* (mostly of the promotional variety)
* Look, I took a new picture of Borgstrom's Explanations:
* Doesn't it look nice? Don't you want one? Don't you think my parents' carpet looks properly vacuumed?
* Speaking of Explanations, it made Sherrie Flick's list of the year's best books in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Very proud of Andrew and very grateful to Miss Flick.
* In other Cupboard good news, the fine folks at FlashFiction.Net reviewed Joshua Cohen's volume here and had nice things to say about it and the other pamphlets. Grateful to them as well.
* And, while I'm at it, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Cohen's Witz is on a number of year's best lists itself. Pick it up from Dalkey.
* O, well, now I can't stop. Lots of similar attention for Chris Higgs's The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney which you can and should get from SATOR here.
* Two quick things from me. One, American Short Fiction's blog is doing a really cool Atlas project for all of their web stories. You should check them all out and mine for "In Space, Smiling" is right here. It's such a good idea that I wish I'd thought of it. If only The Cupboard had a blog. Alas.
* Two, We Who Are About to Die asked stamp stories contributors to review their own story. Mine is here. I became pretty worried when I read the other reviews (like Dave's) and felt like I completely missed the point. Still, there it is. Enjoy.
* To make up for all of that, please enjoy this clip from The Critic:
Not About Baseball
No, seriously, Salter's book is not about baseball. Don't let anyone tell you differently. If you see someone's copy and there is a dog-eared section, it's not because that's the part with the great story about Satchel Paige striking out Herbert Hoover.
I liked this well enough, I guess. I don't know, it's just a lot of sex and France so it's hard to really dislike it, and it takes that rhapsodic realism that I liked in Coetzee's book and trumps it by about a hundred gleeful uses of the word 'prick.' As pure language, it's actually really remarkable as it's all graceful fragments that shift perspective and tense without Salter ever seeming in less than total control.
I'm less enthralled with it as a story. It's hard to know how much of this is what's come after and how much is what came before, but as a story Salter's book is firmly in the "rich ex-pats try to have more meaningful experiences in Europe but realize they cannot emigrate from themselves" camp. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's a bad sign when your book might best be described as "if Henry James and Henry Miller had a child who wrote a book." I mean, Henry James-Miller can write, but still. It's a bad sign.
Okay, there's a little more going on than that. The narration is nicely odd (it's a book of intimate moments narrated by an older guy who was present for exactly none of them), but it doesn't ever do much with that obsession and so the plot never matches the transcendence of its language. When it comes to its inevitable shrug of an ending, it's hard to feel like anything real was lost, at least for the two male characters who, like us, always knew where this was headed. The local girl, who they kept it from, has the most to lose, but somehow no one ever tells that story.
My copy's introduction bemoans this book being treated as only a minor classic, but it's hard to see it as anything else. It's a good, stylish read if one can keep their monocle from falling out, and it's almost daring enough to last.
The Street of Crocodiles
Bruno Schulz's book has been recommended to me innumerable times over the years, so I'm glad I finally had an excuse to pick it up. I probably shouldn't have needed one, but it's one of those books that was championed by so many different people with so many different aesthetics that I couldn't help but not read it. Not on purpose, really, just that I could never quite find the right mental bookshelf for it when some would say the writing was beautiful, others would say it was my kind of strange, and still others would talk about the characters or the history. This problem comes up for a lot of us, I imagine. Before reading a book or seeing a movie we want to pre-understand it, at least to some degree. Or, maybe, we'd just as soon go in blind but that's rarely an option. Even if we know nothing about the work other than the person telling us about it--or the website where we hear of it, or the company that's put it out--that's still enough of a clue to make us ask Well, what's it about? This we ask because we already think we have some idea of what it is.
With The Street of Crocodiles, I'd gotten enough mixed messages that at some point not thinking about it was easier than thinking about it, at least until I actually read it. So I read it. Now I think I understand why it was always presented to me in so many diverse ways. It really is that wide a book--a fantastic childhood remembrance, a beautifully rendered physical world, a mythical reconstruction of a father figure. I honestly can't think of any English language equivalent, certainly not one from 1934. The best I can do is to ask you to imagine Borges and Thomas Wolfe got together and wrote a short story collection that's also maybe a novel. There, I hope that's clear.
The attraction for me is really the father. The book is told through the son's eyes, but he's really the string keeping it grounded in some sort of nostalgic realism. Whenever there's a description of spices or relatives or the streets in this small Polish town--and there are, a lot--it's him. But the father--he of the bird marriages and campaign for tailor dummies' rights--is where the book is most alive for me. Yes, I suppose it's my kind of strange, but anyone who recommended it for other reasons wouldn't have been wrong either. The translation is quite beautiful and there's something compelling about this town whether or not anything absurd is happening. It's realistic and it's magical. It's lush and it's metaphysical. It's sweet and it's sad--made even more so by the course of history generally and Shulz's life story specifically--and, I don't know, I recommend it.
