While drawing, I imagined myself on the Mayflower, looking out into darkness and seeing only water and sky. I thought about waves and drowning and being surrounded by everything unknown. I thought about how it feels to walk on an unstable surface. When I looked out into the ocean and the harbor in Provincetown, I understood, like the Pilgrims, what it meant to feel alone.
I am giving my first ever “real” poetry reading in a few weeks. Whenever I go to readings, the writers are charming and chatty and tell stories in between selections of their work. How do you do that? I am not at all confident in my ability to improvise witty remarks in front of an audience. It’s nerve-wracking enough reading the poems! —Tongue-tied
It’s not your job to be ingratiating. Leave that to lounge singers. I find it embarrassing when a poet tries to be liked, or explain what he or she was thinking when she wrote blah-blah-blah. Patter is just a distraction—an apology.
My advice: Memorize the poems you plan to read. Anything spoken by heart commands attention. Bring the poems with you, so you can consult them if need be—but really, the way to win an audience over is to get up there, say your poems in a loud, clear voice, face out. Then say thank-you and get off stage.
This is the second installment of Weitz’s culture diary. Click here to read part 2.
The Times reports a boardroom struggle at Barnes and Noble. I have little sympathy for the big book chains, as they have played such havoc with the independent book market. Los Angeles, contrary to popular prejudice, used to be a great bookstore town; there was Midnight Special on Third Street and the late, much mourned Dutton’s, which used to be my favorite bookstore in the world, not least because it was arrayed in three different buildings around a courtyard, and no one thought twice if you exited one building with a pile of books under your arm without paying, because you were on your way to a different department. That sort of expectation of civility is lacking these days. Nowadays Book Soup seems to be the only holdout in the city, and they have recently been acquired by Vroman’s, the Pasadena independent. Most of all, I lay a curse upon Borders, who sucked up masses of customers by convincing people that bookstores were social venues with DVDs and coffee bars, and then imploded spectacularly, having put dozens of mom-and-pop places out of business.
Part of the blame goes to Amazon, of course, which means part of the blame goes to me. Still, I comfort myself with this thought: Books sold in actual space, even books on actual paper, may die off; but the instant accessibility of books, the lower cost, the preposterous speed of acquisition, may lead to a more ready consumer. I buy more books because I have a Kindle, and because they cost less, I am more willing to take a flier on a book that I might otherwise not lumber myself with.
In the meanwhile however let me recommend Heywood Hill on Curson Street in London. Among other things, they are fantastic at locating hard-to-find volumes, and when the third volume of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy was unavailable in the States they were more than willing to send it to me. But if you happen to be in the area you can stop by for events, such as when Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was at the shop to sign copies of her eagerly awaited memoirs Wait for Me! The Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister.” My editor, Pete, tells me that the Mitford sisters would spread jam on their butler’s head to attract wasps away from them. I hope this is apocryphal.
On the way home from work, I listened to the Disinformation podcast, a bunch of clever Southern misfits covering the occult, conspiracy, and esoteric beat. This time it was an interview with occult historian Gary Lachman, who also happens to have been one of the founding members of the band Blondie.
In bed tonight, Mad Men seemed a little too much of a harsh toke so we took it easy on ourselves with The Mighty Boosh, the absurdist British comedy. I had the pleasure of meeting one of its contributors, Richard Ayoade, familiar to a select few as Dean Learner from Garth Marengi’s Darkplace (can’t explain, just watch it). Richard’s first feature, Submarine, just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by the Weinstein brothers.
Still concerned with a cryptic statement of Heraclitus as reported in Anthony Gottleib’s The Dream of Reason. He minted some real Hall of Famers, like “Character is destiny” and “You can’t step in the same river twice,” but he was also responsible for this one: “Death is all things we see awake. All we see asleep is sleep.” Will sleep on it. Read More
Barry Lopez often explores the relationship between landscape and culture in his nonfiction. He wrote the introduction to the The Tree, just published by Ecco Books. Lopez spoke with me from his home in western Oregon.
