If a band can jump the shark, then this seems to me to be the first steps toward the tank.
Most of you know that I'm a life-long Atlanta Braves fan. This means I'm required by laws of nature to take great joy in anything bad that happens to the New York Mets. So the last two Septembers have been particularly good considering that my Braves haven't been involved directly in the playoff hunt, yet I've able to watch as the hapless Mets collapse down the stretch two years in a row. Still, I have some sympathy for at least one Mets fan. This year has been doubly tough for Levi; not only has he watched yet another team fail to make it to the playoffs after fading in the final weeks, but he also had to bid farewell to the venue that he loved. Here's Levi's take on Shea Stadium:
Shea Stadium is a very literary place. As I wrote in a recent article, it's built on a spot described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Don Delillo wrote a weird movie, Game Six, about one of the most famous World Series victories of all time there -- the same game (1986, Red Sox) immortalized in Seinfeld and many other places. George Plimpton once wrote an April Fools day hoax story in Sports Illustrated about a barefoot Mets pitcher named Sidd Finch. Paul Auster's City of Glass is about a Mets fan who goes insane (Mookie Wilson has something to do with it), and writers from Jonathan Lethem to Frank Messina have celebrated the team from various literary perches.
Shea Stadium is a major symbol in my novel Summer of the Mets, which nobody ever reads but which is a psychological study of a kid who suffers from extreme shyness. He has trouble with various social encounters, but then he goes to Mets games with his family and marvels at the human synchronicity -- the cheers, the boos, the Wave -- of the packed crowd surrounding him in Shea's concrete perfect circle. He finds that Mets games are the only place where he can be part of a large crowd and not feel alienated. I wrote about this because, of course, that's the way I used to feel when I was a kid and went to Shea Stadium, and I guess in a way I've never stopped feeling that way about the place. I wonder if this is a common reason why people enjoy going to baseball games. If it is, I don't think there could have ever been a friendlier or more welcoming place (not like that other ballpark uptown) to enjoy a baseball game than rollickin' Shea Stadium, an unpretentious arena where New Yorkers have always been at their nicest.
It looks like the chances of me getting financed to buy that absolutely necessary minivan (gah!) between now and the time of the twins' arrival took a big, sloppy political hit a few hours ago. I may need to go Beverly Hillbillies and strap some car seats to the roof of my car.
So if, like me, you need a good laugh, then here's something for you: Remarks by Charles Bernstein at an event to mark the release of this year's Best American Poetry:
Cultural leaders have come together to announce a massive poetry buyout: leveraged and unsecured poems, poetry derivatives, delinquent poems, and subprime poems will be removed from circulation in the biggest poetry bailout since the Victorian era. We believe the plan is a comprehensive approach to relieving the stresses on our literary institutions and markets.
Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems. The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance.
Illiquid poetry assets are choking off the flow of imagination that is so vital to our literature. When the literary system works as it should, poetry and poetry assets flow to and from readers and writers to create a productive part of the cultural field. As toxic poetry assets block the system, the poisoning of literary markets has the potential to damage our cultural institutions irreparably.
As part of its series revisiting some of the landmarks mentioned in the Federal Writers' Project's American Guide Series, the NYT travels to Eatonville, a small town in Florida made famous by Zora Neale Hurston:
Eatonville has long been defined as a paradox of triumph and struggle. It is both a historic model of black empowerment and a community of nearly 2,400 where the poverty rates are twice the national average. It is a literary hub but also an oak-shaded example of rural Southern black culture — sometimes disdained, sometimes praised — that was born of American slavery. Not surprisingly, residents here are both proud and protective.
And the concern about Eatonville’s image really began with Zora, which is all anyone here calls Hurston. She introduced the world to her hometown through heartfelt, dialect-heavy books like “Mules and Men” (1935) and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937).
Five paragraphs in the Florida guidebook transformed the town, just off Route 17, a road that runs through the oft-forgotten center of Florida into a stage of black history and human drama. Bold as a bass drum in both life and literature, Hurston led readers to the store owned by Eatonville’s first mayor, Joe Clarke, then veered into more private areas. “Off the road on the left,” she wrote, “is the brown-with-white-trim modern public school, with its well-kept yards and playgrounds, which Howard Miller always looks after, though he can scarcely read and write.”
