Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A wholehearted endorsement

Back when I posted my complaint about the New York Times Book Review Best Books of 2006, my friend Jake emailed to say he agreed. Then he added, "I would add one thing to your list of complaints: where the hell was The Road on that list? Don't know if you read it or liked it, but I fucking loved that book. Scared the hell out of me, but, god, I loved it."

I hadn't read Cormac McCarthy's The Road yet, but I have now. I couldn't agree with Jake more. It's an incredible novel. I think its flaws are minor (though there are some interesting and troubling gender issues worth discussing), but the novel is so moving, so well crafted, so horrifying, I can't believe there wasn't a place for it in the NYTBR list. I keep thinking about the novel, not only for its emotional potency (that's my fancy way of saying it scared the hell out of me, too), but for how brilliantly put together it is. It's one of those novels where you close the book once you're done and say out loud, "Wow."

So put down that book on your comps list and go read The Road.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Holidays, Bill Simmons!

As we veer closer to the new year and the end of the NFL Regular Season, I'd like us all to take note of a special event that's coming up: the final nail in the coffin of Bill Simmons' credibility. You see, this season, he's decided to compete against his wife in picking NFL games. With one week to go, she's four games up on him. I can't claim that he can retain his dignity by winning by one game, but that would be something, I suppose.

Still, she's pretty routinely kicked his ass at picking games despite the fact that she knows little about football. Also, each week, she's had a sidebar column that demonstrates hubby Bill's biggest weakness as a writer: he can't condense. He just types and types and types; he doesn't know how to hit it and quit (R.I.P., James Brown). So keep a close eye on NFL games this Sunday. Both Simmons' picks will go up on the Worldwide Leader's site on Friday. And next week, he'll be claiming (again) that this has been the weirdest gambling season ever. For the rest of us, it'll be the happiest.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NBA fans, what's wrong with this statement?

From NBA Kommissar David Stern: "We believe that the heat of the moment allows certain overstepping of traditional bounds."

Quiz time: This statement was used by Stern regarding:
  • a. the league's crackdown on players complaining to officials about calls? You know, the one where players get technicals for looking at refs wrong?
  • or b. Isiah Thomas' insanity after the brawl at MSG?
If you answered "b," you are correct. Now, for the lightning round. Is Stern's above quote deeply ironic in terms of
  • a. the league's crackdown on players complaining to officials about calls? You know, the one where players get technicals for looking at refs wrong?
  • b. Isiah Thomas' insanity after the brawl at MSG?
  • or c. all of the above?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some easy thoughts about difficult poetry

My Funkytown acquaintance Kristi Maxwell writes over at her blog, "Thinking: We should banish the terms "difficult" and "difficulty" from our discussions of poetry." Though I like the idea of banishing certain terms from poetry discussions, I wonder who takes care of this. Where are the thuggish poets to do this? Will the Poetry Society of America send over John Ashbery to confuse us and Yusef Komunyakaa to make us cry? Will the Academy of American Poets take conference fees from us and brick us in, cask-of-amontillado-like, behind Norton anthologies? Will Billy Collins come tickle us until we wet ourselves and cry uncle? Or will some devious character place the collected poems of Robert Lowell and James Merrill precariously on some top shelf to topple onto us and trap us in some awkward position so we can only count down the moments until our last breath?

Seriously, though, I think I agree with Kristi, at least in principle. Calling certain poetry "difficult" is like calling certain children "difficult": why won't you just behave and do as I'd like you to? What's with all the noise and seeming nonsense? "Difficult" is simply a term that obscures the real discussion--what is this poem doing or trying to do? (I imagine this term is particularly annoying in workshop.)

At the same time, though, "difficult" can be useful. The syntax in Paradise Lost, for example, is difficult to access, especially because we have to read complex sentences with line breaks. Plus, we like our sentences short and obvious these days. But that difficulty is a good (and important) thing in Paradise Lost. The syntactic difficulty seems like a fruitful thing to talk about. Also, I think "difficulty" can be a good starting point. So what do you mean, difficult? Is the poem illogical? Or does it rely on another kind of logic? Say, the logic of sound. Or does it follow wordplay and rhyme with little apparent attention to the immediately comprehensible?

And if we get right down to it, any poem worth reading is "difficult" in some way. (Sweeping generalization alert!) Good poems require a high level of attentiveness, even if (as in the case of, say, Frost) they seem narratively simple to understand. Another way of saying this: what is the aesthetic of the non-difficult poem?

But these are just some starting thoughts, and I'm not a poet or scholar of poetry. Someone more coherent and intelligible take over from here.

Update, 12/15, 9:31 am. In the comments, Kristi says what I meant to say, only more clearly--when people use the word "difficult," they're referring to the surface of the poem. So thanks to Kristi, "more coherent and intelligible" than me as I predicted.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My wife is going to be pissed

BREAKING NEWS: Soy makes you gay!

(Via Crooks and Liars, via Right Wing Watch, via dolorosa)

As a (mostly) vegetarian, I'm in real trouble. Praise be for the wisdom of the ever-sane World Net Daily. According to Jim Rutz, who seems a little crazy (or at the very least, needs a proofreader), soy is "a devil food" that leads to increased homosexuality by stimulating your "'female side,' physically and mentally"; "commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality"; might "explain the dramatic increase in obesity today"; and "may be boosting the rapidly rising incidence of leukemia in children."

If you'd like to read all the scientific evidence that proves just how dangerous soy is, well, you won't get it from Jim. He provides no links, though he does claim that there's research and scientific evidence for all his claims. Plus, he reassures me with his opening: "Now, I'm a health-food guy, a fanatic who seldom allows anything into his kitchen unless it's organic. I state my bias here just so you'll know I'm not anti-health food." Whew.

Of course, I'm scared here because I don't want to find that my "testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen." (Geez, I think Rutz must have gone to Harvard Medical School.) But this explains that, despite the fact that I've always hated musicals, I've recently realized Singin' in the Rain is one of my favorite movies. Plus, I have no qualms about carrying a rainbow umbrella when I walk the dog in the rain. Also, my beard (not to mention my wife, my other beard) must be cover as a heterosexual. What am I to do?

Oh, wait, I'm largely in the clear: "If you're a grownup, you're already developed, and you're able to fight off some of the damaging effects of soy. Babies aren't so fortunate." Again, whew.

As it turns out, fermented soy (including soy sauce and tempeh) is okay, but tofu will increase your gayness, you baby-hating so-and-so.

Don't let the fact that he's a religious nutball and has no background in science or medicine keep you away. Avoid the soy.

Monday, December 11, 2006


You know, I just get so peeved at the New York Times Book Review. I can't help it, I suppose. In this past Sunday's edition, they listed their "10 Best Books of 2006": five works of fiction, five works on nonfiction. (They are so kind as to include poetry on their 100 Notable Books of the Year.) Here's what bugs me:
  • Of the ten books, all were published by major presses. Oh, and of the publishers included, several are owned under the same subsidiaries (Penguin Group, Random House), and one (Henry Holt) also publishes the imprint Times Books, a joint venture with the New York Times. God Bless 'em.
  • Of the ten writers, seven have contributed their writing to the Times within the past year.
  • Several received multiple reviews by the Times (including Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, which received not only two reviews, but also an odd piece by Charles McGrath about riding through New Jersey with Ford).
  • The NYTBR devotes its cover to the list but only one page and capsule reviews for the books.
  • And speaking of the cover, it's a vending machine with the books in it. I suppose next year they'll have an iPod with the books listed as songs.
The books aren't ranked, but the usual problems of "Best Books" lists are apparent, in addition to the problems I listed above. Why not ask prominent writers to contribute essays about this year's books that they loved or that intrigued them. I'd be interested in, say, Marisha Pessl (one of the Times fawnees, both on the list and in their coverage of the book throughout the year; oh, and she sometimes writes for them, too) tying together disparate books, fiction and nonfiction, that she read, or dealing with a novel that she can't stop thinking about.

Besides, any "Best Books" list that doesn't include Grisham is just plain shallow. I mean, come on--do Times reviewers not travel in airports?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Anything to help a grad student out

Go here.

Holiday Vandalism Challenge!

Of all the kitschy shit people are putting on their lawns this holiday season, I think the one that disturbs me the most is the white skeletal deer that lights up. There are several varieties, as I learned on my most recent walk with the dog, but the one I see most commonly is a pair that features one deer with its head down as if sniffing the ground, the other with its head tilted upward as if sniffing the air. Naturally, their heads rotate.

I mention this because last year, a family down the street from my parents had the pair of deer with rotating heads. Some enterprising vandal arranged the deer so that the one with its head in the air appeared to be mounting the one with its nose to the ground. Remember, heads rotating. Somehow, the owners of the display failed to notice for about a week. Tragically, though my mom drove by it twice a day and kept telling herself to get a picture, she failed to do so.

That brings us to the first ever Crazy Little Thing Called Blog Holiday Vandalism Challenge!©®™ If you can provide me with a photo (better yet, with video) of the wonder that must be two lit deer engaging in amorous holiday cheer, I'll post it to this here blog and you'll win some sort of as-yet undecided prize. (Please note: I am not endorsing vandalism; what I describe above is probably illegal, and you should probably not do it. Or at least not get caught. I'm simply endorsing comic/journalistic recording of said vandalism.)

Royale, avec fromage

So I saw the new Bond flick, Casino Royale, this weekend. Pretty good, all in all. Daniel Craig's a great actor, and my wife made her requisite loud gasps at surprising moments. But here's what bugs me: in a movie series known for its gadgets and mechanical trickeration, how could you have an agent say, "It's amazing what you can do with Photoshop these days"? Honestly, aren't spies using software a little more sophisticated than Photoshop? I mean, they aren't just pranksters.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Yet more things I want for Ex-mass

  • An acceptance letter.
  • Any Regina Spektor cd, but especially "Begin to Hope." (By the way, go watch her video for "Fidelity" if you haven't already.)
  • The end of sweatshop labor, or at least a drastic reduction.
  • Fewer fast-moving cold fronts with winds that wake me up in the middle of the night.
  • Something good on dvd, I don't know what.
  • A re-release of Superman Returns on dvd with the right goddamn ending. (Long story--watched the movie last night; the studio clearly demanded a different ending. And the studio got it.)