Friday, December 30, 2005

Writing this post made me want to eat salsa. Mmmmmmm....salsa

Another day, another literary fiction vs. Science fiction debate-slash-discussion. Return of the Reluctant starts here (in response to an article over here) and is replied to in turn by Paul M. Jessup here (with some other responses at Metaxu Cafe).

Maybe I'm under-thinking things here, and feel free to yell at me if you think I am, but the fact that literary people might not read science fiction and the fact that science fiction people might not read literary fiction doesn't surprise me in the least, for much the same reason that people who enjoy Mexican food might not like sushi while people who like Japanese food might not care for spicy salsa-laden burritos: because when it comes to literature and food and much anything else, people have tastes, and, when it comes time to partake in a given cultural or culinary experience, people will typically reach for what is known, what is comfortable, or what is understood already to be enjoyable. Yes, there are those of us who will happily read both sci-fi and lit, and I think we number in greater quantities than we're given credit for, but is it any surprise that there are many other people who will not fit into our cross-genre mold? I don't think so.

There's also a certain matter of stereotyping going on on either side of the divide that impedes introduction of more people into the cross-genre ranks. When literary fiction people are perceived as being snooty, nose-raised, pinkie-extended, smug freaks, and sci-fi people are perceived as being laser-gun-toting, oversized pimply adolescents, you're not going to get a lot of cross-pollination. I'd say the literary people need to let out their inner dorks and that the sci-fi people need to be seen holding more glasses of fancy wine but I think we know that's not going to help matters much.

What's going to help matters is people who are willing to recommend books from as broad a spectrum of literature (read as: "all fiction") as possible. You can debate about the divide until you're blue in the face, or you can read more books and recommend them to people who trust you; it's about finding authors, like Kazuo Ishiguro, who are willing to just write books, not "sci fi" books or "literary" books. It's about creating a new sort of taste in story.


Edit: When using spell-check, note that if you're not careful, you'll accidentally replace "Metaxu" with "meat's". The fact that Blogger's spell check has the possessive form of "meat" in its dictionary is, well, something you probably didn't know already. But now you do. And that might be worth more than any half-baked rant of mine.


Edit #2: Sweet corn on the cob, was I freakin' drunk when I wrote this post? I think I've nailed all the weird typos...wordos...sentenceos...whatever you want to call them. Please forgive me if you haven't already. I gave my proofreader the holiday off. Last I heard he might be back just in time for February. We'll see.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I almost brought back Advanced Footnote Technology for this post but then I remembered I'm lazy

A cousin of mine recently finished her long battle with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. So maybe that's why I feel the sudden need to pick his books back up, since I doubt Uncle Earl's next in line for this family duty. Or maybe it's that I've finally recovered from my own affair with DFW's books, which happened a couple years back, and now I'm ready to dive back in. Or maybe it's that last year's short fiction collection Oblivion just came out in paperback and I've been hearing a lot of buzz about the newly released essay collection Consider the Lobster, and I haven't read either and I suddenly feel behind; like it's not nice of me to be ignoring what he does offer us in my rush to hold out for another novel, oh me of high expectations. Or maybe it's that whole "I just finished Ulysses and now I want to eat DFW's canon in under a week" factor. Or...who knows.

Whatever it is, DFW's back on my radar, and there's holiday book store gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, and I think we know what that means: trouble. (Never mind the 20 percent off sale going on at Half Price Books this week, a discount that could and probably will easily lead to some serious wallet-targeted damage in the next day or two.) Profiles like this (via) don't exactly hurt matters, either. Nothing ground-shattering in there, but still an interesting read.

And hey never-you-even-mind the recent birthday discovery. Just sayin': I'd happily sign a special birthday copy of my blog for DFW if he'd reciprocate with, oh, I don't know, something small. Some small token of the shared specialness of this one particular day of the year. Something like...oh...I don't know...the secret lost director's cut of Infinite Jest maybe. That would do nicely. Very nicely indeed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

This just in!

This just in, indeed: this here blog is the number two hit on google for lakewood ohio hipster. But you already knew I was #2 in your book, so.

And, well, as long as I'm here: I finished Ulysses the day before Christmas, and I don't even know what the hell to say about all that yet. I'm not sure I'll ever know what to say about all that. So now I'm re-reading Jeff Noon's Falling Out of Cars which, jesus yes, it's as good as I remember it being, and you need to read it, right after you read Vurt and Pollen and Nymphomation, or at least Vurt. Falling Out of Cars is both perfect right now and wrong right now, what with noise being a key theme of the book, and what with life having gotten noisy on me this last week. (All I'll say is this: Decent car insurance? Yeah. Glad I got that.)

Anyway, hang tight, check out some of the rest of the Web if things are slow 'round here, cuz I'm too bloody distracted right now to think straight, and don't let the left-over holiday whiskey go to waste, kids, cuz I sure as hell ain't drinkin' it.

2006 is gonna be sweet.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

"For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives/In the valley of its making where executives/Would never want to tamper"

This post (via BFD) sounds related to the literary aesthetics discussion, some of which happens here (via Conversational Reading).

Or I can just summarize my thoughts thusly: a couple years back I had the good fortune to see Kurt Vonnegut give a talk at Severance Hall. And by give a talk I mean, he just talked. There was no theme or whatever, no topic. Just talking. He was hilarious.

During his time on stage, he told a wonderful story about mailing something, I think it was a story, it might have been a letter, it doesn't matter. He talked about walking down the street while doing a little dance, being in love with the woman who worked the counter at the post office, the feel of the envelope he bought from the corner store. There was no point to the story. It was a wonderful story.

When his hour was up he closed his talk with a piece of advice. It went something like: "We are put on this planet to fart around, and don't let anybody else tell you otherwise."

That's a philosophy I can get behind.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Did I mention my Finnegans Wake in three days plan? I did? Well, consider it re-mentioned; just sayin'

From So Many Books:

So what did I do? What any self-respecting reader would who is in the middle of three books--started a new one! I chose Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. Books about books and/or reading are like comfort food for my soul. They are what I turn to when I feel stressed and need to just let go. And Corrigan's book is doing a marvelous job. I never thought about the idea of comfort reading before, but I see a pattern of it throughout my reading life. Do you engage in comfort reading? And if so, what do you generally choose as a comfort book?

I'll tell you what: after reading Ulysses, pretty much anything will feel like comfort reading. ("Whoa. Whoa, I, like. Understood that sentence. And the one before it. Oh man, screw this, I'm gonna go play Tetris.") I've got some ideas for what's going to come next. I'll tell you for sure once I get there, but I think I can safely say that, as much as I might right now think I would love to make January 2006 the month I finally completely read Anna Karenina, re-read The Brothers Karamazov, grok Gravity's Rainbow, polish off Don Quixote, fight fire with fire with You Bright and Risen Angels, and shine a little light on Bleak House, I'll probably steer clear of doorstops for a while.

Though...there really is something comfortable about long novels, isn't there? Or is that one of those "dork" things dorks like me say? Yeah. If you need me, I'm gonna go build up some upper body, where did I put my copy of Infinite Jest, anyway...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Holy crap! February doesn't totally suck!

So I just read this article about David Foster Wallace (pointed out by the Rake)--about which I may say more later--and I was provoked to do some random Googling, and I landed on the DFW Wikipedia page, and now I must turn to you, dear Internet, to ask a question of critical importance: is it possible that the intro of that entry is accurate, and that DFW and I actually share the same birthday? Give or take a bunch of years, natch. Stunning, is what this is, absocrapsolutely stunning. I haven't felt this jazzed about having a birthday in the bloody middle of the bloody worst chunk of winter since I learned that Claire from Six Feet Under, Lauren Ambrose, was actually born literally the day before I was. You know this means she and I are meant to be together and that we're destined to spend our Februaries eating brownies with DFW. On his yacht. Please don't hate me when I become that ridiculously awesome.

Happy birthday to me, kids, happy birthday to me.

"Crash sites keep me up at night"

Interesting profile in the current Bookforum on Thomas McMahon, "a former biophysics professor at Harvard University and the author of four strikingly original addition to two books of nonfiction and numerous scientific articles and papers". The article discusses the seeming divide between the sciences and the literary world, and the ways author-scientists like McMahon bridged that divide. Spoiler: no, science and literature don't turn out to be the same thing.

A few quotes, first one from McMahon himself:

In McMahon's posthumous novel, Ira Foxglove, which reads as an unassuming, literary-scientific manifesto, a middle-aged inventor says:

As far as I can tell, ideas always show up like that, absolutely free. And very often in a nearly final form. . . . What you do have to do is test them, with your education or with your experience, to see whether they're any good. You can go to school or grow old learning how to test ideas. That takes hard work. But no one can teach you how to get them. They come for nothing.

...which, I mean, yeah. He's talking about science, sure, but that more than applies to writing. Substitute "draft" for "test" and you've got the idea of it. Which pretty much feeds right into the other quote from the article that caught my eye:

McMahon had a particular gift for finding the mathematical kernel of a complex phenomenon. Some of his work was done within traditional laboratory settings, but his most interesting results seem to have emerged from creative, even idiosyncratic, experimentation. While working on the Harvard track project, for instance, he photographed students running on enormous pillows (a model of an exaggeratedly pliant surface). When studying the mechanical properties of trees, he and his wife went out into the woods with a stopwatch, shook tree trunks, and measured the resulting oscillations. As Howe told me recently, McMahon "wasn't afraid to do goofy experiments if they led to good science." In fact, his career serves as a reminder of the sometimes-fine line between brilliance and childlike indulgence.

