Seen and Heard

It’s that time again — time to check the wire and see what’s pulsing around the literary world this week.

— Unfortunately I need to mention the passing of another literary great this week — Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow. Bellow died Tuesday at the age of 89. This great voice of the 20th century was an inspiration to many great writers who came after him and engaged his readers in a way that was real and affecting. It was this influence and insight that will be sorely missed as we look for someone to carry this torch in the 21st century.

— Come on down … The 2005 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on Monday with Poet Laureate Ted Kooser taking the prize for poetry. Marilynne Robinson was awarded the fiction prize for Gilead and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt was named tops in the drama field.

— Speaking of Ted Kooser … A few weeks ago I mentioned that one of the US Poet Laureate’s projects would be a weekly column highlighting poetry in newspapers. Kooser kicked this project off last Thursday and you can find more information and read the first column here.

— Spring is here and literature festivals are in the air. It’s about the only thing that makes the increasing pollen count more bearable. I’m happy to report that PEN World Voices, the New York Festival of International Literature will be taking place in New York City this month (April 16th – 22nd). Authors, publishers and translators from around the globe will convene to discuss world issues, literary classics and the future of literature. Participants include such heavyweights as Paul Auster, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, E. L. Doctorow and Salman Rushdie. In addition to the panels, discussions and events taking place during the festival, Words Without Borders, The Online Magazine for International Literature, will be hosting three online forum discussions with distinguished authors and translators. Following the festival, Words Without Borders will also feature selected audio and video from the festival, available in May.

— What a big brain you have! Researchers in Scotland have found that poetry, not prose, is a better workout for the brain. The imagery, meaning, meter and rhyme often found in poetry seems to “latent preferences in the brain for rhythm and rhymes that develop during childhood.” Psychologists at Dundee and St. Andrews universities in Scotland measured brain activity in subjects reading as well as listening to poetry compared with other forms of writing. Well … it is National Poetry Month.

— The University of Liverpool announced that they will be launching Science Fiction Hub on Tuesday. Reportedly the world’s first website solely focused on science fiction research, the Hub will serve as a primary resource for information and archives on the genre, as well as the theories and technologies behind it. From what I’ve seen so far, the site is a fascinating repository and looks great, too. Beam me up!

That’s all I have to share this week — tell us what you think about these stories, the passing of Saul Bellow or any other literary news that’s caught your eye.

22 Responses

  1. i’m just mad about safran…A
    i’m just mad about safran…

    A couple of days ago (or maybe it was yesterday, whatever), I read an article about Jonathan Safran Foer e-mailing people to ask if they would buy his book. Shortly thereafter, I decided to declare a Safran Foer jihad. (I’m allowed to do that because I’m an Arab me and the sharif don’t like it.)

    Anyway, I know that Jonathan Safran Foer is the new literary darling and therefore people love him and care about his electronic missives, or whatever, but really, is it news that someone begs people to buy a book he wrote? I mean, I sent out e-mails to people about the LitKicks book, and no newspapers deemed it necessary to write about it. I am tired of the double standard in the literary world, because, you know, I’m important enough to have several things I’ve written be copied-and-pasted without permission on message boards across the internet. I know this because sometimes I Google myself.*

    I digress.

    My point is, I think it’s a sad day in literature when the embarrassing electronic self-promotion of Jonathan Safran Foer makes it into the business section of a newspaper. Because that’s not news, it’s just annoying.

    *not a euphemism.

  2. Book Thing Benefit17 poets,
    Book Thing Benefit

    17 poets, the TT Tucker Band, the Meridian Belly Dancers, and an assortment of singer songwriters put on a benefit show in Baltimore Md. last night (April 5) at the Ottobar, Baltimore’s top alternative music venue in order to support the efforts of Book Thing, a Baltimore organization that gives books to those who can’t afford them, but wanna read. I read my poetry and helped Julie Fisher of organize the event.

  3. I googled you and got 419
    I googled you and got 419 hits.
    Then I googled me and got 133.
    JSF got 100,000.

    JSF, according to wikipedia, went to Princeton–won creative writing prizes every year–and has been published in those rags the New Yorker and Paris Review. Your first link states: Foer’s “Everything Is Illuminated” impressed critics in 2002 and became a best-seller – rare for a first novel. The paperback rights sold for $925,000.

    His new book’s title even I recognize from Slate and I live nearly incommunicado in Hicksville, China!

