Marian Lindberg

So you found out you’re really Brazilian?

Not exactly. Brazil is where the book’s central character disappeared, and where I went to understand why.

 

Every family has its dirty laundry. Why was it necessary to write about yours?

Some of the most personal passages were the last to be added. The writing brought me there, and they were integral to the story. In some ways, they were the story, explaining (to myself and others) why I was so driven to investigate the disappearance of the man who raised my father. While there are some unflattering aspects of family members on display, I don’t believe any of it is gratuitous. Patti Smith and Philip Schultz were two of my guides: their beautiful memoirs are revealing and discreet at the same time. Ultimately, I hope that my message will help others to communicate better within their families. In the short term, truth can seem like the more difficult choice, but my story shows that secrets can have far worse consequences for generations.  

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After I self-published my third novel Badge—both in paper and through a number of ebook platforms—in February 2014, I noticed something different about its Amazon page. In the upper right section where Amazon lists Badge’s paper-book availability, it read, “Usually Ships in 1 to 3 Weeks.” All of my novels have been self-published through the print-on-demand company Lightning Source. The availability of my other two, Stuck Outside of Phoenix and Ghost Notes, both published in the aughts, have been listed, with little variance, at the more POD standard “Only 2 left in stock (more on the way).” My books are stored in Lightning Source’s database and can be printed and mailed at will. The beauty of print-on-demand publishing is there is really no way to be “out of stock,” short of a computer crash.

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Amazon’s announcement that it has begun offering opportunities to riff off of the work of Kurt Vonnegut on its fan fiction licensing site, Kindle Worlds, has caused a stir. Rightly so. Amazon is The Man and Vonnegut tilted against The Man, as all great artists do.

I bought a Kindle, which means I’m the devil.

I’m the devil because Kindle is part of the vast network of Amazon, whose goal is pretty much to destroy everything I hold dear in my brick-and-mortar culture. And they employ a morally reprehensible scheme to do so. They charge less than what a book actually costs them, taking a small loss on each sale, with the hope of driving every other book retailer out of business. Kind of like gas wars from fifty years ago, when two competing gas stations lowered their prices beyond profitability to beat the guy next door, but in this situation Amazon’s the only company that can afford to lose money. Their job, as they seem to see it, is to keep dumping cash into themselves until they become the go-to place for not just books, but everything. “Don’t waste your time going to your local store. Buy it from Amazon for less and you’ll never have to leave home.” This drives many independent bookstores—which rely on profits to stay afloat—out of business, taking with them the entire culture of book buying I value (selling back used books, seeing my money go into the local economy, dealing with a bookseller, author readings, creaky floors, participating in a community as opposed to mouse-clicking, etc.)

If remix culture—predicated on both intensified user interaction and a crowdsourcing ethic—offers any clues to the future of publishing Jeff, One Lonely Guy may just be the Starchild of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Put simply, this is a sui generis exploration of loneliness, alienation, and depression packaged and bound—a book that is neither novel nor memoir, neither familiar nor completely strange.

When light bulbs popped he was reminded
of his failure, his mockery of daylight.

Nightly, Thomas’s lovers unscrewed
his invention, preferring the kindness
of candles.

Once he thought he was so clever, capturing
the sun in a mason jar, dreamed of it conveniently
lighting a porch scene while a girl rummaged
for her door key, or illuminating her face
as her sweetheart found her lips.

Neal Pollack changed my life one time; the year was 2002 and I was twenty, by day studying for the second year of an English degree, by night working bar in city clubs. Like most of my peers I was still trying to find my way in life, and the bloated, over-serious study materials and ever-duller blend of vampire fiction and subtextually desperate classroom readouts that flooded my Creative Fiction classes had all but killed my ambition of writing for a living in favour of the idea of moving into hospitalities management (not that I was by any means immune to the lure of inflicting my bad writing onto everyone around me; most of my essays were fanboy attempts at being Chuck Palahniuk and falling leagues short of Chuck Shurley).

And then a friend loaned me a copy of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, and I, for the first time in my life, found a book I truly couldn’t put down. It was as flawlessly put-together as any of the best works I’d ever read, excruciatingly funny, and it viciously ran a satirical razorblade across the hamstrings of the 20th century’s most puffed-up, pretentious pieces of creative non-fiction and literary journalism. And, most importantly, it was the first time for a long time that reading had provided me with a genuinely good time.

