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Showing posts from February, 2008

Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia

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I'm currently reading Nicholson Baker's forthcoming book Human Smoke (excellent so far, but I've really only just begun it), so it was with particular interest that I took a glance at his new essay, "The Charms of Wikipedia", in The New York Review of Books. I intended to set it aside for later reading, but it was quite engaging, and I'm a big fan of Wikipedia, so before long I found myself completely engrossed. And often laughing:This is a reference book that can suddenly go nasty on you. Who knows whether, when you look up Harvard's one-time warrior-president, James Bryant Conant, you're going to get a bland, evenhanded article about him, or whether the whole page will read (as it did for seventeen minutes on April 26, 2006): "HES A BIG STUPID HEAD." James Conant was, after all, in some important ways, a big stupid head. He was studiously anti-Semitic, a strong believer in wonder-weapons—a man who was quite as happy figuring out new ways…

A Brief Hello

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Life has been busy with the grading of piles of student papers and tests that I unwisely let build up (in ten years of teaching, you'd think I'd know better...) and work on a short story that I promised a certain anthology's editor I would have done by March (and yet it keeps wanting more and different words!), and so I haven't had much to write here. I did get some reading some done this weekend, finishing Lydia Millet's marvelous new novel, How the Dead Dream, which I'll be reviewing for somebody or other eventually. (Briefly: In some ways it's about capitalism and extinction, but it's more an affecting character study, though it's also a laugh-out-loud funny satire, yet really by the end it's a lyrical and heartbreaking look at-- Well, you'll just have to read it. And if you're in the NYC area, stop by the McNally Robinson bookstore on Weds, March 5 for a reading.)

All of which is just me popping up here to say, Nope, still don'…

Some Harmless Fun

It's the time of year for me to be utterly torn -- torn by my knowledge that the Oscars are a ridiculous ritual and by my fascination with them. They are, as somebody (I don't remember who) once said, the Superbowl for gay people, and I have often dreamed of tailgating the ceremony whilst wearing my pink feather boa. (Or maybe Tayari Jones's coat. Except I think I somehow look like Rudy Giuliani in that picture.) And yet I also agree with a lot of what A.O. Scott said about them: "The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous."

So I'm going to give up on matter for the moment, and instead indulge in harmless fun by offering unsolicited and utterly useless opinions on films I have seen and not seen. (Do note, though, that last year I lost on Oscar betting to Ms. McCarron.)

Here we go, with the help of the official list:

Actor: Consensus seems to be that Daniel Day-Lewis will win, and that seems d…

Alex Cox on Walker

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Richard Nash at Soft Skull saw my mention of Alex Cox's movie Walker and sent on a brief passage from Cox's upcoming book X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, which Soft Skull/Counterpoint will be bringing out in a few months. Thanks to Richard for giving me permission to share this:Walker is my best, my most expensive, and my least-seen film. It’s the bio-pic of William Walker -- an American mercenary who had himself made president of Nicaragua in the mid-19th century. In the US, Walker was an anti-slavery liberal; in Nicaragua he instituted slavery. He’s almost unknown in the US today, but in the 1850’s Walker was fantastically popular. The newspapers wrote more about him than they did about Presidents Pierce or Buchanan.

All the characters in the film existed, though they aren’t all accurate portraits, and there’s no evidence -- say -- that Walker and his financier, Vanderbilt, ever met. Most of what happens in the film is part of some historical record; b…

Today's Must-Read

Kassia Kroszer on writing, publishing, publicity, the internets, and the future:I am not worried about the future of the book. I am not worried about the future of reading. I am not worried about the future of spelling (I am almost-but-not-quite ready to accept the “spelling is relative” argument, !@#$ British and their extraneous use of “U”). I am worried about the future of publishers.

By publishers, I mean traditional, bound-copy based, royalty-paying publishers. Oh, I don’t think they’re going away for a good long time, but I do think we’re seeing the beginning of a serious challenge to the status quo. This means a slow (publishing being a very slooow business) shift from authors who are grateful for any crumbs thrown their way to authors who will ask “So tell me again, what can you do for me?”.The rest of the post is full of ideas, hypotheses, and possibilities. It's also worth comparing it to this Galleycat post about Tim O'Reilly's presentation at the Tools of Chang…

Stray Bits

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I have finally made my way through the 3,000 emails that had accumulated in the mumpsimus at gmail account during my absence from checking it. Thank you to everyone for bearing with me on that. If you need a response of some sort to something, and I haven't yet replied, please send me another note, because I think I have responded to everything that seemed to need a response.

