Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reading in 2009 (so far):

These are titles I have read in 2009. I do not include syllabus readings, and I only include a "return" to a book if many moons have passed since I turned its pages. If you would like a long list like this I advise the following: 1) select relatively short books 2) stop paying for cable 3) live in a "nowheresville" area where you won't get any reception without cable and will find little else to do in your leisure time 4) fail to renew your magazine subscriptions but 5) have a baby who falls alseep early so reading becomes an effective quiet evening pursuit.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
Camera by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames (literary graphic novel)
The Left Bank Gang by Jason (literary graphic novel; first name only, yes)
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen by Larry McMurtry
Dog Eats Dog by Iain Levison
Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
The Bathroom by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin
The Eaves of Heaven by Andrew X. Pham
Making Love by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Monsieur by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Pop Apocalypse by Lee Konstantinou
Everyman by Philip Roth
Riding Toward Everywhere by William Vollmann
The Fever by Wallace Shawn
Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller (a first for me)
Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth
The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (a university selection for freshman summer reading)
Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames
Cosmospolis by Don Delillo (first new Delillo for me in quite some time; good not great but great in some sections)
The Writer as Migrant by Ha Jin
How To Rob an Armored Car by Iain Levison
Man in the Dark (first new Auster for me in quite some time; so-so)
Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon (first Hemon for me; good stuff so far)

I will update this list when I add to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

K Thanks Dr. Yahweh He's A Country Boy

K apologizes for failing to properly rotate his photographs but offers the view from the back porch in Clemson, South Carolina.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hebrew dawgs or dannon?

For greater Memorial Day pleasure, grill or fry a Hebrew National beef frank sliced vertically down the middle and serve with Dijon mustard on a toasted premium-brand Hearty White or Oatmeal bread. For the calorie conscious, substitute non-fat plain yogurt for the dog, two tablespoons of granola for the bread, and a teaspoon of honey for the Dijon.

As you were, soldier.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The follow up visitation

47 minutes into our meeting, the aforementioned one between the doctor and K, we saw fit to assume the condition is most likely a case of carpal tunnel syndrome. If the condition were meat no doubt we could imagine flesh cooked medium rare in a mild sauce which we might top with a thin layer of that tasty delicacy, generalized anxiety.

But for now: "Blood Work. A stress test including EKG. Avoid all strenuous forms of existence. Exercise can kill. Participation in life discouraged until further notice. I have my liability and your life in mind."

When I insinuate we are glazed, I imply we are glazed over the ham of course.

"The best way to enjoy the shakes is to pretend it's someone else's hand."
--Don Delillo, either a paraphrase or exact quotation from White Noise

it's that time of year...

In honor of, but in no particular order, Italo Svevo, Woody Allen, George Constanza (who says character doesn't count?), Jean-Philippe Toussaint, and at least in theory, "ya'll," I submit myself to the medical authorities in 53 minutes. Doctor's Appointment soon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Havana Fever With Your Hay Fever?

If you'd like some suspense and intrigue with your spring allergies, check out this link to Bitter Lemon Press's Havana Fever:

So far, I've only read Bitter Lemon's Iain Levison novel, Dog Eats Dog, and I can tell you it is a page turner. If you need a break from your more literary fiction or if you prefer books that combine their cynicism and seriousness with a good plot, the tart limeys at Bitter Lemon have a lot to offer. (Note: I do not get paid for such shameless plugs!)

Read on, people!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Make that 4 novels since G.R.

The Crying of Lot 49
Gravity's Rainbow
Mason & Dixon
The Remains of the Day
Inherent Vice

How do I know? Thomas Pynchon siting on the cover of Time Magazine. No silly, the name, not the man, in the upper right corner.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nabokov with Trilling Smoking on TV

At this point, it is all coming together in a whirl. Italo Svevo's warns us away from smoking and Jean-Philippe Toussaint warns us away from television; Toussaint names Vladimir Nabokov as one of his five favorite writers, Nabokov names James Joyce as one of his five, and Joyce taught English to Svevo when their lives crossed in Trieste. So it should come as no surprise to find Vladimir Nabokov on live television interviewed beside a chain-smoking Lionel Trilling! I'm fairly certain Trilling tokes the true-blue cancer stick and not the funky weed in this scene.

Behold part one, here, and if that is not enough, then beware part two.

Oh how Nabokov reclines! You would think he'd rather be Humbert Humbert at play with an apple on the couch with Lolita. But nooooooo! He gets a prim, proper, and scholarly old Jew best known for passing at Princeton, playing the WASP game. Indeed.

And so it goes. . .

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ten Reasons for Toussaint's TV

Ten reasons to thrust Television in front of your nose:

1) In your adult years, you have felt like a fern trapped inside a refrigerator.

