Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stephen King, Get Over It Already

Oh, for Pete's sake.

Many of you have probably read this morning's editorial in the Times Book Review by Stephen King. It's pretty much a ripoff of his own introduction to the new Best American Short Stories, and is about his favorite topic: how Ivy League intellectual snobs have ruined literature.

You'd think that, in the wake of his complete acceptance by the "literary establishment" that he for so long was convinced disdained him, King would no longer feel it necessary to write pretentious little screeds like this; but if you think that, you don't know King. This is the most outrageously class-obsessed writer in the world, the guy who trots out his working class cred at every available opportunity, and there was no way something like winning the actual admiration of powerful people would put a stop to it.

The essay in question is structured as an imaginary big-box store visit, where King discovers that the literary magazines are expensive, and you have to bend over to read them. He uses these observations to assert that the audience for serious fiction has dwindled. And then he says that this audience

happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and the New Yorker, of course...) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn't real reading, the kind where you just can't wait to find out what happens next... It's more like copping-a-feel reading. There's something yucky about it.

Got that? If you're a young writer, and you're reading that New Yorker story, and think you find it entertaining, sorry, you're mistaken. Actually, you're a pervert. And a calculating snob/loser/poseur. And if you claim that you are able to enjoy a story that operates by means other than event-driven narrative linearity, you are lying.

What a bunch of fucking bullshit. King is certainly right about the limited audience for literary fiction. He's right that most fiction sucks, too. But most fiction has always sucked. You can't name the shitty writers of 1923, not because they didn't exist, but because they didn't last. Bad fiction is usually bad in ways that reveal the vanities of its era, and I won't argue that the vanities of this era don't indeed include intellectual pretension, MFA-fueled obfuscatory mediocrity, and emotional detachment.

But dude: get over it. King seems to need, very badly, to believe that everyone in the world is a fake but him. One story in the new B.A.S.S. anthology so perfectly encapsulates the King paranoia that he might have written it himself. In it, a good ol' honest-to-god salt-of-the-earth auto parts salesman tells the story of his brother, a famous "intellectual" writer who mistreats women, humiliates his family, looks down on everyone, and dies miserable. It's a piece of such breathtaking reverse snobbery, classist wish fulfillment, and emotional fakery that I could barely believe my eyes. Like King's essay today, it brims, embarrassingly, with bitterness and jealousy.

I've read pretty much everything King has written, and like a lot of literary writers of my generation, I count him as an influence, in spite of his flaws. But wow, there is no pleasing the guy. The best-selling, wealthiest, most prolific, most loved writer of his generation, enjoyed by readers from all socioeconomic strata and education levels, and he still thinks the phonies are out to get him.

Well, fuck you, man. We literary whipper-snappers are not reading magazines to advance our careers, we're reading them because we like them. Just like you pretend to. You begged and begged to be admitted into the elite, highly selective, and completely imaginary company of the literati, and finally they gave in. And as soon as you strolled through the nonexistent door into their illusory super special secret smart people's club you told 'em they were heartless lame-o's. "I certainly don't want some fraidy-cat's writing school imitation of Faulkner, or some stream-of-consciousness about what Bob Dylan once called 'the true meaning of a pear'."

Guess what, Steve--neither do the rest of us. And enough quoting of Dylan and Springsteen, as part of your endless effort to prove once and for all how very down to earth and populist you are. If there's a hell for snobs, you will reside there for eternity, reading over and over the collected works of Barthes, Derrida, and Baudrillard.

And I'm still going to read your next book.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Eye-Fishing: Best American Poetry, 2007

I always feel insecure opening my piehole on the subject of poetry, because I'm only a sporadic reader of it. Plus, if it's funny I'm almost guaranteed to like it, so I suspect my taste is immature.

That said, I think this year's collection is an excellent one. It's edited by Heather McHugh, for whom I confess a soft spot: she contributed a really good poem to our little 'zine years ago. This volume is a pure reflection of McHugh's aesthetic (I thik I can say that): it's all about the language -- surprising, strange, funny, awkward language. The poems are beautiful in their interestingness, not because of beautiful subject matter. There are no poems about cattails or meadows.

When I read poetry, I let my eye jiggle over the page until my eye is caught on something, then I read that thing, read its line, go back to the beginning of the poem and read carefully. This is probably a bad way to read poetry, but since no one's paying me to do it, I'll just keep on doing it this way, thank you. Anyway, it sort of works. I find stuff I like, though I certainly miss things, too. Here are some of the poems that caught my eye in Best Am Po, '07:

Jeannette Allee's "Crimble of Staines," which is full of Britishy English and includes the lines: "Jolly ol' brims with againstness/"Anti-clockwise" -- "ante-natal if you will -- /"The crumbling masonry" of/ Your "anti-relationship structure" you once called it before/you went away."

Matthew Byrne's "Let Me Count the Ways," about loving and missing a mountain (I think I know exactly which mountain, too): " I wanted to conquer/ the mountain, scale the mountain, whether to hike it/ or jog it, whether to sleep on it, whether to shoot its fauna/ with camera or gun ... be the agent of the mountain, the lobbyist, the sculptor,/ the detractor, sermonizer, liege, jester, or militia,/ the one who unequivocally explains the mountain..."

Macgregor Card's haunted and dreamy "Duties of an English Foreign Secretary," which contains Wallacey Stevensy lines like, "Here's your forest, visitor/ -- soft pssst of the oar -- / will you hear a bird parlando/ necking at your door..." except maybe Stevens never wrote about necking.

Alan Shapiro's funny/tragic "Country Western Singer" which starts like this: "I used to feel like a new man/ After the day's first brew./ But then the new man I became/ Would need a tall one too." And this marvelous couplet: "I'll teach you salvation's just/ Salivation without the I."

Matthea Harvey's "From 'The Future of Terror/Terror of the Future' Series" is the poem (or two poems) I can least remove from my head -- post-apocalypse poetry that amid surreal images still manages to hold onto the thinnest of narrative threads: "From the gable window, we shot/ at what was left: gargoyles and garden gnomes" it begins. I will have to track down her other work.

