Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bookplanet: books invade supermarkets

Yep, there's a sale on fresh books in aisle 8.
"The literary center of Sterling, a northern Virginia suburb has all the trappings of a modern bookstore: an espresso machine, comfortable leather chairs and occasional book-signing visits from best-selling authors like Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark. Not to mention fresh vegetables and frozen foods. Supermarkets, long the domain of paperback romances, pulp thrillers and astrology guides, are the new frontier of book selling. Chains like Wegmans, Kroger and Albertsons have greatly expanded their book sections, adapting the techniques that move large amounts of Velveeta and Count Chocula and applying them to Nora Roberts and John Grisham." Read on.
Hey, the more places sell books, the better. They should sell books in restaurants and bars.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Will the poets save us from fascism?

Nice little piece on what's been going wrong in the old US of A. Check it out here. You can even cast a vote. Come on, poet legislators, get your pens out of your books and swing them like swords.

Bookplanet: Arab writer reviews PEN World Voices NYC bash

This festival was booked up by the time I tried to get tickets, but here's a guy from across the ocean reporting on the goings-on. He's a bit rickety on the spelling of writers names, but otherwise nicely informative. (Via Literary Saloon.)
"The most interesting discussion at the New York festival addressed itself to the issue of the power of the written word to affect our lives: 'Does Writing Change Anything?' Most writers in attendance, from Wole Soyinka to Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen to E.L. Doctorow, answered affirmatively with an emphatic yes. Salman Rushdie said in a speech: 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ changed attitudes toward slavery, and Charles Dickens’ portraits of child poverty inspired legal reforms, and J.K. Rowland changed the culture of childhood, making millions of boys and girls look forward to 800-page novels.'

I find this throwaway observation on such a profound issue thin and absurdly unconvincing. Literature is more than just a vehicle for the transformation of 'attitudes' in society, for we leave that to its poor cousin, journalism. Literature is, in and by itself, a humanizing force that, by defining the syntax of our experience, deals with the image of man, with the shape and motive of his conduct. And yet. I wonder, as a person who strings words together for a living, if literate man, where he is heir to great works of culture, does not nevertheless remain vulnerable to bestiality.

In Europe, men read Goethe in the morning, listened to Bach in the evening and went on to their next day’s work at Auschwitz. In Iraq, a country with an enviable civilizational heritage, Iraqis buried their fellow-Iraqis in mass graves in outlying fields and dropped poison gas on them in impoverished Hallabja. In the Holy Land, Israelis, to whom liberal ideas are a building block of their sensibility and traditions as Jews, often rose to welcome that bestiality, when directed against Palestinians, and gave it justification and apologia. 'What are the links, as yet scarcely understood, between the mental, psychological habits of high literacy and the temptations of the inhuman?' George Steiner, the literary critic, asks. 'Does some great boredom and surfeit of abstraction grow up inside literate civilization preparing it for the release of barbarism?'

If the answer is yes, as I suspect it is, then what has been the point — say, for this author, already in his sixties, with several published books and countless papers to his credit — of a lifetime of writing? Why do we have to write, to contend for literacy, to impart ideas, if our work not once has acted as an impediment to oppression and to the degradation of our national soul? Yes, the participants at the New York Festival of International literature all had a great time pontificating, and massaged each other’s intellects, but I wonder if, in the end, it was not all of marginal value. Some kind of frivolous pursuit." Read on here where he also records a standup spat between an American writer and an Iraqi defender of the US war there.

Bibles spread germs

This is the kind of lead to a story that makes my day.
"A hospital in Fredericton has removed bedside Bibles out of fears they might be spreading germs." Read on.
Now if they put copies of Pride and Prejudice in hospitals and hotelrooms instead of Gideon Bibles, I might object. I guess I love literature more than the book of God.

Bookplanet: short stories get short end

A special prize for short stories. Do you read them? I must confess I rarely do; I even skip them in the New Yorker. Bad, bad, bad.
"A sorely endangered species, or at least the female part of it, gets a shot in the arm today from a big-name literary prize. The Orange prize will announce the shortlist for its £10,000 international Orange award for new writers which aims, partly, to boost short stories." More here.
The eminently bonkable Nell Freudenberger is one of the shortlisted writers getting a boost.

Calling all assholes who refuse to call themselves feminists

I saw no point in hating Arab men after 9/11, but this story gets me close.
A Jordanian man shot dead his divorced 31-year-old sister after seeing her photo on his friend's camera-equipped cellphone in the latest honor killing in the kingdom. Then he turned himself in to police saying he committed the murder to 'cleanse his family's honor'. A 27-year-old shepherd, he had begun closely watching his sister after seeing her photograph on his friend's mobile phone. On Monday, he saw the man leaving his sister's house in a refugee camp 90km north of Amman, Jordan's capital. So he grabbed his gun, walked toward his sister and shot her twice in the head, killing her instantly. The woman had one child.
It's the fifth honor killing in Jordan this year. Those found guilty face sentences of up to one year in jail under Jordanian law, but usually get around 6 months. In March, a man stabbed his sister to death after finding out she had agreed to an unofficial marriage with a man who subsequently disappeared. At least 19 women lost their lives in honor killings in Jordan last year.
Maybe instead of hating Arab men, I'll think about hating Islam instead. I already hate Christianity for what it's doing to American men: making them hate women enough to try and take away their choices about having babies, and hating gays enough to stop them from marrying each other. If you're not gay or female, what business is it of yours anyway, you goddam intolerant fundamentalist Christian asshole? Maybe I'll just hate men instead. If I were a billionaire, I'd secretly fund and train a team of Vigilante Women to roam the world and court-martial all honor killers, rapists and wife-beaters. Their sentence? Cut off the men's dicks. Imagine thousands of dickless men walking around. Not very tolerant, I know, but can you think of a more effective deterrent?

Most intriguing paragraph of the year

I'm linking to this story for one reason and one reason alone--this paragraph.
"As a boy growing up near the beach in San Clemente, things always seemed to happen to Mr. Stevens that no one else could imagine, his aunt, Normajean Hinders, recalled: he once was followed home by a seal that simply refused to go back out to sea." More here.
Pretty irresistible, eh?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bookplanet: a map of city's fiction characters

Here's an interesting exercise in fabulous yet necessary frivolity. From the NY Times:
"I propose to create, with the help of the Book Review's readers, a literary map of Manhattan -- not of its authors' haunts but those of their characters, a map of the literary stars' homes. I began thinking about this map years ago while reading Don DeLillo's ''Great Jones Street.'' Bucky Wunderlick gazes out the window of his ''small crowded room'' at the firehouse across the street. I realized: there's only one firehouse on that street and few buildings that contain tiny apartments rather than commercial lofts. I know where Bucky Wunderlick lives. Or would live if he existed. He's got to be at No. 35. Knowing this made walking around the neighborhood like walking through the novel. But I walked without a map. Shouldn't there be a map of imaginary New Yorkers?
It would be a lush literary landscape -- the house on Washington Square where Catherine Sloper waited and yearned, the coffee shops where the characters of Ralph Ellison and Isaac Bashevis Singer quarreled and kibbitzed, the offices where John Cheever's people spent their days, the clubs where Jay McInerney's creatures wasted their nights, the East 70's and Upper West Side avenues where the Glass family bickered (Salinger gives several addresses), downtown where Ishmael wandered the docks." More here.
Maybe some of these characters could run into each other. Lily Bart could have an affair with Jay Gatsby. Damn, that may be a good idea for a novel. Somebody write it quick.

Scribbling about kicked buckets

The 20th Century is dying, because the people who made it are dying.
"These are heady days to be an obituary writer. Ever since Americaís best-known critic, Susan Sontag, died in late December, there's been a startling slew of Important Deaths. The greatest talk-show host, Johnny Carson. The most famous playwright, Arthur Miller. The most gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. The most legendary diplomat, George F. Kennan. The most lavishly celebrated novelist, Saul Bellow. The most career-savvy (and politically reprehensible) architect, Philip Johnson. The most irrelevant monarch, Prince Rainier. Not to mention the most infallible pope--at least until the next one. So many big names have passed away so quickly that people have taken to joking about it. When The Daily Show flashed an image of Fidel Castro honoring John Paul II, Jon Stewart's comment was, 'He's next.' If the new century began for most of us on September 11, 2001, the 20th century may well finally have ended with all these high-profile funerals. One by one, the individuals who defined the last sixty years of American culture have been vanishing from the landscape." More here.
One more name. The most scorching feminist: Andrea Dworkin. Who is a really significant feminist today? I happen to think the inequality of women is far and away the world's #1 issue, but where are the pundits to remind us of this?

Quote of the week

Here's one of the better quotes of the "very concerned about humanity but oblivious to people" variety.
"It is quite interesting how people can be sympathetic to a character in a novel and indifferent to people in life." From an interview here with Arab author Ahdaf Soueif.

Poem of the week

CLAY TABLETS by Vivian Slioa

we threw away
many of our burdens
but have yet
to reach a point 
everything around us
is eavesdropping
on our failure

we tear apart
the vision
its traces
stay in our eyes

there is no eternal
we are all

something binds us
. . .

life is so lucid
but we are

we live
as we are

illusions are countries
our homes

the body is arid
the soul
and thunder

in the mirror
we appear intact
with no cracks

we know our mistakes
the way a clock knows
its numbers

if we cannot convince the grass
to become an orchard
how can we change
our ways?

there is no way out
the locks are unknown
and we are shut

the ghosts will change
their attire
in a few minutes
to play their real roles
on stage

all the rivers
are turned upside down
skeletons lying
on their beds

that's what we are

our eyes

we are so tiny
yet no hole
can take us

we are alike
and dust

neither in light
do we exist
nor in silence

we will run
and will never

(From the author's collection, Atiaan, Damascus 2003. Republished here from Banipal No 18. Translated by Sinan Antoon.)

