Tuesday, October 31, 2006

rodrigo y gabriela

OK, listen. If you have the chance to see Rodrigo y Gabriela live, grab it. The twosome played at the Temple Bar over the weekend, and I was fortunate enough to win tickets from KCRW. In between mind-blowing flamenco compositions, they told their tale. Coming from humble thrash metal roots in Mexico, Gabriela joined Rodrigo's band when they needed a guitarist. At some point, the pair moved to Barcelona and needed to make some money. They found a job playing background music in a hotel, but they only knew how to play metal songs. So they dressed the songs up in flamenco stylings and no one was the wiser. After moving to Ireland, they busked and eventually ended up with a record deal. (I may have missed the chapter in between those two events.) It is no surprise that they found such success because their playing is remarkable and their metal sensibility is never far from the surface. After Gabriela plays a particularly difficult solo - her fingers moving so quickly over the strings you can't see them - she flashes devil horns at the crowd. It made my day.

Check them out here:
Official site

Monday, October 30, 2006

on pluto, nobody knows the truth

Riffing on Hemingway's famous six-word story ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn."), Wired collected six-word science fiction plots from 33 writers and 5 designers. The web has a bunch of stories that weren't included in the print edition. I think my favorite didn't make the cut because it was only five words:

Heaven falls. Details at eleven.
- Robert Jordan

These two are also great:

From torched skyscrapers, men grew wings.
- Gregory Maguire

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood

what else can you do this week?

Call For Change
Well, one thing you can do is use MoveOn's Call for Change phone program that allows you to call potential voters when you have time from the comfort of your own home. I mean, do you really want to ever have to say the words Governor Schwarzenegger again?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

sunday short stack

"She had yet to learn how often intimacies between women go backwards, beginning with revelations and ending up in small talk without loss of esteem." - Elizabeth Bowen

Saturday, October 28, 2006

what she said

His teeth are a mess. He's often bleeding from the head. He falls down a lot. He's sweaty. He seems like it would be hard to have a conversation with him between the hours of 4 pm and noon...He's like the dating equivalent of wearing acid-washed short-shorts to your grandmother's funeral: totally inappropriate to the point that people begin to wonder if you've had a head injury.

Friday, October 27, 2006

free hugs for your friday

Thursday, October 26, 2006

it might be a gown, you know

In the latest issue of Granta, Todd McEwen waxes poetic about Cary Grant's suit in North by Northwest.

This is what's ingenious about this picture, at least as far as the SUIT goes—Cary's able to travel all over the country in just this one beautiful suit because the weather has been planned for the suit by Ernest Lehman! It's the perfect weather for an adventure in this suit, and that's why it happens. At the same time, there's a CREEPINESS about the whole escapade generated by our own fears that in some situation Cary will be inappropriately dressed (Cary GRANT?) and this will hinder him; or that the thin covering of civilization the suit provides him with will be pierced and here he is, thousands of miles from home, with not so much as a topcoat. Men ought to admit that they can experience suit-fear: the fear of suddenly being too cold in the suit you thought would do (in Glen Cove, Long Island, even on a summer night) or too hot (the prairie, to come). Exposed, vulnerable. Cary does have some money though, we know that, so he could buy something to wear if he had to, assuming his wallet isn't destroyed along with the suit. But it would be too traumatic to see this suit getting totalled, that would be way beyond Hitchcock's level of sadism. This feeling of exposure, the idea of having suddenly to make a desperate journey in just the clothes you have on, comes up in The Thirty-Nine Steps (book and movie): Richard Hannay is alone in a desolate landscape in inappropriate town clothes when a menacing autogiro spots him from the air.

In the suit are a number of subtle tools for Cary. It's so well cut you can't tell if he's even carrying a wallet (turns out he is). Here's what he's got in that suit! He goes all the way from New York to Chicago to the face of Mount Rushmore with: a monogrammed book of matches, his wallet and some nickels, a pencil stub, a hanky, a newspaper clipping and his sunglasses—but these are shortly to be demolished when Eva Marie Saint folds him into the upper berth in her compartment. (Really this is a good thing, because Cary Grant in dark glasses looks appallingly GUILTY.) All this stuff fits into the pockets of the most wonderful suit in the world. Does the suit get crushed in the upper berth as his Ray-Bans are smashed? No. Cary keeps his jacket on in the make-out scene that follows. The suit defines him, he's not going to take off that jacket. I know this feeling.

now that's an entourage

This alone makes me want to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

dancing through the eggshells

At Salon, Laura Miller reviews Laura Kipnis's The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability, a collection of four essays that applies Kipnis's trademark incision to the contemporary female psyche, a place where ambivalence is the defining condition.

The absurdity comes from the disparity between our rapidly changing social landscape (including the advances of feminism) and the recalcitrant internal map Kipnis calls "the female psyche." Feminism, she writes, has collided with "an unanticipated opponent:
the inner woman." The four essays in "The Female Thing" center on some of the most stubborn aspects of the inner woman, the impulses and irrational passions that suddenly rise up and swamp us despite our best efforts to stick to the designated feminist path. In fact, this rising up and swamping has happened so much in the past 30 years, and women have tried so diligently to redirect the path around the various trouble spots where it does, that by now the path itself is hopelessly muddled. It's like getting lost in the woods and following one promising little trail after another only to see it peter out in an impenetrable thicket.

And later: Perhaps the most daring statement in "The Female Thing" comes in this first essay. Kipnis observes that even so acclaimed a feminist spokesperson as Eve Ensler, creator of "The Vagina Monologues," can turn around and do an entire stage show about how much she hates her belly. "Ensler works herself into intellectual knots trying to come to terms with these painful body insecurities," Kipnis writes, "but there's a simple explanation for the dilemma she can't quite decipher, which is that feminism and femininity just aren't reconcilable." Think about that one for a moment and consider how much an entire school of tortured female rumination hangs on the avoidance of this insight. "Though if internal gymnastics burned calories," Kipnis adds, "we could all have flatter stomachs, with far fewer hours at the fucking gym."

God does not play dice

Richard Dawkins - who has an excellent title: Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University - offers a preview of his new bestseller, The God Delusion.

First, most of the traditional arguments for God's existence, from Aquinas on, are easily demolished. Several of them, such as the First Cause argument, work by setting up an infinite regress which God is wheeled out to terminate. But we are never told why God is magically able to terminate regresses while needing no explanation himself. To be sure, we do need some kind of explanation for the origin of all things. Physicists and cosmologists are hard at work on the problem. But whatever the answer - a random quantum fluctuation or a Hawking/Penrose singularity or whatever we end up calling it - it will be simple. Complex, statistically improbable things, by definition, don't just happen; they demand an explanation in their own right. They are impotent to terminate regresses, in a way that simple things are not. The first cause cannot have been an intelligence - let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshipped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.

Another of Aquinas' efforts, the Argument from Degree, is worth spelling out, for it epitomises the characteristic flabbiness of theological reasoning. We notice degrees of, say, goodness or temperature, and we measure them, Aquinas said, by reference to a maximum:

Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus, as fire, which is the maximum of heat, is the cause of all hot things . . . Therefore, there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.
That's an argument? You might as well say that people vary in smelliness but we can make the judgment only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion. That's theology.

Terry Eagleton weighs in on The God Delusion:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

Dawkins on God is rather like those right-wing Cambridge dons who filed eagerly into the Senate House some years ago to non-placet Jacques Derrida for an honorary degree. Very few of them, one suspects, had read more than a few pages of his work, and even that judgment might be excessively charitable. Yet they would doubtless have been horrified to receive an essay on Hume from a student who had not read his Treatise of Human Nature. There are always topics on which otherwise scrupulous minds will cave in with scarcely a struggle to the grossest prejudice. For a lot of academic psychologists, it is Jacques Lacan; for Oxbridge philosophers it is Heidegger; for former citizens of the Soviet bloc it is the writings of Marx; for militant rationalists it is religion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

notice the pages are blank

This new book-shaped building in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan is pretty damn cool, but as Boing Boing points out, the alleged "House of Free Creativity" is anything but:

President Saparmurat Niyazov inaugurated the book-shaped edifice today, and it will house media organizations. What's funny here is that the press in that Central Asian nation is anything but free: internet access, newspapers, TV, radio, and other forms of communication are controlled by the state, routinely monitored and censored by Niyazov's regime which is known for a legacy of human rights abuses. The country is #3 on the CPJ's list of most-censored nations.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

sunday short stack

"All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh." - Doris Lessing

Friday, October 20, 2006

the uncertain glory of the late spring

In a review of the new book from historian William Clark, Anthony Grafton looks at the history of academic charisma and the rise of the research institution.

One early academic champion was the Parisian master Abelard, who cunningly used the format of the disputation to point up the apparent inconsistencies in orthodox Christian doctrine. He lined up the discordant opinions of the Fathers of the Church under the deliberately provocative title “Sic et Non” (“Yes and No”) and invited all comers to debate how the conflicts might be resolved. His triumphs in these “combats” made him, arguably, the first glamorous Parisian intellectual. A female disciple, Héloïse, wrote to him, “Every wife, every young girl desired you in absence and was on fire in your presence.” Their story has become a legend because of what followed: Héloïse, unwed, had a child by Abelard, her kin castrated him in revenge, and they both lived out their lives, for the most part, in cloisters. But even after Abelard’s writings were condemned and burned, pupils came from across Europe hoping to study with him. He had the enduring magnetism of the hotshot who can outargue anyone in the room.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

guess what?

Instructions for use:
1) Wait for someone to say "I give up, what?"

2) Scream "CHICKEN BUTT!"

3) Laugh and laugh and laugh.

Hilarious. Order it here.

a byproduct of blind bureaucracy

Over at Maud Newton, Joe Miller (author of Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad) interviews John McNally (author of America's Report Card, "which imagines standardized tests as a secret government effort to fingerprint the minds of our nation’s youth"). McNally's novel seems inspired by his employment as a standardized test scorer.

McNally: Occasionally, a student would write an essay answer that would exhibit more intelligence than any other essay answer I’d seen, but more often than not, the essay would be subversive in some way, questioning the essay question itself while illuminating some truly great points. But here were essays (finally!) with souls behind them — not just some student who’d been trained how to write "the good essay." Sadly, though, these essays generally received three points out of six because they fell into the "convoluted" category. The "good essays" — by "good" I mean formulaic, boring, and teachable — generally received six points.

We were told, time and again, that we were evaluating groups of students, not individuals, so we shouldn’t get bogged down worrying about an individual’s score. Still, it seems fucked-up beyond belief to me.

My conclusion? Standardized tests are great at evaluating people who can memorize; they fail when it comes to evaluating people who can bring disparate ideas together and then synthesize it all into a meaningful whole. Maybe I’m biased because I believe that synthesis is what also makes for a good fiction writer. But, really: The standardized testing industry is elitist because anyone with money can learn how to memorize shit. The ability to synthesize is (for me, at least) the true test of intelligence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

from the your life could be worse department


menacing and carrying within itself its progeny

The Tate Modern has begun a series of Tate Tracks, compositions by contemporary musicians upon reflection of a particular piece of Tate art. The first release is The Chemical Brothers inspired by Sir Jacob Epstein's Torso in Metal from "The Rock Drill" (1913-1914 and pictured above).
Via The Wit of the Staircase

Update: Tipped by this post, George of A Fool in the Forest goes on to expand it to the depth and breadth it deserves.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

only fourteen pounds of butter

This is my first attempt at food photography: the chocolate-cranberry torte that completed round two of my dinner party series. Yum! I said I would link to the Epicurious recipes if they were successful, so here goes.

Roasted Red Pepper with Feta Dip (don't be dissuaded if you don't like roasted pepper)
Chicken with Orange-Honey Sauce (takes much longer than the recipe claims but delicious)
Lemon Risotto (my hand is crippled but worth it)
Acorn Squash and Baby Green Beans with Chile Vinaigrette
Chocolate-Cranberry Torte

just as we know salmon is delicious

Steve Carell appeals to cats with inheritances to help support autism research.

no no no no no no no no no

Scarlett Johansson is...oh, it hurts to write it...recording an album of Tom Waits covers.

he is my skinny toothpick prince of bones

Then Mark started telling me how beautiful I am when the blood drains out of my face and that it makes me look like this sexy zombie lady, and then he got all excited and started measuring me and kissing his Home Depot card.

Monday, October 16, 2006

CBGB's (1973-2006)

Richard Hell reflects on the end.

On practically any weekend from 1974 to 76 you could see one or more of the following groups (here listed in approximate chronological order) in the often half-empty 300-capacity club: Television, the Ramones, Suicide, the Patti Smith Group, Blondie, the Dictators, the Heartbreakers, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the Dead Boys. Not to mention some often equally terrific (or equally pathetic) groups that aren’t as well remembered, like the Miamis and the Marbles and the Erasers and the Student Teachers. Nearly all the members of these bands treated the club as a headquarters — as home. It was a private world. We dreamed it up. It flowered out of our imaginations.

How often do you get to do that? That’s what you want as a kid, and that’s what we were able to do at CBGB’s. It makes me think of that Elvis Presley quotation: “When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times.” We dreamed CBGB’s into existence.
Photo by Jim Cooper

without the feet you have nothing

Back at the end of May 2005 (scroll down here), I posted some photos and review of Michel Houellebecq in conversation with Sam Lipsyte at the Hammer (complete with burlesque dancers). The current issue of The Believer has Lipsyte's account of the week-long road trip that preceded the event.

We drive a few more hours and Houellebecq seems to nap through a lot of it. He has this uncanny ability to appear asleep and then rise up out of his slumber with some bon mot, as though he’s been listening to the conversation the whole time. It’s his M.O. in a wider sense, too, this disheveled, seemingly discombobulated man, an establishment outsider who looks like easy pickings until he opens his mouth (or laptop) and starts hurling thunderbolts. It’s hard to tell whether it’s all a big game or he’s some kind of narcoleptic savant. I’m beginning to think it’s a bit of both, but that his glue is a sometimes charming, sometimes grating, semi-autistic geekiness. He’s not a conversationalist, and he’s none too curious about anything or anybody that doesn’t directly feed his observational mechanism. He may be an artist for our age, but he’s got none of the media-ready gabbiness or false compassion that goes with it. Even his narcissism doesn’t seem to stem from the usual brew of selfishness and insecurity. It’s a cold, glittering thing. Life is painful and disappointing. And then you die. He may be a major writer, I tell my friend on the phone one night from my hotel, but you wouldn’t want him, say, running a country.

"Are you kidding?” says my friend, a Houellebecq fan. “You wouldn’t want that guy running the local gas station.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

apple tart

As I mentioned earlier this week, I get eerie spam. Here's an example from just this morning:

Girls are like apples on trees.
The best ones are at the top of the tree. The boys don't want to reach for the good ones because they are afraid of falling and getting hurt.
Instead, they get the rotten apples from the ground that aren't as good, but easy.
So the apples up top think something's wrong with them when in reality they're amazing.
They have to wait for the right boy to come along, the one who's brave enough to climb all the way to the top of the tree.

Photo by Seth Floyd

sunday short stack

"To see what's in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." - George Orwell

Saturday, October 14, 2006

at first cock-crow the ghosts must go

The above images can be seen in more detail at the "Immaterial World" exhibit at the Stephen Cohen Gallery, up now through November 4th. The show explores the intersection of photography and the supernatural with a selection of the earliest “spirit” photographs of the Victorian era.

Friday, October 13, 2006

spam comes to life in the form of a chicken? dog?

Spam is constantly messing with me. I check my Spam folder in Gmail and I see that the first line of an e-mail says "Because you are a girl who loves books" or "Living in LA after living in Brooklyn" or "That time when you were 8 and you and your neighbor were playing in the bushes in front of your house and you were attacked by a swarm of yellowjackets" and, of course, I think it's for me. Then I read on to find a whole pile of nonsense like "No, stepsiblings. And you-you have a name? You have Just volunteered to go to the carnival over there and get taking off these clamps for a bit? jawbone." So I enjoyed this Spam dramatization from The Brothers McLeod.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

the pale orange light of home

Orhan (or Orham) Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Turkish author Orham Pamuk, who has clashed with his country's government and was taken to court for "insulting Turkishness," has won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Nobel Web site said Thursday that Pamuk "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."

The decision, which surprised few, drew a brief but intense round of applause when Horace Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, announced the name, The Associated Press reported. Pamuk's novels include "Snow" and "My Name Is Red."

