31 July 2010

I was all set to dismiss this Times article on multimedia book applications for the iPad out of hand -- I don't need a giant touchscreen in my life, GOML, etc. -- but they had to bring NIXONLAND into it. NIXONLAND is a great book, and being able to watch clips of events described in it while reading is an upgrade. Even if you could find all those clips on YouTube, you'd spend a lot of time looking for them when you could be reading.

On the other hand, don't wait to buy your iPad before picking up NIXONLAND. Perfect for the beach! Sort of!

30 July 2010

"This has nothing to do with Jim, directly; only he was outwardly so typical of that good, stupid kind we like to feel marching right and left of us in life, of the kind that is not disturbed by the vagaries of intelligence and the perversions of--of nerves, let us say. He was the kind of fellow you would, on the strength of his looks, leave in charge of the deck--figuratively and professionally speaking. I say I would, and I ought to know."

--Joseph Conrad, LORD JIM

29 July 2010

Spotted on the subway

I had you pegged for a McConaughey the way you were intently staring at your own tanned, bare shoulder for several minutes on end. Then you cracked this open at the beginning and began to read.

28 July 2010

Administrative note: Baseball Week: The Vengeance is being pushed back to Aug. 9-15, for the 1.68 parties interested. I have nothing to say for myself, July just got away from me. If you need something to do, might I suggest picking up David Mitchell's excellent CLOUD ATLAS for the AV Club's book club next week? (Plug city! But honestly, it's going to be really fun.)

Pistols at the ready

Oops! Random House has been selling a lot of e-books for which they never negotiated in the original contracts (probably because they didn't exist back then) and didn't bother going back and requesting -- titles nobody has heard of like PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT and INVISIBLE MAN. "It's the equivalent of a horse and buggy salesman assuming a Ford dealership for free," writes author Matt Stewart (THE FRENCH REVOLUTION) in the Huffington Post.

Agent Andrew Wylie, who represents that author and that estate respectively, responded by threatening to sue Random and cutting his own deal with Amazon, effectively uncoupling the print book from its digital format. It's weird to see the agent that involved; then again, he's probably getting a bigger cut this way. Of course, no one at Random will take his calls now.

(Must just be me but I could read these digital-copyright stories all day. I think I have an illness.)

27 July 2010

Is it supposed to be Iceland?

Amazing cover work. Can anybody find me the artist? David Rakoff's newest comes out September 21.
All summer I've been trying to get in to see Al Pacino in "The Merchant of Venice" in Shakespeare in the Park, to no avail. (Well, trying for the free tickets anyway -- guaranteed tickets for "supporters" start at $350, for which I could probably fly to Venice and wander around quoting "Heat" until I lost my voice.) So I'm pretty excited Pacino is bringing his Shylock to Broadway this fall.

26 July 2010

The "Mad Men"-Modern Library connection

Last night was the premiere of "Mad Men," a show I am predictably obsessed with but refuse to apologize. I won't spoil anything about the episode in case you're behind, but wanted to point out a tidbit -- the song played over the end credits is a British Invasion cover called "Tobacco Road," referencing the Erskine Caldwell novel of the same name. Better than the book, anyway. Listen to it here to jog your memory.

Plenty of other worthy tomes have been mentioned in the series so far; Flavorwire has an exhaustive round-up.

25 July 2010

This is what I like to hear: "The Brooklyn Book Festival is expanding this year to include three days of special literary events that "bookend" the festival — September 10th, 11th and 12th. Look for unique and fun Brooklyn Book Festival BOOKEND EVENTS at BAM, Bell House, The Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn Public Library, Greenlight Bookstore, Littlefield and St. Ann's Warehouse... more partners and more info about events coming soon!"

Earlier: 2008, 2009-quoted and other comments.

24 July 2010

There are an infinite number of spaces in this post

I doubt I will read a book more difficult than this this year, and any attempt to summarize it is going to resemble a third-grade book report more than an evaluation of the ideas contained therein. But I have to try anyway, so.

EVERYTHING AND MORE is a discussion of how mathematicians have talked about and used the concept of infinity, leading up to the work of Georg Cantor, a Russian-German mathematician whose ideas on infinite sets were controversial back then but paved the way for almost all modern discussion on the subject. The book lays out the genesis of his ideas through a lot of proofs and definitions, along with commentary on the mathematicians involved, starting with the Greeks (whose stance on infinity was "Don't go there," basically).

