Thursday, September 28, 2006

Next thing you know, people are going to be using cars to drive, and coffee makers to make coffee, and windows to check the weather outside

So I guess there was this thing going on last night:

Housing Works Bookstore and The National Book Critics Circle bring you a panel on blogging and book reviewing, with a discussion about what happens when the two intersect.

Oh boy. There's a recap of the event over at the Critical Mass blog. Oh god, I feel a migraine and some naughty language coming up after the block quote:

For all the talk about the separateness of blogging and print reviews, the panel came to the conclusion that these mediums are essentially engaged in a single (growing) conversation about books -- and blogs have merely made that conversation more visible, providing not just new points of view, but an ever expanding amount of information sites like this one or which link to and comment upon book pages from around the world.

Oh man. Did you people really need a fucking panel to tell you that? Hell. Where's my Advil.

People, let me lay it out for you: The Internet is nothing more than a medium for communication. Blogs are nothing more than people communicating with other people. There is nothing inherently special about blogs. Some people, they got together and invented computers, and then some other people found a way to make those computers "inter-connect" with each other in a sort of "network" so that information could be passed between them, and then everybody else on the planet got together and said, "Hey, let's use this technology for the purpose it was created for," and they did so, and then there were blogs.

That's it. That's the whole story. And now the conversation is over. Know why? Because I just ended it. Because there's nothing left to say. Sure there's details that may have been left out of this Intro To Blogging 101 course--but it's all just a matter of execution, and is really only of interest to people who are going to create their own blogs. Then you need to know about Technorati and search engines and how these things actually function in a technical sense. As for how they function in a communicative or a "higher" sense? There's nothing left of interest to say: if you can read, if you can consume and process information, you can see what blogs do.

So now we can all get on with our lives, secure in the knowledge that there's nothing all that special about blogs, safe in the recognition that we can stop acting like we're all engaged in some kind of intellectual turf war, and we can all put our egos back in our little ego boxes and go about doing what we do best, which is engaging in communication. Whether on the Internet or by telephone or television or newspaper or over coffee at the coffee shop or by Pony Fucking Express.

I'm not saying we don't live in interesting times. We do. I'm just saying there's nothing surprising about why they're interesting.

Now can I get my Advil please?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: The illustrated edition (well, it would be, if I owned a scanner)

Hey kids! When we last left our almost unexplainable fascination with Thomas Pynchon and his upcoming novel Against the Day, which we here at TDAOC HQ have nearly next to no intention of actually reading once it's released (as much as the idea of playing Internet Grad Student with all the other crazy bastards who have preemptively cleared off their calendars for the next eight months may appeal, from a certain sick and twisted and yet nonetheless entertainingly desirable standpoint), we'd noted that the release date had been bumped up to November. A look at the Amazon product page for the already less-understood-than-the-average-brick book also reveals that the page count has leapt from 900-odd pages to 1120 pages. For those of you who didn't wake up after four sordid college years with minors in mathematics, I can safely derive for you that that right there is an integrated shitload of pages. Personally, I hope the extra 200 pages contain nothing more than one long list of obscure, contextless references designed solely to keep True Pynchon Fanatics busy with their researching and referencing and thinking until the man publishes his next book in late 2018.

But while the future is soon to be now the past ain't even past yet and Gravity's Rainbow is about to get the pretty pretty picture treatment. No no, don't get your hopes up, it's not a Major Motion Picture starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: Garth Risk Hallberg, guest-blogging at The Millions, alerts us to the release of Gravity's Rainbow Illustrated, which features one picture drawn by Zak Smith for every single page of GR. You can see all 760 images online; much like the text of the book itself, I have no idea what the shit-hell to make of it. But the pictures are pretty neat anyway.

What's of interest about the book version for me--and for you fans of me and my impeccable taste in tasty things--is that the book has an intro penned by Steve Erickson, author of Our Ecstatic Days (one of my top two Books of 2005) and a bunch of other books which I read all at once last year causing semi-permanent self-brain-breaking. Can't say I'll need the book, but I'll be curious to see what Erickson has to say about all of it. Probably doubtlessly something totally awesome.

