Articles by Dan
This book could be read and enjoyed for its interesting environs, its likeable writer, the political insight it offers or its striking and elegant prose.
I enjoyed it for the all of these but primarily for the questions Handler is brave enough to ask. While her answers to humanity's problems are not entirely satisfactory, it is hard to blame her for falling short. In the full course of human history, far too many people have claimed to have solved these conundrums, while no one actually has.
But Handler has the courage to look within and without, attempting to find a resolution and admitting what she does not know. The best passages are when she gropes for and is eluded by answers. For example, she writes of a New York protest:
"I watch my friends walking and chanting. They are good people, so good that they care about men and women and children they do not know and will never know. They are the conscience of this nation; they will not let these delegates forget what this administration is perpetrating. But this, what we are doing right now - is it helping? Or is it pushing us further apart? We didn't come here to convince the delegates to change their minds, or to win their esteem. But I can see what they are thinking. Faced with hatred, they hate us right back. That's what we've all learned to do. What would we risk if we tried something different?"
If you would like to hear Marisa Handler talk about activism and her book Loyal to the Sky, two new podcast interviews with her are available from the Intrepid Liberal Journal and from Uprising Radio.
The End of Mr Y was one of those novels we were all talking about in the office when it came out last year and so it's great to see an in-depth interview the whip-smart author Scarlett Thomas over at Bookslut:
Aristotle says that fiction should do one of two things: reflect the world as it is, or make it better. While this is a little too cheerful for where I am at the moment, there's a lot of truth in it nevertheless. People sometimes forget that real women, even ones covered in nappies and s**t and bleach etc., do not spend all their time thinking about dresses and princesses and kisses--it's women in stories that do that. And these are stories that make things worse. So my stories seem different because they're not like other stories, perhaps. I don't know.
Somewhat undefinable, The End of Mr Y is a slightly smutty adventure story about cigarettes, coffee, malfunctioning 60's architecture, Derrida, Baudrillard, quantum physics, rogue CIA agents, sex in toilets and sitting down to chat with a mouse god. Sounds fun doesn't it?
March 12, 2007
A British poll has just revealed the books that people start but don't finish The Guardian newspaper reports today:
It's the literary club no author wants to belong to, but boasts the likes of Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, Paulo Coelho and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A survey out today of the books Britons own but do not finish shows a surprising lack of appetite for many of the nation's most popular titles...Fifty-five per cent of those polled for the survey, commissioned by Teletext, said they buy books for decoration, and have no intention of actually reading them. Rachel Cugnoni, from the publisher Vintage, said the apparent unpopularity of tough literary texts like Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment - all voted in the top 10 - suggests readers are purchasing "intellectual credibility for the bookshelf" rather than books they actually want to read.
I couldn't possibly comment on all the books I've started and not finished, but I would LOVE to know what books you've discarded in disgust (or ambivalence) and why...
March 07, 2007
With an introduction by John Perkins, author of the sensational New York Times bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, A Game As Old As Empire is sure to be controversial. Exposing how multinational corporations, governments, and financial institutions operate to enrich themselves and favoured elites whilst creating widespread poverty, debt and dependency in developing nations, A Game As Old As Empire features a dozen contributors - 'economic hit men', journalists and investigators - examining cases from across the globe.
A fascinating interview with the editor of the book Steven Hiatt and contributor Antonia Juhasz, visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, is available to download from Uprising Radio.
Publisher Berrett-Koehler have set up a website devoted to A Game As Old As Empire, and a fifty page excerpt and a study-guide to accompany the book are available to download.
The Reading, Writing re: Management blog also takes a look at the book and talks to Steven Hiatt.
A Game As Old As Empire is published this month.
Tony Nourmand, co-owner of The Reel Poster Gallery in London and author of James Bond Movie Posters: The Official 007 Collection, has collected together some remarkable material for his gorgeous new book Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years, and Monique from the So Misguided blog has kindly reviewed the book on YouTube so you can see some of the beautiful pictures for yourself. Monique Trottier and Audrey Hepburn. Two cool people in one place. What more could you ask for?
