One of the world’s great photographers and perhaps the greatest portrait photographer ever, Richard Avedon died today. Avedon started out in the fashion world, and then he became equally well known as a portraitist in the documentary style. He was known for placing his subjects in front of an all white background, for eliciting hidden emotions from his subjects, and for his meticulous darkroom work. Photos, a timeline, and various other goodies can be found here. Here are his most comprehensive collections: Evidence: 1944-1994 and An Autobiography
Glenn Goldman, the owner and founder of Book Soup in West Hollywood, California, died yesterday from complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 58 years old.I first worked at Book Soup when I was nineteen, and I returned after graduating from college. I loved the place, and I still do; it's my favorite book store in all the world, with its towering shelves packed with books, and books behind books, and ladders to get to those books. Glenn started it all, in 1975, when my parents still lived in New Jersey, long before their lives in Los Angeles had even been conceived of. Sometimes I like to think that Book Soup was waiting, all along, to give little writer me some shelter, and an education. I am grateful to Glenn for this.Here's some of what I learned about at Book Soup:Le Corbusier, Andreas Gursky, Jane Jacobs, Maseratis, Georges Batailles, David Sedaris, Patricia Highsmith, equestrian porn, Boris Vian, Gammahydroxybutyrate (GBH), Paul Bowles, Donna Tartt, Ina Garten, Joan Didion, blogs, Guy Debord, Julius Shulman, James Ellroy, wedding stylists, personal assistants, Breathless, Schlitz beer, Robert Caro, Robert Evans, Robert Greene, Helmut Newton, Paulo Coelho, the reading habits of certain celebrities, how big books can be, and how expensive, how sought after, and cool.I met a guy named Patrick at Book Soup, and I married him.Outside of Book Soup there are trashy girls from the Inland Empire, heading with arms crossed to a nearby club, and raving homeless men, and at the newsstand an actress is reading about herself in the tabloids. A man walks by selling puppies, maybe a waterproof radio. Inside of Book Soup there are highly opinionated, supremely well-read booksellers who want to know what five books you'd take with you to a desert island, go, and what your favorite Morrissey song is, and how many people you've slept with, and don't you think I need another tattoo? Inside there are books, so many books.And through it all, there was Glenn - shy and notoriously stubborn, but devoted to the store, his store. He couldn't stop ordering books, even though we couldn't fit them anywhere. But God bless him for that, because we always had what you were looking for, what I was looking for.Glenn will certainly be missed, and his legacy, as a bookseller to the great and infamous, will continue.More: Max remembers
A recent 51-minute-long segment on The Diane Rehm Show about Orhan Pamuk’s new novel never once mentioned the name of the translator, Robert Finn. Rehm repeated several times that the book had just been translated into English, but she never said by whom. The Los Angeles Times referred to the translation profession as “the small, unseen and largely unknown circle of men and women who translate the world’s literature into English…a low-paid job that’s also highly skilled and labor-intensive.” It’s things like these that remind me of how much we still need Michael Henry Heim, even a month after his death. When Heim died on September 29, Andrei Codrescu wrote: “It is impossible to imagine intelligent American life from the 20th century’s spectacular end until now without his translations.” (I know that deaths tend to trigger the writing of many unreliable mini-hagiographies, but suspend disbelief for a moment, if you will. This is different. This is no hyperbole.) Many know Heim’s translations of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, but he was also a professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at UCLA, mentored graduate students and young translators, volunteered as a judge for a number of translation awards and prizes, and served as an expert reader for publishers on a number of languages. Heim knew at least 10 languages (Czech, German, Italian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian -- which is now four separate languages -- Danish, Hungarian, Latin, Slovak, Romanian, and Spanish). Near the end of his life, he was learning Chinese. Esther Allen, a Baruch College professor, says he didn’t sleep as much as other people do. He’d get up at five in the morning most days to study his flashcards, and would review them just before going to bed each night. Alongside all this, Heim was an activist and true champion of literary translation. Heim was a man who literally seemed to have more hours in the day than the rest of us. He was someone who pushed for greater visibility of translation in the larger world of American letters, who supported and nurtured would-be translators with every free minute. The list of his activities is endless: Heim organized a conference in Romania in 1999 for translators from each of the Eastern-bloc countries. The event successfully bridged post-Soviet fragmentation and encouraged the cross-translation of the literature of those countries. Heim started the Babel Group at UCLA, which later morphed into the Graduate Student Translation Conference, an important biennial gathering of graduate students to discuss the “work, business and craft of