Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ask TDAOC: "is kaavya viswanathan sexy?"

Hi kids. As a service to my readership, I'm starting a new feature here, called Ask TDAOC, in which I answer questions that appear in my search engine referral logs. The first question for Ask TDAOC comes from someone out there in fact, it could be you:

Q: "is kaavya viswanathan sexy?"

A: NO. Remember, kids: plagiarism is NEVER sexy. Not even from college girls.

Thanks for reading! (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, uh, check Technorati, because, damns, this one's everywhere.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Conversation & Comics

Fun discussion at Have Coffee Will Write about writing, blogging, and distraction. I barged into the party late and babbled on for far too long but hey whatever.

Also: I like this. I, for one, desperately want a "Your Time Is Up" panel t-shirt.

Also, and this is in no way alluded to by this post's subject line: here's part of the reason why I've got the itch to read some Philip Roth; his upcoming novel Everyman sounds fascinating (via).

Also, there's a huge dumpster outside my window. What's the landlord hinting at?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Reading material

  • For you: This and this and this and this (and this and this) and this and this.

  • For me: I read Tisch and then I read Gould and now I'm reading I. and after that I think I'm going to read Old Friends and then I think I'm going to stop reading Stephen Dixon for a while, and then that's when I think I'll read Intuition by Allegra Goodman, and after that I think I'm going to catch me up on some Philip Roth, either or both of Portnoy's Complaint or Our Gang, both of which were given to me for Christmas by my girlfriend, who recently asked me if it wasn't sort of sick of her that she was considering re-reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot, which I mostly just thought was actually pretty sexy of her.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"...we just have to be more careful from now on."

Stephen Dixon can be so very really truly without a doubt above and beyond the call of duty depressing, sometimes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Writing about writing is like dancing about Antonio Banderas

(Yeah, it's true. Mostly I blog because I like writing subject lines.)

Scott at thinks books about writing are shit. No, really: he really thinks they're shit.

There are 557 books listed in the Reference: Writing: Fiction section of Amazon. There are 3,270 books in the Reference: Publishing & Books: General section. But the sad truth is that the vast majority of writing and publishing books are shit.

Scott lays out the three categories of books about writing as he sees them. (Hint: he thinks they're all shit.) I'll admit I don't have a lot of experience with these sorts of books, but that won't stop me from calling them all shit, too (because, as my inner-bullshit detector tells me, what else can a writing book tell you but that to write, you need to write, and maybe, if you're feeling plucky, read a little?).

Well, most of them, anyway. Based on a recommendation Gwenda Bond dropped somewhere at some point in time, I recently read The Modern Library Writer's Workshop (aka "The Green Bible") by Stephen Koch. I found it quite readable. In a good way. (His tips about revision were illuminating, and practical.) I'll be re-reading it in time. Also, Scott mentions 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might, which I read last year. (One good "writing about writing" book a year seems about the right pace.)

Scott ends his post with a call for books of practical advice for practical writers. Maybe you know of some books like that; you should go suggest them. Me, I'm going to mention that Koch's book has a "further reading" list at the end that I'll be reading through over time. But for me, I'm more an occasional sucker for a good piece of Writer Porn--those books that give the warm-fuzzy reminder that yes, it's okay to act like a writer, and to think writing is super nifty, because acting like a writer is fun, and writing really is super nifty.

And now I'm going to shut up and go back to talking about Stephen Dixon because you don't need to hear an unpublished putzfuck babbling about the art and the craft of writing. Man, Stephen Dixon is totally awesome! Did I mention I finished Tisch? I'm reading Gould, now. I meant to read something else by someone else, but, I couldn't. I'm glued. Maybe I've placed orders for a bunch more of his books, because I'm sort of suddenly re-obsessed. Remember when I said this was going to be the year I read lots of super long novels like Bleak House and Don Quixote? What I meant to say was this was going to be the year I made mad love to the literature of Stephen Dixon and Kazuo Ishiguro. Mad love, people. Mad, mad love.

