Thursday, January 31, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt eight)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

From the beginning of the war, New Orleans was the prize Lincoln coveted most. It was the first great city he ever saw as a young man, his destination during the flatboat journey that marked his personal declaration of independence from his father. No other place reflected quite so well the geographical and commercial ties binding North and South, for in happier time the bounty of the continent collected there for shipments around the world. Lincoln had closely monitored months of arduous preparation, first in Washington and then in the Gulf of Mexico, for a Union campaign to take the city. Now, on April 25, the day of Browning’s visit to the White House, a fleet of battered warships under David Farragut finally steamed toward the docks of the Crescent City, dodging unmanned barges carrying blazing loads of cotton. The citizens of New Orleans, the largest city and most important port in the Confederacy, had only this futile gesture to make in response to the arrival of Lincoln’s conquering armada.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt seven)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

But as men fought over credit and blame, the larger meaning of Shiloh was written in the exhausted columns of mauled Confederates retreating through a pounding hailstorm, and in the Union lines too shattered and spent to pursue them. A strong Rebel force, fighting in its own heartland and on its own terms, had hammered a Union army yet failed to break it. And now, even as the Confederates made their way back to Corinth, additional manpower from the North was surging toward Pittsburg Landing: one the same day the Rebels were driven back from Shiloh, Pope’s army had finally captured Island No. 10. In short, the bluecoats were firmly lodged in Dixie, and they would not be driven out by head-on attacks. Johnston had landed his best punch, but it wasn’t enough.

Yet the ferocity of that blow was itself a grim turning point. A line had been crossed; on April 6 the splintered nation had entered an unspeakable realm. Total casualties were more than double the combined losses at Manassas, Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson, and Pea Ridge—all the major battles in the war thus far. Men saw things at Shiloh that prefigured the horrors of the war to come: entire forests sheared off by cannon fire; brains exposed in crushed foreheads; men holding their own entrails; fields furrowed by shell fragments and littered with muddy haversacks and broken rifles; acres strewn with dead and dying men and horses. One field was so thick with corpses, in Grant’s description, “that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Rhapsody Interview, with Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter Bobby Braddock

Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter Bobby Braddock co-wrote "He Stopped Loving Her Today" for George Jones and another dozen #1 hits besides. And he was kind enough to create a playlist of 15 Great Country Songs that he didn't write, and stick around to talk about them and his own writing for our latest Rhapsody interview.


the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt six)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

The Confederacy’s long-term prospects were also being eroded by the North’s increasing financial strength. Lincoln had put it simply: “I must have money.” Expanding on the theme, he added, “The result of this war is a question of resources. That side will win in the end where the money holds out the longest.”

Accordingly, the House of Representatives was hard at work on developing a massive system of taxes to pay for a protracted war if necessary. Under their plan, a new commissioner of internal revenue would be appointed, and virtually every money stream in the Union would be tapped—starting with income, which had never been taxed before. Sales taxes were instituted: two cents per pound on sugar, a penny per pound on coffee, ten cents per gallon on coal oil, fifty cents per clock, ten cents per pound on cheap cigars and twenty cents per pound on good ones—on and on went the list, page after page of levies covering rail fares, steamboat tickets, stock transactions, and newspaper advertisements. “Nearly every class will probably find something to complain of,” one newspaper allowed.

The North’s ability to collect so much revenue from so many news taxes suggested its enormous economic advantage. In 1860, the eleven states that formed the Confederacy had just 10 percent of the nation’s industrial capacity. The North, by contrast, had not only a legion of thriving industries, but also nine of the ten largest cities, and two third of all railroad tracks. Meanwhile, the manufacturing capacity of many of the Southern states was shrinking. Between 1840 and 1860, Virginia lost one third of its manufacturing jobs; on the eve of the war, it employed approximately the same number of factory workers as the tiny state of Rhode Island.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode eight: Michelangelo Signorile

the eighth installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, this with Sirius XM radio host and Huffington Post Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile.


Please visit The 49ers Facebook page for further updates.

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt five)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

Lincoln often welded political leaders to the Union cause by making them generals—some of them because they had relevant military experience, but many more simply because of their influence with one political group or another. “In regard to the patronage sought with so much eagerness and jealousy, I have prescribed for myself the maxim, ‘Fairness to all,’” Lincoln declared. Though Republicans seethed, Lincoln was careful to give stars to a number of prominent Democrats, never forgetting that the opposition carried nearly 45 percent of the Northern vote in 1860. He made generals of John A. Dix, a former Democratic senator from New York; John McClernand, the leading Democrat in southern Illinois; Benjamin Butler, the most prominent Massachusetts Democrat; and, most notably, George McClellan.

