Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is "Sweet"?

L Magazine's Mark Asch interviews curators Shelly Oria and Annie Levy about this Thursday's event!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

SWEET: Actors Reading Writers December

This Thursday (12/2) at 7:30 p.m. at Three of Cups (83 First Ave. @ 5th St.) I'll be...well, not reading, but being there while actress Joya Mia Italiano reads from Personal Days! Other performers will do dramatic readings of work by Sonya Chung, Jonathan Dixon, poet Maya Pindyck, and—hold onto your chapeaux—Amanda Filipacchi, whose Love Creeps is one of my favorite comic novels.

(Here's the Facebook page for Sweet: Actors Reading Writers. And here's the same information configured slightly differently on my glorious webpage.)

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Eschewing hundreds of years

From Time Out Chicago, a nice review by Jonathan Messinger of the anthology Bound to Last:
One of my hands-down, unbreakable, no-foolin’ rules for survival is to do my best to avoid writers writing about writing. It’s fine for instructional purposes, I suppose, but usually the navel-gazing seems so reflexive that I grow wary the universe may implode. The flip side of that is the simple joy of reading a writer you admire write of an author he or she gets down with.

Part of the beauty of this book, too, is the leeway the authors were granted. Ed Park (Personal Days) eschews hundreds of years of literary history to instead extoll the virtues of Gary Gygax’s Dungeon Masters Guide, the handbook to hours of enraptured childhood gaming, written in the style of an RPG manual...

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I like when this happens

"She’s ugly-beautiful, which is better than beautiful. Especially today, with our screens lousy with beauty. What is the point of Jessica Alba, anyway?"


I was admiring that line, from a piece called "Farewell My Porcupine: Notes on Glenda Farrell" (title of the year?), in the delightful new online periodical The Chiseler. I skimmed to the end and saw that the piece was written by none other than...David Cairns, of Shadowplay fame!

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Audio daily double

I. I did a podcast with Curtis Fox, in conjunction with my recent Poetry Foundation piece on the value of minor literature.

I like the description:

Related Poets

Ed Park

John Ashbery

James Schuyler

II. The Believer offers an audio supplement to the late Barry Hannah's conversation with Wells Tower (in the October issue).

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Disambiguations™ for November 18, 2010

I. Levi on Stephen King's Christine! (Ed Trivia: Christine was the first King book I read.)

II. Jenny ends her excellent-quote-reproducing musing on Life with an intriguing parenthetical: "Vision of alternate universe in which Sylvia Plath encountered Keith Richards that winter."

III. Reading this NYT obit for Baby Marie Osborne, I was surprised to see an exclamation point...and then a double exclamation point...and then a triple exclamation point!

In 1933, as her first marriage deteriorated, Ms. Osborne took a job in a dime store. It was a low point. Then came an astonishing call from the superintendent of the Colorado Children’s Home, who informed her that she had been adopted as an infant by the Osbornes! And that a man who said he was her real father, H. L. Shriver, had become a tycoon!! And that he had left her a substantial inheritance!!!

IV. And you can't talk about exclamation points without thinking of...Harry Stephen Keeler! A fresh (2 days old!!) intro to the one-and-only "Paper-blackener of Bagdad on the Lakes" by none other than HSK Society head honcho Richard Polt, at The Chiseler!!!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Me and the minor

At the Poetry Foundation, I reflect on the pleasures of "minor" literature. The spark was Garrett Caples's pamphlet from Wave Books, "Quintessence of the Minor: Symbolist Poetry in English"—a must read! (I'm serious!)

A tidbit:

Other figures are important because they put their more famous coevals in context or, in the case of the aforementioned Greenberg, complicate the reception of a major poet and make us question the minor/major distinction altogether. Lines from Greenberg appear, without attribution, in Hart Crane’s work, a theft that Caples deems inexcusable. At first glance, the lines from Greenberg quoted in “Quintessence” are tough going, and gnomic even to Caples. (“Why, of all things, is science ‘the smithy of the sea’?” he asks. “Indeed, what could ‘smithy of the sea’ itself mean?”) Punctuation can be baffling, and “spelling is highly idiosyncratic, occasionally yielding a word of uncertain meaning.” (“What Greenberg meant by ‘woob’ is anyone’s guess,” Caples writes.) But Caples considers Greenberg, who died at the absurdly young age of 23, a master of “sonorousness”: “For all the editorial fussing over his technical and grammatical imperfections, Greenberg never lays a bad line; his poems are sheer song, little musical constructions that resist outside interference.”

