Sunday, December 31, 2006

Howevermany Books Challenge Round-up Extra: 75 Books I Failed to Read in 2006

"What I read this year" lists: they're great fun, but incomplete portraits of the blogger as a human being. Because for every great book we glide through, for every satisfying book we consume then forget, for every middling book we choke back like cough syrup, there are 37 other books we're thinking about reading, and 4376 other books we could be reading. And yes, these are precise figures. My research will be published in the upcoming post, "Howevermany Irrational Experiments Challenge Round-up: 75 Pieces of Incredibly Accurate Scientific Data I Heavily Fudged and/or Fabricated from Whole Cloth in 2006."

So when we in the writing-about-writing business publish our year-end lists of books we've read or the ones we've loved, we know, deep down, that we're giving you only half the story. Or, I should say, 1/4376th of the story. For we are defined not alone by what we are (a collection of read and/or admired books), but also by what we are not (a diverse collection of slimy little bastards we never got around to taming).

So then, in the interests of partial transparency (for total transparency would require a few more hours than remain in 2006), I offer, as a companion to my seven-part list of 75 books that I read in 2006 (1 2 3 4 5 6 7), the following list of 75 books that I failed to read in 2006.

Note that this should not be considered an exhaustive list: there are, for example, many graphic novels I could have failed to read this year in addition to the one noted below. Nevermind all the female authors who I neglected to neglect getting around to, or the obscenely high number of books published in 2006 that I don't even realize I haven't yet realized existed. Plus I think there's one or two celebrity biographies I haven't mentioned haven't having read, too, either. But 2007 is coming up fast, and I have some big plans for all the upcoming books that I haven't mentioned that I have no plans yet for planning on.

Confused? Not confused enough:

  1. Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    2006 was a banner year for failed promises to myself. I planned a Summer of Dostoevsky, in which I was going to read his last five big novels, while sharing many wild observations and acute insights during my reading. I read Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, and I said like two things about them, and I think neither of those things I said were that I liked The Idiot way more this time than I did my first time through it some eight years earlier, which is about as basic of a thing as I could have said, but didn't. Then I got distracted by every single other book on my TBR pile for the remainder of the year. Also, like Maureen, I think I cleaned my kitchen.

    Demons, at least, did get moved from the TBR piles to the end table next to my reading chair, a couple months ago. That ought to count for something. Do you know how many Americans this year failed even at the simple task of moving a Dostoevsky book across their living rooms? Hint: nearly all of them. Kind of puts things in perspective, that.

  4. Independence Day by Richard Ford
  5. The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

    I was pretty hot for Richard Ford when I read The Sportswriter back in May. The clear prose and plodding observational style of the opening volume of the Frank Bascombe trilogy were just what I needed at that exact moment. I liked it enough that I did consider reading Independence Day so that I could jump on The Lay of the Land when it came out.

    Then I woke up one day, looked at myself in the mirror, and wondered what the hell I was thinking. And then I sat down in front of my television and played about eight hours of Katamari Damacy. With spirits soaring, indeed.

    For what it's worth, I've touched neither Ford's books nor the video game since.

  6. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  7. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  9. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

    Earlier this year, I decided to jump on the "reading is re-reading" boat. I went through the apartment and grabbed a bunch of those books that I'd really, really loved when I'd first read them, and I piled them up, forming a TBR-R pile adjacent to the main stacks.

    I've Swiffered the pile, once or twice, since I formed it.

    It's not that I don't believe in re-reading. I look forward to re-reading several books I've read this year, and seeing them in that way you can only see a book when you're reading it for a second time. The Exquisite by Laird Hunt will hold up well, I'm sure. Pynchon's books, yes. But I think there must be a certain mood you have to be in to spend time re-reading old stuff. A mood in which you can safely walk into a bookstore, look at every book on the shelves, and decide that there is nothing you haven't read yet that you really need to read just then.

    It's a mood I was in for approximately five minutes this year, I guess. And while I hesitate to make uncertain predictions about the future, I have a hunch that at least three out of the four books above will be right where they are now in a year's time. Unless I move out of my apartment. Then they'll be in some other building. Maybe less dusty.

  10. The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

    Speaking of books I've planned on re-reading ever since I first read them. I keep looking at this book, thinking maybe now is the time to re-read it? And then, every time, I think, no. No, I am not ready to be that depressed again.

  11. A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn

    I keep looking at this book, thinking maybe now is the time to read it? And then I keep thinking, no. No, I am not ready to be that depressed. Ever.

  12. The Fall by Albert Camus
  13. The Plague by Albert Camus
  14. The Stranger by Albert Camus

    When I decided I was going to re-read a bunch of books this year, I also decided I wanted to focus on books with "the" in the title.

    Well, okay, that, and Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint left me craving more existential French stuff. So I piled up the Camus for Camus Re-Read Fest 06: The Oui Oui Non Non Bon-Bon Edition.

    And then again, with the Swiffer, and the dusting. And the sneezing, now and then. I do that. Sneeze, I mean.

  15. Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
  16. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
  17. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

    Earlier this year, in a madness spasm, I thought that maybe I would read all of Pynchon's novels before Against the Day was released, so then I could read it while everybody else was reading it, and then I could play along at home with the Internet's treasure trove of Pynchon scholars.

    Well, when I get a time machine? I'm going back in time, and I'm going to find that version of me? And I'm going to laugh at me. And I'm going to point at myself, while I'm laughing at me.

    Then I'm going to make like a tree and get the hell out of there.

  18. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

    I own this? What the hell? I don't remember buying this.

  19. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

    Since the release of Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro has become one of my favorite writers. I've read that book twice and I've read When We Were Orphans and I've read The Remains of the Day and I've loved them each with all my heart. Never Let Me Go remains my favorite. I'm really looking forward to reading Ishiguro's next book, when he decides to publish a new one, in, like, 2017.

    And yet I still haven't gathered up the courage to take another stab at The Unconsoled, the book I read in high school, and hated, hated, with black inky wet passion. I did take it off the shelf for a while, a couple months ago, and I had it in my laptop bag for a couple weeks, and then it went back onto the shelf, where it's propping up a stack of three Umberto Eco novels (who, himself, ought to be on this list, because, yeah, I didn't read any of his books this year, though I know I really should).

    It's not that I don't want to try The Unconsoled again. I do. I have to believe I'll like it better than I did in high school. But what if I don't? What if it actually does still, to me, suck? Would that mean I've achieved a net zero intellectual and aesthetic growth since high school?

