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!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Thumb drives are the new oven clocks

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nifty, and hopefully not bloody

There's been some recent restructuring of the sidebar over at Brewed Fresh Daily (seems the site's been even busier than normal lately). The Cleveland blogroll's been moved off to a separate page of the site. Sad? Hardly. Now, there's a Recent NEO section of the sidebar, featuring, as if by magic, or as if by the work of mysterious data-sized gnomes, links to the ten most-recently updated blogs in Cleveland. Nifty! Maybe this will encourage further hither-and-thither relations between the Cleveland area bloggers. Or maybe blog-whores like me will just hog the list, as if challenging the less-frequent bloggers to knock us out of place, resulting in NEO blogger civil warfare, laptops drawn after ten paces across the Detroit-Superior bridge at dawn, bulk purchases at coffee shops across town effectively DOSing blogger functionality, the bloody, bloody works. Or maybe it'll just be one more reason for me to load up Firefox with tabs to skim through when I should be, oh, I don't know, reading books, or something.

And no, this isn't a cheap excuse to keep my name up in the recently updated list...certainly not. Nope. No way, no sir.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Some stuff, some of which is varying degrees of awesome

Exhaustion is awesome. Exhaustion is all about falling asleep for two hours before going out to dinner. Exhaustion is all about realizing you've got 5-6 weeks to read five novels of your own choosing to meet a deadline of the utmost personal importance and thinking, "Meh!" Exhaustion is awesome.

Here's some stuff.

  • An interesting question at Writes Like She Talks. I posted a comment that should in no way be confused with an actual helpful answer. But hey, helping meet a comment quota is akin to generating good bloggic karma, right?

  • Flipping back through my postings, I come across this article about Jonathan Safran Foer. I haven't read JSF yet, because, just because. No idea what I think of his writing but I'll admit to face-stabbing levels of jealousy when I think of his level of fame and his age. Now, if I remember correctly, I think I wanted to call bullshit on something in the article...hmm...
    Even more than his first book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close experiments liberally with unusual literary devices. [...] Foer is unapologetic about these devices, though he acknowledges they may not suit every reader's taste. "The novel is far and away the most conservative art form of the last century," he says. Separated by a few thousand years, there really isn't all that much distance between, say, Homer's Iliad and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

    Hmm, okay. I think I'm with him so far. I mean, more or less. I mean, there was that part in the Iliad where what's his face's dead body got dragged all around the city, and then there was that part in The Corrections where the dad decided to give himself enemas on his back on the basement floor. Okay, I can see the connection. I think--ah--er, hang on...
    But think of the artistic distance travelled from Leonardo Da Vinci to installation artists or from the music of Mozart to John Cage and Eminem.

    "If I were a painter and I painted words on the canvas, no one would mention it," he notes. But when writers incorporate visuals, people protest.

    A ha! COUGH COUGH BULLSHIT COUGH. See, if he were a painter, and he'd painted words on the canvas, nobody would mention it, because, nobody cares about painting. Oo! Diss!

    Okay, you got me, that's not true. What I really mean to say is: the difference is, when a visual art like painting incorporates words, the symbolic value of the words lies in their nature as word-as-image, whereas the symbolic value of incorporating visuals into written text is that it's stupid.

    Oh! Ow! Damn! There I go again. No, seriously, I mean, a word in an image becomes an image, the nature of the artform incorporating into itself what is put into it, whereas writing is about words, and words can't really incorporate image and make them into words. Nevermind the photo is worth a thousand words stuff; a photo is worth a photo and 1000 words are worth 1000 words. Comparing the two is like comparing a wallet full of cash to a gunshot in the night. Different value systems.

    Or in short, putting image into text is not like putting text into painting, but more like putting rank odor into image.

    Ah, fun. Anyways, if you're keeping score at home, that's Me, 1 point, Literary Wunderkind, 0 points, but a mansion full of money. Crud.