Lincoln also catered to ethnic groups. He made the Irish nationalist hero Thomas Meagher a brigadier general, one of a dozen Irish-born Union generals who served in the war. An order to the War Department gives a window into Lincoln’s thinking about military patronage. “There has got to be something done unquestionably in the interest of the Dutch, and to that end I want Schimmelfennig appointed.” Lincoln knew that the name alone would delight German-Americans. He even learned to be attentive to the religious denominations of his appointees, after being scolded for putting too many Episcopalians in his cabinet. “I must do something for this great Methodist church,” he told a visiting congressman. “Seward is an Episcopalian, Chase is an Episcopalian, Bates is an Episcopalian, and Stanton swears enough to be one.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt four)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

On the first day of the new year, Abraham Lincoln shook those outstretched hands until his fingers trembled because with the public on his side he might be able to untangle this horrible knot: master the army, hold Europe at bay, tame the Congress, coordinate the government, rescue the Treasury, launch an offensive, hold on to the border states, solve the problem of slavery, and somehow preserve his own sanity. Without public support, the country was finished. Lincoln knew he must move quickly—but never more vigorously than the people would sustain. He was driven by a simple theory, one friend summed up: “That but one thing was necessary, and that was a united North.”

The president shook the last hand at about two p.m., and then the final visitors descended from the East Room window to the White House lawn. Beyond the gates, the holiday continued long into the night, with parades and cannon fire and barrels of beer. Lincoln’s right arm ached, and his thoughts were dark. As he told a trusted friend the next day, he was, for the first time, beginning to consider “the bare possibility of our being two nations.” But he had sworn a solemn oath to preserve the Constitution and, as the coming year would prove, he did not give up easily. So Lincoln walked with his ungainly stride down the long central corridor of the White House and climbed the stairs to the second floor. With his boys lost joyfully in the celebration outside, there was nothing to keep him from the office, and though he was exhausted, it was time to go to work.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt three)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

Lincoln faced no greater challenge than that of holding these vastly differing parties together long enough for the war’s own nature to reveal itself. To him, human history was an inexorable current that sometimes meandered, sometimes raged, but ultimately found its own course. And although it was his oft-spoken view that history was flowing away from slavery toward freedom, he believed that his most important responsibility was to keep the Union from breaking up short of that destination.

So while abolitionists pressed him for a war on slavery and conservatives pleaded with him to submerge the issue, Lincoln was steering a middle way, guided by two principles. First, his actions must be consistent with the Constitution; this would show Northern conservatives that he was not a radical, and simultaneously protect his flank against Chief Justice Taney. In Lincoln’s view, this principle, however sensible, severely limited his options, because the Constitution specifically recognized the existence of slavery and the right of states to maintain it. His second principle was that he would work through his options starting with the most cautious initiatives, because he understood that with each step he took on this volatile issue, there was no going back. Overreach could be fatal, so he would have to make his way forward very carefully, even as the world around him was aflame. Lincoln never claimed to “comprehend the whole of this stupendous crisis,” nor to “fully understand and foresee it all,” he once said. “And that being the case, I can only go just as fast as I can see how to go.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt two)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

Lincoln endured the outrage because he believed the Union could not be saved without support from loyal slaveholders, especially those in his birthplace, Kentucky. That state was the strategic core of the country: Kentucky controlled the Ohio River and guarded the eastern flank of Missouri, another loyal slave state located on a key waterway. If Kentucky left the Union, and if Missouri followed, the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers would fall under Confederate control, strangling American commerce. “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game,” Lincoln once said.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt one)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

Magnetic, keenly sensitive, often able to understand others better than they understood themselves. Lincoln was, nevertheless, profoundly isolated, and this was a source of his sadness. He “never had a confidant,” his law partner and biographer William Herndon wrote. “He was the most reticent and mostly secretive man that ever existed.” Lincoln usually masked this isolation behind jokes and anecdotes and apparent bursts of candor. But even his brief descriptions of his youth strike a note of profound loneliness; he was, he once wrote, “a strange, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy.” His mother died when he was nine; soon afterward, Lincoln’s father abandoned him and his sister in the wilderness, to be cared for only by a slightly older cousin. The father returned months later to find the Lincoln children filthy, poorly fed, and in rags. Now, four decades later, Abraham Lincoln was no longer a lonely genius on a raw frontier, but he bore the internal scars of a boy who learned not to let others too close.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

the last book I ever read (David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood, excerpt five)

from The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough:

There were many, too, who looked upon the disaster as a time of the apocalypse. Countless sermons on “The Meaning of the Johnstown Flood” were delivered in every part of the land for many Sundays running. One Pittsburgh preacher compared the “wolf cry” about the dam breaking to those in his congregation who tired of hearing him on the admonitions of the Lord. Another said that the lesson was to be ever prepared to meet thy Maker.