She also mentioned the new husband of Widow Dash and wrote that Lee Glenn “sells drinks of all kinds and whatever goes with transient rooms.”
So in just a few hundred words, Hurston linked Eatonville with self-government but also illiteracy, remarriage and sex. Clearly, Fodor’s this was not.
In fact, it was not a portrait everyone appreciated.
I'm sucked in to politics right now like a hungry tick on a bloodhound which means I've heard Joe Lieberman say the word titular one too many times today. Trust me, once is enough to hear anything starting with tit coming out of that tit's mouth.
Also, for your reading pleasure: Sarah Palin, the Beat poet.
I'm as excited as anyone to watch the debate tonight, but if I lived anywhere close to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I would be watching the debate on tape delay. No way would I miss Barry Hannah's reading there:
“It’s been a long time,” said Michael Martone, chair of UA’s creative writing program, “at least since I’ve been here, and that’s 12 years now.”
Hannah contacted Martone, noting he still has family here and visits often. In addition to the new book, Grove Press has recently re-issued a collection of his older titles, among them “Ray,” written about his time in Tuscaloosa, “Geronimo Rex,” which won the William Faulkner Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award, the story collections “Airships” and “Bats Out of Hell,” and “High Lonesome,” which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Hannah still has friends here as well.
“We were great friends; we were drinking buddies, is what we were,” said UA English professor Phil Beidler, “although I’m proud to say neither of us has had a drink in more than 20 years. We were co-enablers. We took to each other like ducks. We were just loony for a while.”
Hannah did bring a revolver to class once, in the same case with his flugelhorn. Esquire magazine, in a 1998 article, backs that up. Students apparently tried to walk out on Hannah’s impromptu solo, at which point he waved the pistol, saying “Now this is some bad soul. You guys had better learn the difference.”
The story about Hannah firing into the floorboards of his MG, having let it fill with rain while he drank away an afternoon at The Chukker, apparently has its basis in truth as well.
“I’ve never heard him say it; but it’s almost like it’s in the air,” Martone said.
On what was a beautiful Saturday, the first in a while, I took the family to downtown Raleigh to the Bug Fest where I managed to thoroughly disgust them. Check out the reaction toward the end of the video. And if you have any recipes, please share.
Once upon a time, you couldn't go more than a few hours without seeing this video played on one of your music television channels. Nowadays, you can't even find this on YouTube. What gives? I still love this song after all of these years; in fact, I would place this solidly in the Syntax of Things Top 10 songs and videos ever.
After Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, 29, graduated from New York University with an English degree in 2001, she did what she was supposed to do, which was land a coveted job as an editorial assistant at a major publishing house.
She cried every day.
It wasn’t that Ms. Stockton Bagnulo did not love books enough. She loved them too much. Writing book-jacket copy from a cubicle, sorting files, “I felt so far from the things we were making,” she recalled.
Longing for the part-time job she had in college, at Three Lives, an independent bookstore in the West Village, Ms. Stockton Bagnulo returned to working there on weekends to cheer herself up. At some point she realized that graduate school in creative writing was not the answer (which was good, because she didn’t get in anywhere). “Gradually,” she said, “it dawned on me that the big, important thing I wanted to do was open a bookstore.”
A reporter for the Toronto Star re-enacted the cross-country motorcycle trip that Robert Pirsig detailed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and wrote his own book about it:
Re-enacting the journey from Minneapolis to San Francisco chronicled by Pirsig in his cult classic, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Mark Richardson digs deep to unearth the motives behind his tormented mentor's search for quality while embarking on a search of his own.
"I sent the first draft to Pirsig," Richardson said. "He read it and wrote back and said it was like being a ghost at his own funeral."
The editor of the Toronto Star's "Wheels" section had to be reached via pay phone at a truck stop in Dakota City, Neb. He's on the road again on a motorcycle, this time promoting his book.
"What was missing," mused Richardson, "was the fascinating story of Pirsig's life. He wrote about finding inner peace, but his actual life was in turmoil."
