1. Ann Beattie’s new novel is Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, an exploration, in Beattie’s signature glancing style, into the mind and voice of Pat Nixon, President Richard Nixon’s first lady. A few fragments have been published in the New Yorker. Mrs. Nixon is likely to be compared to Curtis Sittenfeld’s similar projection a few years ago into the soul of Laura Bush.
2. I don’t know what to do with Nicholson Baker’s new metaphysical sex romp, House of Holes, which apparently shows off the great author’s infamous “randy side” yet again. I absolutely love Nicholson Baker’s work, except when he writes about love or sex. I wasn’t too impressed by Room Temperature or Vox, and quit The Fermata after a few pages. House of Holes appears to take Baker’s obsessions with bodily humor to a new level, and I could find nothing to like in the first few pages. Does this mean I’m a prude? I don’t think so; I’m simply turned off by the obsessive anality, by the intense delight Baker seems to take in the awkwardness and repulsiveness of physical intimacy. This is a concept of sexuality that I just don’t relate to at all. Baker reminds me of a guy I once worked with who became a father for the first time. Whenever anybody in the office asked about the baby, this guy only wanted to talk about the experience of doing diapers. He began obsessively using the word “poopy” around the office. “How’s the baby?” someone would ask. “Poopy!” he would exclaim. It finally dawned on me that this guy had been wishing his entire life for a situation in which he was allowed to say the word “poopy” in mixed company, and becoming a father had finally placed him in this situation. Well, that’s fine for him, but his concept of fatherhood could not have been further from my own. Likewise, Nicholson Baker’s concept of sexuality could not be further from my own. I still consider Baker one of the most wonderful writers of our time, without a doubt (start with The Mezzanine, if you haven’t started yet). I don’t even mind that he writes books like House of Holes every few years. But it’s sad to think that he might lose some potential readers who pick up House of Holes or The Fermata, put it down, and never discover how good Nicholson Baker can be.
3. And then … there’s David Foster Wallace, who many still consider a deeply important voice of our times, and whose death by suicide continues to resonate as literary myth. I try constantly to get on this bandwagon. I watched a new Decembrists music video based on Eschaton, an invented tennis variation described in the novel Infinite Jest. I read Maud Newton’s New York Times piece, “Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace“, which proposes that Wallace’s evasive and self-doubting approach to argumentation and debate has taken root as an essential ingredient of blog/Internet culture. Following a tweet while watching Roger Federer in the U.S. Open, I tried to read Wallace’s 2006 tennis piece “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” — but this last piece was an epiphany for me. It must be one of the worst articles he ever wrote. I’m astonished by the byzantine, ponderous prose, the mawkish and unconvincing pose of childlike enthusiasm, the gratuitous tone of arrogance towards the reader. Terrible, terrible piece of writing. I suppose it’s time for me to stop trying to appreciate Wallace, even though I hate to miss out on relating to a “deeply important voice of our times” whose sheer power of intellect, I constantly hear, was infinite and unimaginable. I still admire the way David Foster Wallace wore a bandanna.
5. The Egoist Okur is a very cool literary publication from Turkey that covers a wide variety of international writers and artists including Elif Shafak, Chuck Pahlaniuk, Orhan Pamuk, Sylvia Plath, Alpine Bugdayci, Maxim Gorky, Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, Amy Winehouse. Jane Austen, Franz Kafka and Mark Twain. I can only peruse this publication via Google auto-translate, but I like what I see.
7. Laura Albert sharply ponders the continued existence of Roman Polanski.
8. Innovative publisher Red Lemonade explains “why we’re DRM-free (and it’s not because we trust you…)”.
9. Eleanor Lerman, who told us about her sidewinding writing career in a recent Litkicks piece, has written a new novel, Janet Planet, about the cult of a pop shaman who resembles Carlos Castaneda. (Does anyone remember Carlos Castaneda today? He was sort of the Daniel Pinchbeck of his time, though the fact that Carlos Castaneda is not widely remembered today may not bode well for Daniel Pinchbeck’s future).
10. Jack-of-all-trades Sean Kanniff, who invented the short-lived “alphabet system” in the legendary first season of the reality show Survivor, has written an unusual book called Être the Cow, which deals with issues of social structure, employment and ecology via the imagined first-person voice of a cow. Here’s Sean explaining it on a news show.
15. In case you were wondering: Why does folk music collector Alan Lomax have a copyright interest in “Takeover” by Jay-Z?