Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why I have an aching adolescent hatred of almost everything

In the Reporter this morning: a rewritten press release about an HBO series in development about a 'feminist icon' played by Diane Keaton who 'attempts to reignite the (feminist) movement by starting a sexually explicit magazine for women.'

'We've come a long way since the Kinsey Report; women are more sexual now', sez Marti Noxon, one of the producers.

The original idea was to have a young feminist work at a porn magazine, but when they decided to have the lead be a feminist icon, like Gloria Steinem, the whole thing fell into place.

"There are a lot of similarities between Diane and Gloria Steinem," Parouse Olmstead (the other producer) said. "They both grew up in the '50s, a period marked by women finding their relevance sexually, and Diane has been attracted to roles about women exploring their sexuality in films like 'Something's Gotta Give.' "

Keaton has played feminist icons: She portrayed journalist Louise Bryant in 1981 film "Reds" and aviator Amelia Earhart in the 1994 telefilm "Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight."

As I sink into my final rest and the cup of hemlock falls from my hands, I will be haunted by women "finding their relevance sexually." and by feminist porn made for horny males on HBO.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Invisible Library

This New York Times essay by Ed Park leads to Park's Invisible Library website, which is an extensive alphabetized encyclopedia of fictional books, like "The King in Yellow" (from the short story of the same name by Robert W. Chambers), whose readers are so frightened that they lose the will to live, and my favorite rebuke to Richard Dawkins, the books of Oolon Colliphid, from the Hitchiker's Guide (itself belonging, of course, to the Invisible Library), entitled "Where God Went Wrong", "Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes", and "Who is this God Person, Anyway?"

Extra credit to the list of the works of Benno Archimbaldi, from Roberto Bolano, an aficionado of the Invisible Library, whose book "Nazi Literature in the Americas" consists entirely of brief descriptions of non-existent writers and their books. (Not recommended for reading in public.)

Park's list name-checks Nabokov, Powell, Harry Stephen Keeler, John Crowley, and Synecdoche, N.Y.. Clearly a man of wide reading.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tulkinghorn bites the hand that feeds him

What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed: (courtesy of Andrew Sullivan)


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tulkinghorn's Commonplace Book

Grant Morrison, comics fan favorite making the big move to Hollywood, burns his bridges:

(From the Hollywood Reporter)

"I don't care about geeks, you know. Geeks shouldn't be given power. When geeks get power, you get Hitler. "


Monday, July 20, 2009

Tulkinghorn's new favorite critic

A sci-fi writer, blogger and critic named Adam Roberts reviewing the new novel by Alastair Reynolds:

.... if it is your contention that the face of SF 2009 is Asimov’s mutton-chops and meaty NHS-style-but-presumably-not-actually-NHS-what-with-him-being-American glasses, and if you're not bothered by bourgeois heteronormativity, then this is most definitely the book for you.


The young Tulkinghorn

In his dreams, but still...

The new Doctor doesn't look quite as much like the star of Twilight as one feared.

More like Bill Nye the Science Guy.

The cryptic accompanying text makes me realize what TV obsessives like me sound like to those who aren't TV obsessives. There may be someone in the small audience for this blog who can understand this without research. If so, congratulations.

The full picture is a portrait frame – looking at their legs completely makes the look. Smith's ankle-height leather boots, giving a modern flourish to the tweed, the combination together placing him spiritually a lot closer to modern day Hoxton. And they've given Karen a miniskirt, grey tights and red sneakers (plucked from Tennant's shivering corpse, we wonder?) Followers of Moffatt's work who went through puberty at the turn of the 90s will be very excited indeed. Because as I predicted when Gillan's casting was announced, she appears modelled (physically at least) on his finest-ever creation, Lynda Day of the Junior Gazette in Press Gang.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Tulkinghorn listens to Smiley

More BBC? Hey, it's my world...

Radio 4 has launched a significantly ambitious long form dramatization of "The Complete Smiley" The first two novels -- Smiley is a minor character -- have already been broadcast, but "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" has just started (Smiley again somewhat minor) with the glories of the Karla Trilogy to come in the winter.

Casting is great: Brian Cox -- everybody's favorite British non-star -- is Leamas, the main character (Burton in the movie) in Spy, and the wonderful Simon Russell Beale will be Smiley throughout.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tulkinghorn sez: Choose your fantasy

I had a conversation over lunch yesterday with a good friend who has indulged, perhaps unwisely, on too many mopey detective novels.

With particular reference to Ian Rankin, he noted that

" They're all fantasies, you know.... But Rex Stout admits it and at least gives you a good time. Guys like Rankin give you fantasies that are grim and depressing -- unrealistically so -- while claiming an unearned profundity."

Right. So. Choose your fantasy. Resist the grim. Habituate yourself to the vast -- or at least to the enthusiastic.

By wonderful coincidence, I found the antidote to the grim just a couple of hours later. A new touchstone.