My god I must be stopped.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Comedy, for sufficiently low values of funny

Ha ha:

We're writing to confirm your purchase of the following Amazon Marketplace item:

1 of 30: Pieces of a Novel [Hardcover] by Dixon, Stephen

Gosh! I hope they send me the other 29 pieces too!




Friday, April 14, 2006

Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, WIKIWIKIWIKI!, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom, Tisch, Boom

I've started reading Stephen Dixon's Tisch, which was the first novel he ever wrote (I think sometime in the 70s), but which was only published in 2000 by Red Hen Press. It's immediately apparent that the Stephen Dixon Voice was never something he had to struggle to find, but rather that it was sort of uncovered, or born whole, the moment he started writing. Sure, there's been shifts through his career, I'm sure; longer paragraphs or shorter, sentence length variations, some high-falutin' formal trickery, stuff like that. But the core of it--and one of these days I'm going to get down to the nasty technical work of trying to determine what exactly it is he does so I can try to explain what it is he does and why it works so surprisingly well for those of us it works for--has been there all along. (It seems. I'm not an expert.)

Anyway I started reading Tisch just so I'd have the cheap excuse to mention that I've now got friend Chris reading Stephen Dixon's amazing novel Interstate--friend Chris, I believe, is liking it; we're suckers here in Cleveland for depressing things--and to suggest again that you go read Interstate yourself, as well, because it is, and maybe I've mentioned this before, an amazing novel.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More on J-Franz's memoirage

I recently mentioned--which gave Arethusa some space for venting, an activity I whole-heartedly endorse taking up in my comments sections--that Jonathan Franzen will be publishing a memoir. Maud Newton links to an article with more information--basically a recap of a reading by Franzen of material from the forthcoming memoir.

"I am so embarrassed to be publishing a memoir," Franzen said at the event.... "It is something I more or less vowed never to do."

Franzen isn't the only one who is embarassed. Though truth is I've got nothing against memoirs as a form. Me and memoirs, we once had a little fling. (We avoided making babies, though, which is for the best.) There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the form--as with all things, there's those that are done well and those that are done poorly. At heart, memoirs and novels are both about telling stories. Personal stories are totally awesome. Personally I think I'd take a flatbed truck of memoirs over a boatload of thinly-veiled semi-autobiographical novels anyday, and not just because I think I might get seasick. But it seems like it's become such a bandwagon form these days.

So yeah, I dunno. What I do know though is that if you read somewhere about "bloggers" getting "all in a tizzy" about Franzen's move to memoir--they're talking about me, this time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wait, there's a world outside books? Dude, WTF?

Here's some entirely too non-literary stuff for you. Fun!

Chapter 39, In Which Our Hero Grows Too Excited Too Quickly

Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new novel! Jonathan Franzen is publishing a new...oh, crap, it's not a novel. It's actually a memoir.

Which, okay, whatever. I mean, sure, new J-Franz is new J-Franz, and is cause for some joy. (There are those who know me as "The guy who likes Jonathan Franzen a lot", you see.) But yeah, it's not the J-Franz we the people want. I'm going to side with Edward Champion on this one: J-Franz and DFW need to strap on sets and get to work. On novels.

Novels, man. Novels.

Mind you, this is to say nothing against DFW's short stories and essays, nor Franzen's essay collection. There was fine material across these collections, quite enjoyable, good times were had while I read them. But I really do prefer the work they've done on larger canvases. And I'd love to see more of it. Before I forget how to read, I mean.

And hey, while you're at Mr. Champion's blog, check out our good friend Brown Trout's appearance in the comments. (By "good friend" I mean "he once commented here".) Then click through to his blog for more choice bits:

There's no story in her work yet, but good fiction always starts with images. The procession is like this: Image > Story > Character > Prose > Plot, with Story ultimately being most important. For more commercial work, it seems to go Plot > Character > Prose, leaving off Image and Story altogether in many cases. I've no problem with commercial or genre work, though I can't teach it and know absolutely nothing about it. It's as alien to me as screenplays and writing for television.

