Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Annals of punctuation

Bobby Valentine does air quotes with single fingers.

What does this mean?!? Is he saying that what he is quoting is a quote within a quote — and that his entire production of speech, everything he says, already has quote marks around it? Does he start the day with an open quotation mark, then end the day with a closed quotation mark, and in between he has to use single quotes for distinction? Probably, right.

Getting Blanked

(Via Jane)


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Circular plots

The plot wheels of Erle Stanley Gardner:

(Cf. Harry Stephen Keeler's "webwork" plot construction.)


You know, the chemist Friedrich August Kekule worked for twenty years
trying to figure out the structure of the benzene ring, and he
couldn’t do it. And then one night he was sleeping and he had a vision
of a snake swallowing its tail. So he told his students about it and
they said, ‘Not bad, you go to sleep and you wake up with that.’ And
he said, ‘Visions come to prepared spirits.’ The way Billy Wilder put
it was ‘The muse has to know where to find you.’ —David Milch, in this New Yorker piece<

Both hot links via Sam

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The purity of the turf

Favorite thing in the Times the other day: Charles McGrath is positively Wodehousean in this piece about sublimely bad golf courses:

The fifth, sixth and seventh are the apogee — or maybe the perigee — of Bristol. I used to dream about them all the time, and in my dreams, the fairways were lined on the right side with old aircraft engines. What a surprise, then, to discover that where I remembered some scattered pieces of rusting steel, there was in fact a full-fledged junk yard, with two large orange cranes dipping and poking into mountains of metal and plastic pipe like giant prehistoric birds picking up straw.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Scott writes:

I just had a celebrity ouroboros sighting — Anthony Bourdain got an ouroboros tattoo in Malaysia on one of his No Reservations episodes a few years ago. It's on YouTube here.

He adds that for his specific ouroboros design, the tattoo artist is "incorporating Iban features into what might otherwise have been suspiciously hippie." (An ouroboros is considered suspiciously hippie?! Alas, he's probably right.)

Bourdain later appeared on the tattoo show Miami Ink (video here) to get a skull tattoo from tattooist Chris Garver. He shows the ouroboros tattoo and waggishly says for the camera that "it's supposedly about death and regeneration. It's a little too optimistic for me. I'm looking kinda for an antidote to that."

"Ouroboros Antidote" would be a good title for something. Or maybe the more literary-sounding "Antidote For An Ouroboros"…

Surely there must be some subconscious significance to Bourdain's choice of the ouroboros design, given that his career is based around both creating food and eating food, and that he decides to adorn his own flesh with a symbol involving an endlessly (self-) devouring mouth.

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The connections: Colourfield edition


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The lost games of TSR

Today, Grognardia mentions two abandoned TSR projects that I've never heard of—Proton Fire (ca. 1985) and R.I.P. (ca. 1991).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lazy Literary Musings™

I liked that Levi appreciated The Dog of the South last year, but felt that...well, his appreciation of Charles Portis was a touch restrained. So it's fun watching him rave over Portis's Masters of Atlantis—in two posts (and counting?)!

And it's also great to see him enjoying Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes.

I will just say that I finished Barry Gifford's Wild at Heart last night. What a book! I was reading a few other things and suddenly Wild at Heart overtook them. (I'm hoping Levi will read it and write something about it.) It's the first in the single-volume Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels, which Seven Stories put out last year.


I like this fake book cover by Scott at Erasing:

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Sunday, May 15, 2011


Gilbert has managed, somehow, to push the genre’s built-in self-involvement to a whole new level. The truly special thing about “Eat, Pray, Love” is not its humor or its wisdom or its perky invocation of exotic local color — all of which are real, and often enjoyable. It’s that it is a completely inescapable vortex of recursion: a self-generating, self-sustaining, self-replicating machine of perpetual self-reference. It feels practically avant-garde in its determination to pull itself out of its own belly button. Its cover should have been an M. C. Escher painting of Jorge Luis Borges riding on a snake eating its own tail. —Sam Anderson, "Eat, Pray, Love, Rinse, Repeat," NYT Magazine

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Notes to a note on the notes

My story about the notes of cartoonist Chester Brown, which went up at the Toronto Standard website recently (under the title "Text Appeal"), now has its own notes!

It's Chester Brown week at the Comics Journal's wonderfully overstuffed website, where you can read my "Notes to a Note on the Notes of Chester Brown."

(Thanks to TCJ's Tim Hodler for the initial prompt and the subsequent publishing.)

A side note: The first note happens to quote from Geoff Dyer, who apparently quoted/cited one of my favorite novels, Renata Adler's Speedboat, at a McNally Jackson event the other night. File under: Note to Some Notes to a Note on the Notes of Chester Brown.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tenses and Discomforts

Monday morning, I woke from a strange dream, and immediately e-mailed two people:

Just had a dream I was erasing old mp3 files. There was a ub40 album, but it was actually good. It was called Tenses and Disclmforts(?)....[sic]

Just woke from dream. I was erasing old mp3s from laptop, including a Ub40 ep -- only five songs but they were each pretty long.... As I listened I was surprised at how decent it was. The title was Tenses and Discomforts --- not a bad fake uk reggae title!


I'm reminded of the time (ca. 1992) that I dreamt of 44 nonexistent Van Morrison albums...

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Unexpected Allusions™


Johnnie walked down Iberville Street toward the river. He was eager to get back to his hotel room and read more of Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton's book, the first treatise on the subject written by a layman, had been published originally in 1621 and was still relevant today. As Johnnie turned the corner and headed north on Decatur, he repeated to himself Burton's definition of melancholy: "A kind of dotage without a fever, having for his ordinary companions fear and sadness, without any apparent occasion.

—from Barry Gifford's Wild at Heart (from Sailor & Lula: The Complete Novels—it's great)


"It's called Playworld," she said. It's loosely based on this Piers Anthony book I read as a kid called Split Infinity. In this world, all anybody does all day long is play games. [...]" —from Adam Ross's Mr. Peanut

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Disambiguations™ for May 10, 2011

I. My first review for Time is up—a look at Lawrence Block's great new Scudder novel, A Drop of the Hard Stuff. (It really is as good as I say—a perfect place to start reading Block.) Thanks to Jessica Winter! Here is a tidbit:

By Scudder's previous outing in 2005, he'd become sober and downright uxorious: a better person but a diluted presence, even as the crimes remained nasty. Everybody Dies, Hope to Die, All the Flowers Are Dying — the titles of the past three Scudders themselves telegraphed exhaustion. Slipping out of the series' chronology, A Drop of the Hard Stuff reads like it's been jolted by factory-fresh defibrillator pads, as Scudder recalls his first, nerve-rattling year of sobriety. Here, his devotion to Alcoholics Anonymous not only shades in his character but also sets up the case. Following AA's Twelve Steps, Jack Ellery, a fellow recovering alcoholic and former felon, put together a list of people he'd hurt while drinking (Step 8) and attempted to make amends with them (Step 9). Ellery turns up dead, a bullet to the mouth, and Scudder figures that someone on the list wanted him to keep quiet about his lowlife past.

II. Congratulations to Adam Levin, who won the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award last night, for his humongous debut novel, The Instructions. (I chaired the reading committee this year—thanks to all the readers!)

III. I make Page Six! Well, not really...Click to read the Sloane Crosley theory of humor. (I think it's true.)

IV. There's more to come...

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Thick and thin

At the Guardian, Woody Allen lists his top five books, which includes Machado de Assis's Epitaph of a Small Winner.

I just got this in the mail one day. Some stranger in Brazil sent it and wrote, "You'll like this". Because it's a thin book, I read it. If it had been a thick book, I would have discarded it

I was shocked by how charming and amusing it was. I couldn't believe he lived as long ago as he did. You would've thought he wrote it yesterday. It's so modern and so amusing. It's a very, very original piece of work. It rang a bell in me, in the same way that The Catcher in the Rye did. It was about subject matter that I liked and it was treated with great wit, great originality and no sentimentality.

I'd be interested to know when he read the book; did any subsequent W.A. films bear a trace of its influence?

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

The events described have happened

In the interest of privacy, names and identifying characteristics have been changed, timelines have been compressed, and some of the dialogue is more exact than some of the other dialogue. Although subject to impression and memory, this is a work of nonfiction. The events described have happened. Except, of course, for a couple of passages, which I'm pretty sure have been so distorted by interpretation that no place and no one involved with them actually exist, including myself, including you.*


Wednesday, May 04, 2011


I should keep a Wikipedia-like list of when some of my old weird favorite books were published. Ernest Vincent Wright's Gadsby came out in 1939, as did Harry Stephen Keeler's Y. Cheung, Business Detective, which I recently read again. (It's even weirder than I remembered.)

Here's a piece I wrote about Gadsby back in 2002. (No real reason for this post, save that I hadn't seen such a handsome cover image before. It's from Wikipedia.) A taste:

John Gadsby, "Youth's champion," is the hero of Ernest Vincent Wright's 1939 Gadsby, fearlessly subtitled A Novel of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E." Like the paragraph above, the book eschews our tongue's bedrock letter. The absence creates a tone alternately lofty ("It is an odd kink of humanity which cannot find any valuation in spots of natural glory") and rambunctious ("Books!! Pooh! Maps! BAH!!"), and demands comical circumlocutions for the simplest things—a turkey dubbed the "Thanksgiving National Bird," a wedding cake rechristened "an astonishing loaf of culinary art." The languorous tale shows how Gadsby harnesses the energy and ideas of young people to turn the backwater of Branton Hills into a bustling city. Children stump for civic projects, such as the establishment of a park and a library, and Gadsby soon becomes mayor.


Tonight! Crosley/Park tête-à-tête at McNally Jackson! Click here for more info.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I was told there'd be a conversation!

Tomorrow night at 7, please join me at McNally Jackson bookstore (52 Prince St.) as I talk to the one and only Sloane Crosley! Her second book, How Did You Get This Number, is just out in paperback. Come listen, pick up a copy, say hi!

More here and here.


Pinch me! Grognardia is running a new semiweekly feature—the Ads of Dragon! Today he scans in an ad for Quirks, "the game of un-natural selection."

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Monday, May 02, 2011

The oy of hex

May is Gamma World month at Grognardia! Comment of the day:

Here's a bit of GW map trivia. The rulebook notes that "the scale of a hex is roughly 43.7 kilometers (27.3 miles) from side to side." I once asked Jim Ward why such a ridiculous, useless scale was chosen, and he said "that was Tom Wham's idea of a joke."


Tom Wham's web page was updated pretty recently...Can't remember if I've blogged about him (probably), but his games include the delightful File 13, a game about...game designing.

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A Brown study

Last year I mentioned the voluminous notes that cartoonist Chester Brown has made on his various comics. Today, the new site Toronto Standard has a piece up by me on this topic, entitled "Text Appeal." It begins:

If years ago, when I was in college, someone had dubbed me a tape of The Best of Leonard Cohen, I’m not sure what I would have made of the music. There’s a chance I would have become a fan. But I happened to buy an old copy of the LP, the back cover of which is given over to Cohen’s notes on the songs. None exceeds seven lines in length; the shortest is 12 words long. They masquerade as compositional backstory, but really comprise a sly autobiography in prose poems, perfect compressions of wanderlust and good old-fashioned lust. A persona is being erected even before the record is out of the sleeve. (Indeed, it includes a comment on the jacket portrait: “I rarely ever look this good, or bad, depending on your politics.”) Cohen’s notes didn’t deepen my experience of the music, but rather replaced it. The songs took a back seat to the life lived, a life recorded telegraphically but indelibly on that tan back cover. The pleasure, the point, of The Best of Leonard Cohen was not where I thought it was.

(Thanks to Jason McBride, and to Tim Hodler at The Comics Journal, and to Hillary Chute!)

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