Monthly Archives: July 2009

a cock and bull story

Hello, Shirley Henderson. I vaguely wanted to see 24 Hour Party People. Also 9 Songs, which you were not in, but Michael Winterbottom directed.

WTF’s a cock and bull story?


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something for nothing, judge some books by their covers

A therapist once told me, or someone told me a therapist told them, that the reason therapy had to cost so much is so the patient would appreciate its value. Which is a very Ayn Rand, absolute idea of value, assuming we live in a capitalist utopia or can get there by pretending we do, but… These are all books I got for free. Will I still like them? Will I like them as much?

This time you can vote for multiple books–whatever you would take off the street. (If the answer is “none,” the question becomes, “What would you take if someone was threatening your loved ones?”) Covers below the poll for your consideration.

ark sakurai am deathgirls on the runbeat the reaperyou must be this happycatch 22nine stories


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then you and some other people came to the end

Then We Came to the End was touching, and fairly accurate to my working-in-offices experience. Particularly this, towards the beginning:

We thanked each other. It was customary after every exchange. Our thanks were never disingenuous or ironic. We said thanks for getting this done so quickly, thanks for putting in so much effort. We had a meeting and when a meeting was over, we said thank you to the meeting makers for having made the meeting. Very rarely did we say anything negative or derogatory about meetings. We all knew there was a good deal of pointlessness to nearly all the meetings and in fact one meeting out of every three or four was nearly perfectly without gain or purpose but many meetings revealed the one thing that was necessary and so we attended them and afterward we thanked each other.

The two most omnipresent office culture things at a job of mine (very limitedly creative and marketing related, like in the book) are the group acknowledgment of pointlessness and the thanking each other after every seconds-long work-related exchange. The two things are part of each other, I guess: “This thing we’re doing is stupid, so I appreciate the pain your attention to it may cause you.” I’m not sure that’s quite it, but there’s some sort of relationship. That’s a kind meeting-usefulness ratio, though.

Alain de Botton recently claimed that people don’t write about their work. (Apropos of his book about work, naturally.) Ferris’ narrative “we,” on the other hand, says: “we had discovered that every agency has its frustrated copywriter whose real life was being a failed novelist working on a small, angry book about work.” Are either of these things really phenomena?

The book as a whole was great in that about a third of the way through it, the office-antics-without-reason were starting to wear–impressive to replicate, but I didn’t want to experience all the eye-gouging desires and mild amusement of office life for 400 pages–and I began to wonder if it would do something else, and then, it did. Shifted to add just enough outside-world context and plottiness to be interesting. (Although the fact that that “something else” was talking about the boss and her breast cancer and her missing her ex-boyfriend, and the way that’s called attention to as an appropriated story at the end, made me uncomfortable. It was empathetic, it problematized itself, but still.)

Never read an entire novel in first person plural before, so I don’t know if this is specific to the book or the perspective, but I imagined an unnamed character speaking on behalf of all the named ones throughout, being the “we”. Which didn’t make much literal sense, in terms of the things this person knew and their being unreferenced by the others, but the perspective pretty much defies literal sensicalness. Which Ferris addresses directly at the very end and coming up to it, in a way that would irritate if it weren’t so deft.

Next up’s Tristram Shandy, which won over The Master and Margarita and Iris Murdoch. I’m very excited. New poll to follow.

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Blog gets dressed up

Check out the new header, courtesy of Al.

In return for which he got Finnegans Wake (all this time I thought that was possessive), The Waves, and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I asked him to justify himself by email: “Because I’ve read Ulysses, because I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and because I’ve never ready and DFW.” (I’d [sic], but isn’t [sic]ing obnoxious, non-academically and also always?) I’d like to petition all the syllabus-makers out there to replace Mrs. Dalloway with To The Lighthouse as the Virginia Woolf thing you should probably read if you’re going to read her. Mrs. Dalloway feels a little pat to me, not in all its aspects, and thoroughly unobjectionable as far as being good, but that’s hardly appreciable when you’re looking for a paper topic and there they all are, waiting for you. I could practically feel the collected sentiments of students past speaking to me. Same with The Great Gatsby. In both cases, if they were less good they might be more interesting, at least to be taught. Anyway, Al, let us know what you think if you are so moved. I’ve never done David Foster Wallace non-fiction, and I’m curious.

