Try Anything

The freaking New York Times wrote a super nice, super generous review of Best Worst American. I'm thrilled, beyond thrilled, particularly about the reviewer's appreciation of "Northern," my favorite story in the collection and its "botched buttock-surgery" angle. Also thrilled that the wonderful art for the review prominently features the kitten poster art from Best Worst American's "Your Significant Other's Kitten Poster." 

OK, no. The reviewer didn't say people had to buy 500 copies of the book. But please do so anyway, preferably via your favorite indie bookstore or via Small Beer Press directly.

"The abyss broke your microwave..."

Hi! The Rumpus just published my poem, Tap.

The abyss broke your microwave...

Tap is part of this ongoing series, which started for unclear reasons shortly after November 8 2016. "Tap," a sad and weird poem, is of course not at all inspired by this sad, weird tweet:

Evanston & Arkansas Lit Festivals

Hi! Do you live in or near Little Rock, Arkansas? Or maybe you're in Evanston or close to Evanston? I'll be reading and talking and signing books in those places super soon alongside some amazing writers. Please come and say hi. The details (lifted straight from the festival brochures) follow below:

  • Masters of Form / Little Rock, AR (Saturday, April 29, 11:30 a.m., Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124):  John Kessel's The Moon & The Other is "reminiscent of Huxley's best work, and the emphasis on gender politics puts it in dialog with the masterpieces of Le Guin, Delany, and Russ," according to Hugo– and Nebula Award–winning author Kim Stanley Robinson. Kelly Link calls Juan Martinez "a master of the absurd" while Kirkus Reviews says his Best Worst American features "twenty-four semi-existential short stories that have appeared in McSweeney's and Selected Shorts" injecting "absurdity into everyday life and humor into the phantasmagorical."
  • In Celebration of the Short Story / Evanston,, IL (Monday, May 8, 2017, 6:00pm, Bookends & Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Avenue, Alley #1): Two locally based fiction writers and Northwestern creative writing professors, Juan Martinez and Christine Sneed, will read from their new story collections, Best Worst American and The Virginity of Famous Men, and discuss what they see as the rewards and pleasures of reading and writing short-form fiction. 

Nabokovilia in Elif Batuman's The Idiot!

Nabokov's Lectures on Literature shows up in Elif Batuman's The Idiot:

In the bookstore, waiting for Svetlana to finish comparing different editions of Beowulf, I started flipping through Nabokov's Lectures on Literature, and my attention was caught by a passage about math. According to Nabokov, when ancient people first invented arithmetic, it was an artificial system designed to impose order on the world. Over the course of centuries, as the system grew more and more intricate, "mathematics transcended their initial condition and became as it were a natural part of the world to which they had been merely applied... The whole world gradually turned out to be based on numbers, and nobody seems to have been surprised at the queer fact of the outer network becoming an inner skeleton."

Suddenly, all kinds of things I had learned in school seemed to fit together. Could it be true, what Nabokov said -- that the abstract calculations had come first, and only later turned out to describe reality? (109)

Readings & Signings & AWP Panels!

I'm going to AWP in Washington DC and doing two panels, plus a signing, plus a reading for Best Worst American and would love to see you and talk with you at one of them. Or at all of them! Seriously. I'm also reading in Chicago and in Little Rock.

Here's where I'll be:

  1. Signing! Thursday, February 9, 10:00 am-10:30 am: At the AWP Small Beer Press table (Washington, DC)
  2. Talking!/Paneling! Saturday, February 11, 12:00pm-1:15pm, At this panel: "Immigrants/Children of Immigrants: a Non-traditional Path to a Writing Career" (with Ken Chen, Monica Youn, Marie Myung-OK Lee, and Irina Reyn). Location: Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four (Washington, DC)
  3. Talking!/Paneling! Saturday, February 11, 4:30pm-5:45pm, At this panel: "The Short Story as Laboratory" (with Lesley Nneka Arimah, Carmen Maria Machado, Kendra Fortmeyer, and Sofia Samatar) Location: Marquis Salon 9 & 10, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
  4. Reading! (with Kelly Freaking Link!) Saturday, February 11, 6:00pm-8:00pm at Politics and Prose (Facebook event page here) (Washington DC)
  5. Reading! Thursday, February 16, 7:30pm-9:30pm at Women and Children First (Facebook event page here) (Chicago IL)
  6. Reading! Monday, February 27 at 6:30pm at Curbside Books and Records (More info here, Facebook event page here) (Chicago IL)
  7. Talking! in April at the Arkansas Literary Festival (Little Rock AR)
I'm so sorry for all the self-promotion! The robot says if I don't self-promote the h*ck out of this book he will do something unspeakable with this pencil. Blame the robot don't blame me. The robot demands that you buy 500 copies of my book thank you.

I'm so sorry for all the self-promotion! The robot says if I don't self-promote the h*ck out of this book he will do something unspeakable with this pencil. Blame the robot don't blame me. The robot demands that you buy 500 copies of my book thank you.

