It was my pleasure to do a half-hour interview with Dorian on WFMU-FM’s “The Speakeasy” last night. Our talk ranged from A Field Guide to the North American Family to Julio Cortazar to print vs. online to James Wood (natch). Check it out at www.wfmu.org/playlists/SE, where you’ll also find interviews with Lawrence Wright and Charles D’Ambrosio, among others. (Segment starts at 27:00, following…that’s right…Ashford & Simpson!)
You may have noticed that a few days ago I added another newsfeed to the sidebar. This one provides book headlines from the Christian Science Monitor. I'm pretty excited about this because the Monitor happens to be one of my favorite newspapers. The paper's interesting history sets it apart from most dailies. Despite its name, the Monitor is not a religious paper. It was founded by Mary Baker Eddy, a devotee of the Christian Science religion, in 1908, but it was not meant to be a religious organ. Eddy was a prominent Boston citizen, and she had been getting a lot of grief from Joseph Pulitzer and his newspaper the New York World. She created the paper because she was convinced that newspapers should do more than attack people. She wanted her paper "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind." The result is consistently excellent journalism with a great international focus and a deeper insight into the news than most daily papers provide. Have a look at the paper here.Tomorrow is one of the biggest literary days of the year: the announcement of the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. Speculation abounds.
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?
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This Thursday, December 6, Gallery Bar on the Lower East Side will host an opening for A Field Guide to the North American Family: The Exhibition. Co-curated by Mark Batty Publisher and the Humble Arts Foundation, this month-long exhibition will showcase prints of the photographs I selected to illustrate my book. Here's your chance to see the works of brilliant photographers like Jon Gitelson, Tema Stauffer, and Matt Nighswander in person - and even to take one home, if you're inclined to purchase.Just as importantly, the opening, which runs from 7 to 12 p.m., should be a rocking party. Wine is free from 7 to 8, and drink specials run all night. I'll be signing books and getting my social chops back in shape for the holiday season. Hope to see some of you there! For more information, see the Gallery Bar website.Then, on Sunday, it's back on the Lower East Side. I'll be reading at Bluestockings Bookstore with Alex Rose, trail-blazing author of The Musical Illusionist, the second release from Akashic's Hotel St. George Press. I hear that Mr. Rose has a multimedia extravaganza planned to coincide with his reading, so I've been hard at work on my own visual aids. The reading's at 7, and again, it would be great to see some Millions readers in the crowd.
I can't believe it's been three years, but it's true. I started The Millions three years ago today (though it didn't become a Blog About Books until a little later.) Want to see what it looked like? Ugly! In the intervening years I've tried to make the blog a little nicer to look at and a little easier to read. I'm still having fun though, and I wouldn't have kept it up for this long (I've never kept anything up this long!), if it weren't for you guys. So thank you. Thank you to my contributors who keep this place from being too monotonous. Thank you to all those folks in the publishing industry who work hard to get good books out there to the people and who are kind enough to occasionally send me books they think I might like. Thank you to writers and aspiring writers for creating things for us to read (and for visiting The Millions sometimes). Thanks to my fellow book bloggers - if it weren't for you guys, this would be a pretty dull hobby. Thanks most of all to the readers of this blog and the readers of books. I've greatly enjoyed our ongoing, virtual conversation.All those thank yous. One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can publicly pretend you've just won an Oscar any time you feel like it.Finally, I just want to harken back to my so-called manifesto from way back when, when I laid out why I think it's important for us to discuss what we read. It's still my goal for the blog today: "Given that you and I will only be able to read a finite number of books in our lifetimes, then we should try, as much as possible, to devote ourselves to reading only the ones that are worth reading, while bearing in mind that for every vapid, uninspiring book we read, we are bumping from our lifetime reading list a book that might give us a profound sort of joy."Keep reading good books!
Late last year, we tried something new: we asked Millions readers for support. The response has been very positive and it's a thrill to see that so many of you value what we're doing here. We are grateful that many readers have decided to contribute to The Millions since November. A very special thank-you goes to our two Sponsors at the $500-per-year level. Our Sponsors have the opportunity to dedicate their support to anything or anyone they wish, and we've created an acknowledgment area on the membership page. The amount we've raised so far provides us with some helpful breathing room as we look to become less reliant upon the internet giants who, as sources of revenue, tend to control the destinies of places like The Millions. It also helps The Millions produce the big features that are highly valued by readers: Year in Reading and our Most Anticipated list. If you'd like to learn more, see my original post, and here's our member page if you've been thinking about participating but haven't yet had the chance. And thank you, as always, for reading.
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It's my pleasure to introduce to you a new contributor to The Millions. Emre is an old friend of mine and I've always enjoyed our literary discussions. Emre read a lot of books last year, and he put together a diary of his reading experience. My plan is to post a segment of it each week. I've decided to share the whole diary with you because I think it represents one way that we, as readers, can get more out of the time we devote to our obsession with the written word. The post above this one will be the first in the series, but before we get to that, here's a little more about Emre:Emre Peker currently slaves away as a paralegal in New York. Emre likes the city, food, drinks, books, music and good people. After winning the lottery, Emre will purchase a private island, derive a way to declare independence, and establish his own kingdom. Until then, Emre hopes to keep sane by reading and writing.One more thing, Emre grew up in Turkey, but has lived in the US for the last six years or so. This explains why some of the books he read last year were in Turkish.
Over the years, Millions contributors and guests have penned many book reviews for the site. However, this wealth of content has long been buried in the archives.And so, in the spirit of starting off the new year on the right foot, we've created The Millions Book Review Index, which lists every review, squib, appreciation, and consideration we've ever run here alphabetically by author. As we add new reviews to the site, they will appear in the index as well, so we encourage you to bookmark the page for easy access. We hope you find the index useful. Stay tuned for another great year at The Millions.