Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year

if each season
were twice as long

the year
would wear me well.

- from "New Year" by Teresa Leo

...but no pressure or anything, Cosmos

If the Dunkirk beach scene (which is a single 4.5 minute shot, according to IMDB) from the movie Atonement doesn't win some kind of Best Thing Ever in the History of Anything at All award, then there is no justice in this world, and ye shall know that evil has truly prevailed.

The close runner up nomination goes to the green dress Keira Knightley wears for the dinner sequence. Wugga! Huh-lo there, m'uh lady.

The exact same thing happens to me when I play too much Grand Theft Auto

All that night I dreamed of roulette, gambling, gold, calculations. I kept calculating something, as if I was at the gaming table, some stake, some chance, and it oppressed me all night like a nightmare.

- from The Adolescent, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Monday, December 17, 2007

"A story that moved like a movie"

Did I mention that the newest edition of Bookslut features an interview with Steve Erickson? No? Probably because I've been too busy being great.

Or, well. Maybe I've been too busy reading The Adolescent every chance I get. I'm barely a fifth of the way through it, but, gosh. I don't know why I'm always surprised when I'm reminded that Dostoevsky is awesome. You'd think I'd know that by now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The versatility of a strong opinion is not to be underestimated in modern-day America

The National Book Critics Circle folks conducted some big survey about ethics in book reviewing.

At the risk of seeming like I'm being sort of an ass, I'll say that I think I've already said all that needs to be said on this topic. At least, I've yet to be convinced otherwise. The lines are still open.

We need more talk of the sublime in the litblogosphere

From Harold Bloom's Paris Review interview, taken more or less out of any context:

Criticism starts—it has to start—with a real passion for reading. It can come in adolescence, even in your twenties, but you must fall in love with poems. You must fall in love with what we used to call "imaginative literature." And when you are in love that way, with or without provocation from good teachers, you will pass on to encounter what used to be called the sublime....

I mean, I don't know, I don't read much specific criticism, by Bloom or anybody, because either I haven't read the book discussed yet, so why bother, or I've read the book in question, and I'm too wrapped up in my own thoughts to want them to be all mollycoddled by someone smarter than me—but I do dig on when totally smart critics say totally basic things in totally smart ways, that somehow sum up some of the experience of sitting down in a chair (or on an ottoman) and reading a book and loving it. It's comforting, which is nice. Now and then.


If Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love were to be the last book I read this year, it would be the perfect bookend to Sam Savage's Firmin, the first book I read this year, in that where Firmin is a slender book about a man-like rat who successfully discovers himself through reading, Conjugal Love is a slim novel about a rat-like man who fails to fix his identity through writing.

There's also something in there about the successful or unsuccessful formation of emotional connections with others, but since Conjugal Love will not be the last book I read this year, the thesis stasis, from a temporal-aesthetic perspective, hardly seems worth following up on. Plus it seems kind of forced, anyway. Darn.

The last book of the year I'll read--or attempt to read, if I remain this fatigued for the remainder of '07--will be The Adolescent, but for real, this time. Or I could rally and cram Mason & Dixon in there, too. And The Recognitions. Also, that copy of the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War & Peace my girlfriend got me for our recent anniversary is looking pretty much totally sweet, too. (Litnerd love, yes.)

Or I could pick up this Dostoevsky and quickly fall asleep sitting up on my backless ottoman, which I've taken to sitting on at night on occasion in an attempt to keep myself from falling asleep at the lit-wheel. Lit hurts, baby. (But seriously, how do you people who are so much better than me at this do it? You're freaks, I tell you.)

Monday, December 10, 2007


In a fit of "Oh shit," a mad panic over my total inability to write anything worth writing, I've recently turned to that drug I suspect all desperate flailing writers turn to from time to time: writer porn. For me, this meant grabbing a copy of The Paris Review Interviews Vol. II, turning to a review at random, and beginning to read. It's the kind of behavior that never really helps, necessarily, not in any definable, measurable-by-metrics way, but it also doesn't particularly hurt, and it does have the effect of helping to remind one that the pursuit of literary arts doesn't necessarily make one insane, from a certain perspective, namely, that of the other nice folks in the heavy coats with the designer sleeves.

I landed on the Philip Larkin interview. I came for the advice, but I'm staying for the humor:


How did you arrive upon the image of a toad for work or labor?


Sheer genius.

I was going to quote a bit of his sheer genius here, but, ah...hell with it. It's time for my pills.

"She had a vitality which was stronger than any moral rule"

I came back around to Alberto Moravia sooner than I'd planned, thanks to the folks at Other Press, who were kind enough to send me a copy of their publication of Moravia's 1949 novella Conjugal Love, which I just finished, and enjoyed quite a bit. While I'd had every intention of diving right in to Dostoevsky again after finishing Anna Karenina, I found it hard to put down a book that began with a line as frank (and, yes, to use a word I've seen in multiple locations, as "unadorned") as "To begin with I'd like to talk about my wife." It's also hard to put a book down that is physically lighter than air in comparison to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky books, but that's another story to tell. I should also note that if you are the sort of person who likes books about writers (ahem) Moravia's seemingly so straight-forward story is likely to draw you in, so be warned. (There's far too many exquisite writing-about-writing passages to quote here.)

On the other hand, if you're a boy, and you're looking for definitive answers about women, this might not be the book for you. Reader be warned.

I think I'm still gathering my impressions, and would like to come back around to it to say more about it. (Stop me if you've heard that one before, faithful reader.) For now I'll say the book confirms for me that Moravia's a writer I want to spend some more time with in the coming years. I shall begin tonight, before I pass out in my seat, by reading his 1954 Paris Review interview.

Also, so long as I've got the mic, I'd like to send some props to translator Marina Harss, whose lucid introductory note is an example of that kind of writing-about-the-writing writing that so excellently encapsulates so much of what I knew I wanted to say but didn't know how to say because I hadn't thought up yet what I'd wanted to say about the book. Or something. I try not to beat myself up when I see an excellent piece of writing about something I've read--"Oh, they said it so much better than I ever could have, I'm so stupid, stupid!"--because, like at least in this case, I can only assume Harss became far more intimately involved with this text than I've become, and is probably smarter than me anyways, so. Still. It would be nice to be a little bit brilliant, at least. (Or at least, a little bit more awake at night.)

It's remarkable to me, in any case, that the complexity of the story can hang still in the air even after it's been captured almost as if without effort in the introductory note. Worth circling back to after you finish the book itself.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

And, while we're at it: Speaking of Russia...'s not like they've totally stopped having a literary scene; they've even got awards and stuff. I just don't know a damn thing about the contemporary Russian literary world, myself. Which is a shame. Makes me want to learn Russian. Because, I've got those five hours tonight I was planning on devoting to sleep. Pft.


(Edit: And the "Russian Booker" award goes to...)

Speaking of France...

...there's a very long, very popular French book us non-polyglot English-speaking types might not be reading any time soon because the author has demanded a new translator.

Somehow? If I ever get anything published? Being able to make demands about translators isn't a position I expect I'll ever find myself in. If the translator wants to just grab some old crappy book off his or her shelf, slap the new title on it, and call it a translation? S'cool with me, so long as I get my check.

(On the off-hand chance you're wondering: yes, that was an Aphex Twin/Jesus Jones reference.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Litblog Co-op Winter 2007 Read This! pick

The Litblog Co-op have announced their Winter 2007 Read This! pick.

(Though I'm sad to say that, unless I've missed it, or unless the list is yet to come, it doesn't look like they've posted a list of all the nominated books for the quarter. Which makes me sad since I have generally liked the "runner up" books I've read more than the Read This! titles. Not that I've read everything on every list, but.)

(And actually now that I look at the list I'm two books behind anyway, having read neither of the Spring or Summer 2007 Read This! picks. Both of which I suspect I would like more than previous picks? Maybe? I don't know.)

(And, okay, if you're keeping score at home, my favorite Read This! pick, of those I've read, by a wide margin, has been Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. It's just so...French. And existential and weird. I guess I like that sort of thing.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Game on

And to write this way is like raving or a cloud.

- from The Adolescent, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Man. I fucking love Dostoevsky.

(Which is to say that I've finished Anna Karenina--which, though I enjoyed it and though it intrigued me and though I'm certainly going to read it again before I die, I, burdened perhaps by the burden of the anxiety of influence, do not know what to say about it--and have moved on to the second part of my Dead Awesome Russian Authors Family Novel Rock Block, which is also the fourth part of my Summer of Dostoevsky '06 project, which I'm like 20 pages into, and which I can already tell is going to be awesome, so.)

