Archive for April, 2010
I consider myself to be a crummy writer, if only because it seems like a week doesn’t go by without me coming across some really wise habit that some writer has that makes me say “Hey, why am I not doing that?”
Not this time! Here’s the lead from a story by Slate’s Jack Shafer:
I store my very favorite works of long-form journalism in a hard-drive folder titled “Keepers.” There’s Jonathan Rauch’s 1995 defense of prejudice from Harper’s, Gary Wolf’s stunning 1995 profile of Ted Nelson in Wired, John Tierney’s 1996 piece on recycling in the New York Times Magazine, Gary Greenberg’s 2001 brain-death exposé in The New Yorker; and Sean Wilentz’s 2007 masterpiece about Blonde on Blonde from the Oxford American, just to name a few.
I do this! In fact, nobody even had to tell me. I’m motivated by the same instinct that compelled me to not sell back any of my books in college. Firstly, those books are the only proof that I have any education whatsoever. Secondly, if I read something I like, I’m gonna hold onto it! Of course, my keepers aren’t organized into a fancy “electronic” “folder.” More like a pile that I keep between a pile of bills and a pile of comics. Real professional-like.
Problem is, most of my pile is articles I ripped out of the New Yorker or New York magazine (which I have subscriptions to), Vanity Fair (which I buy from time to time), and random crap that I come across at work (which I randomly come across. At work.) Which is to say, while those are top-notch publications, my scope is limited.
That’s why I’m so thrilled about the advent of longform.org, which Mr. Shafer writes about above. If you didn’t actually click through to that link, the point of longform.org is to aggregate some of the best long-form, narrative journalism out there. The stories are chosen by the dudes that run the site, Max Linsky and Aaron Lammer, and by users. Two great features of the site: you can browse through stories, and if you come across one you’re interested in, you can tag it “Read later.” You can access your list of “Read later” stories any time you log onto the Internet. And then you can read them through Instapaper, a service that renders the text into printer-friendly, ad-free format. Tremendous! I’ve been tooling around a bit, and many of the stories come from the usual suspects (Harper’s, the New Yorker, Esquire), magazines that I know to be good but just never get around to checking out (Wired, Texas Monthly), and then some publications that I honestly would never think to check out (Virginia Quarterly, East Bay Express).
Folks in my line of work revere the long form. (You can tell, because we use the term “the long form” for, basically, long magazine stories.) Even ambitionless, unmotivated hacks like me, in the back of their minds, dream of someday getting that assignment where you’ve got six months, but more importantly, 10,000 words, to just tell a story. That Slate story above was exuberantly teased on its homepage with a subhead like “The site that will save long-form journalism,” but a quick trip around longform.org should make you feel pretty alright about the genre’s prospects. Every week, the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and the Atlantic are producing high-quality, long-form journalism, telling important stories, and telling them well. But better than that, the site is culling stories from the likes of n+1, Fast Company, and the Boston Phoenix. All of this is to say, there’s not enough hours in the day to keep track of all the great stories being written in publications, large and small, all across the country. Have fun, and keep reading.
Dangerous, Dirty, and Updated: The Official Roommate of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun checks in with the following message:
ORODD&U: you are indeed a crummy writer. “lead” instead of “lede” ? journalism 101!
My bad, readers! Please accept this supplementary graf as some small consolation.
So I spent this past weekend in the Nexus of All Realities: Bayonne, New Jersey. In addition to spending some quality time with the fam, I also made off with an awesome haul of swag! Mommy got me a beer book and some jelly beans for Easter. My dad got me a baseball signed by Yankee great and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, from a sports memorabilia fundraiser that my Boy Scout council runs. The best, though, was something the Official Little Brother of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun got me.
Him and my dad took a trip to Poland, our ancestral homeland, with a delegation from our parish. They were in Krakow for the most part, which was the hometown of Pope John Paul II. Before he was pope. Obviously. They also checked out the country’s biggest salt mine, as well as the Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa, which is only the holiest site in the whole damn country. Anyway, apparently they went to this Russian market, which by all accounts was a bazaar Aladdin-esque in its wackiness. When he left, I told my brother to get me the most blatantly Polish, absurd souvenir possible. He did not disappoint.
