30 April 2012

Wallaceblogging: Well played, "The Simpsons"

This is a screenshot from last night's episode, "A Supposedly Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again." (Source: the Howling Fantods.)

Blind item

What Brooklyn-based writer was skulking around my neighborhood on Saturday looking bored? Just because you used to work nearby and don't any more, that's no reason to be glum. It's Saturday night - wake up, sir!

29 April 2012

You've Been Warned: 50 Shades of Suck

Normally I believe a simple "NSFW" warning label may be appropriate, but for the really good stuff, we wait for the weekend.

Do you enjoy jokes about poor grammar crossed with wince-inducing erotica? Alternately, would you like to cringe to death? Oh, it was really funny for a while, joking that I would read 50 SHADES OF GREY and laugh about it. Don't look so shocked, moms of America! Then I found this blog of excerpts from the book, and now I think I might have met my match. These passages are just so bad, guys. So bad! And by bad I mean "very poorly written, and some are also regrettable in content."

Anyway, you probably aren't at work right now and if you are definitely don't click on the blog I'm about to link to, which if it were an R-rated movie would be so rated for "explicit sexuality" and "sexual content," as well as spoilers for 50 SHADES and some truly horrifyingly bad dialogue. But since some of you are as unfortunately curious as I am, go read 50 Shades of Suck. Ugh, I'm going to go take a shower and then maybe become a nun.

27 April 2012


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

--W.S. Merwin

26 April 2012

Oh, happy day

12:14 PM (40 minutes ago)

to me

    The item you requested has arrived at the library and will be ready
    for pickup soon. Please allow time for library staff to process and
    place your item on the holdshelf.  The item will be held for you at
    the Library until the date shown below. All items on the holdshelf
    should be claimed upon each visit.

AUTHOR:  Franzen, Jonathan.
TITLE:   Farther away

Spotted on the subway

There comes a time in a woman's life when she crosses over a line, beyond which she recognizes there are "heartthrobs" or "hotties" designed for a demographic younger than her own, who hold no attraction for her. For me, that line is the Efron line. I didn't get it when "High School Musical" came out, and I still don't get it now that he's "playing" a "grown-up." Less than a man he resembles a formula plugged in to a person-creating calculator, all plastic-abbed like a Ken doll. Perhaps this woman on the N line just doesn't see it that way.

I enjoyed reading the spoilers for this book on Goodreads, particularly the review declaring that the best developed character in the novel was the dog.

25 April 2012

Heidi Julavits/ Other People

I just discovered the Other People podcast (interviews with authors) and this Heidi Julavits interview is blowing my mind, man. She says part of her process is to write, essentially, a whole other novel before starting her novel and then chucking it before writing what became the finished book. Can you imagine? (This also opens up the possibility of all that unpublished work being published someday... hopefully she didn't actually throw it away, in the physical sense.) Why didn't you people tell me about this podcast sooner? You were saving it for a special occasion, right? Well, this was special enough.

Judging a book by its cover, or, the "Charlotte Harbach" project

We all like to think we obey the old adage, but how honest are we being with ourselves when we protest how unbiased we are about cover design? I've seen otherwise sensible people set aside books because of the covers, I've probably even done it myself.

Particularly, the conventions of design for "women's fiction" are so well known as to be a joke, categorized as "those books with shoes on the cover" or "all those pink covers that just look the same." In her recent New York Times op-ed about fiction by women being critically considered on a different plane from fiction by men, Meg Wolitzer writes, "A writer’s own publisher can be part of a process of effective segregation and vague if unintentional put-down. Look at some of the jackets of novels by women. Laundry hanging on a line. A little girl in a field of wildflowers. A pair of shoes on a beach. An empty swing on the porch of an old yellow house."

In that spirit, I decided to remake five covers from books by men that were published in 2012, "re-gendering" them by name and design. (I also took a counter example and gave the same treatment to a novel by a woman published in the same year.) I have nowhere near the skill and talents of a professional graphic designer, so consider this a thought experiment; I tried not to make any intentionally foolish choices (use of Comic Sans, for example).

