Monday, May 31, 2010

Sensitive clay

Just saw the picture of the Guatemala sinkhole....Did anyone else read about this, a few weeks back?

The house’s bright green metal roof was all that was visible the next day in a vast mud crater near the village of St. Jude, Quebec, about 50 miles northeast of Montreal. The landslide created a hole 100 feet deep, 300 yards wide and a third of a mile long....

On Wednesday, officials allowed residents of several nearby houses to return home. But the family’s shocking demise was a stark reminder of a hidden menace under many parts of Quebec, one that dates back 10,000 years to an ancient inland sea.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Six easy pieces

Model aircraft and even a souped-up John Deere mower joined cars at Derick Samson's second annual car show Saturday, May 22, in Marshall.

Ed Park brought his 1936 Ford Cabriolet, which he has owned for nearly 50 years.

His car, he said, is "what you call a survivor of the old '40s/'50s custom; ... '37 DeSoto bumpers, '49 Chevrolet license plate surround, '39 Ford taillights, '40 Chevy headlights, '39 LaSalle grille, '49 Mercury dash," he said, and made reference to Johnny Cash's song "One Piece at a Time." —Marshall (MO) Democrat


Friday, May 28, 2010

Weekend humor

I. Sam Sifton Mad Libs at The Eater.

II. Lindy West's Sex and the City 2 review at The Stranger:

It is 146 minutes long, which means that I entered the theater in the bloom of youth and emerged with a family of field mice living in my long, white mustache.

III. I read something else funny, but I forgot what it was.

IV. This is funny/weird:

(via Jonathan)

V. This Paper Cuts post on the "Theory of Advancement" in pop music inspired me to find this video of Lou Reed singing "The Original Wrapper," funny on multiple levels:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

El Secreto

There is an unwittingly funny passage in the Spanish edition of Ignacio Echevarria's introduction to "El Secreto del Mal," a still-untranslated collection of Roberto Bolano's stories, a passage that could easily have been cribbed from one of Jorge Luis Borges' metafictions or, more to the point, from one of Bolano's. Echevarria observes that Bolano's work is "governed by a poetics of incompleteness." Bolano tends to interrupt his stories with other stories, and those with other tales in turn. He spends page after page building tension, then mischievously buries the climax or neglects it altogether. This makes it difficult to determine, Echevarria laments, which "among the pieces that he did not end up publishing can be considered finished." —Ben Ehrenreich's review of 2666 in the L.A. Times

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I missed this one

The weather didn't cooperate for Saturday's "Running with Ed" relay race, but all of the registered teams still did. —Park Record

TNCOM, #13

  1. Ah, who am I kidding. I can’t hate the internet. The internet is just salt. A flavor enhancer for real life. Makes everything taste more flavorful, intenser, more like itself. This is my brilliant metaphor. The internet makes my boredom more boring, my short attention span shorter, and my vanity more desperate for affirmation. Also, too much of it and it’s gross and makes you crave a refreshing beverage.
  2. —Scott David Herman,

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reality hunger #13

He’s certainly got my history to some degree. I’d sort of like to keep that as vague as possible because some of what he’s about is exactly me and some of it is the opposite of me. I mean, everything is made up for the most part. There’s a grain of truth to it all, and everything is made up. That’s why I never wanted to do autobiography, because it’s so much easier to make things up. And things work out so much better in the story than if you did autobiography.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Adventures in Muzak

Please hold while your call is connected to the pharmacy.

If I was invisible...Wait—I already am. Saw your face in a crowd. Called out your name. Don't hear a sound...Invisible!...You don't even see me...Baby you don't even hear me...I am nothing without you, just a shadow passing through...If I was invisible...

—from the Notebooks of Parkus Grammaticus, Mar. 27 2010

Literary Tupac-ism, or the case of the posthumous authors

Brandon Stosuy wrote in the VLS a few years back:

In 2001, W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz had barely hatched when its expat German author died in an auto accident near Norwich, England. The book came of age in its creator's absence. As a steady stream of miscellany, new translations, and critical exegesis in books about World War II has emerged, Sebald's posthumous trajectory resembles, of all things, that of slain West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur. An Inside a Thug's Heart/Campo Santo mash-up is a pipe dream, but both artists' beyond-the-grave success is a lesson in memory's resonance and Sebald's refrain that the dead are still around us (cf. Shakur's "How Long Will They Mourn Me?").

