Books

R.E.M.

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Now, this is a wonderful subject for a book:

Begin the Begin is the first biography of R.E.M. wholly researched and written since they disbanded in 2011. It offers by far the most detailed account of the group's formative years--their early lives, their first encounters with one another, their legendary debut show, early tours in the back of a van, initial recordings, their shrewdly paced rise to fame. The people and places of the American South are crucial to the R.E.M. story in ways much more complex and interesting than have previously been presented, claims Robert Dean Lurie; he explores the myriad ways in which the band's adopted hometown of Athens, Georgia--and the South in general--shaped its members and the character of their art. The South is much more than the background here; it plays a major role: the creative ferment that erupted in Athens and gripped many of its young inhabitants in the late 1970s and early '80s drew on regional traditions of outsider art and general cultural out-thereness, and gave rise to a free-spirited music scene that produced the B-52's and Pylon, as well as laying the ground for R.E.M.'s subsequent breakout success. Lurie has tracked down and interviewed numerous figures in the band's history who were underrepresented in, or absent from, earlier biographies--they contribute previously undocumented stories and cast a fresh light on the familiar narrative.

There are so many myths around R.E.M. They were just like every other band, but they broke through and reached a level of commercial success that probably made them feel excited and horrified at the same time.

The value of this book is likely going to be judged on several levels. Will it honestly address the efforts that the band made to keep their secrets from getting out? Will it deal with everything that happened to Jefferson Holt? What was the price of fame? Did Peter Buck spend 1985 wearing a bathrobe?

The Fall of Gondolin

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Christopher Tolkien has published what appears to be the final book written by his father, J.R.R. Tolkien. No one expected to see The Fall of Gondolin, so it is quite a surprise:

While this story may be the last Tolkien book to be published, it is actually an early tale and foundational to the author’s entire concept of Middle-earth. It was first written in 1917 while Tolkien was recuperating in a hospital from trench fever after the Battle of the Somme. “It’s a quest story with a reluctant hero who turns into a genuine hero—it’s a template for everything Tolkien wrote afterwards,” John Garth, author of a book about Tolkien’s experience in World War I tells Alison Flood at The Guardian. “It has a dark lord, our first encounter with orcs and balrogs—it’s really Tolkien limbering up for what he would be doing later.”

Christian Holub at Entertainment Weekly explains that the new book tells the tale of Tuor, a man living in an age where the world is dominated by the dark lord Melko—known in other Tolkien books as Morgoth. Only one place, the hidden Elvish city of Gondolin has resisted his reign, and Tuor is sent to find the place. He does, but so do the dark forces of Melko. In the grandest Tolkien battle scene outside of The Lord of the Rings, the author describes a mechanized army, similar to the newly introduced mechanized warfare he’d witnessed during the Great War, falling on the city.

I am not a fan of the Hobbit movies; Tolkien gave us battles, but not of the size and scope that were depicted. I do not believe Peter Jackson was ever the right filmmaker for The Lord of the Rings, either; his movies are beautifully framed junk and everything is a near-miss and, hey, what if we spin the camera around this way and that way? Everyone seemed stiff at times, but you really have to credit what Elijah Wood and Sean Astin did to make it all seem like an actual epic quest. It wasn't all bad, of course.

The best description for Jackson's approach would be to call it expensive fan fiction. Beyond that, everything I actually liked about the books disappeared. If they can make a movie about Han Solo, why the hell can't they make a movie about Elrond?

The Fall of Gondolin explores the history of Middle Earth, and gives you a sense of Tolkien's decision to build the languages, the different inhabitants, their entire, well-imagined back stories, and their place in the story. It's not enough to talk about the tribes of Elves or Men or Dwarves--their foundational epics and their sense of who they were had to be built, painstakingly, one generation at a time.

Aside from George R. R. Martin, who does this anymore? Plenty of writers make the attempt, but Tolkien, being an academic, had the knowledge to create the framework that his son has spent decades trying to organize and preserve for proper release. His achievement as a curator is no less of an accomplishment than his father's as the creator.

