Category Archives: Literature

Charlie & Houellebecq


I pay my deepest respects to the staff at Charlie Hebdo. In the same breath, I mock the cowardice of the gunmen that gunned them down. The free press is everything, satire first and foremost.

Roped loosely into the conversation around the killings is the new novel by the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, released in France on the same day as the attack. The cover of Charlie Hebdo this week satirizes Houellebecq himself, caricatured, declaring, “In 2015, I lose my teeth. In 2022, I will do Ramadan.” The premise of Houellebecq’s new novel has a moderate Muslim politician winning election as France’s president in 2022 and, with monetary backing from the Gulf States, transforming French culture in that image — women completing their education at age 11, readying to serve their household; polygamy becoming legal; and society itself becoming economically successful as it absorbs and internalizes these cultural transformations.

I can’t speak to Houellebecq’s new novel, which is titled Submission. I assume it will take a year or so until it is published in English, in translation. But I’m a completist of his work until now. I read — I think we all read, back then? — The Elementary Particles, in the late 1990s. The themes of that book, his first novel, inform Houellebecq’s fiction in general. It was his second book, Platform (2001), that made me think this might be the writer of our age. Two of his more recent novels, The Possibility of an Island (2005) and The Map and the Territory (2010) deal with issues of cults and belief (Island) and art and fame (Territory) — though those brief summaries do no justice to the novels themselves, even as I found the latter to be a vital accompaniment to The Goldfinch, which I pushed myself through around the same time a year or two ago.

If you’ve never read any Houellebecq, I’d break with the conventional wisdom and suggest starting with The Map and The Territory, then moving on to Platform. Maybe. All of Houellebecq’s novels are raw, misogynist, and brutal to digest. But as the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris remind us, so is life itself.

Virtual Book Tour: MJ Takes Over

[As noted, MJ Rose takes over today as one stop on her Virtual Book Tour for her new novel, The Halo Effect. Take it away, MJ!]
2004_07_halo.jpgI am a native New Yorker who has never lived more than 40 minutes away from the heart of the city and Manhattan is also at the heart of all of my fiction. The city offers me endless metaphors and moods for my books. This is especially true in THE HALO EFFECT, the first novel in a new psychological suspense series.
As one of New York’s top sex therapists, Dr. Morgan Snow sees everything from the abused to the depraved, from couples grappling with sexual boredom to twisted sociopaths with dark, erotic fetishes. And the Butterfield Institute is the sanctuary where she helps soothe and heal these battered souls. In THE HALO EFFECT, Snow gets involved with a hunt for a serial killer when one of her patinets goes missing.
Snow lives around the corner from E.A.T.—Eli Zabar’s uber eatery that happens to have the best—and most expensive—mac and cheese and BLT’s in the city. (Both favorites of her 12 year old daughter.) Most mornings Snow walks to work the Butterfield Institute. The building I chose to house the institute is on 65th St and once housed an Embassy. (Embassy was on 65th between Mad & Park on the North side of the street)
While Central Park‘s bandshell, the Zoo the boat house and the Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly exhibit are peaceful respites in the book—the same way they can be to those of us who live in New York, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its gift shop are the setting for a chilling meeting with the killer:

Like the shops in museums, commercialism had taken over the church with the same voracity as it had taken over the art world. For all the people who stood rapt in front of a Van Gogh, there were two dozen who bough the coasters for sale in the museum’s store. For the all the people who came to this grand cathedral to reach out to our Lord, hundreds more worshipped in the small shop buying medals, prayer cards, bottles of holy water and any one of the dozens of rosaries offered for sale.
No one would remember the man who purchased the black rosary. No one would think it odd that he had been there once a week for the last few weeks, each time buying the exactly same prayers beads. And no one noticed that he managed not to touch the beads with his fingertips but only held on to the tag when he handed it over to the saleswoman. [—from THE HALO EFFECT]

From a tenement apartment on Avenue A—where Snow lived as a child—to Café des Artists where she and Detective Noah Jordain spar over the crimes being committed—to clues searched for at Madison Avenues most exclusive jewelry stores, Graff and Fred Leighton, New York is not just the backdrop in THE HALO EFFECT—but one of its characters.
· The Halo Effect []
· Excerpt from The Halo Effect []

Virtual Book Tour: The Halo Effect

Today, this space is turning itself over to author MJ Rose as part of a gala, one-day-only Virtual Book Tour for her novel, The Halo Effect. Some have called The Halo Effect “a true erotic thriller”—and, hey, a book that fuses sex with the streets of Manhattan sits well with us. Welcome, MJ, to the seedy streets of downtown Manhattan. (A word of caution: the bar steak at Schiller’s isn’t quite as good as one might hope.)

Why, of all the weblogs in this great big world, has MJ chosen this one to drop by? Because, as she puts it, “New York is not just the backdrop in The Halo Effect—but one of its characters.” In this space, MJ will explain the New York locations in the book and why she chose them.

While our guest readies herself to enter our world, check out her simultaneous appearance at eight other sites, most far more literary and upstanding than we’s is here: Zulkey, The Elegant Variation, Confessions of An Idiosyncratic Mind, Written Road, Gothamist, Hello Typepad, Big Pink Cookie, and’s Contemporary Lit Guide. And thanks to Kevin Smokler’s Virtual Book Tour for making it all possible.

Get Published… Fast!

MM forwards along a plea from the author of the new and exciting How To Survive series:

Hello! I need very brief stories, not necessarily from experts in their fields, but from everyday people who’ve “been there, done that,” by tomorrow (April 7) noon, MST, on the following topics:

· How To Make Your Move Go Smoothly
· How To Communicate With Your Teen
· How To Resolve Conflicts With Your Spouse/Partner
· Tips To Help You With Your Baby

· How To Survive Your Divorce/Separation
· How To Get Along With Your In-Laws
· How To Survive In The Dating World

Okay, the clock is ticking (albeit on mountain time), so let’s get to it! Hard up for inspiration? Check out the first book in the series, conveniently linked below. Responses should be posted in any comment thread of your choosing at TMFTML.
· How to Survive Your Freshman Year []

Book Deals A’Plenty

It’s Literature Day on, kids! Let’s kick things off with some big news from the world of bloggers-cum-authors. Julie Powell, the brains behind the Julie/Julia project, has nabbed a book deal, reports today’s Publisher’s Lunch:

Julie Powell’s THE JULIE/JULIA PROJECT, a year in the life of Julie Powell, a 30-year old secretary living in Queens, who decided to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s1961 classic Mastering the Art of French
Cooking, which drew a following (and press) through her blog,
to Judy Clain at Little, Brown, at auction, for publication in early 2005, by
Sarah Chalfant at the Wylie Agency (NA).

On her blog, Julie is slightly more circumspect: “I am, in fact, officially What’s Wrong With Publishing Today.”
· The Julie/Julia Project []
· Publisher’s Lunch []

Four Words

More and more, it seems the four most exciting words you can find on a book cover are not “New York Times Bestseller” but rather “Reading Group Guide Inside.” Just finished Life of Pi, newly out in paperback, and turned the final page to find — yes! — a reading group guide inside. For those unlucky enough to own the hardcover, some choice questions to ponder that you may not have come up with in your reading group (unless, of course, a second grade teacher sat in):

· “Which animal would you like to find yourself with on a lifeboat?”
· “What event marked your coming of age?”
· “Pi defends zoos. Are you convinced? Is a zoo a good place for a wild animal?”

As an aside, we saw some good old friends in Boston on Saturday night, and were horrified to learn that they’re all in reading groups. Thank God for New York, where people drink instead of read.
· Life of Pi Reading Group Guide []