Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wine 'n O'Brien

If you look up "winner" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Erin O'Brien sitting under a tree, humming the national anthem. If you don't see that picture, your dictionary is broken. Broken!

When you get tired of staring at your dictionary, you can go drink wine with her.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

And seek

How do you find the books you read? It's an interesting question. No right or wrong answers, though I suspect some answers are more interesting than others. You certainly won't see me trying to stop you from sharing your stories, either--say, in the comments section of this post.

The guy I've read the most by this year, I latched on to some years back when I was looking at the shelves in a bookstore to see who I'd be shelved next to were I to have released a book of my own by then. (It's a nerdy dreamer's game.) There was a fat little book right there called Frog by Stephen Dixon. Not the first of his I've read, but the first time I'd ever heard of him. Later picked up Interstate from another bookstore out of pure curiosity.

Several of my favorite writers have been random bookstore grabs, actually--Mark Z. Danielewski for one, Jennifer Egan for another, Jeff Noon for a third. Neal Stephenson, too, I think. Little tiny silent lightning strikes.


a cautionary tale.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Friday, November 24, 2006

Vonnegut memories

My favorite encounter with Kurt Vonnegut has nothing to do with his books. He came to town a couple years back and gave a talk over at Severance Hall about absolutely nothing in particular. He told stories. He riffed. He was hilarious and inspiring. He filled fifteen minutes talking about the joy of buying an envelope and taking a story to the post office to mail it out. Ever since, for my own lit-mag submissions, I've been a post office junkie..

Charles J. Shields, author of Mockingbird, an unauthorized biography of Harper Lee, has recently begun work on a biography of Vonnegut. With Vonnegut's blessing. The story is up at the new and improved (the only blog I've seen that can switch from a two-column to a three-column layout while retaining such a beautiful spareness, as is seen so rarely on the net).

But, can we make it Proactiv?

Matthew Tiffany is wise to point out that, because reading is already active, you don't need to make it interactive.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: Of literary hangovers and harsh morning light

Something isn't just quite how you planned
Something isn't just like it ever seemed
This is not what you had planned

- The Wrens

So. So, yeah. So. Nothing appeals right now.

Not since I finished Gravity's Rainbow. Which, yes, I don't know if I've made it clear or not, but I enjoyed it. A lot. I still don't know what to say about it. Well, rather: I have billions of things to say. Very unorganized things. No idea where to start.

I would like to safely say that it's a shame the book is so pitched as obscure and/or difficult and/or academic, because really, it's not that hard to enjoy it. I'd like to say that, but I'm not ready to defend that assertion, so I'll just imply it, for now. Then if you take it as gospel and you try to construct a logical chain of actions based on it and the whole thing blows up in your face, and you then try to sue me for misrepresentation, I can say I never did say anything.

What I will say is that nothing has felt correct since I finished it, literarily speaking. I was in this one headspace for almost four weeks, a positively apocryphal time span in litblogger terms. Never mind that a Pynchonian headspace is particularly consuming and persuasive. Now I find myself trying to climb free, and it's like, yech. What, you want me to consider spending my time in some paltry headspace? Up until a couple hours ago, I couldn't see a way out, nor could I see that I wanted to see a way out.


Did I mention that I was listening to pretty much nothing but Autechre for the last two weeks of Gravity's Rainbow? There's a fun musical headspace to be stuck in. And by fun I mean, appropriate, yeah, in a Let's Trip Merrily Down The Dark Paths Of The Most Internal Mind way. Not so much fun in a Wish They Could All Be California Girls Because I Sure Do Love Puppies And Sunshine sense. I hit the last page of the book and the queued-up Autechre played on and I sat there staring off into space for like ten minutes before I looked into the nearest reflective surface and asked myself what the hell I was doing.

Then I think I got up and made a fairly, but not completely, soul-redeeming peanut butter sandwich. That was nice.

At least it's been relatively easy to shake my way free of Autechre. I've been taking liberal doses of the latest Cardigans album, followed by frequent Stretch Princess chasers, all mixed in a frothy brew of Sonic Nurse & Rather Ripped Sonic Youth. Oh, girl-fronted rock bands, do I love you. For sure: pop music has never, ever sounded this good.

End digression!

I tried to transition this weekend, I really did. I read two graphic novels and then I read a Stephen Dixon book, but, just. Eh. The graphic novels were nice enough but not in a revelatory way. I didn't become a "graphic novel guy" because of them. And the Dixon is Dixon but to be honest it all felt too familiar, like I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't have other stuff of his sort of fresh in my brain, and it just didn't have the medicinal effect I'd turned to it for, and so just bleah meh feh, farghle schfump klahhhhhhhhhh.

Here's the problem: I'm hung over. On flubber-bloody Pynchon, of all things, and you know what I want? What I really really want? Well, I'll tell you what I really, really want, is some more damn Pynchon. Yes, hair of the dog, literary style. Except, folklore be damned, you know that's not how things work. You can take more of what messed you up, but it won't accomplish anything. All you're doing is masking the fact that you're tired and dehydrated and you don't remember huge chunks of the previous night.

Or, in my case, the last 26 or so nights.