    What I'm saying is that like an attractive smart girl, this book draws my eye while making me exceedingly nervous, and I'm still trying to come up with a good approach, a pick-up line, a conquistadoring technique that won't result in immediate pain and/or embarrassment for either of us.

  20. Libra by Don DeLillo
  21. Mao II by Don DeLillo
  22. Underworld by Don DeLillo

    Motherfucking Don DeLillo. Right? Am I right? You know what I mean.

    See: I have this theory that outside of White Noise, nobody actually reads Don DeLillo's books. People just talk about them at dinner parties so they can attract mates, but if you gave them a pop quiz on the contents of the books, they'd all fail miserably.

    Well, except for Jennifer Egan, who I believe when she says she read and liked Underworld, but that's because her brain is naturally sexier than those of most of the rest of the human race. For her, Underworld did move to my end table, so that if on the off-hand chance she drops by my apartment for a visit, I can pick the book up real quick and act like I was about to start reading it. Then she'll marry me.

    Okay, so, fine. I put Don DeLillo on this list solely to get to the Jennifer Egan joke. My editors informed me that I haven't met my "Darby has a huge literary crush on Jennifer Egan's brain" jokes yet this year. And by jokes I mean, well, I sort of want to ask her to prom. The Literary Prom. The one where instead of a band, it's just Don DeLillo reading excerpts of White Noise, while Jennifer Egan and I dance under the moonlight, and William T. Vollmann spikes the punch. With crack.

    What? Yeah, like your fantasies are less weird.

  23. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  24. The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
  25. Clara by Janice Galloway
  26. Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby, Jr.
  27. Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner

    Around about when I decided I was going to re-read books, I also decided I was going to take all these books I'd started but abandoned and I was going to read them but for real. These five books are all very lovely books, I'm sure, from what I remember of them--Clara, especially, I remember finding really entrancing (and infinitely less brutal, but I guess also equally less addicting, than The Trick is to Keep Breathing). They all deserved better from me.

    This stack is looking like a great way to start 2007. An early spring cleaning of sorts. We'll see what happens in reality, though, where I'll probably wind up reading some crap or something stupid.

  28. Oh The Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey

    I feel bad about this one, because I was going through an "Unnnghgg" period a while back, during which I didn't know what I wanted to read, and a friend recommended this one, and I got it out from the library, and then I never got around to reading it, and now I have a really huge fine on it, and then there's always the chance that I'm going to run into this friend, and I'm going to feel awful for not having read the book yet, even though said friend probably doesn't even remember recommending it to me, so I don't know what I feel so bad for.

  29. You Bright and Risen Angels by William T. Vollmann
  30. The Royal Family by William T. Vollmann
  31. Fathers and Crows by William T. Vollmann

    I read four of this dude's books this year and he's all like "Whatever, bitch, I got four books coming out next year, I wrote them while I was sitting on the toilet the other day, what have you done with your life, little boy?"


    You Bright and Risen Angels was the first book of his I ever bought, and at the rate things are going it will be the last one I read. The Royal Family, Jeff suggested that one, and I know it's the next Vollmann book I want to read, but I've yet to see it on a shelf in front of me in a bookstore, so I haven't bought it yet. And Fathers and Crows, damn, have you ever seen this thing? Or tried to pick it up with one hand? That book's scary huge. Did I mention I'm reading The Baroque Cycle right now? Yeah, so you know when I'm scared of the size of a book? It's a really big book. You can try to tell me half of it is footnotes and an index, but then I'll already be giving you the finger, because when I get that time machine I mentioned before, I'm going to make sure I tell myself you were going to tell me that.

  32. The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen

    It's the first book he published and the only book of his I haven't read. And really I feel no rush to get to it, because I know it won't be as awesome as The Corrections. Still, I feel obliged to complete the set, and guilty for not having done so yet.

    Oh yeah, the Literary Prom I mentioned before? As a little joke? The spirit of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and I are totally dunking Franzen's head in the crack-spiked punch. It's going to be hilarious. And awesome. Buy your tickets early.

  33. The Accidental by Ali Smith
  34. Talk Talk by TC Boyle
  35. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

    These are all books that were published in 2006 that somebody somewhere had in their year-end list of favorites. In the act of compiling this list of books I can form no reasonable opinions about, I misplaced the location and identity of the list from which I took these three books. So, to whomever listed these three books? I'm sorry. I don't listen to you enough. I don't even know who you are.

    About these three books, I can say that The Accidental is one of those many many titles I heard a lot about but which I failed to pay any attention to so I know absolutely nothing about it; Talk Talk had that ridiculously hideous cover of the mouth and the teeth that convinced me I'd rather stab myself in the face than make that book my first Boyle book; and The Echo Maker won the National Book Award, which means if history repeats itself, I'll read it the way I read Europe Central by William T. Vollmann and then I'll feel compelled to start working my way through the man's entire back catalogue, and you know what? I don't have time for that. I've got enough back catalogues to slash and burn through. So screw you, Richard Powers, for writing what is probably an amazing, awesome book that I'm not going to read for at least another two or three weeks.

  36. Blood Meridian by Cormac Mccarthy

    I read All the Pretty Horses this year and decided I hated Cormac Mccarthy for it. Then I read The Road and decided I loved Cormac Mccarthy for it. So I think I'm going to ignore Blood Meridian for a while and decide I really don't know what to think about Cormac Mccarthy for it.

  37. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

    Will somebody put this dude on pause? So I can make at least a moderate dent in his back catalogue? Because there's like 150 other books of his I could list here but chose not to? Okay? Please? Thanks!

  38. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
  39. The Collected Stories Of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel
  40. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

    The New York Times called these three books, along with The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, the Five Best Books of Fiction Published in 2006.

    I call Pessl's book (the one out of these five that I have read) the What the Fuck are You Smoking, New York Times? Book of the Year. I mean, it wasn't really bad, but, lord, it sure wasn't that great. Plus, didn't that Tanenhaus guy make fun of litbloggers again recently? I mean, I don't even care what that guy has to say about anything, because he's a New Yorker and I'm a human being, but I still wound up this year thinking he's a douchebag. It's like, good job, asshole, you keep making what should be your primary audience hate you. Way to be!

    What was I saying? Oh, yeah, the Literary Prom. Marisha Pessl? Huge, expensive dress. When Kaavya Viswanathan shows up in the exact same dress? Seriously huge histrionics. Literary Prom is going to be so much better than the real prom I never went to.

  41. The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

    I think this is one of those books I really, really, really, really do need to read, because it might become one of those books I love and cherish for all time. But I don't know why I think that. Because I don't actually know anything about the book. It's tied for second place on the Metacritic year-end list, so I know at least a few other people loved it. Am I so out of touch? What am I wasting my time on Dostoevsky for? (Or, uh, wasting my time on not wasting my time on Dostoevsky.) How can I have read 75 books this year and not know anything about one that I suspect might be meant for me? How can I be such a screw-up?