(This is the second of three fun, dissimilar pieces I've been working on this fall. The first is here.)

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Memo to myself

To read later in the week/month:

I. At Guernica—Updike on Nabokov.

II. At the U. Chicago site—puns in Sanskrit.

UPDATE: This just in (via Maud & elsewhere)—Nabokov's letters to his wife, Véra, to be published (in The Snob [??] and later by Knopf).

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Who was Norton Westermont?

For Bookforum, I've written my meditations on the copy editor's art and the hidden narratives of the evolving Chicago Manual of Style. (Thank you to editor Michael Miller—my former copy-desk colleague [!]—and the U. Chicago Press.)

At 933 pages, the fourteenth was comparable in size to the heralded omnium-gatherums of its era (1996's Infinite Jest, 1997's Mason & Dixon and Underworld). For sheer head-scratching postmodern tricksterism, though, Messrs. Wallace, Pynchon, and DeLillo had nothing on the collaborative deadpan master jam that was the fourteenth. Infinite Jest's reams of endnotes were distinctive but hardly as radical as Chicago's editorial comments for a text that was essentially invisible. "Millicent Cliff was Norton Westermont's first cousin, although to the very last she denied it," 15.47 tells us—but who was Norton Westermont? In this sense, much of Chicago reads like Pale Fire without the poem. On the very next page, 15.51's directions on how to style acknowledgments delivers both a name right out of Pynchonland and a DeLillo-esque consortium: "The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Dr. Oscar J. Blunk of the National Cyanide Laboratory in the preparation of this chapter."

This is the first of three articles that have kept me happily occupied this fall...

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Lost and found

The tale had all the hallmarks of a baroque Paul Bowles short story, set among the remaindered possessions of Bowles himself: a film director gets a call from a stranger, who says he has stumbled across an original print of the filmmaker’s long-lost first film in a windowless Tangier apartment, coated in dust and insect powder. The director, Sara Driver, at first thought the call might be a joke, but for reasons almost as strange as fiction, she kept listening.[...]

Bowles’s agent granted the rights to Ms. Driver, and the movie — shot in six days near her parents’ house in western New Jersey, with an unlikely cast that included two friends, the writer Luc Sante, little known at the time, and an equally unknown photographer, Nan Goldin — developed a following. The film was named one of the best movies of the 1980s by a critic in Cahiers du Cinéma. —NYT
II. At The Millions, Emily Darrell tracks down one of J.D. Salinger's uncollected stories, "A Girl I Knew":

As I scanned the index I noticed with great surprise and excitement that the book contained a story by J.D. Salinger that I hadn’t read before. It was called “A Girl I Knew.” Greedily, I slid to the floor, crossed my legs, and flipped to page 248, ready to start right in. The only problem was that there was no page 248. In fact, in between John Rogers’ “Episode of a House Remembered” and Alfred Segre’s “Justice Has No Number,” there was nothing. Some sneak had gone and ever-so-carefully removed the Salinger story with a razor.

III. Paul La Farge offers PDF versions of nine small books (of seventeen) that he published with/as Paraffin Press. Each had a print run of two.

IV. Can't remember what link brought me to this site for/about William Gibson's Agrippa (a book of the dead)—a book on disc that destroyed itself as you read it.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

True neutral

Alignment chart for Community characters.

(Via Kosiya)

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Silver bullets and amber

I had the idea when I was younger that by reading an encyclopedic novel, if it were the right one, that I might suddenly understand the world, or at least culture. This is ridiculous, of course: I was hoping for a silver bullet which didn’t exist (and which would be, honestly, disappointing if it were possible). But this is a book that comes, I think, from that same urge, flipped around: the idea to encapsulate everything, the Joycean desire to preserve a day of Dublin in amber, even after Sterne, at the dawn of the English novel, had pointed out the folly of even attempting to capture a single life. I think, on the whole, that I’ve taken more from Sterne than Joyce; but I still admire the attempt. —With Hidden Noise: Dan Visel, reviewing Joshua Cohen's Witz

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Disambiguations™ for November 12, 2010

I. Bookforum's Paper Trail catches up with Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Books, and focuses on its most surprising and important piece:

