Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 is going to rule: new Thomas Pynchon, new Mary Gaitskill, and now...a new Kazuo Ishiguro short story collection. Best. Year. Ever. (Via.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy holidays to me, kids: Amazon just let me know Mary Gaitskill's got a new book of short stories coming out in March. Score!

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's my firm belief that a blogger shouldn't have to apologize for the silence, but here I am, and I'm still going to apologize. I'm pretty much so completely mentally checked out right now. It's a little ridiculous. I mean, it's not fatal: I can tell you I just read (at long last) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz and I can tell you I liked it better than Drown, that the dude just seems happier on a looser, larger canvas, but beyond that, hell, I don't know. It's a book, right? You knew that already.

I can also point out that the Reading Gaddis blog seems to be progressing nicely. For my own part I read about six pages last night and reconfirmed my desire to read the entire book and then I set the book down, reconfirming my desire to have that reading occur later. From whenever. There's also the continuing guilt over not starting 2666 even though I think by this point literally everybody is doing it but me. But.

I am actually reading Watchmen though, which is fun, though fucking Oscar Wao, like, hello, spoiler alert, if you know what I mean. Jerk. Not enough to put me off either book but whatevs.

But beyond all that? Big dreams, big plans, little execution. Focus time minimal. Sleep, either too or not nearly enough abundant. About that long winter's nap...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Oh god, god, no, please, no, just, no: "Mark Romanek to Adapt Never Let Me Go"

Mark Romanek has signed on to direct a big screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go. According to Production Weekly, Beach author and 28 Days Later/Sunshine screenwriter Alex Garland penned the adaptation.

Romanek is probably best known for his music video work. He directed the video for Michael and Janet Jackson’s "Scream" in 1995, a sci-fi themed video which won the 1996 Grammy for Best Music Video, and to date, is still the most expensive music video ever produced ($7 million). His other videos include Closer for Nine Inch Nails, Criminal for Fiona Apple, Devil's Haircut for Beck, and Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt".

Seriously? God. Just, fuck, what? I think I might vomit a little. Or a lot. Because at absolutely no point in this life have I thought, "You know what one of my favorite novels of all time needs? Some rotating pigs' heads, zombies, bondage gear, and a manorexic Cillian Murphy."

Seriously, the holidays are coming up, and if you make it your gift to me to make this not happen and in fact to go back in time and erase the moment from my brain when I realized it could happen, I will thank you for the rest of forever and then some. Please. With begging.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pynchon Watch Y2K9: Here we go again

There's new details about Inherent Vice. Like, you know, the fact that Inherent Vice is the new Thomas Pynchon book I started anticipating two months ago and will not stop anticipating until August 2009, when I am able to buy it, and wrap my grubby little paws around all 400+ pages of it. Just enough time to re-read The Crying of Lot 49. And maybe V. Okay, maybe both.
"Joe the Plumber Signs Publishing Deal"--proving that, even after the recent breath-of-fresh-air election results, the world's still fundamentally bat-shit bozo.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, and I knew I was reminded of something by the thought of Kafka in translation: Maud Newton pointed out a while back a bit by translator Breon Mitchell about translating the opening line of The Trial, which, for me, pretty much casts the entire affair of translation in a sharp light. Neither a good one nor a bad one.

(I've been meaning, and forgetting, to pick up that translation ever since reading that quote. Perhaps, now, soon.)
The folks at Schocken Books were kind enough to send me a copy of Mark Harman's new translation of Franz Kafka's Amerika: The Missing Person. Which I'm reading a bit of now. And enjoying. It's part of the Kafka I've never read before, so I can't comment on the quality of the translation or the difference between this translation and those that preceded it. But I can comment on the fact that it's interesting, trying to read Kafka, and trying to react to Kafka, without resorting to the reaction of, "Hey, that's Kafka." Interesting in that, I may have only now come to believe, I've got no real idea what Kafka's up to. Ever. It's too easy to accept the weirdness of him without questioning it--if it really is that weird, or "dreamlike," as one blurb states, or why it's that way, whatever way it actually is. Heaven knows, that strangeness, that sought-after Kafkaesqueness, that's how I came around to The Trial my first couple times through it. You know, you read Kafka because, he's Kafka. What else do you need, you know? Well, now I don't know, and I'm curious about it.

Long way of saying I'm trying to be a bit critical, a bit analytical. At least of my own reaction to the text, if not as much to the text itself as one or some might like. But. So. Maybe more so than usual, we'll see.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"How quickly history passes these days."

- from Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'd like you to know I've read none of 2666. Sue me.

However, as part of a growing interested in kicking around at least a little more translated literature than is typical for me (or, some might say, for America), I have just finished Bragi Ólafsson's The Pets, which I agree with the Complete Review was an "enjoyable entertainment," though certainly not an unflawed one. Spoiler alert!: there's a difference between stopping a story and finishing a story, an art to the endless ending, a fine line between intriguing and annoying. Still: a good read, more than a palate cleanser, not quite a complete course. Were more of his books to appear in English, I'd likely pick them up.

Plus: one of the best covers of the year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Unintentionally hilarious headline of the week

"Only Two Percent of Bloggers Can Make a Living"

(And the other ninety-eight percent are too young to get their work permits?)


Monday, November 10, 2008

"We don’t yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web’s two-dimensional environment and we’re hoping this experiment will help us learn some of what we need to do to make this sort of collaboration as successful as possible."

Nice! (Via.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's not that pictures have equivalent values in words. It's that they're unique currencies, nonexchangeable. Compare the word "red" with the sight of red. One red or another. Any red. Context.

Yet it's hard to read The Horse's Mouth without wanting to make imagery. The words are terrific, evocative. And me, I paint, a little. Nowadays. Play with paint, at least. Push it into lines and shapes, complex or simple. I suppose I'm glad aspects of my life are colluding this way, distracting from some things in pursuit of others.

And have I mentioned, how the humor in the book is spot-on; Cary's got genius-level comedic delivery. Light of heart, light of touch. And...well, it's a stretch, but in an effort to sell five copies of this book, I'll toss this off-hand comment out there: it occasionally reminds me of The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishihuro. The witless artist, caught on the way to the masterpiece than never quite masters, seems stuck in pieces. Well.

(More watercolor fragments flickrwards.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"Spaghetti Cat Was On Desperate Housewives"

I rest my case.
A merry band of bloggers are considering taking on The Recognitions by William Gaddis in the coming months. Though there may or may not be alcohol involved this time through, I am curious to see (and, perhaps, partake in) what comes of it, and of the potential for old conversations to be revisited by new conversationalists.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"The fact is, I was sick of that god-damned picture."

"It was the finest picture I ever saw," said Nosy, getting angry with me. "You m-mustn't s-say such things."

"I never knew how I hated it," I said, "till now. I've disliked all my pictures, but I never hated one so much as the Fall."

"Mr. J-Jimson," said Nosy. "No p-please--it's not a joke." The poor boy was in agony. I was blaspheming against his faith.

"But what I do like," I said, "is starting new ones." And the very notion made me feel full of smiles. The vision of the nice smooth canvas in front of me, say the Ruffiano, newly primed in white, and then the first strokes of the brush. How lovely the stuff is when you've just put it down. While it's still all alive and before it dies and sinks and fades. Paint. Lovely paint. Why, I could rub my nose in it or lick it up for breakfast. I mean, of course, paint that doesn't mean anything except itself. The spiritual substance. The pure innocent song of some damn fool angel that doesn't know even the name of God.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

Blah blah blah, I really like this book, etc etc etc, I think you might like it as well, so on and so forth, it's really keen stuff.

("The spiritual substance. The pure innocent song of some damn fool angel that doesn't know even the name of God," in-deed. Language. Lovely language.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I think the most important thing I took away from this was that oh sweet Jesus The Stand is thirty years old how old am i oh what the shit.
It's a little thing, but...

"It is very awkward," Mr. Alabaster said, and then suddenly I knew his look. It was the look of a man who can't pay for a drink. "By God," I thought, "I believe the Professor is broke."

