Category Archives: Books

The Gift of Samantha Irby

Ms. Irby is not out to be Margaret Atwood or Alice Walker or Virginia Woolf or a figure adulated by reviewers of the Times Literary Supplement. Ms. Irby can do things with words. Some samples below. It’s her doing that she doesn’t capitalize things:

if you’re going to be an asshole, why not just go full asshole and say what you mean, scorch the earth completely, then go on about your life.

[About dinner invitations:] you know the wild thing about this is that they probably f-ing hate you, too. they’re probably sitting home RIGHT NOW groaning over where to put your ungrateful asses in the seating chart this year and sighing at all your peanut and gluten sensitivities they have to consider while making the grocery list. no one ever wants to do anything, especially if it requires a lot of work, especially especially if it requires coordinating with a whole ass other family. so give that long-suffering family the only thing anyone truly wants: the gift of your absence. via text. because no one likes talking on the phone.

don’t get me wrong, nothing is worse than a man with too many opinions but a man with too many opinions about books is somewhat tolerable, because at least he’s reading, so hopefully he’s absorbed some facts.

[About Lifetime’s “You” series:] everyone is so pretentious and talking about writing colonies and throwing literary-themed parties. all my writer friends are hilarious morons (even the famous ones!) and they write in unmade beds in their underwear while shoveling refined sugar into their faces and crying, not in the sun-dappled corners of their picturesque apartments while sipping coconut milk cortados and tapping earnestly away at a vintage typewriter.

photo of Samantha Irby



Dedicated Readers Take Up “The Man in the High Castle” on Their Podcast

As promised, David Agranoff, Anthony Trevino, and Langhorne J. Tweed have finished editing podcast #16 about The Man in the High Castle. Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld and I were the guests for the show. It was an edifying evening for me, and I hope it will be for listeners.

image of podcast by Philip Dick fans

“The Feral Detective” is Fine

cover of novel The Feral DetectiveAn idiosyncrasy clouds my judgment about this book, a gift given to me for the holidays. I hate the desert, wouldn’t have done well as a character in the Bible. Did I mention that I hate the desert? Not desserts, mind you, but the desert — you know, the Sahara and such. Had I known The Feral Detective is set mostly in the desert part of the U.S., I would have asked for something different from Santa. I cannot get past this novel’s setting, though it’s a fine novel, fine in this sense, written by a famous author.

The writing is somewhere between “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” and (you might need to ask the children to leave the room for this David Wong example) “It rained like we were a splatter of bird shit God was trying to hose off his deck.” I didn’t find myself recording life-altering lines from the text, the way I did for Joe Ide’s IQ: “Once I stopped giving a sh-t about what Jennifer Lopez was wearing and if the new iPhone could speak Swahili, I felt free.” The main characters in The Feral Detective are fine. Lethem has groups of people (reviewers call them “eccentrics”) wandering the desert, the Bears and the Rabbits, if that strikes your fancy. He even has a Game of Thrones-like fight-to-the-gruesome-death scene with an air horn thrown in to spice up the contest. It’s all not my cup of Earl Grey, but it’s a fine novel.

Getting the Greatest Good out of the Greatest Evil

crime scene photo man with knife

The blog heading comes from the great Machado de Assis. It’s the breadcrumb to take you to John Lanchester’s essay on Agatha Christie in a recent issue of the London Review of Books. Lanchester admits that Christie isn’t as good a writer as Dorothy Sayers or Margery Allingham. Christie has other writerly characteristics that have given her staying power and a replenishing audience, one of which is her take on evil.

Christie’s great talent for fictional murder is to do with her understanding of, and complete belief in, human malignity. She knew that people could hate each other, and act on their hate. Her plots are complicated, designedly so, and the backstories and red herrings involved are often ornate, but in the end, the reason one person murders another in her work comes down to avarice and/or hate. She believed in evil, not necessarily in a theological sense – that’s a topic she doesn’t explore – but as a plain fact about human beings and their actions. She isn’t much interested in the ethics or metaphysics of why people do the bad things they do. But she is unflinchingly willing to look directly at the truth that they do them.


What the Dickens?

photo of A Christmas Carol original edition

Podcast about “Man in the High Castle”

photo of cover of Philip Dick novelThree devoted fans of Philip K. Dick’s works run a podcast out in California. They are currently attending to a project to discuss all of Dick’s novels in chronological order, which is a heroic task of reading on its own. David, Anthony, and Larry invited Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld and me to talk about The Man in the High Castle. Dr. Rosenfeld is a historian who has done his homework on PKD and on the history of fascism. He has a book coming out early next year, The Fourth Reich. My role was talk about The Man in the High Castle and Philosophy. I am grateful to Anthony, Larry, and David for having invited me to join the discussion.

Larry, Anthony, and David are doing readers a great service by expanding the horizon of reading, and encouraging fans to think about PKD in a larger context. The difference is like a version of everyday history, the kind taught in schools, as opposed to what the members of the Annales School would give you. I applaud the creators of the podcast for doing more than applauding PKD. While, in general, we read for edification and pleasure, it is important to remember that authors have designs on readers, and PKD is a particularly troubling example (see, for instance, the passage below from Geoff Waite’s Nietzsche’s Corps/e).

The dedicated people who put the podcasts together will post in the near future the link to yesterday’s panel. You are not the only one with a heap of things on your plate over the holidays.

selection from Waite book on Philip K. Dick

The Famous Philosopher Axel Colly

photo of cover of Neue Rundschau journalToday, my copy of the latest issue of Germany’s Neue Rundschau arrived, and it features a collection of articles published in the Dusseldorf newspaper by Axel Colly in the early 1950s. You say you’ve never heard of this philosopher Axel Colly? That’s probably because it is a pseudonym. Hans Blumenberg chose to use the name Axel Colly when writing for the newspaper. Perhaps this choice would have been scrutinized, except that Blumenberg was friends with Alfons Neukirchen, the editor of the newspaper’s general entertainment section. Neukirchen and Blumenberg played tennis against one another and celebrated New Year’s Eve together. They knew each other before Neukirchen offered Blumenberg the opportunity to have a byline.

When Axel Colly began publishing for the newspaper, Blumenberg received .40 German marks per line of text, about ten cents a line in 1952 US currency, if my arithmetic is correct. As far as I can tell, the Dusseldorf newspaper received more than its money’s worth. The range of topics alone is noteworthy — from sleep and sleeplessness to a consideration of Jürgen Spanuth’s book about Atlantis, in which Spanuth suggests that the Vikings are linked to Atlantis.

While this “new” Blumenberg material is exciting, the editors of the journal also mention that we may never see other items, such as an essay Blumenberg sent to Neukirchen called “A Letter to the Rich Man” (Brief an der reichen Mann), which seems to have been lost. Maybe we should call the emotional state arising from such losses “Atlantis Syndrome.”