Oh, shoot, there are too many, and as usual I start these posts too late. More later.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and New Stuff on the Litlab

Over at the Writers At Cornell Blog, you'll find an interview I conducted today with poet Gabrielle Calvocaressi, author of the collection The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart. A recipient of the Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Women Writers, she has been both a Stegner Fellow and a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. She lives in Los Angeles. We discussed the long, apelike shadow of Wallace Stevens, porno drive-ins, and what precisely a prose poem thinks it's supposed to be. Gabby is funny as hell, and gave a great reading this afternoon--stop by and give it a look.

In addition, The Litlab is really cooking, with new weird stuff from William Walsh, Sharma Shields, Evan Sobel, Tim Reynolds, Adalena Kavanagh, and Dana Koster.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Roberto Bolaño: The Insufferable Gaucho

I like this New Yorker story--not new, but newly translated--by the author of The Savage Detectives; it has a lot in common with the book I'm trying to rewrite, and is sophisticated but simply told. I'm embarrassed to admit this is the only thing I've read of Bolaño's; now I will have to go get that novel.

In the story, a retired judge from Buenos Aires falls into idleness, and then, in the wake of the Argentinian economic collapse, retreats to the abandoned family ranch far off in the pampas. On the train ride there, the judge observes through the window a quartet of rabbits as it chases, catches, and eviscerates a fifth rabbit. The rabbits become a running theme, as the judge attempts to make a life for himself in the middle of nowhere; they are all that's left now that nobody is bothering to raise any cattle.

The judge forgets how to be urban and begins to lose his mind. At one point, his son, a writer, brings some friends to visit, including a book publisher. The judge and the publisher take a ride out to visit a cluster of decrepit buildings:

For two hours, the publisher held forth in praise of the idyllic, unspoiled life led, as he saw it, by the inhabitants of Capitan Jourdan. When he spotted the first of the ruined houses, he broke into a gallop, but it was much farther away than he had thought, and before he got there a rabbit leaped up and bit him on the neck.

Really?!!? Awesome. Bolaño's story is profoundly odd, but amiably presents itself as perfectly normal, unwrapping its peculiar pleasures dispassionately, in the language of a fairy tale. The judge eventually goes back to the city to see to his house, and briefly considers staying for good--but when a cocaine-addled weirdo accosts him in a cafe, the judge, instead of ignoring the man, stabs him in the groin, and soon decides to return to the ranch.

Bolaño is a pro at the slightly-strange detail, like a strip of rabbit jerky "literally seething with protein," or a meal "which they ate in a room full of old photographs." The story is like a painting with almost nothing on it, which by its sparseness magnifies what little is there.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why It's a Bad Idea to Be a Writer

You will no doubt come to a bad and possibly picturesque end.

At his farewell cocktail party, [Sherwood] Anderson unknowingly swallowed a toothpick hidden within an hors d'oeuvre. The author sailed on, but the toothpick didn't, penetrating his intestines and causing peritonitis. Anderson became ill aboard ship and later died in a Panama hospital.
In 1925, while working at a restaurant in Washington D.C., [Langston] Hughes tucked a few of his poems under the dinner plate of then-reigning poet Vachel Lindsay. Lindsay shared the poems during his reading that night, and in the morning, Hughes was crowned Lindsay's new discovery, the "busboy poet."

Hughes went on to become one of America's most prolific authors. Lindsay, however, died six years later after drinking a bottle of Lysol.

From an article in Mental Floss (how I loathe that name) via

Monday, September 24, 2007

Writer Bars

I like drinking. Not drinking drinking--it didn't take many nights of that to convince me to swear it off for eternity, and besides, I can never stay up late enough to accomplish it--but the kind of drinking that is generally euphemized "social drinking," which I think means doing it with a bunch of other people and yukking it up.

Today a student of mine turned in a poem about my favorite bar in town, and as inspiration for his revision I offered him Richard Hugo's poem "The Only Bar In Dixon," which contains the great passage

This is home because some people
go to Perma and come back
from Perma saying Perma
is no fun.

Back in the day, Rhian and I and a few other people made the pilgrimage to Dixon--in fact, out to Perma and then back to Dixon--and enjoyed a can of some swill or other at the Dixon Bar. The story went that Hugo, James Welch, and J. D. Reed all went on an ice fishing trip, and stopped in Dixon on the way home, and visited the bar; each of them wrote a poem, and they were all published together in the New Yorker in 1970.

We didn't dig the only bar in Dixon, mostly because they didn't dig us there. The regulars knew why we were there and seemed eager to return to the slow work of killing themselves. Better was Al's and Vic's in Missoula, which, at the time we lived there, always seemed to contain mostly writers and football players. Not sure how that happened. We have fond memories of playing video poker, talking to our friends Fran and Lila who worked behind the bar, dodging the crazy dude who tried to bite that one guy's nose off that one time, and the dissipated remains of Miss Minnesota 1964. By the time we returned to Missoula for a visit in 2002, the writers seemed to have moved to The Union Club, four blocks away--a gentler place, with better food.

Ithaca doesn't really have a writer bar, maybe because most of the writers aren't really drinkers. It's kind of not in vogue. I am not sure where my students go, when they go out.

The thing I really fear is that the coffee shop has replaced the writers' bar. Yes, it's healthier (though only marginally, here, ever since New York state put the kibosh on smoking in bars), and more cheerful, and there are plenty of places to plug in your Macbook. And here in Ithaca we get to have the glorious Gimme to congregate at, in addition to The Great Satan--and far be it from me to denigrate the drink I most adore, the mighty joe.

BUT. Give me a double of Maker's, a grubby notebook, dim lighting, and a bunch of drunks humiliating themselves all around me, and I will give you a short story by closing time. Give me instead a cappuccino, a scone, and broad daylight, and I got nothin' but a shaky hand, a mild headache, and a need to pee.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Best American Comics 2007

A few of you might remember my post back in January about Best American Comics 2006--I was pretty stoked about this anthology (guest-edited by Harvey Pekar), and about comics in general.

I still am excited about comics as a literary art, and thrilled when Rhian brought home the new Best American Comics 2007, edited by the great Chris Ware. If Pekar had put together a great collection, then Ware--perhaps my favorite cartoonist--ought to put together something brilliant.

I don't think this year's anthology is as strong as last year's, though. Without question, there are some great moments, but overall it feels a bit slack. Ware, in his introduction, issues a non-apology for the problem, which he explains by quoting a New York Times critic*, who referred to a

"creeping sameness" to much of what he was leafing through, "semi- or wholly autobiographical sketches of drifting daily life and its quiet epiphanies." Admittedly, as comics have entered their late adolescence as art/literature, a preponderance of autobiographical work has accrued.

