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Counting One's Blessings

"Thank God - what is today? Tuesday? - thank God it's Tuesday, and my whole family is alive."
--Tonya Rose, of Biloxi, Mississppi, who narrowly escaped Hurricane Katrina.

The people of the Gulf Coast desperately need our help, especially those of us who are lucky enough to live far from the hurricane's deadly path. Please donate to the American Red Cross to support critical relief efforts.

August 31, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tempest in a Coffeepot

The religious right is once again tilting at irrelevant windmills, objecting to Starbucks quoting gay writer Armistead Maupin on one of its "The Way I See It" cups, saying the company unfairly promotes a "homosexual agenda." The inflammatory quotation?

"I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short."

Tolerance, independence, love. Shocking, utterly shocking.

Concerned Women for America, which promotes itself as the antithesis of the National Organization for Women and boasts 8,700 supporters in Washington, says most of those quoted on the coffee cups are liberal.

You know what, CWA? This happens to be America, the land of free speech and all that. Starbucks is as free to express their sociopolitical views as you are, even if their views happen to conflict with yours. Go right ahead and establish your own worldwide chain of 8,500 coffee shops and print whatever fundamentalist blather you like on your cups.

August 30, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kevin Guilfoile, "Zero Zero Day"

Kevin (Cast of Shadows) Guilfoile has a new story, "Zero Zero Day" (.pdf file), at the Chicago Reader. It's from the upcoming anthology Chicago Noir, edited by Neal Pollack and published by Akashic Books in their ongoing city-focused "Noir Series." Nice to see the Reader publishing short fiction--take that, Atlantic!

Pretty involving story, one whose concluding noir-ish plot twist I didn't see coming until I was about three-fourths through it. I am a bit...hmm, what's the polite word? Ah, yes...slow. Though I'm sure Jim Thompson or Dashiell Hammett would have been a lot more blunt in their choice of words.

August 28, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Nancy Crampton, Writers


If you're at all interested in literature or photography--and I'm highly interested in both--you might consider checking out Writers by Nancy Crampton. Crampton is a longtime portraitist of writers, and this book collects over 100 of her duotone photographs of a plethora of literary icons. Poets & Writers presented a small portfolio of her photos in their most recent issue (the article is not online, unfortunately), and her work is simply stunning, particularly the photos of John Cheever and Jorge Luis Borges.

August 25, 2005 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (3)

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!

The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!

Like most writers of literary fiction, I've had a great deal of trouble getting my short stories published in literary journals. (29 rejections thus far for my various stories, with another 17 looming.) The general idea was to get these stories published in literary journals, start making a name for myself, and then eventually gather them all into a short story collection to be pitched to publishers. Followed, of course, by publication and universal acclaim.

Well, that first stage is obviously going poorly, so I'm now trying to bypass it altogether. I just found out about the Iowa Short Fiction Award, in which entrants submit a short story collection. Two winners will be selected, with their collections being published by the University of Iowa Press.

I'm going for it.

Kind of a crazy (wonderful, awful) idea, since I've written each of my stories individually, without an overriding theme which a coherent short story collection generally requires. But regardless, I'm compiling my best stories (Who am I kidding? It's almost all my stories) into a single collection, tentatively titled Rising Above: Stories. I'll be spending the next five weeks trying to arrange the stories into a coherent order, which will hopefully compensate somewhat for that damning lack of a unifying theme.

I'm desperately hoping my skills at compiling mix tapes and CDs, which I have diligently honed over the past two decades to the polite but often tepid response of the recipients, are directly applicable to compiling a short story collection. We shall see.

August 25, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Local Writer Honor Roll

Recent Illinois-based honorees, per the current issue of Poets & Writers:

Academy of American Poets
Harold Morton Landon Translation Award

Daryl Hine of Evanston, Illinois, received the 2005 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for his translation of Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns (University of Chicago Press). He received $1,000. The annual award honors a book of poetry translated into English by a U.S. translator and published by a U.S. press in the previous year.
www.poets.org/

Dana Awards
Literary Competition

Joan Corwin of Evanston, Illinois, won the 2004 Portfolio Award for her three short stories, "Details," "Elm," and "Perspective." The annual awards are given for poetry and fiction that has not previously been recognized.
www.danaawards.com

University of Georgia Press
Contemporary Poetry Series

Peter O'Leary of Berwyn, Illinois won the 2005 Contemporary Poetry Series for Depth Theology, which will be published by the University of Georgia Press in Spring 2006. The annual prizes are given to poets who have published at least one book-length collection of poetry.
www.ugapress.uga.edu

National Endowment for the Arts
Literature Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded 99 arts organizations a total of $1,862,000 in the discipline of literature for fiscal year 2006. This year's organizational grants were divided into two categories: Access to Artistic Excellence I grants support literary presses and publications and Access to Artistic Excellence II grants promote audience and professional development.

Dalkey Archive Press, Normal, Illinois ($50,000)
Guild Complex/ Tia Chucha Press, Chicago ($7,500)
Collaboraction Theatre Company, Inc., Chicago ($5,000)
Poetry Center of Chicago, Chicago ($10,000)
Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America, Chicago ($50,000)

www.arts.gov

University of Texas/Texas Institute of Letters
Dobie Paisano Fellowships

Fiction writer David Wright of Urbana, Illinois won a 2005-2006 Dobie Paisano writing fellowship and received $12,000 and will spend six months in residence at Paisano, a writers retreat west of Austin. The annual fellowships are given to native Texans, writers who have lived in Texas for at least three years, or writers who have used Texas as the subject of their published work.
www.utexas.edu/ogs/Paisano

University of Wisconsin
Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowships

The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing has chosen six fellows for 2005-2006, including Colleen Abel of Lake Forest, who received the Diane Middlebrook Fellowship in Poetry, and Brandi Reissenweber of Chicago, who received the James C. McCreight Fellowship in Fiction. Each fellow will receive a stipend of $25,000 plus benefits and is required to teach one creative writing workshop each semester and give one public reading. The nine-month fellowships provide time, space, and an intellectual community for writers working on a first book.
http://creativewriting.wisc.edu/

Writers at Work
Fellowship Competition

Writers at Work has announced the winners of its 2005 fellowship competition, including Lee Reilly of Chicago won in fiction for her novel excerpt "Mud Season." The annual awards are given for unpublished manuscripts of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by writers who have not published a book in the genre in which they enter.
www.writersatwork.org

And though he no longer lives here, special mention deservedly goes out to one of our favorite native sons:

American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Fellows in Literature

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences has elected five new Fellows in Literature for 2005, including fiction writer Ward Just of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Fellows are recognized for their distinguished contributions to the arts, scholarship, business, and public affairs.
www.amacad.org

August 23, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Weighty Tome (Literally Speaking)

Paul Anderson's debut novel, Hunger's Brides, totals 1,360 pages, weighs 4 pounds, 9 ounces--equivalent to two and a half copies of The Da Vinci Code--and is thicker than Verizon's Manhattan telephone directory.

Mr. Turner, the American publisher, said that other than making minor changes, he never considered re-editing the book or trying to shorten it. "Because of the sumptuousness of the package - this is a gorgeous piece of typesetting - we weren't inclined to alter it," he said.

You know, U.S. automakers were saying similar things about Hummers and Ford Excusions before gas cracked the $3/gallon mark. Though the publisher is to be commended for flying in the face of our literature-averse, short-attention-span society, he would be wise to keep his resumé updated.

August 23, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Capacious Old Whores & Nimble Goddesses

Scots certainly have a unique way with words.

"The novel is a capacious old whore: everyone has a go at her, but she rarely emits so much as a groan for their efforts. The short story, on the other hand, is a nimble goddess: she selects her suitors fastidiously and sings like a dove when they succeed. The British literary bordello is heaving with flabby novels; it's time to give back some love to the story."

Further hope for the short story?

(Via Bookninja, where Peter Darbyshire pricelessly commented, "I feel...dirty.")

