Out and about

Since the critical establishment and mainstream media seems to be ignoring Stephen Dixon this time around, it’s a good thing the literary blogosphere is here. Dixon is, other than perhaps Alice Munro, my favorite writer working in the English language. (Part of my midsummer break is devoted to reading him.) There’s no question that he’s an acquired taste—he has a penchant for 50-page run-on sentences, restarting and revising his narratives in midstream, and for obsessively detailing the minutiae of daily life—but he’s a genius. Bloggers have noticed. The Existence Machine, Avery, and the Reading Experience all offer commentary on Dixon’s new End of I.. Fail Better offers up a new interview with the writer.

Jhumpa Lahiri (via CultureSpace) writes wonderfully on writer R.K. Narayan and his Malgudi Days.

Matt Gaffney, crossword puzzle constructor and author of Grid Lock, writes about the sudoku phenomenon. Speaking of the uses and abuses of trivia, J. Peder Zane argues that trivia and what he calls “jolt culture” is dumbing us down.

Lance Mannion has interesting musings on one of my favorite recent American movies, Rushmore, a movie about a character who persists in smarting people up (and being a smartass). Also, Lance takes aim at school dress codes, and makes pit stops along the way regarding puritanism and the power of teenage attraction.

For info on adult romantic attraction, Jessa Crispin advises us not to turn our attention to speed-dating. Usually, Jessa’s too cranky by half for my tastes, but this subject had it coming…

The second half of the evening went no better. There were two men who barely spoke English. Another guy in a Cubs t-shirt. One guy was really into Philip K. Dick, and I started to perk up a bit, but then he said he was a bouncer at a generic local version of Hooters.

Another gentleman said he was reading Catcher in the Rye at the moment. “Oh, that’s a good book,” I told him. “Have you read it before?”

“I heard the guy that shot Ronald Reagan was carrying it on him and had to check it out!” says he. “It’s a crazy book!”

This event was not going to help readers meet readers. It was going to cause women who read to go home, take a bubble bath, and contemplate running off to a nunnery.

If you want to feel even worse about contemporary dating, romance, and sex, you can always read a scary profile of the founder of “Girls with Low Self-Esteem” (NSFW). Okay, so it’s no surprise that he’s a heel, but Jesus Christ on a crutch…

Moving on, the Austin Chronicle posts a terrific tribute to Jack “Jaxon” Jackson, one of the pioneers of underground comics.

And, as the coda for this month’s edition of “Out and about,” Jack Miles writes a coda to the Da Vinci Code phenomenon:

One of the simplest but most powerful conventions of fiction as a genre has been its understanding—shared by writer and reader—that the views of any given character, even the protagonist, are not to be taken as the views of the author. This is the convention that makes it possibility to distinguish fiction from testimony and therefore invention from mere mendacity, and this was the convention that seemed to be ignored by Muslim critics of The Satanic Verses who endlessly accused Salman Rushdie of “lying.” But how well is this same convention grasped at this point in time within our own culture? Nothing, I note, has more consistently marked discussion of The Da Vinci Code—now, ironically, banned in Iran out of respect for “Prophet Jesus, Peace Be Upon Him”—than the confident attribution of the historical understanding or misunderstanding of Brown’s characters to Brown himself. Whether readers loved or hated the book, this seems to be how they received it. Thus, John D. Hagen, Jr., writing in America, a Jesuit journal of opinion, concludes his historically well-informed response to the novel, entitled “The Real Story of the Council of Nicea,” as follows: “In sum, the story of the Creed is just the opposite of the story told by Dan Brown.”

Wait a minute, Mr. Hagen, one wants to object: It is not Dan Brown who tells the story of the Nicene Creed in The Da Vinci Code but Brown’s character Sir Leigh Teabing. And—very much to the point indeed—Sir Leigh Teabing is revealed in the denouement of the novel as the evil mastermind behind the murders that launch the novel’s action. Does that not matter at all? The arresting police officer delivers the final verdict: “He [Teabing] had exploited both the Vatican and Opus Dei, two groups that turned out to be completely innocent.” Do the historical errors of a fictional criminal really require such detailed refutation? Has the author himself not impugned the trustworthiness of the character by turning him into a murderer?

Hop to it, folks. I’ll see you in a week.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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