Friday, April 30, 2010

Not me. Not me.

Each spring, when the Ferris wheel makes its annual appearance and Buggy is in full effect, Ed Park and his fellow men’s soccer alums take some time to reconnect on the campus where they spent four of the best years of their lives. For Park and other former players, the annual men’s soccer alumni game is one of the most memorable days of the year....

Park relished every moment of his days as a student-athlete at Carnegie Mellon. With a degree in chemical engineering, Park has found that he has had tremendous professional opportunities because of his undergraduate experience. *

* * *

In the year 2128, a scientist schemes to re-engineer humanity and escape his own impending death. Can his son stop his father’s quest to recreate man in His own image. Art imitates life in Dr. Ed Park’s newly released Maximum Lifespan. In this fast-paced graphic novel, people live over 160 years due to the invention of a substance that activates telomerase. *


We Are Happy/To Serve You

"Sherri was keen to crack New York’s hot-cup market." —NYT


Thursday, April 29, 2010

"I'll take full responsibility"

Not me.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A brief history of pre-game rituals

Boomer Esiason, e.g., would "eat pasta and baked potatoes exactly four hours before kickoff; listen to Led Zeppelin." —ESPN

(Via Jane)

Reality hunger, #7

This essay resembles a lengthy preface. It would rather be the foreword to a book I would one day wish to write.



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reality hunger #6

I once planned a book which was to consist entirely of dedications, but abandoned the idea because I could not think of a dedication for it.



A brief history of time

William Carlos Williams thought New Directions publisher James Laughlin spent too much time skiing.

"After publishing her first novel at thirty-nine...[Muriel Spark] completed the next few books astonishingly quickly, at half-year intervals, as though some part of her mind had been readying itself." (Maud Newton)

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is twice the size of Earth. It is a hurricane that has been raging for 340 years.

I learned these things last week.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Polyp Asterios

Over the weekend, David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the best graphic novel of last year. Here's the citation:
Mazzucchelli’s monolith is a beautifully executed love story, a smart and playful treatise on aesthetics, a perfectly unified work whose every formal element, down to the stitching on its spine, serves its themes. No wonder the main character is an architect finding his way back to his Ithaca and his Penelope: “Asterios Polyp” is an odyssey of design as well as writing and art and cartooning. Steeped in classicism and wholly modern, it’s a pleasure to read, and maybe even more of a pleasure to contemplate and discuss.

Douglas Wolk, Joel Rose, and I were the judges; what a treat! We read some amazing books, not all of which could even make it onto our shortlist. (The eclectic list of finalists included Luba, Footnotes in Gaza, the fifth Scott Pilgrim installment, and Gogo Monster.)

* * *

Part 2 of this post is kind of a mind-blower. Before Asterios Polyp, what I knew about Mazzucchelli was that he was one of two artists who worked on the (excellent) graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass. I had my students look at the first few pages of the book (the adaptation) on Thursday, and mentioned that D.M. had recently published his masterpiece. I wrote the title on the board: "ASTERIOS POLYP."

As we were picking up our things at the end of class, one student remarked: "That looks like 'Auster, Paul.'"


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"Twenty Questions"

Last week, McSweeney's won a well-deserved National Magazine Award for Fiction...

Last night, for the first time in a while, I browsed for a few minutes and Barnes & Noble (read: looked to see if Personal Days was stocked...yes! measly copy!) and spotted a great-looking cover—clumps of hand-written text, a doodle or two (I think)—of what? I couldn't see a title...some of the textual clumpage seemed to be written by, or about, Siri Hustvedt? Hmmm. I opened the cover—it was the latest issue of McSweeney's! (That's how book covers should work, right? A bit of mystery...enough to get you to pick it up and open it....)*

And it turned out to be not just any issue, but the one featuring "Twenty Questions," by my former student Bridget Clerkin!

For now I will just say it is an electrifying story, and I think I mean that literally—reading it again made the hairs stand up on my neck again, just as they did when I read a version of it over a year ago. (And now I'm horripilating again, just writing about the previous horripilations!) This story is so good—and so good at producing this sort of follicular response that surely the barbering/styling industry needs to take note?