And so long as we're on the subject of Erickson and authors I profess to care little to nothing for or about and yet feel compelled to mention them with some regularity--remember that new post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy book I mentioned a while back? Yeah, well, who better to review it than Steve Erickson? So he did just that. And dammit if the review ("Apocalypse is personal. It's in the details.") doesn't further pique my interest. (Via Jeff at Syntax of Things, who certainly doesn't hurt the cause by calling The Road one of the best books he's ever read.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dmitri Shostakovich

I'm ashamed to admit that though I've read William T. Vollmann's Europe Central, I've yet to track down good recordings of Dmitri Shostakovich's work. (What, you think it's all lame Squarepusher jokes musicwise up in this joint? Naw, man; I got, like, class, and stuff. Or at least, I used to go to some classes a long time ago.)

Monday marks Shostakovich's 100th birthday. AllMusic--also known as "AllYourTimeJustWentDownTheDrain"--notes the occasion, and has posted some 30 second samples of his music. Not quite going to cut it as far as really experiencing the music goes, but it's a nice reminder that I still need to find his stuff for real.

Friday, September 22, 2006

IDMs with Wolves

...starring Tom Jenkinson as Kevin Costner.

Special Topics in What the Hell?

So I finished reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics last night.





Let's say I liked it and leave it at that for now while I continue to, ah, process. And that those of you who had already read it pretty much had every right to giggle to yourselves when you read my previous comments.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Pros like me, we contain multitudes."

Matthew Tiffany's response to the Lev Grossman interview. (The line I quote in the subject line made me laugh out loud.)

Next thing you know, people on the internet will be using the internet for the intended purpose of the internet, OH NOES

Lev Grossman--who is, like, some important guy, or something--says:

At the risk -- nay, certainty -- of sounding kind of snobbish, I wish book sections in general would leave book-reviewing to the pros. There's a pervasive notion that anybody who can read can write a book review. Not so. Good god, there is nothing so boring, so dank and unappealing on the page, as a bad book review.

I'd reply at length, but my brain made like a finely-tuned wave crashing against the immovable rocky shore of the last sentence's stupidity; it done well broke on that shit. (I mean, come on. Things that, on a page, would be more boring, dank, and/or unappealing include high school poetry, wet caves, feces, and many professional book reviews. And I'm not even trying.)

I shall, instead, pretty much command you who are interested in this subject to go read Bud Parr's excellent break-down of the book review and response landscape. Teaser ahead!

Having defined a book review we have to acknowledge that what most people are doing, amateurs and professionals alike, are just writing about books, plain and simple. Whether or not there really is a "pervasive notion that anybody who can read can write a book review" is questionable. The truth is that writing itself stands on its own in this world of amateurism; a review by an amateur will not be read because the writer sits comfortably behind the reputation of a newspaper, but because it's smartly written and interesting; the crème de la crème shall, to mix a metaphor, rise on its own.

(And lest I seem like I hate Lev, note that the sentence that follows in that interview the ones I quoted above is "And at the risk of sounding reverse-snobbish, I'd like to see more serious review attention go to genre fiction," which, well, okay, you can't hate a guy who says things like that. Even if he is a big stupid jerk.)

Grant Bailie is a lit-tease

Some of the best opening lines I've read in a while.

We built this city on soup cans and crabs

You know what this city needs? More Erin O'Brien. The Free Times is doing its part by giving her a regular column. She's written for them before--she notes that past columns have dealt with "the local race track and masturbation and crossdressers." So you know it's gonna be fun.

Admit it, you know you love her, if for no other reason than she also hates it when I act all smart and crap.

That's it, I'm takin' my blog and I'm goin' home

Even Austin Kleon's mistakes are cooler than my blog's best moments. (Which, okay, wouldn't be hard to do, but.)

Had enough Mark Z. Danielewski yet?

Of course you haven't. Here's a big-ass article and interview at Los Angeles City Beat. I haven't read it all yet, but based on this paragraph which caught my eye, it looks like it will be good reading:

"House of Leaves was about plot," says Danielewski. "It was a house that sat on a 'plot,' and it was about stories, just like a house is supposed to have many 'stories.' Only Revolutions is about character. It is a character – literally and figuratively – 'driven' book." It doesn't grab the reader as immediately as House of Leaves or have the previous novel's polyphony of perspectives. The book hurtles you straight onto the road and into the split-screen vortex of the folie à deux of its couple, without the framing narratives or scholarly apparatus. "It's getting out of the 'House,'" says Danielewski, "away from ancestors and progeny, which is what House of Leaves is about." The "This is not for you" injunction of his first novel is replaced in Only Revolutions with the phrase "You were there." If House of Leaves is a centripedal book – moving further and further into the interior of its uncannily oversized edifice – Only Revolutions is a centrifugal book, venturing into the great outdoors, embracing the road and the world that whirls around its archetypal teens.

