SURVIVOR: black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: rabbit at rest (john updike)
Martin Amis, Updike's only rival as a post-Nabokov virtuoso, wrote that "having read him once, you admit to yourself, almost with a sigh, that you will have to read everything he writes." Nicholson Baker, another scintillating miniaturist, embarked on the memoir/homage U and I despite not having read even half of Updike's books. Do writers as inimitable as Updike leave heirs? Or just addicts?

(troy patterson)
i'm finished; while i can't say that i'll never read updike again (in truth, i wouldn't mind reading the centaur soonish), i can say that the unscratchable itch is less ferocious now than it's been for a few years. there's a scene in this final rabbit novel in which (aging, bloated) harry angstrom rolls down main street dressed as uncle sam for the local independence day parade, taking in admiration like a balloon float on thanksgiving: he's full of nothing (and hazardous to bystanders**) and manages to rivet (and delight) the whole damn town. though harry peaked as a high school basketball star, though chasing updike's portraits of american decades down the dirty corridors of harry's thoughts is more than a bit like scrambling around, ninja turtlish, in a sewer...you can't stop watching the fucker.

harry is only fifty-five when rabbit at rest kicks off, but updike wastes no time making sure we know this rest won't be happening on a barcalounger - not much of it, anyway.
Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what's floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane.
he and his wife have retired to florida's valhalla village, a terrifying snowbird community which bears a striking resemblance to leisure world, the gigantic south orange county oldsters' enclave that packed our family's church every sunday and voted down our community's effort to become a city every november (because they'd have had to help pay for our fire department and schools; retired people are so giving). valhalla village is full of norfolk island pines*** and - lucky updike! - freeze-dried golfers; as in previous rabbit novels, we're treated to frequent, painterly status reports on the local foliage and harry's short game. they're far better news than the reports on harry's family: his son, now a full-fledged coke addict, is running harry's toyota dealership into the ground, his daughter-in-law is desperately unhappy and even more mercenary than she was in the seventies, and his grandson is a portly little malcontent. his granddaughter, judy, has something of a rapport with harry; nearly alone among the tetralogy's sympathetic females, she neither snuffs it as a result of his negligence (though she comes close!) nor stars in his creepy musings. i like judy very much, and the scenes in which harry and janice drag her and her little brother around thomas edison's estate and a questionable florida zoo are some of the best of the series. i am, for reasons i don't quite understand, especially fond of this:
A small machine such as those that in Harry's youth supplied a handful of peanuts or pistachio nuts in almost every gas station and grocery store is fixed to a pavilion post near an area where peacocks restlessly drag their extravagant feathers across the dust. Here he makes his historic blunder. As his three kin move ahead he fishes in his pocket for a dime, inserts it, receives a handful of brown dry objects, and begins to eat them. They are not exactly peanuts, but perhaps some Florida delicacy, and taste so dry and stale as to be bitter; but who knows how long these machines wait for customers? When he offers some to Judy, though, she looks at them, smells them, and stares up into his face with pure wonderment. "Grandpa!" she cries. "That's to feed the birds! Grandma! He's been eating birdfood! Little brown things like rabbit turds!"
Janice and Roy gather around to see, and Harry holds open his hand to display the shaming evidence. "I didn't know," he weakly says. "There's no sign or anything." He is suffused with a curious sensation; he feels faintly numb and sick but beyond that, beyond the warm volume enclosed by his skin, the air is swept by a universal devaluation; for one flash he sees his life as a silly thing it will be a relief to discard.
it's in this novel that one starts thinking of harry as a family member, albeit an often-repellent one, and that, alright, i finally let updike in; his protagonist's weird personal gravity, the way he draws himself to you with big, dumb gestures and repulses you with swift, hard ones, collapses into a small, dense nugget of commentary on white male america that feels very true. i began to suspect quite early that rabbit at rest would take this round, and the plot point (involving harry and his daughter-in-law) that initially drove me from that conclusion is the very one that deposits me there. blimey, internet.

VICTOR: john motherfucking updike, in the dirtiest match on record.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 to whom are you addicted?

02 have you ever participated in a parade? if so, how?

03 which of your hobbies would be most interesting to novel-readers? which would be least interesting?

04 in 2001 updike wrote a 182-page "sequel," rabbit remembered, about harry's surviving family (reviewed here by my boyfriend a.o. scott). you get to commission a novella-sequel! to which sequence of novels will you demand an addition?

05 does updike's win surprise you?

*previous battle here.

**that list of thanksgiving day parade accidents is something else. "1994: Barney tore his side on a lamppost and had to be removed from the parade with the help of knife-wielding officials, crying kids and cheering adults. 1995: Dudley the Dragon, who was leading the parade, was speared and deflated on a lamppost and showered glass on the crowd below."

