Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When Jacinto and I separated, I got into poetry. I started to read and write poetry as if it were the most important thing in the world. Before that, I had written a few little poems and I used to think I read a lot, but when he left I started to read and write for real. I didn't have lots of time, but I made time where I could.

- from The Savage Detectives

As National Poetry Month comes to a close--another month like any other, one in which I might have chosen to read more poetry or write about more poetry but did not--I realize that I'm reading a book in large part about a society or a people in which poetry is absolutely vital and that I can not imagine this novel being written in America, by an American, about America. I'm not entirely certain how I feel about that.
Now they're just doing this to mess with my head:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fair enough--but I was once Googled at work. While I was in the room. I remember seeing it coming, I remember my life flashing before my eyes, but beyond that, the pure horror of the situation must have wiped all context from my memory, because I remember nothing else and I can not reconstruct any dialogue for you. Suffice it to say that since I still have the job, I suppose everything turned out okay. But I really can't be certain.
A project like this is bound to spiral out of control.
Lately I've noticed a disturbing tendency in myself to accept things the way they are.

- from The Savage Detectives

You and me both, pal.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Am I saying something about the book or about myself when I say that The Savage Detectives feels like a romance?
Carolyn Kellogg interviews Steve Erickson. Snip:

When I was 25, during one scorching summer when I was house-sitting for a buddy, I read Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights." Dostoevsky is considered the first "modern" writer, but I vote to Emily -- one of the most subversive novels ever made, with a sexually obsessed main character whose object of desire is a dead woman, an utterly unreliable narrator, a structure built on a psychological interior that shifts like a house with moving walls. I had fever dreams that whole month.

Which may be true but not even Erickson can make me want to re-read Wuthering Heights, though.
Maureen left a comment to put some novel-writing things back in perspective, which reminds me I haven't status updated the novel I'm writing in like ten minutes, probably because it's actually going pretty well right now and so I don't have much to bitch about, bitching leading to more (if poorer) blogging. I'm almost done writing part one. I'd wanted to be done with it a week or two ago, but, life, and all. I would actually say that the chart has been a pretty good representation of the process of writing just this first part of the book (just substitute "another two chapters" for "10,000 words" on the second last point). Which is scary because I'm not sure how many parts of the book I have left to write and I'm not sure which part will itself be an extended dark night of the soul. I do worry (even though I think the book itself is going to be fairly short as far as novels go) (or at least that it could be fairly short, if I make it so, though I can also easily see the book becoming a mammoth epic of Tolkienesque proportions) that this book is going to take ten years to finish, a concern that's going to prompt me to stop this blog post right about now in order to go get to work on the day's work (weekends being about the most reliable days of the week for producing good writing right now).
Here's a cool blog with a post on a novel I plan to get back to soon. Like, probably right after The Savage Detectives soon. Latin American fiction rock block, anyone? Which, actually, will be three books long, if I can remember what the third book was I also wanted to read right now. Blast. It was probably something mentioned in Detectives. Book mentions everything ever.

I'm now into the brick-work second part of the book and I've decided I'm either not smart enough for this novel or this novel isn't as smart as it wants to be. Either way, I'm enjoying it, but not in a "I've got time to look up everything I would need to look up to fully grasp what this book is talking about" way. There's entire passages I pretty much fail to follow. Which I'm okay with because the book generally seems to circle back around eventually to something I can follow. But.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Looking for a little less Rick Astley in your life?
I like having the correct answers to tricky questions. Like, see here, where Scott asks, "How Should the First-Person Be Written?" The correct answer is, "However an author feels like writing it." Done. Me out.

Next question?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

There's a passage in one of Plato's dialogues in which Socrates says that idealistic people often become misanthropic when they are let down two or three times. Plato suggests it can be like that with the search for the meaning of the good. You shouldn't get disillusioned when you get knocked back. All you've discovered is that the search is difficult, and you still have a duty to keep on searching.

