Friday, April 28, 2006

let's hear it for worcester

If it makes you uncomfortable to witness someone fawning over an idol (or maybe giant crush would be more accurate), you should probably look away now. I went to see David Mitchell read last night at Skylight Books after years of marveling at his work. I preferred Cloud Atlas to Ghostwritten, but I thought they were both fantastic and inspiring. (I'm going to have to break out the thesaurus for superlatives.) Mitchell's reading from Black Swan Green covered three scenes: one in which Jason Taylor, the book's narrator and semi-autobiographical stand-in, describes his speech impediment...

It must've been around then (maybe that same afternoon) that my stammer took on the appearance of a hangman. Pike lips, broken nose, rhino cheeks, red eyes 'cause he never sleeps. I imagine him in the baby room at Preston Hospital playing eeny, meeny, miney, mo. I imagine him tapping my koochy lips, murmuring down at me. Mine. But it's his hands, not his face, that I really feel him by. His snaky fingers that sink inside my tongue and squeeze my windpipe so nothing'll work. in which Jason smokes for the first time...

The green or gray of Hugo's eyes depends on the weather. "This 'Not Today' attitude of yours is a cancer. Cancer of the character. It stunts your growth. Other kids sense your Not-Todayness, and despise you for it. 'Not Today' is why those plebs in the Black Swan make you nervous. 'Not Today' - I would bet - is at the root of that speech defect of yours." (A shame bomb blew my head off.) "'Not Today' condemns you to be the lapdog of authority, any bully, any shitehawk. They sense you won't stand up to them. Not today, not ever..."

...and one in which he witnesses two older kids fool around in a field...

Tom Yew got on her and sort of jiggled there and she gasped like a Chinese burn and wrapped her legs round him, froggily. Now he moved up and down, Man-from-Atlantisishly. His silver chain jiggled on his neck.
Now her grubby soles met like they were praying.
Now his skin was glazed in roast-pork sweat.
Now she made a noise like a tortured Moomintroll.

Mitchell worked the crowd like a pro, seeking our assistance in translating his British pop references and coming across as endearingly self-deprecating. Mitchell's reading was so charming and sweet that when I approached him to get my book signed, I felt like a teenage girl again, complete with blush and butterflies. This was not the first time Mitchell has transported me to my adolescence recently.

I'm only about a third of the way through Black Swan Green, but it has been something of a surreal experience. Like Jason Taylor and his creator, I also was 13 in 1982. (OK, I was 12, but I wasn't going to nit-pick when talking to Mitchell.) And while Jason was coming of age in Worcester, UK, I was growing up in Worcester, MA, both places that fit Jason's description of a town that may not be the asshole of the world, but certainly has a good view of it. While he signed my book, I told Mitchell about this serendipitous indication that we're meant to be together (maybe not framed in quite that way) and how my mother had been sure he'd at least pronounce Worcester correctly. (Like Worcestershire sauce, not War-chester.) When I indicated my approval of his pronunciation, he asked me if I'd like to hear him pronounce it again. (Dear reader, I do believe he flirted with me, or at least kindly indulged my Commonwealth accent fetish.) He then signed my copy of Black Swan Green: "To Chris, Let's hear it for Worcester - David Mitchell, L.A. 2006" with a drawing of a open-mouthed face obviously yelling in praise of Worcester. I can honestly say this is the first time in my life I have been happy to come from the city commonly referred to as Wormtown, whose local vocational college actually paid for a sign for its main building that reads "Worcester Voke."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

semi-clever semi-vague allusion to content

The most minimal blog post ever garners over a thousand comments.

case of lucky strikes & a lifetime supply of sadness

The Daily Show does a composition teacher proud this week as John Hodgman judges the countering insurgency essay contest while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert call attention to the importance of proofreading.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

forty nine inch nails

A fracas has broken out in Vegas between two all-dwarf Kiss tribute bands - MiniKiss and Tiny Kiss.

Loomis, a former drummer for MiniKiss, was performing with Tiny Kiss, which includes three little people and a 350-pound woman, on St. Patrick's Day at Beacher's Madhouse, a Las Vegas variety show, when the incident occurred.

Show host Jeff Beacher told The Times on Monday that Fatale "tried to sneak in saying he was Tiny Kiss" and had to be escorted from the premises. According to the New York Post, Fatale's lawyers sent a legal cease-and-desist letter to the show trying to shut down the act.