More links:
Official Site
NPR (an interview and an excerpt)
The Complete Review of Snow
Pamuk's 2006 PEN Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Memorial Lecture
Pamuk's 2005 New Yorker Comment
The Paris Review Interview
"The Anger of the Damned" (NYRB, 2001)


I always try to come up with an alphabetic mnemonic device to remember my phone number. When I lived in LA during my 20s, my number was something like 851-KISS, and in Brooklyn, it was nonsensically TEA-TONY. I now have PhoneSpell to do the work for me, even though they told me what I already know: there is nothing interesting for my current home number. My cell phone, on the other hand, by adding a digit or two to the beginning and the end, can spell out one of my ardent beliefs: rat-so-yuck.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

like barton fink? try anchorman!

The recommendations from Amazon, if tended carefully with preferences updated regularly, are so good that I sense I could reach a point where all of the approximately 500 items they suggest I want, I would actually want. There needs to be a term for the extreme conclusion of this elusive state of affinity between you and your "collaborative filtering system." Netflix, on the other hand, has rarely if ever suggested something I would like. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, so I was glad to see Netflix is turning to its customers for help, and there's a cool $1 million up for grabs.

To win the prize...a contestant will have to devise a system that is more accurate than the company’s current recommendation system by at least 10 percent. And to improve the quality of research, Netflix is making available to the public 100 million of its customers’ movie ratings, a database the company says is the largest of its kind ever released.

Recommendation systems, also known as collaborative filtering systems, try to predict whether a customer will like a movie, book or piece of music by comparing his or her past preferences to those of other people with similar tastes. Such systems will look at, say, the last 10 books, movies or songs a customer has rated highly and try to extrapolate an 11th.

Computer scientists say that after years of steady progress in this field, there has been a slowdown — which is what Netflix executives say prompted them to offer the problem to a wide audience for solution.

down with smug

Communicating badly and then acting smug when you're misunderstood is not cleverness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

got my leather boots on

In honor of YouTube's triumph, videos from the early days of two pioneering rock chicks.

The Pop-Up Video for "Rapture":

Note Basquiat as DJ...Via Wooster Collective (worth a visit to follow their ongoing critical exchange with Tokion magazine for the lack of women represented in their Creativity Now conference) and via Idolator (who also has new MIA)...

PJ Harvey's "Man Size":


signs of the times

Good news for YouTube:

Google Inc. announced today that it has agreed to acquire YouTube, the consumer media company for people to watch and share original videos through a Web experience, for $1.65 billion in a stock-for-stock transaction.

Bad news for Tower Records:

Tower Records, once the dominant music retailer in the country, has officially fallen. Following a 29-hour auction Friday (Oct. 6), most of the retailer's assets were sold to liquidation firm Great American Group...

we live on the edge of disaster and imagine we are in a kitchen

Browsing through back issues of Bomb, I came across an interview with Paula Fox from this year's Spring issue.

Lynne Tillman:
I want to ask you about friends, groups, if you saw or see yourself as part of a literary movement. So many literary histories make assumptions about writers in that way.

Paula Fox: No, I don't feel that I'm in any particular group or movement. It's hard for me to feel that I belong to any group. That's a limitation for me, in myself. It's partly because I was always on the outskirts as a child—of my own life, in my family. As a writer, I feel like one voice among many. I hope that I don't dishonor the art of writing as I am passing through. It's my hope that I don't damage it in any way.

Click through for many insights and photos. Lynne Tillman is interviewed by Geoffrey O'Brien in the current issue.

Monday, October 09, 2006

52 books in 52 weeks

23. Saturday by Ian McEwan

I don't know why I let bitter critics turn me off any novel by Ian McEwan. His books are always gripping, even if they are slightly reminiscent of previous offerings.

24. The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D'Ambrosio

D'Ambrosio is a proficient storyteller whose style and subject matter vary, but I just wasn't feeling him.

25. Against Love by Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis is so very smart. She has more ideas per book than I'll have in my life. The adultery logic did not resonate with me half as much as the general oppression of coupledom in today's culture.

26. Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo

At one point, a character tells the narrator, "By the end you were making incredible amounts of noise and communicating absolutely nothing." That about sums it up.