    With that publishing history–the USD$925,000 for the paperbacks rights for his first novel must go a little ways even in NYC–why would he post the email? The story quotes his email: The recent week was “very, very important for the book. Perhaps the most important week. If you were thinking of buying a book, or know people who haven’t bought books but are intending to, this, right now, is the time to do it.” He delivered the book so certainly he needn’t worry about his supposed million dollar advance.

    The moral is: look before you email, or, take care in what you ask for, or nearly two million’s not enough cash for some.

    I’m sad to hear of your dissatisfaction with the Litkicks book’s reception but had you had the poets read their pieces and then have Derek Gordon, Keiko Matsui, or Moby record music for a CD, the book might make the New York Times best seller list, something this poster has never heard of for a book of poetry.

  4. I’m not actually disappointed
    I’m not actually disappointed in the reception of the LitKicks book, because I don’t have any delusions of being a literary darling. I guess what I think is weird (though it’s not really weird at all) is that Jonathan Safran Foer doesn’t actually need a story about his dumb e-mails or anything else — his book is going to sell just fine — but there are all sorts of people who work very hard and passionately who wouldn’t get featured in a news article (that was as pointless as this example of Safran Foer was, or otherwise) even if they did something that actually was newsworthy. I’m still not sure if I’m articulating this well, but I guess the whole thing just annoys me.

  5. Saul Bellow, Frank ConroyI
    Saul Bellow, Frank Conroy

    I just heard that Frank Conroy, author of “Stop-Time”, died in his home in Iowa City.

    Like Saul Bellow, Conroy was a writer’s writer. He was more or less a one hit wonder, “Stop-Time” being the one hit, but he was also known for directing the famed writing program at the University of Iowa.

    LitKicks is supposed to be dedicated to “alternative literature”, an admittedly undefinable concept. Even if we can’t define the term (or rather, we’re smart enough not to try), it’s still pretty clear that nobody will ever use the term “alternative” to refer to either Saul Bellow or Frank Conroy, if only because both of them openly relished their “insider” status in literary circles. It’s hard for a Nobel Prize winner in a bespoke suit or the director of a top literary school to establish street cred, but LitKicks would like to honor both men simply because we know that many have loved their works.

  6. Yeah, that annoyed me as
    Yeah, that annoyed me as well. I mean, anyone who as ever known someone in a band, or known someone who knew someone in a band, has been asked/guilted/begged to go to said band’s show(s), and that’s not considered shameful at all. Really, the audience for most local bands almost entirely consists of friends and friends of friends of friends. Same thing for artist exhibitions.

    Sure, if you read the NYT Magazine profile, he comes off as kind of a smarmy, insufferable wiener. (My favorite JSF quote from that story: “They say that time heals all wounds; but what if time is the wound.” Vomit. It makes one kind of want to bitch slap his bespectacled face)

    But still, to hold him up to ridicule because he asked his friend s to buy his book?

    As Morrisey once sang “We hate it when our friends become succesful.”

  7. Agreed, Jamelah. I’m not
    Agreed, Jamelah.

    I’m not giving up on turning “Action Poetry” into a bestseller though. That’s a damn good book and the world needs to read it!!!

    As for JSF … yeah, I gave his first book a fair chance, but I couldn’t make it to page three. He has David Foster Wallace disease.

  8. what exactly is david foster
    what exactly is david foster wallace disease? overuse of middle name? too many footnotes? no ending?

    i even like DFW. and i never heard of this other guy whose name i wont even take the time to scroll down to see.

    but jamelah should email him with that jihad threat. maybe both books would sell a few more copies.

  9. Hi Mindbum. David Foster
    Hi Mindbum. David Foster Wallace disease means the inclination to write dense books of highly internal prose that make a reader feel they are being sucked into a whirlpool of cleverness, I think. Dave Eggers occasionally suffers from this too, but at least he’s funny, which DFW and JSF are not.

  10. Last week I was in the Reno
    Last week I was in the Reno airport with my girlfriend, and she was reading to me from Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close. At the time, I knew nothing about the book or the author. She asked me to buy it for her. I said no. I started to feel bad about my refusal. Now, having learned what a doofus the author is, I am glad I didn’t buy her the book. But, two days ago, still before I knew anything about the author or the book, she told me she ordered it over the internet. I called her today to try to persuade her to send it back. She hasn’t received it yet. I will read her copy, so I won’t be responsible for keeping his book on the NY Times Best Seller list. That’ll show him.

  11. Well, once David Foster
    Well, once David Foster Wallace gets brought into it, it’s all over, as far as I’m concerned. And even though I could, I’m not going to explain that.

    Anyway, I think Action Poetry has a lot of potential, and maybe if some newspaper would pick up on the emails I send out about it, we’d have a runaway hit.

