Franzen Feud

August 30th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Jonathan Franzen. Perhaps you have heard of him.

More importantly, hopefully you have read the various words he has strung together. Perhaps you recall his Oprah Book Club snub for the very good “The Corrections.” Perhaps you are aware of his new book, “Freedom,” and the glowing praise it has received.

A masterpiece of American fiction???

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Well, certain females have taken issue with such gratuitous and potentially sexist adulation.

Jennifer Weiner, in particular, put out a call for non-Franzen novels that deal with similarly Franzen themes of family, identity, and love. I assume she is looking for novels written by the non-Franzen gender as well.

So Authwhore humbly endorses Sophie Dahl’s Playing With The Grown-Ups.

On the other end of the spectrum is of course Marisha Pessl. Remember that atrocity?

Jodi Picoult too has been implicated in this controversy. I am loose, eager, and easy when it comes to reading, so get ready for my assessment of Picoult’s contribution in this matter.

Dads Are So Cool

August 8th, 2010 at 11:53 am

Dads Are Cool

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

June 30th, 2010 at 9:39 am

“Titans of the information age walk around comparing the size of their predictions.”

Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks

The titular phrase Bobo has not caught on in the cultural lexicon as has hippie, yuppie, hipster, tween, millennial, etc, etc, et al.

It’s too bad, but understandable. Bobo is an abbreviated conflation of Bourgeois Bohemian and has the linguistic resonance of an Icelandic volcano. Though written way back in 2000 by David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise identifies a crucial element of our modern culture that is so pervasive it seems odd not to refer to it chidingly as often as we do hippies, yuppies, hipsters, etc. If anything, this book is more relevant and timely now than when it was written 10 years ago since the Bobo element has certainly reached its hegemonic stride.

Bobos are the educated, ruling class. They are a polymorphous, ill-definable demographic, but to get an initial grasp of this ilk, imagine an entity somewhere between Steve Jobs and your friend who wears a water-proof, reversible North Face fleece vest but never hikes, camps, bivouacs, or even spends much time outdoors, therefore successfully executing Rule #2 of the Bobo Code of Financial Correctness: “It is perfectly acceptable to spend lots of money on anything that is of ‘professional quality,’ even if it has nothing to do with your profession.”

Bobos are an element of our contemporary population that we can all probably identify in a vague way, but David Brooks has observed, reported, investigated, inquired, examined, and lionized the Bobo caste. Prior to reading this, the Bobos were merely an anomaly, mere coincidences and unaccountable convergences. It took this book to properly frame and explain a key segment of modern population that was until this reading, unnamed.

So who the hell are Bobos?
Read the book, you lazy slob.

Bobos are those who embody both the social liberalism of bohemians and the economic/political conservatism of the bourgeois. But unfortunately “Gone are the sixties-era things that were fun and of interest to teenagers, like Free Love, and retained are all the things that might be of interest to middle-aged hypochondriacs, like whole grains.”

Bobos are wholesomely ambitious. They are temperate and responsible. They are bureaucratic and utilitarian. They value organization, edification, purpose and connoisseurship. They are educated. They are affluent. They are Charlie Rose and David Geffen and Ken Burns and Al Gore and George W. Bush. They are NPR, Starbucks, Anthropologie, REI, Gap, Restoration Hardware, Weekly Standard, New Yorker, and Barnes & Noble.

Bobos know that “the best kind of money is incidental money. It’s the kind of money you just happen to earn while you are pursuing your creative vision.” And to be a Bobo, “not only do you have to show some income results; you have to perform a series of feints to show how little your worldly success means to you.”

Despite this demographics’ significance and impact on our lives, why after 10 years has “Bobo” not caught on?

Perhaps the name is simply too clunky.
Perhaps they are too big and too diverse of a group. We tend to obsess over outliers and homogenous groups who can be easily defined and therefore easily persecuted and/or praised.

Perhaps they are too moderate. In a way that the hippies and evangelicals and other radical groups can be lambasted and accused of committing deviant and unwelcome behavior, the Bobos are a pretty boring group. They can’t really be accused of being good or bad.

They just are. Dangerously innocuous in a way.

I propose that we revive the term Bobo as a slur. Or come up with a better one to slander this vile group. It has been during the Bobo rule that, “The rewards for intellectual capital have increased while the rewards for physical capital have not.” Except for athletes I suppose?

And it was the old order that asked, “Who are you?” But now the new (Bobo) order asks, “What do you do?”

They used to want our labor. But the Bobos want our soul.

How Fiction Works by James Wood

December 11th, 2008 at 5:11 pm

How Fiction Works by James Wood

This slim volume is a most enjoyably practical and intelligent work. Wood has strong feelings about literary merit and the function of fiction and he writes about it in such an even, impassioned diction that you cannot help but nod in agreement and marvel at his simple explanations and examples. It is a truly special work, one that is both theoretical and pedagogical but also practical and useful.

