Round Up

The state of the short story is pretty deftly summed up by The Millions

Think about the numbers: 350 fiction programs. 3,000 new graduates per year. Each taking let's say four workshops, each of which requires three submissions. That's 36,000 short stories for each graduating class of writers, who have worked to convince each other that the top 1% of short stories - those that come closest to generating workshop consensus - may be published in a literary magazine. A literary magazine whose readership may largely comprise writers looking for a place to publish their short stories. "Guarded self-consciousness" starts to look like a mathematical inevitability. Perversely, then, the greatest danger to the short story may be the very institution that's sustaining it.

Speaking of endangered art forms, poetry may soon become primarily a web-only art form.

Dave Sim is in the news again because of his forthcoming comics Glamourpuss and Judenhass. If your not familiar with his work, this is a pretty good introduction to both it and the reactions to his new work floating around the net, though it mistakes his misogynist fundamentalism for a "philosophy". To sum up: Dave Sim is brilliant but completely insane.

Why is James Wood coronated as the only thing going in literary criticism?

Everybody's linking to it, so I will too: Nicholson Baker's fun discussion of his time editing Wikipedia.

Also, everybody's linking to Colson Whitehead telling everyone to get over writing in Brooklyn, already.

This sounds like a good book (I'm a sucker for Tesla, the original mad inventor)

Michael Chabon deconstructs superhero tights. (I still prefer Warren Ellis' term for superheroes - "Underwear Perverts")

BoingBoing suggests that all you need to make a living as an artist is "100 true fans"

Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day's wages per year in support of what you do. That "one-day-wage" is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let's peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.

Of course, this assumes that you put out $100 dollars worth of stuff every year, which seems like a stretch for things other than an actively touring musician. If a novelist, for instance, puts out one book a year, that's usually pretty prolific, and novelists don't generally have t-shirts and other merchandise for fans to lap up. Or conversely, a painter might sell paintings worth thousands of dollars, but have far fewer than 1000 people willing to buy them year after year.

Stephen Page in the Guardian argues that the Internet will save serious literature.

Did Allain Robbe-Grillet cause a backlash of archaism?

And lastly, a brilliant deconstruction of the history of Science Fiction (via Warren Ellis)

SF critics often want to make grand claims for the genre. For Scholes and Rabkin, it "create[s] a modern conscience for the human race" (vii); it fits, indeed supersedes, the great humanistic claims for literature as a whole. At the same time, and on the same page, they are equally aware that SF is constituted out of "trivial, ephemeral works of ‘popular’ fiction which is barely literate, let alone literary." Most of the subsequent work of their text is dedicated to affirming these two contradictory statements by separating them out, divorcing them from each other as distinct and "pure" sites within SF. An internal border is constituted whereby, on the one hand, the "grand claim" is asserted and so entry to Literature can be gained, whilst on the other, SF can, in alliance with the categories of the legitimate, be condemned.

Events this Week

Tonight I will be attending Straight out of Angoulême, Words without Borders' event with Charles Burberian and Philippe Dupuy, creators of the French Monsieur Jean comics (some of which have recently been collected in the book Get A Life which I highly recommend). These two guys have been kind of heroes of mine since I first read there work years ago in the anthology Drawn and Quarterly, and my one attempt at online comics (which shall go unnamed) openly aped their style.

Tomorrow, I'll be at the National Book Critics Circle Awards ceremony, an award which really needs a nickname. The Crities? The Nats? The Natties?

Long-Awaited Round Up

Is Dave Eggers the most influential man in literary circles? I think I'll still say that honor belongs to Oprah.

The argument against Dave Itzkoff gets more ammunition.

Is Science Fiction the last bastion of philosophical writing but suffering under the weight of execrable prose stylists? I think the issue is more nuanced than that, but the original Wired Article on the subject discussed by this MediaBistro article seems more than a little ham-fisted and clumsy.

Strange Horizons is quickly becoming my favorite place to read new fiction on a once-a-week basis. The lastest We Love Deena uses mind control to explore obsessive behavior in a particularly disturbing and entertaining way.