So I took an inventory of the smart young gentleman and there was a piece of his shirt sticking out of his trousers, a little piece no bigger than a sixpence but blue as the North star. Indication to mariners. And when I looked longer I saw that his shiny brown boots were down on one side like torpedoed ships. There was a fringe on the back of his trousers like old flags after the battle and the breeze, and his collar had an edge like a splintered mast.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

...the swift deployment of such a field of simile does suggest a deeper involvement with and interest in the formal qualities of language and literature than might be otherwise immediately apparent in this book. To me, at least. Keep on the lookout.

To extend via comparison: while it's tired to harp on the current state of classroom-based education of writing, I'll still suggest it's hard to imagine a paragraph as sublime and illustrative as the preceding surviving a contemporary workshop critique session. Are there writers today who can use figurative, almost to the point of bordering on becoming (but not actually becoming) symbolic, language in such a way and get away with it?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Matt, glad you asked; Joyce Cary is an Irish-born, first-half-of-the-20th-century writer who, despite having appeared on the cover of Time and being the subject of a Paris Review interview ("I’m no life-force man. Critics write about my vitality. What is vitality? As a principle it is a lot of balls. The life force is rubbish, an abstraction, an idea without character."), appears to receive little love today, at least based on the totally informal survey done by plugging his name into my Google Reader feed list and noting the couple resulting relevant posts. Still, the existence of a fairly detailed Wikipedia entry must be worth something, correct? Or something. At least it's one more link for me to come back to when I'm done reading this book.

This book, The Horse's Mouth, which I discovered quite by accident one Friday night out with my girlfriend at a local bookshop; being the sort of fellow for whom the New York Review Books seal and binding has come to represent a certain something that I want out of literature, I was bound to pick it up. Being the sort of fellow for whom paint has recently become a medium and substance of no small personal and expressive interest, a NYRB-sealed book about a painter was one I was bound to purchase. Even if only with vague intents to read it. Some day. Some day like the day (yesterday) I got halfway through Sabbath's Theater and realized that, at least for the time being, I was quite over-Rothed. I'm over-Most things these days, seems like, seeming as it is I've put down half-read more books than I've picked up to begin with, and what have you. All to say that to feel not just engaged after fifty pages but more engaged than I was at the start of the book is to feel not just correct but net-gained, right about now.

Language like this doesn't hurt matters much:

There was a street market on the curb. Swarms of old women in black cloaks jostling along like bugs in a crack. Stalls covered with blue-silver shining pots, ice-white jugs, heaps of fish, white-silver, white-green, and kipper gold; forests of cabbage; green as the Atlantic, and rucked all over in permanent waves. Works of passion and imagination. Somebody's dream girls. Somebody's dream pots, jugs, fish. Somebody's love supper. Somebody's old girl chasing up a tidbit for the old china. The world of imagination is the world of eternity. Old Sara looking at a door knob. Looking at my old ruins. The spiritual life.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

...Which is really much less dense, much lighter than it feels, as prose goes. Not quite light as air, but certainly light as, oh, say, the light that bounces through watercolor pigments, off the page, and back to your eyes. Works of passion and imagination, indeed: to see the world like a painter. (Cary, from the back-of-the-book bio, was originally trained as a painter.)

This book is the final book of a trilogy, which the back of the book swore could be read independently of the first two, though I'm thinking I'm going to wander back around to the first two in the series soon after I polish off this guy, if it goes as well throughout as it has so far. I can certainly see Cary showing me some path away from the post-Pynchon flubber-bloody hung-over funk that's landed on my skull after finishing Against the Day. As the man of the hour says:

I got some real colors and a couple of brushes at last, and made for the studio. I felt I could paint. As always after a party. Life delights in life.

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Your c-coffee, Mr. Jimson."

"Mr. jimson has just gone out. He must have seen you coming."

But the boy switched on his bicycle lamp; and came right in and put the coffee in my hand.

"Mr. Jimson won't be back for some time," I said. "But he asked me to tell you that you haven't got a chance. He isn't going to talk to you about art. He's committed arson, adultery, murder, libel, malfeasance of club monies, and assault with battery, but he doesn't want to have any serious crime on his conscience."

"B-but, Mr. Jimson, I w-want to be an artist."

"Of course you do," I said, "everybody does once. But they get over it, thank God, like the measles and the chickenpox. Go home and go to bed and take some hot lemonade and put on three blankets and sweat it out."

"But Mr. J-Jimson, there must be artists."

"Yes, and lunatics and lepers, but why go and live in an asylum before you're sent for? If you find life a bit dull at home," I said, "and want to amuse yourself, put a stick of dynamite in the kitchen fire, or shoot a policeman. Volunteer for a test pilot, or dive off Tower Bridge with five bob's worth of roman candles in each pocket. You'd get twice the fun at about one-tenth of the risk."

I could see the boy's eyes bulging in the reflected light off the boards, the color of dirty water. And I thought, I've made an effect. "Now go away," I said. "It's bedtime. Shoo."

- from The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

Sunday, October 19, 2008

So I think my favorite part of the Junot Diaz talk today at the Cleveland Public Library was the part with the naughty language.

(Ha ha.)

(More later.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

A writer with a bountiful financial cushion recently complained to me that he had to spend a whole week coming up with an idea. I wonder if he truly loves his art. I certainly do, and have more ideas than time available.

- Ed

You can love something but still be a total douchetard about it. I mean, if that wasn't possible, we wouldn't have romantic comedies, or the current state of politics in America. Okay, bad examples.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is it just me, or is questioning assumptions, like, assumed, anymore? Really, any fool with a pen can challenge established orders and deconstruct invisible-in-plain-sight tropes. Is it time to find new bars to leap? New goals to seek? New nihilistic orders to maintain? New dogma to destroy?


Monday, October 13, 2008

From an interview with Argentinean writer Alberto Manguel:

The chapters of your book are titled "The Library as Myth," "The Library as Space," "The Library as Power," or as an island, as a workshop, as a home, etc. But how would you personally define a library with a single word?

I suppose that if I had to define a library in a single word that word would be memory. Libraries are the repositories of our collective and individual experience, a monument against oblivion.

What in your view determines the value of a library, its contents, its volumes or the rarity of its treasures?

The value of a library, like its beauty, is in the eye of its reader.


By saying, "our future paperless society," you imply electronic technology threatens libraries. What do you think about the future of libraries? Are you optimistic?

I don’t think libraries or books are, in themselves, threatened. I think our intelligence is threatened. I think that we are in the midst of a worldwide intent to render us stupid so that we will be better consumers of economic and intellectual trash, whether it be fast food, pop literature or religious claptrap. I’m optimistic in the morning, pessimistic in the afternoon.

I'd like to write a book worthy of the title A Monument Against Oblivion, myself. But it's well past morning.

(Interview linked via.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Here is where I am at:

I am done with Against the Day. For now. I'll be back. Have been done for a couple weeks, actually. Sorry.

I am reading book two of the Sookie Stackhouse series. Which I find surprisingly unembarrassing, both to read and to admit to reading. I am explicitly remembering what plot is, perhaps for the first time in a decade or so. Being the inspiration for True Blood, they really do raise lots of interesting questions, about story telling and authority and superiority and adaptation. But mostly, there's plot. I like plot. There was a lot of plot in Pynchon, too, of course. But.

I am doing design-related stuff. I did a project on texture. Texture is interesting. Here is a poor photo of my project:

I am not writing. (Much.) (At all.) (These days.) I am not sure how I feel about that, other than sad and agonized and anxious and apathetic.

I am considering doing something absolutely outrageous in November. This will not involve David Bowie. (Unless.)

I am enjoying the shuffle function on my audio-music playing device. Because I am incapable of decisiveness. (More or less.)

I am enjoying grape juice, purchased in Geneva, Ohio.

I am not watching tonight's debate. My mind is already made up. I am either a good American, or a bad American, for this.

I am still unprepared to talk about David Foster Wallace.

I am learning a thing or two about color mixing. Here is a poor photograph of an attempt at transparent mixing, in which the effect might be quite lost:

I am looking forward to The Conduit. This is neither a book nor a movie. This is a video game.

