Brandon, John.  (2010).  Citrus county.  San Fransisco: McSweeney’s Rectangulars.

Gordimer, Nadine.  (1982).  Six feet of country. NY: Penguin Books.

Hartwell, David G., ed.  (1989).  The world treasury of science fiction. NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Haug, Frigga.  (1992).  Beyond female masochism. London: Verso Books.

McQuade, Donald and Christine McQuade.  (2006).  Seeing and writing 3.  NY: Bedford/St. Martins.

McSherry, Jr., Frank D., Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenburg, eds.  (1991).  Great American ghost stories. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press.

I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.  My reading has taken a hit.  I think it’s because I have strayed from the ground I enjoy.  Exploring is great, but there’s a reason why some of the explored territory is so poorly travelled.  Palahniuk did become tiresome, but I think I am ready to return.  Chabon never became tiresome.  Instead he became established.  I am ready to return to the safety of popular opinion.  Chabon’s popularity is no marketing ploy, unlike The Last – sooooo effing bad – Airbender, his stories are just legitimately good.  In any case, I am disappointed with my June readings and to keep things going I will return to established safe ground.  It is July, and I am clamoring for fireworks.  It is, after all, July.

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I’m not sure it qualifies as a distraction, since the series of interviews done by The Believer are writers talking to writers, usually about writing.  Reading this stuff is necessary to be a writer.  Meh.  In any case, this morning I read “Vendala Vida talks with Shirley Hazzard.”  Hazzard is a voracious – and vicious, if you believe Graham Greene – writer, and she had some of the better stuff to say in this series of interviews.  The one that left me stunned was, “one wouldn’t dare put into a novel the amount of coincidence that occurs in life itself.” (100)  What stuns me about this is how true it is.  My life has been ful of coincidence and my biggest complaint with stories is how full of coincidence they are.  I should probably temper my ‘bullshit’ threshold.  As long as the line between coincidence and deus ex machina remains solid.

I have also been catching up on The Office.  Netflix streams it, so the cost is sunk if I watch it or not.  Some episodes bore me, but some are great.  The best portion of the show is Michael’s hatred of Toby because Toby is the one person that constantly calls Michael on his silly inappropriateness.  Which brings me to a thought about politeness.  Slavoj Zizek:

Are not all good manners based on the fact that “what is said is not what is meant”?  When, at a table, I ask my colleague “Can you please pass the salt?”  I do not say what I mean.  I ask him if he can do it, but what I really mean is that he simply should do it.”  (13-14)

It’s not the most persuasive of examples, but it does get at what he is trying to claim.

Hazzard, Shirley.  (2003).  Vendela Vida talks with Shirley Hazzard.  In V. Vida, ed.  (2007).  The Believer book of writers talking to writers (97-109). San Francisco: Believer Books.

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2010).  Living in the end times. London: Verso Books.

Too funny, if only because it is so true…

When Mr. Hibma pulled into the lot, he saw a fleet of cars adorned with Citrus Middle School parking stickers.  He stepped around a bush and peeked in a window.  Librarians.  They’d bunched the tables together.  Assistants.  Even volunteers.  There were maybe nine of them, sipping determinedly at pink wine.  Mr. Hibma knew when he was beat.  He leaned against his car, face upturned toward the sky, racking his brain for something else to do, some other way to salvage the night.  (121)

It’s an okay book.  It’s about two disaffected youths and one of their teachers, Mr. Hibma, who identifies with them.  What’s with this new trend of literature capturing the weirdoes and their weird ways and acting as if they are all special and different just because they don’t behave normally.  It smacks of melodrama, the writer proclaiming her yawp so others see how special she is.  I’m just as guilty as the next person (ok, more than the average person) but why do we as a culture now buy into this stuff?  I still like heroes and the average guy acting like a fool in the face of danger.

Brandon, John.  (2010).  Citrus County.  San Francisco: McSweeney’s Rectangulars.

I am no longer sure ‘Distractions’ is appropriate.  The summer gig is under way and that is the main distraction from my writing.  But it’s not superfluous like a distraction is.  It’s just a higher priority for the time being.

A lot of processing is done on the computer, so I have spent a lot of time on Netflix streaming The Office.  Why don’t more TV vendors do this?  It will end up on the Net eventually, but if on Netflix or on Hulu then, at least, they make some money off of it.  Here’s the better test.  The shows that I do follow, that are available for me to view for free, even though Netflix is a sunk cost, are harder for me to find on the free non-compensating sites.  Plus, the HBO shows could probably fetch higher premiums from Netflix because havign those shows stream might attract members.

It’s always comforting to find a well known author speak to my overriding sense of theory: there is too much focus, often unacknowledged, on the mind and not enough on the body/mind organism.  Here’s Paul Auster talking about the organism:

Writing is physical for me.  I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind….Not only do you write books physically, but you read books physically as well.  There’s something about the rhythms of language that correspond to the rhythms of our own bodies.  An attentive reader is finding meanings in the book that can’t be articulated, finding them in his or her body. (2007, 27)

How very Massumi of Auster.

