Saturday, October 31, 2009

Neck and neck

My former student Rebecca has apparently turned into a vampire...

Friday, October 30, 2009

A largish electronic calculator

My latest Astral Weeks is up at the L.A. Times, on Eoin Colfer's And Another Thing..., the next installment in the late Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. (Alas, I wish I liked it more.)

I love how the description of the Guide itself, 30 years on, sounds infinitely less fantastic:

"[Ford Prefect] had a device that looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million 'pages' could be summoned at a moment's notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON'T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters. . . . The reason why it was published in the form of a micron sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in."

This description, written back when a line about humans being "so amazingly primitive they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea" would feel au courant, now easily conjures a hand-held device, something like a Kindle crossed with a Blackberry.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I. INFIELD and INFIDEL are anagrams!

II. Poundstone: movie anagrams.


Buggin' out

Worth getting Cincinnati Magazine to see Jing Wei's critters as trading cards?

(Pictured above: bedbug, mit refreshments.)


Legends of the fallback

For them, mastery of a script is a benchmark of professionalism. Still, acting fallbacks have a long but largely unnoticed history in the theater. During the national tour of “Legends” in the 1980s, Mary Martin who was in her 70s at the time, used an earpiece that also picked up taxi signals, according to published accounts. —NYT


Wednesday, October 28, 2009


JULIA AND JULIA (get rid of grating blogger, replace with French structuralist)

INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (about a team of renegade copy editors during WWII)

IN THE HOOP (hula documentary, shot in hand-held-o-vision)

SHAKESPEARE IN GLOVE (actors conceal line prompts in handgear)

(from a friend of L.M. Thos.)


Monday, October 26, 2009

Meme of the day





Tycoon is unhappy and wants everyone to know about it: CITIZEN KANYE


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Happy Salmon

The return of Toni Schlesinger!

Labels: ,

Finding a form

Scott Saul on Eliot Weinberger (in The Nation):

[Eliot] Weinberger is best known for "What I Heard About Iraq," an essay that managed to bring together his commentator and experimentalist halves, applying principles of Modernist collage--more specifically the archival collage method of New York poet Charles Reznikoff--to the "truth decay" of the Bush years. Published in the London Review of Books on February 3, 2005, the essay went viral, eventually being linked to or reproduced on more than 100,000 websites; later that year it was adapted into a work of protest theater performed in locales as far-flung as Berlin, Calcutta, Durban and Los Angeles. It may be the most circulated piece of antiwar writing to emerge from the Iraq War.

Weinberger's method was to turn the 24/7 spin cycle on the war into a piece of found poetry, one that conjures up the war's absurdity rather than declaring it. Sound bites from global media are isolated, stripped down, then pieced back together--suspended sentence to suspended sentence--so that readers are served up the absurdity of the war in a bitterly concentrated dose. Here's a passage from the second installment of the essay, published January 5, 2006, in the LRB:

I heard that, in Fallujah and elsewhere, the US had employed white phosphorus munitions, an incendiary device, known among soldiers as "Willie Pete" or "shake and bake", which is banned as a weapon by the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Similar to napalm, it leaves the victim horribly burned, often right through to the bone. I heard a State Department spokesman say: "US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters." Then I heard him say that "US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds." Then I heard a Pentagon spokesman say that the previous statements were based on "poor information", and that "it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants." Then I heard the Pentagon say that white phosphorus was not an illegal weapon, because the US had never signed that provision of the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Jon Stewart and the creative team at The Daily Show have broadcast this sort of media critique--illustrating how the corruption of language follows the corruption of power--to millions on a nightly basis. But "What I Heard About Iraq" is more disquieting than The Daily Show, partly because it doesn't offer the safety valve of shared laughter, and partly because it mirrors an almost shameful passivity. It tracks the twisting of the truth but is reticent on what to do about it; the narrative voice is a vacuum chamber that, registering all, is also unsettlingly inert. In fact, this may be the secret to the piece's success: unlike much agitprop, which calls upon its viewers or readers to do something, "What I Heard About Iraq" crystallized the feeling, shared by millions around the world, that the war was built on lies but that the truth was poor consolation to those, in Iraq, suffering in its grasp. The pathos of the war protester, alone and agape in front of the latest outrage on his or her computer screen, had found its literary form.

