Saturday, July 5, 2014

Soup and Salad: Murakami stickers, PEN shortlist, Joe Sacco's The Great War goes underground, the Consequence of war, a new Sun also rises, GIFing The Scarlet Letter, hugging John Green, staging The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, walking Hammett's San Francisco, win Press 53 books for life(!!)

On today's menu:

1.  The Guardian is rightly critical of the "ludicrous marketing campaign" for the new Haruki Murakami novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: first editions of the novel will include a special sheet of stickers designed by five Japanese illustrators.  This is obviously a move designed to stir the juices of eBay collectors rather than sticker-obsessed youngsters who won't have a clue as to what's going on in Murakami's 400-page novel.  Still, you have to admit those stickers are pretty cool-looking.

2.  My, my, my....this year's shortlist for the PEN Literary Awards is a tasty one.  Though I've only read one of the books on the list, Victoria Wilson's excellent biography of Barbara Stanwyck, many of the others are perched near the top of my To-Be-Read stack: Cowboys and East Indians by Nina McConigley (which I purchased directly from the publisher, Five Chapters), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, Brief Encounters With the Enemy by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Godforsaken Idaho by Shawn Vestal (which has been TBR'ed for way too damn long), Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris, American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon, and The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko.   Congratulations to all the nominees--and well done, PEN!

3.  Another book which has been in my To-Be-Read stack for too damn long (TBR4TDL, my ongoing lament, is going to be the next vanity plate for my vehicle) is Joe Sacco's The Great War, the 24-foot-long graphic novel about the Battle of the Somme.  David Ulin in the L.A. Times reports that a single-panel from The Great War has become a mural in the Montparnasse station of the Paris Metro, stretching 500 feet--almost double the length of the Bayeux Tapestry, which was one of the inspirations behind The Great War, Sacco says.  For those not up on their World War I history, the Battle of the Somme saw more than 20,000 British troops and 10,000 Germans killed on a single day.  Did you catch that?  A single day.  In his book and especially in the 500-foot mural in the Paris subway, Sacco notes, “I wanted to give an idea of the size of the massacre, an idea of the losses and the human suffering.”

4.  Speaking of war, if you haven't subscribed to Consequence, then you're missing out on some first-rate war literature.  (Full disclosure: I had a story published in a previous issue.)  To get a feel for what you might find in the annual journal's pages, let's eavesdrop on this interview with editor Catherine Parnell:
George Kovach founded the magazine in 2009, and he asked me to come on board in the spring of 2010.  We’re a team, co-conspirators, so to speak, working to expose the myths, sentimentality and knee-jerk patriotism associated with the wide spectrum of violence and combat—to not only enrich reality, but to effect change.  CONSEQUENCE’s subject is war and how it affects us at every level of society, in every country in the world.  Our mission statement—to focus on the culture and consequences of war—lends itself to an eyes-wide-open approach.  Initially, we published work that was anti-war, not hippie peacenik, but informed and subjective reflections on battle.  But we’ve grown with every issue, not just in page count, but in terms of considered outrage and range.  Diversity—gender, faith, ethnicity, point of view—is critical to our mission.  We tackle these issues on a national and international scale....Sadly, there’s a wealth of war material available to writers from the battlefields of ancient Greece (Margaret Luongo’s “History of Art”) to the bases in Afghanistan (Tony Schwalm’s “Combat Anthropology”).  As Bob Shacochis (author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, excerpted in Volume 4) said at our panel discussion in April of 2014, “We want peace and yes, we are willing to kill for it.”  I’m not naïve; I understand the algorithm at work, but on a personal level I weep when I read some of our submissions.

5.  Think you know the first line of The Sun Also Rises?  Guess again.  The New York Times reports Hemingway's earlier draft of the novel did not start with “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”

6.  Need a good literary laugh?  (Or, at the very least, a mildly-amused "hmf!")  Check out this mash-up of GIFs and classic literature--like this one for The Scarlet Letter--courtesy of the bemused folks at Ploughshares.

7.  What happens when an excited fan impulsively hugs an author?  You can read about one woman's embarrassing embrace at Reddit's TIFU (Today, I Fucked Up):
I went to see The Book of Mormon Saturday night in Indianapolis. At intermission, I hit the loo, got another beer (a mistake, it seems), and met up with my husband to head back to our seats. Spotted John Green ahead of me. Told my husband who he was and SPRINTED toward him. Realized midway that I didn't really have a plan. What was I going to say when I got there? By the time I formed the thought, it was too late and I was tipsy and excited, so I did the first thing that came to my mind. I said, "I'm sorry, but I have to do this." And hugged him. Him: "That...was very nice of you." Me: "No, that was very nice of YOU." Then I ran away before he had a chance to call security on me.
There's more to the story, including a generous response from John "The Fault In Our Stars" Green himself (posting as thesoundandthefury), so be sure to scroll all the way through the comments.

8.  Word has reached Quivering Pen Headquarters that a Seattle repertory theater is staging a five-hour production of Michael Chabon's 636-page novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  (*swoon*   *thunk*)  Even though Brendan Kiley, writing in The Stranger, gave it a mixed review ("It's a wild story that maintains a cliff-hanging tension, but it doesn't contain any deeply transcendent moments.  As a golem, it's a little more clay than spirit."), I would still pay good money to see it.  If only I had spare change, as well as spare time.  As Kiley writes: "In a recent fit of ambition, Book-It Repertory Theatre decided to adapt this mammoth story for the stage. (The adapter, Jeff Schwager, says Chabon was a good sport about the project—the theater pitched the idea, Chabon said okay and was totally hands-off throughout the process.)  The result is a five-hour saga with 18 actors that maintains the page-turning action of the original and energy that only occasionally flags (mostly in the third of its four acts)."

9.  In The New York Times' travel section, Dan Saltzstein takes us on a tour of Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco:
Perhaps no spot better celebrates the San Francisco-noir association better than a speakeasy-style bar secreted within another speakeasy-style bar — and in the Tenderloin no less. Heading down Jones Street toward O’Farrell, I passed a pane of frosted glass labeled the Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency. With a password, I gained entry to Bourbon and Branch, a dimly lit and bustling cocktail bar. After a quick right through a fake wall, I headed into Wilson and Wilson, a love letter to noir, Prohibition-era drinking and, as the name indicates, the detective trade.

10.  Press 53 is going all Willy Wonka on us.  Pre-order Wendy J. Fox's debut collection of short stories, The Seven Stages of Anger, and inside you might find a lucky Orange Ticket "worth FREE Press 53 books for the life of the ticket holder, beginning with the first book published after The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories.  One copy (signed when available) of every book published by Press 53 (hardcovers and limited editions not included) will be automatically shipped free of charge to the holder of the Press 53 Orange Ticket."  See, those Press 53 marketing gurus are pretty smart: "for the life of the ticket holder."  If I got the Orange Ticket, I'd probably drop dead of a heart attack right on the spot.  But seriously, folks....I think Fox's collection is worth a pre-order.  Check out this praise from Carol Guess, author of Doll Studies: Forensics: “What happens when a still life speaks?  Wendy J. Fox invites us to eavesdrop.  These beautiful, lyrical stories describe ordinary lives: speckled eggshells, creeping vines.  Here’s the threat of fire out east and endless rain when the map meets Seattle.  Here are characters so real you know them already.  They’ve misplaced your keys and borrowed your car.”

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