I’ve been going to bed lately on a pile of jagged stones covered only by a thin cotton blanket half-eaten by moths. This is one of the worst possible sleeping arrangements I could imagine. Sometimes I wonder how things got this way, but I have to remember that I am a journalist, novelist, radio producer and poet, and I am here in Albania to find out what life is really like for a family in the poorest country in Europe. I have personally borne witness to much human suffering. People here are beset by unwanted refugees, obscure diseases, and limited opportunities to express themselves through fashion. I must tell you: things are not good.

– The Albania of My Existence, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

In short, Pollack made me want to be a writer again, and I started to follow his blog (which in turn lead me to the likes of Matt Tobey, Ian Carey, Greg Robillard, and Darci Ratliff. And, regrettably, Wayne Gladstone. And shortly after Pollack followed up the Anthology with Never Mind the Pollacks, a rock and roll novel that featured a(nother) fictitious version of himself as the world’s greatest rock critic, and unwitting instigator of some of the greatest moments of rock history.

The rain came. Pollack opened his mouth, filling it with acidic water. He spat a broad stream of it onto the stage. It caught Dylan between the eyes.

“Judas!” Pollack cried. “Judas!”

Never Mind the Pollacks

From there, Pollack moved into non-fiction territory with his parenting memoir Alternadad, the detailing of his quest to maintain his lifestyle and coolness in the face of becoming a father, and Stretch, the yoga memoir that now sees him carrying out pose requests at readings. Oh, and he’s one of the guys behind the parenting community Offsprung.

And now Pollack has released his newest work, Jewball, a book featuring basketball players, Nazis, punches to the face and knives to the heart, drinking, gambling, sex, love, and standing up against the forces of darkness; not necessarily in that order. In a sign of the time he’s released it himself through Amazon, and now, on TNB, Pollack discusses Jewball, basketball, the realm of noir and the age of the ebook.

SS: In brief, what’s Jewball about?

NP: It’s a noir comedy centered around a Jewish basketball team in the 1930s. The team’s coach unwittingly incurs a gambling debt to the German-American Bund, and the team has to do battle with American Nazis while also trying to claw its way to another basketball championship.

Do you think it’s a book you need to be knowledgeable about basketball or Judaism to enjoy? It keeps pretty faithfully to those two themes throughout – that being said, I don’t know a point guard from a plate of brisket, and I loved it.

I think having knowledge of or interest in those subjects would certainly help you get interested in starting the book, but once you’re immersed, Jewball is a pretty breezy read, intended for a general audience. It’s more of a noir book than a Jewish one. The Judaism isn’t laid on too thick, and while there are a lot of basketball scenes, most of them don’t get very technical.

What’s a point guard?

Point guard is a position on a basketball team. He (or she) is generally one of the shorter players; their function is to handle the ball efficiently, and to make it easier for other players to score by passing intelligently and reading defenses. They should also be able to score a bit when needed, and it’s important for point guards to make their free throws. They get fouled a lot, particularly at the end of games, because they’re always handling the ball.

What’s brisket?

It’s a cut of beef that’s often served on Jewish holidays. Generally braised, with vegetables and stock.

The characters of Jewball are all drawn from real life – the SPHAs, the Bund, David Berman and William Dudley Pelley; these were all real people. How did you find the process of writing characters that were at once a blend of fact and fiction? How much did the real-world origins of, and events surrounding, these guys color their roles in Jewball?

It depends; for some of the supporting characters like Berman and Pelley, I often turned real-life stories, garnered from nonfiction accounts, into scenes. As for secondary leads like Gottlieb, Litwack, and Kunze, I used their bios as jumping-off points, deploying some true-life stories. But because they had to play a bigger role in the narrative, I inevitably had to fictionalize a lot of their personalities and their actions. Inky Lautman, who technically was a real person, I cut from whole cloth. There’s very little material available describing Inky’s actual character and personality, so while he’s the protagonist, he’s also the least historically accurate of all my major characters. Meanwhile, certain characters, like Natalya and Charlie Shostack, were wholly fictional. That mix and match between the “real” and the “fake” informs most history-based fiction, and I drew upon the writing of historical fiction writers who I admire, like Gore Vidal, Conn Iggulden, and Kevin Baker, to try and achieve historical versimilitude while also spinning a fun story.

