Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Park Road between 13th and 14th Street

Park Market. Corner store with guys wearing tank tops going in to by lotto tickets and 24 oz cans of beer. Beer. Ice. Lotto. Bars on the windows and a cashier behind bulletproof glass. An old one story, blue building with a white overhang with decorative blocks attached to the sides like legos. It’s squat and hard next to the new three-story condo building attached to it with a circle driveway and units with floor to ceiling windows so  you can see the size of the tenant’s TVs.

Couples walking their dogs and trying to make conversation with each other while hoping passing strangers don’t notice their dog shitting in public. They talk about whether or not they can afford to leave Columbia Heights and move into the more baby-appropriate areas of Cleveland Park or Tenleytown. They hold plastic bags over their hands like gloves.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter

The newest Spotlight Series blog tour is on Graywolf Press. Graywolf has been around since 1974 and has become one of the largest and most interesting indie publishers in the country. Their catalog is wide-ranging and includes not only fiction and poetry, but a significant amount of cultural criticism and creative writing texts.

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter is (as you might have been able to guess) part of Graywolf’s creative writing “The Art of...” series, which aims to provide small, erudite and useful texts on “a singular craft issue.” The book is aimed at creative writing students, but could be enjoyed by general readers, especially fans of the author’s Baxter spends the most time analyzing.

Baxter defines “subtext” as “the implied, the half-visible, and the unspoken” deeper truths that lie beneath the best fiction. The important stuff that characters, and narrators, only partially admit, but that is necessary for true emotional depth in fiction.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Devil and Sonny Liston by Nick Tosches

The heavyweight champion means something, and always has.

Each of the men to hold the title has a narrative behind him, and occupies an important historic and symbolic role in American life. Jack Johnson in the 1910’s became a pure, dangerous embodiment of American swagger a couple decades before the rest of the country developed a similar swagger. Joe Louis was an important part of the stoic, hard-working “Greatest Generation.” And Louis’s eventual, heartbreaking descent into irrelevance and drug abuse was caused by America itself, and serves as a warning of what we do to our celebrities and heroes. Ali became one of the most important dissenting voices in American history. The list goes on we could do this all day, and if anyone knew who the current world champ is we could talk about him in a similar way. (On a side note, the fact that the “title” has devolved into an endless maze of belts and divisions and conferences so labyrinthine and repetitive that it renders the idea of a single champ irrelevant certainly fits this digital age.)

In “The Devil and Sonny Liston” Nick Tosches tries to analyze Sonny Liston and redeem his role in boxing history. Tosches is a dynamic writer who has written multiple biographies and novels, and is an editor at Vanity Fair, he’s also likely written the definitive biography of Liston, and the book, much like Liston himself, is seriously flawed, yet still packs a hell of a punch. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

She and Him

On Wednesday I saw She & Him in a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Embarking on their first tour, She & Him set out to prove they were more than just a studio-friendly, movie star-fronted, kitschy novelty act. Over the course of their 90ish minute show I think they for the most part proved themselves to be a “real” band, but with somewhat serious flaws that kept me from being fully invested in the show.

This is Zooey Deschanel’s band. The spotlight, literally and figuratively, was always on her and the rest of the band, including M. Ward, seemed to be part of her group, not vice versa. Thankfully she has enough presence and charm to pull it off. The crowd loved her and she seemed engaged with the audience; after the show it felt like she had talked and interacted with the audience more than she actually had. As an actress she has a presence that she was able to transfer to the stage.

The Washington Senators

The  driver saw me running for the bus and stopped to let me on. I was wearing a dark blue hat with a thick red capital "W" bordered with white thread. The driver looked at me, "What's your hat for?"

"The Senators, Washington Senators, the baseball team."

"Oh right, yeah, that's nice I like that better than that other joint with the curly W they wear now."

"Me too, I picked it up at the stadium."

I walked down the aisle to find a seat and passed a thin, nearly gaunt, man who looked to be in his 60s. He said in a friendly, grumpy old man voice, "And what do you know about the Washington Senators young man?"

I laughed and sat down behind him, "Well I know about Walter Johnson and about the World Series they won and I know that they left for other towns, twice."

"Did you know that they used to play in Griffith Stadium where Howard University Hospital is now?"