Bonus: Apparently the titular story was adapted into what, I gather, is a somewhat famous stop-motion film. I haven't watched it yet, but I think I'll do that...now:
I previously displayed my parents' decor here, and, if anything, over the holidays their house becomes even more of the place it is. There is not a flat surface that cannot be covered with hand-painted reindeer, holly-covered tea pots, and stocking-shaped jars full of candy canes. I'm not against this at all. I like candy canes and unusually shaped jars as much as the next reveller.
This year, the family has added this clever display:
Look, it's a framed doily with our name on it, a single candle resting in a bowl of potpourri, a wooden Santa, and, just off screen, a Santa holding several American flags. (Ed note: I'm sorry, I just couldn't put that one on the internet. My parents aren't those people they just...I don't know...they like crafts? come from Nebraska? were gifted one Tea Partying Santa that basically says Suck it, other countries, Santa's ours?). And of course there's the very clever little Scrabble display which could just as easily be:
And the classic:
My mom threw out "ANT ASS," but I think the winner, done with surreptitiously acquired extra Scrabble pieces, is:
Santa is an American which means Santa is down with free speech. Here he's showing his support for 2 Live Crew's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Now I know why I got that for Christmas in 1990. And the real album, mind you, not the one with "Funk Shop." Word, Santa. Word.
So since I've been home I've been reading a lot of books for an upcoming class, but my attention keeps getting pulled away by the new Sonora Review. You should go order it and read it and support them because, damnit, it's just too awesome. I gather from the website this hand-bound model is a limited edition done by Spork Press*. I can easily say it's as nicely put together as any literary journal I've ever been in.
And the work inside makes it worth it. I haven't yet read everything, but current Cupboard author Andrew Borgstrom is in there with a great story, as is Kim Gek Lin Short whose prose poems are from the same world as her chapbook Run which I wrote about here. I'm not positive, but I think these are going to be in the book China Cowboy from Tarpaulin Sky. That's a book you're going to want.
Then there's nonfiction from Brian Oliu "about" the old Nintendo game Double Dribble. I love that game, and this series (or whatever it is). Every so often I go watch the videos being made for these, especially this one:
My piece is mostly notable for featuring a character not named Miss Hampster. Once at a reading I mistakenly said this name the first time and then had to keep using it subsequently. It was hard.
* Initially I didn't know what Sonora meant when they credited "Spork" but only because I'm an idiot. I've seen Spork Press stuff before and it's always this nice looking.
Perfectly Reasonable Questions about Babies
These are things I've had to ask in the last two days thanks to the nephew, Charlie. Charlie, by the way, has a blog of his own right here.
* Does the baby count on a dinner reservation?
* Wait, why do we think he's too hot? Are we sure babies can be hot?
* I know you said I don't have to hold his head anymore, but I won't hurt him if I hold it, right?
* So when he spits up I just stab his face with this towel? I mean dab, dab his face.
* I know it's his toy, but don't you think the dog would enjoy it more?
* Have you read that Lorrie Moore story "Terrific Mother"?
* Have you reconsidered calling him Chaz? I like Chaz, Chaz likes Chaz. We all agree on this, right?
* Do you think if we tie his right hand behind his back we can turn him into a left-handed middle reliever?
* Why are you doing that? Are you sure you should do that? I don't have any kids, but I'm not sure you should do that.
Top Gun for the NES
So I've been playing a lot of old Nintendo games in a fashion that is almost surely illegal (for someone), and I'd sort have forgotten how painfully difficult and arbitrary many of these games are. None more so than the original Top Gun. No, not even BurgerTime, a game where your life is ended by walking eggs and sausages.
The absurdity begins when the first mission screen appears to inform you that this mission is only training for the next mission. Okay, you think. Training, cool. I remember being trained at that fast food restaurant. I learned how to make fries and nobody died. But this is different. Planes shoot at you. Missiles turn your screen blood red. You run out of ammo. And you start to think, Are all these pilots I'm killing also in training? Does the last of us alive get to go on to Mission 2: Inform All the Trainees' Widows? This is not at all like how they did it at Hardy's.
(Although it is how the military trained Bourne).
