Friday, April 27, 2007

Well, okay, so I did watch a couple hours of TV tonight--but it wasn't my TV, so it doesn't count

"Whole problem 'th you folks's generation," Isaiah opined, "'nothing personal, is you believed in your Revolution, put your lives right out there for it--but you sure didn't understand much about the Tube. Minute the Tube got hold of you folks that was it, that whole alternative America, el deado meato, just like th' Indians, sold it all to your real enemies, and even in 1970 dollars--it was way too cheap...."

- Vineland, Thomas Pynchon

Thursday, April 26, 2007

And the second Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks Recursive Monkey Wrench award goes to...

...Michael Dirda, who, in trying to convince people that newspaper book reviews are worth saving, ridicules and trivializes the very people he is trying to convince:

Every blogger wants to write a book. In fact, the dirty little secret of the internet is "Littera scripta manet"--the written word survives. A book is real, whereas cyberspace is just keystrokes--quickly scribbled and quickly forgotten. ...If you were an author, would you want your book reviewed in The Washington Post and The New York Review of Books--or on a website written by someone who uses the moniker NovelGobbler or Biografiend?...

...Instead of trimming book coverage, the wise publisher would beef it up. After all, the people who make up the hard-core readership of newspapers are also the people who buy and care for books. A newspaper that takes away its book review section ends up alienating its most faithful--and influential-- readers.

Tooltastic! Congratulations, Mike! You hereby join Keith Gessen in being recognized for your upstanding and outstanding efforts in service of absolutely and totally failing to get it!

To (re-?)(-cursively?)quote myself:

I've said it before, and I hate that it has to be said again: if you, in the literary criticism and analysis world, make fun of people who should naturally be your primary audience (i.e., people who love literature and love talking about literature and love responding to discussions about literature and generating new discussions about literature), you are a huge recursive tool. I'm sorry, but it's true: you are a monkey wrench you have thrown into your own self.

You know what we need? We need a graphic. A badge, suitable for printing, that winners of the TDAOC Recursive Monkey Wrench award can print out, frame, and display on their desks. Any of you graphic/art/drawing people want to take the lead on this initiative? Drop me a line.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Not dead

Just, ah...napping. Much like my houseplant. And disco, pre-LCD Soundsystem.

Still reading Pynchon (though I'm almost done and while I'm not having nearly as much fun as I did with Gravity's Rainbow there's still been enough moments of jaw-drop beauty to make the rest of the pages I'm not so much into worth reading) and I'm still reading Vonnegut during my lunch break (I really like the stories in Bagombo Snuff Box a lot, they've got me thinking a lot about the notion of fashion as it relates to short stories, in so far as I wonder if stories like those in Bagombo exist in any form anywhere today) and I got my copy of The Stories of Stephen Dixon yesterday (and promptly read the first story in the book and promptly fell out of my chair because it was an awesome little story and reminded me of how much possibility there is for the short story form which gave me some strength to start hacking away at a first draft of a story of my own, which might now be the first piece of writing in months that I might manage to stick with for longer than three days without getting sick of it) and I'm still thinking of moving on to John Barth next (though maybe not because maybe that book really is long and maybe I'm not actually in that mood the way I thought I was when I picked the book up a week or so ago) and somewhere in there I picked up a copy of The Collected Stories of William Faulkner (because I've been semi-randomly, semi-not-randomly itching to read some Faulkner lately but couldn't decide which novel I'd want to commit myself to for any length of time and so decided the only appropriate course of action was to commit myself to a 900 page story collection, right).

If you're looking for something that might be worth looking into, you might want to look into ways you can help save book reviews. I'm not vouching for this whole thing, as I haven't had a chance to review all the material and make anything like informed decisions about it (and as Ed Champion displays, there's complex issues at play here) (well, there might be complex issues at play here, or maybe there's just people who might be making complexity out of simplicity, like knots in shoelaces) (which is to say I really don't know what I think about any of it yet and am not nor will I hold the actions of anybody at this time against them) (as if such sanctions mattered, as you could still easily buy my respect in Canada) (no embargo, see) (ha ha) (right), but I do suspect it's a movement worth at least highlighting. Which I'm doing now, here, on my blog. So, mission accomplished.

