My Next Book

I’ve spent the past few years working on an academic study of Thomas Pynchon’s novels, the systems of power in those novels, and his depictions of resistance to that power. I started the project as my dissertation, which I finished in late July, 2011. As I was wrapping up the writing of it, global events like the Arab Spring, the revolution in Tunisia, and austerity protests in Greece and Spain started to occur. In September of 2011, a handful of activists set up camp in Zuccotti Park in NYC, and the Occupy Movement was born. Occupy’s ideas of participatory democracy, their strategy to forego protests and instead develop alternative societies (even if they were just a demonstration of a genuinely democratic society) matched a lot of what I’d read in Pynchon. At this point, one would think that I may have participated in the demonstrations. I didn’t. I’m the worst about attending rallies, even if I’m sympathetic to the cause.

What I did instead was look deeper into the political and economic theorists who provided the foundations for both Pynchon and Occupy, and I wrote a book about it. The book is called, appropriately enough, Occupy Pynchon.

occupy-cover

I index and proofed the typeset version of the book just as our nation descended into the madness which resulted in the one percent taking over every seat of power in the US and unapologetically working to make this a nation by, for, and of the 1% (to borrow Joseph Stiglitz characterization). I took a little comfort in knowing that I’d at least written a handbook for resistance to this takeover. It may be an academic text geared largely for literature scholars, marketed to university libraries, and costing $60, but at least it’s out there. Or it will be this coming May.

So that’s been my rabbit hole. If you want to see more about the book, here’s the page from my publisher’s web site.

Utopia after Trump

more-utopiaIn 1516, England was ruled by an authoritarian narcissist who was redistributing the wealth of England to himself and a handful of his obscenely wealthy friends. Thomas More responded by writing the philosophical tract Utopia. He made up a place that was no place—literally, the word “utopia” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “not a place”—and narrated the tale through a man whose last name means “nonsense.” The tract dared to imagine a world better than the one More lived in.

Exactly five hundred years later, the United States has a president-elect who is an authoritarian narcissist with plans to redistribute American wealth to himself and a handful of his obscenely wealthy friends. Perhaps it’s time to once again look at this story of No Place told by a man called Nonsense and imagine a better world for ourselves.

Read this article on Morpheus.

Bumbling Sexual Predators

Sutherland in Animal House

I’ve often wondered where fictional English professors get their awful clothes. Donald Sutherland gives me the name of his tailor above.

I’m a little obsessed with English professors in movies. I don’t care how bad a movie is, if there’s an English professor in it, I watch it. Even if that movie is Some Kind of Beautiful, which takes bad film-making to the point where it’s almost so bad it’s good, but not quite. It’s just so bad it’s bad.

Most films with English professors are lousy. I watch them because I have this sick fascination with the cliche professor in movies. He’s almost always a white man, slovenly, flighty, and sleeping with a student. At the end of every movie, I daydream about writing a book about these slanderous portrayals and calling it Bumbling Sexual Predators.

I was talking about this with a buddy of mine, Mike Plante, a few months ago. Mike published the long-running film magazine Cinemad. He still does a Cinemad podcast. A couple of weeks ago, Mike interviewed me about being an English professor and films about professors for his podcast. You can listen to it here.

While you’re at it, spend a little time on the Cinemad site. There’s a lot of good stuff there.

And, for what it’s worth, my award for the best (and most realistic) English professor in a film goes to Regina Hall’s character in People Places Things.

Los Angeles Review of Books

Candelas Front 2

Steph Cha recently interviewed me for the Los Angeles Review of Books. It was refreshing to work with Steph. Almost everyone else wanted to talk about the ukulele aspect of my books, which makes sense. The work “ukulele” is in the title. I talk about ukuleles a lot. I even have a picture of a uke on this post. Still, the books isn’t really about ukuleles. It’s about writers. Steph picked up on that and wanted to talk about the writers and the stories behind the stories. I think it came out really well.

You can read the interview here.

While I’m at it, I’ll point out that Steph Cha is a pretty badass noir writer herself. Check out her Juniper Song series, starting with Follow Her Home.

City Lights

ferlinghetti1965_c Tomorrow will be the last stop on my book tour. I’m going to the famed City Lights Books in San Francisco. It’s kind of a big deal for me. When I was in high school, one of my teachers turned me on to the Beats, starting with Gregory Corso, but moving on to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m pretty excited about reading at the place where that literary movement began.

The reading is at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

A bookseller at City Lights asked me five questions for their blog. As far as I can tell, he didn’t use my interview. Since it’s written and I still have it, I’ve pasted the interview below. I hope to see you in San Francisco.

Five Questions for Sean Carswell

If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?  If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

I’ve been to City Lights several times. I go there almost every time I go to San Francisco. My most memorable visit had to be about ten years ago.

