Reading Roundup for Late May

Here’s what I’ve read during these past few weeks.

The Aspern Papers by Henry James. This is not the first time I have read this short masterpiece of fiction. His strengths as a writer are on full display here, such as his ability to delineate subtle emotional shifts and show the levers of power in interpersonal relationships. This novella is told by a nameless narrator who is obsessed with a long-dead poet. The narrator finds out that the poet’s very old mistress is living in Venice and might have some personal effects of the poet: the Aspern Papers of the title. He aims to get them any way possible, but when they are offered to him, he finds the price, though not financial, is simply to high. Recommended for people new to Henry James.

Life by Keith Richards. Another rock n’ roll memoir. Unlike Steven Adler’s memoir, Richards is a more entertaining and self-reflective storyteller. From meeting Mick Jagger when they were kids, (they literally lived on the other side of the tracks from each other with Mick in the more fashionable part of town) to his drug-addled relationship with Anita Pallenberg, to taking his seven-year-old son Marlon on tour with him, his many attempts to get clean, and up through his fights with Mick, it’s a fascinating read about his life before and during his essential membership in the Rolling Stones. Rock n’ roll will never be new again and there will never be another band like the Rolling Stones. Recommended for Music Fans.

La Perdida by Jessica Abel. So far this is among the best graphic novels I have ever read. It’s a story about a naive young woman named Carla who moves to Mexico City to visit an ex-boyfriend and discover her “Mexican” roots, and ends up becoming the catalyst for and getting involved in something much more dangerous. There are references to Kerouac, Kahlo, and Burroughs, with plenty of  questions about what’s authentic in experiencing a foreign culture. I sympathized with Carla while wanting to shake her out of her cluelessness. Recommended for People Who Are Young (at Heart) and Like to Wander.

Is the Publishing Industry Dead Already?

Over at the Daily Beast, Dale Peck thinks so. He has a wonderful rant about the Publishing Industry. Peck is a First Class Ranter, even when I don’t wholly agree with him. I must confess that I have yet to read any of his fiction…

One of Peck’s examples for his thesis about the sorry state of publishing was the removal of the word “nigger” from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,

According to Suzanne La Rosa of NewSouth (!) Books, the decision to replace the word “nigger” with the word “slave“ was done to “sav[e] the books.” According to the editor, Alan Gribben, “Both novels can be enjoyed deeply and authentically,” not despite the change, but because of it.

This is a lie. I know it, you know it, and Alan Gribben and Suzanne La Rosa know it—and if they don’t know it, then God knows they have no business editing fiction or educating children.

What’s funny about this isn’t just that Peck is correct in his judgment on this point. It’s that here’s something that the editors attached to the very end of Peck’s essay.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an offensive headline that violated The Daily Beast’s standards. The headline was removed when senior editors were made aware of it. We apologize for the error.

Am I the only one who notices this irony? Does anyone know what the original “offensive” headline was?

Anyway, Peck’s ultimate opinion on publishing being dead is encapsulated here,

This is not a publishing industry worth fighting for, not least because it isn’t the publishing industry as we have been taught to think of it—a high-minded cultural enterprise facilitating the flow of books from writers to readers—but because the woeful state of publishing today is the industry’s fault—and when I say “industry” I include, most especially, writers, because it is we who have allowed publishing companies and retailers to dictate the terms by which we turn our words into books and deliver our books to readers. And those terms, to put it as bluntly as possible, are fucked. New York publishers make Detroit automakers look like geniuses. They give away the bulk of their money—of our money—to a series of increasingly irrelevant, monopolistic, intermediaries, and, on top of that, allow retailers to return merchandise they can’t sell—at the publisher’s expense—for a full refund. They spend virtually nothing on promotion, relying instead on a fast-disappearing review culture, and, most damningly, they not only refuse to change the way they do business, but expect writers to bear the brunt of the disaster in the form of decreased advances, sales, and opportunities to publish work that doesn’t fit into an increasingly homogenized marketplace.

