Showing posts from March, 2008

Africa Reading Challenge

Via Meskel Square I learned of the Africa Reading Challenge created by the blog Siphoning Off a Few Thoughts : Participants commit to read - in the course of 2008 - six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues. Participants will write about the books on their blogs and a list with links will be (well, is already being) kept at Siphoning Off a Few Thoughts. There are a few reasons why I'm going to participate in the Challenge. We are lucky to live in a time when African literature of all sorts is plentiful (though, sadly, less in Africa than outside it, because the infrastructure for book production and distribution on the continent is limited to a few countries) and it's a particular interest of mine, but a recent enough one that my knowledge is still pretty superficial. I hope the Reading Challenge will increase people's curiosity about what books are out there, and I look forward to

More Blather from Moi

As if my previous post were not enough, I now present an interview with me, conducted by Nita Noveno of the Sunday Salon. (It actually repeats some of what I said in the post below, because the interview was part of what brought some of those ideas to the foreground of my consciousness and let them nag.) Nita and I first met in Kenya in December 2006, and then I got to read at the Sunday Salon this past February. We realized then that we hadn't had much chance to chat, so we went out for tea one day, and Nita kept asking me questions about science fiction. She apparently found my answers in some way or another interesting, and asked if we could try to replicate our conversation via email. And voilá, an interview!

Falling Into Oblivion without a Parachute

It ain't healthy to get too metacommentarial, but sometimes the zeitgeist blows such urges your way, and you neglect to duck. Or I do, at least. Thus, I have managed to get into some good conversations with a few different friends recently about our particular preferences when it comes to how we write and read book reviews, criticism, blog posts, etc. (out of laziness and a general aversion to taxonomy, I'm going to use the word "review" here to mean almost any commentary on books and other stuffs). Some of the conversations were sparked by thoughtful posts by Larry at OF Blog of the Fallen (e.g. here and here and here ), some were sparked by reviews that annoyed one or both of us who were interlocuting (I know you and your friends just talk, but if you had the sorts of friends I have, you, too, would interlocute), and some were sparked by just saying to each other, "So what do you do when..." The ideas have caused me to keep thinking all week, and so

Katherine Min at The New School

Katherine Min is coming to New York for a reading and interview at The New School tomorrow night : Fiction Forum: Katherine Min 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. The Writing Program presents Katherine Min reading from Secondhand World and discussing her work with Jackson Taylor, associate director of the Writing Program. Location: Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building, 65 West 11th Street, 5th floor (enter at 66 West 12th Street) Admission: $5; free to all students and New School faculty, staff, and alumni with ID I'll be there (fashionably late, I expect), as will all my imaginary friends, and perhaps even a few of the not-quite-imaginary ones.

"The most desperate of all writers"

Victor Shklovsky , from Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot , translated by Shushan Avagyan: In the long story "My Life" , Chekhov wrote about a bad architect who designed buildings so badly, planned the interiors so poorly, the facades were all so hideous that people simply got used to the style of this person. The style of failure becomes the style of the town. Chekhov hated expositions and denouements; he is the one who revived the two concepts. I'll repeat once more about how he wrote to his brother saying that the plot must be new and a story isn't always necessary. By plot he meant the false theatre, the poetics of that theatre, especially the expositions and denouements of plays -- things that the viewer is anticipating with pleasure. It's like a shot of morphine. Literature became a place of false denouements, false expositions, false successes, the successes of individual people. The young boys -- the fugitive convicts who turned rich and cried on the gra

So Many Books...