There are some sites and items I discovered from the mail, including:The First Book, a site created by Scott William Carter to provide interviews with and information about authors of first novels. Scott was my roommate at the very first science fiction convention I went to, and he's not only a tremendous nice guy, but has developed a great career with lots of short stories published in a wide variety of markets and now a novel that is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in 2010.

Noticing my comments on Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Henry Farrell let me know about a conversation with China Miéville a…

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

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I went into 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days with the highest of expectations, given how much extraordinary praise the film has received from most critics. During the first twenty minutes or so, I wasn't sure I would make it through the entire movie -- it was, I thought, similar in style to a kind of movie I find unbearable: a style based on long handheld shots, a soundtrack that contains little or no music and lots of environmental sounds (characters breathing, eating, walking), and a general attitude that seems to fetishize "artlessness", though offers little to replace the art it so disdains. (Many films these days indulge such a style, or come close to it, but the two that have caused me the most tedium and pain are Keane and Day Night Day Night.)

And then 4 Months grabbed my attention and didn't let go until the final frame. It may have been that I was simply unprepared to give the film the sort of attention it deserved until then, or -- more likely -- that the e…

A Night Out

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I hadn't been out to the theatre in a while, but the marvelous Liz G. had a spare ticket to Next to Normal at Second Stage Theatre, and so I took her up on her offer of a night out. I doubted I would care much for the play, but it's been a few months since I've seen a live stage production, and my addiction is deep enough that I was in severe withdrawal.

My problem when I see new plays is that I tend to blame all faults on the script. I first noticed this back in college when I was reviewing for NYU's Washington Square News, every new (and generally painfully awful) play seemed to me to suffer from atrociously cliched and/or banal and/or pretentious and/or halfbaked and/or insipid scripts. In a city where so many actors, designers, and directors go perpetually unemployed, it was rare to see a show that was particularly badly acted, directed, or designed. Or it may be that my own focus on playwrighting caused and causes me to locate faults in the area I know best.

In …

Agent Lindsay

Colleen Lindsay, whom some of you may remember from this old post here at The Mumpsimus, has just announced that after many years as a publicist at various publishing houses she is now becoming an agent with FinePrint Literary Management. I know what a great representative she was for her authors when she was doing publicity for their finished books, so I expect she'll do a phenomenal job of representing authors as they place their manuscripts with publishers. She's got decades of experience in the book world, and this will serve all her clients well, I'm sure.

If any of you out there have finished manuscripts (including graphic novels) and are looking for representation, you might want to read Colleen's submission guidelines. And, as always, keep an eye on her blog, The Swivet, for news about the wonderful, wacky world of publishing.

"Freedom from the Tyranny of What Is"

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One of the best new essay collections I have read in a long time is Reginald Shepherd's Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry. I first encountered Shepherd some years back in an issue of Poets & Writers with an essay he wrote on Samuel Delany, though I didn't realize he had written it until I discovered it reprinted in Orpheus in the Bronx. I first noted Shepherd's name when I discovered his blog, which is consistently rich with thoughtful posts on poetry, writing, teaching, and living. (Shepherd has done some additional blogging the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog, which has become a diverse and fascinating site of discussion about all sorts of different views of poetry. Some of Shepherd's recentpostshave stirred up passionate, valuable discussion in their comments threads and elsewhere.)

I've just written and submitted a review of Orpheus in the Bronx, and will offer more details on that once I know its fate. …

Trunk Stories

I reviewed the first two issues of Trunk Stories for SF Site back in 2005, and so I am happy to see that William Smith is continuing with the venture -- not as a print zine, since costs have become prohibitive, but online. The first story, "Dame Morehead's Sea of Tranquility" by Tobias Seamon, is now available as a PDF download from Smith's Hang Fire Books blog.

