Friday, September 01, 2006

Labor Day weekend notes

A type of blog post that I tend to really enjoy, but which I don’t make myself very often because it feels lazy, is a notes post. But all week I’ve been accumulating little bits of stuff that really don’t have a place other than in a notes column, so here you go.

1) Thinking back to my post from earlier this week about progressivism and certainty, I keep imagining a slogan built from my thoughts: “Vote Democrat. We’re the party of Job.” Or “Vote Democrat. We won’t pretend to know, but we’ll give it our best shot.”

The Republican ads, of course, would be along the lines of, “The Democrats promise to give you boils and kill your family and your livestock. It happened to Job, and it’ll happen to you.”

2) Speaking of politics, I assume you noticed that about ten days ago, the White House released George W. Bush’s reading list for the summer. His reading of The Stranger, which enormous-headed White House flack Tony Snow discussed with the media, got most of the attention—which isn’t unreasonable, because based on the limited evidence at hand I’m actually willing to believe Bush actually read it.

As for the other books on the list, though? I call bullshit. He’s got some good John D. MacDonald detective novels on there, and I’m willing to believe he’s read, say, two of them. There are a couple of Flashman novels, and I’ll give him one. But has he really read Kai Bird and Martin Sherman’s biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, American Prometheus? (Would he even be able to give a four-sentence explanation of who Oppenheimer is?) Or Ronald White’s very serious book about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural? Could he possibly have read Rory Stewart’s book about walking across Afghanistan? And, if so, did he learn anything about the complexity that underlies his black-and-white statements about peoples and nations?

The main reason I call bullshit, though? He’s got 48 books on his summer reading list. Now, I know that our Derelict in Chief takes a lot of time off. But I, a fast reader who spends my non-work time doing little else, get through, at most, 110 books a year. Yet I’m supposed to believe that the President of the United States—whose lack of dedication to his job is surely counterbalanced in this case by his evident stupidity—can find time to read 48 books in a summer?

These people reflexively lie about every single damn thing. If they tell you you’re alive and well, you probably ought to go ahead and stagger to the morgue.

3) Someone who’s honest about not reading? Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Dunn, who claims to have read only two books since high school: Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights and a young adult novel called The Summer of the Monkeys. Give me dumb and honest any day, especially if it comes with prodigious home run power.

4) Thinking about the morgue reminds me that the best thing I read this week was a short story by Will McIntosh called “Followed,” in the most recent issue of a journal called Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which is a product of Small Beer Press (best known as Kelly Link’s publisher). “Followed” is a zombie story, and like all good zombie stories, it’s a also a commentary on contemporary society—but it’s the sharpest I’ve ever come across. In the world McIntosh has created, people are followed around by reanimated corpses whose deaths they have caused, directly or indirectly, through their grotesque overconsumption.
She came wandering down the sidewalk like any other corpse, her herky-jerky walk unmistakable among the fluid strides of the living. . . . Strange how most TV shows depicted the world as corpseless. Nary a corpse to be seen on the sitcoms, cop shows, interactives—all those people, walking the streets, working, and not one of the followed by a corpse.

“Followed” is well worth the price of the journal itself. You can order it here.

5) Speaking of reanimation, I know I'm not the first to suggest this, but don’t you think it would be fun to bring Borges back and show him the Wikipedia? As my friend Bob pointed out the other night, the author of “Tlön Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” would surely thrill to the fact that the entries for Kashyyk and Tattoine outstrip, in length and detail, the entries for, say, Saturn and Neptune.

He would also, surely, appreciate that empty feeling you get at the end of an evening spent in the byways of the Web, wandering, and not necessarily ever finding what you started out looking for:
Unbridled hopefulness was succeeded, naturally enough, by a similarly disproportionate depression. The certainty that some bookshelf in some hexagon contained precious books, yet that those precious books were forever out of reach, was almost unbearable.

6) Something else I think Borges would have appreciated is the literary hoax recently perpetrated by an anonymous enemy of English writer A. N. Wilson. Wilson, many of whose books I love, but who seems to be a monstrous prick (His memoir of his friendship with Iris Murdoch and John Bayley is the most mean-spirited and petty book I’ve ever read.) was suckered into including in his recent biography of poet John Betjeman a letter that was a complete forgery.

The forgery came to light when its unknown author (suspected to be the author of another recent Betjeman biography), who had supplied the letter to Wilson under the name of Eve de Harben (an anagram of "Ever been had?") wrote to the Sunday Times of London, revealing that the letter was a forgery . . . and that the initial letters of each of the sentences of the missive, taken in order, spelled out “A. N. Wilson is a shit."

Nearly as much fun, for me, was that the letter refers to Anthony Powell:
Anthony Powell has written to me, and mentions you admiringly. Some of his comments about the Army are v. funny. He's somebody I'd like to know better when the war is over. I find his letters funnier than his books.

7) And, on the topic of things that don’t exist, my friend and former co-worker Erin says:
I tried to post a comment to your blog but it wouldn't let me! I dreamed a few nights ago that I wrote a book called Scurry and that I had to approve the cover design (a b/w photo of a fully dressed woman sitting at the tide line of a Scottish-looking beach) while talking on a cell phone and driving in traffic. What’s with all the book dreams?

All I could tell Erin was that if she’ll actually publish Scurry, I’ll write about it here.

8) Boswell, in his London Journal, records some advice that we bloggers should probably take to heart:
I read [Lord Erskine] a little of [my journal] this evening. To be sure it is very carelessly wrote, which he freely took notice, and said it might become a habit to me to write in that manner, so that I would learn a mere slatternly style. He advised me to take more pains upon it, and to render it useful by being a good method to practice writing: to turn periods and render myself ready at different kinds of expression. He is very right. I shall be more attentive for the future, and rather give a little neatly done than good deal slovenly.

9) And, finally, since my book-laden return from Portland (and Powell’s) in early July, I’ve only bought four books. Well, unless you count the four Hard Case Crime books that came in the mail. Or the couple of New York Review Books that a friend sent me. Or the mystery novel my dad lent me.

Regardless, I’ve made progress. For the first time in several years, I’ve got fewer unread books in the house than I did two months ago.

It’s important, in these late-summer days, to enjoy small victories. Enjoy the holiday.


  1. Re note #1: Dave Barry's commentary on the difference between the two main political parties is that, if you were on the side of the road with a flat tire, the Democrats would stop to help you but would set your car on fire in the process, and the Republicans would drive right past because they were late for Ugly Pants Night at the country club.

    That was written during the more genteel 1980s; now we know that the Republicans would drive right past because they were late for an event at which baby animals are tied to stakes and shot at with large-caliber weapons, although they would use their cell phone to call 911 -- no, not to get help for you, but to get you arrested as a threat to national security because you happen to be stopped within five miles of a power plant, or perhaps a roller rink. Afterwards, the baby animals' possible ties to Al-Qaeda will be frequently mentioned.

  2. A member of the Reform Party (if there still are some hiding in the more godforsaken swamps of American politics) would tell you he hears a great sucking sound. You'd try to explain that it's just your tire leaking air, but he wouldn't listen, despite his enormous ears.

    And a Green Party member would stop by and explain that you're better off just sitting there, because the only way things are going to get better in this country is if they first get so bad that people are finally forced to wake up.

  3. I am lazy and stupid like the president and I've only made it through a book and a half this summer. And that's ALL my lunch breaks!

    There is only one explanation: the president is sneaking chapters in his cube.