2) "Man Against A Ledge" best describes your morning disposition.

3) In these years of heightened euro purchasing power, you cannot afford Germany.

4) The Hasidim of Antwerp have aroused your intellect although they do not appear in Toussaint's novel.

5) You've quit watching television, but you cheat.

6) You've seen wider and wider screens in your 'hood, and although the Dalkey Archive paperback is lightweight and lean, you have been practicing your fastball and imagining "book through window" type escapades. A chuck and run?

7) You do not condone violence, and in fact, you prefer to read a good book.

8) You stand in solidarity with all sandwiches, no matter the nature or weight of haunches destined to smash them.

9) You procrastinate.

10) In your fantasy life, you fly too close to the glass.

Monday, May 11, 2009

TV Off, Toussaint On

Just a quick apology for missing many a moon slither of posting days. I do plan to return soon to the land of regular posting on life and literature, and if the writing is not humane and humorous, I offer a time-back guarantee.

As it relates to my current TVlessness, I am reading a second novel by Jean Phillippe Toussaint, a book titled Television. It is about the topic of turning off TV forever but still being unable to escape its view. I am certain Toussaint's protagonist has felt, like Pynchon's Oedipa Maas, "stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube," but so far the plant-watering sections--from the neighbors' request to their instructions to the art-critic prof's first efforts in this verdant task--have stolen my attention. The TV sections, the quirky detail, the author's odd sense humor, and respect for daily life are also reasons to read this book.

Although Toussaint's Camera has a notable first page, for me, it is Television that more fully captivates.

Monday Morning!

Look alive, party people! Your Monday, May 11, 2009 is happening to you. At you. On you. With you!

But you are on top of it! You can handle this.

Like a machine, you ease yourself into the work week. A finely tuned, rhythmically humming, technologically advanced, machine you are.

Sleek in design, you are more likely a laptop than anything built by Caterpillar. You operate in a most peculiar way, but it is your way and it works.

Good Monday; safe journey.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Larry McMurtry's Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

I recommend McMurtry's book, subtitled, "Reflections at Sixty and Beyond"; I'd call it a mix of memoir, essay, and quirky anecdotes. Good stuff for a thoughtful narrative that is also an easy read. It will engage readers interested in Walter Benjamin, Dairy Queens, our lost buffalo and Western expansion, the book business and book collecting or "scouting" in particular, and possibly anyone within range of sixty with an eye for an articulate view of and from that age. The book was published in 1999, and it is refreshing McMurtry chooses to avoid millennial expectation in his consideration of the times and his relationship to them.

McMurtry is building his own version of a Megabookstore in Archer County, and he sees it as something he can leave the community. He has assembled a collection of used and rare books well beyond the 100,000s, and his hope is that this gift will have lasting impact on his community although he is awfully humble in his presentation of such generosity. He expresses concern for how independents and used bookstores have been driven out of our major cities and considers the repercussions of such an exodus. We get a strong sense from this writing that McMurtry is an engaged citizen of these United States.

I have not read McMurtry's novels, but I do know the names of the more famous ones such as Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show. I am almost certain I recall that Deborah Winger was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the former, and I believe the latter gets mentioned in conversations about the best films of all time. (Stanley Fish included Groundhog Day in one such conversation so I am unsure of how seriously we can take most of these lists; when I was twelve you can bet I would have had Hooper in my top three.) I rented it as a VHS tape and played it on a nineteen-inch screen and did enjoy the show. I wonder what Walter Benjamin would say about writers acknowledging their extremely dated technology which is as young as nine years old or so.

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. Check it out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Writing Life Starring Iain Levison

Iain Levison's Dog Eats Dog was published in October, 2008 by Bitter Lemon Press and his even newer novel How to Rob an Armored Car will be published by Soho Press in October, 2009. Back in '00 or so, L.U.S.K. first discovered Levison's A Working Stiff's Manifesto in hardcover with its original subtitle, "Confessions of a Wage Slave." That memoir established Levison's scalding wit and ability to hold the attention of an ever-tweeting audience. It was later released as a trade paperback with a supercharged second subtitle, and Levison has managed to survive, publish, and publish again. With long-terms roots in Scotland and Philadelphia, Levison currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina where he commits literature and carpentry as much as he can.

USK: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and when did you first identify as a writer?
IL: Writing is the only thing I've ever been any good at. Well, the only legal thing. Early on, I realized that I was never going to get any money or glory pursuing athletics or music, so if I wanted a career where I could earn a decent living without having to kiss anyone's ass, it was writing or crime.

USK: How do you balance your working life and your writing life?
IL: I go to work and then come home and write. That's really all there is to it. I work as a carpenter and maintenance man, so I don't really have to use my mind much at work. I can just think about things to write about all day.

