Saturday, May 31, 2014

from 'De Profundis'

And the end of it all is that I have got to forgive you. I must do so. I don’t write this letter to put bitterness into your heart, but to pluck it out of mine. For my own sake I must forgive you. One cannot always keep an adder in one’s breast to feed on one, nor rise up every night to sow thorns in the garden of one’s soul….I must take the burden from you and put it on my own shoulders. I must say to myself that neither you nor your father, multiplied a thousand times over, could possibly have ruined a man like me: that I ruined myself and that nobody, great or small, can be ruined except by his own hand….Terrible as what you did to me was, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Rebecca Solnit is fucking amazing

In other words, he created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable or dangerous for women, which would be one thing if he were working in, say, a small office. But that a man who controls some part of the fate of the world apparently devoted his energies to generating fear, misery, and injustice around him says something about the shape of our world and the values of the nations and institutions that tolerated his behavior and that of men like him.

- "Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite," collected in Men Explain Things to Me, which a friend sent me today and I am reading while slow-roasting chicken in the oven (and I picked that dish so I could take my time with it)

More TomDispatch columns by Rebecca Solnit

something's got a hold on me and I don't know what

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I've got a pen, I've got a notebook, I'm good to go.

This also struck me, from the same interview (French was an actress before writing -- maybe that's why she can inhabit her characters with such scary completeness):

I love writing. I feel ridiculously lucky that this is what I get to do all day. I love acting, too, but this is the one that was working out. This is the one that not only pays the mortgage but also lets me work every day. With acting, you have to depend on somebody else to decide if you are allowed to work. You can spend weeks and months when you are not acting at all. With this, not only, my God, do I get paid to work every day, but even when I was not, I could still work every day. No one could stop me. I've got a pen, I've got a notebook, I'm good to go. That's a marvelous thing.

 I have to remember that. Nobody else gets to decide. Not Amazon, not Hachette, not Sonny Mehta, not David Remnick, not anyone. No one can really stop you.

(Except yourself. But that's a whole other battle. That's the important one -- Zelda Fitzgerald: "....when I can get the tranquility of spirit necessary to write the story of myself versus myself. That is the book I really want to write.")


I thought, I can't write these characters with the author's judgment being implied. I can't be going, "Who do you think you are?" or "I think this is shallow" or "I think this is superficial" or "You've got no morals." All of that is irrelevant because for these characters, that's not who they are. No one thinks they are shallow, superficial people with no moral center. They are doing these things for excellent reasons. It's my job to get to that reason and give that reason with all the power and punch I could.

The same applies to Scorcher. In his own mind, Scorcher is desperately killing himself to do things right. I thought, if I can get that, that he's not just this pompous git, that he has a reason for being what he is, and he puts passion into it, just as the Spains put passion into being who they are. Even though it may look as if they are just this wad of fake tan and Hugo Boss, they are putting the same passion and determination into that that Fiona is putting into the struggle of living on small wages and desperately trying to get a photography exhibition up and running. It just comes out differently.

If you are going to be on the artist's side of the fence, your job is to place a bit token in the jar of empathy. You don't get to abdicate that purely because you are dealing with people who in real life you find completely uninteresting. If I was going to write this book -- and the idea was there; it's not like I had another one -- it's my job to make sure that these characters had the space to make their argument. And I figured, if they did, if I did that with the respect that it deserves, that with any luck -- please God and touch wood! -- Scorcher would not turn out to be an obnoxious person to spend several hundred pages with and the Spains would not turn out to be unsympathetic victims. I have to say I have no clue if it worked.

- Tana French

And she succeeded brilliantly. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking book.

Monday, May 26, 2014

all hail web two-dot-oh!, it's probably mean of me to say, but looking at the Goodreads reviews of Sophie Hannah's novels you can see where some peoples' reading comprehension -- or lack thereof -- just slams them into a wall of Do Not Get and they blame the author. Well, this always happens with bad readers -- they remind me of the eighteen-year-old kids I taught in English Comp 101 who found everything "boring" -- Martin Luther King, Thoreau, Alice Walker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman....everything.

But at least the kids were eighteen. And at least they weren't writing "reviews" that get posted on a website which has been bought by the biggest monopolistic bookseller in the world, and which are now possibly influencing sales, contracts, what have you....ah well. There's a reason I'm not on that site anymore. Well. Many reasons. This is a small one.

(Yes, I know. I'm on a hiatus. Posts like this are why I'm on a hiatus.)

Very early in my life it was too late.

....By luck or fate, I was enrolled in a creative writing class taught by Alexander Chee. I turned in stories and essays and he nodded and smiled and said they were just fine, but he urged me to do more, to my utter confusion. One day we walked across College Row to get coffee and he shook my story in front of me and said, “Why don’t you write what you really want to write? The way you really want to write it?” I confessed had no idea what he meant. We detoured from coffee and he took me to his office and handed me a copy of Marguerite Duras’ The Lover. Alex directed me to the opening:
One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, ‘I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.
Alex wanted me to see how that opening zigzagged back and forth in time, and contained the vast emotional landscape of the entire lyric novella: time and loss, beauty and desire, grief and ecstasy. I saw instead her subject as the pulsing, raw center that beats at the heart of every page of Duras’ prose. I saw instead her sentences like machete-cut trails through virgin growth to get at unspeakable wounds. I saw a way to tell my own story.

- Aja Gabel

Daisy Chainsaw - Hope Your Dreams Come True

Short film based on the Angela Carter story "The Lady of the House of Love" from The Bloody Chamber.

clearly has all my news needs completely covered

"Recent Posts":

Sunday, May 25, 2014

breaking radio silence briefly

Because this is too good not to quote:
It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and then regurgitate them. Instead of watching “Mad Men” or the Super Bowl or the Oscars or a presidential debate, you can simply scroll through someone else’s live-tweeting of it, or read the recaps the next day. Our cultural canon is becoming determined by whatever gets the most clicks.

....What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it.

- Karl Taro Greenfeld

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

yet another hiatus

I really don't want to join the growing non-chorus of blogging women who've silenced themselves (do popular, or even regular, male bloggers ever agonize about shutting down their blogs? My guess but going on hiatus from Tumblr (and Goodreads about six months? ago) made me realize that I still use the internet in unhealthy, distracting and even destructive ways, and that's dangerous for any addict, and especially dangerous for me. (And I keep just using this blog in a Tumblr-like way, which is frustrating, just "reblogging" videos or quotes or pictures, and sometimes adding little comments, but not always.)

I'll keep the archives here up at least for a bit, and I might continue the booklog, because I like logging what I read and it's convenient to have it all in one place. But right now I'm just really not happy with how irrationally I use my time online, and I need to stop.

ETA: I was going to lock my goddamn Tumblr, but apparently that's not possible, which I did not know when I signed up for that. Fucking A.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'My hero: Lucasta Miller on Emily Brontë'

What difference does it make to see the original manuscript of a literary text rather than just read the printed version? As someone who once nearly sullied a priceless Charlotte Brontë manuscript in an American archive with one of my own tears, I would say it makes all the difference. Faced with the real thing, my pretensions to being a detached and objective researcher dissolved.

Monday, May 19, 2014

go away

from the Odyssey

Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there
lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears…
It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus’ dog
he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got
since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy.
In the old days young hunters loved to set him
coursing after wild goats and deer and hares.
But now with his master gone he lay there, castaway,
on piles of dung from mules and cattle, heaps collecting
out before the gates till Odysseus’ serving-men
could cart it off to manure the king’s estates.
Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect,
here lay the old hound Argos.

But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by
he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped,
though he had no strength left to drag himself an inch
toward his master. Odysseus glanced to the side
and flicked away a tear, hiding it from Eumaeus,
diverting his friend in a hasty, offhand way:
“Strange, Eumaeus, look, a dog like this,
lying here on a dung-hill…
what handsome lines! But I can’t say for sure
if he had the running speed to match his looks
or he was only the sort that gentry spoil at table,
show-dogs masters pamper for their points.”

You told the stranger, Euamaeus, loyal swineherd,
“Here, it’s all too true, here’s the dog of a man
who died in foreign parts. But if he had now
the form and flair he had in his glory days —
as Odysseus left him, sailing off to Troy —
you’d be amazed to see such speed, such strength.
No quarry he chased in the deepest, darkest woods
could slip this hound. A champion tracker too!
Ah, but he’s run out of luck now, poor fellow…
his master’s dead and gone, so far from home,
and the heartless women tend to him not at all…”

With that he entered the well-constructed palace,
strode through the halls and joined the proud suitors.
But the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos’ eyes
the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away.

-- tr. Robert Fagles

Sunday, May 18, 2014


IN LOVE with this pretty blue house and matching free little library. (via flickr)

oh yes

Is your email-writing voice very different from what ends up on the page in a story – that narrative construction you use with the collection?

I can’t write incorrectly. I find it very difficult to just relax and have spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes and punctuation – I cannot do that. But I can’t do that even if I write a shopping list, so that’s not surprising. I can’t be casual, so it’s more correct. Sometimes I have fun writing it nicely – doing parallel constructions or, you know – but of course it’s more relaxed than a formal story, but it’s still a piece of writing that has an effect whether it’s a really good friend or a business email so I’m still quite conscious. It’s amazing how you can write something quickly and when I reread it – I always reread my emails – I make mistakes and I’m confusing and you’d think after all this time I could write a quick email that would be absolutely perfect, but I can’t.

- Lydia Davis interview

Saturday, May 17, 2014

one less bee

Haven't been able to afford 611 Supreme in quite a while (and before that, it was the pancreatitis), but we had some really good times here a couple of years ago. Quite sad.

Friday, May 16, 2014

we separate like ripples on a blank shore

"I years had been from home," Emily Dickinson

I - Years - had been - from
Home -
And now - before the Door -
I dared not open - lest a
I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine -
And ask my Business there -
My Business - just a Life
I left -
Was such - + still dwelling there?

I fumbled at my nerve -
I scanned the Windows o'er -
The Silence - like an Ocean
rolled -
And + broke against my Ear -

I laughed a Wooden laugh -
That I - could fear a Door -
Who Danger - and the Dead -
had faced -
But never + shook - before

I fitted to the Latch - my
Hand -
With trembling Care -
Lest back the Awful Door
should spring -
And leave me - in the Floor -

I moved my fingers off, as
cautiously as Glass -
And held my Ears - and
like a Thief
+Stole - gasping - from the House.