I think this is one of those debuts that you'll remember, the way I remember reading George Saunders's "The 400-Pound CEO" in Harper's back in ’92 and thinking: I haven't read a voice like this before, this is something new, something I need, I am going to read Saunders from this point forward...

Now: You will be saying this about Bridget Clerkin!

*Looks like someone liberated one of the two volumes of the current issue from its slipcase. Here's what it looks like, complete with title:

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

All hands on deck at dawn

(Via Bede)


Reality hunger #5

Come on in the crib. Don’t get freaked out by the Plexiglas walkway over the koi pond with the little waterfall next to it, it’ll hold you. The big room in the front with the marble tiles is cool and the upstairs room with the pool table is very cool. But the best room is the entertainment room just off the kitchen. In there are three big-screen TVs. Yeah, three. That’s not the best part, though. The best part is that the TVs are inset into a floor-to-ceiling aquarium that runs about 30 feet down one wall.




The only known photograph of him was taken when he was 11 years old.


Rachel Polonsky is the heroine of the story. It was she who employed an expert in computer forensics, who established practically beyond doubt that “Historian” lived under the Figes family roof. As Ms Polonsky put it to us, “a hoaxer would have had to set up an account pretending to be Orlando Figes in 2001 or earlier with a view to bringing the insane hoax to fruit in 2010”. —TLS

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reducing the area

Silence through the ages.

(Via Grognardia)


Reality hunger #4

People really want to believe that there is no fiction. I think they find it much easier to imagine that novelists are writing memoirs, writing about their lives, because it's difficult to conceive that there's a great imaginary life in which you can participate.



Friday, April 23, 2010

Reality hunger #3

There's always 14 pages describing a lawn that you skip over. I wondered, can you write a kind of fiction that the reader can't skip, because it's so dense with pleasure, so unrelentingly enjoyable, so packed with event. The goal was to make every sentence seem like a tabloid headline, so to speak, to turn up the volume on every sentence, to deliver a constant surprise.



Rorty's wake

No one writes like Heidi Julavits: "The daughter of dour pragmatists who prefaced many a conversation with the phrase, 'In the wake of Rorty,' my wife initially mistook me as a source of peculiar brightness."

Read her short story "Wooden Apple Core" at Significant Objects, as Believer week draws to a close.

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Dave Eggers (in the Guardian): "Yes, there can be a little bit of an unhelpful whirlpool of cleverness that eats its own tail..."

(Via Erasing)

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Reality hunger #2

I happened to be staying at a country house on the continent a year or so after the publication of a now celebrated book. That book was the Journal of Marie Bashkirtcheff; and as several of the party then present were reading it, it was not unnatural that it should be continually discussed and alluded to.



Thursday, April 22, 2010

Underwater New York/From the Parkives: "An Oral History of Atlantis"

These private oracles served as a fix, but I passed my days in a benthic haze: I wanted to swim again, to be by my blowhole familiar. Unable to resist, abject as any addict, I finally made a return visit uptown, but the entire district had been rezoned; the mayor, linking Metaphor to vice, had decreed that only pizza parlors could operate there now. They’d renamed it MUNGO, for Municipality near North Grosvenor and Orange, as if that would make people forget...

An introduction.
In November of last year, Nicole Haroutunian asked if I had any stories that might be suited for Underwater New York, an online lit and art anthology that she co-edits. A few months had to pass before I remembered this story. "An Oral History of Atlantis" was written in the early summer of 2001, for a reading at the old Galapagos in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful evening; I remember we ate delicious corn outdoors at Veracruz afterward. The reading was for a San Francisco–based journal called 6,500 (long defunct), guest-edited by my friend Paul La Farge. (6,500 had just run a different story by me; when I can, I still like to write original pieces for readings, mostly as a way to get myself writing anything at all.)

Later that summer I gave the story to Manuel Gonzales at Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art; he published it in the 35th issue, circa late 2002. "An Oral History of Atlantis" is thus both a pre-9/11 story (it was fun to imagine my city falling apart), and a post-9/11 one (I stopped writing like this for a while).