I am probably never going to buy a Kindle.

I am not sure where this is going.

Monday, September 29, 2008

...What he said. (I'll have to read "Time to Go" this week, which I have in The Stories Of.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Two facing rows of storefronts receded steeply down the packed-earth street. Where the buildings ended, nothing could be seen above the surface of the street, no horizon, no countryside, no winter sky, only an intense radiance filling the gap, a halo or glory out of which anything might emerge, into which anything might be taken, a portal of silver transfiguration, as if being displayed from the viewpoint of (let us imagine) a fallen gunfighter.

- from Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Hell if I know how to discuss or react to this book, 1005 pages into it. Summaries and discussions are by nature reductive, and this is a book that completely resists reduction. This much is true, though: every now and then, however dazed and on-autopilot I feel about the thing? There's some little tough little grassy patch of language that can't be stepped past lightly. Cuz, hot damn.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I don't usually do this, but uh, here you go: Space Olympics equals comedy genius. That is all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I've been going into this whole design thing for it's own sake, but I've also consciously been thinking about how it can affect or improve my writing, or my relationship to literature. If nothing else, an immediate focus on fundamentals of design--line, shape, value--has got me thinking about the fundamentals of reading and writing--plot, character, voice--in a way that, in the rush of things, I think I've easily and often lost track of. It's interesting.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It takes a special kind of book for it to feel like you're in the come-down phase when you've got 400 pages left to go. Of course by this point I've lost all track of what kind of "shape" Against the Day offers. Unless the concept of fun is considered a shape. Then, well.

In other news, have I mentioned that I'm now pursuing a certificate in Graphic Design at a local university? It's true. On a whim. A life-changing one. So now words like "shape" and "line" are loaded for me in headache-causing ways they weren't before. Loaded like a quarter-inch brush full of watercolor. But more on that anon.

In the meantime: more Janice Galloway coverage here, here, and here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

So at first I'm conflicted because I'm all like, "Sweet, a hot chick, second in command of the entire country, I can get on board with that, as a worst case scenario at least that is," but then I'm all like, "Oooh, banning books is NOT HOT," and everything made sense again. Frak.
Janice Galloway has fabulous shoes on. You notice them immediately. She's ensconced, regal and sleek, in the rather grotesque grandeur of the private drawing room in Edinburgh's Scotsman Hotel. The fabulous shoes are slender black patent stiletto heels with a Westwood-y hint of tartan at the toe and a tiny bow. She notices and compliments my shoes. I compliment hers back.

One of the country's most important contemporary writers has published the first volume of her memoirs; an extraordinarily detailed, beautiful book, and I'm getting gooey over her footwear. It's not as facile as it seems though. This is Not About Me, which traces Galloway's life from birth to 11 and centres on her early relationship with her mother and much older sister, is a book about women, about watching women, and about learning to become a woman.

Okay, fine, you got me: I only keep pointing it out because I really want to be Janice Galloway's footwear. Like...the kind she wears on her feet. What can I say? I am a whore for attention.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Also: sixty pages shy of the midway point of Against the Day. Pynchon still rules. Totally know the feeling. Recently occurred to me that the book is as much of a genre mash-up as any other bon cha of a book you'll read any time soon, and became instantly further delighted. That is all.
"...she's wearing knee-high pink boots..."

Right--snuck in there, but there all the same. Of course, so is the following quote, which is setting off a detonating desire inside my brain to read this book right now, so I guess it's all good:

"I was so tired of being asked, 'Is this you?', 'Is this you?'" she says, "that I chose to write Clara. She's a 19th-century, dead, German - no one's going to think that's me - and yes," she rolls her eyes, "they did." Now she has written a memoir called This Is Not About Me. The title might be slightly arch, but when, in the final pages, the words are uttered, they act like a literary trip-wire, detonating repercussions through her story.

Just sayin'.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It was the U.S.A., after all, and fear was in the air.

- from Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon
JANICE Galloway is wearing a high-cinched 1950s floral dress and black stilettos, with lace gloves, which she takes off before she begins to read.

It's official: Janice Galloway wears clothing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Here's another profile of Janice Galloway and her upcoming memoir This is Not About Me, which I'm also bookmarking for later reading, likely in spite of rather than due to the following sentence, right up there at the beginning of paragraph two:

We are in a Glasgow café, and Janice Galloway is in killer boots.

Not that I have anything against a gal wearing killer boots, mind you. I mean, really. But.

(I'm not sure what the U.S. publication plans are but I think it might not matter since I'll probably wind up importing the book long before it reaches these shores, unless of course I'm still reading Against the Day around that point, which is of course entirely likely.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

A lengthy profile of Janice Galloway and her upcoming memoir This is Not About Me that I'm bookmarking for later reading based solely on the closing paragraph:

Two women. They're there on the cover of this book. One who asked too much from life, another who asked too little. In the middle, a young girl, growing up. Growing up to be a writer who would write the best, one of the most moving, yet completely unsentimental, accounts of growing up that you will ever read.
"Intel cuts electric cords with wireless power system."

Meanwhile, in Against the Day...

Up in his penthouse suite, Scarsdale had moved on to the business at hand. "Back in the spring, Dr. Tesla was able to achieve readings on his transformer of up to a million volts. It does not take a prophet to see where this is headed. He is already talking in private about something he calls a 'World-System,' for producing huge amounts of electrical power that anyone can tap in to for free, anywhere in the world, because it uses the planet as an element in a gigantic resonant circuit. He is naïve enough to think he can get financing for this, from Pierpoint, or me, or one or two others. It has escaped his mighty intellect that no one can make any money off an invention like that. To put up money for research into a system of free power would be to throw it away, and violate--hell, betray--the essence of everything modern history is supposed to be....

"If such a thing is ever will mean the end of the world, not just 'as we know it' but as anyone knows it. It is a weapon, Professor, surely you see that--the most terrible weapon the world has seen, designed to destroy not armies or matériel, but the very nature of exchange, our Economy's long struggle to evolve up out of the fish-market anarchy of all battling all to the rational systems of control whose blessings we enjoy at present."

- from Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon
Two questions I keep batting around in my head about Against the Day:

  1. The title. What's up with that?

  2. Is this book better than Infinite Jest?

(The third question, were I to have one, being, "Will I ever finish?", being not altogether worth asking, at least, right now.)

The first question, I didn't consciously realize I was asking it until I hit this line, tonight:

Even without theatrical shoes on, Erlys was taller than Luca Zombini, and kept her fair hair in a Psyche knot, out of which the less governable tresses continued, with the day, to escape.

- from Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon

Which, okay, I'm retarded, but, duh, right? If you can be with the passage of time, you can go against it, as well. Against the day, resisting the day, defying the natural order of things...nope, still not sure what it's all about.*

Next question! It's not a question of whether this book is better than Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon's own best book ever, though I might posit the question is worth asking. At least, hypothetically. What I'm wondering is what, by comparison, this book brings to the table that one of the contemporary literature's most recognized descendants of Gravity's Rainbow does or does not and how differently and what have you. Hypothetically speaking. Of course, having not read Infinite Jest since '01 or '02, and being only one-third of the way through Against the Day, I'm hardly qualified to answer that question, in my current state. But I can ask, though.

Oh, but anyways, that quote, it's like, perfect meta-commentary about the book itself, and how it functions. But then, I tend to think that about just about any piece of description the book offers up, that in some way the book wants to teach me how to read it, or how to read into the idea of reading into it. Which if that makes your head hurt, fab, mine too.


* - To thee amongst you who might be tempted to say, "Uh, moron, the answer's on, like, page 2," please note that I have a near-miraculous ability to defer inquiry into fundamental mysteries, until absolutely required by law or hammering common sense. Like, while my friends were all, "Dead," after frame four, I never for a second questioned the honesty of the movie The Sixth Sense until it announced, wide-armed and whole-lunged, "I am a liar!" Which gets me looked down on in some quarters, but in most all quarters actually means I'm having a lot more fun than the observant folks in the crowd. It's weird.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Blimpin' Ain't Easy."

