Hey there, boys and girls! Christmas is still a few weeks away, but here are some gifts for your brain.
At long last we know what Zadie Smith thinks of zombie survival scenarios.
Imagining that reality—in which everybody (except me) becomes a corpse—presents no difficulties whatsoever. Like most people in New York City, I daily expect to find myself walking the West Side Highway with nothing but a shopping cart stacked with bottled water, a flashlight, and a dead loved one on my back, seeking a suitable site for burial. The postapocalyptic scenario—the future in which everyone’s a corpse (except you)—must be, at this point, one of the most thoroughly imagined fictions of the age.
Everyone loves a good manifesto. Lars Iyer has written a manifesto arguing that since literature is already dead, today’s best writing (by the likes of Thomas Bernhard and Roberto Bolaño) is all about lowering yourself into the tomb of literature and commenting on the view—mostly to yourself, since nobody is listening. The manifesto doesn’t mention Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station or Tom McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature, although both of them add fuel to the argument. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s always fun to read a good, sweeping statement about what literature can and should be.
The Apartment by Greg Baxter comes out today. It’s a beautiful, spare, thoughtful debut novel about an ex-military intelligence officer who wanders around a nameless European city in the snow, trying to forget what he saw–and did–in Iraq.
We asked the author one question.
How are you celebrating the US publication of The Apartment?
Greg Baxter: In January, I’ll return to Texas for a few months. This trip isn’t much of a celebration—more like taking an opportunity to skip another winter in Berlin. I plan to hit golf balls at side-of-highway driving ranges between San Antonio and Austin. I don’t go home often, but when I do, I enjoy wearing cowboy boots. I enjoy steak nachos and margaritas. I get to work on my Spanish.
In situations like the present one—when I am asked a question like the present one—I cannot be trusted to answer honestly. I answer seriously, but I subordinate my own voice to the voices of new narrators I am trying to become. I find myself saying things such as ‘I want to hit golf balls’ as experiments—to see whether these utterances might gather around and mold a new character.
But generally—I’m trying to be truthful here—I don’t celebrate publication; I dread it. I’m deeply appreciative to people who might buy the book, I’m grateful to all the people who make the book’s publication a reality, I know that new authors have an obligation to assist publishers, and I accept that a writer requires publication, and a relative degree of success, if that writer hopes to have a life in which there is sufficient time to write. However, an anxiety arises in me over it all. I feel agitated and sick. I tend to contemplate, or obsess over, the disposability of my own life, and the disposability of each achievement in my life, and I grow exceedingly cheerless. I develop regular panic attacks. I get insomnia. I take Zolpidem and Xanax together in order to sleep—and to sleep without dreams. I long for refuge in new writing, though the more I panic, the further I feel from starting anything new. So I try, in every conceivable way, to make publication feel unreal: I do nothing special to mark a new book as an achievement. I keep to strict and immensely dull routines. I stay well away from the Internet. I remind myself that we are past the age of books anyway; that one really ought to feel embarrassed about writing, not proud.
- Brian Hurley
As promised, I’m tipping you off to some of the best stuff published at The Rumpus by their new Books Editor, who happens to be me. This is from a review of Nicholson Baker’s new novel, Traveling Sprinkler, which (like Baker’s The Anthologist) is narrated by an eccentric poet named Paul Chowder.
There’s a sort of spiritual pleasantness, a pleasantness of philosophy, lingering in Chowder’s tone. Updike had his Rabbit, Roth had his Zimmerman, and Baker has his loving Chowder. He loves all sorts of things. Newcastle Brown Ale, the spare look of an empty room, W.S. Merwin’s first two initials, his Kia Rio, street sweepers, onion bagels, everything bagels, canapés, and the “lovely sexy anarchy of Mina Loy.” All told, the word “love” occurs in various forms and contexts 81 times in both The Anthologist and, spookily, Traveling Sprinkler. An e-reader makes this kind of statistic easy to find. [Chowder is] chock full of love, and he stands as a kind of positive role model for what a narrator, especially the historically cranky and crude male narrator, can be.
That splendid little piece is by Shawn Andrew Mitchell, who managed to limit himself to less than 10,000 words. I encourage you to read the whole thing here.
- Brian Hurley
New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!
When Black Friday comes
I’m gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it ’til
I satisfy my soul
- Michael Moats
I’m happy to recommend that you read Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon — but, well… I’ll get to that.
Red Moon is a smart variation on the theme, extremely popular of late, of bringing childhood heroes and monsters into adult life. Rather than a gritty Batman wrestling with the morality of vigilante justice, or emo vampires wrestling with awful dialogue, we have werewolves, and the many ways that their existence would spread turmoil in normal civic dynamics. Continue reading
If you read only one thing this week, make it Alice Gregory’s essay on big-wave surfing in n+1. And then let’s talk about it. Because damn. This is a good essay.
Reporting from the scene at Mavericks, the colossal wave that occasionally breaks along the California coast and kills some of the world’s best surfers, Gregory displays a talent for articulating the impossibility of articulating her subject.
Surfers have the odd habit of saying “I drowned” when they mean “I almost drowned.” Drowning, after all, feels like almost drowning until it feels like nothing. When I ask Dollar to explain the sensation of almost drowning, his answer, and the way he holds his face as he says it, makes me feel that the question is an intrusive one. “It’s just depressing and lonely,” he says, not making eye contact. “The lights start turning off, literally. It blinks in your mind and goes black. Pretty soon, it’s just lights out and you’re done.” He pauses awkwardly. “It’s really fucking weird.”
In the process she explains why surfers talk they’re like stoned.
Am I the only person who was totally creeped out by the Batkid event in San Francisco on Friday? On the surface it was a good thing: kid plays a game, world briefly remembers what it’s like to feel emotions, The End. But if you look any deeper, it was profoundly unsettling.
First, no one seemed to care that the event was one giant commercial. The Batman oeuvre is owned by Time Warner. To the extent that Time Warner endorsed the Batkid event, it was a marketing ploy. To the extent that they didn’t, it was even more icky—did a whole city just volunteer to promote a corporate product? We might as well have been celebrating one adorable little boy’s overwhelming love of Pine-Sol.
The Critical Hit Awards are back!
Emily St. John Mandel of The Millions tells us how she got her absolutely badass middle name, and why Franzen, DFW’s ex-wife, and a wrongfully murdered black teenager are the subjects of her favorite recent book reviews.
See all the winners here.
- Brian Hurley