Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three great reads

Here I am at an antiwar rally in Central Park (that’s me with the peace button on my shirt). I have arrived at what I think of as the summit of the world. Everything is within my reach in New York, and the intoxication of it is such that I will be expelled from that high school before the end of the year. —Luc Sante, "This Long Century"

In the latest Lapham's Quarterly, Paul Collins writes about child prodigy Barbara Newhall Follett, who published her first novel, The House Without Windows, to acclaim at age 12; at 26, she disappeared. An excerpt from Lost Island, her third novel:
Not even a cat was out. The rain surged down with a steady drone. It meant to harm New York and everyone there. The gutters could not contain it. Long ago they had despaired of the job and surrendered. But the rain paid no attention to them…New York people never lived in houses or even in burrows. They inhabited cells in stone cliffs. They timed the cooking of their eggs by the nearest traffic light. If the light went wrong, so did the eggs…

“I don’t like civilization,” she said, to the rain.

(Shades of Daisy Ashford...and Lee Tandy Schwartzman...)

Adam Kempa, who wrote about unusual vinyl-groove techniques in the Believer's music issue, has picked his top one book of 2010: Touchable Sound: A Collection of 7-Inch Records From the USA. Adam's recommendation turns into an interview turns into a multimedia extravaganza...

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Annals of facial hair, XXXI

The end of the Hall & Oates era came in a hotel bathroom in 1990 in Tokyo, where they had just performed at a Yoko Ono–sponsored concert commemorating the death of John Lennon. There, in a sad, reflective moment, John Oates said good-bye—to the mustache.

“It really was a kind of spiritual moment for me,” Oates says, laughing. “The mustache represented a me I no longer was. I shaved it off and never looked back.” The next day, he and Hall were waiting at the Tokyo airport for a flight back to the States when Miles Davis appeared. “He came up to me with those red eyes of his,” says Oates. “He got like three inches from my face and kinda drew his finger across his own upper lip, as if he was shaving, and he said to me [in a deep, raspy voice], ‘Now the lovin’s gonna be better.’ ” Oates pauses. “And then he went up to Daryl and said, ‘I used to tell my hairdresser, I want my hair to look just like Daryl’s.’ ” —New York

Labels: , ,

The wheel of time

"The time commitment to pottery has meant less time for blogging." —"A Tight End Happy to Have Hands of Clay," NYT

Labels: , ,

D&D or the Memory of Childhood

The Complete Review takes a look at Sean Manning's anthology Bound to Last, which features my piece on the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Among Park's observations: the influence of Appendix N, "Inspirational and Educational Reading", where: "Gygax lists 28 authors who had the biggest influence on the creation of D&D" -- many of whose books Park later sought out, though he notes: "The titles were enough. Playing D&D could create the adventures like the ones contained in those novels." (Amusingly, Park also notes he didn't actually play the game that much -- but that the book about it so fascinated him.)
Park also has a nice observation on the lingering influence of such influential works read in youth:
I keep meaning to read Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual. But I don't, maybe because I want it to be the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More long sentences

(Continued from; original piece is here.)

6) A reader in Berlin wrote to me about a new (?) 130-page novel by Vanessa Place called Dies: A Sentence: "It's the ruminations of a dude a moment before his legs get blown off in the trenches of WWI." (This is doubly interesting because all of the examples of one-sentence-or-thereabouts novels I found were written by men—though within this micro-tradition, the form scans "feminine," if we think of Joyce giving the end of Ulysses to Molly Bloom.)

7) Adam Seelig has a 10,000-word novella entitled Every Day in the Morning (Slow), which he says is also "a continuous 'drop poem.'"


Laird Hunt was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his Ray of the Star, which was inspired by Dürrenmatt's sentence-per-chapter format. (His responses were great, but in the end I couldn't fit them in.)


It had crossed my mind that I might attempt writing the article as a single unbroken sentence—form follows function and all that—but then realized I'd done a similar thing, years ago, for the PTSNBNLS—"The Precognitions," a one-paragraph article on the works of William Gaddis and W.G. Sebald (with some Thomas Bernhard thrown in).


I was happy to unload that Faulkner quote (
“I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period...I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead"), which has been sitting in my commonplace book since 1995!


Is it time to revisit the greatness of Faulkner? The weirdness of him? I think so.

Labels: ,

Some notes on "One Sentence Says It All"

After my essay ( "One Sentence Says It All") came out on Sunday, I was alerted to some other Very Long Sentences.

1) On her blog, translator Lisa Hayden Espenchade mentioned a recent one-sentencer, "Alain Mabanckou’s very readable and funny Broken Glass, translated from the French by Helen Stevenson."