I would love to be able to explain Cantor's theory, but the math is frankly beyond me. Here's a very chopped-down, simplified-to-the-point-of-nonsense summary: Imagine you hear two kids arguing about the amount of imaginary money they have. One says "I have $10!" and the other says "Well, I have $20," all the way up until one says "Well, I have infinity dollars" and gets the response "Well, I have two infinity dollars." Then there is hitting and/or crying. Cantor's work deals with how you can mathematically express and manipulate infinite sets -- including adding or comparing them -- without, obviously, being able to assign them a numeric quantity.

I'm glad I made time for this in my Summer of DFW but I'm sure not all those who enjoy the writer should seek this out. The recognizable Wallace style spills through in conjunctions and footnotes, particularly the habit of marking more arcane/ less necessary digressions as IYI (if you're interested) and passing on unexplained jokes from his beloved professor Dr. Goris, but the only character in here is Cantor, and this isn't a biography by any means. This is straight math almost all the way through.

I will break here and admit that I was not a very good math student. I got pretty good grades in it, but it never came easily to me, and I would get enormously frustrated and give up frequently. I survived calculus only through the help of patient friends and a really great math teacher. I ought to send him a copy of this book, though he has probably already read it.

Given that my math education stopped around multivariable calc, and that the most math I do now is in Excel formulas, I was surprised to be able to follow along all right until about the last 50 pages of the book. At that point a lot of the footnotes start to make comments like "Printing the proof of this point would take another hundred pages, and would probably be over the heads of most of you, so just take it on faith." I remember one paragraph that began with "So now that we've proven X" and I thought to myself, No you didn't! I plodded through, but I didn't enjoy that aspect of it.

Those who will not be daunted will probably consider where this fits into the DFW oeuvre. Wallace mentions that he came to write this book through an interest in technical writing, which I assume is related to the background research he was doing into the IRS for THE PALE KING. In an alternate existence he might have become a really good math teacher with a book or two in a drawer.

23 July 2010

Party trick I wish I'd thought of

Laura Miller's Salon column on recommending books points me to The Biblioracle, a Morning News feature where you give a guy the last 5 books you've read and he spits out a sixth recommendation. There's a little preening but a lot of useful ideas down there.

I am always striving to improve my own recommendations. Why just recently I polled you on whether to recommend THEN WE CAME TO THE END to coworkers who might see a little too much of our workplace in theirs. I try to tread lightly. I think my biggest problem is recommending too many, out of enthusiasm.

22 July 2010

I found this out so late I thought I had dreamed it

Sarah Vowell's next book, UNFAMILIAR FISHES, will be released next March 22. As she promised, it's about Hawaii.

We're all going to read and discuss it, right?
"I imagined it would be quite easy for me and in fact, it turned out to be monstrously hard. I hated every second of it, regretted that I had agreed to it, and after reading one or two stories each day, found myself exhausted. The discovery I made was that any number of stories are really meant to work, and only work, in the mind’s ear and hearing them out loud diminishes their effectiveness. Some of course hold up amusingly but it’s no fun hearing a story that’s really meant to be read, which brings me to your next question and that is that there is no substitute for reading and there never will be. Hearing something aloud is its own experience but it’s hard to beat sitting in bed or in a comfortable chair turning the pages of a book, putting it down, and eagerly awaiting the chance to get back to it."

--Woody Allen, on recording audio versions of his own books

21 July 2010

Be still my... heart: Variety reports that Daniel Craig is in talks to play Blomkvist in the inevitable "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" adaptation. Craig has appeared in adaptations of MOLL FLANDERS and THE GOLDEN COMPASS and also played Ted Hughes opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the Sylvia Plath biopic.

Self-portrait, age 4

Except for the lack of psychic powers, the supportive parents and the not reading Dickens in preschool, it's pretty much all there. Here's to more Miss Honeys and fewer Miss Trunchbulls. What children's book character do you identify with the most?

20 July 2010

Filmbook: "The Social Network" full trailer

An adaptation of THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES by Ben Mezrich, who surely could not have dreamed his book would turn out looking like this:

"The Social Network" will have its world premiere at the New York Film Festival in September, which gives you about two months to read the source material. After you watch that, check out the Best Week Ever parody about the founding of MySpace.

