... on books, and music in between


Don DeLillo's The Names

Historians take the long view when examining global affairs. I was recently reading microfilm of newspapers from the early 1920s, doing some last research for my book. The countries that dominated the headlines then were the same ones that dominate them today. The Third Anglo-Afghan War had just concluded with the Treaty of Rawalpindi, ostensibly settling boundary issues between India and Afghanistan. The Levant was under British and French mandate following the First World War. The Republic of Turkey was in its infancy under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the British had just revoked Egypt's independence.

I had the same sense of déjà-vu in reading Don DeLillo’s 1982 novel, The Names.  It's set against the geopolitical backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, the rescue of the American hostages in Tehran, the Lebanese Civil War, the 1980 Turkish coup d’état, chronic Greco-Turkish tensions over Cyprus, and the instability of Greek democracy. The Names centres around a group of expats involved in various shadowy activities  involving international banking, risk analysis, security, and archaeology. Its hero, James Axton, is a risk analyst for a mysterious American group found to have ties to the CIA. David Keller, another American, is based in Athens. He works for a bank that has heavy ties to the Turkish government, and becomes the target of an assassination attempt in Greece. Charles Maitland, a Brit, is a security specialist. The men spend their time flying around the Middle East attending to business in dodgy locales: Tehran, Ankara, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Beirut in particular.

Control is a central theme of the novel, whether it's states trying to manage their politics or DeLillo's characters handling their personal affairs. Axton loses control in his marriage as his wife, Kathryn, slips further and further away from him (she moves from a Greek island to Victoria, British Columbia - about as remote and obscure a locale from Greece as possible). He loses control over his own reality, holding on desperately to his job, revelling in mundane office paperwork as he becomes increasingly obsessed by a mysterious, murderous cult. He eventually travels to the Pelopennese and as far as Jerusalem, Damascus, and India in an attempt to learn more about it. Along the way, something interesting happens: language, the means by which people order and make sense of their mental worlds, takes on a new importance for Axton; religion, as exemplified by the mystery cult, is what orders the meaning that he finds through language. The connections they establish and the control they represent suggest a world made in the cult's own image, which Axton sees painted on a rock on the outskirts of an abandoned village in the Pelopennese: Ta Onómata, The Names.

As the novel closes, Axton is back in Athens. After the CIA revelations, he resigns from his job. Rootless, his wife and son on the other side of the world. He regains control of his life, while the world around him continues to spin out of control; he witnesses the assassination attempt on Keller. Geopolitics and the personal chaos caused by the characters' involvement in it are useful allegories these days. In the continuing drama of the Arab Spring, states and their residents, the masses and their leaders, are locked in a competition over who gets to dictate the terms of order. The newspapers of the 1920s were clear about who was meant to maintain control over the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Today, questions of empire, language, religion and politics, domesticated and boiling over, are much more complex. For that we should probably be grateful.


We Now Return to Regular Programming

After a 3-month break, we now return to regular programming here at Advance Copy. As noted in the previous post, I was off as I recovered from surgery due to a near-fatal infection.  Good times.  Having had very little to do over the past three months, I read. A lot, both fiction and non-fictoin. I will be reporting on much of what I read here. End Notes will also return next Thursday [not Monday as originally posted], though it will now be a once-weekly affair.  In addition, we will be publishing more original book reviews in the Reviews section. In between, I will be blogging more about books, the publishing industry, with some music notes thrown in for good measure (I also discovered a lot of good new music during my break). 


Temporary Hiatus

Advance Copy is on temporary hiatus while I recover from surgery. Thanks for your patience.


End Notes for Thursday, 3 February 2011

WELCOME TO END NOTES, Advance Copy's twice-weekly trawl for all the book and publishing news that's fit to print, with some music thrown in for good measure. Email me at:


The Most Literary Rent Party Ever: This Sunday at PSS 122 in the East Village, NYC, the writers Fiona MaazelMary-Beth Hughes, and Leigh Newman are hosting the Most Literary Rent Party Ever. The cause is to help their friends (and mine) the novelist Charles Bock and his spouse Diana Colbert. Ms. Colbert is suffering from leukaemia and has undergone a bone marrow transplant. Tickets are available through the website, and other authors, including Jonathan Franzen, will be auctioning off their services. Brooklyn Brewery is providing the beer, and John Wesley Harding will be performing. Even if you can't get to New York for the event, you can make a donation through PayPal through the event's webpage. Please support the cause.

