Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I felt about it the way I feel about The Sopranos, which I didn't start watching until many seasons in after countless people told me I had to do so. I liked but didn't love it. The problem is that James Gandolfini, I think, is not an exceptional actor and doesn't have that much charisma. (I realize most people disagree.) I'd watch every episode of a show where Tony Montana or Don Corleone was the central character, and I'd never hit fast forward. I'd also watch every episode of a show where Phil Leotardo was the central character. (A friend of mine, before the final episode, hoped for a Sopranos spin-off that would be nothing but Phil Leotardo sipping espresso and talking to the camera. I would watch that.) But Tony Soprano is ultimately kind of boring, and his grin looks developmentally disabled, and I found myself tired of his problems. (Also, the therapy scenes were terrible. They should have done away with that and with the therapist character in the first season.) Anyway--I felt similarly about the The Wire and its protagonist McNulty. I knew he was going to be a problem for me when I started watching the first episode--the actor is clearly British. He's a handsome Englishman playing a gritty alcoholic Baltimore cop. Interestingly, another major character, Stringer Bell (pictured) is also played by a British actor, Idris Elba, who is amazing and completely convincing as an American. Here's a scene with the two of them talking to each other:
One actor seems to me completely convincing; the other, not so much. (Other viewers, I have to admit, don't seem to have this problem.)
Another weird--but smaller--issue. The Wire has a problem with dead bodies. They blink. You can clearly see in several episodes, most notably the beginning of the second episode in Season 1, a dead body's eyes moving around. It also happens, I remember, in Season 4 when the find the bodies in the vacant houses.
Anyway, here's my only major problem with the series: the cops are boring. Not always, but usually. There are some exceptions--Rawls and Daniels and Freamon are great, mainly because they're played by great actors. But I fast-forwarded through a lot of the cop stuff.
The drug dealers and their stories, on the other hand, are engrossing. They're played almost without exception by great actors--Idris Elba, Jamie Hector, Method Man (!), and others. The Marlo Stanfield character is particularly sinister--his face looks like a mask of death, or possibly Botox. It fails to move in the creepiest way. I watched the final episode of Season 5 on demand; I was impressed with the show's writers for letting Marlo end up in a fairly unexpected and open-ended situation.
(Speaking of open-ended situations--for all my complaints about Sopranos above, I loved the final scene of the final episode. Truly, loved it.)
They pulled in some excellent writers by the third season--Richard Price, George Pelecanos, etc.--and it shows.
So overall, I thought the show was good to excellent. I don't love it like I love The Shield but I like it more than almost any other show. Every time I read a bunch of crime novels I get back into shows like The Shield and The Wire with particular avidity, so my recent Ellroy binge coincided perfectly with the end of the The Wire and everyone telling me to watch it.
Monday, April 28, 2008
The Backyard Planet
The Arm Garden
Last Years on Earth
Throwing Up Wine
[and its sequel...]
Comment, or tell me in person if applicable.
Friday, April 25, 2008
"In jail for young literary men."
It took me a second to decipher this. So my friend will sometimes refer (so to speak) to marijuana using a completely random euphemism, both mocking and observing the tradition of pot smokers to call their chosen drug by affectionate nicknames of their own invention. It isn't just my friend who does this, I guess, but a number of our friends. For example, if a person was making plans but had to wait for a dealer to come by and deliver weed, that person might say, "Well, I can't leave until the guy comes by with the bisexual model," or something like that. The more random/illogical, the better. And so then I remembered that recently someone mentioned this book, All the Sad Young Literary Men, and shortly afterward a suggestion was made that some "sad young literary men" be smoked prior to seeing Speed Racer in IMAX. So I understood that the text message probably meant my friend had been arrested for smoking weed in public.
He managed to get out very late last night (text message: "Just got out. So happy!"), which is good considering that some years ago another friend was arrested for the exact same offense and because of a bureacratic glitch stayed in jail for several days--not exactly hard time but surely terrifying for a twenty year old college student.