...which, again, basically: yeah. All told, I'm looking forward to reading some of McMahon's novels; I think I'd like to start with Principles of American Nuclear Chemistry--seems most in line with my long-held and randomly-held fascination with the atom bomb.

Cue the closing personal parenthetical: (See, it's interesting stuff, at least to me. I grew up a math and science nerd who also happened to read a lot of books, rather than a literary dork with a side interest in geek stuff, though I guess it was only barely tipped in the one direction. Up until college I was planning on going into engineering, not writing. But somewhere along the line I flipped out, melted down, cracked, and made the switch; I escaped with naught but a minor in math, downgraded from a planned dual english/math major once I realized the hot girls generally signed up for "Intro to Writing Beret-ridden Poetry 301", not "Pound You in the Face Symbolic Logic 301". Still, I'm plenty interested in the sciences; The Making of the Atomic Bomb has been on the TBR pile for too long, and my long-dusty yet-unpublished first novel features as a main character a scientist who references movies like Heat to demonstrate basic principles of game theory. Yeah, sure, sometimes I look back on the life I could be leading today, but I don't miss it much. Okay, I miss the huge stacks of cash I'd be lining my apartment with, sure. But I wouldn't have written all those crappy poems during college. It balances out. Right?)

Monday, December 19, 2005

On reading Ulysses, a very "Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah, Boyeee!" novel, in one month: Day Nineteen

To quote a scholar no less scholartastic than myself:

I guess maybe eventually it had to get a little tiring, a little bit like a little too much. I kind of stopped reading Ulysses this week, which really has been the perfect book to be reading this month, in some ways, in the way the book just embraces noise, and goes about making some noise of its own. Maybe Joyce did it better in that other book, the one I'm pretty damned sure nobody, nobody reads, and so I feel no pressure to tackle, but still, with Ulysses, Joyce still steps up to the mic and rocks it, world-ending last-shot style.

A day later, I see that The End Of The World gets a minor speaking role in the book.


Also: penis fireworks. (In the book.)


Remember the brains on drugs commercials? The frying egg? Right.

Picture that commercial soundtracked to Joanna Newsom's song "Peach, Plum, Pear" (rock the harpsichord like a vandal!) and you've got my brain on Ulysses.

On reading Ulysses, a very ... wait, what was I doing again? Who are you? How do you know my language?: Day Eighteen

Long year.

Slow week.


Long year.

Mitch at Anteroom raised a good point: December is a stupid time to try to read something as dense and as demanding-of-your-undivided-attention as Ulysses is. (Mitch was kind enough to put that all in much more diplomatic terms.)

Of course, nobody's ever accused me of being wildly intelligent.

Well, okay. I have been accused of being wildly intelligent. See, sometimes I hide my stupidity pretty well, well enough that people might mistake me for someone with some smarts in my head. Why, then, instead of rolling with that, would I let my innate dumbness all hang out, by trying to do something as silly as read Ulysses during a single December?

Mostly it was just a thing to do. Ulysses always seemed like one of those books that everybody talks about but nobody actually ever reads. It didn't seem like a book you were actually supposed to read. Like, reading Ulysses, that's just not something that's meant to happen. Except, it does happen, and I wanted to have some reason, some excuse to get over that hump, to get to the place where it does happen, for whatever profit or loss that might bring. Let the pages fall where they may.

So, why December, then? Fine to read it in a month--a first reading, you're barely hoping to survey the book at best, get a feel for the landscape, you're not actually going to understand any of it--but why the big end of the year month, when you're all run down and jacked up, when there's more distractions than there are at any other time of the year? Why, God, why indeed?

For me, this year, this blog, it's been largely about rediscovering literature. Way back at the beginning of the year I signed up for one of those fifty book plans--read fifty books, blog a lot, make some noise, pat self on back for being an awesome middle class literate guy with spare cash and leisure time, say wahoo and go nuts. Because, it's not that I ever forgot how awesome books are, but along the line, I got distracted, by everything else in life. There was that year I spent addicted to Netflix, those hours spent playing video games, the countless times I chose to try to write my own stories, the forever and ever and amen. I wouldn't go back and trade any of that in. (I mean, watching all those seasons of Buffy in half a year? Yeah, that was some pretty sweet action right there. God bless catching the ep where SMG's mom died, while I was stoned on Vicodin. That was rad.) But, see, somewhere, somehow, my knowledge that I still loved books and reading and literature and the struggle to create meaning out of chaos, the life-long knowledge that something I'm here to do is take part in the good fight, that was all still there, but. Something fell off track. It seems I forgot to actually read books. And that wasn't cool. So it was time to get back to my roots. Time to keep it real. Time to remember how this gangsta rolls. So, Netflix got cancelled, the Playstation started to collect dust, and the laptop found itself with long stretches of time off. But damn it, a lot of books got read. And it was dubbed totally sweet.

Which was fine and all until somewhere along the line I decided it would be good motivation to make Ulysses the fiftieth book, to do it all in one month--to be forced to read the book in this given time frame or else fail in the year's quest, whatever. Combine this with the desire mentioned above, about making Ulysses less an insurmountable abstraction and more a real thing, and you've got whatever you've got, with all of this: you've got a random Internet guy reading a really hard book in one hard month, and making some noise about it.


Slow week.

It's funny. This year, it's been about reconnecting, and all that. That was the theory at least. And it's worked out that way, a lot. But then in reality it's also been about opening my arms wide and taking in as much of the noise out there as I could stand. It's been about reading, and reading, and reading, and then reading all this stuff people post on the internet about reading, and reading about reading about reading, and then everything else out there with the blogs and the bloggers and the media and the noise and the stuff. It's an awful lot to be interested in.

I guess maybe eventually it had to get a little tiring, a little bit like a little too much. I kind of stopped reading Ulysses this week, which really has been the perfect book to be reading this month, in some ways, in the way the book just embraces noise, and goes about making some noise of its own. Maybe Joyce did it better in that other book, the one I'm pretty damned sure nobody, nobody reads, and so I feel no pressure to tackle, but still, with Ulysses, Joyce still steps up to the mic and rocks it, world-ending last-shot style.

Noise. Noise noise noise. In other ways it's been the wrong book to read this month, because, y'know. It's one thing to know there's culture jamming going on out there in society somewhere that isn't where you are. It's another thing to invite the culture jammers into your house, set them up with their own coffee table and couch, so they can throw spitballs at your brain. Sometimes, like life, it's just too much to take in.

But either way, it's right, isn't it? Ulysses, that is: this life, it's complicated. There's more noise in heaven and earth than in your philosophy, eh?

Anyways, yeah, I got a little tired, and it was a slow week. Didn't get much reading done. Insert a dash of boring trite cliche twenty-something white guy identity crisis in there, resulting in a slow blogging week (not that I have nothing to say but that I've got too bloody damned much to say), and you get the picture. That's okay. There's still time to finish reading Ulysses by six the evening of December 31st, which is when I begin drinking copiously, and the blog's not going anywhere and I guess there's still room on the internet for boring trite cliche twenty-something white guy identity crisis blog posts, so I guess it's all cool. For a while I thought I'd be done with Ulysses way early, but I think I knew going into it there'd be some time off thrown in there. It's cool. Fuck knows what I'd do for an encore if I finished early, after all. Finnegans Wake in three days, like what.


Also! I'd just like to say: I've really enjoyed the comments and such that have filtered my way, regarding this little project, and/or regarding Ulysses in general. I'd love to hear more reactions to the book. More stances, if you will. Love it? Hate it? Never heard of it? Keep 'em comin'.

Friday, December 16, 2005

And depressing math it is

Don't think of it as me not updating the blog for four days. Think of it as me spending a week doing the math of mortality. Nevermind the number one comes up with; mind the feeling that everybody else is up to more than you, is accomplishing more in a day than you are in a week, and you'll begin to understand how dire the whole situation might feel, when one accidentally focuses on it to the temporary exclusion of reality.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

No Darby is an Island: Some Ulysses links

Part of the conceit of my little reading exercise this month is that I'm attacking Ulysses as just the text itself, not as the text that has inspired hundreds of thousands of pages of commentary, criticism, and exegetical textual analysis. That's all for the next reading, which I've tentatively slated for 2037.

That said, I'd be a total prick if I implied that I'm "getting" as much of the book as I am (which isn't very much) without any help. To that, I should mention that I've found this page pretty helpful, just in terms of making sure I have some clue as to what to look for in each chapter, and to make sure I didn't completely miss extremely elemental plot points in previous chapters. (Stephen actually masturbated in the third chapter? Yeah, I missed that. Wow, I suck.) That's an old page, dead links, confusing set-up, etc, but there's good information none-the-less. (Where's the Ulysses wiki? Or is there one, and I've just missed it? Maybe I'll start one. Uhm, the next time I read the book.)