Monday, April 25, 2005

The DNA of dog shit

Dog shit becomes a deeply scientific matter. From a friend:
"From the motorcycle-mounted poop-sucking vacuum cleaners of Paris to the zero tolerance $1,000 fines of New York, every dog city has come up with its own way of handling the problem. In the eastern German city of Dresden, poop police will soon be using the latest forensic science to do the job of catching dogs whose owners let them poop and run: DNA testing. In the city's center, local advisory committee member Karl Jobig is pushing a plan that would require all of the city's 12,500 dogs to have their DNA collected and analyzed, so that future uncollected leavings could be picked up by the city and checked against a database and their owners fined.
The plan is not yet official, but has received wide support in Dresden, despite the fact that DNA testing is a highly contentious issue in Germany, and some pet advocates have raised concerns about animal rights infringement. Germany recently banned a controversial practice that enables fathers not convinced of their children's legitimacy to secretly subject both child and mother to DNA testing. Officials in the state of Saxony, however, says that taking dog DNA wouldn't trample dogs' rights regarding their personal information, because they don't have any such rights to begin with."
Call in the Canine Civil Liberties Union.

Dear Oprah Winfrey,

We writers want to say thank you.
When you established The Oprah Winfrey Book Club in 1996, you did something very bold, something that no one else has done. You declared that every person--anyone who could turn on a TV set--could be part of the literary world and enjoy it. You declared that anyone could like good books.
Your Book Club brought contemporary novels to eager readers, and your show gave the audience a way to look at the issues that literature addresses. You led many people to read fiction who might not have done so otherwise. You expanded people's sense of what they dared to read, and you added depth and diversity to America's reading list. You encouraged people to tackle difficult contemporary novels, like The Reader, and Song of Solomon and Breath, Eyes, Memory. Throughout the country, people from all walks of life came together to talk about books, thus finding their way into the long and distinguished tradition of literary discussion.

But there's something more we want to say.  
In the publishing world, there's a widely-held belief that the landscape of literary fiction is now a gloomy place. The terrorist attacks of September, 2001 are often cited as the beginning of a great downward shift. After that, we've been told, fiction sales flattened. After that, we've been told, the American public lost its taste for literary fiction.
However, the writer M. J. Rose, a novelist and long-time reporter on publishing news, has noticed something different. Her research suggests that the drastic downward shift actually happened six months after the attacks: fiction sales really began to plummet when the The Oprah Winfrey Book Club went off the air. When you stopped featuring contemporary authors on your program, Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face of American publishing. This phenomenon was a testament to the quality of your programs, the scope of your influence, and the amazing credibility you possess among loyal Book Club readers.
Sales figures, in the context of the literary market, do not merely reflect profits; they are an indicator of literacy as well. A country in which ordinary people flock to bookstores to buy the latest talked-about work of fiction is a vibrantly literate country. Every month your show sent hundreds of thousands of people (mostly women, who are the largest group of literary fiction readers) into bookstores. The contemporary books you chose sold between 650,000 and 1,200,000 copies apiece. Each Oprah selection gave readers a title to investigate and a subject to explore. Importantly, your Book Club also gave readers a chance to see these authors on the air and to hear their words. Not only books but the writers themselves became accessible to everyone, inviting all readers into the community of literature.

Few people have taken advantage of the extravagant scope and power of television to do good. But you have. From the start, you used your role in the media to encourage literacy, thought and intellectual curiosity. You made yourself a champion of contemporary fiction. You tempted publishers to take chances on new writers, for whom you became a beacon of hope. First novelists and literary authors felt emboldened to write because of the outside chance that an editor would see their work as potential Book Club material. You dared to take contemporary literary fiction seriously, and your daring enabled a new generation of writers to appear.
For all of this, Oprah Winfrey, we are immensely grateful. We'd like to thank you for welcoming readers into the world of the literary imagination. We'd like to thank you for being an advocate of Great Books such as East of Eden, Anna Karenina and One Hundred Years of Solitude. We'd like to thank you for bringing an array of contemporary writers--first novelists and prizewinners, famous or little known--face-to-face with their readers. 
We'd also like to make a request: We'd like to ask that you consider focusing, once again, on contemporary writers in your Book Club. 
The American literary landscape is in distress. Sales of contemporary fiction are still falling, and so are the numbers of people who are reading. Readers complain that, although daunting numbers of new books are published, too few of them are brought to the public's attention in a meaningful way. Readers have trouble finding contemporary books they'll like. They, the readers, need you. And we, the writers, need you. America needs a strong voice that addresses everyone who can read, a voice that will say, "Let's explore the books that are coming out today. Let's see what moves us, what delights us, what speaks to us in a way that only fiction does."

Oprah Winfrey, we wish you'd come back.
With best wishes,
Word of Mouth, An Association of Women Authors          

Bookplanet: if Amy can, so can you

Why would someone with a sure-fire best-seller on her hands self-publish instead of going to a real publisher? Amy Fisher just did. All you would-be authors, it might be worth looking into. Self-publishing is different from vanity publishing if you make a business of it. But remember one thing: you have to own your own ISBN number. Apparently that's important; I guess you get more royalties that way.
"When Amy Fisher finished writing her memoir about shooting her lover's wife, she told her agent not to send the manuscript to New York publishers. Instead, Fisher, who made headlines in 1992 as the 17-year-old 'Long Island Lolita,' turned to iUniverse in Lincoln, Neb. The company charges authors several hundred dollars to convert a manuscript into a book and make it available for sale online. Fisher's 'If I Knew Then,' which came out in September, is probably the first sure-fire success to start out under the imprint of a so-called self-publishing company." More here.

Bookplanet: Major poet I hadn't heard of

Jeez. The amount one has to read to know what's going on in the world. Here's this poetry superstar, and this is the first I've heard about her. Ignorant, ignorant, ignorant.
"Jorie Graham's work combines two qualities not generally found together -- first, it's often sumptuously ''poetic'' (''in a scintillant fold the fabric of the daylight bending''); second, it's ostentatiously thinky (typical titles: ''Notes on the Reality of the Self,'' ''What Is Called Thinking,'' ''Relativity: A Quartet''). The former quality appeals to lovers of operatic lyricism; the latter quality not only pleases certain parts of poetry's largely academic audience, but it soothes the art form's nagging status anxiety (anything involving this much Heidegger must be important). When Graham writes well, her rich, quirky phrasing complements her penchant for abstraction. ''I Watched a Snake,'' for instance, is filled with airy poeticisms like ''a mending / of the visible / by the invisible,'' but it's also a pretty good poem about looking at a snake." More here.
I'm going to have to check her out.

Bookplanet: it took Bellow 20 years

Have faith, you writers. It took Saul Bellow 20 years to be financially secure. From the NY Times:
"BELLOW'S BREAKTHROUGH: Saul Bellow, who died earlier this month at 89, won the Nobel Prize, three National Book Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, yet he was no stranger to the Times best-seller list. For a stretch of almost 30 years -- from the publication of Henderson the Rain King in 1959 through the release of More Die of Heartbreak in 1987 -- nearly everything Bellow wrote appeared for two months or so on the hardcover fiction or nonfiction list. It took the public time to pick up on Bellow's busy, rueful, comic charms. None of his first four novels--Dangling Man (1944), The Victim (1947), The Adventures of Augie March (1953) or Seize the Day (1956)--made this page. Bellow's real breakthrough came in 1964 with Herzog, a novel about a failed academic whose wife leaves him for his best friend. The book was praised on the cover of the Book Review and held on at No. 1 for more than seven months. (The book it bumped out of the top slot: John le Carre's Spy Who Came In From the Cold.) Twenty years after the publication of his first novel, Bellow was financially secure. In his biography of Bellow, James Atlas writes that female readers were particularly taken with Herzog, and with its dashing author. Women would write to him, Bellow said in a television interview, 'to ask me how they should behave with intellectuals, for recipes of dishes mentioned in the book. They make me feel like an editor of Vogue.'"
Women read books many more than men. I wonder why. Are they intellectually more curious?

Bookplanet: Foer's wife's book better reviewed than his

Jonathan Safran Foer's 2nd novel is out, and so is his wife's, Nicole Krauss. Already comparisons are odious. She gets a rave (he got a squelch).
"'There are two types of people in the world," one of Nicole Krauss's characters in 'The History of Love' decides, 'those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone.' There are also two kinds of writers given to the verbal tangents and cartwheels and curlicues that adorn Ms. Krauss's vertiginously exciting second novel: those whose pyrotechnics lead somewhere and those who are merely showing off. While there are times when Ms. Krauss's gamesmanship risks overpowering her larger purpose, her book's resolution pulls everything that precedes it into sharp focus. It has been headed for this moment of truth all along."
Already I want to read hers, and I know I don't want to read his. Wonder how negative and positive reviews affect the couple relationship.

Bookplanet: Read this guy, he needs you

A very touching story in the NY Times about a writer who's real good but largely unread. Hey, do something. Buy, or at least, one of his books. He sounds damn good.
"Mr. Stern, 58, has been publishing short stories and novels for almost a quarter century. He has received critical praise in the places that matter, won his share of prizes and is devoted to his work. But he remains largely unknown to readers at a time when even the most gifted writer, if he does not sell well, may have difficulty finding a publisher for his next book. And Mr. Stern is not alone; there are a number of talented contemporaries - Richard Bausch, Cris Mazza, Steve Katz and David Markson, for example - who have yet to find a wide readership." More here.
Maybe these other names are worth checking out, too.

