The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Archive for the ‘literary blogs’ Category

One can always depend on some form of mindless entertainment to shake its sequined figure in an effort to distract and amuse. First a “Lori Gottlieb” — I’m convinced she’s an escapee from a different dimension — wrote a most bewildering article for a supposedly respected political magazine called The Atlantic. I’m not sure how to seriously respond to her piece because…it’s as if she were speaking Sanskrit.

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist—vehemently, even—that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), every woman I know—no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure—feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.

Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.

I don’t know. Was this printed in the comedy section? Is it like the New Yorker‘s “Shouts and Murmers”? I read Ed‘s take on the article first, rather confused and concerned that he had come a little undone again, which happens occasionally, but I was soon set aright. But I first came across it at Old Hag; only read the title before I slammed on the backspace key, then. But I dutifully went through some of the other questionable articles, mostly book reviews, that The Atlantic published in the past and…well.

Things don’t take a turn for straightforward hilarity until one reads the comment section over at Charlottesville. One struggling rebel writer/martyr used the opportunity to make an irrelevant remark on the female hegemony today in publishing. The marginalization of male writers writing about real manly issues like “manhood” was deemed “progress” but resulted in nothing but the proliferation of chick lit! These narrow-minded female editors just don’t get the male point-of-view.

I wish to seek this isolated isle of literary matriarchy that is so resistant, even incapable of understanding the male mind. It sounds so wonderful when one considers the fact that women, for centuries, have by default been dealing with the masculine point of view in oral and written literature. I wonder which schools they went to…?

Your Score: Katharine Hepburn

You scored 21% grit, 19% wit, 57% flair, and 19% class!

You are the fabulously quirky and independent woman of character. You go your own way, follow your own drummer, take your own lead. You stand head and shoulders next to your partner, but you are perfectly willing and able to stand alone. Others might be more classically beautiful or conventionally woman-like, but you possess a more fundamental common sense and off-kilter charm, making interesting men fall at your feet. You can pick them up or leave them there as you see fit. You share the screen with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant, thinking men who like strong women.

Find out what kind of classic leading man you’d make by taking the
Classic Leading Man Test.

Link: The Classic Dames Test written by gidgetgoes on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

I found this at Shaken & Stirred.


Did you have fun? There’s more! A Mr. Richard Schickel labours under the impression that Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve is a name much bandied about among the literati. Now Mr Schickel was a Guggenheim fellow so I’m going to assume that he didn’t reach for an undergrad text in order to pull out a fancy name. But I hope he pardons my scepticism at the notion that merely being in print indicates any sort of rarefied literary insight. Isn’t his piece a perfect example of a reputable newspaper, that published a no doubt carefully edited article that conveyed absolutely nothing worthwhile, except for how wonderfully concentrating print is? (He and Shannon Byrne would get along swimmingly.)

I’m assuming Reader Response literary theory gives him the vapours, if not a full-blown panic attack.

UPDATE: Dan Green enquires as to whether attendance at Hollywood cocktail parties gains one entrance into Mr. Shickel’s exclusive coterie. Steve Mitchelmore and I have mentioned Sainte-Beuve so I think we’re in. 😉 (Although I daresay Mitchelmore has the edge: his work has been printed in the TLS.)

The latest ripple going through book blogs at the moment is the NBCC’s campaign to save the book review spaces in newspapers. I’ve read about the demise of all the newspaper book reviews, except the NYTBR so seems the general consensus, accompanied with sour predictions on what this will mean for everyone who loves and profits from books.

I’m a very bad reader. I can never muster any significant sympathy for this decline. I don’t read any of the newspaper book reviews except for The Guardian. I’ve never tried the Globe & Mail’s, except for one lame mystery round-up. Literary journals I can get behind, sob over, picket at corporate towers, you name it, I would probably do it. Newspaper coverage? Not so much. The sort of reviewing they offer doesn’t interest me. Bloggers pretty much have me covered with the synopsis + concise commentary reviews, the book round-ups, even the casual mention of what’s on their bedside table. With the diversity of books covered among them all, and the wide taste of some readers, I can read their thoughts on romances, fantasies, mystery and literary fiction, all in one place.

What’s left? Author profiles and gossip. Hmm. I could live without those.

The point can be made that litbloggers point me to newspaper articles and this is true, in many cases, but why is it that I’m more willing to get it second hand than directly from the source? It’s not that I’m an unwilling free loader: bloggers have piqued my interest in a number of print periodicals, all of which I regularly post about here. They offer me something I can’t get on blogs. I got into The Guardian because the links I came across were consistently good or at least interesting, and it wasn’t simply the centre of another ruckus. (If I could I’d read the print version, because I always prefer the tangible version of anything if it’s available.)

