Friday, February 29, 2008

just when you thought every fetish had been exhausted...

...welcome to
erotic falconry.

(NSFW, obviously)

Via Vice

I thought this was an Onion headline


the festival of books approaches

The LA Times has announced the nominees for their annual book prizes. For fiction and first fiction:


Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books)
Andrew O’Hagan, Be Near Me (Harcourt)
Stewart O'Nan, Last Night at the Lobster (Viking)
Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf Press)
Marianne Wiggins, The Shadow Catcher (Simon & Schuster)

Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

Antonia Arslan {Translated by Geoffrey Brock} Skylark Farm (Alfred A. Knopf)
Rebecca Curtis, Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money (Harper Perennial)
Pamela Erens, The Understory (Ironweed Press)
Ellen Litman, The Last Chicken in America: A Novel in Stories (W.W. Norton)
Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Riverhead Books)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

the usefulness of knowledge and knowing

L. Ron Hubbard is not only a bad writer; he's also a plagiarist.

Via Fark

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

rip: dutton's bookstore

Another historic independent bookstore - Dutton's of Brentwood - has given up the ghost. From the LA Times:

Mired in debt and uncertain about the future of his current location, Doug Dutton said Monday that he will close his iconic Brentwood bookstore, where thousands of authors have celebrated their works in the central courtyard and readers such as Dustin Hoffman and Meg Ryan have sought counsel on stocking their bookshelves.

Dutton's, which plans to close April 30, is one of many independent bookstores that have disappeared in the last couple of decades. Rising rents, the growth of big-box chains and the triumph of as a major force have challenged the indies.

But Dutton's has a national reputation, a following among authors who appeared at its many readings and, for its two decades of history, a special place in literary Los Angeles. Many considered it the most literary and high-minded of L.A.'s bookstores, as well as one that felt increasingly, if charmingly, anachronistic.

Monday, February 25, 2008

pimp my scion

I just exchanged a car with 211,000 miles for one with 7 miles. (Mine is metallic midnight blue.) I am officially a grown-up.

and the award for best oscar joke goes to...

Jon Stewart for "Normally when you see a black man or a
woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty...How (else) will we know it's the future? Silver unitards?
That can't be all."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

the Almighty himself couldn’t stop it

Long before my choice for Best Picture - There Will Be Blood - was officially released, I was chock full of anticipation because I had used its source material - Upton Sinclair's Oil! - for my dissertation. Of course, in the book, there is little of the dark misanthropy that makes me love the adaptation, and in the film, there is little of the union struggle that provides the core of the book. While only the skeleton of Oil! is used to inspire There Will Be Blood, it's nice to see some attention paid to one of Sinclair's alternative religion texts. In honor of the tonight's Oscars, I am dusting off the ol' diss and posting the section that looks at how the character of Eli was based on my favorite evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson.

Upton Sinclair also uses Aimee Semple McPherson’s life history in creating the character of Eli Watkins in his 1927 novel Oil!, but unlike [Myron] Brinig [in The Flutter of an Eyelid], Sinclair doesn’t lampoon the evangelist. Eli Watkins is far from the most righteous of religious figures, but he does possess a humanity not found in Angela Flower. Of course, Sinclair makes the interesting authorial choice of transforming Sister Aimee into Brother Eli. This gender switch does not add anything to the narrative, except perhaps to distance Sinclair’s evangelist from McPherson, an unnecessary mask since it is apparent from biographical details that Watkins is a male version of Sister Aimee. Judging by the other female characters in the novel, who are either spoiled debutantes or nurturing socialists, it is quite possible that Sinclair was not up to the task of addressing the complexity of a character like McPherson. Making her a man granted a simplicity not found in the genuine article.