(original here)

(original here)

(original here)

(original here)  

(original here)

And just for fun, a counter-example:

(original here)

Photo credits: Tyler Wilson (ART OF FIELDING), Jolante van Hemert (PARALLEL STORIES), Faylyne (HOUSE OF HOLES), Gillie (ARGUABLY), Quinn Dombrowski (THE MARRIAGE PLOT) and bagsgroove (THEN CAME YOU) All photos are protected under a Creative Commons license. Covers were created using the free software Gnutella Image Manipulation Program (G.I.M.P.).

24 April 2012

"If we live consciously we can live well."

Watch Marilynne Robinson talk about American life and contentment at the Big Think:

"If you like stories about midgets on cocaine, this book is like MOBY DICK."

Last night I went to a night of "Awesomely Bad Music Videos" presented by Rob Tannenbaum, co-author of a new oral history of MTV called I WANT MY MTV. I received this book as a gift and it has been sitting around shamefully unread ever since; still, seeing some of the videos discussed in the book as well as those Tannenbaum's guests had picked made me really want to get around to it sooner. Take a break on me and enjoy some really terrible music videos: They just don't make 'em like this any more (and by "like this" I mean 800 minutes long). Nothing says "this piece is dated!" like referencing ad campaigns no one remembers any more. Tanenbaum said this video came up the most in interviews when he asked his subjects what the empirically worst video was. Now it just looks kind of goofy, rather than career-torpedoing. This is the only one I had seen previously, but it's just so magnificent. (Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield's pick.)

23 April 2012

Authors, we encounter authors

On Friday I went to see Anne Enright read at the KGB Bar in the East
Village. Enright is a short, wry woman who interjected her reading of
an excerpt from her latest novel THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ with eyebrow
raises and "oh dear"s, which was very charming. The bar phone rang
several times during her reading and she made a joke about how
impossible it would be to read in the pauses between rings (where was
the bartender? Why was there a phone there in the first pace? Who ever
knows) I dislike using the adjective "earthy" because in most contexts
I find it lacks meaning, but as her narrator cursed, so did Enright,
without decorous pause.

On Saturday I went to see an author who first became known ("famous"
is a bit of a stretch) as a character in someone else's book. In
Christopher McDougall's BORN TO RUN Scott Jurek is just one of a
handful of Americans who travel to Mexico to compete in a foot race
against members of the Tarahumara tribe, who run insanely long
distances in the desert in sandals made out of old tires. McDougall's
book is more fad than fantastic (Peter Sarsgaard liked it so much he's
directing the movie version) but has brought to Jurek, a physical
therapist by trade, kind of a cult status. His event this week,
unfortunately, was overshadowed by the death of another character in
BORN TO RUN, a man who went for a run and never came back. (Because
there hasn't been an autopsy, there isn't much to say besides what a
shame it is.) So while Jurek was primed to talk about his new book EAT
AND RUN, about nutrition on some kind of macro level I didn't
completely follow, he was eased away from that by the restless
audience, most of whom were in some kind of running gear.

20 April 2012

"We stacked them in the reception area, around my secretary’s desk, in the hallways, in my office. We couldn’t move but for all the copies of A TIME TO KILL. The boxes were everywhere, and I would just give them away. If one of my clients wanted a book, I’d try to sell it. If not, I’d give it away. I’d sell them for 10 bucks, 5 bucks. I used them for doorstops. I couldn’t get rid of these books." --John Grisham, reminiscing about a time when 5,000 copies of his debut novel was a lot to sell.