August 22, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Studs Terkel on the Mend

National treasure (and my hero) Studs Terkel is recovering quite nicely from a complex open-heart procedure to replace a narrowed aortic valve and redo one of the coronary bypasses he underwent nine years ago. His doctor marvels at how quickly Studs, at a still-spry 93, has recovered. Studs, in his inimitable manner, takes the grand historical perspective in contemplating his personal ordeal.

"Aug. 9, the day of the operation, you know what day that was? Sixty years to the day the bomb dropped on Nagasaki," Terkel said Tuesday night. "Amazing...the human race designs something like that, something that kills, and then the same human race designs things to save human life."

(Trib site requires registration...if not already registered, use "blurb@sofort-mail.de" to log on, with "noblurb" as the password. Thanks to bugmenot.com, as always.)

August 18, 2005 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Foot Enters Mouth, Again

Because, of course, blogs aren't worth your time.

Gourevitch hopes to make the Paris Review a publication "for people with a longer attention span. It's the 'anti-blog,' publishing writing in the long form, stuff that's worth your time."

Fiction writers, blog writers, blog readers...is Gourevitch working his way down a checklist entitled "Groups To Offend"?

(Via NewPages.)

August 18, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Public Service Announcement


Keep on Blogging!

(Link via TomPaine.com.)

August 17, 2005 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Barbara Ehrenreich

One of my heroes, Barbara Ehrenreich, gets the Ink Q&A treatment at Powells.com.

Talk about your vision of the ideal life.
Sort of like Karl Marx's: working a little in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, and writing poetry at night.

Quite a bit less self-indulgent than Steve Almond, wouldn't you say?

August 17, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bookslut Reading Series

Okay, Jessa and Michael, I'll finally give you a shout-out for the next edition of your reading series, featuring Maureen McHugh, Jennifer Stevenson and Charles Blackstone (Tuesday, August 23, 7:30 PM at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St.). Not because I've read any of their work (yet), but because of the funniest promotional come-on I've read in quite some time, courtesy of Michael.

With your help, the Chicago series will continue to rock hardcore, and hey, who knows? Maybe we'll have a Bookslut Reading Series in Austin someday. I mean, besides the current one, which is basically just me sitting in the shed behind my house with a flashlight and a stack of Barely Legals.

August 17, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

William Maxwell

Received yesterday, from Minnesota Public Radio.

It's the birthday of author and editor William Maxwell, born in Lincoln, Illinois (1908). He grew up in a small town in Illinois. His father was a fire insurance salesman, and was on the road for days at a time. With his father gone so much, Maxwell became especially close to his mother. He said, "She just shone on me like the sun." When he was ten years old, his mother caught influenza and died during the epidemic in 1918. He wrote, "It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it... the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away." His family moved to Chicago a few years later. Though he never lived in Lincoln, Illinois again, he never forgot it and he wrote many of his short stories about his childhood there with his mother.

After college he moved to New York and got a job at the New Yorker. He started in the art department, where he persuaded John Updike to give up drawing cartoons and start writing fiction. Maxwell worked at the New Yorker for forty years, editing fiction by John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Vladimir Nabokov. He said that what made him a good editor was that he himself hated being edited, and so he changed very little. Eudora Welty said, "For fiction writers, he was the headquarters."

While editing the stories of others at the New Yorker, Maxwell was writing his own fiction. He wrote many novels, including They Came Like Swallows (1937) and So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980).

Most of his short stories are collected in All the Days and Nights (1995). Almost all of his novels and stories were inspired in one way or another by the memory of his mother's death. He was asked later in his life what he what say to his mother if he could tell her anything. He said, "I would tell her, 'Here are these beautiful books that I made for you.'"

Maxwell first hit my radar screen only recently, after I came to realize what a hotbed Illinois once was for great editors--Maxwell was from Lincoln and went to U of I, Scotty Reston (New York Times) went to U of I and William Shawn (New Yorker) grew up in Chicago. (All of whom, not surprisingly, had to head east to gain prominence.) If you know of any prominent others to add to the list (Sam, I'm waiting to hear from you in particular), please leave a comment.

So Long, See You Tomorrow is definitely on my reading list for 2005.

August 17, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Chicago Noir

The book isn't even published yet, and I've already got it on my Powell's wishlist.

