Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reading! Lunchtime! Midtown! TODAY!

For Underwater New York:

Wednesday, June 30

12:30 – 1:45 pm

Bryant Park – 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues

An afternoon with Underwater New York


Music for Underwater Things by Michael Hearst;

Readings of original underwater stories by

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Ed Park, Personal Days: A Novel

Nelly Reifler, See Through: Stories

Said Sayrafiezadeh, When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir

Deb Olin Unferth, Vacation;

And an underwater letter-writing activity from

Ben Greenman, What He’s Poised to Do: Stories

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Watery Wednesday—

Water is everywhere—it’s the universal solvent, it’s the stuff of life—and so is Underwater New York. In fact, if you happen to be sweltering in the vicinity of the New York Public library at lunchtime on Wednesday [6/30!!], UNY will be sponsoring a reading of original underwater stories by the likes of Jennifer Egan, Ed Park, Nelly Reifler, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and Deb Olin Unferth, with “an underwater letter-writing activity” from Ben Greenman. So get out those waterproof Sharpies and practice holding your breath—it’s probably a lot healthier than a dip in the Hudson. And if you’re not in the neighborhood, go over to UNY and pick an object and… you know. Get your feet wet. Open Letters Monthly

NB The weather is supposed to be nice!

Boundary issues

Not Me:

During the event, competitors had to strip down a traditional field boundary wall before rebuilding a section – all within seven hours. Some 18 men and women took part, including some youngsters.

Winner of the professional class was Iolo Jones of Deiniolen, who narrowly beat Cumbria’s Ed Park. Both men are former British amateur champions. —Daily Post North Wales

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Monday, June 28, 2010


Is it iced coffee weather?

(Via Sam)

TNCOM, #17: Bruce Lee


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Friday, June 25, 2010

TNCOM, #16: Arthur Conan Doyle

This wealth of Doylean material offers opportunities for happy reappraisal, however. One is struck by the fact that, despite his reputation as a journeyman prose stylist (in 2003, John le Carré could identify “no fine turns of phrase, no clever adjectives that leap off the page”, and Conan Doyle himself once declared his writing to be “at its best but plain English”) and despite the preponderance of clichés – brows are always furrowed, hearts heavy, daylight broad and smiles wry – Conan Doyle was capable of virtuoso phrasemaking. A man’s neck in The White Company is “corded like the bark of the fir”, the ancient house in “The Japanned Box” has a smell “as from a sick animal which exhaled from the rotting plaster”, and the narrator of “The Sealed Room”, suspicious of the city, complains of “the red brick tentacles of the London octopus”. In “How It Happened”, a motor car represents “great, roaring, golden death”, in “The Parasite” the fist of a man who has struck another is “puffed up, with sponge-like knuckles” and in “When the World Screamed”, Conan Doyle’s fourth account of Professor Challenger (“Challenger the super-scientist, Challenger the arch-pioneer, Challenger the first man of all men”), the handwriting of its hero is as “a barbed wire fence”.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

TNCOM, #15

He fell backward as the ball bounced harmlessly out of reach, his 6-foot-9 frame wriggling on the lawn, like a giant child imprinting an angel in grass instead of snow. He stood slowly, gingerly, as if requiring a cane, then basked in the applause. —"Isner Wins Match That Wouldn't End," NYT

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

High school: the RPG

Find of the day at Grognardia:

In the annals of this hobby, there are only a handful of RPGs that can claim to be "notorious" and 1982's Alma Mater is one of them. Written by Steve Davis and Andrew Warden and published by a company called Oracle Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Alma Mater is one of those games about which most people have strong feelings one way or the other. Subtitled "the high school roleplaying game," it takes its inspiration, according to the authors' acknowledgments from "movies like American Graffiti, Animal House, Grease, Meatballs, and Prom Night, as well as the television series The White Shadow." Almost anyone who grew up in the 70s to early 80s probably understands these references immediately, which are important to keep in mind, as Alma Mater is very much a product of its time.

(See more of Otus's rather icky Alma Mater artwork at Cyclopeatron.)

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

King Kullin'

"You are young," said the palaces and the temples and the shrines, "but we are old. The world was wild with youth when we were reared. You and your tribe shall pass, but we are invincible, indestructible. We towered above a strange world, ere Atlantis and Lemuria rose from the sea; we still shall reign when the green waters sigh for many a restless fathom above the spires of Lemuria and the green hills of Atlantis and when the isles of the Western Men are the mountains of a strange land.

"How many kings have we watched ride down these streets before Kull of Atlantis was even a dream in the mind of Ka, the bird of Creation? Ride on, Kull of Atlantis; greater shall follow you; greater came before you. They are dust; they are forgotten; we stand; we know; we are. Ride, ride on, Kull of Atlantis; Kull the king, Kull the fool!"

—Robert E. Howard, "The Shadow Kingdom" (1929)

(Via Grognardia)

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Speaking of Atlantis, I'll be reading next Wednesday (!) at 12:30 as part of the "Word for Word" series at the Bryant Park Reading Room. It's outside, free! It's Underwater New York day; the other readers are Deb Olin Unferth, Nelly Reifler, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and—new addition—Jennifer Egan! Plus Ben Greenman with a letter-writing activity and music from Michael Hearst.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Food on the shirt

On his most recent trip to New York, the always dapper Levi Stahl bought a copy of Balzac's Treatise on Elegant Living. Here's a bit from Levi's recent post:

It's a lovely little edition, whose translator, Napoleon Jeffries, acknowledges right off the bat one's immediate objection: that Balzac, as evidenced by the photo below, was no dandy. I think there is food on his shirt!--and that's far from the worst of his sins against fashion in this photo!

As Jeffries explains in his brief but solid introduction:

Even those familiar with Balzac's novels may be initially taken off guard by the notion of that giant presenting himself as an expert on elegance--let alone a self-proclaimed originator of, to use his own coinage, the new science of "elegantology." Even more surprising may be the fact that Balzac considered himself something of a practitioner of the science. He was an odd manifestation of early French dandyism: taking his cues in dress from friends such as Eugene Sue and Lautour-Mezeray (both of whom make appearances in this treatise), Balzac proved to be more of a part-time dandy. The dandy memorialist Captain Gronow provided a particularly amusing assessment of the man's elegance in practice: "The great enchanter was one of the oiliest and commonest looking mortals I ever beheld; being short and corpulent, with a broad florid face, a cascade of double chins, and straight greasy hair . . . [he] dressed in the worst possible taste, wore sparkling jewels on a dirty shirt front, and diamond rings on unwashed fingers."

UPDATE: More Balzac (in Nicholson Baker's letter to John Updike, ca. 1985):

Your complete literary man writes all the time. It wakes him in the morning to write, it exercises him to write, it rests him to write. Writing is to him a visit from a friend, a cup of tea, a game of cards, a walk in the country, a warm bath, an after-dinner nap, a hot Scotch before bed, and the sleep that follows it. Your complete literary chap is a writing animal; and when he dies he leaves a cocoon as large as a haystack, in which every breath he has drawn is recorded in writing.

(“Balzac,” quoted in Richard B. Hovey, John Jay Chapman)

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(OK, this is Ed again.) Speaking of things that should be in block quotes: The passage from Devin McKinney's Magic Circles that ends my LAT review of Matt Kindt's Revolver should be set off from my own words. It's still messed up on the website. Which is to say, this passage is pure McKinney:

"Revolver" is multicolored music in a black-and-white wrapper, terse pop songs of dream, escape, cynicism, forebodings… By its exploratory nature an affirmation of life and possibility, a bold and radical advance upon the new horizon, the album was at the same time fourteen kinds of oblivion served on a Top 40 platter: nostalgic about what had been, and paranoid about what it saw coming.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eternal return

"Well," he said, "Kenny always comes back in the next episode."
"That's right!" said Stella. In a minute she was going to drag him to his knees.
"The eternal return," said Kevin, almost a philosophy major. "The phoenix rising from the ashes."
Beth pursed her lips at him. Point, Kev.
"The ouroboros," he said.
"The Euro-what?" said Stella.
—James Hynes, Next

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Saturday, June 19, 2010


Heavy EP rotation at the L.A. Times: In my latest Astral Weeks column, I review Matt Kindt's graphic novel Revolver. I end it with a shout-out to my favorite Beatles book, Devin McKinney's Magic Circles:

As I read "Revolver," I couldn't help thinking of the more famous "Revolver," the Beatles' landmark 1966 album. Devin McKinney's description of it, in "Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History," as a sort of pop schizophrenia, seems not irrelevant to the subject at hand. "Revolver" is multicolored music in a black-and-white wrapper, terse pop songs of dream, escape, cynicism, forebodings… By its exploratory nature an affirmation of life and possibility, a bold and radical advance upon the new horizon, the album was at the same time fourteen kinds of oblivion served on a Top 40 platter: nostalgic about what had been, and paranoid about what it saw coming.

