Showing posts from 2008

New Hampshire Thanks You, Mr. Bush

from The Concord Monitor : Is Franklin Pierce due for a promotion? Pierce, the only New Hampshire man elected to the White House, is a perennial nominee for Worst President Ever. But as that office's current occupant finds his own reputation under attack from many historians and the public, Pierce could move up a notch from the bottom of the presidential rankings -- a boost Pierce partisans say is long past due. "When I speak to groups, somebody always asks, 'How does it feel to know your man is no longer the worst?' " said Peter Wallner, author of a recent two-volume biography of Pierce. "I take a little bit of pleasure in the fact that (President George) Bush is viewed by them as worse than Pierce." Actually, Pierce is generally not listed as the worst, but rather one of the worst -- James Buchanan, Millard Filmore, Warren G. Harding, and a few others make all the lists , and when the lists are ranked, Pierce is seldom number one. But still. Mr.

This Gene is Not a Hedgehog

from an article on nomenclature in New Scientist (via Bookforum ) : "We had particular problems with fruit-fly researchers," says Sue Povey of University College London, who chaired the committee approving names for human genes from 1996 to 2007. "They were always giving their genes names like hedgehog ."

Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

Harold Pinter has died . Here are the last words from one of his last plays, Celebration : Silence. The WAITER stands alone. WAITER When I was a boy my grandfather used to take me to the edge of the cliffs and we'd look out to sea. He bought me a telescope. I don't think they have telescopes anymore. I used to look through this telescope and sometimes I'd see a boat. The boat would grow bigger through the telescopic lens. Sometimes I'd see people on the boat. A man, sometimes, and a woman, or sometimes two men. The sea glistened. My grandfather introduced me to the mystery of life and I'm still in the middle of it. I can't find the door to get out. My grandfather got out of it. He got right out of it. He left it behind him and he didn't look back. He got that absolutely right. And I'd like to make one further interjection. He stands still. Slow fade.


We sleep, and at length awake to the still reality of a winter morning. The snow lies warm as cotton or down upon the window-sill; the broadened sash and frosted panes admit a dim and private light, which enhances the snug cheer within. The stillness of the morning is impressive. The floor creaks under our feet as we move toward the window to look abroad through some clear space over the fields. We see the roofs stand under their snow burden. From the eaves and fences hang stalactites of snow, and in the yard stand stalagmites covering some concealed core. The trees and shrubs rear white arms to the sky on every side; and where were walls and fences, we see fantastic forms stretching in frolic gambols across the dusky landscape, as if Nature had strewn her fresh designs over the fields by night as models for man's art. --Henry David Thoreau, "A Winter Walk" (1843) The first day of winter. It's been snowing here for the past few days. This comes after devastating ic

A Few More

Inevitably, I forgot some books I enjoyed greatly this year when I wrote my post about books I'd encountered in 2008 . Despite my feeling that I hardly read anything in 2008, and that much of what I did read didn't appeal to me, I'm discovering that neither feeling is particularly true, and this is a pleasant discovery. So here are a couple more books I enjoyed mightily this year: The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer: I forgot this one because I had read a version of it some time ago and so never associated it with 2008. It's marvelously strange and an excellent study of office life, and PS did a great job with the production of the book itself. Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry by Reginald Shepard: I reviewed this for Rain Taxi , and it was easily one of my favorite books of the year -- I think I forgot it because it's a book that resides in my mind among books that have been around a while, books that made a deep impre

Dear Mr. Obama

I've been skeptical of most (not all) of Barack Obama's cabinet appointments, and even aghast at a few , but I've never felt "betrayed" by him, since he's been honest all along about his moderate views and his " pragmatism " (generally a support for minor changes to the status quo), and I do think it's worth waiting to see how he and his cohorts govern before giving up completely on anything resembling optimism. Obama's better than Bush or McCain and he's not another white guy, so I was quite happy when he won the election. I keep my standards for politicians low, and that way I can occasionally be pleasantly surprised. Idealists are always disappointed and depressed; honest cynics now and then have to admit that humanity isn't entirely dreadful. But the choice -- not Obama's alone, but he's said he supports it -- of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration really pissed me off. No softer words can enca

The Ubiquitous Bolaño

I find it mildly embarrassing to be so enamored of Bolaño these days. I picked up By Night in Chile and Distant Star back when they were the only Bolaño books available in English -- back in the dusty old days of, what, 2005? -- and they both perplexed me and impressed me; then when Last Evenings on Earth came out, I picked it up and was blown away -- something really felt like it exploded in my head, and I went back and reread parts of By Night in Chile and Distant Star and they felt so much richer than they had before. I had, in some ways, been teaching myself how to read Bolaño. There was great praise of Bolaño from the moment the first translations appeared, but the praise and admiration for Bolaño back then felt restrained and quiet compared to what would happen when The Savage Detectives came out -- suddenly it seemed like Bolaño had been made the saint of all literature. I was excited, yes, but also a bit fearful, and I resisted Savage Detectives for a while, partly,

