Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Apocalypse, Not Yet

Sign #1 That The World Has Not Gone 100% Into The Turlet, Yet:

Gabriel is still broadcasting late Sunday night into Monday morning on KDHX 88.1 in St. Louis.

Gabriel likes to say that he plays "the blues and oldies, for you and yours" and the three B's, "boogie, barrelhouse, and the natural blues". He also digs into the "holy blues" - it's not unusual for him to play a Mahalia Jackson record three or four times in a row if it behooves him. But really, he plays anything he feels like playing. One of his recent shows featured Tampa Red, Tammy Wynette, Brenda Lee, Lionel Hampton, and the Bee Gees. I once heard him playing some classic country from a tape he got free at Denny's. You can't find a more old school DJ than Gabriel, or one that's more entertaining. Next time you're up late, in the wee hours of a Monday morning, tune him in.

Bonus Link

For a taste of what Gabriel sounded like about 40 years ago, check out a sample from his two-part 1968 single, "The Buzzard Lope". I'm not really into collecting rare 45s, but I need to get my hands on this one. I've heard the whole thing on the radio, and it is a gem.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

End-Of-Year List #1 - Best Fiction of the Past 15 Years (Read in 2009)

Since I will probably not be reading another book that is eligible for this list before the end of the year (I just started Nabokov's Stories and will probably read another older book after that), I can safely post the first of my Year-End Best Of lists:

Top Five Works of Fiction Published In The Past 15 Years And Read By Me In The Past One Year (2009), Alphabetized By Author's Last Name

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
- Geoff Dyer (2009)
It was fun watching Dyer read from this recently, but the book was already a sure thing for any Best Of list I put together this year. See my review here.

Ray of the Star - Laird Hunt (2009)
The fact that I haven't seen it on many year-end lists can only mean that the people making those lists have not read it. See my review here.

The Debt to Pleasure - John Lanchester (1996)
Delicious. The narrator's voice alone is a major, memorable achievement. The list was going to be Best Fiction Of The 2000s Read In 2009, but I expanded it so I could include this book. See my not-quite-a-review here.

Home Land - Sam Lipsyte (2004)
Only takes a few pages to realize that Lipsyte is one of the best we've got. Can't wait for his next book, The Ask, due in March.

This is Not a Novel - David Markson (2001)
This book was glued to my hands during every spare moment of a weekend trip I made this fall. An unusual concoction - a stimulating downer - that left me wanting more. Luckily Markson has a few more in this style. I'll probably get to The Last Novel, already on my bookshelf, sometime early in the new year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unanswerable Question

Lots of people really hate smooth jazz. But who hates it the most?

- A classic/mainstream/straight-ahead jazz fan or musician, who might hate it the way a particularly devout, hardcore Catholic hates a Lutheran

- A punk or metalhead, who would probably consider it the absolute antithesis of what they're into

- An avant-garde/"out" jazz fan or musician, who might already have a gripe with the word "jazz" and would be especially bugged about their music being considered even a distant cousin to the smooth stuff

Something to think about next time you're in the dentist's chair.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tweet of the Week

I'm not a Twitter user, and only rarely look at it, but this recent tweet (it hurts me a little to type that word, but I guess it's now the accepted term) from John Hodgman caught my eye. If I was on Twitter, I guess I could just retweet (again, painful) this:

"I hope they accept these Lugers chocolate coins at the Pepto-Bismol-mat."

If you've ever eaten at Brooklyn's Peter Luger, you should be able to sympathize.

Also, the first sentence of this post should give you some idea of why I'm not on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting '09 To Bed...Not So Fast

This recent post at Do The Math reminded me of my bloggerly duty to produce some year-end lists. I enjoy reading these kinds of lists, and writing them is a good excuse for a pleasant reminiscence of the past year's cultural intake. However, since I've got high expectations for some of the movies and live music (and maybe even books) that I hope to check out in the remaining weeks of the year, my lists will probably be posted after Christmas, or maybe even in early January. Categories I'm working on include:
  • Best Books of the 2000s (That I Read in 2009)
  • Best DVDs I Got From Netflix in 2009
  • Best Live Music Experienced in 2009
Being able to add at least one more entry to each of these in the next few weeks would help make this a December To Remember, in the words of a particularly grating car commercial.

Monday, December 7, 2009

DFW on Split Infinitives and Wedgies

Thanks to Amy McDaniel over at HTMLGiant for linking to this new-to-me David Foster Wallace essay on English usage (originally published in Harper's in 2001 and later collected in Consider the Lobster). It's much more entertaining than I would've thought possible given the subject, even at 37 printed pages (at least on my printer). Wallace being Wallace, almost a third of that length is taken up with end notes, through which he weaves, Pale Fire-like, strands of autobiography. Strange as it sounds, this essay, in large part a review of Bryan A. Garner's Modern American Usage, would be a must-read for any biographer researching Wallace's childhood (in which he apparently received countless wedgies for being an insufferable language nerd, or "SNOOT", his family's self-description of the type) or his experiences as a teacher.

