Monday, January 30, 2006

YouTube goodness:

Miles, Trane, and the Gil Evans Orchestra performing "So What"

Can doing "Paperhouse"

There's plenty more, but these are a great place to start.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I suggested some goofy names to Annie's search for the title of the Great American Zombie Novel.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The word is out. I will be writing a book about Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights album for the excellent 33 1/3 series. And man! The other submissions look fantastic. I'm especially looking forward to David Smay's take on Swordfishtrombones and the book on Marquee Moon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shamelessly stolen from Maud Newton's blog:

Check it out. (Via Boing Boing)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Book No. 2: The Plot Against America - Philip Roth

At least one of my esteemed literati geek pals has talked about how much he hated this book, but I thought it was ok, given that the conceit was preposterous. Considering that the only Roth I have to compare it with is Portnoy's Complaint, which I didn't care for, this was much better, like Phillip Dick's The Man In The High Castle as told by a nine-year-old Jewish boy. Well, not quite that good.

In fact, it wasn't great. There were long passages that were simply tedious, and if Roth weren't considered one of the Great American Writers, I'd hope that an editor would have trimmed some of the fat from the story. But he's a lauded, prize-winning novelist, so we're stuck with the chunk.

The essence of the story was compelling, however. Roth imagines how a child might deal with suddenly becoming an oppressed minority, and he does it fairly well. If there were no Diary of Anne Frank, it would likely be towards the top of such literature. And so: The Plot Against America is OK, neither great literature nor absolute junk. If I gave letter grades, it would get a C+/B-.

I understand that American Pastoral is the Roth to read, so I reserve final judgment on whether I will continue to read his novels until I read that one. If his advocates claimed that Portnoy's Complaint and this one were the best the man had done, though, I would stop here.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Book No. 1 (!): Verbatim, edited by Erin McKean

A Christmas gift from my in-laws, this is an anthology of some of the wonderful writing on language that has appeared in Verbatim Magazine. I should provide the caveat that the editor is not just a High Hat contributor and the most awesome dictionary editor alive (apologies to the rest of you, but deep down you know it's true), but a (virtual) friend, so I was predisposed to like this book.

That said, I would have loved it, anyway. The essays included within are, for the most part, witty, erudite, brilliant, and fun. Being a policy guy, I think I'll copy the essay called "Noun Overuse Phenomenon Article" on horrible policy-speak for my co-workers. My favorite essays were on quasi-malediction (or words that sound dirty, but aren't) and Slayer slang.

One more note: Stephen Colbert has been running a bit all week in which he feuds with a professor who dared to define "truthiness," Colbert's own coinage, without consulting Colbert, or, at least, "Colbert," the real Stephen Colbert's megalomaniacal on-air persona. Last night, Colbert called the professor, who claimed that he had never heard of Colbert and refuted Colbert's claim on the coinage by citing the Oxford American Dictionary. McKean is the editor of said dictionary, and she cites Colbert in this online interview. It's hard to know what's real and what's staged on The Colbert Report, but if this professor is truly ignorant of Colbert's role in this word (which, by the way, describes, roughly, "something that has many properties, of which the truth is not one, but the user wishes it were to the point that he or she behaves as if it is true."), some of the Colbert people could certainly use McKean's interview to convince the professor of the error of his ways.

Gah, that was incoherent. Need more sleep at night. Meanwhile, go check out Soren's new book blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ludic Log has a brand-spankin'-new, good-lookin' site update from Calamity Jon.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Here's the full list of 46 (out of 50) books for 2005.

1. If They Move... Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah - David Weddle

2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke

3. Ina May's Guide To Childbirth - Ina May Gaskin

4. Peckinpah: The Western Films - A Reconsideration - Paul Seydor

5. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (33 1/3) - Andy Miller

6. Hick Flicks - Scott Von Doviak

7. The Strange Death of American Liberalism - H.W. Brands

8. The Sweet Forever - George Pelecanos

9. Little Children - Tom Perrotta

10. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

11. Men and Cartoons: Stories - Jonathan Lethem

12. Bee Season - Myla Goldberg

13. On Bullshit - Harry G. Frankfurt

14. Mediated - Thomas De Zengotita

15. Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson

16. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

17. The Disappointment Artist - Jonathan Lethem

18. Blink - Malcolm Gladwell

19. Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

20. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern No. 13 - Chris Ware, editor

21. Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

22. Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock & Roll - Nick Tosches

