Thursday, July 27, 2006

You want one in the shape of Infinite Jest, that'll cost you extra, kid

I seem to be in a bit of a creative rut at the moment; about the most creative thing I can say I've done this week is learn how to pronounce Solzhenitsyn. Which isn't actually creative so much as it is a neat parlor trick. A little something to impress the literary kids right after Bobo the Structuralist Clown makes balloon animals in the shape of Philip Roth and right before the ouija board gets Keats on the line ("Here is one whose name is writ in TERROR YES YES YES").

I guess things might not be as bad as all that just yet--my fingers, at least, aren't physically broken, even if the will behind them is feeling somewhat densely damaged. I do have some honest to by god words written about my Dostoevsky Summer, but I'm nowhere near making a point yet, so that's still on hold just yet, and I'm a bit worried that I've shot the whole wad on a metaphor that involves the word "bling." We'll see what happens there. I've a hunch it's time to immerse myself in some writer porn, books by writers about writing, which will at least let me stall for time while I re-train my brain to respond to caffeine, or something.

Otherwise, there's stuff going on out there, none of which I have much of anything to say about. Check the sidebar for as-I-post-them links. One thing I will note is that reviews are rolling in for Jennifer Egan's new novel The Keep. Mostly I'm trying not to read them, though. I've glanced at enough paragraphs to get a feeling for the consensus, which seems somewhat mixed to cautiously optimistic; also I've read enough to know it's going to be quite different from her previous, TDAOC-approved novel, Look at Me. So color me curious.

Finally, I'll leave you with this. Seriously, 40 hits. That doesn't even make sense.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Disadvantage: the book won't offer to buy the next round

There's a handful of authors out there with whom I'd like to talk shop over multiple cups of coffee. (And by talk shop, I mean lace their coffee with borderline-lethal amounts of espresso, so I can get them really super wired, so they'll just talk and talk and talk while I sit there like a sponge designed for the sole purpose of absorbing genius.) Francine Prose is pretty high on that list. Though maybe strangely so: as I've said before, I'm maybe not so much a fan of her fiction, but I'm sort of crazy for the way her brain works when she talks about fiction.

It doesn't look like she plans on coming to Cleveland anytime soon. But that's okay, because her new book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, is coming out this September. Advantages over meeting the real Francine Prose include the ability to stuff her into my laptop bag so that I can reference her whenever needed, and the knowledge that spilling coffee on her will not generate hard feelings resulting in me becoming the target of satirical barbs. I'll admit, I'm weak. I wouldn't be able to handle that.

If you'd like to learn a little more about Francine Prose, you can check out a recent interview at The Atlantic, where she talks about the book, the sadistic culture of writing workshops, and how writing and reading are ultimately endeavors of passion and pleasure and love. I would excerpt part of the interview here but the whole thing's pretty much inspiring and it's hard to pick out any one part of it. (Michael Schaub at Bookslut is better than I.) I'm counting down the days until I can read the book itself.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pynchon Watch Y2K6 Continues

Well, there you have it: the new Pynchon book will be called Against the Day; it will be huge; it will probably be very confusing.

It will also, probably, despite best intentions, remain unread on my bookshelf for a very long time.


Thursday, July 20, 2006


While I unfortunately won't be able to make it--my Saturday is booked about six ways 'til, uh, Sunday--Gloria Ferris can suggest a few good reasons why you should attend Bloggapalooza at the Town Fryer, a street festival and fundraiser to support Meet the Bloggers. (I'm sad that I'm going to miss my chance to meet the Bloggi Lama.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yet another Stephen Dixon post; also, new literary anthology due this year

Yes, yes, another Stephen Dixon post. But this one's not by me. Andrew Palmer, Founding Co-editor of Avery (a brand new "anthology of new fiction"), mentions (over at the Avery blog) the recent publication of End of I., and then goes on to discuss Frog, Stephen Dixon's 1991 National Book Award Finalist novel. Worth reading for Andrew's well-formed opinion of Dixon's work. (Link via Metaxu Cafe.)

