Happy New Apocalypse! (Catholic Herald)

With apocalypse fever receiving a boost from all those alleged Mayan prophecies surrounding 2012, Daniel Kalder undertakes a brief survey of the history of Catholics and the End Times.

Exiled to the Isle of Patmos, St. John wrote the Book of Revelation in a state of fevered anticipation. He could hardly have imagined the wildly destabilizing effects his apocalypse would have upon believers over the next two millennia. But that mix of urgency and astonishing imagery is so potent that millions have used both his work and the Book of Daniel as keys to their own times- often with catastrophic results.

Boris Akunin Interview (Publishing Perspectives)

Grigory Chkhartishvili, AKA Boris Akunin, is an international publishing phenomenon. A scholar of Japanese language and culture, and a former literary translator, he wrote his first novel at the age of 40 and in the 13 years since its publication has sold twenty million copies of his books in Russia alone. Daniel Kalder interviewed him for Publishing Perspectives, ahead of his upcoming appearances at the London book Fair 2011.

When I read The White Queen (Akunin’s first book) it was so dense with literary and geographic allusions that I sat with a pocket Moscow atlas in hand so I could follow the hero around the city. Given that your books are so steeped in Russian literature and history, were you surprised when they became successful overseas?

I’ve had no reason to be surprised because my books aren’t all that successful overseas. Maybe because they are so filled with “local color”. Or maybe because they are simply not good enough.

The Wild World of Vladimir Sorokin (Publishing Perspectives)

At the London Book Fair earlier this month, Russia was featured as Guest of Honor. Nearly every Russian writer of distinction was in attendance, save for one: Vladimir Sorokin. It’s no surprise, since anyone who has followed Sorokin’s career knows he has hardly been one to follow the crowd. Yet this weekend, Sorokin will appear twice in New York as part of the 2011 PEN World Voices Festival, first at 4:30 EST in conversation with Keith Gessen and then at 7 p.m. as part of a staged reading with Hungarian film and theater director Kornel Mundruczo. It will be his American debut.

The Secret Afterlife of Roy Orbison (The Dabbler)

For me, like most people, memory is intricately intertwined with music. Another Brick in the Wall pt 2 was a hit the year I started school, and so the song always resurrects those early experiences of classroom tedium. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus, playing on the ferry that brought me from England to Holland in 1986, summons textures of my first trip abroad from the sinkhole of amnesia; while Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity is forever fused with a 6am walk I took around Amsterdam ‘s Schipol airport. Endlessly and subjectively I can listen to a track and landscapes, people, places and moods return.

Robert Irwin: The Dabbling Dervish (The Dabbler)

Robert Irwin is an English writer who has written six novels and numerous studies of different aspects of Islamic culture. He is also the Middle Eastern editor of the Times Literary Supplement and has been instrumental in shaping the list of the hyper literary and thoroughly esoteric publisher Dedalus. While still a student at Oxford in the 1960s he travelled to Algeria with the intention of becoming a Sufi saint, an experience he describes in his latest extraordinary book, Memoirs of a Dervish. 

1)      The experiences you describe in Dervish seem to have inspired several books in your career- an Englishman immersed in his dreams in North Africa is the protagonist of The Arabian Nightmare; while you described the occult, weird side of the late 60s in Satan Wants Me. In some ways Dervish feels like a key of sorts to those books, a missing chapter in the Irwin oeuvre I didn’t even know was missing. Why did you wait so long to tackle this aspect- perhaps the central aspect- of your 60s experience?

Review: Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev (The Dabbler)

Drawings from the Gulag begins unexpectedly, with a headshot of a proud homo-sovieticus from one of the USSR’s eastern minorities. Wearing thick soviet spectacles and a soviet suit, and with impeccable posture, this man gazes at you, the reader, with firm resolve. Here is a stalwart Comrade-of-the-Month, whose portrait would be placed at the entrance to a massive factory complex in some industrial soviet city. Forget bonuses and a salary raise — true glory was to be found in constructing the socialist future.

The man is Danzig Baldaev, and to his colleagues he really did appear to be a loyal soviet citizen. Born in 1925, he worked for decades in the soviet prison service- no place for the squeamish, that’s for certain. And yet flip to the first illustration in the book, a drawing of a crowd of proud revolutionaries titled ‘Inception of the Gulag’ and in the top right hand corner there is an inscription that reads: ‘Dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the giant of Russian literature, A.I. Solzhenitsyn.  11th November 1988’. A strange thing for a career penal officer to write, no?

Gorbushka- Moscow's One Stop Shop For Firearms And Pirate CDs (Sabotage Times)

My favourite record shop was not a shop, but a once illegal open-air market in Moscow, Russia that went by the name ‘Gorbushka’.

Legend has it that in the early 90s you could buy just about anything at Gorbushka- guns, ammo, possibly even a small nuclear device. Its main business however had always been pirate CDs, tapes and computer software. Scruffy types would set up their stalls along the park’s tree lined avenue every weekend, and the entertainment hungry denizens of the city would descend. Cops would wander about, pausing only to collect payments from the stallholders, or maybe buy a CD. The market was completely illegal, and completely in the open – like all business in Russia at the time.

Paradise Has Relocated (Foreword to the book and gallery show by photographer Sandy Carson)

I well remember the media build-up to the assault from Hurricane Ike that wiped out so much of Galveston, Texas on September 13th 2008. “A great destruction is coming!” we were told, and the authorities ordered the locals to abandon their homes that they might save their lives. But in a weird act of Lone Star defiance thousands chose not to, preferring to stay and fight the whirlwind rather than take orders from some pecker-head in Austin, or worse, Washington D.C. Some died, others were ruined, still others fled the city as they realized the enormity of what they were up against. A friend of mine found himself locked up in his Houston home, alone with his heavily pregnant wife, as unseen wanderers, temporarily liberated of societal constraints, tapped menacingly on the windows. He called his father in Wisconsin, who offered to send guns.

Authors, Social Media and the Allure of Magical Thinking (Publishing Perspectives)

So anyway, I’ve got a great idea. Times are hard for publishers, therefore publicists should write books. No, really: they know what’s hot better than anyone. So they should write — maybe Harry Potter knock — offs like Percy Jackson, or political hate books on the villain of the hour. It doesn’t matter — just write something hot. What’s that? Writing and promoting require entirely different skill sets? Boo-hoo. Publicists will have to adapt if they want to keep their jobs. Oh yeah, and they should do this extra work for free.
Does that sound ridiculous to you? That’s because it is — which is why I always feel slightly skeptical when I read editorials from publishing professionals exhorting writers to perform the reverse metamorphosis. Yes, these pieces are often very inspiring. Last week’s editorial by Betsy Lerner “Should I Tweet?” was excellent and contained much good advice. But to attain the right level of fist bumping feel-good magic, it is necessary to elide some inconvenient truths:

1) Authors are often very weird people.