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Thursday, November 16, 2006


Congratulations to dear friend and gentle soul Richard Powers for winning the National Book Award for 2006! His latest novel, The Echo Maker, is currently # 63 at Amazon.  Let’s send it to # 1, shall we?  Don’t make me call my friend Hugo to do the job!

Of course, everyone knows or else should know that Rick should have won the thing in 1993 when he was a finalist for The Gold Bug Variations*.  And I’m also very partial to Prisoner’s Dilemma, having taught it in three or four seminars.  (Remember, What’s Liberal fans, it’s the novel that sent “John” over the edge!) And Rick was so kind as to steal my wife and children as models for three characters in Galatea 2.2, which I’ll be teaching next spring.  Teaching it for revenge, I assure you.

In other (far less important) news, I got myself quoted in a news item of some kind.  Something to do with an “Academic” Bill of “Rights” and a “Committee” or something in “Pennsylvania.” I note that my old friend David Horowitz wrote last week that the committee’s hearings were “an unqualified victory for the academic-freedom campaign,” and claimed here that “we will be posting the Committee Report as soon as it is released and readers will see that it is a massive indictment of higher education in Pennsylvania, the lack of intellectual diversity, the lack of professionalism, and the failure of the system to protect its students.” But apparently David is now very, very upset at the way the report is being, ah, reported in the reality-based community, partly because, as Inside Higher Ed has the gall to point out, “the report goes on to note that there is no evidence of any but ‘rare’ cases in which students are punished for their views, and that no legislation is needed.” So, in response to the Associated Press story on the report, which also has the gall to suggest that the committee found only “rare” cases of bias (as Pittsburgh’s very own Scaife-based community paper, the Tribune-Review, admits in its title for the story, “Political Bias Rare at State Colleges”), David writes, “it is in fact a report of the Democrats’ talking points on these proceedings which itself are based on a willful disregard for the facts.”

Whew!  I hope that’s clear.  Though I miss the old days of Republican message discipline.  And good grammar.

Thanks to Free Exchange on Campus for keeping track of it all.


UPDATE:  Score one for the self-correcting blogosphere, and one against my failing memory.  As alert reader m.ho points out (comment 1, right off the bat), Rick was in fact the 1993 finalist for Operating Wandering Soul, and not for Gold Bug Variations, which was published in 1991.  I was so sure of this one that I didn’t even bother to check on the special National Book Award intertube.  But I should have known better, all the same:  I first met Rick in the summer of 1991, just before Jamie was born and just before Gold Bug came out.  He did a wonderful reading which included the passage about the various forms of life that populate the planet, right down to those ubiquitous bacteria, and when I spoke to him afterwards I asked him, “was that your response to the complaint that you postmodern novelists don’t write about life as we know it?” And then we talked a lot about genetics.  Right, well.  Two months later Jamie was born.  Rick, back in the Netherlands by that time, sent me a long and quite beautiful letter apologizing for not understanding that all the time he thought we were talking about his book, I was really talking about Jamie and Down syndrome—and sending along his best wishes and much moral support.  I wrote back insouciantly, “hey, gold bug dude” (I still have the letter on my hard drive), “I myself had no idea, when we were talking genetics at Zohreh’s house, that I was doing anything but reliving my undergraduate days when I would spend hours at a time wondering that DNA does indeed manage to build little homes for itself.  And I’d hate to have you think I was talking about Jamie’s Down syndrome in so oblique and self-indulgent a fashion.” I spent the rest of the letter filling him in on Jamie and trisomy-21.  I read Gold Bug two years later (hence my failing memory) and loved it, even the brief scene with the young mother with the child with Down syndrome, which Rick thought might cause me some pain. 

Anyway, Rick moved back to Champaign-Urbana (as readers of Galatea 2.2 will know) and we continued the exchange in person.  I borrowed a paragraph from Gold Bug when I wrote Life As We Know It, and I got the idea for the title of my book about Jamie from that first conversation in the summer of 1991; he borrowed Jamie himself for the character of Peter.  Nick is “William,” though a few other kids went into that portrait as well.  Janet is “Diana,” though “gap-toothed, hand-signing serenity” is not, in fact, among Janet’s attributes.  And let the permanent blog record show that I did not leave my family (see comment 9).

Posted by Michael on 11/16 at 01:22 PM
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