Also in lit crit news, William H. Gass has won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. I've got his big fat novel The Tunnel over there on the TBR pile, waiting for me to push some of the other big fat novels off the top of it. I think somewhere along the line I read something out of A Temple of Texts that made me want to read the rest of it...but, for the life of me, I can't find it or remember what it was. Bummer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The book about the dust bowl that I read last week was awesome. Riveting. Terrifying. I read it like it was a novel I could not put down. The book shocked me with my own ignorance of just what that term "dust bowl" really meant. I think, in my defense, in my American History class in high school, it was nothing more than a footnote to the Real Story of the Great Depression, which happened in the cities. But I can't hold myself accountable for every question I've never yet learned I should not only find answers to, but ask in the first place. I already feel guilty enough about the unanswered questions I do know exist.

Something to be said, in any case, about the fact that I went from a fictional account of watery apocalypse in The Children's Hospital to a historical account of apocalypse by earth and wind in The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. But then it seems like every book I've read this year has been speaking to other books I've read this year with a frighteningly high level of chattiness. I really ought to be keeping a chart, because it's freaked me out more than once, how eerie the connections have been.

As for lunchtime reading, I'm almost done with Sleep by Stephen Dixon. I don't love every story in that book, but when I do love a story, I love it hard, the way a man loves a woman in a bar who he's talking to for the first time in that moment she first surprises him with some unexpected bit of connectivity. As someone who has read enough of the guy's books to think I've got a pretty good sense of his "game," I have to say I've been pleased to find myself surprised on more than one occasion. Eventually I'll be closer to the book while I'm blogging, and I'll tally up a list of "new most favoritist short stories ever" from the table of contents. I think this is the most pure fun I've had reading his work since I did Interstate and Frog. As is, only two more stories out of the book to go. (I've already read the closer, "Sleep," which, yeah. Wow.) I've already got an order in for a copy of that Stories of Stephen Dixon collection that's floating around out there, which will probably queue-jump the other Dixon books I have lined up on the TBR pile.

My next lunchtime short story reading obsession is probably going to be Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box. About whose passing I still don't even know what to say. But when I say it, I hope to hell it's funny. (My god, though, am I glad I got to see him talk when I had the chance.)

Right now at night I'm reading Thomas Pynchon again. Vineland. I'm liking it. I don't know that I'll get to Mason & Dixon and Against the Day before the year's out--like I may have foolishly once planned on doing--but we'll see what happens.

Also, there seems to be a lot of John Barth chatter amongst the litblog hepcats lately? Am I wrong? I read The Floating Opera and The End of the Road earlier this year, both of which I've long been meaning to say more about. For now suffice it to say they were fine little pieces of existential fiction at a time when fine little pieces of existential fiction were perfectly fine with me. Decent chance I'm going to start tackling The Sot-Weed Factor next (which I feel that someone out there is reading right now but forgive me for not remembering who you are at the moment?). So hopefully I'll be contributing to the upswing of Barth-chattiness in due time.

Elsewhere, from the department of "things I've read that other people have now read and have talked about online in ways that are probably more cogent and coherent than anything I've strung together by this point," Matthew Tiffany liked the book The End of Mr. Y but not as much as some others of us did, Ana María Correa is already looking forward to re-reading The Exquisite (you and me both!), and Levi Asher finds your loyalty to Cormac McCarthy....displeasing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Muttering Retreats - Beachland Tavern - 04-13-2007 - 005

The Muttering Retreats
Originally uploaded by thegrue76.
Tim's brother was taking uber-hi-fi shots with an expensive camera and a Really Big Flash. I was taking unter-lo-fi shots with my little pocket Canon, with the flash turned off. I believe I accidentally caught the flash off the professional camera the moment I took this shot.