The Chaos in the Middle East: The uprisings and protests around the Middle East are having an affect on the book world. First, Egyptian opposition leader Mohamad ElBaradei's The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times, will come out 26 April instead of in June. This book has more to do with ElBaradei's previous job as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, where he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Second, Jordanian King Abdullah II's memoir, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril, will still be released on 22 February, despite the protests in Jordan that led the King to sack his goverment. Third, and perhaps not surprisingly, the Arab world's largest book fair, in Cairo, has been cancelled this year.

From the Archives: A 1992 interview with Nobel-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz on politics in Egypt. Mahfouz died in 2006 at the age of 94. Tip of the hat to my colleague, Torie Rose DeGhett for unearthing this one.

After Tunisia: In the wake of the Tunisian Revolution, The Guardian asked 10 Middle Eastern writers to reflect on the events there and the prospects for reform around the region.

Peace in the Holy Lands: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reveals in his new memoirs that he and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were very close to a peace agreement in 2008, which included a deal to share Jerusalem. The plan was derailed by Abbas' hesitation, Olmert's legal troubles, as well as the outbreak of war in Gaza.

This Could Put a Spanner in the Machinery: Apparently there can be quality issues with e-books. At the same time, Apple has rejected Sony's e-book app because it won't let consumers buy books without leaving the app for the web. In fact, Apple is even going so far as to insist all transactions occur within its system, as it attempts to regain control over the AppStore.

The State of the Market, pt. 1: Last January saw book sales plummet to their lowest levels ever in the UK due to the miserable weather. This year, sales rebounded a whopping 0.7%. That is very bad news indeed for publishers and merchants in the UK.

The State of the Market, pt. 2: Meanwhile, Dublin is losing its two Waterstones outlets. The third store owned by Waterstones/HMV, Hodges & Figgis, will remain open under its own name. The two Dublin outlets, which employ nearly 50 people total, are part of the 20 Waterstones' stores set for closure, eleven of which are being shuttered this week. Most of the closures have been/will be in centres where there are multiple outlets. Meanwhile, parent company HMV is in the midst of shutting down 40 stores in the UK and Ireland, most of which are also redundant outlets.

The State of the Market, pt. 3: Meanwhile, Borders' shares continue to plummet on news that a bankruptcy filing is in the cards. On Sunday, the company announced that it would delay payments to its vendors for the second month running in an attempt to maintain liquidity.



Forever for Her is Over for Him: The White Stripes have broken up. This isn't really a surprise, Jack White has been busy making boring music with anyone who'll have him and Meg White, well, she never really seemed to enjoy the limelight. Still, a sad day. And sadder for me, I've lost two of my favourite bands in the past four months, Wolf Parade being the other.

DJ Kool Herc: The man is widely regarded as the inventor of hip hop, he is a legend. And he's ill with kidney stones. He is one of 46 million or so Americans who don't have healthcare, and he cannot afford the surgery. He is appealing for help, and the hip hop community is responding. Kool Herc also sees this a call to action to reform healthcare in the US.

The State of the Industry: EMI is the 4th largest record company in the world, and has a massive debt problem, largely created when Terra Firma, a private equity firm, bought EMI for £4.2 billion in 2007. Unable to meet its payments, Terra Firma has turned EMI over to Citibank. Citi plans to sell the label eventually, raising the possibility of further consolidation in the record business if EMI is bought out by another label.

Depressing: The Rolling Stones are apparently planning a 50th anniversary jaunt. This bit of news depresses me for two reasons. First, rock bands should never reach the age of 50. Rockers, sure, but bands? And second, this news has come to light due to a lawsuit between concert promoter LiveNation and its former CEO.

Chris deBurgh: The "Lady in Red" singer has a wine collection of some 320 bottles and 84 magnums, mostly red. But his wife and daughter prefer white. So he's selling. He expects to earn around £200,000 at auction on 24 March.

Rolling Stone: Looking at the venerable music publication's website today, I remembered why I don't trust it for music reviews anymore. There are six releases featured on the home page, from the Strokes to George Michael, and the lowest rating is 4 starts out of 5.



And finally...: Some video. First, DJ Kool Herc doing his thing live. Second, the White Stripes. And third, Wolf Parade (I'm partial to this video because I was at this show). Have a good weekend and thanks for reading.


End Notes for Monday, 31 January 2011

WELCOME TO END NOTES, Advance Copy's twice-weekly trawl for all the book and publishing news that's fit to print, with some music thrown in for good measure. Email me at:


H-Net and FiveBooks: Monday is H-Net and FiveBooks day here at Current Intelligence. Ths week we bring you David Hendy's history of BBC Radio 4. David Simonelli reviews. Our FiveBooks interview is with Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard on the role of the newspaper editor.

The Most Literary Rent Party Ever: New York writers Fiona MaazelMary-Beth Hughes, and Leigh Newman are hosting the Most Literary Rent Party ever at PS 122 in the East Village next Sunday, 6 February. The cause is to help their friends (and mine) the novelist Charles Bock and his spouse Diana Colbert. Ms. Colbert is suffering from leukaemia and has undergone a bone marrow transplant. Tickets are available through the website, and other authors, including Jonathan Franzen, will be auctioning off their services. Brooklyn Brewery is providing the beer, and John Wesley Harding will be performing. Even if you can't get to New York for the event, you can make a donation through PayPal through the event's webpage. Please support the cause.

Egypt: If I can trust my Twitter feed, the entire world is focussed on Egypt right now. The entire Middle East, it seems, is in the midst of something big, starting last month with Tunisia. But there is also unrest in Yemen and Lebanon, amongst other places. In a lot of ways, the hope and excitement reminds me a lot of the late 80s and early 90s as the Berlin Wall came down and communism fell in Eastern Europe. It is entirely coincidental that I picked up Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour's brilliant novel, Specters, last week. Half memoir, half fiction, the work traces the history of two women, both academics, in Cairo from their birth in the mid-40s. And while it is ostensibly about the massacre at Deir Yassin in the Palestine in 1948, but the background presents the restive history of Egypt under the successive reigns of Gamal Abdel Nassar, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak. Aside from being a brilliant novel, the history lesson was apt this week.

The State of the Market, pt. 1: I thought it was just me, it seemed like books were especially cheap this past year, which, in part, explains the 3 foot high stack of books next to the bed that I intend to read. Turns out this isn't the case, 2010 was the biggest year for retailer discounts in the publishing industry since records started being kept in 2001. In 2010, books were discounted an average of 26%, topping 2009's average of 25%.

The State of the Market, pt. 2: Waterstones is attempting to cut costs, in particular, returns to publishers. To that end, it is seeking to cut its orders for March by upwards of 20%.

The State of the Market, pt. 3: Borders, the 2nd largest book retailer in the US, has secured $550 million USD in funding from GE Capital, but it is contingent upon the publishers agreeing to convert debt into promissary notes. The publishers, however, do not seem keen. Borders wants an answer by today, and has not ruled out bankrupcy if the deal falls through.

The State of the Market, pt. 4: The news is mostly all good for Amazon, which saw sales rise dramatically on the backs of the Kindle and e-books, as sales hit $10 billion USD in the 4th quarter of 2010. At the same time, e-book sales outstripped those of paperbacks in the 4th quarter. Despite the good news, Amazon's stock took a hit because sales projections were not met. Barnes & Noble is similarly bullish on the future of e-books.

The NeoCon Persuasion: Irving Kristol, the American journalist who is oftentimes called the "Godfather of NeoConservatism" died in 2009 at the ripe old age of 89. A former Trotskyist, Kristol became increasingly conservative in the post-war era, coming to quip that "A neoconservative is a liberal mugged by reality." His widow, the conservative historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, has edited some of his better essays and published them in The Neoconservative Persuasion. Paul Berman reviews in the New York Times. Jennifer Rubin takes her turn in the Washington Post. An interesting facet of Rubin's review is that she points out Kristol's civility in making his arguments, as compared to the increasingly shrill voices of neocons today.

The Sisterhood of Death: When we think of suicide bombers, we think of zealous young men. When the bomber is revealed to have been a woman, we are shocked. Mia Bloom wonders why that is in her new book, Bombshell: The Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Bloom argues that women have been engaged in terrorism alongside their male counterparts since at least the 1980s. Terrorism expert Wesley Wark reviews.

