Having barely survived the excitement of Banned Book Week, October arrives bringing a new cause. The Blogger Boobiethon kicks off today. Donations to the site can be cash for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness or to the Red Cross for Hurricane Relief. Or you can submit a photo of your assets to show your support and to attract more visitors to the site. Or you can do both. We’re all about the philanthropy here at B.G.B.
My alumni magazine ran an interesting article this month about Emory Professor Deborah Lipstadt. Dr. Lipstadt published a scholarly book about Holocaust revisionists, a group that attempts to bring some legitimacy to Holocaust denial by inserting themselves into historical debate and society. She was surprised to find herself being sued for libel for calling writer David Irving a Holocaust denier by name. Mr. Irving is infamous, according to the article, for writing the book Hitler’s War, which portrays Hitler in a favorable light. Mr. Irving is infamous for making public statements like, “Hitler was the best friend the Jews had in Europe”, the Holocaust is a “fabrication” and a “legend”, and the delightful, “more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz”. Lovely. [ - More after the jump - ]
The case was tried in England, where the libel laws are apparently more difficult for the defendant. Dr. Lipstadt had to prove to the court that Mr. Irving was, in fact, a Holocaust denier. Would that mean that she would need to prove in court that the Holocaust is an historical fact? Mr. Irving defended himself – “declaring no one else as capable of doing so”. A court analyst for the defense found that “dishonesty permeated his [Irving’s] entire written and spoken output…his numerous mistakes…are calculated and deliberate”. Irving lost the case – the court finding that it was “incontrovertible” that he was a denier. He clearly lost whatever point he was trying to make by bringing the suit, and he had to pay Dr. Lipstadt’s $3M legal bills.
The interesting part of the ordeal, to me, is the aftermath. Now five years after the decision, Dr. Lipstadt has written a book about the case called History On Trial. Dr. Lipstadt was asked to talk about her book on C-SPAN, which she accepted. She found out later that the network planned to follow her interview with a discussion with Mr. Irving – in order to provide balance. Dr. Lipstadt decided not to appear on the network. Her view was that there is not a legitimate other side to “balance” – her appearance would, in essence, validate the Holocaust denial position. Over 500 historians signed on to a letter criticizing the network. They ended up interviewing neither one, but instead ran a show about the controversy.
Gives you lots to chew on during Banned Book week.
The Times of London talks about the loser’s game that is censhorship. Speaking of the ALA’s Banned Book Weeks, the author notes:
The American list of opposed books reveals a society still struggling with major hang-ups about sex, race, religion and Holocaust victims who are insufficiently jolly.
Librarians are leading the charge against censorship and the banning of books, as well as fighting against The Patriot Act. They are the seemingly unlikely first line of defense against those who are actively trying to limit your freedom.
Librarians still take that First Amendment thing very seriously. The American Library Association kicks off banned book week today. Do your part and pick up something that some nutjob wants to protect you from. And keep up with the more fascinating than you ever realized world of the modern librarian at Librarian.net.
I was stunned by the novella Meat is Murder by Joe Pernice. If you’re not down, Joe Pernice is the singer/front man for the band The Pernice Brothers. And if you are some kind of friggin’ hermit, Meat is Murder was a high point in The Smiths discography. That’s the album cover on the book cover there.
I was hipped to this book by a stellar article at Bookslut called Wrapped Up In Books: A Guide to Rock Novels by Michael Schaub. I’ve bookmarked that baby for future reading needs. Meat is Murder, the book, is part of part of continuum’s 33 1/3 book series. The series pairs writers with noteworthy albums. This book is different, according to Joe Pernice’s introduction, because it is fiction. I guess that means the rest are “this album totally rocks and you are a jerk if you don’t agree”-style treatises. I really don’t know. Read on after the jump yall.
It kills me to read something like this, because it seems like it is the kind of book that I should have written. The story is about a Catholic school kid in the class of 1985 who is trying to figure life out and finds an anchor in music. Like Joe Pernice’s, my hypothetical book would be totally fictional. My story would be set in New Orleans instead of Boston. I might feature Meat is Murder, but I would also work London Calling and Murmur into my fictional fiction. Instead of having a hungover musician on a train begin the narration, maybe I could start with a hungover environmental scientist on a plane. But I digress.
