Thursday, August 31, 2006

I've just finished Stick out Your Tongue by Ma Jian (translated by Flora Drew). Fabulous. It's wafer thin -- the slenderest of volumes -- but it smacks you on the side of the head with its intensity. A "Han Chinese" wanders the high country of Tibet after a breakup. 5,000 meters (I live at 5,000 ft and think that's something), where the lack of oxygen can make you delerious. He chronicles his (and various characters') muted adventures and bizarre encounters with nomads who have the strangest, darkest stories to tell. Ma Jian lives in London -- publication of this book in the 80s got him in serious trouble with Chinese censors who reckoned Stick out Your Tongue wasn't tooting the horn of harmony clearly enough. There is a great deal of sex and death and peace flags flapping not so peacefully in the wind sweeping those endless plains and vast mountains. It will repay the hour or so it takes to read many times over. I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

the opening of The Garbageman and The Prostitute
by Zack Wentz:

"I woke up next to the copy machine.
It was warm
Warm. Warm.
Above I picked out little patterns and faces in the surface of the dark ceiling; human eyes and mouths twisting and morphing into animals and landscapes, then back again..."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The free copy of The Exquisite (see a few posts down) will be going out to Evan Parker of Des Moines for spotting the "glyph" on page 198 of Indiana, Indiana. I just looked at it again, and you would never know that there used to be a short paragraph there. In other words it just looks like something got added, not replaced.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Somewhere in the past couple of days I saw a list of books that had gone into the making of someone's (but whose??) book. I love that sort of thing, and it made me try to remember what, beyond Sebald and Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia and Ben Katchor's comic strips (all mentioned in the acknowledgements), had been on my desk over the 7 years I was working on The Exquisite. Yeah, right! But here are a few of them:

The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley
Dark Property by Brian Evenson
Kiss Me Judas by Chris Baer
The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom
The Book of Jon by Eleni Sikelianos
Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
Gotham by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
The Melancholy of Anatomy by Shelley Jackson
Jesus Son by Denis Johnson
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Oracle Night by Paul Auster
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
Berg by Ann Quin

I suspect the list is something like three or four times as long -- I mean of books that nudged me, even just slightly, in some way during this project.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

“Nothing is less momentous in the world than the publication of another literary novel.”

J. Robert Lennon (in this week's Sunday Times)

Having quoted that, there are some bits and pieces up here on what's been going on around The Exquisite.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Charles Baxter on one of my very favorite books, The Third Policeman.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I stumbled across this lament about poor copy editing. Seems a note to justify a stet got itself incorporated in the body of the finished book. Definitely a drag, though perhaps, with time, it won't seem quite so horrific to the book's fine author -- these things do fade in importance. At any rate, it reminds me how lucky I am to have an extremely careful, diligent publisher who puts out very clean books. Having said that, I would be happy to send a free copy of The Exquisite to the first person who can give me the page number, in the US edition of Indiana, Indiana, of a weird glyph that crept into the text in the final, final stage of production (I freaked for a couple minutes -- a paragraph got zapped into the glyph -- but then I calmed down, esp. since it was a pretty good edit). Like the last time I did this, only folks I haven't met or corresponded with are eligible. I realize that this cuts the pool considerably, but it's more fun this way...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

You don't see this kind of sentence in The Times, or anywhere else for that matter, very often. It's David Foster Wallace on the the great Swiss tennis player, Roger Federer:

There’s a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes, one with the distinctive butterfly shape of today’s power-baseline game, Federer and Agassi yanking each other from side to side, each trying to set up the baseline winner...until suddenly Agassi hits a hard heavy cross-court backhand that pulls Federer way out wide to his ad (=left) side, and Federer gets to it but slices the stretch backhand short, a couple feet past the service line, which of course is the sort of thing Agassi dines out on, and as Federer’s scrambling to reverse and get back to center, Agassi’s moving in to take the short ball on the rise, and he smacks it hard right back into the same ad corner, trying to wrong-foot Federer, which in fact he does — Federer’s still near the corner but running toward the centerline, and the ball’s heading to a point behind him now, where he just was, and there’s no time to turn his body around, and Agassi’s following the shot in to the net at an angle from the backhand side...and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi at net, who lunges for it but the ball’s past him, and it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi’s side, a winner...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

This gave me a first-class anxiety dream last night. I was supposed to read from The Exquisite, but when I got up to the podium I felt compelled to throw in some a little dance! My only option, as I didn't have anything prepared, was spontaneous improv. I sucked. And never got around to reading.

I've been to dull readings too, but they didn't make me wish the reader had started leaping around next to the mic. That, in most cases (especially my own), would have been even more painful to see.

I once gave a reading from The Impossibly wearing huge reflective sunglasses -- as a kind of tie-in to the book. Everyone was just sort of like, huh?

