Chabon on MFA programs and being a little shit

This is interesting. Michael Chabon was a student of my father’s in the UCI MFA program more than 20 years ago. He’s been a family friend since, and I also admire his writing.

In his website column this week he writes about the value of the program. He’s given props to my dad before by name, many times, which was gratifying. This is more interesting. He talks about the phenomenon of being “a little shit” as he says he was, or more particularly a talented by self-absorbed young privileged man, and then being dumped into a group of peers who were talented and also different: older, more experienced, more mature, and more than half of them female.

Food for thought, especially on the topic of male literary misogyny. Oh, and I see it was published in Details, the magazine of little shits everywhere.

Good bye, Mr. Lem

Stanislaw Lem is dead.

He was an underrated and overlooked genius; it’s not hyperbole to call him the Polish Borges. His body of work included some of the funniest and most inventive science fiction, mysteries, other novels, and essays. He wrote about space exploration, the horrors of war, the mathematical patterns of life, and the insides of our very strange brains.

I would give my left nut to write like him.

lem official site

My Orwellian Day

Nick and I talked for about an hour about Orwell and specifically 1984. People use the word “Orwellian” a lot or say “That’s so 1984“, but it’s a lot more than just totalitarianism and the abuse of language. 1984 is rich in detail and just about every single little detail is accurate almost to the degree of prophecy. If you haven’t read it, or haven’t read it in the last decade, go read.

Later I saw a regular whose name I didn’t know reading Orwell from a magazine reprint. I buttonholed him and said “Orwell! Good stuff!” and we had a big talk. He’s a high school teacher and was preparing lessons. I told him about the big fat cheap Orwell essays book. He said “Animal Farm is the book I recommend for my friends who don’t read, because it’s so easy and short and so full of huge ideas.” I really liked him. I also pointed him towards Politics and the English Language, about which he had forgotten.

Then I went to Mother’s and bought groceries and the cost was $19.84. At one point I was on a screen at the checkout that said “19.84: YES OR NO?” and to get my food I had to click YES. I clicked it. They fed me. I loved Big Mother.

In unrelated news I found out that the-silent-one has a GUN hanging in her DOGHOUSE. You’ve been warned.

notes from underwear

Food note: Today I rediscovered the beauty of a whole fat fresh scallion sautéed just until the green changes.

Geek note: It takes all freakin’ day to compile KDE.

Drink note: The Macallan 12 year is a beautiful thing and on sale for $38 at Hi-Time.

Car note: based on an observation in the Hi-Time parking lot, the Lotus Elise is a beautiful thing if and only if you do not get it in a loud lime green color.

Love note: salome_st_john rules

End note: Everyone needs to read (more) Graham Greene


nrrd: Wow, best name for a video game evar: ” Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka 2: Evening on the Eve of Ivan Kupal Holiday”
nrrd: And nothing says “mainstream success” like “based on a Nikolai Gogol novel”
ignatz: I never beat the end guy in “Dead Souls”
nrrd: You have to use the magic cloak

As promised, Stahl delivers the coup de grace on Frey

FREE JAMES FREY! In defense of the post-truth memoir

Why bother with accuracy when the feelings are real? Was it three hours in an empty office, or three months behind bars? Doesn’t matter! What the writer felt when the stuff that really happened was going on is exactly the same as what his character feels when stuff that didn’t really happen goes on in the book. And that’s what the reader feels. Keep up with me here…

If anyone had listened: the Exile on Frey from last year

The Exile had James Frey pegged on Day One and even more so on Day Two, even before he was unmasked as a proven fake.

just another dry drunk asshole. They’re popular these days. Representative quotes:

Rehab stories provide a way for pampered trust-fund brats like Frey to claim victim status. These swine already have money, security and position and now want to corner the market in suffering and scars, the consolation prizes of the truly lost.

Frey got those anecdotes the no-risk way: he stole them from a real druggie/criminal author. A much better and more honest one, a guy named Eddie Little-specifically, Frey looted Little’s great debut novel, Another Day in Paradise.

The accusation of theft from Eddie Little is interesting; I’ll have to find that book.

Thanks to salome_st_john for pointing this one out.

Nonfiction Nation

The real reason James Frey and J.T. Leroy are depressing is that they show us once again that we’re unimaginative people who won’t buy a made-up story. It has to be real, just as it happened, and authentic because it was written by the person who was there! And even if the writing itself is fiction, it has to be written by someone who is real! Not one of those writers who sits in a room writing, but a soldier or a movie star or someone who was brutally abused as a child, and will talk about it on TV.

