The first in a series on the Bridgeport Bluefish

[Deadspin]

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately at the Ball Park at Harbor Yard — better known as the home of the Bridgeport Bluefish, an independent baseball team. The stadium sits two Metro North stops away from where I live, in Milford, and the plan this summer is to write a series of dispatches on the team and on minor league baseball. The first dispatch is now up at Deadspin.

There’s some fun stuff in there, including a long interview with Tommy John, who became the manager of the Bluefish after Bobby Valentine recommended him. I talked to John right when Valentine was getting the worst of it from Boston fans, and John stood by his friend. “I guess what Pedroia’s saying,” John said, referring to the controversy over Valentine’s comments on Kevin Youkilis, “is that you gotta hold hands and sing Kumbaya. That’s not Bobby. He’s going to stir the pot. If those guys had to play for Dick Williams back in the 1960s, half the team would quit.”

Anyway, it should make for a fun series. I suspect John will reappear at some point, as well.

Glenn Beck, Author

[New Haven Advocate]

In this week’s New Haven Advocate, I’ve got an essay on Glenn Beck-as-author, disguised as a dispatch from his latest simulcast book event. Through his radio and television shows, Beck can deliver huge sales boosts to obscure political treatises and to mass-market thrillers — and this gets at what the publishing industry calls his “platform.” It’s why he sells books. But why does he write them? I come to a pretty cynical conclusion in my essay, but other explanations do exist. Still, Beck’s books don’t fit with his off-the-cuff nature. At the book event, he turned a Primanti Brothers sandwich, a Pittsburgh delicacy made up of beef, french fries, and cole slaw, into a metaphor for America’s budget crisis. This metaphor allowed Beck one of his few Obama attacks — he introduced the sandwich as “Michelle Obama’s worst nightmare” — but it also reveals how, um, adaptable he can be. It seems Beck didn’t call Primanti Brothers until six hours before the show. He ordered 300 sandwiches.

The Technician: A Profile of Rick Moody

[New Haven Advocate]

In this week’s New Haven Advocate, you’ll find my profile of Rick Moody and his new novel, The Four Fingers of Death. (Moody writes such disparate books that it’s tough to pick a best [or a worst], but I can say that The Four Fingers of Death is easily my favorite.) One thing Moody and I touched on—and one thing the blogosphere’s been bandying about—is the idea that regional lit has sort of disappeared. Moody grew up in and around New Canaan and made his name with The Ice Storm, which savaged the affluent suburb, so he brought an interesting perspective to this. Since we didn’t have room to include the material in print, I’ll post some of it here.

One of the funniest things about the film adaptation of The Ice Storm is that New Canaan’s officials didn’t read the book before agreeing to let Ang Lee shoot it in town. When they finally got around to reading Moody’s novel, the townsfolk were scandalized. The New York Times, as you might imagine, was all over this story, and Moody promised the paper that “although [The Ice Storm] was set in New Canaan, it could have been anywhere.” So I started this line of questioning by asking him if, in these calmer times, he still believed this was true. “There are plenty of suburbs in the Northeast that could have stood in,” Moody said. “The larger question is, could it be set in a different time. There were social conditions that made that story what it was, both in real life and in the time of its writing.”

Still, when Moody talked about his next move, he framed it in geographical terms.

After The Ice Storm, I had to work really hard and really fast to not be ghettoized as a surburban writer of the Northeast. In some ways, there were readers who wanted me to serve that function, a preservationist role as a fiction writer for these towns and those socioeconomic strata. But why would you want to do that as a writer? Why would you want to limit your imagination?

Moody used Updike as an example of someone who could capture a place (the Rabbit books) without allowing himself to be limited to or defined by it. Moody also suggested some economic reasons, in addition to any creative ones, for the decline of regional lit:

Nobody wants to be limited to that market. You don’t want to be the bard of Fairfield County, especially given the economic pressures of making a living and of trying to be published by a big publisher. The big publishers select certain kinds of material, and it’s really hard not to get drafted into their model of how to do this. They want the writing workshops to do what the writing workshops are doing. Especially now, the book publishers are risk averse—they want to be able to quantify what a novel’s going to do, and it’s easiest to do that if they can speak to have it having particular effects and doing particular things. That’s why genre fiction is important to them. They pay lip service to the emotional relationship that they have, as editors, to literary fiction. But it’s still easier for them if it all does a certain thing—which is affirmational, epiphanic, realistic.

