News

8mm

Here’s Jes­sica Sta­ple­ton, a video book blog­ger, on Mr. Peanut. As well, some videos I did last year with the very tal­ented Danny Ellen and his wife, Antonella. Here’s one on Mr. Peanut and The Mobius Strip; another on Mar­riages That Go South; finally, one about Hitchcock’s Theme of Idle­ness, Mr. Peanut, and Moral Haz­ard. (By the way, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Win­dow, Miss Torso was played by Georgine Darcy, pic­tured below.)

 

Goodreads, Mayhem, Rear Window

First two very inter­est­ing reviews of Mr. Peanut on goodreads.com, one by Mike, the other by Krok Zero. I’d read the latter’s some time ago. He’s a fan­tas­tic writer and, if he’s not already a pub­lished critic under another name, he should be. As for Mike’s, well, it trans­ported me to grad­u­ate school, to my Hitch­cock class with Richard Dil­lard, and the dizzy­ing won­der I expe­ri­enced watch­ing those films for the first time.

Speak­ing of Hitch­cock, it was my great plea­sure to intro­duce Rear Win­dow at the Bookhampton’s May­hem fes­ti­val at Guild Hall in East Hamp­ton, NY, this past week­end and then kick back and watch the restored version.

Grace Kelly, in my opin­ion, remains the most lumi­nes­cent movie star of all time, and after falling in love with her yet again, I had these thoughts on the film:

*Jef­feries’ casual cru­elty toward Lisa over din­ner is as brac­ing as Devlin’s toward Ali­cia Huber­man in Noto­ri­ous. I can only imag­ine what a cold slap these scenes must’ve seemed like to women when these movies premiered. 

*The artists in Rear Win­dow are fig­ured forth as both trapped and lib­er­ated. While strug­gling with his melody, the song­writer is reg­u­larly framed behind bars; unlike Jef­feries, his cre­ativ­ity is not com­pul­sive or neurotic. 

Inter­est­ingly, when the song­writer gets together with Miss Lonely Hearts at the end, he’s sep­a­rated from her by his win­dow frame just as the Thorwald’s are sep­a­rated by their gutter.



 

The Dog Peo­ple, too, are framed behind bars, so that con­ju­gal love, for Hitch, is fig­ured as a form of entrap­ment and, at times, insur­mount­able, killing dis­tance; it’s also, of course, a source of vital rep­e­ti­tion, habit, and sus­tain­ing warmth.

*After Lisa describes her­self and Jef­feries as “ter­ri­fy­ing ghouls” she kisses his neck and, shot from behind, is like a vam­pire suck­ing his blood.

*The lan­guage through­out of role-playing/moviemaking (“I love funny exit lines,” “Read­ing top to bot­tom: Lisa. Carol. Freemont,” “Okay, chief, what’s my next assign­ment?”) cou­pled with Lisa’s var­i­ous cos­tumes and the recur­rent part­ner swap­ping both wit­nessed and implied in this world sug­gest Hitch’s con­vic­tion that iden­tity is entirely fluid.

*When Jef­feries watches his neigh­bors alone he is happy, tit­il­lated, engrossed; in Lisa’s pres­ence (Miss Lonely Heart’s near date-rape) he is ashamed.

*When Jef­feries’ neigh­bor mourns her dog’s mur­der and angrily screams, “Did you kill him because he liked you?” she may as well have been whis­per­ing in Jef­feries’ ear, for that is the very thing he’s doing to Lisa.

*It may be argued that the whole movie is struc­tured as the mak­ing of a pop song, a roman­tic, schmaltzy ditty enti­tled Lisa, which hides the mur­der­ous, banal, nec­es­sary, and ubiq­ui­tous ambiva­lences that lie beneath con­ju­gal rela­tion­ships. The movie cer­tainly attests to human frailty and our inabil­ity to tol­er­ate soli­tude (Miss Torso’s Queen Bee behav­ior in her husband’s absence; Miss Lonely Heart’s con­stant pur­suit of a com­pan­ion and her near sui­cide after repeat fail­ures; the songwriter’s inspi­ra­tion, the “Lisa” who is his muse, either real or imag­ined). Unques­tion­ably Hitch’s images argue that rela­tion­ships are cycli­cal. Jef­feries begins the movie asleep and is asleep at its end; the Dog Peo­ple have bought a new dog; the new­ly­weds are fight­ing; Miss Lonely Hearts and the song­writer are woo­ing each other but are framed like the Thorwalds.

More soon.

 

Cicadas, Spoiler Alerts, and Whad’Ya Know?

The cicadas have returned to Nashville after their 13-year dor­mancy. They appear first as small holes, a lit­tle big­ger than a golf tee makes, around the perime­ter of houses, at the trunks of trees, along brick walkways—everywhere. Next, in what is a kind of lar­val stage, they climb to high places—fences or walls—where they anchor them­selves and meta­mor­phose, burst­ing from these exoskele­tons which remain behind, intact and brit­tle pods as neatly split down the backs as lob­ster tails. What hatches are the fly­ing, red-eyed bugs you may have heard about on the news. My kids freakin’ love them. My wife is ter­ri­fied. The birds, I imag­ine, are stuffed. 

They’re not in full force yet, not a full-on locust, but they should be by the end of the week, and then their num­bers become Bib­li­cal. (Dur­ing their last inva­sion, I remem­ber mow­ing my lawn and each line I cut sent waves of them sky­ward ahead of the machine’s nose, leav­ing behind a black wake of gore. Within min­utes, my legs were bar­na­cled with them, a liv­ing pair of knee socks, beard­ing my calves, black and glis­ten­ing and shaped like mol­lusks.) In the morn­ings, I see them buzzing over the lawn in squadrons. They’re not good fly­ers, mov­ing through the air with the same heav­i­ness of B-52 bombers, slow and loud, their rear-portions dip­ping below their wings like boat rud­ders or Boba Fett’s Fire Spray fighter, so that they always seem to be strug­gling to remain in flight, and when you see them in these large for­ma­tions they put you in the mind of bub­bles, because they dip and rise gen­tly and errat­i­cally and seem less borne by their wings than the breeze. When one of them does land—on a leaf say—it’s more of a crash. You hear a slap, there’s a dis­cernible clutch of the wings, as if they were pre­hen­sile, and the pad sags with the impact.