Floating in the pool, recovering from lunching too well, I read the following in a Penguin Classic collection of the Arsene Lupin stories ("Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief", written in the early years of the twentieth century by Maurice Leblanc). Among other things, it's the best seduction of the year:

" That is life," he said. "When one knows how to use one's eyes. Adventure exists everywhere, in the meanest hovel, under the mask of the wisest of men. Everywhere, if you are only willing, you will find an excuse for excitement, for doing good, for saving a victim, for ending an injustice.

She murmured:

"Who are you exactly?"

"An adventurer. Nothing more..... Life is not worth living except in moments of adventure... Become the companion of my adventures. If anyone calls on me for help, help him with me. If chance or instinct puts me on the track of a crime, or the trace of a sorrow, let us both set out together. Do you consent?"

"Yes," she said....


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Best genre cross-over


America will soon be habituated to the vast

I have written here before about Richard Holmes's Age of Wonder, to be published in this country next Tuesday.

It got a money review from Janet Maslin in the NYT this morning (it's at #26 on Amazon), and she gets it, as she so often seems to do:

William Herschel, the German-born, star-gazing musician who effectively doubled the size of the solar system with a single discovery in 1781, was not regarded as a scientist. That word had not been coined during most of the era that will now be known, thanks to Richard Holmes’s amazingly ambitious, buoyant new fusion of history, art, science, philosophy and biography, as “The Age of Wonder.” And Mr. Holmes’s excitement at fusing long-familiar events and personages into something startlingly new is not unlike the exuberance of the age that animates his groundbreaking book..... a kind of throwaway brilliance... makes it so enthralling.

You can hear a fifteen minute talk by Holmes about the influence of Herschel on Haydn here


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another movie released before "The Wild Bunch"

"You bastard!"

"Yes, sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, sir, are a self made man."


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Now that's more like it!


Song promo 1.

Song promo 2.

July 31.



Terrific, somewhat old interview in the Guardian, by Nicholas Wroe, with another touchstone writer:

Speaking in the offices of her French publisher in a courtyard just off the Place de la Bastille in Paris, [Fred] Vargas exudes the focused intensity of the proselytising political activist. But she says her roles as scientist, campaigner and novelist are essentially separate. "I don't think the detective story is there to change social reality. As a historian, I know that decisive victories in social and political problems are not made by authors. Émile Zola did it with J'accuse, but that wasn't a novel. The novel serves other purposes, which are just as important and deep in their own way, but they are different to politics."

Vargas sees the novel, and the detective story in particular, as fulfilling some of the same functions as Greek tragedy. In This Night's Foul Work, Adamsberg travels out to a Normandy village where the locals' caustic observations on his investigation resemble nothing so much as a Greek chorus. "I like to use these people from villages. Theirs are the voices that never move and never change." She makes a low humming noise. "I think of the story like an orchestra with the violins and the brass at the front taking forward the action. But at the back are basses" - more low humming - "making a noise that comes from eternity. I know the Normans very well because my mother's family is from there. But for me they represent all village people, and by extension some sense of elemental humanity."


She says she has a theory of art, into which the crime novel fits, that goes back to Neolithic times. "I think art emerged as a sort of medicine to deal with the fact that we are afraid, alone, small and weak in a dangerous world. But we are not like all the other animals and cannot live with just a pragmatic and realistic life. So we invent a second reality, similar but not identical to ours, into which we escape to confront these perils."

Her work is defiantly not realistic in that Adamsberg drives just a car, not, say, a Renault, and we don't know what he eats or wears or listens to. "In real life, I love clothes and labels and shops. But not in my novels. It becomes too precise."

She unexpectedly cites Agatha Christie as a model.

"Holmes is rightly thought to be brilliant, and people now laugh at Christie. But I see links between her and the mythology I read when I was young, and I think she was conscious of it, too. Like her, I want to tell a story that identifies and deals with the dangers we face. It's no longer wild animals, but the fears are just as real, so I make a journey with the reader, confront the horror of humanity, and deliver them safely home. Instinctively we feel better and can sleep soundly. Then, in the morning when the sun comes up, we can again face the world and move forward."

Marcel Proust
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Ernest Hemingway
Agatha Christie
Arthur Conan Doyle


Friday, July 3, 2009

Tulkinghorn's Prayers Answered

The greatest traditional novel of the last twenty years -- and the longest -- gets a sequel

Dumb title, though... "A Suitable Girl"


Tulkinghorn's Touchstone

As Edgar in Lear says:

.....the worst is not
So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'

Close though.



C.I.: Michael Blowhard.

Partly on the assumption that M. Amis has a fairly sophisticated understanding of these matters.

Herewith: the writer Leonard praises toward the end of the interview.

And after the jump, Leonard's famous "10 Rules of Writing."

In an illuminating July 4th conversation, the implications and limitations of this list were clarified. Many, if not all, of the rules aim, as Leonard says, to make the writer invisible. But many of the writers we most enjoy are highly visible (or audible) in their work. Listening to their voices telling us the story is a large part of the pleasure of Lawrence Sterne, Charles Dickens (in fact, almost all of the Victorians), P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, and on and on. So with a grain of salt...

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series.


These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories “Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.




Oh, blurgh