What's also fascinating here is that Andrew tells us that the debut issue of Avery will feature an excerpt from Stephen Dixon's next novel, Meyer. The issue will also feature work by Ander Monson, whose book Other Electricities I rather liked. Sounds to me like a literary anthology worth looking for.

Inappropriate Punchlines for Inappropriate Times; or, Tails, a one-act play

Scene: The Internet, circa 2006

BLOGS passing the time in a place without any visible character.

One is well dressed--hats, cloaks, sticks and all.

The other is slipshod.

Each of them has a large leather bag of smarts.

THUMB DRIVES AND OVEN CLOCKS's bag is nearly empty.

CROOKED TIMBER's bag is nearly full.

CT sits. TDAOC stands.

CT: Was Foucault a closet Habermasian?


The play fades out, overtaken by dark and music.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Stephen Dixon Watch Y2OMGBBQ

A Technorati search of this blog informs me that I've dropped Stephen Dixon's name in 15 of my 368 posts. Meaning that, on average, I've mentioned Stephen Dixon once out of every 25 times I've opened up the Blogger create post window. I have no idea whether I've ever said anything interesting or intelligent or persuasive about the guy's work--that strange blogger fear of reading one's own archives prevents me from investigating the matter in-depth. But a four percent blogging batting average has to mean something, right? (Compare this number to Kazuo Ishiguro, who has come up in 26 posts, and Stephen King, who I've mentioned three times. I'm far more of an elitist snooty-lit-loving jerkface than I might like to claim I am, aren't I? Crapsticks.)

Whether or not I've said anything worth saying, the number of times I've mentioned Stephen Dixon means at least that there's maybe a small chance that I've verbally bludgeoned someone out there into reading Interstate, which despite what I'm about to mention remains the one book of his I've read that I'd suggest someone read, were they only going to read one of his books, or were they looking for someplace to dive into his output. People looking for his most current work, though, might be interested in knowing that McSweeney's has just published his latest book, End of I., which is the sequel to I., and that the two books are now being sold as a package deal. It's a good deal, considering how McSweeney's loves to publish not just good books but nice book-objects. (I., I can confirm, is pretty sharp. I can't imagine End of I. being any less nifty.)

The Rake likes it, so far. I plan on picking it up once I go off money-saving mode, myself. Maybe once I work through some more of the other Stephen Dixon titles on the TBR pile. Maybe.

Pynchon Watch Y2K6

Despite my ambivalence towards Pynchon, I still feel compelled to point you towards some potential new info about his upcoming book (as, I should say, was pointed out by the Rake--which is to say that, no, I'm not purposely seeking this stuff out, though, yes, I am strangely interested when I stumble across it).

LBC Summer 2006 Read This pick

The LBC kids have announced their Summer 2006 Read This selection. I think it's the first Read This pick that's felt like a book I really need to read. It sounds fascinating, and I'm looking forward to picking it up.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Let us never speak of it again

So, first, Sleater-Kinney breaks up a couple weeks ago, and now, Out Hud has to follow? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Out Hud was even on the same level, but it still sort of sucks. I really dug on S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. for a good while when I discovered it, and they were ridiculously fun as a live act at last year's Pitchfork festival ("Teddy Grahams? What, was this on Xiu Xiu's rider or something?"). I would have liked to have seen them again sometime.

I hope indie rock band break-ups aren't like celebrity deaths. I don't want to know who the third would be.

The third wire trick is to keep the policeman breathing string

Dan Wickett hooks you up with a link to forthcoming titles from Dalkey Archive Press. Dalkey Archive is, I think, an interesting publisher, one I falsely thought I'd first encountered when I read The Third Policeman earlier this year. (Though in truth it was the Policeman/Lost crossover story that made Dalkey stand out in my mind as a name worth paying attention to.) Turns out I first read a Dalkey-published book back in the angsty halcyon days of 1999, when I read Janice Galloway's The Trick is to Keep Breathing (a book that remains a personal favorite today and one of the first couple books I'm likely to recommend to someone asking for something off my shelves). Then more recently, I read The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus (which, though it remains not a personal favorite, is a book I've come to feel I maybe need to take another look at sometime).

