Monday, March 31, 2008

Everybody's talking about it

Book people can't get enough of a recent essay in the New York Times, It's Not You, It's Your Books. For you who don't want to read it, the essay humorously explores how reading tastes affect dating and how some people dump their dates because of what their dates are reading (or not reading).

I will admit to the occasional bout of snobbery when it comes to literature. These episodes mostly occur in the subway, and I must fight the judgmental side of myself during these trying times. I grimace when I see chick lit or anything by Mitch Albom. Yet when I spot someone engaged in Haruki Murakami or a short story collection, that strange feeling of subway kinship washes over me. And anyone reading Truman Capote is automatically awesome.

Yet intelligence, intellectual-ness, and compatibility cannot accurately be measured by the books on a person's shelf. I love to read, but not everyone I know has to agree with me about the finer points of Mrs. Dalloway in order for us to get along. If you require that kind of literary compatibility from everyone around you, maybe you ought to expand your interests a little bit. Not to be too cliche, but diversity is what makes our society interesting. If we all sat around talking about how much we agree with each other about this or that book, conversation would get boring very quickly.

My final two cents: don't dump your boyfriends and girlfriends because of what they read or don't read.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

PEN World Voices Festival 2008

My favorite time of year for pure literary rapture is on the horizon. The PEN World Voices Festival will take place this year from April 29 to May 4. The schedule of events and list of participants were recently posted online, and as everyone else has already said in their blog posts, there are tons of awesome and rapture-inspiring events to attend. I plan to be at as many events as possible in order to get the maximum dose of literary rapture.

There was talk at the end of the last festival about reducing the number of participants and events. While this should have meant limiting the number of authors from a certain region, the German speakers are participating in record numbers this year!

Here are the eight participants from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland along with their most recent English-language works (some are forthcoming):

Daniel Kehlmann, (Measuring the World / Vermessung der Welt)
Michael Krueger (The Executor: A Comedy of Letters / Die Turiner Komödie)
Jutta Richter (The Cat: Or How I Lost Eternity / Die Katze: oder wie ich die Ewigkeit verloren habe)
Evelyn Schlag (Concrete Queen / Architektur einer Liebe)
Bernhard Schlink (Homecoming / Die Heimkehr)
Ingo Schulze (New Lives / Neue Leben)
Sasa Stanisic (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone / Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert)
Erika Stucky, cabaret singer

In addition, the festival will feature two tribute events for deceased authors Thomas Bernhard and Robert Walser.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Race in America

I try to leave my personal political views out of this blog so that people can consider literary happenings without the clouded judgment of politics-inspired rage. I sometimes experience that and it taints my perspective.

However and in spite of the above statement, I will now proceed to tell you why I support Barack Obama for president. Obama represents a very tangible kind of change that our country needs. The L Magazine reports the following statistics:

Median income of a white Manhattan family with a child under 5: $284,208
Median income of a black Manhattan family with a child under 5: $31,171
Median income of a Latino Manhattan family with a child under 5: $25,467

If anyone thinks that race is not an issue in this country, they are absolutely wrong. Take half an hour to consider what Obama has to say about race in America and consider why you should vote for this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Moehringer to Hall

First a word on reading habits: I think it is a waste of time to slog through mediocre and bad books, and life is too short to finish every one of these books a person might start reading. That being said, I probably tend to finish too few of the books I pick up, not because they are bad but because I lose interest. If the ending is obvious, I will usually move on or skip to the end to make sure I am right.


Because of this flaw in my reading style, I have abandoned The Tender Bar by JR Moehringer. He just got into Yale and found his father. Honestly, I have enjoyed reading this book. It was correctly praised as a masterful memoir. I am especially impressed with Moehringer's ability to identify themes and articulate the motivations of his child self. Few of us can look back on our childhoods with that much clarity. However, the two moments that he built up throughout the book have finally come to pass. I am sorry to report that I've needlessly abandoned this book and there are still quite a few pages to go. Someone probably dies before the end, but JR makes it to the big time (based on his short bio on the back cover) and that's good enough for me. Speculating who might die or what the fate of Publicans will be is more fun right now than finishing the book. If someone out there thinks I really need to finish the book, let me know. Otherwise, I am officially moving on.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall is quite a remarkable book, even just a few pages into it. There is actually a shark made out of words in the book. You have to see it. This book also comes with quite a bit of Internet extras, including an extensive Wikipedia page, a soundtrack, videos, and fan sites. It's kind of like Lost that way. I am going to refrain from exploring these extras until I am done reading the book (I anticipate making it to the end of this one), but you can expect a more detailed report on the full experience in the coming weeks.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Today in new media

The Willesden Herald gives 27 reasons why they rejected every single short story submission this year for their short story prize. According to this list, the jurists don't actually seem to like reading.

Thank you, Booksquare:
Bottom line is that the traditional publishing business doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to find its niche in the new media market. Today, today, today. Books are books, but there’s a whole bright and shiny universe of stuff that makes books even better. If you aren’t on the bus, well, this time there might not be another one coming.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On another non-book topic, something big just hit the Internet (why are we still capitalizing this word?). Huge. Life-changing.

Major media corporations finally decided that it might be a good idea to invest in on-demand programming through the Internet, that people who pay too much for Internet service might want to watch television shows on their expensive Internet connections, and that people might not want to scour in the Internet in order to download pirated episodes of their favorite television shows.

Introducing Hulu. This website is a joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp. that provides content from over 50 providers. You can watch full episodes of Bewitched, Family Guy, Dragnet, Prison Break, and more. You can even watch full-length movies. Feel like watching a Bruce Lee movie? How about The Big Lebowski? No problem.