If someone else decides to make films of these stories, I'm fine with that. I really don't need to see any more of Jackson's vision. To me, it was always about the history and the relationships, and not so much the sword play and the massed formations of troops. Having seen the horrors of war, I don't think Tolkien wanted it to be fetishized in the manner in which it was, I really don't. There was always a purpose to the violence, and that's where all of the effort went.

Michelle McNamara

Patton Oswalt, Michelle McNamara

Patton Oswalt, Michelle McNamara

The late Michelle McNamara was a true crime writer who died in 2016 before solving one of the subjects that obsessed her. McNamara was the sort of person who threw herself into a subject and didn't let up. She was also the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, and today she would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they caught "The Golden State Killer" decades after eluding the police:

A suspect has been arrested in connection to a decades-old cold case involving more than 10 people who were murdered, known as the Golden State Killer case.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested early Wednesday morning on two counts of murder, according to the Sacramento Bee and Fox40 Sacramento. A spokesperson for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.

The Golden State Killer was linked by DNA and method to 12 murders, 45 sexual assaults and more than 120 burglaries from Sacramento to Orange County between 1976 and 1986.

This was one of the last things McNamara worked on before her passing:

The Golden State Killer case was also the subject of a true-crime book titled “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” by Michelle McNamara, Patton Oswalt’s late wife. McNamara worked with investigators on the case but died before the book was published. It was finished by co-writer Billy Jensen, researcher Paul Haynes and Oswalt.

In regards to news that an arrest had been made, Oswalt tweeted, “If they’ve really caught the #GoldenStateKiller I hope I get to visit him. Not to gloat or gawk — to ask him the questions that @TrueCrimeDiarywanted answered in her ‘Letter To An Old Man’ at the end of #IllBeGoneInTheDark.”

We can only hope that they got the right man, due in no small part to McNamara's work.

This Minnesota Boy Hated Garrison Keillor Forever

Garrison Keillor is the most overrated writer in the history of overrated writers. He was a blight upon literature and a stain upon everything that was good about Minnesota.

Minnesota is the scream of Paul Westerberg, the howl of moral outrage from Sinclair Lewis, the brutal honesty of Tim O'Brien, the cultural criticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the soul of Bob Dylan and the journalism of David Carr. Against them, Keillor was a twee, wet-nosed pretender full of sexual repression and Reader's Digest anecdotes.

Fuck Garrison Keillor. Right in the earhole. Fuck him forever.

Salt will cover the ground when he is gone. I have already forgotten him. My victory is complete.

The York Gospels

This is beyond neat:

The York Gospels were assembled more than a thousand years ago. Bound in leather, illustrated, and illuminated, the book contains the four gospels of the Bible as well as land records and oaths taken by clergymen who read, rubbed, and kissed its pages over centuries. The Archbishops of York still swear their oaths on this book.

The York Gospels are also, quite literally, a bunch of old cow and sheep skins. Skin has DNA, and DNA has its own story to tell.

A group of archaeologists and geneticists in the United Kingdom have now analyzed the remarkably rich DNA reservoir of the York Gospels. They found DNA from humans who swore oaths on its pages and from bacteria likely originating on the hands and mouths of those humans. Best of all though, they found 1,000-year-old DNA from the cows and sheep whose skin became the parchment on which the book is written.

Remarkably, the authors say they extracted all this DNA without destroying even a tiny piece of parchment. All they needed were the crumbs from rubbing the book with erasers, which conservationists routinely use to clean manuscripts. The authors report their findings in a preprint that has not yet been peer-reviewed, though they plan to submit it to a scientific journal.

Settled

Well, this is a relief:

Warner Bros. and the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien announced Monday that they amicably resolved an $80 million lawsuit over the alleged digital exploitation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien estate and book publisher HarperCollins filed the lawsuit against Warner Bros. in 2012 alleging that the company had breached contract by marketing online games, slot machines, and other gambling-related merchandise based on Tolkien's books. The estate claimed the 1969 rights agreement entitled the studio to create only “tangible” merchandise associated with the books.

