Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Hello World.

 Recently I've been chastised for calling Philip Roth a misogynist. Yet, I think most women agree with me.  Show me a female character in one of Roth's novels who is not a misfit, a dropout, or someone to be stalked by his male characters with the forward-swimming determination and energy of sperm.

  Still, through the decades Roth has been brilliant, a dazzling wordsmith. Starting at university, I devoured each of his books through the 70's and 80's, and early 90's. But finally, a reader wants a female character with depth, someone teetering on the knife-edge of grit and hope.  We want a woman who matches, even surpasses, the 'heroics' of  the men.

I  recently brought up Roth's name because, once again, he was mentioned for this year's Nobel Prize.  Then I discovered an interview with Roth that fills me with unleavened admiration...and a little fear.  His work ethics, his daily discipline, though jaw-dropping, are an object lesson for all serious writers,  and interesting insight for readers, too.

First, the facts: all writers have a DIRTY SECRET. Added up, we waste YEARS of precious time.  We tell audiences that most days we write from dawn to dusk. That we have no other life, no love, no money, no dreams. (This is partially true.) So readers tend to think of us as semi-saints, engulfed in the long swoon of inspiration, obsessively tapping out our stories day after day, year after year.

In truth, most of us live in a state of near-paralysis, wondering if we have enough brain-cells left to write another book, if our house will be foreclosed, if the dog will die from starvation. We waste hours triaging the mail, sweet-talking creditors, staring at strewn carcasses of manuscripts we never finished.  We tap our fingers, waiting for our Muse, that moody broad who shows up late, or not at all. Or, we dilly-dally over a single, mediocre paragraph then sit back, stretch, and call it a day.

For  serious writers, these are days of famine. We don't produce because we don't bear down, we've grown soft and  distracted by what's outside our sphere of concentration: The Arab spring,  the global climate,  the Harvey Wallbanger of digital doodads. We've lost our hubris. Our Spartan animus. We've forgotten that barnacled, old word DISCIPLINE.  

So here is Philip Roth to remind us what Real Drive is, what unalloyed discipline is. His regimen may scare the hell out of you, but it may fire your pistons, and inspire you to knuckle down again with blind determination. (Credit to David Remnick from his book, REPORTING.  Knopf, 2006.)

From "Into The Clear: Philip Roth"  
          "He wakes early and seven days a week walks fifty yards to a two room studio [beside his house.] There's a lectern where he writes standing up, the better to preserve a bad back. There are free weights, a lifting bench, an exercise mat. He had quintuple-bypass surgery eleven years ago and is determined to keep in shape.  He stays out there [writing] all day and into the evening. No telephone. No Fax. Nothing gets in. In late afternoon, he takes long walks, trying to figure out connections and solve problems in the novel that's possessing him."

           "I live alone," Roth says, "There's no one else to be responsible for, or to. My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually I write all day. If I want to go back to the studio in the evening, I don't have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don't have to sit there and be amusing or entertaining. I go back out and work for two or three more hours.
            "If I wake up at two in the morning...and something has dawned on me, I turn the light on and  I write in the bedroom. Then I read till all hours if I want to. If I get up at five and I can't sleep and I want to work,  I go back out [to the studio] and I go to work. So I work.  I'm on call.
             " I'm like a doctor and it's an emergency room.  And I'm the emergency."

A  selfish life?  Of course.  Artists are, by nature, selfish.  A solitary life?  For serious writers, solitude is   considered a sacrament.  Roth is over eighty now.  Rumor has it he still follows the same daily regimen.  One can only sit in awe.  Or, one can be inspired.

Imua!  Onward!  And thank you!

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Hello World.

My prediction for the 2012 Nobel Prize Recipient  in Literature was a resounding dud. Kalamai! Apologies!  Mo Yan, the Nobel  recipient, has written several brilliant novels, RED SORGHUM, and THE GARLIC BALLADS, about life in repressive China, which I highly  recommend. But I still iterate with conviction that Haruki Murakami is the writer who is leading us with unabashed inventiveness into the 21st century.  He should have won.

