Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blogs You Should Be Reading

This is a little list of the blogs I check regularly. Some are political, others more literary, others are a kind of potpourri menagerie of whimsy. All are worth checking out on the regular.

1.) Conceptual Reception by my homegirl Karen. One of the potpourri menageries; writing, crafts, random fun stuff that makes you wish you had found out about it first. Karen is a fantastic poet and a truly entertaining broad in every sense of the word.

2.) Headers, Margins, and Footnotes by my good friend Surya Kalsi. He's been one of my two literary backbones since moving to the Bay area and one of the smartest cats I know. He's put up several non-fiction pieces about his most recent trip to Big Sur and I highly recommend taking half a day to read them all. His prose is solid and the photographs he attaches to the pieces are always of his own handiwork.

3.) HTML Giant is a site spearheaded by experimental author Blake Butler ("Scorch Atlas," "Ever," "There is No Year," and most recently, "Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia"). The site is more literary based with lengthy movie reviews, book reviews, and all things not found on bestseller lists. Spend a day sifting through the site and you're guaranteed to find something that twerks your fancy in just the right way. Off-beat as all hell, but a great read.

4.) Oddly-Even is another potpourri menagerie put together by my friend Giles, who I briefly knew back home in Kansas City, but who now lives here in San Francisco as well. Everything from music to books to current art to politics...the guy makes some interesting social commentary and is a whiz with the puns and humor.

5.) Oliver Belcher is an OLD friend of mine, back when I was growing up in Oklahoma City. He's one of the first people I remember calling a friend and we spent crazy amounts of weekends together before his family moved East. I recently reconnected with him on Facebook and found that he's finished his doctorate in Geography, among other academic notables. Primarily based in geo-political and social issues, his blog can be dense, but it's well worth the read if you're patient. A wicked smart guy with some very interesting opinions and writings.

6.) TED Talks are one of the best things to have ever happened to the internet. Academics, scientists, graffiti artists, writers, inventors, etc...all giving some of the most interesting talks based on projects that they've been working on or have studied in-depth. If you're not watching a TED talk a day, you're truly missing out on some fascinating parts of our world culture that don't get the hype they deserve from your everyday media sources.

7.) The Filthy Writer is put together by an old college friend named Blaine. His best friend from St. Louis, John, was one of my roommates and closest friends during my time at Truman State. Blaine's blog is another menagerie, full of writing, writing tips, and the occasional video game review.

8.) The Rumpus is an SF-based literary site that hypes up Bay area writers and writers in general. Once a month, they hold a reading at the Makeout Room in the Mission that is always PACKED early. I can't even begin to tell you how nice it is to live in a city where a few hundred people go to a bar for a reading and remain silent enough for everyone to hear the presenter on stage. Founder Stephen Elliot also sends out a daily email that covers his own thoughts on writing, movies, whatever crosses his mind at the time. I've gotten some really good advice from his daily emails and you will too if you sign up for the dailies via the website.


Saturday, January 28, 2012


It's been over a month since graduation, two months since I turned in the final copy of my thesis, but it's been almost nine months since I've found myself in a workshop situation that required me to have pages done and give comments and critiques back to other writers. My own writing is suffering, my free reading is suffering, and I've got a backlog of fellow writers' works to get through so that I can give them an appropriate response in an effort to help them become better or see things that they would overlook from being too close to the writing.

It's a weird thing, this slump, and perhaps I should've expected it; I pushed myself pretty damn hard during the last two and a half years trying to get as much writing done as possible. The holidays don't make it easy either since I never get any work done when I spend time with either side of my family or friends back home. It seems silly to travel all that way to see them all (once, maybe twice a year) and then spend time sitting in front of a laptop trying to be productive. I think this was probably the first time I came home for any length of time and didn't bring my laptop. I knew nothing was going to happen in that regard.

And now it's 2012. I have a piece of paper that says I have been taught a few things that may or may not make me a writer worth reading. I have more free time to go out and see the city, but I also have student loans that are needing to be repaid; as much as I'd love to get out and see/do more, I'm now just as confined as I was before, but without the break in routine that class and post-class boozing afforded during the middle of the week. My brain is atrophying and in need of stimulation that will only help the writing in the long run. I've said it before in this blog: you can't be a shut-in forever. Sometimes you have to get out and do something out of your routine in order to unblock whatever it is that's keeping you from being productive. I just haven't found that perfect break yet.