(A-and right after that English Channel it's off to the Telluric Interior for our intrepid adventurer!)
Lest I be accused of laying claim to the mistaken belief that Pynchon spends the entirety of Against the Day describing and/or talking about absolutely nothing, let me lay out this paragraph like a four-course meal for the five senses:

Lake and Deuce were married over on the other side of the mountains in a prairie church whose steeple was visible for miles, at first nearly the color of the gray sky in which it figured as little more than a geometric episode, till at closer range the straight lines began to break up, soon slipping every which way, like lines of a face seen too close, haggard from the assaults of more winters than anybody still living in the area remembered the full count of, weathered beyond sorrowful, smelling like generations of mummified rodents, built of Engelmann spruce and receptive to sound as the inside of a parlor piano. Though scarcely any music ever came this way, the stray mouth-harpist or whistling drifter who did pass through the crooked doors found himself elevated into more grace than the acoustics of his way would have granted him so far.

- from Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon

From a distance, sure, the church is as abstract as any math can be. But up close? It's seasons, it's memory, it's sound. It stinks. It's hard. It's quite real.

Which is just one example of course but I rather like this one. Something about those straight lines breaking up that speaks to me. Not sure why, though.

Monday, August 18, 2008

She was a virgin bride. At the moment of surrendering, she found herself wishing only to become the wind. To feel herself refined to an edge, an invisible edge of unknown length, to enter the realm of air forever in motion over the broken land. Child of the storm.

- from Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon is playing to your heart as much as your head, and he's not afraid of breaking both. Desires to, sometimes, seems like. It's from that place that a paragraph like the above and the following events make me want to give up because I know I'll never think up or dream up ways to hurt you nearly as bad.

And again (and): this realm of the invisible, the untouchable and the unknowable, sometimes a spiritual concern, sometimes a nearly tangible thing, a place or a concept, that echoes and reverberates throughout the novel, acting as a binding agent that holds together the unholdable. The visible whitespace at the corner of your eye pushed front and center and framed for your gaze and contemplation.

The brothers traveled together as far as Mortalidad, the stop nearest Jeshimon, then, because of who might or might not be looking, they said goodbye with little more than the nod you might give somebody who's just lit your cigar for you. No gazing back out the window, no forehead creased with solemn thoughts, no out with the pocket flask or sudden descent into sleep. Nothing that would belong to the observable world.

- from Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
Further proof that I'm slipping: so far, I've missed every single Tetris reference in Against the Day. Could the real reason behind the delay between Mason & Dixon and Against the Day be not the amount of time it took to research and write the thing but a video game? Which begs thusly: is it possible that Thomas Pynchon himself has kicked my ass on a network game of Dr. Mario? Because: whoa. How cool would that be? I might have to drop dropping my Dr. Mario habit.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

This could be quite fun:

THE EDINBURGH International Book Festival is usually where writers arrive after the long and often painful process of finding a publisher for their master work, writes Edd McCracken.

But the festival has taken the unusual step of becoming a publisher itself, commissioning a book of new work for the first time in its 25-year history.

Lights Off The Quay, a compilation of commissioned work from Scottish writers Don Paterson, Janice Galloway, AL Kennedy...and John Burnside, was launched at Charlotte Square yesterday.

Janice Galloway and AL Kennedy in the same book? Sign me up.

Also worth noting:

The collection is the product of the festival's successful bid for more than £30,000 from the Scottish government's Edinburgh Festival Expo Fund. As well as funding the work, the money will go towards the writers promoting the book abroad.

I'm rooting for an Ohio visit but I suspect it's far more likely I'll get my ass kicked before that happens.

I did read the excerpt of Galloway's upcoming book, This is Not About Me, that appears in Granta 101. This is Not About Me is either a memoirish novel or a novelish memoir, I can't remember which. What I do remember is that the book is definitely something I want to read right now.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When in doubt: doubt. Doubt like a motherfucker.

I've futzed with the layout again. It's still minimalist, but now it's minimalist with what in some quarters might pass itself off as a sort of purpose, some hint of an interest by the blogger in promoting some sort of vaguely coherent design-related agenda. Truth is, it's still a technical experiment, as it always is whenever I get bored and/or frustrated with my writing-related pursuits, but at least it looks like (to my mind) the result of a single experiment, rather than the result of a CSS bomb blowing up in the middle of a halfway house for recovering short attention span addicts.

This pass was made a thousand times easier by my having YUI-ized everything under the hood last time through. Suffice it to say that I think what I've done here this time through will enable some measure of movement away from minimalism, once I decide to re-embrace things again. Things like color. And things. And I'd say "actual content" but I mean, come on.

Three things:

  1. Yes. Everything is beneath the fold. This amuses me. I may be feeling minimal, but when I break fundamental rules, I do so maximally.

  2. I wish I could find the exact pages that inspired me to relocate all the sidebar material into the footer. In lieu of, here's some other examples. Though now truth is I probably ought to have some kind of link at the top that indicates that there are goodies at the bottom of the bag for those brave enough to reach down deep enough. Note to self.

  3. I just noticed that the comments blocks on the post pages are ugly. Much, much louder note to self. Please don't let this stop you from using this post as your chance to tell the world about your new TDAOC-inspired love of and allegiance to minimalist Web design.

More or less later.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And the purity, the geometry, the cold.

- from Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Sometimes, it's almost too much to bear: a mere 175-ish pages into it and I'm tempted to label Against the Day one of the greatest epic(-length) poems ever.

I know, I know, having me surface every couple weeks after reading another twenty pages only to say "OMG the language" isn't really useful to you. I'd really like to write some more about the book's spiritual concerns, its interest in the invisible, the unspeakable, and the unknowable; its interest in global living; in power, electric and political; in adventure and excitement; in destruction and folly. But then, that would be terribly reductionist. And right now, as much as I want to talk about it, I'm even more interested in not reducing it. I'm no longer reading this book because it's by the guy who wrote V. and Gravity's Rainbow; I'm reading this book because it is Against the Day.

All of which is still total claptrap, but.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And oh yeah, "Scarsdale Vibe" might be one of the greatest character names ever.

Monday, July 28, 2008

He gazed at Reef in almost unconcealed envy, failing completely to recognize the darker thing, the desire, the desperate need to create a radius of annihilation that, if it could not include the ones who deserved it, might as well include himself.

- Against the Day, page 95

I mean, come on. That's great. That's a great sentence. There's moments like this all over the place, these moments I've come to think of as payout moments or payoff moments, sentences and paragraphs and even just phrases that are so self-contained and dynamic that they almost transcend the need to be organized within any kind of narrative arc. Though don't get me wrong--I'm loving the narrative arc. Arcs. It's a ride, and I am on it, and I am thrilled.

This is language chugging in top gear, a language of (if I may) "critical excess;" it's like Pynchon is taking the modern-day writer's maxim of "Use as few words as possible" or "Use only the words that are absolutely necessary" and he's showing how so many words can be so necessary all at once, even in such great quantities. Look in the middle there for an example: "the darker thing, the desire, the desperate need"--you could cut any two of those "d" words out and trim this sentence up in keeping with the aforementioned credo, but then you'd have a sentence with a fraction of the poetry and impact. (Of course, your sentence, if it's anything like my sentence--pick a recent sentence, any recent sentence--would probably suck in comparison anyways, so-o-o-o.)

I've heard-tell this book is messy and the subplots weigh it down and it doesn't "resolve," that it does too much or not enough of the right thing, or whatever, but, here's the thing: true or false, none of that matters in the face of such brilliant, excited language. If he drops a tiny stick of dynamite like the one above every couple pages, I won't care what the final landscape looks like. Blowing it up will have been far too much fun.
I started reading Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day last week.

Love. It.


And well okay I'm only on page 72. But. Still.


