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.