I’ll be reading from A Field Guide to the North American Family this Saturday, as part of New York’s 20th annual Independent and Small Press Book Fair. The Indie Author Read-a-Thon runs from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., and I’ll probably only be reading a couple of short chapters from the book; I can’t recommend that anyone schlep to 44th Street just to see me. That said, I had a blast at this book fair last year, trolling the beautiful wares of such publishers as Akashic Books, New York Review Classics, and Gingko Press. You know… the kind of books that don’t lend themselves to the Kindle. I emerged $40 poorer, but with half of my Christmas shopping done. My favorite find? An anthology of scam emails from Africa. So: Come for the books… stay for the reading!
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.
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?
Join us in welcoming our newest regular contributor at The Millions:Kevin Hartnett lives in Philadelphia with his fiance Caroline. He works as a community organizer for public education reform and enjoys his days most when they are full of people. He spends his off hours running along the Delaware River, and wafting from cannisters of loose tea at a store that recently opened near his apartment.You may remember the two reviews Kevin penned for us earlier this year. His next offering will be up shortly.
I find it hard to believe, but today is the one year anniversary of The Millions, making this little Blog About Books a veritable ancient in the “blog world.” Authoring this blog has been a great experience for me. It turned me from an unmotivated, but ostensibly “aspiring” writer, into someone who writes for an audience every day and can now seriously contemplate life as a writer without much dread. If there’s any folks out there who are contemplating a similar sort of writing life, putting together a blog is a great way to get the kinks out, not to mention all the web skills you pick up along the way.When I first started The Millions it wasn’t even a blog about books, it was just a… blog. My buddy Derek had had a blog for a while and was really into it. It looked like fun and I was getting tired of trying to muster up the energy to write in my journal each day, so I decided to give it a try. My first post appears to have been about politics, and I think it was my last post about politics. I kind of meandered along like that for a while, writing intermittently about art lectures and rock and roll shows and things like that until one day in the shower, where I have most of my epiphanies, I had an epiphany. A Blog About Books. “I’ve decided to reinvent The Millions…”, I wrote. A manifesto soon followed. And it was followed again and again by more and more manifestos. And of course I went bookfinding and bookspotting. And occasionally people read the blog and they seemed to enjoy it and some of them even left comments or emailed me or asked me a book question. It’s been fun. I hope to keep doing it, too. I don’t have a lot of readers, 30 to 60 a day, and most of those are family members, but I’m pretty addicted to it. This year brings lots of busyness and lots of changes. I’m getting married, moving, and going back to school, but maybe I’ll find the time to make it to The Millions anniversary #2 on March 24th, 2005; you’ll have to keep reading to find out.The anniversary might be a good time to post another manifesto, and since I think I may have written a (small) one today in responding to an email from a reader, I might as well put it up here:I lean perhaps too much on the side of being uncritical about books. In fact, I prefer to allow the books I read to be a jumping off point for conversation or to talk about the experience of reading a particular book. I feel like that there is so much qualitative judgment being passed on books (…and music…and movies) that it tends to drown out the other stuff… so I haven’t wanted The Millions to add to the din of the review culture. Having said that, I think it IS important to pass qualitative judgment on books, but it is far more important to single out (and try to get people to read) the good ones instead of knocking down the bad ones. I also fear that my usual positivity makes me seem like a corporate shill for Amazon, but I’m hoping that most of my readers aren’t so cynical. I just happened to have all of this on my mind since it turns out that today is the one year anniversary of The Millions.Thanks to all you trusted fellow readers!