Pennies results and new poll

There were 2,846 pennies (five of them Canadian) and one dime in the jug, making Al the winner and killing some of my faith in the wisdom of crowds–although that was a bad picture. Poll!

I have three-four unread books by each of them, despite never having read more than a few pages of JCO. If Iris Murdoch loses, I promise not to mention her here again. Maybe I’ll burn her books on a grill or try to give them out in the subway.


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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┬ámovie 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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I don’t think of myself as a big DISCARDER, a la the new header (once again courtesy of Al; thanks Al!), but in the face of my impending move across the country, some culling’s become necessary. So, how many pennies are in this jar?

eight years worth of pennies!

Guess the best and you can have your choice of three-five of the books from this list (i.e., I can get rid of three-five of the books from that list without feeling like such a discarder), and the jug, if you so desire. I’ll send stuff anywhere in the U.S., and outside of it if you want to pay shipping.

The contest is closed. There were 2,846 pennies and one dime. Thanks to all the guessers.


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I’ll never be a sci fi aficionado.

This is something I realize by degrees and then forget about. The idea that I’m just a few Philip K. Dick* novels short of total mastery of all alien planets and potential futures is alluring. I spent a couple years in high school reading Dune and Sirens of Titan** and William Gibson and… mostly fantasy, actually, which, I think my refusal to care much about the boundaries between the two, much less the distinction between hard and soft sci fi and the semantic battle between “sci fi” and “science fiction,” which may or may not exist only on the internet, is indicative of the ridiculousness of my aspirations to thorough familiarity with the genre… but these books and Star Trek and Farscape*** have taken up enough of my time, and been notable enough to the people around me, that I start to feel the tug of obligation towards the supposed canon and the Important books. I haven’t read any Arthur C. Clarke novels, for example, though he’s responsible for one of my favorite quotations. (Ah, I didn’t know it was a “law”. Number three.) And this is how I end up carrying around a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

This post was born in my head when I decided I had no desire to read 800 pages of mostly dialogue like

Hokum! Royal Governors, Kings–what’s the difference? The Empire is always shot through with a certain amount of politics and with different men pulling this way and that. Governors have rebelled, and, for that matter, Emperors have been deposed, or assassinated before this. But what has that to do with the Empire itself? (pg. 42, the first one I opened to)

and wondered why I’d bought the book in the first place, but just now, leafing through it, I was not unintrigued. I’m putting it in the bag of books to sell, before I become attached to the idea of wading through what appears to be a lot of unfun for the sake of knowing what happens, again.

*I highly recommend Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
**I highly recommend Sirens of Titan.
***I highly recommend Farscape.

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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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The Exceptions

I am not only reading what you tell me to. This started small and snowballed, justifications accompanying each slip.

1) Periodicals – The New Yorker, The Atlantic, One Story, Electric Literature, sundries – They’re not books. And if I don’t keep up with them, I’ll drown at my desk. The drown-at-my-desk factor ended up seriously irritating, leading me to turn from proper magazines to more minimal journals, and then to single issues (The Agriculture Reader #3, The Sonora Review with David Foster Wallace tribute) that weren’t, for me, periodical at all, kind of looked like books, and threatened to drown me more than books only insofar as they’re stacked on the desk instead of the bookshelf.

2) Children’s books – Mitchell is Moving – Are for children.

3) Comic books and comic book-like books – Buffy Season 8, Y: The Last Man, Kingdom Come, Gravitation, Northlanders, Everyday Matters, Fables, some Kabuki: The Alchemy before I lost the bag it was in, The Invisibles – Sometimes they’re periodicals. When they’re not, they’re full of (hopefully) pretty pictures and quickly digestible. In the case of the Invisibles, all 59 issues (approx. 1400 pages) of them. Although I may have given some less attention than I could’ve because they were pissing me off.

4) Freebies – AM/PM, Puro Border, Adderall Diaries, Tongue – If I don’t read them right away, the donees will know and cry. Although 2666 also falls into this category and I can’t quite face it.

5) Plays – Southern Baptist Sissies – Aren’t supposed to be read anyway.

6) Quickly digestible books – Sookie Stackhouse novels, The IHOP Papers – Anything that happens without my having to leave the house midway through doesn’t count. Robin Hobb may be on the horizon. They look a little chunky for me to make it through before I want a bagel, though.

7) Poetry – Letters to Wendy’s – Comes in bite-sized portions.

8) Plane reading – Columbine – The only rules that matter on the plane are issued by flight attendants.

9) Reading out loud – Infinite Jest, Sense and Sensibility back at the birth of the blog – Is there something wrong with how I’m reading/choosing books, that I love Infinite Jest so much more than almost everything?

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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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