The beginning of this story is hilarious and sucks you right in. Let’s just say it includes “anal sex and subterfuge”. (I can’t wait to see what Google searches that phrase pulls in). The remainder of the novella is a coming of age story that is at once completely original while being clearly recognizable to those of us who were high school seniors in 1985.
The namesake album is worked into the story as an incidental soundtrack to a key time in the narrator’s life. I could totally relate to that aspect of the story. This album (everything was vinyl for at least another year) moved with me from high school to college. When my life is being made into a movie, “How Soon is Now” will be featured prominently in the hazy college freshman hi-jinks montage. That tremolo guitar is made for a totally sweet movie montage. The book isn’t trying to convince you that this is the greatest album ever, or even that The Smiths are any good. The point is that an album meant something to this guy – who is neither Joe Pernice nor me. We swear. You don’t have to be a Smith’s fan to dig this book, but it wouldn’t hurt either.
I had to run out and buy this CD immediately(I didn’t have it on me while on vacation) upon finishing the book. If you are a fan of The Smiths and this album in particular, all of the songs are relevant to the story (except the title song), but That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is really the gist of it.
My man, Flava, who loathes Morrissey and The Smiths may want to steer well clear of this one. Also, hats off to Shaft. I would never have heard of Joe Pernice if he hadn’t talked me into checking out the Pernice Brothers in East Atlanta. Also, remind me to tell you the hilarious story of how we road-tripped to Atlanta to see The Smiths at The Fox – a ten hour drive – only to find out that the rest of the tour was cancelled. I don’t want to give too much away, but it involved scooting over to Athens, drinking bourbon from ice tea glasses, and dancing with a lady named Magnolia who had very few teeth. That’s a freaking novella right there. No subterfuge though.
I’m keeping up with this stuff, because last year I was really annoyed when the year end “best of” lists were released. I found that I hadn’t heard of, much less read, most of the books named. It was one of the reasons this blog got started. Anyway, here are the finalists for the ‘05 Booker Prize:
- Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Accidental by Ali Smith
- The Sea by John Banville
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith
- A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
In that list, only two are readily available in the US. More incredible insights after the jump (fancy blog talk for – click the “more” link for the rest of the post).
Books that didn’t make the cut from the long list (abbreviated):
- Saturday by Ian McEwan
- This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson
- A History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewyka
- Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
A few observations. I’ve read three of the four that weren’t selected to the short list (didn’t do the Rushdie). I’ve read one of the books in the short list (the Ishiguro), and I wasn’t crazy about it. Conclusion: Ishiguro is a mortal lock to win it all. You read it here first. I also can’t believe that Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie were kicked to the curb – the Brits love those guys. They cut Harry Thompson after he got diagnosed with cancer? That’s just wrong. Apparently this is not “Who wants to be the next Brit Lit Idol?”. I just got the Zadie Smith book in the mail. She has no chance. Poor kid. Unless I really hate it.
I’d like to introduce a new “feature” here at Baby Got Books, where we give a shout out to our favorite independent book stores. OK. I’ll go first. Last weekend we left the grind of the big city for a long weekend down at the beach. It was a great opportunity to visit one of our favorite book stores.
Seaside, Florida’s Sundog Books is a great little bookstore in a fantastic setting. It’s small, but they make the most of their shelf space by carrying only books that are good. Which is nice. Their “international” section contains one of the best small collections of contemporary British fiction I’ve ever seen. I’m sure the Big Chains carry all of the same books spread out over their general “fiction” areas, but it was nice to see the Brit-lit all crammed together for easy perusal. They are not big on discount pricing here, so you can expect to pay (gulp) cover price for your purchases. Somehow, even I don’t mind ponying up the big bucks for books when the book store is especially kick ass and has some character. This store is at the beach – and it didn’t rain – so my time inside was limited. Fortunately, I’ll be back.
Today was Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I missed it. I have a legitimate pirate book post, but it will have to wait. Damn.
In other news, the movie for Everything Is Illuminated is out yall. Nextbook points out that there have been some changes (warning: link has spoilers). For example, that whole shtetl half of the book? Gone. Actor Liev Shreiber directs. The role of the hilarious Ukrainian guide, Alex, is played by Eugene Hutz, the Ukrainian singer/frontman for the group Gogol Bordello. Holy shit are they good. Sort of a Clash-meets-the-Pogues-puts-on-a-production-of-Fiddler-on-the-Roof kind of thing. Really. Someone babysit for me so I can check it (the movie).
Say it ain’t so, Mr. T.
If you forgo the bling, then the hurricane has already won.
In other news, the mohawked one has begun counselling parents not to send their undergrads to dook, Wake Forest, or Arizona State. Why? Because dook blows. Also, because the three schools’ mascot names promote Satan.
Tonight I went to see Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley read from her new book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. She read at the Center for Southern Literature, which is (not so) secretly the annex building at The Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. It was a nice evening and something I ought to do more often. Hopefully next time around I can drum up some of the other local B-G-B personnel to join me. There was a bar, as well as complimentary chicken-on-a-stick and veggie sushi. Hit that “more” link for the low down.
The book is a 600-page hunk of non-fiction about fiction. Ms. Smiley reportedly found herself unable to write after September 11th, and she immersed herself in reading instead. Wanting to get as far away as she could from current times she began with a 1000 year old Japanese book, The Tale of Genji. She began with this book because it is widely held to be the world’s first novel. Her initial intent was to follow the history of the novel as an art form. Her focus changed over time, ultimately resulting in a relatively random assortment of 100 books, kind of like how we (or at least I) move semi-randomly from book to book. Some of the books on her list of 100 she loved, some not so much. The book talks about the process of reading the books, things learned along the way, and ultimately the importance of fiction as freedom. The Christian Science Monitor calls it a “love letter to the novel“. It apparently even has two chapters of advice on writing that novel inside of you.
Ms. Smiley began by reading Chapter 5 of the book, which had to do with the psychology of reading, and then she took questions. Among other things, she talked about ditching novels that don’t hold her interest – something I have rarely been able to do. She feels rather strongly that it is the novelist’s responsibility to earn our attention, not the readers responsibility to provide it. That sounds pretty obvious, but I am one of those readers that has to “get it” – perhaps wrongly assuming that slogging through an annoying book is character building or something. She had lots of witty and interesting things to say about books, writing, and reading. She definitely left the crowd wanting more.
You can check out the schedule for upcoming events at the CSL at their web site.
Back to the books. Next across the finish line for me is This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.
I first came across this book from reading through the Booker Prize Longlist. I was scrambling to buy this book the second after I learned that it was an historical fiction account of the events surrounding the voyage of the HMS Beagle. Sailing and science – how can you go wrong? Also, what could be more subversive right now than reading a book involving Darwin? I have loved the other books that I have read in this micro genre – books about sailing ships and scientific discovery – such as The Voyage of the Narwhal and the Aubrey/Maturin Series – so I was reasonably certain that the book would be worth the hassle of obtaining it (not currently published in the US). It was.
From what I had read initially, I thought that the book would focus on Darwin, but he didn’t turn up until about 100 pages into it. The book is really the story of two men, Captain Robert Fitzroy, commander of the Beagle, and Charles Darwin, the ship’s naturalist.
Darwin started out as the least promising of the two men. The son of a wealthy politically conservative family, Darwin ended up on the voyage almost by accident. He was the fourth or fifth choice for the journey, and he was studying to be priest at the time that he was called upon to join the expedition – which was his fourth of fifth course of study. In the book he is portrayed as a racist, a pro-colonialist (in the worst sense of the word), a misogynist – a man of his time. Though studying to be a priest, Darwin was not bound by a strict interpretation of the Bible.
Fitzroy was a very promising naval cadet, and the Beagle was his first command. His family was part of the liberal political establishment, and he was well connected. Fitzroy is portrayed as a very straight laced, “by the book” type. He was ahead of his time concerning people of other races and nationalities, and his thoughts on colonialism were is stark contrast to his peers. However, Fitzroy was very religious, and he insists on a strict interpretation of the Bible.
Throughout the loooooong voyage, there’s lots of time for the two men to form a friendship and have philosophical discussions. As the trip progresses, Darwin’s observations of the natural world around him begin to lead him down a path that will ultimately result in his theories of evolution and natural selection. Darwin’s observations lead him to believe that the Earth was not of recent origin, that there was no great flood and an ark with two of each kind of animal, and that species have come into and out of being. The death of his daughter lead him to reject God entirely. Given the two men’s differing world views, friction ensues. By the time they have returned home and have begun working on the accounts of their famous trip, they barely speak to one another unless absolutely necessary.
