In 2009, Dave Eggers published a book called Zeitoun, the story of a man and his family experiencing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Through the story of one man's experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.
The story has taken an unexpected turn since its publication. The protagonist of the story, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is currently on trial for the attempted first-degree murder of his wife.
Zeitoun made an offer: $20,000 to kill his ex-wife, Kathy, according to Pugh's testimony. Zeitoun instructed Pugh, who was to be released soon from jail, to call Kathy Zeitoun -- Zeitoun allegedly wrote her phone number on an envelope, which was introduced as evidence -- and ask to see one of the family's rental properties. When she took him to a certain property in Algiers, he could kill her there, he allegedly said. Zeitoun also allegedly told Pugh to buy a "throwaway phone" and take pictures to confirm she was dead.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was found not guilty Tuesday of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
The verdict came from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo. Zeitoun, 55, had waived his right to a jury trial. He had been charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of his ex-wife. He was acquitted on both counts.
He's trying to sell IT to the King of Saudi Arabia, with telepresence technology as a lure. It's basically a way to have long-distance meetings using holograms. And Alan really doesn't know what he's doing. He's like a lot of men of his generation, who were trained to sell things, to make deals over dinner, golf courses, all that. But now things are very different, and he's adrift. I have a lot of friends who work in management and consulting and manufacturing, and they talk a lot about men like Alan, and what to do with them. Their modes of working are sometimes outdated, and they're hard to hire because they're very expensive. Alan's surrounded by young people who know more about IT than he does, who work cheaper, and who assume all things are made in China. They would never see it as fiscally plausible to hire someone like Alan. He costs too much and in Alan's case, comes with a lot of baggage.
At a recent talk, Dave Eggers again rose to the defense of newspapers and, more generally, to print on paper as a medium for communication.
"It's too exciting and distracting online," Eggers said. While print -- especially long-form print -- encourages hunkering down and cuddling up, online journalism fosters a kind of low-grade, perpetual ADD. Online, "there's always some button that wants you to click to cat porn," he said, as the audience laughed. "You try to read something, and it's flashing, it's telling you to go somewhere else."
Time to break the ice. You hate doing interviews, don't you? I ask, sitting down (there is no desk; he works on an old sofa). "No, not at all," he says. There is a look of mild amazement on his face as he tells me this and it's not disingenuous; as he will explain later, he feels a certain sense of distance from his old self. Perhaps he prefers not to remember exactly how he used to be.
Timothy McSweeney, after whom the McSweeney's literary magazine and web site are named, died late last month.
As a young man, Timothy was an artist of tremendous talent. The canvases he leaves behind are filled with haunting and beautiful imagery. They are also filled with a palpable desire-to be heard, to connect, to be understood better by others and himself. The letters that inspired this journal's name were a continuation of that same lifelong effort to more intimately know the world and his place within it.
Max left the room and found Gary lying on the couch in his work clothes, his frog eyes closed, his chin entirely receded into his neck. Max gritted his teeth and let out a low, simmering growl.
Gary opened his eyes and rubbed them.
"Uh, hey, Max. I'm baggin' a few after-work Z's. How goes it?"
Max looked at the floor. This was one of Gary's typical questions: Another day, huh? How goes it? No play for the playa, right? None of his questions had answers. Gary never seemed to say anything that meant anything at all.
"Cool suit," Gary said. "Maybe I'll get me one of those. What are you, like a rabbit or something?"
But while I was working on the book, it was funny, because I started going in new directions, different from any of the screenplay versions, pushing it into some territory that was personal to me. So in a way the movie is more Spike's version of Maurice's book, and this novel is more my version.
Dave Eggers has a new book out soon called Zeitoun.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous 47-year-old Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers's riveting nonfiction book, three years in the making, explores Zeitoun's roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy -- an American who converted to Islam -- and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible. Like What Is the What, Zeitoun was written in close collaboration with its subjects and involved vast research -- in this case, in the United States, Spain, and Syria.
