Monday, May 30, 2005

Events for the Week

Special Note:
Not exactly a writer event, but still rating very high on the cool list is Movie Dearest: Baltimore Pride Film Festival. Billed as "a celebration of the rich history of queer cinema – old, new, narrative, documentary, campy, cutting edge – stories from the boundaries. Baltimore Pride, famous for their weekend Pride parade and festival in Druid Hill park partners with Creative Alliance, presenters of Charm City Kitty Club and local films of all sorts, for a new annual celebration of queer cinema. Running June 1-3.

30 Monday

7 P.M. Young adult author Tamora Pierce , author of Trickster's Queen and the quartets "The Protector of the Small" and "The Immortals," reads from and signs her work at Final Draft Books, 192 North 21st St., Purcellville, Va., 540-338-8238.

7 P.M. Spoken Heard Mondays Open mic poetry surrounded by acid jazz, neo-soul, and hip hop. Local and national artists featured weekly. Club 347 347 N. Calvert St. 347 Baltimore. EVENT PHONE: 410-547-1045

8 P.M. Slamicide Poetry Slam is the competitive art of performance poetry. It was established in the mid-80s by Marc Kelly Smith, a then construction worker, as a means to heighten public interest in poetry readings. Since then, slam has evolved into an international art form emphasizing audience involvement and poetic excellence. Slamicide begins at 8:00pm SHARP!! Get there early (like 7:30pm even)! The show WILL go on without you! Price: $5.00 Event phone: 410.889.7076

31 Tuesday

12 Noon The citywide festival commemorating the 150th anniversary of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass , "D.C. Celebrates Whitman , " winds up Tuesday, May 31 (Whitman's 186th birthday), with a noon reading of verse from the landmark collection by Robert Aubry Davis at the Library of Congress, James Madison Bldg., Pickford Theater, 202-707-1308.

1 Wednesday

1 P.M. Robert Littell reads from and signs his new espionage thriller, Legends , at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 202-737-5553. He will also read that evening at 7 p.m. at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 202-638-7610.

6:30 P.M. Beverly Jenkins signs her new historical romance, Something Like Love , at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

7 P.M. Kim Schraf, Dan Vera and Craig Wallace read from their work as part of the Brookland Poetry Series #18, "Dog Days II," at the Brookland Visitors Center, 3420 Ninth St. NE. For details, call 202-526-1632

7:30 P.M. Alex Klaits and Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits. International aid workers/authors Alex Klaits and Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits read from their book Love and War in Afghanistan. Red Emma's 800 St. Paul St. Baltimore EVENT PHONE: 410-230-0450

2 Thursday

7 P.M. Gigi Anders discusses and signs her new memoir, Jubana!: The Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures of a Jewish Cubana Princess , at Borders-White Flint, 11301 Rockville Pike, 301-816-1067. She will also read on Friday, June 3, at 7 p.m. at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 202-638-7610.

7 P.M. Scott Simon , correspondent and host of "Weekend Edition Saturday" for NPR, reads from and signs his new novel, Pretty Birds , at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227. He will also read on Saturday, June 4, at 6 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 202-364-1919.

7:30 P.M. Denise Hamilton reads from and signs her new Eve Diamond mystery, Savage Garden , at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike, 703-998-0404.

7:30 P.M. Journalist Jim Lehrer , host of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, reads from and signs his new novel, The Franklin Affair , at Politics and Prose, 202-364-1919.

3 Friday

7 P.M. Matt Bondurant reads from and signs his new novel, The Third Translation , at Barnes & Noble-Fairfax, 12193 Fair Lakes Promenade Dr., 703-278-0300.

7:30 P.M. Northern Virginia Writers hosts a discussion, "Using Language to Create an Emotional Landscape," with Joyce Hackett , author of the novel Disturbance of the Inner Ear , on Friday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va. For details, call 301-654-8664 or e-mail .

4 Saturday

12 Noon. Open House at the Writer's Center.
Meet workshop leaders, staff and Board members at our June Open House. We'll have door prizes, including a free workksop, free membership and a subscription to Poet Lore, the Writer's Center's literary journal. We will also have demonstrations to show new features on our recently-revamped website. Light refreshments. Free admission.

Friday, May 27, 2005


I filled up my journal last night, which is always an interesting time. It usually forces me to flip back through the pages of the last few months and kind of re-live the major points, both high and low, and reflect a little on possible future events.

My first entry in the November 1...details a number of places I sent stories to. Kind of reminder to me that I need to send out some gracious but questioning emails to some editors asking what the status is. I think I hit kind of mid-cycle on all the various publications. They all released new issues shortly at the start of the year, and my hope is they'll consider the pieces I sent for the next round. If not, though, I'd like to know. In the meantime, I need to shop for a new journal. I don't know why, but it always feels like a big decision to me. Do i spend the money and get a really nice, leatherbound notebook? Or do I go cheap, and just use one of the Mead Compostion Notebooks I have tucked away in my desk at home?

Still working up a review of sorts for the new issue of Tin House. I have mixed feelings about it overall, so it's been hard to create a cohesive review. I should have it up tomorrow or Sunday, though.

