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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Timberg’

When Authors Turn Reclusive

In a piece that pretty much stems from Denis Johnson‘s blanket refusal to do any press whatsoever for his brand new (and long-awaited) novel TREE OF SMOKE, Scott Timberg at the LA Times investigates why authors of a certain age – Salinger, Pynchon, Lee, and other usual suspects – decided to shut themselves away from media and from publication and why that’s damn near impossible nowadays. Being a recluse can come off as arrogance, sensitivity, or a noble dissent, says Timberg — a high-minded refusal to engage with America’s culture of celebrity, erosion of privacy and self-promotion. It may be just the wishful fantasy that their books might arrive unmediated, might “speak for themselves.”

Arthur Salm, the book editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune, calls it common sense. “Reclusive writers are living perfectly reasonable lives,” he said. “The fact that they’re reclusive isn’t the phenomenon: The phenomenon is our reaction to the fact that they’re living normal lives. It has the opposite effect than what I think these writers want: People are intrigued by it. ‘My God — look!’ Your idea is to disappear and you end up with the spotlight on you.” But in the age of MySpace, Facebook and 24/7 celebrity coverage – not to mention the growing need for self-promotion to get any sort of attention – going the way of Denis Johnson is that much rarer.

“Everybody wants to be famous now,” said New Republic critic Lee Siegel, whose AGAINST THE MACHINE: BEING HUMAN IN THE AGE OF THE ELECTRONIC MOB comes out in January. “That’s what YouTube is about. Fame, for anyone who’s experienced it, is a calamity; you can see it in the faces of actors. People seem to not want a private life now — they’re dancing naked online — but with the recluse you see the most pristine and old-fashioned notion of how sacred a private life really is. And a writer, especially, needs to keep his interiority detached.” Which is why someone like Thomas Pynchon can keep his mystique (I’ve got my own deliberately far-fetched theories that a few drinks will pry out of me), because as David Kipen remarks, “It almost helps that there’s no interviews with Pynchon in print saying, ‘I like to sit around in my underwear and watch soap operas.’ Because we don’t want to know that.”

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‘Eccentric’ Owner of Other Times Books to Hang it Up

The LA Times’ Scott Timberg profiles Andrew Dowdy, the longtime owner of LA-based bookshop Other Times Books who has decided to retire. But not for the usual reasons: he could make his rent, and he wasn’t worried about big box store competition or the Internet. Instead, a recent diabetic coma forced him to realize that it was time to get out of the business – making Other Times, a beloved if somewhat obscure used bookstore on a not-yet gentrified stretch of Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, would become a thing of the past. In a sense, as its name implied, it always was.

“It’s sort of a ’60s ideal,” said Dowdy, standing in front of his locked store last month while a friend retrieved the key, to Timberg. “The eccentric, single-owned used bookstore … they’re dropping like flies.” What makes the passing of Other Times noteworthy, Timberg continues, is the store and its stock – heavy on film books but with a lot of literary fiction and old New Yorker writers – which is being sold to Powell’s in Portland, Ore., over the next week or so. It was certainly not the space itself, that kind of classic used bookstore with fluorescent lights, a perpetually broken bathroom and several different types of flooring, all of them dirty. Still, Other Times was a kind of secret spot for L.A. literati.

“I don’t know if I can recall another shop where I truly thought things were priced reasonably all the time,” said magician, actor and book collector Ricky Jay, who found tomes on early 20th century mining stock swindles in Nevada and male impersonators in battle. “He had a very good knowledge of circuses, carnivals and striptease, all fields I have a real interest in.”

Convergence of Chabon

We needn’t remind regular readers, let alone sporadic readers, that Michael Chabon‘s new novel THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION is out as of today. After all, look in a national newspaper and there’s Michiko Kakutani‘s glowing review in the New York Times or Deirdre Donahue‘s more muted take in USA Today, or the Christian Science Monitor’s Erik Spanberg falling somewhere in between. Expect the non-stop coverage to continue through the weekend and beyond.

It also continues today as the LA Times’ Scott Timberg meets Chabon and showers him with all manner of descriptive phrases (“leonine good looks” and “Prom King of American Letters” being some of the more purple ones) while also getting the author to admit he’s frustrated by some of the early notices which concentrate on the more hardboiled aspects of the novel. Genre fiction’s struggle for respect is one of Chabon’s fiercest causes. “There’s something so tired about it,” he said, his body collapsing in mock exasperation. “I thought we figured that out already.” Not as long as there are still people ready and willing to fight – fairly and unfairly – on both sides of the so-called debate…

This Week’s “Next Big Thing”, the Gatsby Edition

2 years ago Jeff Hobbs left New York behind for Los Angeles, moving the day after his wedding when his new wife got a production job. But as the LA Times’ Scott Timberg reports, Hobbs didn’t completely leave Manhattan behind as it serves as the backdrop for his uber-charmed debut novel THE TOURISTS, already landing the 27 year old great notices from the likes of Los Angeles Magazine that whisper something along the lines of “this is the next GREAT GATSBY.”