Having sung the praises of Clare Clark's visceral gothic horror The Nature of Monsters on Wednesday even though it isn't published until May, I think it is only fair to give you a sneak peak so you can see what all the fuss is about. Here is a excerpt from the first chapter of The Nature of Monsters:
Afterwards, when I knew that I had not loved him at all, the shock was all in my stomach, like the feeling when you miscount going upstairs in the dark and climb a step that is not there. It was not my heart that was upset but rather my balance. I had not yet learned that it was possible to desire a man so and not love him a little.
Oh, I longed for him. When he was not there, the hours passed so slowly that it seemed that the sun had fallen asleep in the sky. I would wait at the window for whole days for the first glimpse of him. Every time a figure rounded the corner out of the trees, my heart leapt, my skin feverish with hope even as my eyes determined it to be someone to whom he bore not the slightest resemblance. Even Slack the butcher, a man of no more than five feet in height and several times that around the middle, whose arms were so pitifully short they could barely insert the tips of his fingers into the pockets of his coat. I turned my face away hurriedly then, my cheeks hot, caught between shame and laughter. How that beer-soaked dumpling would have licked his lips to imagine the tumbling in my belly at the sight of him, the hot rush of longing between my thighs that made my fingers curl into my palms and set the nape of my neck prickling with delicious anticipation.
In the dusty half-light of the upper room, breathless against the wall, I lifted my skirts then and pressed my hand against the slick muskiness within. The lips parted instantly, the swollen mouth sucking greedily at my fingers, gripping them with muscular ardour. When at last I lifted my hand to my mouth and licked it, remembering the arching fervour of his tongue, the perfect private taste of myself on his hot red mouth, I had to bite down hard upon my knuckles to prevent myself from crying out with the unbearable force of it.
Oh yes, I was alive with desire for him, every inch of me crawling with it. A whiff of the orange water he favoured, the touch of his silk handkerchief against my cheek, the remembrance of the golden fringe of his eyelashes or the delicate whorl of his ear, any of these and less could dry my mouth and melt the flesh between my legs to liquid honey. When he was with me, my sharp tongue softened to butter. I, who had always mocked the other girls for their foolish passions, could hardly breathe. The weaknesses in his face--the girlish pinkness of his damp lips, the irresolute cast of his chin--did nothing to cool my ardour. On the contrary, their vulnerability inflamed me. Whenever I was near him, I thought only of touching him, possessing him. There was something about the untarnished lustre of his skin that drew my fingertips towards him, determining their movements as the earth commands the sun. I had to clasp them in my lap to hold them steady.
The longing intoxicated me so I could barely look at him. We sat together in front of the empty fireplace, I in the bentwood chair, he upon a footstool at my feet. My mother's knitting needles clicked away the hour, although she kept her face turned resolutely towards the wall. For myself I watched his hands, which were narrow with long delicate fingers and nails like pink shells. They dangled impatiently between his legs, twisting themselves into complicated knots.
It never occurred to me to offer him my hand to hold. Slowly, as though I wished only to make myself more comfortable, I adjusted my skirt, exposing the white flesh of my calves. His hands twitched and jumped. I lifted my petticoats a little higher then. The fingers of his right hand stretched outwards, hesitating for only a moment. I could feel the heat of them although he did not touch me. My legs trembled. And then his fingertips reached out and caressed the tender cleft behind my knee.
The ungovernable swell of desire that surged in my belly knocked the breath from my lungs and I gasped, despite myself. Silently he brought his other hand up to cover my mouth. I kissed it, licked it, bit it. He groaned softly. Beneath my skirts his right hand moved deftly over my skin so that the fine hairs upon my thighs burst into tiny flowers of flame. I slid down towards him, my legs parted, and closed my eyes, inhaling the leather smell of his hand on my face. Every nerve in my body strained towards his touch as inexorably, miraculously, his hand moved upwards.