Bookplanet: Mailer's papers weigh 20,000 pounds

I have a small storage space full of canvases, papers, and recorded songs on those old two-inch thick reels. Digitized, they'd fit on a couple of CDs. In the future, writers won't leave papers for scholars to pore over, they'll leave CDs to click around in. And then there's Norman Mailer, whose Mom stored his stuff:
"For more than five decades, Norman Mailer has been analyzing, prodding and assaulting American culture, not only in his many books, articles and screenplays but also in about 25,000 letters, all saved as carbon copies and on computer disks. And beginning in Mr. Mailer's earliest years as a writer, his mother, Fannie, relentlessly squirreled away his notebooks, family photographs, canceled checks, sales receipts and even his dogs' identification tags. 'She was formidable when it came to compiling scrapbooks,' Mr. Mailer's authorized biographer, Dr. Robert Lucid, said in a phone interview. 'Her view was anything that emanated from Norman had value.'
Always trust a mother's instincts: on Thursday, Mr. Mailer will be in Austin, Tex., to announce the sale of his archives to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas for $2.5 million. Stored in nearly 500 boxes weighing more than 20,000 pounds, the trove includes all manner of Mailerabilia dating back to his childhood and especially his early years at Harvard (class of '43), where he majored in aeronautical engineering and wrote an unpublished novel, "No Percentage.""
500 boxes, 20,000 pounds!? How much does your life weigh?

I apologize

I've been a little negligent with the links, owing to revisions on my novel, away for weekend, etc. Sorry: should've issued a warning, like Maud Newton does when she has to go to the dentist instead of blog. Will remedy the situation.

The uber-blog is coming

Would you like to read a celebrity blog where famous people comment on everything?
"Arianna Huffington, the columnist and onetime candidate for governor of California, is about to move blogging from the realm of the anonymous individual to the realm of the celebrity collective. She has lined up more than 250 of what she calls 'the most creative minds' in the country to write a group blog that will range over topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion. It is essentially a nonstop virtual talk show that will be part of a Web site that will also serve up breaking news around the clock. It is to be introduced May 9." More here.
This might be great thing. Arianna herself is quite a witty writer. So far she's got Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer and Mortimer B. Zuckerman. Hmm. Imagine a blog with Billy Collins, Philip Roth, John Cleese, Dan Savage, Dave Barry, and Suzie Bright. Now that would be my favorite blog. Who would you like to see on your favorite blog?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Americaca: the bullies of Bushworld

Why on earth did the Bush administration nominate John Bolton for the job of top U.S. diplomat at the United Nations?

He’s no diplomat, that’s for sure. One official summed him up perfectly as “the quintessential kiss-up kick-down guy.” And that’s why they wanted Bolton. They’re still sore at the U.N. They want to bully them.

More important, the Bush administration actually likes bullies. Why? Because they’re bullies themselves.

The minute bully number one, Cheney, made himself Vice-President, the bully fix was in. Cheney is the perfect backroom bully: a paranoid warrior from the cold war days, when the world was ruled by the two biggest bullies in the schoolyard, Russia and America. Cheney is so paranoid and sore at the world, he wanted Mandela to stay in jail.

President Bush, the man who had said the U.S. should be humble in its international posture, was soon brought on board and bully-schooled. Let’s face it, the only reason Bush said the U.S. should be humble, was because he was clueless at the time. Heck, he’d only been out of the US once before, back when his father was the Chinese ambassador. It’s quite understandable and proper to say you should be humble when you're ignorant.

Big question: why did the Bush administration squander the goodwill and worldwide sympathy that 9/11 gave us? Because it brought out the bully in them, of which they have plenty, instead of the moral leadership, of which they have none.

For a start, they’re morality-challenged. They lie to get their way. When they wanted to go to war with Iraq, they bullied U.S. intelligence to supply them with the information they needed to pick a fight with Saddam Hussein. Then, when this intelligence proved to be faulty, did they say sorry? No, like true bullies, they blamed their victim, U.S. intelligence, for providing them with faulty intelligence, when all the poor bastards did was try to give them the intelligence they demanded.

The fact that the Bush administration squandered all our 9/11 goodwill has become such a mantra that nobody has ever explored what might have been.

Say we had leaders capable of moral leadership. Say we had Nelson Mandela. Heck, let’s lower our sights. Say Colin Powell was driving our foreign policy instead of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Bush. (Unlike those four, Powell is not a bully, which is why he stood out like a sore thumb in the Bush administration.)

Or say we had Gore. Would he have been able to seize his Mandela moment? Or would he have turned into a bully like Bush? Gore has actually shown true moral leadership, over the environment. Bush’s moral leadership goes no further than cutting taxes for his rich cronies. Clinton, on the other hand, might’ve faltered; he’s essentially a good-hearted opportunist bullshitter. Today our truest Clinton type is, strangely enough, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- the best candidate for president the Republicans have. (We shall see if Bill Frist allows his party to change the law that forbids a foreign-born to run for President, or stops it so he can have the field to himself.)

A man capable of moral leadership like Gore might have said right after 9/11: we will find the people who did this, and we will punish them. But this is also a wake-up call. We need some self-examination. We must ask ourselves why we’ve backed so many dictatorships, and whether this has really been in our own best interest, let alone in the interest of the people suffering under those dictatorships. We have here a battle between those who stand for freedom and those who want to impose their will violently on others.

See the difference? Instead of framing it as a battle between good and evil, like Bush did, reframe it as a battle between freedom and dictatorship, and honestly self-critique our backing of dictatorships. If we had done this, the world would’ve gladly lauded us as its moral leader. We might not have needed a war to bring Saddam down; we might’ve done it by isolating him morally.

It’s rather funny that, after running out of other reasons to invade Iraq, Bush finally found a moral reason: bringing them freedom. He bullied Saddam out of existence all right, but he couldn’t bully Iraq into becoming a U.S. military base ruled by our oil companies. Al Sistani stopped him with a great march of his people to demand elections. Cheney’s plan of installing Ahmed Chalabi as our puppet was foiled by the very Shiites who were betrayed by Bush’s father.

So, after 9/11, with bullies in charge instead of moral leaders, it was easy for us to become the bullies of the world. We avoided the fights that were worth fighting – against the Saudis and Israel’s Sharon. Bullies don’t like to pick fights with strong opponents. We bullied the weak ones: Pakistan and Iraq. Musharraf folded like the bully he is. Saddam didn’t, so we crushed him, which was what Cheney wanted to do all along. Bush the elder stopped him, but Bush the younger couldn’t.

Bullies get sore when they can’t get their way, so we got very sore at France and Germany. But what did we expect? The French are master bullies. They’ve got a bigger bully role model than we’ll ever have in Napoleon. As for Germany’s Schroder, he found our bullying quite useful. He was going to lose his re-election as Chancellor until he ran against it.

Bullies not only get sore, they stay sore. That’s why the Bush administration wants to sic Bolton on the U.N. Will they succeed? Let’s hope not. Otherwise there’ll be no end to the bullying. Already another arch bully, Tom DeLay, is trying to bully our judiciary. Nobody ever tried that before, but the bullies of Bushworld have emboldened all bullies.

Where are the Democrats in all this? Cowed. In the election, Karl Rowe told the country it needed a strong leader against the terrorists. The Republicans are meaner than Democrats; they make better bullies. True. So they won.

Only one Democrat has had the guts to stand up to the bullies: Howard Dean. Unfortunately, Kerry only learned Dean’s lesson halfway. Instead of blasting the Republicans at the Democratic Convention, he decided to fight clean. Not the best way to confront a bully. The Republicans buried him with the Swift boat veterans smear. But Dean refuses to give up. A smart man, he got himself elected party leader to teach his party how to fight.

It’s something all Democrats should realize: they, and our country, are up against bullies. As a nation, the biggest question of self-examination we need to ask ourselves is this: how do we want to run the world – as bullies or moral leaders?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Serial novel ALL THE PEOPLE YOU CAN EAT Chapter 17. Tiara sucks up an apology

Tiara pursued the marinated Portabello mushrooms on her plate with a silver fork as she cradled the phone. She was lying on gilded silk sheets in her big Egyptian bed, propped up against giant pillows of Moravian lace. One resculpted breast peeked over the off-pink frills of her night-dress by John Galliano for Dior.

“Read it to me, Spriggy.”

“First the headline says, ‘DOMINO PITCHES GOAT AT TIARA.’
Click here to read on.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Where does 420 come from?

You won't find 420 in the dictionary, but at Blogcritics there are some theories about this code-word's origin. Inhale here.

Ann Coulter fucks Noam Chomsky

Down on your liberal knees, prof, and suck my conservative pussy!
You're not woman enough for my liberal principles!
You're not man enough for my Dem-busting clit!
I'll butt-fuck your Republican ass!
Before you stick your progressive prick up my cool elephant ass, you have to eat my Reaganite pussy!
Squeeze your tits together, so I can rim an anti-establishment come necklace round your right-wing neck!
Tickle my patriotic clit with your lying Commie tongue first!
Suck my liberal cock, you troglodyte tax-breaks-for-the-rich bash-the-poor whore!
I won't suck pinko dick until you nibble my fierce flame-throwing liberal-scorching clit!
One butt-fuck from me and you'll change your mind about liberals!
Not until you lick my Bush-bred Saddam Hussein-crushing pussy!
Is your pussy hair blond?
You bet your traitor's candy-ass!
I'll butt-fuck you like I've butt-fucked every Secretary of State since the Civil War!
My pussy will swallow all your words of slander and spit you out like the America-hating scumbucket you are!
I'll butt-fuck some liberal reason into your Third World-exploiting Iraqi children-killing ass!
Stick your blue-state tongue in my pussy--my clit will be the first patriotic thing your French tongue has ever licked!

To be continued.

Europeans despise religion

Anne Applegate on religion in Europe: 'It's not that Europeans think the church is out of touch or backward, but that they--or rather an influential group of intellectuals and politicians--heartily despise everything about it. Some of this was visible yesterday. Within hours of the Pope's election a BBC profile had already speculated that he had honed his rhetorical skills in Nazi Germany (he deserted the Wehrmacht at age 15) while some on the German left were describing his election as a "catastrophe." The Catholic scholar George Weigel calls this phenomenon "Christophobia" (a phrase he borrowed from J.H.H. Weiler, who happens to be Jewish). Weigel began investigating the phenomenon after being struck by the European Union's fierce resistance to any mention of the continent's Christian origins in the draft versions of the new, and still unratified, European constitution. In his recent book, "The Cube and the Cathedral," Weigel lists the many sources of this very powerful, very profound and very European--as opposed to American--antipathy. He cites, among other sources, the experience of the Holocaust, which many European intellectuals concluded was the logical outcome of Christian bigotry through the centuries; the disappointment still felt among European leftists over the collapse of European communism, which many "blame" in part on the church; the legacy of the 1968 rebellions, which, there as here, opposed traditional authority of all kinds; and Europeans' tendency to associate the church with the "right" in general and Christian Democratic political parties in particular. To this I would add one more: Europe's present associations of "religiosity" with "America," and in particular with George W. Bush, who still scores reliably high negatives in opinion polls across the continent.' More.

Bookplanet: Village Voice on litblogs

The Village Voice asks: 'Could cyberspace be the novel's best friend? Litblogs take off--and grow up.' And then they say:
'The media have spent so much time gnashing their teeth over the influence of political bloggers that barely anyone has noticed something equally convulsive happening in the book realm. Despite the on-going panic about a contraction in both the audience for serious literature and the amount of mainstream print coverage books receive, literary conversation is erupting all over the Internet in the form of litblogs. Multiplying like the tribbles on Star Trek, these online journals suggest that reading is far from a dying pastime.' More here. Hey, we're one of these litblogs ourselves, though we're not famous yet. Give us a year or two.

Bookplanet: 1m free copies of Don Quixote

The Venezuelan government has printed one million free copies of Don Quixote to mark the book's 400th anniversary. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on everyone to "feed ourselves once again with that spirit of a fighter who went out to undo injustices and fix the world. To some extent, we are followers of Quixote," he told viewers of his Hello President TV show. The Venezuelan edition contains a prologue written by Portuguese Nobel literature laureate Jose Saramago. The free copies will be handed out in public squares this weekend.
Don Quixote is the 2nd most published book in the world, after the Bible. It recently beat Shakespeare and Tolstoy to be named the best work of fiction in a survey of leading writers from across the world. Spain has been leading the celebrations of one of its most famous books, with new editions printed along with readings and seminars.
Hey, Laura Bush! How about printing 1m free copies of The Great Gatsby? And Tony Blair! How about 1m free copies of Pride and Prejudice? How can you let little old Venezuela be more literary than you?

Overweight people live longer

'People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today. The researchers--statisticians and epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--also found that increased risk of death from obesity was seen for the most part in the extremely obese, a group constituting only 8% of Americans. And being very thin, even though the thinness was longstanding and unlikely to stem from disease, caused a slight increase in the risk of death. The new study used the federal government's own weight categories, which define fatness and thinness according to a "body mass index" correlating weight to height, regardless of sex. For example, 5-foot-8 people weighing less than 122 pounds are underweight. If they weighed 122 to 164 pounds, their weight would be normal. They would be overweight at 165 to 196, obese at 197 to 229, and extremely obese at 230 or over.' More here. In related news, Yale Professor Craphogger has shown that because people who eat too much have larger bowel movements, they "make love with greater vigor, because their stronger anal musculature occasions more robust pelvic thrusts."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Americaca: why is Jacko so wacko?

Whether Michael Jackson is a pedophile or not, he sure is weird. Why? I posted my anti-Catholic rant 'To hell with the Pope' on blogcritics (check them out), and got a number of responses, and one of them pointed out that the reason Michael Jackson is so weird is that he was once a Jehovah's Witness. Apparently, these Witness folks breed very strange people. I wonder why this line of thought about MJ's weirdness hasn't had more play in the media.

Bookplanet: art ain't there to console us

Here's a book review quoted in full. I quote it in full because it beautifully expresses one of my pet peeves. I don't like anyone looking to art for consolation, and I detest those who create art for consolation. Art should disturb rather than console; we have our friends and family for consolation. That's why I prefer Ingmar Bergman to all other film-makers including Woody Allen, and why I think Woody Allen prefers Bergman to himself. It's why I prefer Tennessee Williams to Neil Simon, and Nabokov to McEwan. This piece by Steve Almond tells it like it is.

Why Jonathan Safran Foer's ballyhooed new novel is cause for despair -- a MobyLives guest column by Steve Almond

I was first told about Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel six months ago, by a publicity person at Houghton Mifflin, who spoke of the book in terms generally reserved for religious revelations and personal audiences with Oprah Winfrey.
I had read the excerpt of Safran Foer's first novel in the New Yorker and found it sad, funny, a little on the shticky side, but basically kickass.
A few months later, coincidentally, the Boston Globe asked me to review Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (ELIC).
Not a hundred pages in, I began to feel a sense of dread. I found the book profoundly disappointing, and I wasn't sure how to express this without sounding mean. I wound up praising Foer where I could (his prose can be lovely, his use of plot deft) while also noting that ELIC is, in essence, a melodrama, one that seeks to dazzle and sooth its readers, rather than placing them in any real emotional danger.
As it turned out, my review was relatively mild. Writing for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani deemed the book "mannered and irritating," while Walter Kirn, writing for the NYTBR, declared it a "triumph of human cuteness over human suffering." Kirn offered an especially blistering indictment of Foer's extra–textual flourishes, and dismissed Oskar Schell, the nine–year–old narrator of ELIC as "reminiscent ... of those annoying child guests on late–night talk shows."
Oddly, these reviews only intensified my dread. Because what really troubled me about the book was not that I found it disappointing, but my sense that a great many people would read ELIC and — like the flak who first hipped me to the book — be genuinely moved.
And so it has come to pass.
Despite the savage reviews (in part because of them) a great number of critics and readers have hailed ELIC as a masterpiece. In fact, I can think of no recent book that has served as such a pure litmus test of literary sensibility.
Part of this has to do with Safran Foer's unique role in our beleaguered reading culture — that he's so young, that he's received so much acclaim and money, all that crap–headed writer envy. But the real issue is the book itself, and the wildly divergent feelings it has elicited.
Honestly, I don't quite know what to say to people when they tell me they loved ELIC. A part of me (the well–behaved, slightly fraudulent part) wants to say: Well, that's great! To be moved by a book, particularly in this era of screen addiction, is a net positive. The other part of me wants to say: How could you fall for such well–meaning dreck?
But how can you tell someone that their emotional reaction to something is fundamentally bogus, that they got played?
Initially, the dynamic called to mind my reaction when friends tell me how much they loved Hollywood's latest weepy. But then again, Hollywood is in the business of making commerce, not art. We head into the multiplex willing to be played.
The more I thought about it, the more I was reminded of our current political dichotomy. The critics who have chided Safran Foer (myself included) sound a lot like the blue–state pundits. No matter how eloquently we state the argument, we're basically telling people they're unsophisticated (read: stupid) if they dug ELIC.
And those people — as a quick survey of the Amazon reader reviews will reveal — know that they're being talked down to. Indeed, our snobbery only reaffirms their devotion. (A typical assessment: "I usually don't do reviews on Amazon, but I found it necessary for this book, because I've been reading many negative reviews in newspapers and literary magazines and all those sorts of places...")
But devotion isn't even a strong enough word in this case, because true fans view ELIC as more than a novel. It is an act of heroism. They claim reading the book is an important way of working through their feelings about 9/11.
Here is where I simply lose faith in my powers of tolerance.
Because the real charge derived from reading ELIC is the chance to re–experience the melodrama of 9/11, those bracing weeks when we all stood transfixed by the tape loops and slapped brave bumper stickers on our cars and pretended that we had suffered something profound, when all most of us had suffered was the vicarious thrill of a genuine televised catastrophe. Rather than leaving the mourning to the families who lost loved ones, or who were directly affected by the attack, we claimed their tragedy as ours. We weren't interested in examining why our country had become the object of such murderous derision. Instead, we staged a national pity party. I couldn't help but read Oskar as the perfect stand–in for the American mindset: a glib, self–dramatizing child defined by his victimhood and a plucky determination to endure.
ELIC isn't a response to 9/11, in other words, but a reflection of the event. Foer isn't interested in understanding why terrorists attacked America. (Could their murderous evil be a response to certain evils within us?) He isn't interested in plumbing the pathologies that the attack unleashed — which, to date, have included two wars, along with a heightened national climate of fear and hate. He isn't even interested in representing the emotional severity of losing a parent in a public tragedy, at least not for more than a sentence or two at a time. Instead, his young hero wanders the streets of New York without fear of harm, charms the pants off everyone he meets, and awakens old men from emotional atrophy. His own redemption is never in doubt. The book is ultimately a wish fantasy borne of the sorrows of 9/11. It peddles the seductive notion that our best response to those attacks need be no more mature than a childish wish that evil be banished from our magic kingdom.
The reverential reaction to ELIC is, in this sense, a gauge of how habituated we've become to having our emotions manipulated. To put it more prosaically: Our bullshit detectors are broken. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that most people in this country don't really want what art has to offer — they'd prefer bathos draped in the self–ennobling finery of art.
We don't want to face a world in which the murder of a father might destroy a kid, let alone a kid who hates his dad and wishes he were dead. Faced with the moral complexities of modern consciousness, we have opted for narratives of false actualization.
I recognize how snotty and judgmental all this sounds, but I don't know how else to say it. True art asks us to face truths we don't want to face, to feel things we don't want to feel. It asks us to suffer the unbearable parts of ourselves. Rooting for a loveable kid we know is going to come through okay doesn't qualify.
It would be fair to ask, then, what does qualify. Let's start with The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, which is also narrated by a child named Oskar. (Foer named his hero as an homage.) The boy in Grass's novel, however, is disfigured by the evil he witnesses, both in the physical and moral sense. Grass makes no attempt to prettify his hero. He is a damaged soul adrift in the mire of Nazism, whose only redemption is his ability to discern the truth of his situation.
The second example, ironically, was published just a few months before ELIC, by the same publisher. Phillip Roth's The Plot Against America is narrated by nine–year–old Phillip Roth. It is an historical re–creation in which Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940, defeating FDR by running on an anti–war platform. Once in office, he begins to institute a series of ominous anti–Semitic measures.
The book is really about what happens when the weight of history comes crashing down on family loyalties. The young Roth loves his parents, but is ashamed of them. He is disgusted by his cousin's war wounds. And, thanks to a distinctly childish brand of cruelty, he plays a direct role in the murder of his neighbor.
The crumbling of the boy's world is recorded without stooping to sentiment, or retreating into intellectualism. Indeed, the central tragedy of the novel is the manner in which the iniquity of the world infects the boy. It is also worth noting that The Plot — though based on fictionalized events — attempts to grapple with the proto–fascist aspects of the American spirit, specifically the ways in which fear and rage transmute themselves into senseless killing.
To read either of these novels is to recognize, at once, the profound sorrow of our historical circumstance. This is the whole point of art: to confront the heartbreak of this world without the reassuring promise of repair.
(Steve Almond is the author of The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories. Excerpts are available at

Bookplanet: man, dog and woman

"We" by C.K. Williams (via Slate where you can hear the poet read)

A basset-hound with balls
so heavy they hang
a harrowing half-
inch from the pavement,

ears cocked, accusingly
watches as his beautiful
mistress croons
to her silver cell-phone.

She does, yes, go on,
but my, so slim-
does she sway there,

so engrossedly does her dark
gaze drift
towards even
for a moment mine …

Though Mister Dog of course
sits down right
then to lick
himself, his groin of course,

till she cuts off, and he,
gathering his folds
and flab, heaves
erect to leave with her …

But wait, she's turning to
a great Ducati
cycle gleaming
black and chromy at the curb,

She's mounting it, (that long
strong lift of flank!)
snorting it to life,
coaxing it in gear …

Why, she's not his at all!
No more than mine!
What was he thinking?
What was I? Like a wing,

a wave, she banks away
now, down-shifts,
pops and crackles
round the curve, is gone.

How sleek she was, though;
how scrufty, how
anciently scabby
we, he and I;

how worn, how
balls and all,
balls, balls and all.

Americaca: now pharmacies go anti-abortion

The abortion debate has now moved from the courts and political discussion to the pharmacies. There are people who run pharmacies who are refusing to dispense the morning-after pill (Plan B) for reasons of conscience. In other words, if you're a woman with a prescription from a doctor for this pill, you may have to run from pharmacy to pharmacy the morning after to get your prescription filled, at a time when time is of the essence. This pill is most effective when taken immediately, although it is said to be effective up to three to five days after intercourse.
'The reason the morning-after pill has touched off such debate hinges on the way each side sees the drug, which is also known as Plan B or the emergency contraceptive pill. Abortion rights advocates and most physicians say the pill, unlike the French drug RU-486, is not an abortion drug because it does not destroy an embryo. Instead, the pill prevents ovulation or fertilization, or blocks a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the uterus. Advocates also argue that the pill will lead to fewer abortions. "This is one of the safest medicines we have available, and it can prevent unplanned pregnancies," said Dr. Karen Lifford, the medical director of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, who testified at a public hearing last week on a bill being considered by the Massachusetts legislature. "We're trying to reduce the number of pregnancies and abortions, and people of different religious views can agree that this is a good thing to do." But many abortion opponents believe the morning-after pill ends a human life and is therefore tantamount to abortion. More here.

Serial novel JESUSLAND, chapter 12

(Our serial novel set in a U.S. that's become a theocracy, continues. If you want to catch up, click here and look under 'Previous Posts.' Chapters are short, you'll catch up quick.)

I must steel myself for the fight of love, thought Eve. It’s all very well to discard my bra, but underneath its absence I must strap on a hard metal of the mind to protect myself. I must wear body armor forged of the most impenetrable wariness.

Just look what was happening to her best friend in the world of men. Rachel had fallen in love with a man, who promised her marriage. So Rachel had slept with Simon, which was admittedly against the protocols of the Bureau of Behavior Management under the Dating Contract that Rachel had signed with him.

But then, when Rachel had fallen pregnant, and it was Simon’s bounden duty to marry her, he had left her for a granddaughter of Pat Robertson, because this marriage would be advantageous to his own career as an evangelist, even though there were all those rumors about her grandfather’s penis. To read on, click here.

Bookplanet: Writers don't retire, why should anyone?

I'm a writer, and I hope to continue writing until the day I die. I can't think of a single reason why anyone would want to retire, unless you like playing golf more than you like your work. The idea of retirement as some golden age of leisure after a lifetime of struggle is bull. Retirement is not a reward, it's a death sentence, a preparation for death, a surrender to infirmity, not a life reward. The Pope thought about retiring, but he stayed on the job, even though he was suffering from Parkinsons. I wonder if I will die in the middle of writing a book, or if I will be able to time it perfectly, so I die on the day I do my last rewrite.
If your job is something you're looking forward to retiring from, why are you doing it? You should be doing something you want to keep on doing until you pop off. Retirement is a stealth technique of youth to get valuable old people out of the way. Listen, if you're too old to be the CEO, because they need great energy, that doesn't make you too old to be a valuable advisor to the CEO. Old people could keep on doing their jobs as advisors to those taking those jobs over if they don't have the energy to give it their all anymore. There's something ghoulish about sending old people off to pasture like old horses. If I ran a company, I would keep my old people on, perhaps at a cut in pay, and for shorter hours. Why cut them off when they're at their most experienced?
My advice to you is if you want to retire, get yourself another job: one you like so much you don't want to retire from it. If the Pope, and Prince Ranier, and the Queen of England can keep their jobs until the end of their lives, so should the rest of us. If you read any book on retirement, it sounds like preparing for a new job, anyway. In The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, the authors, Cullinane and Fitzgerald, say that the 80m baby boomers due to retire over the next couple of decades face a daunting array of options and decisions related to work, money, health care, lifestyle and more. They offer a comprehensive guide to navigating this complex maze, including the stories of real people who have made certain choices, from starting a business later in life to moving to a new community or traveling overseas. Doesn't this simply sound like continuing a job by other means?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bookplanet: which translation do you prefer?

Here are two translations of Celan's Bei Brancusi, Zu Zweit.

Pierre Joris' translation: Two at Brancusi's

If one among these stones
were to tell
what silences it:
here, nearby,
on this old man's crutch-stick,
it would open, as a wound,
into which you'd have to dive,
far from my scream, the already also
hewn, white one.

Michael Hamburger's translation: At Brancusi's, the two of us

If one of these stones
were to give away
what it is that keeps silent about it:
here, nearby,
at this old man’s limping stick,
it would open up, as a wound,
in which you would have to submerge,
far from my scream, that is
chiselled already, white.

Interesting exercise, don't you think? Via splinters.

Bookplanet: the only Kafkaesque writer was Kafka

'Ever since the publication of Kafka's major fiction in the mid-1920s, beginning a year after his death in 1924, there has been a certain perplexity about how to discuss this strange body of work. From the outset, Kafka's writing struck readers as quintessentially modern--indeed, he was often seen, and with the passage of time would continue to be seen, as a paradigmatic instance of literary modernism. Yet the peculiar fact is that there are no other modern writers who really resemble him. Kafka's unnerving subversion of the assumptions of literary realism has often been seized on as a central expression of his modernist iconoclasm, but nothing akin to it is detectable in the fiction of Musil, Mann, Joyce, Woolf, or Faulkner. He made himself the prose master of a world of bafflement--a condition shared equally if differently by his protagonists and his readers--in which the uncanny could explode without warning from a junk room, from the ring of a doorbell, from a portrait hanging in a seedy office. He created floundering central characters stripped of all but the most vestigial personal memory; social institutions driven by what appeared to be an insane illogic; representations of urban and rural space that were weirdly elastic, resistant to any coherent mapping.' More here.

The poet that made Marilyn Monroe more fuckable

'Arthur Miller once watched Marilyn Monroe discovering the work of ee cummings in a bookshop, "moving her lips", engrossed by his poem "in Just-/spring", and wondered "what would she make of poetry that was so simple yet so sophisticated?… The naive wonder in her face that she could so easily respond to a stylized work sent a filament of connection out between us." God, I wonder what poem she was reading. More appreciation of ee here.

Japan on the march

What is Japan up to -- especially now that China is reminding it of its horrible deeds in the 2nd World War?
'When Robert Kagan famously wrote that, in their approach to power and security, Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus, what might he have said about Japan? In most respects, post-modern Japan has been more like Europe than America in preferring diplomacy to force, persuasion to coercion and multilateralism to unilateralism. Indeed, it might be said that Japan is even further towards the Venusian end of the celestial spectrum in its aversion to the instruments ofmilitary power. No other country in the world explicitly renounces war as a sovereign right; or eschews the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes; or proscribes land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential. This deeply ingrained pacifism is all the more remarkable when one considers that Japan is not an Asian Costa Rica, but the world's second-largest economy, a major financial power and a favored candidate for a permanent seat on an expanded United Nations Security Council.
But there is another Japan--one with a long martial tradition, embodied in the ancient samurai of legend, which in the first half of the 20th century destroyed Russia's Baltic fleet, colonized Korea, invaded China and subjugated Southeast Asia before its eventual catastrophic defeat in 1945. Today, Japan is once again a leading military power, with the world's third-largest defense budget (after the United States and China) and a quarter million men and women under arms. Its Self-Defense Force (SDF) is deployed on peacekeeping operations around the world, for tsunami relief in Southeast Asia and in support of U.S.-led coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. More and more politicians chafe at the self-imposed constitutional restrictions on the military and believe that Japan must be more resolute and assertive in defending its vital interests, including taking pre-emptive military action, when necessary. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has talked up constitutional reform and declared his desire to see Japan become a "normal country." He has even dared to call the SDF what it really is--a modern army, navy and air force. Is this a dangerous reawakening of Japan's martial instincts and desire for hegemony, as critics maintain? Or are we seeing the emergence of a pragmatic new realism that is a natural and long-overdue readjustment to the nation's much altered and more foreboding external environment?" More here.

Bookplanet: Romantic novel of the year

'A tragi-comedy of unrequited love and misunderstanding has beaten tales of predatory women, sexual ambivalence and adultery to win the FosterGrant Romantic Novel of the Year Award. First-time novelist Katharine Davies beat several acclaimed authors to scoop this prestigious literary prize, awarded in past years to popular writers such as Joanna Trollope, Rosamunde Pilcher and Cathy Kelly. Davies, who taught English at schools in the UK and Sri Lanka before moving to Wales to write, beat off competition from a strong shortlist, which included celebrated novelist Andrea Levy, to win the £10,000 award. Her book, A Good Voyage, is loosely based on Twelfth Night. It was described by the judges as a "superbly constructed, magical story that brilliantly contrasts the timelessness of romance with the grittiness of reality".
"A Good Voyage takes readers back to the roots of romantic fiction in all its joys and turmoil," said judge chairwoman Danuta Keane. "It was a clear winner in a strong field of titles that ranged from domestic dramas to high politics. This is an astonishingly well-crafted first novel, peopled with believable, empathetic characters, and characterised by a poise and lightness of touch that evokes the magic and pathos of Shakespeare's lovers and losers. It is a wonderful illustration of romantic fiction at its best."' More here. Sounds like a novel that's much less fluffy than one would expect.

Bookplanet: Cloud Atlas birthed by books

'If a reader asks me how Cloud Atlas began life, I always feel that I'm disappointing the questioner — and a grand literary tradition — by being unable to provide a eureka story. "Ah yes, the idea came to me one night. I'd been playing Russian roulette in Hull Swimming Baths with an eel-sculptor who claimed to be Keith Moon ... " But the truth is, I've never experienced a novel-sized eureka moment. My books coagulate, very slowly indeed, in a gloppy primordial idea-soup. So the best I can do is describe what murky items were floating in the bottom of that soup before and during the writing of Cloud Atlas.' Mitchell on the genesis of his novel Cloud Atlas.

Bookplanet: novels extremely big & incredibly fat

'When it comes to art, we are a nation of extremists. American writing, painting and music have always swung between the minimal and the maximal, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. We believe with equal fervor in artistic self-effacement and artistic self-aggrandizement. We like tiny, well-made stuff and also great sprawling messes; art that is full of feeling and also art that aspires to a kind of icy perfection.' Former NY Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath holds forth on what used to be called 'Loose Baggy Monster' novels. His examples: Wallace's "Infinite Jest," Pynchon, Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," Franzen's "The Corrections" and Foer's new "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." He also works in Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Robert Coover and John Barth.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Bookplanet: Philip Pullman-how to start a story

'I thought I’d talk a little today about stories, and about my approach to one particular aspect of storytelling. We all have such an appetite for narrative, for knowing what happens next, and there’s an enormous amount we can say about it. Christopher Booker has just brought out a book called The Seven Basic Plots of Literature, which is so heavy I dare not drop it on my foot. But I’m not an expert of that sort. I’m no literary critic. All I do is write stories, but in the course of doing it for nearly forty years I’ve thought a great deal about it, and learned a few things, too. I thought that today I’d tell you a little about one small aspect of this business, this craft, this art. And perhaps it’s the one that people who are interested in telling stories are most concerned about, because it has to do with the fear of the blank page that I know many would-be writers feel. It’s the question of how you begin a story. Where do you start? What’s the first sentence?' Start here.

Serial novel ALL THE PEOPLE YOU CAN EAT Chapter 15: Alfred and Slave

Alfred heard her say the words. They were halting but they were unmistakable.
“Let’s make love.”
Slave giggled. He looked at the interpreter. Hlabla shrugged.
“How many other words does she know?”
“Ask her.”
“How many other words do you know, Slave?”
“Kiss me. Hold me. Squeeze my ass. Bite my neck. Let’s make love.”
“Aren’t these strange words for her to learn? How will this help her order food in a restaurant?”
“These are the words she wanted to learn first.” Click to read on.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

To hell with the Pope

Now they want to make the deceased Pope a saint, and put his beatification on the Mother Theresa fast-track (only three Popes have made it to sainthood). Already some cardinals claim that his presence magically healed them from illness.

Phooey. Listen, I’d trade one Andrea Dworkin for every Pope that ever existed. Not that I agree with her about much, but at least she was on the side of women, which no Pope has ever been.

What does the Pope stand for? Let’s see.

The Pope is one man in charge of an organization of over a billion adherents, who are ruled by a cabal of men, and men alone. It’s governed by some hundred and twenty something male cardinals, all appointed by one man, the Pope. We’re talking male domination here, the very definition of patriarchy, a circular one in which one man appoints the men who elect his successor.

In other words, a self-propagating dictatorship. A one-man dictatorship. The Catholic Church is the most undemocratic organization ever invented. If they were a country, and they are, with U.N. representation, they'd be regarded as the worst dictatorship ever.

Then they have the gall to glorify their ruler, the Pope, as nearer to God than the rest of us. A one-man dictatorship ordained by God. Yeah sure, God sanctions dictatorships. We have here a relic of the Middle Ages, alive and well in the 21st Century. They're as out-of-date and medieval as Islam, and as set against modernity.

Besides being totally undemocratic, the Catholic Church is totally peculiar. Its office holders are not allowed to have sex. Not allowed to live a full life. They can eat and work and sleep, but not screw. They're cut off from one of the most basic activities that humans are biologically designed for. How warped can you get? No wonder the Catholic Church is against women, against sex, and against condoms -- and no wonder its rulers are cross-dressers.

Many of these rulers are gay, yet they hate gays, and call being gay “evil.” Even so, these homophobes have spent centuries protecting their gay boy-bonkers from the law, until the scandal was blown wide open in the U.S. But one of their pedophile protectors, Cardinal Law (a name dripping in irony), is living in the Vatican where he gets plum assignments, when he is a criminal who belongs in jail. Why isn’t he in jail? Because he’s a Cardinal. If he were a human being, he would've been charged and imprisoned.

Why is the Catholic Church exempt from the laws and disdain of men? Because they believe in the Bible, which is the word of God. Does this make sense? Hey, I know kids who believe in the movie Star Wars as much as anyone believes in the Bible. If a book can be the word of God, why can't a movie be the word of God, too? Both are superstitions. See The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris for a discussion about the danger of faith in our time.

Today the Catholic Church is losing ground in the civilized, industrialized, progressive world, a world that doesn't need religion to feel moral or secure. So what does the Church do? It goes forth to proselytize and prey on the poor people of the earth in Africa, Asia and South America. Just like the big tobacco companies.

And there, like the tobacco companies, it kills people. It kills people because (like the Bush administration), it preaches against condoms, and this fundamentalist ideology causes people to die of AIDS. Because of its archaic sexual attitudes, it and its Pope have the blood of millions of suffering women, children and men on their hands.

Who are these sex-hating boy-bonking superstitious perverts to tell the rest of the world what to do about sex and women and homosexuals and condoms? Why are they allowed to preach in favor of death -- this cabal of self-righteous, warped, male psychos, this criminal organization of women-haters and killers, this gang of sexist fundamentalists?

Women of the world, unite against the Catholic Church! You have nothing to lose but your lives, which you're losing every day by the thousands because of this all-male dictatorship. It's a pity there isn't a hell, because if there were, these killers would be burning in it.

Bookplanet: Poet asks herself two questions

1. "Do you think, as you write, about who will read your poems and how they will like them? Be honest."
No, I do not. My attention is entirely taken up by the voice in my head—a perfect tyrant, utterly without charity. And a pig for pleasure, I might add. Ordinary conditions do not obtain. Take the condition of time, for example. While I'm trying to satisfy this inside voice, time takes on that bulgy condition it has during the most critical stage of a skid, where astonishing maneuvers become possible simply because they must (or you'll crash). It is extremely occupying. When I was younger I noticed that I sweated terribly when I was writing just as though it were very hard physical labor. I liked that evidence that I was grappling with something at least as difficult as uprooting an oak.
2. "You actually mean to say that you have no concern at all for any sort of reader?"
No, I cannot say that. There is a stain in the ichor—a sense of being watched and judged, and a desire for approval. When I am writing, I feel that I have insinuated myself at the long, long desk of the gods of literature—more like a trestle table, actually—so long that the gods (who are also eating, disputing, and whatnot as well as writing) fade away in the distance according to the laws of Renaissance perspective. I am at the table of the gods and I want them to like me. There I've said it. I want the great masters to enjoy what I write. The noble dead are my readers, and if what I write might jostle them a little, if there were a tiny bit of scooting and shifting along the benches, this would be my thrill. And I would add that the noble dead cannot be pleased with imitations of themselves; they are already quite full of themselves.' More from poet Kay Ryan here.