Tonight, like after every Saturday SPHA game, several virginities would be lost and seeds of future generations would be sown. Lips would get sucked on until they bled. Everyone was togged to the bricks and ready to stroll down Seduction Avenue. The folks in the crowd had suffered the requisite tight-quartered Shabbat with their toothless bubbes, whose apartments stank of boiled onion, whose stories about the Old Country were growing increasingly maudlin. Yes, yes, the Cossacks killed your cows and burned your synagogue. Your pain is immense. Thank you for sharing. But now it’s Saturday night.

Jewball

I was thinking about a blog piece you wrote some time back about watching Shaolin Soccer and the idea of good and evil meeting across the sports field occurred to me as a motif that both Jewball and Shaolin Soccer share; one of these big, human themes that’s more than just which team gets more points on the board. More than that, though, there’s something of heroism in both of them – and in just about any good sports story you care to name. Add to that the noir ideal of the not-so-good guy fighting the good fight in a not-so-good world and you’re got Inky Lautman, the protagonist of Jewball. These larger ideals of good and evil – were they something you kept in mind throughout the writing process?

Since the novel is about Jews fighting Nazis at the dawn of World War II, those themes inevitably arise. But I also wanted some shades of gray in there. My “Inky” character is a basketball player and also a thug, though the real-life guy wasn’t. The Nazis are evil in the book, but I also wanted to paint them as bumbling and somewhat human. All the good guys have huge character flaws, except Litwack, which is kind of a flaw in itself. I read a lot of novels by Alan Furst, and he’s excellent at creating flawed protagonists who suffer from broken hearts and come from broken homes. He puts those characters against a broader historical backdrop. I tried to do the same thing with Jewball.

Did you find any inherent challenges in writing a sports novel? It’s not that common a field; did you draw any particular inspiration from either other sports works, or from non-fiction sports writing?

I don’t think a sports novel is harder to write than any other kind of novel. You have your subject matter, and your story, and you just have to lay them out with clarity and intelligence. I didn’t read much sportswriting specifically for the book. For inspiration, I mostly turned to the classic noir writers of the 30s and 40s, for mood, dialogue, and sentence structure. The book is well-served by that, I think. I like a good sports magazine feature as much as the next guy, but they’re not a great source of novelistic inspiration.

I agree with you on the noir front and how well it serves Jewball; there’s a certain peculiar enjoyment to the genre itself, and how you can sink your teeth into it – which compliments how enjoyable it always is to watch some Nazis getting their just desserts, in the face, at speed. And I liked how you paid such attention to creating the neighbourhoods and urban scenes; giving them a life of their own apart from the narrative – another noir twist?

A sense of place is very important to me as a reader. The best noirs have great plots, of course, but I rarely end up caring or thinking about the story when it comes to say, Raymond Chandler’s books. In fact, as a noir reader, I often find myself skimming narrative bits so I can get to the parts where the writer describes the vibe of place, or somehow captures the essence of a time. I wanted to do that as much as possible in Jewball.

You’re a big Jim Thompson fan, if I remember correctly – did his work touch on Jewball at all?

Only very indirectly. I turned more to David Goodis, who wrote so beautifully about Philadelphia, for this book, and I’ve also been reading a lot of Donald Westlake lately. For the Harlem chapter, I went back and read some Chester Himes.

You know what? Gottlieb thought. Fuck New York. Try spending a few months in Philadelphia and see how you like your life then. We’ve got all the soot, all the dirt, all the bums, all the corruption, and all the venereal disease that New York has, but we ain’t got DiMaggio or Broadway. Our dames are shorter and maybe not as smart, and lots of them are Catholic. It’s a real shit sandwich without the trimmings. But we still wake up in the morning, or sometimes the afternoon.

Jewball

I’m always curious about how people learn and develop their writing chops and how it shapes their later work – the famous example being Hemingway and his ‘journalistic’ style of prose. In a book like Jewball, as opposed to your last couple of non-fiction offerings, you’re writing a fiction novel, you’re writing a big cast of characters, some action-packed scenes of basketball and fighting, and wrapping it all up in this over-arching storyline – and that’s a combination that I haven’t read in your work before. A lot of that seems counter to your original journalist background – is it something you draw on, nevertheless?

I think my early journalism work in Chicago prepared me pretty well to write this type of book. In my 20s, I covered some very gritty stories and wore out a lot of shoes walking the beat. This is definitely a new type of book for me, but it’s the type of book I’ve always wanted to, and always intended to, write, and I’m thrilled that I was finally able to make it happen.

As for the release of the book – what informed your decision to self-release it as an ebook as opposed to a traditional hardcopy?

It just seemed that the time was right. The technology has more than arrived, and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial impulse. Also, my agent was very encouraging, so I thought, why the hell not? The process hasn’t been without its drawbacks, and it’s certainly an underdog, but let’s put it this way: Other than the first chapter, which I wrote in 2008, I started this book in February, and as I’m typing this sentence, it’s October and the book is about to come out. If I’d submitted this via the normal publishing process, Jewball might not have appeared officially until 2013.

How are you feeling about the whole ebook revolution in general? Apparently ebooks are now outselling printed by two to one on Amazon, and incredibly, three to one on Barnes and Noble. It’s a far cry from the days when the industry was proclaiming the ebook would never take off and even Stephen King couldn’t make any money from it. How do you think the changing landscape will affect authors?

It’s hard to say. Big publishing is certainly not going away, and it does appear to be finally adapting to the new landscape. It will be hard to do a “quality” launch via ebooks because the industry is so invested in gatekeeping their so-called literary standards. I also think that the biggest-name authors will mostly go through corporate houses because it’s a lot less work for them. In general, though, I think this will be good for most authors, because the options are limitless.

The SPHAs scored three baskets almost before the Rens had their warmups off.

Finally, the other team woke up and got down to business, jostling inside, making long set shots from the perimeter, restoring order. It was 26–21 after Shostack split a couple of free throws, 26–23 a few seconds after that, and then they went back and forth for a while until Inky spotted an opening, swiped the ball from the Ren point guard, and drove down for a six-foot spot-on setter that drained the nylon out of the net and drained the life from the crowd. They’d gone to 36–31 with twenty seconds to go. It looked like the SPHAs were going to (yet again unofficially) claim the title of the best basketball team in the known universe.

Jewball

What was the nuts and bolts process of writing and releasing the Jewball ebook, from start to finish – as a kind of Cliff’s Notes for other readers or writers who may be interested in going down that road but haven’t yet gotten to grips with the process.

I wrote the first chapter in 2008, rewrote it in 2009, showed it to my editor who basically ignored it, and then shelved the idea for a couple of years because I wasn’t quite sure where to take the book. Then my agent approached me with the idea of self-publishing, and I said I had this basketball story I’d been meaning to tell. He encouraged me, and that was all the spark I needed. I started writing Jewball in earnest in February. By Memorial Day weekend I had a first draft. My friend Tom Fassbender, who once ran a nifty noir-themed publishing concern in L.A., agreed to look at the manuscript. He did, gave me a few notes, and by the end of July, I had a manuscript. That was a little over three months ago. Since then, it’s been copy-edited. As I write this, it’s being formatted for the Kindle. From first sentence to first sale in eight months: Big publishing couldn’t begin to dream of that speed. Getting eyeballs to the book will be hard, but it’s hard no matter how you publish.

With the great power of writers these days being able to self-publish so easily to handheld or online platforms comes the great responsiblity of the traditional work of the publishing house – editorial, marketing, design, rights administration (if they get so far as the last one). Do you wonder if, with the gates as open as they now are, we might swing to the other side of the pendulum? A great morass of underdone, unskilled work clogging up the waters of the literary marketplace?

It’s possible, I suppose. But any serious writer is going to make sure that the editorial side of things is taken care of; you need to have pride in your work. I will always work with editors whether I self-publish or not. Designers are readily available for hire; I got a friend to do a brilliant cover for Jewball. Marketing is a ball that big publishers often drop; you can viral market yourself fairly easily, and if things start going well, you can always hire a publicist for a real big push. My agent is taking care of the rights administration.

So Jewball is kind of a hybrid project. I retained my agent, hired a great copyeditor, and worked with publishing professionals all the way down the line. I just did it a lot more quickly than I otherwise would have been able. And while the book may or may not find more success through this method, it’s certainly just as good a product as it would have been if I’d published it through a conventional stream. It’s an experiment, and experiments don’t always succeed. But sometimes they do.

If you had to recommend a noir primer to a reader unfamiliar with the genre, what would be your recommendations, and why?

There are so many choices. I’d start with Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith, and probably Jim Thompson. There’s a nifty collection from the Library Of America that collects noir novels from the 30s and 40s by masters like James M. Cain and David Goodis. That’ll fill your nightstand or your Kindle for months.