Alexander Star, the editor of Lingua Franca, has a piece about the state of fiction.  It’s mainly a review of literature, which concludes by aping the famous Jonathan Franzen essay.  Not impressive, but it is a good read if you are interested in a survey of the debate.  A debate that has apparently been put to rest since 1996.  Yawn.

A short diddy by a high school friend at The Second Pass about Glenn Beck’s new novel.  It includes links to more robust … hilarity.

Auster, Paul.  (2007).  Jonathan Lethem talks to Paul Auster.  In V. Vida, ed.  (2007).  The Believer book of writers talking to writers (25-42).  NY: Believer Books.

I have been thinking about Facebook suicide for some time.  I already made the ‘no relationship status’ change and the response from ‘friends’ was shocking.  Between all the crap, the addictive waste of time I make it and my ‘friends’ from high school that now rant about every Obama-is-a-socialist move I can no longer stand it.  Or this:

“Your whole ass?”

Absurdity.  The word ‘absurd’ cannot capture the nonsense below.

Too many times people try to be cute.  Advice columnists rarely are ever cute, I’m looking at you Dear Prudence, but at least Sugar is funny.  This time he’s got it really really right.  And at a Creeper 5 rating.

For the challenge of cover songs started by Buttercup over at Woodenpickle.org, I re-exposed myself to Orgy’s “Blue Monday”.

Richard Hass, in an essay about a Lowell poem, provides a brilliant insight into not only Sarah Palin and the Tea Baggers but also to the nostalgic politics of the right.  “Nostalgia locates desire in the past where it suffers no active conflict and can be yearned toward pleasantly.  History is the antidote to this.” (330)

I have spent a lot of time lately following writers behaving badly.  Dan Kennedy in a Moth podcast tells a funny joke about a time in the 90s when he was not doing so hot.  He goes to a therapist (reminds me of a party at UNT where a guy tried to game a woman by referring to his roommate as The-Rapist, oops!) and the therapist asks, “how many beers did you have this week?”  “You’re right doc, it wasn’t a total wash, I did manage to have a few beers.”  Oops!  Therapist finishes the harangue, “you’re Irish, you’re last name is Kennedy and your heroes are all writers.  Let’s just keep an eye on the alcohol.”

In any case, writers behaving badly.  So, I’ve been watching some old Norman Mailer segments available on YouTube.  Great watching.  Here’s the best, where Norman squares off against Dick Cavett, Gore Vidal and Flannery O’Connor.

Hass, Richard.  (1997).  Lowell’s graveyard.  In J.C. Hallman, ed. (2009).  The story about the story: Great writers explore great literature (328-47). Portland: Tin House Books.

Beghtol, LD.  (2006).  69 Love Songs. NY: Continuum.

Bowden, Mark, ed.  (2007).  The best American crime writing, 2006.  NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Bunyan, John.  (1678).  The Pilgrim’s Progress. NY: Penguin Classics.

Eagleton, Terry.  (1983).  Literary theory.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kois, Dan.  (2010).  Facing Future.  NY: continuum.

Sisario, Ben.  (2006).  Doolittle.  NY: continuum.

Stegner, Wallace.  (1950).  Joe Hill: A biographical novel. NY: Penguin Books.

Terry, Randall A.  (2008).  A humble plea: To bishops, clergy and laymen: Ending the abortion holocaust. Washginton, D.C.: Insurrecta Nex.

The Rumpus book club.

Vida, Vendela, ed.  (2007).  The Believer book of writers talking to writers. San Fransisco: Believer Books.

I am a sucker for the 33 1/3 series.  Each book is about a famous album and as far as I have been exposed each book is great.  Sisario writes about the famous album full of body counts by The Pixies, one of my favorite bands ever.  Kois writes about that song, a staple to weddings and Rom-Coms: Israel Kamakawiwo’s medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World”.  I bought them new becuase the books are so hard to find.  Even more difficult to find at a used book store.  In fact, it is this very series that has me contemplating the switch to an ereader.  I can have nearly any book, nearly instantaneously and for less than the cost of an actual book.  I also resent the amount of stuff I own, and an ereader can help cut it.  But, of anything to have as clutter, I do think books are acceptable.  Note the large libraries of smart people whom I respect.  Admittedly they are from a different time.  The library is an anachronism I cannot shake.  Reminds me of the scene in Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant: Finding Forrester) , when Will (Matt Damon: Ocean’s Eleven)is scrutinizing the library of Sean Maguire (Robin Williams: Jumanji).

At the end of April I was in a wedding in Charlotte, and it was easily the best wedding I have ever been to.  I was in one the next weekend and that wedding was ruined by the Charlotte one.  Of course, the Indian (dot, not feather) colors and traditins helped to spoil it, but the dancing and the music is what put it over the top.  Notably, the Kamakawiwo song was not played.  The occasional Indian pop music helped, but it was the absence of the traditional that was really telling.

Am I spendng enough to justify a B&N membership?  I don’t think so.  But, I am unsure enough that I should begin tracking.  Of course, then I will become aware of the horror that is the amount I spend at B&N.  Ugh, to save or to live in blissful ignorance?