  • Meanwhile, back where things make sense and I'm not lobbing softball arguments against brick walls, Jonathan Lethem gets interviewed real long-like. Snippet!
    RB: At the moment do you look at—where is the seam or break in your career trajectory?

    JL: ThereÂ’s a big one right now. A lot of people are led, understandably, to thinking of Fortress as a break with what proceeded it. In my view, though, itÂ’s the opposite. Fortress is the culmination of what IÂ’d been doing to that point. It recapitulates almost every interest and every concern of the early books, and utilizes all the tools IÂ’d accumulated, all the methods and motifs I had been exploring and gathering.

    You can look at it this way or you can look at it that way so long as you look at it my way: that The Fortress of Solitude was a kick-ass novel.

  • While we're on the interview train...Kazuo Ishiguro gets interviewed, too. Snippet!
    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Most of your novels have been about an individual thinking back over a life. Do you ever want to write something quite different, like a poem or a play?

    Ishiguro: I have been doing some screenplay writing, and that for me is a completely different way to work, where I collaborate with other people. I think that comes from a different part of me, and that's quite refreshing. But I remain fascinated by memory. What I would like to tackle next is how a whole society or nation remembers or forgets. When is it healthy to remember, and when is it healthy to forget?


    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nietzsche once said, "To forget makes you free."

    Ishiguro: Well, it's such a big subject. I think my books have concentrated on countries going through big social changes on the one hand, or individual memories on the other hand, but I've never been able to put these two things together. It is quite a challenge.

    You know what won't be such a challenge? Me reading all his other books before he puts out his next one. Six books in 23 years. Which was all fine and dandy before I became a huge fanboy since reading Never Let Me Go (which is still an awesome novel, by the way, and you should read it), but now that Ishiguro's a huge silver permanent market spot on the screen of my green-line-blip-blip-blip lit-love radar screen, that kind of pace ain't going to cut it. Screenplays shmreenplays! Unless he's working with Jeff Noon on the screenplay version of Falling Out Of Cars, in which case I would totally have a complete and utter fanboy fit of glorious joy. Actually I don't even know what I'd do. Probably weep with nervous energy for the next five years. Yeah, that'd be awesome.

  • I, for one, am greatly anticipating "a post on the meaninglessness of using the word 'important' when talking about literature".

  • I wasn't a huge fan of Francine Prose's A Changed Man. As in, I sort of hemmed and hawed about it for a while, but in the end, the book just didn't work for me. But it didn't bomb for me so horribly as, say, Saturday by Ian McEwan did--a book I just really didn't enjoy much at all, what I read of it, at least--and so when I've seen her name pop up on Slate now and then, I've read her stuff, and, well, I like it. She writes a damned interesting book review, and I usually don't think book reviews are very interesting. But now I really want to read Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, like, a lot.
    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.

    Well, okay, now, see...I'm sure I've come across these types of novels before, but this description makes me want to go find them all again, and re-read them all again, and understand why I'm reading them, this time. I'm sort of tempted to toss Snow by Orhan Pamuk halfway into this category but I think that might be mostly because you could say anything to me right now and in response I'd pull out my copy of Snow and wave it in your face while wildly gesticulating. Yeah, that doesn't make sense as something to do. But then, neither do a lot of things.

  • I'm just sayin'.

  • Get to it before the lawyers do: The Elegant Variation bootlegs an essay by John Banville about winning the Booker prize. On the one hand I read this, and, fromperspectivective of "random internet jerk", I kind of think, "Oh, POOR baby, wrote books, got attention, OH WAH." Then on the other hand he's just so bloody nice and proper and English about it that I mostly just want to beat up the first hand then go drink some tea with Mr. Banville. Plus then there's this right here and dammit, even though he beat my main man Ishiguro for the prize and all, I'm still glad I've got one of his books out from the library on my coffee table. I mean, look at that photo! That's just awesome.

