Saturday, February 27, 2010



David Kirby, an American coach and a technical expert, said: “Clearly, [Kim Yu-na]’s the best girl, but it’s because she’s the best technician. She’s 70 percent sport, 30 percent art. Peggy Fleming was a real artist and real athlete. I don’t think that balance of art and sport is the Olympic champion this year.”
—"As Kim Raises the Bar, South Korea Delights," NYT, Feb. 27. 2010

[Sarah] Chang is a phenomenon. Her technique is almost intimidatingly brilliant. Her tone is lustrous. She has both temperament and uncanny control. And yet I missed the qualities of nobility, elegance and spontaneity that more mature artists have brought to the work.
—Anthony Tommasini, NYT, 1999


"All patches from the author's shirt"

Great piece on Wells Tower's other art:

Few people I’ve met have heard of Hellbender, but in a punk way they were almost like the Yardbirds, the mostly forgotten ’60s British band whose guitarists included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Al Burian, Hellbender’s bass player, later played in the cynical, futurist hardcore band Milemarker and wrote the zine and comic Burn Collector, a literary slacker diary. (Both efforts seem outdated now: the sci-fi endgame Milemarker imagined looks quaint as we start to see the banality of the apocalypse, and Burn Collector’s style has been copped and diluted by the blogosphere.) Harrison Haynes, the drummer, plays in the Brooklyn performance-rock band Les Savy Fav. Wells Tower played guitar.
—Josh Garrett-Davis, The Rumpus

(Via Lincoln at The Faster Times)


Friday, February 26, 2010

Books do furnish a room, part XXIII

"Book Cell," by Matej Kren, at Apt. Therapy

(Via L.G. Thos.)


Doctor doctor

A string of Americans also have very job-specific names, including Dr Leslie Doctor, Dr Thoulton Surgeon and Les Plack - a dentist in San Francisco. —BBC


Inner state

“In West Virginia, there’s an area the size of Delaware that has been deforested not to make paper, but to make electrons.” —Paper Cuts

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Once again I contemplate shuttering the blog and simply redirecting to Magic Molly. And it sounds like Good Jobbb is thinking similar thoughts:
Sometimes I find myself mentally making epigrammatic observations about the little Nicholson Bakery pleasure-giving tabs that hang off of the good, everyday white nodules of contemporary life. Then, profound web-based solipsist that I am, I think, I’ll write a short, epigrammatic observation about this mental/contemporary phenomenon on my blog. Then I remember the presence of Magic Molly and I stop, because I know she’s taking care of it—she’s got it covered.
This would free up a lot of time. Then I could start a Twitter account!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One night only!

Tonight at Housing Works: Park—Kunzru—Gaitskill! Part of Bookforum Reads.

Update! Time Out says:

When we saw Ed Park read last Saturday, he cracked us up, sharing a new, technology-infused story narrated by a man disgruntled with his girlfriend (a reviewer of übergeeky sci-fi and a grad student who studies “robot literature”) and his parents (who are selling all of his stuff on eBay). We’re not sure he’ll read the same thing tonight at an event organized by Bookforum, but it’s a safe bet that he’ll present something imaginative, idiosyncratic and deeply funny. Adding gravitas to the evening will be Mary Gaitskill—whose brave, chaotic and beautiful Don’t Cry was a 2009 TONY favorite—and Hari Kunzru, author of My Revolutions.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Excuse me for the diversion. It's just that it's tremendous."

At Movieline, an interview with William Hurt kicks off with him quoting at length from...The Believer!

"It’s a great magazine. From San Francisco, of course. They have this wonderful series of micro-interviews, these imaginary interviews given by an imaginary Ken Burns to the writer Brad Neely. I’ll read you one of them. It’s so good...."

(From Andrew)

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Love and Polyps

This year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize has a new category this year: the graphic novel! I was a judge, along with Douglas Wolk and Joel Rose. It was fun! I love how different these books are from each other...

Here are the finalists:

(Complete list of all categories here.)

Douglas points out some nice notices already about our list...check out this one to see the covers of the books in question.

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Monday, February 22, 2010


Here I am at "Impossible Geometries"!

That triangle is mesmerizing...

(Thanks to Light Industry and Triple Canopy...and to everyone for coming out!)

