Monday, November 29, 2010

Reader's report

The first reader of the ms. of the first two volumes of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy was Lasse Bergstrom, "the legendary publisher-in-chief of Nosredts ... who had published all sorts of writers from Sjowall and Wahloo to Ingmar Bergman. It was clear from his report that he had read all 1300 or so pages in scarcely five days..."

"What is new about Stieg Larsson in relation to Sjowall and Wahloo, Mankell, Edwardson and other successful Swedes in a genre with rather too many practitioners is that he has a kind of encyclopedic gift for literary tension and entertainment, and without any apparent effort can move between different planes of action with barely a noticeable change of gear. It is no coincidence that the two novels are long. Larsson is able to keep several plots going at the same time, and to bring all the threads together at the end. ... But what distinguishes Larsson's two novels definitely from Swedish predecessors in the genre in not just the quick-change feats but above all his choice of principle characters. The dogged journalist Blomqvist no doubt has literary forebears, but I find it hard to think of an equivalent of Lisbeth Salander anywhere else in the worlds of crime novels or films. ... Larsson portrays her with both tenderness and humor, and against all odds the way he does it becomes if not credible at least vigorous and absorbing."

Praise indeed from one of our leading publishers for over half a century, and a man well-read in crime fiction.
-- from Gedin, Eva. "Working With Stieg Larsson." From On Stieg Larsson, in the Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set.


Murakami on why writing is like running

This has some bearing on the recent Scarlett Thomas/Mary Gordon posts about the practical hand work of creativity. From What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a coffee cup, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn’t as peaceful a job as it seems.

The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you. Everybody uses their mind when they think. But a writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being, and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tulkinghorn's retirement: Not without reason....

The Tulkinghorn project, if you will, always had psychological pitfalls -- a mask that looked so much like my own face might become hard to pull off. Turned out to be true, much to my own chagrin and David's, and the constant irritation of maintaining the high-minded yet charmless role was not only not fun, but damaging to a number of things I cared about.

Be that as it may, I came across in the most recent issue of the New Yorker (11/29/10 not available on line except on the other side of an unscalable wall) an astonishing essay by James Wood that forcefully threw all that back at me. Thus, this: the first of probably many Tulkinghorn farewell tours.

Wood writes at length about Keith Moon and Wood's own love of drumming. (This was a bit like finding out that Proust was a baseball fan.) Wood writes as well and with as much technical facility about the differences between The Who and Led Zepplin as he does about Saul Bellow and Franz Kafka.

Reading this excerpt from a much longer autobiographical paragraph felt like having my face slammed into a wall. Speaks for itself, I think:

Nowadays, I see schoolkids bustling along the sidewalk, their large instrument cases strapped to them like coffins, and I know the weight of their obedience. Happy obedience, too: that cello or French horn brings lasting joy, and a repertoire more demanding and subtle than rock music's. But fuck the laudable ideologies, as Roth's Mickey Sabbath puts it: subtlety is not rebellion, and subtlety is not freedom, and it is rebellious freedom that one wants, and, most of the time, only rock music can deliver it. And sometimes one despises oneself, in near middle-age, for being so good.


Friday, November 26, 2010

"Our Tragic Universe"

"We only need fiction because we die."

"...aphrenia, the perception of meaningful connections where in fact there are none." -- Scarlett Thomas

(A key concept for fiction. But while the word is real, the definition appears to be, itself, fictional:

"Aphrenia - uh-FREE-knee-uh - Aphrenia refers to a slowness of thought, or (more precisely) a stoppage of thought. Patients with Parkinson's Disease often report that while they're off their meds, they find that they think at a snail's pace, or not at all. Likewise, some patients with severe dementia have presumably lost the ability to think (though of course we can't be certain since we can't really ask them). This distinction is vital--aphrenia is not an inability to express thought, but an inability to think. Though Parkinson's patients sometimes suffer from a slowness of thought, others think just fine, but cannot express their thoughts because of their movement disorders. The former have aphrenia; the latter do not, and must not be mistaken for people who have completely lost the ability to think or understand what's happening to them.)



On the general moral/ethical questions raised by watching screeners I offer only two notes. First, a sidelong glance at the Indian minority religion of Jainism, which "evokes images of monks wearing face-masks to protect insects and micro-organisms from being inhaled." Second, a link to an earlier post about a staunch vegetarian who occasionally makes exceptions.

Give thanks for the bounty of the season.

BLACK SWAN The horror of heightened body-consciousness among masochistically emaciated workaholic ballet dancers. Acutely aware of bones and muscles moving under the skin, often accompanied by creaking, crackling sound effects. As one of the dancers descends into madness this feels less like Lynch or Cronenberg than the ruthless young Polanski of Repulsion. Highly effective but almost too creepy to be fun to watch.

LET ME IN Shouldn't have to hype the results in a particular case to argue that comparing several adaptations of interesting material is a worthwhile exercise. The story created by novelist John Alvide Lindqvist in Låt den rätte komma in became the moody Swedish movie Let the Right One In, admired mostly for what it refrained from doing by people who don't often enjoy horror pictures. Now the story of the soulful vampire girl ("I've been 12 for a long time"), bonding with a bullied boy in a snowy apartment complex, has been adapted again, with more swoop and dazzle but with somewhat less heart and impact, by wiz kid Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), who refrains a good deal less. The US rendition is as good as the first, but not better, and the variations are not significant. Both films elide what I liked best in the book: a detailed new life cycle for the vampire that makes the familiar phenomena more or less hang together.

RED HILL See below.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK Not prepared for how little the movie actually has to do with Facebook; why people like it, how they use it. Except for the note that it was a geek/outsider's frustrated observation of college mores that led to the breakthrough that "relationship status" was the key variable. In terms of running time, the movie is mostly a series of deposition hearings, in two lawsuits, with amplifying flashbacks; meetings in which issues of collaboration, intellectual property and the moral right to claim authorship are hashed over. (When many people contribute, how do you isolate the defining contribution?) In dramatic terms it's about watching somebody build something that grows and grows until it becomes so huge that a bunch of other people are driven to try to destroy it. It's the Fountainhead of the Internet.

WINTER'S BONE Heard this one described as "arty," recently, when it seems to me it's the deadpan/declarative antithesis of the fancy schmanciness that implies. Director Debra Granik'a uninflected naturalism is applied to a hillbilly-noir detective story, by Daniel Woodrell, set in the clannish, meth-cooking Ozarks. Both film and novel are textbook examples of how the framework of a genre story can be used to chart a path through complex material, to open up an exotic milieu. The ambiguous "solution" to the central mystery reveals something about the code these seemingly feral people live by that could not easily be made apparent by other means. Perfectly calibrated performances by Jennifer Lawrence, a local discovery, and by Deadwood's John Hawkes as the terrifying, surprisingly righteous Uncle Teardrop.

WASN'T ABLE TO GET THROUGH: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (flailing chaos), Stone (too much glum De Niro, not enough naked Milla Jovovich). And the hyped 127 Hours is inconsequential; it didn't succeed in convincing me there was real drama in these events beyond the news mag sensationalism.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pop of King: "Best Films of 2010"

10. Green Zone
9. Jackass 3D
8. Monsters
7. Splice
6. Kick-Ass
5. Takers ("the armored-car heist is the best action sequence I’ve seen this year”)
4. The Social Network
3. Inception
2. The Town
1. Let Me In ("best horror film of the decade")


Covering the Chairman


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Playlist: "Artist's Choice - Elvis Costello"

1. Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)- Louis Armstrong
2. I Love the Life I Live (I Live the Life I Love) - Muddy Waters
3. Yesterdays - Clifford Brown
4. You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin' - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
5. Oh Well, Pt. 1 - Fleetwood Mac
6. Do Right Woman, Do Right Man - Aretha Franklin
7. The Last Time I Saw Richard - Joni Mitchell
8. Tears of Rage - The Band
9. I'm a Mess - Nick Lowe
10. Mr. Fool - George Jones
11. Over Time - Lucinda Williams
12. Does He Love You? - Rilo Kiley
13. I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore - Dusty Springfield
14. Real Emotional Girl - Randy Newman
15. Almost Blue - Diana Krall
16. Peace Like a River - Paul Simon
17. The Love You Save (May Be Your Own) - Joe Tex
18. Bring the Boys Home - Freda Payne


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Music Some Old Guys Like

Cool YouTube comment: "What's with all the teenagers? Was he singing at his granddaughter's birthday party?"

Album reviewed by, of all people, Armond White: "The only cultural equivalent to Olympia’s voluptuous depth is Godard’s late, metaphysical film features where his observation of modern politics, society and art prove the mysteries of the cosmos."

UPDATE: The glow on this one wore off faster than I expected. There are several very good Roxy Music songs, here, but...we already have quite a few of those. No pressing need for another album's worth. Something like that.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Larsson on Larsson

WSJ has excerpts from e-mails Stieg Larsson sent to his editor, published in advance of a new book in which they appear. Larsson emerges from these extracts as thoughtful and self-aware, more so, at least, than some of his detractors have allowed. In the absence on any evidence one way or the other, some readers and critics have seemed oddly invested in the notion that when it came to fiction this 30-year veteran professional writer was a clumsy primitive barreling along heedlessly. Implications drawn from the text can then be dismissed as accidental and inadvertently "revealing."

If Larsson's characters prove to be as durable as I think they will, an investment at some point in a new or revised translation might be worthwhile. There have been complaints from Sweden already that the current (British) translations tidy up Larsson's earthy language tpp much, and add tedious explanations to accounts of political events, presumably deemed to be over the heads of non-Swedish readers.

NB: Our observation that each of the three Millennium volumes falls into a different crime fiction sub-genre (locked room, political thriller, courtroom drama) is nicely echoed in the final graph.

C.I: Tulkinghorn.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not about a cake.

"You better cut it now, because if you let it cool, goddamit, it won't be worth a damn." -- Sonny Boy Williamson


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A key concept

INTERVIEWER - What is most characteristic of poshlust in contemporary writing? Are there temptations for you in the sin of poshlust? Have you ever fallen?

NABOKOV - “Poshlust,” or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol, if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost. Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know. Poshlost speaks in such concepts as “America is no better than Russia” or “We all share in Germany's guilt.”

The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as "the moment of truth," "charisma," "existential" (used seriously), "dialogue" (as applied to political talks between nations), and “vocabulary” (as applied to a dauber). Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost. Belonging to a very select club (which sports one Jewish name—that of the treasurer) is genteel poshlost. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a great novelist. One of poshlost's favorite breeding places has always been the Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the tools of wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouvés in latrines, cannonballs, canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots—all of it as corny in its own right as the academic “September Morns” and “Florentine Flowergirls” of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody has his bête noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the snack served by an obsequious wench to a young couple—she eyeing ecstatically the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, "Death in Venice." You see the range.
"And of course..."

More here



One of the things I like about Mary Gordon's novel "Spending" is its emphasis on the day-to-day aspects of a creative process. "I have a show at a major gallery in six months, so I need a subject for a series of paintings."

A similar note from Stephen King, who says he rarely thinks about the "themes" of his stories; that a recitation of plot is often his only response when someone asks him what a book is "about." ("It's about a guy who ...") Thinking about theme is only helpful, he says, when he gets stuck and doesn't know what should happen next. Formulating the theme can help him generate new developments.

Which is not say that all big name writers who gas on about the importance of their themes are blowing smoke. Only most.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Judd Apatow on "The Future of Content"

On the Joys of Access
I was at this restaurant, and the waitress walked up to me and said, "I was an interrogator in Iraq, and we watched all your movies, and it really made our lives better ... We really needed the break." And it was just this fantastic thing that we can watch and download these things over there.

On His Twitter Life
Right before bed I will [post] a picture of how horrendous I look. I'll say, "How do I look?" and people will insult me for 20 minutes. I sit in bed laughing. I'm deliriously joyful at this weird, instant connection with the crowd.

On Piracy
It doesn't [bother me] because I can't be the guy who's like Scrooge: "I must get every nickel of this." Maybe a lot of people wouldn't watch a movie or listen to music if it weren't free. By the end of high school, I had maybe 50 albums, and my kid has hundreds and hundreds of records and songs.

More here


Monday, November 15, 2010

The ex Tweets...

"Patrick hughes' Red Hill aussie western starring true blood's ryan kwanten is quite good. A lean mean unpretentious b-movie."

I only need six characters to say: "Agreed."

A well-executed genre piece like "Red Hill" is the exact movie equivalent of a blues song, working changes on the conventions of a rigidly constrained form.

The relevant Warshow quote describes the Western as "an art form for connoisseurs, where the spectator derives his pleasure from the appreciation of minor variations within the working out of an established order."

Subtlety is not a priority. The Ryan Kwanten character here is named "Shane Cooper," to forestall any doubt about what he (somewhat ironically) represents.

Shane'e nemesis, a hideously burn-scarred aboriginal behemoth, resembles both the implacable avenging redskin in "The Stalking Moon" (one of the last Hollywood Westerns in which an Indian represented uninflected evil) and megalithic slasher Golems such as Michael Myers.

Note, however, that he is also equipped with a billowing duster overcoat and a twangy, Morricone-esque guitar theme, which are hero markers. No Brownie points for anticipating the Politically Correct third act plot reversal.


Sounds good...

Cognitive scientist, musicologist and former rock musician Daniel J. Levitin describes what happens when a Bell Labs researcher named John R. Pierce, who sounds a little (shall we say?) unworldly, asks Levitan to select a few songs and "explain rock music to him."

Pierce listened and kept asking who these people were, what instruments he was hearing, and how they came to sound the way they did. Mostly, he said he liked the timbres of the music. The songs themselves and the rhythms didn't interest him that much, but he found the timbres to be remarkable -- new, unfamiliar and exciting. ... Timbre was what defined rock for Pierce, and it was a revelation to both of us.
Elsewhere Levitan defines timbre ("a kind of tonal color produced in part by overtones from the instrument's vibrations") as everything about the way music sounds that isn't melody, harmony, or rythmn -- in effect, as everything that isn't strictly "musical." Quite an insight. It helps explain why a particular recorded performance of a song becomes definitive in rock in a way that isn't true (or not to the same degree) of jazz or classical pieces. And it helps solidify rock's position as the favorite music of the non-musical.


