note to the master of the house

Jeff Turretine reviews Cloud Atlas in this week’s Book World, and it’s followed by a fascinating q and a with David Mitchell.

BW: What did you learn in the process of writing it?

DM: I learned that art is about people: Ideas are well and good, but without characters to hang them on, fiction falls limp. I learned that language is to the human experience what spectography is to light: Every word holds a tiny infinity of nuances, a genealogy, a social set of possible users, and that although a writer must sometimes pretend to use language lightly, he should never actually do so — the stuff is near sacred. I learned that maybe I should have a go at a linear narrative next time! I learned that the farther back in time you go, the denser the research required, and the more necessary it is to hide it.

the beautiful and the banal

Superfriend butting in here to say: Let’s have a Tom Shales kind of morning, shall we? He’s in rare form — and believe you me, I don’t say that lightly, still not having forgiven him for not understanding why Jon Stewart is funny.

He takes on last night’s NBC coverage of the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. And he is dead on. Mostly.

He isn’t quite as impressed as I was by the pageantry of it, which is truly some of the most amazing theater I’ve ever seen on that scale. Theater managers all over the world have to be dreaming of replicating effects like the human statues and the costumed people that seemed animated through the effect of exquisite make-up and wardrobe that moved like drawings. One of the best things about it was its complete disregard for any sensibilities other than the aesthetic — you would never see anything that interesting in an American-created Olympic opening, because we would be too afraid at pissing people off by showing a glimpse of a human breast, or having a couple roll around lustily in a giant lake, or the Greek god Eros flying around in naught but a drapey loincloth. The switchboards would light up, the hands would cover the mouths and we’d be reading about it for three months. It would disintegrate our moral fabric. Right?

But incorporate some athletes at the end and some stupid commentary so people don’t feel threatened by the intellect behind it all, the symbolism (which is surely rated I for inappropriate on television), and people can deal. As long it’s happening in Greece.

Bob Costas and Katie Couric should be ashamed at their running idiocy during the entirety of the show’s majestic portion. They only seemed to get their sea-legs when the parade of athletes started. I actually turned to Mr. BondGirl at one point and said, “This is what it’s come to?”

This comment was provoked by Katie Couric’s reading off an index card that the foustanela skirts several men on one of the floats were wearing consist of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. To which Costas replies, “I wouldn’t want to have to press that!”

I. Wouldn’t. Want. To. Have. To. Press. That.

Bon mots singled out by Tom Shales in his column included:

The very quotable Archimedes . . . was an excitable guy,” Costas said as if talking about another of his chumpy sports chums. “But we must make allowances for genius, I guess.”

…Costas to recite the plot of “Oedipus Rex” — how he murdered his father and married his mother, with Costas adding that this was “a sequence of events that seldom turns out well.”

Once Couric and Costas shut up and put aside all the notes about Greece that NBC Sports researchers had assembled for them, the pageant had other inspired touches besides Cube Man. The huge stadium seemingly turned into a large man-made lake for costumed performers to skate on. A 9-year-old boy had the thrill of gliding around on the pond in what looked like a giant paper hat. It eventually broke into several pieces that were suspended by wires and dangled up into the stratosphere, or near it. Ever-ready with the concise acerbic remark, Couric looked at the kid and declared, “He’s so cute!”*

* Note to Shales, the kid in the paper hat actually came BEFORE Cube guy. What happened was the giant face representing early sculpture broke apart into all those more natural representations of the human form, and which then settled into the lake to represent the Greek islands. Quite awesome actually. But unfortunately, B & K still had plenty of notes and yammering to do.

I suggest you check out the Washington Post’s photo gallery, which has the only photos that come close to getting the cool stuff, such as the amazing Centaur and the columnistas. It’s here. (You’ll have to click to photo 4 or 5 to get to the good stuff.) The BBC has some decent pics here.

Perhaps if we combined a plot from Six Feet Under, where David gets carjacked and hijacks the entire rest of the episode with melodrama, with Bob and Katie, we’d have a winner. Bob and Katie carjacked outside the Olympics, the cast of Six Feet Under must narrate the opening ceremonies.

zine machines

The Washington Post Weekend looks at the current state of zines (sort of, in pretty skimming, general terms). (Note: The Rowe being quoted here is Chip Rowe, who works for Playboy and wrote a book about zines.)

Rowe summarizes the movement of zines onto the Web thusly: “Fanzines became paper zines became webzines became blogs. That’s where we are now.” But he’s not just being blithe. He sees in the current blog craze something akin to the paper zine craze of the early ’90’s. “The same spirit is there,” Rowe says. “Everybody feels powerless to one degree or another and is looking to get some kind of reaction. They want people to care about what they think. It’s heartening seeing blogs, even if a lot of them will go away as the novelty wears off.”