***much like magnus, acquired on the way home from a coworker's farewell party just before i began rabbit at rest. it's possible i felt updike was taunting me for adopting a plant i'd almost certainly kill (norfolks are far too tender for new york winters, and are happiest in, well, florida).


the boxing day blizzard has been called many things, most of them impolite. i call it snoomsday, as one should say snoo whenever one can, and the saying of snoo distracts one from the lack of one's sister (whose overnight flight from los angeles was chucked from the american airlines timetable like excess picnicking supplies from a sinking hot air balloon). hurry here, sister! we wait, tipple,* prepare even more food, and marvel at the hulk steve's become since we last had a snowstorm.

day 189: snowmageddon


steve, c. boxing day blizzard 2010


*boxing day margarita: begin with a handful of ice in a stemless wine glass; add about an ounce and a half of mezcal (we used sombra, which is nice and smoky) and the juice of half a ruby red grapefruit, then fill rest of glass with fresca. top with a splash of angostura bitters and a pinch of ghost pepper salt. add an extra pinch or two if you're feeling festive.

12.21.10: the dirty dozen {films to which i have taken myself on movie dates}

01 plunkett & macleane
02 the blair witch project
03 13 going on 30
04 the queen
05 twilight
06 julie & julia
07 the visitor
08 atonement
09 a single man
10 the last station
11 crazy heart
12 black swan

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever heard of plunkett & macleane?

02 would you like to come to my 13 going on 30 movie party? there will be pajamas. also alias.

03 do you go to the movies by yourself?

04 have you seen black swan? what did you think?

12.20.10: sparkle motion (the pinata tree post)

i was wandering around the time warner center in search of cheap mittens and came across a window full of fancy, fancy party decorations, so i texted a picture to someone special.

LMO: [img] Confetti system at jcrew, cookies.
ESB: well, they already did urban. so...
LMO: Unsame!
ESB: yeah. fuck j crew.*

there were no cheap mittens for me, but i did come home with a theme for this year's christmas tree, thanks to the texting and the coincidentally fancy princess manicure i'd acquired at the office. i decided i'd pay tribute to the deep vein of tinsel that seems to be running through this holiday season and make tiny, confetti-system-inspired tree-pinatas.

tiny pinata ornament II (xyz)

this is a square trapezohedron i made out of paper and covered with patchwork foil, beat-up-old-spaceship-like.

tiny pinata ornament I

and this, internet, is a truncated pyramid covered with hand-cut foil fringe. these photos aren't my best work, but i'm terribly proud of them anyhow; after spending an hour on each of the (three) square trapezohedrons and another two on each of the (three) truncated pyramids, i had the fine motor skills of an old eggnog addict. that they're mostly in focus is enough for me.

the pinatalings are sharing space with a handful of porcelain jonathan adler ornaments and some of last year's princemas doves; on an 8' tree with purple lights, the effect is singular if nothing else. a funky yet gentlemanly fiesta? a hopeful butch unicorn party? dandy alien window dressing? i think i'm pleased - and my fingers are nearly mobile enough to text again. a season of wonders, internet.

*i've been known to shop at both j.crew and urban outfitters, as it happens; i still think confetti system's collaboration with the former is a bit more like finding out my mum and i have the same pair of candy cane underpants. mom, tell me i'm alone.


street beet

i'm pretty sure i'd like to make a print of this and frame it for the kitchen; too lurid?


101 in 1001 {II}: 092 watch taxi driver [completed 12.15.10]

washington business demands the missus
overnight, and scorsese demands me:
"you netflixed bickle back when your kitten
was the size of my right eyebrow. that he'd
now eclipse kubrick's monolith on a
flatscreen speaks volumes." well i'm the only
one here; i'm for stygian miasmas,
for fifty-seventh in the seventies.
new york is its own choicest sustenance,
a yupster who once lived in hell's kitchen
its fables' most comfortable audience
(pornography underwent mutations).
kael called this city a 'voluptuous
enemy.' we each pray it swallows us.



black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: rabbit is rich (john updike)

alright, look. john updike is one of only three authors who've won the pulitzer prize for fiction more than once** - for rabbit is rich and rabbit at rest, novels which are packaged in this handy little volume in soothing blue that flung itself at my feet like so much sea glass when i was wandering around columbus circle several months ago. ever wonder why books in my life seem to behave like the necronomicon in the evil dead movies? i do not, internet; i'm no philosopher, and i let them do what they will.