+ fled     + Remaining there     +smote -
+ quaked -

About 1862, Fascicle 21 (H 181).


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kevin Hearn put together a beautiful tribute concert for Lou Reed

and here's the finale.

Usually this song gives me the pip, but the way everyone does "doo doo doo" as soaring gospel is fantastic, AND THEN THE FUCKING SINGALONG, man, I was in tears.

March 2, 2014, would have marked Lou Reed's 72nd birthday, and on March 1, 2014, the Canadian music industry joined Kevin Hearn, of Barenaked Ladies fame, in tribute to Reed, his work and influence.

Over the past several years, Hearn was Reed's musical director and friend. His journey to land this coveted role as Reed's right-hand man is a long and personal one. To say that Reed had an impact on Hearn's life would be an understatement.

Beyond Hearn's relationship with Reed, many other Canadian musicians were touched and influenced by the late singer's music. On March 1, they came in droves to CBC's Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto to sing his songs.

Rosa da Silva as Anne Frank in the new play “Anne,” in Amsterdam

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

dammit Jason

Walking back from DSHS the other day we passed a bar on Pike with all the windows/doors open (Seattle is like New York in the sixties, no A/C) and that haunted, lost, perfect aching "high lonesome" voice floated out with one line to catch my heart like a hook: I put my foot to the floor to make up for the miles I've been losing / I've been running out of things I didn't even know I was using....

Pick apart The pieces of your heart

I have pulled myself clear

'Dare greatly, and if you must sin, sin nobly'

He entered the study and took the chair opposite the Rosh Yeshiva. Schulman closed the tractate of Talmud he was studying and opened the Bible without uttering a word, then noticed Decker was empty-handed.

"Where's your chumash?" the old man asked.

"I didn't bring it."

The rabbi closed the leatherbound book and waited.

"I ate traif today," Decker said.

"What did you eat?" Schulman asked.

"A Big Mac."

"Was it good?"

Decker smiled.

"Actually, it was terrible. The meat wasn't tainted or anything like that, but it didn't go down well."

"Hmmm," said Schulman. "If you were going to eat traif, why didn't you splurge on delicacies -- lobster, shrimp, filet mignon?"

Decker shrugged.

"I could never figure it out," Schulman said, pondering. "When bochrim go astray, they sin in the most mundane ways. Instead of committing adultery with a beautiful woman, they have sex with the ugliest zonah around. Instead of dining in the finest restaurant in L.A., they go to Taco Bell. Such lack of imagination. It defies logic. Why did you aim so low, Peter?"

"I don't know. I guess if you want to debase yourself, you don't do it in high style."

- Faye Kellerman, Sacred & Profane

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'My favorite part of writing is taking stuff out'

But I rarely find getting rid of my words to be an emotional trial. On the contrary, when I can remove a limp adjective or superfluous sentence from a novel chapter or essay, I feel a rush that is a bit like being airborne. For every word I cut, I seem to have more space between my ribs, more lung capacity. I feel simpler and calmer, my head pleasantly lighter. And later, when I turn my work over to an editor, he or she is bound to make some more deletions. I love editors who get rid of things. 

- Pamela Erens


(Editing is FUN. Writing is....not.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

the one to whom you reach out

The experience at MoMA would have turned most people mad – sitting still for that length of time, neither speaking nor moving. (There was a concealed hole in her chair, with a chamber pot fitted beneath it, so she didn't have to get up to go to the loo). Abramović was not daydreaming. The whole point of the exercise, she says, was to be fully present, concentrating on connecting with whoever came in to sit down opposite her, and "I never saw so much pain in my life." The huge number of people who wept, she thinks, was brought on by this staged situation in which "there is nowhere to go except in yourself. It was shocking. But how simple it was."

Before the show opened, both Abramović and MoMA half worried that no one would turn up. As the thing took off, celebrities started to drift in to sit opposite her, including, inevitably, James Franco – and then Ulay came. Abramović broke protocol and reached out to grasp his hands across the table. Everyone cheered. "I absolutely didn't expect he'd come to sit. The moment he sat – and everyone got very sentimental about it, because they were projecting their own relationships on to us – but it was so incredibly difficult. It was the only time I broke the rules."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Will you go ahead To the aventine

Just 1000% in love with her work right now.

