Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Don't follow the critics too much. Art appreciation, like love, cannot be done by proxy: It is a very personal affair and is necessary to each individual.

- Robert Henri


"When I say truth, I mean beauty.... For me, Edgar, that sums up what all art is for, and the only way it can be judged."

He smiled--a trifle defensively, I thought.

"I don't want to think too much about art, you see. I don't want to criticize it. I don't want to attend symposia, listen to papers, or discuss it at cocktail parties--although sometimes in my line of work I'm forced to do all those things. What I want to do is clutch my heart and fall down when I see it."

- from Duma Key by Stephen King

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What I talk about when I talk about clearing my head

Sleeping too little. Noticing ascenders. Hand thoughts. Disappointment. Design. White space. Doing things. Friday Night Lights. Story telling. Fallout 3. Laundry. Carrying books. Desire, competition. Productivity. Management. Creation. Confessions of a Shopaholic. The cigar box full of charcoal that's probably gone to dust in my trunk over the last few months. Tracking and kerning. Getting an oil change four thousand miles too late. Blogging. Writing. Reviewing. Making madness out of clothespins. Food allergies. Caring passionately about poetry, once. Caring passionately about caring. Time. IRC. Friendship. Social anxiety. Heartstrings. Getting it. The praying mantis that got away when the wind came. Sparkling water. Weight. Classes. Technical jargon like comforters. Choices. Hanging your own paintings on your walls. Using color. Breaking habits. The number of Stephen Dixon books on my shelves. A drawing of a shirt hanging from a lamp. Old review CDs. Lines and curves. Shape. Homework. Being wound up tight, fueled on something other than breath. Quitting. Red violet and yellow green. Neutrals. Too much structure. Head thoughts. Fearing descenders. Sleeping too much.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fantagraphics has officially announced the new Stephen Dixon story collection, What Is All This?, due out in May 2010.

Click through for a shot of the (previously mentioned) cover (which I really like). Here's a quote for you:

Fantagraphics Books is proud to present his latest volume of short stories, a massive collection of vintage Dixon, eschewing the modernism and quasi-autobiography of his I-trilogy and instead treating readers to a pared-down, crystalline style more reminiscent of Hemingway....

"This is our third book of prose fiction -after Alex Theroux's Laura Warholic and Monte Schulz's This Side of Jordan- and readers may notice that the common denominator among these books is that language itself serves as the animating literary force," says acquiring editor and Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth. "Dixon's finely chiseled sentences cut to the quick of people's lives. None of these stories have been collected in any book; they have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals over almost 40 years and Dixon has entirely rewritten all of them. Dixon admirers will be cheered to learn that these stories comprise a wholly original work."

Oh, yeah, and it's about 900 pages long. Nice.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In the comments of this post over at the Fantagraphics blog, there is a little bit of information about that Stephen Dixon book they're putting out next year: it's a 900 page collection of uncollected short stories called What Is All This?, cover design forthcoming from Jacob Covey.

Kids, the stuff Stephen Dixon hasn't collected is more than the stuff you'll ever produce ever in a million years. Even counting your Twitter stuff. We can just go ahead and shut down the Internet now.
Syndication? Re-runs? What is this, Family Ties? Not so awesome, but close: my Identity Theory review of Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City hit Powell's Review-a-Day over the weekend. So, now, you know, if you missed it the first time, here's your chance to take home a little bit of dislike of your own.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cormac McCarthy talks to the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: When you first went to the film set, how did it compare with how you saw "The Road" in your head?

CM: I guess my notion of what was going on in "The Road" did not include 60 to 80 people and a bunch of cameras. [Director] Dick Pearce and I made a film in North Carolina about 30 years ago and I thought, "This is just hell. Who would do this?" Instead, I get up and have a cup of coffee and wander around and read a little bit, sit down and type a few words and look out the window.

WSJ: But is there something compelling about the collaborative process compared to the solitary job of writing?

CM: Yes, it would compel you to avoid it at all costs.

More like Cormac McCarthZING!

(More here.)

Sunday, November 01, 2009


There are points, scattered throughout Inherent Vice, when you realize that, yes, of course, Thomas Pynchon had to write a mystery novel, a-doy. Because, you know, paranoia? and like, connections? Dig?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hey gang. My review of Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem is up at Identity Theory. It starts like this.

There was recently an interesting discussion at The Quarterly Conversation about what constitutes good literary criticism. J.C. Hallmann suggests that his fellow critics ought to approach literature not in the way critics do, but in the way writers do, in that writers are “perfectly comfortable saying that they simply liked a book—or disliked it.... Writers set out to celebrate the work rather than exhaust it....” In response, the editors quote Harold Bloom, who “gives us a phrase that is quite possibly the ideal definition of a critic: ‘the strong reader, whose readings will matter to others as well as to himself.’”

Reading these essays helped me find a way to write about Jonathan Lethem’s eighth novel, Chronic City. I think from these essays I took the permission I needed to plainly state here three things that I know already in my head and heart. First, I am not the strong reader I might like to be. Second, I found Chronic City tedious, boring, and uninspiring. Third, the second might find cause in the first.

Head over to Identity Theory for the rest.
"Man, did you miss a big story," he greeted Doc.

"You too, man."

"I'm talkin about sets of fifty-foot waves that wouldn't quit."

"'Fifty,' huh. I'm takin about Charlie Manson gettin popped."

They looked at each other.

"On the face of it," Vehi Fairfield said finally, "two separate worlds, each unaware of the other. But they always connect someplace."

"Manson and the Surge of '69," said Doc.

"I'd be very surprised if they weren't connected," Vehi said.

"That's because you think everything is connected," Sortilege said.


- from Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

...all of which, combined with this, (via The Rake, with whom I agree), has me feelin' a might bit pe-cyul-yar...but such is to be expected. This is actually (a third of the way in at least) a straight-forward novel, a novel's novel, if you will, and it's great fun, even if I'm only partially attentive, life being life, and all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Also, the new Dan Chaon book is really good so far, and is making me glad I'm reading fiction again.
For the Murakami-ites up in this joint: we'll start seeing 1Q84 in 2011. So you've still got time to read the other 186 books of his that have been translated into English before then.
Francine Prose goes a long way toward making me want to actually read that optimistically purchased hardback of 2666 that's been sitting on my shelf for an age and a half now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The National Book Award finalists for 2009 are out. I haven't read a single one of them. Win! There's still time this year, right? Somewhere?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dear publishing industry,

Please give me a two-book publishing deal. I hear you are making them available now.

I Know Some Words

Monday, October 12, 2009

I've recently become obsessed with which is crack cocaine for modern nerds, I swear. (Somehow I'd never heard of it before, and then in the span of two weeks, it was recommended via two separate channels. I win.) They've just posted a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's on the danger of a single story and it's quite good and it makes me feel quite unaccomplished, boo.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I've been reading nerdy books about type and design principles lately, and when I've not been doing that, I've been doing every thing in my power to avoid doing certain assignment-ish things I really ought to have been doing (sorry, Matt), but I'm starting to put a for-the-moment wrap on these initiatives, and I stopped reading the graphic novel I'd been reading that had been my de facto fiction of the moment, because that book sucked hard, and so now I just need to start finishing working my way through Don Watson's American Journeys, which is basically okay so far if not yet entirely revealing to a native American (what are these "racial divides" of which you speak? religion and business are critical to our society, you say?) if yet still somewhat indicative of how we might come across to the occasional outsider, but there is still time, all of which is fine because once that time is up I will feel in-the-clear to go back to reading fiction, which I find quite exciting, because I'm still planning on reading the new Dan Chaon and Thomas Pynchon books, after which I might just give up for the year, because, uh, duh. Knock on wood.

