Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Did you hear about the Poundstone?
From my Astral Weeks review* of Wolf Mankowitz's A Kid for Two Farthings:
First published 56 years ago, "Kid" . . . conjures a time and place that feels remote -- a mostly Jewish milieu of garment workers and sign writers and prizefighters, of "Shafchick's vapour baths" (containing "the hottest room in the world") and baigels and ads on sandwich boards. Here, the height of technology is the Superheat Patent Steam Presser that Mr. Kandinsky covets: "You put in your trousers -- so. Close it -- so. Press a handle. Pouf. Up comes the steam. Open. There is your trousers pressed. No smell, no consumption."
I wish I had the book here to transcribe the lovely/funny bit about sign writing—but coincidentally, Jenny has linked to a review of a book on "lost London," and quotes this:
The late-19th century was the heyday of ornamental sign-writing, before the advent of neon, and the hand-painted signs covering every shopfront appeal to all possible shades of public interest — those who wish to keep up appearances (“Gentlemen’s Hats Polished for Sixpence”), the desperate (“Hammer Guns and Automatic Pistols Bought, Sold and Exchanged”), the hopeful (“Our Noted Lucky Wedding Rings”) and the moribund (“Funerals To Suit All Classes”). Sunlight soap and Colman’s blue and starch are advertised even in blackest Bermondsey, which suggests that poverty did not necessarily mean dirt. The constant advertisements for patent medicines are a reminder that the average age of death in the East End in 1900 was 30, and 55% of children died before they were five. Signs outside eating-houses indicate keen competition. For fourpence you can get a rasher of bacon and two eggs in a coffee shop near the Tower, or a pint of tea, two slices of bread and a plate of cold meat in Borough High Street. Harris’s restaurant in Aldgate offers pork sausages with bread (“Always Hot Always Ready”) for twopence.
In other news, the San Francisco Panorama and Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City are staggeringly, inspiringly great...I don't want them to end.
*The review is still almost impossible to find on the L.A. Times site.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Never cry Wolf
This month, my Astral Weeks column is a review of Wolf Mankowitz's A Kid for Two Farthings, a novel from 1953 that's part of a new series of Bloomsbury reprints, Ex Libris. (I wonder if this is the same imprint that is rumored to be bringing out Let's Kill Uncle, which Theo wrote about in the Blvr.?)
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Cogito ergo yum!
Social media simply consolidate and lend greater force to the anxiety felt by the characters of Personal Days. Weblogs, Facebook, Twitter provide the treadmills necessary to fuel this anxiety. They become much more than communication devices; they become the very means by which people secure an effective ontology: “I tweet, therefore I am.”
—from Anton Steinpilz's interesting consideration of Sergei Tret’iakov and Personal Days, at Generation Bubble
I think: therefore, I ate breakfast.
—Charles Fort, Wild Talents
Two small things for the end of the year
I. My whatsit, "The Freud Notebook," is available in somewhat jagged form at the Post Road website. An excerpt:
‘Rosa’s self-satisfaction was embarrassing and irritating, for he boasted that he had surpassed Michelangelo, and Passeri quickly changed the subject.’(It's also in Post Road 17. Thanks to Hillary Chute!)
—Born Under Saturn
II. I chose two music-related books and a documentary-poetic work for The Millions' Year in Reading.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Supposedly contemptible components
Zadie Smith on Ballard (in her ceaselessly quoteworthy Guardian piece/book excerpt in response to David Shields' Reality Hunger):
This year Ballard's stories in particular have been a revelation to me, being at once well made, full of the supposedly contemptible components – plot, setting, character – and yet irreducibly strange in proportion. It's a marvel how implacably and consistently weird he managed to be despite appearing to use all the normal tools at the disposal of any English short-story writer. All in all there is something a little shaming in reading Ballard: you have to face the fact that there exist writers with such fresh imaginations they can't write five pages without stumbling on an alternate world.
It blooms with all these great offhand lists:
Every now and then a writer renews your faith. I'm looking around my desk at this moment for books that have had this effect on me in the not-too-distant past: Bathroom and Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, Number9Dream by David Mitchell, Hilary Mantel's An Experiment in Love, Dennis Cooper's My Loose Thread, The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, the collected short stories of JG Ballard. [...]
Off the top of my head: David Markson's Reader's Block, Peter Handke's The Weight of the World, Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, Georges Perec's Species of Spaces and Other Pieces and Kafka's own Blue Octavo Notebooks . . .
Sunday, December 20, 2009
At the Second Pass, a list of books for a future canon—i.e., what books from this decade will people still be reading a hundred years from now? Levi champions a non-Parker Westlake book (The Ax), and Lisa Peet writes about William Boyd's Any Human Heart.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Thai Google is color-coded!
