December 28, 2006
I have summarized my response to Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children into one sentence: If I ever met any of the characters at a dinner party, I would have to get so drunk that my facial muscles were immobilized in order to keep from rolling my eyes at everything they said.
I have also summarized the Slate Book Club's response to The Emperor's Children to one sentence, uttered by Katie Roiphe: "This is really just my generation."
It's so good to hear that while I was away, "generation" was redefined as socioeconomic class/New York City zip code.
Yellow Bile. Rising. Oh, it's good to be back.
December 27, 2006
Hello from the Southern Hemisphere. I am breaking my vacation (or what's left of it -- I'll be back in Chicago in two days) to let you know that Virginia Quarterly Review has put up an essay from their Winter 2007 issue. On December 26, a gas line exploded in Lagos, Nigeria, as a result of illegal bunkering of the line. For VQR, John Ghazvinian writes about the struggle over Nigeria's oil supply and the illegal bunkering activities that continually result in deaths and explosions. It's a remarkable essay, and everyone should read it. It's not like you're working this week anyway.
December 25, 2006
Happy birthday! And thanks for keeping an eye out for me when I escaped the Born Agains of my childhood and later when I needed some inspiration at Waspy boarding school where, as I'm sure you recall, the klepto bulimics from Greenwich were so much more Beelzebubby than Satan himself.
I hope you had an okay year despite our disgusting proto-fascist government committing crimes against humanity in your name (although to be sure, if anyone has seen worse, you have). I hope everything in Heaven and the other dimensions you visited was fun for you, Mrs. Jesus, Mithra, Karl Jung, Osiris, Apollo, Octavia Butler, and whoever else ran in your crew in 2006.
I know we haven't been chatting much since the eighties, but if you, Jesus, had a hand in my own spiritual growth this year, especially the part about getting used to and emotionally over the nasty sexism in the work world, then thanks. I'm grateful that I get to understand how entrenched this all is, how stubborn, yet still be happy in my work to counter it.
I know I'm supposed to go to Santa for this--it seems ridiculously unfair to ask you for a present on your birthday--but I have a request. (Ask and ye shall receive, of course, and I will say this policy has never let me down):
Do you think you could arrange the heads up for converted Catholic, viciously anti-choice Dawn Eden, author of this new memoir The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, about how the Catholic doctrine on women, sex, birth control, and your own celibacy were manufactured for extremely crass and usually violent political and economic reasons long after your death and have nothing to do with spirituality, love, self-worth, or belief? Maybe send her some Elaine Pagels off amazon or something? I know a quick e-card is extremely tempting in this case, but coming from you--I think the Pagels might have some weight. If not that, maybe this box set would be a start.
Despite her reactionary politics, I think it's possible that Eden truly understands that you live in everybody's heart. So I ask with my own heart open:
Could you explain it to her that--whether she's married or not--you also live in her pussy?
December 22, 2006
This Is the Order of My List that It's in
This is my last guestblogging post at Bookslut; I'd like to thank everyone for reading and emailing me. Thank you! If you liked what I did, you can continue to read me here, tell the higher-ups at the site that you liked me, or Also, email me. Thank you!
When it comes to purposeless human endeavors ("art is that which exists only for itself" -- Jonathan Safran Foer), I have to budget my time. Only so many years to enjoy everything. Here's my "order of my list that it's in" (Eminem - 'Til I Collapse):
3. visual art
5. theater, dance, etc.
I've found it incredibly helpful to obey this list. When I read a magazine, I go for what's on top and basically skip #5. Keeps me focused on the art that makes me a living.
Last night I couldn't sleep. I ate a great meal but somehow I was still hungry and I tossed and turned, kept waking up and checking my watch and finding it much too late/early for any eateries to be open in Milan. In this fevered state, I began dreaming.
I hardly ever dream, or at least I don't remember them. I NEVER have sexual dreams. Usually the only time I have a dream that I recall is when I nap in the afternoon. But last night I had a vivid, crazy dream, and not a lucid one either -- I didn't know this one was a dream until I decided it was at the end and woke up.
The dream concerned food, naturally. I had just visited a school to talk about my writing and, upon leaving, I had an an intense need for Taco Bell. The recent e. coli outbreak didn't concern me, nor did the fact that once, when I went to a Taco Bell drive-thru in New Jersey, I was told through the loudspeaker that I couldn't get a burrito because "the meat pump is broken."
I searched and searched for the Taco Bell logo under elevated train tracks; I was in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Finally I found an outlet, but when I walked in it wasn't there; then I realized that it was one of those Taco Bell Expresses nestled in a different fast food chain. I went up to the counter and placed my order, famished.
Now, for some reason this Taco Bell had a Chipotle-type menu where you picked individual ingredients and constructed your burrito. But in this one, you could only select different kinds of beans. The options were:
- refried beans
- red beans
- Boston-style baked beans with franks
I picked the franks-and-beans and was suprised to see contemporary poet Thaddeus Rutkowski behind the counter. I feel bad about this because Thad is a friend and an immense talent and there's no reason that he would ever be working in Taco Bell, but that's how my brain was wired last night. He took my order but then things started to go horribly wrong.
There were two other people behind the counter -- a red-haired Irish guy and a Hispanic girl. The Irish guy was hitting on the boriqua mercilessly and thus was entirely ignorant of my need to have my burrito constructed with alacrity, celerity, and speed. When I pestered him, he got mad.
"Do you want any food at all, or are you going to be a dick?" he asked.
"No, please, I'm fine, sir. I don't mean any trouble. Please, I'm just hungry."
"Well you're going to have to wait."
And wait I did. The Irish guy and Hispanic girl started making out. Thad came over and was very rude to me -- sorry Thad, I know you're not rude in real life. I was told that Taco Bell had plenty of customers and I wasn't better than anyone else. I stood aside as customer after customer (mostly older black women) completed their orders and went to their tables with delicious food from the meat pump. I felt like that staple guy from Office Space when we was denied cake at that party.
Eventually I couldn't take it; I left the Taco Bell looking for something else, anything, but it was all closed. Thad & co. hit their lunch break and locked up their establishment for a few hours; they followed me as I searched for food and tormented me.
"You still hungry?" Thad asked.
"You can test out my meat pump if you like," the Irish guy said.
"You're stupid," the Hispanic girl said.
We ended up sitting somewhere -- they ate lunch, I didn't, I think we were at a little Scottish restaurant.
When we finished up, I followed them back to Taco Bell -- I still wanted only a burrito. But when we got there, Thaddeus told me:
"You know, it's dinner time now. The whole menu switches up."
At this point, my lucid brain kicked in. "This is a fucking dream," I told myself, and I woke up, took a shower, found a coffee place that was open at 6am, and had the best damn chocolate crossaint of my life.
Now, that probably didn't interest you all that much. Bill Maher once said, "Nobody wants to hear about your dreams. That's why they play in exclusive engagements in your head." But to connect it with my #1 art form, I woke up determined to write the dream up as a short story. All I needed was a non-this-is-just-a-dream ending, and I think I found one:
The protagonist eats the Taco Bell servers.
So now I have the first sentence of this short tale:
"It had been a bad day and it was only going to get worse, becuase I wanted something specific."
And I have the last:
"Sometimes, you just have to take what's in your face."
I don't do a lot of thinking about my "creative process;" I think its a confining term. Why have just one? I've only tried to write up a dream two or three times, and I've never tried to do short fiction by coming up with a beginning and ending sentence and then filling in the middle. If you're trying to write, I wouldn't recommend a specific creative process, just as I would caution against a "special pen" or a "special space." Do everything you can everywhere you can however you can.
To wrap things up here, I'd like to throw out some shout-outs:
- Whoa! Transformers movie trailer! I always thought Transformers as a dumb-ass show (notice that television isn't in my art list anywhere), but it's Spielberg. I also like how they do the date at the end.
- You go girl! NYC performance artist Jessy Delfino has been denounced by the Catholic League!
- Haruki Murakami comes from money. I suppose it's not that much of a suprise, and I don't see why it's that important. I loved Wind-Up Bird Chronicle like every other hipster. (I'm in my 20s and in Brooklyn; that makes me a hipster; perhaps I'm the only one who will admit up to it.) I love how he pulls you in with that phone sex in the beginning and then doesn't have any sex for about 500 pages. This strategy worked for Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon as well, with hot G.I. Filipino sex at the start and then nothing for 700 pages, until the protagonist FINALLY hits the woman he's been developing sexual tension with for the entire book. And when it happens, in the driver's seat of jeep in the Sumatran jungle, Mr. Stephenson delivers my second-favorite sex-related sentence of all time:
"Then he pumps something like an Imperial pint of semen into her."
An imperial pint. [Thanks to Lev Grossman for correcting my original paraphrase.]
(I think Homer has the BEST sex-related quote: "And then they reveled and rested softly, side by side." It's the epithet that gets thrown out there whenever Odysseus bangs someone.)
- Big ups to Vincent Gallo! He's prostituting himself for $50,000 per day! Always dug his quotes as well.
- Debut author Nick Antosca's novel Fires is out 12/31/06 on Impetus Press, a new indie publishing house out of Iowa. What I like about Nick is that he's shooting for the big game right off of the bat -- Fitzgerald-like prose, beautiful sentences. A sunset is described as looking like "blood on a griddle."