  12. Dave Eggers is funny? When
    Dave Eggers is funny? When did this happen?

    I think the point is that while Safran may well be a deservedly lauded and amazing writer, sending emails to people to buy your book isn’t exactly groundbreaking news — as in it’s no Tom Hanks starring in the Da Vinci Code. Unless you’re a darling. And once you’re a darling, it kind of all snowballs from there and the knowledge of you can’t be escaped. I’m sure Safran will be in the Washington Post soon, front page no less, in a report about how he just saved a bunch of money on his car insurance.

    Futhermore, is the key to being the next literary supa-star having three names? Is that the real Da Vinci Code? The new new black? The next John Travolta? If so, I’d like to just say that I have four names all running together and none of them are clamoring for a news story each time I decide to take a swim in Lake Jackass. Three is the magic number, for sure. Kabbalah.

  13. That sounds great, Mark — I
    That sounds great, Mark — I hope it helps them out. I posted something about Book Thing a few months ago and I’m glad to see they’re still hanging in there. Thanks for keeping us posted.

  14. firecracker — yes. exactly.
    firecracker — yes. exactly. I have three names but I only use two of them on a regular basis, and much prefer “Princess” to all of them.


    In any case, I think that perhaps the reason newspapers aren’t writing about my thrilling e-mail habits (and believe me, they’re thrilling) is because I haven’t been faithful to my three name legacy, and therefore, I choose today to announce the return of my middle name to my, uh, name. Because, hey — somebody’s got to be the Sarah Michelle Gellar of literature, and I think that I, as opposed to David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Safran Foer, am the best person for the task.

  15. Brooklyn, I have to take
    Brooklyn, I have to take issue with the contention that DFW is not funny. His essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” is one of the funnier non-fiction things I’ve ever read. His writing can be ‘highly internalized’ and he dwells on his own neurosis quite a bit, but not, to my eyes, in the overly self-serious, impressed with himself way that Mr. Safran Foer does. He has a sense of humour about himself.

    And maybe you haven’t read Infinite Jest, since I remember you stating previously your preference for shorter books. (I don’t mean that in a snide way. To quote Fred Durst, we are in ‘agreeance’ on the topic of book length – an author better have a really, really good reason for exceeding 300 pps; of course, they all think they have such reasons)

    But anyways, Infinite Jest had a couple really good set pieces – one regarding the rise and fall of the videophone, and one slapstick portrayal of an apocalyptic wargame called Eschaton invented by some private school tennis students – that are LOL funny IMHO.

    Of course, he could have easily excised some of the 1000 pages by cutting the ebonic-speak sections, where he just embarrassed himself by showing his utterly tin ear for black English. And he probably didn’t need to indulge himself in 100 pages of 6pt type endnotes, many of which involved pharmocology, esoteric math and game theory, and the invented filmography of the main character’s experimental film-making father.

    So, my point being, in closing, David Foster Wallace is funny.

  16. For those of you who only got
    For those of you who only got to page three of his first book, I must say you are missing out. And it pains me to hop on the Foer bandwagon because he is an overlauded hipster, but I will be one of those in line at the library to get that second book.

    When I read the first half of Everything is Illuminated I was severely unimpressed by his near xenophobic observations of a foreign culture. However, as soon as he gets over himself, stops writing like Eggers (the ultimate hipster demigod gone bust), and gets into the story, the book gets amazing. In my opinion very amazing, perhaps unmissable. Maybe it hit me at the right time, but there was something to think about, implied or stated, every 5 or 10 pages, which is way above the average for contemporary books. To me, it invoked old masters who would consider what they wrote before putting it down on paper, a seemingly lost art today.

    Also, it is one of the first books I have read, outside of maybe House of Leaves, where the literary tricks of blank pages, odd typing patterns, inserting charts, and copying information from other books within the story really further the plot and feel. Many authors insert this stuff seemingly for show, but Foer’s were well planned. Kudos!

    And finally, it covered the age old debate of whether it is called The Ukraine or simply Ukraine.

    And as it goes, it is unfortunate that the ones who don’t really need the cheap publicity get it, when those who could use it have to listen/watch/read worthless self promotion. What is strange is that his books review was actually pasted onto the front of the NY Times Book Review, rendering extra articles all apropos of a giant lapse in Arts events around the world?