Being an occasional video-games addict means I like the OO OO OO SHINY!!! things. To that, there's this, which, really, what else do you need, right?

And I'd really be a dick if I didn't mention Richard Lewis, who, like me, is reading Ulysses for the first time. He's spending a year on the book, which means he's way more hardcore than me. He's also got pretty brilliant photos.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On reading Ulysses, a very drunk novel, in one month: Day Nine

Step One

Screw reading, for one day

Step Two

Get drunk on beer, something vaguely Irish

Step Three

Wonder where you were going with this

Friday, December 09, 2005

On reading Ulysses, a very wikki-wikki-wikki! novel, in one month: Day Eight

Bands I suspect James Joyce would listen to while writing Ulysses were he writing the book in 2005 (a non-comprehensive list):

  • Four Tet (because sometimes you just gotta kick out the jams and sleep, eat some food, and have some visions)

  • The Orb ("Little Fluffy Dublin, doo doo doo, Little Fluffy Dublin, doo doo doo")

  • Prefuse 73 ("Female Demands", indeed)

  • LCD Soundsystem (only the singles disc; and maybe that Daft Punk song, 'cuz that was pretty bad-ass)

  • Aphex Twin on one stereo and Sonic Youth on the other stereo, simultaneously. Because, that makes sense

  • Do Make Say Think (ending each night's writing with the last track of Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, "Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!")

  • The Radio Dept. ("Lost & Found", indeed)

  • Nelly Furtado (because who the hell's gonna tell James Frickin Joyce he can't have some pop with his coffee?)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Another year end list, sort of; and then some other stuff

Better late than never, I guess?

Also while I'm here: I've seen this story mentioned several places but Slushpile gets the award for snarkiest headline.

And while I'm at it, my reading is stunted. Also, I didn't put any money in the Salvation Army bowl outside the grocery store, today. I'm a bad fucking person and I'm going to hell.

And for bonus fun, an interesting discussion about style in literature. (I, of course, as usual, have fascinating things to say, but I'm too busy being stunted to do so. Oh? What, me, bitter? No.)

On reading Ulysses, a very long novel, in one month: Day Seven


1. Read many pages. Miss a lot.

2. Think, "Huh?"

3. Sleep, some.

4. Wake up next day, sort of exhausted, with stream of conscious internal monologue running through head for several hours after waking up. Realize it's pitch-perfect internalization of Joycean literary voice. Be too tired to do anything with that knowledge.

5. Think, "Huh?"

6. Wonder what form TDAOC Fan Fiction would take; shudder with fear.

7. Repeat from 1.

It is what it is--so long as "it" is "totally kicking major ass"

As you may have heard, Maureen McHugh has been named one of three finalists for the second annual Story Prize for her book Mothers & Other Monsters. I think it's safe to say she's already locked in the "What a way to cap off one hell of a year" award.

I'm ashamed to admit I just searched the blog archives to find a post I could point at so I could say "I'd told you so," but I can't find one--seems maybe I just thought about telling you so, a lot, without ever actually doing so. So now I'm telling you so: awesome book, awesome title, awesome cover, awesome stories. You should read it. There. One less thing to worry about not having done this year. Woo!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lists of lists of lists of copies of a copy of a copy of a list of a copy of a list of a list of copies of a copy of a list of a list of a copy

Hey! It's almost the end of the year. So raineth down upon us the Year End Lists. For book lists, Return of the Reluctant has listed a bunch of lists here. That should be more than enough to keep you busy for a while. Unless that's not enough hot list action, then check out The Millions, which solicited some lists which are being posted; find them here and here and here and here and here, so far. And then keep an eye on Tod Goldberg's blog where reader lists and Tod's lists are due to be posted shortly (with a teaser list from Tod here). And then there's the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list (of which fiction titles, yours truly has read four, attempted but threw out one, and has several others mentally queued) and the NYT Top 10 of the Year (read one, quit one, quit two previous by one author, read earlier book by one this year).

But honestly you could care less what all these high-falutin' thinkers think. You've spent the last month scouring the TDAOC archives, putting together the pieces, doing the detective work, examining the dust and sweeping up the evidence, all in pursuit of the answer to the question that's plagued you like a disease: What Would Darby Read? And I'll be happy to tell you, once I figure that out, myself. I'm sure I've got oodles of year end blog activities planned. Maybe I'll work a list in there, somewhere. No promises, though. I'm a busy man, see. All those...naps, and all.

UPDATE: This just in! From the About Flippin' Time department: Gwenda Bond points out the first list I've seen to include Steve Erickson's Our Ecstatic Days, a book which didn't get nearly enough play this year. So maybe I just gave it away there, but, yeah, Our Ecstatic Days is right up at the top of my own theoretical list. And you should read it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Yeah, but will there be snacks?

MetaxuCafe: Literary cool-kid hang out? Time sink you didn't know you needed? Best idea ever? Yes, yes, and no, unless you disqualify sandwiches, in which case, yes.

On reading Ulysses, a very famous novel, in one month: Day One

More than once, today, I checked the contents of my hipster man-satchel, a sideslung messenger bag meant for boys two-thirds my age, half my weight, and twice my coolness quotient. I was making sure it was there. Not my coolness quotient, but the book. It was there, of course. I put it there, last night, after midnight, after the month began. Ulysses, a very famous novel. A novel I will be carrying with me for the next month. So that I can read it.

I did not read it today, nor do I expect to read it tomorrow, nor even on Saturday, which automatically demotes this month from a December to a February, and not even a leap-year February, at that. But I did have the book with me today, and that means the month has begun, the clock is ticking, etc, etc, and etc. Sunday I may open the book. I may feel the opening pages with my winter-chapped fingers, I may flip through the pages, feeling the breeze fanning off their edges. I may, then, elect to take a nap. It has been a very long year, and I'm short what feels like a couple hundred hours of sleep.

I'm beginning to suspect I did not think this plan through very well, not very well at all.

(More as more becomes available.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Riffing on Rick Moody's Purple America

Just finished reading Rick Moody's Purple America. Yeah, so I'm a few years late in submitting my application to join the lustrous club of Those Who Have Read Rick Moody. (I hear there's a lot of women in this club. I'll try not to seem too boorish. Or falsely graduate-studentish sensitively deep-thinkingish.)

This book was simultaneously compelling and ugly. We'll start with the bad: Moody's style, at least in this book, it's all about the rampant overuse of italics. You're either going to dig 'em, or your going to think he's a windbaggy blowhard. Just my hunch. I'll admit: I've been known to slant some prose now and then, right here on this blog. I hope they add a conversational effect or suggest vocal tones I'm too lazy to imply otherwise. Moody, though, goes poop-all crazy with 'em. Now and then, they worked; the italics were there for a genuine reason, they added stress that clarified and enhanced both meaning and tone. Then other times it's like the cat jumped on Ctrl-I while humping the computer's mouse. Often I couldn't find logical reasons for certain phrases or words to be stressed. After a while, the italics became like white noise, dropped from conscious perception.

(White Noise, by Don Delillo--coincidentally--being a book that Purple America reminded me of. Probably mostly for the family drama meets big toxic event background plot parallels; there may be more to it but it's been four years since I read Delillo's book, and I just gave my copy of White Noise to my girlfriend, along with her copy of the Moody book, plus I'm booked reading-wise for the next month, so no comparative analyses from this guy anytime soon.)

So there's the italics--which were ugly--and there's the wickedly twisted syntactical strategies--the long sentences that hop around like bunnies on trampolines, the rushing prose lending to everything a sense of (potentially unwarranted) importance--which I was okay with. The voice, it's sort of charmingly addictive, and definitely distinct. Though sometimes I'd find myself reaching the ends of climactic pages without having a clue what I'd just read. I think the textual gambits didn't connect with me as well as, say, Infinite Jest's stylistic slap-shots. Generally Purple America's style doesn't settle for subtlety when blunt hammer-to-the-face techniques can be used instead, even when the hammers sometimes miss.

So let's be blunt: the voice should not have worked. It didn't work for me, the first time I tried to read the book, a year or two back; I threw it down in disgust after about twenty pages, convinced that this was not a book I wanted to devote time to, that those people who spoke of Moody fondly were clearly insane. Why I decided to spend these last few days on it is as much the result of a randomly renewed curiosity about this guy I've heard so much about (due in part to the recent publication of Moody's latest novel The Diviners; see also the intro of this interview), as it was the result of the horrible sense of guilt I've had every time I've looked at this copy of Purple America that I borrowed from my girlfriend a year or so ago, who I know for a fact is not insane. Whose taste in books I've generally meshed with. Having had a few days that needed to be filled with one book, it seemed like the right time to right some wrongs about myself and my relationship to the contemporary cultural canon and my desire to continue having my girlfriend like me and not think I'm a total dunce.

