September 30, 2005
On Books

My latest American Enterprise Online books column is now up. I take a look at Andrew Eames' The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie:

Travel writing is a curious genre. So much has been said about the most loved destinations—Paris, Provence, Tuscany—that yet another tome on one of these places seems entirely superfluous. And the world has opened up so much that once-exotic destinations like Asia are now available to the middle class.

Writers are a tenacious breed, though, and a new subgenre has developed: travel inspired by literature...

September 29, 2005
Thought for the day

"Art is second to life and if you are living just now (we only live by fits and starts) then put art out of your mind absolutely."

—Eden Philpotts to Agatha Christie, quoted in Andrew Eames' The 8:55 to Baghdad
(with apologies to Katherine and Jim)

September 23, 2005
Thought for the day

"American movies today are aimed at three kinds of audiences: kids, cokeheads, and those seeking any kind of loud and vulgar stimulation with which to fill up a gaping inner emptiness for a couple of hours."

John Simon

September 18, 2005
Thought for the day

"Each moment of a happy lover's hour is worth an age of dull and common life."

—Aphra Behn

September 17, 2005
Thought for the day

"Happiness is not something you experience, it's something you remember."

—Oscar Levant

September 15, 2005
Macca mania

The Washington Post tells us about the creative strategies Capitol used to prevent unauthorized advance release of the new Paul McCartney album:

Fearful of piracy, Internet leaks and -- just maybe -- music critics who, as a breed, tend to have violent reactions to new Paul McCartney records, Capitol went into cloak-and-dagger mode for Sir Paul's 20th studio album since that popular little band of his broke up. (And we don't mean Wings.)

Reviewer copies can't be played on computers, and they were "watermarked," whatever that means. For good measure, "Pete Mitchell" was slapped across the CDs, lest a Beatles fan wander by a critic's desk and decide that there's no better time than now to hear the new Paul McCartney.

The album itself sounds interesting—it was produced by Nigel Godrich, who also handled Radiohead's best album (and one of the greatest albums of all time), OK Computer:
"Chaos and Creation" is something of a long-overdue sequel to 1970's "McCartney" and 1980's "McCartney II" in that it's an almost all-Paul affair. At Godrich's urging, McCartney played almost everything himself, from Hammond B-3 and harmonium to flugelhorn and melodica.

September 14, 2005
On Books

In my latest American Enterprise Online column, I express some disappointment with the latest offering from dean of American letters Kurt Vonnegut:

A certain joke on the worship of celebrity can take many forms. The New Yorker, for example, would publish a grocery list if it was signed by John Updike. Kurt Vonnegut’s latest book, A Man without a Country (Seven Stories Press), isn’t quite a grocery list. But at times this scattered, rambling book seems awfully close...
The book does contain the occasional gem, however.

September 11, 2005
Thought for the day

"The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not."

—George Bernard Shaw

September 10, 2005
Thought for the day

"The American citizen's first importance to his country is no longer that of citizen but that of consumer. Consumption is a new necessity."

—from a newspaper editorial cited in Helen and Robert Lynd's Middletown, 1929

September 08, 2005
Bookies' Booker

The Booker Prize shortlist was announced today. It looks to be a very strong list. It must have been, given that heavyweights like Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and J.M. Coetzee were cut from the longlist. The BBC also provides bookmakers' odds:

5/4 - Julian Barnes, Arthur and George
4/1 - Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
5/1 - Zadie Smith, On Beauty
8/1 - Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way
10/1 - John Banville, The Sea
12/1 - Ali Smith, The Accidental
The leader of the pack won't even be released in the U.S. until January, three months after the winner is announced. Barnes has never won a Booker. I became a fan of his work after reading his highly pleasurable first novel, Metroland, so let's hope the third time's a charm. (He was nominated twice before.)

September 07, 2005
Thought for the day

"Not having you is like learning to walk."

Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Hardwick

September 06, 2005
Thought for the day

"Query: Is not a common hate one of the strongest links in human nature? Answer, most regrettably, in the affirmative."

—E.M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady

September 05, 2005

My short story "Hack," which appears in the Spring 2005 issue of Doublethink, is now online here in PDF format.

September 04, 2005
Thought for the day

"Query: Cannot many of our moral lapses from Truth be frequently charged upon the tactless persistence of others?"

—E.M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady

September 01, 2005
On Books

I've just returned from a week-long vacation in the Pacific Northwest, where I had plenty of sun, sand, and charred food. As usual, however, it wasn't all play. My latest American Enterprise column is now up, and takes a look at The Atlantic Monthly's first annual summer fiction issue.