Look out, kids! Dylan has gone back in his time machine to let everyone know about his favorite lit blog. And to promote his new album. Thanks, Bob.
BGB’s West Coast correspondent, Weezie, forwarded me a link to an NPR story that looks at the question, “Why do women read more than men?” The article notes:
Book groups consist almost entirely of women, and the spate of new literary blogs are also populated mainly by women. The Associated Press study stirred a small buzz among some of those bloggers.
Really? I see quite a few men on the lit blogging scene. I guess their presence doesn’t make for good sweeping generalizations. The basis of the article is an Associated Press survey that found that women read more than men, and women read more fiction than men. Do not confuse this with Science. With no data that would be considered “scientific” or any reality-based explanations offered, the article is free to speculate that the “fiction gap” begins in childhood.
“Girls have an easier time with reading or written work, and it’s not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life,” Brizendine says. Indeed, adult women talk more in social settings and use more words than men, she says.
It’s not a stretch to extrapolate that to adult life? What is a stretch then?
Well, men may get the last laugh. According to two new studies, which were actually “studies,” men are happier than women. The “happiness gap” may be attributable to the “hottie theory.” Women – apparently – can’t just excel, they have to worry about being hot. Men, on the other hand, are free to look like schlubs, just be awesome, and give each other high fives.
“Dead Boys” is not just one of the best collections thus far this decade: “Dead Boys” is one of the best short story collections of the past 50 years.
That’s what the reviewer said. I don’t have any kind of gauge for determining how wildly off base that comment might be, but this is of the best short story collections that I’ve recently read.
For one thing, this is a very cohesive collection. Each of the stories takes place in the down-trodden and neglected corners of Los Angeles. The characters have generally fallen through the cracks of society and have found themselves (or a loved one) on the proverbial edge. In most cases, a missed chance, a blown opportunity, or a singular tragic event that can not be recovered from are what have led the characters to the sorry states in which they find themselves.
In a story titled Bank of America, “John Q” relates how he, a family man, found himself planning a bank heist with two near strangers. He says:
To me it was like, “Hey, let’s make a movie, or, “Let’s open a pizza place,” one of those shared pipe dreams guys sometimes use an excuse to keep meeting when they’re too uptight to admit they enjoy each other’s company…I’d always imagined that when you crossed the line you saw it coming, but it turned out to be more like gliding over the equator on the open sea. Don’t let them kid you, it’s nothing momentous, going from that to this.
None of the people in these stories saw the line coming. The subtext seems to be, “this could happen to you. It happens to real people like this every day.”
In another story, The Bogo-Indian Defense, events set a character adrift who had a job and had been more or less keeping his life together.
Cedrick found me with my arms wrapped around the water-coooler, my head resting on top of it. There was such kindness in his voice when he told me to take a break. On the way out I dropped my nametag on his desk, because I knew I wouldn’t, couldn’t, come back.
The title story, the last in the collection, portrays people who are successful in the traditional sense but are so morally bankrupt that the reader feels more horrified by them than the skid row types that we’ve encountered throughout the collection. The “dead” in Dead Boys is emotional, no one ceases living in the physical sense.
And yet, this is not a collection without hope. Each story (or at least most) also leaves the possibility open that if something changes, if a lucky break comes along, the situation could reverse itself. It’s a long shot, believing in these people. I suppose your read may depend on whether you’re a “glass half-full” kind of person. The characters have been so fully realized in these stories that you can’t help but hope that they somehow turn that corner.
I doubt that it is intentional, but the book can also be a metaphor for the short story itself. The SF Chronicle reviewer all but declared the short story dead – down on its luck, a drunken mess, banished to the dark places of literature with little hope for redemption. The short story as an art form may be down right now, but with a little a little luck, the right encounter, or more stories like these – there is always hope.
Congratulations to our buddies at Wordsmiths’ books who were recently named to the “SP 100: Atlanta’s IT List” by The Sunday Paper weekly. The citation notes:
…the Wordsmiths crew is also bringing a wide variety of authors to its appealing shop in downtown Decatur and offering plenty of reading related advice on its book blog.
All true. Some highlights of the events planned this week at Wordsmiths’ (see their events calendar for all kinds of additional fun stuff):
- Friday, 9/28: Amy Sedaris at the Decatur Recreation Center reads from I Like You
- Friday, 9/28: Fonzworth Bentley reads from Advance Your Swagger at the store
- Saturday, 9/29: Christopher Moore (You Suck, A Dirty Job, etc.) at the store
On the same page of The Sunday Paper’s SP100 List as Wordsmiths’ shout-out, favorite art guy H.C. (Chris) Warner’s Alcove Gallery also receives kudos. Chris is moving his gallery from Buckhead to Avondale Estates (next door to The James Joyce Pub – “Where the elite beat the heat by drinking fermented hoppy treats”).
