As late summer sets in, I find myself lazy, distracted. Like the stockbrokers and lawmakers who spend August relaxing or taking their “recess,” I, too, will be taking it easy. Expect posting to be lighter than usual in the coming weeks, and try to take things slow, if you can.
We have some exciting news today. I’ve long pined for the perfect url for The Millions and now we finally have it. From now on, The Millions will reside at www.themillions.com.Long-time readers will know that this is in fact the fourth address that the site has had over the years, but I can assure you that themillions.com will be the last. I think the name befits a site that has long outgrown its “blogspot” roots. Plus, it’s very easy to remember.While links to themillionsblog.com will redirect to their themillions.com counterparts indefinitely, we encourage you to update your bookmarks and any links you may have that point to The Millions. We believe that the move has gone smoothly, but if you see anything awry, please let us know. Thanks for your support!Update: No update to your RSS feed subscriptions necessary. RSS subscribers will continue to receive our posts.
The Millions notched its fourth anniversary this weekend, and I’m very pleased that the site is still going strong and more popular than ever. As much as I’d like to take full credit for this, much of it should go to my contributors who really stepped it up last year and who since the redesign at the beginning of this year have, in a few short months, really taken the site to another level.I should also thank the readers of The Millions whose participation in the comments and whose emails to me help make working on the site a tremendously fulfilling endeavor. In fact, just peeking at the site’s stats and seeing how many regular readers we have makes me feel very grateful to know that so many readers appreciate what we’re doing here.And what is it that we’re doing here? As ever, The Millions and its fellow book blogs continue to evolve. One of the most interesting developments over the last year is how several bloggers have become regular fixtures in newspaper book sections across the country. Some of these folks were critics before they were bloggers, but some, like Ed, began down that path with their blogs. Even as blogs have been increasingly accepted as legitimate voices contributing to the greater literary discourse, there are still those who question their value and accuse them of cliquishness and worse. Hopefully, though, book blogs will continue to matter enough to enough people that they will continue to be targeted by such attacks. I’d rather The Millions be criticized than irrelevant.The Millions, of course, has never been particularly controversial. Fomenting arguments has never been a big part of the site’s mission, as much fun as it to sometimes get involved in those battles. The mission of this blog is to act much like your favorite independent bookstore might. As I’ve written before, “one should be able to walk into [a good] bookstore and be able to grasp, based upon which books are on display and based upon conversations with staff and fellow customers, what matters at that moment both in the wider world and in the neighborhood.” I hope that when people “walk into” The Millions they get that same feeling from those of us who write the posts and from their fellow readers who leave comments.Deeper than that, at the very core of The Millions, is that we should seek out good books to read and pass them along to like-minded friends. As I wrote nearly four years ago when I decided that the site needed a manifesto to give the then bumbling proto-Millions some shape, “this isn’t about compulsory reading; this is about making sure that whatever you read will serve a purpose for you and that, as often as possible, this purpose is to bring you the curious sort of joy that only a book can.” There’s more there too.All of which is to say, I hope The Millions still feels relevant and worthwhile amid the millions of blogs that crowd the Internet. To me, our mission is still worth pursuing. Thanks again to all of you for another great year. Let’s have another.Previously: An Historic Day; The Millions Turns Two; Thanks for Three Years from The Millions.
Though Garth made his first appearance yesterday with his post about the Illustrated Pynchon, I’d like to formally welcome him aboard. I’ve known Garth for a long time – at least a dozen years, I think – and we’ve always talked about books, so I’m glad he decided to join us. He’ll have other reviews and dispatches up soon. Let the hazing commence.
The Millions recently published guest contributor Ed Simon’s list of nominations for America’s national epic. Ed had included Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited; editor Lydia Kiesling ruthlessly cut the entry, feeling that it was too cute to cross genres. Now that the Nobel Prize Committee has upheld Ed’s judgment, we run his argument in its entirety below, with our apologies for denying his prescience. As the Laureate says, “We’re idiots, babe.”
