Unrequired Reading: MARCH!

It’s time for another month’s worth of tweets and funny links, dear readers! Remember, you can keep up with these more easily by following my feed at twitter.com/groth18!

The Things He Carried (he being @acontinuouslean)

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Even in @ArcadiaBroadway I am. yfrog.com/gy1r6hvj

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Great @michaelbierut piece on 15 years of design-work for United.

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EVERYONE has trouble finding their way around #neworleans

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Wisdom from #TomFord: (I still wear shorts, but I’m in the ‘burbs, so hey.)

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NYC: dancing in the ’70s wasn’t all Soul Train

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@jeremoss lays a palimpsest over 7th Ave. bet. 47 & 48: #vanishingNY

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The Arab world’s greatest contribution to society? #Coffee! #justmyopinion

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My top symptom of depression is when I’m convinced I’d fail a #TuringTest. Spambots have it easier than I do

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Kindasorta pet sounds (via @bldgblog) #bringthenoise

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@thebookslut (whom I’m hoping to interview soon for my podcast) on writers and their politics: #KnutthePolarNazi

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I gotta get around to reading #Lanark sometime, since a trusted pal gave it to me a while ago: #andIshouldvisitGlasgow

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Good thing they didn’t goof on @DeadliestCatch: #nabokov

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Explaining the Northern Lights: #auroraborealis (make sure you watch this time-lapse video that shows up at the end)

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

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Why do people get angry? #theydriveinNJ #iwouldhaveaskedforHappyGilmore

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Cutest thing ever: greyhound puppy edition #greyhound #sickeninglycute

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Mallrats of 1990: I was no great shakes back then either: #napoleondynamite

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RT @radleybalko – Prosecutor: “You bet your ass I ain’t gonna be mean to Willie Nelson.”

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I did a #screenhijack of the electronic billboard at the Annapolis Mall in ’94 and posted some @danielclowes messages.

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I’m loving me these Out of Print t-shirts: #nakedlunch #mobydick

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“Militant” bombing of bus stop in #Jerusalem: #goodthingitsnotterrorism

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GREAT piece on the big problem with Big Idea books: #jointheclub #iwouldntjoinanyclubthatwouldtakemeasamember

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Holi isn’t the same without #karlpilkington #anidiotabroad

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The (Frank) King of Gift Shops: #gasolinealley

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Fear & Loathing in LV, 40 years later. #hst

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I really gotta get to re-reading #thucydides sometime. http://bit.ly/i6mQmJ

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Coincidentally, I have #Impromptu coming in from @netflix tomorrow: #chopin #liszt

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Cheech & Chong should sue for royalties: #nicedreams

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How to kill a zombie: #themoreyouknow

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No pic of Spencer Tracy playing Ultimate Frisbee? (thanks, @kottke!) #katherinehepburn

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Hey, @kottke! I see your #katherinehepburn and raise you a #farrahfawcett!#sk8ergirl

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Swaziland’s king faces strikes! He should name Richard E. Grant as his successor! #withnailandswazis #wahwah

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Speaking of #richardegrant, let’s have lunch! #whenisthenextbookcomingout

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Is @gsk about to relive #officespace? #ibelieveyouhavemystapler

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Neoconservatives: advocates of a new managerial state. Also, kindasorta fascist?

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@simondoonan on the flattering adjacent and the $12k jacket: #pythonsareexpensive

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@nytimes to conduct digital experiment on Canadians! #greatwhitepaywall #blamecanada

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@gregbeato offers an ode to the mall: #somehowradioshackisstillinbusiness

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Who watches the watch, man? #bespokewatch

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George Michael’s beard: Iron and Wine covers “One More Try”

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My cholesterol dropped 60 points within a year after I got a dog (who needed regular walkies) #gogreyhound

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The bank is closed, bitch! #bankshot #hoopitup #timduncan

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I was so hoping @therealshockg was part of this article on the N. Korean Digital Underground. #humptyhump