2) Ashur Etwebi, a Libyan poet and novelist, told me about his novel Dardanin, published in Cairo in 2001, which consists of one 113-page sentence. "Many Libyan critics dealt with it as wast[ed] writing. For me I wanted to see if it can be done and I think yes it can be done, but then you maybe will be the only reader." (As a character says in Joseph Weisberg's novel 10th Grade, VTS—Very True Statement.)

3) The novelist Richard Grossman e-mailed me about the 70-page (!) sentence fragment in his novel The Book of Lazarus.

4) My friend Sung J. Woo Facebook-posted me (is that a term?) about Donald Barthelme's story "Sentence," of which Lorrie Moore wrote:

Language is seen as having its own random and self-generating vital life, a subject he takes on explicitly in the story “Sentence,” which is one long never-ending sentence, full of self-interruptions and searching detours and not quite dead ends (like human DNA itself, with its inert, junk viruses), concluding with the words “a structure to be treasured for its weakness as opposed to the strength of stones.”
(Another VTS.)

5) Finally (??), Patrick Ahern e-mailed me: "Camilo José Cela wrote a 303-page one-sentence book called Cristo versus Arizona. It is in Spanish and was published in 1988 by Plaza y Janes of Barcelona. It has no chapter (or other) breaks. There is a period at the end." (I have a Cela somewhere on my shelves...but it's not this one.)

I'm hoping people will turn up more...e-mail me at if you've got other favorites that I didn't mention...


Other notes: I originally planned to write about books that were one sentence or one paragraph long, and wanted to use this line of Gertrude Stein as a lede: "A Sentence is not emotional a paragraph is". I soon realized that I had my hands full, and thought it best to stick to the former. (Also, I was still trying to figure out what Stein meant—no surprise!)

I did manage to read two one-paragraphers for the piece before closing that route): Roberto Bolaño's By Night in Chile (amazing) and Jean-Christophe Valtat's 03 (a little thin).

I also started going through Thomas Bernhard* a bit—fittingly, the same issue of the NYTBR features Dale Peck on Bernhard; annoyingly, I did not receive my (pre-blizzard) Sunday Times!

*In particular The Loser, which starts off with a few shorties and then, while still on the first page, begins its epic paragraph. Glenn Gould is a character in The Loser, and I thought it was interesting that Gould's performance of "The Well-Tempered Clavier" inspired Friedrich Dürrenmatt's "novella in 24 sentences."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, December 27, 2010

Roald Dahl on True Grit

The back of the first edition of True Grit has blurbs by Roald Dahl, Walker Percy, Robert Crichton, William Eastlake, and A.C. Greene. Here's Dahl had to say:

"True Grit is the best novel to come my way for a very long time. I was going to say it was the best novel to come my way since...Then I stopped. Since what? What book has given me greater pleasure in the last five years? Or in the last twenty? I do not know. I expect some have, but I cannot recall them right now. Marvelous it is. He hasn't put a foot wrong anywhere. What a writer!"

Now that's a blurb!™

Labels: , ,

Mr. Squitchy

The country looked underdone, its raw juices squirting out all round. I buttoned out this squitchy air as well as I could with my lean double-breasted dress-coat—my over-coat being so long skirted I only used it in my wagon—and spitefully thrusting my crab-stick into the oozy sod bent my blue form to the steep ascent of the hill.

found by F.S. (and becrutchéd Melvillean) Sam, at the McNally-Jackson blog

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jump out of bed in your underwear

I have an essay in today's New York Times Book Review, on books that are one sentence long (or thereabouts, as the case often—always?—is). Happiest discovery: Jerzy Andrzejewski's “The Gates of Paradise” (1960)—158 pages!

Here's the beginning of the piece:

“No book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep,” says the garrulous shoemaker who narrates the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal’s “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age” (1964), “it’s meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author’s brains out.” Thirty-three pages into what appears to be an unbroken highway of text, the reader might well wonder if that’s a mission statement or an invitation. “Dancing Lessons” unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence that ends after 117 pages without a period, giving the impression that the opinionated, randy old cobbler will go on jawing ad infinitum. But the gambit works. His exuberant ramblings gain a propulsion that would be lost if the comma splices were curbed, the phrases divided into sentences. And there’s something about that slab of wordage that carries the eye forward, promising an intensity simply unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.

(This is the third of three articles that kept me occupied through much of the fall. The first is here, the second is here!)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


From Thoreau's Journal

[April 1837] Drifting in a sultry day on the sluggish waters of the pond, I almost cease to live and begin to be. A boatman stretched on the deck of his craft and dallying with the noon would be as apt an emblem of eternity for me as the serpent with his tail in his mouth. I am never so prone to lose my identity. I am dissolved in the haze. 

