- [Beep.] Is it rolling, Bob? Ha, get it, that’s from Nashville Skyline … which all of us here at the Academy just adore, by the way—your voice sounds so beautiful without all those cigarettes chewing it up. But anyway, I’m calling because … well, you know why. Okay, Bob? Bob, are you there? Hey, Bob? … Bob? We’ve got this prize to give you. Bob. It’s the big one, ha-ha! It’s the highest honor! … C’mon, Bob, pick up the phone. I know you’re there. Don’t let me just blather on like this—again—Bob? Come on, man. We’ve been trying to get you on the horn for days now. Maybe it’s—you know you can e-mail us, right? I get it, the phone numbers get pretty long when you’re calling international, maybe you’re just sick of trying to dial … plus the time difference … I mean … just have your manager e-mail a little whatever, He accepts, he thinks you’re great … okay, Bob! Look, we’re not saying you have to get in touch. It would just be nice. We’re all big fans and we have—arrangements—to be made. For the banquet. In Stockholm? For the fucking Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob, which, frankly, we went out on a limb, giving this thing to you, I don’t know if you’ve seen the hot takes, and if you could just show a little decency—I mean not decency-decency, we’re all big fans—but it’s, it’s not like we haven’t taken some heat on this one, right, and now with the prolonged silence and all it sort of looks—just … call us back. Please, please call us back, Bob.
I’m mistrustful of year-end lists, especially best-ofs. I didn’t get to all the books I wanted to read (or write about) this year, though a number of the ones I liked have appeared in this column over the past twelve months. For my last selection here in 2015, I’ve chosen a book that’s old (originally published in 1997) and new (reissued this year) and that I’ve only just finished: Gary Indiana’s Resentment. I read the novel with great pleasure and with a kind of deep attention that I can’t summon for all books, though I might want to. In that respect, it has come as a year-end gift, despite the fact that it trolls America’s darker instincts. The novel circles around a murder trial in Los Angeles that is based on that of the Menendez brothers’ parricide in 1994 and follows the peregrinations of Seth, a reporter who is both attending the trial and writing a celebrity puff piece. The swirl of Seth’s various encounters, the details of the trial, and the seediness of wealth congeal into an ugly mass that so aptly captures the tabloid heart of America. Perhaps because this time of year is acutely, sordidly commercial, I found the novel’s every line to be viscerally true. —Nicole Rudick
One book stuck with me all year—Mark Greif’s atmospheric history The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America 1933–73. Alternate subtitles might include “Books Your Parents Studied in College, and Why Nobody Studies Them Now,” “The Origins of the Culture Wars,” or “Are You Serious: The Rise and Fall of the Great American Novel.” None of these screams best seller, but if you grew up equally confused by Jean-Paul Sartre and Henderson the Rain King, this may be the book for you. —Lorin Stein Read More
Finding a Hall of Fame for Dock Ellis.
Let’s get Dock Ellis into the Hall of Fame. Oh, not really, of course—by the Hall’s statistical criteria, he isn’t even close. But after a visit to Cooperstown in September, I found myself imagining a Hall of Fame that would enshrine him.
Ellis is unquestionably famous, after all—infamous, too. He is the subject of No No: A Dockumentary, which headlined the Hall of Fame Film Festival I attended last month; a Society for American Baseball Research panel event a few weeks later; a psychedelic song, recorded in 1993, by Barbara Manning; and, especially, an excellent book, published in 1976, by The Paris Review’s own Donald Hall, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. Evidence keeps mounting that Dock—always flamboyant, often controversial—was the emblematic player of his era, the seventies, with its dubious introduction of such artificialities as the designated hitter and Astroturf; the acrimonious battle for free agency; and all those drugs.
Ah, yes, drugs. Ellis, who died in 2008, is best known as the pitcher who, in 1970, threw a no-hitter while tripping on acid—appropriately, his name in a box score reads, “Ellis, D.”—but that freak feat is a red herring, and it’s not even his most freakish. On May 1, 1974, Dock decided to send a message to the Pirates’ archrivals, the intimidating Cincinnati Reds, who had cowed Pittsburgh into competitive docility. “We gonna get down,” Dock decided. “We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.” Donald Hall recounts Ellis’s plan and its execution. The first guy Dock hit was Pete Rose (who should also be in the Hall of Fame, though for very different and far more genuine reasons). After he hit three batters, walked another who ducked and dodged four pitches, and threw two beanballs at future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, Ellis was mercifully removed from the game with this remarkable stat line: zero innings pitched, no hits, no strikes thrown, three hit batsmen, one walk, one run allowed. “Dock Ellis faced four batters in the first inning,” the box score decorously explains. Dock’s own explanation of himself in No No says more: “It’s not that you’ve got to watch how I pitch,” he insists. “You’ve got to watch how I play.” Read More
- Donald Hall, who published poems in our first issue, has taken to the Concord Monitor to excoriate a senator in verse: “Get out of town, / You featherheaded carpetbagging Wall St. clown, / Scott Brown!”