In New York the illustrious Reverend T. DeWitt Talmage, using the 93rd Psalm as his text (“The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; . . . “), told an audience of some 5,000 that what the voice of the flood had to say was that nature was merciless and that any sort of religious attitude toward nature meant emptiness. “There are those who tell us they want only the religion of sunshine, art, blue sky and beautiful grass,” said Talmage. “The book of nature must be their book. Let me ask such persons what they make out of the floods in Pennsylvania.”

Not a few ministers chose to talk about the spirit of sympathy that was sweeping the country. The New York Witness, a religious newspaper, went so far as to say there was a “loving purpose of God hidden in the Flood,” which turned a great many stomachs in Johnstown.

But the theme that set the most heads nodding in agreement was the old, old theme of punishment from on high. The story of Noah was read from thousands of pulpits. (“And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; . . . And God said until Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; . . .”) This was The Great American Flood; it had been a sign unto all men, the preachers said, and woe unto the land if it were not heeded. The steel town had been a sin town and so the Lord had destroyed it; for surely only a vile and wicked place would have been visited by so hideous a calamity.

It was a line of reasoning which many people were quick to accept, for at least it made some sense of the disaster. But it was a line of reasoning which met with much amusement in Johnstown, where, as anyone who knew his way about could readily see, Lizzie Thompson’s house and several rival establishments on Green Hill had not only survived the disaster, but were going stronger than ever before. “If punishment was God’s purpose,” said one survivor, “He sure had bad aim.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood, excerpt four)

from The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough:

The flood and the night that had followed, for all their terror and destruction and suffering, had had a certain terrible majesty. Many people had thought it was Judgment Day, God’s time of anger come at last, the Day of Reckoning. They thought that the whole world was being destroyed and not just Johnstown. It had been the “horrible tempest,” with flood and fire “come as a destruction from the Almighty.” It had been awful, but it had been God Awful.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood, excerpt three)

from The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough:

The next thing she knew, Gertrude was whirling about on top of a muddy mattress that was being buoyed up by debris but that kept tilting back and forth as she struggled to get her balance. She screamed for help. Then a dead horse slammed against her raft, pitching one end of it up into the air and nearly knocking her off. She hung on for dear life, until a tree swung by, snagging the horse in its branches before it plunged off with the current in another direction, the dead animal bobbing up and down, up and down, in and out of the water, like a gigantic, gruesome rocking horse.

Weak and shivering with cold, she lay down on the mattress, realizing for the first time that all her clothes had been torn off except for her underwear. Night was coming on and she was terribly frightened. She started praying in German, which was the only way she had been taught to pray.

A small white house went sailing by, almost running her down. She called out to the one man who was riding on top, straddling the peak of the roof and hugging the chimney with both arms. But he ignored her, or perhaps never heard her, and passed right by.

“You terrible man,” she shouted after him. “I’ll never help you.”

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (David McCullough's The Johnstown Floor, excerpt two)

from The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough:

Debris began building rapidly among the massive stone arches. And now it was no longer the relatively small sort of rubbish that had been clogging the bridge most of the day. Now boxcars, factory roofs, trees, telegraph poles, hideous masses of barbed wire, hundreds of houses, many squashed beyond recognition, others still astonishingly intact, dead horses and cows, and hundreds of human beings, dead and alive, were driven against the bridge until a small mountain had formed, higher than the bridge itself and nearly watertight. So once again, for the second time within an hour, Lake Conemaugh gathered in a new setting. Now it was spread all across Johnstown and well beyond.

But this time the new “dam” would hold quite a while longer than the viaduct had and would cause still another kind of murderous nightmare. For when darkness fell, the debris at the bridge caught fire.

No one knows for sure what caused the first. The explanation most often given at the time was that oil from a derailed tank car had soaked down through the mass, and that it was set off by coal stoves dumped over inside the kitchens of mangled houses caught in the jam. But there could have been a number of other causes, and in any case, by six o’clock the whole monstrous pile had become a funeral pyre for perhaps as many as eighty people trapped inside.