rabbit is rich finds harry (rabbit) angstrom in his forties in the seventies, pulling down a salary in the high five digits and hovering around two-fifteen with a forty-two waist. updike flings numbers about like a bingo caller at the beginning of the book, but that handful's the one that really matters: we're here to know what's become of rabbit.*** he's now helming his dead father-in-law's successful toyota dealership, working side by side (and now best friends) with the crafty greek who romanced his wife in rabbit redux, the second book of the tetralogy. disco on the radio, platforms on the hot young ethnic types downtown. here's updike on rabbit is rich:
The novel contains a number of scenes distinctly broad in their comedy: amid the inflationary abundance of money, Harry and [his wife] Janice copulate on a blanket of gold coins and stagger beneath the weight of 888 silver dollars as they lug their speculative loot up the eerily deserted main drag of Brewer. A Shakespearian swap and shuffle of couples takes place in the glimmering Arcadia of a Caribbean island, and a wedding rings out at the novel’s midpoint. “Life is sweet, that’s what they say,” Rabbit reflects in the last pages. Details poured fast and furious out of my by now thoroughly mapped and populated Diamond Country. The novel is fat, in keeping with its theme of inflation, and [Harry's daughter-in-law] Pru is fat with her impending child, whose growth is the book’s secret action, its innermost happiness.
the "swap and shuffle" he mentions is in fact the novel's core: while the oil crisis, the japanese auto boom, and harry's now-rotten son becoming a husband and father fill a few pages, this is the story of whether or not harry will manage to sleep with cindy murkett, a country-club friend's trophy wife whose cardinal trait is her fascinating inability to stay put in a diaperlike bikini. it would be unsporting of me to spoil that plot point for you, but i will say that the caribbean wife-swap is more baffling than most of shakespeare's (and that marriage for updike characters - as in, say, a shakespearean problem comedy like measure for measure - is a form of justice; it hardly "rings out"). david foster wallace, writing in '97 on generation X re: updike:
I'm guessing that for the young educated adults of the 60s and 70s, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents' generation, Mr. Updike's evocation of the libidinous self appeared redemptive and even heroic. But the young educated adults of the 90s -- who were, of course, the children of the same impassioned infidelities and divorces Mr. Updike wrote about so beautifully -- got to watch all this brave new individualism and self-expression and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation. Today's sub-40s have different horrors, prominent among which are anomie and solipsism and a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without once having loved something more than yourself.
i was a sub-20 at the time, but that landscape is familiar - and like DFW, i'm puzzled that updike seems to "[persist] in the bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair." internet, rabbit is rich and i - like mortified swappers, i'd imagine - have little to say to one another.

VICTOR: mitchell, with a few quick punches to vital organs. perhaps the laurels affected updike's reach.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 am i alone in suspecting that the necronomicon would make an amazing halloween costume?

02 did you realize the hyperlink in the evil dead reference up there was to a german trailer? go on, i'll wait.

03 does the idea of having sex on a pile of money appeal to you?

04 how do you feel about shakespeare's fifth-act marriagepaloozas?

05 can marriage be an effective form of justice?

06 do you know how to remove color hairspray from brickwork?

07 how has december been treating you?

*previous battle here.

**the others are booth tarkington (the magnificent ambersons and alice adams) and william faulkner (a fable and the reivers).

***also i wanted to know how long it would take updike to gross me out (seventeen pages: "Cunt would be a good flavor of ice cream, Sealtest ought to work on it.")

12.14.10: the dirty dozen {goings on since last we spoke}

01 a double-blind hot cocoa taste test (surprise winner: nestlé)
02 i drank judge wapner root beer ("i sentence you to drink my root beer.")
03 measure for measure at judson memorial church
04 over post-measure-for-measure austrian food, i attempted to explain to amanda why i always mist up while watching damn yankees' "high enough"*
05 i found $5 on grand street
06 i gave $5 to a cellist and a violinist playing pachelbel's canon in D on the F platform
07 i panicked and drew on our building with red sharpie
08 i received my first-ever compliment from our fashion director (for green jeans)
09 we framed one of our giant wolf posters from the benevolent canadians, realized the poster was waggling beneath the mat, and framed it again, making the waggle much worse
10 a handful of poems i misplaced back in san francisco reemerged (published!)
11 i stayed at the office until midnight
12 it snowed all day

*toward the end with the getaway and the shootout and the ted nugent solo and the...i'll just go.

12.03.10: the dirty dozen {contents of my weekender}

01 plastic polar bear
02 chanel rouge allure ("insouciante")
03 sherlock dvd
04 our tragic universe (scarlett thomas)
05 brief interviews with hideous men (david foster wallace)
06 although of course you end up becoming yourself (david lipsky)
07 black american apparel rib u-neck tank
08 black patent leather ballet flats
09 korres saffron amber agarwood cardamom eau de toilette
10 benefit cheek tint
11 filial piety
12 plastic moose

11.30.10: the dirty dozen {contents of my purse}

01 nine napkins from gracie mansion*
02 small blue "it's a boy!" lollipop
03 studded black leather gloves
04 carpenter's tape measure
05 STM l'occasionelle card
06 post-it with cho dang gol's address
07 manhattan cocktail classic matches
08 a discovery of witches (deborah harkness)
09 studded white leather sneakers
10 can of spray adhesive
11 bag of sour patch kids
12 justice

*not to be confused with gracie's mansion

11.28.10: on poetry

bklyn flea, 11/28

11.23.10: the dirty dozen, part II {i recall central park in fall}

sheep meadow



at bethesda terrace

five on the lake

stairs to bethesda terrace

under bethesda terrace

elms revisited

{05 sheep meadow, 06 blackbirds, 07 bench, 08 bethesda terrace, 09 five on the lake, 10 stairs, 11 arcade ceiling, 12 elms revisited}

11.22.10: the dirty dozen, part I {conspicuous consumption}

hipster baking

01 say, have you heard of orphan thanksgiving? it's not actually especially orphan-related, though i'm working on that: it's an "i made this" flickr group in which photos of tasty thanksgiving dishes from around the world rub elbows on the internet. it's a tapestry of calorie-dense magic, if you will. college friends and i started it a few years ago, and it remains surprisingly satisfying to stop by and check out each other's potatoes. come on in!

02 speaking of potatoes, emily gould has intrigued me:
[C]eleriac may look weird, but it is a great addition to mashed potatoes. Make sure you peel off all the hairy parts, then slice it into chunks and boil it with five or six potatoes. When the potatoes and celeriac chunks are all fork-pierceable, mash them with some cream cheese, milk, garlic butter and scallions. People will be amazed by the potatoes and won’t know why.

