Category Archives: recirculated internet

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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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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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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The Invention of Everything Else

It has romance with pigeons, Nikola Tesla, time travel, and historic New York, so it can’t not be charming. And it’s playful. But it’s leaving me with the sense that it’s anemic, contrary to all expectations, which I think is because I was never able to get a fix on its tone.

head statue up front thinks in text.

The narration felt like reading a comic book or movie storyboards, especially early on. Partially this could be because there’s a talking statue of Goethe’s head in the first chapter, and a giant talking head sculpture in Jonathan Lethem’s Omega: The Unknown (which I read all the way through with a similar joy in the parts that never coalesced into an understanding of the whole). But also, the present tense makes the setting seem very framed: as people approach and recede or pay attention to a particular object, I could almost see the panels on the page. There are a couple chapters that pull that cinematic move of introducing you to some people you’ve never heard of who then are affected by or affect our heroes/villains. The poor lady is calling for her cat, which never appears because THOMAS EDISON IS ELECTROCUTING IT, that kind of thing. And there’re a gleeful number of “SQUISH”es and “AHHHGGGHG!”s in a transcript of a radio play–an imitation of radio, obviously, but you don’t see radio.

I loved that about it, but ultimately found it uneven. We start out with a talking Goethe head, an embodied question that sits on park benches, and a two-page-long list of words beginning with S, but when later Walter (our protagonist’s father) is said to have “stared down through sewer gratings looking for his friend, thinking, perhaps, that he might have slipped,” I’m still left wondering “really?” (63). This is literally what he did months after his friend’s disappearance? Or does it indicate how colorfully and completely he missed him? Or fit in with Walter’s understanding of the world as an improbable place? Here and at other points, I don’t know. Once you believe in time travel, is all logic up for grabs?

Of course, the fact versus fiction of the time traveling enterprise is a big part of the book. The excursions to/in the machine always matter, but their literalness doesn’t need to. This is sketched in miniature when Walter and Louisa (our protagonist) go up onto the roof to await the arrival of visitors from Mars, as foretold by a radio show. The Martians fail to appear, and then:

To Louisa’s surprise the following morning, Walter was not disappointed after learning that the invasion was a fiction. It had been an adventure. It didn’t matter to Walter if it wasn’t true right then, because someday, he told Louisa, it would be true, maybe even someday very soon. (21)

There’s still a lot I’ve left out. Tesla has a sort-of romance with this couple that’s maybe the most moving and sad thing in the book. And the book overall had me seeing New York as a magical kingdom (which, it doesn’t take that hard of a push for me to see any place that way, but it’s always welcome). But for a relatively story-driven book in which so much happens, it’s hard to latch on to. It’s a string of awesome scenes; it doesn’t feel smooth. This may be Hunt’s intention, but in the end I felt like I was missing something.

Next up is, emphatically, Into Thin Air.

There’s still time to enter the pennies contest until some to-be-determined time later this week.

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ineffably Reading Rainbow


The Internet’s saying “creepy” and “trippy,” but I feel like it’s something else.

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book factory

At a reading last month a publisher mentioned employees at a printer’s in China gluing pages of a book together by hand. And I thought, ‘huh, books that I normally think of as composed of words and pictures and then shipped and sold are, like, manufactured by people who are subject to labor practices.’

If you’re similarly interested in/stupid about the existence of objects before and after you encounter them, you can read this article about children’s picture books, recycled paper, and Indonesian rain forests.

And/or watch the how-it’s-made on commercial bookbinding. Although the pages materializing in one machine after another with just an opening cameo of a worker’s back and some occasional disembodied hands is creepy. The show should maybe be called Machines and the Substances They Manipulate. The narrator even sounds like a robot.

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