I’ve never been this excited

Weirdly, it just looks like a book. I'm sure that's a trick.

McSweeney’s will release its first cookbook in July. Are the pages made of banana leaves? Does the cover double as a camp stove? Is the whole thing scratch-n-sniff? I think I might die waiting to find out. Literally, of starvation, because I’m saving up my appetite.

The better to cross-platform you with, my dear

Red Riding Hood, the movie, is now available in written form, too.

The  novelization — well, actually sort of a prequel to the film, written during filming by a 21-year-old graduate of a creative writing program whose family is friends with the director — made its debut atop a New York Times bestseller list for children.

But wait! There’s more! It’s also a multimedia e-book, according to the L.A. Times, including video interviews with the film’s director, “an animated short film, audio discussion about the set design and props, costume sketches and [the director’s] hand-drawn maps of the world where ‘Red Riding Hood’ takes place.”

Red Riding Hood the original (you know, the movie) is getting bad reviews (“This movie sucks giant wolf balls”). The novelization for children is getting no reviews, except online gripes from readers irked that it lacks an ending. You’re supposed to read the final chapter online — it was withheld until after the movie opened.

It’s too bad these particular incarnations appear to stink. It’s important, I think, that even with e-readers and online-only final chapters, the same basic story — 700 or so years old — continues to inspire people to tell it again.

Size matters

I tucked into Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke recently. Twenty pages in, I had a bad feeling that I didn’t want to read it anymore. The next 20 pages made it worse. My dispatch from page 60 will have to come at a later date, for I have cast aside that “wildly ambitious” “masterpiece” for now. But what I’m really interested in is the clunk it made on the floor. Does “wildly ambitious” have to mean 614 pages? Humongous books get some automatic points, it seems, for being humongous — it takes a lot of ambition to make something so big, right? Maybe more reviewers should hand out points for brevity.

Meghan O’Rourke offered in 2006 a nice defense of the “small” novel in reaction to The New York Times’ inclusion of just a few in a “best works of American fiction” list.

Being termed ‘small,’ it seems, is a verdict on whether a book is familiarly ‘American.’ It reflects a perceived failure to pursue explicitly enough, in formal or thematic terms, our representative narratives of money, regret, ambition, and individual struggle in the messy maelstrom of contemporary social reality.

All that “flotsam and jetsam of social reality,” as O’Rourke calls it, tends to take up lots of pages. You could put two copies of The Things They Carried into Tree of Smoke and still squeeze in a Jesus’ Son.

Daniel Woodrell, who wrote the novel Winter’s Bone, suggested in an interview that the “sprawling novel”-ist leaves his or her job unfinished. He used to like many of those writers, he told The Southeast Review.

But now, I’m cutting in my head as I go along. I hear a lot of writers say this, that they’re cutting in their head as they read. It’s almost a different sensibility. I have a writer friend who tends to write longer works. They always call it being more ambitious, which I resent, because sometimes those writers aren’t making the difficult decisions of what needs to be there and what doesn’t. That’s what makes writing hard. Leaving everything, letting the readers decide what’s good, those are the choices I want the artist to make.”

I tend to agree.

Happy VD!

A little something for the poets: Hayden’s Ferry Review’s worst love poem, 2009.

And for the fiction fans: Good Writing, Bad Sex.

And for those who’d stick to the facts: Marriage Secrets From Kim Kardashian and Joan Didion.

And you thought you weren’t getting a present!

A line I remember

Upon reading these lines in “The Entities,” a story in Margaret Atwood’s collection Moral Disorder, I had to lay the book on my lap, words down, and exhale carefully in order to collect myself:

Lillie had come to the real-estate business late in life. Long ago she’d been a young girl, and then she’d married, a fine man, and then she’d had a baby; all of that was in another time, on another side of the ocean. But after that came the Nazis, and she’d been put into a camp, and her husband had been put into another one, and the baby was lost and never found again.”

The baby was lost and never found again.

Those words took my breath away – I haven’t lost a baby, but the grief hit me in the heart — and the line is still running through my head as I try to figure how something so small and simple works so powerfully.*

Do other readers remember lines like that, little ones – almost asides — that leap as if out of nowhere and leave you stunned? Read more »

Rhetoric in the crosshairs

Rhetoric’s name has taken some hits lately, as “the pundints” have linked the assassination attempt in Arizona to violent rhetorical language used by Sarah Palin.

At its worst, rhetoric appeals to our prejudices and fears. As bits and lengths of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches stack up today on our news feeds, we’re reminded that, at its best, rhetoric lifts us out of those things. One of our strengths in America, I think, is our commitment to self-criticism, “self” including the individual and national levels. Amid that, the best political rhetoric gives us an unusual feeling: We are good, and we can be better. Read more »

Art? flick

Thierry the Frenchman: artiste or poseur? (Image from www.banksyfilm.com)

Have you seen this maybe-fake documentary by Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop?

If not, I’ll summarize some bits perhaps interesting for those who enjoy wondering: WHAT IS ART? HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY FOR WHAT I SUSPECT MY ELEPHANT COULD RANDOMLY GENERATE? ETC. Read more »

On the subject of animal friends

A retelling.

Amy Jean Porter, a drawer of animals, has a book coming out with poet Matthea Harvey: Of Lamb, which retells the story of Mary and her friend. In this version, they fall in love. McSweeney’s will publish the book in March, but you can take a peek here: www.amyjeanporter.com/new.html.

Moving pictures

… accompanied by music. Worth clicking through, especially for lovers of New York City and/or Beethoven and/or time-lapses.


Rhythm of the rails

John Grierson’s reading of W.H. Auden’s poem “Night Mail,” written to accompany the 1936 documentary film by the same name.

Staypressed theme by Themocracy