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Henry Miller: Brooklynite #tropicofhipster

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Should I take my #coffee more seriously? done and done! #pourover #caffeinedreams

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Unreal City #dubai #moneychangeseverything

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Before/Ater palimpsest pictures of earthquake & tsunami damage in Japan. #disastersunday

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Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 25 years later. #disastersunday #atomicsafari

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Louisiana gulf coast ecology, post-Katrina & BP: #disastersunday

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Awesome Sam Lipsyte piece on cheating and the new #Monopoly. #goreadTheAsk #nownownow #SamLipsyte

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I’m very happy that there’s a Montaigne renaissance going on. #nowforplutarch

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Via @AlexBalk of @theawl, an encomium for Local Hero, one of the most wonderful movies ever.

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Whither the big box? Wither, the big box!

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Chuck Person had something to do with DEFENSE? I call shenanigans. #firsttimeforeverything #nba #lalakers

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My God, it’s full of stars” #afghanair (whole set here)

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The Torah is wheat, the Bible is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. #itrynottodiscussreligiontoooften

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What happens to the Aerotropolises that fail? #justwondering

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New Orleans documentaries, in black and white. #mardigras

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Financial Times = Scientology: “every time you reach one level, you realize there’s another, more expensive level awaiting you.”

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100 Days of Designitude: via @designobserver

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V5 Precise is my office-pen of choice, but I use Pilot G-2 05 for travel: retractable, less leak-prone. #mypenishuge

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Who needs therapy? Here and here – #iprobablydo #drugsandvideogames

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The bottom of the world: beautiful pictures from Antarctica! thx, @in_focus!

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I wondered what became of Mats Wilander: #havegamewilltravel #bywinnebago

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I gotta get out west to In-N-Out and hit up that secret menu. #bestburgerever

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I’ve pretty much bailed on contempo fiction. Does it still suck?

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NYer interview with Tom Stoppard about @arcadiabroadway. #whatiscarnalembrace

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Yay! Drugs cost nil to discover! No wonder R&D productivity is falling apart and FDA approvals are at record lows!

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How To End A Conversation“: I usually feign death.

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I guess I have to catch up on those American Masters docs, huh? #pbs #americanmasters #lovedLOVEDtheschultzone

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“This could be the greatest critical roundtable in Comics Journal history.” #dilbert #noseriouslydilbert

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Ron Rosenbaum on the man who questioned the bomb. #youdroppedabombonme

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#charliesheen via #wittgenstein via @walterkirn

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I used to play the Journey vid just so I could kill #steveperry. #videogamedeaths #nosinistar?

Off the Road

Life is too short for crappy books. I’ve tried to impress that notion on friends, acquaintances and co-workers who would tell me that they were reading [x] but not enjoying it. Now, I don’t mean that a good book is one that panders, just that a reader should have some degree of joy or curiosity about a book.

A few years back, one of my co-workers told me he was struggling with Infinite Jest. I asked him if he felt he was getting something out of it. I knew he was very into tennis, and thought that aspect of the book would at least have captured his interest. “Not really,” he told me. “I’m 400 pages in and bored shitless. I get the corporate sponsorship joke, and that addicts have tough lives, but does this get any better?”

“Depends on what you mean by better.”

“Do you ever find out what’s on the videotape that amuses people to death?”

“. . . No. Infinite Jest is actually a thousand-page novel about boredom. That’s the joke.” In my opinion.

He put it down and went on to something else.

Which brings me to On the Road.

I first tried to read Kerouac’s novel in the summer of 1991. I was staying at a college pal’s family’s farmhouse in Athol, MA, and there was a limited selection of books at hand, one of which was an old mass market paperback of On the Road. Back at Hampshire, it was praised by plenty of people I didn’t like and whose taste I didn’t trust, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

The characters, I recall, didn’t demonstrate much character and the writing itself was plain and uncompelling. Thirty-five pages in, I was bored shitless and put the book aside. Instead I read Gaiman & Pratchett’s Good Omens, which I picked up on a visit to my girlfriend in Worcester.