The farmer’s market shopper seemed skeptical but I think that was because of my evangelical zeal and the fact that she hadn’t initiated an interaction with me. “That was really something to share with the Internet, not a specific human,” I remember thinking as I walked away.

03 i'm not in charge of potatoes this year; i'll be defrosting the cheese pumpkin i squirreled away a few months ago to make throwdown pumpkin pie (i'm already excited about making the bourbon-maple whipped cream, which is the sort of topping which could trick one into eating one's own hand) and summoning either dark salty caramels or homemade twix bars (or both?) from the sugary ether. my relationship with caramel remains problematic, but tomorrow is another day - and even inchoate candy is better than no candy at all.

04 takae mizutani's my egg & soldiers. more breakfast-related castles, please.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 where will you spend this thanksgiving? are you in charge of any of the cooking?

02 have you any experience with this celeriac-in-mashed-potatoes business?

03 do you think national opt-out day will really happen on wednesday? are you concerned about travel?

04 what did you have for breakfast?


my swiss guard of kazoo-playing boys notwithstanding, we had no music at our wedding ceremony. had we scared up a suitable english boom box, we'd have had this.



black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: freedom (jonathan franzen)

if you're wavering between a hot date with jonathan franzen's new joint and some other noble pursuit - walking across the williamsburg bridge for a quesadilla at taco chulo,** for example, or joining the GRAVITY'S RAINBeh pynchon reading group i keep talking up without formally establishing - let me save you a bit of time by saying that freedom itself isn't nearly as exciting as the drama that has surrounded it. i mean, obama got an early copy and kicked off a publishing panic! franzen made the internet barf all over the place! he could be time's person of the year! he was all snubbed for a national book award, but he and oprah kissed and made up! it's hard to live up to shenanigans like that when you're a book, even if your dust jacket looks like twin peaks' opening credits.

freedom entered my life at the jetblue terminal about an hour before i got on a plane to california; i'd been more immediately interested in buying the hunger games, but the airport was fresh out of suzanne collins.*** it's low-impact plane reading, particularly for new yorker subscribers, as the first chapter was excerpted there last summer.**** (if you want to give freedom a try before plunking down $30 or getting in a year-long queue at your local library, that's a serviceable test drive.) in short: walter and patty berglund are an earnest young couple in ramsey hill, a developing minnesota neighborhood, who annoy their fellow gentrifiers by seeming inoffensive and happy, until they don't. patty has no contact with her family back in new york; what's that about? patty and walter's teenage son, joey, moves in with the horrible, conservative neighbors; again, the community eyebrows waggle. patty brings us up to speed in the next portion of the book, a memoir ("mistakes were made") she has penned at her therapist's suggestion. we get a more substantive look at how patty became a brittle hausfrau, but there's no net gain here: while franzen tells a convincing story of a somewhat aimless jock who goes to college with interesting people, falls for a rake and marries his best friend, and develops a personality a few decades too late, we're supposed to be hearing it in patty's voice, and...we don't. i'd love to believe that the university of minnesota is turning out accidental wordsmiths (patty's never identified, by herself or anyone else, as a distinguished writer), but the truth is p-bergz sounds just like j-franz. franzen is widely (and rightly) applauded for his hypermeticulous, old-dutch-master-laying-down-twelve-layers-of-paint approach to building characters; why can't he cough up a plausible narrative tone for his number one girl? his number two girl - walter's lovely indian assistant, lalitha - is also problematic; she works as an old-fashioned foil for patty (she's foreign, nubile, committed to philanthropy, hopelessly in love with walter, and completely uninterested in having children), but she actually is rather two-dimensional and shiny; while understanding her effect on walter is more important than believing in her as a character, the latter is still important.

then there's young joey. i toyed with abandoning the book when he became its focus for a time. his scenes with his long-suffering girlfriend give franzen a distinct shot at replacing john updike as the laureate of bad sex; his ridiculous career as a boy subcontractor to the u.s. military in iraq (michiko kakutani applauded his "david foster wallace-esque ability to capture the absurdities of contemporary life;" no, no!) nearly derails the novel's a-plot, and the scene (also kakutani-approved!) in which he retrieves his wedding ring from his own stool...look. many parts of freedom are very, very good; some sentences are in fact "so well-written you want to pluck them out, stab them with little corn holders, and eat them," as sam anderson put it. others make me feel as franzen, an avid birder, must have felt when his hosts in cyprus confronted him with a plate of ambelopoulia. (he had two.)

VICTOR: mitchell. franzen has a masterpiece in him, but i'm not convinced that this is that. see also: franzen ate songbirds.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 freedom-readers, should franzen have been nominated for a national book award? would you want to see his mug on the cover of time?

02 how would you feel about an oprah's book club sticker on the front of your novel?

03 how is the hunger games, anyway?

04 what would your baleen filter?

05 would you eat a songbird? what if it was served to you by a gracious host in a foreign country?

06 if you've read both the corrections and freedom, which did you prefer?

*previous battle here.

