Pale Fire

Adam Kirsch, my favorite book critic at the now-defunct New York Sun, has landed at Slate. It doesn’t say if he’s going to have a regular spot there, but I hope that’s the case. I also hope he’s given as much range in his assignments as he was at the Sun.

Kirsch’s first post-Sun item is on the idiocy of Horace Engdahl, that Nobel literary judge who recently remarked that American writers are too insular to measure up on the world stage. Sez Kirsch:

As long as America could still be regarded as Europe’s backwater—as long as a poet like T.S. Eliot had to leave America for England in order to become famous enough to win the Nobel—it was easy to give American literature the occasional pat on the head. But now that the situation is reversed, and it is Europe that looks culturally, economically, and politically dependent on the United States, European pride can be assuaged only by pretending that American literature doesn’t exist. When Engdahl declares, “You can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world,” there is a poignant echo of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard insisting that she is still big, it’s the pictures that got smaller.

Nothing gives the lie to Engdahl’s claim of European superiority more effectively than a glance at the Nobel Prize winners of the last decade or so. Even Austrians and Italians didn’t think Elfriede Jelinek and Dario Fo deserved their prizes; Harold Pinter won the prize about 40 years after his significant work was done. To suggest that these writers are more talented or accomplished than the best Americans of the last 30 years is preposterous.

Read the whole thing.

What It Is: 9/29/08

What I’m reading: Back to Raymond Chandler! Then, who knows?

What I’m listening to: Joe Jackson’s Rain record

What I’m watching: Amy was pretty unwell this weekend, so she watched some chick flicks on Saturday afternoon, before we tuned into the LSU win over Miss State. Don’t worry; we TiVo’d the new Chris Rock special.

What I’m drinking: Plymouth & tonic. A lot. But I’m going to try to dry out for the next week or two.

What Rufus is up to: Bonding with his mom while I was away at my conference.

Where I’m going: The Warwick Applefest next Sunday, but that should be about it, unless I take a half-day this week and head into NYC or Montclair to sell a few boxes of books.

What I’m happy about: I’m happy that our conference was a big success, but for the moment I’m happier that it’s over.

What I’m sad about: Today may be the last day for the Official Newspaper of Gil Roth.

What I’m pondering: How few physical objects I order from Amazon nowadays. I buy music from their MP3 store, and books through their Kindle store. I still get comic collections in print, but most everything else I get from them is electronic.

Under the Sun

Barring a major investor jumping in during a time of financial panic, it looks like the Official Newspaper of Gil Roth will be shutting down in a week. How’s today’s Arts+ section looking?

  1. Victor Davis Hanson reviews Martin Creveld’s The Culture of War: “he presents himself as a Thucydidean”!
  2. Steven Nadler reviews Joel Kramer’s biography on the Great RaMBaM: “From Moses to Moses, there was no one like Moses”!
  3. Eric Ormsby reviews Fernandoz Baez’ history of the destruction of books: “Unlike Borges, who delighted in inventing titles which don’t exist (but should), Mr. Báez describes books and whole libraries that fell prey not only to fire and flood but to sheer human malevolence”. . .
  4. And speaking of Borges, Alberto Manguel reviews William Goldbloom Bloch’s The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel: “Mr. Bloch notes in his preface that the ideal reader of his book is Umberto Eco”!?
  5. Paula Deitz writes up the Venice Biennale of Architecture: “Two different exhibitions featured walls of refrigerators as stand-ins for enclosed spaces”?!
  6. In a rare disappointment for me, it turned out that Valerie Gladstone’s Bacon and Rothko in London does not actually involve pork products: “‘What I find amazing,’ Mr. Gale said, ‘is that even after all the preparation for this exhibition, looking at Bacon’s paintings still makes my spine tingle. I never stop being overwhelmed.'”

And a bonus! This weekend, the New York Times wrote about the Sun’s plight! While it can’t be bothered to mention the Sun’s top-notch arts coverage until a passing ref. 6 paragraphs from the end — presumably because it puts the Times’ coverage to shame — it does manage to include a quote from a writer at The Nation who called the Sun “a paper that functions as a journalistic SWAT team against individuals and institutions seen as hostile to Israel and Jews”! Awesome! Now I can miss it even more. . .

