Saturday, September 29, 2007

songs of the week

5. 'windowsill'

4. 'elephant gun'

3. 'that teenage feeling'

2. 'miss teen wordpower'

1. 'july jones'

. 'from blown speakers'

....and it's very nice when two of your favorite songs are consecutive on the same album. whoever said they didn't like 'the electric version' just doesn't agree with me i guess.

album of the week is 'wincing the night away,' for nostalgic reasons. i need to buy it, for the same reasons.

Friday, September 28, 2007

a measure of redemption

so 'question' is pretty much the most annoying old 97s song i can think of right now. it's the kind of song you like at first and then it gets on your nerves...but i really have come to dislike hearing it live, and a lot of people seem to think it's a highlight of the show. weird. anyway, i saw it used in a rerun this evening and it worked. good for rhett &co.

weekend plans

i don't know what you're planning on this weekend, but here's what i've got on tap:

i am going to turn into ben stiller, go surfing, and plot my next move over a nice bowl of vegan chicken noodle soup. i also might go shoe shopping. if there's time, i will investigate why it is that i drop the lid of the milk so frequently. i bought milk last night, and already dropped the lid on the ground today. i thought 'why don't i replace this with the lid of the last milk,' and then quickly realized that i had dropped that one on the kitchen floor not too long ago.

what gives?

another lyrical fragment

despite the fact that i started writing a song about a trophy girlfriend and her man last night, here's something else:

sometimes i feel i could leap tall buildings

right now i feel i could leap a wall

not the kinda that was built in china

but maybe something like four feet tall

Thursday, September 27, 2007

maybe i'm on to something

the best thing about consumer products is that they you can replace them. buying new stuff is more fun than having stuff. so maybe, we should just buy stuff and give it away. like rocking horses in the shape of pigs. oh yeah.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

things that i might not be able to list:

-five things i decided not to purchase that i now wish i had bought

-four people who live within 10 miles of me whose birthdays i remember

-my five favorite movies

-the last three flavors of ice cream i have eaten

-the last three times i have cooked dinner for myself

Monday, September 24, 2007

the library card disappears

along with my keys. it's funny the things that you can keep on your key ring these days. i have a historic fear of losing my keys, so i'm not sure what convinced me that putting them in my back pocket was a good idea. at least i have another set...locked in the drawer of my desk at work. i just took out a bunch of books, so i'll have plenty to read.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

you're just a twit

-michael frayn

this book fooled me at least twice into thinking it was something it wasn't. what it is, besides a foolish romp through the english countryside and dutch art history, is a bit boring. martin clay believes he has happened upon a lost treasure of european art, and he struggles to prove this to himself as he dives into the history of the painting he thinks he has discovered. along the way, he must outwit the country gentleman who owns the painting as he seeks to acquire it for a fraction of its true value.

while reading this book, i was also meditating on the question i asked previously about authorial skill and narrative voice. when writing from the first person, how does an author transcend the limits of this chosen narrator? introspection is one tool that provides some ability to comment on the scenes that unfold through one person's eyes, but not all characters would be as self-aware as the distractable professor who stumbles his way through this particular plot. for less literate heroes, the author must find ways to use words cleverly and yet avoid puncturing the image of this fictional world as it's related to us by the narrator. this means details and descriptions must be concise yet revealing, character flaws must fit the archetype the protagonist embodies, and every word has to come across as limited by the chosen narrator rather than the author's skill. headlong, of course, avoids this dilemma, but it does seem to spend too little time revealing the nature of secondary characters. the greatest weakness of this book, though, is the tedious length of martin's research sessions. perhaps we never find out much about anyone besides himself because the book is about a man who becomes increasingly self-absorbed as he pursues his dream at a pace that leaves everything else in his life behind. i felt like the other characters were interesting, however, and i wish i'd gotten to spend more time with them. the fact that i feel closer to them than martin ever does perhaps proves frayn's skill in relating more than martin ever tells us, or simply proves that being human is to reach out to those around us, even when they're fictional.

Friday, September 21, 2007

first impressions, or: i want to get in a boat, just not this one

last time i visited the library, i told myself not to feel obligated to read everything i was checking out; there just wasn't enough time to properly evaluate each title before heading out. here's how things looked 15 or 30 pages in.

all for love
-dan jacobson

all for love reads like a brilliant syntesis of a story your history teacher told in class and the salty side notes your pervert know-it-all buddy added under his breath. the subtle narrative glee that comes each time a hint of something is fleshed out into tabloidable anecdote is enough to prevent me from continuing.

the twenty-seventh city
-jonathan franzen

i was reading this while a very bizzarre man harangued a crowd that i wished i wasn't a part of. not that i had anything against the crowd, just the bizzarre man. somehow the book seemed to be messing with my head as surely as he was trying to do, and the funny part was i still figured i'd read the whole thing. this fictionalized tale of st. louis in 1984 starts out oddly enough, immediately shoving its world into a surreal parallel world that the author seems happy to insist is nothing unusual.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


i just had to try something the other day. i was looking through the carbonated beverages at the grocery, and i saw this seltzer, which is certainly the most humble and affordable of its type. having grown fond of one particular brand of sparkling water, frequently and graciously provided by my former roommate, i decided it was time to make sure there's really a difference between that and something you can get for next to nothing. there is. i came home this evening, poured a little in a large glass, and was shocked at the first gulp. i suppose one shouldn't gulp anything if enjoyment is the goal, but the seltzer was clearly not the same as that more expensive stuff.