"I did, I did."

The man was tall and thin, his arms and legs like straws. He was wearing white shorts and a loose short sleeve button up with blue lines. He was wearing a beige hat that snapped down onto the brim; he had faint white stubble and had what looked like a bandage or maybe a towel that he was pressing on to the side of his neck. On the seat next to him was a reusable shopping bag and two full plastic bags, I couldn't see what was in the bags.

"Was Griffith nice? I wish I could have seen it."

"Oh it was beautiful, or at least it was to me when I was a boy. My father took me there quite a few times."

He angled his body to the right into the aisle in order to stiffly move his neck to the side so he could look at me; he moved like someone with bolts in his neck or pain in his back.

"It was a chance to watch some ball, eat some cracker jack, drink some pop and he'd even give me a sip of beer." He popped his eyes wide and smiled.

"That sounds great."

"It was fun, you know for a kid to spend time with his dad, that was very important to me. I remember the Senators very well. He died when I was young so these memories of him are very nice."

"That sounds great, sounds like a lot of fun."

"It was, it was. He took me there, me and my brothers, whenever he had a chance. You know my parents did their best, they did a good job, I was very lucky. A lot of people out there can't even raise one kid, much less me and my three brothers and my two sisters, hell. I was lucky."

He kept the bandage/towel pressed to his neck.

"Oh we had it pretty good. I remember my dad taking me ice skating, there used to be an ice skating rink at Florida and New York. But you know, even then I knew we were different. I'd look around and not see any other dads there and knew that, you know, that I had it different."

"Right, yeah I know what you mean." I thought of my mom dropping me off at roller skating rinks in Texas.

He nodded, "Now, now I just don't know I think its gotten even worse. DC was different then, or maybe it was me, but it seemed nicer then. Easier maybe."

We were both quite for a moment and felt the heat on the bus.

He craned back around, "It got rough later in the 70's when I was trying to go to school. I was drafted out of college, and god I didn't want to go, I tried to get out of it, but they told me, 'you can do five years in prison or two years in Vietnam.'" He laughed, hard, like a cough, "And I knew I'd die in prison so I decided to take my chances in Vietnam."

I laughed, "Yeah, well you made it out."

"Damn right I did, I got out in '74, but the economy went down, there were gas shortages later, no one had any  money, and I needed a job and damnit I had to go back into the army. I been all over the place, went to Iraq twice, went to Afghanistan and got blown in half, but now I'm out. On the day I hit my 35 years and retirement I said get me the hell outta here i'm sick of killing people, I'm sick of people trying to kill me I want to go home. I was in the convoy on the way to the airport to head to Germany to be processed out and BAM," he clapped his hands together. "Blown to hell, they told me later, and some of those guys were giving me a hard time about it, making fun of me you know, they said I was trying to push my own guts back into my body. I said, what the hell was I supposed to do? It's not like I had a MASH unit in my pack, I did what I had to do. And you know what? I survived." He hooked his bags onto his shoulders.

"Damn right you did."

He stood up to get off the bus, "I'll tell you what it was," he reached up to grab the bar above the seat but his fingers slipped off and he fell to the side and landed on his hip and the side of his thighs, his bags sliding off his shoulders onto the floor.

"I'm alright, I'm alright."

I stood up and grabbed him by the right arm with my hand on his left side and helped him to his feet.

"There you go, you just slipped a bit, you're okay, no problem."

"I got it, I got it." He stood up. "Thanks. Have a good day." And he walked off the bus.

Two young women had looked at him with shame when he fell, and I saw them make eye contact as he stood up, they may have rolled their eyes behind their sunglasses. I sat back down and watched Columbia Avenue go by the window.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Two Thoughts, Similar

"While we search for the antidote or the medicine to cure us, the new, that which can only be found in the unknown, we must continue to turn to sex, books and travel, and knowing they will lead us into the abyss, which, as it happens, is the only place we can find the cure."

              ----R. BolaƱo

"By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream."

             -----V. Woolf

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Migraine Links: What Is It? Who Gets It?