None of that has anything to do with why I liked the book. I didn't expect to like it: I thought, still, that it was going to be a total chore, one of those "taking medicine" novels. Why I liked the book had everything to do with the fact that in spite of its stylistic flaws (which it should now be argued aren't so much flaws as they are attempts to get to something otherwise out of reach) this book boasted an amazingly compelling story, deeply fucked up characters with fascinating motivations, strange relationships that beg to be probed for explanation and understanding, and the potential for major nuclear disaster, which, a, is my personal kryptonite as far as willingness to not read a given piece of literature, and, b, is something I had no idea was coming, having not gotten that far the first time I tried to read the book. (Had I known then what I know now I might have gotten this book back to my girlfriend a lot sooner.) How much of all of this plot-level detail actually depended on the alternatingly loathsome and awesome style--because, yes, there are moments, wonderful moments, when everything stylistic fell into place, and bluntness gave way to the subtle, and it would be like page-magic--is not a question I'm awake enough to answer. But I'm tempted to say this teeter-totter of everything balances on a fulcrum of the word conflict.

And in the end the thing is this: I've read this book, and now I'd like to read more of his stuff.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cleveland, Ohio: "A great reading town"? Hey, come back, stop laughing

Dear Cleveland Plain Dealer,

You are a newspaper and I am a blogger. Therefore, you--as a newspaper--are haughty and elitist and secure in your power and your mainstream media status, while I--as a blogger--snipe sidelined snark attacks at you so blatantly and spitefully that the deconstructionist-minded bystander might see a latent self-loathing desire on my part to make angry love to you. Or at least, that's the way my "Blogging 101: Understanding the Dialectical Natures of Your Relationship to the MSM" course explained our roles to me.

I never bought into it, really. Rather than treating you like a despised-loved vacuous object of culturally-dictated desire (Paris Hilton est mort, vive le Paris Hilton! I bet you are truly awful in bed! Arrrrrgh!) I've seen you more like another cool kid at the high school dance (Oh, what? The MSM is here? Whatever. I'm gonna go spike the punch with my RSS feed.). It's really nothing personal. I've never been a newspaper guy. It's not an ideological thing or anything. It's just something, nothing.

So I hope you'll forgive me for not really noticing that you and I have some common interests. Say, for example, our mutual interest in Cleveland. Okay, you got me. Ha! I knew that one. But seriously, did you know I like books? I do. I like the books. Because what's funny here is that it never clicked for me that you also like books. Sure, over the years, I've seen blurbs in novels attributed to you. But I'll be honest, I've usually chalked it up to chance, that maybe the book was short on blurbs, or something. No offense, but you, as a publication? The bloggers, they, ehhhhh, they don't love you so much. That sort of thinking, it has a way of getting ingrained in you a bit, so when a guy like me finds your name inside big important books, it feels surprising.

I don't say that to be mean. It's just that, as we all certainly without a doubt know, all the real literary action takes place elsewhere. New York. Los Angeles. England. Places like that. Confident, self-realized type places. Places that can produce coolness without having to go through the "I'm a real boy!" self-justification song-and-dance. Places that aren't perpetually overcoming self-doubt and identity crises. Places that are not Cleveland.

I think, you and I, we might agree, that the hype of anti-hype is a dangerous thing. I'm also fairly certain that you and I would agree that, as far as our sense of regional identity goes, when it comes to our literary scene? It's time to scrap the trite motto-based nature of "Believing in Cleveland" and get down to the real work of doing belief. Because as Karen Long suggests, we've got a scene, no doubt...

Consider that Dan Chaon was a 2001 finalist in fiction for the National Book Award and Harvey Pekar has helped invent the graphic novel. Cleveland poet Thomas Sayers Ellis was just recognized by the Whiting Foundation and Cambodian memorist Loung Ung has made Shaker Heights her home. Mary Doria Russell - of "The Sparrow" fame - lives in South Euclid. And tantalizingly, the word-of-mouth about Thrity Umrigar's upcoming January novel, "The Space Between Us," is very good.

...and it's got potential to do some kick-ass good for this town...

"They need to put a Starbucks in there to attract some new people, bring them in off the street," Poh Miller said. "Isn't that a good idea? The library could be a coffee spot for some of the people who live downtown."

It is a good idea, and other writers at Loganberry offered more. Kelly Ferjutz wishes the region offered a book festival with real zest. [...]

A first-class festival could promote literacy, as the one in Milwaukee does. It could spark the local economy and enhance our connection to the written word.

...if only we could do some kick-ass good for it:

When Kristin Ohlson attended such a fair in Michigan, she sold more than 50 books in one morning. At Loganberry, not even a handful. Poor Bob Finn sold one.

No disrespect to the Poet & Writer's League of Greater Cleveland, which just completed its celebration called "Wordcrafter," but we deserve a festival with a budget. This is a great reading town.

Books have nurtured every one of us reading this page. Writers are lighting up Cleveland. They should not be so alone.

Sadly, I've not got any definite answers to any of this--hell, I don't even know what all the questions are. I can tell you this: the problems of the literary scene are, in my tentative analysis, not so distinct from the problems of the city itself. There's often--at least for myself--a certain "Huh!" reaction that always arises whenever something cool about this area is "discovered", as if everything cool about this town were some sort of hidden treasure. In reality, there is no reason to doubt that excellent writers would choose to live here. So why does it seem so surprising? And why aren't we hyping it up more?

All that said: what's to be done? We deserve to have a known scene, a cool thing, yes--but how do we go about making it happen?

Anyways, it's late and I'm tired. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that, you know, you're right. We don't suck. Yeah, I know. It feels a little bit weird saying it, I can only imagine how weird it might feel to hear it. I'll try not to take our newfound relationship too fast. Let's not be strangers, eh?


Well, okay, I will snark-snipe you on one point: Starbucks, for crying out loud? Come on! I'd prefer a good cool indie hipster coffee shop downtown, maybe something that would draw a good after-work crowd of famous people I could gawk at over my laptop. That would be way more awesome than another blasted Starbucks. Duh!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Some quick notes

  • Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill: I liked it. A lot. I responded to the stories more immediately than I did to Veronica. Take that for what you will. You can probably shelve the book with the rest of the books I've read this year that I've meant to say so much more about but haven't gotten around to saying more about yet.

  • McSweeney's #16: Has its moments. The opening story, "Mudder Tongue" by Brian Evenson, was totally and completely worth the price of admission. Damn. Bookslut interviewed him earlier this year. Note to self: read that.

  • Rick Moody: Is interviewed. And it's pretty interesting.

  • Cat and Girl: Deconstruct. Where is my mind...

Friday, November 25, 2005

If Maud Newton is like "Lord of the Rings" then Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks is like "Pump Up The Volume" if Christian Slater was actually Bjork

The Bookslut blog alerts me (and you) to a new blog written by a guy who lives about two hours from me and so is therefore someone I pretty much have to be nice to because he is in the group of People Who Might Buy Me A Beer Someday Because I Was Nice To Them: Noah Cicero's Get Published or Die Tryin'. With a title like that you know he's got to have the game, and with promised weekly interviews with Tao "Reader of Depressing Books/TDAOC Favorite" Lin, the game is brought:

1. What do you think of the Maud Newton blog?

The Maud Newton blog is like the Lord of the Rings (movie) of blogs. Everyone loves the Lord of the Rings, the movie. It is good vs. evil. In the distance, the sky is red and ominous. People's faces are very serious at all times. You get the feeling that things are really deadly and important. Like people are going to die, and trolls. It is blogging with swords and Elijah Wood. Magic is real and it is used to battle evil but also to have little moments of relief and humor like when the other two hobbits who are not Elijah Wood do something stupid like run into a wall and everyone laughs. At the end, there's that really boring scene that lasts like 2 hours and I turned off the TV and went into my parent's bathroom and took a bath.

Seriously I have absolutely no idea what all of that means, but I know I like it, and that's what counts. Read the rest of the interview for more crazy-mad LOTR-reference stylings.

Other reasons to check out the blog include the fact that

This is also for people who think that people take literature too seriously. That literature should be fun. That reading is actually fun and not something one does to be cool.

and the fact that I do not want to be sent to Gulag.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Patrick "The Ghost with the Most" Swayze: Your time is now

People often stop me on the street to ask me why I want to be a famous writer. Truth be told, it's because I want to meet America. Tod Goldberg demonstrates:

Chatty: I've been down there before, back when my wife -- my ex-wife -- was publishing her Patrick Swayze fan magazine.

Me: Your wife published a Patrick Swayze fan magazine?

Chatty: Ex-wife.

Me: So she published it after you were divorced?

Chatty: Oh, no, while we were married, too.

File the whole lot of it under "funniest thing I've read in ages". (I don't know what a "slow crush" is, either, but I think I suspect I might maybe want one.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

So I read Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. I liked it. But--cue the qualifications to that statement, which I feel nervous making but here goes--I had high expectations which I didn't meet with this book. But I take the blame for that. I read much of the book while exhausted. It can be a fairly challenging text--complex but not hard to follow, rich with meaning if you're alert enough to pull it out. (I was ready to write a thesis on the role of "containers" after I'd read about 15-20 pages of the book, but then fatigue kicked in and I lost the thread of my thought. Not a book to sleep through, let's say that.)

Plus, okay, I'm a boy. Maybe that was working against me. Dunno.

