Teeny Tiny Letters

1 September, 2008 at 11:36 am (literary, music)

This Week’s Small-Print Round-Up:

“As a direct result of all the terror and bad things post 9/11 and as a mark of respect, it has been decided NOT to release this cd in Dolby 5.1 surround.”

—Trellis, Green Wing original television soundtrack, 2007


—Astro-Base Go, The Amazing Shirt of the Week Club, 2008

“This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, swapped for food, placed in a canoe, flown in the manner of a kite, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent…”

—Julian Gough, Jude: Level 1, 2007

This was all prompted due to the four — four! — hidden jokes in the indicia of Julian Gough’s Jude. The indicia is all I’ve read so far, as I have such high expectations for this book, I’m reading all sorts of other things first to try and slake my anticipation, which would otherwise be bound to ruin a perfectly good read. I’ll write more about Jude later, perhaps in a time-shifted incomplete blog entry from earlier that I really need to finish up so I can write that follow-up e-mail to McLaren. Let me merely finish by saying that while David Mamet shamefully didn’t put his wife’s one-word review of his novel on the dust jacket (as mentioned earlier), I am inutterably pleased that Jude contains the following enigmatic pull-quote: “Julian Gough is not a novelist” —New York Times.

Brilliant! And, oddly, not in their comprehensive internet search archive

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23 January, 2008 at 3:59 am (literary)

I was going to do a little collection of some of the best nasty reviews I’d even encountered, but the internet is not being cooperative. Which is a good lesson for me… I tend to forget that while almost everything has existed in both print and digital form for the past ten years and that lots of antiquities are being added as digital archives, that there is a plentiful amount of stuff that exists only in the temporal print form in which is originated.

So while I would like to link to some of these marvelous, cutting dismissals, I cannot. Instead, I link to their placeholders for the digital future, or the place where they would be if you were a paid subscriber.

Review of: Wilson, by David Mamet
Reviewer: Rebecca Pidgeon, aka “Mrs. Mamet”
Substance of review:Impenetrable.
Review of review: Why wasn’t this pithy quote plastered all over the book jacket? If I had read that even the wife of the celebrated author found the book to be almost unreadable, I would have been perversely moved to take a crack at it! Much more so than whatever standard one-word superlatives normally grace a given dust cover. What a missed opportunity!

Review of: “The Fugitive” soundtrack by James Newton Howard
Reviewer: Anthony Lane, of The New Yorker
Substance of review: “The only thing that [Howard] seems to think is more suspenseful than banging a drum is banging a drum more loudly.”
Review of review: The above is a paraphrase of a dearly cherished memory of the moment that I realized I wanted to be a film reviewer. That is fantastically mean. I want more! I want in! But, there is the possibility that I have remembered the line wrong, as the article doesn’t exist online yet. However, I feel it must be close, because in his one-paragraph summary, he still takes the time to typify Howard’s score as a “rude horror“. Ouch.

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RETRO: Chucky P Redux

8 June, 2007 at 6:35 pm (literary, performance)

FLICKR: Stranger Than Fiction, autographedJust over a year ago, on 6/6/06 (ooOOooh…) I attended my first Chuck Palahniuk signing at the Brookline Booksmith in Beantown. This was was the… third, I think, time that Peter had attended a Chuck even at this location, having heard him read the infamous “Guts” well before its publication, and having his most precious copies of Fight Club autographed. Pete’s mad for Chucky P, and is pushing his “Collect ’em all!” habit to Charade-esque proportions, and had determined to collect every printing variation of every book Palahniuk writes. Because of this pledge, he had decided to purchase the special limited-edition copy of Rant in addition to the standard hardcover first edition that was the reason the Chuck was doing this signing tour in the first place. Pete was able to order it with an employee discount, thus bringing its $155 price tag down to something slightly less unreasonable, and this was the book he was going to have signed.

The question was, in addition to this obsessive expense, should Pete also shell out to find a wedding dress? Y’see, the word had gone out that at each event, one person wearing a wedding dress would be chosen to be the recipient of a spectacular prize. Pete was torn between the option of wearing a dress in public and the potentiality of being The Winnah! of something O so special and Chuck related for his obsessive collection. Upon finding a wedding dress at Goodwill for a scant fifteen bucks, the decision was simple.

