(Library of Congress)
Steve Almond is one of those overly talented writers whose style ranges from the literary short story to pop cultural/ethical commentary in the Chuck Klosterman vein. So, in one sense, the fact that Almond has written a book on sports shouldn’t be surprising. On the other hand, it’s a passionate work about a subject he cares deeply about. That’s the thing about football fanatics; they hide in plain sight.
My essay on his newest book, “To Hell with All That Guilty Love: On Steve Almond’s ‘Against Football’,” ran in The Millions yesterday:
Like most of us, Almond thought he was immune from modern sports mania’s entanglements. We all know (and some of us resemble) the type, eyes scouring for the nearest screen showing SportsCenter, phones lit up by fantasy scores and trash-talk, ears always full of the angry drone of sports talk radio. No matter the mountains Almond would move to watch his Raiders lose time after catastrophic time, he thought he could stay above the fray.
In the preface, Almond describes a newspaper article he pasted to the wall of his office, which contains a quote from running back Kevin Faulk after he took a head-rattling hit. Faulk’s words were clearly those of a man who had suffered a significant blow to the brain. Almond writes, “I thought it was funny”…
Here’s Almond debating football with the great Greg Easterbrook at the Politics and Prose bookstore:
Somewhere in Southern California (Library of Congress)
Today’s bit of perception about one of America’s most over-analyzed, unloved, and misunderstood “cities” comes courtesy of surrealist pie-thrower and comic raconteur Terry Southern (Candy, Dr. Strangelove). Interviewed at length for The Paris Review‘s occasional series on screenwriters (the interview took place in 1967 but wasn’t published until 2012) the Texas-born Southern expounded on that great Southern California sinkhole of creative energy and dashed dreams:
Hollywood, that is to say, Los Angeles, is not, of course, a city, and its sinister forces are very oblique. There’s no public transportation system whatever, so the people drive around as though they were living in Des Moines, and it has all the rest of the disadvantages of a small town, only filled with displaced persons. On the other hand, life there has an engaging surrealist quality, an almost exciting grotesqueness.
The cultural scene there in general is sped up, sort of concentrated. Southern California is a mecca for all manner of freakishness, beginning on the most middle-class level—hot-dog stands in the shape of a hot dog. If you go there, you’ll immediately see a carnival, Disneyland aspect that is different from any other place in America.
Southern also notes the differences between the ladies of Hollywood and those of the East Coast:
… girls who want to be writers come to the Village and girls who want to be actresses go to Hollywood.
Ray Bradbury (NASA)
Once upon a time, before science fiction (in the form of monster movies and comic-book franchises) took over the cineplex, anthology shows on radio and television provided a steady diet of short tales of the fantastic.
Case in point was the short-lived NBC radio program Dimension X, which ran from 1950 to 1951 and advertised itself as “adventures in time and space, told in future tense.”
During the show’s tenure, they broadcast work by some of the genre’s greatest practitioners, from Isaac Asimov and Robert Bloch to Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein. Now, thanks to the memory machine that is the Internet, you can listen to some of those programs at the Internet Archive. Make sure to check out Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” originally collected in The Martian Chronicles and one of the greatest, saddest testimonies ever penned on the folly of war.
(h/t to Jacket Copy)
Joe Strummer, playing with the Pogues (photo by Masao Nakagami)
There’s a great new collection of essays about the inestimable Joe Strummer (1952–2002) that came out last month from Ashgate Publishing called Punk Rock Warlord: The Life and Work of Joe Strummer. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a chapter.
A much shortened, adapted version of that essay ran at PopMatters under the title “Joe Strummer: Punk-Rock Shapeshifter“:
Strummer wanted to be a lot of things: writer, artist, revolutionary, world-champion cigarette smoker. But what was probably most important to him was communication, whether about racial equality, how consumerism was crap, or just whatever was running through his roiling mind that week. He wanted to use his songs to get the word out. Rock stars can get the word out; they have a megaphone louder than that of the street-corner busker or pub-rocker that Joe started out as. If he was going to be a rock star, he needed a proper stage name…
Just for kicks, here’s a New York local news report from when Joe and the Clash barnstormed through the city in 1981:
In the last bit of coverage from the Dublin Writers Festival, we have a story from Ireland’s fraught past and cautiously optimistic future.
First there was a marvelous spoken-word show from Mark Graham, who had decided not long before to buy a used camper and go attend three festivals a week around Ireland for an entire year. Apparently every town of more than two houses has a festival, so it worked.
Next up was “Where They Lie,” an investigation into the search for justice on the part of those who were “disappeared” by the IRA during The Troubles (that horrid euphemism) in the north for supposedly collaborating with the British or Unionists. It was a tough evening, with no easy answers for those in attendance.
“Where the Disappeared Lie” is here at PopMatters.
One of the more interesting panel discussions at the Dublin Writers Festival was titled “The State of Crime”. In it, crime novelists Arne Dahl, Sinead Crowley, and Brian McGilloway held forth on everything from the state of Swedish society to whether or not they did any research with the police before writing their first books.
My writeup is at PopMatters:
As with many events at the Festival, the talk turned to writing mechanics. Moderator [Declan] Burke suggested that aspiring writers not try to put everything into a first draft. He preferred just banging it all out once, messy or not, and then going back and fixing anything from plot to characterizations on multiple later passes. Dahl suggested writing one short story a year in addition to novels, since the compressed space “sharpens your pen”. He also thought it helpful, and possibly even necessary, for crime writers to read Macbeth once a year…
The annual Dublin Writers Festival, which just concluded this past Sunday, was an enjoyably low-key but nevertheless enthusiastic affair, mixing up writing workshops with talks and Q&As with authors and the occasional performance piece.
I covered a few days of it for PopMatters; here’s part:
This is Dublin, after all, which proudly carries its status as UNESCO City of Literature, and where the odd plaque on an undistinguished townhouse near St. Stephen’s Green reminds you that Bram Stoker lived there, and the Gate Theatre just happens to be staging An Ideal Husband by the Dublin-raised and -educated Oscar Wilde.
The event locations were mostly clustered within an easy walk of Temple Bar, making one conveniently never far from a restorative tipple. The offerings ran the gamut from workshop-like conversations with would-be writers to themed readings and music and poetry galas. By the end of even just one day, if you didn’t already have a novel or cycle of poems in the works, you would feel as though you were somehow missing out…
Other entries to follow soon.