Sunday, December 31, 2006

so long oh six

This is the year that was:

The Least Essential Albums (AV Club)
The 10 Gayest Moments (VH1 Best Week Ever)
Best Fiction (Salon)
25 Favorite Books (Village Voice)
10 Best Books (Times Online)
Best Music (AV Club)
The Year's Best Scuzz Rock (Seattle Weekly)
Books of the Year Symposium (Ready Steady Book)
Top 100 Tracks (Pitchfork)
Most Dangerous Roads in the World (Dark Roasted Blend)
Underrated Writers (Syntax of Things)
Best Inventions (Time)
Top 10 Books (Ed Champion)
Year-End Music Lists (Largehearted Boy)
Top 10 Yoga Retreats (Gayot)
10 LA Disappearing Acts (LAist)
Top 10 Records from LA Bands (You Set the Scene)
List of Lists of Lists (YesButNoButYes)

Much gratitude to those of you who visit regularly and best wishes for a grand new year...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

this week's netflix

And it is with this post that we bid adieu to the recurring "this week's netflix" series. It's been a good two years, but apparently life really interferes with one's DVD watching.

Carrie: Yes, the original Brian DePalma version, and yes, I'd never seen it before. As I'm sure you know, it's thoroughly enjoyable and fairly horrific (especially the shower scene in the beginning). Aside from wondering why there aren't more actresses like Sissy Spacek these days - vulnerable and sympathetic but creepy at the same time - I mostly wondered what Hollywood was like in 1976 to lead to a movie like this garnering two Oscar nominations. Fun, I'd think.

The Notorious Bettie Page: As a big fan of Mary Harron and Bettie Page, my expectations for this film were probably too high. Although if I were asked, I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting exactly, but probably not to be sort of bored. I did enjoy the art direction and general atmosphere of the film and I wouldn’t not recommend it.

Loverboy: You know, I really wish Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick well. I want them to make movies that are compelling but not icky. I want them to find a vehicle that showcases Kyra’s acting ability. I want them to find stories that match the mood Kevin wants to use. I want them to partner with an excellent composer for the score. I have hope this will happen one day, but not today.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston: There is hardly a false move in this documentary about the life of musician/artist Daniel Johnston who has had a lifetime struggle with mental illness – a struggle that he loses more often than he wins. Great footage, great interviews, great narrative arc.

Art School Confidential and Clerks II: Is it a grab for cash, a misguided sense of infallibility, or an indication that we are all human and liable to f*ck up on occasion? While Art School Confidential was far superior to Clerks II, both films were low points for their directors. After Crumb and Ghost World, I was willing to believe Terry Zwigoff could do no wrong, but ASC is disappointing on many levels: the casting, pacing, and tone all seemed way off. Clerks II is just a sad excuse for a Kevin Smith film. I can watch Dogma over and over again, but you couldn’t pay me to sit through this a second time.

The Dying Gaul: How could a film with such a great premise and cast go so wrong? The story didn’t even make sense. Boo.

Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas): This is the Christmas movie for people who hate Christmas movies (such as myself). The first half hour – as the World War I setting is established – is a tad slow, but once Christmas Eve arrives, oh boy. Without spoiling anything, let me just say that when you hear the first strains of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” I challenge you not to cry your eyes out if you haven’t already started. The fact that the film is based on a true story makes it all the better.

just long enough for him to catch his breath

Dave Eggers gets his long-awaited NY Times review for What Is the What from Francine Prose.

The lyricism, the detail and, most important, the absolute specificity of these sentences are what make “What Is the What” so persuasive. It’s a real high-wire act, yet Eggers manages to maintain this level of intensity throughout the book as Achak and the other Lost Boys encounter minefields and massacres, loneliness and fear, starvation, disease, predatory wild animals, the seemingly endless varieties of cruelty, the sustenance of fellowship and the surprising manifestations of instinctive human kindness. What’s remarkable is that, given its harrowing subject matter, the book isn’t simply horrifying or depressing. The considerable appeal of Valentino’s personality and the force of Eggers’s talent turn this eyewitness account of a terrible tragedy into a paradoxically pleasurable experience. As with any book we enjoy and admire, we keep turning the pages to find out if everything will turn out all right in the end. And just as in life — I don’t think I’m giving away any suspense-ruining plot points here — things do work out for some characters, if not, alas, for others.

Friday, December 29, 2006

are you coming to dinner?