I know I linked this article before but now I think I actually get it and can point out that Francine Prose really nails it:

And then there are novels that speak a language entirely their own. We recognize them as novels, though we would have a hard time saying why that should be so. They may have some, or none, of the elements I've listed above, but these features seem almost extraneous or inessential. [...] When we remember these untraditional novels, we tend to forget trivial and even relatively important details of story and character. What stays with us is an atmosphere, an emotion, the memory of how it felt to read the book and of what it was like to inhabit a particular sensibility--the mind of a character or of an author--for a certain period of time. Perhaps what we recall most vividly is how a writer's language rose to meet the challenge of maintaining our interest without the conventions (suspense, and so forth) that more commonly sustain it.

Mary Gaitskill's new book, Veronica, is one of these unconventional fictions, though among its peculiar charms is the fact that it seems to think of itself as a much more ordinary sort of novel than it is.

I mean, really, that's it, right there; it's not a book you read for the story or the resolution reached through it but rather for the sort of rolling-waves-against-the-beach quality of it. You listen to the book crash against the shores of your brain, maybe. It forms a brilliant sort of white noise, I guess. I think. I'm not sure: part of my problem is that I just don't know what my "memory of how it felt to read the book" is, really. Of course that doesn't matter because you read the quote above and either ordered the book or decided it wasn't for you.

Let me put it this way: I want this book to be for you. Even if I can't well explain why.

As I think I told my girlfriend, I liked the book well enough, but I think it'll click for me better the next time I read it, later, sometime. The book, to me, feels like a message that comes from someone else. I mean someone really else. Maybe all I caught this first time was the form of the message, the strange bottle it floated up to my island's shore in. Maybe next time I'll better understand what's inside the bottle.

I think maybe I was trying a little too hard to compare this book to some other books that one might possibly fruitfully compare this book to: Jennifer Egan's Look At Me, for example; I've read somewhere on the Internets that people make that comparison, and find one author or the other lacking, in comparison. Or maybe Janice Galloway's The Trick Is To Keep Breathing, though I think maybe the connection there is a bit harder to make. (Both books I loved, by the way.) I think there's points of similarity between all three books, here and there--physical beauty as time-conquered beast, depression as an animal unto itself, sadness, whatever--but Veronica is too much its own thing. Comparisons here might make for fun coffee conversation but they aren't going to get you too far in life. (I think.)

That said: when you read it, because I feel you probably should read it at some point, the first time you hit the "nine times out of ten" image, know that Emily Dickinson rose from the dead and physically took the top of my head right off, right there. Because that was some damned dirty poetry right there.

I also suspect I'm selling myself and/or the book short, and that my opinion and feeling and attitude are much higher than I might realize.

However my brain eventually settles on the topic, I roll on ahead, or backwards in this case; I'm now working through Gaitskill's second short story collection, Because They Wanted To, which is pretty much just blatantly awesome, so far, and might--might!--serve as a better entry point into Gaitskill's writings. Maybe. Don't quote me on that. The writing is generally more straight-forward but the ideas and depth are all there. I imagine I might have more to say about this book later.

(Also check out CAAF's much more eloquent and generally better reaction to Veronica at Tingle Alley; something tells me she got the book much better than I did, none of this pissy-pants "But I was sleepy!" crap you're getting from me.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Some reading material

Honestly I didn't read past the first of the three pages of this article, but, I did read the entirety of this William Vollmann profile, and, something tells me there's some sort of connection between those two articles, but, I'm living life too fast to puzzle it out.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"I'm seeing something that was always hidden. I'm in the middle of a mystery and it's all secret."

I have absolutely nothing interesting to post or to post about today, so instead of the usual blither, I'll point you to this week's police blotter for my home town of Lakewood, Ohio--making crime wacky since 1889!

Two men were up to no good with a mattress about 2 a.m. Friday. The men, who the complainant thought were drunk, left a mattress in his yard and then took off. Police caught up with the men, who said they were just fooling around. One of the men picked up the mattress and took it back to the rightful tree lawn.

There's at least one gem every week. Truly, I live in one of America's more surreal burbs.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

National Book Awards announced; results prove once again that you gotta smoke some crack to get ahead in this world

I'm sure everybody who's anybody will be linking to this, but The Mlllions gets credit for being the first blog I saw to point to the winners of the National Book Awards, which were announced tonight. William T. Vollmann took the award for fiction, but who really cares about that, because I started reading Mary Gaitskill's Veronica tonight (which was also up for the award), and it's good, real good, in a real weird way. It's heady and dizzying. It's a real sentence-level book; the sort where it maintains a pretty constant tone, then slips a sentence into your drink that knocks you on your ass, even if you don't realize it's happening. It's also not a book I should be reading as tired as I am, but exhausted or not I needed to dive into it tonight. So dive I have done, and shall continue to do, until I pass out, which I expect to happen in about fifteen minutes.

Oh, and yes, this all means I (finally) finished The Plot Against America, which became definitely much more gripping in the final third than it was in the first two thirds (where it was still pretty generally gripping overall). Bonus trivia: What do Roth and Vollmann have in common? Answer: performance-enhancing drug use!

I was late to the party but just in time for the wake

I didn't know about the existence of SciFiction, the online publishing arm of the SciFi channel, until Shaken & Stirred broke the news that it was going away. But when Bondgirl pointed out The ED SF Project, which is collecting written appreciations for all of the stories on the site--all 320 of them--I kinda said, "Hey, what the hell," and signed up for a story before I could think myself out of it ("But Darby," the red angel says, "what business does a Johnny-come-lately nobody like yourself have contributing to a send-off for a site that, two days ago, you didn't know existed?" "Screw you, bitch," the white angel says, "my boy here, he was reading Larry Niven collections when most kids were still seeing Spot run. If that ain't geek cred I don't know what is."). Then just now as I was preparing to prepare this post I learned that everybody and their mother is linking to the project. So now I have to force myself to write my appreciation (this weekend, I promise) before I flip out about it and curl up into a frightened ball of inaction. Yeep.

In any case, if you want to read the story I chose, it's "Non-Disclosure Agreement" by Scott Westerfeld. Basically, it rocks. It looks like there's still plenty of stories open for appreciations, so go pick one out and get to work. Deadline is December 20. Too many stories to pick from? Bondgirl chops the list down to a few of her favorites (and links to other reactions to the site's closing).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I wanted to work "Quagroth" and "Gaitskillmania" into this post somewhere, but it just didn't happen

It's been a while since I've talked about what I've read recently, which is a crying shame, because while I can play the linky-linky game with the best of 'em, what I really get a daily jonesin' for is to tell you, dear faithful reader, what books are so totally, hardcorely awesome that you should sell your house for the dough to buy them and quit your job for the time to read them. Unfortunately to do so requires me to read books, which I've gotten lazy about and distracted from recently, no thanks to recent specific major life changes that have affected the chemical balance of my brain. Yes yes, you guessed correctly--I've become William T. Vollmann and I've started smoking crack. It's just like coffee, only more so!

You can also sort of blame Philip Roth, whose The Plot Against America, for me, alternates between being entirely soul-consumingly engrossing, and being cross-eyed medicine-takingly slow. I've gotten sort of mired in it even when I've been liking it--one of those books where I'll set it down after reading ten pages thinking, "Yeah, that's amazing," and I kind of don't want to pick it back up. It's weird. This is actually my first experience with Roth so I do wonder if it's a case of "should have started elsewhere," or if this is how I'd react to all his stuff. Or maybe it's a result of all the hype surrounding the book--hype, eh, I'd love to have some in my favor but it always seems to drag me down when it comes to reading someone else's stuff. None of this should be construed as a slam on Roth--I mean, he's Roth, and I'm some internet jerk, so it wouldn't matter anyway. My girlfriend probably put it best when she said Roth just wasn't my groove right now. I can buy that, enough to finish Plot and then come back to him again later, someday. I'm intrigued enough, I guess.

What's really dropping the dried leaves on my fire right now is the thought of reading some Mary Gaitskill. (And somewhere, a secret society of internet anti-nerds just made me public enemy number one, for that sentence alone.) Her books have started rolling into TDAOC headquarters the last few days--seems someone who shall remain nameless, who may or may not have been me, went on a drunken Amazon ordering binge sometime recently. Minus the actual drunkeness. I'm hoping to at least get through Veronica by December, but if I can sneak in some extra stuff by then as well, I won't complain. Unless I don't like her writing, then I will complain. Except probably not, because she's Mary Gaitskill, and I'm some internet jerk. Right.

Monday, November 14, 2005

And, speaking of Maureen McHugh...

...she's been busy again, lately:

If poker can be used as space-holders between TV commercials and entice us to throw away our money while sitting at a computer, can it be used as a part of a broader cultural experience?

The Internet site Last Call Poker ( is betting that it can - and one local woman is giving the site a hand.

Created for Activision by 42 Entertainment, a company specializing in entertainment-based marketing campaigns, the site debuted Sept. 24 and runs through Saturday. Last Call Poker is part game, part online novel, part interactive community.

