much is afoot, you guys. THUNDERTOME, secret project, and GRAVITY'S RAINBeh posts are all on the horizon; until they rear their ugly heads, here's (an extremely mixed metaphor and) a big ol' photo of joe on our roof.

we made our first trip to the roof yesterday.

08.19.10: twelve things, part I

2010 BBQ II

01 megan and patrick's yard in new jersey, lawn games, the greatest beer of all time. that and the photo read as four things, but they're experienced as one thing.

02 incubus, a 1965 william shatner horror film shot entirely in esperanto. by most accounts it's awful-awful rather than cult-awful, which will in no way prevent me from using it as an excuse to throw a viewing party.

03 the skeleton dance and the haunted house (both 1929), watched many, many times at a formative age. if i don't end up attempting a gozer costume for halloween this year, i might build a skeleton costume around a xylophone rib cage. can one wear a xylophone around one's neck all night?

05 in october, we'll be heading out to connecticut for a long weekend in a rented house with friends. this is the seasonal local tourism i've been meaning to do for years, and i can't even tell you how excited i am, even though (or because) the whole thing sounds like an indie coming-of-age movie. in a world where everyone owns at least one tom waits album...sweaters will be belted.

06 steve smells like cookies.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what is the greatest beer of all time?

02 what would you serve at an incubus viewing party?

03 gozer or skelephone?

04 i'm new to this grown-up group vacation thing. pointers? i'm not bringing any firearms or explosive secrets from my past.



SURVIVOR: tree of smoke (denis johnson)*
CHALLENGER: in the woods (tana french)

this foreign thrillers thing is getting out of hand; sensing an opening after my talk of arnaldur indriĆ°ason's icelandic excellence and acceptance of the girl with the dragon tattoo, amazon has started recommending things like the indian bride (inspector sejer mysteries) and my friend megan passed me tana french's in the woods. the latter is set in knocknaree, a blustery green corner of ireland that's especially nice to read about when new york in august wants you dead, and full of good-looking dublin homicide detectives. call it a thoughtfully embellished procedural, a cross between inspector lewis** and the second season of the wire.*** one of said detectives, the unreliably-narratin' rob ryan (fond of telling us how much he lies and doesn't notice), grew up in knocknaree and suffered a mysterious trauma in the nearby woods; when a young girl's body is found there some twenty years later, he catches the case and extremely awkward conversations with locals ensue.

it's hard to talk about in the woods at length without spoiling something - megan told me i needed to read this first novel of french's because it introduces a better novel's main character, and the act of reading this one without sniffing around its sequel (the likeness) nearly killed me - but i will say that french has something of kazuo ishiguro (never let me go)'s knack for articulating relationships' emotional temperatures, which is a pleasant surprise in a genre more concerned with suspense than regular old non-stabby interpersonal tension. in the woods's b-plot is the story of rob's relationship with his female partner; its overall arc is somewhat predictable, but it's described beautifully. the a-plot, in turn, certainly does its job: while i've been suspended like a fly in the sap that is the remainder of our october issue here at the magazine and haven't had time to read at home, i was perhaps the only ticketholder who didn't mind waiting out the rain for sunday night's capeman performance in central park. i tucked myself under an eave at the delacorte, imagined myself in ireland, and was perfectly content.

VICTOR: i'd rather have in the woods in my purse, but tree of smoke's still king of the shelf.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 wire-watchers, which was your favorite season?

02 what's your personal late-night-at-the-office record? i'm now at a quarter past midnight, but i'm stepping up for another go tonight, i think.

03 how was your weekend? i've missed you guys, what with the office eating my life.

*previous battle here.

**if you've spent time in oxford and aren't yet watching inspector lewis, incidentally, get on that.

***the best season, for my money.



SURVIVOR: tree of smoke (denis johnson)*
CHALLENGER: last night in twisted river (john irving)

here's the thing: while research has proven that at any given time there is at least one person reading a prayer for owen meany on every bus in san francisco** and i lived in that city for three years, john irving and i didn't cross paths until 2005, when until i find you rose like a cloud of fruit flies from the book pile at work. i was thrilled: hey, an author i've been meaning to read! also, this one's apparently about tattoos! also also, free book!

it was not good. it wasn't awful, but i was in no danger of needing to venture deeper into the irving oeuvre. however, i happened upon an orphaned copy of last night in twisted river (irving's most recent novel, published last october) a few weeks ago. i'd just finished david mitchell's delirious tokyo novel and was feeling relaxed and big-hearted: what's a second chance for a well-loved novelist in the grand scheme of things?

internet, one should never be relaxed and big-hearted (about john irving novels). this twelfth novel in particular is said to be one of his most personal, as its main character is a writer (who attends, hey hey, the same boarding school, college, and writing program irving did), its omniscient narrator loves to talk about process, and irving says as much in his weirdly defensive afterword; if this shambling thing is what he really is all about, i think i dislike him both as a writer and a person.

objection the first: irving's women are poorly integrated plot devices and/or blank agents of his main character's sexual development, and he generates them with all the panache of a mid-'80s computer role-playing game (i can picture the pull-down menus: build, sexual quirks, alignment). irving's stand-in, daniel baciagalupo, lives in a new hampshire logging town after his mother (slight, polyamorous, True Neutral) gets drunk and drowns in the titular river; a decade later, he finds injun jane (morbidly obese, two-timing, Lawful Neutral) atop his father and, thinking she's a bear, brains her with a frying pan; he then carries on affairs with his aunt (slight, rapacious, Chaotic Neutral) and his female cousins (so lazily described that i can't piece together three characterizations for them), spies on his father's next lover (obese, passive, Lawful Good), fantasizes for decades about "lady sky," a random woman (amazonian, depilated, Chaotic Good) who parachutes nude into pig shit at a party he attends outside iowa city. i think i'd rather read john updike on women; he won't be appearing on the cover of ms. any time soon either, but his creepiness feels downright considerate beside the insult of irving's drive-by descriptions.

objection the second: despite his stated interest in writing about writing, irving doesn't appear especially invested in the details of his fiction writer's development. daniel's primary talent is his ability to churn out "fictional" treatments of his own shortcomings; he makes millions by novelizing injun jane's murder, his cousin's impregnation and subsequent abortion, his neglected infant son's endangerment, and so on ("[a]ll writers must know how to distance themselves, to detach themselves from this and that emotional moment, and [daniel] could do this--even at twelve." congratulations, daniel! you're a sociopath!). we know he's good because...well, because irving's narrator tells us so. a treatment of his abortion novel wins the 2000 academy award for best adapted screenplay and everything (as irving's jack burns does in 1999 in until i find you, and as irving himself did for the cider house rules in 1999, and sometimes i fantasized about putting the book down and standing on my head until consciousness was a memory of a memory).

objection the third: irving's pseudo-homeric epithets (danny's father is always the limping cook, the mother of his child is always the callahan whore, six-pack pam is always, well, six-pack pam), he's not constrained by meter (does he feel constrained by anything at this point?), and he hardly needs a mnemonic to transmit his story (though that would be a great punishment, to force him to chant one of his novels), and epic poetry this isn't:
As for the river, it just kept moving, as rivers do--as rivers do. Under the logs, the body of the young Canadian moved with the river, which jostled him to and fro--to and fro. If, at this moment in time, Twisted River also appeared restless, even impatient, maybe the river itself wanted the boy's body to move on, too--move on, too.
i could have set the book down against the wall, reader, the blood would have rushed to my head with a roar, and sweet darkness would have supplanted the bizarro-heroic couplets - i considered it frequently.

VICTOR: while i'm tempted to say that i'd like to see johnson face irving in person, the latter was a wrestler and the former was a heroin addict; it mightn't be pretty. let's say instead that in thundertome, at least, tree of smoke freckles the arena with last night in twisted river.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 which irving novels, if any, have you read? which, if any, did you like?

02 do you find it annoying that irving can't stop talking about screenplay oscars?

03 what would your homeric epithet be?

04 what am i missing about john irving? i like you, and some of you like him, and - help me.

*previous battle here.

**it's true! right before moving here i saw three at once.


101 in 1001 {II}: 066 take a photo every day for a year [completed 08.05.10]

truth be told, i was carrying my camera with me at all times long before i started my year of photos last august; i've been trying to earn it since joe gave it to me two years ago. he's always been a thoughtful gift-giver, but that gift was on a different order of magnitude - both a testament to how well he knows me (my camera is small and sly, so i can have it with me everywhere and be ready to take a picture in seconds, but it's also lightning-fast and thrives in low light - which is, of course, the best light) and a vote of confidence, the activation energy i needed to jump in the street, interact with strangers, put my own pictures on the wall. a few months ago, i was at an industry event with jacques torres; he made a beeline for my camera case and plucked it from the table in front of me. "it's wonderful," he cried, "a chocolate camera!" not a bad way of putting it.

while i do think i've become a better photographer in the past year, taking this particular family of pictures wasn't about learning to see, nor was it about learning to present. though i've sat back and admired the photoset's growing array of thumbnails with smaugish satisfaction - treasure! - what i've wanted all along is an agate slice, or an ice core. this set includes the last photo of jude, and our last night at our local in hell's kitchen, and the keys to our apartment an hour after we began to own it, and david lynch, and bedhead, and wonderful and terrible food, and the first time steve and chuck fell asleep together, and me in a bikini in public, and mari at the bridal salon as she bought her wedding dress, and times square, and graveyards, and our home, our home, our home. i approached the very last picture with a seriousness normally reserved for writers ending epic network television shows, and i tried to talk joe into a version of american gothic with two cats instead of a pitchfork or maybe overalls - but i'm no good at staging. we are what we are.

day 365: same as it ever was



day 361: greenmarket okra

101 in 1001 {II}: 038 cook with 12 ingredients I’ve never used before [ongoing]

11: okra. long ago when the earth was flat, a relative of mine made some sort of fried okra with cornmeal. this relative is known for many things, god love her, none of which involve crowd-pleasing cooking (though one does involve grits in a non-culinary way), so the fact that that dish was absolutely delicious has stayed with me for decades. that okra only comes up these days in the context of 1) gumbo or 2) how it is acutely slimy and therefore tricky to prepare doesn't really recommend it, but there it was at the greenmarket, and i apparently had a secret urge to smuggle a bag of okra into my friend's wedding dress fitting/purchase, so: okra! also i sure do enjoy frying things.

fried okra

i followed paula deen's recipe (minus the garlic salt in the seasoning), and it was tasty as hell; something alchemically fabulous happens when one dredges okra slices in buttermilk, and they complemented the seasoned cornmeal-flour mixture wonderfully. i fried quickly in teeny batches in a small saucepan (so i was only ever working with, say, two cups of hot oil), and the apartment, ventilated aggressively, never stank; bonus! in the absence of a dip suggestion (thanks for nothing, deen), i mixed sour cream and mayo with chopped chives, sriracha, pimenton, salt, and pepper; also tasty as hell. will be preparing more okra as soon as is socially plausible.



SURVIVOR: tree of smoke (denis johnson)*
CHALLENGER: number9dream (david mitchell)

if david mitchell hasn't yet sent james wood a spectacular fruit basket for his recent new yorker profile, he should get on that.
Lavishly talented as both a storyteller and a prose stylist, [David Mitchell] is notable for his skill and his fertility. Without annoying zaniness or exaggeration, he is nevertheless an artist of surplus: he seems to have more stories than he quite knows what to do with, and he ranges across a remarkable variety of genres—conventional historical fiction, dystopian sci-fi, literary farce.


This is the opposite of the weak postmodernism of a writer like Paul Auster, whose moments of metafictional self-consciousness—“Look, it’s all made up!”—are weightless, because the fictions themselves have failed to achieve substance: a diet going on a diet.
"the opposite...of paul auster" is a provocative phrase; by the time i finished the piece and started calling around to secure a copy of mitchell's black swan green (his semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel), his back catalog was sold out all over the city. the lincoln center barnes and noble** claimed to have a copy of number9dream (the 'dystopian sci-fi' woods mentions), so i scooted uptown on my lunch break and made it mine. i wasn't actively looking for a shimmering summer book to counteract denis johnson's tree of smoke, but i found one.

number9dream is mitchell's version of a murakami novel; the title's a john lennon song (see: norwegian wood), the 'goatwriter' character that appears in a story within the story recalls murakami's sheep man (see: a wild sheep chase and dance dance dance), and an absent woman, food, and a cat are featured players (take your pick; i'm guessing even murakami's grocery lists include absent women and cats). i read this as explicit homage rather than pickpocketing: mitchell actually mentions murakami's wind-up bird chronicle, and at one point his main character, eiji miyake, plans to defend himself from yakuza operatives with "a three-ton, three-volume set of a critical review of the japanese "i" novel." nineteen-year-old eiji has come to tokyo from yakushima to track down his father (a businessman, or maybe a politician or a crime lord, who had an affair with his mother and disappeared), work various colorful low-paying jobs (at the lost-and-found office in ueno, a video store, and an all-night pizza joint), and have fantastic dreams; technicolor paragraphs ensue.
I emerge into a library-study with the highest book-population density I have seen in my life. Book walls, book towers, book avenues, book side-streets. Book spillages, book rubble. Paperback books, hardcover books, atlases, manuals, almanacs. Nine lifetimes of books. Enough books to build an igloo in, and then to hide the igloo. The room is sentient with books. Mirrors double and cube the books. A Great Wall of China quantity of books. Enough books to make me wonder if I am a book too.


Pithecanthropus readied himself to defend his friend, but the hellhounds turned and bounded away over the blank margins until they were but blots on the wizened horizon. "Well!" exclaimed Mrs. Comb. She then recalled that she was nesting in the arms of an extinct biped. "Put me down this very instant, you muckster!"


"People want their comic strips and bedtime stories. Look...a dragonfly. The old poet-monks used to know what week of what month it was, just by the color and sheen of dragonflies'--how'dyacall'em?--fuselages."


I smoke one, two, three. The cloud atlas turns its pages over. Crows dissect a pile of trash. Tokyo is the color of a dirty eraser.
literary ventriloquism has its drawbacks; Writing Like Murakami, even when one does it very, very well, means giving us constant reminders that we're reading fiction. mitchell counteracts that buzzkill by making his characters more forthcoming than murakami's; because eiji's emotions feel real, it matters less that he himself is awfully implausible. number9dream isn't a perfect book, but it's a wonderful one; i finally did get my hands on a copy of black swan green, and i can't wait to get started on it.

VICTOR: mitchell's fancy footwork at the expense of lethal force leaves him vulnerable. tree of smoke thugs on.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 has a hot literary profile ever shoved you out the door to hunt an author down?

02 what's your take on murakami?

03 extended dream sequences: refreshing or annoying?

04 have you read anything fantastically summery lately?

*previous battle here.

**while i do most of my shopping at independent bookstores, the local blood bank sent me a b&n gift card; i'm only human.