On The Road
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
I've got a new book coming out in May called THE ACCOUNTING
, which I'll talk about later, but I have a few events coming up where I'll be talking about it and some other topics.
(1) On March 13
, I'll be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania on a Continuing Medical Education panel entitled "The Detective Novel and the Search for Forbidden Meaning."
I'll be talking a little bit about Dashiell Hammett, his novel RED HARVEST
, and the Flitcraft case from THE MALTESE FALCON
. There will also be a psychiatrist and a literature professor on the panel. Should be interesting. I'm hoping to learn something. That will be at Cohen Hall, Room 402, 249 S. 36th Street from 7:00 to 9:00.
(2) On March 20
, I'll be reading from the new book and talking about writing at the Chestnut Hill Hotel, 8229 Germantown Ave. in Philadelphia, starting at 7:00. I'll of course be taking questions; hilarity will ensue. And if not hilarity, then certainly wine and cheese.
Hope to see some of you out there.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
As I made my breakfast this morning, I was thinking about the greatest eggs in all of literature. For me there are two eggs I've always remembered, two eggs that will live with me for as long as I crack a shell and fry up something to place gently over the potatoes.
Number one all time is from KING RAT
by James Clavel, a very good book with a brilliant piece of eggmanship. This scene takes place in a POW camp where all the inmates are crazy with hunger except for King Rat, who has plenty of food, including this repast he is cooking to sway a new inmate to the dark side. Notice the sound, the scent, the sizzle. I cook my over-easy eggs on a very high temp now because of this passage:
The King broke the eggs neatly and dropped them into the heated oil. The yolk was rich-gold and its circling jelly sputtered and hissed against the heat and began to set and all at once the sizzle filled the hut. It filled the minds and filled the hearts and made the juices flow. But no one said anything or did anything. Except Tex. He forced himself up and walked out of the hut. . . . . “Jesus H. Christ,” Byron Jones III said to no one, choked. “I wish it would rain.” No one answered. For no one heard anything except the crackle and the hiss. The King too was concentrating. Over the frypan. He prided himself that no one could cook an egg better than he. To him a fried egg had to be cooked with an artist’s eyes, and quickly – yet not too fast.”
My second favorite egg passage takes place in Hemingway's GARDEN OF EDEN
. Hemingway was always good with food, but this passage was like a revelation. "Oh," I said first time I read it, "so that is how they should be eaten." It's actually good, too, though I think you need to eat them at that very cafe, at that very time of day, while in the midst of a similar type love affair:
He loved her very much and everything about her and he went to sleep thinking
about her cheek against his lips and how the next day they would both be darker
from the sun and how dark can she become, he thought, and how dark will she ever
"You know I haven't done anything bad to us. I had to do it.
You know that."
Be careful, he said to himself, it is all very well for
you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so
damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.
the cafe he found the morning paper and the Paris papers of the day before and
had his coffee and milk and the Bayonne ham with a big beautifully fresh egg
that he ground coarse pepper over sparsely and spread a little mustard on before
he broke the yolk.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
God is a puzzling answer to
the question of meaning. It is the simplest, the most inevitable
answer, but what does it tell us? Is God’s mere existence enough to
sate our existential yearnings, like a parent's mere presence gives meaning to
a child, or vice-versa. Because anything more requires
intermediaries, a book, a priest, a culture to provide the meat of
it. What is our meaning? To obey God? To serve
God? To spread God’s word? To support God with our
donations? It all seems not quite right. To find meaning
in God is like finding meaning in the mountain. It exists, it
preceded us and will survive us, it dwarfs us, we are mere pebbles in its
shadow. It might even love us. Okay, now what?
What does it mean to serve
the mountain? Just ask the Sierra Club. They'll guide us up the
mountain's trails, they'll preach about the mountain's perfection, they'll weep
at the beauty of its flanks and press upon us
their pamphlets about all they're doing to save the mountain. And
yes, they'll ask us to sign their petitions and support their efforts with
donations. They'll tell us to give till it hurts and
their sincerity will be like a hammer beating us
into submission. But take away their words and their books and
what do we have? A silent pile of stone is what we have. And
we're the chain gang.
What we have here is a
failure to communicate.
Yeah, that's right
Friday, February 22, 2013
I sometimes think readers really had it going in the 1920's, when Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Woolf and Joyce and Hammett were putting out new things. Woody Allen thought so when he made that movie "Midnight in Paris" about the writer who was magically transported to the past. I suppose the point of the move was that our sight is always poisoned somewhat by nostalgia.