That’s right, folks. That’s a genuine foxskin cap. I’m wearing it right now, and I feel like I’m in an Iroquois sweat lodge. How cool is this thing, though? I look like Tadeusz effing Kościuszko. It almost makes me look forward to winter, when I can rock this thing outside for real.
The Internet is a lot like Santa Claus, if Santa Claus visited you every day and left you something awesome. Today’s awesomeness: the Geocities-izer, a little dealy that will transform any website into what it would look like as a late-90s Geocities page. To give you an idea, check out its interpretation of your favorite blog. I’d be lying if I said my favorite part wasn’t the little 7-Up Spot gif. Delightful!
. . . but if I did, I wouldn’t be able to shut up about how DELIGHTED I am about the Detective Hunter Rush, I mean Dr. William Van Der Woodsen, era on Gossip Girl. Here’s an open letter to Billy Baldwin.
Dear Mr. Baldwin,
Don’t ever, ever stop using the “It’s going to be hard for her to reenter the pageant . . . without a face” voice. Thank you.
Every Gossip Girl Fan
Remember way back when I was writing about Frankie Valli? And I promised I would put up a post about Nicole Atkins? Here you go!
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun know how much of a weakness I have for turbo foxes with guitars, but Nicole Atkins is almost in a league by herself. We’re dealing with a voice crafted by God Herself and handed down to a singer in the greatest state in the world, New Jersey! I had a real hard time picking out a song to highlight here, because they’re all so enchanting. Please feel free to explore her entire catalogue. But first, listen to this live rendition of “Together We’re Both Alone.”
The increasingly unaptly named David Foster Wallace Fortnight continues with a few links that have been accumulating for a bit. Click on the “David Foster Wallace” tag below for earlier installments.
# My buddy Reeves, who also read Infinite Jest last summer, did a little project over at his blog, Meanderings. (Which, if you’re not reading, you should.) It was called Infinite Words, and basically all he did was transcribe all of the masterfully crafted phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that he marked down in his copy of the book. As you can see from the picture on that first post, there were a lot, enough to categorize. (The full list of posts is here.)
I expressed to Reeves my envy, that he came up with this idea first. But then I hoisted up my copy of the book and realized that there was no organizing principle behind the words I underlined, the phrases I highlights, or the pages I dogeared. To say nothing of the notes I left on post-its, the backs of envelopes, and in the margins of wholly unrelated magazine articles. So while I had every intention of promoting, so to speak, the Infinite Words concept, I suppose I didn’t have the foresight/intellectual discipline at the time to sufficiently record the things I liked. Oh well. Here’s a miniature version of well-crafted sentences that stuck with me from IJ.
On the grade-school beauty of Mildred Bonk: She was the kind of fatally pretty and nubile wraithlike figure who glides through the sweaty junior-high corridors of every nocturnal emitter’s dreamscape.
Hal Incandenza, from an academic paper on the future of the action hero: We await, I predict, the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.
One of the things you’ll learn in rehab: That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.
Joelle van Dyne, star of the eponymous film “Infinite Jest,” on the finished product: Joelle’s never seen the completed assembly of what she’d appeared in, or seen anyone who’s seen it, and doubts that any sum of scenes as pathologic as he’d stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he’d said the thing he’d always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up.
Teddy Schacht’s self-awareness, and quite possibly my favorite line in the book: Like most very large men, he’s getting comfortable early with the fact that his place in the world is very small and his real impact on other persons even smaller. . . . He’s one of those people who don’t need much, much less much more.
One of amateur tennis radio announcer Jim Troeltsch’s more creative reports: Peter Beak spread Ville Dillard on a cracker like some sort of hors d’oeuvre and bit down 6–4, 7–6.
An old friend on Orin Incandenza’s pick-up method: “Tell me what sort of man you prefer, and then I’ll affect the demeanor of that man.” Which in a way of course is being almost pathologically open and sincere about the whole picking-up enterprise, but also has this quality of Look-At-Me-Being-So-Totally-Open-And-Sincere-I-Rise-Above-The-Whole-Disingenuous-Posing-Process-Of-Attracting-Someone-,-And-I-Transcend-The-Common-Disingenuity-In-A-Bar-Herd-In-A-Particularly-Hip-And-Witty-Self-Aware-Way-,-And-If-You-Will-Let-Me-Pick-You-Up-I-Will-Not-Only-Keep-Being-This-Wittily,-Transcendently-Open-,-But-Will-Bring-You-Into-This-World-Of-Social-Falsehood-Transcendence, which of course he cannot do because the whole openness-demeanor thing is itself a purposive social falsehood; it is a pose of poselessness; Orin Incandenza is the least open man I know.
# “Become an agent of light and goodness.” Or, to use a term my predecessor left on a post-it on my computer, “All words should be true and precise.” These are less goals to be achieved, and more landmarks to keep in your sights, I’ve found.
# Below is a Monty Python sketch about a joke so funny, anyone who heard it would die laughing.
Anyone who’s read Infinite Jest knows that a joke so funny it kills sounds a lot like a movie so entertaining it kills. Are we dealing with a case of Infinite Theft? Meh. Probably not. But I’d be shocked and amazed if a guy as smart and witty and well-versed in well, everything, as DFW wasn’t aware of Monty Python’s entire oeuvre. What an homage!
I start writing things from time to time, and nine times out of 10, if I stop, that post never sees the light of day. You know how it is when you have a great idea that fizzles out, or you just lose interest, or whatever. So it’s extra awesome when events conspire to make something from the dustbin suddenly relevant again. Here’s a little snippet of something I wrote around like, October 1ish.
My roommate and I were watching Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays completely dismantle the Red Socks yesterday. It was a 12–0 romp. A total delight to watch. The final score wasn’t the best part, though. The best part was watching Dusty Brown, the Socks’ fourth string catcher, come in to pitch in the ninth inning.
I’m going to echo Bill Simmons here and say that there’s nothing more exciting that watching a position player pitch. It’s the best! . . .
Sports fans everywhere should by now be aware of the 20-inning epic that the Mets and Cardinals engaged in last night. What does this have to do with a paragraph and a half that I wrote six months ago? Well, Cardinals second baseman Felipe Lopez and backup outfielder Joe Mather pitched the 18th, 19th, and 20th innings. That’s three innings of position players pitching!
There’s a few wacky sports events that are just awesome to see as they’re happening. A hole in one. A triple play. A buzzer-beating half-court shot. All of these events are over in the blink of an eye, though. A position player on the mound, though, is something to be savored. It lasts. There are moments within moments. It’s my favorite.
I feel like I’ve read this or heard this somewhere else, so forgive me if this sounds completely like something you’ve seen before, but my buddy and I always say that there should be a service where like, you get a text message whenever a position player is about to start pitching. And then you should obviously be able to watch it on some special channel that activates in these situations. No matter where I was—a bar, the mall, a wedding, a lecture—I would bolt to go watch a position player pitch. It’s awesome! Why can’t Major League Baseball and the networks conspire to make this happen?
Do me a favor and re-read the title of this post one more time, and then think long and hard about whether you should continue. This is how strongly I feel about what an awful, hateful character Jenny Humphrey is. She’s always been annoying, with her power plays on the steps of the Met one minute, followed immediately by her falling into the clutches of Agnes and playing the damsel in distress. Her interminable rebellion/supplication cycle with her father. It always bordered on too much. But this most recent plot of hers to split up Nate and Serena is the last straw. My new favorite episode of Gossip Girl will be the one where Jenny’s map is eliminated for keeps.
As always, I watched this week’s ep on the ol’ DVR, so the timestamps are about as meaningless as a promise from Jenny Humphrey.
10:04 I’m still not sure I understood exactly what went down with Chuck and Blair. I feel like there was a Marathe-esque quadruple cross going on that I’m just not sharp enough to get.
“Good thing I own a bar downstairs.” Chuck may be loathsome, but he still gets the best lines.
10:10 Five minute break while I talked over the last two eps with my roommate. It makes a little more sense now!
10:12 Remember when Blair and Nate were together, and they were going to be together forever? That was back in the day when Serena and Dan were going to be together forever, and Chuck was trying to date-rape Jenny. Capricious youth!
10:16 This traditional wedding thing sounds like one of those gimmicks they make up for stories that need gimmicks. Like the charter review process in Old School, or something like that.
10:19 Wait, Serena said she was at breakfast with the Humphreys but she really wasn’t? Is she weaving a web of deception?
10:21 Oh man. It’s one thing for us to make fun of how vapid Nate is, but to see Chuck do it, hoo boy. Straight up pwnage.
