Open Thread: Retreat to the Library

“Modesty did not come naturally to her; she seemed to have a knack for drawing attention to herself, a characteristic that went largely unnoticed in a family of spirited exhibitionists. No one took the trouble to put her in her place.”

Online reading has greatly damaged my ability to focus on anything as demanding as a whole book, but fortunately there are so many of them around here that I keep stumbling over “new” (to me) wonderments anyway. Just finished reading Young Bess (Margaret Irwin) and liked it so well that I’m ordering copies of the other two parts of the trilogy. Now I’ve started Marion Meade’s Eleanor of Aquitaine, from which the quotation above is taken.

What are you reading, apart from the interwebz? Any recommendations for the long winter nights?








This Is How You Do It

I’ll be buying this book (Amazon link), not because I really want to read a Vietnam War novel, but because I want to reward an author who takes editing as seriously as it should be taken:

This is one of the great works of fiction about that war, or any war, and it emerged from a patient, 30-year writing effort in the face of skepticism from everyone but the author himself. The book has a dramatic back story. Marlantes, from a tiny West Coast logging town, won a Rhodes Scholarship from Yale—and then left Oxford after a semester to fight as a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam, where he was badly wounded and highly decorated. He began writing his story in the mid-1970s and steadily refined what had been a 1,700-page first draft to the fast-moving 600 pages of the published version.

Maybe it’s just my NADD (Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder) but I’ll be goddamed if I can find many books that are well edited, especially in history and politics. Nixonland was just a sprawling mess. I’m reading Boardwalk Empire right now and my Kindle is in danger of being pitched across the room because the author did a nice, tight job with Nucky Johnson (the model for the show’s Nucky Thompson), then filled the rest of the book with deadly dull details about the present-day reformers. There’s no reason why every book has to be as long and dense as a Jane Austen David Foster Wallace novel, other than perhaps the publisher’s need to justify charging a rapacious $12.99 for a Kindle version that costs almost nothing to distribute and should be shorter by half.








Open Thread: A Million Little (Would-Be) Madoffs

Tales from the Days of a Dying empire, part 1,426,000: Tom Scocca at Slate explained that “James Frey Is A Jedi Knight of Bullshit”, pointing to an article in New York Magazine. Frey, whose eventual obituary will be headlined with some variant on “Writer Who Was Legally Required to Apologize to Oprah On-Air for Lying”, is said to be shilling promoting his version of an atelier:

… looking for young writers to join him on a new publishing endeavor—a company that would produce mostly young-adult novels. Frey believed that Harry Potter and the Twilight series had awakened a ravenous market of readers and were leaving a substantial gap in their wake. He wanted to be the one to fill it. There had already been wizards, vampires, and werewolves. Aliens, Frey predicted, would be next.
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Frey said he was interested in conceiving commercial ideas that would sell extremely well. He was in the process of hiring writers—he said he’d already been to Princeton and was planning on recruiting from the other New York M.F.A. programs as well…

Okay, anyone who’s ever enjoyed any variety of what the classifiers call “genre fiction” is already calling bullshit, because (a) this particular hustle goes back to Gutenberg; and (b) whatever one considers the literary talents of J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, neither one of them can be accused of cranking out boilerplate to fill a marketing niche — even those who dismiss their work as meretricious crap admit that it’s heartfelt meretricious crap produced (sans MFA credentials) for the love of it. But the writer of the article and her classmates… well…

… But many of us felt an adrenaline rush: Against all odds, Frey was still at it. He was thrilling, condescending, rude, empowering, and haughty. “He didn’t show an ounce of self-doubt,” says Philip Eil, then a first-year nonfiction student. “Not a second of wavering. He was 110 percent that there was no truth, that he would live forever through his books.”
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Mostly, though, we talked about his invitation. We were desperate to be published, any way we could. We were spending $45,000 on tuition, some of us without financial aid, and many taking out loans that were lining us up to graduate six figures in debt. A deal like the one Frey was offering could potentially pay off our loans and provide an income for the next decade. Do a little commercial work under a pseudonym, sell the movie rights, and never have to suffer as a writer in New York. We wouldn’t even need day jobs…

Spoiler alert: It turns out to be… not that simple. The rest of the story is part Edith Wharton, part Tom Wolfe, with a considerable admixture of Sammy Glick. There are glamorous photographs of Frey in proximity to upmarket celebrities, and an introduction to “book packagers“, traditional and otherwise. A happy ending, of sorts, is implied — the author, presumably, has been paid by New York Magazine, a far more reliable outcome than signing up for Frey’s movie-concept factory.

But I am left with one overriding conviction: If I were fortunate enough to be in a demographic capable of assuming a six-figure debt to acquire an MFA in creative writing… and someone notorious for being on the wrong end of “a class-action lawsuit that settled for $2.35 million” were to offer me a chance to help him scam a great many unspecified book-readers and potentially Hollywood studios, in return for nothing but six months of my hard work… I would not take him up on the offer.

In fact, I would put one hand on my wallet and resolve to discretely check my valuables and the change jar on the mantelpiece in Mr. Generosity’s wake, but perhaps I have just read too many spam emails from Nigerian princes.








Bush’s New Book “Decision Points” Isn’t So Much “New” as it is “Plagiarized”

Dubya is a LIYAH, and his pants are on FIYAH!

If you haven’t heard because you’ve been trapped under something heavy or whatever, Bush is back! And I’m not talking about the death of the Brazilian wax, either.