In addition to a request for avoiding all references to "Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and deep-dish pizza," Pollack asked the writers not to turn in a "bunch of stories about cops pushing perps against buildings and beating them up." As an absentee editor, the Austin, Texas, resident--who once wrote the "Petty Crime" column for the Chicago Reader--was more interested in highly textured tales about "boxers, jazz musicians, junkies and cab drivers" than the TV cops who populate such procedurals as "Law & Order" and "CSI."

Bless you, Neal.

August 15, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet Police Blotter

Bachelor party. With strippers. At the blood plasma clinic. Damn, we sure know how to have a good time in Joliet.

Bachelor party at plasma center goes awry
Joliet Herald-News


JOLIET — Two Joliet men were robbed during a bachelor party Saturday afternoon at Joliet Blood Plasma, 128 Collins St., when a "security" agent searched the victims and took their money because a stripper was missing some cash, police said.

Police had not determined whether Joliet Blood Plasma officials were aware that a bachelor party was occurring on its premises around 2 p.m., said Lt. Gordon Corp of the Joliet police.

During the party, two people acting as security reportedly decided to conduct their own investigation when the stripper said she was missing money. Corp said security locked the doors and searched everybody who was present.

Two men, ages 24 and 26, told police that security took about $200 from each of them, Corp said.

The 26-year-old told police that one of the security guards hit him in the head with a mop bucket, Corp said.

"We don't believe they were from a security company. I'm assuming they were playing security for whoever was running the party," Corp said.

August 15, 2005 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Masquerading Memoir

Remember a while back when I was complaining about autobiography masquerading as fiction? Well, this email update from the NYT books section is a vivid case in point.

In Sunday's Book Review: 'Lunar Park,' by Bret Easton Ellis
Review by A. O. SCOTT

In this novel's astonishing opening chapter, a 30-page excursion into trompe l'oeil autobiography, Bret Easton Ellis introduces his narrator and hero, a novelist named Bret Easton Ellis who became a literary celebrity in the long-ago 1980's, before he had even graduated from college. His first novel, "Less Than Zero," about what an aimless, nihilistic group of rich kids did on their Christmas break, became a "zeitgeist touchstone."

Bret Easton Ellis -- or at least his identical alter ego -- in addition to consuming heroic quantities of crack, booze and heroin and having as much sex as those substances would allow, fathered a child (unless Keanu Reeves did) with a movie star named Jayne Dennis.

Leaving behind the shallow glitter of Manhattan and the self-destructive glamour of his book tours (temporarily, one suspects), Ellis strikes out for the peace of the suburbs, which is to say for the familiar, safe territory of the suburban literary Gothic.

Link


Nice to see you stretching your boundaries, Bret. (And calling your own debut novel a "zeitgeist touchstone"--please tell me that line was sarcastic.)

August 13, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

One More Thing About Hemon

I forgot to mention one thing about Aleksandar Hemon's reading at the Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference: he rather brazenly wore a black T-shirt which read "Somewhere In Texas A Village Is Missing Its Idiot."

Is it any wonder I love this guy?

August 10, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Revisiting "one word"

I renewed acquaintances with an old friend this morning, writing the following for one word:

FUSS
I don't know why Caroline was raisin' such a fuss over Oswald. He hardly seemed worth her time, or anyone else's time for that matter. He was no good, and didn't ever pretend otherwise. But she was keen on him for some unknown reason.

My earlier efforts are collected here. I strongly encourage you to try it yourself.

August 10, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The atomic bomb anniversaries are bringing out a lot of commentary, adding even more nuances to my story idea. Both Matthew Rothschild (editor of The Progressive) and novelist Marc Estrin (among, I presume, many others) argue that Japan was already preparing to surrender when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, making the bombing unnecessary. And both Churchill and Eisenhower considered it unnecessary as well. It almost sounds like dropping the bomb was more of a message to Russia than anything else.