Weirdly I read All the Sad Young Literary Men the same day this happened, yesterday. Despite the wretched, embarrasing title (why didn't anyone intervene?), it's very good. (Word of mouth didn't seem promising. Two people told me they like it--but they're both friends of the author. Two others told me they didn't...and they're also friends of the author.) I don't know. I read it fast and enjoyed it and thought it was one of the better comic first novels I've read in a long time, if clumsy at the end. Worth sliding money across a counter for, I think. It seemed perceptive and it actually caused me to chuckle at least four or five times, which--if we acknowledge the rarity with which people sitting alone reading or writing actually "laugh out loud"--is pretty remarkable.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
- the writer (we'll assume he's male) actually believes women are inferior to men in terms of intellect, character, or skill
- the writer regards women in a purely sexual way and is indifferent to traits or talents tangential to sex appeal/lack thereof
- the writer identifies women with his mother/wife/girlfriend/whoever and takes out his frustrations with these women on his female characters
- the writer's inability or disinterest when it comes to writing nuanced female characters suggest a disinclination to regard women as thinking, feeling people
And I think a lot of the authors below, especially John Fowles and James Salter, are semi-guilty of #2 in that they see women as sexual beings first. (I feel self-conscious about this sometimes when writing. Can I describe a female character as beautiful or in a sexual context without subtly diminishing her as a character in some way?) But what does that mean, really? Does that mean they can't also portray her as intelligent and nuanced? Come on. No. Fowles writes great female characters. Miranda Grey in The Collector and Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant's Woman may be described as beautiful, but they're as complex as any male characters he ever wrote. And Salter--who I've heard dissed for making the young French girl in A Sport and a Pastime just a "sexual prop"--is beyond criticism in this regard as far as I'm concerned. He writes women elegantly and empathetically--read "My Lord You" from Last Night, or Light Years.
A lot of male writers, though, are guilty of #4. That's the most insidious one. Hemingway is the ultimate guilty party here, I think. He just did not care much about women. He cared about men doing man things, and the rest was trivial. Ellis is similar--while I don't think he hates women, I don't sense that he much cares about them. Some of the women in Rules of Attraction and the letter-writing girl in The Informers are interesting... but not that interesting. I don't know. I feel like Martin Amis struggles terribly hard to overcome this problem but it still plagues him. I don't think he's ever written a female character who interested me much as a human being. I feel like he's conscious about this, though. On the last page of his first novel The Rachel Papers--in one of its funniest passages--he even satirizes the attempt of an astoundingly self-absorbed young man to write fiction centering on a female character. His narrator, Charles Highway, begins writing a novel that starts like this:
"In the dressing table mirror Ruth saw her idiot teddybear and her idiot golliwog propped against the pillows, staring from behind[....] She looked down at the rubble of hopeless, pointless makeup and looked up again. She leaned forward, fingering the barely perceptible lump on her chin. She smiled. If that wasn't a pre-menstrual spot, she thought... what was?"
Read the comments on the last post. Slatted Light posed a question and it made me think about the distressingly high number of "great" (considered at least by some to be part of the very recent canon, I guess) male writers, including some of my favorite ones, who have at one time or another, wrongly or rightly, been accused of misogyny based on their books.
Philip Roth (whose books I have never managed to get through more than a couple pages of...my eyes seem to slide off the words)
Charles Bukowski (never really read him)
Norman Mailer (loved Executioner's Song, haven't really loved anything else)
Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho and The Informers: in my personal canon) ..."We will press this boycott very hard," said Tammy Bruce, the president of the Los Angeles chapter. "This is not art. Mr. Ellis is a confused, sick young man with a deep hatred of women who will do anything for a fast buck. And Mr. Mehta is worse. Ellis could have gone on writing until he choked on his own vomit if Vintage had not agreed to publish this misogynistic garbage." Mr. Ellis said he had received 13 anonymous death threats, including several with photographs of him in which his eyes have been poked out or an axe drawn through his face. "It's a little dismaying," he commented. He went on: "Bateman is a misogynist. In fact, he's beyond that, he is just barbarous. But I would think most Americans learn in junior high to differentiate between the writer and the character he is writing about. People seem to insist I'm a monster. But Bateman is the monster. I am not on the side of that creep..."
Martin Amis (many of his novels suck, but he is astoundingly smart and I love House of Meetings, Time's Arrow, and The Rachel Papers; and all his nonfiction is terrific)
Saul Bellow (I admire his writing and have never finished a single one of his novels)
John Fowles (The French Lieutenant's Woman, I think, really neutralizes all criticism in this regard. I love this guy--loved The Magus, The Collector, Mantissa--which Amis hilariously mocked in one of his reviews--and The Ebony Tower; also, for what it's worth, he writes the best physical descriptions of women I know of, better even than James Salter.)
James Salter (not a misogynist, just a romantic)
Well, that was certainly an ethnocentric list. And yes, I know there are many more where they came from; those are just off the top of my head.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
Working on a new project I'm very excited about. Far from sure it will see the light of day, but putting a lot into it. Many hours. And it's a pleasure. Bad luck and bad form to say anything specific, but that's that.
Midnight Picnic gets a brief, way-in-advance mention on Galleycat.
Many readings this week.
- On Monday I read at Boxcar Lounge with Todd Zuniga and Robin Slick.
- On Tuesday I went to a reading in a depressingly gorgeous townhouse where the lineup was Louis Lapham, Tom Wolfe, Graydon Carter, Harvey Weinstein, and...Richard Dreyfuss. Everyone was beautiful or rich; I felt anxious, out of place. There was free champagne and food but no chairs and so people had to stand in a relatively small space. A woman fainted on the floor near me.