- Kazuo Ishiguro

Totally blew off writing after picking up the Paris Review from Mac's Backs to read the Kazuo Ishiguro interview, which is fascinating and fun and encouraging and generally all around good, obvs. It's had the simultaneous effect of making me want to re-read all of his books again right now, and making me want to read or re-read all of "that full-blooded nineteenth-century fiction" he admits to being a fan of--like I need prompting to want to drop whatever I'm doing for Dostoevsky, but you know, prompting doesn't prevent.

Also, the interview provides tantalizing hints about the book he's working on now. What little he says about it makes it sound big. I'm looking forward to reading whatever he puts out next, to say the least.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not that The Savage Detectives precisely anticipates my possible (but still withheld) objections, but it does at least suggest, quickly, another way of looking at them:

[Angélica says,] "What do you think of the pictures?"

"Hard-core," I said.

"Hard-core? That's all?" San Epifanio got up and sat in the wooden chair where I had been. From there he watched me with one of his knife-blade smiles.

"Well, there's a kind of poetry to them. But if I told you that they only struck me as being poetic, I'd be lying. They're strange pictures. I'd call them pornographic. Not in a negative sense, but definitely pornographic."

"Everybody tends to pigeonhole things they don't understand," said San Epifanio. "Did the pictures turn you on?"

"No," I said emphatically, although the truth is I wasn't sure. "They didn't turn me on, but they didn't disgust me either."

"Then it isn't pornography. Not for you, at least."

"But I liked them," I admitted.

"Then just say that you liked them and you don't know why you liked them, which doesn't matter much anyway, period."

Sure, it's a way of looking at things that renders blogging and reviewing and most academic discussion of literature functionally inert. But it's got truth going for it, which is something.

At least it doesn't prevent us from pointing at the things we like. Speaking of figurative language, here's the loveliest bit of introduction to some literary sex I've read lately:

Why I don't know, maybe because I was so nervous, but I said I wasn't sleepy. I know, said María, me neither. Then everything turned into a succession of concrete acts and proper nouns and verbs, or pages from an anatomy manual scattered like flower petals, chaotically linked.
You can download Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh, right now, for free. And then you can remix it, because it's Creative Commons-licensed. Not that I have any plans to remix anything from the book. Oh, no. Nope no no nope.

Well, okay, maybe.
I feel bad, but Vollmann and I need a break. I hit the halfway point of Angels and I looked at the last half of the book and I thought about how long it took me to get through the first half, and I couldn't do it. Not right now. Not yet. I need something that moves a little. A little faster. (Repeat after yourself, Darby: You will come back and finish it. You will come back and finish it. Like, say, for instance, the same way you will come back and finish this one...)

I've moved on to The Savage Detectives, which I suspect is the sort of book I shouldn't judge too critically yet, not until I've gotten further into it. The judgment might be not so great right now ("Testosterone much?") were I not opting to temporarily abstain until further evidence is collected. This much the book definitely has in its favor (at least for now, at least for part one): it moves. Quickly. And I am curious about where it's going.
Looks like I'll be buying the Spring 2008 Paris Review: they've got an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro. Paris Review author interviews being the most ridiculously awesome author interviews there are, Kazuo Ishiguro being one of the most ridiculously awesome authors there, being the most ridiculously geeked-out and pleased me ever. Even just sampling quotes from this has me feeling positively daft. If only it wasn't so late already, if only the bookstores didn't all require me to use a car to reach them...

(Thanks to Matt for the tip.)

Battlestar Haiku

(Previously on Battlestar Haiku.)

Wrench to the head? No:
A woman afloat in night
Takes his breath away.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kazuo Ishiguro: Award-winning song writer.

