Wednesday, April 29, 2009

when the night has come

Musicians from all over the world sing "Stand By Me" - better than swine flu any day.

Via Gizmodo: This cover of Stand By Me was recorded by completely unknown artists in a street virtual studio all around the world. It all started with a base track—vocals and guitar—recorded on the streets of Santa Monica, California, by a street musician called Roger Ridley. The base track was then taken to New Orleans, Louisiana, where Grandpa Elliott—a blind singer from the French Quarter—added vocals and harmonica while listening to Ridley's base track on headphones. In the same city, Washboard Chaz's added some metal percussion to it. And from there, it just gets rock 'n' rolling bananas.

Monday, April 27, 2009

fiction: closing time

My coverage of the Fiction: Closing Time panel is up at Jacket Copy.

Kellogg asked the panelists about their writing routines, which invariably led to a discussion of how to handle Internet distractions. Tower has two desks, one for nonfiction with Internet access and one for fiction without. He finds the Web “awful and irresistible.”

Stahl wondered what Dostoevsky would have done if he could have Googled vodka. Of course, writing is revising more often than not. Tower said that revision is not cleaning up after the party; it is the party. He then said he had realized that, in fact, there is no party.

Stahl told the story of Stanley Elkin, such a compulsive rewriter that he would often ride the truck to the printer, making last minute changes. DeWitt waits until he is completely finished with a book to consider public reception, relying on his wife’s tough editing. Stahl puts his work through Carver’s “cringe test,” but he also made the distinction between cringing and squirming. According to Bruce J. Friedman, if it makes you squirm, you should keep going.

publishing: the big picture

I have another post up at Jacket Copy on the panel Publishing: The Big Picture. The above photo is Kit Rachlis (right) and David Kipen, whom it was a pleasure to meet this weekend. We're fortunate to have him as our NEA literature champion.

...To earn shelf space at WalMart, a book already needs to be a bestseller. Rachlis described how other chains, such as Borders and Barnes & Noble, require a pay-to-play model, in which publishers must pay for the best placement in stores, leaving small publishers at a disadvantage. Other traditional venues for publicity – National Public Radio, newspaper book reviews – have been switching to an increasingly non-fiction menu, leaving fiction at a disadvantage.

However, all the news is not bad. Gibson praised the printed book as the “perfect form of technology,” prompting a round of applause. Kipen described the increasing success of the NEA Big Read program. Gibson explained that the chain stores offer deals for small publishers and argued that a loss of book space in the media does not indicate a lack of interest in reading among the general public. He also emphasized that newspapers are still reviewing and are increasingly vibrant and active online. Nadell stressed that what makes publishing interesting is that there is always a book that takes off against all odds.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

festival of books 2009 - day two

Another lovely day at the Festival of Books. One of my panel posts - Fiction: The Writer's Ear - is up at Jacket Copy.

In response to a question about her style, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum related how she has been a lifelong word collector since fourth grade, when she began recording vocabulary on index cards. Her favorite word at the time was “luscious.”

Two more to follow shortly...Meanwhile, enjoy some photos from today's panels.

Fiction: Breaking Point (l to r: Antoine Wilson, John Wray, David Ulin, Hari Kunzru, John Haskell)

Enough About You: Humor and Fiction (l to r: Carolyn Kellogg, Ben Greenman, Seth Greenland, and Tod Goldberg)

Fiction: Closing Time (l to r: Carolyn Kellogg, Patrick DeWitt, Wells Tower, Jerry Stahl)

festival of books 2009 - day one

As I mentioned to someone yesterday, this is my favorite time of year: The LA Times Festival of Books. Switching things up a little bit, I am doing some panel coverage for Jacket Copy. (I have to say that having a press pass and green room access doesn't suck). You can look for posts over there and/or follow my Twitter stream for updates throughout the day. Below are some photos from yesterday's panels (and some post-festival cocktails).

Status Update: Social Networking and New Media (l to r: Andrew Nystrom, Otis Chandler, Wil Wheaton, Sam Wolf)

Fiction: The Writer's Ear (l to r: Julia Leigh, Laila Lalami, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum)

Publishing 3.0 (l to r: David Ulin, Sara Nelson, Richard Nash, Otis Chandler, Patrick Brown)
Publishing: The Big Picture (l to r: George Gibson, David Kipen, Bonnie Nadell, Kit Rachlis)

Guava Sin et al at W Hotel

Thursday, April 23, 2009

writing for nonreaders in the postprint era

This both tickles and rankles - Robert Lanham's Internet Age Writing Syllabus & Course Overview:

Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new "Lost Generation" of minimalists who would much rather watch Lost on their iPhones than toil over long-winded articles and short stories. Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t! Throughout the course, a further paring down of the Hemingway/Stein school of minimalism will be emphasized, limiting the superfluous use of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gerunds, and other literary pitfalls...

Monday, April 20, 2009

j.g. ballard (1930 - 2009)

I was terribly sad to learn about J.G. Ballard's death yesterday. Ballard had a powerful influence on my scholarly work. At one point, I even pitched a book proposal focused on his work to the Contemporary British Novelists series at Manchester University Press. (Someone named Andrzej Gasiorek had the pleasure instead. Ballard was spared from "J.G. Ballard: A Philosophy of the Desiring Machine.")

Last night at the New Nonfiction reading at REDCAT, I learned of Ballard's death from David Ulin, who opened his reading with the piece that ran yesterday in the LA Times and is excerpted below.

It’s easy, from the perspective of the present, to minimize just how revolutionary all this was — we now live, after all, in Ballard’s world. Ballard, though, produced work that not only challenged his audiences but also actively provoked them, in some cases literally moving people to vandalism, as when he staged a 1970 exhibition of crashed cars at a London art gallery. This show, intended to illustrate the fetishization of machinery and violence, was a seminal moment for Ballard: It led to the publication of “Crash” in 1973.

“The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century,” the author wrote in a 1974 introduction to the French edition of the novel, “has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermonuclear weapons systems and soft drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudoevents, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century — sex and paranoia.”

Ballard did as much as any other contemporary writer to define and even craft the world we live in. He will be missed.

Photo via Telegraph

Sunday, April 12, 2009

sunday short stack

"Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house." - Henry Ward Beecher

Friday, April 10, 2009

it is christmas time and I am sitting here by my TV

Ah,'re electrical light.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

just enough money to live until the sun killed them

This week marked the 100th anniversary of John Fante's birth. Fante is most well-known for his novels featuring protagonist Arturo Bandini in LA's Bunker Hill neighborhood, such as the classic Ask the Dust. He is one of many writers to start to define the "new Californian" in the early 20th century.

The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun. And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others…These were my countrymen, these were the new Californians (Ask the Dust, 45).

The Hammer Museum hosted an event in Fante's honor on Tuesday and fans were invited to raise a glass at the King Eddy Saloon last night. (It is with great regret that I missed both of these events due to work obligations.) The LA Times' Carolyn Kellogg spoke with John's son, Dan Fante on the occasion of his father's birthday.

His father, Fante says, "was pretty much Arturo Bandini, only more intense...There was a compulsion and a passion and a drivenness and an ambition about my father that exceeded all his other characteristics," Fante adds. "My dad had two overriding moods. One was angry and the other was angrier." Now at work on a memoir about himself and his father, Fante explains that "what began as a very difficult relationship ended as an extremely loving relationship."

When he was 8 or 10, Dan brought him stories he'd written. John Fante, who hand-penned stories in the 1930s and later wrote screenplays before dawn, sitting in his shower stall and typing with two fingers, did not intend to make writing the family vocation. The feedback he gave his young son, Dan says, was "not good."

Stephen Cooper also wrote a piece for the LA Times, providing some background on Fante for those who may be lucky enough to have yet discovered him.

With a wife and four children to support, he cranked out treatments, screenplays and television scripts. Most proved forgettable and were never produced. For his efforts, he was accused of wasting his gifts.

Perhaps those who make such an accusation should be reminded that great novels are not made to order. Here is where the wonder deepens, for how are we to understand the unlikely convergences that, in late 1938 and early 1939, enabled Fante to write what many still consider the best novel ever written about Los Angeles, "Ask the Dust"?

Certainly his life lacked for no turmoil. Sixty years later, his wife Joyce would confide that when they weren't making love five times a day, they were often ready to kill each other.

Happy Birthday, sir.

Photo from

Sunday, April 05, 2009

sunday short stack

"Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it."
- Truman Capote

Friday, April 03, 2009

not like this should come as a surprise to anyone...

...who reads this blog regularly, but I dig the new Jack White project, The Dead Weather.

The new band takes White from the front of the stage back behind the drum kit, while the Kills’ Alison Mosshart mostly handles singing duties. The two are joined by White’s fellow Raconteur Jack Lawrence on bass and former touring Raconteur/Queen of the Stone Age Dean Fertita on guitar.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

what is the opposite of favorite?

Click to embiggen...

a mock commercial for zombie anti-depressants?

Paste Magazine surveys the imperfect art of the book trailer.

What is a book trailer? Consider it a marriage between the book jacket blurb and video. It's purpose is to act as a teaser in much the same way as a movie trailer. In fact, consider it a movie trailer. But for books. Still confused?