The University of Chicago publishes a new book of rarely seen Dorothea Lane photos. Press release, excerpt.


* Quarterly Conversation contributor Lee Rourke on the decline of the British avant-garde

* Paul Verhaughen, whom you’ll all remember as the author of the Pynchonesque work-in-translation Omega Minor, has a blog. I find it amazing that a guy capable of writing this on his blog didn’t get better publicity in the States:

I shoot an email back
asking if I can have the money (4,950 euros, or about $7,500) donated
to Human Rights Watch. Usual pattern: Let me ask, says the lady. It
takes a few months, including a vote, apparently, in some local
parliament, for this to clear. But it does. I’m happy. In the meantime,
I am waiting for the press release – again, I live abroad, so I don’t
get my face on TV, I have no weekly column in De Standaard, I do not do fashion photo shoots for Dag Allemaal or semi-nude lay-outs for Flair,
I am, in other words, not really part of the daily fabric of life of
most Flemings — let’s just say I imagine I could use the publicity.
Nothing happens, so I reckon there must be a reason for this. Then, in
November 2007, and did I mention we are talking the 2006 Prijs voor Letterkunde van de Vlaamse Provincies,
not the 2007 one?, some dude from the province of Oost-Vlaanderen where
I am allegedly born, contacts me about having an actual ceremony. That
must be the reason! It’s a secret! There’s an envelope to be opened
while a drumroll rolls and a fat opera singer belts from the top of her
mighty lungs! Sweet, I say, and can I assume you do pay for an airplane
ticket? Merry laughter bounces off the return email. No, no, no travel
money, what am I thinking?, but, know what?, they’ll hand “it” to me
‘next time I’m back home’. I try to quietly explain that I go back only
rarely, and that shelling out $1,500 dollars for a ticket for me and
sultry S. just to pick up a mysterious “it” isn’t something I can
easily afford, but then Dude says don’t worry just keep me posted.
Which I do. Then it turns out that the weekend when I did go back –
because I was in London anyway – didn’t work and was too short notice
and so sayonara and catch you perhaps next time, compadre? Which, I
quietly explain to aforementioned Dude, is not likely to be anytime
this year? This pisses Dude off, alas; he never bothers to answer that

* The LAT is laying off 150 employees

* The Economist on the winner of the so-called African Booker. Sounds fun:

In Ms Rose-Innes’s prize-winning “Poison”, it is not blood that fills
the atmosphere but a toxic black grit—fallout from an explosion at a
chemical factory that has emptied Cape Town of its inhabitants.
Reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic work of an earlier generation, Nevil
Shute’s “On the Beach” (1957), “Poison” explores a city where there is
no power and no petrol; only birds falling dead “like lumps of some
tarry black precipitate” from a sky thick with “bloody light”.

* The Observer Translation Project. Looks like a promising source for reading works-in-translation on the Web.

* Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle is finally getting published in English

* Don’t buy your Kindle just yet. Word is, the next generation will be available this fall. (And now I realize yet another advantage to owing real books: no upgrading.)


* The August Harper’s has William H. Gass on Henry James. You wanna read, you gotta pay, although I’d recommend against doing so unless you’re interested in hearing Gass comment on the possibility of James being homosexual and the number of British clubs he was a member of. Why Gass wastes his and our time with this nonsense, I have no clue.

* Messud on Louise Erdrich:

Erdrich’s novels are marked not only by their lucid, lyrical prose (she
is a fine stylist, and her sentences are a joy to read), but also by
the digressive complexity of their unfolding, by their refusal to
relinquish the mystery, the oddity, and the idiosyncratic significance
of even apparently minor objects and happenings. Her characters inhabit
a world in which, through storytelling, myth is made not only of grand
tragedy—a family murder and an unjustified lynching, for example, in The Plague of Doves—but
also of an eleven-year-old’s infatuation, or of a courting couple’s
fishing date. No strand is too slight, or proves too colorless, to
leave out of the grand tapestry.

* Moody on Mason & Dixon:

If the action sounds picaresque, that’s because it is. The 450 middle pages of
Mason & Dixon most resemble the great picaresque novels of Fielding
or the metaphysical comedy of Voltaire’s Candide. What makes M&D
modern (besides uncanny similarities between the Enlightenment and the
millennium, besides sly references to contemporary culture — to dope
smoking, to popular music: "’Is it not the very Rhythm of the Engines,
… the Rock of the Oceans, the Roll of the drums in the Night’") is
the tremendous intellection spun into its episodic action: Charles Mason’s
ambition (which is matched only by Dixon’s refusal to be ambitious at all,
except in womanizing, drinking, and fishing) is to understand the invisible
forces behind the physical laws that make up his work during the
Enlightenment. Like
Vineland, in which scarcely a character escapes without being described
as a ghost, and like GR, with its cast of revenants, Mason &
dwells frequently on what is hidden.


The Rest

* The Poetry Postcard Fest. You too can be a part:

Get yourself at least 31 postcards. These can be found at book stores,
thrift shops, online, drug stores, antique shops, museums, gift shops.
(You’ll be amazed at how quickly you become a postcard whore.)

or about July 27th, write an original poem right on a postcard and mail
it to the person on the list below your name. (If you are at the very
bottom, send a card to the name at the top.) For crying out loud WRITE

Starting on August 1st, ideally in response to a card
YOU receive, keep writing a poem a day on a postcard and mailing it to
successive folks on the list until you’ve sent out 31 postcards. . . .

* The Expresso Book Machine: backlist savior or vanity press on the cheap (and right in in your hometown bookstore)?

But the vision of a bookstore as a sort of Kinko’s, or a
bricks-and-mortar version of iUniverse sends shivers down my spine. I
think of bookstores as one of the gatekeepers of culture, not as a
one-stop shop where you can buy Ulysses and print that collection of poems you’ve been putting together.

* Mind maps

* Narrative medicine

* Blogs are being used to teach literature in the classroom

* How is this possible? "While Turks spend an average of five hours a day watching television, they devote only six hours in an entire year to reading."

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Re: Gass (bag) on James
Lord, how I’ve tried.
Cartesian Sonata.
The Tunnel.
In The Heart of the Heart of the Country. Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife.
I feel like I have given Gass more than enough chances.
I just can’t do it anymore.
I know I’m supposed to consider him some kind quality lit genius, but nothing connects with me.
Maybe it’s me.
All I know is that whever I see his name I wince.

I consider Gass one of my absolute favorite writers, even though the only fiction of his I really enjoyed was The Tunnel. But, man, did I enjoy it.

Actually the ‘no upgrades’ issue is a real concern for digital literature. With each transition there will be a certain amount of data lost: a minor issue, relatively speaking, but something to keep in mind.
Platforms are a bigger question mark: standardized languages for content delivery; exclusive vs non-exclusive rights; hacking to release content; viruses designed for specific delivery systems.

I sense fraudulence in Gass’s tone, often. My suspicion is that he is not the real deal, but I haven’t read enough of his fiction to confirm this.
It should be pointed out, though, that Gass was criticizing the James bio author for overemphasizing the issue of sexuality. In that he was just doing the job they paid him for.

Just to be clear, I think Gass is a great writer and a great critic, which is why I don’t see why Harper’s paid him to write about James’s sexuality. I know, I know he was just reviewing the bio . . . well, plenty of critics write about whatever the hell they want when they’re given 5,000 words to talk about a book they didn’t like, and Gass has certainly earned to right to do just that. Wish he had.

The Latin American Mixtape

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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