[An aside: Can someone please tell news websites to stop adding automated-seeming hyperlinks to every other word? Like, I really want to jump to all instances of "Long Will"???]

I thought of literary Tupac-ism twice recently—upon seeing the ARC of yet another Roberto Bolaño book, and again on reading Charles McGrath's piece on the afterlife of Stieg Larsson. I seem to remember (and seem to remember noting somewhere, perhaps on this blog) someone saying that even the unfinished stuff on Bolaño's hard drive could be considered for publication—their very incompleteness a commentary on his fate/career. (And I remember noting, as I note again now: Did I just this make this up? Can anyone find this? I think it was a tiny thing in a TLS...maybe in that "J.C." column.)

The most tantalizing part of McGrath's piece is the existence of a fourth, unfinished novel on Larsson's hard drive, which is in the possession of his longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson (who is at loggerheads with his father and brother over his literary estate)...

* * *

I'm also reminded of this recent NYT piece about the late Yiddish writer Chaim Grade; his widow Inna Hecker Grade's recent passing means that more scholars and translators might have the opportunity to work on his writings. (She was notoriously difficult with those interested in translating her husband's work, resulting in less exposure and ironically causing his star to dim.)

The story rang a bell, not because I'd ever heard of Grade, but because last year I read Joseph Epstein's short story "Beyond the Pale" (which is in the 2010 edition of The Best American Short Stories) about a young Time reporter whose interest in Yiddish leads him to pursue a great but obscure writer named Zalman Belzner. Belzner's wife, Gerda (= anagram for Grade!) is so loyal to the idea of her husband's greatness that she defeats every attempt at translation and proselytizing. (Like Irma, she's staunchly anti–Isaac Bashevis Singer.)

To be continued...

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Up in the air

Growing crops that dangle upside down from homemade or commercially available planters is growing more popular, and its adherents swear they’ll never come back down to earth.
—"Growing Vegetables Upside Down," NYT

When the photographer Philippe Halsman said, “Jump,” no one asked how high. People simply pushed off or leapt up to the extent that physical ability and personal decorum allowed. In that airborne instant Mr. Halsman clicked the shutter. He called his method jumpology. —"The Joys of Jumpology," NYT


Daily inspiration

I don't have an MBA or a degree in CS, I didn't know what a Consent of Board was, I'm just a dopey kid from Koreatown but I will NOT give up

—Ed Park's Twitter feed


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ouroboros at 5:50

(From Jonathan)


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reality hunger #12

Initials, blanks, or both were often substituted for proper names in nineteenth-century fiction to enhance the illusion of reality. It is as if the author felt it necessary to delete the names for reasons of tact or legal liability. Interestingly, as with other aspects of realism, it is an illusion that is being enhanced, by purely artificial means.



Friday, May 21, 2010

All the little blinking lights

Lev Grossman's new blog is addictively good. From a two-parter on anti-depressants and the writing life:

But then a strange thing happened. In February of 2006 I pitched Time on a profile of James Patterson, partly because it would involve my traveling to Palm Beach, FL in February, but mostly because I think he’s an interesting guy. (While I was there Patterson told me the incredible fact that when he was an undergraduate he worked nights at a mental hospital, and one of his assignments was to stand suicide watch over Robert Lowell, who if he could have seen the future would surely have attempted to strangle Patterson as a service to American letters. But anyway.) While I was there I realized I was out of Serzone.

Eh, I thought lazily. I’ll just pick some up when I get back.

But then I noticed two things. One, I was having the worst headache of my life. I don’t get migraines, but seriously, I was seeing spots. That I could chalk up to the side-effects of interviewing James Patterson.

But number two I couldn’t. Number two was that I felt like a fricking genius. My brain was having ideas and making connections and generally hyperfunctioning. It was like I had the WOPR up there. All the little blinking lights were on. I don’t think they’d been on in a while.

And here Lev posts the backstory to his epic Leonard Woolf/modernism-v.-fantasy piece, in this month's Believer.

