Unrequired Reading: Oct. 13, 2006

It’s the Friday the 13th edition of Unrequired Reading, dear readers!

Maxon Crumb’s not a hockey-mask-wearing serial killer, but he did come off as a weird bird in the great documentary about his brother, Robert Crumb. Here’s a good profile about him in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Gunter Grass is actually creepier than Max Crumb. Still, he wasn’t a serial killer for the SS during World War II. Sez Tim Cavanaugh:

It’s not so much Grass’ hypocrisy as his self-satisfaction. In what fucked-up parallel universe is it considered persuasive to argue, at this late date, that postwar attacks on the West German establishment (and frequently more-than-tacit support for the East German terror state) in any way obviate, or mitigate, or do anything else but compound the error of supporting the Nazis during the war? Why is it the default assumption that Grass’ anti-capitalism was a rejection of National Socialism rather than a continuation of it? (I actually think it may be neither, but among Germans who are irate at Grass over the lifelong SS coverup there seems to some sense that he’s let down his core principles, so it’s worth asking what those core principles are.)


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There was creepiness aplenty in HP Lovecraft’s stories. In NYROB, Luc Sante writes about the new Library of America edition of Lovecraft’s work, and Houellebecq’s book about the demented writer of Rhode Island (I visited Lovecraft’s grave once, which evidently is going to grant me invulnerability to harm from nerds):

That the work of H.P. Lovecraft has been selected for the Library of America would have surprised Edmund Wilson, whose idea the Library was. In a 1945 review he dismissed Lovecraft’s stories as “hackwork,” with a sneer at the magazines for which they were written, Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, “where. . .they ought to have been left.” Lovecraft had been dead for eight years by then, and although his memory was kept alive by a cult — there is no other word — that established a publishing house for the express purpose of collecting his work, his reputation was strictly marginal and did not seem likely to expand.

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Beck creeps some people out, but his Sea Change album helped me through some heartbreak a few years ago. Here’s an interview about his new record, work habits, and religion.

And here’s a piece about the unique packaging for that new record.

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Must be Friday the 13th if Gadaffi is making sense. It’s pretty much an article of faith in modern times that countries with great natural resources will fail to develop human capital on a par with countries that have little by way of natural resources. Or, as Kyle Baker put it, “If you can get an A without trying, why work for an A+?”

Give that man a laptop!

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A while back, I explained why I love Vegas: it’s like an alien theme park of planet Earth. Here’s a piece about architecture, engineering and culture in Sin City.

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Vegas is no Transgondwanan Supermountain.

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Congrats to Orhan Pamuk for winning that Nobel literature prize. I’ve got a couple of his books somewhere in the library downstairs, but I won’t even pretend I’m going to break one out in honor of his honor.

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On the other hand, I oughtta get around to reading Bernard-Henri Levy somedarntime. This profile’s got some neat passages, including:

So why has France been quite so vitriolic about America? “France and Germany,” he corrects in fluent English. “It has nothing to do with what America does and was long before Iraq. It is about the idea of America, Rousseau’s social contract, where you decide to join a society. Its people have no roots, no memory. This is seen as an insult to what a real community should be, which is about blood and the soil.”


So what browns him off about Blighty? “We, you and France, are the two most snobbish countries on earth — full of invisible keys to invisible doors.” Isn’t America just as excluding, but on grounds of materialism? “Not true,” he insists. “Wealth has to be earned. There is still a very puritanical view of wealth. Without philanthropy it is not respected. Money might be god, but it is a guilty god.”

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Rounding out this week’s Unrequired Reading: an obscure reference from the Simpsons!

Chief Wiggum: “All of our founding fathers, astronauts, and World Series heroes have been either drunk or on cocaine.”

This week in Unrequired Reading

Stories that have been sitting in my RSS feed this week:

Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine muses on the 40th anniversary of Star Trek:

And finally, [Star Trek is] a story of a powerful belief in what the franchise represents: the right of individuals, through machinery, weaponry, or barehanded intelligence, to live, be free, and pursue happiness, no matter how horrific the results (and we can all agree that Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture was as slow and agonizing as any torture devised on that evil Enterprise from the “Mirror, Mirror” episode in which Spock has a beard). Put all these ingredients together and it’s clear: Star Trek is the story of America.