Reading one of Murakami's novels (listed in previous blog) I am often apprehensive, not sure  I will fully understand him. His words are booby-trapped. He abounds in non sequiturs and trilingual puns, and launches readers into science-fiction, futuristic theories, classical music, calculus and contemplation of modern man's abyssal void. His intelligence burns the fat off our brain and makes us really THINK. I am always exhilarated and inspired. Plus, his body of work is larger than Mo Yan's.

Some writers are ahead of their time. Perhaps this is the case with Murakami. Maybe the Nobel Selection Committee Members found their aging body chemistry couldn't  tolerate his stimulation.  No worries, his time will come! Meanwhile,  I am posting William Faulkner's Nobel Acceptance Speech from 1949.  Sixty-three years ago!  He was another visionary/renegade who stood literature as we knew it on its head. His speech, now compared in its eloquence to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address,  is brilliant and prescient.  A speech for us in 2012.

"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question:  When will I be blown up?  Because of this the [writer] writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict  with itself, which alone can make good writing, because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

"The writer must learn this again, leaving no room for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart,  the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he relearns this he will write as though he stood among, and watched, the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny, inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this.

"I  believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The writer's duty is to write about these things.  It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The writer's voice is not merely the record of man, it must also be the  pillar to help him endure and, thus, prevail."

Amen!  And thank you, William Faulkner.  May we all be inspired.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Hello World.

Its that time of year again.  For those of you who care - which should encompass everyone  except  those  indentured to dragon-lore and vampires -  the high-stakes boys are placing their bets on who will be Thursday's recipient of the NOBEL PRIZE in LITERATURE.   I'm placing my bet on HARUKI MURAKAMI,   the favored author, with odds 2 to 1. Here are the other odds for nominated authors.

The Chinese author Mo Yan and Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom are tied (12 to 1.)   Britain's Ian McEwan (50 to 1.)   Bob Dylan (33 to l.)   Philip Roth (16 to 1.)   Cormac McCarthy and Amos Oz are tied.

 I am not that familiar with Mo Yan,  and have only read one book by Nooteboom  Ian McEwan writes so seamlessly and effortlessly,  he puts me to sleep.  It's like hearing one of Chopin's more stately etudes played over and over.  Bob Dylan is our aging premier troubadour of Hippiedom, Vietnam and  joint rolling-paper.   But,  the Nobel???

Philip Roth was brilliant in his day. But he never liked women, not on the page, and not in real life.You have to love humanity to be a great writer.  His male characters have always regarded women as mere prey.  Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian' was brilliant, but so utterly, unrelentingly violent,  I felt eviscerated, sodomized and dismembered all on one page. Yes, he writes in the grand manner with Biblical sweep, but time and again  I found myself  physical backing away from the pages of his books.

 Amoz Oz is lovely.  A brilliant and international writer.  I marvel at the ingenuity of his thinking, and his prose.  He would be my second choice.  But MURAKAMI is my first  choice because....

He has taken literature out of the doldrums, the worn-out end of the spectrum. Even back in the 1990's he was  ushering literature into the 21st Century, pulling readers out of the strait-jacket of  20th century writing (which  by now seemed left over from the 19th century.)  Well, yes, we had  innovative writers, think Faulkner, but by now even he seemed dated.  Occasionally a renegade author surfaced, one of    unabashed gristle and shocking concatenations. But where did they go?  Where did their books go?

I loved  Kurt Vonnegut.  He was one of those brilliant alchemical artists who gave us Art as Magic,  rather than Art as War.  I'd like to think he fathered Murakami, whose genius is that he keeps digging down and taking risks, re-inventing himself with each book.  Whether its about war,  mass gas attacks, our human sexuality,  or hunting sheep, Murakami  throws everything at us:  music, fantasy, science-fiction,  particle physics,  futuristic fairy tales, and especially ethical inquiry.  He constantly shocks, turning literature as we know (or knew ) it into an implicit rebuke of the complacency of the officially known and accepted.   When I finish one of his novels, I feel smarter.

Here are some of  his best works.  The Reader's Guide into the 21st century.   (And I promise your thinking will be changed forever!)


Thank you.  And Happy Reading.