Abortion stops crime

'Back in 1999, Mr. Levitt was trying to figure out why crime rates had fallen so dramatically in the previous decade. He was struck by the fact that crime began falling nationwide just 18 years after the Supreme Court effectively legalized abortion. He was struck harder by the fact that in five states crime began falling three years earlier than it did everywhere else. These were exactly the five states that had legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade. Did crime fall because hundreds of thousands of prospective criminals had been aborted? Once again, the pattern by itself is not conclusive, but once again Mr. Levitt piles pattern on pattern until the evidence overwhelms you. The bottom line? Legalized abortion was the single biggest factor in bringing the crime wave of the 1980s to a screeching halt.' Unbefuckingbelievable. More here.

Americaca: quote from a Norwegian Conservative

"We have decided that raising a child is real work. And that this work provides value for the whole society. And that the society as a whole should pay for this valuable service. Americans like to talk about family values. We have decided to do more than talk; we use our tax revenues to pay for family values."

Bookplanet: In defense of romance writing

'There is more than a tinge of sexism to the disparaging treatment of romantic novelists. Women writing for women about issues other women are interested in are not taken seriously by the male-dominated cabal that rules lit crit. Why else would Louis de Bernières' unashamedly romantic Captain Corelli's Mandolin be regarded as better literature than Joanna Trollope's dark tales of tangled love? It is not a question of commercial snobbery: both sell shed-loads and score highly among reading groupies. It cannot be thematic either. Romantic novelists frequently tackle tough issues: Adele Parks wrote about female infidelity in her first book Playing Away and has since tackled divorce and bigamy. "I do feel that because we live in a patriarchal society, men try to invalidate what women find interesting, and women are interested in reading about relationships," says Marian Keyes. "I am dismissed as writing chick lit, which is an incredibly pejorative label, but I am writing about post-feminist women."
Romance sells better than anything else. "While everybody puts down romance, Nora Roberts defies all expectations, and earns far more than all the men in the US." And maybe that is part of the problem too. Romance is popular, and growing more popular by the year, whatever the critics may think.' More here. Aren't Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Madame Bovary and Pride and Prejudice romance novels?

Gesamtkunstwerk: opera plus video

'In a daring experiment, the Paris National Opera has invited the American video artist Bill Viola to accompany Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" with his own visual commentary. On a 30-foot-wide screen above and behind the somberly lighted space peopled by the singers, images that recall some of Mr. Viola's well-known video pieces variously offer literal, metaphorical and even spiritual complements to one of mythology's most famous and tragic love stories. With only the preludes played to a closed curtain, Mr. Viola's multi-toned video poem runs for some 3 hours 40 minutes, a full-length spectacle in its own right.
With the images in place, the director Peter Sellars said, "Bill gives me permission to ground the singers in an emotional depth because I don't have to have them run around the stage and be 'interesting.' " The result is a minimalist staging, with only a square platform as décor and all the intensity reserved for the voices. Still, with the combination of video, orchestra, singing, acting and text, Mr. Sellars likes to think the team has come up with something resembling a modern Gesamtkunstwerk, the concept of total art that was Wagner's lifelong musical and theatrical objective. "Of course," he added, "Wagner's music alone gives you more than you can possibly take in." From NY Times. Interesting idea: how about staging Hamlet with video? The ghost could be a video image. When Hamlet contemplates suicide, the video could show him knifing himself. When he tells Ophelia to go a nunnery, we see her in a nun's habit. Or Long Day's Journey into Night: one could have a video of various drug addicts injecting themselves while Mom is doing it upstairs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Americaca: a word from a Monty Python

Let Them Eat Bombs -- The doubling of child malnutrition in Iraq is baffling by Terry Jones

A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now. This, of course, comes as a bitter blow for all those of us who, like George Bush and Tony Blair, honestly believe that children thrive best when we drop bombs on them from a great height, destroy their cities and blow up hospitals, schools and power stations. It now appears that, far from improving the quality of life for Iraqi youngsters, the US-led military assault on Iraq has inexplicably doubled the number of children under five suffering from malnutrition. Under Saddam, about 4% of children under five were going hungry, whereas by the end of last year almost 8% were suffering.

These results are even more disheartening for those of us in the Department of Making Things Better for Children in the Middle East By Military Force, since the previous attempts by Britain and America to improve the lot of Iraqi children also proved disappointing. For example, the policy of applying the most draconian sanctions in living memory totally failed to improve conditions. After they were imposed in 1990, the number of children under five who died increased by a factor of six. By 1995 something like half a million Iraqi children were dead as a result of our efforts to help them.

A year later, Madeleine Albright, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, tried to put a brave face on it. When a TV interviewer remarked that more children had died in Iraq through sanctions than were killed in Hiroshima, Mrs Albright famously replied: "We think the price is worth it." But clearly George Bush didn't. So he hit on the idea of bombing them instead. And not just bombing, but capturing and torturing their fathers, humiliating their mothers, shooting at them from road blocks - but none of it seems to do any good. Iraqi children simply refuse to be better nourished, healthier and less inclined to die. It is truly baffling.

And this is why we at the department are appealing to you - the general public - for ideas. If you can think of any other military techniques that we have so far failed to apply to the children of Iraq, please let us know as a matter of urgency. We assure you that, under our present leadership, there is no limit to the amount of money we are prepared to invest in a military solution to the problems of Iraqi children. In the UK there may now be 3.6 million children living below the poverty line, and 12.9 million in the US, with no prospect of either government finding any cash to change that. But surely this is a price worth paying, if it means that George Bush and Tony Blair can make any amount of money available for bombs, shells and bullets to improve the lives of Iraqi kids. You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Bookplanet: woman to head up Iowa Workshop

'Renowned fiction writer Lan Samantha Chang will follow in the footsteps of the late Frank Conroy as the director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the university announced Monday.' Story here. Here's an interview with her. Via Maud Newton.

Bookplanet: Amazon sneaking into publishing

'The specter of a bookseller signing exclusive deals to publish bestselling authors is either thrilling or worrisome, depending on where you sit. And now it may be a reality. The country's biggest online bookseller appears to be getting into publishing, albeit in a magazine-y, micro-payment sort of way. Sources say that over the last few months Amazon has quietly been making the rounds to agents, in search of authors to write short pieces Amazon could post for sale. According to one version of the plan, Amazon would charge $.49 per electronic download for short stories, journalism, essays and other work; the material would be exclusive to Amazon and would not appear in a book or any other form. Material would be in the 2,000-10,000 word range and could include such updates as alternative endings to novels. An audio component could also be in the works; the company is requesting audio rights.' More here.

Bookplanet: Adrienne Rich on June Jordan

'June Jordan’s work embraced a half century in which she dwelt as poet, intellectual, and activist—also as teacher, observer, and recorder. In a sense unusual among 20th-century poets of the United States, she believed in and lived the urgency of the word—along with action—to resist abuses of power and violations of dignity in and beyond her society. To read Jordan today is to read her in a time when reflections of human solidarity, trust, compassion, and respect are in danger of disappearing from our public landscape; when what glares out from public discourse is division—not the great racial and class divides that have afflicted us since colonization, but oppositions marked as “cultural”: modernity vs. regression, fundamentalist faith vs. secular reason. Without denying our cruel separations, Jordan went for human commonality, the opportunities for beholding and being seen by one another.' Read on. Big fat quotes from June Jordan, too.

Bookplanet: Bellow the great rewriter

One of Bellow's editors writes a lovely piece about how he worked. 'The revisions began in earnest when the book was in proof. He told me he couldn't take his writing seriously when it was still a manuscript, that it was only an "undergraduate effort" until typeset. We talked about the moral power of the justified right margin. He'd beef up passages he found slack, alter effects that had charmed him in manuscript and now put him off, cross out whole passages and add new paragraphs. Polishing, polishing. Grammar, syntax, punctuation. I complained about some repetitions, and he stopped in his tracks, amazed at my dimwitted slowness. "Kiddo, this book is constructed like the Chicken Little story, haven't you seen that yet? Of course there are repeats. Da capo." Then he intensified the repetitions.' Full article here.

Americaca: those fucking Frogs

Anti-Americanism has a long history in France. 'Consider Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte du Buffon, a leading 18th-century naturalist and man of science whose theories would prove influential on America's other critics in the 1700s. In works like ''Varieties in the Human Species'' (1749) and ''On the Degeneration of Animals'' (1766), Buffon concocted a set of bizarre taxonomies to demonstrate that the species of the New World were invariably shriveled and stunted. Of course, Buffon never actually visited the land he was writing about. Nevertheless, his claims so bothered Thomas Jefferson that he procured the carcass of a 7-foot Vermont moose to deliver to Buffon. Buffon - a petit homme who stood 5 feet tall - remained unimpressed, however, and refused to revise his opinions.' More garlic fumes here.