USK: When I heard you read at the downtown Philadelphia Barnes and Noble, you mentioned Disney (or another company) was considering turning Working Stiff's Manifesto into a TV show but that you were still waiting tables on the mainline? Could you update us on what happened to you since then? I believe this was after the paperback edition of Working Stiff's was published and before the hardcover of Since The Layoffs.
IL: Wow, that was a while ago. Since then, various companies have bought film and tv options on all my books, then the rights have expired, and then someone else has bought them. Right now, it looks like Since the Layoffs might actually be a film soon. We have the funding, it's just finding people and getting organized. Sony currently has the TV rights for Working Stiff, but I haven't heard anything, so it's possible the rights will just expire without anything being produced, which is usually what happens.

USK: Since The Layoffs deals with the serious issue of alienated, disgruntled, and fired workers venting their anger by murdering people. Does it scare you that this topic seems to have become part of the national news each month?
IL: To be honest, in a country with no gun control and no respect for workers, you'd expect it to happen more often. But the people who keep going nuts with firearms seem to have a lot of misdirected animosity. They always kill innocent strangers minding their own business. They're just attention whores. We could put a stop to that fairly quickly by making a law (which has been introduced in Congress) that made it illegal for the media to cover a mass shooting outside the immediately affected area. These idiots aren't going to go to jail for the rest of their lives if no one outside rural Arkansas ever gets to hear their name.

USK: What are you doing to avoid swine flu? Do you feel such misrepresentation of said flu is an attack upon all pigs, Porky alone, or Miss Piggy and pig lovers?

IL: The Aporkalypse is upon us! Run for your lives!
We are becoming a feeble-minded population. Flu, for crying out loud. Flu! When are people going to remember that EVERYTHING they see in the media is put there to support corporate advertising? That's why you can see a week's worth of fake panic about flu, without a single mention of investigating or cleaning up factory hog farms. Con Agra and Archer Daniels Midland and other huge companies own the farms, and they lay out billions in advertising. So the reporters have to do this weird gymnastics, trying to freak everyone out about a fake epidemic while simultaneously acting like having 30,000 animals wallowing in their own feces couldn't possibly be the cause.

USK: What is your advice to fledgling writers?
IL: Learn how to take rejection. Other than writing, it will be your most used skill.

USK: How can we access your writing?
IL: In a bookstore, I hope. I don't have much of a web presence right now. I haven't decided whether to get my site up and running again; it's a lot of work, and I'm very busy at the moment.

For more information on Iain Levison's work, follow this link.

*update: Iain's latest novel was a bestseller in France and is due to be made into a film.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Bolano Buzz

When Andy Warhol noted we're lucky to get 15 seconds of fame, I wondered how he computed time; after all, it took me far longer than that to complete my business after two strong mugs in the morning. Potty humor aside, one writer who seems to have survived a bit longer than the fleeting 15 is Roberto Bolano. I have friends with varied literary interests who have found The Savage Detectives rather gripping, and both it and 2666 have won global acclaim. For me, the narrative strategy for The Savage D. amazes with its cumulative effect; in essence, two lives are told from the perspective of dozens of narrators, and so we get a disarmingly penetrating view into the motivations and idiosyncracies of dozens of characters. Many of the sections can be read as "stand alone" stories, and several of my favorites occur toward the end of the book. It is too tempting to give away more story.

To some extent, Bolano's short stories, some of which are translated into English by Chris Andrews and collected in Last Evenings On Earth can seem rather modest and subdued. I suppose that is one of the dangers of writing not one but two epic novels. I have read and reread this collection, much in the same way I have savored work by other haunting authors we may reread. (For me, in my past, these have included Sherwood Anderson, J.D. Salinger, Paul Auster, and many more. After a phone conversation with one book friend, we established that I am a "book returner" in the sense of returning for multiple reads whereas he is always looking forward to something new.) But back to Bolano, I am convinced no one with a taste for the wandering life and melancholy can possibly be disappointed by passages like this:

What were you dreaming about? he asks her. The girl replies that she was dreaming about her mother who died not long ago. The dead are at peace, thinks B stretching out in bed. As if she had read his mind, the girl says that no one who has passed through this world is at peace. Not anymore, not ever, she says with total conviction. B feels like crying, but instead he falls asleep.

That glimmering crystal is neatly tucked into Bolano's "Vagabond in France and Belgium." In nearly every story in the collection, you will discover several such bits of chilling wisdom. (My favorites are "Vagabond...," "Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva," "Anne Moore's Life," and "Dentist.") His style is so smooth and understated, it is possible to read right past these gems, so remember to slow down and enjoy the journey. Safe passage.

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