Tuesday, January 27, 2009

john updike (1932 - 2009)

John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76.

David Ulin discusses Updike at the LA Times and on KPCC.
Michiko Kakutani reflects at the New York Times.

Monday, January 26, 2009

four more

It's hard to believe this blog is four years old today. It's been a bit out of sorts lately, sharing my attentions with that Twitter kid, but I have no plans to dismantle it anytime soon. Happy Anniversary!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

sunday short stack

"If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner." - Tallulah Bankhead

* Scouting New York
* Gross Stuff in LA (via JD)
* sleepingchinese
* The End
*Guardians: Russian Art Museum Guards
  • And last but not least, a collection of inauguration ephemera:
* We Are One
* Obamicon.me
* New York Times photo album
*Boston.com photo album

Friday, January 23, 2009

losing everything

Jennifer Weiner has an incisive post on how differently women's memoirs are judged.

So, just to be clear, if you’re a lady and you ‘fess up to an unhealthy online interest in an ex, you may have “lost it entirely.”

If you’re a dude and you write about, say, smoking pot with your prepubescent son, scoring coke with your daughters asleep in your car, or spewing uncontrollable diabetes-related diarrhea all over your son’s back seat, well then you, sir, have written “a bruising survival story,” or a
“brave, heartfelt, often funny, often frustrating book.”

If you’re a chick who sleeps around and lives to tell (and sell) the tale, you’re greedy, vain and charmless. If you’re a guy who spends nights on end looking at Internet porn and days investing in drug companies that overcharge cancer patients for their cures, then you’re “formidably smart.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

scrapping for small pieces of the pie

Jonathan Ames's The Extra Man will be made into a film with Kevin Kline and John C. Reilly.

"This is a film for our times, these hilarious characters living on the edge of enormous wealth, scrapping for small pieces of the pie," Bregman said. "I suspect a lot of people will be able to identify nowadays."

(Isn't there something off about The Nanny Diaries and American Splendor being directed by the same people?)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

sunday short stack

"We have to do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering, the different technology that young people are using today." - Republican National Committee Chair Mike Duncan

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

reading on the rise

David Ulin reflects on "literary eugenics" after the release of this week's NEA report that reading rates are up.

Then there are the demographics, which may say less about literary habits than about American life...Not surprisingly, reading rates go up according to level of education; 68.1% of college graduates identify as readers, compared with 39.1% of high school graduates and 18.5% of those who never went to high school. Consider ethnicity -- 55.7% of whites, 42.6% of African Americans and 31.9% of Latinos meet the NEA's "literary reader" criteria -- and you get a fuller picture, suggesting that, in the U.S., reading is a talisman of class.

This is important because "Reading on the Rise" correlates its findings to a broader context, framing reading in terms of moral value. "Reading is an important indicator of various positive individual and social behavior patterns," the report informs us, adding that "previous NEA research has shown that literary readers attend arts and sports events, play sports, do outdoor activities, exercise and volunteer at higher rates than nonreaders."

Setting aside the question of whether reading is, or even should be, good for you (check out Alan Bennett's short novel, "The Uncommon Reader," for a deft take on the other side of that debate: books as socially disruptive), these sorts of comparisons suggest a disturbing subtext, in which a certain kind of reader makes a better grade of citizen -- literary eugenics, in other words.

At Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg considers the effect of the NEA's inclusion of online reading.

In his introduction to the executive summary, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia -- a poet -- sets new media up in opposition to reading. He writes:

A decline in both reading and reading ability was clearly documented in the first generation of teenagers and young adults raised in a society full of videogames, cell phones, iPods, laptops, and other electronic devices.

I'm troubled by the idea that laptops are anti-literature. Clearly, much of the time people are staring at their laptops, they're reading. I thought perhaps the report would say that the next generation of young adults found their way to literature through all the reading they do with new media. Well, here's the next sentence:

Faced by a clear and undeniable problem, millions of parents, teachers, librarians, and civic leaders took action (inspired by thousands of journalists and scholars who publicized the issues at stake). Reading became a higher priority in families, schools, and communities. Thousands of programs, large and small, were created or significantly enhanced to address the challenge. The NEA’s Big Read program is only one conspicuous example of these myriad efforts.

When I reported on the Big Read for the paper, I found it to be a lovely program. But the connection between offline pro-reading programs and increased reading rates seems tenuous. What other factors were considered? Did libraries expand, increasing access to books? Did people have more leisure time from 2002 to 2008, more time to sit and read? And what about those pesky laptops, after all?

At the recent MLA convention, I spent most of my time with the "new media" folks. We attended panel after panel where digital media scholars and theorists presented on new ways to acquire, process, and enjoy texts of all kinds, increasing methods of access and dissemination. Invariably, a voice from the back of the room - why always the back of the room? - would ask the panelists about the fact the students aren't reading anymore. Time after time, it would be pointed out that all students do all day is read, just perhaps not from the prescribed bound books the questioners coded as approved "reading."

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Rather than post a Sunday Short Stack this week, I'm going to work on actually posting during the week (doh). For now, enjoy an entry from the blog F*ck Yeah! Ryan Gosling.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

sunday short stack

"One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy." - Aristotle

Thursday, January 01, 2009

52 books in 52 weeks

So surprisingly, this isn't the worst year yet, despite being quite preoccupied with non-reading endeavors. In 2006, I read 32 books. In 2007, I read 40. Here's to breaking at least 45 in 2009 if not making it all the way to 52.

30. This Must Be the Place by Anna Winger

This is a simple, lovely story about expat/pat friendship in contemporary Berlin. The characters and the city are drawn with detail and warmth. While not a feel-good cop-out, the novel still makes you feel quite good about the possibility of redemptive love, platonic or otherwise.

31. Vacation by Deb Olin Unferth

I covered this McSweeney's release here.

32. One More Year: Stories by Sana Krasikov

Krasikov quite successfully captures the modern-day Russian emigré existence (I assume). Her stories portray characters of all ages, dispositions, and locations, struggling to make connections with each other and their homeland. Only rarely does Krasikov's youth seep through.

33. The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

The two tales intertwined in this novel are perfectly complementary yet distinct in style and purpose. The narrator's return journey to his native Sarajevo with the somewhat sinister and sexy Rora is suspenseful and lush, and the story of Lazarus is heartbreaking and illuminates an important (though not proud) moment in American history. The fact that it wasn't all that long ago that Hemon mastered English is pretty damn humbling.

34. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dungby Lester Bangs

It was interesting to see how Bangs's prose could be so prescient and dated at the same time. His narrative energy is palpable, and it's obvious his legacy pervades most music journalism today.

35. The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin

I'm all about the Slavs this month apparently. This book is fun - I mean, werefox prostitute in modern Moscow? - of course, it's fun. The question is whether it's valuable beyond the surface. I'm still deciding.

happy new year!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict 2009 will be surprisingly fantastic.

"One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things." - John Burroughs