Monday, October 05, 2009

2009, gang:

"It's pretty clear that even though the recession likely has ended, not too many people are likely going to be humming that Bobby McFerrin tune, 'Don't Worry, Be Happy,'" said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Banned Books Week. I guess this means we all get to pick some books and ban them? Cool, alright, then, I ban Wuthering Heights, because that book is terrible. What are you banning to celebrate this national time of literary cleansing?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Issue number two of The Collagist, the online literary journal from Dzanc Books, just went live. It includes, in there amongst a lot of other stuff you and I both need to check out, my review of Some Things That Meant the World to Me by Joshua Mohr, which begins like so:

Joshua Mohr’s debut novel, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, is where Michael Gondry would go if he went down a few too many miles of bad desert road. Replace the director’s Science of Sleep-style clouds-of-cotton whimsy with harsh whiskey and hot sand and you get a sense for the dark world Mohr constructs. Dark, yet not pitch black: he pits his vision of ugly realities against one of basic human kindness. It is this tension that gives his engaging novel its emotional power.

Part of me is like, I should be all professional-chill about this, but, whatever: the book excites me and writing about it excited me and The Collagist excites me and being a part of it excites me and yeah.

(Meanwhile, in totally unprofessional shameless fanboy eyes-gaping "If you had told me that one day I would see..." news, if you had told me that one day I would see my name just below Elizabeth Crane's name on a contributors' notes page...)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Lydia Kiesling likes Kazuo Ishiguro.
So: I just read this novel (I'll tell you about it someday) (an actual, as opposed to a typical, promise) that left me...less than pleased. Significantly unentertained, let's call it. This seems to be a theme, not for everything I read (obvs), just, rather, for enough stuff, just enough to be disconcerting.

Anyways, it seems like a fine time to take a brief break from novels. Ish. Sort of. I'm about to start a graphic novel, actually. (Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchell, for those of you keeping score.) (I've also got a couple manga-ish things on my coffee table that I picked up a couple optimistic trips to the library ago. We'll see how that pans out.)

I've also got an advance of the new Alice Munro short story collection, Too Much Happiness, in one of these piles (put there solely as an accidental casualty of the war the various bags I drag back and forth and up and down this city have been conducting on my left shoulder of late), which I just started a few weeks ago, and I liked the first two stories, though I could in fact not yet tell you why. It is--and I say this in the tone of one who realizes that in some circles this may be considered rather outré--my first experience with Munro. I'm possibly maybe a couple stories away just yet from having that sort of weird revelatory experience I had when I finished either Interstate or Frog by Stephen Dixon and I realized how much stuff there was of his to go find and read (and, incidentally, I just read the opening chapter of his post-Frog opus 30 recently, and, I guess I've taken enough of a bit of a break from him by this point that reading that made me want to read the whole rest of the book right then and there?) but I can certainly see how the impulse might be there.

And also in the coming weeks, in the hours that remain between freaking out about this project and freaking out about that project, I'm going to be offering some thoughts on Don Watson's American Journeys, American Journeys being the sort of book they call "non-fiction" and Don Watson being the sort of chap they call "Australian," both of which are things not typically found in my living room, so. I'm reading the book as part of this effort and I know the effort calls for a review post but I think it's going to hard to talk about a book about journeying without doing a little meandering. Should be fun.

(And then once I get through this stuff and the other stuff and some things I'm blowing off fucking everything and I'm reading Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply and it's going to be great and will leave me feeling highly entertained, I think, based on all I've heard to date. So!)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hey gang. I wrote a review of Laird Hunt's new novel, Ray of the Star. It's up now at Identity Theory.

The review starts like this:

Consider the f-bomb: you can trace the trajectory of the story’s heart by the elegant deployment of that dexterous cuss word across the pages of Ray of the Star, Laird Hunt’s latest (arguably best, unarguably most emotionally engaging) novel. What initially reads with an unsettling, weighty effervescence—comparisons to the massive quantities of sparkling water the characters drink as if it is about to be taxed out of their brackets are certainly appropriate—accumulates context through circumstance so that it grows steadily more sinister with each passing page. By the end, it is razor-sharp, and fast. It cuts.

...and I'm not really sure how the rest goes since it feels like I wrote it in the middle of a blackout fugue-state (this being my first actual published review, for those of you keeping score at home) but from what I gather I rather liked the novel and, if asked for my professional opinion (which, ha ha, I was?) I would (and, ha ha, did?) recommend it to others.

(You can also head over to The Collagist to read an excerpt of Star.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Genre writers know their audience, and it’s a large one: John Grisham sold 60,742,288 books during the 1990s. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at, and I won’t do that here. But that audience, for reasons that sometimes seem obvious and sometimes are madly mysterious, is almost universally not interested in the same things we are.

We’re interested in good stories.

Hey, wasn't there a genre flick a while back about some kid who saw self-involved snobs who were the death of all things holy and good about literature only they didn't know they were the death of all things holy and good about literature? It was probably too busy making a lot of money and supporting families to bother having any emotional impact on anybody who saw it though.

Seriously: wha? The mind boggles and the goggles they do nothing. LOLz via.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Speaking of Stephen King, I really could not say it better myself, so, quote: "First of all, our inner 14-year-old is like unto bursting..."
I am a huge Kazuo Ishiguro fan. By the time I die I will have read all of his books at least multiple times; I'm currently two-sevenths there. (Which sounds so much less morbid when it's not put into fractions like that.) As a fan, I've set myself certain stringent restraints as to how I approach Nocturnes, his first short story collection. I will not read all of the stories at once (at least the first time through). Check. This is because he does not publish books often and if one of them is going to be a short story collection--the sort of thing that is built to be savored far more than any novel--then I will take advantage of that to the best of my ability. (I at one point considered reading only one story a year until his next book comes out. I did not consider that for long. Savor, yes. Torture, no.) I will also only read a story if I can sit down, read the story, and then stand up in a single swoop in a single afternoon. Check, so far, at least. I want to have the experience of reading something uninterrupted, of taking in a piece of literature the way I take in a film at the theater: whole, and without interruption. This latter restriction helps reinforce the former in that it's the rare afternoon (it has to be afternoon, as well, because the coffee has kicked in, but the evening is still distant, no threat to the present) these days when there's literally nothing to do but read as if life depended on it. Life always depends on it, but let us not go there.

This past weekend I had one of those afternoons and I read the third story from the collection, "Malvern Hills," and I enjoyed it, in and of itself. It is difficult to speak about the ways it may or may not relate to the other stories in the novel--said reading will have to happen when I do read the whole book all together over the span of a week--beyond the fact that there is music and that there are people and that there is the decided presence of Ishiguroian language made oddly more intriguing (rather than less intriguing as one might fear) by the decided absence of that thing he does--that thing he does in The Remains of the Day and the novels that preceded it, that thing that he does in The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans, that thing he does in Never Let Me Go--as if he set out with the specific intent of writing wonderfully without making any "that thing" of it or critical to it. Though who knows, the second read-through may reveal the unrecognizable skin that holds the bones of the stories to each other; failing to notice this now makes me no less of a fan, and all the more someone who will, or at least fully well expects to, be continuously rewarded by the works of a writer for years to come. Which said, the next story in the book is the title story, and it is the longest story in the book, and perfect afternoons sometimes have to be made, not awaited.
What's great about Generosity by Richard Powers (which comes out in about a month) isn't that it takes a one-note subject of debate like genetic research ("Genetic research will destroy our humanity!" "Genetic research will unlock our humanity!" "Fuck off!" "You too!") and succeeds in making it seem kind of nuanced and interesting; I'd call that merely (if highly) commendable. What's great about it is pretty much everything else that happens in its just-under 300 pages. The fact that it crams a love story and a classroom satire and all the punchy, dramatic, smart language you can handle and a sly look at human literary cliches and a metafictional gambit that succeeds in revealing the ultimate heart of the story while still actually managing to be clever-as-all-get-out (but in a wowee-uneasy-feeling Stephen King Dark Tower series metafictional sort of way) into one book is terrific. Also terrific is the fact that the book manages to talk about today--like, blogs, today, like, NaNoWriMo as a fact of some people's lives, today, like, Google yourself, today, like, the banking industry is imploding, today; today, today--in a way that feels so fresh and current and sharp and like it was written by someone who actually gets all the stupid shit we pass off as modern-day culture and writes about it in a way that shows he gets it without making it clear that he's telling us, hey, guys, I get it; it all just becomes setting, the setting, the only one that for 300 pages matters, the one that makes you look around and think, the hell of it is he's right. For that the book may (will?) age quickly, is at this moment becoming a historical document (and it hasn't even been released yet), and for that I really have to suggest that you should really look into reading it sooner rather than later, because it's a book that's got me all jazzed up and I think you just might a chance at enjoying it a little, yourself, too. By which I mean I am recommending this book. By which I mean: there were chills. Are.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oh, and I'm halfway through the new Richard Powers book, Generosity: An Enhancement, and I'm pretty sure it rules. Like, get fired from your job because you didn't go in so you could keep reading it, that kind of rules. I scored a free advance copy via Twitter. I hate my life.
"To Twitter. Or not to Twitter. That is the question the publishing world is asking these days."

