Tuesday, July 27, 2010

inherited vice?

I'm reading Inherent Vice and seeing a lot of connections to The Crying of Lot 49, but I hope this doesn't mean I'm paranoid. Well, perhaps I do have such tendencies, but I'd like to believe I don't need TP to tell me this (the other TP). The novel definitely leaves me longing for Southern California in all of its imagined states. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first time Pynchon has revisited the same time and place for a second novel (although, if I remember correctly, there is some WWII overlap between V and Gravity's Rainbow).

I remember that when I was twelve and my father moved to Marina Del Rey (from Philadelphia), a few of my favorite parts of a visit to Dad's became 1) playing basketball on the Venice Beach courts (early, before the local "stars" arrived and took over) and 2) cheeseburgers from a great chiliburger joint by the beach where Marina Del Rey meets Venice and 3) fishing off the Santa Monica pier, one of the few times in my life I ever caught more than a pregnant crab while fishing. But this was 1980s L.A., nothing at all like Pynchon's glorious 1960s version. My Dad may have been expecting the roach-clip culture Pynchon describes so well, but what he found was a cool club called AA, and the rest, as they say, is sobriety.

One oddity about Marina Del Rey in the 1980s is that it was affordable; my father started out with a two bedroom apartment for $850 a month and his last unit rented there was a $1000 per month efficiency. The writing was on the wall for him and by 1991 he was back in Philly before escaping to an affordable beach town in Northern Florida. Funny thing is, I visited that town, Ponte Vedre, two years ago and saw that it too now looked shiny, new, and pricey.

So be it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

reality TV in the age of terror?

Atticus: The novel speaks directly—both humorously and dramatically—to the daily challenges of living in a post-9/11, terror-centric age. Nine years after the attacks on our homeland, the aftermath remains impressed onto the collective, pockmarked conscience of our citizenry like a scar that won’t heal. Many folks have grown tired and crazy with (or utterly numb to) a barrage of apocalyptic images rendering us, a post-mortem superpower, sterile. Kind of heavy territory for cheap laughs, no?


Alex: Is this the age of terror? Or the age of information? Or the age of reality TV? Did Lebron drive a white Bronco to his previous owner’s house before catching a flight to Miami where he socked a shoe bomber while apprehending a billion-dollar identity-theft fugitive who held the list of Swiss bank account owners? I don’t know—it seems like King James is an amazing talent but also a young guy taking way too much heat for any move he makes, and the “reality” we watch on TV leaves us disconnected from the struggles of regular workers in our economy and around the globe. And that’s us. I believe that senior members of university faculties and administration may have a similar disconnect to these struggles. They are affluent enough to be rather removed from the very students society entrusts them to lead.

For the vast majority of citizens on this planet—including seemingly “advantaged” American college students who in fact owe more collective debt than any group of young adults in history—daily challenges have a lot more to do with basic things like access to jobs, housing, water, food, etc. The people who terrorize often claim they are fighting to get people these things and the people who claim they are fighting terror say the same. Likewise, universities can point to all the programs they offer which aim to alleviate these struggles both locally and globally. And yet part of the picture is that the average indebted student falls behind by about $25,000 (loans plus credit card debt) by the time he or she finishes undergrad. And then the elasticity of the economy ensures it is any economist’s guess as to what kind of job market these students will graduate into.

Is the book funny? I don’t know. Are the laughs “cheap”? Not for me. I spent six years composing this novel and haven’t received a dime for the writing.

Should Phil Jackson continue his preseason book club and assign Fight for Your Long Day to Pau Gasol? Absolutely. It’s a lot shorter than [Roberto] BolaƱo’s 2666. That’s what Phil gave him last year, and Pau deserves a break for playing tough in game 7.

For further interrogation, see Atticus Books. TGIF and the rest of it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

philly novel

Hey, half of my interview is up at http://atticusbooks.net/. Here's half of how I dodged the Philly question and tried to spread the brotherly love:

I’m from Philly, and both of my novels are set there. I’m not dead, not yet, but I’m beginning to see that it might be the only region I ever write about in a substantial way. Having said that, there are thousands of different Philadelphias lived by hundreds of thousands of residents of the region. There’s enough in this city to last an army of writers a lifetime.