An interview with Jorge Luis Borges, in English for the first time.

RIP Steve Gerber, a man who helped make comics weird and funny again.

There is no old buddy network controlling the literary world, I don't care what you say.

The Internet is a copy machine

Sharon Mesmer and the odd world of Flarf poetry (Full disclosure: Mesmer is a former writing teacher of mine).

What ails the newspaper industry is not the Internet. It is, rather, economics.

The Steve Erickson Party

Last night Ed Champion and crew, which luckily included myself, went to a reception during the AWP conference in honor of Steve Erickson and his new book Zeroville.

I have to confess that I was somewhat obsessed with Erickson's work some years ago, so when I arrived at the building and saw the man walking up, before I could control myself I actually pointed straight at him and yelled "You're Steve Erickson!"

"Yes, I am," he said with good humor.

Later at the party I was able to grill him about some questions that had always bothered me. Specificially, "How can you teach at an MFA program when your own work is so idiosyncratic and wouldn't work in a workshop?"

He looked at me sadly, and said, "I know. And I tell my students that this might not be the best way to write something, I mean, can you imagine Faulkner dividing up his work into 15-page chunks for a workshop? It wouldn't make any sense. But you know, I was getting older and had a kid and I needed a job, and I liked the idea of teaching writing at an arts school."

And suddenly I had much more respect for the man.

I also met Kent Carroll who runs the publishing house Europa Editions which published Zeroville. Not knowing this, I asked him who he was. Turned out it was his apartment and his party. Who knew? (Well, everyone else.)

The interesting thing here is that Erickson used to be published by major presses and apparently they dropped him because he didn't sell. Which is mind-boggling to me because the man is fucking genius. But anyway, he went to a smaller press, Europa, with his new book, and it has been very successful. It looks like the classic example of a writer that the large houses just didn't know how to handle, while a small house who really believed in the work served the author much better.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Lethem showed up and I was about to point at him and yell "You're Jonathan Lethem!" but Ed thankfully stopped me. I then tried to start a completely groundless and spurious rumor that Lethem is gay. Let's be clear, Lethem is not gay. At least not in the traditional sense. However, I did go into the bathroom later and found Lethem in there dressed in nothing but a diaper, bib and bonnet, begging Kent Carroll to spank him. Carroll blanched and left the room, and Lethem turned to me, eyes wide and imploring. Well, let's just say after that he let me into his Fortress of Solitude and leave it at that...

Round Up

Scott Esposito finds a very interesting article in the New Yorker about literacy, it's contemporary decline and the ramifications for society.

Dave Sim, the Bobby Fischer of the comic book world, gives us his new project Glamourpuss, which promises to be at turns brilliant and mind-bendingly awful. I can't wait.

Will ads embedded in eBooks make eBooks free?

More on contemporary fiction that prizes prose over plot.

In related news, yet another author has some success giving his book away for free courtesy of Digg...

Meanwhile, Esposito (again!) finds out just who the New York Times book coverage is geared to (hint: it's not me)

Christian Science Monitor:

The publishing industry has reduced its fictional offerings in recent years to the most banal, the most feminized, the most gentrified, the most formulaic, the most politically correct pabulum. Yet its readership continues to plummet. In response, publishers have increasingly promoted nonfiction: celebrity tales, exhibitionism-cum-memoir, and a deluge of informational prattle. Sadly, the once wild and dynamic range of fictional offerings is no more.

I'm inclined to sympathize with this attitude, but then the article shifts and goes off the deep end decrying not just modern literature, but modern society.

Today, the neoclassical ideals of virtue that form the basis of America's national character have been replaced by the relativistic values of an increasingly godless civilization. Lifestyle, the culmination of these values, is navigated by a protean Self, the arbiter and actuator of its own moral realm.

Literary fiction reflects these contemporary mores. It has become relativistic and solipsistic, donning the vestments of social justice at the expense of truth. It celebrates interior thought or consciousness while denigrating the discomforting landscape of the real.


