Thursday, February 3, 2011

Soup and Salad: Reading in Reptile Time, Kindle Singles Redux, Rummy Rumsfeld, Craig Loves Ernie, Roberto Bolano's Rules, LARB on the Launching Pad, Richard Ford vs. Cobra, The Bleak Dickens, yAWPfest, Penguins Redux

On today's menu:

1.  At Like Fire, Lisa Peet has some beautiful things to say about blogging and reading in what she* calls "reptile time."
       I think it’s a great term, myself, and the idea of blogging in reptile time is close to my heart.  Reading, too—it’s frustrating that the more new and current work I find myself plugged in to, the less time I have for the old stuff, the $2 paperbacks bought on the street and favorite books passed along by friends and things I read so long ago they’re probably entirely different stories now.  I make time for them, but it’s not as much as I would like.  Though I’m very happy where I am now, here in the middle of the soup, I look at my reading lists from ten years ago and feel a twinge of nostalgia for the way I read then, without the benefit of any hype or enthusiasm other than the most personal kind.  It’s been a while since I didn’t give a thought to what I was going to read next, or after that, unless I had a library due date looming.  A lot of what found me in those days, one way or another, was old.

2a.  Remember how I waxed enthusiastic about the new Amazon Kindle Singles?  Well, based on the strength of Darin Strauss' Long Island Shaolin and Brendan Koerner's Piano Demon, I continued my downloading spree with Evan Ratliff's Lifted.  Ratliff is editor of The Atavist, "a boutique publishing house" which is producing clean, tight narratives on several different digital devices for readers on the go, including a few of the offerings in the Kindle Store.  Lifted is a well-told, gripping story of a bank heist that doesn't go awry (at least not from the thieves' point of view).  Ratliff covers a lot of the ground we've already walked in the history of movies--from The Great Train Robbery to The Town--but in the way he shaves away all non-essentials and finds the rhythm of the minute-by-minute account of the robbery, he will have you white-knuckling your Kindle so hard, you might want to think about getting that Two-Year Extended Warranty before you start reading.  Screens could snap from the tension in Lifted.

2b.  What does the introduction of Kindle Singles (and like-minded short-form e-reading) bode for writers' wallets?  This article from The Big Picture may not have all the answers, but it has some of them.
What is new about Kindle Singles is the way that it circumvents publishers.  Amazon has gone to writers and asked them for these orphaned works or asked them to write such works to promote the idea.  For authors making 70% of a dollar or two, the proposition begins to make sense if they can sell a few thousand copies of their work.  With the narrowing of magazine writing opportunities, this should be a boon to authors.

3.  BREAKING NEWS: "Rummy" Rumsfeld coming to a bookstore near you; "remains largely unapologetic about his overall handling of the Iraq conflict."  Let the finger-pointing begin.

4.  At Three Guys One Book, Craig Lancaster (The Summer Son) recalls when he fell in love with Hemingway:
During the spring I turned 17 years old, I wasn’t nearly aware enough to realize just what A Farewell to Arms would mean to me.  All I knew was that the writing – so lean, so unadorned – was quite unlike anything I’d read before.  I recall some classmates chafing at the short, simple sentences, but I was enthralled.  I still am.

5.  Speaking of writing advice from the masters (and mistresses), This Recording rounds up a few pearls of wisdom from the likes of Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, William Butler Yeats and Roberto Bolano, whose 12 Rules of Writing begin:
1.  Never approach short stories one at a time.  If one approaches short stories one at a time, one can quite honestly be writing the same short story until the day one dies.
2.  It is best to write short stories three or five at a time.  If one has the energy, write them nine or fifteen at a time.

6.  Consider this your drumroll: The Los Angeles Review of Books is nearing its launch date.  The somewhat lengthy Jerry Maguire-esque manifesto has been posted:
The LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS will provide extensive commissioned reviews and essays and link to the finest, most enlightening of the blog entries, and provide a guide to the other literary resources on the web.   We will be using the power and promise of the web, in other words, to harness its own centrifugal force.
(Full Disclosure #1: I am a contributor to LARB)

7.  Richard Ford vs. cobra!  I have my doubts as to the veracity of this article, but figured you could use your daily dose of Richard Ford nonetheless.

8.  And for your Daily Dose of Dickens, I offer this essay at The Millions which extols the pleasures and pains of Bleak House.
       When I say, referring to Bleak House by Charles Dickens, “They don’t write books like that anymore,” I really mean it.  Reading it is like a guided tour of things serious authors aren’t allowed to do.  Exactly two of the characters are complicated and unpredictable, everyone else is either angelic or demonic.  Dozens of pages go by with nothing happening except amusing characters having silly conversation.  Halfway through the book an entire chapter is devoted to introducing a new character who never goes on to do anything integral to the story.  And a few of the characters start crying almost every time they have a conversation.
       Bleak House felt unlike the modern fiction I’m used to reading until I realized that the comparison is a disservice to Dickens.  You have to embrace Bleak House for what it is – a rambling, confusing, verbose, over-populated, vastly improbable story which substitutes caricatures for people and is full of puns.  In other words, an 800-page Dickens novel.

9.  Right now, thousands of writers are converging on our nation's capital for the Association of Writing Program's annual conference.  No word on whether or not Snooki will be dropping in from the Jersey Shore; but the legitimate lineup of presenters is like a frickin' Book World Super Bowl: Junot Diaz, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford (your second daily sighting!), Mark Doty, Jennifer Egan, Elizabeth Strout, Ricky Moody, Benjamin Percy and at least two dozen others--enough to warrant security fears that one well-timed bomb could wipe out most of our current literary cash cows.  Fortunately, a few writers didn't make the annual trek to DC for pedagogy and cocktails.  Some, like Meg Pokrass, prefer to attend their own virtual AWP in their pajamas.  Pokrass is hosting the second annual yAWP, an on-line alternative to the national shindig.  You can drop in on the Barbaric yAWP Party on Facebook or on this page.  (Full Disclosure #2: Meg invited me to participate and so you can hear me reading a small slice of Fobbit, hastily recorded last night in my hotel room.)

10.  You voted, the Penguins listened.  Here are the results of the 10 Essential Penguin Classics reader poll.  The usual suspects are rounded up.  So, which books do you think should be included or dropped?  Discuss, debate, arm-wrestle in the comments section.

*Originally coined by Michael Chabon.


  1. Re: Hemingway, I remember exactly the same feeling of falling in love...with me it was In Our Time. I was working at a little airport, and would sit alone in the terminal at night for several hours, waiting for the last flight to come in. I read a hundred books waiting for that flight, and when I got to IOT I was smitten in a way I'd never been before. I decided I wanted to read everything else this guy had written, and later, decided that I wanted to try it for myself. I hadn't known such non-academic writing was allowed in "literary" fiction.

  2. And I was feeling guilty about juggling two or three short stories at once. Who knew it was recommended?