Come vacation time later that year, Hood remembered the book, went to the stack and packed it for the trip. “I became obsessed with it,” Hood says. “Ended up re-reading it after I finished it, which never happens. We kind of became pen pals after that.”
When Hood played two nights of solo shows at the Star Theater in September 2012, Vlautin hung in the back with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, because a Patterson Hood show is a good place to hang out and drink. When advance copies of Vlautin’s upcoming novel The Free were available, one landed on Hood’s doorstep. This time, it didn’t sit in a stack. It was from the mail, to Hood’s hands, and then to his pen.
The Truckers had already finished recording their 12th album, but Hood knocked out one more song. “Pauline Hawkins” comes from the point of view of one of The Free’s three protagonists. Like the best of Vlautin’s characters (and Hood’s), she’s a decent person in an indecent situation. Her situation maybe isn’t as desperate at others in the book, but it’s as unrelenting. Her quiet grace in the face of that grind is part of what gives the novel its heart.
Hood took the song to the studio, and they cut it and mixed it in a day. It’s the fourth track on Drive-By Truckers' forthcoming album English Oceans, which will be out March 4. Hood is spending part of the winter here in Portland, and he'll play a January residency at the Doug Fir Lounge (January 8, 15, 22), with Vlautin opening the first of those shows.
Meanwhile, Vlautin's book The Free will be out on February 4, and Vlautin’s been in the studio working on a new Richmond Fontaine record. He’s also got a new band, the Delines, fronted by Texas singer Amy Boone. That album should be out late spring, and it’s full of 3 am honky-tonk soul tunes.
JUST STOP IT, CHERYL STRAYED OH MY GOD
While Strayed was among the Portland authors supporting their local bookstores on Saturday by pulling shifts at stores like Powell's, Broadway Books, and Green Bean*, Obama was supporting his local bookstore, Politics and Prose in Washington, by buying a long list of titles that include Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail. The film adaptation of Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and adapted by Nick Horby, is currently in production in Oregon.
Also on the list: E.L. Doctorow, Anthony Marra, David Epstein, Carson McCullers. The next time Obama wants to distract me from the fact that, oh, I dunno, the government is engaged in massive and illegal surveillance activities, he just needs to remind me that he once purchased Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Hey! It's working! Click through for some book-nerd president porn.
*I don't have a lot of need for kids' books in my day-to-day operations, but I love that Christmas shopping usually gives me an excuse to swing by Green Bean, possibly the best bookstore in Portland.
Tonight at Powell's, a few people involved with the book—author Jess Walter, writer/filmmaker/etc. Arthur Bradford, and editor Jordan Bass—will be reading. The book's highly recommended; I can't think of any reason why tonight's reading wouldn't be highly recommended as well. Scratch up $30, head over to Powell's, and go home with an excellent addition for your bookshelves.
The Best of McSweeney's, reading with Jess Walter, Arthur Bradford, and Jordan Bass Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, Tues Nov 26, 7:30 pm
(Reader Ryan Gratzer provided this writeup of tonight's Powell's reading from Chas Smith-ed.)
Each winter, the pro surfing world descends upon its Mecca. Known as the the Seven Mile Miracle, Oahu's North Shore is on the surface a pastoral stretch of tropical countryside—farms, '70s ranch houses falling into the ocean, only one beachfront resort—with some of the world's most pristine spinning tubes just off shore. The unforgiving waves are a proving ground for top pros and up-and-coming groms. Three contests, making up the Triple Crown of Surfing, are held back to back directly in front of surf industry-owned beachfront homes. But while the visiting surfers, sponsors, journalists, photographers, and Lindsay Lohans kick back on the sand with their mai tais, behind the scenes roams a local racketeering enforcement squad. Sure, it's true that Da Hui, once a feared band of thugs, is now a respected lifeguard/security service with a clothing brand that hangs perfectly next to your "Old Guys Rule" t-shirt collection. But stories of theft, drugs, and thuggery still ooze to the surface now and then.