Friday, January 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood, excerpt one)

from The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough:

Henry Bessemer, a brilliant English chemist, had devised just such a process at about the time Kelly first arrived at the Cambria works, and, deservedly enough, got nearly all of the credit. The Bessemer converter used a blast of air directed through the molten iron to oxidize, or burn off, most of the carbon impurities in the metal to make steel. Previous steelmaking techniques required weeks, even months. The Bessemer process could produce good-quality steel in less than one hour.

It was one of the important technological innovations of all time, and Morrell was among the first to recognize just what its impact might be. He financed Kelly’s erratic pioneering in the technique for close to five years and after the war invested heavily in new Bessemer equipment. In the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s Johnstown was the liveliest steel center in the country, with the most inventive minds in the industry gathering there—the Fritz brothers, George and John, Bill Jones, and the brilliant and energetic Alexander Holley.

Moreover, Morrell had Cambria Iron do something no other steel company experimenting with the Bessemer process dared try, and something that was to prove immensely beneficial to Andrew Carnegie. He used only American workers, training Pennsylvania farm boys to understand and master the new technology, while everyone else in the business was importing English workers already familiar with it. At first there were months of costly setbacks and disappointments in Johnstown, but the results in the long run proved Morrell right.

In 1867, from ingots made at Steelton, the first Bessemer rails to be rolled on order in the United States came out of the Cambria mill. By 1871 Morrell had one of the first really big Bessemer plants in operation, and for the next five years Cambria would be the largest producer in the country, if not the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt twenty)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

It was Labor Day week, his last free time before Fury’s American publication. He met Padma in Los Angeles and they flew to Colorado, to spend her thirty-first birthday, which fell on September 1, watching movies in the mountains and walking the informal streets of the town where Butch and Sundance had robbed their first bank, having a coffee with Werner Herzog here, a chat with Faye Dunaway there. At Telluride nobody was hustling or selling and everyone was approachable. The movie polymaths Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert, the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and other well-informed movie folk were on hand, imparting wisdom and cracking wise. The agreed position of everyone at Telluride was that Tom Luddy knew everyone on earth. The great Luddy, Lord of Misrule and master of ceremonies, took it all in good part. Telluride was a jokey place. To ride the ski lift up the mountain to the Chuck Jones theater you had to make a Wabbit Weservation.

They saw the hit French movie Amélie with its slightly-too-sweet elements of fantasy and the Croatian No Man’s Land, directed by Danis Tanovic, which was like Waiting for Godot in a trench under fire, and Agnieszka Holland’s workmanlike, HBO-financed Shot in the Heart, an adaptation of Mikal Gilmore’s book about his murderer brother Gary. They saw three movies a day, fell asleep in some of them, and in between and after the screenings there were parties. They came down from the mountain on September 3 and eight days later it would be impossible not to remember that Edenic moment as a paradise from which not just they, but the whole world had been expelled.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt nineteen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

He flew to New York to do interviews and almost at once began to feel extremely ill. He did his best to keep going through the arduous schedule but in the end the high fever forced him to see a doctor. He was told he had a severe chest infection, near pneumonia, and if he had left it one more day he would almost certainly have been hospitalized. He was put on powerful antibiotics and somehow made it through the interviews. After the work was done, he felt shaky but better, and went to a reception at Tina Brown’s house, where he found himself standing in a small circle of guests whose other members were Martin Amis, Martin Scorsese, David Bowie, Iman, Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart and Jerry Seinfeld. “Mr. Rushdie,” Seinfeld said, nervously, “did you ever see the episode of the show we did about you?” This was the episode in which Kramer claimed to have seen “Salman Rushdie” in the steam room and he and Jerry interrogated the man whose name, “Sal Bass,” they thought might be code for, well, Salmon. When he reassured Mr. Seinfeld that he had thought the episode very funny, the comedian visibly relaxed.

The eight-city U.S. tour went off without alarms, except that the big trade fair, the BEA in Los Angeles, refused to have him on the premises. However, while he was in L.A. he was invited to the Playboy Mansion, whose owner was plainly braver than the organizers of BookExpo America. Morgan Entrekin, the publisher at Grove/Atlantic, has published a Hugh Hefner volume, The Century of Sex: Playboy’s History of the Sexual Revolution, and as a result was allowed to host a party for bookish folk at the mansion. The bookish folk duly trooped up into the Holmby Hills and excitedly drank warmish champagne in a tent on the lawn of Hefnerland under the disdainful gaze of terminally bored Bunnies. Halfway through the evening Morgan came bounding toward him accompanied by a young blond woman with a nice smile and an improbable body. This was Heather Kozar, the newly elected Playmate of the Year, a very young girl with excellent manners who disappointingly insisted on calling him sir. “I’m sorry, sir, I haven’t read any of your books,” she apologized. “To tell you the truth, I don’t read a lot of books, sir, because they make me feel tired and go to sleep.” Yes, yes, he agreed, he often felt exactly the same way. “But there are some books, sir,” she added, “like Vogue, which I feel I have to read to keep up with what’s going on.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt eighteen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