Is a flood next? A famine?

To Mr. Peanut news: I’m intro­duc­ing Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Win­dow with a brief digres­sion on its influ­ence on the novel this Sat­ur­day evening, May 14th, at Guild Hall in East Hamp­ton, NY.

Tick­ets are free; the show gets rolling at 8:00 p.m. It’s part of the May­hem Mys­tery Writ­ers Fes­ti­val and is worth check­ing out if you’re on Long Island’s East End.

Also, I caught this ter­rific write-up about Mr. Peanut on Twit­ter. It’s by Daniel Roberts (@readdanwrite), who writes for For­tune mag­a­zine and whose out­put is hum­bling (the guy seems to read and write about every­thing). The discussion/review does a great job of address­ing two of the main cri­tiques of the novel. First that the end­ing is dif­fi­cult to puz­zle out (it isn’t, he argues); sec­ond, that the book is misog­y­nis­tic (again, it isn’t, he affirms). As well, it links with Scott Turow’s review in The New York Times Book Review as well as my response to Slate’s Dou­ble X book club pod­cast.

Roberts does a ter­rific job of decod­ing the novel’s end­ing. Here’s a part of his post to which I’ll make a clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Roberts writes:

How­ever, what was dif­fi­cult, look­ing back on it: know­ing which moments were from David’s book and which really hap­pened. Every­thing involv­ing the detec­tives is from David’s book, of course. But as for the inter­ac­tions between David and Alice, I’m not as sure about which was what. When I try to recall the read­ing expe­ri­ence, I can pick out a num­ber of episodes between them (his hec­tic appear­ance at her school to demand that she go on a trip with him; the hike they go on when they fight and are sep­a­rated; their stay in Hawaii after her in-flight mis­car­riage) and have trou­ble decid­ing for sure what was real (did David have an affair or not?) and what was cre­ated by David. This, of course, is Ross’ clever way of almost ensur­ing you’ll read the book again (I haven’t yet, but even­tu­ally might) and also explains why Scott Smith com­mented: “You can’t quite believe that its many pieces fit together so snugly.” (Indeed, they do, but that’s what I’m saying—they fit together so snugly that it’s dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish, which is nei­ther good nor bad, nec­es­sar­ily.) That being said, I don’t quite under­stand how Scott Turow, in his bub­bly review of the book, arrives at the con­clu­sion that the novel “con­cludes with three (or is it four?) alter­nate end­ings.” There are two—the end­ing from David’s book and the ‘real’ ending—unless Turow is also includ­ing the con­clu­sion of the Has­troll and Shep­pard sto­ries as end­ings as well.

He’s so close to get­ting it and is to be com­mended. On tour, I’ve met only one per­son who cor­rectly decoded the novel’s end­ing on the first read­ing. I’ll give a few hints.

1. The reader read­ing the novel is wit­ness to the writ­ing of a novel which becomes some­thing else upon its completion.

2. The effect Roberts describes above (How­ever, what was dif­fi­cult, look­ing back on it: know­ing which moments were from David’s book and which really hap­pened) is inten­tional and Escher-like. His images are dynamic; the eye con­stantly read­justs per­spec­tive. But it’s not just David’s book (see 3 below):

3. The two keys to under­stand­ing what hap­pens at the novel’s end are, first, Escher’s “Encounter,” the image which appears on the title page. Sec­ond, this pas­sage [ital­ics mine]:

Alone now, Pepin wrote:

There are two of us, of course, David and Pepin, inter­locked and sep­a­rate and one and the same. I’m writ­ing my bet­ter self and he’s writ­ing his worse and vice versa and so on until the end” (433 Vin­tage paperback).

Any more hints and I’d be giv­ing away the rabbit.

Last but not least, I appeared on Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? this past Sat­ur­day, May 7th, dur­ing his visit to Nashville. I’m an enor­mous fan of Feld­man and the show, so it was a true thrill. Down­load the 5/8 pod­cast and give a lis­ten. I appear dur­ing the sec­ond hour.

 

Turn on the Bright Lights

My fam­ily is mov­ing into new house this week. Ren­o­va­tions aren’t com­plete. The floors still need to be done—sanded, stained, and sealed—which means another approach­ing decamp­ment and we have no plan, not even a shop­ping cart. We’ll camp in one room, mat­tresses on the floor, and need not set a morn­ing alarm: the painters arrive at seven a.m. daily. A feral cat that used to live here keeps try­ing to get back inside; we had a run-in at the front door yes­ter­day, both of us froze, then he ran. The kitchen is being dry-walled; in other words, there is no kitchen. We are in boxes and will con­tinue to be so for three solid weeks. The Qi float­ing through old and new house alike is an air­borne toxic event. My chil­dren will remem­ber this as a great adven­ture. This is not how my wife and I think about it at all.

In need of relief, we caught Inter­pol last night at The Ryman—the show was incredible—then went back­stage (lead gui­tarist Daniel Kessler is an old friend, and as tal­ented as they come). Heard the fol­low­ing uttered by Inter­pol groupie to unnamed band mem­ber: “We met five years ago. We ate almonds together.” 

I’ll be appear­ing at Nashville’s Down­town Library at 10 a.m. this Sat­ur­day, then run­ning over to TPAC for a second-hour appear­ance on Michael Feldman’s What’d You Know? Check your local list­ings and give a lis­ten if you have the time.

 

Paperback Writer

The Vin­tage paper­back of Mr. Peanut—the very stark, cool cover of which looks like a Saw movie poster inscribed with ser­ial killer graffiti—went on sale Tues­day, an excit­ing bit of busi­ness. As the inter­net fates would have it, I was lucky enough to be invited to post the novel’s playlist today on Large­hearted Boy, and I highly rec­om­mend hav­ing a look at the blog’s amaz­ing cat­a­logue of pre­vi­ous entries. I end the post dis­cussing J.S. Bach’s Crab Canon and its influ­ence on Mr. Peanut’s Mobius-band struc­ture, and if you haven’t seen this short film about it on YouTube, check it out, because it play­fully describes what genius looks and sounds like.