I realized this as soon as page 10, which, the two paragraphs on that page? They're good paragraphs. ("As they came in low over the Stockyards...") They're the kind of paragraphs that I read a couple times, and then I closed the book, and I stared at it on my coffee table for a while, and I thought about just bagging the whole thing and going out for coffee and never coming back to this place, this place that contains this book, because, really, seriously, hot damn, but of course I'm a sucker for having a bed to sleep in and not being a wandering bum, so I picked the book back up and kept reading, and I'm glad and all, but damn, for real? I'm not sure I can handle all this awesome.

I'm not the first person on my blog reading list to make my way through the book--there's others out there, of course, but I've lost track of links, in a way not dissimilar to the way in which I've lost track of entire paragraphs of this book mid-stride. At the rate I'm going, it will probably take me a year to finish this book, with the way I keep reading and re-reading paragraphs, which I'm fine with, because it's so good, so far. It is exciting to me. I love it.

Bugger. Please forgive this post. I'm completely out of practice. I've been the suckiest blogger to ever suck lately. This book makes me want to blog better, though, which isn't much consolation to you faithful final five readers who don't give an arse about Pynchon or this book, but. Eh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Neal Stephenson has got a new book coming out in September. I hope it's less obnoxious than The Baroque Cycle. Of course, having just finished PopCo, I think maybe I've had my fill of nerd-lit for the year anyway, so I can safely wait for the paperback.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

RPG. Role-Playing Game. I think about the worlds in which I lost myself when my grandfather was so ill. I think of brightly coloured landscapes, somewhere beyond the past and the future, in which death was only temporary and in which your virtual friends fought by your side, everyone with different skills. A young kid with a big sword (like Dan's drawings from the other day, but more), a female healer, a female mage, with dark powers. I ache, as I think of it. There's something so comforting about being a hero in a fantasy world, with a big bag of chocolate raisins and lots of tea, still on the sofa at three in the morning.

I hadn't played any videogames at all when I discovered RPGs. I remember a Saturday, rainy and sad; I was standing in the local Woolworth's, trying to choose something to go with the new console which I had bought, literally, to console myself. I remember thinking this, weirdly. Console. Console. As the words sing-songed in my head, and as the rain pounded the dirty south London street outside, I rejected game-concept after game-concept until there was only one game left I could buy. Ideas that would have been three or four years in the making, which had extensive marketing plans and favourable focus group results; I rejected them all in a second. Too American. Too childish. Not childish enough. I thought of Japanese otaku kids in their bedrooms, hiding from the world, and since this was closest to the experience I wanted to emulate, I picked the game that looked most like it would appeal to this kind of alienated, agoraphobic, sociophobic Japanese kid. I picked the game with the most sweetshop colours--rubber-duck yellow, mint green, baby pinks and blues--and spiky-haired heroes and pictures of strange other-world animals on the back. Soon, I was so busy customising weapons and armour and learning to ride around on these strange yellow birds that I couldn't worry anymore. My world was now two-dimensional, fifteen inches squared, and I never wanted to switch it off.

- from PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
[Alice says,] "I read a lot. I helped my grandfather with his various projects. I learnt how to compile crosswords..."

[Dan] shakes his head. "So basically you really were the most boring teenager in the world."

He's joking but I suddenly feel angry.

"So at age fourteen your spare time would have been filled with what? Saving the world? Talking to aliens? Being a spy?"

He doesn't seem to know if I am joking or not. "I don't know. When I was fourteen I think I just watched loads of cool stuff on TV."

"Oh right. TV." Now I really am cross. I can't help it.

"What? What's wrong with TV?"

"TV fools you that you've had a life you haven't had. Don't you know that? At least I had a life, even if it was, as you say, boring."

"God, settle down, Alice."

"No. I hate it. All that retro stuff that's around at the moment. Remember when we all watched that thing on TV in the seventies and it was so ironic? I don't even know what any of it's called because we didn't have a TV. It all just seems to be this stupid nostalgia for something that never existed in the first place. Just shapes on a screen. You were the one talking about everything just being pictures the other day. You must know what I mean."

"I do. But I don't agree." He sips his tea calmly.

"What? You think all that stuff has some sort of point?"

"Yes, I do. I think that there is no difference between a narrative on TV and a narrative in a book. They are both told in pictures, really, it's just that the little pictures on the page--the letters--spell out words, and the pictures on the screen are visual references. But you can't tell me that sitting down and reading something is intrinsically better than watching the same story acted on a screen. That's just snobbery."

"No it isn't. When did you last see a fifteen-hour-long TV drama that had no adverts and wasn't written so a child could understand it?"

"What? I don't..."

"Or a TV drama you could cast yourself? Choose your own locations? Edit your own script? That's what happens when you read a book. You have to actually connect with it. You don't just sit there passively..."

"You are such a snob, Butler!"

"I'm not. Anyway, for the record, I never said that books were always better that anything on a screen. All I know is that on the whole I prefer books, but I have to say that I'd rather watch a classic film than read a trashy novel. And I love some videogames, of course. But that's just my choice. I don't care what anyone else does..."



- from PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
Paul Verhaeghen, who wrote TDAOC-fav Omega Minor, has a blog:

I say: pox on Bolaño's moneygrubbing heirs and pox on his shithead publishers.

Art is free, the artist made his wishes more than clear, and all you care about is the quick buck.

See also: Nabokov's son and Nabokov.

There are of course bigger literary-heir fuck-yous to take care of -- George W. Bush and the Constitution, and Barack Obama and the Fourth Amendment, for starters -- but still: Kindly remind me to never publish with FSG. Or Anagrama.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I really liked The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, and now I'm really liking PopCo by Scarlett Thomas, either because of or in spite of the fact that if I were to meet the book's narrator in real life I suspect I would want to have sex with her immediately. But more important is the fact that the book hits that sweet spot I sometimes--like, right now--require, the one where the wave patterns rippling off of "compulsive, entertaining readability" and "not talking to me like I'm a gimp-brained retard" meet to engage in some sweet sweet mutual amplification. It's about all that I can do anymore to muster up the will to think at night: it's nice to have the chance to feed the thoughts I do bother having a terrific snack.
Five Chapters is running a new story by Paul LaFarge, translator of TDAOC-fav The Facts of Winter by Paul Poissel. (Thanks to the recently relocated Condalmo for the heads-up.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

At the risk of seeming haughty and/or uncool, I will state that I can think of no good reason for me to join Twitter.

Therefore, I have joined Twitter. It makes me feel a little weird and dirty, but then, so does not washing my hands anymore after I touch anything at all.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Stella vs. Mortarville

The thinking cat's book.
Ed, all I can say, is that once you have yourself a thumb drive and oven clock? You're never the same.
Another list of five books that Jennifer Egan likes. I'm one for five this time--Invisible Man messed me up something fierce. (Previously, as I referenced here.)

Bellows (pdf)

Should you desire "Bellows" in a semi-tidy, hopefully somewhat well-(though certainly not perfectly-)proofread format, you can download it here.

And, just for shits and giggles:

Creative Commons License
Bellows by Darby M. Dixon III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Bellows (final part)

(Click here for part one.)

(Click here for part two.)

(Click here for part three.)

(Click here for part four.)

Of course, the job is never done until it is complete, and though it took GWB Enterprises five long years to recoup the initial round of investments and to establish the waters' readiness, the time came to finish the thing. Call me sentimental, call me a conservative, call me whatever you wish, but you must always call me honest: finishing things has always tweaked my heartstrings. It's hard to explain. Completing projects causes me simultaneous happiness and sadness. It isn't bittersweetness. My heart isn't a dollop of hardened chocolate. Rather, it's both ends of the spectrum, shaking hands. It's hard to explain because it's harder to understand. You can spend your life studying your life only to never know it better than you did when you were a child, watching your father's body be buried in a rat-holed burlap sack.

No law requires the presence of a city builder on the grounds of his creation at any point during the construction or existence of his city. I've known many of the finest minds of my generation who have never once set foot within the borders of their work. Some prefer not to even see photographs or film of their cities; inexplicable superstition runs deep in this industry, and can be one of the most confounding aspects to our youngest architects. Myself, however, I've always felt the need to break through the so-called fifth wall at least once for every project, and it so happened with this project that of the few days my schedule afforded me on which I could visit Bellowsville, one of those days happened to be the day of the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the unrolling of the new Bellowsville River. This, I feel, was one of those little coincidences that make life seem so vibrant and true.