That's it, guys! Thanks for reading, Happy Holidays, and have a great 2007! Thank you for supporting Bookslut.
December 21, 2006
Bidets and Broken Toes
I'm pretty well adjusted to the time difference in Milan now, which means that I can guestblog this stuff at a reasonable hour (it's 8:46am here) and have it show up quite early in the States. Are there people who intentionally blog at 12:01am so that their entries look more current? There have to be.
Sometimes I've thought I should move to an island in the South Pacific so that I can be 12 or 13 hours ahead of New York time. It would prove very helpful for my career, with deadlines and whatnot. I'd be kind of like a superhero -- Time Man. Maybe they'd put me on that show with the Chinese guy.
So I'm in Europe, and they have bidets. Yesterday I used one for the first time I can remember (I have a shady recollection of encountering one as a toddler, like it attacked me or something) and I'm not sure if it worked.
I definitely needed it. That Milanese sushi I had the first night I was here did not treat me well, and the next afternoon I took a shit and it made popping noises coming out of me, a new and utterly terrifying gastrointestinal development. I got finished and went to the bidet.
Now, I thought that these things shot water up and into your ass, but this one had the water come out like a faucet; I guessed that I was supposed to sit down and let it thread my cheeks and then soak in it for a minute or two. Thing is, as soon as the water hit me it triggered some previously unexplored urogential connection and I peed in the bidet. So then I was sitting in a pool of my own urine.
This worried me becuase I've read that the #1 way people get sick from bathrooms is by flushing while on the toilet, like if you've already filled the bowl with with toilet paper and you need to clear it out before getting more. When you flush while you sit, some spray unavoidably hits your butthole, and that's when bacteria can climb inside.
So I got up quickly and flushed, but now, a day later, I feel pretty ill. Always humbling to have bathroom mishaps, always cuts to the bone.
Speaking of cuts, I also woke up today and stumbled out of bed (I was trying to see if it was light out yet) and stubbed my toe on my suitcase. It was my little toe, and it was one of those bad stubs with the blood under the toenail. I got back in bed and writhed a little and thought about the last time I stubbed my toe, on the streets of the Lower East Side 2.5 years ago.
It had been a great night. I was leaving 151 Rivington, a lethal, basement-level spot, feeling excellent. The world was a good place to be and I was lucky to be there. I was feeling so good, I decided to kick an empty beer bottle from the sidewalk into the street. I spotted it about a half-block away and thought:
"I will kick you into the street."
I did; it sailed in a decent arc and skidded under an approaching cab. I think the cabbie yelled at me but I wasn't paying attention because I was too busy hopping up and down because when I kicked the bottle I ALSO KICKED A METAL FENCE.
It was a funny kind of pain; I laughed and clutched my shoe. "Oh Jesus," I was saying. "Jesus --" laughter "-- I think I really hurt myself. Wow. Damn. Jeez."
I hobbled to my bike and during that short walk it became clear that this wasn't really a funny situation. I started thinking that the kind of pain I was experiencing through my buzz could only mean that I had broken my toe, and I knew that doctors didn't do anything for broken toes but tell you to keep off them and possibly prescribe painkillers.
A wonderful thing happened next, though. As I was unchaining my bike and wondering how the hell I was going to get home pedaling with faulty equipment, a young woman bounced out of The Magician and bumped into me. We looked at each other -- I don't remember if she was pretty or not, and honestly, I don't think I knew at the time either -- and had a connection. And she didn't just have the normal enticing female equipment -- she also had a car.
It was her last day in New York before decamping for law school in North Carolina and she was up for some adventure, plus we lived in the same 'hood in Brooklyn, so she pulled her vehicle around, put my bike in the back, and brought me home.
The next morning, I thanked God for the fact that we were in Park Slope, which actually is a slope, and that she lived at the top while I lived at the bottom. I coasted down the hill, sparing my toe, and slept it off until the afternoon.
When I got up, I looked at my toe and saw a new curve to it. Only now, that I'm thinking about it, do I realize that it no longer pains me. For more than two years it hurt if I stood on it wrong or pulled at it or anything. Now it's finally cured, and I've got the pinky toe to worry about.
(I've noticed that the link below opens up an email with a blank email address. If you want to email me I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
December 20, 2006
The Jackson Pollis, Drumming, Near-, Neo-Celebrity Saga
I like doing this guestblogging from Milan. I'm six hours ahead of NYC over here, seven hours ahead of Chicago, where we all know Bookslut resides. That means I can wake up at 2pm, like I did today, and still get in one of my LONG-ASS ENTRIES at a reasonable hour.
Blogs fascinate me. They make things pretty interesting for us writers who try and make $$$ doing what we do. See, for a while (3000 years), we thought that we were pretty special, that we offered something to the world that had a little bit of value. Now, all of a sudden, everyone can do what we do, and there's much more of a meritocracy than before. I'm looking forward to the academic criticism of blogs, to a time when they're given serious analysis -- maybe in ten years or so.
One thing's for sure: when the history of blogs gets written, Gawker will be at the forefront. It's the only blog that my agent reads every day and it's the first thing I turn to when I open my Bloglines. In addition to reading it, I'm always trying to get the site to list my readings, because I want people to come to my readings.
Luckily, over the years, I've learned the proper way to pester a media entity to try and get it to list/review/support my work. You have to be honest and you have to be helpful. With the New York Times, I emailed an editor every few months for four years trying to get her to review my books. Then, when she needed someone to review a new YA novel (the terrific Tyrell), I was there for her. And now the Times hooks me up. So I need to take a similar strategy with Gawker.
I have a small head start in that I know someone who works there: we'll call her Gawker Lady. She's young and witty and smart and quite attractive. (No, wait, pretty; I once called a girl attractive on a date and she told me: "Real estate is attractive, Ned -- I'm pretty.") This past weekend, I was given my first chance to be helpful to her, and it turned into quite the tale.
My opportunity came in the form of a young DJ named Jackson Pollis. In the past few weeks, Gawker has given him a lot of coverage because he's part of the MisShapes DJ/party collective; he's become sort of the Gawker "It Boy."
Now, I spoke two days ago about how I don't want to be famous. But I love being around famous people. I'm fascinated by the way they operate, by how when they are in the room they are really two people -- the person standing before you and the person who lives in the media sphere that increasingly occupies your time and brainpower. They are like double-people; they really do have a sheen to them; I really do think that they're better than you and me.
So I was thrilled, naturally, when I went to a party this past Friday and Pollis came in.
Above and beyond his burgeoning celebrity status, I love this Pollis kid because I respect his look. It seems that Bookslut blogging ettiquite disallows picture posting, so I encourage you to click the guy's name above and look at him -- he has cleverly combined Kurt Cobain's hair and Rivers Cuomo's glasses and thrown in a little Warhol too to make something new. He's one of two men (the other being Iggy Pop) whose sexiness I understand.
By the way, I've only kissed one guy in my life. It happened at a party; the party was thrown in Manhattan by a band called The Secret Machines. I found myself on the roof in a hammock with two girls and a guy. I wanted the girls to kiss, but they told me they would only kiss if I kissed the guy.
He was a rocker/emo/hipster-looking young man; he seemed genial enough. I looked at him and shrugged and he shrugged back. We moved our faces together and right away two things were clear:
- We were both straight.
- It was both of our first times.
We circled our scared tongues around one another with mutual revulsion. We knew that we would have to keep it up for a few seconds to satisfy the girls. I have heard from many girls that boys kissing is hot; I didn't want to disappoint. But there wasn't any lip action; there were only extended tongues in the cold air spiraling with a minimum of contact.
We pulled apart.
"Well, I guess I'm straight," I told the guy.
The girls kissed next and it was hot. Then we all tried to kiss one another -- a four-way -- but our foreheads ended up getting much more acquainted than our mouths.
So I knew I had to get a picture of Pollis or something for Gawker. Luckiy, he was there to play drums in his band, Frankpollis. As he started, I crouched down with my CVS disposable digital video camera. (I LOVE THIS THING. Best consumer electronic since the iPod.)
I had only 45 seconds left on the camera -- how blessed am I? -- and I used them well. I got footage of Pollis playing and 15 seconds in, one of his cymbals fell on his head. It was perfect. A friend lifted it up and he kept rocking; he was a pretty good drummer.
So now I had a clip of Gawker's It Boy getting attacked by drum equipment; this was PERFECT for Gawker Lady.
The next day I paid my DVD-savvy friend $100 cash to rip the video and edit it down to the ideal 15 seconds. (An old friend of mine told me that today there are two units of content: 15 seconds and 45 seconds. "And for long-form media, it's fifteen minutes and forty-five mintues; that's why movies are dying.") I brought it out that night for Gawker Lady, who was at a bar.
Now, when I walked in, she was talking, unbelievably, to two guys from my high school whom I had not seen in years. One of them went on to be an award-winning, well-read, single-guy-in-NYC blogger; his name is Larry and he's at This Is What We Do Now. In a pause in her conversation, Gawker Lady came up to me, and I told her:
"Don't talk to those guys. I went to high school with them, they're total scumbags."
"Uh, that's one of my best friends, Larry," she said, and turned on her heels and walked away.
Okay. So now I had a problem. I had been joking, of course -- the guys never really gave me any problems in high school. I had been trying to participate in a New York tradition, an Italian tradition -- I am nominally Italian -- "busting balls." You know, busting balls! Giving a guy a hard time! Talkin' some guff!
Problem is, I can't do busting balls. I'm very good at having my own balls busted, happens all the time. But when I try to do it to others, I always get misinterpreted and come out looking like a dick.
I went up to my friends from high school and told them what happened.
"We know," one of them said. "[Gawker Lady] came and told us as soon as you said it."
"Yeah, I have to explain to her," I said.
"Right, but that might be complicated. Because since she already told us, she might think that you were telling her because we told you, just to save face. Which is what you're actually trying to do anyway."
"I'm hopeless," I said.
But you know what? I got myself together and told her, and she laughed -- "I really thought you meant it," she said. Then I told her that in my bag was a CD-R with Jackson Pollis playing drums and having them fall on his head, and she freaked.
"Oh my Goddddddd!! Are you serious?! Give me give me give me!!!"
I handed it to her.
"[Gawker Lady], this is all you," I said. "On this CD is the only uncompressed video of this incident on the planet, and I want you to have it. I don't want to be credited; I don't want to be linked. I want you to succeed; I want you to edit Gawker one day, and I'll do whatever I can to help."
"Thank you, Ned."
I handed it over. And I felt great. It wasn't just because now I was closer -- maybe -- to having Gawker on my side. It was because this strategy of assistance and honesty with media companies has a wonderful side-effect: you make friends and you help them. It feels pretty damn good.
Well, now it's been three days, and the Jackson Pollis video is nowhere to be found on Gawker. Maybe it was too grainy, or maybe he's no longer Gawker's It Boy; maybe he's been demoted. After all that effort -- and I've skipped plenty of complications -- my grand designs have crashed and burned, like usual. So what the hell; I'll post the Pollis video here, take it for what you will. Looking at it, I think I understand why Gawker didn't use it; it's kind of tough to tell that it's Pollis. Le sigh. But it's him, I assure you.
Enjoy. Tomorrow I'm talking about bidets.
December 19, 2006
Dave Eggers, Michael Crichton and Milan
Thanks everyone for the positive reaction to my first guest post from yesterday. A few of you dedicated yourselves to the noble cause of finding the "It's OK, I Forgot Your Name Too" t-shirt -- which turned out to be so hard to find because it actually says "Don't Worry, I Forgot Your Name Too". Thanks to the reader who found it; I would be promoting his/her blog/novel, but it's not quite ready yet, so I've promised to rain-check it.
(Thank goodness the tipster did not take seriously my "serious $$$" offer.)
I'm in Milan all this week. I didn't intend to be in Milan on this guest-blogging jaunt; when you think about it it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Beautiful city, first time in Italy... the last thing you want to do is worry about getting to a computer every day to put in a post (and thank God I do ONE LONG post instead of short, constant ones -- then I'd be feeding Euros to a kiosk all day). But there's no way around it: I'm here for the holidays to visit my aunt.
Seeing as my last name is Vizzini, it would be natural to assume that my aunt is an Italian matron, but she's from the other side of my family, the WASP side. I have a very transparent heritage:
ALCOHOLIC BLUEBLOOD GREASER WOP
I have been so fascinated by this juxtaposition that I once resolved to write about it using a character named Rocco Cracker. However, I had to abandon him -- no one can empathize with a guy named Rocco Cracker; he's too much of a joke. Wasted about eight months of my life on that one, but that's the name of the game.
Now, somehow, it's my WASP ancestry that's fallen in love with Italy while the real Vizzinis (who are 3rd-generation Sicilians) remain scattered uninterestingly across the US. My aunt came to Milan about a decade ago but like an idiot I haven't visited until now, because New York has Tentacles with Big Suckers on them and when you try to leave an inexplicable bill arrives at your house or your get in a bike accident.
I came out here on an overnight flight; I barely slept on the plane. I kepy myself occupied with two very different new novels:
Now, both those links lead to great reviews (the first is by David Amsden, the second is by John Crace) but they diverge slightly in their assessment of the works considered. Amsden says Eggers "delivers nothing short of genius;" Crace says Crichton "isolates the gene for self-delusion and self-importance."
What is wrong with me that I like both these books?
Eggers first. Never could get through A Heartbreaking Work... (2000). Got to that first page, "Preface," read "It is not necessary to read the preface" or whatever it says, and decided that meant that I didn't need to read the book at all.
A funny thing happened, though, with Eggers' second novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), which Amsden unfairly glosses over as "quiter fiction." You Shall Know Our Velocity is a real book with a real plot:
- A man is reaching for light bulbs in a grocery store.
- Another man yells "Stop!" at him.
- It turns out that the second man runs the light bulb company and thinks that the first man's silhouette -- him reaching for a bulb -- could be the company's perfect new logo.
- The second man pays the first man $80,000 to use him as a logo.
- The first man feels guilty about the money. He resolves to travel around the world in a week and give it all away.
Of course, things get a little heated out there, in Africa, where Eggers returns to so thrillingly in What Is the What, as well as in Russia and Morocco, as the first man and his friend try to give away the eighty grand. I found this novel quite a leap forward from the unreadable first one and I still use little quips from it to impress people.
What Is the What follows the trajectory that Velocity established in hitting us with a quest/escape narrative right from the get-go. There are, in fact, two escapes, one from war-torn Sudan and one from spiritually empty Atlanta, interwoven by hero Valentino Achak Deng.
What Is the What could have about 100 pages lopped off it, but perhaps then it would be too good -- here is a list of what made me weep or have a powerful stomach reaction:
- the hunger-ravaged Sudanese refugee boys swarming over an elephant carcass, plunging into it, and eating the meat raw
- Valentino Achak Deng's love of his girlfriend's glasses; without them, she is too beautiful; only when she has them on can he believe that she's really his
- two teenage Sudanese teens, let loose in a shopping mall for the first time, picking a supermarket's bicycle aisle as the spot for a 40-minute kiss
- an abandoned baby puckering at its mother's dead breast
- boys running after planes looking for food and getting bombs instead
Dave Eggers' work is starting to look like the maturation arc of a repentant hipster, a long walk we can all get behind.
And now, like Doc Gooden: Crichton.
Michael Crichton was my hero when I was 12. I read Jurassic Park (1990) and I read Sphere (1987) and they blew my mind, man. I know I'm not alone in this. When I meet people at parties and they tell me they don't read, I mention those books and their eyes light up. There are a few million scientists and doctors and writers in this country who would never be those things without Herr Crichton's inspiration. But oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Disclosure (1994) we all agreed was good -- hot, even. The Lost World (1995) was a despicable cash cow, but its prequel had been so good -- a mesh of Frankenstein and Moby Dick -- that we could be forgiving. Airframe (1996) lost people, although I loved how it started to take on what has been Crichton's main target for the last ten years: media. Timeline (1999) had a lot of truly junk science and the movie doomed it. Prey (2002) was eerie but also ridiculous. State of Fear (2004) proposed that global warming was a charade and got savaged as a result, but also reached too far, with a mesh of characters dropped into different climates like Lego window displays.
Now, Next puts Chricton straight into the crap/camp pile. Among other things, this book features an escape from a lab with a talking ape. Crichton has pretty much abandoned the idea of "character" -- everyone in the book could be named Man A, Man B, Woman A, Woman B -- and he hasn't done it in the sort of way that could pull sway in an MFA workshop. (I picture him coming in late to the circle -- "I've found out a way to eliminiate the concept of 'character!'")
So why did I look forward to reading Next as a reward for finishing What Is the What? And why am I looking forward to finishing it now? Because there is still stuff Crichton delivers -- STILL -- that you do not get anywhere else. Witness:
- a genetically engineered parrot replaying all of the noises of a husband's affair to his wife, including the bedspring creaks orgasms
- a presentation to a group of advertisers about the concept of "branding nature," breeding fish with the BP logo stamped into them that will compete against non-branded fish until they have eliminated them as a species
- a statutory rapist preparing to go on a cross-country roller-coaster road trip to prove that he has the gene for uninhibited activity that made him fuck the girl
And finally, when that wife discovers that her husband has brought home that talking chimp:
"I don't even want a dog in the house! I'm certainly not going to have an ape!" (paraphrase)
I'm sorry. The old guy still gets me. At this point its too late to expect him to deliver anything GOOD ever again, but at least he can still deliver stuff that reminds me of him. Gooden can't even pull that off.
December 18, 2006
Hello! I Am Ned Vizzini and You Don't Know Me
Hey everyone, I'll be guest-blogging at Bookslut this week. I'm Ned Vizzini and I'm the author of three books -- if you want to see the bio you can click my name; let's just get that out of the way so we can get to the heart of the matter. Suffice to say that when I started writing we didn't have blogs, we had zines, and they cost a dollar and they didn't have contextual advertising.
I've been given free rein from our fearless leader Jessa Crispin to pretty much write what I want (thank you Jessa). What I'm best at writing are LONG-ASS STORIES, so let's get started with a few from this weekend that conveniently share a theme. It's the theme we all love: BEING FAMOUS.
Do you really want to be famous? Really? Read on; let's explore some of the trappings of near-fame, writer-fame, which doesn't count but which is helpful as a litmus test.
So I went to a Hanukah party on Friday night. The party was for Ariel Schrag, a comic-book writer/artist who also writes for The L Word. At Ariel's party, a young lady approached me.
"You don't recognize me?"
Now, I'll be honest here -- I am TERRIBLE at recognizing people. You know how some of us are good with names, and some are good with faces? I am bad with names and faces. I have been looking and looking for this t-shirt I used to see that said "It's OK, I Forgot Your Name Too." It was a big hipster shirt in NY for a while. Now I can't even find it on Google. Let's try eBay.
(I will seriously pay $$$ to someone who can find me this shirt.)
"You don't remember me at ALL?" she continued.
"I'm really sorry, I just, uh..."
"Wow, I can't believe it. You don't recognize me from LiveJournal?"
"Oh!" Okay. This made sense. A reader! I love readers. "What's your LiveJournal name?"
"[LJ name I didn't recognize at all]."
"You still don't know me," she said. "I can't believe you don't know your own LiveJournal fans."
"I'm sorry," I said, "but how am I supposed to recognize you from LiveJournal if I've never seen a picture of you?"
"Well, unlike some of us, I don't judge people based on how they look," she said.
I didn't continue that conversation, but as the party went on, the young lady accosted me a few more times for not recognizing her. And I started to regret that she recognized me. Which is something I've grown into; I guess you could call it maturity if you wanted to be that gracious.
See, when I was a kid, I wanted to be FAMOUS. Ass-nuts famous. David-Cassidy famous. Any kind of famous that would open the legs of pretty girls, basically. I used to watch a lot of Behind the Music; that set a high standard for me. Also, I grew up in the shadow of Wilt Chamberlain's 20,000 women claim. It's tough to overstate how much me and my junior-high friends talked about that. When I found out that the average number of sexual partners a man has during his lifetime is SEVEN (it is now, apparently, 20, but you know people lie on those surveys), I quickly reported to my friends:
"If we do average, we'll only have point oh-three-five percent as many chicks as Wilt!"
That basic view held through high school as I started writing. Once, in one of my English classes, a teacher allowed me to read one of my pieces from New York Press to the assembled students instead of teaching us.
As I read, these girls I'd never even been able to look at were looking at me and smiling and laughing at the parts in the writing I had orchestrated laughter, and when I sat back down, my friend turned to me and said, "You realize right now you could have any girl in the room, right?"
But then, in senior year, I got in some serious trouble with the college I was supposed to go to. I don't know that the statute of limitations is on this stuff, so I'm going to keep it under wraps for now, but suffice to say that for a brief moment, it looked like my name was going to be in the press tied up with some unsavory behavior. And it taught me.
It made my mother cry.
It made her beg me to keep out of trouble because she just couldn't take it, having her son's name in the papers.
It made me remember this hat I had seen on the subway, "Victim of the Press." It made me wonder what they did to him.
So I had kind of an inoculation against fame with this event. And then my first book was published, and then my second. And that didn't make me famous by any means -- I like to tell people that the most famous writer in the world is no more famous than Yo-Yo Ma -- but for the first time, in a bookstore, someone called me out.
"Hey, are you... are you Ned Vizzini?"
She was a kindly older woman, probably someone who came across my work in the library system. A teacher, a school librarian. Not quite the pliant young girls I had imagined watching Behind the Music, but maybe she had a daughter. I should have been thrilled.
"No, no, not me," I said.
She walked away and I couldn't believe myself. Wasn't this what I had been working towards when I wrote? Wasn't this the non-high school version of the English class where I read to the students? This was legitimacy! This was power! This was fame!
But there was something else caught up with what the woman said -- expectation. In recognizing me, she expected me to keep doing what I was doing. To keep writing, to get better, to be a role model, even. And I get scared when people expect things of me. I don't like compliments. Never have. My mom tried to teach me, "Just say thank you, Ned, just say thank you. That's the proper thing to say when people compliment you." But it doesn't quite work. Compliments = expectation. Criticism = instruction. I much prefer the latter.
So, then, being recognized is the ultimate compliment and the ultimate expectation. And once I denied myself to this woman in the bookstore, I saw those visions of David Cassidy and Def Leppard and Wilt melting away. It wasn't fame I wanted. It was success.
So, that brings us back to this weekend and one more small tale. The day after the party with the awkard moment, I had to go to the bank to get a new ATM card. I sat down with the bank employee, gave him my name, and he actually said this to me:
"Ned Vizzini... are you THE Ned Vizzini?"
"Um, probably. The writer?"
"Yes! I loved your book. I went to [a rival high school] and everybody there read about [your high school]."
"Yeah, this is just... this is really cool. I really dug your stuff."
"Just keep doing what you're doing."
He went on to give me my ATM card. It was as pleasant an exchange as could be, nothing like the party scene, but it still freaked me out. I've got to keep writing books for people like the guy at the bank. If I stop, who am I? I can't stop. And I have to keep making them better. And you know what else? Beyond everything else, behind all this therapy-worthy junk I've been pouring into this entry:
GETTING RECOGNIZED IS JUST WEIRD.
It's not normal.
It doesn't happen to most people.
It's kind of like having a goiter.
And we can save rants about celebrity culture for later, but when you think about the writing YOU respect, the books YOU love, doesn't the word "famous" carry a taint? Is Hemingway a famous author? No. (That's why he's not in boldface.) He's a fucking GREAT author.
I'm not going for "famous" anymore. I'm going for "successful." "Great" is the kind of thing you can't go for unless you're a TOTAL douchebag -- other people will determine if you're great, much later, when your corpse doesn't care if you're famous.
December 16, 2006
SATURDAY POSTSCRIPT: Judith Regan has been terminated.
In a brief statement issued late yesterday, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman announced that "Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately." Friedman, whose publishing house is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., added that Regan's Los Angeles-based "publishing program and staff will continue as part of the HarperCollins General Books Group."
December 15, 2006
While we're talking about last words, it's getting to be time for me to say mine in this space. It's been a kick and a half being here this week. Thanks to Jessa for asking me to sit in, and to all of you for sending comments and links.
So have fun with whatever holidays you celebrate, and thanks for reading.
Bonus seasonal quote from a mutual friend:
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
Have you installed your deathswitch yet?
This can only be counted as a literary entry if you file it under "Last Words." I do like the idea of having the final say in an argument, since it happens so rarely in life.
(Via Rodney Welch)
Remember the O.J. book scandal?...The publishing world seems to have forgotten....
The president and chief executive of HarperCollins was one of those responsible for the O.J. fiasco -- she approved the reported $2 million to $3.5 million paid to Mr. Simpson's representatives for his participation. Instead of being chastised for her misreading of the public mood -- not to mention a shocking lapse of taste -- she's being rewarded by the very industry she tainted.
He recalls a hot August night some 25 years ago, when he had $600 in savings after working hard as a bottle washer and bartender in Ocean City during his first summer out of college.
"By 10 a.m. the next morning, I'd lost everything," he says, recounting how he first gambled much of it away on horses at Ocean Downs and then the rest during an all-night poker game. "It may not seem like a lot of money, but at the time, it was huge."
As the Literary Saloon has noted, there has been some fascinating soul-searching going on Down Under--or at least in the pages of The Australian--about the health of Aussie lit, which some perceive to be headed for the endangered-species list. Some good (if depressing) additions in recent days include David Mahlouf's lament on how hard it is for readers to get their hands on home-grown classics:
It is "a national disgrace" that so many Australian novels, from classics to recent Miles Franklin prize-winners, are out of print, says eminent novelist David Malouf.
Malouf, whom many consider to be our finest living writer, said: "There is a large body of what we used to think of as essential reading in Australian literature that is no longer readily available."
Novels that have won the Miles Franklin, the country's most prestigious literary award, but are now out of print include Thea Astley's The Acolyte, David Ireland's The Glass Canoe, Peter Mathers's Trap and Tom Flood's Oceana Fine.
Malouf added that classic works by Randolph Stow, Christina Stead and the poets Douglas Stewart and Francis Webb were also out of print.
And if you thought that indy and university presses were having an easier time making a go of it in the Southern Hemisphere than they are in these parts, this story about the closure of 5-year-old Pandanus Books, overseen by the Australian National University, will make you think again:
Australia's most prominent university presses, the University of Queensland Press and Melbourne University Press, have undergone radical restructures in recent times, including drastic staff cuts. In 2003, MUP shed most of its staff as part of a commercial overhaul; UQP has survived an exodus of senior staff and a $3.5 million debt burden. The ANU's vice-chancellor Ian Chubb said earlier this year the university could no longer afford to subsidise the loss-making Pandanus as it fell outside the core activities of teaching and research. (Chubb did not respond to Review's requests for an interview.)
The Guardian informs me that 1) Brits suffer from some kind of weird literary inferiority complex and 2) Yanks are big suckers for a quaint, class-ridden Britain that no longer exists outside of British novels.
So what's going on? Is our literary inferiority complex justified or not? In an essay in the new issue of Prospect Magazine, the young American novelist Benjamin Markovits - who partly grew up in England and now lives here - gives us a different take on the matter. He points out that while for English readers the "high voice" of the American novel can be seductive, the more modest and nuanced tones of the English novel appeal to Americans for precisely the opposite reason - because they offer the "attractions of refinement", of a "society everywhere coloured and scored by its own fine grain."
Finally I can admit that all I really want to read about is pasty-faced lads taking cold showers at--what do they call them over there?--"public" schools.
NPR this morning interviews the authors of Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers and gives us one more reason to love Carson McCullers:
...McCullers' favorite drink while writing was a mixture of hot tea and sherry that she kept in a thermos. She named the concoction "sonnie boy" and, often claiming it was only tea, would drink straight through the workday.
Kind of redefines having a nice cuppa.
We also get Raymond Chandler's philosophy on drinking to excess--"I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle"--and his gimlet recipe. "A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow."
(Thanks to Michael Taeckens of Algonquin Books for the link.)
December 14, 2006
CBC's Andre Mayer recaps Canada's literary winners and losers for 2006. Among the year's top dogs: Leonard Cohen. Although I enjoy his songs a whole lot more when they're sung by other people, I'm happy to hear that he racked up kick-ass sales for his most recent scribbles:
In 2005, a Maclean’s cover story trumpeted that the poet-musician was nearly broke, having been duped out of $5 million US by his former manager, Kelley Lynch. In 2006, Cohen released The Book of Longing, an intensely personal collection of poems and free-form musings on life and love. His first poetry collection in 13 years, The Book of Longing enjoyed critical acclaim and kick-ass sales, becoming the first Canadian poetry volume to become a national bestseller.
(Amazon lists the book's title just as Book of Longing. Who's right, Amazon or the CBC? I shouldn't care, but I do.)
Then again, there is such a thing as taking criticism too seriously:
Global Warming Denier Michael Crichton Fictionalizes Critic as Child Rapist
(Thanks to Tom Russell for the link.)
They never rest. They live in fear that a sinister network of interlocking backstabbers operates within the otherwise pristine republic of letters. Armed only with a sense of self-righteousness, they are determined to purge the book pages of unethical conduct, even if they have to destroy reviewing in the process.
No, we (speaking as a former assignment editor here) worry that reviewers who don't disclose their conflicts of interest are going to crank out exactly the kind of gutless, sycophantic, synopsis-heavy, analysis-free, star-fucking crap that clogs the ever-constricting review pages of the few newspapers and magazines who even bother to attempt serious book-review coverage nowadays.
Sorry. Just had to get that out of my system.
(Thanks to ArtsJournal for flagging the story.)
Pretzel wars at the book mega-stores! Hey, that rhymes!
(From The Chicago Sun-Times via LISNews.)
Has anybody tried this out?
Possibly the greatest poem title ever. Not sure about the poem itself, but I got out of the poetry biz a long time ago, so I'll leave it to you to judge. It's from a newish online lit mag, Ward 6, whose contents I have not yet thoroughly browsed.
Gothamist serves up a formidably detailed interview with Dan Goldman. He's a 32-year-old triple threat--artist/illustrator/writer--who co-authored the graphic novel Everyman: Be The People with his brother Steven (Joe Bucco drew it), co-founded the ACT-I-VATE Comics Collective, and illustrated journo Anthony Lappe's Shooting War. Check out his blog if you like, but beware the retina-searing hot-pink backdrop.
Q. The term "Everyman" comes from The Federalist Papers, which Dita reads to Thoams to provide motivation and inspiration for their nascent political movement, One Love. What do you think we can learn from history in terms of the current political situation?
A. I believe that "history" is just a story that we're living over and over again, in different forms, and with every go-round we have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to mold it and change it for the better. As a writer, you can introduce new characters into the story and change it, and that's happened in reality throughout human history. I am waiting and hoping for those important new characters to show up in my lifetime and point us towards a better way, or at least towards making new mistakes. Everyman was our attempt to kick-start that with a fiction-bomb.
Love, love, LOVE the idea of a fiction-bomb.
Q. So is JT's voice completely gone from your head now, or does it still come back?
A. You know, I'm almost scared to go in there. You know what it's like? He could start talking, and ... (starts to cry) It could have the feeling of, am I making the mannequin's mouth move? I don't even want to get the mannequin out.
Get the mannequin out! For the love of all that's good, get the mannequin out!
I know this is supposed to make me angry, but anyone who can plausibly deploy "Nietzsche" and "episiotomy" in the same essay at least gets my attention. (And there are some laugh-out-loud funny lines amongst the provocations.)
Slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny—for this we need the Stanford University School of Medicine? And remember, this is women when confronted with humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?
This is not to say that women are humorless, or cannot make great wits and comedians. And if they did not operate on the humor wavelength, there would be scant point in half killing oneself in the attempt to make them writhe and scream (uproariously). Wit, after all, is the unfailing symptom of intelligence. Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren't like that. And the wits and comics among them are formidable beyond compare: Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, Fran Lebowitz, Ellen DeGeneres. (Though ask yourself, was Dorothy Parker ever really funny?)
I'm dying over here.
December 13, 2006
Extra-literary, socio-religious link:
All I want for Christmas is nothing.
(Courtesy of your friendly local, or not so local, Canadian Mennonites.)
In this day and age of oh-so-serious religion, you have to be at least a little bit intrigued by a mag named Geez. Their slogan: "holy mischief in an age of fast faith."
We’ve set up camp in the outback of the spiritual commons. A bustling spot for the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable. A location just beyond boring bitterness.
(Bonus: In the current issue, there's an article headlined "Jesus Was a Fatty.")
Now I just have to figure out whether I'm out-churched, un-churched, or un-churchable.
If you can, nip over to Paris between December 20 and February 19: the Pompidou Centre is hosting a massive exhibition devoted to the life and work of Georges Rémi, better known as Hergé, creator of Tintin.
Tintin, the journalist who somehow never managed to file a word of copy, is, in some respects, an odd hero: almost characterless in his rectitude, he nevertheless inspires devotion across the world, even among people who are not exactly boy scouts themselves. Hergé was inspired by the boy-scout code of honour and resourcefulness, but, in a flash of genius, gave Tintin the alcoholic, pipe-smoking, imprecation-roaring Captain Haddock as a sidekick.
Nipping over to Paris isn't an option for me this year, but I do have a Tintin moon-launch tee-shirt I'm quite fond of.
Irresponsible parenting threatens libraries in Brunei too:
Children, some as young as two years old who have yet to be toilet-trained, are being dropped off un-chaperoned by their parents at the Dewan Bahasa Public Library every day during the current school holidays, overwhelming the librarians who have even had to give the sick ones their medication.
The library has organised fun activities such as colouring and storytelling sessions to attract children to come and stay during the school holidays. Some parents, however, have turned it into a day-care centre.
(BruneiDirect.com, via LISNews)
...but he didn't change their minds.
So much for the power of prayer.
Yup, we journos have a lot to be proud of this year.
A little hometown pride here: DC's tied for third place on this year's list of American's Most Literate Cities. Watch out, Seattle and Minneapolis, we're coming for ya.
Drawing from a variety of available data resources, the America’s Most Literate Cities study ranks the 70 largest cities (population 250,000 and above) in the United States. This study focuses on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.
The first installment of Critical Mass's new occasional feature, "Reading Book Reviews," should be called "Auditioning for My Next Review Assignment":
Dirda chooses books of such high intellectual caliber that sometimes I feel daunted. But I persist, and I learn. His reviews are superb stand-alone pieces that have helped provide me the equivalent of a PhD in literature.....
Most of all, I look forward to the occasional features by editor in chief Marie Arana on interesting authors....Arana used to work as a book editor. Recently, she has broken through as an author, first with a memoir, then with a novel. Her books are so exquisite (and, so far, so positively reviewed) that I worry she will give up the Book World editorship to become a full-time author.
I worked at Book World for 10 years and I like it a lot too, but to have a freelance book critic offer up his "impressions" of book-review sections is...well, I could suggest a lot of words here, but most of them are mean.
While we're on the subject of childish things: Honestly, people, my 4-year-old and 2.5-year-old play nicer than this.
the book follows the story of Cat Royal, an orphan and ward of the Theatre Royal, who hears about a diamond hidden in the theatre and goes in search of it
--but this one looks like the real winner to me:
The gold prize in the six-to-eight category went to Mouse Noses on Toast by Daren King, the story of a mouse named Paul who discovers that humans are eating mouse noses and embarks on an investigative adventure with a friendly Christmas tree decoration.
And in case you think, as I sometimes do, that all literary prizes are corrupt, consider that
the Nestle award is one of the most respected in the publishing industry, and included contributions from 37,000 children as part of its judging process.
Big Bad Book Blog, part of something called the Greenleaf Publishing Group, posts a few choice items this week, including links to a PW story about how publishers are courting African-American readers, Forbes's breakdown of top-earning authors (news flash! Dan Brown is richer than God!), and a Dallas Morning News item about the demise of Texas's oldest black-owned bookstore, Black Images Book Bazaar.
The Arizona Republic's Ty Young has an evocative followup this morning on the demonstrations that took place at the Carter booksigning last night:
Within the walls of Changing Hands bookstore Tuesday night sat former President Carter, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is considered one of the world's great humanitarians.