FLICKR: Chuck Palahniuk and Pete, in wedding dressDue to a series of basic Boston traffic snarls we underestimated the time it would take to get to the reading — where prizes for good questions and awesome treats are always given out — we went straight to the signing, instead, and Pete squeezed himself into his dress on the sidewalk outside the bookstore. Where we discovered that everyone in a dress was going to be given a coupon for a the O so fabulous prize pack. Now that it wasn’t a competition, Pete relaxed into the event and was able to proudly display and get signed his uber-limited edition of the most recent novel… so uber-limited, in fact, that Chuck took a moment to look it over, as he hadn’t really examined the finished product himself.

Upon emerging back out into the street, Pete shed himself of the dress and was going to dispose himself of it, when someone asked if Pete wasn’t going to use it any more… would he mind donating it to a nice young woman standing in line? We handed it over with instructions that when she was done, she should pass it on to someone else in line… perhaps using a marker to keep a hashmark tally of how many people the dress passed between over the course of the evening. We left pleased at the idea that we may have started a little signing meme, a fun little thing for people to share. The next day a photo of the girl appeared on the bulletin board post about the signing… with no mention of the generosity of some random guy who had presented her with the dress, and no real indication that she had gone on to share the garment with anyone else. Pity.

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RETRO: Shaping Tools, Minds

8 February, 2007 at 12:38 am (literary, webjunk)

Can’t remember what got me started on this line of thought, but I was trying to come up with a concise list of the authors who had the most influence upon my personal prose style. My speech and writing patterns are aberrant, I know this, but it still comes as a bit of as shock when I find that my personal communication can be, as they say, a complete impediment to understanding. So perhaps it was simply to be able to have a list so that I would better know what outdated sources are so far from the common mind made my personal sphere of cognition so particular. Not to be able to better indoctrinate those who don’t understand me, but to recognize the sources as the spring to my lips, so that I might be able to choose another frame of reference. As I say, I don’t quite recall.

Regardless, this led me down a winding path to also forming a list of those matériel that were essential in forming my worldview. Why do I think the way that I do?

I have an old audiocassette taped, presumably, from the radio broadcast of the Columbia Broadcast System’s media version of Marshall McLuhan’s influential work The Medium is the Message. I’ve not read the book, although I have a copy of another bizarre multimedia version of it, a slim volume that alternates each page of text with a full-page photograph that was reproduced in miniature, like a printer’s mark, at the bottom of the previous page. I have, however, listened to this tape at least once a year since I was eleven or twelve and the cassette had been given to me as a birthday present.

Woody Allen and Marshall McLuhan in ANNIE HALLIt’s unusual to find reference to McLuhan — outside of his famous appearance in Annie Hall — in today’s society. I tend to think that this is largely due to the universal honesty of his observations. He has the dubious honor of having stated that which had never been expressed before, but which was immediately true and almost self-evident. To some degree, I think this meant that much of his insight was enveloped into public perception with automatic speed, rendering talking about it and its author almost… superfluous. Now, none of that is entirely true, of course, as I recognize that McLuhan was not without controversy, but… he’s just not on the radar anymore! How does that happen? We still talk about Freud, but not McLuhan?

Which is why, all copyright issues aside, that I was amazed and gratified to find this website, which allows the visitor to download MP3s of the recording that I have listened to and cherished for such a long time. Cut and mixed with a frenetic, Laugh-In sensibility, the recording is able to jam in dozens of moments that will make you laugh alongside pithy epigrams that belie their pensive disquiet. Go, download. This document made me who I am today.

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Not a Jot Nor Tittle

12 June, 2006 at 4:55 pm (benjamin, dear diary, literary)

Jottings and small thoughts:

+ I had occasion to go to a florist a few weeks ago, and it had been a considerable amount of time — at least a few years — since I had had occasion to visit a florists’, and so I may have looked a little out of sorts as I stood patiently at the counter. However, despite any sense of experience I may have felt I possessed, the proprietor of the shop seemed to think I looked sufficiently at sea that I must be a teenager buying a corsage for the prom. You know how women will say they like getting carded because it makes them feel young? I can’t actually imagine wanting to be a teenager again, except for the marvelous metabolism, but I decided to take the comment in the same spirit: as a twisted, misguided compliment.

+ Went to a Chuck Palahniuk signing in Boston at the Brookline Booksmith. I’d never read anything by Chuck, but he was giving out free gelt to people who stood in line: bunny-ear headbands and stuffed rats. I got a plush snake, which he signed, “Chucky P.”