  • David Mitchell is awesome.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

What's a guy got to do to get some sleep around here? Huh? Huh?

I've currently got a, ah, large number of words written about Orhan Pamuk's Snow--lots of false starts, lots of digressions, lots of vague ideas. Whether or not this little piece of mine ever sees the light of day, I'll say this much: Monsieur Champion was correct in suggesting that, if you give yourself over to Pamuk's writing, you'll find plenty of mental meat to chew on. Ahhh--the joys of a well-played literature as food metaphor.

Anyways, here's a sneak peek at what I'm writing up:
First off, before I even start, it might be worth noting that I feel like I might totally lose my shit at any moment.

It was the evening after I'd slept two hours that I read the last 175 pages of Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow. I drank a lot of coffee at a coffee shop near my apartment, because I knew if I tried to read it at home, I'd be too comfortable and too distracted by just about anything I could find to let myself be distracted by to get through the rest of the book, which I needed to finish that night. (Don't ask.)

This was, I will admit, not the way to read the book. Snow is a book of intricacies and details, ideas and meanings, many of which too easily blend and blur together during a high-speed reading session. I'm sure I missed more than I got.

So why then write about it? Why then pretend like I got enough from the book to be able to offer some ideas about it to people who may or may not have read the book? Isn'’t there risk here, risk of mis-representing the book, or mistaking the events or the ideas of the plot and the story?

Why? Because sometimes, you've got no choice.

Yeah, don't ever say I'm not putting myself out there for you to ridicule. Or for you to find likeable. Or lickable. Whatever. Weirdo.

In any case, I'll sum it all up for you: Snow is a good but damned tough novel, and it probably won't get as many readers as it should, which is a damn shame, especially what with Pamuk being really relevant right now. Plus, I think that Snow pretty much nails the middle ground that, unless I'm completely mis-reading things, seems almost called for in Slate's take on the Ben Marcus vs. Jonathan Franzen (or experimental vs. realist) (or art-minded vs. reader-minded) (or up-in-the-clouds vs. down-on-the-ground) (or babbling idiots vs. pandering sycophants) affair, a dichotomy I could have already told you was total bull-honkey, but it's nice to see them "big-media" folks catching on to the idea, anyways. Yeah, I went there. Whatever.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hand me my cocaine, I'm goin' through

Via pretty much every lit-related blog on the planet comes The TIME magazine list of the top 100 novels written since 1923. The Elegant Variation notes that the mag avoids "making sticky judgment calls by listing them alphabetically", which is a good idea, because seriously, Woolf vs. Nabokov? Rushdie vs. Ishiguro? Hells no. Like Conversational Reading, I do wonder about the selection of Never Let Me Go over Remains of the Day (and I haven't even read RotD yet) but I ain't complaining so long as my man Ishiguro gets to represent; unlike Conversational Reading I'm not wondering about the selection of White Noise over Underworld because White Noise was awesome and Underworld wasn't very awesome after the opening section, which was indeed very very awesome, but not so awesome as to make me read the entire book. Someday. Miss Snark sent me snarkily snark snarking--er, I mean, counting off what I'd read on the list. I hit 25, which would be higher if I were allowed to count books my girlfriend has read but I haven't. Or at least we'd get to count Infinite Jest twice. Hipster couple attack!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Well, we ain't dumb, but we sure ain't smart

While I'm in the mood to draw connections and comparisons between Ohio and the heard-of-only-in-science-fiction-and-fantasy west coast--EC's RotR once again points us toward some interesting news.

Seems Ohio is the 20th smartest state in the union. We're right under North Dakota. Of all places. Massachusetts comes in number one and California comes in 43rd and New Mexico is dead last. Fan favorite Oregon makes a poor showing at 35 while upstarts Texas and West Virginia tie at 33.

