Tag Archives: Andrew Sullivan

Bridges of sighs

Apparently the Golden Gate Bridge is, along with being one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful things ever constructed, a choice place for suicide jumpers. This fact has sparked a rather macabre series of posts at Andrew Sullivan’s site in which readers list other bridges favored by suicides. So let me offer my own tidbit: the Donald and Morris Goodkind Bridges that span the Raritan River in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Not only do they attract a fair number of jumpers, but their status has been certified by an appearance in the first season of The Sopranos — specifically, the episode “Nobody Knows Anything,” in which a crooked detective (John Heard) opts to kill himself before he can be prosecuted and disgraced. I’m sure the location was chosen quite deliberately: The Sopranos was usually very astute in its use of New Jersey scenery. We’ll just pass in silence over that “Pine Barrens” episode that was (a) shot in upstate New York, in (b) an area largely devoid of pine trees.

The reason the bridges serve such a grim purpose isn’t hard to see: the steel Donald Goodkind Bridge, which carries traffic south into New Brunswick, has a low railing and a relatively wide sidewalk that offers easy access. (Ironically, the Donald Goodkind Bridge’s wide footpath makes it one of the few safe places to walk along Route 1, and venturesome moviegoers use it to reach the AMC Loews megillaplex on the New Brunphuss side.) The concrete arch Morris Goodkind Bridge, which carries traffic north into Edison, is far less accommodating to pedestrians; the footpath is all but impassable, and walking the narrow shoulder would be an equally effective way to kill oneself.

There’s actually a charming backstory to the naming of the bridges. The concrete span, built for two-way traffic in 1929, was designed by Morris Goodkind, an engineer with the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The steel span, built in 1974, was designed by Goodkind’s son, Donald. The father-and-son designations were approved many years later. 

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The place to be

Tonight, that is. Philip Larkin’s poems, read by a roster that includes Zadie Smith, Paul Simon, and other notables, with live performances of some of Larkin’s favorite jazz. If I were anywhere near Manhattan tonight, I’d be there.

Larkin’s most famous poem is probably “Annus Mirabilis,” with these opening lines:

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(which was rather late for me) –

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.

I’ve written just enough poetry to know I should never write any more, but back in my bright college days I came up with what I thought was a nice Larkin semi-parody:

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen seventy-three

(and was all theoretical for me)

With Pam Grier in Coffy

And the cover of Carly Simon’s third LP.

Coffy being my first blaxploitation movie, and No Secrets being second only to Playing Possum in the gallery of Carly Simon Hotcha Album Covers, at least to male music fans of a certain age. (I know the album came out late in 1972, but what can I say, 1973 was the year the photo jumped out at me from the racks of Sam Goody.) And if you’ve seen Pam Grier, no further explanation is necessary.

I wonder which poem Paul Simon will read? The cover of Still Crazy After All These Years included some lines from Ted Hughes, whose influence on Simon’s songwriting remains invisible to me. But Philip Larkin? It’s all over the place in Simon’s catalogue. Can’t believe I didn’t realize it before now.  

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The future of publishing — maybe

Andrew Sullivan thinks he has seen the future of publishing, and it’s print on demand:

My own view is that the publishing industry deserves to die in its current state. It never made economic sense to me; there are no real editors of books any more; the distribution network is archaic; the technology of publishing pathetic; and the rewards to authors largely impenetrable. I still have no idea what my occasional royalty statements mean: they are designed to be incomprehensible, to keep the authors in the dark, to maintain an Oz-like mystery where none is required.

The future is obviously print-on-demand, and writers in the future will make their names first on the web. With e-distribution and e-books, writers will soon be able to put this incompetent and often philistine racket behind us. It couldn’t happen too soon.

Joseph Zitt, meanwhile, is preparing to go the print-on-demand route with his new nonfiction book, 19th Nervous Breakdown:

Of course, I know that going with the print-on-demand non-returnable method in the first place cuts my odds on being carried in most stores down to just about nil. The current state of the book economy, however, makes bookstore distribution unaffordable to all but the largest publishers, and even they are starting to rethink it. (Harper Studio’s recent deal with Borders is a sign that een they are rethinking it.)

It is, however, essential to have the books available in online stores or to order, which means going through a house that has distribution through Ingram or B&T. So going through something like Lulu.com’s Published By You program is what it takes. And that has odd limitations on the book formats (the fault, they claim, of the printers that they use).

Full disclosure: I’ve known Joe for decades, and he asked me to contribute a blurb for 19th Nervous Breakdown, which I was happy to do — as those of us who’ve been following his blog already know, he’s an excellent writer with a unique perspective. To a certain extent he has, as Sullivan suggests, “made his name on the Web.” I would also point to John Scalzi as a model for writers using the Internet to establish their literary reputations. He’s even a big enough draw on the Internet to issue a volume of posts culled from his blog Whatever, issued by the boutique Subterranean Press.

The biggest difference is that Scalzi is a science fiction writer, and SF enjoys a well organized and durable fan base that makes it easier to get the word out. Self-published books have been around a long time, but the successful ones are usually titles with a guaranteed speciality angle: inspirational books like The Celestine Prophecy or business advice titles. Writers of general-interest nonfiction or literary fiction who opt to self-publish are still considered vanity-press clowns unable to make headway with real publishers. If self-publishing is, as Andrew Sullivan suggests, the wave of the future, the wave will only begin to crest when mainstream, established writers with good reputations decide to issue POD titles.

Hmmmmm . . .  I wonder what Andrew Sullivan plans to do for his next book? Or is the future only for other people?

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