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(Via Avi)


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Long-lost cousins

For his part, Jason Breen, 30, a more recent Buffalo transplant, explained: “Every time I meet an expatriate or a Buffalonian on vacation, I feel as though I just had an encounter with a long-lost cousin. There is an understanding, an instant bond and a mutual respect between us.”

NYT, "Devoted to Buffalo, However Far They Roam"

(From Jane)


A reading!

NEWS BLAST——————————

Ed Park will be making a rare public post-baby appearance on June 30 at Bryant Park!

He, rather I, will be reading something aquatic (maybe this?) as part of the Word for Word series (Underwater New York edition), along with Deb Olin Unferth*, Nelly Reifler, Said Sayrafriezadeh, and a "special guest"...

These readings are at noon—a good way to spend your lunch hour!

*With this reading, Deb and I will have read together four times—a record?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A perfect vacuum

(Via Jonathan)

Punchline in search of a joke

"Pontius Pilates!"


Cute overload

"A wily little kitten moves in with Jessica Winter and starts making big changes." —O, the Oprah Magazine


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Best "Stray Question" response

Describe a typical day in your writing life.

You mean after my manservant brings the muesli?

—Joshua Cohen in the NYT's Paper Cuts


Monday, May 17, 2010

Of course

Matthew Sharpe gets it (LAT):

The reviews of Don DeLillo's last few novels put me in mind of the sports journalist who, after a certain Yankee game, wrote, " Babe Ruth was not able to make any home runs." Critics of "The Body Artist," "Cosmopolis" and especially "Falling Man" seem to want DeLillo to be the Babe Ruth of novelists, to keep writing "Underworld" and "Libra," those long, magisterial books about big American events. Such people will probably not regard his new novel, "Point Omega," which weighs in at not much more than 100 pages, as a literary home run.

Yet "Point Omega" is a splendid, fierce novel by a deep practitioner of the form. . . .

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A classic

Let's go back to 1998. I remember thinking I was the only one who got this joke: A parody of Ron Rosenbaum, rhapsodizing over a genius—in this case, Bobby Goldsboro:

Longtime readers remember that I pondered the esse of Carrot Top's uniquely redheaded comedy in a previous column, and explored the quidditas of evil in my book Hitler Was a Jerk. What I propose to do in this and subsequent columns is to determine whether there is an exceptionalist Goldsboro fingerprint: Whether his genius can be said to exist on the same human continuum we all share, on the outermost extreme of heartfelt lyricism and weepy melody, or whether, as some musicologists have argued, he occupies some special category of turtlenecked sensitivity all his own - a separate realm of Goldsboro qua Goldsboro.

Not sure how I came across this, way back when—it's from a site called Simpleton.

UPDATE: Simpleton is still around. I don't even know what it is, exactly...

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Unhappy campers — a contest

At the Met:
They are so cute, these 16-inch-tall fellows in their floppy robes. Shuffling two by two, 36 strong, behind a choirboy on a black runway in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s cavernous Medieval Hall, they’re like a troop of fairy-tale dwarfs turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Unhappy campers, they weep, sigh, gesture sadly and pray, mourning the demise of their liege, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419)....

“The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy” was organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon under the aegis of Frame (French Regional and American Museum Exchange). (Besides the 37 mourners centrally presented, three more that were separated from the group long ago and are now owned by different museums are also on view in a separate vitrine. One last stray has yet to be found.)
NYT, May 13, 2010

The basis...for Richard Stark's The Mourner!

The Mourner is a story of convergence—of cultures and of guys with guns. Hot on the trail of a statue stolen from a fifteenth-century French tomb, Parker enters a world of eccentric art collectors, greedy foreign officials, and shady KGB agents....

* * *

Speaking of Parker/Stark, 57th Street Books in Chicago is holding a flash-fiction contest—judged by that Invisible Librarian Levi Stahl. Write the best story (350 words or less) about a Parker book heist...and get the first 12 Parker books in the University of Chicago reprint series!