Waiting for the eclipse

I haven’t slept well lately, so I assume my fourth estate alter ego has been working overtime on plumbing my mind for good arts articles. What’s in today’s edition of the Official Newspaper of Gil Roth?

  1. a walking tour of the architecture of Park Slope,
  2. a review of an exhibition on the origins of abstract painting in America,
  3. what we draw about when we draw Babar,
  4. Van Gogh: just because,
  5. and the coup de grace: the history (and sales record) of a possibly fictitious acolyte of Andy Warhol.

I guess this means I’ll get better nights of sleep once the Sun closes up shop, but my arts life is going to be a lot less interesting.


I’ll sure miss the NYSun when it closes up shop at the end of the month (barring a buyer who’s willing to lose a bunch of money). Today’s gem is Against Oblivion, Adam Kirsch’s review of The Terezin Album of Marianka Zadikow. I can’t do it justice, so go read it for yourself.

Me and Client 9

It turns out Cardinal Egan, Eliot Spitzer & I have something in common, besides virtually nothing! We all read the Official Newspaper of Gil Roth! In an article about how past governors, pols and other NYC figures want the NYSun to stay in business, they somehow managed to snag the former governor’s first public statement since his resignation:

“The Sun has been a spectacular addition to the city’s political discourse and is one of the finest papers in terms of editing, writing, and analysis that one can find anywhere.”

I’m gratified to know that other people were actually reading this paper.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

I’m a little busy this morning, dear readers; gotta put together an advertising promo for our October ish and finish laying out the 50-page guide for our annual conference. Also, I’m hoping to finish a slightly longer post tonight called Tabloid Dreams and the Plastic People of the Universe (which isn’t about Robert Olen Butler or Czech rock music).

So you get a couple of items from the Official Newspaper of Gil Roth:

First, Adam Kirsch reviews Mark Mazower’s book Hitler’s Empire, which chronicles Hitler’s plans for the Nazi empire’s expansion. His thesis? The holocaust was just a warm-up:

[T]here is every reason to believe that the techniques the Nazis perfected in the Holocaust would have been used, in the event of a German victory, to clear all of Eastern Europe for German settlement. Poles and Ukrainians who eagerly assisted in killing Jews in 1941-2 began to realize, as the war stretched on, that their turn might be next. Mr. Mazower quotes one German officer in Poland who explained that the Polish resistance was fueled by the Poles’ belief that the Holocaust offered “an atrocious picture of their own destiny.” Reinhard Heydrich, the SS ruler of what had been Czechoslovakia, spoke of sending millions of Czechs to Siberia — a clear echo of the euphemism used for the Jewish genocide, “resettlement in the East.”

Second, on a lighter-hearted note, today’s NYSun also has a review by Robert Winder of Jennet Conant’s new book, The Irregulars. Evidently, during WWII, there was a British spy ring operating in the U.S., and its members included Ian Fleming, C.S. Forester, Isaiah Berlin, Noël Coward, David Ogilvy (of Ogilvy + Mathers), and Roald Dahl. Ms. Conant’s book tell’s Dahl’s story as an Irregular, and it sounds like a blast:

He was handsome, tall (6-foot-5), witty, flirtatious, and a wounded British flying ace — an alluring combination that made him a dashing addition to the social scene . . . There was a good deal of top-grade tittle-tattle available to such a man, and Dahl took faithful notes and palmed them, with discreet skill, to his superiors. He gathered information on American isolationists and business lobbyists who wanted to keep America out of the war (and who argued that God could save the King if he so desired), and helped smear them as Nazi sympathizers. He even passed on reports of American plans to put a man on the moon, which were roundly laughed at in London.

All of Dahl’s derring-do, seductions and cloak-and-dagger play have to be seen in the context of that review of Hitler’s Empire. In fact, Kirsch’s review dominates the front page of today’s Arts+ section, with Ms. Conant’s book running alongside it, sans graphic. Now get to readin’!