Tuesday, January 24, 2012


15) tree_bro's twitter feed

Apparently this young man passed a few days ago.

I was mildly—massively—obsessed with it all yesterday (Monday, the 23rd of January, 2012) and was able to find an obituary, piece together a cause of death from what others were saying, learn about a strange incident from tree_bro's real life, find out about his drug/alcohol problems, discover a wing of very talented writers with a very odd and very funny sensibility who had all found one another—and who all had, it seems, discovered this voice/tone/discipline as a consequence of Twitter's constraints.*

It's a style I've played around with but am not sure if I have managed to pick up yet. (Not on my own twitter feed, which is mostly an extension of my more formal/longer writing and another hub for my own online social life, but on an anonymous account that I won't link to here, but assume some people might already know is mine.) But I'm working at it.


16) Making Word: Ryan Trecartin as Poet & Sexts from Patricia Lockwood by Brian Droitcour

I found the Ryan Trecartin article a few days ago and—being undecided on Ryan Trecartin—thought I should read it to find out if it made me less undecided on Ryan Trecartin. I am happy to report that it sort of did.

I like Patricia Lockwood as a poet and I like her as a Twitter user. I'm fond of this particular series and am happy Brian Droitcour decided to gather them in one place like this.

An interesting sidenote to all this is that I read the Sexts piece today and the Trecartin piece a few days ago, but did not look at the Trecartin piece's byline until I sat down to make a note about it for this reading journal. So it is only now I am realizing that one person was responsible for both.

SPECULATION: I discovered the Trecartin piece by following a link from Patricia Lockwood's Twitter feed. Unable to verify. Maybe didn't.


17) Momus interviewed by Marie Calloway

Nice job, Marie. Enjoyed this very much.

A friend asked me recently about the interviews I do (for Hobart, for HTML Giant) because she wanted to do a few for her own blog. She was thinking of asking her friends some questions about their creative work, and wondered how I had gotten into asking writers about writing. If maybe I'd read a book.

I have not. I studied journalism briefly, but found that I didn't care being told to go out and ask people a bunch of nosy questions.

When I started interviewing authors, though, I was interviewing friends or writers who were—to my mind—contemporaries. Other "internet" writers. People who published on the same journals I had. And though there have been a couple of exceptions, most of the people I've interviewed have been people I had some sort of prior relationship with.

And, frankly, I think the interviews are better because of it. Interviews have a certain structure to them, and fall into familiar patterns. There are certain questions that are simply "the questions one is bound to ask." When one has a long-standing relationship with the interviewee, I think it becomes possible to adapt those familiar questions, to find new and interesting ways for those questions to be posed, and to find new and interesting sub-questions within them.

(I mention all this because I am aware that Calloway and Momus have known each other for a little while. It shows in the interview. In all the right ways.)


* In the future, we will all be stalkers for fifteen minutes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


It's been a slow few days for reading. I'm in the middle of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (9), and am struck by the hands in the book. There are hands everywhere. Heads held in hands (3 or 4 times). Hands thrust in pockets (4 or 5 times). Trembling hands. (So much trembling. So many hands.) And descriptions of hands.

From "Hands,":

"Wing Biddlebaum talked much with his hands. The slender expressive fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his pockets or behind his back, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression."

From "Paper Pills,":

"The knuckles of the doctor’s hands were extraordinarily large. When the hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as large as walnuts fastened together by steel rods."

From "Mother,":

"Her long hands, white and bloodless, could be seen drooping over the ends of the arms of the chair."

From "The Philosopher,":

"The saloon keeper was a short, broad-shouldered man with peculiarly marked hands. That flaming kind of birthmark that sometimes paints with red the faces of men and women had touched with red Tom Willy’s fingers and the backs of his hands."

From "Respectability,":

"He took care of his hands. His fingers were fat, but there was something sensitive and shapely in the hand that lay on the table by the instrument in the telegraph office."

From "Loneliness,"

"'...I wanted to touch her with my fingers and to kiss her. Her hands were so strong and her face was so good and she looked at me all the time.'"

From "The Untold Lie,":

"Ray, who was the more sensitive and always minded things more, had chapped hands and they hurt. He put them into his coat pockets and looked away across the fields."

From "Drink,":

"For five years she scrubbed the floors in an office building and then got a place as dish washer in a restaurant. Her hands were all twisted out of shape. When she took hold of a mop or a broom handle the hands looked like the dried stems of an old creeping vine clinging to a tree."

From "Death,":

"'There was always paint on his hands and face during those days and he smelled of paint."'

We spend an awful lot of time on faces. We spend our time staring at, glancing quickly at, studying, reading emotion from, searching for duplicity within, making up our minds about someone based upon the details of, etc., etc., the face.

But faces, and voices (their partners in crime) spend a lot of time lying. Or convincing. Or seducing.

Watch the hands. Hands over to help you up, and hands hold knives that are about to get stuck in your belly, and hands steal your wallet while a face gives you gentle, innocent eyes.

I think that's why Anderson spends so much time on hands. You can, as a writer, fill faces and words with lies, and then pack all this truth in hands.

Also probably worth mentioning: when one is a certain kind of person (and this is often true of writers) one spends a lot of time trying to look into the faces of people who aren't looking at them, and one spends a lot of time avoiding the direct gaze of people and instead doing a very thorough investigation of their hands.


10) Andrew Sullivan on Obama

"And the only way out of that deadlock is an electoral rout of the GOP, since the language of victory and defeat seems to be the only thing it understands."


11) Jay Caspian Kantor on Kobe Bryant & 12) Greg Monroe, possibly the only thing about the Pistons worth being hopeful about

My girlfriend and I moved into a place together a couple of months back. The hardest part has been trying to find a way to blend the book collections of two professional book sellers. Her solution has been to accept every bookshelf we've been offered. Mine has been to slash and burn my way through my collection, selling and giving away the last decade of contemporary "literary" fiction. (I have, if you are interested, lots of books I'd be happy to give you/trade with you for something other than books (film for my cameras? baked goods? something else? whatcha got to offer? Lots of story collections. Drop me a line. Read slash love the books, and I'll be happy.)

One thing about the place is that it is incredibly dry. Because it is dry, we both spend our evenings snoring at each other.

It's been a long time since I had a roommate. Of course, this is a bit different. But not entirely. One of the last roommates I had would—from another room—spend the night quietly (and sometimes loudly) snoring at me as I quietly (and sometimes loudly) snored back. That was also in a fairly dry apartment. So dry, I spent the first month waking up with a nosebleed. There have been blood spots on the pillows, but nor serious, early-morning nosebleeds.

So, anyway, a lot of the time I spent hanging out with the snoring-from-the-other-bedroom roommate was spent watching professional basketball.

Which I had never really done prior to that living situation.

Now I sometimes just wish I was watching basketball when I'm not.


12) Rachel Aviv reviews The Church of Scientology


13) Tom Bissell on the making of "Madden NFL"



14) Blog Post 2012 by Adam Robinson

Can't believe I forgot to include this in my journal of Favorite Reads over the last few days.

I did a reading with Edward Mullany last night, and we talked a little about our friend (and publisher) Adam Robinson. And this HTML Giant post about disc golf. And books. And H0bart's upcoming Luck issue.

—Speaking of Hobart, Elizabeth Ellen has a book called Fast Machine coming out soon. There are many reasons why I'm excited about this. Here's one: I'm really glad she's finally calling a book Fast Machine. When Before You She Was A Pitbull was in process, and she was coming up with a title, and Fast Machine was one of the options, I thought it was the one to go with. I like Before You She Was A Pitbull just fine. I really love the title Fast Machine. I'm not sure why.—

Mullany is quite nice and his book (15) in the next couple of days; not finished yet) is pretty damn good. The lines are concise. The language is direct. But it's all deceptively simple. He has a wonderful prose poem called "Important," which describes hearing about a famous painter who "would've been 100 today." Dead and yet still, on certain news reports, still worthy of having his birthday marked.