Meanwhile, friend of the blog Laurel Snyder has announced that her new book, The Myth of Simple Machines, is now available. The book is Laurel’s first full-length collection of poems. For more, check out her blog.
It’s the feel good hit of the year. McSweeney’s has a new book out, Bowl of Cherries, by a first-time novelist, Millard Kaufman. Kaufman is ninety. 9-0. How awesome is that? The Washington Post Book World gave the book a thumbs up and compared the author to Vonnegut and Heller. In his younger days, Mr. Kaufman created the Mr. Magoo cartoon character. In the Post’s review, Kaufman actually looks a little like Mr. Magoo. He’s reportedly hard at work on second novel.
Wordsmiths’ Books hosted an event last night for a new collection of essays called, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone. There was a good-sized crowd on hand to check it out. The editor of the collection, Jenni Ferrari-Adler started things off with a brief introduction and read from an essay written by Nora Ehpron. She was followed by Phoebe Nobles who read from her essay on the delight of fresh asparagus arriving at the farmers market after a Michigan winter. Yes, she did discuss the aroma of “asparagus pee.” They followed up the readings with some Q&A, and then they announced the winner of Wordsmiths’ “dining alone” essay contest.
The winner was – uh – me. I know what you’re saying – “Wait. What? Rigged!!!!” Dude. When did you get so cynical? The contest was judged by the two ladies present – and I’ve never met them before. I sure hope that you are not impugning their good names? Also: they announced the names of the first three places in the contest, so there were at least that many entries.
For my efforts, I was awarded a heaping bag full of schwag: a copy of the book that the ladies signed for me, a giant foam backed poster of the cover of the book, $100 worth of chocolate from The Chocolate Bar, a one year membership to Working Title Playwrights events, a t-shirt from Random House audio books, and a sack of galleys for upcoming food-related books. Next time those guys have a contest, I recommend that you enter.
Someone at the event asked if my essay was available on line. When I said no, she asked if that was because I was shopping the essay around for sale. I had a good laugh on that one. I’ve included the essay below. Why not?
Before you read it, a few words of explanation. Boudreaux and Gaston are not real people. These are the names that are invoked in EVERY Cajun story ever told. That’s just the way it is. “How’s your mom and them?” is a universal form of greeting in New Orleans. It replaces “how’s it going?” in polite conversation. The prefix ‘ti before a name in Louisiana means “little”. It is a bastardization of the French word petit. The word “bé” is short for the French bébé, baby. It is used to address just about everyone. Maque choux is a corn based side dish. It is yummy. There was an 800 word limit on this. I needed to do some heavy editing to trim it down. There’s a recipe after the essay.
The 2000 Census found that Louisiana has the least mobile citizenry in the country. I didn’t need the Census to know, innately, that this was true. I’m the only member of my extended family that lives outside of a 90-mile radius of the City of New Orleans. My mother’s genealogy work shows that her side of the family has been essentially within that same radius for over 200 years. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that Cajun food is so distinctive is the connection that the people have with the land.
Eating is rarely a solitary endeavor in Louisiana. Meals are usually prepared for the household, additional family/friends that live nearby, and as many people as you might reasonably expect to see in the next few days. Every guest is sent home with containers of leftovers, and food is brought to everyone that the cook visits. It works like this:
Boudreaux: Hey! How you doin’ bé? I brought you some jambalaya that I made when ‘ti-Jean and them were over.
Gaston: Come on in. I got some gumbo from last night to send you home with.
Boudreaux: How’s your mom and them?
Basic food distribution is also a communal activity. Many people have vegetable gardens or have a family member with a small farm. My grandparents had a farm. It was not unusual to see them to pull up on a Saturday morning with a truck full of vegetables to get ready for “putting up.”
My grandparents also raised cattle. It necessarily followed that my grandfather could show up at any time with the better part of a cow in several coolers.
Game hunting and fishing are a way of life in Louisiana. I was too “city” to be a hunter myself, but the rest of my family is usually camouflaged and ready for action. One Christmas morning I was helping my grandmother get ready for Christmas dinner when one of my uncles rolled in with a cooler of ducks. The idea was that my grandmother should “clean” and put away the ducks, while simultaneously preparing the Christmas meal. My grandmother recommended that I employ this scenario as a test for future wife candidates.
