Friday, December 26, 2008

eartha kitt (1927 - 2008)

More sad Christmas news.

Eartha Kitt, who purred and pounced her way across Broadway stages, recording studios and movie and television screens in a show-business career that lasted more than six decades, died on Thursday. She was 81 and lived in Connecticut.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

harold pinter (1930 - 2008)

Sad Christmas news.

Harold Pinter, the British playwright whose gifts for finding the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence made him the most influential and imitated dramatist of his generation, died on Wednesday. He was 78 and lived in London.

Monday, December 22, 2008

superlatives monday

Slate: The Best Music of 2008
New York Times: The Buzzwords of 2008 (Very proud of WeBFF Jim Groom and edupunk!)
Medialoper: Musical Moments to Die For
Independent Weekly (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill): 40 Best Songs of 2008 (with mp3s)
The Morning News: 2008 by The Writers
The A.V. Club: The Worst Films of 2008
Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies: Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008
Wuthering Expectations: Best Books of the Year (Nineteenth Century Edition)
LA Times: Top 10 Movies of 2008
Jezebel: Elisabeth Hasselbeck's 25 Most Annoying Moments of 2008
Time Out New York: Books - The Best (and Worst) of 2008
Regret the Error: Crunks 2008 - The Year in Media Errors and Corrections
Amazon: Top 100 Books of 2008
Seed: Seed Picks 2008
Grammar Girl: Top Five Pet Peeves of 2008
Frisky: The Best Male Bloggers of 2008
The Smoking Gun: 2008 Mugshots of the Year
The New Yorker: 2008 - The Year in Fiction

Sunday, December 21, 2008

sunday short stack

"Needing someone is like needing a parachute. If he isn't there the first time you need him, chances are you won't be needing him again." - Scott Adams

Saturday, December 20, 2008

reveries of a bachelor

Lisa Spiro has a very interesting post on using Google Books to research publication history.

on wrestling, '80s hair metal, and robocop

The AV Club interviews Darren Aronofsky.

AVC: So, more pop psychology for you: Why do people want to watch wrestling and violence, but not deal with a film that has to do with death?

DA: Well, it’s weird, because there is a theme in this that’s very similar to a theme in The Fountain. [Rourke’s character] comes to terms with who he is and has a similar kind of plunge at the end as [in] The Fountain. I think ultimately, wrestling is just an extension of gladiatorial fighting, except more civil in the sense that people aren’t being killed. It’s acting out the whole good-vs.-evil dynamic, but beyond that, there’s the whole masochism element of the wrestling. Why people are into watching people face down death and pain, is, I think… Shoot, I don’t know, there’s probably a billion other reasons, but I think a part of it is by witnessing other people going through it, you can empathize with it, and it makes you feel alive, because feeling pain is one of the things that kind of makes us feel alive. That’s your pull quote right there, “Feeling pain is what makes us feel alive!” [Laughs.]

Friday, December 19, 2008

dancing jelly beans and chinese dragons

When I was driving downtown for the Toni Morrison event last month, I passed Bob Baker's Marionette Theater, a building I had never noticed before under an overpass along Glendale Boulevard. It reminded me how often LA can surprise like that, popping up a Marionette Theater where you least expect it. As often happens, suddenly Bob Baker's Marionette Theater was everywhere. The LA Times featured an article on the financial problems Baker is facing about a week later.

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a place that is both magical and earth-bound. Operating from the corner of 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard just west of downtown Los Angeles for 49 years, it is a vestige of childhoods lived, where vegetables dance to old vaudeville tunes and musical instruments dance and jump across a black box theater festooned with crystal chandeliers...But it's also been struggling for years, trying to eke out an existence on $15-a-head admission, amid the fickle nature of children's passions. Last week, reports began circulating that the theater was in trouble. A manager sent out an e-mail saying that Baker had been the victim of "an elaborate mortgage fraud operation bent on stealing his theater and home" and asked fans of the theater help pay nearly $30,000 in past due mortgage payments on the two buildings. If the funds weren't raised, the manager said, the buildings would be sold "and Bob and his thousands of puppets will be homeless."

About a week after that, the New York Times followed suit, suggesting a bailout for the puppet show.

There are many ways to measure California’s tanking economy: an 8.2 percent unemployment rate; a multibillion-dollar state budget gap; threatened endowments of the city’s museums, causing some cultural institutions to nearly default on mortgages; and the continued weakening of the Hollywood studio system. But the meltdown of the marionettes may say it all.

In this Nutcracker season of sugarplum dreams, maybe Santa will find some cash in his sack for the Marionette Theater.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

perky canada

David Bennum makes the argument that Canada rocks harder than the U.S.

Since then, wave after wave of excitement and innovation—punk, post-punk, indie, hip-hop, house, techno, grunge—has surged back and forth between America and Britain. Generations of Canadian hipsters have gazed enviously at those two countries, and groaned in embarrassment as their compatriots instead embraced progressive rock and its geeky offshoots. Asked to name a globally successful and recognisably Canadian band, until recently most non-Canadians might have cited Rush, the stupendously overblown pomp-rockers. Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne and Nickelback have conducted their blockbusting careers as undercover Americans.

But just as it did for British pop in the early 1960s, all that outward scrutiny, that eager consumption by ambitious, dissatisfied youngsters of the fresh and thrilling from abroad rather than the second-rate and derivative at home, is paying dividends. There is no particular Canadian sound. Even as media ubiquity shrinks our world, the sheer geographical vastness of Canada makes such a thing improbable. What we are seeing—and hearing—is a new-found confidence. Canadian acts at last have the wherewithal to make music without a sense of obligation or apology; and without the ingrained assumption that a Canadian artist must either pander to the United States or settle for being at best a local hero. Pound for pound, no other country’s music scene is punching harder.

here is a strange and bitter crop

Via Condalmo, this Billie Holiday video was recorded five months before her death at age 44. I never realized how much visuals would add to the pure horror of this song.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

no reference to crop circles during the show

Zadie Smith reflects on her father's death and the comedy legacy he left to his family.

Left unchecked, comedy snobbery can squeeze the joy out of the enterprise. You end up thinking of comedy as Hemingway thought of narrative: structured like an iceberg, with all the greater satisfactions fathoms under water, while the surface pleasure of the joke is somehow the least of it. In my father, this tendency was especially pronounced. He objected to joke merchants. He was wary of the revue-style bonhomie of the popular TV double act Morecambe and Wise, and disapproved of the cheery bawdiness of their rivals, the Two Ronnies. He was allergic to racial and sexual humor, to a far greater degree than any of the actual black people or women in his immediate family. Harvey’s idea of a good time was the BBC sitcom “Steptoe and Son,” the grim tale of two mutually antagonistic “rag-and-bone men” who pass their days in a Beckettian pile of rubbish, tearing psychological strips off each other. Each episode ends with the son (a philosopher manqué, who considers himself trapped in the filthy family business) submitting to a funk of existential despair. The sadder and more desolate the comedy, the better Harvey liked it.

fancy talk

Is Jonathan Franzen clairvoyant?

The names George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden don't appear once in Jonathan Franzen's novel "The Corrections." And yet the book, which was published on Sept. 1, 2001, anticipates almost eerily the major concerns of the next seven years. Franzen conjures up a nation kept awake at night by nameless dread. The second sentence of the book: "You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen." Something did, of course—but anyone who revisits "The Corrections" now will be reminded how many of the preoccupations we've labeled as "post-9/11," or "Bush era," in fact predate both. In his story of the Lamberts, a Midwestern family with three adult children who resist their mother's hysterical insistence that they make it home for one last Christmas, Franzen lays out many of the themes that would come to dominate the millennium's first decade: global warming, economic recession, HMOs, psychopharmaceuticals, viral marketing, Eastern European instability, even the organic-food movement. (Just one trivial, but spot-on, example: Denise, the daughter, who is a chef, investigates "the Smith Street culinary scene in Brooklyn." Fast-forward seven years, to July 9, 2008, and you'll find an article in The New York Times about "the culinary flowering of Brooklyn," centered on Smith Street.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

superlatives monday

Village Voice: The Best Books of 2008
Sasha Frere-Jones: The Best Recordings of 2008
Edward Champion: Top Ten Books of 2008
New York Magazine: The Year in Culture
Merriam-Webster: Words of the Year 2008
Salon: Salon Book Awards 2008
New York Post: The Best Films of 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

sunday short stack

"Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast. In the pool where you least expect it, will be a fish." - Ovid

Friday, December 12, 2008

bettie page (1923-2008)

In her trademark raven bangs, spike heels and killer curves, Ms. Page was the most famous pinup girl of the post-World War II era, a centerfold on a million locker doors and garage walls. She was also a major influence in the fashion industry and a target of Senator Estes Kefauver’s anti-pornography investigators.

But in 1957, at the height of her fame, she disappeared, and for three decades her private life — two failed marriages, a fight against poverty and mental illness, resurrection as a born-again Christian, years of seclusion in Southern California — was a mystery to all but a few close friends.

Read more from The New York Times...

A cult figure, Page was most famous for the estimated 20,000 4-by-5-inch black-and-white glossy photographs taken by amateur shutterbugs from 1949 to 1957. The photos showed her in high heels and bikinis or negligees, bondage apparel -- or nothing at all.

Decades later, those images inspired biographies, comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products -- Bettie Page playing cards, dress-up magnet sets, action figures, Zippo lighters, shot glasses -- and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, "The Notorious Bettie Page."

Read more from The LA Times...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

dark days

Paul Greenberg suggests a bailout for writers and Ed Champion urges freelance writers to stay writing.

Monday, December 08, 2008

superlatives monday

The Best of... lists will be rolling in at a rapid clip over the next few weeks. A start:

The Washington Post: 10 Best Books of the Year
The Los Angeles Times: Favorite Books 2008
The New York Times: The 10 Best Books of 2008

I may be biased but the LA Times picks are so much more interesting than the others.

Largehearted Boy: Favorite Albums of 2008
Susie Bright: Favorite Dozen Movies in 2008
Computerworld: Top 10 Best-Written Blogs
Yahoo!: Top Searches of 2008
Lifehacker: Most Popular Top 10s of 2008
The Hype Machine: Submit Your Top 10 Albums
Den of Geek!: Top 5 Writer's Block Movies

the bible is not made of sugar

Bookslut has an interview with Cynthia Ozick:

[Susan Sontag] took Patti Smith as seriously as Henry James, which you do not. Do you fear that in cutting yourself off from contemporary culture you handicap yourself in any way?

I would say, rather, that contemporary culture has cut itself off from the wellspring of culture in general, and in particular from literature, and in particular from history. It’s contemporary culture that has, by and large, done this. I say “by and large” because you can’t make generalizations of this kind; I can recite names of deeply literary young writers who are not cut off. I was boggled by one review of The Din in the Head, for instance, which faulted me for failing to write about hip-hop and various other types of popular music. But if you’re writing about literary figures you’re clearly not writing about music, whether it’s Mozart or any other kind of music. I find it a flabbergasting charge. The charge should be on the other foot: why aren’t writers on hip-hop writing about Lionel Trilling? (laughs)

I’m not asking you to write a hip-hop song. But I have not seen anything in your work that attempts to engage directly with the culture of your time.

I can hardly agree with that. If I go to the supermarket I’m engaging with the culture of my time. If I have a conversation, including this very one with you as interlocutor, I’m engaging with my time. When I spend hours at the computer absorbing news and opinion I’m engaging with the culture of my time. I think what you are saying is that I have a kind of history-consciousness. True, and it seems to me that you’re not engaging directly with the culture of your time if you are deaf and blind or even merely indifferent to that culture’s deep heritage. Not long ago I published in the New Republic a review of an abandoned novel by Lionel Trilling, newly unearthed in the Columbia University archives. And I discovered that nowadays people don’t even know Trilling’s name, not to mention this culture-shaping critic’s work. The same with Edmund Wilson, Alfred Kazin, Irving Howe. O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost…

Sunday, December 07, 2008

wrong wrong wrong

As you may know, my favorite weekly ritual is listening to Chris Morris's morning radio program Watusi Rodeo and posting the Sunday Short Stack. When I tuned in to Indie 103.1 this morning, I found out the hard way that the station canceled the show four days ago with no notice. The show's defunct URLs don't even explain what happened. From Chris Morris's MySpace blog:

It grieves me to inform my faithful "Watusi Rodeo" listeners that Indie 103.1 has cancelled my show, effective immediately. My third anniversary broadcast, which would have aired this coming Sunday, Dec. 7, will not take place. A sneak attack, and it isn't even Pearl Harbor Day yet! When Max Tolkoff, the program director at Indie, called me yesterday morning to inform me that my show was being dropped, he told me it was in the interest of making the sound of the station more "consistent." So far, the Rodeo -- the only roots/Americana show on L.A. commercial radio -- is the only victim of this drive for consistency. Max magnanimously offered me a midnight slot during the week FOR ZERO COMPENSATION; this offer was declined, since I did college radio for free 40 years ago, and I don't want to revisit my penniless youth as I near retirement age.

Morris says Scion (maker of the escapegrace hotrod) has offered him a spot on their online station. Indie's loss, Scion's gain.

Image from an interview at New Angeles Monthly

sunday short stack

"To care only for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it's good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I *do* think about tables and chairs all the time

1. Put your iTunes (or any other media player you may have) on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

Go! (Via @titoperez)

Lived in Bars (Cat Power)

I'll Begin Again (Dropkick Murphys)

Radiate Nothing (Money Mark)

True (The Frames)

The Con (Tegan & Sara)

Polly Come Home (Plant & Krauss)

Tables and Chairs (Andrew Bird)

Mary (Langhorne Slim)

Naked If I Want To (Cat Power)

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Nina Simone)

A Little Better (M Ward)

Thirteen (Big Star)

Kiss of Fire (Geraldine Fibbers)

Tell Me on a Sunday (Mountain Goats)

Blink (Scott Walker)

Effect & Cause (White Stripes)

Wayfaring Stranger (Neko Case)

You Think You're Hot Stuff (Jean Knight)

Weary Blues (Madeline Peyroux)

Crying (Roy Orbison)

Friend Is a Four Letter Word (Cake)

Breakfast in Hell (Slaid Cleaves)

The Bleeding Heart Show (New Pornographers)

Get Down on Your Knees (The Sunshine)

Hanging on Too Long (Duffy)

Sick, Sick, Sick (Freakwater)

You Were Right (Built to Spill)

Moonage Daydream (David Bowie via Of Montreal)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

santa baby

Dear Santa - I've been incredibly, relentlessly unnaughty, so please reward me for all my hard work. Go on, check your list. Here's mine. XO XO

Signed First Hardcover Edition of Cloud Atlas @ Alibris $150

Chuck Taylor All-Star Sparkle (Champagne) @ Converse $64.99

Bat Segundo 3 DVD Set @ $50

Prairie Underground Long Cloak Hoodie @ doe $222

The Kansas City Star Bundle @ Dzanc Books $40

USB Key Skull Ring @ Geek Stuff 4 U $199.02

Punk Rock Xmas @ lala $8.56

Bling Hammer @ Glamourpuss $34.95

Cultural Package @ Chiang Mai Luxury Resort, Northern Thailand $3,885.27

Fuiji Instax Camera @ Urban Outfitters $130

The Slanket @ SkyMall $44.99

Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! Lunchbox @ The BUST Boobtique $17.95

Into-the-Woods Dress @ Anthropologie $149.95

Electric MINI E @ Los Angeles Auto Show $TBD

Franco Sarto Era @ Piperlime $49.99

Tenure Track Job @ First Choice University - Priceless

Monday, December 01, 2008

what do you call the internet people?

As I told a story to my friend Greg Q, for the umpteenth time I had to stop and try to figure out how to describe someone with whom I have a primarily web-based relationship. We decided it was time for there to be proper names for those folks, so here is what we came up with:

Someone you would identify as a friend: WeBFF

I was so sad when Buffy moved away, but between Facebook, Twitter, Gmail Chat, and Goodreads, now I feel like we're WeBFFs.

Someone you would identify as a friendly acquaintance: Interpal

Can you believe my interpal was in a flame war with Billy Joel?*

Someone you would identify as an enemy: Netesis

I always knew I didn't like her, but when she tagged me in that ugly photo, she officially became my netesis.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

sunday short stack

"Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at his worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm." - Mark Twain

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I am surrounded by ayn rand

In addition to a student devoting her term topic to Ayn Rand (still very popular among college freshmen), I have also recently been exposed to Rand fan personal ads and Atlas Shrugged updated for the current financial crisis.

bucks and bucks and diamonds and diamonds

From The New Yorker archives via Maud Newton: John Cheever's 1949 short story "Christmas Is a Sad Season for the Poor"

Christmas is a sad season. The phrase came to Charlie an instant after the alarm clock had waked him, and named for him an amorphous depression that had troubled him all the previous evening. The sky outside his window was black. He sat up in bed and pulled the light chain that hung in front of his nose. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in New York, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning; I am practically the only one...

also home to all the best of lists you could ever need

Via largehearted boy:

Literary Rock Band Names

I don't know how long this will be going on, but Amazon has its top 50 mp3 albums on sale for $5.

The University of Texas has a new litblog: ShelfLife@Texas

Friday, November 28, 2008

her voice is full of money

Slate's Audio Book Club reads The Great Gatsby. (Infinite Jest is up next.) On a related note, my favorite new misanthropic Fitzgerald quote: "It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won't save us any more than love did."

can you pass those croutons?

Dave Eggers's four-part play "Thanksgiving at Dan and Jane's: Four Acts in Four Rooms" - written in the actual layout of four rooms - appeared in yesterday's New York Times.

See also in the Times: 100 Notable Books of 2008

give thanks for a new and brighter day

Obama's weekly address was released early for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Two hotels, the city’s largest train station, a movie theater and a hospital. A hospital.

I will end you

Andy Samberg debuts his Rahm Emanuel impersonation.

I've gotta eat my words with special sauce all over them

The Washington Post profiles Onion Nation. (The article is written by someone with the ubercool, possibly made up name of Wells Tower.)

The choicest material -- the staff writers' ideas -- had been pitched this morning, and the writers were sorting through the chaff, the jokes sent in each week by part-time contributors, known in local editorial parlance as "the [expletive] list." The writers fidgeted and slumped in their chairs, visibly oppressed by the haze of failed hilarity thickening in the room.

Fallen cannon fodder included: "Face Of God Seen On Bus Ad For God"; "California Courts To See What Else They Can Marry"; "Meter Attendant Accidentally Tries To Collect Change From Vending Machine"; and the following op-ed: "You're Breaking The Human Half Of My Cyborg Heart," which caused senior writer Dan Guterman to groan and offer a counter-headline, " 'I Suck,' By A Joke."

queridas amigas, queridos amigos

Joining the blogging world...José Saramago. Of course, the site's in Portuguese and he doesn't write it, but Condalmo has a link to a translated version.

pork and beans

...and the four other Top Videos of 2008, according to PopMatters. This Weezer album is just chock full of don't-tread-on-me songs.

obama = cicero?

To understand the next four years of American politics, you are going to need to understand something of the politics of ancient Greece and Rome.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I gots some politico-aesthetic coding to do

Someone has written an actual academic paper on The War between n+1 and The Elegant Variation (via @drmabuse who can "summarize the whole incident in one tweet").

The litbloggers’ practice of linking also emphasizes the intertextuality of their form. In literary theory, intertextuality “denotes ways in which works of art – especially of literature – are produced in response not to social reality but to previous works of art and the codes and other conventions governing them” (Sebeok 1985: 657). Intertextuality is not confined to art but is also evident “across writing genres and related to more epistemologically explicit issues” such as global politics (Shapiro 1989:11). Rather than creating a new class of literary work or genre, litbloggers engage in a process of intertextuality that responds to previous aesthetic codes but also political codes that are embedded in our literary political economy. In this sense, rather than producing a new, alternative book culture, litbloggers instead may be solidifying the dominant codes and conventions that are already in place. Litbloggers may, and some do, avoid being accomplices to the reification of dominant discourses by not only providing links but also challenging the source of the links. This is where their power of critique lies and perhaps where they may exercise more freedom than print media whose codes and conventions have concretized since the development of print over fifteen hundred years ago.

thanksgiving post mania

I'm planning to try to clear out my bookmarks via separate posts rather than one stack, so we'll see how that goes. Here's one!

David Gutowski (largehearted boy) lists the 10 Best Literature Blogs - I had never heard of Literary Kicks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

52 books in 52 weeks

25. Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Reading this collection of essays is like spending time with a smart, charming writer friend whose obsessive tastes don't quite align with mine, but listening to him hold court is a fine way to spend an afternoon.

26. Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles by Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly

I still think about this book often after reviewing it for the LA Times earlier this month, so I stand behind my positive remarks.

27. The Best American Essays 2007

In lieu of a traditional composition reader, I decided to trust my students to know what to take from these essays to improve their academic writing and what to leave. I started reading the collection in preparation for the class on September 3. On September 12, when I was about halfway through guest editor David Foster Wallace's introduction, he took his own life. It was at least a week or two before I was able to return to the collection, feeling spooked and sad to realize this was probably one of the last things he had written. Once I began again, every word choice and candid declaration was full of portent and significance; the reading proceeded painfully. Reviewing the essays Harper's posted after Wallace's death, I came across "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage" and realized that - in combination with the introduction "Deciderization 2007: A Special Report" - I would be completely justified in devoting the first week of class to Wallace and introducing him to a gaggle of teenagers. Fortunately, I teach at a school where the students are intellectually advanced, and they unwittingly helped me grieve for this man whom I did not know but mourn nonetheless.

28. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I'm not sure why this Pultizer Prize winning novel didn't rock my world, because I believe it was supposed to. There were elements I admired and moments I was touched, but I did not rush back to it when I was away. My only guess is that I did not connect with the female characters, and that failure colored my enjoyment. This may be as much my fault as Diaz's.

29. The Last Novel by David Markson

This non-novel took me by complete surprise. The entire book is a collection of facts about and quotes from artists and writers throughout history, but at the same time, it's the tale of a man approaching the end of creativity. I carried it around with me for days, reading selections aloud to anyone who would listen.

sunday short stack suspended

Today's Sunday Short Stack is being pre-empted by an apartment overhaul, a helpful neighbor, and a rented rug shampooing machine. Our program will return next week at its regularly scheduled time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

achtung LA peeps

Since I am shackled to the radiator of my ambition and unable to take full advantage of these events, I thought I'd post them here so others could do my living for me.

The Art of War: American Posters from WWI and WWII is up at The Norton Simon Museum through January, so I may still have a shot, but I will definitely have to miss today's event at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre: "Dashiell Hammett ... in L.A.?”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

sunday short stack

"You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style." - Vladimir Nabokov

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunday, November 09, 2008

sunday short stack

"Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom." - Michel de Montaigne

Friday, November 07, 2008

a man of his words

Does Obama's win signal a more literary future for America?

This AP article, which quotes Toni Morrison and Rick Moody among other writers, ponders the possibility of a cultural trickle-down effect. Jonathan Safran Foer, for one, is feeling it:

"Until now, my identity as a writer has never overlapped with my identity as an American — in the past eight years, my writing has often felt like an antidote or correction to my Americanism," says "Everything Is Illuminated" novelist Jonathan Safran Foer.

"But finally having a writer-president — and I don't mean a published author, but someone who knows the full value of the carefully chosen word — I suddenly feel, for the first time, not only like a writer who happens to be American, but an American writer."

philip pullman wants me to be patient

NaNoWriMo has forwarded a letter of encouragement from Philip Pullman:

You've started a long journey. Congratulations on your resolution and ambition! And the first thing you need to remember is that a long journey can't be treated like a sprint. Take your time.

The second thing you need to remember is that if you want to finish this journey you've begun, you have to keep going. One of the hardest things to do with a novel is to stop writing it for a while, do something else, fulfill this engagement or that commitment or whatever, and pick it up exactly where you left it and carry on as if nothing had happened. You will have changed; the story will have drifted off course, like a sh ip when the engines stop and there's no anchor to keep it in place; when you get back on board, you have to warm the engines up, start the great bulk of the ship moving through the water again, work out your position, check the compass bearing, steer carefully to bring it back on track ... all that energy wasted on doing something that wouldn't have been necessary at all if you'd just kept going!

He also thinks page 70 is the toughest:

You know which page of a novel is the most difficult to write? It's page 70. The first page is easy: it's exciting, it's new, a whole world lies in front of you. The last page is easy: you've got there at last, you know what's going to happen, all you have to do is find a resonant closing sentence. But page 70 is where the misery strikes. All the initial excitement has drained away; you've begun to see all the hideous problems you've set yourself; you are horribly aware of the minute size of your own talent compared to the colossal proportions of the task you've undertaken. That's when you'll want to give up. When I hit page 70 with my very first novel, I thought: I'm never going to finish this. I'll never make it. But then stubbornness set in, and I thought: well, if I reach page 100, that'll be something. If I get there, I reckon I can make it to the end, wherever that is. And 100 is only 30 pages away, and if I write 3 pages every day, I can get there in ten days ... why don't I just try to do that? So I did. It was a terrible novel, but I finished it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

stay tuned...

...for a return to blogging about books!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

god bless america

...and President
Barack Obama!!!!!!!!!!!!

"I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but we will get there." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I wish I may I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight

For more Obama photos by Callie Shell, click here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I review Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles in today's LA Times. I didn't find a way to mention that one of the authors also has a book about Gordon Zahler, referred to in the title as "Hollywood's Flashiest Quadriplegic."

sunday short stack special election edition

"There are not red states or blue states. There is the United States of America." - Barack Obama

sunday short stack

"And you realize you couldn't get lost here if you tried. And you've tried. The middle of nowhere is always somewhere for somebody." - Daniel Orozco

Friday, October 31, 2008

studs terkel (1912 - 2008)

Studs then asked the doctor, "How long do you give me?"

"I'll give you to 99," said the doctor.

"That's too long," said Terkel. "I think I want a nice round figure, like 95."

Studs Terkel died today at 96.

everything I do's gotta be ingenious, blah, blah, blah, blah

Rolling Stone has posted David Lipsky's recent profile of David Foster Wallace.

He was six-feet-two, and on a good day he weighed 200 pounds. He wore granny glasses with a head scarf, points knotted at the back, a look that was both pirate-like and housewife-ish. He always wore his hair long. He had dark eyes, soft voice, caveman chin, a lovely, peak-lipped mouth that was his best feature. He walked with an ex-athlete's saunter, a roll from the heels, as if anything physical was a pleasure. David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live." Readers curled up in the nooks and clearings of his style: his comedy, his brilliance, his humaneness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

free esha

Click here to learn more about what you can do to help American graduate student Esha Momeni, who has been arrested in Iran while doing research on the Iranian women's movement.

An American graduate student doing research on her master’s thesis in Iran has been arrested and is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where she is at risk of torture and other ill treatment, Amnesty International reported.

The student, Esha Momeni, who is enrolled in the School of Communications, Media, and Arts at California State University at Northridge, traveled to Iran two months ago to visit her family and to do research on her thesis project, a video documentary of the Iranian women’s movement.

On October 15, Ms. Momeni was stopped while driving in Tehran by people identifying themselves as undercover traffic-police officers. They said they were arresting her on suspicion of a traffic offense, and then took her to her parents’ home, which they searched. They seized her laptop and video footage of the interviews she had conducted. She was taken to the section of Evin Prison run by the Ministry of Intelligence.

Ms. Momeni, who was born in Los Angeles, has not been charged with any offense. Her family members were told she would be released quickly if they did not make her arrest public. But when they were not allowed to visit her and were told that no details of her case would be revealed until an investigation was completed, they went public.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

sunday short stack special election edition

"Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future." - Charles F. Kettering

sunday short stack

"I hope that when I die, people say about me, 'Boy, that guy sure owed me a lot of money.'"
- Jack Handey

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

married with children

lesson: never label anything 'botched crime story'

An unpublished work by Stanislaw Lem has been discovered, a "quasi-opera" Lem had been trying to find for decades.

Lem mentioned the missing piece in numerous interviews, including those given to Stanisław Bereś and Tomasz Fijałkowski. 'We've turned everything upside down here. I still hope it surfaces somewhere', Lem told Bereś.

Also the writer's secretary, Wojciech Zemek, for years searched for the piece. 'From time to time Mr Lem would ask me whether I'd already found it, and I'd reply regretfully that I hadn't', remembers Mr Zemek. 'And yet I held the folder containing it so many times in my hands!'

The folder, an old-style grey cardboard, ribbon-tied folder, was inscribed 'Botched crime story' and contained an unfinished Raymond Chandler-style crime novel that Lem started writing in the mid-1950s. It has now turned out he used that typescript to create a hiding place so perfect the text went missing for five decades - he simply slid the Stalin opera between the pages of the crime novel typescript.

'I always knew that every one of Lem's pieces has a second bottom - even a botched crime story can hide an opera about Stalin!', commented Mr Zemek.

Via 3qd