(See "Post 414," Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks)

Because I sometimes feel the need to listen to the hype, I'm reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl right now, because that's what all the kids on the street are talking about these days, and I'm about two-fifths of the way through it, and it's pretty good, and occasionally is really funny, and has boldly colored characters in what feels like an interesting, if somewhat slow-moving, situation; I want to know what happens next, which is good. The book's narrated in a voice that is all about being a voice, whether or not that voice sees itself as being as present as it is. There's a certain undercurrent of absurdity to the narrative voice and the narrator herself which is oddly appealing, once you get attuned to it. In short, it's a fun enough read so far.

But I've got two problems with the book, both of which deal with narratorial tics, if you can call repeatedly and spontaneously slapping oneself in the face with a ripening clump of kelp while talking to the guy behind the counter at the post office a "tic." First, there's the constant reference to other texts. (Movies, books, whatever.) If I met this narrator in real life, and she talked that way to me in real life (which she wouldn't, she being a shy sort)? I'd cry a little on the inside. Because it makes me feel sort of dumb. It's terribly distracting and annoying. As is, my eyes are slowly learning to skim anything that appears after the word "see" between parentheses. I sort of wouldn't mind a bootleg Phantom Edit copy in which all the intertextual-references have already been Yossarianed for me.

And, second, and here I'm talking to you, Blue van Meer, narrator of the book, as if you were real, because sometimes you do feel real to me, which is yet another compliment inconveniently dropped into the middle of a complaint because oh I so do hate to complain when things are otherwise going well, because it makes me feel guilty as hell: Blue? Hon? Love? Oh precocious and vaguely Daria-esque maiden of my heart? Shut up about your father. Shut up. Shut. Up. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut up. He's a great guy. I get it. We all get it. We got it a long time ago. You're an interesting creature, and you give me great hope when you see your own outline outside the shadow of that great, great man. But the thing about progress is it doesn't involve going backwards all the time. Break the hold he has on you. I'm pulling for you. There's a lot of pages left. Use them wisely.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Video killed the novelist star; also, yet more rambling about Mark Z. Danielewski, and experimental literature

Here's a little video interview with Mark Z. Danielewski. Kind of neat. Interesting fact: each page of Only Revolutions apparently contains 360 words. Which makes sense once you look at the book, and I'm surprised I hadn't guessed so on my own yet. (Via.)

Also, Scott at Conversational Reading calls some BS. Like the current commenters, I disagree that some of his selections are "experimental" books. Infinite Jest, yes. (Though, as per my recent musings, I think it was the quality of the writing--sentences!--in that book, when they were at their best, that was what made the book most interesting--far more so than silly footnotes about the names of drugs.) The Corrections, not so much. (Though gods lords yes I loved that book, and I liked what he did with the pacing and structure of the story, I'd be hard pressed to say it's a truly experimental text.) What I got through of Underworld some years back didn't scream experimental to me, nor has what William Vollmann I've read (which is admittedly extremely little). And while I don't know Scott Erickson's work I would not hesitate to add Steve Erickson's name to the list, whose Our Ecstatic Days was phenomenal, nevermind the fascinating playfulness of his entire back catalogue. Also, most recently, and obviously: The Exquisite by Laird Hunt. (Which I still am recovering from, though I think I'm almost there. Believe you me: not reading a book for an entire week feels downright queer.)

Whatever my thoughts on Scott's list, though, I do agree that I think there's far more experimental literature (however one may choose to define "experimental") out there than the reviewer Scott quotes gives credit for. Of course, at the same time, I do find that House of Leaves felt like a thunderbolt. Or maybe like a buckshot to the emotional gut. If for no other reason than that book felt more fun to read than many other books I'd read up to that point. I do think the quality of the writing and the experimentation in that book do things few other books do. It found its own (literal and figurative) space to exist in.