I was worried that the Tolkien estate was going broke. Hopefully, they ended up with somewhere close to half of the $80 million they were suing for. If you're like me, and I know I am, then you prefer your Tolkien on the printed page and not on the silver screen or some Blu-Ray player.  I mean, the movies were good, and they really exceeded expectations, but aren't you wondering when they'll just reboot the whole thing and cash in again?

Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain

The Jesus and Mary Chain are a band that defies every label that you can throw at them. They have built a career out of being difficult on purpose, no matter what the cost. 

If they became disciples of feedback in the eyes of the media, they would abandon feedback and hire a drum machine. If they became a little too dance oriented, then they'd swallow their pride and hire a real drummer. If the songs became too poppy, they'd throw violent imagery into the lyrics and abandon all pretense of being commercial. And just when their music label would reject an album, they would sign with the original label that discovered them and forge ahead.

No one ever did more to sabotage their career than the Jesus and Mary Chain. They would turn up drunk, alienate the promotional apparatus of the entire British music industry, and play 15 minutes before walking off of the stage. Whenever they needed to speak to someone influential or important, they would take the piss and say the wrong things. They soared high with Creation's Alan McGee and dumped him as soon as they saw the bags of cash that a major label were willing to throw at them. When years of debauchery and infighting left them "stoned and dethroned," no one wanted to put out their album Munki. But it was McGee who welcomed them back into the fold and saved them from embarrassment. Loyalty is hardly the watchword for a band that dispensed with members as often as the Mary Chain. It has always been a William and Jim Reid situation; they even sacked their faithful drum machine. The book should have spelled out what happened to the device that featured so prominently in their early years. Were it not for the fickle, drum machine-averse American audiences, that thing would probably still be on tour with the bad this very summer.

Reading this book made me angry that I can't go see them. All they had to do was find a way to make it to Texas, and I would be there. Hey, maybe next time.

Everything is chronological, and that makes sense in that the story of the Mary Chain is one of rolling through the thick fog of pop music history. This is primarily how the book flows. The band would do something massive, and then fuck it all up. They would write a beautiful song and mangle how it would be presented to the public. At exactly the point where appearing on Top of the Pops or the BBC would have thrown them into the realm of superstar acts, they got themselves banned. When they needed to play a great show in front of a large crowd, they would walk off after abusing them with curses and feedback. It is exhausting to read, but essential for understanding how they created artistic success without ever selling out. That's the explosive, vital lesson of the Mary Chain--you can make it in spite of yourself, and you can do great things without having to compromise your integrity. Rock and Roll is not about playing a perfect set for 90 minutes to an adoring crowd that gets every hit they want to hear. It's about danger, mistakes, and passionately fucking everything up in front of people who get everything they weren't expecting.

Several celebrities have cameos in the book, but none more hilarious than a hapless Paul Weller, who crossed paths with the band and gave them passive aggressive advice and things to laugh at. None of this degrades the legend of the Modfather in any way, shape or form.

I have a very personal connection to how they subverted everything in the 1980s, but I would not consider myself an obsession fan. I discovered them on MTV like everyone else because the American Midwest was never friendly for Indie bands from England.

The very first thing I ever read about them was a baffled album review in People Magazine from 1985. What the hell was Psychocandy? Who the hell were these guys? Good God, no one knew, but they were slightly blasphemous and they had the right hair so they had to be good, right? It was the innovation, dummy. They were influencers without figuring anything out. They were shy but abusive, reclusive but on tour constantly.

Nobody ever took a bigger right turn from a debut album to a second album than the Mary Chain. Go back and listen to "April Skies" and then listen to anything from Psychocandy. Who reinvents themselves like that? Who says, "Alright, that's enough of what just made us huge. Here's something completely different." No two albums sound alike and nothing could illustrate their artistic merit better than the diversity of their sound and the reach of their efforts to eliminate everything boring from music.

