About Love better than Carver's later, more expansive collection Cathedral.

For me, all of this throws a slightly different light on Dimitri Nabokov's apparent inability to either destroy or publish his father, Vladimir Nabokov's final manuscript. Normally, I'm on the Max Brod side of the Kafka argument—the author is dead, his/her final intentions don't matter. The struggle between Gallagher and Knopf, however, is almost enough to make me think that Nabokov's habit of burning all of his drafts was a good idea.

(Note: According to NPR, The New Yorker's editor, David Remnick, wrote the uncredited "Life and Letters" piece on Carver. Listen to the NPR story here.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

I'm sorry to post again on politics, but the MI primary is tomorrow

More fuel on the fires of my uncertainty over whether to support Obama or Clinton—Paul Krugman in the NYT on the various candidates' economic stimulus proposals in the face of the housing crisis:
The Obama campaign's initial response to the latest wave of bad economic news was, I'm sorry to say, disreputable: Mr. Obama's top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from "morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending." Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure—doesn't that sound familiar?

Anyway, on Sunday Mr. Obama came out with a real stimulus plan. As was the case with his health care plan, which fell short of universal coverage, his stimulus proposal is similar to those of the other Democratic candidates, but tilted to the right.

For example, the Obama plan appears to contain none of the alternative energy initiatives that are in both the Edwards and Clinton proposals, and emphasizes across-the-board tax cuts over both aid to the hardest-hit families and help for state and local governments. I know that Mr. Obama’s supporters hate to hear this, but he really is less progressive than his rivals on matters of domestic policy. (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A good stolen quote

Rebecca Traister, in Salon, expresses my reservations about Hillary Clinton (and the necessary parenthetical qualification of those reservations):
I have wished that I could get behind Clinton, a woman I admired when she first arrived in the White House 15 years ago. But there has been nothing in her steady, ineluctable move to the center that I could embrace; I understood why she did it, but it cost her my support. (I'm sure that Clinton would not have considered this a worrisome loss until, perhaps, this week; my support has not historically been a leading indicator of presidential success.)

Another old friend

Anne Landsman writes about the pleasures of reading (and not reading) Ulysses.

I'll give you her final paragraph, but please go read the whole thing:
That June, I went to “Bloomsday on Broadway” at Symphony Space to hear actors reading large chunks of the novel all the way past midnight. More than once, I drifted off, overcome by the sheer weight of so many words but when Fionnula Flanagan began Molly’s soliloquy, I was rapt. Like Mike, she seemed to slip inside the text, to lose herself there. When she breathed her final “Yes”, I was crying, aching with Molly’s remembered passion, Bloom’s encounter with the imprint of a male human form in his bed, Stephen’s loss, my nineteen year- old lost self, the divine messiness of the world.

I'm reading two large modernist novels for class this semester—Proust's In Search of Lost Time and Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans—and I've considered whether it might give me the habit and motivation to finally tackle Finnegan's Wake this summer, or maybe Don Quixote.

Landsman's essay, however, argues a point that I've made (far less eloquently) in the past—that while Ulysses is often discussed in terms of its variety of method, depth and breadth of allusion, and heavy literary technique, at heart the book is deeply, deeply down-to-earth. In it, two men, a son estranged from his father, and a father whose son died in infancy, go to work, eat, talk to people, attend a funeral, and finally meet, almost in spite of themselves. And then there's Molly, indescribable, uncontainable Molly, who gets the final and perhaps best word.

While I can only speak for myself, I love Ulysses not because it is a rich field for scholarship (it is that, but not to me), but because it is beautiful. It is a book that should be read, not just talked about.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


On the whole, I avoid politics on this blog. I don't really have that much of interest to say (except when it comes to fiction written by politicians), and beyond matters of privacy, I just don't think that most people care who I'm voting for or not.

All the same, I've had a heck of a time trying to think about Michigan's upcoming Democratic primary. On the whole, I like both Clinton and Obama a great deal, and if given a choice between the two, I'm still not sure what I'd decide.

But, at least in the Michigan primary this year, I don't have a choice. Due to a conflict between the state and national parties over how early Michigan's primary date could or could not be, nearly all the Democratic candidates except for Hillary Clinton removed their names from the Michigan ballot. Even worse, while most of us Michigan Democrats have assumed that we would at least be able to write-in our preferred candidates, that turns out to not be the case. The Michigan Secretary of State offer has announced that because no candidates filed the necessary paperwork to accept write-in votes, no write-in votes will be counted. Even the Detroit Free Press is recommending that Democratic voters vote "uncommitted" in order to send a message to the national party.

I don't know that I can get excited about an "uncommitted" vote, which feels like no vote at all, even if, in many ways, it isn't. The worst part is that I like Hillary Clinton, but I'm very disturbed by the apparent choice to vote for her or no one at all.

(Note: I have, of course, ignored in this post Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, both of whom are still on the Michigan ballot. In all honesty, however, I have no idea who Mike Gravel is, and Kucinich appears to have attempted to remove himself from the ballot, but missed the deadline. Chris Dodd also appears on the ballot, but has withdrawn from the presidential race.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 Reading

Well, since my list of books read for 2007 (and 2006, etc.) is now available through Goodreads (you've probably noticed the box over there on the right), I won't bother retyping my full list of books read for 2007. The final count is 33, 13 of which were for class, and four of which were chapbooks for Revelator. (You may get a slightly different number if you do a count from Goodreads, since I'm not including any of the criticism read for class in that count, even though I did list a few of them on Goodreads.)

Thomas McGuane was a clear favorite this year, as I read three of his books (and one last December). Except for his new collection of stories, Gallatin Canyon, I've been reading his books in order of composition, and I would certainly recommend them. McGuane's early writing is like Hunter S. Thompson without the Nixon obsession and journalistic pretenses, only, uhm, better. I'm looking forward to diving into his middle novels. Panama is next on my list.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z. Z. Packer were both standouts, but Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein was nothing less than a revelation. I'm reading more Stein for class this spring and very much looking forward to it (even if I'm dreading having to write papers about her).

I read Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell, and while I enjoyed God Lives in St. Petersburg more, I think that has to do more with my own preference for fiction over nonfiction than the quality of Mr. Bissell's book. Having gotten a taste for Bissell's mix of narrative, history, and eye for character in the people he encounters, I am looking forward to reading his new book, The Father of All Things, which has been widely and warmly reviewed.

Finally, I'm quite proud of the books from Revelator this year. Letters to My Sister has garnered some of the warmest and most avid responses that we've yet received for one of our chapbooks and quickly become one of our most downloaded titles. The Bridge and the River is one of the chapbooks that motivated me to get involved with Revelator in the first place. Pure Pop is joyous and substantive at once.

And then, of course, there's my own Nine Poems. I've always thought that attempts to speak well of one's own work invariably come off as strained and artificial. For all that, I'm still grateful to anyone and everyone who takes the time to read it. (Or even those who just download it and help inflate my numbers.)

Well, Wordwrighters, what were the best books you read this year?