Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's so disorienting about slash porn, flame wars, and table-based site design*?

The web: yet another total disorientation that became status quo without anyone realizing it.

- Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2

So I guess what I'm in the mood for right now--at least according to my recent reading of Icelander and my tonight finally having given in to Richard Powers, who I'd been resisting for a long time for reasons I can't explain or identify--is literature that makes me feel smarter and/or more clever than I really am.

It's sort of not a bad place to be. Like, I'm 60 pages into Galatea 2.2, and, I dunno, it feels sort of just right for right now. Sort of like Neal Stephenson nerd-lit but without the Slashdot/Boing Boing info-dump overtone. (Or does that joke not make sense outside my own head?)

Now this is when, of course, I'm sure, all the Powersaholics in the house chime in with suggestions for which book of his I have to read next: I'm going to cut you off by saying I've already got The Gold Bug Variations on the TBR pile. (And, well, a library copy of The Echo Maker that is so overdue I can't even stand to look at it long enough to, like, take it back to the library. Yikes.) I'm not going to get to it any time soon, but it's there, and unless Galatea totally de-rails, will be gotten to, some day. (After Don Quixote. And The Adolescent. And Ada, or Adore. And The Recognitions. And The Sot-Weed Factor. And...everything else on my steadily growing pile of "huge-fat books I feel a sudden urge to read right this very instant, hours in the day be damned.")


* - Oh yeah. That's right. I went there.

Dustin Long interviewed at The Inside Flap

So, I'm trying to catch up on my homework: The Inside Flap recently posted a lengthy interview with Dustin Long, and drops mention of the fact that the paperback of Icelander will be out on June 1. I haven't read the entire interview yet, but it certainly looks meaty, and the snippets I've seen seem intriguing; nor have I seen the paperback yet, but I suspect it won't be as well-assembled as the pleasing McSweeney's Rectangular hardback*.


* - But, of course, it will be cheaper, and therefore, far more likely to wind up in my permanent collection, and therefore, far more likely to cause my girlfriend's hardcover to return to her own bookshelves. Such are the economics of love.

I wanna be a Refurserkir when I grow up

Icelander, by Dustin Long. Has anybody else read this book? I recall no lit-blog or not-lit-blog buzz about it. Which shocks me, since it's a McSweeney's book, and it seems like there's always somebody somewhere loving themselves up the latest McSweeney's books. Did this slim tome fall under the mammoth shadow of The Children's Hospital? I don't know. I haven't checked the timing. I haven't done my research. I skipped the homework.

See, I was too busy last night, reading this book.

This ridiculously fun book.

True, it's of that type or genre of book I am going to call "footnote lit"--your classic case of intratextual cleverness run amok. Pale Fire, House of Leaves. The Facts of Winter, to name another McSweeney's example. Whatever: you know the stakes when you flip through its pages the first time; five seconds is all you need to decide whether you're in or out.

If you're out, you're missing a party.

If you're in, you're going to a party.

An intratextual, metatextual, Nabokov-meets-Nancy Drew* murder mystery of a party. One that takes place both on and under Iceland. One that involves objects as stories, forgery as the foremost form of artistic expression, karaoke qua heroic epic, and political plots as personal vendettas. One that realizes exactly what it is, and pays homage to the gate-keepers while gate-crashing itself.

Text in love with text.

Text that kept me up past my bedtime, dizzy, and maybe a little drunk, and certainly confused as to how I got where I'd went when I was done. Text that sort of made me want to go right out and read every book ever, immediately.

Which is to say, in short: Yay!


* - Credit due where credit's due: it was my girlfriend who voiced the Nabokov/Nancy Drew merger-comparison when I found the book on her bookshelf (the first time I'd seen or even heard of the book being during a random perusal of her bookshelves) and asked her if she'd read it and/or liked it. She had, and had. Selling point enough, even without the apt description.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Would you like a side of IN YOUR FACE! with that?

New York Magazine posts a list of the 61 best books you've never read. But guess what? I've read two of them. Oh snap! Take that, fancy-pants literati!

(Via Dorothy--whose efforts in leading the Tilting at Windmills blog have me thinking it's time to get Don Quixote off the TBR pile this year.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Muttering Retreats @ The Beachland Tavern, Tues 5/22

Hey! Fresh off their gig opening for Daniel Johnston, my good friends The Muttering Retreats will be kicking things off tomorrow night for Chris Garneau at the Beachland Tavern. This'll be their third show, and you know what they say about thirds.

Also, while you're on the internet, check out Tim's new fancy blog, and go be BFF with Chris, or at least listen to some of his solo songs.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"The time to rise has been engaged/You're better best to rearrange"

I finished Demons today. Well, I finished my first reading. First of how many? I don't know. I know I'll likely need to go back more than once. Because, see, it's a curious thing, reaching the end of a book that I thoroughly enjoyed but understood only, at best, elliptically, in disconnected glimpses, through the corners of my eyes, of the rapidly passing textual landscape, one both aesthetically dense and continuously evolving. The interpolative process of extrapolating critical meaning and understanding of the book is one I hardly feel capable yet of undertaking in any vigorous manner, my brain littered with information and ideas the way your coffee table might be coated with jigsaw puzzle pieces, were you to buy your pieces via some Netflix-like subscription plan in a time of some plague-ridden Pony Express delivery system. The thrill of connection is strong, if momentary, and random.

Cough, cough. You're right, I pretty much blew the lit-crit wad on that last paragraph. I'll say here though that according to my records, I've somehow helped sell three of you beautiful people on this book. I have to admit this gives me a bad case of the quaking uh-oh feeling, the one that comes around when someone does something based on things I say, thus opening a portal through which the viscous black oozing mass of my own intellectual frauditude might be exposed to and unleashed upon the public. But if that selfsame portal might also let in some illumination, I'm willing to take the slight hit to my credibility rating, in service of the common cause. Your thoughts and reactions, I do eagerly await, in the steamy kitchen of my own overcooked-metaphors' making.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Review this

I was going to take the time tonight to wade back into the book review discussion by tossing out a couple more Recursive Monkey Wrench awards, for valor in the field of being totally fuckwitted, but you know what? Hell with it. Life is too short to waste it on wasting it.

Let's be happier people. Let's be better book nerds.

To that end, I'll point you toward a really good bit by Richard Powers on literary reviews:

Reading is solitary; reviewing is the shared solitude of reading. As throughput accelerates and the cost of information falls, engaged seclusion and slow reflection become more valuable. Changes in technology change the terms of this contest, but not the stakes. Like any good crisis, this one can only be resolved through narrative – the turbulent act of figuring out how to read what’s writing us.

Amen. (Mr. Powers, I might just have to get around to your books sometime this century, after all.)

Also, there's a choice comment appended to a post at The Elegant Variation that's says what I'd have said, had I said it myself (third comment down, authored by John):

On a larger scale, that's what I want as a reader. I want to learn about books I might want to read, and I'm helped much more by simply seeing that a review has been done - and by who and in what tone - than by the review itself. Too much "thoughtful literary criticism" gives too much away, and I'd rather not know too much going in. I may turn to BookForum or the NY Review of Books after the fact to amplify points or help me to better appreciate what I just read, but I seriously doubt more than a fraction of the people who read with any consistency slog their way through several thousand words before deciding to pick up a book.

Amen. It's felt like far too often during this whole "save the book reviews" campaign (and really all the time before this campaign as well) that I've seen book reviews and book criticism discussed as if they are the same thing. They are not. Or, they should not be. I really would love to see both forms flourish, and I don't care whether it's done via newspapers or periodicals or blogs or online news sites or whatever. (Well, more online stuff wouldn't hurt. It's proven surprisingly hard to find good, thoughtful, lengthy considerations of Dostoevsky's work via quick Googling. Not that I'm helping much with my "Hey this quote read this quote! Whoa that's awesome huh? Ok gotta go! Cya later!" posts, but.) But it certainly doesn't help the case when people look at the one and accuse it of not doing what the other does. Let's get our terms and tools straight: I would not use a tow truck to take a photograph; I would not use a 500 word review to provide 5000 words of critical analysis.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dead Russian authors do it four to the floor

If Demons were music and Dostoevsky its DJ, Part 3 would be when he lets the beat drop.

(Ah, yes, the sweet, sweet feeling of reluctantly putting a book down at the end of the night, mind alight with questions. (Historically speaking, when did social unrest become interested in itself? How straight is the vector between Demons and Pynchon? How consciously did Ishiguro inject parallels to Demons into The Unconsoled? Is Stavrogin a good guy or a bad guy? Quantitatively speaking, how many levels of awesome was the literary reading scene? Would the world mind much if I put the coffee on and spent the night reading the book and blowing off work tomorrow?) All that and I've still got 150 pages to go--I want to finish, I want it not to end...)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


"'"'''''"''""""'"""""''"""'""""'''"""""''L8r Sk8r''"""""'''""""'"""''"""""'""""''"'''''"'"

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Paranoia/I adore ya/Where the hell would I be/Without you there beside me"

About the coolest thing I can think to say about Demons is that my experience reading it is like being in a relatively constant state of deliriously enthralled mystification punctuated by sudden em-dashes of clarity; it's like I'm reading the novel through the most slightly tattered gauze. Meaning eludes me and importance defies me, and yet, I'm thoroughly snagged. What I can't tell is whether that gauze is there due to my failings as a reader (irregular reading schedule, bouts of laziness and/or exhaustion), certain unavoidable cultural/temporal division (mid-19th century Russia versus, uhm, Cleveland), and/or authorial intention (Dostoevsky doesn't even want to know what's coming next). It's the sort of thing that might be terribly off-putting, if it weren't for those dash-shaped holes in the fabric between me and the words, those moments when it's all clear, for a moment, just what's on the line, what's (maybe) at stake here. That momentary feeling that even though I know it's not all going to connect, it's still all connected, in a constant state of connecting. Elusive as dandelion gauze in a stiff literary breeze.

Callie asks who or what you'd most like to spend your time re-reading; what books warrant a second (or third or additional) look, even in the face of all those other books that are still waiting for you to take them out on even a first date. I sort of answered over there but I'll rephrase a bit here: if I had to pick two authors whose catalogs I think I could most consistently lose myself in, I think I'd go with Dostoevsky and Kazuo Ishiguro. Because even as I'm reading this book this first time, I'm already looking forward to re-visiting it someday, to seeing how much more I might get through another pass. I just read Crime and Punishment and When We Were Orphans last year and yet, yikes, itching for another read, already. And this is to say nothing against the single-read authors/books--many single reads are brilliant things and should in no way feel slighted by my lack of interest in revisiting them. (Like for instance I'd maybe toss most all of David Foster Wallace in this category, whose books I liked/loved but I don't really feel any need to go back there again, except of course for Infinite Jest, which 80 years from now I'll still be saying I'm going to re-read, one of these days.) It's just that some things really do seem to demand additional attention.

So I'll extend and advance the question in the hopes of sparking a lively comments section that will mask my recent blogging shortfalls. Desert island authors: go!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Janice Galloway goes into seclusion, gives me a chance to make up on my past failings

Janice Galloway is about to do something that sounds awesome. She is also, it seems, about to finish one book, and about to begin another book. I, meanwhile, am about to be very excited by these developments.

In the meanwhile, I'm bumping Clara back up on the TBR pile from the "Oh god, I can't believe I didn't finish it the first time through, I need to try that book again" pile. So it's gone from "I'll read it this century" status to "I'll read it this year...maybe" status. Which is a good move for it to make.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

May Quick Hits at Arriviste Press

I've got some Quick Hits up for you at Arriviste Press. Go read me talk pretty about Explosions in the Sky, Cynthia G. Mason, Prosser, My Teenage Stride, and Minmae.

While you're over there, you can read an interview with Neal Pollack, and an interview with Carice van Houten of the movie Black Book. You can also read a preview of, and an interview with/by the author of, the latest Arriviste Press publication, Michael Standaert's novel The Adventures of the Pisco Kid. (I haven't read it yet, though I do have a copy of it on my TBR pile. So even though I've got no idea whether it's any good? I'm still going to tell you that you need this book. Go buy it. Buy ten copies for the kids. Order twenty copies and pay for forty. Right now. Make Arriviste Press flush. Make it so they can afford to fund my extravagant music-reviewer lifestyle full-time. Seriously, people, all these Soft Batch cookies aren't exactly buying themselves.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Short Reactions to Short Stories: Celebrating Short Story Month on a time crunch

May is Short Story Month! Woo! I don't know how it started or who started it, but lots of litblog folks are playing along at home, including Matt and Callie and Dan and Jeff and probably lots of other people I'm not aware of at this moment. (Is there a sign up sheet? I always miss the sign up sheet. Drat.)

I guess you can count me in, what with my recent surge of interest in the form. To kick things off, I read "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor the other night, and, from the perspective of one participating in intense critical discourse, I'd like to take this moment to say holy fucking shit, have you read this story? I had not. I had some memory of being in high school and reading something O'Connor wrote, maybe, and thinking it was sort of...symbolic and meaningful, in a stuffy and dull "answer the essay question" way. I have no idea what story it was. I think there was a sky? I don't know. But something somewhere suggested to me it was time to go back and revisit O'Connor's work. So I grabbed the A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories collection, and I read the title story, and, and, and it's like...holy fucking shit! What is that? What do you even do with that? Wow, ya know?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Quote of the Moment: The End of the World edition

Because...well, just because:

Never in my life have I seen a more grim, gloomy, glowering face on a man. He looked as if he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not just sometime, according to prophecies which might not be fulfilled, but quite definitely, round about morning, the day after tomorrow, at ten twenty-five sharp.

- from Demons, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

I mean, come on: that's awesome.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Speaking of speaking

Callie's set to speak (sans hype) about Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics (now out in paperback); meanwhile, Ed doesn't speak so well when face-to-face with a pretty girl. Some friends of mine, I think, last I heard, were kicking off a weekly ("weekly" being synonymous here with "hardcore") book club with Special Topics. I've spoken about the book once or twice before, and despite the odd plummeting of my opinion since I read the book (see also my comment to Callie's post), I've remained oddly intrigued by the ongoing (re-)evaluation of the book.

I do admit I think it's funny that discussions about the book have to be explicitly not about the conversation about the book's hot author's great hair. For what it's worth, if I ever get a book of my own published? You people can talk about my great hair all you want. I'm okay with that.

The devilish revenge of Summer of Dostoevsky Aught-Oh-Six

So I'm reading Demons (a.k.a. The Possessed) by your favorite dead Russian and mine, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I realized two things as I read the opening chapters:

  1. Really funny stuff happens here. And not funny like "Oh ho ho I'm a stuffy English major" funny, but funny like, "Hey, Stepan? Varvara? That shit's hilarious!" funny.

    Like Imani's experiencing with Don Quixote (also on my TBR pile, as it's been for far too long now), I'm finding great enjoyment in finding unexpected humor in what you might call "dead lit." After all, as we all know, dead lit is serious business! So what's up with all the hilarity? I'm reminded of none other than your favorite living Brit and mine Kazuo Ishiguro, whose stodgy high school reading list Brit Lit book about a fucking butler for cripe's sake how much more dull can you get for real right was, I found when I finally read it, genuinely hysterical. (And heartbreaking, too, right.) But like, really, who would have thought, you know, with the the way we all go on like humor is some kind of basic feature you might find listed under those "Minimum System Requirements" that have no actual bearing on how your program is going to run once you load it up.

    Comedy! It's not just for postmodern novels anymore! (Nor is it just for lit crit types, either. That sound you hear is my standing ovation for Callie and her being "so tired of everything being so goddamned serious." Seriously.)

  2. I have absolutely no idea where any of this stuff Dostoevsky is describing is going. None. Well, I know there's a murder--the back of the book suggests there will be one--but that's about it. And I realized that of the big D's big Final Five novels (Demons is so Starbuck so far) there's only two--Demons and The Adolescent--that I get to approach with this degree of freshness. I find that simultaneously exciting and saddening, and it makes me sort of want to read the book even slower than I am already. To savor the sweet directionlessness and unpredictability of it. Which is, from what I know, precisely how F.D. would have liked me to read it.

    Also, in case you didn't catch that, I am a huge flaming lit dork.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Yes they are. End of debate.

We don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn. Burn, motherfucker. Burn:

Chicago-area high school senior Allen Lee recently wrote an essay with violent images that greatly disturbed his English teacher.

The teacher informed school administrators, who informed police, and Lee was eventually arrested for disorderly conduct.

The action has prompted a local debate about whether officials are overreacting because of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.