Monday, September 20, 2004

The sound and the fury

Never one to court controversy, let me make a deeply iconoclastic declaration: for a group of people who are supposed to be hip, with-it, and up on all the latest stuff, McSweeney's web site really kind of sucks.

As my one major piece of evidence, let me cite the Future McSweeney's Books page. 'Nuff said. You wouldn't even know that Eggers has a book of short stories due out, unless you found it here on Amazon. (Or read McSweeney's print catalog, which is as beautifully produced as McSweeney's books.)

Although, if you think about it, McSweeney's books kind of suck, too. I have a shiny new nickel for you if you can name anyone besides me who owns any books by McSweeney's that aren't written by Dave Eggers. (A shiny Michigan quarter for you if you can name the two McSweeney's books not written by Dave Eggers that I own. And yes, I will mail said quarter or nickel to you. This offer expires Oct. 1 or after five successful claims, whichever comes first. Here's a hint. Neither of them were all that good.)

Of course, as soon as I decide to make this claim, I start digging through the McSweeney's website and find the McSweeney's Recommends page, which is both cool and very entertaining. Although they are behind the curve on contemporary jazz. I was digging on Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus a year and a half ago.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Czeslaw Milosz: 1911-2004

I am not an avid reader of poetry (although that, to an extent, is changing), but Milosz's passing on August 14 was the loss of a great man.

Leon Wieseltier's elegy in this week's Book Review is deeply moving. Read it, and then pick up Milosz's New and Collected Poems.

Or, better yet, buy a copy for my broke-ass self. :-)

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Looking for a subject. . .

I've struggled to figure out exactly what it is, but I'm feeling an acute information withdrawl. Perhaps it's the lack of the newstand qualities of the bookstore's periodicals section. You can get a lot just from browsing, and it was quite a luxury to read whatever magazine or paper I wanted on my lunchbreak.

Perhaps it's the dearth of interesting stories in the Times and ALDaily. Other than hurricanes in Florida and the school bombing by Chechen terrorists, we've had some slow news cycles in the past few weeks.

Perhaps that's worth an aside. I don't wish to appear to dismiss hundreds of deaths and the hardship of thousands so lightly, but I have no real insight to offer. David Brooks wrote Tuesday criticizing a certain avoidance of "the cult of death" by the media and Western intellectuals.

I have no desire to defend the monsters who slaughtered a school full of innocents. The past century, however, should remind us of the dangers of viewing the Russian government as either an unambiguous ally or enemy.

The evil of our enemy does not make us righteous. Neither do our own flaws require that we submit. This is, however, why it is important to choose one's battles, and dangerous to attempt to use one's own moral standing as a tool of persuasion.

But back to more trvial matters! I finally received The New Yorker's Food Issue, about which Short Schrift has been raving on about for the past week. To add insult to injury, the issue following was already available on the newsstand.

Perhaps it's simply the malaise of the unemployed.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

XX marks the spot

Ah, now that I'm no longer working at a bookstore, I can once again share the joy of browsing the shelves and the new fiction tables.

And if I only had an income, I'd have a pair of books by the McSweeney's women under my arm--And Now You Can Go by Vendela Vida and The Effect of Living Backwards by Heidi Julavits, each just out in paperback. Julavits and Vida co-edit the McSweeney's monthly The Believer (Vida is married to Dave Eggers), and their novels received mostly strong reviews when they came out in hardcover a year ago. (Although, admittedly, I waited for the paperbacks.)

Vida's novel shared some publicity with her friend Julie Orringer's debut collection of stories, How To Breathe Underwater, and if Vida's novel is half as good as Orringer's stories, it'll be well worth picking up the paperback. (I haven't seen any information on a paperback release for How To Breathe Underwater, but it's fabulous, and more than justifies the cost of a hardcover.)