23. The Men Who Stare At Goats - Jon Ronson

24. The Confidence-Man - Herman Melville

25. The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton

26. Where Dead Voices Gather - Nick Tosches

27. Arthur Lee: Alone Again Or - Barney Hoskins

28. Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth

29. The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

30. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

31. Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music - Thomas Fetterling

32. Kafka On The Shore - Haruki Murakami

33. Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel - Rebecca Goldstein

34. The Preservationist - David Maine

35. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

36. A Slight Trick of the Mind - Mitch Cullin

37. The Wild Palms - William Faulkner

38. The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett

39. Red Harvest - Dashiell Hammett

40. The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett

41. The Final Solution - Michael Chabon

42. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - Kim Cooper

43. Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami

44. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian

45. The Turn Of The Screw and Other Stories - Henry James

46. Fallen - David Maine

I intend to read 50 in 2006, so I'll continue to use this format.

In the meantime, to make up for the four books I did not read, here's some children's books that Li'l Sphere and I enjoy.

Come Out And Play, Little Mouse by Robert Kraus, illustrations by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey.

This is my son's favorite book. He loves the wonderful cat illustrations throughout. The story itself doesn't make too much sense: the cat attempts for a week to get a mouse to come play with him. On Saturday, the mouse's little brother steps out of the mousehole to play and is chased by the cat into some winding hills. Just as the cat is about to pounce, a dog shows up and beats the cat up. The cat runs off, and the dog reveals itself to be the mouse in disguise. On the final day, the cat again attempts to get the mice to come out and play, but they are busy playing with their family. The moral appears to be: don't play with predators, and if you do, dress up as an even tougher predator and then decline to play because your family is more important. Or something like that.

Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus by Mo Williams

This is my favorite one. A pigeon dreams of driving a bus. The bus driver has to run some errands and asks the reader to watch the bus for him and, especially, to keep the pigeon from driving it. The pigeon asks, begs, and attempts to trick the reader into letting him drive the bus. When he is foiled, he dreams of driving a truck. That's it. It's funny as heck, but a bit over my son's head at this point. Maybe when he's two, he'll like it better.

Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy! by Sandra Boynton

This one is more my son's speed. There's a fuzzy-nosed cow, a dog with a rough patch on his paw, a smooth-nosed pig, a turkey with a bumpy waddle, a soft-bellied duck, and two chicks, one grumpy and one happy, who answer differently about whether they wish to start over with the fuzzy fuzzy guy. The cow, dog, and duck are a-ok according to Li'l Sphere, but the pig is just plain boring.

So Big! by Anna Jane Hays, illustrations by Christopher Moroney

My son loves Elmo. Those of you who are around my age and childless may be surprised to learn that Elmo's World takes up almost half of Sesame Street these days. It's no wonder, for as annoying as Elmo is with his screechy voice and constant referral to himself in the third person, I have yet to meet a kid who doesn't love him more than bananas. In this book, Baby Elmo reaches high and low, drinks and eats, stands, demonstrates early syllabic proficiency, points to his nose and hand, shakes a rattle, plays peekaboo, waves goodbye, and pops-up at the end to show just how big he is, which never fails to elicit a smile from Li'l Sphere. It's infinitely better than Barney.

Book No. 46: Fallen by David Maine

Like Maine's previous novel The Preservationist, Fallen is an unlikely Biblical story told realistically. The subject of this one is the story of Cain and Abel and their parents, Adam and Eve. It is told backwards, starting with the end of Cain's life, to his wanderings, to his murder of his brother, then Abel takes over as the primary narrator, establishing himself as a bit dim but good-hearted, and finally Adam and Eve tell the story of their explusion from The Garden. Although The Preservationist was hilarious throughout, Fallen gets funnier as it goes, and my favorite part, easily, is the moment where Adam explains to a young Cain and Abel about his origin while Cain, the most intelligent (and miserable) member of the family, keeps asking his father if, surely, he is speaking metaphorically. Among the other elements of life that Maine breathes into this story are the Oedipal conflict between Adam and Cain and the clear connection between Abel's sacrifice of sheep and Cain's sacrifice of Abel (in lieu of his father).

I'm not sure if Maine can continue to mine the Bible for inspiration successfully. Both of his novels are brilliant, but I wonder how many more unlikely Biblical stories can sustain his sort of half-sarcastic, half-sympathetic eye. However, I am sure that if he changes direction for his next novel, it will be as brilliant as his first two.

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From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

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