A trusted friend and authorial compatriot recently asked me why I was working on a project that I was simply "toying with." I said I wanted to see if I could do it, a bit of a skills test, to push myself. He said I should work on what I'm passionate instead. He's not completely wrong. If there's no passion in what you're doing, people will know. They'll feel it when they experience the finished product. He's not completely right either, however. His comment threw me off my game for a week or so; I wrote nothing because I wanted to make sure I had the passion for what I was doing.

Then I remembered that I have some old flash fiction pieces that are perfectly bizarre and in need of updating. I went through all my files and found about 15 of them, all just to the left of strange and, in some cases, recurring themes that could make them a fun little short story collection. I wrote most of them back when my writing was less focused and my prose more poetic and flowery than grounded in any true substance. But the ideas are there and that's the interesting thing. These little two- and three-page fiction pieces have so much more bubbling under their surfaces that they may be what I need right now. More focus on smaller sections of work require less intensity than working on a full-on novel and I'll still be writing.

I'm still passionate about most pieces that I work on; some more than others, but the passion is there. Some stories just end up having different ways of concluding than we previously thought.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Books On Deck / Up Next (Pt. V)

This list is so protean; constantly changing and evolving depending upon my mood and interests. I've got, no kidding, a stack of about 30 books I REALLY want to read, but a few have shuffled their way to the top. Some I've read before and loved (see: The Dark Tower series), others have been lauded by others that I've been wary to check out until recently (see: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series). Others, I'm in the process of reading now. For the most part, it's more mental candy than anything substantial (other than the Bolano, the Rulfo, and the DeLillo), but reading is reading. And you should always be doing more of it.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Authors, Bias, and Sex

I was told once that my list of favorite authors is too male-centric and there's some truth to this. I don't think it's an intentional sexuality-biased decision on my part so much as it is a topicality-bias; many of the authors that I read over and over again seem to be the ones that have captured my imagination either at a young age or have found a way to ensnare me within their stories.

There are very few female authors I've read over the years who have been able to do the same. The most recent being Suzanne Collins with "The Hunger Games" trilogy and J.K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series. Also on my bookshelves: Ayn Rand, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Naomi Klein, Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Flannery O'Connor, Agota Kristoff, and many others.

8 of the 66 books that I read over the last year were written by women which may lead one to wonder why I read so few women authors. It's not that I have no respect for them or that I think they are terrible writers (most are fantastic), but I think this ties into the topicality I mentioned earlier; more men seem to write about the things or events that interest me most. There are not nearly as many women writers in the surreal or experimental styles as there are men, so naturally, if this is the type of reading you enjoy, you're going to have more male authors that you turn to on a regular basis.

However, if pre-Industrial Revolution England is your favorite time and place and you want to hear about romance and the intricacies of familial emotions, there are (I believe) more and stronger female writers in that particular slice of writing (Bronte and Austen immediately come to mind). Just as I'm not implying there are no women writers in surreal writing, I'm not saying there aren't any male writers in English familial writing either (and this is purely one example of many styles of writing out there).

Having said all that, I find it more than a little ridiculous that I've ever had to defend my literary proclivities. Being questioned "why?" about a single author...I understand. Being questioned "why so many men?"...I understand less so. Particularly because I've never questioned why someone would read so many female authors. Our tastes are ours to change and mold and play with on a whim.

Here are a few photographs of the authors that have made the deepest marks on my life, even if I did not like everything they produced. Yes, it's an all male cast, but that's the way it goes. It's not perfect and it's certainly not intentional, it simply is. I wanted to find photographs of all these authors that were more candid and less "book-jacket cover biography"-esque. I don't like the posed ones so much as I like the ones where it seems they forgot they were being photographed. There's a certain kind of truth to those that doesn't feel as forced as the posed ones.

Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges

Albert Camus

Cormac McCarthy

David Foster Wallace

Donald Barthelme

Dr. Seuss (aka, Theodor Geisel)

Michel Foucault

John Cheever

Juan Rulfo

Mark Twain

Gabriel Garcia-Marquez & Family

Raymond Carver

Roald Dahl

Roberto Bolano

Tennessee Williams

Tom Stoppard


Friday, January 13, 2012

When Technology Fails Us...

...we can always revert back to the things that are forever dependable.


Beat-Heavy Friday

To those that know me, it's no surprise that I love all things hip hop / trip hop / chillout / lounge. You wouldn't think it to look at me, but 99% of the time, the music entering my ear canals is syrup-slow and lush like daydream afternoons. I've had a good week; finished up another 30 pages on "Sugarhouse: A Haunting," won a little bit of money on some lotto tickets (nothing substantial, but still), and got a ton of books in the mail that I can't wait to dive into tomorrow. For now, enjoy some tunes I've recently stumbled across that I've been diggin.

And if you dig these, you should absolutely check out legendary dj Mark Farina's "Mushroom Jazz" series of mixes. The guy has been putting it down forever and constantly finds some of the dopest chillout tracks being put out today.


Monday, January 9, 2012

The Revamp of Sherlock Holmes

"Get out. I need to go to my Mind Palace."

When I was a child, my father passed along to me his copy of the full collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. I haven't made it through all of them yet, but it's a book I've held on to for years. The stories themselves have become classics, both for their intrigue and for their intriguing characters.

Welcome to the 21st century...where Sherlock has been modified and put up onto the big screen (a'la Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) but also, more importantly and less well known, to the small screen via the BBC (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman).

If you're at all familiar with the stories, the picture above needs no explanation; you know exactly whom is whom. Cumberbatch, on the left, plays one of THE BEST Sherlocks I've seen in any adaptation. Freeman, on the right, plays Watson. And to his credit, does a phenomenal job of playing a strong second fiddle.

I caught wind of this series sometime last year and thought "well...maybe it'll be good." It wasn't good...it was absolutely phenomenal. The first episode, "A Study In Pink," is a contemporary play on the original "A Study In Scarlet" and besides giving the viewer a fun detective case, also does a nice job of introducing Holmes to Watson and vice versa. There's a history behind both men that gets explicated (a little more on Dr. Watson's side) so that the viewer comes away knowing more about each persona.

Cumberbatch truly encompasses the brilliant ADD-ism of the Holmes character while keeping himself pleasantly aloof of all the normal emotions found in people of normal intelligence (see: Dr. Watson). He portrays the character perfectly, blending acute perception with just the right amount of ire-inducing wit and commentary. You simultaneously love him while hating him. He is written and acted perfectly.

Freeman has been casted fantastically as well. While not nearly as perceptive as the Holmes character, Watson has always been the great foil; more compassionate, more understanding, more tact. Freeman's Watson is the perfect anti-thesis to Cumberbatch's Sherlock. The two show a dynamic onscreen that Downey Jr. and Law lack (though come close to).

What is most fascinating about this current revamp isn't the the incredibly strong acting, but the fun and inventive ways of showing the viewer what exactly is going on inside Holmes' brain. In the most current episode ("The Hound of Baskerville"), Holmes kicks Watson and another doctor out of a lab so that he can visit his "Memory Palace." What follows are pictures and texts in regards to the clues that he has acquired throughout the previous hour of the show (each episode lasts about an hour and a half without commercials). In the first episode ("A Study In Pink"), we see Sherlock flipping through mentally flipping through weather broadcasts, train schedules, appraising jewelry on the victim and ultimately leaving the viewer to come to their own conclusion about what's going on.

Whether you've read the stories or not, this show is truly one of the best things on television right now. Watch it, download it, get it from a friend, whatever...this is amazing television and I don't say that about much on the boob tube. The writing is solid and does a very serious justice to the original stories. The casting is damn near spot on and the payoff...my god. Two hours of Sherlock Holmes in a contemporary setting?

You'd be daft not to be into it. Just keep the pipe and hat at home...this ain't your daddy's Sherlock Holmes.


Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Reading List

Last December, I decided to keep a running tally of all the books I would read over the course of a year. This is that final list, minus all the books I read for class and all the manuscripts from fellow students that I had the pleasure of reading as well. This was such an interesting look back over my last year that I'm pretty sure I'm just going to continue it in 2012. I'm shooting for 100 books in the new year and hopefully more reviews of said books here on the blog. If you think I'll like a certain text, shoot me a comment and let me know. I'm always interested in reading new stuff, but if you can see the pattern in my list, I like my works a little experimental, a little playful, and not always so traditional.

2011 Reading List:


01.) Italo Calvino - "Under the Jaguar Sun" (86pgs)
02.) Italo Calvino - "Mr. Palomar" (126pgs)
03.) Italo Calvino - "Marcovaldo (or The Seasons in the City)" (121pgs)
04.) Michel Foucault - "This Is Not A Pipe" (58pgs)

(391 total pages)


05.) Italo Calvino - "The Baron in the Trees" (217pgs)
06.) Jedediah Berry - "The Manual of Detection (278pgs)
07.) Gabriel Garcia Marquez - "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" (143pgs)
08.) Paul Harding - "Tinkers" (191pgs)
09.) Jorge Luis Borges - "The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory" (131pgs)
10.) Joshua Mohr - "Termite Parade" (180pgs)
11.) Mark Haddon - "The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time" (226pgs)
12.) Juan Rulfo - "Pedro Paramo" (124pgs)
13.) Pablo Neruda - "World's End" (301pgs)
14.) Don DeLillo - "Point Omega" (117pgs)

(1908 total pages)


15.) Joshua Mohr - "Some Things That Meant the World to Me" (205pgs)
16.) Charles Yu - "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" (234pgs)
17.) Carlo Collodi - "The Adventures of Pinocchio" (170pgs)
18.) Italo Calvino - "The Nonexistent Knight & The Cloven Viscount" (246pgs)
19.) Suzanne Collins - "The Hunger Games" (374pgs)
20.) Suzanne Collins - "Catching Fire" (391pgs) 
21.) Suzanne Collins - "Mockingjay" (390pgs)

(2010 total pages)


22.) Alex Garland - "The Coma" (196pgs)
23.) Roald Dahl - "The Magic Finger" (56pgs)
24.) Roald Dahl - "Esio Trot" (55pgs)
25.) Roald Dahl - "Boy: Tales of Childhood" (176pgs)
26.) Douglas Coupland - "Player One: A Novel in Five Hours" (214pgs)

(697 total pages)


27.) Grace Krilanovich - "The Orange Eats Creeps" (172pgs)
28.) Blake Butler - "Ever" (100pgs)
29.) Paul Auster - "Leviathan" (275pgs)
30.) Roald Dahl - "The Twits" (84pgs)
31.) Roald Dahl - "Danny, the Champion of the World" (214pgs)
32.) Blake Butler - "Scorch Atlas" (152pgs) 
33.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning" (Book 1 of 13, 162pgs)
34.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room" (Book 2 of 13, 190pgs)
35.) Garrett Cook - "Muderland Pt. I - H8" (145pgs)
36.) Mark Gluth - "The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis" (102pgs)

(1596 total pages)


37.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window" (Book 3 of 13, 214pgs)
38.) Kevin Brockmeier - "The Brief History of the Dead" (252pgs)
39.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill" (Book 4 of 13, 194pgs)
40.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy" (Book 5 of 13, 221pgs)
41.) David Benioff - "City of Thieves" (258pgs)

(1139 total pages)


42.) Bogdan Suceava - "Coming From an Off-Key Time" (200pgs)
43.) Belen Gopegui - "The Scale of Maps" (223pgs)
44.) Blake Butler - "There Is No Year" (401pgs)
45.) Agota Kristoff - "The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie" (478pgs)
46.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator" (Book 6 of 13, 259pgs)

(1561 total pages)


Thesis work kept this month pretty quiet on the free reading tip, unfortunately.

47.) Antoine De Saint-Exupery - "The Little Prince" (83pgs)

(83 total pages)


48.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village" (Book 7 of 13, 256pgs)
49.) Donald Barthelme - "The Dead Father" (177pgs)
50.) Donald Barthelme - "Snow White" (187pgs)
51.) Ernest Hemingway - "The Old Man & The Sea" (127pgs)

(747 total pages)


52.) Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois - "The Anthology of Rap" (920pgs)
53.) Lemony Snicket - "A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital" (Book 8 of 13, 255pgs)
54.) Lemony Snicket -"A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Carnivorous Carnival" (Book 9 of 13, 286pgs)
55.) Brian Selznick - "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" (525pgs)
56.) Steven Millhauser - "The Knife Thrower And Other Stories" (228pgs)

(2214 total pages)


57.) Don DeLillo - "Mao II" (241pgs)
58.) Italo Calvino - "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler" (260pgs)
59.) Tom Stoppard -"Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" (128pgs)
60.) Richard Grossman - "The Book of Lazarus" (495pgs)
61.) Mark S. Danielewski - "House of Leaves" (709pgs)

(1833 total pages)


62.) Paul Auster - "The New York Trilogy" (371pgs)
63.) Samuel Beckett - "Endgame and Act Without Words" (92pgs)
64.) (Reread) Suzanne Collins - "The Hunger Games" (374pgs)
65.) (Reread) Suzanne Collins - "Catching Fire" (391pgs) 
66.) (Reread) Suzanne Collins - "Mockingjay" (390pgs)

(1618 total pages)

15,797 pages for the year


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Newsweek's 31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012

Welcome back! It's now a new year and while some people might be quaking in their boots over the ridiculous notion that we're all going to die or the Rapture is upon us, the rest of us who prefer to use our brains are always looking for ways to keep them intact and in use. Here is a link to the little mini-article I just finished reading by The Daily Beast/Newsweek. I don't agree with all of them, but here are a few that I've found have definitely helped me in keeping my mind agile and loose and, perhaps, a little more malleable over the years.

1.) Play Words With Friends
Word games are always a good way to keep the brain moving...so is Sudoku.

3.) Take Tae Kwon Do
Or any physical activity in general, really. It's all good for you.

4.) Get News From Al Jazeera
...if only to get another perspective from a non-US biased source.

5.) Toss Your Smartphone 
Particularly the part about going offline from time to time, which I do frequently with Facebook. I find myself more mentally productive during these internet absences.

7.) Download the TED App
TED talks are some of the most interesting things to have shown up on the internet in the last decade. Do yourself a favor and spend a day checking out random talks on damn near everything.

8.) Go to a Literary Festival
Books are your friends.

10.) Learn a Language
"New languages work out the pre-frontal cortex, which affects decision making and emotions."

16.) Eat Yogurt
Besides being tasty, studies in mice have shown that they handle anxiety better and show increased activity in parts of the brain that handle memories and emotions after having yogurt.

18.) See a Shakespeare Play
This is a very "duh" kind of idea. 

20.) Hydrate
Surprisingly, I drink more water than booze, but after cutting out most sodas and sugary crap, I simply feel cleaner while sticking to water.

22.) Visit MOMA
Art museums...I'm biased as I love them, but go out and get some culture. The point isn't to like everything, but rather to simply experience it and ponder it.

23.) Play an Instrument
Boosts IQ and and helps in aiding memory retention and coordination.

26.) Zone Out
This is huge. As a writer, I often find myself doing this. It's when some of my most interesting ideas come to me and they're typically the right ones to play with. Letting the subconscious take over for awhile allows the brain to solve the problems that you couldn't. 

27.) Drink Coffee
Besides being a diuretic, consumption of coffee can bolster short-term memory. 

29.) Become an Expert
"Master one task you really enjoy and your brain will perform more efficiently when you do it. Chess whizzes, for example, recognize patterns more quickly than amateurs. Expertise is not innate - practice, as the old saying goes, does make perfect."

30.) Write Reviews Online
Deconstructing something you liked or hated most definitely forces to you examine the why of the emotion. This is critical thinking at its best, even if you're not the most eloquent of writers. 

31.) Get Out of Town
Eliminating outside stimuli like crowded streets can help focus the brain back to the important things rather than processing all of the excess nonsense and can reduce brain overload.