Tag Archives: housekeeping

Thanks for nothing

Serving as a Pulitzer Prize judge, particularly in the fiction category, sounds like one of those honors one is better off declining — like stepping up as a volcano virgin, taking first prize in a hitting-yourself-on-the-head contest, or being the guest of honor at a stabscotch marathon. You get the privilege of reading through a few hundred entered novels and short-story collections, and then wonder if the people in charge will simply ignore your award recommendations, as just happened this past April.

I got my first look at the downside of being a Pulitzer picker courtesy of novelist and Rutgers academic Julian Moynahan, who was on the fiction panel for 1982. He and his fellow jurors had waded through the mass of entries to arrive at three finalists: A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, and Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike. The Pulitzer Prize Board upended their recommendation and gave the award to Rabbit Is Rich instead of Stone’s extraordinary novel. (The linked New Yorker piece says the jurors give three equally ranked nominations, but Moynahan made it pretty clear the jurors wanted Robert Stone to get the award.)

“They gave Updike his gold watch,” Moynahan grumbled. I couldn’t argue with him. A Flag for Sunrise still packs plenty of punch three decades after release, while Rabbit Is Rich faded away as soon as the standard-issue raves from the critical amen corner took their place of honor in the recycling bin. As for this year’s non-award, I dunno. Giving the top prize to a posthumously published novel cobbled from the late David Foster Wallace’s working papers would have been a bit unseemly as well. The opening paragraph of The Pale King, which the author cites as a miracle of prose, strikes me as a lot of grad-student overwriting — it doesn’t need to be edited so much as weed-whacked. 

Apparently, the other two finalists had problems of their own: Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams was actually a Paris Review novella published in hardcover ten years after the fact, and Swamplandia! was tyro work in danger of being overpraised. Maybe no award was the best award after all.

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Friday finds


The International Edible Book Festival gets cooking tomorrow. Once again, the standard-bearer for America will be Seattle, where past entries have included The Milagro Bean Dip War (above), One Hundred Spears of Solitude (with asparagus), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Bread, The Unbearable Lightness of Bean, Remembrance of Things Pasta and — wait for it — Banana Karenina. If I were in the neighborhood, I might just build a figure out of instant waffles and call it Eggo’s Saga. Ba-dum, bish! Thank you!

Survival tips for writers: How to fake a clean house. (Via J.D. Rhoades.)

Beautiful photos of Icelandic landscapes, courtesy of the poet Anne Carson, who is working on a choral piece based on some of her sonnets, with music by a member of Sigur Ros, due for performance next year.  

On April Fool’s Eve, 1979, a little problem developed at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa. I can tell you it was a very tmi-lamp7strange thing to have just seen Jane Fonda’s latest movie, a nuclear nightmare flick called The China Syndrome, and then about two weeks later see a New York Post headline: Race With Nuclear Disaster. It was also a very disquieting thing to realize that the public safety measures taken during the scare had more to do with protecting the image of the nuke industry than public safety. Let Newstalgia take you there day by day, then go browse some of the kitsch (like this Three Mile Island lamp, which probably glows most appropriately) at the National Atomic Museum in New Mexico.  

Here’s your chance to create a book trailer for Elmore Leonard’s new novel. The first eight chapters are available online.

Christiania, the singular utopian community that has existed on the Copenhagen waterfront since the early Seventies, may not be long for this world if the Danish government has its way.

“Whichever subject you have chosen, you must realize that knowledge in it is limitless. Every subject brims with mysteries and thrills, and no two students of the same subject discover a like amount of delight, accumulate nabokov2exactly the same amount of knowledge. … Suppose a schoolchild picks up the study of butterflies for a hobby. He will learn a few things about the general structure. He will be able to tell you that a butterfly has always six feet and never eight or 20. That there are innumerable patterns of butterfly wings and that according to those patterns they are divided into generic and specific groups. This is a fair amount of knowledge for a schoolchild. But of course he has not even come near the fascinating and incredible intricacies invented by nature in the fashioning of this group of insects alone. He will not even suspect the fascinating variety of inner organs, the varying shapes of which allow the scientist not only unerringly to classify them, often giving the lie to the seeming resemblance of wing patterns, but also to trace the origin and development of their ancestors, the varying influence of the environments on the developments of the species and forms, etc. etc. etc.; and he will not have even touched upon other mysterious fields, limitless in themselves, of for instance mimicry, or symbiosis. This example applies to every field of knowledge, and it is very apt in the case of literature.”

Here are some DVD supplements that really offer interesting information about their movies, as opposed to the lackluster PR fodder found on many DVD releases.

If stuffing cliches into newspaper articles were an Olympic event, this guy would go home with a gold medal.

You might want to start doing some curls in order to get in shape for Stephen King’s next novel.

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