Vienna Teng's DREAMING THROUGH THE NOISE+ Hem and Vienna Teng, who I saw play a gig together at the Iron Horse last year, are both coming out with new albums this summer. This is Hem’s fourth album in three years, so I’m a little worried about quality control, but Ms. Teng is releasing her first album with Rounder Records, so I hope that it combines her excellent songwriting and technical expertise with their stripped-down, schmaltz-resistant sensibilities. I like her music, but it’s a guilty pleasure, as she does tend to have records produced with that extra dose of cheese. I found out about the releases on NPR’s All Songs Considered, which is darling enough to have RealMedia full-length previews of a track from each album. We’d prefer MP3, but we’ll make do with what we have. The Hem track is called “Not California“, and the Vienna Teng is quite good and titled “Blue Caravan“. Hem also has a zipped MP3 available from their website, a live recording of “Reservoir“.

+ Superman Returns is due out soon, and I’m all aflutter for its eventual release. However, for some unknown reason, Warner Brothers marketing people are trying to get in the way of my peaceful coexistence with commercialism as brokered by the fine folks at Universal Studios and as recorded in the previous post. Listen, WB: if you’re going to get Superman plastered all over the cereal aisle, at least contract out with General Mills or with Kelloggs… those guys are whores, and they will make sure that their cereals contain crappy toys. Crappy toys that I will lust after and buy cereal in order to acquire. You, however, have decided to go with Quaker, who are more wholesome, and are content to offer coupons and “Memory”-stylee matching games on the back of their boxes. This is insufficient. I require more crass commercialism with my blockbuster DC Comics movies, and you are not giving it to me. Admittedly, it is pretty damn cool that there’s a red cereal that turns the milk blue, but that’s not technology that I can place around my computer monitor and shoot at my students.

Superman: SPACE+ Lastly, on the cereal front: the “Memory” game? It comes on packages of Life, with a different set of eight cards on each flavour. Of the four pairs of cards, the first three are different pictures of Superman, Lois, and Lex Luthor. The fourth pair of cards is a location. And on the plain box of Life, that location is “SPACE”. Look, guys… I know you’re already lame, because you’re trying to pass off cut-up pieces of recyclable pressboard as a toy. But you couldn’t come up with three locations from the film that didn’t include “SPACE”? You have the entirety of the Warner Bros. press machine to provide you with material for this sham of a promotional item, whereas I’ve only watched the trailer. However, I can come up with three locations from that limited footage. Actually, more: Metropolis, Smallville, The Daily Planet, the Fortress of Solitude. Even allowing for the fact that the use of “Smallville” might involve sticky trademark issues, that’s still three better “Memory” cards than “SPACE”. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

+ I have more free disc space on my e-mail account than I do on my computer. How did that happen? Gmail really has caused a paradigm shift in the base expectations of what webmail should and can provide. That and the fact that my harddrive is only considered “sufficient” by pre-BitTorrent and DVD-burner standards. Ah, the quaint days of 1999.

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Booklist 2005

31 December, 2005 at 4:58 pm (literary)

Well, it’s the end of the year and everyone is making his or her Lists. Some people are striving on the Überlist project and coming up with 106 things to accomplish in the next 365 days. Other people are going over the best films or albums or books of the year. I should like to contribute to the Best Films of 2005 discussion, however, not only have I not seen every film that came out in 2005, but I haven’t even seen every film in 2005 that I thought would be good. So even if my measure of selection to see only those films that I suspected would be quality was accurate — which, objectively, is certainly isn’t — I still wouldn’t be able to say with personal certainty that, oh, A Very Long Engagement was the best film of 2005 because I didn’t see Capote or Shopgirl or Mandalay or a dozen other challenging, intentional pieces of film or entertainment.

Last year at this time, I wrote a little paen to Julian Gough about how Juno and Juliet was still my favourite new book, three years after I’d first read it. With that in mind, I set about attempting to catalogue the books I read over the course of this year in order to try and find a new contemporary favourite. This didn’t work for two reasons: 1) my cataloguing was terrible, and 2) most of the books I read this year were for various library literature classes, and they were terrible across the board.

What was interesting to me was that I found that the majority of the books I read this year were left unfinished. Even if a book was light entertainment, the six weeks during which the local public library allowed me to keep it were insufficient for me to find the time to read all of it. And, by and large, I would find myself uninspired by the prose or the story and return it without much of a backwards glance.