If he quits his day job, I am so through with this blog.
Do you think we've failed to save book reviewing because we haven't yet figured out how to make it any fun?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Like I was saying: Vollmann, sometimes, with the figurative language? Not so much:

...a homely river it was, actually, and when the tide was at low ebb, then the brown brackish water drew away from the mud-banks, which glistened like the exposed gums of a dog in the throes of acute peridontal disease...

Yahoo opens up a can of aerosol all over Earth Day.
Take a day to celebrate National Poetry Month. (Via.)
The funny thing about the use of figurative language in contemporary fiction is that it begins to feel so damned obvious. Like, hay-oh! Cleverness ahead, like a fog horn in a hen house! Which is fine, when the similes and the metaphors are good. Like they are, from time to time, in You Bright and Risen Angels. Take, for instance:

You bought books until there was no more room on the bookshelf, and the paperbacks that you would never read asphyxiated and split down the bindings from pressure of crowding, like steamed beans...

So, sure, it's true because I relate. But I only relate because it's true.
Dun duh dah
Dah dah dah dah dah
Dhaba buddhhh dun dun
I think I forgot to mention that there's a new Stephen Dixon story available at It's called "No Knocks," and I enjoyed it.
I've decided to take an extended break from writing headlines. They were getting boring. I sort of hope this temporary retirement leads to me getting bored with not writing more really insightful and highly entertaining literary analysis. Or just more of anything worth reading. All the more reason to speed things up with Vollmann, because what's there to say about any of that, really? This is where you'd cue up the "It's electric!" sample, by the way.
I might have to pick up the pace on You Bright and Risen Angels since the book club discussion at Mac's Backs on May 21 is going to be about The Savage Detectives, which I really ought to read.

I'm not even halfway through Angels yet, though, so we'll see how that works out. I haven't read a book this slowly since I read Vollmann's Europe Central. It's certainly not bad, this slow approach, but lord, there's taking one's time, and then there's plain old farting around. To be fair, it sometimes feels like I'm picking up a brand new book, or at least a brand new version of the same old book, every time I sit down to read a chapter or two. Eventually I'll freak out and sit down and read the last half of the book in one coffee-fueled stretch. At which point I'll go completely and automatically insane. Here's to that, then.
I love this time of year. Nobody knows how to dress, pot holes the size of whale mouths are likely to swallow your car whole, and every time you drop your car window you hear the murmur of a hundred car stereos, because we've all forgotten other people can hear what we hear.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nominations for this year's best use of the term "bitch-slap" in a blog post begin--and end--here and now.
Mark your calendars, kids: Stereolab, a.k.a. the band God played on the seventh day, has a new record coming out later this year.

I did not think I'd hear myself say this, the way this winter stretched out to infinity and beyond, but here goes: damn, I can't wait for summer to start ending.
Here's a question for you: how did this post become such a popular search engine destination? Every time I look at site stats logs I'm surprised by the fact that it gets such a steady stream of visits. Is there a severe dearth of commentary on that book or something? Did I actually say intelligent things in that post? Should I be ashamed of it? My inability to read anything I've written more than ten minutes ago without wanting to drown myself in whiskey prevents me from analyzing my analysis. Or maybe I should be selling t-shirts with that post on it or something? I'm so confused.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Just a note to say...

...I finally tracked down the errant div tag in the template code that was causing the comment sections to go gross in the footer area. Should be fixed now. Well, whenever the republish goes through.

In the interest of making this post worth its weight in electrons, I'll take a question you didn't know you had--"Darby, how much do you love My Brightest Diamond?"--and link you to an answer. Ahhhh humina, humina.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This Saturday: Lit 'n Lit: A Night of Readings, Music, and Beer at Various Locations on Coventry*

Just a reminder that Clevelanders Dan Chaon, Grant Bailie, and Erin O'Brien, along with Luca Dipierro and Rachel Bradley, will be reading from the anthology Santi: Lives of Modern Saints this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Mac's Backs on Coventry.

After the reading, grab something to eat, then wander down to the Grog Shop to have a few drinks and watch my friends Cari and Chris and Tim of The Muttering Retreats play some songs for you.