Happy weekend to everyone.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Mother of Sorrows

Last night I went to the Richard McCann reading for his new novel, Mother of Sorrows, at Lambda Rising in the Dupont Circle section of downtown D.C.

If you're not familiar with Lambda Rising, it's a bookstore geared towards the Gay community in D.C. It was a lot of fun just browsing around the store beforehand. Erotica titles for both gay and straight readers and art books with nudes on the cover are not only prominent there, but turned face out. A high number of authors like Kathy Acker, Samuel Delany and Gertrude Stein who can be hard to find in a regular bookstore have a number of titles stocked there. A nice difference from the everyday B & N I normally do my browsing in.

McCann started his reading by explaining his book. He grew up in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and left for a number of years when he hit adulthood. After returning to the area, he started using D.C. as a source of prime material for essays and stories. This material, which focuses on the D.C. suburbs of the 1950's, developed over the years into his novel.

One of his main goals was to create a suburb novel that works against the typical mode--meaning he set out to write them without irony and without presenting them as a lifeless limbo caught between the big city and the small town. He also admitted that much of the book--the characters, the basic events--is autobiographical. He explained that his writing always starts as non-fiction investigations into his ideas, obsessions and life and that he'll fictionalize the details as he goes for artistic reason and for clarity (his family, for example, is larger than the one presented in the book).

The two sections he read centered around Maria Dolores, the character based on McCann's own mother. Based solely on the small sections he read last night, the high praise he's received is well earned. The physical descriptions, the language, the details are all quite beautiful, but also worked well to define the character of the mother and bring her to life. Although a pretty serious book tackling tough subjects like family, sexuality, gender roles, and more McCann paints in nice strokes of humor. McCann's also an excellent reader of his own material, a skilll not every writer, myself included, possesses.

Although it will be a little while before I get to it, the reading inspired me to buy his book. Which, I suppose, is the whole point for him doing it and the whole point for my going.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Moore Eno

Here's a pretty interesting if somewhat odd interview of Brian Eno conducted by author Alan Moore (best known for comic books like The Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and most recently The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

Maybe I'm a bit alone in this, but I've always been a bit of an Eno fan. Not all of his work excites me, but he has some great stuff out there.

My favorite quote:

Well, I just... actually, just finished a new album which is all songs, funnily enough... the first one I've done like that for a very long time. Twenty five years or so. Song writing is now actually the most difficult challenge in music. It's very easy to make music now. I just bought a synthesiser the other day... a plug-in synthesiser... the sounds are so complex that you can just sort of hold a note down and you've got an ambient album... y'know, as long as you can be bothered to keep your finger down for thirty five minutes. [general laughter].

There's also some good links to other info. The info on Oblique Strategies, a set of cards he created with painter Peter Schmidt to help stoke his creative fires, is interesting for all creative types.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Events for the Week

23 Monday

7:30 P.M. Richard McCann , co-director of the creative writing program at American University, reads from and signs his new novel, Mother of Sorrows, at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike, 703-998-0404.

24 Tuesday

7 P.M. Amitav Ghosh reads from and signs his new novel, The Hungry Tide, at Politics and Prose, 202-364-1919.

7:30 P.M. Richard McCann , co-director of the creative writing program at American University, reads from and signs his new novel, Mother of Sorrows, at Lambda Rising, 1625 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-462-6969.

25 Wednesday

12 Noon Dorothea Benton Frank signs the fifth novel in her Lowcountry Tales, Pawley's Island, at Borders-Downtown, 18th and L Sts. NW, 202-466-4999.

12:30 P.M. "DC Celebrates Whitman: 150 Years of Leaves of Grass": Luncheon and Poetry Reading featuring David McAleavey, Clarinda Harriss, Linda Joy Burke, and Robert R. Giron. A tribute to Whitman's living legacy. Authors featured in The Whitman Issue of Beltway: A Poetry Quarterly read from Whitman and their own work. Hosted by Mark Ohnmacht. Sponsored by The Arts Club of Washington. Wednesday, May 25, 2005 at 12:30 to 2:30 pm $15 Admission cost includes lunch. The Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I St. NW, Foggy Bottom neighborhood, DC. (202) 331-7282. Further info available at Washington Art.

5:30 P.M. New Yorker magazine writer Adam Gopnik discusses and signs his recent anthology, Americans in Paris, at the National Archives, William G. McGowan Theater, 202-501-5000.

7 P.M. Martin Dickinson, Nan Fry and Martin Galvin read from their poetry at the Kensington Row Bookshop, 3786 Howard Ave., Kensington, Md., 301-949-9416. An open reading follows.

7 P.M. D.C. Poets Against the War is sponsoring a reading with poets Baron Wormser , author of Carthage , and Pamela Uschuk , author of Scattered Risks, at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 202-737-5553.

26 Thursday

11:30 A.M. Judith Farr , author of The Passion of Emily Dickinson and The Gardens of Emily Dickinson (written with Louise Carter) presents a lecture, "Spring in Emily Dickinson's Real & Poetic Gardens," at the Woman's National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Ave. NW. This English-Speaking Union event begins with a reception, followed by a lunch at 12:30 p.m. and lecture at 1 p.m. Tickets are $25; to RSVP, call 202-234-4602.