  17. Ok, but what about those of
    Ok, but what about those of us who got to page none?

  18. Shamatha, I am in agreeance
    Shamatha, I am in agreeance with you too, at least in theory. The problem is that I never got to the part of David Foster Wallace’s book where he becomes funny. The reason is that, before I reached that part, I threw the book hard against the wall, hoping to generate the loudest possible thud noise, this being my only apparent chance at getting any pleasure whatsoever from the book.

    This book was actually, yes, “Infinite Jest”, not “A Supposedly Fun Thing …”. I’m not surprised to find that there is some funny buried deep inside some of his books. There has to be, with all those pages, just according to the law of probability. I still don’t like the way he writes, but maybe I will try the book you mentioned someday.

  19. Once, before I had really yet
    Once, before I had really yet to learn to read critically at all–the ’70s until mid-’90s–I had a paperback copy of Bellow’s Dangling Man but was then never bored enough to read it but then came across this on slate:

    For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be a man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organized power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do …

    The above lines from Saul Bellow’s “Herzog” (1964) appear on the epigraph page of Ian McEwan’s Saturday.

    Please excuse me not putting myself in the background at the beginning and yet again here.

    I use the dictionary a lot to make sure I use what could be called standard English, a misnomer if there ever was one. I check the dictionary and my four style books to deprive my former Seoul and Taipei office mates–grammar-nazis and prescriptivist-ultras–of ammunition to use against me. Here in Henan, I am the proverbial one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

    Merriam-Webster Online doesn’t have “street cred” but the American Heritage dictionary gives a definition: Acceptability or popularity, especially among young people in urban areas. has:
    credibility among young fashionable urban individuals.

    I’m no longer down with the home team, which is possibly another dated expression, but still in my mind are the ’70s drug terms — which I now never use — and the first word choice would be to state the negative: bogus.

    I’m still trying to get through this dark night of being a cultural midget and never heard of Conroy until today but it does seem Bellow was an outsider until he got in and stayed there with his work.

    I don’t know about writing programs but they seem to be cash earners for universities.

    I’ve only read “Catch-22” but know Joseph Heller was a one-hit wonder and worked his whole career at other gigs but I’ve yet to read another book as good that reached me. After I’d read that was when I felt I had really learned to read and that was just last year.

  20. Well, I don’t know about this
    Well, I don’t know about this definition of street cred. To me it basically means: do regular people get excited about a work of art or literature, or is the work’s creator just a darling of the establishment? The New York Times devoted two and a half pages to Saul Bellow in today’s issue — a nice tribute, but I’m not sure other writers (say, Arthur Miller, Hunter Thompson) don’t deserve that kind of gushing more.

    And, yeah, I’ll admit it, I never got into Saul Bellow’s works and never understood why he is considered so great. I admire some things about him. I appreciate that he writes about the experience of the modernized diaspora Jew, but in my opinion Philip Roth’s writings capture this experience with a much sharper edge and far greater conviction. Bellow’s stuff seems quaint by comparison.

    I also admire the warmth of Saul Bellow’s writing, and the affection he shows for his characters. But, again, this makes me think of Henry James, who also expresses great warmth for his characters, and Saul Bellow suffers in comparison to James’s exquisite observations and powerful language.

    I’m not trying to speak ill of the recently departed, so I hope these words aren’t read the wrong way. The only two works of Bellow’s I made it all the way through are “Seize The Day” (very good) and a short story called “A Silver Dish” (slow going).

    So, maybe my remark about street cred was just a cover for the fact that this is a writer I just never got excited about. If anybody can enlighten me as to Saul Bellow’s finer points, I promise to listen with an open mind.

  21. Street cred would mean being
    Street cred would mean being authentic to me; but I’ve never really been street, and neither have I been a grammar-nazi/ prescriptivist-ultra, only an undefined x-factor who wishes to write error-free.
    In my earlier post, I woke up 3:30 am and wanted to know what was happening back in the States and these 10-minute internet surfs never are, just like now, rather than get on my Chinese, here I am parsing meaning.

  22. i got an email today from a
    i got an email today from a guy named andrew (unbeknownst to me) who says that he recently had to read everything is illuminated for his english class and was pretty baffled by it – and that when he performed a search on yahoo for literary criticism, my email came up with a brief review of the book.

    therefore, he now is wondering if i could email him a detailed synopsis of the novel, detailing the main themes and points to help him out….

    my email? in connection with literary criticism? about foer?

    i once posted a few sentences about “everything is illuminated” on the old litkicks’ ‘what are you reading board’ quite a while back – could this be why?

    seems unlikely to me, though, that someone might find just this post while searching the hundreds of websites about the book.

    or is that just another email like the one mentioned above by jamelah?

    anyone else got something like this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!