Friday, May 30, 2008

now she is the less deceived

Zadie Smith on George Eliot:

These days, when reading critically, the fashion is to remain aloof from the human experiences of novelists. Eliot herself was less squeamish. It was her contention that human experience is as powerful a force as theory or revealed fact. Experience transforms perspective, and transformations in perspective constitute real changes in the world. "Our subtlest analysis of schools and sects," she wrote, "must miss the essential truth, unless it be lit up by the love that sees in all forms of human thought and work the life and death struggles of separate human beings." Experience, for Eliot, was a powerful way of knowing. She had no doubt that she had learned as much from loving her partner George Lewes, for example, as she had from translating Spinoza. When Dorothea truly becomes great (only really in the last third of the novel, when she comes to the aid of Lydgate and Rosamund), it is because she has at last recognised the value of emotional experience:

"All the active thought with which she had before been representing to herself the trials of Lydgate's lot [. . .] all this vivid sympathetic experience returned to her now as a power: it asserted itself as acquired knowledge asserts itself and will not let us see as we saw in the day of our ignorance."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

a shortage of spider monkeys in Mississippi that year

Escapegrace friend Sacha Howells has posted a great review of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation began with two Mississippi kids who really loved a movie. In 1982, Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, who were just 10 and 11, decided that dressing up like Indiana Jones wasn't enough; they were going to recreate the film, every single scene. With the help of a bootleg audiocassette Zala made by strapping a recorder to his chest in the theater, they mapped out the shots and learned their lines -- Strompolos played Indy and produced, and Zala, along with directing, played Belloq, the French archaeologist...

The cast was filled out by neighborhood kids. They turned the swamps and alleys of Mississippi into deserts, jungles, whatever they needed. Their moms' basements became tombs and bars, and they tapped anyone they could con out of, say a loaner Rolls Royce, or some pet store snakes -- which, it turns out, they were very good at. One summer's project stretched to two, then three. But unlike every other kid with a great idea, seven years after starting, they actually finished.

The movie itself is amazing, in all the senses of the word. Sure, the quality is iffy; there are vertical-hold shivers and tracking lines, but you're drawn in from the opening scene. When Chris as Indy trades the Golden Idol for what looks like a Crown Royal bag full of sand, and ends up chased by chubby blonde kids in grass skirts, the fun is impossible to resist.

Read more here (and go ahead, click that recommend button).

Image via Geekanerd

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

a hot time in the old town

It's a big week in LA. The Book Expo kicks off tomorrow at the Convention Center, and while I don't think I'll be there, that's no reason you shouldn't be. I will, however, be at one of my favorite LA events - the Culver City Art Walk. I have the distinct pleasure right now of figuring out where to have lunch.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

sydney pollack (1934 - 2008)

From The New York Times:

Mr. Pollack’s career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art...

But from the beginning of his movie career, he was also perceived as belonging to a generation whose work broke with the immediate past. In 1965, Charles Champlin, writing in The Los Angeles Times, compared Mr. Pollack to the director Elliot Silverstein, whose western spoof, “Cat Ballou,” had been released earlier that year, and Stuart Rosenberg, soon to be famous for “Cool Hand Luke” (1967). Mr. Champlin cited all three as artists who had used television rather than B movies to learn their craft.

Self-critical and never quite at ease with Hollywood, Mr. Pollack voiced a constant yearning for creative prerogatives more common on the stage. Yet he dived into the fray. In 1970, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” his bleak fable of love and death among marathon dancers in the Great Depression, based on a Horace McCoy novel, received nine Oscar nominations, including the one for directing.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

sunday short stack

"Do you have major regrets?"
"There is nothing that I deeply regret in my life. I see nothing to apologise for."
"You're lucky."
"Maybe. Or maybe I just played the game harder." - Gore Vidal in The Independent

Saturday, May 24, 2008

an escapegrace first

When I think about the Los Angeles sewer system, I link myself.

can't wait to be there and buy you a drink...

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge!

Friday, May 23, 2008

I challenge Pete Doherty to a dance-off

Of course, this goes away hours before I arrive, but if you're in New York this weekend, check out the Telectroscope to London.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

a regular lunch bucket guy

Over at The Elegant Variation, Jim Ruland asks "If James Frey says he's never read Bright Shiny Morning, why the hell should you?"

But the shocker came when Pesce asked if he ever looked at his work the next day and went "blech!" (An astute reader that Molly Pesce). Here's what Frey had to say:

I don't ever read what I write. You know. I don't read it while I'm writing. I don't read it when I'm done. I've never--except for public events--I've never read my first two books. I've never read that one. I never will. I don't have really any interest.