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Mary Worth and Nothingness

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Tom Spurgeon interviews Sammy Harkham, the only “young” cartoonist whose work I’ve started to follow. I have an unfinished post from earlier this summer, about the MoCCA comics festival in NYC. The post was all about my realization that I’ve become a boring old fart, because I couldn’t think of any cartoonists whose work I discovered in the last five to eight years. Fortunately, I picked up one of Sammy’s comics then, and found a small book of his a few weeks later that impressed me.

Sammy edits an anthology called Kramer’s Ergot, and the interview discusses the process of putting the most recent edition together. As ever, I find this stuff fascinating, but you may not.

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George Will reviews a 9/11 novel that doesn’t sound very interesting to me, but that’s because the 9/11 novel I published tanked:

Messud’s Manhattan story revolves around two women and a gay man who met as classmates at Brown University and who, as they turn 30 in 2001, vaguely yearn to do something “important” and “serious.” Vagueness — lack of definition — is their defining characteristic. Which may be because — or perhaps why — all three are in the media. All are earnest auditors and aspiring improvers of the nation’s sensibility.

Uh, yeah.

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BLDGBLOG interviews author Jeff VanderMeer about the intersection of architecture and the novel.

As a novelist who is uninterested in replicating “reality” but who is interested in plausibility and verisimilitude, I look for the organizing principles of real cities and for the kinds of bizarre juxtapositions that occur within them. Then I take what I need to be consistent with whatever fantastical city I’m creating. For example, there is a layering effect in many great cities. You don’t just see one style or period of architecture. You might also see planning in one section of a city and utter chaos in another. The lesson behind seeing a modern skyscraper next to a 17th-century cathedral is one that many fabulists do not internalize and, as a result, their settings are too homogenous.

Of course, that kind of layering will work for some readers — and other readers will want continuity. Even if they live in a place like that — a baroque, layered, very busy, confused place — even if, say, they’re holding the novel as they walk down the street in London [laughter] — they just don’t get it.

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Times UK restaurant reviewer Giles Coren visited Croatia for a column:

The language is called Croatian these days, except in Serbia, where it is called Serbian, and it hasn’t got any easier. Chapter two of my Teach Yourself Croatian book was about counting to ten, and gently explained as follows: “The number one behaves like an adjective and its ending changes according to the word which follows. The number two has different forms when it refers to masculine and neuter nouns than when it refers to feminine nouns, and is followed always by words in the genitive singular, as are the words for ‘three’ and ‘four’. The numbers 5-20, however, are followed by words in the genitive plural. . .”

This is why you never see Croatians in groups of more than one or less than five in a bar. Because it isn’t actually possible to order the right number of beers.

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Official VM buddy Jecca reviews the second issue of Martha Stewart’s Blueprint (which, as I type it, sounds like something she came up with while she was in the joint, a la that Prison Break show).

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Gorgeous pictures of the world’s greatest libraries. There’s a book about it.

Between the lines

In case you’re sitting around bored this weekend, here’s an interview with a book designer who isn’t Chip Kidd.

Here’s a blog post by Dylan Horrocks (a.k.a. one of the finest cartoonists alive and an all-around swell guy who let me crash at his home in New Zealand a few years ago) on science and art.

And here’s the introduction to a new book on Leo Strauss. I found it pretty interesting, especially when it went into the east coast vs. west coast Straussians’ rivalry. It really heated up when they popped Biggie, that’s for sure.

I hope your weekend is exciting enough that you don’t read all this stuff.

Funny Books

Really long article on comics, by Charles McGrath in the New York Times. Oh, wait. It’s about graphic novels, not comics. My bad.

It actually has some good points about the narrative form, and some neat comments from cartoonists. It doesn’t really get into the finances of the business, which is integral to understanding the development of comics.

I’ll write more extensively about the subject soon, as it’s something I care about a lot. I’m not sure how such a massive article on comics can get published without mentioning (like it or not) the work of Dave Sim, who recently finished a 300-issue serial written and drawn monthly over the course of twenty-seven years, but we’ve all got our lacunae, I guess.

And it’s “McCloud,” not “McLoud.”