26 down, 26 to go.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

sunday short stack

"Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it." - Montaigne


Friday, October 06, 2006

this week's netflix

Thumbsucker: I had been hearing mixed reviews about this film adaptation of a novel by Walter Kirn. When I finally got around to seeing it, I did not find it especially touching or aggravating. What I most wanted from the film was more time with the adults and less time with the teens. (God, am I getting old.) The parents, played by Vincent D'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton, appeared in scenes that hinted at deep and meaningful lives off-screen. Even Vince Vaughn as a weird debate coach was more interesting than the ritalin-abusing titular character and his manipulative girlfriend. Seriously - what teenage girl breaks up with her boyfriend after a week because he's not opening up and sharing his feelings with her and then uses him to explore her sexuality emotion-free? Please.

The Believer: This month, I fell under the powerful sway of Ryan Gosling. At the risk of gushing, between renting this film and seeing Half Nelson in the theater, I was blown away by Gosling as an actor (and his lanky sex appeal doesn't hurt). Half Nelson was heavy but very compelling, as was The Believer. It's a shame this film did not receive wider release, because aside from Gosling's intense portrayal of a Jewish neo-Nazi, the detail and profundity of the film itself was remarkable. I spent over an hour discussing this film with a friend after I coerced her to rent it, too. When was the last time a film gave you an hour's worth of conversation?

Inside Man: No one does New York like Spike Lee. I received so much pleasure from this film - from the strange humanity of Clive Owen's stoic bank robber, from Denzel Washington's cocky competence, from Jodie Foster's "magnificent c---", from Christopher Plummer's evil complacency, from the twists and turns of the perfect crime, and most especially, from Lee's accuracy in capturing the city. I would be willing to bet that if you broadcast to a crowd gathered anywhere in Manhattan, there would be someone there who spoke Albanian.

Casanova: It's a statement on this film that I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I can't remember anything about it.

Sex & Lucia: Ah, the gulf between Americans and Europeans grows wider every day. Apparently in Spain, everyone is having wild and fulfilling sex, both within and without relationships. Writers can make a living from their writing and spend the day with friends in cafés and having wild and fulfilling sex. When trouble strikes, you can escape to beautiful islands off the coast where beautiful women will rent you a room with a view that doesn't appear to cost much more than your company at lush and delicious dinners. You can also make movies that don't seem to make much sense, but are full of enough beautiful oceans and breasts and haircuts that it doesn't really matter.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

the tendency not to understand who we are

The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton's latest, is reviewed in the New York Times. M. de Botton argues that if we are attuned to what architecture has to tell us, it can put us in touch with our true selves.

All architecture and design is intensely personal for Mr. de Botton. Buildings have temperaments, vices and virtues. They look upon the world with an almost human face. A pillar holding up a freeway overpass can strike Mr. de Botton’s sensitive eye as a sedentary, cheerful woman, while another seems likes a punctilious, nervous accountant. The letter “f,” in sleek Helvetica type, exudes optimism, while the same letter, in Poliphilus font, seems sleepy, sheepish and pensive.

“In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them,” Mr. de Botton writes. “They tell us of certain moods that they seek to encourage and sustain in their inhabitants. While keeping us warm and helping us in mechanical ways, they simultaneously hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people.”

Architecture reflects back to human beings their best selves and their highest aspirations. For those who know how to listen and see, teacups and skyscrapers “speak of visions of happiness.”

Photo: Notre-Dame-du-Haut by Le Corbusier

phrase your question into a question!

In this collection of bookstore event etiquette, Kevin Sampsell (event coordinator at Powell's) urges authors and audiences to respect certain rules of politesse.


Don't smoke at your reading. For one thing, it's probably against the law in 48 states, and for another thing, it stinks up the books. Legs McNeil -- I'm looking at you, pal.


Don't draw undue attention to yourself: People came to see the author talk about their book, not to watch you brush your long, stinky hair. And please don't break out your lunchbox and root around for that bag of chips. One of the worst attention-getters recently was an older gentleman who wore short shorts and sat in the front row, directly in front of the female author. You're not at the doctor's office.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

beauty that money can't buy

Michael Ventura looks at artists at their day jobs and wonders who's been lying to the children.