19 July 2010

Via Things I Ate That I Love: Penguin's new Ink series gives old books new covers designed by tattoo and poster artists. I had seen that edition of THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM around but hadn't realized where it came from. I think this one is my favorite even though I haven't read the book yet, it's just so garish.

Have you had your rage today?

"I read [David Foster Wallace's] INFINITE JEST when it came out and I didn't love it. I looked down on it. I was like, Oh, he's using things from Gaddis's RECOGNITIONS; he stole that. What a fucking shit I was. Then I reread it and started watching interviews with the guy. He looked exactly like me, the old back-flipped hair, like pictures of me in the '90s. I thought, Man, I want to interview this guy. I'll call Rolling Stone and ask, "I would like to interview David Foster Wallace." That was my big plan. Then he went and selfishly killed himself. It devastated me, it really did."

James "LCD Soundsystem" Murphy in Time Out Chicago (via wallace-l). Well, this is a relief; I always disliked the guy and now I have specific evidence.

18 July 2010

“There really are demigods, and I hope that’s why I’m here,” said Tom, who wore a yellow bandanna to signify his Apollo parentage, which he believed could be true. After all, in the books, Percy Jackson does not find out that he is the son of Poseidon — not just a struggling student — until he is 12.

“I’m not here to pretend,” Tom said. “I’m here to train.”

This Times story about kids at Percy Jackson-themed camp pretending to be half-Olympians makes me deeply nostalgic for my nerdy youth.

17 July 2010

The author as human

Last night I went to see David Mitchell read from THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET at the new-to-me bookstore Book Court. Book Court is tucked away in an unlikely storefront on a busy commercial street in downtown Brooklyn and looks much bigger in pictures, but I wasn't surprised to find every seat taken 20 minutes before the reading, even on a Friday night. Mitchell is hip right now and in the conversations around me there was a crackle of "Let's talk about how awesome our taste in books is to see what other superlative entertainments we also have in common."

Mitchell is tall and thin and stands with his feet perilously far apart, like a boxer. The bookstore clerk embarrassed him before the reading by rattling off some of his blurbs like "genius" and his position on a previous Time 100 list. The author looked sheepish but broke out into a delighted smile as a baby blatted over his thanks and welcomes. He talks very softly, almost in a mumble, and his answers to audience questions spooled out from digression to digression until he would stop and give a little shake and ask, "Now have I answered your question yet?" I couldn't have said, I was following him.

There's always a little friction when you see an author you admire in person; you fear that he will be mean or just unapproachable; you just can't picture her sitting down at her desk every day. It's irrational to say that I gleaned some insight about Mitchell just from seeing and hearing him in person; it would belie almost his entire body of work, as someone who can get so far into his characters' heads that you forget there's an author in the middle. Wouldn't be seemly to remind. But I'm doing it anyway! I was surprised at how funny he was, how unassuming. That I've been re-reading CLOUD ATLAS and it still makes my head spin is just icing.

Thanks to my blogmigo Wade Garrett for alerting me to the signing and braving the line with me.

16 July 2010

Fools rush in

When every business and corporation has a blog, what will become of the popular stereotype of bloggers as parent-basement-dwelling Cheeto addicts who don't bother to get dressed in the morning before posting their stickles-stippled screeds? It's sort of hard to hold onto the contention of "They're just jealous and unemployed" when the fully employed are taking time away to promote their New Totally Awesome Blog Things. I suppose like most stereotypes it will just hang around in a noxious cloud until someone needs an easy appeal to hate.

What Karl Rove's book club is reading

Right now it's Brad Thor's FOREIGN INFLUENCE, a thriller about an ex-Navy SEAL working for a DoD contractor to solve the detonation of a bus of American tourists in Rome. Rove and cofounder Clayton Morris, a Fox News Channel anchor, want you to vote on what they're going to read next in Karl and Clayton's Summer Book Club; they've pledged to read a book a week through August.

You may remember Karl Rove as the guy who revealed to the world that George W. Bush was a big reader. Here's the man himself dancing like a nut and rapping in a weird Muppet voice at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner in 2007. Misty watercolor memories...

15 July 2010

Lovecraft in the streets but Joyce in the...

Already tweeted but to make this official...

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Well, that's unlikely, but we do have Providence in common! And we know all (once- and adopted) Rhode Islanders sound the same.