Loomis told the Post: "[Fatale] came out here [to Las Vegas] and tried to cause trouble, so I had him 86'd from the Hard Rock. The impression I got was that he was looking for a fight. He'd been threatening me over the phone." But Fatale disputed the accusation, telling The Times: "This whole thing about me going to the Hard Rock with my gang — that didn't happen. What happened was, I went there because somebody told me [Tiny Kiss was] doing the show that night…. Nobody escorted me out of there. I went there by myself to approach them as a gentleman."

(Thanks to SH for the title)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

palm springs book festival

I spent the weekend in the "gray and gay" capital of the world (or at least California) - Palm Springs. A good friend was a presenter at the city's second annual book festival, and I tagged along as support. We mostly attended politically oriented panels, and the general impression I was left with was that the 2008 election is going to be ugly. Sigh. Until then, I can distract myself with absurd photos.

Vintage Religious Science yet Radically Different


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

the war of the overheard

I have no idea what's going on, but I just received this e-mail from former (I guess) Overheard in New York editor Michael Malice:

Dear Overheard contributor,
As you may have seen on Overheard in New York, I was informed this morning that I am no longer affiliated with the site. If you don't know me, I'm the guy who edited the entries and wrote all the headlines.
I have launched Same Overheard, less overhead. It's the same thing you and I have built and loved. If you have any links, please change and please spread the word.
An explanation is forthcoming, and will appear on the site.
PS is a go, too!
Michael Malice
Editor, New York Overheard

If you look at the duplicate designs of the sites, you can tell something nasty's going on. It's unfortunate because Malice is the king of hilarious headlines. I'll keep an eye out for the forthcoming explanation.

cold supper

Even though Gilbert Sorrentino is "the author of more than thirty books, including two novels that were finalists for the PEN/Faulkner award" and a "critical figure in postmodern American literature," I had never heard of him until a couple of months ago. Ever since that day, however, he's been everywhere! Now an excerpt from his forthcoming novel A Strange Commonplace is up over at The Brooklyn Rail:

The boy was in the backyard, playing aimlessly in the thin snow that covered the packed soil in which nothing had ever been planted. She looked out of one of the panes in the back door window at him, waiting. There he goes. He bent down and untied first one shoelace, then the other, straightened up, and headed toward the wooden stairs that led to the little back porch. She stepped away from the door, feeling a cold and gray sadness, near despair. He opened the door and stood there, a little dull animal, the wet March air coming into the kitchen. My shoes came open, Mama. She knelt down and tied them and he went out again, closing the door. The sky was turning livid as the pale, silvery sun went down. She put a bottle of Worcestershire sauce on the table, poured the sweet, orange, bottled dressing on the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber salad, and tossed it, then set the table for three. It was about time for him to get home but she knew that he wouldn’t be home till midnight. Or maybe not till the morning.

Monday, April 17, 2006

did you know your hand is attached to your arm?

Of all the errands I completed during this past four-day weekend, the most exciting fait accompli was my purchase of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. The clerk at Skylight asked me, "Did you know he'll be reading here in a couple of weeks?" The real question is: did the clerk know I've arranged my entire schedule around that very event? If you're in LA, don't miss the April 27th visit.

Ed Champion has a nice round-up of recent Mitchell reviews.

jean-philippe toussaint's television

The Litblog Co-Op has chosen its Spring 2006 Read This! selection.

frank's early years

Boing Boing alerts us to the eBay auction for Tom Waits's high school yearbook. I have a bit of a Waits fetish, but there are limits.

Friday, April 14, 2006

the tournament is decided

Ali Smith's The Accidental has barely edged out Sam Lipsyte's Home Land to win The Morning News Tournament of Books.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

he's a bit of a submarine

Thus did Bjork describe her partner Matthew Barney in a lengthy New York Times profile over the weekend to coincide with the release of their film/music collaboration, Drawing Restraint 9.

It was an apt description, not only because the man in question — Matthew Barney, the artist and filmmaker and Bjork's boyfriend for almost six years — operates at a kind of deep-sea level, silently (he dreads talking about his work) dredging up fantastical and sometimes fearsome creatures from the dark ocean bed of human consciousness. The image also fits nicely with the movie itself, "Drawing Restraint 9," which might best be described as a conceptual-nautical-ritual romance, or maybe a Shinto-shipboard-sculptural tryst.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I am John Ashbery

You are John Ashbery. People love your work but have no idea why, really. You are respected by all kinds of scholars and poets. Even artists like you.