Hi-fi + Lo-fi = Totally rock 'n roll.

The Muttering Retreats - Beachland Tavern - 04-13-2007 - 007

The Muttering Retreats
Originally uploaded by thegrue76.

Friday, April 13, 2007

And oh yeah

...some dude named Michael Chabon is going to be here on Sunday. Really it's just a bang-up nuts week of literary superstars. I'll be there, if I can find parking.

Big huge props to Akron, by the way, for building a gorgeous library building, and having it be attached to a parking garage. No idea how that happened, but wow, awesome. I'd go there all the time if it weren't, no offense, all the way down in Akron. (Of course, one could argue you're better off trying to park in Akron to get to the downtown CPL branch, sooooo-o-o-o.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pimpin' ain't easy, except when you're pimping for the number one rock and roll dance party

(Only the true of heart are able to click this image.)

From the Beachland Web site:

...Joining them are Cleveland's The Muttering Retreats, featuring Cari Santilli and Tim Thornton (Agnes High Quality, Thieves Like Me) from the Collinwood Soul Group. Chris Collins completes the trio. Multi-instrumentalists all, they switch between several instruments. At this upcoming show, they'll be playing piano, bass, drums, synths, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, violin, kazoo, slide whistle, laptop and more. Even though they've only been a band since last year, their sound is fully formed and generally upbeat, but soft. The Muttering Retreats take their inspiration from Magnetic Fields, Ben Folds, Beat Happening, Belle & Sebastian, and They Might Be Giants. The band is also largely rooted in literature (the name is a line from the T.S. Eliot poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"), so a lot of the lyrics are heavily influenced by 20th century literature. But they have songs about zombies, too....

Zombies! Prufrock! Kazoo! Tell me you're going to find any other place in any other town but Cleveland where you're going to get all three of those things on a Friday night! There will even be a limited edition tape (tape!) (cassette tape!) (sweet-ass retro home-brewed artifact!) for sale.

Really, I think you have no choice but to be there. If you need further convincing go to their Myspace page and listen to "Screw You and Your Beachfront Property." I mean, come on! What do you need with sand and sun and sin, anyway?
Kurt Vonnegut died today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng, Akron-Summit County Public Library, this Wednesday, April 11, 7 p.m.

Just a reminder about the Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng event on Wednesday. Seriously, Akron ain't getting any closer; you might want to get on the road now. Avoid the I-77 highway bandits. (They sleep during the daylight.)

Of course, I have to say I'm way tempted to skip work on Wednesday and Thursday to go attend Stephen Dixon's retirement reading down in Baltimore (scroll down)--oh, if only it was on a weekend! Curses.

Monday, April 09, 2007


So after spending yesterday reading Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World, about whom and which--as is the perpetual case in TDAOCville--more anon, I've taken a slight detour into a mysterious genre of writing called "non-fiction." From what I gather, "non-fiction" is pretty much like fiction in every way, except that when you hand in your work, you have to provide the whole proof, not just your final theorem. Yeah, I know, I don't get it, either. Making stuff up is so much easier. Makes me nervous, anyway; non-fiction is the sort of thing smart people like John Ettore talk about. Dude might think I'm trying to start a Cleveland turf war. I'd so lose.

In any case, I'm an experimental sort of guy--why, just today, I tried going to work without stopping for coffee before getting on the highway, and hoo boy, let me tell you, experiment failed!--so (in time with the Mac's Backs Book club) I'm working through Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. It's not something I would have randomly picked up on my own--what with its terribly anti-Colbertian reliance on "facts" and "reality"--but in a freakish bout of good timing, it's working for me. I've recently stumbled (or re-stumbled) into a sort of (I guess you could say long-held, though perhaps personally under-recognized) loose interest of mine in the question of where people choose to live. Big empty concept in my head meets a book full of specific examples: somewhere right now, some business manager's synergy-leveraging sensor just went off and he or she has no idea why.