So what causes a migraine? Let's see what the Mayo Clinic says are frequent migraine triggers:

  • Hormonal changes in women.
  • Food: alcohol, aged cheeses; chocolate; aspartame; overuse of caffeine; MSG; salty foods; and processed foods. 
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress
  • Bright lights and sun glare, loud sounds, unusual smells.
  • Missing sleep or getting too much sleep.
  • Intense physical exertion.
  • A change of weather or barometric pressure
  • Certain medications
So...according to The Mayo Clinic, migraines can be triggered by eating, not eating, sleeping, not sleeping, light, sound, exercise, medicine, weather, travel....basically, they don't know. It seems that if your parents had them there's a good chance you will have them. (Side note: my parents and my grandparents don't get them.)

Ok, so we don't know what causes them , but what exactly are migraines? The answer there can basically be summed up with "it's when something goes wrong in your brain."
    Theories on migraines include such scary sounding things as:

    • "Cortical spreading depression" in which brain activity is reduced over part of your cortex, which causes your brain to release inflammatory agents to wake your brain back up. During the migraine your (let's just switch to the first person), MY brain becomes depolarized, and the migraine peaks in intensity when a majority of my brain is depolarized. I'll rephrase this: last Friday, my brain's electrical charge reversed itself.

    • Vascular Problems. Or maybe the blood vessels in my brain were just contracting and expanding when they shouldn't have been. Under this theory some of my brain arteries are spasming shut and the lack of blood in parts of my brain leads to the visual aura. Then when the arteries loosen these same blood vessels get too full of blood and some leaks out (into my brain), my pain receptors spot this and release inflammatories because they think that's a good idea. It's not, because every time my heart beats (which is something it tends to do) blood goes through the inflamed area and results in terrible pain.

    • Serotonin Problems. Some think that if my serotonin levels are too low then it causes this constriction and dilation of my brain arteries, causing a migraine.

    • General Brain Problems. Or, maybe just part of my brain stem is sorta irritated and inflamed, which causes my body to release chemicals, which just pisses my brain stem off even more and which leads to a migraine.

    • Or all of the above.

    There's basically no working theory that doesn't involve something going wrong in my brain. There's also a possibility that the chances of me having a stroke (what with all the brain/blood/artery problems) are about two or three times higher than non-migraine sufferers.

    (Confession: much of this info came from wikipedia. Get over it.)

    So who gets migraines? Turns out it's a lot of people. It's obviously hard to determine stuff like this but 6% to 15% of all adult men are migraine sufferers (meaning at least one a year). Women are more vulnerable to migraines with 14% to 35% of women suffering from migraines. Sorry ladies.

    And they get more common later in life, so if you've never had one before don't worry there's still time.

    There's a ton of websites devoted to migraine sufferers documenting their experiences. Some of their stories are incredibly honest and heartbreaking. There are people out there suffering a lot more than I ever have, and their coping mechanisms are truly miraculous. Severe migraine sufferers have to figure out how to live their lives, and it's inspiring to read their stories of living with migraines and even turning them to their advantage and finding the beauty in them.

    One of the leading sites is The Daily Headache run by Kerrie Smyres who has had a persistent headache and migraine everyday for 20 years. She's amazing and has been blogging about her life since 2004. It's a spectacular site. Also, look at the list of links to other migraine blogs in the right column of the Daily Headache--she lists dozens of people blogging about their migraines and there are countless more.

    The NY Times had a short lived migraine blog, which I wish they would bring back. The contributors included Oliver Sacks, Jeff Tweedy and Siri Hustvedt (migraine sufferers all).

    This NY Times audio feature has several people discussing their migraines and what they've done to help ease the pain. One sufferer participated in an experimental trial and had an electric device implanted in his spine in order to disrupt the migraines. The operation was successful, he used to get migraines everyday, but now he only gets them once every ten days.

    Finally, The Migraine Aura Foundation contains an overwhelming amount of information including migraine art, info on famous migraine sufferers and a ton of testimonials. This link contains some really accurate depictions of the aura. Only 20% - 30% of migraine sufferers actually see auras, and some people have auditory or olfactory hallucinations that accompany the visual aura.

    The most interseting part of migraine week on Paperclip People is the number of peole who have said they had no idea what a migraine even really was before reading my posts. They're bizarre experiences, and I hope I've conveyed some of what it's like. I've also learned a lot in researching this post and the rest of them. Thanks for following along. Please leave comments or links to other sites or articles on migraines in the comments.