Thus my novel concept--What if we hadn't dropped the bomb?--might lose the scenario of a extended continuation of WWII, including a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. At the same time, however, it raises an interesting what-if regarding how Russia's nuclear campaign would have developed had the U.S. not so unequivocally demonstrated the horrible power of the atomic bomb. Did our bombing of Japan encourage Russia to proliferate much more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case, thus raising the stakes of the Cold War dramatically higher? Conversely, if we hadn't dropped the bomb and Russia entered the Pacific War and invaded a decimated Japan, would the Russians have next set their sights on America?

I'm getting a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of all this.

August 9, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another Batch of Literary Journals

I'm doing my best to support the independent journals which, coincidentally or otherwise, are the most likely venue for my own writing. Reviewed this time around: night rally, Oyez Review, and Orchid.

night rally (Vol. 1, No. 3)
A concept both fascinating and dear to my heart--six short stories inspired by specific songs. It's an idea I've personally explored quite extensively, as I've written stories-in-progress based on songs by James McMurtry ("Song for a Deckhand's Daughter"), the Outnumbered ("Hard Dream to Let Go Of") and Frank Sinatra ("Moonlight Serenade"), with Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" also playing a major role in my story "Ectoplasm." Though I have to admit that I'm only familiar with two of the inspiration songs here (John Warren Gilroy's "A Gallon of Gas in the Can" very convincingly elaborates on Tom Waits' "Frank's Wild Years", while Sara Skolnik's "Chinatown 1931" beautifully invokes Cab Calloway's "Kicking the Gong Around"), my unfamiliarity with the other songs did not prevent enjoying the other stories, most notably Arden Duke's "Orchid Girl" (after the Aztec Camera song of the same name) which rather nicely relates the fragmenting friendship of three twentysomethings. night rally is long defunct (as I mentioned a while ago) and is definitely missed.


Oyez Review (Vol. 31, Winter '03-04)
Despite my general preference for fiction, the poetry in this issue of Oyez is what really grabbed me. Willie James King's "August" beautifully and succinctly depicts a summer thunderstorm and its human aftermath; Mary Crow's "Even Then" is an unsettling view of our post-9/11 freedoms; and Erin Keane's "Science Fiction" lyrically captures the magic of an eclipse and the urge to escape our mundane earthly lives:

Science Fiction
Last night, we watched the moon turn dark,
drank Rolling Rock on cobblestones. Little airplanes
fumbled through the clouds, eager for a look

at the eclipse. How carbon-based we are,
such ugly bags of mostly water. Small, plain,
last night, when we watched the moon turn dark

as morning on I-64: residents of the horse park
robed in mist like coddled bishops, heads craned,
fumbling through the fog, sneaking a look

at my Japanese death trap speeding to work.
And over this hill is another hill. The wax, the wane.
But last night, as we watched the moon turn dark,
I twitched, dumb-eyed, convinced some residual spark
might lift us over roof and brick. Of course we stayed
grounded: fumbling, human, dying for one quick look.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter--
lovely to believe, but this morning we are the same
as last night, when we watched the moon turn dark
and we gaped through the clouds, aching for a look.


Orchid: A Literary Review (Number 5)
The cover art (by Joe Sorren) is the first grabber, depicting a writer who looks a lot like a despondent Graham Parker, fretting before a blank sheet of paper and perhaps regretting giving up his guitar for a typewriter. But none of the writers here appear to suffer the same creative malady, as the short fiction is strong throughout. Catherine Rios "Open Season" (the winner of the inaugural Orchid Fiction Contest) is a lovely meditation on a young girl's flirtation with nature; Harriote Aaron's "Allies" vividly tells the story of an Army nurse dying in a WWII field hospital, torn between reflecting on the loved ones who have passed away before her and maintaining life-affirming interaction with the soldier in the next bunk; and Adam Schuitema's "New Era, Michigan" is a fine coming-of-age story about a boy's compulsion to properly honor a dead man he never knew. Several "Lists of Five" are also scattered throughout the journal ("Five Great Stories About Sibling Relationships", "Five Truly Great Short Story Collections" etc.) which provide great tips for further reading. (I now know where to start my first reading of John Cheever--The Enormous Radio and Other Stories.) Plus interviews with Julie Orringer and Beth Lordan. A very good effort overall.