I believe this was my fourth published story. Indeed, this story is so old that the version on my computer can't be read by two out of three people I've sent it to. (Old hard drives, old word-processing programs might constitute the secret Atlantis of our time.) So I'm very happy to see it resurface, after nearly a decade, at the perfectly named Underwater New York; it's also a nice surprise to be teamed up with my friend and New-York Ghost photographer Adrian Kinloch, himself a frequent contributor to Underwater NYC.

You can read "An Oral History of Atlantis" in full here. The only other thing I'll say is that I've always liked the title.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010


"On the little finger of his right hand was a silver ring in the form of a snake biting its tail."
—Robert B. Parker, Early Autumn (1981)

(from Ben Strong)

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"My third date with Brooke is the night before her foot surgery. We're in Manhattan, in the ground-floor sitting room of her brownstone. We're kissing, on the verge, but first I need to tell her about my hair." —Agassi, Open


Reality hunger #1

I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the narrator for the beginning of it, and my own skeptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.

I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays, but the fact that in the telling of it to you I have taken fictitious names for the principal characters quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my beliefs that it may be true.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

City of bites

"Disorienting as the new surface is, Paris itself is more of a shock to the system. The city has all the same logistical problems of New York and London, the large crowds and cultural anomalies, but with an added language barrier. Also, the presence of dogs in restaurants unsettles me."
—Andre Agassi, Open


Monday, April 19, 2010

Starry eyes

Mildly bummed by this one-star reception of Personal Days on Amazon ("I'd rather drive spikes into my forehead than read this again"—ouch!), I was thrilled today to see this wonderful review by Robert Dupont of Brooklyn, which manages to invoke both The Magic Mountain and Charles Portis! Thanks! I needed that!

(What's that? No, I do not obsessively check my Amazon page every two hours...why do you ask?)

II. From Andre Agassi's memoir Open, which I'm live-blogging:

"Stratton Mountain, I conclude, is my magic mountain. My anti-Wimbledon..."

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From the Journal of Parkus Grammaticus

Me, twenty-odd years later: still hypnotized by the name "Joan Armatrading." Why did she trade in arms?

Ensemble, that's a fancy word for outfit, posh, that's a fancy word for fancy. (British father reading to his kids at B&N)


Believer notes — update!

V. This week, worlds collide, as Believer writers take the Significant Objects challenge and imbue random objects with enormous meaning for eBay hijinks/charity.

First up is Damion Searls (translator extraordinaire, author of the superb collection What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going, editor of Thoreau's journals, president of the United States) on a Bubblebath Teapot. Coming up: Justin Taylor, Trinie Dalton, Miranda Mellis, and...Heidi Julavits!

(My Significant Objectifying last year: this attractive cow vase.)

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Believer notes

I. Out now: You're a Horrible Person, But I Like You: The Believer Book of Advice, edited by contributing editor Eric Spitznagel. The SFBG quotes Zach Galifianakis’ “ways to kick-start a satisfying life”:

1. Start reading Teen People

2. Rent a stretch Hummer to go see Noam Chomsky speak

3. Model your life after the movie Sideways, but instead of wine make your passion Mountain Dew

4. Ask a state trooper where the closest gay bar is

5. Have a Super Bowl party with no television

II. Not too late to get the Believer's film issue! The Karpo Godina DVD is

III. Speaking of the film issue—Salon will occasionally be featuring McSweeney's content. Up now: Elif "The Possessed" Batuman's "Seven Unproduced Screenplays by Famous Intellectuals," also in the current issue (film) of The Believer. (But you should still get the issue itself.) Here's a taste:

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer

In Los Angeles in the 1940s, Frankfurt School philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer spent nearly six years working on a screenplay about prejudice. The final draft, titled "Below the Surface," features a violent commotion on a subway car, during which a woman carrying a vacuum cleaner either falls or is pushed onto the tracks. A one-legged peddler tries to rally the passengers against a Jewish man, who had previously jostled him. At the end of the film, the audience is to be polled regarding the guilt or innocence of the Jew; other audiences might be shown a similar film in which the Jew would be substituted by a "Negro" or a "Gentile white-collar worker." "Below the Surface" was batted around Hollywood for years, subjected to numerous scriptwriting consultations, and pitched to the likes of Jack Warner and Elia Kazan. It was never produced.