One of the few magazines I read dutifully, even though I subscribe dutifully to many more, is The Believer.  I think Tin House might better suit my interests, but The Believer carries a monthly column by Greil Marcus.  In any case, the reason Tin House might be a better match than The Believer is because of its focus on writing.  This book by Believer Books seems to cater specifically to me.  Even though I read these interviews in their initial publications.  But they are great to revisit, not only because I forget things but because they are the epitome of how a rereading is a different reading altogether.  And… The Believer is where I first discovered the Nick Hornby series I have modelled this post after.

Wallace Stegner is a stud.  Good writer too.  Joe Hill was an important labor organizer.  Stud too.  All of this despite my IWW affiliations.

The Beghtol books is another in the 33 1/3 series.  This time the album is 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.  Ursa raved about this album.  The critics at Slate’s Cultural Gabfest rave about it.  I hear people on the street talk about in intimate terms unfamiliar to an album.  It’s a great album.  Here’s hoping this book serves it well.

John Bunyan.  I thought I was going to read about Minnesota and how its lakes were made.  Was Mille Lacs made by Babe’s hoof or by Paul Bunyan scooping it out with a spoon.  But… John Bunyan is not Paul Bunyan.  Sadly.  It’s an old, important, and oft-cited book.  I’ve never read it.  It was only $2.  It’ll look good on my shelf.  Which is the reason, I am ashamed to admit, that I have not yet bought an ereader.

My addictions are not just for Verso books and 33 1/3 books.  I also love The Best American [Crime, Science, Mystery, etc…] Writing series.  Bowden’s Black Hawk Down was so magnificent that this entry into the series has to be good.

Terry.  I found it on an airplane.  Sometimes I need a good laugh.  Sometimes I need to inflict some pain.  Most of all, I am curious about theology.  I am also curious about hearing the other side’s argument.

Terry Eagleton’s book has constantly been on my list of books I need.  I need to read it because of its importance.  I also need it to hunt down footnotes.  This was one of the books that was leading the charge for an ereader, so I could constantly have it on my person.  I folded.   The anniversary edition is just too damned pretty.  And I have so much time on my hands right now that I am delusional, thinking I can actually make it through this.  Through all of these books actually, this has probably been my most active month of book acquisition.  And I am moving.  I don’t have the space for all the books.  Sigh.

There is no denying Alice Munro’s ability to weave a tale, but sometimes she is given more respect than might be due.  I just finished reading “Child’s Play” a 2007 story of hers that appeared in Harper’s.  Fair enough, but then to be included in The best American short stories, 2008?  I am not so sure about this inclusion.  The story seems overly hamfisted, an attribution I have probably never before given to Munro.

Part of Munro’s brilliance is her foreshadowing technique.  Sometimes she is not even hinting at a future plot development, but is merely coaxing the reader into an odd setting.  Instead of saying ‘we were at summer camp’ she goes through a mention of cots and coolie caps (and the discussion of ‘coolie’ as a way to set the time).  These are particularly brilliant strokes, not at all unique to “Child’s Play” but unique to Munro.  Her magic with dialogue is also … magical.  I cannot even begin to unlock how she does it.

All that said (and if I did not discuss it, then consider it, at the least, well-done if not brilliant), the reveal in this story seems tired.  I have the impression that Munro became tired of working her magic and decided to be a mere mortal about it.  She just blurts out the event causing the grief, causing the story.  It’s very sudden and sad to see a master not work her mastery.  But there is a moment earlier in the story where this also occurs.  Munro discloses her anthropologist eye and then tried to impress the reader with a clue about the secret dealings of women who just ‘click’.  Yep, she subscribes to ‘clicking’.  No explanation, no theory.  Once that affinity is posited she then moves on to describe how that relationship functions.

It is precisely that explanation that bugged me.  It seemed unnecessary, as a way to justify the way the two women interacted.  Here is where I prefer Hemingway.  He would have just done, instead of explaining.  The explanation comes off as an apology, a kernel of self-doubt.  It is possible that Munro anticipated this criticism, as not even one page later there is this gem: “I’ve felt less wary with men.  They don’t expect such transactions and are seldom really interested.”  This is why Hemingway could only capture relationships set against some background of overwhelming proportion.

Despite how good the story is, and it is a good one despite my comments, it is not even the best one I read this morning.  For that I offer a section of E.B. White’s rescue of Thoreau’s Walden, a book which needs resuscitation.

Thoreau’s assault on the Concord society of the mid-nineteenth century has the quality of a modern Western: he rides into the subject at top speed, shooting in all directions.  Many of his shots ricochet and nick him on the rebound, and throughout the melee there is a horrendous cloud of inconsistencies and contradictions, and when the shooting dies down and the air clears, one is impressed chiefly by the courage of the rider and by how splendid it was that somebody should have ridden in there and raised all that ruckus. (293)

Munro, Alice.  (2007).  Child’s play.  In S. Rushdie, ed.  (2008).  The best American short stories, 2008 (201-229).  NY: Houghton Mifflin.

White, E.B. (1954).  A slight sound at evening.  In J.C. Hallman, ed. (2009).  The story about the story: Great writers explore great literature (291-300).  Portland: Tin House Books.