Tuesday, December 31, 2013

favorite quotation, 2013

I believe poet Amy King posted this article from Open Culture on facebook and led me to what would become my favorite quotation of the year.

Slavoj Zizek: "Oh, if Žižek recommends him, [there] must be something terribly wrong with him."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

revisions, 2014

If in passing through a library or bookstore, and you should chance upon your book upon the shelf, take it down, open it up, and make those revisions that have been nagging you ever since the "final version" was published.

If you see your book in your house or apartment or the residence you are visiting this holiday season, you are allowed to do the same.

Of course, try to do all this when no one is looking, when no shopper or relative or spouse or stranger is around. Above all else, do not allow another author to see you in this revising state.

Do not draw attention to yourself when you cross out and write in your published book.

Red or black ink only, please.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

26 fictions and 3 memoirs that stayed with me (and then more than 9 others)

(For my favorite novels and short story collections, I limited myself to fiction but cheated so I could add Richard Wright's Black Boy and Iain Levison's A Working Stiff's Manifesto. I listed no more than one work per author.)

1) A Fan's Notes by Fred Exley
2) The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
3) Brothers Karamazov by F.D.
4) Chump Change by Dan Fante
5) Like Life by Lorrie Moore
6) Benito Cereno by H. Melville
7) Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
 Hunger by Knut Hamsun 
9) Candide by Voltaire
10) Lolita by Nabokov
11) Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
12) The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
13) The Bridegroom and Other Stories by Ha Jin
14) The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee
15) A Working Stiff's Manifesto by Iain Levison 
16) The Joke by Milan Kundera
17) Petersburg by Andrei Biely
18) Envy by Yuri Olesha
19) Black Boy by Richard Wright
20) Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

and then I thought of some more (and cheated more with memoirs, Offutt and Pham):

21) The Music of Chance by Paul Auster
22) White Noise by Don DeLillo
23) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
24) The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
25) Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow
26) The Same River Twice by Chris Offutt
27) Catfish and Mandala by Alexander X. Pham
28) Caucasia by Danzy Senna
29) Native Speaker by Chang Rae Lee

And because this is such a highly professional blog, I'll come back later and add some links.

30) Hard Times by Charles Dickens
31) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
32) The Cliff Walk by Don J. Snyder
33) The Human Stain by Philip Roth
34) Mickelsson's Ghosts by John Gardner
35) Water Music by T. C. Boyle
36) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
37) Television by Jean-Phillippe Toussaint

and saving the best for last

38) The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano although Last Evenings on Earth is an extremely close second for me

Until I remembered to also include these:

39) Selected Stories by Andre Dubus
40) The Overcoat and Other Tales by Nikolai Gogol
41) Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
42) The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

So with that final four, until I remember others, I still kind of have a saving-the-best-for-last thing going on.

Feel free to find me at Goodreads for star ratings and a few reviews.

A fine final correction would be

43) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Okay, then, until I add more. . .

44) Revulsion by Horacio Castellanos Moya
45) Zone by Mathias Enard
46) Journey to the End of Night by Celine
47) Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
48) Dreams from Bunker Hill by John Fante
49) Outline by Rachel Cusk
50) Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
51) Extinction by Thomas Bernhard
52) The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
53) Confessions of a Lady Killer by George Stade
54) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
55) Independence Day by Richard Ford
56) The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley
57) Middle Passage by Charles Johnson

Monday, December 16, 2013

we're shrinking

Sad to see Goddard College in this article on campuses with budget problems that could lead to faculty cuts.

At the same time, articles like this one, about guys with college degrees working 4 jobs for 60 hours per week and earning $20,000 total, reminds us of why fewer folks are finding college affordable or even enrolling at all.

And then, there's the Motley Fool, suggesting that the "shadow economy" is much more active than anyone realizes and, in fact, is luring people away from the employment rolls. So you don't need to worry so much about all the folks disappearing and no longer counted. Aside from the fact that they are making no contributions to social security and most likely "doctor visits" are to the emergency room as uninsured people, our millions of "shadow workers" are no doubt living high on the hog this holiday season.

Tell me another one, Santa.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

American inheritance

From the comments after this CNN article, I learned that the $177,000 is a median, not a mean, for inheritance to be divided among all due to inherit, but that only 50% of Americans expect to give anything at all. So I guess that would mean the person straddling the line between the top two quarters is the one able to pass on 177K. It's not quite a 1% versus 99%, no, but I can't prove we aren't heading in that direction.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2014 Appearance Schedule

So far in 2014, I have a firm commitment to speak and participate at the MLA Subconference at Columbia College in Chicago on January 8 and 9, but unfortunately, I had to cancel for the College English Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland from March 27 through 29.

Here are details I have so far for Chicago:

Subconference of the MLA: Resisting Vulnerable Times
January 8-9, 2014
Location: Columbia College Chicago
Collins Hall, 624 S. Michigan, Chicago, IL

And I'll be reading from Fight for Your Long Day and answering questions as part of this panel discussion:

Thursday, January 9
4:00-5:30 PM: Adjunct Labor and Pedagogy
Moderator: Andy Broughton
Karen Madison (University of Arkansas, New Faculty Majority Coalition)
Alex Kudera (Clemson University)

Follow this link for the full conference program.