* * *

My next reading is—Wednesday! At Housing Works, 7 p.m., with Mary Gaitskill and Hari Kunzru.

Check out this banner ad....Hmm, it looked bigger on the Bookforum site. If you click on it, though, you'll get a version that's about the right size for a bookmark. Print out, laminate—enjoy!

(Reminds me of Luc Sante's intro to the latest batch of Richard Stark novels—has a great line about never having to invest in a bookmark!)

(Click here for more info about the reading.)

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

(Via A Nun A Day, which has an awesome Penguin design)

Nine tails

For my latest Astral Weeks column at the L.A. Times, I look at Girl in the Arena, a very good YA novel by Lise Haines about modern gladiators. I quote from the start of Haines's book:

Ned was a serious asthmatic whose condition became aggravated by any small contact with cats. So he borrowed nine of his friends' tabbies and minxes and Persians and drove around in his VW Bug with the windows rolled up. The cats laced in and out of Ned's lap, moved along the back of his seat. . . . The plan was to drive around the city and pull right up to an emergency room, and then 4F all the way. He just couldn't find a hospital in time. The coroner said that Ned miscalculated the number of cats he needed in the car.

(I wound up borrowing some of the dire "prologue" that I concocted here for the story that I wound up reading at "Impossible Geometries" last night!)

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Anagram movie reviews

Poundstone's on a roll!






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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Strix Nebulosa

Back in the ‘50s, Ed Park and I were calling great grays on the old Newberry Crater road on a dark gloomy night. I was standing in the middle of the road, bent over, hands behind my back, and moaning that low hoot when suddenly headlights from a side road pinned me in their light. Someone appeared out of the darkness, dressed in a dark blue uniform, and a burly voice said, "What is this, some kind of religious ceremony...?"

—"Big Time: They Don't Come Any Bigger Than the Great Gray Owl," Jim Anderson, The Source Weekly


Tonight! "Impossible Geometries"

Come to "Impossible Geometries" at 177 Livingston! Doors open at 8.

I'm up first—I'll be reading with Lynne by Lis by Ambergris and Skeletons...other stuff! I think it goes on till late and I will probably need a nap at some point.

More at Time Out and at the 177 Livingston site.

And click on the tag below to check out the poster art.....This is a $5-$20 benefit; 177 Livingston is the big new home for Triple Canopy and Light Industry, also something called The Public School.

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Friday, February 19, 2010


The eternal question.

It's not just me!

The Stranger's Paul Constant—a Personal Days fan—also digs the RPG blog Grognardia.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sotto voce

Via Google: Eliot Fremont-Smith in The Village Voice, October 11, 1976, on Renata Adler's Speedboat.

Bonus: Photo of Adler, and on the next page, a very young looking Margaret Atwood.

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Parker parks the car

(Via Levi)

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"Like watching an Aztec pyramid being built"

More on our favorite recent Keelerite, Roger Ebert

"You are the readers I have dreamed of..."




Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Crist almighty

Believer editor Meehan's review of John D'Agata's The Lost Origins of the Essay is in the latest issue of the magazine...but you can't read it online.

But wait—now you can! At Powell's. Here is a taste:

It seems that even as D'Agata throws open the doors to the house of the essay, he closes a window somewhere else. Yet if we carefully consider his project -- to search out origins for nonfiction rooted in art rather than commerce -- his penchant for writing that looks inward doesn't seem to undermine his credibility or his argument. He has gone searching for art. Look here, he says, I have found it. That any such tradition can be traced is his success. Whether this is the essay's only tradition is another argument altogether.


"The literary bash of the week"

We're all about THE BEST, so it's good to see that Time Out New York has chosen Saturday night's reading/event/free-for-all as one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective — I mean SEVEN BEST THINGS to do this week:

The multidisciplinary benefit party Impossible Geometries, for the online journal Triple Canopy and the art-film space Light Industries, kicks off with readings by Ed Park and Lynne Tillman, follows with films and music, and promises to be the literary bash of the week.

More info here.