Just as excit­ing: Ladies and Gen­tle­men, my story col­lec­tion, hits stores June 28th, with my tour kick­ing off at Nashville’s Down­town Library July 5th. A full list­ing of tour dates should be avail­able in my next post. Here’s the starred review from Kirkus.

In the mean­time, May will be busy. I’ll be dis­cussing Mr. Peanut as a guest of the Women’s National Book Asso­ci­a­tion, also at the Nashville Down­town Library, on Sat­ur­day, May 7th at 10 a.m., then giv­ing a talk on the novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Win­dow on Sat­ur­day, May 14th, in East Hamp­ton, NY, as part of May­hem, which is inde­pen­dent book­store BookHampton’s 3rd Annual Mys­tery Weekend.

I caught two very cool posts about the novel on Twit­ter, one very thought­ful review by Jack Good­stein as well as an arti­cle about one of my appear­ances at The Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, which the writer must have recorded, because his quotes are ver­ba­tim. All the pan­els I appeared on in Perth were of sim­i­lar qual­ity and depth. My fin­gers are crossed for a return invi­ta­tion Down Under.

Finally, many con­grat­u­la­tions to Jen­nifer Egan for win­ning the Pulitzer Prize this week for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad.

 

To Perth and Back

On my long flight home from Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, where I’d spent sev­eral days after attend­ing The Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, the cap­tain announced the Japan quake’s occur­rence and mag­ni­tude, and that he had no fur­ther infor­ma­tion. Bold things to broad­cast, I thought—bold omis­sions, really—given all the psy­cho­log­i­cal trade­offs that, for some, go with fly­ing: the faith, first and fore­most, that all sys­tems are go, safety mea­sures cross­checked, the tur­bines free of bird feath­ers, and the wings slosh­ing with enough fuel to make the jour­ney, in this case the hop over the entire Pacific. Not to men­tion the crit­i­cal assump­tion that your con­ti­nent will be there upon land­ing, will not have been sucked down to the bot­tom of the sea like Atlantis; or, as we deplan­ing pas­sen­gers dis­cov­ered blearily pass­ing through cus­toms in Los Ange­les, over­whelmed by tsunami; waves, we saw from the rel­a­tive safety of LAX’s inter­na­tional ter­mi­nal (upon arrival we were under warn­ings our­selves), car­ry­ing boats, cars, and sheared roofs through north­west­ern Japan, a var­ie­gated, ter­ri­fy­ing flot­sam as clot­ted and grey with hulked metal and garbage as the Death Star’s trash com­pactor, black rapids churn­ing through neigh­bor­hoods that had never before seen water; or, in the case of the Sendai air­port, spread­ing inex­orably, shock­ingly, and incon­gru­ously across the tar­mac, a place thought as out of reach of the sea as the beach blan­ket, umbrella, and chair a bather care­fully walks back from shore. These images stopped many of us in our tracks, the i-cameramen heard express­ing amaze­ment and shock in a tone that made trans­la­tion unnec­es­sary and whose videos, min­i­mized to back­ground as cable news repeat­edly offered sim­i­larly lim­ited infor­ma­tion, con­tained images of acci­den­tal ampli­tude: a man calmly walk­ing his bike uphill, away from a canal where unmoored tankers, tug­boats, and Toyotas—the rear wind­shield wiper of one vehi­cle fan­ning back and forth futilely as it sank—raced by to come to rest only God knows where.

We ignore nature at our own peril, runs the oft-quoted phrase, though when it occurred to me in the face of all this tragic destruc­tion, I was struck by the degree to which we sus­pend our dis­be­lief when it comes to nat­ural events, be they tragic or won­drous—awe­some, in the Roman­tic sense of the word—which used to denote fear of reli­gious pro­por­tions, indi­cat­ing noth­ing less than the sub­lime itself, thus enjoin­ing rev­er­ence and respect. This is because so many of us are so busy furi­ously oper­at­ing in our tech­no­log­i­cally dom­i­nated soci­ety, we so com­pletely assume the sync­ing of our sched­ules with its oper­a­tion, that Nature her­self seems almost purely fan­tas­tic when she erupts and reasserts her dom­i­nance. When she does we are amazed; per­haps, most oddly, we seem surprised.

Nature, we often for­get, is not here for us.

Some peo­ple read­ing this will scoff and call these obser­va­tions naïve, trite, or more likely, Amer­i­can. They’ll point out the early-warning sys­tems Japan has in place for earth­quakes, which effec­tively deployed and saved count­less lives, and denote a hard-wired con­scious­ness of Nature’s might. Sim­i­lar sys­tems, most notably the backup diesel cool­ing sys­tems which failed at Fuk­ishima Daichii nuclear plant, are of course part of basic design there, as nec­es­sary to their con­struc­tion as con­crete. Per­haps, then, I’m describ­ing degrees of con­scious­ness (or for­get­ting) trained into var­i­ous cul­tures. Be all of this as it may, what remains true as this hor­ri­fy­ing sit­u­a­tion unfolds is how eas­ily Nature punches through our safety mea­sures and con­trols, so now, in spite of all these pre­cau­tions, we’re wit­ness to a world-historical tragedy. We can never be care­ful or respect­ful enough of Nature’s power.

*

Back to the Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val. To give the reader some idea of my expe­ri­ences in Aus­tralia these past two weeks, I’ll offer a list of “the lit­tle dif­fer­ences” to quote John Tra­volta in Quentin Taratino’s Pulp Fic­tion. This is a blog post, after all. No time to be systematic.

1. The most oft-repeated phrase I heard in Aus­tralia was “No wor­ries” and may be used after any request or query.

Can I get another gin and tonic?”

No wor­ries.”

Could you rec­om­mend a good place to eat?”

No wor­ries.”

2. Inter­est­ingly, the word “mate” has numer­ous inflec­tions, not all of which are pos­i­tive. “No wor­ries, mate, you go first,” or “You sure you haven’t been drink­ing too much, mate?”

3. Aussies don’t have “take out”; they have “take away.”

3a. If, by chance, you get killed by a shark, you aren’t attacked, you’re “taken.”