I have very little time for extra reading right now, which is frustrating, because a bunch of interesting books have arrived recently. (The good news: I will be making a substantial change of life this summer, and with luck that change will open up a lot more time for reading and writing. Just have to survive the next three months...) Here, then, are some comments on books I have not yet had much time to look at, but am keeping on my To Be Read pile... Weird Tales Issue 348: Word on the street is that Ann VanderMeer's second issue as fiction editor of Weird Tales is awesome (and not just because of the fiction). I enjoyed Ann's first issue, and intend to get to this one ... very...........soon......... Speaking of Ann VanderMeer, I also now have copies of two anthologies she and some guy named Jeff edited: The New Weird and Steampunk . I've actually been so excited by both that I couldn't help myself from dipping into them, even though I should be doing work on

Gernsback: "Plausability in Scientifiction"

Through a bit of luck, I was able to get a copy of the November 1926 issue of Amazing Stories (vol. 1, no. 8) for an affordable price (because it's not in very good condition). I've wanted to see a complete issue of one of the early, Hugo Gernsback -edited Amazings for ages -- yes, aside from the material they reprinted from Wells and Verne and Poe, most of the fiction they published was atrociously bad and even occasionally illiterate, but Amazing as an idea and institution was an important step in differentiating science fiction from other types of writing. The editorial by Gernsback in this issue has separated from the binding, so here, for your amusement, is a scan of it (click on the image for a full-size view):

Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

As is being widely reported, Arthur C. Clarke has died . He was a unique and remarkable man, one whose influence and importance was felt in numerous fields. It's been years since I read any of Clarke's fiction, and it never had the deep effect on me that the writings of some of his contemporaries had, but his novelization of the movie he helped imagine, 2001: A Space Odyssey , was one of the first SF books I ever tried to read, since it was just about the only SF novel my parents owned when I first got interested in such writing. I saw the movie soon after, and though I found it utterly bewildering and sometimes soporific (I was more used to things like Smokey and the Bandit at the time), it piqued my interest, and later viewings grabbed hold of my imagination in a way few films ever have. Clarke's passing is one I find particularly notable, though, because it signals the end of an era. I don't know where the term "The Big Three Science Fiction Writers"

Human Smoke Discussion

I first learned of Nicholson Baker's new book, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization , when I saw Ed Champion carrying around a well-worn galley copy at a reading a month or so ago. It looked like the kind of book I could become obsessive about, and so I contacted the publisher and begged for a copy, and soon a finished copy (beautifully made) of the book had landed on my doorstep. I'd only read a few pages when Ed invited me to join an online roundtable discussion of the book he was putting together. Part one of that discussion has now been posted. It includes contributions from Ed, Sarah Weinman, Levi Asher, and Brian Francis Slattery. Upcoming will be lots of argument about historiography, pacifism, Baker's representation of WWII, and much more. I've only chimed in once so far, because I'm still struggling to finish the book amidst a very busy schedule, but once I'm done, I'll have something more to add either at the

Of Sunday and Macbeth

My yearnings for theatre were sated last week when, through luck and happenstance, I got to accompany friends to two of the most talked-about shows in New York at the moment: Sunday in the Park with George at the Roundabout Theatre and Macbeth at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As events and opportunities to spend time with friends, both were completely pleasurable. As aesthetic artifacts, both were disappointing. The better of the shows in terms of script is the lesser of the shows in terms of production: Macbeth . The central problems are that the play is a hodgepodge of ideas and techniques and that Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth gives a one-note performance in the key of overwrought. (Patrick Stewart's performance is, like the whole show, occasionally extraordinary and generally competent, but lacking coherence.) The director, Rupert Goold, has chosen to put the play in quasi-Stalinist dress and on a single set: a white-tiled hospital ward-asylum-torture chamber, augmente

Awoke From Troubled Dreams, Found Self Changed Into a Monstrous Memoir

Franz Kafka's editor: The story is true. Kafka simply wrote a completely verifiable, journalistic account of a neighbor by the name of Gregor Samsa who, because of some bizarre medical condition, turned into a ‘monstrous vermin.’ Kafka assured us that he’d made the whole thing up. We now know that to be completely false. I wonder if Penguin will offer me a refund for the new Michael Hofmann translation of the stories that I bought a few days ago? Meanwhile, some of my super-secret, oh-so-influential, don't-you-wish-you-were-as-connected-as-I-am-nah-nah-nah-nah sources within the publishing industry tell me that Mark Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist , will soon be revealed to be not a memoir of a family's amusing exploits down digestive tracts (as we've all thought for years), but rather a microeconomic study of the effects of household income as a determinant of natural gas consumption. Keep your eyes out for further revelations!