Seems like a good time to make another post on here. Spring Quarter has started at Western. Over spring break, I went to New York City, where I stayed with my friend Thomas, who made this blog for me. It was a great trip, I really needed something like that to shake me out of the rhythms of Bellingham. New York is so hectic, nobody has time to wait for anything. I went to some art museums, galleries in Chelsea, ate a lot of good food, saw a play, met some people, got together with old friends, had dinner with my cousin. It was a really nice trip. But it was great getting back to Seattle, back to my old neighborhood. The air that night was warm and fresh, unbelievably fresh. It takes a week of breathing egregiously polluted air to truly appreciate how good we have it on the West Coast. I prefer the Pacific to the Atlantic. There are numerous reasons for this, chief among them being that I grew up with the Pacific, but also, while the Atlantic is infamous for the slave trade, there's really nothing equivalent for the Pacific. I mean, sure, there were shanghaiings, but there wasn't a Pacific Slave Trade, there isn't a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to that like you'll find if you search "Atlantic Slave Trade." Anyway, it's a nice ocean.
I reread The Stranger on the flight back to Seattle. A great, deceptively simple novel. Worth rereading several times, I think. I also read some Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust. West is cool, his novels seem to conclude more like short stories, leading to a ledge rather than a summation of themes, or a denouement. I'd like to read more of his work, but I've got lots of reading to do this quarter for school. So far in my 20th Century English class, the avant-gardes, we've been reading lots of manifestos. We read the Futurist Manifesto, the Vorticist Manifesto, and now the Dadaist Manifesto. Manifestos are pretty cool. I once wrote a manifesto. I called it "The New Decadence Manifesto" for lack of a better name for my movement. Its actual title was "I drink alone with the moon." It was one-part manifesto, one-part outline for a detective novel, two-parts prose poetry, and all impressionistic bullshit. I wrote it for myself in the spring of 2011.
For my own enrichment, I'm currently reading The Plague by Camus. I recently wrote a review of a mediocre book called Wise Men. My review is on The Coffin Factory's website here. I also have a photograph in the new issue of The Coffin Factory, accompanying their interview with Noam Chomsky. This is another fantastic issue from a great magazine. It contains my favorite interview they've conducted thus far, with the author John Banville.
Lastly, I'd like to mention my favorite thing I saw while I was in New York City. In the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, there was an exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings. Having never seen his work before, I was simply blown away. It was hard to pick a favorite, but two that especially stuck out to me were these:
Hola amigos. A few updates. For one, I'm living in Bellingham now. Going to school at WWU, it's good. This morning I woke up with red warpaint on my face. I went to a party last night. The theme I was told was "dead people", meaning that you could either come as a zombie, or a person who was dead, or both. The two are not mutually exclusive. Anyway, I borrowed suspenders from my roommate, and I was going to go as Larry King, until someone told me he's still alive, which came as a surprise. So then I thought I'd go as Phil Collins, because I once saw a picture of him wearing glasses like the ones that I wear, and I figured I could just dress in black and ask people if they could feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord, but then I found out Phil Collins is still alive too. Who'd have thought?
Anyway. I wasn't sure who I should go as, so I looked through my closet and found my African style shirt, with a silk-screened giraffe on the right front. I remembered a musician I'd just learned about in my humanities of Africa class, Fela Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. So I wore the shirt and went to the party, and, as luck would have it, one of the hosts, Jeremy, had a little face paint kit.
As you can see, Mr. Kuti, in this picture, is without a shirt, and I haven't actually found a picture of him wearing a shirt like the one I wore, but I figure that's just because he never owned one like it. It seems like the kind of shirt he would have worn, had he owned one, and I sure as shit wasn't going shirtless, because it was balls cold last night, and windy as a bastard too, and I was on my bike. Anyway, Jeremy had the face paint, and I started painting my face with the white, but it was coming out grey, so I washed it off and painted my face red. Not my whole face. Just stripes, like Kuti in the picture above. Well, I got back to my apartment about 2 or 3 AM and went right to bed. Actually I ate a carrot first, and a couple of tangerines. I woke up this morning around 11, went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and found that I still had the paint on my face. Hadn't even really smeared. College is fun.
