Archive for the ‘Arts & Letters’ Category

Pulitzer Prize scuttlebutt

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Arts & Letters
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[ASIDE: I can’t believe there are two t’s in “scuttlebutt”! Snicker.]

My inside sources (i.e.: an email I ripped off) tell me these are some of the likely long-list candidates to make the Pulitzer Prize short-list this year:

1. Nemesis by Philip Roth
2. Sourland: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates
3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
4. Fun with Problems by Robert Stone
5. The Spot by David Means
6. The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
7. Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
8. Private Life by Jane Smiley
9. Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
10. Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
11. Great House by Nicole Krauss
1. The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
2. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
3. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
5. The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
6. Walking to Gatlinburg by Howard Frank Mosher
7. The Surrendered by Chang Rae-Lee
8. Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch
9. How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique
10. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
11. I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita
12. Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
13. Parrott and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
14. Wild Child by T.C. Boyle
15. The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
16. New York Stories by Ann Beattie

By the way, the second list are books someone, somewhere thought may possibly be in contention. As far as anyone knows, and because nerds have very little else to do but speculate about books.

My prejudicial thoughts:

Philip Roth – I don’t like him. Portnoy, end of story. GROSS.

Joyce Carol Oates – I love her, though she sometimes makes me feel like pulling an Anna Karenina.

Franzen – Give me a break, but he’ll probably win.  He’s cute (love the glasses!), but Freedom was bloated and over-rated. And the ending? Oh, SHUT UP!

A bunch of writers I haven’t read – if I haven’t read them, should they even be considered?

Anne Tyler – I’ve tried and tried and tried, but I just don’t like her books. A firm NO to her, with apologies because she seems very nice.

Jane Smiley – Liked her previous work, but haven’t read this one. Hmm. Maybe.

Cynthia Ozick – BRILLIANT! She deserves it on general principle. So she probably won’t win.

Nicole Krauss – Amazon tells me I’d LOVE her book. And that’s all I got.

Three misc. guys – Haven’t read any of them, heard they’re good.

Jennifer Egan – I interviewed her when her previous book, The Keep, was published. She’s a nice person. Not sure that’s a requirement for a Pulitzer?

Next three – Shrug

Jon Clinch! – I championed his previous book Finn. Now it’s being taught in college courses, along with Huckleberry Finn. Coincidence? Oh, but haven’t read his latest, though I have it at home. It’s been busy, okay? But he deserved it for Finn, though as an upstart of course they wouldn’t give the prize to him. I like him, but he’s doubtful.

“Tiphanie”? Really? Yes, that was petty.

Orringer, Yamashita – I have review copies of both at home. Crossing my fingers for Yamashita, published by Coffee House Press. They’re nice!

Gordon – Don’t know. Is he cute?

Peter Carey – I have review copies of his past TWO books, unread. Big name, but he’s been lauded so many times. A contender, definitely.

T.C. Boyle – Genius! And he lives in a really nice house. I saw it in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, a program my children call “a grandpa show.” Let’s see if we pay for their college.

Julia Glass – NO! NO! NO!  Read a review copy of her first book and wound up throwing it against the wall with great force. No one with that bad a first novel should be allowed anywhere near a prize, even if I have to restrain her.

Ann Beattie – She’s been around forever, but short stories are so much less popular than novels. With me, namely.

The others I didn’t mention? Meh.

I love guessing book prize winners, even when I haven’t read all the books. I call making decisions without all the information “living on the edge.” Then again, to me ordering anything from a menu that isn’t a tuna melt is akin to bungee jumping.

I’ll go research (SEE: Read Amazon reviews), then give you my suggested choices for the short-list. But if they give it to Franzen someone will need to be hurt. Short of Toni Morrison, NO OPRAH BOOKS!!!


Ever thought about how the age of the blog will impact the future of arts and letters? Specifically, what will become of the collected letters and diaries of today’s great authors once they’re gone, considering so many of them are using online forums to blog their thoughts?

Imagine if such great diarists as Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf had lived in the age of the internet. How different would their collected letters and diaries be?

Pepys constructed a rather elaborate code in the writing of his diaries, a fact that indicates he knew people would puzzle over them. He probably snickered all the way to the grave, knowing how people would scratch their heads over his diaries. It worked for a long time, too, and the literary detectives were baffled a good long time. Pepys died in 1703 and the first edition of his diaries wasn’t published until 1825.

The fact of the matter is, the cheeky thing had actually tucked a key for his shorthand into some books shelved above the actual diaries themselves. Still, it took years for scholars to locate it and then puzzle out his volumes and volumes of handwritten diaries.

If Pepys were writing today would he just make up a blog pseudonym for himself (a blogonym?) and hide behind that, instead of his elaborate system of shorthand? Instead of scratching out his diary on sheets of vellum, employing his trusty quill pen, he’d type them out on his laptop.

Decidedly unromantic, if you ask me.

Virginia Woolf left behind a wealth of letters, diaries and manuscripts. If she hadn’t handwritten them we wouldn’t know about her penchant for violet ink, nor would we see her scratchings out, her little doodles along the margins, etc. If she’d typed them on her computer all we’d have to analyze would be her choice of font, use of bold and italics, and how often she failed to scan for homonym typos. Spell check would take care of all her endearing mispellings (and she did have a few of those), and all would be uniform and sanitized.

Imagine if, after she’d typed out her now famous suicide note to husband Leonard and best friend Vita Sackville-West, there’d been a delivery error. How ironic to get a Fatal Error message while sending your suicide note, eh?

What, then, will the future of the collected writings of authors be like? Instead of tracking down handwritten documents we’ll have to send in the Geek Squad to tap into their hard drives, as well as the hard drives of those with whom they corresponded. The search will be on for their Blackberries, their cell phone records and even their iPods. Handwritten documents? What are those?

While it is rather satisfying to read the blogs of today’s writers, it still gives one pause thinking what this will mean for the future. It’s a mixed blessing. We hear more from them during their lifetimes, and they’re definitely far more accessible, but once they’re gone what we’ll have left will be far less personal.

I guess we’ll have to reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of progress, but personally I think a lot of the charm will be lost in the process.