Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘fiction

You All Stink

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Meanwhile, in literary news, Zadie Smith has announced that no one has won the Willesden Herald Prize this year.

Our sole criterion is quality. We simply wanted to see some really great stories. And we received a whole bunch of stories. We dutifully read through hundreds of them. But in the end – we have to be honest – we could not find the greatness we’d hoped for. It’s for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year. This doesn’t make anyone at The Willesden Herald very happy, but we got into this with a commitment to honour the best that’s out there, and we feel sure there is better out there somewhere.

I know the proper response from a cynical, seen-it-all-before guy like myself is “Good for her”—that’s what Bookninja had to say—but I actually feel like this is a betrayal of the ethics of contest judging. It’s cheap. It’s actually really easy, and offensively self-aggrandizing, to say “No one met my lofty standards”—much harder to actually pick something someone else wrote and put it out there with your stamp of approval on it.

A contest judge has an obligation not to go out of their way to spit in peoples’ eyes.

Maybe the entries really were all, to a one, that bad, but somehow I doubt it.

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February 10, 2008 at 5:22 am

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‘The King of Sentences’

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Jonathan Lethem, probably the best living writer with whom I’ve had personal correspondence (sorry Kurt), has a new story in the New Yorker this week: “The King of Sentences.”

We disparaged modern and incomplete forms: gormless and garbled jargon, graffiti, advertising, text-messaging. No sentence conveyed by photons or bounced off satellites had ever come home intact. Punctuation! We knew it was holy. Every sentence we cherished was sturdy and Biblical in its form, carved somehow by hand-dragged implement or slapped onto sheets by an inky key. For sentences were sculptural, were we the only ones who understood? Sentences were bodies, too, as horny as the flesh-envelopes we wore around the house all day. Erotically enjambed in our loft bed, Clea patrolled my utterances for subject, verb, predicate, as a chef in a five-star kitchen would minister a recipe, insuring that a soufflé or sourdough would rise. A good brave sentence (“I can hardly bear your heel at my nape without roaring”) might jolly Clea to instant climax. We’d rise from the bed giggling, clutching for glasses of cold water that sat in pools of their own sweat on bedside tables. The sentences had liberated our higher orgasms, nothing to sneeze at. Similarly, we were also sure that sentences of the right quality could end this hideous endless war, if only certain standards were adopted at the higher levels. They never would be. All the media trumpeted the Administration’s lousy grammar.

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December 12, 2007 at 11:30 pm

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Peak Oil, Raymond Carver, Environmentalism, God, Larry David, Comics

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Links for this fine Monday:

* Marjane Satrapi interviewed in the New York Times.

I don’t very much like this term of graphic novel. I think they made up this term for the bourgeoisie not to be scared of comics. Like, Oh, this is the kind of comics you can read.

* Using Curb Your Enthusiasm (which is having a terrific creative renaissance in its sixth season, by the way) to treat schizophrenia, in the New Yorker.

* The PETA article up today at Salon is interesting insofar as it demonstrates the hostility to environmental and animal-rights movements that dominates popular discussion of these issues. Even though (aside from the hyperbolic “#1 cause!!” claim) PETA is otherwise correct that a meat diet significantly contributes to global warming and other environmental hazards, the article is still framed from the headline on as “Suck on this, PETA.” I’m not even sure why the PETA angle was necessary in the first place; couldn’t the same article have been written without name-checking a hated fringe group?

* In other environmental news, another new report argues that we passed peak oil in 2006.

* I haven’t commented yet on this whole Raymond Carver kerfluffle, and I don’t have much to say now, except that I think there’s a good argument to be made that Gordon Lish was the actual writer of those stories, not Carver, and that in any event it’s as certain that they should be left alone as it is that a collection of the “original versions” will be out next year.

The case is complicated by the fact that Carver himself, unlike Eliot, seems to have persisted in preferring his own original versions (though this is a murky matter too). He went on to publish a rewrite of The Bath entitled A Small Good Thing. In it, the painfully bleak ending is replaced by an upbeat reconciliation scene, with the baker turning out to be a sweet, vaguely Christ-like guy, and the parents reconvening at his store where he plies them with some heavily symbolic warm bread and pastries – a scene of saccharine religiosity that betrays the hard truth of the tale, replacing it with the sentimental wishfulness of the teller. A lot of people prefer it, but then a lot of people prefer bad art that makes them feel good to good art that makes them feel bad.

* Searching for God in the brain. Bet he’s not in there, either.

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October 22, 2007 at 1:20 pm

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June 24, 2007 at 3:51 pm

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1984: The definitive book of the twentieth century? So says a poll of Guardian readers, and I can buy it. Here’s the full list:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Excepting the ludicrous selection of Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (which I’ve never even heard of), it’s an okay list. But off the top of my head, in no particular order, here’s mine:

1984
Diary of a Young Girl (wouldn’t have thought of it, but it’s a good pick)
Heart of Darkness (I originally objected to its inclusion, but now can’t live without it)
Ulysses (Joyce)
The Metamorphosis (Kafka) (a lame inclusion, arguably, but in fairness sometimes it’s sold as a stand-alone book)
Lolita (Nabokov)
White Noise (DeLillo)
Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut)
Frankenstein (Shelley)

That last one may take me way out on a limb, but think it over, you’ll see it’s right.

So what did I leave out?

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June 5, 2007 at 12:12 am

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Yahoo! News of all places has an article up about prose writers like Lethem and King increasingly turning to comics.

Here’s a photo of Deadwood, South Dakota, c. 1888.

And, at Boing Boing, the Zombie Last Supper.

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May 15, 2007 at 4:35 am

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