(Via Amitava Kumar)

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Boop the Doop

John Crowley ponders invisible comics.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two out of three

Kenneth Koch, "You Want a Social Life, With Friends"


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Memo to myself (XVII)

"The secret is I don't use the Internet, I don't have e-mail or a fax machine, and most of the time I keep the phone in the closet so I can't hear it ring. I have a little laptop I write on."

—William T. Vollmann, in the Sacramento Bee

(Via Jason McTwitter)


Still a few bugs in the system

Dear Customer,

As someone who has purchased or rated Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, you might like to know that A Gift for Ron: Friendship and Sacrifice On and Off the Gridiron will be released on November 3, 2009. You can pre-order yours at a savings of $8.48 by following the link below.

A Gift for Ron: Friendship and Sacrifice On and Off the Gridiron

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sleepy "Hello!"

Just in time for Halloween—I'll be reading at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center this Sunday, located in Sleepy Hollow. Here are the details! (Click here for directions...I think the HVWC is actually in the same structure as Philipse Manor Station.)

The Comic Novel

Our reading series takes a comic turn on October 25 with two authors whose novels are witty and intelligent, quirky and hopeful.

photo: Christine LehnerChristine Lehner, whose new novel, Absent a Miracle, came out this August, was described by the New York Times as a “talented humorist” and the book as “pure, unadulterated adulterous entertainment”. Her previous book was a collection of stories, What to Wear to See the Pope (Carroll & Graf, 2004), and her novel Expecting was published in 1983. Lehner’s short stories and essays have appeared in various literary magazines, including the North American Review, Agni, New Directions Anthologies, Chelsea, Salmagundi, Image, the Southwest Review and The New York Times. She writes the blog Sort Quench & Dump ( She lives near the Hudson River with Charles Branch, two dogs, and thousands of bees.

photo: Ed ParkEd Park’s first novel, Personal Days, published by Random House in May 2008, was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award and the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and was named one of Time’s Top Ten Fiction Books of the year. He is a founding editor of The Believer and the former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement. His articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Salon, and other publications. For several years he wrote film criticism for The Village Voice, famously ending his review of Clifford the Big Red Dog with the questions: “Why big? Why red? Why dog?” His short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in various anthologies and journals such as Trampoline, Burn This Book, and Read Hard. He drew a comic strip at Yale and received his M.F.A. from Columbia, where he currently teaches in the graduate writing program. Ed writes a science fiction column, Astral Weeks, for the Los Angeles Times, runs the blog Disambiguation (formerly The Dizzies), and publishes the e-zine, New-York Ghost. He lives in Manhattan with his family.

The reading will be introduced by Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. Marilyn’s latest, This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, is due out from Harper on February 2, 2010—and Marilyn will read for us at the Writers’ Center just a few weeks later on February 28!

Suggested Donation: $5 ($3 for HVWC members)

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 16, 2009

From the Parkives

Jenny's link to a review of Taylor Branch's Clinton book reminded me of some little Portis-like goodies from My Life, which I wrote about here:


Clinton: "Baptists require an informed profession of faith; they want people to know what they are doing, as opposed to the Methodists' infant-sprinkling ritual that took Hillary and her brothers out of hell's way." [p. 30]

Portis: "[The Cumberland Presbyterians] broke with the Presbyterian Church because they did not believe a preacher needed a lot of formal education. That is all right but they are not sound on Election. . . . I confess it is a hard doctrine, running contrary to our earthly ideas of fair play, but I can see no way around it." [TG, p. 109]

Labels: ,

Horror puzzle books

Authorship here is entirely meta; there’s a sense in which the Shortz corpus seems like a grand publishing performance-art piece. Shortz’s bibliography is like a model-railroad-size recreation of the entire publishing world in puzzle-addled miniature. He’s the “author” of horror puzzle books (The Little Orange Book of Harrowing Sudoku: 335 Frighteningly Fierce Puzzles), business performance & productivity puzzle books (KenKen for your Coffee Break: 100 Logic Puzzles to Make You Smarter), highbrow puzzle books (The New York Times Forever Sunday Crossword Puzzle Book), puzzles-for-dummies books (Will Shortz Presents Everyday Easy Sudoku), even New-Agey self-help puzzle books (The New York Times Soul-Soothing Crosswords: Seventy-Five Relaxing Puzzles). The only genre that seemed to be missing was the novel—now that’s a puzzle book I’d like to see. —Matthew Battles, "Will Shortz & the Death of the Author," Hilobrow

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Web developments

I. Levi not only supplements his bookish meditations on I've Been Reading Lately with a Twitter feed (mostly devoted to quotes—his "on-the-go commonplace book")...but he now has a welcome "Notes to I've Been Reading Lately."