Pulitzer fiction juror: It's the board's fault

Take it away, Maureen Corrigan:
"Like everyone else, we three jurors found out Monday that there would be no 2012 prize in fiction. That terrible news capped what was otherwise the greatest honor of my career as a book critic and professor of literature."
After reading 300-plus novels and short-story collections, Corrigan, Susan Larson and Michael Cunningham made their pick in November, Corrigan told the Washington Post.
"We were not told to stick to the middlebrow, nor did we egg each other on to aim for the edgy. Our directive was to nominate 'distinguished' works of fiction, published in book form in 2011 that, ideally, spoke to American themes."
She suggests THE PALE KING was taken out because it's unfinished (true), TRAIN DREAMS because it was short (true) and already published in the Paris Review (also true), and SWAMPLANDIA! because its author is young (true but specious).
"We’ll never know why the Pulitzer board declined to award the prize this year, because, as is the board members’ right, they’ve drawn their Wizard of Oz curtain closed tight. We jurors have heard only the same explanation that everyone else has heard: The board could not reach a majority vote on any of the novels. I’d like to think that THE PALE KING, TRAIN DREAMS and SWAMPLANDIA! each garnered such fierce partisans on the board that no compromise could be reached. Right. Whenever I succumb to that fantasy, the words written by the winner of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize in fiction ring in my head: 'Isn’t it pretty to think so?'"
That's a SUN ALSO RISES reference, of course. Don't mess with English professors, they will quote you. Corrigan's suggestions to fix this problem are to allow the jury final say (unlikely), allow the board to ask the jury for alternate selections (kind of icky and political) or change the voting rules so the winner doesn't need a majority (might be the best). Was Corrigan wrong to turn out the lining of all this? What do you think they should do?

19 April 2012

"My stridency was fortified by American literature’s constellation of small-town exiles. Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Sherwood Anderson all wrote their best work after abandoning their small Midwestern hometowns. Only Cather opted for aria. Hemingway, typically, chose silence, not once writing about Oak Park, Illinois. Fitzgerald seemed to hold his Minnesota boyhood in a regard that is half sneering, half heartbroken. In MAIN STREET and BABBITT, Lewis horse-whipped America’s small towns so ferociously the latter has become synonymous with everything strangling and conformist about them. Anderson is the most influential small-town anatomist, his WINESBURG, OHIO famously coining the term “grotesques” for small-town people and inspiring what might best be called the “Up Yours, Winesburg” tradition in American literature."
--Tom Bissell, "Escanaba's Magic Hours"

NYC: A recommendation, and a caveat

Anne Enright is reading at KGB Bar tomorrow; her book THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ was one of my favorite books of last year and I'm hoping to catch her this time around. She's reading in a series sponsored by the NYU MFA program, just like the Chad Harbach reading I went to last week.

I hadn't realized when I arrived that some of the MFA students would be reading before the main event, as opening bands to the headliner, but it didn't bother me. Two of them were very good, including one woman whose novel excerpt made me wish I had taken her name down, and one was all right. The fourth student reader aired out a poem dedicated to a poet who had recently visited his class for a guest lecture, the first line of which was: "Meghan O'Rourke equals hot." Forget tying sonnets to trees; apparently it's now too much to ask for a decent analogy in the first line of a poem. Suddenly being alone forever doesn't seem so bad!

But my point is, public-service announcement, if you are student-reading averse for whatever reason, don't get there too early; and if you can't get out of work in time, you might not be too late.

18 April 2012

This shirt is terrific.

Black or red, black or red

I braced myself to read this book but when it was over I wasn't as moved as I expected. Come along while I try to tease out why.

THE ODDS is a short novel taking place over a weekend in which Art and Marion, a middle-aged couple on the verge of losing their house, take a last vacation to Niagara Falls. They plan (I can't remember, but I believe it was Art's idea) to put all their savings on the roulette table and, with the potential proceeds, get started over in their lives after a probable bankruptcy. Marion also sees the trip as the last hurrah for their 30-year marriage, while Art is hoping a spree on credit cards they never planned to pay back will grant them temporary relief from their worry -- and their differences of opinion start there.

