“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.)
I’m sitting at a coffee shop in the Farragut neighborhood of Brooklyn with Fred Jordan, Barney Rosset’s right hand man and managing editor of the Evergreen Review throughout the sixties, and his son Ken, publisher of the online magazine Reality Sandwich. I had sent them a draft of the introduction to my book on Grove Press, and they didn’t like it. “If you take a publishing company to be a commercial enterprise, Grove never was,” Fred complains. “It wasn’t a business,” his son interjects, “It was a project driven out of passion, which Barney completely self-identified with.”
If Grove wasn’t a business, what was it? “We just called it Grove. Because it was just its own thing,” Ken replied. Jeanette Seaver had likened it to a family; Morrie Goldfischer had repeatedly used the term “team” to describe Grove’s core group. Nat Sobel told me that Rosset compared the company more specifically to a football team, adding “I’m the quarterback, and I’m calling the signals.” What about a rock band? “It’s more like a band than anything else,” Ken agreed. And then he added, “The relationship was not so much from one person to another. It was one person to Barney, and then Barney to everybody else.” And Sobel confirmed, “If we had any personal relationship, it wasn’t with each other, it was with Barney.”
Dustin has been recommending Gerald Murnane’s Barley Patch to me (and to you, with stickers). It “takes as its subject the reasons an author might abandon fiction—or so he thinks—forever,” or so sayeth the jacket copy. Which sounds a lot like Enrique Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co.—both in subject matter and title sound!—so I’ve been recommending that one at Dustin. (This is what booksellers do, by the by, just recommend books at each other’s faces all the time—I promise it’s not insufferable at all.) One has to assume that the Barley/Bartleby convergence is accidental, but one never knows. Or at least one doesn’t remember Barley Patch being mentioned in Bartleby, but one probably wouldn’t if it had, and one hasn’t read Barley Patch, so maybe Bartleby's mentioned in there and one just doesn't know.
But thinking about Bartleby had me griping that Vila-Matas’ Never Any End to Paris didn’t get enough attention. I was googling around and found this interview, which somehow I’d missed and is good:
What role has anxiety played in the creation of your works?
When it grows dark we always need someone. This thought, the product of anxiety, only comes to me in the evenings, just when I’m about to end my writerly explorations. By contrast, the day is completely different. As I write I control my anxiety and anguish thanks to the invaluable aid of irony and humor. But every night I am subdued by an anxiety that knows no irony, and I must wait until the next day to rediscover the blend of anguish and humor that characterizes my writing and that generates my style. “The style of happiness,” as some critics have called it.
“(A black-and-white film, in Italian, with French subtitles, in Paris, in August, in my late twenties: a case study in loneliness.) The only way I was able to get through it was by saying to myself, I can’t bear this for another second, even though there was not actually such a thing as a second in L’Avventura. A minute was the minimum increment of temporal measurement. Every second lasted a minute, every minute lasted an hour, an hour a year, and so on. Trade time for a bigger unit of time. When I finally emerged into the Parisian twilight I was in my early thirties.”—Geoff Dyer in the new Paris Review
Reviewers! Turns out Wikipedia pretty much already has you set: “Sometimes referred to as ‘America’s pastime,’ baseball has especially affected the language of other competitive activities such as politics and business.” Hit your review of The Art of Fieldingout of the park! (via Emily)
"Beautifully made, surpassingly human, and quietly subversive, The Art of Fielding restores one’s faith in the national pastime—i.e., reading and writing novels.” (Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision )
"Not being a huge fan of the national pastime, I found it easy to resist the urge to pick up this novel, but once I did I gave myself over completely and scarcely paused for meals. Like all successful works of literature The Art of Fielding is an autonomous universe, much like the one we inhabit although somehow more vivid.” (Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and How It Ended)
Hope your landlord raise your rent and see if you won't be asking people to sign your a petition to save your bookstore. Such arrogance.
This anonymous message is referring a tweet I twoted. I said, “I bet if every person who signed the Save St. Mark’s petition bought a book there, rent might be less of an issue.”
Maybe you read this post by Choire Sicha up on the Awl. It explains some of my cynicism, which you’ve misidentified as arrogance. A better explanation is this comment: “I LOVE St Marks. It’s a great place to wander and think about things, and I prefer to browse for books than search online for them. But I haven’t bought a book there in a while. I’m now reading most books on my iPod, because it is much easier to carry around. And e-books are (generally) cheaper.” This is not a joke. I hear things like this all the time. To my face, at the bookstore, from people who are otherwise sane and smart and nice.
I love St. Mark’s. I buy books there regularly—books that I could buy at the store I already work at. I just bought this there. I buy books there regularly because I’m glad that it exists and I want it to continue to exist.
Are there many serious, loyal & book-buying customers that’ve signed that petition? Yes. Do I hope the petition works? Of course. But it’s very easy to “love” a bookstore and sign a petition and feel swell and go buy on Amazon. Bookstores don’t run on love. Not even all-caps LOVE.