Can't say I have any idea why Ohio placed where it did. Did NEO arch-enemy SWO bring the whole team down? Was the poll conducted at an Ohio State frat party or only at a CWRU frat party? Did the pollsters watch the movie Gummo, vomit a little, then slap down a random number?

The trouble with wi-fi

"Apparently, there’s now a small-time crime ring stealing tips from cafe workers and absconding with laptops in cafes".

Okay, granted, this is out on the west coast, and hence is way way way away from us Cleveland folk--a strange nether-world hidden from our gaze by approximately one billion miles of farmland, mountains, and Chicago. But you got to wonder--is this the sort of thing we should be worried about? We're seeing the laptop explosion just as much as anywhere else, I reckon. I know I've experienced it plenty myself: as the coffee shops I've spent so much time at over the last five-odd years have gone wireless, I've gone from being "that laptop guy" (you mean, you can use computers without the Internet attached?) to being "that doofy-looking guy who's all p.o.'ed because all the tables near the outlets are occupied".

Not that I'm trying to incite panic or anything. I don't want to see my hangouts going into lock-down mode or anything. But then, nobody wants to be that guy who packs up everything just to go to use the restroom or to go buy another cup. Seriously: don't be that guy. But then, if someone came in and ripped my computer out of my hands, I think I'd break down in tears, data backed up to thumb drives or not. God knows I try to write at home--making your own coffee is a lot cheaper in the long run--but it just doesn't work that often.

Is it enough to raise of small bit of awareness, to remind people that stuff like this does happen? Are those laptop lock devices I've seen in catalogues here and there maybe worth a second look, and not actually the sign of a totally paranoid soul? Is it just a risk you have to take (like, as mentioned in the link, carjacking)? Do members-only writers colonies suggest a viable side-benefit sort of solution? (Sidenote: that's an idea I have mixed feelings about--namely, with the whole inclusion of wi-fi thing. Writing and blogging are, I suspect, two different activies in that regard. Blogging, yeah, you kind of need the internet. Blogging, from the latin bloggicus, blo="make noise", "gicus"="in cyberspace". With writing--and yes, I'm displaying my prejudice toward "writing = fiction" here, I admit, and I apologize--taking the internet with you is just a way of taking all those distractions with you that you were supposed to be leaving behind when you left the house to go do your writing. Yeah, I dunno.) Or do we just brush it all off as some freaky-deaky coastal thing--crime doesn't happen in our humble little city!

I'm raising the issue lightly here, because I don't want to seem like I'm yelling fire in a crowded theater. Just honest questions. Maybe someone else can tell me if there is an issue here, and whether it's one to be taken seriously (before it takes us seriously?).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

J-Franz to tha L-Day-Pay!

It's no secret: I dig the J-Franz. I do, I do. The Corrections was a very good novel, no matter what axes some folk got to grind.

Well, now, guess what, suckas? I'm not alone anymore. Lou Diamond Phillips, star of a whole bunch of movies I don't think I've seen, has laid waste to all ya'll nay-sayin' posers:
6. What is your favorite book?

Couple of them... [...]I recently read The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, and I truly feel that that's probably an American classic. I think it's very Dickensian, in a certain way, but it is such a ridiculously accurate, poignant, and hysterical overview of American life.[...]

YEAH THAT'S RIGHT. It's an American classic. Lou Diamond Phillips, he's got my back on this one.

If you're interested in the rest of what Mr. Phillips has to say--and why should you be, since you've just been given more truth and beauty in the last minute than most hipster kids got in the last ten--then click here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rock! Rock! Rocktober links!

There's bullet point rock, and then there's Bullet! Point! ONSLAUGHT!

  • There's reviews of some recent feminist books making the rounds. Here's one at Salon about Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs, about the "raunch" drenched culture we're living in. And here's another about Peggy Drexler's Raising Boys Without Men, about single and lesbian mothers raising sons without fathers. That latter one pointed out by Conversational Reading, where some interesting discussion ensues.