August 9, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Life of a Litblogger

The online journal Wazee has a long and very thoughtful interview with Traver Kaufmann, proprietor of the essential The Rake's Progress.

In grad school I was having drunken discussions about Cormac McCarthy at 3:30 in the morning in some guy's apartment while he's smoking Dorals and making cheese omelets. In Santa Fe I was around lots of smart people, but they were lawyers, and they weren't really interested in talking about Cormac McCarthy at 3:30 in the morning, whereas I was.

Not sure where the Dorals and cheese omelets fit in when you're blogging at home instead, but it's still a familiar impetus. I've found my own sense of community here in the litblogosphere.

And apparently one person thinks I'm a significant part of the litblog community. To my completely astonished, nay flabbergasted surprise, Kaufmann's interviewer, Len Edgerly, published "Lit Blogs 101", a list of essential sites. Including mine. I'm right there among the elite, a Trabant in a parking lot full of Bentleys.

Len, my sincerest thanks. I owe you a beer, or perhaps an entire case.

August 8, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Idea

Maybe it’s exhaustion talking, after a tiring weekend of moving furniture and boxes of keepsakes from my mom’s house, but a speculative fiction idea suddenly occurred to me. I read a piece in yesterday’s Tribune about the atomic bomb (Saturday was the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima) and started thinking…What if we hadn’t dropped the bomb? I’ve read repeatedly that the bomb was a necessary evil, that it cut short a war that might have dragged on for decades. But what if we never had the bomb, or had it and then refrained from using it? Would the Japanese have invaded the West Coast? Would a Midwestern protagonist not be overly concerned, given the geographic distance? Would the Japanese have developed the bomb themselves (I just learned that they were indeed developing one at the time) and become the third player in the Cold War? And what about Germany? They were apparently working on one, too. In fact, one of the intriguing things I learned from this brief article is about the Jewish physicists who fled Germany to come to the U.S. to work on the bomb, urgently rushing to stop Hitler in his tracks.

Obviously, a lot to digest, and tons to research. But I’ve already thought of a title for this opus, Fat Boy Never Lived. The two atomic bombs were called Little Boy and Fat Man, with this title contracting the two and distancing it from a direct discussion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (a tack borrowed from the House of Freaks song about Oppenheimer, “Dark and Light in New Mexico”) toward a more general look at the era that might have developed had we not dropped the big one(s).

Yes, just what I need--another novel concept.

August 8, 2005 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Editors Forsaking Fiction

Rachel Donadio has an interesting essay in the New York Times about the de-emphasis of short fiction at several of the form's former champions: The Atlantic, Esquire, The Paris Review and others.

'We're living in a newsy time,'' (Philip) Gourevitch (editor of The Paris Review) said. ''There's an intense emphasis on topicality that also happens to coincide with a time when fiction is not particularly topical.''
"I think people seem to feel more comfortable with nonfiction,'' said Adrienne Miller, a novelist and the literary editor of Esquire. ''The tragic theme here is that literary fiction has very limited cultural currency now. Fewer and fewer people seem to believe fiction is still essential for our emotional and intellectual survival.''

Besides the fact that Miller (author of the well-received The Coast of Akron) begs the question of why--in the face of an indifferent reading public--she bothers writing novels, both quotations remind me of network television executives who bemoan the death of the sitcom while simulataneously shoving twenty new reality shows onto their fall lineup, saying that reality shows are what people want to watch right now. No, they don't, which is why most reality shows--other than blockbusters like The Apprentice and Survivor--quietly fail. (Anyone see The Contender last week? Anyone?)

While noting that nonfiction titles typically sell well, Donadio adds:

the nonfiction best-seller list is well stocked with books that have the shelf life of skim milk. They may be good for the next quarter's earnings, but they probably won't do wonders for the all-important backlist, the books kept in print over the years because they continue to sell.

Nonfiction is topical, and when the topic fades from the public's attention so does the marketability of those titles. Case in point: the numerous Wall-Street-as-ethical-cesspool books from the early 90s (The Predator's Ball, The Ga-Ga Years, Liar's Poker etc.) which sit in boxes in my attic, after failing to sell for $2 on eBay. It's fiction that has staying power, remaining in the public's consciousness decades longer than last week's then-timely essay on the current state of Mideast politics.