    Saramago Links

    The italicized quotes in this week's migraine diaries are from Saramago novels--they're not all from Blindness.

    Saramago was a master at exploring a surreal event (the Iberian peninsula breaking off, a city going blind, death dying) and using it to reflect human nature. His allegorical stories could have easily veered into the shallow waters of bad fantasy writing, but they're grounded in actual human emotions and, no matter how weird they get, they still feel real.

    Saramago, who died at the age of 87, was a tireless writer who published a new book every couple of years; his last novel, Cain, was published in Portugal last year and should be in English by the end of this year. His most recent book in English is The Notebook, a collection of his blog postings with special focus on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

    For all of his mourners, there are many people who are not sad to see him go. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper refereed to him as a "populous extremist" and an "anti-religious ideologue."  Saramago's 1991 novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was attacked by Catholics who felt it inappropriate to portray Jesus as a fallible human being. The Portuguese government refused to submit the novel for any international awards, and Saramago spent the rest of his life living in the Canary Islands. On Sunday, Portugal's conservative president did not attend the funeral of the only Portuguese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but 20,000 other mourners did. Saramago was also accused by the Anti-Defamation League of being anti-Semitic after some explosive comments he made after visiting Palestine.

    This "Art of Fiction" interview he did with The Paris Review is required reading. He describes his writing process in great depth.

    The Guardian obituary.

    An article on his funeral and some of the controversy surrounding him.

    The ADL press release on Saramago's comments and David Frum's editorial titled "Death of a Jew Hater."

    Info on The Notebook and a review.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Migraine Diary, Part Two

    "I don't think that we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing...".”

    I make it to my front door and open my eyes wide to make sure I get the key in the lock. The house is hot, I climb the stairs, lock my  bedroom door behind me, open the windows but close the curtains, and turn on my fan to the highest it can go.

    The headache is starting. 

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Migraine Diary, Part One

    “Then she lifted her head up to the sky and saw everything white, It is my turn, she thought. Fear made her quickly lower eyes.”

    It’s before 10am on Friday and Ruthie, my co-worker, and I are in Starbucks. We’re talking about their pastries and wondering if they make more of a profit from food or coffee. I look up to order a grande bold roast, then look back down at the pastries when I notice the sparkling spot in my vision.

    I get migraines 4 or 5 times a year and they follow the same steps; the pattern is nearly comforting because I can anticipate what’s next and when it will end. The spot is always in the same spot in my upper left field of vision, somewhere around 11oclock if I described things like I was in the air force. In the upper left field of vision, not in my upper left eye, closing that eye doesn’t make the spot go away.

    Instinctively I blink and tilt my head to the left but the spot doesn’t move, it has never moved, but I tilt my head just the same.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Jonah Hex

    I saw "Jonah Hex" this weekend. I was going to write a review of it, but realized I didn't actually have much to say beyond: "It was fun, but real mindless."

    The rest of my thoughts on the movie wouldn't have led to an interesting review, but, I thought to myself in a moment of insight, they might make some fun tweets!.  My 140 character at a time review of Jonah Hex can be found in my little twitter feed to the right.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Monday Night

    Drinking a ten dollar Guiness on the patio of a bar I thought was affordable before they served me a ten dollar Guiness. There's a pair of pigeons clattering around in foreplay on the green vinyl awning covering the patio; their sharp little feet slapping the roof like rice pouring into a bucket. A woman with a creased forehead, pushing a stroller, stopped and said she was six dollars short of getting a room for the night, I offered her the tip I was going to leave the waitress but she said she couldn't take it because someone worked for it. There's joggers going by and I see some of them admiring themselves in the windows of the deli next door. I tried to brush away a gnat and knocked over my beer spilling half of it.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Literary Remix

    I re-wrote a page of "Joe's Luck: Always Wide Awake" by Horatio Alger for Galley Cat's Literary Remix project. I wrote about the project earlier, but the idea is to take an old novel, farm it out to different people a page at a time and ask them to re-write the page in whatever manner they would like. It's an awesome idea and some of the entries have been pretty cool.

    Below is my page, followed by the original page.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Awkward Book Covers...