I’m not the first to take on Philly of course. Several books I know of have a heavy dose of Philly in them. Two of my favorites are David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident and a memoir by Jim Knipfel called Slackjaw. Both of these include description of SEPTA in University City and Center City; Duffy isn’t the first to ride the downtown rails in a literary way.

Check out the Atticus Books website for more.

marcia trahan

Every now and then on facebook, freelance writer and editor Marcia Trahan posts an intriguing question that gets my response (along with lots of other writers among her thousands of facebook friends).

This time, she asked why we began blogging and what we feel we've gained from the experience.

I wrote:

it was required for an in-house course on teaching literature online. at the time, i entered a brief entry or two and then forgot about it until the economy fell off the cliff in Feb/March 2009 (this was maybe a year later). then it seemed like there was nothing to lose. now it's alternately addictive, another thing i forgot to do, too easy, too hard, too routine, and the "fake" writing that takes me away from the "real" writing. one thing i've enjoyed is feeling more connected to other bloggers. (the main reason i'm writing this is because i just enjoyed reading the above comments [from other bloggers].) i gravitate toward the quirkier ones and almost always find that other bloggers have cooler designs and better use/understanding of images... and i see a lot with much more and better writing too and then i feel slightly inferior. alas. maybe i'll copy this to my blog (http://kudera.blogspot.com/).

And then as you see, I did.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

sympathy for the devil

I was caught deep in the dungeon of The Chronicle of Higher Educations's comments section on the latest "abolish all tenure" op-ed (to sell books) and realized I could in fact publish my findings as an http://kudera.blogspot.com/ entry. Alas, we strive here at USK to publish only first-time originals but forgive me for making an exception here or there. (Note: this piece may be slightly edited from its original found here as comment 47: http://chronicle.com/article/Are-Colleges-Worth-the-Price/66234/.)

Please pardon any honesty, complexity, complicity with, or sympathy for the d----, or in this case, the tenured.

Well, here goes:

This is conjecture, not the almighty proof that only a billion-dollar research grant could provide me the time to provide, but I suspect that most anyone who is on the "anti-tenure" side in some sense probably:


a) feels very vulnerable at work, does not have tenure or union protection, and resents people with such security

or

b) does have tenure, hustles her ass off despite this, publishes new books every year, but in a free moment or two notices the tenured colleague next door is rarely in his office and when present can occasionally be seen surfing online for golf clubs and lingerie

or

c) is a parent who with kids in college or high school and has been reading that over half of America's undergraduate courses are taught by people with no job security or benefits

or

d) is tenured but affluent enough to survive this hypothetical move to FREE UNIVERSAL CONTRACT LABOR (or as Karl Rove would describe it, "Jobs and Growth")

or

e) believes that all research should pay for itself, presumably in the short term (which yes, now that you point that out, seems counter to the principles of research)

or

f) is also for moving more undergraduate tuition dollars into the classroom--perhaps where the sad sap adjunct faculty member engaged in his "regurgitation" could interupt his upchucking of the data and leap upon the students fighting for those dollars

or

g) is part of the demographic described in comment 44 but remains uncertain of his or her stance on tenure despite a sort of negative emotion associated with his tenured neighbor's rather nice car

or

h) is also irked by the contracts of athletic superstars although he can hardly imagine Stanley Fish's basketball exploits (as described in the NYTimes, no doubt a benificence brought to you by the makers of fine wine and tenure) comparing to the great feats of the Lebrons and Carmelos.

In conclusion, I suspect that choice (a) is the main reason. Folks feel vulnerable and resent others who seem less so (despite all of their incognito chronicle comment postings that seemingly suggest similar fears). Feel free to find me for (i) through (z). And in the mean time, fight for your long day!

