April is National Poetry Month

The Empire State Building honors National Poetry MonthThe Academy of American Poets is celebrating its tenth month-long literary celebration of poetry next month. They want us to remember Emily Dickinson’s words, “Nature is a haunted house – but Art – is a house that tries to be haunted.”

During the month, ten poetry readings will be held in ten cities, the first being in Vancouver, BC. Why they couldn’t find a tenth US city, I don’t know; but maybe Vancouver is a would-be American city–an American-enough city. Probably they’re just willing to have a reading. (Did they ask poets in Houston or Athens, TX? St. Louis, maybe?) New York will get involved with a light display on the Empire State Building. Pictured is the one from last year. They will also have a benefit gala at the Lincoln Center on April 5 with a handful of familiar faces and voices, including everyone’s favorite former anchorman Dan Rather.

But the fundamental point of this celebration is for you and I to enjoy more poetry. What do you think of that? Do you enjoy poetry or do you return it to the shelf still hungry?

April is National Poetry Month

The Empire State Building honors National Poetry MonthThe Academy of American Poets is celebrating its tenth month-long literary celebration of poetry next month. They want us to remember Emily Dickinson’s words, “Nature is a haunted house – but Art – is a house that tries to be haunted.”

During the month, ten poetry readings will be held in ten cities, the first being in Vancouver, BC. Why they couldn’t find a tenth US city, I don’t know; but maybe Vancouver is a would-be American city–an American-enough city. Probably they’re just willing to have a reading. (Did they ask poets in Houston or Athens, TX? St. Louis, maybe?) New York will get involved with a light display on the Empire State Building. Pictured is the one from last year. They will also have a benefit gala at the Lincoln Center on April 5 with a handful of familiar faces and voices, including everyone’s favorite former anchorman Dan Rather.

But the fundamental point of this celebration is for you and I to enjoy more poetry. What do you think of that? Do you enjoy poetry or do you return it to the shelf still hungry?

Harriet Klausner in the Journal

For a long while, I have thought about asking the top reviewer on Amazon.com, Harriet Klausner, for an interview. As with most things, I missed my chance. Today, there’s a feature story in the [Wall Street Journal]. Booksquare addresses it personally, saying he has emailed her before.

Is Harriet a vital force in the bookselling world? Well, maybe not vital, but a contending or influential force among many others. If she was a blogger, she would (or should) be one of the most recognized. But can we take her seriously when she does not appear to have reviewed anything by Wodehouse?

*just kidding*

Literary Non-excellence?

Deidre Donahue in a review for USA Today of Ian McEwan’s Saturday claims literary excellence is darn hard. “Few writers can sustain excellence, particularly if they publish more than one book a decade. The widely admired best-selling British writer Ian McEwan, author of the acclaimed Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker prize, proves no exception. His new novel, Saturday, can only be described as dull.” The book is heartless, she says, written with skill, not feeling.

Many reviewers disagree, but what do you think about her opening claim on excellence? Has McEwan maintained a literary excellence over the past decade? Has anyone else, even if the measure of that excellence differs a bit (i.e. Terry Pratchett may be excellent, but not the same excellent as McEwan.)?

After Havana by Charles Fleming

The Friday review is a day early; the novel is Charles Fleming’s After Havana. The book was published by Picador.

Set in Cuba in the 1950s, After Havana has the feel of an old-fashioned novel of intrigue, a literary antecedent to the modern day thriller. A violent dictatorship in its final days of power fits the tradition prefectly; Fidel Castro’s revolution is gaining strength in the verdant hills. The mob controlled casinos and beachfront hotels are jammed with tourists, hustlers, gamblers, and the ever present security police.

The story opens with a car crash. A late night joy ride ends badly when a vintage Cadillac slams into a fountain; three Americans are killed instantly. The driver survives only to be executed by a member of the security police. The shooting is witnessed by a mysterious woman on a balcony; she’s traveling with a wealthy American named Calloway. That same night a boat approaches Cuba; its cargo includes a key figure in the revolution, a man known as El Gato.

The protagonist is Sloan, a horn player on the run from Las Vegas; as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the woman on the balcony is Sloan’s lost love. When she’s kidnapped by the rebels, Sloan goes after her in the scenes that bring the point of view characters together for the story’s climax.