    The covers of the Penguin UK James Bond novels are absolutely stunning. They are simply great triumphs of design. The photos are often unexpected stills from the films (only the Sean Connery films...) which manage to play off the history of both the films and the novels.

    Check out the cover to Thunderball, which shows a Sean Connery so gaunt and tired that he's almost unrecognizable. The Bond character in the novels gets tired, he messes up, he gets hurt and he doubts himself; you don't really see that in the films, but this cover photo grabs it.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    The Mynabirds @ Black Cat Backstage

    Laura Burhenn
    On Wednesday night I saw The Mynabirds at The Black Cat Backstage sweat through a great set of songs led by the impressive voice of Laura Burhenn. Burhenn used to be half of famed DC band Georgie James, but she left DC, moved to Nebraska and wrote a new album, "What We Lost In the Fire We Gained in the Flood," now out on Saddle Creek Records. If I had to slot The Mynabirds into a current musical category I'd put them in with bands such as The Duchess and the Duke, She and Him or even Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. These are all bands who are making music that sounds like it was made in the seventies, but not in the traditional "seventies" sense of generic classic rock riffs or disco (there's plenty of bands already forcing us to listen to that, and yes I'm talking to you Kings of Leon). Instead, they're drawing inspiration from people who were big at the time, but that have faded somewhat from memory. Burhenn owes much of her style, and some of her vocalizations to Dusty Springfield, but there's also a very healthy dose of Neil Young and other loudish folkies with some Nancy Sinatra (especially the duets with Lee Greenwood) thrown in for good measure. Also mixed up in there are some of the classic female Motown and R&B artists as well.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Paperclip Quotes

     "That spring a sculpture student had, as his thesis project, decorated the Commons with oversize office supplies--a stapler in the dimensions of a limousine, a log painted as a number two pencil, and a pile of facsimile paper clips each the height of a human being, fashioned out of plastic piping and silver paint. I suppose the work was deriviative of Claes Oldenberg, but the result made an impressive spectacle."

    Jonathan Lethem, "Super Goat Man," in Men and Cartoons

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    Other Stuff (not mine)

    • Liza Kurwin, who everyone knows as the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, has a new book out of lists made by famous artists. For Flavorwire she has compiled her top-ten favorite lists, all of which are much cooler than the to-do lists I make on post-its that generally still have older lists still on them. I think my favorite is the list Picasso made for Walt Kuhn of artists to see at the 1912 Armory Show. 

    • In 1963, William Zantzinger killed Hattie Caroll at Baltimore's Emerson Hotel. Zantzinger died in 2009, at the age of 69, and this is his obituary. I'm struck by the fact that Zantzinger is a year older than Bob Dylan who immortalized him as a villain in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." Zantzinger, who for some reason was not a fan of being the bad guy in one of the most famous protest songs of the century, had a colorful life after his six-month jail sentence. Zantzinger came from a wealthy tobacco family, used to own a nightclub, belonged to a country club, went into real estate and was a slum lord for a few years.

    • Fritz Lang's Metropolis is being re-released into theaters. This epic film is an incredible achievement and the new version contains 25 minutes of footage discovered two years ago in a basement in South America (really). When the film was originally released it was repeatedly chopped down in order to make it more "marketable," and even the current version is not complete. Even in its butchered form it became one of the most influential films ever made and still has powerful statements to make about class, gender and technology. Much of the philosophical and physical conflict of the rest of the 20th century was explored in Lang's 1927 film, which was ahead of it's time both technically and artistically. The trailer for the restored Metropolis is hypnotizing and shows off the visual effects, which are still impressive. 

    • The Obscure, The Forgotten and the Unloved has polled a bunch of movie bloggers to create a list of the Top 40 films that are critically acclaimed but that few people have seen. Check it out if you want to feel insecure about your film knowledge. (The picture above is taken from a famous movie, anyone recognize it?)

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Michael Caine and Harry Brown

    Michael Caine, at 76 years old, is in the midst of a career renaissance that should completely cement his role as one of the most important British actors since the 1960s, and in Harry Brown he has delivered a classic performance that is evocative of previous roles yet doesn't resort to self-imitation or parody. Next to Laurence Olivier, who he more than held his own with in Sleuth (1972), Caine could be the most important British film actor ever.  Watching just a few minutes of Caine at his prime in the late 1960s explains everything that his current disciples, especially Jude Law and Ewen McGregor, have been trying (and failing) to do ever since. Jude Law hasn't even been subtle about following Michael Caine's career path and has stared in two (and counting) Caine remakes.

