What It Is: 12/7/09

What I’m reading: I finished Up in the Air last week, and enjoyed the heck out of it. I’m still sifting through my impressions of the book as a time capsule of the end of the ’90’s. It was published in 2001, just a few months before 9/11. While that event’s obviously (to me) the defining moment of our decade, the book is also informed by views of data, privacy, and Invisible Webs that seem antiquated only 8 years later. I think I’m going to re-read this one in the next weeks and try to write a little more about it.

During a conversation we had on Sunday, Samuel R. Delany mentioned to me that the introduction to his essay collection Longer Views contains a neat discussion about how Montaigne’s Apology for Raymond Sebond connects to the rest of M.’s essays, so I gave that one a read. (For those of you who haven’t been following this blog religiously and for years, the Apology is a 180-page piece in the midst of Montaigne’s generaly much shorter essays, and is so dissimilar in theme and content to the others that I was left completely flummoxed by it. Here are parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of my ramblings on that one.) The writer of the introduction, Ken James, seems to think that M. changed his mind over that mammoth essay, but fro what I recall, the Apology was a commission, and it felt more like M. was stuck having to defend something he didn’t particularly believe. Why don’t you go give the Apology for Raymond Sebond a read and get back to me with your thoughts?

What I’m listening to: Dave Rawlings Machine’s A Friend of a Friend, a lot.

What I’m watching: Pootie Tang, which was far funnier than I expected. Still terrible, but pretty funny.

What I’m drinking: Desert Juniper & Q-Tonic

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Trying to fit together in the one-dog crate again. I had a Sunday appt. (cleaning a small section of Chip Delany’s apartment) and Amy had to work all weekend, so we had to delay Otis’ debut on the Sunday morning Wawayanda park greyhound hike for another week. Grr.

Where I’m going: Nowhere special.

What I’m happy about: Getting to see some old pals this weekend.

What I’m sad about: Missing the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival this weekend, but my visa’s not up to date, so there’s no way I could’ve made it to Brooklyn.

What I’m worried about: Contracting hantavirus from trying to clean Delany’s apartment.

What I’m pondering: What book I’ll pick up next.

What It Is: 4/6/09

What I’m reading: Franny and Zooey, and Top 10 Season Two.

What I’m listening to: Who Are You, some Neko Case.

What I’m watching: The final four and the premiere of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which was scheduled on HBO to take the slot of Eastbound & Down.

What I’m drinking: Plymouth, Q Tonic and lime.

What Rufus is up to: Taking a 5-mile-plus hike up in Wawayanda on Sunday. And spending Monday in my new office, where he can chill out during the forecast thunderstorm.

Where I’m going: Nowhere in particular, although I may be heading into the city Thursday to gather up a friend of mine (and his dog) to attend our seder.

What I’m happy about: Baseball season starts! Springtime is here! Oh, and that my pal Chip Delany was profiled on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday.

What I’m sad about: That I’ve never tried Cel-Ray. I oughtta break my “gin, water & black coffee” New Year’s Resolution for that.

What I’m pondering: Whether Salinger has actually been writing all this time he’s been in seclusion. After reading all of his collected non-Catcher stuff in the last two weeks, and re-reading Ron Rosenbaum’s 1997 essay on his pilgrimage to Salinger’s driveway, I have a strong feeling that even if he is writing, he has no intention of publishing any of it. Guess I oughtta read that Hapworth 16, 1924 and see if that changes my mind.

The 0-fer Intersection

Many years ago, when I was a micropress publisher, the first book I put out had an introduction written by Samuel R. Delany. This was a coup, because Delany had built a significant fan-following over his years in publishing, first in science fiction and then in the high-brow world of literary theory. He loved the short stories that we were publishing and, while his introduction may not have convinced a single person to actually read the stories, I believe his imprimatur did boost sales. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that having his name on the cover helped us move tens of books. (I keeeed: I was not a good publisher.)