But then you make it through and you've only died twice and everything seems fine. The screen flashes "Landing Sequence" and you think, Thank god. After all, they wouldn't make landing the plane harder than dodging a missile traveling faster than the speed of sound. In case you've never played the game, let me fill you in: they made landing the plane harder than dodging a missile traveling faster than the speed of sound. It's terrifying the first time you have to do it and then every time after. Or at least I assume. I've never had to do it twice. No one has. You do it once and then die. For most of us, Top Gun the video game is a Kafkaesque experience of dying during a mission that consists of training for a mission that does not exist.
Should you somehow make it out of the first mission--say, you had one guy left when you crashed your plane into the Persian Gulf 20 feet from your aircraft carrier because you didn't understand the direction Up! Up! Down!--you still won't get another chance to land the plane. No, you won't because you'll die before then, probably because you ran out of fuel after failing to execute the mid-air refueling sequence which is exactly like landing the plane only harder. It's as if video game designers watched Top Gun and thought, Yeah, the dogfights were cool but when those guys refuel--holy shit!
They don't make games like this anymore. You know why? Because to make games like this would mean having the protagonist take a break from shooting terrorists in order to walk into a restaurant, order a meal, and then eat the meal in such a manor that he always ended up stabbing himself to death with his fork.
Waiting for the Barbarians
Okay, so I'm going to start posting about books I've read (or at least books I liked). I've said I was going to start doing this at least a half dozen times, but now I feel compelled, both by my desire to have some record of what I'm reading and my desire to stop looking at that creepy picture from the last post.
So, Waiting for the Barbarians. I'll say this: it's the first Coetzee I've read, and I'd read more. Coetzee previously belonged tangentially to a group of writers that, for reasons I've never been quite clear on, I steered clear of. Mostly these are novelists who came to prominence (at least on my timeline) in the 1980s and I--correctly or incorrectly--associate with a sort of smug misanthropy of upperclass white dudes of that era. In fact, if these writers formed a basketball team in 1987, it would look like this:
PG: Martin Amis
SG: Bret Easton Ellis
SF: Jay McInerney
PF: Tom Wolfe
C: John Updike
Coach: Christopher Hitchens
It would be a very terrible basketball team.
I formed this opinion without having read any of their books--or having seen them play basketball--and in the books I've read since, I was sometimes right and I was sometimes wrong. Certainly these writers are better than I probably want them to be and certainly there are strains of whatever lazy mysogony, pompousness, and reactionary fear I suspected to be in their work in books that I actually do like from around that time. But anyway, Coetzee somehow got lumped in with these folks in my mind, and I'm not even sure why. Actually, I probably know exactly why. The first book of his I heard of, Disgrace, which everyone seems to love, reads in summary like a book I would hate. Weary professor seduces student and doesn't understand why this gets him fired? O fuck right off.
Still, I guess that's not what the book is really about (or at least he learns his lesson or something when his daughter is raped which, sigh, whatever). And while I can't speak for that book, I can now understand it's probably not the book I think it is. Waiting for the Barbarians could also be summarized in ways that make it sound like that sort of book, but to do so would be to miss the point which is that it knows it's that sort of book. Or at least that the protagonist is that sort of character, eventually realizes it, and spends most of the book trying to figure out why and to what end. Briefly, the Magistrate runs a town on the frontier of an unnamed Empire slowly building to a war against the nomadic barbarians who have been pushed to the mountains. Once the war, or something like it, starts, the Magistrate falls in with a barbarian girl who has been in his jail, and the rest of the book charts the causes and consequences of his infatuation.
That he doesn't understand his infatuation is really the point in a book that is basically one big fable about colonialism. All the other aspects of it are somewhere in the representation of the Empire, but the Magistrate himself--a learned and liberal character--enacts the most subtle and damaging form of oppression in his treatment of the girl. He's disgusted by torture but doesn't understand that his ritualized and asexual washing of the girl's broken body is perhaps even more dehumanizing than what broke it (as at least that makes sense in the context of a war). So, yes, it's objectifying but intentionally so as he spends the latter pages of the book trying to understand what happened between the two of them while his body, like the Empire itself, begins to crumble.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the book is how enthusiastically it's written. Honestly, I expected to find out it was his first novel, but I guess it's his 3rd. At times it's almost boyish in its obvious pleasure in describing the harsh landscape or in the Magistrate's long self-reflective passages. Those were my favorite moments, but the book works on the whole, too. Maybe it's allegory (we're all the Empire!) is a little simplistic, but the exploration of colonial guilt is powerful and complex. On my basketball team of writers I liked more than I thought I would, Coetzee can play small forward.
Stock Photography Review
Another great found stock photo from Maggi who also sent me this one with the hotdogs. As with that one, this photo is almost too weird to do anything with other than present. It's so strange these exist as stock photos--and royalty-free photos--because it implies wide usage when, really, you'd think the one guy who needs this photo could just find a couple of game friends, attend an open house at a for-sale mansion, slip away from the agent, and...