Following my reading of How Fiction Works by James Wood, I will move on to How Language Works by David Crystal, and thusly be entirely prepared to write my novel. Indeed.

As Wood explains in How Fiction Works, “If the book has a larger argument, it is that fiction is both artifice and verisimilitude, and that there is nothing difficult in holding together these two possibilities.”

But it is Wood’s critique of “commercial realism” that I found most interesting and quite possibly the closest he gets to potential controversy (reviewing this book, I am trying to pick my words carefully, thus “closest” and “potential”).  Wood explains that, “Commercial realism has cornered the market, has become the most powerful brand in fiction. We must expect that this brand will be economically reproduced, over and over again.” James Patterson, Janet Evanovich. You’re on watch.

Wood concludes with a rousing call to arms for writers in which he pleas, “The writer has to act as if the available novelistic methods are continually about to turn into mere convention and so has to try to outwit that inevitable aging. The true writer, that free servant of life, is one who must always be acting as if life were a category beyond anything the novel had yet grasped; as if life itself were always on the verge of becoming conventional.”

My reading of this book comes at an interesting time; a time in which the publishing industry is suffering from an ongoing technological revolution that is challenging its long-held methods of sharing the “written” word with readers while also struggling with a recession.

But also, it is a time in which the publishing industry is doling out deals to the literary questionable: Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, and 9-year-old Alec Greven, author of the dating guide, “How to Talk to Girls.” (Please read Timothy Egan’s piece in the New York Times for a much more articulate observation on this phenomenon.)

Most of all, How Fiction Works reminded me why I read. I read because of everything explained, praised, and criticized in this book. People always ask me what I am reading. They never ask why I read so much.

But now I will have an answer if they ever do. In book form nonetheless. So I can read it.

The Abe of Obama

December 7th, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Much has been said about Barack Obama.

Much has been said about Barack Obama and the books he reads.

Much has been said about Barack Obama reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”

Much has been said about the similarities between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln.

And for good reason. While I am only on page 11 of Team of Rivals, I have already noted the following:

(and seriously, I swear to god, I am not simply reading this book because it is now in the news, I have owned it for some time now, having snagged a hardcover first edition for 10 dollars during a bargain sale at Barnes & Borderzon.)

Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama were both nominated by their party to be presidential candidates above considerable odds and the presence of much more prominent, formidable opponents.

They were both from the state of Illinois.

Lincoln’s only elected experience was a single term as Representative. Obama’s only experience was a single term as Senator.

They both chose a former opponent as Secretary of State.

Which is all great. Lincoln was a great President. And Obama is proving to be one.

But here’s my problem:

Abraham Lincoln was shot.

Michael Crichton is Dead

November 6th, 2008 at 3:00 am

It’s a tough time to be a writer. And I’m not referring to the fact that thirty-seven publishers have passed on my high-concept, psychological thriller-novel about a Latino ascending to the Presidency. (Note to interested parties: I can easily change Latino to woman, homosexual, or Scientologist.)

David Foster Wallace. Dead.

Studs Terkel. Dead.

Tony Hillerman. Dead.

Michael Crichton. Dead.

Crichton was my favorite author for an extended period in my youth. I read every single one of his books, losing interest sometime after Airframe. Tastes quickly mature into elitist sophistication and one most stop reading books and start reading literature. But to this day I wonder why Travels isn’t more popular. It is probably Crichton’s best book (and the closest he ever got to a memoir/autobiography). I don’t re-read books because life is too short, but thinking back to all that time I spent in the very capable mind of Michael, I can’t help but think how much fun it was.

Say what you will about Crichton’s breezy genre tendencies and his poorly developed characters, the man has contributed some serious stories into our canon. Jurassic Park. ER. Eater’s of the Dead. Sphere. The Great Train Robbery. The Andromeda Strain.

Totally decent reading.

I bid you adieu, Good Sir.

Election Hangover

November 5th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

“This is our country, too, and we can goddam well control it if we learn to use the tools.” – Hunter S. Thompson, 1969

With the economy in shambles, financial books are finding a lucrative market.

With Barack Obama winning the election, his books see another bump in sales.

The rest of us drank a little bubbly last night and treated our dogs to a George the Lame Duck chew toy.

It was divine.

American Literature: F@*& Yeah!

October 9th, 2008 at 9:00 am

As we eagerly await the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature and raise our eyebrows in disagreement with permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl’s assessment of American literature as “ignorant,” “insular,” and generally lacking, there is much about American “literature” making the news.

So take this, Horace!

Speaking of insular and ignorant, author Jerome R. Corsi was recently detained in Kenya.

And the Collins English Dictionary wants to remove 2,000 words from its pages in order to make room for new ones. If an American doesn’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature, it will be because their dictionary failed to enlighten them about words like muliebrity and olid.

Combating this removal is Ammon Shea, who read every single of the 59 million words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Get that man the Nobel. Or a hobby.

In a continuing segment on the Future of Reading, the New York Times has published a rousing article on the convergence of the printed word with video games. It’s a fascinating and troubling inquiry into a burgeoning facet of learning and entertainment. As someone who takes literary merit and literacy quite seriously, I just can’t get behind the thinking that Everything Bad is Good For You. Video games and books seem to provide two distinct avenues for development. Both are important in their own right for sure and while there is certainly room for convergence, video games are no substitute for the nuances afforded in books. While a video game, such as a flight simulator, may be able to teach and hone a pilot’s skill at the stick, it takes a book and the written word to explore the peculiarities and complexities of science, meteorology, and mathematics of things like turbulence, rain, and wind sheer.

Here’s the thing. The times, they are a changing. For the longest time, books have been our default format. They have been the cheapest, easiest, most effective way to accumulate knowledge and experience. But as technology develops, there are new mediums for interacting with the written word and acquiring information with just as much, if not more, efficacy.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

October 3rd, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

I read Bless Me, Ultima in celebration of Banned Book Week.

It encountered opposition in Colorado due to its pagan content.

Having read it, I will say that it does in fact contain pagan content, but less pagan content than other books such as, say, the Bible. Bless Me, Ultima is full of blessings, praise, and worship for the open land, animals, the environment, plants, trees, herbs, roots, food and the wind.

Really controversial stuff. That stuff has got to go!

Bless Me, Ultima is about as pagan as a Christmas tree, which is saying that yes, it’s technically pagan, but that’s not really the point.

A cross between Siddartha and Catcher in the Rye, Bless Me, Ultima is a coming of age story about Antonio, a young boy struggling to ascertain his professional, familial, and spiritual identity in rural New Mexico.

In a typical passage of doubt, Antonio contemplates, “The power of the doctors and the power of the church had failed to cure my uncle. Now everyone depended on Ultima’s magic. Was it possible that there was more power in Ultima’s magic than in the priest?” The overall style and existential wandering is strongly reminiscent of Ecclesiastes.

In addition to the pagan content, there are also allusions to sex and multiple instances of graphic violence involving a minor; the innocence and naiveté of our protagonist quickly diminishes as he even encounters a brothel. But violence and whores are rampant in the Bible so I guess that stuff is okay.

But that liberal-pinko-commie crap with loving the environment and respecting what it provides us, no, that’s witches and warlocks.

There are also a LOT of Spanish cuss words. Had they been translated into English, Bless Me, Ultima would hardly qualify as a book for young readers.

So as Banned Book Week draws to a close, I feel that I will always be mystified by what my culture manages to get its panties in a knot about.

I have been reading Sarah Vowell’s latest, The Wordy Shipmates, and this country’s puritan underpinnings run deep.

I eagerly await the delayed publication of Jewel of Medina, a fictionalized account of one of the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s wives, Aisha. The publisher of Jewel of Medina, Gibson Square’s Martin Rynja’s house was recently firebombed, bringing the relevance of Banned Book Week to unfortunately horrific proportions.

Rumors: Sarah Palin Doesn’t Read, Too Busy Smoking Salvia

October 1st, 2008 at 8:06 pm

A lot has been said about Sarah Palin since she was tapped, like that last keg of old PBR that no one wanted to drink but would if we got desperate and times got tough, to be John McCain’s running mate.

And a lot has been said about her since then.

But what has not been covered by the liberal mainstream media are the rumors that have been writhing around John McCain like maggots that spontaneously generated from him after being left out and exposed to the elements for too long. They certainly didn’t hatch from the eggs left by flies and they certainly didn’t evolve. This is the McCain/Palin campaign we’re talking about here.

These rumors are something that only a select few can confidently corroborate: that Sarah Palin is in the throes of a severe addiction to Salvia divinorum.

Salvia is an intense psychoactive that causes hallucinations. While currently legal, lawmakers across the country have recently been calling for Salvia’s criminalization.

All the surefire signs of a serious Salvia habit are frighteningly present in Sarah Palin: A bubbly yet detached demeanor. A glassy, distant gaze. Stuttering, stammering, restarting sentences and failing to complete thoughts. A smirking, goofy grin. Onset of a slow drawl as the active constituent, trans-neoclerodane diterpenoid, interferes with the k-Opioid receptor. An inability to focus, especially on direct questions, such as, “What newspapers do you read?”

America, you don’t read when you’re high on Salvia! You’re too busy having a philosophical argument with your Ego in a bright white room. And then you army crawl into the kitchen and look out the window at Russia.

There have also been rumors that even Tina Fey smoked Salvia in order to prepare for her spoof of Palin on Saturday Night Live. But smoking Salvia results in only a few minutes of an altered state. Palin is clearly a chewer, whose effects last much, much longer.

But remember, My Fair Country, however you feel about this country’s state after these past eight years, remember that it was presided over by a sober man.