I saw O'Nan read and sit for an interview in late February right after THE ODDS came out and he read two passages, a funny one and a sad one. He detailed how he feels that he has to live with his characters while he's writing with them and misses then when he's finished a book, and that sense of knowing pervades THE ODDS -- the suggestion of infinite detail about characters who have a limited space to establish themselves. I could have read a much longer book about Art and Marion and I didn't feel like I "knew" them fully by the end of THE ODDS -- but that became problematic after I stepped back from the book to try and figure out why they made this gamble in the first place. There are a million ways to respond to such a crisis, but I still didn't understand why these characters would have picked this one -- unless O'Nan's point was that any one might have gone this route, a contention I dispute.

To begin with, despite the possible grandeur, it's not a very practical idea. This came up the other day when I was having a discussion about ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING, another book in which a main character facing financial duress doesn't know how to deal with it, and a coworker chimed in that she hated reading about characters who couldn't help themselves. "It drives me crazy," she said. I don't share her vehemence but I see where she's coming from. On the other hand, not to get all deep, but life often puts us in such situations so it makes sense to have characters who, not knowing what to do, make bad choices.

Maybe I had expected Art and Marion to make different bad choices than the one they had made to come to Niagara Falls. Because I didn't understand that, the end of the book left me puzzled instead of giving me an emotional reaction. I still enjoyed THE ODDS, though it didn't give me that closure; I had been trying to get to an O'Nan book after being recommended to him by a friend.

17 April 2012

Spotted on the subway

This is the book I was about to pull out of my bag this morning when a former coworker surprised me on the subway platform. Close call! Do you prefer this cheeky cover, or the British edition (below)?

16 April 2012

Pulitzer Prize 2012: And the envelope is... empty

Very funny! Now go back in your room and don't put the ceremonial branches on the fire until you're finished.

"I think it's an outrageous insult. Only one finished real novel among the finalists, AND they can't pick a winner. DO YOUR FRAKKIN' JOB." --Ron Charles of the Washington Post Book World

Separated at birth

But way cooler, obviously.

14 April 2012

This has been a perfume review

Does not smell as advertised. It's kind of spicy and not unappealing in general, but: swing and a miss.

13 April 2012

Critic dislikes something six months late

Looking forward to reading B.R. Myers' takedown of Chad Harbach in the Atlantic... over a drink while I wait for Harbach to read tonight.

The Kiss

She pressed her lips to mind.
—a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in.

-Stephen Dunn

12 April 2012

Congratulations to Alison Bechdel, Adam Bock, Sarah Manguso, Lydia Millet, Arthur Phillips and John Wray, among the latest class of Guggenheim fellows.

Ask the Book Ethicist

You're at an excellent secondhand bookstore and you spot several copies of a book you're really looking forward to for sale, by a successful author you like. You hadn't expected to find it here because -- as you realize -- it's not supposed to be out for at least another month. But you're really excited to read it.

Are you ethically bound to try and let the author know? Surely the author might have some objection to copies getting out before publication day, even if it's the publisher who did it. On the other hand, s/he might already be aware of it and might feel that it won't have a negative effect on sales. Is the answer different if the author is not commercially successful or it's a debut?

And should you refrain from buying it in respect to the on-sale date?

11 April 2012

That's my president

Acting out WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE at the White House Easter Egg Roll

Source: Buzzfeed, via a special correspondent

Kindle sale books of the month

I'm maybe buying: Abraham Pais, J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER: A LIFE; Paul Theroux, THE MOSQUITO COAST
Also of note: Rachel Carson, UNDER THE SEA WIND; Sarah Collins Honenberger, CATCHER, CAUGHT (yes, after that CATCHER); Bryant Simon, BOARDWALK OF DREAMS

10 April 2012

We are all Gatsbys, we are all Carraways

Last week I went to see "Gatz," the adaptation of THE GREAT GATSBY currently up at the Public Theater. I've been turning it over and over in my head ever since.

Elevator Repair Service, the company that created and acts in "Gatz," also produced the Hemingway adaptation I saw and loved last fall. If you're new around here I have wanted to see this production since it was prevented from performing in New York entirely (due to rights issues with the Fitzgerald estate) and traveled to places like Philadelphia and Cambridge that, for whatever reason, I couldn't make. I bitterly regretted not going the first time it played the Public in 2010. This year I decided I would be stopped neither by the ticket price nor the prospect of burning half a personal day to go. (They specialize in full-text adaptations, so the presentation including intermissions and dinner break clocked in about 8 hours. Curtain up at 3PM, walking to the subway past the closed coffee shops of Nolita at 11:10PM.)