''In recent years we have found that a certain kind of reporting--long-form narrative reporting--has proved to be of enormous value...in making sense of a complicated and fractious world,'' Cullen Murphy, the (Atlantic's) departing editor, wrote in an e-mail message.
James Fallows' and William Langewiesche's Atlantic pieces do exactly that...for the first three pages, anyway. Then my eyes glaze over at the prospect of reading their last twenty-six pages of dense prose. Let's face it--I'm not 22 years old, single and utterly alone any more, and I don't have the time or the enthusiasm to read this sort of nonfiction epic. I want to read both imaginative, well-written short fiction and thoughtful, concise nonfiction and essays. Which is why I've drifted away from the mainstream magazines and toward better-balanced independents like The Sun, Another Chicago Magazine, Barrelhouse and several other all-fiction journals.

Murphy, Gourevitch and Miller are of course entitled to direct their magazines in any direction they wish. But in doing so, they've lost my readership, as well as many others who feel the same way as I do. These influential editors have the power to ensure that short fiction remains vital and relevant in today's society, but have willfully declined to do so. As they implicitly announce the slow death of short fiction, their own guilty hands tremble on the switch of the respirator.

August 6, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Presidential Ignorance, Indifference Continues...

Once again, I'll ask the question that John Kerry should have asked a million times: "George, where's Osama?" Obviously, he still doesn't have an answer, nor does he particularly care.

From the Center for American Progress:

BIN LADEN (STILL) DETERMINED TO STRIKE IN U.S.

Tomorrow, August 6th, marks the four-year anniversary of President Bush receiving a President's Daily Brief (PDB) entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US." After fighting two separate wars and spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the name of fighting the war on terror, the sad and unfortunate fact is that bin Laden is still determined to strike in the U.S.

NOT ON WAR FOOTING: Prior to 9/11, President Bush was enjoying "the longest presidential vacation in 32 years" (until this month) at his ranch in Crawford. It was during this time in August that he received the PDB. Prior to receiving the brief, the Bush administration had been told by experts, including outgoing Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, that the administration would have to "spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al Qaeda specifically, than any other subject." Bush said of his mindset during these boiling days in August on the ranch that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling." The Washington Post described Bush as "carefree" on August 7, 2001, the day after receiving the brief. When asked on April 10, 2004, whether Bush had read the PDB, a senior administration official said, "I don't have any information on that." Condoleezza Rice later downplayed the PDB as a "historical memo." Approximately four years later, it appears some things have not changed all that much. U.S. News reports Bush is at the ranch not for a "working vacation" but instead to "relax."

BUSH SHOULD FEEL THE URGENCY: Yesterday, a videotape message from Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's number two, who is considered to be "bin Laden's brain," was released declaring that al Qaeda is in fact still determined to strike the U.S. With language directed at the Bush administration, Zawahri said, "If you continue the same policy of aggression against Muslims, God willing, you will see horror that will make you forget what you saw in Vietnam." Bob Ayers, a counterterrorism expert at Chatham House, a think tank in London, said of the videotape: "Such messages are usually a call-to-arms, sort of top-down guidance to go forth and do your thing." Thus, it appears likely that President Bush could indeed be receiving a PDB tomorrow, exactly four years after the original, bearing a similar title and warning that al Qaeda is planning another attack on the U.S. -- with the same individual(s) spearheading the effort.

IS BIN LADEN IN CONTROL? The American public is asking an understandable question: "Why no sense of urgency for capturing bin Laden?" After all, the London bombings seem to have underscored al Qaeda's continuing lethality and bin Laden's inspiration of, if not direct control over, global terrorist attacks. Richard Miniter, author of "Losing Bin Laden," said, "I think bin Laden is still alive, still in control because he's able to hold Al Qaeda together, these various factions together, which otherwise don't get along." A major question confronting Western intelligence "is whether Zawahiri and bin Laden are calling the shots on terrorist attacks or merely taking credit after the fact for the actions of loosely affiliated terrorist groups." Ben Venski of the think tank IntelCenter, which closely tracks al Qaeda statements, said it would be foolish to assume al Qaeda is not directing attacks. The Congressional Research Service recently produced a report, however, concluding that tapes are merely an attempt by bin Laden and Zawahri to "create a lasting leadership role for themselves and the al Qaeda organization as the vanguard of an emerging, loosely organized internationalist movement."