I'm all for a good reprint, but I had no idea that JFranz was personally responsible for the uptick in their numbers:
The toughest statement about what role reprints are filling comes from Persephone's Nicola Beauman, who doesn't hesitate to say that modern fiction has lost the art of storytelling, an attribute she distinguishes from plot.
"You get to the end of Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections' and you haven't been changed in any way," she explains. "You think, 'So what?' "
Beauman, whose "A Very Great Profession" chronicles the British "women's novel" from 1914 to 1939, argues that the writers and novelists she is publishing, Dorothy Whipple and Marghanita Laski among them, are exemplars of that lost art of storytelling. She refers, not disdainfully, to her company's books as middlebrow novels; Persephone's biggest recent success, Winifred Wilson's "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" (the basis for the recent film), might qualify. But it's tough to think of a contemporary match for its singular sophistication and generosity.
McSweeney's is eulogizing David Foster Wallace. Here's Tom Bissell:
I had one thing in common with Dave Wallace: we both dipped tobacco. Actually, we had something else in common: we were both from the Midwest. That, and I probably stole more from him than any other writer. But our friendship, such as it was, was mostly based on the fact that we both dipped, and used dip while writing, and often hated this about ourselves. The last time I saw him, in the spring, I had just had mouth surgery—my third mouth surgery, as it happens. We had talked about dipping a lot but we had never dipped together, and this was the first time we had seen each other in several years. We were acquaintances more than friends. It is hard to be friends with someone you admire as much as I admired Dave, and it speaks to his grace and kindness that, knowing full well what I owed him as a writer, he let me into his life at all. However. The tobacco. He had quit for a while but was back on it. I had quit for three weeks. After prolonged negotiation, we agreed we could probably have one dip together. We did, and then we played chess. He whipped me two games in a row, all the while expressing shock that I was so bad. (He had said before we started playing that his friends always expressed shock that he was so bad.) When, after the games, I asked him to sign my copy of Infinite Jest (which I bought in 1996, while in college, when spending $30 on a hardcover was a real bankrupter, and which book I have basically taken with me everywhere since, including Uzbekistan for the Peace Corps, which also wasn't easy, given luggage and space restrictions), he did sign, very tenderly and beautifully, but also somewhat tartly, drawing a little diagram to show our chess game progress, as if to imply a whole future of chess games with Dave Wallace to look forward to, drawing two check marks underneath his name and leaving the space under mine blank. Right before the weekend was over, though, I finally beat him. I forgot to ask him to amend his little chart. I figured the next time I saw him I would do that, and maybe we would even play again.
Jonathan Lethem takes a break from writing novels about music to write...lyrics for music:
"You Are All My People," which comes out today on Bloodshot Records, is the first album by I'm Not Jim, a collaboration featuring the vocals and guitar of Walter Salas-Humara, more widely known as the front man of the Silos, a highly literate and slyly humorous rock act that also happens to be a favorite of Mr. Lethem. The writer penned most of the lyrics for the unusual assortment of songs and spoken-word interludes that appear on the new record, but he doesn't actually sing or otherwise perform — unlike some of his peers.
"Rick [Moody] is a musician; he can play," Mr. Lethem, sitting at a table in a coffee shop around the corner from his Boerum Hill home, said recently. "I'm at pains to make it clear that I'm not pretending to be that."
You can read more about the collaboration and order the album at Bloodshot Records.
And because I'm in a good mood, for now, here's a song to sample.
+ I'm Not Jim--"Drink Til I'm Sober"
Ed has collected the thoughts of numerous folks for a nice remembrance of David Foster Wallace. I especially liked what Christopher Sorrentino had to say:
It does a disservice to Wallace and his work to remember it as a sustained exception to the “rule” pigeonholing postmodern work: that it is severely technical, devoted exclusively to games and to the algorithmic execution of formal steps. Time and again Wallace demonstrated that it is only through daring acts of creativity that we can be drawn into the human heart securely: via the questions he raised about the nature of storytelling; via his upending of reader’s expectations; and especially via his implicit condemnation of conventional narrative as the perfect formal delivery system for conventional wisdom. These approaches are not exceptional; rather, they go directly to the essence of the writing, and reading, experience.