Oh sweet shit

Holy shit, TAKE COVER! A William T. Vollmann's about to go superfuckingnova:

The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced Wednesday that [Vollmann] will be given a $250,000 Strauss Living, to be doled out in five equal installments over the next five years. The idea is to allow writers the freedom to write without worry of supporting themselves.

"I accept the Strauss Living with gratitude and relief," Vollmann told academy members. "... It is this tremendous gift which will allow me to focus on what I truly want to do for five years."

Not included in this news story are any details about whether the American people will receive a similar stipend, in order to support them as they try to keep up with Vollmann's soon-to-be-unprecedented output. Dude writes the way you breathe.

Via Edward Champion, who hopes that "this will help [Vollmann] finish up the remaining three dreams left in his Seven Dreams cycle." From my perspective, where I'm looking at Fathers and Crows and Argall over there on my bookshelf, and the other couple Vollmann books on my shelf, and the books that ought to be on my shelf but aren't yet because I haven't seen them in front of me at the bookstore, yet, all I'm hoping is that Vollmann uses his sweet cash to swing by my house to read all his stuff to me for me. (Note to Bill: I'll make coffee.)


"The most frequent complaint against this book is: Why don't they make a run for it? Opening onto the larger: Why don't we all?"

- Calvin Baker, on Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Year in Review: The From the Scraphead Edition

"They say our office building is full of old ghosts. You can hear them if you stay late, later than even the cleaning crew stays. After the lights are mostly off and the conference rooms are all dark. When the phones stop ringing and the last forgotten cup of half-drunk coffee has gone completely cold. You can hear them inside the walls, clicking against the insides of the walls, crawling up through the building's insides, like parasites through the inside of some mute, dumb corpse. You can not mistake the sound of a vice president's pinstripe skirt shifting against the surface of her leather chair as she checks her e-mail at one in the morning for the sound one of our building's ghosts makes as it seeks desperate purchase on surfaces now beyond its reach. Of the hissing of hot water flowing through pipes for the whispered songs of the forever keyless. Of regret for lament."

- opening paragraph to a story I'm certain I don't know how to write


"All that day [Darya Alexandrovna] had had the feeling that she was playing in the theatre with actors better than herself and that her poor playing spoiled the whole thing."

- Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The Year in Review: The All in Good Fun Edition

"I thought you were kidding."

- said to me by a coworker, upon seeing me carrying Don Quixote to the cafeteria for the second day in a row

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Truth is punishment"

I'm just going to toss this one out there, and let it land where and how it might: "Me and Miss Mandible" by Donald Barthelme might be one of the best things I've read this year.

The closing paragraph of "Margins" is up there, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The Literary Saloon notes that Alberto Moravia would have turned 100 today. Huh.

I, somehow, read Boredom and Contempt in that dark pre-TDAOC time. I remember liking them. They've recently beckoned to me from my "to be re-read" pile (which is more of a shelf, really, but). Maybe in 2008?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two Stories

I'm now one-thirtieth of the way through Donald Barthelme's Sixty Stories. Right! So that's where today came from!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yeah, but what about the ratio of leprechauns to unicorns?

"I'm just in a mindset lately of preferring swords to centrifuges."

Datquiet? No no, disquiet

More Disquiet action from yours truly: one, two.

Speaking of Don DeLillo...

...Jean Hannah Edelstein, over at The Guardian's books blog, has this to say about your chances of becoming her husband:

[W]hile other women may be able to fall back on the classic mainstays of nationality or religion when discriminating between potential suitors, as the dual-passported daughter of an interfaith couple, I've had to find less traditional ways to discriminate. And that is why, when making these important decisions, I turn to Don DeLillo.

You see, I could never learn to love a man who didn't appreciate White Noise, DeLillo's masterful satire and my hands-down all-time favourite book.

Jean, just for the record, I do appreciate White Noise. Liked it quite a bit, actually. But, uh, I'm taken. So, you know. I know I'm dead sexy and all, but you should probably stop calling me.

I'm lucky enough on the love front, in any case. My girlfriend and I share similar but not freakishly identical literary tastes. Like, we both dig on dead Russians. Though I think I'm primarily a Dostoevsky man, myself. I'm liking Anna Karenina very well this time through, though I'll readily admit I don't see it making my personal desert island Top Five list. Though I've also made it clear to my girlfriend she better bring her own damned copy of Infinite Jest on any cruises we go on, because I'm not about to share my copy, in the event of a sudden extended stay in the middle of the ocean.

Hey! Speaking of awesome segues, I must be a masochistic bastard, because I just this weekend made my girlfriend buy a copy of The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian. Here's to me vicariously reliving the spiritual crisis that book put me through earlier this year. (Not to say I didn't love that book, and not to say I'm not completely certain my girlfriend will love that book, but, you know. Ow.)

"You're just jealous of my jetpack"

I bought the paperback edition of the Richard Pevear translation of The Three Musketeers well ahead of schedule (the schedule that calls for me to read The Three Musketeers around about thirty to fifty years from now, right after I get around to finishing Underworld by Don DeLillo) solely for the brilliantly delightful cover art. Steven Gould points to some additional work of Tom Gauld's which is also often highly entertaining.

Congratulations, America: You've won the Cold War!

That'll teach 'em to try to out-race our arms. (Via.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Some stuff and some other stuff

The latest issue of Bookforum is up. There are reviews of a new John Ashbery collection and the new Steve Erickson book, and an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and a lot of stuff that people much smarter and/or knowledgeable than me are likely to know all about.

Snap judgments: The bad timing and unfair comparison edition

The problem with reading something like Junot Díaz's Drown after reading something like John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor or Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds or while reading something like Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is that it winds up feeling not nearly as good as it might actually be.

And it's not even that I'm disappointed. I've read three stories so far. And I've liked them each well enough. But I find myself wanting more. Which is why I say it's probably bad timing; I'm clearly in a mood for maximal literature. Words and more words. Moral pronouncements. Self-infatuated narratorial voice. And more words. And, well, Díaz just ain't Tolstoy.

(Side note: I think I'm in love with the moment Vronsky and Anna pass each other for the first time. It's such a balls-to-the-wall bit of writing. I'd like to write an entire book on that paragraph and the paragraph describing the second murder in Crime and Punishment. Oh, oh.)

Díaz's prose doesn't come off so much as refreshing, as one might expect it to, as it does, well, modern, and typically so. The presence of situational brutality and the deft deployment of important- and poetic-sounding lines, lines like the stressed syllables of iambs, aren't quite enough for me. Not right now, at least.

Not that I don't plan on finishing the book. I do like it. And I do enjoy a short story with my lunch. But (to slip into a William Gassian-style language-as-food figure) it does feel like a kernel of corn caught between the tines of the fork that's busy bringing a heaping helping of meat and potatoes to my mouth: nice, tasty, but neither chewy nor filling.

(And, yes: I'll note I've seen the infatuation pluck up my own fiction writing and carry it along on down entire shorelines worth of descriptive and figurative language in the story I'm working on now, this coming off the last story I finished, a couple months ago, which was by far the most minimalistic thing I've ever written, not counting certain pencil-based experiments from childhood, which were only ever minimal in comparison with the ambitious desires that gave rise to them.) has to be true^H^H^H^Htruthy

This here site is listed on Wikipedia as a "popular litblog."

I've officially made it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sidebar, disquieted

Hey, check it out, they've added all sorts of neat stuff to the Web since I last did anything with it: I've added another thingy to the sidebar to collect my posts at The Blog of Disquiet. Mostly because I needed some way to collect the posts for my own use. But, you know, you might want to relive the dream, again and again, in some convenient way. Now you can. If you want to.

Do check out everyone else's posts while you're over there. Good stuff.

Sidebar, etc

Old blogroll is out; new, shiny, hopefully dead-link free Google Reader blogroll is in. (Feel free to drop me a line if I'm in your blogroll and you're not in mine. I lost track of just about everything this year.)

Also, there's now a Google search box over on the side, so you can play fun drinking games with your family, like, "Guess how many times Darby's mentioned Kazuo Ishiguro on the blog?" and whoever guesses the wrongest has to drink the difference. Pity the fool who picks a single-digit number.

There's probably a lot more crap I need to do around here, so pardon the dust, and my being in the process of kicking it all up. I think this place might be due for a redo.

In the meantime, if you'll pardon me, I guess I decided last night to try reading Anna Karenina again? I dunno. I shouldn't make life-altering decisions on Friday.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I know the feeling

"Trees in the distance swayed and all you could hear was the sound of their soft leaves rubbing together, like the hands of a million evil babies plotting something."

I'm not funny enough to come up with two good headlines for each post

More from me on the Disquiet front.

Random thought of the moment

If At Swim-Two-Birds has three beginnings and three endings, it's got infinite middles.

(And I'm somewhere in there.)

(And, perhaps, so are you.)