8 P.M. Archie the Messenger: A poetic sit. Bring a poem and your drum. Notre Maison, 18 West 25th Street, Baltimore. 410-235-4773

27 Friday

6:30 P.M. Daaimah S. Poole signs her new novel, What's Real, at Karibu Books, Iverson Mall, 3817 Branch Ave., Hillcrest Heights, Md., 301-899-3730.

28 Saturday

2 P.M. Connie Briscoe signs her new novel, Can't Get Enough (the follow-up to P.G. County ) at Borders-Silver Spring, 8518 Fenton St., 301-585-0550.

29 Sunday

7:30 P.M. The Smokin' Word Revolution. A closed mic set featuring spoken-word poetry hosted by E the poet-emcee. Sylvan Beach Cafe, 7 W. Preston St, Baltimore. 410-685-5752.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Dali in Philly

This past week Miss L and I ventured north to Philly to take in the Salvador Dali retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you've never been there, the museum's located in one of the nicer spots of downtown Philly. Sitting on what's essentially a large traffic circle, it's surrounded by gardens and paved pathways. On a day like the when we were there--lower 70's and sunny--the paths were filled with smiling joggers, couples strolling around and little kids darting back and forth.

The exhibit itself was sold out that day, making it a bit of a cattle call. Although not the most ideal way to view art, sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

There have been a couple other exhibits on Dali in recent years, most notably a very good touring show I caught at the Hirshhorn five or so years ago. What really distinguished this one for me was inclusion of a lot of his early work. When Dali was still in his teens and living in Spain, he was already experimenting quite competently with challenging styles like Fauvism and Cubism. Although owing a lot to his idols, especially Picasso, including this early work gives people not so familiar with his history a clearer idea of his development as an artist. As he turned older his familiar iconography like ants, watches, crutches, his father start appearing in different ways. Most of his major works were present, but his version of the Last Supper, currently owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was oddly absent.

Two real gems were outside the main exhibit area. The Philadelphia Musuem uses a small theatre space that usually showcases video art and short films. This time they tied it to Dali by showing two of his contributions to the film world. First was Un Chien Andalou, a short film of loosely connected dream images he co-created with director Luis Bunuel. There's no real narrative as such, so the film is entirely made of odd incidents like the slicing of an eye, a man's mouth vanishing and becoming under-arm hair, and man dragging a piano weighed down by the carcus of a dead animal. Although I've seen still shots of the film in different books over the years, I've never had a chance to see the full film. Quite innovative for the time not just in style but also in technique and special effects, it still holds up today as a really odd little film. Just ask the very confused people in the little theatre who saw it with me.

The second film was a recreation of a project Dali did for Disney. Originally Walt Disney conceived his classic Fantasia as a series that would have a new edition every few years. Dali created animation for a sequence intended for the second installment, but the original work was lost and never completed. A team rebuilt the animation based on Dali's drawings for the project, and brought it back to life with computer animation. It includes much of his familiar imagery without all the sexual undertones. Dali for the whole family, I suppose.

What really got me was the gift shop. They of course stocked necessary things like posters, postcards, and an exhibition catalogue. And, of course, books on Dali's life and art, videos of inteviews, and on and on. But they also carried things like Dali action figures, Dali finger puppets, mannequin feet with posable toes, make your own mustache kits, floating eyeballs on wheels, and yes even panties and boxer shorts with Dali's signature silkscreened across the ass. It's quite probably the largest level of exteme junk I've ever seen for one artist, and it couldnt' be more appropriate unless it was Warhol. Considering that when his health was too poor to allow him to paint he made money by singing and selling autographs in bulk, I think Mr. Dali would be greatly amused to see mass consumerism accepting his images so readily.


Book TV

I almost never watch it, because they tend to focus primarily on political books. But tonight at 7 PM they're featuring Margaret Atwood talking about her new book of essays Writing With Intent. I've heard her speak before, and she's normally pretty interesting. They often re-run their programs several times, so if you miss it initially check your local listings for replays.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Publishing Update

Yep, it's finally out.

A short story of mine found a home in the anthology Elements of the Fantastic, put out by Coscom Entertainment, a small s/f and fantasy oriented press in Canada. If at all interested, the book is available through Coscom's website, and also through Project Pulp and of course Amazon.

The anthology contains six short stories, all of which play with the tropes of fantasy to varying degrees. Although I have the e-book version sitting on my computer's hard drive, I'm waiting for my hard copy to get to me by snail mail before I read it. I just can't read long pieces on the computer screen. Looking forward to getting it, though.

In more current writing news, I'm obsessed with religions that worshipped cats. I've been having troubles with my current story, and a lot of it goes back to not having the weird cult of cat worshippers fleshed out. I'm hoping research into this stuff will help. If not, it's fun reading anyway. There are some crazy people out there!

Tomorrow Miss L and I are heading up to Philly to pay homage to Salvador Dali at the retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I'll probably stop in and say "Hi" to Marcel Duchamp as well. I can never pass up a chance to stare at the large glass for a time (museum curators take's past time for a major retrospective of Duchamp!). Full report when I get back on Saturday.


