Wednesday, June 29, 2005
War of the Worlds
I'm still here
About the Mahler: tremendous. Lorin Maazel kept the notoriously centrifugal Sixth on course, with brisk tempos and wonderfully detailed work from the reeds and the brass section. He sandwiched the Andante between the opening Allegro and the Scherzo--the composer kept flipflopping about where to put it during his lifetime--and I was grateful for this bit of stress management, since it gives you a break from the militant Sturm und Drang of the surrounding movements. Perhaps this tampers with Mahler's supposed narrative structure: the tempest-tossed Everyman who finally gets laid low by the two hammer blows of fate. I'm always a little leery of these plot summaries, even when they issue straight from the horse's mouth. Not Anthony Tommasini. His otherwise acute review in the New York Times suggested that Mahler had been channeling Jake La Motta:
As the hero forges ahead with mindless determination, the first hammer blow (made by a percussionist pummeling a great wooden box with a fearsome-looking felt-covered wooden hammer) knocks him loopy. Crazed and wild-eyed, he tries to go on, or so it seems from the frantic outbursts of counterpoint that are scattered in the orchestra. But the second hammer blow levels the hero, and the bucolic music comes back, this time, as performed here, in some unhinged, dissipating state. Imagine a "Star Wars" character being slowly vaporized.About those hammer blows: Alma Mahler alway insisted that they were an eerie anticipation of the misfortunes that were to afflict her husband during the coming year. Get out! Especially because Mahler originally inserted five hammer blows into the score, then cut out three. What he asked for was "a short, loud, but dully resounding blow of non-metallic character (like the stroke of an axe)." To this end he had a gigantic drum constructed in Vienna, which was not a great success. As Henry-Louis de La Grange recounts in his humongo, four-part biography:
At the first of the three readings that took place in Vienna in April, the enormous drum was installed for the first time amid a breathless hush. Mahler asked the percussionist to try it out, but the result was weak and muffled. Despite Mahler's insistence, the musician failed to produce a louder tone and Mahler angrily rushed over and struck the intrument with all his force. The inadequacy of the result compared with the effort required to produce it provoked general hilarity among the musicians.The story of my life. In any case, the hammer blows at the Philharmonic were loud: the people in the first three rows probably had their hair blown back. I couldn't see the drum itself, but the hammer looked like a prop from Land of the Giants, and the percussionist hefted it with obvious relish. One of my companions thought the whole business smacked a little too strongly of Wile E. Coyote--even the jumpcutting textures of the Scherzo struck her as cartoonish--but if pressed, I would be more likely to name Ricochet Rabbit as the symphony's tutelary spirit. On the other hand, I'd probably take the Fourth, or the Third, but not the Sixth, to that proverbial desert island.
Monday, June 27, 2005
HOM on vacation
"Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you didn't know better, you'd think the great writer was talking about the Hamptons--a destination that's a world apart and offers an ambiance unlike any other.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Wild at Heart and Eldredge's other best sellers, The Journey of Desire and The Sacred Romance (as well as "field manual" workbooks that can be purchased separately), address sexual "purity" as part of the fabric of Christian manliness. The most important of these books is Every Man's Battle, which, in the past five years, has become a powerful brand name unto itself, with dozens of Every Man spinoff titles: Every Young Man's Battle, Every Woman's Battle, Preparing Your Son for Every Man's Battle and on and on. There's also an Every Young Man's Battle movie filmed on actual battlefields from history and featuring an interview with former NFL player William White and a discussion between Christian-right leader Dr. James Dobson and serial killer Ted Bundy.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Because it's all about me
All hail Campus Sexpot
I confess that the good parts work a certain magic on me, but only in a roundabout way, through a historical path where I become a young teenager and understand sex as I understood it at that age. When I read the book now, its verbal avoidance of body parts with which I am actually familiar returns them to a thrilling condition of mystery. I don't have to make an effort to enter this frame of mind. Instead, the words in Campus Sexpot that lead up to a saucy scene fire ancient neurons, and before I know it, I am transported into a state of salacious ignorance.This isn't really a book about sex, of course. In a sense, it's about the slow, steady, mortifying accumulation of worldliness. (Perhaps it should have been called Speak, Puberty.) But Carkeet has also produced a comical hologram of small-town life, where the atmosphere of relative innocence is presided over by the local magistrate, who happens to be Carkeet's father. His verdict on his adult son? "You're a good boy," he tells him on the final page, and the good boy has written a very good book.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
And while we're at it, let's ban kitchen matches
My Cold War, New Yorker poetry, pick hits
Just cracked open the latest New Yorker, and so far the poetry department is batting zero for two. Seamus Heaney is a master, but "Chairing Mary" finds him in his slight, sentimental mode. "I think of her warm brow we might have once / Bowed to and kissed before we kissed it cold," he concludes, and not even the late-breaking evocation of last things can yank the stanza back onto its feet. Eliza Griswold's "Buying Rations in Kabul" is hardly a poem at all, more like a repertorial snapshot in rhyme. There are moments when the language grows more taut ("shelf to shining shelf," "thanked us twice for bringing peace") but the ending is clumsy and didactic:
Of course they know that any peaceContains? She couldn't do any better than that? Well, I did admire her piece on Waziristan last year. And I haven't read the Robert Hass poem yet, so maybe there's some compensatory joy on page 97. Stay tuned for further developments.
