After the jump, a recap of last night’s softball game against Esquire.
Katherine Dunn’s story, “Rhonda Discovers Art,” opens our new summer issue. (It’s generated excitement among her fans and even made New York Magazine‘s Approval Matrix this week.) The seeds for this story’s appearance in The Paris Review were planted more than a decade ago, when I read Dunn’s incredible book, Geek Love. Random House has just put the first chapter of Geek Love up on their website. If you haven’t read the book, here’s your chance to give it a try. I dare you.
This is the second installment of Arthur’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
6:10 A.M. The New York Times. More about Israel and the Gaza attacks. A surprising waste of space devoted to a co-op spat on the Upper East Side. I love reading about real estate and rich people behaving badly, but this feels small: boring fight and boring story. Bob Herbert on the oil spill. Henin and Ginepri are out of the French Open.
7:00 A.M. Managed to miss the train. On the bus instead, where my usual carsickness subsides enough to let me continue Operation Franzen.
8:15 A.M. E-mail includes news of a rave review by Julie Orringer in the Washington Post of Frederick Reiken’s Day For Night. I already loved Julie Orringer, but now I think she can do no wrong.
8:20 A.M. Great interview on the Huffington Post with Cal Morgan, editor at Harper Perennial and one of my earliest publishing pals when we were both at St. Martin’s Press. Cal is publishing some terrific fiction, in a really interesting way.
8:36 A.M. My morning spin around the blogs. Maud Newton, Betsy Lerner, Elegant Variation, Galley Cat, Sarah Weinman. With BEA last week I’m a little behind on these, and I see that Maud has been, as always, sharp and smart—this time about Garrison Keillor’s recent prediction that publishing is on its deathbed. Betsy Lerner writes about writing, publishing, and being an agent, and it’s beyond me how she manages to post a smart and witty new entry every day, but her blog has become a welcome daily habit.
12:23 P.M. Publishers Weekly, with round-up of last week’s BEA at Javits. Photo of Jon Stewart, who hosted the sold-out author breakfast, and provided the quote of the fair when he followed Condoleeza Rice’s apparently great speech with: “Don’t MAKE me like you.” I perform the editorial review scan: race through the review section for my own books, as well as books I saw, bid on, or passed on. These can bring pain or pleasure but today I’m spared both. Nice review for Don Winslow’s upcoming Savages. He’s the first writer I ever signed up, and a great guy to boot.
1:00 P.M. Glamorous publishing lunch: falafel at my desk. Twitter brings news that the Gores are divorcing: wow. And Twitter sends me to a deeply satisfying, hilarious review of Sex and the City 2 by Lindy West in The Stranger, which I promptly bookmark so I can read her more often.
1:10 P.M. Newsweek Tumblr in response to David Carr’s piece about their sale.
3:10 P.M. Break from work to check the Times online and dammit, Federer’s been knocked out of the French Open by the unpleasant Swede. I must Tweet my dismay.
4:45 P.M. Bookforum. Lovely Michael Greenberg essay about his near-death and his dying mother. Mary Gaitskill’s rigorous and convincing review of Marlene van Neikerk’s Agaat. Mark Stevens on the new Leo Castelli biography. Paul La Farge and Keith Gessen on utopia and dystopia. Reader, I skimmed. James Gibbons on Rick Moody’s The Four Fingers of Death, which my colleague Pat Strachan edited—a “comic tour de force”! Hooray.
6:00 P.M. Franzen on the bus. The manuscript pile is growing. Must. Finish. Galley.
8:30 P.M. Manuscripts.
10:30 P.M. New Yorker. I love the Jeffrey Eugenides story set at Brown, which makes me nostalgic for my early New York City days when I was surrounded by Brown graduates who quickly cured me of saying “girl” instead of “woman” and other late-eighties infractions. Joan Acocella on “Cirque du Soleil,” which I just dragged my family to last week out on Randall’s Island. I could happily read Joan Acocella all day. The only thing that could make this New Yorker issue any better would be a Nancy Franklin review.
Among the new heroes of this World Cup one must now count Bob Bradley, the grim, predestinarian U.S. coach—on the silent sideline his presence seems more foreboding than forbearing—much maligned by American fans in the qualifying campaign for his tactical inflexibility and cautious squad selections.
Like those other steadfast skippers pilloried for poor performance in early games, Bradley has remained loyal, through the group stage, to a cautious 4-4-2, deploying creative flair in the central midfield, when forced to, only behind his quantum destroyer son, Michael Bradley—his head shaved bald like his father in a show of grim emulation. But Bradley père’s central defense suffocated Wayne Rooney in game one, and his bold halftime substitutions saved the Americans in game two, stockpiling on the field all the technical skill the middling U.S. team could muster, heedless of the tactical consequences.
