30 November 2007

Glowing Reviews

Ed Champion linked to this, and I'm passing it on, because the customer reviews on this product are the funniest things I've read all week.

Wo(o)lf(e)s in the World

Virginia Woolf and Gene Wolfe are topics of a few conversation out on the internets these days:

28 November 2007

"I will have vengeance! I will have salvation!"

The website for Sweeney Todd has just been updated, and it contains a number of audio selections. I'm hardly alone in being simultaneously excited by Tim Burton directing my favorite musical and skeptical of a cast made up largely of people who are not known for their singing.

The clips on the site, though, are heartening. Most are of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Neither will ever be mistaken for powerful singers, but they're not atrocious. (Alas, no Sacha Baron Cohen yet.) These versions of the songs are a bit thin on their own, and sometimes the actors get overwhelmed by the lush orchestrations, but I can imagine the songs working pretty well on film, which, thanks to the way the camera modulates the audience's proximity to the actors, can be much more effective as an intimate aural environment than live theatre (or maybe it's just me -- I hate plays where the actors are heavily miked, and I have more than once walked out of shows because of the sound design). Here's a fun YouTube comparison (audio) of four versions of Sweeney (Len Cariou, George Hearn, Michael Cerveris, and Johnny Depp).

The songs promise to be streamlined in the film, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, since most of the worst movie musicals are the ones that stick too faithfully to the stage version. I love "A Little Priest" in live performance, but if the whole thing were in the movie, the pacing would be quite a challenge, given how static and word-based the song is.

In any case, some of my fears about the movie being embarrassing or unintentionally cringe-inducing are allayed, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing Burton's visual interpretation of it all.

23 November 2007

Magpie Semiotics

Thanksgiving is a hit-or-miss holiday for me -- I've had some wonderful ones with friends and family, but some of my favorite Thanksgivings have been ones where I've hung out on my own and taken a break from everything. This year was one of those, and a memorable one, because I decided to see two movies I was sure would be interesting to see together: I'm Not There and Across the Universe.

Both films are based on the work of some of the most recognizable, revered, and influential musicians of the last fifty years: Bob Dylan for I'm Not There and The Beatles for Across the Universe -- musicians who came of age and influence at roughly the same time. Both films are helmed by idiosyncratic directors: Todd Haynes and Julie Taymor. Both films have gotten wildly divergent responses from viewers.

I am far more of a Bob Dylan fan than a Beatles fan (though I did go through a bit of Beatlemania as a kid, and so most of the words to their best-known songs come immediately to mind if I hear only a few notes). I am far more of a Julie Taymor fan than Todd Haynes fan (his films often seem thoughtfully imagined, intelligently constructed, and mostly lifeless to me). I went into each movie trying to watch it as an artifact of its own, something toward which I would bring as few preconceptions as possible, for fear of being disappointed about either a director I respect or a body of music that has been important to my life. In particular, I wanted to see the movies as movies, not as movies about Dylan or the Beatles.

It proved impossible to watch I'm Not There without always thinking about Dylan. That shouldn't be surprising for a film that says it is "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan", but still -- I had read Anthony Lane's review, and even without seeing the movie I knew there was no way anyone could enjoy it if they had such a literal, flatfooted approach as Lane did. I had thought the best way to really enjoy the movie was not to try to connect the dots between Dylan and the kaleidoscopic hallucination of his life and music that the film presents, but rather to enter into the hallucination, to let it go without reference to anything other than itself.

Easier said than done. And not necessary, either. Here's the thing you need to be able to enjoy this movie: you need to like Bob Dylan's music. If you don't, you're doomed, because that music plays almost constantly through the film. But if you like Dylan's music, you've got a chance. You then need to watch the movie the way you listen to a Dylan song, with an open mind and a willingness to not get all the references, but to enjoy their presence nonetheless. Instead of making a biopic, Todd Haynes has made the cinematic equivalent of a Dylan concert.

Dylan has often been described as a magpie (or, less charitably, a thief), and what Haynes has done is similar -- he has taken not only Dylan's life and work, but many of his influences, and from them he has built his structure out of riffs and allusions, quotations and transpositions, dreams, fantasies, rumors, myths, and the iconography of an array of cultural moments. Haynes has a semiotics habit, and he deconstructs one sign after another, sticking them all up on different posts to point the way toward something ineffable. (A town called Riddle figures prominently.)

Very little in I'm Not There is a one-to-one allusion where x = y. Instead, in the best moments, like some of the best moments of Dylan's best songs, the allusions are so many that they gain weight of their own -- the gravity of synergy, perhaps -- and so we have, for instance, scenes that reference Fellini, A Hard Day's Night, Don't Look Back, and much more. Such scenes become so overdetermined that the references don't really matter, except for a chuckle or nod, and we are left to consider that first-and-last refuge of the inveterate postmodernist: the surface.

Something else Haynes has done is show us how powerful the music is. (Not that those of us who have spent much of our lives listening to Dylan ever really needed anybody to tell us the music is powerful -- but I'm Not There provides the sort of defamiliarizing jolt that reminds us what resides within those notes and words.) Both I'm Not There and Across the Universe succeed by letting the music do the emotional work, but not (usually) in the crassly manipulative way of so many middling movies, the kind that underscore every climax with strings, treating their audiences like a kennel of Pavlovian dogs. I'm Not There busts its main character into six personas and tells a nonlinear, associational story with a panoply of film stocks and styles. That's a recipe for an intellectual adventure, not an emotionally satisfying experience, and while I don't think all art needs to be an emotionally satisfying experience, the evocation of emotion within nonlinear, associational forms is, it seems to me, a great artistic accomplishment -- one I appreciate in everyone from Joseph Cornell to David Markson, Virginia Woolf to Paul Celan.

The music in I'm Not There works as a link and a lifeline, a depth charge blowing the images and story to bits, leaving a ghost of electricity to shock us. All of the characters are more glimpses than they are full people, though some, because they fit into the cozy outlines of a more familiar biopic, fill up on our extrapolations. Scenes of loss and loneliness become immensely powerful not because we have any real dramaturgy warming us up for emotional exercise, but because the music is deployed so skillfully that it combines with the images to give us more information than we would ever have otherwise, and it provokes a reaction.

Haynes shifts cinematic tones again and again throughout the film, but the music remains that of Dylan, and even the songs that are performed by other musicians are mostly so faithful to his versions that the soundtrack eases us over bumps that should, by all rights, be more upsetting. Pastoral scenes alternate with parodies, goofy surrealism keeps close company with historical reconstructions. It shouldn't work. It does.

Across the Universe shouldn't work, either, but it does. Unlike I'm Not There, Across the Universe tells a linear story, but it is almost as out of the ordinary, because the story it tells is episodic and even occasionally epic, containing big musical numbers (with precise and sometimes wondrous choreography), psychedelic set-pieces, moments of quiet intimacy, caricatures side-by-side with characters, and a hippie-dippy love-conquers-all ending. What's not to love?

Julie Taymor is a wonderfully visual theatrical artist, but she has not yet had a movie that allowed her to express her visual talents as fully as Across the Universe does. I love both Titus and Frida for their exuberance and the depth of their designs, but Across the Universe goes even farther, giving Taymor the opportunity not only to work with two-dimensional backgrounds, extraordinary props and costumes, masks, and other elements present in her previous films, but also with giant puppets and extended scenes of bizarre fantasy (some of this is visible in a few of the film's YouTube clips, such as with Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite. I was particularly happy to see Taymor get to use puppets based on those of Bread & Puppet, with whom she studied briefly.)

The characters in Across the Universe are more developed than those of I'm Not Here, and the music serves a more familiar purpose, a purpose common to most musicals: it cuts in when the characters are in the grips of strong emotion or they need to express themselves more forcefully. Here, too, though, the songs provide a particular richness to the film, because the story is generally predictable and sometimes feels composed of outtakes from Forrest Gump, but almost every bit of it is redeemed by the imagery and the music (I don't think the brief war scenes quite come off -- they don't feel much different from the other scenes in the film, when really, to motivate much of what happens, they should hurt more).

The two films overlap in their suspicion of idealism. The folk song era is portrayed in I'm Not There through gentle parody, with the tales of the young and earnest Dylan figure told in a documentary style that calls to mind A Mighty Wind and Bob Roberts more than No Direction Home. The protagonists move farther and farther away from commitment (of all sorts), though they are chased and hounded by interviewers and authorities who try to make them bow down or take a stand. In Across the Universe, the ravages of the Vietnam war radicalize Lucy until she almost loses sight of everything, and everybody who believes fervently in a cause -- whether soldier or civilian -- gets beaten, broken, bombed. The survivors in Across the Universe are the folks who never went too far, or if they did, they turned around before too late. Via different paths, the two films seem to support an ideology of transcendental individualism: Nobody gets to change the world, but they do get to change themselves, and if enough selves change, then the world changes, too.