Other updates: my story "Borderline Folklore" is in Issue 22 of Front Porch. Very excited and honored to have my story featured in this journal, along with other excellent work. Check it out here. Also, Issue 4 of The Coffin Factory is out now, and my story "A Fable" is in it, along with work from Enrique Vila-Matas, Roberto Bolano, Lydia Davis, an interview with T.C. Boyle, and much more. Very, very excited and honored to have my story featured in this issue. Many thanks to Randy Rosenthal and Laura Isaacman, editors extraordinaire.
Also, the website for Swarm, a new online literary quarterly that I am editing with three very talented friends (Peter Kispert, Brandon Amico, Dillon Welch), is live, and it looks great. Check it out here. Submissions for the second issue will open in January. The first issue will go live in February--it's a real corker.
My story "Lou Reed Disputes his Parking Violations Before a Jury of his Peers" is now available to read at The Coffin Factory. There is also an audio recording of me reading the story (or dramatic monologue, which I think is a more apt description of it). I made this recording sitting in the sand at Cannon Beach in Oregon, so if you listen closely, every now and then, you can hear the pounding surf, or some gulls. That was my intention, or else I would have just recorded it in the hotel room with the curtains drawn. Anyway, I've been working on this story for slightly more than a year now, so it's a relief to finally have it published, but in some ways it's a bittersweet moment, like sending your son off to kindergarten, or watching his bewildered pleading eyes in the rear windshield as kidnappers drive away with him in an unmarked sedan.
I hope you like the story, anyway. If you're confused about the ending, and Google doesn't clear it up for you, feel free to drop me a line.
I've been reading Joan Didion, I love her. Her observations about culture and people are so precise and cunning, they really give you a feel for an entire vista in just a few sentences. I would go so far as to call her a master prose stylist, but there's a lot more to her than just style. I read The White Album and now I'm almost done with Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The title essays of each of those books give the clearest portraits I've read of the hippie flower-child movement in the sixties, and its fallout, the paranoid landscape of the late sixties/early seventies. They also reflect a sensibility, they portray the prevailing wisdom of a time by zeroing in on a few choice icons and letting them set the scene.
I'll be reading and reviewing the new Tom Wolf book for The Coffin Factory. Excited about that, from the sounds of it, this book is basically Tom Wolf takes Miami, i.e. Tom Wolf meets Carl Hiassen. Should be fun.
Moving to Bellingham this coming weekend. Exciting times ahead, back to school, yada yada yada.
Also, I watched a fantastic movie a few nights ago. It's called Glengarry Glen Ross, and it's about desperate real estate salesmen. It's got great dialogue, and an incredible cast. Check this out: Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, and Kevin Spacey. No, there are not any women, but that's because this is a MAN'S world, and there's no room for womenfolk in this cutthroat business. The cast called it "Death of a Fuckin' Salesmen" while they were making it, which is appropriate. Anyway, last time I checked it was on Netflix streaming, so watch it if you have that, otherwise, just find a way to see it, it's fantastic.
So, I'm reading another book by W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn. Reading this has reinspired me to work on my novel, which I'm now thinking might more accurately be described as a "chronicle." I'm thinking I should probably read some Proust, at least Swann's Way, if nothing else.
I read Helter Skelter, about the Manson murders. It was a great read, really gripping, and I like the style of true crime, the way it just lays things out, telling rather than showing, because in true crime, there's not a lot of need to show with long descriptive passages, you can just say, "She stabbed him in the stomach," or "He ate her face."
