Paris Review’s DNA of Literature Reveals All

I’m a fan of the Paris Review. Who wouldn’t be? All those great interviews. Pretty heady stuff. Recently I noticed a newish feature, this DNA of Literature. Remarkably the Paris Review has offered up many of its early interviews with writers such as Truman Capote and William Carlos Williams online! Amazing. However, the DNA also reveals what shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: there are few women writers out there. Very few. Two worthy of being interviewed in the 50s, perhaps 3 in the 60s. Even into the 1990s when the magazine included–at least on the website–a whopping 86 interviews, only 16 of those were with women. 16. So far for the first decade of the 21st century we have 10 women out of 40.

Oh, it gets very dull indeed, but someone has to point out the obvious. Again, and again, and again. I won’t even begin to describe the racial elements of the selection. No doubt I’ve already been strung up on the peg reserved for women such as myself. Shrill and otherwise.

People are talking about Etgar Keret

A good short story can be like a bomb going off in the middle of one’s life. It can also be, as Walter Mosley has said, like a small gem, perfectly cut to expose every facet of an idea, which is in turn illuminated by ten thousand tiny shafts of light. Either way, good fiction loosens up structures, finds gaps in the mundane, taking the ordinary and turning it on its head, not turning away from the difficulties of our world, but taking the reader in and showing them moments of undoing, moments of transformation and release. This is the kind of fiction I’m interested in. It is fiction where the author has plucked moments from here, and there, and plunked them on a new canvas, dripping with wetness. It is fiction where the author has taken the predictable—the moment of confession, the moment of deepening intimacy in a new relationship, and upended it. This is the kind of work Etgar Keret produces.

In the last ten years Etgar Keret has published four books of short stories and novellas, two graphic novels and two feature plays. His most recent collection of short stories include The Busdriver Who Wanted to be God (2001, Saint-Martin’s Press) and The Nimrod Flipout (2004, Picador). Keret’s books have been awarded the Book Publishers Association Platinum Book Prize for selling more than 40,000 copies. His movie, Skin Deep, won the Israeli Oscar as well as first prize at several international film festivals. Etgar has also received the Prime Ministers Prize for literature and the Ministry of Culture Cinema Prize.Brief and intense, Etgar’s stories are empathic snapshots that illuminate with probing intelligence, the hidden truths of life. He is often described as an Israeli Paul Auster, but he’s more Lydia Davis or Sheila Heti with his wide-ranging subject matter, his dead-pan delivery and imaginative turns, with his precise and often unforgiving visual detail. In Crazy Glue, for instance, which takes a central image and uses it to offer a mediation on the delusion and fragmentation of the modern relationship.

I had the pleasure of introducing and interviewing Keret last year in a gallery in Tribeca. We stood beside a model of an atomic bomb that gave an intense smoky vibration to an already electrified room. One of the things that struck me about our conversation was this kind of casual intensity. Yes, a bomb might go off but meanwhile there’s a latte to drink and you know, we’re getting hungry…risks. Big ones. That’s what makes good fiction.

On the other hand, good fiction is often not recognized right away. It takes awhile, as it has with Keret. But now that The New Yorker and The Paris Review have published him, I’m sure he’ll be everywhere at once. And rightly so. My two favourite Keret stories are available online: Crazy Glue and Fatso. Hey Canada, Random House is publishing The Nimrod Flipout next year.

Best of

We’re being inundated with Best Books, Best Movies, Best Theatre…bla, bla, bla. I’m beginning to feel like a curmudgeon here, but perhaps I’m taking these things too seriously. For instance, I assume that if someone puts a headline like Best Books of 2005, they have actually read all of the books available in that year, that they have weighed them against each other, or some other insane criteria such as that, and decided which 10 or so, are “the best”.I hesitate to even post such a response, surely it’s what everyone is thinking isn’t it

Strangest Present

Hidamari no tami arrived today from a friend in San Fransisco. After much pensive interaction with this objet, I began to feel a little like King Kong poking at Fay Wray, or Anne Darrow, or… Yes, poking at the little fat body with the bobbing head and other tiny heads clutching plastic ginko leaves made me even more empathetic. What is it? Why is it not entertaining me?

Because my Japanese is non-existant I finally had to resort to the net, which quickly enlightened me of course. What I had in my hands was yet another toy geared toward “stress relief”. The Hidamari no tami doll (already collectable in that ebay way) doubles as a name card holder (in case you forget who you are after staring dumbly into the nodding head). It is “illuminated by sunlight and provides a comforting motion that is sure to relieve the stresses of your daily life.” It is very sweet. And I’m learning to accept gifts more graciously. I’m pleased to add it to the collection on my desk.

The problem with creating a wishlist on amazon is that you have to tell people about it! But there is a box sitting at the front door right now, so you see, perhaps my kick ass list-making has paid off. Say what you want about amazon.com, the wish list is a beautiful thing.

Word finds solid footing

After years of admirable flailing, Word, Toronto’s monthly literary magazine, seems to be finding its footing. It’s a tough job with little renumeration, but someone has to do it. This issue is a sprawling 18 pages, which may be a little hopeful in terms of pulling off every month, but this goes a little way toward filling one of the many literary gaps in Canada. And yes, Jon Paul Fiorentino, there is a number of “Angry Young Literary Men”, not all of them young. But Sappho said it best: “if you’re squeamish, don’t poke the beach rubble”, and kick any rock left out of the spotlight too long and these guys will scatter. Best let them pick themselves apart.

As for Word, I do wish the Mercury Press well. And if they’re open to suggestions I would urge a bigger online presence–the pdf is okay, but isn’t that problematic in terms of archiving? Looking at Canada from the outside in one gets a skewed, uneven image online. Danforth Review seems to be coming along very well, and now Rabble.ca, but where would you send someone wanting to get a generous, positive and intelligent look into Canada’s Arts & Letters online?