She read some pieces of her work for the site last week at Mac's Backs (where Kelly Link read from the title piece of her new collection, Magic for Beginners, and Dan Chaon read from an in-progress without-ending-yet story). Suffice it to say, Maureen makes the idea of "day job" sound way cooler than it actually is.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Belated thanks

So if you happen to have clicked through from, hey, hi! Gosh. If it's possible to blog-blush, Annie Reid's kind words and link have made me do so; but if you stick around I'm sure I'll be back to my usual stammering and blustering and half-baked thoughts shortly. (If you happen to be coming at this from my end of the blog spectrum--which, statistically speaking, is unlikely--be sure to head over thataway to get the link to one of the best short stories you'll read this week. Thanks go to Maureen, who told me to google for that story, some time back.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

You people like me best when I shut up, don't you? ... Don't answer that

I don't know who the last person to hit my incisive review of Salvador Plascencia's The People of Paper was on Wednesday, but, uhm, congratulations: you were the 400th person (or version of Google) to pull up what has become, according to my web stats, the single most popular thing I have ever done in my entire life. How...humbling. I'd offer you a prize, but, uh, what do you give to the web-crawling porn-bot who already has everything? I mean, aside from a nice bath. You're filthy.

"They want to dignify, analyze and terrorize you"

There's many books I would like to read right now, but can't, because right now is finite, and books are infinite. Wait. That's not right. Whatever: it's nice to see there's books that, though I might think I'd like to read them right now, I can't, because they're not actually out yet. One such book (and, I hope that admitting such doesn't make me a total sissy) would be Girly by Elizabeth Merrick. What I knew about Elizabeth Merrick before today was that she was some person, and that she's guest-blogging at Bookslut (of which--by the by!--the November issue just landed on the Internet's doorstep, chock full of the usual assortment of fun, including an interview with William T. Vollmann, who, for some reason lately, I've been absolutely itching to read a half-second after right now). Today I learned that Ms. Merrick is someone who is insanely busy--she has, I'm certain, accomplished at least two impressive things in the time it has taken you to read this paragraph, which, my convoluted style aside, isn't impressive at all. Unless you don't speak English. Then, uhm, kudos.

So there's that whole interview with her there which I've yet to actually read all of yet because the Bookslut blog excerpted one paragraph that totally sold me. (You invoke Sleater-Kinney in describing the creation of your novel? You'll sell me, too.) And while frustrating that I can't immediately exchange the money I currently don't have for the book I can't currently hold in my hands right now, because said book doesn't come out until December, it's probably for the best, what with my current reading-list goals and all being pronouncedly ambitious. Yikes.

Oh, and a quick note about the "sissy" link back there: I think the Return of the Reluctant post is on to something huge. If I knew where to start, I'd have about a billion things to say in response. It's all more of the wave of feminist discussion that's currently taking place around the net. (Is it more there lately, or am I just unusually tuned into it?) Worth reading and thinking about, in any case.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kilgore? Nah

I'm a sucker for a good "anonymous insider" blog, and Brown Trout, the blog of a writer teaching at an MFA program, seems to bring the funny (if you're of a certain mindset, at least); whether or not it's "true" be damned. (Found via a comment at the Reading Experience to a post that politely reminds us that, yes, writing without reading makes you look like an asshole.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I'll get to that around when I get to the other 22 books of Stephen Dixon's I haven't read

There's a game I've played, now and then, where when I've been in the bookstore, I've checked the shelves to find out whose books my own theoretical books would be shelved between. It's a really silly stupid game, one that's generally depressed me with the fact that I'll have to compete with a long-dead English serial-novelist for shelf space someday. On the up side, it did, one dull summer evening, lead to one of my favorite literary discoveries, a guy who deserves more shelf space than he typically does. Stephen Dixon, who had a fat little volume called Frog right where I dreamed of seeing my own last name. Coincidence? I didn't buy the book that day--it looked imposing, almost threatening, and slightly cold, in its brown-paper looking cover, like a real literary brick, the kind that might hurt more than it helps, plus I was just out of college and hence still inanely poor. I wouldn't actually read Frog until some years had passed, in which time I'd stumbled into another book of his, Interstate, one of those special books which have totally blown my brain away, and which book I'm convinced should be read by anybody who can read English. Frog, in a different way, would have much the same effect on me, when I finally tackled it, earlier this year. To a point: even if I never read another word of Dixon's, I'd still place him up high on the list of authors who I'd like to shake hands with, to say thanks.

Of course, I have every intention of reading more of his stuff--I just picked up a short story collection of his recently called Sleep which, with me but one story into it, I've been wanting to tear through. So then, today I'm reminded by the Emerging Writers Network blog that Stephen Dixon has every intention of continuing to put out books that I will continue to not have nearly enough time to read. He's got a new book out called Phone Rings, published by Melville House publishing. There's some press clips up on the Melville House site, along with a very brief interview with Dixon. Awesome to see he's continuing to chug out new fresh stuff, after 45 (!?) years of writing.

Blogs, not just for not selling stuff anymore

A link from Writes Like She Talks tells us that people are "50 percent more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers than by radio/TV ads". I'm only surprised the figure is so low, actually. As I said in my comment to Jill's post, I'd love to see industry-specific figures. Namely, I'd be almost willing to bet that when it comes to books, and maybe to a lesser extent CDs/music, that figure skyrockets. Jill's anecdotal evidence that women "sell" stuff (namely, kids' stuff) more than men do seems to jive with my own largely anecdotal sense that more women are reading/talking about books than men. Not sure what any of this means, but it's interesting stuff.


Orhan Pamuk wins another prize and Steve Erickson's lit mag starts accepting my submissions. I mean, public submissions

Orhan Pamuk, whose book Snow I really do still think you should read even though I'm nowhere near being any closer to actually writing that response I was working on, has recently won "one of France's top foreign literature prizes". Come on America--show Pamuk some love. (Via Bookslut.)

In other news: The Elegant Variation tips us off to the launch of the next issue of Black Clock, the lit mag that Steve Erickson edits, who, long time readers of my blog will know, basically drove me to prefer running you over with my car than to hear you say you weren't interested in reading Our Ecstatic Days. So to learn that Black Clock will be accepting public submissions starting next year--well, let's just say that I'm plenty excited at the prospect of getting some piece of my own writing rejected by one of my literary gods. (I think it's one of those things you have to be there to understand.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election night coverage

As of 11:33 PM, is saying the Cleveland mayoral race (which yours truly had no say in) is "too close to call," which I find amazing and yet completely not amazing at the same time. I think Sam Fullwood III (click here for a snippet posted to BFD) kinda summed up my thoughts on the topic.

Issue one is comfortably coming out "yes", which, okay, good enough. Yay jobs. Then issues 2-5 (all the election reform stuff that would be planted in the constitution) are being smacked down, hard. Have to admit, I'm surprised those last four are so decisive. Even the absentee ballot bit--that might surprise me the most; I mean, what, we don't want to make it easy to vote? Weird. I guess--and may there be no fatwa against me if I'm totally wrong on this--what all of this means is that, if Ohio's going to go liberal (or, praise Zombie Joseph Beuys, at least start acting like a real swing state), our Democrats are going to have to get their asses in gear and get some real work done, because the system ain't changing for them. Which...ehhhhhhhhh, well...hrm.

If you've come here looking for a more detailed political analysis than that, well, sorry to disappoint, but I'd be way over my head. Check Democracy Guy or Brewed Fresh Daily (or elsewhere on the NEO blogroll) to see if anybody else has posted any thoughts.


Update: Faggoty-Ass Faggot points out some sweet election news.


Update: I guess it's safe to call it for Frank Jackson, 52925 to 43900. That's what, less than 25 percent turnout? Maybe 20 percent? Just imagine if we could have actually gotten the other 300,000-400,000 other Clevelanders to actually write in "Mr. You Both Suck" for mayor. Now, there's a statement that would mean something. Maybe there's hope yet for the pomegranite.


Update: Ayup, Campbell concedes and Jackson takes home the bacon. See ya'll again in four years, right?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Search query report - Typo of the week

Have I mentioned I'm addicted to the search query terms that land people on this site? Here's my latest favorite:

"charon you remind me of me"

I assume that's a typo for "Chaon", as in, "Dan Chaon, author of the awesome novel You Remind Me Of Me", but, what if it isn't? What if you're the guy who thinks, "Yo, river boat dude of the dead, you remind me of me, and I want to find out what that means about me on the Internet"? Cuz that's really weird. Or maybe, it was someone who was actually looking for an in-depth comparison of Dan Chaon, author of the fantastic novel You Remind Me Of Me, and Charon, river boat dude of the dead?

I think we know where this is going, because I'm nothing if not eager to please:

An in-depth comparison between Charon and Dan Chaon

Charon: For a coin, will boat your dead ass across the river Acheron.
Dan Chaon: For some coin, will sell you a copy of his excellent novel You Remind Me of Me tomorrow night at Mac's Backs in Coventry!

... Wow, that was awful. Awesome, I mean. I mean...just show up tomorrow. All three authors will be way cooler than me and I don't talk much in person so you won't have to be offended by any of my tom-foolery. I promise.

Graphic novels? Shmraphic shmnovels, I say!

