Saturday, May 31, 2008

Saturday thoughts

I. I just read the first short chapter of a newish book, and it ends with the character wishing someone would leave her alone so she could update her blog. This seems like a dire development somehow—or is it simply verisimilitude?

II. Speaking of updating: My software has arrived—and has been updated! And I am using the software to do this blog post. We'll see how it works.

III. Would it be a good/bad idea to do PD annotations on the PD blog?

IV. Dzyd Brent informs me that one of the vocal lines in the Squeeze song "Tempted" (which I reconsidered yesterday) is by none other than Elvis Costello. I knew he produced it...but I didn't know that he had a cameo! This means there are four people handling lead vocals! Too many! Unless you are doing "We Are the World."

V. Culled from Dzyd comments—great boarding school novels/fictional boarding schools (further details welcome)—

From Matt:

Enfield Tennis Academy in Infinite Jest

From Sarah:

Christine Schutt's new book, title unknown

Nina de Gramont's The Gossip of the Starlings

Gordon Korman's Bruno & Boots novels, set at the fictional McDonald Hall in Ontario (and initially written while a teen)

From Jenny D:

John Irving's The World According to Garp

R. F. Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days

Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books

Jane Eyre, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield

VI. Remember Dzyd Rachel's piece about the "Footprints" poem and its disputed authorship? [Dzyds nod enthusiastically.] The case has gone to court, as noted by The New Yorker.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Son of Table-Talk of P.G. for May 30, 2008

I. Oroboros [sic]—the game! (From Idalia.)

II. Baseball and poetry, sure. But hockey and poetry? At the Poetry Foundation, Dizzies Team Member Rob talks to Randall Maggs, author of Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems.

III. Check out (get it?) the librarian muxtape.

IV. At Jacket Copy, Dzyd Ben packs books for a trip.

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Meditation on a lyric by Destroyer

I. "Thou shalt not take part in or make bad art." —Destroyer, "The Bad Arts"

II. Yes, but bad art becomes grist for future laughs.

(Via VSL.)


Table-Talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 30, 2008

I. I forgot what I was going to write here.

II. Linksmeister-general Thomas has a Dzyd challenge:
Thinking about Michael Campbell's Lord Dismiss Us...I want to say that it's one of the great boarding school novels, but what are the others? The list that's beginning in my head is growing already! Dizzhead challenge? Tempting to say this is a distinctly British mode, though not necessarily. Pilcrow, Adam Mars-Jones' new book (not yet out in the US, regrettably), seems like it would be very much in this tradition.
Hmmm—Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, Taylor Antrim's The Headmaster Ritual...what are some others?

III. Music news: I've reconstructed most of Side B of the Psychic Envelopes' Cryspace...though I don't know if this is the correct order...anyway, it features not one but two songs based on Joseph Heller titles! (How to write a song called "Catch 22"?)...Dzyd Bbbecky on Palymyra's Mis-en-scene, worth a listen!...and a look:

For years I've thought Squeeze's "Tempted" was easily their best song and maybe one of the great pop songs ever! (Here's Fat Ed top-fiving it.) But on a recent listen, it seemed too busy. The production is great, but why are there three singers taking over the main vocal? Why the switch from Carrack to Difford? And then what is that guy with the really low voice doing, barging in on the Difford line? (It's Difford, right? Not Tilbrook?) Even two lead singers seems unnecessary! What's the story that's being told there? (Are these two different stories? Three? Probably not, so why make it sound like "Do They Know It's Christmas?"?!)...I like Richard Thompson's stripped-down version on 1,000 Years of Popular Music—but the backup vocal goes on a bit of a tangent that I think mars it. Conclusion: Nothing is perfect!..Dizzies Team Member Matt has raved about Music & Lyrics, and so I added it to my Netflix queue, and—since Funky Forest has a "Very Long Wait"!—it recently gravitated to the top of the heap...I heart Matt Singer but I just don't know about this movie....It makes Once look like Citizen Kane! No, well—it's not just felt.....prolonged....BUT the main song (by FoW tunesmith for hire Adam Schlesinger) is LODGED IN MY HEAD, which I guess means it did something right? Or not....Zoilus (the blog of Journey to the End of Taste genius Carl Wilson) directs me to The Shoe, the singing side/solo project of actress Jena Malone...very nice, shades of Mo Tucker!

IV. It's Friday. May is coming to a close—TIME! Where does it go?! June will be upon us...and that week—Thursday, June 5—I'll be reading from Personal Days in Chicago—the so-called Windy City!—home of H. Keeler and H. Darger!—at The Book Cellar....4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue....(I am waiting for the software to arrive so I can update; in the meantime I'm posting new reviews—well, only the good ones!—at the Personal Days blog.)

The books I read and the books that I said I read

"[T]he papers we are always going to throw away are the papers we are never going to read again, and we won't know which they are till we've read them again." —Lore Segal, Shakespeare's Kitchen

"To forget we must not KNOW we are doing so or else we are NOT forgetting."
—unidentified marginalia, found in a book entitled Memory, in the Philosophy Study Room at Low Library, Columbia University, ca. 1994

"Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory." —attributed to Confucius, in Henriette Mertz's Pale Ink

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ghost of a smile

Mediabistro reports on the Personal Days party at the New York Society Library. Here I am with my editor, Julia Cheiffetz; comic novelist extraordinaire Amanda Filipacchi is visible off my left shoulder.

(Photo by Adrian,
Ghost lapel pin by Sarah!)

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Dizzies Poetry Supplement

[...]A pink butterfly capers
over the cosmos, where it got lost this morning.
Is it straight from God, the freedom?
I want to write something highly controlled
that is the opposite, like a dizzy
honeycomb gleaming with amber light.

—From "Dune," by Henri Cole


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dream guide


A runnicle is an image left over from dream left in the mind at waking, an image or fact with no narrative content or context.
This information is itself a runnicle, I wake with it, and hurry to write it down to share this runnicle with the dream community.
—Robert Kelly, Annandale Dream Gazette (via Levi)


In another dream, a teeming red brick slum in some forgotten corner of Los Angeles, separated from the main part by a zone where it was always winter, I met a young man who was also dreaming, and had come to the same place. I knew I was dreaming and he affirmed that he did as well. We chatted for some time - in the dream every word was distinct, and the conversation flowed, but in the morning I could remember only the barest gist of it.

—Dzyd Bess's dad, International Rooms


My new thing is to read without knowing the author or title of what I'm reading. Trying to reproduce the feeling of a dream.


[...]I was talking about
our dream life—our subconscious—but a friend said
that she thought I'd meant the New York subway system,
ha ha. Nonetheless, I give to the neurobiologists
this first identification of a mechanism, somewhere in the brain,
I call "the turnstile." It allows our passage
into the depths. And what's the morning
—what's the clear new start—if not our exiting
back into this life through the same round gate?
—Albert Goldbarth, from "The Initial Published Discovery" (in The Kitchen Sink)

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Signed, sealed, bewildered!

$52 for a copy of Personal Days?

PD—or not PD!

Eh? You want to headline a review of Personal Days "Hamlet at the Watercooler"?—Uh, let me check...Sure, I can live with that...!

Kathryn Joyce's in-depth review is up at Newsweek (minor spoiler alert):
With often pitch-perfect delivery, Park chronicles the grind of daily office tedium, which wears the clique down into professional cynics and observers, from the tricky politics of e-mailing a supervisor (a "psychotic" peppiness "barely stifling a howl of fear") to the shelved individual passion projects none of them wants to discuss....Park has a sound sense both of his characters' kindness and banality, and as the novel progresses he succeeds in nailing the note of false ennui the young group at first gives off, exposing not just their dull, sad anxieties but the sweet affection they do develop for each other, with sharp and lovely language....The final section, "Revert to Saved," [is] a soulful love letter and apologia that distills the gracefulness of Park's prose throughout the book to a single elegant voice, the individual that was before entering the assembly line of the Jobmilla nightmare....A lyrical and often piercing look at daily life made strange and beautiful by faithful transcription.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Curl up!

A lot of reviews of PD have mentioned Kafka—I don't mind!!!—which made me wonder whether an Ouroboros ever materializes in his prose. I got excited when I read this:

Sweet serpent, why do you stay so far away, come nearer,nearer still, enough, no further, stay there. For you, too, there are no frontiers. How am I to attain mastery over you if you recognize no frontiers? It will be hard work. I begin by asking you to curl yourself up. Curl yourself up, I said, and you stretch yourself. Don't you understand me? You don't understand me. But I speak very clearly: Curl up! No, you don't grasp it. So then I show you, here, with the staff. First of all you must describe a large circle, then inside, adjoining it, a second, and so forth. If then finally you are still holding your little head high, lower it slowly to the tune on the flute that I shall later play, and when I cease, you shall have become quiet too, with your head in the inmost circle. —The Blue Octavo Notebooks (Fifth Notebook)

It's not really an Ouroboros, but it's pretty great, no?

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Musical Table-Talk for May 27, 2008

I. Friend Ian (a Dzyd? I don't know) has started posting his acoustic blues stylings on YouTube, under the nom de ax "Barefinger Bill"—a real treat:

II. It was a conversation with Ian at a party (early '07?) that eventually led me to start experimenting with GarageBand and creating the Psychic Envelopes; my guitar-playing is pat-ball to Ian's great game (as VN said of his English vs. Joyce's), but it's been a lot of fun for me to finally get these songs recorded. (Most of the PE originals date from the mid/late ’90s!)

Mysteriously, and a little distressingly, the second Psychic Envelopes Muxtape appears to have deleted itself...has this happened to any muxtapers before? (The first one is still up.)

III. Ian curates (cocurates?) an occasional musical program called the Good Coffeehouse at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, and this Friday's show features two interesting-sounding performers:

Tokio Uchida is Japan's best-known acoustic blues guitarist. He has released five solo blues and fingerstyle CDs, and last summer he and Stefan Grossman released their first duet CD, Bermuda Triangle Exit. Bob Brozman says of Uchida:"His playing is soulful and, most importantly, very original and adventurous." Stefan Grossman has had perhaps a greater influence than anyone over the past four decades in popularizing country blues guitar playing. A onetime student of legendary bluesmen such as Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and Son House, Grossman has been a performer, producer, teacher and record label founder. He is a master of most blues and ragtime guitar styles and runs Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, which has educated thousands of budding guitar players over the years through video and DVD lessons.

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Table-Talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 27, 2008

I. Oughtables:

Scott: "A few weeks ago Laura has The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin checked out of the library, and I keep thinking the front cover reads The Early Diary of An Assassin."

Yesterday, reading The Week, I thought I read (in a Rauschenberg obit): "But by switching to his left hand, and with the help of assassins, he kept working." (He actually had assistants.)

II. Over at TPF, Mike Atkinson on Philip Schultz. (Who? Exactly.)

III. Ouroboros alert! The L.A. Times review of Personal Days got recycled for the Chicago Tribune's online edition. Under the "Layoffs and Downsizing" tag, you can see that the photo being used is...the one that appeared on The Dizzies!

(Shouldn't "Arlo Ogg" get a photo credit?)

IV. A letter to the Times from 1986: "The Sun Was Eclipsed by Fields of Ice"

V. What did Levi leave in New York?

Then there's the question of where I checked said mysterious object. The ticket bears no writing aside from that red "28," and gives no clue to its origins. I suppose the next time I'm in New York I could retrace my steps, presenting this claim check at every bar and restaurant I visited this time around, enduring blank stare after blank stare until, finally, someone takes the ticket with a brisk nod, spins on a heel and disappears into the back room to return moments later with . . . what?

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why hello! This is not really a 'Table-Talk'!

Q: When will I stop posting photos of Personal Days?
A: As long as you keep sending them in—never!

PD has been spotted in Brooklyn's Book Court:

(Photo courtesy Sari Aviv)

* * *

Some nice new reviews are out in the L.A. Times, Bookforum, the Daily Mail (UK), the News & Observer (Raleigh/Durham), and the Dayton Daily News. From the first one:

The modern corporate office is to Ed Park's debut novel Personal Days what World War II was to Joseph Heller's Catch-22—a theater of absurdity and injustice so profound as to defy all reason....Personal Days proves that Park may be in line to fill the shoes left by Kurt Vonnegut and other satirists par excellence.
* * *

That ellipsis takes us from the first paragraph to the last!

* * *

Did I tell you I only recently "figured out" the title The Raw Shark Texts? (Has anyone read it? Should I read it?) I was just walking around, thinking of something else, when it hit me.

* * *

Dzyd Martin, who knows whereof he speaks, cites PD as an example of "Valet Lit." (Mild spoiler alert?) See here for his earlier finds: Kerouac, Salinger!

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Friday, May 23, 2008


[Cue voice of Gossip Girl narrator, Kristen Bell] Spotted at Broadway @ 82nd B&N: Ed and his paper baby. Let's hope Little D. isn't too jealous.

Weekend Table-Talk for May 23–25, 2008

I. That title is to fool myself into not blogging this weekend!

II. Via Sarah, an article on fellow Buffalo native Lawrence Block—author of the Scudder and Rhodenbarr (and Keller and Chip Harrison!) novels (among others), screenwriter for Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, and one of many good reasons to read the Hard Case Crime line.

III. The Morning News hails The New-York Ghost for "Online Excellence"?!:

"By offering each issue through email only, what the Ghost has managed to do—unlike many of its web compatriots—is turn the expectation of content into the thrill of finding a new issue in your inbox."

IV. The Daily Mail says of Personal Days: “Having a character called ‘K’ acknowledges the Kafkaesque nature of the book–but it’s a lot more fun than Franz ever was.”

V. I gotta go return a library book!

UPDATE (Via Weekend Stubble): Contra Heinlein!

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Is it a 'Table-Talk' if I don't use Roman numerals?

Levi e-mailed me recently, pondering whether to start on Nabokov's Ada. William Grimes's piece on 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, in today's NYT, gave him pause:

Drop the bloated, self-indulgent “Ada” from an otherwise correct Nabokov list (“Lolita,” “Pale Fire,” “Pnin”) and insert “Laughter in the Dark” or “The Gift.”

I can't argue with those substitutes; I might add: "Or Glory, or Bend Sinister, or The Real Life of Sebastian Knight..."

* * *

The Grimes piece mentions Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar; I wonder if this edition of 1001 Books still includes RB's Willard and His Bowling Trophies?

I actually bought a Brautigan recently—$10 for Sombrero Fallout, hc, with dj! On the streets of New York, baby! (Good bookseller on the sidewalk on Columbus in the 70s.)

* * *

Confession: I heart VN and RB but have not read Ada or IWS! Summer project? Who's with me?

* * *

Random thought: Start a list of 1001 essential books on this blog? Write to me [thedizziesATgmailDOTcom] and I'll post...

* * *

A list of essentials from Jenny D, including The Fountain Overflows. (Um, which I also haven't read!)

* * *

In the NYT piece, I concur with Grimes as to the other Powell books! I think those are the two best non-Dancers.

A little more Anglophilia might have been in order. Anthony Powell shows up with “A Dance to the Music of Time” — which is actually 12 novels, so Professor Boxall cheats — but I would have made a play for a few of the pre-“Dance” novels, like “Venusberg” or “Afternoon Men.”

* * *

Personal Days surfaces in Hoboken:

This edition of PD likes to go to Maxwell's and listen to Yo La Tengo! And is "for dog lovers"!

(Photo courtesy Hannah Frank)


Thursday, May 22, 2008


Last night, as I was gleefully signing books at McNally Robinson, I suddenly decided it would be a great idea to add the date. Was my inscribing of "5/20/08" a foolish mistake—or an oblique reference to the song quoted in the book's epigraph (which has the lyric "I don't know what day it is")?


What does it mean?

Quite at random, I opened up one of my long-forgotten bookmarks, and clicked through to this version of "Country Roads," by the Ukuleles of Halifax.

Then, sitting down with a sandwich, I opened this new biography of Charles Fort, and immediately hit this sentence:
Without enough chairs, the guests sprawled on the pine floor and avoided the clusters of burning candles; Masters read from his Spoon River Anthology and another guest picked out a tune on the ukelele.


Table-Talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 21, 2008

I. Alice Boone has a lengthy, thoughtful post on Nicholson Baker and the method at work in Human Smoke.

II. Interestingly, AB favors Baker's Double Fold and recent Wikipedia essay (and the weird little story "Subsoil") over his earlier work; I find all aspects of Bakerdom interesting, but in the end I think it's those first three books—The Mezzanine (which I've been trumpeting loudly in interviews for PD), Room Temperature, and U & I—that establish him in the EP pantheon.

A few months ago, I don't know that I would have put RT up there—but a recent re-reading made me think that this was possibly his best book. Incredible! Some of this clearly has to do with my current situation—after all, the entire book takes place during the time it takes for the narrator to give his infant daughter her bottle. It's also, I think, a supremely well-conceived (and breathtakingly–ha!—written) variation on Burton's "Digression of the Air."

III. Spinster Aunt: "I've been reading short stories; I read an Ellery Queen story in which the perp was a man named Harry Potter."

IV. Huge thanks to everyone who came out for the reading/discussion last night at McNally Robinson! That was fun! (Next reading is Chicago, 6/5; next NYC reading is at Happy Ending on 6/11—more details here.)

V. Have said it before—will say it again: I like when Mollie complains! I've had grumblish dealings with the exact same post office she mentions, and reading her post made me want to reopen the case of "Why did you send a mailperson bearing a slip for an Express Mail package two days after I was supposed to get the package instead of just having her deliver the package itself"!

VI. I like that the NYT called me a poet—I'm not! I'm just a poet! Wha...

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tonight at 7! PERSONAL DAYS reading, signing, discussion!

I'll be reading from Personal Days at McNally Robinson (52 Prince St.) tonight at 7...then I'll be talking about the making of the novel with my editor, Julia Cheiffetz...and then signing...

Come pick up a copy (if you haven't) and say hi...

From Flavorpill:
Welcome to the working weak: reading Personal Days the debut novel by Ed Park, a founding editor of The Believer — is like staying late at the office, drunk on cough syrup, and coming across the diary of the person who occupied your desk a year before you did. In this intricate, hysterical novel, an unnamed New York office is being downsized according to indecipherable commands. Park's hilarious take on such cubicle routines as ordering lunch, hunting for a stapler, and joining the softball team will strike a chord with anyone who's ever done the 9-to-5, while the shocking shifts in tone perfectly convey the violence of corporate downsizing.

II. Levi's got another installment of Oblomov-Personal Days affinities! Which is which?

(A) Maxine's new outfit was completely inappropriate for winter, in fact for any season or situation. It had two kinds of pink going on, and ornate beaded strappy things, and a fairly explicit bondage motif. There were parallelograms of exposed flesh that were illegal in most states, a bow in the back that looked like a winding key. One area involved fur. Her hair had a fresh-from-salon bounce that clashed with the rest of the getup, but this being Maxine, everything kind of went together in the end. . . . Pru and Lizzie instinctively flinched. They might as well have been rolling on the ground like bowling pins, with xs for eyes.
(B) The brother tip-toed into the room and responded to Oblomov's greeting with a triple bow. His tunic was tightly buttoned from top to bottom so that it was impossible to tell whether he was wearing any linen underneath. His tie was knotted with a single knot and the ends were tucked inside the tunic. He was about forty with a tuft of hair sticking straight up from his brown and with two identical tufts sprouting, wild and untended, from each temple, resembling nothing so much as the ears of an average-sized dog. His gray eyes never settled on their target directly, but only after some stealthy reconnoitering in its vicinity.

III. And! Neon thumbs!

Personal Days is featured on BBC 6's George Lamb show today—you can listen here. The discussion with books person Ernest Hemingway (her real name?) begins just before the 1 hour mark (you can press on the "play" button to fast-forward to 56:30 minutes or so).

GL: "It's The Office!"
EH: "It's slightly even cleverer...I'd even say Kafka-esque."

"Anyone who's sat at a computer and wondered what the hell they're sitting there for would enjoy this." —Ernest Hemingway

When asked how many thumbs up she would give PD, she says: "I would have two neon thumbs up!"

IV. UPDATE: The NYT's Urban Eye picks up on tonight's appearance!


Literary Overproductivity Alert

You may know Ed Park as an editor of The Believer or of the mysterious journal The New-York Ghost, as a poet or fledgling garage rocker. Now you can also know him as a novelist. "Personal Days," his debut, is an office comedy/whodunit about an unraveling New York workplace. Tonight this former editor at The Village Voice (a clue, perhaps?) reads at the McNally Robinson bookstore, where he'll also talk with his editor about why he likes to make other writers look so darned lazy.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making do

Walruses want so much to be with other walruses that if there are no other walruses around, they will make do with the next available large object. —NYT


Let's try this again!

Yesterday I posted the secret alternate Personal Days ad but couldn't make it do the thing it had to do.

Check it out now!

(Thanks to Ed!)

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ASTRAL WEEKS bonus material

Remember my last Astral Weeks column, the one about the lost 1881 New Zealand science-fiction novel, The Great Romance? The "all-caps" declaration at the beginning is a calligram of sorts in the original form:










What is that shape supposed to represent? (It's a shade squatter in the book.) Some sort of hat? Urn/vessel? Masonic thingy?

An interview and a game

I. The mighty Ed Champion interviewed me last week for his Bat Segundo Show—and it's online now! We met at the Metro Diner on 100th Street, where I ate half a stack of blueberry pancakes. Ed had a bagel.

Topics discussed: Personal Days, my unpublished novels (The Diet of Worms and Dementia Americana!), B.S. Johnson, Harry Stephen Keeler, Mark Moskowitz, The PTSNBN, and much more!

II. The mighty Scott David Herman has devised a game using the cover of Personal Days!

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Table-Talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 20, 2008

I. Come down to McNally Robinson tomorrow! I'll be reading from Personal Days, then talking to my editor, the mighty Julia Cheiffetz.

II. Am I the only one having technical difficulties using Gmail in Firefox?

III. Dzyd Joshua has memes aplenty up at Capsules Exquis. Normally he consolidates news articles/reviews:

Rush Hour 3
Directed by Brett Ratner

$247,538,093. $328,883,178. $453,796,824. DVD revenue, fairly ludicrous. Threequel, again. Bloodlessness isn’t the worst of the summer. Complacency is. One-dimensional glut. A global conspiracy of mutual abasement and self-humiliation: people are desperate and static, tired, lack originality; Paris seems to be the location of choice this year.

Straight man Chris Chan von Zhang is played as an adult, delivers vulgar African bang with Asian sexual neuter. Tenuous chemistry — anti-Gallic, tautological. Bad detectives bumble and slog. Who’s to blame? Roman Polanski is threatened, decamps. Nostalgic, hubristic. Bergman really is dead.


Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times Manohla Dargis, The New York Times Claudia Puig, USA Today

...and now he's composing nifty acrostical poems:

An Acrostic Poem for/on James Frey


For now,
Redemption is quick,
Easy, and —

IV. Levi's post on Oblomov/office novels/PD featured a bizarre photo of what looked like a potato chip in the midst of a heated phone conversation. He explains that it's actually a hash brown—and that the inimitable Rocketlass did a whole series of Hash Brown at Work!

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Dizzterical! The Remix

Dzyd Ed writes: "Have you seen this version of the Personal Days ad? I found it online in some hardcore Ed Park fan forums..."

Hmm, it should this?

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'Personal' ad

My fondness for Cavemen aside, is it possible to get excited about an advertisement?

Yes—when it's for Personal Days! Today at GalleyCat!

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Toward a history of the office novel

The BBC Open Book program(me) I was on mentioned Wodehouse's Psmith in the City and the Grossmiths' Diary of a Nobody (which I love; you can read it here) as early office novels; now Levi shares some great scenes from Oblomov (1859):

At home, he had heard that a boss or a supervisor was a father to his subordinates and had formed an image of such a personage, an image as beaming and benign and indulgent as a member of his own family. He saw him as a kind of second father who lived and breathed only to reward his subordinates and to cater, unceasingly and unremittingly, regardless of their merits, not only to their needs but even to their pleasures. Ilya Ilyich thought that a superior was so intimately bound up in the welfare of his subordinates that he would inquire anxiously whether he had had a good night's sleep, why his eyes were a little cloudy and whether he might not have a little headache.

His first day on the job was thus a rude awakening. The moment the supervisor appeared, everyone started hustling and bustling and bumping into each other from sheer agitation, some even nervously fingering their clothing in case he might deem them not sufficiently presentable. The reason for this, as Oblomov subsequently became aware, was that in the person of a subordinate scared out of his wits and rushing to pay his respects, a certain type of boss saw not only proper respect for his person, but a mark of zealousness and indeed at times even of competence.

Any other favorite early office novels/stories? Bartleby the Scrivener, of course...what else?

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Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 19, 2008

I. Don't the new Reese's peanut-butter cup ads resemble the web art of William Poundstone?

II. From the Only Now You Think This? Said in a Vaguely Yiddish Accent Dept.:

“I find as I plow through my 40s that I can no longer tolerate The Eagles.”

III. This Wednesday! Reading! McNally-Robinson! Personal Days!

PD in SF

Next to Dorothy Parker!

Photos courtesy Theo Schell-Lambert.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weekend photo supplement

My first sighting: Barnes & Noble, Lex @ 86th St., 5/13

Later, that evening: Barnes & Noble, Broadway @ 82nd St. Diminutive customer looks uninterested.

Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Triangle, 5/14:

57th St. Books, Chicago, 5/15 (Via Rocketlass):

Powell's Books, Portland, OR, 5/16:

Amazing placement at Borders, Columbus Circle:

Just kidding—it was really here:

...somehow the placement (Palahniuk/Park/Porizkova) made me think of that Billy Bragg song that begins, "Between Marx and marzipan in the dictionary/there was Mary/Between the deep blue sea and the devil/that was me..." (Ah yes: "The Short Answer"!)


Friday, May 16, 2008

A Dance to the Bloggery of Powell's

My final blog post is up at Powell's! It's a doozy! Topics covered: browsing, bookshelf neighbors, Anthony Powell, Edward Payson Vining, Henriette Mertz's Pale Ink, Pale Fire, Gossip Girl, Levi Stahl's notebook article for TPF, a mysterious book called The Logogryph, and...oh yes, Personal Days!

(Find all my posts here, and marvel how I got through the whole week without mentioning Keeler. And this is how Personal Days looks on the Powell's shelf.)

* * *

Also—there are signed and illustrated copies of Personal Days on sale at St. Mark's!

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The Anatomy of Squandermania

I. "The Oblivion Arms"—one of the long, long-lost tales in my longer, longer-loster novel Dementia Americana—comes to a conclusion over at Five Chapters. I've enjoyed seeing it out there, and hope to publish more of DA soon...

II. Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy plays a big role in the "Arms"...and I'm not the only one obsessed! My sage and deeply hilarious Poetry Foundation colleague Don Share's recent book of poems, Squandermania, is also Burtonized to the max. Check out Erin Belieu's take in Boston Review:

Much like its ancestor, Squandermania springs from a gigantic, nearly overwhelming frame of reference, moving relentlessly from arcane economic and scientific theories (“ontogeny // recapitulates phylogeny,” or Gary Becker’s Rotten Kid Theorem) to Greek colloquialisms (“ardzi, bourdzi, and loulas”) to lesser-known Latin phrases and popular films. Dr. Evil’s “Boo-fricking-hoo,” from the Austin Powers movies, shares a property line with a reference to signum prefixum. No borough of thought or culture is off the map in Share’s verse; the imagistically goofy, grand, and obscure are all put to his poems’ service.

The other inspiration I can recall for "The Oblivion Arms" was Maurice Maeterlinck's Life of the White Ant.

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Next week: Reading from Personal Days!

As previously mentioned, I'll be reading next Wednesday (5/21, 7 p.m.) from Personal Days—the first reading after publication!—at McNally-Robinson Booksellers. A discussion with my editor follows. Flavorpill has the full scoop.

See my website for tour details; I'll be posting all the dates here soon as well...would be nice to see you!


Volcanic impetus superadded

My latest L.A. Times column is up early. This month I look at a strange, unfinished tale from 1881 entitled The Great Romance, by a New Zealander sporting the insoluble nom de plume "The Inhabitant."

Here's a sample:

Perverse by design or accident, the Inhabitant conveys an improbably gripping scene of mortal danger (in Volume 2) in a series of rhetorical questions, including this humdinger:

"Vast was the speed of the Star Climber, but might not some erratic fragment have a speed still vastly greater—hurled from the bosom of a monstrous volcano, whose pent-up pressure had consolidated diamonds, like mountains, and whose terrific discharge should leave the shattered ruby masses like an avalanche of loosened rock, and hurl outward fragments, large as little worlds, flying with all the speed of the parent orb, and all the mighty volcanic impetus superadded?"

(Shades of Keeler's famous sentence from Traveling Skull!)

* * *

James Parker's nuanced reading of Personal Days takes the lead slot over at the Barnes & Noble Review.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Use your allusion

My Powell's bloggery continues, with a consideration of Ta-Nehisi's The Beautiful Struggle and Junot Díaz's Book So Famous That I'm Not Going To Write the Title Here....

And by the way: The book is on sale at Powell's, for $9.10!

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The full Time Out review of Personal Days is now online. Rod Smith is yet another brilliantly perceptive critic, I must say!

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From Jane Dark's Sugarhigh!:

Born four years apart: two faces of one feeling...both in their own languages named after the crow...
Who is he talking about? (Click through to find out.)

A few recent Astral Weeks topics have featured this bewitching bird—Ekaterina Sedia's The Secret History of Moscow and Endless Things, the culmination of John Crowley's Aegypt sequence. (Crowley's Livejournal page is found at

Now feast your gaze on the ominous crow symbol on the keyboard of the Personal Days cover (and done white-on-black on the spine)...What does the crow signify in my novel? You will have to read it to find out! Get your copy online today—or stroll over to the store and purchase it!

* * *

Check out the crow at Crawford Doyle on Madison Avenue:

UPDATE: Rocketlass sends in a PD sighting from 57th Street Books in Chicago!

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Hell freezes over! Well, not quite...

Over at the PTSNBN, I provide free content. Eh, it's for a good cause: Keelerdom!
Ed Park
The Marceau Case
, by Harry Stephen Keeler
This 1936 book is a hilarious blast of cablegrams, photos, newspaper columns, and other diverse material—some of it beautifully irrelevant to the story at hand, about the mysterious slaying of a man on an immaculate lawn. The solution is outrageous and mind-boggling. I've never read a book like it, unless it's the sequel, X. Jones—of Scotland Yard, which takes the same formula and lifts it into even dizzier realms.

Park is the author of Personal Days.

—"Our Favorite Writers Pick Their Favorite Obscure Books," Alexander Nazaryan


Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 15, 2008

I. Some diverse Dzyd writings! First off, Levi on the art of the poet's notebook, at the Poetry Foundation:
Despite the best intentions, poets cannot spend every waking moment writing poetry. Life and the stuff of the world are always conspiring against them, offering up laundry to be folded, garlic to be minced, blogs to be read, children to be dressed. But all the while, the mind races; what is one to do with its scattered, variegated fruits, what poet Gabriel Gudding calls “[m]y many many 5 minute ideas”?

II. And here's Jessica, on procrastination (part of a package at Slate)—specifically the "prolonged anticlimaxes" of Ralph Ellison and Truman Capote:

What is the difference between severe procrastination and writer's block? Are they part of one continuum, like a Möbius strip?

III. I'm still blogging at Powell's! My wrists are falling off! Sample mystifying sentence:

I'm so glad I went with what I'm going to call my "Darnielle opening," because there are so many ways I can go with it. I feel like (mandatory obscure sports reference) Joe Cribbs!

IV. The fourth installment of "The Oblivion Arms" is up at Five Chapters today—entitled, after Burton, "Act Three: The Third Partition: 'Love-Melancholy'"...It contains what might be my favorite part of the story, a sequence in which Murray Adipose watches an aerobics show on TV. Sample:
"And two. And three. And once more to the right and take it up. And down."

BONUS: It also contains an Ouroboros (I think I've pasted this here before):

Her finger, trailing across the wall, gathered a heap of dust that fell, with a dreamy slowness, to the floor. She found herself looking at a scrap of the underlying wallpaper, most of which had been painted over in a graying white. The paper was patterned with the hotel's emblem: embedded letters, an A within an O, the latter composed of three bolts of lightning, the former a serpent that looped to bite its own tail.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Seller - Days

New game: Most evocative, naturally occurring side-by-side phrase formation?

Spotted at Barnes & Noble, Tribeca

Photo courtesy Sarah W.

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Dementia Americana — and helloooo, Canada!

My latest Powell's post is up—H.P. Lovecraft, John Darnielle, and more! Dementia Americana! What am I going to write about tomorrow?

* * *

Dzyd Scott, of Erasing fame, sends us this first international sighting of Personal Days:

Chapters, Mississauga, Ontario

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Very Personal!

“Ed Park’s whodunit-cum-office-horror-show romp shimmers with menace from page one…Park makes his story one any office drone with a hint of resentment can relate to. This is easily cubicle comedy’s darkest artifact to date, and its most subversive.” —Time Out New York

—Barnes & Noble, Transit Road [?], Clarence, NY

Photo from my mom!

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Chapter Three...

...of "The Oblivion Arms," my circa 1998 novella (let's call it a novella!), is up at Five Chapters! Excerpt:

There was a lot to watch that night. There was a special on Do Insects Sleep? There were, separately, specials on the coral snake, the narwhal, the bedbug, the ibex, the Siberian tiger, the narwhal again, the chameleon, a llama-like creature that shat heaps of perfectly round pellets, the tree frog, the stegosaurus, the hantavirus, the Bactrian camel, and the other kind of camel. There was a special on Micronesia, Japan, Turkey, Tierra del Fuego; there was a special on Windsor, Ontario....

UPDATE: I blog about "The Oblivion Arms"—and the Mountain Goats, Carl Wilson's Celine book, and more—at Powell's.

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Get down—get 'Personal'!

—Talking Leaves...Books, Buffalo

Photo courtesy Arlo Ogg

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West Coast Personal

Booksmith, San Francisco (where I'll be reading on 6/18)

Photo sent by Rachel Khong

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All those symptoms of decay

Is this an Ouroboros? Yesterday, Jenny D e-mailed me to rave about Dzyd/Psychic Envelope Sarah Manguso's forthcoming memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay; later, she posted on Light Reading her reaction to TTKOD—and included the e-mail she sent me. And now I am linking to the post.