So while I'm looking for my next book, my brain finding reasons to reject everything on the TBR pile (too involved, not involved enough, too long, too short, too trashy, not trashy enough, too Delillo), my eyes keep drifting back up to Vineland and Mason & Dixon, and my brain has to stop making up sorry-ass excuses long enough to slap my eyes back into place. Smack, smack! my brain keeps saying. And still, the eyes, they wander.

Such was my situation when I hit the bookstore to grab a copy of Against the Day. (It's this new book he wrote, came out today, you might have heard something about it on the internets [see chart below].) Carrying it out of the store and into my car, the heft of it in my hand, the reality of it, my being here and conscious of such a momentous release--I could feel my resolve start to crumble. Maybe I'd stop fighting it, I thought. Maybe I'd trade in my sensible "read the next three novels in a year's time" plan for the far more rock 'n roll "read the next three novels RIGHT THE FUCK NOW ARGH GASP PHTFTHTT" plan. Maybe it's not crazy of me to suspect that sometimes, the whole bottle really is better than a single reasonably full glass.

I enlisted a fellow building resident to help me carry the thing up the stairs and into my apartment, where I quickly built a custom heavy-duty book stand on which it could lie and near which visitors could light votive candles. I set the book in place, opened it, skimmed the first couple paragraphs, and then immediately slammed it shut and torched it with an emergency flame thrower before leaping to the TBR pile to grab the first non-Pynchon book I touched.

Drastic, you say? Aye. But, you see, in there, in Against the Day? There's a character in there named Darby Suckling. And, bloodshot-eyed or not, I know damn well there's no way I'm ready for my life to be that Pynchonesque.

English posts that contain "against The Day" per day for the last 30 days.
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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bloggish maintenance stuff


  • I'm seeing the Bloglines Plumber more often than I'd like. How's Google Reader working? Or, how well does the feed-reader of your choice stack up against the competition?

  • Blogger Beta: Good? Bad? The WYSIWYG drag-and-drop layout editor scares me. I've done enough backstage template hacking that I'm uncomfortable with the idea of unleashing a machine on it. Should I begin considering switching to WordPress?

  • I've been shaking up the blogroll. Hello to new additions. I'd say goodbye to deletions, but chances are you don't use the Internet anymore.

  • Speaking of the blogroll, does Google Reader provide a blogroll-like functionality? I'd rather not use one system for one thing and the other for another.

  • But when you get right down to it, how much Google does one blogger really need in his life?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Life is hard / And so am I"

So, yeah. I'm done with Gravity's Rainbow. Well, not "done," as in, "done," but as in, "I've now read all the words in the book at least once in order." I don't know so much about being "done." Steak. Burgers. A nice chicken. These can be "done." Literature? Yeah, no.

It occurs to me now, as I writhe in the initial post-final-page aftershocks, that part of what makes hard literature difficult, in an extremely pleasing (if frustrating!) way, is not only that we have to figure out what's going on in the book on a page-by-page basis while reading it (though that is certainly an ever-present difficulty in a book like Gravity's Rainbow), but that when we finish the book, we need to suss out our own thoughts and reactions in order to attempt to translate the experience into some sort of communicable understanding--preferably one that doesn't feel cheap or thin, or cliché, or too bleeding-heart or too academic. (Don't let litblogger lambastings of mainstream media Sunday book review sections fool you. I personally assert that writing about literature in an engaging way is so way not easy. So it wouldn't surprise me if most book reviews or whatever sucked; but when literature offers us so much, how can we not feel like we're coming up short when we try to offer ourselves back to it?)

From this vantage, then, a book like Gravity's Rainbow is no different than any other book or profound artistic experience, "difficult" or not. And knowing it's a challenge that I feel I haven't yet learned how to meet in a satisfying way, in all my years of writing English papers and writing blog posts and talking to friends about books, I suppose there's some comfort in that. Some comfort in this teeth-gnashing hell of wishing I could just make you know what I know now.

But of course a book like Gravity's Rainbow, with its accompanying active critical history, throws plenty of additional tripping points onto the path toward experience-translating. Not the least of which is the question, "Where the hell do you start?" Which is the question I seem to be starting with. Which is a question I don't plan to answer tonight.

But so long as I've got you thinking about difficulty in literature again, go check out Out of the Woods Now, where Ana María Correa takes some previous thoughts of mine and spins them into a far more readably succinct form. (Couldn't have said it better myself? More like, didn't say it better myself.) The Flannery O'Connor quote is great, too. Yeah. Truth is awesome.

Howevermany Books Challenge Round-up #6

  1. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Somebody ask Kim Bofo about the joys of a good shared experience

Over at the MetaxuCafé litblog network, Bud Parr points out MetaxuCafé member number 400, Fungible Convictions.

Over at Fungible Convictions, Andrew Whitacre points out that nobody cares about literature.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Only ten years? Seems like it's been literally forever. Just kidding!

Infinite Jest came out ten years ago. Oh, Infinite Jest. I love that book. If that book was a woman? I'd totally be too nervous to ask it out on a date. Which is okay because I'd probably just spill my coffee on it anyway. Oh, Infinite Jest, you, you.

Anyway I happened to be in the bookstore yesterday and I saw that the tenth-anniversary edition is out now. So I took it off the shelf and my first thought was, wow, how on earth do you make a 1100 page novel feel flimsy? That thing flip-flopped harder in my hand than Congress did this last election! Zing! But for real, when I got home I dug up my paperback copy, the classic orange-tinged cover all the latter-day hipsters own, and yes, it felt much sturdier, more monumental, the way I remember. But I guess, hey, for $10, you can deal with thin covers and cheap paper.