BIN LADEN'S PRESENCE STILL BEING FELT: Just recently, new evidence has come to light that bin Laden "bankrolled the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia in retaliation for Australia sending troops to Iraq." Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, recently said a number of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia since 2003 "were under the immediate directions of the leadership of al Qaeda, particularly bin Laden." And in Iraq, where attacks against Americans occur daily, military officials believe "U.S. forces are coming under intensified attack by suicide bombers and improvised explosives dispatched by followers of fugitive Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose jihadi group has declared itself al Qaeda's arm in Iraq, apparently with Zawahiri and bin Laden's blessing." The message is clear: as long as bin Laden is alive, he continues to be at the heart of global terrorist activity. Despite CIA Director Porter Goss's statement that he has an "excellent idea" of where bin Laden is, there has been no palpable sense that the administration has changed its priorities or its focus in going after him. When given the opportunity to comment on the Zawahri tape yesterday, Bush notably failed to mention any pledge to capture or kill Zawahri or bin Laden. Recall, shortly after 9/11, Bush pledged to capture bin Laden "dead or alive." However, on March 13, 2002, approximately six months later, Bush backtracked, saying: "I am truly not that concerned about him." Yesterday's comments by the president indicate there is plenty of room for greater urgency over the threat of bin Laden.

August 5, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The peculiar charm of the dust jacket bio"

John Freeman has an interesting piece at NewcityChicago about dust jacket bios. (The Pelevin fake-degree bit makes me think of Golden Rule Jones' fake bio, which I'm still waiting for some clueless journalist to swallow as fact.)

And reading books without any idea who wrote them is a bit like having sex in total darkness; it feels good, but you wonder whose body you're crashing into.

Give me a book deal, publishing industry, and I'll be as anti-reticent with the dust jacket as you can possibly stand. Disciplinary notes from my fourth-grade teacher, embarrassing Polaroids, memories of better-left-forgotten high school crushes, you name it.

August 4, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Featherproof Books

After reading my post about Leaf Books, Jonathan Messinger (he of both writerly and editorial fame) passed along the following worthy notice:

Hey, saw your note about Leaf on the blog today. My buddy Zach and I have been doing the same thing with our new small press, Featherproof. Ours seems a bit different, though. We've designed books of submitted stories we liked and uploaded them as pdfs. Readers are encouraged to print them out, follow the online instructions, and assemble the books for easy carrying. Pretty fun stuff. We've also been making them ourselves and giving them away at various events.

I wish Jonathan and Zach the best of luck with this venture. As a struggling-to-get-published writer, my feeling is that there can never be enough independent small presses.

And speaking of This is Grand, I had a rather odd Metra experience this morning that I'll be submitting shortly to the site for possible publication. Stay tuned.

August 3, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Life for the Short Story?

Praise and hosannas to Leaf, a new Wales-based publishing company which wants to publish individual short stories in book form. The company is even running a short story contest to solicit submissions for publication. Thank goodness somebody still believes the short story is a worthy and viable form.

The founders of Leaf - a University of Glamorgan spin-out company - believe they can tap into a ready market of people hungry for 'something to read'.

Cecilia Morreau and Barrie Llewellyn want to create a platform from which writers can get short stories published and readers can rediscover the form.

Wales is said to be a country of readers, so Leaf may indeed have "a ready market of people hungry for 'something to read'." I'm not sure how successful such a program would be here in the TV/iPod-obsessed U.S., but based on the number of people on my train who read the Red Streak/Red Eye twaddle, I'd say there's plenty of people here who are desperate for good reading material as well. Whether or not they're willing to pay for it, now, that's the tricky part.

(Link via Ed.)

August 1, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)