Yeah, but first I'm gonna go comatose for a few hours, hallucinate vividly, and then maybe suffer amnesia about the whole experience.

window shopping

If you can't be in New York to appreciate the holiday storefronts, you can at least view this slideshow.

garbagemen do not eat people

A 1978 Philip K. Dick speech explains How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later:

Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful. A few years ago, no college or university would ever have considered inviting one of us to speak. We were mercifully confined to lurid pulp magazines, impressing no one. In those days, friends would say me, "But are you writing anything serious?" meaning "Are you writing anything other than science fiction?" We longed to be accepted. We yearned to be noticed. Then, suddenly, the academic world noticed us, we were invited to give speeches and appear on panels — and immediately we made idiots of ourselves. The problem is simply this: What does a science fiction writer know about? On what topic is he an authority?

is happiness looking for me in the wrong place?

Artforum has eleven #1 art moments of the year. Okwui Enwezor supplies the only literary entry:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (Knopf) The last few years have seen an explosion of new postcolonial writing by sophisticated, confident young African writers. Adichie is a Nigerian writer justly lauded for her lucid, well-crafted novels. Half of a Yellow Sun uses the genre of historical fiction to unfold and illuminate the anguish of fratricide and social disintegration brought about by Nigeria’s civil war during the 1960s. Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), made her a writer to watch; this book establishes her as a contemporary talent comparable to Zadie Smith, Kiran Desai, Monica Ali, or Chris Abani.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

reading cheerily along

One of my new year's resolutions is to return to an ancient unfinished short story I haven't worked on for ages. The story is narrated by an extremely minor character in a major 19th century novel. I'll take it as a sign that Campaign for the American Reader's Marshal Zeringue has posted this look at twice-told tales, which includes my favorite "underrated" novel, Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar.

Then there is the case of
John Dollar and Lord of the Flies. As much as I admire Wiggins’ novel, I think Golding’s achievement outshines it. But the novelist Anne Tyler does not agree. She has written, “Lord of the Flies was more predictable, more relentless; it was, in my opinion, not half as thoughtful a piece of work."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

32 books in 52 weeks

27. Philosophy: The Power of Ideas by Moore & Bruder

Part of the reason I didn't read more books of choice was that I was teaching philosophy with this text whose tagline should read "From Plato to Derrida in three weeks!"

28. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

This domestic novel is a lovely little time capsule from an era when people of means walked around discussing the dawning lack of meaning in their lives without quite admitting their involvement. Superb dialogue.

29. Everyman by Philip Roth

I suppose this book might have been touching if I were an aged white man with a fairly selfish past.

30. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Despite Pessl delivering one of the most annoying Q&A sessions I've ever attended, I gave this book a shot. It wasn't as bad as the reading, and with an actual editor, it might have even been great. It wasn't though.

31. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

You don't have to need "heart advice for difficult times" to appreciate the wisdom practically dripping off the pages of this book.

32. The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger

The characterization in this novel is really its main strength. The story is decent, but it's the actors who keep the reader's interest.

Well, 32 isn't 52, but I predict that next year I shall be triumphant.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

stocking stuffers

See more cards from The Nonist

Santa on the Riviera (via Activate)

Santas in Liverpool

The original plan had been for Bowie and Crosby to sing just "Little Drummer Boy." But "David came in and said: 'I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?' "

Merry merry all...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

what you gotta do to make it through winter

John Darnielle is in the middle of composing thirty short poems about his favorite metal band.


I'm gonna keep on loving you
'cause it's the only thing I wanna do
I don't wanna sleep
I just wanna keep on loving you

the way parents imagine their children
will feel toward them always
no matter what
they do

the desperate way husbands
expect wives
to love them
even after they don't any more

the love ascribed to Christ
who given over to state-sponsored torture
accepted his lot
and only complained once

this is how the guy from Drastus
feels about the serpent whose mighty coils
hold the earth together and will crush it
if our luck holds out

I'm gonna keep on loving you
great snake of the infinite void
I don't wanna sleep
I just wanna keep on loving you, great snake of the infinite void

the little moments

Slate has Ann Powers, Jon Caramanica, Jody Rosen, and Carl Wilson in conversation about the year in music.

JR: It feels tacky to start our discussion of the year in pop with sales stats, but Topic A in '06 was the continuing slow-motion collapse of the record business, a process that was accelerated this year by YouTube and MySpace and online leaks and peer-to-peer mischief, and dramatized by the triumph of Disney pop. What does it mean for popular music when 7-year-olds are the most reliable record buyers?

JC: Let me get this out of the way since it's going to come up sooner or later: I find Gnarls Barkley annoying. Further exposition upon request.

CW: There's no such thing as a bad year for music. Not even a bad week. There is always some young asshole-genius somewhere wrenching newness out of the same old notes. But if forced to plot the passing year on a tentative pop-historical bell curve, I'd come out on the flip side of Jody's cautious optimism: 2006 was a half-bad year for pop music.