Rain Taxi Benefit Auction

The great and glorious magazine Rain Taxi is holding a benefit auction to raise some money. They're offering a wide assortment of books and book-like items of all sorts and genres for sale -- some real treasures. RT is a wonderful source of information on books that otherwise are difficult to learn about, and I have relied on them for years now. In a time when book coverage is disappearing from the mainstream media, it's particularly important that venues such as Rain Taxi exist.

Books This Year

I've had a few requests to participate in various "best books of the year" surveys, and I've avoided them all, mostly because I have read so few new books in 2008 that I wouldn't be able to contribute anything of value. It's been easily the most difficult year of my life for more than one reason -- any one of them would have made it the most difficult year of my life, but there were more than one! -- though things are going fairly well now, and I'm less stressed out than I have been in a while. This is good. But a difficult year doesn't lead to a lot of reading or even keeping up with what's being published. In fact, moving from New Hampshire to New Jersey to New Hampshire over the course of 18 months saw me losing books right and left (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not). But I thought it would be fun to try to remember some of the books I've encountered this year, particularly since circumstances have kept me from writing very much ab

"And then there's no other choice but to write"

The truth is, I don’t believe all that much in writing. Starting with my own. Being a writer is pleasant -- no, pleasant isn’t the word -- it’s an activity that has its share of amusing moments, but I know of other things that are even more amusing, amusing in the same way that literature is for me. Holding up banks, for example. Or directing movies. Or being a gigolo. Or being a child again and playing on a more or less apocalyptic soccer team. Unfortunately, the child grows up, the bank robber is killed, the director runs out of money, the gigolo gets sick and then there’s no other choice but to write. -- Roberto Bolaño

New Practical Physics

I've turned my story "New Practical Physics", originally published in Say...What's the Combination? in 2007, into an experimental hypertexty bloggy thing (that's the technical term). I thought it would take an hour or two, but then I got to fiddling with the layout, searching for pictures and links, etc., and an hour or two turned into hours of work over many days. But I think the work was worth it. Collage is my favorite art form, and this has made the story even more of a collage than it was originally, so I'm now happy enough with it to share it with y'all.

Help a Writer and Publisher Facing Foreclosure

Writer and publisher Vera Nazarian has been terribly affected by these difficult economic times and by some personal emergencies. She and her ailing mother are now facing foreclosure. Now folks are joining together to try to help her. I can testify to the fact that Vera is tremendously diligent and immensely generous. Nobody should have to go through what she's going through in what we're told is the richest country in the world. If you can send money, if you have items you can donate to auction or sell, etc., please do. I'll post more info as it becomes available. Update 12/8 : And it is done! The total amount past due on Vera's mortgage was raised in 3 days! There are still items for sale and auction, and future monies will go to helping Vera get new sewer pipes, medical care, etc. This wasn't the first time I donated to help a writer or person associated with the world of books out of a crunch, and it certainly won't be the last, but every time remin

BAF '08 Story-by-Story Discussion

BookSpot Central is hosting a roundtable discussion of the stories in volume 2 of Best American Fantasy -- first up is M. Rickert's "Memoir of a Deer Woman" . It's an ambitious project, and I look forward to following it.

Music Meme

I love happenstance and serendipity with music, so am quite attracted to a music meme Andrew Wheeler just shared : 1. Put your iTunes (or any other media player you may have) on shuffle. 2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer. 3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS! Here we go... IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY" YOU SAY? Izakunyatheli Afrika Verwoerd (Africa is Going to Trample on You, Verwoerd) -- from This Land is Mine: South African Freedom Songs WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY? Six O'Clock News -- John Prine WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL? Another Man's Vine -- Tom Waits WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE? Pagan Poetry -- Björk WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO? I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine -- Bob Dylan WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU? I Kill Children -- Dead Kennedys WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN? Humdrum -- Peter Gabriel WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND? Brother Flower -- Townes van Zandt WHAT DO YOU THINK