So, the crazy cats at Bookslut have been talking about this comic book lately. Sorry, I mean, graphic novel. Sorry, I mean, funny picture show book. Sorry, I mean, ...whatever. Whatever, coincidentally, being my basic stance on the graphic novel question--there are those out there who have already issued a fatwa against me making light of the subject, while there are others who are waiting out back to high-five me, but really, I just don't care one way or the other what anyone says about what we're supposed to think about graphic novels. I understand the fascination they hold for some folk and I understand why others don't get them and from where I stand it's pretty clear the two are never going to meet, so why graphic novels are these things that need to be defended or attacked, I just don't understand. It's like, remember when we were all children, and we went grocery shopping with our parents, and our parents would beat the living shit out of other kids' parents in the aisle with the aerosol cheez in it, due to the differing factions of belief in the power and validity of spray-can cheese as truth and reality? See, that wasn't necessary. And we all grew past that stage, and the last thing I think we need is to see the typical structure of the debate surrounding the graphic novel (which usually takes the form of some mainstream media person saying "Whoa hey graphic novels are for grown-ups" and some blogger- or other-type going like "Yeah, duh, fool") turning into riots at dawn, gestapo police kicking down bedroom doors to plant comics in the hands of our youth who will be held at gunpoint and forced to read them under cover of comforters and flashlights at midnight, all that jazz. Please, let us not relive the great spray-cheese wars; for the sake of the children.

That said, I've dabbled in reading the form a little, but it's not typical for me to think that the graphic novel is something I need to incorporate into my weekly reading habits. Except for this book that--ah, yes, and here's where we bust it out funkydelicfresh Coldplay-gangsta style and take it back to the start, beyotch--the Bookslut bloggers have been chatting up lately, Black Hole by Charles Burns. (I count three references to the book on the Bookslut blog front page right now; your mileage may vary.) Sort of the way Veronica by Mary Gaitskill got somewhat lodged in my subconscious without making firm headway into my conscious mind through sheer repetition, until I stumbled across a Francine Prose essay which smacked some sense into me (click here and check the third bullet point up from the bottom for my take, or just skip past all my crap and go straight to the Slate piece itself), so too has the Bookslut blog's near-daily mentioning of the Burns book got it sort of into my brain, setting me up just right until I basically stumbled into this Salon piece which took the idea of the book and made it downright intriguing for me. So spray-cheez or not, I might have to check it out.

And yes, by the way, for those keeping score at home: I did just write up several hundred words on two books I have not read and an entire genre I am self-admittedly vaguely non-interested in. But it was worth it, because you got to read the best Coldplay reference you will read all week. Truth!

Tuesday, November 8th, Mac's Backs in Coventry: Kelly Link, Maureen McHugh, Dan Chaon

Psychotic levels of literary awesomeness descend upon and arise from Cleveland, Ohio this coming Tuesday at 7pm at Mac's Backs in Coventry, as Kelly Link (Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners), Maureen McHugh (Mothers & Other Monsters), and Dan Chaon (You Remind Me Of Me) all drop by to read, sign stuff, and from what I know, be generally extremely entertaining.

From the Mac's Backs e-mail:

Tuesday, November 8th at 7 p.m.

Kelly Link continues to cement her reputation as one of the most inventive short fiction authors writing today. Her new collection, Magic For Beginners has been critically acclaimed for its imagination and verve. One of her stories is included in Best American Short Stories 2005 edited by Michael Chabon. Kelly will read with Maureen McHugh, whose collection Mothers and Other Monsters was a BookSense choice in August and Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me.

Mac's Backs ~ Books on Coventry
1820 Coventry Road
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118

Gaitskill, Murakami, Orringer, and Delaney, Attorneys at Law

This article, a profile of Mary Gaitskill, which I got from someone last night and read straight through, but which now it seems requires money to be read, which is really lame, further soldifies my desire to pick up Veronica and read it, post-haste, but not so post-haste that I stop reading The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, which I have finally begun reading just today, and am already sort of disturbed by, which must mean it is good.

This article, a sort of profile of Haruki Murakami, might encourage you to go out and pick up one of his books and begin reading it post-haste. The secret to writing books? Being in good physical shape. Explains a lot about my bloated, greasy-meat-loving text.

This interview with Julie Orringer, which I have not read entirely yet, which I stumbled across quite randomly earlier this week, might encourage you to go out and read How to Breath Underwater, which is an excellent collection of excellent short stories.

This blog post about Samuel R. Delaney will probably not at all encourage you to go read Dhalgren--though you should, anyway--but it might encourage you to go have lots and lots of sex. Lots of sex. Lots, and lots, of sex. Maybe.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

BLEARGH! The "Openings of blog posts I've currently neither the energy nor inclination to write in full" edition

It's tough, and a little bit weird, being a 27 year old guy with more gray spaces in his hair than exist in the entire contemporary political landscape.

I'm sure there's a reason I found a copy of Dressbarn's 2005 holiday catalogue addressed to me by name in my mailbox today; I'm also sure it was probably a mistake for me to have left the catalogue, address-side up, on top of the apartment building's mailboxes, for the entire evening.

Just because I'm doing NaNoWriMo again doesn't make me a pointless hack, right? Look, I even signed up a whole day late, doesn't that make me extra hard-core? Foo. Someday, I'll get an agent, too, and then my agent will totally beat up your agent. Yeah.

Gosh, Chick Lit seems to be quite the steamy topic this week! It's an interesting debate. It's not a debate that's really going much of anywhere. Personally, I'm just completely fucking ashamed of how few female writers I've read this year. Of course it's really more sad that that's a number that has to be counted and gawked at in this day and age; the very idea that there is a power/non-power element of the male/female "binary opposition" that has yet to have been debated out of existence is stupid. The rest, the debates this week, whatever, I think, is all just surface noise. (Says the guy who got a Dressbarn catalogue in the mail today.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Internet: Making it easier to get The Internet since 1924

So last week I mentioned the mp3-blog music aggregator Indieum. Shortly after (about fourteen years ago in Internet time), fellow Metric fan Anthony Volodkin wrote in to mention the "little" site he's been working on: The Hype Machine.

Hipsters, that sound you just heard was your iPod crapping its shiny casing.

I just shot my witticism wad with that line, since I'm more braindead than usual tonight, and I've still only barely played with either site, so I'll try to keep the rest of this brief and somewhat sane: THM looks like the Google of mp3-blogs to Indieum's, uh, much smaller Google. So I think their maybe going after different audiences here. Indieum's surveys a handful of what I believe are the "top" mp3-blogs to give you a good skimming off the top. Because you don't have time to check everything out. THM, on the other hand, gathers links to MP3s from a fairly large number of blogs, so when you--ahem--"tune in"--as it were--you're going to get everything there is. Because you will make time to check everything out.

That said, THM seems to have a few more things in mind for its audience. Namely, it lets you check listings for individual mp3-blogs, letting you pick and choose which bits of noise you want to cull out. Plus--and this might be killer--THM pushes podcasting ability. As in you can pick an mp3-blog's listing on the site--or, the entire site, because you live and breathe the cutting edge--and pull out a podcast feed which you can drop into iTunes and, voila, your iPod is magically filled for you with delicious new tunes. I imagine many mp3-blogs have their own podcast abilities, but there's something nice about having something like that centralized for the sake of convenience, if you're of the multiple-blog persuasion, at least. (I've already got the Salon Audiofile feed subscribed and downloaded, which is kind of a dreamy situation.) As is right now it looks like it would take some finagling to get the podcasted song files to act as part of a playlist on the iPod--which I'm sure there's ways to do, and I'd find them, if I weren't lazy, and ready for bed.

So in conclusion you're either already playing with The Hype Machine because you're in love with it, or you're still reading this because you're hoping I can make it clear why this is cool. If I weren't so tired I'd take a better stab at it than this: it's like what radio should be, except, it doesn't suck real bad. (I think.) [Edit: While I had read the site's tag line before I wrote this concluding paragraph, yeah, I didn't intentionally copy one for the other. Quite accidental, honest. Yeah, I'm tired.] [Edit again: Maybe I hadn't read the site's tag line before I wrote this concluding paragraph. Because, see, it's a rotating tag-line. As in, you get different tag-lines whenever you hit the site. So, right. Please disregard here whatever needs to be disregarded.]

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Literature and salsa: two of the tastiest things I know

So, show of hands, here. How many of you can honestly say, "I want to read a book about a butler"? Yes, that's right, no hands. None of you. If you put your hand up, if you honestly just looked at your computer screen and said, "I want to read a book about a butler," then, I'm sorry, but you're a liar, because nobody wants to read a book about a butler. You don't. Just put your hand back down. Liar.

And this is why book synopses are bullshit: because saying a book is about "a butler thinking about his life" will make the book sound lame, and people won't read it, not the way they should read it, at least.

See, I finished Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day today. (Yeah, yeah, I know: welcome to 1988.) Had I not read and loved another of Ishiguro's books (Never Let Me Go), I probably would have continued to shrug RotD off, because the whole aura around it was one of dullness--literature with a capital L, set in England, about a butler, Ishiguro is some great writer, the book won some awards, think I saw a clip of the movie and the movie looked stuffy, blah blah blah. Really, who's got time to deal with all of that, when there's an internet chock full of porn to be dealt with?

Maybe, ha-ha, I was the only one who felt that way about RotD before going into it. Before being really aware of it as something worth going into. Somehow, I doubt it. Maybe, just maybe, many people actually feel the exact same way--but they don't feel that way about one book. Maybe they feel that way about the very idea of literature itself.

Yes, I know. Shocking.