I thought after reading this that if the publishing industry is dead, then it’s got a deceptively good looking zombie corpse.

Then later today, I found out courtesy of PassiveGuy’s Twitter account, that the Kardashians are writing a novel! zOMG! And there’s a contest!

The currently untitled novel, written by Kourtney, Kim and Khloé Kardashian, needs a title! All you have to do is come up with the winning title which will be featured on this gorgeous, leopard-print cover.

I think it is now safe to say that the U.S. Publishing Industry will be buried in a leopard print colored coffin at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Happy Now? by Katherine Shonk

My review of Katherine Shonk’s Happy Now? is up at PopMatters.

Claire’s husband kills himself on Valentine’s Day during a party by leaping off the balcony of a Chicago high-rise building. It so happens that it was the three year anniversary of the couple’s first date. Jay, who suffered from depression, didn’t leave behind a suicide note. Instead, he left behind a binder, organized by subject such as finances, Fang the cat, and his car.

As always, enjoy.

Reading Roundup for May

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I loved this story and I loved Jane Eyre. Yes, there is a “and they lived happily everafter” quality to the ending. But whow doesn’t admire Jane’s spirit, intelligence, and independence? Well, my 16 year-old self sure didn’t when this book was thrust into his hands in high school for a literature class. Then again, there was quite a lot my 16-year-old self was incapable of understanding and appreciating. So glad I dusted this copy off the shelf and took the time to read it. A rightful classic. Recommended for Women of All Ages With a Bit of Spirit and For Men Who Admire Women Who Have a Bit of Spirit.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. Laura Chase drives her car off a bridgeshortly after the end of the Second World War; it’s ruled an accident. Her sister Iris knows better. The title of the novel is the title of the novel within the novel authored by Laura. It’s about a woman and a man conducting a clandestine relationship during the late 1930’s in Toronto, Canada. The rest of the novel is Iris’s story, spanning her and her parents’ lives from before the First World War, through the Great Depression, the Second World War and up to the 1990’s. How both Iris’ life and the novel-within-the-novel are tied together becomes clear as the story progresses from Iris’ privileged youth, her arranged marriage to (much older) industrialist Richard Griffen, and her subsequent lifelong rivalry with her haughty sister-in-law. As in Cat’s Eye (another fantastic novel), Atwood is masterful at showing how power in a relationship is taken and lost, and on what it rests. Recommended for People Who Like Literary High-wire Acts.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I sort of read this my freshman year in high school for a literature class. By “sort of” I mean “not really,” faking my way through discussions and my assignments. I’m glad I finally read it. Dickens is an entertaining storyteller. His characters are eccentrically distinct, from Miss Havisham to Joe Gargery. Towards the end you keep expecting it to end at any moment, but Dickens drags it out a bit, though it didn’t feel like a drag. You can tell he was writing to get paid by the installment. I think most writers would come off as needlessly prolonging the story. Dickens does not in this novel. Recommended for Those Who Are Curious About Strict Class boundaries in Victorian England.

Note: This was the first book I read completely on my Sony Reader. It went without a hitch.

My Appetite for Destruction by Steven Adler. If I ever get the chance to meet Steven Adler, former drummer for one of my all-time favorite bands Guns n’ Roses, I’m going to ask, “How the fuck are you still alive?” This memoir contains his (somewhat hazy) recollections of his life before, during, and after Guns n’ Roses. There is a lot of drugs and a lot of sex. But mostly drugs. Which caused him to have a stroke at one point and his speech is slurred because of it to this day. He pretty much spent the years from his teens until his early forties on drugs (weed, cocaine, heroin).

Oh, and if there was any doubt, Axl Rose, for all of his talents as a frontman, is one of the biggest assholes to have ever worked in Rock n’ Roll.

One interesting note: Adler says their “independently” done album Live Like a Suicide, was neither independently financed nor live. It was financed by Geffen to give them some “street cred,” and it was recorded live…in the studio with all the crowd cheering taken from other bands’ shows and added in.

Recommended for People Interested in the Cost of the Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle.