Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Lists!

I've been busy losing money and enjoying the summer, as well as reading more books than the first slush pile screener for Harlequin, Inc.

I have found time to follow and enjoy the various lit lists lately, however, and thought I'd participate in the fun by pasting the top books, by sale, for three categories for the years 1962 and 1992. Any pre-commentary would blunt the results themselves. Oh, and also with recent blogo-slicing developments in mind, a reminder that comments are always welcome, though of course spam and sham will be flushed.


Fiction Bestsellers

1. Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools
2. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Dearly Beloved
3. Allen Drury, A Shade of Difference
4. Herman Wouk, Youngblood Hawke
5. J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
6. Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe
7. Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, Seven Days in May
8. Irving Wallace, The Prize
9. Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy
10. William Faulkner, The Reivers

Critically Acclaimed and Historically Significant

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
Students for a Democratic Society, The Port Huron Statement
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Michael Harrington, The Other America
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy
Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind
T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics
Fritz Machlup, The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the U.S.

Nonfiction Bestsellers

1. Dr. Herman Taller, Calories Don’t Count
2. The New English Bible: The New Testament
3. Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book: New Edition
4. Virginia Cary Hudson, O Ye Jigs & Juleps!
5. Charles M. Schulz, Happiness Is a Warm Puppy
6. Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Joy of Cooking: New Edition
7. Louis Nizer, My Life in Court
8. Frederic Morton, The Rothschilds
9. Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl
10. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley


Fiction Bestsellers

1. Stephen King, Dolores Claiborne
2. John Grisham, The Pelican Brief
3. Stephen King, Gerald’s Game
4. Danielle Steel, Mixed Blessings
5. Danielle Steel, Jewels
6. Sidney Sheldon, The Stars Shine Down
7. Anne Rice, Tale of the Body Thief
8. James A. Michener, Mexico
9. Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale
10. Mary Higgins Clark, All Around the Town

Critically Acclaimed and Historically Significant

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men
Al Gore, Earth in the Balance
Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life

Nonfiction Bestsellers

1. Rush Limbaugh, The Way Things Ought To Be
2. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography
3. Naura Hayden, How to Satisfy a Woman Every Time
4. James Herriot, Every Living Thing
5. Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
6. Sam Walton, Sam Walton: Made in America
7. Andrew Morton, Diana: Her True Story
8. David McCullough, Truman
9. Gail Sheehy, Silent Passage
10. Madonna, Sex

Monday, August 9, 2010

Anis Shivani's "15 Most Overrated Writers"

It's been entirely predictable how the anti-Shivani arguments have run, as seen on other blogs and on the burgeoning comments section of the original piece in the Huffington Post (currently 1, 378 entries). For the record, of the fifteen authors given a bird's-eye assessment, I've only read Ashbery, Collins, and Oliver. I'm ambivalent on the former, and on the other two, I thought Shivani was dead on.

It's also predictably convenient how Shivani's larger argument has been ignored by those who benefit from the set up. On that issue, here's Shivani in his own words:

"As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical "reviews" announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes ...

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat--awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. ...

As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn't know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they're happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them."

But then, Dana Gioia, Joseph Epstein, and Thomas Disch all said much the same things over a decade ago about the culture of poetry.

To summarize the main points of contention to Shivani's essay (commenting on them is superfluous):

"Mr. Anus should stop with the ad hominems!"

"He's never even read these authors. Who is Shivani, anyway? I've never heard of him till now. His writing probably sucks, and he's just envious."

"I've stayed up till 2 a.m. reading Amy Tan, so she must be a good writer."

"9 of the 15 authors trashed are women. It's obvious he's sexist!"

"This is so mean-spirited! Real writers, the greats -- or decent critics -- never had the time or low morals to argue viciously in the public sphere about other writers."

"Good or great writing needs encouragement! Without the support of institutions, many otherwise 'can't miss' writers would fold and fly away like a pup tent in a windstorm. And in any event, creative writing courses are all about building self-esteem, anyways, not producing the next Tolstoy or Dan Brown. Articles like these just make the Silliman brouhaha all too real -- one woman left literature altogether because someone attacked her work in a comment stream!"

[and my favourite irony guffaw:] --

"Anus should keep his hole shut! People should be able to express themselves however they like."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Don Domanski's All Our Wonder Unavenged

When Don Domanski, in 2007's All Our Wonder Unavenged, sticks to phenomenological transmission, his gently vatic voice gains that authority through the erasure of observer and observed, and the merging of different sentient beings, even insentient objects into elements ("the street like a greenhouse drifting gradually out to sea" from "An Old Animal Habit") , while avoiding (a tremendous feat!) the perils that Tim Lilburn often succumbs to by way of hopped-up and distorted imagery, dramatic murkiness, and transpositional antics. Lines gather spiritual force by subtle metaphor, tantalizing atmospherics, and honest cadence. There're too many out-of-time snippets to quote here. A few examples may give a hint, at least, though I do a disservice to the integrity of the poems they're culled from: "hard to see the inlay of ghosts in the spider's web/or sense the sleepers shining back from the other side" ("In the Dream of the Yellow Birches"); "quiet up here among the colourless wands of spruce/moths tracing thin bracelets in the air" ("A Trace of Finches").

When the author superimposes spiritual commentary on life-as-awe, things go south. It's not just that the reader is subjected to this unnecessary framework, but that the traditional spiritual truths revealed are badly formed, even wrongfully detailed. "Ars Poetica", as the name suggests, is loaded with these "statements". "but never scribble/a single sentence that will be weightless and endure//behind our backs words sign-off": I don't understand this contradictory belief. If all our words perish, what of the vast, epistemic spiritual record that even Domanski himself learns from and cherishes? If the answer is that the word only points to enlightenment, there's no argument here, as reality is relative and absolute. "to write is to enter the rehearsals of solitude": it's the other way around. It's been my experience, backed up by the same spiritual sources Domanski details, that silence (I'm assuming "silence" can stand in here for "solitude", though if not, I'm wrong and Domanski would have been better off choosing a much different word) is the ever-present stateless bedrock and precursor to creativity (writing, in this context). "what takes me through the field takes me home eventually/to the blank page": continuing with this same line of thought, "what takes me through the field" is a silent meditation, if I'm to read the poet aright (and I think I do in this case -- Domanski is skilled at constructing a cohering metaphysic), so there would be no sequential crossover involved since the same meditational quality would be the impetus for sitting down "to the blank page". A "rehearsal" would mark a duality, however subtly it's experienced. From the titular poem, "Cling to unity the Taoists said over and over" shockingly contradicts what many have suggested the philosophy of Buddhism can be accurately reduced to: "no clinging". 'Killing the Buddha when you meet him on the road' is purposely provocative so's to drive the point home. (Buddhism and Taoism, though culturally and tempermentally different, nevertheless cohere in core precepts, and Domanski reveres, and alternates between, the two allusive formations.)

I enjoyed the trip but not the (occasionally) intrusive speaker. I always did prefer choirs or musical soloists to the confession booth or the pulpit.