That you are likely to have heard of only one of these two guys before tells you what you need to know about how their fortunes turned out. Darwin became Darwin. Fitzroy became a Member of Parliament, a Governor of New Zealand, an admiral, and one of the key developers of the early science of meteorology – and he was largely considered a failure, or at best, ignored in each capacity.
These two characters are fascinating. That they were real men who each contributed so much to society makes them all the more so. Their conversations throughout the book provide an excellent mirror for the debates that still swirl around these issues today. However, the reader doesn’t feel like he is being bludgeoned with the author’s viewpoint, because each man is portrayed sympathetically.
This is an outstanding book, and I highly recommend it. It is a hefty book, so govern yourself accordingly. It’s also not published in the US. It is available used from Amazon though, so its not all that hard to pick up if you are inclined to do so.
Interesting aside: the author is apparently very well known in Britain as a writer and producer of hit comedy shows. This book, it should be noted, is not funny.
In another twist, I found out recently that a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. The very next day I read a review of this book that revealed that Harry Thompson was also recently diagnosed with cancer – effectively ending his book touring before it ever really began – and just after it was announced that he was on the long list for the Booker Prize. The book review that I stumbled across is the least objective and most moving book review that you may ever read. It is written by his ex-girlfriend – she considers the book and comes to grips with their past in the context of his illness. Holy crap. Read the review already.
DJ Cayenne’s Political Soapbox: The Man Behind The Curtain would have you believe that the “jury is still out on evolution”. It’s not. Unless of course you presume that you are on the jury. Scientific American has 15 Answers for Creationist Nonsense. Use them wisely.
A.O. Scott, ususally film critic for the NYT, has a lenghty article in the NYT Magazine about the new literary elite. The article focuses on the people behind lit mags The Believer (which has an interview with Mark Mothersbaugh this month) and n+1. Scott is surprised that in this era, the editors of these mags chose to go with that particular medium to get their ideas out. Here’s his thinking:
If you are an overeducated (or at least a semi-overeducated) youngish person with a sleep disorder and a surfeit of opinions, the thing to do, after all, is to start a blog.
There has been some suggestion that the politics on this site might be a little one-sided. To provide equal time for the conservative view point, I present Mike Piazza’s Political Soap Box:
Last night I was kicking it at Rob Halford’s house in Miami after my Mets lost again, channeling my frustration at our fading chances into some kick-ass drum tracks for Rob’s new album. But then my Sidekick buzzed – it was my good buddy and former Senator Fred Thompson. “I’ve got bad news, Mike,” he told me. “Willy is dead.”
It was like I got kicked in the stomach. William Rehnquist is one of my all-time heroes, the Iron Maiden of modern conservative thought.
“Was it the liberals?” I asked Fred.
“Cancer,” he said.
The rest pretty much writes itself.
On the way into work this morning, I got to hear some of Randy Newman’s song “Louisiana 1927″ on NPR. He also talks about his connections to the city.
A book about the 1927 flood and its tremendous impact on the country, Rising Tide by John Barry, has been flying off the shelves. My mother gave me this book about a year ago, and it’s been sitting in my “too read” pile ever since. I should get on that.
In an effort to tone down our little blog here (the sparks were even flying here in CT when I read this spirited debate) and post about something totally meaningless – I will give you a my thoughts on Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl.
Ruth Reichl is my idol – up until 2 years ago she earned a living by eating at all the top NY restaurants and then reviewing them in the NYTimes and now she is editor of Gourmet magazine. For anyone who knows me – eating and books are my true passions of life so there could be nothing better than being the NYTimes restaurant critic.
Garlic and Sapphires covers her stint as the Times restaurant critic and the absurdities around the NY restaurant scene. She truly wielded an enormous amount of power because the number of stars a restaurant gets in the paper will literally make or break them. In order to be served an actual meal with the service that the rest of us shmos get – she came up with a variety of disguises to use whenever she dined out. The service, food and wine that she experienced at Le Cirque as a shleppy old lady was 180 degrees different from when she dined as Ruth Reichl.
I read this book one afternoon on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re a foodie, love restaurants or just like reading about really good food – pick it up. Certainly it’s a diversion from the rest of the depressing news.
Well, it seems like I am not the only person who does not want to engage in civil debate.
Here’s an interesting piece of writing from a former Serbian refugee, now a journalist, comparing Yugoslavian refugee camps with the Astrodome.
OK. I’ll stop linking to stuff on BoingBoing now. Unless it is either very funny, very inflammatory, or very interesting.