Where do you slot them? Which genre describes them? Who gets to claim them--noise merchants, shoegazers, 90s alt-legends, or aging hipsters? They have credibility everywhere and belong to no one. They are the closest thing there is to a slightly different, but wholly separate version of Echo & the Bunnymen; when all other comparisons fail, just put them in the bucket with "English and accomplished" and leave it at that. The parallels are stark, but the Mary Chain never made an Electrafixion record and they never made a sleepy stinker like What Are You Going to Do With Your Life. They have their clunkers, but don't we all? Show me a great, interesting band and there will be at least one or two things that make you look away out of embarrassment.

The reason why this book works as a career narrative is because it doesn't shy away from explaining just exactly what they did right and wrong in equal measures. It focuses on the songs, the albums, and the tours and it breaks down the way they dissolved into dysfunction and thrown punches. It takes you through the embarrassing, cliched use of alcohol and drugs without looking for pathos.

There's even a disastrous detour through the Far East, replete with cancelled gigs and confused fans. The band went from broke to rich to broke to whatever they are now without abandoning whatever it is that passes for artistic credibility. There isn't even a butter ad in their immediate past, but how could you sell butter with one of their songs? You might be able to sell your soul to the devil for an album like Automatic, but why would you want to? The Reid brothers were there first, and they suffered on the cross for everything they did. They have lived and died for your rock and roll sins.

Isn't that enough?

Creation Stories

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Creation Stories is a book I enjoyed reading, but it did leave me wanting more.

I should state, up front, this review of the book is not a normal one. The book came out two years ago, and I just got around to it recently. I do recommend this for fans of the British music genre known as "Britpop" because you'll get a fair amount of background information from the book. You'll want to view it as a historical look at British independent music from the early Eighties until the end of the Nineties. It is not comprehensive, but there are a fair amount of good anecdotes to give you a superficial understanding of where Creation Records and Alan McGee fit into everything.

McGee downplays himself throughout the book. He could rightly call himself a genius at several things, but specifically he was enormously gifted when it came to spotting talent. This is a combination of knowing how to size up people, evaluate their skills, hear what they could do on stage, and make a business judgment about them relative to the music industry. Many people have done this and done quite well; McGee found the biggest band since U2 and a dozen other bands that were both commercially and artistically successful. He found Oasis, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream, and a slew of other bands. He made millions for himself and for the artists that he worked with. He had his finger on the pulse and built a successful company.

Now, the fact that he did all of that while out of his mind on drugs is neither here nor there. The book details his prowess finding artists and it reveals the failures he had both professionally and personally. This is an honest book, through and through.

McGee could have been more specific and he could have researched dates and times and really looked at how Creation Records moved and shaped the culture. He could have done one book separately on Oasis and one on the company; it all blends together after a while. He is probably on the hook for another telling of these stories, and that's all right--there's so much more happening that you miss out on. I would have liked more focus on the business side of things, just to get more of a feel for how he ran things. What I came away with was an understanding that this wasn't a madcap laugh or a lucky break. Building Creation Records wasn't just what he did while on drug holiday or while sleeping on trains. He bridged the music scenes from Manchester, Glasgow, and London and made local acts global stars. He put music in the hands of people who never would have discovered it. He spent millions on records that otherwise would have never been heard. 

I do think it was a good read. I do wish there were specific year by year breakdowns and summaries of how big the company got, how big was the roster, why bands would come and go, and how it all compared to other labels in the same business. He breezes through some of these details and you don't really get the whole story of what happened when Oasis dwarfed the rest of their roster of bands and why some acts broke out and why some faded away. I don't know if he's trying to be even-handed or spare feelings, but he's relentlessly hard on himself and honest about his failings. In and of itself, McGee's harrowing descriptions of life at home and his health scares makes this a worthy read.

If McGee gets around to writing about more of the things I've outlined above, then all the better.

Simon and Schuster is Making Hate Safe For the Mainstream

I think a boycott of CBS as a whole would be more appropriate, but what do I know?

