Thursday, October 28, 2010

Soup and Salad: Unpublished DFW fragment, Penguin's Literary Life, Heavy Instructions, Paris Review interviews, Richard Ford's Canada, Drunk-Dialing Agatha Christie, Books & Apps, The Loss of Rejection, Charles Dickens gets mashed-up

On today's menu:

1.  An unpublished fragment by David Foster Wallace: "The Boy."  Could this be an excerpt from The Pale King?  Speculation abounds.
Every whole person has ambitions, projects, objectives.  This particular boy’s objective was to press his lips to every square inch of his own body.  His arms to the shoulders and most of the legs beneath the knee were child’s play but after these areas of his body, the difficulty increased with the abruptness of a coastal shelf.  The boy came to understand that unimaginable challenges lay ahead of him.  He was six.

2.  A new episode of The Literary Life from Penguin Books is available.  This audio podcast includes an interview with Sarah Waters (The Little Stranger), a chat with the designer of covers for books by Tom Clancy and other thriller writers, a mix tape from Kristin Hersh (Rat Girl), and a rant from Koren Zailckas (the memoirs Smashed and Fury) on audiobook narrators: "Either they do the robot, completely devoid of inflection, or else they strike rapt, superfluous pauses--they're like superchurch preachers: pausing.  mid-sentence.  to give their sermons time to reach.  the congregants.  in the farthest pews.  Alone in the car, I find myself hollering back at these narrators: 'Hel-lo?  You're supposed to be story-telling here, not reciting the phone book, not reading the Word of God!'"

3.  This Chicago Tribune story makes me even more anxious to clear some time for Adam Levin's The Instructions:

       Levin's references and allusions are growing heavier on my back: There's some Exodus in here; and a little "A Separate Peace;" and yes, a touch of "Infinite Jest: A Novel" arrives right on time, but that's just for starters.  There are also pieces of untranslated Hebrew, untranslated street slang and TV transcripts.  I feel my shins strain.  I hastily calculate that I am not halfway through.  Must conserve energy.  I set a goal of 50 pages a day, but I lapse after 48 hours.  The book is growing dark, with violence on the horizon.  A co-worker asks, "Does it need to be that long?"
       "I think so," I say.

4.  The Paris Review has now made all of their interviews available on-line.  So, now we can access writerly gab 24 hours a day.  This really is cool news, though.  As Dwight Garner says in his New York Times article, "There is still something rather awesome about the gathering of yakking, coruscating ghosts — preening, complaining, dueling — that the talented Mr. Stein has released into the Internet’s ether. The Paris Review’s Web site feels, for now, like the best party in town."

5.  Richard Ford alert!  He talks to Canada's National Post about his next novel:
Canada is about a 16-year-old kid living in Great Falls, Mont.  When his parents are thrown in jail for robbing a bank, the boy is whisked away to a small Prairie town off Highway 32 in Saskatchewan.  “Then all kinds of untoward and actually quite violent things take place,” Ford says.
Okay, now I'm all twitterpated!  My favorite Ford books have been those set in Montana: the short-story collection Rock Springs and the novel Wildlife.  If Canada is even half as good as those, I might just need a defibrillator.
6.  Elif Batuman drunk-dials Agatha Christie: the hazards of simultaneously sipping wine and shopping with your Kindle.  Congratulations to Ms. Batuman, by the way--she's one of the just-announced winners of the Whiting Writers' Awards.
7.  Stephen Elliot is doing something very interesting with apps and books“As an author, I want you to have the best experience,” he said.  “People want to talk about the books they are reading with other people.  Why, with everything we know, wouldn’t you include a chat room with your e-book?”  This bears watching.
8.  At The Millions, Bill Morris rues the demise of the detailed rejection letter.
Three decades ago I received typewritten rejection letters that were thoughtful, insightful, sometimes even beneficial.  The electronic burps I’m getting today are, for the most part, shallow, cursory and absolutely useless to me as a writer.  Sad but true, the rejection letter, like so many things in book publishing, is a shadow of what it used to be.

9.  It was bound to happen....simply because these are the best of literary times, they are the worst of literary times.  Charles Dickens to get the monster mash-up treatmentGrave Expectations?  Yeah, I've got some.  Still, I must admit, I'm awfully interested in reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Photo of Richard Ford by Gordon Beck


  1. I liked the Rock Springs collection. Haven't read Wildlife and I'm more than halfway through Independence Day. He's a legendary writer.

  2. My copy of "Rock Springs" is so cluttered with marginalia and other notes, you can barely see the original text. For all the (justly-deserved) acclaim of "Independence Day" and its two sequels, "Rock Springs" is still my Desert-Island book.

  3. Hmmm -

    I've been known to get confused in my shopping habits and have occasionally gotten the surprise package from Amazon but I can't say that wine has ever been involved. Maybe I should try it and see if the selections become more interesting.