Did I say thin covers? I meant thin, ugly covers. Definitely the worst version of the Infinite Jest cover yet. Seriously, you look at cover number one and then cover number two and then cover number three, and you have to wonder if the royalty rights for images of clouds have gone up with each printing. (Book cover number four is going to be a shot of some dude sneezing while not covering his mouth.) While I think cover number one is the classiest of the three, you really can't beat the springy populist vibe of cover number two. Plus, DFW's name is smaller than the title on number two, which is something I generally prefer in a good cover design. Cover number three? It's just not pretty. Like the intern who designed it got real excited when they found the morph functions in Microsoft Word's "word art" feature. "Woo! It's like three-dee! Like infinity!"

Whatever. Ten bucks, for real. Plus I love that book and I'd read it even if it was covered in poo. Dog poo.

So while I had it in my hands at the bookstore, I stood there in the aisle and read the foreword Dave Eggers supplied, and it was pretty good. Plus I sort of felt like I was stealing from the store. Which is always pretty good. Then I got home and found out I'm a tool, because I could have read the whole intro right here on my computer.

National Book Awards announced; no love for going round and round in circles

The National Book Awards were announced last night. Richard Powers took home the fiction award for The Echo Maker. I haven't read it yet but I plan on reading it because I'm a cheap scenester lit-whore. Assuming things work out like they did last year, with William T. Vollmann and Europe Central, I figure I'll be adding Powers to my list of authors I'm obsessed with.

Check out all the winners here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

TDAOC: Tough on books. Tougher on old ladies.

In response to this/this, and this, and this, and so forth from one litblog to the next (all of which being a rambunctious debate over whether litbloggers should disclose whether the books they talk about on their litblogs were freely given to the bloggers by publishers), I've decided it's high time I came clean to you about my own sordid book acquisition habits. Goodness knows, you can't trust my written opinions about books until you know how I've come to possess the books I write about. You certainly couldn't read my posts, read the books I write about, and then decide for yourself whether you agree with my opinions, possibly voicing your agreement or disagreement via e-mail or post-appending comment sections, thereby entering into the sort of rigorous and enthusiastic discussion just about every litblogger seeks to encourage. Goodness, no. Critical thinking is not what us readers sign up for, after all! So let's clear the air twixt you and I, then, eh?

Every single book I've ever talked about on this blog has been stolen from an old lady. It's not just that I steal books from old ladies, though, no no. What I do is I find old ladies walking down the street, I beat the pus out of them with their own orthopedic shoes, and then I swipe whatever books they happen to be carrying in their purses. Typically, I don't know what books I'm going to find. This keeps things fresh by introducing an element of chance into my blogging activities; one day I find an old bitty toting around a collection of David Foster Wallace short stories, the next, I'm stuck reading all seven of Steve Erickson's novels. (Very heavy purse, that day. That old lady, tough one, she put up a fight.) My current obsession with Gravity's Rainbow? I could have finished the book in two days, but there's been a severe shortage of old ladies walking past my apartment lately. Also I hope this explains why I won't be reading Against the Day anytime soon. It's just a bit too heavy for the average old lady's purse, you know?

One exception to the rule is I buy my own William T. Vollmann texts. Old ladies, it turns out, fucking hate that guy. Weird.

Anyways...hoo, boy. It feels good to get that off my chest. Now you're informed and can make up your own mind about whether or not you trust my opinions about books I've found in the purses of the octogenarians I have personally pummeled into submission with my own fists. Ethically speaking, everything here now checks out. Now, I challenge my fellow litbloggers to step forward about the issue of book acquisition. Tell us your secrets. Together, we can keep everything above the table. Unless you're like me, that is, and you had to dismantle the table so you could use the legs to bat old ladies into the ground, because you'd left your brass knuckles in the car that one time. Oh...that one time.

Hating haters and the haters who hate them

It seems an inordinate number of words have been written about NaNoWriMo this year, more than I remember seeing since its inception. I'm not going to discuss any specific post or article. But I will address one particular group of people: namely, those of you who might be considering writing something spiteful, mean, or hate-y about NaNoWriMo. You people, I want you to look at another group of people: namely, those who have already written spiteful, mean, or hate-y things about NaNoWriMo. Notice one thing all those people have in common? It's this: they all sort of look like huge dicks. Think about that, now, before you sit down to write your own spiteful, mean, or hate-y anti-NaNoWriMo piece. Do you want to look like a huge dick? No. You don't. So just back off, take a deep breath, and go think of something better to do with your time. Like, I don't know, talk about Pynchon, or feed the homeless, or drink a glass of water, or something. Your discretion will help make the world a better place.

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: The handing off the torch edition

Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, a book that, though I don't plan on reading it for at least another year, I have talked about more than any other book I have read in the last year, hits bookstores in less than a week, and it's time to admit defeat, before the shots are fired: there is no way in hell I'm going to keep up with the coming rush of Major Literary Event coverage. The interviews with the author, the profiles of his day-to-day activities--I am but one man and can not hope to keep track of all of it. For this admission of an all-too-human failing, I apologize.

(He says, deadpan.)