Outside the Tempe bookstore, however, stood hundreds of protesters, some denouncing the former president's recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
Others, mostly pro-Palestinian demonstrators, shouted anti-Israeli chants while praising Carter for exposing how people live in Israeli-occupied territories.
Young delivers a good crowd-reaction piece, with lots of comments from folks on both sides.
December 12, 2006
Fallout from former President Carter's latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, will reach the Valley when Carter visits Tempe on a book-signing tour Tuesday.
The Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix will protest Carter's engagement at Changing Hands Bookstore, denouncing his recent book as irresponsible and insulting to Israelis. Among their complaints are the use of the word "apartheid" and "patently incorrect" historical references about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(Thanks to my pal Deborah Sussman Susser for the tip.)
So "truthiness," as you have no doubt read, is the word of the year in some quarters, and we have Stephen Colbert to thank for it. Now Rick Roche, a reference librarian in Illinois, speaks truthiness to power:
In the story Stephen Colbert, who is credited with coining the word, says, "Though I'm no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me."
I must confess that I have a fact-based agenda, too. Sorry, Stephen.
Ways not to recommend books this holiday season, courtesy of some well-intentioned bookstore owners:
In the beginning, you wonder where this book is headed. Once it gets going, you don't really care.
It's a science fantasy that makes your brain hurt a little -- but in a good way.
She tells her stories about serving wine to people, and what she's learned in the process.
Quite simply, it's a book about diagramming sentences.
[Update: The missing link has been added. Sorry for the tech difficulties.]
I was hoping to come across a Borges item in honor of Jessa's sojourn in Buenos Aires, and here it is. Don't worry; the story has a happy ending.
The news from Harvard Square had rare-book collectors aflutter: Two manuscripts by the renowned Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges had vanished and were presumed stolen in an international literary heist worth $950,000.
(From the ever-delightful Boston Globe, by way of ArtsJournal)
Imagine opening the door on Dr Hannibal Lecter's memory palace. Let us journey portentously into its deepest recesses in a laboured bid to milk a prequel out of America's cleverest serial killer.
The eight-year-old Hannibal sat beside the castle moat with his younger sister, Mischa. A black swan begged for food. "Yes," he thought. "This is indeed a credibly gothic start to my story."
Yes, kids, Bret Easton Ellis has finally got himself a soap opera: "The Canyons," in development with Showtime. To no-one's surprise, it will be "horror-tinged":
The pay cable network has ordered a script for the project, about a group of twenty- and thirtysomethings in Los Angeles. It centers on a 29-year-old magazine editor who escapes his hard-partying New York life by following his best friend and a new girlfriend across the country, only to find himself virtually isolated when his friend is killed in a mysterious accident.
Jesse Mason also reminded me about this blog. It doesn't appear to have been updated lately. Damn you, Hollywood!
Although I continue to avoid best-of-2006 lists as if they were ex-boyfriends, I can't resist this line:
This fast-paced adventure has more twists and turns than a demented plate of spaghetti.
(PW, BTW, wasn't quite so sure that Vinge's novel was the book of the year--you can see their take at the bottom of the Amazon listing.)
Sad news for fans of the early Green Lantern: Martin Nodell, the artist who first drew him, died Saturday at the age of 91. (Which, as lifetime spans go, is not too shabby.) This has been widely reported elsewhere but it seemed wrong not to note it here.
WTF, David Duke?
ArtsJournal pointed me to this item in the New Yorker:
The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year. Calculating how many Bibles are sold in the United States is a virtually impossible task, but a conservative estimate is that in 2005 Americans purchased some twenty-five million Bibles—twice as many as the most recent Harry Potter book. The amount spent annually on Bibles has been put at more than half a billion dollars.
Somehow I am not as surprised by this as the New Yorker wants me to be.
All the details on the project (mentioned in Publishers Lunch yesterday) on that project to publish all of TSE's prose. All of it. Insert your own Wasteland joke here:
The Johns Hopkins University Press will receive a gift of $750,000 from the Hodson Trust to fund a monumental publishing project, The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot. The project will be developed under the editorial direction of Ronald Schuchard, the renowned Eliot scholar and professor at Emory University, and co-published with Faber and Faber, the literary publisher in the United Kingdom that Eliot helped found in the 1920s.
Schuchard anticipates that there will be significant discoveries and impact resulting from the project, noting that only about 10 percent of Eliot's prose writing has ever been published and available.
December 11, 2006
(Via John Holbo at The Valve.)
Cambridge in autumn.
Why, Rachel Donadio, why?
So Pinochet's gone. Why are they burning books in Chile? (The Santiago Times, via LISNews.)
Willy Blackmore, publisher of a new Iowa City-based indy press, Impetus, sends along this article from Las Vegas City Life about Impetus's debut. It also takes a look at LA's Gorsky Press, founded in 1999 by the folks who run the zine Razorcake.
Is founding an "upstart press" the new self-publishing?
The latest installment of largehearted boy's Book Notes is now up. Author Sarah Grace McCandless (The Girl I Wanted to Be) shares some soundtracks for the novel. (Why don't more authors do this? What's on Thomas Pynchon's iPod?) Her picks include a song by The Reindeer Section, so this counts as a seasonal entry.
As for the novel, LHB says it's
...a coming of age novel that both teens and adults can enjoy. Sarah Grace McCandless has written a suspenseful tale turning on the point in everyone's life where we realize that the people we love are not perfect. My focus group (okay, just my wife and teenage niece) both were impressed by McCandless's plot development, and found themselves anxiously drawn further into the storyline with every page turned.
Plus, any author that challenges Zach Braff to a soundtrack challenge is cool with me.
Gift idea for the incurable Romantic on your list: Edward J. Trelawny's Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley & Byron, one of the best books of...1858. (It took him a few years to get his story straight, and Byron doesn't come off too well--think Fitzgerald as described by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast.) Trelawny was the guy who pulled Shelley's heart from the fire after the poet drowned and was cremated on an Italian beach:
After the fire was well kindled...more wine was poured over Shelley's dead body than he had consumed during his life. This with the oil and salt made the yellow flames glisten and quiver. The heat from the sun and fire was so intense that the atmosphere was tremulous and wavy. The corpse fell open and the heart was laid bare....and as the back of the head rested on the red-hot bottom bars of the furnace, the brains literally seethed, bubbled, and boiled as in a cauldron, for a very long time.
Want to own the first image ever published of Santa Claus squeezing his jelly belly down a chimney (from the New York Mirror, 1841) or the very first Christmas card EVER? Tomorrow's your chance. (via Fine Books Blog)
My book collection would be so much cooler if I had gone into advertising. Plus I could have bought an island.
One person not feeling the DC love is Jimmy Carter, at least not in the pages of the WaPo:
This is a cynical book, its cynicism embedded in its bait-and-switch title.
That would be Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
Although as they suggest over at Critical Mass, maybe Carter will get one or two holiday cards from Israel after all.
Hiya. Jennifer Howard here. Greetings from sorta sunny DC--a happier place these days, at least from where I sit. Thanks, Jessa, for asking me to mind the shop for a few days.
So, anybody catch that NYTBR best-of list yesterday? Whaddya think?
Kidding, just kidding. My goal for the week is to see how few best-of lists I can link to.
December 9, 2006
Well! That was so much fun. You know, my big aspiration for this week was to see if I could scandalize Jessa "Vacation" Crispin--that was my goal for Monday and Tuesday. But Jessa is hard to scandalize--this is important to remember. The world at large, however, proved this week to be astonishingly easy to scandalize unintentionally by simply having more than one line of thought in my head and the most minor of pottymouths.
To tell you the truth, I had actually been saving my big scandale for Wednesday, when I was going to suggest that maybe the chick lit girls and I should get it over with once and for all and have a rap-off like in this Margaret Cho video.
But as Margaret's song goes, I'm "angelic, got a halo" and I would never actually suggest such a thing! Me?
(Note: it's been a million years since I worked in any kind of normal office, but I'm fairly sure anyone assuming Margaret Cho is safe for work should probably turn the volume down and go get some more of the nasty coffee down the hallway before clicking on that link.)
In any case, I am going to sign off this week with a recent link and reminder from Judith Warner's New York Times blog:
"This desire to avoid conflict and preserve connection, the feminist renegade Phyllis Chesler has written, is typical of women, and it stymies intellectual debate."
Good to remember. And you know, it's probably even scarier now to allow for a little conflict in the mix since we've been informed from on high that a sense of humor and estrogen don't mix.
So anyway, thank you Jessa for having me, and thank you to all the writers who sent their lists and all the folks who sent nice emails and comments.
Happy December and thank you for reading. xxoo love Elizabeth
P.S.: I am holding a one-day workshop this coming Saturday, Dec. 16, in New York that will change your life. It's called "Creative Jumpstart" but what it really is is diving in to see what you really want to do and then coming up with a concrete plan to get moving. It happens in one day because I'm not a patient person (even though I'm a nice teacher, fear not) and I want all the passionate thoughtful people to get started right away on doing the work they really care about. Fuck that nasty hallway coffee and the mute button. Time to create your own thang. Drop me a line if you're interested--we've got a few spaces left.