II. Speaking of Twitter—everyone's "tweeting" these days, even some of my favorite dead authors! That's right—Harry Stephen Keeler has a Twitter feed! The material is taken from his "Keyhole" newsletters (and maybe some of his correspondence?), which he sent out to friends beginning in the ’60s (I think), after his books stopped coming out in the U.S.

Here's a sample:
Would Duttons [his U.S. publisher] find objection if I shortened my name on future books to either Stephen Keeler, Harry Keeler - or even Keeler Keeler?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pushed to the curb — You know the ring?

How the mighty have fallen! My former student Sandy Gordon spotted this on a sidewalk in Williamsburg:

(Any idea what that other book is?)

* * *

Fortunately, F.S. Sam McLaughlin cheered me up with an Ouroboros he discovered in Terrence Holt's collection In the Valley of the Kings. "In the title story," sez Sam, "the narrator consults an Egyptian Egyptologist":

He [the Egyptian Egyptologist] slumped, if this were possible, deeper in the dim brown heat, the rumples on his suit creasing through his face. —Did you know? I was trained as a chemist. For one year at University, before Nasser. Then the revolution came, and my family left, and I could study anything I wanted. We were all nationalists then, you know--very much so. And I decided that our heritage, our glorious gift to the human race, would be the more fitting study. But today— He pushed the scrap of paper back toward me. —Today I feel nostalgic for the benzene ring. You know the ring? A snake that bites its tail. That is perfection--none of this ringing in of signs from here and there and tomorrow: just carbon and hydrogen making geometry together.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


R. Emmet Sweeney—yes, one of the members of Team Disambiguation—on the recently concluded New York Film Festival:

The coverage of this year’s New York Film Festival was weirdly tendentious, culminating in A.O. Scott’s bizarre NY Times dispatch in which he claims (I paraphrase), that there is a cabal of scheming festival programmers who hate humanity and eagerly promote films which espouse a “principle of innate depravity.” I’m (slightly) exaggerating his argument, but he adopts a strikingly strident tone for a diverse slate of movies, grandly sweeping complex works of art into his “festival” category so he can haughtily ignore them. What he yearns for, it seems, are films of “high-minded middlebrowism.” Don’t we have the next two months of Oscar-bait to satisfy that particular need? —TCM's Classic Movie Blog

The first person

I don't even particularly like zombie movies, not at least beyond Romero's first Night of the Living Dead (1969), which had the Pittsburgh chill of genuine phobia to it. For us the living dead idea was a metaphor factory, in full production. For us the living dead idea was a metaphor factory, in full production. For everyone else, it seems, it's just a first-person-shooter XBox game.

—Michael Atkinson on Babylon Fields, his late lamented almost-TV series

Bonus: Amber Tamblynage!

And double bonus: La Tamblyn posts again at Harriet!

Labels: , ,

Christian Wiman on Craig Arnold:

I first met Craig about ten years ago at a little college in Virginia, where he was part of a symposium of young poets I had organized. Tall, lean, and with his head shaved, clad in black leather pants and tight white T-shirt, he didn’t “read” his poems: he performed them, strutting elastically about as if he were on stage, whipsawing lines and limbs in precise, rehearsed ways, electrifying that quaint little lecture hall as if it were the Moulin Rouge. I tend to be allergic to this kind of self-dramatization in poetry, but I loved it. All of it: the flair that seemed to arise naturally out of his character rather than being appliquéd on; the mercurial and protean nature of his subjects (and, I would learn, his own life); the hell-bent hungers and raptures kept in check—or at least kept intact, intelligible—by the tough-minded conscience and craft that ran through the poems like a spine.Poetry Foundation

Labels: ,

Monday, October 12, 2009


The most anticipated book of the new millennium?