Luckily, this is the Internet, and there is now a blogger for every man, woman, and child on the planet, so if you need coverage tailored to your individual whims, it's out there, somewhere, waiting for you. For the general die-hards, there's The Complete Review. They've just posted their review of Against the Day. In the coming weeks, that page will grow flush with links to and quotes from every single major review of the book they can find. To them, this torch, I hand. (Yeah. Like I ever thought I'd held it.)

Hear-tell is the Complete Review's review is spoilerific; I haven't read it yet, for fear I'll start confounding the plot of Against the Day with Gravity's Rainbow (less than 200 pages to go!). The assessment summary is illuminating, in any case: they give the book a B+ and say that it is "impressive in its parts, but near confounding as a whole." To put it another way: the book is exactly what you want it to be. So, you know: yay!

(Also, The Complete Review, by the way? If I haven't mentioned it yet: beware ye who enter yonder review archives. Bring a couple extra canteens full of spare time.)

Before I attempt to retire this compulsion of mine, here's a closing burst of fireworks: the Literary Saloon (the blog at The Complete Review) offers some thoughts on the peril of the pre-publication review; The Modern Word interviews Zak Smith, who did the thing with all the drawings (the book of said drawings being released the same day as Against the Day, in case your wallet is feeling too heavy that day); and a bunch of people talk about liking Pynchon even though he never cooks breakfast for them, the bastard.

That last article, by the way, includes some quotes from Tim Ware, who runs the HyperArts Thomas Pynchon page, home of the previously-linked-to Web Guide to Gravity's Rainbow. Tim dropped by and left a comment here, to not only mention that he is amazed so far with Against the Day, but also to point to the Wiki page he started for the book, which, from the looks of things, is going to be as useful to the dedicated Pynchon reader as the current HyperArts web guides. Worth checking out; it will be interesting to see the pages fleshed out by readers in the coming weeks/months/years, as it will also be interesting to see the current web guides transitioned to the Wiki format. (If ever there was a web technology that seems unusually suited to discussion and clarification of Pynchon's books, it's the Wiki.)

And, so, okay, that's it. I'm done. Really for real this time. Like a bad drug or a good mistress, it is time I weaned myself off my need to gossip about Pynchon. (Even though gossip is all us bloggers are good for because we're all obviously nothing more than marketing droids, oh ho ho yes.) The Pynchon Watch tag will stay for at least as long as it takes me to finish off Gravity's Rainbow, because I'm a Technorati obsessive-compulsive, but I'll try to limit myself to reactions to actual book-text, not crap-text.

Currently, because I'm now so all-of-a-sudden smoochy-smoochy with Gravity's Rainbow, my proposed reading plan does involve reading Against the Day, but not for a while yet. I've decided to first work through Vineland and Mason & Dixon, because at this point I feel obligated to do those two before tackling the new one. My tentative time line has me reading all three books within the next year. Of course, if this goes as well as my Summer of Dostoevsky is going (which summer, by the way, has been extended indefinitely), you can expect that I'll finish Against the Day in about 2043.

Readers might try to find meaning in AP article

The National Book Award is awarded tonight. Despite my feelings about Only Revolutions--which, since I finished the book, have settled into what I can best describe as cautiously lukewarm--I'll still be painting my face half green/half gold and stabbing the sky with my huge foam finger with the gigantic "Z" on the palm as I root for Mark Z. Danielewski to take home the prize. Because I'm a big fan of waking up in worlds that make no personal sense anymore.

Timed to the coming award, Andrew Glazer vomits up the following lede:

Mark Z. Danielewski's readers might try to find meaning in his choice of hot chamomile tea on an unusually warm fall day. That's what they do.

No. No, Andrew, that's not what they do. Nor do we "wonder whether the tea's golden hue reflects the eye color of characters in Only Revolutions," nor do we suspect that the "price of the tea — $3.95, without tip or tax — could hint at some numerological clue." Because, for the most part? We're not bat-shit insane.

Hey, speaking of bats, Danielewski's the latest guest on the Bat Segundo show. I haven't listened yet, but I plan on it, because--and this may just be another one of my wild flights of fancy--I'm guessing we get more worthwhile material out of Danielewski in this podcast than we do from the couple quotes of his sprinkled through the Glazer article. From the intro page alone we know that Danielewski claims he's not an experimental writer, which, if you take that to heart, means that experimental writing literally can not exist. Which, if you're comfortable putting experimental writers out of their jobs? You go right ahead. But when you can't walk from your car to your office without having Ben Marcus bugging you for booze money, don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

This city, she surprises; some thoughts on Cleveland and video game development

Not literary, but about story telling all the same: I like to think I have at least a grasp of what's going on in Cleveland. I know at least that there's more going on in this area than is widely recognized (often even by us locals). Still, always interesting to see talk (and at least some action, looks like) about a subject I didn't expect to see getting buzz. Such is the case when I see a discussion over at BFD about creating video game development business in Cleveland. (More here, and more here.) Turns out there's actually an organization in place to address the issue; seems like a natural that I should have heard of the NEO Game Initiative before today, but I hadn't. Interesting stuff.

The discussion so far seems to be about the business level of things, to which I'll only add that, when it comes to the issue of attracting and retaining creative talent to the region--I don't know about attracting new talent, that I suspect might obviously depend on all the other usual factors falling into place. (Of course, I can't think of a scenario in which having an active video game development community in town would hurt our chances of attracting talent.) But, as far as helping to retain talent? I think this is a cinch. It would have been nice, back in my college days, to have been able to point to a flourishing video game development sector when people automatically assumed that me getting that English degree meant I was going to go, you know, teach.