So that's fun. In May, the Mac's Backs Book Club returns to the faeries-laden lollipop-strewn here-there-be-dragons land of make-believe with The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I've been meaning to read her stuff for a while, so I plan on trying to make it for that. Umrigar will be joining the discussion, too, so if you come, you can ask her what it's like to lie for a living. For real!

Random links: The Borgasboard edition

...because, you're either with us or against us!

  • Or so Keith "I dislike babies and puppies" Gessen would have you believe, I guess? I dunno, I haven't been following the recent litblogs vs. n+1 flamewar all that closely--who's got the time, right? You miss one blog-vs-media fight, you can always catch the next one in fifteen minutes. I hear they've got them running in loops now. From what I've gathered of the current round of huffery puffery, Scott's got it about right.

    I've said it before, and I hate that it has to be said again: if you, in the literary criticism and analysis world, make fun of people who should naturally be your primary audience (i.e., people who love literature and love talking about literature and love responding to discussions about literature and generating new discussions about literature), you are a huge recursive tool. I'm sorry, but it's true: you are a monkey wrench you have thrown into your own self.

  • Imani is reading Half of a Yellow Sun and she can't put it down. I think she's the second or third person I've known who has said they pretty much can't part from the book in a real physical sense. (I probably would have been the same way had I not started my job when I was right in the middle of the book. I might have been too tired to hold on to the book for a while there.)

  • SINCE U BEEN GOOOOO-OOOOONE!!!!!!!!!!! Ian McEwan's Saturday hasn't stopped sucking ass!

  • Dan Wickett found five free minutes in his schedule and has decided to fill it with an entire month of short story action. You know, I picked up a math minor in college (while other boys were picking up hot girls, ah, but I digress), but absolutely nothing in my Fractal Geometry and Chaos Theory background can possibly be used to model Mr Wickett's activity levels. Dude's a publisher too, now, you know that? I'd salute him, if I could figure out which of the fifteen clones of himself he's got doing his work for him is the real him.

  • Go check out the debut issue of Hot Metal Bridge. They've got an interview with TDAOC-fav Dan Chaon, and they've got fiction and poetry and creative non-fiction, too. And it's free! On the Internet!

  • Speaking of TDAOC-favs, Slate recently re-ran a piece by Jennifer Egan on Cormac McCarthy's The Road. That piece may or may not have been instrumental in convincing me to give the book a shot (after I'd read--and hated--and hated--and hated--All the Pretty Horses).

  • Plus here's an interview with AL Kennedy that I think I still need to read, myself. She's awesome.

  • If I ever get rich, I'm so funding a television cooking show, hosted by Erin O'Brien. ("Get a good cold-ass Bud or Stroh's or some shit like that to drink while you're doing this shit. No goddamn candy-ass nancy beer that comes in some weird-ass big bottle with an effing cork and that you're supposed to have at some effing particular temperature or anything like that. That shit sucks.")

  • And uh, yup. That's it. Nothin' left for this post.







    N+1? More like N minus Fun :(


    Ha ha! Couldn't resist. Oh, damn. I was doing so well...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friday, April 13th, 9:00 PM, the Beachland Tavern: Come see the number one rock & roll dance party


This Friday, April 13, my friends Chris and Cari and Tim will be making their debut as The Muttering Retreats. They'll be opening for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone at the Beachland Tavern.

Not that I'm trying to pressure you into going out Friday night and having a really good time listening to some upbeat indie pop, eyeing up the cute hipsters, and perhaps partaking in some beverages of your choice? But I have to say, if you're not at this show? I'll probably love you less. Or maybe I'll just pretend to love you less. I'm good at playing pretend, though. I've read a lot of fiction, so I totally know how to do it. And then the only way you'll be able to get me to stop pretending that I love you less is to go see The Muttering Retreats play their second show on May 12, when they open for Daniel Johnston at the Grog Shop. Of course, because sometimes I lose track of things, you should probably simply go to both shows. That's your safest bet against a sudden painful decrease of Darby love in your life. Why take any chances?

Plus, total bonus: if you show up, I hear it's like a free pass on celebrating National Poetry Month. It's, like, in the charter. I'll dig up that clause while you go buy your ticket.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why I sort of can't talk about The Children's Hospital (but then sort of do anyway)

I. Let's not talk about it

I would like to talk at length about The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian, but I don't think I can go into depth about the book without talking about myself and my own religious beliefs more openly than I think I'm comfortable with. Though I do know this blog draws what can be called (in a by-the-metrics manner that, if I had a marketing department, would have said department plastering this information on press releases and posters, as if it means something more than it really does) an international audience (an audience I'm really excited about having, by the way, let's be clear on this, an audience that should in no way be offended or put off by anything I say in what follows the following parenthetical) (I mean, seriously, there's like three of you in Australia I think who read this blog now and then, and I love you people for it, and should I ever take a little road trip down your way, I'm so hoping I can count on your couches as being places I can spend serious passed-out-drunk time on), I do tend on this blog to speak something like American in 2007 America, and despite a little bit of recent Congressional nameplate shuffling, I still don't get the vibe that honesty and truth and compassion and openness is something most of us are looking for from others when it comes to discussions of faith and belief. Certainly is likely I've been reminded of this each time I've been wished a happy Easter the last couple days by people who have no reason to think they know a thing about my thoughts about what, if anything, comes after death. (Of course, my brain's been working on overdrive in the seeking-out-the-personal-significance-in-everything department the last week, anyway, so maybe the pump was already primed for me to find water in the well. Maybe there was a girl involved. Maybe it's been an emotionally complex week. Maybe.)

Point is, The Children's Hospital is a book concerned with intense theological and philosophical matters, and if you're willing to let the book in, it can muck up your mental machinery. It did so for me, and now here I am, talking about how I can't talk about it, because I simply don't know you well enough yet. I mean, really--first you buy the boy dinner, and then you ask him to put out, am I right?

It's a neat summary of my feelings about the book that by the time I finished it, for as much as I'd enjoyed the book (and yes, my definition of "enjoyment" is fairly flexible and complicated), I was still glad I'd taken this one out of the library, just because I knew that meant I could get it the fuck out of my face and back to some place where I wouldn't have to look at it anymore. That it's still sitting on my read-in-2007 pile speaks to the fact that I don't even want to touch it long enough to take it back to the library because, fuck. I can't deal with it. It is a raw, weeping wound, one I thought had stopped bleeding a long time ago. I suppose, to use a less gristly simile, it's like getting dumped: sure, you know the experience leading up to that point was awesome and beautiful and life-affirming and was worth all the sadness and all the rage, but in the end you still hurt; you still wish everything would stop reminding you of it.

Plus it's April 7 and it's been snowing all day and the roads around town are nothing but icy death. I've had enough apocalyptic craziness for one month. I feel no need to willingly take active part in more of it. Let me instead freeze while I sleep with everybody else who never knew what hit them.

II. Things said between the moment the glass was thrown at the wall and the moment the last of the Kleenex went the way of the oceans

Yes, you should read the book.

I mean, if you've come here looking for a simple recommendation, something more basic than melodramatic pronouncements against the state of States and vague hints about the potential existence of a complex mental life of a so-called blogger, you've got one. If you think you should read it, if you've somewhere along the line become interested in this book, then you should read it. I assert that it is an excellent novel.

There's all sorts of bottom-line fascinating literary stuff going on in there, stuff you can enjoy purely for the sake of art doing its arting thing. The narrator and the narrative frame of the book are ingenious, I believe, and are employed to rather excellent effect, and probably would warrant some good long wine-soaked conversation. (Definitely, if you're buying.) There's also that inherent tension, in my mind, between this book's McSweeney's-esque clever yet clean-voiced prose and the inescapable concern with seriously deep shit that has this book placing itself well in the McS's catalog while also drawing itself toward something beyond; call it engagement with a certain small-scale literary tradition combined with a gigantic leap in a tradition-surpassing direction. It's an insular story with anti-insular intent and effect, is what I think I want to say. (None of which, I should clarify, is at all meant as a knock against other McS's books--they've had the good sense to publish Stephen Dixon, and I've liked most of what else I've read that they've put out, and I certainly didn't put Paul La Farge on the 2006 Underrated Writers list because I didn't find The Facts of Winter amazing.)

