- I’m dipping in and out of quite a few books lately: Camus’s The Stranger, Percy’s Signposts in a Strange Land, The Essential Kierkegaard (trans. Hong and Hong), and Tyler Cowen’s The Age of the Infovore. I might have a separate post down the line about the Cowen, which is interesting reading about the cognitive patterns of autism and how our current information economy favors some of those characteristics.
- My friend Anna has started a new collaborative blog, So You Have an MFA, which I might contribute to on occasion. The overall theme is: Now what?
- Hollywoodland is a very good period piece noir about the death of George Reeves, who played Superman on TV in the ’50s. Was it suicide or murder? Adrien Brody plays a private investigator who sets out to discover the truth. Also starring Ben Affleck and Diane Lane.
- In 2009, Steve Earle released Townes, an album of Townes Van Zandt covers, which is as good as it sounds. Highly recommended.
- Inventors: Check out Quirky, a social media product development company. I saw their founder give a talk the other day. He’s a real young guy who when in high school convinced his parents to take out a second mortgage on their home so he could market an invention (a kind of iPod cord that helped him listen to music in class without the teacher catching on). With Quirky, you can submit invention ideas, and a network of roughly 60,000 members collaborate to make the invention workable, and then Quirky builds and distributes it and you get the royalties. Things are for sale in Bed Bath and Beyond, among other major retailers.
In the Sunday NY Times, Silas House published an Op-Ed piece, “My Polluted Kentucky Home,” about the perils of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. Do read it and pass it along.
Just got back from a week on the road, during which I got some good reading done (I’ll probably post write-ups of Bret Lott’s Jewel and Charles Dodd White’s Lambs of Men over the next few days). New books on my shelf: Degrees of Elevation (anthology of contemporary Appalachian short fiction), Tim Winton’s The Riders, Samuel Ligon’s Drift and Swerve, Peter Taylor’s In the Tennessee Country, Max Watman’s Chasing the White Dog, New Stories from the South 2010, and Elizabeth Spencer’s Selected Stories.
This morning I deactivated my Facebook account. Over the break, I ended up in a lot of discussions about technology, society, and what it means to be human, and I decided I didn’t like what the Facebook newsfeed was doing to my brain — too many short bursts turning me ADD, while also deceptively ruining me for friendships. For instance, I’d go six months with only “liking” a good friend’s status, which made me feel like I was keeping in touch so I wouldn’t bother with a phone call or an email, but at the end of six months nothing has been gained. Other people have written more eloquently about giving up Facebook here, here, and here, and a tangential point is over at the newly revamped Andrew’s Book Club.
I’ve been dipping in and out of a lot of books lately, partly for research and partly because my schedule’s been a bit too hectic to dig into any one project for very long (though War and Peace is still on my list):
- Faulkner Absalom, Absalom. I reread about 2/3 of this one and it’s great. I’m working with this idea of the dictator novel, which is primarily a Latin American form but which I think translates to American literature in the form of a larger-than-life character obsessed with power. For instance, Moby-Dick or All the King’s Men. Thomas Sutpen in Faulkner’s story is another one.
- Donald Platt, Dirt Angels. My old poetry professor at Purdue has a new book of poems (well, 2009, so not that new). Like his previous collection, My Father Says Grace, he uses a three-stanza line (primarily) and writes about his family. His poems about his daughters are particularly affecting.
- Bret Lott, Jewel. This is the only novel by my undergraduate writing professor that I haven’t read, and it’s also his most famous (it was on Oprah). I tend to put off an author’s supposed masterpiece. For instance, Suttree was the last McCarthy I read. Not sure if that’s because I want to save it or because I feel like I need to be extra attentive. Either way, Lott’s novel is good, but a bit hard to stomach in places. The subject is a woman’s last child, who has Down’s Syndrome (opens in the ’40s and spans forward). Very Steinbeckian, if that’s a word.
- James Dickey, Selected Poems. Dickey is an interesting writer, and he created a mythology about himself. Allegedly, he would walk up to pretty young woman and ask, “Do you want to fuck a poet?” The NY Times says “he slept with too many women; he drank oceanically.” I’m interested in him beyond his books because he spent many years working in advertising, and said he spent his days selling his soul and his nights trying to buy it back. I can relate. I’m not a poetry critic, so I don’t have much to say about his poems, but I think it was in his Paris Review interview where he said he was a bit skeptical of “southern literature,” about the trope of the alcoholic father and the troublemaking son and the slatternly daughter, but he did think landscape was one way to tap into that realm. His poems do have great imagery.
- Speaking of, the Paris Review released all of their archived interviews from the past 60 years. Good way to kill an afternoon.
- On my bookshelf: Paul Harding’s Tinkers, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Marianne Boruch’s Into the Blue Pharmacy, and Dostoevsky’s Demons.
- Finally, this year’s National Book Award winner was Jaimy Gordon’s The Lords of Misrule, which was published by an independent press. That’s two major awards going to small press books this year, a good sign for the future of literature I hope. Two books I’m interested in reading from the small presses: Charles Dodd White’s Lambs of Men and the new anthology of Appalachian short fiction, Degrees of Elevation.
Congratulations to Ron Rash for winning this award for his book of stories, Burning Bright. Huge honor, plus a 35k-euro purse.
I’m speechless, but, yes, Freedom is that good. I’ve been sidetracked for a week, but I’ll post some thoughts about the novel soon.
My story “Some Kind of Disease” won second place in an annual contest from the Knoxville Writers Guild. Not sure if the story will be printed on the KWG website, but here’s a teaser opening for you:
Grady and Ethel Matherson had been married for over fifty years. They came from a generation that valued marriage, Grady thought, a generation where families and monogamy meant something, primal urges tamed for the sake of a peaceful society. He looked at kids today, or even his daughter’s generation—she was certainly something else, divorced nine years and shacking up with that electrician—and he felt disgusted by their loose morals and promiscuity. He feared for his grandson.