Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sim city

The new Bookforum is partially online. My review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim is only in the paper issue as of now. I like the coverline: "Why Jonathan Coe Deserves an American Audience."

(I've read most of/finished some good pieces already—Ruth Franklin on Joyce Carol Oates, Erik Davis on Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book, Rivka Galchen on Lydia Davis/Madame Bovary...there's something by Paul La Farge...)


Coe notes:

Thank you to Gautam, who sent me a copy of The Rain Before It Falls several years ago—I talk about it a bit in the piece.


My essay in the Times about the longest sentence was the original impetus behind rereading Coe's The Rotters' Club. What a book!


I reviewed Coe's biography of B.S. Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant, when it came out in 2005, but did not dwell much on the ending. I do so in this Bookforum piece, as it is clearly a source for a chunk of the new novel.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

W or the memory of passages from Ulysses

Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W. Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara. —Joyce, Ulysses*

Time's Top 10 Books With One-Letter Titles includes V., M, Z, S., and C.

*This passage also appears in the 14th ed. of The Chicago Manual of Style

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things That Make You Go Hmmm, Vol. 54

Nabokov's sister and Ayn Rand were school friends.

Dan Brown and David Foster Wallace were in the same creative writing class in college.

Ursula K. LeGuin and Philip K. Dick went to the same high school.

When Andre the Giant was 12, Samuel Beckett drove him to school.
(This last one via James Hynes)

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Drinking up the eau de cologne

Rob Sheffield on Elvis Costello's Trust: "He was still singing about girl trouble, but for the first time, the girls in his songs weren’t faceless villains or metaphors for fascism."

Bonus: video of E.C. on Tom Snyder's show, 1981, singing "Watch Your Step."

From The Memoirs of Parkus Grammaticus: Last year I wrote two stories with titles nicked from/mood inspired by songs: "Bring on the Dancing Horses," which I wrote for the "Impossible Geometries" event at 177 Livingston (and now in the latest issue of Open City); and "Watch Your Step," which I wrote for a Housing Works/Bookforum reading, and as yet unpublished, but possibly the cornerstone of a novel, though not the one I'm working on now.

On a related note: the February/March Bookforum is out; I haven't seen it yet, but it has my review of Jonathan Coe's latest novel, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. (The piece is not available online.) Thanks again to Michael Miller for the inspired assignment!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Annals of facial hair, Mark Twain edition

For some ersatz Twains, the popularity of the autobiography is motivation enough to kick-start a comeback tour. Ken Teutsch, 48, of Dyersburg, Tenn., had all but given up on his one-man show about Twain’s time working on the Mississippi as a steamboat pilot. Mr. Teutsch had not done a show in more than a year and had shaved off the bushy mustache he had grown for the role. Then last fall people began watching clips of his show on YouTube, and inquiries started coming in.

After celebrating Christmas cleanshaven, Mr. Teutsch made a New Year’s resolution to forgo the use of his razor and start booking Twain shows again. “My wife will not be happy, she’s not a fan of the mustache,” Mr. Teutsch said. “But hey, if I can make a little money with it, she might forgive me." —NYT

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Reality hunger—underwater edition

From (where else?) Grognardia:

There are a lot of reasons why [Richard S. Shaver's] "I Remember Lemuria" generated such a positive response with readers, but perhaps the most likely is that it doesn't present itself as fiction at all, a pose that is aided by its copious accompanying footnotes, most of which were supplied by Amazing's editor, Ray Palmer. For example, here's a long footnote on the deros:
Pressed for a more complete explanation, Mr. Shaver has defined "dero' for us:

"Long ago it happened that certain (underground) cities were abandoned and into those cities stole many mild mortals to live, At first they were normal people, though on a lower intelligence plane; and ignorant due to lack of proper education. It was inevitable that certain inhabitants of the culture forests lose themselves and escape proper development; and some of them are of faulty development. But due to their improper handling of the life-force and ray apparatus in the abandoned cities, these apparatii became harmful in effect. They simply did not realize that the ray filters of the ray mechanisms must be changed and much of the conductive metal renewed regularly. If such renewals are not made, the apparatus collects in itself—in its metal—a disintegrant particle which gradually turns its beneficial qualities into strangely harmful ones.[...]"

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Like Cormac McCarthy, But More Barbaric

It's Robert E. Howard's 105th birthday. Grognardia quotes H.P. Lovecraft's 1936 tribute to him:

No one could write more convincingly of violence and gore than he, and his battle passages reveal an instinctive aptitude for military tactics which would have brought him distinction in times of war. His real gifts were even higher than the readers of his published works would suspect, and had he lived, would have helped him to make his mark in serious literature with some folk epic of his beloved southwest.[...]That such an artist should perish while hundreds of insincere hacks continue to concoct spurious ghosts and vampires and space-ships and occult detectives is indeed a sorry piece of cosmic irony!

