Posts Tagged ‘non-publications’


Saturday, December 24th, 2011

It’s snowing at Koç – great for anyone holed up on campus trying to jump-start a Gothic novel.002


Monday, July 11th, 2011

Forward-thinking readers! You don’t need me to tell you that our language is a living, growing organism. So, in an effort to stay with the times, I recently attempted to use the word “douchebags” in print. The context was an essay on Dante, which is scheduled to run in the September issue of Harper’s, albeit probably with some minor revision to the following sentence: “Dante goes to the afterworld, and everyone is there: Homer, Moses, Judas, Jesus, Brunetto Latini, Beatrice, all the thousand and one douchebags of Florence.”

This line elicited the following wonderful query from the managing editor:

“douchebags”: This feels out of place, which is sort of the point, but it feels a little too out of place. It’s a word that’s been ruined by the Internet, Kanye West, et alii, ad nauseam. You’re writing for the ages, and to me there’s something slightly stale and stroppy about using that term in such an important place. “Assholes”? Less anachronistic, and a word and concept that certainly existed in Dante’s time and tongue.

So many thoughts went racing through my mind when I read this, e.g.:

  1. “They aren’t letting me say ‘douchebags.’”
  2. “What a thoughtful response to ‘douchebags’!”
  3. “Assholes?”

I realized that, familiar as Dante doubtless was with assholes, and meaningful as this consideration may be, “douchebags,” to me, better expresses both the sleazy political small-timeyness and the frenzied contemporaneity conveyed by the portrayal of Florence politicos in The Inferno.

I also realized that, maybe thanks to Kanye who made them loveable again, I have a soft spot for the douchebags—more so than for the assholes.1  And although I concluded that, for Dante essay purposes, “sleazebags” will suit the purposes just as well, I begin to wonder whether the title of my next book shouldn’t really be The Douchebags. Thinking ahead to the foreign editions, I imagine it being untranslated, like Les Misérables, or Mein Kampf…

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. For now, I will just raise a parting glass to the douchebags.  Alla salute, gentlemen!

P.S. Another five-star Amazon review here.

  1. Subjective as these terms are, cursory internet research indicates, e.g. here and here, that assholes are generally understood to be worse than douchebags (thus George W. is a douchebag, Cheney an asshole). To clarify, I’m not saying Dante’s Inferno doesn’t contain a large number of assholes – just that they aren’t necessarily the same people as the douchebags.


Monday, May 23rd, 2011

In keeping with a recent resolution, this post is devoted to a writer who is still living… or should I say, already living?  I was delighted but bemused to receive the following request for career advice, on behalf of a family friend whose “youngest son has a liking to write”:

Enis apparently started writing a book (?) when he was 6 and after many redo’s has finalized the 300+ pages recently. It’s in English, he attends a British primary school in Ankara. He has written poetry which has been published in some sort of publication in England through his school. He is very outgoing, active in all theatrical plays & enjoys being the master of ceremony in events. He has contacted someone in the US to publish his book but the deal was so confusing he let go.

His family is seeking some sort of advice on the possibilities of publishing such a book, but more importantly on defining a path to develop his abilities. I thought you may be able to suggest a way or someone who could usher this young fellow.

Needless to say, despite various differences in our characters (I don’t care for being the master of ceremonies, myself), I felt a great sympathy for little Enis. How vividly one can picture the situation sketched in the 8 words: “the deal was so confusing he let go”! Alas, despite my status as the writer of the family, I have little if any idea how a 6-year-old would go about getting a 300-pp novel published in the US or anywhere else.

My response was that the most important thing for such a very young writer is the love and support of his parents; and also that one nice English-language publication venue for children under 13 is the literary magazine Stone Soup. Those interested in the latest American literary trends will find much of interest in the archive of “embryo lit” (if I may coin a term) on themes ranging from Holocaust to Native American.  Personally I recommend the Kafkaesque “They’re Pigs!”, by Adam Jacobs (age 11), and “A Girl With Red Hair Is Nice To Know!”, by Annika Thomas (also 11).

Thanks to the talented living writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus for this amazing image by Nat Farbman: Dutch billiards prodigy Renske Quax feeding cream to his cat.