But even so, I always thought the best rock music was made in my youth. I grew up on Dylan and the Beatles and the Who and Zeppelin and early Springsteen and Patti Smith moving into the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Sometimes I think that the soundtrack of our youths are always the music we idolize, no matter how crappy (some of my friends still love Elton John for that reason), but then sometimes I think that it just hasn't been as good since.
It's hard to tell, and I'm always looking for something new to get me excited, and there's good stuff out there, Wormburner, for instance, but still I can't stop thinking that it's just not as good as it was. And just as I wonder if I'm falling into a pit of pitiful nostalgia, along comes the brilliant XKCD, a web comic of "Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language" that tells me I might be right.
Is Pulp The Greatest Band I Never Heard Of?
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Every once in a while I get on a music buying binge, and I'm on one now. I sort of get hold of a group or a movement I don't know much about and then buy everything. I'm currently on a Brit Pop spree. So here's the group I'm listening to now: Pulp. I mean, why haven't I ever listened to these guys before? They're amazing. They have song called "Disco 2000" which is all goofily happy and disco-ie even though it's about a guy who is in the middle of a failed life too afraid to meet up with the girl he used to like. And then there is one of the bitterest songs ever written, "Common People." If you want to have a blast, listen to William Shatner's version of the song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ainyK6fXku0
Pulp, it's a a pint of bitters.
Why Important Films Always Suck
Sunday, July 8, 2012
We talk about stories having a good message. Actors want to act in them because of the politics,
writers bask in the glow of the acclaim for taking on big issues. It’s not just an action picture, it’s a call
for responsibility in buying diamonds from Africa
. It’s not just a raunchy sex comedy, it’s a
story about the importance of family and personal responsibility. But isn't all that lily-gilding a
perversion of what a story is? Doesn't a story's beginning, middle, and resolution provide all the meaning it needs? There is a corpse. The questions is who did the killing. Isn't finding the killer answer enough? The very existence of the story provides
its meaning. Adding some soppy message on top of that is just a cynical way of selling the story to an audience intoxicated with its own sincerity. In that way stories are
better than we are; they never need occupy themselves in a search for their meaning.
A person without meaning is lost and pathetic. A story without meaning is Hamlet.
The Big Bang
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Eve gave Adam the apple, they both ate of it, and saw their nakedness. And in that moment, sprang God into existence. Or else some hot and dirty sex.
It’s up to us to figure which one we’d prefer.
Poetry as Meaning - Why Not?
Monday, February 27, 2012
I came across this quite interesting quotation, part of a book about the intersection of poetry and religion. There's no reason to just have my tepid thoughts on meaning, I'll let someone else speak. This is from a poet named Gregory Orr. See, One Whole Voice Various. (Notice my nice legal cite.)
"I remember having a discussion with a friend thirty years ago about where poetry comes from. He said, “I write poems to discover meaning.” That of course is a pretty standard statement. I said, “I write poems to make meaning.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I believe existence is meaningless, and we have to create meaning in order to sustain ourselves.” At the time this was true to my experience. Through acts of will and discipline and imagination, I tried to make meaning, but it wasn’t enough to get to the other side of the existential wall I kept encountering. Now from the other side of that wall, I can think back on my life, when such a grim statement as “life is meaningless” was true for me. I can see that I had to create meaning, and love, and secure environments for myself, and that the most exciting form of meaning I could create was poetry."What I found most interesting here is not that he used poetry to find meaning in a life inherently meaningless, but that it was never enough to get to the other side of the existential wall. From the passage it seems he used God to get there, which I'm sure is a great comfort for him. But my question is why wasn't poetry enough? Or love? Or a nice cheese and a warm baguette? And why do we need to be on the other side of that wall in the first place? Is it so much better there? And really, isn't that question age related also? Is a ten year old kid suffused with meaning to be taken seriously? Do we want existential peace at 24? Would I, as a youth, rather be fat and happy on the far side of the existential wall or shivering on the near side, desperately writing my poetry to keep myself warm? I know where I'd like to be at 70, but I'm not sure a condo in Boca is what Mr. Orr had in mind.
But here's the question we need to keep asking. He characterizes the statement "life is meaningless" as grim. But is it really? How happy and full of bliss are we when we open the New York Times and find the crossword puzzle already filled out.
And in ink, the son of a bitch.