Barry Hannah

This weekend, Bob Dylan aficionados will converge on Manhattan’s 14th Street Y for events exploring his watershed work with The Band. There’s a photo exhibition tonight, and a symposium and concert on Sunday. The participants are a freewheelin’ mix, including authors such as Greil Marcus, Christopher Ricks, and Dana Spiotta, filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, and musicians from the bands The Fiery Furnaces and John Wesley Harding, as well as William G. Scheele, a curator and photographer who worked as the group’s roadie.

Beginning at midnight on Sunday, Kyle Minor of the blog HTMLGIANT will be reading Long, Last, Happy, the new selection of Barry Hannah stories, in its entirety online. He expects the marathon webcast to last “15-25 hours.”

Wrapping up National Novel Writing Month.

At Slate, Christopher Beam looks at the Wikileaks cables as literature, while McSweeney’s brings us Ben Greenman’s “Fragments from WikiLeaks! The Musical, including this pivotal denouement featuring Julian Assange realizing his destiny: “‘I'll dub myself Mendax/ It means ‘noble liar’./ I'll remake myself as a/ High-tech town crier.’”

Did John Updike do the dishes? Attendees at the first annual John Updike Society conference wanted to know, but the more significant questions that arose were how literary reputations are made and why they endure.


Director Paul Thomas Anderson is planning to adapt Thomas Pynchon's 2009 hippie noir novel, Inherent Vice, for the screen; we're hoping it'll include another clever cameo from the famously reclusive author.

Thomas Frank

Google’s long-delayed e-book venture, Google Editions, is reportedly gearing up to launch in the next month. “Google Editions hopes to upend the existing e-book market by offering an open, ‘read anywhere’ model that is different from many competitors.” Most notably Amazon.

Michel Houellebecq borrows freely from Wikipedia in his new Prix Goncourt-winning La carte et le territoire. Is it copyright violation? And if it isn’t, is it OK to put Houellebecq’s entire novel online for free? One blogger thinks so...

Critic and poet Stephen Burt’s answer to the question “What can a book review do for a book?” is so spirited and smart that after reading it you’ll applaud too.

The Times Literary Supplement has posted year-end favorites by John Ashbery, A.S. Byatt, Julian Barnes, and others. And the New York Times Book Review has listed its top ten books of 2010.

Can you name a single work of fiction that takes place on the banks of the Potomac? Christopher Hitchens goes in search of the Washington novel.

If you’re looking for us tonight, we’ll be at Le Poisson Rouge from 7 until 9 to celebrate the publication of Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann’s Rich People Things, which, among other things, analyzes a diverse array of cultural artifacts (Wired magazine, iPads, Malcolm Gladwell) that are like catnip to the wealthy. Before the evening becomes too bacchanalian, Lehmann will talk with fellow writers Thomas Frank and Maureen "Moe" Tkacik.


Stuart Murdoch

Stuart Murdoch, the front man for Scottish band Belle and Sebastian, has a new book called The Celestial Café, a collection of diaries and ruminations from 2002-2006. Don’t let Murdoch’s reputation for being insufferably twee—or his disclaimer that his new volume is “very light on the subjects of drug taking, orgies and general debauchery"—dissuade you from reading. Murdoch's lyrics demonstrate a razor-sharp wit and a penchant for self-deflating satire, and is peerless at describing the everyday trials of the self-conscious, literary, and shy; we can't wait to see what he does in prose.

Tonight at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, Bookforum co-editor Chris Lehmann is moderating a discussion between intrepid journalists from two continents. The subject is “participatory journalism,” and the panelists, Florence Aubenas and Ted Conover, know more than a little about it. Conover is best known for working at Sing Sing as a prison guard for his 2000 book Newjack (in his latest book, The Routes of Man, he undertook an even more dangerous task—riding the world’s worst roads). Aubenas became famous in 2005 when she was kidnapped while working in Iraq and held hostage for five months; for her latest book, Le quai de Ouistreham, she became a day-laborer, chronicling the precarious lives of “the people in France who are going under.”

The Nation is auctioning off kitschy cool ephemera from its history and “chances to connect with The Nation in person” (e.g. lunch with Joe Trippi), as a fundrasier for the magazine, asking “Instead of buying your loved ones holiday gifts that enrich the corporate establishment, why not share your passion for progressive journalism?” If anyone is shopping for us, we’d like the autographed copy of The Mind-Body Problem, please!

The Oxford English Dictionary substantially revamped its online edition yesterday, rolling out new features such as integrating the Historical Thesaurus to the OED, as well as a complete list of sources, which has led British newspapers to brag about their contributions to the mother tongue.


