The Millions blog has posted a list of their most anticipated books for 2009 and (so far) 2010. I'm with them on: Dave Eggers's Zeitoun, William Vollmann's Imperial, Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, his first novel since The Corrections. (I know, no women writers on my list -- but I am looking forward to whenever Nicole Krauss publishes her next.)
(1) # 7/1/2009
Seventy years ago, the U.S. government -- via its Federal Writers' Project -- funded the creation of the American Guide Series, a collection of books and pamphlets about every state in the union at that time. (Hard copies are hard to come by now, but I found the Nevada one on Google Books.)
Inspired by this social project, editors Sean Wilsey (New Yorker, McSweeney's) and Matt Weiland (The Paris Review) compiled State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, a book of new essays by contemporary authors about every state in the union. Here's a sampling of the contents:
* California by William T. Vollmann
* Illinois by Dave Eggers
* Massachusetts by John Hodgman
* Montana by Sarah Vowell
* Nevada by Charles Bock
* New Jersey by Anthony Bourdain
* Ohio by Susan Orlean
* Rhode Island by Jhumpa Lahiri
I read a few chapters on Amazon, and unlike their FDR-era counterparts, many of the essays -- perhaps due to the space constraints -- are rather narrowly focused. Bock's Nevada piece, for instance, is a brief memoir about the pawn shop owned by his parents (now run by his brother) near downtown Las Vegas. Vollmann's piece, on the other hand, somehow manages to capture the grandeur of the entire state of California, from poetic descriptions of its landscapes to an S&M joint in San Francisco. The beginning of his essay touches upon the purpose of the book:
It says something about our changing America that once upon a time, an art-friendly governmental organization commissioned one volume about each of our fifty states; whereas this book, inspired by the WPA's example, has been commercially published and allows each state only a few thousand words. Fortunately, mass culture, with its big box warehouses of the landscape, language, and mind itself, has already destroyed so many differences between states that there is less to say anyhow.
Based on the fact that Vollmann's next book, Imperial, contains 1,300 pages about one county in California, my guess is that his last point is somewhat facetious.
Willam Vollmann's next book, Imperial, is a 1,300 page nonfiction account of California's Imperial County, and a history of the US/Mexican border. I'm almost done with the 3,500 page Rising Up and Rising Down (which I've been reading off and on since late 2003), but I might have to take a Vollmann breather before even considering this one. (thx, mark b.)
(10) # 8/13/2008
A radio interview with William T. Vollmann about his new book, "Riding to Everywhere," a non-fictional account of his experience hopping freight trains in the American West. There's an interesting discussion about the boundaries of authority and society that comes up after several callers criticize him for romanticizing danger. (thx, steve)
(0) # 2/8/2008
And speaking of Vollmann, there's a negative but amusing review of his latest non-fiction work, "Riding Toward Everywhere," in today's New York Times Book Review. Line of the day:
Whores are to Vollmann as bears are to John Irving.The reviewer then goes to describe a "freaky" episode where Vollmann makes out with a transient stranger dancing by a campfire. I love Vollmann. (2) #1/27/2008
A drawn map of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian-Serbians that lasted for about half of the 1990's. This interested me because I'm in the midst of William Vollmann's essays about his time spent in the various warring areas of former Yugoslavia, depicted in Volume VI of his opus on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. He spent time holed up with some students in besieged Sarajevo, and described the tanks upon hills literally surrounding the city. Now I see what he means.
(1) # 10/17/2007
William T. Vollmann is trying to convince you to read some Norse literature, whether it be contemporary or of the ancient epic sagas. Personally, I've read very little literature that employs an ø -- I can only think of Smilla's Sense of Snow off the top of my head. (thx, mark b.)
(3) # 9/14/2006
litkicks.com has spent the week discussing their choice of LitKicks Overrated Writers of 2006: Philip Roth, Joan Didion, William Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, and Jonathan Lethem. You'll see posts justifying their pick for each writer.
I think it's kind of strange that they picked McCarthy and Lethem, since neither have been in the spotlight this year (except for "Blood Meridian" being on that NYTBR list recently). And since 2006 is the only year Vollmann has ever been discussed at length, what with his prolific output, wasn't he just finally getting his due? I also find it strange they picked Didion after praising "The Year of Magical Thinking" as one of her best. Who would you guys pick?
Yet another fascinating interview with William T. Vollman.
If someone uses drugs and thereby injures or impairs his ability to perform a public function and as a result people are injured or killed, that person should be punished. But let's punish the person for what he's done, not what he might do. We are all prostitutes. We all do things we would not otherwise do just to survive. None of us should be too proud. It's good to remember that the people we see incapacitated, drunk, and lying in the streets are our brothers and sisters.(0) #2/23/2006
The New York Times Review of Books gets on the Vollmann train, reviewing the recent National Book Award winning novel Europe Central and Expelled from Eden: A William T. Vollmann Reader. I wonder if they assigned this after or before Vollmann won the prestigious award?
(0) # 11/29/2005
William T. Vollmann's Europe Central wins the National Book Award for fiction. This is a huge suprise -- he had the worst odds according to one article. Joan Didion picked up the award for non-fiction for her book on dealing with the death of her husband.
(0) # 11/16/2005
Bookslut interview with William T. Vollmann, a favorite writer of mine. Even if you don't know anything about Vollmann, it's a good interview for getting acquainted with his war zone trips, adventures with prostitutes, and his view on whether or not he'd be a Nazi if born in Germany in the early 20th century.
(8) # 11/9/2005
"In political measures we ought never to recede, never to retrograde, never to admit ourselves to be wrong ... even when in error we ought to persist in it, in order to have the appearance of being in the right."
-Napoleon, as quoted in Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down (v.4, p.213).
Finalists for the 2005 National Book Award have been announced. I was happy to see William T. Vollmann, a favorite of mine, garner his first nomination in the fiction category for Europe Central. (He was nominated in 2003 for the 7-volume nonfiction essay Rising Up and Rising Down, of which I'm almost done with volume 4.)
(0) # 10/12/2005