Variations on this theme could result in caches of deer, shrimp, crawfish, etc. showing up at the front door with little notice. The price of shrimp is generally helping the deliverer de-head and peel a few coolers full to ready for freezing. It is generally considered good form to send the person bringing the game/seafood off with food of their own. The exchange might go like this:
Boudreaux: Hey! How you doin’ bé? I brought you some shrimp from when we went trawlin’ with ‘ti-Jean.
Gaston: Come on in. I got a bushel of field peas to send you home with.
Boudreaux: How’s your mom and them?
It was all very “Animal Vegetable Miracle” looking back on it. It’s a bit of a culture shock when you leave a heavily ingrained food-based social community like that and move – well, anywhere else really. Whenever I would leave home to drive back to Miami (then) or Atlanta (now), I was always sent off with a cooler full of family-grown frozen vegetables, seafood, and meats of some kind.
That’s how I came to start cooking a venison roast alone in my Miami Beach apartment one rainy weekend. I had heard that the trick to cooking venison is to soak the roast in milk for a day so it wouldn’t taste game-y. I pulled the roast out of the freezer after work on Friday night and got my mother on the phone for technical support. A friend who popped in for a minute and found a hunk of deer in a pot full of milk in my fridge was more than a little skeptical.
In the end, the venison roast came out better than I could have hoped. I had used some of my frozen stash of vegetables to make some maque choux on the side. On a lark I also made some spicy potato salad made by boiling the potatoes in Zatarain’s Crab Boil. I’m not sure that my grandmother would have approved of this innovation, but it was tasty. Mysteriously, my friends were nowhere to be found when I finished preparing the spread a day and half after I started. Although I ended up eating alone that night, there was a very palpable connection to my people 875 miles away. Naturally, I was handing out containers full of leftovers to everyone that I saw for the next week.
As long as I’m tooting my own horn in this post, I may as well tell you that the recipe below, which is entirely my own, was also recognized in a competition of sorts. I’ve written a few posts in the past about Amy Sins’ wonderful cookbook (check out these posts for more Ruby Slippers Cookbook — 1, 2, and 3). Periodically, Ms. Sins sends out a newsletter with updates on the status of the book, news about New Orleans and her own struggle to rebuild her home, and recipes. She selects the best user-submitted recipe for inclusion in the newsletter and she sends out a small prize to the winner. My recipe below was included in her August/September newsletter, and I won a package of notecards with vintage New Orleans photographs on them. Very cool. (I used mushroom stock the last time I made this, and it came out pretty well.)
Crawfish Ettouffee Risotto
2 lbs. Crawfish Tails
1 cup oil
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup cups chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup mashed and minced garlic
2/3 cups of chopped green peppers
1 can Rotel tomatoes and chiles
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper (or Tony Chachere’s)
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
3 141/2 oz. cans fat-free, low sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth
At least 1 Abita Turbodog
Begin with a roux. In a large skillet make roux by stirring oil and flower over low-medium heat until the roux becomes a toasted peanut color. Don’t worry if the roux is not firm, it will thicken as ingredients are added. In separate pot, warm broth over low-medium heat. Do not allow broth to boil. Add chopped onions, celery, garlic, and green peppers to roux. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add Arborio rice, and continue to sauté for 1 minute. Add Rotel tomatoes and liquid, and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of beer (the rest is for the chef). Add seasonings. Begin adding broth to sautéed ingredients 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, wait for liquid to be absorbed before adding next 1/2 cup of broth. The Risotto will slowly begin to take on a creamy consistency. The recipe involves lots of stirring. Add crawfish tails approximately 5 minutes before all broth is absorbed (best guess). Cooking is complete when all of the liquid has been absorbed. It is always good practice to have at least one stirring partner and several Turbodogs on hand to make this recipe perfect. Enjoy.
I’ve been stunned by two recent photo collections. Check these out at your leisure:
The National Geographic photographs the world’s 10 most polluted places.
The New York Times presents an interactive slideshow of an SS Officer’s photo album captured from Auschwitz that will be appearing at the US Holocaust Museum.
The reviews of Alan Greenspan’s new memoir The Age of Turbulence, like this one in The New York Times, all mention that Greenspan was an Ayn Rand acolyte back in the 1950′s. The NYT also ran a story in the Business Section about how many CEOs refer to Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged as a business guide. All of a sudden, the ENRON fiasco makes sense.
Some business leaders have gone so far as to name their companies after Rand’s protagonist, John Galt. One example, The John Galt Corporation, are the guys who recently caught the old Deutsche Bank Building on fire and thereby killing several firefighters. However, the article fails to mention the modern society for Rand supporters, the Devotees and Overbearing/Unrelenting Champions of Hubris and Egotism (D.O.U.C.H.E.)
