Monthly Archives: May 2011

The 20 Best David Bazan/Pedro the Lion Songs

From Fix EP: none

From It’s Hard to Find a Friend: Secret of the Easy Yoke, The Longer I Lay Here, When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run, Big Trucks

From The Only Reason I Feel Secure EP: Criticism as Inspiration, Letter From a Concerned Follower, Be Thou My Vision

From Winners Never Quit: A Mind of Her Own, Never Leave a Job Half Finished, Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Winners Never Quit

From Progress EP: June 18, 1976

From Control: Magazine, Priests and Paramedics, Rapture, Indian Summer

From Headphones: none

From Achilles Heel: Arizona, Bands with Managers

From Curse Your Branches: Bless This Mess, Hard to Be

** A new album, Strange Negotiations, just came out last week. Haven’t heard it yet. We’ll see. Also, Bazan sneaked into FUN CAMP in the book’s most nakedly autobiographical (or autodiscographical) chapter, Logistically, A Real Momentum-Wrecker. **

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MLP Bookmark

Your move, future.

Them at Their Worst + Victory

A quick bit of good news: Barrelhouse Magazine is going to publish a story of mine called “Them at Their Worst.” It’s always cool to see a longer story in print, and it’s also exciting because it’s a big chunk of a novel of the same title, one I’ve been mostly finished with for over a year now. Last week, I began Joshua Ferris’s excellent The Unnamed, and parallels abound between my book and Ferris’s. Both are part of that budding subgenre, “Dude w/ Mysterious Condition Literature.”

Also: My good friend Ben Kopel’s first book, VICTORY, is coming out from H_NGM_N BOOKS.

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Chris Bachelder Interview (Part 2)

Last week, The Rumpus published an interview I did with Chris Bachelder about his new book, Abbott Awaits. However, the original interview was much longer and contained several more great responses from Bachelder, and I thought it’d be a shame not to share them.

Also, my introduction to The Rumpus interview promised that we’d talk about dogs. All week, I’ve pictured readers scanning the interview again and again, wondering, “WHERE ARE THE DOGS? I WAS PROMISED DOGS!!” Here. Here are the dogs.

This second interview picks up right where the first left off.

GABE DURHAM: There are a couple of conversations about Abbott (“The Heating and Cooling Specialist’s Tale,” for one) that seem to break form and leave Abbott’s head. But I don’t know. Abbott is so self-aware and imaginative that I imagine the scene taking place in Abbott’s self-aware imagination instead of in real life. I’m curious–Are those conversations real or imagined? Or is this an ambiguity not to be tread on?

CHRIS BACHELDER: This is a good question. (You must have had fantastic teachers.) The truth is, this is not a settled issue in my mind. It’s not as if I know the real answer and I’m hoping that readers will get it. I think that when I began these chapters (there are two and there used to be one more called the Rooter’s Tale), I intended them to be a kind of radical shift – a jarring way to break out of Abbott’s head and achieve some kind of outside view.

But it’s not as if these outside views really give you a radically different perspective. Abbott is so exasperatingly self-conscious that he kind of constantly achieves an outside view. His imagination creeps and colonizes. So these tales in the book now seem to me more aligned with the chapters that feature imaginary people and events, the explicitly invented material. I think it’s completely consistent with Abbott’s character (and vaguely interesting) to argue that Abbott is imagining these stories. That is, he is so self-conscious that he creates the stories that others will later tell about him. And I think this makes the reader perform an interesting activity while reading – re-situating the tale and the teller back into Abbott’s mind. Locating Abbott, locating the world. It’s like there are nested narrators, nested consciousnesses. Or another way to look at it is that Abbott regards himself as a character in his own mind, which is probably not the healthiest way to live. It certainly makes it difficult to experience anything with immediacy and emotion.

DURHAM: Throughout the book is the conspicuous absence of any clues as to what Abbott teaches. The university is what, a mile away?, and it may as well be on the other end of the world. For me as a reader, it underscored the sense that the world of Abbott’s household–him, his pregnant wife, and his daughter–is to him the only reality. Could you talk about the decision to leave out his discipline?

BACHELDER: Like so many writerly decisions, this was initially an instinctual decision that later held up to editorial scrutiny. I didn’t want Abbott to be a specialist. I didn’t want to evoke a raft of easy associations. If he’s explicitly an English Professor (a Romanticist, say), that brings with it certain assumptions, and those assumptions are not entirely relevant or resonant. What’s most important about Abbott is that he is an academic, an intellectual. What’s most important is that he lives primarily in his mind, and that he processes the world in a uniformly analytical and academic manner. He sees missing hubcaps and he thinks of Hawthorne. He goes to a pet store and thinks of evolutionary history. So what happens when the university is distant and the house becomes the world? Then you get a kind of relentless academic or critical thought about domestic matters, and this is a condition for comedy.