I’d designed a book cover for Bucky Sinister’s poetry collection Whiskey & Robots. I thought of the cover as an homage to the City Lights Pocket Poets series. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy Peters saw the cover as borderline copyright infringement. They sent to nicest cease-and-desist letter to the publisher for whom I designed the cover. I talked to Nancy and we smoothed things out. A few months later, I was in City Lights and saw a half dozen copies of Whiskey & Robots in the poetry shelves, cover out.

That was such a classy move by City Lights.

If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

I actually put one together for Largehearted Boy.

What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

The first novel I really loved was Sounder by William H. Armstrong. I read it several times when I was in second grade. I remember that we couldn’t renew books at the school library, so I’d check the book out, read it, return it, and wait the allotted time until I could check it out and read it again. I read it so many times that my brother, who’d seen the Disney adaptation of the book, took to yelling, “Sounder, come here, boy” a la Paul Winfield every time he saw me. That convinced me to find a new book.

If you didn’t have your current job, what might you do?

Become a bookseller at City Lights.

Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

I’ll just talk about books. I’d bring Herman Melville’s Typee. That way, if there were cannibals on the island, I’d have a guidebook for how to live with them. I’d bring Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, because I’ve been meaning to read it. I’d probably have time to do so on a desert island. If I liked it enough, I’d be inspired to build a raft and float home, just so I could read the other books in the series.

In case I didn’t like it, I’d bring Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. I’d sit on the shores of that island and keep reading that gigantic novel until it made perfect sense to me. That would keep me occupied for a decade or two.

California Cities and the Tour So Far

I’m seventy-percent through my book tour. All the flights and rental cars and hotel rooms are now in the past. The final three readings–San Diego (6/21), Los Angeles (6/23), and San Francisco (6/29)–are an easy drive from my centrally-located Southern California home. I figured this would be a good time to pause and reflect on my adventures.

The readings started in Brooklyn, at Greenlight Books.

Tour 2016_Brooklyn Sandwich Board

It was right around the corner from Spike Lee’s studios. I stopped by to see if he wanted to adapt my short story collection into a film. He didn’t answer the door when I knocked, so I just stood outside yelling, “Boomerang is a great movie! People need to recognize!”

Tour 2016_Spike Lee Studios

My next reading was in a suburb of Philadelphia. I went into the city before the reading and visited the Rodin museum. It gave me a lot to think about.

Tour 2016_The Thinker

I felt like my next couple of readings really blew the roof off of things.

Tour 2016_Mill Museum

Minneapolis inspired people to get naked and dance in the streets.

Tour 2016_Dancing Statue

Some of the hotels I’ve stayed in have been pretty cool. The one in Seattle featured all the latest in high-fidelity stereo sound. I had a little trouble getting the record to play, though.

Tour 2016_Old Stereo System

Portland was cool, but I got into an argument with this fat guy on the street. I was like, “What do you mean it’s absurd to write a short story collection about writers and their metaphysical ukuleles?”

Tour 2016_Sea Lion Sculpture

Now, I’m down to the last three: Warwick’s Books in La Jolla at 7:30 on Tuesday, Book Soup in West Hollywood at 7:00 on Thursday, and City Lights Books in San Francisco at 7:00 a week from Wednesday. Come out and see me.

Tour 2016_Reading at Powells

Pacific Northwest

The tour continues. Wednesday, June 15 I’ll be reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest, WA. I’ll be joined by Seattle area writers Samantha Updegrave and Kristen Millares Young. If you’re in the area, come out and see me. If you’re not but you know someone who is, send them this Facebook invitation.

The next night, Thursday, June 16, I’m reading at Powell’s Books. The reading is at their Hawthorne location. Razorcake contributor Keith Rosson will join me. If all goes well, my Ig Publishing tour mate, Ron Tanner, will be there, too.

Now here’s a picture of some chairs that I saw along a bay in the Puget Sound. Below that is a piece I wrote about being on tour in Seattle in 2008.

Chairs on Whidbey Island

Seattle

In Seattle, one of the local weeklies had a blurb about my reading at Elliott Bay Book Company. The weekly said that my new book was about a “bartender [who] goes on a road trip of self-discover.”

The book is absolutely not about that.

I happened to be standing on the Seattle waterfront when I read the weekly, a bit south of the famous fish market but still surrounded by a tourist district that I’d taken a wrong turn into. I paused for a second to remember a time when the independent weeklies that you found in every city used to actually be independent and actually cover events in those cities. In the next second, I wondered what happened to this imaginary bartender’s “y” on his road trip of self-discover.

I wandered as far away as I could from this little tourist district, gradually forgetting that stupid little blurb and remembering, still, that this was my nineteenth and final city on the summer tour I did to promote Train Wreck Girl, and, while it hadn’t been the road trip to self-discover that the Seattle Weekly billed it as, I had seen some things crisscrossing this continent.