Sunday, August 28, 2011

Soup and Salad: Pinning Down Dennis Lehane, When Cather Met Crane, Against Writers' Houses, In Favor of Library Cards, Balancing the Load of Too Many Books, Br'er Rabbit Stolen, Charles Dickens Gets a Statue, Hollywood vs. The Novelist, Bringing Raymond Carver to the Screen, Kissing Grace Paley, Siobhan Fallon's Touching Stories, Amber Tamblyn the Poet, E-Book Soundtracks

On today's menu:

1.  I'm not a fan of Dennis Lehane for the simple reason I've never read any of his novels, but this kick-ass interview with The Independent makes me want to clear off my desk and read Mystic River sooner rather than later.
      The more Lehane talks, the more complex and nuanced his story becomes. Like many of the characters in his books, he is not an easy man to pin down, occupying different worlds at the same time. Like fellow graduates of The Wire, George Pelecanos and Richard Price, is he a popular novelist with literary ambitions, or a literary novelist with populist ones? Mystic River was both a brilliantly plotted thriller and a state-of-the-nation address: among the base matter that Lehane transformed into narrative gold was child abuse, murder, mental illness, marital breakdown, vigilantism, urban poverty and inner-city gentrification.
      So, Lehane jokes about selling out one minute ("Fuck it. I want to make some money"), then talks earnestly about literature as a force for moral good the next: "I can do so much at a social level," he says of his fiction. "This is where the social novel went. It went into crime fiction.

2.  The Library of America's "Story of the Week" recently featured this excerpt from Cather: Stories, Poems, and Other Writings, a "somewhat fictionalized account" in which a young Willa Cather meets an equally-young Stephen Crane just before the publication of The Red Badge of Courage:
This was the first man of letters I had ever met in the flesh, and when the young man announced who he was, I dropped into a chair behind the editor’s desk where I could stare at him without being too much in evidence.
Only a very youthful enthusiasm and a large propensity for hero worship could have found anything impressive in the young man who stood before the managing editor’s desk. He was thin to emaciation, his face was gaunt and unshaven, a thin dark moustache straggled on his upper lip, his black hair grew low on his forehead and was shaggy and unkempt. His grey clothes were much the worse for wear and fitted him so badly it seemed unlikely he had ever been measured for them. He wore a flannel shirt and a slovenly apology for a necktie, and his shoes were dusty and worn gray about the toes and were badly run over at the heel. I had seen many a tramp printer come up the Journal stairs to hunt a job, but never one who presented such a disreputable appearance as this story-maker man.  (Click here to read the entire story)

3.  April Bernard is no fan of turning writers' houses into literary shrines:
Here’s what I hate about Writers’ Houses: the basic mistakes. That art can be understood by examining the chewed pencils of the writer. That visiting such a house can substitute for reading the work. That real estate, including our own envious attachments to houses that are better, or cuter, or more inspiring than our own, is a worthy preoccupation. That writers can or should be sanctified. That private life, even of the dead, is ours to plunder.  (Click here to read the entire article)
Okay, fine.  But on the off-chance I hit it big someday, I'm keeping a few chewed pencils around here for posterity.  Just don't go torching the place when I'm dead and gone, m'kay?

4.  Steve Himmer (The Bee-Loud Glade) took his daughter to get her first library card and ran into a few roadblocks.  The experience caused him to reflect on trying to sell his novel to a teenager and how adults don't always know what's best for kids when it comes to choosing books.  He concludes, "It's a mistake to rarify reading and put books out of reach."  His essay at The Millions is quite good and may even move you to tears.

5.  Another essay at The Millions sounds awfully familiar:
Like many people who love to read, I exist in a paradoxical state of having both far too many books and far too few. I probably don’t have many more than the average literature lover of my age, but I live in a smallish apartment, and it often feels hazardously, almost maniacally overcrowded with books. A precarious obelisk of partially read paperbacks rises from my bedside table, coated in a thin film of dust. My shelves are all two rows deep, stuffed with a Tetris-like emphasis on space-optimization, and pretty much every horizontal surface holds some or other type of reading material. I haven’t read nearly all of these books (many of them I haven’t even made a serious attempt to get started on) but that doesn’t stop me from accumulating more at a rate that neither my income nor my living space can reasonably be expected to sustain.

6.   Somebody stole Br'er RabbitBut then he was found.  That is so NOT zip-a-dee-doo-dah.

7.  Speaking of statues, the UK is getting ready to erect its first monument in honor of Charles Dickens.  At first, I was like, "Whaaat?!  Britain doesn't have a Dickens statue?  I'm gobsmacked!"  But then I remembered the author wrote in his will: "I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever."  Now, as part of the upcoming bicentenniary of his birth, the city of Portsmouth will cast him in bronze sitting in a chair next to a pile of books "which are threatening to topple over."  Dickens descendants have given their blessing to the project, defending the decision to go against the will by saying, "He didn't want an ostentatious, over-the-top Victorian monument, but I think the fact that his work is so relevant and loved 200 years later--well, he would be absolutely tickled pink, and very touched that people want to commemorate him in this way."  This brings up the question I raised earlier about how to continue the legacy of writers after they're dead.  Should we honor their pre-death wishes and not erect a statue, or should we go ahead and do what we feel is best?  Publishing things like The Pale King, for instance.

8.  Even when they're alive, writers get screwed.  Here's a tale of Hollywood vs. Intellectual Property.

9.  But sometimes Hollywood gets it right.  Though I'm no longer a regular reader of Entertainment Weekly, I thought this was a great interview with Dan Rush, the director who married Will Ferrell and Raymond Carver on the screen with Everything Must Go.  I still haven't seen the movie based on Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?", but now I'm even more impressed by Rush's dedication to getting it right.
Did you take efforts to preserve some of Carver’s hallmarks — like the really naturalistic, mundane dialogue, the working class characters, the subtle humor that you could almost miss if you don’t read it out loud. 
It’s humor from pain, I would say. Certainly, there’s a theme of alcohol abuse in Carver’s work. That’s something that I think informs this character of Nick Halsey—that was always going to be one of the components. Also, I love how with Carver often not saying anything says a lot. I’m a big believer in nonverbal acting. I remember in “Why Don’t You Dance?”, there’s a line, the only reference to a wife: “nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side.” That line says so much. I don’t think a lot of his characters are oversharers until they’ve had alcohol. There’s a pride to them, and for me, Carver’s characters are always striving to make a change. “Victory,” for instance, may not be about actual victory, but it’s about the intention. Which I think is tricky from a cinematic standpoint, you know? Because there was never a clear catharsis, I think, in his stories. But I think they’re about people trying to make a better life for themselves.

10.  All Steve Brykman wanted was a kind word from Grace Paley.  And to kiss her full on the lips.

11.  At The Story Prize blog, Siobhan Fallon talks about why You Know When the Men Are Gone became a series of connected short stories rather than a novel:
The physical nature of stories, those multiple starts and stops, allowed me to leap over the time and distance of a deployment, that seemingly endless waiting both soldiers in Iraq and families in Fort Hood have to slog through during the twelve months they are apart. Each story shifts focus from one family or couple to another, and, in this episodic way, I felt like I was able to emphasize how every corner of the Army community—neighbors in the same housing building or total strangers from one side of the base to the other—was affected. Lives cross paths, but Fort Hood is a big place with more than 30,000 active duty soldiers alone; sometimes there is a shared apartment wall or a shared Humvee, but, like life, I didn't want too much overlap. I wanted to recreate the sense of separateness, the way people are always coming and going. Individual short stories could do this, each title stacked together tenuously in the Table of Contents but not merged together, the stories touching but never completely entwined.

12.  Amber Tamblyn is a poet.  Yes, that Amber Tamblyn.

13.  This could either be a neat idea or a horrible distraction:  "Booktrack, a start-up in New York, is planning to release e-books with soundtracks that play throughout the books, an experimental technology that its founders hope will change the way many novels are read."  (Click here to read the entire article)


  1. Great roundup here, David. Thanks for doing the legwork.

  2. This book was a interesting and empowering novel. It is hard to put down. Mystic River is a diverse and spellbinding read. The characterizations are well thought out and you can really sympathise with them. This book shows how truly sick our world really is. If you want to read a book that will truly satisfy you intellectually and plot-wise Mystic River is that book. When you finish this book you will just say