Comme il faut

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Tasteful readers!  Many thanks to everyone who submitted Kafka porn contest entries!  Frankly I received a few that were maybe a teeny bit more literal than I had been expecting, but I believe this is what makes the internet great.  I am delighted to announce the winning entry, by Lydia Kiesling: “Kafka porn is snuff porn that you didn’t actually watch but got arrested for anyway.”  An honorable mention goes to Dimiter Kenarov, for “undressing a person only to find new and new layers of clothing underneath.”  Unfortunately, neither Kiesling nor Kenarov wants the grand prize (my bed), so they get book prizes and I’m trying to sell the bed on Craigslist; big thanks to Andrew Leland of the Believer for already purchasing my (and my intern’s) favorite red chair, as well as two lamps, an ottoman, a saucepan, a carpet steam-cleaner, some geranium-scented laundry detergent, and approximately eight pounds of rice.  Buon appetito, Mr. Leland!

In other exciting news from the C-plus-list, I recently got my first magazine story killed!  It was a searing personal memoir of my Kindle drunk-dialing problem, commissioned by O, the Oprah Magazine, a publication to which I will always be grateful for its support of The Possessed. Unfortunately, as Oprah herself will tell you, no relationship is 100% smooth sailing, and O and I just weren’t able to see eye-to-eye on my Kindle drunk-dialing problem.  As a result, I recently received my first kill fee: a strange experience, because you realize at a certain point that what they are saying to you is basically “Take the money, take the money—just don’t make us publish it!”  For this reason, when I read the invoice that said “KILL FEE/ DRUNKEN KINDLE,” a tiny part of me felt like I had extorted Oprah. It was a strange, not un-empowering feeling.


In further empowering news, I am honored and happy to report that the Guardian ran a version of the Kindle piece on Saturday, so  nobody has to suffer in suspense regarding my super-classy ebook habits.  Read it and weep!  I mean it—it’s all very sad.



Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Enterprising readers!  Thanks to those of you who have already submitted Gogol/ Google puns, many of which made my head explode.  Please note that there are still two days left of the contest.  Yes, dark horses, that means you!

Meanwhile, I am proud to inform those of you who weren’t in Iowa this afternoon that I was a featured guest on today’s edition of Great Taste, a food-themed talk show on KRUU, the voice of Fairfield. I talked about, and read an editorial outtake from, my New Yorker profile of chef Musa Dağdeviren.  (The outtake is up here.)  The incredibly kind host, Steve Boss, honored the venerable Turkish culinary tradition by preparing white bean soup and mücver in the studio kitchen. Or at least he said he did; and those who would like to try to distinguish the sound of white bean soup with their own ears will have their chance tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 7AM Central Time when the show will be rebroadcast and streamed live.  In the meantime, here is a recipe for mücver (zucchini fritters) by my comp-lit colleague Burcu.

In other outtake news, I was recently asked by Time magazine to write 100-200 words about what I’m reading this summer.  (Actually, the email forwarded to me by my publicist read as follows: “I’d love to get Elife [sic.] Batuman to talk to us about what’s in her beach bag.”  I later shared this communication with a colleague, whose reply provided much food for thought: “Time wants you to tell America what’s in your beach bag?  Holy shit.  That’s amazing.  So many ways to answer that. Perhaps you should just keep it simple and say ‘a big black dildo,’ which pretty much covers the bases.”)

As it happens, what I was reading at the time was Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748), written by John Cleland while he was in debtor’s prison.  Personally, I found Fanny Hill to be a page-turner, but it isn’t for everyone.  I realized this, conclusively, when I got to the part where the teenage prostitute narrator and her teenage prostitute friend rape a mentally disabled guy in order to determine empirically whether it’s true that mentally disabled guys are particularly well-endowed.  According to their findings, it is true.  “Its enormous head seemed, in hue and size, not unlike a common sheep’s heart,” Cleland writes, in a generous descriptive passage which goes on for like three pages before concluding: “Nature, in short, had done so much for him in those parts, that she perhaps held herself acquitted in doing so little for his head.”  I guess, that time he meant the one on his shoulders.