Yours for all contigency appointments,

Alex Kudera
 
Well, that's what I posted over there. I'm feeling a bit guilty for having betrayed my caste, and I certainly have not yet been forwarded my raise. I suppose I better stoop lower and get back to grading papers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

lit, liquor, and food

If you enjoy reading and recipes, Chicago and Philly, and liquor or beer, then you might like this Books are Better than Boys blog. You don't have to agree with that statement to enjoy the blog; in fact, based on what I've seen in it, there is not much elaboration on that first principle. The July 1 entry is of course my favorite of all. Oh brother...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

born again in beige

yeah, i hope it's not the background that makes the blog.

fourteen ninety-five

Why yes, now that you asked, and because I doubt you've heard this before from these parts, I can say that the $10.08 deal is still available for a limited time (as in two and a half months or so), and yet, I can also enthusiastically report that the product in question is now also available for a rather consumer-normative price of fourteen ninety-five from another outstanding online merchandiser. Yes, quite so. American dollars. And again, yes, I agree that it is not unlike two drug dealers peddling their wares caddy corner or across the street from each other. Ten O eight or fourteen ninety-five?

Imagine the delight you could have daydreaming about what to do with the four eighty-seven you saved. Or how spending the $4.87 on a book you may or may not ever read could save you from buying an extra pack of smokes or any highly calorified or artery-clogging product. Is there any way we could prove you'd be better off using the $4.87 for a 24 pack of 12 ounces cans of Coke at Wal-Mart?

OK, yes, I realize this is weird.

Friday, July 9, 2010

two cents on three dollars of Hollywood comedy

For the sake of full disclosure–it seems critical that you and Chris Bosh’s 2-week unreality camera crew have public access to my life although it bears no relevance to his impending border crossing pour le saison chaud de menage a trois in sunny Florida:

For the first time in months we rented movies, and I chose from our local shiny, red 1-dollar DVD drop box, the anti-tourist Daniel Kalder’s fav It’s Complicated along with a second choice, Youth In Revolt (being out of the film loop and choosing only by the cover displays no less!).

Yes, DK’s points (see his kind words at http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/2009/10/28/trailer-review-meryl-streep-and-alec-baldwin-star-in-its-complicated/) are well taken (as well as commenter Sophie’s and I do pity the crew, yes I do, who had to stand around beautiful Santa Barbara and point equipment at Alec Baldwin), and yet long removed from this world of Hollywood comedy, we watched It’s C. first and laughed a lot! It was kind of like cathartic, just what the doctor ordered laughter.

But then again, we don’t have TV, stereo, or much else in a very quiet small town in the summer. There was one early scene where I feared the worst, the 50ish women gathering to nibble and discuss their lives and dismal prospects for love (I very much prefer my own 40ish clandestine nibbling here, alone with pretzels or ice cream or my own questionable choices in literature or chances for all kinds of things).

Youth in Revolt was more intriguing I suppose, and I’ve always been a sucker for pseudo-Indy teen-angst films, and then the topper is a week later, at this point positively addicted to the cinema of Hollywood comedy, I chose Four Christmases.

Four Christmases was okay--no doubt better than what 4 Kwanzas or 4 Channukahs would have been and I can't remember if I saw Four Weddings and a Funeral or not--but I did begin to get a bit burnt out on Hollywood comedies.


If there is a shared message of all three films, it seems to be that love is still possible in an age of plentiful and easy-access divorce and that divorce can be a funny topic too, not some taboo, "oh, that’s so awful, what those poor children or poor mother had to go through," etc. And also, that parents can be superfreaky, strange, and scary people (alas, another comedy we fall into, parenting). Then, I realized that perhaps my favorite comedy, The Daytrippers, has the same themes. And most of Woody Allen as well. And all of situation-comedy TV? I suppose.

Will I succumb once more to the DVD drop box and rent that Demi Moore–Parker Posey interlude with “Tears” in the title? Wouldn’t Chris Bosh’s camera crew like to know? No? Oh. Well, I suppose renting from the drop box is less exhausting than winning the NBA title.

And on a related note, please Phil Jackson (or Doc Rivers or Doug Collins or any other basketball coach who helps Oprah and amazon and borders sell books), when assigning literature to next season's team, consider selecting the film novelization of Fight for Your Long Day. Originally written for screen--as a Philip Seymour Hoffman "plot mule" and product-placement bonanza--this novel of urban angst and travail would make fine reading for any of the national basketball association's high school graduates.

TGIF, keep fighting the good fight, and keep Fight[-ing] for Your Long Day.

Peace.

(And yes, I almost wrote the whole thing without writing the word Lebron.)