From the one and only Sam, working off the version edited by Searls!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Counting down to TRUE GRIT...

...remember when I compared Bill Clinton's prose to that of fellow Arkansan Charles Portis? A sample:


Clinton: "Baptists require an informed profession of faith; they want people to know what they are doing, as opposed to the Methodists' infant-sprinkling ritual that took Hillary and her brothers out of hell's way." [p. 30]

Portis: "[The Cumberland Presbyterians] broke with the Presbyterian Church because they did not believe a preacher needed a lot of formal education. That is all right but they are not sound on Election. . . . I confess it is a hard doctrine, running contrary to our earthly ideas of fair play, but I can see no way around it." [TG, p. 109]

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 17, 2010


1. There's an octopus that will stuff six of its tentacles into a hole in the ground and extend the two remaining tentacles as far as they will go, giving the illusion that it's a poisonous banded sea snake.

2. I never read Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, but I clipped a review from the TLS. I uncovered this review last night, while looking for something else. I realized I never read the review, either. (This was about three years ago.) Should I just throw it out? Or is it telling me something?

3. Andrew Leland, member of a Dance to the Music of Time book club (!), has some thoughts on Powell and Powellians:

Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit;
Forgot his epic, nay Pindaric art,
But still I love the language of his heart.

“But,” our narrator adds, “surely the pointed wit was just what did survive?” And who now reads Powell? A weirdly vocal and large group, it seems. The pleasure of Powell is in his humor, and his humor is entirely social. “Wit was just the quality he brought to bear with such remarkable effect.”

4. Paul Collins on Barbara Follett, in Lapham's Quarterly. This is how you write a lede!:

In a New Hampshire apartment during the winter of 1923, this typewritten notice was fastened squarely against a closed door:



5. Richard Nash talks about William Poundstone's Priceless in his "Year of Reading" roundup at The Millions.

6. Two more pieces to write...

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Open City — tonight!

Tonight: reading at the Open City party (The Magician, 118 Rivington)—new issue has a new story of mine...


A Chinese world

Very beautiful as we got farther, a Chinese world, painted in tea. Tea-colour, the dead world under a thin coverlet of snow; tea-colour the branches; and tea-colour my dog also, and the leaves of the holly pale jade. —My Sister and Myself: The Diaries of J.R. Ackerley, 4 March 1949


Sunday, December 12, 2010

A convention of blobs

Stringham's letters from Kenya reported that he liked the place better than he had expected. They contained drawings of people met there, and of a horse he sometimes rode. He could not really draw at all, but used a convention of blobs and spidery lines effective in expressing the appearance of persons and things. One of these was of Buster selling a car; another of Buster playing polo.[...]
—Powell, A Question of Upbringing

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Species of spaces

Jenny has a thoughtful, well-argued, and zestily written post about attempting—and failing—to get into the spirit of Anthony Powell (thanks to U. Chicago Press's free e-book offer)...and yet I couldn't disagree more!

I had just (like 15 minutes before) been reading a chunk of the first volume, A Question of Upbringing, on my little ipod* before seeing Jenny's post, and was feeling very lucky to be re-entering Powell's universe. (Can't quite recall when I finished the twelfth and last volume, but it has been well over a decade since I read Question.) The passage she quotes with irritation brought me great pleasure, as did many others; in fact, pre-reading-Jenny's-post, I was trying to figure out how to copy and paste the following little bit to blog. It's Nick Jenkins, talking to his house master Le Bas; Jenkins and his roommate Stringham have just received a surprise visit from Jenkins's black-sheep relative Uncle Giles, traces of whose smoking can still be detected.

'I am afraid my uncle came to see me, sir. He lit a cigarette without thinking.'
'Where is your uncle?'
'I have just been getting Cattle to let him out of the house.'
'How did he get in?'
'I think he came in at the front door, sir. I am not sure.'
I watched Stringham, from where he stood behind Le Bas, make a movement as of one climbing a rope, following these gestures with motions of his elbows to represent the beating of wings, both dumb-shows no doubt intended to demonstrate alternative methods of ingress possible employed by Uncle Giles.


Powell's pre-war, pre-Dance novels are decidedly comic novels (Afternoon Men is my favorite, but all are pretty good); Dance isn't, but it's full of passages like this—I can't get enough! I love in particular the way it's choreographed, the way we get (almost by surprise) a very particular sense of space: We're focused on the dialogue between Nick and an irate Le Bas, while in another part of the room, visible only to Nick (and us), Stringham is goofing around. (The "Dance," appropriately, is full of such choreographies, particularly in the numerous party scenes.)