Rowan Somerville

We were rooting for Tony Blair's former spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell, to win the prize most writers try to avoid like the Clap: The Literary Review’s Bad Sex award. However, Campbell was outdone in the contest for supreme raunchy ridiculousness by Rowan Somerville, whose book The Shape of Her won the dubious honor. Somerville has joined elite company—including Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Tom Wolfe—in part for a passage that compared an act of copulation to "a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin."

Salon.com is looking for a possible buyer to help slow the site’s escalating financial problems; the Wall Street Journal’s Deal Journal blog profiles some possible suitors.

Tonight at the Broadway Barnes and Noble in Manhattan, eminent historian Edmund Morris will read from Colonel Roosevelt, the new third volume of his lauded Theodore Roosevelt trilogy.

Colin Robinson chats with GalleyCat about his publishing venture, OR Books, whose distribution motto—“No book printed until it’s sold”—could turn the Strand’s remainder tables into a ghost town. He acknowledges advertising’s sway, but asserts that what really sells books online is a variation of the brick-and-mortar bookseller’s greatest skill, "handselling".


Jennifer Gilmore

We were cheered to see Justin Spring’s Secret Historian, Jennifer Gilmore’s Something Red, Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and many other worthy titles on the New York Times's 100 notable books of 2010 list. The omissions, however, were sometimes inexplicable (Tom McCarthy’s novel C), and often indicative of how unadventurous the paper of record’s books section is these days (nothing like Eileen Myles’s Inferno or Joshua Cohen’s Witz in sight). Reading the list, we wondered: Is there a Times quota for mid-century baseball biographies?

The first batch of Vladimir Nabokov’s love letters to his wife Vera have been published in the Russian magazine Snob (an English translation of the 300 letters will be published by Knopf in 2011). The letters include this charming description of celestial mischief: “Heavenly paradise, probably, is rather boring, and there's so much fluffy Seraphic eiderdown there that smoking is banned . . . mind you, sometimes the angels smoke, hiding it with their sleeves, and when the archangel comes, they throw the cigarettes away: that's when you get shooting stars."

James Wood’s professorial New Yorker article on The Who’s drummer Keith Moon—punctuated with memories of choirboy practice and paraphrases from Bataille on the constraints of office life—is a bit too stuffy and yet still oddly endearing. Moreover, it provides an excuse for Wood’s droll finger drumming podcast and this YouTube clip of the author jamming on his kitchen table with his kids cheering him on.

With memoirs by Keith Richards and George W. Bush on the bestsellers list, you’d be forgiven for wondering if ghostwriting has become a better gig than writing.


Eileen Myles, photo by Leopoldine Core.

AN INTERVIEW WITH EILEEN MYLES

“If you’re interested in poetry, I’ll give you lesbianism, and if you’re interested in lesbianism, I’ll give you poetry.”

Inferno is the latest book by poet, novelist, essayist, performer, and one-time presidential hopeful Eileen Myles. (It’s true, she ran as a write-in candidate in 1992.) Eileen did not call Inferno a memoir, even though it sort of is. Maybe one could call it a remembrance. Eileen calls it a novel. In the process of remembering, she lets go a frantic and enlightened rush of recall, impressions, and wit. Loosely modeled on Dante, the novel traces the character Eileen’s dual coming out as both a poet and a lesbian (via hell, purgatory, and paradise). It starts in Boston (hell?) and quickly moves to New York, where she has mainly lived since the ’70s. She moves in and out of the punkier side of the NYC poetry world in a warm, complicated way. That’s mainly because Eileen is, let’s say, a pillar of that world. She’s published numerous books of poetry, including Not Me and Skies, the short-story collection Chelsea Girls, and an earlier novel, Cool for You (she also wrote the libretto for an opera). She’s a former steward of The Poetry Project at Saint Mark’s Church and was a caretaker of genius poet James Schuyler in his later years at the Chelsea Hotel. Inferno includes encounters, for better and for worse, with Amiri Baraka, Marge Piercy, Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, and Patti Smith. Like many of Frank O’Hara’s poems, the seeming bits of real life in this novel take gossip and elevate it to the level of art.

But the backbone of Inferno is identity and going for it. How to be a poet? How to be a lesbian? How to be vulnerable, or strong? How to be anything with a body? The book’s ride is Eileen’s life up to now. Spoiler alert: It has a happy ending. Bookforum recently talked with Eileen in the East Village the morning after she’d given a reading at the posh new Poets House in Battery Park City.

—Jesse Pearson

BOOKFORUM: I understand that Inferno took a long time to finish.

EILEEN MYLES: This book came into existence over ten years. My friends all feel like they’ve already read it because there are parts that they know so well.

From hearing you read them aloud?