No escape

There’s that pure saturation when you read them back-to-back-to-back-to-back. They sort of infect you. —Megan Abbott, on reading noir for her dissertation, in the Brooklyn Rail

(Via Confessions)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Parkiana for October 2009

I. My J.G. Ballard appreciation, in the form of an abecedary, is in this weekend's Los Angeles Times. Alas, we couldn't fit the entries for letters F, M, S, and W, so I include them here—that's right, this is a DISAMBIGUATION EXCLUSIVE™! (This whole setup reminds me of the end of Mark Leyner's Et Tu, Babe, where the abecedary is revealed to be incomplete because "On September 24, 1994, federal operatives, acting under the authority of the Punitive Confiscation Act, sized Chapter Five manuscript entries for the letters B, E, H, J, K, L, N, O, P, Q, R, U, and X.") Many thanks to my editors for letting me write the piece in this form in the first place!

Flight enabled and denied haunts these pages. In “The Air Disaster,” the “world’s largest airliner,” holding a thousand passengers, crashes near Acapulco, and though people think it landed in the sea, one intrepid journalist, acting on a hunch, heads to a remote mountain village instead. But his hunger for a scoop colors his judgment, and he finds himself in a hell of grotesque misunderstanding.

Some story titles: “The Overloaded Man” (1961), “The Subliminal Man” (1963), “The Illuminated Man” (1964), “The Impossible Man” (1966).

Science fiction

Places where most of these stories appeared: Science Fantasy, New Worlds, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, Fantastic Stories, Worlds of If, Argosy, Anticipations, Dangerous Visions.

Wave IX
Poetry journal edited by Paul Ransom, narrator of “Studio 5, The Stars,” featuring products of the VT. (See Vermilion Sands.)

II. I wrote a brief appreciation of Renata Adler's Speedboat for a cool little book called City Secrets Books: The Essential Insider's Guide (Fang Duff Kahn), a gathering of similar appreciations of interesting (and mostly obscure) titles. How obscure? Thornton Wilder's...The Cabala. Patricia Highsmith's...Edith's Diary. Jonathan Franzen's..."Erika's Imports." E.B. White's...The Fox of Peapack and Other Poems. Plus stuff I have somewhere but have never read (Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and, not that Elizabeth Smart), stuff by writers whose other stuff I like (Robert Kelly's The Flowers of Unceasing Coincidence—"The shape of the whole that of a rhizome, i.e. a non-hierarchical space, a burrow where you, the can go to earth for as long as little as you like"), stuff that I've mentioned on this blog within the past couple of weeks (Chuck Wachtel's Joe the Engineer), stuff I truly have never heard of, authorwise and titlewise (Otto Lilienthal's 1889 book Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation, anyone? Giovanni Paolo Marana's 1683 Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy?), and enough of my all-time favorites (William Boyd's Any Human Heart, Powell's Dance of course, Todd McEwen's Who Sleeps With Katz [!!?!?!], Jonathan Coe's The Winshaw Legacy, Rachel Ingalls's Mrs. Caliban, Nigel Dennis's Cards of Identity) to make me believe that this gathering has some basis in reality. And where else can you read writers like John Crowley on Paul Park (no relation!), Carole Maso on The Pillow Book, Gary Shetyngart on Mordecai Richler? Wait...Buck Henry on Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress?? Is this book for real?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 09, 2009

Random cotton stretchy things

I. "I’m also an American Apparel junkie. I’m constantly in there, picking up random cotton stretchy things. It’s a miniskirt, it’s a shawl, it’s a hood! It’s pretty ideal in this economic climate." —Milla Jovovich, in NYT

II. "The coastal road describes a hilly, wooded peninsula dotted with the stately homes of Douglaston, while on the calm water, a few sailboats slowly unzip the slate-colored surface." —Paul Hond, Columbia Magazine

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


"When I first met him, the moon — a chip of bone in the pale blue of morning — was just past full."
—Shelley Jackson, "Crumb Sweeper" (Significant Objects)

"It's late October, the sun a coin barely flipped above the horizon."
—Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (via IBRL)

Must chase frog out of throat because...

I am reading again—this Thursday at KGB, 7 p.m., mit two excellent novelists: RIVKA GALCHEN and LEV GROSSMAN. It's a benefit for "Behind the Book." I believe there is a $5 donation involved, and a raffle...