I Fought the Law

Internet access troubles (rural New Hampshire, snow) kept me away for a while, and I missed the 30th anniversary of the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk on November 27. I first learned of this moment in history during my undergraduate years in the mid-90s, all thanks to the Dead Kennedys song "I Fought the Law (and I Won!)" . What, I wondered then, did " Twinkies are the best friend I’ve ever had" mean? Who was Jello Biafra singing about in the line "I blew George & Harvey’s brains out with my six-gun"? I loved the song because my father had a 45 of one of the earlier versions that I listened to a bunch, so the changes in the DK version thrilled me, even though I had no idea what the song was about (this was in the days before the internet and quick Googling). At the same time, I was trying to educate myself on gay history, and when I read about the assassinations and the supposed "Twinkie defense", I suddenly reali


i know we're going to meet some day in the crumbled financial institutions of this land there will be tables and chairs there'll be pony rides and dancing bears there'll even be a band 'cause listen, after the fall there will be no more countries no currencies at all, we're gonna live on our wits we're gonna throw away survival kits, trade butterfly-knives for adderal and that's not all ooh-ooh, there will be snacks there will there will be snacks, there will be snacks -- Andrew Bird , Tables & Chairs"

Octavian Nothing II

I happened to tell Colleen Lindsay that I was reading M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves , and she asked me if I would write about it for her site rather than my own, and because I was feeling charitable and generous and easily swayed by flattery, I agreed. And my rather odd and deeply conflicted review was just posted. Actually, I wouldn't even call it a review. More a personal reflection with occasional review-like qualities. Or a series of soul searches in search of an author. Or something.

Delany & Diaz Reading in NYC November 24

If anybody would like me to feel deep, visceral envy of them, they should attend the Monday, November 24 St. Marks Bookshop Reading Series where the readers are Samuel Delany and Junot Diaz . Even if you don't care if I feel deep, visceral envy of you, you should attend if you can, because it's likely to be a phenomenal evening.

Yammer & Blab

Colleen Lindsay asked me to write a little something for her blog, perhaps something about MFA programs (though I've never attended one), perhaps advice to beginning writers (though there are vastly better people to receive advice from), perhaps pictures of sickeningly cute animals. I dithered, then wrote this . Pictures of sickeningly cute animals will have to wait.

John Leonard (1939-2008)

What I look for and care about in these various bunkers is the slice of the strange, the surprise of the Other, the witness not yet heard from, the archaeologies forgotten or ignored or despised. What I think about almost anything, from Henry Kissinger to Deng Xiaoping, from the doctrine of transubstantiation to the theory of surplus value to a tax on capital gains, from Murphy Brown to Thelma and Louise to Jelly's Last Jam , is a mess of juxtapositions, miscegenations, transplants and hybrids, atavisms and avatars, landlords and tenants, ghosts and gods; grace-notes and cognitive dissonance -- Chaos Theory, with lots of fractals. --introduction to The Last Innocent White Man in America Isn't it kind of stuck-up, wanting to live forever? --"Tropic of Cancer" All through my teen years, if I happened to sleep past 9 am, one of my parents would yell, "John Leonard's on!" and I would be awake and rushing downstairs to see the brief segment of &q

Amazon's Best

It's so rare that I agree with lists of the best books of the year that I'm astounded to see picked two books I'm quite fond of as its top two science fiction/fantasy titles of the year: Brian Slattery's Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America and Jeff Ford's The Drowned Life (a book I'm hoping to write about in the next week or two). I may even like more than those top two, but I haven't had time to read any of the others. Thus, this week various people I voted for actually won elections and a top-ten list was published that I don't hate. What is happening to me?! Why is the world trying to make me content?!!

This Moment

I am always wary of making political statements here, and do it only occasionally, because I recognize that many of us differ in our perspectives and ideologies, and this is not primarily a political blog. I feel privileged to have friends and family members of very different political feelings, because they help me discover what I most cherish and believe. I would regret staying silent at this moment in my country's history, because regardless of our personal political convictions, how could we not spend a moment to savor the fact that this country will now be led by a person of Barack Obama's background and heritage? I do not believe this is a moment that will change the oppressions inherent in so much of this country's fabric. This is no revolution. As a politician, Obama is a moderate, and even if he weren't, there are limits to what a president can achieve (despite the attempts of the Bush administration to turn the government into even more of an oligarchy). I

Murder Madness Mayhem

I'm teaching a section of a course next semester called "Murder, Madness, and Mayhem" at Plymouth State , and since a passionate minority of the readership here seems interested in my syllabi and the (so-called) thinking behind them, here are the texts I've settled on using: The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell Blasted by Sarah Kane Dying City by Christopher Shinn Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut S. by Slavenka Drakulic Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery I don't entirely know what I'm doing with all these texts yet (the order was due at the bookstore last week, but the class won't begin till the end of January), but I chose them because I think they will illuminate different things about each other. The only text that I've been settled on using since the moment I learned I'd be teaching a section of the class