This was based off the D.H. Lawrence post from a few days ago, believe it or not. Just in case you thought I ran the lyrics for my scifi David Bowie parody "Cthulu City" instead. (Someone who knows Lovecraft better than I, please make that exist.) I ran some personal writing through and got James Joyce but I felt it would be unfair to just keep feeding text into it until I got an author I actually liked.

But do they have Billy's Pan Pizza there?

One notable detail about the allegedly existing* fourth Stieg Larsson book: In whatever state it's in, it's set in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Canada! This is the best news for our neighbor to the north since Margaret Atwood joined Twitter. Think of the tourist dollars!

*Book four, hereafter known as THE GIRL WHO ROCKED THE FUCKING HOUSE AND KICKED SOME ASS, has been variously reported as nonexistent, unavailable due to wrangling over Larsson's estate, half-done, and now hinted at in an e-mail.

14 July 2010

Langerblogging: I want to read all five of those books

From a Huffington Post interview:

Shivani: Did you meet with early success, in terms of getting your first novel accepted for publication, or was it a long, hard road for you?

: If I pretended that my first published novel, CROSSING CALIFORNIA, was actually the first novel I wrote, I'd say that it was easy. I'd say, yup, I finished the book, got an agent, got a contract, and started work on Book #2. But in saying that, I'd be ignoring the fact that my first novel, MAKING TRACKS, a teen detective story written when I was in high school, is still in a drawer. And so is my second novel, IT TAKES ALL KINDS, a 300-page long screed about my first week at Vassar. Also, my third novel, A ROGUE IN THE LIMELIGHT, a picaresque journey modeled on HUCK FINN and A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, never found the right agent, even though some people (well, my mother) have called it my best novel. One of my earliest agents said that my fourth novel, INDIE JONES, a slacker comedy set in Chicago's independent film world, would easily find a home at Doubleday, but that didn't happen. And I stopped looking for an agent for my fifth novel, an existential thriller called AMERICAN SOIL, when I realized there was too much personal shit in it and I really didn't want to deal with having it published. But yeah, once I finished Book #6, it was smooth sailing.
Filling me with delight, this guy. He also admits to having never taken a writing class because he didn't want to "ruin the magic."
As it is with everything else in New York, space is at a premium for authors wanting to snag a chain-bookstore slot for signings, according to the Wall Street Journal. I've been to all the Barnes & Nobles mentioned in the article except 86th and Lex, and Union Square really is the big 'get.' On the other hand, if you have 40 people there to see you, you'll feel like a loser rattling around in that space. What isn't explicitly spelled out, though, is that 82nd and Broadway is kind of a lame store overall, not just the afterthought-y event space. (I realize this is all inside baseball for people who don't live here.)

If I were an author who got to pick (and largely, they don't), I would want to go indie; the array of options is much larger. For a smaller crowd, McNally Jackson is one of the cutest, but you'd have to be a Beautiful Person to book it, I imagine. Have you been to a really good reading recently?

13 July 2010

Where Ike Marcus was murdered

This weekend I couldn't get properly going on the LUSH LIFE show due to a combination of inexplicably closed galleries and a cold. However, if I expire in 19th-century-heroine fashion this week (the handkerchief! check the handkerchief!) at least I made it to this stop:

27 Eldridge Street, site of the murder in LUSH LIFE. (No actual gallery there.)

Spotted on the subway last night

Pink pinstriped shirt. Black pinstriped pants. Not a hair out of place. Reading the most ludicrous movie tie-in edition ever. I mean, wow, Ted Danson, wow. (Yes, it's available to stream on Netflix.)

Of course this is far from the first adaptation of the Jonathan Swift classic; early film pioneer Georges Méliès adapted the Lilliput episode for a silent short. And if this one doesn't amuse you, there's another due out this December in 3-D, starring Jack Black, Emily Blunt and Jason Segel. Not sure if Black will be donning that super awesome hairpiece though.

Image: moviezmobile

12 July 2010

49. D.H. Lawrence, WOMEN IN LOVE

Farewell, emo daffodils! This is without question the novel I enjoyed the least since I started this project. Granted, it wasn't racist like TOBACCO ROAD, but at least that was shorter. Okay, well it's a draw, and an uncomfortable draw.

