“The late, great literary and social critic Dwight Macdonald (1906-82) was on the receiving end of some of the best literary insults of the 20th century. Gore Vidal said to him, ‘You have nothing to say, only to add.’ Leon Trotsky reportedly declared, ‘Every man has a right to be stupid, but comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.’ Paul Goodman cracked, ‘Dwight thinks with his typewriter.’
Garner says, “If you care at all about pit-roasted English sentences and don’t know at least two or three of Macdonald’s essays, hie thee to a bookstore.” I can think of at least one that has the book. We, by the by, recommend.
Hey there. I went to McNally Jackson yesterday for the first time--what a fantastic place! great selection and well organized. I picked up 'Airships' by Barry Hannah, which I've never been able to find in a bookstore before. You all are great. No question to ask. i just wanted to shout that out
“And besides selling new books in a climate barely hospitable to them, the store goes a step further by giving birth to them.”—Hey! The Village Voice put McNally Jackson Bookbirthers on their Best Of NYC list. (They’re talking about our fancy new Espresso Book Machine, and definitely not the climate in the store, which is v. hospitable to both you and books.) Thanks, The Village Voice.
“The first time I read at McNally Jackson, the staff was so cool! They even gave me a free book, How to Enunciate and Communicate Effectively. It’s in my To Be Read pile, on my nightstand. Maybe they’ll give a free book this time, too. Wouldn’t mind snagging a copy of that new memoir of childhood abuse, She Called Them Brussel Sprouts: A Survivor’s Tale. Been meaning to pick that up. The title alone gives me strength to face my own struggles.”—Oh, hey, Colson Whitehead sent us a nice little note about us before he’s here on Thursday to communicate to us effectively about zombies and Zone One (which, by the by, is out today).
John Summers, editor of The Baffler, has put together a collection Dwight Macdonald’s best essays for our original book, Masscult and Midcult. Tonight, he’ll be discussing Macdonald and his legacy at McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho.
Eugenides continues to insist that Leonard isn’t based on DFW. He is either being disingenuous now or sloppy then. Did he really not expect people to associate—whether or not he intended any resemblance—a depressive bandana-wearing chew-chewer with DFW? Either way it’s odd. (Salivagate: Never Forget.)
This piece in New York about Eugenides/Franzen/DFW/ et al. is worth reading. Wallace sends Franzen a letter that says, “You seem so mad at me. Why do you want to be my friend?”
Don’t let your excitement be soured by my little gripes, though: The Marriage Plot was a pleasure to read.
So The Marriage Plot comes out tomorrow, and reviews have already begun to pop up. One of the first was this messily positive one from Laura Miller on Salon. “Eugenides’ full-court-press attempt to prove it wrong is as gloriously sunny, harmonious and rational as a Handel suite,” she says. Basketball! Weather! Music! Mixed similes aside, she weirdly insists that—despite being a full-court press for marriage-plotted novels—the book has nothing to prove. But clearly it’s making an argument on its own behalf (wait til the last page) and on behalf of a genre—The Marriage Plot and the marriage plot.
Miller quotes a scene depicting main character Madeleine retreating to the library to read some 19th-century novels—“How wonderful it was when one sentence followed logically from the sentence before! What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative!”—and adds, “Exquisite guilt and wicked enjoyment are more or less what Eugenides intends the readers of The Marriage Plot to experience, too.” But as Miller knows (“Who feels guilty about their reading choices anymore (unless, perhaps, it’s the Twilight series)?”), no one feels guilty about reading satisfying, well-wrought realistic fiction. It’s the big books that readers of every brow read: See Freedom*, see The Art of Fielding**, see A Visit from the Goon Squad, a realistic novel on shuffle. (I can’t be the first person to call it that?) Eugenides—who did not win a Pulitzer for his achievement in beards, didn’t end up with a billboard in Times Square (!) for nothing—knows this. So for him to position his book as some kind of sinful treat…well, wait, what sin? And if it’s a defense of the regular novel (and it’s clearly trying to be) a defense against whom? The book asks for a too-easy sympathy for readers of regular novels from readers of regular novels, camaraderie in a made-up crisis. It doesn’t exactly feel like love.
*Also it’s worth noting that The Corrections feels born of some serious intellectual wrestling on Franzen’s part—-Is it okay to feel okay about this?—-where Marriage Plot just takes it for granted, winking the whole time. The Corrections felt harder won, and more enjoyable for it.
**A book that is ostensibly less “about” books, but nevertheless manages to feel more profoundly informed by them, both on a superficial plot level and an allusive intellectual one.
“[T]he chief fault of books … was that they came to an end when they might have gone on for as long, or longer, than I could have read them.”—Gerald Murnane, Barley Patch, new, and excellent, from Dalkey Archive. (via towirr)
Ungraspable phantom, indeed. My favorite party is the sea foam. Can anyone figure out what the quoted passage is? There’s probably a better way to try to read it then trying to turn your head upside down.
“‘Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices! Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this indissoluble league. Ha! Starbuck! but the deed is done! Yon ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers! drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow - Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!’ The long, barbed steel goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions against the white whale, the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down with a hiss. Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and finally, the replenished pewter went the rounds among the frantic crew; when, waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed; and Ahab retired within his cabin to eat cake.” (I searched this for “three to three.” And maybe added cake.)