that must be kept by force
contains another name. It's war.
And what about music? What are some of my current, high-rotation favorites? Glad you asked. I've been listening to:
"Go It Alone," from Beck's Guero. I used to think Beck was the white Prince, with an eerie ability to mix and manipulate genres like finger paint. Now I think of him as the American Nick Lowe, with the same troubled relationship to sincerity, even as the real, white-haired Nick Lowe turns into an English Burt Bacharach. None of which truly detracts from the fun.
"Your Love Has Faded," from Johnny Hodges: With Billy Strayhorn and the Orchestra. The incognito orchestra is Duke Ellington's, the arrangements are Billy Strayhorn's, and as for the undulant, erotic alto--nobody's ever topped Johnny Hodges. He's great on the muscular midtempo numbers, like "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "Juice A-Plenty," but sublime on the slow stuff, where his expressive glissandi and dynamics will kill you.
"Andante moderato," from Leonard Bernstein's 1988 version of Mahler: Symphony No. 6 with the Vienna Philharmonic. I'm going to see the New York Philharmonic do the mighty Sixth this Friday, so I've been preparing. Can't handle the grinding, minor-key material before noon, but the third movement is Mahler in his melting, pastoral mode, like a warm bath in E-flat major. Lovely. Beautiful, tiered exchanges from the horns at 6:54, with rustic cowbells and clattering agricultural implements off to the left.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Podcasts do blue
Althorp, Kabbalah cretins, Lowell, two books, Human Stain on film
Gershom Scholem is doubtless spinning in his grave at the news that the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles--a celebrity petting zoo stocked with such big-name exhibits as Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and Britney Spears--will be teaming up with Madonna (whoops, I mean Esther) to promote its own brand of bottled water. You just can't make this stuff up. But that's not the worst of it. The founders of the center, Philip and Karen Berg, are concerned that the Jewish mystical tradition is, well, too Jewish, and requires a firm shove into the mainstream. Makes sense, doesn't it? Why bother with the Ten Sefirot or the hidden essence of God when you can peddle red strings to every teenager in America? And those kids will need reading material as well: "Trying to cut the cult from its Jewish roots, [the Bergs] used Craigslist to solicit freelance ghostwriters to help them write 'scholarly' Kabbalah books." The good news: if you buy the book and the bottled water in a single, shrinkwrapped gift pack, they throw in a branded dreidel.
On a more inspiring note, Jonathan Raban has written an eloquent piece about The Letters of Robert Lowell in the latest New York Review of Books. He's very shrewd on the matter of Lowell's reputation, which has sagged pretty seriously since the poet's death in 1977. For example, I had never considered the ways in which Ian Hamilton's biography (which Raban does call "indispensable") subtly takes its subject down a notch by stressing his manic antics: "Where most of the people closest to Lowell saw him as a sane man cruelly afflicted by intermittent bouts of mania, Hamilton was inclined to see his life as one of overwhelming madness punctuated by spells of sanity." In any case, Raban loves the book. Lowell, he asserts, is "one of the finest letter writers in modern literature," and I would absolutely agree. Stick this on the shelf next to the Wilson-Nabokov correspondence, Randall Jarrell's Letters, and Elizabeth Bishop's One Art. (I'm sure there are plenty of others, but I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet.)