Bookplanet: Andrea Dworkin dead

She was only 58, the famous feminist, anti-porn crusader, and married-to-a-gay-man lesbian. "One of the differences between marriage and prostitution is that in marriage you only have to make a deal with one man," Ms. Dworkin wrote in "Letters From a War Zone." Marriage, she added, "is a legal license to rape." Allen Ginsberg once said to her: "The right wants to put me in jail." She replied, "Yes, they're very sentimental; I'd kill you." Ah, where are the fierce feminists of today? They've all gone Naomi Wolf. Pussies. NY Times obit. Guardian links here. Washington Post. The Independent. NY Sun. The Times.

Bookplanet: magazine launches with website

'For further evidence that the Internet can be complementary to print, consider this: Radar magazine, which folded two years ago and is being revived in May, is starting a Web site before publishing the magazine itself. Come the end of April, visitors to the Web site ( will be reintroduced to Radar, which its founders are trying to make irreverent, urban and fun. Then, by the time the magazine comes out on May 24, readers will have been primed for the first issue and be looking forward to the next.' Full story. I wonder if some of the best-read bloggers, who get more readership than magazines, think about turning their blogs into magazines.

Bookplanet: Judith Regan to go Hollywood

Judith Regan, whose ReganBooks imprint has produced a string of celebrity-driven and highly profitable bestsellers from authors as diverse as Gen. Tommy Franks and the filmmaker Michael Moore, is planning to move her publishing and media group to Los Angeles by the end of the year to spend more time on television and film projects, she said. Full story. Another Major Media Chick who's very bonkable. Watch out, Hollywood.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Bookplanet: Litbloggers hook up to push overlooked fiction

'Marking a departure from the solitary life of reading and writing, about 20 independent literary bloggers announced Friday that they will begin working together in hopes of drawing readers to books they feel deserve more attention, while seeking to generate more and deeper public discussions of literature. Calling themselves the Litblog Co-Op, the effort includes the sites the Elegant Variation, Moorishgirl, Rake's Progress and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, all of which will continue to operate separately, the bloggers say. Key to the effort is the Read This! campaign they've created, in which five of the bloggers will each nominate a title he or she thinks deserves readers' attention, then the co-op will vote for one to promote jointly. The first title (four will be selected each year) will be announced May 15 on the group's website,' Read on. What a great thing. Maybe they should give a prize. Hey, they don't have to fork out money, just call what they do giving an award. The Litblog Prize. The four chosen books could be their annual shortlist. At the end of the year they vote for the Litblog Prize Winner.

Bookplanet: NEA chairman on us reading less

'In 1780 Massachusetts patriot John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, outlining his vision of how American culture might evolve. ''I must study politics and war," he prophesied, so ''that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." They will add to their studies geography, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, he continued, so that their children may enjoy the ''right to study painting, poetry, music ..." Adams's bold prophecy proved correct. By the mid 20th century, America boasted internationally preeminent traditions in literature, art, music, dance, theater, and cinema. But a strange thing has happened in the American arts during the past quarter century. While income rose to unforeseen levels, college attendance ballooned, and access to information increased enormously, the interest young Americans showed in the arts--and especially literature--actually diminished. Read on.

Bookplanet: Pen World Voices in NYC

Highlights of PEN World Voices: the New York Festival of International Literature.
Saturday April 16:
Confronting the Worst: Writing and Catastrophe. Svetlana Alexievich, François Bizot, Carolin Emcke, Philip Gourevitch, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Elena Poniatowska; moderated by Susie Linfield. Some of the best writers have documented extremities of human suffering, including war, torture, genocide, and famine. What is the writer's role as documentarian, scourge to conscience and action, and moral witness? How has that role been affected by changing technologies, particularly photo- and video-journalism and the Internet?
Sunday April 17:
Crossing Borders: Universal Themes in Children's Literature. Cornelia Funke, Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, Pat Mora, Kyoko Mori, Salman Rushdie; moderated by Lois Lowry. All books reflect the impact of their authors' emotional and cultural worlds, but which themes and stories are universal in children’s books?
Literature and Power. Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Francine Prose, Shashi Tharoor, Oksana Zabuzhko; moderated by John Ralston Saul. Festival participants engage for the first time with a theme certain to recur throughout the week: the writer’s vexed relation to political power. Can literature mitigate the pressures of ideology and nationalism, or is it destined to be their servant and apologist?
International Noir with Jakob Arjouni, Natsuo Kirino, Carlo Lucarelli, Luc Sante, Paco Ignacio Taibo; moderated by Robert Polito. From Dashiell Hammett through Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, and on to James Ellroy and Walter Mosley, crime novels inscribed a black-mirror 20th-century America far more dishonest and bloody than the country of official chronicles. But much as once all politics famously were local, from now on most crimes will be global.
Monday April 18:
The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything? The New Yorker hosts an evening of readings by Margaret Atwood, Nuruddin Farah, Jonathan Franzen, Ha Jin, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, and others; introduced by David Remnick.
Tuesday April 19:
Writers and Iraq, presented by The New York Review of Books. The occupation of Iraq has polarized opinion in this country and created rifts between America and many other countries. They have also engaged writers around the world as few other international issues have done since the Vietnam War. How have writers in the U.S. and abroad perceived the war and assessed its consequences? A panel moderated by NYR Co-Editor Robert Silvers, with Mark Danner, Kanan Makiya, Dunya Mikhail, and Pankaj Mishra.  
Africa and the World: The Writer’s Role. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka joins writers from Africa and beyond in a reading and discussion about African literature considered in both a local and global context.
Wednesday April 20:
A Believer Nighttime Event. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Katja Lange-Müller, Minae Mizumura, Rick Moody, Patrick Roth, etc; hosted by Jonathan Ames. A literary “variety show” presented by The Believer—a monthly books and culture magazine published by McSweeney’s. In addition to screening a film by artist Shirin Neshat, Rick Moody will moderate a conversation called “Translating America,” and surprise guests will add international music and art to the Festival mix.
Thursday April 21:
“Strange Times, My Dear”: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature. Azar Nafisi joins editors Nahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi Hakkak, and publisher Richard Seaver, in presenting selections of contemporary Iranian poetry and fiction in celebration of the Anthology’s publication. This book was published despite U.S. Treasury Department regulations restricting the publication of materials from countries under US trade embargo.   
The Way We Love Now. Antoine Audouard, Meir Shalev, Hanif Kureishi, Natsuo Kirino, Peter Stamm; moderated by Wayne Koestenbaum. Eroticism, intimacy, amorousness: how does “sex”—that ancient game—function in the contemporary world? What new or old paradigms dominate modern love? How, in our different cultures and social contexts, does eroticism bewilder, enchain, and embolden its practitioners and victims?
Friday April 22:
Writing in a Different Language. Kader Abdolah, Shan Sa, Elif Shafak, Andreï Makine, Minae Mizumura, Ngugi wa Thiong'o; moderated by Elizabeth Klosty-Beaujour. Many writers—Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett—have chosen to write in a language that was not their first, but this seems to be happening more frequently now than ever before.
Conversation: Michael Ondaatje and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, introduced by Peter Carey.
Czeslaw Milosz and the Conscience of Literature. Bei Dao, Robert Faggen, Durs Grünbein, Robert Hass, Edward Hirsch, Eva Hoffman, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Azar Nafisi, Tomas Venclova, Leon Wieseltier, Adam Zagajewski. At the end of a week much engaged with the subject of the writer’s struggle to assert humane values in a “Ruined World,” the first PEN World Voices concludes with a tribute to the great Polish Nobel laureate who died last August.
More details here.

Americaca: our culture of death

'Mortality--the more graphic, the merrier--is the biggest thing going in America. Between Terri Schiavo and the pope, we've feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now. The carefully edited, three-year-old video loops of Ms. Schiavo may have been worthless as medical evidence but as necro-porn their ubiquity rivaled that of TV's top entertainment franchise, the all-forensics-all-the-time "CSI." To help us visualize the dying John Paul, Geraldo Rivera brought on Dr. Michael Baden, the go-to cadaver expert from the JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson mediathons, to contrast His Holiness's cortex with Ms. Schiavo's.' Frank Rich on how big we are on death.

The man date: clueless woman journalist reports

'The delicate posturing began with the phone call. The proposal was that two buddies back in New York City for a holiday break in December meet to visit the Museum of Modern Art after its major renovation. "He explicitly said, 'I know this is kind of weird, but we should probably go,'" said Matthew Speiser, 25, recalling his conversation with John Putman, 28, a former classmate from Williams College. The weirdness was apparent once they reached the museum, where they semi-avoided each other as they made their way through the galleries and eschewed any public displays of connoisseurship. "We definitely went out of our way to look at things separately," recalled Mr. Speiser, who has had art-history classes in his time. "We shuffled. We probably both pretended to know less about the art than we did." Eager to cut the tension following what they perceived to be a slightly unmanly excursion--two guys looking at art together--they headed directly to a bar. "We couldn't stop talking about the fact that it was ridiculous we had spent the whole day together one on one," said Mr. Speiser, who is straight, as is Mr. Putman. "We were purging ourselves of insecurity." Anyone who finds a date with a potential romantic partner to be a minefield of unspoken rules should consider the man date, a rendezvous between two straight men that is even more socially perilous.' This has got to be the silliest article I've read in a long time, about how straight guys are worried they'd be thought queer if they eat together. A female journalist wrote it; she should be spanked by an editor, sex optional, who should also be spanked. In fact, everybody concerned with this should be either spanked or butt-fucked. I know men don't know much about women; but women know zero zilch sweet fuck-all about men, that's for sure. Then again, what do some men know? Listen to this: "If men become too close to other men, then they are always vulnerable to this accusation of, 'Oh, you must be gay,'" said Gregory Lehne, a medical psychologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who has studied gender issues. Who is this guy? He's studied gender issues? Yeah, right, he's had his head up his own asshole.