Chas Smith, after being captured by Hezbollah while serving as a war correspondent for Vice, decided to bail on the Middle East and shift his attention to the surf world. Superficial, neurotic, and a bit of a loner, Smith (a native Oregonian) has a propensity for kicking up dirt and pissing people off. To him, every pro surfer is a terrible dresser with a beautiful body and a boring personality. In the homogenous, sponsor-friendly world of surf journalism, his unfiltered exposés in Stab Magazine have earned him the ire of nearly everyone. In his first book, Welcome to Paradise, Now Go To Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption, and the Soul of Surfing, he sheds light on the multibillion dollar industry that, for a few months out of the year, is beholden to a lawless goonsquad in the middle of paradise. Smith's frenetic, hyperbolic style can at times leave the reader wondering how much of the story is constructed by his desperation to unearth a seedy, corrupt underbelly. But the rest of the time it simply makes for entertaining, refreshing reading.
He'll read from his book tonight at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, 7:30 pm.
Gape at lots more sweaty fun with Masonite Burn's shots from last weekend's roller derby bouts at the Oaks Park Hangar. They are stellar, as always. Hit the jump for some brief recaps of the battles between Portland's Heartless Heathers and Bend's Smokin' Ashes, and a double header between all four of Portland's Rose City Rollers junior derby home teams. (Or, you know look at fictional roller derby from the 1970s, that's fun too. Different, but fun. Here.)
PLUS! There's a few roller derby events shakin' out this weekend. Those Heathers, who so soundly smoked the Bend gals last Friday, are hosting a wine-release party for a special Rose City Rollers-themed cabernet franc from Leah Jørgensen Cellars called "Flat Track." They promise live music, fire dancing, non-fire dancing, specialty cocktails, wine guzzling (AKA tasting), and food carts. Sounds fun. Wear party pants. Tonight, Coava (1300 SE Grand), 8 pm-1:30 am, $5 ($8 w/wine tasting)
Sunday, you can head over to the Mount Scott Community Center Skating Rink (a place that Steve calls the Wild West of Roller Rinks) for the book launch party for Roller Derby for Beginners. This sounds like the most fun book signing ever... because it has free roller-skating! Written by retired roller derby player Frisky Sour, this succinct and helpful guide to dipping your toes into the bruise-covered sport of derby is a delightful read—humorous, thoughtful, and encouraging. Bring money for a copy of the Kickstarter-funded book ($15), because the skating is free, and the door prizes are numerous. Book launch and signing, Mount Scott Community Center (5530 SE 72nd), Sunday, 6-8 pm, free
Talk of holiday book shopping begs a question. Asking it makes me feel like a bad person. But here goes: Do books make good Christmas presents? For me, at least, they don't, despite the fact that everyone in my family will be receiving one from me this year, as they do every year. (Sorry family! I love you!) I like the idea of my holiday spending money going to support local bookstores and local authors, but I don't particularly like receiving books as gifts; the to-read pile on my nightstand is perilously tall as it is, and the last thing I need is one more book to feel guilty about not reading. (This might be a side effect of books being part of my day job? I'm not sure sure.) But then again, if you're going to give someone a gift they don't particularly need or want (tis the season), it might as well at least be something that's meaningful to you, right? I guess? All I know is that my brother-in-law gave me a copy of Merle's Door like four years ago and I haven't still read it.
On the other hand, though, you really couldn't go wrong with Cheryl Strayed'sWild for moms last year. And I can't imagine anyone not being excited to get a copy of the The Most of Nora Ephron this year—as I wrote in my holiday wish list, it's an amazing collection of screenplays, fiction, and essays. Even I'd be excited to get it.
It's a great article, but there's one Portland chef missing from the lineup: Andy Ricker's Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand hit the streets last month, and it's by all accounts a detailed, richly photographed cookbook, full of tips on preparing the Northern Thai dishes beloved by diners at Pok Pok (yep, the fish sauce wings are in there).
Since I assume everyone else is in the same oh-shit-it's-almost-December-and-I'm-broke mode that I am, I feel compelled to point out that any of these cookbooks would make an affordable gift for family members who love to cook and/or think it's cute that you live in Portland. (I can personally vouch for the Toro Bravo cookbook; it's dauntingly detailed, but that's because it works.)
Ricker is reading from the book at Powell's on Burnside tonight at 7:30 pm.
1. "Selfie" is the word of the year, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED's earliest documented selfie was mentioned in an online forum in 2002.
2002 ABC Online (forum posting) 13 Sept.
“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
2. This morning, Megan Garber at The Atlantic notes that linguists have acknowledged a new use for the word "because," which they are calling "the 'prepositional-because.' Or the 'because-noun.'" (Example: These people are protesting President Obama because racism.) It's a shorthand way of explaining the cause of something, often used for humorous effect. This is a common formulation on the internet—I've used it a few times myself—and, yes, it does feel faddish. But, then, fads help English feel alive.