"Isobel, who with her leaping breasts / Pursued me through a Summer." Quick quiz: who wrote those lines? Turns out to be Auden, who later said they were the worst he had ever produced, and added that they would have made a perfect caption for a Thurber cartoon. I came across that gem in Humphrey Carpenter's W.H. Auden: A Life, which I've been thumbing through before bed. I've also been reading David Ferry's new translation of The Georgics of Virgil, and have gotten this apocalyptic bit stuck in my head like a Top Forty tune:
At twilight, in the evening, ghosts were seen,Odd. I can't read Latin, so I don't know if the passive, halting, circular sound is true to the original, but it's working for me.
Or strange pale simulacra of human beings;
In a silent grove--many attested to this--
A loud voice was suddenly heard to speak;
And animals, too, were suddenly heard to speak--
Unspeakable!--with the voices of men and women.
Finally, I watched The Human Stain on DVD the other night. It might have worked better as a piece of radio theater. That way, I wouldn't have noticed that Anthony Hopkins wasn't black, or that Gary Sinise wasn't an elderly Jewish writer, or that Nicole Kidman wasn't a homely janitor. In fact Kidman was the most persuasive of the three. On the other hand, she was saddled with the worst scene in the entire film--a cri-de-coeur addressed to a caged crow, which kept tilting its head in disbelief--so I had to dock her another ten points. Yes, I understand that Coleman Silk was passing as a white man. But Hopkins seems so quintessentially Caucasian that I couldn't accept his negritude for a single instant--even Yoda strikes me as a more realistic character. Maybe they should have paid the extra money and gotten Dana Carvey.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Kadare: the plot thickens
Just an addendum to your blog piece about Kadare: Chronicle in Stone was translated by Arshi Pipa, an Albanian émigré and professor of Italian literature at Minnesota for many years. There was some disagreement about the translation (with the publisher, with Kadare, I'm not sure) and as a result, in some kind of a huff, Pipa asked his name to be not attached to the book as published. But it is true that it was "translated from the Albanian." Subsequently Pipa rather took against Kadare and there was a public dispute between them (known, I'm told, as the "Pipi-Kaka" quarrel). Pipa died some years ago.
The obvious problem is that Pipa was not a native speaker of English. A less obvious problem is that Chronicle in Stone is translated from the first version, as published in Albania. The text in Kadare's Œuvres complètes is now the definitive version, and a new translation, if one is done, will have to take account of IK's changes.
The Johnson file
With Coe's biography in the spotlight, I have a bonus for HOM visitors: the outtakes from Kerry Fried's Newsday profile of the author, with tons of material that couldn't be shoehorned into a relatively short article. Enjoy!
Fried: You dedicated Like a Fiery Elephant to Joyce Yates, whom B. S. Johnson had had a relationship with in the 1950s, and to Julia Trevelyan Oman, a photographer he had worked with. And you clearly became fond of many of the others you interviewed.
Coe: I don't know if that's just because they were being nice to me and seemed generous with their time, which many of them were. But also I did feel--and I don't want to sentimentalize about this--that Johnson himself had been a huge centrifugal force that brought a lot of very disparate people into a kind of community, and when he killed himself that community was shattered and dispersed. One of the roles I found myself playing was that of someone who was bringing those people back together.
Fried: After the biography proper, you intertwine 30 pages of comments from interviews with Johnson's wife, friends, colleagues in "A Life in 44 Voices."
Coe: I began the book with a more conventional, more linear approach but realized that I was approaching the story like the omniscient narrator in a Victorian novel and that wasn't actually what I was: I didn't have omniscience about B.S. Johnson. What's more, it wasn't necessary to do that because many different points of view, including most importantly Johnson's point of view and the point of view of the people who knew him, were available to me and could be presented to the reader more or less unmediated.
Fried: Unlike many biographers of late, you don't explicitly explore the aftermath.
Coe: I think the book had already become so much bigger than I'd imagined or intended and had become so emotionally fraught in many ways--not just in terms of my relationship with the family and how carefully I had to tread round their feelings, but also in terms of the way that B.S. Johnson's state of mind as he kind of came toward to the end was starting to colonize my own state of mind, with a lot of unexpected issues arising out of the writing of the book. All of that made me feel that the death was an absolute cut-off point really, and that there was no point in prolonging the agony by going in any detail into the aftermath or the shock waves that that had sent around his family and friends. I felt I could take all that as given, basically.
