1. Ha ha. I knew Penguin’s collaborative wiki-novel would be a dud. Still, whoever managed this experiment for Penguin should have tried harder to avoid the obvious traps of dumb jokiness and intentionally bad writing (“Crashing tides sounded groans of agonized discontent”). Let the record show that for 24 hours starting on July 23 2004 over a hundred poets worked together on LitKicks to write a single long poem. But here’s the key: instead of letting the throng dictate the structure and the style, Caryn and Jamelah and I carefully controlled the proceedings, asking participants to send short verses in response to specific prompts which we then hammered into a finished work (while fighting off sleep and copy/paste fatigue). The result is, I believe, a really good poem, which was then included in this book. Online collaborative writing can work, but it requires a strong central vision, and you’ve got to resist the temptation to let the project devolve into silly self-indulgence. Tweak the formula, Penguin, and try again.

2. I have no inside info about the impending exit of Random House chief Peter Olson. But I worked for his wife Candice Carpenter back in the dot-com days of the late 90s, and despite Gawker’s sarcasm about this “domineering wife” I remember her as the most impressive and inspiring entrepreneur I ever met.

3. A book with the wrong cover provides a moment of literary dissonance. This article indicates that a person who thinks they’re reading a Theodore Dreiser novel might actually get some distance into a Henri Bergson philosophical text before figuring out that something’s wrong: “But the interesting thing to note is that for the first few pages or so I was actually open to what I was reading, I thought it was an unusual yet interesting way to begin …”

4. The literary dissonance was louder seventy-five years ago when the Nazis, the new leaders of Germany, began the bonfires (via Frank).

5. It’s not literary dissonance but simple cognitive dissonance that I suffer from when I try to comprehend that the death toll from the Myanmar cyclone may reach 100,000. This is, of course, the country we were just talking about (the choice to call it Burma or Myanmar appears to have political significance beyond my understanding).

6. Aeronwy Thomas, daughter of Dylan Thomas, talks about Under Milk Wood (via Bookslut).

7. Henry David Thoreau! Somebody stenciled his ISBN number, John 3:16 style, on the Humber Bay Arch Bridge in Toronto. I also recently met another Thoreau enthusiast/blogger named Geoff Wisner.

8. Forever England at DoveGreyReader.

9. Hilarious and so believable.

10. I see that Ed Champion shares (no big surprise) my own enthusiasm for the work of Ralph Bakshi. It’s quite a scoop that Bakshi originally wanted to use Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”, rather than Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”, as the closing song for American Pop, his multi-generational saga of Jewish-American musicians and songwriters. It’s funny, I always thought “Night Moves” seemed out of place in this excellent movie, though I don’t completely see “Freebird” working either, especially since the character who sings this song is supposed to be a New York punk.

11. William Gibson will appear in New York City at Upstairs in the Square with Martha Wainwright on June 16. And a whole bunch of good writers — Chris Abani, Derek Walcott, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey will be at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica on May 23 to 25.

12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is writing again. Well, the film version of Love in the Time of Cholera would have given me writer’s block too.

7 Responses

  1. Wow. I just got back from the
    Wow. I just got back from the region, though I was only briefly in Burma, and it is stunning. They are trying to find something to do with all the old poppy fields (besides grow poppies). And as you would expect, a 60 year civil war creates an awful lot of poverty and refugees. I always thought the current military dictatorship changed the name to Myanmar, but it is quite confusing. There are always so many different sides to the story that it is hard to tell who is actually the good guy. I will say that in Thailand, people love the royal family enormously, and that in turn they are very good to the people.

    Good news on Marquez and interesting news on literary dissonance. I wonder if that would work in reverse. If someone reading a Bergson text would think for one second they were reading Dreiser. Methinks not. But I do plan on going home, slapping a different cover on Pynchon’s new book and see if I can get through it.

  2. Hi Levi,

    The entry above (#1
    Hi Levi,

    The entry above (#1 about the collaborative novel) brings up a good time to mention something that I thought would be of some interest, but there was no real reason to bring it up … til now.

    This is that the LA Times recently did one of these collaborative novels and published a chapter each day where readers submitted the chapters and one was choen.

    Here’s a link to an article about it.

    I’m not so sure it was any good or bad, but these sort of things are always for some reason interesting and fun — the concept of doing such a collaboration is fun in and of itself.

    I never was any sort of Bakshi fan, but a while ago I saw an interesting letter from Ward Kimball to an aspiring animator. Kimball was one of Disney’s animators (and he also produced some of the TV documentaries on space exploration and atomic energy in the 50’s that Disny did). Kimball animated Jiminy Cricket and did the incredible psychedelic scenes in Three Caballeros. Kimball also had a train and track he bought and set up in his back yard.

    In this letter to a teenage aspiring animator Kimball told him to go see Fritz the Cat. Kimball really endorsed Bakshi. ( :ink to this letter).

    And lastly, do you know what is going on with google. If I google litkicks this url no longer comes up. Nor with “Literary Kicks”.

    That’s strange — you are off google.

  3. Hey Tim — about Google, I
    Hey Tim — about Google, I just discovered this as well. I contacted them and found out that some spammer selling illegal prescription drugs managed to get some hidden links into my pages, causing Google to knock me off until I correct the situation. I am working on it now and hope to be restored on Google soon. Very frustrating and aggravating!

  4. Thaks Levi, that explains
    Thaks Levi, that explains ther google mystery. I hate it when people do those sorts of things.

  5. Thoreau & Ralph Bakshi!
    Thoreau & Ralph Bakshi! Wow! two favs. I always loved American Pop I bought the DVD a couple of years ago. Bakshi also popped (pardon the expression)up on a documentary of artist Frank Frazetta a few years back.

  6. The latest Myanmar news is
    The latest Myanmar news is that the U.N. World Food Program sent two planeloads of supplies to the disaster victims, but the supplies were seized by that country’s military. The Myanmar government says it will distribute the supplies appropriatelty. The U.N. is skeptical but hopeful.

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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!