Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Often as not a boy or girl of normal height resulted"

Today on his blog, Levi goes from Portis to Peter the Great to Portis again. He wonders if he should quote quite so much from the bio he read last week (Robert K. Massie's Peter the Great, 1980), but I'm glad he did! And I'm going to just copy the passage he quotes because it's so wild. (I kept thinking: Really?)
The King's most famous obsession was his collection of giants, for which he was renowned throughout Europe. Known as the Blue Prussians or the Giants of Potsdam, there were over 1,200 of them, organized into two battalions of 600 men each. None was under six feet tall, and some, in the special Red Unit of the First Battalion, were almost seven feet tall. The King dressed them in blue jackets with gold trim and scarlet lapels, scarlet trousers, white stockings, black shoes and tall red hats. He gave them muskets, white bandoleers and small daggers, and he played with them as a child would with enormous living toys. No expense was too great for this hobby, and Frederick William spent millions to recruit and equip his giant grenadiers. They were hired or bought all over Europe; especially desirable specimens, refusing the offer of the King's recruiting agents, were simply kidnapped. Eventually, recruiting in this way became too expensive--one seven-foot-two-inch Irishman cost over 6,000 pounds--and Frederick William tried to breed giants. Every tall man in his realm was forced to marry a tall woman. The drawback was that the King had to wait twenty years for the products of these unions to mature, and often as not a boy or girl of normal height resulted. The easiest method of obtaining giants was to receive them as gifts. Foreign ambassadors advised their masters that the way to find favor with the King of Prussia was to send him giants. Peter especially appreciated his fellow sovereign's interest in nature's curios, and Russia supplied the Prussian King with fifty new giants every year. (Once, when Peter recalled some of the giants lent to Frederick William and replaced them with men who were a trifle shorter, the King was so upset that he could not discuss business with the Russian ambassador; the wound in his heart, he said, was still too raw.)

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Sentence of the day

"Nobody becomes a sponger without their mother being a sponger, but not all daughters becomes spongers." NYT

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oh Kei

He has made some friends in New York, but not many, he said. In the five years he has maintained an online diary, he has rarely mentioned another person. The only photo on his personal blog is a picture of himself, jogging alone. —Bill Pennington, "Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee," NYT

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Korean stuff

These things popped up

1. I am a big fan of David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas—and the movie version will star Bae Doona, one of my favorite Korean actresses (Linda Linda Linda, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Take Care of My Cat, The Host, et al.). (iamkoream)

2. Iris Shim's documentary, The House of Suh, sounds hair-raising. Music is by Michael Hearst, of One Ring Zero fame. (Also from iamkoream)

3. Joshua Davis, in the Stanford alumni magazine, has an interesting story about Korean pop star Dan Lee (Epik High), whose academic credentials (a B.A. and M.A. in 3.5 years) were assailed even after multiple attempts at clarification.

(Via Paul)

4. Did North Korea fake a flood picture to attract aid? (Business Insider)


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Not me

My friend Ed Park once told me a story about a native of the country of Lebanon, a serious chukar hunter.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dack Rambo

I'm a fan of these new afterwords/introductions that Lawrence Block is appending to his old books as they get released in e-reader form. From his postscript to Deadly Honeymoon (1967):

The film did get made, and was released rather tentatively in 1973, with the title Nightmare Honeymoon. It starred Dack Rambo and Rebecca Dianna Smith, with Pat Hingle as the crime boss, and it was set in New Orleans, and, let us come right out and say it, it stank on ice.


The name of the week

Did you see this NYT article about Diana Nyad, who is attempting (at age 61) to swim the 103 shark-infested miles from Cuba to Florida?

And did you think:

(1) Her name is sort of a palindrome; and
(2) It's also very nomen-omen-y (see Naiad)


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The Mystery of the Anonymous Supplement Writer

I regularly bemoan the fact that GDW allowed the Third Imperium to become not merely an example setting for their SF RPG Traveller but the setting for it. I continue to feel that, by doing this, it so firmly yoked Traveller's ruleset to a single setting that it subtly discouraged players of the game from making up their own settings and instead to rely on GDW and its licensees for more setting information to use in their campaigns. One such licensee was Judges Guild, which produced several Traveller adventures and sector supplements, one of which was Ley Sector, published in 1980 by an unknown author (there is no writer credited anywhere in the text). —Grognardia

What if it's a "Purloined Letter" scenario—and the author's name is "Ley Sector"?

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Monday, July 18, 2011

For whom the Ellsbury tolls

Nicknames that you can read all about on Baseball Reference but almost certainly never hear or use.
• Jacoby Ellsbury: Tacoby Bellsbury
Apparent origin: In 2007, Ellsbury stole a base during the World Series, winning a free taco for everybody in America who isn’t afraid to eat Taco Bell. A Boston Globe reader named Jeff Dockum submitted the nickname on
Frequency of use in respectable press: Nine instances on LexisNexis, most recently in July 2009."
The Score

(via Jane)

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two bookish things

I. The comments on this very blog have spawned—another blog! Yes, it's The World's Least Popular Book Club, devoted to the reading, at a deliberately slow pace, of Marguerite Young's Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. My fellow adventurers include some of my favorite littérateurs...

II. Via Twitter, I arrived at the site of Juliette Tang, photographer of books—just great! Her style would be so well suited to depicting/mirroring Young's lush, lyrical prose...except that MMMD, in all the editions we know of (Scribner's hardcover, two-volume slipcased paper, Dalkey reprint), has a fairly hideous cover...

