by Etgar Keret Translated from Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger
There was no sound from the engines of the plane. There were no sounds at all. Except perhaps the soft crying of the flight attendants a few rows behind him. Through the elliptical window, Shkedi looked at the cloud hovering just below him. He could imagine the plane dropping through it like a stone, punching an enormous hole that would be sealed again quickly with the first breeze, leaving not so much as a scar. “Just don’t crash,” Shkedi said. “Just don’t crash.”
Forty seconds before Shkedi expired, an angel appeared, all dressed in white, and told him he’d been awarded a last wish. Shkedi tried to find out what “awarded” implied. Was it an award like winning the lottery or was it something a bit more flattering: Awarded in the sense of an achievement, in recognition of his good deeds? The angel shrugged. “Beats me,” he said with pure angelic sincerity. “They told me to come and fulfill, on the double. They didn’t say why.” “That’s a shame,” Shkedi said. “Because it’s absolutely fascinating. Especially now when I’m about to leave this world and all, I’d really like to know if I’m leaving it as just another lucky guy or if I’m leaving it with a pat on the back. “Forty seconds and you kick off,” the angel droned. “If you want to spend those forty seconds yapping, that’s fine with me. No problem. Just consider that your window of opportunity is about to close.” Shkedi considered, and quickly made his wish. But not before taking the trouble to point out to the angel that he had a strange way of talking. For an angel, that is. The angel was hurt. “What do you mean, for an angel? Have you ever heard an angel talk, that you dump a thing like that on me?” “Never,” Shkedi admitted. Suddenly, the angel looked much less angelic and much less pleasant, but that was nothing compared to what he looked like after he heard the wish.
Each month in the Literary Artifacts space, writer Kristopher Jansma writes about his encounters with rare books, writerly memorabilia, and other treasures in New York City and around the world, hoping to discover how the internet age is changing the face of literature as we know it.
Without Charles Dickens, Christmas today might well be a relatively minor holiday with no gift-giving, no large family-gatherings for turkey dinners, no Bing Crosby songs on the radio…perhaps even no Macy’s Santa, Swarovski-Crystal-topped tree, or kick-lining Rockettes. All this and more we owe to a slim stack of messy manuscript pages that came to be known as A Christmas Carol, currently on display at the Morgan Library in midtown Manhattan.
In the early 19th century when Dickens was a boy, Christmas was barely celebrated at all. In his introduction to A Christmas Carol, Professor Richard Michael Kelly explains that farther back, in medieval times, peasants and lords alike celebrated Christmas with a twelve-day rager, glomming the Nativity onto the pagan feasts of Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice to create a super-holiday full of carol singing, gift-giving, raucous game-playing, the burning of Yule logs, and a whole hell of a lot of drinking. But by the 17th century, Puritans in England and America had all but outlawed these sinful celebrations and Christmas had dwindled into a relatively-minor holiday. It was the publication of A Christmas Carol that prompted the widespread public celebration of the holiday we know today. Yes, that’s right. Without Dickens, buzzkill-Christmas might have persisted to this very day, with no Black Friday pepper-spraying, no insane mega-watt home decorations, no terrifying Target 2-Day Sale commercials, no Paula Deen “Mama’s Eggnog” (it starts with a pint of heavy cream…), no ironically ugly Christmas sweaters… well, you get the picture.
1. The Old Town neighborhood’s quiet look. Don’t be fooled. It’s early. 2. Stacked books weighed down a table near the door, as Fun Yeti kicked-off the event. 3. Grover with Michael Heald, Founder of Perfect Day Press.
On Saturday night, Perfect Day Publishing booked three bands at Backspace to help celebrate the release of One More for the People, a collection of Martha Grover’s zine Somnambulist. Portland Litsters, along with people who sometimes or never go to lit events definitely came out to support this one.
1. Writer Chad Miller came to support his bud Mark Doten. We all followed Brooks’ suggestion to booze it up. 2. Emcee Brooks, who organizes Enclave Reading Series, along with James Freed and Scott Geiger.
Say you’re single this holiday season. Say you’ve been in New York for a while, and you’re fed up with the sparrow-boned, gaunt-cheeked, Sancerre-sipping set. You don’t want delicate. You don’t want Anthropologie.
No, the weather outside is frightful and all you want for Christmas is meat on the bones. A handle to grab on to. You want beer guzzling. You want dark lights and sticky floors. You want loud music and you want leather.
I say, get thee to the Enclave Reading Series, home of the manly man and the rough-and-tumble woman (and incidentally, some damn good writing). It became painfully clear to me yesterday, as I descended the stairs the dark basement of Cake Shop in the Lower East Side, that this was an altogether different kind of reading that I’d become accustomed to. I’d grown used to the polite showings at McNally Jackson and the light applause of Book Court. Even John Waters, who can nasty up a place as quickly as anyone, has a certain kind of grace to him. The Enclave Reading Series, on the other hand, is all down and dirty.
