Chatter's blog

The Newspaper of Record -- but for whom?

In recent months the so-called "Newspaper of Record," the New York Times, has come under increasing fire for what its accusers consider a stark gender imbalance. (Though, as the annual VIDA count shows, it is far from alone in this respect. I'm looking at you New York Review of Books.)

Reasonable people, of course, are free to disagree about what this imbalance means . . . but, boy, the daily updates at the site "Who Writes for the New York Times" don't look pretty. See for yourself.

The History of English

The history of the English language in roughly eleven minutes. Not too shabby . . . though, as our island-bound friends would say, very cheeky indeed. 


Three Good Things: On Narration

1) There's a good chance you've not heard of or read Gary Lutz. This says nothing about you, though, and everything about his apparent allergy to self-promotion. Lutz's books are thin and too often tend to hide beside or slip behind their larger cousins. But, oh, what's packed inside! When we're not breathlessly awaiting our shipment of his recently re-released underground classic, Partial List of People to Bleach, we're re-reading books of his like The Divorcer. And then sometimes we're bowled over by something unexpected. Something like, say, a phenomenal, insightful interview with Blake Butler in, of all places, Vice. It's a pretty fabulous entryway into his thinking and style.

From my way of looking at things—and I have never been much of a looker—a word, enlarged to 24-point type (though I sometimes allow myself to go far larger, and I’m partial to the rondures of the Cambria font), presents itself to the eye as something hulky, just another lump of matter. The more colossal you get a word, the easier the meaning can seep out of the hollows and bowls and dimples of the letters. Sometimes, though, you have to scoop it out, and that can slow you down a bit. You’re left, ultimately, with something bony-looking and gutted, and you listen to the air whistling through the cavities, and something eventually comes over you: you want to fill those holes, pack them full, with something else, usually the plentisome slops and slimes from your own psyche. You’ve got to get something discrepant going on inside of the word. Then that word, with a louche sort of air about it now, and with a shifted import to it, can present itself to another word and start something swackingly unnatural. 


2) It probably goes without saying, and resist it all we like, but life is changing. Of course, not only is it changing, as life becomes more technologically mediated our perception changes as well. What's more, so do the stories we tell about the life we see and experience. It can all be quite dizzying. Fortunately, there are some very smart, creative people thinking about such things amidst the vertigo. frieze Magazine sat down with a few of them to talk about the effect of technological advances on our narrative structures.

Imagine a narrative format that has probabilistic outcomes.
Imagine a narrative format that can simulate unscripted contingencies against scripted choreography.
Imagine a narrative format that requires its authors to embrace contingency and irreversibly change during its making.
Imagine a narrative format that doesn’t promise a scheduled time to end.
Imagine a narrative format that erodes as you erode.


3) While we're thinking about narrative structure and the accumulative advance of technology, maybe a step backward in time and across in culture is in order. The three-dimensional stop-motion films of Ladislaw Starevich are visual wonders. In this one from 1911, "The Ant and the Grasshopper," Starevich returns to that most basic -- but also infinitely adaptable -- narrative form, the fable. And though the lesson of the story is, admittedly, a bit harsh, we can surely learn something positive from Starevich's ingenuity. 

We All Need a Little Pynchon in Our Lives

What is to be made of the book trailer for Thomas Pynchon's dazzling new novel, Bleeding Edge (out September 17th -- reserve your copy today!)? Quirky on the same level as the book? Pynchon & co. trolling the very idea of a book trailer? Is it intentionally or unintentionally bad? Caught somewhere in between? Does it stumble on the sublime? 

Like some of Pynchon's best work, joke and mystery are indistinguishable. You're either in on it or not.  


Bleeding Edge book trailer from The Penguin Press on Vimeo.

"When all the others were away at Mass" -- RIP, Seamus Heaney

We lost one of our great poetic voices this week when Seamus Heaney died following a short illness. Described by the poet Robert Lowell as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats," Heaney's profoundly deep and human reflections on life and memory spoke to -- and will continue speaking to -- untold numbers.

In honor and memory of Heaney, here are a few examples of him reading some of our favorites.

1) Sonnet 3, from Clearances (1986)



2) "Scaffolding," from Death of a Naturalist (1966)


I'm also quite fond of his lyrical reading of that most musical of his poems, "Deor," posted at Poets Out Loud.