I also like how it's not 100% clear to us what Stringham is trying to get across—the humor reaches full impact with the narrator's explanation, which is itself hilarious in its ornateness: "dumb-shows intended to demonstrate alternative methods of ingress."

*This is a story in itself...

Labels: , ,

Policy matters

My November (!) Astral Weeks is finally up at the L.A. Times—a review of William H. Patterson Jr.'s biography Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century (Volume I: Learning Curve, 1907–1948)[!]. Here's the first bit:

"I am submitting the enclosed short story 'LIFE-LINE' for either 'Astounding' or 'Unknown,'" Robert A. Heinlein wrote to editor John Campbell in 1939, "because I am not sure which policy it fits the better."

The former magazine published science fiction, the latter fantasy. Heinlein's short story — the first he had attempted professionally, at age 31 — concerns a machine that can predict when a person will die. That he sold this neophyte production, on first submission, to a top pulp editor (kicking off an intense friendship and correspondence) is exciting in and of itself. Heinlein's uncertainty about to which slice of genre this story belonged is an ironic and humanizing detail, given what a titan Heinlein would become as the author of everything from juvenile SF in character-building mode to the counterculture touchstone "Stranger in a Strange Land" (1961).


While we're on the subject of openings—I just re-read the opening of the October Astral Weeks; kind of funny, non?!

Not a short story, not quite a novella — wasn't that a Britney Spears song? — the oxymoronic long short story is an underemployed literary form.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Open City reading/party

I'll be reading next Tuesday (12/14) at Open City's Holiday/New Issue Party, around 8 p.m. (The party is from 7 to 9 at The Magician, 118 Rivington between Essex and Norfolk.)

Here is the official invite:

Fifteen smackers (i.e., $15) gets you in (& OPEN BAR!) and a copy of issue #30, which I'm honored to be in! My story is called "Bring on the Dancing Horses," and I'll be (I think) reading a bit from it that evening. (Or I might read a little from the story that I've been writing this week. WHO KNOWS?!) My last reading of 2011! Alissa Quart is reading!

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


We miss you, John.

(Photo taken earlier this year in front of the Dakota, on the day after what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"Top Hat"

Labels: , , ,

Friday, December 03, 2010

The ouroboric network

"I don't even know what my whole mind is turning into right now. It's like those snakes that eat themselves." --Jesse Eisenberg

(Via Gautam)

Labels: ,

Protein-based robot? Check.

One of the commenters at Grognardia offers an even more complex Universe rule, for "battlefield awareness" (28.2):

The creature's Initiative Percentage is multiplied by the Terrain Value of the environ to determine the base awareness chance. The attributes of the party modify this chance as follows:

* Subtract twice the highest Environ skill level in the party
* Subtract the highest Battlefield Skill Level in the party (if the encounter is with an NPC, subtract the square of the highest Battlefield Skill Level)
* Subtract ten if the party possesses an operating neuroscanner and the creature is protein-based or more terran-like
* Subtract 20 if the party possesses a robot with a bio system and the creature is protein-based or more terran-like.
* Subtract the square of the highest Life Sense skill level in the party
* Subtract the square of the highest Mental Power rating in the party if the creature is intelligent
* Add 20 if the party is resting without a watch
* Add a variable amount if the party has exceeded the movement rate recommended in 26.4


Thursday, December 02, 2010

If the task is especially difficult

At Grognardia, pondering the appealing/insane complexity of the rules for the old role-playing game Universe:

2. One of the character's Characteristics Ratings (specified in the skill description) is added to the square of his Skill Level, and the total is added to the base chance listed for the task. In some instances, the Skill Level may be increased (before squaring) by a piece of equipment or decreased if the task is especially difficult. The base chance may be further modified by the task description or at the GM's discretion (in some cases, he may apply a modifier secretly).

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

December interlude

You know how I'm always talking about Anthony Powell? Like, I can't shut up about him?

Now's your chance to read the first novel in his Dance to the Music of Time sequence/meganovel as a free e-book, for this month only, thanks to the University of Chicago Press. The entire series is being reissued electronically (and of course you can still buy the physical books, in four omnibus volumes.) Amazon seems to be the easiest way to take advantage of this offer.

Read more about it from Levi, who is conveniently wearing both his UChicago Press hat and his Powell-championing hat!


Next step: Getting Afternoon Men, A View to a Death, and the other pre-Dance Powells back into print!

Labels: ,

View My Stats