The book took about three years, and the Zeitouns were deeply involved in every step of the process. So we spent a lot of time together in New Orleans, and over the phone, and via email. And I was able to go to Syria and meet Abdulrahman's family there, and spent some time with his brother Ahmad, a ship captain in Spain. Ahmad was a wealth of information and is a meticulous record-keeper. I had to get to know the whole extended family, because Abdulrahman's life before New Orleans figures into the story, too. I had to go to Syria and see where he grew up, and visit the ancestral home of the family, on this island off the coast, Arwad Island.
Eggers also talks a little bit about the newspaper prototype that McSweeney's is doing this fall.
We're pluralists at McSweeney's. We publish anything of great quality, whether that's experimental or very traditional or somewhere in between. There is and should always be room for all approaches to writing, and whenever anyone closes the door on one -- by saying, for example, that experimentation might someday "exhaust itself" (not to put you on the hotseat), it's very saddening. And of course it ignores the entire history of all art in every form ,which is a history of constant innovation, experimentation and evolution. The person who says "Enough innovation, let's stick with what we have and never change" is pretty much the sworn enemy of all art. Not to overstate it, of course.
While you're there, gape at the odd choice of JPGs for pages instead of, you know, HTML. (via fimoculous)
According to this interview, Tom Tykwer, director of Run Lola Run and the recent The International, is working on a film version of Dave Eggers' What Is the What, his semi-biographical novel about Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng. (via crazymonk)
The Wild Things novelization, Sendak says, was all Eggers's idea. A plan had always been in place to have some kind of book come out to "add to the noise of the movie," he says, but at first it wasn't clear what the book would actually be. Once tie-in talk began in earnest, Sendak, who had grown close to Eggers during work on the screenplay, began a campaign to have Eggers do it, and Eggers stepped up and agreed, broaching the idea of the novel.
Where the Wild Things Are is filled with richly imagined psychological detail, and the screenplay for this live-action film simply becomes a longer and more moving version of what Maurice Sendak's book has always been at heart: a book about a lonely boy leaving the emotional terrain of boyhood behind.
As you may know, it's been tough going for many independent publishers, McSweeney's included, since our distributor filed for bankruptcy last December 29. We lost about $130,000 -- actual earnings that were simply erased. Due to the intricacies of the settlement, the real hurt didn't hit right away, but it's hitting now. Like most small publishers, our business is basically a break-even proposition in the best of times, so there's really no way to absorb a loss that big.
To try and make up the gap, they're having a big sale and are also auctioning off some "rare items" like original art from Chris Ware, proofs from issues, signed copies of things, a painting by Dave Eggers of George W. Bush as a double amputee, and so on. In addition to Ware and Eggers, there's stuff from David Byrne, Nick Hornsby, and Spike Jonze. I've long admired McSweeney's for their editorial and business approach...it would be a shame to see them go out of business because of another company's financial difficulties. So give them a hand by purchasing something, if you'd like.
Took in The Art of the Book lecture at the 92nd Street Y last night. Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd ("a modern day Truman Capote" I heard him described as afterward), Dave Eggers, with Michael Beirut moderating. One of the most interesting comments came late in the proceedings from Dave Eggers, who described one of the main goals of the McSweeney's design staff as attempting to design the books as well and as beautifully as they could as objects so that people would be compelled to save them. That way, even if people didn't have time to read them soon after purchase, they couldn't bear to throw/give the book away and would instead put it on their shelf in the hopes -- McSweeney's hopes, that is -- that the buyer would at some point pull it down off the shelf and give it another try.
This design goal runs counter to the design process behind most contemporary book jackets, which are engineered almost entirely for the purpose of eliciting in the potential buyer a "buy me" reaction within two seconds of spotting them. McSweeney's, as a champion of authors, wants the writing to be read while most major publishing companies, as champions of their shareholders, want books to be purchased. People buying books is important to the goal of getting the writing within them read, but McSweeney's emphasis on designing books to last in people's homes is a clever way to pursue that goal after the sale.
I mentioned earlier the new paperback version of Infinite Jest; here's Dave Egger's introduction to the new edition. "[Wallace] was already known as a very smart and challenging and funny and preternaturally gifted writer when Infinite Jest was released in 1996, and thereafter his reputation included all the adjectives mentioned just now, and also this one: Holy shit." (thx, nick)