Friday, June 13, 2008

Required Reading: Or not? Paul Constant Interview

- With Chuck Palahniuk pumping another one-word titled book with a string of ridiculous YouTube book trailers, and Dave Eggers apparently spending his time whistling? We at E5S-CA are wondering what the hell is going on in the once great world of the literati.
-The Stranger book columnist Paul Constant, whose recent "Open Letter to Chuck Palahniuk" was the most refreshing piece of literary critique we've read in some time, takes a minutes to talk with us about Chuck and the state of modern literature.

C.A. -To me it seems like a lot of Palahniuk's hype has to do with a Northwest centrism perpetuated by lit-hipsters, do you think location has anything to do with it, or is his hype overblown everywhere?

P.C.-I first read Palahniuk as a bookseller in Boston, and I can pretty much verify that he's huge around the nation (if not the world) thanks to something known as the Info-mation Super High-Way. His website, and his fandom, which refers to itself (with a completely straight face) as The Cult, is rabid, and it's international.

C.A. -Fight Club, I'd say, is one the very few movies that is actually better than the book its based on, any thoughts?

P.C.-I've seen lots of movies that are better than the books, but Fight Club is right up at the top of the list. I think that David Fincher is a genius; he's probably going to make this fall's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie better than its source material, and that's a novella by F. Scott Fitzgerald fercrissakes!

Read the whole interview! Click the more link!!!
C.A. -Have you seen the Choke trailer? Probably the least adaptable Palahniuk book, I think.

P.C-I just reviewed Choke (the movie) for The Stranger, and I can tell you that the book is actually better than the movie. And I wasn't that crazy about the book. The movie's truly awful, and I would generally crawl over broken glass to watch Sam Rockwell in anything, including the first Charlie's Angels movie.

C.A.-Thinking about your piece, it seems like Palahniuk is becoming a sort of John Grisham for the cool kids, that is, playing off his slightly-hip name recognition, but really just following a very bland formulaic business model.

P.C.-Palahniuk is definitely a brand, which is pretty amusing considering Fight Club's anti-corporate ethos. I think it's important to note that my piece about Palahniuk wasn't entirely dismissive; I thought his first three books were really, really great as a trilogy. But then he started putting a book out a year, and that's when he really shat the bed creatively. I know that he's publicly acknowledged his love for 1980's Stephen King, but if you read King novels from that period, he was always experimenting with his writing style and never quite doing the same thing twice. What Palahniuk's doing right now is doing a fan-fiction kind of idea of Stephen King without any of the (however tenuous) creative inspiration. He needs to focus on his craft and try new things, but from a business perspective that could endanger the brand.

C.A.-Who are some modern authors that you're digging right now?

P.C.-I really like Sam Lipsyte, who did a book called Home Land that was one of the funniest things I've ever read. He also wrote a book called The Subject Steve about a man who's literally being bored to death. Fans of early Palahniuk would do well to check out a book called Remainder by Tom McCarthy, which is just a beautifully weird headfuck. Charles D'Ambrosio is always great. I really like T Cooper, whose last book, Lipschitz 6, or 2 Angry Blondes, was a multigenerational story of immigrants, gender identity, Charles Lindbergh and an Eminem impersonator named T Cooper. Aimee Bender writes gorgeous, strange books.

C.A.-What about your all time favorite books/authors?

P.C.-I'm serious when I say that Hawthorne and Dickens are amazing if you don't read them in school. Anything by David Foster Wallace is guaranteed to be great. Stanley Elkin was one of the greatest writers in the English language, and The Franchiser is in my all-time top ten. Nabokov, of course. Dorothy Parker is one of my biggest inspirations, and the person who I stole my column title, Constant Reader, from. (Her column for The New Yorker was titled Constant Reader.) Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson and all the other mystery/thriller writers from the middle of last century are all just about perfect.

C.A.-We've got a pretty pessimistic outlook on the state of modern literature, do you have any trend insight that could offer a bit of hope for the next generation of readers and writers?

P.C.-I don't know if I have any insight at all about writing. Just write something and never worry about who's going to read it, and don't wait for a muse to strike, because you'll die waiting for the perfect idea to filter through the clouds. Get your butt in the seat and do it, but remember that rewriting is the most important part of writing. You should write something and then go through it and take out all the cliches and then start over with the one good sentence that's left.

As to reading, there's always something good. Books aren't going to die, like everyone's always saying all the time. Corporate publishers have a lot of bullshit books coming out, but then 99% of everything is bullshit. I think that books are wonderful, and the only thing where the level of bullshit is maybe only 90%. Talk to booksellers about what they're reading in a bookstore that you trust, and you'll find something good.

C.A.-Have you ever read the amazing bunny-based adventure epic Watership Down?

P.C.-I have. It's the only book that's not about humans that I really like.

C.A.-Randomly, what music are you digging presently? Any particular artist/album?

I've been obsessed with Jay-Z for years now. I really liked his last album, but the few before that weren't so hot. I really like King Khan and his two most recent albums. Over on the lady side of things, I like Princess Superstar a lot, and Neko Case, and I should maybe be embarrassed to admit that I'm a huge Mirah fan, but I'm not embarrassed at all. And Neil Diamond, too. The man's all hook. The song "Sweet Caroline" is beautiful and bigger than the whole world.

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