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A literary game of "I never"

I have never...
...read Pynchon.
...read Austen.
...finished a Dostoevsky novel (and I've started three).
...understood the attraction to Henry James (all those commas!).
...made it past the funeral scene in Ulysses.
...been able to keep my mouth shut at a David Mitchell reading.

Drink up.


Square eyes

I spent a good chunk of my childhood without a television. My parents simply didn't own one. They rented a set for the 1980 Winter Olympics, but until I was five years old, when we inherited my grandparents' black-and-white portable, I had no television at home. You would think, then that I would have a healthy relationship with the box. The problem is, sometimes when you are denied something, you only crave it more.

When I was about four years old, I was visiting a friend's house, and she was watching Mr. Rogers, or Sesame Street. (Remember the days when the only children's programming on weekdays was on PBS?) As the story goes, the expression on my face suddenly froze, and I sat, unmoved, staring wide-eyed, absorbing. The mother of my friend was so frightened by my reaction to the television that she called my mother: "Is she allowed to watch television? Because she's absolutely glued to it right now, and I can't get her away..."

I have had an unhealthy relationship with television ever since. In the past few years, I have managed to refine my relationship. The DVR has curbed the urge to flick, and bit by bit I find myself settling into a habit of watching a few exclusive shows, abandoning those that don't live up to my standards for crisp, literary dialogue, challenging aesthetic, and artistic editing. (To come clean, there are some glaring exceptions, a few shows I watch somewhat religiously that fit into none of these categories, "The Girls Next Door" - the show that gives multiple meanings to the word "boob tube" - being the most obvious and deliciously tacky example.) But it took me years to move beyond that initial reaction to the television, that inescapable attraction, that mesmerism.

One of my earliest television memories is my babysitter's obsession with Luke & Laura's wedding on "General Hospital." The television was in the playroom (in my memory, it was always sunny: two intersecting walls of windows, yellow wallpaper, and orange carpet). The babysitter, probably a student of my mom's, or possibly one of the younger girls from up the road, was giddy with anticipation. She probably sat still, much the same way I had, unable to be torn away from the set with a child's pleas to play a game or to let me hide and force her to seek me out. So I must have watched the wedding with her.

Today I glimpsed an ad on the side of a phone booth announcing the return of Laura (from a coma, I believe), 25 years after the two characters were originally married. The photograph was of their wedding day: Luke in his glorious afro, and Laura in her early eighties golden sheen. I used to think these people were real, and that their wedding was a national event. It caused me to smile, that ad. Twenty-five years. Sometimes it takes my breath away to have memories so old. Even if they do come from the boob tube.


Book Notes and Big Sky Country

Largehearted Boy gives props to translators in his new installment of Book Notes, by offering the spotlight both to Electric Flesh author Claro and translator Brian Evenson:

When you're translating a book, you end up reformulating it so that the mind's imagined mouth, while forming different words in a different language, can still try to impart the impact of the original.
Evenson is also interviewed (mostly about Mormonism and his book The Open Curtain) in the most recent issue of Bookslut.

I just yesterday received my (surprisingly aromatic) copy of Joan Didion's We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live, and I do believe I will carry it with me until I die. I'm just wondering how long I will ride this Didion high... and whether a crash is imminent. A note on author burnout from the experienced Maud.

Fast Food Nation continues to be a fascinating read, and I am showing few signs of my usual decrescendoing interest in non-fiction. Perhaps there's curiosity in the old girl yet. And I must admit I am not as enthralled with the Maugham book as I had hoped to be, but I am going to keep at it before diving into anything new. Of Human Bondage was my favorite book in high school - I think I wanted to rediscover what had made his writing so appealing to me back then.

Finally, I am trying to avoid politics on here because I really would like to respect everyone's individual choices, but I have to say that I have really been enjoying following Montana's senate race. A former music teacher and current lentil farmer running against a former farm & ranch news reporter. I'm saving the topic of my love of farmers for another entry, where I have a whole silo full of things to say about the life of Louis Bromfield, and the livestock and grain reports that used to come from the radio in my grandfather's bathroom every time you turned on the light. For now, though, it's nice to briefly be in touch with a part of the country I don't often pay enough attention to. If you'd like to escape politics for a day, have a look at some of the most interesting pictures related to Montana on Flickr. Pictures like these are definitely making me want to plan a vacation there.



If you live in the United States, don't forget to vote today. I try not to be too critical of anyone, but I have little patience for people who don't vote and then complain about the state of things in this country, no matter which side of the fence they're on.

Personally, I'm going to vote for no more fences...


Better days will haunt you

It was a no-man's land of identity. That time between the angst of Nirvana and the frivolity of Britpop. When we wore long johns under our ripped jeans, but were done streaking our hair with purple. Long after we had written "yr" instead of "your" in the last issue of our zine (all two issues). When our favorite book was Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums and we experimented with Super 8 cameras. The last few days when albums really were still all about Side A and Side B.

In 1995, I had just returned from a year abroad with an aching to reconnect with everything American I had missed over the year I was away. Cornfields and talk radio. Four-lane highways and convenience stores. In particular, I had a hankering for some really American rock music. That summer, I re-embraced a group of college kids and their insanely gigantic record collections as my friends, acclimatisers, and musical gurus. In high school, they had introduced me to My Bloody Valentine, Th' Faith Healers, Unrest, and The Swirlies ("I think it's time for a little 'Jeremy Parker', my friends").

By the time I returned from my year away, they had moved out of the dorms and into cheap housing filled with second-hand furniture, and it was all about Guided By Voices (or, occasionally, in an early exhibition of pre-hipster irony, The Outfield). The first time I ever heard GBV, I thought it was a lost Beatles or David Bowie album, and I embarrassingly said so. And then I found out they were from Dayton, OH, and couldn't believe my own proximity to such greatness. I loved their delivery of light-spirited anthemic pop melodies as tinny, grit-filled distortions.

Chavez were another band in this vein, a band discovered during that lost summer, on that second-hand plaid couch, playing games of "Asshole" after work, watching the cans of cheap beer pile up on the colonial style coffee table until someone pulled out a guitar.

These moments all came back to me recently thanks to Matador, who have just re-released Chavez's two full-length albums, along with several singles and b-sides, as a 2-CD/1-DVD set. I finally made it to the record store this weekend to pick one up, and it's quite the trip back to 1995, before I settled into the comfort of who I was. Nothing can better explain that feeling than the distorted guitars, maniacally throbbing drums, melodic vocals, and the wistful early-to-mid-nineties-ness of that album cover...

Go read a better review than I could write at Funtime OK (where you can also hear some tracks and find a link to the video for "Break Up Your Band").