brothercyst: December 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tom* vs. Rich** (probably not of interest to anyone who reads this except Tom or Rich!)

Okay I'm going to do a little bit more revising and then go out for the traditionally desultory celebration of an arbitrary milestone. Tritest night of the year, yes. Wait why don't I not go to any parties, stay in, and try to meet a stranger for sex on craigslist?? Ugh, not two years in a row.

Anyway, happy new year!

* codemonkey
**seamlessweb VP

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chandrahas Choudhury sent me his list of best books of the year and I had to admit I hadn't read any of them except part of Netherland.

Mike Young's Noo Journal 9 is out, with an excerpt from Strangelets (which is still so far from a final draft it's not even funny).

A giant anthropomorphic continental rabbit that could talk (but mostly would just sigh) and be endearingly grouchy would probably be the ideal grandparent.

I don't want to go to work tomorrow.


Images from some sort of lingerie/fetish photo shoot going on in the building across from my bedroom window a few days before Christmas. (She's holding a whip or riding crop in the second one, although you can't really see it.) Snapped quickly before I had to dash out to see Man on Wire--just rediscovered them on my memory card. This window, which is the size of the whole wall, has afforded me lots of entertainment over the years. I've even made friends through the window.


I think I want a new apartment (not because of this). But they're so expensive. I have a good deal on this one. But I've lived here a long time. And I'll have to requalify when the lease runs out. Fuck. Who knows of a cheap place?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I hope everyone had a good holiday. I did. It was freezing when I left New York. It was five a.m. and I woke up at my friend's house in Brooklyn and walked outside and everything was ice. I was pretty much asleep and I took a real spill on the ice, not as bad as when I went ice skating, but still a body-on-the-ice situation. Then I got on the plane and fell asleep and got to Maryland and it was already warm. My dad's friend's grandson from Mexico is staying with us. We went to the Hirschhorn and saw the infamous Ron Mueck "Big Man."

For Christmas I got a lot of books, maybe some other things, a pair of nice slippers, a nice shirt from Mexico, a bottle of mezcal with the worm in it, some prescription drugs that were my present to myself, and a jacket that isn't here yet.

Yes, lots of books. I got Mating by Norman Rush, Light in August by Faulkner, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, Shadow Country by Peter Mathiessen, and maybe something else, I can't remember right now. In the bookstore I picked up a paperback of The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg, my favorite novel from 2007, and noticed that the quote on the cover is from my review.

I also saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Some beautiful, amazing moments, but they're isolated, and I didn't like the movie much. The deathbed framing device is damning... rarely have I seen clearer evidence built into the structure of the movie that the filmmakers lacked confidence in the strength of the story they were telling.

But probably the best part of the last few days was when I went to the doctor at NYU cancer center for a lump in the flesh of my lip. "Well, it's either a tumor or a mucocele," he said. "We'll just see." So he anesthetized my lip and then took a syringe with a huge needle and stuck the needle into the lump... which immediately popped and I saw a fat droplet of clear fluid burst into the syringe. Oh my god. Why are experiences involving the sudden, slightly painful extraction of matter from the body (pulling loose teeth, bursting ripe zits) so satisfying?

Monday, December 22, 2008


This weekend I saw Gran Torino, The Wrestler, and Man on Wire.

Gran Torino and The Wrestler are very very similar movies--both feature aging Hollywood icons (one elder statesman, one prodigal son) playing men long past their prime who confront death and dredge up old skills/abilities for one last big harrowing scene. Both stories are incredibly formulaic--they revel in formula, they roll around in it, they make no apologies. Both lead performances aren't performances, they're audience-pleasing caricatures. (And they are most pleasing.) Eastwood's face and Rourke's face are like the sides of mountains. The pleasure in these cases isn't in seeing people act. The pleasure is in watching their faces be faces. The permutations of Eastwood-face and Rourke-face are limited but quite mesmerizing. Actually what I've said is a little misleading. Eastwood has a face. Rourke has a slab of face.