Which is a shame, seeing as it is a perfectly stupid question. Yeah, that's right: bold statement. I mean, I do wonder if I am the only person on the planet sometimes who thinks this way (I can't be, right?), but I mean, isn't Twitter just one more thing? You know? That people can choose to use (public transportation, the self check-out aisle at the grocery store, condoms) or not use? Is it really still such a big deal? Really? That people are using the Internet for the intended purpose of the Internet, i.e., communicating with other people via asynchronous protocols? Who remains surprised by this? Who is left who can not say that, if the publishing industry is publishing great books and then spreading the word about them, they can then really claim to give two flying fucks whether they do it by Twitter, whistlestop tours, or smoke signals? This guy. Me, I'm going to need freakout control over here. Internet. Whatever. Seriously.

(Original link via oh you know what it's via.)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

So here's one for you: Thomas Pynchon's new novel Inherent Vice came out today. Because, yeah, this is something that has happened. I'm waiting for my copy to come in the mail, bundled with the new Vollmann joint. I'm thinking the mailman is going to kick my shins. Because he won't be able to punch me. Because his arms will be sore. Needless to say I won't have the heart to tell him I'm not planning on reading either book any time soon (meaning: not within the next month or maybe two) (fuuuuck) but that I still needed to have both books so I could at least look at them now and then. I don't think that would be a nice thing to say.

Because this is 2009 (a fact I literally had to confirm with my girlfriend earlier this evening when examining the expiration date on a bottle of Advil) nothing is fine enough in itself, least of all a book. So now there are things called "book trailers," which, also, are things that happen. Penguin has released one for Inherent Vice. You can see it here. I suppose it is possible this is something that, independent of all other forms of book-related communication, could cause you to want to purchase and read the book. I suppose that is possible. I suppose it also still possible you might have friends who sometimes recommend books. Cough. Either way, I think my blog needs a trailer. A blog trailer. To motivate people to read my blog. With robots. Robots and coffee tables. And a Japanese game show. And guns that shoot cats. (Snipe!) Who wants to help? By which I mean, make this happen for me without requiring me to put any effort into it?

Oh yeah and there's a chance that the narrator is Pynchon himself. Which means...he's maybe not a physical mute, these days?

Monday, August 03, 2009


A sentence I once heard attributed to a CEO -- “Anything that can be done can be done in two weeks.” Whereas Samuel R. Delany, in About Writing, mentions what a short time a decade is, from the point of view of a mature writer mindful of posterity...


Sunday, August 02, 2009

And in conclusion, if you are reading The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov, then you are a liar, because, liar, you have not, in fact, read all of the stuff he wrote that he actually did want you to read.
So: I am basically all over the place right now. I'm working on a couple projects I'm not going to talk about right now in case I totally blow them and have to delicately choose to neglect to mention they ever (or never) happened; I have been trying to actually use some of this paint I've bought in the last year in a "What can I conceive, execute, and finish in, at most, two nights, though preferably one, because will I really know what I was thinking the first night when the second rolls around?" approach (some evidence of which endeavors exists here and here); and, in the last week, as part of an effort to not totally lose what tiny bit of ground I've developed in gaining semi-not-horrible drawing skills these last two months, I've done this (from which came this) and this (from which came this and this) and this (from which came this).

For fun, I've started reading, courtesy of the folks at Knopf, Glen David Gold's Sunnyside, which I like, now. I'll admit: it took a couple pick-ups over the course of a couple weeks before I kept it in my hands long enough to realize I might actually like it; the first couple go-rounds with the opening pages generated a certain quantity of "Oh, I see, but maybe not that much, and maybe not right now" in me, but now I'm into it a bit, enough to get the rhythm of it, and I like it, and I can see myself thinking I should blow all this other nonsense off for a while, and just kind of do this, here, now, for longer stretches of time than I have so far, this last week. And not just because of the whole new Thomas Pynchon on Tuesday thing, oh no, not just because of that. Which new Pynchon I probably won't read right away anyways. Because. I mean. This fall, you know, you guys? Nevermind that I've still got three stories from Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes to do, because I keep forgetting to make the perfect (perfect) reading times happen, see, so. So.

Friday, July 24, 2009

(Oh hell, just when I think I'm getting my blogging shit together. Bear with me, here, gang.)

(But in the meantime, if you're looking for something to read...)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Entering the synagogue with Carol and the kids, he thought, "This profession even fucks up grief."

- from The Counterlife, by Philip Roth

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Rudolph Wurlitzer's The Drop Edge of Yonder, which I'm about halfway through, and which came to me courtesy of (fellow Ohioans!) Two Dollar Radio, is, much to my shock and/or delight, precisely the sort of book I need right now, the kind of literary palate cleanser--the sort of book in which lots of things happen, often violently (the book opens with an axe being buried in a woman's stomach while she's being, and I use this word with a greater sense of accuracy than I usually feel when I use it, fucked, and hers is exactly the opposite of the last body added to the book's steadily rising body count) and with great regularity (any novelist in the act who can't find ways to make things happen should receive a much-needed stimulant from any ten pages of this story), yet which never feels slight for it, thanks to the vibrant but understated historical setting, the sturdy writing with its matter-of-fact, almost off-hand reporting of deaths and carnage playing well with the occasional stretch toward quasi-philosophical moody bits and leitmotifs, and, well, the fact that it feels like it's all about something, things: the way things change; the way we can never really be sure how real all of this is; the conflict between base existence and higher, or at least vaguely unfathomable, spirituality; and money and women, natch; and struggles, struggling, violent and otherwise, against others, against life, the thousands of trials and tribulations; and the like--that I find myself so badly wanting to just chill with and enjoy while I figure out what it is I want to pick up and run with next, having just come off two or three books prior to this one that particularly pummeled me, first one way and then the other way, leaving me feeling kind of dizzy and high, by which I mean this is the kind of time when I would usually long to pick up some kind of bring-me-back-down trashy horror novel except for the fact that I'd know the writing would likely kill my soul (anymore) (because I am a snobbish dick, possibly), and so I don't, and so here I am, with this one, this one that's turning out to be quite good stuff, and that sort of feels like the kind of book William Vollmann might write, actually, if Vollmann were to chill out long enough to edit what he wrote.
Jacket Copy asks, "Oh, lordy: will Michael Bay film James Frey's unpublished sci-fi novel?"

TDAOC answers, "Only if God wants us to be happy, because, WIN."
Elsewhere, The Millions does a far better job than I of illustrating just how screwed you are for the rest of this year, you fan of books, you.
George Drucker on John Barth, specifically, The Floating Opera. (I know Giles Goat-boy is next on my Barth list, but Drucker does sort of make me want to start all over again from the top.)
Infinite Summer.
Oops! Relapse. Rehab! Something. Thing being, someone forgot to remind me I'm trying to do this thing regularly again. Yeah. Oops. I know. Fail. Sorry. Anyways. Ahem. Throat's cleared. See, part of the problem is I've just read two books in a row and I'm going to say more about them but in more of a "real sentences that make sense" kind of way, less of a "the random crap I usually pull on the blog" sort of way. Because, yeah, I'm going to do that thing amongst the other thousand foolish pursuits I seem to be trying to pick up and run with these days. Like, drawing, I guess? What is wrong with me? No idea. No idea. (Cleveland rocks!)

Anyways, it does, I will say this, with zero connection to the prior paragraph, please me to see The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist getting some positive press. Because, yo, check it, here's a statement that is both literally true and entirely absurd: if the only two sources of information in your life are this blog and the Washington Post, then, you can honestly say, you sort of kind of heard it here first.* Professionalism!