Pesce's jaw hangs open for most of the exchange. "That's fascinating! That's really unbelievable!" she says, prompting Frey to continue:

I think if you read what you write you just want to change it. (Ed. Note: That's a good thing, Frey.) You get stuck in this trap where you never move forward. I try to make things what I want them to be the first time through.

While it's tempting to take Frey at his word that he doesn't read his own work or do any of the things that go with it (revising, rewriting, rethinking, caring), I call bullshit.

as special as death and love and as scary as apocalypse and as personal as an apology

I'm sad to not have tickets to the Tim Fite show at the Troubadour tonight. There's something about that boy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

sunday short stack

"If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur." - Doug Larson

  • I am enjoying it too much at this very moment not to recommend Guilt by Association, a collection of indie greats covering their guilty pleasure songs. I bought it awhile ago and am still listening to it, so that says something. My favorite cheesy cover is Luna doing Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" but Superchunk's cover of Destiny Child's "Say My Name" is unbelievable.
  • Check out a montage of every drug montage in Requiem for a Dream and other obsessive fanboy supercuts.
  • Plus a bunch of links I've been meaning to put up for months:
Music Using Only Sounds from Windows XP and 98
100 Best Last Lines from Novels
Batman by Dostoevsky
10 Most Bizarre Scientific Papers
Greatest Sci-Fi Porn of All Time
Top 10 Ugly Fishes
Cats That Look Like Hitler

best. comment. ever.

In the comments section of a post on David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, an enquiring mind from the University of Zagreb in Croatia writes: "Hi, I am reading the book now, like it :), but I do not understand what koochy lips means? Could you expain?"

I think it's really up to David Mitchell to provide a definition, because one man's koochy lips may not be another man's koochy lips.

Friday, May 16, 2008

52 books in 52 weeks

11. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I originally read this book in 2004 and this time around, I was teaching it. It was a little awkward at first because I forgot how much sex there was - not much by bodice-ripper standards, but a bit more than enough by required reading standards. My students handled it quite well and, judging by class discussion and their essays, enjoyed it as much as I did.

12. The Best American Short Stories 2007

I don't always see eye to eye with Stephen King, but I can say one thing: we definitely have the same taste in short stories. I think this is one of the strongest BASS collections in years.

looking forward to invitations

I'm pretty straight and pretty unromantic, but something about seeing footage of people celebrating same-sex marriage progress (like the crowds in West Hollywood last night) makes me sob like a little baby. Congratulations!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

is happy captain of industry an oxymoron?

Lance Mannion on why college isn't for everybody:

College isn’t for everybody, and everybody isn’t for college.

When I say that, I’m usually talking about students who aren’t emotionally ready for college, either because they’re not yet mature enough or they are too restless at the moment to settle down to four years of intellectual grinding.

Those kids should take some time after high school to work or travel or join the military or intently pursue a hobby. After a few years, most of them will discover that they are not just ready for school again, they are ready to excel at it.

But often when I say that college isn’t for everybody I also mean that there are lots of college students who shouldn’t be college students ever.

I don’t mean that they are somehow intellectually or emotionally unfit for college. Many of the students I mean do very well in their classes. I mean that college isn’t preparing them for a life that will make them happy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

silly hackneyed morning

After the Love and Consequences scandal broke, I linked to an LA Observed post by Nancy Rommelmann in which she suggests that New Yorkers may be willing to accept ludicrous stories about LA because they don't know any better.

The book, based on the review by Michiku Kakutani, strained all credibility; the characters, dialogue, heartbreaks and denouement were stereotypical to the point of cartoonish. It eluded me how Kakutani could characterize the work as, “humane and deeply effecting.” Reading a follow-up piece in the Times, by Mimi Read, who with a straight face quoted Jones as saying, “One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot,” I thought, how is it possible that a New York Times reporter believes this?

When the book was exposed, nearly in real time, as a hoax, I figured out at least one of the reasons why those in New York who’d bought and published and lauded "Love and Consequences" were able to do so with a clear-ish conscience: the stories did not sound made-up to them. To a New Yorker, black foster mothers in South Central are, naturally, called Big Mom. Little girls who’ve been sexually abused show up with blood on their panties. And do 13-year-olds buy their own burial plots? In LA, they do. And if those pesky things called “facts” couldn’t be checked, it’s not their fault, but the fault of Jones’s family members and friends all being dead or in prison. Duh.