  • There's one thing on America's mind this year: John Locke, wtf? Okay, I lied, there's two things on America's mind this year: John Locke, wtf? and the question of just who is Miss Snark? Or at least, this is my sense of America, based on me sometimes looking around me, and me sometimes reading my search query stats on how people find this Web site. For the first, I can answer thusly: The island is Laura Palmer. Now that that's all solved up and we can all move on with our lives, we can begin attacking the second question, because truth be told, kids, I've got no idea who Miss Snark is. So I don't know how you all keep winding up here looking for the answer. It's a little bit weird, actually, I'll admit. I mean here I am offering a wealth of incisive, cutting book reviews, and y'all skip right over that looking for answers I ain't got. Oh well, can't say I didn't warn you. (And on the chance Miss Snark makes it all the way to my dusty little corner of the Internet, hey, you're awesome. Can I, uh, have your autograph? No reason.)

  • "Howl" turns 50 on Friday. I'm not really sure how to celebrate the birthday. I hope it doesn't involve looking for a fix, though. Last time that happened? Nobody saw me for twelve years. And when I finally came back? I knew kung-fu, ate nothing but Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and would respond only to the name "Mariska!" As in, Mariska, with an exclamation point. Don't ask.

  • I didn't know Susan Orlean (author of The Orchid Thief, which I have not read, the book that inspired Adaptation, which I did see, and liked muchly) came from Cleveland. Looks like she's coming back, too. Gosh, mad props to CPL. Keep the hits coming, eh?

  • I have it on good authority that the Mac's Backs bookstore on Coventry is where all the cool kids in Cleveland will be on November 8. Why? Because it's an OMG WTF Literary Bonanza Palooza Explosion of Awesomeness (my title, not theirs) that day, with Dan Chaon (You Remind Me Of Me, a TDAOC "Oh awesome!" pick), Maureen McHugh (Mothers & Other Monsters, which was awesome), and Kelly Link (Stranger Things Happen, which I've read and liked, and Magic For Beginners, which I have not yet read but which I will now have to cram into my reading list between now and then) all reading and rocking the basement to its very, er, foundation. I've already got one friend who quit his job today so he'll be able to make it. So get those resignation letters ready, people.

  • The Elegant Variation points us toward the sale of a new Vikram Chandra novel that clocks in at 1200 pages. That's not the interesting part: the book is "billed as a combination of The Godfather and a Victorian Gothic novel". Question: What do that last sentence and alcohol have in common? Answer: They kill your brain cells.

  • I guess Ben Marcus (who wrote The Age of Wire and String wrote some article in some magazine (paper things, maybe?) in which he attacked my close, personal homeboy Jonathan Franzen on the grounds that Franzen maybe poo-pooed the whole experimental literature thing. Or something, the story isn't all that clear, but Conversational Reading has posted some commentary. Having read none of the original source material won't stop me from adding my own commentary, of course: The Corrections made me stand up and shout and spike the book when I was done with it--which was quite awkward in the middle of the crowded coffee shop, let me tell you--while Marcus's book sort of made me go, "Oh, ah, uhm. Right, then." Not that I didn't like it or anything, but, eh...I'm really pretty cool with experimental literature, when it doesn't pretty much blatantly make a point of avoiding making eye contact of any sort (or at least only mostly) with the reader. I want to be challenged as much as the next guy, just not by Sanskrit.

  • And finally, before I start dipping back so far into the links I start pasting in stories about the emergence of that hot new book Infinite Jest, Maud Newton gives us learning about how Canada has totally once again kicked our ass.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Snap judgments. Or crackle or pop judgments. Your call

You know how sometimes you're reading a book, and you've decided a third of the way (or less) through it whether you're going to like it or not? And sometimes you worry this is altering the way you read the book, prejudging it or whatever? Okay that last part doesn't matter so much for this next part but I wanted to get it off my chest--that sometimes I do that--as a dirty little confession and this seemed like the place to do it.