Thursday, November 11, 2010


Guillermo del Toro addresses the dwindling art film audience during a "Biutiful" panel discussion at the Academy: “You want to buy, I don’t know, your free-range fucking organic chicken. Well guess what, you are about to run out of free-range fucking organic film.”


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


First novels with series characters (Rene Shade & Jack Irish, respectively) by authors who have since become more ambitious -- not by writing longer or abandoning genre formats, but by digging deeper and writing better.

They have a fair amount in common. Both are very firmly rooted in a distinctive, rough locale (the Ozarks, Southeastern Australia) and are intimately aware of distinctions of neighborhood, dialect, clan and family, favoring the sort of claustrophobically close-knit communities in which all the characters seem to be at least distantly related. Both are mas macho sports aficionados, Woodrell steeped in the lore and legend of boxing, Temple of horse racing. (Temple also writes the best descriptions of dogs I think I've ever read.) And both have compressed and rich prose styles designed to make those settings seem dense and menacing.

That, and the fact that their most recent novels (here and here) are innovative eye-openers, right up there with the best of Kate Atkinson.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Almost as wonderful as Rilo Kiley


Friday, November 5, 2010

HG now "Hungry Guggenheim"

(Less famous brother of Jackie Gleason Show character Crazy Guggenheim.)

A friend notes that HG and the Guggenheim are glancingly on the same page in endorsing a certain innovative (and to some infuriating) video production. Scroll down to number seven in the museums's honor roll of "the most unique, innovative, groundbreaking video work being created and distributed online during the past two years."


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chairman Bob...

...said on a show I listened to recently that there is no such thing as too much Van Morrison. Alas, one of the side-effects of the vigorous policing of intellectual property rights (in this case by the justly foundering MGM) is that The Man won't allow us to embed the clip from "The Last Waltz" picturized below.

There is this, however.

And this, a "trad" Irish heart-render that turned up on a recent episode of "Boardwalk Empire."


French crime fiction

"International Noir Fiction," a site recently added to our links list, is worth exploring in depth. Here's a post from 2005.


Chairman Bob at his best..

A non-post. Not from Tulk. Who is no longer blogging.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Self aware...

Self-consciousness is said to be a horror, a crippling affliction to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, it seems to be true that becoming self-conscious is a turning point in the process of becoming a writer. Stepping back and seeing (and hearing) the work as others will. I've spoken with several scribes who described the effect of a tough editor in making them understand that writing a first draft is not writing. That being able to judge if what you've written actually communicates what you intend is a key step toward becoming a professional -- which also means, turning play into work. First you fool around, then you fix it.

A professor at the School that employs me was talking the other day about the student theatrical productions that are venturing off the campus this year for short runs at public venues such as The New LATC. I wondered if their teachers had any anxiety about exposing their students to that kind of pressure. "That's the attitude of an amateur," he said. "We're training professionals."

Even writers who regard themselves as professionals seem to think of their obligations differently. The code of honor that some tough-guy writers adhere to enthrones efficiency, expunging every unnecessary word. The professionalism of some commercial writers revolves around productivity: a column every two days, a book a year. And not only commercial writers think this way: like many of our 19th century favorites, Roberto Boloño, who I've been looking at again, wrote his "art novels" very quickly, partly to fulfil his responsibilities as a family man. Did he intentionally adopt an approach to the novel that would benefit rather than suffer from being cranked out at a dead run, a virtue-of-necessity move that soon became second nature?

From Boloño's 100%-reliable Wikipedia bio:

In an interview Bolaño said that he began writing fiction because he felt responsible for the future financial well-being of his family, which he knew he could never secure from the earnings of a poet. This was confirmed by Jorge Herralde, who explained that Bolaño "abandoned his parsimonious beatnik existence" because the birth of his son in 1990 made him "decide that he was responsible for his family's future and that it would be easier to earn a living by writing fiction."


In [Rodrigo] Fresán's ... view he "was one of a kind, a writer who worked without a net, who went all out, with no brakes, and in doing so, created a new way to be a great Latin American writer."


Monday, November 1, 2010

Hello and au revoir

Back from Paris.

The release from responsibility was so sweet that I've decided to extend it in whatever way I can. I'm taking a sabbatical from direct blogging duties.

I'll continue to comment but, with thanks for the opportunity, will step back from an active role for the time being.

The Louvre has a painting of an earlier incarnation of Tulkinghorn.......