The new British quarterly, The Book, is kicking things off with a poll to determine, by popular vote, “the Greatest Living British Writer.” As Gordon Kerr writes in his essay introducing the poll, “Now, there’s a question! It’s such a big one, in fact, that it requires capitals at the beginning of each word!” Indeed. If you’ve got an opinion on the matter, cast your vote. I couldn’t decide – how does one pick in polls like this? – so I selected John Le Carre, who seems to be sufficiently influential and popular while at the same time a little bit outside of the literary box. Thoughts?
Millions contributor Garth pointed me to a funny little piece by Calvin Trillin in the New York Times in which the New Yorker writer is asked to test out the new Lexus “Advanced Parking Guidance System.” Perhaps you’ve heard of this; it supposedly enables the car to park itself. Trillin, as he indicates, believes that he has been asked to try this newfangled technology out because he was the author of Tepper Isn’t Going Out, “which is considered by most scholars to have been the first parking novel” and because in 1964 he was the founding co-editor of Beautiful Spot: A Magazine of Parking, which, Trillin says, “I’ve seen referred to as a one-issue publication even though we prefer to say that the second issue hasn’t come out yet.” Indeed, Trillin views himself as something of a parking expert:If I were asked to name my talent – talent, that is, in the way the Miss America pageant uses the word talent, as in “Miss West Virginia will now do her talent” – I would say “parallel parking.” For the second issue of Beautiful Spot: A Magazine of Parking, I’ve been preparing an article on how I came up with the term “slicing the bread” to describe maneuvering into a spot that leaves only the width of a bread slice between your bumpers and the bumpers of the cars ahead of and behind you. In a later issue, I intend to discuss “breaking the matzo” – getting into a spot so small that a matzo would crack if you tried to place it between the relevant bumpers. Just for the record, the last time I broke a matzo was May 1994, on Riverside Drive, between 83rd and 84th; unfortunately, there were no witnesses.Good stuff.
I enjoyed the short story in this week’s New Yorker. Allegra Goodman’s story, “Long-Distance Client” gently pokes fun at the exuberance of the late 90s. But the story is also quietly weighty, touching on pain and religion and the whole idea of being “centered” mentally and physically. Very funny, but also moving.I wasn’t familiar with Goodman’s writing before reading the story, but she has a good collection of links up at her Web site. She’s written four books, too:Kaaterskill FallsParadise ParkThe Family MarkowitzTotal Immersion
No the Times isn’t getting comics, but they are taking a cue from the New Yorker by adding a graphic novel-type comics section to the Sunday magazine. Everybody’s been saying for years that “graphic novels” are on the cusp of taking the book world by storm. Is this a step in that direction? The first artist to appear will be, you guessed it, Chris Ware. Get the gory details here.
What to call David Brooks’ column in the New York Times this morning? “Appalling” is the word that comes most readily to mind, but that is not quite what I mean. It is a hard piece of writing to classify. I think it was intended to be a parody of Obama’s speech, but what it seems more like is a free-writing exercise performed by a hardened misanthrope under the influence of 15 martinis or some kind of psychotropic substance. In short, it seems like it was written by a crazy person. This possibly dangerous crazy alter-ego also wrote – interestingly, tellingly – an equally crazy column some time ago called something like “The Two Obamas” in which frequent references were made to “Fast Eddie Obama,” a man who was fond of throwing people under trucks. If you happened to read Brooks’ column of the day before Obama nominated Biden, this impression of madness is heightened: that piece was a matter-of-fact political analysis that might well have been written by someone of no party affiliation.Dear Millions readers, do you have any insights into the mystery of the two faces of David Brooks? I find his duplicity fascinating and genuinely troubling and would be delighted to have it illuminated.
It’s tough times for newspapers in many American cities and Philadelphia is no exception. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News were bought by a group of investors under the name Philadelphia Media Holdings following the split up of the newspapers’ former parent Knight Ridder. Already in decline due both to the cuts of its corporate owners and the negative climate for newspapers, the pair of papers has struggled even further under their new owners.Earlier this month, Inquirer book editor Frank Wilson departed and described the machinations of newspaper management that led him to step down. The story is fairly familiar to anyone who has followed the industry over the last few years.While cost cutting and streamlining have become almost mundane at America’s newspapers, a new story emerging regarding one of Philadelphia’s most storied journalists is a bit more strange. As reported by Steve Volk for Philadelphia magazine, the newspaper company is now going after Pete Dexter, a one time Philadelphia journalist who has gone on to have a fruitful career as a novelist. Last year, he hearkened back to his days as a newspaper columnist in Philadelphia and elsewhere by publishing a collection of his old columns, Paper Trails.However, there must’ve been some miscommunication along the way because Philadelphia Media Holdings is now asking for a chunk of Dexter’s $60,000 advance, which Dexter gave to his editor Rob Fleder who did all the work of digging through the archives at compiling the collection. Meanwhile, the book’s paperback release has been delayed. In the above-linked article, it appears as though Dexter and Fleder acted in good faith, though the introduction to Paper Trails does describe the somewhat cavalier attitude with which Dexter and Fleder approached the book. In it, the reader is told that the 82 columns and articles we are about to read will lack dates and any indication as to where they first appeared because, basically, Dexter and Fleder didn’t want to dig them up. This adds to the collection’s charm but doesn’t exactly lend an aura of due diligence.Regardless, it’s hard to get behind what Philadelphia Media Holdings is doing here. By Philadelphia magazine’s account, the paper is attempting to intimidate Dexter and his agent, with little regard for the papers’ already bad reputation. One would think a compromise could have been reached over a relatively minor sum.As an aside, earlier this week, we looked at books for fans of HBO’s Deadwood. I would say that Paper Trails is a must read for fans of another HBO hit, The Wire. I posted my thoughts on Paper Trails early last year.
As an urban dog owner I greatly enjoyed Jonathan Safran Foer’s article in the New York Times about the trials and tribulations of having a dog in a city. This op-ed piece is an argument against a plan to eliminate “off leash” hours in city parks. As someone who has many times appreciated the ability to let his dog “off leash” in parks in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, I agree with Foer. I also enjoyed his musings on what it means for us (as in humanity) to have this desire to bring animals into unfriendly environs like cities. Kudos, as well, to Foer for letting his guard down in this piece in a way that many other writers might not have. (via Gwenda)