“The things we crave are either near us or far, whereas time is about process. I have lived many years and I have learned not to trust process. Creation, destruction: these are not the real story. When we dwell on such things, we inevitably lapse into cliché. The true drama is in these relationships of space.”

–Emil Kopen

I’ve bought a lot of comic books over the years, but I’m not what you’d call a collector. When a store clerk asks if I want a bag-and-board for a new purchase, I answer, “No, thanks. I just read ’em.” I used to have some “valuable” comics, but I sold most of them off during college. I don’t remember what I needed the money for. A few years ago, I gave away a ton of “worthless” ones to some friends of mine. They treasure them.

You could say I own a couple of expensive comics, but that depends on your definition of “expensive”. Is $100 too much to spend on a hardcover collection of Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strips, reprinted at their original size (21″ x 16″)? Is $95 too much to spend on a three-volume slipcased edition of the complete Calvin & Hobbes, the best comic strip post-Peanuts? Is $125 too much to spend on the trade paperbacks of the final 100 issues of Cerebus? (Okay, don’t answer that one.)

And is $3,000 too much to spend on Hicksville?

There’s certainly nothing on its cover to indicate that Hicksville carries such an extravagant price. In fact, my edition reads, “$19.95 US / $24.95 CANADA”. It’s no rare, pulled-from-circulation issue, has no first appearance of Wolverine nor the death of a well-loved character (“Not a dream! Not a hoax!”).

But Hicksville brought me to the other side of the world, to small towns and jade factories, to wineries and bungee-platforms, to glaciers and Bunny Hell, to myself and beyond. It brought me to New Zealand.

Hicksville collects a story from the early-to-mid-1990s comics of Dylan Horrocks, about a comics journalist who travels to a small town to research the childhood of a famous cartoonist. The journalist discovers that everyone in this town is a comics aficionado. It’s a dream that I think all comics readers had at some point in their lives, that there’s a place in which we’re home.

But it wasn’t this vision that stayed with me over the years and led me to call my travel-industry friends to set up a two-week tour of the North & South Islands. I wasn’t naïve enough to think there was a comics Shangri-La waiting there. (That’s in Angouleme!)

What brought me to New Zealand was the sky. It’s no mean feat in a black-and-white comic book to convey such subtlety in clouds. In fact, Horrocks’ scratchy pen style would seem to dictate against it, mere outlines separating absence from absence. But there was something in his skies that stayed with me. I was captured by the romance of it, right down to the Maori name for the country: Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

In 2003, I decided to go there and see it for myself. My friend Liz set me up on an “adventure tour” group, which was an extensively mixed bag of people (one of whom has stayed a good friend ever since). For the first few days, all I saw were clouds. Oh, and rain. Lots of rain.

But by the time our tour headed to the South Island via the Wellington-Picton ferry, the sky cleared and I started to understand things that I can’t explain. By the end of the trip, at the peak of the Ben Lomond trail, a mile or so above Queenstown, I knew where I was.

A day later, I would spend 24 hours in planes and airports, replaying Emil Kopen’s remarks about space, not time, being the essence of storytelling, as I jetted from Queenstown to Auckland to LA to Newark. Today marks the third anniversary of my return from NZ. Time and space.

I bought my copy of Hicksville at a small press comics expo in Maryland in 1998. Dylan Horrocks was in attendance, signing copies (he’d been brought in to give a presentation on the history of comics in NZ). He made a sketch on the first page of my copy, along with the inscription, “Hey Gil! You’re always welcome in Hicksville!”

And I am.

(You really want to look through my photos from that trip.)

It’s a Rap!

(You know you wanna check out the pix from my meanders in Toronto on Friday)

Home from Toronto a lot easier than my boss, whose flight home on Friday got cancelled due to “the airspace over Boston,” according to his pilot. He asked if this meant the bad weather & high winds we had all over the northeast, and was told that it did not. So, after 4 hours in an Embraer 145, he was allowed to leave and headed back to our hotel, where he sat in the bar and watched hockey.

