Twitter-length observation

David Foster Wallace in the book-length interview:

I mean, there’s so much stuff going on just in that little ten or fifteen seconds [in Schindler’s List–although this is in the middle of a long segment of: “Remember this part of that movie? That was awesome.”]. Inside of a movie whose central project ended up being, you know, dishonorable and cheating. But that’s the neat thing about–I mean that’s probably ultimately why novels and movies have it over short stories, as an art form. Is that if the heart of the short story is dishonest, there aren’t enough of the little flashes to keep you going. Whereas in a novel or a movie, even if the central project doesn’t work, there are often ten or fifteen great, great, great things.

I can’t seem to turn off looking for the flashes of dishonesty in otherwise great, great, great books.


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I may have to read Glenn Beck’s book.

When I was in the drugstore yesterday, browsing in the books and magazines aisle (I bought Game of Thrones in anticipation of the TV series, which I’d rejected a couple of times previously as too florid, but, as you can perhaps gather, I’ve lost all control of my bookish impulses.), I picked up the Overton Window and read from the middle, in which our hero makes out with our heroine and feels a passion unlike any he’s felt before, and then they talk about the tax code and go to the office where a meeting about the plot to ruin America was held.

I love it. It’s not as good as Ayn Rand–all hail the release of Atlas Shrugged Part I, which I will be attempting to convince my mother to see despite wretched reviews–but it’ll do. I’m not sure what it is about the fictionalization of these politics that make them suddenly not just palatable but delicious. These books are infinitely more revealing than their corresponding nonfiction in that they show us the kind of superhero the author imagines s/he’d be (or is?). It makes me feel sort of tender toward the writer–which Rand would find disgusting; I’m not sure whether Beck cares either way. There’s a hyperseriousness to these stories that makes someone think it’s perfectly appropriate to make one book (a long book, but still) into a movie trilogy. And that leads to this trailer:

I wish very, very much that I could tell you Glenn Beck wrote that poem, but no. It was Rudyard Kipling.

Do you have a favorite political-tract-as-novel? What exciting and strange propaganda am I missing?

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Tax Day’s coming soon.

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Into Thin Air

This was a million months ago. Jon Krakauer wrote this book, which is somewhat about the drive to climb really tall mountains and somewhat about the effect of commercial guiding operations on high-altitude mountain climbing, and then mostly and specifically about being on an Everest-climbing expedition in which people died. If you’re curious but don’t want to read the book–the book’s better–you can read Krakauer’s article about it here. (The article’s account of Andy Harris’s death has since been disproved and corrected.)

Reading this was all about the dread of knowing that it does not go well. It’s like watching a horror movie–“Don’t leave your cell phone behind! Don’t run upstairs! Don’t you know you’re in a horror movie?”–except the analogous yelling would be “Don’t you know you’re on Mr. Everest?” and that’s not a question.* The climbers’ mistakes seem small and unfairly portentous, but I couldn’t empathize the way I might with the serial-killer-stalkee, because, however unlikely it is that I’ll be targeted by a strange murderer, it’s even less likely that I’ll be beamed to Everest in a transporter. At that altitude, it’s apparently difficult to eat, sleep, or think. Krakauer’s cough separated some ribs. And in addition to pushing personal limits over which one arguably has some control, there’s the risk of spontaneously bleeding into the brain or lungs. Two of the names after “in memory of” on the dedication page belong to people who died in two separate avalanches after the climbing season Krakauer chronicles.

Krakauer is scrupulous in reporting the facts he witnessed and investigated–detailed, nuanced, careful. And I don’t mean, by saying that I didn’t empathize with the climbers, that the story lacked drama. The stakes, combined with the knowledge that this really happened, made for plenty, if distant, pathos. I don’t know what to make of my voyeurism in reading disaster books like this, or tendency to wax metaphorical when thinking about the leader of the team stranded on the highest point on the planet overnight in a storm, trying to help his client-friend. Krakauer’s own meaning-making is omnivorous. He talks about the history of attempts on Everest, the effect of Everest-climbing on Nepal’s economy, the climbing skills and practices of those on the mountain, the prestige and backgrounds of various guides. And he includes quotations: Joan Didion, from The White Album (which I still want very much to read),

We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

and to introduce the book as a whole, José Ortega y Gasset: “Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in the reality of the tragedy which is actually being staged in the civilized world.”

(Another Jon Krakauer I want to read is Under the Banner of Heaven. It combines two topics sure to keep me reading Wikipedia and sundry blogs until dawn: religious fundamentalists and strange murderers.)

*Despite how I will continue to torture this analogy, I don’t watch horror movies. The empathy makes them scary.


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February in LA

Shane Jones wrote Light Boxes, one of the aforementioned weird sci fi/fantasy books you’re telling me to read some of. I haven’t started, but apparently people go to war with February. Jones tells Catherine Lacey: Every once in a while I have a vision of spending all of February in a place like Los Angeles. That would be a different experience from New York.

I’ve always looked forward to my once-a-year excuse: “I’m not moody; it’s fucking February.”* Is that all over for me? It’s still dark a lot.

Although I do actually have good-to-middling feelings about the upcoming month…


*I also consider the entire summer potentially misery-inducing.


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If you have recommendations for either, let me know.


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Quotations for 2011

It is more difficult to avoid being ruled than to rule others.

People too much taken up with little things usually become incapable of big ones.

Even the greatest ambition, when it finds itself in a situation where its aspirations cannot possibly be realized, is hardly recognizable as such.

God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.

There’s a saying that culture is something that is done to us, but art is something we do to culture.

When I was younger I’d tape secret notes to the undersides of seats on the city bus. Most days I’m sitting in a chair, but the bus is how making feels when it’s good–the feeling of stepping off the bus.

You must change your life.

And over at htmlgiant, Kyle Minor talks about reading as a comfort, with which I’ve been identifying lately. (If you read it, know that nothing’s wrong and no one’s died.)


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