If Frey had written a novel about an alcoholic criminal fuckup and his journey through life, or if that couple in SF had presented J.T. Leroy as a fictional protagonist, they might have got a $20,000 advance and no royalties if they were very, very lucky.

Imagination is left to the kids, who get to enjoy Harry Potter having made-up adventures in a much more interesting world. Long live J.K. Rowling!

Harry and Edmund’s excellent adventure

Today’s blogtastic memesplosion is the anti Narnia piece in the Guardian. It’s a crock of shit.

As a former Christian I have no brief to defend the faith. However, I loved the Narnia books growing up and I still enjoy them. They’re in the great tradition of English children’s books, presenting a group of kids separated from their parents and forced to deal with magic, evil, strange new worlds, death, and their own character. I grew up reading E. Nesbit’s classics like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, and devoured the entirety of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series. All of these books were written within thirty years of the turn of the century, and depict a lily-white sheltered imperial England that is completely foreign to modern children. They are not tuned to modern sensibilities, and parts of them are inexplicable or offensive today. As it happens, E. Nesbit was a Fabian Socialist and Arthur Ransome was a Communist who ended his life in the Soviet Union. C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, was a red-faced beef-eating English conservative and Christian convert whose books are obvious Christian allegories.

You can’t ignore Lewis’s religious ideas. He’s not a subtle guy. Creation and Fall, the betrayal and crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the challenge of Islam, and the Apocalypse are all covered in the Narnia books. As children of secular humanist liberal intellectual agnostics, my brother and I read the Narnia books as pure fantasy, and only later did we learn the allegorical meaning. Certainly I was prepared for the Christian story later in life at least in part because I’d been emotionally moved as a kid by Lewis’s lion-Christ.

Polly Toynbee’s clumsy hatchet job treats Lewis and the filmed interpretation of his book the way Bill O’Reilly treats Cindy Sheehan. She’s helped by Disney’s clumsy promotion of the film using churches and churchy music, no doubt a result of Mel Gibson’s success with his emetic Passion S&M romp. They’re movie promo idiots. And the movie may well be awful. But American 21st century evangelical culture is not Lewis’s fault. The attempt to somehow make the Narnia books into a fundamentalist political statement is a failure whether it’s the churchy types or the atheists doing so. They’re children’s fantasy books with the most vanilla Christian allegory imaginable behind them. There are far more heavy-handed and sectarian things dumped on kids in this country every day, starting with the entirety of Christmas entertainment. Our whole culture is immersed in Jesus Twee.

She doesn’t like Christ as a lion and wants him as a lamb. He’s both in the Narnia universe. He’s a powerful and dangerous living God (“not a tame lion”) and also a murder victim. Lewis’s often frightening lion-God is a hint of adult spirituality for children who’ve been fed happy-Jesus in a world that clearly is more like coffee than like candy. It’s a dangerous and flawed universe, and God is not your pet.

Eventually Toynbee loses her shit completely and starts blaming Lewis’s story for Christianity itself. The best quote is Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls.. Um, that is Christianity. The rest is setup and explanation. Later, she says that …Lewis weaves his dreams to invade children’s minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy – but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism. Yes, again, that’s Christianity. It’s also adulthood, and it’s not sadistic to present suffering and guilt in a fantasy novel intended for older children and young adults. Not to do so is to insult their intelligence and maturity.

The clearest descendent of Lewis’s Narnia stories today is J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular series of novels about the young magician Harry Potter. Like Lewis’s children, Harry is fated from birth to do great things. Like them, he is taken out of the everyday world of English children into a magical one. And like them, he increasingly confronts a dark and puzzling world that has evil and sadness mixed in with the magic and joy. You don’t have to believe in sorcery to bond with Harry and his friends; you just have to be a kid or remember what it was to be one, and follow him through that discovery of grown-up successes, failures, and emotions.

In the same way it’s not necessary to believe in Jesus or in a magic world of talking animals and mythical creatures, ruled by a God-like lion, to enjoy the Narnia books. They’re about childhood and testing your child’s strength against an adult world. The religious marketers pushing Lewis’s fiction and this new film in Christian bookstores will be forgotten fifty years from now but the books will remain.

Conservative religious types will attack Harry for his witchcraft and apparently anti-Christian activists need to bite Lewis as well. The kids know better in both cases.