Brookland, by Emily Barton
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Third Girl from the Left, by Martha Southgate
Rose of No Man's Land, by Michelle Tea
Name All the Animals, by Alison Smith
Twins, by Marcy Dermansky
Girly, by Elizabeth Merrick
A Separate Reality, by Robert Marshall
Thanks Ellis! Not all of Ellis's picks were published in 2006, which I love about our book lists this week in general: I am always emphasizing in my writing classes that the creative brain--the right brain--doesn't really recognize linear time. I love presenting these lists of books borne out of the spirit of inspiration--where the books start from, really, and what pulls us in as readers at the heart of the experience--rather than the end-game editorial and criticism stance. It's an approach I have always wanted more of in the literary world, and the desire for more right brain creativity within the Literaryland that is New York for me is a huge part of why I started my writing workshops in the first place. So a big big thanks to all the writers who sent their choices in--much, much appreciated.
And also thank you, Ellis, for the shout out to Girly!
December 8, 2006
Two more writers from This Is Not Chick Lit generously contribute their lists:
Some of Cristina Henríquez's favorites of 2006 include: The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella; In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders; All Aunt Hagar's Children, by Edward P. Jones; Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel; and Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor.
"And," she adds, "I reread The Great Gatsby for the first time since high school and, holy cow. Page after page, I just marveled."
Cristina's own Come Together, Fall Apart was a standout fiction debut this year too, I must add!
"Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky. This is a tense and mesmerizing novel set in France during WWII. Oh, I loved it, I loved encountering this intelligent and accomplished voice, I hated learning why the book ended so soon.
The Keep, by Jennifer Egan. I love the way Egan plays with the ideas of voice, place and freedom; the way she sets old Europe against modern America, the earnest naivete of the Gothic tale against the cool irony of postmodern fiction.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. What a pleasure to encounter these notions - that words should be carefully used and carefully considered, that they can deliver wisdom and delight. What a pleasure, as always, to read Prose's prose."
"Now, I did actually read some prose this year, but I decided just to put on my list great comics for the uninitiated reader. Also, a lot of these books are reprints of old stuff that was previously unavailable in America or out of print, so maybe it's cheating to say the work was first printed in 2006, but whateva!
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, edited by Ivan Brunetti. This beautifully produced book is a perfect present for anyone who wants a thorough and varied introduction to comics that aren't superhero comics.
Carol Tyler's Late Bloomer was so inspiring! Stories like "Migrant Mother" tell us the nitty gritty details of a single mom bringing her infant across the country, as all hell breaks loose.
Ode to Kirohito by Osamu Tezuka. An 800+ page epic about a fatal disease that turns people into dogs and its international socio-political implications. This is a much more grown-up book from the guy who did Astro Boy.
Popeye by EC Segar. Hilarious, madcap, beautifully designed book. Do not confuse Popeye the comic strip for Popeye the animated cartoon. The comic strip has complex characters doing adventurous, weird and violent things. Olive Oyl just as vicious as everyone else. Fantagraphics will publish the whole 10-year stint that Segar did Popeye. This is the first of six volumes where Popeye first joins the Thimble Theater cast of Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl, Wimpy and Hamgravy and smacks 'em all into shape!"
Brangien Davis of the wonderful Swivel magazine ("the nexus of women and wit") sends her faves of 2006:
The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits; The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel; The Afterlife by Donald Antrim; and Freedom Wigs, by Martha Rich (this is a small, beautiful book of illustrations available at the author's website).
Brangien also included This Is Not Chick Lit, the anthology that I edited, on her list, but she said that if I felt shy about looking too egotistical I didn't have to post that. Well, no worries there--I am already working on far bigger scandals. Case in point: some lit blogger this week apparently suggested I might enjoy hanging out with John Ashcroft after taking my silly moment with breast euphemisms as an offensive puritanical censure. (Of course, now that it's been elucidated for my tiny feminine brain that women aren't funny, I understand the inevitability of this interpretation.)
Thanks so much to everyone who came out on Wednesday to the Grace Reading Series. We had a fabulous time, and I'm so grateful to Ariel Bordeaux for guest curating. She put together a Grace Comics Showcase zine that is only $3 and includes one of the most thought-provoking essays I've read this year in which Ariel examines this element of viscerality in women's art (by the way, the Whitney is closed Thursdays, people, so we didn't get to see Kiki Smith yesterday). Very, very interesting. Ariel also pointed out at the show on Wednesday that a lot of comics by men are super-emo and visceral right now, which is such a cool new trend in so many ways.
In any case, Ariel has sent along a list of books she especially liked this year:
"Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (an intense, brilliant autobiographical account of Bechdel's relationship with her closeted gay father, and her own coming out just before her father's suicide. Great reading for those cozy holiday evenings at your parents' house); Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein; The Squirrel Mother by Megan Kelso; and Kramers Ergot #6 edited by Sammy Harkham (Kramers Ergot sets the standard for the new avant garde "movement" or whatever in comics. Although it's kind of like an overload of stoner doodles, it's very pretty to look at, and there are a couple high quality gems in here, such as Shary Boyle's gorgeous story "The Porcelain Figurine" which make it well worth the investment.)"
So apparently you all love The Wire too. I am getting some emails and it seems that I am not alone in my fixation on the character Omar Little, played brilliantly by Michael K. Williams. Omar robs drug dealers. When he walks down the street, people scatter. He has a strict code of honor and won't harm a "civilian," and many times in the course of the show outwits the big cheese corporate-esque murderous honcho drug kings who routinely put huge prices on his head. He never swears, and he keeps his word, and has a very thought-through, rare integrity in a chaotic, dangerous world. He is the ultimate badass.
The thing is: what is sexy about Omar is his integrity. He steps up to the plate and takes huge risks and knows exactly who he is and what he will and won't do. He is a gay black man in the inner city. His integrity isn't about being pure and vegan and angelic. His integrity is about taking action in his world and holding a space of power and not just handing it over to sociopath kingpins.
I really, really want the Democratic party to study Omar Little. If you're going up against people who will do anything to hold onto their power and are destroying entire cities (countries, planets) in the process, you want Omar on your side, with his shotgun, whistling "The Farmer in the Dell" and watching the streets clear.
Michael K. Williams was on Law and Order recently, playing a woman-killing pimp. It was heartbreaking--he deserves twenty roles as complex as Omar to choose from. These kinds of clicheed stories do have a real effect--for America to see this amazing actor as a one-dimensional pimp villain turns my stomach, and to be reminded how rare it is to have any kind of complex story get big exposure is so sad. The Wire has not been recognized with awards, and it's heartbreaking, but I am so used to that, aren't you? It feels like that sad moment in 1989 when Do the Right Thing lost out to Driving Miss Daisy. And then fifteen years later Hollywood self-congratulates itself into oblivion with the astonishingly insipid and simplistic Crash. But this is the way of our sick little world and that the stories we need so much like The Wire get told at all--and so beautifully, and so generously with all these hours to dive into--is enough to patch me through.
Shari Goldhagen, herself the author of the fine 2006 novel Family and Other Accidents, writes in with two books she enjoyed this year: Jami Attenberg's Instant Love and Lee Martin's The Bright Forever.
One more post on my obsession with HBO's The Wire as my favorite novel this year. I went back and rewatched the third season this fall and am also hopelessly addicted to the new episodes that are on now. There is something about obliterating yourself into sixty hours of a complex, rich story where you can completely trust the storytellers not to do anything cheap or manipulative that is just heaven. When I decided on (or, rather, was sort of irresistibly pulled into) writing novels, it was Louise Erdrich with her extended sagas of a layered, complex community that I had never seen before who really fascinated me. Book after book after book. The Wire offers this same big pleasure. More from David Simon:
If The Wire resembles a novel for television - and I will claim that it at least has the pretensions of a literary novel - then the question is obvious: How many Americans read novels? Not many at all. If you sell 80,000 hardbacks in this country you're likely to be on the NYT bestseller list. Eighty thousand book sales in a nation of 300 million. Jesus, that's appalling, especially considering the fact that a prose novel remains the most complex and comprehensive storytelling form in our culture. And so now someone is trying to make a television show more like a novel? Why? And to what purpose? It's amazing to me that HBO let us get this far and I have to credit their courage and intellectual commitment . . .
December 7, 2006
So, the fork is out of the socket. The new issue of Bookslut is here, for real now. So exciting. So be sure to check out the fabulous interviews with Jennifer Egan, Laird Hunt, Robert D. Richardson, and, deliciously, Claudia Roden. Plus: reviews of the lionish Pride of Baghdad and of a novel that begins with the perspective of a giraffe (always a good place to start, no?). And much more, of course, including Colleen Mondor's investigation into the allure of coming of age over at Bookslut in Training.
Plus, some catching up on the graphic novel front, and really far, far more than my tiny brain and substantial breastosauri can even comprehend as I try to explain it all. How does Jessa do this every month? I am already crabby from the precision required for just the blog portion of this Bookslut juggernaut and am taking a good portion of this day off. Ariel Bordeaux, (who did such an amazing job curating the Grace Comics Showcase this fall) and I are going to take our bazongas uptown and check out some Kiki Smith, whose sensuality, viscerality and intelligence are what we're fascinated with in women artists at the moment. Catch you later this afternoon, and stay away from the matches and the flatware while I'm gone.