    Don't answer that last question.

  42. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  43. Bleak House by Charles Dickens


    One of those things I said I was going to do this year was read all these really huge books that are way easier to not read because they're so huge. And in my defense, I did get through some doorstops. For getting Lord of the Rings off the TBR pile alone, I feel I deserve the 2006 Award for Best Litblogger of the Year Named Darby. But, somehow, I didn't get to the two long-ass novels that originally sparked my '06 interest in super-long novels.

    It's been too long since I've read any Dickens, long enough that, though I know I love me some Dickens, I've lost all track of which of his books I've read and which I haven't (was it Dombey and Son I made it through? or David Copperfield? or was it the one with the poor kid in it?) other than Bleak House, which, I knew for a fact, I'd once started, and never finished. Yeah, not this year, either.

    And as for Don Quixote, I bought it earlier this year, that nice paperback copy with the red cover and the translation by Edith Grossman, because I stumbled into the 400 Windmills blog which I found rather inspiring, and anyway, if you're going to explicitly set out to read excessively long novels, you might as well read the mother of them all, right? Not so much I guess.

    These two, at least I didn't have to Swiffer them, because they were buried under my Dostoevskys. Score!

  44. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

    George is right about this--it's the Stephenson book to read and re-read. So, uh, why haven't I re-read it yet? I could re-read it eight times in the time it's taking me to get through the Baroque cycle. Not that I would. But I could.

  45. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus
  46. Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta
  47. The Zero by Jess Walter

    Hey! Check it out! It's three-fifths of the 2006 National Book Award shortlist! Nevermind The Echo Maker, which won, which I haven't read yet, either. Seriously, just...fuck. I suck at this.

    One out of five ain't too bad, right? My best year out of the 2000s is 2001; I've read three of those titles. I've done two of last year's books. I'm going to devote one of these years, maybe '08 or '09, to reading all of the NBA shortlist titles from the 2000s, just so I can feel like I have something akin to contemporary lit cred.

  48. Far too many literary journals to mention

    When I conceived of this list, I thought, ha ha, this will be funny, a lark, an amusing way to end the year, a way to make up for all the dead air here of late, and then I saw myself typing out this entry, and I got real sad, because, it's true: there are too many literary journals out there that I really ought to subscribe to and read regularly. There's a lot of "reading categories" I need to give higher priority to in my reading queue, and this one probably needs the biggest boost.

    Shoot. Now I'm depressed.

  49. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    I put this one here to cheer myself up. Because, you know what? Fuck Wuthering Heights. That book blows.

    Yes! Now I'm having fun again.

  50. Literary Theory: An Anthology, edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan


    For real, though, I moved it to the end table, thinking I'd maybe brush up on my theory, now and then. Read an essay or two, here or there. Smarten myself back up some. This stuff fascinated me six, seven years ago, and maybe it'll fascinate me again in six or seven more, but right now? Thpft.

  51. Stories by Anton Chekov
  52. Sleep by Stephen Dixon
  53. Dubliners by James Joyce
  54. The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
  55. The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
  56. The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

    Partial credit. I've been trying to read more short stories. So I collected some of the random collections I've bought over the years, and lined them up on my end table (yes, the one with Underworld and Demons and Literary Theory on it, the table where books go to die), and read a story or two from each book before bumping it to the back of the queue, and I'd do a couple stories from a couple books this way between novels. This worked great for a while. Then I stopped doing it. It didn't work so well when I didn't do it.

    But the books are still there, for when I get back around to being in that mode. I consider it a successful proof of concept. Plus, and I think most importantly, this system did get me to start reading Chekov, which, come on: how did I get this far in life without reading any Chekov? Chekov rules.

  57. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

    2006 marks the fourth consecutive year in which I've vocally expressed interest in re-reading Infinite Jest and then never did anything about it. In 2007, the TDAOC Marketing Department plans on releasing a five dollar Fifth Anniversary paperback edition of my failure to re-read Infinite Jest, with a paean-like introduction penned by Your Pal The Rake. No word yet on whether Dave Eggers will offer Rake 49 bucks to eat his ass.

  58. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  59. The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk

    Dude won the Nobel, you know. Least I could have done to thank the guy for being awesome was re-read Snow, right? It's hard to blame myself for not reading The Black Book since I just bought it last night. But really, what am I doing typing up lists on the Internet when I could be reading Pamuk's books?

  60. The System of the World by Neal Stephenson

    Yeah, maybe I gifted it to myself--but you and I know the truth: I'm a dirty damned lying literary whore.

  61. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

    My friend Erin, who, like me, was cautious about this book because of "the Foer thing," read it, and liked it, and said that I could safely set "the Foer thing" aside, and read it, because it's a good book. I haven't read it yet though, and now I feel guilty whenever Erin IMs me.

    There's a good reason why personal recommendations usually get bumped to the top of my reading queue: personal cowardice.

  62. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  63. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

    Speaking of "the Foer thing," I just know that if I actually read one of his books, I'll spend the duration of it wanting to punch him in the face, because people my age shouldn't be fabulously successful while I'm still nothing but an Internet jerk. Needless to say, Foer's so not invited to the Literary Prom.

    Damn, though. I can't wait until I get my time machine, and I can come back in time, and tell myself how far Foer fell, during my rise to fame. Mmmm: taste that champagne, Foer? It's a special brand I call victory over you, screwface!

  64. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
  65. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
  66. Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland
  67. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
  68. Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn
  69. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

    Hey! Check it out! It's the entire 2006 Man Booker shortlist!

    Yeah, I'm awful. Great Britain, I'm so sending you some more love in 2007. I promise. Unless I find out I'm lying.

  70. Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

    Here's a token graphic novel I didn't read. I might still read it. It, along with Black Hole, was one of those recent titles that snagged my interest toward the genre.

    I hear there's a dirty part or two in there.

  71. Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer

    Gwenda recommended this one, and I got super excited, because it sounded like exactly what I wanted to read at that exact moment, and so I ordered it from the library, and then they put it on hold for me, and then when I got there, it was already gone, and now my library card is all fined out until I get some of these other books I haven't read back to the library. I think I'm going to just buy it when it comes out in paperback. It's safer that way.

    It does sound great, anyway.