Why did it take so long for the big players to jump on the Internet bandwagon? I have no idea, but let's just be thankful this magical moment has finally arrived!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Instead of Christmas presents, an advertising agency in Denver gave each of its employees a sum of money to invest in microlending through an organization called Kiva. Now they all have warm, fuzzy feelings of joy because they helped small businesses and entrepreneurs in developing countries. The best part is that once the loan has been repaid, you can invest it again. Another helping of warm fuzzy, please!

I just loaned money to a woman in Nigeria who owns a computer shop. She needed money to buy a new computer and rent a bigger shop. Her loan request was posted on Kiva today, and the full amount of her loan has already been raised. It is only lunchtime! I feel extremely warm and fuzzy, and I plan to lend this money again in 8 months.

Everyone should do this! Natalie Portman does it. You can donate as little as $25 through Kiva. Help expand a grocery store or start a beauty salon. Maybe someone needs to buy more cows or a new sewing machine.

My girl, Joko Anthonia, is on her way to computer coolness.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Old Media vs. New Media

The battle rages on, and our poor books are caught in the crossfire! Today new media dealt a swift and painful blow to old media. David Nudo, the former publisher of Publishers Weekly who was laid off because of restructuring (a.k.a. PW is broke), announced today that he is the new director of sales and marketing for Shelfari, a book-specific social networking site. The limping print media loses another exec to the Internet.

British people take a look at the Kindle. They think that even though publishers and authors are afraid of losing money on pirated ebooks, the Kindle and technology are good things for the book publishing industry. The article refers to one of my favorite points in this old vs. new debate, namely that ebooks and the Kindle are not here to replace paper books. In fact, the article suggests that the possibilities of linking an ebook to online forums, annotations, and other books has the potential to create "a whole new art form." All this interactive annotating and linking does not particularly appeal to me, probably because my taste in literary theory tends toward New Criticism and Reader Reponse. However, we as book people should not denounce the new media visions of others. It makes us look ignorant and backward. I picture some guy back in 1900 looking at a telephone and saying, "What the hell do we need this thing for?"

And finally, owning a Kindle apparently all boils down to whether or not you are willing to give up your bookshelves that display your reading habits. Conversational Reading blogger Scott Esposito points to an interesting exchange between Times blogger Matt Selman, The American Prospect writer Ezra Klein, and Scott McLemee's article from Inside Higher Ed. Selman posted rules about displaying books, specifically that one cannot display a book that one has not read. Klein responded with a pleasing amount of cynicism that bookshelves are specifically for displaying books you have not read. McLemee wrote an article that takes the middle road, saying put whatever you want on your bookshelf.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

I am almost done with Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan, but I have to review it now in case I don't have time later.

This book surprised me with its force, not a smashing force that bowls you over, but an slow-moving force that refuses to budge under your own expectations. I expect that working at a Red Lobster is not exciting. O'Nan does not make this life exciting, but he gives it the depth that a casual diner would never think to give it. Manny, the manager of a Red Lobster, in his thirties, doing everyone else's job and being positive about it, hardly seems like the stuff of literary novels. Nothing extraordinary happens to him or anyone else. It is a quiet story about admirable and not-so-admirable people. There is something in the way O'Nan tells it, in the credit he gives to each character for their actions, that makes you pause.

We've all worked jobs with managers like Manny, who have insisted on getting the details right, who take the time to manage their employees, and who constantly get let down by these employees and by the corporations they work for. Pathetic? Admirable? This book leads you to both conclusions. This short novel is well worth the read.

NBCC Likes Junot Diaz, too!

The National Book Critics Circle held its 2007 award ceremony last night and announced the winners in various categories. The best fiction title of 2007, according to NBCC members (which include old guard, library-and-paper people as well as edgy, hip youngsters)? Yep, it is The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz! And hells yeah it should be! Over at CRITICAL MASS, you can find the liveblog of the award ceremony, which quotes Diaz' editor (who accepted the award on Junot's behalf) saying that we might be able to hear "the brief and vestigial thud of Junot's mind being blown."

I am still thinking about Oscar Wao...I saw a nerdy kid reading a book by Arthur C. Clarke on the subway yesterday and thought of Oscar. His final moments are brilliant and triumphant, a fitting blaze of glory that enlivens us all.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Rapture of Junot Diaz

I finished The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao last night and laid in bed thinking about it for a long time. It was a true moment of literary rapture. These moments hit you suddenly and unexpectedly. You simply fall headfirst into and come out the other side still thinking about the characters. Oscar de Leon, the protagonist, is one for the record books. He is the kind of character that you will carry around with you in your head long after you read the last page. Now I am going out to read Drown, Junot Diaz' fist novel.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I was so excited about this website and the release of its first video. I planned to watch it over lunch in the office. I was dismayed to find that the video was an hour long. An hour? Really? When am I going to watch that? Not over lunch, not during dinner, probably not after dinner (because The Sarah Connor Chronicles sounded better), and definitely not in the morning. I really hate to be labeled as one of those can't-concentrate, Gen-Y kiddos who doesn't know when the Civil War was (1861 to 1865, and I didn't have to look it up on Wikipedia), but an hour is too long to sit at your computer and watch a video of authors discussing things. In person, that stuff works. Online it does not.

How about posting a highlight video in addition to the full-length video? I'll admit that I have not watched the first video yet because of the aforementioned time constraints, but the reviews have not been great (here, here, and here). Daniel Menaker, I know you can do better! This is good idea so don't blow it!

Monday, March 3, 2008


Someone has not heard of Harriet the Spy!