Umm…what do I need the others for again? I know how much they mean to writers, publishers and other readers but I cannot muster much if any personal despair.

I hereby present a bunch of links that I’ve been itching to post.

I am over a week late but hooray and congrats! The Complete Review celebrated 8 years on April Fool’s Day. I wonder if any of the contributors toasted the moment at a good bar? In celebration I plan to pick a month out of the year to read The Healers by Ayi Kwei Armah, Conjugal Love by Alberto Moravia and Voss by Patrick White.

I chose The Healers because Armah was a writer with whom my brain has been intermittently obsessed. It is no exaggeration to say that his The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born changed me in fundamental ways: it awakened my global political conscious to a significant degree (and now I feel the urge to re-read so that I can post about it.) A year or two ago I read The CR’s Armah reviews and was inspired to read more of his work. The idea lazed around but CR’s 8 year anniversary–about half a century in blog years, no?–has re-energised it.

Conjugal Love is an Editor’s Choice for April and the campus library has it so I decided to give that one a go. Voss because Shirley Hazzard, in a wonderful Paris Review interview (she expressed herself so elegantly I was transported), was the latest person to give it high praise, and the CR champions the author whenever it can.

I probably won’t get them all done within the same month, but before the year is out.

Are any of you, my dear readers, in the know about the litblog crowd in general? Dan Green did a reasonable assessment of the n + 1 “vs” litbloggers piffle but we’re all tired of the situation. What’s entertaining (sad, really) is the comments. The only one worth consideration is Steven Augustine’s. The most puzzling one was by a certain fellow who insisted that Green was not critical enough of the popular bloggers who had engaged in the scuffle, and the only reason he could come up with for Green’s restraint was that he owed them…something. To quote, “my perception is that even the most intelligent of you guys are too beholden to the ur-bloggers to give them criticism of a kind that might help them better contribute to the overall conversation.”

Eh? How on earth is Green “beholden” to Sarvas and Champion? For links? I am a regular reader of all three and Sarvas and Champion do not link to Green very often so that can’t be it. Would he risk being kicked out of the LBC? (OOooooOOOooo.) Is there some secret salon somewhere where the intelligent “ur-bloggers” and the “shoddy” thinkers get together network for…I don’t know, for what sort of blessed thing could they be making connections? I always leave this matter confused. I don’t know who the other indebted bloggers are but if an insider could please leave a comment or drop me an e-mail and let me know the way this works I’d be grateful.

If you have not yet noticed I stole Ted’s idea and set up a sidebar widget, “Nota Bene”, that lists any notable sites or articles I read. It’s a diverse, growing collection of links that’s primarily literary and political that I tag and save using

My newest blog find is Like Patience on a Monument, which I spotted on Metaxucafe. She envisions her blog not as a way to

review the newest music or films or books. My intention, rather, is to bring to the forefront, to express my deep appreciation for those little (or big) gems of art tucked away in the annals of time. I want to recognize that eternal stuff that lets you read a book 10 times and discover something new , something exciting with each new read, that stuff that makes you tear up when you hear that one special release in a crescendo, a piece of music, a favorite book. These are my favorites; this is my mission.

Started last month the blog is new but QueenMab is no novice at writing appealingly thoughtful, informed, inviting posts on poetry, fiction, films and music. Do check out her “experimentation in literature” at Behold the Women.

At The Elegant Variation guest interviewer Kate Durbin asks Chris Abani questions about his latest novel The Virgin of Flames and about the themes typically present in his fiction. It’s marvellous the way a few good questions can provide more meaty thoughts than most if not all the newspaper profiles he’s done recently.

DURBIN: The instability of identity and the longing for a personal identity one can call his or her own is a major theme in all your books. It seems to me that the longing for some place to call home, for a self to truly own, is the essential theme of this novel, even underlying questions of sexual and racial identity (but obviously inseperably connected). Can you talk a little bit about that longing Black feels for a self to own?

ABANI: Well, it’s not so much that identity is unstable, as it is a process and not a destination, if I can paraphrase Homi Bhaba. If that is the case, and I feel that for me it is, then we are always becoming something. If we are able to acquire enough stuff around us we appear more stable, more static than others. These things, kids, families, wealth, reflect ourselves to us and we tend to think of the image as the self. When people find themselves without mirrors, there is nothing to reflect off of, and they begin to unravel. It’s like in the old vampire movies, where the vampires have no reflection. This is their biggest sadness and their greatest desire.

I don’t know if I should be concerned, though, that his book, an original paperback published by Penguin released Jan. 30th, is already scheduled to be re-released by Jonathan Cape (Random House imprint) April 26th?

There has been good coverage of Roberto Bolaño but I really enjoyed Carmen Bullosa’s piece Bolaño in Mexico in The Nation because I got a brief overview of the Mexican literary movements she experienced in the late 60’s and 70’s.