Meanwhile, official VM buddy Sam and I went to see the Raptors play the Celtics in what Sam called “battle of the worst coaches in the NBA.” Since the Raptors have a game tonight against the Knicks, we figured maybe it’s a round-robin tournament.

We had fun at the game, but it was despite the action on the court. Sam’s now been to two NBA games with me (we hit a Dallas game against Orlando in April 2005), and he’s convinced I have NBA-Tourette’s, in which a constant stream of analysis & invective pours forth from my mouth during professional basketball games. We joined up with my boss after the game for a drink or two. He seemed pretty exhausted by the hurry-up-and-wait. I admit: if I were stuck in an Embraer for 4 hours, I’d probably go bananas.

Earlier in the day, after I visited Sam’s company in Oakville and toured the company’s produciton facilities (not as heavy-duty containment suiting as I wore on Thursday), I wandered around Toronto a little, while the weather was clear.

Unfortunately, this wandering didn’t coincide exactly with the clear weather, and I was stuck in some darned cold rain for a while. Early in my meander, I stopped at the Roots store in the Eaton Centre to get a hat and gloves. But then I decided that they were kinda pricey and, besides, the weather was okay now, so it would stay that way forever.

From there, I exited onto Yonge Street, which I forgot was an interesting amalgam of high-end retail, good record stores, and low-rent strip clubs. I headed off from there to a used bookstore I remembered from a past trip, but didn’t find anything.

I decided I’d walk through the University district and visit the famed comic store, The Beguiling. I spent a while there, hoping the weather would clear again and trying to justify spending $240 (Canadian) for a limited print by Sammy Harkham of a golem walking in the forest. I held off (I’ll wait till the USD appreciates against Canada’s dollar, and I’d probably be fine with a panel from The Poor Sailor anyway).

One of the nice things about having started doing yoga is that rambling ambles like this one don’t seem to give me the slight mid-back pain I was getting the past few years. I’ve only been on it for a few weeks or so, so hey.

During this walk, I came across two things I didn’t take pictures of: the Bata Shoe Museum and the Robarts Library. The former looks entertaining enough, and I bought a postcard from there for Amy, to give us yet another reason to take a long weekend here in the springtime.

The Library, on the other hand, is one of the most overwhelmingly depressing buildings I’ve ever seen. It may’ve been worse because of the rain and gray skies, but I can’t imagine a scenario which the appearance of this building inspires anything but fear and dread. Don’t let 1970s architecture happen to you!

After I left The Beguiling emptyhanded, it was time for another overpriced cab ride back to the hotel. I was amazed by the cost of cab rides in this city, as well as the ones I had to take to the pharma companies, which were outside the city. The flat-rate limo-y cars were also awfully expensive, including $51 CAD for the 20-minute ride from downtown to the airport.

In keeping with my recent post about accumulating all sorts of change and foreign currency, I returned home this morning with about $47 in Canadian bills and change. I feel like George Soros.

Anyway, a really neat thing happened during the short (54-minute) flight today. We completed our initial descent through the cloud cover, and all I could see were brown-gray hills and a few houses and a winding road or two. I thought, “We’re only 15 minutes from landing, but I have NO idea where we are right now.” It looked like Pennsylvania farmland, or far western NJ.

Then I noticed the Sheraton Crossroads to port, and it hit me: I was looking down at my morning commute! Sure enough, Rt. 17 threaded away from the Sheraton, southeast to Ramsey. Our plane followed Rt. 208 for a bit, as I picked out landmark after landmark (the Nabisco plant, the Ikea across from Garden State Plaza, even the Lukoil I stopped in last week). I’ve only had this perspective from a plane once before. Usually, I come home at night, or on different flight paths.

It helps to see things from different angles. Except Raptors/Celtics games.

(check out a couple of pix from my Toronto walkabout)

Too marvelous for words

In the new City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple lays a whomping on Steven Pinker’s theory of language development. Dalrymple being Dalrymple, he draws out the moral implications of Pinker’s theory:

The contrast between a felt and lived reality — in this case, Pinker’s need to speak and write standard English because of its superior ability to express complex ideas — and the denial of it, perhaps in order to assert something original and striking, is characteristic of an intellectual climate in which the destruction of moral and social distinctions is proof of the very best intentions.