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Bon Amis

Everything, in other words, is ripe for capers, and Amis seems to have all kinds of giddy fun orchestrating them: a shared bathroom, whispered invitations, a spiked drink, faked illnesses, secret trysts. It’s like NC-17 P. G. Wodehouse. It’s so mean and fun and gossipy that I found myself, more than once, literally shaking my head with satisfaction. —Sam Anderson on The Pregnant Widow, New York


Friday, May 14, 2010

Midnight in Don DeLillo

It's that time of the month again—wha?—yes, another Astral Weeks!

This month's column is sort of about a new anthology called The Secret History of Science Fiction, but really I just focus on "Human Moments From World War III," an amazing Don DeLillo short story from 1983 that I'd never read before. I also used it as an excuse to revisit Ratner's Star (one of his best)—

As though to change the subject, Cyril explained his assignment at Field Experiment Number One. He was part of a committee formed to define the word 'science.' The committee had begun meeting regularly long before a site had even been chosen for the structure itself. It was thought a definition would be agreed upon about the time ground was being broken. But the debate continued to drag on and the definition at present ran some five hundred pages.

— and to read his latest novel, Point Omega, which is perfect. I'm serious! (I.e., the reviews ar wrong.)

(One thing I didn't have a chance to talk about in the column was DeLillo's excellent recent story "Midnight in Dostoevsky," which appeared last November in The New Yorker. A DeLillo renaissance is underway!)


The return of the repressed

As someone who has purchased or rated music by Duran Duran, you might like to know that Seven & the Ragged Tiger (2 CD/DVD) will be released on May 18, 2010. You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reality hunger #11

W. Somerset Maugham, John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, John le Carré: all had experienced the world of espionage firsthand. For the task of the spy is not so very different from that of the novelist: to create an imaginary, credible world and then lure others into it by words and artifice.



Urge overkill

James Parker on Lady Gaga (in The Atlantic):

Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, in New York City, she was baptized Gaga by her former songwriting partner Rob Fusari. “We were working one day in the studio,” he told an interviewer, “and Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ came on, and I was like, ‘You are so Radio Ga Ga.’ So Gaga became her nickname.” “Radio Ga Ga,” released in 1984 (two years before Germanotta’s birth), was a reactionary lament at the dawn of the video age: “We watch the shows, we watch the stars / On videos for hours and hours / We hardly need to use our ears / How music changes through the years.” Oh dear! Pop being Pop, though, the only thing anyone remembers is the futuristically inane chorus: “All we hear is Radio ga ga / Radio goo goo / Radio ga ga / All we hear is Radio ga ga / Radio blah blah …” Lady Blah Blah would have been pretty good, but ga ga, gaga, gaga: a monstrous orality, a tyranny of infantile desire, with the added suggestion of surfeit, overkill, something being gagged on. Perfect.

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Disambiguations™ for May 13, 2010

1. Is there a connection between Martin Amis's Money and his scriptwork on an SF movie called Saturn 3?

2. Underwood Stories publishes short stories...on vinyl! (Do I listen to enough short stories? Probably not. But maybe on vinyl I would?)

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Reality hunger #10

All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unicorns and TIE fighters

New website prototype, thanks to the Geocities-izer.

(Via Ben)

Reality hunger #9


The Priory of Sion—a European secret society founded in 1099—is a real organization.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

That's a Disambiguation™ Double-Take™!

Dear editors, please do not use this word in your headlines!!!!!!!!!

Looking for a Chink in Tax-Cutting Law’s Armor


Thank you,
Asian people


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Reality hunger #8

Don Miff opens with a preface in which Virginius Dabney, purporting to be editing the papers of a certain Mr. John Bouche Whacker, warns “against too much faith in the account Mr. Whacker gives of himself.” But I suppose you can trust Mr. Dabney, because when he signed the preface “V. Dabney—108 West Forty-ninth Street, New York,” he was in fact giving readers his current home address.



Friday, May 07, 2010

The reporter got hungry

Mr. Elbaz, an immigrant from Egypt who lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, said he was relieved. It was only his second day running his Little Cupcake Lover cart. He sells coffee, bagels, croissants and other pastries in the morning before the red velvet, Oreo, Nutella mint and ocean-sprinkled cupcakes arrive. --NYT, "Times Square Evacuated After 'Suspicious Package' Report'


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

TNCOM, #12

She smiled again, like someone had offered her fifty cents for her right arm.
—James Tiptree, Jr., "Mama Come Home"

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I do?!

