Shilling for DFW, Special Babies, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sunshine, and (Moby)Dick Jokes

This month’s issue of Harper’s has some great stuff, including a selection called “The Compliance Branch” from David Foster Wallace’s current work in progress. In the short piece, an unidentified narrator is overcome by a “fierce” infant:

The infant’s face, as I experienced it, was mostly eyes and lower lip, its nose a mere pinch, its forehead milky and domed, its pale red hair wispy, no eyebrows or lashes or even eyelids I could see. I never saw it blink. Its features seemed suggestions only. It had roughly as much face as a whale does. I did not like it at all.

Doesn’t this guy know that all babies are special? Evidence of special babies:


You can read DFW’s last piece for Harper’s, “Tense Present,” an essay about grammar and usage and democracy, here. Or, alternately, you could treat yourself to the entirety of Consider the Lobster, where said essay is collected. Or, if you’re spectacularly lazy, hear DFW read unpublished work here and here.

Harper’s also has a great essay by ‘klept fave Ursula K. LeGuin. In “Staying Awake,” LeGuin takes on the relationship between reading, capitalism, literature in art. Good stuff. Bibliophile’s will appreciate LeGuin on the physiognomy of books:

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you are fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.

If you haven’t read LeGuin, I highly recommend The Left Hand of Darkness, a book that scrutinizes gender roles with more interesting results than, say, Eugenides’s Middlesex or Woolf’s Orlando.

Abrupt transition: Sunshine, the latest movie from director Danny Boyle, the mastermind behind Trainspotting, Millions, and 28 Days Later, is out on DVD. Sunshine, scripted by long-time Boyle collaborator Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later), was eaten alive last summer by a host of tertiary blockbuster sequels. I liked Sunshine; in addition to being a shiny, beautiful movie, it also raised some interesting questions about the cost of existence, individual worth, and the merits of self-sacrifice. Although the end unravels a bit, the movie is well worth seeing. Recommended.

Finally, lit nerds and Melville fans such as myself might have a laugh at Teddy Wayne’s take on Ishmael as comedian. Sample joke:

What’s the deal with the biscuits? Do they really expect this to suffice for a six months’ imperialistic voyage for exotic spices? And the servings they give you—is this for, like, a baby sailor? Did I accidentally request the infant meal?

Ishmael’s a hack–get it? Is there anything funnier than whaling humor?


Hypothetical Sentiments, Bodacious Birthdays, and Friendly Links

If this was the type of blog where I wrote about my personal life, the type of blog where I bared my naked soul to the keen scrutiny of all the world (wide web), the type of blog where I tried to express the ineffable internal in so many 0s and 1s–; if this were that type of blog, I might start this post with a litany of clichés and truisms about how the birth of my daughter Zoe this Sunday, 3 June, was easily the bestest, most significant thing to ever happen to me; how the birth of my daughter made me the happiest man in the etc., how beautiful and alert and cute and adorable etc., life-changing and dramatic, etc.; I might even post a sugary photo of her like this one–

–to justify all these wild claims.

But of course, this is all hypothetical; this is not a blog about how happy I am with our new addition, or how great my wife is at being a mother, or how lovely our little Zoe is–this is a blog about books and pop culture. So maybe I should link Zoe’s birthday, 3 June, with some famous people also born on that day: these include beat poet Allen Ginsberg, exiled dancer Josephine Baker, and game show host/CIA assassin (?) Chuck Barris. Zoe wasn’t the only person to have a birthday in the Biblioklept clan this week–I switched a digit just yesterday. Famous people who were also born on 7 June include libertine painter Paul Gaugin, American poet Gwendolyn Brooks, professional drunk Dean Martin, and Florida writer Harry Crews, whose novel a Feast of Snakes, out-Bukowskis Bukowski. But by far the coolest person to be born on 7 June (sorry Mr. Martin) is Prince (I’m not going to wiki-link to Prince. If you want to know about Prince, go buy Purple Rain, or Sign ‘O’ the Times, or 1999, or Diamonds and Pearls. Also, if you know-not the glory of Prince, hang your sorry head in shame (philistine)). On my birthday, I always wonder: “What is Prince doing for his birthday? Is he having a great time? I bet he’s doing some really awesome stuff!” It makes me happy. What can I say.

I guess some of my friends knew that I’d be tuckered out from the week’s excitement, so they sent me plenty of cool links, kind of doing my blog-job for me. Check it out:

–Watch the first episode of The Flight of the Conchords when you have a spare half hour. If you don’t find this hilarious, there is probably something wrong with your soul (thanks to Damon for the link)

–Treat yourself to an awesome mix tape, courtesy of Speck. My favorite track: “The Return” by Antares (those who don’t love spaced-out psychedelic prog jamz need not apply)

–Listen to this BBC Radio 4 story on Roger Linn, inventor of the drum machine

–Watch this presentation on Photosynth. Absolutely amazing (thanks to Mike for the links)

–Watch this preview of the upcoming Persepolis movie; then check out my review of the book (thanks to Nick for the link)