Twenty years later, I found myself willing to try Kerouac again. At a book party in February, I met the writer Fred Kaplan and his wife, writer and NPR/WNYC host Brooke Gladstone. I’d enjoyed Mr. Kaplan’s writing on Slate for years now (mainly covering the Defense Dept. beat), and mentioned that to him. He told me a little about the book he’s working on and, two G&Ts into the evening, I decided ot tell him that I had yet to read his book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed.

I know authors don’t like to hear about how people haven’t read their books, but I told him that I’d been interested in the book for a while and promised to get it for my Kindle the next day. He was amiable about it. Certainly moreso than Greill Marcus, who once lectured me about the content of Lipstick Traces after I told him that I had only read about 100 pages of it.

Anyway, I did download 1959 from Amazon and read it over the next week. Weirdly, the Kindle format of 1959 puts an extra line-break after every paragraph, so the entire work looks like it’s composed of aphorisms. I enjoyed it, although it didn’t have the voice that I find in nonfiction work by, say, Clive James or Ron Rosenbaum, whose book party we were attending that evening. (Speaking of which, buy Ron’s new book! It’s the bomb! Also, he owes me money!) Still, I found it pretty informative, the thesis largely holds up, and Kaplan’s love of jazz shows up strongly in his chapters on Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), Dave Brubeck (Time Out) and Ornette Coleman (Shape of Jazz to Come).

The sections on Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity case for Howl (tried pre-1959, but setting a precedent that would enable that year’s rulings to overturn federal obscenity laws) made me curious again about Keroac and On the Road. I thought, “It’s been 20 years since I tried it. Maybe it was the mass market paperback’s typesetting. Maybe it was my philistinism. Maybe it’s one of those works that will resonate for me now, one of those books you grow into. Maybe its time-capsule distance from me will prove of interest.”

I bought it for my Kindle, and gave it another shot. This time, I made it a quarter of the way through before surrendering.

I was expecting some sort of lyricism that would show Kerouac’s aesthetic competition with Ginsberg, or a benzedrine-fueled madness that reflected Burroughs’ influence on him, or maybe some of the sheer poetic-mystic beauty of the idler’s life that Henry Miller was so good at in Tropic of Cancer, which I thought was the obvious precursor for On the Road.

Instead, I still found the events uninteresting, the language flat, the characters (still) not having have much by way of character, and no serious observations about America or its crippled, postwar ideals. I’m still incredulous that this book was a monster hit for half a century. I know the Eisenhower years were boring, but was this really such a great alternative?

So I acknowledged that slogging along through a book I didn’t like was reinforcing the crap mood I’ve been in lately, and yesterday I picked up Arcadia, the Tom Stoppard play that I’m seeing this week on Broadway (provided there are no safety violations in the big finale with the multiple Septimus Hodges getting launched by catapult over the audience). According to The List That Knows More Than I Do, it’ll be the fifth time I’ve read Arcadia, but the language is so gorgeous, the ideas so artfully integrated into the stories, the plot and staging so ingenious, that I don’t mind returning to that well.

Moral: go back to the first sentence of this post.

Publishers at Play

When I was a pretentious young man (I’m older now; but that doesn’t mean I’m less pretentious), the Paris Review Writers at Work anthologies were my Bible. (Or at least my Apocrypha. My Bible was a mash-up of Tropic of Cancer and Inside the Whale.)

I’d seek out the collections at used bookstores. The first volume I picked up, the 5th Series, contained interviews with William Gass (whom I was just then struggling to read), Jerzy Kosinski, Gore Vidal, P.G. Wodehouse, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and more. The interviews were a joy to this self-important, deluded Future Great American Writer, deftly exploring the writers’ histories, influences and literary opinions, while also revealing some of the practical aspects of their writing habits. Each interview was prefaced with a facsimile of a page of the writer’s manuscript or typescript. This was a wonderful touch, a peek into the writer’s editorial process.