I don't know that we necessarily even need local universities to offer "video game majors," so much as we need lots and lots of video game development companies that rely on a broad array of local creative and technical talents, which our universities are certainly providing. Though, I mean, if Case or JCU or whoever decided to start offering such a major, I would not object. That said, it would absofrigginlutely rule to have someone local win the Penny Arcade Scholarship, apply it to studies at a local university, and then spin that out into some kind of high profile local job. Or even use that early experience to create a new video game development company from scratch. Just a thought.

Now, business and education considerations aside--as an occasional video game player myself, it warms my heart to see people treating the subject of game development with respect and with a recognition of and feel for the field's positive side. A side far larger than rampant stories about destroyed morality and whatever lead us to believe. Cause, yeah, video game players don't all turn out to be mass murderers.

Like I hinted above, this to me is about story telling. I believe that we've barely begun to see the possibilities video games open up for new stories and new forms of story telling. I hesitate to say that video games have reached the status of art form just yet; that's a pretty loaded discussion topic, right there. Still, the potential is certainly there. Part of reaching that level depends of course on public perception, and I think (or would like to think) that a city like Cleveland throwing some economic weight behind the field would have to have some influence on that.

Thought: What if the region focused some efforts not just on the development end, but on the review end? Think there's a chance we could found a video game review journal in town, one willing to look at video games as a young but serious form of art, while examining the cultural and social and, hell, economic impact and implications of the field? Having read plenty of video game reviews, I can safely say that they can (generally) stand to be vastly improved, or at least diversified in terms of their intentions. I'm not entirely sure how much video game review material constitutes serious writing or serious thinking. There's probably more than I give credit for; though what is there, I at least suspect, could certainly stand to be made more visible.

My main point here ultimately being this: the benefits of turning Cleveland into a video game development mecca would flow both ways, between the city and the field. Which is, I think, for those in town thinking about these issues, worth keeping in mind. (It's a good thing.)

"Cheese is made from milk. Cheese is made from milk."

As an advocate and fan of all things David Lynch, I would be remiss if I did not point out that...wait, is that a cow? Dude. That is totally a cow. For real, that's a cow.

No. It can't be a cow.

Except, yeah. It's a cow.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: Guest column by Jerry Maguire's Ray Boyd

Note from the Editors: With the release date for Thomas Pynchon's latest novel, Against the Day, closing in faster than a V-2 rocket with your name on it, the word "excited" doesn't even begin to capture the mood across America. From sea to shining sea, from boardrooms to breakrooms, from breakfast to dinner, people--just how many might surprise you!--are getting pumped up like bicycle tires in the cold hard vacuum of space. No, seriously: we just saw some guy who was standing in a bus stop literally explode with anticipation. We think he might have even peed himself a little, before he blew up, but he was on the other side of the street, there was a lot of traffic, so we couldn't tell for certain. In honor of this upcoming event, we here at TDAOC today are proud--you might say we are almost ticklish with spring-like joy--to launch a new series of guest columns devoted to an initial and rushed, yet hard-hitting and in-depth, critical analysis of the new Pynchon tome. Our first--and, quite possibly, last, because we're pretty sure this one opens and closes and burns the book on anything that can be said of interest of a Pynchon text--guest column was phoned in to TDAOC HQ by Ray Boyd, that lovable, wise-cracking scamp from the movie Jerry Maguire.

* * *



DID YOU KNOW THAT At 3 lbs. 6 oz., Against the Day weighs just 3 oz. less than my toaster?


Sunday, November 12, 2006

I give up

Ryan Phillipe and Reese Witherspoon are getting a divorce? I quit. I'm done. I'm out. Any universe in which those two can't make it, in which any boy could even consider cheating on Reese Witherspoon, isn't deserving of my lengthy considerations of the work of Thomas Pynchon. Yeah, they screwed it up for the rest of the class. I hope that stings, right in their hearts, as they lay their perfect, beautiful heads on separate pillows tonight. Stings.

I'm gonna go farm beans with Bill Berry. It's been real, people.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Litbloggers vs. The Onion A.V. Club, Part II

Matthew Tiffany is disappointed with The Onion A.V. Club again, and I can't resist a good literary pile-on. They've posted a selection of novels about writers. Let's see if Matt likes the list:

Nope. The A.V. Club dips one small toe into the waters - six books? Between three writers of this article, that was the most they could think of? Not even a "top ten"? We get a lot of obviousness ... and Wonder Boys. Wonder Boys, by Genius Michael Chabon. A decent book, a fine movie, and the only interest-inspiring pick on the list. Disappointing - so many books out there.

I won't pretend I've read all six books--I'm batting less than .500, but only one or two of the others (yeah, the Chabon one) are books I feel I need to read sometime in the next ten years. Still, it's an interesting sub-genre, or field, or whatever you want to call it, far larger than the A.V. Club list makes it seem, and Matt has sent out a call for additional titles for his own list. He's suggested one title already, which I need to read. (I really ought to stop reading his blog until I'm ready to accept new book suggestions.) I've coughed up a handful of titles myself. Request lines, I believe, are still open.

