1. In honor of the Knack's lead singer Doug Fieger, who passed away on Valentines Day, here's Sherman Alexie's tribute to "My Sharona". It was a pretty good song, and the best use of an octave in a riff since Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze".
2. I'm enjoying watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics on TV, but I often sense something basically unwholesome about the amount of buildup and tension that underlies this approach to competition. How is it good for an athlete to train for four years to lead up to a performance that lasts, in many cases, less than a minute? This leads to an emphasis on perfection, a dreadful and unnatural fear of error. This doesn't strike me as a mentally and emotionally healthy approach to sport, and I hate to see the look of shame that follows an excellent achievement marred by a single mistake. Personally, I prefer a more organic, holistic attitude towards competition. Maybe that's why baseball is still my favorite spectator sport. With 162 games a year and three hours per game, we get to know and appreciate the whole athlete, mistakes and quirks and all. Perfection, in my opinion, is rarely worth pursuing. That's what I think.
1. What on earth are these little kids doing on this "Kiddie-A-Go-Go" 1967 TV show? Is it the Pony? The Frug, the Watusi, the Mashed Potato, the Alligator? It's pretty cute and weird, whatever they're doing.
2. Friend of LitKicks (FOL) Tim Barrus at Electric Literature! What a combination.
Fourteen days into the new decade, tastemakers and hipsters are already buzzing about two groundbreaking artistic sensations that may define the current generation: MTV's "Jersey Shore" and Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed. What I'm really concerned about is that I've sampled both and I like "Jersey Shore" a whole lot better.
1. A Gulliver playground in Valencia, Spain.
2. Beat poet Andy Clausen on YouTube.
3. Amazingly, the Velvet Underground will be reuniting at the New York Public Library, though I'm not clear if this will be a talk, a musical performance or both. It's sad that late sweet-toned lead guitarist Sterling Morrison will be missing, but it's a nice surprise to see the reemergence of Doug Yule, who is widely disliked for replacing the great John Cale on bass after Reed kicked Cale out, but who helped them record their best album.
4. Jerome's Niece, a Buddhist poetry blog.
5. Onetime Heeb writer Jason Diamond offers a "Kaddish for Jewish Zines".
6. In the end, after a sluggish start, Electric Literature's much-discussed experiment with Twitter fiction turned up an excellent Rick Moody story about relationship anxiety, thwarted love and people who cling to their phones on dates. An excellent Rick Moody story, that is, but not necessarily an excellent Twitter story. Moody focused on the 140 character limit, but I think Twitter's most distinguishing feature is not its character count but its pacing and easy interpersonal immediacy (note: you can follow me on Twitter here). It became clear why Moody missed this when he revealed in an interview that he'd taken on this project because Electric Literature had asked him to, not because he had any actual interest in Twitter. There are many writers who do get Twitter -- say, Colson Whitehead, who is marvelous at it -- and I hope Electric Lit will turn to one of these writers for their next foray. Overall: great publicity, moving story, well done all around.
7. There will not be a Literary Kicks Best Books of 2009 list. Please excuse my grumpiness, but I mostly find these aggregate lists annoying and unremarkable. I do like to read personal lists of lifelong favorites by smart readers, but I don't care for annual lists or lists put together by groups.
8. Henry Rollins visits Bhopal, site of a chemical plant disaster 25 years ago.
9. For database techies, here's NoSQL. Elsewhere, here's just plain No.
10. I don't agree with this. I'm amazed at how good "The Office" manages to be, season after season. Sure, there are ups and downs, but this is one of those rare shows -- like "Twin Peaks", like "The Honeymooners" -- that represents television's ascent to the realm of literature. I will watch it until Jim and Pam drop dead.
Two authors whose previous novels were celebrated by the now-defunct Litblog Co-op have outdone themselves with their next books. I've read galleys of both Katharine Weber's True Confections and Sam Savage's The Cry of the Sloth and I'm happy to report that readers have a lot to look forward to in both cases.