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, October 05, 2009

Looking too long

"The circuit of guilty time was too much like a snake with its tail in its mouth, consuming itself. If you looked too long, there'd be nothing left of it, or you. We were all guilty. We had to learn to live with it." —Ross McDonald, The Doomsters

(From Levi)

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Forgetting the frame

The Guardian's Alison Flood reads (and likes) The Worm Ouroboros. (Via Jenny)

There are many odd things about The Worm, not least the beginning, which sees a man, Lessingham, fall asleep and dream – or is it a dream? – that he has travelled to the plane Mercury (which is very Earth-like). He arrives in the court of the Demons, observes for a while – and then is never heard of again. Either Eddison became bored with him, or forgot about him (poor Lessingham though – how'll he ever get home?).

Here was my take, on Astral Weeks, a while back. (Verdict: good stuff!) Excerpt:

In a brilliant miniature, an Imp tells some shipwrecked Demons how he has observed three great warriors locked in a static plan of vengeance -- the first in pursuit of the second, the second hot to kill the third, the third chasing after the first. They have been like this for nine years.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 02, 2009

Weekend trailer

Thomas sends this clip....of a movie I saw when I was 6!

Density 21.5

To finish reading later:

One day I was passing a hi-fi store in La Mesa. A little sign in the window announced a sale on 45's. After shuffling through their singles rack and finding a couple of Joe Houston records, I walked toward the cash register. On my way, I happened to glance into the LP bin. Sitting in the front, just a little bent at the corners, was a strange-looking black-and-white album cover. On it there was a picture of a man with gray frizzy hair. He looked like a mad scientist. I thought it was great that somebody had finally made a record of a mad scientist. i picked it up. I nearly (this is true, ladies and gentlemen) peed in my pants... THERE IT WAS! EMS 401, The Complete Works of Edgard Varese Volume I... Integrales, Density 21.5, ionization, Octandre... Rene Le Roy, the N. Y. Wind Ensemble, the Juilliard Percussion Orchestra, Frederic Waidman Conducting... liner notes by Sidney Finkelstein! WOW!
—Frank Zappa, Stereo Review, 1971

Labels: ,

Hand it over

David Cairns on the joys of hand acting:

When I had the utter pleasure of directing the great Graham Crowden some years back, we had a couple of insert shots to do in which the Great Man was required to handle some seashells, and some coins.

“Just a bit of hand acting required here,” I would tell Graham.

“Oh I’m very good at that!” he would flash back, without fail. The same reply would also serve, it turned out, for foot acting, or anything else I suggested. A joy.

Here are some other good bits of hand acting I’ve enjoyed recently. Perhaps you can identify the hands in question, or the films, or both?


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Polanski-Atkins zero-sum incarceration

I hadn't thought of this.

Disambiguations™ for October 1, 2009

I. October Believer is out! A sorta "travel issue": Avi Davis on Dracula and tourism; August Kleinzahler on Alaska; Ginger Strand and James Wallenstein on Cuba; J.C. Hallman on the history of cruise Jonathan Ames interviewed, Sheila Heti talking to Agnès Varda, Jack Pendarvis's "Musin's and Thinkin's" Southernish humor column, and more! (Derek Walcott poem... Stephen Burt poetry review...Greil Marcus as always...Regional fast-food chart from Lincoln Michel...still more...including EYE-POPPING interior art by JING WEI!)

II. Amber Tamblyn is blogging at the Poetry Foundation's Harriet?! It's kind of amazing:

"Look at you, spell-checking the word ‘aficionado’ and correcting it. You can’t even spell. You’re a Hollywood actress who can’t spell, who doesn’t even live in Hollywood but none the less that’s what you are, because I am your subconscious and I say so."

III. I'm astonished—or maybe I'm not??—that there's no Nabokov love in the comments at Paper Cuts (vis-à-vis Rosenbaum/Laura/Slate) in fact there's no mention of Nabokov at all.

IV. Thanks to all who came out to the reading last night — that was a lot of fun!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Brown paper bag

“[W]hen I go to a poetry reading, they tell a little story before they read the poem: I went out for a walk and I got lost, and then somebody gave me this brown paper bag, and in it was … And I’m really interested in the story, because it’s spoken. So I knew this book had to be spoken—everything had to read as if it were actual speech. I wanted to see how the sentences would come out. Of course, actual speech is very sloppy, and this book is sloppy, very loose.”
—Nicholson Baker, in New York


View My Stats