Published last month, Bound to Last is a new anthology for which thirty authors pay homage to their "most cherished books." There are some excellent and in some cases deeply inspired entries: Ed Park geeks out over the Dungeon Masters Guide; Nick Flynn assembles a series of personal, melancholic fragments about Ryszard Kapuscinski's Shadow of the Sun. But the most personal essay is by artist Karen Green, the widow of David Foster Wallace. Her topic is The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, but the essay basically uses quotes from that book as a framework for her reflections about DFW's suicide—about selling the house that they shared, about describing what had happened in the house, about talking to her late husband's psychiatrist. "I was asked to contribute to this anthology because I am the widow, via hanging, of David Foster Wallace," she writes, "whose writing I enjoyed very much, but whose made-up potty humor songs on a road trip I liked even better." Green's humor is on a par with Hempel's: Her description of the gift shop at the L. A. Coroner's Office is both skewed and also, somehow, respectful of life. The piece is the most moving thing we've read about Wallace's death yet.

II. Dullblogger Mike 'fesses up: He loves Magical Mystery Tour! And if you read his post...you start thinking...Hey...
In a related heresy, I always cringe a bit when people call the White Album their favorite. They're free to, of course, but it's a bit alienating because I wonder what they're hearing. I hear all the great raw material of India filtered through a brutal six months of international bloodshed, heroin paranoia, rockstar hubris and internal discord. I suppose what I hear is the conditions that allowed The Beatles to arise—in the Buddhist sense of this phrase—beginning to dissipate. White has some superb tracks and I enjoy those, but it's one long bad vibe for me. I hear the group starting to sicken and die, and it's the group that I love most about The Beatles.
(Side note, love how MMT enters The Social Network. Great moment in that movie.)

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Damion Searls, people!

I. Yesterday, read, in one sitting (!), a Polish novel from the 1960s.

II. Damion Searls—a true man of letters!—lists his ten favorite New York Review Books titles, at Conversational Reading. A taste:

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Álvaro Mutis, tr. Edith Grossman

It is impossible to describe this book and how good it is, especially the first three or four of the seven novellas it contains. It’s about a philosophical drifter and his adventures of life and sex and thought and the poetry in our souls that can never be written. Gabriel García Márquez calls Mutis “one of the greatest writers of our time”—Gabriel García Márquez, people!

III. Speaking of which, I recently read some of a GGM novel from the ’70s. HE IS GOOD, let us not forget it; so is Faulkner! So is Joyce!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Name that Book™!

Just discovered (in a copy of Thomas Bernhard's Yes) some notes, written on the back of one of the rare PTSNBN "Ed Parks" business cards. What book is it? (I don't know—not Yes, though.)

50.8 chemicals from the
local paper factory
104 There's ["nothing" symbol] I wdnx
once have given every-
thing for, I told myself.
107 Why have I stopped
writing to people — ?
110 Everyone is a virtuoso
on his own instrument, but
together they ad up to
an intol. cacophony
118 brilliant imperfection
131 Above all she had been
fascinated by the word indep...[independence]
134 for I now wanted
to hear what had
happened next


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Notes on the comic novel

I was enjoying Levi's meditation on James Wood's vision of the comic novel...even before he so luxuriously quotes from a little book called Personal Days!

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bluets #1

1. Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?

—Zadie Smith, "Generation Why?"

(After Maggie Nelson)


Friday, November 05, 2010

The littlest Beatles fan wonders...

...why don't they just let Ringo play?

Thursday, November 04, 2010


I. F.S. Sam "the Man" MC-Laughin' at McNally-J. has the right idea in book recommendations!

II. Jane sends news of monkeys finding new employment:

If you want to buy a race program this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, be sure you have exactly $10.
"Monkeys don't make change," said TMS president Eddie Gossage, "so don't give them a twenty."

Gossage isn't insulting his program sellers -- well, unless monkeys are insulted by being told they can't count. Two of the program sellers this weekend at TMS actually are monkeys -- Miki and Rocky.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Keeler turns 120!

Today would have been Harry Stephen Keeler's 120th birthday! He was born in Chicago in 1890, died there in 1967. Wrote dozens of books.

Years ago, when I started reading HSK, I thought it would be great if the Columbia University library (where his papers—all 33 boxes of ’em!—reside) did a little exhibit when he hit the big one-two-oh. This was in ’98 or so, plenty of time to suggest the idea, organize, etc.

Well...here we are! And no exhibit. Completely slipped my mind. Not to mention the collective or "hive" mind of the Harry Stephen Keeler Society!