I’m talking about the butthole who turned this country into a right mess, and then peaced out, leaving The Black Guy to play janitor. The butthole who, two years later, just cruised back on to the scene as if nothing ever happened.

Man, I hate that guy.

You know who Bush is? He’s the guy who farts in an elevator and then walks out smirking, leaving you and everyone else in the elevator to wonder what the fuck just happened. Everybody hates that guy.

Later that week, when you see Fart Guy and call his ass out: “Dude! What was with the elevator air assault? That shit ain’t right!” Fart Guy will act all surprised: “What?! I didn’t fart in the elevator!

So you’re thinking to yourself, “Can you believe this guy?” but you press on: “Dude, a company-wide newsletter was issued, and it states “FART GUY FARTS IN ELEVATOR.”

But Fart Guy won’t budge: “So?

You get increasingly frustrated: “So?! Whaddya mean ‘So?’ You read that newsletter and you admitted it at lunch the other day! Now you’re saying it wasn’t you? WTF?! It’s a provable fact that you farted in that elevator, bro!

Still, Fart Guy isn’t phased. He just shrugs and says, “Whatever, dude. I reject your ‘facts’. In fact, ‘facts’ are just stubborn opinions.” Then he farts again, smirks, and walks away.

Tortured analogy or not, this is what George Bush’s book is: It’s a fart in a crowded elevator.

And, as it turns out, it’s not even an original fart in a crowded elevator. It’d be like if Fart Guy went to a Fart Factory where all the best and brightest and smelliest farts are stored; grabbed a couple fart particles from this batch o’ farts and a couple from that batch o’ farts; sealed them up in a bottle; and then fired off the faux fart in the elevator. That’s what this is like.

What the hell am I talking about? Who knows, really. It’s mostly just a ploy to get you toread this post because I just re-read it and I’m cracking up.

But, I’ll cut to the chase: George W. Bush is a dirty damn plagiarizer and a dirty damn liar. Rather than write (or have someone write) an original book, (or “a book” as it’s known in common parlance), he lifted passages from a bunch of books and articles written by other people. Smarter people. People with better farts that were ripe for the bottlin’.

Here’s an example from The Huffington Post:

From Decision Points, p. 205: “When Karzai arrived in Kabul for his inauguration on December 22 – 102 days after 9/11 – several Northern Alliance leaders and their bodyguards greeted him at an airport. As Karzai walked across the tarmac alone, a stunned Tajik warlord asked where all his men were. Karzai, responded, ‘Why, General, you are my men. All of you who are Afghans are my men.'”

From Ahmed Rashid’s The Mess in Afghanistan, quoted in The New York Times Review of Books: “At the airport to receive [Karzai] was the warlord General Mohammad Fahim, a Tajik from the Panjshir Valley …. As the two men shook hands on the tarmac, Fahim looked confused. ‘Where are your men?’ he asked. Karzai turned to him in his disarmingly gentle manner of speaking. ‘Why General,’ he replied, “you are my men—all of you are Afghans and are my men…'”

Bush was not at Karzai’s Inauguration.

And another: Read more








PSA: Griftopia

As you probably know, Matt Taibbi has a new book out, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. Within it, Taibbi moves from his established gig reporting on the weirdness that is modern American poltical campaigning…

… Being in the building with Palin that night [of her acceptance speech for the VP nomination] is a transformative and oddly unsettling experience. It’s a little like having live cave-level access for the ripping-the-heart-out-with-the-bare-hands scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A scary-as-hell situation: thousands of pudgy Midwestern conservatives worshipping at the Altar of the Economic Producer, led by a charismatic arch-priestess letting loose a grade-A war cry. The clear subtext of Palin’s speechi is this: other politicians only talk about fighting these assholes. I actually will.
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Palin is talking to voters whose country is despised internationally, no longer an industrial manufacturing power, fast becoming an economic vassal to the Chinese and the Saudis, and just a week away from an almost-total financial collapes. Nobody here is likely to genuinely believe a speech that promises better things.
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But cultural civil war, you have that no matter how broke you are. And if you want that I, Sarah Palin, can give it to you. It’s a powerful, galvanizing speech, but the strange thing about it is its seeming lack of electoral calculation. It’s a transparent attempt to massmarket militancy and frustration, consolidate the group identity of an aggrieved demographic, and work that crowd up into a lather. This represents a further degrading of the already degraded electoral process. Now, not only are the long-term results of elections irrelevant, but for a new set of players like Palin, the outcome of the election itself is irrelevant. This speech wasn’t designed to win a general election, it was designed to introduce a new celebrity, a make-believe servant of the people so phony that later in her new career she will not even bother to hold an elective office.
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The speech was a tremendous success.

… to a thorough, even obsessive, discussion of the new finance-based reality:

Our world isn’t about ideology anymore. It’s about complexity. We live in a complex bureaucratic state with complex laws and complex business practices, and the few organizations with the corporate willpower to master these complexities will inevitably own the political power.

Amazon’s currently advertising Griftopia for half off the cover price, and if you order through the link in the right-hand column, I understand you’ll be adding a couple pennies to Tunch’s personal catfood commission. If the Amazon teaser isn’t enough for you, Rolling Stone has an excerpt on “how our cash-strapped country is auctioning off its highways, ports and even parking meters at fire sale prices.”

The witty and foul-mouthed TBogg will be leading an online discussion of Griftopia at the FDL Book Salon on Saturday afternoon, November 27. If you are a faster typist than I, there should be some excellent back-and-forth shared there.