I like that, though I'm not sure how much I agree with the order. (By which I mean, I don't disagree, I just don't know yet.) Also, it's nice to see someone smart enough to know they're not smart enough about commercial work.


I told her that it [writer's block] doesn't exist. I said that what exists is an unwillingness to compromise. People don't get blocked, they just choose not to write garbage. You can always write garbage. Writing garbage takes discipline, though. If you write enough of it eventually you crawl out of the hole you're in.

Which, well, just...yeah.

Blue Panda

Blue Panda
Originally uploaded by thegrue76.
In lieu of real content: an origami panda in blue.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Two Norsemen walk into a bar. The third was fated not to. Then he died

Hey, did I mention that I'm reading more William T. Vollmann? Yeah. I am. Just when I thought I was done with him for a while, too.

At about 350 pages (with 70-ish pages of notes), compared to the 800-page Europe Central, and--for that matter--most other Vollmann books, The Ice-Shirt is bite-sized. A chewy-chunky speculative-historical snack. It's tasty enough, while being far less (for me) emotionally engaging. Which is okay right now. Perfectly fine. Oddly, that's part of why I'm enjoying it as much as I am. He's not so interested here in psychological realism, or getting inside characters' heads. There's not too much digging into the motivations people have for their actions. (Which is not something I'm much feeling up to the task of dealing with, myself, right now.) It seems like Vollmann is more interested in just what happens. What cursory glances there are toward why things happen sort of amount to answering the question "Why does stuff happen?" with the answer "Because." There might be more to it than that--hell, probably is--but that's been my take-away, so far.

Actually it's funny, Vollmann sort of reminds me of Neal Stephenson here. (I'm thinking Cryptonomicon, maybe the religious/historical lecture-ish portions of Snow Crash, and probably, from what I know of it, all of the recent trilogy.) It's not a stylistic or topic-matter comparison. It's more like, I can see the two writers as having similar aims for their fiction. For the reader, approaching these particular books, it's sort of like you have this really psychotic-smart friend, and when your friend gets really crazy-mad interested in stuff, whatever stuff, you get to watch them plow through the stuff they're interested in, and their enthusiasm for their subject gets communicated through their writing, and you can suddenly see how this stuff, that might not normally seem intriguing, really actually sort of is. It's pretty neat.

So I've got about a hundred pages to go. I'm sort of intrigued by Vollmann's writing technique (sort of a "genius-functional" thing). I don't know how much prior writing has been done on the topic. I'll share some thoughts on the subject at a later date.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Monday, April 03, 2006

Three times in one day? What can I say: I'm a young, virile blogger; now take off your links, baby

A.S. Byatt: I loves me some A.S. Byatt. And by "some" A.S. Byatt, I mean, "one novel by" A.S. Byatt, namely, Possession, which is, absurdly, the only book of hers that I've read. As I admitted in a comment over at Stalkers Not Allowed, it was a tough book to read in public, what with the words "A Romance" slapped there on the cover. And my Burne-Jones cover image, well, let's just say it didn't exactly scream "I'm a young, virile male who likes to get women naked so as to facilitate sweaty sexual intercourse, possibly after consuming massive quantities of beer". None of which facts prevented me from enjoying the book while remaining somewhat comfortable in my liberal pansy masculinity. My comfort being supported, no doubt, by at least one female friend of mine's admittal that she, too, found the book a little tough to display without feeling a need to explain to everyone in sight that it's not actually a romance, like a romance novel, see. So.

Okay. Anyway. So A.S. Byatt was in town recently to do a reading and a talk and I missed her because I didn't know she was here because I am a huge drooling moron who isn't fit to tie the shoes of even the lowliest litbloggers. (I really did swear at my screen, when I found out. There may have even been a little gnashing of teeth. Let it be said that I am taking measures to ensure that such connections shall not be left missed again.) That said, someone recently linked to a Michael Silverblatt interview with Byatt that I've been meaning to download and add to my ever-growing virtual stack of yet-unreviewed iPod author audio. Looks like there's 90 minutes worth of literary goodness there, and, well, it's Michael Silverblatt, who, let's face it, the guy is doing the Lord's work. Which doesn't explain why Byatt is doing the black magicks on him in this photo. Huh. Weird. I guess this means your drinking game for the duration of the audio will involve doing a shot every time Silverblatt whines, and shotgunning a beer every time Byatt tells him to let the hate flow through him.

(A thousand fake dollars to the first person to photoshop that picture into what I'm thinking of. Bonus fake points for animation. Ready...go!)

But sadly, though I'm certain it's for the best, no random swordfighting

I couldn't make it to Mac's Backs last week. Austin Kleon did, though, and he's posted a good (certainly better than anything I'd have offered) write-up about the Maureen McHugh/Ellen Klages Tiptree Award Anthology reading, complete with sketches. Maureen also posts about the reading, complete with thoughts on the hipness of the independent bookstore, and a cookie recipe that, if you're like me, will have you looking for a friend who isn't a complete kitchen failure to try to convince them they need to do some baking.

Maybe just a nibble, maybe just a squeeze: on breasts, blood, babies, and Never Let Me Go (though not in that order)

The Morning News is currently holding the second annual Tournament of Books. The brackets have hit round two, and I am forced, though belatedly, to agree with Edward Champion: the Tournament jumped the shark today, when Mark Sarvas chose a book that I haven't read over Never Let Me Go.

I think it's safe to assert that current and regular readers of my little blog will not be surprised when I say that, when I learned of Mark's decision, it may have crossed my mind, however briefly, to suggest, perhaps to even merely imply, in an entirely joking fashion (though with a certain cunning undertone of vaguely contained anger/angst, itself masking its own Midwestern "Aw, shucks, t'warn't nothin' but fun meant by it!" beating heart) that this decision proves one thing: Mark Sarvas eats babies because he hates America. And babies. Except when served, medium-rare, on a plate, with a baked potato. And steak sauce.

Here, if you're interested, is Mark's judgment. But if you haven't read Never Let Me Go yet, and if you somehow, blessedly, still know little to nothing of the story, then you should read the book before clicking that link. (And what are you waiting for, anyway? Must I bleed my recommendations? Don't tell me you haven't even considered reading Steve Erickson's Our Ecstatic Days yet. You haven't, have you? Fine: hand me my blade.) But suffice it to say that when Mark "Fancypants Babyeater" Sarvas says things like

Never Let Me Go is a virtuoso display of icy control but is finally as flat as the voice that narrates it.


But what was heartbreaking there [in The Remains of the Day] is merely grating here.


Ishiguro has a clear purpose in mind that he executes faultlessly, so in the end it's a book one can admire--but is unlikely to love.

that I feel I must set aside my humorous smack-talk (because, I ask you, what good are tournament-style brackets without liberal heaping helpings of smack-talk?) in favor of a serious and heartfelt call of capital-b Bullshit. Just a few days ago, I finished reading Never Let Me Go for the second time; my pre-existent emotional and spiritual state during this reading could not have been much more different than that of my first time through the book. That first time I read the book, it scared me and broke my heart. This second time I read it, the book offered me, wait for it, comfort--of all things, comfort, from a piece of modern art!--in a time of sadness. That one book was able to do both things only increased my regard for this warm--far from icy!--bundle of words; refutation of Mark's suggestion that a person would be "unlikely to love" Never Let Me Go is left as an exercise for the reader.

All that said, there's at least one point I can agree with, though it comes from John Warner's post-match analysis (which, itself, should also be avoided, until you've read the book). It's true: Scarlett Johansson has very, very nice breasts.