Katharine Weber's last novel Triangle was about an industrial fire, a subject so stark it made her comic sensibility hard to catch (though, certainly, it was there). Her new novel is about a screwed-up family that owns a small candy empire, and it's a slender tour de force. I will be writing more about this book soon, and till then here's a side-product of Weber's research: an article in Tablet (formerly Nextbook) about Jewish families in the candy business.
Sam Savage, meanwhile, wrote a novel called Firmin that didn't break through in his home country but became a bestseller in Italy. Firmin was about a literary rat who suffers in loneliness, and new soon-to-be-released The Cry of the Sloth is about a literary human who suffers in loneliness. I will be writing more about this delightful and surprising book too.
On a different front, meanwhile, news has just come down that the Queens rapper Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) is writing a book about his life. I have very high hopes for this one. Q-Tip has been a brainy and sensitive lyricist from Description of a Fool to Stir It Up (he's also the only hip-hop artist I bother to continue to follow on twitter). I'm looking forward to reading his entire story, and I hope there's a lot about his friendship and collaboration with the equally talented Phife Dawg.
What else am I looking forward to? Sure, what the hell, I'm going to read the new Dan Brown novel The Lost Symbol when it comes out. Dan Brown is no Katharine Weber or Sam Savage ... but Da Vinci Code kept me going till the end, and I'm intrigued by the new book's Washington D.C. locale.
I like everything Jonathan Ames does, though I don't think he's ever equaled Wake Up Sir!, his perfect homage to P. G. Wodehouse. His new essay collection The Double Life is Twice as Good didn't win the approval of Carolyn Kellogg, but I bet his new HBO tv show Bored to Death will be more exciting.
Jag Bhalla's I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around The World looks like a fun read.
Sue William Silverman's Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir is reminding me to work on my own memoir, which will probably pick up again next week. I've enjoyed the break, but it's time to get back to work.
And if you aren't interested in any of these good books but just want to relish the joys of really bad (funny bad) books of the past, go to the Awful Library Books blog and have a feast.
I'm not sure how long my attack of literary boredom will last, but I hope I'll be all better by the last week in May, when I plan to attend Book Expo 2009 in New York City. I'll even be participating in a blogger book signing during the weekend (more about this soon) so I sure better wake up soon. I tried to cure my boredom with a Wells Tower book, but that didn't help.
Anyway, while I'm here, just a couple of literary links to share:
1. All about Sholom Aleichem.
2. Open Book, a new literary TV show.
3. Tao Lin ponders the meaning of everything at the Poetry Foundation blog. (Sample question: "Do Blogs Help People Accept Death?")
4. Soft Skull lives on!
Have a great weekend, and don't forget to stop by this weekend to check out the guest review.
1. Some Internet memes are meant to last more than a day or two. Like everybody else, I watched the moving Susan Boyle performance on YouTube earlier this week, and then I watched it again and again. What makes this so special? The quality of her singing alone doesn't account for the craze (and maybe that's why there's already a backlash brewing). What makes the performance so magical, I think, is the transformation we are allowed to witness. Before Susan Boyle sings, she appears dowdy, foolish, out of place. Then the music starts, her spine straightens and she becomes a different person, beautiful, elegant, confident, before our eyes.
Screw the backlash; I plan to watch this video at least ten more times. And thinking about Susan Boyle's televised metamorphosis makes me realize how often the appeal of music has to do with the excitement of transformation. With that in mind, here are a few more recent notes on music, literary and otherwise.
2. Inspired by an apparent nod from Bob Dylan, I've now begun reading Southern writer Larry Brown, who I'd previously only occasionally read about on a blog. I couldn't find the short story collection Big Bad Love in my local Borders, but I did find a novel called Dirty Work and it's excellent. It's very easy to imagine why Dylan would like this writer (the highly literary singer has also been reading and talking about Barack Obama's book).
3. I get many review copies of books in the mail, and not nearly as many CDs. A publicist for the Decemberists sent me their new CD Hazards of Love because it was supposed to have lots of literary content. After several intrigued listenings, I still can't quite make out the story (which seems to involve a rake's progress and a twisted love affair) but I love the music. It reminds me of nothing so much as vintage Jethro Tull -- dynamic, lilting and appealingly histrionic -- with a touch of late-period David Bowie, and I sure as hell do mean that as a compliment. Check it out for yourself.
4. There's nothing wrong with Neil Young's new automotive-inspired CD Fork in the Road either. Shades of Rust Never Sleeps, except now it's an ecologically-minded LincVolt rather than a sedan that's being delivered.
5. The new Jadakiss record includes "What If", a sequel to his great track "Why" that features a guest verse by Nas. I wouldn't mind two or three more verses, but Jadakiss has never been one to wear out his welcome.
6. He got erased from history in the otherwise good film Cadillac Records, but late great Chess recording artist Bo Diddley has another distinction: Malia and Sasha Obama's dog is named after him.
7. Xeni Jardin points to the always transformative Patti Smith on Easter Sunday.
8. An archived Ramones performance from Steve Wozniak's 1982 California bash the US Festival.
9. A new David Lynch video meditates upon Moby.
10. A four-year-old kid channeling Keith Moon.
11. A bunch of girls jumping rope.
If not one of these various offerings manages to transform you, I don't know what to say.
2. Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press has kicked off a promising new book-biz blog, Black Plastic Glasses, with a provocative argument: e-books must fail, because the pricing structure cannot support the production of books on the same scale as the current print-based model. However, Schnittman paints the current state of publishing as a near-disaster, rife with inflated advances and high return rates. He describes a brisk business in hardcover mass shipments that bring in cash flow even though the publishers eventually have to return the money for unsold inventory, which sounds like the same kind of pyramid-scheme con game as securitized subprime mortgages or credit default swaps. What's Schnitmann up to here? His article seems to be trying to bury the current book publishing model even as it pretends to praise it.
3. I enjoyed participating in (and telling you about) a Vol 1 music/storytelling event at Matchless Cafe in Brooklyn last year. The next installment takes place April 9 and features a six-word story (memoir) slam. Should be something to see!
4. The folks behind HBO's under-appreciated Def Poetry Jam are trying a new angle. Brave New Voices, a reality show about competing poetry slam teams from around the USA, debuts on April 5.
5. The Morning News' 2009 Tournament of Books, always a rousing encounter, ends with a surprise victory for Toni Morrison's A Mercy, narrowly beating out Tom Piazza's City of Refuge. I guess I'll have to read A Mercy now. I liked Beloved more than I expected to, and I expect I'll like this one too.
6. Get a personalized Penguin Classic paperback (like, say, this one). Neat.
7. John Updike's Pennsylvania.
8. Oxford University Press's list of obscure literary terms offers some nice surprises. I now know that I've experienced jouissance, that I dislike the use of adynaton, that I've been writing a feuilleton, and that hapax legomenon is the pre-Internet version of googlewhack. Good stuff.
9. Andrew Sullivan is absolutely right that the legal harassment of marijuana smokers, many of them honorable and hardworking citizens "in the closet", is an abomination that needs to end.
10. Barnes and Noble Review reviews Harvey Kurtzman's Humbug, also featuring Will Elder, Arnold Roth, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee.
2. Xkcd brings in Quixote.
3. Bob Dylan has a new album coming out. The title? Together Through Life. Not sure who Bob Dylan is together with -- last I heard, a whole lot of people and nobody in particular -- but I am sure the album will be worth a listen.
4. Just for fun: the "Rock Island" opening bit from Meredith Willson's The Music Man... on a real train.
5. John Updike was preparing for the publication of My Father's Tears and Other Stories when he died.
6. Lou Reed's legendary Metal Machine is back. Now it's a trio, the Metal Machine Trio, performing something called "The Creation of the Universe". Guitar, noise, no vocals. Should be good.
7. From HTML Giant: literary doppelgangers (Spy Magazine used to call these "Separated at Birth"). The Salinger/Pacino resemblance is pretty funny. I always thought Douglas Coupland looked like Norm McDonald, but that didn't make this list.
8. Cartoonist Lynda Barry, meanwhile, looks exactly like her main character Marlys!
9. Also from HTML Giant: a really fun interview with Noah Cicero of Youngstown, Ohio.
10. Perspectives on online and traditional publishing: Clay Shirky on what's happening with (to?) newspapers, Kassia Kroszer on a particularly lame SXSW panel discussion.