Fried: The biography is also enacts your distrust of the silences and compromises of conventional literary biography. One footnote, for instance, reads, "I can't explain this reference." Has that changed at all?
Coe: I've come out of the book with a kind of increased respect for people who have the tact and the confidence to adopt a more omniscient tone of voice and to tread more confidently and assertively rather than the elaborate tiptoeing dance that I perform through a lot of the book.
Fried: Tapdancing, surely. The tension between Johnson's high spirits and his grim vision of society is in your novels, too.
Coe: I don't think that he was more pessimistic about society or human nature than I am necessarily, but that pessimism was much closer to the surface. He could never forget it, or rarely forget it, whereas I'm more like most other people I think, in that I'm able to shut myself off from an awareness most of the time and just get on with life, which is what we all have to do. But we're not dissimilar people in many ways--that's what I discovered when I was writing the book, and I realize now that that's what drew me to him. I thought that what drew me to him was a shared philosophy of experimental writing. But my views on writing and my practice of writing have changed quite a lot in the twenty years or so I've been doing it, and I realize now that what I felt with B.S. Johnson when I first discovered him twenty years ago was a temperamental affinity rather than a theoretical one.
Fried: Is it fair to say that you're preoccupied with the missing? In The House of Sleep Robert disappears and in The Rotters' Club Miriam vanishes.
Coe: I'm just trying to think if there are any missing people in what I'm writing at the moment. Yeah, there are. As you can tell from these books, I am very interested in my relationship to the past and very interested in my relationship to all the people I've known, whether I'm still in touch with them or not. And when people go missing from my life, I do find that intriguing and also frustrating. To go back to the biography, the missing figure is Michael Bannard, who disappeared and weaved in and out of Johnson's story.
Fried: You busted your deadline for Like a Fiery Elephant by some years. Were
you working on it and The Closed Circle concurrently?
Coe: I wrote bits of The Rotters' Club and the biography simultaneously. But
I delivered the first draft of the biography and it kind of shocked Johnson's family, I think. It wasn't the book they were expecting it to be. And there was a necessary period really of about six or nine months where we all just had to stand back and decide what we thought about it. And then what was published was a second draft which in the end wasn't radically different from what I had delivered to start with. That period was a kind of dead period, really. I couldn't really write or concentrate on anything else while I was doing it, so the bulk of The Closed Circle was written more quickly than most of my other novels, in a six-month period between the end of 2003, beginning of 2004.
Fried: Can you say anything more about what you're working on now?
Coe: I have just started something new, which I'm hoping is going to turn into a novel. It's kind of unusual for me, because normally I know whether it's going to turn into a novel or not, and indeed that's how I conceive of it. But I'm being a little more intuitive with this new one and trying to see where the writing leads me. It's good to be writing again, anyway.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Call him Ismail
The prize will earn Kadare £60,000. And since the Man Booker administrators added a secondary purse of £15,000 for the winner's translator, Kadare will be able to share the wealth. Who he'll share it with is something of a vexed question. Most of the English translations of his books have been made from French versions, which the author is said to have vetted quite carefully. (Just to cloud the waters even further: my 1987 New Amsterdam edition of Chronicle in Stone says Translated from the Albanian on the title page, but no translator is listed. Hmmm.) Luckily for us all, The Literary Saloon has posted a superb article on this very subject by one of Kadare's translators (or retranslators), David Bellos. Get over there right away and read it. Then come back.
Last but not least: in 1991 I reviewed The General of the Dead Army for Newsday. Here's the piece in its entirety, for anybody who wants a more detailed look at what is actually Kadare's first novel. (By the way, that OCR software is really something else. And on the Web, this isn't technically self-plagiarizing--it's called repurposing.)
Tucked inconspicuously into the flank of the Balkan Peninsula, Albania seldom makes headlines in the West. With its rugged terrain, widespread poverty and a mysterious, umlaut-ridden language, the People's Socialist Republic remains far off the beaten track.
Among European nations, however, it is one of the prime contenders for the dubious, tragic title of Most Often Invaded. The last 2,000 years have seen bloody entrances and exits by Romans, Goths, Bulgars, Normans, Serbs, Venetians and Turks. In our own century, the pace has hardly slowed a whit: the Italians "reclaimed" the country in 1939, followed by the Germans and, sporadically, the Greeks. Only since 1944 have the Albanians had their country to themselves, mostly under the stern Stalinist guidance of Enver Hoxha.