How do you think the Phoenix Suns rebuilding program is going?

The Suns don’t have a prayer as long as Robert Sarver is the boss. That guy is the tool of tools. He’s made a tragic mess of a proud franchise that should have won a couple titles in the aughts.

Jewball is now available through Amazon.com. Neal Pollack’s site can be found at www.nealpollack.com.

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” —Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

The sky was blue as an Autobot’s eye, and I felt stupid enough without my real car breaking down. I’d been to Target and Toys ‘R Us a bunch of times just to hold these things in my hands, turning them over to see how the light bounced off the clear plastic shrink-wrapping when I moved them, how enticing the packaging made them look. But I hadn’t even thought about Transformers since I was a kid, even though the show and toy line had undergone several alterations since then, since I thought I’d grown up.

On Wednesday Borders surprised almost no one by filing for bankruptcy. Authors are pissed because the company has not yet paid for the books it sold over the Christmas period. Readers are pissed because another of their local bookstores has bitten the dust.

As a reader it may seem strange that I’ve always had a strong distaste for bookstores. I hate that bookstores have “literature” sections that are a few shelves long, because most of what they sell is not literature. It’s celebrity biographies, books to accompany fad TV shows, and imitations of imitations. For me, they were a necessary evil – a place to visit to sift through the crap and find what you need.

In Dundee, during my university years, we had a handful of bookstores in the town centre, and several littered throughout the West End – the university district. Even by my third year, well before the world economy shat the bed, Dundee’s bookstores were in trouble. They began closing and reopening at smaller premises, with selections more focused on commercial books. The independent stores closed altogether.

In the wake of Amazon’s removal of Phillip R. Greaves’ book, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-lover’s Code of Conduct, we offer some other titles they might consider pulling (Note: this is not to defend the above book):

 

This past week, I got a Kindle. I have not been so changed by a reading experience since Stephen King’s Needful Things, which was the book that made me realize I wanted to tell stories. It’s the sort of genius-level device that demonstrates the fact that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Truly wonderful.

So, David, you recently got back from a long book tour; what were you reading in your downtime on the road? Any book(s) really blowing you away right now?

Have you heard of this book called Shit My Dad Says?  I love it a lot.


What’s making you love this book so much right now?

What do I love about the book? I was talking to Laurie about it tonight, as we walked around Green Lake. I really love how compressed the book is. I love how there is no space between the articulation and the embodiment of the articulation. I love how there are vast reservoirs of feeling beneath Justin’s voice and beneath the father’s aphorisms. The father is legitimately smart, even wise; he’s trying to teach his son that life is only blood and bones. Nothing more and nothing less. The son is trying to express to his father his bottomless love and complex admiration.


I have been aware of Shit My Dad Says as a blog. So there is a book out now also? What are the things about the book that you like? I thought the blog was pretty funny. The blog says they are getting a show on CBS. I wonder if the dad will slowly become aware of his minor celebrity status and become more self-aware, thus spoiling the main source of humor? The massive unselfconsciousness might be polluted?

Yep, there’s a blog posting, and it’s already become a TV show (bad, apparently) and a best-selling book. It sounds too easy–this guy just collecting vulgar wisdoms that his father says, but the book is actually kind of lovely. I love how Justin Halpern writes, and I love the mix between his father’s crazy truth-telling and the son slowly getting it. That is, the title is what it is because the son finally learns to embrace the rude vitality of the father. Also, the book is, to me, hugely about Vietnam—the father was a medic in Vietnam–and to me, based on a single crucial scene, it’s not inconsiderably about the father endlessly processing that violence, that anger. It’s also hugely about being Jewish in America–again, very obliquely, mentioned just once; it’s about the father teaching the son how to be Jewish and male in America, which is a complicated thing.


The blog entries all look like about the length of a Twitter post. Is the book set up that way, too? From what I’ve seen of the blog, the whole thing comes off as a very vulgar, un-PC version of something like La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims or Pascal’s Pensées: raw aphorisms that all seem to have some sort of brutal truth at the core. Does the book layout look at all like the blog–a bunch of 200-character bursts?