  72. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
  73. Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell
  74. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

    What the? I read Cloud Atlas last year and I loved it. Loved. It. And I haven't read the rest of his books yet? I've got the first two on the shelf and then I had the last one from the library and I read the opening paragraph, but I think the sun was in my eyes that day or something, because the next thing I knew, I wasn't reading it anymore. Then I was a bird. Yeah, it was strange.

  75. The Recognitions by William Gaddis

    Well hell. Now that I've read Gravity's Rainbow for real, there's this hole in my heart, a hole that can only be filled by the knowledge that there's some other brick-thick modernist masterpiece I can actively despise without having ever read it. Oh! If only some great white male, hell, my heart's not in it. I'm sure The Recognitions is a lovely book to hate and then read and then love, but I'm going to go back to thinking about punching Foer in the face. At least his books are short, so I can not read them in far less time.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Howevermany Books Challenge Round-up #7

So, yeah: I'm calling it. Year's over, folks. Oh, sure, you can keep reading and reading and reading for the approximately 48 hours of 2006 that remain? But in the grand scheme of things, they won't much matter. So here's the end of my list. Now you can buy me 75 beers in celebration of my having read 75 books.

I suppose I might do some list analysis at some time. Though I suspect the results will be grim; I'm sure my male-to-female authors ratio makes me look like a bad person, for example. And I haven't read enough graphic novels, which makes me an anti-hipster ass. And I've read neither enough current books nor enough back catalogue books. And, and, and. That's a list for another day.


  1. Ghost World, Daniel Clowes.

  2. Black Hole, Charles Burns.

    I tumbled out of Gravity's Rainbow in November and immediately fell into a reading rut that grips me still today. I tried to ease my way out of Pynchon's book with a couple graphic novels--I'm not a graphic novel guy, but the timing seemed right to take a look at a few. In the sense that really, at that point, I just wanted an author to show me exactly what he had in his mind. And these were good, these were good for that purpose, and that's great. Great and all but, yeah. I'm still not a graphic novel guy.

    I know that saying that might make me look like some kind of jerk when seen through the filter of certain strains of popular opinion, so let me be clear: I know that graphic novels have "come of age" and that adults can read them and they can be targeted at adults and that they can be treated as serious literature. I know all that. I also know that there's a rising choir of voices singing the praises of the graphic novel and the fact that they are an essential part of a complete literary diet. I get it. I've seen the light. I acknowledge it.

    Also, I appreciate the skill and talent that goes into the production of graphic arts, illustrated novels, the lot of it. I see that the artist's "style" constitutes his or her "voice" in this literary realm. I also find the techniques and technology of the contemporary craft quite fascinating. (Penny Arcade ran a four-page comic over the last week that featured commentary by the artist, which I've been avidly reading; neat stuff.)

    So now when I restate my belief that I'm simply not a graphic novel guy, you (hypothetical holder of above-referenced "popular opinion") will need to find new ground to refute me from. I suppose what this "you" would be saying would be made more clear were I to actually go dig up some concrete examples of said popular opinion so that my own perspective could be aligned precisely against this weird strain of elitist tomfoolerly I've seen once or twice now? But it's the end of the year and I'm feeling lazy. Real lazy.

  3. End of I., Stephen Dixon.

    I read a lot of his stuff this year. Five books, to be exact. I'll be attempting to take a break from him in 2007. It'll be good for our relationship, I think.

  4. The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald.

    Yeah, so, still caught in a Pynchon rut, what do I go off and do? I grab a fat book off the shelf that I think is going to be a total fluff epic about childhood and children and childish things, something real light I can wrap myself up in for a while--only to find out it's a book that centers, in large part, on the manufacture of the V-2 Rocket in Nazi Germany during World War II.


    I liked it well enough. Needed to be about two to four hundred pages shorter, but really I didn't care that much, at the time.

  5. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

    One of the weirdest books I've read that I feel comfortable saying deserves the status of "modern classic." Is it fair to say Dunn single-handedly invented and perfected Chuck Palahniuk? Like, his entire "modern-day messiah" genre? Am I right or am I right?

  6. Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson

  7. The Confusion, Neal Stephenson

  8. The System of the World, Neal Stephenson

    I'm gifting myself this series. I finished Quicksilver for the 75, and I'm going to keep reading until my eyes fall out of my head, but it would be physically impossible for me to finish the series before the year's over. But listing them next year would just look silly, so I'm putting them here, regardless of whether I do finish them or not, next year.

    Whatever. I'm 300 pages into The Confusion as of this writing. When I picked it up last night I slogged through 30-50 pages of crap; I was at a serious nadir and was ready to get up and walk away for good. Then Stephenson whipped out 150 pages of high-seas piracy and ship chases, plots and counterplots surrounding a secret stash of gold, a beheading (and a head delivery), sword fights, and various other actions and activities. I couldn't put the book down. Gripping stuff! I'm scared to pick it back up because I think he's about to tank all the momentum he just built up.

    McQ is right, for sure--these books aren't as cool as Cryptonomicon was. (I'd substitute Snow Crash for The Diamond Age, myself, since I think I read the latter once, forgot it completely, read it again to see what I'd forgotten, then forgot it all all over again, and, unless someone makes a good case for it, I will probably not be going back to it a third time, because if I don't even know what I don't know, what don't I know? Nothing.) But when Stephenson is on, yeah, there's this weird thing that happens where you can see how perfect and brilliant the Cycle would be, if he would stop doing the uncool stuff, and do nothing but the cool stuff that he does so well between all the uncool stuff.

    There's a real concept versus execution gap here, I think. Sure, a super hot girl single-handedly creating the modern system of commerce is fascinating, in concept. But something lacks in Stephenson's execution.

    In general he seems to do much better when he has actual things and actions to describe. There's a lengthy description in The Confusion of one man entering a room where another man is standing, that suggests all the ways they react and prepare for each other before they say a word, on the off-hand chance that one of them will attempt to begin a fight with the other. It's totally gratuitous and needlessly technical. It's silly, is what I'm saying. But compellingly so. And, then, like, back in Quicksilver, reading about all the foolish experiments conducted by the Royal Society is great fun, though it moves nothing along; there's something concrete and happening in front of the reader, and it makes it feel like things are moving along, like there's something to be gotten from the text. But then he'll go off and talk about genealogy or scene or who did what to who (someplace other than where the current action is) and it's like, agh, shut up, what am I bothering for? I hate you, book, and I want you to die.

    Then a bit later you've got a samurai running around Cairo separating heads and limbs from their owners' bodies, and it's like, yes, YES! This is AWESOME! And I'm pumping my fist in the air over the book. A samurai in Cairo! This rules!

    What I'm saying is it's very back and forth and up and down right now. It's sort of a metaphor for the year, or something.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

And as for yours truly...

