Against the Day?

Conversational Reading has an interesting discussion about the forthcoming Pynchon book. All the lit bloggers have been in a flurry about Against the Day being solicited on Amazon. But are we actually going to read it?

Now, I'm a fan of Pynchon, and someone who defends him to his detractors. I've read Gravity's Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49, Slow Learner and Vineland (which is a good book, damnit). But there's this sense where maybe Pynchon hasn't grown very much; all his books seem to in some way hit the same notes, notes that he and his cohort of post-modernists were all hitting very hard in the seventies. I didn't read Mason and Dixon because it struck me as an elaborate rehash of Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor. Against the Day, from Pynchon's own description on the Amazon page, should by rights be a good book:

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

Right on, right on. And yet, somehow, I'm just not sure if I want to wade through another 900 page book by the man, even with Groucho Marx. People who picked up the "Pynchonesque" mantle, like David Foster Wallace and Mark Danielewski, are interesting because of the way they evolved from Pynchon, in the way they extended and mutated his ideas and created new things out of them. This strikes me as something Pynchon himself seems to have failed at.

Yet, I'll hold off for the reviews. If there's a consensus that this is the Pynchon book that breaks to mold, well then it'd be something to see.

One Story: The Wet Asphalt Interview

One Story is the only literary magazine I currently subscribe to. It's format is perfect: a single story in a small booklet, published every three weeks, that I can put in my pocket and take on the subway with me. The quality of the stories is also very high. I sat down with the editor and publisher at a café in Manhattan to talk about literary magazines, publishing and the state of short fiction in America.


I've just noticed that in our rotating advertisments an ad for's "amateur poetry contest" pops up.

I'm not saying that they're criminals or anything, but I think that anyone to whom that 10 grand looks enticing, a quick googling of the phrase " vanity press" might be a good bit of due diligence to do.


Slate has an article about what's happening to movie novelizations.

I've always been sort of intrigued by the concept of the novelization. A "novelization" is an novel adaptated from a movie, so there's no reason it couldn't be as interesting as a movie adapted from a novel. However, because of economics that hasn't often been the case; it's so much cheaper to have someone write a novel than make a movie that novelizations are often simply part of the marketing budget for a movie. Slate makes the case that because novelizations were originally so people could relive the movie back before the days of rentals, and because DVD's are making people so accustomed to bonus materials, that novelizations are increasingly divergent from the original film, and further, making greater efforts to expand upon them. Which is making the novelization more interesting.


I'm open to suggestions as to novelizations that would be so much as worth recommending on this site.

The Form Question

There are various conservatives on the poetry scene at present who often bemoan the loss of "Form" in poetry and decry the current tendency toward open form composition; Mary Oliver and Dana Gioia are among the more prominent lights of this misguided notion, associated as they are with the New Formalist movement in the eighties. What's particularly difficult to process is where this idea came from that "free verse" was in some way divorced from the care and craft required by formal prosody. Never mind the fact that current trends in public education expose most americans only to Shel Silverstein in their early years, followed closely to a broad survery covering roughly the two hundred fifty or so years between Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. Never mind the fact that American poetry more or less begins right around the era of Dickinson or that the Elizabethan dialect grows more and more unfamiliar to speakers of American English with each passing year, and what we have is a situation in which the speakers of a national language, that is, American English, are by and large unfamiliar with their national poetry.

What does this mean to the formal argument? Well, for one thing, American poetry since it's maturity has largely been a bastion of free verse. After all, free verse poetry—despite early and important examples from the King James Bible—found its first true paramour in Whitman's cadenced line. Excepting Poe, all of the important poets of North America have worked largely with free verse of one method or another.

On this fact I am grounding my axiom that American Verse is Free Verse. For an American poet, strict adherence to a form is an aberration of the national poetry. This is not necessarily the case for other nations and languages. Particularly for speakers of the various Spanish and French dialects who have a number of distinct linguistic features available to them that lend themselves to formalism—including large numbers of regular verbs, syllable timed rhythm, and generally more morphologically homogenous lexicons—not to mention many more form options than the pittance available to an American English poetry.

