The Review, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last night at Town Hall, found its niche almost immediately, and has been largely immune to the shifts in the business of cultural production and criticism, enduring for five decades and retaining its spot as the elite platform for probing, diverse cultural criticism and argument, right to the present day.
Drinking With Men is an idiosyncratic memoir coming from a woman in 2012, though it revives an old standby (paging Pete Hamill!): a compendium of sharply observed drinking stories that revolve around the usually male communities that form among bar regulars.
In her convincing, comforting presence, one wanted to believe that her book has indeed “been read very reductively,” as she said after the event. “It makes feminism stupid to refuse to look at peer reviewed science if you know—and just want it to go away.”
Edmund White had prepared hypothetical Shteyngart blurbs for Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. And Mein Kampf: “Proves that left to their own devices, blondes really do have more fun,” White read.
As for body hair, the night’s other comic motif, Crosley briefly obliged Harding’s request for mockery. “The hair,” she said. “It’s sort of like his nipples are like buttons on a fur coat.”
But the real story of the event seemed to be the National Book Foundation’s triumphant makeover in the face of the book industry's continued decline. Inside Cipriani, authors posed for photographs on a red carpet. Molly Ringwald and Stephen King dined on sea scallops with frisée and tomato concasse. Rumors spread that the after-party, emceed by “international hip hop artist” Rabbi Darkside, had a waiting list—though if you were already a guest at the book awards, it turned out, you could just walk upstairs at the end of the night to keep things rolling.
While an in-on-the-joke Commander-in-Chief might be seen as the ultimate triumph of the MAD sensibility, it's also its ultimate dissipation. Ficarra remembers very distinctly being told that Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer loved a MAD movie poster parody of the secondStar Wars preque lcalled Gulf Wars Episode II: Clone of the Attack, and had brought a copy of it to the Oval Office to show to the president. "They thought they would make me happy with that, but it was actually infuriating."(2)
But this wasn't a book party, or a reading, or the launch of the latest issue of some literary magazine. It was a consciousness-raising. At least that was the intention; technically, it was a fund-raiser for VIDA, the advocacy group for women in the literary arts, sponsored by the Penguin imprint Riverhead.
Does any of this matter, politically? Is this important, say, compared to the recent revelation from another Washington Post writer that Mitt Romney, when he was in high school, bullied a gay student? (That question is already being asked by people who very much want the answer to be "yes.")(1)
The two share lots of history, not least of all their debt to the muck-raking Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle.(1)
Junot Díaz on writing about 11 Dominicans, getting 'lunch money' from Miramax, and the generosity of his readers
A student asked about an Oscar Wao film. Back in 2007, Miramax bought the rights to it, but never made the film.
“You’ve gotta remember it’s about Dominicans in New Jersey so they paid like $500 for it,” he said to laughs. “No, I’m being honest. The shit wasn’t about werewolves, you know? Literally they paid, like, they paid me lunch money.
The Baffler loves to poke holes in over-inflated egos; if some member of the media declares you (or your TED talk) The Next Big Thing, you’re likely The Baffler’s next target. As Lehmann put it during his talk, the magazine sought not to be a “thought leader,” but rather a “thought provoker,” or better yet, “thought destroyer.”(3)
Star is famous for being editor of now-defunct but much beloved by smart people magazine Lingua Franca, and for founding The Boston Globe's popular Ideas section; from there he made his way to The New York Times Magazine. But he joined the Book Review in Dec. 2010 amid Hugo Lindgren's shaking up of The New York Times Magazine, where Star had been deputy editor.
Tweets about pandas, rappers, and dirty stuff plus sex confessions equal a Tao Lin-curated reading at St. Mark's
The literary differences fell, maybe unsurprisingly, along gender lines. The three male readers went for laughs, joked about rappers (as though nothing could be further from their heady literary experimentalism than the black experience), and seemed cooly aloof, while the two women performed their sexuality and their awkwardness, less for laughs than for the sake of some therapeutic confessionalism. If a Muumuu House house style emerged, it was one that was very much in line with the affectless, self-concerned style of Thought Catalog: diaristic essays and Twitter poetry. And it's succeeding. Gaby Dunn, a Thought Catalog writer, scored that Times gig, while Calloway is meeting with literary agents.
"With gay books by James Baldwin and Gore Vidal that were bestsellers in the past, it's usually assumed that they were crossover hits, and succeeded with straight audiences as well as gay audiences, but we just don't know if that's true," he said. "I'll make a bet that a huge percentage of those readers were gay, and there was nothing else for them to read, so they gobbled up Myra Breckinridge. I assume most of the readers were gay."
Nonetheless, even if just a few thousand gay readers were sufficient to push Myra Breckinridge—Vidal's 1968 novel with a transgender heroine—onto the bestseller lists, that was also enough to get Vidal on television talk shows, where he reached millions who hadn't actually bought his books.(3)
Like a good writer, Shalom Auslander knows that he should be contradictory. The fun for him is in deconstructing each fluctuation of thought, turning a conversation with himself into a dialectic, considering both the pros and cons of life, death, hope, and despair. In Hope: A Tragedy, this back-and-forth appears as therapy sessions between Solomon Kugel and his therapist, Professor Jove, a celebrity doctor who keeps a kind of anti-inspirational poster with the words "Give up" on his office wall: "It was hope, according to Professor Jove, that was keeping Kugel up all night," the narrator tells us. "It was hope that was making him angry."(1)