This album has absolutely knocked my shit out. I’ve enjoyed previous Made Out of Babies efforts as a sort of a loud novelty, admiring their punk commitment, but I was unprepared for The Ruiner. Reminiscent of Silverfish, Daisy Chainsaw, and some of the Amphetamine Reptile bands of the 90s, MOB comes in with a pummeling bass and layers of guitar sounds that make me want to punch holes in my walls. Julie Christmas, the band’s vocalist, sounds like a damaged Bjork screaming (right on pitch, mind you) over the band’s screwy hooks and drives. This is like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with balls. I’ll bet not many reviewers have this next to Devotchka on their year’s best list, but who cares. Love it.
There’s something about the feel of the New York Review Book Classics that assures you of a good read. The paper is of a thick textured stock, the covers are beautifully designed–I particularly like the fact that the inside of the covers is colored to match the palette on the outside–and the introductions are written by people who actually matter. There are so many little known treasures in this series–it’s like the Criterion Collection of paperbacks–that one wants to just own them all.
Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick was my most recent foray into the series, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, it is one of those books that I know I will reread, in part because it’s one of those books I wish that I had written. Originally published in 1979, Sleepless Nights calls itself a novel, but it reads like a memoir or a series of reflective vignettes. The narrator is Elizabeth, and the scenes are from primarily from New York City and Lexington Kentucky–the latter Hardwick’s homeland, the former Hardwick’s home. (It’s tempting to take these as clues that our narrator is our writer, but other clues suggest that we should be wary of that identification.) There is no single plot to speak of, but the tapestry is woven too tightly to be a mere collection of stories. The main attraction here is the overwhelmingly engineered prose. The thoughtfulness of Hardwick’s style compares only to well wrought poetry. These are sentences meant to be savored like bites of a crème brulee or sips of port. They are rich on their own, and they flow one after another in a punctuated rhythm that leads the reader on more than the foregone contrivances of thrill or suspense could hope to accomplish.
I loved this book and will search out more from Hardwick. My words mean little, however, next to her prose, so I’m going to try supplementing the review with a pagescan. These are just two facing pages that give a sense of the style. I suggest you read more of the book by purchasing it.
I just learned that Kate Bush turns 50 today. That freaks me out. It’s like finding out that Tinkerbell is an octogenarian.
This is very cool. Play this, then play it again, and again as many times as you want, and the same sequence of notes will sound to you as if it is a scale with an ever ascending pitch. I have yet to read a very good explanation of this effect, but my guess is that there are multiple harmonics in each tone, and which one your ear attends to depends on context. Regardless,it’s neat.
Snagged this from the Literary Saloon. The Secret Scripture, a recent fave, is on there. With any justice, it’ll win. (Though I haven’t read a single one of the other books.)
* The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
* Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
* The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
* From A to X by John Berger
* The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
* Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
* The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
* A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
* The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
* Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
* The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
* Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
* A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
I first came across Brockmeier in the 2005 O’Henry Awards compilation which featured “A Brief History of the Dead,” the story. I was immediately excited: here was an excellent young writer who subtly bends literary fiction through the domains of genre fiction, in the vein of Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon and Kelly Link. Predictably enough, the story is about the afterlife. Perhaps disappointingly for some of the dead, this afterlife is really just like regular old life, but with the twist that one’s afterlifespan is determined by how long one is remembered by the living. This is all good–especially, one suspects, for the extroverted–until something begins happening on earth. The population of the dead city spikes–as huge numbers of people on earth suddenly die–and then plummets–as fewer and fewer people exist on earth to remember the dead. As people die, scraps of evidence indicate that a virus is wiping out the earth’s population, the result being that the dead are eventually to suffer the fate of the living.
This is an excellent story and an intriguing premise. It led me to buy the book by the same name, which came out in 2006, despite my worries that this gimick could drive a story but not a novel. Since the first chapter of the book is basically the story I had read, it wasn’t until chapter two that I discovered that my worries were unfounded. The second chapter finds us in Antarctica, with a scientist/explorer named Laura who appears to be stranded in her camp. It’s a sudden, disorienting break to enter the world of the living again, but Laura’s survival story gathers its own momentum in no time, serving as the backbone for the rest of the book which alternates between the two worlds. In the end, A Brief History has aspects of an adventure thriller with a tinge of metaphysics and existential reflection, all of which combine to make a very compelling package. (When I read a few sections to Lanie, she quickly became hooked, demanding that I read aloud whenever she was around.) There are criticisms that could be made of this book–at times Brockmeier seems to be looking for stories to fill his afterlife, and one gets impatient to return to the plight of our arctic adventurer–but the book works well enough not to dwell on the negative. I’ll be reading a lot more of Mr. Brockmeier, I suspect, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one.
Generally, I’m not much into the 70′s disco sound. Sure, I have a CD or two, but mostly to put on when people start bitching at my parties that all of my music is making them depressed. Nevertheless, I must admit to having a surprising affinity for Hercules and Love Affair. Part of that is no doubt due to the perfect milky vocals of Antony Hegarty, but that’s not all there is here. Andrew Butler’s compositions take the best of those 70s sounds and give them just enough of a tweak to make them fun again. There are real melodies with interesting turns that feel completely correct, and though things occasionally sound a little trash-synthy there is also some real musicianship that pulls everything back to level. This is a very fun summer album, and it is seeing more play at Chez Howell than anything of its sort has seen in a very long time. If you haven’t heard the single Blind, then go find it–it’s all over the web. Here I’ll post the opening track.
A cognitive scientist wants to employ M.C. Escher’s bag of optical tricks to get your eyes to solve logic problems.
More specifically, Mark Changizi, a former Caltech fellow and current cognitive science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute suggests that human beings can use their brain’s visual-processing abilities to solve LSAT-style logic puzzles, simply by staring at images designed to get their eyes to compute. Because this form of visual processing feels so effortless, such problems might be much easier to solve than their written counterparts.