To Become a Rich Man with Three Hundred Stone Seals

On a less fucking heartbreaking note, Qi wrote little captions on his sketches -- and the one I liked best was about one of water buffalo, where he rather glumly notes something like (paraphrasing here) "I drew water buffalo for my disciples" (students?), "but then my family wanted another painting of water buffalo, so I did this one. The best paintings are the ones you draw to amuse yourself" -- i.e. not because your relatives say "Oh but the one you gave away was so nice, can't you make us another one just like that?' Heh.*

Sadly I couldn't find a reproduction of the awesome rooster waking up the world with his crow by the gourds, but this one at the Met is pretty great too:

*yes, you have indeed heard of this guy, trust me


I always forget the Frye Museum is in my neighbourhood, because I never leave my house, so yesterday we actually broke the shackles of the grocery-store-library-and-home-again route and wandered up there, and the place was open and free and so we went in. There are two big exhibits right now, Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 and Mark Tobey and Teng Baiye: Seattle/Shanghai -- the influence of East and West, the American-Japanese sculptor learning from the Chinese master calligrapher and the American making friends with the Chinese painter who came to teach at the UW. Noguchi's drawings were pretty OK (we liked his nearly negative-space studies of slouching and sitting monks best), Qi's were masterful and witty (there is a giant colourful one of a BIG rooster by a gourd vine), we couldn't fucking stand Tobey's appropriative "fake Shanghai calligraphy" (what the actual FUCK) and I liked Teng Baiye from the first sighting I had of him as an art dandy in an inscribed photo:

Too goddamn cute, right? (The pose! The smock!) But his paintings, all fucking THREE of them (there were tiny photos of a few more, in a dimly lit room where a self-aggrandizing short film by Tobey droned on, and on, and on) and they were just....genius, I can't even say it any plainer than that. No reproduction does justice to them, they just popped off the walls. (This was before I found out he apparently did them in one sitting with his goddamn FINGERS -- the descriptions of the time about his methods sound a little romanticized, but hell, ink fingerpainting produced that? If I fingerpainted with ink, it would make Pollock look like Rembrandt, for Chrissakes.)'s no good, in reproduction they just look pretty-pretty. And you entirely miss this completely wild blend of abstract and realism -- the little cherry (?) blossoms in the left painting look realistic, but you get close up and realize they're not detailed at all -- mainly sort of pink blobs. But they look just right. (This was in Qi's drawings, too, the use of extraordinarily simple line, almost all suggestion, just a few details here and there somehow holding the whole.) (T said later that when I leaned wayyy in to look at the painting of cranes, the docent/guard/volunteer/whoever leaned pretty far out at a matching angle to make sure I wasn't going to, IDEFK, eat it like Francis Dolarhyde with Blake or something. I did devour it, but only with my eyes.) I kept going back to the "Bird on Rock" -- it was just so perfect, the pose, the angle of the tail and beak, you have to go see it.

But the reason there are only three (THREE) of his paintings on display is terribly upsetting -- apparently he taught at the UW a bit, got a scholarship to Harvard, knocked around New York, visited Europe, then went back home, taught painting for a while -- and then there was the Japanese invasion, he worked in a factory assisting refugees as a patriotic duty, and then, of course, the fucking Cultural Revolution and the one book I found (David Clarke's Chinese Art and Its Encounter With the World) with any information about him cut me off right there, thank you Google Books and your fucking limited views -- "His paintings were denounced as spiritual pollution, his overseas connections brought suspicion on him, and as a result he was forced to do manual labour." And his wife divorced him, probably to save their children. Dear God, I don't think I want to know any more than that. What happened to him? To his hands?

And just to prove that the ungodly flourish like the goddamned bay tree, Tobey went on to have a long, successful, dull, fradulent career. I was so mad I couldn't speak a word nearly all the way home. The true artist gets ground up in the machinery of politics, and the faker has more than a dozen pieces of shit on the museum walls.

Whether Tobey’s work had remained “American” or become “oriental” was a subject of debate among contemporary observers in the United States. Merrill Rueppel, the director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, wrote in 1968 that Tobey was “never for one moment anything but an American,” explaining that he had “taken the calligraphy of the orient and made it the foundation of his own art without becoming oriental.” Similarly, William Seitz, curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, wrote that in Tobey’s work “the Eastern dragon had been harnessed to Western dynamism.”*

In China, similar questions regarding the extent of foreign influence on the work of Teng Baiye were raised. Scholar David Clarke notes that Teng’s “sojourn in the Pacific Northwest and his sophistication in handling both Western and Chinese cultural knowledge gave him valuable resources with which to contribute to the task of assimilating lessons from elsewhere while building a national culture [in China in the 1930s].” Nevertheless, after 1949, and especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), Teng’s paintings were denounced as spiritual pollution. He was condemned to manual labor and few of his paintings survived.

- Frye museum website

*no seriously, it says that

I found out in time you're a serial liar

"Wittgenstein's Dream," Peter Porter

I had taken my boat out on the fiord,
I get so dreadfully morose at five,
I went in and put Nature on my hatstand
And considered the Sinking of the Eveninglands
And laughed at what translation may contrive
And worked at mathematics and was bored.

There was fire above, the sun in its descent,
There were letters there whose words seemed scarcely cooked,
There was speech and decency and utter terror,
In twice four hundred pages just one error
In everything I ever wrote—I looked
In meaning for whatever wasn't meant.

Some amateur was killing Schubert dead,
Some of the pains the English force on me,
Somewhere with cow-bells Austria exists,
But then I saw the gods pin up their lists
But was not on them—we live stupidly
But are redeemed by what cannot be said.

Perhaps a language has been made which works,
Perhaps it's tension in the cinema,
Perhaps ‘perhaps’ is an inventive word,
A sort of self-intending thing, a bird,
A problem for an architect, a star,
A plan to save Vienna from the Turks.