Regular readers will have seen this coming with updates like five passages that made me roll my eyes and the Emo Daffodil Alert. Here is my struggle with regard to Mr. Lawrence: He's influenced so many writers I like in his obsession with the interiority, in his single-minded focus on the struggle inside the mind. His fingerprints are all over other books I've read and loved. And there are some passages in WOMEN IN LOVE that are truly moving... when taken out of context. Those passages, however, serve to buttress a tedious and uninteresting narrative, the story of two sisters struggling to overcome their bourgeois upbringings through Free Love with two men who, while not even close to the most homoerotic pair in literature, are by and large closer to each other than to the women with whom they are in love.

When I read SONS AND LOVERS, my first exposure to Lawrence, I struggled but with the sense that my intellectual and emotional problems with the book were somehow purposeful -- that upon further reflection I would recognize Lawrence's genius. Rereading it for a class on the modernist novel in college reinforced that feeling. Maybe it's because in the intervening years I have drifted away from academic reading (as a result of not having to do it) but I feel that I lack some essential patience with it now. I have gone over to where I can say "Yeah, but so many authors have done it better since then -- what's the use?"

In efforts to convey emotional truth among his characters, Lawrence elevates every single moment among them to eleven, forcing the narrator to play teenager's diary with their internal conflicts. I posted and laughed at this passage about Rupert and Gerald's relationship before I realized that would be one of the more restrained moments. Everyone in this book sounds like a person Philip Carey drinks with in Paris in OF HUMAN BONDAGE -- only he eventually leaves Paris. (To bring up another ML book, for a second I thought longingly about how Arnold Bennett wrote an entire novel about women without ever talking about their feelings. And I didn't even like that portrayal either.) This novel was published after the Maugham, but still feels like a step backward.

This book did, however, furnish fodder for my never-forthcoming monograph on how Lawrence killed Sylvia Plath, at which point this blog will become a dry promotional machine directed at forcing you to buy it. Given that she hadn't even been born when he died, this seems impossible, but it's not, and my Work of Brilliance will convince you that in fact he is a murderer. I'll be a freakonomist, but for literature!

Ellen VS. ML: 52 read, 48 unread.

Next up: I've started #85 LORD JIM on Dailylit, because otherwise I'll never finish the Conrad section of this venture -- that's the third of his four slots, which seems excessive. But I'd like to open it up to suggestions. Is there a non-crossed out book on this list that you loved and you can't believe I haven't read yet? I need to pick up steam if I'm going to finish this before I am 100.

11 July 2010

Some thoughts on the trailer for Gary Shteyngart's SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY

1. Generous is the man who allows himself to be upstaged multiple times, by other authors in his own book trailer.
2. That said, if you think he's funny here I urge you to see him in person, where he is organically hilarious. See his tour dates here.
3. One person who doesn't upstage him: The celebrity cameo. Without giving away anything, and to sound like a teen magazine briefly, I am so over this celebrity popping up everywhere. I thought what this celebrity was doing was kind of cool and contra-Hollywood, but now it's all starting to look stunty and frankly, I will be happy to leave that person to it and not read any more "What will X do next?" pieces. I can say this with impunity because someone I know has a MASSIVE crush on this celebrity but never reads this prestigious blog.
4. Despite that, and for what it's worth, the trailer accomplishes what it ought: I want to read the book more. Set and match. Whether it will get people not so immersed as I (who perhaps don't recognize the name of Shteyngart, for example) to buy the book, is questionable -- but it sure worked on me.

10 July 2010

NYC: To do : LUSH LIFE show on the Lower East Side

The only not-awesome thing about this multi-gallery show based on the Richard Price novel is that there is no way for one person to hit all 9 stops in order on a weekend. Gallery summer hours are for the birds. As for the logistics of hitting most of them in some order, stay tuned.

09 July 2010

As a reader, I am always looking over the binding thinking about the next read, in some instances, longing for it. Some books, like some highs, are better than others. But even with not-so-good books–and there where two this past year I did not see to completion–I will come back to the drug, seeking the next high. I will always be a reader. Of this I am certain.
--Doug Bruns

What Christina Hendricks was reading

According to the Los Angeles Times, this woman was born a blonde but went redhead because she loved ANNE OF GREEN GABLES so much.

Good choice.

Photo: PageSixMag

08 July 2010

You're all fired

The news is not that author Marilynne Robinson is going to be on "The Daily Show" tonight, although that is certainly new to me. The news is that Marilynne Robinson has a new book out and this is the first I'm hearing of it!...?!?!???

It's a short work of nonfiction called ABSENCE OF MIND and the Washington Post really liked it.