Friday, December 18, 2009
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh coco'nut fhtagn
After turning the shells so the open side faces upwards, the octopuses blow jets of mud out of the bowl before extending their arms around the shell - or if they have two halves, stacking them first, one inside the other - before stiffening their legs and tip-toeing away.
Dr Norman said: "I think it is amazing that those arms of pure muscle get turned into rigid rods so that they can run along a bit like a high-speed spider.
"It comes down to amazing dexterity and co-ordination of eight arms and several hundred suckers." —BBC News
All or nothing
Maximum # of authors generated with minimum # of names
From poet/AAWW director Ken Chen's "A Year in Reading" at The Millions:
I’m thinking of a number of recent books that are linguistically playful, compulsively readable, and, you might say, somewhat agnostic when it comes to matters of race, such as Ed Park’s Personal Days, Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel, Ed Lin’s This Is A Bust....
Double meaning: Netflix edition
Thursday, December 17, 2009
What the heck!?
Praise for Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood:
“This is the most unusual text I’ve copyedited in a long time—and I enjoyed it very much! Questions kept taking me by surprise, leading to much chuckling or me shaking my head, saying ‘What the heck!?’ I’m marking the publication date on my calendar, because I’ve thought of several friends who might be as intrigued by your unique book as I am, and I’ll be buying a few copies to give as gifts. Thanks for the interesting read!” —The Copyeditor to the Author
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Jing Wei—greatest artist of all time? (The above is for American Way magazine, which used to have the best Editor's Notes.) Her work is also in McSweeney's new San Francisco Panorama broadside, which is apparently flying off the stands so fast that I will never see a copy!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Norwegian wood—I mean METAL
Jumping someone else's dream
Joe Meno on Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar:
[R]eading this book is like realizing there is an entire room somewhere in your house that you never had the chance to visit before, a world of talking tigers, junk heaps, and underwater coffins. Unlike the work of so many well-regarded, contemporary writers whose memoir or journalistic style seems like a literary stand-in for reality television, Richard Brautigan’s intricate, poetic fantasia is an invitation to use your imagination, and somewhere, turning the pages, you have the sense you’ve stepped into someone else’s dream.
(At The Millions)
Labels: Richard Brautigan
Monday, December 14, 2009
J.G. Ballard as father
"So in between school runs, ironing school ties and cooking sausages and mashed potato, he wrote his novels and short stories – one minute conjuring up wild dystopias, the next watching Blue Peter....The watching of television was not rationed (unlike most of my friends) and was welcomed as an interesting vehicle of information and popular culture." —Bea Ballard, The Guardian
Labels: J.G. Ballard
Sunday, December 13, 2009
July 02, 2009 Universal has won a four-studio bidding war to pick up the film rights to the classic Atari video game "Asteroids." In "Asteroids," initially released as an arcade game in 1979, a player controlled a triangular space ship in an asteroid field. The object was to shoot and destroy the hulking masses of rock and the occasional flying saucer while avoiding smashing into both. –The Hollywood Reporter
(Via The Faster Times, which also notes a Monopoly movie project)
Saturday, December 12, 2009
A table of content
Thursday, December 10, 2009
For those familiar with RPG jargon, the Hero System is a high-crunch tactical simulationist design with point-allocation char-gen. If you don't know what that means, put it this way: The two-volume Sixth Edition rulebook has 775 pages. In many important ways, this game violates the old-school aesthetic, which prizes succinct rules sets and gamemaster improvisation. Succinct? The Hero System exhaustively compiles character stats, talents, perks, martial arts, super-powers, advantages, disadvantages, vehicles, bases, automata and every imaginable combat maneuver; meticulously defining, interrelating and point-costing everything with diamond-cut precision. Improvisation? Character creation can take an hour or more, and combat moves like a careful tax audit. —The Escapist
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Turn of the century
DTM R. Emmet Sweeney is pretty cute: Here's his list of the best movies of the decade......that is, for 1900–1910!
Sample taste: "A timeless subject – the evils of elaborate hats worn at cinemas – is turned into a delightfully surreal short by D.W. Griffith...."
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
I have no idea what I'm talking about
Before the Tiger Woods scandal broke, I had been pondering this nomen et omen: Some golf-club company should market a set of "Tiger Woods"!
There would be a commercial in which Tiger Woods just said his name a few times, a who's-on-firsty thing ("What sorta clubs ya usin'?" "Tiger Woods." "Aw c'mon Tiger, you can tell us..." "Tiger Woods." "Now really...").