More broadly, it’s a condition for tonal angularity, tonal complexity. The style or manner of thought does not match the object of thought, and this mismatch is good for the fiction writer. It creates energy, friction at the very level of thought or utterance. There is a drama inherent in the how, not simply the what. I’m back to the idea of problem-solving. The problem is this: How do you write about baking banana bread? One way to do it is to adopt a cognitive or stylistic approach that is entirely inappropriate for the baking of banana bread. You write against your subject matter to create angle, tension, humor. And Abbott’s specific discipline is not important in generating this effect, and in fact may have been a distraction.

(Image plucked from The Believer.)

DURHAM: The book itself maintains grammatical precision, Abbott finds himself pondering “quirky lexical item[s],” he envisions himself “a father who, in the most gentle and loving and supportive way, corrects his children’s grammar,” and several chapters are named for the grammatical oddities found therein. How does grammatical precision fit into Abbott’s worldview?

BACHELDER: On one hand, it’s true that we think in language, so that precise thinking requires precise language use. Abbott values clear, careful, logical thinking. He’s a child of the Enlightenment. I’m sure he would say that our rationality is what makes us human. And yet he consistently demonstrates that this reliance on rationality can be pushed to ridiculous and self-defeating extremes. He clearly thinks too much. There’s a running gag in the book about Keats’s notion of negative capability, which he defined in a letter to his brothers: “that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Abbott has no negative capability – he is, above all else, an irritable reacher. That’s precisely what he is. Grammar and syntax, like logic, are systems. Abbott is uncomfortable with uncertainty; he is comfortable with systems, with notions of correctness and incorrectness. It is something he can control, manipulate. It is a refuge from the undeniable disorder and chaos of human existence. It’s his armor.

DURHAM: And yet his daughter is teaching him, right? Or at least, in tiny moments, he’s able to harvest her negative capability? I’m thinking of the scene in which Abbott’s daughter is dazzled by a man in a gorilla suit at the Barnes and Noble: “Abbott’s daughter stands with her fingers in her mouth, immobilized by ecstasy. She is a conductor. She conducts wonder. Wonder passes from the world to Abbott through his daughter.”

BACHELDER: Yes, wonder being, I suppose, a kind of suspended state, or a thoughtless state. It’s difficult to think your way to wonder. You feel wonder, you don’t think it. But Abbott can occasionally plug his imagination into his daughter and achieve a fleeting breakthrough. The book is full of paradoxes, and perhaps this is one of them, that Abbott can reason his way to the limits of reason. This is all very capital-R Romantic. “The child is the father of the man,” etc. When Wordsworth sees a rainbow, his heart leaps up; when Abbott sees one, his frontal lobe leaps up. But the very last thing I set out to do was write a book that is anti-reason, anti-logic–if you look around, you can see that what we need is a whole lot more reason and logic–or a book that is sentimental in its celebration of children’s purity or innocence or whatever.

DURHAM: As a reader who was really pulling for Abbott, pulling for those moments of Abbott outside himself, I was comforted each time I was informed that Abbott’s heady meditation on an event did not occur right then in the moment. It kinda made me suspect that the life best worth living is the one that is unexamined in the moment (while the gorilla is dancing) but then is examined later (in the office with coffee). Too bad that’s so tricky in practice.

BACHELDER: Right, there’s that refrain in the book about Abbott thinking his thoughts later, not now. That gives poor Abbott a break once in a while, and also helped me navigate issues of verisimilitude. Sometimes it’s just not very credible that a character, mid-episode, has deep thoughts. But I also like this formulation, this “later, now now.” Abbott is thinking / Abbott is not thinking. I like the way it fights itself, cancels itself, and I like the way it creates, as you suggest, two times, two Abbotts–the Abbott of the immediate moment, fortunate enough to have a quiet head, and the contemplative, anxious Abbott of later, irritably reaching for meaning and significance.

DURHAM: I was employed by you as a dogsitter for a week in the summer of 2009, and was pleased to suspect that Abbott’s dog was closely based on your own—especially your dog Jacob’s weird habit of hiding and shaking at the slightest thunder. Or rain. Or clouds. What’s his deal? Did you ever figure out what puppyhood trauma brought on such cowering?

BACHELDER: Dogs, like people, are all wired differently. My wife got Jacob when he was a puppy, and he never experienced cruelty or privation. He’s just a nervous dude. True story: his littermates were all born and everyone thought the mother dog was finished with the birth. But then Jacob came out an hour later. He wanted to stay in there. The world is terrifying, as Abbott knows well.

DURHAM: I’m tutoring kids in reading this year, so I’ve developed all these opinions about certain kids books and YA novels. For instance, I recommend Tru Confessions by Janet Tashijian, a clever novel-in-diary-entries, and Shoebag by Mary James, a reverse-“Metamorphosis” in which a cockroach turns into a kid. Which of your daughters’ books have you found to be surprisingly good? Or terrible? Or, as with Abbott’s reading of the original Curious George, surprisingly morally troubling?

BACHELDER: I recently read Pippi Longstocking to my daughters, and it was wonderful. I don’t know the history of the spunky, mischievous, independent girl protagonist in children’s books, but perhaps Pippi was among the first. Later there is Eloise and Ramona and Clementine and Lola – those are all pretty good. Those books have some wit, some attention to language and speech. I love Frog and Toad, and consider those books nearly magical in the way they can create feeling with such simple language. Stuart Little is weird and fantastic. All the Pooh books are terrific and so fun to read because Milne was so masterful with rhythm. We’ve begun the Narnia books, and I can’t wait for L’Engle, Dahl.

Most books, particularly the ones that are cranked out in huge series, are awful. I have developed a profound dislike of the Berenstain Bears, for instance. “‘That’s not fair!’ sister protested.” Those bears are always protesting. I can’t stand it. It’s all I can do to keep from critiquing the work as I’m reading it out loud. Especially atrocious are all these rhyming books in which the meter and rhythm are inconsistent and careless. It really does bother me – I want the cadences to be precise and elegant. The skill and the wit exist in the manipulation of form. It’s not just about rhyming cat and bat. But my kids are absolutely indiscriminate in their love of books–they adore wretched writing and dubious themes fully as much as they like fine, nuanced books–and I suppose that I shouldn’t complain. Shut up and read, Dad.

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Christopher Nolan Movies from Least Favorite to Favorite

Following

Batman Begins

The Prestige

Insomnia

Inception

Memento

The Dark Knight

Now you go.

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My Story “Another Village” and Sarah Norek’s “Pet” Reviewed by Matt Bell for Short Story Month

As part of Short Story Month, Matt Bell posted a pair of exciting essays on his blog. The first was on Sarah Norek’s story, “Pet,” which we got to publish in Keyhole 10. It’s a great reminder of what attracted me to “Pet” in the first place:

What’s most interesting about Norek’s descriptions of her characters—besides the sharp and surprising prose with which they’re rendered—is how full these moments are, in their pilings of close-ups and snapshot memories, given that the characters themselves are offered without proper names, which in another story might signal a more mythical or archetypal or otherwise purposely flat group of characters. Instead, Norek gives up her characters rather fully, lighting their portraits from mere inches away, revealing the movements of their mouths, the loud clangs of their hearts, the flutters of their hands so often unable to touch on their own, to close the closest gaps remaining[.]

Matt’s an on-record Norek fan, and in addition to this close look at her story, he’s just published a new story of hers in this month’s issue of The Collagist.

The second essay is on my own story, “Another Village,” which came out in the most recent issue of Mid-American Review. I won’t pluck a quote, but it’s easily the closest attention anyone’s given my fiction outside of the feedback-for-improvement model, and it means a lot to me that Matt would take the time.

And man, he’s writing on a lot of stories this month. Here are just a few more:

Read up.

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Chris Bachelder Interview at The Rumpus

I interviewed Chris Bachelder about his terrific new novel, Abbott Awaits, for The Rumpus.

There are a handful of great Bachelder interviews on the web, but I think this is the only one where he discusses this new book at length. Bachelder is the opposite of the cagey “I have nothing to say about my art” writer–he’s always game to talk craft and strategy.

If you haven’t picked up the new book yet, here are a couple of great reviews: in Paste (by Sean Gandert) and in Necessary Fiction (by Steve Himmer).

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“A Morning Routine” by Weike Wang @ SmokeLong Weekly

A couple of months ago, I was reading submissions for SmokeLong Weekly and I came upon a truly cinematic short story about a dude straight up murdering a bunch of thugs in a sauna. And you better believe wry things were said before our hero shot the last guy, the boss–oh yes, oh baby.

Then I chose a thoughtful quiet story about a young couple going to coffee: “A Morning Routine” by Weike Wang. Read it and then go watch Scarface and you’ll have all your pleasure bases covered for the morning.

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“All You First-Timers with Deadbeat Dads” Makes the 2011 Wigleaf Longlist

Wigleaf just put out its annual Top 50 stories list, selected by Lily Hoang, with online fiction by James Tad Adcox, Jensen Beach, Matt Bell, Ryan Call, Matthew Salesses, Roxane Gay, Amber Sparks, and many others.

These stories were culled from a longlist put together by Scott Garson and Ravi Mangla, which featured (along with the work of many friends) a Fun Camp short, All You First Timers with Deadbeat Dads.

Also,  my friend Jono once read this short at the Book Mill when I couldn’t be there. Maybe he also claimed to be me? It’d be a better story.

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Buzz the World

Hey, I wrote a post about Mike Young’s terrific Look! Look! Feathers story, “The World Doesn’t Smell Like You.”

It’s part of Matthew Simmons’ series on Mike’s stories. Here are a couple others:

Burk’s Nub

The Peaches Are Cheap

Fitting, too: It’s Short Story Month. NOÖ and Matt Bell and others are holding it down all May long.

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