I’m re-reading Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City for one of the book groups I’m in, and I figured it might make sense to delve into Kevin Avery’s biography of Paul Nelson, Everything Is An Afterthought. (Robert Christgau points out in his review of Avery’s book that Nelson was the inspiration for Chronic City‘s Perkus Tooth.) So far, I’m through the first part of Nelson’s book — the biography takes up about 180 pages, and is followed by a collection of Nelson’s criticism. Highly recommended so far, though also heartbreaking, frustrating, sometimes triumphant, sometimes maddening.
Another Christmas finds me in scenic New Jersey, along with family, beagles, and a pair of Krampuses hanging from the tree. My reading material: Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (shades of years ago, where I’m pretty sure Needful Things was my Christmastime reading.) Here’s hoping the holiday season finds you well.
Two more 2011 lists for your consideration, both at Vol.1: my favorite 2011 books read in 2011, and my favorite non-2011 books read in 2011. In-depth thoughts on both are at the links, but here are the lists:
Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (Scribner)
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Little, Brown and Company)
Vanessa Veselka, Zazen (Red Lemonade)
Justin Taylor, The Gospel of Anarchy (Harper Perennial)
Colson Whitehead, Zone One (Doubleday)
Nathan Larson, The Dewey Decimal System (Akashic)
Ellen Willis: Out of the Vinyl Deeps (University of Minnesota Press)
Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (Greywolf)
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (Farrar Strauss & Giroux)
Jeff Sharlet, Sweet Heaven When I Die (W.W. Norton)
Lisa Wells, Yeah. No. Totally. (Perfect Day Publishing)
John Williams, Stoner (NYRB Classics)
Alexander Chee, Edinburgh (Picador)
Barbara Comyns, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (The Dorothy Project)
Bruce Chatwin, On the Black Hill (Penguin)
Dennis Cooper, The Sluts (Da Capo)
Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn (Grove Press)
Michael Kimball, Us (Tyrant Books)
Michael Kimball, Dear Everybody (Alma Books)
Rick Moody, The Four Fingers of Death (Back Bay Books)
Paul Harding, Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press)
Anne Carson, Nox (New Directions)
As promised: here are a few more year-end lists from me.
And at Big Other, I talk about some of my favorite live music of 2011.
I hadn’t realized that a pair of Three Mile Pilot albums had been reissued on vinyl by Hi-Speed Soul until I found myself browsing through the “T” section at Generation earlier this week. And now I know, and have duly purchased Chief Assassin of the Sinister.
I also picked up Temporary Residence’s Bitch Magnet collection the other week at Sound Fix, and am slowly making my way through that. I’ll admit that I’d known of the group primarily as Sooyoung Park’s pre-Seam band; so far, I’m enjoying exploring their discography, which is heading to some unexpected places. (It’s also prompting me to revisit Seam’s body of work, which is never a bad thing.)
So hey, the year 2011 is nearing its end, which tends to mean that it’s time to muse on the year’s artistic offerings in concise form. In other words: there will be year-end lists. And so: here are a few of mine, with more to come. (I’ll have a couple of pieces up at Vol.1 in the next week, along with some thoughts on noteworthy live music at Big Other. Links will be posted as the pieces appear.) For now, here are two:
My ten favorite albums, along with some thoughts on the year in music, are now listed at Dusted.
And I contributed to a list of literary gift ideas at The Contextual Life, along with a number of notably NY-area lit folks.
At Joyland, I have a new short story up, titled “An Old Songwriter’s Trick.” This is how it begins:
The week Owen left New York was one of sweltering humidity reaching down to enrapture us, swaddle us, leave us all reaching for insufficient comfort. We assumed Owen was alone in the task of loading a truck, of carting boxes and disassembled furniture down flights of stairs and into a double-parked van. It was a week of sweat-stained shirts, of dodging brownouts, of foregone conclusions about the city and about what constituted comfort demolished. Owen was leaving us, and few among us were sad to see him go.
Keen-eyed readers may notice that it shares a character with another story of mine, “Dulcimers Played, Strings Played.” That is not coincidence; essentially, this story originally began its life as a sort of prelude to something much longer I’d like to write. As part of it, I needed to explain how one particular character ended up in a particular place; from there, this story arose. The longer work is as yet unwritten (as a couple of my favorite novels from this year may have rendered the concept moot); we’ll see, I suppose.
(Also: immense thanks to Brian at Joyland for running the story.)
I’ve been a fan of the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson since around the time I heard his 2004 album Virðulegu Forsetar, a magnificent work that slowly unfolds from burgeoning drone to expansive bliss. And more recently, I’ve been listening semi-obsessively to a piece called “The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World,” which comes from his soundtrack to a film called The Miners’ Hymns.
All of this is preface to say that I chatted with Jóhannsson for The Rumpus via email over the course of a few months, and the end result is now online.