"You already know about the KFC Yum! Center, which is the now-official name of Louisville's new basketball arena..." —ESPN

(From Jane)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

My new business card

(Via Shadowplay)


Monday, May 03, 2010


In the Times yesterday, a caption for a photo illustrating this piece about U.S. soccer player Jay DeMerit's rare eye malady and its correction had the phrase "in an intricate operation"—those three "in" sounds in a row are themselves intricate! However, the caption does not appear in the online version.

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3 a.m. post...

Through a tragic production error they seem to have substituted the cover for an Italian-language novelization of Cabaret. Otherwise it looks great. —Lev Grossman on the Italian edition of The Magicians

* * *

Check out Lev's terrific piece on a pre-Virginia Leonard Woolf and his genre-loving roomie in the new Believer! It's great (and you can read it all online)! While we're at it, let's look at the rest of the May issue...Is it any good? YES. It's great, in fact!

How great? Nick Hornby returns!...Maureen Howard and Joanna Scott in conversation...Nabokov fans need to read C. Namwali Serpell's piece on "How I ruined Lolita for myself"...Lovely essay on the pleasures of Mimesis by Annie Julia by Rick Moody, Stephen Burt, Ken Tucker, and others...Interviews with Daniel Clowes (Wilson, which is great), Lawrence Schiller (name will ring a bell if you've read The Executioner's Song)...stuff about ninjas...Greil Marcus...Jack Pendarvis...and much more!

(Speaking of the Believer—two of the essays in last October's issue have been selected for the bext edition of Best American Travel Writing, including a Sebaldian epic on Dracula tourism by my former student, Avi Davis!)

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Working on all sorts of metaphorical levels

There’s a special setting to optimise performance on the beach and a brilliant dual tone facility which actually separates targets into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so you can decide if they are worth digging up or not! —Bill Wyman Signature Metal Detector

(From David)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Can you say

"treasure trove"??

Over 100 Paul Collins articles, up at his spiffy new site!


Arms and the woman

I would recommend Charles Portis to anyone (and I think I have recommended him to everyone), but I was especially eager for Levi to read him. He did...and I've been on pins and needles wondering what he thought. (Is it possible he didn't love it?)

My anxieties have disappeared—here's Levi on Portis's The Dog of the South! After some comparisons with Kafka-as-laughmeister and Melville's The Confidence-Man, Levi writes:

The result is unlike anything else I've ever read, crammed from start to finish with oddballs, dropouts, and failures, all of whom cling to this world all the more intensely for the fact that they can't quite figure out what to do with it. Ray Midge, the energetically sad-sack copy editor who is the novel's protagonist, seems to regard all the world's facts as equally important; though paring them down or assigning importance might reveal hints of a pattern, it's as if he feels an obligation not to discriminate, as if each and every detail deserves his full care--as if the world is a manuscript, and his job is to check it out. It's as admirable as it is crazy, and when he sets out on a road trip to Latin America to retrieve his runaway wife, the reader can't help but harbor some hope that, when he finds her, she'll see his awkward strangeness that way, too.

He includes some trademark Portis dialogue, too:

"The singing school was an entirely different thing, Melba. This was a restaurant they were talking about. Little Bit of Austria. Sybil was going to sing some kind of foreign songs to the customers while they were eating. She said she was a night-club singer, and a dancer too. She planned to dance all around people's tables while they were trying to eat. I thought these night clubs had beautiful young girls to do that kind of thing but Sybil was almost as old as Reo."

"Older," said Melba. "Don't you remember her arms?"

(Moreover, I'm also remembering that Melba "broke the transition problem wide open" in her own writing by starting every paragraph with "Moreover.")

Courtesy of Parkus Grammaticus, here's a brief rundown of some of my writing on Portis (one of those writers who I seem to write about even when I'm writing about something else):

Longish Believer feature
Comparing Bill Clinton's My Life with the CP oeuvre
Portis's Invisible Library entry
A Donald E. Westlake character sort of reminds me of Ray Midge
A few more words on DOTS-as-comic-novel for Bookforum

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