The Guardian has an excellent profile on Russian novelist Boris Akunin. I’ve read read several of Akunin’s Erast Fandorin detective novels and they are wonderfully entertaining. Check out this post that I wrote about his book The Turkish Gambit and the series thus far. Then go read some Boris Akunin novels. They’re good fun.
Meanwhile, over at Maud Newton’s blog, Kevin Kinsella interviews Russo-American first-time novelist Anya Ulinich about her new novel Petropolis. Be forewarned (and Maud does warn you) that you will feel the need to sprint out the door to pick up her novel.
The New York Times has announced that it will be discontinuing its TimesSelect pay-to-view service as of today. This is excellent news. All of its top columnists will be available to the unwashed (like me), and links from this blog to their content will remain active for more than 30 days. Excellent. Now, if we could just get The Wall Street Journal to play ball.
That selfsame New York Times reports that eMusic, the excellent online indie music retailer, will begin selling audio books. Audio books on eMusic will be c heaper than rivals Audible.com and iTunes (only $9.99). The bigger deal is that the audio books will be in the totally portable mp3 format. The other services use proprietary formats to prevent you from such criminal acts as loaning the “book” to your mother.
Two interesting items recently available for free from the The Wall Street Journal include:
- A story about the Jules Verne revival that is afoot
- A fascinating profile of Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between and The Prince of the Marshes
Note to the WSJ: If people are able to link to you on this internet thing, they will send readers to your site. For free. Seriously. Look into it.
The World Without Us has one a fantastic premise. It had to be the easiest book pitch of recent memory. Veteran science reporter Alan Weisman imagines what the world would be like if we (humans) simply checked out one day, say next Thursday. For simplicity, neither nuclear weapons nor global warming are the source of our demise in this nifty thought experiment. A hypothetical sudden mass extinction leaves the world as we know it today without its current dominant species.
Some reviewers have criticized Weisman for a lack of focus. BGB’s own Shaft wrote that he had to give up on the book for losing the thread of the premise. I’d agree that the chapters could have been tightened up to remind the reader where they are being led and why it was important to understanding the big picture. That said, I found this book so fascinating, I didn’t mind the author going off on a tangent one bit.
The book begins with a discussion of how structures fail. Your house, any house, has no more than a 100 year life span (more like 15-20) without you in it actively keeping water out. The buildings in New York City would suffer a similar fate, although it would be undermined by flooding subway excavations that erode the foundations of buildings and streets from below. It’s sobering to realize how transient the things that we consider fairly permanent really are.
In imagining what Manhattan may revert back to, Weisman cites the work of the Manhatta Project. The Manhatta Project is creating 3-D models of what the island looked like before it was settled. By collecting soil data from grids throughout the island, the Project is reconstructing what a pristine Manhattan might have looked like – and might look like again.
In imaging what kinds of structures might last longer than 100 years, Weisman points to the buildings that have survived the longest. The examples of pyramids and ancient stone structures (like old churches and fortifications) suggest that similar buildings have a future. Weisman is banking on underground structures in the proper environments to hold up the longest. He cites the example of Cappadocia an underground network of “villages” that extend as deep as 18 stories beneath the ground in Turkey. The BLDG BLOG has more.
Weisman also imagines what species would move into take over our niche as the dominant species. Weisman notes that the Americas were once home to megafauna – ancestors of the elephant, hippopotmus, and other animals it is difficult to imagine living in these parts. Some scientists postulate that our arrival in the Americas doomed megafauna. In our absence, would these creatures find their way back to their ancestral homes? Weisman cruelly points out that our pets wouldn’t have much of a future in a suddenly wild world.
To show us what the world could become without our help, Weisman also takes the reader to places that have been people-free for decades – or longer. A primeval forest in Poland/Belarus has been protected since the 14th century. Weisman points out how this forest differs from places that we think of as pristine, like the Amazon rainforest. The DMZ separating North and South Korea has been people-free for over 50 years. In that time it has become one of the most bio-diverse places on earth. I, for one. love reading about places like this.
In the oceans, Weisman imagines what the recovery of reefs around the world would be like by joining a group of scientists visiting the most remote reef in the world. Kingman Reef is located 932 miles southwest of Hawaii. It is thriving, but it is also collecting junk from around the world.
The trash and hazardous materials that we’ll leave behind is perhaps the dark spot on this mostly “silver-lining” scenario. The chapter on the persistence of plastic is truly depressing and has made me redouble my efforts to swear off plastic grocery bags forever. The breakdown of our chemical producing infrastructure would cause some serious problems in some locales (like Texas City) – at least for a time.