The way that you described having to put the book down and walk away from it, “its thought was as stimulating as I could stand”—I had that exact experience as I read The Tree.
Well that’s wonderful. I think John was so strongly perceived by people as a literary figure, relatively few wondered where his pattern of thought came from. A somewhat ramulose—do you know what I mean by ramulose? If you look at a tangle of rosebushes and you try to trace with your eye, pick a rose, and go backwards, trying to find where it came from? Well, he had a ramulose mind, and he was captivated psychologically, emotionally, and in a literary way by these kinds of natural complexities. They endlessly entertained him.
Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favorite novels. I think of it as a book that is both a romance between humans and a romance between humans and nature.
I think you’re absolutely right.
It sticks with me in this intense way. I connect both love and romance and sex in that book to actual, physical landscapes. I can’t think of another novel like that. But I had never heard of The Tree until recently. It was a revelation to me.
To me too. I’m sitting on the same couch now, in the same room I read that book in thirty years ago, remembering it.
What has changed in those thirty years, both for you—and I know this is too big a question—and in terms of your experience of reading the book? Read More
The Nobel Prize committee announced this morning that Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 award for literature, praising him “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”
In the fall of 1990, The Paris Review published an astonishing interview with Vargas Llosa. Then a friend to both Neruda and García Márquez, he expressed an abiding belief in the need for a literature that dissolves politics into its narrative fabric and offers imaginative solutions to economic and social problems. Writers, Vargas Llosa felt, should not seek to distance themselves from the political sphere:
I think it’s crucial that writers show—because like all artists, they sense this more strongly than anyone—the importance of freedom for the society as well as for the individual. Justice, which we all wish to rule, should never become disassociated from freedom; and we must never accept the notion that freedom should at certain times be sacrificed in the name of social justice or national security, as totalitarians from the extreme left and reactionaries from the extreme right would have us do. Writers know this because every day they sense the degree to which freedom is necessary for creation, for life itself.
Hardly imagining, as an adolescent, that he would be able to devote himself to writing full time—“too much of a luxury for a Latin American,” he explained, “especially a Peruvian”—Vargas Llosa planned to pursue a career in law or journalism. We’re grateful that he reconsidered.
DAY ONE, KIND OF
The first thing that occurs to me at the beginning of my cultural week is a question about criteria. What qualifies? If you read—or, as I did, listen to—Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, the whole of culture is going to hell in a handbasket, as mash-ups and the digital entrepôt rid us of professional reportage, musicianship, originality, and notions of humanity itself. He cites Facebook as an example of the degrading of our standards: What is a “friend” from now on? Punters of my generation—and probably most readers of The Paris Review will find this a curious thing to say, but my three-year-old son will likely see it as a word for the tally of standardized connections amassed through the mediation of a Web site.
DAY ONE, REALLY
Monday begins, technically, at 12:00 A.M. “Sunday night,” with an Alan Watts lecture on the subject of “Play and Sincerity.” I have long used Watts to put me to sleep, which implies that he is soporific. Not so; it’s that I find his voice comforting.
I also indulged in Zombieland, the unfeasibly entertaining comedy directed by Ruben Fleischer. Of the two ruling monster metaphors currently infecting the public mind (the other being vampirism, to which I have to confess I have contributed), I favor the flesh-eating variety, though that may simply be an indication that I have a Y chromosome.
While we are at it, I am afraid that I rate Justin Cronin’s vampire epic The Passage a “sell.” The word is that Ridley Scott is to direct the movie version, and this may be one case of a book that benefits from boiling down. I hope that Sir Ridley is in his best science-fiction mode and can bring some of the quotidian genius that he brought to Alien and Blade Runner.
My dad, who served in the Office of Strategic Services at the end of World War II, always said that the New York Times was the greatest intelligence resource in the world. When I got old enough to have developed a taste for a newspaper without (as he called it) funny papers, we had two subscriptions for the house, so that there would be no scuffling over favorite sections. (We also received the Post, for shits and giggles.) Read More