**you won't be sorry - they make the greatest quesadilla of all time.

***that's as it should be; one should buy hardcovers at full price every now and again instead of impulse-buying young adult novels and/or filtering abandoned advance reader copies from the office like a baleen whale.

****a second excerpt ran this may.



black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: zeitoun (dave eggers)

my edition of zeitoun has a clipped cover. its unbound edge ends half an inch early to reveal a deep maroon subcover with a full-page quote from timothy egan's times review:
Imagine Charles Dickens, his sentimentality in check but his journalistic eyes wide open, roaming New Orleans after it was buried by Hurricane Katrina...Eggers' tone is pitch-perfect--suspense blended with just enough information to stoke reader outrage and what is likely to be a typical response: How could this happen in America?...It's the stuff of great narrative nonfiction...Fifty years from now, when people want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history, they will still be talking about a family named Zeitoun.
then eight more pages of review excerpts, then eggers' biography and five URLs relating to his causes and projects. (then his autograph on a second title page; my sis got the book signed for me as an early birthday present.) fifteen pages, all told, before the story begins. hang on to your lemon zinger, it says. you're in for industrial-strength edification.

what zeitoun delivers is...exactly that, really. dave eggers' fiction has never really blown my hair back (his first novel, you shall know our velocity, tripped over its own feet;** the talking dog story in how we are hungry left me cold, and if there is a natural audience for talking dog stories, i am its rapporteur), but his nonfiction has an elegant vivacity i quite like: he curates a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, the story of how he raised his eight-year-old brother after their parents died, with a lot of charisma.*** the charisma's here as he presents the zeitoun family and hurricane katrina as well, but it's gotten sneakier: the exposed seams he flaunted in a heartbreaking work (so late 90's) now shape the tale invisibly. eggers uses a gorgeous syrian night fishing scene to introduce us to zeitoun (and how community and the sea are bound up for him), and he makes call after excellent call as he takes us through the family's flight to arizona, zeitoun's experience in the storm, and what happens after new orleans is overwhelmed. many reviewers speak of eggers' restraint, but that's not quite it: he does let the events speak for themselves, but it's his angles of approach (and the scenes he chooses) that really wallop. i kept whacking joe in the arm as we lay in our hotel room in montreal: "and now he's back at the house where he was feeding the starving dogs, and he looks under the window and - " "why do you tell me these things?!"****

long story short: eggers personalizes katrina and the war on terror with a lot of skill and a lot of heart. he will probably always make my snark glands go haywire, but that says more about my heart of tar than it does about him. zeitoun is wonderful.

VICTOR: black swan green. eggers out-directs mitchell (here, at least - i have a feeling cloud atlas would have a thing or two to say to him), and his raw material is lethal - but mitchell, free to eschew realism, is still fantastic. and then there's my heart of tar.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's your take on dave eggers? how much slack should one cut him in promoting zeitoun, given that it benefits noble causes? if you've read it, what did you think?

02 is away we go (the john krasinski / maya rudolph movie eggers wrote with his wife) worth seeing? i'll give it a chance if i must, but my instincts tell me to run.

03 have you ever heard of a "curate's egg"? (the term bobbed to the internet's surface as i was assembling this post; i think it's marvelous, and plan to use it all the time. note that zeitoun is not a curate's egg.)

04 what's your heart made of?

*previous battle here.

**see 10.14.03.

***amusingly, the reviewer in that times piece i linked writes that "Eggers has spent perhaps one too many semesters at the David Foster Wallace school of creative writing," then goes on to assure us that eggers's gimmicks are actually far less annoying than DFW's.

****zeitoun is second only to in-cold-blood-while-we-were-scouting-oxford-for-our-wedding as awkward vacation reading.


woolgathering & miscellany hosted a giveaway a few weeks ago, and because halloween really is the best day of my year, gracie informed me then that i won. huzzah!

i picked out a pair of mackage studded gloves, for i am thinking about freelancing as a strangler, and having ice-cold hands is considerably less enjoyable than having an ice-cold heart, even for stranglers. i suspected said gloves should be styled with fur, and lo:

steve, the gloves

watch your ass, kate lanphear - and thanks again, gracie!

11.04.10: canada, part III {consumption}

while joe and i have a fairly jules-in-pulp-fiction, walk-the-earth approach to vacationing in new cities - we try to do one culturiffic thing a day, and to eat at least one significant meal, and otherwise we trail like ivy - i research ahead of time, a bit. for montreal i printed out two new york times "36 hours in..." articles, a guide to local brewpubs, and the design*sponge city guide, and i dug around the apartment until i turned up the little michelin guide i bought back in 2006. (you've been a long time coming, montreal.) all of that went into a big folder we named christina, which must have been confusing to any nefarious québecois operatives rolling with us. "where is dieu du ciel again?" "i don't know, check with christina!" "oh, fine!" [subject rummages in bag.]

poutine rachel

poutine (shocker) was our first priority, and la banquise had vegetarian gravy; alors. (full disclosure: we went back for seconds a few days later when schwartz's deli was slammed like katz's here in new york. it was even better revisited.)

barmacie coaster

we wandered from la banquise to baldwin barmacie, a cocktail place which also serves grilled cheese sandwiches. something about our off-menu request for dark and stormies with cuban rum* must have pleased our server, for he materialized with three shots of tequila as we were leaving. we said the right thing at that point as well, i suppose, as he then ran away and came back with...three more? montreal: friendly like chicago. the only irritable person we encountered up there, in fact, was the poor guy at the other end of the number my out-of-date michelin guide told me to call to buy tickets for a show.

1: hello, do you still have tickets for the monster spectacular at the stade olympique tonight?
2: non!
1: you mean you had them and now they're sold out?
2: non!

we were watching canadian tv before bed on friday night, you see, and were informed that crushstation, the lobster monster truck, would be in montreal the following night. i didn't think much of it at the time, but i woke up on saturday morning convinced that fate was guiding us to a monster truck show in canada. i mean, i'd brought my grave digger shirt and everything. samedi, samedi, samedi! nous pouvons vous vendre toute la chaise, mais vous ayez besoin seulement du bord!**


brutus and the avenger

monster truck enthusiast

i mean, people brought vuvuzelas. it was amazing.

the pumpkins of atwater market

table-gherkins, l'express

l'express, filmy

we spent our last afternoon buying provisions for the train at atwater market, where i had the french conversation my high school language teacher always hoped i would have ("which maple syrup is your favorite?" "it depends: are you traveling by plane or by train?" "by train! how much is this pretty one on the left?"), and we had our last dinner at l'express, where they give each table a huge jar of cornichons just because they can. i didn't even mind that the blue moon caused a bridge fire at spuyten duyvil, a tunnel fire near penn station, and a derailment, all of which meant that we had to take a bus home in place of our lovely wine train. we mightn't be back to montreal for a while - we've got a lot of places to visit for the first time - but we'll be back.

{additional excellent places: mckiernan for lunch (note the bowie bathroom), dieu du ciel for beer and, yes, nachos, boris bistro for an unrushed, seasonal dinner, hotel st. paul for lovely rooms and a superlative lobby-lounge (and ginger chocolates on our pillow each night with a handwritten card predicting the next day's weather), the mmfa for maybe-preferable-to-moma contemporary art.}

{full set here.}

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever had poutine? would you have it again?

02 does telling your spouse they can't buy a vuvuzela mean you don't really love them?

03 would you have gone to the monster spectacular?

04 how's your french?

05 have you ever been to montreal? what did you do there?

*i made an effort to find a smugglable bottle of havana club for the train ride home, but alas. they were all gigantic.

**my french has deteriorated since college. hush.



SURVIVOR: black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: although of course you end up becoming yourself (david lipsky)

in the interest of brevity, let's give this one a few preambulatory clauses, UN-security-council-resolution-style.

the blogger,

bearing in mind that david foster wallace is my favorite author and that my feelings about him and his work mean that the emotional bioavailability of any and all DFW-related prose is in my system pretty much absolute,

fully aware that although of course you end up becoming yourself, being an annotated, five-day, rolling-stone-commissioned interview with DFW, is perhaps even more awkward in THUNDERTOME (an arena, i'm realizing, for more traditional fiction and nonfiction) than elizabeth edwards's first memoir was,**

taking note of, as david lipsky puts it,
[W]hat I like best about [the five days recorded in the book] is that it sounds like David's writing. He was such a natural writer that he could talk in prose; for me, this has the magic of watching a guy in a business suit, big headphones, step into a gym and sink fifty foul shots in a row. This is what David was like at thirty-four--what he calls "all the French curls and crazy circles"--at one of the moments when the world opens up to you.
1. calls upon the reader to get on this book. for newcomers, as its newsweek blurb promises, it's a "conversational entry point into david foster wallace's thought process;" for devotees like me (and lipsky, and some of you), it's the next best thing to being in his company (which, by all accounts, was singular and wonderful). lipsky was just thirty in march of 1996, when he flew out to illinois for the last leg of DFW's infinite jest book tour; i don't know much about being a young fiction author (he follows other authors' careers with the zeal i associate with friends who play fantasy sports), but i've been a young magazine type for a few years, and it's weirdly easy to imagine myself in his place - though if lipsky's take on the mid-'90s literary community is correct, i'd have been in the kitchen.
"All the girls are like, 'David Foster Wallace, he's really cool.' So the guys are like, 'I hate David Foster Wallace.'"


In fact, a personal hardship, my own girlfriend had been reading only him, steadily, languorously. One afternoon, she took a cigarette into the kitchen to cool off, and I found this e-mail on her computer. She'd sent questions to an editor friend, who'd written back:

Mr. Wallace is cool-looking. A big hulking guy with long stringy hair. Looks sort of like a rock star. Perspires freely. Wears a do-rag, and participates in the urban American experience thusly. Is unmarried, I believe. What were your other questions?
in related news, i googled tim lincecum after the giants won the world series last night and the text field helpfully added girlfriend.***

lipsky's sympathetic, observant, and funny: seeing wallace after his second reading in new york city (at an earlier point in the book tour), he notes that he looks "abashed and excited and comfortable, like someone on a personal water slide." he's quick to attempt to identify patterns in the way his subject presents himself, and can be rather cynical about the interviewer/ee relationship (DFW calls him a "tough room"). he acquits himself well in fast-paced cultural rallies (his knowledge of other authors' stats comes in handy there, as does his father's work as an ad man). his asides about the sort of bookstore culture which still existed fourteen years ago (so many of the stops on the book tour are now gone!) are intensely depressing - did that really happen that fast? - and well-considered, given how DFW talks about writing and reading. (if it's to make us, as he and franzen put it, "become less alone inside,"**** is it any wonder that the modern reader's literal isolation feels kind of horrible? maybe it's just me.) lipsky's take on DFW's feelings about fame could be problematic, but his intentions are good, and although of course you end up becoming yourself is intensely moving - both as a snapshot of a young genius and as "that kind of stomach magic of, 'God damn, it's fun to read. I'd rather read right now than eat.'" meet dave, again.

