Tuesday, May 30, 2006

As if I was ever here to begin with

Hey! Hi! Blog! Wow, neat. Yeah. Ok, so I'm back, after a slightly extended leave of technical absence. User error plus forgetting to google the internets equals me feeling really dumb.

But you say your forgive me? That's sweet of you.

So what have I been up to? Uh, not much. I'll tell you that I'm working my way through Richard Ford's The Sportswriter right now, and just in time, too, since word on the street has it Ford will be putting out the third and final Frank Bascombe book this fall. Maybe I'll catch up by then, or maybe not, I don't know and ain't gonna fuss over it.

You can probably insert the standard response here: I'm enjoying this book more than I expected I'd enjoy a book about a guy who writes about sports. I'm intrigued enough to want to know where the story's going, and am plenty addicted to the brilliant one-liners Ford scatters every couple pages. Bascombe is an interesting character, if middle aged white guy characters are your thing--or really if writing is your thing, because Bascombe's got things to say about that. Neither of which, actually, come to think of it, are really necessarily my thing, I think: I'm too young and too self-conscious to feel like I can go too far reading books about suburban middle aged white guys, but there's certainly room on the shelf for such books when they're about more than that, which this one is; and as for fictional writers talking about writing, well, eh, metafiction tomfoolery or striving to make a point about life, you know? I guess I'm cynical, more than I realize I am, and Ford sort of cuts through that.

And well I really need to get through this book so I can go on and read the sequel, Independence Day, just so I can get out of my system that subconscious belief that a Wil Smith summer blockbuster was based on a high-profile literary novel, the belief that goes on buggin' me every time I see the book at Half Price Books.

A few other scattered items of note:

Otherwise: I'm still planning on devoting a month this summer to the beast known as poetry. Of course, I'm also planning on devoting my summer to reading Dostoevsky's last five novels. Two goals enter, one goal leaves, is all I'm sayin'.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Not so deep thought for the night

Jennifer Egan--author of the very fine novel Look at Me--should have a new book coming out this year. Awesome! If victory dances were jars of salsa, I'd totally eat two jars of salsa right now.

Deep thought for the night

Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground and Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day offer competing visions of consciousness and self-awareness.

In Dostoevsky's book, the mind is like a man standing between two mirrors that face each other. He stares into the long tunnel of his own faces, each of which stares back at him, each with a different expression. All while the face in the very back tells all the other faces to go to hell.

Ishiguro's vision is that of a single mirror. But here, the stretch of mirror at eye level is stained incomprehensible by old, forgotten, misplaced tears.

Monday, May 22, 2006

It's all in the timing

As for George Saunders's The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, I sort of feel like this book might have been funnier before Stephen Colbert, in joking about the President to the President's face, proved that satire is sort of dead. I mean, what role does absurdity have in an already far too absurd political landscape? We all went Ooh and Ahh and stated that, boy, that Colbert sure does have very large testicles, saying such nasty things about the President! But it's not like anybody expected him to change anything. It's not like the President woke up the next day and said, "Wow, gosh, I'm doing a shitty job, here. I better fix that." No, we weren't looking for that. Just the laughs, please.

Anyway, the book, there's humor in there, but for me, it wasn't so much about what was being depicted, because really, it's sort of all obvious. Hey! Leaders are sometimes crazy! Sometimes the media just makes noise! We're spurred to corrective action for the sake of our own pleasure! Mud is sort of gross! I don't feel like the book shed light on anything. While there were some great turns of phrase--the main source, for me, of the book's Funny Ha-Ha--nothing really new comes of the story.

That said, I didn't mind reading it. It's a short book, and when satire works for me anymore, it's when it's at it's shortest. Dive in, get the laugh, get out. (The Onion is never as funny as its headlines.) There's some mystery, here; I don't know what to make of the Creator, but I guess I also don't care to dwell on it to figure it out, either. So. I'll suggest the book's worth reading, anyway, even if for no other reason than maybe you can come back and tell me what I'm missing.

Author trading cards

No, dude, seriously. Author trading cards!


For the three people who may not have given up on this blog yet: there may be some network flakiness this week as I may be changing Web hosting providers. So if it seems like the site's gone, it's just hiding, temporarily.

On a related note, anybody care to suggest cheap but decent hosting providers? I figure I'm pushing about zero gazillionty terabytes of data each day, if that helps you get an idea of what I'm looking for.

Monday, May 15, 2006

You know you and your litblog have made it when...

...you get a tag named in your honor at MetaxuCafe. Which pretty much means I, and this blog, shall not be "making it" any time soon. Because, see, one would have to blog things. Things worth tagging, see. Which I don't particularly do. Unless slumping becomes taggable. Which, let's not let it come to that.

I will take a moment to tell you that I really liked Philip Roth's new book Everyman, but I liked it in the way that, I theorize, a touristic masochist might like a good swift kick to the junk. However much one might like or appreciate the experience, there's really no way to honestly label it as "pleasurable". Or, really, "good". Call it what you want, but the fact remains: it hurts like a bitch. And may cause nausea. And, for the truly touristic masochist, once may be more than enough.

Uh, beyond that, nothing's really inspiring right now. I read Dave King's The Ha-Ha and I liked it, and I liked his reading a week or so ago, and it was all very nice. I read Allegra Goodman's Intuition and, well, I'm sort of eh about it, without much knowing why. Now I'm reading Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace. It's good. But I've been in this slump, see--a blog slump, a life slump, a work slump, an "I just finished writing a story that might be the best thing I've ever done or maybe it actually sucks all rocks and maybe it makes me look like a huge tool but now I don't know how to follow it up anyway so I'm gonna eat all the ice cream and bleah" slump. So maybe I'm just not too inclined right now to be inspired by what might otherwise be inspiring. Plus you can add "I just got outbid on an item on eBay" to my slump list. Bleah!

Otherwise...uhm...I'm thinking about dealing with The Poetry Question here for a while. To shake things up. Like in a really diligent studious overachieving "I'm actually gonna say smart people sorts of things" sort of way. Like maybe for one month this summer. In a sort of "setting aside all other worldly concerns" sort of way. All worldly concerns, except maybe for delicious nachos. Because I really do enjoy nachos.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Two people. One mission.

One's an actor who's got the whole world...in his hands! He's got the whole wide world...in his hands!

The other is the writer of the extremely good TDAOC-endorsed novel Look At Me.

What do Steve Buscemi and Jennifer Egan have in common? Click here to find out.

Actually, no, don't even bother. Just go rent Con-Air instead. And then read Look At Me. And then imagine your own punchline. Cuz, I got nothin'.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Dave King--author of The Ha-Ha, which I just finished, and was ultimately surprised by the fact that it ultimately surprised me--will be in town at the Jospeh-Beth at Legacy Village Friday night at 7:00 PM.

The best sentence you'll read on the Internet this week

"The universe is bigger than a breadbox, cheaper than beer, thinner than blood."


Cleveland indieshop bookstore Mac's Backs now has a nifty website. Recommendations, events listings, current book club picks...awesome. Check it out.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Yup, there's nothing short about Battlefield Earth

Elizabeth Crane--whose short story collection All This Heavenly Glory I totally endorse--is starting a book club. It's gonna be all about short stories. And it might be the greatest thing ever.

You will sacrifice three mindless hours of your life for this, and don’t even try to tell me they’re not there. I know what you do and I know it because I do it too. You will report back here on June 1 for discussion, or even before if you like. You do not have to be my friend. You only have to like to read. And you will link this to many and several people who you believe could be convinced of my theory that the short story is due for a Travolta-level comeback minus that weird Scientology movie.

Hells yeahs! Short stories are totally badass, and you don't even have to buy them five dollar shakes to get them to take you home with them. And anyway, you need a little fiction in your life. Looks good on ya.

Clicky clickity click to find out more and to learn what's the first pick.

Election coverage

Worth reading.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I don't think I'll be waiting too much longer before I pick up her books

Novelist & memoirist Thrity Umrigar--who I've been meaning to read for a while, and who I believe currently lives in the Cleveland area (seems so!)--is guest blogging this week at the Powell's Blog.


On television, shouting matches between tweedy, effete liberals and snarly, red-meat conservatives masquerade as news shows. The lines between information and entertainment are so blurred that we have coined a new term — infotainment. The grotesque reality shows are not realistic at all — unless you count surrealism to be a form of realism. The White House pays journalists to plant stories in the press and no one seems to care very much. And in the business world, euphemisms thrive — downsizing, restructuring, involuntary attrition. These euphemisms have one objective — to bury the truth.

Good stuff. Click! Click!

Sketch-notes for English majors on Stephen Dixon's I.

Things that are I. (also known as, several reasons why the book I. is more fascinating than it may seem at first glance):

  • The title of the book I., a novel by Stephen Dixon

  • Stephen Dixon, who the reader is implicitly (intimate nature of the novel) and/or directly (through external readings--interviews, etc--in which facts of story correlate with facts of Stephen Dixon's real life) invited to compare main character of book I. with

  • I. as initial of the main character's name from book I., only given name/only provided identity for character throughout entire book

  • I. as the shape of the open hole in the cover of the book, through which we "see" (note I./eye homonym) Stephen Dixon/I.; title of book as literal absence from book--I. is "literally" not in the "literature"; I. as literal hand-hold on the story (fingers slip through cover while holding book open on lap)

  • I. as the open hole in the cover of the book, through which the image of Stephen Dixon "sees" us, as readers, and comments directly on our relationship to literature as literature (see also, breaking through the fourth wall, exemplified by brief flirtation with first person viewpoint beginning on page 101, followed by later (p. 123) blurring of line between first person and third person in introduction of "I." as name of main character, who had previously only been referred to as "he")

I. Yi Yi

So I've cut the Stephen Dixon love-in short, and by short I mean after three books, which is really still a pretty healthy amount of Stephen Dixon, even when none of the three books are Frog. I'm glad I finally read I. because it looks like McSweeney's will be publishing the book's sequel this summer. At least, Amazon says so. So that's pretty exciting.

Right now I'm reading The Ha-Ha by Dave King, because Austin mentioned a while back that King would be coming to Cleveland, and I was pretty sure I'd heard of the book before, and it sounded interesting, and I like seeing author readings, so. One plus one and all. Dave King will be around town Thursday through Saturday; I'll be crashing the Friday night reading at Joseph Beth Booksellers.

As for the book, I'm not too far into it, but I'm shocked to say that this book might feel more enclosed and interior and cooped-up and downright claustrophobic than any of the Stephen Dixon I've been reading, which is shocking because it's hard to get much more cooped-up and interior than Stephen Dixon (who oftentimes doesn't seem at all interested in acknowledging even the existence of a world outside the focus of his main character) unless, of course, you write a book in which the narrator literally can not speak or write but wants to very badly, which is what Dave King's gone and done, so, you know: victory, of sorts. Two perhaps obviously completely different types of "claustrophobic" literature. Also, neither of which type is "bad", nor should my comments be meant to be taken as negative reactions to the stories involved--though I guess it's maybe a little obvious I'm a, ah, fan of Dixon's work. Though I suspect this "cooped-upness" might be part of why he's not ragingly popular even amongst the literati-sect: we spend all our time in rooms, it's natural that eventually we want our literature to say things about rooms themselves, not just what's happening inside the mind of a character inside those rooms.