Today his foresight and patient tinkering paid off again—adjustments made at halftime and throughout the final forty-five minutes—producing a steady stream of American chances which our virtuosity in bungling them proved we hardly deserved. And in the panicked ninety-first minute, Bradley’s alignment produced, at the very end of a half thoroughly dominated by U.S. possession, an improbable opportunity to counterattack—the open field being the only soccer habitat, it seems, in which American strikers can actually thrive. Now, pending results this afternoon, it seems the U.S. path forward will take them first through Serbia and then, given a result there, into a quarterfinal against either overperforming Uruguay, or the pinball side from South Korea. Winning those winnable contests means a place in a World Cup semifinal. And these two miraculous end-game assaults—an unrelenting second half against Slovenia, comical incompetence in front of goal against Algeria preceding a single surgical strike—look now a lot less like the anarchic energy of tactical desperation. They look like providence.
The stars of this World Cup have all been letdowns. Messi, despite some flashes outside the box, hasn’t scored, Rooney and Kaka look exhausted, Robben and Drogba are injured, and Cristiano Ronaldo is so vile that his very existence is a disappointment. Instead all the talk has been of coaches.
It seems as if every team with the exception of England are playing the same tactical formation—a 4-2-3-1. The crucial number here is the 2; it refers to the holding midfielders who operate as a double defensive shield in front of the actual defense. They sit deep, keep the play narrow, and stop the opposing attackers from finding any space in which to operate. When both teams play with it, it can lead to the rather dour defensive battles that we have witnessed so far. It has traditionally been the weapon of choice for weaker teams, a way to absorb pressure—to “park the bus,” as the English commentators put it, in front of the goal. Needless to say, it’s a system beloved by coaches, less popular with fans. Both Carlos Dunga of Brazil and Vincent del Bosque of Spain are being castigated for playing without the necessary flair.
6:30 A.M. Packing for a trip to Toronto to meet George Pelecanos for the Hammett Awards. Embarking not just on a short trip, but on a Culture Diary, haunted already by George’s quote yesterday in The Wall Street Journal when they asked people what they’re reading this summer: “I’m not going to play that game. Everyone says something that sounds smart and ends up taking Michael Connelly to the beach.”
6:45 A.M. In and out of the bedroom while packing, so I hear bits of an NPR story about New Orleans music—second line, bump.
7:10 A.M. Bag ready, kids still asleep, I turn to my two ongoing Wordscraper games on Facebook. There are ample reasons to like and loathe Facebook, and I can’t justify its existence or my participation in it, but what I can do is blame Nora Ephron. Her essay about her online Scrabble addiction led me into a world I (happily) never knew existed: the world of Scrabulous. Soon, I was the closest I’ve ever come to an illicit online activity, playing rapid-fire games with total strangers who slaughtered me mercilessly. And then a friend told me we could play via Facebook, which I’d assumed was off-limits to any self-respecting adult over twenty-five. (Many would argue this is still the case.) It was the beginning of the end.
7:21 A.M. Slate. Dana Stevens, like every other critic I’ve read so far, confirms my sense that Sex and the City 2 is an abomination upon womankind. William Saletan is in a dust-up with The National Review.
8:07 A.M. WNYC in the car to Newark Airport. Bob Henley, did you have to use the word “confab”? I’ll answer that: no, you did not. Long, depressing, infuriating story about the oil spill. Scott Simon riffs on airport security.
8:40 A.M. Turns out leaving Newark on Saturday during Memorial Day weekend is a breeze. I’m in and out of security faster than you can say “Scott Simon.” Which only leaves me more time to suffer the plague of modern travel: the CNN airport onslaught.
9:00 A.M. Joy! My iPod John Prine Pandora station is working. So long, CNN.
9:05 A.M. Rats. Pandora no longer working. Time to plug into Syd Straw’s “Pink Velour.”
9:30 A.M. iPod battery dead. CNN rage returns. Half-hour report that began with the dubious claim that “Some people don’t know how expensive college can be” has been deemed “incredible” by the anchor. That’s one word for it.
9:35 A.M. Twitter. A blogger loves James Hynes’s Next. And this is one reason why I love Twitter.
10:15 A.M. Plane prepares for takeoff and I’ve left my New Yorker in the overhead bin and I can’t turn on my e-reader or iPod. Media withdrawal begins.
10:30 A.M. Manuscript on e-reader for the short duration of the flight.
2:15 P.M. Waiting to meet Pelecanos in hotel lobby. French Open! I haven’t seen any of it yet. Nadal v. Hewitt for five minutes, then George and I head for Toronto’s Greektown, and a great Greek feast.
4:30 P.M. Manuscripts; nap.
6:30 P.M. Hammett Awards, where I say hello to Walter Mosley and meet Jedediah Barry, whose novel The Manual of Detection is one of the prize finalists.
10:00 P.M. After the ceremony, drinks with George, Canadian writers Linwood Barclay and Giles Blunt, and wonderful Deon Meyer, the South African writer who is here as an international guest of honor. They all seem to know an awful lot about films, soundtracks, motorcycles, and cars. I guess now’s not the time to bring up The Real Housewives.