VICTOR: black swan green - because lipsky was the entrant, not DFW. you got lucky, mitchell.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 would you want to interview someone you idolize?

02 given the opportunity to spend time with david foster wallace, how would you want to spend it?

03 do you think the publication of lipsky's book was inappropriately opportunistic? (aside: rolling stone spiked the piece lipsky had been commissioned to write back in 1996.)

04 do books need buildings? do we need books? (do you own or want a kindle?)

05 when was the last time you skipped a meal for a book?

06 have you read the boy, an unpublished story of DFW's (transcribed from a reading in 2000) which materialized on a tumblr account last week? what did you think?

*previous battle here.

**though i would certainly THUNDERTOME the five nights jack kerouac spent with neal cassady in the third, transcript section of kerouac's visions of cody, a book i disliked so intensely that i avoided kerouac altogether for a decade. (this book amplifies your life force as forcefully as visions of cody diminishes it.)

***i have no stake in whether or not tim lincecum has a girlfriend. just so we're clear.

****"The old tricks have been exploded, and I think the language needs to find new ways to pull the reader. And my personal belief is a lot of it has to do with voice, and a feeling of intimacy between the writer and the reader. That sorta, given the atomization and loneliness of contemporary life--that's our opening, and that's our gift."

10.28.10: canada, part II {the black and white}

phoenix @ madison square garden

farine five roses

habitat 67 (5 of 6)

crane, vieux port

HQ, société canadienne d'opérette, rue saint-denis

graffiti, vieux port

{phoenix @ madison square garden;* farine five roses on the lachine canal; habitat 67; crane, vieux port; HQ, société canadienne d'opérette, rue saint-denis; graffiti, vieux port}

*while madison square garden is hardly in canada, the phoenix show was mere hours before our train left penn station; i consider it part of the trip. also all francophones look alike.

10.26.10: canada, part I {the eleven-hour train ride with occasional haiku}


met a nice dc couple taking a vacation identical to ours, right down to the non-plan and false start three years ago. they smoke; are they us in the past? the sight-seeing dome car is open, just in time for the backyards of albany.

cafe car coffee,
bird's-eye view of albany.
no rock-eaters yet.

we're told montreal's punk bars are on rue st. laurent.

it's schenectady,
the city that lights the world!
too early for wine.

yupster uncloaking:
an amarone, vintage
backgammon, and shame.

halfway point! the leaf-peeping
is epic, like dune.

joe pours wine in my shoe.

customs. our seeded crackers are not confiscated. the earnest man behind us explains to the border agents how tamarind candy is made. ("it's no longer a fruit. it's been boiled, not by me.")

canada appears to be phoning it in re: the picturesque. bah.

sun just set. horizon afire in a mildly scary way.


break room


black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: the unnamed (joshua ferris)

joshua ferris's debut (then we came to the end, a deft and funny novel about an embattled chicago advertising firm) read like torture porn for me: i work in an industry which hemorrhages people all the time, so the layoffs in that book made my skin crawl. the pink slips are layered between clever little renderings of the firm's collective consciousness - the book is narrated in the first-person plural, which is both weird and somehow suited to the material - so the violins never swell too loudly, at least not at first.

ferris's second novel, the unnamed, couldn't crack a donut joke at gunpoint; it's also about suits and ties (and begins in midtown manhattan, the ultimate office space), but it's more like a cross between fight club and into the wild, and far less than the sum of those parts. it begins with what we're told is a recurrence of...something: tim, a fairly uninteresting new york city lawyer, comes home from work in a state of utter desolation, tears himself out of his corporate suit, and bundles up like an arctic explorer. he's once again suffering from the "unnamed," which is (a kind of ill-fitting reference to beckett's the unnamable, which ends with "i can't go on, i'll go on," and) a mysterious condition that forces tim to walk - instantly and mindlessly, for miles, generally out into the middle of nowhere, where he collapses in a deep sleep.

as one would imagine, this makes it rather tricky for tim to be a lawyer, and a husband (and a father, and someone who consistently has skin on the soles of his feet). i like ferris best when he's concentrating on what tim's condition costs him in his marriage and his relationship with his daughter; the scenes in his office make it difficult to understand why his professional identity is so important (ferris's workplace stuff was much more interesting in then we came to the end), and the man vs. himself segments in the last third of the unnamed - when tim's condition becomes an active foe, with a voice and a deadly yet tedious need to dominate and humiliate him - add little to the story. I am Jack's Lack of Interest in Amateur Experimental Fiction.

...but that's too harsh; i loved parts of david foster wallace's grad-school novel,** the broom of the system, and even DFW himself said it was a turkey. my point is that unless an author is my favorite author (or his work is adapted by one of my favorite directors), he really needs to earn the wild stuff - and in ferris's case, it detracts from some really wonderful family scenes. tim and his daughter watching buffy the vampire slayer DVDs together nearly broke my heart, and i mean that in all seriousness. stay out of the office and off the road, ferris. you belong at home for a bit.

VICTOR: david mitchell, who wields the spooky like he was born with it in his pocket. how can a young american - even one who wipes out flocks of birds and swarms of bees for no apparent reason - compete?

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are you able to watch/read workplace dramas without nausea? (i still don't know if i can deal with up in the air.)

02 how do you feel about fight club? what about samuel beckett?

03 speaking of david fincher, have you seen the social network? what did you think?

04 how have you been? i've missed you, imaginary reading group.

*previous battle here.

**(written there, not written about there, thank god)

10.13.10 {go team wedding, baby jo edition}

wedding DIY is a beast to document; i was across the country as jo, her friends, and my mom did most of their prep, and for the final 72 hours i juggled photos of making things with, you know, making things. also tacos.


mom needed something to trim the hat box in which she was giving chris and jo part of their wedding present; ten minutes and a stack of vintage book-guts later, she'd made this. (i had to mail the first part of our gift, a c.1970 ice bucket shaped like a diving bell, so i defaulted to our family's other traditional presentation method, which is to make a creepy tuneless noise and gift a thing with no wrapping at all.)

handmade aisle garland

aisle garland with hand-punched paper and fishing line, wound and wound for days and days prior to our arrival; "i made it long enough to go up and down the hallway six times," said mom. someone might or might not have been lifted from the ground by their lapels on saturday when they told her the garland had slipped from the bucket and gotten too tangled to use down on the beach; i wasn't there.


i was around in plenty of time for the table numbers; jo freehanded the shapes, em lined the cutouts with rubber cement and wax paper, and i painted like a helper monkey. long night, night 2 (my mother hand-sewed the rolled grass runners in the background in that craft dungeon shot; they were too wide to load into the sewing machine).

justin's objects


the best man, justin, is a vintagemaster; he spent a year collecting mystery objects in and around los angeles. each of the eighteen tables had (hand-sewn, pocket-folded napkins, vials of sea salt, wee menus tucked into each napkin, and) a collection of spyglasses, scales, hurricanes, candlesticks, orbs...especially candlesticks and orbs. i believe we had three glue guns going at once (to turn the sticks into pedestals for terraria and more succulents).

mason jar lights in the entryway

justin also brought in mason jar lights for the hallway between the cocktail patio and the reception hall; kate, maid of honor extraordinaire, secured them to the ceiling. i can take or leave fashion tape, but i love a woman with an electric staple gun.

10.12.10 {go team wedding, baby jo edition}

suffering in so cal

day I, 0800h: after a late-night arrival at wedding HQ, we awaken to grueling weather and an atrocious view. it is excruciating.

hollow book

day I, 1000h: an argument concerning the proper way to hollow out a vintage book that is to be hand-painted and planted with succulents (and who should do so) yields my favorite mother-of-the-bride quote of all time: "look, i'm stronger than you, and i can fuck up my hands."

no idea

day I, 1200h: joe realizes his main duties will be to shop for food and alcohol and to stay out of the way.

careful hair, manicure, false eyelashes

day III, 0900h: i discover that the shortcut to an amazing bridal party makeup session conversation is to ask one's artist about her work in special effects. mine (chelsea) had just wrapped a film about cyberattacks and survivalists, so we got to skip over the magic of marriage and girliness and talk about continuity with bruises and gunshots ("most of the wounded died pretty quickly, so i didn't have to advance them too much from day to day"), blood sources (unlike my college roommate the stage blood factory, chelsea preferred to purchase stuff called myblood), and plausible vomit (one of the actors had to puke onscreen, so she had to whip up something that both looked right and wouldn't taste horrible*). i wear false eyelashes for the first time.

sealwatching (b/w)

day III, 1500h: as solo prep shots go down indoors, the bridal party turns to taking running starts and whipping tiny green apples** into the ocean from the balcony, a pastime which is significantly more popular with the throwers than it is with the purchasers of the throwers' engagement and wedding rings.

shot, shots (b/w)

day III, 1630h: the wedding party arrives for a shoot at turk's. formalwear and our giant box of bouquets confuse local barflies; we tell them we're carrying a body. i sip my shot instead of cowboying up for photos, for i am a mean old lady. an order of onion rings is tucked in the flower box.

day III, 1730h: a girl i've known since she was six reads the same wallace stevens poem paul read at our wedding in england. my baby sister is married.

doug and dad

day III, 2000h: stanford beats usc with seconds to spare. the bride's family gloats.

*apple juice, oatmeal, and mashed banana, if you were wondering. the vomit i mocked up as a child to try to get out of school, by contrast, was bread crumbs and vinegar, since i merely had to point at it.

**rejects from the Tiny Caramel Apple Dessert Project, a popular but grueling wedding craft that was farmed out to professionals at the eleventh hour. (we still had to provide the apples, which was a bit weird.)

10.04.10 {connecticut}

skateboard pastoral

hall ceiling

dew friday morning

my feet and the fireplace

last night

full set here.