Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cleveland Is The Reason- Kid Cudi

Gotta love when Cleveland gets love . . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Problem of Hard to Read Books

Last night, I was asked why I would choose to read a long, challenging novel in the midst of summer when so called “beach reads” seem to make more sense. Its summer! Take it easy! Go pick up a Stephen King novel!

The question itself did not make much sense to me as I cannot say that I believe that any given season should dictate a persons reading habits but, what the hell. The simple answer, the one that I wielded while walking the leafy streets of Cobble Hill with a copy of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” under my arm, was that occasionally I like to remind myself that even now, years removed from academia, I still have the capacity to read and comprehend difficult literature.

Then this morning while on the F train into work, I recalled an article by Jonathan Franzen that I had read in The New Yorker that confronted the “problem of hard-to-read books” and wished that I could have repackaged that argument last night as my answer. Taking advantage of the fact that I have access to the entire electronic archives of The New Yorker, when I sat down in my cubicle high above Times Square I downloaded the Franzen article from the September 30, 2002 issue.

Franzen (of “The Corrections” fame) creates a binary regarding the two prevalent models of fiction as it relates to its audience: the Status model and the Contract model. The former is grounded in the idea that “the best novels are great works of art, the people who manage to write them deserve extraordinary credit, and if the average reader rejects the work its because the average reader is a philistine; the value of any novel, even a mediocre one, exists independently of how many people are able to appreciate it.” The Status model draws a parallel between the difficulty and the quality of a given piece of work and leads one to believe that the author did not sell out and stayed true to the path of the artist.

Meanwhile, the Contract model insists that a novel “represents a compact between the writer and reader, with the writer providing words out of which the reader creates a pleasurable experience.” Its fun reading, escapism without much sweat, and perfect for the beach. To adherents of the Contract model, difficulty in a work of fiction is an alert that the writer has been allowed to wallow in his or her own artistic vanity, in fact encouraged by MFA instructors nationwide.

I cannot say that I would rank one of these over the other as in my opinion the best books represent a convergence of the two models. Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” and Balzac’s “Lost Illusions” all come to mind. Books that cause people on the subway to take pause due to their girth and strange titles but are truly straight forward narratives that do not require the mental gymnastics that it takes to read Thomas Pynchon, Lawrence Durrell or David Foster Wallace.

However, there is something redeeming about pushing through and finishing a BIG BOOK. As Franzen puts it, after he finished the 900 plus pages of “The Recognitions” by William Gaddis he felt “virtuous, as if I’d run three miles, eaten my kale, been to the dentist, filed my tax return, or gone to church.”

And this is what I love about a challenging read. The sense of literary self-worth that I get when it comes to an end that is almost cathartic. I don’t give a damn if it is 90 degrees and muggy out, I am going to take a 706 page vacation to a sanatorium high above Davos, Switzerland with Thomas Mann. A vacation that takes a little work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We Talkin' About Practice?

I couldn't resist. This is just TOO GOOD to not post.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sienna Smoking

I once sat through a symposium at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans about the fascination Andre Dubus had with women smoking cigarettes. It never made sense to me until I saw Sienna Miller in this scene from the movie "Layer Cake." Enjoy . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Waiting For Next Year, yet again . . .

With the Tribe, led by a bullpen that surely makes up the 10th circle in Dante's Hell, dying a slow death in the basement of the AL Central, I have slowly begun to turn my attention to the Browns. Ahh yes, another well run team that brings such joy to my autumn Sundays . . .

About a year ago I discovered a phenomenal blog that chronicles the misery (and occasional, fleeting joy) of being a Cleveland sports fan. Its called Waiting For Next Year Each morning they comb the blogosphere for tidbits of Cleveland related sports news and today this quote from Jim Brown (yes, THAT Jim Brown) caught my eye:

"Mangini has at least one Cleveland fan, Jim Brown- “You’ve got one boss and you know who he is and he knows what he’s doing. He’s emphasizing intelligence and understanding more than just your job. Those are all the things we did with the ‘64 team. When you understand the concept of team, then you’ve got a certain kind of advantage. When you allow individuality to take over your organization, then you’re going to have a weak setup.”

Imagine that, a Cleveland Browns team that prizes intelligence over flash, one that can count to three and not lead the league in false starts, one that does not lose a season opener because a journeyman linebacker elongates the game via a flag for throwing his helmet off.