All of THAT said--I've no interest in the possibly logical outcome of these ramblings, which is seeking an accurate definition of what is and isn't experimental literature, what elements comprise an experimental work. Scott's got something different in mind with his list than I do with mine. And that's cool. But I'll stick with an "I know it when I see it" idea of what it is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Where do we go from here? / The words are coming out all weird"

Damn. The Exquisite ruined me a little, I think. I mean, I was on a pretty good run of books before I read that one, and it was good because I needed a really pretty good run, but then to get blown out of the water by one, I dunno. I look at the shelves and it's like, what have you other books got to offer me, right now, where I am? Maybe we'll be friends later, but not right now. Not just yet.

That said, Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions came out yesterday. I don't have it yet, but I will soon, because whether or not I'm ready for it, I need it. Likely is, if you know who he is by now, you already know whether you need it or whether you emphatically don't need it. Actually, you probably know whether or not you need it based on whether the thought of extremely experimental fiction gives you joy or fear. I expect the book will change few minds.

That said, if you are still on the fence, I doubt this article is going to push you one way or the other. Basically all you learn is that, hey, Danielewski has the gall to not be his characters. Shocking! Also you learn he maybe thinks highly of himself. Shocking!

The article does sort of dance around a good point, one that's pretty crucial from my perspective: for all the high-falutin' intellectual hooha Danielewski offers, it's the unfatigued imaginative spirit of House of Leaves that makes it an indubitable winner for me. To try to explain: He does all sorts of layout stuff in that book, sure, and it's all good clean fun, but none of it means anything on its own. The fact that he uses these techniques to further a story (made of stories) in interesting new ways is part of what makes it worth something. That all of it is built up out of good strong sentences--oh yes, those basic building blocks of all literature, sentences with voice and meaning and tone and implication--that's what makes the magic happens. It's the voices of Johnny Truant and Zampanó, the play of their stories off each other, that goes farthest for me in creating the illusion of depth within the novel. The sense that there are unfathomable distances between the pages that are left to be explored. Or run from.

Also it certainly doesn't hurt that Danielewski's got the coolest autograph ever. Seriously, you can look at my copy of the book, but keep your hands off. I'll cut ya.

Also it doesn't hurt that the story is just spooky as hell.

Also, come on: Poe. Someone stirred in an extra helping of hot when they were cooking up that family's cup of the gene pool. Haunted, people. Check it. One of the best albums of the decade. Try to fight me on this one. I dare ya. I'll cut ya.

I digress.

To go back to sentences--it's the same thing going on in The Exquisite. The structure of the book is pretty fascinating, and is what gives it its experimental edge. But there is something really unique going on with the voice of the narrator there. A certain shiftiness or slurriness to the voice on a sentence-by-sentence level, as if there's something really multipronged about the guy's mindset. But then that's just one more thing I look forward to paying more attention to next time I read the book. Once I, like, learn how to read again.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New litmag - samizDADA

Here's something. samizDADA is a new lit-ish magazine that promises both a print edition and an ongoing online presence. Sounds like they've got an interesting missionesque-statement:

Regarding samizdat, we will accept for publication things that other magazines may not, and we encourage an open attitude towards the pieces that we do publish. If you read or see something on the site that you like, pass it on. Print out a copy for yourself. Print out a copy for someone else. Print out a few copies, staple them together, and leave them in a pile at your favorite coffee shop. Hell, print out your favorites and mail them randomly to people in the phone book...

Regarding dada, the other half of the magazine’s name, we value the absurd and the reactionary. Absurdity is often lost in many of today’s literary works; instead of sprawling, careening fun, the literary scene is taken up with short stories of grim and gritty realism (often dealing with young people and their difficulties with their parents / the modern world / etc.). We appreciate stories, poetry, art, and photography with a sense of whimsy and fun. It is even better if you have a point, but it is not required.

They'll be publishing under Creative Commons, so if you're into that sort of thing, there you go; also, they're looking for submissions.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Exquisite by Laird Hunt

The Exquisite by Laird Hunt is experimental and noir and dreamy and disturbing and complex and dark and hilarious and is one of the most enjoyable and thrilling books I've read since I started this blog. Now and then when I was reading it I had to put it down and it was physically painful to do so because I really wanted to devour the entire thing all at once, but it was mentally necessary to get away from it because, damn.

Plus, the cover totally rules.