I too like wine, but I wouldn't consider it my brand

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk admits about a third of the way through CRUSH IT! that he doesn't consider himself a good writer -- fair enough, if he didn't go on to admit that he dictated this entire book to a better writer to fluff it up a bit. This isn't dishonesty, it's saving labor... yet CRUSH IT still sounds like a long and shouty lecture, so maybe not money well spent.

Vaynerchuk's secret to business success lies in the development of one's "personal brand," a self-statement that will allow you to decide what to go into business for and that will become your calling card for investors and customers. For Vaynerchuk, that driving passion was for wine -- convenient, since his parents managed a wine store as he was growing up, leading him naturally to move into selling wine online and then starting a video podcast about wine that also seems to contain a lot of comments about the New York Jets.

This concept of "personal branding" is everywhere now, bordered by precepts like "never comment online without using your full name" (...oops) and making your blog earn you money and so on. That it has been adopted by a fair number of assholes doesn't mean it's an unsound business strategy, and yet... Well, I would happily monetize the concept of not being an asshole, but that is a crowded space. Vaynerchuk admits that not every personal brand is scalable to the point where you can live off it, but is wisely silent on what to do if you discover this to be true about your brand. (Cut your hair and get a job, I guess.) Or what if you are interested in a lot of things that don't coalesce into a mission statement? What if young Gary's parents had owned a beer warehouse instead of a wine store?

I fear I'm coming out more negative about this book than I really feel in my heart. The chapters on using social media to drive business were not new to me, and a little lacking in useful example, but they're a decent introduction. Still, at 131 pages this is basically a puffed-up magazine article.

Photo: oc.metblogs.com

07 July 2010

Author Blog of the Week(-ish): Lev Grossman

Title: just Blog.
Location: levgrossman.com/blog/
Books for which proprietor is responsible: THE MAGICIANS, which comes strongly recommended from a number of friends although I haven't read it yet (just picked up a copy over Memorial Day weekend); also WARP and CODEX.
Features: Tongue-in-cheek Q&A posts like So Lev Grossman What Is The Deal With You And Time Magazine; "Simpsons" stills; categories quoting '90s rock songs.
You'd never know this author... Well, I didn't know before reading the blog that THE MAGICIANS was not his first book; read all about that in How I Got Published By Lev Grossman; Or, A Series Of Unfortunate Events.
Why you should read it: His frankness appeals to me; maybe it's because he has a hand in journalism but it seems that he strives for transparency. I arrived at this blog via a Salon article on antidepressants pointing to his post on same, and it's pretty frank too.
Sample passage: "I would never suggest that there should be a comparable 40-and-up writers list. But I do think there should be a list of writers who are exactly 40. I would have a shot at that one. Me and Kelly Link (b. 1969). And John Scalzi (also b. 1969). David Anthony Durham. David Mitchell. Huh. Actually it’s pretty competitive."
A great recent post: Why They Don't Do Behind The Music for Books
Bit of trivia I'm shoving in here at the bottom 'cause I can: Grossman is married to a writer (Sophie Gee, THE SCANDAL OF THE SEASON) and his twin brother Austin is also a writer (SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE).

06 July 2010

Dear Borders

It's like we don't even know each other.

05 July 2010

Waking up

Whenever I pass through Milwaukee I try to make a point of stopping at Alterra, a local chain (I don’t think there are even any outside the city) with the usual racks of fair trade and organic coffees. For a short trip there’s always the kiosk in the Milwaukee airport that took over a former Starbucks -- I want to say there was a lawsuit, but I might be exaggerating -- from where my much needed dark chocolate mocha came from as I sit here drinking and experimentally wagging my eyebrows up and down in a desperate attempt to snap to. (A woman just asked me where my flight was going and I said “Milwaukee… blaaaaat… New York,” blaaaaat apparently being the voice I make now when I’m buzzing myself for an error.)

My love for Alterra is pretty recent; I wasn’t cool enough in high school to hang out there and I definitely never insisted my mom switch to fair trade. I would love them to open in New York so I could do that, but they would probably get killed. I worry a lot more about the fate of my favorite local coffee places since I read GROUND UP, Michael Idov’s novel about a doomed-from-the-start Lower East Side café. The author makes clear that it was ill-fated, as his optimistic narrator and his wife take out a loan against her trust fund to lease a space once occupied by a gourmet hot-dog seller (!!) to create a coffee shop like the ones they loved in Vienna, where a drink would be an experience. They would do it right, not bend to what the clueless consumers think they want. They comparison shop for their blend and court the neighbors. They go broke at first slowly, and then rapidly.