There: you now have ridiculously awesome weekend plans.

* - Not an official title.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Verbivore has good things to say about Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (a book, I humbly posit, there can be nothing but good things to say about), and Isabella has stoked my interest in the new Salman Rushdie book, The Enchantress of Florence (after I took a big fat pass on the clown book), while Scott suggests that Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao isn't really Pulitzer material (a statement I find perplexing even as I try to justify my relative lack of interest in reading the book after having read Drown last year), as Callie comes up for air (by stepping back into the waters) (how they do churn) (and churn) (and splash).

Insular and/or insane

"Explaining John Ashbery’s poetry in a three paragraph blog post is a near impossible task."

Or just explaining it at all, really.

The fact that I even kind of understand the ensuing three paragraphs tells me I need to either go back to grad school or really start focusing on getting a mortgage. I hesitate to suggest there's fault or superiority in either high or low forms of entertainment; I like big-word talk as much as I like little-word talk; I think the real world offers pleasures every bit as physical and nuanced as the fake world generated by the human brain; but I won't hesitate to suggest that in the face of a largely not-in-my-favor tax day, there is no poetry that really stands as "an expression of our relationship with the world and our selves."

Something bugs me

When he saw how much power a little air and water could have, he decided to become a revolutionary.

- from You Bright and Risen Angels by William T. Vollmann

It's like, the dude types and types and types, and every now and then can't help himself, can't stop himself from dropping some bomb of a gorgeous sentence. (Or entire passage. There's a few. I ought to be marking them more diligently and quoting more liberally. But.)

I'm a third-or-so of the way through Angels. I'm not going to sugar-coat it: the beginning of the book is intriguing but rough. Like he wants to scare you off so he can preach to the choir. There's some point when you realize you've got two narrators, both in the first person, who duck in on the narration seemingly at random, that makes you sort of want to give up and go take a hot bath and perhaps eat a pound of chocolate. That with the typically Vollmann-ish language (i.e., more than is often strictly necessary) makes for a slow start.

But now I'm into it and I'm finding a narrative flow and it's working for me. This book seems to reward a slow, patient reading, one in which--as I, the blogger, am convinced is required of any engagement with Vollmann--it is sometimes, if not often, necessary to simply ignore a passage, because he likes to let the speaking get in the way of the spoken, to the detriment of sense. (Though I've yet to find an instance in this book quite so bad as a certain instance of B.S. that I, Big Darby, quoted back here-a-ways.)

The politics of the book are pretty plain, or feel pretty plain, and aren't unexpected, given a reading of some of Vollmann's other work. (There's power, see, and some gots it, and some wind up on the gun end of an extended metaphor, see?) What's interesting about the book is really the sort of "comic" style of it. Its essential nature as a fiction with only cursory reference to Vollmann's own life. I've only read three of the guy's books beside this one but this sort of feels like the Vollmann we might have wanted to have seen more of later on, being the one in which we see the least of him. Though curse me now for not doing my research, because now I can't remember how much or if any first-person stuff there was in Europe Central...which with its dependency on historical figures (albeit novelized) kind of loses on that front, anyway. Not loses. Shouldn't say loses. Good book, worth reading.

But there is some difference between talking about Shostakovich and talking about revolutionary insects, after all.

...Newt was an inventor, not an end user, so many of his motions were symbolic and ritualistic, designed (if there was any conscious design to them) to pad his activities and fill out the time until he had solved whatever problem was eating him...

- from You Bright and Risen Angels by William T. Vollmann

Monday, April 14, 2008


In Canada, there is an understandable temptation to view Russia as our eastern hemispheric twin, a similarly vast northern nation that shares our frozen topography, untapped oil reserves and devotion to hockey.

But the historical legacies of the two countries could scarcely be more different.

Still, though: sounds like an interesting book.


