Since I was thrust into this guest blogger position over the weekend, I have been frantic with the brainstorming. What should I write about? I don't really want to talk about the usual things folks ask me: How do I get my zine into Powell's? What's Zoe Trope really like? Can I borrow your stapler? When are you getting married to Regina Spektor?
Instead, how about some good ol' angst? Literary hate ? or its little brother snark ? can be entertaining, if it's done well. If I gripe about the right things at least I might get some comments. I have learned from my new Portland blogger friends (like Melissa Lion
and Face of the Cookie
) that comments are like gold stars. "Please give me some gold stars," he whines.
But wait. I can't spend all day complaining. I'm a nice guy, really. Or so they tell me. How about if I mix it up and give you some current loves and hates?
LOVE: Entertainment Weekly and Paste. These are two magazines that feature great articles about various entertainments. EW is obviously the more commercial of the two and I love that they usually have six pages of book coverage and smart (though brief) reviews. Earlier this year we had an event with members of the National Book Critics Circle and some folks were surprised when EW came up as a pretty great champion of contemporary literature. Paste, though mostly a music mag, also has superb book coverage, with several pages of fiction and nonfiction reviews, usually leaning more to lesser-known books. I heart me some great book coverage in my magazines. And Paste's free CDs are sweet, too.
HATE: Arts magazines who think they're too cool for books. Tokion is guilty of having no book coverage. And Paper magazine might look stylish but, also, without any book coverage; it's as vapid as a trust fund hipster. I even wrote them a letter last year about how deplorable it is for them to call themselves a culture magazine and not have any mention of books or authors. They never responded.
LOVE: Books on the web and on TV. There are some cool new venues for authors to appear. Like Dan Menaker's web gem Title Page. I don't understand why this wave is taking so long, though. If someone says "books" in a TV board meeting, do their bosses not understand? How about if you pitched something as marketable as "This American Life, but on TV"? Or are we convinced that people who listen to NPR don't watch television. I would love to see more bold visionaries develop literary TV programming. One morning last year I attended a breakfast with Pat Schroeder (president of the Association of American Publishers) at Portland's Tin House. I brought up the idea of more book coverage on TV to her and Tin House moneybags Win McCormack. He humored my idea with his usual smirky expression but hasn't followed up with me about being Vice President of Operations. Imagine it though: Tin House TV. Pat Schroeder thought it was a great concept but I guess some of the best ideas are ignored.
HATE: C-Span's Book TV is so the polar opposite of what I want from book coverage. Instead of dry-as-chalk lectures featuring old white guys talking about their World War II days, how about throwing in someone under 50 once in a while. You could even pull an insane stunt and show a poetry reading! C'mon, Book TV, even Charlie Rose has more balls than you.
LOVE: My Current Big Three: Noon magazine, Donald Ray Pollock, Chelsea Martin. I'm a big fan of flash fiction and especially stories that blur the lines of poetry, weirdness, and accessibility. Noon, published by the great Diane Williams, is always so surprising and entertaining. It only comes out once a year and it also stands out with its elegant design. Donald Ray Pollock, who blogged here a few weeks ago, breaks all sorts of rules and just flat out kicks my butt with his debut, Knockemstiff. Chelsea Martin is a young artist and writer in Oakland that I discovered last year in the Future Tense slush pile. (Check out her website, JerkEthics.com.) I'm putting out a book by her later in the year. She's like an amazing blend of Harmony Korine and Deb Olin Unferth. Equal doses of talent and perversity.
HATE: Short story collections full of pieces that are exactly 20 or 30 pages long. I'm not going to go on an anti-MFA tirade here but c'mon, people, do you have to be so cookie-cutter? I sometimes wonder if this is why some people think the short story is dead. I'm not going to name names but there are plenty (one word hint: Iowa). That's another reason why I love Pollock's book. The stories vary in length. They tell the tale and get the job done. I never get the feeling that he is writing for some acceptable word count. So many writers these days reek of that vibe. You can smell the fear of a bad letter-grade underneath their longwinded work. What happened to the direct brevity of classic short story writers like Raymond Carver?