IV. In the NYTBR, David "Reality Hunger" Shields likes Ander Monson's Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir, which features material first published in The Believer. Shields writes, "Memoir is dead. Long live the anti-memoir, built from scraps."

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Sunday, April 18, 2010


Jing Wei

It eventually makes this:


Treme meme

Prediction for a Slate article for six months from now: "Why Treme Is Better Than The Wire."
Steve Hely

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Spice Planet

At the L.A. Times, Scott Timberg writes about the enduring appeal of Dune. Quote:

"I am a political animal," Herbert said in a 1983 promotional interview. "And I never really left journalism. I am writing about the current scene -- the metaphors are there."

Nice nugget: "When he hit his stride, Herbert was writing 70 pages a week."

OK—gotta write my 70 pages now! After a nap...

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eyjafjalla: Art futures

The Scream a result of Krakatoa...Frankenstein a result of Mt. Tambora...

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The Drop Cap of Yonder

Behind the scenes at The Believer.


Roman holiday

My latest Astral Weeks column for the L.A. Times looks at Laura Kasischke's In a Perfect World:

Kasischke employs a close third-person voice to track Jiselle, a flight attendant in her 30s, as she falls in love with and swiftly marries Mark Dorn, a widower pilot so knee-knockingly swoonworthy that disembarking female passengers often contrive to take a second look (by saying, for instance, "Did I leave a book called The Single Woman's Guide to Rome in my seat pocket by any chance?").

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Halo 2

Bishop’s Ring: "a huge brown or blue halo around the sun that was first noticed when the Krakatoa volcano exploded in 1883" —NYT

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Thursday, April 15, 2010


Robert Love lives in Nyack, N.Y., in a cottage built in 1927 that has an Egyptian ankh carved in granite over its front door. The house next door is adorned with an ouroboros, an image of a snake eating its tail. Mr. Love wondered what chapter in local history might have produced these leftover symbols. —Janet Maslin's NYT review of The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Toile, T.S.

A break arrived when she won a Christmas fiction contest sponsored by The Observer newspaper. But still she struggled. In 1954, after some months of popping over-the-counter Dexedrine to stay slim, she was poisoned by it and went mildly insane for a spell. Mr. Stannard writes:

T. S. Eliot, she insisted, was sending her threatening messages. His play” — “The Confidential Clerk” — “was full of them. Some were in the theater program. Obsessively she began to seek them out, covering sheet after sheet of paper with anagrams and cryptographic experiments.”

—Dwight Garner, NYT review of Michael Stannard's Muriel Spark bio

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Monday, April 12, 2010

I thought this was about Whitney Houston

Rift in Family as Whitney Plans a Second Home —NYT


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Great-looking new books

Friday, April 09, 2010

How I wrote certain of my books



Sunday, April 04, 2010

Now *That's* a First Paragraph!™

The huge black clock hand is still at rest but is on the point of making its once-a-minute gesture; that resilient jolt will set a whole world in motion. The clock face will slowly turn away, full of despair, contempt, and boredom, as one by one the iron pillars will start walking past, bearing away the vault of the station like bland atlantes; the platform will begin to move past, carrying off on an unknown journey cigarette butts, used tickets, flecks of sunlight and spittle; a luggage handcart will glide by, its wheels motionless; it will be followed by a news stall hung with seductive magazine covers—photographs of naked, pearl-gray beauties; and people, people, people on the moving platforms, themselves moving their feet, yet standing still, striding forward, yet retreating as in an agonizing dream full of incredible effort, nausea, a cottony weakness in one's calves, will surge back, almost falling supine. —Nabokov, King, Queen, Knave

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Black Wave

A DVD included with The Believer’s 2010 Film Issue — currently on newsstands — contains a revelatory collection of short films by Karpo Godina, a leading figure in the movement once known as the Yugoslavian Black Wave. Taking off from the almost inherently surreal nature of their cobbled-together country, filmmakers like Dusan Makavejev, Aleksandar Petrovic and Zelimir Zilnik (whose 1969 “Early Works” was photographed by Mr. Godina) composed erotic, unruly and sardonic films, often with strong anti-authoritarian subtexts, that earned prizes at foreign film festivals and official opprobrium at home.