What mostly differentiates the movies is style. Gran Torino is classical Hollywood cinema mode, shot-countershot, establishing shots, etc. The Wrestler is faux cinema verite, with grainy stock and handheld camera, attempting to capture the "grittiness" of strip clubs and crappy gyms where downmarket wrestling matches are held. It does feel "real."

That said, I liked Gran Torino a lot more. I admired The Wrestler but was mostly bored. (I would have preferred to see The Stripper, starring Marisa Tomei's supporting character.) Gran Torino doesn't feel "real" (the gangbangers seem like actors, the dialogue feels like dialogue) but it employs formula rules in a very effective way... formula rules function to get the audience emotionally invested in the story, that's IT, and that's exactly what happens here... but it turns out to be an insidious tactic, because while Eastwood does religiously follow the formula playbook until the very end, cranking up your anticipation, making you believe a certain thing is going to happen, making you look forward to violence--at the last moment, he pulls the rug right out. Punishes the audience for looking forward to violence. As I left the theater, it actually reminded me of Funny Games in the way it manipulates your desire to see brutality onscreen and then subverts that desire. It's not a confrontationally radical film in the way that Haneke's is--it brilliantly makes the subversion/punishment work as an audience-pleasing ending!--but it's radical all the same.

Man on Wire. Man on Wire is fucking lovely. It's the story of a narcissistic egomaniac who enlisted his friends and girlfriend to--for years--help him live out his dreams of tightrope-walking above places like Notre Dame and the World Trade Center. It's more suspenseful than just about anything I've seen all year. And honestly it is beautiful. It will cause grinning.


Also this weekend I saw a few seconds of that viral video of a murder that happened in the Ukraine. You may have heard of this too, but I hope you had better sense than me and didn't click on it. Apparently those kids are on trial now, and one can only hope they stay locked in jail for their entire lives.

"Space Oddity" by Cat Power

What the fuck... come on... release the whole cover.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I was wrong about this earlier. If you have a Kindle, you CAN read Midnight Picnic on it now.


Read Midnight Picnic on your Kindle. (print not fucked up)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


My feelings about 2666 are extremely mixed; in fact, they're in conflict with one another. Not only do I feel that some parts were boring/pretentious while other parts were engrossing, I found some parts somehow boring/pretentious and engrossing. I have very little patience for books I'm not enjoying and I have no reluctance to put a book down forever if I'm not getting "pleasure"* from it. But there were parts of 2666 where I was bored, exasperated, and resentful (of Bolaño for boring me), and I still didn't put the book down. I did occasionally skim, but I'll get to that later.

(I will say one thing right off--the critical adoration for Bolaño seems to me more inflated than the real estate market was in the summer of 2007. I'm thinking in particular of the infamous NYT review by Jonathan Lethem, whose novels I have sometimes enjoyed, but who I must now and forever consider to be a person who smokes crack. Rereading that review, it seems to me to be literally the ravings of an insane person. "a landmark in what’s possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world...delivering itself into our hearts, sentence by questing, unassuming sentence..." Are you kidding me? And his favorable comparison of Bolaño to two other giants of modern popular fiction--Murakami and Ellroy--only serves to remind me how much more resonant, affecting, and memorable their huge, eccentric novels about human evil, L.A. Confidential and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, are than 2666.)

Although the manuscript was apparently finished before Bolaño died, it feels like a first draft. Bolaño veers too often and too arbitrarily into random digressions about previously unheard-of characters. I'm going to try to give you an idea of what these passages are like by writing a paragraph in the style of Bolaño:

Alfonso was holding a book, either hardback or paperback, called Reflections on a Melancholy Diadem. For some reason it reminded him of another book, The Prismatic Email, which he had read in 1997 in Italy while his ex-wife Ramona was in the bathtub, either talking to God or knitting. One summer when it was very hot, Ramona went hitchhiking to Brussels with her lesbian seer friend Rafaela, whose words seemed to tremble like a bronchitic and morally horrified earthworm that was more gigantic than anything that had ever existed, more gigantic than the world even, although it lived, and always had lived since the beginning of time, or even before the beginning of time, in the space between an infant's eyelid and his eyeball. Ramona and Rafaella were going to see a famous circus clown, not really famous but admired in certain circles, who had gone insane and was now living peacefully in an asylum. On the trip, they only ate tuna fish sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, one or the other.

