Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sunning Our Pallors

Along Lexington and Park, the street vendors have multiplied and traffic has thickened. The offices have let loose a miraculous profusion of people, like spiders bursting from an egg sac. After suffering through the near endless angst of winter, New York has found its reason to be.

On my lunch hour, I walked east through a wash of white noise and jackhammering along 47th Street, where I discovered a bar called Snafu, a tiny farmers market, and a statue entitled Good Defeats Evil.* The stretch of 1st Avenue in front of the U.N. was being repaved and smelled like tar.

Flesh was noticeably absent. Whereas I suspect SoHo is a study in the inverse relationship of skirt lengths and necklines, the streets around Grand Central seemed filled with businessmen carrying their suit jackets, their sleeves rolled to their forearms.

Spring has come late and on unsteady legs, but it has come. Such are our joys and concerns on a Wednesday at the end of April.

* In which Good is apparently some sort of Greek warrior wielding a cross-shaped staff against Evil, a sea creature partially made of ballistic rocket parts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Literary Life, or Those Ideas Are Dead

Carolyn makes a lot of good points here:

My blood is boiling over this L.A. Times piece that purports to examine the question of whether it’s possible to be a young, struggling writer in New York these days, when “bohemian writers have been forced out by hedge-fund guys.”

Literary Young Men and Their First Novels

The three authors the Times uses to illustrate this point are Nathaniel Rich, Ed Parks, and Keith Gessen —demonstrably NOT AT ALL young, struggling writers. They each have a wealth of literary and media connections that have led to their books getting exactly this kind of national coverage. Rich is a Yalie and the son of Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist. Parks has worked for the Village Voice and the Believer, so he’s in with New York publications and the McSweeney’s machine. And Gessen is an Ivy Leaguer who worked at the New York Review of Books and then started n+1, which created its own whirlwind within the right kind of publishing circles. They exemplify the fact that it’s next to impossible to get anywhere in New York without an inherited network and a literary pedigree.

She goes on to decry the trend of New York literary professionals writing novels about New York literary life. There's little to argue with, but there are several things I'd like to add.

It's not just that those authors are speaking to themselves (and few others) when they write these novels; editors are doing the same when they acquire that kind of book. It's not worth pointing out that there are an absurd number of books about affluent New Yorkers, but am I alone in thinking that this is a problem that's getting worse?

My real point—if you'll excuse what is admittedly a screed—is that this is a problem that's institutional within publishing. As long as publishers continue to hire entry-level workers at $30,000 per annum (in some cases lower) and is solely located in a city notorious for its high cost of living, those positions are going to be filled primarily by kids who don't need the money. This is a wage well below what we find it acceptable to pay starting teachers, whose salaries are constantly (and rightly) bemoaned. This is what I think about when I hear my friends tell me they're leaving publishing.

I'm not saying that the editorial assistants I know don't deserve the jobs they have. They are all extremely bright people, but personal experiences matter, and they shape how we approach literature. If we limit the industry to people who come from a single, privileged background, it also limits the scope of our literature. You can bet there will be fewer stories about scraping money for food at the end of the month and more about, well, the tiresome existential angst of the upper class.

From where I sit, class is still with us. It ain't going away. We all know the middle-class is struggling, but poor are suffering more than at any time in recent memory. Taxes have become increasingly regressive, and there's little political momentum behind shifting the burden back where it belongs. Food and gas prices have increased dramatically. These are inconveniences for the middle-class that go largely unnoticed by the affluent, but for the poor they are serious hardships. If you are poor and live in a rural area, $4.00 gas is the difference between keeping your job in the next town over (the one, I might add, where housing is more expensive) and taking a lower-paying job closer to home.

These are stories that aren't being told, and our culture is hurting because of it. I got into publishing because I firmly believe that writing is the best—and in some cases only—way to give complex issues the attention and detail they deserve. If we abandon the responsibility to tackle complicated and timely problems—or even just the portion that don't affect us directly—we're abandoning the chief purpose of our medium.

Friday, April 11, 2008


My little sister, Topher (short for "Stephanie," of course), is graduating college. We all know commencements have to have a keynote, but really, Furman?
President George W. Bush will serve as commencement speaker when Furman University holds its graduation exercises Saturday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Paladin Stadium.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shoes vs. Books

Tyee Books:
Using a booklist to divine a man's character seems no worse than rating his shoes -- which many women swear is infallible -- and it may be better.
That in response to this piece from the Times, which I'm sure you've already read.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Afternoon Weirdness

Sometimes Mondays are like a night of hard drinking. To wit, it's Monday, and somehow I've made it to the afternoon, though I'm not quite sure how I got here. I recall something about coffee and answering the phone. Perhaps your day is going much the same, and if so, might I recommend you listen to this song.

I first heard this song after going to a Tearing the Veil of Maya show. Michael Showalter closed the show by trying—and failing—to play the song over the loudspeaker. Frustrated, he ordered the crowd to listen to the song at home: "It's the weirdest thing I've ever heard, and by 'weirdest,' I mean the most awesome." And so it is.


Right now, Facebook is telling me I might know a guy named Snake Murray, who apparently went to my high school. I'm pretty sure I don't know him, and if I do, I certainly don't remember him. But what I'm wondering is how someone decides it's appropriate to call himself "Snake." Is there a mathematical formula? A government-issued flow chart?