Needless to say, the revolving-door procession of foreign invaders has shaped the Albanian character. Armed resistance is a kind of national religion; a considerable share of Albania's literary tradition celebrates George Kastrioti, better known as Skanderberg, who fought the Turks to a draw for 25 years during the 14OOs.
These days, American readers have the option of viewing this battle-hardened culture through the work of Albania's foremost contemporary writer, Ismail Kadare. Kadare, who was born in 1936 in the mountain town of Gjirokaster, has long has been celebrated in Europe. His 11 novels and numerous volumes of poetry, criticism and short stories have been translated into more than 30 Ianguages. However, little of this work appeared in the United States until 1987, when New Amsterdam Books began an ambitious Kadare-in-every-garage program with Chronicle in Stone. Since then, New Amsterdam has published three more titles: Doruntine (1988), Broken April (1990), and now The General of the Dead Army. All four books disclose a major novelist at work, and one with a storehouse of very persistent, very Albanian themes: invasion, resistance and a corollary tradition of homegrown violence. As one of Kadare's characters says, "In peace, the Albanian becomes sluggish and only half alive, like a snake in winter. It is only when he is fighting that his vitality is at full stretch."
The General of the Dead Army is actually Kadare's first novel, which he wrote in the '60s after having already won a substantial reputation as a poet. It's also his only book to have made a prior appearance in this country. Published in 1973, The General of the Dead Army sank without a trace. Perhaps it will find the audience it deserves in this latest resurrection, though its depressing scenario makes it an unlikely candidate for a commercial chartbuster.
The general in question never is given a proper name. Kadare never even mentions his nationality, although it soon becomes apparent that he's Italian. But he's been sent, sometime during the earIy 1960s, to reclaim the bodies of Italian soldiers who died on Albanian soil during World War II. Wandering "across the country like an ambulatory tumor," with a priest and a platoon of hired gravediggers in tow, he unearths thousands of skeletons.
"I have a whole army of dead men under my command now," he muses. "Only instead of uniforms they are all wearing nylon bags .... At first there had been just a few sections of coffins, then, gradually, companies and battalions were formed." Other voices occasionalIy break in on the narrative--fragments of an Italian soldier's 1943 diary and the italicized thoughts of Albanian bystanders--but the bulk of the novel records the general's disillusionment with his task. Initially, at least, neither the ethics nor the utility of his work bother him much. He recoils instead from the "interminable boredom of the road" and from the mountainous landscape, "the backdrop for some tragedy."
Near the end of his mission, however, the general insists on gate-crashing a peasant wedding in a mountain villa. An angry confrontation occurs. Brought face to face with Albanian resentment, the general's sense of nobility finally begins to wobble. Perhaps there's little point, after all, in "running up hill and down dale sniffing for death like hyenas, trying to find ways of coaxing it or smoking it out of its lair."
The general experiences this illumination while he's dead drunk. And though Kadare doesn't say so, his grave-digging protagonist probably will gloss over the whole thing once his hangover disappears. All of which points to novel's main drawback: the author has tethered the narrative too firmly to general's low-octane imagination. The result, much of the time, is a bland, rather un-Albanian flatness. A useful comparison might be made with Chronicle in Stone, whose young narrator observes the end of a rainstorm over town and notes that "far off, at a distance too great to measure, a rainbow had appeared, like a peace treaty between mountain, river, bridge, torrents, road, wind, and city." Witnessing the identical rain, mountain, river and so on, the general never would notice this multi-colored cease-fire, let alone conflict that preceded it. But then again, he's no Albanian.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
O, BEA! (Part Four)
