Weeklings: Literary Elephantiasis, Stefhaufmannchen, Forbidden Books, Bad Sex, and Tintin as You’ve Never Seen Him Before
Posted by: Keir Graff
A quick roundup of the last week and a half before I don my camouflage coverall, smear my face with dirt, and go hunting for wild turkeys with my bare hands. Just kidding–who am I, Ted Nugent?
Good old cranky Robert McCrum–why, he even scowls in his headshot! Last week, took books to task for ballooning page counts, explaining “Why modern books are all too long” (Observer):
Whatever happened to brevity? Once upon a time, it was not just the soul of wit, there was a strong literary preference for the shorter book, from Utopia to Heart of Darkness. More recently, The Great Gatsby, for my money the greatest novel in English in the 20th century, comes in at under 60,000 words, a miracle of compression. The novels of that great triumvirate – Waugh, Greene and Orwell – average 60-70,000 words apiece; even 1984 is not much over 100,000 words.
Hmm . . . having read the article, I find myself agreeing with it but don’t feel that McCrum has really answered the question posed in the headline, other than to opine that “Literary elephantiasis starts across the Atlantic” (meaning here in the U.S., gentle readers). And, frankly, he could have said what he did say a whole lot more quickly.
Moving rapidly along, in More Intelligent Life (“We Ten Million“), Alix Christie explains how she keeps going after 13 years of life as an unpublished novelist. (Coincidentally, that’s exactly how long it took me to publish my first novel.) Want to know how she does it? I”ll give you a hint: Stehaufmännchen.
An interesting story in the Los Angeles Times about Amman, Jordan bookseller Sami Abu Hossein: “In Jordan, a Bookstore Devoted to Forbidden Titles,” by Borzou Daragahi. Hossein sounds like quite the character–and, for my money, he’d make a perfect character in an uplifting, literary novel about . . . well, about a bookseller who sells forbidden books. Snarkiness aside, it is an interesting look at the realities of book banning in at least one corner of the Arab world.
“There are three no-nos,” the owner of Al Taliya Books explains with a big smile. “Sex, politics and religion. Unfortunately, that’s all anyone ever wants to read about.”
He laughs uproariously.
“These are all the banned ones,” he says, gesturing to the list taped to the wall above the store entrance, books on sexuality to ones that critically examine the life and times of the prophet Muhammad, the most taboo topic in the Arab world.
“We have them,” he says, grinning broadly, “but don’t tell anyone.”
The Bad Sex in Fiction Award nominees have been announced. What, no excerpts?
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (4th Estate)
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Atlantic Books)
The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon (Atlantic Books)
Maya by Alastair Campbell (Hutchinson)
A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee (Constable & Robinson)
Heartbreak by Craig Raine (Atlantic Books)
The Shape of Her by Rowan Somerville (W&N)
Mr Peanut by Adam Ross (Jonathan Cape)
And, if you love Tintin like I love Tintin, you may like Murray Groat’s latest project. Actually, you may need to like H. P. Lovecraft, too. It’s sort of a you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter kind of thing.