3. But because I'm human, some internet constructions do drive me batty. "All the feels," for instance, drives me up a fucking wall. Why not explain the feelings you're feeling? When you talk about "feels," you're sacrificing clarity for the sake of a used-up internet joke. And I think "I CAN'T EVEN." teetered over into cliche territory a year or so ago. But the thing that drives me batty is when people say "This" as a way of saying "I endorse this message," sometimes magnified as "So much this." It's usually used on social media, where you can already signify your endorsement of the comment by favoriting, or retweeting, or liking, or upvoting. It adds absolutely nothing to a conversation except additional static. When these constructions boost the creativity and clarity of a statement, I appreciate them. When they can be used as a fill-in-the-blank response to a situation, I tend to hate them. But they're going to keep going, no matter what, because English.
I am not sure if this idea is stupid or brilliant, but at the moment I'm loving it.
Stride and Prejudice is a side-scrolling iOS running game in which you jump between phrases of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice (get it?). So you're reading, and playing a game, and the music's fun, and the little sprite of Elizabeth Bennet is really cute. You can adjust your speed and save your place. I've only played through the first chapter so far, but honestly, it isn't a bad way to read a book! It's not the best way to read a book either, but you will read 100 percent more books playing this game than trying to get high scores in Plants vs. Zombies 2.
I'm hoping they come out with more public-domain literature side-scrollers, because I've been meaning to read War & Peace for about a decade.
Thanks for the tip Brian!
There are not enough exclamation points in all the computers in all the land to punctuate the effect of a small child reading new poetry by Zachary Schomburg over some growling ambient music to a room full of Portland's literary finest.
The kid, Hamza Akalin, was one of the night's many "models" of new poetry. In case you missed my preview, I'll fill you in on the concept: Five Portland poets, taking cues from the fashion world's various Fashion Week events, present new, unpublished poetry to an audience of publishers, editors, agents, and journalists via a crew of readers and performers who are not the poets themselves.
Sounds dubious! I questioned it; I wrestled all day with how weird it was going to be. As one of those journalists, I was assigned a seat near the action, and couldn't tell how tongue-in-cheek it was, or how much of the show was going to include the industry people.
As it happened, Liz Mehl and Justin Rigamonti's first Portland Poetry Press Week came together beautifully. The Literary Arts space downtown felt busy but not cramped; the beer was cheap; the poetry was fantastic, varied, and stunningly performed; and Instagramming was encouraged.
WARNING: Kinda blurry Instagram photos contained in this post!
If you're not familiar with Rookie, the online magazine for girls that Gevinson founded at age 15, read their interview with Judy Blume, and then read their fan-fucking-tasting interview with Morrissey. (There's plenty of non-interview content on the site—advice, personal essays, features like "Ask a Grown Woman"—but the interviews definitely have the broadest appeal.)
And if you're not familiar with Tavi, read this blog post she wrote back in April; it really captures why I think she's so great. Old people like to handwring about how back in the day we had to download Mountain Goats bootlegs off of LimeWire and it took 45 minutes per song and kids these days don't know what it means to really work for things, but the way that Tavi and Rookie synthesize influences new and old strikes me as a best-case scenario for kids raised on instant access to everything.
Rookie just released their second print collection, Rookie Yearbook Two. Gevinson will be reading at Q Center (4115 N Mississippi) tonight at 7 pm; there will be music and other festivities. The whole shebang is sponsored by Reading Frenzy, which recently opened a new space at 3628 N Mississippi.
In the paper this week, as a nice complement to Marjorie's article about the HUMP! film fest, we ran some sex-themed excerpts from Kevin Sampsell's new novel This Is Between Us, which comes out on Tuesday from Tin House Books.
Bonus: Art from Kurt McRobert, which has been transformed into sexy animated gifs for your digital viewing pleasure. (Print is so dead.) NSFW? Maybe? I don't know what things are like in your boring office. Anyway, go read it.
Kevin will be reading from the book next Friday, Nov 15, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, 7:30 pm.
People who say Literary Arts is old-fashioned, stuffy, and elitist are about to get taken down a notch. Or maybe they're about to be given more firepower. It's hard to tell, honestly, because at 7pm tonight at Literary Arts, Portland Poetry Press Week kicks off. Five local poets will present new poetry via reader "models," to an audience of industry professionals, journalists, and literary tastemakers.