Modern Western society's reliance on "do no harm" and "fairness" forms the basis for fiction today. The criteria for "great" literature are perverted: a subjective world existing entirely within the minds of characters; impassioned advocacy for the disadvantaged, devoid of economic and social realism; and a denunciation of masculine aggression in favor of idealized femininity and perpetual childhood.

The corruption of these criteria is never acknowledged. Otherwise, publishers might consider fiction that is fully engaged in describing the social and cultural circumstances of our world, rather than an idealized fantasy of love and "virtue" that female readers hunger to read.

The solutions are as apparent as the light of reason. Embrace the neoclassical values of excellence directed toward the pursuit of truth. Strive for exalted standards. Acknowledge science and the less-than-virtuous motivations that influence human actions, but temper this understanding with morality shaped by character and driven to revitalize civilization. And celebrate writers such as Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth, who dare to describe in realistic detail our world so that society may comprehend its failings, endeavor to improve, and aspire to all that is most noble.

The polemic, self-righteous style of this is grating, and I'm confused; we do celebrate Philip Roth, he's one of the most well-decorated American writers alive. Tom Wolfe, on the other hand, hasn't written a good book since the seventies. In fact, the author shoots her own argument in the foot by highlighting approvingly not only Roth and Wolfe, but Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson as lauded and deservedly popular books. If we are giving awards to great novels, which then sell well, who exactly is writing and reading this "banal, feminized, gentrified, formulaic, politically correct pabulum"? The author (Diana Sheets) completely fails to make any argument of the sort, nor does she convince me with a single, anecdotal research study that says maybe there might be something inherent to moral behavior in humans, that all literary work should therefore be about "social justice" (which, if it includes Roth and Wolfe, I'm not really sure what the term is supposed to mean). All in all, a poorly argued, poorly thought-out piece which does more to hinder the cause of interesting writing than to help it. (via LitKicks)

Scott Esposito (hi Scott!) talks about an article about reading in an age of literary overproduction. It is strange that there are far more books published every year than ever before, and far fewer people reading them. What are we to make of that?

Should Nabokov's final work be destroyed? It's what he wanted...

Scott once more tells us about the changing literary landscape of China is willing to be fined €1,000 a day in France rather than give up its free shipping

And finally, the Onion sums up everything the best with the headline Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

Steve Jobs: People don't read anymore

In an article in the New York Times yesterday, Steve Jobs sums up the problems with the Amazon Kindle thusly:

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Of course, as EnGadget points out, you're reading this right now.

This is What Awesome Looks Like

The Scott Pilgrim Graphic Novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Every once and a while a cultural artifact emerges that is capable of completely dividing generations. When I was in high school, for instance, Pulp Fiction came out and I remember vividly how in the theater people of my generation laughed at some of the graphic violence, and people of my parents' generation were shocked by it, and even more shocked by our laughing at it.

With that in mind, witness, and appreciate if you can, the brilliance of Scott Pilgrim.

Filthy Habits

I have become involved as an editor with Ed Champion's new project Filthy Habits which has long form posts on a number of subjects, including literature, and an unbearably cute logo involving a dog in a nun's habit. Today, the site has a really interesting report about strikers outside of the Daily Show/Colbert Report building, where those shows have resumed production without writers.

Holiday Season Round Up

I think Daniel Green is just about spot on here when he says the there already is a "reading class." The vast majority of people don't read books for pleasure. That's just the way it is.

Maybe comics can help reverse the trend, though.

Can the "all you can eat" subscription model work in the world of eBooks? Or is it a bit foolish? I actually think it's not foolish; Esposito is right to point out that most book-lovers already have "way too many books to read", however, there's something to be said about a simple subscription fee that would allow you access to all the books (or at least a whole lot of them) from a hand-held device at-will. Think of doing research with such a device. Or skimming through parts of books—no need to go to the library or hunch down in an aisle of Barnes and Noble. Think of anytime you wanted something more to read you'd just pull out your device and pick any book at all, instead of having to be at home with pounds of books to sift through—think of traveling with such a device instead of having to schlep books from place to place. I would leap at such a subscription.