Read more of Dave Kehr on the Believer's Godina DVD at the NYT.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Beckett goes to the beach

I. Best Bookforum cover ever:

In Print, Jonathan Taylor writes on food logos of yore. I like this phrase: "eclectic stylistic energies."

(Via Jenny D.)

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Mandarin Yale

For example, if an American soldier, reading Wade-Giles, asked, "Where is the Japanese man's machine gun?" he might utter something like "Jippen jenty cheekwan chong tsai nay pien?" A Chinese soldier with a little English might strain something like this out of the question: "Jipping Jenny! Habitually chooses which cheat?!? —Wikipedia

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The making of 177 Livingston

177 Livingston Construction from Gabriel Fries-Briggs on Vimeo.

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Disambiguations™ for April 1, 2010

I. The mysterious-yet-friendly Twenty % Tippers, whose travails have appeared in Ye New-York Ghost, get some love from Pop Dose.

Eventually, I talked to Ken Sorkin, the band’s founder, impresario, and short-story writer. The Tippers were not some odd hoax put together by McSweeney’s interns, but rather a band that had played in bars in New York in the early 1990s. “I put the band together because I wanted to get these songs realized,” he says. “But I knew that no one would want to see a band that they’d never heard of, so we wanted to create a mailing list as soon as possible.” In those pre-Internet days, that meant putting up fliers around Manhattan and setting up a telephone hot line (646-335-3390). Those who signed up received notices about upcoming dates and one of Sorkin’s short stories telling of the fictional alternative life of the band and its members.

Visit the Tippers website for more...

II. I need one of these? So do you? The Inspiratron!

(At A Journey Round My Skull)

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Twice-weekly round trips

today's mug04.1.10


Up Next

Mamma Leone's makes a welcome return to the city this month when it takes over the now-shuttered Tavern on the Green in Central Park.

Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit signs his new book, Service This!: How Higher Interest Rates, Hidden Charges, and Bad Investments Can Give Your Company a Competitive Edge, at Barnes and Noble Union Square on Tuesday, 7pm.

The Hayden Planetarium's Neil deGrasse Tyson recently announced the demotion of Staten Island from borough to protectorate. Ferry service will be reduced to twice-weekly round-trips.

architecture… Phase two of The High Line kicks into high gear this Monday with the groundbreaking of architect Frank Gehry's controversial plan for the reclaimed space. Mr. Gehry will add two multi-use levels directly over the High Line north of 23rd Street which critics complain will completely block views. The lower of the two levels will be known as the Super High Line and will contain exclusive boutiques, 470 condos, and three Pinky's nail salons. The top level—the Platinum High Line—will be a permanent tribute to the architect himself. NY Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff moderates his weekly salute to Mr. Gehry on April 4th, 7:30pm, at the Times Center. Tickets are $125.

theaterThe Roundabout Theatre has announced its next season of revivals. According to Artistic Director Todd Haimes, the company will produce revivals of Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, Chicago, and Hair (the latter two are themselves revivals). "Even though these shows are currently playing on Broadway, someday they won't be," Mr. Haimes said. Roundabout subscribers get first shot at tickets that would otherwise go to Roundabout subscribers.

shopping… Up to 100% off Judith Miller irregulars, one-of-a-kinds, and floor samples from her collection of the past decade's creations. Look for notes, sketches, final drafts, and accessories of the former Times reporter's work on WMDs and the Valerie Plame outing. Miller will sign 'You're Welcome!' on each paperwork sold. The sale takes place at the Metropolitan Pavilion from April 12th-April 14th, 9:30-5pm, cash only.


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