On this week’s podcast, Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times joins us to discuss Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, “Bleeding Edge.” All three of us are Pynchon fans, and all three of us really like this latest book. Although, as we talk about, the fact that we experienced a lot of the cultural items Pynchon references makes this a bit odd . . . Like, Pynchon’s watched “Office Space”? He is aware of Pokemon and Beanie Babies?Read More...
On this week’s podcast, we welcome National Book Critics Circle board member Carolyn Kellogg to talk about the NBCC awards, the changes to the National Book Award (which set me off on a bit of a paranoid rant), Bookish and its suckishness, and a variety of other literary topics.Read More...
Here are a few highlights from Carolyn’s review:
Dubravka Ugresic does not like karaoke. That doesn’t stop her from trying it, just as her resistance to celebrity doesn’t stop her from putting her head through a cutout on a Hollywood studio tour so that she can be photographed with Clark Gable. Ugresic, a game and inquisitive critic, looks at culture from all angles, which sometimes means picking up the mic.
Karaoke recycles rather than creates, she argues in “Karaoke Culture,” the 100-page essay that lends its name to the title of her new collection. To Ugresic, karaoke is emblematic of our contemporary moment: She sees it as a sad attempt to adopt the trappings of celebrity, an art that’s derivative without enrichment and a practice that degrades the original because it can never be quite as good. “In all its manifestations karaoke culture unites narcissism, exhibitionism and the neurotic need for the individual to inscribe him or herself on the indifferent surface of the world,” she writes. It’s not just singing on stages: Ugresic traces these themes in reality television, fandom, hobbyists, politics, art and, of course, the Internet. [. . .]
Ugresic writes in short, episodic sections, making surprising leaps. An essay that begins with a Hemingway look-alike contest hops quickly to the arrest of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic. The connections are electric: It’s an intellect in action, ideas zapping across the page. [. . .]
Despite these small failings, “Karaoke Culture” is an essential investigation of our times. Ugresic’s best moments come when she connects the personal to the universal, when navigating a political storm is illustrated by her mother’s easy laughter in the face of unpleasantness, or when she extrapolates from her own Internet overuse: “Would Marcel Proust have written ‘In Search of Lost Time,’” she asks, “if he had had a Madeleine cookie on the computer screen in front of him?”
Read the entire review here.
Ever since the year 2000, every year seems less believable to me . . . When I was a kid, I never thought I’d see the year 2000, much less the year 2010, after which, 2011 seems sort of anti-climactic. Sure, this technically marks the start of a new decade, but since we never named the last one, it feels pretty non-inspiring. (I mean really, “The Naughts”? WTF? Give me the “Roaring Twenties” or something that makes the time I’m living in sound totally BADASS.)
Nevertheless, the start of a new year is a great time for year end lists (LOVE) and resolutions of the diet and reading variety. I usually don’t do things like this, but when Carolyn Kellogg of the L.A. Times asked for my literary resolution of 2011, I came up with two goals: 1) to give away more books than I acquire this year (good luck! As of this morning I’m already a book and a manuscript in the hole) and 2) to read at least 52 translations over the course of the year. Which seems doable . . . maybe. I’m hoping to post reviews of most of these here (where I’m hoping we can review 100 titles over the course of 2011—a third goal for the new year), but will definitely post short write-ups on Goodreads (username: Chad Post), which has become my latest neurotic pleasure. (Seriously, as soon as I finish a book and/or start one, I log it in at Goodreads. So weird.)
So far, over the weekend I finished re-reading Manuel Puig’s Heartbreak Tango, which is by far my favorite of all of his books, and which I plan on using in the “World Literature & Translation” course I’m going to teach this spring . . . One down, fifty-one to go . . .
Going back to Carolyn’s post for a second, I would like to point out a few of the cooler resolutions for 2011:
David Kipen, former NEA director of literature and owner of Libros Scmibros bookstore in Boyle Heights: Find my Kindle.
Rachel Kushner, author of the novel “Telex From Cuba”: One of my resolutions is to finish the Recognitions, by William Gaddis. I’m on page 650. I have a ways to go, since it’s almost 1,000 pages. I’m not sure why I need a resolution to finish such an incredible novel: it’s startling on a line by line basis. I think I am almost afraid of its cumulative effect. So slick and erudite is it that it may pose some worldview that’s entirely retrograde or demonic or at the very least curmudgeonly, and I won’t know it, and will have internalized whatever its message is, and by the time I realize this, I will have been thoroughly indoctrinated. Because the tone of it, the one that can be grasped, convinces the reader she is in the hands of the Subject Supposed to Know.
The staff of Electric Literature: Our book-related resolution is to stop drinking so much.
I have a better chance of this 52 translations goal if I sign up for resolution number 3 . . .
But in terms of literary resolutions, Michael Orthofer called my attention to this piece by The New Republic senior editor Ruth Franklin on “being a better reader in 2011”:
3. Learn a new language. I have a degree in comparative literature and read a few languages well, yet even I didn’t review many books in translation this year. Critics love to bemoan the dearth of foreign literature available in translation in this country, and to avow our support for presses—like Open Letter or Archipelago Books—that devote their resources to promoting global literature. But how often do we actually review it? This year, I pledge to devote more space to work in translation.
Finally, to close this first post of the XXXX 10s, here are a few things I’ll be posting/launching over the course of this month: new update to the Translation Database, the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award Fiction longlist, a new series covering each of the BTBA fiction longlist titles, reviews of Hotel Europa, Sixty-Five Years of Washington, The Box, Primeval and Other Times, and at least four more, and more info on untranslated books from around the world. Also going to start a new Friday feature of excerpts from new books. Probably start with some Open Letter titles, but hopefully this’ll expand quickly to include other interesting books and presses.
So there. Welcome to 2011.
Sure, it’s undeniable that e-books are going to play a significant role in the future of publishing (according to this survey from the Frankfurt Book Fair, most professionals believe e-sales will surpass sales of traditional books by 2018—more on this article later in the week), but it’s clear from these two recent articles that that particular moment is still off in the future.
In the L.A. Times, Carolyn Kellogg nicely summarizes the quick rise and fall of Dan Brown as the great e-book hope. Basically, on September 15th, when The Lost Symbol was released, it was found that Amazon.com sold more copies of the Kindle version than they had of the hardcover. But, well, um, that didn’t last:
But it was only a moment, one that lasted less than 48 hours. By the time the week was out, with more than 2 million copies sold in the U.S., Britain and Canada — breaking the publisher’s previous one-week record set by Bill Clinton with “My Life” — hardcover sales had easily eclipsed sales of the ebook. Of the 2 million copies sold, only 100,000, or 5%, were electronic versions.
Although the overall sales levels aren’t there, the pattern is in keeping with what one might expect. Kindle-users want immediate gratification with very low purchasing costs. They don’t want to drive out to B&N to wait in line to buy the hardcover. They don’t want to wait for free shipping. They want books when they want them, and for something like this, that means they wanted the book the day—or even the very minute—that it became available. So of course, there was a quick burst in sales of The Lost Symbol followed by a tailing off . . .
More harrowing for e-book advocates is this story about Princeton’s disappointing experiment with the Kindle DX. I always thought that textbooks and classrooms would be one of the first places to really glom onto to the promise and possibility of e-books and e-reading devices. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening quite yet. From The Daily Princetonian:
When the University announced its Kindle e-reader pilot program last May, administrators seemed cautiously optimistic that the e-readers would both be sustainable and serve as a valuable academic tool. But less than two weeks after 50 students received the free Kindle DX e-readers, many of them said they were dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the devices.
On Wednesday, the University revealed that students in three courses — WWS 325: Civil Society and Public Policy, WWS 555A: U.S. Policy and Diplomacy in the Middle East, and CLA 546: Religion and Magic in Ancient Rome — were given a new Kindle DX containing their course readings for the semester. The University had announced last May it was partnering with Amazon.com, founded by Jeff Bezos ’86, to provide students and faculty members with the e-readers as part of a sustainability initiative to conserve paper.
But though they acknowledged some benefits of the new technology, many students and faculty in the three courses said they found the Kindles disappointing and difficult to use.
“I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool,” said Aaron Horvath ’10, a student in Civil Society and Public Policy. “It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate.”
This is kind of unfortunate, especially since it sounds like more of a device issue than anything else. Still seems like there’s a great opportunity here with the right device/content mix . . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .