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.