I, like approximately 178 percent of the average reading public, tend not to give a damn about who publishes the books I consider buying. (Except for cases when the name of the publisher is something like "Joe Blow's Basement Paperback Romance Novel Self-Press" in which case I use a handy browser hack to convert the Amazon One-Click Order button to a One-Click Oh Dear Lord Get Me Out Of Here Now Now Now button.) But if I ever cleaned out the To Be Read shelves and was looking for someone to guide me through the vast, unkempt wilderness that is literature for a while? Dalkey'd be an interesting press to follow, I think. And if I happen to find a $500 bill on the sidewalk any time soon, well...they have something for that.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More commentary on the PD/Blogger meeting

...can be found here.

Hee hee! No no. Heh heh. Erm I mean. Huh huh. Wait for it...damn I got nothin'

Hey! Check it out: Dave King, author of The Ha-Ha, is interviewed for the 49th Bat Segundo show. I swear I'm going to listen to this one. Right after I catch up on the first 48 shows. It's just too bad I don't have any huge, gaping empty blocks of time coming up that need fillin'...OH WAIT.

Yeah, the "I'm unemployed" jokes are seriously never going to get old.

Anyway check out the podcast and let me know how it is. Remembering Dave's reading here a while back, I can probably safely promise that it will be an interesting interview. But I make no money-back guarantee. Seriously. I need the cash. I'm unemployed.

Seriously. Never going to get old.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Oh yeah, and speaking of the PD...

...Erin O'Brien was in it today.

You may now refer to me as "The Darb"

I don't know (or care) what this article is actually about; all that concerns me is the fact that it calls Zadie Smith "the Zade," and that it attributes to her the greatest fictional quote ever: "By way of assessing the competition, she concludes thus: 'In my opinion, Jonathan Franzen is a shithead.'" Comedy bonanza goldmine, people.

Damn the editors! Damn the bloggers! Damn the torpedoes!

While I did not today get pulled into a world of literary-critical fame and fortune, I did enjoy the Meet The Bloggers Meeting the Editors Who Are Meeting the Bloggers That Met the Editors discussion at the Plain Dealer offices. It was a Psychobilly Democrat who remarked that here he was, a guy in his thirties, "going on a fieldtrip," which was pretty much exactly how it felt, though we never made it past the editorial meeting room, what with the discussion running for 90 minutes straight. (I wouldn't mind heading back there to steal a quick tour of the building, and I'm sort of kicking myself for not sticking around to listen in on the editorial discussion meetings--I mean, really, where did my unemployed ass have to go that was so important?--so I'm sort of hoping these meet-ups become, if not a regular thing, at least a semi-irregular now-and-then thing, even if just to help sate my vague general geeky interest in seeing what goes on under a hood.)

If the thought of bloggers hating on editors for being mainstream media bastards and newspaper folks hating on bloggers for being annoying young upstarts for 90 minutes gives you hives, you can relax. It was a civil, interesting discussion, I thought. (Whether anyone on either side of the table was changed in their views or whatever...I don't know, you'll have to ask them.)

My takeaway? There's room to explore possible avenues for give-and-take between the two groups. And there does exist a desire to do so. The bloggers present had a great interest in what goes on at the paper; the editors present were genuinely curious about what makes "bloggers" tick. Interest and curiosity are not the same thing, of course. If you want to talk hierarchal power dualities (and who doesn't?), it was clear there's still...let's call them feelings of height and feelings of climb about where you'd expect them to be. I'll suggest it was agreed that everybody recognizes that the rules are changing on the fly, and that people have to keep up on their game, lest they make themselves like endzone-bound Ernest Byners.

Also of interest (ready yourself for the abrupt topic shift) was the fact that the meeting was sort of a, how might one say it..."man-fest". A couple women on either side of the table in a room of about twenty-ish people. Nature of the newspaper game? Glaring blogosphere gap? Or just randomly skewed stats? Beats me.

In any case, it was interesting. Maybe someday I'll try chatting up Karen Long, the Plain Dealer's book editor, about, like, books, and reviews, and stuff. Though it probably wouldn't be a great discussion, because it seems like the litbloggers are really supposed to pick a mainstream media critic and just get all antagonistic up in their business? But mostly I just enjoy her columns, so the sum total of our discussion would probably wind up being me saying "So you like books too, huh?" and her nodding and then me nodding back. Yeah, I'm so not cut out for this.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

If losing one's job means becoming more active in the local community, then I can't wait to see what happens when I become homeless

This one's via Meet the Bloggers. Tomorrow (Monday, July 10) at 2:30 PM the editors of the Cleveland Plain Dealer will meet with local area bloggers before the paper's 4:00 PM content meeting.

I'm planning on attending, assuming I can wake my dead-beat unemployed ass up in time to get downtown. Really I've no idea what I expect to gain from the meeting. Which is fine. Mostly I'm just curious to see what all happens out there in the world during the 9-5 stretch of the day that I've been pretty much locked away from for so long. Should be interesting.

Of course, I'm also interested in not shaving. Or doing laundry. Or really much of anything else. All the more reason to curb the impulse towards decrepitude as quickly as possible, I suppose. Even if "getting involved" feels sort of weirdly like "cheating". H'mm..

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Two me, smart and dumb

The other night, friend Chris and I were discussing the books we're reading. I mentioned that I was reading Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls, Fat and Thin, and that between it and Because They Wanted To, the short story collection of hers that I read last year, I'd decided that I really need to give Veronica another shot, because I'm loving everything else of hers so much that I'm thinking I really must have not been there when I read Veronica, what with it having elicited within me response that essentially amounted to "Eh..." I mentioned I'd maybe pick up a copy for the permanent collection when the paperback comes out. Good a time as any.

Well, looks like the paperback release date is July 18. Good times. I'd say expect further discussion about this book in a month or two, but by now you know better, because you probably realize that any promises I make about things I'm going to talk about on this blog are damn lies. I'll explain my behavior in a couple weeks.

Monday, July 03, 2006

JCU prof wins Premio Grinzane Cavour prize for best debut novel

Congrats to Steven Hayward:

Steven Hayward, English professor at John Carroll University, was in Turin, Italy, recently to accept the Premio Grinzane Cavour prize for best debut novel for "The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke."

The prize, awarded to promising young writers, is among the most famous Italian literature awards. Past recipients include Jose Saramago, Gunter Grass, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee.

I went to John Carroll before Steven started there, but I've heard nothing but nice things about him. (And I did make it to a couple of the Canadian writers readings he set up this spring.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Howevermany Books Challenge Round-up #2

So I suppose, after four months, and in the middle of a four day weekend, it's probably time for another 2006 reading list update. I imagine I might miss a few, borrowed books, library books that have since been returned, etc; also, the exact order may be a bit mixed up. But that's okay. I'll fake it, if I have to.

Why run through this seemingly elitist exercise every couple (or more) months? It's an excuse for myself to keep a running tally of what I've read during the year, because I've grown curious about keeping track of such things, because I feel it helps to lodge books better in my memory. And by doing it this way, I don't have to edit the blog's sidebar code every single time I finish a book. (Which I imagine non-Blogger blogging software platforms might make easier, which is more reason for me to consider jumping ship at some point, someday, maybe, when I cure myself of my laziness.) It's an excuse to think back on some of the books I've read, to see what's risen or fallen in my mind over time. I guess there's the possibility that seeing the order in which I've read books might be illuminating, but I kind of doubt it. There's also the opportunity to say a word or two about books that might have fallen through the cracks, and in today's case, it's an excuse to set some things straight between you and me, namely regarding the potentially misbegotten belief that all I do all day is read smart-people books and think highly of myself for being such a smartypants smart-people's smart person mcsmartsalot Smartstone von Smartborgenson. It's a chance to maybe make up for nearly two weeks worth of slow blogging with a huge lump sum payment, which maybe nobody will read anyway but at least I'll feel better about myself for it. Also, while cowering in sight of the behemoth that is my To Be Read pile (which has actually now been moved to a new bookshelf, and is in fact now even neater than it was to Sam's eyes, and of which photos are certain to surface on this blog sometime in the near future), Jen wondered just how fast a reader I actually am; in answer to her question I can say that no, I definitely do not, in fact can not, read that many books in a month, or perhaps even in a year. Yeah, I can safely acknowledge that if in any given timeframe I do maybe read more books than many people do, it's not so much because I'm a fast reader, but more because I'm devoted to spending lots of my free time reading books, typically to the exclusion of other activities, like socializing in bars, doing laundry, or sleeping, which, ultimately, makes me sort of lame, and therefore, not an object at all worthy of anybody's envy or self-comparison.

Finally, it remains my firm opinion that for the community of readers, all the reviews and critiques and criticisms in the world don't mean jack squat crap in the face of an enthusiastic recommendation from a fellow reader whose likes and dislikes and interests are similar to your own. So let these round-ups be my way of helping you decide whether or not you think my future suggestions are worth your attention. If they are, welcome. If not--no harm, no foul.

Wow. That sounded way more dramatic than I intended.

A'el. Anyway. Here's some books. I liked some of them a lot.

  1. Francine Prose, Blue Angel.

    Though I have admired, enjoyed, and largely enthusiastically agreed with the couple reviews/essays of hers I've read, I just don't think her fiction is meant for me. It's something about theory vs. execution, I guess.

  2. Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans.

    It's true: I am a sort-of raving Ishiguro fanboy. (Also.)

  3. Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop.

    Cause for one of my finest blog headlines ever. Also I think I need to re-read this one very soon, and that it's very important I do so, since I've pretty much given up on the writing front recently; I say pretty much because I know I can't give up, not really, but the outlook (and my own sense of devotion) sure feels bleak right now. Not really writing at all for two months will do that. On the upside, I've lost a little weight. So maybe someday I can at least be a skinny failure.

  4. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go.

    It was a must-read after I read it last year. It remained a must-read after I re-read it this year. Easily one of my favorite books. Hand me a flagpole, and I'll raise this book on it, and wave it around in the air, like I just don't care. It's that good.

  5. William T. Vollmann, The Ice-Shirt.

    A bit of a Vollmann debate broke out recently in the blogosphere when Levi Asher at Lit-Kicks called Vollmann overrated and Edward Champion and Scott Esposito rushed in for the defense.

    Thinking back on the (relatively little) Vollmann I've read this year, Europe Central and The Ice-Shirt, I think I'm currently placing myself somewhere in the middle of the opinion spectrum. (A reasonable but honestly dull and safe place, I'll admit.) While there are portions of Europe Central that will hold up well against anything in your collection--namely what I referred to in my post-read summary as a "loose trilogy of chapters sort of in the middle", a chunk of the book which, were it to be published as a separate novella or story collection, I would recommend without pausing to inhale--there really is a hell of a lot of muck to get through to get to the good stuff.

    It's true, as Jeff suggested, that I need to read some of Vollmann's non-historical stuff. Without doing so it's probably not fair for me to make grand pronouncements about the guy. But I'll tentatively go ahead and say anyway that Vollmann is, honestly, a smart person kind of writer, the kind of guy who only lit elitists might be bothered enough by to bother with. Even though, at times, he really does deserve a far wider readership than he might currently have. He sure doesn't make it easy for someone like me to recommend him to casual readers, though.

    Paradoxical? Yes. I guess he just troubles me and challenges me and I look forward to reading more of his stuff. Someday. And while there's books in my collection I'd hand you before any of his books, I wouldn't block your way if you decided to go for the Vollmann, instead.

  6. Stephen Dixon, Tisch.

  7. Stephen Dixon, Gould.

  8. Stephen Dixon, I.

    Stephen Dixon is also a little paradoxical, maybe, in that, I'll suggest, he really is far more of a "popular" type of writer than he may initially seem to the casual reader, far more humane and interested in humanity and the human condition and communicating to you and with you about that condition than his frankly sometimes awkward prose style and sentence structures and plot outlines and surface concerns and endless repetition and alternate versions of events and his lists and his ands might indicate, and that for the whatever and ever smart-people-book-like trappings of his books his work should be enjoyed by many, many more people than it currently is.

    And while I would not suggest any of the above three books as a starting place for anyone interested in reading some Stephen Dixon--Interstate remains the book I'd press firmly into your open hand without hesitation, because it is essentially incredible and harrowing and plain-spoken and complex and fantastic and almost obscenely depressing in its very nature--I'd say that the way immersing oneself in the various writings of a single author can be richly rewarding is especially true of Dixon, whose writing, when quickly glanced at, might seem sort of samey, is really more varied and intricately and individually textured than might be immediately apparent. I'm not saying every sentence of his drips with honey, but I wouldn't hesitate to suggest his books have features in common with bee hives.

    Has my opinion grown with time and retrospect? Yeah. Will I continue to work my way through his back catalogue? *shake shake* All six books on my TBR pile point to "Yes".

  9. Dave King, The Ha-Ha.

    I liked this book. And I'm remembering now the reading Dave gave here a couple months back. I'm also remembering his description of the book he's working on now. I'm thinking now I'm looking forward to reading that next book when it comes out.

  10. Allegra Goodman, Intuition.

    Left me feeling sort of muddled. It's probably not a good book to read if you really like mice. Did make me want to buy a lab coat. Uhm...uhm.

  11. Philip Roth, Everyman.

    Read it in a day. Found it painful.

  12. Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace.

    I never said anything about this one after I finished it, which is a shame, because it was a good and thought-provoking book, and I really wish I had a better record of at least some of my thoughts about it. If you are interested in historical fiction, and my thoughts about Vollmann have scared you away from his stuff, I'd say Russell's book would be a good one to add to your reading list. I wasn't truly in love with all of it, but what I liked I did like quite a bit. The structure's a bit beguiling at times, but there's a rather brilliantly painful bit near the end that will stick itself in your skull and stay there for a while. You won't want it there, but it's good it's there, because it should be there, I'll say.

    That said, I do want to read her other books. Eventually.

  13. Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code.

    I...uhm...see, it's like...then...there was...this...and...stuff...and...

    Oh, hell with it: I enjoyed this book, and screw you if you think less of me for that. Why?

    Because there's nothing at all wrong with a decent piece of popular fiction.

    Because even the finest libraries have restrooms where even the smartest people have to go poop.

    Because Audrey Tatou is really cute, no matter what type of movie she's in.

    Because this book wouldn't be such a thorn in the sides of so many people if people on both sides of the "opinion debate" surrounding it weren't for some reason taking it all so bloody damned seriously.

    Because if people could stop calling it "factually wrong" long enough to think about it, they'd realize it's really not so uninteresting as a piece of alternate history fiction.

    Because if it wasn't for big plain dumb fun pieces of "popular fiction"--the space operas of David Brin, the thriller novels of Dean Koontz, the horror novels of Stephen King--I would not today be interested in literature.

    Because I said so.

  14. George Saunders, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.

    I wasn't too crazy about this one. . . . . .

  15. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground.

    I kicked off my Summer of Dostoevsky project with this one, which I'd last read about eight years ago. I don't think I got it that first time. I don't think I got it this time, either, though I know I was better equipped to deal with it this time, by which I mean more willing and able to read a book for what's on the page rather than what I want there to be on the page. I will probably read it again before the summer's over.

  16. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Gambler.

    I think I was drunk when I read it. Or just tired. Or something.

  17. Richard Ford, The Sportswriter.

    Strangely, though I honestly enjoyed the book, I feel no compelling urge to read the sequel. Can someone tell me: is Independence Day better? Is it more-of-same? What's the selling point here? Am I weird for sort of feeling like it's just not a high priority for me to read the next book?

  18. Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman.

    Pretty much what I said then. I keep forgetting to press this into the hands of my Lost group, though.

  19. Yannick Murphy, Here They Come.

    I sort of keep forgetting that I read this.

  20. George Saunders, In Persuasion Nation.

    . . . . . .but damn if I didn't totally adore most all of the stories in this Saunders book.

  21. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment.

    I just finished it today. Every bit as relevant today as it's ever been. I'll have more to say about it once I shake off the spell it's had me under for the last month. (I spent far too long reading it. Not good for the ol' mental and emotional health.)