Wednesday, October 31, 2007

all of the hex of the weaker sex to voodoo you

I cannot remember a single other Halloween get-up I wore as a child beyond my endlessly recycled witch costume. So Mom, this one's for you:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

sunday short stack

"After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say 'I want to see the manager.'" - William S. Burroughs

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the weather of catastrophe

In Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum writes: This post is for readers in Southern California. A couple of hours ago Jeralyn Merritt put up a passage from Joan Didion's "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" about Santa Ana winds, part of which I excerpt here:

We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks....The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called "earthquake weather." My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days....In Los Angeles some teachers do not attempt to conduct formal classes during a Santa Ana, because the children become unmanageable.

....It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination....Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The winds shows us how close to the edge we are.

I'm curious about something. I've lived in Southern California my entire life, and this just doesn't bear any resemblance to anything I know about the place. Santa Ana winds are just....Santa Ana winds. They do whip up brush fires, as Didion says, but otherwise her description seems way, way over the top. Sure, the weather feels a little weird when Santa Anas kick up, but teachers don't cancel classes, pets don't go nuts, people don't stay inside their houses, and Los Angeles doesn't get gripped in crime waves. At least, not as far as I know.

Teachers may not cancel classes, but perhaps they should. Mid-class, moments away from banishing the students - who have been chattering non-stop through their barely conscious anxieties, trying to process the destruction literally in the air - out of the classroom into the winds, where they can at least be far away from their teacher who has seen how instantaneously her adoration for them can transform into aggravated loathing. I'm with Raymond Chandler:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Castle Kashan - of late, a Persian palace filled with Elvis memorabilia - is one of the casualties of the Malibu fires.

Friday, October 19, 2007

the intellectual equivalent of a hollywood weepy

While I was busy grading papers, Irish writer Anne Enright won the Booker Prize for The Gathering.

Jonathan Ruppin of British bookstore Foyles called the judges' choice "a welcome boost for serious literature."

"Not everyone will be comfortable with this bleak account of conflict and despair, but the writing is undeniably exquisite," he said.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

sometimes I go out by myself and I look across the water

My favorite clean-the-house/get-ready-to-go-out album these days is Mark Ronson's Version, which features this Amy Winehouse song among other gems:

Beware: The chorus will lodge in your brain.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

only tuesday

WASHINGTON, DC—After running a thousand errands, working hours of overtime, and being stuck in seemingly endless gridlock traffic commuting to and from their jobs, millions of Americans were disheartened to learn that it was, in fact, only Tuesday.

"Tuesday?" San Diego resident Doris Wagner said. "How in the hell is it still Tuesday?"

Tuesday's arrival stunned a nation still recovering from the nightmarish slog that was Monday, leaving some to wonder if the week was ever going to end, and others to ask what was taking Saturday so goddamn long.

"Ugh," said Wagner, echoing a national sense of frustration over it not even being Wednesday at the very least.

Monday, October 15, 2007

so you're the man who doesn't know how to spell fuck

Stephen Pinker on "Why We Curse":

When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy language himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lessing compares winning Nobel to nifty game of cards

This video has highlights from a less off-the-cuff interview in her home, but the Associated Press has transcription of Doris Lessing's initial reaction:

Doris Lessing pulled up in a black cab where a media horde was waiting Thursday in front of her leafy north London home. Reporters opened the door and told her she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, to which she responded: "Oh Christ! ... I couldn't care less."

Lessing later said she thought the cameras were there to film a television program. Vegetables peeked out from blue plastic bags she carried out of the cab.

"This has been going on for 30 years," she said, as reporters helped her with the bags.

"I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all, the whole lot, OK?" Lessing said, making her way through the crowd. "It's a royal flush."

"I'm sure you'd like some uplifting remarks," she added with a smile.

Lessing, who turns 88 this month, is the oldest winner of the literature prize. Although she is widely celebrated for "The Golden Notebook" and other works, she has received little attention in recent years and has been criticized as strident and eccentric.

Asked repeatedly if she was excited about the award, she held court from her doorstep and noted she had been in the running for the Nobel for decades.

"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise," Lessing said. "I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

and in more award news...

Doris Lessing has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy described her as “that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” The award comes with a 10 million Swedish crown honorarium, about $1.6 million.

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 later this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through her voracious reading. She had been born to British parents in what is now Iran, was raised in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and now lives in London. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, non-fiction and an autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature.

Ms. Lessing learned the news from a group of reporters camped on her doorstep as she returned home from visiting her son in the hospital. She declared herself totally surprised.

national book awards

The National Book Award finalists have been announced and I'm finally coming up for air. More soon...(In the meantime, Ed Champion has some commentary.)


Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork
Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke
Jim Shepard, Like You’d Understand, Anyway


Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA


Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North
Robert Hass, Time and Materials
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard St.
Stanley Plumly, Old Heart
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006


Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl

Monday, October 01, 2007

we will assume you're on fire

If I had not quit smoking one year ago today, according to QuitMeter, I would have smoked 2,919 cigarettes and spent $729. This is better.