Still! This is a good day to do a little Keeler rundown—

I. Some longish pieces by me about various aspects of Keelerology:

A) "How H.S. Keeler Wrote Certain of His Books" (from the PTSNBN's Education Supplement[?!]);

B) The hilarious satire of the poetry world in HSK's The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (from the Poetry Foundation);

C) ...and (from the pages of Keeler News), my lengthy consideration of his rare but important novel Y. Cheung, Business Detective—and its uncanny similarities to one of my favorite Nabokov stories. (Still one of the pieces I'm proudest of.)

II. Here's a small sampling of my Keeler-related blog posts, and some shortish pieces/mentions: props for Thieves' Nights and the Marceau books; a glance at The Peacock Fan, his satire of the publishing biz; my conversation with Rachel Aviv at Triple Canopy; attempt to list (ca. 2005) the Keelers I've read...I'm sure there's more...

III. I've not quite won assorted literary awards—except for the Imitate Keeler Competition! Twice!

IV. Essential overviews (and more links to interesting pieces) can be found at Richard Polt's Harry Stephen Keeler Society webpage and William Poundstone's Harry Stephen Keeler Home Page (which I'm pretty sure was the first Keeler appreciation I read on the web).

V. Dip into his interesting treatise, "The Mechanics (and Kinematics) of Web-Work Plot Construction."

That's all! Happy birthday, Harry!

Portrait of Keeler by none other than the line king himself—Al Hirschfeld!


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Some of the parts

Last week I read with Bryan Charles at KGB. Bryan read from his memoir, There's a Road to Everywhere Except Where You Came From (his novel is called Grab On to Me Tightly As If I Knew the Way—consistency in titling!).

There's a good, funny excerpt up at HTML Giant—here is a taste!

I went to Century 21 and bought several packs of new T-shirts. Every day I brought one or two to work with me in a laptop carrying case. I’d stop at various restrooms on my lunchtime walks—the Ranch 1 on Water Street was my favorite. I’d change into a new T-shirt and stuff the soiled one in my bag. Depending on the day I might need to change again in the afternoon. I used the restroom of the Au Bon Pain in the building lobby for this purpose. Before long all my T-shirts had huge yellow-brown stains under the arms and coffee-colored drip marks on the sides.


Monday, November 01, 2010

I am the clay

The latest Believerthe Art Issue—is out! The one and only (F.S.) Avi Davis is back, fresh from his appearance in the current Best American Travel Writing, with a terrific piece on the "dubious clay menagerie of Waldemar Julsrud." (Wha?! Just trust me, it's good.) Ed Lin—the man, the myth!—on the secret behind that Bodies exhibition! The International Necrological Society's "Declaration on the Notion of 'The Future.'" Interviews (John Baldessari, Clare Rojas)...Karolina Waclawiak on a dollhouse with tiny but original works by pretty much every British writer who was around in the ’20s that you can think of...C.S. Leigh on Jack Goldstein...David Humphrey on Carol Dunham...plus Lawrence Weschler, the Greil Marcus/Jack Pendarvis/Nick Hornby trifecta—and much more!

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Weird Wilsons

[C.J.] Wilson is also an expert in finger care, thanks to the occupational hazards of his day job, pitching for the Rangers. Over the last year, Wilson has developed a comprehensive routine to manage a blister on his left middle finger, which opened and started bleeding during the seventh inning of Game 2, knocking him out with the Rangers trailing San Francisco, 1-0.

“The amount of finger care I do on a weekly basis is about 10 to 15 hours,” Wilson said.

On game days, the process involves about 10 steps. It includes shaving the blister, sealing it with medical-grade glue, softening it with Stan’s Rodeo Ointment, filing it down with an emery board and dunking it in a low-pH acidic solution. He also carries around a needle, which he can use to drain the blister between innings if a pool of blood forms. —NYT

(Via Jane)


There are the bright orange spikes, for which [Brian Wilson] was fined $1,000 by Major League Baseball because they failed to conform to the standard of being at least 50 percent black. (He brought them up to code with a marker.)

And there is his preternaturally black beard — dyed several shades darker than the rest of his hair with what appears to be industrial-grade shoe polish — which has inspired five Facebook pages and a marketing campaign. The slogan “Fear the Beard” adorns any number of T-shirts in Giants souvenir stands.

It is what is behind the beard, however, that gives Wilson his edge.

He is an entertaining interview: on Jim Rome’s radio show this summer he claimed to be a certified ninja and a mental assassin.[...] —NYT

(Via Theo)


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