As a woman who has appeared on the cover of Maxim, been in FHM, Loaded, Stuff, and Gear, I am not ashamed of my body. But British “lad mags” have made me think twice about the consequences of gracing their pages with my image.
Last week, Jezebel reported on a study that asked a group of men and women to compare quotes from the UK lad mags FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo with excerpts from interviews with actual convicted rapists originally published in the book The Rapist Files. The results show that it was often impossible to tell the difference between plucky journalism and the words of sociopathic deviants. Yes, this is disheartening. Teeth grinding. Gag-reflex inducing.
In the comments section of the Jezebel piece, there was a particularly insightful reflection: “’Women’ do things, ‘girls’ have things done to them.” The writers of lad mags look at women in a certain way. They are part of an idiomatic genre that denigrates women, reducing women to mere objects with male sexual gratification as their primary focus. Are they in turn conditioning their readers? Is one naturally predisposed to this or does one come to it via social and visual cues? (The same argument has been made for violent video games; does fantasy violence beget actual violence?)
Reading this study I can’t help but think of Nabokov writing Lolita in the same time frame as The Kinsey Reports were revealed. Was Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert born the way he was, or were his sexual proclivities a result of his environment? To me Kinsey seems to be hunting for this same information. Chicken or the egg? Perhaps the answer is both.
1. Montana Ray shows off her gun-shaped poetry. 2. Ryan Britt, looking every bit the Brooklyn-based writer.
“If you don’t think this is the best reading series in Brooklyn and in New York, you’re wrong,” began Ryan Britt, one of five readers at the Franklin Park Reading Series’ December installment this past Monday. Perhaps Britt was a bit overexcited to be reading for his second time at the well-regarded event, but he has a point– this past Monday alone featured the so-hot-you-can’t-miss-him Lev Grossman (The Magicians, The Magician King) and the newest nebbish hero of the literary scene, William Giraldi, whose debut novel, Busy Monsters, has garnered more attention than the seemingly-shy author likely knows what to do with.
As year-end reading lists go, you can’t find a more insightful and valuable collection than The Year in Reading from The Millions. Rather than seduce time-strapped readers and holiday shoppers with a gift-giving cheat sheet (5 eBooks for Stepdads for Under $5), The Millions asks their “favorite writers, thinkers, and readers” to share the highlights they recently checked-off their reading list. “Their charge was to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date.” The participants they’ve worked with over the last eight years represent a publishing pantheon, from Pulitzer Prize winners to first-time novelists. For a better look into this legacy, Electric Literature interviewed C. Max Magee, the man behind The Millions.
Electric Literature: The Year in Reading is now an eight-year-old tradition. How’d it get started?
C. Max Magee:In the early days, The Millions was much more my own public reading journal than the multi-contributor online magazine it is today. I had started the site in 2003 as a Blogspot blog and treated it like a hobby, writing about books and book news that interested me. When the first year came to a close, I thought it would be fun to recap some of the books I had read. Part one of that effort looks like a fairly generic reading journal, but it also was the germ of an idea that the end of the year might be a fun time to reflect, not just on the best books that came out that year, but on the best books I (and others) read that year, regardless of publication date.
When in the course of Holiday Restraint, an intelligent contestant brought forth this question: shall its and it count as a repetition? His question spawned the following rules:
On the subject of possessive pronouns: If words have separate entries in the dictionary, they are not considered repetitions. Example: you, your, yours, and yourself are considered different words. So are it and its; she, her, and hers; just like he, him, and his.
Possessives of previously used proper nouns are considered a repetition. Example: Tom prevents the later use of Tom’s.
Contractions shall be counted as two different words. Example: you’re, prevents the later use of you and and are; it’s prevents the later use of it and is. And vise versa, is prevents using it’s later.
Conjugations of previously used verbs are not allowed. Example: give prevents the later use of giving. Exception: is, was,are,am.
The sad implication in the title of this selection of writings by the late movie critic Pauline Kael is that the Age of Movies has passed, that movies matter less than they used to. The big screen, after all, has been supplanted by a variety of little screens (the television, the computer, the smartphone), screens that we use to watch grisly traffic accidents, celebrity bloopers, cute kitten videos, and occasionally even movies.
If one thing is certain, it’s that no movie critic will ever again matter as much as Pauline Kael, who reviewed movies (Kael dismissed the words ‘film’ and ‘cinema’ as stuffy and elitist) for The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991. She was read avidly or fearfully not just by moviegoers but by filmmakers and fellow film critics. She was caricatured in movies and comedy shows; her spats with other critics were cultural front-page news.
It’s the holidays, time to unleash the year-end lists and let loose the hyperboles…
The greatest book of all time is now one of the most beautiful books of the year. The first part of that statement comes from me (and many others), the latter half comes from the NY Daily News (and many others, including me).
Amid the eBook boom, publishers are investing more into book design to turn physical books into collector’s items (insert comparison to the reprise of vinyl records here). If you’re in the business of judging books by their covers, here are some options for stocking your bookshelves or stuffing stockings this holiday season.