How's this for high praise?
I will eat my hat if this book does not win a lot of prizes and sell a lot of copies, it should be on writing class syllabi and on medical school syllabi and generally just pressed into the hands of everyone I know!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

First sighting

St. Mark's Bookshop, NYC

Submitted by Linksmeister General Thomas

Trivia: What are the books on either side?




I. Publication day for Personal Days! See if your local bookstore has it! If not, ask to talk to the manager!

U.S. shoppers, this is the cover you'll be looking for (a paperback original that slips easily into satchel or purse for maximum commute/boring-meeting accessibility):

And U.K. shoppers, get ready to lay down some "quid" for this riot of color...excuse me, "colour"!:

(It's a nice thumpable hardback.)

II. Self-promotion day continues!

The second installment of "The Oblivion Arms" is up at Five Chapters. Here's the introduction by editor Dave Daley:

Dear friends,

This week on we'll serialize a new story—actually more like a novella—by Ed Park, "The Oblivion Arms." I could describe it as being about two parents who write Broadway musicals searching for their child-actor son, but that would hardly capture this wild and imaginative story or the insane genius of musicals based on Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," Ed's take on TV culture, the crazy front desk clerks, agents who start their phone calls with an ad for the cell phone company in exchange for a discount...

I could go on, but part one is on the site now and you can read for yourself. Hope you enjoy it.

You may know Ed as one of the editors of The Believer, the mind behind New-York Ghost and an esteemed book critic. He's also the author of a very funny new novel, "Personal Days" (Random House). We'll give five of them away this week; drop a note [to] if you'd like one.

Thanks again for reading, David
(So: You can win a copy of Personal Days! You can also buy it, online or in a store.)

III. Over at, more quotes from recent reviews—including another blazingly smart one from Stop Smiling, the esteemed "magazine for highminded lowlifes."

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Hands about to detach at the wrists...

...but here is my first post over at Powell's.


The history of the office novel

I'm on BBC 4's Open Book, talking about Personal Days (and The Mezzanine)! Also, a brief history of the office novel, and an actor reads from PD.

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Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 12, 2008

I. My story "The Oblivion Arms" (just a touch over a decade old) is being serialized at Five Chapters—read the first installment today! Sample line: "Murray came upon his wife in the nook, absorbed in her delectus." (I wonder why it was never published?)

You can register to win a free copy of Personal Days by e-mailing Or you can just pre-order the thing!

II. Dzyd Martin on BASE Jumping! It sounds dangerous. I'll just watch.

III. Some good entries in the "Phonograph on the Wireless" contest over at Izzy's blog. I thought of some more:

Nattering Silhouettes
The Pony Express

Any others???

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 11, 2008

I. Levi's on a roll...Among other things, he brings news of a possible Ouroboros sighting—from the files of Hard Case Crime:

[HCC mastermind Charles] Ardai is currently writing Hard Case's fiftieth book, Fifty-to-One, to be published under his own name at the end of the year. Unexpectedly, it's a comedy, written in fifty chapters, each named after a Hard Case Crime novel. That qualifies as Oulipean, if just barely . . . but--question for Ed--might it also count as an Ouroboros? Especially once you see that the cover features tiny versions of a bunch of the Hard Case covers?

II. James takes Oliver bowling.

III. I've been updating with the latest reviews...including this nice one from the Guardian.

IV. What am I going to blog about at Powell's?? This begins tomorrow. Also tomorrow, my longish story (or shortish novella) "The Oblivion Arms" goes up at Five is from the unpublished novel Dementia Americana. (Another bit of it, "T.H.C.," appeared in LIT #12 last year.) A very different sort of novel from Personal Days...or is it?

V. This plug required by law: Pre-order Personal Days!

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I need to think about this one

"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom." —Kierkegaard

Friday, May 09, 2008

Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 9, 2008

I. Saki Knafo, a/k/a the greatest journalist in the world, is still on the paragraph symbol beat. We thought it was just called a pilcrow...until he came across this in a recent New Yorker:

"Alinea" is the word for the backward "P" symbol that proofreaders put at the beginning of a new paragraph.

II. A really smart take on Personal Days is up at Barnes & Noble Review—it's long and thoughtful and basically pull-quote-proof, and I'm doing it an injustice by cutting and pasting, but here's a taste:

In a nameless Manhattan office, a group of be-cubicled peons huddle in fear on the staticky carpeting. They are proofreaders, perhaps, or copywriters, or fact-checkers —at any rate their work (never discussed) is unfascinating and redolent of squandered IQ. Neon-blanched, sharing an intimacy that cannot thrive—that dies immediately, in fact—outside the strange conditions which created it, they have nonetheless made a world: pet names, in-jokes, the minor voodoo of office life....The fragmented narrative and shaggy-dog tangents of Personal Days operate in the service of a seeping, slow-build paranoia, of the sort that has sustained whole seasons of ABC’s Lost.

"The minor voodoo of office life"!

III. Save the date: I'll be giving my first post-publication PD reading on May 21 at McNally-Robinson. Then I'll chew the fat with my editor, Julia Cheiffetz, whose name I am invoking for the first time on The Dizzies!

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Linksmeister General Thomas directs us to the new line of "Faber Finds," featuring lost classics on a print-on-demand basis. (The name of the first Fabfound author, P.H. Newby, seems like it's nomen-omenable...)

You can nominate a book for republication by e-mailing

"Lost and found"? Hit it!


Thursday, May 08, 2008

A spell-book

Dzyd Ta-Nehisi's amazing memoir The Beautiful Struggle is out — read an excerpt at The Root. (Via Slate.)

Also check out this great video of TNC talking about...nearly everything!

I'll be blogging about this soon...many thoughts...Maybe I will do so next week when I'm blogging at Powell's?!!


Return of the repressed

For some reason, my Google Alerts is telling me about movie reviews I wrote four years ago—today it prompted me to click through to this take on Shark's Tale, from the PTSNBN. Best line:

[I]f I hear that sugar-pie-honey-bunch song one more time, someone's getting hurt[.]

Wow, just thinking about this movie is annoying me:

It's a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of celebrity, and an oblique jab at Harvey Weinstein—just what your child needs.

That's enough for now.

Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 8, 2008

I. Two duos:

A) Richard Brautigan and Jack Spicer (to whom RB dedicated Trout Fishing in America)
B) Rethinking Edmund Wilson on H.P. Lovecraft

II. Dzyd Thomas doesn't like the reviewerish phrase "achingly beautiful":
It's like, really? Achingly? Did you quiver? It's right up there with "intensely personal."

To which I'll add: "brutally honest"!

III. Dzyd/Pretty Standard cross-promotional contest! Here's how to play:

A) Take a favorite group's name.
B) "Translate" it to the late 19th century or the Stone Age.

Thus "TV on the Radio" becomes "Phonograph on the Wireless"!

IV. Dzyd Jordan on Rudy Burckhardt, at the Poetry Foundation site. Favorite bit:

Pictures might be worth a thousand words, but Burckhardt’s photographs are happy with just 14 lines. Each has the characteristic turn—the change of direction and perspective somewhere around line 8 or 9—that transforms a short rhymed poem into a sonnet. In one, a parking lot breaks off at a trash-covered hill leading down to dirt and railroad tracks scattered with tires. In another, a stooped crone, wearing a hat with a giant bow, is carrying a parcel in the crook of her arm; she looks out at the viewer from in front of a billboard featuring the enormous face of a young woman, eyes cast upward. His nudes, too, show wit—one shows a woman reclining face down, a bunch of bananas on her back.

(Also check out the great, evocative photos.)

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Nabokov-Leonard throwdown — W, or the Memory of the 19th Century

From the TLS (5/2/08):

Nabokov once told an interviewer that the thing he checked in a book was how much dialogue there was, and that if this looked "too abundant or too sustained" he shut the volume "with a bang". —Martin Schifno, review of Céline Curiol's Voice Over

From the NYT (7/16/01):

[Rule] 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

—Elmore Leonard, "Writers on Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially the Hooptedoodle"

* * *

Via MUG: A story in which every word begins with...W! (Surely this is not some anonymous 19th-century creation, but a contemporary jeu d'esprit?)

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Shape shifting

As envisioned by its designer, the memorial to the victims who died on Sept. 11, 2001, when United Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., would follow the topography of the bowl-shaped land, creating a circular pathway ringed by trees, all focused on the “sacred ground” of the crash site near the bottom of the circle.

But almost from the moment the winning entry for the memorial was chosen in 2005 over 1,058 others it has been beset by controversy, most of it coming from critics who see Islamic symbolism in the design.

The critics complain that the shape of the memorial — designed by Paul Murdoch, an architect based in Los Angeles — is an Islamic crescent, that a wind-chime tower mirrors an Islamic minaret and that the memorial would point east toward the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

I like to think that the architect unconsciously embedded the Islamic symbolism into his design...



Yes! The May issue. Richard Price.....Nick Hornby.....Dzyd Alex on Yucca Mountain...David Cross interviewed twice...Dzyd Sarah on illness and its metaphors...Lisa Levy on Elizabeth Hardwick...apocalyptic cults...The Office's Mindy Kaling on "Sedaratives" duty...and much more! Pick it up today, then subscribe! (Then pre-order Personal Days! Am feeling particularly shameless today!)

As a reward, you will receive a free copy of the latest New-York Ghost, featuring a Sebaldian tour-de-force by mysterious cineaste Sophia Giardina.

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Abridged Table-Talk of Parkus Grammaticus for Monday, May 5, 2008

I. Time to pre-order Personal Days!

II. John Darnielle is blogging at Powell's...or wait—it looks like he just finished. (I will be blogging there next month.)

III. Side B of the Psychic Envelopes' Cryspace now available as a Muxtape!

IV. Remind me to return my library book!

V. Via Linksmeister General Thomas: "The question of an international language has now become important..." (1936)

Learn the International System Of TYpographic Picture Education! (Is there a term for an acronym in which the first two letters of one word get snatched up, as above?)

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Catching up

I. Two of my favorite things—entwined!
I noticed that she wore no wedding ring, carrying in its place on her third finger a large opal, enclosed by a massive gold serpent swallowing its own tail.
—Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World

II. “Philip Guston, the Abstract Expressionist who late in life became a painter of dark, comic images, was a great as-if artist. He wanted, he said, ‘to paint things as if one had never seen them before, as if one had come from another planet.’ He aspired ‘to paint as a cave man would.’ ¶ Of course Guston (1913-1980) was no troglodyte, with all due respect to the Geico cave men....” —Ken Johnson, “The Sophisticated Troglodyte,” NYT (Via Mike)

Morgan Library & Museum

An untitled 1975 drawing by Philip Guston, at the Morgan.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Table-talk of Parkus Grammaticus for May 1, 2008

Dizzyhead Bill fires the first shot in the Falindromes contest—make that the first three shots!

"I am a bad hobo" — Obama I

Wow, Live DJ! Yes, & Jersey Devil! Wow!

"U.S. food delish!" lied doofus.

(The Oulipo, by the way, had a term for writing that appears to have a constraint, but doesn't: a clinamen.)

II. Doesn't this word seems like it should be anagrammable into something else?

g’neeza, "a burial plot for damaged Torahs, prayer books or other papers containing God’s name"

(In James Barron's piece "From Auschwitz, a Torah as Strong as Its Spirit," NYT)

III. Would love to see "the Tennessee fainting goat, which keels over when startled..." —NYT

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