Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rant in brief

A friend emailed me this link after I berated her for using “143” in text conversation with her boyfriend. Apparently it means, “I love you” with each digit corresponding to the number of letters in the actual English phrase. So I peeked at the above link and made it to the B’s before giving up on not only it but a chunk of humanity as well.

How can there be such paranoia about English taking a backseat to Spanish in this country when countless goons employ these acronyms and annoyingly clever semiotics?

The grumpy old bastard is in today, sorry folks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book talk, brief

In the spirit of recommending books, as the previous post’s link suggests is perhaps a fitting solution to the shrinking book review sections, I will mention that I am reading The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešic, an author mentioned earlier on this here blog. I think, aside from noting that her latest novel will be the first to come from Rochester U’s forthcoming literature in translation press, I wrote about her a while back.

I first found her book Thank You for Not Reading at Myopic, not my favorite store but damn if they don’t get some gems in from time to time. I read a chunk of it at the counter and decided it was worth buying (and the hipper-than-thou Wicker Park clerks seemed anxious to get me out of there anyway). I found the book to be very funny, recommended it to anyone who’d listen and have tried to find anything I could by this woman. At another mediocre store, Half-Price books in Niles, Illinois, I snagged Ministry of Pain.

It gets better the further along I get. The opening of the book is available here:

Though this is a small piece of a larger whole and, on the off chance anyone reads this and is intrigued, you ought to check out the rest.

Okay, so this is not quite a giant review full of superlatives or significant criticism but all I can say is: read it! What more should I say?

On the subject of the lack of literacy in American, I am not too worried. As the link from the previous post asserts, I don’t think this is anything new and I doubt books are going to suddenly disappear as a result. Unlike the author of that post, I will always try to live in a city where literary works are easily found and bought. Yeah, there’s a lot less good bookstores in Chicago then there were when I first moved up north, but I have managed to still get my books when I need them, which is usually years before I read them. I’m that kind of book buyer. I have to have it, even if it will collect dust for a while. I’ll never get through my library, never. I’m okay with that. Anyway, if a percentage of Americans only read five books last year than that only makes me feel better about having to have read eight this summer for class. And summer ain’t over yet, goddamnit.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Read this and sigh

Friday, August 17, 2007

पस ब्लागस्पाट सुक्क्स

What I just typed above was "PS Blogspot Sucks" and look what it did. I hate technology.

Forgive the glitches in recent posts, I just figured out how to click on an icon and remove them. Let's hope this continues to work. Or not. Screw it.

Art and the artist, or, what’s on my mind today

No news is good news, right?

Nothing much to report. I gave a presentation last night on George Schuyler, controversial author of Black No More and not-very beloved Harlem Renaissance figure who seemed to delight in being contrary for the mere sake of a good fight. I knew there would be some sparks in class. Schuyler is seen as being something of an assimialtionist for writing a book that predates Dr. Seuss’ The Sneeches, another classic tale of what happens when you change your appearance and identity। In Schuyler’s book a scientist, Dr. Crookman, comes up with a process for turning black people white. Chaos, greed, and humor ensue. I’ll spare the readers of this here blogthing the full summary (most of you know as you’ve heard me discuss it already and the others can go read the goddamn thing themselves. It’s a mere 200 and some pages and reads really quick like most satire. Get off your fucking asses and get to the bookstore, that is if you can tear yourself away from VH1 long enough), but know only that the book raises some meaty ideas that are sure to displease and amuse. My kind of book.

We read Schuyler alongside everyone’s favorite Harlem Renaissance figure (and the only one most people know of) Langston Hughes। Hughes and Schuyler, though the latter admired the former’s work, had a sort of in print debate over “Negro art.” Schuyler didn’t think race was anything more than “superstition” and objected to the term while Hughes fused race into nearly everything he wrote.