It's been several years since I re-read THE GREAT GATSBY, but if I were to start it again tomorrow I would still not have the experience I had of this play, of the massive volume of text (49,500 words, according to a Playbill piece about Scott Shepherd who plays Nick Carraway and is responsible for most of it) all coming at me, all at once. It drew certain aspects out, like the number of overt references to people's eyes even ahead of the Eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleberg, or Fitzgerald's multiple uses of the verb "corrugate" to describe what rain does to a body of water. Immersion will do that.

Having a scene depicted onstage can also bring into focus things a novel may not specify, because the process of fleshing them out onstage prompts certain decisions. Case in point: the proximity of characters to each other in parties or crowded scenes (like Myrtle's apartment), where the reactions -- or lack thereof -- of other people contribute to the overall picture of the action taking place. Likewise, when Nick Carraway leaves that party with one of the men, there's an edge to his absenting himself, and a suggestion that they are doing more than simply getting away from the noise.

Carraway is the watcher, positioning himself very consciously as the observer at the heart of THE GREAT GATSBY. It is this position, of privilege we could say, that allows him to do exactly what he criticizes Tom and Daisy for doing in the end -- leaving the East and the tangle of relations that he has developed while he lived on West Egg. No one walks away blameless. "Gatz" takes the position that this is a lie, because even when he's apart from the action, he's still there. Nowhere is this clearer than after Gatsby's death when, as Carraway, Shepherd is center stage with the body of his friend on the couch behind him. Most of Shepherd's final presentation is given off-book, so it feels like he's just talking to us -- us, because he doesn't have anyone else, except he does because in this adaptation, we are being his Carraway. We are witnesses to the end. To what extent, then, is his loneliness still (always) a state of mind? How much of his distancing between himself and the East Egg crowd he runs with a matter of choice?

Not surprisingly, the other standout actor besides Shepherd was Jim Fletcher as Gatsby. Both he and Shepherd are older than their fictional counterparts are recorded as being, which lends a wistfulness to their activities, the sense that this really is their last grasp at something that has previously alluded them. Fletcher has less to do but, thanks to a bit of staging trickery, appears onstage long before we are introduced to him, and seems to linger around every corner until then. The play clears its throat when he begins to speak. (The actor is also quite tall, adding an element of physical comedy to his desperation in waiting for Daisy or patrolling the fringes of his own party. Eat your heart out, Redford.)

Disappearing into a dark theater for eight hours to re-experience a familiar book is probably not most people's idea of a good time, and "Gatz" took at least through the first intermission to win me over. (I have never thought about the pacing of the novel so intently.) For me it was transformative, like I knew it would be; I accepted what it was telling me, though I would like to think I worked for it. I guess that's why I waited so long.

But I shall stay the way I am

Libraries in your apartment building: Not just for Brooklyn any more. Yesterday's Times article on fancy apartment buildings with libraries had me (predictably) jealous, but let's be honest: Like a lot of Times trend articles, this is a trend among superrich people who already have everything. It would be cheaper for me to just buy more books and turn my own room into the building library than to move where the books are.

At the condo pictured at the top of the article, the Toren, apartments start at $307,000 (source). START. That's, oh, a $61k downpayment for a studio in a Brooklyn neighborhood that, while not dangerous, is kind of ugly and so empty at night you can see tumbleweeds blowing through it. (Though I can't deny the building itself looks incredible.) At least the UWS Stanton has a great neighborhood going for it, although they don't seem to offer studios so you're looking at $700,000 for a 1-bedroom (source).

So clearly the description of an in-building library as "a low-cost frill" is meant to be read as it is low-cost for building owners, not apartment owners. The reason I'd really want one is to snoop on my neighbors (and perhaps meet some kindred spirits) anyway, and getting to know your neighbors is still free. Alternately, I can just snoop on them as we both take our tote bags to the public library, at a cost of $0 plus or minus accrued fines.