One other thing happened in Paris. Caroline Lang, Jack Lang’s brilliant and beautiful daughter, came to keep him company at the Hotel de l’Abbaye one afternoon, and because of her beauty, and the wine, and the difficulties with Elizabeth, they became lovers; and immediately afterward decided not to do that again, but to remain friends. After their few hours together he had to appear live on TV, on Bernard Pivot’s Bouillon de Culture, and felt that the emotional upheaval caused by his infidelity meant that he gave a poor account of himself.

Monday, January 14, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt seventeen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

The novel was getting some of the best notices of his life, confirmations that the long derailment had not crippled him. There was a little U.S. book tour, but it was expensive. A small aircraft had to be hired. U.S. police forces insisted on the need for security, so a private security firm headed by an experienced fellow named Jerome H. Glazebrook had to be engaged. It was generous of Sonny Mehta to absorb most of these costs, though the venues contributed, and so did he. Sonny came with him on the tour and threw lavish parties in Miami (where everyone seemed to be a thriller writer, and where, after he asked Carl Hiaasen to fill him in about Miami, Hiaasen took a deep breath and stopped talking two hours later, giving a high-speed master class on Floridian political shenanigans) and in San Francisco (where Czeslaw Milosz, Robin Williams, Jerry Brown, Linda Ronstadt and Angela Davis were among the guests). These were slightly furtive events, with the guests not being told the truth about the author’s identity or the location of the bash until the last minute. Miami and San Francisco’s finest were frisked by security guards in case they were thinking of making a little extra cash by going after the bounty.

Sonny and he even had time for a weekend in Key West, where they were joined by Gita Mehta, who was looking well and was back to her buoyant, loquacious best. He thought of this unusual and costly book tour as Sonny’s silent way of apologizing for the problems he had caused at the time of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and was happy to let bygones be bygones. The day after he got back to London The Moor’s Last Sigh won him a British Book Award, a “Nibbie,” as the “author of the year.” (The book of the year Nibbie went to the cookbook writer Delia Smith who, in her acceptance speech, unusually referred to herself in the third person, “Thank you for honoring a Delia Smith book.”) A great cheer went up when his award was announced. I mustn’t forget that there is an England that’s on my side, he told himself. Given the continued attacks on his character in the papers he had come to think of collectively as the Daily Insult, it would have been easy, but wrong, to forget that.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt sixteen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

And of course life did go on. One thing had become clearer than ever: He had to take his freedom where he could get it. An “official” end was no longer looking possible, but America beckoned him for another summer break. The uninterest of U.S. policemen in his protection was just fine, in fact it was a real boon. That year Elizabeth, Zafar and he were able to have twenty-five happy summer days of American freedom. Zafar and Elizabeth flew out together on a direct flight; he used Rudolf Scholten’s friends at Austrian Airlines to bring him to JFK via Vienna: a very long way around, but no matter, he was there! And Andrew was there! And they drove straight out to Water Mill for nine wonderful days on Gibson Beach, and at friends’ homes, doing nothing and everything. The simplicity of it—and the contrast with his sequestered British life—brought tears to his eyes. And after Water Mill they went by car and ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, where they would be guests of Doris Lockhart Saatchi on her Chilmark property for eight days more. His main memory of that trip would be of William Styron’s genitalia. Elizabeth and he visited the Styrons at their Vineyard Haven home and there on the porch was the great writer in khaki shorts, sitting with his legs splayed and wearing no underpants, his treasures generously and fully on display. This was more than he had ever hoped to know about the author of and Sophie’s Choice, but all information was useful, he supposed, and he duly filed it away for later use.