Also check out this poster:

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Yesterday's vocabulary

The chirality, or handedness, of molecules prevents certain reactions from taking place in chemistry and biophysics, Dr. Sandweiss noted, and affects what we can digest. —"In Brookhaven Collider, Scientists Briefly Break a Law," NYT

The jungle creatures that enthralled Bates use what are now recognized as four distinct strategies to avoid being eaten — mimicry; concealment, known as crypsis; the display of warning colors; and masquerading as inedible objects. —"Imitators That Hide in Plain Sight, and Stay Alive," NYT


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I thought of Foucault's essay again when I recently came across a psychological study showing that Americans tend to choose careers whose labels resemble their names. Thus the name Dennis is statistically overrepresented among dentists, and the ranks of geoscientists contain disproportionately high numbers of Georges and Geoffreys. The study ascribed these phenomena to "implicit egotism": the "generally positive feelings" that people have about their own names. I wonder whether some of the Dennises in dentistry school ended up there by a different motivation: the secret wish to bring arbitrary language in tune with physical reality.
—Elif Batuman (in The Chronicle of Higher Education)

(From Rachel.)


Monday, February 15, 2010

Pillow talk

He wrote little fiction after becoming a teacher, a major exception being “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi,” published in 1974 in a Jewish-themed anthology called “Wandering Stars,” which tackles the question of whether a Hebrew-speaking alien that looks like a “wrinkled and twisted” brown pillow with short gray tentacles can be considered a Jew.
NYT obit for William Tenn

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Setting spiders to fight — Reality hunger

Among the Jesuits it was a standing rule of the order, that after an application to study for two hours, the mind of the student should be unbent by some relaxation, however trifling. When Petavius was employed in his Dogmata Theologica, a work of the most profound and extensive erudition, the great recreation of the learned father was, at the end of every second hour, to twirl his chair for five minutes. After protracted studies Spinosa would mix with the family-party where he lodged, and join in the most trivial conversations, or unbend his mind by setting spiders to fight each other; he observed their combats with so much interest, that he was often seized with immoderate fits of laughter. A continuity of labour deadens the soul, observes Seneca, in closing his treatise on "The Tranquillity of the Soul," and the mind must unbend itself by certain amusements. Socrates did not blush to play with children. Cato, over his bottle, found an alleviation from the fatigues of government; a circumstance, Seneca says in his manner, which rather gives honour to this defect, than the defect dishonours Cato. —Isaac D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature (at I've Been Reading Lately)

Ballard was a working writer, first and last; the where of it was not to be disturbed. Fixed routines served him well; so many hours, so many words. Breakfast. Times crossword. Desk overlooking a natural ­garden. Stroll to the shops to observe the erotic rhythms of consumerism. Lunch standing up with The World at One on the radio. Back to the study. Forty-minute constitutional down to the river. TV chill-out meditation: ­Hawaii Five-O and The Rockford Files rather than Kenneth Clark.
—Iain Sinclair, Guardian (via Jenny)

* * *

Feb. 13, 2010. I found a notebook I was looking for (though not
the notebook I was looking for), the last entry of which is dated from August and quotes Walker Evans on James Agee: "[I]t did seem that wind, rain, work, and mockery were his tailors." By chance I flipped to a page dated exactly a year ago, Feb. 13, 2009. Here is what was written, scrawled across three and a half pages:

I don't even know if it's a novel anymore—it's basically a collection of lies.


—How'd you get so fat?
—She keeps baking things and I keep eating them.


—It's not just one book. If I put my mind to it, I could extract two or three solid novels from it, and with a little spit and plaster I could build up a half dozen unpublishable novellas. You know how the novella market is. There are at least twenty full-fledged short stories in there, I'm sure of it.
—But they're all scrambled together, is what you're saying.
He nodded and took a sip of his wine. —To complicate things, it's not pure fiction. There are other parts—many other parts—spoken by various characters, that are thinly veiled versions of my life. And then to complicate things, I appear in the pages, speaking more or less the truth.
I didn't say anything. It sounded like a disaster.
—It wasn't intentional, he continued. I wanted more than anything to write a straightforward story, a novel with good bones, meaty themes, vivid characters, and all the rest.* But I can't do it. Even when I start with the best intentions, things start getting strange around page three, and by page five you have the ostensible narrator falling asleep and meeting someone in his dream who happens to be me, and I then tell the dreamer about my dreams, except it's not clear, by the end of fifteen or fifty pages, whether it's still a dream or not.
—I'd love to read it sometime, I lied. Or half-lied.
—I'd love for you to read it. But I don't know how to present it. It's just this huge series of sequences—some on my computer, some still in my notebooks.
We walked to the balcony.
—Lately for the first time I feel like it's publishable. I mean, I can visualize the form it would need to take. You know Stephen King's Dark Tower books?
—Haven't read ’em, but yeah.
—I haven't read them either, but