Yep. I think each entry is meant to be 140 characters or less: the length of a tweet. I love how it just cuts to the chase. How short all of the sections are–how it tries to have as thin a membrane as possible between author and reader and writer, and I love how it’s essentially a tape recording of the father’s best lines, overdubbed with very brief monologues by the son. To me, it’s almost a model for what writing can be now. It’s not great or even good, probably, really, finally, but above all it’s not boring. Which is everything to me. I compare it to the excerpt in the NYer recently of Franzen’s new novel. I couldn’t read past the first paragraph’s high-church sonorities, which have zero to do with life now lived.


The analogy of the tape recording of the father with color commentary by the son is a good one. I like that sort of double-layered narrative. It almost sounds like what I love about a really well-done sports broadcast. You have the main voice calling out all the detail as it happens, and then you have the color-commentator adding a less specific, wider view on events.

That’s a great analogy, but I’d change it more to the father is the action on the field, then the son is the announcer trying to explain it, analyze it, get it.


So are you seeing Halpern’s book as a pretty much flawless work?

The only mistake in the book is the last ten pages, and it’s a serious one. The mask comes off, and everything goes badly sentimental.

Till then I love the book.


That is interesting about the last 10 pages. I wonder why Halpern makes the sudden change at the end? Is it because he felt that a book needs a “book-ish” ending? Or maybe it was editorial advice?

It’s a terrible move. Almost certainly derived from editorial advice.  In many ways it ruins the book, as does the sit-com.


Do you think Shit My Dad Says could be a glimpse of a new form of book born out of the Myspace/Facebook/Twitter realm? Halpern’s instinct was to make a blog first. The book seems to be a secondary recasting of the blog. Before this conversation I didn’t know it was a book. To me it was a blog people kept telling me about.

I do think it suggests that you can be living as an unemployed screenwriter in San Diego and six months later you’re a best-selling writer. I love that.


Do you think Halpern put the book together by harvesting and editing down the blog posts that had built up over a stretch of time? Or was the blog part of a more deliberate plan, and the book was always the end goal? For some reason I find the latter scenario more artistically appealing, maybe because it starts to feel more like organic folk art. Also, do you think a book like this shows that the social networking, web-log impulse can lead to good literature?

I definitely don’t see it as a deliberate plan. If it is, I’ll kill myself. Can social networking, blogging generate great books? On very rare occasions such as this, yes. Justin Halpern has said that he was collecting notes for a screenplay, then of course the notes became tweets, tweets became blog, website, book, etc. That’s crucial for me: the notes for the book are the book, are the better version of the book than any too-considered book.


As I mentioned above, I find it interesting that I was told about Shit My Dad Says by a handful of people, but always in terms of it being a blog I should check out. It might be because the book has been out only a few weeks. But it makes me think about the fact that in the course of everyday discourse at work and in conversations with friends, I’m almost always being urged to check out blogs, YouTube videos, the odd TV show episode or movie now and then, and sometimes podcasts. Books are probably the furthest down on that list. Books don’t seem to occupy the “fun zone” (for lack of a better term). The word-of-mouth recommendations I get from friends are usually some sort of oral endorsement about how great something is and how I really need to have a look because I am missing out on the fun. That is how I found out about Shit My Dad Says. Someone said, “Have you ever read [the blog] Shit My Dad Says? It’s hilarious. This kid just records all the crazy stuff his dad says, and his dad says some real messed-up stuff.”  I’ll wager a million dollars that I’ll never have one of these folks come up to me and say, “Hey, have you heard of this book Shit My Dad Says? It’s great.” Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems far less likely to happen.

I think that’s crucial. The book as object is, as you say, not part of the “fun zone.” Book culture is dead. Books, if they want to survive, need to figure out how to coexist with contemporary culture and catalyze the same energies for literary purposes. That’s what I try to do. Those are the books I love, read, teach, and try to write. Eg, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate, Simon Gray’s Smoking Diaries, David Markson’s This is Not a Novel, Leonard Michaels’s “Journal.” They’re all more literary versions of Shit My Day Says, but they all have that cut-to-the-bone, cut-to-the-chase quality. “This is how we write now.” At least it’s how I write and read now.


It just seems that 20-something and 30-something people I am in contact with are much more open to a new reading experience when it is a blog. I know there have got to be a hundred complex reasons as to why that is, but none of them change the fact that these folks, these non-literature-heads are reading. They haven’t stopped reading; they just don’t get as excited about the book form. I wonder if this is because the blog form is so much easier, immediate, low-time-commitment, non-homework-ish, and of course free?