(This post has been brought to you by the four percent of my brain that hasn't been devoted to dealing with The Pynchon Question.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"In the corner I looked across the room/To the other corner, I knew I'd be there soon"

If you happen to be reading this right now, you can go try to win a copy of Firmin by Sam Savage, the Autumn 2006 Read This! selection at the Litblog Co-op.

Update: Too late. They'll be announcing the winners soon.

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: The "Pardon the paranoia, but you'll have to excuse us if we really do think the election is a conspiracy" edition

The problem with reading a Really Big Book--when in terms both of physical and canonical weight--is that I lose the ability to talk about anything but the book, even when I have nothing intelligent to say about it. As is the case now with Gravity's Rainbow. I have nothing smart to say. But I also have nothing else to say. But it's my blog, so just you dirty pinkos try to vote me out! Nyah nyah!

What? Where am I? How did I get here? Whatever: I hit the halfway point two nights ago. Then I promptly took some naps. Because if there's one thing we here at TDAOC HQ endorse, it's naps. Naps, and rocket science. But not simultaneously. That's the one thing I endorse here: the non-simultaneous embrace of rocket science and napping.

Gravity's Rainbow. Right. Being quagmired in the 300s does temper my enthusiasm. Not totally, not fatally. It's a patience thing, it's a respect for the fact that this is a first reading and not a second or third. However hard you (or I) try to keep track of everything, you (or I) are going to become lost at times. It's not even a matter of grokking Brennschluss. (Which, high fives to me, for spelling that word from memory!) It's more about remembering that enjoying the text qua text is initially more important than connecting events and references or extrapolating importance. I've missed plenty, things I've noted as having only marginal importance, because I was, say, enthralled with other plot threads, linguistic fireworks, or moments of passing but potent beauty. That's fine. Remembering to keep reading that way can be a challenge, at times, when those previously barely noted characters or references come later to take over the text. For however long they do.

It can be exhilarating, exhausting, and, yes, frustrating. That said, I can't truck with the assertion that underlies a statement from Levi Asher about the kind of reading he prefers: "I want reading to be fun, not exhausting." It's not that he prefers one type of reading over another, that's fine, I certainly prefer literature over psychology textbooks, deconstructionism be damned. It's the assertion that fun and exhaustion are mutually exclusive. Reading can and sometimes ought to be both at once. Levi puts it another way: "I don't want a novel to be a puzzle -- I want it to be an experience." Have you ever put together a 7500 piece jigsaw puzzle? That's an experience. Likewise is Gravity's Rainbow.

Now--slight but personally important aside begins here--this isn't about being part of "the literary smart set." Rather, I think it's good practice for anyone who wants to talk shop about literature and the reading of it to engage with books from across, and sometimes off, their personal taste radars. Which, okay, maybe is about being part of the literary smart set. What I think I'm getting at is that I'm not comfortable with the sort of value judgment implied by a discussion of "the smart sets," in a sort of snoot-vs-snooty-antisnoot sense, or a hipper-than-thou-hipster sense. As if the "smart set" were a self-important, exclusionary organization, populated by nothing but smug bastards who scoff at those on the outside. I'm not so naive as to suggest it doesn't happen, consciously or not, but I'm also bold enough to suggest that people who are like that ought to be bopped on the nose, because thinking that way is a bunch of horsepucky. Reading literature and talking about it is as inclusive an activity as I can think of, asking of those who wish to take part in it only that they do it as much as they like, to whatever extent or end they like. I like to think (hope) that the "literary smart set"--and yes, you can read "litbloggers" there if you want--is by and large an encouraging group; that the discussion, debate, and disagreements are friendly in nature; and that I'm contributing to that in my own way. At least, I hope my professed love of and enthusiasm for big hard books--as well as for all books I like--is as evidently well-intentioned (an entertaining) as I desire it to be.

In any case--literary or not--I do think it's healthy to stretch beyond yourself from time to time. In a literary sense, a book like Gravity's Rainbow becomes a portable education in close reading, forcing you--if you accept the challenge--into a deeper headspace that both shifts and intensifies your relationship with the words on the page. It's certainly not for everybody--it certainly wasn't for me a few years back, and it's quite likely that the old me would scoff at the new me with whole-hearted anti-derision--but it's not one to be rejected because difficulty is anathema to reading as an experience. (Not, of course, that all difficulty is justified. Nor, of course, is difficulty a virtue to be pursued to the exclusion of all others. And so on and so forth.)

Still, I'd be talking too much talk if I said I wasn't maybe the slightest bit...dazed. Levi Asher uses an amusement park ride simile in his post; I'll use one too: It sort of feels like the hottest afternoon hour of a day-long trip to the amusement park, when things, though fun, feel slow, bleak, and godawful sweaty. Pynchon, naturally, puts it well, consciously so or not, describing an imagined raid on the headquarters of a business in search of information: "It's time to snap down your brains, share a postviolence cigarette and think about escape. . .do you remember the way in, all the twists and turns? No. You weren't looking. Any of these doors might open you to safety, but there may not be time. . ."