Bud Parr suggests (some quantity of possible-spoiler level info in that review, not necessarily in a giving-away-the-ending sense but which, if you're like me, you might still be happier avoiding until after you've read the novel) that the book might be appropriate for fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Alejandro Amenábar's Open Your Eyes (remade as Vanilla Sky). Matthew Tiffany seems to recall the book being compared to Cloud Atlas. I'd say those are fair comparisons. I'll go a step further: if you're at all interested in the intersection of experimental narrative and fantastic story-telling, then you should read this book. Hell, even if you're only interested in one or the other, you should still give it a shot.

If you're at all interested in reading the book--and you should be--then you might not want to read any more reviews. If you know what I mean, then you know what I'm driving at: half the fun of this sort of book is experiencing it raw for the first time, of finding out what sort of book it is as you read it. But at the same time, I'll say I suspect the book doesn't exhaust itself after a first reading. There's plenty here I look forward to re-reading. Plenty here that I suspect will gain additional resonance during future readings.

Plus I'm also totally looking forward to re-reading the opening story of Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen because Hunt's book explicitly references Link's book. So you might want to pick up a copy of that, too, when you place your order. Or, if you're already a fan of Ms. Link, then, well, go read Hunt's book. Now.

Other items of note: Laird Hunt has an author's Web site and a blog. is throwing an Exquisite Party in NYC on September 17 where you can meet Hunt; I would totally go if I lived a couple states closer. The Exquisite is published by Coffee House Press, who also published Sleep, an anthology of short stories by Stephen Dixon which has been on my TBR pile for some time now.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

TDAOC HQ: The editors have been sacked

I was recently unkind toward a review of Jennifer Egan's The Keep. Donna Bowman, author of the review, was kind enough to drop by and set the record straight about her intentions. Seems the source of my ire--a statement about Ms. Egan being a "known" chick-lit author--was probably not actually written by Ms. Bowman. Misunderstandings and outlandish reactions, on my part, ensued.

(What all this really means, of course, is that I'm now focusing my death-ray vision on the Onion A.V. Club editorial offices, with special focus on the bored intern, or whoever, it was who wrote the offending intro statement.)

So, be sure to go read Ms. Bowman's response, then come back here and call me names, because I'm dumb. Here, I'll start: I'm dumb!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And by hazardous, I mean, scrumptious

Warning: Reading Maureen McHugh's blog may be hazardous to one's diet.

(I'll say I like the new name of her blog, though I'll admit I was pulling for "Sorry Darby" to get bumped up to main-title status. I like to think that sort of thing would do wonders for my yet-still-not-actually-existent writing career.)

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: Cover image, release date; grass, your ass

Amazon's got a cover image posted for the upcoming Thomas Pynchon novel, Against the Day. It's sparse. But there's a symbol on it. Hey, Blue! What do you make of that clue? Is it the real deal? An advanced copy cover? Does it really even matter to the legion of eager fans?

Also, note that the release date has been bumped up to November. So if you're like me and you were considering reading all of Pynchon's other stuff before the new one comes out so you can play along at home with all the grad students on the Internet? Forget it. Go home. It's over. You're screwed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ow ow ow ow Ow Ow Ow OW OW OW OUCH

If I've been remiss in replying to the fact that The Onion AV Club this week referred to Jennifer Egan as a "known chick-lit author" it's because every time I start to try to think of a reply worded strongly enough, my brain saves me from having to plumb such depths of my soul by jumping out of my head and strangling itself to death right here next to me on my living room carpet. Seriously, that hurts by the fourth of fifth time.

About as far as I can get each time before brain-death sets in is to say that if you read Look At Me and your thought at the end of the book was "Mmmm...fluffylicious!" then you need to go back and re-read that book because you missed a little something. I mean, you missed all of it. Either that, or you were actually reading a cake. With your tongue.

On the upside, props to Donna Bowman for giving the book an A. I hope this means lots of people get past the total weird backhanded nature of the compliment and they read the book. I also hope that by the time they finish the book they've completely forgotten Bowman's review and they go out and read Look At Me. And then Jennifer Egan will actually be even-more-widely-known as the interesting, challenging writer she is.

(See also: Condalmo, who disliked the review even more than I did.)

Random thought

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany is science fiction the way The Trial by Franz Kafka is a legal thriller.