41% of those quizzed are John Ashbery, including Chekhov's Mistress who pointed out this link, but you may find another answer to the question of "Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?"

Monday, April 10, 2006

'information stylist' has a nice ring to it

According to Dan Neil in the LA Times, Richard Lanham's The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information breathes new life into the choice to be an English major:

The English major presents for his or her parents a lexical quandary: What to call the graduate? My son the geologist, my daughter the physicist—these ring familiarly. But there is, ironically enough, no word in English for the English major. Our son the . . . um . . . who speaks English...

And so I was cheered (note the archaic usage, so typical of an English major) recently when I found Richard A. Lanham's "The Economics of Attention" amid a forlorn pile of books (personification—again, so typical) rejected by the book review editor. "The central commodity in our new age of information is not stuff but style," read the cover blurb. "In such a world, intellectual property will become more central to the economy than real property, while the arts and letters will grow to be more crucial than engineering, the physical sciences, and indeed economics as conventionally practiced."

Sunday, April 09, 2006


On Wednesday, March 1, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"

Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

(Thanks to KS for the heads up.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

lost in the shuffle

A very generous friend gave me an iPod for graduation - just in time to partake in this meme of shuffled songs.

How does the world see you?
"From Blown Speakers" - The New Pornographers

Will I have a happy life?
"U Don't Know Me" - Basement Jaxx

What do my friends really think of me?
"Chicken Payback" - The Bees

Do people secretly lust after me?
"Millionaire Girlfriend" - Jonathan Coulton

How can I make myself happy?
"Held" - Smog

What should I do with my life?
"Won't Give In" - The Finn Brothers

Will I ever have children?
"A Little Love" - TheHelpMePlease

What is some good advice for me?
"Curious Crystals of Unusual Purity" - Bridget St. John

How will I be remembered?
"Norwegian Wood" - The Fiery Furnaces

What is my signature dancing song?
"Teacup" - Doveman

What do I think my current theme song is?
"Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone" - The Walkmen

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
"Birds Over Water" - Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter

What song will play at my funeral?
"Instant Pop Song (Just Add Tears)" - Let's Be Honeys

What type of men do you like?
"By the Time the Sun's Gone Down" - Langhorne Slim

What is my day going to be like?
"In a Cave" - The Gothic Archies

literary compassion

The Believer's Lisa Levy compares the paradoxical obituaries of Susan Sontag.

The most Sontagian tribute to her yet is Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Perspicuous Consumption.” Koestenbaum writes in a fragmented, provisional style, “Sontag achieved her customary tone of passionate detachment by refusing academic thoroughness. As a writer she was solely self-commanded, not taking editorial orders, obeying allegiance only to her own momentary or abiding enthusiasms: Fassbinder, Robert Walser, Marina Tsvetaeva, bunraku, Alice James…” And this, as good an explanation as any the obituaries offer on her shifts from fiction to essay: “Fiction was one escape ramp, she used it to flee the punitive confines of the essay. And she uses essays to flee the connect-the-dots dreariness of fiction. Her essays behave like fictions (disguised, arch, upholstered with attitudes), while her fictions behave like essays (pontificating, pedagogic, discursive).” He does what neither objective obituary nor personal reminiscence can: he tries to understand her, obeying her edicts on, or against, interpretation. Sontag argued that commentary should enhance art rather than dismantle it, and the same is true of her elegies. We encounter these men—and they were always men, her idols, Goodman, Benjamin, et al.—idealized and all too human, as writers and as people, the roundest and richest of characters. Koestenbaum’s piece comes closest to interpreting Sontag herself. The first time he ever saw her speak he confesses that he blurted out to his companion: “‘Sontag’s got a crush on me.’ I meant the reverse: ‘I have a crush on Susan Sontag.’ Instinctive, preposterous substitution,” he chides himself. But the reality lurks behind the fantasy: what if she did have a crush on him? What would it be like to have a drink with her, to gossip, to hear her private pronouncements, ridiculous and profound?

Monday, April 03, 2006

dr. escapegrace

I've safely returned with a few more letters after my name.
Here are some New York scenes: