Catching Up is Hard to Do
God, there were so many things I wanted to write about this week. I've got more to say about the short story, and have another book to review, but look, it's Friday already and I don't have anything. Here's some more round-up:
Daniel Green muses on the role of criticism in culture
The Internet will change the way we write
Are we really in a golden age of reading?
The future of books (via Daniel Green)
Okay, I like Philip Roth, but do we really need adjective overload here? "Greatest this" and "greatest that" and "sexiest this". It gets a little wearying. Not to mention that it's terrible journalism.
A new short story by Mario Vargas Llosa online for free translated by the always superb Edith Grossman.
A truly fascinating documentary on Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man including interviews with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Stan Lee.
Are book readings in Second Life really a good idea? (via Ed Champion)
The story of a strange medieval codex, said to have been produced by a monk who sold his soul to the devil
Ursula K. Leguin reviews Jeanette Winterson and talks about literary writers writing Science Fiction (via Scott Esposito)
I've been forgetting to add the "via" to the blogs where I get my links a lot of the time, mostly because I just bookmark the links in delicious and then forget about where I got them from. So sorry to anyone who I got a link from who wasn't properly credited.
And that's it, I'm all caught up on my round-up links!
Round-Up Catch-Up Part 2: Almost Caught Up
Discover magazine published this ridiculous article on SF which makes me wonder if anyone over there is paying attention to what they put out. The basic gist is that SF is dead because we can't predict the future anymore (as if that's the only purpose of SF), with the chief example being Michael Criton (Ger-wah???). The essay then proceeds to blunder into this incredible stupidness:
It was around that time, the mid-1990s, that fiction—all fiction—finally became obsolete as a delivery system for big ideas. Whatever the cause—dwindling attention spans, underfunded schools, something to do with the Internet—the fact is these days that if a Top Thinker wakes up one morning aghast at man’s inhumanity to man, he’s probably going to dash off a 300-word op-ed and e-mail it to The New York Times, or better still, just stick it up on his blog, typos and all, not cancel his appointments for the next seven years so he can bang out War and Peace in a shed.
Which is filled with so many strange suppositions that I don't really know where to start, first and foremost that communicating ideas are the only thing fiction is about. In other words, what seems clear from the this essay is that the author has no idea why people read fiction (or more generally why people tell stories), and it's amazing to me that he got paid to write about it.
Meanwhile here is some amazing illustrated SF from the 19th century.
Sure you like Fry and Laurie on TV, but have you read their novels?
Philip Roth and the gradual collapse into the self
Finally, the world's longest novel
Once again, giving away free ebooks helps to sell print books
Evaluating James Wood: he's not quite as good as everyone thinks
More on Wood (he's getting a lot of e-press these days in the blogosphere, isn't he?)
Speaking of e-press:
Print vs. Online: fighting over deckchairs - will online criticism replace print criticism?
Is William Gibson completely changing the way literary criticism is conducted? Who knew?
Stephen King doesn't even remember writing the Tommyknockers
Google to start selling eBooks
Reading books in the digital age I haven't actually finished this, someone tell me how it ends...
The Chinese seem to know how to do this online novel thing...
War of the Worlds! Awesome graphic novel adaption online for free
Will social networking make reading more fun?
This poem originally appeared in The New England Review
Stranger, the bats fly low tonight,
the moon’s cloaked in cloud. Three strokes
and I’ve lost you, too. In a cold ripple,
I’m water-logged, unwound—
I want a shadow of a shadow,
a homeless floater. Give me a word
that lights the lake and makes you
less strange. My silence palm-slaps
the surface, my body fishes
for yours. I’ll swim to you all night
and not find you. Or I’ll find you
and never stop swimming.
Jennifer Chang's first book of poems, The History of Anonymity, is forthcoming in Spring 2008 from University of Georgia Press
The Nature of the Short Story
Debunking a false history of the short story put forth by the National Book Critics Circle blog, explaining the real history of the form and how a short story is like a pop song.
Round Up Catch-Up Part 1
Is "practical criticism"—ie. reviewing—underrated? Is it really different from "criticism" proper?
Does it matter how we list books inside book jackets?
What to do when your wife leaves you for Ted Turner and you're both writers scheduled to talk at a retreat
The impotence of proof-reading
What will a writer's legacy be in a digital age?
When I started this website, it was with the idea that there would be many people working on it, and with the hope that we would get many submissions, this on the strength of the initial essays stating our position, and certain vague promises. I probably should have known better; during our last project, YankTheChain.com, I often had to write all the material for months on end, without a submission or collaborator in sight.
By "us" I mean myself and Jay Quackenbush, my partner in crime for both that site and this one. However, while Jay continues to review (the few) poetry submissions that come in, his own submissions have dwindled to nothing. Once I got the idea to ask people for reprints, we were able to put up quite a lot of great work that I think hadn't gotten the exposure it deserved the first time around, and that was wonderful. However, there's only so much writing for Wet Asphalt I can do, so many books I can read that might make for interesting reviews, so much reading I can do of material which may turn up something good to reprint, in addition to working full time and daily writing fiction and, you know, having a life. Frankly, I look at guys like Ed Champion and Daniel Green and I wonder how they do it.