After dinner I read myself to sleep,
After which I dreamt the Eastern Front
After an exchange of howitzers,
The Angel of Death was taking what was hers,
The finger missed me but the guns still grunt
The syntax of the real, the rules they keep.

And then I woke in my own corner bed
And turned away and cried into the wall
And cursed the world which Mozart had to leave.
I heard a voice which told me not to grieve,
I heard myself. ‘Tell them’, I said to all,
‘I've had a wonderful life. I'm dead.’


Gorgeous illustrations by Kate Baylay for Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History'


'a holy fool is still a fool'

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Librarians 2, OCR Nil

The obituary had been scanned and is found in the paper’s historical archives. But here is why it doesn’t show up in an online search.
In the first line of the obit, the man’s name goes “Brown-” and then continues to the second line, “field.”
That’s not picked up by the scanner as one word.
But Ann Ferguson, a librarian at the Seattle Room on the 10th floor, which is part of special collections, found the obituary in the Northwest card index.
- Seattle Times

Thursday, May 8, 2014

aww, this made me really happy

Chekhov: good for you, like carrots

“This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel “The Round House” was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction.” 

“Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added.

- For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

"Why is there always a three-legged cat in your stuff, or what’s this obsession with pigeon pie?"

In most of his Socratic dialogues, what happens is, some guy is walking along the street who thinks he knows it all, and Socrates sits down with him and demolishes him. This might seem destructive, but the idea is that the nature of what is good is elusive. Sometimes people base their whole lives on a sincerely held belief that could be wrong. That’s what my early books are about: people who think they know. But there is no Socrates figure. They are their own Socrates.

There’s a passage in one of Plato’s dialogues in which Socrates says that idealistic people often become misanthropic when they are let down two or three times. Plato suggests it can be like that with the search for the meaning of the good. You shouldn’t get disillusioned when you get knocked back. All you’ve discovered is that the search is difficult, and you still have a duty to keep on searching.

- Kazuo Ishiguro

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

USB drive from the "Never Let Me Go" movie press kit



darlin' I'm not givin' in, that happened miles ago

I'd put you down where you belong But I'm never talking to you again

....have been mishearing "phrase some way" as "pray some way" for....DECADES now apparently, whoops

Ceci n'est pas une books post

Stuffing little parenthetical updates into the booklist just isn't going to cut it, altho I have fallen into the "everything must be PROFOUND or at least not boring" trap, hah. Screw it, these are just notes on what I've read recently.


Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan Maguire -- another intro to another of the author's interminable, no doubt super-lucrative, series. A lot of genre authors have been very ill-served by genre publishers' obsession with super-lucrative series, and that was before the mainstream media's current Game of Crap obsession. Disappointing, because I picked this up after reading the original stories online -- they've been taken down, but Wayback Machine is your friend and mine -- and those were good. Somehow most of the material got recycled into pulp, sigh. (And these don't seem to be actual urban legends, but urban legends Maguire made up, which are just not that interesting.)

Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis, Christine Montross -- one of those "well-meaning but God, this was badly written" books. The main problem is that the author's rose-coloured mini-memoirs about her personal life aren't well-integrated with the medical curiosity stories, and she has no profound -- or even really any new -- insights into mental illness. But she seems like a good doctor and genuinely caring person. Criticizing a book like this always makes me feel like I'm kicking a puppy, just wasn't that good. It'd be a good book for medical students to read, I guess.

Living with a Wild God: A Non-Believer's Search For the Truth About Everything, Barbara Ehrenreich -- fucking amazing. Go read it. Now. No no, right now. Beautifully written, scary in its blazing intelligence, as precisely argued as a theorem.  Unsettlingly, large swathes of it could've done as my adolescent autobiography, too, altho I was never that logical or mathematical (or interesting). Plus, a lot of it is just damn funny. I love Nickel & Dimed but this is on a wholly (hah!) different level.

What I'm reading now -- Never Let Me Go (yeah yeah, I'm always years if not DECADES behind everyone else).  Been meaning to read this for ages, and after having to go off my medz for financial reasons for about a week and a half, I didn't much feel up to challenging stuff, so here Kazzy and I are. Describing a science fiction setting as if it's mundane instead of futuristic and ooh shiny! is always a challenge, and Ishiguro is handling it well so far (I'm on page -- wait no, "Loc 283" -- no, wait -- the bit where she's talking to Tommy in the lunch queue, AUGH I miss actual pages). I am already sick of Tommy and his Wild Rages arising from his Not-At-All-Artistic-No-Really Soul, and want more Ruth-and-Kathy, but I know I'm not going to get that, sigh. Kathy is also basically the butler Stevens in drag, and a very unconvincing female character (compare this to Atwood's act of male ventriloquism in Oryx & Crake, which also included a beautiful example of a woman telling a man a tale he wants to hear which gradually turns into her own, heartbreakingly real, story). 

(And all you people going on about how "this isn't real science fiction" make me tired. It's about CLONES! so it's fucking science fiction. For Christ's sake. Altho all science fiction is fantasy, anyway, because all fiction is fantasy -- it's all made up -- which usually gets the science fiction fans even madder at me, so.) 