    Since hitting British film like a shotgun blast in the mid-60s, Caine has, to name just a very few, played one of the cruelest protagonists in film history in Get Carter (1971), became one of the suavest of ladies men in Alfie (1966) and effortlessly became a cloistered intellectual in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). The reason why Michael Caine has been able to cover this range lies in his unique ability to convey a blend of tough-guy grit and intelligent cool; he's like Sean Connery but with a greater range of emotion (a.k.a. the ability to act). Much of it lies in Caine's voice. He has a strong cockney accent, which is instantly recognizable and can stop a train in its tracks when his anger gets up to full speed. But Caine has never used his distinctive voice as an acting crutch (like, say, Al "Let's Yell Every Fifth Line" Pacino over the past fifteen years) instead, he takes full advantage of silence, and some of his most powerful lines are whispered or delivered extremely slowly. Harry Brown, his first truly starring role since the underrated The Statement (2003), allows Caine to revel in anger, and also gives him some of the quietest and most poignant scenes of his career. The film is carried by Caine's performance, but it's also a complicated story of revenge and justice, that poses important questions while not preaching to the audience.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    "Man Said to Be Author Is Found Dead in Hotel," Nightmare Alley by William Lindsey Gresham

    I reviewed Nightmare Alley  as part of The Spotlight Series on NYRB Classics. The goal of The Spotlight Series is to draw attention to independent presses and raise the profile of their catalog. The full list of other reviews can be found here.

    Nearly relentlessly pessimistic and with an overwhelmingly negative view of human nature, Nightmare Alley doesn't compromise, and Gresham's brilliant novel stands as a great testament to a writer's life cut tragically short. Thankfully, New York Review of Books Classics has just republished a restored edition of Gresham's only novel with a new introduction by Nick Tosches.

    By all accounts Gresham was a seeker. In Tosches introduction we learn that Gresham repeatedly attached himself to different "cures" including psychoanalysis, Christianity, alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous, Marxism, Buddhism and the occult. Gresham seems to have been constantly striving for a place he could feel whole. He never found it. Nightmare Alley seems to be his attempt to work through his pain, and the different vices and fake salvations he fell victim to. 

    The novel opens in a traveling carnival where Stan Carlisle, a charming young man, handsome and blond, is trying to earn his keep doing cheap sleight of hand tricks and helping in other routines. But Stan is gripped by ambition, and he's not only learning how to control a crowd, but why they want to be controlled: "Think out things most people are afraid of and hit them right where they live....They're all afraid of ill health, of poverty, of boredom, of failure. Fear is the key to human nature. They're afraid."

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Other Stuff (not mine): Lost Classics

    I wasn't trying to unify this week's collection of links around any particular theme or idea. Or, at least I didn't think I was until I realized each entry involves work that has been lost in some way. Culture moves on quickly, and for every artist or creation we choose to venerate and enshrine into our collective culture, there are dozens of other major works by important artists  that fade into the dust. Maybe it's inevitable, not everything can be a classic obviously, and some work just doesn't stand the test of time. However, today's links examine a series of objects that should be re-evaluated.
    • Hulu has full-length episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." The teleplay for this episode, "An Out for Oscar," was written by the great David Goodis. Goodis is best known for writing the books that "Dark Passage" and "Shoot the Piano Player" were based on, and I think he was one of the great American novelists. Goodis wrote more than 15 novels and worked in TV and the movies for a few years, but it's rare to find full episodes of his shows, and this is definitely worth checking out. A spoiler-heavy review of "An Out for Oscar can be found on Mystery File