(And it's makin' me bleedin' dizzy just thinking about it.)

Meanwhile, outside of New York

Steve Erickson is profiled at the LA Times.

Which is good, even though stats like this make me wanna hang it up and take up tax farming, or something:

Erickson helped anticipate a mongrel movement now called "slipstream," which also includes Haruki Murakami and Kelly Link, and that contains elements of horror and fantasy. It's made him a kind of godfather to young writers, but it has not translated into sales. The well-reviewed "Our Ecstatic Days" has sold fewer than 2,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, since its release in February '05.

Whatevs. I mean, it's only one of the best books of the decade. No biggie.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007



Previously, on Previousity

Thanks to you kind souls offering opinions on the Proust question. The whole translation thing really is interesting; makes me wish I could, like, do some of it, myself. Oh that this too too solid brain would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a polyglot's.

I'm sorry.

I mean, I'm really sorry. You deserve better.

But I digress. Have you seen that paperback copy of Richard Pevear's translation of The Three Musketeers? That shit's hot. (You need to see the inside flaps and back cover, too. Full effect.)

Minimum connectivity compliance

When '07 was still wet and yawping with its own birth, I'd had this idea I was going to map out the connections between all the books I read for the entire year. It was a little eerie how well the first handful of books I read commented on each other, spoke of each other or referenced or overlapped each other, either directly or indirectly. I never got the map started, because, whoa, hello, big project. Sometimes, though, I really wish I would have. Would have been neat.

It's moments like this, when I just finished reading Grant Bailie's new novel, Mortarville (which you ought to read if you're into the sorts of things I'm into), and then I moved on to At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien. Bailie's novel is about John Smith, a guy who was born as the product of two mad scientists. Then I hit O'Brien's book, a book about a guy writing a book about a guy writing a book (in which his characters live with him in a hotel), and I just slammed into this line at a thousand words an hour:

The birth of a son in the Red Swan Hotel is a fitting tribute to the zeal and perseverance of Mr. Dermot Trellis, who was won international repute in connexion with his researches into the theory of aestho-autogamy. The event may be said to crown the savant's life-work as he has at last realized his dream of producing a living mammal from an operation involving neither fertilization nor conception.

And it's like: what? Wait. What?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bringing new meaning to the word "disquiet"

I've got a new post up at The Blog of Disquiet.

"Translation keeps me wide awake/Tomorrow is not here"

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky--Dostoevsky translators of choice around chez TDAOC--are making lots and lots of headlines with their recently published translation of War and Peace. Me, I'm not making headlines. I'm continuing to not only not read the book itself but also the articles about the book that I'm linking to here. I've printed this one at The New York Review of Books though, because it does look good. Snip:

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. Since the publication of their acclaimed version of The Brothers Karamazov in 1990,[12] they have translated fifteen volumes of classic Russian works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, restoring all the characteristic idioms, the bumpy syntax, the angularities, and the repetitions that had largely been removed in the interests of "good writing" by Garnett and her followers, and paying more attention (in a way that their predecessors never really did) to the interplay or dialogue between the different voices (including the narrator's) in these works—to the verbal "polyphony" which has been identified by the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the organizing principle of the novel since Gogol.

It'll be a while before I even think of tackling War and Peace. I've still got to take another crack at Anna Karenina, which I bailed on for reasons of fatigue and bad timing. And I've got a few more Dostoevsky books to polish off to finish my Summer of Dostoevsky '06 project. (Right.) The Adolescent has just been pulled from the bottom of its pile and put up near the top, though.

None of which is happening until I finish my current Book Rock Block. Which started with Zeroville, which rocked. Which continues right now with Grant Bailie's new novel Mortarville, which I'm now halfway through, and it totally rocks. Which I'll then follow up with Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, which I expect will also rock. After which I think I'll just lapse into a booked-out rockoma for the remainder of the year.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A pale view of my wallet

The holidays are coming up, you know.

Only you know how much you love me.

All I'm sayin', is all I'm sayin'.

Jules et Jim was a good flick

Me, have Zeroville on the mind, and a sudden desire to see every movie ever made? Nah.

Well, yah:

Joshua Chaplinksy: There are a number of films important to the characters and to the storyline of Zeroville. A Place in The Sun and The Passion of Joan of Arc specifically play a major role in the novel. Are these films as significant for you as they are for the characters? What are some other films that are important to you?

Steve Erickson: Well, in the end the movies in the novel had to inform the story and characters. The book couldn't just be a compendium of films I happen to like. Some -- Last Year at Marienbad or, for that matter, Alphaville, where the novel gets its title -- just naturally lent themselves to being part of the book, without necessarily being any more special to me than real favorites -- The Third Man, say, or Jules and Jim -- that are mentioned in passing or barely at all. Most of this was instinctive rather than anything I worked out in a calculated way. I like both A Place in the Sun and The Passion of Joan of Arc but that's not why they're important to the book. They're important because there's something about them that's deeply irrational and even rapturous -- sometimes in a horrific way -- which suited the story and the main character.

More here.

And here, oh, yes:

I've never been "blocked" in large part because I've never called it that, and have never allowed my brain to get hung up on that idea. You just don't want to make the whole thing into a fucking test. Don't have an adversarial relationship with your own creativity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If anyone asks...

...I'm going as Michael Chabon for Halloween.

"Innumerable compositions"

But in [books], comprising them--as the atom the molecule, the molecule the compound--there are more sentences than people alive in this world, sentences that exhibit a range of savors surpassing your spice rack. Anyone who looks with care into the good books shall find in them fine sentences of every length, on every imaginable subject, expressing the entire range of thoughts and feelings possible, in styles both as unified and various as the colors of the spectrum; and sentences that take such notice of the world that the world seems visible in their pages, palpable, too, so a reader might fear to touch those paragraphs concerned with conflagrations or disease or chicanery lest they be victimized, infected, or burned; yet such sentences as make the taste of sweet earth and fresh air--things that seem ordinarily without an odor or at all attractive to the tongue--as desirable as wine to sip or lip to kiss or bloom to smell; for instance this observation from a poem of Elizabeth Bishop's: "Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood, each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette butt"--well, she's right; go look--or this simile for style, composed by Marianne Moore: "It is as though the equidistant three tiny arcs of seeds in a banana had been conjoined by Palestrina"--peel the fruit, make the cut, scan the score, hear the harpsichord transform these seeds into music (you can eat the banana later); yet also, as you read these innumerable compositions, to find there lines that take such flight from the world that the sight of it is wholly lost, and, as Plato and Plotinus urge, that reach a height where only the features of the spirit, of mind and its dreams, the pure formations of an algebraic absolute, can be made out; for the o's in the phrase "good books" are like owl's eyes, watchful and piercing and wise.

- William H. Gass, from "To a Young Friend Charged with Possession of the Classics"

Oh, to write with such muscle, spirit, passion and heart just one paragraph, just once.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I'm not even sure what to say about Zeroville by Steve Erickson.

I mean, I don't know. So instead I'll ask a question that's been in my head for a while and which I've just been reminded of after seeing three separate mentions of Proust in my Google Reader feeds: if I were to read Proust, which translation would be the right translation for me to read?

If I'm even going to consider, at some point in my life, reading a 3500 page (or whatever) book, I'm going to want to make sure I get some things right from the very beginning.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"You can't smash a girl over the head with a food tray."

God loves two things and that's the Movies and the Bomb. Of all the monuments we've made to God over the last five thousand years, have there been any that so nearly communicate our awe of Him? Have there been any that so nearly approximate His majesty? With the Movies and the Bomb, we've offered gifts that are worthy of him.

If you need me in the next day or two, I'll be the guy devouring Zeroville by Steve Erickson. (Which, oddly, has me feeling like I'm reading The Sot-Weed Factor II....)

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm not sure how to translate "sort of kicks ass" into 17th century prose

I'm about fifty pages away from finishing The Sot-Weed Factor, and my near-final assessment is that the book sort of kicks ass, and you sort of maybe ought to read it some time, if you're into that sort of thing. Damn me though for not yet being able to state exactly why the book kicks ass, or what it does that makes it kick ass. It doesn't act so modern, though, as I was wondering (in a previous post) how it must: the more I question it on that front, the more I see this thing that offers no relevant answers. I've probably missed the point a thousand times over by now, but at least I've had some fun doing so. Enough fun that I've surprised myself by finding myself asking myself, "When will I read this book again?" I don't know when, but I can see it happening. Yeah.

Right now though I'm really looking forward to finishing it this first time because I've got this total rock block of novels lined up after it. Oh. Yes. Rock block.

Over there

I've got a new post up at The Blog of Disquiet. At the rate I'm writing these posts, I'll have the entire book covered by 2094. But then, I think I'm feeling just fine about taking this one slow and steady.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Last weekend?

When I was an undergrad, taking writing classes with Maureen and George, there was a rule you had to follow when your piece of the week was being critiqued: you didn't say anything while people were critiquing your stuff, because you weren't going to be there to defend your work when people were sitting in their living rooms reading your published work. (Or agents were sitting in their fancy offices reading your proposal.) It's one of those odd things that I internalized and gotten stuck in my head, like a pop song. I guess I've made it one of my own little guiding principles, in a way. When I write something, I try to remember to put everything in there the reader's going to need when they read the piece. To do otherwise might seem like a break with common sense, but then, there's not much common sense involved in trying to become a published literary writer in this day and age. Sanity checks, when available, aren't lightly passed up.

So when I saw a link to a Douglas Coupland piece in which he, it seemed, engaged in the practice of defending his work, I cringed: don't do it, Doug, I thought; don't do it! (And this is coming from someone who has enjoyed multiple Coupland novels.) Suffice it to say I was pleasantly surprised to find a decently succinct and interesting (and funny) meditation on words, art, and modernity.

The Neverending Story V: Only Revolutions

Your friend and mine Callie Miller recently took part in an interview with your hero and mine Mark Z. Danielewski.

The audio book for Only Revolutions is just out and was scored by Danny Elfman. Since your book is so visual and relies on textual elements, how does this work? Or does the rhythm of your words take on another meaning when it's spoken?

I think most people prefer to hear it spoken. The quality of the book is so much about Sam and Hailey freeing themselves entirely from the constraints of the world. In a weird way, they demand being freed of the constraints of the book.

Yes, while freewheeling in nature, Only Revolutions is so structured. They are in some serious physical confines of a certain number of lines and a set number of pages, a certain way the book might be read...

That was the point. It's all about freedom. I wanted to see if I could I tie them up, every single day, and then follow how they were going to get out of the chain. The audio offers a freedom from those constraints. A lot of people listen to it and then go back to the book. They don't listen to the whole audio, they use it as a key into the book.

I might have to check out the audiobook version. Maybe the book sounds better than it seemed like it would sound when read on paper?

The Neverending Story IV: The Sot-Weed Factor

All other questions I've asked about The Sot-Weed Factor aside, if The Sot-Weed Factor is about anything, it's about story, and the telling of stories. Much, if not most, of the "action" of the story of this novel takes place off stage, either buried in history or somewhere else in the world, and is related to Eben, and the reader, through stories told by other people, either verbally, or in written form.

There's some great little metafictional moments along the way, such as this quote from Harvey Russecks, a "buck-skinned, thin-grinned, begrizzled old hermit of a fur-trapper":

"No pleasure pleasures me as doth a well-spun tale, be't sad or merry, shallow or deep! If the subject's privy business, or unpleasant, who cares a fig? The road to Heaven's beset with thistles, and methinks there's many a cow-pat on't. As for length, fie, fie!" He raised a horny finger. "A bad tale's long though it want but an eyeblink for the telling, and a good tale short though it take from St. Swithin's to Michaelmas to have done with't. Ha! And the plot is tangled, d'ye say? Is't more knotful or bewildered than the skein o' life, that a good tale tangles the better to unsnarl? Nay, out with your story, now, and yours as well, sir, and shame on the both o' ye thou'rt not commenced already! Spin and tangle till the Dog-star sets i' the Bay; a tale well wrought is the gossip o' the gods, that see the heart and point o' life on earth; the web o' the world; the Warp and the Woof...I'Christ, I do love a story, sirs!"

Of course, if Eben's story is also about anything else, it's about the battle 'twixt good and evil, a battle that takes place on the field of one's actions and one's intentions. It's a battle Mary Mungummory ("The Traveling Whore o' Dorset") neatly and succinctly sees being won by the forces of chaos:

"Methinks 'tis an itch for all we lose as proper citizens--something in us pines for the black and lawless Pit."

Which is a perfectly fascinating and fascinatingly appropriate quote when read in the context of Eben's own occasional tendency to desire "lawless" entrance into the "lawless Pit." Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Prestige is a relative thing, relative to the fact that I am a liar

Here's a profile of TDAOC-curiosity (and, for what it's worth, considering the comparative lack of prestige, recent winner of the St. Louis Literary Award) William Gass.

I started reading The Tunnel earlier this year, and then quit, because, at any one moment, there's just some places where your head is, and some places where it ain't. That week, it was then, and then equaled ain't.

Though I do swear I'm going to swing back around and give that book another shot, because how can a guy who comes up with quotes like this not be awesome:

His assessment of his strength? "I know an awful lot about one thing and that's the sentence. I've studied it all my life."

For real: fuck yeah, right?

Dear John Freeman

Go to hell, you ass.

"Use that evidence, race it around"

Wait a second. Heroes? The Sot-Weed Factor? Epic poetry? Wandering hero figure? Satire? Spoof? Innocence? Experience? That new Susan Faludi book I'm still thinking about reading? Modernism? The modern age?

Maybe what Barth is really satirizing--and maybe what we're more easily going to pick up on now, nearly fifty years after the book was published--is you. You, and your desire for a hero. For something pure, something true, someone honest, someone who can save the day, get the girl, win the game. But then, well: here you go. Here's your hero, in a whorish, fallen age. Your Adam, several thousand years after the Fall, still holding on to the dream. Still denying he ate the apple. A hilarious anachronistic figure. Purity is silly.

And maybe what's funniest about it? Is that you're still going to root for him to win.

(This, by the by, probably makes a lot more sense in my head.)


(Only 300 pages to go.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

I didn't even read the article, yet; I suck

The Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace comes out this week.

You may now continue to go about the business of not reading it.

Though at least now you may feel guilty about it.

A little bit guilty, at least.

(Not as guilty as you'll have to feel when the presumably far cheaper paperback comes out.)

(And yes, when I point one finger at you, I've got three others aimed back at myself.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Once upon a time, the end

Stephen King thinks the short story isn't doing so well. Jean Thompson responds.

It's an interesting discussion. But I'm not sure there's much new being said. But at least it's being said well, I suppose.

That said, I will foolishly take issue with one of Thompson's statements. Click through to read about what that "that" refers to, though I posit it doesn't matter:

That’s the kind of thing you can’t put into fiction without it seeming contrived.

Can't? Really?


It's a good thing I'm done with Heroes and can go back to reading The Sot-Weed Factor full-time, because Zeroville, the new Steve Erickson book, is hitting the streets. My precious, it calls to me. There's a review up at Bookslut. As if I wasn't already excited. Here's the good bits:

Some books are so mammoth in concept that it seems ridiculous to try to whittle them down. You can go on and on about a book like Gravity’s Rainbow or Infinite Jest, for instance, but the only way their true size will be absorbed is in the experience. Fast phrases of summary or review only come off glancing, sentimental, a raindrop in the well. That Zeroville, the eighth novel from cult author Steve Erickson, accomplishes such gait in 352 pages of mostly short, numbered vignettes, is yet another facet of its unmistakable, so sleek brilliance.


All this is not to say, however, that Zeroville is at all a mountain that must be conquered via only sweat and tears, like other such aspirational tomes. I read this novel pretty much straight through without stopping, fed in bite-size increments numbered from 1 to 227 and back down past 1 to 0. Zeroville is addictive. It is a puzzle that lives inside your head. It makes you imagine things you hadn’t expected. Most of the way though I wanted to be Vikar Jerome. I wanted a tattoo on my head. Even more, now, I wish I could wipe it from my brain and read again.

Overblown hype? Bible-sworn truth? Either way: sign me up for an order of oh yes please thank you very much.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No Ground Is Gained Towards the Blogger's Ultimate Objective, but Neither Is Any Lost

In a comment to my last post, Dan clarifies what you're holding in your hand when you're holding a copy of The Sot-Weed Factor. His comment makes a lot of sense to me, and reaffirms my interest in reading the book as being much more straight-forward than I initially felt I was supposed to be reading it. Which bad reading probably stems from a Chicago Tribune blurb printed on the back of the book. (Would, though, that Neal Stephenson had not "been able to take himself seriously" when he wrote The Baroque Cycle.) (Do I seem bitter?) (I seem bitter, don't I.) (I'll let it go.) (Eventually.)

The whole satire question/connection isn't completely unwarranted. The book is based on (according to Barth's introduction) "what is generally held to be the very first American satire: a fierce and funny narrative poem whose title page...reads The Sot-Weed Factor: Or, a Voyage to MARYLAND, A SATYR." That the book gets its situation and themes in large part from a historical satire might lend a satirical edge to the book, but then, it's like, well, what is this book today satirizing? Were the "innocent being" and "heathenesque fallen culture" archetypes more pressing or present back in 1960? Am I, despite my intents, continuing to over-think the matter? Or completely missing the point? How much innocence can I possibly reveal in one post? Dunno.

(Motherfucking Neal Stephenson.)

Either way, it seems safe to read the book as a historical novel, playful in tone yet weighty in its subject matter, whatever the relevance to modern (or contemporary) society. Nice that I've figured out how I feel like reading the book now that I'm almost (fates willing) halfway through.

Of course, I'm just continuing to raise more questions than I answer. The question of modernism's been bugging me for a while now. Like, if this book is a (loose) tribute to historical novels, what's it doing that the source material would not or could not have done, if anything? Can I even answer those questions, being so ill-versed on the subject of historical novels as I am? Do the answers, as I suspect, lie in Eben's odd tendency to occasionally freak out like he's about to start violently acting out on his repressed sexual urges? Is the presence of "evil," psychologically contradictory intent in an supposedly innocent man the key to unlocking the secret connections between Sot-Weed and Barth's first two (seemingly so separate) novels? Would I ask and answer more questions if I wasn't so lazy and so far away from what few notes I've scrawled on the back of an envelope that I've left on my desk at home? Good question.

Maybe I'll start answering some of these questions, now that I'm done with the first season of Heroes, and I can go back to reading at least ten pages a night most nights of the week, but we'll see. If you need further proof of the fact that my mental engine isn't exactly knocking on all three cylinders when I'm reading this book, it's taken me nearly 330 pages to catch the fact that, oh hey, the relationship between Ebenezer and his servant Bertrand is totally Don Quixote. Duh, whatevs. Hilarious, allusive or not.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eben's ability? Supervirginity

I'm still working my way through The Sot-Weed Factor. I'm slow. How slow am I? I'm almost halfway through the book and I just realized, hey, wait, it's not so much historical novels that I should be comparing this book to, but epic poems. The Odyssey, The Iliad, probably certainly The Aeneid. All of which I've been thinking it's been far too long since I've read. Add one more impetus to engage in some fast and furious wishful thinking.

I've pretty much given up on trying to read the book as satire or spoof of historical novels. It's like, I'm sure that's going on, and I could probably spell it out if I tried, but it's not much fun to read that way. Problem is I've got little to no ear for satire more subtle than, say, an Onion article. It's not to say this book isn't funny; it is funny. It's just funny for me in a more straight-forward way than I suspect the satire angle calls for.

That probably doesn't make sense, because I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say. Point being: I'm enjoying the adventurers of Ebenezer Cooke, the wandering poet hero, as he seeks to find and reclaim what's rightfully his. That the book pokes fun at cultural perceptions of innocence and experience is a sort of bonus tossed in to the mix. (Whose culture's perceptions, though? Harumph.) I'm sure the close reader elite task for squad will sniper me for saying that, but, well, so be it.

Speaking of close reading: I've tossed my first post over toward The Blog of Disquiet. Not up yet, but you can expect it to come when it comes. Looks like the blog is starting to attract some attention. I've every intent of keeping some good (well, not bad) content flowing in that direction. The Book of Disquiet has been fun, what few pages of it I've read so far. I'm interested in seeing what else my own read and the group read uncover.

Of course, all of the above is contingent on my ripping off the television band-aid that is Heroes, the first season of which I'm currently somewhere in the middle of. Which is to say the show does in fact rule and I'm quite glad I've finally got the chance to watch it. Theory has it I'll get all caught up so I can watch the current season on a weekly basis, but I've decided in my old age I've no use for weekly televised dramas of this sort. If I can't borrow DVDs long enough to set life aside for a single week in order to drill through an entire season, it's probably not worth my time.

Though naturally I'll make an excuse for Battlestar Galactica, my one true television crack pipe (much to my girlfriend's chagrin), now that the greatest undersung television show of all time, John From Cincinnati, officially is and shall be no more. God damn you, HBO. Damn you to Hell.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Friday, October 05, 2007

Of dreams and transformations

Now this is happening. I'll be happening there, too. Soon. Gradually, and, I presume, for a while.

(Also, side note: something funny happened this morning, something that happened after reading 200 pages of The Sot-Weed Factor, something that failed to happen after reading 3000 pages of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle: I woke up with my head stuck like a fix't machination in the rhythms and cadences of 17th century prose. I think this involved me singing the praises of my shower in rhymed heroic couplets. Weird. So I guess this means either Barth did something right or Stephenson did something wrong or both or vice versa. Or it means nothing at all.)

(Which now has me wondering: if I had to spend the rest of my life talking and thinking in the prose style of any one novel, which novel would I pick?)

(Ooh, tough question. Hmm.)

(Or a lame question.)

(Your pick.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Would there be backlash if I stiffed you on the punny subject line?

I might have to consider making an exception to my general policy of crossing the street whenever I see a piece of post-9/11 writing walking in my direction. Susan Faludi's weighing in.

Ms. Faludi stopped by a fragment of landing gear from one of the planes. "We have pieces but no story," she said. "It's like a lawyer's exhibits without the brief." In this, the display mirrors the situation immediately after 9/11, she said. But then the Bush administration, aided by the media and others, cranked out a ready-made narrative that squeezed out people's experiences, she argued. Language was also co-opted, she added, mentioning how survivors and workers called the site "the pile," while the media used military lingo to rename it "ground zero."

"Personal emotional responses get channeled and harnessed into a mythological construction," she said, and people are told, "This is what you're supposed to feel."

For Ms. Faludi the official story, that prefabricated narrative, is crumbling with revelations of governmental failures and waning support for the Iraq war. She wants to provide an alternate commentary. One of the curators of the Historical Society's show, she said, drew a distinction between the artifacts on display and art: "Art is a process of stepping back and seeing what it means. That's what I'm trying to do in this book — trying to find meaning."

Via Bookslut.

Speaking of Maryland

I'm reading The Sot-Weed Factor now. Which seems like an awfully odd choice for sparking some kind of attention-span renaissance, but whatever. Maybe my brain just needs, nay, craves! some pseudo-17th century English?

(Things I thought I'd never hear myself say.)

Anyway. I haven't read much of his stuff (his first two books, and now part one of Sot-Weed), but yeah, in any case, I'm all for making the case for John Barth. I mean, set aside questions of motive and satirical intent and other fifty-cent questions: the bedchamber meeting of Ebenezer Cooke and Joan Toast is straight-up ha'penny funny shit. (The Great Tom Leech, indeed.)

So yeah. We'll see how long I stick with this. I'm angling for all of it right now. (I'm itching to take another crack at Giles Goat-Boy. Next year, maybe. Maybe.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

"I am a sick man, I am a wicked man"

Here's a recent interview with TDAOC-endorsed Stephen Dixon.


Do people recognize you?

Recognize me in what way?

Do fans ever point you out and say, "Hey! That's Stephen Dixon!”

I don't get recognized too much and I don't get letters either—just one, maybe two a year. I read about other writers who get fifteen letters a day. They have secretaries taking care of them. Doesn't happen to me. I think people are either put off or frightened by me and don't want to communicate with me because they feel they know me too well, perhaps. Occasionally I'll get people who will send books for me to sign with postage, so I do it and I send them back. I'm not as universally known as you're saying. I mean, I hear I have this underground audience, but, unfortunately, they haven't emerged from underground. I like it the way it is. The publicist at Melville [House Publishing] says, "Oh, I can't believe all the people who know about your work! Even the guy who's on the book jacket. Leonard Snipken? He's a famous children's book writer.

Lemony Snicket?

Yeah, well, I had no idea that this guy knew about my work, but he [author Daniel Handler] presented himself to Melville at the last book convention in New York and said, "Oh! You publish Steve Dixon? You're lucky." And they said, "Would you write a blurb?" and he said, "You bet." So there's a fan base, but they don't present themselves to me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


...I'm re-reading some Jeff Noon (Nymphomation! Sexy maths!) and my girlfriend is entering the strange world of Haruki Murakami (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle! Cats! Pasta!) which probably, at some level, tells you things, things about us or things about the mood of our little corner of the world, or something, some things, I don't know, they're things I'm too haphazard right now to suss out. So I hope they aren't bad things. They're not. Not bad things. I hope.

Anyways, Jeff Noon rules. Reading Nymphomation again after so long is interesting. A little more space between me and my Vurt love lets me see the book for its own merits. Math as metaphor, sex as math. Structure and depth. Might be his most technically well-executed book, though my heart will always return to Vurt. As I expect my eyes will do in a few days' time. And, well, Falling Out of Cars is still just something else to me. So.

Still, I'm looking for my way out of my ADD mindmode. Like there's some book I haven't read yet that will pull me in, focus me close, hold me down, and float me up, all for the span of more than a couple hundred pages. The one that'll grab me by the shoulders and tell me all Lloyd Dobler-like that I must chill. Maybe it's on the TBR pile, maybe not. Or maybe I just jones for any old flimflam excuse to browse the stacks, blissed-out coverlove on the trancenight side...


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Man vs. page: An inquiry into the awesomeness of the opening page of Dhalgren (pt 1)

to wound the autumnal city.

This is how you begin with an ending.

This is how you depart from a destination.


I will never ever ever do this line justice.


True criticism doesn't resort to superlatives.

I think this is one of the best opening lines in literature.

It alludes but feels like nothing else.

It is incomplete, glorious, and sky-bright brilliant.


For me, the meaning of this phrase is in its motion, verbal and aural and oral.

Strictly speaking, it describes action and activity that exists independently of a subject. A threat placed upon an object from nothing and nobody. Something that happens that can not happen because nothing and nobody is there to make it happen, to do the action. It is effect without cause, without purpose or context.

It's a bit of true in medias res. It is a predicate, or part of a predicate, that alludes to (but is not, strictly speaking, dependent upon) a subject.

It's a full stop that never really began.


To wound. Violence. To do violence. To engage in a violent act. To do violence against something. A wound is a thing, to wound is to make that thing happen. To place the contents of the action into something.

To wound. To wound what? A city. The city. The autumnal city. A city that exists in time, a city that exists in terms of seasons, a year that begins and ends, a city that itself is approaching or is nearing or is at the very end of something. Autumnal as fall, in the process of falling, of being fallen.

Why would one want to wound a city?

How can a city be wounded?

When is this wounding to happen? Has it already happened? Is the wounding yet to come? Is the wounding in the fact of the city's being autumnal?

The autumnal city. The. The only city of its type, perhaps? The only literally autumnal city to exist? Or is the autumnal city a broad concept, a catch-all term for the modern state of the city? The fundamental concept of city as being one that is nearing the end of its season, its lifespan. Your city as mine, being threatened, being harmed.


Let's talk about word choice. Let's talk about sound.

Autumnal, for my money, is a beautiful word. The syllables, windy and cavernous and rolling, in turn. I lack the vocabulary to describe the sound of them or the feeling they evoke within me when I repeat them to myself, over and over, in the context of this opening line. To describe that word in that line as poetic is both sadly generic and completely true. No other word could evoke what this word does in the way it does it where it does it. It is the right word in the right place.


This phrase, this clause, is a piece of art, self-sufficient and complete. I carry it with me, in my mind, on the tip of my tongue, a mantra devoid of useful meaning, full of importance.


I know this much: the use of the word autumnal completely explodes writers' myths about modifiers, and how they often aren't necessary.

But then, you know: try to one-up it, and, well. You can't.


It is an absolute mystery to me what the word “autumnal” absolutely means.


And what of the city?

The city is something that can be described in terms of changing colors.

The city is something that can be described in terms of temporality, cyclicality, birth and rebirth, death and redeath.

The city is something that can be described in terms of singularity. Uniqueness, solitariness.

The city is something that can be described in terms of flesh. Skin, muscles, organs, functionality and systematicity. Something that can be hurt, harmed, rended, ripped open, made to bleed, made to hurt, made to feel pain, made to suffer. Something that lives and dies.

The city is the object of action and purpose that comes from nowhere and nothing and nobody.


Opening lines are framed by the white space that precedes them. A chapter title, perhaps, or a chapter number; pages of introductory material, quotation marks, copyright notifications. That sort of thing.

This novel places action and an immediate cessation of action at its beginning. It feels like something stopping. It feels like something happening that stops right away, that yet still hangs there in the air above the novel, a connection that desires to be made.

Like something left over, that defines the rest.


The tone of this phrase is lofty and poetic, true, and the framing of it is explosive and caustic and experimental, true, but the world it describes, the things it makes appear in my mind, are flawed, and low, and base. Physical and devoid of abstraction. Violence is a concept but a wound is flesh reconfirmed through temporary deconstruction. A city, like a universe, is too big to have a mind wrap itself around it, and yet, it's just buildings, and people living their lives.

What of the people who live and work and play and breed and die in an autumnal city? What are they like? What do they talk about, when they talk, if they talk? Do they see the way their buildings and jobs are turning from green to orange and brown? What are the leaves of an autumnal city? What falls to the ground? What branches give things up? How does such a city survive the winter of itself? Is there no repetiton or cyclicality for a city? Is the fall the end of itself?


I can see it being argued that reading this line closely without regard to its opening (placed at the end of the novel) is to read the line wrong. To interpret only half a picture, to make a case from only a segment of the available evidence.

I guess I'd disagree.


Say it.

Just say it.

I can think of few lines that sound so cool.


And yet. I feel like there's layers and layers of meaning I haven't the sense or critical ability to dig down deep enough to find.

I suspect I could go on for days.

And yet for what I've done I've neither harmed nor strengthened it, made it make more or less sense to me. I've learned from it, from the line and what I've said and thought about it. That much is true. But at the end of the day, it's still what it is: five lines on a page that I think are amazing.

Somehow amazing.

Somehow beautiful.

I don't know why.

But then, I don't come to literature as someone with answers but as someone who is trying to learn how to ask questions. I'm not even worried about learning to ask the right questions, or the best questions. It's just questions I'm after. Good questions, perhaps. Interesting questions, maybe. Questions, and the question of where they come from, and how they are found. Which is to say: I'm not here as an authority, but as a participant. I like it better that way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Meanwhile, from the depths of my attention deficit disorder...

...while I peck away at my thoughts on the Dhalgren thing, I'm continuing to muddle my way through a spazzy time of life, no book quite right for the moment. For the time being, I've gone back to my tried and true maxim: When in doubt, read some Kazuo Ishiguro. This time it's A Pale View of Hills, his first novel, and the last of his I need to read. After that, it's nothing new until he writes it. Which is distressing. And yet, exciting. Something fun about being so enamored with someone who will be read for a long time to come (if I have anything to say about it) who is still, hopefully, at a mid-way point in his writing career. It's fun.

But then, it's like, after this book, after I finish Hills, then what? A half hour trip to Half Price Books with my girlfriend tonight yielded empty hands and a peculiarly heavy wallet. About the best I was able to come up with was the notion that it's safe to say that Faulkner was out, for the time being. Shoddy attention span and all. (Which means this, which I saw a copy of tonight at the store and kind of had to laugh a little bit, is probably out, too.) Beyond that, though: beats me. I suggested maybe what I needed to do was take a month off from books entirely, and before I could finish the sentence, my girlfriend said I'd never make it. Which is true. I wouldn't make it. Even if I wasn't reading, I'd still be reading. Weird, I know.

It's possible this will lead to interesting things in the near future, at least. If it works out the way I suspect it might work out--a couple pages, here and there--that's at least a couple minutes each day to keep my mind from choking on itself. Still, though, there's other free minutes in the day, begging to be filled. Might it be time to re-learn how to work my PlayStation?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Man vs. page: An inquiry into the awesomeness of the opening page of Dhalgren (intro)

Whether or not Dhalgren by Samuel Delany is an awesome book, I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that it has an awesome opening page.

I couldn't tell you how awesome or not awesome the book is because it's been a while since I've read it. I know I didn't come close to getting it. I know I liked it. I know it intrigued me enough to stick with it for all 800 of its pages. But did I answer any of the questions the book poses? Probably not. Did I even find out what the real questions were? Not so much. About all I knew was that there were questions there. Big ones, little ones. Riddles upon puzzles upon awe.

I'm not even sure now when I first read the book. It was sometime in the hazy first half of this decade, between the day I graduated from college and the day I started this blog, two for-what-they're-worth milestone moments in my reading and writing life. To say that it was a time when I was trying to figure out my own questions would be a desperate parallel-grabbing understatement. It's probably a wonder I remember having read the book. Maybe I wouldn't remember having read it at all if it weren't for the fact that I own the copy I read. I guess I bought it instead of borrowed it. (Unless it's your copy, then, well, sorry, but you're never getting it back.)

And I certainly couldn't tell you when I first discovered the book. I don't think anybody told me about it, and, being as it was before I realized other people might use the Internet to talk about the stuff I love, I know I didn't read about it online. Rather, I think it was one of those odd bookstore finds, my eye drawn to the fat blue spine, some random day. Probably a Tuesday. I think I had to have picked it up, and flipped to the first page, and I must have just known this was something different. Not just from the random science fiction books I'd read when I was younger, but from most anything else I'd ever read. I probably bought it on impulse, no idea what came on page two, but knowing I needed to find out.

Maybe. I don't know. What I know is the book's opening page had to have had some kind of influence on my decision to read the rest of the pages. And today it's still a page I carry bits of with me inside my head, a page I read from time to time, to probe it and poke it and to begin to consider the ways you might question it and it might question you.

So now, after a recent glance at it, I'm going to take a stab at picking it apart, Man vs. Wild style. The helicopter's going to drop me off at the beginning of the opening line, and I'm leaving behind whatever I don't have in my head. Forget the flints and kindling of outside criticism, forget the hunting knives of formal structure and method. I'm going to eat only the words I can catch, take shelter under the questions I can raise, and warm myself off the heat of my own ideas. I may or may not make it to the end of the page alive. I make no guarantees.

Well, okay. I do guarantee this much: I will not drink my own urine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Breaking the logjam (pt 2)

I'd like to throw everything out.

Start over. Forget everything that's been said about saying things about literature. What happens when we start with a blank slate? Stop thinking the way people right now think. Stop thinking what people think. Could we get outside it? Can we look at this mess we're in with no bias, no preexisting judgment? Can we--I, you, the community of readers and writers--build and communicate a system of techniques and values relevant to the conversation about literature, from scratch, from nothing but logic and instinct, for no other purpose than to understand what we've got, and what we might want?

After all, it worked for Descartes.

Might be too violent, though. Too much. Non-starter issue, in any case: if I had such ambitious energy and focus, I'd probably be too busy using it to have the time to dream such things up.

But, maybe, I can, at least, learn how to let go. To loosen up, and to forget.

Herewith the continuation of your previously commenced chaos.


Julio Cortázar's The Winners is one of several TBR pile books I've recently started reading only to set back down after about fifty pages. Some of these books, I've found that my mind was elsewhere, and I wasn't pulling out ideas the way I would like. Other times it's been the books that have been been some other place, somewhere I realized I wasn't interested in learning how to visit. The Winners was one of the former. I enjoyed what I read. There's a lot going on in that book. Too much for me, right now. I'll come back to it, after I regenerate my powers of concentration and interpretation. After I settle down.

The book presents an intriguing premise: through a government-sponsored lottery, a group of Argentines win an expenses-paid cruise vacation. Some of the winners are friends, and some bring family and friends as guests, but many of the people are strangers to each other. In the prologue, the winners assemble at a cafe, where they begin to meet and are then shuttled to their ship. The lottery and the cruise seem surrounded by a vague cloud of mystery. On the page, the proceedings have a remarkable sense of flow and motion. I enjoyed feeling the group forming out of the multiple identities of the winners, who individually are not extraordinary people but become complex through the conversations and actions that lay the groundwork for social intrigues and tensions that I assume will play out through the remainder of the book.

I had to bail before the ship left shore. (Pure trivia: the prologue is about 100 pages. Just under a quarter of the book's length. Are there longer prologues out there? By page count, or percentage?) The book isn't a hard read at all. I'm sad the timing's off. Not the sort of book you want to try to focus on when you can't focus on it. When you can't fully go into it. I think I've decided that what I'm in the mood for literarily is to make one new friend, someone who can tell me a good life story over endless coffee in the corner booth of an empty diner. Starting Cortázar's book is like being introduced to a crowded in-progress party just before the host disappears into the kitchen and right after you've taken an extra dose of being socially inept. I can't even begin to ask where the bathroom is, let alone what these people are doing here, and why they matter to me.

Though I jumped ship, I didn't leave empty-handed. Here's a quote:

"...Well, Persio, here we are. What's going to happen?"

"Ah, that...I haven't had much time to study the question, but I'm already preparing the offensive."

"The offensive?"

"Yes. A thing or a fact has to be attacked in many ways. People usually select one tactic and only get halfway results. I always prepare my offensive and afterward synchronize the results."

"I understand," said Claudia in a tone of voice which revealed her lack of understanding.

"A kind of push-pull has to be in operation," said Persio. "I don't know if I'm making myself clear. Occasionally, it's as if there were things blocking the way, then they have to be pushed aside for one to make out what's happening further on. Women, for instance, and pardon my mentioning them in front of a child. But there are other things you have to grab by the handle and pull. That chap Dali knows what he's doing (maybe he doesn't, but it's all the same) when he paints a body full of drawers. It seems to me many things have handles. For example, poetic images. If one sees them from the outside, only the outer and obvious meaning can be grasped, even if it's sometimes well concealed. Are you satisfied with the exterior, the obvious meaning? No, you're not. You have to pull the handle and fall into the drawer. To pull is to appropriate, to approach, and even to go too far."

Setting aside the results-coordinating relevance to modern political practice, and setting aside the push-your-way-through relevance to my own in-need-of-a-push life situation, this passage presents an interesting metaphor for literary interpretation. It suggests that literary criticism--or at least, the best literary criticism, the stuff that really satisfies--is an act upon the object of study. You change the object of study in the process of extracting meaning from it. And you accomplish that, of course, by letting the thing change you: to discuss a work is to both bring it into yourself while putting yourself into it.

It was that closing clause that did it for me when I first read this passage. It's a long set-up to get there but those last six words open up, for me, something interesting: the possibility of damage. To study meaning is--possibly, if not necessarily--"to go too far." To overextend yourself, to cause harm. Taken in the context of the approach/appropriation bi-directional act of interpretation, might going too far mean swapping reality for fiction? The void becoming the person who peers into it?

The passage doesn't say all that, of course. The meaning is vague, but rings ominous. And yet, while this isn't a particularly tab-a-into-slot-b technical level of instruction about how to functionally work with literature, it does offer some comfort and encouragement to someone like me, who is, right here, right now, trying to figure out how to do what he is trying to do. Don't worry about fucking it up, Persio (Cortázar?) suggests: you should fuck it up. You're supposed to.

Not that we ought to go about things blindly. Deconstruction for fun and profit is a dangerous thing, as we see when Persio immediately reverses himself:

"Ah," said Claudia, making a discreet sign for Jorge to blow his nose.

"This place, for instance, is thick with significant elements: every table, every necktie. I see an underlying order within this awful disorder. I wonder what the outcome will be."

"So do I. But it's amusing."

"Amusement is always a spectacle: but let's not delve too deeply, for some foul trap is bound to come open at our feet. It's not that I'm against amusement, but every time I want to enjoy myself I must first lock up the laboratory and throw out all the acids and alkalines. I mean that I must surrender and give in to the appearance of things. You know very well how dramatic the humorous can be..."

It's hard to have fun when you're going too far all the time.

Breaking the logjam (pt 1)

The word transition is both a noun and a verb. A noun. That's funny. As if a word that describes temporal activity could itself be some thing: a room, a gun, a culprit. Complete, functional, and static. When really it can only ever be in that it goes.

Maybe it's not that funny. I don't know.

Maybe I should start with a quote, instead.


"Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it."

- C. S. Lewis (full quote here)


I engage with literature. I grasp, I fumble. I think. I do literature. I participate in the discussion it causes. I react, I suggest. I say.

I feel no closer to understanding the stuff than I was before I learned to read.


For most of this year, I've been focusing most of my writing energy on fiction. Trying to. It's hard to focus these days. In this age. Even more so when your life feels riddled with transitions. What energy I can muster up after a day's work, what desire I can drill through the buzzing in my brain: I do my best to put that spare focus to good use when I sit down to write.

This--by the by--is why I find writing every day so valuable. Making a given piece of time sacred--as much and as often as possible--is a defense against myself. Let those walls fall, and my brain waves go Berzerk. There exists discussion about whether writing every day is necessary, or valuable. Some people don't need to. Maybe some people have better powers of concentration than me. Maybe some people are trust-fund humanoids armed with lasers. I don't have a laser. So I write every day.

So my blogging has suffered lately. That's fine. I've come to realize that for me, to understand literature is to write literature. To show you how I understand, for example, Kazuo Ishiguro's fiction is to write fiction that engages his in mimetic struggle. That radically oversimplifies the matter, of course. There is, or should be, a good deal of convolution, and expansion, and simplification, and experimentation, and personalization, and straight-up stealing along the way, all in the service of turning out things that started in other things--those other books, those other life experiences--but became their own unique things somewhere along the way. As if by magic. Coffee magic. Laptop magic.

I am not saying anything against the surrounding discussion. It's true that I have consciously decided not to write and publish book reviews. I could. I mean, I know I could try. But the whole "thesis statements and supporting arguments" thing isn't where it's at for me right now. I think I'm generating better results for myself when I write stories and novels. Hopefully, if or when my fiction should be published, others will also reap the benefits. That said, as a reader with some academic bent, critical essays and book reviews are still important to me. There's always room for more. I wish I had time to read and comment on more of it. Or, I wish I had the ability to pay more attention to it.

And yet. I've become restless. Mixed up. Rootless. Transitioning. For reasons both personal and literary. This past week, I finished writing a story, one I'd been working on for a month. Now I'm trying to find my next project. It's always an awkward time. Like looking for a job after you've been laid off, like looking for shelter after you've torched your tent. And the longer that period extends itself, the more awkward it becomes. It's a time for looking at everything, and not knowing what to make of it. My reading, I've been unable to settle down for a while. I think I'm coming off a short story high, without the correct novel to cushion the landing.

And, well. Lots of things. Work and love and death. It's been a year. Buy me a beer and I might mutter something about it, before I opt to nap on the bar. But you already know how it goes. You've had a year of your own.

Point being, I'm not surprised I've got that odd urge to do something critical. It would feel nice to prove things. To say, "This is so, here is why," and then to conclude with a hearty fist-pump, to the tune of applause and adulations from fans and foes.

Problem being that I feel like I've forgotten how to ask the right questions. They're similar to the questions that make me write stories, but I'm not certain they're the same. I can't tell. I feel blocked. It's like there's a question in front of all those other questions to which I've lost the answer: how do we talk about literature?

Friday, August 24, 2007

But you know what they say about clubs that'll have me as a member

Matt Tiffany joins a club I think I helped create. (Again with the lack of references on my part, though--what with it being, like, bed time, now.)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Cleveland, September 5 and 6

How did I miss this? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the excellent Half of a Yellow Sun, won a 2007 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. (The award was "created in 1935 to recognize outstanding works that contribute to society’s understanding of racism and foster an appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures." Zadie Smith won one last year for On Beauty.)

There's an awards ceremony on September 6 (which I think if I remember correctly involves an admission price?) and a reading on September 5 (which I think (hope?) is open to the public?). From this week's Cool Cleveland newsletter:

7 p.m. ANISFIELD-WOLF BOOK AWARD WINNERS, Ngozi Adichie and Martha Collins, will read at the Art Gallery in Trinity Commons, 2230 Euclid Ave. Contact Ron Antonucci, 216.623.2881 or for more information.

Suffice it to say I'll be dragging everyone I know with me to the reading. (Assuming it's open to the public.)

More info on the award here.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Be careful what you're wishing"

So then, there it is: I'm sitting in my muggy apartment and I've got chills.

I've been reading short stories with reckless abandon (read as: short things are all I can seem to focus on) and so it seems a good time to give Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson a shot, right? Because everybody and everybody else is all "Ooo Jesus' Son! Ooo ooo!" all the time, but I've put it off because a couple years ago I read one of his novels, The Name of the World, and I was less than impressed. But curiosity and repeated endorsements got to me, and I picked up a copy of Jesus' Son, and I just read the opening story, "Car Crash While Hitchhiking," and, well: I was okay with it until I read the closing paragraph. Then, chills. The shock of seeing something unfamiliar, and knowing it completely.

If I follow the good advice, I won't read this book non-stop tonight. But: temptation.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

(Please hold.

The next available convergence of Spare Time and Worthy Inspiration will be with you shortly.)

(Or, longly.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sort of

So I started The Accidental by Ali Smith and I was like, "Whoa, this is my favorite book of the year." Then I got really bored with it. Then I got really psyched about it again. Then I got sort of bored again. And also vaguely annoyed. Then I think I figured it out: totally dig the kids, not so much into the parents. I'm still having an above-average amount of fun with the book, but not as much as I'd initially thought I was going to have. A'el.

Meanwhile, I've been idly thumbing through The Paris Review's interview archives. Yeah, I'm probably going to have to grab that first printed collection they put out. Total writer porn.

If you're looking for suggestions on where you might start (and, no, I'll save a couple of my friends the trouble of checking: the Eliot interview isn't available online), I've been digging the 1972 interview with John Berryman, and the 1977 interview with William Gass.

The Berryman interview has me itching to take another crack at reading The Dream Songs. The idea of looking at it is a "long poem" intrigues me. (I feel great interest the book, in but haven't yet managed to find my one-way entry into it.)

And the Gass interview has reawakened my interest in reading The Tunnel. Since pretty much every "critical" (or what-have-you) piece I've read of Gass's has made fireworks of recognition and identification go off in my head. (Like, I mean, go look at the paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 12 and rolls through most of 13: gods, yes.) Maybe I'll hate the shit out of his fiction, but I'd have to guess at this point it would be a friendly sort of hatred.

Otherwise: I write and I write and I write. And I don't mind the heat but I hate the humidity. And I watch John from Cincinnati with my girlfriend. (I haven't decided if that show is meaningless or not, but I do know this: I am intensely curious about the upcoming season finale.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Might not be time for me to fill in that small gap between Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition

Matt bounced this Lev Grossman bit my way about Spook Country. While Grossman liked the book, he does lightly complain of "a certain undeniable sameness" to Gibson's books. I doubt that's going to concern me much. Since I haven't read most of them. And in any case, I think I'm with Norm on this one: "I am really excited about the new one, because PR was effin' dynamite."

And I'll still read the rest of his stuff. Eventually. After I finish the Summer of Dostoevsky '06 project. Right.

Not that it's even close to being all Gibson all the time here at TDAOC HQ, the way my recent posting habits might suggest. I'm in the middle of Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document (with the far superior paperback cover). It's cool. It's good. I'm cool with it.


Do you sometimes think, when you're reading a book, "I like this well enough, but ___________, this person I know in some fashion, would like it so much more than I do"? That's about where I am. Not let down, just not brought up as much as I'd have perhaps hoped.

(Vague, I know, but it's late, and it's Tuesday, and I'm already totally blowing my "I'm going to sleep this week!" resolution. Sigh. All I'm saying is: folks, if you're in control of the finances for some major corporation, and you've been thinking about throwing a couple million sponsorship dollars my blog's way? Now's the time to start writing that check. I have no conscience about such matters.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Familiarity breeds comfort. Comfort, and tasty cheeseburgers

The problem with literature is that it complicates things. That's sort of it's business: you can't have that many words about some topic like "love" or "politics" without introducing a certain amount of complexity.

Which is why, sometimes, for us lit-heads, whether we admit it or not, simplicity can taste so sweet. The comfort of something already known, the familiarity of re-reading an old book.

That's really why, I think, I turned to Pattern Recognition this last week. Life has been busy lately, every day bringing something new, something I can barely grab before I'm juggling it for the next falling object. It was time: I needed something I'd already had once. I knew these words, though I didn't necessarily remember all of them. It felt good.

I'm not often one for re-reading books. Though I love the idea in principle, I've been stuck for some time in the "But there's so many other books to read!" mentality. And even then, the "To be re-read" pile has grown at a rate comparable though not equal to that of the first-run TBR pile. I will re-read Dhalgren before I die. I will re-read Vurt for the eighth time. I will get Persuasion better than I got it the first time, the next time I'm in a mood for Austen.

And I shall introduce new complexities and understanding and intricacies in the process of walking these old paths once again; no matter.


Eddie's Grill knows what I'm after.

A mainstay of Ohio's own Geneva on the Lake since 1950, when (my girlfriend tells me) Eddie himself started his business with nothing but a hot dog cart, Eddie's Grill does not deal in complicated food. It does not deal in palates. It does a few things, and it does them simply, and it does them well.


When they say "Hamburgers" and "Cheeseburgers" they don't mean variety. They mean multiplicity. They mean quantity.

They make hamburgers.

They make cheeseburgers.

They make french fries in amounts that could be shared, but won't be shared.

El Patio

The language on the sign might be about as complex as it gets here, this allusion to multiculturalism in the middle of what's one of the whiter places in the state.


It's true that the simplicity of the place ends for me around the menu. I have a bizarre, unexplainable fascination with Ashtabula County. I tried to blow up the city in the first novel I ever saw through to completion. (It didn't work. The city, albeit with fewer inhabitants, survived.) It's a fascination that extends to the state of Ohio itself, a state I'm convinced, though am not prepared to prove, has more going on for itself than anybody--Ohio itself included--gives it credit for.

Can you go so wrong with a state that endorses such healthy eating and pleasurable activity?

Healthy eating and good fun

A state that boasts a historic putt-putt course?

Historic Putt-Putt

(I won.)


I did not grow up in Geneva, or Ashtabula, or whatever lays in that gray area past Ashtabula before you hit Pennsylvania. And yet it's curious how, every time I go there, it feels like re-reading an old book, one that brought me some curious pleasure once, and which I'm certain will do so again, the next summer day I need a hamburger, the next time I crave a cup of truck stop coffee.

It's complicated, you see.

Eddie's Grill


A couple more (for now) photos here (more to come later, perhaps). Also, check out Erin O'Brien's far-more-comprehensive photo tour.