(Well, except for the Henry Miller interview, which had a bizarre diagram with the caption, “Manuscript plan of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, ’embracing planetary conjunction; topographical map of region and monuments and streets and cemeteries; fatal, or otherwise, influence of fields — according to type; Major Events; Dominant Idea; Psychological Pattern.” This may be why I never finished Tropic of Capricorn.)

If I found WaW volumes in a library, I’d photocopy the interviews with my favorites. I still have a folder somewhere with Philip Roth, Harold Bloom, Milan Kundera (I said I was pretentious back then) and others. I began looking up past issues of the Paris Review to find other interviews that had yet to be anthologized.

One of my great triumphs came when I was in Bethesda, MD in 1998 for the Small Press Expo (SPX), an indie-comics event. In a used bookstore near the expo hotel, I found issue #105 with the famed (and uncollected) William Gaddis interview!

At SPX, I met Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth. I’d been writing mean-spirited reviews for his magazine, The Comics Journal, for a few months at that time. He thanked me for those, joking that it was good to have someone else writing mean-spiritedly in the magazine, because it freed up his time. Then he noticed the Paris Review back issue in my hand and said, “I see you found the one with the William Gaddis interview!”

I felt like I was in good company.

The WaW anthology series, published by Viking / Penguin, ended after the 9th volume in 1992, near as I can tell from abebooks.com. A decade or so later, Modern Library began publishing Women Writers at Work, Beat Writers at Work, Playwrights at Work and, um, Latin American Writers at Work (?), but I never picked those up. (I did grab The Writer’s Chapbook, which excerpted quotes from the interviews around particular themes, such as the audience, character, potboilers, peers, etc. It was a nice volume, but not as satisfying as having the complete interviews.)

In 2006, St. Martin’s Picador imprint began a new series called The Paris Review Interviews (I, II, and III). They’re the same format as the old WaW collections, right down to the facsimile manuscript page. And they collected the Gaddis interview! I still find the interviews pretty delightful, even though I’m no longer harboring dreams of being a Great American Writer. (I 0-fer-ized two of them here and here.)

George, Being George has a lot of good material about the history of the interviews, including the giddy elation some writers experienced when they were asked by George Plimpton to sit down for a Writers at Work session. Rather than excerpt any of those, I instead offer up a passage about the business of publishing the books:

MONA SIMPSON: [George] was very unhappy at one point with the amount of money that the Review had been paid for the various anthologies of interviews. Viking was paying us very little, and they were delaying publications. So Jay and I volunteered to go to this guy we knew at Simon and Schuster to see about moving our books there, and George was all for it. After an extended series of meetings, we got an offer for twenty-five thousand dollars — the current publisher was offering, I think three thousand — and they were really going to push it and promote it. So we come to George saying, “Okay, let’s sign on the dotted line, it’s going to be great.”

Then, at the last minute, George calls our editor at the other house — basically an old friend of George’s whom he’d been working with for years, who occasionally sent him tickets to a ball game. The editor sends George some tickets to the ball game and the whole deal is off. We realized at that point that we couldn’t just go out in the world and do that sort of thing anymore, not even with his permission, because we found that we basically didn’t have power to go against his personal loyalties. It was very embarrassing, because Simon and Schuster was outraged that we were staying with an offer that was about twelve percent of theirs.

I’ve taken several clients to basketball and baseball games, as well as fancy dinners. I like to believe that our magazine offers great value to our advertisers and that the fun times are sorta ancillary, but I’m sure that “relationship-building” activities like this muddle even the most otherwise clear business decisions.

As I said, George, Being George is a pretty entertaining book. Why, it’s right here at the end of my Plimpton/Review shelf!

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Oh, and the fourth volume of the new series — sorry, the IVth one — is coming out next week, so you should get on that.