Earlier this evening, I discussed RotD briefly with friend Chris, from whom I'd borrowed the book, and with whom tonight I ate a great deal of salsa. (It's true, by the way; the best discussion of literature happens with a belly full of good salsa. Or, with dominatrix hookers. But not, nay, never, with dominatrix hookers who are eating salsa, because, then, you've got other issues. Seriously this is all true, because it is on the Internet, where things are true.) Friend Chris was glad I found the book funny, because when he read the book in a class, he enjoyed it and found it hilarious and sad and all that; but, and perhaps one should say "of course" here, the classroom majority opinion held that the narrator should quit whining about being a butler because, dude, yawn. Which--"of course"--Chris and I agree was silly, because, it's actually a really funny book. If you actually read the words on the page.

At least, it's funny, until you think about it, in relation to your own life.

And then it's just depressing.

And then you have to eat more salsa. To cheer yourself up, see. Salsa for team happy.

Politics of classroom inspiration and my own personal deep passion for salsa aside, there is a sort of representative-case type thing going on here, I believe. One of them analogy things, you might say. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day is to literature, as friend Chris's classroom is to the world; who cares what literature has to say, when it's about stuff like butlers and man who knows, I didn't get past page 12 it was so dull, right?

That things are that way sucks. Because there's lots of good literature out there that, despite appearances, has little to nothing to do with that "capital-L" crowd of books. Those stuffy, important books, the ones we're supposed to read to be learned, and, whatever. Ishiguro's stuff--at least the two books I've read this year; and yes, I continue to feel the need to point out that one probably shouldn't start reading Ishiguro with The Unconsoled because, whoa--is not capital-L stuff. Sure, it's literature, but it's so of the deeply readable, thoroughly human sort, the kind of book you should be able to relate to and be affected by, not have to write a fucking term paper about. Sure, critical analysis is great and all for that honors-roll overachieving-nerd top-two-percent crowd of literature readers who dig that sort of stuff. (Here's to admitting that I do, in fits and starts, enjoy that kind of and level of discussion, despite my pretensions towards anti-snobbery. Dammit, I'll stand by my lit-nerd brethren when the chips are down; I did my time, I wrote my 50 page analysis of feminist and marxist themes in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh; I've got nerd cred out my pores, man. Shit.) Ishiguro's books lend themselves well to that kind of analytical reading. But what they lend themselves better to is making you laugh and making you feel fucking heartbroken by the time you finish them. It's the kind of relationship with literature--or, art--that maybe you can't teach but wouldn't it be sweet if you could? If you could make the rest of the class see that this isn't all brain surgery, that sometimes, it's more like brain punching?

(It's funny, I guess, that while so much genre fiction feels the need to struggle towards being taken seriously as literature, so much literature needs to (whether it knows it or not) struggle towards being taken less seriously--to market itself as experience every bit as impactful as film or whatever else the kids are getting all up into these days.)

So, you know, in conclusion, somewhat rough and suddenly, because this blog entry has taken me far too long to write for too little valuable purpose: maybe you haven't read Ishiguro. Maybe you should think about reading some Ishiguro. Because he's good. His words make for excellent human experience. Hint: he's not talking about being a butler, or a student, or whatever else. He's talking about being you.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Seems like when I said my brain wasn't working right, what I meant was the headline-writing portion of my brain was broken

One--my girlfriend and I had the chance to see Devendra Banhart over the weekend, capping off a several week string of concerts that included The Decemberists (awesome), Metric (awesome), and the Fiery Furnaces (awesome). While Banhart and the freak-folkers aren't exactly my "scene"--not that I have a particular scene to which I pledge allegiance, and if I did there wouldn't be much outside of that scene that I would swear off--he put on a good show. Man loves his reverb and his echo, that's for sure. We did miss the opening act, which, we were told, involved strategic, blatant use of cross-dressing and Tourette's syndrome. And maybe a drum. Maybe.

Anyways, this whole scene--which, okay, isn't my scene, but which has, it seems, given us Joanna Newsom, whose song "Peach, Plum, Pear" has elicited basically the exact same reaction from everybody I've managed to turn on to it, namely one of initial confusion, followed by a brief period of dread and shock, which leads directly into an all-consuming heroin-mainline level of pure raw addiction--has a sort of creator--Vashti Bunyan--whose music I haven't heard yet, but whose story is simultaneously dreadful and awe-inspiring. In a nutshell: she puts out this album in 1970 which nobody hears and so she quits making music. Then like 30 years later all the kids find the album, decide it's totally the bomb, and elevate her to near sainthood status. Now she's got a new album out and is loved a lot. Nevermind the fact that she pretty much put together her new album using a computer. Folktronica? Somehow, I doubt it. Interviews can be found at Pitchfork and Tiny Mix Tapes.


Two--Indieum might possibly be the coolest toy I've yet to play with. Looks like what it does is, it does the work of tracking down all the hot free legal downloads all the MP3 blogs out there offer up on a daily basis and feeds them straight to you without any of that annoying "writing" to clutter up your impressions of the music. What I think is cool here, is, it looks like you can play the music directly from the page, without having to save the files--could be you could use this to determine whether you want to go to the trouble of figuring out where the hell you want to save the file on your harddrive. I do wish the links to the MP3 blog sources went directly to the posts rather than the blog front page, but I guess the point is you shouldn't need to do that, if you're staying on top of things. Or maybe I'm completely wrong about the page and it's actually all about making sushi. I dunno.


The mental system, you might say, isn't precisely down, this week, but it is undergoing something akin to overhaul. It's not so dramatic, but it does involve the body's decision to follow up the rebooting of certain segments of the brain with its own miniature forms of wholesale rebellion. I suppose if exhaustion, explosive sinus pressure, and a general willingness to believe that becoming not alive would be just fine are the worst things I can say about life this week, then, I'm really not so bad off. I mean, hey, at least I'm not Harriet Miers. Hotel Supreme Court, right? You can check out, but you can never check in! Aw, zing!

Anyways. For some reason my malaise has dredged up immense blogger guilt, that unique shame that plagues one with the sense that he or she is failing miserably to fulfill the non-existent obligations of a hobby nobody asked him or her to take seriously in the first place. When the guilt settles in, I get this uniquely thrilling belief up in me that deleting the blog--nay, removing myself from the internet completely--would be a step in the right life-direction. As rational as that might be, I tend to automatically combat such notions by diving head-first into the template file and tinkering. So, you'll notice, or won't, if you are inattentive or are reading subversive underground Spanish translation bootleg newspaper editions of the blog, that things continue to flex and shift around here--a splash of color here, a bit of new feature there. Most notable, I think, is the dumping of the books log in the sidebar, in favor of mini-mini-reviews of select books. Think of it as my way of helping you find books I think you might like (where "you" are someone who has tastes somewhat similar to mine). Also it's sort of my polite way of saying, "Hey, maybe I don't write real good full-length critical pieces, and maybe I am the weakest book-topic-taking-up blog around, but, hey, I do have a sidebar chock full of almost acceptably interesting mini-mini-reviews! Just like bloggers who are better than me, except, not very well done!" It's something, at least.

Speaking of books--the previously mentioned brain-drain situation has meant reading has happened more slowly than I'd like, but despite all that I did get through Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which was one of those books that when my girlfriend found out I hadn't read it, she pretty much duct taped her copy to my hands then snapped a mental riding crop and said, "Read it, bitch." Which, aside from being way hot, is also completely untrue. She did strongly suggest I read the book, though, and I did, somehow, and, you know. Yeah, I dug it. As has been mentioned elsewhere it's hard, without a bit of mental gymnastics, to see today how this book would have once upon a time been the hot new kid on the block. Radicalism aside, it still works today; there's a certain chill to be had when done with the book, by walking across the room and googling up some pictures. Tombstones and stuff. Yeah. Yikes.

Now I've moved on to Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, which is, you know, hilarious. So far. Had I not read and loved Never Let Me Go I doubt my desire to dive back into the Ishiguro backlog would be what it is now, what with the still to this day lingering effects of the The Unconsoled affair (a book which, yes, I do plan on re-reading, probably not as soon as I might like to). And now here I am and I'm reading that book about the butler, the one that from what I'd heard of it once upon a time--respected, someone made a movie out of it, awards, seemed slow--seemed all capital-L Literary and dull and what not, and, dammit, I'm laughing out loud at parts of it. Nobody ever told me the book would be funny--or if they did, I assumed they meant that capital-L Literary type of funny that doesn't mean you go "ha ha ha" out loud because it's funny but rather you go "oh ho, yes, clever" to yourself because you smugly enjoy being wealthy. Suffice it to say that Ishiguromania around these parts hasn't exactly let up. If they made rock-star style posters of the guy, well, let's say, I'd be learning a thing or two about having things professionally framed, yes.

Beyond Ishiguro, for November, I've got the new Land-Grant College Review to plow through, I've got an older John Banville on the coffee table since he seems to be important, I plan to finally be able to officially say I've actually read Pynchon (meaning, I've got a copy of The Crying of Lot 49 waiting over there), and, uhm, stuff. There's things floating around, enough certainly to fill up my quota for the month. Then December--I've got something special planned for December. Special for me, in any case. Whether I share the specialness with you depends on whether or not I can come up with interesting ways to share. Oo! Cliffhanger!