Yes, imagine. Thats all we can do Braylon Edwards Mouth is still on the team. Don't get me wrong, I think that Braylon is quite a bright guy- but he THINKS TOO MUCH on the field. In sports, thinking is your enemy and leads to dropped passes, missed layups and Steve Sax. And then he still feels the need to talk shit about the city of Cleveland. This is not an intelligent move.

But just like every summer, I have this irrational hope that the Browns will prove everybody wrong and make a run to the playoffs. And this year, with the disappointment that the Indians seem to be delivering, I am already hoping that Mangini can work some magic . . .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Liquefy" The Servant & French MTV

I saw this video on French MTV while in Paris a few years back. Jet lag and the dreary 15th Arrondissement where I was staying caused Paris to be underwhelming, but this video gave me a pre-Amsterdam smile.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Perfect Day In Cleveland

Whilst I managed the rough ride of a thirty year old single speed bike with a wobbly front wheel, we four pale riders rode from the relative comfort of Cleveland's inner west side, through downtown past Jacobs (yes, Jacobs) Field and into the Hough District via Superior Ave.

Our destination: League Park.

For over 50 years, League Park was the home turf of Cleveland baseball clubs such as the NL Spiders, the AL Indians and Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues. Due to the fact that the park was on a rectangular plot of land, the right field fence was only 290 feet from home plate and, to keep balls from flying out at a 1998 rate, was 60 feet high (thirteen feet higher that that little fence in Boston. Try hitting one over that without steroids, Big Papi.).

After dodging traffic on Superior for a few miles we hit the Hough District. We turned right on E. 65th Street and the neighborhood became increasingly run down, dare I say menacing. In the distance we could hear the faint bump and roll of a blues band playing. One of the Pale Riders commented that she felt like we were in a scene from The Wire and I noticed all the boarded up doors such as those in Baltimore where Chris and Snoop left their prey.

Strapped to my back was a 33 ounce wooden baseball bat. Brought for peaceful purposes.

The sky, which was an hour earlier leaden and threatening to soak the streets, had begun to smile in a sweet shade of blue while a guitar lick vaguely reminiscent of Albert Collins became clearer as Linwood Avenue came into view.

First, we saw the remaining brick facade of League Park that brought to mind a bombed out area of Berlin I once was in. Across East 66th Street was the Straight Up Missionary Baptist Church which was hosting a party out back where the blues band was set up.

Once we got onto the field, one of the Pale Riders gave us a well thought out lesson on the history of the park. We listened intently but really, I was just waiting to play on the overgrown grass where Joe DiMaggio had his 56 game hit streak broken, where Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run and where the Browns held their training camp until the late 1960's.

We played, it got hot and I started to sweat after shagging fly balls. Eventually we all decided it was time to find a beer and a banh mi at Superior Pho, but damn if that wasn't the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon . . . sharing a field with the ghosts of Indians teams that actually were the World Champions.

)I won't mention what happened that night to the current Tribe as Eric Wedge decided it wise to pitch to Albert Pujols four times . . .)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's No Good

Way too busy at work to write anything thoughful right now. Soon, though, I promise. In the meantime, here is the junkie version of Dave Gahan. My favorite Dave Gahan.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Bout de Souffle

While I would hesitate to consider my self a cinemaphile, I do appreciate a good film and last night I viewed one of the best I have ever seen. Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" ("A Bout de Souffle" in the french tongue), the French New Wave classic that marked the beginning of an era.

What makes this film so great? On the first glance, it has a very straight forward, simple manner to it. Godard once said that "all you need to make a movie is a gun and a girl" and he adheres to this in "Breathless." A foul mouthed Lothario steals a car in Marseilles--leaving behind, naturally, a female admirer--and on his way to Paris shoots a cop. Once in Paris he meets up with an old fling, Patricia, an American girl selling the International Herald Tribune, and spends the rest of the film evading the police, bedding Patricia, cursing and imitating Humphrey Bogart. There is more, but I'd rather leave it at that for anybody who has not seen it.

But there is a level of intimacy that is conveyed by the grainy, black and white, documentary feeling of Godard's hand held camera work. The acting, all at once casual and spirited, is superb in its depiction of cool kids in the late 50's. At the conclusion of the 90 minute duration of the film I felt so in tune with the main characters. . . so full of grudging admiration . . . so ready to take up smoking that I am truly looking forward to watching it again tonight (now that the Cleveland Indians are done for the season).

As you may be able to discern, I do not possess the proper jargon that a true lover of film would employ in describing a movie as influential and classic as "Breathless." Yet I felt compelled to write about my first experience with this film and urge you, dear reader, to seek it out if you have not already . . .