- On Wednesday, a reading by Denis Johnson. Johnson seemed to have a little trouble. ("These are my words. This is my mouth. Theoretically there should be no problem.") I went with my friend David. Then drinks and food at the White Horse.
- Last night, Scott Heim's book party for We Disappear at the LGBT Center. If you haven't read his books before, definitely worth your while to pick one up.
- tonight: no readings.
The former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, has a blogspot blog and just endorsed Barack Obama on it.
I want to see Pride and Glory. I've wanted to see it for a while. I have this thing... I like to read and hear about dirty cops. In reality I'm wary of cops. The father of my first girlfriend was one of the worst people I've ever met or known, and he was a cop. I have a relative (I haven't seen him in almost two decades) who's a cop and I recall being very little and being told I wasn't supposed to be around him, and overhearing what a vicious racist he was, how he threatened to beat up my grandfather. That made an impression on me. But in stories I love to see rogue cops doing corrupt things, especially in collapsing cities. (Another reason I love James Ellroy and The Shield.) Small town monster cops, like in The Killer Inside Me, are slightly less interesting.
It's so sunny out. I mean, it's beautiful. I need to go outside. To end the week, here's Erwin Blumenfeld's portrait of Hitler.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I guess last week Tao and Zachary German said on their blogs that German's book was being published by FSG, which is clearly a put-on if you know that Tao regularly says his books/stories are being published by "corporate" magazines and presses when they aren't. (This is what Zachary German's writing is like.) But a writer from Ohio who neither of us knew, this fellow Eric (I know him a bit now from emailing, and he seems thoughtful, reasonable, and intelligent), read it and wrote a baffled/unimpressed post on his blog, believing the FSG claim to be true (as did many other readers, apparently). Tao linked to that post, so his friends went to Eric's site and "defended" him and German, saying "eat a dick" and calling him a fag and asking how dare he criticize geniuses.
I just read a little of that right before going to a reading at Melville House where Tao was in the lineup--I hadn't seen him in maybe six months. Weirdly, he read a story with me in it as a character, incorporating my emails and gmail chats. Afterward I finished reading the comments and they seemed so exasperatingly stupid/ugly that I posted, "Judgments of quality aside, many people posting here in "defense" of Tao could stand to be a lot less obnoxious about it..." A couple minutes later--although I didn't see it until the next afternoon--Zachary German wrote, "you are a faggot...you have sex with other gay men like yourself" on my blog, and then "syke."
On Eric's blog, Tao said, "i don't approve of calling people faggots..." When I noted that his friend Zachary German had just called me a faggot, Tao said, "he typed that as a 'joke' just to show me on the screen then i accidentally pushed 'enter' or something." Accidentally! I'm laughing.
Anyway--what he means but isn't capable of saying, I think, is that he intended to do it at the time, but then felt stupid. The word "faggot" doesn't insult me in its literal meaning--would anyone in a modern liberal city be ashamed of being gay?--and I'm not hypersensitive to it (I've uttered it in my life, although never in a fight or argument), but the intention of using the word to someone's "face" in this way is clearly to insult/be aggressive toward them and the explanation of it as an accident takes the whole thing into the more absurd and vaguely comic zone of passive-aggression. *
*He was passive-aggressive when we were roommates, too, especially when it came to women. That is, he actually tried to harm my relationships. An example: around the time he moved in, I was seeing this woman who lived in the building. That ended, and then I started dating someone else, EJ. Much later she told me that early in the relationship we were at a reading and I got up from the table for a second. Tao took the opportunity to ask her, "Are you the one who lives in our building?" Now, he had met her before and knew exactly who she was and how I knew her. A different kind of weird thing--sometime before that, I once went to a reading with a woman, LA, who I was seeing at the time. Tao was there. He talked to LA for maybe a couple minutes. He seemed withdrawn as always and maybe intimidated (she was really tall and, well, kind of intimidating). Then LA and I left. Much later, I read his novel EEE, which I liked but which contains a scene based on that evening. The LA character is called "Lelu" and I'm called "Sean" and Tao is called "Andrew." As Tao wrote it, Sean is quickly disposed of and then Andrew and Lelu have a long, detailed conversation and go out for dinner with friends. Which, for obvious reasons, is a little weird.
He was also, I think, developing his "philosophy of life" during this time. His relativistic, "there is no good or bad and saying one piece of art is better than another piece of art is the same as racism" philosophy seems to come from impulses similar to those that lead to passive-aggression. He can't tolerate criticism so he constructs an elaborate philosophical justification for dismissing all criticism. He wants to publish people's emails, which he knows they'll consider a betrayal, on his blog so he claims that no information should ever be private because the absence of privacy reduces pain and suffering in the world. He wants his internet friends to attack people who don't like his writing, so he fumbles for philosophical defenses of their attacks.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Come if you like, it is a nice place and should be a short, interesting reading.