Given that Dad’s english isn’t among his top two languages, and that my first writing influence was Stan Lee, I’m pretty amazed that this site isn’t filled with pages of fragmented alliteration. Fortunately, I had Mom (and Chris Claremont).

Unrequired Reading: Nov. 17, 2006

What we see at Ground Zero and what we will see:

When the towers first fell and, in practically the same moment, so many turned to imagining their replacement, I was appalled. Later, when I started to write about the site, I avoided proposing designs of my own, both because they were banal and impracticable — I thought it would be cool to flood the bathtub — and because I felt such activities were beyond the scope of a responsible critic. I would often say, however — as I think I wrote or at least implied here once — two things: that the ultimate form of the reconstruction was unimportant as long as the process to achieve it, from the first planning session through the ribbon-cutting, was conducted with dignity; and second, that New York should be left to be New York.

t was as obvious then as now that those two ideas were in absolute conflict — that the city could in no way be the one we love and also comport itself with a special reserve — so I concocted a third idea, one that has proved remarkably durable, by way of resolution.

* * *

Last week in this space, I mentioned that Donald Rumsfeld is more than just The Guy Who Blew the Iraq War. He also tried to revolutionize/transform the U.S. military. This profile on him in the New Yorker is more charitable than I expected, or at least more willing to see the grays than to place him in a Manichean context.

And he blew the Iraq war.

* * *

Look, kids! An interview with writer, critic and Official VM Buddy Paul Di Filippo!

What do you use for note-taking, capturing ideas and tracking submissions? Are you a proponent of pencil and notebook; do you favour proprietary software; or is it open source everything for you, even though your initials are PDF?

I am old-fashioned enough to still stick with pen and paper for my note-taking. I have a pocket notebook brand that I love, Oxford Memo Books, because it’s sewn together instead of employing a metal spiral, and so when you sit on it, it doesn’t imprint your butt like something out of a Re/Search tribal scarification volume.

* * *

From science fiction to science disappointment: the 25 worst tech products of all time.

8. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (2001)

Full of features, easy to use, and a virtual engraved invitation to hackers and other digital delinquents, Internet Explorer 6.x might be the least secure software on the planet. How insecure? In June 2004, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) took the unusual step of urging PC users to use a browser — any browser — other than IE. Their reason: IE users who visited the wrong Web site could end up infected with the Scob or Download.Ject keylogger, which could be used to steal their passwords and other personal information. Microsoft patched that hole, and the next one, and the one after that, and so on, ad infinitum.

* * *

If you’re a professional basketball fan, and you like getting some idea of what goes on behind the scenes in player negotiations, you really need to read this long and candid interview with the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Glen Taylor.

I can tell you that Chauncey [Billups] left not because of Kevin [McHale, the team’s GM] but because of Flip [Saunders, the Wolves’ coach]. Now, have we said that? We didn’t want to say that about Flip because he was here at the time. But I think since then it’s been stated that Kevin asked me if I would pay for Chauncey. I said I would. Kevin said he would, went to Chauncey, Chauncey said he would stay, because we were going to offer him the same [money] as Detroit. But then Chauncey went to Flip and said, would you play me, and Flip — I’m not saying that Flip said the wrong answer, but he said, “I’m not sure that I think that you’re our starting guard.” Chauncey then went back to Kevin, and Kevin says, basically, we’re going to be truthful. Kevin could have said to Chauncey, “Oh, we’re gonna start you.” And I know some GMs do that stuff. Then they get the player but they have an unhappy player. But Kevin doesn’t do that.

Unfortunately, it looks like questions about the remarkably stupid tampering arrangement with Joe Smith were off limits. This is a pity, because you can pretty easily make the case that the T-Wolves would’ve been in much better shape if they had draft picks over the years. But losing those picks and having a salary cap-buster like Garnett on the team meant they had to be the most creative team in the NBA. And with Kevin McHale running the show, that made it a recipe for disaster.