Breier and Smith, whose Xerography Debt includes a regular column on the history of zines, find the antecedents of Leeking Ink and chickfactor and all of their kin much further back, in the 19th century broadsheets often named Tatler or Spectator and devoted to a wide range of political and literary subject matter, a sudden surge of home publishing made possible by the growing availability of the tabletop printing press.

Some blogs may bear kinship to certain kinds of zines, but I’m thinking that one to one correlation is false and does no kindness to either blogs or zines.

Anyway, the article basically ignores my favorite kind of zines (ha, the kind I co-edit), the print literary ones, in which some extremely vital work is being done. Scott Berg implies there aren’t any editors in zine-ville, which is patently false. (Ask any of the writers that Christopher Rowe and I have requested rewrites from.) He hints that the print zine is over, also falsely patented.

Some links to zines I think are worth your time that Berg didn’t have time to deal with (some of his recs are great, actually, love Leeking Ink) and which are cheaper than a cup of coffee at that green and white place:

Trunk Stories
Electric Velocipede
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (you should be reading this already! and not just for my advice column! also lots of zine reviews on the site!

–And yes, I’ve already linked to Say…, in a moment of crass zine promotion, but we just have little weird internet homes and no real site for the Fortress of Words (I know, I know), so just follow _that_ link and help pay for the reprints of the latest issue we desperately need to have done!

If you have favorites, post them in the comments.

Long live the zine revolution.

you can have our backyard

(….as soon as the birds leave anyway.)

Guerilla drive-ins are the new best activity:

For three years, cult-movie buffs have been organizing “guerrilla drive-ins” in a number of cities, rigging together a nest of digital projectors, DVD players, and radio transmitters or stereo speakers, spreading the word online, and assembling on parking lots or fields to watch obscure films beneath the stars.

They project the image onto warehouses or bridge pillars, tune their car stereos to a designated FM frequency, and sit back and enjoy the show. The only thing they do not do is ask for permission.

This sounds wonderful. Something must revive the drive-in, not least because it’s the type of viewing that best suits the majority of the big movies Hollywood turns out. You need the easy distractions and odd interface of it, the distance and the other sensory entertainments to make some of these movies, well, watchable. You can eat junk food that makes stadium theater junk food look like soycakes and have a cocktail in your car. Or outside it on a blanket.

Something is missing from our cultural life with the death of the drive-in. I saw Clash of the Titans at our own centerpiece of smalltown life when I was five. When my dad and I went to get extra snacks — (we snuck in sodas and minimal snacks in our trunk; I had no idea when I was a kid that my parents were trying to save money… I thought they were hacking the mainframe) — I got to ask him a question he still remembers with mortification: why was my cousin Anthony on the ground puking near the snack stand? Sometimes boyfriends and girlfriends fight, was the response, and I still remember my cousin’s bleach-blond girlfriend towering over him, playing the conquistador. Would this ever have happened inside a movie theater? I think not.

Just when I got old enough to loiter at the drive-in by myself on weekends, the screen blew over during a thunderstorm. Drive-ins were dying by then, movie theaters switching from showing two movies at a time to six or ten, and it wasn’t worthwhile for the owners to fix it.

Viva la warehouse viewing.

stop, you’re scaring me has released the results of a Student Survey of 2,000 students aged 16 to 30 in which females said they’d be more likely to buy books recommended by John Kerry, while their male counterparts said they’d go for Bush’s recommendations. (Does that mean the guys just don’t want to read or they only want to read about baseball?)

Among the other illuminating (read: terrifying, perplexing, obvious) findings:

– 60% of students surveyed believe their life would make a better novel
than reality TV show;

– The most popular choice in literary roommate for male and female
respondents was Bridget Jones, followed by Frodo Baggins, and
Virginia Woolf;

– 80% of students who spend over $1,000 a year on books have sex more
often than students spending less;

– When asked what they would most like to have tomorrow, 11% of
students chose new shoes while a whopping 50% chose a “new lease on

This is all troubling on so many levels. The trucking in cliches, the possible future explosion of the “better-than-a-reality-show” novel. I want to know if both sexes really chose the same roomies, as it seems unlikely. (The Frodo joke is too easy.) And newsflash: kids with more money get laid more because they can afford more drinks!

I’ve got a reality show for you: Virginia Woolf and Bridget Jones share a room in the literary afterlife. Where apparently writers and characters would be equally real. Sucks for the writers.

Okay, going to watch Amish teens go bad now. Not proud.