10/29/2007 11:33:31 AM
It's book awards season again, and C. Max Magee, contributor to the book blog the Millions, laments that U.S. book awards like the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize do little to excite the reading public the way the Booker Prize does in the United Kingdom. In the U.K., the Booker shortlist furnishes an instant reading list and creates enough buzz that bookies take bets on the winners. U.S. awards, on the other hand, measure up to little more than promotional stickers on book covers.
If U.S. book awards better marketed their winners—or if the Pulitzer adopted a shortlist, as Magee suggests—would it rouse Americans out of their literary coma?—Eric Kelsey
10/23/2007 10:01:55 PM
Be warned fair reader! A grift is afoot at the nation's bookstores and libraries, and it goes something like this: One moment you're innocently flipping through a copy of Bukowski's Pulp at the local Barnes & Noble. Then, what's this? A small card inside? You glance at its enchanting print and, before you know it, you're enjoying a fresh, new poem by a relatively unknown contemporary poet.
Ellen Moynihan reports on the Guerilla Poetics Project (GPP) in the latest issue Poets & Writers. The outfit describes itself on its website as "a well oiled machine made up of fully rested and competent... wait, no, hang on, we're actually a ramshackle bunch of poets, artists, and madmen with a crazy idea to further the reach of the small press where great writing languishes in minor obscurity."
This secret society is covertly infiltrating book locales to seed targeted books with their small-press poems, providing an encroaching threat to the "undeservedly endowed" poets of academia and commercial literature magnates everywhere. After reading the poems, unwitting patrons can flip over the cards to enjoy a portion of the GPP's free poetry manifesto, which requests that readers aid and abet them by registering the discovery of said poem on the GPP website. (Enjoy a few of the dangerously lovely and novel designs on offer, such as these cards featuring the work of C. Allen Rearick, Justin Barrett and Charles P. Ries.)
This free poetry epidemic is spreading; poems have been found across Canada, Europe, and the United States. Warns the GPP manifesto: "We are putting the world on notice: we are here; we are writing; and we want your attention. If you're not willing to give us your attention, then we will take it from you. We will be heard. Are you listening?" —Jason Ericson
10/20/2007 12:00:00 AM
I am guilty of being one of the countless National Public Radio listeners that praises Ira Glass as an especially hip and talented journalist, so when The New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Glass and published by Riverhead, arrived at the Utne Reader offices, I snatched it out of the mail bin before it could hit our library’s shelves.
This compilation of Glass's favorite nonfiction is a shrine to some of the best storytellers of our time—familiar territory for the host and producer of NPR’s This American Life. “As far as I'm concerned, we're living in an age of great nonfiction writing, in the same way that the 1920s and ’30s were a golden age for American popular song,” Glass writes in the introduction. “Giants walk among us. Cole Porters and George Gershwins and Duke Ellingtons of nonfiction storytelling.”
The New Kings of Nonfiction is a shout-out to 14 of these modern giants, from Chuck Klosterman to Jack Hitt to Coco Henson Scales. I drank most of the stories down like water, but my favorite was Susan Orlean’s “The American Man, Age Ten.” Orlean’s profile of Colin Duffy, a Jersey boy who has a soft spot for recycling and a knack for playing Street Fighter II Champion Edition, has caused me to reconsider every 10-year-old boy I see, wondering how many are graced with Colin's clever, analytical mind.
But with a flip of the page I go from reading about a 10-year-old kid to learning about British soccer fans. The scope of the anthology is wide; the only requirement is solid nonfiction writing, at least according to Glass. But with the Glass stamp of approval, it is inevitable that a slew of others will jump aboard in offering their praise.—Cara Binder
10/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
"These days, we are all supposed to be sleek, tidy, and unburdened by material goods,” writes R.M. Vaughan in the October issue of the Walrus, and that may not be such a good thing. In “Dominick’s Fish” (partial article available online), Vaughan tenderly reports on the the aquatic rescue of hundreds of fish left behind when a friend unexpectedly passes away.
Well aware that many people would have just flushed the buggers, Vaughan finds cause to unpack the mixed messages of an anti-clutter culture that instructs us to shop nonstop, but clear our lives of meaningless things. Perhaps the things we cherish do have value, and, as Vaughan argues, “that such care resonates, and that the objects of our attentions and affections, no matter how slimy or scaly, can, and should, outlast us.”
Adopting this stance, naturally, could make dealing with possessions the deceased leave behind more emotionally complicated. It also could free us during our lives to acknowledge the material things we all quietly, sometimes guiltily, hold dear.—Julie Hanus
10/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
A group of gifted high school students bring poetry to the citizens of New Jersey, via an on-demand poetry stand, where amblers-by can request a poem in any form, on any subject. It’s no simple task.
In the Autumn 2007 issue of American Scholar, Douglas Goetsch amusingly recounts the summer he spent preparing his students to work the stand, supplanting the urge toward indulgent self-expression with the finer points of form and function—and above all, empathy.
“I think of Shakespeare’s open-mindedness, his ability to move between all those different voices with such aptitude,” Goetsch writes. “The poetry stand would require some of that: acceptance of a task no matter what, the assumption of capability, and tremendous empathy.”
The poetry stand reminds us that poetry can speak for everyone, and perhaps should do so more often. Especially those of us just ambling down the street.—Julie Hanus
10/18/2007 12:00:00 AM
In honor of Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize in Literature, Dissent pulled a 2004 essay by Jo-Ann Mort from their archives about Lessing’s 1962 landmark novel, The Golden Notebook. Mort argues for the book's political and feminist relevance nearly a half-century after it was first published.As gallons of fresh ink are spilled about Lessing, it's perhaps more illuminating to read an essay about her work untouched by her new Nobel status.—Eric Kelsey
10/18/2007 12:00:00 AM
In the September 30th issue of the New York Times Book Review, Stephen King warned that the short story is in a state of decline. According to King, the form suffers because fiction staples such as Tin House and the Kenyon Review get shoved on the bottom shelf on magazine racks, while “moneymakers and rent-payers” get prominent placement. How and why fiction gets second billing is beside his point; King focuses on what happens to writers when they know they’ve got a diminishing audience. According to King, their stories become "self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers."
J.M. Tyree argues at the Smart Set that short story isn’t dying, just that people aren’t looking in the right spot: Writing has shifted to the digital medium. It's only the technophobes who prize the bound specimen over the words. “The online world, especially for the older crowd, is still conventionally depicted as a kind of South Bank of London filled with the literary equivalent of bear-baiting," he observes. While Tyree acknowledges that “the short fiction available online cannot compete in quality with the better print quarterlies,” his survey of literary activity in various mediums makes surveying just one form—say, the print short story—seem shortsighted.
On his blog, Brooklyn, New York-based writer Ed Champion responds to King’s “distress call,” and offers an unusual solution. He wonders if audio books were performed more like radio dramas, instead of largely lifeless recitations, that if the $871 million industry might help American literature regain a chunk of the readers it has lost. “If the short story were truly important in the United States, then someone would step in and find a way in which to reach the great American public,” he writes.—Eric Kelsey
10/17/2007 12:00:00 AM
If the death of a child is an unthinkable loss, then it must be, by extension, unwritable: a grief that defies language and refuses explanation to those (thankfully) uninitiated. Cathy Smith’s brief essay, "The Unthinkable," in the parenting zine Hip Mama (article not available online) is compelling, in part, because she doesn’t except you to fully understand: She's keenly aware that she's reporting from the other side. Writing about the car accident that took her daughter's life, she provides a burning glimpse into a parental grief, into becoming the “one you never want to know what it’s like to be.”—Julie Hanus
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