Saturday, October 10, 2009

By way of occupying my attention

Books that talk about books: Last night I finished reading a sweet funny novel, Selfish and Perverse by Bob Smith. This book is a good example of how varied, at least in certain ways, is my literary taste. As I've protested before, I do not require every book I read to conform to some rulebook of communistically correct writing. Even if there were such a rulebook, so few if any of the English-language books available in the U.S. would meet its standards that I'd never have anything to read if I had such a requirement. Yes I prefer class-conscious politically aware literature, literature that advances the revolutionary cause, literature that illuminates the realities of life under capitalism and so on -- but I can also enjoy a well written story that falls short of that standard as long as it does not offend, as long as it does not ally itself with what is to me the enemy camp. Especially if it offers, as this novel about a decisive summer in the life of a 30-something gay would-be novelist, a lovely, lively comedy of manners shot through with a steady supply of bons mots and lots of heart. Selfish and Perverse has one other thing to recommend it: all the characters read, and talk about books and authors. I love it when a novel portrays reading as part of people's lives.

Books that want me to read them: I wondered if it would ever happen, and it did. Read Red seems to have landed on the radar screen of a book publicist, and in the last week or so I've received a couple of promotions offering to send review copies of new books. Funny that this happened at the same time that the government launched its new rule about bloggers having to announce it when the books they're writing about were provided to them free. I can't get worked up about that one way or the other but I will read (or at least start reading) the book I received yesterday and I will comment on it here and, believe me, I would have included in such comment a note that I'd been given a review copy even if it were not legally required. In any case it tickles me that somebody in the book biz thinks somebody out there might care what I have to say about one of their books. Let's not relieve them of this illusion, okay?

Although it's never a good idea to start with 'I haven't read this carefully': I do have to say it, though. I haven't read this carefully enough to be confident that I got the gist of it. But if the gist of it is, as it seems to be, that the state of California is pulling back on its harsh forced-labor workfare regulations in the face of the deepening economic crisis, I've got to say it's about time. Workfare is an abomination. Mandating it as part of the 1996 repeal of welfare--or rather, the 1996 anti-worker assault on one of the key prongs of the protections won by the struggles of the 1930s, an assault so reactionary and heinous that it took a Democratic administration to be able to pull it off--was one of the great crimes of the Clinton presidency, in fact in my opinion its greatest crime, and that's in an administration that can count among its accomplishments the war on and destruction of Yugoslavia, the continuous bombing of and murderous sanctions against Iraq, and the anti-gay twofer Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. Hell, I could go on and on about the horrors this guy foisted on us that his predecessors Reagan/Bush never even tried. Anyway. California. Workfare. Pulling back. Finally. The book I co-authored about the welfare repeal, workfare, and the struggle by workfare workers in New York City is over a decade old now, but if I may be so bold I do think it's still worth reading for a decent orientation on this issue. We Won't Be Slaves, available from

Do I really have to comment on the big book prizes? Nah, I think not. You've got your Nobel, generally a barometer of bourgeois-liberal trends. This year they gave it to a professional anti-communist, with a 20th-anniversary-of-the-fall dig thrown in for good measure although they never need a special occasion to support the literature that supports imperialism. And you've got your Man Booker Prize, which this time went to Hilary Mantel for her novel about Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, which, um ... oh, sorry, I fell asleep there for a minute. Which seems to answer my own question. No, I don't really have to comment.

Check out instead a small but meaningful prize. The Working People's Poetry Competition recently announced 2009 winners. First place went to Luke Salazar for his poem "Black Friday" about last year's awful crushing to death of a Wal-Mart guard on Long Island. The runner-up was a wonderful poem about the closing down of the coal industry, "The Canaries Go On Living" by Andrew Rihn, a friend of this blog. Also, check out Andrew's blog, Midwestern Sex Talk--and not just for the great title!