Tuesday, July 21, 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 In November, an unpublished novel by Vladimir Nabokov will appear.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...

...alas, I suppose it is up to the reader to raise the dead.

Friday, July 17, 2009

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:


Cronkite's living 35 years past his literary dying reminds me of another protagonist living well past his own literary death; in this case, the book is Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and the person whom Hemingway based the old man upon lived and lived well past the publication of this novella, and of course, well past Hemingway's suicide. According to this article, Gregorio Fuentes was Hemingway's "fishing companion and confidant":


In some sense, no doubt, Hemingway's sense of his own great ending, was transferred into this man swimming against the strength of an ocean destined to devour us all.

A lesson here?

I'll bore you with the full lecture another time, but I'm thinking it involves the post-ironic disconnect between reality and reality, in other words, fiction and the lives that purport not to mimic it.

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 Barbie in Whaleskin Boots can't find the Kurdish region of Turkey on a map of said region. She probably knows how to talk about "responsibility" and uplift her version of "the people." Both of these "leaders" have significant basketball experience although it is Palin who won the state championship, which to my mind makes her the superior WNBA applicant, an old Jrue Holiday if you will, but still doesn't prove she is WNBA-ready. (Check out Jrue's youtube.com links from the McDonald's HS All-American game! If only we all got to play against other 18 year olds for the rest of our lives.)

Is it that bad? Where's the good news???

It's Friday, folks!

So forget the politics, the unemployment rate, the homeless, all the NBA teams losing money, the higher cost of textbooks. Remember this week's lower cost of gas and GO!

I take the bold liberty to send you Cassendre Xavier's blessings and light, Don Riggs's spiritual healing, and my own middle "peace"; if you happen to receive pay on this Friday, the truth is I'm not responsible for it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

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 although I've heard TV will add 10 pounds to anyone.

So stay tuned for the bipartisan unity ticket of Liz Cheney/Sotomayor in 2016; their opponents will no doubt be Sarah Palin running stag and Hillary Clinton selecting Dennis Kucinich as a supporting mate. I look forward to Rush Limbaugh's self-imposed $10,000 fines for each time he mentions candidate weight issues on the radio. If we're lucky, he'll partner with the anonymous executives behind the sugar-cereal curtain to double the cash and the fun. If we're absurdly fortunate, Neil Bortz will promise his own diet while giving walking radio broadcasts from his childhood home in suburban Philadelphia all the way to San Francisco's Castro District whereupon things will get totally freaky in the spirit of national unity.

But back to reality, in other words back to the televised segment of Homeless America 2009, the man in the interview looked thin in an in-shape way. He is not overweight or obese as we are accustomed to seeing the homeless in our country, nor is he emaciated with a distended stomach as we are taught the homeless subsist overseas. He appears to maintain all of his limbs; there is no prosthetic device that might confuse our concerns. Stay focused on the issues, young people, and learn they must be compartmentalized and packaged in 30-second segments or 3-paragraph posts!

Leaving the rich fields of Fox television, my last impressions are of three rich colors, the bright, deep reds and blues surrounding nature's lush greens. What is more alive? The grass and the trees or our internet and TV?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Relating to the Walter Aske piece at whenfallsthecoliseum.com, 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 lifestyle eludes me to this day.

In this region of the United States, it is still difficult to see the food deprivation we can read about. What seems more apparent is the possible lack of nutrition accompanying the local obesity which is of course linked to our national wealth of poverty. Obama declines to predict how high unemployment will go, but it's getting to the point where we will experience collective shock the next time America posts a positive note on jobs growth. Down here, we can listen to Rush Limbaugh and Neil Bortz protect the wallet of the disenfranchised wealthy (did I hear Rush call the rich man "poor"?) on several different loud radio stations, but it seems evident that anyone with food in the pantry and some daily toil has a lot to be grateful for.

Happy Bastille Day.

If you plan to eat cake, be sure it is moist and iced and not the blackened stuff stuck to the top of your oven.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Are you broke or poor?


Here is a short piece I enjoyed by Walter Aske: http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/2009/07/12/the-pleasures-of-poverty/

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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

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: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200906/hemingway

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, Hem it all up you could say... to be honest, the seventy year old Philip Roth depicted on the back of the hardcover of Everyman looks like he could kick this young Hemingway's derriere. That's probably not the literary fame Phil Roth is looking for although I'm not certain he'd turn down the opportunity to get at one of these upstarts like Gessen, Franzen, Auster, Delillo... yikes! Even Delillo is a young one for Roth? Maybe not.

For some fun Philip Roth on Ernest Hemingway, check out the opening of Roth's The Great American Novel. In that Everyman's explicit focus is on the mortality and fear of death, I suppose we could call it commentary on The Old Man and the Sea... or just about every novel Hemingway wrote.

As you were, writer.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

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 ass across the West on freight trains. I'm early in the book, and I've learned Vollman has had a series of small strokes in his past, something not at all shocking when one considers his prolific output. I notice he is published by Ecco Press, and if I'm not mistaken I just read a nice, short article on David Halpern, who founded Ecco in the early seventies; the article is in the back of the most recent Poets and Writers. Halpern has had a life worth vicariously living too!

Back to Vollmann, I've always been interested in his writing career and amazing output although I have not read many of his novels. Ice Shirt is the only one I can remember reading cover to cover although I always check them out at the bookstore when I stumble upon another fat, Vollmann book. I've also always been intrigued by Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California, and I know Vollmann studied there. A little like St. John's but much smaller, the school sounds like one of those very special places.

Anyway, so far, I appreciate Vollmann's honesty and humility in this book. He is 47 and he needs a bucket for a boost to catch a train; to understand their place on the rails, his friend has coined the term "fauxbeaux." Vollmann sounds fragile and humane. He has punched out 1000s of pages of prose and yet we don't here him brag or boast like various politicians or other celebrities. None of those smiling phonies would have the courage or capacity to live like Vollmann, and yet his voice too is but one among billions.

Does anyone hear a freight train in the distance???

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