Thursday, June 14, 2007

Finding aids

The latest issue of Bookforum confirms my sense that this is the most interesting publication of its kind in the country. I love it! Intellectual, playful, eclectic, interesting--not a hint of that dreary worthiness that stops me from reading certain novelists and critics... Tons of high-quality and thought-provoking stuff.

I especially liked Jonathan Shainin on car bombs and suicide bombing--relevant for my novel, the soon-to-be retitled Dynamite No. 1--the last day and a half have vanished as if into a black hole as I desperately try to come up with a new name for the book, I've got some decent candidates and I suppose I can also say I've reread a large number of Shakespeare plays and poems by Donne, Marvell, Keats, Coleridge, Shelley, Yeats, etc.--no definite winner yet, but a very reasonable short list which I will not divulge except to say that the literary allusion line of thinking did not pan out--I was laughing to myself as I read D. T. Max's interesting New Yorker article on the Texas archive and learned that even Don DeLillo had this problem:

The DeLillo finding aid shows which folder contains which draft of which novel, but not whether the draft is different in important ways from a previous one. It records that DeLillo’s 1972 novel “End Zone” originally bore the title “The Self-Erasing Word,” but you have to open the proper folder and look at the title page to see that it also had been called “Modes of Disaster Technology.” (The phrase appears in the book.) Similarly, the finding aid tells you that DeLillo’s original title for “White Noise” (1985) was “Panasonic,” but you have to burrow into his correspondence from 1984 to discover how upset DeLillo was when the Japanese electronics manufacturer that owns Panasonic declined his request to use the name. “‘Panasonic’ as a title is crucial for a number of reasons,” DeLillo wrote to his then editor, Elisabeth Sifton. He went on, “The novel is filled with the sounds of people’s voices, with sirens, loudspeakers, bullhorns, kitchen appliances, with radio and TV transmissions, with references to beams, rays, sound waves, etc. . . . Jack, listening to people talk on the telephone and musing on his own death, thinks ‘all sounds, all souls.’ (Page 369.) Again the notion of pan-sonus connected to a fear of death. There is still another instance in which Greek roots are important. Jack associates the god Pan with his fear of death.” The archive also contains two pages of other titles that DeLillo concocted—from “All Souls” and “Ultrasonic” to “White Noise”—written in jumpy capital letters.

Anyway, things in this issue that specially caught my attention: Eric Banks on Marianne Wiggins; Geoff Nicholson on Anna Kavan; Ed Park on Matthew Sharpe; Stefanie Sobelle on Gabriel Josipovici (I've got to read that guy!); Janine Armin on Wayne Koestenbaum; Carla Blumenkranz on Anne Fadiman (I bought that collection this weekend in Cambridge and read most of it last night, what a delightful artifact--post to come...).

Biggest puzzle: Tom LeClair's scathing takedown of Matt Ruff's new novel. He really, really hated this novel; go and take a look at the review if you want to see an example of just rabid dislike! The puzzle for me--I haven't read the new one, Bad Monkeys, it's not out till August [ARC, anyone?], but I think it sounds absolutely wonderful!--is that two of Matt Ruff's three previous novels are among my particular most-recommended favorites. If you haven't read Fool on the Hill and (especially) Set This House In Order, you are missing out on two magically good books!

And though LeClair's piece is rather passionately negative, it only makes me want to read the new one more, it sounds to my tastes altogether delightful! This is clearly the inverse of another phenomenon I have noticed, the glowing review that convinces me I would absolutely hate the book (Jennifer Egan on Cormac McCarthy's latest is a good example on this, I simply cannot read a book where people cook and eat a human baby and it's not savagely funny).


  1. How old is this Jenny person anyway?

  2. I could tell that you were having generational disgust! It really was a beautifully & comically well-written negative review--you really hate those books, eh? But I find them very delightful, and I suppose it may have to do with my age--born in 1971--pretty much the target audience, I expect...

  3. Just caught up with Jenny's response. Waiting to hear what she thought of the actual "book." Nah, 1971 is no excuse. Maybe 1991. But if one needs confirmation of my scorn for Ruff's sensibility, take a look at his blog.