It would be a further disservice if this great writer’s life, and career, were to become circumscribed, and defined, by his terrible death. Reading over the hasty hagiographic tributes which have appeared since Saturday night, many of which include ickily fannish scanning of Wallace’s works and public utterances for clues to his ultimate intentions, it seems to me that such tributes don’t appear to be the product of true “reading” at all. Wallace would have wanted such romantic horseshit shunted to the side — shredded and burned, if possible. Wallace wrote for the same reasons any writer does: to launch his preoccupations on the tar sea of composition, and to be read. That he is read, and even revered, has always struck me as a reason for hope — I gather that, tragically, it didn’t strike him the same way. Yet his output is not a 3,000 page suicide note, and even in the darkest corners of these fecund and exuberant works we can find no more evidence of the suicidally depressed individual Wallace evidently became than we can detect the impoverished and out-of-favor Mozart in his own exuberant late works.
He was the best we had. In perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.
One of the first promises I made as a blogger was that I would read and report on the results of my reading of Infinite Jest. I'd started and stopped the novel at least a half dozen times. In September 2004, I made it to the end...
According to reports, David Foster Wallace hanged himself last night. He was 46.
Update: Sarah says something I wrote in this post originally, but then deleted, thinking it perhaps hyperbole or overreaction or shock. She writes, "It feels like when Kurt Cobain died."
But the more I think of it, and for those of us who love reading, who love great writing, who appreciate the folks who pour their every cell onto the page for our enjoyment and elucidation, the news of DFW's death is probably sadder. At least for me at this point in my life and my career I think it is more of shock and sadder than Cobain's suicide was to me at the time. Where is Kurt Loder when you need him?
Every so often, we get teasers on the movie adaptation of On the Road. Nothing much new in this recent article, other than a hint that we're getting a little closer (for better or worse):
For the past three years, the Brazilian-born Walter Salles, whose new film, Linha de Passe, is released this month, has been working on a version that he hopes to "be shooting either at the end of this year or the beginning of the next". But will it happen? The story of two drifters, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty – thinly veiled portrayals of the author and his friend, Beat icon Neal Cassady – Kerouac's episodic account of his seven-year span of road trips across America has defied attempts to bring it to the big screen. "It doesn't have a plot," says poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "It was a road novel – a picaresque, like Don Quixote."
The first screenwriter to tackle Kerouac's work was Michael Herr, who penned the hypnotic voiceover for Coppola's Apocalypse Now before co-writing Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. Then came Barry Gifford, who not only had experience of the road movie after adapting his Wild at Heart for David Lynch to film but also wrote Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac with Lawrence Lee. After these versions were rejected, Coppola himself took a crack, writing a script with his son Roman (who co-wrote the script for another spiritual journey, The Darjeeling Limited).
"I tried to write a script, but I never knew how to do it," Coppola told me last year. "It's hard – it's a period piece. It's very important that it be period. Anything involving period costs a lot of money."
It probably didn't help when it came to convincing financiers that Coppola planned to shoot on black-and-white 16mm film. He held auditions in 1995, with poet Allen Ginsberg (the inspiration for the book's Carlo Marx) in attendance, but the project again collapsed. Then it materialised a few years later, with Coppola again at the helm, and Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt mooted to play Paradise and Moriarty.
After this version also faltered, Coppola brought in the novelist Russell Banks. It was now 2001 – the year the 120ft scroll of tracing paper on which Kerouac wrote the book was sold at auction for $2.4m – and Joel Schumacher was in line to direct Banks's script. Billy Crudup replaced Hawke, and it was said Schumacher wanted Colin Farrell to play Moriarty. Yet again the project failed. Citing Vietnam and the murder of Martin Luther King as watersheds, Banks says, "You could never have the innocence that On the Road portrays, where two white guys could roll a pack of Luckys in the sleeves of their T-shirts, get in an old Hudson, drive to Denver and think they'd gone to another planet. You could never again have visions of liberation, freedom and control like that."