Idov wrote the novel following a well received piece in Slate about, yes, his ill-fated Lower East Side café and why it was doomed to fail. I hadn’t read it recently before I started GROUND UP and I don’t really want to believe it’s autobiographical, particularly as the failing shop takes a painful toll on the owners’ marriage. At times it must have been a painful book to write, but the sheer volume of information he feeds into the plot, perhaps useless to him in his daily life now, allows him a second wind of expertise.

I liked that GROUND UP was a sort of rallying cry for the idea of independent coffee shops, while establishing that connoisseurship and entrepreneurship are two different animals, that some enterprises fail due to dumb chance and that some people have no business with business. It was also a very funny book, considering how bleakly it ends. (In a subplot, a coffee chain suspiciously similar to Caribou opens up across the street, and its manager, frequenting his neighborhood store, develops a pointed crush on the narrator’s wife.) And if I needed a reason to drink more coffee, well, here it is.

04 July 2010

Best Books I Read In 2010 So Far

Joshua Ferris, THE UNNAMED

1. I think it's inevitable that I will reach the midpoint of the year and effectively say, "Is that all?" I do the same thing for movies (would struggle, in fact, to put together a comparable list of 2010 films of note, there's been so much dreck). That's why I only chose the six superlative ones and left off half a dozen more that were very good, but not great.
2. Biggest disappointments so far, proportionately, have been all the books I've read this year that weren't published in 2010. Stupid free reading, be more engaging!

03 July 2010

Reading on the Road: Don't Bring Me Down Edition

I'm going home to the Midwest for the weekend -- a short trip, but a relatively long to-do list. I have four goals: see my family, locate my copy of CLOUD ATLAS, enact vengeance and get a few good nights' sleep. (Kicking ass and chewing bubblegum will have to wait till next trip.) By the time you read this, I'll probably be working on one of those objectives; time is precious.

I'm taking Allegra Goodman's THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR, EIGHT MEN OUT and David Foster Wallace's EVERYTHING AND MORE. That's 2/3 library books, which probably shouldn't happen but I'm not taking much with me so I still have room. The Wallace book would probably rank in the top five hardest books I've read since college, so why am I enjoying it so much?

Have a great weekend, whether it's your Independence Day or just the 4th.

02 July 2010

One of the best books of the year, given one of the worst leads of the year. Maybe I'm just grumpy and exacting, I was surprised to find out those were Eggers' words; I'd have guessed they came from a newsletter compiler who hadn't actually read it. HARRUMPH.

That reminds me that I should be working on the best of the year so far; look for it on Sunday-abouts, and bring your own list so we can fight about it.

01 July 2010

Bulwer-Lytton Contest: Best Bad Writers

Another spin around the planet, another batch of winners from the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest who promise to stretch the boundaries of the English language in ways it should never be stretched, like an elephant in Spandex. Wisconsin represents again with Adam McDonough of Reedsburgh (southwest of the Dells, northwest of Baraboo), but here are my favorites:

She Wasn't Wearing Pink Memorial Award: "His chest glistened like a pumpkin seed, either one fresh out of the pumpkin but with all the orange strands of pumpkin flesh removed, or one straight out of the oven after being coated in just the right amount of oil and then baked; the point is that it was smooth, fairly shiny, and that color." --Jesse Kolman

Worst Image: "The wind whispering through the pine trees and the sun reflecting off the surface of Lake Tahoe like a scattering of diamonds was an idyllic setting, while to the south the same sun struggled to penetrate a sky choked with farm dust and car exhaust over Bakersfield, a town spread over the lower San Joaquin Valley like a brown stain on a wino’s trousers, which is where, unfortunately, this story takes place." --Dennis Doberneck

Best Reversal: "Leaning back comfortably in a plush old chair, feet up, fingers laced behind his head, Tom Chambers inventoried his life and with a satisfied grin mused, 'Ah, marlin fishing off the coast of Majorca, a bronze star for that rescue mission in Jamir, the unmatched fragrance of pastries fresh out of the oven at Café Legrande, two sons who would make any father proud . . . I’ve never done any of that.'" --Ernie Santilli

Read about my take on last year's here and an interview with a previous Bulwer-Lytton winner.