09 April 2012

2011's most challenged book

Meet Lauren Myracle's TTYL, first in a trilogy referred to as the 'Internet Girls,' originally published in 2004 and the most frequently challenged book in American schools in 2011 according to the ALA.

TTYL was dinged for "offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group." (I love these little blurbs; like the box below the rating on the green screen before a movie trailer, they are warnings that work better as joke prompts.) "Religious viewpoint" is the really confusing one for me in case you have read TTYL and want to fill me in.

Allegedly this is also the first novel ever to be published entirely in instant-message conversation, a fact that makes me want to read it more than whether or not it is appropriate for The Children, frankly. Remember instant messages? Those were good times.

Myracle's name might be familiar to you from a National Book Award debacle last fall that was in no way her fault and which she handled with exceptional class. Myracle's book SHINE, about a high school hate crime, was originally announced as a nominee only to have had the committee rescind it because they meant the similarly titled CHIME. Not such a great day for the NBA.

Among the rest of the list, the HUNGER GAMES trilogy ("anti-ethnic"; "occult/ satanic") made #3, the big-brother/ big-sister manual MY MOM'S HAVING A BABY! ("nudity") is listed at #4 and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD shows that some people are still offended by children in ham costumes at #10.

06 April 2012

Tabs at the West End are going to be up this weekend

The Times has a neat slideshow of places where the Beat writers hung out around Columbia University. The West End, the bar where they held court, is now a Cuban restaurant called Havana Central at which I got terrible food poisoning, so I'd advise you stick to the generously poured mojitos.

Marilynne Robinson should not be allowed to retire just yet

Last night I went to see Marilynne Robinson at the 92nd Street Y. I have wanted to see Robinson read for a long time, ever since I serendipitously picked up her novel GILEAD at an academic library in Madrid, but she doesn't do a lot of readings -- in part, I would surmise, because she still teaches at the University of Iowa (although she says she plans to retire).

Marilynne Robinson has long gray hair and is very serene onstage. She read the titular essay from her new collection WHEN I WAS A CHILD I READ BOOKS, through which she would not be rushed. I had expected something personal and impressionistic from WHEN I WAS A CHILD I READ BOOKS, but several of the essays are more Transcendentalist in nature, addressing topics like the state of democracy, the pressure of modern-day educators to turn out "workers" rather than thinkers, and the implications that famous Christian heretics have had on the faith. Faith was a topic that came up often enough in the Q&A after her reading, but more in theory than in personal practice.

Robinson said she writes at a paragraph level, with an eye on the culminating sentence, when she's constructing her pieces. If a sentence doesn't sit right she will walk around the block until it is put right. She said she has tried to write poetry, but after deleting all the banalities "I had about 14 words left" -- an odd confession from someone whose writing is fairly poetic in the first place. I was hoping someone would ask her why so many years went by between her novels HOUSEKEEPING (1980) and GILEAD (2004), but either that question was culled from the audience stack or no one else saw the need to know.

Robinson was introduced and interviewed rather poorly by some dude whose name I know, to be honest, but don't want to give him the indignant satisfaction of reading on the Internet that he tanked. Some dude was a former student of Robinson's who later became a success when his debut novel won a major literary award, and his intention last night seemed to be to show that he was her best student ever. He liberally quoted Wallace Stevens and "casually" dropped the major works he was reading into his questions, which oftentimes weren't questions at all. Robinson's reaction to this could not be discerned. Some dude should have steered the conversation better, with the audience in mind, but maybe some dude just had too much of a relationship with her to keep out of that old (presumably) dynamic. There may be some dude at every reading, but normally not in a position to drive the evening.

05 April 2012

Spotted on the subway

Last night I was reading the covers in other people's hands and I saw someone doing the same thing. He got on at the stop after mine, wearing a light blue buttondown and a Richard Bransonian haircut. He sat across from me on the bench seat and rubbed his bangs out of his eyes.