Ware goes on to defend autobiography, which is not what the critic was complaining about--rather, he was complaining about really boring autobiography, for which there is no good defense.

There is some fantastic autobiography here--an excerpt from of what became Alison Bechdel's stunning Fun Home, and several genuinely strange and fascinating episodes from David Heatley's series of illustrated dreams. But there are some clunkers, too, most notably a series by the ordinarily excellent Jeffrey Brown, in which he basically goes to various record stores, buys lots of indie rock CD's, then listens to them while thinking about his ex-girlfriend.

Late adolesence or not, navel-gazing is never interesting. The analysis of self is interesting (see: Philip Roth), but the bar has been set too low for comics, and it's time for the form to grow up.

Of course, it already is growing up. A few of these comics are extraordinarily, gratifyingly strange--C. F.'s "Blond Atchen and the Bumble Boys" springs to mind, with its Henry-Dargeresque pencil-and-paint style, as do the post-apocalyptic fuzzed-out scribbles of Gary Panter. These comics delight in their willingness to reshape certain conventions of the form, or abandon linear narrative when it suits the material; their meaning is elusive, but they are never vague in their presentation of detail.

I suspect that Ware has included some cartoonists for who they are and what they represent to him, rather than whether they were at their best this year. That's OK. Everything in here is diverting, and that's more than anyone can hope for in an anthology of this kind. The fact that some of it is actually stunning is merely a bonus.

*It's John Hodgman, in case you were wondering.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Taming of the Shrew

The heroic ploughing-through (with my hardcore book group) of the entirety of Shakespeare continues this weekend, with The Taming of the Shrew. Goodness me, this play is freaking insane. At times, it seems to exist solely as an exercise in identity-switching, elaborate costumery, and nuptial parody; at others it showcases the brilliance of the early Shakespeare, with all the attendant clever wordplay and witty banter. Mostly, though, it just seems like a mess. The bulk of it, as many of you will already know, is actually a play-within-a-play; the inner play is about two sisters, one shrewish and embittered, the other beautiful and mild; their father won't let the nice one get married until the nasty one does, and so a pack of suitors hatches a plot to make all this happen.

Plotwise, it's ridiculous on its face; the problem of the shrew's marriage is solved almost immediately, and the suitors' disguises and inventions are almost completely unnecessary (and ultimately seem to amount to nothing). Furthermore the outer play--the main action is all a performance being viewed by a common drunk whom some noblemen have dressed up in fly threads and convinced that he is a lord who's been having a bad dream for fifteen years--never resolves (except in a few non-Folio bits that might or might not have been written by Shakespeare).

And finally, those traditionalists who wish to cast Katherine's final speech as anything other than outright misogyny are fighting one hell of an uphill battle. It's pretty grim stuff, that, and I realized reading it that I had been secretly hoping for some kind of comic female empowerment or something. No such luck--the shrew is tamed, and tamed by brutal psychological abuse. Ha ha!!!

Nevertheless, the young Shakespeare was really on a tear. Anybody else would have made this mess unwatchable, methinks; Shakespeare manages to infuse every pointless scene with manic energy and terrific little flashes of character. It seems, two plays in, a worthwhile experiment to read all these in order (we're going by the Oxford order, which differs from some scholars'); it gives one a chance to watch Shakespeare develop as a regular writer, rather than be forced to pay homage to him, in the usual manner, as the father of English literature. So far, he's just a brash young man knocking out some clever plays. It is very exciting to imagine Hamlet and Lear preparing to be born.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lies With Occasional Truth

Is this the nicest possible online mag cover, or what?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

LWOT's Three Hour Novel Contest (thanks to Erin's bottomless linkbucket) would a fine way to spend this Sunday afternoon, a kind of training exercise for NaNoWriMo. It's unclear whether you can enter if you're not Canadian, though.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Another Exit Ghost Post

I wanted to throw in my two cents about the new Roth, too--just because Rhian works at the bookstore, she got to have it first. I just finished it and must agree with everything she said...and reiterate her admission of being at a loss. It's hard to comprehend how such a brief, direct piece of work can be about so many things--among them death, sex (of course), the role of literature in a debased culture, the role of the critic in literature, the role of the biographer to his subject. The imagination, the ego; desire and debasement. Bush. September 11th. Arrogance. Impotence.

One thing Rhian didn't mention, and which struck me powerfully about this book, is how completely it is a sequel to The Ghost Writer (and I think Ed, in the comments of Rhian's post, is right--it was the first Zuckerman book). That novel and this one are bookends to Zuckerman's career; they are written in the same style, feature the same characters (though Lonoff is presented only as a memory), and are the products of the same narrative approach: there is the supposedly objective reality that Zuckerman presumes to show us, and the imagined one which serves as its doppelganger (the same role Zuckerman plays, for Roth).

This time, though, Zuckerman can't control that imagined reality--he's losing his mind, and with it his grip on the narrative. He is dissolving, coming in and out of focus like Hamlet's father outside the castle in Elsinore (and surely it's from Hamlet that this title comes--the twice-repeated stage direction that ushers that harbringer of bad tidings off the stage.) Zuckerman's a ghost because he's disappearing; he's a ghost because he will soon lose all influence over his place in the world, his legacy, what his work means, what his life means.

There are all sorts of wonderful goodies here--the return of Amy Bellette as a terminally ill old woman in a shabby apartment filled with mementoes of her five years with Lonoff; Zuckerman's bewilderment at the changes wrought in New York since he last saw it more than a decade before; angry young Democrats speaking in blogger-ese; the dull details of Zuckerman's incontinence, and the embarrassing confidence of the doctor who tries to cure him.

But ultimately the big deal here is what Rhian has already mentioned--Roth's prose, which is stunning in its clarity and simplicity, its erudition and sophistication. This is not a contradiction: Roth is a writer who makes you feel like a genius. His prose is a vessel far larger than it appears; it's infinitely capacious but you can fold it up and put it in your pocket.

