Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year

if each season
were twice as long

the year
would wear me well.

- from "New Year" by Teresa Leo

...but no pressure or anything, Cosmos

If the Dunkirk beach scene (which is a single 4.5 minute shot, according to IMDB) from the movie Atonement doesn't win some kind of Best Thing Ever in the History of Anything at All award, then there is no justice in this world, and ye shall know that evil has truly prevailed.

The close runner up nomination goes to the green dress Keira Knightley wears for the dinner sequence. Wugga! Huh-lo there, m'uh lady.

The exact same thing happens to me when I play too much Grand Theft Auto

All that night I dreamed of roulette, gambling, gold, calculations. I kept calculating something, as if I was at the gaming table, some stake, some chance, and it oppressed me all night like a nightmare.

- from The Adolescent, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Monday, December 17, 2007

"A story that moved like a movie"

Did I mention that the newest edition of Bookslut features an interview with Steve Erickson? No? Probably because I've been too busy being great.

Or, well. Maybe I've been too busy reading The Adolescent every chance I get. I'm barely a fifth of the way through it, but, gosh. I don't know why I'm always surprised when I'm reminded that Dostoevsky is awesome. You'd think I'd know that by now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The versatility of a strong opinion is not to be underestimated in modern-day America

The National Book Critics Circle folks conducted some big survey about ethics in book reviewing.

At the risk of seeming like I'm being sort of an ass, I'll say that I think I've already said all that needs to be said on this topic. At least, I've yet to be convinced otherwise. The lines are still open.

We need more talk of the sublime in the litblogosphere

From Harold Bloom's Paris Review interview, taken more or less out of any context:

Criticism starts—it has to start—with a real passion for reading. It can come in adolescence, even in your twenties, but you must fall in love with poems. You must fall in love with what we used to call "imaginative literature." And when you are in love that way, with or without provocation from good teachers, you will pass on to encounter what used to be called the sublime....

I mean, I don't know, I don't read much specific criticism, by Bloom or anybody, because either I haven't read the book discussed yet, so why bother, or I've read the book in question, and I'm too wrapped up in my own thoughts to want them to be all mollycoddled by someone smarter than me—but I do dig on when totally smart critics say totally basic things in totally smart ways, that somehow sum up some of the experience of sitting down in a chair (or on an ottoman) and reading a book and loving it. It's comforting, which is nice. Now and then.


If Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love were to be the last book I read this year, it would be the perfect bookend to Sam Savage's Firmin, the first book I read this year, in that where Firmin is a slender book about a man-like rat who successfully discovers himself through reading, Conjugal Love is a slim novel about a rat-like man who fails to fix his identity through writing.

There's also something in there about the successful or unsuccessful formation of emotional connections with others, but since Conjugal Love will not be the last book I read this year, the thesis stasis, from a temporal-aesthetic perspective, hardly seems worth following up on. Plus it seems kind of forced, anyway. Darn.

The last book of the year I'll read--or attempt to read, if I remain this fatigued for the remainder of '07--will be The Adolescent, but for real, this time. Or I could rally and cram Mason & Dixon in there, too. And The Recognitions. Also, that copy of the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War & Peace my girlfriend got me for our recent anniversary is looking pretty much totally sweet, too. (Litnerd love, yes.)

Or I could pick up this Dostoevsky and quickly fall asleep sitting up on my backless ottoman, which I've taken to sitting on at night on occasion in an attempt to keep myself from falling asleep at the lit-wheel. Lit hurts, baby. (But seriously, how do you people who are so much better than me at this do it? You're freaks, I tell you.)

Monday, December 10, 2007


In a fit of "Oh shit," a mad panic over my total inability to write anything worth writing, I've recently turned to that drug I suspect all desperate flailing writers turn to from time to time: writer porn. For me, this meant grabbing a copy of The Paris Review Interviews Vol. II, turning to a review at random, and beginning to read. It's the kind of behavior that never really helps, necessarily, not in any definable, measurable-by-metrics way, but it also doesn't particularly hurt, and it does have the effect of helping to remind one that the pursuit of literary arts doesn't necessarily make one insane, from a certain perspective, namely, that of the other nice folks in the heavy coats with the designer sleeves.

I landed on the Philip Larkin interview. I came for the advice, but I'm staying for the humor:


How did you arrive upon the image of a toad for work or labor?


Sheer genius.

I was going to quote a bit of his sheer genius here, but, ah...hell with it. It's time for my pills.

"She had a vitality which was stronger than any moral rule"

I came back around to Alberto Moravia sooner than I'd planned, thanks to the folks at Other Press, who were kind enough to send me a copy of their publication of Moravia's 1949 novella Conjugal Love, which I just finished, and enjoyed quite a bit. While I'd had every intention of diving right in to Dostoevsky again after finishing Anna Karenina, I found it hard to put down a book that began with a line as frank (and, yes, to use a word I've seen in multiple locations, as "unadorned") as "To begin with I'd like to talk about my wife." It's also hard to put a book down that is physically lighter than air in comparison to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky books, but that's another story to tell. I should also note that if you are the sort of person who likes books about writers (ahem) Moravia's seemingly so straight-forward story is likely to draw you in, so be warned. (There's far too many exquisite writing-about-writing passages to quote here.)