Let's see, I also read Crash by J.G. Ballard, which was cool, I guess, but pretty sickening and upsetting. I feel like it could have been better if it had only been maybe 40 pages, because a lot of the same images got used over and over again -- semen on the instrument panel of the car, vulvas perforated by steering columns, etc, etc. It gets to be a bit much after a while. I don't think I've ever read a book that uses the word "semen" so much, including 2666, which had a 300 page section that was little more than descriptions of murdered/raped women found in the desert. That one used the tone of a medical examiner, like, traces of semen found in vaginal and anal cavities, and it was upsetting and disturbing, but it wasn't psychopathic, which I guess is the appeal of Crash. I mean, I finished it, but it's probably the longest I've ever taken to finish a 186-page book. I doubt I'll read it again, and I probably won't recommend it to anyone, unless I happen to know they like really sick shit. Even so, I still think that Ballard is really cool, just because he's so far out and twisted. I'd like to read his story "The Atrocity Exhibition." I wouldn't mind watching the movie Empire of the Sun again. Maybe I'll even watch Cronenberg's Crash again one of these days. But that book is pretty hard to stomach.
Speaking of the book 2666, the other day I had 2,666 unread emails in my inbox. This is the result of my not cleaning out my inbox for a long while. I don't open the majority of the emails I get, because the majority of them are not spam, per se, but they're also not personal emails, or responses from journals I've submitted stories to. You know, they're newsletters, mystery shopping job offers, NY Times daily headlines, which I don't have to open, I can see the headlines from the subject line, and account summaries from Chase. So they stack up, and I just don't worry about them.
I bought a copy of Swamplandia! from the used bookstore. I think I will read it after I finish this Sebald, because I suspect it will be fairly "light". I ordered Denis Johnson's Train Dreams from the library, because I've heard it's fantastic. I also ordered a collection of early Ian McEwan stories, In Between the Sheets, which I'm hoping I'll like.
Last night I watched the movie Sexy Beast with Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone. Ben Kingsley plays this totally insane gangster from London who comes to Spain to convince Ray Winstone to do "one last job." The plot of the movie doesn't really matter, it's mostly just an exercise in tension and style. It sort of reminded me of Drive, only it was harder to understand what they were saying. Actually, I turned on the subtitles pretty early on, because British gangsters always talk in this way where you wonder if they can even understand each other. Like the Red Riding trilogy. I couldn't understand half of what was being said, so I put on subtitles, but it's always weird to watch a movie in English with subtitles.
I'm going up to Bellingham on Thursday to meet with an academic adviser. I'm going back to school at the end of September, after an extended absence. I'll be glad to get back.
Anyway, that's all. Happy July Fourth tomorrow, everyone.
I have five flash fiction stories in the new issue of FRiGG. Read them here.
Also, check out the columns of Suleika Jaouad from the New York Times here. She is a powerful writer, and has done the world a favor by blogging about her fight against cancer in real time, something which I have had no interest whatsoever in doing. I have very little to add to what Suleika has already said, or what Christopher Hitchens wrote in his columns about cancer for Vanity Fair (although I personally relate more to Suleika's columns, as both of us have fought against leukemia, albeit different kinds, and both of us have had stem-cell transplants).
Also, I have decided to publish a list of the books I read in 2011, even though it is already nearly halfway through 2012. Some of the books that I read in 2011 are almost certainly missing from this list, as I did not keep track of them as I went along, and forgot some. I tried to list them in as close an order to the order I read them in, but again, it was difficult to know for certain. I am not making that mistake again this year, and have kept a list as I go.