translation.” Heim and his wife Priscilla were the benefactors responsible for the PEN Translation Fund, donating $734,000 to launch the fund in 2003. Joshua Daniel Edwin, a poet-translator who received the grant this year, says it has been a “publicity beacon” for his work and has absolutely done what it set out to do, which is to encourage the publication of international literature in translation. Heim worked with the Modern Language Association, the largest professional organization for scholars of language and literature, to write up a set of guidelines for how and why translation should be seen as relevant scholarly work in the context of academia and professors seeking tenure. Russell Valentino, the editor of The Iowa Review and Heim’s former student, called Heim a “staunch supporter of literary translation as a legitimate research activity.” In the years before his death, Heim was talking to colleagues about setting up a foundation where best-selling English language writers whose work is translated into dozens of international languages would give a small portion of their proceeds for the translation of other works into English, a sort of way to redirect the flow and address the dearth of literature in translation published in the U.S. The good thing is that we are in a more, as Heim called it, “proactive” phase in the history of literary translation, where there is increased visibility for translators and the number of published translations increases every year, especially with the proliferation of independent and small presses. But we’ve just lost one of our true champions. Next year, Open Letter Books will publish a composite biography of Heim entitled The Man Between. Allen, one of the contributors calls it “a sort of cubist perspective of Mike.” I can’t wait to read it.
Just found out that Hunter S. Thompson killed himself. It's unbelievable. I suppose he's one of those guys who didn't want to die of old age. Maybe we'll find out more...HST has been appropriated by many. He came to represent a lot of things, especially an over-the-top counter-cultural wackiness, that he may or may not have signed up for. It also seems like his work is dismissed by as many as those who embrace it. To my mind, his books, especially those penned from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s, included long stretches of blinding brilliance. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad HST writing on bookshelves too, but his public demanded it, I suppose. My favorite HST book is Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail '72 which is about the race that led up to Nixon's reelection. If you have even the slightest interest in politics, this is an essential book. In it the ever-distractable HST follows the many tangents that encompass the insanity of the American political process. In one particularly surreal scene, Thompson shares a long limo ride with Nixon. The election is not the only - nor even the central - drama of the book, which originally appeared almost in its entirety in Rolling Stone. The subplot that occasionally becomes the plot of the book, is whether or not HST will be able to finish the book and to face the inevitability of Nixon's reelection. In the end he does not, and the reader is left frustrated, wanting this man - who seems to have an answer for everything - to stick it out until election day, but he can't. I think, though, that that was Thompson's way. It's infuriating in that instance, as well as in today's, but in exchange we got brilliance from a man who wrote with such fury that he burnt himself right out.See also: the AP obit. The first of many to come.
Norman Mailer, a colossus who bestrode worlds both literary and journalistic - and, at his best, combined them - has died of acute renal failure, according to the Times. Mailer had been in poor health for some time, and, given his hospitalization last month and his advanced age, his death comes as no surprise. And yet, in another way, it seems shocking: of the celebrated Jewish-American men who remade our literature in the middle of the last century (Bellow, Roth, Malamud, Salinger), Mailer seemed the most ecstatically alive. He rarely shied from a fight, or turned down an opportunity for self-promotion on the grounds that it might be beneath his dignity. Pursuing a life that would be its own kind of art - or at least entertainment - he indulged a vast range of interests: sports commentator, filmmaker, celebrity, co-founder of the Village Voice, mayoral candidate, drunk.... And this prodigious energy, this tendency to follow it whither it led, may explain why, of the authors cited above, his ratio of dross to gold was the highest. One occupation Mailer never seriously explored, to my knowledge, was editor.That said, his death should clarify certain things about the Mailer canon, among them this: When he was good, he was brilliant. I cannot claim to have waded through Ancient Evenings, but The Executioner's Song, in its own strange way, surpasses the journalistic achievements of Capote's In Cold Blood, and leaves almost every other novel written in the Seventies looking morally and intellectually trivial. A writer less vainglorious - less convinced of his own ability to get all of life on the page - could never have written this book. In a way, Mailer was the last of the Romantics, more an heir to Byron than to Hemingway. Let us hope that his own heirs will be able to see through the glare of his celebrity to the writer, the sly rope-a-doper, who hid behind it.
