Thursday, May 31, 2007

no atheists in foxholes

According to a poll cited at the Freakonomics blog, an atheist is less likely to be elected president than a black, Catholic, homosexual, Jewish, or female candidate. Because if you don't believe in God, what's to stop you from deceiving the public and waging an unpopular war for your entire administration?

the sexy side of substance abuse

Has this ever happened before? Amy Winehouse is on the cover of both Spin and Rolling Stone this month.

Beamo: The Emo Beard

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

get me a beach and a comfortable chair

I think this is one of the best Best Novels You've Never Read lists I've seen. Good on ya, New York Magazine.

I also enjoyed the summer novel debut preview and reading responses to the question: Which novels—and novelists—from the past several years will be taught in 50 years’ time?

The Stars of Tomorrow? Not so much.

voici transmission

The Ian Curtis biopic from Anton Corbijn - Control - was a big hit at Cannes, winning the prize for Best European Film. Via Stereogum, here's a long, French-subtitled trailer:

Sunday, May 27, 2007

sunday short stack

"In war, there are no unwounded soldiers."
- Jose Narosky

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I knew it was a lovely day

A new David Mitchell short story is up at the Guardian website.

Friday, May 25, 2007

when children's book covers go bad

Naturally these are awful books, but thankfully for the safety of your girlfriend's kids from a previous relationship, they don't exist.

I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion

I wish someone would help fashion designers realize that a backpack priced at $1,300 or a sneaker that'll run you almost $300 cannot and should not be associated with a man who was fond of getting his next cigarette out of ashtrays.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

went home and learned how to clean up after myself

The surfing Malloy Brothers directed the White Stripes video for 'Icky Thump' and you can check it out at Spinner. Meg looks pretty silly as the one-eyed prostitute, but girlfriend is lookin' hot in the performance scenes.

hay relay

As part of the Hay Festival, the Guardian has arranged for ten writers to write ten consecutive chapters from the top deck of a double-decker bus parked in the middle of the festival site. It's about as close as authors get to being daredevils. The writers are Beryl Bainbridge, Dave Eggers, Rose Tremain, Toby Litt, Thomas Keneally, A L Kennedy, Marina Lewycka, Blake Morrison, Deborah Moggach, and Rupert Thomson.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

should I have paid for the whole taxi?

The first episode of Flight of the Conchords is now available for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

absent thee from felicity awhile

Hollywood Forever is branching out with an inaugural production of Hamlet for Shakespeare in the Cemetery.
Aren't there any other Renaissance playwrights to exhaust?
How about a little Marlowe or 'Tis Pity She's a Whore?

do you have a light?

Nerve has launched an online encyclopedia of pick up lines, cleverly called Pickupedia. I think the need for such a thing is in direct proportion to the number of people who have quit smoking.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

sunday short stack

"The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to sharpen." - Eden Phillpotts

Friday, May 18, 2007

go ahead make my day

Of course, the other thing that obsesses me is LA history, so my fetishes are getting their fill today. LA Observed reports on a "new toy for LA buffs": UCLA's Department of Special Collections has unveiled a new website featuring 5700 photos from 1920-1990 through which you can browse and search (!). Some of the photos have not been seen since their use in various newspapers, like this image from the Daily News of "Laura, Ruth, and Lillian Wozniuk with 'Phil Kerr's Gospel Songs' book at tent revival in Los Angeles, Calif., 1949"...

...or this image of Jehovah's Witnesses being baptized at Dodger Stadium in 1971.

love can strike like greased lightning

As you may know, I am somewhat obsessed with alternative religions based in California. Until my brother's wedding last summer, the only experience I had with Dr. Bronner's Soap is when a bottle exploded in my former boyfriend's luggage during a trip we took to England. It was not magical. (Germs drummer Don Bolles can attest to the dangers of traveling with Dr. Bronner's.)

One of my brother's groomsmen, however, told me all about the forthcoming documentary, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox. Apparently, after an escape from a mental institution, Dr. Bronner espoused the "All-One-God-Faith" and sought to save the world through his Moral ABCs, which he conveniently printed for all on his liquid soap labels. From the company website:

Dr. Bronner's essential vision and philosophy were born out of the fate of his family and the Holocaust, and are emphatic that we are all children of the same divine source: people must realize that we are "All-One!," and that the prophets and spiritual giants of the world's various faith traditions all realized and said this. Dr. Bronner was also grounded in a powerful ecological consciousness, and the soaps were an extension of this simple, natural and 100% environment-friendly.

This magic quote generator can give you a good idea of the scope of his message.

Among the journeying stars, the moon, the sun that have not failed because of that great might, with other pilgrim planets, we are one held in His hand, kept in His steadfast sight. Amidst the cannons roar you can hear God's voice: "Replace half truth, our real enemy, that age old hate" with full truth, hard work.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox premieres in LA on July 13.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

52 books in 52 weeks

13. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Reading this after Castle Rock made me think it was the year for reminiscing in Canada. I am endlessly amazed by Atwood's versatility.

14. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

Though just a tiny bit self-indulgent, this book was a intellectual blast. Why do American women not write this way more often?

15. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I adored this book. Since it wasn't a library book, I was allowed to relish it slowly over months and relish it I did. I pray for an opportunity like Gilbert's.

16. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

I also pray I never lose my mind. I recall this book was not entirely well-received, but I think any bad reviews were a symptom of sophomore backlash. It's no Curious Incident but it's engaging and enjoyable.

17. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

I had no idea how dark this was. It opened my mind to different roads the graphic novel can take and told a heartbreaking story, but I think next time, I may want a little less despair.

Monday, May 14, 2007

thou who dost cast thy eye upon the ground

We made our first post-fire foray into Griffith Park this morning (because, frankly, Runyon Canyon was not cutting it). After trying to take our regular route inside the Ferndell entrance and being scolded by park rangers, we found an open trail up to the observatory. So far, so good. There was little fire damage to be seen, but we haven't ventured into Vermont Canyon yet. To be continued...

Friday, May 11, 2007

I like it down the hall or across the street

I don't know if you can get Paul Anka on your show, but if not, how about Tom Waits?

a semi-frozen state without adulteration

Eater LA asks: Is it technically frozen yogurt if it's not made from real yogurt?

Now I've tried this Pinkberry stuff and if loving it is wrong, I'm not sure I want to be right. (Although I have to force myself not to be peeved by the 'No Photography' sign in the window of the Vermont location. Get over yourself.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

screw up the opening, screw up the book

Guardian readers weigh in on their favorite first lines. My vote for the day is:

In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier's greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

the view from my apartment right now

Last month, I started hiking in Griffith Park several mornings a week and I can't remember the last time my worldview was so positively altered. My heart is breaking.

itsy bitsy

Cabinet Magazine has a minor history of miniature writing. Whether for covert communication, skirting of religious edicts, public spectacle, or sheer experimentation, micrographia has been valued for centuries.

1941 C.E.
Robert Hooke’s three-hundred-year-old vision of conveying secret information through micrography is realized. The first microdot, disguised as a common sentence-ending period, is discovered on a typed envelope carried by a German agent. Using a process developed by Emanuel Goldberg in the 1920s, the Germans employ a reverse microscope to shrink information down to a one-millimeter dot, which is then punched out with a syringe and glued over a printed period or under a stamp. British mail censors dub the microdots “duff” because they are scattered throughout letters like raisins in the stiff flour pudding known as plum duff.

Happy Fifth Anniversary to Bookslut!

Monday, May 07, 2007

I write what I am drawn to write

Chris Abani at Festival of Books Poetry Stage

Chris Abani is profiled in the Daily Sun:

The claim that he is also pandering to foreign publishers sounds ridiculous to him. “We are all part of a tradition of literature that is often very critical of the society it comes from. Ekwensi's work on the lives of the poor in Jagau Nana and Coal Camp and even Amos Tutuola's mythical and beautiful novels [including The Palmwine Drinkard] used the supernatural to show what was going on in the culture.

Achebe's Arrow of God deconstructs the abuse of power in a pre-colonial or marginally colonized context, where the players are all from one community. A Man of the People satirizes the early independent Nigeria and almost predicts the coup to follow. Festus Iyayi's Violence does the same,” he explains.

“These are all great books, wonderful books, all published by foreign owned and run presses (Heinemann and Longman) and awarded prizes not Nigerian or African in origin, yet they don't get talked about in this way. When a new generation of writers continues this fine tradition and also expands it, having complete freedom (a freedom made possible by the work of the generations before them) to create new works in this way, we are accused of pandering to foreign publishers.

This kind of criticism is lazy and underdeveloped, and doesn't take in the entire work. But, I must also say, that a writer writes a book and then it is in the public domain and, therefore, every criticism of it is not only appropriate; it is valid; but only in the context of other criticisms and positions.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

sunday short stack

"Speak the truth, but leave immediately after." - Slovenian proverb

Saturday, May 05, 2007

a little whine and a moan

Lily Allen recorded a version of her song "Smile" in Simlish, the fictional language of Sims.

Friday, May 04, 2007

making nonsense of history

Apartment Therapy LA has posted Reyner Banham's 1972 BBC documentary on Los Angeles. It's seventy-licious!

american idol, lockdown style

LA Weekly's Joshuah Bearman profiles the “Inmate Idle Singing Con-Test” in an Arizona correctional facility.

With the close of auditions, the panel conferred and compared notes. It was often obvious who would or wouldn’t make the cut, but there were some borderline cases. And sadly, several of the panel’s favorites were either disqualified — violent offenders couldn’t compete — or got released too soon.

It was a constant problem, those pesky short sentences. One of the other star female singers had a missing tooth and wild hair, and came out shy like a frightened little mouse, but when she stepped to the microphone and “I Will Always Love You” rang out across the room, half the D.O.s swore it was “better than Whitney.” When the panel learned she would be out before the Inmate Idle finals, Thelda just about cried. She even had a sneaking desire to look at the girl’s record to see if she was a repeat visitor to the jail. Maybe she’d be back soon, she wondered, or perhaps they could bring her in on something outstanding? But then Thelda thought better of it. Bret was equally impressed by a guy who sang a Kid Rock ballad, but he was leaving jail the next day. “You want to come back for the finals?” Bret asked. Not surprisingly, the response was: “Dude, are you kidding?”

Thursday, May 03, 2007

reptile brains

David Byrne talks to Daniel Levitan, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music, about music, language, and memory.

DB: When somebody tells us what this song is about, or what this painting is about, we're kind of stuck because talking about the art, and the art itself, are almost separate areas. The music seems to have straight access to the so-called "reptile brain," and we feel it immediately. But often it's also touching all kinds of other parts of the brain. If it has lyrics, there's language in it. If it has a strong rhythmic element it's touching what you would call the motor parts of the brain and muscle. All kinds of stuff is involved. How do you think this all happens?

DL: My guess is it starts with trying to unite rationality with irrationality.

I'll bet you get resistance too from people who say you can't analyze this.

DL: Well, I remember a quote from Allan Watts, the philosopher. He wrote a number of books on Eastern philosophy in the 70s. He said that the problem with science is that when it wants to study the river, the scientist will go to the river with a bucket, take a bucket of water out, bring it to the shore, sit there, and study the bucket of water. But of course that's not the river.

And you know a lot of people have tried to study music by getting rid of everything except pitch or everything except rhythm. Or by using very strange, computer-generated sounds, to see what the brain does in response to them.

There's always this tension in science that you want to control your variables and you want to know what it is you're studying. And yet you want to have what we call ecological validity, which is just a fancy way to say it has to be like the real world. There's a tension between these two, and I've erred on the side of having ecological validity in my own experiments because I want to see the real phenomena.

the solitary bearer of a curse

Russell Banks on Colin Channer’s The Girl With the Golden Shoes:

We don’t see it attempted much these days, perhaps because American writers (and readers) are so blindered by standard-issue realism on the one side and escapist fantasy on the other, but Colin Channer’s The Girl with the Golden Shoes is a nearly perfect moral fable. It’s an ancient, essentially European literary form, the moral fable; but think of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea or Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Think of Faulkner’s The Bear or Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. Those are the modern American classics in the form. A more recent example is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Like them, The Girl with the Golden Shoes is a short narrative, shorter than a conventionally realistic novel, that is, but not so short as to be confused with a mere story. Like them, it’s set more or less outside of present time, yet is not meant to be read as historical fiction, and happens in a place that’s slightly outside the known or at least the familiar world. Even the title, The Girl with the Golden Shoes, calls to mind those old fables and fairy tales, pre-Christian European folk tales and medieval romances.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

words online

I'm so late to the litblog panel after-party that I'm not even sure it's worth showing up, but I said I'd be there, it's on my way home, etc. For those of you who weren't there, the panel consisted of the four people above - Carolyn Kellogg of Pinky's Paperhaus, moderator Tod Goldberg, enfant terrible Andrew Keen, and Ron Hogan of Beatrice and Galley Cat.

I think everyone's in agreement that Andrew Keen acted like (is?) an elitist bully who wasn't interested in anyone else's thoughts on his main thesis: the internet is killing our culture (a.k.a. "the corrupting consequences of the democratization of media"). I find his attitude unfortunate because he is doing something that needs to be done: theorizing the future of the internet.

This doesn't mean that his idea that people aren't smart enough to tell good lit reviews from bad isn't spurious and insulting. Yet as I write this, I think about the students I teach online who are shocked (shocked!) that Wikipedia may not be an entirely reliable academic source. Things may not be as black and white as Keen would like us to believe. While Wikipedia is one of the most useful research tools a student could hope to find and I would go so far as to say the world is a smarter place for it, the cost of the dissemination of false information needs to be considered, even if in the end, it is dismissed as irrelevant.

Keen's other main point on Sunday - that bloggers are giving their content away for free in a bad business model that will eventually lead to their ruin - was equally overstated and almost immediately dated. The discussion is not necessarily whether or not the content should be free; it's how we manage this free content in a way that benefits both the content provider and recipient. Keen's idea that all "quality" content should have a price tag is abhorrent when I once again think about my online students who struggle to scrape together tuition payments. How can we even think about telling them that they'll also need to run up their credit card debt just to get some decent online reading material?

Obviously, the panel was on literary blogs and there was a focus on the question of whether blogs are destroying print media or the print medium is destroying itself. Keen has some thoughts on how our current print book reviews are adequate, which isn't even worth debating. I'd love to see figures on how much more lucrative book publishing has become for all authors now that online outlets like lit blogs can turn from the proscribed literary fiction chosen by the industry giants toward oftentimes more deserving, lesser known titles.

Favorite quote (tie, both from Ron Hogan):

"If I wanted to get rich, I certainly wouldn't be talking about books."

"There's a lot of shit to wade through, but there's a pony in there."