Because I was so taken by what the writers, directors, and designers of these two movies accomplished, I have said little about the performers, but each film is well performed and sometimes extraordinarily performed. (From I'm Not There, Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett deserve particular accolades.) I was particularly surprised by Bono in Across the Universe -- he's a riot, and, at least until he sings, nearly unrecognizable. The young actors in the main roles all perform with great energy and commitment, making scenes that would have induced cringes of embarrassment were the actors less confident into real delights.

Delight, in fact, is what I felt after each film. I'm Not There is overall a greater accomplishment, I think, than Across the Universe -- its form is more innovative, its philosophy more nuanced -- but there's really no need for such a judgment, because both movies are more entertaining and thought-provoking than all but a few of the other films produced in the U.S. this year, and each will, I'm sure, reward rewatching. In fact, I'd be happy to see both movies again tomorrow if I had time, and it's rare that I encounter one film a year I can say that about, never mind two in one day.

20 November 2007

Join the KGB!

Tomorrow, I'll be reading with Lucius Shepard at the KGB Bar in Manhattan. (Rumors that either of us will be performing hip-hop are untrue, at least for me.) I plan to read my story "The Lake", from the brand-new Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, which is now available in all sorts of different formats. La Gringa has promised to throw pickles and other assorted fruits and vegetables at me.

18 November 2007

No Country for Old Men

(Some preliminaries. First, I should note that to say anything about my reaction to this movie, I have to discuss the last third in some detail. If you're the type of person who doesn't like to know anything about the last third of movies, don't read on. I don't think knowing such details would harm the experience of first seeing this movie, but that's just me.

Second, I should say that I did not read Cormac McCarthy's novel, from which the Coen brothers have wrought this film, though a friend who attended with us had read it, and said he thought the movie was quite faithful, or at least as faithful as is possible, given the differences in media.

Finally, I should mention that Richard Larson attended with us, so keep an eye on his blog in case he writes up his response, too.)

No Country for Old Men is as clear an example of subverted genre expectations as any movie I can think of. It gains power from the iconography of certain types of westerns and noir thrillers, and for at least the first hour, the pleasure of the movie is the pleasure of a cat-and-mouse story: a man stumbles upon millions of dollars of drug money, and other men chase him. One of those men is a lone killing machine, a force of destructive nature. Our hero escapes close calls, has some good luck, shows real cleverness, gets battered enough for us to feel his pain.

And then everything starts to get weird.

By this point in the movie, we're settling in to the comfort of familiar patterns played out in expert ways: the pacing is suspenseful, the characters idiosyncratic enough to hold our interest, the mayhem vivid, the stakes high.

But there are rifts in the patterns. Characters who seem to have been introduced into the story for important reasons don't end up being important at all, except as corpses The mayhem continues, but is represented differently, kept off camera -- in terms of violence, a Jacobean revenge tragedy becomes a Greek tragedy, except the violence here offers no catharsis, only carnage. The one stable element is chance. Again and again, till it becomes so obvious as to be annoying, we are told that you never know what's going to happen. It's as if the characters themselves are coming to grips with the failure of their genre expectations.

In some ways, this is a movie about men and the failure of machismo. Every tough guy who says he'll slay the dragon and save the damsel ends up in failure. For all their talk of chance, it's just a mask, an excuse. Chance only rarely comes into play, and how many lives does it save? (Maybe one: the man at the gas station.) Determined evil wins all games of chance.

Or maybe chance is a red herring in the dried-up lakebed of this film. The best review I've read is by Matt Zoller Seitz, and he makes an interesting point about the Coens and morality: that in their movies decency matters most, and destruction falls most fully on those who become corrupt, those who drift away from community and love. Llewellyn Moss, who takes the money and runs, seals his fate when he becomes more cat than mouse. Chigurh, the hunter, succeeds because he is most alone and least devoted to the rites and expectations of the human world. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who never forgets the people around him, doesn't get much of what he wants, and ends up dreaming of his father and distant fire, but he does not, like so many other characters, suffer an apocalypse. He yearns for a lost time when things were easier and evil less empowered, but we've no way to know if such a time ever existed, or if his father, too, dreamed of a bit of light on a far horizon.