I liked Roth when I was a teenager, and followed him (not without dismay) through his period of marital strife, sexual angst, and identity madness (The Counterlife and Operation Shylock have melded, in my memory, into one big brilliant mess), and emerged into outright worship beginning with his move to the country and publication of American Pastoral, which Rhian and I both read at the hospital in the exhausting days right after our older son was born. The man has been on a holy tear ever since, and long may it last.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Philip Roth's Exit Ghost

This book is so good I can barely stand it. Roth is simply a master, and I'd feel like a fool if I pretended to engage in "serious criticism" of his work -- his work is the most serious criticism of all. For example, a character writes in a letter to the New York Times:
The way in which serious fiction eludes paraphrase and description -- hence requiring thought -- is a nuisance to your cultural journalist. Only its imagined sources are to be taken seriously, only that fiction, the lazy journalist's fiction...
And a bit later on in the same letter:
If I had something like Stalin's power, I would not squander it on silencing the imaginative writers. I would silence those who write about the imaginative writers... I'd outlaw reading groups and Internet book chatter, and police the bookstores to be certain that no clerk ever spoke to a customer about a book ... I'd do this for as many centuries as are required to detoxify the society of your poisonous nonsense.
Heh heh.

Reading Roth's prose is like drinking clear water after a lifetime of Tab and box wine. It feels like the only acceptable prose: completely truthful, insistently intelligent, and devoid of lyricism and posturing. This is the last Zuckerman book, and when Roth goes, something really big will have ended. And we won't know what that is until we see what comes next.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Paul Theroux's "Mr. Bones"

I'm quite surprised by this Paul Theroux story, which is simultaneously simple and bizarre, and written in a strangely detached first person. I must say that I like it a lot.

The story takes the form of a reminiscence of childhood, from a man we presume to be around Theroux's age. It opens with a description of the narrator's father, an unfailingly cheerful man at the mercy of a nagging wife--herself at the mercy of four children, and a fifth on the way. After a move to a new house plagued by problems, the silent war between the parents takes on a new intensity, which is broken only when the father accepts a role in a local minstrel show.

At this point, the father abandons his familiar personality, starts coming home from work (at a shoe store) in blackface, and will only speak as "Mr. Bones." Eventually he even begins to carry around a tambourine, which he shakes every time he utters a one-liner. He only utters one-liners. His wife's criticisms are answered with sneering insults and shakes of the tambourine, and the children stare in horror and amazement every time he opens his mouth. By the time the show rolls around, the mother has abandoned her complaints and has become a sympathetic, even pathetic character, and the father has become a different person entirely. "He was happy, definitely happy, powerfully happy," the narrator says, understanding that his previous cheerfulness was not happiness but misery, "talking to us, teasing us in ways I'd never heard before."

The tension culminates in a round of manic questions to his family: he asks them, one by one, "What are you going to do for Mr. Bones?" The children state their ambitions, and then Mr. Bones says, of their mother, "That's was no lady. That was my wife!" The following week, the show is performed, and it's all over--Dad goes back to normal, watching the civil rights movement unfold on TV, "perhaps thinking about how Mr. Bones had been liberated, too, or banished. It was not what Dad had expected."

There's something delightfully linear about this story--no time is wasted on extraneous detail; it's all about Dad's metamorphosis. When we do get detail, it's cutting and on task: the mother, playing the piano, "reached over her pregnancy as though across a counter," and then "pounded the keys and tramped on the pedals, as though she were at the wheel of some sort of vehicle, a big wooden bus that she was driving down a steep hill with her feet and hands."

For a long time I couldn't think of Theroux without thinking of his depressing feud with his former friend V. S. Naipaul, and because I had recently read something good of Naipaul's and something bad of Theroux's when the feud came to light, I found myself on Naipaul's "side," moronic as that may seem. And this piece kind of serves to redeem Theroux in my mind, however much that little calculus serves to deepen the stupidity of my previous feelings.

Also this story kept making me think of John Berryman, whose own Mr. Bones was no less creepy than Theroux's. And I like thinking of Berryman.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

This Week's Moratorium

Okay, no more of this kind of title, please:

The Alchemist's Daughter
The Mortician's Daughter
The Communist's Daughter
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
The Gravedigger's Daughter
The Hummingbird's Daughter
The Bonesetter's Daughter
The Admiral's Daughter
The Mistress's Daughter


The Time Traveler's Wife
The Pilot's Wife
The Spy's Wife
The Kitchen God's Wife
The Mapmaker's Wife
The Doctor's Wife
The Saddlemaker's Wife
The Traitor's Wife
The Zookeeper's Wife

See? Too many. And these are just the most recent or most popular results coughed up by my Amazon search. Were one to dig into publisher's backlists, there might be more, though this does strike me as a relatively newish phenomenon.

But why is "The Intriguing Identity's Female Subordinate" such a popular title? A search for similarly constructed titles with "son" or "husband" comes up with nothing. Well... women are the target audience for most "literary" fiction (though a couple of the books listed are nonfiction -- there should be a new genre called "bookgrouption"), so maybe this is just a way of advertising that a book has a woman as its main character. What's so appealing about a character who's defined by someone else, though?

Interesting side note: while cruising through Amazon looking for titles with the word wife in them, I was surprised to discover a motherlode of books on how to be a better wife, most of which recommend "surrendering" to one's husband. It is very creepy to think how many women out there believe that we are just plain old inferior to men, and that, moreover, we must accept our inferiority if we're ever to experience happiness. I'll say it again: CREEPY!!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Introducing The Litlab

A lazy little cross-post here...but I've gone and started yet another blog, and wanted to let W6 readers know about it.

Well--it's not a blog, precisely. It's a repository of experimental writing, and is called The Litlab. (In addition to that link, there's a permanent one on our blogroll.) I'm the "editor," which I put into quotes to indicate that this is less an online journal than a haphazard collection of weird and funny writing experiments. Here's the description from the site:

The Litlab is a highly informal online compendium of literary experiment and investigation, including limiting exercises, textual manipulations, historical curiosities, unusual poetic forms, comedic mimesis, metafiction, egrotic literature, neo-absurdism, lettristic hypergraphics, or whatever other nonsense its contributors happen to invent. The Litlab is intended less as an online literary journal or blog than a haphazardly curated digital museum.

to J. Robert Lennon. Include your homepage URL, a brief bio, and a brief explanation of your experiment. Your work may have already been published, and may be freely published elsewhere.

