Sunday, June 27, 2010

Phonebook Names

So I'm actually cleaning my office. It's a huge undertaking: there's an unpacked box in the corner from our move three years ago, on top of which I've been mounding stuff that needs to be filed. And other stuff -- a paper glacier. So the office has never really been "clean." It feels pathological. When it's done I'm going to be a whole new person -- maybe someone who actually finishes writing the novels she starts!

Among other things, I found a list of excellent names. At first I thought I made them up, but no: I could not have invented such great names. I actually found them in the Missoula, MT, phonebook. I've always spent a lot of time reading phonebooks. One day, there won't be any phonebooks anymore, so we should celebrate them while we can!

James Snoozy
Vernon Slippy
Paul Tissue
Fern Tiger
Priscilla Wig
E. Warmflash
Amy Brokenleg
Boyd Booze
N. Eyepopper
Andrew Face
Ace Feek
Elaine Ee
E. T. Bob Sleem
Spanky Scrunchly

I still can't believe N. Eyepopper. Really, the Ithaca phonebook just can't compete.

Please share names you've found in phonebooks!

Monday, June 14, 2010

zOMG USB typewriter!

I gave up DIY electronics a couple years was eating up too much of my time. But I have been slowly getting sucked back in. Soldering a few cables here and there...and then a simple kit...and recently I found myself buying new batteries for my multimeter and thumbing droolingly through the Mouser catalog.

Well, here's a DIY project (via Engadget) that actually has something to do with my job for a change. Adding USB functuality to a manual typewriter.

$75 for the, I am so doing it. We happen to have two identical Smith-Corona portables...I may try modding one, and if I fall back in love with it, will try to find somebody to service the other and get it working normally again. This appeals to me in the same way that sticking a lens from 1938 onto a digital camera from 2006 appeals to me. Not steampunk--just anti-obsolescence.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Electric Literature's iPad app

Hey, look--Electric Literature, the literary magazine I hyped here in the past for their new-media savvy (they offer a variety of formats, including print, pdf, and EPUB), has committed a profound act of nerudition: they've upgraded their free iPhone app for iPad. Needless to say, I downloaded it right quick.

The app is a mite half-baked so far--you of course still must pay to unlock the three (so far) issues of the magazine, and I can't quite yet figure out how to apply my paid subscription to this interface. But there is some cool free content, with plans to make the experience more multimedia. (One of EL's innovations is commissioning an arty video for every story the publish; these are currently available on their web site.) I've said here that I think the iPad will be a great way to read magazine content someday (especially once it inherits the new iPhone's insanely high-resolution display), and I'm glad to see EL getting out in front of this trend. (And not just because I've got a story, "Hibachi," coming out in I believe the next issue.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Literary chick lit: it's real!

For a little while back in the nineties I had the same publisher as Jennifer Belle (or as her website puts it, "bestselling author Jennifer Belle"), and my then-editor sent me a copy of Going Down, her first book. This is before there really was a thing called chick lit, but my editor did that thing people do routinely now when they give each other volumes of the stuff--she kind of apologized for it.

No need for apologies--the book was funny, and cleverly written. It was about a college student earning money as a prostitute. I didn't pay much attention to Belle's career after that, but Rhian recently got her hands on the new one, The Seven-Year Bitch, which I think is the worst title in the history of ever--but Rhian loved it and went to the library for more. This led me to read her third novel, Little Stalker.

Little Stalker is--well, what can I say, it's a romance. But it's a two-blowjob romance, the first of which culminates with the protagonist vomiting on her boyfriend's penis; the second of which is performed on a man in his sixties by a 12-year-old girl. So, you know, Emma this is not. But the book is simply hilarious. Belle is wonderful at self-disgust, social awkwardness, and family dysfunction--she writes here about very familiar but never-written-about relationship nuances--the casual cruelties of people in love, the disgustingness of intimacy, and weird little rules couples invent for one another without even realizing they do it.

Our literate culture has more or less accepted the idea that a crime novel, or even a science fiction novel, might well be of lasting artistic value. But I don't think romance has enjoyed this relationship with readers yet. Maybe, generally speaking, it doesn't deserve it. But Belle is doing something different here, something odd, slightly gross, and slyly ambitious. The rest of the chick lit world (if there even is such a thing, outside of publishers' marketing departments) ought to pay attention.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ward Six List of Ten Over 80

Ward Six is proud to announce its TEN OVER 80: WRITERS TO GO BACK AND READ list. All the following writers will turn 80 or more this year, and all have been kicking ass for longer than we have been alive:

JOHN BARTH: I read The End of the Road the summer I was 18. It made me understand how fully bizarre being an adult was going to be. Hurray! In the late 60's he wrote an article called "The Literature of Exhaustion," which kind of predicted the end of the novel. But then he found himself continuing to write novels. His latest book of fiction, The Development, a collection of linked stories, came out in 2008.

