The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013 (Book Acquired, Sometime Last Week)

Books, Literature, Writers

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Here are the table of contents for the 2013 O. Henry Prize Stories:

Your Duck Is My Duck, by DEBORAH EISENBERG
Sugarcane, by DEREK PALACIO
The Summer People, by KELLY LINK
Leaving Maverley, by ALICE MUNRO
White Carnations, by POLLY ROSENWAIKE
Sail, by TASH AW
Anecdotes, by ANN BEATTIE
Lay My Head, by L. ANNETTE BINDER
He Knew, by DONALD ANTRIM
The Visitor, by ASAKO SERIZAWA
Where Do You Go? by SAMAR FARAH FITZGERALD
Aphrodisiac, by RUTH PRAWER JHABVALA
Two Opinions, by JOAN SILBER
They Find the Drowned, by MELINDA MOUSTAKIS
The Mexican, by GEORGE MCCORMICK
Tiger, by NALINI JONES
Pérou, by LILY TUCK
Sinkhole, by JAMIE QUATRO
The History of Girls, by AYŞE PAPATYA BUCAK
The Particles, by ANDREA BARRETT

My favorite thing about the list is that I’ve only heard of a handful of the writers here. Read the introduction here.

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Raymond Pettibon: “I read as I write, write as I read”

Art, Books, Literature

Read a 1999 interview with Raymond Pettibon in BOMB. Excerpt:

I read as I write, write as I read. If it used to take me five minutes to read the whole newspaper, now, my mind wanders, and then five minutes later I wonder, Gee, did I read that? I used to take notes, and I have notebooks full of drawings and notes that were partly quotations, and I’ve done a lot of marginalia, writing in books. I’m usually reading a number of books at a time, and whether I get through an individual one is probably unlikely. I’ve lost interest in narrative. (sigh) At least in the sense of seeing how a story comes out at the end. There’s a type of reading where you get lost in the narrative and you become part of the story and you’re compelled to finish. I don’t really have any interest in that. For me, reading has become more microscopic, more about dissecting the work. It may start on the level of the novel, then go down to theme or style, then to a paragraph, and finally a sentence. Or the sentence itself becomes about structure, or the words in it. Probably the most obvious example of that kind of reading is James Joyce. It becomes a kind of disease. Every text becomes related to another one, even in a different language, down to each individual word, which then becomes a clue into the etymology of the word, and then that etymological tree. A different context, a different language…you’re just making these associations from one thing to another. I used to start out with a simple drawing that would begin as an idea, and then my writing would make some associations with something else. And then, you know, a day later, or a year later, or whenever, the whole page would be covered with small, finely written text. And it would become a lot of things that were meant to be just in one drawing, expanded into this while still part of my notes. Voluminous notes. You do actually get lost in that morass of associations.

 

Georges Perec (Books Acquired, Some Time Last Week)

Books

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I picked up Georges Perec’s twofer Things and A Man Asleep last Friday at the used bookstore. I was there looking for something else. The Perec was not even shelved under “P.” I found it laid on a table. The good people at Melville House also sent me a copy of Perec’s La Boutique Obscure last week, which I do not photograph here because it is an ebook. I read a big chunk of Obscure this week and will do some kind of write-up sometime soon, but here’s David Auerbach’s review at the LA Review of Books in the meantime.

List with No Name #17

Lists
  1. Gordon Lish
  2. Ed Sanders
  3. Nadine Gordimer
  4. Harry Matthews
  5. Doris Lessing
  6. Cynthia Ozick
  7. Philip Roth
  8. Derek Walcott
  9. William H. Gass
  10. John Ashberry
  11. E.L. Doctorow
  12. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  13. Harold Bloom
  14. Gabriel García Márquez
  15. Joyce Johnson
  16. Milan Kundera
  17. Amiri Baraka
  18. Gary Snyder
  19. Joyce Carol Oates
  20. Mario Vargas Llosa
  21. Joan Didion
  22. Harper Lee
  23. John Barth
  24. Don DeLillo
  25. Cormac McCarthy
  26. Chinua Achebe
  27. Umberto Eco
  28. Günter Grass

 

 

“The Great Bridge Between Modernism and Post-modernism” — David Foster Wallace on Jorge Luis Borges

Books, Literature, Writers

. . . Borges is arguably the great bridge between modernism and post-modernism in world literature. He is modernist in that his fiction shows a first-rate human mind stripped of all foundations in religious or ideological certainty — a mind turned thus wholly in on itself. His stories are inbent and hermetic, with the oblique terror of a game whose rules are unknown and its stakes everything.