My memories of the proud day are a wash of color, a wash of blues and whites and greens and reds from the time I stepped off the airplane to the time I stepped onto the podium, my skyline rising behind me like a monument and the masses filling the land below me, their eyes all lifted, voices raised. A wash. They, someone said, refused to move. Every opportunity lost. Speeches followed speeches. Oversized shears operated by cranes snicked the oversized ribbon stretched across the border by helicopters. Above the fray, I smiled for the cameras, for all those watching on television; I said something remarkable, pressed the button, and the water began to flow. One charge detonated first, like a firecracker on the horizon; then came the thunder; a trickle created a torrent, and the water stumbled over its feet and thrust itself through the crumbling dam to the north and over the land a southward flow and through the path laid so carefully for it. So much clean water bore down on the slums like unstoppable traffic, pushing bodies into the dirt and the sides of buildings. Families were torn apart as the hands of men were removed from the hands of wives and as babies--why do the poor always insist on having so many babies?--were shaken away like tiny grains of salt while the fireworks exploded in the sky between the waves and my parents, tickling the soles of their feet with the color of success.

Monday, June 30, 2008

I like the meta of chess more than the execution of it. You look at the language people use to describe chess and it sounds so dramatic: attack, defend. Games are played with unique style from opening to endgame. Strategies and opponents, trading and counter-attacks. Chess gains the prestige of life-metaphor, in some way that's never made sense to me. Because the description is the metaphor, while the game itself is just pieces being moved according to rules with goals in mind. Which, sure, itself, could be sort of a life-metaphor. But it's not a terribly dramatic one. Though in one mood or another one might concede (concede!) to it the status of honesty.

Of course, I'm jaded, because I've long since learned that to become good at chess is to seek to be as close to the "best" at it out of everybody in the world who plays it, and that "close" will never be a word one will ever use to describe my level of chess mastery, and that for as much as you might study the game, there's still only so far you'll ever get, and it will never be far enough, so I might as well go off and start a litblog or something, in which realm at least nobody cares who's better than who. Right?



Anyway, I started reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union today, in which Michael Chabon describes the book Three Hundred Chess Games as being "the book of orderly surprises," which I think might be the most accurately beautiful possible description of a book about chess that can be had. Because, really: nothing is new, though perception makes it so, and anyway seriously fuck Chabon for making the composition of a phrase like that seem so effortless. Come on. Jealousy is unbecoming.

Bellows (part four)

(Click here for part one.)

(Click here for part two.)

(Click here for part three.)

Of course, every happy city is unique, and every city built to be so, doubly so. Meaning there's always challenges to be overcome; certainly our biggest was the presence of so much poverty in our future riverbed. Then there were the dogs. We'd intended for our wealthy to be cat people, but no. I blame geopolitics. When one of our leaders labelled our enemies as "sleeping cats we could ill-afford to allow to lie idly, dreaming up new ways to scratch and claw at the bare legs of freedom and free thinking," it was inevitable that a fashionable sheen would descend upon dogs the likes of which they haven't enjoyed in decades. What nobody could expect was so much such laxity in the way the wealthy treated their pets. A wild dog is one more ready to fight for what it holds dear, true. But. One day, an unparalleled city, the next, the shock of seeing dogs running free over the bridges and up and down the streets of an increasingly awkward-smelling, slippery downtown. Dogs on the elevators, dogs in the coffee rooms, dogs perched on shop counters, howling at the moon and begging for handouts from every Tom, Dick, and Lilly looking to purchase one consumable good or another. Fast action was required. We recruited a fair number of men from the slums to act as dog catchers and clerks at the county kennels, and I admit we were caught with our pants around our ankles and our hands on each others' backs with regards to the readiness of our street cleaning crew, a gap that was filled swiftly and efficiently though it should never have needed to have been so. Only so many jobs could be created and filled this way. Synergistic problems needn't void each other. If anything, they can elevate a mutual amplification--the suicide rate rose as the working-class poor told tales to the poor-class poor of the foods the rich ate and the games they played, the painful brightness at the core of downtown, like a star on earth you could enter, light so white you could taste it like skyfire. It was beautiful, they would say to one another, hovering near their stoves for warmth, drawing their rags and cloths around their shoulders. We shall never never achieve this, will we? Our gray stone will never shine no glimmer, our hopes will perish inches from fulfillment? Death, dread, and dearth.

Yet! Bellowsville has always been a happy place. City architects have access to tools by which they can judge the prosperity of their creations. One is rarely able to visit one's creation first-hand; work never ends, of course, and though I haven't initiated any new projects since the Bellowsville River began to flow, administration is perpetual, and I consult for firms I've kept friendly relations with, I give inspiring speeches to university graduates and political conventions, I mentor the young. So many students of city planning, I feel, show so much promise for the future of our craft. My mother instilled in me early an unavoidable concern for the welfare and ideals of those who come next, inextricably linking my success in life to the joy my departed father feels in his ethereal heart when he cast his all-seeing gaze my way; where would he have ever been without her, she'd asked? My life is no answer. But it keeps me busy. All the same. And, yet, all the same, through the speaking and consulting and training circuit, as it has kept me on the road from weekend to weekend, I have still always found the opportunity to read the e-mails the citizens of Bellowsville sent to each other every day, to check their Internet usage statistics and their spending habits, to review the film they shoot of each other when their guard is most down, to pry open the spreadsheets that collect the details of what they do and, hence, who they are, and, by and large, through it all, as the preparations for the river were made and the lake was filled with water and cleaned and scrubbed and as the fish were placed, ready to swim and breed and make sense of all of this to the people who needed sense to keep them going, the people were happy, pleased, underproductive, true, but content. Such is success. The city was doing well. My job was one well done.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bellows (part three)

(Click here for part one.)

(Click here for part two.)

Did Ohio do? Or, to put the question less succinctly but with greater accuracy: did Ohio do what Ohio had to do which had to be done? Would you like the truth? I don't know. Hindsight affords clarity but never certainty. I can say I see now how the decision could have been perceived as gutsy or insane. Though many factors were considered, few outcomes could be predicted, and only now can we see the terrible power of desperation. Sure, less death would have occurred in a more sparsely populated state, a state where the key economic indicators were already kept higher by a stronger citizenry. But the critics only see the side of the coin that fell face skyward: pick it up, this tarnished half dollar, the one I found under my pillow when I lost my first tooth, the one I carry with me to this day, the one that has often aided me in making the hardest decisions, the one from which I've always derived my greatest source of hope: turn it over now, feel the beveled edge slide between the tip of your finger and your thumb, and look at the other side of the coin, the side you can't see: witness carnage. The creation of new cities on the lands of our enemies by our nation's youngest and brightest minds, blinded by lack of experience and led by ideals into defecting: city after city, raised only to be razed. Uprising and riots, fire replacing horizons: pain, floods of blood. I am no judge, I am only one with vision. And I will always choose an accident over inevitability.

Percentage points aside, Bellowsville--"Let this magnificence, this approaching artwork," I'd said, the day I'd signed the paperwork, "be my finest calling card, my success"--was no failure: without failure, we can't claim to know the answers are, or even necessarily the questions: the city is beautiful. Wealth and the wealthy who carried it poured into it from both coasts. Their reasons may have been wrong-headed, in that they, I believe, have seen the city from the beginning to be a sort of glorified resort, a place to escape the demands of the real world, like a secret room they always hoped would never belong to anybody more than themselves. Hide but don't seek. A place to achieve a temporary respite from the burdens and tribulations of the old cities of matte stone where we make decisions about new cities of glass and metal. A city survives by the work done within it, and as a result of the new citizenry's collective attitude toward Bellowsville, little real work was performed in the downtown skyscrapers--taller than anything you'll find in New York or Chicago or even St. Martin's Cloak, that former front-runner in the race to be the finest possible work of the hands and minds of man--and less profit was captured within the city limits than was exported outward to the corners of the country. Not that the venture hasn't put a penny or two in my accounts--everything has long since broken even. People still need bread and beer and movies, and in this time of desire for instant gratification, we're unwilling to wait for the day's mail. "Locally owned" and "locally manufactured" have become buzz-phrases sent to the architects of new cities by the angels charged with overseeing such activities from their heavenly perches. Still, though: it's fair to say those first five years were relatively lean ones for we receiving what we'd hoped would be glorious fat.

