Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Soup and Salad: PEN/Faulkner and LA Times Book Awards, Ann Patchett on Stephen Colbert, When Genre and "Literary" Marry, Airplane Novels, Martin Amis' Secret Book, In Which Lydia Netzer Discovers Books Are Not Like VHS Tapes, "So Many Books, So Little Time"

On today's menu:

1.  Congratulations to the PEN/Faulkner Award finalists:
Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories
Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin
Steve Millhauser, We Others: New and Selected Stories
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic
The winner will be announced March 26.

1.5  The Los Angeles Times has also announced the finalists for its annual book awards. Happy to see a few of my favorites on the list, including The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman.  The full list is here.  The winners will be announced April 20.

2.  If you missed author (State of Wonder) and bookstore owner (Parnassus Books in Nashville) Ann Patchett on The Colbert Report, here's the clip as she more than holds her own against S. C.

3.  For another conversation in which two literary powerhouses trade intelligent words, check out this dual interview between Peter Straub and Bradford Morrow at Beatrice.  Morrow tells this story:
When I taught at Princeton, filling in for Russell Banks who was on sabbatical, Joyce Carol Oates invited Stephen King to give a reading. The auditorium was packed with not just students and other professors, but a coterie of devotees who rode in on motorcycles. When King got up to the podium, the first thing he did was hold up a copy of William Gass’ recently published novel, The Tunnel, and said something to the effect of Have you ever hear of this guy William Gass?, then proceeded to give a mind-blowingly inspired reading of a passage from the book that I had published in Conjunctions some fifteen years earlier. Pure magic. I sat there awestruck. The generosity, empathy, will always stay with me. When Gass and I were in Paris soon after, attending a highly literary conference, I told him that story, and I don’t think he believed me at the time. These genre and literary worlds truly meld more often than we might imagine. It’s ultimately about the dynamism of the writing itself, and of the vision.

4.  In the New York Times, Dominique Browning writes about the time she was on a plane and had a quasi-religious experience:
      This breakthrough came after years of....buying paperbacks of world classics, meaning to reacquaint myself with the stuff of college classes. After years of being tethered to my middle seat too near the lav, struggling distractedly through great prose, tough reporting, clear-minded thinking, biting analysis — and understanding nothing.
      Instead of reading, I used to worry about how long a delay was going to last; fret over the awfulness of the dried-out sandwich that was meant to be dinner; gently shove back the head of a slumped stranger snoring on my shoulder; feel a miasma of germs settle around my head and travel up my nose, down my throat, into my eyes; imagine the incipient thrombosis that would clog my heart, just because I was too timid to ask two grumpy people to get up once again so I could walk down the aisle.
      And then I finally found the literature that stands up to the tests of travel. The secret, dear reader, lies in narrative drive. Plain, old-fashioned, unrelenting, compelling storytelling. You’ve got to reach for the best-seller shelves.

5.  The Millions has the scoop on the book Martin Amis doesn't want you to know about.  Hint: it involves a joystick.

6.  When novelist Lydia Netzer (Shine Shine Shine) moved to a new house, she and her husband were faced with an emotionally gut-wrenching problem:
      In the mountain of stuff we no longer want that is now sitting grumpily in our new house, there are a mazillion VHS tapes. These are objects that should have been purged years ago. We haven't watched any of them since we moved the last time. We don't even have a VCR connected to our TV. If we did hook up a VCR, and managed to remember what the button "Rewind" does, I guarantee the tapes would look awful in 1080 resolution. It's at a point with these VHS tapes that I don't even think the Salvation Army wants them. I don't think anyone wants them. But every time we began to hustle them into bags to push them out the door, we got all oogly about it. Here's our copy of "The Long Kiss Goodnight," which we watched and rewound several times. Here's "Household Saints," one of the first movies I ever owned. "Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael." "Go." "Four Rooms." "Sweetie." Here's that copy of "City of Lost Children" that was almost impossible to get. "Evita." Shut up, I have the whole thing memorized. I have a romantic attachment to these objects -- they remind me of when we were younger, poorer, and dumber, when I was working at a 1/2 porn video store during graduate school, when our TV was small and given to fits of rage instead of large and austere and firmly in control of itself.
      So I put them, all, ruthlessly in the trash. I kept the ultrasound videos from my kids. I kept a couple of other personal things. But anything that I can get on DVD or download, I tossed.

7.  I don't know if Deb Vanasse owns any VHS tapes, but at the 49 Writers blog, she writes eloquently about being cocooned in books: "I still shortchange myself when it comes to reading. It feels too much like an indulgence, a reward squeezed in over lunch or at bedtime, unless it’s research for “real work.” This is wrong-headed thinking. I need to expand the book time in my day, to acknowledge that the guilty pleasure of working with words includes sustained and joyful periods of doing what I love."


  1. Just now realizing I publicly admitted my deep abiding affection for "Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael." Sometimes it takes seeing it written someplace else to really SEE it. HA! Oh, Winona Rider, you vile and enchanting temptress.

  2. Oh, don't EVEN get me started on the byzantine enchantments of Miss Winona Rider. She can shoplift my heart any day!