Monthly Archives: June 2009

make a header and get books

The blog could use a new header. And in keeping with the principle that if I really love my unread books, I’ll find them again, I’m giving three away to whoever makes me one. It must be prettier and less boring than the current one, which (sorry, header!) should not be terribly difficult. 770 x 200 pixels or scalable/cropable. In exchange, you can have three of these books and credit, which will surely lead to fame and fortune. Runners-up can pick one book.


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ill-gotten gains

I’m going on a road trip for most of the rest of June and reading Jane Austen out loud, as is traditional, in that this will be my second time doing it. Which should I read upon my return?


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gift card maximization

I have rules about buying books: I’m not allowed to buy books, I’m not allowed to buy books for more than $5, I’m not allowed to buy books for more than $5 unless they’re from a small press, I’m not allowed to buy books for over $5 from a major press unless I’m going to read them immediately.

My bookshelf looks like this, only less blurry:

blurry bookshelfI’ve read, generously, 75% of the books in it. So the book-buying rules are an attempt to increase that percentage.

But my ex-boss likes to go through her wallet over drinks, during which we discovered that she had gift cards she’d been carrying around for months. I’m unclear on why she didn’t use them, even after asking, but since they soon became my gift cards, I didn’t press. (I don’t give Borders or Barnes & Noble my money. When they already have somebody else’s money, I’m less scrupulous.)

It took about an hour per card coming up with the perfect combination to bring me within a dollar of $25, but it was totally worth it. B&N will let you buy used with a gift card online (and isn’t it cute that gift cards are basically cash with subtracted value? why did we agree to this?), which yielded: Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat, and Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. I was sad not to have the introduction William Gibson wrote for later editions of Dhalgren, but otherwise pleased with myself. One way that the internet is not like stores: I Am a Cat is written from the perspective of a cat. I assumed the cat would not be very verbose, but I was wrong. Book is nearly two inches thick and comprised of three volumes. I am intimidated by the cat.

Borders was not having my wish to buy used with a gift card, but it did have a little box for promo codes that I dutifully asked the internet for to save myself $5. (They then calculated tax after I’d already given them billing information, by which point I was sufficiently worn down to pay them $2.48, which is more than a dollar. Mea culpa.) Resulting haul: Joshua Beckman’s Take It, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. I appreciate the thriftiness of Dover Thrift Editions. And the use of a detail from the “hell” panel from Heironymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights for the cover of The Monk (behind a figure of a monk), which I have a feeling is no more dramatic than the book itself, if weirder and more serious.

Anyway, poll to follow on the gift card books.


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Coraline seen, nary a person stabbed

You may or may not remember my determination to see the Coraline musical. Seeing it didn’t quell my gooey feelings: it was weird and exuberant. Design, performances, and music were all amazing. I’d have liked less maximalist narration, but I am required by contract with myself to find one thing I would’ve changed in anything I see or read, ever. If you’re in NYC before July 5th, go. Getting Sunday matinee $20-under-30 tickets was my most laidback “rush” experience to date. (I walked up the box office and showed ID two hours before the show. It was slightly disappointing.)

Afterwards I became obsessed with the idea that I recognized the creepy songs the rats do from somewhere. You can hear one here. My hypothesis was that the movie version was very similar due to some combination of the specificity of Gaiman’s description and a generally recognized idea of how rats sing. The book has them using “high, whispery voices” and adds, “It wasn’t a pretty song. Coraline was sure she’d heard it before, or something like it, although she was unable to remember exactly where.” So there was some mimesis going on, but after I looked that up, I spent an inordinate amount of time finding out that there actually were no rat songs in the movie, that the version I remembered was from the audiobook, that it was not just similar to but exactly the same as the musical version, and that that was because Stephin Merritt wrote it originally. I don’t remember listening to the audiobook, though. Spooky.

Unrelated Stephin Merritt bonus: All My Little Words covered with a Game Boy.

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traveling book

I like Stephen Elliott a lot. So much so that one day I was reading an article about poker, midway through the third page, when I came to perplexed because I don’t care about poker, I didn’t remember how I’d come to be reading about poker, and I don’t read articles over two pages or about 1500 words online, as a rule. Happy accident or no, I was pissed off that the internet had hijacked my conscious intentions. So I scrolled up and arrowed back to find out that Elliott had wrote it, whereupon I thought to myself, “Okay self, it’s cool.”