Then three nights at the Irvings’, and three at the Herrs’, and three more at the Wylie place on Park Avenue. Zafar for his GCSE results on their last night and they were, thank goodness, good. In the years that followed he often wondered how he would have survived without these annual American safety-valve journeys, when they could pretend to be normal literary folk going about their normal business unaccompanied by men with guns, and it didn’t seem that hard. He became certain, very quickly, that when the day came it would be America that would be easiest for him to reclaim his freedom. When he said this to Elizabeth she frowned and became irritable.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt fifteen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

The step backward, when it came, took him completely by surprise. Clarissa was healthier by the day, and excited about her new job, and Zafar’s schoolwork was improving with his mother’s health, and his confidence grew every week. Then in mid-March she called to say that she had been thinking, and had also been advised, that she needed more money. (When they divorced he had lacked the funds to make a clean-break settlement, and had been paying her a mixture of alimony and child support for ten years.) Her lawyers told her she could get huge amounts, she said, admitting for the first time that lawyers were involved, but she would accept £150,000. “Okay,” he said. “You win. £150,000. Okay.” It was a lot of money, but that wasn’t it. Hostility, like love, came at you from the direction you weren’t looking in. He had not expected her to pursue him after all these years, after his immense concern for her during her illness, after his behind-the-scenes efforts on her behalf at A. P. Watt and the Arts Council. (In fairness, she didn’t know about those phone calls.) There was no concealing from Zafar the sudden strain between his mother and father. The boy was very worried, but insisted on knowing what was going on. Zafar was almost sixteen, and watching both his parents fiercely. It was impossible to keep the truth from him.

Friday, January 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt fourteen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

The drive to John Irving’s place in Vermont was about three hours long. They stopped near the state line for lunch. The restaurant was run by an Algerian named Rouchdy, who inevitably grew very excited. “Rushdie! We have the same name! I always getting mistaken for you! I say, no, no, I am much better looking!” (On another visit to American an Egyptian maître d’ at Harry Cipriani in midtown New York waxed similarly lyrical. “Rushdie! I like you! That book, your book, I read it! Rushdie, I like your book, that book! I am from Egypt! Egypt! In Egypt, that book is banned! Your book! It is totally banned! But everyone has read it!”)

John and Janet Irving lived in a long house on a hillside above the town of Dorset. John said, “When we talked to the architect we just put napkin squares down in a line, some of them set at angles, like this. We told him, build it this way, and he did.” There was a New York Times bestseller list framed on a wall, with The Satanic Verses one place above John’s book. There were other framed bestseller lists and in all of them John stood at number one. Local writers came for dinner and there were shouts and arguments and drinks. He recalled that when he first met John he had had the temerity to ask him, “Why all the bears in your books? Were there bears that were important in your life?” No, John answered, and anyway—this was after The Hotel New Hampshire—he was done with bears now. He was writing the book for a ballet for Baryshnikov, he added, and there was only one problem. “What problem?” “Baryshnikov doesn’t want to wear the bear suit.”

They went to a state fair and failed dismally to guess the weight of the pig. Some pig, he said, and Elizabeth answered, Radiant. They looked at each other, finding it hard to believe that all this was really happening. After two days he bundled Elizabeth and Zafar into the Lincoln Town Car and drove to New London to get the ferry to Orient Point on the North Fork of Long Island. As the ferry left New London a black nuclear submarine like a giant blind cetacean was coming into harbor. That night they reached Andrew’s house in Water Mill. The simplest things brought them close to ecstasy. He horsed around in Andrew’s pool with Zafar and had rarely seen his teenage son so happy. Zafar Rollerbladed down the leafy lanes and he followed on a borrowed bike. They went to the beach. Zafar and Andrew’s daughter Erica got Chevy Chase’s autograph in a restaurant. Elizabeth bought summer dresses in Southampton. Then the spell broke and it was time to go home. Elizabeth and Zafar flew home on one of the many airlines that were forbidden to him. He flew to Oslo and changed planes. We are going to do this again, for much longer, he promised himself. America had given him back his liberty for a few precious days. There was no sweeter narcotic, and, like any addict, he immediately wanted more.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt thirteen)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

Before the deal could be signed he and Sonny needed to bury the hatchet and that was the real purpose of the New York trip. Andrew also contacted Pynchon’s agent (and wife), Melanie Jackson, and the reclusive author of Gravity’s Rainbow agreed to meet. In the end the two meetings were combined. He and Pynchon dined with Sonny at the Mehtas’ midtown apartment. The rift with Sonny was repaired with a hug and the matter of Haroun left undiscussed. That was Sonny’s taciturn way of doing things—to leave awkward things unsaid and move forward—and maybe it was for the best. Then Pynchon arrived, looking exactly as Thomas Pynchon should look. He was tall, wore a red-and-white lumberjack shirt and blue jeans, had Albert Einstein white hair and Bugs Bunny front teeth. After an initial half hour of stilted conversation Pynchon seemed to relax and then spoke at length on American labor history and his own membership, dating from his early days working as a technical writer at Boeing, of the trade union of technical writers. It was strange to think of those authors of user’s manuals being addressed by the great American novelist, whom they perhaps thought of as that fellow who used to write the safety newsletter for the supersonic CIM-10 Bomarc missile, without knowing anything about how Pynchon’s knowledge of that missile had inspired his extraordinary descriptions of the World War II V-2 rockets falling on London. The conversation went on long past midnight. At one point Pynchon said, “You guys are probably tired, huh,” and yes, they were, but they were also thinking It’s Thomas Pynchon, we can’t go to sleep.