And on and on.

Most of these digressions are totally boring and intolerable, and after a while I began to skim them. I didn't start skimming until near the end of Book 2, "The Part About Amalfitano," which is maybe the worst of the books. In it, a scholar named Amalfitano finds a book in his house that he doesn't remember buying, so he hangs it on a clothesline in the backyard and watches it. Later, he draws geometric figures, and at their vertices he writes the names of philosophers and writers. Still later--in the most exciting part!--that book reminds him of another book about Araucanian Indians and ancient Greeks. That book is then summarized.

I really can't emphasize how extraordinarily boring this is.

The third book, "The Part About Fate," is also fairly bad. The main character is named Fate. We are subjected to a tedious monologue from a completely unncessary character, a faux-mystical ramble about his wanderings. Slightly interesting things begin to happen--we hear about murders happening on the edge of the desert.

The fourth book, "The Part About the Crimes," is the one everyone talks about. It is a list of murder scenes. It is a desert of boredom containing sites of interest. Once in a while, things happen--certain characters reappear (a suspect, a few detectives). Young women are being killed in a Mexican city. We don't see the crimes, we just get a detached third person voice describing the bodies. Always, "the hyoid bone was fractured." Occasionally there are scenes of horrific prison torture and murder. (These scenes are much more disturbing than the murders, which we never "see.") I found this section the most problematic--it is generally tedious, for one thing, but worse, I think it's exploitative. I haven't heard anyone else say this about 2666, but I really felt like Bolaño was using the murders for easy literary capital--using the dead women as props, as flavor, and illuminating nothing. (Remember, these are based on real murders--hundreds of women dumped in the desert outside Juárez.) Describing horrific crime scenes in a politely repetitive tone for 300 pages isn't interesting, productive, compelling... it's wasteful and it's boring, and after a while I became angry at Bolaño for building his novel around this litany in what seems a very arbitrary way. Certainly a powerful novel involving the Juárez murders (which do feel apocalyptic and unreal) could have been written. This isn't it.

The first book ("The Part About the Critics") and the fifth book ("The Part About Archimboldi") are the best, although in retrospect the first feels a bit arbitrary (in fact, "arbitrary" might be the best word to describe the entire novel, toward which, as I read, I kept mentally directing words like, "Why?" and "So?"). The fifth doesn't quite bring things together, but it is the most engrossing, and the sequences involving its protagonist wandering through WWII and swimming in the ocean as a child are sometimes easy to get lost in (in a good way, I mean). It also contains the novel's best sequence, a digression (yes, another) about a mid-level Third Reich bureaucrat who got an unexpected trainload of Jewish prisoners delivered to his obscure town and put them to work as street sweepers, until he was informed that they had only been sent to him by accident and were actually destined for Auschwitz... but since he had them already, could he please just go ahead and dispose of them? It's this section that reminded me a little of Murakami's Mongolia chapter from Wind-Up Bird.

So I liked those two books, even though I did skim some digressions in Five, and there is something compelling about the whole thing--the aura of creeping death, the sense that artistic genius (Archimboldi) is only a fleck of genetic material removed from sociopathic, perhaps homicidal weirdness (Klaus Haas), the feeling of the Mexican desert being the center of some horrible impending paradigm shift in human evil. Certain recurring images (the giant, the swaying stalks of seaweed) take on a totemic feeling. I kept reading because something pulled me along, and I often felt/hoped that if I wasn't enjoying what I was reading, I might enjoy the next part. And when I found parts I liked, I was thrilled--but it always seemed to throw itself away again. Like in the novel's final passage, with its silly, solemnly "meaningful" anecdote about the inventor of a kind of ice cream. That's how he ends his 900-page book? I'm not saying it couldn't work... but it doesn't. On some level I deeply admired the novel and what it was trying to do... but I wanted it to do it better.