Someone sent me this picture a little while ago.
Friday, April 11, 2008
I have now read the L.A. Quartet by James Ellroy in its entirety. That's The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz. I had read Dahlia and L.A. Confidential before, out of order. They're all amazing and I'm just going to write some stuff, stream-of-consciousness, about them.
I never realized that the prologue of L.A. Confidential is basically the ending of The Big Nowhere--or how thoroughly interconnected the novels are. (It's really like one long novel, with the possible exception of White Jazz, which although it wraps up the lives of some major characters who run throughout the quartet, is the only one written in the first person and has a style that seems to set it slightly apart. It's also the one it took me the longest to get into because the style is initially incredibly fucking frustrating.) I had also never quite realized how much of Ellroy's focus is on repressed homosexuality turned into violence and rage--which is a much bigger, more turbulent element of The Big Nowhere (in which one of the three major characters, and perhaps the most interesting, is a secretly gay cop who's never acted on his impulses) and White Jazz (in which a supporting character is a gay, insane cop, Junior Stemmons, who the protagonist is desperately trying to kill before Stemmons can reveal how corrupt he, the protagonist, is; that was a poorly constructed sentence). I'm thinking about them today because if I have time I intend to go see Street Kings, the fairly awful-looking Keanu Reeves movie, that's based on a sreenplay by Ellroy--although the final movie apparently has little in common with Ellroy's script.
I wrote about this before, but what I like about Ellroy is that he makes information an aesthetic tool in and of itself. The release of information from the author to the reader in a sort of tide, rhythmic and (to me) irresistible. One reason he's able to do this is because he invents so much more information than most authors... the sheer density of incident dwarfs what most authors produce in terms of plotting; how he's able to create and maintain these structures staggers me. He clearly has an addictive personality (I get this not entirely from the books but also from interviews with him, etc) and was a druggie and a criminal in his youth, and that pathology is channeled into his novels. He's plotted this stuff out and worked it out so comprehensively that it's a little humbling.
He's also economical about how he gets information to you and I like how indifferent he is to the idea of "show, don't tell" at least as it's traditionally applied. If he wants to tell you that the sight of a body chopped in half has made Detective John Smith nauseated, what he says is, "Smith: nauseated." You really cannot get more economical than that. But he's not giving Smith short shrift--because you will then have pages of action in which Smith drives all over the city of L.A. and meets various people and interacts with them in fascinating ways and maybe beats some of them quite badly.
The L.A. Quartet is one of my favorite works of art in any medium from the last few decades. If I had a big chart where I categorized what I thought of things, the L.A. Quartet would be one of the few entries under "Fucking Amazing." Other entries might include Oldboy, Peter Hoeg's The Quiet Girl, Bret Ellis's American Psycho, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and maybe one or two other things, possibly some pairing of movies by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I feel good and bad in general.
Bad--slowly recovering from illness, throat hurts. Sleeping a full eight hours a night. Have written a bunch of short stories now but they are too long to get easily published. What a headache.
Good--Writing a lot. Working on several new projects including one not like anything else I've done before. Endorphins.
Monday, April 07, 2008
I am dizzy/lightheaded from being so sick; also in a bad mood.
Richard Grayson says in an email:
Since my first fiction chapbook appeared 30 years ago this summer, I have been repeatedly asked when I will be coming out with a collection of sex stories for teens. In fact, this is probably the comment I received most between the time each of my books were published and then mysteriously disappeared.
Now that I am old and near death, such a teen sex story collection will finally be coming out this summer. You can find links to stuff about my new book, Who Will Kiss the Pig?: Sex Stories for Teens below:
I'll buy this.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
On Thursday I was okay enough to go to work and in the evening I saw Richard Price read and talk w/ David Simon, which was good. Then I went to dinner with some friends and didn't get home until late.
Friday morning when I woke up I felt bad again so I stayed home. The bad feeling got worse and worse, until by eight or nine in the evening I was back where I'd been on Wednesday morning. Then it got worse. I started having minor hallucinations--a little humanoid dinosaur skeleton with dreadlocks and a basketball jersey was standing around chuckling. And a woman in a green bathing suit was lying on a sort of half-submerged raft of moss near a clear pond. Sometimes I wanted to go to the hospital but was too disoriented/weak to get out of bed and pick up the phone. I stayed in bed for about fourteen hours. I was drenched in sweat. Around 11 am I got out of bed. I felt okay. I drank two pint cartons of orange juice and a small container of yogurt. In the afternoon I ordered a huge meal of ribs, pulled pork, fries, onion rings, and crab cakes. I seem to be okay now.