I like how that first part makes him sound like Cormac McCarthy.

Did I mention that I saw the Vincent D'Onofrio/Renée Zellweger take on Howard, The Whole Wide World? It Was Pretty Good.


Sneak peek: Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi is interviewed in next month's Believer...

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Friday, January 21, 2011

More on "Norwood"

Our man in Arkansas, John Moran, sends us Shock Cinema's 2001 review of Norwood, the film based on Charles Portis's novel. Starring Glen Campbell and Kim Darby (who played LaBoeuf and Mattie in True Grit), the film inspires Steve Puchalski to wonder: "What were the producers thinking?!"

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

I started this post a week ago

I. Jenny D on her new feline: "His name is Max, and he used to frequent a fruit stall in Brighton Beach."

II. Speaking of which: Over Xmas I reread—quite at random!—A Cricket in Times Square...and I just saw David Ulin's appreciation of it at the L.A. Times. I didn't know it was the book's 50th anniversary!

All in all, I enjoyed revisiting the book—though I did raise my eyebrows during the Chinatown scenes...

III. Dogs in New York: The New Yorker
on the NYC cult, ca. , around Charles Portis's great novel The Dog of the South

IV. Speaking of Portis: My friend in Little Rock, John Moran, alerted me to this tidbit in a local paper: one of its bloggers noticed that the film version of Portis's first novel, Norwood, is now streaming on Netflix!

Joe Namath and Dom DeLuise are in it...

Here's what I said about it in a footnote to my 2003 Portis piece in The Believer:

If the film of True Grit somewhat revises the book, the less-known screen adaptation of Norwood (Jack Haley, Jr., 1970), also scripted by Marguerite Roberts, scrambles both Norwood and True Grit. Glen Campbell (Grit’s LaBoeuf) here plays Norwood, and Kim Darby (Mattie) is Rita Lee Chipman; Mattie’s unacknowledged teenage longing for LaBoeuf (“If he is still alive and should happen to read these pages, I will be happy to hear from him,” Mattie writes at the novel’s close) becomes consummated in Norwood, or just about. Roberts’s Grit script shunted Mattie in favor of the bigger-than-life Rooster; for this film the screenwriter dilutes some of Norwood’s cool by revealing that Rita Lee has been made pregnant by another man before they meet—a significant, possibly feminist tweak of the original plot. (Incidentally, the contra-hippie theme that runs through Portis, made more explicit in Gringos, is elaborated in this film, most notably when Campbell-as-Norwood takes the stage after a numbing sitar exhibition. He sings a good-timey country number presciently called “Repo Man” to the uncomprehending, wigged-out crowd, until a more lysergically inclined combo unseats him.) As it’s unlikely I’ll ever have the chance to write about this film again, let it be noted that the date of Norwood’s theatrical release, a year after Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award for Best Picture, lends Campbell-as-Norwood a certain Voightian frisson during the scenes in New York, where he sticks out like a Stetsoned sore thumb. Which makes the bit in Cowboy where Voight regards himself in the mirror and says approvingly, “John Wayne,” a sort of anticipatory gloss on Wayne co-star Campbell’s future appearance in Gotham. (The celluloid True Grit also spawned a 1975 sequel, Rooster Cogburn, starring Wayne and Katharine Hepburn.)

V. Speaking of New York: Doree Shafrir put together a list of her favorite New York fiction...Personal Days is in there between Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and Richard Price's Lush Life!

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On language — January 2011 edition

I. From the glossary to Maxwell Bodenheim's novel Naked on Roller Skates:

acecray outcray: putting the ace on the bottom of the deck, where the dealer can abstract it

bah-bah: negligible object

cake-slashing: assault and mayhem

century: hundred dollars

chippy: dissolute girl

chivvy: unpleasant odor

clip your tongue: be silent

cram the paper: cheat at cards

cut your chops: mind your own business

(As discovered by Louis Phillips at The Chiseler; Bodenheim also has a cameo in Jason Boog's Believer piece from Sept. 2010.)

Mr. Ai has come to see his escalating conflict with government officials over the Communist Party’s authoritarian rule as performance art. In November, he spread the word that he was throwing a river crab feast at the studio to protest the destruction order. The word for river crab, hexie, sounds nearly identical to the word for harmony, which the Communist Party claims to promote; the party’s critics like to say censors are “harmonizing” the Internet and other forms of media.—NYT

Children pick up about 10 new words a day until, by the time they leave high school, they know around 60,000 words. Chaser [a border collie] learned words more slowly but faced a harder task: Each sound was new and she had nothing to relate it to, whereas children learn words in a context that makes them easier to remember. For example, knives, forks and spoons are found together.