A year later, shooting the breeze in his impossibly book-lined apartment, Chip (as I’d come to know him) asked me what the press’ next book would be. I had no ideas, so he offered me two collections of his letters, one set from 1984 and another from the early 1990s. I looked over both sets of bound photocopies. I thought about the cachet of publishing new work by a guy who’d written some of the seminal science fiction (and fantasy) novels of the 1960’s and ’70’s. I considered the kindness he was bestowing by essentially offering to waive any royalties in order to strengthen the micropress.

And I told him, “Y’know, Chip, I’d love to say yes right now, but I have to tell you: I’ve never read a single book of yours. Given that fact, I’m a little nervous about committing to publishing a book by you.”

He chewed on his lower lip for half a second, reached over to one of the many bookshelves in his apartment, and said, “Well, why don’t you read the Einstein Intersection? It’s quick and somewhat representative of my earlier work. You can read it in a day or two and then let me know if you still want to publish my letters!”

I did, and I did and we published 1984 a year later. (Neil Gaiman gave us a blurb for that one; I’d actually read his work beforehand.)

So that’s our 0-fer of the week: I was once asked to publish a book by someone whose books I’d never read.

I’ve gone on to read a bunch of Chip’s work, including his best-known novel, Dhalgren. I’ve even volunteered to proofread his galleys under crazy time constraints (the all-time craziest being the 30 hours I spent poring over the reissue of The Fall of the Towers back in 2003). Despite my insecurities, we’ve stayed pals long after I closed the press down, and that brings me to the point of this piece: to wish my pal Chip a happy birthday!

Many happy returns, y’hirsute galoot!

Note hideous gridded paper

I was going to put this Michael Bierut post among the week’s Unrequired Reading, but I thought it deserved its own entry. It’s all about the notebooks that Bierut has used for the past 26 years. He’s up to #85.

As anyone who knows me can imagine, I find this sorta thing fascinating. I love looking behind the curtain and seeing the processes and tools behind work. It’s the same reason that I enjoyed the Wrap-Up Show on Howard Stern (before Rufus chewed through the antenna cable of my Sirius unit in a fit of pique and left me radioless).

While he does explore his work process, Bierut also manages to discuss the significance of the notebooks as notebooks, without treating them as dreaded Art Objects. His stories of Never Leave a Notebook Behind reminded me of the brunches I spent with Chip Delany, who would invariably bust out one of his cheap spiral-bound notebooks to jot something down in mid-conversation. They were as much a part of him as his trademark Santa-beard.

I’ve never been good at note-taking. I do keep a pocket-sized Moleskine notebook in my Bag of Tricks, but rarely take it out anymore. I bring a second one with me to trade shows so that I can appear to be interested when companies give me long technical descriptions of their new products. At the office, I use notepads of employees who were fired. I find it kinda funny to take notes on phone conversations and write to-do lists on pages that bear the names of magazines that were shut down five years ago.

Still, it’s an effort for me to keep a piece of paper and a pen nearby when I’m reading those Montaigne essays. I do write down a line here or there in the Notepad of my iPhone, but they only seem smart at the time. I’m more likely to write down the beginnings of a post here in WordPress and save it as a draft. That way, there’s even less evidence of what my thought processes are.

But I digress (which is what you came here for; admit it); go read Bierut’s post nowish!

What It Is: 11/3/08

What I’m reading: The Spy in the Ointment, by Donald Westlake. I checked this book out of my local library around 25 years ago, and I decided to go back and check to see if it’s still there. After they computerized the system, they threw out the old sign-out cards, so there’s no sign of when I actually took this one out. But I think I was around 11 or 12 years old. It’s a hoot of a caper novel, so I’ll probably return to some of those Dortmunder novels that I was too young to understand.

What I’m listening to: Mind How You Go, by Skye.

