Animal Farm

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1. Sam Savage, the enigmatic author of Firmin, dropped by this week at the Lit-Blog Co-Op, which picked his novel as its Autumn 2006 Read This selection. I enjoyed asking the author a few questions (my interview style is completely random and ad hominem, of course, since I asked him about everything but the book itself). We've also been exploring the question of whether or not the lonesome rat who narrates Firmin might actually be a deluded human, but I find the novel most appealing for its unflinching focus on an essentially ratty soul -- a stunted, desparately limited brain with literary pretensions. That's how I read this wonderful book, anyway.

2. About ten litbloggers beat me to this one, but David Rakoff's surprising article about the novel that inspired the Disney movie Bambi (by a Vienna author named Felix Salten, whose writing has "not a trace of anthropomorphized cuteness") is so interesting I don't mind mentioning it too.

3. I had a few unkind things to say in advance about the soon-to-be-released Thomas Pynchon novel here recently, and I enjoyed Darby Dixon's counter-argument at Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks. Dixon says:

I can't truck with the assertion that underlies a statement from Levi Asher about the kind of reading he prefers: "I want reading to be fun, not exhausting." It's not that he prefers one type of reading over another, that's fine, I certainly prefer literature over psychology textbooks, deconstructionism be damned. It's the assertion that fun and exhaustion are mutually exclusive. Reading can and sometimes ought to be both at once.

I think this is a good point. I actually have enjoyed some painfully long and exhausting novels, such as Ulysses or Don Quixote (which I still haven't finished, but every page is great and I don't wish it to be one page shorter). I also had no problem at all with Richard Powers' hefty Echo Maker, though I'm surprised to hear Powers sometimes compared with William Vollmann or Thomas Pynchon; his prose is clear and refreshingly linear, and Pynchon's and Vollman's just isn't. I guess my dislike for long and structurally convoluted novels is entirely practical. I just don't have time to read and decode them, and I feel these authors are writing for an audience with a lot more free time than I have. This annoys me and I consider it inconsiderate. Yo, Tom -- kids? day job? other books I have to read? If I thought a Pynchon novel would someday be regarded the way Don Quixote is today, maybe I'd dive in. But I don't and I won't.

4. Via Syntax, this Francis Ford Coppola production of a William S. Burroughs story looks quite promising.

5. I know everybody is dying to hear who LitKicks is favoring for president in 2008. I like a few prospects right now. Hillary Clinton? Why not? I've liked her style from day one, and I think she's a practical and hardworking politician. Howard Dean? HEYYYEAAAH!!! He architected the recent House/Senate victory, and I just plain straight out like the guy a lot. But let's not forget John Murtha, who has an odd habit of speaking the plain and simple truth. That's something we don't get a lot of over at Animal Farm. I like all three of these prospects. And for now, I hope all three of them keep their heads down and work hard. There's a lot to do.
7 Responses to "Animal Farm"

by Billectric on

fluxI especially like Sam Savage's comment regarding "the way certain clever figures can morph back and forth between being, say, a picture of a rabbit or a picture of a duck. And though the picture is both things equally, it cannot be both at once".This "back & forth" concept has pervaded my mind and my work for years.

by Nasdijj on

What Is It I Owe the ReaderYou pose a good question about what it is the writer owes (or does not owe) the reader; you use the term "inconsiderate." Which is fine. I certainly don't begrudge you that.I wish I could understand (I've tried but it doesn't work) this symbiotic connection. The writer and the reader. I suppose writers are always thinking of the reader as they write. I suppose it's another rule.But somehow (for reasons I truly don't understand) I find the image of that terribly sad. I don't reject it for other writers. I simply reject it for me.I don't think of the reader. Ever. I don't want to know him. I don't want to think about him. He can read my work or not. I really don't care. No one is forcing him at gun point to read anything. The notion of writing "for" him is fine for any writer if that's what you want to do, but to find it compelling (or another rule) is so repugnant -- I will spare you the rant and will avoid going there.People are always screaming at me that I owe them things and none of them (well, a few) are credit card companies.I just don't share any of this sentiment.I have a stalker on the Internet (and on the phone and in emails and he has inserted himself into my family and friends) who insists that as a writer I owe him not only an adherence to the rules, but I also owe him an adherence to his moral code.I reject this. I don't owe him an allegiance to his moral code within the context of what I write. I don't owe him "consideration." In fact, I don't owe him (if you will allow me to use him as a metaphor for the reader) anything at all. No one is putting a tank to his head and making him read me.What amazes me is the symbiotic connection between marketing and the writer who feels obligated to tend to every little whine the reader has. I loathe the reader. I wish I had never heard of him. Where is it written I am obligated to pay attention to what he wants (demands). Read the work or not. But don't tell me that as the reader I owe you moral codes, thrills and chills, or even a commitment to always make sense.This "commitment" to the values of the reader (who does want to call the creative shots as do editors, publishers, marketing publicists, literary agents, and many of the fine people who own bookstores) is disingenuous and bogus. I think the "successful" writer does try to find some middle ground.But it never ends.-- The reader always has to know where you live.-- The reader wants you to appear in public because he has that clout.-- The reader only wants...Let me tell you what I want. I want to write and I want the reader to leave me alone so I might do my job.I don't want to hear about what he wants. I don't care what he wants. He is irrelevant. He is not germane to what I am writing no matter what I am writing.I know it goes completely against the grain of the contemporary notion we must all kiss the reader's ass (and the publisher's and the editor's and the agent's and the publicist's -- it never ends) but to have to create things with all these people breathing down your neck makes Johnny Writer into a very boring boy.Who writes very boring books. If the reader wants to be the writer then he needs to bite the bullet and write.I don't want the reader in my work or in my life or breathing down my neck or on my phone every other minute. I want him to mind his own business and leave me alone.Then and only then can I do my work.This tug of war between the reader who insists he is paramount, and the occasional writer who thinks otherwise, will never be won. We are constantly day in and day out being told how to give them what they want.Enough is enough. I would go so far as to say that the reader has no idea what he wants.Usually the reader wants what he has consumed before. This is why Danielle Steel has a following. She gives them what they want time and time again. Nothing moves. Nothing changes.I would simply suggest that the writer who is giving you what he thinks (subjectively) you need is of some value in the scheme of things.I think those writers are out there but they're few and far between. And they're disappearing. They are endangered animals.Certainly the most glaring example is, indeed, Gunter Grass.No saint.But where is it written I am compelled to be a saint as a writer. Where is it written that you, the reader, have access to my life. Where is it written that you can get away with demanding that I be either a saint or even considerate.You're the reader. Read.But you don't owe me anything and I don't owe you anything, either.We do not have a relationship let alone a symbiotic one where the reader is imbued with the power to yank the writer's chain. I owe it to myself to do the best work I can. That is different. Mainly I fail. But I swear to you -- my standards for what I do are connected to what I do not who I am and they are far tougher than any standards imposed upon me by the moral codes of anyone who can walk into a bookstore and buy a book.

by Stokey on

reading influencesYou always present an interesting discussion. It got me thinking of reading influences. Does what we come across at a certain age or time influence our literary preferences? Back in school the first couple of books I ever ran across that were easy reading were Slaughterhouse Five and My Name is Aram by two similarly dissimilar authors. This after I'd read so many of what I thought were "the standard novel" type thing. So I was blown away by Vonnegut and Saroyan - to find that reading/writing could be fun, easy. And forever I thought that was the only way to judge; but your article makes me consider that the ghastly long tedious novel might be like your favorite TV drama - you want it to always be there and to never end. Back in second grade I read an Oriental childrens' story about ducks - that was so clean and pure - it had a lasting effect. As to #5 - Barak Obama.

by warrenweappa on

Readability and PynchonWhen Faulkner won his Nobel, reporters couldn't buy his out of print books. I only made it through one of his books, The Hamlet, because I had nothing else to read at the time. I never got beyond the first few pages of anything by Pynchon. In this world of text-messages and single-sentence email, who buys Pynchon?I want to read the new translations of Dostoyevsky because I always got bogged down in the old ones of Crime & Punishment and Bros. Karamazov. I hate textbooks with obtuse prose. For a living author to inflict undiscerning fiction on their reader is the mark of a sadist.

by brooklyn on

Nasdijj -- I like your response, even though as a self-appointed critic (not as a reader) I will continue to call the shots as I see them too! For myself as a private reader, I am capable of saying "whatever, let's go our separate ways" when a writer I like writes books I don't respect. As a critic/blogger, though, I try to speak for many readers, and I enjoy letting the writers know how their works are being perceived. Some, like you, won't care at all how they are being perceived. I doubt Pynchon much cares either. Still, opinions are all I have to offer here, so I go on.

by Stokey on

I generally agree with your sentiment...but I think it would be a big mistake to give up on Faulkner, who I consider the only writer to approach Shakespeare in scope and technique. At least try As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury or even The Bear. These were groundbreaking in technique or theme in their time.

by Nasdijj on

I don't disagree with any of this but I do wonder. Actually, it's more fear than wonder. I am afraid of the reader who has been conditioned to see himself as more consumer than reader. Perhaps a consumer who can get his money back if he doesn't like the book -- or -- the consumer who can pick his own ending (press H for happy). A book is an intellectual property not a guarantee. There are no guarantees you will like it. There are no guarantees it will hold water. There are no guarantees it will satisfy anyone. I see the reader becoming more and more a consumer who wants his agenda tended to. You aren't buying a refridgerator. It's an animal that is endemic not just to the human mind but to the human condition. It has a voice. A life (did I really just write that). I am afraid of the reader who walks through publishing with a gravitas more unyielding than a tank. The reader frequently (and perhaps naturally) wants it to be about the reader. It can't be about the reader or the book may as well be a mirror. It should be far more complex than a mirror. It should illuminate not simply your reflection but the shadows of the places you have not yet seen.