Novelists make a living if they write something popular, which usually means confining oneself to a genre – crime, say, or sci-fi. I know superb novelists who can boast fine reviews from prestigious publications, novelists who've been translated into several languages, but they've rarely earned a year's livelihood from one book – and novels often take years to write. Famous novelists, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to William Faulkner, have had to supplement their incomes with other jobs. James Joyce lived off-the-cuff until given a stipend from some arts-loving rich person. D.H. Lawrence was poor all his short life. Willa Cather was a journalist and magazine editor until her early 40s. Henry Miller lived in obscurity, scrounging for money, until his sexually free books were finally published in America when he was 70. Faulkner worked in factories, then wrote screenplays. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac had great success with their early novels but died broke in their 40s with most of their books out of print.

Regardless of the reality of having to work a day job, it doesn't stop the soul sucking that often accompanies a steady paycheck. Kafka seemed to know this too well, as seen in a February 1911 excerpt from his diary.

When I tried to get out of bed today, I simply folded up. There’s a very simple reason for this, I am completely overworked. Not by the office but by my other work. The office has an innocent share in it only in that if I did not have to go there, I could live calmly for my work and would not have to spend six hours there daily, which especially on Friday and Saturday afflicted me to a degree you can’t imagine, since I was full of my own affairs. In the end I know perfectly well that these are empty words, that I am guilty and that the office has the clearest and most justified claims against me. But for me in particular it is a terrible double life, from which there is no way out but madness. I write this in good morning light and surely would not write it if it were not so true, and if I did not love you like a son. For the rest, tomorrow I will surely be together again and will go to the office, where the first thing I hear will be that you want me out of your division.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

throw some birds in there

When you read your websites on Bloglines, there's always the chance that as the posts begin to pile up for a particular feed, you'll procrastinate reading them even longer, putting it off until a day arrives during which you can fully devote your attention. This happened to me recently with my McSweeney's feed, and as a result, I've been missing the winners of the Thirteen Writing Prompts contest. Dan Wiencek posted the prompts, including:

4. Write a story that ends with the following sentence: Debra brushed the sand from her blouse, took a last, wistful look at the now putrefying horse, and stepped into the hot-air balloon.

8. A husband and wife are meeting in a restaurant to finalize the terms of their impending divorce. Write the scene from the point of view of a busboy snorting cocaine in the restroom.

12. Your main character finds a box of scorched human hair. Whose is it? How did it get there?

The winners are being posted here, and it's a study in how different one human mind is from another.

Monday, October 02, 2006

there are no gas bills in the afterlife

After reading Arthur & George, I have to admit I wished that the book had explored the relationship between Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini instead. The Nonist links to an excellent overview of their relationship.

Conan Doyle and Houdini first met in 1920, during the magician's tour of England. The two of them became good friends, despite their opposing views on the supernatural. Houdini was delighted to learn that there was at least one intelligent person who believed in Spiritualism and found that man in his friend Conan Doyle. The author was convinced of the value of the movement to the world and had given up most of his lucrative writing career to lecture about Spiritualism around the world. He also found that Houdini’s knowledge of the spirit world was as vast as his own, although their attitudes differed.

Doyle agreed with some of Houdini's methods in exposing fraudulent mediums because he believed that their existence damaged the legitimacy of the movement. Lacking his new friend's magical training though, he was less able to see how fraud was accomplished. Houdini worked to try and show the secrets practiced by the fraudulent mediums to Doyle but the author merely insisted that the mediums he knew were good and honest people who would never try and trick or cheat their followers. Besides that, Doyle stated, just because the feats of the spirits could be duplicated did not mean that they were not real. Just because Houdini could prove that fraud was possible was not enough to convince Doyle that it actually occurred.

the greatest obstacle to discovery

Why aren't there ever lists as cool as this in the U.S.? Patrick Neate asked 19 writers appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival to nominate a book they feel has been unfairly neglected. I am now the proud owner of 18 recommendations for books I'd barely heard of and the reminder of what a bold and unusual story can be found in Kirsten Bakis's Lives of the Monster Dogs.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

sunday short stack

"You can't call yourself a 'polymath' if you only have two talents and one of them is being nervous." - Toothpaste for Dinner


california's most prolific writers

Don at Reading California Fiction (an invaluable resource) has posted a list of the most prolific authors of fiction set in California and written before 1960. Erle Stanley Gardner weighs in at #1 with a whopping 84 books.