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Atwood’s hockey Nobel, Kafka’s porn, and Elif Batuman, my new fave.

October 6, 2010

Margaret Atwood

Not even 9 am. and this is already a great day: I’ve seen Margaret Atwood give a demonstration on how to be a hockey goalie. I’ve seen disturbing images from Kafka’s porn collection (I’ll never be the same). And I’ve discovered my new favorite blogger, a very strange young woman named Elif Batuman.

Yes, folks, it is the dreaded potpourri column, known in traditional quarters as “the round-up,” but if you stick with me I promise to entertain and amaze.

Besides, it’s either this or yet another BS blog about Jonathan “I Want All The Oxygen in the World!” Franzen and his misadventures in Great Britain, where his idiot publishing company printed the wrong draft of Freedom and where, if that’s not enough, some maniac swiped the glasses right off his face at a London appearance, allegedly demanding a ransom of $100,000 for their return.

Also Margaret Atwood.

Once the specs were returned (with no ransom payment), Franzen magnanimously waved it off as “a harmless prank.” To which I can add nothing that will surpass what blogger Heidi Mager wrote at powells.com: “Harmless prank? *cough* publicity stunt *cough*…”

Dagnabbit — I find, despite the best of intentions, I’ve written about the Franzenator anyhow. Well, on to more fun things — and what could be more fun than a hockey demonstration by Canada’s greatest living novelist, a Man Booker Prize winner, a leading feminist philosopher and an environmentalist devoted (curiously, like some of the characters in Freedom) to the preservation of songbirds?

This bit first appeared on The Rick Mercer Report, a Canadian satire show, in 2005, but it’s new to me (thanks to my pal Sean Piccoli) and worthy of the widest possible dissemination. Mercer, by the way, is sometimes called “the Jon Stewart of Canada,” although he’d been skewering the rich, famous, politically powerful for more than a decade before Stewart joined The Daily Show in 1999.

Here’s the clip, priceless gem that it is. “People ask me if I think of myself as a novelist first and a poet second,” Atwood says, standing dramatically backlit in the corridor of a hockey rink. “But the truth is I really think of myself as” — quick cut to Atwood in full hockey gear snagging a puck in one glove “–a goalie.”

At another point she says: “I don’t like to hot dog, but if the puck carrier is really doing a number on it, then mama can get nasty.”

The whole bit is serious and hilarious and if any justice existed in this tired world then Atwood would win a Nobel Prize in Literature for Sportsmanship. Which, I suppose, would be a consolation prize, kind of like Miss Congeniality, but still, gosh-darnit, she deserves it.

Elif Batuman

Since I’ve written about Franzen, more or less against my will, I have only a few lines and a few moments to tout my new favorite blogger, Elif Batuman, who, conveniently, is the one who brought my attention to Kafka’s porn collection.

Apparently Batuman is a brainy young woman who grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of Turkish parents. Though she was educated at Harvard and Stanford she seems remarkably undamaged by the experience, writing with a wry, smart and sweetly deranged voice that I found irresistible on first acquaintance:

…uh, okay, I search in vain for some illustrative quote, but Batuman writes tight, and to excise a sentence or two is to denature the Old World charm of her prose style and kill the sly humor. Treat yourself. Read the whole thing.

But counsel with yourself before clicking on the images from Kafka’s porn collection. They strike me as not a bit erotic, but profoundly disturbing in some other, far more elegant and brain-tearing way, like something H.P. Lovecraft might have come up with if he had been a fine illustrator and had one scintilla of interest in sex.

Batuman, by way, is the author of a memoir, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, which came out in the Spring. I missed it, owing no doubt to my distaste for the entire memoir form, but now I find I’ll have to hunt it down. Meanwhile, here’s a dazzled review from Salon.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    October 6, 2010 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the link to Elif Batuman. She’s a pistol!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 6, 2010 3:46 pm

      Isn’t she, though? Undamaged by higher education, that’s about as high as my praise gets.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    October 6, 2010 2:22 pm

    Not bad for “before 9 a.m.”

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 6, 2010 3:46 pm

      The “seeing” was before 9 a.m. The writing took all morning, more’s teh pity.

  3. rachel permalink
    October 7, 2010 11:23 am

    A few things.
    1. I love Margaret Atwood and this makes me love her all the more. (however, the first photo your have of her is kind of scary.
    2. Maybe we should start calling Jon Stewart the Rick Mercer of America.
    3. Yours is the only blog I have time for, when I have time at all.
    4. I like many but not all of the great Russian writers. The ones I do like, I am fairly obsessed with.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 7, 2010 11:41 pm

      Four excellent points. I can gainsay none of them.

  4. October 9, 2010 4:05 pm

    Not bad

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