An appearance for AWP in Seattle is unlikely although if my ship ever comes in, I'd love for this to be a conference I could attend annually with economic confidence. Mine and yours both, bud.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"stories about shattered dreams"

The Lenny Cooke story applies very much to the writing life, but, of course, literary America is suffering from an overrepresentation of affluent spawn, the young writer, agent, and publisher straight out of Scarsdale or Bethesda, not Coney Island or Flint. Even our writers who claim "working class" origins are often ignorant of the fact that by statistical data their homes had much more than most, unattached suburban residences with two parents, two incomes, etc.

Back to Cooke, his failed hoop dreams, seems consistent with recent writing on how "Youth Poverty Hurts, Not Helps, Chances Of Becoming a Pro Athlete."

I'm not aware of any study that tracks class origins in publishing, or in academia for that matter, but I'd suspect the evidence would support similar conclusions and possibly an even stronger correlation due to the link between affluence and K-12 academic access and college success. Jonathan Kozol is fond of noting that the same rich people who decry additional funding for the nation's public-school poor in turn spend plenty of their own money (either directly through private-school tuitions or indirectly through property taxes) to make sure their own kids gain an educational advantage.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

blanchot's writer

"The writer finds himself in the increasingly ludicrous condition of having nothing to write, of having no means with which to write it, and of being constrained by the utter necessity of always writing it."

from Maurice Blanchot's Faux Pas

Saturday, December 7, 2013

mean or median?

Perhaps we need a law that regulates journalists to the point where they are obliged to use either mean or median, instead of the ambiguous "average" when reporting on student-debt statistics. Although "average" most commonly refers to the mean, it can also be used as a substitute for median (middle number) or even mode (greatest number).

Anyway, this article, from the paper of supreme truth that we as good Americans ought to genuflect afore regularly, is interesting and certainly shows how including the for-profits greatly increases the debt load as well as the percentage of students with loans.

The student-debt average, which I'm presuming is a mean, appears to be in the 26 to 30K range, and I'm also presuming that outliers on the high end could mean that the median is a bit lower than that.

Excluding for-profit schools, the institute reported that 68 percent of graduates had student debt, averaging $27,850; a recent report by the College Board, using different methodology, put those figures at 60 percent and $26,500.

But for all of us fighting for greater and more equitable access to higher education, as any reasonable educator in a democracy would be, we should also consider that many of the students bringing that number down (taking less money in loans) are concurrently working more hours than they should be so as to avoid leaving college with outlandish debts.

The most troubling aspect of the article is that when including the for-profits, in the past four years, the average debt has grown by almost $6,000:

The Institute for College Access and Success estimated that of the students who earned bachelor’s degrees in the United States in 2011-12, 71 percent had student loans, and the average borrower had $29,400 in debt, compared with 68 percent and $23,450 four years earlier.

With such great increases, making debt-to-income repayment the default option for all borrowers seems to be one  way we can help college serve as a genuine "opportunity" for the greatest number of students.

Friday, December 6, 2013

unionize finance?

The story of the Americas continues to unfold as a union in Brazil funds finance workers organizing in New York:

The Brazilian union CUT (Unified Workers’ Central) has provided seed money for organizing efforts in New York City, Miami and Orlando, home to Banco do Brasil branches and call centers. (Brazilian unions have also supported American automotive workers.) CUT president Vagner Freitas explained this transnational strategy at a union convention in September, saying, “We don’t have the bank workers in the U.S. organized, so we can’t organize workers around the world. A lot of them are in the U.S., and they have a great role to play.”

It's tempting to say that we've come endless cycle, I mean full circle, since the days of Kissinger and Pinochet, and yet as of right now, according to a veteran teller, pseudononymous Ryan Filson, quoted in the article, $10 per hour remains the twenty-year-old starting wage for a NYC bank teller. Read the full article at the unionized paper of record. Oh, sorry. I meant read more at Al Jazeera, but I couldn't find anything online which indicated that Al Jazeera's journalists were unionized.

And this article from The Huffington Post suggests a third of our country's half million bank tellers subsist by drawing upon some form of public assistance. (And, of course, I can't prove that the HuffPo writer receives any monetary compensation, but at least one Tenured Radical suggests this is highly unlikely.)

Anyway, on this warm Friday in early December, the slippery slope leads to new employment numbers released this morning, and the employment figures are positive once again, with another 203,000 jobs added in November, but I imagine that the worker-participation rate remains at or near its all-time lows.

You tell me.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

cut 180 pages, part II

AK: You’ve told me you cut out a substantial portion of the novel relatively late in the process. Was it cathartic to make such a large cut? Did it include a “eureka” moment, as in, now I’ve got the right length? Had you queried with the longer manuscript before you sent out this award-winning, revised version? 

MJR: A large part of the preliminary work was a bunch of false starts.  I kept thinking my narrator should be sixteen years old, so I wrote about two and half novels about a sixteen-year-old with the same pathology and hang-ups as my narrator.  There were a lot of the same themes, such as excessive guilt without cause, the connection between male desire and violence, and social awkwardness.  Then, in 1998, sometime around my last week of graduate school in Philadelphia, a classmate. . . pretty much slapped me in the face.  He seemed a bit exasperated by me and acted like it was his last chance to set me straight.  The slap was this comment: “Even Faulkner raped his characters with corncobs.”  That was a pivotal point.  It meant a lot of things, one of which was that I needed to bury my sixteen-year-old and make a new narrator who was, say, forty or fifty.  The problem with the first draft of Cartilage and Skin was that I kept trying to bring the sixteen-year-old back in.  I didn’t let him go.  The cathartic moment was finally cutting out all the flashbacks to his youth, roughly 180 pages.  I only queried the revised version.

Follow this link to read more Michael James Rizza on Cartilage and Skin.

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