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) by Bob Dylan – There is a temptation to claim that when it comes to Dylan, the greatest epic isn’t any individual album, but rather the entirety of his collected output, or maybe even better, the substance of his very life. After all, his story is almost absurdly archetypical American, a tale of rugged individualism and self-invention in which our young hero went east rather than west. His is a story about young Robert Zimmerman, suburban Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, hitch-hiking to Morris Plains, New Jersey, where he received a folk benediction from the hillbilly Okie troubadour Woody Guthrie dying from Huntington’s disease in a state hospital. As a result, he acquired the bardic name Dylan and moved to Greenwich Village where he would reinvent American music. Performing for half a century and with 37 albums, Dylan reconciles American contradictions more than any other performer before or after. He has been the firebrand revolutionary singing for civil rights and the reactionary Christian fundamentalist revivalist; he played folk modeled on the oldest songs in the English language and he went electric; though as he put it with characteristic impishness at a 1965 press conference, he primarily thinks of himself “as more of a song and dance man.” While the argument could be made for several different albums as Dylan’s American epic, it is Highway 61 Revisited which most fully embodies the grandeur and the shame of what the word “America” means – it is prophetic in its evocations. He riffs on Genesis when he sings “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son,’/Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on,’” but as in the original God is serious, so is Dylan’s, continuing with, “Well Abe says, ‘Where do you want this killin’ done?’/God says, ‘Out on Highway 61.’” The songwriter’s genius for what critic Greil Marcus has called “the old, weird America” understands that collapsing biblical history into American is a fundamental strategy for expressing the strangeness of this country. Why shouldn’t Mt. Moriah be on America’s most iconic highway? In his lyrics, which skirt just this side of surrealism, there is a panoply of strange characters, including Cinderella, Bette Davis, Albert Einstein, Cain and Abel, Eliot and Pound, Ophelia and Robin Hood (just to present a smattering). Dylan’s lyrical logic is myth logic, but all the better to be recounted in the language of dreams. The road is the medium of the hero’s journey, and Highway 61 isn’t the only one on the album; there’s also “Desolation Row,” where “They’re selling postcards of the hanging,” calling forth nothing so much as America’s brutal racial legacies. And of course there is the opus “Like a Rolling Stone.” The electric masterpiece whose performance Pete Seeger tried to prevent at Newport by attempting to cut the electrical cables with an axe, the track which inspired a concert-goer at the Manchester Free Trade Hall to scream out at Dylan, “Judas!” – the rock song which birthed rock music. A six-minute long evocation of wounded friendship, rage, and rebellion. How does it feel, indeed?
The Millions, at any given time, has ten regular paid contributors and has been host to over a hundred guest contributors, including some of the literary world’s leading voices. With all this going on, we’ve long felt the great writing here needed a little room to breathe. With The Millions having outgrown its bloggy roots, and with needs that long ago surpassed my meager abilities as a web designer, we decided it was time to give The Millions a redesign that reflected the breadth of criticism, commentary, and reporting you’ve come to expect from the site.
So first, a quick tour. The new front page showcases two main headlines – these will be our two most recent essays or reviews – along with a dozen more recently published stories below.
Underneath that is a new section called Curiosities. Throughout the day, we’ll be sharing interesting links and tidbits here. Those of you who read The Millions via RSS will see Curiosities in the feed along with the rest of our content.
Also in the lower area are category-based links into our archives, as well as our monthly Top Ten. At the top right of the page, you’ll find a search box for the site and for Amazon.
If you you have any feedback or see anything broken, please let me know.
It’s not an easy time to be running an independent literature and culture publication that pays its writers, but we strongly believe that we can help fill the gap as coverage shrinks elsewhere. If you’d like to support this effort (or are just inclined to give a housewarming gift), please visit our support page.
Thanks for reading The Millions!