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Bellow, Saul

Sono and Moso

Last week’s New Yorker magazine included a series of letters written by Saul Bellow to other writers. I’ve often thought epistolary exchange between writers to be the most nettly of writing, both the most effusive and the most sincere, the most pretentious and the most vein-splittingly self-conscious. It’s hard to get it right.

(An aside: I know, sitting in a hotel bar reading the New Yorker says all sorts of things about my character, and you can judge and you’ll probably be right. Case in point: I like arugula.)

But I loved these letters, and couldn’t stop reading them, and blame the quantity of booze consumed that night on the fact that I had no choice but to sit and dumbly nod at the barman for countless refills while plying my way through. This is the one, for the curious among you, that really made my seat wobbly.

Really, just to say that if you want to be penpals, that’d be okay by me.

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Babel, Isaac

DiGrasso

Oh, aren’t we lucky!? A double-bluffed, double-dipped, double-headed dose of Isaac Babel. When you’ve had a listen here and discover that you’re still running low on your recommended daily serving of Babel, you might head here to find a new recording of an old reading of another one.

And because I’m not above shallow attempts to inveigle you into listening, let me mention that this story includes a pivotal scene with one man sucking the blood from the neck of the other. How’s that for a quick million?

Also, note that tomorrow (7th January 2010) will feature the debut of my audio recording of Jon Frankel’s The Man Who Can’t Die. I’m not as good at pure self-promotion as a I am inveigling, or else you would have found out about this podcast through some anthropomorphic cartoon string bean singing a jingle about it on the television. But I’m excited about it and hope you are too.

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Zukofsky, Louis

It Was

I was sitting here eating little sugary hearts with terms of endearment printed on them. They’re pretty popular with the young people, and surely you must know them: cheap things, sort of disgusting in the way that totally fructosified food product is, but sort of terrific for the same reason. And besides, they’re candied hearts, which can’t be that bad. But I stopped to take a look at some of the platitudes printed on them, and proceeded to eat a U GO GIRL, two yellow EMAIL MEs, a GET REAL, a surprising amount of AWE SOME bits, and topped it off with a GOT CHA.

Now, I don’t have that intimate a history with these candies, but I know they’ve been around for a while, and evidently the endearments have changed over the years. But GET REAL and GOT CHA seem more for bleeding hearts, not those of the more sugary variety, and I wondered if someone in the candy factory was trying to tell me something.

Which didn’t stop me from eating the entire bag. Or thinking that had Zukofsky gotten a job coming up with things to print on candied hearts, I’d probably eat a bag every day.

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Schwartz, Delmore

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Well, pilgrims. It’s that day once again when the poisoned blankets of history are celebrated with turkey and squash. And I want to get all excited with you about Delmore Schwartz, and rave a while about how you should be able to listen to the rhythm of his narrative with an almost painful wistfulness for the days when poets were rockstars (even poets with given names like Delmore), and I’d love to get enthusiastically and prattily didactic about the structural inventions in this story and where they allowed fiction “to go” and so on etc ad blatherium. But then I remember: it’s That Day Once Again, and if I get you all excited about a story you might just suffer from some sort of post-tryptophanic hemorrhage before getting to the pumpkin pie, and that would be a disaster.

So maybe instead you should just sit back, undo the button on your bluejeans (but, uh, not in -that- way) and have a quiet listen.

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Sarraute, Nathalie

XXII

For your bonus bedtime track this week, I’ve decided to double up on (I suppose?) relative abstrusity, author-wise. But this time, I’m in the fortunate position of already knowing and loving and potentially endlessly blathering about today’s subject, to prevent us all from hitting the high mile dudgeons over these recently mentioned desultory obsessions. And so, Nathalie Sarraute, and yes, she was stunning!

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Hecht, Ben

The Lost Soul

Do you know about Ben Hecht? I only ask because a lot of people don’t, and because as a responsible Purveyor of Fine Information I ought to clue you in, and in the interest of living up to such, I should tell you that Ben Hecht was best known to many as a screenwriter, that the same mind is to be held accountable (in some ways) for Hitchcock’s Notorious, His Girl Friday, Gone with the Wind, and Scarface, although largely in an uncredited stop-the-presses-who-can-fix-this capacity.

[And yes, I’m aware that that’s one mighty long sentence, but it was a mighty long thought. Stay with me.]

I mention this only because it’s remarkable to me that someone could be brought on as the FIXER and produce what he did. It’s like building a rocket out of spiral ring binder scraps and spit, and not just ending up with a functional rocket, but a time-warping, human-transporting, beam-me-to-the-sunning Rocket of Tomorrow. And I don’t wax with simile very often, so when I do, you know it’s one that gets me excited. So I was mightily pleased to stumble on tonight’s story.

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Malamud, Bernard

The Bill

A few blocks down from my apartment is a utility pole, and on that utility pole someone has graffitoed the following in black marker:

“Romanse [sic] is the death of enlightenment”

And I walk by this utility pole every day, and have made all sorts of teleological, phenomenological, and epistemological assessments of what this might mean, as well as just thinking about it sometimes. (It doesn’t make much sense! After all, enlightenment trumps death. And if you’ve gotten there, you’ve surpassed the need for romanse [sic] Or at least, I think so, but who understands all that anyhow?). But tonight, I think I get it! It’s not a misspelling of “romance” at all! They’re talking about FRENCH NOVELS (“romans”), which must be particularly girly if the affected feminine -e is suffixed at the end. Or, in other words, “french chick lit is the death of enlightenment.” Which makes sense, teleologically, phenomenologically, AND the rest of it. And so I offer you Bernard Malamud, not french and most decided not chick-littish.

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Elkin, Stanley

A Poetics for Bullies

All week I’ve been in the nether regions, the sticks, the country, the bucolic boonies, the hinterregions of the backwoods, fretting over how much I’d have to read to you upon my return, how many hours I’d have to try my larynx to make it up to you, just how many stories I’d have to penitently tell. I worried whether I’d still be able to read at all, for sources had said that that part of the land is full of heathens, of illiterates, of INGRATES! Fortunately, in fact, the people in that part of the land were full of nothing but good cheer and good will, and I never questioned their ability to read, and I myself returned wtih literacy intact. Whether my oral storytelling skills were preserved as well, I’m not sure– here’s a nice long one to put them to the test.

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