Category Archives: Robert Coover

Links: Unstructured Play

Robert Coover: “A lot of what I do engages with the American myth. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with myths: we tend to need some sort of sustaining mythic notion or pattern or vision in order to get through each day. We need a little bit of structure to get out of bed, to keep going. But most of it is stifling, in some way corrupting. So, the challenge I always have in my work is to unmake the myth.”

Visiting the Orlando house where Jack Kerouac drafted The Dharma Bums.

Is blogging dying? (via) When people say this it’s a safe bet that what’s really being said is, “Blogging is dead as a way to make money.”

A reference librarian at Gallaudet University, a premier school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., on the deaf protagonist of Carson McCullersThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: “He is a surprisingly sympathetic deaf character, given that this novel was written in 1940, which was not a period in which deaf people were understood and accepted in mainstream society. His deafness—or at least muteness—appears to be a device that allows him to work as a “blank slate” on which the other characters project their own understandings of his responses—or lack thereof—to their needs.”

Tales from Norman Mailer‘s Brooklyn lair.

Rachel Syme asks what would constitute a revival of 90s books. You could make a small shelf of what you might call alt-rock lit, including Pagan Kennedy‘s The Exes; Bruce ThomasThe Big Wheel, a roman a clef about his bandmate Elvis Costello; and, of course, Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity, increasingly an artifact from the time when record stores were cultural hubs.

Nelson Algren to a student: “Reading this was like trying to nap when somebody is pushing a lawn mower back and forth under your bedroom window.” Related: Chicago magazine’s Whet Moser unearths a 1988 feature on Algren chronicling his last days in Sag Harbor, where he lived—not particularly happily—in the orbit of Peter Matthiessen, Kurt Vonnegut, and Betty Friedan.

[Paul] Auster has even published six of his novels in Danish before they appeared in his native English.”

Victoria Best writes on how Willa Cather‘s books were co-opted by critics for their own purposes, and adds some excellent additional thoughts on the role of the critic in general.

Mark McGurl versus Elif Batuman on MFA programs, with additional thoughts from D.G. Myers and Seth Abramson. Questions of historical accuracy and needless snark aside, I’m struck by this bit from McGurl: “[P]art of my motive for adopting this position [that postwar fiction is the richest and most multifaceted body of fiction available], at first, was that no one else has ever wanted to occupy it. Some instinct told me that praise would, in this case, be a more powerful critical instrument than blame, troubling my colleagues in creative writing (What, he doesn’t hate us? What’s up with that?) just as much as it would the members of my own uncreative tribe, the literary scholars, for whom contempt for the discipline of creative writing had become lazily automatic.” McGurl later expresses actual respect and admiration for the stuff, but to say you like something because it is “rhetorically strategic” to, even in part, seems disingenuous. (I haven’t read The Program Era, so I don’t know if that attitude works its way into the pages of the book itself.)

Richard Ford: “Michigan is the place we think of when we think about work in America. It’s where people stick a thermometer when they want to take the temperature of the economy and understand how people are getting along.” Recommendations of great Michigan fiction welcome. (via)

David Foster Wallace‘s Kenyon College commencement speech inspired many of the graduates who were there. It may have done a little something for Mel Gibson too.

Old-Time Confusion

The latest issue of the Believer includes an exchange between novelists Maureen Howard and Joanna Scott (full interview subscription-only), and the conversation eventually turns to the various ways storytelling attracts interest and creates tension—and whether technology can make storytelling more engaging. Howard suggests that the old-fashioned printed page today lends itself to “careful, or do I mean conservative, fiction,” to which Scott responds:

Are you saying that here that a story that charges toward the end is necessarily conservative? You’re arguing in favor of a narrative made up of digressions? But I wonder if those sidebars can be deceptive. I think of the footnotes in Nabokov’s Pale Fire—these end up moving the plot forward in sneaky ways. … Suspense can come in many flavors. it isn’t just generated by a sequence of actions. There might be a suspense in the delays of a meandering narrative, or in the invention of competing voices. As a reader, I love to get caught up in paragraphs that are full of vivacious details. Confusion can be very suspenseful, if we’re able to move through the murk. I’m convinced that the most essential suspense in fiction is generated within each sentence.

Before the two drifted onto the subject of words on the page—it’s a drifting interview—they discussed a 2002 New York Times feature on a virtual-reality reading project at Brown University that Robert Coover is involved in. In the “Cave Writing” project, words were projected onto to the walls, and could be “peeled” away to float by themselves and discussed; animated images and music were included too. All of this, Coover said, was designed to elude “the dogmatic solidity of the printed text.” But he noted that there was a downside to all the bells and whistles: “[W]hen you ask afterward, ‘What were the stories about?,’ not many people noticed.” The work continues, though without access to the actual virtual reality presentations, they appear to be more like interesting art pieces than any replacement for conventional printed-page narrative.

Links: Malaise Speech

Today is John Steinbeck‘s birthday. In his honor, the National Steinbeck Center is hosting events through the weekend; in related news, the entire country is hosting a massive Great Depression for the next five years or so.

Perhaps a commemorative Mark Twain coin would help?

Minnesota author Bill Holm, called the “polar bear of American literature,” has died. He was 65.

Those Robert Coover appearances at the University of Pennsylvania I mentioned earlier this week are now available online on video and MP3.

Russell Banks says Martin Scorsese‘s film adaptation of his novel The Darling is still moving along.

A healthy selection of works by Wells Tower, including an excerpt from his new collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, are online.

The viability of Tao Lin‘s plan to finance his writing by selling shares in his next novel is being disputed in the comments of yesterday’s post. Bright minds who understand finance and publishing better than I do are encouraged to weigh in. (Update: I got played on this. Maybe. Probably. Anyhow, lesson learned.)

Last call: Tomorrow I’ll be at an all-day seminar on fiction writing at George Mason University, put together by American Independent Writers. If you’ll be there, please say hi.

Brunch With Robert Coover

Short notice, but those reading this on Tuesday morning might want to tune in to a talk with Robert Coover from the campus at the University of Pennsylvania. Go to the Web site for Penn’s Kelly Writers House at 10:30 a.m., and you should be able to catch the discussion, featuring an author who doesn’t do much in the way of interviewing. (I’ve looked around to see if the site archives presentations from its impressive list of fellows, but I can’t dig anything up.)

If you’re looking for a primer on Coover, or a refresher, professor Michael S. Hennessey, who’s teaching a class in postmodern American fiction to a batch of lucky students, has gathered up a set of relevant Coover links. Coover may be the only pomo author to be attached to a crummy Alicia Silverstone film.

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Dept. of Self-Promotion note: My review of Bill German‘s memoir of his life with the Rolling Stones, Under Their Thumb, is in today’s Washington Post.

On Deck

Nicholas Dawidoff, author of The Catcher Was a Spy, an intriguing biography of Moe Berg, has a roundup in the Wall Street Journal of five great works of baseball fiction. (David Carkeet‘s The Greatest Slump of All Time was news to me.) Sportswriters may be the last batch of journalists (who aren’t book reviewers) with an affinity for fiction. In the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold hunts for a model for Rick Ankiel, the Cardinals’ hot pitching prospect turned hot slugging prospect. Goold turns to Philip Roth‘s junky baseball satire, The Great American Novel:

There’s also the lesser-known Luke Gofannon, from The Great American Novel. Gofannon is the best player ever to hoist a bat for the Port Ruppert Mundys in Philip Roth’s classic sendup, and he’s described purposefully Ruthian:

The iron man came up in 1916 as a kid pitcher, and then played over two thousand games in center field for the Ruppert club, scored close to fifteen hundred runs for them, and owned a lifetime batting average of .372 — the fella who was the Mundys to the three generations of Rupe-it rootas! … In his prime, they’d give him a hand just for striking out, that’s how beautiful he was, and how revered.

Vice’s Fiction Issue

There’s lots of great stuff in Vice‘s second fiction issue–pieces by Richard Price, Mary Gaitskill, Robert Coover, Jim Shepard, Nick Tosches, and more–but I keyed in on this interview with editor Gary Fisketjon, who’s worked with Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, and more. All I can say to this bit is that I’m trying…:

Is there a temperament of a good editor?

I’ve known all sorts, but I should think the best would prove to be patient, understanding, careful, honest, and forthright rather than falsely flattering or disingenuous, celebratory, certainly, and sympathetic as well about all the trying circumstances all writers face nearly all the time. We’re all in this together, but only because writers have enabled us to be part of it.