Crucial for me are the immediacy, the relative lack of scrim between writer and reader, the promised delivery of unmediated reality, the pseudo-artlessness, the nakedness, the comedy, the real feeling hidden 10 fathoms deep.


I think for the most part we can rule out cost as a factor, because these same people don’t hesitate to buy a CD even if they could download it, if the spirit moves them enough or if the artwork is cool enough or if the significance of the release is high enough. I think the reason for these media habits has more to do with low time commitment, and also the feeling that with a blog they are getting something “rawer,” more unfiltered, more direct from writer to reader.

That’s so much what I argue, of course, throughout Reality Hunger. For instance, this new book about David Foster Wallace, called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. David Lipsky spent a couple of weeks with Wallace 14 years ago, then 13 years later he went back and excavated the notes. The book pretends to be just a compilation of notes, and maybe that’s all it is, but to me–this might be way too generous of a reading–it’s a meditation on two sensibilities: desperate art and pure commerce. Lipsky, I hope, knows what he’s doing: evoking himself as the very quintessence of everything Wallace despised.


I don’t think that these media-use habits that we’re talking about mean the book is obsolete. I think it means that we as writers are somehow missing a new element. It could be that a book is just less inherently immediate and raw because it has to go through the old-fashioned labyrinth of the publishing industry, and even when the book is printed and ready to go, you have to either go down to a store to get it, or have it shipped to you via Amazon. But I think this is a constraint that we writers can work around. I think it’s just a challenge for us–to give the book that “live” feel, that up-to-date, awake, aware, instant feel. There will always be a place for, say, the traditional novel that is read on the beach on vacation or chapter by chapter at bedtime for a month as a means of entertainment and escape. But there is this whole other, newer form of reading that most books being published today don’t have an answer for. Even achieving a happy medium between the new and old reading experience would be a great breakthrough. To me a book like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets has that sizzle on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. It’s boiled down to the bare elements, stripped down to just the basic notes (in both senses of the word).

That’s what I’m aiming for. The paragraph-by-paragraph sizzle is everything to me. Fusselman, Gray, Michaels, Nelson, to take just a few examples—-these books books have an extraordinarily artful “artlessness” that is to me crucial to contemporary art.


I have been taking notes and collecting quotes for nearly 2 years, all for this future book that I hope will materialize at some point. But every time I attempt to turn the notes into the book, I hate the results. It also doesn’t hurt that I love all these books, like The Pharmacist’s Mate, that are collections of scraps laid out in a pleasing manner. I think my love of this sort of structural style definitely nudges me towards the notes staying notes, or you could say “the book” staying notes. Really what I have built is a database of little meditations, riffs, metaphors, and quotations. I even find my notes on how the book should be structured to be full of energy, because it is an outline of my massive aspirations for the book, most of which I have no hope of actually pulling off. It almost feels like my book wants to be about the planning of a book. A hypothetical literature that can’t exist under earth’s current gravity. So, yes, I am with you all the way regarding your interest in these sorts of books.

The notes are the book, I promise you.



eBooks, schmEbooks. What began as an issue that turned writers and lovers of printed books alike into Chicken Littles who ran through the streets screaming ‘The Kindle is falling!’ (I can’t help but feel this must be grimly satisfying to the ghosts of the long-dead monks who warned everybody about this Gutenberg asshole), has rapidly devolved into a latter-day spectator sport as the variety of interests involved jockey for position.

How the eBook industry is going to end up is something I’m still thinking about. I’m not sure that people are ever going to get the same kind of experience from an eBook as they do from the hard-copy equivalent, but, at the same time, that’s an impression that isn’t really quantifiable (unless you start poring over sales reports, which I won’t, as I’ve got a couple of episodes of The Vampire Diaries to catch up on).

In the meantime, we’ve got the gladiatorial competition between Apple, Amazon, Google, and the massed phalanx of publishing houses (led by their bold generals at Macmillan) to watch. This guy has some interesting things to say on the topic; and it remains anyone’s guess as to who’ll be left the victors once the dust has settled.

We live in interesting times.

This past February, at this year’s AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago, many of the overheard conversations did not involve the usual topics—Where’s the best place in the city to score a discount bottle of Booker’s bourbon?Do you know anyone who brought a bag of weed?Let’s get drunk/stoned, sit in a circle in someone’s hotel room and read some poetry/fiction/creative nonfiction, then seduce our former Russian Lit/Forms/Creative Writing Pedagogy professor.