- Today in crass commodification: New Balance is releasing a series of shoes based on great American lit. “No one captures the essence, spirit, and the American experience better than American authors and the stories they have told throughout history. For the Made in USA Authors Collections, we pay homage to great American authors by building a collection inspired by their stories and moments.” The shoes are three hundred dollars a pair and “aren’t specifically tied to an author’s name.”
- “The history of the professional executioner is a chronicle of perfecting the choreography of death. It’s a story of exacting skill and the never-ending search for a more efficient means to enact (and contain) the spectacle of death.”
- Bob Silvers talks to The Guardian about the New York Review of Books, which is to be the subject of a new documentary by Martin Scorsese.
- No plans this weekend? Paint your actuary! “It might seem strange that an artist would lavish such care on the nuts and bolts of something so mundane, like a poet writing couplets about a corporate expense report. But … accounting paintings were a significant genre in Dutch art.”
In Ivan Weiss’s trailer for Bull City Summer, guest photographer Alec Soth says, “What I’m doing here isn’t about the game of baseball.” Soth isn’t the first project participant to say this (or words to that effect). The notion has been with us virtually since Bull City Summer was conceived, more than two years ago. It has since grown into an informal slogan.
It’s curious to say that a project about a baseball team, set in and around a baseball park, isn’t about baseball. But in fact, the diamond has long refracted our attention outward from itself: Walt Whitman compared baseball to America’s laws and Constitution; more recently, Michael Chabon wrote, in Summerland, “A baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day.”
The “summer day” part is a little too pastoral for me (the vast majority of games are at night, anyway), but Chabon is right that a ballgame, with its pauses and blank spaces built around what Whitman called the “snap” and “fling” of the game’s energy and action, encourages you to take in everything around it—everything that “isn’t about the game of baseball,” as Soth says. Chabon and Soth are getting at why we call baseball the national pastime instead of the national sport. Read More
The Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is both a misnomer and an anomaly. It has long dedicated itself to the task of promoting the reading and writing of poetry and has, for eighty-five years, served as a niche for poets the world over. While its reputation has bloomed over the years, thanks largely to word-of-mouth praise, it has never fared well financially, partly due to competition from larger stores and the Internet, partly because poetry has never been popular with the masses, and partly because its founder seems to have done everything in his power to ensure that his store not be turned into a business.
Located on Plympton Street in Harvard Square, the Grolier occupies just 404 square feet of space and is dwarfed by the neighboring Harvard Book Store. A white square sign with meticulous black lettering juts out near the top of the store entrance. The font size decreases from top to bottom, much like on an eye exam chart, and one can just make out, at the very top, a finely done illustration of three cats (or is it the same cat?) dozing, grooming, and turning their backs on the viewer.
Upon ascending a small flight of steps, one is greeted by the sight of an abundance of colorful spines—approximately fifteen thousand—neatly arranged against nearly every flat surface of the shop. These volumes are neatly balkanized into several categories, including anthologies, used, African-American, early English, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Indian, Latin, classical Greek, Japanese, Korean, East European, Spanish, and Catalan.
Above the towering shelves are approximately seventy black and white photos (many courtesy of the photographer Elsa Dorfman) of poets and other members of the literati for whom the Grolier has served as a meeting place for well over half a century. Among the Grolier’s most illustrious visitors, most of whom are smiling or gazing sagely and serenely ahead in the photos, are T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, e. e. cummings, Marianne Moore, James Tate, Donald Hall, and Helen Vendler.
Off to one side at the front of the store sits a lean shelf of chapbooks and a donation jar; a small note says that the chapbooks have been generously donated by the author and that monetary contributions to the shop would be greatly appreciated. Directly across this bookcase is the cash register, propped up on a desk and flanked by sundry items, including bookmarks, promotional literature, pamphlets, business cards, and commemorative pens. On the wall right adjacent to the register hangs a certificate from Boston Magazine honoring the Grolier as the best poetry store of 1994. Read More