4. My favorite Aus­tralian expres­sions are “crack a fat,” “squeeze a darkie,” and “rip­per,” as in, “That book was a rip­per.”  Google the oth­ers if you’re curi­ous about their meaning.

5. In Australia’s pub­lic toi­lets, the sinks and johns are sep­a­rated by a door. You do your busi­ness in one room, clean your­self in another. Rare, also, are indi­vid­ual uri­nals. Aus­tralians are big into long metal­lic troughs (for men, of course).

5a. Aus­tralian pub­lic toi­lets also lack auto-flush tech­nol­ogy. You’re a grown-up, they’re say­ing. Take the time and respon­si­bil­ity to dis­pose of your own waste mat­ter. Oh, and their johns are all low vol­ume tanks. Think about your water usage, mate.

6. I had an incred­i­ble con­ver­sa­tion on the rela­tion­ship between geog­ra­phy and Man­i­fest Des­tiny in Amer­ica and Aus­tralia with the bril­liant Aussie lit­er­ary critic, Geordie Williamson. I para­phrase: In Amer­ica, our whole his­tor­i­cal belief sys­tem is inex­tri­ca­bly inter­twined with the idea of pio­neer­ing and West­ward Expan­sion, and the continent’s seem­ingly bound­less resources, a model which is cur­rently nearly exhausted and will require a painful, per­haps vio­lent par­a­dig­matic shift in con­scious­ness. In Aus­tralia, mean­while, the life of the coun­try exists on its perime­ter. One goes into the bush to expe­ri­ence the Noth­ing that Is Not There and The Noth­ing that Is. Fly across Aus­tralia and within ten min­utes the hori­zon is blot­ted by this Noth­ing, dom­i­nated by it, the land the color of wet sand and bleached bone and dot­ted by the occa­sional, inex­plic­a­ble lake. When you cross the Indian Ocean, you see a gor­geous vacant coast, a cres­cent entirely void of human beings or build­ings, the body of water empty of ships, of even a rip­ple. Australia’s lim­it­less size and inte­rior empti­ness con­fers a sense of lim­its on its people.

7. The birds of this con­ti­nent are var­i­ous and beau­ti­ful; they are also shock­ingly loud. In Perth I saw flocks of Corella Cock­a­toos (they’re remark­able fliers), black-headed Ibis (sev­eral in Sydney’s Dar­ling Har­bor were so used to humans they’d let peo­ple pet them) and pel­i­cans (hulk­ing, land­ing with a splash). For me, this ambi­ent noise was Australia’s strangest char­ac­ter­is­tic, its most for­eign sound. Do Aussie’s come to Amer­ica and think, “It’s so quiet here.”

8.  The pines in Perth and Fre­man­tle have nee­dles as thick as a man’s fingers.

9. My first full day in Perth was spent on the Mag­el­lan, a pri­vate char­ter, with sev­eral other fes­ti­val atten­dees: Miguel Syjuco, Simon Armitage, Jeff Lind­say, and Damon Gal­gat to name a few. We enjoyed a day trip to Carnac Island, near Rot­tnest Island (for Rat’s Nest, which was thusly named because of its indige­nous Quokkas, which were thought to be giant rats). I’d decided not to scuba dive on my trip due to the rash of Great White Shark attacks off the west­ern coast. Carnac, how­ever, is home to sea lions and tiger snakes, the lat­ter being poi­so­nous, and I had a chance to swim with one of the for­mer, a very curi­ous female who copied all our flips under­wa­ter in a state of clear enjoy­ment. Which begs the ques­tion: What sort of idiot afraid of being attacked by a Great White Shark goes swim­ming with Great White Shark food?

10. Beer to Aus­tralians is what fos­sil fuels are to Americans.

11. Bar­ra­mundi is my new “It” fish.

12. Chips are fries and cost $10.50 AUD as a side; fast food por­tions of same are gov­ern­ment reg­u­lated. Per­haps we Amer­i­cans have too much free­dom when it comes to our Free­dom Fries. Per­haps our fries, like our fos­sil fuels, are too cheap.

13. Lev Gross­man is a man sur­rounded by bril­liant, gor­geous women, most notably his wife, writer/professor Sophie Gee and their daugh­ter, Hal­cyon, a beau­ti­ful, bright-eyed child. Good on ye, mate. I started his novel, The Magi­cians. It’s a ripper.

14. Author Miguel Syjuco is pos­sessed of numer­ous tal­ents. He tells a hell of a joke, for one, and is the first writer I’ve ever met who could slip “mos­quito penis” into an open­ing event speech. An incred­i­ble dresser, he is also the recip­i­ent of The Man Asian Lit­er­ary Prize for his debut novel, Ilustrado, so talent-wise, I’m sad to say, he’s meh.

15. Writer Joanne Har­ris, author of the inter­na­tional best­seller Choco­lat, was one of the read­ers dur­ing the Feast of Words event, a remark­able evening I par­tic­i­pated in with Armis­tead Maupin and Simon Armitage. Har­ris read from Choco­lat for the first time in a decade. Her prose is won­drous, supremely pre­cise, and keenly intel­li­gent. She’s also as per­spi­ca­cious and broadly tal­ented a per­son as you’ll ever meet (she’s writ­ten cook­books, mys­ter­ies, and short sto­ries). She’s trav­eled the world exten­sively and as game for any expe­ri­ence as any per­son I’ve ever met. Being around her was hum­bling; also, a gas.

15a. Mean­while, Maupin and Armitage’s read­ings were so hilar­i­ous they imme­di­ately made it to the top of my tee­ter­ing inbox. If you can get a hold of either of audios of either of them, you won’t be disappointed.

16. I was lucky enough to hear speak or appear with the fol­low­ing writ­ers and can­not rec­om­mend their work highly enough: British non-fiction writer Richard Lloyd Parry; Bombay-born nov­el­ist Anjali Joseph; New South Wales biog­ra­pher Suzanne Falkiner; Aussie Rod­ney Hall; and finally, Miguel Syjuco.