A Short Thank-You Note to Trump

So the photo below is me right after I took the oath of citizenship, which happened yesterday, a Tuesday, which meant we had to leave our baby with the sitter. The baby's an American. So is my wife. So, for that matter, is pretty much my whole immediate family. I was the hold out.

I'm pretty sure I was eligible for at least three years. I had been meaning to do it, but we were traveling a lot (we moved from Vegas to the Pacific Northwest to Amish country to Chicago) and the application is $680 -- a deal and a privilege, to be sure. You can't put a price on citizenship. But you can totally keep meaning to do it later because $680 feels like a lot.

And then you have an insane spray-tanned caricature spewing rhetoric so hateful, so inconsistent and bizarre, that you start laughing, and then worrying when half the country takes the joke seriously. And then the joke gets to be the presidential nominee of a major political party. That's when $680 feels like a bargain.

So thank you, Donald J. Trump. You're what it took for me and for (I'm guessing) thousands of others like me to take the not-insignificant leap from permanent resident to citizen.

In the elevator to the courthouse, a man saw a bunch of us in the elevator clutching our appointment letters. He said, "Trump, huh?"

We all nodded.

He said, "You're going to vote? You got to vote."

All of us nodded -- all of us, an elevator stuffed with nervous soon-to-be-citizens all worried we forgot some important document (the green card? the letter? were we supposed to bring our old passports?). But yes, we all said we were going to vote.

Against you.

We took the oath. The judge welcomed us, told us that the US was lucky to have us, that to swear allegiance to the US did not mean we abandoned the culture and the food and everything we hold dear from our old life. It was all moving, way more moving than I thought it would be.

I've been here for years. I've always enjoyed the privilege of the observer, an embedded outsider. I'd been holding on to that feeling forever, of being in the US and very much loving it but also not quite belonging, or thinking I did not quite belong. That feeling's gone, but it will come back, I'm sure. But still: what has replaced it is just as light, just as freeing, just as wonderful, just as strange. This judge made all of us feel truly welcomed.

The voter registration folk waited right outside the court. I filled out the form. It took all of five minutes.

Nabokov in The X-Files!

Check out The Enchanted Hunter motel -- a nod to Lolita's The Enchanted Hunters hotel -- in this X-Files episode from the 2016 season, "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." The episode was written by Darin Morgan, who is no stranger to awesome Nabokov references. His 1996 X-Files episode, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," features a space overlord named Lord Kinbote. 

Nabokovilia: Martin Amis's "Oktober"

I was carrying a book: the forthcoming “Letters to Véra,” by Véra’s husband, Vladimir Nabokov. But the voices around me were unrelaxingly shrill—I could concentrate on what I was reading, just about, but I could extract no pleasure from it. So I took my drink back into the foyer, where the pianist, after a break, had resumed. The businessman was still on the phone; as before, we were sitting two tables apart, and back to back. Occasionally I heard snatches (“Have you got any office method where you are? Have you?”). But now I was slowly and appreciatively turning the pages, listening to that other voice, V.N.’s: humorous, resilient, full of energy. The letters begin in 1923; two years earlier, he sent his mother a short poem, as proof “that my mood is as radiant as ever. If I live to be a hundred, my spirit will still go around in short trousers.”
When January dawned in 1924, Vladimir (a year older than the century) was in Prague, helping his mother and his two younger sisters settle into their cheap and freezing new apartment. (“Jesus, it’s called basic gumption. Do you know how you spell that?”) These former boyars were now displaced and deracinated—and had “no money at all.” (“5C? No. Obviously. 4C. 4C, for Christ’s sake.”) Vladimir himself, like his future wife, the Judin Véra Slonim, had settled in Berlin, along with almost half a million other Russian fugitives from 1917. And in Berlin the two of them would blithely and stubbornly remain. Their lone child, Dmitri, was born there in 1934. The Nuremberg Laws were passed in September, 1935, and they began to be enforced and expanded after the Berlin Olympics of 1936; but not until 1937 did the Nabokovs hurriedly decamp to France, after a (seemingly never-ending) struggle with visas and exit permits and Nansen passports.
(...)
All ambient sounds suddenly ceased, and the businessman was saying, “D’you know who this is? Do you? It’s Geoffrey. Geoffrey Vane. Geoffrey. Geoff. Yeah. You know me. And you know what I’m like. . . . Right, my patience is at an end. Congratulations. Or, as you’d say, super. . . . Now. Get your fucking Mac and turn to your fucking e-mails. Do you understand me? Do you understand me? Go to the communication from the fucking agent. The on-site agent. You know, that fucking Argy—Feron. Fucking Roddy Feron. Got it? Now bring up the fucking attachment. Got it? Right—fucking 4C.”

NaboPop: Nick Cave's "20,000 Days on Earth"

In the very Nabokovian documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, Nick Cave recalls the very earliest memory of his dad: Him reading Lolita to him, admiring the writing, and Cave admiring his father. "He became a greater thing," Cave says. Lolita recurs in the movie -- it pops up briefly in the opening sequence and will return at crucial moments. Some screencaps below.