Yiannopoulos’s payday was met with calls for a boycott of Simon and Schuster’s entire catalogue, which spans 35 imprints, including a call by a literary journal to not review any of the company’s books in 2017.

A representative for the company did not confirm the reported financial advance amount and said they do not comment on those figures. The literary agent working with Yiannopoulos has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast either.

In response to the announcement, The Chicago Review of Books vowed not to review a single Simon & Schuster book in 2017 due to the new book deal. The company typically publishes about 2,000 books per year.

“In response to this disgusting validation of hate, we will not cover a single @simonschuster book in 2017,” the journal announced on its Twitter account.

Some Simon & Schuster authors struggled with the boycott of their own publisher, noting that they don’t agree with Yiannopoulos’ views, but still need to sell books.

“(That face when your) publisher signs a hate troll & people call for a boycott & you’re like well yeah but um,” Simon & Schuster author Michael Robbins wrote on Twitter. “(It’s the) same imprint (that) published Trump’s ‘Crippled America.”

If you're going to take a racist hate monger, and give him a publishing deal, then you have to accept the fact that people are not going to stand for it. If that hurts Les Moonves and the CBS media empire, so be it. Making hate a mainstream product you can buy in stores is not a marketing plan I would want to be a part of. I have no idea what the management at that particular imprint of Simon and Schuster was thinking when they gave this Milo character a quarter of a million dollars. Perhaps they weren't thinking at all.

Everyone and everything surrounding the "Alt Right" is so toxic right now that for a major American media company to lavish money on someone with those ties is absolutely reprehensible. Clearly, this is never going to be acceptable.

There already is a vast "wingnut welfare" infrastructure that publishes this material and puts it into the marketplace. Anti-liberal books were all the rage for years until they stopped selling in adequate numbers. No one is censoring these ideas, but they should be subjected to the marketplace. Whatever a boycott of Simon and Schuster accomplishes is fine by me. You cannot and should not mainstream hate in America and not pay a significant price for it at the cash register.

Wyatt at the Coyote Palace

Kristin Hersh continues to move the world in her direction. Not content with a mere album, she's releasing a book to coincide with the music she's written and she's going to tour the British Isles in November:

Kristin Hersh returns again to Ireland and the UK for a rare solo tour in support of her highly anticipated new double CD and book, “Wyatt At The Coyote Palace” (Omnibus Press) due out October 4th, a 24 track collection of brand new songs. Pre-orders for “Wyatt” will be available very soon on this site. “Wyatt” is the third release in the groundbreaking book/CD format that Kristin began with her most recent solo album “Crooked” and the Throwing Muses 2013 release “Purgatory/Paradise”. “An Evening with Kristin Hersh” includes readings and songs from her works spanning her entire career.

1 November 2016 – Dundalk, Ireland – Spirit Store – tickets
2 November 2016 – Dublin, Ireland – Pavillion Theatre – tickets
3 November 2016 – Cork, Ireland – Triskel Christchurch – tickets
4 November 2016 – Galway, Ireland – Roisin Dubh – tickets
5 November 2016 – Limerick, Ireland – Dolans Warehouse
7 November 2016 – Portsmouth, UK – Wedgewood Room – tickets
8 November 2016 – Bristol, UK – Lantern Theatre – tickets
9 November 2016 – Exeter, UK – Phoenix – tickets
10 November 2016 – Cardiff, UK – Clwb Ifor Bach – tickets
11 November 2016 – Aldershot, UK – West End Centre
13 November 2016 – Manchester, UK – Gorilla – tickets
16 November 2016 – York, UK – Crescent – tickets
17 November 2016 – Edinburgh, UK – Summerhall
18 November 2016 – Glasgow, UK – Mono – tickets
19 November 2016 – Liverpool, UK – Philharmonic Music Room – tickets
20 November 2016 – Hebden Bridge, UK – Trades Club
21 November 2016 – Norwich, UK – Norwich Arts Center
22 November 2016 – Brighton, UK – Komedia – tickets
24 November 2016 – London, UK – St John in Bethnal Green – tickets
25 November 2016 – Folkestone – Literary Festival – info

Who else has the range and the ability to do something like this? 