Help a Writer, Get a BAF

Caitlín R. Kiernan is a freelance writer without health insurance, and she has suffered some severe health problems recently that have not only added expenses to her life, but kept her from writing as much as she could. Jeff VanderMeer has already given away copies of his novel Shriek to some folks who were willing to make donations to Caitlín's fund, and I'm going to copy him and do what I can: I have three spare copies of Best American Fantasy, and I will happily send those to the first three people who request them on this thread at Caitlín's LiveJournal and then contribute to her health fund. Once she has confirmed the contributions, I'll put the books in the mail.

There are other ways of helping Caitlín (you could buy her books!), including an eBay auction. Keep your eyes on her LJ for updates and more info.

Reminder: Sunday Salon

I just wanted to remind folks who can get to Brooklyn on Sunday night about the Sunday Salon reading that includes Tony D'Souza, Tayari Jones, Frances Madeson, and, uh, me. Various disreputable people have told me they plan to be there, but you shouldn't let that stop you.

The reading will be at 7pm at the Stain Bar, 766 Grand Street, Brooklyn (take the L to Grand, walk 1 block west).

The Scarecrow-in-the-Desert Effect

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I have been trying to pinpoint what, exactly, I dislike about many contemporary fictions, a certain effect or technique. (Perhaps a lack of effect or technique.) What I dislike feels to be the same in each story or novel, at least in what it does in my brain, despite these stories and novels being from all different genres. Thus, it seems to be some sort of effect of the prose, a way the narrative is presented, an early roadblock on the path from the page to my brain. I have avoided trying to write about it, because I know I will fumble around as I attempt to describe and analyze the problem, but what's a blog for if not to work through ideas...

The provocation for this writing was a quick blip from Galleycat about an article in Wired ("Why Sci-Fi is the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing"). In describing the article, Ron Hogan wrote, "So why doesn't the establishment take science fiction more seriously? Because, [Clive Thompson] observes, 'the genre …

Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee

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This is a book that will need to be reread. Until then, some notes.

Diary of a Bad Year is immediately impressive simply because it isn't incoherent. That may sound like faint praise, but in this case it is not, because J.M. Coetzee has decided to structure this novel as three voices speaking, mostly, at once. The first pages are split between a top section and a bottom section, with the top devoted to short essays about current events and the bottom devoted to the diary of the writer of those essays, a South African novelist known around his apartment building in Australia as "Señor C". On page 25, a third section is added to each page: the diary of a woman named Anya, who becomes the typist for the novelist's opinions.

Such a structure is a recipe for confusion, but it is a testament to Coetzee's skill that the novel is always readable and often compelling. We have the choice of sticking with one of the sections for as long as we want to keep flipping pages,…

Improv Everywhere

Always one to be behind the times, I'd not heard of Improv Everywhere until today, but a quick scan of the website explained an event I'd unwittingly witnessed a few weeks ago: No Pants 2k8, where hundreds of people in seven cities around the world took off their pants (that is, trousers -- in London I once made what I thought was an innocuous comment about "pants" and everybody thought I was making a ribald comment about underwear) and rode the subways. I'd ridden a train with one of these groups, and assumed they were participating in some sort of marathon. Or something. I don't know. You see weird stuff in NY all the time.

But the latest Improv Everywhere event is marvelous -- be sure to watch the video of Frozen Grand Central. Hilarious and beautiful. Long may they improvise!

One Day of the AWP Bookfair

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Due to various technical mishaps, I wasn't able to get into the AWP Bookfair on Friday to help the ever-erstwhile Clayton Kroh with the Best American Fantasy/Weird Tales table. Saturday, though, was no problem, and I spent the day in the labyrinthine world of the Bookfair -- three floors of tables and booths. It took me fifteen minutes just to find our table, placed as it was against a back wall of the farthest room, and once when I wandered out alone I managed to walk in circles for at least ten minutes before realizing the source of the profound sense of deja vu filling my brain.

Tempest Bradford stopped by, and I quickly convinced her to take over the table so I could wander around and give copies of BAF to any magazine or journal whose representatives I could convince to take one. It can be amazingly difficult to give things away at AWP, because so many people are traveling by airplane and cannot carry away piles and piles of the many things it is so easy to accumulate (alth…