recent friction between Google and the publishing community--which now seems to have been resolved--I wondered how smoothly the convention had gone for them. The answer, according to a staffer: very smoothly indeed. Publishers of all sizes had been flocking to the booth to sign up for the Google Print program, clearly figuring that a spot in the company's oceanic database of digitized texts could hardly be bad for business. For a few minutes I hung around and watched publishers enroll in the program: so this was what the radiant future looked like. Then I went to a couple of parties. The first, thrown by HarperCollins, was at Mario Batali's Otto, and I kept imagining I heard the distinctive tattoo of Batali's trademark clogs on the floor. No such luck. It was dark, it was loud, and while I cadged fancy morsels from the passing trays--pizza, shellfish, miniature ice-cream cones I avoided because I assumed they were filled with custard--I saw a few familiar faces drifting by, plus the occasional person I wanted to punch in the back of the head. A pretty good party, in other words. When we stumbled outside it was still bright: blinding, in fact, with a lurid sunset in progress over the Hudson, pale yellow and pink and veined with a fluorocarbon-assisted green. Tortoni is the word that came to mind. We tottered west, toward a party for Toby Young, in a club whose name I honestly can't remember. I was still wearing my narrow, Italianate shoes from the Barney's outlet, and paying the price: a small blister on my left little toe. It slowed my progress. Bliss it was to reach the club, step into the sort of a velvety darkness I associate with a sensory-deprivation tank, and drink a free beer on the banquette. The BEA was over. Long live the BEA, etc.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
O, BEA! (Part Three)
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
O, BEA! (Part Two)
I took that to be...optimistic. And certainly that was the note struck by David Poindexter, who runs the San Francisco-based MacAdam/Cage Publishing. We chatted while Poindexter snuck a furtive smoke on some kind of loading dock in back. (If he had been caught, he would have been clapped in irons and flogged on the front steps of Gracie Mansion--but no matter.) It had been a hard couple of years, he conceded, once the post-9/11 recession really hit the book industry. "But I can see it coming back," he said. "The feeling is very upbeat, very positive. We've already given away at least a thousand galleys at our booth. At the last BEA in Los Angeles we did The Time Traveler's Wife, which turned out to be a huge bestseller--and it took us three days to pass out a thousand of those. I think the interest is there again, especially in fiction."
Whatever. My bags were getting heavier. There was a traffic jam in the aisle, and I darted into a relatively quiet booth, which turned out to be the home of The Book Standard, the new online magazine launched in February by VNU. The editor, Jerome Kramer, filled me in on the details. "The idea was to take all this literary property owned by VNU--a giant, stealthy Dutch conglomerate--and see if we could assemble it into a book-industry portal," he explained. "Publishers Weekly hadn't made any substantial changes in thirty years, and they were very beholden to being a weekly print magazine. We could move much faster. Plus we had the numbers." What he meant was the treasure trove of sales data compiled by Nielsen BookScan, another VNU property. Casual visitors to the site can read a sizeable slice of editorial content. But only subscribers have access to the numbers, which may ultimately siphon off at least part of PW's audience. (Kramer, I should add, was quick to praise his opposite number at the rival magazine: "Sara Nelson was going to be our star columnist until she got that job.")
Monday, June 06, 2005
O, BEA! (Part One)
James Fenton once described a visit to Prek Chak, a tiny Cambodian village notorious for its gambling mania. "Absolutely everybody was gambling," he wrote. "It was like, I suddenly thought, coming into some allegorical town, say in the Pilgrim's Progress." For some reason this year's Book Expo gave me a similar impression. Small Press Distributors was raffling off a Dean & Deluca gift basket. Stonebridge was raffling off a sex machine (sorry, I didn't get the details). Random House was raffling off two tickets to a lecture by the Dalai Lama. And the Running Press, in a serious upmarket move, was raffling off a Mini Cooper convertible. Perhaps there's some subliminal message here: after all, any book without the words Harry and Potter on the spine is something of a gamble itself. In any case, I succumbed to gaming fever by Saturday afternoon and did sit down for a hand of poker with Cat Hulbert, anointed "the world's greatest female gambler" by the Game Show Network. She's got quite a set of hands. "Position, position, position," she kept saying. "Here comes the flop." I quickly folded and slunk away from the table. "At least you're leaving with your pants on," she called out by way of goodbye.
The first author I encountered on the floor was Robert Pinsky, who was on hand to promote his boffo Life of King David. Clearly we're not in Sunday school anymore (the third chapter begins with the promising line: "They were polygamists, these monotheists.") Pinsky has drawn on both biblical literature and the Psalms to reinvent this heroic figure, and in a few brief, scarily articulate comments, his explained his attraction to the subject. "David was a great man, a great killer, and a great poet," he told me. "When he got to Heaven, God called up the legal angels and basically got David a seventy-year extension. It's the story, not the biblical element, that drew me to him."