Yes. When you’re writing a book and there are certain sections that you know you feel good about, you just read them repetitively. That’s why I was so weird about reading the opening of the book last night. I’ve been reading it for ten years now. But I had a really good time with it. You know, before you got here, I was thinking about Bob Dylan. Some of how he interests me is in that sort of Picasso-y sense of looking at an artist with a long career.

And with easily discernible periods, too.

Exactly. I heard him when he was performing in Woodstock a couple of years ago and I loved hearing him sing old songs and completely hit them differently. Totally different versions. Last night, it was fun to read that section of this novel, and to hit different emphases and make it play differently for me so that I wasn’t bored by my body and my voice. There’s this thing in the poetry world about the voice—not in my poetry world, but in a more academic one. Like “the voice” is this really fetishized thing. Yet I do actually feel like a vocal artist. That’s what I feel like I’m doing.

Tom Waits

The Guardian reports that the sublimely gruff-voiced singer Tom Waits is publishing his first book of poetry, Hard Ground, a collaboration with photographer Michael O'Brien. In a 1975 interview Waits said, "I don't like the stigma that comes with being called a poet . . . So I call what I'm doing an improvisational adventure or an inebriational travelogue."

The tired thesis that poetry is on the decline is being posited again by Joseph Epstein in Commentary magazine. Why does that sound so familiar?

Rand Paul has scored a book deal with Hachette Book Group’s Center Street division. The tome, The Tea Party Goes to Washington, will appear in February, just as Paul begins his senatorial debut.

Journalist Johann Hari had never met a fried food he didn’t like—until he converted to the Church of Exercise. We will keep his inspiring example in mind as we overindulge in food and drink during our Thanksgiving break.

Next month, the University of Chicago will publish e-book editions of all twelve volumes of Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time,” a series of books beloved by tweedy, genteel eccentrics such as the narrator of Jonathan Ames’s Wake Up, Sir!. In December, the U of Chicago will give away the first volume, A Question of Upbringing, for free—call it a gateway drug for Anglophilia.


The Anthology of Rap display at Toronto's Type books.

Granta’s brand-new “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” is their first fully translated issue.

There’s more bad news for the beleaguered editors of the Anthology of Rap, who have been criticized over the past few weeks for transcription errors in their volume. Now, some of the book’s advisory board members are trying to distance themselves from the project: “The board lent its credibility to the editors and in turn, the editors did not approach the subject matter with the proper rigor.” And, even worse, Grandmaster Caz, one of the artists who supposedly checked his songs in the anthology, says he never “signed off on the lyrics,” citing several mistakes. As another of the book’s board members writes, “The stakes are always high with hip-hop; it's a perpetual battleground in the culture war being waged in this country, and we can't afford to be mangling the words of our most articulate spokespeople.”

Publisher’s Weekly presents a guide to “literary boozing” in New York City, information that those in the slumping publishing industry may desperately need.

Tonight, the incomparable poet and author Eileen Myles is reading from her new novel, Inferno, at Brooklyn’s Spoonbill and Sugartown.


Listen to This author Alex Ross.

Was Gawker’s posting of scanned pages from Sarah Palin’s forthcoming book illegal? Gawker has been court-ordered to take them down, with a trial set for later this month. Denton v. Palin may be the car-crash/catnip trial of the century.

The Google team has posted an e-book, 20 Things I Learned About Browsing and the Web, which is perhaps a preview of what the long-rumored Google Editions publishing imprint’s product would look like. If so, the format is what we’d expect from the slightly evil geniuses at the G-team: slick and user-friendly, but still an anemic approximation of an actual book.

In the new Vanity Fair, there’s a disarming dispatch from Christopher Hitchens, detailing his struggle with esophageal cancer (he notes that the disease is in Stage Four, and “there is no such thing as Stage Five”). Writing with suave directness, he describes the awkwardness of encounters with friends, family, and strangers as they seek to find a common language to discuss his illness, and in his usual fashion, holds himself to a rigorous standard of candor and intellectual honesty, proposing that “as the populations of Tumortown and Wellville continue to swell and to ‘interact,’ there’s a growing need for ground rules that prevent us from inflicting ourselves upon one another.”

Tonight at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, the New Yorker’s Alex Ross (Listen to This), Ann Powers, Robert Christgau (the “dean of rock criticism,” who has a new blog called Expert Witness), Greg Tate (author of Everything but the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture), and other contributors to The Best Music Writing 2010, kick off the first night of a two-evening reading. This year’s volume of the famed series is especially engrossing; as Blogcritics.org author Glen Boyd writes, it is “the broadest, most diverse collection of music criticism offered up to date.”

At MobyLives, Nathan Ihara posits “2010 was a tipping point when it comes to our concept of originality, art, and theft.”

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