BEVERLY CLEARY: She is 94 and still writing! I can't decide if I like the Ralph the Mouse books or the Ramona ones better.

EVAN S. CONNELL: This guy is tragically under-read. Mrs. Bridge was republished earlier this year; it and Mr. Bridge are sad and funny character sketches. Also wonderful is The Connoisseur and his several collections of essays, including The White Lantern and A Long Desire.

J. P. DONLEAVY: Also under-read! And another author I read when I was a teenager. Donleavy is a little like an Irish-American Richard Brautigan, only better. Or maybe a bit like Barthelme. I keep his story collection Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule on my desk, and am still constantly surprised by what I find when I open it. Here's the first paragraph of "The Mad Molecule":
I woke on that terrible day and mixed the shredded apple in my raw porridge oats and poured on the cream. I know what's good for me. I put on the shoes with the golfer's soles, walked silently down the stairs and out into a great blue sky and along the river's warm sweet smell.
I wish more writers these days dared to be so weird.

PAULA FOX: I read Desperate Characters in the mid-nineties because Jonathan Franzen wrote about finding it at Yaddo and how it's a perfect short novel. It is. She's had an interesting life and has written two memoirs. Also, the daughter she gave up for adoption gave birth to Courtney Love.

WILLIAM GASS: In the Heart of the Heart of the Country is a collection of five strange and linguistically brilliant short stories. Here's a bit from "Icicles":
Glick was holding a pen in his teeth like a pirate. It was a green pen and it made Fender think: pickle. Glick nodded briefly at Fender who was feeling his way now through an office unnaturally dark and full of lurking obstacles. Goodness but it's bright outside, he said, his voice false as a wig, which both surprised and annoyed him, since it was a small thing to have said, and he'd certainly meant it. The typewriter was repeating a letter -- likely x.
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country is the only thing I've read of his, but now I think I need to read the rest of his smallish oeuvre.

HARPER LEE: Well, you probably don't need to go back and read her, because she has to be the most thoroughly read writer in America. But I wanted to mention her, because she's still alive, and, unless she's been secretly storing away manuscripts, she's the Patron Saint of Blocked Writers. She wrote our motto: "It's better to be silent than to be a fool." God bless her.

ELMORE LEONARD: Did you know he's going to be 85 this year? I didn't. But I'm not going to say anything about him; JRL wrote about him here.

DORIS LESSING: I admit that The Golden Notebook was a bit much for me, but I loved The Summer Before the Dark, which is about a housewife who leaves her family and falls in with a group of strange younger people. Also, I liked The Fifth Child, which is about a family who gives birth to a kind of throw-back Neander-child. When I first read it, it was horrifying; having had a couple of boys myself since then, the kid in the book doesn't seem so bad. I love it that when was told she won the Nobel Prize, she apparently said, "Oh, Christ... I couldn't care less."

ALISON LURIE: Alison is my personal idol. Her books are all funny, sharp-eyed, and slightly wicked. She's hugely productive and writes every day. I want to be her.

Some of my favorites of hers are: The War Between the Tates, The Nowhere City, Real People, Truth and Consequences, and Familiar Spirits, her memoir about her friendship with David Jackson and James Merrill and their experimentation with the Ouija board.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Two small delights from the New York Times

First off, a small example of gratuitous literary flair from an unexpected source: a spokesman for the food conglomerate Cargill.

“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.”

The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

I had to double-check the masthead to make sure I wasn't reading The Onion. Who is this guy? Could it be that this quote represents a creative repurposing of an MFA in creative writing? In any event, this fellow managed to enhance the flavor of an otherwise completely pointless article.

The other little surprise is that Verlyn Klinkenborg has an iPad, and is using it to read books. Who knew? One assumed that he sent his editorials in on bits of birch bark. Kidding aside, though, I think he's exactly right. I, too, am reading the new Stieg Larsson (that doesn't need a hyperlink, right?) on the iPad, and am noticing the same damned things about the experience that Klinkenborg does. As I see it, the e-book needs two things, both easily achievable (at least, technologically speaking): one, a new standard for .mobi and EPUB that will allow more elaborate and creative book design. I don't want all my books to look the same way. And two, the ability to lend. Say, for a week. You "give" your ebook to somebody else. During that time, it is not available in your account. A week later (or when your friend clicks the "return" button) it snaps back into your account. Simple.

I believe B&N's reader already has a version of this latter tech--anybody here got a Nook? Does the lending thing actually work?