I found the story itself engrossing and captivating. More so than I'd honestly expected. Truth is going into this book I did not want to go into it. I really wanted to resist it. I simply did not want to deal with a 600 page hipster doorstop, but then it turned out I didn't know what the hell else I really wanted to deal with, and so I picked it up and started reading it and, well, nothing else seemed worth putting this one down for. I read it in fits and starts, short chunks and quick gasps broken up across nearly three weeks. And yet I was hooked. The book pulled me forward and through some unmarked point of no return, some point when I knew I had to finish it, however long it was going to take. This is good storytelling, plain and simple.

But then, had that point of no return happened far later in the book, things might be different. Thing is there was a point--I'll say it was around two-thirds of the way through the book--when I got the very clear and sudden sense that, by the time I reached the end, the book was going to break my heart. I knew that in a physical sense I did have a choice; I could have put the book down, I could have walked away from it, and all this crazy emo stuff I'm spilling out onto the Internet would not have been necessary. But no; in a mental sense, I had to see what lay around the bend.

The results, as you may have guessed, were potent.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Children's Hospital


I really am giving up reading, now. Or, at least, I'm not reading anything else this year that at all contains emotionally disturbing content.

I mean...gee. Gods. Ow.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Not that you'll notice any perceptible change in the quality of my reviews

I've decided to give up reading.

I had this sort of revelation today, see. I realized that so much of what I'm looking for from literature is about getting at both sides of the story, whatever the story is. Like, for example: in terms of the gender war, I try to read as many books authored by women as by men. To better respond to the question of quality, I look at the work of a spectrum-spanning assortment of writers--from the mightiest of the mighty Dostoevskys and Pynchons to the lowliest of the low Dan Browns and Don Delillos. I read non-fiction to learn how the world really is, and fiction to learn how the world could be. Short stories let me perceive things impossibly small, while novels let me subsume into myself the infinite and the ungraspable.

But some deeper primal knowledge has eluded my grasp for about 27 years. Not even my forays into the Derridadian meta-divide between literature and literary criticism could allow me access to an elevated understanding of the one fundamental, ultimate, and true binary pairing through which lens we all come to know works of literary value.

That's the division between the literate and the illiterate. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, as of September 2006, there are 780,923,753 illiterate adults worldwide. That's approximately 17.8 percent of the world's population that has a completely different view of literature than you or I do.

Well, than I currently do, I should say. While I have been assured that the lobotomy procedure should be painless (in fact, once complete, I shan't remember a moment of it), I'll admit I'm uneasy about taking such a drastic step. But I'm confident in my decision, knowing that once I'm back on my feet, my carers leading me by the hand through the most seemingly common of daily tasks, I shall be able to report for duty as the first totally illiterate blogger in the entire litblogosphere. By combining new podcasting technology with an innovative new round-the-clock recording set-up, I shall be able to communicate, via sub-literate and unintelligible grunts and moans, my feelings, thoughts, critiques, and criticisms of the literary landscape from the perspective of one who is wholly unable to engage with literature in any way, shape, or form.

Oh, sure, I'll paw at the pages of books placed before me while gutturally shrieking my discontent with the unconscious knowledge that something once familiar has forevermore been stripped from my being, and I'll also likely also crash my car into bookstores, which I imagine will doubtlessly happen, what with my being unable to follow the directions posted on street signs. Perhaps I'll even burn my entire book collection, the inescapable result of my inability to read the warnings printed on bottles of lighter fluid. But as for the deeper communion with printed text that I have spent so much of my life enraptured with--well, my post-operative barks, yelps, and squawks will be far more indicative of my new found state of mind than anything I could think to type up here, from my comfy seat in the ivory tower of literate privilege.