...I've hit the end-of-the-year head-dead point where I just had to look up whether the "yours" in "yours truly" comes with an apostrophe or not. If that's not a sign that my net silence of late is a justifiable one, I'm not sure what would be.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. I had all sorts of fun stuff planned: lists, book talk, gender studies, piles of statistics, a week long year-in-review devoted to some music that made the critics' lists (Band of Horses? Seriously? What the hell are you people thinking?) and some music that didn't make the lists (the fact that Stereolab's Fab Four Suture received zero love in the year-end round-ups is a sign of the impending apocalypse). Then the thing happened with my hosting provider going "fwhoop"; took my get-go with it, I guess.

I'm still mired in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which is fine. On average, I am currently neither actively enjoying it nor actively despising it. My heart's not especially in it, except when it is, and then yes, my heart is really in it. (Daniel Waterhouse telling off what's his face near the end of Quicksilver is, I suspect, one of the single most bad-ass moments in the history of historical fiction.) I think often of quitting and moving on to other things, but then I think it's better to stick where I am for a while, because, eh, there isn't anywhere else I particularly feel like I necessarily need to be right now. Better to bleed out the humours via hard philosophick inquiry right now, I suppose.

Sometime before the year's over I do feel have an OCD responsibility to post the final volume of the reading list round-up. (Hint: I stayed up late Christmas Eve finishing Quicksilver. So yay: 75 books.) I'm sure there's one or two other things that need to be accomplished before the NYE revelry and debauchery commences. If I can remember what those things are, that is.

From the ground up

I don't think I've mentioned lately how much fun reading the Avery blog has been. While folks like me are drudged in holiday season slow-mo, those crazy kids are putting the finishing touches on the debut issue of their litmag. Their posts have been a great reminder that not just writers but people at all levels of "the biz" are passionate about what they do. (Check out the gem of an aside about the guy working at the printer's shop...)

Friday, December 22, 2006

2006 Underrated Writers Project

How to be awesome in three steps:

  1. Click here to view the 2006 Underrated Writers Project list.

  2. Pick a couple authors.

  3. Read their books.

Really, it's that easy.

Jeff and Trevor (as with the 2005 list) lead the charge, asking a whole bunch of us litbloggers for nominations. There's over 65 names, and it's a good-looking list. I suggested five authors for this year's list, I've read a handful of others from both lists, and there's a lot of names I plan on getting acquainted with in 2007.

"They'll be here soon to forget you/Fake you out is all they'll do"

Why, hello there. Allow me to introduce myself: I'm Darby, and I'm back! Miss me? (This is when you hit the comments box and say, yes, yes Darby, I did miss you, and I missed you repeatedly. Bonus points if you say it with money. It's been a rough month, folks.)

My Web host provider sorta went "click" a week ago. I suspect this was then followed by a "woosh." Then a week went by and I found out those were the sounds of the company ceasing to exist. Good! Great. Yeah.

Yeah. So! Thanks to those of you who checked in to find out whether I'd given up blogging. No--I haven't. And, thanks to you who didn't delete TDAOC from your blogrolls and feed readers while it was down. I'm not sure what a week of human time is worth in Internet years, but I suspect the exchange rate is steep.

Now. Let's see if I remember how to do this thing.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How I got Neal Stephenson's groove back, or, why you might not hear me talking about a wide variety of specific books any time soon

While everybody else on the planet is compiling their year-end best-of lists, I'm doing what I continue to do best: whatever I damn well please. And this year, it seems, what seems to have pleased me (among other things, natch) has been the reading of behemoth-sized novels. So I'm leaving 2006 in bigger-and-with-a-banger style, via Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Nearly 3000 pages of geeky historical science-fiction discursive adventure pirate puritan religious social finance commerce story...stuff.

With two weeks to go and me being halfway through the first book? Yeah, don't think I'll make it. But so long as I finish the first book, I'll hit that 75 books goal, the one someone somewhere decided was some sort of magic number for over-achievers and book-nerds like me. (About which other currently bandied about upcoming book challenges, more anon.)

I'll be honest, I tried to get into this series when it was originally published, and failed, rather miserably. Being in general a fan of Stephenson's stuff--you can't not like Snow Crash because it has the best pizza delivery sequence in the history of literature, and Cryptonomicon was great fun, and well, The Diamond Age, I think I've read it twice but I can never remember anything about it, for some reason--it seemed like a certain thing, a trilogy about nerdy things set in the same "universe" as Cryptonomicon. Then I started reading Quicksilver, and made it less than halfway through before I decided there was no plot, no signs of a plot on the horizon, and nothing much else to hold my interest while seeking other reasons to stick with the book. So I put it away and thought for sure I'd never bother again, because, why?

I won't go into the why about why now's a good time for me to try it--said reasons veering rather dangerously toward the personal--but suffice it to say: giving it another shot right now makes sense. And so far, the first book already makes way more sense than it did the first time I tried to read it. Rather than seeming plotless (i.e., motionless) it now appears merely slow-moving. Which is, to me, right now, perfectly acceptable, and to some degree, desirable. I think having heard a little bit more about the latter two books convinces me that there really is a story, here, albeit a very drawn-out, often diverted-from one.

Also, I think it helps that I've noticed this time (and I'm past the point where I quit last time) that the book is often funny. His footnotes jibe well with my desire for what footnotes in literature often ought to do, and Stephenson's heavy-handed winks and nudges at the reader as he displays the ways in which contemporary vernacular find common use in a historical period (Vagabonds acting as a "net-work" upon which "information" is carried, etc.), rather than seeming trite and cheap, now seem rather silly, and therefore, funny. (Is that damning praise?)

There's other things I'm more comfortable with this time through--the baroque social elements of the book, for example, with the emphasis on plots and counter-plots and multiply titled characters, rather than seeming, as it originally did, like a huge hassle that had to be mentally combed through to be kept in order and aligned at every step of the way, now seems, more properly I believe, more like an amusing sort of background, one that any self-respecting geek would rightly lift his chin at, before looking the other way. All of which said, the book still often feels slightly tedious and sloggy, but again, I'm more willing now to give him a pass for it, and to trust that though I might not be as interested in following Stephenson down every path he gets himself geekishly interested in, there's plenty of other aspects of the story that are, now, holding my attention.