Gothamist on a recent talk at the 92nd Street Y with Dave Eggers, Chip Kidd, and Milton Glaser:
Glaser, designer of the iconic “I Love New York” design, had an unfortunate Larry Summers moment when he said that the reason there are so few female rock star graphic designers is that “women get pregnant, have children, go home and take care of their children. And those essential years that men are building their careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home.” He continued: "Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it’s never going to change." About day care and nannies, he said, "None of them are good solutions."
The crowd was silent except for a hiss or two and then Eggers piped up that he and his wife both work from home and share child care responsibilities - but added that maybe New York was different (although we don't think Eggers really believes this). Then it was clear to everyone in the room that it was time to move on.
December 6, 2006
New Yorkers: event alert! Tonight, 7pm, please join us for the Grace Comics Showcase at Mo Pitkins, 34 Ave A between 2nd and 3d. Free!!
Featuring our comics writers for December: FLY, author of many comics and zine titles including: CHRON!IC!RIOTS!PA!SM! and PEOPs and Ariel Schrag, author of the autobiographical comics Awkward, Definition, Potential and Likewise.
Curated by Ariel Bordeaux! Don't miss our last event of 2006.
Along with Jessa, Anne Ishii is one of my personal queens of the publishing world. When she's not doing her job just standing there emanating royal genius, she is the Director of Marketing and Publicity at Vertical Books, in addition to writing the hilarious Finger in the Throat Book Report and more. She generously writes in with some of her favorite books of 2006:
"So, in no particular order and keeping in mind your request for a list that will counterbalance or pose alternatives to more likely list-makers:
Everything That Rises by Lawrence Weschler. Weschler is one of my 'favorite theorists' (visualize air quotes done with only the middle fingers). I recommend this to anyone who wants to be entertained by the idea of coincidence or convergence. I've used the word 'convergence' a million times since reading this. Good counterbalance to Freakonomics, which I realize is not a 2006 title, but Everything That Rises achieves the same 'huhn, you don't say' response as its counterpart without making it so much about commerce.
Anything Gabrielle Bell put out this year. She reminds us that stories don't have to have to spell out deep emotions to inspire them, and that imagination is as important as social salience. Her surrealist memoirs are a good antidote for the memoir v. truth brain damage we all went through this year.
Fucked Up and Photocopied by Bryan Ray Turcotte and Christopher T. Miller. Created with an attitude that matches the attitude of the subject matter (hard-core/punk and the art of its flyers). The commentary made me alternately proud to be into this kind of music and embarrassed that I would be stuck up about it. Good counterbalance to Rip It Up & Start Again which only entitled you to be stuck up and inevitably forced pop music connoisseurs to question its definitive-ness.
Princess Plays by Elfriede Jelinek. A series of soliloquies based on Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Jackie O. It may seem overly philosophical, but it's wonderfully radical and at times hilarious. Good counterbalance to everything."
As we wait with even greater anticipation for the December issue (does anyone have Kenan's phone number?), dream with me, my friends:
The Sirenland Writers Conference debuts in Positano, Italy this coming March 18-23:
"Workshop in the morning, then a five star lunch, exploring Pompeii in the afternoon, coming back for a massage, then hanging out with fellow writers at night—could there be a better vacation?" writes Hannah Tinti of One Story magazine, who will be teaching along with writer Dani Shapiro.
I wish I could put this trip at the top of an Amazon wish list. Anyone desperately seeking my Christmas present, you have your subtle hint, darlings.
So apparently someone DID put a fork in a socket over here--for some reason the links on the new issue aren't working. Bear with us. Technical difficulties, bad babysitter, Jessa off breaking hearts in a sunnier place, already forgetting all about us: just the drama we need on a quiet Wednesday in December.
The December issue of Bookslut is here! More on that in a sec.
1. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud: Beautifully written, incredibly smart, deserving of all the praise it has received.
2. A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy: A novel about a young woman novelist that manages to be completely non-self-indulgent. She's a very smooth, deft writer.
3. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus: A story of divorce and 9/11, it's by turns dark, unsettling, and laugh-out-loud funny.
4. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: Any time I meet someone who loves yoga or has visited Italy, I immediately ask if they've read this.
5. The best books I read this year that weren't published in 2006 are the British novels Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst--I consider these both perfect books."
December 5, 2006
Memoirist-on-the-rise Felicia Sullivan writes in with her picks of 2006:
1. A Book of Common Prayer - Joan Didion
2. The War - Marguerite Duras
3. Field Notes from a Catastrophe - Elizabeth Kolbert
4. The Dead Fish Museum (stories) - Charles D'Ambrosio
5. A Pale View of Hills - Kauzo Ishiguro
6. Jane, a Murder - Maggie Nelson
"And of course," she adds, "the Al Gore book."
So I promised some 2006 end-of-the-year book recommendations, and I will deliver. The first writer we'll hear from is the legendary Binnie Kirshenbaum, who writes in to say:
"No doubt that two of three of My Favorite Books This Year--Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, and Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss--will show up on pretty much all the lists. This is a good thing, when great books are lauded and get the attention they deserve. My other favorite book--a story collection, How This Night Is Different by Elisa Albert--deserves more attention because it's honest, disturbing, risky, hilarious, and it will NOT make you feel better about yourself."
Oh my. I am a bad, bad blog babysitter. (Princess Superstar is probably not safe for work so watch those links.) I took the morning off. Fortunately, it seems like nobody stuck a fork in an outlet, over here at least.
Exciting fun FREE reading tomorrow:
Featuring a slideshow and reading from FLY, author of many comics and zine titles including: CHRON!IC!RIOTS!PA!SM! and PEOPs and Ariel Schrag, author of the autobiographical comics Awkward, Definition, Potential and Likewise.
7pm Wed. Dec. 6th at Mo Pitkins, 34 Ave A between 2nd and 3d. Free!!
December 4, 2006
So I've decided that instead of Literary Astrology Week, we will do a Favorite Books of 2006 Week here in Jessa's absence. I've asked some of our most vibrant women writers to send along lists of books they really enjoyed in 2006. These are not hierarchical THE OFFICIAL BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR lists that our newspapers are so fond of. No thank you. These come more out of a spirit of creative inspiration. I like going straight to the writers themselves, and bypassing the critics sometimes, don't you?
Jessa Crispin! Stop sending me emails about diagramming sentences on NPR and get back to baby oil and iodine duty chez the breastosauri. Please. The rest of us are up here in the north in our puffy coats and thick wool sweaters, completely incapable of causing car crashes until spring. You, and you alone, carry the the torch.
(Okay, I am going to stop this booby talk now). (Well, maybe.)
Most exciting mail in a very long time: a review copy of Ellis Avery's novel The Teahouse Fire just got here. It comes out at the end of this month from Riverhead. Ellis is a big big talent: no less than Maxine Hong Kingston calls this book "delicious" and "resplendent." Don't miss this one.
Slate: If you had to sum up what The Wire is about, what would it be?
Simon: Thematically, it's about the very simple idea that, in this Postmodern world of ours, human beings—all of us—are worth less. We're worth less every day, despite the fact that some of us are achieving more and more. It's the triumph of capitalism.
Slate: How so?
Simon: Whether you're a corner boy in West Baltimore, or a cop who knows his beat, or an Eastern European brought here for sex, your life is worth less. It's the triumph of capitalism over human value. This country has embraced the idea that this is a viable domestic policy. It is. It's viable for the few. But I don't live in Westwood, L.A., or on the Upper West Side of New York. I live in Baltimore.
Speaking of, um, keeping abreast: deep thoughts from Bloomsbury coming to a bookstore near you in February 2007:
Stacked: A 32DDD Reports from the Front poses the soul-wrenching question that keeps you up nights and started you on that melatonin and valerian habit in the first place:
"What is it about breasts—or if, you prefer, bazoombas, melons, Dolly Partons, or breastasauri—that inspires such fascination?"
This is totally tit lit. The author ". . . writes throughout with the wisdom and humor of a woman who knows what it is to wield body parts so powerful they can make men crash cars."
(Jessa, I hope you're having fun sunning and wielding your breastasauri . . . see what we descend to without you?)
Hi everybody. Elizabeth Merrick in the house. It feels like forever since I last blogged here. It also feels like there must be hundreds (well, okay, dozens?), more lit blogs since then: I admit I have not been keeping up. (I literally just got on the myspace because I realized I could mute my computer and take a Tylenol before looking at it). For the blogs, though, I rely on Jessa's expertise and her thorough nature to keep me abreast.
I am so honored to be here. I was thinking a fun theme for this week would be to see how scandalously fast I can get a worried, "rein it in, bitch" intercontinental phone call from Ms. Jessa eating a steak in a cafe in a bikini, but I think I am actually incapable of out-scandalizing her at this point. (Famous last words. If I'm lucky.) Then I thought, well, maybe Literary Astrology Week at Bookslut is long, long overdue?
Okay, okay, not so much. However, I have made a few phone calls to the Theme Gods, so we will see if they come through for us, we will see what they brew up, exactly.