Reading Books in America


This is an interesting development for people who think there is still a market for the printed word, and I don't think much has changed since I first published this piece over a year ago.
In my opinion, the rise in the number of people who don't read books does not mean that people are not reading. I think it is more a case where what they read has evolved to the point where the book is an irrelevant item in their lives.
Have you ever walked into someone's house and noticed whether or not they have books? An absence of books means one of two things--either they don't read them or they have a robust E-reader or tablet and have no further use for books. They have de-cluttered their life and adopted the digital library as a way of managing their space.  I can sympathize with that--I have books that are in Rubbermaid containers precisely because there isn't room for them. Should I chuck them out or should I save them?
The E-reader market has tanked in some ways because of the flood of mediocre material (people trying to cash in) and because the devices are not profitable enough when marketed against tablets that do more than one thing. When you think back about all of the people who are holding e-reader devices (hey, that's me!), there's almost no solution that looks like an upside. How do you carry around a library full of books on a device that is rendered obsolete in mere months? How many people are going to create a fully digitized library that has to be stored in the cloud or ported around or copied and re-copied? People are more likely to do that with the music they care about. Books, like old albums or songs that are tiresome, can fall away.
And, yes, I thought of this as well. Literacy isn't an issue:

The percentage of people who are not educated but can read? Is that increasing? I have no idea. I suspect that it is.
Complex, inaccessible, and pretentious literary offerings don't actually kill off readership--they simply turn people away from writers but not the medium itself. Stephen King is widely read because he delivers; being able to deliver isn't the same as being good or bad, but there's no way King could be considered a bad writer.
I don't know if people stop reading so much as they stop trying to engage written forms of entertainment. The human need remains. What fills those needs has evolved and changed with the technology, but the technology itself went straight past simple reading into the world of multi-media entertainment options. How many people use a Kindle Paperwhite as opposed to a tablet? And which one do you think is better for you?

Fraud

The tiny islet of Riddarholmen, home to a 13th-century church full of entombed Swedish royalty, is an oasis of dead calm in cosmopolitan Stockholm, an odd place to witness the relaunch of an international phenomenon. But it happens to host the headquarters of Norstedts, the publisher of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (80 million copies strong) and its new sequel, known Stateside as The Girl in the Spider’s Web, written posthumously by a different writer, David Lagercrantz.
“We have had journalists all over the world to come and hear the story about Stieg Larsson and his books,” editor-in-chief Eva Gedin said at the start of Wednesday morning’s press conference. “Tourists have made pilgrimages to some of those places in which his books take place … It has been eleven years since we published the first book in Sweden, and we felt that the time was right for a continuation.”
It’s also been ten years since Larsson died of a heart attack at age 50, soon after signing his book contract, leaving his estate by default to his distant father and brother, and excluding — by law — his partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, who has fought the family ever since. It seems on the surface an all-too-familiar conflict — a fight for the right to print money off the name of the deceased — but the real quarry is capital of the intellectual kind. It’s a public argument over who has the knowledge, acumen, and integrity to manage a famous author’s estate — not to mention the characters, plotlines, and political messages that run through Larsson’s darkly moralistic books.
In other words, it's just another fraud. I hope someone makes a lot of money off of it, because this is the sort of well that runs dry fast. And I love how every article makes Eva Gabrielsson out to be the bad person in all of this. She's saying "stop robbing from Stieg Larsson's legacy" and, of course, everyone else is saying, "let's wring more blood out of the stone."