What I’m watching: Not much. Watched the third episode of Mad Men (season 1), and am still sorta eh about it. I guess the aspect I find the most interesting is the way the female characters are all portrayed as stunted, crippled personae. But maybe I’m more fascinated by the way that, at certain angles, Jon Hamm resembles Steve Carrell with a much smaller nose.

What I’m drinking: I’m out of Plymouth gin, so it’s back to Wet by Beefeater.

What Rufus is up to: Having his Saturday night bath and smelling nice and fresh. Oh, and playing with his new hedgehog toy, which I’ve alternately named Hedge Fun and Hedgie Murat.

Where I’m going: Atlanta in a couple of weeks, but nowhere this week.

What I’m happy about: Getting out to the Giants game on Sunday!

What I’m sad about: The realization that I’m likely never going to see my copies of Grant Morrison’s Bible John comic, having lent them to Chip Delany a number of years ago.

What I’m pondering: Lydia Hearst: Hot or not? Broken reflection of Heather Graham or not?

A Chip off the Old Karadzic

Last weekend, I wrote about my Sunday sidewalk brunch with Samuel Delany. I should have known something was wrong, the way Chip kept looking down the sidewalk and back into the restaurant, the way he kept nervously fingering his beard, the way he patted me down and confiscated my phone before we sat at the table.

But I didn’t understand why he kept trying to explain how the biggest influence on Dhalgren was actually the poetry of Dragan Dabic, in between complaints about how Marko Jaric was disastrously underused by the Timberwolves last season.

Now it all becomes clear: I wasn’t having lunch with Chip Delany! I was having lunch with Radovan Karadzic!

We’ve gone through the looking-glass, people.

The Week that Was

Sorry I didn’t write more last week, dear readers. Last Sunday evening, I had to pick up my dad at Newark Airport, but his flight was delayed an hour or so, and my ensuing late arrival at home led to a short night of sleep heading into Monday (we get up at 5am to start the day). That sequence left me off-kilter for the rest of the week. Since most of my work-days were spent working on my conference and trying to write code for the web-edition of our Top Companies ish, I never got settled enough to start a-writin’.

If you’re interested in the highlights — brunch with a semi-famous author, a shoot-from-the-hip panel discussion at a media relations class, and a fancy dinner that led to the final-straw decision to buy a GPS unit — then click “More”!

Continue reading “The Week that Was”

What it is: 4/7/08

What I’m reading: Wrong for All the Right Reasons, by Glenn Dakin. My pal Tom gave me this collection of Dakin’s comics a few years ago, and I kept getting put off by the clunkiness of the first few installments. I tried it one more time, and made it past their sci-fi/superhero trappings to reach some lovely and poetic strips about an aimless life and the wonders of the visible world.

What I’m listening to: Veneer, by Jose Gonzalez (not as good as his new album, In Our Nature)

What I’m watching: Miss Guided. I have a crush on Judy Greer. There, I’ve said it. Oh, and Amazing Grace, starring the guy who played both Mister Fantastic and Mister Miracle. (For the record, it was structured poorly, starting in 1797 and using extensive flashbacks to 1782 to show Wilberforce’s early battles to get slavery abolished in the British territories. Near as I can tell, the only reason to assemble the story that way was so they could introduce the hot wife-to-be early on in the movie. The story would’ve been far more effective if it had been told linearly, with a “15 years later” title coming up after Wilberforce’s initial failure in Parliament. Oh, and Albert Finney should’ve had more screen time. On the plus side, the guy who plays William Pitt is named Benedict Cumberbatch.)

What I’m happy about: Getting to see my friends for brunch on Sunday.

Samuel R. Delany and Dennis

What I’m sad about: Dog toys made with such shoddy workmanship that Rufus tears them to pieces within minutes. Last night, we had to stop him from chewing on the plastic squeak-insert in his toy bunny, which he’d received 4 hours earlier. And don’t ask what happened to his toy crawfish.

What I’m pondering: Whether to cobble together a new design for this blog.