17. A dis­cov­ery: check out the Crikey blog Lit­er­ary Minded by author Angela Meyer.

18. Located on the Swan River, the city of Perth is at once hyper-modern and pleas­antly sleepy. There’s a free bus sys­tem and state of the art rail; there are bicy­cle high­ways and jog­ging paths. It feels like north­ern Cal­i­for­nia with trade winds and palm trees whose trunks get fat­ter the higher they climb. If you visit to the port city of Fre­man­tle, 20 km away, 30 min­utes by train, check out the Mar­itime Museum, The Round House, and def­i­nitely grab a bite at Lit­tle Crea­tures Brew­ery. If the beach is your thing, hit Cot­tlesloe, only a few train stops north—a truly spec­tac­u­lar spot.

19. No trip to Aus­tralia is com­plete with­out read­ing Robert Hughes’s remark­able his­tory of that country’s found­ing, The Fatal Shore.

20. The Perth Fes­ti­val was a remark­able expe­ri­ence all around. It was supremely well-organized and the coor­di­na­tors did a great job mak­ing peo­ple who were far from home feel wel­comed. The line-up of writ­ers was fan­tas­tic. The Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia cam­pus was gor­geous. Event to event, how­ever, the high­light was the enthu­si­asm of the atten­dants. I par­tic­i­pated in three events; each was packed to the gills. I hope I’m lucky enough to return.

*

In one last bit of Mr. Peanut news, here are the Korean and Pol­ish cov­ers (Korea will pub­lish the novel in two vol­umes). Also, I read this yes­ter­day at the Vishnu exhibit at Nashville’s Frist Art Museum this week­end and thought it was interesting:

What are avatars?

For the wor­ship­pers of Vishnu, called Vaish­navas, Vishnu is omnipresent and omnipo­tent; he has every form and no form. In order to save us from peril, Vishnu descends to earth in a lim­ited, more con­crete body called an avatar. The dif­fer­ent avatars are in fact Vishnu, but they rep­re­sent spe­cific aspects of the god; their strength and intel­li­gence are supe­rior to those of men, but they are usu­ally mor­tal, and in some cases they don’t even know they are divine. They make use­ful focal points for devo­tion because they are eas­ier to relate to and inter­act with than the tran­scen­dent power that is Vishnu. Avatars are Vishnu’s sig­na­ture method of action; because of them he is a god of many faces and personalities.

Ozbound

My 2011 blog­ging res­o­lu­tion had been one post per month but life inter­vened and not in ways that are par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing to share here. I’m happy to report that I’ve just sent off first pass gal­leys of my story col­lec­tion, Ladies and Gen­tle­men, which Knopf will pub­lish June 28. The cover by Peter Mendel­sund (who also designed Mr. Peanut’s Lite Brite skull) is fab­u­lous and Jason Rice, of Three Guys One Book, did a nifty write-up on the book’s first story, with more, he promises, to come. It’s also already popped up on Goodreads. I’ve even got pre­lim­i­nary tour dates and will be mak­ing a west coast swing in July, which is thrilling.

Mean­while, I’m brush­ing up on my Scuba skills and read­ing Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore in prepa­ra­tion for my trip to Perth, Aus­tralia for the Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val—four flights and a mere 35 hours of plane travel, but who’s count­ing? A close friend, Dolores Karl, read Bleak House cover to cover dur­ing her flight to Oz. I’m going to bring Mann’s The Magic Moun­tain and can say with cer­tainty that I won’t get to the end by the time I finally land.

Reading-wise, I’ve been on a bit of a bil­dungsro­man kick, so I highly rec­om­mend the last two nov­els I’ve read, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green and Saul Bellow’s The Adven­tures of Augie March. I’m new to Mitchell and the for­mer is entirely charm­ing and hilar­i­ous. I’d read nearly every­thing by Bel­low except Augie and it’s an uneven book like Ever­est is uneven in places—a tow­er­ing, gigan­tic, mind-blowing work, so hope­ful and life-affirming at its core. Read it now, if you haven’t. In between, I’ve been dip­ping into Bellow’s Let­ters, edited by my for­mer pro­fes­sor and truly remark­able teacher, Ben­jamin Tay­lor, and John Cheever’s Col­lected Sto­ries (I’d read his jour­nals in Decem­ber, also must-reading).

In Mr. Peanut news, I’ve received Dutch and Ger­man copies of the novel though the Roman­ian edi­tion has yet to show up on my doorstep. Crit­i­cal recep­tion in the Nether­lands has been ter­rific—here’s the most recent review for any Dutch read­ers—and all three Euro­pean cov­ers are cool in their own way. Piper’s Ger­man edi­tion pub­lishes at the end of the month. Vin­tage will pub­lish the Amer­i­can paper­back April 19. Finally, if you’re in Hoover, Alabama (a stone’s throw from Birm­ing­ham), next week­end, I’ll be appear­ing at the South­ern Voices con­fer­ence Feb­ru­ary 18, along with other great writ­ers like Helen Simon­son, Eliz­a­beth Strout, and Roseanne Cash.

More soon.

Mr. Peanut’s Best of 2010

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve posted an entry, incon­tro­vert­ible evi­dence that I’m a lame blog­ger. But I’ve been fiendishly busy and am most happy to report that I’ve fin­ished edit­ing Ladies and Gen­tle­men, my short story col­lec­tion, due out in June 2011, when Vin­tage pub­lishes Mr. Peanut in paper­back. I’d say that’s nice work for four months’ time, but I also put on my reporter’s hat sev­eral weeks ago to write about the clos­ing of Nashville’s “inde­pen­dent” book­store, Davis-Kidd, which has been an inte­gral part of the city’s lit­er­ary com­mu­nity for thirty years. I’ve got noth­ing against Ama­zon or e-books; they have their place and aren’t going away. Nothing’s free, though, and con­sumers should remem­ber that they advo­cate with their pock­et­books. In my ideal world, booklovers would ded­i­cate a per­cent­age of their yearly book-buying bud­get to inde­pen­dent book­sellers. Oth­ers quoted in the arti­cle, such as FSG pres­i­dent Jonathan Galassi and Knopf’s Vice Pres­i­dent Gary Fisketjon, put these things into per­spec­tive far bet­ter than I, so have a look at the story if you believe inde­pen­dent book­stores are as much a place to shop as they are a cause.