...and to understand our hero and his earplugs we must remind ourselves that his feelers had not yet been deadened by their first mega-dose of girlectricity...

- from You Bright and Risen Angels by William T. Vollmann

Google has (well, soon to be "had," I reckon) no record of that word. Which just feels weird. I'm pleased to fix the glitch.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cake and ice cream unbound

The "living literary legend" walked up to the microphone. Tall, wearing a dark suit, blue shirt, burgundy tie. He said he was glad to be reminded (by Hermione Lee) that this occasion was not his funeral. He patted his jacket and took out a sheet of paper from an inside pocket. The first words were, "Seventy five. How sudden."

Philip Roth: A 75th Birthday Tribute. (Via.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


"There are plenty of writers good enough to knock Amis, Barnes, Ishiguro and McEwan off their perch - so why aren't we reading them?" asks Jean Hannah Edelstein at the Guardian's books blog.

"Why should Darby have to write a response to that, when we pretty much already know how he feels about one of those authors?" asks my faithful readership, to whose expertise I concede.


(My faithful readership, of course, also has the right to ask when I'll get around to fixing the broken parts of the new layout. (Yes, I'm looking at you, comment page footers.))

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Also, the ending of Red Steel sort of blows

Though I guess I can at least do myself a small favor and offset the Guitar Hero references (and the according references to my newfound levels of addiction) by pointing out that I'm moving the novel forward again. Though I did take tonight off to do my taxes. And I'm thinking about taking tomorrow off to starve to death in a pit of my own bankruptcy. But! Aside from that! I'm back on some kind of mental track. Which is nice. I mean, sitting down to write, and actually doing writing. That's nice.

Anyways, Juliana Hatfield has a blog. She's cool.

April 19

Dan Chaon, Grant Bailie, Luca Dipierro, Rachel Bradley and Erin O'Brien will be reading from the anthology "Santi: Lives of Modern Saints" on April 19 at 7 p.m. at Mac's Backs, 1820 Coventry Road.

Be there.

Red green yellow-red blue globes

At this rate, it's tough to say which will happen first: me finishing You Bright and Risen Angels with 90% comprehension, or me beating "Through the Fire and the Flames" on expert with 90% notes hit.



... ...

There was quite possibly more dork in that sentence than any one blog post can possibly sustain.

I hope stupid isn't contagious via electricity

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people? (Via.)


Dear Lily Allen,

You can quit being an Orange Prize judge, but you can never quit our hearts.

The entire cast and crew of Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks

Monday, April 07, 2008

Some of us are considering never leaving

After a week or two of zombie teachers and man-eating cheerleaders (in a literal sense, not, you know) you'll be back to Graham Greene.

(Though I shouldn't talk since I've somehow landed myself in You Bright and Risen Angels for about the fourteenth time. Though this time I've made it past page 30. So maybe I'll see triple digits this time.)

Friday, April 04, 2008

We'll get pancakes in the morning, come on, it'll be fun

I haven't read the thing, I just don't want you to dump me because I'm the only person on the planet who hasn't linked to this article. Really: you, faithful reader, have much better reasons to dump me. Not that you should, of course. Don't. Please. Stay.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


All I know is, if it's not Nintendo Entertainment System Tetris, it's not real Tetris. It is gimmickry, a toy, of no great substance. Tetris on a computer or whatever other platform you might through it on is like chess without a queen, checkers without jumping, walking through the cold night rain without soaking to the bone. It lacks significance in the common currency of resonance throughout my childhood. The epic struggle. The strategy, the shared passion, the innate desire to succeed against the unsucceedable. The victorious 192 line game never to be topped in the annals of legend and lore. The controller, the timing, the colors: all conspired. Game Boy Tetris was a fine companion piece, suitable for a fix at the park, while sitting in a tree. Though to compare it would be to make a drastic mistake: everyone knew it was more difficult and therefore different. Incomparable. NES Tetris was king.