So that's why I won't be talking much about other books for another couple weeks. Which means I'll either find other stuff to talk about, or I won't talk about anything at all. I'm not making a call on that one right now.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Literature's dot-com years

If Richard Powers winning the National Book Award for The Echo Maker hadn't already convinced me I need to read his book, this article from The Independent would have finished the job. Here's just a piece of the fun:

When Powers gets excited, it's easy to see the enormously intelligent, slightly nerdy youth he must have been. Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1957, he grew up one of four children in a house animated by music. His father, a headmaster, would have guests over for musically accompanied singalongs. Powers's instrument was the cello. But he was also fascinated by the sciences. He wolfed down Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle as a youngster, and later enrolled in the University of Chicago as a physics major, with an interest in technology. In his off-hours, he taught himself how to program computers - a skill that led him to his first and last day-job writing code in Boston. He had never considered writing until he saw a photograph of three farmers in a retrospective of August Sander's work. Two days later he quit his job to write their story.

As a young novelist, Powers's most powerful influences were James Joyce and Thomas Hardy, but it was coding that gave him an education in how to put a book together. "I think that discipline gave me many ways of thinking about form and structure as a fiction writer," he says. It is useful to remember that William Vollmann, who won the National Book Award last year, also began his career writing computer code. Their back-to-back wins are seen by many in New York circles as a kind of changing of the literary guard. Powers, however, believes that their rise in popularity reflects a shift in readers' acceptance of a new way of telling stories. "This idea that a book can either be about character and feeling, or about politics and idea, is just a false binary. Ideas are an expression of the feelings and the intense emotions we hold about the world. One of the things that Capgras really reveals is how dependent upon feeling idea is in order to be reliable at all."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Death Cabs for Hideous Men

Via Maud Newton, we learn that the film version of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men has gone into production:

The movie features Julianne Nicholson suffering from a rough breakup. She decides to videotape interviews with different guys, and tries to make sense of how men work. Other actors in the film are Ben Gibbard and Timothy Hutton.

So, that answers the question of how they'll turn the question-less interviews into a film plot,, wait, WHAT? Ben Gibbard? Ben "Death Cab for Cutie" Gibbard? Ben "I loved you Guenivere" Gibbard? Acting? In a movie based on a David Foster Wallace book?

You'll have to pardon the mess, my fanboy interests just collided.

I'm currently throwing around the microgram of weight I have as an Internet Guy in an attempt to get to the bottom of this and to find out if it's true. More on this, uh, developing story. As it develops, I guess. Weird.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

TDAOC: Making the awful, obvious jokes, so you don't have to

This droll observation just in from The Stranger:

This has been a dismal year for books: Even the nauseating best-of-2006 lists going up on every litblog across creation feel perfunctory. I've been fairly disappointed with almost everything I've read this year; it all felt, at best, like a witty party conversation, disposable and clever. There were no big ideas, no novelists willing to take a stand, or a chance[...]

and then blah blah this fellow, Paul, he goes on to mention the "one exception," which, okay, sounds like an interesting book, except, see, here's the thing, it took me forever to get past the opening lines up there, because, you know, ugggghhhh started going the Horseshit Alarm every time I read it, and then I realized that the common element in Paul's reading experience, the one constant in this little literary retrospective equation of all-books-equal-crap, if you will? Is Paul.

Yes. I went there.

But seriously. That quote up there? That's some serious oh-me-so-emo wank. I'm embarrassed to have sullied the already arguably low quality of my blog by quoting it here.

I mean I don't even focus on "this year" books, what with most everything I've read this year being back catalog stuff, and even I can still see no less than three titles that are almost literally prepared to jump off my finished pile straight into envelopes that are already magically addressing themselves to Paul right now. No big ideas? No risk? How can that be said about a year that's seen the publication of Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions, Laird Hunt's The Exquisite, and End of I. by Stephen Dixon (whose entire literary career can be described as one gigantic big-idea risk)? Never even mind my tepid reactions to the Danielewski and Dixon books; I can at least say I appreciate them for what they are and what they're trying to do and where they are trying to go. (Hint: in new, unique, challenging literary directions.) This isn't even counting The Echo Maker by Richard Powers, which I've got on the TBR pile, which hear-tell has it isn't exactly dull and riskless, nor the publication of a little novel by a man by the name of Thomas Pynchon, who, the kids these days say, brings the ideas like motherships bring funk. Plus there's the Brian Evenson book, The Open Curtain, I'm looking forward to reading. Oh hey! Yeah, how about The Road, by Cormac Mccarthy? Certainly nothing risky there, no way. Certainly not like he took a stand in that one. I mean, what with the book being about humanity's last stand.

Whatever. I'm angry.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pynchon Watch Y2K6: The stunning conclusion!

Are you sure you're ready for this? It's a doozy that will blow your mind. Go get a glass of water and get ready to throw it at your face. Put the kids to bed, let the dog outside, lock the cat in the litter box, log yourself out of World of Warcraft, give your wife the credit card and tell her to go buy herself something pretty, go find the nearest baseball bat and beat your husband over the head for being a sexist prig, find a chair and throw it through the nearest window, take back all the holiday gifts you've bought for your loved ones, alert the President, buy a car at low, low, low prices, and start smacking your grandma in the face with an empty paper towel tube, because after nearly six months of consideration-qua-obsession and a whole butt-ton of blog posting, I have arrived, at last, at a stunning conclusion:

Thomas Pynchon cares what you think.


What? Yeah. I know. It's crazy. But here's the thing: it's not obvious.

Before I got onto my oh-six Pynchon track, had someone told me what I just told you, I'd have laughed, because, no. I think it was Stephen King who said there's writers who write for readers and writers who write for themselves. I wouldn't have known if Pynchon was the latter but he certainly wasn't the former, I'd have said. Pynchon is hard, Pynchon is an artist, Pynchon is a postmodernist, Pynchon is reclusive, Pynchon is a jokester, a trickster, an elitist punk, Pynchon is a whole lot of things exactly other than someone who cares what I think. If he cared what I thought, he wouldn't have written all these big huge hard novels that only total-nerd self-important smug-bastard other-exclusive literary hipsters read--he would have called me on the phone and asked me what I thought, right?


I'd rather not belabor this point. Or maybe even explain it at all.[1] But still, I'm glad to make this point, because it's one nobody ever made to me, before I started reading Pynchon's books. Maybe it's been so obvious to everyone that nobody's felt the need to voice it, and maybe voicing it makes me look like a naive jackass. Wouldn't be the first time.

Or maybe not. I keep thinking about a paragraph from Gerald Howard's essay on Pynchon, printed in the Summer 2005 Bookforum ("I do worry, though, that Gravity's Rainbow may be turning into an undervisited monument"). The gist of his point in that paragraph seems to be that, among us under-30s, there's a concurrence that Pynchon is "slow going stylistically" (read as: hard/difficult) and that today Pynchon's "concerns were in general alien and irrelevant" (read as: distant).