This being the sea­son of lists, I’m thrilled to report that Mr. Peanut was a New York Times Notable Book, a New Yorker Reviewer’s Favorite, one of seven works of fic­tion on The Economist’s Best of 2010, and #9 on Bookpage’s Top Ten. My most select com­pany was one of four nov­els in the Book Lady’s Best of 2010: Genre Busters. Mr. Peanut was also a final­ist for the Flaherty-Dunnan award, which deservedly went to Karl Mar­lantes’ novel Mat­ter­horn. It was a thrill to be on that short list, and it was a gas meet­ing the other finalists.

Crazy busy I remain, how­ever, and since I don’t have the time to recap every­thing that’s hap­pened since mid-August, I thought I’d sup­ply a year-end list of my own. Lists are great because they only seem com­pre­hen­sive. Here goes:

Best Lit­er­ary Star-Gazing Event: The Cen­ter for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize Din­ner – Held at the New York Rac­quet & Ten­nis Club and made pos­si­ble by the gen­er­ous sup­port of the lovely Nanny Dun­nan, this party/dinner was attended by a jaw-dropping assem­blage of lumi­nar­ies such as Mar­isha Pressl, E.L. Doc­torow, Jay McIn­er­ney, Kathryn Har­ri­son, David Rem­nick, Deb­o­rah Treis­man, Nora Ephron, and Mona Simp­son. Had a chance to talk with Jonathan Galassi, Richard Ford, and James Salter. Told the lat­ter that I’d read A Sport and a Pas­time twice this year. His response: “You could have found bet­ter ways to spend your time than that.” Not so much.

Best Speech: Richard Ford’s pre­sen­ta­tion of the Maxwell E. Perkins Award to Amanda “Binky” Urban – Ford was wry, warm, appre­cia­tive; also, flat-out hys­ter­i­cal. The best line (I para­phrase): “Writ­ers love to hear about how much money their agents are mak­ing. We love to get their calls from pri­vate jets or St. Barthes. We’re built to live vicariously.”

Best Bit of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: Salman Rushdie – Saw Sir Rushdie speak at the Miami Book Fes­ti­val, where I appeared with Jonathan Trop­per (This Is Where I Leave You) and Larry Doyle (Go, Mutants). Rushdie explained that he’d writ­ten his most recent novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, for his sec­ond son, and gave the first draft to him for an appraisal. After the boy read it, Rushdie asked what he thought. Son to father: “It doesn’t have a lot of jump in it.” Father to son: “Give me that back.” Rewrites ensued.

Best Lit­er­ary Elbow-Rubbing Event: The Miami Book Fes­ti­val – Not only is the festival’s scale amaz­ing but also seems a mind-boggling exer­cise in logis­tics. I had a chance to meet sev­eral heroes. Michael Cun­ning­ham (I’m a huge fan of The Hours), Jonathan Franzen (I’d brought my copies of both The Cor­rec­tions and Free­dom for him to sign), Jen­nifer Egan, and Julie Orringer. The nov­el­ists I shared time with, Jonathan Trop­per and Larry Doyle, were lively and fas­ci­nat­ing, though most audi­ence mem­bers were there to see Trop­per, who has writ­ten, it seems, the Great Amer­i­can Sit­ting Shiva Novel (say that three times fast). I had a chance to talk with Scott Turow and Lev Gross­man and also got to hear Dave Barry’s rock band. He looked like he was hav­ing a ball onstage; he also needs to keep his day job.

Best Nerve-Wracking Moment: Mr. Peanut’s Lin­coln Tri­an­gle Barnes & Noble Read­ing, New York – My high school dean of stu­dents was there, a man I still fear, as were numer­ous friends and fam­ily. So was Jonathan Franzen, who was sit­ting front-row cen­ter. Dude has got to stop stalk­ing me.

Best (Bad) Lit­er­ary Award Nom­i­na­tion: The Lit­er­ary Journal’s Bad Sex Award – Franzen and I were the two Amer­i­cans nom­i­nated, and I’m get­ting a lit­tle weary of him grab­bing onto my coat­tails. Still, I’ve never seen such a minor award get so much cov­er­age, from the Guardian to the Huff­in­g­ton Post to The New Yorker. What is this, the end of August? Is it a slow news cycle? Have there been no shark attacks? By the way, male writ­ers dream of win­ning this award at least once every 60 seconds.

Best Lit­er­ary People-Watching Event: East Hamp­ton Library’s Authors Night – I was pretty psy­ched to attend, since I wrote many pages of Mr. Peanut in the East Hamp­ton library’s stacks, plus I got to meet author Sam Lip­syte and have a won­der­ful din­ner at Ken Lipper’s home after­ward. This being East Hamp­ton in sum­mer, there were, I’m afraid, no attrac­tive women to be seen anywhere.

Best Beach Read­ing: East Hampton’s BookHamp­ton – It’s a fan­tas­tic inde­pen­dent book­store with a ter­rific staff. They also run an incred­i­ble read­ing series year-round. I can’t wait to return next summer.

Best Cas­tles: Edin­burgh, Scot­land – I did an appear­ance at the Edin­burgh Book Fes­ti­val with Impor­tant Arti­facts author Leanne Shap­ton, but spent most of my time walk­ing the city, climb­ing Cal­ton Hill on a day so windy you couldn’t hear your­self think, march­ing up Princes Street through the gaunt­let of Inter­na­tional Fes­ti­val actors, odd­balls, and musi­cal acts all the way to the Edin­burgh Cas­tle, and eat­ing more pork belly and hag­gis than is advis­able. I also played golf at Braid Hills, a course north of the city, with two of the cra­zi­est Scots­men on the planet, who not only sup­plied local knowl­edge on sev­eral blind tee shots but also pointed out J.K. Rowling’s castle-sized home. We fin­ished our round at four and they took me out for drinks afterward—many, many drinks.

Best Home­grown Lit­er­ary Event: The South­ern Fes­ti­val of Books – I finally got to meet Amy Green, was intro­duced by leg­endary local jour­nal­ist Jim Rid­ley, I appeared on John Seigenthaler’s A Word on Words twice, and I also got to eat plenty of bar­beque. Nashville rules.

