Monthly Archives: April 2009

Time for something New

My publisher wants everybody to think of tomorrow as “Buy a New Press Book Day.” I’m all for that. The date coincides with the release of a graphic novel adaptation of Studs Terkel’s wonderful book Working, which I’m looking forward to getting, but I can think of at least one other New Press title deserving of your dollars. I’m just sayin’ . . .

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Sinister in suburbia

Martin Amis pays tribute to the late author J.G. Ballard:

Ballard was a great exponent of the Flaubertian line — that writers should be orderly and predictable in their lives, so that they can be savage and sinister in their work. He lived in a semi-detached in Shepperton, which might as well have been called “Dunroamin,” and there was the tomato-red Ford Escort parked in its slot in the front garden. When I wrote a long profile of him in 1984, I arrived at 11 in the morning and his first words were “Whisky! Gin! Vodka!” He told me that “Crash freaks” from, say, the Sorbonne would visit him expecting to find a miasma of lysergic-acid and child abuse. But, in fact, what they found was a robustly rounded and amazingly cheerful, positively sunny — suburbanite.

As it turned out, the wildest behavior indulged in by the  author of such wildly disturbing works as The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash and Empire of the Sun was to have a glass of Scotch every hour of the day, starting early in the morning. It wasn’t exactly an indulgence: when Ballard found himself a widower with a demanding writing schedule and children to support, that hourly dose was what he needed to stay functional. He also worked to push back the starting time for that first glass.

I wouldn’t recommend that for anybody else. Personally, I’d stick with coffee — or some nice green tea. But it seemed to work for Ballard, and his books worked for me.

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Rawhead Rex

Glenn Kenny revives traumatic memories of the awesomely bad film version of Gore Vidal’s transexual epic Myra Breckinridge and the prominent place it gave to awesomely bad movie reviewer Rex Reed, whose best line — “WHERE ARE MY TITS?” — should be at least as well known as Ronald Reagan’s “Where’s the rest of me?” from King’s Row.

It’s all part of a rundown of movie critics who tempted fate by acting in movies themselves. It’s been years since I even thought of WCBS critic Leonard Harris, whom I remember as having been a few cuts above the Jeffrey Lyons/Gene Shalit types infesting the airwaves.

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The Wednesday Westie


Special guest appearance by The Divine Miss T.

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‘The economy of horror’ indeed

Nothing Edgar Allan Poe wrote was remotely as disturbing as the story of his struggle against his own demons and spectacularly bad luck, and this piece by Jill Lepore gives full weight to every twist and turn of the noose that fate braided around his neck. If, like me, you’re a writer with various potentially wonderful projects caught in the quicksand of the publishing industry crisis, you might even want to hold off on reading the piece, as good as it is. I read it yesterday, and the resulting gloom required extensive doses of my favorite iPod music during the train ride home. In fact, not all of the clouds have lifted, even now.

On the other hand, reality is a writer’s best friend, and if nothing else Lepore’s article reminds us that the history of the United States is to a great extent the history of various financial panics, in which the machinations of looters created maelstroms that sent whole populations scrambling to keep their lives and dreams from being sucked away along with their savings. Poe’s own problems were enough to bring about his downfall under the best of circumstances, but Poe — and much of the rest of the counry — did not live under the best of circumstances. They were much worse than what we’re caught in now. Here’s hoping that remains the case.

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Literary landscape

Our northern nabes have launched Project Bookmark Canada with the idea of creating a coast-to-coast “trail of plaques containing literary excerpts of some of this country’s most geographically specific works.” The whole thing was recently launched in Toronto with a plaque bearing a passage from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, a novel I haven’t read but which apparently touches on the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct.

I’d love to see an American equivalent of this project. In fact, I know just the place to start it: the Albany Street Bridge ‘cross the less-than-mighty Raritan River, twixt New Brunswick and Highland Park, which prompted this observation by Junot Diaz in his story collection Drown: “New Brunswick … a nice city, the Raritan so low and silty you don’t have to be Jesus to walk over it.”

Well . . . maybe the town fathers won’t be so keen on that passage. But it would be great to see America hosting more projects like this, or the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail in Devon.

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Blue Monday

Since this is the week the new Bob Dylan opus comes out, it’s only appropriate to feature some of the more clever and artistic videos created by Bobcats. Up above is a video for “All Along the Watchtower,” the key track from John Wesley Harding. Below is a cool video for “Desolation Row,” the epic that closes Highway 61 Revisited.

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Topics for further study

Teilhard de Chardin plus “convergence” equals Flannery O’Connor?

Albert Camus plus Conan the Barbarian equals Elric of Melnibone?

Review and discuss.

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Not-so-crunchable numbers

Lynn Viehl, author of numerous works of SF and dark fantasy, has posted the royalty statement from Twilight Fall, a novel published last summer that hit the top twenty of the New York Times fiction bestseller list. Her genre may be fantasy, but her post is a long drink of reality for writers willing to benefit from her honesty.

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Friday finds


Thirty years ago, Welsh artist Kit Williams published Masquerade, a beautifully illustrated children’s book in which the paintings concealed clues to the location of a golden hare pendant Williams had buried somewhere in the British Isles. The search masqueradefor the golden hare became an international craze, but when somebody did finally bag the pendant two years later, it turned out to be a cheat — instead of solving the riddle, the winner had used inside information provided by an ex-girlfriend of Williams. (The hare was last seen being auctioned by Sotheby’s to an undisclosed buyer.) Williams, whose life had been turned upside down by the obsessive interest of some fans, swore off any further treasure hunts, but four gardens in the Cotswolds are staging an equally elaborate hunt in honor of the 30th anniversary of Masquerade.     

You have until Monday to download your free audio file of actor John Lithgow reading from Who Is Mark Twain, a new collection of unpublished essays culled from Twain’s papers.

Attention writers! Here are some sure-fire ways to get your work rejected!

How about a relaxing trip to Robinson Crusoe Island? It looks pretty nice, actually.

J.D. Rhoades makes the Furr fly. Lance Mannion wonders what the hell is wrong with the conservative claque on the Supreme Court

Bob Dylan says he could write a song like “Superstition” but not one like “Sir Duke.” He also says Alicia Keys and Neil Young are archetypes. whether they realize it or not.

Howard the Duck (the character, not the legendarily awful movie) endures yet another indignity.

Science fiction grandmaster Frederik Pohl reminisces about his friend and (for a time) collaborator, Cyril M. Kornbluth: “He owned a cmkornbluthbook, written by one of his high-school teachers, I think, which gave the rules for composing every kind of verse I ever heard of. Cyril and I studied the book and resolved to write one of each. We made a good start, actually writing a haiku (we spelled it “hokku”), a villanelle, a sestina, two sonnets (one Petrarchan and one Shakespearean) and I think a couple of others. We bogged down when we came to the chant royal (the chant royal is HARD) and, like most of the other Futurians, we decided to try our luck with science fiction.”

The poet and the paintings.

Time to get cracking on your cigar box ukulele. Just follow these instructions.

Here’s your chance to vote on the worst media moments of President Obama’s first 100 days in office. Results will be announced Wednesday.

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