‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

Posts Tagged ‘writing

What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs?

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Over at the Washington Post Book section I recently read two articles that can essentially be summed up by the following two bullet points:

1. Males don’t read. (Only 20% according to the article.) 

2. It’s because we no longer have strong masculine fiction, we’ve moved away from the Hemingways, Roths, Updikes, & Bellows of the world. 

Let me explain.

The first article is a review of a book entitled The Signal by Ron Carlson. It’s not so much the content of the book that is the focus of this post but the type of ideological critique of how men read and how women read (as if we still need to gender reading and intelligence in the sexes, so glad we’ve learned from our past mistakes and history). 

Ron Charles, not to be mistaken with the author of the book that is being reviewed, starts his article by citing that he has accepted the fact that men do not read any more and that this battle was lost long ago as he writes: Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his “Pygmy” vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

But not to worry my fellow men, those 20% of us that are capable of reading intelligence, there is a solution. Take Ron Charles’s advice and read The Signal by Ron Carlson because there are some books out there just for us. This is when Mr. Charles refers to an article posted sometime last week by Michael Lindgren who seems to be mourning an older style of masculine fiction that he sees missing from the world of fiction and literature today. As he states: 

What ever happened to the American Man? You know, the one who bullied and swore and drank his way through novels full of cigarette smoke, big cars and red meat? The one who’d abandon his family for a prostitute, or coerce his girlfriend into a threesome, or sleep with the housekeeper after murdering his wife? What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs? And does anyone really miss them?

Apparently Mr. Lindgren and Mr. Charles both miss this style of fiction. Both men seem to agree that what is missing from our literature is that rugged masculine style of fiction, the type referenced above. I think these gentleman fail to see something about all of the canonical American authors they cited above. People enjoy reading Hemingway, Roth, Mailer, Updike, not because of the types of rugged, misogynistic, arrogant, often homo-phobic male characters that they present to the reader, but IN-SPITE of them. LethemChabon1

Their fiction and writing is beautifully crafted and enjoyable to read, the only problem is that often they seem to be a product of their generation which for the most part has seen fit to perpetuate patriarchal systems of authority and socially constructed roles of gender. 

I take offense to the fact that first off, men do not read, and secondly, when we do, we need to have fiction at less than 200 pages and that it must be focused on rugged outdoor activities or some antiquated notions of masculinity that rely on violence and sexuality as primary themes of interest.

Why are Mr. Charles and Lindgren mourning the fact that as a society, writers today have moved beyond these issues. I am certainly not saying that we couldn’t use more writers like Roth or Hemingway, god forbid, the more the merrier. But, that style of writing was appropriate back then, writing today should reflect our current concerns and issues, and I would like to think that as a society we’ve progressed beyond these types of gendered readings and associations. Sadly, these two writers for the Post have simply reinforced and reminded me that we have not. 

Mr. Lindgren writes: that men want to be bad boys, kind of, but they can’t quite get there. They’re too comfortable, and they like women too much, to be engaged in all that operatic despair. Why is this a bad thing?

Read and form your own opinions but I for one could do without this type of gendered bigotry. 


Written by thebeliever07

June 5, 2009 at 10:17 am

Vladimir Nabokov

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“…so now he did his best to look up all the roadside items that retained her exclamation mark…”

-Nabokov – The Return of Chorb –

Sometimes a single line in a story can make your day. This to me is one of the most beautiful lines of fiction I’ve ever had the privaledge of coming across. Russian Literature truly is astounding.

Written by thebeliever07

September 20, 2008 at 9:41 pm

R.I.P. – David Foster Wallace

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David Foster Wallace is an American writer, artist, culture critic/junkie. If you’re wanting comparisons, let’s put him alongside of J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon. He has only written two novels and a few short story collections. He received the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant at the age of 35, a brilliant essayist, accomplished tennis player, and professor at Pomona College, in Claremont Califnornia. His book Infinite Jest was a Times Magazine 100 Best English Speaking Novel.

On September 12, 2008 D.F.W. was found dead at the age of 46 as a result of a suicide hanging.

I’m quite torn and depressed by this news. To lose such brilliance in such a way, is something that will never cease to shock and disturb me. I will never know what causes an individual to give up on themselves and those around them, and I hope to never know this.

In honor of Mr. Wallace, I’ve posted a few links to some of the essays and writings he has scattered around the net. I urge you to take the time and enjoy a few of his works in his remembrance.

Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage

Reprint of Consider the Lobster, 2004 essay on lobsters for Gourmet magazine

New York Times “Play Magazine” article on Roger Federer, “Federer as Religious Experience”

Commencement speech at Kenyon College, May 21, 2005 (excerpt)

This American Life Episode 160 broadcast May 19, 2000 “Character Assassination” Act 2 ‘Sonny Takes a Fall,’ 19 minute radio where David Foster Wallace “reports on a turning point in 2000‘s Presidential primaries: the moment when John McCain failed to respond well to an attack by George Bush“. Description of broadcast from thislife.org

Charlie Rose Show: An interview with Wallace following the publication of Infinite Jest and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

Charlie Rose Show: A roundtable discussion on fiction with Wallace, Jonathan Franzen and Mark Leyner

The Writer’s Almanac highlights Wallace on the February 21, 2007 broadcast.

And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit “I don’t really mean what I’m saying.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.”

  • E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction
  • Written by thebeliever07

    September 14, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    The smart bibliophile.

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    Should I be blogging? No. Should I not in fact be reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson? Of course. Am I going to blog regardless of the fact that I have theory and environmental creative writing? You got it.