Is it satisfying? Not entirely, no, but then neither are movies that connect all the dots of genre patterns, the predictable fare we get most of the time. Even when achieved with great craftsmanship, met expectations are still just met expectations, and we might as well have stayed home and imagined it all in our mind. As with one of my favorite movies of the last few years, Memories of Murder, if No Country for Old Men were more satisfying in its conclusion, it would be a lesser film. It's still trapped by genre expectations, but at least it works against them, pressing up to the bars to say: You are conditioned by patterns that inhibit you. Recognize the patterns and see what it feels like to have them distorted. Then there might be hope for original thought and original art. To step beyond genre is to become sui generis, but there's no shame in taking one step at a time.

14 November 2007

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

It is useful to imagine the book as two funhouse mirrors facing one another.

We often pretend to be objective about books when writing about them, but such objectivity is obviously a lie, and I would be foolish to continue that lie when writing about a book that has affected me in such a particular way as The Affirmation has. I am not so much going to describe what I think the book will do to you as what it did to me.

What it does to you ... well, for that you're on your own.

A saying of Leonard's comes into my head in this season of complete inanity and boredom. "Things have gone wrong somehow." It was the night C. killed herself. We were walking along that silent blue street with the scaffolding. I saw all the violence and unreason crossing in the air: ourselves small; a tumult outside: something terrifying: unreason -- shall I make a book out of it? It would be a way of bringing order and speed again into my world.
--Virginia Woolf
diary, 25 May 1932

An aside: I read The Affirmation at a time when writing had become, in various ways, difficult for me. First and generally, there was the lack of time. My life had changed. I had less time than ever before for myself, partly because I had changed jobs and learning a new job is immensely time-consuming and exhausting, and partly because I had changed where I lived, and learning a new life is equally time-consuming and exhausting.

While the volume of all of my writing and reading had decreased substantially, my writing of fiction had nearly stopped. I was used to dry spells -- fiction does not come naturally to me, and that is one reason I get more pleasure from completing a new story than from anything else -- but a year and a half without finishing a single new story, without ever writing more than a page of fiction that seemed even remotely promising -- this was a new experience. When I finally finished a very short story, I hoped it would lead to an outpouring of other stories: pent-up, gestated, waiting in the wings. It did not.

There are, I'm sure, many reasons for my inability to continue writing fiction, the form that has until now been the most constant in my life, the form that offers the greatest challenges. The reason that I've found most interesting, though, and the one that offers at least some hope of breaking through the wall is this: I felt that I had reached a point where if I continued to tell the sorts of stories I told, I would repeat myself. Almost all of the fiction I could stand for the general public to see found a publisher of some sort. Some of it gained attention and praise, some of it was criticized, some of it was misunderstood, some of it was ignored. But it was out there. Much of what I had written ever since childhood had been variations on a limited set of themes; I made one variation after another in an attempt to get it right, to find the best form. And then I reached a limit. I could no longer envision other forms -- I'd found ones that worked for me, I'd done my best with them, I'd reached an end where I could not imagine any more progress, only reiteration, and I felt no passion for that. To write again, I would need to find new material or new forms or, preferably, both. (No, I have not found either yet. I have seen glimpses, though.)

We treat the past as real insofar as present existence has been conditioned or generated by it. The more indirect the causal derivation of the present from a particular past becomes, the weaker the past becomes, the more it sinks toward a dead past.
--J.M. Coetzee,
"Time, Tense, and Aspect in Kafka's 'The Burrow'"
in Doubling the Point

The Affirmation
begins with the narrator, Peter Sinclair, asserting the things he says he knows for sure: His name, the fact that he is English, and his age (29 years old). Except: "Already there is an uncertainty, and my sureness recedes. Age is variable; I am no longer twenty-nine."

I was prepared for the uncertainty. I desired it. I had read (and reviewed) the novel Christopher Priest wrote after The Affirmation, The Glamour, and the uncertainties at its core had provided, I thought, a thrilling reading experience: the experience of never being on solid narrative ground. (The straightforward tone and style made this experience more profound than the tricks of many more obviously "experimental" novels ever had for me.) I had also read Priest's more recent (and most famous) novel, The Prestige, which is often masterful, but nonetheless disappointed me with what felt like a tidy resolution. The plot trumped the metaphysics, and I'll always prefer metaphysics to plot. The Affirmation, I thought from reading various comments about it, would be closer to the purity of The Glamour.