Have you been following the latest ruckus between print publications and lit-bloggers? It is at times confusing and generally embarrassing. There are many lit-bloggers who consciously aim to fill in the space left by ailing national book reviews. I think it is safe to say that most of us have either different or more modest ambitions.

If you remember Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles posted an excerpt from an n+1 article that is reportedly about how technology is quickening the rise of brain-draining, soul-sapping activities, blogging being only one among several anti-intellectual strongholds. This key paragraph seems to be the major bone of contention.

People might have used their blogs to post the best they could think and say. They could have posted 5,000-word critiques of their favorite books and records. Some polymath might even have shown, on-line, how an acute and well-stocked sensibility responds to the streaming world in real time. But those things didn’t happen, at least not often enough. In practice, blogs reveal how much we are unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak, and how secondhand and often ugly our unconscious impulses still are. The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested. (Not for nothing is the word blog evocative of vomit.) “So hot right now,” the bloggers say. Or: “Jumped the shark.” The language is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad, the phatic emotive growl and purr of exhibitionistic consumer satisfaction – “The Divine Comedy is SOOO GOOOD!” – or displeasure – “I shit on Dante!” So man hands on information to man.

The great Mr. Hallberg of The Millions was one among few who had actually read the article and he provided two considered, reasonable replies titled Keepers of the Flame and Love: A Burning Thing. Unfortunately the comment section in both is combative. If you don’t mind a bit more the of chaotic gossip and aimless flaming I suggest browsing last week’s posts on the matter at Ed and at Mark where he, perhaps hastily, decided to post his e-mail correspondence with Keith Gessen, an editor of the journal in question. (Sarvas has since wisely abandoned that route and posted his last word complemented with n+1’s refined response.)

The two comment threads that interested me the most were the ones at Long Sunday and The Valve. One of the best points made in these was that there are many different “genres” of lit-blogs so such a general article, without any specifics, comes off as lazy and useless. Roth and others assert that it was clear they were talking about Gawker and I thought, Gawker? What does it have to do with literature? (It’s the model apparently that we are aping.) He also seems less inclined to view blogs as vomit.

I’ve gone through several identity crises since. Am I a corporate shill for the BBC? I see my site as, among other things, a place for the kind of book discussions I’d like to have IRL but can’t because no one in my circle of friends reads or is at all interested in most of the things I read. It’s also more or less a journal where I sort through my ideas about the books I read, which in turn encourages me to be a more active, thoughtful reader. Perhaps my photos of book purchases are subconsciously vile product placements, done in the naive expectation that I’ll be submerged in review copies.

I could be a parasite. My exploration through the archives of Paris Review (and I intend to go aaaaaallll the way back to the 50’s) is little more than hot air to blow up my empty nattering. (And it may be linked with the “ethos of capitalism” thing.) I also got the vague feeling that my linking to and being a member of Metaxucafe has compromised any chance of my site vaulting to revered heights.

Roth hoped that with polemics we could all be more self-critical, willing to change our ways if we identified ourselves among the shitters on Dante. I left the confusing cloud of that discussion sure that I would want nothing to do with a journal who has an editor that thinks Scott Esposito is “well-intentioned” but “ignorant”.


The Elegant Variation: APRIL 29, 2003 – FEBRUARY 21, 2007

Mark Sarvas, the distinctive blogger who introduced me to the magnificent John Banville, the epic Luis Alberto Urrea and the intriguing Sheila Heti has had his own novel, Harry, Revised, accepted by Bloomsbury, set for publication in Winter 2008.

I’m excited. The book sounds really good and I like the fact that I’ve been sorta following the author before his big break. I tend to stay away from self-professed “writer’s blogs”–there they go moaning about book promotion and agents again–but am always delighted when more general literary bloggers turn out to be authors as well.

Laila Lalalmi is another litblogger I followed for years who turned out to be an author herself. Her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was a subtle, engrossing, thoughtfully provocative effort. You should try it!

Deliver us from these latter-day Pooters | Review | The Observer  (via Literary Saloon)

I hope Cooke did not get paid for this article. Here we go again as she heralds this imaginary battle line that has been drawn between the vaunted published, paid literary establishment and the nutty, banal, literary blogs. Hear ye, hear ye, we must not give in to the masses. Look here, some blogger called her a “shit sandwich”, another one a “bint”, and of all the sites that “all bloggers”–I wonder who they are?–recommended the only one of significance that registered was Grumpy Old Book Man.

I do not read reviews in any of the british newspapers; I may catch a link or two if it is on a site, but that is it. I do read a couple of the literary journals because, to my mind, the analysis (and the word count limit) featured is miles above anything that could regularly appear in the NYTBR or The Guardian. It may very well be that the book review space in English newspapers is robust and at its best. No doubt it focuses not only on the biggest names in the publishing world, with the biggest books, that every newspaper will be covering, but on the lesser known but still as excellent works from the independent presses. The book does not have to be released in hardcover 98% of the time for it to get something more than a lightning review. Poetry is given its fair space and translated foreign fiction is never shunned. Works are not judged by their genre labelling, but by the words on the page, with no prejudice. There are, I am assured, not so many books being published every day that the newspapers are overwhelmed and no number of significantly good books fall through the cracks.

This is all so ridiculous. Why does a supposedly intelligent woman like Cooke expect to turn on her computer, step out into the internet and expect dazzling, brilliant, criticism at every corner? Everyone knows the nature of the internet–that there is no editorial body at the gate, that there are thousands of sites out there and that yes, one has to look harder for quality. That the anonymity allows people to be more rude, crass, insulting and what have you. This is the 21st century, for heaven’s sake, if you are going to start any article on the internet waxing on about such things in maidenly horror might I suggest to the Guardian editors that they should reconsider sending it to press? Perhaps it would be best to find someone a tad more internet savvy so as to give your reader’s the best idea of what is truly out there, rather than appearing as if your writer is not open-minded, has no interest in possibly learning anything new, and went in with an agenda? Why would you get people who know a lot about books to write on them but Cooke, who obviously knows nothing about the literary world online, to write about litblogs? (Do not tell me you were going for the “Forrest Gump”, everyman angle. Who the hell wants Forest Gump to find quality lit crit for them?)

It appears as if all Cooke needs to know in order to learn that someone is a good reviewer is that they are getting paid. I, frankly, have higher standards: I do not read the TLS or the LRB because there is a price for it, I read it for the quality work that is published there. And I do not read Conversational Reading, The Mumpsimus, The Reading Experience, Elegant Variation, Sillman’s Blog, The Complete Review because they are free but for their quality work. There is more of a distinct variety among the litblogs I read than in the published establishment: they works they cover are, by and large, very different. As someone who reads everything from young adult fantasies to literary fiction to romance to books on art philosophy, if I subsisted solely on the establishment I would have long since died from starvation.

I truly, truly wish that Cooke and those of her ilk would shove their egos and insecurities aside long enough to clearly look at what good criticism is out there, what good books are being covered that they may have missed, and work for the reader’s interest. (Hello! Remember me?) I wish they would realise that many litblogs do pay attention to newspapers and literary journals, link to their articles and use it for discussion, and recommend their favourites. How the heck else was I suppose to hear about the TLS, LRB, or NYRB for that matter–my classmates in school? The tv? An ad on the bus?

Oh, nevermind, why should I appeal to Cooke’s reason? I’ll simply point out that the bloggers of Moorish Girl, Edward the Reluctant and TEV have all written reviews for American newspapers. I am sure if they send her proof of payment all her worries about certain parts of wild and wooly internet will be eased.

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – books: The blogosphere takes on the power of the press

This is one of the funniest things I have read about in some time. Long story short: cranky newspaper columnist shakes his stick at Amazon and blog book reviews, author makes the (questionable) claim that litblogs have more power than the establishment in moving books off shelves, a cranky anonymous bumblehead outrageously replies that his/her newspaper will never cover her books again. Take that! And that!

I do not know if blogs have become more influential than newspapers and literary journals in the book world. Back in Jamaica I was unaware of any significant “book world”. Our theatre was thriving, as was our music, and there were even occasional forays into film. In high school (grade 7 – 11) I met a fair number of Caribbean novels, short stories, plays and poetry, but cannot recall any Jamaican novels which gave me the impression that we had no significant ones to speak of.

At around the age of 15 I began to read newspapers–ok a newspaper. There would be an occasional book review in the Lifestyle section of the Jamaica Observer but I skipped it for the social page to see if I knew anyone being covered. Part of it was a distrust in anything local–if it was Jamaican it could not be good–and the other was a skepticism for contemporary literature in general. Besides the occasional purchase of a Nora Roberts or Stephen King–neither of whose works I considered “literature”–I firmly stuck to books with first publication dates no later than the 1950’s. They were what I was raised on and what I was later taught to respect.

Thanks to Geoffrey Philp my brain is slowly adapting to the fact that I didn’t know shit about Jamaican lit. 😉 His mention of Roger Mais faintly struck a mental bell. Roger Mais…that sounds…familiar. Colin Channer’s name rang a bell too, but my instinctive response was of indifference and faint distaste. (No idea why, btw.) Marlon James was looking goooood. Very good even if I will have to scrape up the cash for the hardcover because a paperback for his John Crow’s Devil seems to be a long way off.

For the first time in my life I may end the year having read a full-length Jamaican novel. Fancy that.