The slums were what flourished with impudence. It wasn't the arival of the poor came that surprised us; we'd done the research, read the reports; Ohio was littered with poor; the poor long for opportunity; and opportunity can mean nothing more to the destitute than having a vision, the ability to see near them things they could consider hoping to achieve, were they to drudge up within themselves another ounce of survival instinct and consumerist lust. What better place to be than where affordable apartments were placed between towers of glass and metal that bent the morning sunlight into rainbows on one side, and expanses of trees and shrubbery on the other that barely concealed the rich as they pranced about like fawns and baboons playing badminton and eating sushi and drinking Flaming Dr. Peppers? Nevermind the bridges that arced overhead connecting one to the other, the relative lack of roads leading out of the slums. New roads could be built, certainly, new chances to achieve manufactured the same way the ground under their feet was made seemingly overnight. Correct? No: it was the amount of demand for access to our slums that caught us off-guard. We'd built them long and narrow, intending to take only as much space as the river would later require, with little expectation that what we did build would be filled, believing we could easily reform the poor we could in time to make them respectable and valuable members of our wealth-trodden society. But so many came so quickly we had to create a waiting list, our Value Assessment, Realignment, and Training teams could not properly indoctrinate a tenth of the hopeful poor; people camped over mile-wide tracts of land in the lawless areas beyond Bellowsville's borders. That the waiting lists recycled fairly frequently was due to the skyrocketing suicide rates; hope can be a deadening thing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"I read the first half of Jesus' Son last night," my girlfriend says.

"How do you like it so far?" I ask.

"It's pretty good."

"Yeah. I love that first story."

"I think you just like stories about car crashes," she says.

"What?" I ask, thinking, But I never even finished that Ballard book. "What other stories about car crashes do I like?"

"Oh, I don't know," she says, in a tone that suggests I'd forget my own name if she asked me what it was, "maybe Interstate? Which is one of your favorite books ever? Which is basically an entire novel about car crashes?"

"Oh, yeah."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bellows (part two)

(Click here for part one.)

Suicide, for me, has never been an option. And so, faced with the way things are, have been, and can be, the only thing for me to do was say: Let there be life, light, and water to reflect it. Not that my signature on the project plan was inevitable: things could have been otherwise: my blue-inked scribble represented a courage and vision unmatched. It represented the audacity demanded by a modern city built against an edifice of overwhelming financial and social risk. Broad strokes. An enthusiasm born of old testament passion, trials by fire and salt. I haven't attended services in decades, half a century perhaps, not since before my mother's death, oh, not since long before that, when I could have sat at her side on the hard wooden pew, when she might have set her hand on my hands, whispering, when she could have told me to stop fidgeting, such flagrant disrespect in and for the house of the Lord our God Jesus Christ and all the Angels in Heaven where your dear father waits for you with Fury and Love, in the old church where everything smelled like dust soaked with the perfume of old ladies and the host tasted like burnt butter on my tongue, but I think some measure of the old preacherman's scorn for sin and weakness became ingrained in my veins in my youth, and that, in times of fear and doubt, his voice runs through me, as it did when I announced my plans at the board room table to my team of advisors and partners only moments before signing the plan into action. Nothing could be foretold. Still, I foretold. Initiating this project was to pick up a strange gun, point it at my face, and proclaim my certainty that this weapon contained flowers, not bullets. And then to fire.

Of course, though the rousing applause and the chorus of laudations that its signing occasioned were real--there are those city builders who employ nothing but lackeys, but I've always selected free-thinking individuals, believing that challenging thoughts makes them thrive, with the understanding at all times that properly placed layoffs could give life to any desired measure of momentum, and so I could rest certain that night that the praise was genuine, if underwhelming--the project plan was less so; little more than a symbolic document, the kind of thing they had to have on hand at the National City Planning Oversight Bureau in case anybody anywhere should ever sue someone over something, the document did little more than say that, yes, GWB Enterprises intended to build a city, details to come, Latin Latin, etcetera and so forth, sine qua non. We began hashing out the details that evening. It was a late night. So was the next night. And all the nights that followed. We worked with fervor: nobody was let off the hook: husbands phoned their wives in the hallway outside the boardroom, apologized for missing dinner, apologized for not making it home in days, requested shipment of fresh clothing and new deodorant, apologized for missing birthdays, apologized for missing their children's first steps, first words, first questions. We ate salads from boxes and pizzas on paper plates. Managers slept on their office floors. Planes were booked and vacations were cancelled. Secretaries became dishevelled, lawyers billed triple time, janitors lamented their lot in life, and I never once faltered. We kept busy.

First and foremost came the selection of a site. This came long before the decisions we'd come to make about the clothing our city's new citizens would enjoy (for casual wear, short blue skirts covered in white polka dots and brown light sweaters for the ladies, plaid shorts and dark green polo shirts with popped collars for the gentlemen, and the most adorable tiny suits and sun dresses for the babies and children), the dominant architectural themes of our new city's buildings (modern!, modern!!, modern!!! for our new downtown, hypermodern and tall and functional and sleek and strong, able to withstand the coming strain, a skyline shaped like a whipcrack surrounded on all sides by a residential mix of neo-southern plantations and lush, hypoallergenic growth, large yards and wraparound porches and white gazebos, quaint but freshly painted and entirely inspiring compared to the desperate sameness and gray blockiness of the eastern bloc-esque slums that would slash through one side of the city like an oversight or an error), green space and road plans (tricky, tricky), and the like. We chose a spot in central Ohio for the available space and the elegant distance between it and the jewels of the east coast. It was near enough that nobody would mind travelling to it, but distant enough that, even were it not constructed to be my own personal calling card, had we not painted it to be a true work of art, it would still feel exotic. Almost paradisaical. Debate rose, of course; one subgroup never stopped pushing or Iowa, but Iowa is nonsense; always has been; once a trend, now nothing more than a regret. Pennsylvania and Illinois both close, but Ohio? Ohio, as it always did, when it came time to do, would have to do.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bellows (part one)

First I built the city. Then I built the river. I normally build rivers before I build their cities. Rivers are more expensive than cities. Building a river through an existing city exponentially escalates expenses, but in this case, I felt the risk was warranted. And though building a river on an untouched piece of land affords me both creative freedom and comparative convenience, I was willing to sacrifice both of these things to do my part for the greater good as well as the profit that seemed, if not promisable, at least possible. I could deal with some measure of short-term nuisance in pursuit of long-term success.

That rivers cost more than cities surprises most first-time city builders. I believe it's the hidden expenses, the ones no project plan or initial estimate can account for, though initial estimates never fail to shock amateurs. There was once a golden age for this sort of thing but I'm afraid there's more soul searching than real city building done these days. A shame. Lacking a variety of ideas, the field suffocates, goes brown. I have done this often enough that I know to expect the unexpected; it's a lesson I've learned the way all good lessons are learned: through failure and repetition. The economy is failing and we are at war; either of these facts alone would raise demand for--while reducing the resources available to--the construction of shiny new cities. Even my most intrepid colleagues, partners, and vendors have been scared by the current state of things back into their holes, where they stoke their accounts in anticipation of the arrival of a more promising time, when they'll all scramble free every which way at once, tripping and trampling each other in their rush to grab the first fresh floating buck. I myself would not have ventured to build so much as a Welcome To sign had not some of my pre-war projects been met with unparalleled, if qualified, success. I'd say my position is the better for it, today.

But yes, I've learned that to cut a corner is to forfeit a square of success. Almost every decision a first-time city builder makes is bad and both they and their work suffer for it. Consider fish. Consider lakes. It's industry tradition that we never account for fish or lakes in our initial cost estimates. Everyone I spoke with the lone idle Sunday I attempted to track down the historical source of this tradition seemed indifferent on the subject; I was a young man, a perpetual optimist, still devoutly religious, still moderately anarchist, still trying to work a goatee. Hope taught me little though the memories make me smile. Now I know well enough that whether or not there's a reason for the way we do business doesn't change the facts of how we do business, and that how we do business is how we do business, and no cause will ever change that effect. Needless to say, the first-time city builder who surmounts the initial obstacle of financing the survey team responsible for selecting the location and size of the necessary lake will come to face the sight of their glittery new river as if through the filter of their drastically shrunken bank account. Inevitably they opt to "hold off on" putting fish into the water, once they realize that fish are the exact opposite of cheap. But fish are not luxury items. Fish and lakes breathe meaning into rivers. Citizens today might never see the fish but they know when the fish are missing. Fishless waters birth nothing but ghost towns and suicides.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The reality is that how I write is immaterial. I have written in the margins of books I happened to be reading, in the steam of shower mirrors, on my own skin, on the hard disk of a 12-inch Powerbook. I have written surrounded by my books in the basement of my then home in upstate New York, in the loneliness of the attic of a former hospital for Plague victims in Antwerp, caught up in the deep despair of wooing an unwooable woman in an ice-cold Berlin apartment, as well as in the blaze of a blossoming love -- it all didn't matter. What matters is the space you inhabit when you write -- you live within the setting and the characters and the truth of the story. All else is circumstance.

I keep forgetting to link to this Paul Verhaeghen interview at The Book Depository that Mark Thwaite tipped me (and you) off to back here.
"Why would you call a character Scribble?"

I don't know, Phil; why would I call you a slant-haired face-jerk?

The Three Musketeers is probably about the only book I could be reading right now: it's energetic and it reads fast but it's still a classic (i.e., it was written several centuries ago) so I can read it for fun while still feeling like I'm doing something good for my brain. I'd be doing something better for my brain if I tried to process all the references and spent a lot more time Wikipediaing things, but, hell. I'm cranky and unmotivated and unapologetically down on myself and I don't need to know who the hell is who to enjoy the ride. And so enjoy the ride I shall, for as long at a stretch as I can before my brain wanders off to get interested in something else, like staring at the carpet. Oh, my brain.

Monday, June 16, 2008

" which point I'll promptly swear off long books again for a while for one week before jumping into The Recognitions or some such nonsense."

Or, like, the Richard Pevear translation of The Three Musketeers, or whatever. (The one with the awesome cover art.)
From various sources. Ain't gonna comment. (I still haven't read Tree of Smoke. I think the paperback is due out in about 2034. Preposterous.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008


That is all. Ahem.
"The shapes of things are bleeding slightly in the heat." Mary Gaitskill reads from a novel-in-progress. (Via.)

(Well-timed. I've been meaning to give Veronica another shot lately.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Great opening, awesome ending: Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen pretty much totally rules.

Friday, June 06, 2008

...the truth is the truth, independent of who brings it to light. How superficial is authenticity! There is more eloquence, more instruction in the most complicated lie than in a simple truth.

- from Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen





...I'm neck deep in section three of Omega Minor and it's pretty much like the book opened up a huge can of oh, snap all over my face. So hooked right now.

(I won't be in the "dragging this out way too long" phase much longer, that's for certain, if my desire to read instead of sleep tonight is anything to go by.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008


The Muttering Retreats CD Release Party will be part of the Music Saves 4th Birthday Bash on Saturday, June 28th, and 9 PM.

I will be wearing a suit.

(You can pre-order their album now.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Just to give an example, right now I'm reading a 300-page section right in the heart of 2666. This part, I think, is the main part of this book. It's largely comprised of short (1- to 2-page) police-style narrations of discovering the bodies of murdered women and then brief explanations as to whether the murderer was found or not. That's mostly what this section is, over and over again.

Well that sounds about as much fun as cleaning up a tickle-factory an hour after a delivery of a thousand barrels full of over-hydrated monkeys. Forgive me, gods of lit-hip, but I think I've just decided that life is too short to spend it reading Bolaño.
And--by the by--the Quote of the Week award goes to my girlfriend, on the recent occasion of the (some might say soul-consuming) addition of Dr. Mario Online Rx to TDAOC's World HQ's Wii Ware line-up: "It brings out your competitive side, Darby. Which is a little disorienting."
Also, w/r/t Omega Minor, I should say that graphic sex scenes, Auschwitz scenes, and atomic bomb detonation scenes do not make for the lightest lunch minutes of one's life.

Ah. Hem.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I'm in that annoying "I'm dragging this out way too long, aren't I?" phase of Omega Minor: after g*d knows how many weeks--feels like a thousand--I'm only barely more than 4/7ths of the way through the book. The good news is the book is still good, though not as good (read as: breathlessly disorienting) as those opening hundred pages. There's aspects of the book that trouble me--it can be a little, ah, verbose, from time to time (the book does not in the least feel like a translated work), and it's not quite the action-packed thrill-ride I think I might have thought I was signing on for, and, I mean, not to seem like a prude, but, come on already enough with the penises and the sex-ing--but for the most part I'm with it and plan to be so for however long it takes me to reach the end, at which point I'll promptly swear off long books again for a while for one week before jumping into The Recognitions or some such nonsense.
Grant Bailie's Mortarville is favorably reviewed at The Quarterly Conversation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Every story has a message, a set of ideas and emotions to convey. Every story has a subject, a style, an aesthetic. Every story is composed of this trinity, as well as a series of two-way highways that connect its diverse aspects. And every story is alive."

- from Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen

Game. Set. Match. Spike. Point. Snap.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I tried to read this "Who killed the literary critic?" article everybody's linking to, but I got antsy after reading the sentence "The signs are ominous, Laura" (which is in fact the opening sentence) and then gave up completely after I scrolled down and saw that the title for the link to page 2 of the article is "Why pay a professional critic when bloggers offer opinions for free?" Somebody wake me up when we all start acting reasonable about the whole thing.
Oh, and just out of curiosity, can someone who has read the books more recently than I have confirm for me that Narnia isn't really like the movies are making it out to be? Because I think about all the trailers for Caspian have done for me and some of my friends is they've made us want to crawl back inside the books and forget the movies exist.* Though maybe that's also because, with nostalgia, comes the crushing realization that adulthood means living in a world that sort of blows, at least lately. I don't know. Maybe I'll revisit the wardrobe after I finish Omega Minor. Or maybe I'll forge ahead with trying to make some good come of my media-buying hiatus** by trying to get the TBR pile down under a couple feet. Dreams.


* - Yes, that syntax is as tortured as you believe it to be. It's late.

** - Yes, I've had to make myself stop buying books, but also video games, realizing as I do that if you can measure play-hours against spine-feet, my Wii To Be Played pile is about as tall as my Books To Be Read pile. Unprovoked rant: It's a golden age for fans of video games, not just because the quality is so high, but the variety of available experiences is stellar, and, oh yeah, the world blows right now, which I think is what translates directly into the video game industry's current growth. People gotta escape, sometimes. There's something there that literature does not provide.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oh yeah, and: "Werner Herzog and David Lynch are teaming for "My Son, My Son," a horror-tinged murder drama based on a true story." More, linked mainly for the headline.
Jeff points to a new fiction writing contest that I was about to ignore (because, really, I somehow doubt contest judge Richard Ford will want to pick up the sort of thing I am likely to put down, but then, who knows) but then I noticed that beyond publication and cash, the prize also includes a pass to the literary festival sponsoring the prize (!), airfare to get there (!!), accommodations while you're there (!!!), and a public reading of your work (!!!!). I'm not sure if that means the winning writer reads their own winning work or if they bring in someone famous to do it, but either way--pretty cool. I'm not aware of any other contests that offer such things.

But then, I haven't looked, either. I tend to not submit to contests because all those entry fees quickly add up to a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but this would be the second contest this year that has snagged my attention.