See you back in 2011.

Way Cool Media, Way Cool News

It’s Thurs­day morn­ing, I’m in New York to do a series of events that I’ll blog about—a book club taped for Long Island TV, two book­store appear­ances, and a ben­e­fit for The East Hamp­ton Library—but in the mean­time, I wanted to direct read­ers to sev­eral inter­est­ing pieces of media about the novel.

First, my inter­view with Ed Cham­pion from The Bat Segundo Show is up, and I highly rec­om­mend it. Cham­pion read the novel twice before we spoke, and given the inter­views I’ve lis­tened to on his site, this isn’t out of the ordi­nary: he brings a metic­u­lous, deep level of prepa­ra­tion to these talks, which led, in my case, to the most in-depth dis­cus­sion of the inter­tex­ual use of Hitch­cock in Mr. Peanut that I’ve had the plea­sure of par­tic­i­pat­ing in so far (and which still is only a start­ing point). If, per­haps, the inter­view seems at times eso­teric or high­fa­lutin, it is, but it’s also unapolo­get­i­cally so, and what Cham­pion does here is treat the novel as a whole, giv­ing its for­mal strat­egy a great deal of respect, wrestling with it as opposed to break­ing it down into its con­stituent parts and com­par­ing them to each other. (It’s worth not­ing that Cham­pion found the Shep­pard sec­tion far too long, for instance, but he never men­tions this in his inter­view. He sim­ply wants to get at what the novel is try­ing to say, and what more can a writer hope for?) Con­se­quently, we’re able to talk about what it might mean, for instance, that the Has­troll sec­tion is so short; or it might answer why David has no his­tory, seems at times a cipher, with a far less rich inner life than Mar­i­lyn or Sam Shep­pard, for instance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the guy is a trea­sure to the book world, just as Robert Birn­baum, Stephen Usery, Leonard Lopate, or Bill Edwards are as well. They give books and writ­ers their due.

Another ter­rific talk about the book just appeared on Slate’s Dou­bleX audio book blog. The dis­cus­sion is lively, the obser­va­tions by the participants—Hanna Rosin, Emily  Bazelon, and Mar­garet Talbot—are bril­liant, sym­pa­thetic, syn­thetic, humor­ous, crit­i­cal, glow­ing, occa­sion­ally obtuse (it’s a novel, not a self-help book), off base (misog­y­nist?), and spot-on, but always, again, respect­ful, espe­cially of the book’s ambi­tious­ness. I’m thrilled and flat­tered that they decided to include it on their pro­gram. Although my response to the show pre­ceded its air­ing, that response is worth read­ing, but only after you’ve read Mr. Peanut, because it con­tains numer­ous spoil­ers, as does the book talk.

Last but not least, Mr. Peanut was short­listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and what can I say? It’s thrilling, hum­bling, and means that there’s a one-in-seven chance that they like me, they really, really, like me…

Notes from the Mr. Peanut tour — Part II

Before I get to Part II of my tour, I have some news about addi­tional upcom­ing events.

On August 12, I’ll be appear­ing in New York at the Lin­coln Tri­an­gle Barnes & Noble, 66th & Broad­way, at 7:30 p.m. Also, if you’re one of those lucky New York­ers who escape to the Hamp­tons, that week­end I’ll be doing two events out there: a reading/Q & A at East Hampton’s BookHamp­ton Fri­day, August 13, at 5 p.m., and Authors’ Night at the East Hamp­ton Library on Sat­ur­day, August 14, begin­ning at 5:30. It’s dubbed “the pre­mier lit­er­ary event of the Hamp­tons” with numer­ous authors present to sign books and meet with read­ers, but its less glitzy, more prac­ti­cal func­tion is to ben­e­fit the East Hamp­ton Library, a place dear to my heart for a lot rea­sons, most imme­di­ately that over the past cou­ple of years, I spent many hours of my Augusts work­ing on Mr. Peanut in its stacks (while my wife and kids played on the beach and felt lit­tle, if any, pity for me at all). If, by chance, you find your­self in Scot­land in late August, I’ll be doing a mod­er­ated dis­cus­sion and read­ing with Leanne Shap­ton at the Edin­burgh Book Fes­ti­val on August 29, at 8:30. On Sep­tem­ber 23 at 6 p.m., I’ll be at the Grey Par­rot Gallery in Atlanta, GA, and finally at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, the Cen­tral West End store, on Octo­ber 20. I’ll post the time of that event when I have it.

Speak­ing of time, it’s some­thing of which I had pre­cious lit­tle while tour­ing. I was in New York on July 12–14, doing a ton of media in the run-up to my read­ing that Tues­day at McNally Jack­son book­store on Prince St. My agent, Mark Kessler, had flown in from Paris, where he lives, to accom­pany me over the next sev­eral days and also just to hang out, since our rela­tion­ship is almost entirely con­ducted on the phone. On Mon­day, we made our way out to Brook­lyn, to sign stock at Book­court and Green­light, two ter­rific stores, though admit­tedly I was sad at the lat­ter not to get a chance to meet Daryl, who’d reviewed the book for the Huff­in­g­ton Post’s Indie Book­sellers’ Top 15 Beach Reads (Mr. Peanut was sub­se­quently voted #1), so that I could thank her in person.

The high­light of Tues­day was sit­ting down with Edward Cham­pion at Le Pain Quo­ti­dien on 57th St., host of The Bat Segundo Show, a bril­liant, supremely eru­dite guy who has inter­viewed every author out there it seems (his library of con­ver­sa­tions is remark­able) and whose pod­cast reg­u­larly airs on his web­site. The inter­view isn’t up yet, but it was the most philo­soph­i­cal talk I’ve had about the novel’s struc­ture, not to men­tion the most in-depth with regard to its inter­tex­tual use of Hitchcock’s films, par­tic­u­larly in the Shep­pard sec­tion. Be on the look­out for that, and, if you haven’t lis­tened to Champion’s show before, check him out. Any­one inter­ested in books needs his site on their list of favorites.