I’ll admit that I don’t see a direct link between the first part of Moody’s argument and the second, though I do see some connections to his argument against “creative writing by committee.” (Note how much milder that was around the release of The Ice Storm.) Still, it’s interesting to see a case against writing regional lit come from a writer so closely associated with his home state. In fact, Moody wrote the Connecticut chapter in 2008’s State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America. It begins: “Connecticut is a state that’s hard to love, but which I love anyhow, as one often loves what wounds—if only for the familiarity.”

Lebronnukah

[Deadspin]

Over at Deadspin, I’ve got a dispatch-slash-photo gallery from last night’s LeBron James television special, which was staged in Greenwich, CT. The special generated tons of coverage in both the standard and Watching-the-Watchmen traditions, but I tried to focus on how the media manufactured and replicated its stories. You don’t need to blame anyone at this event to admit that the media ecosystem deploys its resources in a mysterious way.

If you like the story, you might also like the first thing I wrote for Deadspin—another investigation of media malpractice, this time about the story of a 9-year-old pitcher banned by his baseball league for being “too good.”

Also, the real winner in all this, to my mind, is Kobe Bryant—he’s no longer the NBA’s Iago.

Welcome to the Wide World of . . . Urban Squash?

[New Haven Advocate]

In this week’s New Haven Advocate, I’ve got a long story on Squash Haven, a local nonprofit that follows the after-school orthodoxy except for one thing: its kids play squash. This focus raises some obvious questions (namely: Why turn to such an expensive and elitist sport?), and I try to touch on them in the story. Still, the people at Squash Haven are doing great work and getting great results. It’s tough to question that.

I should add that the story might seem a little fractured or jumpy since, for a lot of reasons (most of them my fault), the reporting dates back to 2008. I did go back this month to check on my group of middle schoolers, and several of them are heading to a national squash tournament. I’m sure they—and Squash Haven as a whole—will do New Haven proud.

The Real (Literary) America

[The Millions]

Over at The Millions, you’ll find my “dispatch from the Borders-land,” where, basically, I ask a bunch of shoppers about their relationship to books. Lit blogs tend to take an isolated view of the literary world, and I wanted to push back against this (and also to satisfy my own curiosity). The week I did the interviews—this was back in December, and the story’s delay stems mostly from my incompetence—the New Yorker debuted another excerpt from DFW’s The Pale King. I remember being extremely excited to read the short story, then noticing that the magazine’s newsstand appendage thingy didn’t even mention Wallace. Different worlds, different priorities—and yet, among the people I talked to, fiction seems alive and well.

One caveat: I wanted this dispatch to be short and I wanted to devote most of it to the interviews, so if it seems like I’m totalizing “real” or “average” readers (or relegating them to scare quotes), that’s why. With more space, I would have liked to talk about the geographic and socioeconomic aspects to reading audiences. For example, Connecticut Goodwills tend to offer some pretty interesting books (in the last year, I’ve picked up an early edition of JFK’s Profiles in Courage and a paperback of William Vollman’s Europe Central). I don’t recall Indiana Goodwills even selling books.

Obviously

Earlier tonight, I appeared on WICC’s “Talk of the Town,” where Jim Buchanan interviewed me about my story on the Cheshire case and Brian McDonald’s book. Click here to listen to an mp3.

This was my first radio interview, and I have to say I’m pretty happy with the lack of ums, ers, and yeahs. Of course, I also managed to say obviously 328 times in 14 minutes.

[UPDATE:] Another day (February 2), another interview—this one with Larry Rifkin on WATR 1320 AM. You can listen to an mp3 here.