Ideally, submissions should be 1000 words or less in length. Experiments involving sound, video, or web-based animation are especially encouraged.

If that sounds fun to you, send me something! Meanwhile I have kicked things off with a piece of my own.

Also, if anyone knows how to alter Blogger's CSS to allow some kind of fiction-style paragraph indentations, please let me know in the comments. I know how to get to the template, I just don't know what to put there and how to activate it in HTML.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Up Late with Homer

Hey John and Rhian, we’re back to school here in California. Unlike most high school teachers, I have the luxury of selecting which books to teach, and therefore which books to ignore. Students are, of course, obligated to exert suspicion of any required book, which limits how much pleasure I may earn from putting these books into their backpacks. Each fall I feel some revenge against my own high school curriculum. I get to escape the books of the Cold War--Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, etc. (Jane Smiley has discussed this, as has Francine Prose. Also Charles Baxter.) I think of them as Cold War books, whatever their origins, because they were appropriated to encourage a kind of Jesuitical patriotism, through which one is allowed to question the foundations of American belief as long as you come round in the end.

If I were designing a real curriculum for others to teach, one I had to explain to a Board, I would probably falter. But I can be idiosyncratic, so I’ve been able to explore what works. Students, those who are interested in writing (in my experience), long to be serious. I am myself not very serious, probably. But last night we got Serious, and spent the night in the woods reading The Iliad by (AA battery-powered) lantern-light: twenty high school students, freshly arrived, chomping doughnuts and cracking open cans of orange drink in the dark, taking turns reading from the Fagles translation. They read in the strange accents from Prague, Kabul, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Idaho, and Chicago. They giggled at Hera’s seduction of Zeus, and oh-grossed at the battlefield gore. Most fell asleep after a few hours, a core continued trading the book back and forth until book XVI, when we put it aside for tomorrow.

Our choice of The Iliad puzzled some veteran teachers. Teenagers, if one can say they like anything at all, the idea goes, prefer the adventure and children’s-book monsters of The Odyssey, the cleverness of Odysseus and the fairly happy ending.

But I don’t think so. Achilles sulking in his tent—that’s something they understand. Astyanax getting freaked out by his father's war helmet. And Priam’s struggle to recover the corpse of Hector—there’s another fantasy, the grieving parent. One student put into words what she liked most about the poem, that despite the grotesque situation of having to die, it somehow matters to the world (not/not just to the soul) whether you were good and loving and noble in life. Also, Achilles has been played by Brad Pitt.

I'm glad they like it, at least provisionally. These epics were never required reading for me, not in high school, not in college, not in graduate school. I had a class in Milton and Paradise Lost changed my life, and I worked backward from there. Otherwise I didn't have to read much at all. (Or did I? I was addicted to skipping class in favor of the library). I'm still not the best reader, too slow, quick to abandon. Stephen King and Hunter Thompson were enough for me in high school, until a Vietnam vet/tennis coach put The Sound and the Fury in my hands. My first real encounter with The Iliad was driving across the country, listening to it on tape from approximately Amarillo to somewhere around Flagstaff. I scratched in my notebook at a highway Carl's Jr.: "The Iliad is the Great American Novel." My notebook is full of adolescent hyperbole, continues to be even as my hair gets grayer. There are also drawings of shoes.

We’ll bury Hector today around 3:30. Next up the Great Greek Epic Mosquito, by Gayl Jones.

What do you wish you'd read in high school?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Oz Books

I put the kid to bed this evening and found that he was sleeping with a copy of The Magic of Oz, my favorite of the Oz books because it's the one with both the glass cat and the magic island that makes your feet grow roots. I read all fourteen aloud to him years ago, and now he reads them on his own. They were some of my favorite books, growing up, and were my dad's, too. However, aside from the three of us, I don't know anyone else who's read them. That's nuts! Because they're great: each book is a long, crazy, imaginative adventure that manages to avoid all of the cliches that bog down so much of children's literature. There are girl heroes and boy heroes, and boys that turn into girls, and of course all kinds of strange and magical creatures. (Wish I could be more specific, but our copies of the books are all in my son's now darkened bedroom.) What I like best about them is the way Baum seems more interested in delighting and surprising his readers than in scaring them or teaching them a lesson. They are food for the imagination, and not much else.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention them as part of my appreciating the underappreciated thing. Though they're a hundred years old, the books aren't especially dated and are even easier to read than Harry Potter, so I don't know why they're not more popular.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

E-mail, The Book

What could the world possibly need less than a book about how to write e-mail? How about a full-page review of that book in the New York Review of Books? Janet Malcolm's piece on David Shipley and Will Schwalbe's Send is rather disappointing, it turns out--I had been hoping she might whip herself into an entertaining froth of gratuitous overanalysis, a la Nicholson Baker (and, by the way, what happened to Baker's home page? He seems to have thrown in the towel on it)...but no. We get a summary and a few obvious observations about the form. Ah, well.

I suppose one could argue that we need a blog post about a book review of an e-mail guide least of all--but I can't help reacting with a ragged, bloggy sigh to one thing Malcolm says--or rather two things, that are really one thing. Here's the first:

College students who send outrageous email requests to their teachers (addressed "Hiya Professor!") or college applicants who write long, self-satisfied emails to admissions officers [and here Malcolm quotes Send] "seem painfully unaware that the person they are writing to (and annoying) is the same person who could be offering them a place in a freshman class or grading them at term's end." The poor lambs don't know any better, and Send is good at setting them straight.

The second thing comes in the next column. Malcolm again quotes Send on the subject of exclamation points: its authors believe that "the better your word choice the less need you will have for this form of shorthand." And she responds: "So this is crux of the matter: Email is a medium of bad writing. Poor word choice is the norm--as is tone deafness."

I don't mean to make a big deal out of this, but isn't this kind of tut-tutting of the young and casual just a bit embarrassing? I am sure that Malcolm considers this review to be little more than a lark, but I think we often reveal ourselves most when we're trying the least, and here Malcolm sounds like one of those decrepit old Republican congressmen who wonder if perhaps they ought to look into getting an "internet web site."

These students she and the Send authors are referring to: I see them every day, and answer dozens of their emails every week. But I don't ever recall being bothered by their insoucience. They are, after all, the young. And as for bad writing--the email, like the letter, is an intimate expression of personality (even when you accidentally reply-all to the executive board), and should no more be bound by the rules of grammar and punctuation than a whispered conversation. Who cares if lousy writing is the default epistolary mode?

What Shipley and Schwalbe seem to be talking about is the formal use and misuse of e-mail (at least it appears that they are--I haven't read the book), and what I wish Malcolm had talked about is the extent to which the formal and the informal have come to overlap, particularly on the internet. E-mail, it seems to me, is at the nexus of the two, and as such is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, the meeting of the old and the new, the personal and the professional, the workplace and the home. Why not talk about that?

Instead, Malcolm seems eager for a time when "email, too, stops being a big deal," and is no more fraught with worry than the telephone. Of course, for most of us, it never was a big deal, or hasn't been for a long time. It would have been interesting for Malcolm to have made a big deal of it nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Writers and Jealousy

I've always thought that writers are more competitive and jealous than other people, but is it really true? Don't bond traders envy the guy in the next office when he makes a big, I don't know, trade? Don't underwater photographers secretly want to kill the guy who takes a picture of the rare anopheles carbunculus squid? Maybe, but writers' jealousy seems to have a special potency. Once an ex-boyfriend of mine published a story collection to some acclaim, and I told a writer friend about it. "Oh, my god," said my friend. "I'd kill myself if I were you."

Writing is so hard, and publishing so uncertain, and awards and recognitions so danged scanty, that it's hard not to feel that the success of a fellow writer really does make one's own success less likely. And with writing, you can't exactly tell yourself, "Oh, well, so and so just got lucky." Well, you can tell yourself that, but you know it's not exactly true. It's not like manuscripts are published at random. If my most loathed enemy gets a book published, I have to admit that at least a few people -- agents, editors, publishers -- think she's pretty hot stuff. And those people have probably already rejected me.

Though I have been quite prostrated by jealousy at times, I haven't killed myself: I'm still around, and my writing friends, ex-friends, acquaintances, classmates, spouses, and rivals continue to publish copiously. Jealousy, I've come to realize, is just an occupational hazard, like carpal tunnel and bad health insurance. You either have to learn to deal with it or you have to quit.

How to deal with it? One thing I try to remind myself that the publishing industry is a big, ever-hungry mouth. It eats up and swallows this year's books, but it needs a whole bunch more for next year. And who knows what it will want next year, or the year after? Maybe me! (This also works well for those of us who feel faint upon entering a big-box book store, thinking, Oh, no, there are too many people writing books!!)

Another thing I tell myself is that even if I'd decided to follow one of my other dreams and become an archeologist or a hobo, these people would still publish their damn books, only I wouldn't know them. And I'd still want to try and write, because it really doesn't have anything to do with them at all.

Hey, maybe writers aren't more jealous than everyone else -- maybe they just talk about it more...

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Note From The Author

One of the things that first made me want to be a writer, back when I was a kid, was the author's notes in the back of Stephen King's story collections. King would explain how each story came to be, and give the reader its publishing history, and I wanted nothing more than to someday get the opportunity to do this myself: explain, in public, something I had done.

Later, when I started reading the Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Award Stories collections, it was to the back that I turned first--for the authors' notes, and for the lists of magazines the anthologies drew from. Again, I couldn't wait until the day when I would be in those anthologies, and I would get to write those mini-essays, and talk about the creative process, and offer up tantalizing little personal details of my private life, and thank some editor or another for their help.

Something intervened, though--a job I got at the Missoula Art Museum (then called The Art Museum of Missoula), a great little gallery in Montana, where I worked with great pleasure as a receptionist/preparator/handyman for a couple of years. I loved watching a new show go up--I was often the guy hanging the stuff, in fact--but I always felt slightly deflated when it was time to hang the artist's statement on the wall. The statements were lame. Reductive, uninsightful, pretentious, they rarely failed to make me dislike the work a little bit, no matter how much I'd enjoyed it to begin with. Show after show, I waited for some brave soul not to bother with the statement. But nobody ever did.

By this time I had finished grad school and was actively striving to get into those damned anthologies, and I had begun not to like the authors' notes anymore. They'd begun to seem like the artists' statements--smug and demystifying. Sometimes one would contain a funny anecdote, or a semi-interesting insight, but overall they never enhanced my enjoyment of the stories one bit, and often detracted from it. My romance with the things was over, and I began to long even more deeply for my own anthologization--so that I could snub the author's note.

And then, at last, I managed to weasel my way in to the O. Henry. Hot diggity!! In the end, I couldn't resist--I sent in a five-line note, thanking my uncle for inspiring the story, and the editor who published it. I was sure that it would be the shortest. I was wrong--Mary Gordon beat me with two lines.

Last night I read William Trevor's contribution to the latest O. Henry. It's a good story! But I was almost as pleased by his author's note. There is none--just a bracketed note from the series editor, informing the reader that Trevor had declined to provide a note.

Now that's class.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Stephen Wasserman on the End of Book Reviewing

The front page of The Columbia Journalism Review has a long and thoughtful piece about the decision of newspapers to drop their book review sections, who's to blame, who loses, and what it all means. Wasserman -- a former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review -- makes some refreshingly honest observations: that newspaper book reviewing has never made money for newspapers, that their reviews have been increasingly shallow and poorly written for years (many notable exceptions, of course), that much of journalism is openly hostile to reading, and that review-only publications like The New York Review of Books have been taking up the slack for a long time, and incidentally making a profit.

Most refreshing of all, he doesn't simply blame bloggers. One has to admit that money continues to shift from print media to electronic, but it's not as if a celebrity-obsessed, attention-deficient basement proletariat has risen up to stab the likes of James Wood in the back (as much as... never mind). Bloggers are trying to fill a long-standing void. Serious reviewers are not going to just go away: they'll be published elsewhere. And as I think I've said here before: though what's happening to reviewing is a shame, it's nothing compared to what papers have done to, say, foreign reporting. (Two words: Judith Miller).

Serious reading has never had, and never will have, mass appeal. Decrying this is a waste of breath, and I don't think I'm a cynic for saying so. But. I also don't think I'm being naive or idealistic to believe that intelligent book conversation will thrive on the internet. And that as papers slowly kill themselves, chopping their own limbs off one by one, that conversation will continue.

Incidentally: I have a certain amount of hope for the future of serious reading. Though it may never be as popular as other things, there are so many more kid readers, and so many more good kid books, than there were 25 years ago. The success of Harry Potter, is, I think, a result of this, not the cause. I really believe the teaching of reading is better these days, though I might be the only person in the universe saying that.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Books of Lists of Stuff

I do not like chain bookstores. And let me say that I will not even consider pulling that punch, even though most of my own book sales probably came from chain stores (listen to me with the past tense!), even though chain stores can positively serve communities that otherwise wouldn't have bookstores. All that notwithstanding, they suck. I hate the dumbass uninformed booksellers, and the fussy little middle-class-friendly music section, and the DVD's, and the blended coffee drinks and plastic-wrapped pastries and pseudohipsters with laptops and cellphone yammerers and corporate-approved soundtracks. So okay, that's out of the way.

However! I like the remainders. Except when they're by me. And the other day I was walking past B*****s in the mall after buying six $1.29 12-volt VU meter lamps at Rat Shack, and I saw, on the dump bin outside the door, a heavily discounted copy of The Illustrated Directory of Guitars, a giant hardcover book that is really quite awful, full of typos, technical errors, and hideous lapses in taste, but which nonetheless I devoured last night instead of continuing to read a certain National-Book-Award nominated September 11th novel that I nearly threw across the room because one of the female characters was so obnoxiously shallow and cliched and generally phoned-in by the windswept chiseled-jaw author.

Anyway, what this guitar book is, is 480 pages of full color photographs of guitars. That's it! I have others like it, actually. I also have a (quite wonderfully written actually) synthesizer equivalent--The A to Z of Analog Synthesizers, in two volumes, by Peter Forrest. It's just a list: a big, long list. If you hang around in the oversize remainder section of a chain bookstore, you will find books of lists of airplanes, military weapons, cars, cats, china, jewelry, what have you--just hot hobby porno action for anyone and everyone.

Allow me to say that these books are freaking great. Even when they are terrible. There is something about the loving taxonomization of objects, accompanied by full color photographs, that just pushes my buttons. The world is full of interesting things! And here you go, take a gander at them! In my own case, I wish there was one filled with microphones, and one with reel to reel tape machines, and another filled with vintage computers, and hi-fi receivers from the seventies, and obscure insects, and different kinds of chairs. Also I would not mind a big thick book filled with hundreds of artist's renderings of extinct huge mammals. Mastodons aren't the half of it--man, these babies were way cooler than dinosaurs. The Oligocene kicked ass.

Anyway, there is nothing quite like the experience of knocking back a couple of brewskis and absorbing whole branches of human endeavor in photographic form, noting the subtle differences among objects, the "limited editions," the failed experiments, the popular and the obscure, the lovely and the ugly. I might have to walk slowly past a chain store again tomorrow.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Wrinkle In Time

For a long time when I was a kid, A Wrinkle In Time was my favorite book. I haven't read it in 30 years, but I still remember so much about it: the opening scene with Meg in her bed under the quilt and the storm raging outside, her brother Charles Wallace sitting in the kitchen in his footie pajamas, the father in his lab, the old women of increasing mysteriousness (Mrs. Whosit, Mrs. Whatsit, and who was the other? The really weird one), the word tesseract, the crazy thing that happens to Charles Wallace's eyes in the end.

I had tried to read it when I was younger, seven or eight or so, but it was too hard. Still, I found it intriguing enough that I took it out of the library a year later and that time I got through it. It made me feel smart and grown up -- it's a novel of ideas for children.

Madeleine L'Engle didn't condescend to children -- she knew how much they can grasp if the story is empathically and intelligently told. She leaves behind a body of work and a legacy we should all envy.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Compulsory Crappy Crime Novel Elements

*sigh* I'm not going to bother naming the incredibly boring mystery I just gave up reading in the middle of that has inspired this post, but here is a partial list of all the mandatory elements of crappy crime fiction. Feel free to add your own!

- If a detective is about to do something, but then is called away and never gets around to it, then that thing must be the most important thing in the whole book.

- The detective must like music, and when he/she listens to it, it must be identified. If it is jazz, it must be lushly described, and the detective must muse about how he/she personally relates to Sonny Rollins or Miles Davis or Bill Evans or whomever. THE RANKIN EXCEPTION: Detective may not like music as long as his partner does, and HER music is lushly described and named, so that detective can express his distaste for it in an informed manner.

- If there is a crazy person wandering around uttering nonsense, that nonsense must actually hold the clue that solves the crime!

- The hunter must become the hunted.

- Serial killers must be brilliant and love taunting cops.

- Any characters who are writers, artists, photographers, or people with any creative talent at all must be secretly vain and shallow, and their art a crass attempt to draw attention to themselves.

- Detective cannot be happily married.

- Detective cannot ever experience feelings of joy or even vague personal well-being.

- When a dead body is found, its odor must first be "unmistakeable," then "indescribable." Bonus points if the smell then "assaults" someone's "nostrils."

- When the medical examiner arrives, he/she must be asked to make a snap judgement, then must reply that this is impossible, then do it anyway and be exactly right. Later, the autopsy report cannot be delivered by phone, fax, or e-mail. Instead, the detective must visit the morgue and discuss the case over the eviscerated corpse. At this time, the ME should be eating a sandwich.

- All recurring underworld nemeses must at some point say to detective, "We're not so different, you and me."

- Hunches are always right.

- Detectives' strategic encroachments upon citizens' civil liberties must be frowned upon by preening, camera-hungry police chiefs, but then must be proven to be the only real way to "get things done."

- Detective may accidentally kill somebody, if the victim "deserved it"; however, detective must still beat him/herself up over it.

- If detective has children, they must be estranged.

- Detective must have special tavern/bar hideaway, preferably named after an animal.

- Witnesses who can't remember lots of details are idiots.


- Detective staring into body of water

- Detective attending victim's funeral and gleaning valuable information

- Detective going through the "murder book" just one more time

- Street festival, town celebration, or huge benefit concert

- Big storm

- Detective's apartment ransacked and threatening message left behind

- Cryptic phone call that cuts out abruptly

- Effusive acknowledgements section naming dozens of helpful police officers

- Cover image of person in fog, hunched in a trenchcoat

- Seven-figure advance

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Guardian List of Ignored Books

Perhaps the ultimate project of this blog ought to be appreciating the under-appreciated. The Guardian's list is interesting and even exciting, and I haven't read a thing on it (except for Flannery O'Connor, who must be under-appreciated in Britain). However, I've already checked -- some of these books will be a challenge to track down.