The last time I saw Elmore Leonard alive was in 2004 at a now-defunct New York bookstore, where Leonard had come to promote his latest novel and I had come to pay homage to a literary hero. The novel was called Mr. Paradise. I lurked in the back of the store while a long line of fans waited to get their books autographed, maybe exchange a few words with the author. The atmosphere was more like a church than a place of business, for Leonard had developed a large, loyal, and nearly reverent following during a career that had been chugging along for more than half a century by then and kept on chugging until Tuesday, when Leonard died at 87 at his home near Detroit. As Leonard signed books that day in New York, I noticed that he rarely looked up and he exchanged a minimum of small talk with his fans. He was well into his 70s by then, and the book-flogging drill had obviously lost its luster for him long ago. In that moment I realized my act of homage was going to be even trickier than I'd feared. I had been a fan of Leonard's writing for years,so I didn't doubt my sincerity. But I could see that paying homage to a writer as famous and seasoned as Leonard was a fraught transaction. It's almost impossible not to come across as sycophantic and fawning. Or, worse, creepy. When the last fan had gotten his book signed, I took a deep breath and stepped up to the table. Leonard gave me a look I took to be frosty. ALWAYS A STRAGGLER, it seemed to say. I held out a signed copy of my own first novel, Motor City, and said, "Mr. Leonard, my name is Bill Morris. I played football with your son Pete at Holy Name School back in the '60s. I wanted to give you this copy of my first novel and let you know I've loved your writing for years." Leonard's face changed. A warm smile melted the frost. He thanked me for the book, asked after my parents, who he claimed to remember, told me with evident pride that his son Pete had started publishing novels of his own, which I knew. Terrified of pressing my luck, I cut the conversation short, thanked him and left the store. Leonard's warmth had been palpable. So had his relief that his duty was done --- until next time. The first times I saw Elmore Leonard were in the 1950s and '60s, when we were living near each other in a Detroit suburb and I was playing football with his kid. All I knew about Pete's dad back then was that he wasn't like my father and most of the other fathers in the neighborhood, who boarded big shiny cars in the morning and went off to make money making cars. Mr. Leonard was different. He worked in something mysterious called advertising -- then came home and wrote stories and novels. Even as a grade schooler, this struck me as impossibly romantic and exotic. It was possible for a respectable middle-class man to be a writer, an artist! Leonard was rightly revered for his impeccable ear for spoken English, his clean prose, his insistence that the author must remain invisible, and that writing should never be writerly. But I think his achievement went well beyond what was in his books -- and in the uneven movies they inspired. Leonard won the favor of some high literary types, including Walker Percy and Martin Amis, a sign that he had accomplished something that once seemed unthinkable: he lifted genre writing out of the ghetto and made readers and critics see that fine writing cannot be bottled or diminished by labels. Loren D. Estleman, another prolific Michigan-based author of high-quality crime and western fiction, was saddened by the news that his friend Elmore Leonard had died. "All he cared about was his work," Estleman said by phone on Tuesday. "He was the absolute last of the ad men --- the Mad Men --- who went from writing ad copy to writing for the pulps and then on to the world market of writing quality novels." Leonard was among a handful of pioneers -- Philip K. Dick, George V. Higgins, and John le Carré also come to mind -- who opened the world's eyes to something that now seems self-evident: the quality of the writing is the only thing that matters. I've often wondered if Elmore Leonard read that novel I gave him back in 2004. Probably not. I don't care. It was enough to spend a few moments in the presence of an immortal. Image Credit: Wikipedia