Finally the message is understood. Then we see an oldish Brit stroll onto the links.
"Who's that guy?" one of the aforementioned questioners asks.
Close-up of swing—cut to face, grinning.
It's Jeremy Irons!
—END OF COMMERCIAL—
Another idea: Shut down this blog, and redirect everyone to MAGIC MOLLY.
Labels: Nomen omens
Sunday, December 06, 2009
For a future edition of the Catalogue of Obsolete Entertainments
This Monday, December 7, at 6:30 p.m., at Electric Works Gallery in San Francisco, there will be a REALLY FUN party celebrating the 2009 Art Issue of the Believer magazine.
Readers and guests will include contributors Eames Demetrios, Michelle Tea, Jeff Chang, and Michael Paul Mason.
Free beer will be provided by Anderson Valley Brewery, makers of the redoubtable Boont Amber Ale.
Artwork by Paul Madonna and Ian Huebert will be on display. Festive snacks will also be available.
Electric Works is located at
130 8th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Monday, December 7, 2009
Contemporary art and culture
Labels: The Believer
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Well, I don't know what of our culture is going to survive, or if we survive. If you look at the Greek plays, they're really good. And there's just a handful of them. Well, how good would they be if there were 2,500 of them? But that's the future looking back at us. Anything you can think of, there's going to be millions of them. Just the sheer number of things will devalue them. I don't care whether it's art, literature, poetry or drama, whatever. The sheer volume of it will wash it out. I mean, if you had thousands of Greek plays to read, would they be that good? I don't think so.
—from a long interview with Cormac McCarthy in the WSJ
Fresh from my Google News alert
Friday, December 04, 2009
Story of my life?
Up in the Air means to be a critique of how we live now: Social networking is a substitute for intimacy that's just as phony as Bingham's doctrine of emotional self-sufficiency. Natalie's cruel scheme for online firing suggests an updated gag from Chaplin's Modern Times but it's hardly outlandish. (I have a colleague who was fired on a conference call.) But like Juno, Up in the Air conjures a troubling reality and then wishes it away. —J. Hoberman, PTSNBN
Labels: J. Hoberman
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Allegory of the caveman
"We've been told that we're living in a new golden age of television, and suddenly we're expected not only to watch but to read essays, think about, and discuss one-hour nighttime dramas like Desperate Housewives and Dollhouse. Watching these shows is like joining the Masons, requiring the memorization of arcane trivia, the parsing of cryptic plot twists, and near-fanatical loyalty."
—Grady Hendrix, "Boxed In," Slate
A useful corrective: Watching the precious few episodes of Cavemen on YouTube!
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Disambiguations™ for December 2, 2009
I. Exciting news: Dave Tompkins's decade-in-the-making How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From WWII to Hip Hop. The Machine Speaks is forthcoming from Stop Smiling/Melville House next spring. (A sample of his vocoder musings can be found in an old Believer.)
II. Earlier this year, Richard Polt—not just the esteemed editor of Keeler News (and the founder of the Harry Stephen Keeler Society) but the editor of ETCetera: Journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors' Association—was good enough to set me up with a Lettera 22, which I brought along to the wilds of Wyoming. (I had feared that my laptop would give out on me.) Here is the evidence:
It's a lovely, jade-by-way-of-pea-soup-colored machine that was a joy to use...until last week, when a bit of connective tissue snapped. I plan to get it fixed soon, and in the meantime blame my non-writing on its injury.
Here's Sylvia Plath with her Lettera:
And here's Mark Sarvas mentioning his old Lettera a while back...
And of course, the most recent news: Cormac McCarthy's trusty Lettera 32—is going up for auction. He wrote all his books on it (including three unpublished novels), and estimates an output of 5 million words over the years. As someone in the piece puts it: "It’s as if Mount Rushmore was carved with a Swiss Army knife."
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
I. Here's me earlier this year:
Gorey also claimed to have exhausted the film archives at the Museum of Modern Art. There he immersed himself in the multipart crime epics of Louis Feuillade (not just the famous Fantômas and Les Vampires but the all-but-unseeable Tih Minh and Barrabas, “the greatest movie ever made”)... —Moving Image Source
Now John Crowley says that Tih Minh will be playing at Yale!
Thursday, December 3rd
4:00 -11:00 pm Special Event
- Tih Minh (Louis Feuillade, 1919, 357 minutes plus two intermissions)
o Accompaniment by Philip Carli and Donald Sosin
o Introduction of silent film musicians by Richard Suchenski (History of Art and Film Studies, Yale), Introduction of film by Richard Maxwell (Comparative Literature and English, Yale)