Jonathan Franzen Pisses People Off



Oh, the things you find out when you notice how many people are unhappy when a Jonathan Franzen novel drops:

Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Purity, is partly set in Santa Cruz, a Californian town 70 miles south of San Francisco, where the novelist lives with his partner, Kathy. Their house is in the U-bend of a crescent, on the edge of a suburban housing estate, overlooking a wooded conservation area to the Pacific Ocean beyond. It is, for one of America’s foremost literary novelists, a modest property, overlooked on three sides by neighbours in a way that, say, Philip Roth’s grand pile in Connecticut is not. However, it affords good views from the deck (the novelist is an avid birdwatcher) and the low overheads that permit Franzen to let five years go by without delivering a novel. “I’m not used to talking about this book,” he says of Purity, which, like his preceding two novels, is a 600-page doorstopper. There is a long, Franzonian pause: “I’m trying to figure out how much I should say and how much I should not say.”

That question, as central to the writing as to the publicising of the novel, is one that Franzen has frequently struggled to answer. At 55, he has the earnest, slightly puggish look of a younger man, and the occasional intemperance of one, too. On a refresher driving test he took recently, the novelist scored high on the scale for susceptibility to road rage. (“There are 11 things that are warning signs of road rage, and I had, like, nine of them.”) His fame has as much to do with the fights he has picked – or has had foisted upon him – as with the quality of his fiction; Franzen riles people in a way that is unusual, and perhaps reassuring for a novelist, given the endless debate about the relevance of that role. He has attracted the scorn, over the years, of users of social media, environmentalists, certain stripes of feminist critic, lesser novelists, the lead book reviewer of the New York Timesand fans of Oprah Winfrey.

Franzen just wasn't made for these times. His fish out of water and innocent bystander schtick is old hat and I can't imagine people have gotten over their love of having their own fears confirmed for them. They want to use Franzen as a shield against having to understand why they, themselves, don't want to put anything out there (the fear is driven by the fact that they are boring and racist and everyone knows it, and they're especially afraid that the NSA might have a database of all the things they've said about the black people who appear in their neighborhood).

These are the times that allow people to express themselves and not be shut out by gatekeepers. This is an example of that:

Franzen’s Guardian interview prompted swift response from writer Jennifer Weiner, who in a series of tweets, said: “Frantzen believes he’s locked in a no-win situation, he promotes women writers! And still we hate! ‘Because a villain is needed.’ WELL.”
— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner)August 21, 2015


3. Franzen believes he's locked in a no-win situation. He promotes women writers! And still we hate! "Because a villain is needed." WELL.

She continued: “Yes, Franzen promotes women writers, in the New Yorker, and elsewhere. (Not on social media, though – which might help their books sell).”

She accused him of hating her “without, of course, deigning to read a word I’ve written”.
— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner)August 21, 2015


8. Instead, who does Franzen hate? @jodipicoult. Oprah. @michikokakutani. Me. (Without, of course, deigning to read a word I've written).

She added: “Then he whines, ‘It’s like there’s no way to make myself not male.’ Well. We don’t want Franzen unmanned. Just not Franzen unfair. Fin.”
— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner)August 21, 2015


10. Then he whines, "It’s like there’s no way to make myself not male.” Well. We don't want Franzen unmanned. Just not Franzen unfair. Fin.

Purity, which is out on 1 September and which sees the young Pip Tyler becoming involved with a Julian Assange-like leader of a rival to WikiLeaks, takes on another bete noire of Franzen’s: the internet. The author has previously said he does not go online when writing, and has described Twitter as “unspeakably irritating”.

Yay. Sounds like a winner.

Women on The Tonight Show



Sometimes, the best bits of cultural relevancyend up appearing in places where you would never expect to find them:

There's an interesting point to which she refused to appear on the Johnny Carson show because of how women were portrayed on his show. Ride explained to NASA that she wasn't interested, then took off for California to lie low. She didn't explain herself; she just acted.

Women were treated horribly on the Tonight Show; if you were beautiful or old enough to be Johnny Carson's grandmother, you could expect to get on. And even when you did get on, there would be no chance for anything reasonable or enlightened to happen.

The fact that Sally Ride turned down Carson is significant because she was part of a very vocal minority that complained about how women were depicted and treated on the show.