“There’s a wistfulness to it that’s missing from a lot of contemporary fiction by people in their 20s,” said Bret Easton Ellis, who mentored Hobbs and helped sharpen the novel. “And a sadness that seems very adult, as if Jeff has lived much longer than he actually has. I think that’s why it feels like a throwback. The books I see from debut novelists aren’t anything like this – they aren’t nearly this worldly.” As for how that mentoring took place? A mutual friend’s doing, and Ellis originally commented on a previous Hobbs manuscript, then worked extensively on what became THE TOURISTS, which Simon & Schuster is publishing today.

In other words, not many writers get this kind of attention, and Hobbs recognizes he’s led something of a charmed life. But Timberg finds for someone with that degree of early success – a major-house book contract with little previously published writing, fruitful friendship with famous novelist, rave review in a glossy magazine – his lack of arrogance is almost touching. “I want to apologize to you in advance, actually,” he said, almost making eye contact, “because I sit in a room alone all day and mostly talk to my dog.” As for writing a contemporary GATSBY, Hobbs was taken aback. “Gatsby,” he said, is “kind of a book about a bunch of murderers. But it’s thought of as this tragic love story… I’m almost embarrassed by the comparison.”

Granta Picks Cowley as Editor; More on “Young Americans” issue

The Bookseller reported yesterday that Granta has appointed Jason Cowley as the editor of its magazine, replacing Ian Jack, the magazine’s editor since 1995. Cowley, editor of Observer Sport Monthly, former literary editor of New Statesman and a long-time contributing editor for Prospect, will join Granta in September. “My challenge is to ensure that it plays a major role in the culture at large while continuing to publish writing of the highest distinction and introducing new voices,” Cowley said.

Meanwhile, Granta issue 97 – aka the “Best of Young American Novelists” issue – got even more attention over the weekend courtesy the LA Times’ Scott Timberg and the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington. In Timberg’s piece, the focus is on the list’s ethnic diversity but its class homogenaiety. “In America all class analysis is forbidden,” judge Edmund White wrote in his assessment. “It’s as if the conflict and alienation offered in, say, the British novel by encounters with members of other, lower social classes are replaced in America by contrasts of First and Third World cultures.” Well actually, we beg to differ, but then one could argue the so-called homogenaiety is entirely due to looking at the genre of books called literary fiction and not reaching out to crime fiction (where the social novel has migrated) or science fiction and fantasy or graphic novels, where a great many exciting novelists ages 35 or under are paying their dues….

Apocalypse Literary

The LA Times’ Scott Timberg fashions a trend piece out of three recent novels dealing with life after apocalypse: Cormac McCarthy‘s THE ROAD, Chris Adrian‘s THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL and most recently, Matthew Sharpe‘s JAMESTOWN. Add in other related fare by Carolyn See, Daniel Alarcon and David Mitchell and Timberg is right to wonder what’s in the water to produce all this end-of-the-world type of fiction.

The simple answer, Timberg says, is that the attacks of 9/11 and the Iraq war have brought a sense of unease and vulnerability to both artists and audiences. Growing worries about global warming and the greater visibility of the Christian right — Protestant fundamentalists, for whom the apocalypse is not metaphor, are thought to have swung the last two presidential elections — have brought the end of the world in from the shadows. But Steve Erickson offers a more literary viewpoint, saying this new emphasis also has to do with a blurring of lines between literary and genre fiction. “Twenty years ago, there was still an insularity to a lot of fiction, especially work put out by the New York publishing houses. It was still doing Raymond Carver and that neorealist minimalist thing. It regarded the futurism that’s kind of implicit in apocalyptic writing as kind of lowbrow.” Now, Erickson said, “there’s a new generation of writers who are more involved with other things happening in the culture.”

Where There Was Madness, Glasgow Phillips Was There

The author of the brand-new memoir THE ROYAL NONESUCH talks with the LA Times’ Scott Timberg about his voyage to Hollywood a decade ago and finding himself brushing up against almost every pop trend of the last decade or so, including “alternative hip hop,” the mainstreaming of porn, the Internet boom and sub-Sundance indie film festivals. The book, Timberg writes, could serve as a sort of literary Rorschach test: if you are an angry heartland dweller looking for confirmation that Hollywood is a den of indulgence and sin, this is the book for you. For anyone who’s crossed paths with Hollywood youth culture in the post-Beck, post-”Pulp Fiction” age, you may see yourself or your friends in here. “I probably had slightly weirder adventures than most people I know,” said Glasgow Phillips. “But not really markedly weirder.”

In the midst of tales of internet boom and bust, tv shows that never quite took off and schemes that never quite fired, Phillips’s likability comes to the forefront. But don’t expect any moral. “I’ll be really grateful,” he said, “if somebody comes up with it and lets me know what it is.”