Books I read in the year of our lord 2011:
Unnatural Acts - Donald Barthelme
A Visit From the Goon
Squad - Jennifer Egan
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Less than Zero - Brett Easton Ellis
The God of Small
Things - Arundhati Roy
The Curious Incident
of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon
The Little Prince - Antoine St. Exupery
A Confederacy of
Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
Walt Whitman in Hell - TR Hummer
Antwerp - Roberto Bolano
The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolano
Monsieur Pain - Roberto Bolano
The Lone Ranger and
Tonto Fistfight in Heaven - Sherman Alexie
The Things they
Carried - Tim O'Brien
Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie
City of Glass - Paul Auster
2666 - Roberto Bolano
The Death of Ivan
Ilych - Leo Tolstoy
American Pastoral - Philip Roth
Bluebeard - Kurt Vonnegut
The Dead Fish Museum - Charles D'Ambrosio
Amulet - Roberto Bolano
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
Pedro Paramo - Juan Rulfo
Distant Star - Roberto Bolano
Tres - Roberto Bolano
Underworld - Don DeLillo
The Spy Who Came in
from the Cold - John Le Carre
I had previously read The Savage Detectives, Antwerp, and 2666 in 2010. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Things they Carried were both assigned to me to read my freshman year in high school, but I don't think I bothered to read much more than a few chapters of each at that time. I'd read The Death of Ivan Ilych for a class at Western Washington University in winter quarter 2010, but I felt it was a good idea to read it again, just before I went into the hospital to have my body irradiated and my faulty bone marrow destroyed to be replaced with better goods. It's probably one that should be read by all people all over at least once a year. It's only a hundred or so pages, you can read it in a single sitting. Of all these books, probably the single best was American Pastoral. I was more than blown away by the rage in that book. Of course, The Savage Detectives remains my favorite book, and I will probably read it again in 2012. But it's been quite a while since I've read a book that's drawn me in and compelled me to keep reading with quite the force that American Pastoral did. The worst was The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime. Fuck that book. I read it for a class, and it sucks. It's terrible, just terrible. Sometimes people ask me why I hate it so much and I tell them because the narrator is fucking retarded. Then people look at me like I'm the worst person in the world, because, in actuality, the narrator is an autistic boy. People say, oh, but it captures his voice so well, it captures the voice of an autistic boy so acutely. Yeah? Well guess what? I. Don't. Care. The book is crap. I wish that I had read The Sound and the Fury so that I could throw that in their faces as an example of a good book with an autistic (retarded?) narrator, but I haven't yet, although I did once write a short story in an imitation of what I imagined the retarded narrator from The Sound and the Fury might sound like. That story is called "Horizon Lines," and it's in an issue of kill author. I got into a big argument with my dad once over that story. He asked me how I could claim to be writing a story in the voice of a narrator from a book I'd never read, and refused to accept my explanation that I was only writing the story in my approximation of what the voice theoretically sounded like, based on what little I'd read about that section of the book, and what hearsay from my friends who had read the book.
My story "Clyde Smith Waltzes with Martin Luther in the Moonlight for Old Times' Sake" has been published in Wigleaf Magazine. Read it here. Also, my story "Music Box Detective" was recently published in JMWW. You can read that one here.
I read a couple books by James Salter. What a great writer, beautiful prose, such control, such precision. He's like John Updike and John Cheever with the economy of Raymond Carver. His stories are like sketches, much more allusive than anything else. Also, I read "The Emigrants" by W.G. Sebald, and yesterday I bought a copy of "Austerlitz," which I plan to read very soon. Either when I finish this book of stories by Stuart Dybek, or when I get tired of it.
Finished "The Wire." Damn, what a series. It took me a while to get hooked on it, because it takes its time setting the table for one of the most layered stories I've ever encountered, on TV or otherwise. And those characters, what fantastic characters. I think the next show I might check out is "Homicide: Life on the Street," another David Simon creation, another show set in Bodymore, Murdaland.
I'm in Palm Springs, California. I'm going to write a piece called "California Prose Poem," that I'm going to send to Contrary and The Collagist, among other places. Then I'm going to use the skeleton that I create with that piece to write an actual story, using many of the images in the prose poem. No shame in reusing images.
Last night a bug was crawling over me. It was a cockroach. I managed to fall asleep, but I was thinking all the while of Franz Kafka.