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Posts Tagged ‘Norman Mailer’

Managing Mailer

In Entertainment, Media, Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 at 9:16 am
Norman Mailer, Miami Book Fair International, 1988

Image via Wikipedia

In 1969, Norman Mailer – already a successful novelist and somewhat notorious character – decided to run for Mayor of New York with the already legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin as his running mate.

The brilliant Joe Flaherty wrote a marvelous memoir of the campaign called “Managing Mailer.”

While the title is technically correct since Flaherty was the campaign manager, reading the sadly out of print book (excerpts can be read here), it quickly becomes clear that there really was no managing Mailer.

When I interviewed him in 2007, he said of that campaign:

“Looking back on it, there was something highly comic about the whole thing,” he said. “Not at the time, of course. Breslin and I worked as hard as we ever worked. One of my favorite remarks at the time was that my mother didn’t raise me to work this hard. The press thought it was a lark, but it wasn’t a lark. It was a bone-depleting journey.”

“What is comic about it, what I find comic about it, was how little political sense I had compared to how much political sense I thought I had. What I didn’t understand was that a freshman doesn’t run for president of the fraternity.”

I bring this up because there are two books out that deal with managing Mailer later in life. One by Norris Church Mailer, his sixth and, as she likes to point out, last wife. She was with him for about 32 years, pretty much longer than he was with his other five wives, combined.

Her book, A Ticket to the Circus, is a loving though very honest memoir of those times. It’s not always pretty but even when she writes of Mailer — or her — having an affair, there is no question that the bond that held them together was love (though, as she makes clear, sex was also a part of it (“No matter the circumstances of our passions and rages, our boredoms, angers and betrayals large and small, sex was the cord that bound us together”).

It was a relationship apparently few thought would succeed. After all, when they met, he was a 52-year-old literary giant and she was a 26-year-old single mother from Russellville, Arkansas.

“Bella Abzug gave me her phone number and told me to call her, at any hour of the night, if I needed to get away from him, and she would come get me,” she writes of an encounter soon after moving to New York.

But…

“His clear blue eyes lit up when he saw me,” she writes of their first encounter. And she was leaning toward smitten as well. “He had broad shoulders, a rather large head (presumably to hold all those brains) with ears that stuck out like Clark Gable’s, and he was chesty, but not fat, like a sturdy small horse.”

It was clearly a complicated relationship.

During the publicity swing for his novel Harlot’s Ghost — a time when she figured out Mailer had been having an affiar — Sam Donaldson was doing a story about Mailer and he asked her what it was like to live with him:

“Well, Sam, it’s kind of like living in a zoo, One day, Norman is a lion; the next he’s a monkey. Occasionally he’s a lamb and a large part of the time he’s a jackass.”

She tells of their trips, their love letters, their children, their grandchildren, their tender moments and their fights, which could be just awful.

As The New York Times put it, “A Ticket to the Circus is not a tell-all memoir; it’s a tell-enough memoir.”

Meanwhile, the other book about Mailer, Mornings with Mailer: A Recollection of a Friendship by Dwayne Raymond who worked for him the last four years of his life, helping as he wrote his last books, is surprising.

Picking it up, it’s hard to escape a first impression of someone who worked for Mailer, probably didn’t know him so well and is trying to cash in.

But then you start reading it and you quickly see how much Raymond not only cared about Mailer but was involved in his life the last few years (a point of view, I later discovered, is fully supported by Norris in her book).

Raymond had been a waiter in Provincetown when the Mailers convinced him to come work for them, helping Norman as an assistant but also doing the cooking and shopping and helping Norris who was battling cancer.

While Raymond had had the writing bug and was a reader, his knowledge of Mailer at the time was thin.

“I had no basis for what to think about Norman Mailer. I knew he lived in town, but I’d never seen him and knew nothing about how he lived. I figured if hew as crazy enough to stay here all winter long, he was probably a fairly regular guy.”

And, if you only knew Mailer from Raymond’s book, that’s probably the Mailer you would know: a fairly regular guy who, while maybe having some eccentricities, loved his family and cared about those around him.

“To look back on my time with Norman now is like peering through a kaleidoscope: vibrant images churn in imprecise order. What emerges as I shadow more than a thousand days with him should be clear but that is not the case. The memories that do rise to the surface are often as inexplicable as the fog that gathers over the harbor of our town.”

Okay, maybe a little purple but it’s hard not to see it — and the whole book — as a heartfelt, loving portrait of Mailer. And while Norris’s book gives us Mailer the Man, Raymond’s book really is about Mailer the Writer, taking us into his office as he crafted his final work.