(The photos on the left are from Juliette Tang's site.)

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Midnight confessions

I learned a lot about the Grass Roots from yesterday's obit for Rob Grill, the singer. (One thing I learned is the name of the Grass Roots' singer.) I think I thought they were Canadian before.

This was "wow":

The Grass Roots began life as a phantom. In the mid-1960s, two Los Angeles songwriters, Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan, were asked by their label, Dunhill Records, for songs that would capitalize on the growing appetite for folk-rock.

They wrote “Where Were You When I Needed You” and, as the Grass Roots, recorded a demo. When the song had some success on the radio, they cast about for an existing band to become the Grass Roots.

They enlisted a San Francisco group named the Bedouins, who recorded the first Grass Roots album, also titled “Where Were You When I Needed You.”

In 1967, after the Bedouins decamped, Mr. Barri and Mr. Sloan recruited the 13th Floor, a Los Angeles band comprising Creed Bratton, Rick Coonce, Warren Entner and Kenny Fukomoto. (Mr. Bratton, the lead guitarist, later worked as an actor; he is known for playing the eccentric quality assurance director — also named Creed Bratton — on the American sitcom “The Office.”)
Is that common knowledge? That Creed from The Office was in the Grass Roots? (And for the Asian-Americanists: Who was Kenny Fukomoto?)


Several years ago—let's say 10—I was walking along one of the streets in the East 60s, an ordinary day, and suddenly from the basement (?) of a high school on the block came a live-rehearsal brass-band rendition of "Midnight Confessions." It put a spring in my step!


Do you remember the Blake Babies' cover of "Temptation Eyes"? Do you remember the Blake Babies? Did their name have to do with William Blake? (How terrible/great/funny!)

(I've never seen this video before.)

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kill Bill

Paris Review: Egan’s story of how she wrote Goon Squad has been repeated on many occasions—she was frustrated with writing the novel she was supposed to and so she began to write interlocking stories about a handful of characters—but she admitted that evening that she owes a great debt to Quentin Tarantino for the way Goon Squad plays with chronology and narrative. “I had to completely let go of any kind of linear chronology,” Egan told us before playing the movie. “But it was interesting how hard that was to do. There was something in me that didn’t want to do it, even though I knew that the most fun of the book, even as I was working on it, was not going forward.”

Ed writes: The other day I was thinking about The Sound and the Fury, its radical, complex, time-bending structure. Then I seemed to recall that Quentin Tarantino was named after S&F's Quentin Compson. Is that true? Has QT ever talked about Faulkner as an influence? (I know he's acknowledged a debt to Salinger's Glass stories.)


The headline to this post doesn't really make sense, but it sort of does if you don't think about it.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Play of the year

Veronica Liu of Fractious Press (and Seven Stories Press) sent an email about Word Up, the pop-up bookstore in Washington Heights.

Over the past two weeks we've hosted readings by zinesters, novelists, comic book artists, performance artists, poets—both famous and first-time, English and Spanish, teen and adult; live music—free improv, hip-hop, Latin jazz, poetry/performance; informative publishing Q&As; children's story hours; knitting and crafting circles; women's self-defense clinics; lit journal showcases; and even a solo play about community organic farming performed from the point of view of the soil!

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011


At Salon, Laura Miller writes about...invisible libraries.

The original Invisible Library disappeared from the Web in the mid-2000s (though you can still find snapshots of it in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine), and since then other pseudobibliophiles have opened their own "branches," although these too have a tendency to end up abandoned. The novelists Ed Park and Levi Stahl created a catalog of imaginary titles that inspired an interactive exhibition at a London art gallery, but they have only occasionally updated it since 2008. Loss of interest is, perhaps, inevitable, since when you maintain such a list, tiresome people are constantly proclaiming their disappointed astonishment that their particular obscure favorite isn't listed.

Actually, Levi and I still update our Invisible Library—our "site" is so primitive (i.e., it's a blogspot blog) that we need to keep those 2008 timestamps intact in order to preserve alphabetical order. In other words, we need to get a real site. (No comment about the "tiresome people" statement.)

If you thought we were lying low, you might have missed this one from a few months ago:

, (Professor) Peter: Who Indeed: A Critical Analysis of Television's Who's the Boss?; What WAS Happening: An Analysis ofWhat’s Happening?;
—from Community (season 2, ep. 20)

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Stout fellow

I came upon an article about Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, who "was born with the image of the ouroboros, a snake or dragon biting its own tail, encircling the pupil of his left eye." As far as I can tell, however, the snake served no literary purpose. —Glass-Bottom Blog

(Via Jenny D)


All glory to the Hypnotoad


Friday, July 01, 2011

Believer 2011 Music Issue out! Check out the cover (which looks even more amazing when you're holding it in your hands)! Check out Ross Simonini's great interview with Trey Anastasio of Phish! Ross also put together the excellent CD, of new classical music.

Brian Eno in conversation with David Mitchell! David Byrne talking to Tom Zé!

Frances Cha on K-pop fandom....Eileen Reynolds on the bassoon...Paul Collins on the short-lived craze for turntables in your car...Hua Hsu on telephone calls in pop songs...the Australian festival scene...Much more! Nick Hornby on North Korea (!)...Martha Wainwright! Daniel Handler on Kawabata! Jack's great...Greil Marcus....more...

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