But you don't read Ishiguro for convincing Others, or beautiful prose, or compelling characterization, or even likely plots, but for the way the situations he puts his people in haunt you, long after finishing their stories. Kathy and Stevens are both collaborators in the regimes they serve, but also innocent -- or is there really any such thing? But how would you rebel? Is it even possible? And how much do we collaborate, in our own seemingly mundane lives -- what daily atrocities and awful compromises are we, unknowingly, committing -- and is it that we can't know, or don't let ourselves know? 

There are no good answers, possibly no answers at all; he "only" describes, he doesn't condemn, which lets the full horror flower. (Hell, maybe I do like him, after all, even if I always want to pour gallons of ice water on his characters to WAKE THEM UP.)


Ishiguro's imagining of the children's misshapen little world is profoundly thoughtful, and their hesitant progression into knowledge of their plight is an extreme and heartbreaking version of the exodus of all children from the innocence in which the benevolent but fraudulent adult world conspires to place them. We grow up—if we're lucky—in security and wonder, and afterward are delivered to the grotesque fact of our end. And then?

soggy soggy prose

In the same way that we understand individual somatoform disorders to be physical manifestations of psychic conflict, so group disorders are thought to arise in disempowered populations that lack other means of making their collective distress known. Hence nuns who gyrate and bark....

Monday, May 5, 2014

dear God

....just sitting here listening to this on my dinky laptop earbuds is like a fucking religious experience, man. I have no idea how the people in the audience didn't just lose their minds.

Now I see that in my visions
That my eyes are seeing twice
Once for every expectation 

And once for what I realize
But I know if you sell your soul
To brighten your role 

You might be disappointed in the lights 
We all need a fix
At a time like this
But doesn't it it feel good to stay alive....

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Will Self on reading

He is really a complete git, but I think he has a point here:
There is now an almost ceaseless murmuring about the future of narrative prose. Most of it is at once Panglossian and melioristic: yes, experts assert, there's no disputing the impact of digitised text on the whole culture of the codex; fewer paper books are being sold, newspapers fold, bookshops continue to close, libraries as well. But … but, well, there's still no substitute for the experience of close reading as we've come to understand and appreciate it – the capacity to imagine entire worlds from parsing a few lines of text; the ability to achieve deep and meditative levels of absorption in others' psyches. This circling of the wagons comes with a number of public-spirited campaigns: children are given free books; book bags are distributed with slogans on them urging readers to put books in them; books are hymned for their physical attributes – their heft, their appearance, their smell – as if they were the bodily correlates of all those Gutenberg minds, which, of  course, they are.

The seeming realists among the Gutenbergers say such things as: well, clearly, books are going to become a minority technology, but the beau livre will survive. The populist Gutenbergers prate on about how digital texts linked to social media will allow readers to take part in a public conversation. What none of the Gutenbergers are able to countenance, because it is quite literally – for once the intensifier is justified – out of their minds, is that the advent of digital media is not simply destructive of the codex, but of the Gutenberg mind itself. There is one question alone that you must ask yourself in order to establish whether the serious novel will still retain cultural primacy and centrality in another 20 years. This is the question: if you accept that by then the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer to this is no, then the death of the novel is sealed out of your own mouth.

"One" - film by Magnus Renfors, based on Ane Brun's album "It All Starts With One"

This is one of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE THINGS EVER, I remember when "Do You Remember" first came out and the video was so surreal and people were wondering WTF it was about, before it was wildly popular //hipster. But I'm so glad it became wildly popular, because this is just so gorgeous, and profound, and just go watch it right the fuck now, won't you please?

Friday, May 2, 2014


What writers influenced me as a young man? Chekhov!

As a dramatist? Chekhov!

As a story writer? Chekhov!

- Tennessee Williams

Any writer worth their salt who doesn't tell you something just like that is lying. Chekhov is.....I don't even want to say "the Master" because that's so opposite to his aesthetic and personality.  I don't trust people who don't like Chekhov.

(For years a bio quote of mine online was the bit in his early one-act play where the gently decaying Gothic heroine asks the struggling writer his name and he replies, "Chekhov! Anton Pavlovitch Chekhov!"* I think he says somewhere in a late interview that all writers should say that, when asked who they are.)

(It's a fucking perfect Chekhovian moment too, poised exactly between comedy and tears. Ahh, Tenn, you fucking heartbreaker of a little addicted genius, you.)

*I don't even want to tell you how many times I reread Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton as a teenager. I pored over that book like a Talmudic scholar. I used to have at least a scene from each play by heart. AH YOUTH.

"I couldn’t have gone on any further, baby, without money"

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Hart Crane, Inge . . . oh, the debris! The wreckage! Toward the end of an American writer’s life it’s just dreadful. Hemingway’s last years were a nightmare. He tried to walk into the propeller of a plane. Fitzgerald’s end was not much better, although it was less dramatic . . . Once they become known, everybody wants a piece of them.
 Tennessee Williams, The Art of Theater No. 5 - Paris Review


At the last food bank we were at, there was a little signup table right by the exit, after you had picked out your stuff and packed it into the bags you were going to lug home and gone through the "free" boxes to see if there was anything good (matzoh ball mix, some boxes of cranberry juice, many, many Equal packets, &c &c). It turned out to be a station to register voters and there was a tabletop sign that said FELONS CAN VOTE! Everyone got asked if they were registered to vote as they left, sipping from juice boxes or munching on not-quite-stale mini biscottis (biscottinis?) (chocolate milk, caramel and walnuts, fuck yes) to punch their blood sugar up for the walk home. Get that food bank vote out, hell yeah. Everyone who was registered got offered a sticker, and everyone who registered put the sticker on their lapel, or breast pocket, or whatever, right there. I thought that was nice.

Now off to the Salvation Army food bank, WHOO. Stuff we desperately need right now: dishwashing liquid, kitty litter, cat food, oatmeal, olive oil, garlic, pepper, vegetables that do not come in a can. Stuff on that list I am pretty reasonably sure they will have: oatmeal. (And instant, at that. sigh.)


ETA:  The flippin' Salvation Army not only had REAL oatmeal, the rolled steel-cut whateveritis kind, but also REAL coffee -- a whole bag of ground, not even in those little filter packs -- tuna, bagels, tomatoes, and REAL green tea -- the first tea I have seen offered anywhere in a food bank around here (and by now I have been to a bunch of them). OHMYGOD TEA. I have been out for like a WEEK. And was reusing teabags before then. Bless their little hymn-singing socks.

A lot of food banks have the little "we promise to treat you like a fucking human being(™ David Foster Wallace)" notice tacked up by the door (along with the "you can complain no really if we do not treat you like a fucking human being((™ David Foster Wallace))" notice) and I have to say, so far they all have been stellar about that.

It is kind of grimly amusing that, no matter how hard the food banks try to offer alternatives and no matter how hard I try to use them, I have wound up struggling with a lot of the food I worked so hard to cut out over the past year -- more than a year: potatoes, non-wheat pasta (altho there were a lot more corn and wheat pastas offered than I would've thought), peanut butter, commercially made bread, jam, even in a few cases doughnuts and small candies (trust me, if a food bank offers you a doughnut, you are going to fall upon it like a human locust). It's not their fault, it just underlines the food deserts in this country. People who condemn poor folk for eating Mickey D's instead of canned vegetables have their heads shoved deep up their asses. Also I bet they've never tasted canned vegetables. I used a can of green beans in a pasta dish last night and I nearly used up my dwindling hoard of spices trying to make them taste like "something other than soggy bland sopping socks wrapped in decaying seaweed." And that was only marginally successful. And I'm an adult eating vegetables because I know I should and my health goes dramatically downhill if I don't. I can't imagine being a parent and trying to convince a kid to eat canned green beans rather than a dollar bag of McChicken McNuggets. I don't think you could succeed there even if you used the canned green beans as doughnut toppings.

from "Development," by Bryher

On her birthday she was given a volume of tales from Shakespeare, not Lamb's, but a more elementary picture-book that disputed the right even of the Swiss Family Robinson for chief place in her affections. The elemental tales of the plays, growing even as she grew, passed so utterly within her nature that it was hard to realise, after a few months, there was a time when Viola and Imogen had been unknown. The mere fact of the frequent assuming by the Elizabethan maiden of "the lovely garnish of a boy" captured an imagination eager enough to copy; she was ever impatient of the end where they changed to a girl's attire. Odd bits of the stories would attract her -- Pericles finding his armour, smelling of brine and sand; the journey of Imogen to Milford Haven; Caliban snaring sea-mells among the wilder parts of the island. Perhaps a sense of the eternal beauty of the mere names moved her even in infancy; disdaining the other literature of childhood she lived in Illyria, fanciful, yet so vivid, an unimagined reality.

Development. A Novel by W. Bryher with a Preface by Amy Lowell, an electronic edition

Sonnet XCIV

They that haue powre to hurt,and will doe none,
That doe not do the thing,they moſt do ſhowe,
Who mouing others,are themſelues as ſtone,
Vnmooued,could,and to temptation ſlow:
They rightly do inherrit heauens graces,
And husband natures ritches from expence,
They are the Lords and owners of their faces,
Others,but ſtewards of their excellence:
The ſommers flowre is to the ſommer ſweet,
Though to it ſelfe,it onely liue and die,
But if that flowre with baſe infection meete,
The baſeft weed out-braues his dignity:
   For ſweeteſt things turne ſowreſt by their deedes,
   Lillies that feſter,ſmell far worſe then weeds.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

books read in May 2014

Fiction is in red.