Despite the fact that I wrote an entire dissertation partly based on the premise that Los Angeles is tragically misunderstood, there's a part of me that refuses to believe this is still the case, especially in a city like New York that prides itself on its authenticity and sophistication. Yet the East Coast press and the publishing industry continue to buy (literally, for 1.5 million dollars) ludicrous generalizations about Los Angeles. That's why I thoroughly enjoyed David Ulin's smackdown of the new James Frey book - supposedly a "a sweeping chronicle of contemporary Los Angeles that is bold, exhilarating, and utterly original." There are some choice excerpts below that illustrate my point, but you can read the whole review here.
"Bright Shiny Morning" is a terrible book. One of the worst I've ever read. But you have to give James Frey credit for one thing: He's got chutzpah. Two and a half years after he was eviscerated by Oprah Winfrey for exaggerating many of the incidents in his now-discredited memoir "A Million Little Pieces," he's back with this book, which aims to be the big novel about Los Angeles, a panoramic look at the city that seeks to tell us who we are and how we live..."Bright Shiny Morning" is an execrable novel, a literary train wreck without even the good grace to be entertaining.


That's the issue with "Bright Shiny Morning" -- or one of them, anyway. Frey seems to know little about Los Angeles and to have no interest in it as a real place where people wrestle with actual life. There are obligatory riffs on freeways and natural disasters and a chapter on visual artists that lists "the highest price ever paid for a piece of their work in a public auction." There are also occasional installments of "Fun Facts" about the city, as if to give the illusion of a certain depth. Did you know that it is "illegal to lick a toad within the city limits of Los Angeles"? Neither did I. But I also don't know what this has to do with the larger story of the novel, except as another example of L.A. as odd and quirky, a territory in which we all "live with Angels and chase their dreams."


How do we reckon with a novel in which the desire to become an actress is treated as original and organic, in which the only Mexican American character is a maid?

How do we reckon with a book in which the city is flat and lifeless as a stage set, in which Frey uses broad generalizations ("Thirty-thousand Persians fleeing the rule of the ayatollahs. One-hundred and twenty-five thousand Armenians escaping Turkish genocide. Forty-thousand Laotians avoiding minefields. Seventy-five thousand Thais none in Bangkok sex shows.") to try to animate what his imagination cannot?

Yes, this is Los Angeles, in the way a cheap Hollywood movie is Los Angeles: superficial, a collection of loose impressions that don't add up.

a blooming lot more

At Paper Cuts, Barry Gewen discusses The Collector via Austrian sicko Josef Fritzel.

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things I thought of when I heard about Josef Fritzl — the 73-year-old Austrian who held his daughter prisoner for 24 years and fathered seven children with her — was John Fowles’s 1963 novel, “The Collector.” In the book, Frederick drugs a 20-year-old art student, Miranda, and imprisons her in a basement/dungeon. In the real world, Josef drugged his 18-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, and imprisoned her in a basement/dungeon. An article in Der Spiegel even refers to Fritzl as a kind of “collector.”

In the book’s most famous passage — probably its only famous passage — Frederick tells Miranda: “You think I’m not normal keeping you here like this. Perhaps I’m not. But I can tell you there’d be a blooming lot more of this if more people had the money and the time to do it. Anyway there’s more of it now than anyone knows.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

should women spend time in prison for having abortions?

I originally saw this video on Jezebel last summer and it both haunts and amuses me to this day.

the slip

That Trent Reznor...always giving it away for free.

Monday, May 12, 2008

half-cut but swilling dreams and misty wisdom

The Times Online describes Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith by Mark E. Smith as "a self- help book as much as it is a rock biography. Then again, it might be prose, hard to say." It looks like it's only available as import here so far.

The reader can see Smith at his favourite table in his favourite pub (of which he writes evocatively) holding court: “And another thing...” Despite the practised snarl of his publicity shots and a willingness to conform to curmudgeonly stereotype, Smith is no nihilist; far from it. He sings a song of common sense, decency, loyalty to your family and community. He writes that he “doesn't deliberate”, and this has meant that his art and vision has remained steadfast for 30 years. He seems to have understood, almost from The Fall's first practice, that the values a working-class background instils: graft, self-belief and honesty, are armoury enough to withstand any condescension or chicanery.

Warning: Squirrel lovers might not want to read this.

vote wisely

Alaska is younger than John McCain.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

sunday short stack

"Sooner or later we all quote our mothers."
- Bern Williams

Thursday, May 08, 2008

question of the day

How am I going to get to Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, or one of the other states lucky enough to have a date on Tom Waits's summer tour (announced in this fake press conference)?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

a nanny goat's dropping

Bookslut has two excellent links today: one to a 1958 audio interview with Dorothy Parker and the other to Michel Houellebecq's mother basically calling him a degenerate perv who writes porn because he doesn't get enough. Oh yeah, and she calls him a stupid little bastard a few times.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

afro-future females

Once upon a time, I wrote an essay that took (in my humble opinion) an overdue look at the science fiction being written by black women. There were very few academic texts on the subject at that point, and the ideas were inspired by Sheree Thomas's groundbreaking 2000 collection Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (and of course, Octavia Butler). The essay was subsequently accepted for publication in a collection and proceeded to grow outdated in the academic publishing labyrinth. In the end, when two other contributors flaked on completing their essays after extensive badgering, the publisher dropped the project. That's the bad news. The good news is the field has been rapidly growing ever since, and I eagerly await Marleen S. Barr's forthcoming collection Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction's Newest New-Wave Trajectory.

Via io9

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sunday, May 04, 2008

sunday short stack

"Hell, there are no rules here -- we're trying to accomplish something." - Thomas Edison

Saturday, May 03, 2008

the festival of books: alternative visions

My final panel of the festival was Alternative Visions with Shelley Jackson (in her second appearance in my schedule), Steve Erickson (without whom no Festival of Books would be complete), Zachary Lazar, and Nina Revoyr, hosted by moderator extraordinaire David Ulin.

Alternative visions discussed include literal realism, conjoined twins, Our Ecstatic Days, protopunks discovering movies, cineautism, listening to heavy metal instead of reading, The Rolling Stones, Japanese silent film stars, fake memoirs, working with well-known source material, the obsessive slog of a novel, mythic structure, the cliché of the late '60s/early '70s, The Melancholy of Anatomy, The Anatomy of Melancholy (David Ulin's favorite book), Patchwork Girl, Frankenstein, reading by typing vs. channeling Mary Shelley, identity politics as the topic of a novel, Hollywood as a non-topic, Southland, the Watts Riots, Keith Richards as Agonistes, writing about the most terrible topic you can come up with, Camille Paglia, the libraries of The Rolling Stones, misreading Los Angeles, Los Angeles willfully pretending it exists in defiance of history, Los Angeles as the end of history, history as a grand, messy expression of the personal, neighborhoods of color, the uncovered stories of Los Angeles, narrative as expression of the temporal, decaying body, mortal works of art, the zombie life of books, fleshy text, language as a physical presence, and the potential mass murder mystery of Shelley Jackson's Skin Project.

Friday, May 02, 2008

the festival of books: surf culture

I wasn't sure what this panel would entail, but I really enjoyed Kem Nunn's Pomona Queen as well as Antoine Wilson's The Interloper. Plus, surf literature didn't make much of an appearance in my dissertation and I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something important. The panel itself was more focused on surfing than books, however. I was most interested in Steven Kotler's thoughts on how surfing activates more pleasure transmitters in the brain than almost any other activity. Although Antoine Wilson might give surfing a run for its money...

The panelists (from left to right above: Steve Hawk, Steven Kotler, Kem Nunn, David Rensin) discussed what surf culture is, subculture separateness, surf language in transition, Yanni, tossing away your parents' words, Miki Dora: asshole or embodiment of the rebel art of surfing, John from Cincinatti, The Wild One, Gidget, the California dream, commodification of the sport, going to pot, finding waves to yourself, surfing as metonym for freedom, toxic runoff, surfer as environmentalist, Patagonia, surfing as disrespectful bastard child, neurochemical reactions of openness, curling, the surfing dream state, little kids chasing thrills, checking account ads, surfing and writing, Orange County surf magazines, David Milch, the Internet, reportage, West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief, surf noir, Dog Soldiers, Huntington Beach, Gidget again, Tapping the Source, The Beach Boys, Mike Doyle, never having a job as David Rensin's greatest accomplishment, oral history, Edie: American Girl, Studs Turkel, adrenaline and meditation responses, and the brain's gateway into mystical experience.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

the festival of books: aimee mann and joe henry

I hereby cast my vote for future festivals to offer at least one of these songwriter panels, because this was thoroughly enjoyable. Steve Almond served as moderator/interviewer, and while Aimee Mann and Joe Henry sometimes seemed like they were annoyed by his questions, he did have a couple funny moments. He welcomed the crowd by saying, "Nothing says rock and roll like 10:30 on a Sunday morning," and then when someone's baby cried, he said, "Oh good, someone brought a child," thereby driving mother and baby from the room. In between questions, Mann and Henry performed.

The interview covered topics such as Mann's upcoming release @#%&*! Smilers, "Jacob Marley's Chain," monologues, adopting a character, Jackson Browne, tear-stained dairy pages, giving no points for truthfulness, unraveling the sweater, "Short Man's Room," The Scout, Fellini's suggestion to create a character and find out what they have to tell you, music sounding like the story it's about, scaffolding, pulling potatoes from the ground, e-mailing poetry without explanation, pissy rants, tripping into an open manhole, Roseanne Cash, equal parts despair and hope, "Our Song," get out of jail free cards, book offers, graphic novels, the secret society of poets, early confessional phases, emotional truths, placing a premium on cleverness, the song junkyard, the organ donor program, John Doe, and the Cuban revolution.

Aimee Mann: "As a songwriter, if you mention four details, you're considered literary."