Monday, May 16, 2005

Weekly Events

16 Monday

12:30 P.M. Michael Connelly signs his new Harry Bosch novel, The Closers , at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 418 Seventh St. NW, 202-638-7610. He will also read and sign at 7:30 p.m. that evening at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike, 703-998-0404.

1 P.M. Douglas M. Parker discusses and signs Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Laureate of Light Verse at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, 202-737-5553.

7:30 P.M. The Walt Whitman Birthday Tribute Reading , part of the citywide festival "D.C. Celebrates Whitman" (commemorating the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass ), will feature poets Mark Doty , author of My Alexandria and School of the Arts (published in April), and Anne Waldman , author of Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE. A reception and signing follow. Tickets are $10; call 202-544-7077 to RSVP.

17 Tuesday

7:30 P.M. John Burdett reads from and signs Bangkok Tattoo (the follow-up to Bangkok 8 ) at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, 703-998-0404.

7 PM Author Mary Kay Zuravleff reads from her second novel The Bowl Is Already Broken. A tale of art, politics, and family, the novel begins with a precious Chinese porcelain bowl falling down the marble stairs of the fictional Museum of Asian Art, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. Location: Freer Conference Room. This is a free event.

18 Wednesday

7 P.M. Nicole Krauss reads from and signs her new novel, The History of Love, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-364-1919.

7 P.M. Jane Alison reads from and signs her new novel, Natives and Exotics, at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 202-737-5553

19 Thursday

6:30 P.M. Gregory Maguire , author of the fairytale riffs Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, reads from and signs his newest book in the Hamlet Chronicles series for young readers, One Final Firecracker, at Aladdin's Lamp Children's Bookstore, 2499 N. Harrison St., Arlington, Va., 703-241-8281.

7 P.M. Jennifer Anne Kolger reads from and signs her new young adult novel,
Ruby Tuesday, at Barnes & Noble-Bethesda, 4801 Bethesda Ave., 301-986-1761. She will also read on Friday, May 20, at 7 p.m. at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227.

7 P.M. Poets Mark Cox and Myra Sklarew , author of the collections Natural Causes and Lithuania: New And Selected Poems, respectively, read from their work as part of the Café Muse series at the Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase, Md., 301-879-1959.

7 P.M. Francine du Plessix Gray discusses and signs Them: A Memoir of Parents at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 202-638-7610.

7:30 P.M. Scott Simon , correspondent and host of "Weekend Edition Saturday" for NPR, reads from and signs his new novel, Pretty Birds, at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, 703-998-0404.

21 Saturday

1 P.M. Mary Kay Zuravleff reads from and signs her new novel, The Bowl Is Already Broken, at the B. Dalton Booksellers at Montgomery Mall, 7101 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda, Md., 301-365-6209.

2 P.M. Connie Briscoe signs her new novel, Can't Get Enough (the sequel to P.G. County ) at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

3 P.M. Reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "Eureka". A reading of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe and art thing by New York-based Hope Sandrow. Mount Vernon Park Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place Baltimore 410-244-1030

7:30 P.M. Visiting writer Joyce Johnson will give a lecture at the Writer's Center, followed by question and answer, discussion, and a reception. Johnson is author of Missing Men: A Memoir and Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir, which focuses on her relationship with Jack Kerouac and other Beat writers. $10.00 (Member) $15.00 (Non-Member) The lecture and discussion will be followed by a reception, included in the price of admission. The Writer's Center is located at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.

22 Sunday

4 P.M. Poetic Voices Without Borders An anthology reading featuring poets published in Poetic Voices Without Borders, published by Gival Press. Readers will include Christopher Conlon, Robert Giron, E. Ethelbert Miller, Richard Peabody, and Myra Sklarew. The reading is followed by a reception and book signing. Held at the Writer's Center. $4.00 (Member)
$6.00 (Non-Member) The Writer's Center is located at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.

7:30 p.m. The Smokin' Word Revolution A closed mic set featuring spoken-word poetry hosted by E the poet-emcee. Located at the Sylvan Beach Café 7 W. Preston St., Baltimore. 410-685-5752

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Obsess Much?

If Friday the 13th is a day when t.v. shows die, Saturday the 14th must be the day literary mags are born. At least in my house, because yesterday I received the newest issues of both Tin House and Conjunctions in the mail. Both are theme issues, and both are themes near and dear to my hearts.

Conjunctions is subtitled An Anatomy of Roads: The Quest Issue. Quests, despite the bad connotations to contemporary fantasy, have a long tradition stretching back at least as far as the Gilgamesh epic. I know it's an old truism taught in every high school English class, but I've always liked the idea of journey changing someone beyond the simple goals of inherent in the destination. Everytime I start out on a road trip I always wonder what things I'll find that I never expected. I'm curious to see what writers like Robert Coover and Rikki Ducornet have to say on the subject.

Tin House, though, might be even more interesting. It's theme this time around is obsession, something that artists of all kinds can appreciate. In my own writing, I know something's not working if I'm obsessed with some aspect of the story. It could be a character, an event, a physical detail, research...any number of things. My latest research obsession life in ancient Celtic societies, and I know someday I'll work Curious George into a story. I'm way too fond of that little guy not to use him in something. Anyway, the issue takes fiction, poetry and non-fiction and looks at obsessions as divergent as bugs, the smell of jasmine and dressing up like Peter Pan. I will probably start with it, because it should tie in nicely when I go up to Philly to see the retrospective for Salvador Dali---a man obsessed with many things, including with examining his reasons for his obsessions.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Happy Friday the 13th

It's somehow very appropriate that a show like Star Trek: Enterprise, a show plagued by bad luck and bad decisions from the beginning, ended tonight on Friday the 13th.

In an attempt to end things, the writers plunged the characters six full years into the future. The story was told as a history by some characters from the much more popular Next Generation series. Without getting into geeky explanations, it was an attempt at closing this prequel of a series by leading it into issues of the other shows. A nice attempt, but didn't quite work for me. It's a big thing, though. Because in way they just weren't trying to close out Enterprise, but the entire canon of the Star Trek.

While I didn't enjoy every episode of Enterprise, some of their over-arching plot lines were unique and pretty well developed. But I knew it the show was in trouble in season 2 when nearly every promo featured surfer-turned model-turned actress Jolene Blalock in near-naked status. Scott Bakula, who was the only big name actor in the series, didn't help matters by seeming to phone in his performance each week.

But so it goes. As a cultural thing, Star Trek's had a pretty good run. And who knows, it may be back in another form another twenty years down the road.

In the meantime, there are some actors and film makers up in Maryland at New Voyages creating whole new episodes on the internet. Brings the idea of fan worship to a whole new level, and will keep all the closet Trekkers out there satisfied until the next one comes around.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Related to my post yesterday, Jonathan Safran Foer contributed to Writing Life, a weekly feature in Washington Post's Book World.

Although he now resides in NY City, apparently Mr. Foer grew up in D.C.---I had no idea. His essay in Writing Life is in part about growing up in D.C., although I don't think you need to know anything about D.C. to enjoy it. It's really more about growing up with bookstores.

My only bookstores growing up were the small Walden's Books located in the local shopping malls, and later Crown Books. I loved them, even if they put all the s/f and fantasy books in the back corner. Always made me feel like they were trying to put the outcasts in an area so the regular readers wouldn't have to interact with us. The first time I encountered the super-bookstores was when we moved my older step-brother down to UVa and I found my first B&N. It seemed mammoth, and I spent probably three hours in there searching through the seemingly endless rows of books and magazines. I remember thinking it was wonderful when I needed a break I was able to stop for a cup of juice, rejuvenate and start looking again.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sad Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry

I freely admit it.

When it comes right down to it, I'm pretty jaded as a reader. It takes a lot of skill for a writer to get me laughing out loud at their book. And it takes even more for me to be impressed by some quirk of technique. It's even rarer still to really shock or surprise me, and almost unheard of that a book hits me so perfectly on an emotional level that I'm nearly brought to tears.

When a writer hits on even one of these points, it illicits a rave review out of me. On the almost unheard of occasions when a book hits all of these, I rant and rave about it to everyone I know and people I don't know for months. Books that did this for me in recent memory are Murakami's The Windup Bird Chronicle, Delaney's Dhalgren, Acker's Empire of the Senseless and Rice's Blood of Mugwump. Jonathan Safan Foer's new novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hits on two of these points, and that's pretty damn good.

Extremely is a contemporary, post-9/11 story. Oskar, a young boy living in New York City, lost his father to the fall of the World Trade Center. Two years later Oskar still searches for answers, as well as a way to connect with his missing father. When rummaging through his father's closet Oskar finds an envelope with the word "Black" written on it in red ink. Inside rests a small key that doesn't fit any lock in their home. Using flawless kid logic, Oskar begins a quest to speak with every person in New York City who has the name Black, thinking it will lead to the answer of the secret key.

Foer's creation of Oskar is a marvelous one. He's a brilliant and creative little kid with dreams of becoming an inventor. He imagines creations like skyscrapers that retract into the ground so people won't have to use stairs or elevators and ankle bracelets that leave a trail so you never got lost. Filled with ambition, he writes letters to scientists like Stephen Hawking asking to work as their assistant. I've always found writing from a child's point of view really difficult, and a smart child even more challenging. But Foer generates the right mixture of intelligence and naivete that a bright child would have.

In his quest, Oskar meets an odd assortment of characters: a retired journalist who keeps a card catalogue record of everyone he's ever met, a woman who hasn't left the observation deck of the Empire State Building in several years, and a mysterious mute who communicates through handwritten notes. Although he rarely finds answers that are helpful, Oskar still manages to charm his way into these people's live and, in some instances, even help some of them out with their lives.

If all of this sounds funny, it is. While I didn't expect to laugh at a book tied to 9/11, Extremely is filled with odd events and verbal puns, all doubled when presented through the wide-eyed point of view of Oskar. But it's humor done in a smart way that connects nicely to the ideas of the book. I can't help but think of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five---with its humor within the tragedy of the bombing of Dresden, its straightforward yet almost postmodern flashes---in reading a lot of this. But I don't mean in a derivative way. While Vonnegut's humor constantly shouts on the page, Foer ocassionally tones it down and makes you chuckle in more subtle ways.

But Extremely is primarly a book about loss and about recovery. The most moving moments are Oskar's remembrances of his father. I was riding home from work on the metro when I read the flashback of Oskar hearing the phone messages his father left on 9/11. My heart fell, and I leaned against the window and cover my face with the book so no one would see the tiny tears I thought might form in my eyes. A book that can do that to me is a rare gem indeed.

So good job, Mr. Foer. You made a grown man cry. And I couldn't be happier.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Events For the Week

9 Monday

7 P.M. Spoken Heard Mondays Open mic poetry surrounded by acid jazz, neo-soul, and hip hop. Club 347
347 N. Calvert St. Baltimore EVENT PHONE: 410-547-1045

7:30 P.M. Steven Johnson , Discover magazine's "Emerging Technology" columnist, discusses and signs Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter at Barnes & Noble-Georgetown, 3040 M St. NW, 202-965-9880.

7:30 P.M. Poets Karren Alenier and Sandra Beasley read from their work as part of the new reading series at Café Toulouse in Adams Morgan, 2431 18th St. NW, which hosts local poets the second Monday of the month. Call 202-726-4680 for details.

10 Tuesday

7 P.M. The Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture presents a reading and discussion with Marta Moreno Vega for her new memoir, When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio, at the Hirshhorn Museum, Ring Auditorium, 800 Independence Ave. SW. A screening of the 2002 documentary of the same name (produced by Moreno Vega) follows. Call 202-287-3382 to RSVP.

7 P.M. Essayist and poet John Daniel discusses and signs his new memoir, Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone (his experience at the remote Dutch Henry Homestead in Oregon), at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, 202-737-5553.

7 P.M. Have you experienced or been told of incidents that would make the perfect story? How does a writer turn real-life events into fiction? Join WIW at the Rock Bottom Brewery to hear award-winning writer Doreen Baingana discuss short story writing. Baingana will share ideas and techniques she used to write the semi-autobiographical stories in her award-winning collection, Tropical Fish: Stories Out of Entebbe. She focuses on the main elements of the short story—plot, characterization, style, setting and theme to turn “what you know” into what could have been. Rock Bottom Brewery, 7900 Norfolk Avenue, Bethesda, Md. 301-652-1311

7 P.M. Melissa McConnell reads from and signs her new novel, Evidence of Love , at Politics and Prose, 202-364-1919.

7 P.M. Nina Killham reads from and signs her new novel, Mounting Desire , at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 202-638-7610.

7:30 P.M. Poet Michael Collier , author of the collections The Neighbor and The Ledge , and a professor at the University of Maryland, joins graduating students Eva Foster, Laura McKee and Paul Otremba in a reading of their work at Grace Church Georgetown, 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The program is the last of the spring semester's "New Voices" series, which aims to introduce new poets to the community and honor local mentors.

7:30 P.M. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas L. Friedman discusses and signs The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century at Barnes & Noble-Bethesda, 301-986-1761.

9:30 p.m.Trio Ricochet Open mike hosted by Todd Marcus and Russell Kirk. Copra 313 N. Charles St. Baltimore EVENT PHONE: 410-727-6080

11 Wednesday

6:30 P.M. Eric Jerome Dickey reads from and signs his new novel, Genevieve, at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

7:30 P.M. Matt Bondurant reads from and signs his new novel, The Third Translation, at Barnes and Noble-Bethesda, 301-986-1761.

12 Thursday

1 P.M. Obert Skye reads from and signs Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, the first in a new fantasy series for middle readers, at A Likely Story Children's Bookstore, 703-836-2498.

13 Friday

Stay at home, lock your doors.

15 Sunday

The Friends of Fort Ward are holding a Civil War book sale on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site, 4301 West Braddock Rd., Alexandria, Va., 703-838-4848.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Reclaiming My Fiefdom in Geekdom

Last night Miss L and I went to the Mega-Google-Plex theatre near the MCI Center to see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a wacky movie based on the even wackier novel and radio dramas by Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker's series persists as one of the great guilty pleasures of my reading over the last 15 years or so. I even had the all-text based computer game on my old Apple IIC. From the opening scene of dolphins leaving the earth (I'm still singing their theme song) to Arthur's decision to stay a spaceman, I enjoyed my little retreat back into my former geekiness.

Okay, maybe not former. I'm still pretty geeky when you get down to it.

Most fans of the series should be happy; it's pretty true to the book, due in no small part, I'm sure, to the director using the script Adams himself wrote.

I was a little concerned that a film version would not have all the bizarre narrative asides, but a number of them stayed by way of journal entries in the computerized Guide. I still missed tidbits like point-of-view shifts to the automatic doors, but it was more than enough for a movie to showcase the wit and wonder of Adams. It was also used to describe some of the more bizarre "scientific" ideas of the book, like the improbability drive and the terrors of Vogon poetry. Although dubbed narratives often annoy me in films, it worked well for this one. And, in way, showed a bit of the Monty Python influence that's so strong in everything Adams wrote.

Visually, it's quite a stunning movie. Bold, bright colors, lots of wide-screen action. A number of the aliens were done by the Jim Henson studios, and come off pretty freaky in a cartoony kind of manner. Unfortunately, the major visual surprises --like John Malkovitch strutting aound on mechanial insect legs, the spherical ship known as The Heart of Gold turning into balls of yarn, and the workshop that builds custom-designed planets and star systems--are all given away in the trailers. Even still, it's quite a feast for the eyes and I can't remember an even halfway decent s/f comedy since Spaceballs.

Unsuprisingly, they set up for a sequel. Everyone cries for snacks after the adventures are over, and they make way for the restaraunt at the end of the universe. Coincidentally, the title for the 2nd book of the series. Personally, I can't wait for the 4th book in the trilogy (yes, you read that right). That book features an immortal alien whose sole purpose in life it to insult every sentient being in existence.

Hope everyone who can is out enjoying the spring weather.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

It's In the Genes

Last night I started reading Sam Weller's The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. Not too surprisingly, Well's first chapter looks into Bradbury's family history, searching for possible influences on his writing career.

Bradbury comes from a long line of print shop owners, as well as a journalist or two. His grandfather, who lived nearby, held a substantial private library so it's no real surprise that Bradbury developed a love of reading, writing and words. But the ancestor that's the most interesting is Mary Bradbury, a woman accused of witch craft during the Salem Witch Trials. This odd, familial connection to ideas of the fantastic and government trampling upon personal freedoms relates so well to Bradbury's writing career. Fahrenheit 451 was as much a reaction to the 20th century witch hunt known as the McCarthy hearings, and read in the right way it's almost a reaction to the one Mary went through centuries before. Bradbury himself said, "From her...I suppose I get my concern and dedicated interest in freedom from fear and a detestation for though-investigation or thought control of any sort" (Weller, 18).

This interests me in part because my own genetic history is a bit of a blank slate. I was adopted at two months old, and have never met either of my birth parents. In fact, I have no knowlwedge of them at all. My adopted mother (aka mom) is a librarian, and I spent many a summer day as a little kid in libraries when she couldn't find a baby sitter to watch me. Since there's not much to do in a library but read I quickly learned to get fun out of books. That influence is obvious. My adopted family has a very thin relation to Nathaniel Hawthorne, but I can't really claim that (although I would love to).

But I wonder what, if any, little genetic twists and curves my DNA possesses that gave me a love for the word and the page. Did one of my parents become a writer of some sort? If I strung my DNA back through time, perhaps I'd find some tenuous connection of my own to writers like Hawthorne, Poe, or Lovecraft. I certainly don't get my love of darker fiction from anyone in my family, so perhaps it's in the genes.

Or maybe not. Who knows.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Cake, Plastic Costumes and PBR. Oh Yeah, and Movies, Too.

Yes, I know it's Tuesday. And I probably should have posted this earlier, but so it goes.

This past Friday Miss L and I attended the 5th Annual College Film and Video Bake Off, hosted by the Creative Alliance at the Patterson in downtown Baltimore. The festival was a juried event, with all the short films done by college students local to Baltimore. Along with the films, the admission charge got you a slice of cake shaped like a film tin and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The PBR was handed out by a woman done up in a fabulous anime-like outfit of plastic and cloth. Although I'm not positive, I'm pretty sure we we're the only ones in attendance who didn't make a film or at least know someone who did. A couple of people asked which film was ours, and we had to admit that, sadly, we we're merely spectators.

The films themselves ran the whole spectrum. You had your action stories, your sweet vignettes, your comedies, and your parodies. Abstract art films made a showing as well one documentary, and even a film of a camera being dragged behind a car to the point of total, filmic descruction. Most were live action, but a few were animated.

The comedies/parodies got the best reception overall from both the audience and the awards from the judges. The big winner was Christian Coalition Against Queer Zombies (CCAQZ) by Nick Miller, taking in a judge award and a second award based purely on audience votes. It's a fun 5 minute parody of both 50's horror movies and over-the-top health/advice films like Reefer Madness. Presented as a documentary narrated by a tragically southern Sherriff, we watch as three teens spend an average day frolicking through a cemetery. They, of course, meet a small group of gay zombies who don't want to eat their brains but instead force them into...oh what's the best way to say this...homosexual activities. In the end (pun intended if you see the film) the teens decide the zombies and their ways really aren't so bad.

Two others received judge awards. From the Professor's Private Vault: We Are the Friends of Fun by Neil Van Gorder is a quasi-surrealist quest for the funny bone by way of caged monkeys, destroyed Barbie Dolls, and an imprisoned Oscar Wilde. Kevin Walla's Poof, a minimal story about two men waiting in limbo for their judgement in the afterlife, won the third prize.

Interestingly, the three more abstract pieces all came from Maryland Institute College of Art students. My favorite actually came from these. Christina Carbone's Empathy is a provocaitve series of images and music representing different viewpoints of rave culture. Dropping ecstacy, sexual laisons in public bathrooms, and of course dancing made up most of the content. Based solely on technique, Empathy was the most ambitious and probably the most successful of the festival. Carbone used a split screen, showing multiple images at once. This worked really well to give a sense of the frenetic energy that's so much a part of raves. Shot for shot, I was really captivated by the flashing visuals, colors and angles she used. The film ends with a short sequence of coming down; we see a negative image of night sky, brought on possibly by drugs or possibly by the end of the wild emotions experienced throughout the night. Sadly, I think I was probably the only person in the audience who voted for the piece. It's lack of narrative and untraditional structure probably made it a little less acessible than most of the other pieces, but it hit me in just the right way. It might have connected to me because of my misspent youth.

Anyway, it was a fun night. I highly suggest going next year if you have the chance.

In a complete tangent, I heard the new Nine Inch Nails single on the radio today. Not greatly inspiring, but not bad. I might spend my lunch hour today at a listening station at the music store down the street. Can't help being curious.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Events for the Week

Normally I wouldn't include a celebrity book, but I'm kind of amused that Goldie Hawn has a book out. I didn't even know Books A Million did readings.

2 Monday

7 P.M. Alexander McCall Smith reads from and signs his new Precious Ramotswe mystery, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies , at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 418 Seventh St. NW, 202-638-7610. He will also read on Tuesday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike, 703-998-0404.

7:30 P.M. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine , author of the collections Breath and What Work Is , presents the annual Folger Poetry Board Reading (at which poets read from their own work and their favorite verse by others) at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE. A reception follows. Tickets are $10; call 202-544-7077 to RSVP.

3 Tuesday

7 P.M. Elizabeth Gaffney and Roxana Robinson read from and sign their new fiction, Metropolis (a first novel) and A Perfect Stranger And Other Stories, respectively, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-364-1919.

4 Wednesday

6:30 P.M. Playwright and novelist Tomson Highway , author of The Rez Sisters: A Play in Two Acts and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing reads from and discusses his work as part of the "Native Writers Series" at the National Museum of the American Indian, Rasmuson Theater, Fourth St. & Independence Ave. SW. A reception follows. He will also launch the museum's summer series of events for kids & families on Saturday, May 7, at 11 a.m. with a reading from the bilingual edition of Songs of the North Wind (published in English and Highway's native Cree) in the museum's outdoor theater. Call 202-633-1000 or visit for details.

7 P.M. James Salter reads from and signs his new collection of stories, Last Night, at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, 202-737-5553.

5 Thursday

6:45 P.M. Ted Kooser , winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection Delights and Shadows, closes the literary season at the Library of Congress with a lecture reflecting on his first term as U.S. Poet Laureate (he was recently appointed to a second term for 2005-06) in the library's James Madison Bldg., Montpelier Room, 101 Independence Ave. SE, 202-707-5394.

6 Friday

1 P.M. Richard McCann , co-director of American University's graduate program in creative writing, reads from and signs his first novel, Mother of Sorrow, at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 202-737-5553.

7:30 P.M. A First Friday event at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 West Market Street, Leesburg, VA 20176. "Buy This Book!" with Literary Agent Jeff Kleinman (Graybill & English); Brenda Copeland, Senior Editor, Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster); and Honour Kane, Editor, Simon & Schuster Audio. Do you want to find out what goes into a publisher's decision to buy a book? Come with your own book idea or just your own curiosity. Participants must complete a one-page "tip sheet" on site for review and discussion. Then they'll be assigned roles in a publishing house and attempt to "sell" their manuscripts to the Editorial Board.

8 P.M. The Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) hosts a reading and signing with Edward P. Jones , author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Known World and the short story collection Lost in the City, at Howard Community College, Nursing Bldg., Rm. 116, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Tickets are $16; call 410-772-4568 to RSVP.

7 PM Smithsonian Resident Associate Program
Location: Location on ticket $15, general admission; $12, members; call 202-357-3030
Eric Bogosian, OBIE and Drama Desk Award-winning writer/ actor, recounts his 20-year career with wit and sincerity. His works -- which include 5 full-length plays, 6 full-length solo shows, and 2 novels -- explore the grittier side of human nature, with unblinking truth and humor. His latest novel Wasted Beauty, which paints a haunting portrait of New York's drug and fashion worlds, is available for signing after the program.

7 Saturday

9 P.M. Atomic Books' Anniversary Party: I Hate the 80's Night. Featuring CHESTER STACEY, SECRET CRUSH SOCIETY, KEYBOARD MAN, ELTON JOEL, KAMIKAZE KARAOKE, more! The Ottobar. 2549 N. Howard St. Baltimore.Doors open at 9. Tickets in advance: $7.NOW ON SALE AT ATOMIC BOOKS!

8 Sunday

3 P.M. Actress Goldie Hawn discusses and signs her new memoir, Goldie: A Lotus Grows in the Mud , at Books-A-Million, 1451 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean, Va., 703-893-7640.

6 P.M. Rod Jellema and C.M. Mayo read from their work as part of the spring season of the Iota Poetry Series held at the Iota Club & Café, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-522-8340. An open reading concludes the program.