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
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the San Francisco Chronicle did the unthinkable and printed serialized fiction in a major American newspaper. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin featured a cast of characters who embodied the social diversity of the day—they smoked marijuana, were gay or bisexual, had fledgling careers or family fortunes, and managed to trip all over each other in pursuit of the good life. Nothing much was at stake, and the writing was as two-dimensional as a picture postcard, but Maupin understood that San Francisco would be spellbound by a modern fairy tale about itself. Tales of the City was adapted into eight novels, three TV series, and a number of musicals.
Well, they’re at it again. Click City, a new fiction series launched by the Chronicle this week, focuses on the lives of tech millionaires, PR managers, cyclists, and hackers, who live in communes to save on rent. Which sounds about right. It also sounds trivial and on-the-nose and depressing as hell. (Episode 1: “Silicon Valley titan Roger struggles to adjust to his new S.F. digs – and the customs of young Mission dwellers.”) The author, Heather Stallings, is described as a former CPA with experience in investment banking. Maybe forty years from now I’ll be able to enjoy Click City for the light satire that it is. For now, as a local resident, it makes me feel flattened like a postcard.
- Brian Hurley
We don’t often burden you with personal updates here at Fiction Advocate. Co-editor Michael Moats never made an announcement about his trip to the desert in a converted school bus and the mind-altering experiments he conducted with lizard blood and static electricity. Art Director Matt Tanner didn’t brag about his miraculous recovery from a flesh-eating Brazilian fungus. But I have some personal news that might be germane to fiction and its advocacy. I am now the Books Editor at The Rumpus.
The Rumpus, if you don’t know, is one of the best literary web sites of all time. I am mostly running the book reviews section. No big deal. People are sending me all kinds of free stuff, like a copy of J.J. Abrams’ new novel. Oh hello, J.J. Abrams. Have a seat. I’ll get to you eventually.
Point is, I’ll be drawing your attention to The Rumpus from time to time, especially the best of the book reviews that we publish. Like Lauren O’Neal’s observant take on a debut collection from a brand new press. Or Chris Lites’ entertaining review of a major new sci-fi novel. Or Kyle Boelte’s deeply felt response to a book by David Foster Wallace’s ex-wife. Stuff like that.
Just be glad we’re not bombarding you with updates about intern Tony Schaffer’s Wham! cover band.
- Brian Hurley
Tickets to Allie Brosh’s reading in San Francisco last night were free, but limited to the first 100 takers. Takers took them quickly. Brosh is the writer, illustrator, and personality behind Hyperbole and Half, which is either the most amazingly transcendent thing on the Internet right now (if you’ve heard of it) or not (if not).
I felt undeserving of my ticket, like everyone else wanted to be there more than I did. One couple showed up in stained, threadbare, full-body dinosaur costumes–a nod to Brosh’s story “Menace.” Someone else wore a rainbow wig and rainbow tights. Hyperbole and Half is one of those things, like Burning Man or vodka & cough syrup, that cause normal people to let their freak flag fly.
You’re going to get Oyster. Maybe not today, if you already have a stack of books in your kitchen. (You don’t have a stack of books in your kitchen? Then where do you put the overflow from your bedroom, living room, and bathroom?) But eventually Oyster is coming for all of us. Litblogs will make a habit of telling you which new Oyster arrivals to read next, just like entertainment blogs do with Netflix. Oyster is Netflix for books. It’s Netboox. Get used to it.
For $9.95 a month you get unlimited access to old and new-ish books on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. All of the books are published by HarperCollins, Melville House, Houghton Mifflin, and a few others. That’s the only reason to wait on getting Oyster—not enough publishers have joined the party yet. But the app is intuitively designed, and it’s a pleasure to skip among books, consequence-free, with a flick of your thumb. Where else can you toggle from Lauren Conrad to Tao Lin, Wheat Belly to Moby-Dick, J.R.R. Tolkien to Mark Cuban?
A new biography of Norman Mailer is out. The New Yorker has the highlights.
He called himself the White Negro. He believed that cancer, mental illness, and irrational behavior could be cured by orgasm. He opposed feminism and publicly antagonized Susan Sontag, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Cynthia Ozick. He charged people money to attend his own birthday party.
He was arrested at least four times, and was confined for seventeen days in the psychiatric ward at Bellevue after stabbing his second wife, Adele, and coming within a fraction of an inch of killing her, at a party in their apartment, in 1960. Five years later, he published An American Dream, in which the depressed protagonist strangles his wife and throws her body out the window of an East Side apartment building, which makes him feel much better.
According to Adele’s memoir, “After the Party,” someone tried to help her after she was stabbed, but Mailer kicked her. “Get away from her,” he said. “Let the bitch die.”
[Adele] says that Mailer told her to lie to the grand jury and say she couldn’t remember who had stabbed her, and that he didn’t apologize to her until 1988, at a reception for their daughter’s wedding.