There's only two ways out right now. One is to read all the rest of the pages of the book. The other is to give up, which, yeah, can be tempting. I'm keeping up a good pace for myself, having set out to finish the book in about a month's time, meaning I bite off anywhere from twenty to fifty pages a day, which takes me longer each day than I care to admit. But there are times when I walk past the TBR piles, those lonesome, dusty stacks of unread books, and I sort of wonder whether I'll live to see the day when I visit them again. Sometimes, I reach out and pet them, gently, lovingly, just to let them know I haven't forgotten about them, that I'll be seeing them again real soon, any day now. Then I remember that books are inanimate objects which feel neither pain nor pleasure, and I take an immediate nap. Then there were a few moments last night, when a friend of mine was reading the new Stephen King book, and I caught myself looking on with longing at the speed with which she turned pages. Yes, I remember when I could turn pages so quickly, the same way I remember fond, forgotten dreams from childhood. . .

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

If "V." stands for Voting then V-2 must stand for Vote Once, Vote Twice, Vote Hard

If you're like me, you're sick of stupid shit. Stupid people, stupid things, stupid robot ad campaign phone calls, stupid negative attack tactics, stupid election day voter supression nonsense, stupid complete lack of faith in the electoral process, stupid everybody making a big deal about Ohio for all the wrong reasons, stupid polarizing two-party system, stupid garbage, stupid stupidity.

Stupid, stupid shit.


That's why, when it came time today for me to cast my vote? I made the only choice I could.

I made the smart choice.

I voted for Rocket Science.

Rocket Science: For a sexier, smarter

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Margaret Atwood at Cleveland Public Library

If you're looking for something to do with your Sunday--hopefully you weren't relying on me to tell you about this--head down to the Cleveland Public Library's Main Branch at 2:00 PM to see Margaret Atwood.

For more info, check BFD, where Daniella offers her thoughts on Atwood. While I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read Atwood yet, I'll still be attending the reading.

The reading is part of CPL's Writers and Readers series, which, I think, is the same series that brought Tim O'Brien here last year, so you know it's cool. And now, in bold: Michael Chabon will be here on April 15, 2007. There. Now you can't say I didn't notify you in advance.


Update: Well, I would have been there, had I not grossly overestimated the availability of (and my ability to find) free parking downtown on a non-sporting-event Sunday. I suck. To make sure this doesn't happen for the Michael Chabon reading, I'm going to go find a parking meter tonight, I'm going to pour a couple thousand quarters into it, and then I'm going to live out of my car until April. If I can find a spot near a WiFi-enabled building, I'll let you know how that's going. Eat it, Sentra boy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: The "We forgots the taste of bread, precious" edition

Let's just put this out there, because I don't know where else to start, and I don't even know where this is going: I'm through parts one and two of Gravity's Rainbow, and I'm enjoying myself. If you need an adverb with that--and it's okay, it's only the Internet, whatever your writing teachers taught you, we're allowed to liberally (while splitting infinitives) use adverbs out here--I believe you can safely use "immensely". Or, maybe "thoroughly". I'm not committing myself. It's still early. And anyway, in either case, this much I know is true: I don't remember how it felt to not enjoy or "get" this book. I can't think of any other books or authors which have elicited from me such a 180 of opinion. Which, itself--with well over half the book remaining--is also subject to change. Should my patience dissolve, I could swing back through to 360--or any number--by the time I finish. But right now, I feel good. Great, actually.

To say more is to risk quickly devolving into a furious outpouring of unconnected thoughts, random diatribes, thoughtful digressions and half-baked main thoughts. Which, well, yeah, I mean, duh, right. Only possible way to react to the book, what have you and so on. But I'd rather not go there tonight. (If you're hard up for such material, you can always read my random-etc. thoughts on V.--about which, so long as I've got the parentheses open, let me extend a thought from that post: While I still believe that V. should not serve primarily or entirely as a "warm-up" for Gravity's Rainbow, it does, in the process of being a fascinating piece of reading in and of and for itself, also offer the reader an appetizing, "warm-up"-ing taste of the sort of things the reader might encounter in Gravity's Rainbow.) I do have several notebook pages of random thoughts and jotted notes that I might draw from for future posts; if nothing else, this is the closest I've come in some time to a truly well-documented reading experience.

What I will discuss here is the amount of work I'm putting into the book. In short: not as much as might be expected. The literature on Gravity's Rainbow, by this point, if laid out end to end, would easily wrap around any collection of objects you might suggest. (Such as, for example, the '85 Chicago Bears.) Yet the notion of literature which requires an instruction manual for its comprehension and enjoyment by a reader still rubs me the wrong way. (That being another topic that could be explicated and discussed ad nauseam, I'll just say again: Not tonight.) I maintain that the primary experience of reading a piece of fiction should be in the way a reader reads it, not about it; the surrounding discussion--while great, while critical, while essential--is secondary.

That said (did it need to be said, or am I being paranoid?), Mother Nature gave us trees so we could cut them down and make dictionaries out of them, and I've been using mine far more often than I usually do. She also gave us trees so we could make poles, and then she gave us legs and fancy belts so we could climb poles, and then she gave us hands so we could string phone cables between those poles, thereby simplifying the process of having an Internet; I've been using that now and then, too, either to access the Pynchon Web guide to look up text references I haven't adequately noted or circled, or to access additional dictionaries and reference sites as the mood or fancy strikes.