I also look at Alice Sola Kim's short story "The Other Graces," which is in the latest (July 2010) issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. I just happened to look through the mag at B&N and the first few lines grabbed me...I bought the issue, finished the story, shoehorned it into the column!

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Friday, June 18, 2010

How did you get this e-mail?

From Gawker—a story I never get tired of hearing!

Who is Sloane Crosley? What, do you not live in New York, or something? Sloane used to be a successful book publicist (she's worked with Joan Didion, Toni Morrison and Jonathan Lethem, among others). Then she wrote an email. It was a story about getting locked out of her apartment that she sent to a bunch of friends, and, unlike most emails people send to all their friends, hers was pretty funny—funny enough for Village Voice editor Ed Park to publish it. Things snowballed from there—more essay-writing, a book deal, a bestselling book, an HBO development deal—and next thing you knew, Sloane Crosley was a successful author and a successful book publicist, while many of us are just trying to be successful at one thing, like not spilling on ourselves when we eat food.


The tough guide

Kelly Link—the top 1 over 40?–on Diana Wynne Jones.

I love how magic works in Diana Wynne Jones's fiction. There's always an underlying feeling of soundness to it. I always believe that, in her alternate worlds, this is exactly how it would work, whether it's a chemistry set bringing to life chocolate bars, which then drape themselves over heaters and melt, or a witch binding up extra lives in a matchbook. I like her wizards and witches better than anybody's -- better even than Gandalf who, in 1st grade, was one of my first crushes. Her nonfiction book, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, is essential reading for anyone who wants to try tackling traditional fantasy. Let me say that again. Want to write traditional fantasy? You must read The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

When worlds collide (Part CXVII)

Molly Young on Sloane Crosley!

And what a pleasure it is to wander with her. An astute observer of bloopers and loopholes, Crosley reflects, in her first essay, on the differences between American and Portuguese utilities: “All of our public structures are self-explanatory. When you press the PH button, you’re going to the penthouse. Not the stairs that lead to the lookout above the penthouse. Our basements are conveniently located at the base. No cellars that lead tosubfloors that lead to catacombs of ruins. The Goonies was just that one time, and it was a movie.”

I need to read this!

Also this.

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Fantasy Games Unlimited offers a free "action map location" called "Second Hand Bookstore" (for the Villains & Vigilantes superhero RPG).

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The Year of Pretending I'm Already 40, Part 2.

(And how sweet is the mysterious McNally Jackson twitterer?)

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Being boring

With The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Coe has undertaken to write the life of a bore from the bore’s point of view (at one point, in the book’s best passage, the hero appears to bore someone literally to death) as his life unravels and he sets off on a journey of uncomfortable discovery. This is not unprecedented, but it is a stark choice. The most famous recent bores have appeared not in novels but on television, in the characters of Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) and David Brent (Ricky Gervais). In drama the actor is able to operate in the gap between the character’s idea of himself and the world’s, and a screenwriter can create all kinds of grotesquerie in a realist context. It is harder to generate this friction in a novel.—Sean O'Brien, TLS

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Novel underdogs

At The Atlantic, Hua writes about North Korea's soccer team:

Of course, after proclaiming this ["North Korea will win the World Cup"], he [the NK football association VP] added that it would be "because of the great support of our Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il that our national team will make this great achievement." Which is exactly the kind of statement—there are plenty more here—that makes the North Korean team the most novel underdogs of them all. Not only do they find themselves in the figuratively-speaking "Group of Death" (with one useless player, no less), they are near-delusional in their outlook.

(Via Arlo)

Speaking of matters Huavian, I don't know if I mentioned this before—the attractively persistent editors of PEN America squeezed a spirited (Hua)/sleep-deprived (yrs truly) e-mail exchange out of Hua and moi about all sorts of topics...I think we talk about e-mail...and Sebald...and...other stuff...Our heated exchange is in the current issue (#12), under the title "Linked Rooms." But the things we said are too controversial to be offered online!

Wait, I've looked at our actual e-mail exchange, and this will give you a rough idea of my lightheadedness. (I'm not sure if this passage made it into the published version.) Speaking of the first Mac I used, which was indeed the very first model (128K), I reminisce:

The only game was a program for slots and keno—a good way to unwind in the midst of an English paper, and how refreshing the primitive sound of "coins" when one hit the jackpot!

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Cronin's lot

My review of Justin Cronin's new novel, The Passage, is in today's Los Angeles Times. It begins:

Chosen for both the Pulitzer Prize and coverage on "Oprah," Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel "The Road" regularly appears in debates over genre carpetbagging. Should die-hard fans of a genre (in this case science fiction) be honored or annoyed when an interloper wanders onto their creative territory? The title of McCarthy's book indicates the path its father-and-son protagonists follow, but it might also symbolize the author's journey from revered offshoot of the Melville-Hemingway-Faulkner axis to de facto practitioner of end-of-the-world lit. Justin Cronin's ample vampire-virus saga "The Passage" also presents a vivid eschatology, while its title indicates an even more profound transformation of one sort of literary sensibility into another. Whether the transformation takes is one of the tantalizing aspects of "The Passage."

Side benefit of reading The Passage is discovering his terrific first (and non-vampire) novel, Mary and O'Neil. (What does it mean when your escapist reading itself requires an escape?)

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Echidnas in repose

Jing Wei's Post-It art features the most appealing/hypnotic dumpling ever conceived:

NSFW: Jingian triptych as tattoo??

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Muncherasi by proxy

I sat on the edge of the bed and read for the 500th time the words my wife scribbled nearly a decade ago: Bunch Muncherasi MD. We were at a bar one drunken night in our early 20s, and in the way that young people do, we thought we’d figured out something important. I didn’t want to forget it, so Amy kindly wrote it down. Bunch Muncherasi MD. It was goofy, some kind of shorthand, a larky reminder of whatever we’d discovered.

I put the scrap of paper into my back pocket that night and kept it there, or migrated it to other back pockets, for years, with my credit cards and old receipts. As I sat on the bed that afternoon, a wave of memories came back — life as a 20-something, without a baby, jotting things exuberantly in bars. There was only one thing I couldn’t remember: Who or what the hell was Bunch Muncherasi MD? —Chris Colin, NYT

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Year of Pretending I'm Already 40

Blog tag of the month at L Magazine!

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Today's menu


Five years ago, before she became a basic-cable celebrity, I met her at the Kentucky Derby and she was wearing a T-shirt that read, “I Recycle Men.” When she explained that she had another at home that said, “Tell Your Boyfriend to Stop Calling Me,” I realized I was in the presence of a kind of greatness that could not be contained by the dairy-free cookie business Ms. Frankel was building. Since then she has developed a “Sex and the City”-like health-food and diet-book mini-empire that tells you how to lose weight by drinking margaritas. —Ginia Bellafante, NYT


While pedestrians speculated on Ms. Lee's activities in the trailer, John Starks, a former shooting guard for the Knicks, posed for photos in a polo shirt adorned with the Starkist logo. "I grew up mixing tuna with mustard and tapping a little sugar into it," he told the Transom. "I always had a sweet tooth. I like tuna melts, too. It helps with the brain and the eyes." —Molly Young, NYO


And so my life fell into the unvarying routine I crave and need. I would wake up, have my muesli at home, work for a bit and then go to Delectica for my elevenses. I said "unvarying" but gradually, as my eagerness to go to Delectica increased, I found it impossible to concentrate on my work because all I could think about was my doughnut and coffee, and so I started having my elevenses earlier and earlier until I ended up skipping breakfast and having my elevenses at nine. At the latest.

I went to bed at night looking forward to my nineses and then, as soon as I woke up, I stumbled out of bed, dressed and went to Delectica before I was even properly awake. Although I loved them and should have savoured them, I started gobbling my doughnut and drinking my coffee in a hurry, gobbling and slurping them down in such a frenzy that I barely tasted a thing. Before I knew it the high point of my day was over with. It was only 8.45am and there was nothing to look forward to. I also found it increasingly difficult to keep my rapture to myself.

One morning, as I gobbled my doughnut and slurped my coffee, thinking to myself, "What a fantastic doughnut, what an amazing coffee," I realised that I had not just thought this but was actually saying aloud, "What a fantastic doughnut! What a totally fantastic experience!", and that this was attracting the attention of the other customers, one of whom turned to me and said, "You like the doughnuts, huh?" —Geoff Dyer, Guardian

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Annals of facial hair, XXX


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

TNCOM, # 14: Web, Shell, Veil, Cat, Mouse

Web of Shell Companies Veils Trade by Iran’s Ships
Cat-and-Mouse Game — Fleet Sidesteps U.S. Sanctions on Military Imports


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Annals of Facial Hair, CXIV

"So what do you think about my buttermilk catcher? Do you remember that Kipling yarn you told me about?"