After Havana steps around the politics of the day, presenting Castro’s revolution as an event, not historical watershed. Some of the book’s best scenes occur in the mountains and towns under rebel control; because we follow so many characters on both sides of the war their stories humanize the conflict. With some familiar icons of the era…Meyer Lansky, for example, the novel feels stunted in places, confined by the work that preceded it. In the end it resolves in the way film noir blackens the screen; the noir elements are present from the opening. The author blends the intrigue and the conventions of his genre with just the right amount of tension, atmosphere, death, and despair. He uses a journalist’s eye to recreate Havana on the verge of collapse; it’s a polished read and a compelling story.

The first post-literate novelist?

Maud Newton posts a report by Nick Kocz on a JS Foer reading and book-signing. Kocz says,

Jonathan Safran Foer may very well be our first post-literate novelist. Not that he is illiterate but that he’s writing for a world that has lost faith in the primacy of the written word. . . .

Foer’s work is very threatening. While others have used images and drawings to supplement their texts (Barthelme, Thurber and Haddon come quickly to mind), Foer’s images are used to replace words. The anxiety this causes among those who love words has got to be what’s fueling a lot of the negative reviews he’s been getting.

Novels Divided in Three Parts

I just finished Charles Fleming’s After Havana from Picador. It’s set in Cuba before the fall of Batista; I’ll get a full review on Friday because, as we all know, it’s bad luck to review on Wednesday.

“Tota Gallia im tres partes divisa est.” It’s a great opening line to Caesar’s Conquests subtitled I need more money if we’re going to subjugate these people. Back in Rome the talking heads were squabbling about the necessity for vanquishing the Gauls; after all, the Romans didn’t need Gaul. Caesar held the office of dictator, a job created to facilitate decision making as the days of the Republic waned. The opening line means that Gaul is divided into three parts; it isn’t clear if Julius was info-dumping or setting the stage for funding increases.

Novels are divided into three parts as well. Post-modern efforts have blurred the classic dimensions of beginning, middle, and end into something resembling all three. Let’s say if Caesar had been a postmodernist his invasion of Gaul might’ve been a dream sequence or an existentialist comtemplation…”the woods, the woods, so different yet so much the same.”

Julius knew his audience. A paean to the trees would’ve been savagely critiqued, poorly received, subjected to scorn and ridicule. Even the French…the object of his conquest…have downgraded Sartre in their Pantheon of philosophers. Jean-Paul failed to make their Top One Hundred list. That’s the door slamming closed on decades of languid prose, striking poses, dark distractions. Like the inventor of the mood ring, his genius is now reviled in the cold light of history. The novel can once again be divided into three parts…

Novels Divided in Three Parts

I just finished Charles Fleming’s After Havana from Picador. It’s set in Cuba before the fall of Batista; I’ll get a full review on Friday because, as we all know, it’s bad luck to review on Wednesday.

“Tota Gallia im tres partes divisa est.” It’s a great opening line to Caesar’s Conquests subtitled I need more money if we’re going to subjugate these people. Back in Rome the talking heads were squabbling about the necessity for vanquishing the Gauls; after all, the Romans didn’t need Gaul. Caesar held the office of dictator, a job created to facilitate decision making as the days of the Republic waned. The opening line means that Gaul is divided into three parts; it isn’t clear if Julius was info-dumping or setting the stage for funding increases.

Novels are divided into three parts as well. Post-modern efforts have blurred the classic dimensions of beginning, middle, and end into something resembling all three. Let’s say if Caesar had been a postmodernist his invasion of Gaul might’ve been a dream sequence or an existentialist comtemplation…”the woods, the woods, so different yet so much the same.”

Julius knew his audience. A paean to the trees would’ve been savagely critiqued, poorly received, subjected to scorn and ridicule. Even the French…the object of his conquest…have downgraded Sartre in their Pantheon of philosophers. Jean-Paul failed to make their Top One Hundred list. That’s the door slamming closed on decades of languid prose, striking poses, dark distractions. Like the inventor of the mood ring, his genius is now reviled in the cold light of history. The novel can once again be divided into three parts…