Dr. Pilley does not know how large a vocabulary Chaser could have mastered. When she reached 1,000 items, he grew tired of teaching words and moved to more interesting topics like grammar. —NYT

(Via Jane)

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Python Duck Weapon

My latest Astral Weeks column is up at the L.A. Times. It's a review of Jon Armstrong's novel Yarn. A tidbit!:

His world-building is at once blithe and satisfying, bubbling with Dadaist brand names (Melancholy Mouse Burger, Python Duck Weapon) and anchored by a moral seriousness. All the details, from the slang to the stitching, add up to a dazzlingly grim read. Here, "cut" is a curse, and "fashion" is used as a euphemism for sex — the actual phenomenon of which is virtually absent. Everything, even shopping, is a kind of war. Robotic "infofighters" bombard customers with coupons and directions. Even more grotesque is what happens upon walking into a high-end boutique. A "saleswarrior" gives herself one hour to sell you something: "If I have not assisted your material freedom and truth, the necklace will cut my air."

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

All the way to the bank!

(Via Ta-Nehisi)


I wasn't much of a wargamer, but I did enjoy Ogre! Grognardia remembers:

...It was fun to watch too and everyone had their own opinions regarding the "best" tactics to use. I think that's what made the game so much fun: there was no sure-fire way to win, but that didn't stop everyone I've ever known declaring that they'd figured out the "secret" to Ogre. For example, I know several gamers who claim that there's no way the ogre player can win, while several others claim just the opposite. I'm no great tactician myself, so I can't say with certainty whose claims are right and whose are wrong. I can only say that Ogre is one of those rare games that really is different every time you play it, depending on the scenario and the person against whom you play.


The almighty Lev Grossman on how D&D influenced him:

What else? We were always drawn to the weird, fringe stuff like Barrier Peaks and Queen of the Demonweb Pits, and the more arcane weapons. I have spent literally hours of my life just contemplating the meaning of the Bohemian Ear-Spoon.


Speaking of D&D, I just read Joe Daly's Dungeon Quest (Book One)—weirdly exhilarating and very funny...


...annnnnd speaking of D&D: Jenny D reads my Dungeon Master's Guide essay in Bound to Last—and reminisces about those "Wordly Wise" books!

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Glimmer of uptick

Kirkus Reviews:
David Shields: “The forthcoming book that I am most excited about is Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, date TBD). I’ve been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson of late, and The Guardians feels to me not only extremely congruent with her work, but also easily able to exist side-by-side with it and not blush. It’s my new favorite book of Manguso’s and her best in my view. The depth of feeling and thought is extraordinary. It’s briefing for a descent into hell. The book goes to hell and back, just barely back, and ends with a tiny glimmer of uptick—not too much, but not too little either. It’s the only affirmation that anyone can offer—astonishingly, we’re here.” David Shields made our Best Nonfiction of 2010 list with Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Son of Weekend Disambiguation

There's a letter from Bernard F. Dick in the NYTBR, in response to my "One Sentence Says It All" essay. It begins:

Latin scholars, that imperiled species, are not intimidated by the long, sprawling sentence. The periodic sentence is a staple of Latin prose. Phrases and clauses balance one another as each unit generates its own rhythm, until they coalesce in a unity that is all the more remarkable in its fusion of details that would otherwise have been rendered separately, like pieces unable to interlock because no one took the time to connect them.


There's also a review of Mathias Énard's one-long-sentence-sort-of novel Zone, which I mentioned in my piece.


What else? Vanessa Place was kind enough to send a copy of her novel Dies: A Sentence, elegantly published by Les Figues. Brian Evenson, who wrote the introduction for the translation of Zone, blurbs Dies:

In a single sentence as bloody and crazed as the history of the 20th century, Place offers up “the untamed cadence of ten thousand feet.” Caught somewhere between Beckett’s The Unnamable, Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Ann Quin’s Passages, Dies is an extravagant and ferocious book, a real and uncompromising marvel.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Weekend Disambiguation

The Second Pass shares a favorite long sentence (from Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff), and a commenter mentions a fun-sounding game:

Many years ago, I bought a deck of large cards, called Shuffle Cards, at the MOMA in New York City. The cards were illustrated with drawings on each side. On one side of each card were the words, “and the” followed by a noun; on the other side was a verb. You would shuffle the cards, lay them out, and have a wonderful, nonsensical story to enjoy with children.

Have you listened to any Aimee Mann lately? I was going to delete a bunch of songs off my iTunes, then started listening. She's so good! (This part of the post sounds like an e-mail to my sister.)


Dwight Garner's NYT review of Timothy Ferriss was like a gift that kept on giving:

"He is said to be very good at Chinese kickboxing."

"If a movie were to be made of Mr. Ferriss’s life, it would star Matthew McConaughey in little rectangular eyeglasses."