Whoops, I just noticed there's a page 2, and I have read a couple on that page -- Breece D'J Pancake's collection (mentioned here a couple months ago, I think) and, intriguingly, Mary Robison's strange, manic, and wonderful little novel Why Did I Ever. I first read her stories in college -- An Amateur's Guide to the Night is unforgettable, a masterpiece of 80's "minimalism" (I put that term in quotes because it doesn't really do justice to that whole decade's literature, but it's still apt. The stories are short and tightly constructed. How would they come off today, I wonder? Some books time-travel better than others.)

JRL will be pleased see that one of his favorites, Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, is there, too.

Of course, appreciating the under-appreciated is an endless task, since most books are completely ignored, and many, many good ones among them. A few more just came to mind:

Rachel Cusk's The Country Life: an extremely funny novel about a woman with a mysterious past who starts her life over as an au pair for an upper class family with a disabled son. The language is convoluted in places and the ending falls to pieces, but this is a highly original novel and great fun.

Kathryn Davis's Labrador: an imaginative and highly idiosyncratic novel about a pair of sisters and a polar bear. Davis is not everyone's cup of tea, for sure, but this is a wonderful book.

Charles Baxter's First Light seems to have been reprinted last year. Good! I think it's his best novel, though I feel bad saying so, since it was also his first. It's about an astrophysicist and her brother, and it goes backward in time. One wouldn't think that could work, but it does.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lara Vapnyar's "Luda and Milena"

I don't have a great deal to say about this week's New Yorker story. It's about a couple of Russian ladies in their seventies, immigrants to New York and indistinguishable from one another, who take an English class together, grow to hate one another, and soon compete for the attention of a charming widower named Aron by cooking increasingly elaborate dishes for him to eat on the class's "International Feast" night. And at the end...he chokes on one of the dishes...and dies!

The story actually contains this passage:

Luda and Milena had, of course, heard that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, but they had never believed it. Aron Skolnik convinced them.

Sigh. I don't really want to take Lara Vapnyar to task, personally, as she's my age, in the same business as me, and has an impressive life story: having moved here from Russia in her twenties without any English, she has (like Nabokov, probably the best thing we ever got from Russia) mastered the language well enough in ten years to make a career of writing in it. But this is not an ambitious piece of work, is essentially sentimental in outlook, and depends upon the kind of hackneyed reversals of fortune that used to be the hallmark of fiction in, say, Cosmopolitan in the sixties.

Did the New Yorker publish it because it's, you know, immigrant-y? Is that enough? Am I even allowed to say that, being a guy who would, you know, love to be in the New Yorker more often? In any event, insofar as the New Yorker is considered to be among the last remaining mass-market outlets for "serious" fiction, I think they should have passed on a story in which the response to a man's choking to death on a yummy meatball is "And he died happy, didn't he?"

Monday, September 3, 2007

For Writers Who Need Ideas

Must be the end of the summer or something, but I feel about as inspired as an old sock. If you, too, need some new ideas, here are a few small goldmines of material:

The BBC asks people to talk about their unusual jobs

ListAfterList's list of some of the world's missing people

The endlessly fascinating Weird New Jersey

Room- and office-mate dysfunction at

How about culture-specific diseases?

CrimeLibrary, of course

Notes and ephemera at FOUND magazine

Hey, I'm thinking W6 needs some kind of a Writing Challenge. Any ideas? I'm clean out.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Odds -n- Ends

There are several things I've been wanting to post about, but none that warrant an entire post all to themselves--so here's a little clearinghouse of thoughts and recommendations.

First off, I just finished reading The Exception and wanted to throw in my two cents on top of Rhian's buck fifty from last week. This is really a terrific book, and I highly recommend it. As soon as I realized it was a novel about workplace bullying, I was instantly envious--this is an amazing subject, and Jungersen cleverly uses the microcosm of the office to explore big truths about the nature of evil. He also employs the bizarrely direct tactic of including little essays on the topic in the text of the novel, ostensibly written and published by the main characters. I must say I appreciated it; the essays were fascinating. My only complaint is that the ending, while it certainly satisfies as the culmination of a thriller, imposes itself from without, and I couldn't help but wish that the book had managed to wrap itself up without leaving the hothouse of its setting. In any event, a great read, and very scary.

Second, I wanted to recommend the Drawn & Quarterly Showcase series, a kind of short-fiction literary magazine for cartoonists. I've got books two and three and now need to go back and find the first one--great little stories from up and coming artists and writers, brimming with the vitality that this new art form seems to have an endless supply of.

Finally, and OK, this could have been its own post, but I can't think of enough good examples to support it, I'd like to say that product manuals just aren't what they used to be. Time was, you could buy something, and the manual would include a concise little history of that thing, and put the item into some kind of practical context. These days it isn't unusual for manuals (often poorly translated) to actually serve as an impediment to using the item, as is the case with the documentation for the Oregon Scientific WMR968 Cable Free Complete Weather Station, a great item that is almost impossible to install. I got this thing for Rhian for her birthday, and it is now working great, but it took me weeks to buckle down and figure it out, and the manual was no help at all, packed as it was with references to nonexistent parts, incorrect assembly techniques, and misleading usage tips.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you're into home audio recording, there are some great product manuals out there, like the free-to-download Mastering With Ozone guide, from iZotope, Inc. "Mastering" is the process music is put through before being committed to CD and sold in stores; it seeks to eliminate errors in the recording and give it greater impact when heard on your stereo. It's a rather arcane science, difficult and many-faceted, and this guide not only explains Ozone, the mastering software it serves as the manual for, but what mastering is, why it's done, and whether it's even necessary. It might be the best product manual I've ever read.

This is probably not likely to be very interesting to the average reader, but why can't your hammer come with something like this as well? Your toaster? Your coffee maker? Why can't manufacturers go the extra mile and provide a context for the stuff you own, making the experience of owning and using it more rich and interesting? Perhaps they feel that this would prevent you from throwing it out and buying another one in six months.