29 September 2010

In case you hadn’t heard, a new production of The Great Gatsby, “Gatz,” has opened at The Public Theater in New York. It is an 8-hour production, staged in a contemporary-ish office setting, featuring every word of the original text.  Listen to Rebecca Mead and actor Scott Shepherd talk about it at the New Yorker.  A notable revelation from Shepherd, having performed the text a few hundred times to date: that memorable, lyrical ending that we all know and love originally contained a typo.  Instead of “orgastic,” the text read “orgiastic.”  Oh, dear.  For all of you who read Gatsby in high school, in particular, this may come as quite a shock/disappointment…

24 September 2010

I’ve written a piece about Matthew Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft over at The Millions.  Crawford was an academic philosopher/director of think tank before realizing he hated the abstraction of his work, and so he opened up a motorcycle repair shop.  I really enjoyed the book and find myself more and more aware of my relationship with things – a different kind of materialism from mere ownership, but rather stewardship.  This is not to say that I am especially handy (though I can handle a power tool or two), or that I will necessarily become more so.  But there is something to be said for curiosity; for paying attention to how things work, and to longevity of function in an increasingly short-term society.

My essay was positioned in the header next to an article called “Coffee With James Franco.”  Well, heck: you can guess which article most folks are clicking on when they get to the home page (though I’m sure it wasn’t intended that way).   But I’ve been seeing Mr. Franco everywhere lately, and so does he really need to appear next to my essay about slowing down and paying attention and focusing on concrete work?  Oh, the irony.   Protest clicks in favor of Shop Class welcome.

21 September 2010

There’s a feature on Philip Roth in the current issue of Esquire.  I don’t think it’s online yet.  At 77, Roth has a new book out, his 31st.

About the writing life, he says: “The ordeal is part of the commitment.” And: “Don’t judge it.  Just write it.  It’s not for you to judge it.”   I like this bit, about Portnoy’s Complaint:

I let it rip.  I had written three books prior that were all careful in a way.  Each was different from the other, but they didn’t let it rip, and now was my chance.  It was written at the tail end of the sixties, so all that was happening around one, and I was living in New York at the time, so theatrics around me gave me confidence.

17 September 2010

I’m a little crazy for Tony Bourdain.  Adventurous eating — the kind that has no correlation to expensive or fancy eating — is a sort of moral imperative in my universe.  Tony is king of this ethic.  And, he never fails to make me very hungry.

In an interview with NOW Toronto, here’s what he has to say about his newest project:

I’ve got a graphic novel I’m doing with DC Comics called Get Gyro in the pipeline for next year. I describe it as Yojimbo meets Big Night and Babette’s Feast, an ultra-violent slaughter-fest over culinary arcana.

Did I mention Tony is also a brilliant ad man?

15 September 2010

I’m doing a two-part “Staff Pick” for September at The Millions:  two books about work.  Today, a brief look at Donald Hall‘s Life Work, a book that’s been vital to me since my early years of “Am I a writer?” angst.  Also, very much my inspiration for lighting out to the country and finding my (slow) rhythms for work.  This, along with Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life would likely be among my top 5 desert-island books.

Next week, I’ll write about Matthew Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft — wherein “a philosopher-motorcycle mechanic makes the case for the cognitive riches of manual work, for living concretely in an abstract world.”

13 September 2010

A good overview piece from Library Journal about the ever-changing landscape of book reviewing:

Over the last 15 years, the book review landscape has changed seismically. Reviewing is no longer centralized, with a few big voices leading the way, but fractured among numerous multifarious voices found mostly on the web. In turn, readers aren’t playing the captive audience any more. Undone by economics, many traditional print sources have been shuttered or, like the formerly stand-alone Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Book World review sections, either collapsed into the rest of the paper or moved entirely online. The New York Times Book Review is still standing but is half the size it was a few decades back.

Meanwhile, book talk thrives on the web, with eager readers thronging LibraryThing and Goodreads, trading recommendations on Facebook and Twitter, and pushing their own reviews on Amazon and barnesandnoble. com. From the most casual forums to rich and rigorous sites like the Millions, reviews are energetically spun out, then tweeted, rated, challenged, and otherwise subject to endless ­feedback.

Nice mention of The Millions, where I am a staff writer.  I also like this comment about the relative reliability/quality of “big” reviews versus “small” ones:

Falling back on glam sites like the Huffington Post or The New Yorker‘s Book Bench is definitely a cop-out. “I’ve learned as much from a ‘small’ review as I have from a ‘big’ one,” says Free Press’s Qureshi, “and, having written myself, I know better than to be snobby about my sources.”

Here’s the link to the full piece.

9 September 2010

Flavorwire offers up 20th-century literary analogs to some hip-hop superstars.  Har har.  (Where are the ladies?)

8 September 2010

I’m pretty upset about what’s going on “in my backyard,” and I’m hoping you will be, too.

In recent years, it’s been discovered that regions rich in Marcellus shale have the potential to be the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” This includes parts of Sullivan County, NY and Wayne County and Susquehanna County, PA (as well as CO, UT, OK, AR).  I live in Wayne County.

A Halliburton-developed drilling technology called hydrolic fracturing, or “fracking,” extracts the gas by injecting a complex cocktail of chemicals deep into the earth.  A debate has arisen between citizens and drilling companies regarding the safety of the fracking process.  Contamination of drinking water and other health hazards have been documented across the country where fracking is well underway.  Reports include: brown/murky water, people being able to light their tap water on fire and explosions of water wells (due to methane leakage), pets and farm animals getting sick and losing hair, chronic headaches and other otherwise inexplicable illnesses.

Under the Bush administration, energy companies were allowed to drill without regulation; fracking was made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The 2009 Frac Act – which requires drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process — seeks to repeal the exemption. The good guys in Congress are currently trying to pass the Frac Act.

In the meantime, while the battle rages and legislators work to maintain a moratorium on drilling pending a thorough EPA study, the energy and drilling companies have found a loophole in what they call “exploratory wells.”  Drilling for these wells employs pretty much the same process as actual wells, so the hazards are the same, but they are exempt from the moratorium or any other regulations/approvals; one of these loophole exploratory wells is being drilled right now 1/4 mile down the road from my house.

Josh Fox, a neighbor of mine who was offered $100,000 to allow drilling on his land, says it much better than I could, in his excellent documentary GASLAND.  Please go see it.  It will be playing Saturday, Sept 11 (outdoor screening) at FDR Drive and 23rd Street, 7pm; and at IFC Center from Sept 15-24.  It will also be playing frequently on HBO over the next two years.  It’s a terrific film (and very upsetting); I saw it outdoors in Callicoon, NY, where it was introduced by local residents/anti-fracking activists Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger.

Here’s the link to the GASLAND Trailer

Here’s a link where you can send emails to your local legislators in support of the Frac Act.

4 September 2010

I enjoyed this piece from Inside Higher Ed by Terri Givens, an African American scholar, called “Why I Study Europe.”  I came across it at Bookforum’s Omnivore, in a post called “Race and the Obama Era.

The Givens piece caught my eye because I am someone who speaks French better than I speak Korean; and because the main character of my second novel is an African American Russophile.

The world is an interesting place.

1 September 2010

An interesting piece at Publishers Weekly about fall indie picks (list of 40) and the crucial role that independent booksellers play in helping titles from indie presses break out.  One sales rep (whose enthusiasm is identified as having contributed to the success of Paul Harding’s Tinkers),  says that the book buyers at Book Passage and City Lights serve as her litmus test for whether an indie can make it.

Read more here.

Long for This World at City Lights this past spring.


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