If it sounds suspiciously like high fashion, that's by design (haha). Literary Arts says the event "will borrow from the fashion industry’s biannual showcase, Fashion Week." It's unprecedented, as far as I know, to present poetry like this: through a conduit other than the poet, to an audience of agents and publishers that seems to make readers and listeners secondary.
The poets are decidedly not stuffy, elitist, or old-fashioned. Matthew Dickman, Carl Adamshick, Britta Ameel, Zachary Schomburg, and Ashley Toliver are some of the top young poets in Portland. The readers who will be "modeling" their work haven't been announced, but that's part of the mysterious fun of this show. You have to start imagining a world where celebrities recite poetry on red carpets and frothing paparazzi ask, "Who are you reading?"
I asked Matthew Dickman for a preview of his new Winter '14 line of poetry. Since neither of us are really versed in discussing poetry in fashion terms, it got a little weird: "Um... my pieces are a mix of "obsessive list" poems that have come out of therapy and some 'Event Scores' which are pieces written to be performed by dancers, performers, and regular people."
Hey, that sounds fun! (And actually, providing Event Scores rather than easily publishable material seems like a great way to subvert the strangely commercial tone of the event.) Although, I think you're supposed to have like a muse or something in the fashion world. I guess Dickman's is his therapist.
As I understand it, there will be standing room for an audience of readers and listeners, but they do seem secondary to the industry. Or maybe Literary Arts is trying to make the industry a part of the show. It's unclear how well situated Literary Arts' tongue is in its cheek. I'll be there as the Mercury's representative in the press area to find out. Check back here tomorrow for a full report.
It promises to be an interesting night, so if you want to stand around and watch people read other people's poetry to people who might buy that poetry and later sell it to you, hit up Literary Arts tonight at 7 pm. It's free!
Thinking geeks, put on your costumes* and get your drinking hand ready, because tonight's OMSI Science Pub is AWESOME. Brian Attebery will give a lecture called "The Brain, The Self, and Metaphor." Attebery is editor of The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts and author or editor of numerous scholarly books on sci-fi, fantasy, and mythology, and he lists clockwork men, "swollen superbrains," and cyborgs as touchstones for the lecture.
OMSI Science Pub is like a tipsy TED Talk, open to ages 21+ at The Hollywood Theatre. It's at 7pm, so you won't feel bad about drinking and eating during it. The theater always keeps good beer pouring, and of course you can grab a slice from the Atomic Pizza Pie Hole in The Hollywood lobby.
Attebery's talk should be interesting, as it's not often that we get to see a scholarly lecture on the tropes of very current science fiction. Attebery also worked on the Norton Anthology of Science Fiction, which was co-edited by local literary sci-fi/fantasy hero Ursula K. Le Guin. So literary paparazzi should be keep their eyes peeled...
*Nobody involved with OMSI, Attebery, or The Hollywood Theater has implied you should wear a costume. I just think you should do you, dude.
I know that people who read the paper in print don't necessarily read the blog, so who knows if this will be helpful, but the thought of sad little Allie Brosh fans missing the reading is just tugging at the ol' hearstrings! We do what we can.
I wrote about Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half in the books section this week: It's one of the better blog-to-print collections I've seen. She's great!
Powell's has a packed calendar this week:
Tonight, reading at the Hawthorne store, Tin House author/Portlander Cari Luna, who wrote the great The Revolution of Every Day, about the residence of squat in New York City in the mid-'90s. Immediately after finishing my review of the book, I read Denis' great feature about spending a weekend at the Right to Dream Too homeless rest area; both, I think, are about people trying to find a measure of community and security in a world that doesn't always make it easy.
Tomorrow at the downtown store, it's a spotlight on the 2013 Best American Essays collection, which was edited by Portlander Cheryl Strayed and features essays from Portlanders Kevin Sampsell, Brian Doyle, and Vanessa Veselka. They're all on the bill at tomorrow's reading.
On Friday, Oregon author Matt Love is at the downtown store, reading from his newest book Of Walking in Rain. Love is a Newport-based writer who writes often about the beach; he's our most enthusiastic champion of Oregon's publicly owned beaches. I always get a kick out of his stuff.
And on Saturday, Hyperbole and a Half creator Allie Brosh is at the downtown store. She's just released a print collection of her popular web-comic—I was reading on the bus over the weekend, and two people stopped me to tell me how much they love her. That never happens! Expect this reading to be well attended.
For more info on those readings, the internet is here for you.
And no, nerds, it wasn't about Star Wars. Settle down.
What books and authors have your three children introduced you to?
Like most bipedal parents, we all discovered Harry Potter together, reading the books aloud to our kids. But one of my favorite children’s authors was introduced to us by our youngest son. When he was in kindergarten he brought home some books by Mo Willems, who has one of the most remarkable comedic voices I’ve ever read. His sense of humanity—of heart and generosity—is staggering. I was so blown away, I got his number from his agent and called him. I was essentially a sycophant, expressing what a deep fan of his I am, how I would love to work together one day. He was quiet on the phone, almost monosyllabic, disinterested. Frankly it was a bit of an odd reaction. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered that I had, in error, called Mo Williams of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Via the New York Times. The whole interview is worth a read.
Jon Mooallem's Wild Ones is my favorite book of the year so far. An investigation of the current and historical relationship between humans and wild animals, it's full of enlightening and beautifully told stories about conservationists and polar bears and the migratory patterns of cranes, all underpinned by Mooallem's worry about what the world he's raising his daughter into will look like. I'm a little smushy about this book; it made me feel a little bit better about everything being terrible.*
Local band Black Prairie recorded a "soundtrack" to Moollem's book; and because that wasn't enough good things in one package, Roman Mars, host of the excellent podcast 99% Invisible, liked the book so much that he violated the "one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible" (which is that they typically deal with the built world, not the natural world) to feature Wild Ones on the show. How's that for an endorsement? Here's Mooallem reading excerpts from Wild Ones, set to Black Prairie's soundtrack:
*A MEMBER OF NEWS TEAM WHO WILL REMAIN NAMELESS BUT IT WASN'T DENIS found it boring.
If you relish the sometimes-unwieldy experience of locking your bike to a book-shaped bike rack, maybe get your kicks while you can.
Powell's City of Books has unveiled a number of proposed upgrades to its storefront, including the removal of the large thematic art rack under the Powell's awning at W Burnside and 10th. The green rack is tough to park at, but, you know, shaped like books. It was a nice touch, if a bit impractical.
As first reported by the blog Bike Portland, the proposals don't mean the store's taking away net bike parking. Powell's hopes to do away with two parking spots on NW 10th, expand the sidewalk, and put in nine new city-provided bike staples. Check it out:
While there's apparently some nostalgia attached to the book rack, this change actually strikes me as a huge positive. It's another business embracing the notion that downtown's finite parking spaces aren't sacrosanct—that in fact commerce is better served by bike parking. Powell's of course, already has an on-street bike corral on its northwest corner.
Yes, the new parking won't be covered, but if you ride a bike in Portland you're more-than prepared for that. Or you should be.
The debut novel from Veronica Roth, Divergent imagines a future after a generic great war. The only way to restore peace is to divide humanity up into 5 Death Frats named after SAT words. People join them by having only one personality trait: brave people join Dauntless where they jump off trains and punch each other. Smart people join Erudite where they... wear glasses. Amish people join Abnegation where they don't eat hamburgers. And the other two are both Hufflepuff.
In the EXTREMELY RARE situation where somebody has two personality traits ("I have glasses AND I'm a vegetarian!" -or- "I play baseball AND football.") they are "divergent" (a Latin word meaning "too cool for school." Bo knows divergence.)
"But wait," you say. "How do they figure out which frat to join?" I'm glad you asked. Pledge week in Dystopian Chicago consists of a hallucination where you have to choose between a knife and cheese with no other instructions. Then a dog attacks you. If you choose the knife, you are Dauntless. If you choose the cheese, you're not. Isn't that cool? That's all it takes to determine your whole future. You either want a knife or you want cheese, and that decision confines you to a single Death Frat for the rest of your life. What if I'm not selfless, I'm just lactose intolerant? SHUT UP YOU'RE DIVERGENT.
Eventually the smart people use the brave people to kill the Amish people (because REASONS!) and only a teenage girl with two different interests can save them all. With her boyfriend. And something about a hard drive that controls humanity (presumably connecting via USB 27.0).
It doesn't make much sense, but I can't wait for the movie for one reason: in the book, there's a zip line from the top of John Hancock tower.