William Butler Yeats: Yeats is one of Ireland's most famous sons, recording the experience of Ireland during its revolutionary years between 1916 and 1923. He also cast his eye around Europe in his legendary poem "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen," a biting, cynical poem. In 2008, Michael Wood gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford on the topic of Yeats and violence. His lectures have now been collected in a book, imaginatively entitled, Yeats and Violence. Stephen Burt reviews in The Nation and Leo Robson takes his turn in The New Statesman.

Multiple Realities: Brian Green has a new book, The Hidden Reality, about the science behind the possibility of multiple universes. Paul di Fillipo reviews.

Power in the 21st Century: Parag Khanna and Joseph Nye have two very different versions of what power will look like in this new century. The Economist reviews both.



The Death of Mainstream Music: Or so says Ann Powers. If that's the case, how do you explain Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and the Black Eyed Peas?

Gang of Four: It seems everywhere I turn, ageing punks and post-punks have decided to re-form their bands and head out on tour, cranking out the anti-hits, laughing all the way to the bank. Hi, there, John Lydon and the Sex Pistols. Occasionally, though, the old geezers (North American, not English meaning of the word) decided to put out a new album, and most often, they not only don't embarrass themselves like the Rolling Stones do, they put out something worth living. Take, for example, the New York Dolls. Their renaissance material is, in many ways, better than their early 70s vintage. Now Gang of Four has followed suit, with Content. And, hey, it's actually pretty damned good.

Reggae the Revolution: Reggae is an over-looked music form in the UK, especially in terms of its social impact, usually shouted down by punk as the two forms moved into the mainstream in the late 1970s. Punk brought the working classes into the mainstream, whereas reggae did the same for blacks, at least to some degree. Both were cross-over successes, as can be seen in the suburbs today with kids with blue mohawks, listening to Bob Marley. But, in terms of culture, the cross-over success of music like ska in the late 70s and early 80s, as well as reggae tinged acts like the Police and UB40 ushered in a period that former SoulIISoul singer Caron Wheeler where today, there is just music, it's not about black or white. BBC4 has a new docoumentary, Reggae Britannia.

Speaking of the Geezers: Boy George has announced the imminent reformation of Culture Club for a 30th anniversary jaunt and a new album in 2012.

?uestlove: I've been listening to a lot of soul music lately. My brother-in-law was spinning a lot of Al Green on his iPod on New Year's Eve, and so that got me going back to the likes of Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, and the Reverend Al Green himself. A few years ago, Green released an album produced by Amir "?uestlove" Thompson, the drummer for the rap band, The Roots. Lay It Down was, without a doubt, one of the best albums of 2008. The Roots put out an album last summer, How I Got Over, a very eclectic collection of songs that went beyond the usual boundaries of hip hop. There were appearances by folk goddess Joanna Newsom, as well as the Monsters of Folk. But the centrepiece of the album was the title track, a wickedly-funky new soul jam that saw rapper Black Thought displaying his impressive vocal chops. In the fall, The Roots got together with neo-soul singer John Legend and records Wake Up!, the title taken from an Arcade Fire song. The album was a collection of covers of relatively obscure songs from the heyday of soul in the late 60s/early 70s. Superlatives don't do the record justice, go buy it now. The one constant between these three albums is ?uestlove's drumming, very crisp and neat. He has to be one of the best drummers around.

Ozzy v. the Bieb: Apparently the odd couple shot a commercial that will be given its premiere next Sunday in the US during the Super Bowl. Rolling Stone has photos.  How exciting!!!!

Cuba: When we thin of Cuban music, we think of the American blues guitarist Ry Cooder's amazingly successful Buena Vista Social Club. But, Cuba was home to many other kinds of music. Fidel Castro was not, however, a fan of rock'n'roll and did his best to suppress it. Nonetheless, the Cuban film institute, GESI, managed to rescue some of these rockers from the censure of the state (at least to some degree, they were still forbidden to play live or release albums) to score its films. I love finding the places where music fits into the margins against oppression, whatever form it takes.



And finally...: As always, some video to send you on your way on this dreary last Monday of January. First, "Cuba Va!", by GESI, from a 1971 film of the same name. Next, The Roots, with "How I Got Over." Unfortunately, the video contains a censored track of the song. The censored lyric is "Out here in these streets/First thing they teach you is nobody gives a fuck." The comedy comes from the end of the refrain, which the band censored to point out the stupidity of censorship, the refrain should end "That type of thinking will get you nowhere/Someone has to care."  And finally, my favourite Isaac Hayes song, "Walk on By."  You can actually feel the pain in his voice.

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