    I don’t know about you, but I always feel much smarter when I’m reading some non-fiction. Let’s face it, as much as we all love our literature, fiction, and the occasional (genre) or “culture trash” text, nothing labels you as a cultured or mature as when you’re carrying around a nice non-fiction text. Biographies in particular help to establish you as a person of intellect.

    One non-fiction text, a biography that I’ve found to be very fascinating is James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon – by Julie Phillips. For those unaware, James Tiptree Jr. is the pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon, one of America’s great Golden Age Science Fiction short-story writer.

    This biography gives a very nice picture of her complete life: from her early childhood days hunting in the African Savannah with her mother, to the very end when she finally revealed who she really was. Her writing is filled with her attempts to break down the gender barrier, being neither focused in a particularly male or female way.

    I’ve only read a few chapters into the book, but I was thinking of the way in which this book provides me with some extra cultural capital. Society tends to look down upon certain types of fiction, but whenever a person is reading a biography or a history book or some other such non-fiction, there is this inherent attitude that seems to pervade: “Oh, you’re reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie, how FASCINATING!

    It makes me wonder if some people really are interested in the non-fiction books that they’re carrying about, or if they simply wish to appear smarter than they are.

    Dr. Allard, my Romantics professor from a few years ago remarked on something similar in one of his lectures.

    We always carry two types of books when we travel on airplanes. A) The first book being the one we want to impress people with. We like to sit in our seat with our small cup of ice and tiny can of soda and have people notice us, pay attention to the fact that we’re reading about Nineteenth Century Medical Trauma. B) And then there is the book we have in our backpack that we pull out when we get to the hotel, or late at night at the end of a long day of travel. “Ahh…now I can sit down and read my John Grisham in peace. Ohh, this one is about a lawyer who works pro bono to save a deaf, blind, retarded German Shepherd from an evil corporation bent on world domination…I wonder how this will turn out!”

    For what its worth, I realize that you’re thinking now….”But G? How do I know you’re not doing the same thing? Easy, I’m an English Literature major, everything I read is more important and better, along with my attitude and opinions on all things of this nature.”

    Cheers friendos.

    Written by thebeliever07

    September 12, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Interview: Paul Auster on ‘Man in the Dark’

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    Worth a quick read. Enjoy.


    Written by thebeliever07

    September 2, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    “As the weird world rolls on.”

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    August Brill, a seventy-two year old widow lives with his daughter, Miriam, and his grand-daughter, Katya. August spends his nights creating worlds in his head, a retired book critic, August writes stories in his mind to keep the insomnia at bay.

    I want to desperately share more about this book with you, my fellow readers but this short novel, at a whopping 180 pages, does not allow for too much insight into the plot, else it would be spoiled.

    Man in the Dark, Paul Auster’s latest novel,  focuses on the worlds in which we create to keep the world in which we live more bearable.

    August begins the narrative of his mind, of the long night in the dark, by fashioning a tale of a middle aged husband, Owen Brick who finds himself thrown into a world in which a 9/11 never happened; instead a war of a different kind has erupted, at home within the United States, a civil war. Brick is given a mission that will ultimately destroy the world he lives in. August Brill & Owen Brick,  must both confront realities they’d rather just leave alone. Along the way August and the two women left in his life must find a way to live in the real world, to move beyond the pain of past memories.

    For fans of Auster this novel is standard fare. I urge you to give this author and this particular book a chance. Auster sits most comfortably when he steps outside of his fiction, into the post modern, into the meta where he fashions authors and writers who create characters that fashion and shape their very authors. Can I be more obtuse or confusing? Only way to understand what the hell I’m talking about, is to just pick up this book and give it a quick read. It took me only two days, the style is fast and the story is engrossing. August, Owen, Miriam, Katya, they’re all very real people dealing with the same struggles that everyone deals with. I believe that is what is at the heart of this novel, the struggles we have with facing reality and how we find ways to escape: film, literature, fantasy, dream, all of these are temporary respites for a world that is sometimes too overwhelming. Auster brings this into focus and the potential good and bad that results from this act of escapism.

    Enjoy. Cheers.

    Written by thebeliever07

    September 1, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    August 12: Very hot in the morning…

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    The Orwell Prize presents to the world:

    Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. From 9th August 2008, Orwell’s domestic and political diaries (from 9th August 1938 until October 1942) will be posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written.

    Orwell’s ‘domestic’ diaries begin on 9th August 1938/2008; his ‘political’ diaries (which are further categorised as ‘Morocco’, ‘Pre-war’ and ‘Wartime’) begin on 7th September 1938/2008.

    The diaries are exactly as Orwell wrote them. Where there are original spelling errors, they are indicated by a ° following the offending word.

    We are extremely grateful to Peter Davison, whose footnotes (from the Complete Works) are used with his permission. Where the Orwell Prize has attached additional footnotes, they are clearly indicated.

    We are also very grateful to Bill Hamilton and A. M. Heath, who hold the rights to Orwell’s works. A. M. Heath reserve all rights to the diaries.

    Orwell Diaries

    Some interesting tidbits into the mind of Orwell, but then occasionally there are also some very mundane entry items, but I guess this is what makes it a real life diary entry, life can sometimes be dull that way.

    My personal favorite:

    August 10

    10 August, 1938 by orwelldiaries

    Drizzly. Dense mist in evening. Yellow moon.

    Written by thebeliever07

    August 14, 2008 at 7:18 pm