Speaking of professionalism, and, once again, nothing much else from that last paragraph, Dan Deacon recently played outside the new east wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art. (That's what us professional journalist amateur bloggers call a journalistic triumph of a photo, btw.) Should you ever get the chance to go back in time and hang out at the museum the night of June 21, 2009, you totally should, because that was awesome. I'd heard his stuff through a stereo once and it was like, okay, that's okay. And then I heard him play his iPod outside the flipping Cleveland Museum of Art and it ruled. Should you be unable to complete the time travel entrance exam of knowing somebody from the future who already has time travel technology, you should still go see the new east wing, because it, too, rules. (Despite.)

And, finally, here is a picture of a bird.


* - Which book, see, is what's guilting me into trying to clean up my act and write healthy paragraphs about some books, at least once in a while, because I really do regret not saying more about that one, because being as I am the world's biggest fan of Never Let Me Go, I think I have a unique positioning vis-a-vis the whole "OMG it's people!" theme that runs through these so-called (by nobody but me) organ donor books (which faux title being a prime example of hilarious misrepresentation, to at least nobody but me being akin to referring to Unbearable Lightness as a book about girls, which, actually, never mind, it was, right?), and the fact that I can't focus any more for long enough to etch thoughts into coherent, rational words keeps me up at night. Ish. Point being. There's itches and there's scratches, and sometimes one precedes the other, or at least the threat of one might be hoped to create a demand for the other, and, well. I just need to make myself itch. Oops: sentiment cloaked in impenetrable metaphor. Fail. Sorry. Throat, clearing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This post will self-reference in three...two...

"I will confess that all of this blog-gazing has made me begin to think the lit blogosphere exists in part only to talk about itself and the nature of its existence."

...Only in part?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

So I finished The City & The City today and while I liked it and while I liked it a lot and while I think I am comfortable saying it is one of the better books I've read so far this year I am also all sort of mixed-up about the whole thing, which is okay because honestly I think China Miéville himself was sort of mixed-up about the whole thing, himself, like he was never really certain what he was more interested in, the existential conceit or the really-to-my-mind-pretty-standard mystery novel or the act of integrating the two, the act of writing a mystery novel set inside an existential conceit, the act of pushing existential concerns through a mystery novel. The thing's got the same sort of pulled-punch feel that I'd felt he'd pulled at the end of Iron Council; like, not-going-there is the new going-there. Which I think wouldn't bother me much or really even concern me at all if I hadn't fallen in love with him via Perdido Street Station which was seven hundred straight pages of mutha-flippin' going there. Plus, you know, in comparison, this book, The City & The City, it reads pretty dry, but in a way that wants so bad to burst into wet. Moisture seeping through the cracks. It's tough for me to align it against his entire oeuvre, since I've only read the Bas Lag novels and now this one, but I can still sort of see a line leading up to this point, one of terseness coming to take the place of explosiveness. Which is fine but I do catch myself hoping he completely up and up bursts next time out. Like, the strain will be too much. Like, the strain must give way. Or maybe I just need to realize that while I love the guy's work on the whole and while I'll eventually read everything he's ever written it's really more likely that I need to get over everything else and just go re-read Perdido, because, yes, please. And anyway all concerns are pretty secondary to the fact that I really did enjoy the hell out of the damn thing, The City & The City, and that it's got a haunting closing paragraph, and it's been a while since I've felt a book haunt me like that, I think, so: win.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

So I've just started China Miéville's The City & The City (and yes I do feel weird having to capitalize the second "the" there) and is it weird that is has me thinking about William Gibson? Google and e-mail and Web addresses and mobile phones and dial-up connections (and the funniest "dot-com" joke I've seen in ages) (I've seen funny dot-com jokes ever?) (whatever). What's it saying about our society when authors we could reliably turn to to present irrevocably weird visions of the way the world could be (or couldn't be but still could be) kind of throw up their hands and just start tossing back at us what we've gone and tossed back at them (what Slashdot has gone and tossed back at them)? I say this with nothing but resepct, of course; Pattern Recognition was awesome and The City & The City is still plenty weird, in its existentially/metaphysically conceit(ed) way. But, I don't know, isn't there some kind of towel-throwing-in thing at play, at the same time (one time) (two time)? Or is weird the new normal, normal the new boring, boring the new yeah-that's-right-I-went-there? (What(ever)?) But of course I talk too soon, of course, I'm only 60 pages in, and I'm sure there's a posthistoric dragonmoose with World Trade Organization ties or something that is about to come in and start eating fools off the foggy sidewalks like Lucky Charms from bowls made of thought. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Redacting the redactions; or, the triumphant return of Captain Internet Detective and the Case of the Internet Mystery

This just in: despite prior reports, Stephen Dixon really is publishing something through Fantagraphics. It, whatever it is, is currently slated for late next year.

And that's about all I know right now. But knowing is half the battle. (The other half, w/r/t the awesomely awesome/lamentably etcetera book selection options presenting themselves to us over the next year and a half (so far) (to date) (as of this reporting), ought not be considered.)
Dave Eggers has a new book coming out. (Via.)

Right-o, then.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The AV Club's latest Wrapped Up In Books book club selection is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West, a book I'd started sometime last year before putting it back down due to a general case of wrong-place-wrong-time-itis. I'll try again someday and then maybe I'll loop back around to the discussion, which begins today. (Also: Scott Esposito takes on McCarthy's entire oeuvre at The Quarterly Conversation. Which just hit issue 16. When the heck did that happen?)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

In other news, as part of the infinitely expanding list of writers who I like a whole lot who have new books coming out this year or maybe next year (it really doesn't stop), Jacket Copy's got a list of 60 books coming out this summer, from which I learned that in the month of August, the month which is bringing us new work from William Vollmann (which I probably honestly won't read right away though I do kind of sort of want to because it seems like it could actually be really interesting) and Thomas Pynchon (uh, yes), we're also getting a brand new Dan Chaon novel, which is really really exciting because Dan Chaon rocks. But it does make me wonder if there is any writer left who I like who needs to put a new book out in the next 18 months, because I don't think I can handle it anymore. I mean, if like, Jeff Noon decided to drop a new novel on us in October, I think I'd just have it, I guess. Somehow. After I flipped out, or something. (Cue the complete lack of knocking on wood.) (Do it, universe, do it.)
I feel like I have a weird relationship with Haruki Murakami. I really enjoy reading his books, but I seem to enjoy them more for their entertainment value than for their literary value; by which I mean, for as much as there is going on in his books, I don't feel the need to dig down beneath the surfaces, to do real deep critical thinking about them. Not that I'm necessarily doing much real deep critical thinking about the books that I do feel like reading or do try to read in that manner. I guess it's just that the sheer fun of the thing that Murakami does takes precedence for me, and so far, from what I've read of his, that's been plenty enough.

It's this reading-as-an-experience thing that gets me. I've read both The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore over the last several years and I know I really enjoyed reading both books--I remember enjoying them thoroughly--but I'd have a tough time explaining either of those books to you, of recalling what exactly happened in them. It's like I was so in-the-moment with them that I forgot to take the mental snapshots I'd need to refer back to later, after finishing the books. And this is fine, I think. A fine way to read books. If anything, it means I can read those books both again, and enjoy them almost as much as I did the first time, or at least in a way in some ways similar to the first experience I had with them.

And it's fitting, too, this forgetfulness, this sense of connecting everything as it connects, of getting from point A to points wherever; the enigmatic, elusive, ethereal qualities of Murakami's fiction are the source of so much of their pleasure, to me. Like slipping into a waking dream for a while, one in which things are just going to make their own sort of sense, whether or not they really do. And there will be pasta.

So when I say I finished Dance Dance Dance this weekend and that I found it fascinating and fun, I'm saying it the way someone who you might meet at your job might try to tell you about the dream they had the night before, the details already fading, but the mood still coloring their vision and cushioning their feeling of the entire day around you. Something happened, mysteriously, and it meant something, at the time. And there were girls, there.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

On the off-hand chance that my girlfriend is reading my blog before she gets to The A.V. Club: they've got an interview over there with Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. I'm sorry that it confirms that he's about a million times more dreamy than I am. I will try to be dreamier. I promise.
China Miéville, whose new novel The City & The City is now sitting on the passenger seat of my car, waiting for me to clear some time out for it, gives really good interview. (LNG.) He also gives good essay (was I saying something about running smack-dab into the mystery genre lately?).

Recent conversation between myself and the manager of a coffee shop I'd stopped visiting for a spell due to writer's block, and school too, maybe

"Hey there. You must be starting a new book."

"Oh, well, uh, er."


"Well, I seem to be writing more, or trying to write more, about other people's stuff, than doing anything of my own, lately."

"Yeah, but you won't be remembered for what you say about other people's stuff."

I really like the cover of the new Philip Roth novel. Not that I'm judging the book by it, no.


(Lamest post ever, yes. But I built up some momentum the last few days, and didn't want to completely lose it. Forgive me.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

And just because I hate to leave such a sour-puss post at the top of the window like that: you know that moment in a book when you're reading it and you find out what the up-to-that-point-enigmatic title means and you go "Oh!" or "Ah!" or make some other non-verbal signifier of interest? I just hit that point today with Dance Dance Dance (rather early in the book, at that) and unless it changes later (there being quite a few more pages to go, judging by the weight of those additional pages in my right hand versus that of the pages in my left hand) (sorry, sorry) it's one of the best that-moments in that vein I can think of having had recently. Though I have little intention to read everything Murakami has written--he's got like 487 books published, you know--I will say I am enjoying this one so far and am as much as anybody intrigued by the whole 1Q84 thing. (Well, maybe not as intrigued, but certainly quite intrigued.)
I won't lie: I think the Kindle is an overpriced piece of plastic dung that offers no clear advantage over the technology it wants so badly to replace and that I think Amazon is sort of a jerk-face for it. I mean, it's so transparently egotistic and money-grubbing, it makes my skin crawl. (It's like, the next time I buy a toilet, I'm not going to look for one with an electronic flusher just so I can have to limit myself to buying toilet paper compatible with my specific toilet model for the rest of my life.)

I'm not exactly being reasonable or rational here. Thank goodness Sherman Alexie is here to do some actual thinking about the subject:

I consider the Kindle elitist because it’s too expensive. I also consider it elitist because, right now, one company is making all the rules. I am also worried about Jeff Bezos’ comments about wanting to change the way we read books. That’s rather imperial. Having grown up poor, I’m also highly aware that there’s always a massive technology gap between rich and poor kids. I haven’t yet heard what Amazon plans to do about this potential technology gap. And that’s a vital question considering that Bezos wants to change the way we read books. How does he plan to change the way that poor kids read books? How does he plan to make sure that poor kids have access to the technology? Poor kids all over the country don’t have access to current textbooks, so will they have access to Kindle?

Like Alexie, I love my iPod and can't imagine life without it. At the same time, I can't imagine a life without real books.

(Do check out the rest of the interview--he says lots of really good stuff over there.)

(And, also, let's face it: it's only a matter of time before your e-books are ad supported. Crime and Punishment and BUY BUY BUY.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

So me, being Captain Internet Detective, I thought up this crazy plan of asking Fantagraphics about that rumored Stephen Dixon story collection; word back from them is, nope, they've got nothing listed. And so Captain Internet Detective returns to his thinking chair to mull while awaiting his next brilliant idea.
In other news, I'm now reading Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami.


He's so crazy.
Over the weekend, I read the second story from Nocturnes, that new Kazuo Ishiguro short story collection that you may have heard that I may have heard something about. Maybe. Truth. The story is called "Come Rain or Come Shine" and it might be the funniest thing Ishiguro has ever written. (Reminder: Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day, which is hilarious, and which is becoming a musical, which is hilarious, in a way which makes me feel weirder in my stomach.)

I'm still trying hard not to read the whole book five minutes ago. The bitch of it is is that while I'm all like "Book," because I speak to inanimate objects the same way I speak to my cat, who is far more interested in climbing the window screens than he is in the fact that his name is Ezra, "Book, I have to not carry you around with me all the time, because I need to savor each of your stories, I have to enjoy each first reading of each story like my life depends on it, and I can't do that if I'm at work or in any kind of situation that could result in me being made to stop reading each story for even a second, because I am such a dork for you," the book is all like, "Oh, is that so?" from my coffee table, and it's all coy and playing indifferent, because it knows, and I'm like, "Oh, hell," and I'm gritting my teeth down to stumps. Stumps.

What I'm saying is, holy shit, good stories. And: ow, my gums. And: worth it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Now, I'm hardly going to do this one justice, but I've been meaning to blog about it for a while, and so I will, at least a little bit, because the author in question blogs a little bit, himself, and quite intriguingly at times (such as and such as): a while back I received, courtesy of Other Press--publishers of several recent-ish books I've liked (such as and such as)--a copy of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal by Sean Dixon, who is related neither to me nor to (to the best of my knowledge) Stephen Dixon (well, at least, not that Stephen Dixon), and I found it enjoyable and fun and weird, to the extent that it actually--despite a personal "one novel at a time" rule--pulled me (forcefully!) away from Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, which I'd been ass-deep(-and-on-the-whole-liking-it) in at the time, perhaps due in no small part to the excellent and entertaining use of a first-person-plural narrator; I can't say it made Joshua Ferris look like Hooked on Phonics--I think Joshua Ferris made Joshua Ferris look like Hooked on Phonics just fine on his own--but I can say that it did compare wildly favorably in Dixon's (Sean's) favor, at least in terms of narrative devices, there being few other points of comparison between the two books (to the best of my knowledge), Ferris's being a boring novel about being bored, and Dixon's (Sean's) novel being one in which book club members fuck and fall through floors (though not simultaneously) and adventure themselves off to distant lands and get haircuts against their will and "read" The Epic of Gilgamesh and get into e-mail conversations with bloggers and generally make for consistently good reading.
This morning, courtesy of the folks at Knopf, I received a copy of the new Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck. I then promptly fast-forwarded through the morning to my lunch hour so I could read the first story, "Cell One." It is, to say the least, nice to know Adichie remains as emotionally potent in the short form as she does in the long form (see also: my reaction to Half of a Yellow Sun; also see, on an unrelated note, but one I'm reminded of by looking at that post, the newly revealed 2010 release of a Scarlett Thomas novel--what was it I was saying about 2010?) This is one I'll be carrying around with me for a while. Worth considering. (At least, you know, based on one story. I'm assuming she doesn't fill the rest of the book with bad fan fiction or anything.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

That new William T. Vollmann book? Is actually two books. Supernova.
Gang, at least there's this: however shitty things may be right now, at least we can say we have an extremely literate president:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will serve as Honorary Chairs of the 2009 National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress. Now in its ninth year, this popular event celebrating the joys of reading and lifelong literacy will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between 7th and 14th Streets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (rain or shine). The event is free and open to the public.

I mean: wow, right? That actually doesn't sound like the horrible punchline of a sick joke. I could actually see going to that. Without feeling like I'd be lying to myself the entire time.
BookExpo America is happening. Which I've always felt far too marginal or even marginally marginal to ever consider signing on for, and this year, it sounds like there's less for me to miss than ever before. Which, you know, cool. I've got stuff going on. Whatevs. But, uh, maybe it sounds like what the publishing industry really needs is not less but more, maybe? You know, more excitement, more passion, more trade shows, more festivals, more, more, more? Maybe? Maybe not less? I don't know. Maybe I'll try to go next year. Maybe I'll wear a big red dog costume. Maybe so many things.
In other news, we've still got a new Thomas Pynchon novel coming out this year. We've still got a lot of books coming out by a lot of great authors this year. Like, I've lost track of them all. And then there's next year which I think looks good too, or was starting to look good the last time I looked. So much to look at. Right. Shit just got real.

But yeah, the early previews of the Pynchon novel are starting to come in. Like, with this one, right here (via):

I’ve been enjoying the new Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice. The most striking thing about is that if you had handed me the first 30 pages, I would have staked my life I was reading the opening of the new Elmore Leonard.