Unhooked by longing, my body arched towards him. When at last he reached in to touch me, there was nothing else left, nothing in the world but his fingers and the delirious incoherent frenzy of pure sensation they sent spiralling through me, as though I were an instrument vibrating with the exquisite hymns of the angels. Did that make him an angel? My toes clenched in my boots, and my belly held itself aloft in a moment of stillness as the flame quivered, perfectly bright. I held my breath. In the explosion I lost sight of myself. I was a million brilliant fragments, the darkness of my belly alive with stars. When at last I opened my eyes to look at him, my lashes shone with tears. He raised a finger to his lips and smiled.
Oh, that smile! When he smiled, his mouth curved higher on one side than the other, dimpling his right cheek. That dimple spoke to me more eloquently than his eyes, for all their untroubled blueness. And it was surely one hundred times more fluent than his speech, which was halting at the best of times and rutted with hiccupping and frequently incomprehensible exclamations. Even now, when so much time has passed and I must squint to recognise the girl in the bentwood chair, the recollection of that tiny indentation can unsettle me. Back in those days, it was as if, within its perfect crease, there was concealed a secret, a secret of unimaginable wonder that might be known only to me. For like everyone who falls for the first time under the spell of corporeal desire, I believed myself a pioneer, the discoverer of something never before identified, something perfectly extraordinary. I was godlike, omnipotent, an alchemist who had taken vulgar flesh and somehow, magically, rendered it gold.
Had you asked me then, I would have said I loved him. How else to explain how desperately, ferociously alive he made me feel? It was only afterwards, when the lust had cooled, that I saw that I was in love not with him at all but rather with myself, with what I became when he touched me. I had never thought myself handsome. My lips were too full, my nose insufficiently imperious, my eyes with their heavy brows set too wide apart. I was denied the porcelain complexion I secretly longed for. Instead, my face seemed always to have a sleepy, bruised look about it, as if I had just awoken. But when he touched me, I was beautiful. It was only afterwards, as he offered his compliments to my mother and prepared to return home, that I became a girl once more, commonplace, cumbersome, rooted by my clumsy boots to the cold stone floor.
He patronised my mother from the beginning, his address to her exaggeratedly courteous, a pastiche of itself. As for her, she bridled at every unctuous insincerity, her habitually suspicious face as eager as a girl's.
"I am but your humble servant, madam. There could be no greater privilege than to oblige you," he would say, bowing deeply before throwing himself into the bentwood chair and allowing my mother to loosen his boots. He did not trouble to look at her as he spoke. His tongue was already moistening his lips as he smiled his lazy smile at me, his eyes stroking my neck and the slope of my breasts.
I'm ashamed to say that at those moments I cared not a jot for her humiliation. He could have called my mother a whore or the Queen of Sheba, it would have been all the same to me. The pleasantries were a necessary chore to be endured, but my heart beat so loudly in my ears I hardly heard them. I thought only of the tug of my breath inside my chest, the shimmering anticipation between my thighs. As long as he touched me, as long as he smiled at me and caressed me, his fingers drawing a quivering music from my tightly strung nerves, my mother's dignity was not a matter of the least concern. As long as that tiny indentation in the corner of his mouth whispered its secrets to my heart and to my privities, he might have unsheathed his sword and sliced off my mother's head and I would have found reason to hold her responsible for his offence.
Copyright (c) 2007 by Clare Clark
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at http://www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
Nominations for the 27th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced last night at the National Arts Club in New York. The finalists in all nine categories were unveiled by Kenneth Turan, the Director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes and I am very happy to note that A. B. Yehoshua's novel A Woman in Jerusalem is shortlisted in the fiction category.
Yehoshua's compelling novel of life in contemporary Israel was included in the Washington Post Book World's Best Books of 2006 list and was one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year in the New York Times Book Review. Currently available in hardcover, the paperback edition is published in August this year.
Other categories rewarded by the LA Times Book Prize include Biography and Current Interest. The winners will be announced April 27 at UCLA's Royce Hall, as part of the newspaper's annual Festival of Books.
March 02, 2007
CBC Radio One's Ideas programme is investigating the past, present and future of organic food:
Organic food has jumped from the margins to the mainstream and is now the fastest growing food category on supermarket shelves. What started as a social movement has become an industry with companies like General Mills, ConAgra and Kraft as major players. For some, this represents a victory for organics. Others worry that success will compromise the ideals of the movement.
Last night's installment, the first of three, featured Sam Fromartz author of Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods And How They Grew (now available in paperback). A business journalist, Fromartz examines the history of organic food, from its anti-industrial origins more than a century ago to the modern natural food movement, looking at how the organics industry has become part of consumer culture and runs the risk of betraying the very ideals that drove its success.
Samuel Fromartz's Chews Wise Blog
The Nature of Monsters is the new historical novel by Clare Clark, author of the award-winning The Great Stink. A rich psychological drama set in 18th Century London, Clare's new book is a fantastic page-turner.
"It is bracing to come across a writer who is mistress of such unrelenting Swiftian nastiness. She meets the 18th century on its own terms: knocks its wig off, twists its private parts and spits in its eye."
Reviewer Stephanie Merritt drew similar conclusions in The Observer:
"Clare Clark's debut novel, The Great Stink, was acclaimed for its vivid portrait of Victorian London. Her follow-up is every bit as carefully rendered and confirms her talent as a historical novelist able to conjure a world vivid in every sensory detail, peopled with characters whose follies, ambitions and disappointments are uncomfortably modern, even when cloaked in the spirit of their age."
So Misguided's Monique Trottier also finds much to admire in Clare's writing:
"Clare Clark is the author of two very fine novels, both of which deal with elements of the underground and unsavoury human behaviour--Both novels are visceral. There is the putrid smell of the sewers in The Great Stink, the descriptions of cutting and the horrors of murder. In The Nature of Monsters it is the monsters of the novel--Grayson Black, his wife and the apothecary's assistant, along with Eliza's lover and her mother--who act as monsters. Betrayal and sacrifice for science are the elements of horror here."
As with The Great Stink, the historical detail in The Nature of Monsters is incredibly evocative. A Trained historian, Clare Clark describes her historical research and the modern relevance of her work in this fascinating article for the Independent newspaper:
"The first thing that struck me about 18th-century London was how much the period had in common with our own. It was capitalist, materialist and market-oriented, driven by acquisitiveness and opportunism. The London population went into regular paroxysms over the drawing of the national lottery which made millionaires of ordinary folk. What was more, frantic speculation on the new stock market ended, much like the dotcom bubble, in a sensational crash in 1720. The famous English stiff upper lip had yet to be invented and life was noisy and violent, compensated by the aggressive pursuit of pleasures and passions. Drunkenness was endemic and sexual prowess a matter of public pride. Foreigners found the English extraordinarily politically well-informed and assertive, as well as jaw-droppingly frank. In one newspaper, a married woman advertised for a young man "endow'd with a good Carnal Weapon [...] to perform Nocturnal Services", her husband being temporarily incapacitated."
February 28, 2007
Marisa Handler, author of Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist, is a remarkable person. Born in South Africa, but living in San Francisco, she's been actively involved in the global justice movement, the anti-war movement, and the movement for a just peace in Israel-Palestine. She's written on issues related to her activism: grassroots politics, the effects of U.S. wars on Indo-Pakistani politics, Hindu-Muslim tensions within India, and indigenous resistance to oil exploitation in the Amazon. Her articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Earth Island Journal, Salon.com, Alternet, and Tikkun and Bitch magazines. Somewhere along the way she found time to record an album of her music 'Dark Spoke'.
I think there's this concept of activists as these holier-than-thou people who stand in the streets yelling. That's really not true. I think activism can be cliquey and exclusive, and that's really a downfall. I think as activists, we really need to look at the kind of culture we're creating and whether it's open--whether people feel welcomed, because that's the only way we're going to build it.
It's a matter of figuring out where you can take a stand, how you can take a stand, and how you can try to do good even when things begin to look a little murky. So, in that sense I want to inspire people who may be wondering how they can make a difference.
You can also find out more about Marisa, her book, and her music at her website www.marisahandler.com