In his foreword to the 1997 edition of Oil!, Jules Tygiel relates that H.L. Mencken thought Sinclair suffered from a “credulity complex,” due to the number of causes, belief systems, and speculations in which Sinclair was interested throughout his lifetime. Tygiel claims Mencken said that “Sinclair had believed, at one time or another, in more things than any other man in the world” (vii). Oil! is not the only book by Sinclair that deals with religion in southern California. In his 1922 novel They Call Me Carpenter, Jesus pays a visit to Los Angeles. Oil! chronicles the business enterprise of J. Arnold Ross and the increasing Bolshevik sympathies aroused in his son, Bunny, as a result of the mining strikes he witnesses and his admiration for the strike leader, Paul Watkins. Bunny and his father meet the Watkins family when they buy the family’s land in the hopes of oil prospects. Bunny had previously made the acquaintance of Paul, the eldest son, who is on the run from his family in the beginning of the novel, trying to escape their religious influences. Bunny is fascinated by Paul’s description of his father’s fervor in the church of Aimee Semple McPherson.

“What does he believe?”

“The Old Time Religion. It’s called the Four Square Gospel. It’s the Apostolic Church. They jump.”


“The Holy Spirit comes down to you, see, and makes you jump. Sometimes it makes you roll, and sometimes you talk in tongues.”

“What is that?”

“Why, you make noises, fast, like you was talkin’ in some foreign language; and maybe it is – Pap says it’s the language of the arch-angels, but I don’t know. I can’t understand it, and I hate it” (44).
When the Watkins patriarch tries to convert “Dad” (as J. Arnold Ross is called throughout the novel), Bunny’s father invents a religion of their own (The Church of the True Word) to avoid Watkins’s preaching. At first, Dad won’t explain it on doctrinal grounds, but he finds it useful later when he can employ it to convince Watkins to stop beating his family. When the Watkins land has been bought (and christened “Paradise”), Dad sets the terms of payment to ensure the family is protected from the Foursquare Gospel. Dad once again uses The Church of the True Word to manipulate the Watkinses into not giving money to missionaries.

In Paul’s absence, his brother Eli has been exploring his healing powers among his neighbors. Like Aimee Semple McPherson, Eli became known locally for his curative abilities before turning to evangelism. When southern California is hit by an earthquake, Eli blames the Holy Spirit “growing weary of fornications and drunkenness and lying in the world” (92). Bunny’s father also tries to use his imaginary religion to reconcile Paul with his family by claiming he has been chosen by The Church of the True Word. At this suggestion, Eli revolts:
...but here was Eli, transformed into a prophet of the Lord, and blazing after a fashion not unknown to prophets, with a white flame of jealousy!

'I am him who the Holy Spirit has blessed! I am him who the Lord hath chosen to show the signs! Look at me, I say – look at me! Ain’t my hair fair and my eyes blue? Ain’t my face grave and my voice deep?’ – and sure enough, Eli’s voice had gone down again, and Eli was a grown man, a seer of visions and pronouncer of dooms (117).
Almost immediately, Eli begins preaching at the “holy jumpers” church in Paradise, using the dogma of the fictional Church of the True Word. Eli calls his ministry the Third Revelation, and when the money starts to pour in, his family doesn’t see any of it. Sinclair uses Eli’s evangelism to comment on the vulnerability of the masses in the face of spiritual promises:
Eli was a lunatic and a dangerous one, but a kind that you couldn’t put in an asylum because he used the phrases of religion. He hadn’t wits enough to make up anything for himself, he had jist [sic] enough to see what could be done with the phrases Dad had given him; so now there was a new religion turned loose to plague the poor and ignorant, and the Almighty himself couldn’t stop it (120).
The next time we see Eli, he is dressed in finery and being chauffeured in a limo. During the war, Eli preaches against the Hun, “telling how the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that the enemy would be routed before the year was by, and promising eternal salvation to all who died in this cause of the Lord – provided, of course, that they had not rejected their chance to be saved by Eli” (215). Eli then gathers believers to pray for rain at the front and “the floodgates of heaven were opened” on the Huns but not the Allies (216). Dad gives Eli money for the Temple when Eli’s power has grown to the point that he might be helpful to the oil baron. Eli’s “Bible Marathon” gets press and financing for the Temple, which “opened amid such glory to the Lord as had never been witnessed in this part of the world” (421).

Eli’s ministry is based closely on many aspects of Aimee Semple McPherson’s Foursquare Gospel, including the “tarrying rooms” she offered to those seeking a more extended spiritual immersion. Sinclair incorporates McPherson’s nemesis, the Reverend Bob Shuler, in the character Tom Poober. Sinclair is also drawn to Sister Aimee’s drowning incident, and he plays on the lascivious rumors about the evangelist absconding with her engineer by having Eli sighted at a beachfront hotel with a “handsome woman” (439). Eli’s drowning is a replica of McPherson’s in many ways, including the green bathing suit, the loss of life incurred through her attempted rescue, and the names of the alleged kidnappers, although here they are transformed into angels. As much of a mockery as was made of McPherson’s explanation, Eli’s survival story is ten times more ludicrous.
The story he told was that, finding himself being carried out to sea, he had prayed to the Lord, and the Lord had heard his prayer, and had sent three angels to hold him up in the water. The name of one of these angels was Steve, and the second was a lady angel, whose name was Rosie, and the third was a Mexican angel, and his name was Felipe. These angels had taken turns holding onto the shoulder-straps of Eli’s green bathing suit; and when he grew faint, one of them would fly away and bring him food (458).
After a protracted battle with the devil, Eli returns to the shore. He claims to have found a feather in his bathing suit and his story is bought wholesale by his adoring public. One of the last appearances of Eli in the novel is as a disembodied voice spreading his gospel over the radio, Sister Aimee’s transmission of choice.

Sinclair’s narrator connects Eli’s popularity to the specific locale of southern California. Because the area is populated by Midwestern farmers who come to California to die (evoking Nathanael West’s characterizations in The Day of the Locust), they want to die happy, “with the assurance of sunshine and flowers beyond” (421). Therefore, Los Angeles (called “Angel City” in Oil!) is the home of “more weird cults and doctrines” than one can imagine: “Wherever three or more were gathered together in the name of Jesus or Buddha or Zoroaster, or Truth or Light or Love, or New Thought or Spiritualism or Psychic Science – there was the beginning of a new revelation, with mystical, inner states of bliss and esoteric ways of salvation” (422). Aimee Semple McPherson’s crusade was one of the most popular and powerful of these revelations, and her presence in the contemporary literature of her time was as much a testament to her personality as it was to her proselytizing. When David Reid wrote his essay “The Possessed” for the 1992 collection Sex, Death, and God in L.A., the Angelus Temple had become what Reid describes as “the Norma Desmond of Los Angeles churches” (179). McPherson had died 50 years before, and while the Church of the Foursquare Gospel continues to exist under the direction of her son Rolf (with 17,000 churches in sixty countries in 1993), the heyday of the ministry was fueled by the evangelist’s charisma.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

from dam collapse to child murder

At the LA Times, Cecelia Rasmussen takes a fascinating look at the history of disaster ballads in Southern California. There's even audio...

Newspapers have always written about the nation's disasters -- but so have balladeers, enshrining death and heroism and crime in songs about virtually every newsworthy event: the 1889 Johnstown flood, the last train ride of engineer Casey Jones, the sinking of the Titanic.

These songs were popularized in sheet music and phonograph records, and some of the mournful tunes later wound up on the radio. Southern California has had banner-headline disasters and crimes aplenty -- and its own share of songs inspired by events here. Among them were the Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925, the murder of 12-year-old Marion Parker in 1927, the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928, and the frantic efforts to free little Kathy Fiscus from an underground water pipe in 1949, a vain attempt broadcast live on local television, then a rarity.

a bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don't need it

Even Edith Wharton is not safe from foreclosure.

Since 2002, Ms. Copeland explained by phone this week, the Mount, which is open to the public — much of it has been restored in recent years to match the period when Wharton lived there — has been covering its operating expenses by borrowing from the Berkshire Bank in nearby Pittsfield. It now owes the bank some $4.3 million, and in mid-February, when it failed to meet a scheduled monthly payment of $30,000, the bank sent a notice that it intended to start foreclosing unless the default was remedied promptly, Ms. Copeland said.

To stay open, she added, the Mount needs to raise $3 million by March 24. “The bank has really been very patient,” she explained. “They’re eager to help us work this out.”

[...] Wharton lived at the Mount only until 1910, when her marriage to the troubled Teddy Wharton became unsalvageable, and she moved permanently to France. But the house, which she treasured in memory, was where she came into her own as a writer; it’s where she finished “The House of Mirth,” her breakthrough novel (part of whose profits paid for the Mount’s elaborate gardens) and got the inspiration for “Ethan Frome.” It is now on the register of National Historic Landmarks and is one of only a few such places associated with a woman and her accomplishments.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Annie Leibovitz has turned out a pretty snazzy Hitchcock tribute in this month's Vanity Fair. (That's Keira Knightly and Jennifer Jason Leigh in an imagined remake - make it! - of Rebecca.) FirstShowing has the spread.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Click through to browse an impressive collection of punk rock flyers from 1981-1984.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

old age is more like a semicolon

While public discussion of proper grammar is always supported here, this NY Times article on the correct use of a semicolon in a subway ad is (intentionally, I hope) absurd. The Son of Sam could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver?

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker, pronounced the subway poster’s use of the semicolon to be “impeccable.”

Lynne Truss, author of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” called it a “lovely example” of proper punctuation.

Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the “burgeoning of punctuational literacy in unlikely places.”

Allan M. Siegal, a longtime arbiter of New York Times style before retiring, opined, “The semicolon is correct, though I’d have used a colon, which I think would be a bit more sophisticated in that sentence.”

The linguist Noam Chomsky sniffed, “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

alain robbe-grillet (1922 - 2008)

Alain Robbe-Grillet, the French writer who pioneered the so-called "new novel" genre in the 1950s, died Monday at the age of 85, the Academie Francaise (French Academy) said...He had been admitted to hospital in the Normandy city of Caen over the weekend after suffering a heart ailment.

In a series of essays published in 1963 Robbe-Grillet developed the theory of the "new novel" which sought to overturn conventional ideas on fiction-writing...His theory was that traditional notions such as plot and character should be subordinated to impersonal descriptions of physical things...His first published book -- "Les Gommes" [The Erasers] -- established him as a leader of a new generation of writers that also included Samuel Beckett, Claude Simon and Natalie Serrault... Robbe-Grillet said the term 'new novel' was aimed at "all those seeking new forms for the novel ... and all those who have determined to invent the novel, in other words to invent man."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

sunday short stack

"Nothing is permanent in this wicked world - not even our troubles." - Charlie Chaplin

So cool it needs its own special spacing:
  • This month marks the start of "Women in the City," a viral public art exhibition in Los Angeles: "Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler and Cindy Sherman disseminate their work in various locations in on-the-road billboards, video screens, storefronts, a movie theater and even propagation through widely distributed stickers." (via

Saturday, February 16, 2008

yes, we can

I hope everyone in the country can absorb the disparity these two videos highlight. I, too, feel a thrill going up my leg.

Friday, February 15, 2008

adapt or perish

There's been some interesting adaptation news this week.

The Coen Brothers will adapt Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which should be an excellent return to the stark, frigid landscapes of Fargo with a speculative twist. (via rockslinga)

Natalie Portman will direct an adaptation of Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness in Hebrew. (Is all this overachieving designed to make me hate her?)

Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust, originally adapted in 1949, will be made into a film again by Picture Entertainment and Plum Pictures.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

all you need is love...or a cheating offset plan

CheatNeutral: Helping You Because You Can't Help Yourself

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

a clean plotte is a happy plotte

A friend was just showing me her Julie Doucet collection, so I'm sure she's going to be thrilled about the artist's slideshow over at CBC. 365 Days is the newly released sketchbook of a year in Doucet's life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

every battle heads toward surrender on both sides

NPR's Song of the Day is a new Mountain Goats track named for the creator of Fu Manchu.

Book cover via

one day at a time for miss amy

Where are my back up dancers?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

sunday short stack

"When we got into office, the thing that surprised me the most was that things were as bad as we'd been saying they were."
- John F. Kennedy

Saturday, February 09, 2008

52 books in 52 weeks

1. The Gathering by Anne Enright

Enright's novel is rife with Irish despair, but I can't remember the last time I stopped so often to marvel at a sentence, which is in itself a cure for melancholy.

2. Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Pahliniuk

I realized with some surprise that this was my first Pahliniuk book. It reminded me of the work of the best magicians - seemingly wondrous, partly in its ability to discourage you from looking too close. I accepted on faith that the time travel plot's math would work.

3. The Sabotage Cafe by Joshua Furst

Furst's ability to craft a realistic female voice is to be commended; I just didn't really like the women enough to care that much about them.

4. Yes, Yes, Cherries: Stories by Mary Otis

Yes, yes, Mary Otis. More, more. You got me writing again. Thank you.

5. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I never read books like this, but who could resist a rock star who buys a haunted suit on eBay? Not me. Hill's thriller wasn't free of the elements that keep me from this genre, but I had a darn good time nonetheless.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

to be continued?

At The Millions, Emily Colette Wilkinson posts the soundtrack for her screenplay about grad school life in the humanities. Beginning with...

  • Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Muddy Waters
  • Oxford Comma, Vampire Weekend
  • Ask Me Anything, The Strokes ("I've got nothing to say...")
  • Where Is My Mind?, The Pixies goes on from there. I wish I didn't have so much work to do, because I know there are more films about grad school to be found beyond Laurel Canyon.

Monday, February 04, 2008

weepy on the williamsburg bridge

...and apparently, copying someone else's story didn't cheer her up! Jezebel looks at what went wrong when a Self editor tried to replicate the Eat, Pray, Love experience.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

we're out of time

I'm making an executive decision to plan lessons rather than post a sunday short stack, so in lieu of links, enjoy Sarah Silverman's lovely message to her fella on The Jimmy Kimmel Show earlier this week.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

small eyes cloud, turn dark

I was in the office of a colleague the other day, and she had a note to herself on the wall that read: "No new projects." I told her I needed a sign like that, too, but it should read: "Do new projects." Sometimes I feel like I have enough projects for three lifetimes - with more cropping up every week - and I will still spend hours at a time talking on the phone or watching old episodes of Deadwood and Six Feet Under on DVD. (I don't do cable at least.)

One of the projects I'm not working on is a search for Las Vegas literature that moves beyond the typical settings and characters you'd expect - the "strippers and pornographers, runaways and addicts" that are mentioned in this review of Charles Brock's new novel Beautiful Children. I'm encouraged, however, by the "parents and adolescents" and "comic book illustrators" also listed as well as Liesl Schillinger's "bravo." We shall see...

From the first chapter of Beautiful Children:

In a short amount of time that section of videotape would be transformed into a series of stills, frames scanned into a computer. A single frame would be enlarged, then Photoshopped, resulting in the image of a slouching, unexpressive child. This image would be circulated in e-mail attachments, faxes, and flyers; it would be posted in arcades and student unions and youth hostels; in post offices and convenience stores and drop-in centers for the homeless and indigent. And at some point fairly early on in this process, Lincoln Ewing would be reminded of the damndest piece of information. A drop of conventional wisdom that, honestly, Lincoln had no clue where he'd picked up. It concerned Native Americans. Supposedly, when photography was invented, they believed each picture from the white man's magic machine removed a piece of the subject's soul.

This was precisely the kind of thing Lincoln didn't need in his head. Yet, just as a tongue cannot resist probing the sensitive area of a cracked tooth, Lincoln would find himself returning to that god-awful piece of information: gnawing on it when a police officer misread his son's birth certificate, causing the boy's middle name to fall by the wayside, becoming as forgotten as the great-grandfather who had inspired it. And when mention of the boy's twelve years of age was replaced by his date of birth — this distinction small, but especially painful, however pragmatic; done, it was explained, as a matter of protocol, to acknowledge a grim reality: nobody can say how long a child will be missing.

Friday, February 01, 2008

there's hundreds of people frozen everywhere

Merry pranksters Improv Everywhere gathered over 200 people to freeze in place in the middle of Grand Central Station last weekend. I love the freaked out children and the guy who goes up and pokes one of the frozen. Ah, the power of synchronized watches...