July 16, 2005

Get This Woman a Lit Blog

This story about Alice Harvey who at age 99 and with the use of her one good eye continues to enjoy the good books brought a smile to my face this morning.  If I can still say Joyce at 99, I'll be happy:

Harvey will turn 100 on March 9, 2006.  One of her goals is to read Joyce's master work.

"I don't know if I have the energy to tackle 'Ulysses' anymore," she said. "But I'd like to try."

Harvey said she wanted to read the book when it was published (in 1922 in Paris), but censors banned it on grounds of obscenity and immorality, and it wasn't published in an American edition until 1934. By then, Harvey had moved on to other works.

For now, she is content with multiple readings of the last story in Joyce's collection "The Dubliners." She put on her special glasses, pressed her nose to the page and became lost in the flow of the Joyce's words at the end of "The Dead."

In a thin, quavering voice she read: "It had begun to snow again ... It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

She finished the final sentence and let out a long sigh. She still had some eyesight, and she still had her beloved Joyce.

All was right with Alice Harvey's universe.

July 11, 2005

Speaking of Cannons

On August 20th, Hunter S.'s wish to have his ashes shot out of a cannon will be fulfilled.  Thanks to his good friend Johnny "Don't Call Me Wonka" Depp, "We had talked a couple of times about his last wishes to be shot out of a cannon of his own design. ... All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out." 

June 30, 2005


I guess some people are actually interested in seeing War of the Worlds; others of us would rather watch paint dry.  Still, the subject of alien invasion and martians can be a fascinating one and has a rich history in books going back to at least the days of Swift.  This article in Astrobiology Magazine highlights the role of Mars (and briefly answers the question, "Why Martians instead of Jovians?") in literature:

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), the great Irish writer and satirist, makes a curious reference to Mars's satellites in Gulliver's Travels. In the book, astronomers on the fictional island of Laputa (whose king is fond of solving mathematical problems) are said to have discovered two satellites around Mars. Swift details the orbital mechanics with reference to Kepler's laws.

June 29, 2005


Yesterday, the SoT household celebrated a little Christmas in late June.  Uncle CreditCard (he goes by Cred) bought us a spanking new laptop, complete with a wireless setup, so now we can walk all over the house browsing our favorite cast fetish sites.  Actually, I spent part of yesterday afternoon accompanying the wife to get her stitches removed.  The remainder of the evening, I wore my techie cap and pretended that I knew just what I was doing.  I got the wireless to work, but I can't figure out the damn network thing.  Oh well.

This means that Syntax of Things can now go remote. Expect posts from various rooms of the SoT headquarters, including the library and the magazine room.  Just as when I'm not carrying around a laptop, I'll probably avoid the exercise room.

Anyway, I have a question for you.  Have you bought the George Singleton novel Novel (about a guy named Novel) yet?  Why not?  To further whet your appetite, I give you this short excerpt for your reading pleasure:

Continue reading "Untethered" »

June 28, 2005

MeFi Meta

Cool MetaFilter link of the day: The Invisible Library, "a collection of books that only appear in other books. Within the library's catalog you will find imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound."

June 27, 2005

Not So Perfect Friendship

I read somewhere once that there's nothing more pathetic than a recovering addict who constantly talks about his or her recovery.  Sure, from time to time, I mention on here that I'm a recovering alcoholic, that five years and a few months ago I took a final swig from a bottle of warm Budweiser and haven't had another sip of alcohol since.  But I can't imagine turning that into a memoir.  First of all, it's a pretty boring story.  I decided to stop, saw that my life would be infinitely better if I wasn't a drunken lout, and through will-power and a supportive wife I've been able to avoid alcohol and AA.  Nothing strange or memoir-worthy happened.  I didn't have vodka bottles hidden in the dog food; I didn't hallucinate colorful animals; I simply drank a lot of coffee, smoked too many cigarettes, and became jealous of people who can handle their booze.

That's not to say that good memoirs haven't been written by the recovering drunk or addict.  Pete Hamil's A Drinking Life and Frederick Exley's A Fan's Note come to mind.  Two years ago, James Frey contributed to the genre with his painful tale of addiction and recovery, A Million Little Pieces.  The SF Chronicle claimed that it "could well be seen as the final word on the topic."  Unfortunately for us, it wasn't.

Continue reading "Not So Perfect Friendship" »

June 26, 2005

Loud Prayer

From the 1960 Beatitude Anthology, which I acquired off of a largehearted boy* ebay auction, here's a good one from Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

Loud Prayer

Our father whose art's in heaven
hollow be thy name
unless things change
Thy wigdom come and gone
thy will will be undone
on earth as it isn't heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
at least three times a day
and forgive us our trespasses
as we would forgive those lovelies
whom we wish would trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
too often on weekdays
but deliver us from evil
whose presence remains unexplained
in thy kingdom of power and glory
oh man

*Much thanks to David for the bonus mp3 cd.  Good stuff.

June 22, 2005

Novel Words

How excited am I that George Singleton's new novel Novel: A Novel about a guy named Novel, who has a brother named James and a sister named Joyce, now sits at the top of my To Be Read pile? Very.  To get me ready, and perhaps you interested, here are a few links to some of the more recent reviews of the book:

Continue reading "Novel Words" »

June 15, 2005

Kelly Osbourne's Million Little Pieces

I guess this makes sense:

The headstrong Osbourne already knows what she would like to star in -- an adaptation of the memoir "A Million Little Pieces," by James Frey.

"I read this book, half of it when I was in rehab (last summer) and half when I got out. It helped me get through it. And the story of this guy, the way that he describes his illness, (it) was very similar to mine."

June 10, 2005

The Beaten Generation

The National Personnel Records Center will be making available to the public the military records of some 1.2 million people who served between 1885 and 1939, including those of John F. Kennedy, Henry Fonda, Steve McQueen, Elvis, and Jack Kerouac:

According to records, Kerouac enlisted in the Navy on Aug. 12, 1942, during World War II, at age 20. It took him less than a year to land in a naval hospital in Newport, R.I., where a doctor wrote that he had been diagnosed with "dementia praecox," an antiquated term for schizophrenia.

Kerouac didn't agree with the diagnosis. "As far as I'm concerned," he's quoted in the record, "I get nervous in an emotional way. ... I don't hear voices talking to me from no where but I have a photographic picture before my eyes. When I go to sleep and I hear music playing. I know I shouldn't have told the psychiatrist that, but I wanted to be frank."

Even at that point Kerouac hated the military. "I just can't stand it," Kerouac said, according to the record. "I like to be by myself."

June 09, 2005

Don't Forget the Sunscreen

The 17th Annual San Diego Open Air Book Fair is this Sunday.  I've yet to attend one of these, mainly because a) it's always on Sunday and I usually reserve that day for R&R; b) it's in Hillcrest where parking is always impossible; and c) I usually forget that it's happening.  But this year, I definitely plan on being there if for no other reason than to hear Luis Alberto Urrea read.  Urrea's new novel The Hummingbird's Daughter has been getting a lot of great press, including this review from OPTR in the Rocky Mountain News, and has moved to near the top of the SoT TBR pile.

Anyway, for those of you in the area, here are the details:

The 17th Annual SAN DIEGO OPEN AIR BOOK FAIR will be held on Sunday, June 12, 2005, from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. in the charming Hillcrest area of San Diego. The Fair takes place on the 3800 block of 5th Avenue, between Robinson and University Avenues.
- Over 50 Exhibitor Booths
- New, Used and Antiquarian books
- American, European & Japanese Graphic Novels
- Maps, Prints, Photos and Book Paraphernalia
- Author Stage; readings, book signings
- Appraisal Booth - Three (3) book limit from 12pm-2pm.

June 08, 2005


I've been doing a little rubbernecking on the newswires lately, waiting for the inevitable crash that is a James Frey interview.  You may remember the many Frey interviews before the release of his debut memoir, A Million Little Pieces, in which he claimed that his was the best book of his generation and that he would one day be considered the generation's best writer.  Now that ...Pieces' follow-up, My Friend Leonard, is set for release (June 16) I felt sure that we would see a deluge of articles about Frey.  So far, though, the only one that I've found was actually in the Health section of the Times Online and deals mostly with Frey's recovery from alcohol and drug abuse.  While he doesn't make any wild claims about this book surpassing the Bible, he does make some interesting statements about his recovery, especially concerning his rejection of AA and the notion that addicts are victims of a disease:

Alcohol and drug addictions are a process of making decisions. I decide when I want something, I go get it and use it, and I decide when I want to stop using it. If you stop it’s because you’ve made a decision, not because it’s some disease that has suddenly gone into remission. For a lot of people that notion is unhelpful because it lets them off the hook. People often want to make themselves out to be victims, as opposed to taking responsibility for who they are and what they do.

June 06, 2005

Quincy, M.E.


An Angry Man, messy roommate, world's best medical examiner, self-published author.

If I'd known one of my favorite all-time actors was going to be at the BookExpo, I would have asked one of the fine folks attending it to get me his autograph.

Comin' in Loud & Proud

Rarely does one get a chance to use something learned from a literary novel while standing in line at a truck stop, but it happened to me while at a TA Travel Center in the middle of the Arizona desert.  As I waited to pay for my coffee, a rather friendly trucker standing beside me decided to strike up a conversation about selling ice in the desert and pointed out how the steam was coming off of his Budweiser.  This may have been interesting enough, but at that point he made a comment that still has me thinking that a higher power may operate in the arid regions of the American West:

Trucker:  Yep, just last night I ran over an alligator and messed up the bottom of my cooling system.
Me: An alligator? Where were you to hit an alligator?

See, you have to realize that we were a good eighteen-hour drive from any place that an alligator might wander onto an interstate highway, thus my question to the trucker.  But as soon as I finished asking the question, I recalled that just a day earlier, somewhere north of Dallas, I had stumbled upon this interesting use of the word alligator while reading John McNally's Book of Ralph.  Still, I let the friendly trucker roll his bloodshot eyes and explain:

Aw, sorry 'bout that.  Alligator is what we call the shit left in the road after a tire blows out.  I been a trucker so long I sometimes forget to turn off the CB.

I started to explain to him that I knew the phrase, that I had picked it up only yesterday from a book I was reading, but thought better of it.  I let him keep explaining how his mom, a classy lady with diamond rings the size of lugnuts who has been married to his father--also a trucker--for forty years, speaks in CB, so friendly trucker really never has to turn it off.  For some reason, I don't think he was looking for suggested reading so I wished him good luck repairing the alligator damage and better luck avoiding bears.

After pulling out of the TA, I regretted not having read JT Leroy's Sarah recently.  Imagine that conversation.


Speaking of Leroy, did anyone know he has a blog?

May 30, 2005

Among the Old Bums and Beat Cowboys

Ever wanted to see what residential space inspired by Kerouac would look like?  In Denver, they now have the Kerouac Lofts.  According to the site:

For Kerouac, Denver was the gateway to the future, the broad and rugged American West. He captures the wakening spirit of Denver in those days, and, through his character, Moriarty, Kerouac portrays the relentless energy of the westerner. The Jack Kerouac Lofts pay homage to a life of exuberant discovery and offer a fitting home for those who are "mad to live."

You can see the vision and the "Kerouac inspiration" in this video.

Something tells me that these won't be in a Kerouac-like price range.

May 28, 2005

You Know You're a Redneck If...

SoT will be on a much needed vacation over the next few days.  Time to get away from the May gray and head into the heat and humidity of the bible belt, back to where it all started some 34 1/2 years ago.  I'd hoped to prepare for the trip by reading Dennis Covington's Redneck Riviera.  As someone who grew up not far from the area that gave the book its title, I was interested in seeing what Covington had to say about it.  After all, I was highly impressed by Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain, a dark tale of snake-handling mountain preachers.  In that book, Covington details his adventures into the mountains of northern Alabama to cover the trial of a Pentecostal preacher accused of attempted murder by rattlesnake.  Covington becomes so enamored of the people of these churches--their music, their dancing, their strychnine drinking, snake-charming ways--that he himself takes up the snake.  It really is a good read.  Redneck Riviera, on the other hand, was just okay.  It had very little to do with the actual part of the country I'm familiar with, the stretch of beach along Alabama's Gulf Coast and the Florida panhandle, and more to do with Covington's attempts to secure his father's useless swamp land in central Florida.  Anyway, I was disappointed that there was no mention of mullet tossing at the recently destroyed FloraBama.

Time to catch a plane.  I've preloaded a number of posts that will detail this week's travels in advance.  If I have a chance over the next week, I'll try to pop in with photos and or anecdotes from that neck of the woods I once called home.

May 25, 2005

He Said Smeared

I started to pick up Chuck Palahniuk's new book, Haunted, for my upcoming trip, but after reading a few paragraphs on a random page, I remembered that I had taken a vow to only buy Palahniuk's books used.  Now I'm glad I stuck to it.  I spoke to a Chuck fan yesterday who told me that the new book is "horrible."  And then I read a review by Scott Raab in the July Esquire.  Raab begins his short review by taking a jab at the Cult:  "[Reviewers] are nice to Mr. Palahniuk because of all his Fight Club fan boys, wild with rage, choked by love and loyalty (like Ayn Rand devotees but with tattoos and tire irons), who, unlike their guru, unable to find a voice on their own on the page, tend to act out against strangers who tar their master's sinewy genius with discernment's brush."

From there, Raab goes for the knockout punch:

So I won't dismiss Palahniuk's new book--a "novel" consisting of 23 "short stories" linked by "poems," a thin "narrative," and the conceit that this whole shebang is the work of the flesh- and fame-starved prisoners at a ghoulish writers' colony--as mere crap.  Nothing mere about it: Haunted is crap of a high order, flung fresh against the wall and obsessively smeared by a deeply troubled fellow.  As his cardboard characters' internment gets more grim--no heat, no food, no exit--Chuckles performs his standard striptease: grotesque sex, murder, self-mutilation, and cannibalism.

Shocking? Nah, not once you get used to the reek of relentlessly shitty prose, because every one of these dull bastards thinks and writes just like Chuck Palahniuk....

If you'll recall, I saw Palahniuk read "Guts," one of the stories from this book and the one which he claims has caused countless people to faint or worse at his readings, and have since read it in Playboy (yes, I do read the articles).  I was unimpressed.  While the story is entertaining and has its comedic, and gross, moments, it left me wondering why I had just read it.  If nothing else, I did learn a few new terms for sexual gratification, but I never felt the need to hurl.

In fairness to Chuckles, here's a link to a pretty good essay he wrote about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

May 23, 2005

Give Me More

Finally, a weekend in which I had time to spend reading.  It's been a while, work taking over my life like a bad debt, and when I haven't been busy making money for other people, I've had to catch up on so many other things--"honey do's" they're called--that my reading has been spotty at best.  Over the last month, I've managed to read just one book--a reread of Denis Johnson's The Stars at Noon--so the TBR stack is starting to take on the appearance of an appealing buffet and part of me wants to skip through the bland salad I've promised to eat so that I can take care of the entrees that seem to be calling my name.

As I scanned the stack to find the first victim, I was reminded of Gwenda's post over at the LitBlog Co-op, in which she and numerous commentors to the post discussed what type of readers they are. This is something that I've given a lot of thought to over the years but have never really put into words.  As a way of introduction, I have to say that I come from a family of nonreaders, or rather, a family which sees reading as a utilitarian act only.  Newspapers, the Bible, recipe books, magazines about cooking, gardening, or sports, these all fall within the boundaries of that utilitarian concept.  In other words, one reads for information, entertainment is optional at best.

Continue reading "Give Me More" »

May 21, 2005

Happy Birthday, Sister Morphine

Two hundred years ago Freidrich Wilhelm Adam Serturne brought Morphine into the world. {via}  Today "more than 230 tons of morphine is used each year for medical purposes including pain relief for patients with chronic pain or advanced medical illness and post-operative analgesia."  To help celebrate its 200th birthday, I give you a little something from one of Morphine's most devoted junkies, William S. Burroughs:

I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of a borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness. . . . Most survivors do not remember the delirium in detail. I apparently took detailed notes on sickness and delirium. I have no precise memory of writing the notes which have now been published under the title Naked Lunch. The title was suggested by Jack Kerouac. I did not understand what the title meant until my recent recovery. The title means exactly what the words say: NAKED Lunch--a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of the fork.

The Sickness is a drug addiction and I was an addict for fifteen years. When I say addict I mean an addict to junk (generic term for opium and/or derivatives including all synthetics from demerol to palfium.) I have used junk in many forms: morphine, heroin, dilaudid, eukodal, pantapon, diocodid, diosane, opium, demerol, dolophine, palfium. I have smoked junk, eaten it, sniffed it, injected it in vein-skin-muscle, inserted it in rectal suppositories. The needle is not important. Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction. When I speak of drug addiction I do not refer to keif, marijuana or any preparation of hashish, mescaline, Bannisteria Caapi LSD6 Sacred Mushrooms or any other drug of the hallucinogen group. . . . There is no evidence that the use of any hallucinogen results in physical dependence. The action of these drugs is physiologically opposite to the the action of junk. A lamentable confusion between the two classes of drugs has arisen owing to the the zeal of the U.S. and other narcotic departments.

I have seen the exact manner in which the junk virus operates through fifteen years of addiction. The pyramid of junk, one level eating the level below (it is no accident that junk higher-ups are always fat and the addict int eh street is always thin) right up to the top or tops since there are many junk pyramids feeding on peoples of the world all built on basic principles of monopoly:

1--Never give anything away for nothing.
2--Never give more than you have to give (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait).
3--Always take everything back if you possibly can.

The Pusher always gets it back. The addict needs more and more junk to maintain a human form . . . buy off the Monkey.

From "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness"

May 11, 2005

I Think of Dean Moriarty

Mark directs us to a news item about a letter which will be auctioned this month that Jack Kerouac wrote to Marlon Brando, urging the actor to buy the movie rights to On the Road and play Dean Moriarty in the film:

"I'm praying that you'll buy ON THE ROAD and make a movie of it," Kerouac wrote, admitting he hoped to rake in enough money to "establish myself and my mother a trust fund for life, so I can really go roaming round the world" and "be free to write what comes out of my head & free to feed my buddies when they're hungry & not worry about my mother."

In the letter, Kerouac outlined his desire to reshape theater and the cinema through adaptations of his work:

"What I wanta do is re-do the theater and the cinema in America, give it a spontaneous dash, remove pre-conceptions of 'situation' and let people rave on as they do in real life," Kerouac wrote. "That's what the play is: no plot in particular, no 'meaning' in particular, just the way people are. Everything I write I do in the spirit where I imagine myself an Angel returned to earth seeing it with sad eyes as it is."

KerouacontheroadAccording to the story, Brando never responded to the letter.

The same year in which he wrote this letter (1957), Kerouac penned a short essay in which he declared that Brando was part of a "Revolution of Love."  In the essay, "America's New Trinity of Love: Dean, Brando, Presley,"* Kerouac wrote of Brando:

Elegant complainers say Marlon Brando is ill-dressed, vain, self-centred, Kowalski-Terry Malloy hoodlumish, irresponsible; they picture him as wandering away to leave his girl crying. Yet what is it he has?--that made a girl say "I just feel that Marlon Brando would know how to love me better than any man in the world, that he would go skipping down the street with me hand-in-hand, that he would do anything I asked him, and be kind. Because his soul is free and that's why he's so beautiful!"... Brando is indeed a free soul; his individual approach to his work as well as to his way of life bespeak a strong faith in himself as a man and as an American.

In case you're wondering, the on-again-off-again film adaptation of On the Road is still in pre-production.  Francis Ford Coppola has owned the rights to the book since 1968.  Over the years, the project has had a number of screenwriters, including Russell Banks, and any number of actors--Depp, Phoenix, Pitt, Crudup--have been mentioned to play various roles.  While there's part of me that wants this book to remain unfilmed, I think it deserves its place on the screen, especially considering the fact that it was what Kerouac wanted.  My biggest fear: Tom Cruise, in any role, even best grip. 

*Complete essay below the cut.

Continue reading "I Think of Dean Moriarty" »

May 10, 2005

Mississippi Dreaming

To those of you who took my advice and tuned in to Mississippi Public Radio on Saturday to hear the rebroadcast of Barry Hannah's appearance, I apologize for not alerting you to the last minute change. Apparently and without explanation, Mr. Hannah's reading was not part of the Thacker Mountain Radio broadcast after all. 

To make up for it, here's a recent article about Hannah which appeared in Stop Smiling magazine:

In Oxford, there are stories – legends, myths – about Barry Hannah's famous distrust for his profession. Poets con pussy and academics are fakes, some say, speaking for the Barry they used to know. But Hannah does not volunteer such anecdotes in conversation. They are a part of years ago, just like the Oxford bar with decor like Oliver Stone's asshole – a place for vets and drinkers, MIA since James Carville manned the War Room in Little Rock, Arkansas. Barry Hannah was different then. He is different now. “His awful '70s decade had gone past twenty years,” Ned Maxy wonders in Hannah's 1996 High Lonesome. “Finally they were over.”

Speaking of Oxford, Mississippi, the town's mayor, who also owns the amazing Square Books and is a frequent contributor to NPR, recently talked about William Faulkner's legacy and how the city has struggled to forge an identity separate from its most famous citizen.  Also, NPR's Morning Edition discussed the rededication of Rowan Oak, Faulkner's Oxford home, and the literary pilgrims who flock there.

Finally, if you've never visited Rowan Oak, here's your chance: a virtual tour.

May 09, 2005

Limit of a Function

Louis Lethold, a man whose book caused me countless hours of frustration, was found dead at his home at age 81.

Leithold wrote "The Calculus," which became a standard text and was credited with changing the way the subject is studied. The book, first published in 1968, is widely used in high schools and universities and is in its seventh printing.

May 04, 2005

Barry Hannah on Thacker Mountain Radio

An emailer, who wishes to remain nameless, has alerted me to an appearance by SoT favorite Barry Hannah on Thacker Mountain Radio tomorrow night at 5:00PM Central time.  According to Thacker Mountain's Web site:

When you want to end the season with a bang, the first writer you call is Barry Hannah, author of such modern-day classics as Geronimo Rex and Airships. Our friend, mentor and the Godfather of Oxford Letters has just returned home from a year's residency at Texas State University - San Marcos, and he has agreed to read new material on this special spring season closer. Not to be missed.

For those of us outside of the state of Mississippi, we'll have to wait until the show is rebroadcast on Mississippi Public Radio this coming Saturday also at 5PM CST.

I'm glad to hear the Mr. Hannah is recovered enough from his hospitalization earlier this year, and even more happy to hear that he has new material ready for the public.  I'm definitely marking my calendar for this one.

Audio of Hannah discussing 9/11 on Thacker Mountain Radio.

May 01, 2005

Picture Pages


Dog Vanya’s submaxillary gland was long ago carried out the bottom of the chin through an incision and sutured in place, leading saliva outside to the collecting funnel...(p.78)

Need something to pass away another lazy day Sunday?  Check out "Zak Smith's Illustration for Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow."

April 27, 2005

Pâté of the Dog

I finally got my hands on a copy of the Spring edition of the Oxford American--the "Southern Food Issue."  Being a sucker for good southern cuisine, especially the dishes found in diners scattered along backwoods two-lane highways, with all of its fried and meat-saturated goodness, I was interested in seeing how dumplings and okra and raccoon would be celebrated by the literati.  My favorite essay so far is George Singleton's hilarious "An Ode to Hangover Cures." Here's an excerpt:

In the past--yeah, yeah, yeah, I just went through rehab, so trust me that I'm clearheaded and slightly rational on the following recipe--I started many a day with what I called Poor Man's Pâté Surprise.  I minced a can of Vienna sausages as fine as possible (a blender would work best, but remember, the damn noise could kill you) and threw them into a blue-speckled, enamelware mixing bowl.  Then, recklessly and without rubber gloves, I minced one medium jalapeño and one orange habenero, then threw them on top of the Viennas, seeds and all.  During particularly vile, rabid, tenacious hangovers, I always hoped that the pepper seeds would lodge in my intestinal tract, cause diverticulitis, and kill me.

Then I added about two tablespoons of mayo, two squirts of yellow mustard, and a couple teaspoons of sweet-pickle relish.  I hand-whipped the concoction with a wooden spoon and served it atop saltine crackers, or between two slices of white Sunbeam bread.  I never officially recorded the outcome, but it seemed as if my hands would start burning uncontrollably about the same time that I could see again through the tears.  Granted, my hangover remedy might be on the same level as a guy who bangs his thumb with a hammer so he forgets about his gout, but what the hell.  By the time I knew what was going on, my headache had disappeared.

April 25, 2005

Justifications Justified

Got this idea from Gwenda and decided to apply it to a book that is currently on my "to read" list.  Here's the 100 most frequently used words in the abridged version of William T. Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down:

act  again  against  almost  always  another  authority  away  between  brown  calculus  came  cannot  case  class  come  course  day  death  defense  does  down  end  enemy  even  example  fact  find  first  friend  get  give  go  good  government  gun  hand  himself  honor  itself  justifications  justified  kill  know  law  life  little  long  man  may  means  men  might  moral  mr  muslim  must  new  nothing  now  old  once  order  others  own  peasants  people  perhaps  place  police  power  pulo  right  rule  said  say  see  should  soldiers  stalin  state  still  take  thing  think  three  time  two  upon  violence  violent  vollmann  want  war  whose  william  without  words  world  years

Check out more stats on the book, including its readability index, here.

April 20, 2005

Can't Lose for Winning

Murphy's Law as it applies to me:  Buy a ticket to see one of your favorite bands and find out that one of your favorite poets will be making an appearance in town on the very same night.  Yep, while I'm standing in line to get a good spot near the stage for Wilco's show, Lawrence Ferlinghetti will be performing as part of the 12th annual Border Voices Poetry Fair at San Diego State. 

This Ferlinghetti poem applies:

Continue reading "Can't Lose for Winning" »

April 19, 2005

A Fortunate Misfortune

One of the very few times I've ever enjoyed a Madonna song was when I saw John Wesley Harding cover "Like a Prayer" in concert many years ago.   Harding was an engaging, funny, and highly entertaining troubadour who ended up being the highlight of an otherwise forgettable show (the Ocean Blue and the Mighty Lemon Drops were the headliners), and I did my best to follow his musical career after that night.  After a while, though, he sort of disappeared from my radar.  Now I'm reading that Harding, otherwise known as Wesley Stace, has been in the writing business for several years.  From this description of his novel Misfortune, it almost sounds as if Stace has been collaborating with Colin Meloy, as the two seem to tread down the same thematic paths:

Stace's novel, "Misfortune", is the story of a baby rescued from a cinder heap and raised in the richest household in 1820s England. Eccentric Lord Loveall welcomes the chance to replace his long-dead sister and christens the child Rose. The twist? The loveliest heiress on Blighty's shores happens to be a boy. The jolts that follow Rose's unveiling make for a period page-turner that its author characterizes as "hardcore Masterpiece Theatre."

But you have to remember that this is not just a novelist.  This is John Wesley Harding of 13 albums who has played with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the advanced copies of the novel came with an otherwise unavailable CD of "chapters and verses" featuring two readings and three songs by the writer.  Lucky for us, Stace has made them available on his Web site.  Here's my favorite, "The Ballad of Miss Fortune."

April 18, 2005


Talk about your schizophrenia: Check out MathFiction, a site that collects significant mathematical references in fiction.  Here's part of the entry for Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

A whole chapter is devoted to The Monty Hall Problem. Towards the end of this chapter, Christopher remarks that "logic can help you work out the right answer." Rather ironically (though the irony will probably be unnoticed by the vast majority of readers), Christopher's answer is wrong, because he assumes (an unstated assumption - very sloppy for someone who aspires to be a mathematician!) that all six theoretically possible outcomes are equally likely. Once you accept that this is not necessarily so, all the mathematical reasoning becomes completely worthless: it all hinges on whether you think the game show host (presumably Monty Hall himself?) is trying to help you or prevent you from winning the car. If the former, then you should definitely switch (if he's wholeheartedly trying to help, he won't offer the possibility of switching if you've already made the right choice); if the latter then you definitely shouldn't. And the only way to determine whether the host is being helpful or not is by using all the things that Christopher is unable to cope with - nuances of voice, body language, and a basic understanding of game show economics and the motivation of game show hosts.

This site is a great distraction, especially when you are watching your favorite baseball team's putrid offense blow an amazing performance by their new franchise pitcher.

{via MeFi}

April 05, 2005

R.I.P. Saul Bellow


NEW YORK (AP) -- Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, a master of comic melancholy who in "Herzog," "Humboldt's Gift" and other novels both championed and mourned the soul's fate in the modern world, died Tuesday. He was 89.

Punch Drunk

Maybe it's the romanticism of Opening Day or the coming of spring and April "with his shoures soote" or my effort to make sure your brain has a healthy dose of verse which researchers say is better for you than prose; whatever it is, I seem to be in a poetry frame of mind these days.  Today as I recover from the hangover of sedation dentistry, I give you Baudelaire's 1857 poem "To the Reader" from the book Flowers of Evil.  This English translation by Robert Lowell is part of the amazing site fleursdumal.org where you can find the poem--and the entire Flowers of Evil--in its original French, as well as an mp3 of the poem in that language {possibly NSFW if your neighbor speaks French}. 

To the Reader

Continue reading "Punch Drunk" »

April 02, 2005

All Pope, All the Time

This is they type of thing that comes to mind when you wake up to the TV and CNN's 24/7 Pope Death Watch. 

The Dying Christian to his Soul
           Alexander Pope

Vital spark of heav'nly flame!
    Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
    Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying,
    O the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

    Hark! they whisper; angels say,
    Sister Spirit, come away!
    What is this absorbs me quite?
    Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav'n opens on my eyes! my ears
    With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
    O Death! where is thy sting?

March 18, 2005

Breaking News: Get Well Soon, Barry

Hopefully it's nothing a few shots of the rotgut won't cure, but author and SoT favorite Barry Hannah is currently in an intensive care unit at a Texas Hospital being treated for an "undisclosed illness."  According to his wife, Susan Hannah, "Barry is ill and in the hospital. He's undergoing treatment and holding his own and taking it day by day."
{spotted at LHB}

March 17, 2005

A Makeover Fit for a King

While giving the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox (did you hear? They won the World Series) a makeover, the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy guys decided to do their magic on a very famous Red Sox fan.  Click on the picture below to see the results.


March 12, 2005

Saint Jack's Day


Today, he would have turned 83.  More on Kerouac and a Kerouac-related project on Monday.

Cognac Blues 
by Jack Kerouac
You gets your just dues in
      Be indifferent to this
         Indifferent dog
(Yet, honest indifference
  were better than cant)
      When I hear pious 
   Bullshit about Justice
& Democracy and I know
   the hypocrites are lying
      in their false teeth
I'm not indifferent to God
      I'm indifferent to
   I cant think of anything 
More ridiculous than me
      On earth-

March 10, 2005

More on "Host"

Tonight, John Ziegler discussed David Foster Wallace's Atlantic Monthly article "Host" on his show.  He said that he wanted to interview Wallace, invited him several times, but Wallace claimed that he was too shy, didn't want to come on the show, that he doesn't like doing interviews.  The analogy that Wallace apparently gave was that he would never play three sets of tennis with John McEnroe after writing an essay on him.  Ziegler hinted that Wallace may be a tad insane--even called him gutless--and said that his last conversation with Wallace did not end well so the chances are slim that he'll ever be on the John Ziegler Show. 

It seems that Ziegler was not all that unhappy with the article although he admits that there were some glaring misrepresentations and errors.  He plans on going over the piece in several segments over the next few weeks.  On tonight's segment, he and his show's news anchor, Leah Brandon, gave their initial impressions.  Brandon said that Wallace did a pretty good job of describing Ziegler; however, she has no memory of ever being asked to call him Zig or Mr. Z.

I just happened to have KFI on tonight, so I doubt I'll be able to follow up on this. 

By the way, Ziegler has posted a link to the article if you haven't yet grabbed a copy. Update: Ziegler was forced to remove the article.  Oddly enough, the directive came from the Atlantic Monthly AND Clear Channel.

March 08, 2005

Sonic Crews

Now here's something I hope you'll really like:

+ Harry Crews - "Gospel Singer"*

Before you download this file, you should know that this isn't a reading by Harry Crews the writer.  This is a song by a band made up of Kim Gordon (yep, her), Lydia Lunch, and Sadie Mae.  This is from their 1990 album Naked in Garden Hills.

From the Harry Crews (the writer) website

The songs, marginally related to the novels, are at best, passable thrash, of the loud, abrasive, dissonant kind. At worst, the music is a poor attempt to cajole the audience into reading Crews's books. Among the various appeals to the audience, "We're trying to get people to read," and "Say no to the sky channel, say yes to the book."

Lydia Lunch says: "Harry Crews, a man by the same name as the band. I know it's confusing cause you never heard of him. You might have heard of her [Kim Gordon]—you might have heard of the wrestler on the drums—but you never heard of the man because in this country, what the fuck have you heard of? But that's what I'm here for—educational reasons . . ."

"Harry Crews. A man that looks like one of those kind of dogs that ain't got no fur on their body that are full of wrinkles. He wrote about 10 of my favorite books . . . You'll never get any cause they aren't published here, that's why we caused the band to be created to inform you about the songs taken from the books that we stole and ripped off from the man that couldn't be here tonight because what the fuck would he want to come here for?"

* This was originally spotted on the mp3blogs aggregator several weeks ago.  I've since forgotten the original source blog.  If it happens to be you, let me know and I'll give full credit.

February 28, 2005

The Familiar Stranger

Writer and teacher James Sallis discusses the reading and re-reading of Albert Camus's The Stranger, one of the novels on my most re-read list:

It really is true that Camus's is a different novel each time I read it. I've little doubt that it was the novel's essential rebelliousness to which, reading it as a teenager, I first responded, and now I ask my students: Do you see a parallel between the manner in which Meursault holds emotion at bay, never seems able to do what is expected of him, and fails again and again to fit in, and the behavior of alienated adolescents as they begin to form themselves as personalities, to give a good imitation of being human?

Yes, we talk about the novel's philosophical background. I sketch existentialism's history, its literature, the disaccord between Sartre and Camus. But literature, I warn them (contrast Sartre and Camus here), is about people, not ideas, and the novel at hand is just that, a novel, an attempt to let us inside one man's head, and by no means a primer in existentialism. Flannery O'Connor once remarked that theme and meaning in a story are folded deeply into the heart of the thing, that they're not like the string on a sack of feed, where you just have to pick it out, then you can rip the story open and feed the chickens.

February 23, 2005

Across the Wire

Despite it being less than twenty miles from my house, I've been to Mexico only four times in the seven years I've lived here--three times to get drunk and buy cheap gifts in Tijuana and once to eat lobster in Ensenada.  I know little of that world just across the border other than what the news gives us, the typical stories about illegal border crossers or the drug trade.  Only occasionally do the stories detail anything remotely positive about the place. 

During weeks such as this when heavy rains bring the possibility of landslides, threatening million-dollar homes in rich San Diego subdivisions, I can't help but think of what has to be happening on the hillsides of Tijuana where makeshift shacks cling precariously to muddy earth and where television news crews don't dare to go.  That's why I decided to pick up Luis Alberto Urrea's Across the Wire, an eye-opening account of Urrea's numerous missionary trips into the barrios and poverty-stricken communities of Tijuana and northern Baja.  This book details the grim reality of the mostly forgotten, the little children with little hope, the mothers and fathers trying to make something out of absolutely nothing.  All the while, the skyline of San Diego, with all of its implied hope, looms in the distance, twenty miles but very far away. 

From the prologue to Across the Wire:

Continue reading "Across the Wire" »

February 22, 2005

Remembering Hunter

Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Managing Editor David McCumber remembers a friend:

Most of the time, he simply wanted to share a laugh. As savvy and skeptical as he was as a journalist, it's easy to forget his almost boyish sense of fun. Sometimes, it meant firing .22 tracers from his hand-crank Gatling gun across the Woody Creek-Lanado Road when he got irritated at the traffic, or blowing an old Jeep pickup into thousands of pieces of flaming shrapnel on his back forty. Sometimes, it meant posing in his hot tub with Mona, an inflatable doll -- the only one of her plastic ilk, I'll bet, who earned a book dedication ("To Mona, who made this outburst possible").

Sometimes, it meant driving crazy-fast through a blizzard with the top down in one of his two ancient red convertibles, negotiating four-wheel skids on icy curves while fiddling absently with the stereo, trying to get the lyrics to the Cowboy Junkies' "Where Are You Tonight?"

Or posting crude steel vultures with glowing red eyes at the top of his driveway, or scattering dozens of plastic cockroaches in his refrigerator, or setting a large, live hog loose in a friend's restaurant dining room.

At the same time, his accomplishments as a journalist and literary lion were monumental. He will be remembered with the likes of Twain and Mencken -- and should be.

February 20, 2005

Gonzo Gone

Damn, damn, damn.  According to reports, Hunter S. Thompson killed himself.

Here's the Denver Post's story.

His final column was about a conversation with Bill Murray in which he discusses his newly invented sport, "shotgun golf."

February 15, 2005

A Million Little Projects

The self-proclaimed best writer of his generation, James Frey, author of the memoir A Million Little Pieces, will write the screen adaptation of Jake Coburn's Prep.*  It appears that Frey has been busy.  According to the same Variety article:

He's adapting [A Million Little Pieces] into a screenplay for Warner Bros...

[In addition] Frey is developing a TV pilot for 20th Century Fox and has written another book, "My Friend Leonard," a sequel to "A Million Little Pieces" that's due to be published in June.

{Story originally spotted on Televator, perhaps the only thing I've ever found useful on the elevator ride up to my office.}

* Not to be confused with the Prep discussed here.

February 14, 2005

Can You Dig It?

Remember Alabama legislator Gerald Allen, the guy who has proposed a bill in the Alabama House that would ban any book, play or film which portrays homosexuality in a positive manner from any state-funded institution?  Well it seems Mr. Allen has received a nice Valentines gift from Michael Holloway Perronne.  The gay novelist sent Allen a copy of his novel, A Time Before Me, along with a shovel.  "If Mr. Allen is determined to bury such great works as The Color Purple, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Brideshead Revisited, then I would be honored to have my own work buried with such classics. Mr. Allen can use the shovel I sent him to start digging his hole," explained Mr. Perronne.

February 11, 2005

Gray, Rainy Day


He left us all a little better than how he found us.  AND he was married to Marilyn Monroe.

+ Watch this clip (Real) of Arthur Miller discussing Mark Twain (from the Ken Burns documentary on Twain).

February 05, 2005

The Damage Is Already Done

For those of you keeping score, here are fifteen books which the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools would like to see taken off of their kids reading lists:

  1. All the Pretty Horses
  2. Animal Dreams
  3. The Awakening
  4. The Bean Trees
  5. Beloved
  6. Black Boy
  7. Fallen Angels
  8. The Hot Zone
  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  10. Lords of Discipline
  11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  12. Song of Solomon
  13. Stotan
  14. This Boy’s Life

Links will direct you to a disclaimer which aims to assure "1.  You are an adult (18 years or older) and have read and understand this warning. 2. You understand that the material may involve language, content and themes of an adult, objectionable or controversial nature. 3. IN NO EVENT WILL ClassKC.org BE LIABLE TO YOU FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND resulting from viewing or any other use of this material."  From there, you'll be treated to a comical treatment of each of these tawdry books, including this in their examination of All the Pretty Horses:  "McCarthy has a distracting writing style, using minimal punctuation (no quotation marks in dialogue, long run-on sentences and absence of apostrophes) and the general sense of gloom that pervades the book. There is a lot of Spanish dialogue throughout the book with no explanation for someone who does not speak that language."

{via The Reading Experience}

February 03, 2005

In Motion

If you have time over the next few days, you should do yourself a favor and check out "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience."  This site is a vast collection of maps, text, and images from the various stages of black migration in the United States from the slave days to the present.   The presentation itself isn't the best in the world, but the content is more than ample for those interested in exploring the various periods of African American migration and how it influenced everything from the economy to music to literature.

This site reminded me of one of my favorite classes from the good old graduate school days, a seminar dedicated to the Harlem Renaissance.  While I was already familiar with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston from other courses, this class introduced me to the likes of Jean Toomer (his novel Cane remains one of my all-time favorites), Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman.

Somewhat related, several weeks ago, Downhill Battle, an organization which works "to end the major label monopoly and build a better, fairer music industry," began a new campaign, Eyes on the Screen, with an aim to distribute and coordinate screenings of the documentary Eyes on the Prize.  This film originally aired in six parts on PBS in early 1987 but has since all but disappeared from distribution mainly due to the fact that many of the images used in the documentary are still protected by U.S. copyright law and proper license has not been secured for their use.  In the first few days of the campaign, Downhill Battle posted bittorrents of the first three episodes with plans to provide all fourteen (eight additional episodes were aired in the early 90s) but they soon received a cease and desist order from lawyers representing the film and have since pulled the bittorrents from their site. 

It's a sticky issue, but one I hope gets worked out in the very near future.  I remember seeing this documentary when it aired.  To say it was an eye-opener is understating it a bit. 

February 01, 2005

Hell of a Collection

MeFi points the way to PennSound, an online archive of poetry readings.  It's an interesting and vast collection and one that can really make up for a day spent staring at and manipulating and worrying over numbers. In the hour or so I've spent  listening and exploring the archive, I've been most pleased with this recording of Richard Hell.

January 31, 2005

The Quiet Catalyst

Lucien Carr, an important but lesser known figure in the Beat movement and who later became a well-respected newsman, passed away last week:

Any practical assistance Mr. Carr gave to the Beat movement came as an encouraging editor, the profession he pursued for nearly half a century at United Press and United Press International. It was Mr. Carr, for example, who gave Kerouac the roll of teletype paper, pilfered from U.P., on which the author wrote "On the Road," and it was Mr. Carr who was among the first to read the novel and offer advice, which may or may not have been taken. As Ginsberg once said, "Lou was the glue."

Chroniclers of the era and biographers of its writers have always had as much trouble placing Mr. Carr in the group snapshot of the Beats as they have had in defining the movement. Both defied description. The one episode all seize upon came while Mr. Carr was still at Columbia. In repulsing the homosexual advances of a hanger-on of the Beat crowd, Mr. Carr stabbed his pursuer with a Boy Scout knife and killed him. Mr. Carr served a brief time in prison for manslaughter, but was later pardoned.

Neglected Little Wasteland

Last we heard of Chuck Pahlniuk Palhniuk Palahniuk he was touring the globe reading that story, the one that supposedly made people pass out.  I'm sure he's still adding to his running tally of victims, but tonight he's actually participating in the Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Prior to that engagement, he was interviewed by the school's paper,* and the only thing of interest in the piece is Chuck's answer to a strange question about the possibility of there being an "underground explosion in literature" as a reaction to the growing nature of globalized media:

I think that there will be, and it's not just my opinion. The Wall Street Journal had done some pieces a couple years ago about how the new status object, the new status pastime for younger generations had become reading, being seen with certain books-and writing, because readers eventually become writers. So I have to wonder if writing isn't going to be the next MTV, the next popular media for the next generation, if we're going to see this explosion in short stories and in novels eventually. It's been a neglected little wasteland. So few people read and pay attention to books, and yet books are really a fantastic gateway for people to get a vision of the world. Books require so little capital to create and distribute, so I have to think books are due for a big comeback.

Chuck's next book, Haunted, a novel made up of "twenty-three of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach-churning tales you'll ever encounter," will hit shelves on May 17th.

*May require registration. 

Fugly Monday

Getting off the couch to write anything for today's post has proven to be a Herculean effort if for no other reason than the fact that I'm so caught up in Chuck Kinder's Last Mountain Dancer that I want to stay with the book until its last tall tale is told.  The only thing that can get me off the couch--other than the list of chores left for me by a wife who had to work on Sunday and the promise of some boiled shrimp if I can muster up the energy to boil them--is to share one of the many hilarious passages from this book:

Continue reading "Fugly Monday" »

January 26, 2005

Pox on Shakespeare

According to an article in the February 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Shakespeare not only suffered from syphilis but it's possible that his death was the result of treatment for the "malady of France":

To support the claims, Dr. John Ross [the study's author], of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston, points to four primary lines of evidence: the prevalence of syphilis in Shakespeare's England; the bard's interest in, and knowledge of, STDs; documentation by and about Shakespeare; and his physical appearance.

Surviving hospital records indicate that English hospitals during the mid to late 16th century were flooded with syphilis patients. In 1579, one physician wrote that 75 percent of patients were being treated for "the French pox," a reference to syphilis.

Ross wrote that Shakespeare in his works variously called syphilis "the pox," "the malady of France," "the infinite malady," "the incurable bone-ache," "the hoar leprosy," and "the good-year," which is a corruption of "goujere," a French term meaning prostitute.

Shakespeare's contemporaries, like Christopher Marlowe, rarely mention syphilis or venereal diseases in their texts, but Ross believes that many of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets contain one or more references to STDs. He counted 55 such lines in "Measure for Measure," 61 lines in "Troilus and Cressida," and 67 lines in "Timon of Athens."

He believes most of the references either describe aspects of the illness, as in the "embossed sores" from act 2 scene 7 of "As You Like It," or treatments for the diseases, particularly syphilis.

"Shakespeare had a knowledge of syphilis that was clinically exact," Ross told Discovery News.   

You can read the paper's abstract here.

Next week:  Clap for Homer.

January 19, 2005

"In what ethereal dances, By what eternal streams"

As I'm sure you know, today marks the 196th anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe's birth. It also marks the 56th time that a mysterious cloaked figure known as the Poe Toaster has visited Poe's grave in Baltimore and left three roses and a half-empty bottle of French cognac. There has been much speculation about the identity of and meaning behind the Poe Toaster, but the answers remain a mystery.

On my only visit to Baltimore, a business trip several years ago, I planned on seeing three things: Babe Ruth's birthplace, Camden Yards, and Poe's grave. Unfortunately, the trip coincided with the random snipering in the D.C. area, and people in Baltimore were warned that they might want to be careful venturing out of doors. Undeterred, I caught a cab from my hotel to the Westminster Burying Grounds and Catacombs only to discover that tours weren't being offered that day. I did end up getting a nice cab ride back to the hotel. Thanks to a marathon or bike race or some sort of overachieving, the cabbie had to go miles out of the way through block after block of burned out row houses.  I kept staring up at the cloudy Maryland sky wondering how to pronounce the word Amontillado.

See also:

+ E.A. Poe at Celebrity Morgue
+ Blurry photo of the Poe Toaster
+ Tale of the Poe Toaster
+ An interpretation of "The Raven" by John Astin
+ Wikisource Poe archive

January 18, 2005

Impressions Before Reshelving

This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of short impressions on the books that I'm reading this year.  Hopefully those of you interested in some of these works will be compelled either to read them or find out more about them from other sources.  Of course,  feedback or other viewpoints on the book(s) in question are more than welcomed.

OldfriendsAfter reading Rake's review of Stephen Dixon's Old Friends, I wasn't sure about reading the book.  Not because of anything that Rake wrote in his review, but like him, I'm not a fan of novels about writers, especially novels about "writers writing about writers" as Rake puts it.  Yet I kept reading the praise for the book and I decided to give it a chance.  Sure enough, it took most of the 200 pages before I finally decided that this novel had been worth the "risk."  At first, I started to put it down, not willing to follow the various paths--the flashbacks, the phone calls, the letters--to find out about two aging friends, Irv and Leonard, two writers who are both dealing with mental and physical deterioration in their own drastic ways.  Not until the last third of the novel when Leonard's Lyme disease has rendered him unable to write or even communicate with any degree of lucidity did I even begin to care about what happens to these two guys.  The final meeting in the convalescent home made up for it in a hurry.  In this final dozen or so pages, Dixon convinced me that Leonard and Irv were worth reading about.  The dialogue between a man trying to write the final chapter on his friendship and a man who no longer recognizes his friend much less remembers the many chapters of their friendship is a poignant reminder of the fragile nature of creativity and inspiration.


HauntedhillbillyThere are probably parts of the United States south of the Mason-Dixon line where the reaction to Derek McCormack's The Haunted Hillbilly might be similar to the one Rushdie's The Satanic Verses received in Iran.  After all, you don't go messing around with Hank Williams (Senior, that is).  If these people could suspend their icon worship long enough to enjoy the sarcasm and satire of McCormack's phantasmagoric handling of the legend's biography, they just might find themselves slapping their knees more than once while reading this novel.  There is some historical accuracy--the six standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry, the back surgery, the marital problems--McCormack's story, however, is anything but. It is narrated by a vampire couturier who becomes romantically obsessed with Williams.  Not only does Nudie, the vampire-narrator, design the fancy suits which help to launch Williams' career, but he becomes the puppet-master, using drugs and black magic to manipulate the troubadour. It doesn't take long before you realize that this book won't have a happy ending.  Funny, perhaps, but happiness ain't in the cards.  Just as with the historical Hank, McCormack's Hank's alcoholism and the jealousy of his rivals ultimately get the better of him.  Nudie is left to stitch together and preserve the pieces of Hank's career, all the while finding the next fancy suit to tailor.

January 14, 2005

"King Weirdo"

The following is from the essay "King Weirdo" by Terry Southern. The entire piece can be found in Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern:

Continue reading ""King Weirdo"" »

January 03, 2005

It's All So Meta

I've been a fan the Metacritic service for some time, so it's nice to see that they've finally started ranking books alongside films, music, and games.  (via MeFi.)

December 28, 2004

Regarding a Loss

In case you haven't heard, Susan Sontag passed away this morning.  Ed has a nice collection of links to some of her essays, lectures, and interviews.  "Notes on 'Camp'" is a favorite of mine.

December 23, 2004

Another Mood Helper

In order to help those of you still struggling to get into the Christmas swing of things, here's a video of Robert Pinsky reading a poem by 17th century poet Robert Herrick.  If you'd rather read it for yourself, here's the poem:

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honour to this Day,
That sees December turned to May.

If we may ask the reason, say
The why and wherefore all things here
Seem like the Spring-time of the year?        

Why does chilling Winters morn
Smile like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like to a Mead new-shorn,

Thus, on the sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To Heaven and the under-Earth.

We see him come and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his showers
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

The darling of the world is come
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart.        

Which we will give him, and bequeath
The Holly, and this Ivy wreath,
To do him honour, who's our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

December 14, 2004

"Standing erect, with perfect unconscious grace"

The following is an excerpt from Jack Kerouc's journal.  This entry is dated January 30, 1948, when Kerouac was in the middle of writing The Town and the City, his first published novel.

Tonight, wrote 2500-words, but with an awful sense of emptiness and musing indifference—that is, I could sit for hours just musing and doing nothing else.  I just wrote mechanically, without seizures of feeling or mood of any kind (like [Anthony] Trollope is supposed to have written.)  Plainly, I’ll have to come around to myself, or something, again.  My mother claims that my friends are a bad influence on me, that none of them really wish me well, and all seek to usurp something I have which they don’t have.  I can’t reconcile myself to this, but I know damn well I have always partly agreed with her.  In a sense, my mother still wants me to join her in league against the rest of the world, and in another sense she is shrewd and understands clearly the futility of my enthusiasm for an idle life among such friends (who never work or care about anything.)  But there is madness in everything.  I am really confused these days.  The realization that I must discover my own will and exert it seems brutal and unfair and unsympathetic and somehow uninteresting.  And I know I’m not a man yet, I’m not standing erect, with perfect unconscious grace, the way some men do, workingmen, men with families, men who decide and act every day.  I’m a ‘writer’—and I never should have been a ‘writer.’  I don’t even look like a writer, I look like a lumberjack, or a lumberjack bard like Jack London.  I’m a Canuck farmer among the ‘eager young students’ and I’ve learned all their airs—I don’t even believe in them….Also, I’m sick of sadness, and castration.

December 09, 2004

This Is Doing Wonders for the Mood

Would someone please give Alabama State Rep. Gerald Allen a deep, long, loving man-hug and tell him that he can move to Montana and live on a ranch surrounded by a moat so that he won't be subjected to all of this evil gayness terrorism?  If nothing else it might spare all of us his little attempt to act as the heterosexual savior and defender of values.  Here's what he told the Guardian:

"Traditional family values are under attack," Allen informs me. They've been under attack "for the last 40 years". The enemy, this time, is not al-Qaida. The axis of evil is "Hollywood, the music industry". We have an obligation to "save society from moral destruction". We have to prevent liberal libarians and trendy teachers from "re-engineering society's fabric in the minds of our children". We have to "protect Alabamians".

{Link from Bookslut}

December 08, 2004

Education--American Style

I'm way behind in my Gaddis reading, so the news that good old Cliff has now made all of his Notes available online gave me some hope.  I'm joking of course, but could you imagine someone attempting to make Cliffs Notes for The Recognitions?  However, if you're struggling with Silas Marner in your own book club, Cliff has just the solution.  You can get some basic plot summary for free, or for $5.99, you can download a pdf version of the full Cliffs Note for the book.

See also:  CliffsNotes' Shakepeare Glossary.

December 04, 2004

So That's What They Look Like

If you can't wait for the CSPAN airing or for the bloggers to post a recap of the event themselves, brooklynvegan (who is also known to post some damn fine mp3s) has some photos from the Book Bloggers Panel in New York yesterday.  The panel included litblog heavies Maud Newton, Ron Hogan, Michael Othofer, George Murray, and Laila Lalami.

December 02, 2004

Email, Eggers, Excerpt!?!

I don't get a lot of email requests from non-spammers, so when one lands in the SoT box I feel an overwhelming need to accomodate.  A reader who shall remain nameless asked if I could post an excerpt from Dave Eggers' new collection How We Are Hungry.  Keep in mind that I'm two shots of NyQuil hungover with a lingering case of the Santa Ana sinuses, so my typing skills aren't exactly what they would otherwise be when healthy.  And then there's this little thing called judgement.  If I were clear of head and strong of body, I would spend a little time on this and come up with a great passage, one that would be representative of the collection as a whole.  But I'm not, so take the following for what it's worth.

Because I'm a giving guy, I've decided to not only give this reader an excerpt from one of the stories, but I'm going to post the entire story.  I hope you enjoy.  And if you have a request, click on the "Email me" link (top left) and I'll do my best to honor it.

"There Are Some Things He Should Keep To HImself" by Dave Eggers

Continue reading "Email, Eggers, Excerpt!?!" »

November 30, 2004

The Big Book of Biblical Boredom

If someone were to ask you what the most widely available library book in the United States happens to be, would you guess the U.S. Census?  The Online Computer Library  Center lists the top 1000 titles owned by member libraries, and the Bible ranked a distant second to the Census but easily ahead of Mother Goose. 

{Link from the mf'er}

November 29, 2004

RNA (Real[nice]Audio) of Literature

For those of you who've finished reading all of the interviews at the DNA of Literature and need more, you might want to check out the incredible amount of archived author interviews hosted by Ohio University.   These are uncut audio clips from Don Swain's CBS Radio show, "Book Beat." 

If you're looking for a place to start, try the William S. Burroughs interview from 1984 in which he claims "I've never met a writer who could write while he was drinking" and discusses his drug addiction(s) in great detail.

{Link from largehearted boy.}

November 26, 2004

Sad News

I hate to start the Friday after Thanksgiving off on a downer, but I've just learned that Larry Brown, one of the "lit grit" writers from Oxford, Mississippi, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 53.  Brown is one of those writers whose writing will surprise you.  Nothing about his storytelling seems manufactured or MFA'd. Rabbit Factory is the last book that I read twice in succession.  He was also a great reader.  I once saw him at a book store in Fairhope, Alabama, and came away a big fan.  He'll be missed.

Excerpt of Larry Brown reading from his short story "Old Frank and Jesus".

From the prologue to Billy Ray's Farm:

Continue reading "Sad News" »

November 22, 2004

What Does This Button Do?

For those of you tired of the same old, stale prose on this site and others, don't fret.  The future looks bright:

This is not science fiction. With little fanfare and (so far) no appearances at Barnes & Noble, computers have started writing without us scribes. They are perfectly capable of nonfiction prose, and while the reputation of Henry James is not yet threatened, computers can even generate brief outbursts of fiction that are probably superior to what many humans could turn out - even those not in master of fine arts programs.

I'll be beating my head against the wall if you need me.

The Bullets and the Damage Done

I woke up to a strange yet familiar sound, one that shook the dogs out of their beds with a bark.  It took me a few minutes to realize that I now must use two hands to count the times I've heard thunder in San Diego in the six years I've lived here.  Other than this storm--which I heard referred to as an "inside slider"--the weekend was awash with bullets:

  • Nice to see the fans in Detroit make good use of their beer cups and popcorn to tear down the fourth wall.  Although many are calling it one of the darkest days in the history of the NBA (or American sports for that matter), I'm guessing that more than a few NBA owners are happy that the league is actually getting some press.  Before this incident, was anyone paying any attention to the league?  In case you've been in a hermetically sealed chamber, ESPN has a video recap.
  • If you haven't already seen it, you should rent Guy Madden's The Saddest Music in the World.  The best way to describe it is "weird."  Or as Boston Globe critic Wesley Morris puts it, "Weird in the way that a first kiss is weird. You've never tried it before, but you go with it because you hear it's pretty amazing. His movies are easy, too. Point your eyes at the screen; the magic follows."  You can see the film's trailer here (quicktime).
  • On her way out the door for a Thanksgiving trip to Florida, Maud rips Neal Pollack a new one.   
  • The NYTBR asked a group of poets and critics, "What book of poetry, published in the last 25 years, has meant the most to you personally -- the book you have found yourself returning to again and again?"  Poet Jorie Graham listed Denis Johnson's The Incognito Lounge as her choice:

    There is a strain of our poetry that wants to speak in a tone of voice, out of a predicament, that feels exclusively American -- the sound of damaged lives eked out in desert lots, trailer parks, motels -- lives unemployed (both literally and spiritually), abandoned by the dream of freedom though still haunted by the habit of it, abandoned by God although he might be one motel down the road, who knows; a loneliness born as much out of feeling one's self to be ''outside history,'' as out of being abandoned by the dream that America owns to its marrow: the dream of the loner, of absolute self-reliance. ''But here one weeps,'' Johnson writes, ''to see the goodness of the world laid bare / and rising with the government on its lips."

I list Johnson's "You" from The Incognito Lounge as one of my favorites (look under the fold for the poem in its entirety).

Continue reading "The Bullets and the Damage Done" »

November 19, 2004

Aragorn's Stones and Other Nonrequired Unmentionables

As part of my birthday shopping courtesy of family and friends, I picked up the 2004 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading.  Thanks to Gaddis and other reading engagements, I haven't had a chance to dig into the selections, but I did take a few minutes to read the "Introduction" written by the ex-Mr. Exene Cervenka of X, also known as Viggo Mortensen.  As the last remaining human who hasn't seen a second of The Trilogy, I know little to nothing about Mr. Mortensen's ability to act, much less his ability to write.  I did find his introduction to the collection to be a pretty good read, even if he all but begs the reader not to read it, or the book for that matter.  He does seem to have a thing for words:

I value words.  I am curious about the way words sound, how they draw pictures and provoke unexpected emotional reactions.  A single disconnected word or phrase can stop you cold, give you a new world to live in.  I like reading unauthorized excerpts of the minutes of private meetings.  I like reading photo album captions, want ads, my son's homework, Chinese AIDS-prevention pamphlets, laundry lists, foreign phone books, obituaries, awkward subtitles, road maps, lost-pet fliers fading on the streetlight poles, old and forgettable books, instruction manuals I do not need but have found torn out of publications or removed from the packaging of the obsolete product concerned--useless information that I imagine having discovered or saved from extinction.  I enjoy reading how people wrote in another time about what I do not understand.

If, like me, you were wondering "Why Viggo?", Dave Eggers anticipated such a question and provides the answer in his "Foreword" to the collection:

Viggo has been associated with 826 Valencia for some time, having helped us with fundraising and such.  He is also a noted poet and artist, and thus the perfect ambassador for this collection, bringing, we hope, new people to some great contemporary writing.  We can only hope this introduction-writing business takes off for him, given how lucrative it is and how much glory attends it.

Poet?  Isn't everyone?  But it seems that Viggo has some published pieces to his name.  For example, this one entitled "Stones":

met by a lake near the sun.
your mouth and eyes, arms
and legs, melted as though
we'd known each other well
and needed only rekindle
warmth of the familiar.
as if patience were rewarded
and now we'd share everything.

Judging from this example, it might behoove Viggo to stick to introduction writing.  Mortensen does have his own publishing company and with the volume of stuff that Eggers puts out there, it could be lucrative. 

November 18, 2004

The Opening Access

If want to know where to find me over the next few days, I'll be over at The Paris Review site checking out the DNA of Literature.  The first round of interviews dating back to the 1950s includes too many notables to list here.  I'm going to start my tour with Ralph Ellison and work my way through the double-helixed treasure chest.

Also of note, the National Endowment for the Humanities has announced that millions of pages of newspaper articles published between 1836 and 1922 will be available to anyone with a computer as soon as 2006. 

November 17, 2004

The Day After Yesterday

I'm writing this yesterday, my birthday sun sneaking down behind the neighboring rooflines, and in a few hours, I'll stand on my balcony hoping to pick out a few meteors, but there will be clouds and police helicopters and landing airplanes.  Before that my wife will treat me to a dinner, Jimmy Carter will cook, and then we'll head off to Border's where I'll use a coupon and my birthday cash to strike a few items from my wishlist.  Otherwise, today--or yesterday--has been another day:  worked half the day, napped a few hours, read on the Gaddis and the Eggers, a strange combination if there ever was one.  Made myself a latte and thought a lot about my 34 years, of good times and better times and just plain times.

One of the books that I plan on picking up tonight is The Windblown World: The Journals Of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954.  In honor of this purchase, I'm going to give all of you the opportunity to grab an mp3 (see below) of a radio show interview Kerouac did.  I say rare only because I've never heard it before.  Anyway, it features an obviously drunk and getting drunker Kerouac giving the two interviewers a fair amount of hell.  They discuss everything from On the Road to The Dharma Bums to whether or not  Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays.  It's a rather large file, so I'm only going to keep it up for a week or so.  Beyond that, email me.

Finally, to all of you who took the time to wish me a happy birthday in the comments, thank you!  You make me smile.

+  Jack Kerouac radio interview

November 15, 2004

Quick Reminder & Warning

I attempted something yesterday afternoon that I want to warn against.  Do not think that you can put off reading William Gaddis until the last minute.  I know, I know, this isn't an assignment and there isn't a paper due, so to speak, but I'm using the Gaddis Drinking Club as a sort of guide, a drunken disciplinarian.  With other things on the schedule this weekend, I said to myself, "Sixty-two pages?  Nothing to it."  And so I put it off until mid-afternoon. 


Don't delay the Gaddis.  See, you'll need more than your eyes and the book.  You'll need a nice dictionary, the reader's guide, a few aspirin, a quiet room, and some prayers.  Sixty-two pages!

Anyway, it's not too late for you to join.  The first chapter recap and analysis is up with discussion to follow, but if you begin now, you'll be ready for the next section on the 22nd.  Good luck.

The Jonathan Lethem Reading and Why I Need GPS

I almost didn't make it to the Jonathan Lethem reading last Thursday.  When one goes to an unfamiliar place and assumes that just because one has seen the bookstore before and believes that it will be easy to find, it can make for a lot of driving in circles and a great deal of cursing. On this night, one was forced to make the embarrassing decision to stop at a gas station and ask the clerk, who appeared just as lost inside his little both surrounded by cigarettes and porn mags, if he happened to know where one might find Warwick's. 

But getting the directions was only half the battle.  After finally spotting the bookstore, I had to find a place to park, which meant another ten minutes of driving in circles.  Even after locating a parking spot, I ended up lost, this time on foot, this time after cutting through a building teeming with a late evening exercising class, emerging on the wrong street and realizing that I was turned around, out of my element, and I had five minutes.   Luckily, one of the sweaty exercisers pointed me in the direction, and with a minute to spare, I found a seat in the corner of the closed-for-business (except for the reading) Warwick's.

I'm not sure what I expected, but I thought there would be more than the fifteen people that showed up to hear Lethem read.  One would think that Lethem would have some following or be able to draw more than a tiny fraction of the crowd that showed up for Palahniuk's El Cajon reading in July.  But there were more people in the restaurant next door, many more.  The small gathering inside of Warwick's was a mixed bag of young and old:  a few college kids, a few older couples, the bookstore employees (three by my count), and me.  One of the bookstore employees introduced Lethem, saying that if nothing else he now knows how to pronounce his name correctly (Lee thum, long e) and then proceeding to mispronounce it twice in the introduction.  He listed off the author's books, said Lethem (first e as in egg) was his favorite writer, and invited him to the makeshift podium.

LethemLethem reminded me of a less simian Ben Stiller.  He was soft-spoken, so much so that I had trouble hearing him over the crickets that were chirping loudly in the Travel section next to me.  For half an hour, he read from The Fortress of Solitude, two different sections, both from the first part of the novel.   At one point, he laughed at his own writing, apologizing afterword and telling us that he had never done that before.

After his reading, he took a few questions from the dozen or so people who remained.  He discussed the amount of research that he had done for Fortress, saying that he had spent more time researching that novel than any of his others because he wanted to "create an immaculate impression so that it was like a time capsule."  About Motherless Brooklyn, he said the inspiration for the tourette's character came from reading Oliver Sacks, specifically The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.  He also mentioned that a movie based on Motherless Brooklyn was in the works though he has only a rooting interest in who plays the lead (Edward Norton).  Along with other projects--a novel set in L.A. that has nothing to do with inter-family relationships or Brooklyn--he has a collection of essays due out in March.

Before he began signing books, I managed to ask him if he reads litblogs.  Lethem claimed that he was a late-comer to the blogs, but that he does read them from time to time.  Mostly, he said, a couple of music critics.  He enjoys the fact that these critics will veer from the subject of music and discuss books or politics or their life.  As for litblogs, he claimed that he does check them out and mentioned Maud's site as one he goes to quite often. 

I left without getting a book signed and headed back in the direction of my car.  I'll spare you the details, but I ended up getting lost again. 

November 11, 2004

Half Smiles of the Half Impressed

Tonight, I should head over to one of the worst live venues in San Diego to check out one of my favorite bands in their last ever San Diego appearance.  I'm sure it will be memorable for all in attendance and perhaps many years later for those who will claim to have been there.  I have to say, though, I've become less and less a fan of Guided by Voices over the last few years.  Not that I think their sound has changed in such a drastic way that I feel they've moved away from the band that I once drove three hours through a tropical storm to see.  It's more a case of what happens with a lot of bands on my favorites list: either I outgrow them or I just grow disinterested. Very few bands tend to remain as a favorite for more than a few years or a few albums.  Eventually, I find myself listening to the old stuff, pushing the new albums to the dustbin of my collection.  I'm sure they'll put on a great show.  I'm sure I'll hear and read all about it.  But I'm skipping this one.

Instead, I'll be heading to one of my least favorite communities in San Diego to check out a writer that I enjoy only some of the time.  Though the Warwick's calendar says that Lethem will be discussing Fortress of Solitude, I have a feeling that he might also be discussing and reading from his new collection, Men and Cartoons.  I think part of my problem with Lethem stems from my utter lack of experience with and knowledge of comic books.  As a boy, I would read the occasional comic book while waiting for a friend to change into play clothes or while at the doctor's office, but my mode of escape through entertainment usually came through baseball cards.  The closest I've come to a true comic book experience was buying some early Sandmans as a Christmas gift for my first wife.  Sometimes I feel as if I missed out on something important, but trust me, comic books aren't the only hole in my "education."

Some Lethem links:

November 09, 2004

Handing over Their Key(board)s

The Gaddis Drinking Club has been nice enough to allow this recovering alkie to join its ranks.  I admit a bit of apprehension.  If you're a non-drinker, you probably know how it is:  going to a bar and ordering up a water or a N/A beer, which in the latter case has to be retrieved from the dark corner of the beer cooler.  You sit around drooling as the much beloved booze is imbibed, watch as your friends enter that state of fuck-offness, sip your N/A hoping that the .000001% will get at least one brain cell tipsy enough that a word will come out slurred and the floor will look a tad more warped.  You recite your bastardized version of the Serenity Prayer and at some point the evening (or morning) ends and you are filled with pride that you've been able to fend off the dragon with a faux potion.  Victory!

Just as every gathering of drinkers needs a designated driver, the GDC will need a DB (designated blogger).  Rake, the club's progenitor, has chosen The Recognitions as our first foray into the world of Gaddis and drink.  It appears that reading and posting (and drinking) will commence next week, which gives me enough time to hunt down a copy.  I tried to read the novel while in graduate school, but like much of my life back then, had to put it on hold. 

So what will I be drinking during the festivities, you ask?  Well, the group will be happy to know that I'll be making every attempt to secure a few six packs of this.  How can you go wrong with these exciting flavors:

  • Turkey & Gravy Soda
  • Cranberry Soda
  • Mashed Potato & Butter
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Fruitcake Soda

    If nothing else, it will add something else to discuss in our meetings.

  • November 06, 2004

    To All My Friends


    A shot of Buk...who should probably be the patron saint (of sorts) of the National Drunken Writing Night, though I guess many qualify.  Update from SoT: I'm still sober.  Cindy has joined the band of blitzed bloggers.

    November 04, 2004

    On the SoT Calendar

    Jonathan Lethem will appear at Warwick's in La Jolla next Thursday, November 11, to discuss and sign his novel Fortress of Solitude.

    + Lethem's new collection, Men and Cartoons, is reviewed in the SD Union-Tribune.

    November 02, 2004

    I'm With You, Bill

    From William S. Burroughs' "When Did I Stop Wanting To Be President":

    I never wanted to be a front man like Harding or Nixon--taking the rap, shaking hands and making speeches all day, family reunions once a year. Who in his right mind would want a job like that? As Commissioner of Sewers I would not be called upon to pet babies, make speeches, shake hands, have lunch with the Queen; in fact, the fewer voters who knew of my existence, the better. Let kings and Presidents keep the limelight. I prefer a whiff of coal gas as the sewers rupture for miles--I have made a deal on the piping which has bought me a thirty-thousand-dollar home and there is talk in the press of sex cults and drug orgies carried out in the stink of what made them possible. Fluttering from the roof of my ranch-style house, over my mint and marijuana, Old Glory floats lazily in the tainted breeze.

    Listen to Burroughs read it.

    November 01, 2004

    Picking Up Velocity

    I received notification this morning that Dave Eggers' new story collection has shipped. Not that I'm drooling in anticipation, but I'm glad to see that the book is finally seeing the light of day. The original shipping date was early August, then it kept being pushed back. I guess they wanted to time it for Election or post-Election reading.

    With the release, the SF Chronicle asks if Eggers is a modern-day Kerouac {link from Ed}. I respond with a big "whoa." He might be in the same hypergraphic sub-category of writers, but Eggers is far too desirous of attention and way more involved with the "scene" than Kerouac was. And I doubt he drinks half as much.

    October 27, 2004

    Dog Tired...


    ...and tired of everything. Until my energy level reaches a more tolerable level, I'm going to let one of my favorite poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, do the speaking for me. If you'd rather hear the poem, click on the title for L.F's reading of it.


    The dog trots freely in the street
    and sees reality
    and the things he sees
    are bigger than himself
    and the things he sees
    are his reality
    Drunks in doorways
    Moons on trees
    The dog trots freely thru the street
    and the things he sees
    are smaller than himself
    Fish on newsprint
    Ants in holes
    Chickens in Chinatown windows
    their heads a block away
    The dog trots freely in the street
    and the things he smells
    smell something like himself
    The dog trots freely in the street
    past puddles and babies
    cats and cigars
    poolrooms and policemen
    He doesn't hate cops
    He merely has no use for them
    and he goes past them
    and past the dead cows hung up whole
    in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
    He would rather eat a tender cow
    than a tough policeman
    though either might do
    And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
    and past Coit's Tower
    and past Congressman Doyle of the Unamerican Committee
    He's afraid of Coit's Tower
    but he's not afraid of Congressman Doyle
    although what he hears is very discouraging
    very depressing
    very absurd
    to a sad young dog like himself
    to a serious dog like himself
    But he has his own free world to live in
    His own fleas to eat
    He will not be muzzled
    Congressman Doyle is just another
    fire hydrant
    to him
    The dog trots freely in the street
    and has his own dog's life to live
    and to think about
    and to reflect upon
    touching and tasting and testing everything
    investigating everything
    without benefit of perjury
    a real realist
    with a real tale to tell
    and a real tail to tell it with
    a real live
    		  democratic dog
    engaged in real
    		free enterprise
    with something to say
    		         about ontology
    something to say
    		about reality
    			        and how to see it
    					      and how to hear it
    with his head cocked sideways
    			        at streetcorners
    as if he is just about to have
    			  his picture taken
    				              for Victor Records
    		         listening for
    				His Master's Voice
    	and looking
    		       like a living questionmark
    				       into the
    			               great gramophone
    			           of puzzling existence
               with its wondrous hollow horn
    	      which always seems
                   just about to spout forth
    			         some Victorious answer
    				     to everything

    October 21, 2004

    "I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion"

    Jack Kerouac died 35 years ago today.

    He died with $91 in his bank account. His death was from alcohol. He was known to consume 17 shots of Johnny Walker Red per hour, washed down with Colt malt liquor. The individualist never wanted to be known as the leader of a generation, as the king of the Beats.

    {Thanks for the reminder, Ed!}

    October 19, 2004

    Paperback Writer

    As a little boy, I loved to dig through the books that my great-grandmother kept beside her bed. Most of them were of the romance novel variety, but she occasionally mixed in a pulp one with a rather provocative cover that would make any nine-year-old kid want more pictures on the inside. But it was always words, usually big print words, and no pictures.

    This site brings back some memories. And the virtual paperback rack (go to the Gallery) makes for some quality time-killing.

    About the Rack From the beginnings of the Paperback Revolution, the paperback rack has been as ubiquitous a fixture as the books themselves. These racks, placed in everyday locations such as drugstores, department stores, and train stations, were instrumental in bringing literature to the people. In 1935 there were fewer than 500 bookstores in the United States, and far fewer yet in Canada; the racks introduced a whole new generation to the world of reading.

    Assembling an online gallery of paperbacks from the Edmonton Collection was a complicated endeavour. Copyright laws prevent the complete digital reproduction of books online, but simple thumbnail galleries of paperback covers hold relatively little value as a research resource. What of value, then, can be displayed and preserved online? It was the metaphor of the paperback rack, along with a healthy dose of materialist hermeneutics, which came to the project's rescue.

    According to textual theorist Jerome McGann, literary texts cannot be known "apart from their specific material modes of existence/resistence...they are not channels of transmission, they are particular forms of transmissive interaction" (The Textual Condition, 11). When browsing through paperbacks at a drugstore, you might glance at the back cover, or open the book and read its first page. A book's specific, material details — including elements of a book's "bibliographic encoding," advertisements, marginal notes, typeface, layout, and more — speak volumes about a book's intended audience, method of distribution, and circulation.

    Take a few minutes, then, to thumb through some of the titles in our virtual paperback rack. Every time you visit, a random assortment of books is drawn from a growing database based upon the Edmonton Collection. (Much like some paperback racks of the 1950s and 1960s, our rack is a true assemblage, freely mixing genres and publishing houses.) Clicking a book will let you examine its covers and several interior pages, highlighting each book's physical "feel" and appearance and illustrating several aspects of its bibliographic encoding. Clicking on the hand will spin the rack, displaying another set of texts from the database.

    Vollmann's Mexicali

    I read William T. Vollmann's latest Harper's essay (not up at Harper's as of today) on the plane ride over to Amsterdam. The essay is about a lot of things but mostly details the search for the mysterious Chinese tunnels of Mexicali:

    Imperial, by which I mean not only the Imperial Valley but also that valley's continuation south of the border, is a boarded-up billiard arcade, white and tan; Imperial is Calexico's rows of palms, flat tan sand, oleanders, and squarish buildings, namely the Golden China Restaurant, Yum Yum Chinese Food, McDonald's, Mexican insurance; Imperial contains a photograph of a charred building and a heap of dirt: Planta Despepitadora de Algodón "Chino-Mexicana." Imperial is a map of the way to wealth, but the map has been sun-bleached back to blankness. Leave an opened newspaper outside for a month and step on it; the way it crumbles, that's Imperial. Imperial is a Mexicali wall at twilight: tan, crudely smoothed, and hot to the touch. Imperial is a siltscape so featureless that every little dip made by last century's flood gets a christening, even if the name is only X Wash....

    Vollmann's written about this area before. In a 1999 essay about the Salton Sea (Username: thesyntaxofthings@gmail.com; Password: syntax), he describes his search for the mouth of the river feeding the dead "sea" in the middle of the California desert:

    My plan was to cross from Calexico into Mexicali, hire a taxi, and get the driver to take me to the source of the Río Nuevo—wherever that was, but according to most accounts, just a few miles outside of town. Then I would rent a boat and ride downstream. But once I arrived in Mexicali and sought to zero in on the mysterious spot (excuse me, señor, but where exactly does it start?), people began to tell me that the river commenced right here, in Mexicali itself, in one of the cityís industrial parks, where a certain Xochimilco Lagoon was fed by a secret spring. Moreover, the municipal authorities of Mexicali were even now pressing on into the fifth year of a very fine project to entomb and forget the Río Nuevo, sealing it off underground along a concrete channel below the median strip of a new highway, whose name happened to be Boulevard Río Nuevo—a hot white double ribbon of street adorned with dirt and tires, an upended car, broken things. Along its median theyíd sunk segments of a long, long concrete tube that lay inconspicuous in a dirt trench; and between some of these segments, where the tube had been buried, were grates. Lifting the grates revealed square pits, with jet-black water flowing below, exuding a fierce sewer stench that could almost be some kind of cheese.


    Unrelated in a related way: This is what the Salton Sea did to me.

    October 15, 2004


    Jacques Derrida died? Thanks CNN International. Not only do you spend too much time covering cricket and not enough on baseball, but you've failed to mark this passing? Geez, what else am I going to find out when I get home and open up Bloglines?

    Again, time prevents me from writing about my Derrida memories (in fact, time has been kind enough to erase much of my memory of studying Derrida). I do often wonder, though, if it's anything more than a coincidence that my first marriage fell apart about the same time I was taking a Post-Structuralist Literary Theory class.

    September 22, 2004

    Brushback Pitch

    Does this sound familiar? ESPN baseball columnist Rob Neyer had some problems with a book he was reading. The book, One Day at Fenway: A Day in the Life of Baseball in America, tells the story of a single Yankees-Red Sox game by documenting various fans' first-hand accounts of the events surrounding one of the best rivalries in all of sports. Neyer, who has written his own account of Fenway Park, was offended:

    There are so many wonderful baseball books sitting on the bookstore shelves, waiting for good homes, that it offends me to think about how many unsuspecting readers will spend their money on this one instead. I wasn’t personally offended. But I was offended.

    Instead of just tossing the book aside, Neyer decided to do something about it. He posted a scathing review of the book on Amazon using an assumed name. Within days, however, numerous glowing reviews countering Neyer's appeared on the site. He felt that a conspiracy was at hand. All of the reviews had a similar ring to them and he believed that the reviewers were using talking points provided by someone intimately involved with the book. Again, instead of leaving it alone, Neyer wrote another harsh review to counter the "fake" ones and had a friend post it on Amazon.

    That's when he got into a little bit of deep poop, so to speak. A reporter figured out that Neyer was the source of the reviews and outed him in a column. Neyer felt bad, not for the review but for reviewing in anonymity, so he issued an apology at ESPN.com:

    Again, my original intent was merely to add my honestly held opinion to the discussion. But I certainly regret how that discussion has progressed over these last two weeks. And the next time I feel like writing under a pen name, maybe that's a pretty good indication that I should remain on the sidelines.

    Maybe he should take note of how Anne Rice handled some negative criticism by Amazon reviewers. On September 6, Rice, using her own name, wrote a response to what she felt were some unfair criticisms of Blood Canticle:

    Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work. In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However there is something compelling about Amazon's willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you've said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people's books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak. First off, let me say that this is addressed only to some of you, who have posted outrageously negative comments here, and not to all. You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. Indeed, you aren't even reading it. You are projecting your own limitations on it. And you are giving a whole new meaning to the words "wide readership." And you have strained my Dickensean principles to the max. I'm justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks,in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you?

    {Rice link from GalleyCat.}

    September 21, 2004

    The Long and Shortlists of It

    As mentioned on just about every lit blog, the 2004 Booker shortlist has been announced, meaning that I have some serious catching up to do if I want to place any bets on this one:

    Gerard Woodward, I’ll go to Bed at Noon
    Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit
    David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
    Sarah Hall, The Electric Michelangelo
    Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
    Colm Tóibín, The Master

    Not to be outdone, the ten finalists for the Shortlist Prize have been announced:

    Air's "Talkie Walkie"
    Dizzee Rascal's "Boy in Da Corner"
    Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut
    Ghostface Killah's "The Pretty Toney Album"
    Killers' "Hot Fuss"
    Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose"
    Nellie McKay's "Get Away From Me"
    Streets' "A Grand Don't Come for Free"
    TV On The Radio's "Desparate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes"
    Wilco's "A Ghost Is Born"

    Any guess as to which of those I would like to see win?

    September 20, 2004

    Can't Take Much More

    In light of today's news of another American beheaded, I will not be turning on my television until Monday Night Football starts, if then. I'm still recovering from hearing the audio of the first beheading--the sound of a man dying is something you don't soon forget.

    Speaking of violence, Maisonneuve's new issue includes an interview with SoT favorite William T. Vollmann. The subject of beheadings, torture, and violence as it relates to war are central to Nicholas Hune-Brown's interview:

    NHB: Do you think Rising Up and Rising Down has come out at a time where there’s more room to talk about justified violence?

    WTV: Not really. There’s never much talk about when and when not to use violence. Either there’s no war, nothing going on, and nobody wants to hear about it, or there is a war and then everybody’s certain that the form of violence with which he or she is affiliated is justified. So the issue never really needs to arise.

    NHB: But it does seem that recently, with the war and with discussion of torture and terrorism, questions about when violence is justified are in the air a little more.

    WTV: Well, that’s certainly my hope. But, I’m being a little cynical here, my suspicion is that the people who were particularly shocked by the torture were people who were already against the war. And a lot of the people who seemed to be in favour of the war sort of minimized the extent of the torture and said, “Well, of course, a little humiliation, a little nakedness is unfortunate, but how does it compare to insurgents cutting Americans’ heads off?” So people always have a way of making their own calculations when they’re espousing a moral calculus. It’s pretty rare for someone to say, “I don’t think what we’re doing is justified.” And it’s hard to say. I don’t like saying it. I mean, I’m a patriotic American and I don’t really like to say that what my country is doing is wrong. I hate to say it, but it does seem to me that it is wrong.

    September 15, 2004

    Until Aternoon...

    Nose firmly planted in a certain book. No update until afternoon. I will admit that I'm very nervous about Ivan. My mom and dad live just to the east of the forecasted path, and because a hurricane's most damaging wind is always to the northeast of the eyewall I fear the pecan trees in their yard may not be there when I visit at Christmas. Not to mention the fact that I have friends in Pensacola and a lot of memories both there and Mobile that are all in the direct path of a major storm.

    Until my nerves have calmed, check out these rather amusing portraits and photos of writers. (Link from the hopeful for some clean, running water CAAF.)

    September 02, 2004

    My, my, ain't we blue?

    This will have to be one of those days. Foggy, muggy, promises to be hot by afternoon. Still no rain in sight.

    So I'm leaving the "talking" to Mr. James Baldwin. An excerpt from "Sonny's Blues":

    All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. I just watched Sonny's face. His face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn't with it. And I had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. But as I began to watch Creole, I realized that it was Creole who held them all back. He had them on a short rein. Up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fiddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to Sonny. He was having a dialogue with Sonny. He wanted Sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. He was Sonny's witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing -- he had been there, and he knew. And he wanted Sonny to know. He was waiting for Sonny to do the things on the keys which would let Creole know that Sonny was in the water.

    And, while Creole listened, Sonny moved, deep within, exactly like someone in torment. I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It's made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there's only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.

    And Sonny hadn't been near a piano for over a year. And he wasn't on much better terms with his life, not the life that stretched before him now. He and the piano stammered, started one way, got scared, stopped; started another way, panicked, marked time, started again; then seemed to have found a direction, panicked again, got stuck. And the face I saw on Sonny I'd never seen before. Everything had been burned out of it, and, at the same time, things usually hidden were being burned in, by the fire and fury of the battle which was occurring in him up there.

    Yet, watching Creole's face as they neared the end of the first set, I had the feeling that something had happened, something I hadn't heard. Then they finished, there was scattered applause, and then, without an instant's warning, Creole started into something else, it was almost sardonic, it was Am I Blue. And, as though he commanded, Sonny began to play. Something began to happen. And Creole let out the reins. The dry, low, black man said something awful on the drums, Creole answered, and the drums talked back. Then the horn insisted, sweet and high, slightly detached perhaps, and Creole listened, commenting now and then, dry, and driving, beautiful, calm and old. Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found, right there, beneath his fingers, a damn brand-new piano. It seemed that he couldn't get over it. Then, for a while, just being happy with Sonny, they seemed to be agreeing with him that brand-new pianos certainly were a gas.

    Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.

    August 23, 2004

    Cloud Coverage

    Arthur Saim reviews David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas in the San Diego UT. He compares reading the book to a ride at Knott's Berry Farm:

    The Boomerang roller-coaster at Knott's Berry Farm works like this: After a rollicking, gut-unwinding ride, you find yourself at the end of the line, high in the air, facing up. For an awful (i.e., wonderful) moment, you're suspended in space; it's just enough time to realize that you're about to roar through the same territory again, only this time you're going to do it backward.

    Likewise, "Cloud Atlas": With the conclusion of the far-far-future campfire yarn, back it goes, tale-telling in reverse, snatching up and concluding the narrative of each chapter as it rockets backward through time: to our confused, put-upon, then defiant clone in Seoul; the milquetoast publisher in London; the troublemaker journalist in L.A.; the desperate young wastrel in Bruges; the ailing American at sea in the South Pacific. Exhale.

    August 20, 2004

    Fante Friday

    From 1933 Was a Bad Year by John Fante:

    Oh, God, help me! And I walked faster, my thoughts pursuing me, and I began to run, my frozen shoes squealing like mice, but running didn't help, the thoughts to the left and right and behind me. But as I ran, The Arm, that good left arm, took hold of the situation and spoke soothingly: ease up, Kid, it's loneliness, you're all alone in the world; your father, your mother, your faith, they can't help you, nobody helps anybody, you only help yourself, and that's why I'm here, because we are inseperable, and we'll take care of everything.

    Oh, Arm! Strong and faithful arm, talk sweetly to me now. Tell me of my future, the crowds cheering, the pitch sliding across at the knees, the batters coming up and going down, fame and fortune and victory, we shall have it all. And one day we shall die and lie side by side in a grave, Dom Molise and his beautiful arm, the sports world shocked, in mourning, the telegram to my family from the President of the United States, the flags at half-mast at every ball park in the nation, fans weeping unashamed, Damon Runyon's four-part biography in the Saturday Evening Post: Triumph over Adversity, the Life of Dominic Molise.

    August 19, 2004


    Despite its place near the top of my reading list, I still haven't started David Foster Wallace's new collection, Oblivion. I've also not been able to make time to get my hands on a copy of the now famous Wallace essay about a lobster festival (see Rake's overview). Vegan journalist Erik Marcus has read the article and liked it:

    Amidst all this glitz and surfaceness, I had to wonder what a heavyweight writer like Wallace is doing in these pages. If nothing else, Wallace has consistently proven himself to be a writer who will take on the most monumentally difficult of tasks. In 2003, he published a book titled Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, which sought to analyze 2000 years of mathematical thought on the subject. So it’s no surprise that when Wallace considers the ethics of boiling lobsters to death, he treats the matter with the exhaustive rigor it deserves. In the space of a few paragraphs, he destroys the popular belief about lobsters that, "There’s a part of the brain in people and animals that lets us feel pain, and lobster’s brains don’t have this part."

    August 13, 2004

    It Is Finished

    An ugly week...done. At least the "go to work, deal with real life" part. I've been debating whether or not to post why this week has been so bad, and it may come out at some point when I can gather some distance from the events. Don't worry: no divorce, no disease, no further debt. Just the reality that good deeds can be overlooked and the good deeder can be dismissed. Enough, already! I'm going to let Langston Hughes soothe my aches.

    The Weary Blues (Download mp3 of Langston reading this poem)*

    Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
    Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
         I heard a Negro play.
    Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
    By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
         He did a lazy sway . . .
         He did a lazy sway . . .
    To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
    With his ebony hands on each ivory key
    He made that poor piano moan with melody.
         O Blues!
    Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
    He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
         Sweet Blues!
    Coming from a black man's soul.
         O Blues!
    In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
    I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
         "Ain't got nobody in all this world,
           Ain't got nobody but ma self.
           I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
           And put ma troubles on the shelf."
    Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
    He played a few chords then he sang some more--
         "I got the Weary Blues
           And I can't be satisfied.
           Got the Weary Blues
           And can't be satisfied--
           I ain't happy no mo'
           And I wish that I had died."
    And far into the night he crooned that tune.
    The stars went out and so did the moon.
    The singer stopped playing and went to bed
    While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
    He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

    * mp3 originally found at Tofu Hut.

    August 12, 2004


    A great discussion has been circulating around the litblogs concerning books that people tend to re-read. I'm not much of a re-reader myself. I will pick up books that have been an influence on my writing or that have special meaning, whether purely as entertainment or something that challenged me at some point in my reading life. I often re-read to see if the challenge is still there or if a different challenge will present itself. Otherwise I'm too impatient, too ready to move on to the next text to spend time on one that I've already finished. I can only pick out a few books that I've re-read in the last few years:

    Catch-22 by Heller
    The Joke by Milan Kundera
    The Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
    Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
    The Stranger by Albert Camus
    As I Lay Dying by Faulkner

    There are a few more, but I'm a little too strapped for time to list them all.

    On a related note I wonder if this same type of thing can be applied to movies? I'm even less of a re-viewer, tending to see a movie for the second time only if it's an absolute favorite or if my wife hasn't seen it. We do have a DVD (and VHS) collection but I rarely pick one out on a Friday night even when there's nothing else on TV and we've forgotten to send in for our next Netflix picks.

    August 10, 2004

    Donald Justice, 1925-2004

    The Evening of the Mind

    Now comes the evening of the mind.
    Here are the fireflies twitching in the blood;
    Here is the shadow moving down the page
    Where you sit reading by the garden wall.
    Now the dwarf peach trees, nailed to their trellises,
    Shudder and droop. Your know their voices now,
    Faintly the martyred peaches crying out
    Your name, the name nobody knows but you.
    It is the aura and the coming on.
    It is the thing descending, circling, here.
    And now it puts a claw out and you take it.
    Thankfully in your lap you take it, so.

    You said you would not go away again,
    You did not want to go away -- and yet,
    It is as if you stood out on the dock
    Watching a little boat drift out
    Beyond the sawgrass shallows, the dead fish ...
    And you were in it, skimming past old snags,
    Beyond, beyond, under a brazen sky
    As soundless as a gong before it's struck --
    Suspended how? -- and now they strike it, now
    The ether dream of five-years-old repeats, repeats,
    And you must wake again to your own blood
    And empty spaces in the throat.

    + Donald Justice at the Academy of American Poets

    August 09, 2004

    The Long Goodbye

    I think I've mentioned elsewhere that La Jolla is a different place. I wouldn't be surprised while walking through the village to find a panhandler who will accept no bill less than a twenty. I once went to the IHOP there and immediately felt underdressed. It's that type of place.

    La Jolla, like most of San Diego, is experiencing a sharp (over)inflation of the housing market. Even the tiniest of properties can be a gold mine for the owner. That's why it comes as no surprise to read that the Raymond Chandler home, the place he spent his last years, is in danger of a major makeover:

    In early September, the Chandler house is scheduled to be remodeled — on a grand scale. A Chicago concern, Glen Eagle Partners Ltd., owns the place and created plans to add a contemporary second story, a room on the ground floor, new windows, new siding — to "make it bigger and make it fancier and then sell it for a lot of money," Barry Katz, chief financial officer of Glen Eagle, told a reporter a couple of weeks ago. The owners, who apparently knew nothing of the Chandler connection, had no plans to preserve any part of the house as a cultural landmark.

    With that much money at stake, it's not surprising that any cultural significance would be trumped by the prospect of profit. Still:

    ...The Chandler house could still be designated a historic site in San Diego. At the very least, it could get a brass plaque. Better yet, the city's historic resources board, or even Glen Eagle, could see to it that the study is preserved, along with the heavy wooden front door, the patio between the two horseshoe-shaped wings, the period rafter tails, the details that conjure up Chandler's world.

    Best of all it might receive full preservation treatment, like Steinbeck's house in Salinas or Hemingway's in Key West. But that would no doubt require a non-slumming angel, or flock of angels — Glen Eagle reportedly paid $2.7 million for it last year.

    "Shouldn't any remodel respect Chandler's years here, years filled with success and despair?" [Barry Katz, chief financial officer of Glen Eagle] was asked.

    The CFO deferred to his boss: "Seeing as how he's not a fan of film noir nor literature noir, I kind of doubt it," said Katz. "That's not the kind of thing that would go to his soul."

    August 03, 2004

    Chuck, Chuck, Mo Muck

    Ok, I'm a little confused. A considerate reader passed along a link to a recent review of the new Chuck Palahniuk collection. The collection is referred to as Non-fiction in the article, which even sports a nice link to Amazon UK where you can buy the collection Non-fiction--and here's where I get confused--along with Stranger Than Fiction, which I believe may be the same book. A search for this title (Nonfiction) at the Amazon U.S. site came up empty. I've googled it, scanned The Cult site until I started feeling creepy, and because I'm lazy, I've simply given up clarifying this. So hopefully, someone out there can either drop a comment in the box or send me an email to clarify. Not that I'll lose sleep, but I'd like to know why. Probably just something I missed along the way.

    Also in the British press, Robert Chalmers has an interesting piece in the Independent on Palahniuk (again, calling the book Non-Fiction), including this discussion of Chuck's recent "coming out" and the resultant "clamming up" (my words):

    Palahniuk's announcement of his sexual orientation was not the smooth operation he might have hoped for. It occurred accidentally, in a manner which reveals that Chuck is as well placed as his swooning Cambridge fans to appreciate the formidable power of his own voice.

    In September 2003, as he was about to embark on a tour, Palahniuk gave an interview to Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly magazine. Just before publication, he became persuaded that she planned to publish statements he'd made in confidence, and "out" him. In an attempt to beat her to the punch, Palahniuk posted an angry voice diary entry on The Cult website. In it, he announced the true gender of his spouse, and made highly personal allegations relating to the interviewer and a member of her family.

    When Valby's piece appeared the next day, it made no reference to his intimate life other than to say: "Palahniuk has no wife and declines to discuss his personal life on the record."

    By the time his audioblog was removed, many fans had heard it (The Cult receives as many as 5,500 visits a day). And according to the site's webmaster, Dennis Widmyer, the blog was deleted because it was "tainted by some words Chuck said about the reporter. The removal had nothing to do with Chuck's recanting that he came out."

    Palahniuk - by then in London - posted a new voice message urging fans to relax and "not kill anybody": it has been reported (Entertainment Weekly says wrongly) that Valby received death threats from Palahniuk's self-appointed defenders. The writer (who once told a journalist "I wish more people would rise to the occasion") went on to apologise for having "mis-represented, because I mis-remembered, some details about Karen's private life. I deeply regret doing that. It was something I did out of anger and fear, and it was something I did inaccurately, and something I wish I had not done."

    The episode would have discomforted anybody, let alone a writer whose public image is integral to his marketing.

    "So Chuck has come out," commented the Gay News column in Portland's Willamette Weekly. "In efforts to revive their careers, so did Tab Hunter and fellow B-list celebrity Richard Chamberlain." The writer then posed the question which has been repeatedly voiced by Palahniuk's friends and enemies alike - and is surely the sanest response to this episode: "Who cares?"

    Why invent Mrs Palahniuk in the first place? If what he said in 1999 was ambiguous, what on earth made my former colleague write the line: "They have no plans to have children?"

    "Well, that burden has gone now," Palahniuk replies. "That fear has gone."

    It's possible that coming out might have damaged his standing with traditionalists in his Playboy constituency. Or had he felt that his publishers might be uneasy about him coming out? (The explanation he gave to a friend of mine after a reading.)

    "No," says Palahniuk.

    Now that, as he puts it, "the big bomb has exploded," he tells me, he feels no need, when being interviewed, "to be entertaining any more. What you get now is a me that has an hour and a half. And money in the bank. And I don't owe anybody any more. And I'm not interested in..."

    Palahniuk looks at his watch.

    July 29, 2004


    I think I've failed to even tip the hat to the man whose poetry inspired the name for this blog. And since I haven't used the word fart in weeks, I'll leave it to him to do it. Take it away ee:

    the boys i mean are not refined
    they go with girls who buck and bite
    they do not give a fuck for luck
    they hump them thirteen times a night

    one hangs a hat upon her tit
    one carves a cross on her behind
    they do not give a shit for wit
    the boys i mean are not refined

    they come with girls who bite and buck
    who cannot read and cannot write
    who laugh like they would fall apart
    and masturbate with dynamite

    the boys i mean are not refined
    they cannot chat of that and this
    they do not give a fart for art
    they kill like you would take a piss

    they speak whatever's on their mind
    they do whatever's in their pants
    the boys i mean are not refined
    they shake the mountains when they dance

    Dave on Bob


    In this month's edition of "Dave Eggers Does Spin," we learn how to pay homage to our favorite songs. Dave provides a few models so that we can "develop" our own. For example, here is an excerpt of his take on Bob Dylan's "One of Us Must Know (Sooner of Later)"

    Proving yourself to this song is the greatest test of all. It's tricky, but it can be done. It's another driving song, so find a country road, something winding and long. You need low population density and many trees and clouds, tossed across the sky like dirty pillows. Play the song and turn it up. Open the window. Close your eyes. Leave them shut much too long, tempting death. Imagine that your car is invisible, like Wonder Woman's jet, and that it can fly. Wish that you could make your car fly for real, even for a second, a few hundred feet, so everyone around, the farmers and children getting filthy in the fields, would know that something special is happening in your car, and that you are being struck by Bob.

    July 28, 2004


    I'm not sure why I assumed as much, but a few weeks ago I reported that the movie Garden State was a screen adaptation of the Rick Moody novel. Well, guess what? The only thing that they have in common is the title. Apologies if I misled or caused anyone to lose a bet based on this information.

    Correct information can be found in this chat wrap with Zach Braff, who actually wrote the original screenplay. (Subscription required.)

    Mosaic Man

    Ronald Sukenick passed away last Thursday. He was 72.

    Here's an excerpt from his "novel" Out.

    zero he gets back in his car drives south on the freeway he
    hits severe wind conditions coming down from the mountains
    a hot dry wind that slams into the car carrying sand

    and grit drives heavy clouds of dust toward the ocean he's
    terribly thirsty enormous balls of tumbleweed go bouncing
    across the highway. Santanna says a gas station attendant

    bad for the fires the roads are blocked south and east when
    he hits the coast he sees a blackish-reddish cloud moving
    over the hills hanging out over the ocean snowing grey

    ashes the heat is exhausting he stops at a motel in Balboa
    with the sign of a nesting eagle it has a patio overlooking
    the ocean he wants a place where he can hear the waves

    breaking the motel is called The Balboa Egress--Another
    New Vacancy Motel.
    Pixie's apartment is on the second floor across the patio

    at right angles their bedrooms have a common wall. The
    name on the mailbox is W. A. Sprakk W. A. Sprakk is
    also known as W. A. Spat alias W. A. Spawn alias W. A.

    Sprat alias Whitney Asparagus alias W. H. Aspic alias
    W. Asperin her husband is a well built blond lout heavy
    suntan he leaves at eight A.M. sometimes with suitcase

    sometimes stays away several days seems to be part of his
    job. The way they fuck is she never wants it tells him he's
    a bore that's all he wants from her he doesn't love her why

    doesn't he jerk off with his surfboard he's just a stupid jock
    he has no refinement get away from me dammit you're not
    getting anything off me no no not again oh shit oh god oh

    my god give it to me I love you that's her thing. His thing
    is come on cunt cut the crap lie down I'm horny he only
    grunts once when he comes like a man driving home a

    spike otherwise it's all Pixie moaning grunting yelling R
    can hear it all through the cinderblock as he masturbates
    their beds must be right next to one another on either side

    of the wall before long R is in love he always falls in love
    in bed he digs watching her sunbathe in the patio especially
    when she turns over and unties her bikini top so he

    can see the sides of her tits once or twice even a blond
    nipple sometimes he gets her in his binoculars while he's
    scanning the ocean for whales what he likes about her is

    she's so refined she gives piano lessons in the afternoon.


    + Read the entire novel here.
    + Biography.
    + The Reading Experience on Sukenick

    July 24, 2004

    Ed's Thick-Ass Books

    While I have a second, here's a list that Ed posted. Bold indicates the thick-ass books I've read:

    1. The Recognitions by William Gaddis
    2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
    3. The Royal Family by William T. Vollman

    4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
    5. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
    6. Infinite Jest
    by David Foster Wallace (1/2 4X)
    7. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
    8. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
    9. Ulysses by James Joyce
    10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    11. The Tunnel by William Gass
    12. The Rosy Crucifixion by Henry Miller
    13. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
    14. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
    15. The Diary of Anais Nin
    16. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    17. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny
    18. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
    19. The Stand by Stephen King (extended version)
    20. A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
    21. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    22. Rememberance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
    23. Noble House by James Clavell
    24. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoevsky
    25. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
    26. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

    July 23, 2004

    Review: A Million Little Pieces

    (Note: Originally posted May 23, 2003)

    When you see the gloves come off in the literary world, you can't help but rubberneck. In the pre-publication interviews for his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, James Frey not only took some unprovoked jabs at writers Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and David Foster Wallace, but he stated unequivocally that he would be the best writer of his generation. All of this from a man who had yet to publish a book when he made his statements.

    Ironically, A Million Little Pieces opens on a man stripped of his ego, waking from the stupor of a weeks-long alcohol and drug bender to find himself on an airplane unable to figure out where he is going or where he has been, his face smashed in from a fall that resulted in the loss of four of his front teeth. He's a twenty-three year old addict of nearly every drug, returning first to his parents and then promptly being placed in a rehab center. From that point, both James and the reader have the past clarified in short, often painful slices of flashback and dialogue with various people ranging from a recovering crack addict/former prostitute love interest to an alcoholic Louisiana judge to a Las Vegas mobster. All of this takes place in a rehab center under the auspices of recovery-speak. Through the course of the book, James has major dental surgery without anesthesia, picks numerous fights with just about anyone who crosses his path (and a few who don't), rejects any hint of AA and God, yet comes to terms with his ego and the Fury (that which makes him often proclaim: "I am an Alcoholic and I am a Drug Addict and I am a Criminal"). By comparing himself to others around him, evaluating himself by their addictions and their recovery, James shapes his own theory of self, of addiction, and of sobriety. While listening to one of the daily “Lectures” he must suffer through—this one led by an unnamed “Rock Star” who sounds a bit like Steven Tyler—Frey’s understanding of what it means to be an addict develops:

    An Addict is an addict. It doesn’t matter whether the Addict is white, black, yellow or green, rich or poor or somewhere in the middle, the most famous Person on the Planet or the most unknown. It doesn’t matter whether the addiction is drugs, alcohol, crime, sex, shopping, food, gambling, television, or the fucking Flinstones. The life of the addict is always the same. There is no excitement, no glamour, no fun. There are no good times, there is no joy, there is no happiness. There is no future and no escape. There is only an obsession. An all-encompassing, fully enveloping, completely overwhelming obsession.
    Without a doubt, this is book is a difficult read, both in terms of the writing style and the subject matter. I, too, am a recovering alcoholic. Like Frey, I couldn't fathom kicking my habit with the help of AA and for many of the same reasons (obstinance, unwillingness to accept or believe in a "higher power," etc.). A lot of what Frey deals with reminded me of that part of my life where the urge to drink was much stronger than the desire to stay sober. By the end of the book, Frey has won over the people that are most skeptical, the ones who believed he would fail without the 12 steps. Most importantly, though, he wins over himself. In the first hours of his release from the center (where he will then head to a short prison term for beating up a cop in his "previous life") he will insist on stopping at a bar. It is this scene where Frey as a writer is most effective.
    I have a decision to make. It is a simple decision. It has nothing to do with God or Twelve of anything other than twelve beats of my heart. Yes or no. It is simple decision. Yes or No. I look into myself. Into the pale green of my own eyes. I like what I see. I am comfortable with it. It is fixed and focused. It will not blink. For the first time in my life, as I look into my own eyes, I like what I see. I can live with it. For a long time. I want to live with it. I want to live.
    Do I think Frey has the potential to be the best writer of this generation? It is possible. But he has a long ways to go. For me this book seemed more forced than natural. The seemingly arbitrary capitalization of words, the lack of punctuation, the omission of dialogue tags, quotation marks, and one single indention in the entire novel not only made the reading difficult at times but it also tended to make it seem derivative. There are points where this worked, where the discomfort of the reader with the style/design matched the discomfort of the subject matter, but overall it just creates some undue distractions. For some reason, I felt I was reading an avid practitioner of Kerouac’s list of essentials for spontaneous prose; or rather, someone who may have been given the list and told “See #13, Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition….” But I’ll give Mr. Frey his due. He’s written a memoir worthy of a read. And besides, I really don’t feel like getting my ass kicked right now.

    July 22, 2004

    Oh Death!

    From Catch-22:

    There were lymph glands that might do him in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkins disease, leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. hellerThere were diseases of the skin, diseases of the bone, diseases of the lung, diseases of the stomach, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the intestines, diseases of the crotch. There even were diseases of the feet. There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor and foe. There were so many diseases that it took a truly diseased mind to even think about them as often as he and Hungry Joe did.

    July 19, 2004

    The Cult of Impersonailty

    Staring at the nude female sunbather fifteen floors below, her tattooed backside exposed so that everyone in the surrounding high-rises could admire or cajole or admonish from the windows next to their cubicles, office workers on every floor calling friends or documenting the view with cell-phone cameras, I realized that no matter how holy or removed from the everyday we might be, we are all rubberneckers to the mundane absurdities that materialize seemingly out of nowhere. Some people I know would have figured out a way to get to the roof of that building to interview the woman and investigate whether she was an exhibitionist or just somehow unaware that the neighboring buildings in fact have windows. At that moment, I would have given anything to ask her why, but I just stood there, borrowed a pair of binoculars, and thought about Chuck Palahniuk.

    The previous evening, I made the 15-mile trip to El Cajon to hear a reading by Palahniuk. Driving around the Borders parking lot, I spotted all the cool kids' cars with the stickers for nearly every conceivable punk or indie band (or Hole) decorating rear windows and bumpers, the kids themselves hanging around the entrance to the store, tattoos and piercings marking them as a part of the Cult. Inside, it was more of the same, wall-to-wall kids holding copies of their favorite Palahniuk book and vouchers allowing them a place in the signing line. I didn't bring anything other than my wife's new camera phone and I didn't have $25 for a copy of Palahniuk's new collection, so I made my way to the empty Fiction aisles to see if by chance they had a copy of Stephen Elliot's Happy Baby (no luck). What I found was a handful of Borders' staff engaged in ratcatching, whispering to each other about a second rat in the DVD section. Even the rats wanted a piece of Palahniuk.

    Continue reading "The Cult of Impersonailty" »

    July 14, 2004

    Mark Your Calendar (If You Have the Guts)

    Chuck Palahniuk will be reading from and signing copies of his new collection Stranger Than Fiction tomorrow night at Borders in El Cajon (beginning at 7 pm). Be warned that eating a large meal before attending a Palahniuk reading is not recommended. In fact, you might want to practice placing your head between your knees if you decide to make the trip out there. Just a little friendly advice.

    July 09, 2004

    Where Did I Go?

    Next week will be different. Bakersfield calls. Oil refineries, distant mountains, sun delays. Bakersfield for baseball, then up the road a bit for more of the Central Valley scenery and more baseball. Throw in a buffet and an IHOP or two and more baseball and you'll have my weekend.

    Before I go, here's a little Bukowski, my favorite Buk poem. Carrie and Rake have also posted theirs.

    the strongest of the strange

    you won't see them often
    for whatever the crowd is
    are not.

    these odd ones, not
    but from them
    the few
    good paintings
    the few
    good symphonies
    the few
    good books
    and other

    and from the
    best of the
    strange ones

    they are
    their own
    their own
    their own
    their own

    sometimes I think see
    a certain old
    sitting on a
    certain bench
    in a certain

    a quick face
    going the other
    in a passing

    there's a certain motion
    of the hands
    of the bag-boy or a bag-
    while packing

    it is even somebody
    you have been
    living with
    for some
    you will notice
    lightning quick
    never seen
    from them

    you will only note
    some months
    some years
    after they are

    I remember
    such a
    he was about
    20 years old
    drunk at
    10 a.m.
    staring into
    a cracked
    New Orleans

    face dreaming
    against the
    walls of
    the world.

    did I

    July 02, 2004

    Totally Corrupt


    "Contains Burroughs reading "When Did I Stop Wanting To Be President", recorded at St. Marks Church, NY, Oct. 29, 1975. Also: Charles Bukowski; Sylvia Plath; William Carlos Williams; Jackson Mac Low; Bernard Heidsieck; Ed Dorn; Joanne Kyger; Michael McClure; Charles Olson; Ted Berrigan; W.S. Merwin; Charles Amirkhanian; Taylor Mead; Allen Ginsberg; Frank O'Hara; John Cage; Jack Spicer; Ken Kesey; Ed Sanders; and others."

    MP3s can be found here. For my money, the William Carlos Williams is worth the download.

    June 28, 2004

    When the Movie Version Just Isn't Enough

    It appears that Fight Club, The Musical is in the works:

    At a recent reading as part of his promotional tour for his latest novel "Stranger Than Fiction," {Chuck Palahniuk] divulged to audiences that his gritty novel was possibly making the leap to the stage in song, according to event spokespersons. Palahniuk also mentioned "Fight Club" director David Fincher — whose film credits include "Alien 3," "The Game," "Seven" and "Panic Room" — would be involved in the developing musical.

    Now we know where Chuck got the title for his new book.

    June 22, 2004

    Getting Down and Dirty at the Cal Book Awards

    According to this report, things got testy up in San Francisco at the 2004 California Book Awards last week. Acceptance speeches causing people to flee in anger? Ed, what did you do?

    Most notably, it seems that William Vollmann, who received the Silver Medal for Notable Contribution to Publishing (whatever that means), is recovering nicely from his recent stroke:

    Next up was Vollmann, who explained that he is recovering from a minor stroke. "I'm not drunk, I just wish I was," he said, though any shakiness was barely perceptible.

    Vollmann thanked McSweeney's Books -- publisher of "Rising Up and Rising Down" -- for not "relegating my work to an iron chest buried deep in the earth."

    June 19, 2004

    Eggers Wants You

    Dave Eggers has been writing short-shorts for the Guardian. Now he has issued a challenge:

    Dave Eggers challenges you to write a story entitled To the Point in just 400 words. We will publish a short shortlist and award a prize for the best entry. Send your entries to books.competition@guardianunlimited.co.uk with 'short short' in the subject heading. The closing date is Friday July 23

    June 16, 2004

    An Offer You Can't Refuse

    The San Diego U-T reviews David Foster Wallace's new short story collection, Oblivion:

    Wallace writes like a mainframe gone haywire – perhaps due to conflicts from its state-of-the-art sense-of-humor modules. Six-page sentences diagram perfectly. Footnotes swamp the text. That novel part of speech, the conjoined conjunction, rears its hydra-head ("And but so ... "). Topics shift mid-paragraph. A paragraph ends in mid-proper-name. And (but not but) so on.

    Huh? Anyway, two quick things. I still plan on reading and blogging Infinite Jest sometime before the end of the year. For those of you who have been reading SoT, you know that I've had four or five goes at the novel. Will this attempt be any different? Also, if anyone wants to send me a copy of Oblivion, I'll repay with a gmail account. (The couch isn't give up enough change for this one.)

    June 14, 2004

    A Bit of Sad News

    I've been sitting on this information for a few weeks now because I wasn't sure if it was given to me with the permission to blog it, but apparently William Vollmann suffered some sort of stroke sometime in May. At first, he was completely blind but has since regained his sight. Word has it that he will make a full recovery. More information when it becomes available.

    Also, sorry for the lack of a link, but this seems to be getting no press. Perhaps that's on purpose. I simply felt that all of us who consider ourselves fans of his writing might want to send some positive thoughts his way.

    June 09, 2004

    Straight to Video

    What came into my head...is here's 'Ulysses,' supposedly the greatest novel ever written, and nobody's read the damn thing, especially here in Ireland. It's on everybody's shelf, but nobody's read more than five pages of it. Luckily, I've never been to university, I'm not a scholar, and so I brought no academic baggage to it. I just felt what Joyce wrote was so good, the building blocks were all there for a movie.

    Director Sean Walsh comments on his cinematic debut, an interpretation of Joyce's Ulysses entitled Bloom, with Stephen Rea playing Bloom, Angelina Ball as Molly, and Hugh O'Conor as Dedalus.

    June 02, 2004

    More from the "We're Always Last to Know" File

    The movie adaptation of Rick Moody's Garden State will hit theaters soon. It is directed by and stars Zach Braff of "Scrubs" fame. You can find the trailer here.

    {Link from chromewaves.}

    May 25, 2004

    Where Buk's Beer Garden Grows

        I sit by the window as the garbage men drive up. they empty the garbage cans. I listen for mine. there it is: CRASK TINKLE CRASH BLUNK BLASH! one of the gentlemen looks at the other:
        "man, they got one powerful drinker in there!"
        I lift my bottle and wait for further developments in space flight.

                                           --Charles Bukowski, "Notes of a Potential Suicide"

    The L.A. Times gives an overview of some of Buk's homes (login: syntaxofthings password: syntaxofthings).

    May 24, 2004

    Literary Discussions and Car Crashes

    She's 87 and she still attends her weekly literary discussion. Unfortunately, she either disagreed with the interpretation of last week's book or her driving skills have seriously deteriorated.

    On a related note, after reading J.G. Ballard's Crash, I don't feel up to driving or literary discussions.

    May 19, 2004


    It wasn't Hale-Bopp. It would never inspire a song by Hanson (ok, I made that up) or lead to the mass suicide of a San Diego cult. In fact, its name sounded more like a Canadian freeway and if you didn't know of its appearance on the Western horizon, you probably would never have guessed that Q4 was anything other than a bright star. But through the thin cloud layer on Saturday night, I managed to get a brief look at it before passing through the Cajon Pass and into the light pollution of Rancho Cucamonga.

    And now some related "ifs":

    If you missed Q4, you'll get a shot at seeing another comet in early June. C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) won't be as easy to spot but will be around for a couple of days in the first week of the month.

    If you're too lazy to go comet gazing or live in a city that ruins your horizon, but you like comets, pick up Andrew Sean Greer's first novel The Path of Minor Planets.

    If you've read the novel and want to know more about Greer, I highly recommend TEV's recent interview with him.

    May 18, 2004

    I'll Be Your Mirror

    Mark Danielewski, author of House of Leaves, made a rare appearance last month to give a reading from his novel at San Diego State University. Unfortunately, this fell on day two of my battle with the flu and I couldn't make it, but all reports have it that he was both entertaining and charming. I've also learned that he is currently at work on a new novel and spending a lot of time in the desert to both research and write this novel.

    Michael Hemmingson of the San Diego Reader interviewed Danielewski and since I can't seem to find it on their site (a god-awful Web presence even for an indie weekly) I'm going to take the time to type it out for you here:

    "I'm not good at being a rock star," said novelist Mark Z. Danielewski over margaritas and chicken fajitas in Ocean Beach a couple of weeks ago. "My sister's the one who's the rock star."

    His sister, Poe, has two albums and some hit songs, including "Angry Johnny." Her second album, Haunted, is connected to Mark's new 800-page novel, House of Leaves.

    Poe's lawyer/manager repped the novel to Random House. Mark went on the road with his sibling, who opened for Depeche Mode on a 70-city 2002 tour.

    "What was it like, the first time you got up to read before a rock audience?" I asked. (Rick Moody had done this previously in 2001, reading, as an opening act, from his collection of stories, Demonology, during the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs tour.)

    "I was very nervous," Danielewski admitted. "But it was quite an experience. I'd have to say the best was Madison Square Garden. How many modern writers can say they played that venue? Twelve thousand people! They loved us in Texas. Austin, oh wow. After the tenth time, though, that initial ecstasy wore off. It became like heroin, you know."

    Reading was the only thing Mark was allowed at the venues, however. "I heard they wouldn't let you sell your book at the shows."

    "It was the merchandise manager," Mark said. "He was this British guy with a thick Cockney accent. Let me tell you a small story that sums up his personality. A roadie came up to him, and [the roadie] said he was depressed that his girlfriend just dumped him; the merchandise manager said, 'Look, mate, if they didn't have cunts attached, we'd just toss 'em all out the window.' "

    Mark explained that the merchandise guy was worried that the fans were teenagers with limited resources, "with maybe $20 in their pocket, so he wanted them to spend their $20 on Depeche Mode or Poe T-shirts and not House of Leaves. I would've probably only sold a few copies," Mark said. "I mean, really, how often do you see 14-year-old girls running around a concert with an 800-page book in their hands?"

    May 11, 2004

    Drugstore Barfly

    I always fear the worst when I hear about plans to make a movie from one of my favorite novels.1 This morning, Maud posted news that Matt Damon had signed on to star in the film adaptation of Bukowski's Factotum. While trying to recover and even coming up with an optimistic view of the news ("Look what doing a Bukowski movie did to Mickey Rourke's career"), I decided to seek out more information. In fact, Maud must have been on her first cup of coffee. The Matt in question is actually Matt Dillon. We can all breathe a little sigh of relief.

    1Biggest fear: Tom Cruise landing any role in On the Road.

    The Optimist's Garden

    But oh, I like it here. It's ideal, as I've been saying. You see, I've got everything cater-cornered, the way I like it. Hear the radio? All the war news. Radio, sewing machine, book ends, ironing board and that great big piano lamp peace, that's what I like. Butter-bean vines planted all along the front where the strings are. --Eudora Welty, "Why I Live at the P.O."

    It's not Hemingway's cats, but Eudora Welty's garden is becoming quite the tourist attraction: ""It's kind of funny because scholars studied her work trying to figure out what she drew from, and it came from the garden,' said Susan Haltom, the garden restoration consultant, who began working on the project in 1994 after Welty expressed concerns about its deterioration."

    May 10, 2004

    See What Happens When You Leave Him Home Alone?

    I guess if rock stars think they can all of a sudden become writers (and vice versa), what's stopping a celebrated child actor from thinking he can become one also? Macaulay Culkin's autobiographical first novel is creating a "buzz" over at Miramax Books.

    The novel - titled "Junior" and scheduled for publication next March - is "part memoir, part rant, part comedic tour-de-force," according to the publisher's catalogue, and deals with the author's "quest to come to terms with the awesome pressures of childhood megastardom and family dysfunction."

    ...The Miramax catalogue recounts: "Junior would like to get a few things off his chest. He does not know how to write a book. (Except [maybe] for this one.) He does not like books with introductions. (So this book has six of them.) His therapist says he has issues with closure. (Granted, this book has seven endings.) This is not a novel. (Everything in it is entirely true - except for the large portions that are completely fictional.) And, finally, Junior has no issues with his father. (Nope, really, not a single one.)"

    I'm sure you know how I feel about this one.

    By the way, if you missed Party Monster while it was in theaters, I would suggest that you skip it on DVD also. It is easily in the bottom 10 percent of movies I've seen, and Culkin's acting is a major reason for this. I guess if his writing career takes off, we can expect to see less of him on the silver screen. Hmmm.

    {Link from Maud.}

    Flee the Overdue Book Review

    Little exists on the internet about George Mandel, author of Flee the Angry Stranger. The novel, set in post-World War II Greenwich Village, has been described as the first "Beat Novel," the precursor for works by writers such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and John Clellon Holmes. Knowing this much and seeing it on the sales rack during a recent run to the Borders, I couldn't resist giving it a read. Sure enough, all of the familiar character types of Beat lore are there: junkies, intellectuals, poets, writers, musicians, whores. They exist in a vacuum, separated from the everyday by a drive to not be a part of it. This is a world being slowly encroached upon by television, by the Cold War, by corporate greed. For these characters, reaction to all of this is an exercise in losing one's self in a destructive other, usually heroin or pot or sex. Everything is, for the most part, an act of self-destruction, but also an attempt at creating a distance from the square world that they despise.

    But Mandel isn't Burroughs. His novel doesn't glorify drugs or insist on the creative powers of escaping via inebriation. In some ways, it's a cautionary tale. We see the deterioration of self at the hands of both narcotics and a world that pushes people toward the use of them. At the same time, though, this isn't Reefer Madness, and some of Mandel's descriptions of "spiking" are apt and have the feel of being written from an experience recollected in tranquility.

    All along, there is this sense of an impending death. The death of the soul, the death of innocence and physical death loom over every page of this novel. The only question is "who will die and how?" For a while, it looks as if there will be an overdose. After a while, suicide starts becoming a character, both attempted and actual. But eventually, it is a kidnapping and murder that send the book to its final pages in which the reader realizes that Mandel doesn't have solutions to the feelings of void that he seems to see everywhere, that he realizes life and the destructive tendencies of the people bent on this type of escape are impossible to resolve.

    This novel does have a lot of the Beat elements that a reader of that catalog would find familiar, but at the same time, it is somewhat more finely crafted than most of the familiar writings of that era. And then there's the fact that Mandel sees little romanticism in this lifestyle. Take this exchange, for example:

    She laughed suddenly, coughing on a sip of hemp. "But, Carter, you've got get some kicks out of life. Or what do you want to look things in the eye for?"

    Watching her sip studiously, he put an arm around her. "You know better than that, you little creep. Kicks aren't negative things like you get in churches and in this kind of sedation. They're in being healthy and watching yourself accomplish things that wouldn't get done if not for you. And they're in rubbing shoulders with other alive people, laughing with them, sharing real things with them...."

    A few years after this novel's initial release, Kerouac would set the course for a new generation of people looking for just such a kick. Mandel seems to have been left behind, unable to rub shoulders with the group, and eventually forgotten by the group and readers alike. Now his novel has been reissued and eventually will have to be viewed alongside the better works of that period.

    April 28, 2004

    While I Slept

    Hubert Selby Jr. passed away on April 26th.

    Leave it to the NYT to fail to mention a certain Selby book, one that was turned into a pretty good movie, Requiem for a Dream.

    Ditch of Iniquity and Tears

    Los Angeles is a long 100 miles from my point on the map, 100 miles that might as well be 1000 on most days. On more than one occasion I've planned three hours to make the trip to Dodger Stadium and without fail I end up cursing the god of traffic. Six, sometimes seven lanes going one way and no matter what time or what day the 5 will be a crawl. Even in clear weather or sans traffic accident, one could finish most of a Norman Mailer novel in the time it takes to get from San Diego to L.A.

    That being said, I had thoughts of going to the L.A. Festival of Books this past weekend, but the lingering illness and fear of that drive kept me at home. Thankfully, TEV's Anonymous Roving Correspondent filed a nice report:

    I moved on to more pleasing pastures, if you will, and sat among the young bodies who congregated at the panel about independent magazines, which was presided over by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s), Tamara Straus (Zoetrope All-Story), Edwin Frank (New York Review of Books Classics) (Hunh?) and Lawrence Weschler (Omnivore). The topic was “Can Independent Magazines Survive” which amused Eggers and perplexed Weschler, who stole the show with his inspired rant against “the reign of the Pavlovian address” that dominates media today with its mission to “jolt, salivate, spend.” Eggers used cheap laughs and easy applause whenever he didn’t feel like giving a straight answer, which was always, and I can’t say I blame him. An independent magazine’s ability to “survive” is a weird question since the last time I looked into the matter, no one trying to kill them off. (A prey without a predator isn’t really at risk, is it?) Whether an independent magazine “survives” is largely a fiscal question (the psychiatric state of those who undertake such ventures notwithstanding). Still, young people laughing is better than old people hacking and we’ll volunteer to sit quietly and gaze at Zoetrope’s blue-eyed editrix any day of the week. That was enough panels for me, and I left UCLA in search of a burrito and a baseball game, and ended up at the public library, which is a little like leaving a demolition derby and rear-ending an uninsured motorist on the way home.

    A burrito at a baseball game sounds good right about now. And damn if the Dodgers aren't playing good baseball. It's April; plenty of time to fill the bandwagon before it reaches the cliff.

    April 26, 2004


    For those of you waiting for the May issue of Spin for further evidence that Dave Eggers has contracted a nasty case of hypergraphia (also known as Joyce Carol Oatesism), you're out of luck. From the table of contents, listed as page number π, comes this

    And Now, A Less Informed Opinion
    "I was informed that this month's column was too good to be seen by the human eye. Next month, I will write a less good column, which will be visible to all." --Dave Eggers

    1Apologies for the title. Another SoCal heat wave has rendered my creativity useless.

    April 21, 2004

    For Those of You Reading Along

    The latest selection in the Oprah Book Club is Carson McCuller's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Oprah credits Julia Roberts for "reminding" her to read the novel, though she claims that it has been on her "to read" list for years.

    See what happens when you're on the couch, both hands clutching the side of your head, and the remote is a good table-length away? You get stuck watching Oprah. The show did feature a nice wrap-up of the One Hundred Years of Solitude reading experience, including interviews with Shakira and Daryl Hanna about their love for the book and Gabriel García Márquez. Also, the show mentioned the oft told story of how García Márquez came to write the novel. While in the car on the way to Acapulco with his family, he suddenly had a flash of inspiration, turned the car around, and told his wife to take care of the family and the bills that he would be upstairs writing. A year and a half later, he came downstairs, plopped down the manuscript, and told his wife that it was finished. She looked at him, smiled, and handed him a stack of bills.

    April 13, 2004

    Page 23

    I can't resist this one, found on Ed's site:

    1. Grab the nearest book.
    2. Open the book to page 23.
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

    "Odds would give it away." Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49

    April 12, 2004

    A Brief Moment to Collect My Thoughts

    When the fog lifts and the sound of the open road quits roaring through my head, I'll post again. Until then, here's something that worked better than caffeine this morning:


    Now is it clear why he writes about whores and violence?

    {Photo of William Vollmann from LA Weekly, where there's an attempt at a review of Rising Up and Rising Down; link from Rake}

    April 07, 2004

    Beckham Scores

    Spice Girl husband and soccer star David Beckham was given a special prize at the British Book Awards. His ghost-written autobiography is the UK's fastest-selling biography ever. Beckham seems pleased:

    "When I decided to write my autobiography I never expected to be breaking records. I just wanted to give my side of the story," said the England football captain.

    We all await the sequel. After all, Beckham's been bending more than soccer balls these days (allegedly).

    Also of note, Mark Haddon won children's book of the year and the literary fiction prize for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

    April 06, 2004

    The Unreadable Ain't Compulsory

    I gave up on Dave Eggers' serialized novel after episode four. Lucky for us, Low Culture has turned on Word's AutoSummarize feature so we don't have to.

    March 29, 2004

    A Rosy Greer

    Actually, when he began the book he was thinking more of Bob Dylan. In 2001, having published a collection of stories and in the middle of writing a novel, he found himself singing "My Back Pages" — "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" — and he had what amounted to an epiphany. "I thought that could be a book not like anything I'd written before," he said. "It sounded like a wild adventure that no one's going to want to read, but it could be a lot of fun, and maybe that's the point of it."

    The NYT has a discussion with The Confessions of Max Tivoli author Andrew Sean Greer. I have to admit that when I initially heard the premise of the novel, I wasn't quite sure I would enjoy it. Having a rather low capacity to suspend disbelief, I took it as a challenge. It turned out to be a worthwhile one. Tivoli is a character that will stick with me for a long time. Now I have a song to accompany the novel.

    March 28, 2004

    Little Expressionless Animals

    When I was in graduate school, an artist I knew liked to brag about the fact that he was once suspended from middle school for turning in a drawing of a naked girl, "full frontal" he would say. Funny thing is, he'd basically ripped it off from a painting in one of his textbooks, though he never told me which one.

    One could explain his suspension as simply the overly excited morality of the Bible belt. Expression, especially when it features the depiction of the nethers, has never had a place in the public schools (and never laugh when they show the "birds and bees" film or the football coach will pummel you with the paddle of righteousness). But how does one explain1 an art college in San Francisco expelling a student and firing an instructor over a story the student turned in which seemed a bit over-the-top violent.

    They all point to an assigned reading assignment of David Foster Wallace's "Girl with Curious Hair" as the inspiration for the story. I wonder if this led the student to seek out other Wallace.

    Senseless violence and footnotes. They do tend to make one a bit batty.2

    1Link from Ed.
    2See what I mean?

    A Nagging Question Answered...

    ...and thank goodness for it. I stare at the spines of his books almost every day and wonder, "How the hell do you say his name?" I guess I could have done some research or maybe I should have been clever enough to make sure the DVR recorded his appearance on Conan O'Brien, but I haven't and I didn't.

    Anyway, it's pronounced Paula-nick.

    You can read the Guardian interview with Chuck Palahniuk and see for yourself.

    If you're brave enough, you can also follow the links to an excerpt from his faint-inducing story "Guts."