11. Ken Kalfus, Gary Shtynegart and others will contemplate the ever-relevant Russian humorist Nikolai Gogol at New York City's 92nd Street Y on March 30.
12. Go Steve Wozniak! Once a nerd hero, always a nerd hero. Who remembers the US Festival?
13. I appreciate that Tim Barrus posted some thoughts about my memoir in progress. I've been sweating out every damn sentence and paragraph of this monstrosity, and I often feel discouraged, so it helps to learn that Tim Barrus seems to get what I'm trying to do here. (I've also gotten very encouraging feedback from many, many of you, and I appreciate it all!)
Tim Barrus is also challenging me with some of his remarks about what I'm doing. Barrus knows a bit about writing, and about memoirs, and he's absolutely right that attempting this "can be a real bitch". I guess it's a no-brainer that the balance between private and public is especially hard when writing a memoir, and that it's easy to get lost in the hall of mirrors. But Barrus says "There's an edge. It rocks" and that's exactly what I wanted to make sure of. Next installment tomorrow night ...
1. Ed Champion isn't won over by Fool, Christopher Moore's comic spin on Shakespeare's King Lear, which is enough to warn me away (I considered spending time with the book, but the cover art didn't pull me in either). In other Lear news, I'm just plain happy that an Anthony Hopkins film version of King Lear has been cancelled. Hopkins was marvelous in Remains of the Day but has been disappointing in many big roles, mainly because he can only play one character, the "Anthony Hopkins guy". I really wasn't looking forward to seeing King Lear with an icy stare and trembling lips. Meanwhile, Al Pacino's Lear may still happen, and while I also don't need to see a surly over-caffeinated King Lear, I believe Pacino has a greater range of character than Hopkins.
Another requirement for an actor attempting Lear is humility, since the King must play straight man to his Fool and read his best lines while upstaged by a storm. This is why I liked Kevin Kline's modest Lear, and would be happy to see this one recorded for posterity as well. Historic King Lears we can still enjoy include Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Laurence Olivier and, a personal favorite of mine, Albert Finney in The Dresser.
2. Not ... another ... unpublished ... Kerouac novel ...
I am glad the estate is publishing the archives, but I don't like the hyped-up hardcover release formats and I find it strange how much excited press coverage Kerouac bottom-scrapers like And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks and Atop An Underwood or the new The Sea Is My Brother get, as if any reader would be better off reading these books instead of, say, Big Sur or Desolation Angels or Doctor Sax or Subterraneans or Town and The City or Visions of Cody or Wake Up or even Good Blonde or Satori in Paris or Vanity of Duluoz.
I think Kerouac had excellent judgement about his own work -- that's why he carried manuscripts of so many of the above-mentioned novels in his rucksack for years waiting for the world to eventually smarten up and appreciate them. But the novels he was carrying in his rucksack for years were Subterraneans and Visions of Cody and Doctor Sax, most decidedly not Atop An Underwood or And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks or The Sea Is My Brother. I trust Kerouac's judgement.
3. I enjoyed Roy Blount Jr.'s well-written editorial about whether Amazon's text-to-speech feature violates authors' rights, but I'm really not getting excited about this boring controversy. To quote a description I once read of a 1970s bar brawl between David Bowie and Lou Reed, watching the Kindle team battle the Author's Guild is sort of like watching two old ladies try to pat fires out on each other's bellies.
4. Tom Watson, author of Cause Wired, takes on Rush Limbaugh for the Huff.
5. Norman Mailer.
6. Cam'ron is working on a television comedy project, and cites Larry David as an inspiration. I can't think of many hiphop artists who could make this work, but Cam has the talent and the crude/funny chops to pull it off, and I hope it happens.
7. Apparently Alan Aldridge, the artist who drew the cover for Elton John's excellent 1975 autobiographical album "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy", was the Chip Kidd of his time, at least in England.
8. Rambling on. (If you click through you'll get to Frank O'Hara, but we're taking the slow route).
9. Jack Tippit's cartooning rat race, from a 1950s cartoonist's insider sheet.
10. Laura Albert is writing a new work of fiction at Five Chapters.