In some ways it’s a surprise to see Pynchon, one of the most sophisticated, high-caste and demanding of American writers, dancing naked; on the other hand it isn’t, because there’s something about the crime novel, the thriller, hardboiled noir , whatever you want to call it that literary novelists find fascinating and often irresistible.

I don't know, I know there's that need to call Pynchon sophisticated and high-caste, but I do worry that talk like that scares more people off the trail than is healthy. I mean, bananas. Funny. Right?

In other news, I seem to be doing a lot with hardboiled mystery type books lately. Which is weird. I was never particularly a fan of the style though I also never had much against it either. Just, something that never much struck me as something I needed to explicitly go looking for. But now it's like every which way I look I'm reading one or reading about one. Weird.

Like, there's an author right now whose backlist I'm reading in its entirety (or close to its entirety) in preparation for a kind of big review I plan to write for later this year. (Hint: no, it's not Pynchon, which is cool, because I don't think I could handle that, what with the making of wetness in the pants reading new Pynchon might entail.) But this author I'm reading has me all curious about mystery stuff, now, more so than I've ever been. New avenues to explore! Always, new avenues to explore.
So, that The Road trailer I mentioned recently? Turns out it might not be all bad. Or at least, it's bad, the situation is bad, but the movie might still be more like the book than the trailer might lead one to believe. Reality, whatever. One can only hope this does wind up pulling a bunch of people in who might think they're getting into a pleasant little end of the world action adventure only to be crushed under the weight of pure existentialist pooh. Who knows.

And, really, it can never be so whaaaaaaaa? as this. Bonus points for butler jazz hands, is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nor is it any part of my thesis to maintain that [the detective story] is a vital and significant form of art. There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that. The growth of populations has in no way increased the amount; it has merely increased the adeptness with which substitutes can be produced and packaged.

- Raymond Chandler

Yeah, speaking of the producing and packaging of substitutes: uh, what, and, uhhhhhhh, what?

Monday, May 18, 2009

But really, though, come on: are you surprised that the old white dude reads a bunch of books by old white dudes? Call me back when, like, Zadie Smith is all like, "Ladies are crazy, old white dudes are where it's at." Then we'll talk about, you know, things we can talk about.
In other news, we've got a trailer now for the film adaptation of The Road by Cormac McMcarthy. Which, I mean, I don't know. It looks a lot more "boom" and "hiss" and "fzzzzzzzzzzzzt" than I remember the book being. But it's the trailer and I guess you can't have a trailer that's nothing but sad people being sad and then dying all over. So I don't know. I couldn't blame you for thinking they're ruining the book. (The book inspired one of my longest and probably least coherent but most-hit blog posts so I can't say I don't have some emotional stake in the outcome here.) On the other, it's still possible it's still going to be this very good thing in and of itself, independent of the source material, so. Who knows. (And they do the Coke can bit, which I like to imagine is the bleak unrelenting horror version of the whale from Hitchhiker's Guide in terms of things-from-books-put-into-movies, so.)
Being a six-books-to-his-name novelist, one who, at least as far as I can recall having seen, has never published a short story before in his life, Kazuo Ishiguro may tempt us to suspect that his new collection of five short stories, Nocturnes, could somehow be "minor" compared to the rest of his output--like the book is an EP dashed off before "proper" albums, like it's a lark less executed than committed before he gets back to the real work of doing a new novel. After reading the opening story, "Crooner," the only thing I can say I suspect right now is that I'm going to be incredibly sad when I get to the end of this slim volume, his slimmest since his first two novels. Sad because there won't be any more book to read. More sad because there's such emotionally wrenching power in his prose, prose that goes down as easy as water splashed with lemon. And saddest yet because, as with Michael Chabon's The Final Solution--another slender tale I've recently completed--lacing sadness through and beneath the surface of stories that might ostensibly profess to have other more immediate concerns in mind (detection and/or music) appears to be at the core of what's going on on the pages in front of me. One of the cores, at least.

Tangled thoughts. I shouldn't be discussing my reactions mid-stream, I suppose, but considering how things get away from me on here, I wanted to make sure I got at least something down in writing this month so I can lay some claim to having done something to promote National Short Story Month, about which you can read lots and lots more over at the Emerging Writers Network blog. Also, I've got this whole self-consciousness thing going on as I read Ishiguro, appropriate considering the concern with seeming lack of concern for self-consciousness that runs through so much of his work; I mean, this being the first real new Ishiguro I get to read since I picked up Never Let Me Go a couple years ago and never looked back. I guess I can't help but read myself reading the book, which is at once annoying and perfectly fine, worth and not worth considering. Whatever, I don't know, that first story kills, and the only reason I didn't spend the rest of the night reading the rest of the book is because I just know I need to savor it, and, well, yeah. Savor it.
The Wall Street Journal has the opening chapter of China Miéville's new book, The City & The City; Scotland on Sunday has a profile; I've got an urge to quit most things I do so I can handle even just keeping track of the outright bookish assault that is 2009, never even mind the existing of 2010 already looming on the horizon, which, rumor has it, will present us with new David Mitchell and new Jonathan Franzen. Jam.

(The City & The City comes out in about a week.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

TDAOC-endorsed A. L. Kennedy is doing a bit of blogging at The Guardian and it's really quite good.

(I myself am on the verge of wrapping up my spring semester class and so I anticipate I myself might also be able to do a bit of blogging myself in the coming weeks. At least on a more consistently irregular basis. I've read and/or am reading some books that I rather liked and/or like. Which I do plan to say things about. Soon. Ish.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The new Kazuo Ishiguro book, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, comes out in a couple the UK. Here in the U.S., we have to wait until too long from now for it. Seriously: Want. Bad enough to consider the cross-ocean shipping charges. Which, er, I just checked, and are surprisingly not horrible. As in: under a thousand pounds. Okay then! In any case, here's a profile that makes me want the book even harder. As if such a thing could be reckoned.

(And we know the real cost kicks in when the American copy comes out and I can't resist buying it, too. Hrm.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Onion A.V. Club is starting an online book discussion group; the first title up for discussion is Katherine Dunn's Geek Love. I'd say this sort of thing has been done before and has failed before but judging by the fact that the debut post has racked up about a kajillion comments makes me wonder if maybe it hasn't and if maybe it won't.

The discussion starts May 11. Maybe I'll check in, if I'm not watching Star Trek for the fourteenth time that day.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009



(And actually I can't seem to find any other references anywhere to this new Stephen Dixon book? And Fantagraphics does comics? What's going on here?)

(And I still need to go get the Gaitskill book which is already out. It's a sad state of affairs when I am too busy to go to a bookstore to buy a book I want to own. Crap.)
I'll go on record as saying that I loved Battlestar Galactica start to finish. But I'll also go on record as saying that things like this basically confirm for me the fact that the follow-up prequel series Caprica is going to be a horrifying trainwreck doomed to last about four episodes. Dear creators, producers, and every other person involved with this scourge: the Law and Order people called, they want their newest spin-off series promo photo back.

(To be fair, the last time I made the Four Episode Prediction was against The Big Bang Theory, so clearly I know ass-all about anything. But still! "Fatcoat, Cheekbones, and Chindivot, Attorneys at Law"!)
There is a certain pleasure we take in thinking about how bad it gets, Sartaj thought, and then in imagining how it will inevitably get worse. And still we survive, the city stumbles on. Maybe one day it'll all just fall apart, and there was a certain gratification in that thought too. Let the maderchod blow.

- from Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

So I've started reading Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, because that is what I do now, between bouts of not blogging for weeks at a stretch, between going to work all day and making madness out of clothespins at night; I decide what I really need to go off and do is get myself wrapped up in 900+ page crime novels set in India. Or just, well, long books, really. Between the short ones. When I think I'm going to just read short things for a while. That's usually the moment I decide I need something reliable, trust-worthy, dependable. Oh, gods, it's all I can do to not re-crack open Against the Day right now.

Anyways, Sacred Games, I'm 100 pages or so into it, and it's good. Textural might be the word I'm looking for. Good story, but not so much story that I lose it when I can't pick the book up for a couple lunch hours; so far, at least. There's a police man and the criminal he catches and the criminal's telling his life story from beyond the grave and now there's conspiracy afoot. So. Good detail, good scenery, good to be reminded that shit's crazy wherever you go. Good little bits of melodramatic yet not over-the-top text like the quote above. It's, you know, fun to read. Which I like right now. Fun. Reading. Books. Now and then. When I can.

Just a couple days ago I finished The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I sort of like her. A lot. It says something when I can say that a book about Jesuits going off to space might not be for the weak of heart. But there you have it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

There's a new story from Stephen Dixon up at Urbanite. It's called "Mr. Greene" and it appears to be many normal-people sized paragraphs instead of one Stephen Dixon sized paragraph. If I doubted I was going to read it sometime shortly after I finish this post, the opening paragraph would have put those doubts in a pipe and smoked them:

It was a beautiful day, clear and dry, the orchards soaked by the early-morning downpour and smelling of fallen fruit and fresh buds. Life fantastic, I thought, when something hard was shoved into my back and a voice said don’t turn around.

Also, looks like new book-format material is on the way:

Stephen Dixon has published twenty-seven books of fiction, fourteen novels, and thirteen collections of short stories. His next, a three-volume story collection called What Is All This?, is forthcoming from Fantagraphics Books.

Granted I still haven't read Meyer (though I will) nor have I read like 90 percent of what he's published, but, you know, still: exciting!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Oh, and I forgot to add Laird Hunt to the Pynchon-Gaitskill-Ishiguro-Miéville midnight-showing-on-opening-night-in-2009 list. Oops. 2009 called. And then it slapped you in the face and took your wallet. Jerk.

(There's also that Vollmann book coming out in April which, heaven help me, really does seem like it could be a fascinating read. But, uh, at 1344 pages, whoops, it's kind of either the Vollmann or everything else. Plus, aren't I supposed to be urinating myself over 2666? I haven't done that yet. Oops. Handing in my blogger

Monday, March 09, 2009

There's something strange about people who know they're going to die soon. It's as if their senses are expanded to super-human dimensions, as if they acquire X-ray vision and become mind readers and can see into the future and suddenly understand everything that's going on inside and between other people. And either that really is the case, or else we just want to believe it is, because it makes dying more attractive and easier to reconcile ourselves with, somehow.

- from The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist, translated by Marlaine Delargy

I don't receive many advance copies of novels, so when I do, I kind of notice they're there; when the first sentence of the accompanying letter drops comparisons to 1984 and Never Let Me Go, I kind of go ahead and bump that book right up to the top of the reading queue, if out of nothing else but curiosity and convenience. Maybe I'm an easy sell. But in any case, such is the case with The Unit, due out in 2009 from Other Press, which I just finished, and which I found largely harrowing, and generally more intriguing by the end than I might have thought it would be closer to the beginning. A good read, one about which I'll have more to say, once I figure out how to put it all down.
Pynchon, Gaitskill, Ishiguro...and now, China Miéville? Writing an existential murder mystery? Dear 2009, what the hell, signed, yours truly? P.S., keep up the good work? I guess? Crazybones?

(Also, there's an excerpt from the new Gaitskill online now (thanks, M).)
There's a big sale on at The New York Review of Books. Might I suggest a Moravia title or two? Me, I might just have to go past the sale for the completion of a trilogy I started at the end of...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

So it begins

So it begins
Originally uploaded by thegrue76
About the hardest thing for me lately is to differentiate between a good idea and a bad idea. When it comes to design, at least. I still recognize that heat is a good idea if one wishes to stay warm but that doesn't mean one should go shoving one's arse in the furnace. Bad idea.

It's one of the reasons why my writing died though I imagine it's also one of the reasons why I feel I can still have a go at this whole visual arts thing; if I can't tell whether or not what I produce is worth producing, I feel like I ought to be less inclined to produce anything at all, seeing as I feel like I've reached the point when I really ought to have figured that sort of thing out. But at least with design-related stuff I can fall back on the whole "newbie" thing, and take comfort in the face that some of my seemingly best ideas have been the ones I've initially ignored as they found root in tossed-off things I felt could have had no intrinsic value. Being tossed-off, as they were.

It's been weird--and it's been weird realizing how weird it is to have to realize this sort of thing--realizing how much beauty there is in irregularity and impurity. The ragged edge is sometimes better than the perfect circle under the influence of the right context.

From another angle: learning to let go has been great for my design efforts though it's been absolutely shit for my writing. A good plan, I've learned, can only take you to the end of the planning itself: what lies on the other side is up in the air. With design I feel like I might be able to wring gold out of an ignorance of direction; with writing, ignoring the initial quality of the work only got me more work of the same quality. I gave myself permission to draft, but never much more than that.

At least with this other set of pursuits a big blank stretch of white seems to hold more possibilities, less of more of the same.

In other words: there's nihilism, and there's figuring your shit out. And a lot of blurry, beautiful lines in the middle.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So, that Never Let Me Go film adapatation? It's going to star Keira Knightley. As I said on Twitter, so I'll say here: at least she's bringing the "pretty" into "pretty horrible adaptation."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

On a happier note: we may soon learn about a new novel by Laird Hunt, who rules, and who still has a couple other books out I've yet to read (for shame, for shame).

Monday, March 02, 2009

Via basically everybody, there's a lengthy essay about David Foster Wallace at The New Yorker. What little I read is about his final unfinished novel, The Pale King, of which you can read a lengthy excerpt.

I have not read the excerpt, nor do I expect I will be able to any time soon. They're publishing it next year, I guess, but I probably won't be able to read it then, either. (I suppose the most surprising thing is finding out after learning about this stuff today just how raw the wound still is. Of how much there is to be said and how better it is not to say it.)
"Goatwriter sat at the writing bureau with a fresh sheet of paper, and for a moment the page is perfect."

- from Number9Dream by David Mitchell

My pages, these days, are all quite perfect.

Monday, February 23, 2009

In other news, David MItchell's Number9Dream is probably as good a follow-up to Swann's Way as any. At least based on the first 75 pages or so. Dreams, daydreams, and memory. I think my cat just barked in his sleep. What?

It's my first dip back into Mitchell's stuff after reading Cloud Atlas a while back (which remains, I believe, according to a non-statistical rifling-through of my mental inventory of memories, the book I've convinced more people to read than any other, fascinatingly, though I do believe Never Let Me Go runs a close second these days, natch). If nothing else, dang, it feel nice to read somewhat less than slowly. (But please don't pop-quiz me on the last fifty pages or so of Swann's. They needed to happen before my birthday, and the hours were running short and quick.)
Art, Lamp, Cat

Friday, February 13, 2009

Okay. Two things.

  1. Proust. I'm still reading Proust. I'm about two-thirds of the way through Swann's Way. Any thoughts I might have had going into this that I might just plow my way all the way through Proust in one go have once and forever gone right out every nearest available window at once. I mean, ain't denyin', Proust is the man, no doubt. Also ain't denying the fact that I'm pushing myself in about fourteen directions at once right now, some to greater effect and/or accomplishment than others. Proust takes time, and I'm not affording him the time he deserves. Plus there's still that new string of Gaitskill and Ishiguro and Pynchon coming out this year and if I only read four books this year--which at this rate is entirely likely--those three have got to be the remainder. Hopefully more than that though, of course. Obvs. Maybe.

