Narwhal Party

Faulkner’s Lectures
07/15/2010, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Books, Words | Tags:

Something painfully time consuming, but truly rewarding, has been brought to my attention. Enormous thanks are in order for Biblioklept, who posted a link to the archive of William Faulkner lectures from his time as writer-in-residence at University of Virginia. There is an incredible wealth of lectures, readings, and Q&As available here (audio and transcripts). Enjoy.


Tinkers by Paul Harding
07/11/2010, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , ,

I’ve read (and enjoyed) a few Pulitzer Prize winning novels, so the slim 2010 winner, Tinkers, was an easy purchase to make. Previous winners include The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, The Road, The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, and American Pastoral. Faulkner got two, Steinbeck got one, and To Kill A Mockingbird got it, too—a decent track record.

And it was a great decision. Paul Harding writes in a lush stream-of-consciousness style most of the time, and in the right reading mindset, the book is a rewarding meditation on life and death and time (though it’s nowhere near as affecting as the stream-of-consciousness work on time that Faulkner did in The Sound And The Fury). The more traditional elements of the story include three generations of men who struggle with control, who run away, and who relish solitude.

Harding lets the line out during these moments of solitude and lets the minds of the characters (as well as his writing) roam free. Here’s a lovely example:

And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.

It’s a relatively quick read and extremely rewarding. I highly recommend it. I think the next Pulitzer winner I’ll read will be The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2004’s winner).

Light Boxes by Shane Jones
06/21/2010, 10:06 am
Filed under: Books, Movies, Music | Tags: , , , ,

Light Boxes is a fairy tale, I suppose. It’s magical realism, it’s post-modern. It’s strange and haunting, and one page features a list that includes “MySpace” and “Lite-Brite” and “Charles Schluz.” Some words are printed extra-large, some are printed extra-small. There are several lists and several narrators. Some pages barely have anything printed on them at all.

And all of this seems to stack up against Shane Jones in his debut novel, but he manages to pull it off with whimsy, grace, and brevity. Much of the book reads like a prose poem or a children’s story, yet Jones taps into the world of sadness and melancholy with precision and grace. The story centers on a small town that has been haunted by February for hundreds of days. The people have all but forgotten other seasons. February, personified, has outlawed flying things—birds walk and balloons (a central image) are grounded. A secret society, shrouded in bird masks, calls itself the Solution and plans on defeating February. They adopt the protagonist, Thaddeus, who eventually loses his wife and daughter to February, and later his own sanity. There’s a giant woodsman with a foul mouth. There are priests with axes. There’s a professor.

Near the end, February is presented as simply a sad, misled romantic. His wife is fed up with his dirty t-shirts and unkempt beard, his lack of transportation and his lack of direction. It would not have been shocking or out of place if Jones had mentioned his record collection and his predilection for lackadaisical veganism. Later, a note found in his pocket reads, “I wanted to write you a story about magic…It turned out to be nothing but sadness, war, heartbreak. You never saw it, but there’s a garden inside me.” These revelations place February as a tragic figure whose good intentions have gone dreadfully awry, which is a fresh turn in this fairy tale that seems perfect for hipsters and post-hipsters, alike.

Again, all this seems a bit much, and you’d expect Light Boxes to crumble under its own weight, but Jones is skilled enough to pull it off. It’s primed for dissection and will probably grow in popularity because Spike Jonze has purchased the film rights. Yes, that Spike Jonze. And it’s set up well—lines like “I vomit ice cubes,” images like bodies being hung inside tree trunks and filled with snow, ghosts, children living underground, and holes in the sky, are all evocative and affective. Who else but Spike Jonze (if not Michel Gondry or Wes Anderson) could adapt this? It seems tailor made for the current detached generation, struggling to leave childhood behind. There’s no word on when the film adaptation will be produced or released, but it would be a fine follow-up, thematically, to Where The Wild Things Are, his recent short film about robots in love (I’m Here), and his bafflingly odd Kanye West video (ten minutes that culminate with Kanye spewing flower petals and removing a tiny little monster from his torso). So, there’s that.

Read a much more thorough and better-written review of Light Boxes at Quarterly Conversation.

Watch the trailer for Spike Jonze’s I’m Here, or the film in its entirety at the official site:

Buy I’m Here, with a book of photos, interviews, ect, the film on DVD, and an original soundtrack on CD, all bundled up together by the fine folks at McSweeney’s.

Watch the Jonze-directed Kanye West clip here. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you stick around ’til the end.

Some books…
04/22/2010, 8:33 am
Filed under: Books, Music | Tags: , , , , ,

I just read these books and they were pretty great…so…

The copy of Drown that I bought doesn’t look half as good as this one…

Also, the new National album leaked…that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to. More details later.

No band practice this week leaves time for reflection. Or watching Treme at Andie’s house. I feel like I’m growing up a bit, either way.

Outlaws (This Day in History)
04/03/2010, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Books, Movies | Tags: , , ,

This day in 1882, the outlaw/train robber/bank robber/gang leader who became somewhat of a folk hero, Jesse James was killed by a member of his gang, Robert Ford. Of the $10,000 bounty placed on James, Ford (who would later have the words “The man who shot Jesse James” engraved on his tombstone) only collected a fraction. The epitaph of Jesse James, which was chosen by his mother, reads: “In loving memory of my beloved son, murdered by a traitor and coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”

Here is the opening scene to the film, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, based on the novel of the same name, by Ron Hansen.

The film features wonderful performances by Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell, as well as a soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Well worth a viewing.

Ron Hansen’s novel is highly enjoyable, too. Much like the movie, the book is often slow, taking its time to unfold beautifully. The relationship between the gang members and the old west terrain out in Missouri make for a fantastic historical novel. It’s an engaging story of loyalty, betrayal, and a the strange post-Civil War era of the middle of the country.

All In The Game.
03/26/2010, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Books, TV | Tags:

There is a great write-up over at Slate about the academic fascination with The Wire. Read it here. Professors at Harvard, Duke, UC Berkeley, and Middlebury are teaching entire courses on the show, which many people argue is one of television’s greatest achievements. The article points out that these aren’t media classes, but in the social science department. Any fan of the show shouldn’t be surprised by this, after enjoying The Wire’s endlessly wide scope of Baltimore: the streets, schools, cops, docks, reporters, politicians–the ever sprawling American Bureaucracy.

The article also notes some of the required reading of the courses, including the wonderful Code Of The Street by Elijah Anderson, which works in many ways as a compelling companion to The Wire, giving faces and voices to the social mores that drive much of the culture and crime in today’s cities (in this case, Philadelphia). Highly recommended.

And here, you’ve got ten minutes very well spent. The 100 Greatest Quotes from The Wire (NSFW language):

Illustrations by Blake Hicks. More here.

Atmospheric Disturbances
03/26/2010, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , , ,

The always wonderful RadioLab podcast ran a short story on Capgras–a disorder in which a person believes a friend or relative has been replaced by an identical looking impostor. You can stream it here, or just subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. I highly recommend spending some time with their earlier episodes.

The episode immediately reminded me of Atmospheric Disturbances, the wonderful debut novel from Rivka Galchen. The narrator suffers from Capgras, or something like it, believing that his wife has been replaced by a doppelganger. It’s an engaging experience with an unreliable narrator that involves conspiracy theories about meteorology, Argentina, and secret societies…I highly recommend it. Here’s a “book trailer” for it: