Yearly Archives: 2006

Friday Column

Friday Column is on holiday break. Happy New Year.

Barnes on Barnes

Julian Barnes on himself in The New Yorker. I ususally don’t like this kind of thing, but Barnes is an exception.

I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him. That’s what
I say when the question is put. I once asked my brother, who has taught
philosophy at Oxford, Geneva, and the Sorbonne, what he thought of such
a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a
single word: “Soppy.”

The person to begin with is my
maternal grandmother, Nellie Louisa Scoltock, née Machin, who was a
schoolteacher in Shropshire until she married my grandfather Bert
Scoltock. Not Bertram, not Albert, just Bert: so christened, so called,
so buried. He was a headmaster with a certain mechanical dash to him: a
motorcycle-and-sidecar man, then the owner of a Lanchester, then, in
retirement, the driver of a rather pompously sportif
Triumph Roadster, with a three-person bench seat in front and two
bucket seats when the top was down. By the time I knew my grandparents,
they had retired and come south to be near their daughter. My
grandmother went to the Women’s Institute: she pickled and bottled; she
plucked and roasted the chickens and geese my grandfather raised. She
was petite, outwardly unopinionated, with the thickened knuckles of old
age; she needed soap to get her wedding ring off. Their wardrobe was
full of home-knitted cardigans, Grandpa’s tending to feature more
masculine cable-stitch. They were of that generation advised by
dentists to have all their teeth out in one go. This was a normal rite
of passage then: from being rickety-gnashered to fully porcelained in
one leap, to all that buccal sliding and clacking, to social
embarrassment and the foaming glass on the bedside table.


Price Wars Hurt Indies

The Guardian looks at the effects of big box price wars on independent bookstores.

The problem, independent booksellers claim, is that publishers accord huge discounts to bulk buyers such as Amazon and Tesco, but not to anything like the same degree to smaller outlets. So a two-tier system is created, where independents charge more for many titles – they cannot compete with the aggressive price wars engaged in by the giants, and risk going to the wall. And, as the supermarkets increase their market share – from 9% of the book market in 2004 to 12% in 2006, according to the Book Marketing Society – the problem looks likely to grow.

While the savings look good for the consumer, the benefits of these price wars may be short-term at best, according to Jonathan Spencer-Payne, who runs the Peak Bookshop. Independents carry a much greater range of titles, he says, so a greater diversity of authors and books are represented, including traditionally hard-to-shift first novels. "We support publishers with other titles, with the backlist," he says. "The feeling in the independent sector is that publishers aren’t thinking about tomorrow. If independent bookshops disappeared, where would they sell the full range of their books? It would be a terrible indictment on society if one or two sellers sold a limited range of books and they basically picked and chose what people read."

Bad News/Good News

The Bad News:

The Siena Research Institute conducted a national survey of 4,125 college freshmen and 215 faculty regarding familiarity with 30 "Great Books" for the third time (after 1997 and 2006) — and finds a continuing decline in what the students have read.

The Good News: the "30 Great Books" were selected by William Bennet.

As the Albany Times-Union blog points out, some of these "books" aren’t exactly books. The complete works fo Shakespeare (including the poems) counts as one book? The Decleration of Independence? (Although, I guess I’m pretty surprised that any American could get through high scholl without reading that at least once.)

Overall, even though this is a list picked by Bill Bennet, this does seem like bad news.

Author Asks Amazon to De-List Him

George Walker, anti-Amazon crusader.

A children’s author has drawn attention to the plight of independent bookshops by demanding that his book be removed from sale on Amazon’s UK website.

George Walker, author of Tales from an Airfield, was horrified to find that his new title was featured on the site without his permission, following good sales in bookshops. "What they are actually doing is getting the independents to do their market research," said Mr Walker, a passionate advocate of independents. "When a book gets a certain amount of attention, they will attempt to stock it and cut the independents out. Not with my book!"

I dunno about this. Stocking books that are doing well in other stores? Sounds like a basic part of the book business to me. Sure, Amazon probably does it, but so do indies. Just common sense.

Not Good


"Publishing is now very much like opening weekend grosses in the movie business, it’s about exploding out of the box and selling as many copies as quickly as possible," says Roger Cooper, Vanguard’s publisher.

A little context is in order. This is from an article on a small publisher (Vanguard), which has become a repository of big name autors (David Morrell and others) hoping to get market traction.

I think the above quote represents a bad trand in publishing, but I’m heartened to see that

Mr. Morrell says he is involved in every step of the marketing at Vanguard, which plans on publishing only one or two books a month for the near future.

Not that I’m all that eager to see authors that involved with marketing, but I think this is far better than the horror stories I’ve read where an author is virtually shut out from everything and ends up watching her book get published with no notice whatsoever.

I also like Vanguard’s very sane approach of 1-2 books per month. I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it: Many publishers publish too many books. I’d rather they get behind a smaller number of titles they really believe in than spray up 100 titles per season and hope a few stick.

Pynchon is the Future

Over at The Valve:

In this post, I grapple with my own search for a successor to a rather embarrassing interest in Tom Robbins, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller—somebody who could complement the problematic works of Hermann Hesse. I am also trying to describe an alternative to the modernist tragedians, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and J. D. Salinger.

I claim to find this alternative, successor, and complement in Thomas Pynchon, because of The Crying of Lot 49. Included here are some close readings of The Crying of Lot 49 that may remind you to open it again at random, or intrigue you into reading it.

Bernhard in New Yorker

Thomas Bernhard’s work is discussed in The New Yroker.

Like Kafka, one of the writers he most admired,
Bernhard composed nearly all his fiction from a single template, a
template already evident in “Frost.” His typical protagonist—often
loosely based on a real-life model, such as Glenn Gould or Ludwig
Wittgenstein—is a genius who is obsessed with an impossible project and
is eventually destroyed by the tension between the desire for
perfection in his work and the knowledge that it is unattainable. In
“Correction” (1975), the scientist Roithamer spends years building a
structure in the shape of a geometrically perfect cone, only to commit
suicide after the project’s completion. Rudolf, in “Concrete” (1982),
has been working for years on a book about Mendelssohn without writing
a word of it.
     Such obsessive themes demand an obsessive
form. In his struggle to depict consciousness in action, Bernhard honed
an exquisite union of structure and idea. His novels take the shape of
extended monologues, which can continue for as long as a hundred pages
without a paragraph break, and which hurtle through every emotion from
the pensive to the hysterical.


Your Holiday Homework, cortesía of The Valve:

Suppose one were to ask the following questions:

• What are the demands made by the novel? (In addition to freedom from tyranny, and the right to innocence, these undoubtedly include passion, exceptionality, and beauty. That is to say that they include what Humbert wants. I am not referring here to the specific symptom of pedophilia.)

• How do Humbert’s crimes satisfy a number of these demands?

• What tools does the novel provide for satisfying these demands differently, without causing harm?

This is the only way to transcend Humbert, something his crimes compel us to do, without erasing or ignoring him.

There’s a lot more where that came from. Not homework, I mean, intersting stuff.

Gargantua and Pantagruel


Lucy Ellmann on one of the most racuous books to come out of the 16th century (or any other, for that atter).

François Rabelais couldn’t get enough of arseholes. When the giant Gargantua is born, the midwives can’t tell at first if his mother’s in labour, or merely evacuating her bowels of the 16 tuns, two gallons and two pints of tripe she’s been eating. Another curious meal includes "fine turds, tweak-nose style", "Athenian rump", "shitlets", "collared bullfarts", "stitched bum-stirrings", "dirty-filths", "puffs-up-my-bum" and, for dessert, "shit drench with blossoming turds". Here are some books in a Rabelais library: On the Art of Discreetly Farting in Company, On How to Defecate, Fundamental Floggings, The Gut-cavities of the Mendicants, Spanish Pongs, Super-refined, The Backgammon of Belly-bumping Friars and Martingale Breeches with Back-flaps for Turd-droppers.

But the arse isn’t all that Rabelais is interested in.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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