What I haven't been using are book-specific reference guides. I know there's a couple out there, and I honestly have nothing against them, and would probably pick one up for a future re-reading, to simplify the task of accessing additional information about topics I'd like to know more about, or to clarify references I haven't even realized were references, because my mind, unlike Pynchon's, is finite. Also, I haven't been looking up every single reference that I have noted as being a reference, nor have I leapt from my semi-comfy reading chair every time my end table dictionary has failed me (which has happened often). I'd considered sticking the laptop on the end table for the duration of my reading, but I decided early on that I'm trying to strike a balance between careful examination of the text on each page of the book and an overall consideration of the shape and flow and structure of the story itself--i.e., I'm trying to take it slow, but not too slow.

Maybe I'll say more about my reading methods in another post. For now, I'll clarify my point, then get out of the way for a while: Turns out, much to my delight and surprise, a patient reader can derive great pleasure from Gravity's Rainbow, without having to integrate complete understanding of it.

(Math joke. Sorry.)

(Actually, no, I'm not. I like math. And math jokes.)

(Even if there's something...fishy about their distribution.)

(Hey, no. Stop. Please don't leave. It won't happen again.)

(Odds are, at least! Oh!)

(I'm done now.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Jamaica off the Florida Keys/There's a bird called The Chocobo/That's how you wanna go to get away from it all"

In honor of this week's release of Final Fantasy XII--a videogame and form of story-telling which I have not yet purchased, knowing well what kind of person I am and that this is the exact wrong time of life for me to invite such a level of total immersion and strict compulsion into my living room--here's an interesting piece by Matt Bakaitis on Wikipedia.


Variety reports that StillKing Films has acquired film rights to Jennifer Egan novel The Keep, with Ehren Kruger (The Ring) set to adapt.

...and we have lift off of the Space Shuttle Train Wreck.

The Open Curtain review at The Elegant Variation

As a follow-up to my last post--Matthew Tiffany hands off a guest review of Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain to The Elegant Variation.

The Open Curtain is one of those books that you want to tell people about, but end up hedging your words – there's always more you could say without giving away the entire story, and yet this is one of those books that you get the most out of without the constraints of a summary read beforehand. The way Evenson builds upon the confusion Rudd goes through as he loses more and more of his present self to the tragedy of 1902 is suggestive of a number of possible psychological explanations. You know that this is billed as a "literary thriller," so at some point the past is going to intrude in a horrific way on the present....

Yeah, I'm gonna have to read that.

Also, via TEV, we learn that if you're in California, you've got the chance to check out, tonight, a reading, featuring Brian Evenson, and poet Maggie Nelson. Whose poetry, based on her first book Shiner, I sort of love. To the point where, once or twice, in the hazy lovelorn days of youth, I maybe oh maybe professed an ever so small desire to marry her for it. So yeah, if you've got the chance to attend her reading, you should.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Server go boom and left bells ringing in my ears like Kelly KAPOW!ski

Miss me? My web host decided to dress up for Halloween as the imploded hatch from ABC's Lost. No word yet on whether I can see the future now. Nor can I confirm or deny the existence of any TDAOC-tattooed sharks.

While I sort through the wreckage, go check out Condalmo, where Matthew Tiffany has posted an interview with Brian Evenson, whose novel The Open Curtain was recently published by Coffee House Press. I wasn't aware of Evenson's stuff before, but after flipping through the interview, I'm going to have to correct that. Excerpt from the interview follows, click through for the rest:

MT: I wrote a bit on my site about my own preconceptions about a "literary thriller" genre. Basically, I didn't think the form held any appeal for me; I didn't think I could get the feeling of unease, a chill, "creeped out" - for lack of a better term - from a book. I'm glad your book was recommended, because I've got my foot in my mouth, gladly. Who are your contemporaries in the genre? And are you OK with seeing yourself labeled in that way? Because, if not, I'm going to need to make room for the other foot. (Incidentally, if you were to respond with a fiery "I have no contemporaries!" it would make for great press on the next book.)

BE: No, you can take your foot (or feet) out of your mouth. I used to be offended by those labels and then I found myself identifying less and less with what gets pushed as literature, at least by the big presses. I'm very interested in the way that literature can play with genre and give all, or at least a lot, of the satisfactions of it and still do something more. I guess in that sense what I'm doing often crosses lines between "literary" fiction and genre fiction ("horror", "mystery," "thriller," "sci-fi"). I guess I'm hoping that something about what you call the thriller aspect of the book keeps people reading but that they'll go away at the end with the book still eating away at them and other things happening philosophically to them. I think that comes from the fact that when I was young I used to read books that were too hard for me, and that I felt that things were happening that I couldn't quite grasp. But that made them somehow all the more powerful. That was something I loved, and something I keep trying to replicate, I think, in the way my books work for my readers.

Coffee House Press, incidentally, also published TDAOC-fav and litblogger-raved The Exquisite by Laird Hunt. Also, Lauren Snyder from CHP recently dropped by to suggest some "next steps" for potential fans--and early-stage fans, such as myself--of Gilbert Sorrentino. I think my next Sorrentino will be The Moon in Its Flight--but, that all happens in a hypothetical future universe in which I survive Gravity's Rainbow....

Also--so long as I'm here--on a strictly technical note, my apologies to TDAOC readers coming via the LJ feed. Seems any time I make a change in the Matrix you poor souls get blasted with a friend's page worth of deja vu. I believe that's completely out of my control, but if anybody knows of anything I can do to make that not happen, feel free to drop me a line.