What It Is: 3/31/08

What I’m reading: Desolation Road by Ian McDonald

What I’m listening to: Odd Couple, Gnarls Barkley

What I’m watching: NCAA hoops

What I’m drinking: nothing, after reaching double-digits in Hendrick’s & tonics last week in Philadelphia

Where I’m going: no traveling this week!

What I’m happy about: Amy & Rufus didn’t kill each other while I was away last week.

What I’m sad about: Davidson fell 3 points short of reaching the Final Four. But this post about the sheer joy on display in Western Kentucky’s first-round buzzer-beater win helps me get over the sadness.

What I’m pondering: How to write a convincing evocation of a place I’ve never been.


Ahoy, dear readers! Sorry I didn’t post yesterday. I probably won’t have time today, because I have a ton of work to do.

But I don’t want to leave you in the lurch, so I offer up this view of The Dog, as he uses his Mind Powers of the Mind to convince us that we should never bring him to a pet store again:

And if anyone knows where we can find dog toys that aren’t squeaky, leave a comment!

What it is: 3/17/08

What I’m reading: During the weekend, I finished Love & Sleep, Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha comic and Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier. I’m continuing to work on Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies. I have 6 weeks until the third volume of AEgypt gets reissued, but this week’ll get spent pounding out the April issue and designing an advertiser’s supplement, so I doubt there’ll be much book-reading going on.

What I’m listening to: Dummy, by Portishead

What I’m watching: 2nd season of The Wire (two episodes remaining), No Country for Old Men, and Super Bowl XLII Champions: NY Giants DVD

What I’m drinking: Tim Horton’s coarse grind (French press style), a gift from my pals in Providence

Where I’m going: nowhere this week

What I’m happy about: Rufus is doing much better on the stairs.

What I’m sad about: Closing the crate door on the poor guy when I go to work in the morning, even though lots of people — including veterinarians and greyhound owners — told me not to get upset about doing it.

What I’m pondering: Whether I should get a microchip implanted that will give me an electric shock anytime I go more than 3 days without writing back to e-mails from friends or family. I feel like a heel lately.

This and that

While finishing Love & Sleep, the second novel in John Crowley’s Ægypt cycle, this week, I came across the word, “rufous.” I checked with my dog Rufus to see if he knew what it meant, but he was as clueless as I was. Probably moreso, since he’s just a dog and he only gained his name a week earlier. According to Merriam-Webster, it means “reddish.”

I don’t mind archaic word choices — “rufous” crops up in a werewolf scene in 16th century Bohemia — because I always enjoy hunting down words and learning their derivations and histories. And since this series of books contains a novel-within-the-novel about Giordano Bruno and Dr. Dee, I have plenty of opportunities to learn.

No, Love & Sleep‘s oddest word choice actually comes from its back-cover copy, which tells us that the book “is a modern masterpiece, both extraordinary and literary.”

I was perplexed by the combination of those two words, which were part of the publisher’s description, not a reviewer’s blurb. I thought, “Why shouldn’t an extraordinary book be literary? What on earth does ‘literary’ even mean in this context?”

Then it hit me: “literary” wasn’t the odd term; “extraordinary” was.

Books get described as “literary fiction” all the time! But those books tend not to include a scene of werewolves in 16th century Bohemia (along with some esoteric witchcraft, what’s looking like a demonic possession, and an astral projection or two). Under “ordinary” circumstances, that would classify this book as Fantasy, and since it appears that those novels remain in a ghetto — it’s 2008, ferchrissakes! — the publisher must’ve wanted to reassure nervous readers that this is “literary fiction,” so they wouldn’t feel duped buying a series of novels praised by Harold Bloom.

So, with the novel’s “literary” cache affirmed (I think its writing suffices on that front, but that’s another reason why I’m not in publishing anymore), it looks like the publisher needed to come up with some adjective to cover its fantasy aspect. Hence the completely out of place “extraordinary.”

This compulsion to try to lift “good” fantasy (or other genre) writing into the “literary” arena has pissed me off for years. I remember laughing at someone who described his fantasy novel as belonging to “literature of the fantastic.”

I think Crowley’s Ægypt books are extraordinary. They may also be literary, depending on how you define that. They’re definitely at play in fantasy, just like Crowley’s best-known work, Little, Big. They’re also intimately familiar with esotericism, filled with characters whom I find compelling, and capable of sustaining my interest long after a lot of other contemporary novels wane.

I’ve got 6 weeks to wait till the third volume gets reissued. Meanwhile, you oughtta read Michael Blowhard’s ruminations on the subject of literary vs. popular fiction.

Take Your Dog To Work Day

As I mentioned in yesterday’s comments, I brought Rufus to my office yesterday. This was stupid, because the dog’s probably going through sensory overload already, and he found himself getting showered with affection by 20 or 30 new people. But he was a trooper, till he got vaguely unsettled in the afternoon and refused to lie down.

Before that occurred, he was utterly sacked out on the floor of my office. In fact, he was so zonked, he did one of those dog-flips in his sleep, and wound up like this:

He stayed in this position for quite a while. I eventually took pity on him and rolled him back over.

During the day, I took him for some exercise in the office parking lot. At one point, I decided to graduate from a light jog into a faster pace, to see what he’d do (I had his leash firmly around my wrist and in my grasp). It only took a few steps before he switched from a trot into a gallop, with both front paws striking the ground at the same time. I decided this could lead to a dangerous outburst, so I downshifted and he immediately slowed up to match my pace. I’m thinking of taking him to the local high school’s track, which is fenced in, to see if he’d like to really run around for a bit.

Anyway, the boy also did a bang-up job later that evening at his first vet appointment, where the staples from his neutering surgery were removed. One of the dogs in the waiting room was a yippy maniac, but Rufus just eyed him warily and rubbed against my leg, reassuring me of my alpha-tude.

He did get a little nervous when the vet lifted him up onto the exam table, but not so catatonic that he wouldn’t nibble a treat out of my hand. During the exam, the vet asked me a bunch of questions about the dog’s behavior, health, etc., and marveled over how we managed to get The Best Dog Ever.