Saturday, January 14, 2012

Soup and Salad: Dennis Lehane and the Hurt of Death, Dancing Books, The Tournament of Books, In the Swamp of the Non-Reader, Dave Eggers' Shower Curtain

On today's menu:

1.  When Dennis Lehane opens his mouth, I listen.  The author of Mystic River and Moonlight Mile is rarely dull in interviews and in this conversation with Andrew Cotto at Grub Street Daily, I particularly liked a couple of his comments.  The first is about finding his literary legs when he was just starting out his career as Future Bestselling Author:
I was primarily a short story writer, even though it was common knowledge I had a genre novel being shopped around NYC. And, yeah, there was a certain looking down the nose at genre fiction. Hell, I looked down my nose at genre fiction. But what was also happening at that time—we’re talking the early nineties—was the beginning of a backlash against faux-literary fiction. If you were published by Vintage, did that automatically make you literary? If you wrote a self-indulgent, sexually embarrassing, “semi”-autobiographical novel in which the protagonist referenced Virginia Woolf and Moliere enough times for us to accept that you’d read literary fiction, did that make your work literary? Literature is literature, doesn’t matter what it comes dressed to the ball as. Over the course of time, a novel endures and thereby defines itself as such. Or it doesn’t. “Literary fiction” is a genre. And it’s not a given that what’s accepted as the literary fiction of today will be the literature of tomorrow. What, in essence, is literary fiction? I’ll accept that it’s Edith Wharton or Julian Barnes, but I refuse to accept that some plotless model of post-modern, post-structural masturbation is comparable to something as majestic as Ellroy’s LA Quartet or Thom Jones’s The Pugilist at Rest.
The second broadens the conversation to how careless writing can have a bad ripple effect:
In ’99, I was on vacation and tried to read a particular type of commercial novel—one of those crass, plot-is-the-only-thing pieces of shit that line the racks at the supermarket checkout—and it opened with this fourteen year old girl being murdered. It was immediately obvious the author was pretending to condemn violence against poor 14-year-old girls who also happen to be black and therefore prostitutes (as if it’s all so axiomatic that) but in reality he was getting his rocks off and expecting the reader to get her rocks off depicting the sensational and the salacious aspects of said death. It disgusted me and I decided to write a book in which someone dies and dies off-stage in the best Greek tradition and yet that one death hurts like hell. Hurts everyone within the orbit of this girl’s life. I was very determined to make that loss of life rip the reader’s stomach out. Because violence does not exist for our fucking entertainment. Death is finite and wasteful and it destroys the lives of those who cared about the victim and sometimes even the lives of those who didn’t even know the victim. Violence ripples out from the center and those ripples can scald anyone they touch.

2.  I am probably the 100,001st person to share this video of books dancing after-hours in a Toronto bookshop, but it's always worth a replay.  Ladies and gentlemen, The Joy of Books (also known as The Joy of Text):

P.S.  I tried to find a "Dancing Kindle" video, but came up empty-handed.  Take that, Mr. Bezos!

3.  The cock is crowing!  (Good Lord, I had to be extra-careful to type a "c" and not a "g" in that sentence.)  In other words, the annual Tournament of Books is on!  For the uninitiated, I'm talking about the Morning News' literary smack-down which pits book against book in a series of competitive brackets, not unlike basketball's March Madness.  Books, judges, brackets and the reader-participant Zombie poll are now live at the site.  An explanation:
A ridiculously small and poorly informed group of TMN editors and contributors have chosen 16 of the most cherished, hyped, ignored, and/or enthusiastically praised books of the year to enter into a month-long tournament, NCAA-basketball-madness style, beginning March 7, 2012....We take these books and seed them, with the odds-on favorites receiving “1” seeds and longer shots receiving “4” seeds. Then we place them in an NCAA-style tournament bracket and assign books in pairs to judges, who read both assigned books, advancing one. Each judge is required to make a choice and also required to explain their choice (and Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, our booth announcers, plus special guests, will comment on those decisions). After the first round of combat, the eight advancing books are pitted against each other, and then the four remaining books become two.  When the judges have eliminated all but two books the competition moves to the Zombie Round, and this is where we need your help.  In the Zombie Round, the two books most favored by TMN readers, but unfairly tossed aside in an early round by the capriciousness of a power-mad ToB judge, will rise from the dead to do battle against the only two undefeated novels of the tournament. The winners of those matchups become the Tournament of Books finalists.
You can vote for your preferred Zombie title now.  For the record and in the spirit of Obama-ish transparency, I'll tell you that I voted for The Tiger's Wife.  I hope she eats the competition.

4.  This week's must-read is "In the Land of the Non-Reader" by Jonathan Gourlay who tells us what happened when he tried to give up reading.  He finds that it's like a special kind of hell with delirium tremens, the kind that shake the dental fillings out of your mouth as you walk streets made from shards of glass and you stumble from room to room clutching your head like you were caught in a Quentin Tarantino montage with a heavy-metal soundtrack.  Oh wait, that's what it was like for me when I tried to go a day without books.  Here's Mr. Gourlay:
Back when I was a reader, it often troubled me when friends claimed that they had no time to read. Was it possible that their lives were so full of wonders that they could not spend five minutes here or there to read? How was it that my life, in comparison, seemed to offer so many chunks of reading time throughout the day? A train ride, a late-night break, and an office wait. Through marriage, babies, graduate schools, and new jobs, I always found time to read for pleasure.  Alas, dear reader, the term “pleasure” doesn’t capture the mental and physical need for books I once had. Without a book nearby I felt bereft, purposeless, barely human.
Kids! Don't try this at home!

5.  Who says you can't read in the shower?  Now, thanks to Dave Eggers, you can.

1 comment:

  1. This is a interesting murder mystery. The story line is sometimes hard to follow because of so many twists. The author goes into great detail to develope the story.