Ignoring the Debacle of the Iran Contra Affair



I took notice of a small bit of intellectual dishonesty wedged into a review of a new hagiography of Ronald Reagan.

Similarly, Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker was a “gift” from his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. Volcker curbed inflation, leading to economic growth at “just the right time for Reagan.” Reagan’s overall economic policy and its ongoing impact merit more examination, as do the intricacies of the disastrous Iran-Contra affair.
Fewer than ten words for the single defining scandal of the Reagan era? Really? And how many words did Brands waste on Ollie North, he of the shredder and the office hottie? The fact that Oliver North still appears on television in anything but a prison jumpsuit is proof no one remembers what actually happened and that there has never been a real accountability moment for the Morning in America crowd.

This is quite relevant. In our modern political discourse, Reagan is accorded virtual sainthood and his conservative bonafides will be cited relentlessly in the 2016 election cycle.

What this amounts to is a virtual whitewashing of history. Reagan traded arms for hostages, and the arms went to the regime in Iran. He ignored the will of Congress. He was never held accountable for it, and President Bush pardoned nearly everyone who should have gone to jail.

Change Obama with Reagan, and he would have already been impeached. I laugh when they call Obama a tyrant because, brother, the real tyranny has been right under your nose for decades and no one has done a proper accounting for what went on.

This is an icon worth celebrating? Did any of these people actually live through the 1980s?

Tearing Down Ray Bradbury's Home

Ray Bradbury House, LA Times

Well, this is sad.

Author Ray Bradbury (he was more than just a "sci-fi" writer), lived in the same California home for fifty years before he passed away in 2012. Efforts to save and preserve his real legacy--his papers and whatnot--have been successful. Sometimes, you don't get a chance to save things like that, but Bradbury was prominent enough for this to happen.

His house, however, wasn't worth keeping:
The home, which was purchased in June for $1.765 million, is being demolished. A permit for demolition was issued Dec. 30, Curbed LAreports, and a fan who visited the house over the weekend found it in the process of being torn down.
A home built in 1937 isn't that old, especially if it has been remodeled or upgraded since then. The value of the lot was, apparently, more than that of the house. Whatever they put there will be a separate and distinct property. I don't fault the nostalgia for an old writer's house, but his printed works and accomplishments are worth more than the built-in bookshelves that held them.

The Economist Reviews The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.


How slaves built American capitalism


Patsey was certainly a valuable property
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.
By Edward Baptist.
“FOR sale: a coloured girl, of very superior qualifications…a bright mulatto, fine figure, straight, black hair, and very black eyes; very neat and cleanly in her dress and person.” Such accounts of people being marketed like livestock punctuate Edward Baptist’s grim history of the business of slavery.
Although the import of African slaves into the United States was stopped in 1807, the country’s internal slave trade continued to prosper and expand for a long time afterwards. Right up until the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, the American-born children and grandchildren of enslaved Africans were bought cheap in Virginia and Maryland to be sold dear in private deals and public auctions to cotton planters in the deep South.
Tall men commanded higher prices than short ones. Women went for less than men. The best bids were for men aged 18 to 25 and for women aged 15 to 22. One slave recalled buyers passing up and down the lines at a Virginia slave auction, asking, “What can you do? Are you a good cook? Seamstress? Dairy maid?” and to the men, “Can you plough? Are you a blacksmith?” Slaves who gave surly answers risked a whipping from their masters.
Raw cotton was America’s most valuable export. It was grown and picked by black slaves. So Mr Baptist, an historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity. But he overstates his case when he dismisses “the traditional explanations” for America’s success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies.
Take, for example, the astonishing increases he cites in both cotton productivity and cotton production. In 1860 a typical slave picked at least three times as much cotton a day as in 1800. In the 1850s cotton production in the southern states doubled to 4m bales and satisfied two-thirds of world consumption. By 1860 the four wealthiest states in the United States, ranked in terms of wealth per white person, were all southern: South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.
Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of “calibrated pain”. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, “The Slave Trade”; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.
Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.