Almost as good as the photo itself are the keywords you can search for to get this photo (officially titled "A Naked Woman on a Bathtub with a Naked Man Crouching over Her Head" which, frankly, seems a little cumbersome):
Agility? Dreams? Standing out from the crowd? Teamwork?
Okay, I'll give them agility.
Still, there's something kind of awesome in sending this into Getty as a stock photo. I don't know if there's a writer equivalent of this, but it probably involves getting an assignment to write about a sporting event and turning in some language poetry, just like Rae Armantrout did when asked to cover the 1984 Orange Bowl.
For what it's worth, I would have titled the photo "The Wife of Bath's Bath" although that maybe works better for the old-timey pornography version nobody asked me to make:
I was all set to write a post about how someone was selling used copies of My Untimely Death for $196.11 at Amazon, but the copies have disappeared, presumably because my grandmas purchased them all. Still, I've already done the math, so:
* Price per death: $13.07
* Price per use of the word puppy: $98.06
* Price per use of the word poppy: $65.37
* Price per use of the word sex: $196.11
* Price per question mark: $7.00
* Price per comma: $0.68
* Price per period: $0.38
* Price per exclamation point: ∞
Of course, you can continue to buy it at SPD or from Subito themselves though I don't suggest it. Clearly the MUtD bubble has been burst by reckless comma speculators.
* Here's a piece by Carlin at Hobart. You'll want to support both Carlin and Hobart. One of them is huge and the other is named Carlin.
* Quick thoughts on the Royals shopping Zack Greinke: they should. It's basically an admission the team is going to be horrible until 2013 (and maybe not even then), but that's really the situation whether Greinke is on the team or not. I love the guy, but it doesn't seem like he wants to be there anymore and I can't blame him. Nor can I blame the Royals for selling out for the future.
* Seriously though, if they sign Jeff Francoeur, I reserve the right to quit life until Wil Myers makes everything right again. If the team is doing it, I don't see why I can't.
* I enjoy No Robo Tumblr. Look, I don't know what Tumblr is. I just learned what Twitter is and even then I mostly use it to update people on how into sweatpants I currently am (very).
* Did you remember there is a new Cupboard? There's a new Cupboard. It's really awesome. Tell your friends, give it as a gift, tumblr a review. I'm doing that right, right? Tumbl?
* Quick update on my fantasy football team: last place, season over, thank god.
* The bar in Houston that has Cornhole is creating a sensation among North-Easterners who weren't familiar with the game. That is until I introduce Beer Pole and blow everyone's minds.
* If someone asked me to cover a Christmas song, I too would have gone with "Holiday Road." Granted, it's not about Christmas anymore than my second choice is: Everclear's "Santa (Monica)."
* The actual choice would be Petty's "Christmas All Over Again." The last choice would be one of those songs done by barking dogs though I'm hoping Tom Waits takes up that challenge over at the A.V. Club.
Where I'm At
This is the subject line of an email sent to the creative writing program listserve:
This is not a joke. Some foundation at the university bought a shrimp boat and the CWP is really, really excited about it. And in case you think I'm somehow making fun of this enthusiasm for shrimp boat-based writing pedagogy, I'm not, not as long as the course is one long series of metaphors about being the captain of one's own writing, navigating the treacherous waters of revision, and fishing for inspiration. Also, the final exam should probably cover port and starboard.
If you're interested, there is--shockingly--still room in the class. O, and by room in the class, I mean berths in the class.
Disclaimer: I'm sure the shrimp boat is actually a great idea for connecting with the local gulf community or whatever the rationale is. I just happen to think the phrase shrimp boat is funny. Please don't pull my funding. I love you, CWP Shrimp Boat.
So I'm writing about King Lear which means I'm writing what somebody else said about King Lear a long time ago, but I haven't read them so my essay still counts.
What I can contribute to Lear scholarship is an awesome title. I think people should pay me to do this:
King Leer: Cordelia Behind the Mask-uline Gaze
Behind the (Corn)Wall: Regan's Feminist Plight
Kent and Kant: Perversions of Loyalty and the Refusal to Say "I Ken't"
Won't Be Fool-ed Again: Who's Next after the Fool's Death
No, No, Know Life! Lear's Death As Self-Recovery
Cordelia's Acquiescence to Love and [Sigh]lence
"Tom's a (C/B)old:" Edgar's Movement from Passionless to Passionate
I Hold You As an Other: Bastardy and Fraternal Relations
Pluck Out His I's: Denial of Soliloquy and the Blind Subjectivity