The Affirmation, it turns out, is even more pure on a meta(-physical)(-fictional) level than The Glamour, and this time its thrills were more unsettling to me. Peter Sinclair, it turns out, is writing a manuscript in an attempt to figure himself out. He has lost his girlfriend and his job, and he settles down to work at a cottage owned by his aunt and uncle, who have asked him to fix the place up a bit.

All seems fine until suddenly we discover that Peter's version of reality is not shared by other characters, and the moment this becomes clear -- when his sister offers a very different view of his existence than he has given us so far -- was, for me, so jolting I set the book down for a week.

For some reason or another, I had bought into Peter's version of events so completely that to have that version undermined was disturbing to me, and I had to get distance from the book. It was a pleasurable sort of disturbance mostly, and one that led me to be even more impressed with what Christopher Priest had wrought than I'd been before, because it's rare that a novel ever tricks me quite so fully, particularly when I know the author's proclivities and have even sought out the book for just this sort of trick. I had been expecting the narrator to be unreliable, but I hadn't expected him to be unreliable in this particular way.

"Give it back to me," I said at last. "I don't want you to read any more."

"I've got to," she said. "I've got to understand."

But time passed and not much was clear to her. She started asking me questions:

"Who is Felicity?"

"What are the Beatles?"

"Where is Manchester, Sheffield, Piraeus?"

"What is England, and which island is it on?"

"Who is Gracia, and why has she tried to kill herself?"

--The Affirmation

After the early shock, the rest of the novel was, in some ways, a let-down, because nothing in the rest of it would be as powerfully unsettling for me. Indeed, some parts would prove to be simply boring. Like The Glamour, the writing is flat and straightforward, which is often a strength (for misdirection, at least, since the sentences are so generally bland that they can not call attention to themselves) and sometimes a weakness (because sometimes blandness is just bland).

The last pages of The Affirmation do not provide the sort of shock the last pages of The Glamour do, because the kind of recontextualization of the narrative that these pages offer is easy enough to predict. What makes The Affirmation powerful is not its surprises, which are mostly superficial, but rather its unified uncertainty. It is a novel that is nothing other than itself; it is a hermetic structure. We cannot know what is "real" except the words that are provided for us. The book seems to reference a recognizable reality, but then it undermines that reference by positing other realities, and never settles obviously for one or the other. Everything could be a delusion. Everything is a delusion: the delusion that is fiction. We cannot choose what is true or what is imagined, because both are presented with the same techniques.

If the pages had become unworded, if the story was now untold, then it meant I could start again.

--The Affirmation

Blankness. Emptiness. Possibility. Nothing.

End? Beginning? Real? Unreal?

There's no way to know. Peter tells a story about seeing a room differently from his sister. But Peter tells many stories. He tells stories about islands we have never heard of and distant wars we didn't know existed. He tells stories, too, about places whose names we recognize and events we know happened in the world we think we live in, the past we call real, the one that created our present.

Peter tells stories so that he may try to find himself, find some truth, remember something that was somehow lost, bring life to the dead past. He tries again and again. The something remains lost, the past stays dead.

He does not know who he is. Nor do we. All we have are words.

09 November 2007


For two days I have had these lines stuck in my head:
Don't worry about me
I'm about to die of pleurisy
The lines were written by Jack Kerouac in a song (which you can hear him sing here) that Tom Waits later adapted. There are two very different recordings of the Waits song that I know of: a sad, weary version included on Orphans (listen here) and a lively collaboration with Primus (from the album Jack Kerouac Reads on the Road; mp3 here).

Before I ever looked at a transcription of the lyrics, I heard the line "Well the worms eat away but don't worry watch the wind" as "Oh the worms eat away, but the worry warts will win". I still like my version.

In any case, I don't think I'm about to die of pleurisy. I like the word, though, especially since it reminds me of Laura in The Glass Menagerie, who was nicknamed Blue Roses because someone misheard her when she said she had pleurosis.

08 November 2007

So Fey Reading This Weekend

The lack of substantive posts continues at a furious pace around these here parts, but I do want to take a moment to note the reading and book signing this Sunday (11/11) by contributors to So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction at Housing Works Used Book Cafe. Copies of the anthology have been donated by the publisher, Haworth Press, and proceeds from sales will go to local homeless people living with HIV. The reading starts at 5pm.

Steve Berman edited So Fey and scheduled readers include Mumpsimus contributor Craig Gidney, Rick Bowes, Eric Andrews-Katz, Tom Cardamone, Cassandra Clare, Ruby deBrazier, Joshua Lewis, and Sean Meriwether.

