Tag Archives: Robert Stone

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

A geological team looking for oil in the western desert of Egypt may have discovered the remains of some Mass grave50,000 Persian soldiers swallowed up by a sandstorm in the sixth century BCE. The “lost army,” mentioned by Herodotus in the fifth century BCE, has long been considered a myth, though that hasn’t prevented generations of adventurers from looking for evidence of the soldiers, sent by King Cambyses and (according to Herodotus) last seen at the oasis of Siwa. Maybe George Lucas should take note of this: Indiana Jones and the Lost Army could be a dynamite title for a movie. And, if memory serves, didn’t Robert E. Howard write a poem about Cambyses?        

Continuing in this mythological vein, Owen Sheers talks about White Ravens, his retelling of a story from the Welsh myth cycle The Mabinogion. The book sounds pretty good, but I still swear by Evangeline Walton’s retelling of the same story in The Children of Llyr

Get out your best gray flannel suit and work your way through “Books to Read Mad Men By,” listed by The Neglected Books Page in two installments here and here.  

Here’s the perfect stocking-stuffer for the Hayao Miyazaki fan in your family.

Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise and Bay of Souls, is coming to Princeton University for a reading.  I am so there.

Everything’s turning up hobbits.

Bruce Lee or Jet Li? All I can tell you is that when I was a kid and The Green Hornet was on the tube, nobody ever pretended to be Britt Reid. Everybody wanted to be Kato. Pretending to use the Hornet’s Sting was a distant second.  

“This video is fantastic and highly educational. It teaches you how to whittle your own 19th Century dictionary, using only string, a turnip, and a clamp. But first you have to make your own Linotype machine.”

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Friday finds

Time for a Tobias Wolff mini-festival, for no reason other than that he’s one of the all-time champion short story writers and I once had the pleasure of hearing him read his story “Smorgasbord” in Princeton, on a double bill with Robert Stone. Up top he reads an excerpt from his story “The Benefit of the Doubt,” here he sings along with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and here he reads Denis Johnson’s story “Emergency” and talks about its qualities with Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker. Wolff’s 1997 book The Night in Question is a perfect, gem-studded introduction to his work; his memoir This Boy’s Life (which was made into a pretty good movie) is also a great read.  

C.M. Mayo’s new novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, gets a great review from Bookslut

How Nineteen Eighty-four killed George Orwell.

Rescuing the work of Hubert Harrison, a pioneering Harlem cultural journalist, from obscurity. 

“Final Shtick,” the opener in Harlan Ellison’s 1961 story collection Gentleman Junkie, is about a Jewish stand-up comedian who returns to Gentleman Junkiehis hometown to accept an award, then punks out on his plan to lacerate the crowd with his memories of the anti-Semitism and cruelty he endured as a child there. Apparently Ellison, an Ohio native, was not tempted to reenact that story. Before anyone tries to paint Ellison as an ogre for turning down the Cleveland Arts Prize, it should be pointed out that the award’s organizers don’t come across as terribly well informed — or even very bright, for that matter. Most of the jury hadn’t heard of Ellison, they asked him for help in selling advertising space, expected him to travel from L.A. to Cleveland on his own dime, and then restrict his remarks to a three-minute window. In short, they came across like a bunch of pishers — a word I know from reading Ellison — so it’s hardly surprising the guy told them to get lost.  

How an academic journal can piss away its hard-won reputation, almost overnight. Perhaps some repercussions are in order.

The journey that I’m speaking of starts with the slave days, when slaves had to dig a hole in an inconspicuous place in the cabin, just to keep the food cool. That’s where they would hide the food. The analogy for me is that this album is my potato hole, it’s where I put my goodies, where I have my stuff stored to keep it cool. But you might use your own imagination and go through the changes from then to now. Now there’s an African-American President of the United States, and we’ve come so far so fast. And it’s a good journey. It’s a good direction for a country to be going in.

An Artist’s Guide to Human Typesaverage physical attributes for people around the world, for sketch artists in need of a quick tutorial.

Having seen Jerry Hall in person, I can attest that she’s even better looking in real life than in her pictures. Turns out we won’t be getting a chance to read her reminiscences about Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry and others.

I’m not worried about the robot apocalypse, à la or The Matrix. I’m rather more worried about the WALL-E scenario, in which robots do all the work — happily — and people become pudgy balls of flesh lolling about all day without the slightest idea of what to do other than eat pureed food because it’s just too much trouble to chew. This is totally realistic. Hell, I spend more than eight hours a day in front of a computer screen as it is, sucking down Coke Zero and being glad there’s only one flight of stairs between me and my fridge. If I had C3PO to get me my Cokes, I might have already fused into my desk chair by now.”

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