I'm not going to argue the book isn't hard. It is hard. There's a lot of characters and a lot of stylistic shifts and a lot of rapid-fire changes in the point of view. It's not slow per se in terms of action--lots of things happen on every single page, and Pynchon writes some of the best physical action sequences I've ever read. The book does demand slow reading, though, yes. Of course, that shouldn't be an impediment. Really good books, however easily they may be read, should, or could, demand and reward slow reading.[2]

But, here's the thing: the book isn't that hard. Once you become attuned to the music of it (and other yadda yadda critic-speak-y things) the book offers delights, however silly and stupid, or perilous and harrowing. These are often--shockingly!--easily grasped, given the reader's investment of time and effort in the book.[3] This is something I learned this year. This is something I had never been told to expect. This thrilled me.

The second suspicion--that Gravity's Rainbow is outdated--seems laughable to me on the literal level. I won't go into it here.[4] But if you look at that on the figurative level--that Pynchon himself is remote from us as readers of his writing--you see the very questions that got me interested in Pynchon in the first place this year. And you've got me standing here in front of you saying, gods no, no, he's not. Even nearly thirty-five to forty-five years later, V. and Gravity's Rainbow brim with humor and--wait for it!--heart. And that's terrifying from an "I want to speak critically about art" standpoint because you can't prove heart.

All I can do is point to my own new experience with his work: Pynchon does things in Gravity's Rainbow that affected me, intellectually as well as emotionally. He shocked me and confused me and made me think and work for it, but what I found was that he wasn't the faceless watchmaker God I was expecting to find, the one who created mountains so that mankind could climb them only because they were there, only to reach the top with the exact same questions as they had at the bottom, seen not anew but only from a new perspective. No: the words on Pynchon's pages breathe today, because Pynchon put life, his life, into them. He created, but he stuck around for the rest of the show. Reclusive? He's right there right now! He would like your attention. He has things he wants to say to you. He wants to show you things.

He wants to change your mind.[5]


Oh, and you can stop beating your grandma. You're only pissing her off now.



[1] All I know is my gut told me I needed to arrive some place[*] after all my musings about Pynchon this year, some place where I could "retire" the subject tag, because if I don't, I'll just feel weird about it for a long time, because I'm only OCD in the weirdest ways.

[2] This is all to say nothing of re-reading, which I certainly will do with Gravity's Rainbow and V. someday. Once I recover enough from my initial readings to make it through Vineland and Mason & Dixon and Against the Day. And I guess I ought to give The Crying of Lot 49 another shot now, being all converted-like as I am. Not to even mention the stack of books by other authors that's been building up next to be first-time TBR pile, books I'd like to re-tackle once I get the first-time TBR pile under control (ha ha fat chance I know), books including Dhalgren and Invisible Man and The Corrections, and like The Trick is to Keep Breathing because you know I never know when I might feel a sudden and incontrovertible need to be a little bit more depressed than I am at any given right now, right?

[3] Certainly more easily than I can say for some writers who I'm pretty sure don't give a rat's ass's flying fig what I think about anything, cough cough Ben Marcus.

[4] Hello, motherfucking Cold War, people!? Jeez. Don't make me evangelize.

[5] To which, finally, let me close off here with a piece of advice to you who are considering reading the book (or, in the case of friend Chris, who have recently begun reading the book), if such advice may be deemed useful. If you make it to the middle of the book, and you're not having any fun with it, put it down. If the longer section right about in the middle of the book doesn't devastate you down to your floor? Put it down: you're not having enough fun (as weird as that might sound) and you will only grow more, and too, bitter. This is sort of a long-way-around respond to something my friend the Duck & Penguin once said, about Gravity's Rainbow being a love it or hate it book. Yes, it can be that, and likely is that, but if my experience is anything to go off of--it is possible to switch oneself from one category to the other. There's certainly no shame in admitting defeat; I think now it was somehow necessary for me to do so before swinging back around on Pynchon for the better.

[*] However temporary, by the way, that arrived-at place might be--because, it's not like I'm done thinking about Pynchon's work, god knows. And also however antithetical--or, precisely thetical--to the spirit of Pynchon the idea of "arrival" might be.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

December Quick Hits

My latest batch of Quick Hits is up at Arriviste Press. (Hint: One of the bands? I sort of fell madly in love with, and would like to take to prom.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Where I'll be Friday night

This information is provided to make everybody happy: both those of you who wish to be near me, and those of you who wish to be as far from me as possible.

At Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art:

music + film :: TEMPO

Friday, December 8 / 9pm
$5 MOCA Members
$8 Non Members

A live electro-noise performance by Jeremy Bible, founder of and Molotov Records, will be followed by an explosive set by Infinite Number of Sounds (INS). Experimenting with musical forms from breakbeat to barbershop, INS gives elaborate multi-media performances, mixing music with video and editing it on the fly.

Headlining the evening will be CIA professor of Digital Art and acclaimed filmmaker, animator, and VJ (VideoJockey) Kasumi. Her high-profile gigs throughout the world include recent collaborations with DJ Spooky and Grand Master Flash.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Counterforce

Sometimes, people disagree with me. Yeah, I know--what the hell, right? But being a season of compassion and giving, or whatever Hallmark says December is this year, I thought I'd compassionately give some equal-coverage time to some of that mythical other side of the story. But remember, kids: just because something is Other, doesn't mean it can't still be Wrong!

I. Winter's Bone, Daniel Woodrell

I read Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell back in August, and I liked it, and I suspect I'd like it more if I read it again today, now that there's snow on the ground. Dan Green, at The Reading Experience, was a bit more critical:

Suffice it to say I did not find the world depicted in Woodrell's novel so overpoweringly "raw" I didn't want to "stomach his reality," nor did I find Ree, the novel's protagonist, to be like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, "a knight in a world full of craven churls." Neither can I echo some of the over-the-top terms--"tremendous," "ferocious," "utterly compelling"--used by so many reviewers in describing this book, as illustrated in these excerpts. I can't say I found it a bad book (I managed to finish it, and a few of its scenes are well done enough), but I'm finally just puzzled about what such reviewers are seeing in it that warrant these kinds of hosannas.

Fair enough. There's nothing in particular here I feel compelled to disagree with or argue against. There's also nothing here that sways my opinion on the book. Take that for what you will.