Friday, August 18, 2006

I got on to Toni Schlesinger's Five Flights Up And Other New York Apartment Stories through an article in this month's issue of The Believer, which was so hyperbolic (the article) + it made a lengthy comparison to Perec + it has to do, obviously, with New York, much on my mind with a New York set book coming out, that I decided I had to have a copy. Outakes from Schlesinger's "Shelter" column in the Village Voice, where she was given the mandate of stepping into New York apartments and conducting brief interviews with their inhabitants, along with note-lets between sections of the book sinking us deeper into the surround of her mind as it channels a New York of vivid particularities, Five Flights Up is great fun. The inhabitants of one 250 sq ft apartment after another step forward and speak about their obsessions in the early pages. And while the apartments shrink and swell, the fact that they tend to make eccentrics out of their people is pretty consistent. We used to think we had it bad because our upstairs neighbor had a trampoline and a PA system that she used to practice her white rapper routines at all hours and because her ex-husband (Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame) ran rehearsals for a tap dancing play there one summer, but at least we had some space! It's true though that once New York sinks its claws into you, there is a pretty good chance you will put up with just about anything. Schlesinger gets at that very, very nicely.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This from Douglas Coupland, blogging at The Times:

"I find a stifling homogeneity in most fiction. I walk into a bookstore and look at the shelves filled with thousands of doubtless worthy novels — beautifully crafted, nicely honed and all of that — novels of love, loss and redemption and … in my head I feel as if I’ve walked into a Broyhill furniture showroom. I feel like I’m looking at countless dark-stained colonial-style bedroom suites, and endless arrays of pickled-maple empire dining sets, with no spindle left unturned, every buffed surface dreaming of a shot of Pledge."

He's not wrong (even if his own books have helped contribute, perhaps in spite of themselves?? to the whimsy-at-all-costs/ kind-of-brainy-and-cutesy strain of non-realist work -- which has achieved its own variety of sameness). For most bookstores. Thank God there are still places like St. Mark's Books.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Strange how people are under the impression that making a bed is exactly the same as making a bed, that to shake hands is always the same as shaking hands, that opening a can of sardines is to open the same can of sardines ad infinitum."

Julio Cortazar
"Secret Weapons"
Michael Martone's Michael Martone is the subject of discussion over at the LBC this week. Should be lively.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I have the feeling I'm not the only one who had a bit of a thing for Richard Adams' Watership Down, a book I haven't looked at in 20 years, but that I read 9 times between the ages of 10 and 15. This thing, in addition to requiring multiple readings, multiple viewings of the animated film version, endless listenings to the album, and the purchasing of rabbits that were named after characters -- Bigwig, etc. -- moved me, in sixth grade, to start (boy that didn't go very far) an illustrated sequel called Woundwort's Revenge. That was my start in writing. "A dog loose in the woods." It doesn't matter if you don't have any idea what I'm talking about.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"With respect to the American novel, the only problem I see with it is that typically nineteenth-century concept, which is the desire to encompass everything, and you can never encompass everything in a novel."

Javier Marias
from the afterword to Voyage Along The Horizon

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Voyage along The Horizon by Javier Marias (trans. from the Spanish by Kristina Cordero)is a tale within a novel within a novel in which the classic sea-faring yarn gets a delightful Verne-Perec spin -- which is to say a kind of forward rushing energetic detail rich narrative stream (Verne) cut by a painstakingly organized Russian doll plot structure and more than a tinge of sadness, defeat and incomplete completion (Perec). The book was started when Marias was 19 and finished soon after. Believer Books has it out in a handsome Tintin-inflected edition that will hopefully find its way out into the English-speaking world quickly. Marias is an international titan who is relatively little translated and less known on our shores (though The Believer and other venues have been doing their best to correct this). His work grew darker, moodier, deeper after Voyage along The Horizon but that doesn't keep it from being an excellent place to start an exploration of this excellent writer's work.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

If you have a few minutes, please take this visual dream tour of The Exquisite's East Village environs, with photos by Chris Narozny.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Some of you probably caught yesterday's Fresh Air on NPR, which featured interviews with Samir el-Youssef and Etgar Keret. El-Youssef and Keret, who are friends and collaborators, are, respectively, Palestinian and Israeli, and it was quite extraordinary to hear them (albeit in subsequent conversations with Terry Gross), describing the extraordinary personal and political circumstances that surround and inform their friendship. It's well worth hunting down a transcript or recording of their Fresh Air interventions. Incidentally, I came into the show late and couldn't figure out what on earth an interesting writer like Keret (who was first up) was doing on Fresh Air, which is always trotting out the most predictable stuff when it comes time to do a literature segment. Of course, when El-Youssef came on I realized what the political hook was. Then I caught the beginning of the show later and heard Terry Gross referring to the Times verdict that Keret was the most famous young writer in Israel -- ah ha.