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What was venerated as style was nothing more than an imperfection or flaw that revealed the guilty hand.

Orhan Pamuk


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Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Libraries

To mark Raise a Reader Day yesterday, Juanita Ng of the Calgary Herald posted pictures of the "12 coolest libraries in the world." Above is a shot of the stacks at the Trinity College library in Dublin. (Thanks for the link, Gary!)

posted evening of September 29th, 2011: Respond
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Monday, September 26th, 2011

Captivity

In Washington State, KOMO News reports on the newfound freedom of the 7 chimpanzees who live at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum. The chimps have spent their lives as lab animals, and several have never been outdoors before; thanks to the volunteers who spent the past year putting up fencing, they now have a safe outdoor area to spend their remaining days in. (Thanks for the link, Rob!)

posted evening of September 26th, 2011: Respond

Nature and fiction

The exchange that has been taking place at The Stone over the past few weeks on the subject of naturalism takes an interesting turn today with William Egginton's assertion that "fiction itself... has played a profound role in creating the very idea of reality that naturalism seeks to describe." Egginton focuses on Cervantes' creation of a narrative reality which exists independently of his characters' subjective experiences, and sees the idea of "objective reality" developing around this same time.

posted evening of September 26th, 2011: Respond
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Sunday, September 25th, 2011

New Wave Nuggets

Nominations are open for cleek's 2011 Reader's Poll -- what are your favorite records of all time, as of 2011? I'm interested to see what records get nominated -- the readers there are a group of good, eclectic tastes.

I've been thinking about what records I should submit for a week or so, since cleek announced the poll... A nice state to be in since it means I have songs from my favorite records running through my head. What I came up with (some Dylan, some Robyn Hitchcock, some folk music...) will generally not be too surprising for anybody that knows the inside of my head like I do. I was a little surprised to find early on that it was important to include in the list a record that I have not listened to or thought about much in years, viz. I.R.S. Greatest Hits vols. 2 & 3 -- I spent a lot of time listening to this record in high school and college and, while I never was into the New Wave very much besides this record, it seems like it shaped my musical ear in some important ways.

So anyways, I'm listening to it right now for like I say, the first time in years, and the songs sure hold up. Recommended. (It was never released on CD; but if you search for it you'll find torrents that people have ripped from vinyl.) I'm putting the track listing and YouTube playlist below the fold -- Seriously every track is giving me the "great song" response, where as I listen to the first couple of bars I get an ecstatic wave of recognition and melt into the song. (Well I don't love "Uranium Rock" like I love every other song -- but it is not out of place either. Sort of interesting bit of punk rock rockabilly.)

posted afternoon of September 25th, 2011: 2 responses
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Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Ellen's Birthday Playlist

Ellen's birthday was a couple of weeks ago now; tonight we're getting together with some of our friends for a belated celebration. I made her a birthday mix tape to spin for the occasion:

  1. The WS Walcott Medicine Show -- The Band
  2. Heaven -- Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
  3. Our Swingin' Pad -- Jonathan Richman
  4. Take Me Higher -- Al Green
  5. Up on Cripple Creek -- The Band
  6. The Arms of Love -- r.e.m.
  7. The Ballad of John and Yoko -- The Beatles
  8. Dancing Barefoot -- Mountain Station
  9. I Feel Beautiful -- Robyn Hitchcock
  10. Go on with your bad self -- Eddie Kendricks
  11. Strawberry Fields Forever -- The Beatles
  12. I want to sing that rock and roll -- Gillian Welch
  13. When the Earth Moves Again -- Jefferson Airplane
  14. Big Yellow Taxi -- Joni Mitchell
  15. The Way it Will Be -- Gillian Welch
  16. Ophelia -- The Band
  17. Stop Breakin Down -- Lucinda Williams
  18. Fortune Teller -- Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
  19. Electrolite -- r.e.m.
  20. Pretty as You Feel -- Jefferson Airplane
If I am understanding correctly how to use Spotify, this should be a link to Ellen's birthday playlist (approximately -- I substituted publicly-available tracks for some of the ones on this list).

posted morning of September 24th, 2011: Respond
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Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Words, words, words

Mighty King! Here is a story, a nest of stories, with cabinets and cupboards, about Trurl the constructor and his wonderfully nonlinear adventures!
A friend loaned me a copy of Lem's Cyberiad the other day, and I have been devouring it. Not too much of substance to say about it other than that it is a feast of words, a playful cornucopia of language. It is going on my must-read list for people who love language.

