June 29, 2014

Stealthily Fake Books

One of the charges here is that the Joyce estate connived with the editors of the 1986 "corrected" edition of Ulysses to make enough changes to justify extending the copyright as though it were a new work.

Did this (and could this) work? And is this the only text currently available, as it was when the article was written in 1988? The one I'm reading happens to be the 1961 Modern Library one, so it looks like I'm safe. But how would you know which one to order from Amazon?

I should probably just get over it, but as I've written over and over and over (and over), alteration of the text of books, especially without informing the reader or making it challenging for the reader to learn that changes have been made, fills me with rage and anxiety. In this case it's not a matter of bowdlerlizing the text or "updating" it to make it more "with-it" but rather (if the charge of the article is to be believed) of "correcting" it under false pretenses. And in this case, it seems that at least in the initial publication, there was substantial fanfare about it, a notice on the cover, and a considerable "apparatus" that made it clear that "improvements" had been made. However, subsequent versions of the same text may well leave all this stuff out, particularly the apparatus. You can't tell from the Amazon listings what text is on offer, and it is extremely unlikely that your local bookshop, if you still have one, will feature an array of possible copies of Ulysses whose copyright pages you can peruse to make sure you've got an untainted version. Moreover, you'd only know that there was a tainted version in the first place if you'd happened to read an obscure article from the New York Review of Books, 1988.

I'd love it if the standard were a textual history notice at the front of every book, noting the kind and extent of changes that have been made throughout the book's history.

But as that is never going to happen, the only rational course of action is to assume that all texts are tainted till proven untainted, and in the absence of proof, seek out and read first editions only. That'll get expensive and take up a lot of time, but it's better than reading stealthily fake books.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:15 PM

June 28, 2014

Ulysses, the Sex Pistols, and the End of Everything

Reading Ulysses for the first time since I was a teenager. (I know, weird, not to say crazy, thing to do.)

In high school the flash and gimmickry and Tristram Shandyness loomed far larger for me, and I suppose I was more impressed with what seemed like absurdity and obscurity for its own sake. It was in the same spirit that I used to pseudo-proselytize, with a smirk, things like Exercices de Style or that guy who shot himself in the arm and called it a sculpture.

Then in college I read it as primarily an ironic commentary on the Odyssey -- which it is, of course -- smugly feeling I had decoded all there was to decode in it, the original smirk having endured and deepened.

Now that I'm generally less impressed with myself, it seems I'm a bit less impressed with it, too, while I (probably) admire it more. It turns out you can just pick Ulysses up and read it as you would an ordinary novel. And it is of course genuinely impressive that it can be all those things at once. But it is undeniable that its comparative ordinariness, as I experience it now, diminishes it somewhat.

One absurd comparison that springs to mind is the difference between hearing the Sex Pistols in 1977, when I was 13 and it sounded like the destruction and end of everything, vs. now, when you put on the record and it sounds like just another rock band.

It was always just another rock band, and it was always just another novel, too. But that naivety that allowed me to celebrate the end of everything ironically but, in another sense, without irony -- that was precious and I wish I could get it back sometimes.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:04 PM

June 27, 2014

The High School Self

Came across this photo while looking for something else. (It appears to have been taken on the same day as this one.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:41 PM

June 26, 2014

Real Men Read YA

I mean, sure. I really don't get this (apparently quite common) fear that someone is going to notice what you're reading and blame you for it. There are lots of genuinely embarrassing things a person can do and be blamed for, and reading the "wrong" sort of book is well down the list. But yes, men, real and otherwise, should read YA, particularly mine which can be preordered here.

Think of it as self-actualization and sticking it to the man and not letting anyone put their labels on you.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:28 AM

June 24, 2014


Whenever some misfortune befalls me, a minor setback, a major triumph by an enemy or rival, a significant failure, or an insignificant one, I will often note the occasion with this phrase, cryptic only to those unfamiliar with Rosemary’s Baby: “Donald Baumgart got that part.” People who know me well can sometimes detect that particular look on my face and will beat me to it. “It’s a bad play,” they’ll say. “But it’s a part that gets noticed,” I’ll reply.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:47 PM


Vice hate-blurbs a handful of books by celebrities for your amusement and sense of intellectual superiority.

Notes: (a) the Tyra Banks book mentioned here is legendary and has been on my "say I'm planning to read it" list ever since I first heard about it; (b) there is absolutely nothing wrong with this sentence: “Patty McLade dropped to the floor like a whore’s nightgown."

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:33 PM

June 07, 2014

This little booky went to market

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

I believe most people who have never written novels themselves tend to over-estimate how much control a novelist has over the tone, shape, and character of his book in the end, not to mention that of the audience it finds, if it finds one. You have some control, but it's not complete, no matter how hard you try. (This is good, by the way. There's no spark in a world without surprises.) Publishers will "aim it at" this or that market, and marketing terms like "YA" or "literary fiction" are most useful when the topic is marketing. But to ask whether or not a given book truly lives up to or fulfills the promise of its marketing category, or to wonder whether its audience is fulfilling its most proper role in the hierarchy of this "aiming" -- those are just about the least interesting questions that can be asked about a book. The answers are negligible. That they dominate "serious" discussion of books these days is both funny and sad.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:32 PM



The Post Office broke it so it had to be repaired. Now... it's back, baby.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:00 AM