When Pynchon finally left, he thought: Okay, so now we’re friends. When I visit New York maybe we’ll sometimes meet for a drink or a bite to eat and slowly we’ll get to know each other better.

But they never met again.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode seven: Carol Greider

the seventh installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, this with the Daniel Nathans Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins University and Nobel Prize winner for Physiology or Medicine Dr. Carol W. Greider.


Please visit The 49ers Facebook page for further updates.

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt twelve)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

As his new life stretched out into its fourth year he felt very often like that imaginary Borgesian traveler, marooned in space and time. The movie Groundhog Day had not yet been released but when he saw it he identified strongly with its protagonist, Bill Murray. In his life, too, each step forward was canceled by one going back. The illusion of change was undone by the discovery that nothing had changed. Hope was erased by disappointment, good news by bad. The cycles of his life repeated themselves over and over. Had he known that another six years of sequestration still stretched out in front of him, far beyond the horizon, then indeed dementia might have set in. But he could see only as far as the rim of the earth and what lay beyond it remained a mystery. He attended to the immediate and let infinity take care of itself.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt eleven)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

One month later the failure of this kind of quietism became clear. Ettore Capriolo, the translator of the Italian edition of The Satanic Verses, was visited at his home by an “Iranian” man who, according to Gillon, had made an appointment to discuss “literary matters.” Once the man was inside Capriolo’s home he demanded to be given “Salman Rushdie’s address” and when he didn’t get it he attacked the translator violently, kicking and stabbing him repeatedly, then running away and leaving Capriolo bleeding on the floor. By great good fortune, the translator survived.

When Gillon told him the news he was unable to avoid the feeling that the attack was his fault. His enemies had been so good at shifting the blame onto his shoulders that now he believed it too. He wrote to Mr. Capriolo to express his sorrow and his hope that the translator’s recovery would be full and quick. He never even received a reply. Afterward he heard from his Italian publisher that Capriolo was not well disposed toward him and refused to work on any of his future books.

This was as close as the fatwa had come to its mark. And after the black arrow struck Ettore Capriolo it flew on to Japan. Eight days later, at the University of Tsukuba to the northeast of Tokyo, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses, Hitoshi Igarashi, was found murdered in an elevator near his office. Professor Igarashi was an Arabic and Persian scholar and a convert to Islam, but that did not save him. He was stabbed over and over again in the face and arms. The murderer was no arrested. Many rumors about the killer reached England. He was an Iranian who had recently entered Japan. A footprint had been found in a flowerbed and the shoe type was only to be found in mainland China. Names of visitors entering Japan from Chinese ports of departure were correlated against the names and known work names of Islamic terrorists, and there was a match, he was told, but the name was not released. Japan produced no fuel of its own and received much of its crude oil from Iran. The Japanese government had actually tried to prevent the publication of The Satanic Verses, asking leading publishers not to produce a Japanese edition. It did not want the Igarashi murder to complicate its dealings with Iran. The case was hushed up. No charges were brought. A good man lay dead but his death was not allowed to become an embarrassment.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Rhapsody Interview with Thurl Bailey

despite the Tar Heels' loss to Virginia last night we're going with a full court basketball press pretty soon, so call this Rhapsody conversation with the multi-talented, multi-faceted Thurl "Big T" Bailey a roundball appetizer.

go Jazz (or something).

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt ten)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

He had asked Pauline to bring out a few things for him as well but several of them were missing. All his old photograph albums, five of them, in which his entire life before Marianne was contained, were gone. So was his personal copy, copy number one, of the limited edition of twelve numbered and signed copies of The Satanic Verses. (Later, Rick Gekoski, an American antiquarian bookseller based in London, sold him Ted Hughes’s copy of this limited edition, copy number eleven. It cost him £2,200 to buy this copy of his own book.) Nobody had keys to the house except Pauline, Sameen, and Marianne. Two years later the journalist Philip Weiss wrote a profile of him in Esquire that was shockingly unpleasant about him and pretty nice about Marianne. At least one of the illustrations had clearly come from the missing photograph albums. Under pressure from Andrew Esquire admitted that the photograph had been supplied by Marianne. She claimed it had been given to her as a gift. Around the same time a “final typescript” of The Satanic Verses, almost missing from his study at St. Peter’s Street, was being offered to dealers for sale. Rick Gekoski told him that Marianne was saying that this, too, had been a “gift,” and had eventually withdrawn the text from the market, unhappy about the prices she was being given. It was the wrong copy; the most valuable manuscript, the “working” text covered in his handwritten annotations and corrections, remained in his possession. The photograph albums were never found or returned.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt nine)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