Reading it has reminded me so strongly of Calvino's Cosmicomics that today I ordered a copy of that -- it has been such a long time, it will be great to reread, and also I will have something with which to return the favor of this loaner. (Another author Cyberiad is reminding me of, which came as a bit of a surprise, is Kipling; the story "Trurl's Prescription" in particular, is almost a pastiche of "How the Camel Got His Hump".)

posted evening of September 22nd, 2011: Respond
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Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Originality from formula

I said my goodbyes in a hurry.

Juan gave me a hug. It looked like he was about to cry.

Lourdes gave me her hand; I squeezed it firmly.

I climbed on to the boat that was waiting.

A man fired the engine, and the boat started moving.

I saw Lourdes petting one of the dogs; Juan was in the water up to his knees, signaling to me with his hands.

The island grew smaller as we got farther away.

The sky was clear.

I never heard anything more of my father, nor of Lourdes, nor of Juan. I never went back to the island.

When I first read Juan Pablo Roncone's story Geese, it struck me as a highly original story, as not quite like anything I had read before. Which is funny, because as I go back and reread it and look at the structure, parts of it seem highly formulaic -- the young author running away from his frustrated life in the city and learning in the wilderness how to express himself via a symbolic confrontation with his father; the Œdipal attraction to Lourdes and the confrontation with her ex-husband who is again a stand-in for the narrator's father; bonding with Juan and that making him want to be a father... Simplifying the plot elements, they seem, well, formulaic. Like I've read many other stories with similar elements. I'm interested in figuring out what makes "Geese" stand out as a distinct, original story of its own.

Part of it of course is the skill with which Roncone executes the storytelling; he imagines his characters clearly enough (at least the narrator and Juan) that I was able to put myself in their shoes. Any story where that happens is certain to feel fresh, this experience of identifying with a new character is stimulating almost no matter how old and tired the plot the character is moving through may be. But another key element of this story is minimalism. The narrator's attraction for Lourdes is almost entirely unstated, is never acted upon. The narrator's confrontation with his father occurs only in his head. The narrator leaves the island without any resolution to the events of the story -- the fight with Lourdes' ex was pretty meaningless in the long view -- but with a commitment to return to his girlfriend in Santiago. Roncone's refusal to follow through in the conflicts that make up his plot makes the story not be "about" the conflicts, but "about" the characters.

(One issue that is bugging me: in the final two sentences I want to render the verbs as "would never hear" and "would never go" -- but Roncone seems to be saying clearly, "never heard" and "never went".)

posted evening of September 20th, 2011: Respond
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Monday, September 19th, 2011

Elevator stories

Nick Carr is Scouting New York for locations; today he happened on what is surely the city's trippiest elevator, in an old warehouse in Queens.

Click through for the extraordinary inside view. Thanks for the link, James!

posted evening of September 19th, 2011: Respond

Fiction and colonialism

I spent a fair amount of mental energy during my reading of The Secret History of Costaguana, trying to figure out what assertions were being made -- what the narrator Juan Altamirano thought, what Juan Gabriel Vasquez thought -- about Altamirano's claim on Conrad's fiction. Altamirano's complaints that Conrad "robbed me," "erased me from my own life," seem quite heartfelt and sincere -- and it seems like one could make a pretty straightforward transition to read them allegorically, as complaints about European and North American colonial powers robbing Colombia of its self-determination, erasing Colombians from their own history. (Or something approximately like that -- I'm still not sure just where I would go with this.) Is this reading intended?

The trouble is, it's difficult for me to buy the complaint on the literal level -- to accept that Altamirano actually feels Conrad has robbed him -- so difficult for me to buy into any allegorical reading of it. Conrad's answer to Altamirano -- that he has written a fiction, that the notes he took from Altamirano's confession were a tool he used along the way to composing a world that has nothing to do with Altamirano's life -- strikes me as pretty obviously true, and basically what I had been thinking during the reading leading up to it. And Altamirano seems like a pretty sophisticated guy (and a guy whom I am identifying with), how would he not see this? Even after the second meeting with Conrad he is attached to his claim against Conrad.

Not really sure if this is a flaw in the structure of the book. It certainly provoked thought and confusion for me, which I count as a positive... If the book were intended as a polemic against colonialism it would be a pretty poor one; and since I thought of it as a very good book, that makes me think that can't be what's going on here.

posted evening of September 19th, 2011: Respond
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Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sylvia!

Good, silly, fun: following a pack of hyperactive sixth-graders around the mini golf course all afternoon. Summer is over, autumn is just starting, and the weather was perfect for the party. After we played 18 holes, came back home for pizza and ice cream. A fine way to ring in the opening of Sylvia's twelfth year.

posted evening of September 18th, 2011: 1 response
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