Anyways, so. Yeah. Let's just say I read the opening page or two of Orhan Pamuk's Snow last night and I'm really really sad I haven't been able to go back to the book since. I mean sure the next four hundred pages could be the literary equivalent of a post-opening page victory lap on Pamuk's part, and I hope and doubt it's not, but even if it were, I think I'd still be okay with it, because, wowee, those are some good opening paragraphs.

And I mean, I don't know, it's always a little weird, reading literature in translation, because (unlike some lit bloggers who are a million times more popular than me and a whole lot more incisive and active and generally better bloggers than I'll ever hope to be, but who shall remain nameless) you'd have to shovel a whole lot of horseshit to convince me there's some true divide between style and narrative, or entertainment and literature (I mean sure I know what the point is and all but seriously if you aren't entertained by literature then there's not much point in reading it, go read some philosophy or sociology texts instead, and if your narrative doesn't have style, then you're pretty much getting rid of any reason to make art, to make literature itself, and do I come across as bitter about the whole thing, because, damn, maybe I am, and really I do totally understand the point, Stephen King versus Fyodor "Jigga What?" Dostoevsky and all, but I really don't like the implications of all of it, that it's somehow all mutually exclusive, and dammit there I go again, aside ends now), I wind up stuck on questions like, How much of this do I like because of the author's original writing, and, How much of this do I like because of the style the translator has used in bringing this work over, and so forth and so on. Which is to say it's not that much happens narratively in that opening section, but that, for me, the style of the text brings what does happen to sharp, vivid, meaningful life.

So, you know, if it's Maureen Freely I have to thank as much as Orhan Pamuk for arresting my thoughts with a handful of paragraphs, so be it: thanks. I'm hooked. Send me a doctor's note so I can call in sick to work for a week, please? 'kay. Thanks, bye.

Oh and P.S., thanks for nothing; I mean, seriously, this was the week when I was supposed to stop "having a life" and start "writing my crappy fiction" again, and now I've got your stupid little opening paragraphs to be totally annoyed by, because they're great and better than anything I'll ever do, and I mostly want to just go read your little book instead of working on my own crap. What a serious pickle.

Monday, October 03, 2005

David Maine's The Preservationist and Fallen

Quick thoughts: So I've read David Maine's two Genesis-retold books, The Preservationist and Fallen, and I liked them, the latter more so. They're both quieter books than I think I was expecting--they really focus on people more than Epic Events Of Biblical Proportions. Which is interesting. At heart, both books are family dramas--albeit, ones in which God has a speaking role. They're both family dramas about ancient happenings, told quite straight-forwardly with a healthy injection of modern sensibility; rationality, feminism, the like. They both deal with people as quite literal beings in literal situations--ejected from the Garden, Adam and Eve have to learn how to hunt and forage; commanded to build a boat, Noah and crew have to wonder just how well the boat will hold all those creatures (and how to stow the creatures). In doing so, the books strive to ask--without providing or reaching any definitive answers, the books generally refusing to judge or pre-judge the characters--quiet but important questions about the nature of humanity. What is it to be evil, to have evil inside you? What is it to deal with family and/or the loss of family? Are we getting better or worse as people? What are the ways in which we see, and react to, and act upon, the world? And yet for that, the books don't stride too far from their main charge: telling good stories, stories that many of us know, stories that these books seek to tell in new ways.

I'd love to see these books fall into the hands of kids; I think there's challenges there the elders of us are probably less prone to accept.


In case I haven't mentioned so, I think that reader of depressing books might be one of my blogging heroes, in no small part due to this interview.

(In other news, coming soon from TDAOCHQ, posts longer than a sentence or two. Maybe.)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hey, you know that new Oprah book club pick?

Well, I guess there's a Cleveland connection.

(Via Google News Alerts, a.k.a. "That thing that, now that I understand it, I really oughta add search terms other than 'Jonathan Franzen' to it".)