67. The Pure Lover: A Memoir of Grief, David Plante
68. Demon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcism, Jennifer Percy
69. Living with a Wild God: A Non-Believer's Search For the Truth About Everything, Barbara Ehrenreich (AMAZING -- beautiful, brilliant, often terribly funny)
70. Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis, Christine Montross (rather wet)
71. Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan Maguire (a lot better than I expected, given I hated both the Toby Daye and Feed series. Still, the original stories online were much better -- and the cover's awful)
72. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro 
73. The Truth, Terry Pratchett (first reread in....eight years? also, I dunno if I'd ever finished it before now) (it was...OK. It doesn't pick up until the second half for me)
74. From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, David Walsh 
75. The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, Colson Whitehead (usually these Brooklyn-writer-divorced-dad-Guggenheim types give me the pip, but damn, he's funny, and a "word magic guy" ((Anne Sexton)) ) 
76. The Ritual Bath, Faye Kellerman
77. Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, Paul Offit
78. Working the Room: Essays and Reviews, 1999-2010, Geoff Dyer 
79. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, Harry Kemelman (bloody good)
80. The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, David Simon (fucking heartbreaking)
81. The Truth-Teller's Lie, Sophie Hannah (DAYUM) (apparently she's friends with Tana French! I LOVE that)
82. Stray Souls, Kate Griffin
83. Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit 

have a big old chunky lovely WALL O' TEXT.... celebration of my liberation from Tumblr, Twitter, gif posts, and people who can't read more than three sentences at a time!

Take the prevalence of websites where for your convenience you’re served culture as you might be served chicken nuggets in a drive-thru. You know who they are (but if in doubt try Flavorwire,, BuzzFeed, Huffpost’s book section or Brain Pickings). In the absence of imagination or depth and using the modern model, you could easily fire together a Top Ten Books/Films/TV Shows About Vampires/Zombies/Fashion/Love, preferably with each book on a separate page or their beloved “after the jump” to greatly boost the hits and thus advertising revenue of your site. You could make sure each book is dealt with in a cursory paragraph, perhaps lifted wholesale from its blurb or press release with a droll rejoinder tacked to the end. Or better still, just stick a quote or ten on there with images taken from other list-based culture sites who’ve in turn taken their image from other sites and so on forever and ever. Include endless ‘how to write’ articles written by writers so it has that familiar creative writing workshop feel. Don’t bother looking too closely or at too much length at anything. Feel free to share all of this via the widgets provided. Reiterate positivity, motivation, self-belief like Dr Phil if his moustache happened to be a permissably ironic one. Remember above all, your priority is clicks not culture. There’s little harm in any of this of course but there’s little substance to it either. It’s resulted in the elevation of the curator above the creator, taste above talent, pointing above doing.

Culture filtered through social networking (or more accurately the opposite) reaches its nadir with the tendency towards ventriloquism, the point at which it becomes damaging rather than just mildly irritating. Readers inevitably project their own views onto the writers they love (and loathe), it takes a curator or a critic to truly misrepresent a writer. In the past few months, I’ve seen writers whose work I adore be resurrected in horrifying forms. Gone are the edges, complexities and ambiguities that made them so interesting and unique. Instead we get a partially-pristine partially-malformed ventriloquist dummy replica. Worse still they all speak with the same voice. The words are theirs but the voices are not. Those have been changed in the editing process.

anais nin1

If I had first encountered Anaïs Nin by reading a quote of hers about love or dreams or fulfilling your potential or massaging your inner child superimposed on an insufferably twee image, I would never have picked up her wonderful remarkably-transgressive books. Perhaps this shows the shortsightedness of my own prejudices but it’s still not a fair or substantial representation of her work. What I want when I encounter Anaïs Nin is Anaïs Nin, not a therapist or a motivational speaker. The same goes for Susan Sontag or Henry Miller or David Foster Wallace or any of the other incandescently brilliant writers whose writing has recently been cherry-picked and repackaged as glorified self-help tracts. The quotes are certainly theirs, being culled from diaries, journals, speeches and interviews (with the double meaning of culled being entirely apt). The sentiments may well be true. Yet it seems to me duplicitous because the quotes have been carefully selected to fit a pre-existing agenda – us. I am a ludicrously solipsistic and selfish person but even I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me. At the risk of impertinence, if I chance upon someone using the currently virulent “there is actually no such thing as atheism” quote by Foster Wallace out of context to bash atheists (ignoring its implicit ‘worship God precisely because He is so ineffectual He can’t harm you’ angle) with no further interest in his writing or life, I’m going to nail a copy of Infinite Jest to their collective forehead.

- the fantastic Darran Anderson 

another one

....I dreamt I was falling in love with Alice Sheldon.
She didn’t want me. So I tried getting myself killed
on three continents. Years passed. Finally, when I
was really old, she appeared on the other end of the
promenade in New York and with signals (like the
ones they use on aircraft carriers to help the pilots
land) she told me she’d always loved me.

....I dreamt I kept sleeping while my classmates
tried to liberate Robert Desnos from the Terezín
concentration camp. When I woke a voice was
telling me to get moving. “Quick, Bolaño, quick,
there’s no time to lose.” When I got there, all I
found was an old detective picking through the
smoking ruins of the attack.

....I dreamt I was a prisoner and Boethius was
my cellmate. “look, Bolaño,” he said, extending
his hand and his pen in the shadows:
“they’re not trembling! they’re not
trembling!” (after a while,
he added in a calm voice: “but they’ll tremble when
they recognize that bastard Theodoric.”)

....I dreamt I was translating the Marquis de Sade
with axe blows. I’d gone crazy and was living in the

....I dreamt that Pascal was talking about fear with
crystal clear words at a tavern in Civitavecchia:
Miracles don’t convert, they condemn, he said.

Roberto Bolaño

"I dreamt I was 69ing with Anaïs Nin"