Early in the evening of the day I became Facebook friends with James Frey, Choire and I found ourselves standing on Chrystie Street, unloading boxes of n+1's Winter 2008 issue ("Mainstream") from a very large Budget rental truck. We did this in a fit of perversity. n+1 editor Keith Gessen had driven the truck from the Ingram warehouse in Pennsylvania earlier in the day, accompanied by an n+1 intern that he'd been "mentoring." There were six pallets. As usual, the issue's contributors had been invited to the box-unloading party, and so we staggered, box-laden, past the likes of little Ben Kunkel, wearing his noticeably-heeled boots even for this athletic activity. Probably more people came later for the beer-drinking part of the evening. But we missed that part because, when the truck was fully unloaded, we hopped into it with Keith to return it to the Budget lot in Brooklyn. On the way there, Keith turned up a narrow street and smashed a taillight and a bit of the back end of a minivan that would turn out to belong to an Orthodox Jewish lawyer.
In a tiny, cluttered, and yes, pizza-smelling office on Chrystie Street on Friday night, a group of sweaty thirtysomething men and heavily eyelinered young women gathered to celebrate the publication of a "pamphlet." The work in question resembles a foreshortened Zagat guide filtered through a Brooklyn-ey design sensibility; it contains two transcribed discussions that some very wise people had about what they wish they'd done differently in college. "I wish there were something else I was good at, just a little bit," the author Rebecca Curtis says in one of these discussions. "And not for the money, but just to be able to dip into something else, just to re-engage with the... the other world, the one that's not the literary world. Almost to perceive it better." But this party was not the place to find that other world, or even to acknowledge its existence.
Seriously, what will happen if our number-one obsession, the world's most important literary magazine n+1, writes a piece about this here bilious website? Will time and ass-space collide? Anyway, we hear the piece is done for the new issue, but this is first we heard about it, because essayists don't report, ya know! (Who's a journalist now, bitches?)
n+1—the most important literary journal of your slightly younger brother's time—is making a pamphlet for college freshpeoples! This one is, say the editors, "about what we wish we'd known when we were college freshman, and what books we wish we'd read. 'What We Should Have Known.' Is that too cumbersome? We'll be slipping it under the doors of incoming first-years at select universities this September. Really." Mmm, "select" universities. (Good youngster recruitment technique! Just like the free Times Select for college emails!) Anyway, not having been to no college, I'm mystified by what this pamphlet might contain. How to sleep in class—or sleep around in class? Advice to skip Chinua Achebe for Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o? Illustrations of scabies v. crabs?
In the basement of Lower East Side dive bar Lolita last night, a capacity crowd gathered to hear Kunkel-feuding debut novelist Katherine Taylor and elven-eared omnipresence The Reverend Jen debate each other. It was a lot like debate team in high school! Actually, no, it wasn't. But you know what high school thing it was exactly like, and what certain gatherings of the poor, artsy thirtysomethings who are managing to remain Lower East Siders so often resemble? That group of goth nerd drama geeks who always ate lunch together in that one certain corner of the courtyard. You know. The heavyset girls with black lipstick and ripped fishnets who would occasionally burst into Sondheim and the pasty boys who had just recently discovered that dark sunglasses and long hair can make acne scars seem sort of mysterious and romantic? Like that, but plus 20 years. Also plus Moby.
Some afternoons, after the requisite low blood sugar-induced perusal of LOLcats, we turn once more to the serious problem of magazines. What do we want to read? Who can bear thumbing through a witty snippy front of book section? But then, who can bear a ponderous essay about boxers or ideas or colors? What all of us really want to read right now is something sexy, something that pulls its pants down a little—but that heavily edits its contributors (but its editors not at all!) and is also concerned about the ramifications of capitalism!
Kurt Andersen, whose name continues to be very difficult for the Times to spell, will finally have something to fill his days besides writing his column for New York magazine, finishing the two books he just sold, and hosting 'Studio 360.' He'll join his publisher Random House as Editor At Large, in which capacity he'll try to "find them two or three books that they publish a year." Sweet gig! But it's a less-happy day in career news for Daniel Menaker, Random House Publishing Group executive editor in chief, who will step down at the end of the month based on a decision he calls "mutual." "I cannot emphasize to you how fine I am about this," he says. Oh rly? Times bookladies Julie Bosman and Motoko Rich have an alternate theory: they think Menaker got Kunkeled.
It's been a while since we've heard about the Columbia class on political writing to be taught by the editors of n+1, which is the most important literary journal of our time. Now we've gotten our hands on the class description—and it turns out that Ben Kunkel and Co. will be teaching from... the magazine that they edit! (Or should we say, the magazine they write and don't edit. At all.)
N+1's outgoing winter interns are getting a wonderful goodbye present—their elders are sending them off with a night of art film in Brooklyn. They'll be watching "No Outlet," a film (supposedly a documentary) by Paul and Dan Cantagallo, which is all about the despair of the middle-class young in American suburbia. (According to the audition call, though, parts were cast, and the actors worked on a "a lo/no/deferred basis.") Both Cantagallo brothers graduated from Harvard ('01 and '02 respectively)—Paul also appeared in "The American Ruling Class," a semi-documentary starring two kids from the Ivy League and Lewis Lapham ("Preachy, condescending and shockingly naive," said the Washington Post!). For those concerned about class and its machinations, the whole thing sounds just intricately edifying all around!