On the other hand, if you're a boy, and you're looking for definitive answers about women, this might not be the book for you. Reader be warned.

I think I'm still gathering my impressions, and would like to come back around to it to say more about it. (Stop me if you've heard that one before, faithful reader.) For now I'll say the book confirms for me that Moravia's a writer I want to spend some more time with in the coming years. I shall begin tonight, before I pass out in my seat, by reading his 1954 Paris Review interview.

Also, so long as I've got the mic, I'd like to send some props to translator Marina Harss, whose lucid introductory note is an example of that kind of writing-about-the-writing writing that so excellently encapsulates so much of what I knew I wanted to say but didn't know how to say because I hadn't thought up yet what I'd wanted to say about the book. Or something. I try not to beat myself up when I see an excellent piece of writing about something I've read--"Oh, they said it so much better than I ever could have, I'm so stupid, stupid!"--because, like at least in this case, I can only assume Harss became far more intimately involved with this text than I've become, and is probably smarter than me anyways, so. Still. It would be nice to be a little bit brilliant, at least. (Or at least, a little bit more awake at night.)

It's remarkable to me, in any case, that the complexity of the story can hang still in the air even after it's been captured almost as if without effort in the introductory note. Worth circling back to after you finish the book itself.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

And, while we're at it: Speaking of Russia...'s not like they've totally stopped having a literary scene; they've even got awards and stuff. I just don't know a damn thing about the contemporary Russian literary world, myself. Which is a shame. Makes me want to learn Russian. Because, I've got those five hours tonight I was planning on devoting to sleep. Pft.


(Edit: And the "Russian Booker" award goes to...)

Speaking of France...

...there's a very long, very popular French book us non-polyglot English-speaking types might not be reading any time soon because the author has demanded a new translator.

Somehow? If I ever get anything published? Being able to make demands about translators isn't a position I expect I'll ever find myself in. If the translator wants to just grab some old crappy book off his or her shelf, slap the new title on it, and call it a translation? S'cool with me, so long as I get my check.

(On the off-hand chance you're wondering: yes, that was an Aphex Twin/Jesus Jones reference.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Litblog Co-op Winter 2007 Read This! pick

The Litblog Co-op have announced their Winter 2007 Read This! pick.

(Though I'm sad to say that, unless I've missed it, or unless the list is yet to come, it doesn't look like they've posted a list of all the nominated books for the quarter. Which makes me sad since I have generally liked the "runner up" books I've read more than the Read This! titles. Not that I've read everything on every list, but.)

(And actually now that I look at the list I'm two books behind anyway, having read neither of the Spring or Summer 2007 Read This! picks. Both of which I suspect I would like more than previous picks? Maybe? I don't know.)

(And, okay, if you're keeping score at home, my favorite Read This! pick, of those I've read, by a wide margin, has been Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. It's just so...French. And existential and weird. I guess I like that sort of thing.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Game on

And to write this way is like raving or a cloud.

- from The Adolescent, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Man. I fucking love Dostoevsky.

(Which is to say that I've finished Anna Karenina--which, though I enjoyed it and though it intrigued me and though I'm certainly going to read it again before I die, I, burdened perhaps by the burden of the anxiety of influence, do not know what to say about it--and have moved on to the second part of my Dead Awesome Russian Authors Family Novel Rock Block, which is also the fourth part of my Summer of Dostoevsky '06 project, which I'm like 20 pages into, and which I can already tell is going to be awesome, so.)

Oh sweet shit

Holy shit, TAKE COVER! A William T. Vollmann's about to go superfuckingnova:

The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced Wednesday that [Vollmann] will be given a $250,000 Strauss Living, to be doled out in five equal installments over the next five years. The idea is to allow writers the freedom to write without worry of supporting themselves.

"I accept the Strauss Living with gratitude and relief," Vollmann told academy members. "... It is this tremendous gift which will allow me to focus on what I truly want to do for five years."

Not included in this news story are any details about whether the American people will receive a similar stipend, in order to support them as they try to keep up with Vollmann's soon-to-be-unprecedented output. Dude writes the way you breathe.

Via Edward Champion, who hopes that "this will help [Vollmann] finish up the remaining three dreams left in his Seven Dreams cycle." From my perspective, where I'm looking at Fathers and Crows and Argall over there on my bookshelf, and the other couple Vollmann books on my shelf, and the books that ought to be on my shelf but aren't yet because I haven't seen them in front of me at the bookstore, yet, all I'm hoping is that Vollmann uses his sweet cash to swing by my house to read all his stuff to me for me. (Note to Bill: I'll make coffee.)


"The most frequent complaint against this book is: Why don't they make a run for it? Opening onto the larger: Why don't we all?"

- Calvin Baker, on Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go