Thursday, July 31, 2008

I am a crazy sap

my thursday treat

Listen to Tom Waits's entire July 5th concert at the Fox Theater in Atlanta here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

what is LA reading?

Not surprisingly, spirituality and LA-based authors feature prominently.

a being is never an end

In the summer issue of Quarterly Conversation, Lauren Elkin discusses Simone de Beauvoir on the occasion of the French publication of her second volume of journals.

It is proof, if proof were needed, of Simone de Beauvoir’s mythic stature in France, that to commemorate the centenary of her birth the French news weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published a photograph of Beauvoir’s naked derriere on its January 3rd cover.

Taken in 1952, when Beauvoir was in Chicago visiting her then-lover, Nelson Algren, the photograph shows the great feminist standing in the bathroom, wearing not a stitch of clothes, looking at herself in the mirror. And it was not Algren who took it, but his close friend, the photographer Art Shay. The way Shay tells it, Beauvoir heard the shutter snap behind her and, laughing, chastised him: “Naughty Boy!” (No word on why Shay was around while Beauvoir was in the altogether).

The author of The Second Sex would have turned 100 this year, and in spite of all the tributes, assessments, analyses, and appreciations—a special issue of Le Magazine Littéraire, a three-day conference under the direction of Julia Kristeva, several new books—it is the sexy, controversial aspects of her life that have been emphasized, once again, in the mainstream media: her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, their pact not to marry and to tell each other everything of their extracurricular conquests, their tendency to pass lovers back and forth and how it was all his idea. Beauvoir comes off as a doormat every time—which suits popular opinion just fine, thriving as it does on human fallibility. What sells more papers: a fair and balanced portrait of the “greatest feminist theorist of our time,” or a photograph of her ass?

Note: I don't know Lauren Elkin, but Facebook is absolutely convinced we should be friends.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

bittersweet boast

While I'm thrilled to have another review in the LA Times, I'm quite sad that it comes so close to the end of the Sunday book review section. Write a letter in protest if you are so inclined.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

did I mention the weather?

Carolyn Kellogg helps make my imminent return to Los Angeles seem less painful. After all, there are many reasons that I do live there (most of the time).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the literary equivalent of track 7

The Guardian explores Marshall McLuhan's theory that the best test of a book is page 69.

back in time with the OG

Sunday, July 20, 2008

sunday short stack

"When one of your dreams come true, you begin to look at the others more carefully."
- Joseph Addison

Saturday, July 19, 2008

52 books in 52 weeks

13. What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

I returned to teaching this past fall after a long hiatus, and Bain's book was incredibly helpful while developing my curriculum. I was able to go from an unreasoned collection of assignments to a generative and resonant semester-long plan.

14. Brown Acres: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers by Anna Sklar

My thoughts on this book are old news, but here they are again.

15. Like You'd Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepherd

This book was so overwhelmingly male that I thought the title was actually mocking me. Whether it was a tale of Yeti hunters or Chernobyl engineers or Hadrian's soldiers or a high school football star, the stories were irrevocably masculine. I do thank Shepherd, though, for lending credence to my long-held theory that The Who is a band for boys.

16. The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter

I didn't really get this book, though I'm generally a Baxter fan. At first, it was a semi-interesting exploration of how someone could fall under the sway of a sociopath or two, but then it seemed to take an Auster-esque turn toward displaced identity that didn't quite work for me.

17. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

I truly enjoyed this collection, as I imagined that I would. I'm an adherent of July's sensibility and just as it's come across in her projects and films, her stories also hum with a slightly desperate, perversely beautiful humanity (see my favorite "This Person"). If I had one criticism, it would be the sexual despair common to so many stories that did not always add to the narrative.

18. Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories by Steven Millhauser

I found the 13 ruminations on obsession fascinating; the stories were thematically repetitive and completely original at the same time. Each tale was a world so magical and possible and profound.

19. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan

I finally gave in to the many recommendations of this book despite my hesitation about reading about a model, a hesitation that seems as shallow as the industry portrayed in the novel. This story is smart and compelling, and I admire Egan for creating such a simultaneously sympathetic and despicable protagonist.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

fun with found literature

Fernando Pessoa's heirs plan to auction off his correspondence with none other than occultist Aleister Crowley. I doubt the letters cover typical Christmas newsletter fare.

The remains of Kafka's estate that have been shored up in a Tel Aviv flat will finally be released.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

sunday short stack

"I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult." - Rita Rudner

Friday, July 11, 2008

have you ever swum nude in mixed company?

Susie Bright's Journal reports findings from a 1920s Barnard College "purity test":

[The survey] reported that: 51% of the 70 girls considered "one or more propositions to be contrary to their honor; that more than 50% indulge in necking; that 34% practice the "soul kiss"; that 49% had kissed ten different men; that 29% have gone out with other women's husbands, and that no one would answer the question: "Have you ever swum nude in mixed company?"

Of the group, the authors reported that 80% were smokers and 66% tipplers. Answering the question: "Have you ever been tight?" 38 wrote "no," 32 wrote "yes." Of those answering in the affirmative, 14 said they had been tight once, 14 said they had been tight often, and four said that they were "usually tight."

a decline in the power of bluff

Walter Benjamin surveys French literature in a 1940 letter to Max Horkheimer posted at New Left Review. On Michel Leiris's Manhood: A Journey from Childhood into the Fierce Order of Virility:

Michel Leiris’s book, Manhood, is also based on the biography of the author. But what a different biography this is! Before going further, I would like to draw out what it has in common with other recent Surrealist publications. Particularly notable is a decline in the power of bluff: a power that was one of the glories of Surrealist actions from the beginning. This drop is accompanied by a weakening of internal structure and an unwonted textual transparency. This is due, in part, to the grip that Freudianism exerts over these authors.

Leiris is in his mid-thirties. He was a member of the Collège de Sociologie, which I wrote to you about at the time of its foundation. In civilian life he is an ethnologist with the Musée de l’Homme, at the Trocadéro. As for the personal impression he makes, you met him yourself in 1934 or 35, at a soirée at Landsberg’s. It would be no exaggeration to claim that his book would have been the greatest success of the literary season if the War had not intervened. I think certain pages of his autobiography might interest you and will take the liberty of sending you the volume.

You will not suspect me of an excessive tenderness, either for the milieu from which this production emerges, or for the literary genre (‘true confessions’) to which it belongs. In fact the book rather reminded me of Chaplin’s well-known gag where, playing the part of a pawnshop employee dealing with a customer who wants to pawn an alarm clock, he examines the object with distrust, then, to make sure, carefully takes the mechanism to pieces, finally putting all the parts in the customer’s hat and explaining that he cannot see his way to granting a loan on such an object. I have been told that, when Polgar saw this film, he exclaimed: ‘That’s psychoanalysis, the spitting image!’ Leiris’s book, which the author explains was written after psychoanalytic treatment, may well trigger the same remark. It seems unlikely that a man who has been brought to list his mental assets so scrupulously can hope to produce future works. Leiris explains this clearly enough: ‘It is as though the fallacious constructions on which my life was based had been undermined at their foundations, without my being given anything that could replace them. The result is that I certainly act more sagaciously; but the emptiness in which I dwell is all the more acute’ (p. 167).

Via 3qd

Sunday, July 06, 2008

sunday short stack

"Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death, and religion), you must have mirth or you will have madness." - G.K. Chesterton