  2. I think the Kindle was absolute trash and I think the Kindle 2 is absolute trash and I think Amazon is actually sort of a huge asshole for selling the Kindle right now, of all times. I mean, shit's getting stone-cold out there, people are losing their jobs, their jobs are losing their jobs, it's nasty like a roller derby in a Sinclarian meat-packing plant. And you're going to tell me that Amazon's coked-up marketing team has decided that what you really need to do is pay up $400 for the privilege of reading text off a machine that offers zero discernible advantages over paper? For shame, Amazon, for shame. It's enough to make me want to take $400 in cash out from a credit card and to turn it over to a bookstore in exchange for a large pile of completely random books. If there's anything my current design classes have taught me, it's that the physical world isn't going away, so you might as well make something out of it. Give me paper.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sketchbook page
School starts again on Tuesday, so all those romantic thoughts I've had about getting all this posting and reading and writing and painting and creating and living done over break are soon to become romantic thoughts that bore no fruit, no fruit that burst forth with no sweet nectar. Alas. I mean, it's not all a wash, I've nearly filled a sketchbook, at least. I've come to respect the fact--if no other fact--that what I thought of as "idly wasting time doodling nonsense" when I was a kid (though perhaps not in those words) can actually be a completely valid activity for a grown adult to partake in. That's something. It's a whole sketchbook I wouldn't have otherwise filled at any other point in my life. I've even started trying to draw real things, something I've always sort of thought it would be nice to do but never got past the "not actually trying at all" stage of the thing. I can do a pretty good tabletop now. Legs are a bit rough though. And um, a raisin box, a decent raisin box, so long as you're not looking for the graphic elements. And, uh, I have a moderately acceptable rendition of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, but I mean, come on, how can one man draw that which contains all things? Conundrum. Maybe tomorrow I'll move on to cylindrical objects in a desperate bid to fill up the last few pages of the book before the next class begins. Or maybe I'll use the night to actually read a little Proust. Which, I mean, at this rate, this is looking to be my slowest reading year ever. Terrible. Well, not terrible. Maybe. Anyway, Proust or soup cans?

Sketchbook page
The next class, the one that will be further drawing my attention away from all things bookish, is off the graphic design path, being a three-dimensional design class (as in objects in space, not funky-glasses-and-popcorn), which ought to be great fun. I mean, at least, I think it will be interesting, to be in a situation I really have no business in, to be pushed creatively in a way I've never much before expected to be pushed, all to see what comes out on the other end. Before going back to the business at hand of learning more about what makes for good line spacing and how to get rid of zits in photoshop. I hear there's money in that sort of thing.

Sketchbook page
Still, while I'm doing this, I'm fairly conscious of all the other stuff I want to be doing--Proust, getting around to getting back around to working on something involving words that create stories in the minds of hypothetical readers, inventing my money-cloning device--that I probably use class and work and sleep as excuses as to why I'm not doing them when in reality I'm mostly just more inclined to spend every spare waking moment staring out windows or trying to level up so I can get the princess and win the game. It's the kind of situation that's got me actually (thinking about how many times in this post I've used the word "actually") thinking about investigating some of those Getting Things Done philosophy system 43 folders-y things, the kind of thing I've typically thought of as being the sort of thing that self-important hacks do so they can strut around with their chests puffed out as they talk about how many things they get done all the time. I don't know. Ironically, it's probably just one more thing I'll spend more time thinking about doing than actually doing. Still, though, I have to at least admit, my goals have gotten more ambitious, and I am doing some things right, or at least, some of what I'm doing feels right. So. I might not have 60 percent of what I need, yet, but. Something.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Yr memory's a sucker

For no other reason than that I'm pretty sure I don't want that last post to be the last post, because seriously how lame would that be, I'll note that out of the thousand books that I'd considered for the role of being the first book I read this year, including but not limited to every book ever, I opted last night, in a post-hung-over, pre-Grand Theft Auto IV session grayish haze, to start with Proust. Which I'd seriously intended to do all of in 2008. Hilarity, kids! I figured it was either that or I finally finish off that Summer of Dostoevsky '06 project. Timelines, kids! Which makes me say that I'm not committing to any particular amount of Proust this year. Of course, I also say that if I do actually just do the whole thing in one go, the experience will at least have the curious effect of making Bolaño's 2666 look positively snack-sized in comparison, and therefore all the more inviting, or at least plausible. Or maybe just possible. Jokes about the masterstrokes of dead legends, kids!

I won't do much of any of Proust at the rate I went last night--ten pages over the course of an hour or two will not be the way to go, however much fun making sandwiches, playing with the cat, and sitting on the couch staring at the wall like a brain-dead turnip may be--but I will say this: if there were ever ten pages to be read after drinking until four in the morning before sleeping for five hours on a floor, Proust's fit the bill most tight (alright!). That noise makes sleeping and waking and thinking feel like the ultimate acid trip. Time and space, time and space. I'm in a chair, I'm in a room, I'm your brains. BRAINS.
Alright. Let's get this nonsense out of the way right off. And I'll warn you up-front: I ain't proofreading this, because "editing" this post would probably mean deleting this is gut-struck self-disgust. Buyer, be warned.


A fellow blogger recently asked me if I ever think about quitting blogging. My response was, and the truth is, that lately, I assume every post is my last. For whatever reasons. Lack of interest, lack of time, lack of quality, lack of mattering (or a feeling of mattering), all the usual blogger hand-wringing. Fact is, I probably actually have quit several times in the last year. I didn't say so, because I knew I was probably lying to myself, which is either better or worse than lying to you.

What has kept me coming back is the recognition that whatever post I last posted probably sucked and that when the archivists come along to pass judgment on you and I, that last post would be a horrible final note. Like ending a symphony with the back firing of a lawn mower. (A symphony, in my case, composed mostly of hand-powered mowers and downed telephone wires, but what have you.)

So I've kind of been in this not-sure-where-I'm-coming-from, not-sure-where-I'm-going-to limbo for a while now. Sure, I'm still reading, but maybe not as much as I have in previous years, and I'm certainly not saying as much about what I'm reading. Facts.

So then John Ettore added a comment to my now previously most recent post (a post which, really, could have been a not-so-bad closing note for the blog--an uptick of anticipation is certainly nothing bad), and his comment--and compliment--had the remarkable effect of reminding me of why I bothered getting into blogging in the first place. (Or at least, I assume--I went back to the first post to this blog, read a couple lines of it, made myself ill, and closed the tab. I got the sense that I didn't really start this as a book blog, though a book blog is what this blog quickly became. Also I noticed that that first post was barely almost four years ago, noticed that I referred to another online journal of mine in that post, a journal which at that time had reached the thousand post mark, and then I noticed that this blog is approaching the thousand post mark, and I got more ill, and I actually went back and re-opened the tab just to close it again.)

Point being, what John reminded me is, and what that reason for blogging is, is that I've got a passion for fiction and that that's something other people ought to know about. Which, in its plump simplicity, is enough to convince me not to shut this thing down for at least a while longer yet. Lucky you, you guys! Right? Am I right?

Don't answer that.

Of course, none of that does anything to nullify or eliminate any of the sources of gut-wrenching guilt that accompany every half-hearted post, every one-line entry, every radio-silent week (or two) (or three). But what it does do is it leaves the door open for a whole-hearted post to follow that shitty one, for a multiple-paragraph entry to bite the ankle of the short-stack post that preceded it, for a burst of music and voice to dissipate, for a spell, the long-held static fattening the airwaves. What it means is that there's more chance than zero chance that some of what's in my head might make someone reach for a book that they might not have reached for otherwise. What it means is that, at least every now and then, I'm letting my blind, dumb, super-sized passion guide my hand, and that every now and then, it's doing so so I do something that, in my gut, at least feels moderately important, and, in its best moments, both fulfilling and enjoyable. Hopefully for at least one or two other people than me. What this does not mean, on the other hand, is that I've got to start writing finely-tuned 5,000 word critical expositions, or that I've got to start podcasting, or that I need to start doing feature-length interviews with famous people I'd rather shit my pants than sit in a room (for sitting in a room with famous people is likely to make me simply up and shit my pants, and in the choice of both or one, kids, I choose the one). That's a bunch of stuff I'd do, sure, if I didn't have all this other stuff I like to do, such as work for a living (well, okay) and go to school (I can haz graphic design skilz!) and look out windows (oh, shiny). That's also stuff I'd do if I were trying to "make it." Whatever "it" is, I think I'm cool without it, because I've already got what I've got and I think with the right approach, that can be just jim dandy.

Aw, heartfelt, I know. I'll stop now. But, to PowerPoint it up for those of you who skip to the end (as I often do), here's the deal:
  • I'm doing this thing

  • I'm doing other things too

  • You do the voodoo you do

  • Cool