I asked Mullany about the poem. Specifically, what was it that weighted that moment—the moment where you hear someone mark a dead man's birthday—to the point that it became worthy of poetic consideration. His answer: the ambiguity of it. The fact that it is sort of funny and also somber. The way it shuttles back and forth between meanings in one's mind. And in that way, begins to transcend its two possible interpretations. The way it lives as both things at once.

Here's a song for you:


Monday, January 09, 2012


Reading journal continues.

3. The Elder Scrolls wiki page for Breton (Skyrim)

I picked a Breton character sort of at random when I created a character for Skyrim. Mentioning I was a Breton to a friend—who was also in the midst of a Skyrim campaign—he said, "Oh, the half-elves."

I wasn't sure how he knew that. I didn't remember reading anything about it on the character creation screen. Befuddled, I went to the internet and found confirmation.


4. Murder in the Kitchen by Alice B. Toklas

Two notable things about this long essay on Alice B. Toklas's education as a cook and her relationship to food.

1) The recipes are provided in a more narrative form than one gets from a contemporary cookbook. There is no ingredient list prefacing the description of the cooking of each dish. No number of steps or multi-paragraph format to break the steps up for ease of use in the kitchen. She writes about cooking a dish the way she learned about cooking a dish. She stood and watched the dish being made. She relays what she saw happening. She tells the story of the making of each dish. She does not always tell the reader how much of a certain thing is needed in the dish. (This ambiguity is most common when she talks about butter. Butter, it seems, does not come in exact amounts for Alice B. Toklas in the kitchen. Butter is in "large pats," or "a lot of"s. Which makes sense. It's butter. Butter is too important to be measured. It just needs to be there. In large amounts.)

2) Gertrude Stein is always referred to by her full name in the book. She appears throughout, but is never diminished as "Gertrude," and never honored as, "Ms. Stein." She is, always, "Gertrude Stein." Like butter. Always there and always in large amounts, but never entirely quantified. Driving their many (named) cars. Eating and conversing with Alice. (Never are the details of any of their conversations relayed.) Finding mushrooms. Though Toklas is the lens through which we experience everything in the book, Stein is the foundational figure. She looms in the book.

Which, really, is something Getrude Stein does anyway. So it seems appropriate.


5 & 6. The Wikipedia page for Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein

Just to refresh my memory.


7. The Allmusic review of Funeral at the Movies by Shudder to Think

Funeral at the Movies is significant probably because it includes the first version of "Red House," on of Shudder to Think's best songs. It's relevant here because it includes the song that gives the album its title:

You can sort of hear Craig say, "What a beautiful day for a funeral," at the beginning of the song in the video embedded above. The source of that line is the 1968 Peter Sellers comedy "I Love You Alice B. Toklas," which has its charms, if you're into that sort of thing.

I quite like this record, and disagree with the lukewarm review offered by the Allmusic reviewer. (I admit, though, it is not as good as Get Your Goat, or Shudder to Think's major label debut, Pony Express Record.

[And how about Pony Express Record? During that weird moment in the '90s when major labels were reaching into the indie world and seemingly indiscriminately scooping up large handfuls of post-punk bands in hopes of finding another Nirvana, did any band respond with a more difficult {and beautifully weird} record than Pony Express Record? A lot of bands tried to alienate while they cashed in—tried to remain loyal to their loyalist—but no one fucked with the pop rock hegemony with the ease of Shudder to Think's Pony Express Record. {Let's not talk about 50,000 BC.}])


8. The Wikipedia page for the Cheesesteak

Read on my phone in a small (non-chain) restaurant in a mall that was serving something for Happy Hour (ALL DAY SUNDAY) they called "Cheesesteak Sliders," after my girlfriend and I returned ill-fitting Christmas sweaters. Needed to confirm that there are certain places where they believe the proper cheese on the cheesesteak is Cheez Whiz.

An annoyance: I tend to agree with the purists who insist a "slider" is not merely a way to refer to any small sandwich, but instead a small hamburger that is cooked on a griddle covered with a bed of onions.

*** ***

And here's what you probably want. (Note that this recipe apparently originated not with Alice, as it tends to be reported, but with Bryon Gyson:

(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of Paradise—of Baudelaire's Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter, ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost antything Saint Teresa did, you can do better if you bear t5o be ravished by un évanouissement réveillé.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 avergae sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds, and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the
canibus may present certain difficulites, but the variety known as canibus sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called canibus indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.


Friday, January 06, 2012

Welcome to 2012

I was thinking maybe this year I'd use the blog as a reading journal. But not just a reading journal wherein (or, maybe in this case it's "whereon," because things are in a bound journal, but on a website, right?) I mention all the things I read. Or maybe just all the really notable things I read?

Let's try this.


1. "Don't believe in writers block, but I do believe in analysis paralysis" by Reynard Seifert

I'd really like to read the book Reynard talks about here. Sounds fantastic.


2. "Necropolis Now" by Paul Constant

This is, so far, my favorite wrap-up of the weird, distressing, comic/tragic field of Republican candidates fighting to run against Obama in the 2012 election. Paul's a very funny writer and an astute political observer.


3. The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

This was great. Period was my favorite Dennis Cooper novel. Pretty sure The Marbled Swarm is now my favorite. Here are a couple of notes on aspects of the book.

NARRATOR: The glib charm of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley speaking like an overconfident Tristram Shandy. (Marbled page, marbled swarm?) Ripley tells readers his story because he knows there will be no consequences. Who the heck are we, anyway? To Ripley, the fictive world is real life, and the reader/audience is the imagined thing. So he can say what he wants. And yet, he feels the need to charm, to win his imaginary audience over. To win himself over? To tell his story to us (himself) in such a way that he convinces himself all is right and well and proper?

Shandy presents his evidence of the injustice of his life. But Shandy is not able to focus. Shandy builds, but he is an architect given to adding unnecessary reinforcements. Shandy says he was doomed from the beginning, wants to tell us all about the terrible injustices of his life, but he never seems to get to his life. He's easily distracted.

The Marbled Swarm's narrator is caught in the labyrinth of his own language. Enamored by a labyrinth of language built originally by his father. Trapped in a labyrinth of language built by his father. (Daedalus, Icarus? A bull-cocked driver named Azmir?) But he talks his way deeper and deeper into it, instead of out.

SETTING: On HTML Giant, I put up a quick, flip snippet: Setting is not character. Stop saying that. Blake Butler countered well. In his counter: "the tunnels & houses in the Marbled Swarm is a character".

Having read TMS now, though, I might respond: No. The labyrinthine setting is not the character here. The "maze" of them is only a maze because the character has a language that makes mazes out of everything. Out of sex, for example: "As I've mentioned, having sex is always new to me," he says late (very late) in the book. All sexual experiences, a new unexpected corridor. A sudden dead-end. A turn to a long, strange, unfamiliar, dizzyingly out-of-orientation hallway. The houses. The tunnels. The assholes. The mouths. The secret passages. They're all active and disorienting because the narrator only has access to his language, his "marbled swarm," to discuss them. And to think about them, too.

In his pre-language brain, the whole thing might make as much sense as: "This is meat. It may be human meat. It may be cow meat. It nourishes. I will eat it." (The book's cannibalism as the narrator's escape from the "marbled swarm"? Even though the cannibalism is also a result of the father's influence on the son? Doing double duty?)

PLOT: Read it. I'm not telling you anything about it beyond what I've revealed discussing the narrator and the setting.

A fine interview with Dennis by Mike Meginnis
A fine review by Ken Baumann