And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots’ centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially — consciously — a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there’s finally no difference — that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same. Obviously, this has postmodern implications (hence the pontine claim above), but Borges’s is really a mystical insight, and a profound one. It’s also frightening, since the line between monism and solipsism is thin and porous, more to do with spirit than with mind per se. And, as an artistic program, this kind of collapse/transcendence of individual identity is also paradoxical, requiring a grotesque self-obsession combined with an almost total effacement of self and personality. Tics and obsessions aside, what makes a Borges story Borgesian is the odd, ineluctable sense you get that no one and everyone did it.

—From “Borges on the Couch,” a 2004 NYT piece republished this month in the David Foster Wallace collection Both Flesh and Not.

 

Bartleby the Scrivener (Book Acquired, 9.25.2012)

Book, Books, Literature, Writers

 

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The good people at Melville House sent me their edition of Melville’s classic novella Bartleby the Scrivener. I’ve read it at least half a dozen times since the 10th grade, but the Melville House version is part of their Hybrid Books series, which features digital illuminations. I shall report in full in a week or two, focusing on what the illuminations add to the book, and what the reading experience is like.

 

“The Yellow Paint” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Art, Books, Literature, Writers

 

“The Yellow Paint,” a short fable by Robert Louis Stevenson—

In a certain city there lived a physician who sold yellow paint. This was of so singular a virtue that whoso was bedaubed with it from head to heel was set free from the dangers of life, and the bondage of sin, and the fear of death for ever. So the physician said in his prospectus; and so said all the citizens in the city; and there was nothing more urgent in men’s hearts than to be properly painted themselves, and nothing they took more delight in than to see others painted. There was in the same city a young man of a very good family but of a somewhat reckless life, who had reached the age of manhood, and would have nothing to say to the paint: “Tomorrow was soon enough,” said he; and when the morrow came he would still put it off. She might have continued to do until his death; only, he had a friend of about his own age and much of his own manners; and this youth, taking a walk in the public street, with not one fleck of paint upon his body, was suddenly run down by a water-cart and cut off in the heyday of his nakedness. This shook the other to the soul; so that I never beheld a man more earnest to be painted; and on the very same evening, in the presence of all his family, to appropriate music, and himself weeping aloud, he received three complete coats and a touch of varnish on the top. The physician (who was himself affected even to tears) protested he had never done a job so thorough.

Some two months afterwards, the young man was carried on a stretcher to the physician’s house.

“What is the meaning of this?” he cried, as soon as the door was opened. “I was to be set free from all the dangers of life; and here have I been run down by that self-same water-cart, and my leg is broken.”

“Dear me!” said the physician. “This is very sad. But I perceive I must explain to you the action of my paint. A broken bone is a mighty small affair at the worst of it; and it belongs to a class of accident to which my paint is quite inapplicable. Sin, my dear young friend, sin is the sole calamity that a wise man should apprehend; it is against sin that I have fitted you out; and when you come to be tempted, you will give me news of my paint.”

     “Oh!” said the young man, “I did not understand that, and it seems rather disappointing. But I have no doubt all is for the best; and in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged to you if you will set my leg.”

“That is none of my business,” said the physician; “but if your bearers will carry you round the corner to the surgeon’s, I feel sure he will afford relief.”

Some three years later, the young man came running to the physician’s house in a great perturbation. “What is the meaning of this?” he cried. “Here was I to be set free from the bondage of sin; and I have just committed forgery, arson and murder.”

“Dear me,” said the physician. “This is very serious. Off with your clothes at once.” And as soon as the young man had stripped, he examined him from head to foot. “No,” he cried with great relief, “there is not a flake broken. Cheer up, my young friend, your paint is as good as new.”

“Good God!” cried the young man, “and what then can be the use of it?”

“Why,” said the physician, “I perceive I must explain to you the nature of the action of my paint. It does not exactly prevent sin; it extenuates instead the painful consequences. It is not so much for this world, as for the next; it is not against life; in short, it is against death that I have fitted you out. And when you come to die, you will give me news of my paint.”

“Oh!” cried the young man, “I had not understood that, and it seems a little disappointing. But there is no doubt all is for the best: and in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged if you will help me to undo the evil I have brought on innocent persons.”

     “That is none of my business,” said the physician; “but if you will go round the corner to the police office, I feel sure it will afford you relief to give yourself up.”

Six weeks later, the physician was called to the town gaol.

“What is the meaning of this?” cried the young man. “Here am I literally crusted with your paint; and I have broken my leg, and committed all the crimes in the calendar, and must be hanged tomorrow; and am in the meanwhile in a fear so extreme that I lack words to picture it.”

“Dear me,” said the physician. “This is really amazing. Well, well; perhaps, if you had not been painted, you would have been more frightened still.”