[Here the manuscript ends]

*somewhere around here, written in microscopic blue pen and amended twice in black pen, the following was intended to be inserted: "I'm very good at being clear, normally. I was a stringer for the Times when I was in college, and wrote a lot of articles when I lived in Prague. I don't want to brag, but journalism was a breeze for me—locate the story, talk to people, write it down—and I thought fiction would just require a modest adjustment, like upgrading to a stronger pair of glasses." This is entirely made up (clear, Prague, Times), though oddly enough, I did upgrade to a stronger pair of glasses a few days ago.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Breaking news!

Harry Stephen Keeler only has six followers on Twitter...but one is Levi Stahl, one is William Poundstone, and one is Roger Ebert!

Levi e-mailed me with some important Keeler news: At Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg has blogged about Ebert's love of Keeler! There's some eye-grabbing dustjacket art, too...though I must confess Five Silver Buddhas is one of my least favorite Keelers!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mattie's sense of snow

"The snow came thicker and the flakes grew bigger, as big as goose feathers, and they were not falling down like rain but rather flying dead level into our faces. In the space of four hours it collected on the ground to a depth of sixth or seven inches." —Charles Portis, True Grit

* * *

In fake True Grit casting news, what if the Coen Bros. got Shia La Beouf to play Laboeuf?


Come on, let's move it

My buddy John (who first told me about It Happened in Boston? and Cards of Identity, and who wrote the New-York Ghost theme song!) recently got his collection of cassingles out of hock (aka his dad's basement). Which ones do you have?

I feel like this should be a poster.

(From the archives: A message from John, about why he's been out of touch, ca. 2005. Tantalizing tidbit: "As I’m walking through the apartment with my understandably rubbernecking neighbors in tow, I realize that the four big bullets have gone through the bedroom window, through the bedroom wall, across the living room and into and through the opposite wall, where there’s a sliding glass door that opens out onto my balcony.")


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The tawny cat's master plan

The evolutionary journey of the Barque Cats continues as the refugee cats seek asylum on Pshaw-Ra's planet, Mau, a world of ancient secrets and advanced science that Pshaw-Ra declares will bring about his goal of feline domination of the universe! Can Jubal and Chester stop the tawny cat's master plan? Do they even want to? Wouldn't cats running the universe actually be a good thing? Watch for Catacombs, the next in the Barque Cats series, coming from Del Rey.
—from note at end of Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's Catalyst


Monday, February 08, 2010

Second/final tour date added!

A mere four days after the "Impossible Geometries" reading...I'll be at Housing Works with...


(More here.)

(I am pretty sure this will be the last time I'll be reading this winter/spring.)

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

More doubles

Two poems by Spencer Reese, in the latest issue of Poetry.

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Mixed doubles

Luc Sante on William S. Burroughs and...a flannel ball.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Exciting minutiae

A nice mention of Personal Days on the New Yorker's Book Bench! Lee Ellis writes:

Perhaps writing fiction about work in any meaningful way is challenging, but I don't think it's impossible. A few recent examples come to mind. The first is Ed Park’s "Personal Days." From the stinging embarrassment of the company softball team’s record-setting losses to the odd, enchanting power of a Post-it, Park repeatedly finds ways to turn the minutiae of office work into exciting, inviting prose. As for stories that take on both cubicle and spreadsheet, check out Ben Marcus’s recent bizarre yet rewarding “The Moors” in Tin House, or David Foster Wallace’s “Wiggle Room” in this magazine (an excerpt from his third, unfinished novel "The Pale King"). I'm also looking forward to Sam Lipsyte's forthcoming "The Ask", which is getting quite a bit of attention. It's a book that in part deals with both the destructive and encouraging aspects of office culture.

Ummm, same paragraph with Ben Marcus, DFW, and Sam Lipsyte? Heyyy—I'll take it™!

(Side note: The Ask = even better than Home Land. Trust me™!)

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"Impossible Geometries"

It's been a while since I last gave a reading, so I'm happy to be appearing at "Impossible Geometries," a Triple Canopy/Light Industry/Public School benefit party/screening/performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 20. Lynne Tillman will also be reading; there's a film by Lis Rhodes; sets by Ambergris and Skeletons...DJs...

It's very exciting—the three groups are celebrating their gigantic new space at/called 177 Livingston St. in Brooklyn. (Click for more info.) I'm gonna hopstop it soon!

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The wedge


I like the British genre of the review which, while otherwise favorable, enumerates a paragraph or two of errors in the penultimate paragraph:

Murdoch’s youthful mind is as sharp and polished as a sword, but Conradi’s editing is not. Random footnotes pop up like glove puppets interrupting a soliloquy, to explain that “Je t’aime” means “I love you” and that Baudelaire is a French poet. There is no index, there are typos galore and a footnote that refers to the missing last page of Thompson’s final letter to Murdoch is itself tantalisingly unfinished — “how Frank signed off his last letter we will probably never”.

—Jenny D, Light Reading


This is the place in a review where critics tend to wedge in the sentence that says, in so many words, “This isn’t a perfect book.” And “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” surely isn’t. But there isn’t much about it I’d want to change. It has brains and pacing and nerve and heart, and it is uncommonly endearing. You might put it down only to wipe off the sweat.—last paragraph of Dwight Garner's NYT review of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Little dumplings

So much collapse had filled the day—the flattened space and digital collage of Benning’s pixels, especially the exquisite, ink-drawing look of Ruhr’s 3rd shot of latticed leaves and branches; Brooks’s unendingly re-forming shapes and Ghost Alebgra’s drowsy mash-up of a Nature and History Channel nocturnal hybrid—that discovering the simplicity and factuality of Liu Jiayin’s Oxhide II was palatably exciting, even if the film’s form and subject—the real time creation, cooking, and eating of 73 dumplings—sounds fit for pure formal exactitude. A further description may exacerbate that possibility: in 130 minutes Liu cuts only 8 times, with each cut pivoting 45 degrees around the table (side, corner, side, corner) where the cooking takes place, altering the height or cant but otherwise paying strict adherence to the intimate geometric circle the camera draws. But Oxhide II rides high on process, on the pleasure one takes in seeing things assembled, made, slowly come to together; parts fitted, vague shapes formed, function revealed. A direct descendent may in fact be the no less communal nor less pleasurable seminal pseudo-real time doc by Eustache and Barjol on the slaughtering of a pig, Le couchon.
The Auteurs Notebook

Monday, February 01, 2010


At Moving Image Source, I have a piece on Jim Finn's amazing The Juche Idea (which screens tonight at MOMA at 7you must see it!) and Kim Jong Il's film writings:

In “Let Us Create More Revolutionary Films Based on Socialist Life,” a whopping 28-page talk, Kim sounds like a contemporary U.S. critic dissing Avatar as a Dances With Wolves ripoff: “As I pointed out some time ago, the new script in which you made the hero a shoemaker has a similar story to that of the feature film The Girl Barber, and there is also nothing particularly new in what the writer wants to say….As a matter of fact, this work differs little from The Girl Barber in theme, plot and mood. The only difference is that the barber, the heroine in The Girl Barber, has been replaced by a shoemaker as the hero.”

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John Deming's piece "Salinger's Poets" includes a bit from his novella The Inverted Forest, about a fictional poet named Raymond Ford:

“I have such nice friends,” she told him enthusiastically. “They all know your poetry. Some even live on it.”

“Corinne, I don’t mix too well–”

Corinne leaned forward joyfully, remembering something.

“That’s what Miss Aigletinger once yelled about you into my father’s thing. Do you remember Miss Aigletinger?”

Ford nodded unnostalgically. “What would I have to do if I met them?” he asked.

(from Travis)

* * *

Steve Hely
: "It's a sad day for readers. Every adolescent goes through a Louis Auchincloss phase."

* * *

From the Parkives: J.D. Salinger, Author of...Lolita?

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