Monday, September 17, 2007

holding back

i saw the old 97s and it was amazing. before i made it to the concert, hearing them from across the tragic waste of the world trade center site, i was already drawn in. there's definitely something about a desperate dash through an urban maze to find the stage before you miss too much. then the amazing effect of turning that final corner and going from the 'silence' of the urban landscape to the amplified roar. a little tragedy in the relative indifference of the crowd, made the more noticeable in comparison to a confident, exhilarating performance from rhett & co. they closed with timebomb. i thought 'this is the best i've heard them play this song.'

Saturday, September 15, 2007

because there's nothing better to do

my roommate and i sat around and read last night. i was happy that we were doing this, rather than something completely worthless. then i lost my willpower and turned on the tv. i watched a relatively inane movie and stayed up too late. i did, however, get a huge start on a fascinating and disturbing short story collection.

dear mr. president
-gabe hudson

i can't really say why i picked this off the shelf, especially because the design of the spine is pretty ugly. it's got a decent cover, some interesting quotes on the back from people who seem like they deserve some respect, and even a quote on the front. that can be a bit of a cause for pause, but i decided after reading two sentences of the first story that i would like this collection, and i did. it's disturbing, amusing, and has some great characters, most of whom are changed for the worse by war. it was little surprise to read that hudson himself had fought, but he also has an mfa and won some fancy award while getting it. further proof that good writing is about making your world come to life for others. hudson's specific use of familiar brands at critical points in some of the stories adds realism as it reminds that the protagonist's tortured life could exist within the reader's own world. at times, the backstories of the warriors in these tales seem odd, and their romantic interests seem cliched. there's no denying that hudson's a good writer though. i haven't figured out what an author is supposed to do to transcend the flaws of a narrating character. if there is something, hudson doesn't fully have a grip on it yet, but he's as likely as most to figure it out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

the obligatory reading update

tender is the night
-f. scott fitzgerald

fitzgerald may have taught me a few things about perspective. as the tale begins, i hate dick diver passionately. i can't get over his unfaithful heart. by shifting the narrative to diver's point of view, however, fitzgerald gets me into a more sympathetic mood and i struggle to maintain my dislike for dr. diver. his slow descent inspires empathy but allows me to despise him again. by the end, i am glad nicole turns against him, amused at the plot's unexpected intersection with a legendary sporting event, and genuinely happy that the divers didn't mend back into one like the buchanans.

six minutes to freedom
-kurt muse

i read books about the military because i think i might actually join. it's a long shot, but a long shot that i take seriously. i can't turn down a good war story, and the removal of noriega was a war i knew little about. i just remember something about the americans surrounding him and playing loud rock music to annoy him. muse is an american citizen jailed for his role in an underground radio station broadcasting denunciations of the panamanian ruler. his story is interesting, has some issues with narrative voice, and has a happy ending. the story is worth it, but there are moments when i find myself thinking 'the character who seems to be telling the story right now wouldn't talk like this.'

-joe miller

the kansas city schools stink, but there's a storied debate program at one of the worst, and miller is telling that story. i didn't know anything about high school debate before, and here i found a reasonable introduction to this world as well as the world of central high school in the aforementioned city. the unfortunate thing about this book is i began to think of myself as somewhat similar to these kids - i'm feeling a bit lost and it's probably because i'm not particularly happy with the obvious path ahead of me. i feel like my attitude is a bit self-indulgent. the book, however, gets personal for miller as he grows intensely loyal to the central debaters and finds his eyes open and opinions shifting through the course of his time with them. the last page of the book is probably my favorite ending of a work of nonfiction.

class 11
-t.j. waters

government-approved tale of a post-9/11 spy's training experience. a bit macho, but in a lovable way. interesting subject matter that is related carefully; there's a good mixture of background and plot. waters gets a bit personal and self-righteous at times, like miller, but the good thing about this is that he cares. it's a pretty gung-ho book, but people who spy for our government should be enthusiastic about it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

sleeping in

earlier this week, i announced that i wouldn't be in until after 11 on thursday. it turned out to be 12. all i did was sleep in an hour, go to breakfast, and enjoy a leisurely meal and some conversation. i felt great. by about 1, i realized that i really would have gotten more out of the day if i'd gone to bed at a reasonable hour. for some reason, i found it necessary to take in a football match between wales and slovakia. i wasn't paying much attention, because of course there is no reason to watch tv until after 1am unless you're actually wasting the entire time online.

needless to say, european football is a great perk of pay television. i pretty much ignore the american professional league.

Friday, September 07, 2007


i excitedly determined to read 'tender is the night' a week or so ago. i'd read an excerpt in a fitzgerald collection, but i'm still recovering from a teenage conviction that gatsby was the only of his novels worth reading. i'd read that somewhere, i guess. as i set in, the novel was fresh, though some memory of having turned those initial pages remained. then, somewhere in the process, i almost completely lost desire to read it. my fear is that i've read so much nonfiction lately that i can't take a good tale any more. the problem with nonfiction is, a lot of the stuff i've read isn't all that amazing, and perhaps that's given me an overly skeptical attitude. i'd say there are some vexing tendencies in fitzgerald's writing at times, and 'tender is the night' seems full of them. fortunately, as i have continued, the story draws me in every time i get past the more tedious parts.

unrelatedly, i am discovering today that, as i expected, i really shouldn't listen to the old 97s all that much unless i'm seeing them live. i think i've gotten so used to hearing the music live that recordings just aren't enough. maybe it's just the wrong music to listen to at work, especially when people are interrupting you every 5 minutes.