 

A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (Book Acquired, 8.18.2012)

Books

 

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A few weeks ago, for some reason beyond my ken, I stumbled into Finnegans Wake, read on the gentle glow of my Kindle Fire. I’ve been poking into the book for years now, but that particular night I read it with an ease—not an ease of understanding, but an ease of spirit, or of mind. Or ear, really. I had fun with it. I went back each night since then, sometimes only going through a page or two before slipping into slumbers.

Anyway, I’ve been searched for a used copy of Joseph Campbell’s Skeleton Key to the Wake for years, but I finally just broke down and ordered a new copy through my bookstore.  My plan is to read Finnegans Wake next year. It’s not a plan, so much as something I’ve just typed.

 

Moby Dick (Unhyphenated Kids Book Acquired 6.30.2012)

Art, Books

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I picked this one up a few weeks ago to add to a small collection of Moby-Dick adaptations. It’s especially weird: I can’t find the name of an illustrator or author anywhere (it doesn’t even mention Herman Melville!). The adaptation is also kinda weird, lingering on the gold piece scene. Anyway. Some of the pics are cool, I guess.

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Tom McCarthy: “All Writing Is Conceptual”

Books, Literature, Writers

From Tom McCarthy’s essay “Transmission and the Individual Remix”:

All writing is conceptual; it’s just that it’s usually founded on bad concepts. When an author tells you that they’re not beholden to any theory, what they usually mean is that their thinking and their work defaults, without even realizing it, to a narrow liberal humanism and its underlying—and always reactionary—notions of the (always) “natural” and preexisting, rather than constructed self, that self’s command of language, language as vehicle for “expression,” and a whole host of fallacies so admirably debunked almost fifty years ago by the novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet.

“Effect of Quantity” (Nietzsche on Shakespeare)

Books, Literature, philosophy, Writers

162. Effect of Quantity. —The greatest paradox in the history of poetic art lies in this: that in all that constitutes the greatness of the old poets a man may be a barbarian, faulty and deformed from top to toe, and still remain the greatest of poets. This is the case with Shakespeare, who, as compared with Sophocles, is like a mine of immeasurable wealth in gold, lead, and rubble, whereas Sophocles is not merely gold, but gold in its noblest form, one that almost makes us forget the money-value of the metal. But quantity in its highest intensity has the same effect as quality. That is a good thing for Shakespeare.

From Human, All Too Human, Part II by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Smoking Makes You Look Cool, Part II (More Pics of Writers Smoking)

Books, Literature, Writers
Zora Neale Hurston
Rudyard Kipling
Anne Sexton 

A.A. Milne

Virginia Woolf

Carson McCullers

Dylan Thomas

Arthur Conan Doyle

Lillian Hellman

Raymond Carver

(For more pics of writers smoking, check out our first gallery—and don’t worry, people already expressed their hatred for what they perceived to be our endorsement of smoking there).

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Books, Literature, Writers

Another entry in our ongoing series of literary recipes to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Leopold Bloom, hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses likes kidneys for breakfast. In fact–

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

Okay, so there’s not much to this recipe. First, you’ve gotta buy the kidney–

A kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish: the last. He stood by the nextdoor girl at the counter. Would she buy it too, calling the items from a slip in her hand? Chapped: washingsoda. And a pound and a half of Denny’s sausages.

Then you cook it with some butter in a frying pan (don’t forget to share with the cat, and don’t forget the pepper)–

While he unwrapped the kidney the cat mewed hungrily against him. Give her too much meat she won’t mouse. Say they won’t eat pork. Kosher. Here. He let the bloodsmeared paper fall to her and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce. Pepper. He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup.

Then take your lazy adulterous wife her breakfast that you’ve lovingly prepared for her (she’ll need her strength for later). Oh, and don’t forget about the kidney that’s still cooking for you (unless you’re making some kind of subconscious symbolic burnt offering or something)–

—There’s a smell of burn, she said. Did you leave anything on the fire?

—The kidney! he cried suddenly.

He fitted the book roughly into his inner pocket and, stubbing his toes against the broken commode, hurried out towards the smell, stepping hastily down the stairs with a flurried stork’s legs. Pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from a side of the pan. By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back. Only a little burnt. He tossed it off the pan on to a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it.

Enjoy with gravy, toast, and a cup of tea–

Cup of tea now. He sat down, cut and buttered a slice of the loaf. He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat. Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat. Done to a turn. A mouthful of tea. Then he cut away dies of bread, sopped one in the gravy and put it in his mouth. What was that about some young student and a picnic? He creased out the letter at his side, reading it slowly as he chewed, sopping another die of bread in the gravy and raising it to his mouth.

He sopped other dies of bread in the gravy and ate piece after piece of kidney.