Let’s start with the most annoying article in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review, in which Rachel Donadio reviews the history of literary feuds and turns up an utterly conventional set of findings. Norman Mailer, in a literary feud? Fresh stuff. But Donadio also takes a snobbish sideswipe at literary blogs:
The blogosphere would seem an ideal forum for literary feuding, but more often than not Web feuds devolve into baroque strings of sub-literate name-calling.
Yeah, we’re so sub-literate here. We can barely form sentences. HALP US RAYCHL WE AR STUK IN THE BLOGISPHEAR.
Fortunately, the rest of this week’s Book Review takes a surprising turn for the better. It’s a theme issue devoted to “Bad Boys, Mean Girls, Revolutionaries, Outlaws and Beautiful Losers”. The occasion is the appearance of several new books about Neal Cassady (a biography by David Sandison and Graham Vickers), Hunter S. Thompson (a memoir by Hunter’s artist/collaborator Ralph Steadman), Allen Ginsberg (a biography by Bill Morgan), Al Goldstein (an autobiography), Edward Abbey (a volume of correspondence, edited by David Petersen), Charles Bukowski (a biography by Barry Miles), Courtney Love (an autobiography), Tennessee Williams (a reissued autobiography) and lit-groupie/short-story writer Alice Denham (a memoir of sexual encounters with the likes of James Jones, Philip Roth, Nelson Algren and Joseph Heller).
It’s odd to see the NYTBR paying so much attention to the writers I love best, and in fact I feel so over-familiar with much of the material discussed in these books that I have trouble reading about it fresh (I could write a biography of Allen Ginsberg or Neal Cassady). But I found Walter Kirn’s piece on Allen Ginsberg the most exciting to read. Kirn works himself up into a Ginsberg-ian state of exstasis, which is really the only appropriate way to approach the work of Allen. I like stuff like this:
Ginsberg, the hang-loose anti-Ike. Ginsberg, the organization man unzipped. The vulnerable obverse of the Bomb. He had the belly of a Buddha, the facial hair of a Walt Whitman …
And I like Kirn’s closer paragraph:
Silence — the one mistake Ginsberg never made. And because of the work he left, the life he led and the care that’s been taken preserving them, it’s one that he probably never will.
John Waters’ passionate tribute to his idol Tennessee Williams is a good read (and I like the well-chosen accompanying photo that shows Tennessee in exactly the clipped moustache and slick suit that would become John Waters’ uniform; so that’s where he got it).
Jonathan Miles does a good job of explaining why we should care about Edward Abbey, a maddened environmentalist usually at odds with the flower-power 1960’s. Ron Powers has some interesting things to say about Barry Miles’ book on Charles Bukowski, though Powers dismisses the biographer as “a British bookstore owner in the late 1960’s”. Actually, Barry Miles was a founding member of the International Times and an important creative force in the London underground scene whose life and encounters with the likes of Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, John Lennon and Yoko One could be the subject of an interesting book all its own (and if Barry’s out there, I hope he’ll take the hint and write this book next).
Emily Nussbaum is amusing on the topic of Courtney Love, though she focuses more on Courtney’s naughty mothering habits than on her talents as a songwriter and musician (I’ve always been a Hole fan and I’m looking forward to Courtney’s new CD). Will Blythe does a decent job of summaring Steadman’s book on Hunter, which I plan to read if I can find the time. James Campbell on the new Neal Cassady biography left me a bit cold, but maybe that’s only because I’ve always wanted to write this biography myself (and never got started).
Despite all this coverage of our outlaw favorites, my favorite literary reading in today’s New York Times was a superb piece on Irish poet Paul Muldoon by Charles McGrath in the New York Times Magazine.