The book did not immediately begin to flow, even though he had the story. The noise of the storm outside the windows of the cottage was too loud, and his wisdom teeth hurt, and the book’s language proved hard to find. He made false starts—too childish, too grown-up—and the tone of voice he needed eluded him. It would be some months before he wrote the words that unlocked the mystery. “There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea of glumfish . . .” Joseph Heller had once told him that his books grew out of sentences. The sentences “I get the willies when I see closed doors” and “In the office in which I work there are five people of whom I am afraid” had been the genesis of his great novel Something Happened, and Catch-22 too sprang from its opening sentences. He understood what Heller meant. There were sentences that one knew, when one wrote them, contained or made possible dozens or perhaps even hundreds of other sentences. Midnight’s Children had revealed its secrets, after much struggle, only when he sat down one day and wrote I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time. And so it was with Haroun. The moment he had the sad city and the glumfish he knew how the book had to go. He may even have leaped to his feet and clapped his hands. But that moment was months in the future. For now there was only the struggle and the storm.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt eight)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

The highest offer for the English-language rights to publish The Satanic Verses was not made by Viking Penguin. Another offer was a full $100,000 higher, but Andrew and Gillon both advised him strongly against accepting it. He was not accustomed to figures of this size, much less with turning them down, and he asked Andrew, “Could you just explain again why I should not agree to receive an extra one hundred thousand dollars?” Andrew was adamant. “They would be the wrong publishers for you.” Later, after the storm broke, an interview with Mr. Rupert Murdoch was printed in The New Yorker, in which he stated emphatically, “I think you should not give offense to people’s religious beliefs. For instance, I hope that our people would never have published the Salman Rushdie book.” It was possible that Rupert Murdoch didn’t know that some of “his people” had been so enthusiastic about the novel that they had outbid the opposition by a considerable distance, but it seemed probable, in the light of this New Yorker profile, that had Murdoch found himself in the position of being the publisher of The Satanic Verses he would have withdrawn the book the moment the trouble began. Andrew Wylie’s advice had been unusually prescient. Murdoch was indeed the wrong publisher for the book.

Friday, January 4, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt seven)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

When a book leaves its author’s desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator’s have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book than can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.

The Satanic Verses had left home. Its metamorphosis, its transformation by its engagement with the world beyond the author’s desk, would be unusually extreme.

Through the writing of the book he had kept a note to himself pinned to the wall above his desk. “To write a book is to make a Faustian contract in reverse,” it said. “To gain immortality, or at least paternity, you lose, or at least ruin, your actual daily life.”

Thursday, January 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt six)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

In the years that followed Anis visited his son’s dreams perhaps once a month. In those dreams he was invariably affectionate, witty, wise, understanding and supportive: the best of fathers. It struck him that their relationship after Anis’s death was a big improvement on the way things had been when his father was still alive.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt five)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

Forty had weight. At forty a man came into his manhood and felt substantial, grounded, strong. On his thirtieth birthday he had thought himself a failure, and had been wretchedly unhappy. On his fortieth, one a golden June afternoon at Bruce Chatwin’s home, in a sylvan setting near Oxford, he was surrounded by literary friends—Angela Carter; Nuruddin Farah; Bill Buford, the editor of Granta; his own editor Liz Calder of Jonathan Cape (still an independent publishing company then, before it was gobbled up by Random House); and Bruce himself—and he was happy. Life seemed to have worked out as he had dreamed it might, and he was working on what felt like his most formally and intellectually ambitious book, whose obstacles had finally been overcome. The future was bright.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, excerpt four)

from Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie:

Robyn, blond, blue-eyed, anguished, not at all his type, invited him to dinner in her tiny house in Annandale and the thunderbolt hit them both hard. When she went to get the roast chicken she found it was still cold. She had been so distracted that she had forgotten to turn the oven on. Their three-year affair began the next morning and was the polar opposite of his long, calm, mostly happy relationship with Clarissa. They were strongly attracted to each other but in every other way incompatible. They yelled at each other almost every day.