"Mr. Ferriss likes to pose without a shirt — in some photographs he sprouts chest hair; in others, it’s been waxed away — and to describe the veins that run across his abdomen. He tosses around words like 'thrashing' and, to refer to inanimate things, 'bad boys.' "

" 'The 4-Hour Body' reads as if The New England Journal of Medicine had been hijacked by the editors of the SkyMall catalog."

[Now that's the way to do an x-meets-y line in a review.]


You know who's on a roll? Paul Collins is on a roll. First his Lapham's Quarterly piece, now this NYTBR essay on the first detective novel!

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Annals of facial hair, XVII

At Wikipedia, "United States presidents with facial hair." Check out the helpful beard/mustache/sideburns chart to learn which prez wore a beard "on vacation"!

(Via Sam, who does not sport facial hair–yet.)


Advertisements for myself

Hey, fiction writer!

I'll be teaching two workshops at the Columbia School of the Arts' summer program—a fiction writing workshop (May 23–July 1) and an advanced fiction writing workshop (July 5–August 12). The first is for those with little or no experience writing fiction; the second is for those with some experience.

Write on!™

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My kind of punctuation

The problem is, Peter Parker doesn’t believe it’s real because The Daily Bugle refuses to print anything about it(?). So all the spiders sing a song about shoes and then Arachne goes and beats J. Jonah Jamison into changing his mind. This provokes Peter into becoming Spider-Man but without his Arachne-woven suit he seems to have lost his powers (?!) and then maybe gets them back (?!?!) and then jumps off a bridge or maybe a building to save Mary Jane because he didn’t get his web shooting powers (?!?!?!?!) because then obviously he wouldn’t need jump off the bridge or building or anyway big municipal structure if he could just shoot webs at her (?!?!??!?!??!?!). —Parabasis on Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

(Via Jonathan)


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

No Googling allowed!

WHICH film did I dismiss with the put-down: "Alas, the film with the best cog-diss handle since Eyes Wide Shut leaves nothing to the imagination." ?


Three jobs

At the Guardian: The Adrian Mole books as roman fleuve.

Plus: Sue Townsend on her creation.

I had three part-time jobs. During school hours I was a community worker, working with elderly people who'd been moved into tower blocks, leaving their dogs, cats, rabbits and neighbours behind. In the early evening I was a youth worker, working mostly with adolescent boys. At 9pm I caught a bus into town and went to my third job: waitress and barmaid at the Fish and Quart.


From the Parkives: my review of Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Disambiguations™ for January 3, 2011

I. Paging Charles Fort:

State scientists believe one thing to be almost certain: that the bird deaths were not related to the roughly 85,000 fish that died a few days before near Ozark, in the western part of the state, the biggest fish kill in Arkansas that anyone can remember. —"4,000 Blackbirds Drop From the Sky," NYT

II. I wrote a little note on the NYT's Paper Cuts blog—a followup to my "One Sentence Says It All" essay. (Most of it has been covered here at Disambiguation, with one new twist...)

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...speaking of The Believer—interviews editor Ross Simonini is one half of NewVillager, and this NewVideo (for their song "RichDoors") is not only a lot of fun—"an IntegratedEvent in ten parts depicting the NewVillagerMythology"—but also features, around the 1:15 mark, our outgoing mg. ed., Andrew Leland! (And just found this, HTMLGiant likes it, too!)(And here's more on the video, at IFC News.)


Everyone knows about this already: the latest McSweeney's is a box (painted like a head) full of good stuff: a shard of Michael Chabon's abandoned, post–Mysteries of Pittsburgh novel, Fountain City, replete with annotations; a long and funny piece by (Blvr. columnist) Jack Pendarvis, "Jungle Geronimo in Gay Paree"; a "standard" issue of McSwy's; a screenplay; a regular play; a short illustrated story...also a fun surprise by Angela Petrella and her sister. Also the box is great for putting other stuff (pamphlets!) in...


An antipodean bookseller talks about McSweeney's/Blvr./etc.

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

January Believer!

The first Believer of 2011 (!!) is out! (I was at Book Culture yesterday and saw a stack of 'em!)

You must read Andy Selsberg's piece on conscientious clothing—is there a movement afoot? Does said nascent movement need a Michael Pollan (as Andy suggests)? Well, Andy Selsberg is the Michael Pollan of the conscientious clothing movement!

Reif Larsen (on the pleasures of the book, and the possibilities of the e-book) and Theo Schell-Lambert (on what those e-book ads really mean) will blow your mind!

Plus interviews with Guy Maddin, Pharoahe Monche, Bianca Casady, and others!

An excerpt from Deb Olin Unferth's upcoming memoir Revolution (which is great)...Justin Taylor on Bette Pesteky's Lish-edited 1981 collection, Stories Up to a Point...Columny goodness from Greil Marcus, Nick Hornby, and Jack Pendarvis...and much more!

Happy new year!

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