So I was happy to get to read his new book before it comes out in September. He’s sending advance copies to be read and sent on, which you can find out about here. I had this to say about it over at goodreads:

So I’m fascinated by what people are doing when they say they’re not doing anything, and while that’s really not what this book is about, the first half of it gets as close to telling what happens in between anecdotes as a book can. And the references to Paris Hilton and and Radiohead, and the pictures throughout help make it feel contiguous to the world I live in in a way memoir often doesn’t. The rest of the content–the false murder confessions, trial, memories from childhood and attempts to parse them–I felt removed from but also needled by. I had “officially” decided not to care about the murder case in the first half, and the second changed my mind.

I also think it’s interesting how this intersects with Siri Hustvedt’s The Blindfold, which I’m in the middle of. The Adderall Diaries starts with an epigraph from Janet Malcolm–“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”*–and then keeps coming back to the question of who gets to own the story of a relationship or something else that actually happened. The second part/chapter of The Blindfold is about the main character’s relationship with these two secretive men, one of whom she agrees to allow to photograph her and ends up in a picture she finds monstrous. I became so angry on her behalf that I wanted to do them physical harm. I can’t help being superstitious about ideas lining up like this, in spite of the fact that that’s what they do. If anyone knows what it’s proof of, exactly, feel free to fill me in.

(The Adderall Diaries and Puro Border: both awesome in hodge-podgery. And there’s some reflection in The Adderall Diaries on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I’ve recently been hearing a lot about…)


* Janet Malcolm, eh? I should read Two Lives. Although I’m wary of a woman who uses “he” inclusively writing about Gertrude Stein.


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three books blurbed and sundries

So in the past months I read some books. I’m copying my goodreads comments, which I promise to stop doing soon if not immediately. Meditations in an Emergency:

There’s a sense in the more I-ish poems that I is adrift and alienated while you/Grace/the beloved/the world is a fixed thing. I (meaning me, not the poems’ I) think this is pretty typical, and compelling, but also I object on behalf of the non-I-stuff. All the poems I love most have a little bit of that going on, though. “For Grace, After a Party” is possibly my favorite and can be read here.

Puro Border:

I liked the spectrum of personal memoir to drier reporting. The breadth of subject and style are pretty amazing, as is the editing, in that the excerpts mostly don’t feel excerpt-y and there aren’t any pieces I wish I’d skipped, which is my usual anthology experience. There’s a lot of stuff in this, is my overall response. (What there is not is a map, which led to my getting lost in Google maps’ satellite images for an hour. Guys, did you know that San Diego is south of Los Angeles? Yeah…)

The Blindfold:

Catalog of ways to fuck with someone by claiming to know her. The last three episodes (in the book, which is not chronological) were vivid and psychologically acute, but the first seemed off, so I reread it after I finished. Still feels strange. 

I wanted to shout something triumphant after each one, but I couldn’t decide what was the right flavor of obnoxious. (BAM? Another one bites the dust? Et la?) There’s definitely something acquisitive about my reading, which I’ve embraced mostly because I can’t imagine killing it. Once in a job interview I chose to exaggerate the number of books I read in a year rather than my knowledge of AP style. (No job for me, but I also ended the meeting by chugging water so quickly I dribbled.) Anyway, that’s last poll’s winner and the prize book to pass on down, followed by my self-appointed runner-up.

witness the top-hat-wearing man

Somewhere in there was the day I read Gravitation and Southern Baptist Sissies. I love Samuel French scripts. They’re cheap and portable, they have a little top-hat-wearing man on them (behold!), and they remind me of when I was seven and I thought theater people were the height of cool. (I still think theater’s awesome.)

Reading Gravitation was funny because I didn’t know what genre I was in, so my thought process went something like this:

pg. 30: Oh, so they’re gonna make out.

pg. 66: He’s gonna spend a lot of time insulting him, then they’re gonna make out.

pg. 70: What’s with the weird reaction to the homophobic teasing?

pg. 70 #2*: So they’re not making out?

pg. 100: Maybe it’s about his acceptance of criticism and rise to pop stardom, or something.

pg. 125: Oh, bingo.

pg. 194: Huh.

* There are two page seventies, four pages apart. These are actual page numbers, if you want to take the journey with me.

It bears mentioning that in order to maintain this level of bewilderment, I had to basically ignore the fact that the book had a cover.

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