Her strip "Depression Part Two," posted earlier this year after a long hiatus, kept popping up over and over again, usually shared with some variation on "THIS" or "this is what depression feels like."
The Bend, Oregon-based cartoonist is releasing a collection of her comics and writing later this month, and she'll be reading at signing at the downtown Powell's store on Saturday, November 2 at 4 pm.
It was the first of what's projected to be a twice-yearly event, and I'd call it a qualified success. Here are some thoughts, and some unsolicited ideas for next time:
• The weather was rainy and not particularly conducive to wandering the streets, but attendance was really strong. Every venue I stopped into was reasonably full; some were packed. There's clearly an audience for an event like this.
• Some venues accommodated readings better than others, and some were downright bad. You can't beat the Eagles Lodge—for anything—but Sewick's just kinda plopped a microphone in the middle of a room, lighting and sightlines be damned. BOG was probably great if you had a seat, but it was too crowded to even see when I walked in.
• Everything stayed on schedule. People read where they were supposed to, when they said they were going to read. It sounds basic, but plenty of events can't pull it off. I was impressed.
• The literary community needs to talk to the performance community. Because you know what the performance community knows how to do that the literary community, by and large, does not? Talk into a microphone. Speak comfortably in front of a room full of people. Emcee an event in an entertaining way. Produce an event—yeah, I'm talking about lights and sightlines again. Talk to each other. Talk to each other. You all live here. You're all making shit. Talk to each other.
• I like books. I don't like readings. In general, I am pretty much not interested in hearing someone read me a chunk of a novel that I could just as easily read myself. Poetry—particularly funny poetry—went over great last night, because listening to poetry is actually a great way to experience poetry. It is not a great way to experience most novels. I loved Martha Grover's reading at Sewick's—she read the entirety of an essay about having a brief fling with a man that she wasn't attracted to, in order to make herself feel better about being rejected by her ex. It was funny, personal, weird, and honest. It was great. And because it was an essay designed to be consumed in one gulp, it was completely satisfying. You don't get that when someone reads from a novel; you get "...and I'll stop here." I go to readings fairly often, even though I don't like them, because books are incredibly important to me, and I want to participate in the literary culture of my city. There were a few moments last night when the readings didn't feel like an obligation, like paying my literacy tax; there were a few moments where they did. I'd like to see the festival explore more ways of celebrating literary culture—and involving authors—beyond just straightforward readings, whether that be with trivia, storytelling, themed venues, or whatever other ideas smarter and more creative people than myself can come up with.
I also asked Merc freelancers Jacob Schraer and Thomas Ross to weigh in wtih their thoughts on the event:
Fun experience over all. Some of the venues were more hospitable then others, in terms of layout and general atmosphere, but that was my only complaint. Fun readings, good crowds, schedules stuck to.
The Tin House reading was good, but Bar of the Gods was loud. For whatever reason, people quieted down better for prose than poetry, which seems weird. Veselka especially had the whole bar pretty silent.
The Eagles lodge was awesome, terrible pickled eggs, 50¢ popcorn and all.
Here are two awesome lines from the James Gendron reading. He read a long new piece about witches:
"On top of the mountain, the air is so thin all the blood is blue. The blood is so blue it is invited into the sky."
"Satan runs a hand through his hair. All Satan's hair is pubic."
It's okay if you missed LitHop PDX, because it'll be back in the spring—and there are plenty of other great Wordstock events this week.
This week, the New York Times Magazine printed an excerpt from Dave Eggers' new novel The Circle, a novel I recently gave up on. The Times excerpt is taken from the beginning of the book, which gave me pause on the first page for how clumsily the setting is established. (Look for it.) The Circle is set on a satirized, Google-like campus in California, and it's about a company that has established complete dominance over the web and is avidly working to erode lingering, retrograde notions of privacy. In a slightly embarrassing flight of hyperbole, the Wall Street Journal called it "a Jungle for our own times, a vivid, roaring dissent to the companies that have coaxed us to disgorge every thought and action onto the Web." (It is like these reviewers have literally never thought about the internet before.)
But I've had my fill of handwringing novels about the near-future—not because I can't bear to hear Facebook criticized, but because I don't like feeling talked down to by writers who act as though their own rejection of social media qualifies them to lecture the rest of us. I want to read a book about how technology is destroying our humanity that's written by someone who actually understands technology. You know: Like Upton Sinclair actually understood the meatpacking industry. (Where's Ellen Ullman at?)
