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Showing posts from July, 2009

New by Nabokov

Busy with the parental concerns and giving the people what they want (which for better or worse is Delillo's White Noise), I may be taking a break from assigning Lolita this fall, but America will get a chance to revisit its greatest dead immigrant in exile publishing posthumously. In November, an unpublished novel by Vladimir Nabokov will appear. This link details Hugh Hefner's successful pursuit of publishing an excerpt a week early in Playboy:

Gregory Cowles's "dolorous haze" of speculation is also worth a perusal:

I was impressed that for a few seconds, the link to Cowles's blog on books appeared just under the article on the Senate voting to block $1.75 billion in military spending on the F-22. If Nabokov could only know he was linked to the front page of the New York Times online...


Living Past Your Fictional Representation

One of my favorite short stories to assign is "Home" by Jayne Anne Phillips. According to my second-favorite story anthology, The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, "Home" was first published in Phillips's Black Tickets in 1979. The Vietnam War lurks in the background, and the tale features a mother knitting afghans in front of the TV while a rebellious, debatably liberated but sexually engaged daughter explores the scarred men in her life. Bob Dylan quoting the Old Testament--"[S]he who is not busy being born is busy dying"--very much sums up the cultural clash of generations living under the same roof. The first sentence is the mother's declaration, "I'm afraid Walter Cronkite has had it," and we soon learn that by it, she means cancer. Well, cancer victim or no, Cronkite lived and lived well past the period of this story; in fact, he was still alive 35 years or so later:


The Audacity of Excuses?

Please Mr. President, could you create a single job before your content is more or less the same as George and Bill? As in W. Bush and Cosby, but you are welcome to insist Clinton's "Welfare to Work" was in a similar vein; Costanza wouldn't dare pull the "responsibility card" out unless he thought it could get him laid or fed or both. But back to the Obama link:

We have more population, more high school and college graduates, and millions of more folks who would like more work, not less. You don't have to be John Travolta talking economy with the old dude behind the doughnut counter (the film version of Joe Klein's Primary Colors) to know a change in tone and lofty rhetoric and two dollars will get you on the bus in most cities but rarely pays the utility bills, rent, post-secondary education, medications, groceries, or any other ingredients required for your subsistence.

Okay, so B…

Family Vacation?

I'm not sure if Fox News plans to suspend this campground chatter once Republicans are back in power, but at least they have the story for now:

One scary aspect of this "news" is that the scenery is so beautiful, it makes American homelessness appear inviting. The father is clean-shaven, Caucasian, and clear in his understanding that what he needs is a job. A black man with a beard and bee-bopping manner of elocution would need the exact same things of course, but I can't help but think this particular homeless man was chosen with purpose. I am supposed to ignore race and hair and voice and believe that he was chosen at random for the interview from post-racial America.

My hunch is that before the interview, the TV people do not slop the foundation onto the chosen homeless sample, but I could be mistaken. The TV anchor reading the news appears to have met her base-level needs. She looks well fed in fact …


Relating to the Walter Aske piece at, Knut Hamsun's Hunger is another one of my favorites on the themes of starvation, haves and havenots, and burning desire of any kind. I own the Robert Bly translation but believe there is a new version with an introduction by Paul Auster.

Although I have never starved on the streets of Scandinavia (or anywhere for that matter), I did live rather modestly on bread and peanut butter and occasional treats or five-franc bottles of wine in the fall of 1989. I was lucky enough to have purchased a two-month eurorail pass and would use night trains for hotel rooms when not splurging on a bunk at a youth hostel. I saw little of Scandinavia but did visit Denmark, where I met an American man living quite well on his girlfriend's couch. He would spend his days scrounging the streets of Copenhagen for Carlsberg beer bottles that he would then exchange for coins to support his Christiana spending habits. Such an audacious lifestyl…

Are you broke or poor?


Here is a short piece I enjoyed by Walter Aske:

The writer says he is headed to Europe to teach English as a foreign language in about 6 weeks; I suppose that is part of his plan to escape his shift from being broke to being impoverished.

As a sad side note, an American friend of mine in Europe tells me that "TEFL" work (Aske's acronym) has about 100 suitors per position these days and the pay if thirteen dollars per hour. For Aske, our reporter on the ground, and anyone else trying to tour the continent and earn a few bucks, I pray I misunderstood. Please tell me that was euros, not dollars.

At ease.

Everyone Hem for Hump Day

Hump Day here, and I just spent the morning evaluating rough drafts of student writing. I imagine this life is similar to old Hemingway allowing his young son a glass of beer as Hem writes his stories and cultivates his fame in the cafes of Paris. Speaking of which, keep your eyes out for the new, expanded A Moveable Feast, which if I'm not mistaken is due to be published this week.

Christopher Hitchens--quite possibly the journalist satirized in the "Isaac Babel" chapter of Keith Gessen's debut novel, All the Sad, Young Literary Men--has a piece on the new version in the June 2009 issue of Atlantic Monthly:

The photograph of Hemingway as a young man is quite different from the grizzled, macho fellow we might imagine behind his words. I suspect a lot of us visualize Fitzgerald as a bit light in the loafers, but Hemingway allows us to imagine a fellow ready to wrestle bears, run with bulls, limp after the war, and well, He…

Independence Day

Independence Day by Richard Ford is the novel to begin reading now. It is far superior to The Sportswriter although this one is also quite good. You don't have to be a fan of books with funny sales scenes (in this case, real estate) or a fan of baseball hopeful of renewal via vicarious pilgrimmage to Cooperstown, New York. You don't even have to yearn for a great novel of South Jersey although I'm sure that thought is inspiring!

Last night, I glanced at a copy I own of The Lay of the Land, the third in his Frank Bascombe trilogy, but it didn't grab me. I'm finished Pop Apocalypse by Lee Konstantinou (and I do approve of his messages) and searching for another book to begin. So I'm between books and reading beginnings: Philip Roth's Everyman, Albert Camus's The Fall ( a reread after 20 years or so), and William Vollmann's Riding Toward Everywhere.

It looks like the Vollmann is taking the lead because he is writing about hobos and hitching and hauling a…