Authors in the News: William Vollmann

William T. Vollmann, author of the recently re-released (and utterly fabulous!) An Afghanistan Picture Show, was interviewed on NPR last week. It is not to be missed. He discusses in particular his recent Harper’s article [subscription needed], in which he details what he learned when he gained access to his FBI file: e.g., that he was on different occasions suspected of being the Unabomber and/or anthrax mailer, and deemed to have in his possession a flamethrower. Needless to say, the interview is a doozy.

Three Good Things: Media Phenoms


1) Oh, this is all sorts of fabulous: "In 1969 Norman Mailer ran for mayor of New York. He called for the city’s secession from the State of New York to become the 51st state; a ban on private cars in Manhattan; free public bicycles; devolution of powers over policing, education, housing and welfare to neighbourhood authorities; a casino on Coney Island or Roosevelt Island to generate tax revenue; and something called ‘Sweet Sundays’, one day each month on which all mechanical transportation, including lifts, would be banned. His fliers were apocalyptic: NEW YORK GETS AN IMAGINATION – OR IT DIES! His slogan was 'No More Bullshit.'" (For more, see the London Review of Books . . . )


2) Resistance is futile in the face of the newest phenomenon taking the internet by storm. For who can can deny the power of the BookShelfie?


3) Same story with this video of poet Neil Hilborn performing his poem "OCD." No matter your personal feelings about slam poetry, with four million views and counting Hilborn's description of falling in love and obsessive-compulsive disorder has rightfully captured our imagination and attention.



RIP, Elmore Leonard

Like a good many of you, we at Diesel were supremely saddened to hear the news of Elmore Leonard's death this week. Leonard is a quintessential American treasure whose work will, we are certain, continue to be read and adored.

One of the masters of taut, economical storytelling, Leonard was also a master at crafting the perfect opening line. Alex Belth and his friends at The Stacks blog have a wonderful compilation of some of his greatest.

A few of my favorites from their list: 

"The war began the first Saturday in June 1931, when Mr. Baylor sent a boy up to Son Martin's place to tell him they were coming to raid his still."—The Moonshine War (1969)
"This morning they were here for the melons: about sixty of them waiting patiently by the two stake trucks and the old blue-painted school bus."—Mr. Majestyk (1974)
"The gentleman from Harper's Weekly, who didn't know mesquite beans from goat shit, looked up from his reference collection of back issues and said, 'I've got it!'"—Gunsights (1979)
"Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something."—Bandits (1987)
"Chris Mankowski's last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb."—Freaky Deaky (1988)
"Foley had never seen a prison where you could walk right up to the fence without getting shot."—Out of Sight (1996)

Diesel Presents - Jorge Luis Borges

August 24th, 1899 - June 14th, 1986 Diesel Presents Jorge Luis Borges

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” said poet, short story author, and translator Jorge Luis Borges, who’d been writing from the age
of six. And in 1955, he was appointed Director of the National Library of Argentina, despite the fact that, by that time he was completely blind. In a poem, he put it best:

No one should read self-pity or reproach
Into this statement of the majesty
Of God; who with such splendid irony,
Granted me books and night at one touch

Borges considered his blindness an asset, saying, “When I think of what I've lost, I ask, 'Who know themselves better than the blind?' – for every thought becomes a tool.” He was, however, unable to continue writing in the traditional sense of committing ink to paper, and thus dove more into the realm of poetry, able to compose these shorter pieces entirely in his head while still embracing the wideranging themes of his earlier works: memory, reality, labyrinths, mirrors, gardens, animals, scholars, fictitious works, imaginary places, kings, bandits, knife-fights, assassins... Such is the breadth of Borges’ interests and so dizzying are the scope of his ideas that in the space of a few paragraphs, stanzas, and sentences, he packed more twists and turns than could most authors in an entire book. Crucial to this talent was a profound realization he hit upon while attending school in Geneva, Switzerland: inventing the idea of a book is just as effective as writing it; many of his stories deal with the effects of and reactions to fictitious works. 

Borges was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he surely deserved as perhaps “the most important figure in Spanish-language literature since Cervantes.” However, in his final years, he at last realized a childhood dream: he was able to stroke the fur of a living, breathing tiger.

At the age of 86, he died of liver cancer.

"Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks & You"

Yeah, I know Charles Bukowski could be... well, some say, distasteful, and others say, creepy. Funny enough, I don't think he would've disputed either description! Also beyond dispute is that his 1974 poem “Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks & You" is bitterly brilliant. Hearing him read it aloud today seems appropriate.

Happy birthday, Buk.