AP: It's endemic to the pop experience, based around the complementary pleasures of listening to "records" (or whatever we call them this epoch) and rocking out/rocking it live. As we spend more time connecting across cyberspace, what happens to our beat- and noise-craving bodies? I get a lot from the blogosphere, but for me there's still nothing like a roomful of people united in connection to sound moving through space.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

outsider cosmopolitanism

The LA Times' Greg Goldin defends the Persian Palace:

A Persian Palace brazenly combines motifs and wantonly disregards proportion and scale. A giraffe could glide through the front door without stooping, then turn around and peer out the clerestory window while grazing on a crystal chandelier. In Beverly Hills, where the Persian Palace may have originated and certainly came to prominence, the design is now banned. In Glendale, where steep ravines have been piled high with faux stone and banded entablature, it must abide by strict official architectural guidelines. Elsewhere—as in Valley Glen, where some residents have begun leafletting against encroaching mansionization—it is often unwelcome, a sign that, if nothing else, a neighborhood is in for sniping over the look and size of its homes.

no, no really, it was nothing

If you accomplished nothing else this week, at least you are Time's Person of the Year.

the canyons

This will either be terribly fun or horribly awful: Bret Easton Ellis is developing a series for Showtime.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

sunday short stack

"You yourself are your own obstacle - rise above yourself."
- Hafiz (via whiskey river)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

pink slip

Despite her defense that she and Nicole Simpson were somehow soul sisters, Judith Regan has been fired:

The memoir-peddler labeled her position as being on the side of justice, saying, "I made the decision to publish this book and to sit face to face with the killer, because I wanted him, and the men who broke my heart and your hearts, to tell the truth, to confess their sins, to do penance and to amend their lives."

If it was a line, no one was biting, including multiple Fox affiliates, who said prior to News Corp's ultimate decision to scuttle the project that they wanted no part of it. And if this tells you anything, the book didn't even encounter a warm reception from the Internet, the place where everyone assumed the tome would end up anyway.

Booksellers and both removed listings for the book last Friday, and eBay also knocked at least eight copies from the auction block—although not before at least one inquiring mind picked up a copy for $50, USA Today reported this week.

"It's a disgusting book and we don't want to sell it," even if "people may have a right to sell it," Alibris CEO Martin Manley told the newspaper.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

santa baby

Christmas in California is easy to overlook, but that doesn't stop a girl from dreaming of a joyous man stopping by in the middle of the night laden with gifts for moi, such as:

PB Grand Cordless Phone @ Pottery Barn $129

Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards @ Amazon $44.99

Electra Cruiser (June - Champagne Matte) @ Electra Bike $350

My Normal Approach Is Useless Here T @ $16.99

Rakku Shoe Wheel @ $65

Leica D-LUX 3 @ Amazon $599

Isabella Ring @ $78

The World from Here: Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles @ Amazon $42

Historical Embroidered Fine Tulle Dress @ Max Studio $198

Bialetti Mukka Express 2-Cup @ Amazon $89

7-Day Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica @ Tierra de Milagros $1500

Chirp Truckette Shoulder Bag @ $60

Retro iPod Speaker System @ SpeckProducts $149.95



it's still raining in my bathroom

More on Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness:

As John Ruskin observed, we don’t want our buildings merely to shelter us; we also want them to speak to us. But of what? De Botton has an answer. Great buildings, he says, “speak of visions of happiness.”

This claim is bolder than it sounds. Architecture, after all, consists mainly of abstract forms. A building by Santiago Calatrava may suggest a dove taking flight, but that’s a far cry from expressing an ideal of the good life. Think of music, though. A movement from a late Beethoven quartet manages to convey a sense of joyous resignation, perhaps because its abstract tonal structures mirror the dynamics of our emotional lives. Mightn’t architecture work the same way?

De Botton thinks so, and he makes the most of this expressionist theme on his jolly (and handsomely illustrated) romp through the world of architecture. He writes eloquently of how different architectural features hint at aspects of human flourishing: how, say, pointed Gothic arches “convey ardor and intensity,” whereas their rounded classical counterparts “embody serenity and poise.” His visions of happiness range from the ordered complexity of the Doge’s Palace in Venice to Richard Neutra’s sleek modernist pavilions in the Hollywood Hills, which speak “of honesty and ease, of a lack of inhibition and a faith in the future.” Wherever he casts his eye, what he sees, in material form, are the lineaments of gratified desire.

more like an invocation

Michael Chabon believes in "a quick prayer of thanks offered up to your ancestors before you paddle your canoe over the falls."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

to close the open hand because one loves

The Family Circus seems to be keeping some promiscuous philosophical company these days. I linked to the FC/HP Lovecraft mash-ups last year and now those crazy kids are hangin' with Nietzsche.

Monday, December 11, 2006

grammar errors of the stars

There's a lovely little dose of schadenfreude in seeing the complete dearth of writing skills in already annoying celebrities. The recent weeks have brought us two gems in this department. Defamer posted the Britney Spears book report that was up on the Christie's auction block earlier this month.

Note Spears's incisive analysis of Antigone: "Antigone is about a girl who looses her brother during a war. She wants to bury them, but the new king, Creon, will not allow it, and who shall ever do so shall be killed. Antigone wants her brother buried, because she wants him to be able to be in the heaven of ghost. So she goes and buries him. Their was a rumer about her burying her brother, so the gaurds keep a good look out. Finally, they catch her." At this early age, Spears is already sensitive to the plague of innuendo.

Lindsay Lohan is also concerned with the rumor mill - and with Al Gore's help, god damn it, she will prevail. However, she may have to take the correctional advice of the Fug Girls first (click to embiggen and click here for page one), who have gone to the trouble to edit Ms. Lohan.

I hereby offer all grammatically challenged starlets with money to burn the opportunity to hire me to proofread any rambling missives they may wish to send.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

sunday short stack

"It is the answering of life with more questions and doubt — endlessly promising and ceaselessly terrorizing." - McKay McFadden

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

washing dishes is the antidote to confusion

Maira Kalman's latest illustrated NYT column is up: Ich Habe Genug.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

finish fetish

In Contemporary Art Quarterly, Damon Willick applies the "there is no there there" argument to Los Angeles art while considering two recent exibitions: the Centre Pompidou’s Los Angeles 1955-1985: A Birth of an Artistic Capital and Translucence: Southern California Art from the 1960s and 1970s at the Norton Simon Museum.

Common clichés of Los Angeles as the sum total of Hollywood movies, Disneyland, congested freeways, urban sprawl, gangland crime, and temperate climate often obscure views of L.A. art. Los Angeles is obviously more than these stereotypes; at its root, the city is essentially a working-class town, though more geographically dispersed and climatically sunny than most American urban centers. However, art critics and historians, particularly New York-based writers starting in the 1960s and 1970s, have long approached Los Angeles art as the anomalous product of a foreign region, surprised that serious art can come out of the shallow eccentricities of a West Coast city. As the subtitle to Barbara Rose’s Art In America article of 1966 announced: “A report from the sprawling, palm-studded land of Disney and DayGlo colors suggests a distinct and recognizable ‘LA sensibility’—derived from as disparate sources as the bizarre atmosphere of Hollywood and the surrealist forms of Arp and Gorky—has been forming among younger artists there.” Or, as Jules Langsner proclaimed in 1963 of L.A. art’s emergence: “In the space of a half-a-dozen years the status of Los Angeles in the art community has changed from the home of the nuts who diet on nutburgers to a lively and vital center of increasing importance on the international art map, having become in the interim the country’s second city.” Ignoring for the moment what exactly is a nutburger, such essays cast Los Angeles art as of secondary importance to New York art, the product of outsiders unaware of their own contributions to art history. An extreme example of such inaccurate if not negative notions of L.A. art is Peter Schjeldahl’s 1972 New York Times essay, aptly entitled “LA Art? Interesting – But Painful” that declared all important American artists were New York artists. Schejeldahl wrote: “It is perhaps a little foolish to speak of California art versus New York art. New York’s gravitational field is so strong that any American working in the mainstream (New York) mode will, should he become influential, more or less automatically be a ‘New York artist.’” Needless to say, such notions of Los Angeles marginalize its art as peripheral to an East Coast center. Whether it be the trumpeting of the Ferus Gallery artists in the early-1960s or the recent recognition of the area’s vibrant MFA programs and faculties, the significance of L.A. artists is something critics, historians and curators have been wrestling with for the past half-decade. Too often, however, L.A. is perceived as continually emerging in a state of adolescence or gets cast as other or foreign to the staid, serious, and historically significant New York scene.

Monday, December 04, 2006

the day after tomorrow

YouTube now has the Jon Stewart/Tom Waits interview and Mr. Waits's live performance:

Stewart later showed footage of the ceiling that fell on Waits, during which he kept his poise, his balance, his rhythm.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

sunday short stack

I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. - Simone de Beauvoir

Friday, December 01, 2006

all computers are lousy actors

I really enjoy imagining what's being said in this Japanese version of the current Mac campaign.

Another version originally seen on panopticist