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