So where does this criticism of the lack of form come from? There are several factors. One is the previously mentioned problem with poetry education. Free verse, also called open form by its defenders—although I think that open verse is much more descriptive and will use it exclusively in the rest of this essay—is defined by this woefully inadequate education in poetry as "that poetry that doesn't rhyme." Formal verse is defined by contrast as "poetry that does rhyme" and given its end of the historical spectrum in that afforementioned high school poetry survey, often gets the short shrift; perceived as archaic and "out of style" by those who aren't really paying attention, it has, to the poorly educated reader, been reduced to mere doggerel, the kind of inspirational poetry found in Reader's Digest magazine or spewed by the so-called "Cowboy Poets." As such its appeal is largely conservative, geared as it is toward those uneducated proles not even sophisticated enough to form the mistaken impression that formal poetry is passé.

Not helping matters is the fact that many poetry magazines, editted by similar idiots who've been through the same inadequate educational system, often put in their submission guidelines "no formal poetry." By which of course they mean "no doggerel made up of rhymed couplets in roughly iambic septameter," with which such magazines are no doubt deluged. (Of course, they wouldn't be if they just pulled their listings from the Writer's Market like we suggest.) So, for young people just learning to write poetry and looking to these major magazines for guidance, they might be understandably put off should they like such devices as end-rhyme and a fixed number of feet per line. From this point of view, the New Formalist response almost makes some sense.

Except of course that formal verse never went away, and if one looks carefully, one will find that American poetry is filled with sonnets, odes, and various other fixed forms at every turn. Granted, most of it is terrible, but there are certain standouts, such as Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets or the more recent Jim and Dave Defeat The Masked Man. Formal verse isn't going anywhere, so the dim lights attempting to rescue it by writing it badly aren't really accomplishing what they think they are. Of course, those who don't bother to understand what they're doing before they set off to do it seldom do.

Picador Shots

Via MetaxuCafe, Picador is publishing a series called "Picador Shots" in England, consisting of short stories in booklet form for a mere £1. Authors who will be published in the series include Jackie Kay, Colm Toibin, Aleksandar Hemon, Claire Messud, Nell Freudenberger, James Salter, Niall Williams, Craig Davidson, Shalom Auslander, Tim Winton, Bret Easton Ellis, and Matthew Kneale. No news yet on whether the series will be offered in the United States.

I wrote once before that One-Story had found the perfect format for publishing the short story. It looks like Picador has found it too, and is marketing each story as an individual product (rather than emphasising subscription to a journal). I'm really glad someone is doing this and I hope it's successful and is brought across the pond.

Let's Talk Numbers

There's a dramatic difference in scale between books and other media--especially the big three, television, movies and video games. If a book sells 100,000 copies it is a huge bestseller. If a television show has 100,000 viewers, it is cancelled. That said, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 60 million units worldwide.

Charles Valle on The Economy of Small Press Print

Charles Valle, the editor of Fence, was kind enough to send us a detailed response to the articles on the economics of print literary journals Wet Asphalt recently published.

It's the Format: The Problem with Literary Magazines

The only way to save literary magazines is to change them.

Cognitive Dissonance in Literature as Business

I'm no great booster of market capitalism, so don't get me wrong here, this article is not going to be a defense of Milton Friedman Free Market Monetarism™. I'm a fan of social democracy and the intervention of governments in financially supporting all sorts of public goods from health care for all at one end of the importance spectrum, all the way down to experimental arts and letters at the other. Nevertheless for people who live and work in North America market capitalism is what we've got. What that means for producers of cultural artifacts—poems, short stories, paintings, movies, novels, commemorative mugs, chocolate candies modeled after the vaginas of performance artists, etc.—is that if said producer is producing a product and then selling it, those sales of said product are going to be determined by the old fashioned market rules of Supply and Demand.