The rest of this post is analysis and breakdown of the results that I do have catalogued, and it will be image-heavy. Since I can’t seem to hide something behind a “cut” as they call it on LiveJournal — both conditional tags and the span class “fullpost” seem to be failing me — I humbly apologize for the load time on the blog until this post cycles through into the archives. It’s annoying the hell out of me too, I promise. EDIT: Thank you, WordPress! As a single post, ignore all this, but in archives, please click below to… Read the rest of this entry »

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25 October, 2005 at 12:33 am (film, literary, performance)

Ceremonial robe given to T.E. Lawrence, and a photo of him with the the type of motorcycle he died on.Lawrence of Arabia is, in my opinion, the best film I’ve ever seen. It’s magnificent to watch, and compellingly unusual in its characterization. I have vague memories of my great-aunt Edie having a bit of a thing about T.E. Lawrence, and one of these days I will have to make sure I buckle down and overcome my habitual resistance to reading non-fiction so that I can further investigate the man and the politics in which he was embroiled.

Given the chance, I’d love to start this journey at the exhibit that just opened at the London Imperial War Museum, all about Lawrence and his life, his career, and his bizarre death — in fact, the exhibit includes the very motorcycle on which he died, a particularly macabre piece of inclusion that only a war museum could probably get away with. It will be open for a respectably lenghty period of time, and if I started saving money today… I still wouldn’t have enough for plane fare by the time the exhibit folds in mid-April. Anyone interested in getting me an early graduation present is hereby duly winked at.

Nominally, the exhibit has opened because of the seventieth anniversary of Lawrence’s death… except that the seventieth anniversary doesn’t seem all that numerically significant. Apparently it qualifies for “Platinum Jubilee” status, according to the Big Book of Anniversary Proceedings, so apparently when something has lasted seventy years, we’re less picky about the manner in which we carve up the number one hundred. I merely mention that being dead for a long time isn’t actually much of an acheivement, as everyone will be able to do that with certainty.

However, the War Museum seems to be getting significant mileage out of the fact that Lawrence, in his unique position as cultural ambassador, had a particular understanding of the conflicts and peoples of the region, and was bitterly opposed to the way in which Araby was divided by the European governents. A map with Lawrence’s alternative proposal is on display at the museum, and the implication seems to be that the Mid-East conflict would be significanly different today if the map had been drawn by someone, like Lawrence, who knew “the facts on the ground [and] the people of those areas.”

In totally unrelated news, I have no idea how, precisely, to interpret the juxtaposition of this image and the accompanying title, but it’s my favourite new web-thingy. EDIT:The Beat has switched publishers, and the archive of that post no longer exists, but I believe it was the headline “This is going to be one of those days” and then this picture.

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22 September, 2005 at 7:42 pm (literary, webjunk)

Snippets of manuscript by (from top to bottom) Carroll, Austen, and Da Vinci.Continuing my recent literary fixation, another post about books. Sorry. But when one finds that one’s studies to be a librarian aren’t as bibliophiliac as one anticipated, this stuff is bound to boil up in other aspects of one’s life.

The Library of Congress is a vaguely disappointing tourist attraction. When I visited there in 1998 I think I expected to be able to wander through the concentric research desks and check out where Robert Redford sat in Three Days of the Condor. I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that it was not actually an open stack library, nor a national library. However, there was a curious exhibit of assorted works on display in an area open to the public. There was a rather awe-inspiring letter from Edith Wharton, who had the most divine, refined handwriting I had ever seen. I made me despair of my own haphazard scrawl… but it also reminded me that the only D I ever got in school was in fourth grade handwriting, and that such elegant curves were probably a dream I shouldn’t bother to germinate.

However, as compelling as that letter was, I must say that the most amazing thing in the exhibit was a page of original art from Walt Kelly’s “Who Stole The Tarts”, an “Alice in Wonderland meets Joe McCarthy” pastiche from The Pogo Stepmother Goose. It was amazing to see Kelly’s careful penwork, and a surprise to learn that he did his pencils completely in non-photo blue.

Speaking of Alice’s Adventures, The BBC issued a technology press release today about the addition of the manuscript copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground to the British Library’s “Turning the Pages” collection, digital representations of browsable original works that are too valuable and/or fragile to be visited in person. Alice joins thirteen other works, including “the Diamond Sutra, Jane Austen’s History of England, the Leonardo Notebook, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Mercator Atlas of Europe…” The fact that these are manuscripts and not first editions means that one can attempt to peer into the heart of the writer through his or her handwriting. The samples to the right demonstrate Lewis Carroll’s neat, legible text — almost certainly restrained and refined so that it could be read by Alice Liddell — Jane Austen’s loose student script, and Da Vinci’s famous backwards rebus.

By the way, the above selection of Da Vinci is translated as follows: “.yadretsey aet revo tuoba em gnillet saw sumadartsoN gnuoy taht nworB naD tawt sselkcef siht ekil hcum …seil syawla droc eno no dednepsus ydob a fo ytivarg fo ertnec ehT”

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Eyes Only

2 September, 2005 at 1:30 pm (literary)

Despite my love of John le Carré novels, I have found that the wider realms of British Espionage haven’t really lit my fire. Recently, even though I had been told that his early spy stuff is generally considered to be the weakest of his output, I tried and failed to slog through Graham Greene’s The Human Factor, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t moving at a sufficient clip to retain my allegiance. But after watching a couple of Michael Caine’s “Harry Palmer” films and recalling that for years I’d been listening to interviews with Hugh Laurie where he sung the praises of Len Deighton, I decided that it was probably time to see why they were popularly considered to be influential and gripping.

And I have not found out. It is my habit to read books that were the source for films I’ve enjoyed. I enjoy being able to not have to pay any attention to the movement of the plot, and concentrate solely on the writing. I already know what’s going to happen — with the obvious exceptions that a film’s fidelity to a novel is loose at best — and so can instead look at the craftmanship, at the tricks of narrative and perception, at the doling out of information. So I decided to begin my Deighton investigation with The Ipcress File. And what surprised me was that while Mr. Caine had played the main character with a curious blandness, with a sloping simplicity that made his performance intriguing and compelling, the same lack of passion, verve, or motive force in the character on the page made him a sheer bore. Watching him play characters one off the other, double deal, and lie lacked the ambling off-handedness of Caine’s portrayal and simply seemed… empty. Without being able to read his motivations, there was no compulsion on the part of this reader to follow him along and eventually discover what his end game was. It seemed too blandly happenstance to actually have an end game in mind.

I am about to give Deighton a second try, though, based not upon my hopes for his writitng or the clever plots detailed on the cover blurbs. No, but because of a clever piece of gimickry discovered in a vintage copy of An Expensive Place to Die, the first American edition, as printed in 1967. On the inside front flap there is a TOP SECRET document folder, containing miniature facsimilies of fictional memoranda of documents apprently key to the story events contained within.

TOP SECRET.  Access to the contents of this file is restricted to Ministers and Heads of Departments.

Dear Prime Minister, following your telephone discussion with the President, he has asked me to forward the enclosed documents...

Verisimilitude, or attempts thereunto, will almost always pique my interest. And so I am giving Len Deighton a second shot. For those interested, I have made a 1 MB .PDF scan of the dossier available for download. Perhaps it will intrigue you sufficiently as well.

Lastly, the docket folder claims that there are ten items enclosed, but my public library edition only has three documents remaining. Anyone with copies of the other seven pages, should they actually exist, is encouraged to share them with me.

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22 February, 2005 at 2:22 am (literary)

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, issue no. 15Pulitzer Prize-winner and my former writing professor Stephen Millhauser has a story in the most current issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. McSweeney’s is edited by the polarizing Dave Eggers and sold in highbrow periodical sections of the most rarefied booksellers. Actually, the only place I’ve ever seen a copy of McSweeney’s was in Cambridge’s cluttered comic book store, Million-Year Picnic, which, despite its maze-like selection of odd, independent comics, hardly qualifies as “rarefied.” The only thing hard to come by in MYP is room to swing a cat, or, indeed, turn around in a narrow personal revolution without knocking some DC Direct action figure from his personal nail.

Hipper people than I read McSweeney’s, and so I am pleased that this may introduce them to his work. Previously, the best chance a random acquaintance of mine would have had of encountering Millhauser would have been in the fiction section in The New Yorker, and I know I never read the fiction section in The New Yorker. Reviews, yes; cartoons, obviously; but anything that’s longer than two pages? Highly unlikely. Still, if any of you have random issues of The New Yorker kicking about, see if you still have the issues from April 19, 2004 or November 22, 2000. That’s my guy.

Should the above publications be unavailable and should you be too bleedin’ lazy to go to a library, I picked up three spare copies of Enchanted Night from the remaindered fiction pile specifically so that I could give them out to people. Interested? Drop me a line.

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