* "pleasure" in the reader's sense, meaning addictive stimulation, meaning any strong emotion excluding boredom or moral repulsion directed toward the author. so fear and horror can be kinds of pleasure in this case.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Okay, so... the novel that has been subject to all sorts of delays (original Impetus release date: Spring 2008!) will have one more last-minute delay.

Some printed copies of Midnight Picnic emerged from the printer about a week back, but I didn't see them until a couple days ago, and when I did, I wasn't happy with the interior*. So Jackie and I talked about it and we both agreed we should push it back and take the time to re-set the font and get new copies. I've already done some interviews for the book and there are reviews and so forth... but we'll get all that moved to a bit later. Publishing--it's an adventure!

***Anyway, the new copies will be ready on or before FEBRUARY 15, two months from now.***

And here, incidentally, is a post by a reader (of one of the hard to read copies)...

* When the book switched from Impetus to Word Riot, we decided for the sake of speed to just go with the files that already existed, although I didn't love the font. Well, bad call on my part--in the printed copies, at least many of them, the font is just indisputably fucked-up and hard to read (although the look of the book is otherwise beautiful). My grandmother called me up about her copy, because that one was so light she couldn't read it. Some are worse than others. If you too got one of the copies that's really hard to read, email me, and we'll get you a replacement copy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


About to go home. My dad's doing a concert at the Library of Congress tonight. (Come if you're in D.C.) Then I'm hibernating and writing and spending time with my family for a couple days.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Joe the Plumber: a TRUE FUCKING IDIOT. This bottom-of-the-food-chain redneck reptile was maybe the most pathetic of the minor players in the 2008 election. His smug, sheltered, have-a-beer-and-hock-up-a-bromide brand of store-bought "patriotism" literally turns my stomach. And now here he is, still shitting from his mouth: "Sarah Palin is absolutely the real deal..."

I absolutely despise this child-man.


UPDATE: Blake at HTMLGIANT posted this great mash-up of Dylan Thomas reading to a Dr. Dre beat.

FYI, it's on Amazon for pre-order.

(But remember, better to buy from Word Riot and support independent publishing.)


Ned wrote a good post about regrets.

2666 summary (first half)

Dread and whimsy.


Ben Spivey and Ken Baumann won the death contest at HTMLGIANT.

Ken already has Midnight Picnic so his copy will float in the ether or be given to someone else and I will buy him a drink sometime.

There were also runners-up who receive a prize if they email me their mailing addresses.

Thanks for dying.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I'm semi-sick but it's a weird kind of sick.

Sinuses are clear; skull is crammed with cotton & face is hot.

Body is tender & sore.

It snowed tonight and I wished I was in a cabin in the woods.

I'm in my bedroom in New York, reading 2666.

Intermittently tired.

Many interesting movies are out--Milk, Man on Wire, Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire.


I saw Punisher: War Zone tonight for no defensible reason.

It sucks.
Somebody came to this site by googling "is a walrus a reptile."


Thursday, December 04, 2008



go there now


There are copies of Midnight Picnic out in the world right now. Good job, Word Riot--that was fast.

If you pre-ordered from the Word Riot website, which you can and should still do (it will be on Amazon shortly, but ordering from the publisher is better and avoids the Amazon skull-fuck), the books will ship today, I think.

Official release date is still 12/15.


Furthermore, I do like the walruses.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Home from work today, sick. My leg hurts for some reason also... I feel anxious because I didn't go swimming this morning.

Was The Dark Knight the best movie of the year?

Most smart people I know didn't like it. I loved it.

I think I didn't get a grant I applied for... disqualified for having a book published even though the print run was low... fuck.

Instead of reading quality books right now I'm reading true crime books. The Man With the Candy... titles like that.