I was going to just shut Wet Asphalt down. Concentrate on fiction. But I've reconsidered. I like Wet Asphalt, I think I need this little soap box. But I think that the site is going to become a little less of the literary magazine published like a blog we originally envisioned and a little more of the straight-up blog. Shorter posts. More links. But still some articles and reprints and original work as we get it.
I'm also going to start a new project next month which will help channel and focus some of my energies. But more on that later.
At any rate, the best way to read this site continues to be by using a Feed Reader. To all of you who are still reading after irregular updates and abrupt hiatuses (hiatii?), thank you.
Wet Asphalt is on hiatus for the month of August. Keep your blog readers peeled.
Sorry about the radio silence all week. To make up for it, it's time for a Wet Asphalt Super 'Round the Web Round Up:
First up, the Guardian gives us a wonderful essay about James Baldwin's time in Paris, and how it reflected on his novels and his decision to move back to the States.
The Reading Experience finds academic criticism unreadable, because it seems to only be aimed at other academics and entirely consumed with a dialog that people outside of the Academy have no knowledge of or interest in, criticism that comments on criticism commenting on criticism ad nauseam. I have to agree with this for the most part; after all, academic criticism is what produces the unreadable garbage pumped out by Judith Butler (as a less-than-arbitrary example). This is exactly why we need intelligent, thoughtful criticism outside of the academy. Like on the Internet, for instance...
Ed Champion reminds us to read a book! Read a book! Read a mother-fucking book!
The American Scholar wonders if we shouldn't be more permissive about love between professors and pupils. This essay also has a telling summary of the professor-student relationship cliché found over and over again in film, from Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe to Wonder Boys:
What’s going on here? If the image of the absent-minded professor stood for benevolent unworldliness, what is the meaning of the new academic stereotype? Why are so many of these failed professors also failed writers? Why is professional futility so often connected with sexual impropriety? (In both Terms of Endearment and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, "going to the library" becomes a euphemism for "going to sleep with a student.") Why are these professors all men, and why are all the ones who are married such miserable husbands?
Meanwhile, in Locus, Cory Doctorow discusses futuristic vs. futurismic.
SF films and TV are great fonts of futurismic imagery: R2D2 is a fully conscious AI, can hack the firewall of the Death Star, and is equipped with a range of holographic projectors and antipersonnel devices — but no one has installed a $15 sound card and some text-to-speech software on him, so he has to whistle like Harpo Marx. Or take the Starship Enterprise, with a transporter capable of constituting matter from digitally stored plans, and radios that can breach the speed of light.
The non-futurismic version of NCC-1701 would be the size of a softball (or whatever the minimum size for a warp drive, transporter, and subspace radio would be). It would zip around the galaxy at FTL speeds under remote control. When it reached an interesting planet, it would beam a stored copy of a landing party onto the surface, and when their mission was over, it would beam them back into storage, annihilating their physical selves until they reached the next stopping point. If a member of the landing party were eaten by a green-skinned interspatial hippie or giant toga-wearing galactic tyrant, that member would be recovered from backup by the transporter beam. Hell, the entire landing party could consist of multiple copies of the most effective crewmember onboard: no redshirts, just a half-dozen instances of Kirk operating in clonal harmony.
The most interesting part of this essay is Doctorow's notion that people's vision of the future is directly related to how people feel while they are imagining it.
Futurism has a psychological explanation, as recounted in Harvard clinical psych prof Daniel Gilbert's 2006 book, Stumbling on Happiness. Our memories and our projections of the future are necessarily imperfect. Our memories consist of those observations our brains have bothered to keep records of, woven together with inference and whatever else is lying around handy when we try to remember something. Ask someone who's eating a great lunch how breakfast was, and odds are she'll tell you it was delicious. Ask the same question of someone eating rubbery airplane food, and he'll tell you his breakfast was awful. We weave the past out of our imperfect memories and our observable present
Bloggasm discusses the weirdness behind Amazon.com's most frequent reviewer, Harriet Klausner, who reviews "an average of four books a day, seven days a week".
On a depressing note, the Reading Experience (again) looks at an anthology devoted entirely to short stories begging to be made into movies, a kind of "American Idol brought into print." Sigh.
And lastly, is Harry Potter a bastion of psychological realism, revealing everything that's lacking in contemporary literary fiction?
Review: Feed by MT Anderson
MT Anderson's dystopian 2002 novel Feed takes place in a future where most of the people of the world are connected to a global network through brain implantation, the technology actually taking over many of the processes of the limbic system to the point where once installed it cannot be removed without killing the host. Those plugged into this "Feed" are bombarded by a constant barrage of entertainment and advertisement customized to their own tastes, which the Feed learns by monitoring everything they do. (Privacy is a thing of the past.) Schools are completely privatized and more concerned with teaching you how to shop than teaching you arithmetic, reading and writing are forgotten arts known only by university professors, and a criminally irresponsible government covers up any corporate wrong-doing. When people start getting lesions all over their bodies, the president goes on the Feed to insist that all rumors that this is caused by corporate activities are absurd. Meanwhile, characters in a popular Feed show get lesions, and suddenly lesions are cool; teenagers start having artificial lesions cut into them. The planet is dying—there are almost no fish left in the sea, and oxygen factories have replaced the world's wild plant life. And no one seems to care; in fact no one seems to be paying any attention at all, intent as they are on distracting themselves with Feed shows and movies and shopping and advertisements, all of which are dumbed-down to the point of inanity.
A review by Eric Rosenfield