Weisman points to Chernobyl as an example that at our worst, our impacts may only be temporary. The area around the Ukrainian nuclear facility, mostly uninhabited now, has seen an increase in wildlife. Time heals all wounds – eventually.
While it may seem like I’ve given a summary of the entire book, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the material presented. The author comes at the problem from just about every conceivable angle. If you prefer a well-organized and linear narrative, you might want to take a pass on this one. However, I found the book to be endlessly fascinating and a great read.
Frank Portman, author of King Dork and front man for the punk band The Mr T Experience, reports that life is pretty much exactly like what you’d imagine the Bay Area punk scene to be. Exactly.
Salman Rushdie on the state of book reviews at the NBCC’s blog Critical Mass: Newspaper book reviews and literary blogs are not at odds with each other, he added. The two forms coexist and, he said, “We need both.”
The Millions blog recaps the Brooklyn Book Festival.
Stephen Hawking and wife have co-authored a series of sci-fi books for kids that are firmly based on the laws of physics. Cool.
Reviews of the seventh and last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may be the least relevant book reviews ever written. Was anyone really waiting for Michiko Kakutani’s positive review to go out and buy the seventh book? Was there anyone who read the first six books that decided not to pick up the book after reading Christopher Hitchens’ less than stellar review? No and no.
I did see a flurry of adults reading the first book, but that was weeks ago. I read HP7 the second week that it was out. First, I had to wait for my wife to finish it. Then I was in the middle of something else. It has been weeks since I finished, and I am officially throwing in the towel on writing up anything resembling a review of the book.
Did I like it? Yes, I did. It may be the quickest 750 pages I’ve read. It has a satisfying conclusion, which I think we’re still not allowed to talk about. Someone, somewhere may be coming out of a coma/getting out of prison/coming off of a really long time out and wants to find out on their own how this thing wraps up.
I will say this, I am firmly in the “against” camp on the “16 Years Later” Epilogue. Puh-leeze.
Laurel Snyder (who you may remember from such popular literary panels as FutureTense and/or her blog JewishyIrishy) also recently finished Hp7. She offers an interesting take on the book at her other blog Kid*Lit – Potter as Jesus. Speaking of Laurel, she also has a wonderful piece on the death of Madeleine L’Engle over at Salon. Yeah, that Salon.
If you’re like me, you’ve got a mountain of books at home that isn’t getting any smaller. Every once in a while, it gets ridiculous, and something needs to be done to cull the heard. I used to sell books that I could let go on Amazon. The problem was that by the time I was ready to let a particular book go, so was everyone else. Typically the book in question’s Amazon page would say something along th e lines of “897 used and new from $0.02.” Three dollars shipping via media mail for 2 cents hardly seems worthwhile, but at least a book could find a good home.
I’ve also thought about donating books to the local “Friends of the Library,” but I want to make sure that my books are going to a good home rather than the recycling bin. At a book sale a “Friend” told me that’s where most of the donated books end up. Gulp.
I was thinking about how best to move some books out of my house a few weeks when reader Nicole G sent me an e-mail about the online book swapping service Book Mooch. It’s a points-based book swapping system. You get points for listing books that you’d liek to giveaway and sending books to “moochers.” There’s also a feedback system to keep you honest. Once you’ve got points, you trade them in for books that you want.
I’ve tried the service for a few weeks now. I’ve found homes for about 12 books. I’ve received one book in return, and another is on its way. My “wishlist” continues to grow. So far so good.
The downside: The site itself is a bit slow, clunky, and buggy. It appears to have been developed with the best 2002 web technology available. Web 2.0 never happened in Book Mooch land. The user interface can be a bit problematic as well. On more than one occasion I’ve had books that I intended to add to my wishlist show up as books that I wanted to give away. On another occasion I received an e-mail alerting me that a book that I wanted was available, but the “moochee” e-mailed me that she didn’t have the book either – it was supposed to be on her wishlist.
My plan was to show some screen capture shots of what the site looks like and some of the problem areas. However, this is what the site looks like as of writing (and the previous 3 days):
Govern yourself accordingly.
I’ve since received an e-mail tip for a similar service call Swaptree that appears to be a little more web savvy. I haven’t tried them out, but if Book Mooch doesn’t get it’s act together soon, it may be my next stop.
This has nothing to do with anything, but I can’t get this song out of my head. I thought I’d share the love. 60′s girl band meets goth-techno meets Donnie Darko meets the X-Games. Dig it.
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. With Puppets. How awesome is that? This reminds me of John Cusack’s character in Being John Malkovich.
Anyway, the scoop:
September 6th – September 23rd
Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 5:00 pm