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Ups and downs

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been informed by our captain that our flight time today will be approximately 14 minutes. I hope you enjoy your short flight with us."

Fourteen minutes: Just enough time for the girl behind me to loudly devour an entire bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. This, after she walked on board with an open bottle of Corona.

Is it wrong of me to wish flying were still as classy as it used to be? (Okay, so maybe not the smoking and furs part...)


Book, take me elsewhere!

Still lingering over the end of Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr. Y: equal parts Jeff Noon and Jacques Derrida, Neil Gaiman and Martin Heidegger, with a large dose of Gwendoline Riley, and yet somehow a bit Sophie's World. Have I thrown enough comparisons at you? I'm at a loss to describe it with anything but a slew of comparisons, because this book isn't sitting comfortably in its own category yet. Which is meant as a compliment, especially as these are authors I enjoy reading more than I would like to admit. (Apart from the Sophie's World. That one, not so much.)

I should reveal before I go on that I was initially disappointed by the book, as much as I enjoyed reading it. But then I don't think I've let it sit long enough. And books that I really dislike don't usually leave me disappointed - they leave me ambivalent. Nor do they usually tempt me to read them while walking down the street, nearly bumping into lampposts.

So surely I must have loved this one?

There are reasons not to. The ending felt rushed - too much "and then we were here" or "and then that was done and we were on to the next thing" - but perhaps that was my own perception of it. Or maybe that was the point, to make time feel less concrete and fluid to drive the story home. But then the characters she wanted us to feel connected to - in the minds of, even - felt a bit two-dimensional. Interesting, given the possibility of four. And glimpses of a new story were offered (Lura's unwillingness to look anyone in the eye who asked about her experiences in the Troposphere) that never felt resolved. It feels a bit as if I've had the book knocked from my hands before I had a chance to read the last chapter. And I really, really wanted to read that last chapter.

Because the book affected me. As I walked to the subway yesterday, images of the Troposphere ran through my mind, and I began to wonder what emotion the Q train represented. And it continued: Each old book I picked up at the bookstore was loaded with new meaning. If I solve the puzzle in that 1925 copy of The Puzzle Lock by R. Austin Freeman, will a porthole open to a new dimension? If I play the faery song at the end of Eugene Field's 1893 collection A Little Book of Profitable Tales on a rusted flute at dusk, would I fall into a faery world? Thomas's melding of roll-ups, rope burns, iPods, time loops, and fourth dimensions made it seem possible, just for a moment. This is a talent, one that lingered with me long after the last line of text was gone from the page. (And, ultimately, the reason I bought both books in the end - Thomas would make a great used book salesclerk.)

I think I'll linger a bit longer. In the meantime, go read the book yourself, or at least some other, more coherent, favorable impressions.


Willing to bet that more moccasins get worn in retirement

In bad news for nostalgists, apparently Mom and Pop have been in retirement since the 1920s. (via The Morning News)

While I do agree that there is more to the flavor of a local area than its commerce, I can tell you that when the husband requested a pair of moccasins from New Mexico, and we discovered that the local Taos Moccasin company had been shut down, I could not be comforted with Minnetonkas.

(Have I resorted to writing about moccasins? Oh dear. There goes all credibility.)


Sunday Zen


Draw me a City in a Garden

Chris Ware and the Old Building Appreciation Society have struck again.

Last night, the humble artist spoke at the Jewish Museum in New York with City of Chicago Cultural Historian Timothy Samuelson ("We both love old buildings, old music, and old comics") on the role of Chicago in the history of the comic strip. Easily this counts as one of the most enjoyable talks I've been to in New York. It could only have been made better if it had taken place in Chicago. And oh how it made me want to be in Chicago.

Great moments came from examinations of entries to a Chicago Tribune contest held to find the building that would be their headquarters, and ultimately, the greatest building in the world. "I call this one the marital aid entry." Ware's dry humor found laughter as well as he lent his commentary to the section of a silent film called "Trees to Tribune" featuring the art staff of the Chicago Tribune. Of Carey Orr: "This guy is such a douchebag. Don't forget your signature, Carey..." (He later reminded us that though he makes fun, he feels a real affinity for these guys.)

Samuelson spun stories of the history of Chicago architecture - of how it was an amalgam of new ideas that never could have worked in a place like New York, of the way it was mocked decades ago in a New Yorker illustration as a prop film set, with tall buildings up front, and support beams in back - a fantastic storyteller. He and Ware bounced off each other like two men sitting on a porch, telling stories they've been telling for years to the new stranger from out of town. Ware shared his love for artists such as Feininger ("he just looks like a nice, old man"), McCay, Darger, New Yorker cover artist Mary Petty (a new fling), and Frank King, creator of "Gasoline Alley."

There was a particular beauty in both Samuelson's and Ware's appreciation for King. There were old black-and-white pictures from King's life, including a sweet moment capturing King, the bottom button of his cardigan undone, carrying his son on his shoulders in front of the camera. Ware told us he seemed like a happy, down-to-earth father. That they had a cozy life. The slight melancholy in the autumn strips of "Gasoline Alley" was explained by the departure of King's son to boarding school. A reflection of melancholy, Ware said: "so anyway..." and the projection screen momentarily faded to black. And there was something very beautiful and intangible in that moment.

More things that endear me to Ware: He wants his drawings to look like they are dead on the page. He loves books more than gallery shows. He understands the majesty of people in photographs obscured to the size of specks of dust by a building of plaster and wood.

"That's what you get for your $15." Well worth it.

More on the Ware/Samuelson connection in multi-media format, featuring Ira Glass, here. If you are in New York, you can see the Masters of American Comics exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Newark Museum through January 28th.

And bonus: Here's Ware talking about cartooning and Tintin.