"What was it that girl said?'

"She said kissing a man without a mustache was like eating eggs without salt.

"You like eggs without salt, don't you?"

"No, I'll have mine plain."

The Whole Wide World

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Monday, June 07, 2010


Though balanced by a stern speech by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak admonishing North Korea for sinking its naval vessel, South Korea's re-inaugural broadcast began with a song by the popular K-pop girl group, 4minute. Their song, "HuH (Hit Your Heart)," was chosen as a shot at the North's oppressive regime. "Baby, you're kidding me? I do what I want and I do it my way," the girls purr, flaunting the South's prosperity and freedom of expression to its impoverished northern counterpart, complete with a thumping beat and sultry dance moves.--Time


“Nothing is quite as great as getting up in the morning, listening to the Pet Shop Boys and going to church.”—"A Gay Catholic Voice Against Same Sex Marriage," NYT


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Annals of facial hair, VII

'There must be a certain code in these matters. Either a man is Grover Whalen or he is not Grover Whalen. If he is not, he has no right to wear a moustache like that.'
—P.G. Wodehouse, Quick Service


Mystery solved!

(image from here)

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Lessons in journalism, Part XXIII: Acid Effete Matters

I like the lack of reportorial affect—aside from "secretive," this piece ("N Korea hails Development of new 'super drink'") essentially reprints the press release. And it's great!

KCNA says: "It, with effects of both preventive and curative treatment, helps improve mental and retentive faculties by multiplying brain cells.

"It also protects skin from wrinkles and black spots and prevents such geriatric diseases as cerebral haemorrhage, myocardium and brain infarction by removing acid effete matters in time.

"It, much higher than quality cosmetics in anti-oxidation capacity, is efficacious for different skin diseases, including allergic dermatitis. It also makes skin fair.

"The drink has no side-effect."



A dance to the music of TRANSFORMERS!

The new tattoo, which snakes down [Megan Fox's] right flank from the back of her rib-cage to the tip of the hip, states: "Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music." Enigmatic, to say the least. But if the line itself is cryptic, its author is even more of a mystery. Tabloid reports suggest that it's the work of a little-known poet called Angela Monet, and a quick Google search confirms as much. Thing is, though, Monet doesn't appear to exist —Guardian

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Disambiguations™ for June 3, 2010

New Believer is out! It's really good: Hillary Chute interviews Phoebe Gloeckner...Robert Hass on the new Chinese poetry...Realistically hungry David Shields in conversation with La Manguso...particularly excellent Nick Hornby column and Tom Gauld comic...Bookworm mastermind Michael Silverblatt interviewed by Sarah Fay...Elizabeth Gumport on Elaine Dundy...columnly goodness from J. Pendarvis, G. Marcus, Rose McGowan (!?), reviews by Stephen Burt, Gary Lutz (!?)...much more!

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I think when it was May I said to myself, "How is it already May?" Yesterday I said, "How is it already June?"

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Last night on 2 train from 14th St...

You: Reading at random from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, after having just done a reading with LD herself!
Me: Alarmed but happy to hear Rush's "Fly By Night" pop up on the iPod!

Wait—we are actually the same person!

[File under "Missed Connections" (ed4ed edition)]

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sideways here we come

Nice mention of Personal Days on this podcast about language, for PRI's The World—but what is an "un-Eating Sideways" moment?

A short plug here for Ed Park’s novel, Personal Days. The book is replete with inventive wordplay (unwanted backrub given by a character named Jack = jackrub; character called Graham with whiny British accent is renamed Grime). Plus, there’s a nice un-Eating Sideways moment. It’s when the narrator suggests that there should be a French expression, along the lines of l’esprit d’escalier, for the sensation of being initially amused but later unnerved by something that’s said to you.



I. When Sloanes collide! Dioramist Sloane Tanen (Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same) makes some dioramae for Sloane Crosley's second book, How Did You Get This Number (which is coming out soon). From the Q&A:

2) Was it easier or more difficult to have the source material come from a different Sloane and in a different format? What were some of the challenges?

It was much harder. I don’t think of myself as an illustrator per say so it was hard to take a back seat, especially to another Sloane.

II. There's a nice new super sad Gary Shteyngart website.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Poignancy at 1:26

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