    • Penguin Books is 75 years old, and this article lists the first ten books they published. Some familiar titles, but most of these have basically been forgotten. It's an interesting view into the beginning of one of the best publishers in the world, and a sort of sad look at how easily the major works of today are lost to the past  
    • Later this week I will be participating in the Spotlight Series tour on New York Review of Books Classics. My blog will join a couple dozen other book blogs in posting reviews of a book from the NYRB catalog. It's a great series and I hope it draws attention to the great (and beautiful) NYRB series, which re-issues really important books from around the world. The tour started today and here's the list of blogs to check out. I think Hard Rain Calling by Don Carpenter sounds like a great read. . 
    • And finally, there's a new biography of Jack London, Wolf,  by James Haley, reviewed in The Wall Street Journal. London is criminally overlooked and has been relegated to the "literature for boys" section of modern literature. Perhaps not as dismissed as Horatio Alger, more on him soon, but still not nearly as respected now as at the turn of the last century. Haley's book seems determined to remedy this, and while it appears to have some problems, it sounds like a riveting read that I can't wait to get my hands on.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    Million Writers Award

    My story that made the Million Writers Award Notable Story list was not chosen as one of the top ten stories of 2009, which is okay because ten really good stories were. Here's the list of the top ten stories, and you can vote for the story you think is the best of the best here.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

    The Manual of Detection wears its influences on its sleeve--or maybe on every inch of its black suit and fedora. There are labyrinthine archives, a confused man in an unrelentingly mysterious city and people who have a lot more of the answers than us or the main character. To call the book Kafkaesque or Borgesian would be painfully obvious, but it's also true. There's also strains of Saramago (especially All the Names), a bit of Dash Hammett and in the acknowledgments Berry gives a shout out to William Weaver--the main translator of Calvino and Eco . Berry combines the noir aesthetic and the confused loneliness of someone like Joseph K. into a mystery novel that's addictively mysterious and thoroughly satisfying.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Caribou and Toro y Moi

    Last night I saw Caribou and Toro y Moi in concert at The Rock and Roll Hotel. But, I'll admit it, I really did not want to. For reasons involving birthdays, West Virginia and a river, I was not ready to rock it out. Of course once Caribou took the stage my exhaustion disappeared in loud loops of synthy goodness.

    NPR was there recording the show, and were lovely enough to share it with us here

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    "What Would Horatio Alger Do?"

    I'm taking part in Gallery Cat's "World's Longest Literary Remix Contest." The project is taking "Joe's Luck: Always Wide Awake" by Horatio Alger and "remixing" it into a variety of different literary styles. The rules are simple: 1. Those who signed up (there are about 150 of us) are given a page of the Alger novel. 2. We re-write it in a new style (pulp fiction, soap opera, western, Petrarchan Sonnet, etc.). 3. In the end we will have created a "new" work that has the same plot but presents it in a bizarre and likely hilarious new way. This "Star Wars" remix was the inspiration for this all (the trailer looks amazing).

    Participating in this project got me thinking about the myth of the self-made American and what that looks like today.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    One of mine!

    A story of mine ("The Need for Other People Faded") was named one of the "Notable Stories of 2009" in the Million Writers Award.  I'll know in the next couple of weeks if it made the list of top ten stories. I'm very excited to be in such good company, and the journal it appeared in (> Kill Author) was singled out as "Best New Online Journal."

    Other Stuff (not mine)

    Every blog has a collection of links to interesting articles and ephemera of the internet, and here's mine:

    At least once, Dostoevsky met Dickens.(Brandywine Books)

    Hispanics in Arizona are already getting hassled due to the new law...and this happened before the law was passed. (Crooks and Liars)

    TriQuarterly (Northwestern University's famed literary journal) stopped publishing last year after over 40 years of existence. But! Now it's back online. Their first issue (version? post?) includes a review of the National Book Award finalist American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell. American Salvage is an amazing collection of strong short stories, and this review, even though it's more about the reviewers Kindle than the book itself, is worth a look. Here's the review and two excerpts.

    PopMatters is digging really deep into Blood on the Tracks.

    Jezebel breaks down the new insane abortion restrictions in Oklahoma. For example, it's now legal for doctors in Oklahoma to not tell you if your baby has birth defects.

    Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Magical Beautiful

    On Sunday night I caught these two bands at The Black Cat Backstage; they're on tour through the first week of May and I'd recommend them to anyone fortunate enough to live in one of the cities they're visiting. Songs, info and tour dates for CFTPA and for Magical Beautiful . This is DIY/laptop rock at its best, and a chance to see two great indie groups on a national tour.