As for headers, if anyone’s moved to make more in the future, the book-for-header exchange is ongoing. Two books from this list per header (770 x 200 pixels or cropable/scalable), which I’ll change every few months or whenever you send me a picture.


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Battle of the Losers

My goal is to read everything I own, which seems neurotic until I consider that books are the only objects I would feel that way about: I wouldn’t acquire clothes and not wear them or food and not eat it. (Or occasionally I would, but then I’d give the clothes away and trash the food.) This will necessitate bringing books back for voting, which I’ve done with the losers from all the previous polls, or the loser I liked best in the case of ties, for your reconsideration.

Looking at what’s losing, apparently you’re not particularly fond of the genre stuff, are you? 4 of 6 options are sci fi/fantasy/speculative fiction. Maybe The Master and Margarita is a stretch to include, and it and Gulliver’s Travels would probably not be shelved that way in a bookstore, but still: a giant cat and tiny people. And then Iris Murdoch and Laurence Sterne are weirdos.

In an attempt to give you more to go on than a title, I’ve taken the first page of reviews of each book from amazon, sorted by “most helpful,” and put them through this word counter to determine relevant facts and degree of goodness. Apologies if the parentheses make your eyes bleed.

The Master and Margarita is a satire (7) in translation/s (35) from Russian (18) concerning love (7), death (7), evil (4), justice (3), Jesus (5), the devil (5), and Judas (3). Possibly in an asylum (3). A literary (5) masterpiece (6), it is great (5), good (5), funny (5), wonderful (4), and beautiful (3).

Interworld’s a fantasy (5) which may or may not be a series (9) about a boy (6) who travels between parallel (6) world/s (20). Possibly villains (3) place a hex (3) on him. Possibly he has or fights an army (3). Be assured it is fascinating[ly] (4) interesting (7), enjoyable (3), great (6), and good (10).

In The Lathe of Heaven there’s a doctor (5) with power (23) over or in dream/s (25). Reviewers found it necessary to mention the existence of reality 11 times. Maybe the doctor fights evil (5) while dreaming (5)? Good to the power of 18!

Iris Murdoch’s reviewers didn’t much want to come together, but there’s symbolism (4) and relationships (3) and madness (3), and three times someone used “inasmuch”. Complex (3) and beautiful (3).

Tristram Shandy is one of the classics (9) with digressions (8) from the main narrative (5). Features an uncle (5), a hobby (4), and the number nine (4). Shakespeare gets 3 mentions. People like (15) it cuz it or its characters are funny (4), defiant (3), and clever (3).

Gulliver’s Travels is a satire (15) and possibly allegory (3) about a voyage (7) to or from home (7), which may or may not be an island (11). There are horses (4), giant/s (7), lawyers (3), a pacifist (4), and government (4). It’s 10 times great, 4 times good, 3 times interesting.

A word on Iris Murdoch: I read A Severed Head once, acquired five of her other novels from my parents, and was never able to get through another one. I remember a sculpture, British people, and incest. Also, it had a pretty Penguin cover. For word counting purposes I used The Sea, The Sea as both the title that came in the middle of the five alphabetically and the first to pop up in a search for Iris Murdoch. Follow-up poll if she wins.


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Anecdote on relative reading metabolisms, plus poll results

In honor of various people I’ve been around recently who read at a rate I find emasculating, I give you this story:

I was reading a book on my subway commute. I don’t remember which, but I’d just gotten to the point where I’d have stopped using the dust jacket flap for a bookmark if it’d been from the library. This guy was sitting next to me looking over my shoulder. I turned the page and he said, “You read pretty fast, huh?”

“I started this two weeks ago,” I said.


And he faced front. It was like I’d confessed a moral failing.

Anyway, despite my shameful reading speed, I’m ready to move on to Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, which beat out the other Joshua’s Take It, Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren, and Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat with two votes to their one apiece. This coincides with my return to semi-gainful employment, so the workplace shenanigans therein should have extra leverage to make me laugh and cry.

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