* * *

Amy sent me this great post by Dan Jardine on the varieties of cinematic inexperience:

I am not of the Pauline Kael School of film criticism that argues that your initial impression of a film is the only one that matters, and to revisit and reevaluate a film is a fool’s errand fraught with the potential for emotional and intellectual dishonesty. Indeed, I can think of plenty of legitimate reasons to take stock of a film anew. What if there were mitigating environmental factors — such as problems with the projector or the sound, or even with the audience itself — that hampered your ability to enjoy the film? What of format issues? I mean, what if, like me, your first experience with Lawrence of Arabia was on television, in full screen format and interrupted by commercials? Or what if you were in the wrong head space after a fight with your partner or a bad day at work and weren’t able to give the film the attention and scrutiny it deserved?

* * *

Witold Rybzcsinski on the decline of architecture magazines:

A reduction in intellectual content in the glossies was largely the result of an increased reliance on photography, especially color photography. There’s something about a color photograph that glamorizes its subject, and architectural writers soon adopted the slightly breathless tones of fashion reporters. You are more likely to find tough architectural criticism in the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and The New Yorker than in any of the major architecture magazines.

* * *

Victor Davis Hanson sings “I left my appendix in Tripoli”:

Libyans seem to talk nonstop. It’s as if they have been jolted from a long sleep and are belatedly discovering, thanks to their newfound Internet, satellite television, and cell phones — many carry two to ensure that they are never out of service from competing companies — that there is indeed a wide world outside of dreary Tripoli and beyond the monotonous harangues of government socialists on the state-owned TV and radio stations.

They talked about their new gadgetry, and much else, with infectious optimism. As one hopeful Libyan travel entrepreneur with friends in the government explained, there might be some irony after all to Libya’s long, self-imposed insularity. Yes, he conceded, foreign investment declined. Oilmen left. Petroleum production nose-dived from more than 3 million barrels to never more than 2 million. But there was a silver lining: Did all that not have the effect of saving Libya’s precious resource to await the return of the present sky-high prices? Yes, Libya had banked a sort of strategic oil reserve that now was to be tapped at its most opportune moment. Yes, it was Libya’s grand strategy to deny Westerners its petroleum treasure for years, until they finally came around to pay what it was really worth

* * *

At Slate, Daniel Gross discusses the trend of foreign companies to buy U.S. brands that are on the wane:

[T]o these foreign owners, the U.S. market represents the holy grail. American consumer-oriented firms that have saturated the U.S. market, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Nike, look to developing markets for their growth. But these foreign buyers see a different kind of opportunity here — an unmatched combination of wealth and growth that doesn’t exist in Germany, or China, or Denmark. The U.S. domestic market, 300 million people strong, is composed of wealthy consumers who routinely spend more than they make.
But iconic American brands only tend to come up for sale when they’re damaged.

It’s funny to me is that, for more than a century, China has been the holy grail for U.S. & European companies, along the lines of, “If we just get [x]% of them to go for our brand, we’ll be rolling in dough!”

* * *

Dare to dream and all that, but I still don’t believe Rem Koolhaas’ Chinese Television Authority building is going to stand up.

More weekend rambling

The rest of the weekend after the reunion? Quiet, generally. I drove home and realized that I needed water and sugar, which the Coca-Cola Corporation was only too ready to provide. Once home, I realized how tired I was, and how tired I was going to stay until Sunday.

So I chilled out with Amy, partook of the hair of the dog, and finished reading Epileptic, a really fine comic by a French cartoonist about living with a brother who has severe epilepsy. It’s an awfully challenging book (about 350 pages, by the way), because David B. doesn’t actually represent anyone in a sympathetic light, except perhaps his little sister. In general, his parents pursue any half-baked cure they can find for his brother, including magnetism, macrobiotics, spiritualism, and other mystic forms. David B.’s “character” (it’s portrayed as autobiographical) concludes at one point that his brother ‘chooses’ epilepsy, and that he uses his disease as a way to avoid life.

Challenging, like I say, because it’s clear the brother’s not in control of his disease at all, but that he’s also not simply a victim of it. Simultaneously, ‘David B.’ plunges deeply into cartooning and storytelling in an attempt to translate his life and his reactions to his brother’s disease. It’s quite compelling, astonishingly drawn, and has a narrative flow that I found absolutely confounding. If you can read comics — and I know plenty of people who simply can’t read them, instead focusing only on the words — you should read this one.

Sunday was going to be a football day, but we kept bailing on games. We left the Jets/Patriots so we could hit a Linens & Things to pick up a new shower rod/curtain setup; we gave up on the Saints/Steelers (Amy knew better about the Saints than I did); and we were too tired to stick with the Bears/Giants. So it was a bits-and-pieces day, but at least we succeeded in dismantling the sliding-panel shower door and replacing it with the curtain.

We’re planning to redo the bathroom once I get a couple of other things squared away (dangerous trees in the yard are getting cut down this week, and I’m getting a plumber in to assess everything that’s wrong with the pipes in this place) and the holiday bonuses are sorted out. In fact, I got all outdoors-ish on Sunday morning, taking down some dead branches, bringing the summer-stuff inside, and wielding that electric chainsaw of mine willy-nilly. Except for the willy-nilly part, which has bad connotations when associated with a chainsaw.

Anyway, the upshot was that I got some of the yard cleared, got rid of the impossible-to-keep-clean shower door, and finished reading a good comic, while also trying to write up the reunion during my free minutes. And that was the weekend.

Monday: now that was a different story. We had an off-site editorial meeting to discuss internet strategy for our magazines. It was at the same location as the sales meeting I attended back in September, but people weren’t, um, “resting their eyes” during this meeting.

Actually, the meeting helped me understand an important difference between editorial and sales personnel. When the online sales meeting wrapped up, the salesmen all headed to the building’s scary bar, where they got a little shikker. When Monday’s meeting finished, the editors were happy enough to get a free lunch out of the deal, and everyone just headed back to the office.

But I got some good ideas for things we can do on the magazine’s website, and also had some thoughts about the redesign for this blog, and the overall site, which still needs to be constructed. If I can get far enough ahead on the 400-page issue of the magazine I’m working on, I’ll take some time off during Thanksgiving week and try to put together the new look-and-feel for this site.

Because that’s supposed to be my idea of fun.

Unrequired Reading: Nov. 3, 2006

Official VM buddy Tom Spurgeon & his brother Whit sacrifice themselves to The Guiding Light in order to chronicle the soap opera’s tie-in episode with Marvel Comics.

* * *

Two tax articles from Slate: the continuing phenomenon of Bushenfreude — those who benefit from the Republican tax cuts but contribute to Democrat politicians, and Bono/U2’s decision to reduce its tax burden by moving its music publishing company out of Ireland:

“Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market … that’s a justice issue,” Bono said at a prayer breakfast attended by President Bush, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and various members of Congress earlier this year. Preaching this sort of thing has made Bono a perennial candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He continued:

Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents . . . that’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents . . . that’s a justice issue.

And relocating your business offshore in order to avoid paying taxes to the Republic of Ireland, where poverty is higher than in almost any other developed nation?

* * *

Dan Drezner examines the importance of China in negotiations with North Korea. I believe I’ve said it before: When you manage to get the U.S., Russia, China and Japan on the same page against you, you have severely messed up.

* * *

BLDGBLOG remains one of the most eerie/haunting sites out there. This post about offshore oil rigs proves my point.

* * *

When we gaze into the Barack, does the Barack gaze back at us?

* * *

In honor of the premiere of Borat, the UK press has been doing interest stories from Kazakhstan.

* * *

Reason on misreading the Beats.

* * *

I know enough small publicly-held company execs who would agree with this post: SOX sucks.

* * *

It’s Ron-Ron’s world.

* * *

And in honor of the NBA season kick-off (as it were): Kieran Darcy gives up on the Knicks, about 10 years after I did.

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.

* * *

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.)


* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!

* * *

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.

* * *

Vegas is no Transgondwanan Supermountain.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.”

* * *

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.

* * *

Mary Worth and Nothingness

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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).

* * *

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