nitpicking about The Morning News’ Tournament of Books again

If it was not for Ready Steady Book, i wouldn’t have known that The Savage Detectives had been resurrected in a “zombie round.”

Also, I didn’t know that that earlier that Remainder had been knocked out by The Shadow Catcher, but the reader seemed to have legitimate reasons for why he made that pick. Apparently he likes plots and stories. When i read this blog post though,it became apparent he must like crap fiction. The commenter who excerpted from One Hundred Years of Solitude is awesome. Thank you.

Although i love Remainder now, when i first put the book down, i felt disappointed. It wasn’t until weeks later, when it was obvious that it was still resonating, screwing with my consciousness, i was forced to look for all of McCarthy’s interviews. If a book is mind-altering, that’s a good thing. From the recitation of the plot of The Shadow Catcher, it would have bored me senseless. Seeing it get called out as a faint echo of Garcia Marquez, it’s pathetic. Contemporary American realism simply is not challenging enough. It makes one think of that Why fiction? question.

The Savage Detectives was still knocked out again, this time by The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s mildly amusing that the judge proclaims that he has no connection to either author. Someone else must have called them out on that little conflict of interest that could have been instrumental in knocking The Savage Detectives out in the first round. Their designated commentators harrumphed about McCracken using Diaz’s work in her classes, but turned a blind eye to the earlier McSweeney’s thingmajig, Oh well…

(edit: Fixed that sentence about McCracken and Diaz, as a commenter read it as McCracken being Diaz’s teacher, which is not the case. Apologies.)

The good thing about this Tournament of Books is that it has me curious about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s ironic that Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, a book that i almost picked up last fall, lost out to it because that judge compared it to my beloved Bolano, Nazi Literature in the Americas in this instance, and found it wanting. (Stephen Marche might still be someone i want to read, but he’ll be in paperback, possibly used.) It’s troublesome that so many writers seem to want to proclaim loudly that they were nerds, rather than failed or haunted poets, but this is the internet. Why expect anything else?

It’s bugging the hell out of me what story i read by Elizabeth McCracken too. She’s familiar for more than her reviews.

people are still writing nonsense about How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Just woke up. Kinda bleary. It’s an odd morning to be up this late.

Thumb drives & oven clocks and Ed Champion are going all meta satire over a couple of Guardian blog posts. All it did was make me drool a bit. The words are not soaking into my head.

However, one of the posts that they are commenting on is this post by Mary Fitzgerald about several books about the act of reading, titled How to Bluff – and Why, all tied together by Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.

Yeah, comedy piece. ROTFLMAO. Or not. No, definitely not. I want to stab someone in the shoulder, set him on fire, and throw the corpse in a river. Fitzgerald points to this other post that i’d missed last month, with some other smug shit writing about How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read without having a clue what it’s about. She even manges to turn it into a little nationalist jab, “In Britain, it would probably be called bullshitting; in France, however, taking about books without having read them is a perfectly acceptable skill.”

For fuck’s sake, Bayard was too flippant in titling his book, but it’s still not a guide on how to bluff. It’s about accepting limitations as a reader, admitting ignorance, and working beyond that. It’s not to impress people, you egomaniac fuckwits, but how to be part of a conversation that has existed since the dawn of the written word.

I’m disgusted. Let them play with their bellybuttons and sniff their fingers, then write a cleverly ironic column about how everyone does it. There is more than one way to accept one’s ignorance, and i’d rather Bayard’s path than these twits pretending that they are somehow more honest readers in dissing How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.

Back to Fitzgerald though:

How many experts, if any, do we really need to guide our reading? It may be too obvious a question to pose, but isn’t the pleasure to be derived from reading – and writing – largely subjective? And while the “skill” of appearing more well-read and culturally well-rounded than you actually are might impress some people at dinner parties, surely there is still some private gratification to be gained from discovering and reading books yourself, rather than just talking about them?

The answers?

  1. As many as possible.
  2. Yes… It is too obvious of a question.
  3. What the fuck are you talking about? What is all of this nonsense about dinner parties? How many of these things do you social butterflies attend?

The third question might deserve more thought. Again, the skill is not to appear as more than what you are. The skill is in accepting limitations and navigating them. I don’t attend these apparently fabulous dinner parties where everyone sits around talking about books, but knowing just how many books are out there and how many different people there are, why would anyone think that everyone could have a basic grasp of the same canon of books? Because many readers are totally alone in their reading, as it is indeed a solitary act, there is no reason to assume that we are all meeting on a common landscape.

Damn it. I just realized there are contrasts to be made in talking about music versus books. I’ll come back to this topic in a later post.

1.2 million year old human jawbone found in Spain

The jawbone has been assigned as belonging to Homo antecessor for the time being, a hominid that would be a common ancestor to Homo sapien and Neandertals. Stone tools have been found before, dating from that period, but this appears to be the first bone from that time, in Europe. 