II. Red the Fiend, Gilbert Sorrentino

Elsewhere! I read a couple Gilbert Sorrentino books in October, Aberration of Starlight and Red the Fiend (items number 64 and 67). I compared the latter to being punched in the face until it's no longer fun. Scott Bryan Wilson, in the latest edition of The Quarterly Conversation, had this to say:

Thankfully, Dalkey Archive, which now keeps the majority of Sorrentino's fiction in print, has rescued and reissued this book, one of the top three or four American novels of the 1990s and one of Sorrentino's very best. They've brought it out in a nice paperback edition, one which should expose many new readers to this book in which Sorrentino's writing is even funnier and more depressing than usual.

Fair, wait. Funny? Uhm. That was not a word I would have used to describe the book. Absurd, yes--and I suppose the absurdity of the book, from a certain point of view, could be seen as being funny. Except, the book never convinced me to look at it that way. Nor does Scott's essay--he links the humor and the depression of the book to the pain it causes the reader, and I'd be there with him on that if he'd shown me how the book is (or can be) funny.

Note, now, I'm not saying Sorrentino's not a humorous writer. I've only read two of his books, and from what I gather, they're on the darker or more serious end of the spectrum of what he does. It's possible that if you've read more of his work, which I look forward to doing someday, you'd see the humor in Red the Fiend, having more of a feel for the man's oeuvre or style or concerns. Maybe. From where I stand, though, the book comes across as being rather more unpleasant and brutal.

Perhaps it goes without saying then that I would not list Red the Fiend as "one of the top three or four American novels of the 1990s". In a footnote, Scott gives some context to that assertion:

To put this statement (or at least my tastes) in perspective, I'd situate Red the Fiend in the company of Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own, Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, Coover's John's Wife, Dara's The Lost Scrapbook, Wright's Going Native, Gass's The Tunnel, Dixon's Interstate, and Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Well...damn. I've only read two of these books, but oh damn, do they count, and do they not get other books lightly compared to them around TDAOC HQ. Infinite Jest, being, you know, Infinite fucking Jest, and Interstate being one of those books I would make everybody read, if I didn't think that 99 percent of everybody would think I was insane for it.

So it won't surprise you to see me say I would not place Red the Fiend amongst such exalted company. But I will say the comparison with Interstate is neither unwarranted nor uninteresting, in that Interstate could also be described as brutal and unpleasant. I'm not prepared to write an essay on that right now--I forgot to bring my notes to class today--but I think my reason would run along the lines of the fact that I found Interstate's merging of style and substance to be a more exciting, gripping, enthralling, what have you expression and exhibition of profound personal horror, whereas the Sorrentino book felt more merely lazily documentary of very much not-nice things.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Inland Empire trailer

Matthew Tiffany points to a teaser trailer for David Lynch's Inland Empire. The only thing you really learn from it is that yes, this is, in fact, a David Lynch production.

Also, the film's official site has some updated release dates. Sort of. Something tells me I'm going to have to road trip it to Chicago in January. This is a sacrifice I am not unwilling to make.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Random connections

I like finding connections between seemingly unrelated books. You'd like an example, you say? Well! Let's see how the following strikes you.

Take this passage from the book I just finished reading a couple days ago, The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (a generally decent though oddly-to-glacially paced book), published in 2003. From the point of view of Madeleine, an eight year old girl:

Once upon a time there was a mountain cave. The Piper led the children into it, all except one who was lame and could not keep up. By the time that child arrived, the door had vanished and she was forlorn, never knowing whether she was lucky or just lonely. Who was that child? The lame one. The one who became a grown-up.

Through closed eyes, Madeleine can hear the voice of children from inside the mountain. Hers is among them. The wool of the carpet bristles her cheek, she keeps her eyes closed, listening.

How can a grown-up ever gain entry? Unless you become as one of these.... Not "innocent," just new. Raw and so very available to life. Why do grown-ups insist on childhood "innocence"? It's a static quality, but children are in flux, they grow, they change. The grown-ups want them to carry that precious thing they believe they too once had. And the children do carry it, because they are very strong. The problem is, they know. And they will do anything to protect the grown-ups from knowledge. The child knows that the grown-up values innocence, and the child assumes that this is because the grown-up is innocent and therefore must be protected from the truth. And if the ignorant grown-up is innocent, then the knowing child must be guilty. Like Madeleine.

Then look at this bit from the (far, far stranger) novel I'm now halfway through, Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, published in 1989[*]. The narrator is a 38 year old hairless albino hunchback dwarf, recounting the story of her life growing up as the (closest-to-normal) child of carny parents:

It is, I suppose, the common grief of children at having to protect their parents from reality. It is bitter for the young to see what awful innocence adults grow into, that terrible vulnerability that must be sheltered from the rodent mire of childhood.

Can we blame the child for resenting the fantasy of largeness? Big, soft arms and deep voices in the dark saying, "Tell Papa, tell Mama, and we'll make it right." The child, screaming for refuge, senses how feeble a shelter the twig hut of grown-up awareness is. They claim strength, these parents, and complete sanctuary. The weeping earth itself knows how desperate is the child's need for exactly that sanctuary. How deep and sticky is the darkness of childhood, how rigid the blades of infant evil, which is unadulterated, unrestrained by the convenient cushions of age and its civilizing anesthesia.

Grownups can deal with scraped knees, dropped ice-cream cones, and lost dollies, but if they suspected the real reasons we cry they would fling us out of their arms in horrified revulsion. Yet we are small and as terrified as we are terrifying in our ferocious appetites.

We need that warm adult stupidity. Even knowing the illusion, we cry and hide in their laps, speaking only of defiled lollipops or lost bears, and getting a lollipop or a toy bear's worth of comfort. We make do with it rather than face alone the cavernous reaches of our skulls for which there is no remedy, no safety, no comfort at all. We survive until, by sheer stamina, we escape into the dim innocence of our own adulthood and its forgetfulness.

You could write a thesis about this. Or an entire blog's worth of content about this. I won't. But you could.

Add to this the fact that The Way the Crow Flies, the book I picked at random off the TBR pile to escape the mental clutches of Thomas Pynchon, centers, like Gravity's Rainbow, in large part on the manufacture of the V-2 rocket in Germany during World War II, and that Geek Love deals with physical mutations in some ways similar to those experienced by the teens that populate Charle Burns's Black Hole, the graphic novel I read immediately after finishing Gravity's Rainbow, and you've got one reader here who can't help but wonder what isn't going to be connected to everything else for the indeterminate future.


[*] Edit: I originally said the book was published in 1983; the actual year of publication was (I believe) 1989.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Fountain

Did I mention I saw the new Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain last weekend?

Did I mention I loved it?

Well, yeah. I was trying to write a big long thing, but, well, yeah. Two thumbs up, and we'll leave it at that.