Monday, November 19, 2007

Dead Vonnegut vs. Dead Mailer

The AP reports that even in death Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is more popular than Norman Mailer (or the recently deceased William Styron, too):

No writer was more competitive, or ambitious, than Mailer, author of such epics as "The Naked and the Dead" and "The Executioner's Song," and critics would likely hand him the prize for his generation. But if sales are the measure of the public's mind, then honors clearly belong to Vonnegut...

While Vonnegut's passing last April led to a significant jump in sales for his books, the change was far smaller for the works of Mailer and Styron, both of whom, unlike Vonnegut, won Pulitzer Prizes...

[Vonnegut’s] "Cat's Cradle" has sold nearly 130,000 copies since 2006, according to Nielsen BookScan, and "Breakfast of Champions" totals 74,000. Meanwhile, Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," winner of the Pulitzer in 1968, has sold less than 2,000 since 2006, while Mailer's "The Armies of the Night," a Pulitzer winner in 1969, sold just 3,000.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How Not to Get Laid

Last night I went out barhopping in Seattle with some friends. First we went to Purr, a trendy gay bar, to meet up with some people. After an hour there, we shot off to ever-fashionable Belltown where we ended up at Amber, a hip and happening bar for people trying to hook up. A bit of a meat market - for ages ranging from early twenties to late thirties. Being in my early forties I was clearly out of my element. Nonetheless we hung out there and enjoyed watching all the guys and gals on the make. The dress was casual but nice. The girls showing abundant cleavage and the guys wearing dress shirts in various states of unbuttonedness.

As we were leaving, though, I saw something very unusual. We went past a man in his thirties sitting alone at a table and who, to judge by the pained look on his face, was having a horrible time. This was not surprising for a number of reasons. First, he was completely overdressed, wearing a tie and business slacks. But the main reason his evening was bombing out was that the guy had actually brought a book with him. That’s right, a book. And a thick one, at that. As we walked past his table I glanced over and immediately recognized the book by its cover. It was Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, an 870-page epic Russian novel about the siege of Stalingrad.

Oh yeah, dude, that's going to work for you. Nothing gets a girl on her back faster than the campaigns of the Red Army. Hell, just whisper in her ear those sweet, sweet words - Stalin, Molotov, Yeremenko, Krylov – and she'll melt faster than a pad of butter in the hot Crimean sun. Good thinking.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Ideal Book

Ford Madox Ford, in a 1914 review of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, pretty much nails it:

But I seem to want something fresher, something brighter, something sharper than the Myshkin Christ. For Myshkin is the same thing all over again. But if you ask me what I want…ah, there! that again is not my job. And indeed I don’t know. If I did I should try to do it myself. The only thing that I can imagine as an ideal is a book so quiet in tone, so clearly and unobtrusively worded, that it should give the effect of a long monologue spoken by a lover at a little distance from his mistress’s ear – a book about the invisible relationships between man and man; about the values of life; about the nature of God – the sort of book that nowadays one could read in as one used to do when one was a child, pressed against a tall window-pane for hours and hours, utterly oblivious of oneself, in the twilight.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ask Andy!

Here’s an article from yesterday’s New York Times about Allison Storr, a 39-year-old New Yorker who has a rather unusual job:

Looking for someone to curate your life? Need a personal concierge whose expertise is not picking up dry-cleaning but helping chose your wardrobe, your tastes, your friends? Ms. Storr calls herself a personal manager, but her duties go far beyond that. Her clients, all of them men, pay monthly fees of $4,000 to $10,000 to have her be their personal decider in nearly all things lifestyle-related.

Calling on assistants including a stylist and a caterer, Ms. Storr helps people figure out their tastes. If they are single, she enhances their social profile (though she insists she is not a matchmaker).

The article shows her leading a couple through Chelsea art galleries, a tour “that was intended as a primer for cocktail party chatter, not collecting.” Or, apparently, art. Later, she throws a party for the couple so they can meet other people, people who one day may become their friends. The couple is very happy with Allison. “Brad will ask me a question like, ‘Where should I get a haircut?’ ”, one of them chirps, “and I’ll say, ‘Ask Allison!’ ”

One of her clients, a high-powered lawyer who wouldn’t give his name (oh, you’ll see why), has especially high praise for Allison. He even referred to her as his “outsourced wife,” then added:

“The nice thing is that when I ask her to do something, she gets it done and there’s no negative feelings.”

Ah, yes, that’s so much better than having to deal with a pesky real-life wife and her bothersome negative feelings.

Now, this is the line of work I need to go into. The only problem is that I wouldn’t last long, not because I’d be bad at it, but because I’d be so good. For example, here’s how I would instruct my clients to learn cocktail party small talk.

1. Buy a copy of The New York Times and read the article about the pathetic people who pay thousands a month to learn how to make cocktail party small talk.

2. Go to cocktail party.

3. Say “Hey, did you see that article in the Times about those pathetic people who pay thousands a month to learn how to make cocktail party small talk?”

Let the small talk begin.

Any questions?