It’s not unexpected, but this is going to be cool.

The Emperor’s Club & contemporary art

Picked up the link to Artforum story from O Mundo de Claudia:

What do artist Jeff Koons and prostitute Ashley Alexandra Dupré have in common? Both can be had for a hefty price through the Emperors Club. Citing a report on Artnet, Le Monde‘s Harry Bellet discovers that the escort service, which counted the former New York governor Spitzer among its clients, also offered contemporary artworks through its online site. “Emperors Club was not satisfied with providing women to our financial elites but also took an interest in contemporary art,” writes Bellet. “Their business, Emperors Publishing Media Group, owns a site called Emperors Club Contemporary Art, which is responsible for providing its clients with works by renowned artists like Jeff Koons, David Salle, and Richard Prince.” Emperor’s Club describes itself as “a highly informative venue through which you may acquire exceptional contemporary art directly from a group of highly selected artists, dealers, galleries, and members.” Members are required to earn at least $450,000 per year. Sotheby’s and Christie’s logos appear on the site’s page, although, according to Bellet, the auction houses insist that they were not informed about the posting. But auction houses are not the only ones to be roped in to the Emperor’s Club experience. “The site offers images of artworks, each accompanied by a notice usually taken from the best sources,” writes Bellet. “A painting by Jeff Koons is accompanied by a review by critic Jerry Saltz.”

This story entertains me far, far more than any common story about a politician being brought low by his sexual escapades.

Gentlemen of the Road

This book was started…. um…. April of 2007. Oops.

The second half of it breezed by. Back when i got it, i kept nodding off after a few pages, which isn’t a good sign for something purporting to be high adventure. However, i got the same effect from reading Perez-Reverte awhile back, and lots of people find him to be fun. Even when i was bored with Gentlemen of the Road, it made me happy that Chabon continues to play with genre exercises.

Last weekend, my aunt came up for Easter, meaning that i wound up on another genealogy jag. Nope. I’m not Jewish. However, i did find that the same tenuous connection that the media keeps reporting that Barbara Bush is related to British royalty is one that i can make too. Has her family ever openly boasted about that connection? If they have, those arrogant assholes need to be flogged, as most Americans can claim that very same connection. I don’t feel like explaining more, but i wound up leaving the ridiculous claims of genealogy alone, and pursuing royal lineages on Wikipedia, which somehow landed me on the Princes of Kiev and the Kievan Rus. Even though Gentlemen of the Road had been a straightforward light read before, i was now caught in the flavor of that period and place.

Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars is still unread for me incidentally. Yeah, yeah… i’ll get around to it.

Gentlemen of the Road flowed from that point like the abridged adventures that i read as a kid in the library in Amite. In my head, i was comparing it to a watered version of Ivanhoe that i read back then, and looking that up, the irony of a Jewish Ivanhoe is even funnier. Stevenson came later, the actual books, but i remember those no more than i understood of Moby-Dick at that time. The more recent comparison though would be Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gary Mouser. Now that i’m reading the reviews to see that many people pegged that right away, i’m kicking myself for not noticing that immediately. If it hadn’t been for beginning to tally all of the fantasy and science fiction on Good Reads that i disowned for far too long, i’d never have remembered reading Lieber.

It was a mildly fun read, one that i’ll likely forget in the years to come, much like i forgot reading Chabon’s other genre exercise The Final Solution, but i gladly welcome Chabon’s dalliances with more games like these.


Harry Mathews might not to be my cup of tea. Tlooth has been sitting on the shelf for a year, picked up at Subterranean Books in St. Louis. It was an easily accessible, fun read. I had no clue that the book was written before Mathews joined Oulipo, as the puzzles and textual tricks in it reminded me of Calvino and Perec. However, it was Heller’s Catch-22 and various Pynchon novels that it felt more comparable to. Both Crying of Lot 49 and Tlooth came out in 1966. Curious.

It digressed quite a lot into smaller stories, but only the Venetian movie script was distracting. The stories hung together well enough for me, but not much momentum gained. Pieces from the various stories wound up having effect upon the completion of the novel, but they seemed grabbed hodge-podge as an afterthought, nearly at random. Perhaps i was not paying attention as closely as i should have, but i wound up caring less about the novel than the pieces that made it up.

He’s still an interesting author for me, even though i need to read more Perec first. The Journalist is slated to read for coming weeks.

seeing Rev. Wright’s sermons in context

For the past few days, i was looking for transcripts of Reverend Wright’s sermons, as this whole “God damn America” and “Chickens coming home to roost” regarding 9/11 seemed mighty fishy. How could it not? There was some controversy regarding Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson agreeing with each other that God allowed 9/11 to happen because of “moral decay,” listing abortion, the ACLU, and homosexuality as examples. Both of these men had Bush’s ear with those Faith Based Initiatives, and the media hardly balked at that. However, Wright is now somehow out of bounds for his words, and Obama is an unAmerican radcial. It’s nonsense.

Obama has already handled the controversy beautiful, addressing problems with race. However, is Reverend Wright really anti-American? No, absolutely not.

The sermon from which the clip of “Chickens coming home to roost” was drawn. First, he was paraphrasing the words of Ambassador Edward Peck, and second, he was preaching how violence begets violence. How is this inflammatory compared to the words of Bush’s pals Falwell and Robertson?

The sermon from which the clip of “God damn America” was drawn. In context from which it is drawn, it’s not instructing anyone to hate America. It’s about striving to create a more perfect union, about not being complacent in the face of injustice. He does proclaim a loyalty to God more than to the government of the United States but his God is one of compassion. This is not a bad thing.

As this Daily Kos post points out, it seems that the “God damn America” was riffing off Jesus’ words in Luke 6:24-26. Jesus was not some simpering pansy who sat around watching rainbows and stroking lambs when it came to condemning social injustice. It is highly unlikely that Jesus would have been cheering institutionalized racism.

I’m still curious as to what followed the “God damn America” lines, as from the content of the rest of the sermon, he would be exonerated further.

Reverend Wright? He seems like a pretty good man so far. I’m glad that Obama didn’t play along with the misleading sound bytes.

Yellow Bird

On Sunday I went to eat breakfast at a place downtown called the Yellow Bird Cafe. I was not so much hungry, as just looking to kill time away from the apartment, with all of the
hungover houseguests. It’s a breakfast place run by Central Americans, mostly exhange students it seems. Kat abandoned the house to come meet me. I brought in that library copy of Blaise Cendrars’ Sky, and hung out waiting.

My waiter asked me what i was reading, as he loves books. He didn’t recognize Cendrars, not that i would have a year ago. I asked him what he’s into, and he turned out to be exploring Cormac McCarthy. He’d just finished the Border Trilogy and The Road. He turned out to be a literature buff. He said that he has a good collection of books, but he only has had access to stuff since being in the States. Even authors of his native El Salvador are easier to acquire here in the U.S. I should have asked him to recommend a Salvadoran writer.

When i said that i’ve been reading a lot of South American stuff, he immediately answered, “Ah, Borges….” or something like that. All Borges mentions are a hell of a lot funnier when delivered with chin-stroking and a murmur of appreciation. That’s Bill’s schtick anyway.

I wound up pushing Roberto Bolano, Cesar Aira, and Enrique Vila-Matas on him first, then Danilo Kis, Bruno Schulz, and Juan Rulfo (the only one he was familiar with.) He was perplexed that i can read only in English.

He also seemed a little put off by just how much crap i knew. He asked me about Garcia Marquez, and i simply had to say, “Yep,” trying not to blab out how he was a gateway drug into Latin American literature, but now i don’t have as much use for him. In fact, i wound up doing most of the talking….. pushy, know-it-all gringo. I hope that he explores
my suggestions though. It was Bolano that i pushed most heavily, although i avoided mention of Nazi Literature in the Americas.

It’s embarrassing in retrospect that i talked more than he did, when i could have asked for some recommendations instead of proselytize my own fetishes. Dumbass.

Alain Robbe-Grillet

It was easy enough to wrap up Djinn this weekend. It kept me mildly entertained with its existential mystery, even though it felt slight. Now i understand how much Robbe-Grillet inspired Paul Auster to write The New York Trilogy, which i enjoyed more oddly. It looks like tracking down a copy of The Erasers is in order. The fact that Djinn was introduced as a kind of textbook is odd, something that i never would have guessed.

La Maison de Rendez-Vous didn’t connect though. I read a few pages, and my eyes wanted to go anywhere else but back to the written words. Now i’m reading that it’s his exploration into eroticism, which would explain my inability to salvage a reading from it. Consider it abandoned.

Robbe-Grillet still interests me, but choosing the right book, rather than grabbing whatever is on the shelf in the library, turned out to be important. Reading the Salon profile connected him to Bioy Casares in a way that i could have slapped myself for not seeing immediately. Exploring Robbe-Grillet seems like a good idea, because James Wood is an exasperating fuddyduddy, but “this enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing doesn’t seem to be playing out well.

best last lines from novels

Because of my particular habits, last lines of novels do not have as much of an effect on me as first lines. Diving into a book is more satisfying than completing it. When it’s something that I truly loved, that last line is often tinged with regret, that this window on a world is going to be shut for awhile.

The American Book Review has what they judge to be the 100 Best Last Lines from Novels.  It’s mildly surprising how many of them i recognize, as i curse myself for deliberately skimming some endings. Checking the shelves here quickly, there is another that could be added:

Sometimes he opened the door of the flue and looked grinning into its dark abyss, where a smiling homunculus slept forever in luminous sleep, enclosed in a glass capsule, bathed in fluorescent light, already adjudged, erased, filed away, another record card in the immense archives of the sky. – Bruno Schulz. The Street of Crocodiles.