Wednes­day was eas­ily the wildest day of all, com­pli­cated by weather (it was pour­ing on and off), traf­fic, and the fre­netic sched­ule. Early that morn­ing, Mark and I made our way deep into the Moth­er­ship to do an inter­view on Fox’s The Strat­egy Room, worth the trip just to feel the sheer hum of infor­ma­tion beam­ing from that build­ing and to eye the shock­ingly tall, stag­ger­ingly gor­geous women anchors, all of whom have clearly been drink­ing a dif­fer­ent brand of vit­a­min water than I have. I’m no shorty, but every time we stopped at an ele­va­tor bank, I felt like I was back at a sev­enth grade dance, eye-to-sternum with a dream­boat. Next, we took the train down­town to do The Leonard Lopate show, a sub­stan­tive inter­view that lasted over fif­teen min­utes but felt fast-paced—Lopate, the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional, has a remark­ably light touch in con­ver­sa­tion, and has an amaz­ing abil­ity to keep the con­ver­sa­tion broad and deep at the same time. Being there was one of those writ­ers’ bucket-list appear­ances I’m thrilled to have checked off (though I hope to appear on Mr. Lopate’s show again). After­ward, we headed down to War­ren St. to sign books at Mys­te­ri­ous Book­shop, then I did a phone inter­view with Alec Har­vey from The Birm­ing­ham News sit­ting on a stoop on 96th and Lexington—we had to head all the way back uptown for rea­sons too embar­rass­ing to discuss—then jumped back on a sub­way to Prince St. for drinks with my wife and friends before the read­ing at McNally Jack­son. I’m happy to report that the New York sub­way sys­tem is in fine work­ing order; it took us a mere 18 min­utes to get uptown on the express from City Hall. We had time on our hands after­ward and took the local down­town to enjoy the air-conditioning. As for me, I dozed.

The read­ing at McNally was attended by nearly a hun­dred peo­ple and it was over­whelm­ing to look out over the audi­ence and see friends from ele­men­tary school, high school, col­lege, and Nashville; to have fam­ily present as well as many of the great peo­ple I’ve worked with at Knopf. To see Larry David wan­der­ing the store, who is, like the anchor-trons at Fox, very, very tall. There was a party at the apart­ment of my edi­tor, Gary Fisketjon, after­ward, and which car­ried on late enough to make catch­ing the early flight to Boston pretty rough.

But Mark and I made it, it was a gor­geous day up there, the humid­ity had abated, it was bril­liantly clear, the Charles River was crazy with sail­boats, and I arrived in time for an appear­ance on The Literati Scene with Smoki Bacon and Dick Con­can­non, a cou­ple who, like Stephen Usery and Edward Cham­pion, are doing great things for the book world in their own local way. There was lunch after a six-minute video­taped inter­view with Mr. Con­can­non and the con­ver­sa­tion about e-books over the meal was lively, but I had to split for another inter­view with Robert Birn­baum, whose work appears reg­u­larly on identitytheory.com. (As with The Bat Segundo Show, I’ll post the inter­view when it’s up.) Birn­baum is a barrel-chested guy, has a full head of white hair plus a full beard. All the dude needs is a captain’s cap and you’d think he was Conrad’s Mar­lowe. His inter­view focused a great deal on my work with Gary Fisketjon, as well as the edit­ing process of Mr. Peanut. After­ward, I signed a beau­ti­ful book he’s been putting together for his son, Cuba, full of inscrip­tions and pic­tures of the writ­ers he’s inter­viewed over the years, as well as a base­ball. (Note to self: steal ver­sion of this idea for your own chil­dren.) Next, we piled into a car and signed books at four dif­fer­ent stores around Boston (New­tonville Books, New Eng­land Mobile Book Fair, Brook­line Book­smith, and Porter Square Books). The Big Dig has been a suc­cess, by the way. Traf­fic wasn’t too bad.

I read at Har­vard Book­store that night–the event was taped for WGBH–and not only was Bookdwarf’s Megan Sul­li­van in atten­dance (her early spring post about the novel was respon­si­ble, I think, for a lot of its ini­tial buzz), but so was my child­hood babysit­ter, Alex Macar­ron, who brought her lovely fam­ily in tow. The read­ing went great, the Q & A was a riot (there was some ban­ter about the Clinton’s mar­riage vs. The Gores), and Mark and I ate at Grendel’s Den afterward—a place my wife and I ate at many times dur­ing the sum­mer we lived in Boston.

Con­clud­ing this leg was a visit to Alabama Book­smith in Birm­ing­ham, a plea­sure on numer­ous lev­els, though I’ll admit I find that town about as con­fus­ing to nav­i­gate as an Escher design. I did morn­ing tele­vi­sion, ABC 33/40’s Talk of Alabama, and later that evening got to hang with local book maven and Book­smith owner, Jake Riess, whose store has a tremen­dous fol­low­ing, a huge First Edi­tions club, and a remark­able gallery of writ­ers who’ve appeared there over the years. Our friends, Car­o­line and Stephen Gidiere, were co-hosting the event. They sup­plied wine, beer, party bags of peanuts, not to men­tion a ton of cool friends. Even bet­ter, I got invited to read at a local book club (which is a per­fect excuse to come back to Birm­ing­ham) and to the South­ern Voices Con­fer­ence in Feb­ru­ary (another excuse). I read the scene where Mar­i­lyn and Richard Eber­ling have brown­ies at her home with Chip—a scene I’ll be read­ing reg­u­larly in the com­ing weeks—followed by din­ner at Botega, another Frank Stitt work of genius. How come Birm­ing­ham has so many unbe­liev­able restau­rants? Why is it that it takes two days to recover from a hang­over when you get older? And is my dead­line for Ladies and Gen­tle­men, my book of short sto­ries, really com­ing up? I was just start­ing to get the hang of this “being an author” thing. Now I have to sit down and be a writer again.

* * *

In a final bit of Mr. Peanut news, I’ll be appear­ing at the Perth Writ­ers Fes­ti­val in March 2011. Mean­while, I’ve included this pic­ture from Mis­sis­sippi of a truck that does high­way sig­nage repair and looks, to me, like some kind of bug on wheels. Another gift of touring…

Page 3 of 41234

Appear­ances