Many of the positions and arguments Wallace describes in re: "the Usage Wars" are reiterated by McDaniel's commenters (here are the related posts, 1, 2 & 3, that began with a Wallace-inspired "Grammar Challenge"). If the comments don't quite prove that DFW is capable of directing blog comment threads from beyond the grave, then they certainly show that he Put His Finger On the Hot-Button Issues (or Had His Finger On The Pulse - just the sort of language Wallace highlights/mocks in the found-language poem/assemblage that begins his essay) in the field of English usage.

When will we see a nice, fat Collected (or Selected) Non-Fiction of David Foster Wallace? I realize that many of the uncollected pieces are available online and the existing collections are still in print, but this is a body of work that deserves the tome treatment.

[DFW-inspired Confession: I spent far more time writing this post than previous ones of roughly equivalent length. The reason for this, the influence of Wallace's essay, is obvious. This note is intended both as a warning of the contagious obsessiveness of Wallace on Usage and as an expression of my fear that the extra time spent has not resulted in a better, more readable post. Not at all.]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ray of the Star

I recently finished burning through Laird Hunt's new Ray of the Star. I found that the structure of the book pulled me through at what was, by my standards, a very fast clip. Chapters are short (generally just a few pages), but each one consists of only a single sentence. I didn't attempt any diagramming, but I got the sense that Hunt was "cheating" a little here and there in order to stick to his self-imposed rule (a common strategy seemed to be: when in doubt, insert a comma and keep going). Not that it matters, since the short chapter, long sentence scheme is effective in creating a simultaneously dense and fast-paced story.

Some of the basic elements of Ray of the Star, loneliness and budding romance in an Iberian city (the geography of the city playing a central role) with creeping supernatural elements, bring to mind Jose Saramago (as do the flocks of commas), but Hunt quickly establishes a tone that is clearly his own. For one thing, I don't think Saramago has ever used profanity to the extent Hunt does here (for a variety of effects, from humorous to sinister). There's also a certain whimsy that is a bit jarring at times, but I suppose this contributes to the slight unreality, the alternate universe quality, of Hunt's Barcelona-but-not-quite-Barcelona.

Ray of the Star has a great hook, a story set among the elaborately costumed (and often creepy) "living statues" of Barcelona's Las Ramblas (although the city and boulevard are never referred to by those names, only as "the city" and "the boulevard", another echo of Saramago). A rough idea of the premise was enough to get me to buy the book, having almost-but-not-quite picked up The Exquisite a few times in libraries and bookstores, and I'm glad I did. In addition to producing a stylishly written, entertaining novel, Hunt has also managed, by approaching it from an unexpected angle, to take what feels like a fresh look at the well-worn theme of how people deal with grief and loss . I just wonder what kind of response the book is getting from the living statue community.

Update/Bonus Link:

Just found this: Hunt discussing Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis as one of five books that influenced Ray of the Star. I haven't read the other four, which is probably why I latched onto Saramago as a point of reference for Ray.

I've recommended Saramago's novel before, but I'll do it again here. Year of the Death is pretty slow-paced, especially as compared to Ray of the Star, but it's a book that truly earns that overused adjective, "haunting".

Iran Facebook/Twitter Intimidation

This seems to me like a major story. As of now, only the Wall Street Journal seems to have it among the big news outlets, but hopefully we'll learn more as others pick it up.

The idea that a Facebook post or Tweet can have serious, real-world implications is at least dimly understood by most people, but the idea that these acts could, under extraordinary circumstances, involve real courage and physical risk is a little harder to wrap the mind around. As Sister Rosetta said, there are strange things happening every day...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

According to George J. Nicholls' 1917 book Bacon and Hams, the pig, not Oliver Wendell Holmes, is the true "autocrat of the breakfast table". That's just one of the pieces of information I picked up from this amazing Cooking Issues post. Among the not-to-be-missed gems:
  • A Flash reproduction of a color fold-out pig anatomical chart
  • A 19th century portrait of a man dressed as a side of bacon at a London costume ball
  • A PDF presentation on American country hams
  • Some rather horrifying photos of the Chicago hog butchering industry in the era of The Jungle (not that today's meat factories are any less horrifying in their own way)
The Cooking Issues folks are certainly not squeamish. Other recent posts include the finer points of duck pressing and how to prepare tuna spinal jelly.