While in New Jersey over the weekend, I ran a 5K. (I’m #225, which — oddly enough — is the number of the house I grew up in.) Here’s what I looked like before running it:
The upside: this was my first time running as part of a larger group, and I didn’t panic/lose my pace/etc. The downside: somewhere along the way, I seem to have stepped on a lumpy section of road and bruised the underside of my foot, which has prompted some fairly amusing-to-the-eye hobbling in the last 36-odd hours. (Thankfully, this has begun to subside.) On to the next one, wherever that might be…
Ah, late November. Soon I’ll be off to pay a visit to the county from which I came. Last year, I did some exploration and revisiting of old haunts. This year, I’m less sure of what to expect — maybe another trip to the River Road Bookstore; maybe some trips on Jersey roads to the west. Nothing is set as of yet…
Thinking out loud a bit here. A couple of weeks ago, a story of mine called “The Clutch” turned up on Vol.1. It’s a weird story, and the story of how it came to exist is (possibly) relevant: I wrote it for a reading that was part of a genre-themed series. My night’s theme was horror, and thus a horror story is what came up.
Except…it’s not really a proper horror story. It nurtures a particular image and setting that, by story’s end, eventually become horrific, but — this is more in the realm of things that unsettle me than things that will necessarily terrify audiences worldwide. It’s an image that I’ve had in my head for years now: seven or eight years ago, there was a particularly hot summer, and I’d walk to the subway after long nights at work and pass these clumps of trash bags that were just left there to fester, and I’d wonder; I’d start to see things emerging from them, and then I’d creep myself out and get onto the subway and try really hard to avoid thinking of the things now lurking around my subconscious.
(There’s an old story of mine somewhere with a similar payoff; a sinister buildup to an impossible image. Maybe I’ll post it somewhere; might make for interesting reading…)
I have a weird relationship with realism. A lot of the fiction I’ve done lately has been pretty straightforward. And yet: a lot of the writing that I first did when I was ushering myself into the process of writing fiction was much more surreal. Weird fiction or “slipstream” or something similar. Some of that’s just due to my reading habits: my bookshelves have a fair amount of realist fiction on them, but there’s a fair share of science fiction and horror and magic realism in there as well. But I also find it interesting that, after detouring around the weird for a while, I seem to find myself drawn back to it — the last story I finished opens in a fairly realistic vein and then takes a detour into the…if not the impossible, at least the unlikely.
Or maybe it’s just that I’m reminded that one can tweak things like realism on the page; that a story that opens in one mode doesn’t necessarily have to stay in that same mode for the duration. (Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm, which I just finished, is something of a master class in this — just when you think you know where it’s going, the narrator pulls things to a stop and resets the terms under which you hear his story.)
If nothing else, that renewed attraction to all things weird might help explain where parts of my head were when I wrote some of the dialogue in this story….
A few months ago, I wrote a short horror story for a night of genre-inspired works at Blue Angel Wines in Williamsburg. That story, “The Clutch,” has wound up on Vol.1, as it seemed strange not to have a story that wasn’t somewhat creepy up around Halloween.
By the third morning, the air’s density had grown: sweat sprouted from Dalton’s chest and shoulders as soon as he rose to street level and began his westward walk. Ten steps down the block, he saw the bags again, grey plastic taut in places, slack and crumpled in others. Their shapes, he saw, had come to rest on one another; had come to compress and support themselves.
You can read the whole thing here. I’ll be back later in the week with some thoughts on this story and something else that’s in the works, and What It All Means. (Or something.)
And sometimes you figure: hey, maybe it’s time to clean things up a little. In this case “clean things up” means “try out a new blog design.” Welcome, Typo-o-graphy.
One week to go until I turn 35. Should be an interesting one.
Headed to New Orleans this morning to take in the engagement party of two fine people. It’ll be my first time in the city; very curious to see how the trip goes. Plans include the eating of beignet and my usual “I am in a new city; I must visit a bookstore” agenda. So hey.
Chances are good that some dispatches, and the occasional photo, will show up on Twitter.
Somewhat randomly: here are three reviews that appeared recently on Dusted. All are for albums that I would recommend.
Sound Kapital never quite settles into a comfortable pattern of pop. The first 15 seconds of opener “When I Get Back” feature slightly distorted vocals over a skeletal beat. Though it eventually settles into a more established dancefloor configuration, those first moments are intentionally jarring, the lines “When I get back home / I won’t be the same no more” serving as the album’s thesis statement.
These are songs designed to be played in an archetypal car with its windows down, engine floored as it heads down the interstate. On the other hand, there’s a blissful quality — less psychedelic and more coming from the ambient/drone side of things. It’s not dissimilar to the devastatingly subtle boundary-ebbings practiced by the likes of Marissa Nadler and Sharon Van Etten.
Unlike The Dead Texan, which flirted very loosely (and effectively) with pop structures, the seven pieces here are more impressionistic; while there are structures in place, the overall effect is one of contrasts, of quieter sections giving way to the presence of a host of instruments.