Not-chick-lit debut novelist Katherine Taylor laughs and shrugs off Ben Kunkel's snippy letter to the Observer, in which he responded to her assessment of his book Indecision as "ridiculously simple" by revealing that he declined to blurb her book but read enough of it "to understand her anxiety about being taken seriously." She tells Time Out: "I certainly didn't mean to insult him. The irony of that whole situation is that a word like simple was too complex for Mr. Kunkel to appreciate." Ha! Oh dear God, please let her book be good.
We hear that three of the editors of n+1, the most important literary journal of our generation, will be teaching as adjuncts at Columbia's MFA program this fall. (More bang for your $35K!) Ben Kunkel, Marco Roth, and another—we think Mark Greif? This line has some static—will be tag-team teaching a class on political writing. Or apolitical writing! One of those.
INDECISION SOLD HOW MANY COPIES IN HARDCOVER? BUT I THOUGHT IT WAS A HUGE SALES FLOP? WHAT THE.... If that was also your reaction to reading about the sales of Ben Kunkel's Indecision in New York mag today, come over here and take some deep cleansing breaths with us. Our need for this not to be true was so great that we emailed New York's Boris Kachka to ask about the discrepancy between Bookscan's numbers (15,121 copies sold in hardcover and 26,221 in paperback) and this figuring. In short, the magazine had goofed by saying hardcover when they really meant hardcover plus paperback—and cited Random House as the source of the info. Let's take the warm fuzzies we're all feeling right now and send them in Ben Kunkel's direction: he'll need them when it comes time for his sophomore effort's publication.
Debut Novelists and Their NYT Book Review Covers [NYM]
And now, a word from those of us who are actually threatened by the size of Dana Vachon's $650,000 advance. Or who, at least, think that publishers dole out such advances to highly marketable youngsters at the expense of real novels by real writers— who don't at all feel that Vachon is "the best pure writer to have emerged from the blogosphere" (we've actually read his entire book!), and who don't know him personally and also don't often find "affable Westchester goofiness" adorable in anyone. So! Today's Observer semi-takedown: predictable, yes, but right in at least one important respect. By underlining greasy eminence Jay McInerney's blurbing of both Indecision and Mergers & Acquisitions and dubbing Vachon this year's Lit Boy, Lizzy Ratner makes the point that writing a Bright Lights homage has basically become a literary genre unto itself. What is it about these Lit Boys' books that make them so irritating yet so compelling? Well, maybe Julia Allison, who said that the book made her want to fuck Dana Vachon, is onto something. YES, I JUST SAID THAT.
Those of us who are not actually threatened by the size of Dana Vachon's advance, who feel that he's the best pure writer to have emerged from the blogosphere, and who know him personally and find his affable Westchester goofiness adorable, have had a hard run of it lately. All the press about the Mergers & Acquisitions author makes him seem like such a douchebag. It would be kind of a miracle if it didn't: the Times "A Night Out With" feature and any appearance in New York magazine pretty much instantly confer douchebag status.
Katherine Taylor is afraid of being considered a writer of chick lit ["Farrar Thinks Pink," Spencer Morgan, The New York World, March 12]. To establish her seriousness, she tells The Observer that my novel Indecision "was ridiculously simple" and suggests that "had it been a girl who'd written it, it would have had the pinkest cover in the world." I wonder why, if Ms. Taylor feels like that, she allowed her editor to send me the galleys of her novel, asking for a blurb. I didn't provide one—though I read enough of Ms. Taylor's book to understand her anxiety about being taken seriously.
We so wanted to dislike debut novelist Katherine Taylor. Rules For Saying Goodbye was hyped as "invoking the spirit of Melissa Bank and Curtis Sittenfeld" in the announcement that it had sold to FSG, and it's rumored to be Starbucks' next pick. Oh, and: "It's hard, when you're blond and attractive and you live in Los Angeles and you've written a book about young women in New York, not to be called 'chick lit,'" she told the Observer's Spencer Morgan. Oooh, bitch! But wait... do we hate her? Maybe she's just being honest. Regardless, she does at least seem to understand the genre's conventions: "'Indecision [by Benjamin Kunkel] was ridiculously simple, I thought,' she said. 'And had it been a girl who'd written it, it would have had the pinkest cover in the world. It would have been the pinkest of all-time pink covers.'" Did we say we hated her? We might just have to buy a few hundred copies.
The first—and until last night, only—list of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists came out in 1996, and anointed such under-35 literary stars as Jonathan Franzen, Lorrie Moore, Mona Simpson, Edwidge Danticat, Sherman Alexie, and Jeffrey Eugenides, while also selecting a few who slunk into obscurity, and neglecting to select several—including one, A.M. Homes, who was a judge for this year's selection—who have gone on to critical and, sometimes, commercial acclaim. So this year's list, being a once-in-10-years event, was a closely guarded secret until the celebration last evening at Housing Works, the nonprofit Crosby Street bookstore-caf .