Spending time with either book is time well spent. Spending time with both gives you a a deep portrait of a man, a writer, who while not always loved, was clearly a giant who was not always so well managed.

Down Goes Mantel! Down Goes Mantel! Down Goes Mantel! Literary Rivalries Real and Imagined

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 at 1:57 am
Cover of "Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker ...

Down Goes Mantel! Orange Upset

Okay. Maybe it lacks the drama of Howard Cosell’s call of George Foreman knocking down Joe Frazier but there was certainly a bit of wow when Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna beat out Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to win this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction.

“The Lacuna was the surprise winner,” reported the LA Times.

“There is a sense of surprise and deflation around Barbara Kingsolver’s win,” commented The Guardian.

Even Kingsolver, herself, said she was “stunned and thrilled.”

There were several factors including that Mantel’s story of life in the Court of Henry VIII in 16th Century England was clearly the hometown favorite and that just two months before, Mantel had bested Kingsolver to win the closest-ever Tournament of Books sponsored by The Morning News.

Here’s the thing… why are we so concerned with which book is better? Which author is better? Now, admittedly sometimes a book that maybe few had heard of  will win a prize opening it up to a whole new audience such as happened with this year’s Pulitzer.

But really. Can’t we judge each book on its own merits? The Tournament of Books is a clever idea but isn’t writing more comparable to golf than basketball? Aren’t you really competing against yourself?

I mean, The New Yorker’s recently released list of 20 writers under 40 to watch is interesting but by giving us the list they’re telling us their special, perhaps more special than others, which is really something that we should be able to figure out by the fact that most of them have received great reviews in places like The New York Times and have written best sellers?

After all, it wasn’t that hard for The Millions to come up with a list of 20 more who are just as worthy.

Time Magazine critic and author Lev Grossman said lists like this are “a unique artifact of late-20th-century popular criticism — as crass and lame as earlier eras of human civilization were, I can’t imagine critics of an earlier era being crass and lame in quite this exact way.”

I think that lists like this and prizes can be useful if they lead to feuds like Norman Mailer-Gore Vidal or Hemingway ad Fitzgerald or Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There have certainly been literary feuds worth following over the years — enough to inspire a book. (I’m being sarcastic).

Show me a list of writers I haven’t heard of that I should read. Give big prizes to writers that deserve more recognition.

Stop trying to make writers into college basketball teams and let them be judged against themselves. Judge the work for what it is not based on what else has come out.

Everyone Say Hello to 'Alex'

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 8:33 am

Think that the E-Reader battle comes down to the iPad vs. the Kindle?

Or maybe the Nook vs. the Sony Reader?

Well, meet Alex from Spring Design who started shipping yesterday.

As cnet pointed out, it probably would have been bigger news had it come out before the IPad. Regardless, it looks like it’s something that deserves notice.

First — take a look at the features and one thing immediately jumps out — the second screen.

It has one for reading and a second, smaller – color — screen that is a fully-enabled, android-powered web browser. So, you’re reading… you want to send an email, no problem. Want to look up movie times and then, maybe take a break from reading? Sure. Watch some videos? Absolutely.

Or maybe you want to listen to music while you read? No problem. Wi-fi? Check. Removable memory? Check.

Laptop Magazine was so impressed with the device, it named it the best E-Reader at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Though, it’s important to point out, that not everyone loves it.

Engadget, in their review,  they point to several shortcomings such as while: “the Alex is chock-full of reading features…we just can’t say the same about its book selection” and “When it came to multitasking, the Alex was just fine for reading a book and listening to some music, but when we threw in web browsing things began to slow to a crawl.”

Endgaget had also taken issue with Alex’s price, which was listed at $399 at the time.

But, now that it’s priced at $359 — right between the Kindle and the IPad — it’s got a good shot at getting attention on the checkout line.

And, as Wired points out, in addition to competing against Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Apple and so forth in the market, Alex is making a point of going after a slice of the market that could prove quite lucrative — Spanish Language E-Books.

So, while a lot of the most creative design work seems to still be being done for IPad, and there’s still the Google Tablet to come, Alex just might be able to find his place in the world.

And, based on their decision to seemingly embrace Spanish-language E-Books, maybe this post should have been “Everyone Say Hola to Alex.”

Anyway, just to give you a heads up about what I’m expecting to make its way from my reading list to news over here… posts about David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer, Natalie Merchant and so much more.

Thanks for reading.