    March 24, 2004

    Yonder Stands a Writer

    From time to time, I have to remind myself that Barry Hannah is one of my favorite writers. Often when someone asks me whom I enjoy reading, I'll name off a long list and somehow always neglect to mention Hannah. All I have to do, though, is skim through one of his books and read one of the passages I've marked to realize that Hannah should always be a part of that list. For instance, this passage from Ray:

    I paid for Sister to go to the University of South Alabama in Mobile. She thought she'd like Mobile. But there was no way she could cut college, not even a semester of it. She fell in love with two different boys and they both dropped out too. Now she's a waitress in Atlanta, making a lot on tips and using marijuana by the wagonload. I received a scrawled letter and five one-hundred-dollar bills--her college fee--and a lurid photograph of her in a skimpy waitress costume, receiving between her lips the huge member of a fat conventioneer, name badge on his coat, drink in his hand, eyes shut with pleasure and mouth open like a murdered boar. It was made up with the club's name on the bottom. It was clear she was involved in a filthy, lucrative industry. In the letter she wrote:

    "Ray, I'm rich, but this ain't me. There's nobody to talk to and I'm turning into hate. Please come and marry me. This ain't me."

    Hannah writes about the South that I know, a coarse, sometimes vulgar place that always seems just on the verge of finding itself. Wrapped in kudzu and soaked in whiskey, his stories make me homesick, make me crave fried okra and sweetened ice tea. They remind me of why I left and why I'll probably return one day.

    And then there are his characters.

    Withered beyond longevity, a tiny man in dwarf's overalls, deeply addicted to codeine and Valium, fears colored people; occasionally makes scratching protests on his old violin, which has become too large for him. Every disease has had its success with him. Now he's barely a scab demanding infrequent nutrients. Bald as a beige croquet ball, he rolls his own. (From Hey Jack!)

    + Hannah interviewed on Fresh Air (real audio)
    + Hannah profile
    + BookPage interview ("He hasn't had a drink in a decade and Yonder Stands Your Orphan is the first novel he wrote sober.")

    March 22, 2004


    No, it's not a cologne. It's the title of the soon-to-be-released short story collection from David Foster Wallace. Howling Fantoids has some details. {Link via Rake's Progress.}

    In other DFW news, my plan to blog through my fourth attempt at making it all the way through Infinite Jest has been put on hold. I'm hoping that by late summer I'll be free of some projects that are currently taking away from my already small allotment of patience. Oblivion may be a good warm-up exercise.

    March 18, 2004

    Youth & Young Manhood & a Staggering Genius

    Dave Eggers has an essay in the new issue of Spin. It's not online yet, but since my bathroom comes with a subscription I was able to give it a read. Seems he now knows about the Kings of Leon's velocity. Say what you want about Eggers, but he pretty much nails it with this:

    The [Kings of Leon] and their videos look like they were made in the '70s. The videos are grainy and clumsy, or are designed to look that way. They appear to have been filmed at a low-budget KOA campground in Tennessee. Everyone's in T-shirts and bad jeans worn without smirks....I have been to these types of campgrounds--not pretty, not clean, the Porta Potties stinking of lime and feces--and these campgrounds are Kings of Leon, and Kings of Leon are these campgrounds. Kings of Leons are two-door muscle cars and Piggly Wigglies and racist uncles and upholstery that stinks of smoke and signs on the inside of junior-high locker doors that say Cocaine Adds Life because that's such a badass naughty pun.

    Kings of Leon are motorboats on crowded lakes and waterskiing in cutoffs and hiding Milwaukee's Best in the forest, in the snow, in January, because your parents caught on that you were keeping cases in the fridge in the garage. Kings of Leon are knowing a guy in juvie and having a cousin who's been in jail twice. And that cousin, by the way, the one with the burns all over his right forearm--nothing interesting, just an accident with coffee--that cousin, Terry, would love Kings of Leon if he gave them a chance....Kings of Leon are the real deal, and I can't describe them any better because it's starting to seem like math, and this, as you know, causes me pain.

    March 16, 2004

    The Elegant Interview

    I've fallen a little behind in blog reading as of late, so I'm about a week overdue in referencing The Elegant Variation's interview with Timoleon Vieta Come Home author Dan Rhodes. Rhodes' novel is high on my list of recommended reads (even for dog lovers).

    March 14, 2004

    'Roids and Writers?

    Someone might want to check and see if Richard Ford is ok. I'm guessing that he might not be on the short list for an invitation to the White House or the Colson Whitehead house.

    {Both links from Ed.}

    March 12, 2004

    Saint Jack's Day

    Jean-Louis Lebris "Jack" Kerouac was born on this day in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. In honor of his birthday, I will be conducting all business in spontaneous prose without edit and with little regard to punctuation.

    Here's an excerpt from "After Me, The Deluge", one of Kerouac's last written pieces:

    What am I thinking about? I'm trying to figure out where I am between the established politicians and the radicals, between cops and hoods, tax collectors and vandals.

    kerlast.jpgI'm not a Tax-Free, not a Hippie-Yippie--I must be a Bippie-in-the-middle.

    No I'd better go around and tell everybody, or let others convince me, that I'm the great white father and intellectual forebear who spawned a deluge of alienated radicals, war protestors, dropouts, hippies and even "beats," and thereby I can make some money maybe and a "new Now-image" for myself (and God forbid I dare call myself the intellectual forebear of modern spontaneous prose), but I've got to figure out first how I could possibly spawn Jerry Rubin, Mitchell Goodman, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg and other warm human beings from the ghettos who say they suffered no less than the Puerto Ricans in their barrios and the blacks in their Big and Little Harlems, and all because I wrote a matter-of-fact account of a true adventure on the road (hardly an agitational propaganda account) featuring an ex-cowhand and an ex-footballer driving across the continent north, northwest, midwest and southland looking for lost fathers, odd jobs, good times, and girls winding up on the railroad. Yup, I'd better convince myself that these thinkers were not on an entirely different road.

    + Official Web Site of Jack Kerouac
    + LitKicks: Jack Kerouac
    + The Kerouac Project of Orlando
    + Kerouac Speaks

    March 10, 2004

    More Fun with Fear

    With D-day drawing closer (five days), I've decided to move McTeague by Frank Norris to the top of my reading list. I haven't read the novel since my undergrad days, but I'm doing everything to overcome this phobia and because McTeague is my favorite literary dentist, I'm hoping that something in Norris's writing will restore some color to my ever-whitening knuckles.

    I was also drawn to McTeague after reading The Confessions of Max Tivoli. Both novels are set in and around the same time period and city, San Francisco. In his essay, "Frank Norris", Don Graham describes the city as Norris must have seen it:

    The San Francisco that Norris knew as a young man was a city as colorful as any in America. It had a Chinatown mysterious and evil-seeming to the Anglo-Saxon mind; it had a romantic shipping trade; it had a proletariat of lower-class shopkeepers and immigrants; it had a red-light district famous since the days of the forty-niners. It also had coteries of artists, painters, illustrators, architects, and writers who thought they were going to produce a Renaissance on the West Coast. San Francisco stood with one foot in the Old West, the other in Nineties aestheticism.

    I'm thinking it's San Francisco that attracts me to the book. Although I've only been a short-term visitor, a honeymooner, a fan at a Giants game, a browser at City Lights, I must admit that I really love the city. Even a casual mention conjurs up that romantic Beat image that I've had since first cracking the spine of On the Road.

    It's probably safe to say that McTeague will do little more than make me want to revisit San Francisco. As for my dentist phobia, I am allowed to bring in a CD to provide the background noise to my little blue pill experience. If you have any suggestions for a Sedation mix, drop me a comment.

    Man, I hate dentists.

    March 09, 2004

    "A toast! To the working class! And to all the shackjobs in America, Mexico and Poland!"

    Of course, Charles Bukowski was politically incorrect before some thinly talented radio personality made it the rage. He sported the grunge look before a Seattle band set the fashion. He predated the new appreciation of older women; he declared that women are the most desirable at the age when they're just starting to fall apart, which is good news for some of us. He continued to drink hard liquor straight from the bottle long after imported water had replaced martinis on the social scene, and only the influence of the woman he loved, then married, was able to slow him down. He was a writer who insisted on being out-of-step with his times.

    Buk died ten years ago today.

    + Read entire obituary written by Suzanne Lummis of the L.A. Times Book Review {Note: I pilfered the obit from this site, but since it was nearly impossible to read, I moved it to a clean file. Also, thanks to Rake's Progress for reminding me.}
    + A Bukowski Page

    March 08, 2004

    R.I.P. Spalding Gray

    Sad news. Spalding Gray's body has been found.

    March 05, 2004

    Random Rising...

    The National Book Critics Circle awards have been announced.

    As I've mentioned before, William T. Vollmann's massive collection (3352 pages) of essays, Rising Up and Rising Down, was a finalist for the award for general nonfiction. Though I paid McSweeney's good money to be one of the lucky few to own the collection, I've yet to do much more than skim a couple of the volumes, mostly looking at some of the pictures and a hit-and-miss reading of a few of the passages. For those of you who didn't shell out the $120 and can't wait for the condensed version (still 600 pages, due out November 1), I decided to pick out a chapter at random. Forget context, this is randomness in its purest form. From volume IV, in the section "Justifications", subsection"Punishment" (pp 81-82):

    Continue reading "Random Rising..." »

    March 01, 2004

    A Literary Dick

    A new link has been added to the fold: The Literary Dick. According to the subtitle of this site, this is what we can look forward to:

    The Literary Dick (as in Private Detective) is a place for book-lovers to come with their literary mysteries. Michael Wood, who made his name in this field with his brilliant research into the mystery of Henry James's testicle injury, will be answering your queries. The Literary Dick (as in Private Detective) is published by www.Jonathanames.com.

    This week's question is "Did Jack Kerouac really have sex with Gore Vidal?" Shudder.

    {Link from Maud.}

    February 20, 2004

    Fifty Years of Howl-ing Madness


    Howl wasn't first performed until 1955, wasn't published until '56, and didn't cause Ferlinghetti to be tried for obscenity until '57, but fifty years ago this year, Allen Ginsberg began composing one of the most influential poems of the 20th century:

    "Howl" was overtly antiwar and anti-capitalist. It mocked the FBI, condemned "scholars of war" and, at the dawn of the age of Hugh Hefner's suave playboy, celebrated the male sexual outlaw who made love in "empty lots & diner / backyards." It also challenged the conventional poetry of its day. It was boldly lyrical, intensely personal, ironic, ambiguous — and very funny.

    + Legal history of "Howl"
    + Ginsberg on LitKicks
    + Ginsberg's FBI file
    + Six Gallery Reading
    + Text of "Howl"

    February 12, 2004

    Fire Ants, Alabama, Helen Keller, and Me


    If ever one could earn a major from classes taken in elementary through high school, I believe I would have one in Alabama history. Thanks to the fact that my family moved a few times, I ended up sitting through this class in three different grades: fourth, fifth, and ninth. I don't begrudge this Alabama overdose, and thanks to age and alcohol abuse a large amount of this information has been reduced to only trivial things such as the fact that Alabama has more miles of navigable waterways than any other state or that the fire ant first entered the United States on a banana boat that docked in Mobile. On a day when the memory is only partly cloudy, I can recall the state song and the first governor and probably name off a bunch of the counties.

    Through all of these years of Alabama history, one figure stands alone as the most memorable to ever come from the state (no, not Lionel Ritchie): Helen Keller. The teachers always seemed to slow the lessons to a crawl whenever we came to the Helen Keller chapter in the book. We would read about that day at the well with Anne Sullivan and watch the film and beg for more. Helen was the happy ending we never got when we studied Anne Frank. In the current New York Review of Books, Helen Keller's The Story of My Life is critically examined. I've never read the book, and honestly, most of my knowledge of Keller is by way of those classes. But I plan on putting this on my reading list. I want to partake of the literary side of Helen and have that as a companion to the historical. And I wouldn't mind dredging up the memories of those three years of Alabama history classes just one more time.

    February 10, 2004

    State of Book Publishing

    Nothing really new in W.W. Norton executive editor Robert Weil's contribution to the Washington Post's series about the state of the publishing industry. Chock full of the discouraging and depressing news that many of us have grown accustomed to over the years, the article presents some very important questions for writers and readers:

    Is it impossible for serious writers to emerge in our corporatized publishing world, which favors novels-by-number and bite-sized histories that readers can chuck when the plane ride is over? By giving the public what it supposedly wants, has the modern-day publisher jettisoned literature, abandoning a commitment to transcendent works in favor of celebrity memoirs, celebrity novels and celebrity children's books, most of them ghost-written in the first place? And given the needs of these corporations, whose often-foreign overseers demand high returns-on-investment to pay off loans, has the the editor been superseded by the marketing manager and the publicist, desperate to place an author on "Oprah" or "The Today Show" to ensure a book's mass success?

    And these concerns aren't really exclusive to the book publishing world. How many great movies go unseen or albums unheard because they don't fit in a comfortable niche for the contract signers who control the easy access for all of us?

    February 05, 2004


    Ever wondered what we would do with libraries if the world continues on its path to illiteracy? This article suggests converting them into community weightlifting centers. After all, why bother with literacy when there are so many other pressing problems such as youknowwho's youknowwhat on the boobtube. And reading has many negative aspects:

    [L]iteracy causes colds; case in point, I developed a horrible cold just hours after an entire night reading Infinite Jest. I also discovered a strange raging sexual lust when I read All the Best, George Bush: My Life and Other Writings, and though I’m actually a little embarrassed to say what happened after finishing The Power and the Glory, the itchy rashes in sensitive spots still have not gone away. If we simply give into the will of our hearts and stop reading, we will finally be able to establish the utopian world that great thinkers have been planning for centuries.

    I'm still recovering from a migraine and a serious bout of depression, not to mention carpal tunnel, after reading Middlemarch. And the mention of Infinite Jest tends to cause half my body to break out in hives.

    While you are reading the Morning News, be sure to check out the proposal for National Pizza Day (and sign the petition). I've always felt that Leap Day was sort of the vestigial tail of days and only by giving it meaning can we celebrate just how special it really is.

    (Thanks for the links mch.

    February 04, 2004

    The Dave Eggers Salon

    If you want to spend the time to get a free day pass at Salon (today you'll be treated to their idea of what swag is), it may be worth it to read the first three episodes of Dave Egger's novel-in-progress, The Unforbidden Is Compulsory Or, Optimism. Here's a sample:

    Stuart couldn't remember exactly when he decided this would be a good idea, this running for State Representative. It seemed so long ago, as fuzzy and indefensible as any choice made under duress or the influence of rage or beer. It brought to mind other paths he'd taken and was eventually puzzled by: in high school he'd briefly thought himself a singer and at the talent show had sung "I'll Be Your Mirror" accompanied by Hammered dulcimer, played by his French teacher, Mme. Bialosky -- she was sex on legs, whoa nelly! It had not gone well, but was glory and conquest compared to the disaster of his Clan of the Cave Bear fan club or, in college, his leading of the Young Conservatives March Against Protests. He'd had his successes, yes. He'd lettered three years in track and had twice been the RA with the highest approval rate, and now his cellphone ring-customization outfit was flourishing. He made a good living. His skin was clear. He could play pickup basketball with anyone, and had loyal friends who knew when to stop talking. So why this, now, a run for statewide office? It had seemed easy enough six months ago but now was a grind, and everyone involved seemed to be taking it much too seriously.

    February 02, 2004

    There Goes the Neighborhood

    Anne Rice is taking her toys and leaving. She's placed her New Orleans Garden District houses up for sale and is escaping to suburbia. How Lestat and her assorted other characters will fair while shopping at WalMart has yet to be determined. Seriously, though, Rice's houses are extremely beautiful. No, they aren't painted black and strung with cobwebs and stocked with torture devices (as far as I know), though a big German shepherd statue once stood guard over the property from its perch on the second floor balcony. I'm sure there is now a mad scramble by some of the tour bus operators to find a suitable replacement for the good half hour they spend driving by her homes.

    January 29, 2004

    Guts Buster

    There seems to be a lot of buzz around about a new Chuck Palahniuk story, "Guts", which will be published in the March issue of Playboy. According to BoingBoing, reports have it that people frequently flee, faint, and/or vomit when Chuck presents it at one of his readings. A reader of BoingBoing suggests that this may be staged, complete with fake projectile. I know that Palahniuk has some rather rabid fans, so this definitely may be the case. I do remember reading a few months ago that he was keeping some sort of scorecard of fainting victims. Who knows?

    If you want to see if the story has some sort of finger-to-throat effect on you, here's a link to C.P. reading it. (Disclaimer: syntax of things is not responsibility for loss of lunch or broken keyboards.)

    January 28, 2004

    Mark Haddon Wins Whitbread

    Mark Haddon has won the Whitbread Award for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

    + Nice article on Haddon
    + Interview with Haddon
    + My review

    January 27, 2004

    Reviews Up, Vision Down

    My copy of William Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down still sits on top of my bookshelf, on top because I couldn't find anywhere else to put it. I have big plans to make a month out of it, and at 3500+ pages, a month may be ambitious.

    Despite the fact that the collection came out in November, it really didn't start getting a lot of press until now. One reason for this recent publicity may be the fact that it was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Or it could just be that the review copies were sent out on a CD-ROM, forcing reviewers to sit for days, even months in front of their monitors sifting through all of the stories on violence. Here is Boston Globe critic John Freeman's take:

    There are so many anecdotes in this book that one wonders, well, were they all necessary? Why not 350 pages, a book most people can read, rather than 3,500, a hunk of tree so large it took this reader five months in front of his keyboard (the book was sent out in advance as a CD-ROM) to complete? My eyeballs are still watering.

    I do believe there are plans for a condensed version of the collection. I'm left wondering if I should wait.

    + An oral history of Rising Up and Rising Down

    + An idea of what is contained in the book

    Spalding Gray News

    Or lack thereof. In case you haven't been following this, he's been missing for over two weeks. New York Magazine has an in-depth look at Gray's disappearance.

    Gray had spent the past 31 months laboring, only partly successfully, to recuperate from a devastating car accident in Ireland in June 2001. In the crash, Gray, who had always battled his hereditary depression and bipolar tendencies, suffered a badly broken hip, leaving his right leg almost immobilized, and a fracture in his skull that left a gruesome, jagged scar on his forehead. Shattered both physically and emotionally, he had spent the ensuing months experimenting with every therapy imaginable. In just under two years, the celebrated monologuist underwent six operations and passed through twelve hospitals. There was virtually no psychoactive medication Gray had not tried—Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, Depakote—and usually, under doctors’ orders, in extravagant combinations. He tried aggressive acupuncture. Nothing worked.

    In the past year, he’d attempted suicide several times....

    And he might. Conceivably. The last his family saw of Spalding was Saturday, January 10, when he took the kids to see Big Fish, the story of a dying father’s relationship with his son, at the Loews Village on Third Avenue and 11th Street. After the movie, Gray wept.

    Update (3/8/04): Gray's body has been found.

    January 26, 2004


    Because I spent most of my day yesterday working on this site, I completely missed Thomas Pynchon's appearance on the Simpsons. Luckily for me, I added the DVR service to my cable and remembered to set it to record this episode, which I'll try to watch tonight. If you missed it, you can hear what Pynchon sounds like and see some screen captures at Amy's Robot. (Link from Maud via Cup of Chica).