Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What isn't the What.

I've stopped reading What is the What.  I've had thoughts of stopping for a little under a week, now, and I kept chalking it up to just not feeling like I have enough time to devote to the book.  I read a page, two maybe, at night before the words begin to dance and I drool.  I haven't been reading in traffic, or on lunch break.  Then I thought that it was the subject matter; not giving me enough of an escape from the everyday.  Which is absurd, because Deng in a refugee camp in Ethiopia is pretty damn far from my everyday.

I keep circling around different explanations because none of them seem to fit quite right.  Because: it is a very good book.  And: I feel glad when I am reading it to be reading it.  Also: I look forward to finding out more about what happens, and am enjoying the writing style, so much so that I'm willing to give How We Are Hungry another shot.  Etc.  I still haven't really settled on an answer I'm comfortable with; it isn't as simple as liking or not liking the book.  It may just be a right book/wrong time sort of thing.  I think, also, that one of the book's strengths is the way Eggers puts the reader both in Deng's past and his present, moving back and forth as Deng goes over his story in his mind to various ineffectual American service providers, entering and exiting his life; it's a great device, but it's starting to feel like a device, not organic and fluid. 

It's about time for me to be starting a "Books started but not finished" pile anyway, and this one will go to the top, for when my mind's in a different place. 

Meantime, others are continuing to look at the book:

Deng is kept going by faith, something not exactly in evidence in Eggers before. It draws on a panoply of religions both inherited and encountered, but, except for one suicidal episode, maintains an indestructible faith in a God. Which is to say, in the varying degrees of goodness in others. So maybe Eggers, once a lost, orphaned boy and brother himself, actually comes less strangely than expected to the subject. Deng's beliefs kept Deng honorable, and helped him find one of our more honorable writers for his story. There is even a happy ending beyond the book's (the proceeds of which go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation). After years of rejection, red tape and set-backs, he's now in his second year at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Not entirely accurate: at the reading the other night, he mentioned that he's taking time off from school to tour doing readings, and is planning to return to Marial Bal this summer to oversee construction of a community center that is coming together in part thanks to Deng's foundation. 

And, of course, the story is not actually finished, despite the publication of the book:

Valentino Achak Deng Foundation: www.valentinoachakdeng.comThe foundation supports organizations and people trying to improve life for the Sudanese in the United States and in Sudan. To donate, tax-deductible checks can be sent to:The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation849 Valencia St.San Francisco, CA 94110Lost Boys Foundation: Rescue Committee (IRC):

So, obviously, my write-up of the reading is on hold indefinitely.  This collection of links includes a YouTube of them reading together, so you... are... there without waiting for me to pull it together. 

And the interview?  Dave's flight was delayed; he arrived just in time for the reading.  And no chance of me catching him afterward, with a couple of hundred people looking for his autograph - and anyway, I had to leave early.  So, alas, no interview.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Lost Highway" opera.

...Lost Highway opera?

Missing from “Lost Highway” the opera was Mr. Lynch’s sense of spaciousness and relative quiet: the time for events to breathe and unfold. His great movie does not yell at us as does Ms. Neuwirth’s opera. Its anguishes are subterranean, more to be inferred from what is seen than transmitted through electronically bloated shrieks and groans. Music, for all its idiosyncratic power, may be too concrete and ultimately too blatant to adequately translate Mr. Lynch’s indirections. Yelling, on the other hand, is an art form like any other, and Ms. Neuwirth’s “Lost Highway” yells admirably. I would have admired it even more if, for just an hour and a half, I could have forgotten David Lynch ever existed.

Dick Laurant is spinning in his grave.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Second Life, or Why Can't I Hit People.

Having spent some of my impressionable youth, and many of my father's dollars, "interacting" with other sheltered horny dorks through the magic of my Commodore 64 and QuantumLink, I have felt some twinges of interest in Second Life.  A recent series of articles about how not-far this sort of idea has progressed over the years in between has made me have Second Thoughts, har har. 

This one pretty much seals the deal; excerpt:

Yesterday I downloaded something called Second Life. It is like Grand
Theft Auto: San Andreas, except you can't shoot anyone, and you can't
hit people. You just walk around. There are no prostitutes, and
everything costs real money, and you can't rob anyone to get money. You
have to use your credit card, with real money, to buy fake money to use
in the game. It's not actually like Grand Theft Auto at all.

Second Life is free to play, and I keep seeing people referring to it
in the news, so I had to take one for the team and just dive on in. I
knew it probably wasn't going to be intriguing when I got to the signup
part and couldn't even make a one-word name. I had to use some
fantasy-ass last name and I couldn't even use cusses. The best I could
do was call myself Wenis.

Wenis Swindlehurst: How do I hit people
Foxbrand Leprechaun: You can't
Wenis Swindlehurst: I need that shit you drive....

I flew up and out of the Freebie Warehouse, and landed in some
quasi-construction zone. There were walls and floors scattered about
the landscape. Occasionally, I'd come upon a red dot, which I'd click,
and it would make my character do some kind of humping motion. That's
what I came to do. Hump in the construction zone.

Everything in Second Life seems to be coated in a preteen's
understanding of sex. It was very titty-booby pee-pee doo-doo. From the
fantasy asses to the cyber-ruins surrounding Freebie Warehouse, there
really was nothing but clumsy cybersex. I wandered through this
wasteland for a while, until I finally came to a normal-looking store,
with windows, and people inside, so I went in.

The store sold penises, and penis avatars. I didn't actually get to see
what they looked like, because I didn't have any fake money to spend
(and I wasn't really interested in chipping in twenty bucks to these
cats' weird sex trip.) A pet penis, which would follow you around and
"come on command" (I'm guessing you have to right-click and load a
script and wait thirty seconds is what they mean by "command") was 100
fakebucks, which converted to US$0.68. Okay, that's not bad.

You could transform yourself into a giant penis for 200 fakebucks, but
one could argue that you do that anyway by spending time in Second Life.

OK, so unless I'm willing to dig up my first pair of glasses (rose-tinted, it's true) and one of my innumerable Cosby sweaters, I think I'm better off without.

This American Life, the TV show: teaser trailer.

Can be found here.  Looks a whole lot like one would expect it to look (and a whole lot like it will actually look to me, watching it in a tiny box on my computer, as I do not have Showtime, where the show will be broadcast.)  (Do they still call it "broadcast"?)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What is the What - Deng blog.


Reading What is the What and it didn't occur to me to see if Valentino Achak Deng has a website, but doesn't everyone now?  Some valuable stuff there, including pictures (like the one above) taken by Deng/Eggers on a recent trip back to Marial Bal, Deng's hometown; ten things you can do for the situation in Sudan; and a forthcoming blog, among other things.  (via.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

TMN Tournament of Books: 2007.

Rock_out The TMN 2007 ToB is upon us.  Now with reader participation!

Candidates for TMN’s

2007 Tournament of Books

Click on titles for 30 percent discounts on all candidatesHalf of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieOne Good Turn, Kate AtkinsonArthur and George, Julian BarnesBrookland, Emily BartonEnglish, August, Upamanyu ChatterjeeThe Lay of the Land, Richard FordPride of Baghdad, Niko Henrichon, Brian K. VaughanThe Road, Cormac McCarthyThe Emperor’s Children, Claire MessudThe Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, Peter OrnerThe Echo Maker, Richard PowersAgainst the Day, Thomas PynchonFirmin, Sam SavageAbsurdistan, Gary ShteyngartAlentejo Blue, Ali SmithApex Hides the Hurt, Colson Whitehead