Maybe he was getting tired and found scanning faces more absorbing than reading. Maybe he was drunk. After a while he put in his headphones. I would have told him this was a great choice, but by then it was too late.

04 April 2012

The library pet

This poster about my branch library's "service dog" caught my eye. Apparently he's a licensed therapy dog that is trained to sit with your kid and listen to him or her read aloud. The program is called "Read With Mudge" after the Cynthia Rylant Henry and Mudge children's series. If only it were also open to lonely 28-year-olds...

03 April 2012

"As has been noted, our heroine Anastasia Steele begins most of her sentences with 'Holy crap!' People say 'shall' a lot and 'fetch' things instead of get them. When Christian Grey 'rips through' Anastasia's virginity, she actually says 'Argh!' like Jon finding out that Garfield has once again shredded the curtains... Also, Christian is a gorgeous 27-year-old (okay) 'tycoon' (hahahaha, double 'okay') who never seems to do any work, but he also doesn't bang models or do drugs."
--Julieanne Smolinski on 50 SHADES OF GREY. Sounds like a party! Also, can't breathe for laughing.

March Unbookening

Okay, so I fully intended to take a picture for this but I forgot and now I'm out of taking range. I apologize! I will just have to owe you one. Let these words paint a picture:

Checked out from library: 11
Received for my birthday: 5
To review: 10
Loaners returned: 2
Bought: 3 (but only one Kindle Daily Deal! Where's my medal?)
In: 31

Returned to library: 11
Lent to a friend: 1
Returned to a friend: 3
Donated: 7
Out: 19 22 Bank error in my favor! Almost enough.

I should probably pay more attention to this because I might be moving again in the next year (or sooner? Or later? Oh lord), despite my stated wish to never move again. Ah well, First goal: get everything to fit back in my shelves.

02 April 2012

Wallaceblogging: Taking a tennis ball to the face for literature

Over the weekend I went to "A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (after David Foster Wallace)," a conceptual theater piece based on the work of DFW in Long Island City, Queens. The performance consisted of five actors listening to Wallace read from several of his works (and clips from an extended interview) on headphones and simultaneously performing them, including when audible the mannerisms they could hear in his voice. Sometimes just one actor spoke, and sometimes they all did, but it wasn't so much a performance of Wallace the man as of Wallace the body of work; for one thing, four of the five actors were female and none of them wore, say, the characteristic white bandana or some other kind of physical signifier linking them to the man.

The pieces read include "Forever Overhead" and "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life," from BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, the 9/11 essay "The View From Mrs. Thompson's" (PDF) published in Rolling Stone and the titularly referenced essay (PDF).

I heard about this show from fellow Foster fanatic Peter W. Knox and it sounded like exactly the kind of 'thing' I would be 'into' even if it weren't about DFW, being into various forms of experimental theater and small, crazy productions. What struck me the hardest about "Supposedly Fun Thing" was how individual it seemed in the moment. Without knowing anything about creator and director Daniel Fish (although I found out after I had seen him direct a Charles Mee play in 2008) his curation of the particular pieces felt very personal, even if it wasn't at all. Undoubtedly if I had been tasked to assemble the same piece I would pick a few different passages, if not completely different. (There was nothing from THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM nor INFINITE JEST included, to begin with.) Anyone with an affinity for a particular author will take different pieces away from it.

While nothing onstage was as interesting as the text being read to me (although I appreciated the sound cue for "Thirteen") and I found one actor's pronunciation actually subtracting from the work she was saying, watching this show, being gathered for it, felt like the kind of public event I never was able to go to for this author. Living authors get book tours, when they're lucky, but it's harder to organize read-alouds for the ones who can't. At the beginning (knowing almost nothing about what was going to happen) I wasn't convinced that being read aloud is the best delivery mechanism for Wallace's text, and you guessed it, I'm still not convinced that it is. Yet it has a scrabbly rhythm all its own, even one that might call for an impossibly Herculean set of lungs.