Ugh, Jenny. What a goddamn snake. Eric knows it, too.
10:26 This game night thing is lame, but the eastern Europeans LOVE their balloons. Let me tell you a story. In grammar school, I was pals with this kid Igor who lived a few doors down. I’m pretty sure him and his folks were recent immigrants from Russia. So Igor invites me to his birthday party. Snacks, cake, soda, the whole nine. Then we start playing party games, one of which entails two combatants squaring off, each with a balloon tied to his ankle. The object of the game is to stomp the other guy’s balloon, while trying to guard your balloon from being stomped by him. My turn comes up, and I got squared off against the biggest bruiser in the whole damn house. We were like, nine years old, but I swear this kid was as big as Zangief. Not only that, but he was wearing big snow boots. It was spring! There hadn’t been snow on the ground for weeks! Suffice it to say, my balloon didn’t stand a chance. I was fearful for my toes the whole time.
Ha. They’re playing “I Got a Feeling” on the accordion. Nice touch.
10:29 Cyrus, with the great wedding gift! Such a big heart, so out of place on the Upper East Side.
Jenny: “I love Serena, but I know how she is.” No you don’t, and no you don’t!
10:30 Dear Nate,
As you know, everything is always exactly as it first appears. Confront Serena about the St. Regis post haste! You’ll find all your worst fears validated.
All Gossip Girl viewers.
10:32 Some people get depressed and eat ice cream. Blair has the old “conversation with Dan Humphrey where she admits that she’s a rotten person and Dan reassures her that she’s actually pretty alright.” A Blair Waldorf classic!
10:36 Dear Rufus,
As you know, everything is always exactly as it first appears. Go ahead and leave an indignant message on Cece’s voicemail and confront her and Lily.
All Gossip Girl viewers
Also, have we addressed on this page how dumb it is that Serena is embarrassed by her search for her dad? It’s way, way, way beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief that this continues to be a plot point.
10:42 Dear Jenny,
We don’t need to write you a letter, because it doesn’t matter what you saw between Serena and Carter, you’ll twist it to your own devious ends. And also, you’re not fooling us with being so kind and friendly to Eric. You’re the worst character on tv.
All Gossip Girl viewers
10:50 Serena! Jenny is a snake! Don’t trust her!
10:52 Ummm, wow? What the *#$&% is Lily up to here?!?!
Dangerous, Dirty, and Updated: Sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found thee! So I don’t think they’ll actually be killing off Jenny’s character, but at least she won’t be bugging us as much next season. Sometimes, in this cruel and unforgiving world, providence shines on us. We’re lucky!
There’s been a lil bit of talk on the old Intertubes (or at least in the stupid blogs I read) about books in schools, probably precipitated by this Dana Goldstein piece on the Daily Beast. Here’s a telling couple sentences:
The average reading level of the top 20 books read by U.S. high school students is 5.3—two and a half grade levels easier than a front-page article in The New York Times or Washington Post. In no grade do students typically read nonfiction, beyond memoirs like the The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night—even though success on standardized tests, in college, and in many jobs requires the ability to comprehend dense nonfiction texts.
Yikes! Goldstein and her sources lament the quality of young people’s reading lists, and take the tack that what we need is more non-fiction in the curriculum, to serve the dual purpose of giving kids real-world “background” knowledge, and to generally engage kids who otherwise yawn at traditional fictional offerings. To which I say, fine! I’m not going to argue with adding some non-fiction variety to middle and high school curricula. What I wouldn’t want to see is a dramatic swinging of the pendulum away from fiction. I was an English major, so I’ve got a dog in this race, but I definitely think there are things that fiction is uniquely positioned to teach us. The important thing to remember, especially for the teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats with influence, is that it’s not a contest. Good writing is good writing, and we should be putting good writing in the curriculum no matter what form it comes in.
The harder pill to swallow in Goldstein’s piece is the negative judgment she levels against the type of reading kids these days do for fun, panning “lightweight fiction” and taking the requisite cheap shots at Twilight. Which is why I liked this piece by Katie Baker on the Awl, examining, among other things, why boys don’t read as much as girls. As the only boy in my book club, I have a tremendous interest in why, at least in my experience, it’s so hard to come across a serious reader who’s a boy. Baker revisits what she calls the age-old issue: “should kids be allowed to read whatever they want, so long as they’re reading?”