06 November 2007

Mandarins Discussion

I recently discovered Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short stories, and was particularly taken with the beautiful collection of them that Archipelago Books published, Mandarins.

I'm thrilled to see, then, that Michael Orthoffer (of the excellent Complete Review and Literary Saloon) is leading a discussion of Mandarins at the Words Without Borders blog this month.

05 November 2007

Strange Horizons, WFC, Etc.

The latest issue of Strange Horizons has been posted and includes a column in which I blather on a bit and then recommend some literary journals that adventurous readers might enjoy.

While I'm here, I'd like to offer congratulations to the World Fantasy Award winners for this year -- especially to such friends, supporters, and critics of The Mumpsimus as Mary Rickert, Jeff Ford, and Ellen Datlow.

I was not at the World Fantasy Convention, for various reasons, but I had a little mini-convention all of my own. Friday's highlight was a panel on laundry. On Saturday, I participated in a kaffeeklatch with a writer I admire, Richard Larson, then continued on with him to see the associational (because its title invokes a fantastic creature) movie Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which he liked overall a bit more than I did, but which I nonetheless thought was certainly worth seeing. And then on Sunday, to finish it all up, I moderated a special session of the SATs, which was similar to the World Fantasy Awards banquet, I'm sure, except quieter and without any joy or happiness.

02 November 2007

How to Save the SF Magazines

Paolo Bacigalupi, who used to work for High Country News, takes some lessons learned from his previous employment and speculates about the ways science fiction and fantasy magazines could save themselves from their ever-declining circulations. Paolo's thoughts appear in three blog posts: Part 1 (overview), Part 2 ("Marketing in Meatspace"), and Part 3 ("Online Marketing").

I don't have any great knowledge of marketing, so I will defer to Paolo and others on that, but I do hope the magazines are able to survive, partly because I respect the history they represent and partly because I like the idea of monthly magazines full of fiction being able to survive in our world.

But honestly, I only pay money to subscribe to one of them. I receive subscriptions to some others because once upon a time I reviewed them more frequently than I do now (I certainly still read them for Best American Fantasy), but for the others, when it comes time to make selections for BAF, I rely on recommendations from reliable readers for good work from them. I used to subscribe to a few of the magazines, but with one I realized I hadn't finished reading a story they published for an entire year, and another became so incredibly ugly that I found myself unwilling to read it -- the binding was so tight it made holding the magazine open difficult, the pages were crammed with small-print words on cheap paper with tiny margins, as if the whole thing were produced on a Mac 128K. I hated everything I read purely because of how it was presented, and so I stopped sending money to that magazine. (That you may now be having trouble figuring out exactly which of the possible magazines I'm talking about says an awful lot in and of itself...)

The magazines I subscribe to and read are ones that are either useful to me or ones that, when they arrive in the mail, I am usually tempted to put everything else aside and sit down and read them for a while. When Interzone arrives, for instance, I always tear the packaging open and look at every page, then at least skim all the nonfiction. The fiction isn't often to my taste, so I usually save it for later, but the design of the magazine is always so eye-catching that it simply gives me pleasure to flip through its pages, and the nonfiction is eclectic and rewarding more often than not. This is a magazine that feels like it was produced to appeal to people who are alive right now, rather than to the denizens of 1950.

The other magazines I at least skim immediately are Harper's and A Public Space. Harper's I love for the diversity of material it offers -- it's rare that an issue completely bores me -- and I would now never think of letting my subscription go, because subscribers get full access to the entire Harper's digital archive. It's not an expensive subscription, and it comes with 150 years of material. The best deal I know of in publishing.

A Public Space is beautifully designed and intelligently edited, with a range of writing of all sorts: nonfiction, poetry, fiction. Inevitably, there are things I don't read, things that don't interest me, things I don't like ... but it doesn't matter, because the variety of material and the pleasant design of the magazine causes it to maintain a strong grip on my attention.

None of what I've said here about my preferences and predilections has much to do with marketing, but it does have to do with the content delivered after the marketing has done its thing. It's hard to get me to subscribe to a magazine, yes, but it's even harder to get me to renew a subscription. I doubt I'm alone in this, particularly these days when there are so many other ways to find entertainment and fulfillment than by reading magazines.

(I'll have more to say about various lit'ry magazines that excite me in Monday's column at Strange Horizons.)