I probably should've stuck with the book—it's one of those Important Novels Everyone Will Be Talking About—but even more than the subject matter, I found the writing distractingly clumsy, and there's a lotta books in the sea, you know? Like Best American Essays 2013, which comes out this week, edited by Portland's own Cheryl Strayed, and featuring essays from Portlanders like Brian Doyle, Kevin Sampsell, and Vanessa Veselka, alongside Zadie Smith and Alice Munro and those sorts of names. Or all the book recommendations I got yesterday on my dystopian portal of choice.
I wrote about it a few days ago, but just a reminder that the Wordstock literary festival kicks off tonight with the super fun-sounding LitHop PDX, a bookish bar crawl at the east end of Hawthorne, with venues curated by folks like Tin House, the If Not For Kidnap poetry series, and the great Bay Area-based performance series Sister Spit.
It's the first of a whole bunch of promising events Wordstock has lined up for the next few days. I'm particularly keen on the Entertainment for People lineup on Friday (Beth Lisick! Alissa Nutting!), and anyone interested in songwriting should definitely check out the show on the Mission on Friday, with Rick Moody, Jolie Holland, and Tanya Donelly (of Belly/the Breeders/Throwing Muses).
Here's a list that a really nice Mercury writer made for you. Also, in my coverage this week I somehow forgot to mention that Nicholson Baker will be at the festival this year, so... He will! I'll have some panel picks for you for the weekend's book fair later in the week.
LitHop PDX—With three hours, six venues, and more than 50 readers, Portland’s first literary pub crawl takes over SE Hawthorne for a night of boozy readings curated by Tin House, San Francisco performance series Sister Spit, and others. Wed Oct 2, various locations on SE Hawthorne between 42nd & 50th, see lithoppdx.com for more details.
Fest Opener—When Oprah relaunched her book club in digital form, she chose local author Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild as her first selection. Tonight, Strayed joins Ayana Mathis, author of Oprah’s second pick, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, for a conversation moderated by Live Wire’s Courtenay Hameister. Thurs Oct 3, Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan, 7:30 pm, $25-30 (includes signed copies of both books)
Entertainment for People—A Wordstock-themed edition of the popular variety show, featuring Beth Lisick, Derrick Brown, and Alissa Nutting, plus music from Fogatron. Fri Oct 4, Blue Monk, 3341 SE Belmont, 7 pm, $6, entertainmentforpeople.com
IPRC Text Ball—A Wordstock tradition now in its eighth year, the Independent Publishing Resource Center’s annual Text Ball promises a costume contest, a dirty limerick challenge, giant crossword puzzles, and of course, the chance to mingle with like-minded literary folk. This year’s theme: Literary Devices! Fri Oct 4, IPRC, 1001 SE Division, 7-11 pm, $20
Wordstock Rocks Songcraft—As part of Wordstock’s exploration of songwriting, Jackpot’s Larry Crane hosts an evening of performance and discussion with Tanya Donelly, Michael Hearst, Jolie Holland, and Rick Moody. Fri Oct 4, Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan, 8:30 pm, $15-20
Live Wire!—TC Boyle, AM Homes, and others crash Portland’s favorite radio show, for a live Wordstock-themed taping. Sat Oct 5, Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta, 7:30 pm, $20-35, all ages
In his announcement of this year's Thurber Prize winner, The Washington Post's Ron Charles buries the lede:
The Thurber Prize began in 1996 and calls itself “the nation’s highest recognition of the art of humor writing.”
Previous winners of the prize include David Sedaris, Christopher Buckley and Calvin Trillin. No woman has even been named a winner of the Thurber Prize, though women have been finalists, and women may have been included in winning organizations such as the Onion and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Oooh, ooh, I can hear the trolls now: "So what's the big deal? Maybe no woman has written anything worthy of the highest recognition of humor in the last seventeen years, is all." And let me respond to the trolls: Fuck you. You can't scientifically prove that one hilarious piece of writing is somehow more worthy of an award than another hilarious piece of writing. You can only offer your opinion. And the judges of the Thurber Prize, since 1996, have had the opinion that no woman is worthy of winning the Thurber Prize. That's more than a little lapse in political correctness. That's an injustice. You can see a full list of Thurber Prize winners here. They certainly do have a "type," don't they?
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