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun know that I’m no expert. Of anything. So I won’t offer any firm prescriptions for what I think is the right thing to do in the classroom (except for that good writing bit above). What I also won’t do is pick nits about what children read outside of the classroom. Are we really going to look down our noses at a kid for reading Twilight instead of The Best and the Brightest? I don’t want to alarm you, but most adults don’t read books. If a youngster is going to pick up a book, sit down, and read it cover to cover, I really couldn’t care less what it is. Good for her!
Baker’s point about the Sweet Valley High books being just, well, more interesting than typical academic fare is well-taken. I’ll speak from personal experience here. I’ve always been a reader, dating back to the day where I just got bored of the story my first grade class spent a week reading. (It was in an orange Houghton Mifflin reader, about a girl learning to roller skate, and she was really scared of falling, so she left the house with a football helmet and like, a bunch of pillows tied to her torso. Does anyone remember the name of this story? It was a turning point in my life!) My teacher, Ms. McDonald, bless her heart, gave me access to the bookshelf in the back of the classroom and let me read whatever I wanted once I had finished what the class was working on in the reader. After that, it was off to the races w/r/t me and books.
I usually just read what was made available to me by my teachers. It wasn’t until Goosebumps that I started making my own reading material choices. Like many boys my age, I was a CONSUMER of Goosebumps books. Every month, like clockwork, I’d grab the newest installment and rip through it in a weekend. (My parents were cool and would take me to the bookstore pretty regularly and let me get whatever I wanted, which allowed me to rent out the newest Goosebumps to classmates every month once I was done with them. I actually did this!) Goosebumps, of course, were a sort of little boys’ analogue to The Babysitter’s Club: quick, schlocky, cheaply suspenseful horror novels. Nobody would confuse them for high literature, or even high young adult literature. But that’s not the point.
The point is, I looked forward to a new Goosebumps book like I look forward to a new episode of Gossip Girl. It’s something special when a book can excite and engross a young kid like that. Reading Goosebumps books, as low-brow as they were, showed me that it was possible to be captivated by words on a page. Once you put that concept in a kid’s head, it’s not a huge leap to say, Douglas Adams, or Frank Herbert, or George Orwell (all writers I read when I was in grammar school). I always laugh when teachers and sundry authority figures refer to books as “friends,” but it’s not untrue. If you can learn to trust that a book can be worth your time, you’ll always have something to do, and something to learn.
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun know that this isn’t a “Let me tell you about what I did today” kind of blog. But let me tell you what I did yesterday.
It was an exceptionally pleasant day here in the Hub of the Universe, and since I had the day off for Great Friday, me and sweet, sweet Alice went out for a little ride. I took the bike path through the Southwest Corridor Park all the way down to the Arnold Arboretum. (Which, for all of my readers in Boston, is a treasure, and you should all visit.) Anyway, I hopped off for a bit to check out the scenery. I walked off the road and heard something scurry out of the gutter. I look down, only to see an effing SNAKE! A wild snake! In the middle of Boston! So I’m chasing this serpent through the grass, and I almost stepped on ANOTHER SNAKE! The place was awash with this scaly devils. My little guy eventually stopped near a tree, and I was able to snap this picture:
It’s only a tiny little garter snake, but still! A snake, in the foreboding urban hellhole! How cool is that?
On another note, I wound up riding like, 19 miles through Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, and my legs were KILLING me. But it was fine, because I had the day off, and it was gorgeous out.
And it’s even more gorgeous today! I’m about to head out for some drinky-poos with my pals, but I thought I would pass this along. It’s the writers for the Morning News, talking about their favorite outdoor drinks. In that spirit, I suppose I’ll reminisce. The god’s honest truth is that I don’t really have a favorite outdoor drink: I find the idea that beautiful weather can be combined with alcohol to be one of the more miraculous concepts ever conceived, so I’m profoundly grateful for any mojito, pina colada, or Natty Ice. I do have some wonderful memories of liming it up with some cold Coronas, but if I had to choose a go-to outdoor bev, it would have to be a gin and tonic. And not one of those wimpy ones they give you at the club. I’m talking a pint glass, with like four ice cubes, and about six glugs (as in “glug-glug-glug-glug-glug-glug”) of Sapphire. Mm mm good. Feel free to leave your favorites in comments.
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