Some people in class really hated Schuyler। His later conservative politics tend to inform contemporary readers of Black No More and accusations of pro-assimilation result. It is not really accurate to retroactively apply someone’s politics onto their earlier work, but Schuyler certainly was trying to do away with the idea of race as anything more than a social construct. Easy to do when you come from an upper class family. But there I go conflating the art and the artist, which I always preach is a bad thing to do.

But how does one keep them separate? I love the films of Roman Polanski and I had no problem with him winning an Oscar. If he slept with an underage girl back in the day, that makes him a lot of things but it does rob him of being a gifted filmmaker. Then again, I was less forgiving of the guy who directed Powder

And what about Celine the Nazi sympathizer? Or T.S. Eliot? Wonderful poet; anti-Semite. William Carlos Williams and Dylan Thomas wrote amazing poetry… and cheated on their spouses. Brendan Behan, Bukowski, Hemingway, Faulkner, Dylan Thomas (again), Malcolm Lowry… all drunks. Anne Sexton? Great poet but not a good mother. Salman Rushdie’s been married enough times for one to surmise that he must be shit to live with, even if he writes marvelously. Martin Amis got some flack back in the ‘90s as well, just as his literary sun was starting to set. Oh, and then there’s Christopher Hitchens, though I have fully gone over to the side that thinks he’s a total asshole with the occasional interesting things to say—you know, when he’s not writing pro-Iraq war nonsense or intentionally inflammatory shit about why women aren’t funny. Still, I read him. I read him as much as I can. Picasso. Now there was an artist. And a womanizer. Diego Rivera too. Pablo Neruda is among my heroes, yet he had a problem with lady hopping from time to time. And he was a communist, which I don’t fault him for considering his background, though I do fault my countrymen and women for holding that up as one of his admirable traits. Then comes Felipe Alfau, author of one of my favorite books, Locos: A Comedy of Gestures। Read his interview on the Dalkey Archive website and you’ll find the thoughts of a racist old crank.

In short, put anyone’s life under a microscope and you’ll find some evidence of what a jerk they could be। People ain’t no good.

Sorry for the misanthropic ending but it’s been a long month. Hope all is well. Kiss kiss.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Just Another 3 Percenter

Why was I shocked to learn that a mere three percent of all books published in these United States every year are works of translation? Clearly this is not a market that yields high grosses and really who wants to read Arabic poetry or the latest metaphysical crime story from Latin America? Well, there are a few of us here who do, so thank god for the good people at Rochester and Chad Post (formerly of the wonderful, sort of local Dalkey Archive Press ( )) for their combined efforts to create this:

Yes, Open Letter, the new publishing house out of the University of Rochester will fix its focus solely on translated works starting with a book by the wonderful Dubravka Ugresic. I read her book Thank You For Not Reading, which amused me greatly, and then Lend Me Your Character, which I was pretty damn crazy about। I am especially looking forward to this press launching since they have chosen Ugresic as their flagship author. And the mission statement makes me wish I went to Rochester and studied language and translation. I have slacked in my Spanish. I couldn’t conceive of translating the simplest sentences into workable English. Que lastima.

Open Letter is going to be alive and kicking next fall, but in the meantime Post and the Rochester gang offer this:

Three Percent refers to the above-mentioned number of works in translation published each year in this increasingly culturally insulated country. (I am being unfair. There are plenty of culturally aware readers of translated texts/viewers of foreign films/lovers of foreign culture/students of international practices, religions and customs. I am basing my simplistic statements on the seemingly overwhelming evidence presented by television and magazine covers. Shame on me. Forgive the leftist nature of this post; I know you all are going to run out and read Ugresic the day it comes out, right? Just like you’ll line up for the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace। Good. Let’s move on.) It is a blog for all your world literature news and needs. Kudos to the gang back East.

And don’t forget to go to: and read some newly translated literature। As most of the 3 people who come here know, I’m interning for this site right now, so it is close to my heart. But it would’ve been anyway because it is a good site with great content, which is more than I can say for a lot of this here internet(s).

Okay, that’s the world lit news from me today. Back to your waking lives, people.