Tonight’s installment of the Pacific Standard Fiction series in Brooklyn is a special “NYFA night,” featuring three 2008 fiction fellows of the New York Foundation for the Arts. They are: National Book Award-nominee Christine Schutt, author of All Souls; Guggenheim honoree Paul LaFarge, author of Haussmann, or The Distinction; and me. Drink specials will benefit our sponsor, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, and we suggest a donation of one gently used book. The event is free, and if you are, too, it would be great to see you. (For directions, see Time Out.)
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!
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 is six years old today. We’re another year deeper, and as in past years it seems an appropriate moment for reflection.Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shape and format of what we do here. The Millions is ostensibly a blog, a publishing format that seems to have had a brief heyday around 2005. Prior to that, blogging was maligned as some sort of barely human form of discourse, the rantings of madmen and -women or the laughably amateur efforts of the idle or obsessive.Gradually, the form matured, and was adopted and institutionalized in many corners. For The Millions, maturing meant bringing on regular contributors and working with publishers and publicists to wrangle interviews with and essays by notable writers. It also meant thinking of ourselves as a legitimate (even “mainstream”) publication.But now, suddenly, blogging is feeling a little old-fashioned. First Facebook, then Twitter and Tumblr, have fetishized brevity and broadcasting, leaving blogs looking ponderous and even insular by comparison.There is, no doubt, huge value in these tools. Facebook and Twitter offer connectivity, though with built-in limitations to communication. And add Tumblr to the mix and you have three incredible tools for filtering, or, as it is sometimes better better termed, curation.In the vast wildness of the internet, we rely on curators. Some people are very good at it. There are also algorithmic curation tools and community-driven curation tools, though their output tends to be robotic in the case of the former and reflective of a form of self-reinforcing mass peer pressure in the latter. Meanwhile, through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more prosaic means like email and chat, our friends and “friends” curate for us, shooting links our way to make us laugh or think.We do some curation here too. Over the last year we’ve regimented our “Curiosities” posts, with all of our regulars providing links, making for a curious weekly mix of goodies from around the web.But much more of our energy is devoted to something else: generating original reviews and essays, some quite short and others very long. Increasingly, it seems, this sets The Millions apart. It dictates that, though there are nine of us, we rarely publish more than one or two items a day. It also means that we tend to have a lot invested in each item we post. We invest time in each piece you see here, but each also bears the promise of The Millions’ survival and future growth – the more that people care about what we write, the more The Millions grows. And, of course, the opposite holds true as well.This isn’t meant to be rant of any kind. I wanted to bring it up because I value the work that the contributors here do and because I appreciate that all of you out there read it and all the professional and amateur curators who link to it. That is a big part of what makes running The Millions worthwhile.In thinking about all this, I spent some time skimming through The Millions archives of the last year, and while these aren’t the longest or most popular or even necessarily the “best” things we’ve run all year, they are, I think, a worthy sample of what The Millions is all about:This year, Garth cracked wise about novel titles. Garth and Kevin reviewed one of the most talked about books of the year, and later, the book’s author made an appearance. We had visits from other illustrious guests, as well. Andrew reviewed a quirky book and wrote about music. And Emily asked, “Why So Serious Batman?” Edan did many a great interview. Garth tried to make sense of tragedy. We did group posts and covered notable literary events and generally offered our own twist on things.Thanks for another great year, Millions readers. We continue to value your intelligence, curiosity, and feedback.
After about three days of tinkering, cutting and pasting, and banging my head against the wall, I’m happy to announce that The Millions has a new address, a location on the internet from which I’m hoping it will not move.Before I go any further let me ask you to please update your bookmarks to www.themillionsblog.com. I’ve set it up so that visitors to the old blog will be redirected to the new blog automatically, but that will only be in place for a limited time. If you read The Millions via its RSS feed, that has changed as well: this is the new feed.Now, why did I do this? Well, the previous address, my Realistic Records address, was meant to be temporary. I moved my young blog there to get it off of Blogspot. At the time I knew very little about registering domains and FTPing and things like that, so I just had my friend Derek set me up on the domain he had bought for our little record label project. Well, the record label project is ancient history, I was tired of my blog’s unwieldy address, and I figured it made sense for The Millions to be on a domain that was owned by me and not someone else.Some housekeeping issues. In moving the site, I took the opportunity to change a few things, including switching commenting systems. I think the new setup will be better for conversation on the site, but unfortunately all the old comments are gone. I wanted to save them but there wasn’t any way. Also, the site search will not work for a while until the new site is indexed in Google. Finally, please let me know if you are encountering any difficulties viewing the new site or if you find any broken links. You can email me here.Thanks!
We had great fun on The Millions’ NYC Indie Bookstore Tour yesterday. Defying the dire forecast, the weather cleared up after the first stop, and it turned out to be a glorious day for walking and looking at books. We met a lot of great people and visited some very cool bookstores. The early consensus is that we’ll definitely be doing this again. And here’s just a selection of some of the many, many great books that got picked up by the group yesterday.Other highlights included a sun-drenched walk across the crowded Brooklyn Bridge and a surprise marriage proposal at our final stop.If you were along with us on the tour and have pictures or writeups to share, let us know so we can link to them.